Miss Johanna decided finally on moss-green.
"It's emblematic, you see!" she explained to the Misses Bygood, who had come in state and their best summer silks ("a little early for them," Miss Almeria admitted, "but something festal—Johanna will appreciate our motive!") to offer their best wishes.
"Our congratulations," Miss Almeria said impressively, "are for Edward."
Miss Johanna raised her eyebrows. "Poor Edward!" she said. "Do you remember John's remark to Mrs. Pringle when Emmy was engaged? 'I congratulate you, ma'am, on this auspicious and desolating event!' As I was saying, girls, moss-green is not only becoming to me, it is also emblematic. Green is for hope, which springs eternal, you know; moss is appropriate for age. Velvet, because Edward swears he won't marry me in anything else—no, Gerie; don't look like that! because he likes it, and I may as well do something to please him while I can. I am sorry for Edward, but he has brought it upon himself."
"Johanna is jesting, sister!" Miss Almeria explained [pg 238] kindly. "We consider Edward an exceptionally fortunate man, Johanna!"
"You are dears, both of you!" Miss Johanna's eyes softened, and she spoke in a different tone from her usual half-gibing utterance. "I am very happy, girls, and very thankful, as I ought to be. And—don't tell, but, when we come back, I am going to try not to be peculiar any more. Only everybody will say I was changed at marriage!" she added ruefully. "Do you suppose Cyrus will think me all the more peculiar for trying not to be?" (As a matter of fact, this is precisely what Cyrus did think; but this is to anticipate.)
It was a very quiet wedding, only the few old friends who had stood by Johanna Ross through all her wayward years, and one new one. Mr. Jordano, the bride insisted, must be present. She felt like a criminal in not having a Real Wedding for Cyrus, but Edward could not abide weddings; you would think he had had a dozen already. The least they could do was to have it written up in style, and that this Delicious Creature was sure to do. Mr. Jordano did not know that he was a Delicious Creature, but he did know that Opportunity beckoned, and he rose to it. Fortunately the wedding took place the day before the weekly appearance of the Centinel, and Cyrus read over its breakfast with mingled feelings, of the Event which only a "select party of choice spirits," as Mr. Jordano put it, had the privilege of attending. (Not that Mrs. Sharpe wondered; far from it. Marrying at that age, Johanna Ross naturally would not wish to have any more witnesses than were absolutely necessary: [pg 239] Mrs. Sharpe for one was thankful to be spared such a spectacle.) The Scribe had been one of the fortunate few bidden to attend the nuptials of Miss Johanna Ross, a lady who, though long absent from our midst, was admired and revered by all who had the privilege of her acquaintance, and our highly-esteemed and justly celebrated fellow citizen and jurist, the Hon. Edward Peters, Justice of the Supreme Bench. The ceremony had taken place in the elegant and commodious mansion of the late Dr. Ross, now the abode of his charming and talented daughter, Miss Katharine Ross, whose reputation as an equestrienne of the highest order had spread far beyond the limits of Cyrus and environs. The spacious parlors of Ross House were tastily adorned with ferns, emerald moss (to which, it appeared, the bride was specially addicted) and violets, the latter in such profusion as to lade the ambient air with perfumes of Araby the blest. The bride, a superb brunette, wore a confection of moss-green velvet with gold garniture, and resembled, if Italio might take the liberty, a rare jewel in an emerald chalice. (Mr. Jordano had written "cup" at first; but he liked to murmur his copy aloud as he wrote; and "cup-pup-pup" struck harshly on his ear. He was in sensitive mood; a tail seemed to wag in the corner of his eye. "Chalice" came as a happy and satisfying inspiration.)
"The bride (we read over the shoulder of Cyrus, which is letting its coffee grow cold!) "was attended only by her niece, Miss Katharine Ross, who was indeed a vision for the Poet's eye. Simply gowned in [pg 240] filmy white, and which enclosed as fair a form as ever endowed nymph or grace, the effect was distingué beyond the simple pen of the Scribe to relate. The ceremony (with ring) was performed by the Reverend Timothy Chanter, who appeared in full regalia of black silk, and was accompanied by Mrs. Chanter in brown poplin with self trimmings of velvet. The Misses Bygood wore flowered silk, with a profusion of priceless lace, and were as ever the peers of grace and beauty; no eye could gaze on them unmoved." (Mr. Jordano sighed heavily after writing this, and murmured, "Almeria, to thee!" in unconscious imitation of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.) "Madam Flynt was sumptuously attired in lilac brocade and diamonds, Miss Croly in purple silk. Mr. Marshall Mallow, the genial Mine Host of the Mallow House, and the humble Scribe who pens this tribute from a feeling heart, made up a party which must ever esteem itself fortunate in having been chosen to participate in an Event which, though characterized by chaste severity and exclusiveness, will ever dwell in the mind as an Acme of elegance. At the conclusion of the ceremony, exquisite refreshments were served in receptacles of priceless porcelain and cut glass. It was whispered in the ear of the Scribe that everything was made in the house. Cyrus is, indeed, fortunate in possessing a culinary artist of such dimensions as Miss Sarepta Darwin, to whom, if Italio were rightly informed, is due the credit of the truly superlative repast enjoyed by the guests."
Sarepta read this next morning, and sniffed.
[pg 241] "What did the man expect?" she asked of Kitty, who had brought the paper out to her. "What d'he think I'd been doin' for forty years? The idea!" but she cut the item out none the less, and pasted it in her scrapbook.
So Judge Peters won the lady of his faithful heart, and carried her off for a summer in Europe: (there was a Europe in those days, not yet become a place of blood and tears!) "And now," said Cyrus hopefully, "perhaps Kitty will come and live with us!"
To be exact, it was only the Chanter girls and Mr. Mallow who said this. Madam Flynt and the Misses Bygood knew better; so did the bride, who checked her Edward's affectionate hope, expressed to Kitty at parting, with "Nonsense, Ned! Kitty will stay in her own house. She would be a great fool if she didn't."
Kitty cried a good deal after her aunt left. She missed the brusque, incisive speech, the odd, kindly ways. The house seemed very lonely, very silent; though of course it was just as dear. She was so glad they were going to be happy together, those two dear people! There would be no more violets now, she supposed. Ridiculous that here an absurd crystal tear dropped on the shining leaf of the orange-tree Kitty was watering: tears came so easily nowadays, when she was not really sad at all, only—only——
If Tom were really married, what did anything else matter? If he were! Kitty did not actually believe it. There were many people who did not write letters; but to marry, without a word or a line, after—she [pg 242] caught her breath, seeing his face as he took leave of her that day, so long—oh, so long ago!
"I shall find you here when I come back, Kitty? You—you'll wait——"
Some one came in: next moment he was gone. That was all. If he were really married——
The curious thing was, songs came as easily as tears. She had not sung since her mother's death, till just lately; but now, for all her sadness, which of course was not really sadness, song bubbled within her like a fountain. "The Duke of Lee" was on her lips all day long: it possessed her; she could not drive it away. She tried to do so by a severe course of scales, singing her solfeggi twice a day religiously; taking up, too, the Italian arias and canzonetti that her mother had loved to hear her sing, and the Scotch ballads she used to croon to her father when he came in from a long drive and sat on the leather sofa before the sitting-room fire. There was nothing wonderful about Kitty's voice, but it was very sweet, and had a harp-like quality that thrilled one strangely somehow.
She set herself a stiff little course of reading for the evening, when of course she would miss Aunt Johanna most. Plato to begin with; she had always meant to read Plato; then she would take Herodotus, and Josephus, and all the things she had never "got round to." It would be wonderful! she thought. If she kept at it steadily, by the time she was fifty, she might really begin to know just a scrap, "instead of [pg 243] being a Pit of Ignorance, Pilot, as I always have been; just like you, my lamb; heigh ho!
"'And she shall have silks and satins for to wear, And a coach and six for to take the air——' "I will not sing that again to-day!"
You see, Kitty did not know, could not possibly know, psychical processes being in their present veiled condition, that currents were flowing, wireless messages flashing, between her subliminal self and another; that Tom Lee, striding up and down the deck of his steamer, was crying all day long in his heart, "Kitty! Kitty! Kitty! I am coming! Wait for me!" Had "Psychic Wireless, Unlimited," informed Tom that there were other aspirants for the hand he had so confidently thought his? Who can tell? Certainly, he told Kitty afterward, the voyage was "H. E. Double," and ten times a day he thought of jumping overboard and swimming the Pacific Ocean, as likely to make better time.
John Tucker emerged from the harness-room, in leather apron and gloves.
"It's good to hear you singin' round the place, Miss Kitty," he said: "it is so! I enjoy it, and I expect they do as well, if they could speak."
He nodded toward Dan and Pilot, who were certainly pictures of attention, as they stood with shining eyes, ears pricked forward, and delicate nostrils dilated.
"Bless them!" said Kitty. "It's sugar they want, the darlings, not singing. Pilot, stop! You cannot [pg 244] get your head into my pocket, you greedy cherub, and it is Dan's turn, anyhow. Here, Dan! Don't slobber, darling! Eat like a gentleman, because you know you are one, a Perfect Pattern, except for just a shade of gluttony. Now, Pilot!"
John Tucker stood in the doorway, gazing at her with delight. She was the "very moral" of a picture that hung in his own sitting-room; a steel engraving, neatly framed. It was labeled "Thoroughbred," and showed a fair girl patting a noble horse. John Tucker had seen it in the window of a print shop in the city and had bought it, refusing steadfastly to tell his Mary what it cost. Miss Kitty and Pilot might have sat for the two portraits, he maintained, except for Pilot's being black, which was all a Pilot colt could be.
The horses fed and petted—not to their hearts' content, but as near it as the passing nature of time would allow—John Tucker turned back into the harness-room with a backward jerk of his head which said as plainly as one of Pilot's gestures, "Aren't you coming to see me now?"
Kitty followed him into the pleasant little leather-scented room and perched on the arm of a chair as was her wont.
"What was that tune you was singin' just now, Miss Kitty?" asked John.
"It is called the 'Duke of Lee,'" said Kitty. "It's an old English song, John, and there's a dance that goes with it."
"Didn't your Ma used to sing it now and then? 'Pears to me I remember of her singin' it."
[pg 245] "Of course she did! You clever John Tucker to remember! She used to sing it when I was a tiny tot, and I used to dance. Tommy and I," she added bravely.
John Tucker nodded a slow confirmation. "I remember!" he said. "I ricollect one day—summer day it was, later in the season than this, and warm—I ricollect your Ma settin' on the kitchen steps, an' Mis' Lee settin' beside her. I couldn't but notice what a pictur' they made, kind of showin' of each other off, as you might say. What I mean, your Ma was dark, you understand, leastways her hair and eyes, though she had that kind of soft whiteness that you'd thought there was a light inside, if you see what I mean, Miss Kitty——"
Kitty nodded silently.
"An' Mis' Lee," John Tucker went on, "was more like a red and white setter pup. No offense to her mem'ry in sayin' so, for she sure was a handsome lady, and I thought the world of her—and Tommy, too!"
John Tucker's eyes were bent studiously on the buckle he was polishing.
"But what I mean, there they sot, and honest, Miss Kitty, I never go by that kitchen door but I see them two—well, beautiful women is what I would say—settin' there side by each, and your Ma singin' that song, and you two little shavers dancin'. I—gorry! I wish't they was all back, Miss Kitty."
John Tucker dashed the back of his hand across his eyes, and gave a single portentous sniff.
[pg 246] "Dear John!" Kitty's eyes were brimming, too. She stroked John's blue shirt sleeve very tenderly.
"Dear John Tucker, I am so glad you remember. It's a pleasant picture to remember, isn't it, John?"
"You bet it is!"
John Tucker very gruff with himself, and polishing away like mad.
"Mis' Lee, she's gone, too, ain't she, Miss Kitty? Too bad!"
"Yes, John, she died three years ago. But Tom is alive," she added cheerfully, "and doing finely, I believe. Don't you want me to sing your own song for you, John? The one you taught me when I was a tiny? I have plenty of time before I go for Mr. Chanter. Do you believe Podasokus will ever get well, John Tucker, dear?"
"No'm, I do not; not as long as you and Pilot are handy by!" John Tucker looked up with a twinkle. "What I mean, 'tisn't to be expected, though I don't suppose Mr. Chanter senses how it is. That hoss ought to be put away, Miss Kitty. He ain't fit to drive, no more than an old buff'ler that the moths has got into it. Yes'm, I'd be tickled to death to hear that song, if you feel like singin' it. It's a long time since I've heard that song, Miss Kitty."
"I know, John! I haven't sung it since—I haven't sung at all since Mother went, till just these last few days. I don't know why I sing now, but somehow—now listen, John Tucker!"
Still perched on the arm of the chair, Kitty lifted up her voice and sang "Cockles and Mussels" till the [pg 247] stable rang with silver sound, and Dan and Pilot stamped and whinnied with excitement, while even Old Crummles, dozing in the farthest stall, raised his sleepy head and wondered what was going on. As for John Tucker, he wept with pleasure, openly and unashamed; those honest blue eyes of his were always ready for tears when he was moved.
"That's great!" he cried. "That certainly is great, Miss Kitty. I thank you for that!" he flourished a clean blue cotton handkerchief, and blew his nose sonorously. "You weren't more than knee-high to a grasshopper first time you sang that to old John Tucker. Your Ma sang it, too!" he added. "I remember of her singin' it that same day we was speakin' of. Miss Kitty——"
"Yes, John Tucker!" as he stopped abruptly.
"I was thinkin' I'd take Crummles to the station this afternoon. He ain't been out to-day."
"Yes, John Tucker. What else were you going to say?"
John gave a short embarrassed laugh. "I dunno as I ought to say it, Miss Kitty. Wal! if you will have it—there was something Mis' Ross said that day has stayed by me, kind of. Something—what I mean—well, 'twas this way. Those two ladies was talkin' together, and I no business to hear what they was sayin', but yet I couldn't but hear, bein' as I was holdin' the pony. Old Rosy Nanty! he was gettin' on in years, and he liked to lay down once in a while, and take a roll. He didn't mean no harm, he'd just antic a mite. So they was talkin', 'bout the children: [pg 248] they were both wropped up in 'em. Mis' Lee, she said something about young uns learnin' to know all sorts, kind of mix in, like, with folks in general: thought 'twas good for 'em and like that. And your Ma, she bust right out: 'No!' she says: 'my Kitty shall never know anything but what is lovely!' she says: and she went on, quoted the 'postle Paul and like that. I never forgot it. It kind o' sunk in. You weren't never to touch, or know, or think of, anything that wasn't just so, just—well, lovely, and good report, and that. You understand, Miss Kitty?"
Kitty nodded brightly. "I understand, John Tucker. Go on!"
"Wal! I dunno—I set here sometimes and mull over that, Miss Kitty, and wonder if we're doin' just what's right by your Ma. There! I guess it's got to come right out. I thought the first of it, takin' Madam Flynt for her ride and like that, 'twould be all right: of course you wouldn't be let to go to no trains nor nothin' of that sort. But come to see you kitin' round with tag rag and bobtail—what I mean,—I dunno as your Ma would like it, Miss Kitty. Of course 'tisn't for me to say, but——"
Kitty's eyes were dancing. She slipped from the arm of the chair, and stood before John Tucker, accusatory forefinger leveled.
"John Tucker," she said slowly, "you—are—a—snob!"
"Now, Miss Kitty, don't you——"
"A snob!" Kitty repeated with withering emphasis. "I know perfectly well what you mean. You saw [pg 249] me pick up poor old Mrs. Flanagan and take her home. John Tucker, Mrs. Flanagan is eighty if she is a day; and that basket weighed half a ton, I am sure. Would you have let her carry it, if you had been prancing past with Pilot? I ask you, John Tucker!"
John Tucker looked uncomfortable.
"Mis' Flanagan has four children of her own," he said, "and ten grandchildren. She'd oughter let them carry her baskets."
"Yes, but they weren't there, and I was. Try to have a little sense, John! as for the children on Saturday mornings—Yes! I saw you look at us, you snobbish John; you were coming out of Adams's: you gave us a Gorgon glare, and I was ashamed of you! As for the children, they are my joy and delight. I wouldn't miss the Saturday morning drive for anything, John Tucker. The lambs! didn't you see how they were enjoying it?"
"I saw they was awful dirty! Took me 'most an hour to get the wagon clean, all the mud they tracked in."
"They had been playing in the mud. What should they be doing on Saturday morning? I don't suppose you noticed," she added demurely, "that one of the boys was named Tucker, did you, John?"
"I did," said John Tucker grimly. "I told him I'd lick him out of his boots, if ever he took such a liberty again."
"Are you sure it was Jimmy who took the liberty, John?"
Kitty spoke very quietly, but there was a ring of [pg 250] steel in her voice. "There!" said John Tucker, describing the scene to Sarepta that night. "If it wasn't her Pa, lookin' straight at me, and lettin' me have it between the eyes, call me a juggins!"
"I will!" said Sarepta. "It's what you are! The idea!"
Kitty's vexation passed like summer lightning before John Tucker's abject penitence.
"I know!" she said, cheering and soothing him at once. "I know, dear John! It's all your goodness and faithfulness, and I love you for it. But don't you see, I cannot 'sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam, and feast upon strawberries, sugar and cream.' That is what blessed Mother would have liked for me, because she could, you know, and because I was her baby, and—oh, I understand so well! But I am a different kind, you see, John. I am mostly Ross, I suppose, at least, so Aunt Johanna says; and I don't like cushions, and I'm afraid I am not very fond of sewing fine seams. When one isn't driving or walking, it seems rather terrible not to be reading, don't you think?"
"Yes, Miss!" said John Tucker, submissively. His reading was confined to the State Farmer, but never again would he differ from his idol in any particular.
"And as for what is lovely, and so on—" Kitty's eyes and voice softened to the look and tone that were specially for her mother—"I think—John, would it be good for Pilot to live entirely on oats, and to trot always on a perfectly level State road? No? I thought not! And if he never did anything but speed in a trotting sulky, you wouldn't say he was being of any great use in the world? No, I thought not! And now it is half-past ten, John Tucker, and if you don't put Pilot into the beach wagon, I must."