The Jamesons returned to Linnville the first of June. For some weeks we had seen indications of their coming. All through April and May repairs and improvements had been going on in their house. Some time during the winter the Jamesons had purchased the old Wray place, and we felt that they were to be a permanent feature in our midst.
The old Wray house had always been painted white, with green blinds, as were most of our village houses; now it was painted red, with blinds of a darker shade. When Louisa and I saw its bright walls through the budding trees we were somewhat surprised, but thought it might look rather pretty when we became accustomed to it. Very few of the neighbors agreed with us, however; they had been so used to seeing the walls of their dwellings white that this startled them almost as much as a change of color in their own faces would have done.
“We might as well set up for red Injuns and done with it,” said Mrs. Gregg one afternoon at the sewing circle. “What anybody can want anything any prettier than a neat white house with green blinds for, is beyond me.”
Every month during the winter a letter had come to our literary society in care of the secretary, who was my sister-in-law, Louisa Field. Louisa was always secretary because she was a school-teacher and was thought to have her hand in at that sort of work. Mrs. Jameson wrote a very kind, if it was a somewhat patronizing, sort of letter. She extended to us her very best wishes for our improvement and the widening of our spheres, and made numerous suggestions which she judged calculated to advance us in those respects. She recommended selections from Robert Browning to be read at our meetings, and she sent us some copies of explanatory and critical essays to be used in connection with them. She also in March sent us a copy of another lecture about the modern drama which she had herself written and delivered before her current literature club. With that she sent us some works of Ibsen and the Belgian writer, Maeterlinck, with the recommendation that we devote ourselves to the study of them at once, they being eminently calculated for the widening of our spheres.
Flora Clark, who is the president of the society; Mrs. Peter Jones, who is the vice-president; Louisa, and I, who am the treasurer, though there is nothing whatever to treasure, held a council over the books. We all agreed that while we were interested in them ourselves, though they were a strange savor to our mental palates, yet we would not read Mrs. Jameson's letter concerning them to the society, nor advise the study of them.
“I, for one, don't like to take the responsibility of giving the women of this village such reading,” said Flora Clark. “It may be improving and widening, and it certainly is interesting, and there are fine things in it, but it does not seem to me that it would be wise to take it into the society when I consider some of the members. I would just as soon think of asking them to tea and giving them nothing but olives and Russian caviare, which, I understand, hardly anybody likes at first. I never tasted them myself. We know what the favorite diet of this village is; and as long as we can eat it ourselves it seems to me it is safer than to try something which we may like and everybody else starve on, and I guess we haven't exhausted some of the older, simpler things, and that there is some nourishment to be gotten out of them yet for all of us. It is better for us all to eat bread and butter and pie than for two or three of us to eat the olives and caviare, and the rest to have to sit gnawing their forks and spoons.”
Mrs. Peter Jones, who is sometimes thought of for the president instead of Flora, bridled a little. “I suppose you think that these books are above the ladies of this village,” said she.
“I don't know as I think they are so much above as too far to one side,” said Flora. “Sometimes it's longitude, and sometimes it's latitude that separates people. I don't know but we are just as far from Ibsen and Maeterlinck as they are from us.”
Louisa and I thought Flora might be right. At all events, we did not wish to set ourselves up in opposition to her. We never carried the books into the society, and we never read Mrs. Jameson's letter about them, though we did feel somewhat guilty, especially as we reflected that Flora had never forgotten the affair of the jumbles, and might possibly have allowed her personal feelings to influence her.
“I should feel very sorry,” said Louisa to me, “if we were preventing the women of this village from improving themselves.”
“Well, we can wait until next summer, and let Mrs. Jameson take the responsibility. I don't want to be the means of breaking up the society, for one,” said I.
However, when Mrs. Jameson finally arrived in June, she seemed to be on a slightly different tack, so to speak, of improvement. She was not so active in our literary society and our sewing circle as she had been the summer before, but now, her own sphere having possibly enlarged, she had designs upon the village in the abstract.
Hannah Bell came over from the West Corners to open the house for them, and at five o'clock we saw the Grover stage rattle past with their trunks on top, and Grandma Cobb and the girls and Cobb looking out of the windows. Mrs. Jameson, being delicate, was, of course, leaning back, exhausted with her journey. Jonas Martin, who had been planting the garden, was out at the gate of the Wray house to help the driver carry in the trunks, and Hannah Bell was there too.
Louisa and I had said that it seemed almost too bad not to have some one of the village women go there and welcome them, but we did not know how Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson might take it, and nobody dared go. Mrs. White said that she would have been glad to make some of her cream biscuits and send them over, but she knew that Mrs. Jameson would not eat them, of course, and she did not know whether she would like any of the others to, and might think it a liberty.
So nobody did anything but watch. It was not an hour after the stage coach arrived before we saw Grandma Cobb coming up the road. We did not know whether she was going to Amelia Powers', or Mrs. Jones', or to our house; but she turned in at our gate.
We went to the door to meet her, and I must say she did seem glad to see us, and we were glad to see her. In a very short time we knew all that had happened in the Jameson family since they had left Linnville, and with no urging, and with even some reluctance on our part. It did not seem quite right for us to know how much Mrs. Jameson had paid her dressmaker for making her purple satin, and still less so for us to know that she had not paid for the making of her black lace net and the girls' organdy muslins, though she had been dunned three times. The knowledge was also forced upon us that all these fine new clothes were left in New York, since the shabby old ones must be worn out in the country, and that Harriet had cried because she could not bring some of her pretty gowns with her.
“Her mother does not think that there is any chance of her making a match here, and she had better save them up till next winter. Dress does make so much difference in a girl's prospects, you know,” said Grandma Cobb shrewdly.
I thought of poor Harry Liscom, and how sorry his little sweetheart must have felt not to be able to show herself in her pretty dresses to him. However, I was exceedingly glad to hear that she had cried, because it argued well for Harry, and looked as if she had not found another lover more to her mind in New York.
Indeed, Grandma Cobb informed us presently as to that. “Harriet does not seem to find anybody,” said she. “I suppose it is because H. Boardman lost his money; young men are so careful nowadays.”
Grandma Cobb stayed to tea with us that night; our supper hour came, and of course we asked her.
Grandma Cobb owned with the greatest frankness that she should like to stay. “There isn't a thing to eat at our house but hygienic biscuits and eggs,” said she. “My daughter wrote Hannah not to cook anything until we came; Hannah would have made some cake and pie, otherwise. I tell my daughter I have got so far along in life without living on hygienic food, and I am not going to begin. I want to get a little comfort out of the taste of my victuals, and my digestion is as good as hers, in spite of all her fussing. For my part,” continued Grandma Cobb, who had at times an almost coarsely humorous method of expressing herself, “I believe in not having your mind on your inwards any more than you can possibly help. I believe the best way to get along with them is to act as if they weren't there.”
After Grandma Cobb went home, as late as nine o'clock, I saw a clinging, shadowy couple stroll past our house, and knew it was Harriet Jameson and Harry, as did Louisa, and our consciences began to trouble us again.
“I feel like a traitor to Caroline and to Mrs. Jameson sometimes,” said I.
“Well, maybe that is better than to be traitor to true love,” said Louisa, which did sound rather sentimental.
The next morning about eleven o'clock Mrs. Jameson came in, and we knew at once that she was, so to speak, fairly rampant in the field of improvement for our good, or rather the good of the village, for, as I said before, she was now resolved upon the welfare of the village at large, and not that of individuals or even societies.
“I consider that my own sphere has been widened this winter,” said Mrs. Jameson, and Louisa and I regarded her with something like terror. Flora Clark said, when she heard that remark of Mrs. Jameson's, that she felt, for her part, as if a kicking horse had got out of the pasture, and there was no knowing where he would stop.
We supposed that it must be an evidence of Mrs. Jameson's own advance in improvement that she had adopted such a singular costume, according to our ideas. She was dressed no longer in the rich fabrics which had always aroused our admiration, but, instead, wore a gown of brown cloth cut short enough to expose her ankles, which were, however, covered with brown gaiters made of cloth like her dress. She wore a shirt-waist of brown silk, and a little cutaway jacket. Mrs. Jameson looked as if she were attired for riding the wheel, but that was a form of exercise to which she was by no means partial either for herself or for her daughters. I could never understand just why she was not partial to wheeling. Wheels were not as fashionable then as now, but Mrs. Jameson was always quite up with, if not in advance of, her age.
Neither of us admired her in this costume. Mrs. Jameson was very stout, and the short skirt was not, to our way of thinking, becoming.
“Don't you think that I have adopted a very sensible and becoming dress for country wear?” said she, and Louisa and I did not know what to say. We did not wish to be untruthful and we disliked to be impolite. Finally, Louisa said faintly that she thought it must be very convenient for wear in muddy weather, and I echoed her.
“Of course, you don't have to hold it up at all,” said I.
“It is the only costume for wear in the country,” said Mrs. Jameson, “and I hope to have all the women in Linnville wearing it before the summer is over.”
Louisa and I glanced at each other in dismay. I think that we both had mental pictures of some of the women whom we knew in that costume. Some of our good, motherly, village faces, with their expressions of homely dignity and Christian decorousness, looking at us from under that jaunty English walking-hat, in lieu of their sober bonnets, presented themselves to our imaginations, and filled us with amusement and consternation.
“Only think how Mrs. Sim White would look,” Louisa said after Mrs. Jameson had gone, and we both saw Mrs. White going down the street in that costume indicative of youthful tramps over long stretches of road, and mad spins on wheels, instead of her nice, softly falling black cashmere skirts covering decently her snowy stockings and her cloth congress boots; and we shuddered.
“Of course, she would have to wear gaiters like Mrs. Jameson,” said Louisa, “but it would be dreadful.”
“Well, there's one comfort,” said I; “Mrs. White will never wear it.”
“Nor anybody else,” said Louisa.
Still we did feel a little nervous about it; there is never any estimating the influence of a reformer. However, we were sure of ourselves. Louisa and I agreed that we never would be seen out in any such costume. Not very many in the village were. There were a few women, who were under the influence of Mrs. Jameson, who did cut off some of their old dresses and make themselves some leggings with hers for a pattern. After their housework was done they started off for long tramps with strides of independence and defiance, but they did not keep it up very long; none of them after Mrs. Jameson went away. To tell the truth, most of the women in our village had so much work to do, since they kept no servants, that they could not take many ten-mile walks, no matter what length skirts they wore. However, many wore the short ones while doing housework, which was very sensible.
During that morning call, Mrs. Jameson, besides the reformed costume, advocated another innovation which fairly took our breaths away. She was going to beautify the village. We had always considered the village beautiful as it was, and we bridled a little at that.
“There is scarcely a house in this village which is overgrown with vines,” said she. “I am going to introduce vines.”
Louisa ventured to say that she thought vines very pretty, but she knew some people objected to them on the score of spiders, and also thought that they were bad for the paint. We poor, frugal village folk have always to consider whether beauty will trespass on utility, and consequently dollars and cents. There are many innocent slaves to Mammon in our midst.
Mrs. Jameson sniffed in her intensely scornful way. “Spiders and paint!” said she. “I am going to have the houses of this village vine-clad. It is time that the people were educated in beauty.”
“People won't like it if she does go to planting vines around their houses without their permission, even if she does mean well,” said Louisa after she had gone.
“She never will dare to without their permission,” said I; but I wondered while I spoke, and Louisa laughed.
“Don't you be too sure of that,” said she—and she was right.
Permission in a few cases Mrs. Jameson asked, and in the rest she assumed. Old Jonas Martin ransacked the woods for vines—clematis and woodbine—then he, with Mrs. Jameson to superintend, set them out around our village houses. The calm insolence of benevolence with which Mrs. Jameson did this was inimitable. People actually did not know whether to be furious or amused at this liberty taken with their property. They saw with wonder Mrs. Jameson, with old Jonas following laden with vines and shovel, also the girls and Cobb, who had been pressed, however unwillingly, into service, tagging behind trailing with woodbine and clematis; they stood by and saw their house-banks dug up and the vines set, and in most cases said never a word. If they did expostulate, Mrs. Jameson only directed Jonas where to put the next vine, and assured the bewildered owner of the premises that he would in time thank her.
However, old Jonas often took the irate individual aside for a consolatory word. “Lord a-massy, don't ye worry,” old Jonas would say, with a sly grin; “ye know well enough that there won't a blamed one of the things take root without no sun an' manure; might as well humor her long as she's sot on 't.”
Then old Jonas would wink slowly with a wink of ineffable humor. There was no mistaking the fact that old Jonas was getting a deal of solid enjoyment out of the situation. He had had a steady, hard grind of existence, and was for the first time seeing the point of some of those jokes of life for which his natural temperament had given him a relish. He acquired in those days a quizzical cock to his right eyebrow, and a comically confidential quirk to his mouth, which were in themselves enough to provoke a laugh.
Mrs. Jameson, however, did not confine herself, in her efforts for the wholesale decoration of our village, to the planting of vines around our house-walls; and there were, in one or two cases, serious consequences.
When, thinking that corn-cockles and ox-eyed daisies would be a charming combination at the sides of the country road, she caused them to be sowed, and thereby introduced them into Jonas Green's wheat-field, he expostulated in forcible terms, and threatened a suit for damages; and when she caused a small grove of promising young hemlocks to be removed from Eben Betts' woodland and set out in the sandy lot in which the schoolhouse stands, without leave or license, it was generally conceded that she had exceeded her privileges as a public benefactress.
I said at once there would be trouble, when Louisa came home and told me about it.
“The school house looks as if it were set in a shady grove,” said she, “and is ever so pretty. The worst of it is, of course, the trees won't grow in that sand-hill.”
“The worst of it is, if she has taken those trees without leave or license, as I suspect, Eben Betts will not take it as a joke,” said I; and I was right.
Mr. H. Boardman Jameson had to pay a goodly sum to Eben Betts to hush the matter up; and the trees soon withered, and were cut up for firewood for the schoolhouse. People blamed old Jonas Martin somewhat for his share of this transaction, arguing that he ought not to have yielded to Mrs. Jameson in such a dishonest transaction, even in the name of philanthropy; but he defended himself, saying: “It's easy 'nough to talk, but I'd like to see any of ye stand up agin that woman. When she gits headed, it's either git out from under foot or git knocked over.”
Mrs. Jameson not only strove to establish improvements in our midst, but she attacked some of our time-honored institutions, one against which she directed all the force of her benevolent will being our front doors. Louisa and I had always made free with our front door, as had some others; but, generally speaking, people in our village used their front doors only for weddings, funerals, and parties. The side doors were thought to be good enough for ordinary occasions, and we never dreamed, when dropping in for a neighborly call, of approaching any other. Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson resolved to do away with this state of things, and also with our sacred estimate of the best parlors, which were scarcely opened from one year's end to the other, and seemed redolent of past grief and joy, with no dilution by the every-day occurrences of life. Mrs. Jameson completely ignored the side door, marched boldly upon the front one, and compelled the mistress to open it to her resolute knocks. Once inside, she advanced straight upon the sacred precincts of the best parlor, and seated herself in the chilly, best rocking-chair with the air of one who usurps a throne, asking with her manner of sweet authority if the blinds could not be opened and the sun let in, as it felt damp to her, and she was very susceptible to dampness. It was told, on good authority, that in some cases she even threw open the blinds and windows herself while the person who admitted her was calling other members of the family.
It was also reported that she had on several occasions marched straight up to a house which she had no design of entering, thrown open the parlor blinds, and admitted the sunlight, with its fading influence, on the best carpet, and then proceeded down the street with the bearing of triumphant virtue. It was related that in a number of instances the indignant housewife, on entering her best parlor, found that the sun had been streaming in there all day, right on the carpet.
Mrs. Jameson also waged fierce war on another custom dear to the average village heart, and held sacred, as everything should be which is innocently dear to one's kind, by all who did not exactly approve of it.
In many of our village parlors, sometimes in the guest-chambers, when there had been many deaths in the family, hung the framed coffin-plates and faded funeral wreaths of departed dear ones. Now and then there was a wreath of wool flowers, a triumph of domestic art, which encircled the coffin-plate instead of the original funeral garland. Mrs. Jameson set herself to work to abolish this grimly pathetic New England custom with all her might. She did everything but actually tear them from our walls. That, even in her fiery zeal of improvement, she did not quite dare attempt. She made them a constant theme of conversation at sewing circle and during her neighborly calls. She spoke of the custom quite openly as grewsome and barbarous, but I must say without much effect. Mrs. Jameson found certain strongholds of long-established customs among us which were impregnable to open rancor or ridicule—and that was one of them. The coffin-plates and the funeral wreaths continued to hang in the parlors and chambers.
Once Flora Clark told Mrs. Jameson to her face, in the sewing circle, when she had been talking for a good hour about the coffin-plates, declaring them to be grewsome and shocking, that, for her part, she did not care for them, did not have one in her house—though every one of her relations were dead, and she might have her walls covered with them—but she believed in respecting those who did; and it seemed to her that, however much anybody felt called upon to interfere with the ways of the living, the relics of the dead should be left alone. Flora concluded by saying that it seemed to her that if the Linnville folks let Mrs. Jameson's bean-pots alone, she might keep her hands off their coffin-plates.
Mrs. Jameson was quite unmoved even by that. She said that Miss Clark did not realize, as she would do were her sphere wider, the incalculable harm that such a false standard of art might do in a community: that it might even pervert the morals.
“I guess if we don't have anything to hurt our morals any worse than our coffin-plates, we shall do,” returned Flora. She said afterward that she felt just like digging up some of her own coffin-plates, and having them framed and hung up, and asking Mrs. Jameson to tea.
All through June and a part of July Louisa and I had seen the clandestine courtship between Harry Liscom and Harriet Jameson going on. We could scarcely help it. We kept wondering why neither Caroline Liscom nor Mrs. Jameson seemed aware of it. Of course, Mrs. Jameson was so occupied with the village welfare that it might account for it in her case, but we were surprised that Caroline was so blinded. We both of us thought that she would be very much averse to the match, from her well-known opinion of the Jamesons; and it proved that she was. Everybody talked so much about Harry and his courtship of Harriet that it seemed incredible that Caroline should not hear of it, even if she did not see anything herself to awaken suspicion. We did not take into consideration the fact that a strong-minded woman like Caroline Liscom has difficulty in believing anything which she does not wish to be true, and that her will stands in her own way.
However, on Wednesday of the second week of July both she and Mrs. Jameson had their eyes opened perforce. It was a beautiful moonlight evening, and Louisa and I were sitting at the windows looking out and chatting peacefully. Little Alice had gone to bed, and we had not lit the lamp, it was so pleasant in the moonlight. Presently, about half-past eight o'clock, two figures strolled by, and we knew who they were.
“It is strange to me that Grandma Cobb does not find it out, if Mrs. Jameson is too wrapped up in her own affairs and with grafting ours into them,” said Louisa thoughtfully.
I remarked that I should not be surprised if she did know; and it turned out afterward that it was so. Grandma Cobb had known all the time, and Harriet had gone through her room to get to the back stairs, down which she stole to meet Harry.
The young couple had not been long past when a stout, tall figure went hurriedly by with an angry flirt of skirts—short ones.
“Oh, dear, that is Mrs. Jameson!” cried Louisa.
We waited breathless. Harry and Harriet could have gone no farther than the grove, for in a very short time back they all came, Mrs. Jameson leading—almost pulling—along her daughter, and Harry pressing close at her side, with his arm half extended as if to protect his sweetheart. Mrs. Jameson kept turning and addressing him; we could hear the angry clearness of her voice, though we could not distinguish many words; and finally, when they were almost past we saw poor Harriet also turn to him, and we judged that she, as well as her mother, was begging him to go, for he directly caught her hand, gave it a kiss, said something which we almost caught, to the effect that she must not be afraid—he would take care that all came out right—and was gone.
“Oh, dear,” sighed Louisa, and I echoed her. I did pity the poor young things.
To our surprise, and also to our dismay, it was not long before we saw Mrs. Jameson hurrying back, and she turned in at our gate.
Louisa jumped and lighted the lamp, and I set the rocking-chair for Mrs. Jameson.
“No, I can't sit down,” said she, waving her hand. “I am too much disturbed to sit down,” but even as she said that she did drop into the rocking-chair. Louisa said afterward that Mrs. Jameson was one who always would sit down during all the vicissitudes of life, no matter how hard she took them.
Mrs. Jameson was very much disturbed; we had never seen her calm superiority so shaken; it actually seemed as if she realized for once that she was not quite the peer of circumstances, as Louisa said.
“I wish to inquire if you have known long of this shameful clandestine love affair of my daughter's?” said she, and Louisa and I were nonplussed. We did not know what to say. Luckily, Mrs. Jameson did not wait for an answer; she went on to pour her grievance into our ears, without even stopping to be sure whether they were sympathizing ones or not.
“My daughter cannot marry into one of these village families,” said she, without apparently the slightest consideration of the fact that we were a village family. “My daughter has been very differently brought up. I have other views for her; it is impossible; it must be understood at once that I will not have it.”
Mrs. Jameson was still talking, and Louisa and I listening with more of dismay than sympathy, when who should walk in but Caroline Liscom herself.
She did not knock—she never does; she opened the door with no warning whatsoever, and stood there.
Louisa turned pale, and I know I must have. I could not command my voice, though I tried hard to keep calm.
I said “Good-morning,” when it should have been “Good-evening,” and placed Alice's little chair, in which she could not by any possibility sit, for Caroline.
“No, I don't want to sit down,” said Caroline, and she kept her word better than Mrs. Jameson. She turned directly to the latter. “I have just been over to your house,” said she, “and they told me that you had come over here. I want to say something to you, and that is, I don't want my son to marry your daughter, and I will never give my consent to it, never, never!”
Mrs. Jameson's face was a study. For a minute she had not a word to say; she only gasped. Finally she spoke. “You can be no more unwilling to have your son marry my daughter than I am to have my daughter marry your son,” said she.
Then Caroline said something unexpected. “I would like to know what you have against my son, as fine a young man as there is anywhere about, I don't care who he is,” said she.
And Mrs. Jameson said something unexpected. “I should like to inquire what you have against my daughter?” said she.
“Well, I'll tell you one thing,” returned Caroline; “she doesn't know enough to keep a doll-baby's house, and she ain't neat.”
Mrs. Jameson choked; it did not seem as if she could reply in her usual manner to such a plain statement of objections. She and Caroline glared at each other a minute; then to our great relief, for no one wants her house turned into the seat of war, Caroline simply repeated, “I shall never give my consent to have my son marry your daughter,” and went out.
Mrs. Jameson did not stay long after that. She rose, saying that her nerves were very much shaken, and that she felt it sad that all her efforts for the welfare and improvement of the village should have ended in this, and bade us a mournful good-evening and left.
Louisa and I had an impression that she held us in some way responsible, and we could not see why, though I did reflect guiltily how I had asked the lovers into my house that October night. Louisa and I agreed that, take it altogether, we had never seen so much mutual love and mutual scorn in two families.