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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 10
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The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 10 Post by :kristoff Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1110

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The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 10


The dress that Lydia habitually wore was one which her aunt Maria studied from the costume of a summer boarder, who had spent a preceding summer at the sea-shore, and who found her yachting-dress perfectly adapted to tramping over the South Bradfield hills. Thus reverting to its original use on shipboard, the costume looked far prettier on Lydia than it had on the summer boarder from whose unconscious person it had been plagiarized. It was of the darkest blue flannel, and was fitly set off with those bright ribbons at the throat which women know how to dispose there according to their complexions. One day the bow was scarlet, and another crimson; Staniford did not know which was better, and disputed the point in vain with Dunham. They all grew to have a taste in such matters. Captain Jenness praised her dress outright, and said that he should tell his girls about it. Lydia, who had always supposed it was a walking costume, remained discreetly silent when the young men recognized its nautical character. She enjoyed its success; she made some little changes in the hat she wore with it, which met the approval of the cabin family; and she tranquilly kept her black silk in reserve for Sunday. She came out to breakfast in it, and it swept the narrow spaces, as she emerged from her state-room, with so rich and deep a murmur that every one looked up. She sustained their united glance with something tenderly deprecatory and appealingly conscious in her manner, much as a very sensitive girl in some new finery meets the eyes of her brothers when she does not know whether to cry or laugh at what they will say. Thomas almost dropped a plate. "Goodness!" he said, helplessly expressing the public sentiment in regard to a garment of which he alone had been in the secret. No doubt it passed his fondest dreams of its splendor; it fitted her as the sheath of the flower fits the flower.

Captain Jenness looked hard at her, but waited a decent season after saying grace before offering his compliment, which he did in drawing the carving-knife slowly across the steel. "Well, Miss Blood, that's right!" Lydia blushed richly, and the young men made their obeisances across the table.

The flushes and pallors chased each other over her face, and the sight of her pleasure in being beautiful charmed Staniford. "If she were used to worship she would have taken our adoration more arrogantly," he said to his friend when they went on deck after breakfast. "I can place her; but one's circumstance doesn't always account for one in America, and I can't make out yet whether she's ever been praised for being pretty. Some of our hill-country people would have felt like hushing up her beauty, as almost sinful, and some would have gone down before it like Greeks. I can't tell whether she knows it all or not; but if you suppose her unconscious till now, it's pathetic. And black silks must be too rare in her life not to be celebrated by a high tumult of inner satisfaction. I'm glad we bowed down to the new dress."

"Yes," assented Dunham, with an uneasy absence; "but--Staniford, I should like to propose to Captain Jenness our having service this morning. It is the eleventh Sunday after--"

"Ah, yes!" said Staniford. "It is Sunday, isn't it? I _thought we had breakfast rather later than usual. All over the Christian world, on land and sea, there is this abstruse relation between a late breakfast and religious observances."

Dunham looked troubled. "I wish you wouldn't talk that way, Staniford, and I hope you won't say anything--"

"To interfere with your proposition? My dear fellow, I am at least a gentleman."

"I beg your pardon," said Dunham, gratefully.

Staniford even went himself to the captain with Dunham's wish; it is true the latter assumed the more disagreeable part of proposing the matter to Hicks, who gave a humorous assent, as one might to a joke of doubtful feasibility.

Dunham gratified both his love for social management and his zeal for his church in this organization of worship; and when all hands were called aft, and stood round in decorous silence, he read the lesson for the day, and conducted the service with a gravity astonishing to the sailors, who had taken him for a mere dandy. Staniford bore his part in the responses from the same prayer-book with Captain Jenness, who kept up a devout, inarticulate under-growl, and came out strong on particular words when he got his bearings through his spectacles. Hicks and the first officer silently shared another prayer-book, and Lydia offered half hers to Mr. Mason.

When the hymn was given out, she waited while an experimental search for the tune took place among the rest. They were about to abandon the attempt, when she lifted her voice and began to sing. She sang as she did in the meeting-house at South Bradfield, and her voice seemed to fill all the hollow height and distance; it rang far off like a mermaid's singing, on high like an angel's; it called with the same deep appeal to sense and soul alike. The sailors stood rapt; Dunham kept up a show of singing for the church's sake. The others made no pretense of looking at the words; they looked at her, and she began to falter, hearing herself alone. Then Staniford struck in again wildly, and the sea-voices lent their powerful discord, while the girl's contralto thrilled through all.

"Well, Miss Blood," said the captain, when the service had ended in that subordination of the spiritual to the artistic interest which marks the process and the close of so much public worship in our day, "you've given us a surprise. I guess we shall keep you pretty busy with our calls for music, after this."

"She is a genius!" observed Staniford at his first opportunity with Dunham. "I knew there must be something the matter. Of course she's going out to school her voice; and she hasn't strained it in idle babble about her own affairs! I must say that Lu--Miss Blood's power of holding her tongue commands my homage. Was it her little _coup to wait till we got into that hopeless hobble before she struck in?"

"Coup? For shame, Staniford! Coup at such a time!"

"Well, well! I don't say so. But for the theatre one can't begin practicing these effects too soon. Really, that voice puts a new complexion on Miss Blood. I have a theory to reconstruct. I have been philosophizing her as a simple country girl. I must begin on an operatic novice. I liked the other better. It gave value to the black silk; as a singer she'll wear silk as habitually as a cocoon. She will have to take some stage name; translate Blood into Italian. We shall know her hereafter as La Sanguinelli; and when she comes to Boston we shall make our modest brags about going out to Europe with her. I don't know; I think I preferred the idyllic flavor I was beginning to find in the presence of the ordinary, futureless young girl, voyaging under the chaperonage of her own innocence,--the Little Sister of the Whole Ship. But this crepusculant prima donna--no, I don't like it. Though it explains some things. These splendid creatures are never sent half equipped into the world. I fancy that where there's an operatic voice, there's an operatic soul to go with it. Well, La Sanguinelli will wear me out, yet! Suggest some new topic, Dunham; talk of something else, for heaven's sake!"

"Do you suppose," asked Dunham, "that she would like to help get up some _musicales_, to pass away the time?"

"Oh, do you call that talking of something else? What an insatiate organizer you are! You organize shuffleboard; you organize public worship; you want to organize musicales. She would have to do all your music for you."

"I think she would like to go in for it," said Dunham. "It must be a pleasure to exercise such a gift as that, and now that it's come out in the way it has, it would be rather awkward for us not to recognize it."

Staniford refused point-blank to be a party to the new enterprise, and left Dunham to his own devices at dinner, where he proposed the matter.

"If you had my Persis here, now," observed Captain Jenness, "with her parlor organ, you could get along."

"I wish Miss Jenness was here," said Dunham, politely. "But we must try to get on as it is. With Miss Blood's voice to start with, nothing ought to discourage us." Dunham had a thin and gentle pipe of his own, and a fairish style in singing, but with his natural modesty he would not offer himself as a performer except in default of all others. "Don't you sing, Mr. Hicks?"

"Anything to oblige a friend," returned Hicks. "But I don't sing --before Miss Blood."

"Miss Blood," said Staniford, listening in ironic safety, "you overawe us all. I never did sing, but I think I should want to make an effort if you were not by."

"But don't you--don't you play something, anything?" persisted Dunham, in desperate appeal to Hicks.

"Well, yes," the latter admitted, "I play the flute a little."

"Flutes on water!" said Staniford. Hicks looked at him in sulky dislike, but as if resolved not to be put down by him.

"And have you got your flute with you?" demanded Dunham, joyously.

"Yes, I have," replied Hicks.

"Then we are all right. I think I can carry a part, and if you will play to Miss Blood's singing--"

"Try it this evening, if you like," said the other.

"Well, ah--I don't know. Perhaps--we hadn't better begin this evening."

Staniford laughed at Dunham's embarrassment. "You might have a sacred concert, and Mr. Hicks could represent the shawms and cymbals with his flute."

Dunham looked sorry for Staniford's saying this. Captain Jenness stared at him, as if his taking the names of these scriptural instruments in vain were a kind of blasphemy, and Lydia seemed puzzled and a little troubled.

"I didn't think of its being Sunday," said Hicks, with what Staniford felt to be a cunning assumption of manly frankness, "or any more Sunday than usual; seems as if we had had a month of Sundays already since we sailed. I'm not much on religion myself, but I shouldn't like to interfere with other people's principles."

Staniford was vexed with himself for his scornful pleasantry, and vexed with the others for taking it so seriously and heavily, and putting him so unnecessarily in the wrong. He was angry with Dunham, and he said to Hicks, "Very just sentiments."

"I am glad you like them," replied Hicks, with sullen apprehension of the offensive tone.

Staniford turned to Lydia. "I suppose that in South Bradfield your Sabbath is over at sundown on Sunday evening."

"That used to be the custom," answered the girl. "I've heard my grandfather tell of it."

"Oh, yes," interposed Captain Jenness. "They used to keep Saturday night down our way, too. I can remember when I was a boy. It came pretty hard to begin so soon, but it seemed to kind of break it, after all, having a night in."

The captain did not know what Staniford began to laugh at. "Our Puritan ancestors knew just how much human nature could stand, after all. We did not have an uninterrupted Sabbath till the Sabbath had become much milder. Is that it?"

The captain had probably no very clear notion of what this meant, but simply felt it to be a critical edge of some sort. "I don't know as you can have too much religion," he remarked. "I've seen some pretty rough customers in the church, but I always thought, What would they be out of it!"

"Very true!" said Staniford, smiling. He wanted to laugh again, but he liked the captain too well to do that; and then he began to rage in his heart at the general stupidity which had placed him in the attitude of mocking at religion, a thing he would have loathed to do. It seemed to him that Dunham was answerable for his false position. "But we shall not see the right sort of Sabbath till Mr. Dunham gets his Catholic church fully going," he added.

They all started, and looked at Dunham as good Protestants must when some one whom they would never have suspected of Catholicism turns out to be a Catholic. Dunham cast a reproachful glance at his friend, but said simply, "I am a Catholic,--that is true; but I do not admit the pretensions of the Bishop of Rome."

The rest of the company apparently could not follow him in making this distinction; perhaps some of them did not quite know who the Bishop of Rome was. Lydia continued to look at him in fascination; Hicks seemed disposed to whistle, if such a thing were allowable; Mr. Watterson devoutly waited for the captain. "Well," observed the captain at last, with the air of giving the devil his due, "I've seen some very good people among the Catholics."

"That's so, Captain Jenness," said the first officer.

"I don't see," said Lydia, without relaxing her gaze, "why, if you are a Catholic, you read the service of a Protestant church."

"It is not a Protestant church," answered Dunham, gently, "as I have tried to explain to you."

"The Episcopalian?" demanded Captain Jenness.

"The Episcopalian," sweetly reiterated Dunham.

"I should like to know what kind of a church it is, then," said Captain Jenness, triumphantly.

"An Apostolic church."

Captain Jenness rubbed his nose, as if this were a new kind of church to him.

"Founded by Saint Henry VIII. himself," interjected Staniford.

"No, Staniford," said Dunham, with a soft repressiveness. And now a threatening light of zeal began to burn in his kindly eyes. These souls had plainly been given into his hands for ecclesiastical enlightenment. "If our friends will allow me, I will explain--"

Staniford's shaft had recoiled upon his own head. "O Lord!" he cried, getting up from the table, "I can't stand _that_!" The others regarded him, as he felt, even to that weasel of a Hicks, as a sheep of uncommon blackness. He went on deck, and smoked a cigar without relief. He still heard the girl's voice in singing; and he still felt in his nerves the quality of latent passion in it which had thrilled him when she sang. His thought ran formlessly upon her future, and upon what sort of being was already fated to waken her to those possibilities of intense suffering and joy which he imagined in her. A wound at his heart, received long before, hurt vaguely; and he felt old.

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The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 11 The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 11

The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 11
CHAPTER XINo one said anything more of the musicales, and the afternoon and evening wore away without general talk. Each seemed willing to keep apart from the rest. Dunham suffered Lydia to come on deck alone after tea, and Staniford found her there, in her usual place, when he went up some time later. He approached her at once, and said, smiling down into her face, to which the moonlight gave a pale mystery, "Miss Blood, did you think I was very wicked to-day at dinner?" Lydia looked away, and waited a moment before she spoke. "I don't know," she said.

The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 9 The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 9

The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 9
CHAPTER IXThe weather held fine. The sun shone, and the friendly winds blew out of a cloudless heaven; by night the moon ruled a firmament powdered with stars of multitudinous splendor. The conditions inspired Dunham with a restless fertility of invention in Lydia's behalf. He had heard of the game of shuffle-board, that blind and dumb croquet, with which the jaded passengers on the steamers appease their terrible leisure, and with the help of the ship's carpenter he organized this pastime, and played it with her hour after hour, while Staniford looked on and smoked in grave observance, and Hicks lurked