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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 16. The Beginning Of The Ebb
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The Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 16. The Beginning Of The Ebb Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :1671

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The Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 16. The Beginning Of The Ebb

CHAPTER XVI. THE BEGINNING OF THE EBB


Spring has come and gone. The lilacs and crocuses, the tulips and buttercups, have bloomed and faded; the lawn has had its sprinkling of dandelions, and the duff of their blossoms has drifted past the hemlocks and over the tree-tops. The grass has had its first cutting; the roses have burst their buds and hang in clusters over the arbors; warm winds blow in from the sea laden with perfumes from beach and salt-marsh; the skies are steely blue and the cloud puffs drift lazily. It is summer-time--the season of joy and gladness, the season of out-of-doors.

All the windows at Yardley are open; the porch has donned an awning--its first--colored white and green, shading big rocking-chairs and straw tables resting on Turkish rugs. Lucy had wondered why in all the years that Jane had lived alone at Yardley she had never once thought of the possibilities of this porch. Jane had agreed with her, and so, under Lucy's direction, the awnings had been put up and the other comforts inaugurated. Beneath its shade Lucy sits and reads or embroiders or answers her constantly increasing correspondence.

The porch serves too as a reception-room, the vines being thick and the occupants completely hidden from view. Here Lucy often spreads a small table, especially when Max Feilding drives over in his London drag from Beach Haven on Barnegat beach. On these occasions, if the weather is warm, she refreshes him with delicate sandwiches and some of her late father's rare Scotch whiskey (shelved in the cellar for thirty years) or with the more common brands of cognac served in the old family decanters.

Of late Max had become a constant visitor. His own ancestors had made honorable records in the preceding century, and were friends of the earlier Cobdens during the Revolution. This, together with the fact that he had visited Yardley when Lucy was a girl--on his first return from Paris, in fact--and that the acquaintance had been kept up while he was a student abroad, was reason enough for his coming with such frequency.

His drag, moreover, as it whirled into Yardley's gate, gave a certain air of eclat to the Manor House that it had not known since the days of the old colonel. Nothing was lacking that money and taste could furnish. The grays were high-steppers and smooth as satin, the polished chains rattled and clanked about the pole; the body was red and the wheels yellow, the lap-robe blue, with a monogram; and the diminutive boy studded with silver buttons bearing the crest of the Feilding family was as smart as the tailor could make him.

And the owner himself, in his whity-brown driving-coat with big pearl buttons, yellow gloves, and gray hat, looked every inch the person to hold the ribbons. Altogether it was a most fashionable equipage, owned and driven by a most fashionable man.

As for the older residents of Warehold, they had only words of praise for the turnout. Uncle Ephraim declared that it was a "Jim Dandy," which not only showed his taste, but which also proved how much broader that good-natured cynic had become in later years. Billy Tatham gazed at it with staring eyes as it trundled down the highway and turned into the gate, and at once determined to paint two of his hacks bright yellow and give each driver a lap-robe with the letter "T" worked in high relief.

The inmates of Yardley were not quite so enthusiastic. Martha was glad that her bairn was having such a good time, and she would often stand on the porch with little Ellen's hand in hers and wave to Max and Lucy as they dashed down the garden road and out through the gate, the tiger behind; but Jane, with that quick instinct which some women possess, recognized something in Feilding's manner which she could not put into words, and so held her peace. She had nothing against Max, but she did not like him. Although he was most considerate of her feelings and always deferred to her, she felt that any opposition on her part to their outings would have made no difference to either one of them. He asked her permission, of course, and she recognized the courtesy, but nothing that he ever did or said overcame her dislike of him.

Doctor John's personal attitude and bearing toward Feilding was an enigma not only to Jane, but to others who saw it. He invariably greeted him, whenever they met, with marked, almost impressive cordiality, but it never passed a certain limit of reserve; a certain dignity of manner which Max had recognized the first day he shook hands with him. It recalled to Feilding some of his earlier days, when he was a student in Paris. There had been a supper in Max's room that ended at daylight--no worse in its features than dozens of others in the Quartier--to which an intimate friend of the doctor's had been invited, and upon which, as Max heard afterward, the doctor had commented rather severely.

Max realized, therefore, but too well that the distinguished physician--known now over half the State--understood him, and his habits, and his kind as thoroughly as he did his own ease of instruments. He realized, too, that there was nothing about his present appearance or surroundings or daily life that could lead so thoughtful a man of the world as Dr. John Cavendish, of Barnegat, to conclude that he had changed in any way for the better.

And yet this young gentleman could never have been accused of burning his candle at both ends. He had no flagrant vices really--none whose posters were pasted on the victim's face. Neither cards nor any other form of play interested him, nor did the wine tempt him when it was red--or of any other color, for that matter, nor did he haunt the dressing-rooms of chorus girls and favorites of the hour. His innate refinement and good taste prevented any such uses of his spare time. His weakness--for it could hardly be called a vice--was narrowed down to one infirmity, and one only: this was his inability to be happy without the exclusive society of some one woman.

Who the woman might be depended very largely on whom he might be thrown with. In the first ten years of his majority--his days of poverty when a student--it had been some girl in exile, like himself. During the last ten years--since his father's death and his inheritance--it had been a loose end picked out of the great floating drift--that social flotsam and jetsam which eddies in and out of the casinos of Nice and Monte Carlo, flows into Aix and Trouville in summer and back again to Rome and Cairo in winter--a discontented wife perhaps; or an unmarried woman of thirty-five or forty, with means enough to live where she pleased; or it might be some self-exiled Russian countess or English-woman of quality who had a month off, and who meant to make the most of it. All most respectable people, of course, without a breath of scandal attaching to their names--Max was too careful for that--and yet each and every one on the lookout for precisely the type of man that Max represented: one never happy or even contented when outside the radius of a waving fan or away from the flutter of a silken skirt.

It was in one of these resorts of the idle, a couple of years before, while Lucy's husband and little Ellen were home in Geneva, that Max had met her, and where he had renewed the acquaintance of their childhood--an acquaintance which soon ripened into the closest friendship.

Hence his London drag and appointments; hence the yacht and a four-in-hand--then a great novelty--all of which he had promised her should she decide to join him at home. Hence, too, his luxuriously fitted-up bachelor quarters in Philadelphia, and his own comfortable apartments in his late father's house, where his sister Sue lived; and hence, too, his cosey rooms in the best corner of the Beach Haven hotel, with a view overlooking Barnegat Light and the sea.

None of these things indicated in the smallest degree that this noble gentleman contemplated finally settling down in a mansion commensurate with his large means, where he and the pretty widow could enjoy their married life together; nothing was further from his mind--nothing could be--he loved his freedom too much. What he wanted, and what he intended to have, was her undivided companionship--at least for the summer; a companionship without any of the uncomfortable complications which would have arisen had he selected an unmarried woman or the wife of some friend to share his leisure and wealth.

The woman he picked out for the coming season suited him exactly. She was blonde, with eyes, mouth, teeth, and figure to his liking (he had become critical in forty odd years--twenty passed as an expert); dressed in perfect taste, and wore her clothes to perfection; had a Continental training that made her mistress of every situation, receiving with equal ease and graciousness anybody, from a postman to a prince, sending them away charmed and delighted; possessed money enough of her own not to be too much of a drag upon him; and--best of all (and this was most important to the heir of Walnut Hill)--had the best blood of the State circling in her veins. Whether this intimacy might drift into something closer, compelling him to take a reef in his sails, never troubled him. It was not the first time that he had steered his craft between the Scylla of matrimony and the Charybdis of scandal, and he had not the slightest doubt of his being able to do it again.

As for Lucy, she had many plans in view. One was to get all the fun possible out of the situation; another was to provide for her future. How this was to be accomplished she had not yet determined. Her plans were laid, but some of them she knew from past experience might go astray. On one point she had made up her mind--not to be in a hurry. In furtherance of these schemes she had for some days--some months, in fact--been making preparations for an important move. She knew that its bare announcement would come as a surprise to Jane and Martha and, perhaps, as a shock, but that did not shake her purpose. She furthermore expected more or less opposition when they fully grasped her meaning. This she intended to overcome. Neither Jane nor Martha, she said to herself, could be angry with her for long, and a few kisses and an additional flow of good-humor would soon set them to laughing again.

To guard against the possibility of a too prolonged interview with Jane, ending, perhaps, in a disagreeable scene--one beyond her control--she had selected a sunny summer morning for the stage setting of her little comedy and an hour when Feilding was expected to call for her in his drag. She and Max were to make a joint inspection that day of his new apartment at Beach Haven, into which he had just moved, as well as the stable containing the three extra vehicles and equine impedimenta, which were to add to their combined comfort and enjoyment.

Lucy had been walking in the garden looking at the rose-beds, her arm about her sister's slender waist, her ears open to the sound of every passing vehicle--Max was expected at any moment--when she began her lines.

"You won't mind, Jane, dear, will you, if I get together a few things and move over to Beach Haven for a while?" she remarked simply, just as she might have done had she asked permission to go upstairs to take a nap. "I think we should all encourage a new enterprise like the hotel, especially old families like ours. And then the sea air always does me so much good. Nothing like Trouville air, my dear husband used to tell me, when I came back in the autumn. You don't mind, do you?"

"For how long, Lucy?" asked Jane, with a tone of disappointment in her voice, as she placed her foot on the top step of the porch.

"Oh, I can't tell. Depends very much on how I like it." As she spoke she drew up an easy-chair for Jane and settled herself in another. Then she added carelessly: "Oh, perhaps a month--perhaps two."

"Two months!" exclaimed Jane in astonishment, dropping into her seat. "Why, what do you want to leave Yardley for? O Lucy, don't--please don't go!"

"But you can come over, and I can come here," rejoined Lucy in a coaxing tone.

"Yes; but I don't want to come over. I want you at home. And it's so lovely here. I have never seen the garden look so beautiful; and you have your own room, and this little porch is so cosey. The hotel is a new building, and the doctor says a very damp one, with everything freshly plastered. He won't let any of his patients go there for some weeks, he tells me. Why should you want to go? I really couldn't think of it, dear. I'd miss you dreadfully."

"You dear old sister," answered Lucy, laying her parasol on the small table beside her, "you are so old-fashioned. Habit, if nothing else, would make me go. I have hardly passed a summer in Paris or Geneva since I left you; and you know how delightful my visits to Biarritz used to be years ago. Since my marriage I have never stayed in any one place so long as this. I must have the sea air."

"But the salt water is right here, Lucy, within a short walk of our gate, and the air is the same." Jane's face wore a troubled look, and there was an anxious, almost frightened tone in her voice.

"No, it is not exactly the same," Lucy answered positively, as if she had made a life-long study of climate; "and if it were, the life is very different. I love Warehold, of course; but you must admit that it is half-asleep all the time. The hotel will be some change; there will be new people and something to see from the piazzas. And I need it, dear. I get tired of one thing all the time--I always have."

"But you will be just as lonely there." Jane in her astonishment was like a blind man feeling about for a protecting wall.

"No; Max and his sister will be at Beach Haven, and lots of others I know. No, I won't be lonely," and an amused expression twinkled in her eyes.

Jane sat quite still. Some of Captain Holt's blunt, outspoken criticisms floated through her brain.

"Have you any reason for wanting to leave here?" she asked, raising her eyes and looking straight at Lucy.

"No, certainly not. How foolish, dear, to ask me! I'm never so happy as when I am with you."

"Well, why then should you want to give up your home and all the comforts you need--your flowers, garden, and everything you love, and this porch, which you have just made so charming, to go to a damp, half-completed hotel, without a shrub about it--only a stretch of desolate sand with the tide going in and out?" There was a tone of suspicion in Jane's voice that Lucy had never heard from her sister's lips--never, in all her life.

"Oh, because I love the tides, if nothing else," she answered with a sentimental note in her voice. "Every six hours they bring me a new message. I could spend whole mornings watching the tides come and go. During my long exile you don't know how I dreamed every night of the dear tides of Barnegat. If you had been away from all you love as many years as I have, you would understand how I could revel in the sound of the old breakers."

For some moments Jane did not answer. She knew from the tones of Lucy's voice and from the way she spoke that she did not mean it. She had heard her talk that way to some of the villagers when she wanted to impress them, but she had never spoken in the same way to her.

"You have some other reason, Lucy. Is it Max?" she asked in a strained tone.

Lucy colored. She had not given her sister credit for so keen an insight into the situation. Jane's mind was evidently working in a new direction. She determined to face the suspicion squarely; the truth under some conditions is better than a lie.

"Yes," she replied, with an assumed humility and with a tone as if she had been detected in a fault and wanted to make a clean breast of it. "Yes--now that you have guessed it--it IS Max."

"Don't you think it would be better to see him here instead of at the hotel?" exclaimed Jane, her eyes still boring into Lucy's.

"Perhaps"--the answer came in a helpless way--"but that won't do much good. I want to keep my promise to him if I can."

"What was your promise?" Jane's eyes lost their searching look for an instant, but the tone of suspicion still vibrated.

Lucy hesitated and began playing with the trimming on her dress.

"Well, to tell you the truth, dear, a few days ago in a burst of generosity I got myself into something of a scrape. Max wants his sister Sue to spend the summer with him, and I very foolishly promised to chaperon her. She is delighted over the prospect, for she must have somebody, and I haven't the heart to disappoint her. Max has been so kind to me that I hate now to tell him I can't go. That's all, dear. I don't like to speak of obligations of this sort, and so at first I only told you half the truth."

"You should always keep your promise, dear," Jane answered thoughtfully and with a certain relieved tone. (Sue was nearly thirty, but that did not occur to Jane.) "But this time I wish you had not promised. I am sorry, too, for little Ellen. She will miss her little garden and everything she loves here; and then again, Archie will miss her, and so will Captain Holt and Martha. You know as well as I do that a hotel is no place for a child."

"I am glad to hear you say so. That's why I shall not take her with me." As she spoke she shot an inquiring glance from the corner of her eyes at the anxious face of her sister. These last lines just before the curtain fell were the ones she had dreaded most.

Jane half rose from her seat. Her deep eyes were wide open, gazing in astonishment at Lucy. For an instant she felt as if her heart had stopped beating.

"And you--you--are not going to take Ellen with you!" she gasped.

"No, of course not." She saw her sister's agitation, but she did not intend to notice it. Besides, her expectant ear had caught the sound of Max's drag as it whirled through the gate. "I always left her with her grandmother when she was much younger than she is now. She is very happy here and I wouldn't be so cruel as to take her away from all her pleasures. Then she loves old people. See how fond she is of the Captain and Martha! No, you are right. I wouldn't think of taking her away."

Jane was standing now, her eyes blazing, her lips quivering.

"You mean, Lucy, that you would leave your child here and spend two months away from her?"

The wheels were crunching the gravel within a rod of the porch. Max had already lifted his hat.

"But, sister, you don't understand--" The drag stopped and Max, with uncovered head, sprang out and extended his hand to Jane.

Before he could offer his salutations Lucy's joyous tones rang out.

"Just in the nick of time, Max," she cried. "I've just been telling my dear sister that I'm going to move over to Beach Haven to-morrow, bag and baggage, and she is delighted at the news. Isn't it just like her?"

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