Reading Books on PopNovel APP

A Little Country Girl

A Little Country Girl

Author:Susan Coolidge


IT was on one of the cool, brilliant days which early June brings to the Narragansett country, that the steamer "Eolus" pushed out from Wickford Pier on her afternoon trip to Newport. The sky was of a beautiful translucent blue; the sunshine had a silvery rather than a ...
Show All▼

  IT was on one of the cool, brilliant days which early June brings to theNarragansett country, that the steamer "Eolus" pushed out from WickfordPier on her afternoon trip to Newport. The sky was of a beautifultranslucent blue; the sunshine had a silvery rather than a goldenradiance. A sea-wind blew up the Western Passage, so cool as to make thepassengers on the upper deck glad to draw their wraps about them. Thelow line of the mainland beyond Conanicut and down to Beaver Tailglittered with a sort of clear-cut radiance, and seemed lifted a littleabove the water. Candace Arden heard the Captain say that he judged,from the look of things, that there was going to be a change of weatherbefore long.

  Captain Peleg King was a great favorite on his line of travel. He had apleasant, shrewd face, grizzled hair, a spare, active figure; and heseemed to notice every one of his passengers and to take an interest inthem.

  "Going down to Newport, Miss?" he said to Candace, after giving her oneor two quick looks.

  The question was superfluous, for the "Eolus" went nowhere else exceptto Newport; but it was well-meant, for the Captain thought that Candaceseemed lonely and ill at ease, and he wished to cheer her.

  "Yes, sir," she answered, shyly.

  "Your folks there for the summer?" he went on.

  "No, sir; I'm going to stay with my cousin Mrs. Gray."

  "Mrs. Courtenay Gray you mean, I guess. Well, it's queer, but I sort erthought that you favored her a little. She's down early this year. Ifetched her and the family across on my evening trip more'n two weeksago. Mrs. Gray's a mighty nice lady; I'm always pleased when she comesaboard. Wouldn't you like to take a seat in the wheel-house, Miss? Thewind's blowing pretty fresh."

  Candace was not aware that this was a distinguishing attention which theCaptain did not pay everybody, and which she owed partly to herconnection with Mrs. Gray and partly to her solitary look, which hadtouched Captain Peleg's benevolent heart. He had a girl of his own "overto Wickford," who was about the same age; and it made him "kind oftender" toward other girls who didn't seem to have any one to look afterthem. But the wind _was_ fresh, and it was pleasant to be spoken to andnoticed by some one on this, the first long journey of her short life;so she thankfully accepted the Captain's invitation, and let him escorther along the deck, and assist her to mount the two steps which led intothe wheel-house.

  It was rather a pleasant-looking place in which she found herself. Threesides of the little enclosure were lined with windows, through which thegreen shores, which seemed to be rapidly drifting past them, could beseen. The fourth side was filled with a long cushioned bench. In themiddle of the glassed front was the big brass wheel, shining with polishand friction, and revolving artistically in the hands of its steersman,who kept his eye fixed alternately on the water and on his compass.There seemed to be no regulation against speaking to this "man at thewheel," or if there were, it was not strictly regarded; for two youngladies, who were already ensconced in one corner of the long seat, wereplying him with all manner of questions.

  They were rather pretty girls of that hard modern type which carries theair of knowing everything worth the knowing, having a right toeverything worth the having, and being fully determined to claim thatright to its fullest extent. As Candace entered, they favored her withone rapid, scrutinizing glance that took in every detail of her apparel,from the goat-skin boots which were too large for her feet to the roundhat whose every bow bore witness to a country milliner, and after thatthey noticed her no more.

  She, for her part, only too glad to be left unnoticed, looked shyly outof the corners of her eyes at them. They seemed to her inexpressiblystylish; for their tailor-made suits, though almost as plain as her owndress and jacket of blue alpaca, had that perfect fit and finish whichmakes the simplest dress seem all that can be desired. There was aknowing look to each little detail, from the slender silver bangleswhich appeared beneath the loose wrinkled wrists of their very longgloves to the tortoise-shell pins with which their hats were fastened tothe tightly braided hair coiled low down on the nape of the neck.Candace's hair fell in curls to her waist. She had always worn it so,and no one had ever thought anything about it; but now, all in a moment,she felt that it was wrong and improper.

  "Been up to New York, Miss Joy?" said the Captain.

  "No; only as far as the Junction, to meet a friend," replied theprettier of the two girls. "Why weren't you on the boat this morning,Captain?"

  "I was on the boat. I never miss a trip, except sometimes the night onein the summer-time, when the sleeping-train is a running. I don't alwayscome over in that. Let me see, how did I come to miss you to-day?"

  "Oh, I sat in the ladies' cabin all the way, not on deck. But I didn'tsee you when we landed."

  "Well, I don't know how it happened, I'm sure. Are your folks down forthe season?"

  "Yes: that is, mamma and I and my brother are here; my married sisterwon't come till next month." Then she turned to her friend, but withoutlowering her voice.

  "You can't think how dull it's been, Ethel: no men, no dinners; nothinggoing on as yet. The Casino is only just opened, and people haven'tbegun to go there. We tried to get up a tennis match, but there weren'tenough good players to make it worth while. There's absolutely nothing.Mrs. Courtenay Gray had a girls' lunch on Tuesday; but that is all, andthat didn't count for much."

  "That's Georgie Gray's mother, isn't it? Is she there?"

  "Oh, yes,--she and Gertrude, all the Grays. They're as nice anddelightful as can be, of course, but somehow they're so literary andquiet, and Mrs. Gray is awfully particular about the girls. She makesthem keep on with studying all summer, and she's so exclusive,--shewon't let them visit half the new people."

  "Gracious! why not?"

  "Oh, I don't know,--she says they're not good form, and all that; butI'm sure she knows queer people enough herself. There is that tiresomeold Miss Gisborne down in Washington Street,--the girls are forevergoing there; and I've seen them myself ever so many times coming out ofthe Hares',--and _they_ take boarders!"

  "Fancy! How extraordinary! Oh, there are the frigates!"

  For the "Eolus," leaving the wooded, wall-like bank of Gould's Islandbehind, and rounding a point, had now reached the small curving bay tothe eastward of Coasters' Harbor, where lay the training-ships, the "NewHampshire" and the "Minnesota." It was a beautiful sight,--the two greatwar-vessels at anchor, with their tall tapering spars and flying flagsreflected in the water on which they floated. Lines of glinting whiteflashed along the decks; for it was "wash-day," and the men's clotheswere drying in the sun. Two or three barges were disembarking visitorsat the gangway ladders, and beyond them a sail-boat was waiting its turnto do the same. On the pier a file of blue-uniformed boys were marchingwith measured tread. The sound of their feet came across the distancelike the regular beat of a machine. A girl in a row-boat was justpushing out from the farther beach, above which rose a stone housecovered with vines.

  "That's Miss Isherwood," said one of the young ladies. "She's a splendidrower, and Tom says she swims as well as he does."

  The whole scene was like enchantment to Candace, who had lived all herlife among the hills of Connecticut, and had never till that day seenthe ocean. She was much too shy to ask questions, but she sat like onein a dream, taking in with wide-open eyes all the details of thecharming view,--the shores, broken by red-roofed villas and cottagesrising from clouds of leafy greenery; the Torpedo Island with its tallflag-staff and floating banner over the dwelling of the Commandant; FortAdams, whose steep glacis seemed powdered with snow just then from themultitude of daisies in bloom upon them; the light-houses; the softrises of hill; and beyond, the shimmering heave of the open sea.Cat-boats and yachts flitted past in the fair wind like largewhite-winged moths; row-boats filled with pleasure-parties dipped theiroars in the wake of the "Eolus;" steam-launches with screeching whistleswere putting into their docks, among old boat-houses and warehouses,painted dull-red, or turned of a blackish gray by years of exposure toweather. Behind rose Newport, with the graceful spire of Trinity Churchand the long bulk of the Ocean House surmounting the quaint buildings onthe lower hill. The boat was heading toward a wharf, black withcarriages, which were evidently drawn up to wait the arrival of the"Eolus."

  "There's Mrs. Gray's team now, Miss," said the sharp-eyed Captain; "comedown for you, I reckon."

  The two girls glanced at her and then at each other. They shrugged theirshoulders, and Candace heard one of them whisper,--

  "Did you ever?" and the reply, "No; but after all, we didn't sayanything very bad, and who would have dreamed that a hat like that hadanything to do with the Grays?"

  She felt herself blush painfully. The hat was a new one of brown strawtrimmed with dark blue ribbon. She had felt rather proud of it when itcame home from the milliner's the day before, and had considered thelittle blue pompon with which Miss Wilson, who was authority in mattersof fashion in North Tolland, had enriched the middle bow, as amasterpiece of decoration. Alas! the apple of knowledge was at her lips;already she felt herself blush at the comments of these unknown girlswhose hats were so different from her own, and was thoroughlyuncomfortable, though she could hardly have told why.

  Captain Peleg politely carried her bag for her across the landing-plankto where the "team," a glossy coupé with one horse, was waiting. Hebeckoned to the smart coachman, who wore a dark green overcoat with bigmetal buttons, to draw nearer.

  "Here's your passenger," he said, helping Candace into the carriage."Good-day, Miss. I hope we'll see you again on the 'Eolus.' All right,driver."

  "Oh, thank you," cried Candace, finding voice and forgetting shyness inher gratitude; "you've been real kind to me, Captain."

  "That child's got mighty pretty eyes," soliloquized Captain King, as hemarched down the wharf. "I wonder what relation she is to the Grays.She don't seem their sort exactly. She's been raised in the country, Iexpect; but Mrs. Gray'll polish her up if anybody can, or I'm mistaken.Steady there--what're you about?" as a trunk came bounding andricochetting across the gangway; "this wharf ain't no skittle-ground!"

  Meanwhile the coupé was slowly climbing a steep side-street which led tothe Avenue. Looking forth with observant eyes, Candace noted how thehouses, which at first were of the last-century build, with hipped roofsand dormer windows like those to which she was accustomed in the oldhill village that had been her birthplace, gave way to modernized oldhouses with recent additions, and then to houses which were unmistakablynew, and exhibited all manner of queer peaks and pinnacles andprojections, shingled, painted in divers colors, and broken by windowsof oddly tinted glass. Next the carriage passed a modern church built ofpinkish-brown stone; and immediately after, the equable roll of thewheels showed that they were on a smooth macadamized road. It was, infact, though Candace did not know it, the famous Bellevue Avenue, whichin summer is the favorite drive for all fashionable persons, andthronged from end to end on every fair afternoon by all manner ofvehicles, from dainty pony-wagons to enormous mail-coaches.

  There were only a few carriages in sight now, though they seemed many toour little country maid. Shops were opening for the season. Men werebusy in hanging Eastern rugs and curtains up to view, and arranging inthe windows beautiful jars and plates of porcelain and pottery,glittering wares from Turkey and Damascus, carved furniture, and inlaidcabinets. Half a dozen florists exhibited masses of hot-house flowersamid a tangle of palms and tree-ferns; beyond was the announcement of an"opening" by a well-known dressmaker, whose windows were hung with morebeautiful things than Candace in her small experience had ever dreamedof before,--laces, silks, embroideries.

  The shops gave way to houses, each set in a court-yard gay with newlyplanted beds of flowers or foliage plants. Vines clustered everywhere;the trees, not yet fully in leaf, were like a tossing spray of delicatefresh green: a sense of hope, of expectation, of something delightfulwhich was being prepared for, seemed to be in the air.

  Suddenly the coupé turned in between a pair of substantial stonegate-posts, and drew up before a large square house, with piazzas on twosides, and a small but very smooth lawn, whose closely cut grass lookedlike green velvet. It was dappled with weeping-trees and evergreens, andhedged with a high wall of shrubs which shut off the view of the street.A continuous flower-bed ran all round the house close to its walls,planted full of geraniums, heliotrope, nasturtiums, mignonette, andpansies. Every window and balcony boasted its box of ferns or flowers;and in spite of the squareness of the building, and the sombregreen-gray with which it was painted, the general effect was ofcheerfulness, and shade broken by color,--an effect which is alwayspleasant.

  Candace had forgotten herself in the excitement of new sights andexperiences; but her shyness came back with a rush as the carriagestopped and the door was opened by a very smart French butler.

  "Is Mrs. Gray at home?" she asked timidly, bending forward.

  "Descendez, Mademoiselle, s'il vous plaît. Madame est occupée pour lemoment; il y a du monde dans le salon." Then, seeing the perplexed lookin Candace's eyes, he explained in broken English: "Mees is to get out.Madame is beesy with coompany for little while. Mees will please goup-stair."

  Candace got out; the carriage drove away, and she followed the butlerinto the hall. He gave a low call at the foot of the stairs, whichbrought down a ladies'-maid with a ruffed cap perched on the back of herhead.

  "This way, if you please, Miss," she said, and led Candace up thestaircase, which was a wide one with three square turns and a broadlanding, lit with a range of windows and furnished with a low cushionedseat; then came an upper hall, and she was shown into a pretty cornerroom.

  "If you'll please sit down and rest yourself, Miss," said the maid,"Mrs. Gray'll be up as soon as some company she has is gone. Would youlike to have a cup of tea, Miss?"

  "No, thank you," faltered Candace; and then the maid went away, shuttingthe door behind her.

  The room, which had no bed in it, and was, in fact, Mrs. Gray'smorning-room, was so full of curious things that Candace's first thoughtwas that it would take a week at least to see half that was in it. Thesage-green walls were thickly hung with photographs, watercolors,charcoal sketches, miniatures, bits of faience, lacquered trays anddiscs, and great shining circles of Syrian and Benares metalwork. Therewere many pieces of pottery of various sorts, set here and there, on thechimney-piece, on book-shelves, on the top of a strangely carved blackcabinet, with hinges and handles of wrought iron. In one corner stoodan Italian spinning-wheel of ebony and silver; in another an oddinstrument, whose use Candace could not guess, but which was in realitya Tyrolean zither. An escritoire, drawn near a window, was heaped withpapers and with writing appliances of all sorts, and all elegant. Therewere many little tables covered with books and baskets of crewels andsilks, and easy-chairs of every description. Every chair-back and littlestand had some quaint piece of lace-work or linen-work thrown over it.It was, in fact, one of those rooms belonging distinctly to our modernlife, for the adornment of which every part of the world is ransacked,and their products set forth in queer juxtapositions, to satisfy or toexhibit the varied tastes and pursuits of its occupants. To Candace itwas as wonderful as any museum; and while her eyes slowly travelled fromone object to another, she forgot her strangeness and was happy.

  Tick, tick, tick, tick, went the little French clock on the mantelpiece.Suddenly it struck her that it was a long while that she had been leftalone in this room. She glanced at the clock; it really was almost anhour. All her latent homesickness returned with fresh force. Her eyesfilled with sudden tears; in another moment she would have been actuallycrying, but just then came a quick step, a little rustle, and she hadjust time to wipe away the drops when the door opened, and Mrs. Grayhurried into the room.

  "My poor child," she exclaimed, "have you been alone all this time? Itis quite too bad! I made sure that I should hear the carriage drive up,and at least run out and give you a welcome, but somehow I didn't; andpeople came so fast and thick that I couldn't get a chance to glance atthe clock." She kissed Candace, and looked at her with a sort of softscrutiny. It was to the full as penetrating as that of the strange girlson the steamer had been; but it did not hurt like theirs. Mrs. Gray hadbeautiful, big, short-sighted blue eyes with black lashes; when shesmiled they seemed to brim with a sudden fascinating radiance. Shesmiled now, and reminded Candace somehow of a great, soft, fully openedgarden rose.

  "You have something of your mother's looks, Cannie," she said. "I knewher best when she was about your age. I never saw much of her after shemarried your father and went up to live among the hills." She sighedsoftly: there was a short pause. Then, with a sudden change of tone, shecontinued: "And all this time you have never been shown your room. Ican't think why they were so stupid. Who was it put you here, Cannie?"

  "It was--a lady--in a cap," replied Candace, hesitatingly.

  "A lady?--cap? Oh, it must have been Elizabeth. She's my maid,--don'tmake such a mistake again, dear; you must learn to discriminate. Well,come with me now, and let me see you comfortably established. The girlsare gone on a yachting-party to the upper end of the island. It was anold engagement, made before your aunt's letter came, or they would nothave been absent when you arrived. They were very sor--"

  But in the very middle of the word came Frederic, the butler, with theannouncement of new visitors; and, just taking time to lead Candace downthe entry to a room whose door stood wide open, Mrs. Gray hurried away,saying rapidly: "Take off your hat, dear. Lie down for a rest, hadn'tyou better? I'll be up again presently."

  "I wonder if everybody is always in a hurry in Newport?" Candacethought.

  She was again alone, but this time she felt no disposition to cry. Hertrunk had been brought up by somebody, and stood already in its place,with the straps unloosened. She took off her hat and jacket, unpacked alittle, and peeped out of the window to see where she was. The roomfaced the east, and across a corner of the lawn and the stable-yard shehad a glimpse of the sea, which had become intensely blue with thecoming of the later afternoon.

  "Oh, that is good," she said to herself. "I shall see it all summer."She glanced about the room with a growing sense of proprietorship whichwas pleasant. It was not a large room, but it looked cheerful, with itssimple furniture of pale-colored ash and a matted floor, over which laya couple of Persian rugs. There was a small fireplace bordered with bluetiles which matched the blue papering on the walls; and the tiles on thewashstand, and the chintz of the easy-chair and lounge, and theflower-jars on the mantelpiece were blue also. Altogether it was apretty little chamber, with which any girl might be sufficientlywell-pleased; and as Candace noticed the tiny nosegay of mignonette andtea-roses which stood on the bureau, her heart lightened with the sensethat it had been put there for _her_. Some one had thought of hercoming, and prepared for it.

  She brushed out her curls and washed her face and hands, but did notchange her dress. The blue alpaca was the newest she had, and she wishedto look her best on that first evening. She sat down in the window tolisten to the soft boom of the surf, which seemed to grow louder as thenight drew on, and did not hear Mrs. Gray as she came down the entry.That lady stood a moment in the half-open door, surveying her youngvisitor.

  "What am I to do with her?" she thought. "I want to befriend Candace'schild, but I did not quite realize, till I saw her just now, what adisadvantage she would be at among all these girls here, with theirFrench clothes and their worse than French ideas. She's not plain.There's a good deal of beauty about that shy little face of hers, andrefinement too, if only she were not so awkward. If I can once get herinto a dress that fits, and do something with that mop of curls, shewould look well enough. I wonder if she will take it kindly, or flare upand feel offended at every little suggestion. That would be terrible!--You are listening to the surf, dear. I'm afraid it means rain to-morrow.That sound generally is a symptom of mischief."

  "Is it?" said Candace; "what a pity!"

  "A pity about the rain?"

  "No--but it's such a pretty sound."

  "So it is. Well, if you are ready, let us go downstairs. I expect thegirls every moment. Ah, there they are now!"

  The line of windows on the staircase landing commanded a view of thegate and approach, and looking through them Candace saw a village cartwith two girls on the front seat, one driving, and a third girl in therumble behind, approaching the house. A couple of young men on horsebackrode close beside the cart. One of them jumped from his horse, helpedthe young ladies out, there was a moment of laughter and chat; then,touching their hats, the riders departed, and the three girls came intothe hall.

  "Mamma! mammy! where are you, dear?" sang out three youthful voices.

  "Here I am, half-way upstairs," replied Mrs. Gray, seating herself onthe cushioned bench of the landing.

  "What on earth are you doing up there? And who's that with you?"

  "It's your cousin Candace. Come up and be introduced."

  Up they came at a run, each trying to be the first to arrive. Candacehad never known many girls, but these were of a different species fromany she had seen before. They seemed full of spirits, and conveyed theidea of being, so to speak, bursting with happiness, though I supposenot one of the three but would have resented the imputation of beinghappier than people in general are or ought to be. Georgie, the eldest,was short and round, and had her mother's blue near-sighted eyes withouther mother's beauty. Gertrude was unusually tall, and had a sort oflily-like grace; her light hair was very thick, and so fine in qualitythat it stood out like a nimbus round her pale pretty face. LittleMarian, the youngest, two years Candace's junior, was not yet insociety, but had been allowed to go to the picnic as a great favor. Herhair had a reddish tint in its chestnut, and was braided in one largeplait down her back; she had brown eyes and a capable little face whichwas full of expression.

  They all spoke kindly to Candace, they all kissed her, but she felt muchless at ease with them than with their mother, whose peculiarly charmingmanner seemed to invite confidence from everybody. After a few questionsand a few words of welcome, they plunged into a description of theirpicnic,--the yacht-sail, the landing, the luncheon, the generaldelightfulness of everything.

  "Berry Joy was not there," remarked Georgie. "She had gone up toWickford to meet some one. By the way, she must have come down on the'Eolus' with you, Candace. Did you see her?"

  "There were two young ladies," answered Candace, timidly.

  "Did you hear their names? Did you talk to them?" asked Gertrude.

  "No--yes--no--I mean the Captain called one of them Miss Joy. I didn'ttalk to them, but they knew you."

  "Why, how could you tell that?"

  "I heard them talking about you."

  "What fun! What did they say?"

  Candace hesitated. Her face grew crimson. "I'd rather--I don't--" shebegan. Then with a great effort, rallying her powers, she went on: "Ididn't like to sit there and hear them and not tell them that I was yourcousin; but I was too--too--frightened to speak to them, so I thought Iwould never repeat what they said, and then it wouldn't be any matter."

  "Quite right, Cannie," said Mrs. Gray, quickly. Something in the girl'slittle speech seemed to please her very much.