Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XXI. -- AFTER MANY DAYS.|
" The Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning."
The days dragged their weary length along. May passed; June and its roses faded into the languid heat of July. Still no trace was found of Sappho. Madam Frances had gone from the little house on J. Street, and she, together with the child, had vanished and left no trace. There had been a nine-days' wonder over the departure of Miss Clark, but outside of the few who were in the secret, no one knew the facts.
Will had received his degree from Harvard and was now looking forward to going abroad. But the eager zest and joy of pursuit and accomplishment were gone; duty alone remained.
It was rumored that John Langley had attached himself to the family of a well-to-do colored man of prominence in the city, and that he was very busily engaged in ingratiating himself into the good graces of the daughter of the house. People gossiped and speculated as to the cause of the broken engagement
Three months after Dora had broken with Langley the situation between her and Doctor Lewis was unchanged. The intimacy of early childhood was resumed, but she was shy and reserved beyond a certain point. Finally Doctor Lewis had been obliged to return to his charge in the South, but before he went he had obtained a promise from Dora to enter into correspondence with him. He had not dared to express the real interest and meaning which lay behind his request. The poor girl felt humiliated; her womanhood shamed; although to her surprise the happiness of life which had seemed quenched behind this flood of sorrow that had overtaken her was beginning to shine upon her again as buoyant youth regained its wonted sway. She respected Doctor Lewis, and appreciated the value of the position he had made for himself, but she did not intend to enter into another engagement immediately; she had almost determined to remain single for life until she heard of Langley's conduct. After that came the fear that he might think that she regretted the past. No; she could not remain single; she would marry one whose manliness she could respect, if she did not love
Dora possessed the rare talent of being an interesting correspondent; indeed, her literary talents would have been valuable if cultivated. Doctor Lewis soon found this out. She gave him fascinating glimpses of the possibilities of an inner nature which perfect love and trust might develop. These short views thrilled his being with the hope of winning so rare a prize for his life companion. He pursued her unceasingly. Flowers of rare beauty and fragrance, fruit and books, found their way to her home each week. John had been rather an indifferent lover; but who could resist the impetuous onslaught of a generous nature that truly loved?
Now, when the heat of July had brought with it his annual vacation, he had returned to the North. Upon their first meeting he said to her:
"Dora, I will take no denial. No; do not speak. I know what you would say. I am willing to wait for love, because I feel sure that it will come in time."
And she, nothing loth, yielded to the stronger nature with a feeling of peace and contentment to which she had long been a stranger. So October was set for the wedding;
It was toward the end of July Ma Smith sat in her pretty parlor talking with Mrs. Ophelia Davis. Mrs. Davis had just heard the news of Dora's prospective marriage to Doctor Lewis.
"I'm jes' as glad as I can be. Dear, dear; it don't seem possible that so many things have happened to change the prospectus since last winter when we sat in this very room having such a good time, an' Miss Clark had jes' ben interduced, an' was so hansum, an' sech a way with her an' so forth. You know, I thought your Will was goin' to git completely smashed on her. It's funny how mistook a body can git 'bout fellers and gals. You think they're goin' crazy over each other when all of a suddint--Lordy! they've up an' merried some po' plain critter that you never thought they'd give a second look to. They'd heve made a hansum couple, too. Jes' borned fer each other. Then there's the smashup 'twixt Dora and Langley. Mercy knows, I don't blame her. I allers thought he had a downish sort o' look. Drat them sickly, peeky lookin' men! Me! no ma'm! I wouldn't look at one o'them! No ma'm! Dear, dear! it do seem strange. But that wasn't what I wanted to say tickler to you."
She smoothed down her long white apron as she murmured to herself: "Phelia, whar is you?" She was evidently embarrassed. After thinking a moment she continued:
"Now, 'bout this house. What are you goin' to do with it?"
"We haven't concluded yet what we will do with it. I'm going South with Dora until Will finishes at Heidelberg; then, after he has settled upon his future field of work, I am to live with him."
"Exactly so. Then I s'pose you'll be willin' to rent the house ef you git a good tenant?"
"Yes; I suppose so."
"Now, Sis' Smith, I want to ask you ef you've eny ejections to my takin' it?"
"Certainly no objections; but isn't it a great responsibility for a woman alone in the world?" asked Mrs. Smith, greatly surprised.
Mrs. Davis smoothed the folds of her ample white apron nervously--coughed--stammered--blushed.
"Well, truth is, Sis' Smith, you know people make changes in this life; fac' truth, indeed, ma'm, we's always changin', an' I'm thinkin' o' changin' to double harness fer a while."
"I want to know!" exclaimed Ma Smith, now properly astonished and interested. "And who is the happy man?"
Mrs. Davis wiped the perspiration from her face with the back of her hand as she replied with a nervous laugh:
"Oh, you know him well! It's Mr. Jeemes."
"What! Mr. James! why, he's nothing but a boy!" exclaimed Ma Smith.
"Course I know he's young, but I'm not so old myself."
"Why, how old are you, Sister Davis?"
"I don't know that I mind tellin' you, 'cause you're safe. I'm all of thirty-five. Ginerally speakin', I never tell nobody my exac' age, 'cause it's none o' thar bisiness."
" Thirty-five years! Impossible! Why, it's thirty-five years since the war. You were a widow at that time, weren't you?"
"That's my age, anyhow," was the sullen answer.
"But, Sister Davis, you must be fifty years old at the very least," said Ma Smith, persisting that she was right in her calculations.
"Fifty nuthin'!" replied Mrs. Davis, somewhat offended at Mrs. Smith's pertinacity. "I'm thirty-five years old, an' I reckon thet I'm the one what knows best when I was borned."
"I'm sure I hope you will be happy with Mr. James," Ma Smith hastened to reply, seeing that Mrs. Davis was really offended.
"Is he going to leave college?" she continued,
"No; he's goin' to graduate. The society he's been preaching fer Sundays is goin' to give him their church, and I'll keep the laundry a-goin' an' rent rooms."
"I'm sure I'll be very glad to let you have the house. I don't know anyone I'd rather let it to."
"Then that's settled," said Mrs. Davis, with a sigh of relief. "I thought you'd say that. Now, you see, all yer ol'lodgers can keep their rooms, an' it will seem jes' like home to them. Mr. Jeemes is that fond o' me tell Sarah Ann calls me an ol' fool, an' says all he wants is my money, and a right smert 'ooman to work fer him. I telled Sarah Ann, 'go git a man fer yourself an' quit bein' jealous.' She says to me, 'I will, an'it won't be a boy jes' turned twenty-one.' Sarah Ann an' me'll have to part after I'm merried, she's that jealous." Mrs. Davis had regained all her good humor, and was very complacent over Ma Smith's evident interest in her story.
"Now that would be a pity, after you've been together so long," remarked the latter.
"She's got to drop sayin' ticklish things to me. A 'ooman's got a right to git merried, ain't she?" Mrs. Davis was now fairly started
"Mr. Jeemes says he knows the Lord sent me fer to be a helpmeet to him, an' I dassay he's right. Sarah Ann says my money's the 'helpmeet' he's after, an' somebody to cook good vittals to suit his pellet. But I know better; he's a godly man ef he ain't much to look at."
"How did you happen to take a fancy to each other?"
"Lord, he's sech a good critter! The first I noticed was the night you had that swaree here last winter. Some o' the men got to talkin' 'bout 'ooman bein' the weaker vessel, an' subjugatin' theirself to be led by men an' not go prespirin' after work an' sech likes which belongs to men. Mr. Jeemes he held to it thet 'ooman's all right to ejecate herself even to be a minister, fer no man could be suferior to 'ooman, 'cause she was his rib . An' ever sence that I kin' o' thought what a shame it was fer a man to be minus one o' his ribs all along o' 'ooman, untell I made up my mind thet ef Jeemes wanted me he could have back his lost rib . All this spring he's been a-ridin' me on his bike down in the kitchen every day after we got through washin' an' had cleaned up, so I could go ridin' with him in the Fens an' all