The Open Question: A Tale of Two Temperaments by Elizabeth Robins (1898)
THE next afternoon Mrs. Gano and her son took Ethan out driving in state. Val and Emmie watched them off with eyes of envy. Ethan looked back at the young people with something of the same expression. The hack was old and fusty, and was drawn by a single sorrowful beast, but there was an air of ceremony about the whole proceeding not lost on Ethan. His uncle pointed out the sights, and in the intervals of bouts of coughing, discussed town and national politics. Mrs. Gano, in excellent spirits, planned a series of drives to points of interest, in every direction, as long as the fine weather should last. Ethan began to quail inwardly at the prospect, and yet these odd relations interested him infinitely more than he had expected. And as soon as that cough of his uncle's became intolerable he would have urgent business in Boston. Meanwhile, apropos of these drives, he realized that he would never dare to offer to pay for the carriage hire. He turned the problem over in his mind, and after they came home he went out and had a conversation with the liveryman. A telegram was despatched to a Columbus carriage manufactory, and an appointment made with the liveryman to go next day to a neighboring farm and inspect some horseflesh.
Before the week was out, a brougham and a well-conditioned pair of grays stood daily before the Fort, when the weather was clement. Mrs. Gano, less enthusiastic over this new arrival than any one else, nevertheless drove about day after day in the lovely mild weather, with the top off "Ethan's newfangled coach," and a look of extreme satisfaction upon her face. But her son decided that, mild as was the autumn air, it came to him in too great draughts
behind the flying grays. After that first August apparition of the three elder Ganos in Ethan's equipage, John Gano declined to sustain his part in the daily triumphal progress through the streets of the appreciative town. Naturally, in a place of that size, Mrs. Gano's millionaire grandson was the talk of the hour, and Val and Emmie sunned themselves in his reflected glory. Such is the callousness of youth, that it was a moment of scarcely clouded rapture to the younger generation when John Gano decided to stay at home and prune the dogwoods.
Val and Emmie accepted the proffered places on the front seat with an excitement not to be conveyed to those souls deadened by the luxury of "keeping a carriage" all their lives.
Ethan had tried to insist that one of his cousins should sit by Mrs. Gano.
"Nonsense!" said that lady; "children always sit in front."
Aunt Jerusha and Venus peeped discreetly round the corner of the house, as usual, to see them start.
"My! Miss Emmie's growin' beautifler and beautifler," Venus had said, as the younger girl smiled and blushed her soft "Thank you, cousin Ethan," for his helping hand.
Val, who had already hopped in, turned and waved excitedly to the servants.
"My dear!" remonstrated her grandmother, while old Jerusha nodded her bright turban and whispered: "Yah! Miss Emmie's awful handsome, but she ain't wavin'; dose chillens tickled to death. Why, Miss Val's face is like a lamp."
As the grays leaped forward, and the two young hearts leaped responsive, Emmie had a flashing realization of what Elijah felt like, going to heaven in his chariot of fire.
To Val the rapturous excitement of the thing was just another proof of the infinite possibilities life afforded for being ecstatically happy. She would not have admitted there was even a heavenly comparison wherewith to match this blissful flying along with cousin Ethan opposite, he
talking mostly to grandmamma, of course, but sometimes meeting his cousin's eyes, and smiling in a way that made the breath catch in the breast.
Julia was coming out of her gate that very first day that the four drove by. Val sat up very straight, and made her a sign, subsiding quickly upon a look from Mrs. Gano. But Ethan turned round and looked back.
"What a pretty girl! Who is she?"
"My best friend," said Val. "You know, I've shown you her house."
"Otway. Such lovely people, all the Otways."
"A most estimable family," admitted Mrs. Gano; "rather free-and-easy in their ways. As Emmie said when she was five or six,"They's the kind of people that sits on beds.'"
Emmie smiled a pleased smile at this recollection of infant perspicacity.
"That was when the Otway children were too little to know any better," Val said. "You wait, cousin Ethan, till you know Julia. You just ought to hear her play the piano! She's coming to supper to-morrow, and, oh! she wants to know if you like tennis."
"Yes. Has she got a court?"
"A splendid one. Haven't you noticed? Just behind the osage-trees."
"Oh, we'll go and play some morning."
"There! you see, grandma, he doesn't think he's too old or too busy to play games. But I can't go in the mornings. I have lessons with grandma, you know, till one o'clock, and Julia's at school till half-past two, except on Saturdays."
"So am I," said Emmie, sadly. "I wish I were going East, and needn't begin a term that I couldn't finish."
Val was conscious of something like a qualm at not having thought about the East, or even the opera, for days. But wait! she would find an opportunity of taking cousin Ethan into her confidence. Then the great scheme would resume its former gigantic proportions. Hitherto, when-
ever she had been alone with her cousin, she had been seized with a strange shyness, an excitement that put everything else out of her head except that here was she, and here was he. It was very queer and very disconcerting, but it was a heavenly feeling, all the same.
"Here's Miss Tibbs coming," said Emmie, wishing to acquaint their guest with all the leading characteristics of the place. "She's quite the most hideous--ahem!--well, she's a very plain lady. And oh! do you see that man going into the red-brick house?"
"That's Jimmie Battle," said Mrs. Gano.
"Yes. Val, show us how he talks when he tries to be English, and then forgets."
"Oh yes," said Val, nothing loath. "He was telling something funny that happened: "I laahfed and I laahfed, and, oh golly! how I laffed!'"
"Val, I'm amazed at your language!"
"Look, Val, there goes Harry Wilbur," said Emmie.
Yes, it was Harry, pretending not to see them. Val had not answered his last letters, and since he had not called all these days, he must be "mad."
"Who is Harry Wilbur?" Ethan asked, perceiving the interest taken in this citizen.
"Son of our old friend, Judge Wilbur," said Mrs. Gano.
"We used to say he was the handsomest man in New Plymouth," said Emmie, looking reflectively at Ethan.
"And he's the best bat in the West," added Val, loyally; but, oh! how insignificant blond men were in comparison with--
They passed Miss Appleby taking a posse of her young lady boarders out for a walk.
"They all know you, cousin Ethan, and they're just dying to turn and look back. We talked about you all recess."
"Did you?" he laughed.
"Girls chatter too much," said Mrs.. Gano; "they were more discreet in my day."
But Emmie knew this was a time of privilege.
"The girls at the Seminary are nearly every one Presbyterians. They don't like being Presbyterians at all."
"'Cause they can't come to our church on Sunday."
Now they were going up the hill. The young people must get out and walk. Delicious moment of being helped to dismount. The unskilful Emmie, for all cousin Ethan's hand, had stumbled and twisted her foot. She was lifted back, to a sympathetic chorus. Ethan had taken off a glove to try the catch on the carriage door, which did not work easily. He held the glove in his hand as Val and he trudged up the cinder road. Why, that was like her father! And now that Val thought of it, cousin Ethan had several little ways that recalled her father. Both indulged in fits of gloomy, absolute silence "all about nothing," when they might be discoursing pleasantly to their fellows. She glanced at her cousin sideways. Certainly he and John Gano were very different, too, in a sense. The elder man seemed hewn out of wood, Ethan was cut in ivory. Why did he say nothing? He began to draw on his glove, absently, with a preoccupied air.
He was thinking to-day of Mary Burne. Where was she? Had she solved the enigma? He tried to shake her out of his thoughts, but she came back and back.
Val snatched a mullein leaf from the hill-side as she passed.
"Don't you love these velvety things?" she said. "Just feel before you put on you glove."
"N-no"--he looked suspiciously at the silver-gray leaf--"no, thank you."
"I don't like touching things like that."
"Oh, just an absurd notion of mine."
"But is it a notion, or is it a real feeling?"
"Now I know what reality is to my cousin Val."
"But this isn't prickly. It's soft as velvet."
"I know--too much like velvet."
"Do you hate soft things?"
"No, but I hate things that catch my nails." He gave a little comic shiver.
"Is that why you won't take a peach in your fingers?"
He turned his head and glanced down at her. She looked away.
"I wonder what makes you like that?" she said.
"It must make you shiver inside just to look at our velveteen jackets."
"I don't so much mind looking at them."
"But you'd hate to touch them?"
"Yes, fair catechist, I would; and if the murder must out, it's because of Emmie's velvet jacket that Emmie's ankle's hurt. She wouldn't have fallen if I had lifted her down instead of giving her my hand."
"Well, you are funny! I don't think much of velveteen myself, but I like real velvet. And all of us girls simply love the fell of mullein, and when we want to have nice pink cheeks," she said, in a burst of confidence, "we do like this."
She rubbed the leaf hard first on one cheek and then on the other, till each one flew a scarlet flag.
"Most effective," said Ethan, with deliberate eyes on the girl; "but for my part, I'd rather my cheeks were white, or even pea-green, than have that thing touch me."
Val threw the mullein away.
"I'm afraid I haven't any fine feelings," she said. "I like everything."
"I don't believe it."
She couldn't bear that compelling look of his.
"It takes so long like this," she said; "I'm going to run to the top," and she raced on before him. But even so he reached her again before the slow-moving carriage, going the long way round.
When he, too, got to the top, he saw her standing some little distance from the road on the brow of the hill, looking down upon river and town; her dress blown well back from the firmly set feet, the old velveteen jacket following--more from long habit than from excellence of cut--the slim young outlines, the shabby little hat held down upon the wind-roughened hair with one hand, the other hand thrust in a side-pocket. It was an unkempt picture of no great prettiness, and no thought of prettiness, but it gave a curious impression of eager life; a kind of dauntlessness and good faith that hit upon the heart.
"Well, America, what do you think of the prospect?" said his voice behind her.
She turned round with a bright look.
"Much more than I'm going to tell you, to be laughed at for my pains."
"Oh, well, I can see it for myself--a smoky valley, a muddy river with many bridges, some stormy-looking clouds--"
"Oh, that's not what I see."
"Well--" Her eyes sparkled, and then she pursed her mouth as one determined not to let out secrets before the fulness of time.
"I hadn't noticed the smoke in the valley, or the mud in the river, and certainly wasn't thinking about the scenery at all. I never do."
"What's your objection to scenery?"
"So horrid dull. Not just this--all scenery."
"You think so?"
"Oh, dreadful! And it's just the same with birds and trees, and all the things the poets make such a time about. I can't be bothered."
"Really!" Ethan was laughing at her harassed, over-done look.
"Oh, do forgive me! I quite forgot you were a poet, too."
"I'll forgive you on condition you tell me what you'd write about if you were a poet."
"Why, people, of course. People are the only things that matter. I always skip the scenery. Everybody does, only they don't tell." She had lowered her voice, as if the very faded grasses and the sunburnt golden-rod might gossip of the heresy. "It's been rather hard on me that my father, who is so interesting and wonderful to talk to about everything else, should waste so much time on trees and things. I've thought more than once that some day, when he's in better health, I'll just tell him." She nodded portentously.
"H'm! How will you put it?"
"Oh, I should tell him just honestly the beauties of Nature make me sick."
A pause of satisfaction at finally unburdening her soul, and then a little start. She studied Ethan's face with some anxiety.
"I'm forgetting again that you-- Do you mind if I don't care much about--" She made a vindictive gesture towards a small, wry-growing oak-tree clinging desperately to the side of the hill below them. "Do you mind?"
"I don't know that I do."
"Why should you? I don't mind that you hate my jacket--at least, not much. I tell you what, we'll make a compact. I'll never wear velvet or mullein leaves while you're here, and you will never mention the scenery."
"Very well; it's a bargain."
They shook hands. A sudden impulse made him loath to loosen his grasp. As he did so:
"Now tell me," he said, "what were you looking at with such a rapture of expectation. What interests you in that dirty little town?"
"It's only dirty because it's so enterprising,' she said, apologetically. "You can't stop to trouble about your looks if you've got a lot to do."
"Quite true, America. But still, what is there besides enterprise in that dirty little town that makes you--"
"Little! Why, my father says there are 35,000 inhabitants."
"Ah, there's safety in numbers. I fancied from your expression you had forgotten 34,999 of them."
"There's the carriage," said Val, not looking in his face.
"How long is he going to stay, grandma?" asked Emmie, as the two figures came towards them.
"I don't know, my dear."
"I think he means to be here a long while."
"What makes you think so?"
"Well, he said something to Val about hating Christmas, 'cause it always made him miserable. Val said: 'Stay here with us and you won't be miserable.' He said: 'No, I don't think it would be easy to be miserable with you.' And he looked so pleased. Let's ask him to stay."
Mrs. Gano watched the advancing pair with grave eyes. It was rare to see Val with such a heightened color.
It rained the next day, and there was no driving. But Val, in any case, had an old engagement of much importance. Jessie Hornsey, a cousin of Harry Wilbur's, was giving a "tea-fight." Miss Hornsey had "graduated" that June, and was, in spite of her great age, a particular friend of Val's, who had been much honored by her condescension in the past, and by the special mark of favor in the present invitation. At the last moment came little pink note No. 2, to say that Miss Hornsey had heard that Miss Gano had a cousin staying with her: would she bring him? Val, already dressed and ready to go, precipitated herself down-stairs to find her cousin. He was stretched out comfortably before the parlor fire reading an old battered book.
"Here, read this instead." She spread the blushing sheet triumphantly over the yellow page.
He looked up, smothering a yawn behind his even white teeth, stirred lazily in the depths of his arm-chair, and then dropped his eyes upon Miss Hornsey's note.
"Well?" asked Val, impatiently.
"What you think?"
"That this is a very handsome proposition."
"Will you come?"
"Ah, that's another matter."
"She's awfully nice--she's Harry's cousin--and all the older girls and boys will be there. You'll like it. I should think there'd be hardly anybody else as young as I am."
"Won't you feel your inferiority?"
"I think it's very nice of Jessie Hornsey to ask me."
He could see she had been proud of the distinction.
"Well, you go and tell them I--I've got rheumatism, and have to sit in an arm-chair."
"Oh, do come!"
"Just look at the rain!"
"We can take the horse-cars."
"Ugh!" he shuddered.
"What's the matter?" she said, suspiciously; "you too grand for horse-cars?"
"Not too grand, too cold."
"Put on an overcoat."
"Don't you think it's very comfortable here?"
"Yes, but Jessie Hornsey--"
"Do you know"--he laid the old book on the floor by his chair and stretched out his shapely hands to the blaze--"do you know, I think this is much nicer than tea-fighting at Jessie Hornsey's."
"What if I don't go, either?" said Val, with a sudden inspiration.
"Why should you?" returned Ethan, smiling.
She whipped off her hat and jacket and flung them on the sofa.
"And you're all alone," she said, in extenuation of her sudden change of front.
"Do you know, you are not at all what I expected?"
"I'm very sorry."
"I used to imagine what you were like, and it wasn't at all like this."
He sat us with a look of amusement.
"How do I fall short?"
"You don't; this is much better." She was staring into the fire with great gravity.
"You don't give me a flattering idea of your anticipations," he said.
She ignored the opportunity to reassure him.
"I used to wonder so if we were never going to meet; I was so tired waiting," she said.
"Oh, then you thought on the whole you'd like to know me?"
"Well, it's a very queer feeling--the feeling I mean. I have it about Pattie, too."
"Oh, Pattie, too."
"You've heard her sing?"
"Of course, you've heard everything!" she sighed.
"What's the 'queer feeling'?"
"Well, if I've heard and thought a great deal about some one, and if they sing wonderfully, or if they write beautiful songs, and travel and do interesting things, I feel--not so much that I want to meet them as that it would be nice for them to meet me. No, you aren't taking it the way I mean. It's that I know I should appreciate them, and it must be rather nice to be awfully appreciated, even if it's Patti or you. Of course you go about meeting all kinds of people, but there aren't many among them that take such an interest as I do, that know all about you when you were little, how you blacked yourself all over in the attic and brought down the door-knocker; about the Tallmadges and Henri de Poincy, and all your photographs and letters to grandma. Naturally, nobody could take such an interest in you as your own cousin,
and it used to seem such a waste that you shouldn't know us."
"I quite agree; it would have been losing a golden opportunity."
"Oh, here she is!" said Emmie, putting in her head. "I told grandma you'd gone to the party."
"No, I'm not going. It's cold; shut the door."
Emmie was proceeding to perform this operation on the inside when Mrs. Gano called "Val." With a gesture of impatience the girl got up and went out. Mrs. Gano was standing on the threshold of the long room."
"You'll be very late for the party."
"I'm not going."
"It's raining so."
"Well, I never in all my days heard you make that excuse before!"
Val traced an invisible design on the back of the hall-chair.
"Cousin Ethan was asked, too. It strikes him as being a very bad day."
"Ethan? Preposterous! Why should he bother with the Hornseys?"
There was a pause. Suddenly she asked:
"Was there not an Archery Club meeting yesterday?"
"Yes, but I--I thought I wouldn't go when we had company."
"My dear child, the company need not be so much on your mind. Your father and I are quite capable of entertaining Ethan."
"Oh yes, of course."
"You are a mere child in the eyes of a man of the world, don't forget that."
Val went on making patterns. It did not escape Mrs. Gano that this was only the second time in all her days that Val had not furiously contested the injustice of looking upon her from so mean a point of view. The girl stood quite meek and reflective.
"Don't miss your party because of Ethan," added the old woman, more gently. "You have not understood. Your cousin has a great deal to occupy him in a world we do not belong to. It's of no use for us to disarrange our lives for a person who pays us a visit once in twenty years--here to-day, gone to-morrow."
"Of course not," said Val.
"There is one thing in particular that we must all be careful about." Mrs. Gano sank her voice, although the heavy parlor-door was shut. "Emmie has just told me that Ethan has some plan of giving you children a dog-cart. Now, I can't have that."
"I thought you would object. I said so."
"You were perfectly right. Of course Ethan doesn't realize; he offers these things out of sheer amiability and carelessness. It's a bagatelle to him. To us"--she laid her hand on Val's arm--"it is a question of the principle. We must guard against nothing so carefully as a habit of accepting things from a rich relation. It is a situation full of peril to personal dignity, to continuance of esteem."
Thank Heaven, thought Val, that shameless letter asking for money had the sense to go and lose itself! What a disgrace to have brought upon her family! She felt a spasm of nervous relief go down her spine at the thought of that guilty secret having escaped detection.
Mrs. Gano had gone and opened the front door.
"Make haste, and you won't be so very late."
Val went with lagging steps to the parlor, and came hurrying out with her things. Ethan had not even looked round. he was laughing at something Emmie was saying.
"We haven't see Harry Wilbur lately; ask him if he can't come in to-night," said Mrs. Gano, as she saw Val off.
Oh yes, a great deal of water had flowed under the bridge since her own daughter was young.
It was plain that Ethan was a great success in New Plymouth. Not that any of the neighbors knew him as yet, not that he had gone anywhere except to St. Thomas's
that first Sunday; but such glimpses as the inhabitants had of him, whether at his rather absent-minded devotions or driving about with Mrs. Gano, had roused a fever of interest. The fact of his great wealth, combined with his somewhat glowering good looks, his slow transforming smile, ran away with hearts by the score, and made the tumble-down Fort a centre of seething gossip and excitement. Harry Wilbur was known to look upon the new-comer with open suspicion.
"Can't say I've much use for an American who isn't an American," said the florid Westerner to Julia Otway at the Hornsey "tea-fight."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, look at him."
Her unblushing excitement seemed further to annoy the usually equable Wilbur.
"I don't mean he's here. But you've seen him, haven't you?"
Oh yes, but only at a distance. Have you?"
"Quite near enough. He's like a Spaniard, or some kind of foreigner, and goes about looking as if he owned the earth."
"Well, he does own a good slice of it, and as to his looks, he's very much like all the rest of the Ganos except Val."
Julia had put great pressure upon herself not to rush over at once and make the new-comer's acquaintance. But there was a general feeling that, however much one naturally yearned to meet the attractive stranger, Mrs. Gano's house was not the place that one could run in and out of without invitation. Julia's patience was rewarded by the bidding to supper, to which she had responded by the suggestion of tennis.
Her presence made a great difference in the family evening at the Fort.
John Gano's form of contribution to the entertainment of his guest was to play chess with after supper, or
else engage him in conversation on the subject of State Rights versus Centralization. Several nights of such frivolity had satisfied Ethan.
"I hear that you play," he said to Julia Otway, as they came out from supper.
She, nothing loath, and seeming magnetized into forgetfulness of her usual restraint in Mrs. Gano's presence, followed him to the piano.
"Locked. Where's the key?" Ethan asked.
"In my dressing-case," said Mrs. Gano, nodding to Val.
As the girl came back into the parlor with the key, she caught sight of the expression of demure coquetry with which Julia, seated on the piano-stool, was looking up into Ethan's face. He was leaning against the piano, talking and laughing. Why, he hadn't looked as amused as that since he came! What could Julia have said? With a sudden chill upon her spirit Val came forward and handed Ethan they key.
"Ah, here we are!"
He opened the piano, and Julia began to play. Ethan went over to the window and watched her.
Val sat by her father. Julia was distressingly pretty; there was no disguising the fact. Evidently cousin Ethan thought so. How absorbed he was! He was quite angry at the clatter some one was making at the front door. He knitted his dark brows impatiently. The interrupter must be Harry Wilbur; nobody else approached door-knockers in so athletic a spirit. Yes, it was Harry.
"How do you do? I"m so glad to see you," said Val, with an overflowing cordiality that surprised her visitor quite as much as ti gratified him.
He went and spoke in an undertone to Mrs. Gano, and then came back and sat on the other side of Val.
"You haven't told me yet why you were so late at the Hornseys to-day," he whispered.
"It just happened; everybody's late sometimes."
"Why didn't you come to the archery party yesterday?"
"Had something else to do."
"Had to go driving with cousin Croesus, eh?"
"If you saw me, why didn't you bow?"
"Why have you got your hair up? In honor of cousin Croesus? Don't look at me like that or I shall cry." His frank face wore a broad smile. "I like your hair up; you look scrumptious."
"Hush! and listen to the exquisite playing."
"I ain't musical like cousin Croesus. Your singing's the only music I care about."
"You don't care about it; you only pretend."
"I assure you, on my honor--"
"Sh! cousin Ethan's looking at us."
"What if he is? Great Cæsar's ghost! Not that I blame him for looking at you. Specially lately, you--"
"Hush! and don't talk nonsense."
But cousin Ethan had lifted his head impatiently, and was making her a little sign for silence.
She shrank together as if at a blow. Ethan went back to the piano when Julia finished, and bent over her, speaking thanks and praises. He was asking for something of Brahms'. Julia began again. This was another success. Cousin Ethan was really impressed; no doubt about it. Emmie went over to the piano in the midst of the general conversation, and said in her clear treble:
"Me and Val can sing 'Maid of Athens.'"
He seemed not to hear; he was talking so earnestly to Julia. She heard plainly enough. She was only pretending to be oblivious. But Emmie was not to be done out of a share of the festivity.
"Cousin Ethan, do you know 'Maid of Athens?'"
"Eh? What? 'Maid of Athens?' Yes."
"So do Val and me. Let's sing it."
"Very well. Will you accompany?" he asked Julia.
She nodded, and began the prelude.
Val didn't budge.
Emmie beckoned. Val studied the long, narrow, heelless silk shoes on her grandmother's feet, and made no sign.
"Come, Val," said Ethan, in an off-hand way.
"Go and sing when cousin Croesus calls," murmured Harry Wilbur.
"I don't care about 'Maid of Athens,'" said Val, out loud.
"Oh yes; come," Ethan urged, good-humoredly.
"Go and sing when our guests ask you," said Mrs. Gano, in a reproving undertone; and then, as Val got up to obey, she said, in her usual clear accents: "Not too loud. You know I don't like boisterous singing in a parlor."
Val began with the others, in a voice quite depressed enough to please Mrs. Gano. Even Emmie's faint fluting came out more effectively, and Val could easier have wept than gone on singing. Emmie sang two more songs, Julia laughing and coquetting with Ethan over prelude and interlude; and then Julia played a nocturne.
Harry Wilbur made a despairing grimace at this last performance. He rose presently with a determined manner, and quietly bade Mrs. Gano and her son good-night. Val went with him to the front door. They stood talking about her approaching departure, and how Wilbur, too hoped to get something to do "in the East," so that he might be a witness of Val's triumphs. The conversation pleased her, but her grandmother would be "making eyebrows" if she stayed so long.
"Good-night, then. Look here, Val"--he took her hand warmly in both his own--"I've been awfully cut up lately. I was beginning to be afraid"--he nodded his yellow head towards the parlor--"afraid you might be--"
"Don't be a great silly;" and she ran back to the family circle.
After Julia finished, she got up while Ethan was still talking to her, and made her good-nights all round very prettily.
"But it's quite early," Ethan had said.
"They always send for me at nine."
"Send! Don't you live next door?"
"Not exactly. I have to walk half round the block to get to our gate. We aren't allowed to climb the fence,"
she added, in a confidential undertone, with a sly look back at Mrs. Gano as she gave Ethan her hand. "Good-night."
"Sha'n't I see you to your gate?" he said, coming out into the hall. "My uncle ought not--"
"No, thank you. I think by the time I get my things on some one will be here for me."
He had refused to go to the Hornseys with Val, but he was quite ready to face the elements in order to take Julia home!
Critical eyes marked the unusual haste of the guest's hat-pinning and jacket-donning.
"Mrs. Gano always sends for Val," Julia said to Ethan, accounting for the origin of the repulsive custom.
He held her jacket for her.
"You haven't told me yet," he said, "How you learned to play like this?"
Julia laughed, too much pleased to venture on words.
"She has taken lessons," said Val, "ever since she was seven."
"You were sent away to study?"
"No," said Julia, tying her scarf with an effective air.
"But she's had private lessons," Val explained, "besides the music classes at the Sem."
"You really mean"--he was ignoring Val and looking down upon the unhappy Julia--"do you mean you've learned to play like this in New Plymouth?"
"Yes; of course I practise a good deal."
"As much as ever she likes, and nobody to say 'Not so boisterous,' and then go and lock the piano."
"Well, I must say I think it a very creditable result--with only provincial masters."
As he reached for his hat, he caught sight of Val's face.
"America, thou wear'st a threatening aspect. Mustn't I say provincial?"
At that moment a knock resounded loudly on the door. Julia carried off her disappointment discreetly enough, departing with the servant.
The young people went back to the parlor. But a gloom seemed to have fallen on the party. Mrs. Gano was closing the piano with her son's help.
"Emmie tells me," she was saying, "that Miss Julia complains my piano is out of tune. I wonder, that being the case, she is so fond of playing on it."
"It is out of tune," said Val; "but I suppose she thinks it better than nothing. Isn't she pretty?" Val asked her cousin, in a dogged tone.
"Extremely--most charming little person."
"She usually has rather nice, retiring manners," remarked Mrs. Gano.
And then they said good-night.
Ethan looked inquiringly into his cousin's face. "It isn't late; come out on the veranda while I smoke a cigarette."
"I thought you objected to going out such weather as this."
"But we won't get wet on the veranda."
"No, not on the veranda"--but seeing Julia home was a different matter.
"It's you bedtime, Val," interposed Mrs. Gano--"and long past yours, Emmie. Ethan, you must not demoralize the children."
He laughed, and went out by himself.
"Ethan forgets himself," said Mrs. Gano, with low-voiced indignation. "Imagine his asking a French girl, or a young Boston lady, to come out at this hour--while he smoked!" If it had been while he did a little murdering, she could not have looked more horrified. "He must not think manners are superfluous here!"
Val undressed by the open window, where she could smell the ascending smoke, and then she cried under the bedclothes for what seemed to her a long, long time.
End Chapter 19
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