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Rose Terry Cooke
1827-1892

   

About Dolly

by Rose Terry Cooke



   
 

DOLLY was a goose. Not a real bird, white and pompous, with red bill and self-sufficient eyes, but that kindly, silly, pleasant little creature that men call "a goose," in tones that soften as they utter the epithet.

She was very pretty; her great innocent light brown eyes had the wistful look of a spanielís when any thing troubled her, but never any thing of that doggish and dumb sadness which makes a spanielís eyes painful, for Dolly could speak. Her fluffy, wavy brown hair was always out of order, because no comb or pins could hold its bright willfulness down in proper shape. Either it floated on her shoulders in a halfócurled, wandering mass that caught the sunshine in every wave and then lost it in rich darkness, only to rise on the next bright crest and glitter again; or, if she tried to knot it, it rose up in rebellion and made a halo about her graceful little head, curled about the shell-pink ears as if it loved them, wandered in stray tendrils over her round white throat, and misbehaved itself generally in the most bewitching and picturesque fashion. Dollyís hair was the despair of all the other girls, and while she admired with a certain sentiment of respect their smooth coils and classic braids, impossible to achieve in her own coiffure, they admired with envy the soft light puffs that rolled from her fingers and took their places in rank, with only the aid of one long hair-pin, all over the top of her head, and then hung in loose long curls from that pile of curving billows down to her shoulders behind.

"She looks just like a fashion plate," snapped Lucy Demars, whose heavy black tresses were made for braids of satin sheen, and refused forever to be rolled into fashionable style, or curled by any means known to mortal man—or woman.

"Iím sure she hasnít got a straight nose," whined "Lew"-cretia Black, as the village people called her—a being of evident dough, unbaked and unrisen, with coarse hair, reddest of all hair reds.

It is too true. Dolly had a nose "tip-tilted like a flower," a veritable nez retroässé, if Tom Thorne did call it a little turnip, or turn-up, as he willfully pronounced it. Blessed be Mr. Tennyson for giving poetry even to a turned-up nose! But if ever one deserved it, it was Dollyís; for that delicate, piquant, baby-like organ, its soft plastic lines curving in the same fluent moulding with that of the peachótinted cheek, the pink, pointed chin, the full scarlet lips, gave a certain character to a face otherwise too infantile, too inexpressive, to be interesting, unless in the infantile surroundings of cambric and cradle, and Dolly was too tall for any bassinet. She was tall, slender, graceful, with the idle, swaying, dependent grace of a willow bough or a smoke wreath. Nobody could say she was straight, or lithe, or erect, for she was always leaning on something or somebody; either her arms were clasped round "dear papaís" neck, or one hand clinging to brother Willís shoulder, or she was hanging like a climbing rose to the piazza lattices, or resting in the arms of some luxurious chair as if she had been thrown there like a scarf, pliant and helpless. But, as all the young men and most of the maidens about Basset frankly avowed, Dolly was "awful pretty."

And in spite of all the old saws about the "skin-deep" nature of beauty, the "handsome does" of plainness, the grace of goodness, tell me, dear and honest reader, speaking in all that frankness which you can freely use in an inaudible answer, is there any thing in all this world as beautiful, as enchanting, as exquisite, as a really beautiful girl? You and I know very well there are no such tints and sparkle and delicate life in any other thing the Lord ever made. Did He not make them in His own image? And because we are old and sallow and worn, are we going to say that the only real beauty is in expression? that a lovely soul, and so on—you know it all. It is bosh, to use the language of the Turks, and the pretty creatures who read such moralities look in the glass and laugh at us. Bless them! they have a right to; but

"Wait till you come to forty year,"

my dears; you will feel it still more deeply then, and, if you are honest, own it.

Poor little Dolly! she had no mother. Mrs. Vane died when her child was only five years old, and Dolly could carry into her future life but a faint shadow of the dear dead mother who had left her with such bitter tears. But Mr. Vane had never married again. There was Will, a big boy, who could be sent to school. Roxy Keep, the housekeeper, a kindly, fussy, snuffy old soul, could see to Dollyís physical well-being; and when the little creature grew and blossomed up toward girlhood, Katy Preston, the ministerís daughter, came and taught her every day.

Katy was a good girl, very good, with a thick nose and lips, small green eyes, plenty of dull brown hair, and a very thorough education. Mr. Vane gave her a large salary for educating Dolly, but he preferred to have her live at home. Will said she was too plain to have at the table, but Mr. Vane never offered any reason: be was a lazy man, but he was a gentleman. That he chose to remain unmarried after his beautiful wife left him was his own affair, he thought, so he never explained it. But for all Katy's honest and painful endeavor, Dolly could not learn any thing to speak of. Lessons literally went in at one ear and out of the other: if she bounded Pennsylvania correctly to-day, just having sing-songed the task over to herself for half an hour, she was quite as likely to put Texas on the east and Georgia on the north of it to-morrow. She never could remember any date, not even the two that are supposed to be inborn with American children, for she insisted to Will, even with tears, that the Pilgrims came over in 1492, and shocked her father at a dinner party by exclaiming, "Oh, I do know about Columbus, Mr. Taylor: he discovered America in 1620." And this to a man who had written a history himself! Poor Dolly! Arithmetic, grammar, philosophy, every sort of ology, alike slipped through her lovely head, and were dispersed in empty air. Natural history she did like, because she loved all kinds of animals with a certain enthusiasm curious to see; and music, too, found a lodgment in her slight brain. But neither of these pursuits was linked to any system. She played by ear, and her taper fingers touched the keys like a flight of summer moths hovering over a flower bed. There was no strength in those delicate dawn-tipped bits of snow to evoke the awful soul of music; its light laughter and fleeting tears alone followed the dance of her fairy fingers. And she knew no more about the classification of her birds and flowers than she did about the precession of the equinoxes; it was enough that her pets loved her and the flowers were bright and sweet, for, as I said to begin with, Dolly was a goose.

Nevertheless, her father and Will loved her dearly; so did Katy Preston, though Dolly vexed her conscientious soul all the time. Katy was paid, generously paid, for teaching her, and yet she learned nothing; and Katy confessed, with hot tears in her eyes, to Mr. Vane, that her efforts were all useless, that she could do no more. Dolly must be sent to school.

"Never !" thundered Mr. Vane. "Send my rose-bud into a mud-puddle! Katy Preston, what are you thinking about? Besides, I promised—" Here he turned away and choked. "I promised she should never go. Try a little longer, Katy; itís no matter if she doesnít learn; what use is it? Sheís good as gold, and pretty as a flower. Stuff and nonsense! She shaínít learn if she donít want to; but stay with her, Katy, and try at least another year. Teach her to sew."

Katyís green eyes opened with dismay. Had not she heen taught, in open defiance of the Shorter Catechism, that womanís chief end was to be educated and to work? Had not she been dragged through a course of every thing at the famous Gooseyoke Seminary, where even the feathers in the pillows are laid straight every day, and the very pins straightened out of their crooks as evening entertainment? It would have pleased Katyís correct New England soul to see the lilies of the field tied up to straight sticks and set in parallel rows. The vagrant habits of cats aud chickens distressed her; dust was materialized evil, and dirt the daily embodiment of Satan himself; while she believed, in common with a good many excellent people, that

"Order is Heavenís first law,"

as firmly as if it were a Bible announcement, and not the dictum of a solemn Puritanic old prig, who made earth so uncomfortable to those about him that it is the merest justice to write him down an ignoramus concerning heaven. But, having freed her conscience, Katy staid on till dear Dolly was actually seventeen. Seventeen! At that age her mother had married; and when Mr. Vane, startled by Dollyís sudden announcement that it was her birthday to-morrow, began to count up her years as a sort of gauge for the present she always expected him to give her, he looked at his little girl in dumb amazement. Seventeen! There came to him out of the long dead past a vision of his bride; delicate, gentle, lovely, with those same brown eyes, those clouds of bronze hair, those rose-leaf cheeks—but not that baby face. Oh no! Dorothea Vernon had the sad pure outlines of Guidoís Madonnas, the dove-like look of their eyes, the long oval face, and the delicate lips of faint scarlet: hers was a mature beauty in childhood, and on her death-bed even, long years after, its spiritual loveliness shone unimpaired; but Dollyís was, and would ever be, the visage of a child, with inexpressive glory in the bright eyes and parting lips, such as only cherubs and babies wear. Still, she was seventeen, and he could not buy her a doll or a picture-book. He looked at her again, having paid on her warm and rosy cheeks the just debt of seventeen kisses which she demanded in advance: she was a very pretty creature. She had that instinct for dress which some women own, and her quaint and delicate costumes always possessed a certain picturesque element, whatever was their conformity to fashion. And Dolly was never out of fashion, for her dresses, though ordered and planned by herself, were made by the best of city dress-makers, and the greatest artiste in bonnets of Paris kept her tinted photograph and the measure of her head, and crowned her accordingly with creations of genius that made her the envy of all the Basset girls. To-day she was wonderfully lovely: a long dress of soft purple woolen stuff fell about her in graceful folds, its various outlines and borders defined and edged with full-fringed ruches of glittering silk a shade darker; a long bib of delicate old lace covered all the waist down to her wide silken sash, and rose about her throat into a full ruff of ivory frost-work; her hair was tucked away into a gold-thread net, and frills of lace hid her little hands half-way to the dimpled fingers, while the fringed sash ends, floating to the hem of her dress, swayed and glittered with every motion. She was a lovely picture: the delicate shade of misty lilac brought out all the rays and tints of gold in her hair and long curled eyelashes, and the infantile look of her lace garnitures suited her sweet child-face wonderfully. It was one of Dollyís notions always to wear white to dinner; in the morning colors had their reign—always of the softest woolen fabric, delicate cambric, or pliant foreign silks, thin and lustreless, but wonderful in shades of coloring as only Eastern fabrications are; but at night she always appeared in the dull ivory white of thick embroidered cloth, or pearly silk with jacket of frost-white velvet; or, in summer, in cobweb draperies of filmy lace and muslin, fashioned like the fringed petals of a flower, in whose unfolding bosom she seemed to shine

"A central rose of dawn."

But she never wore any ornaments, for the best of reasons—she never had them, being held still as the household baby, a creature by no means "too bright and good" for paint-boxes, illustrated books, and gay pictures, but quite too young for trinkets.

To-day, however, her father hegan to think of something proper for this damsel of seventeen; the eternal fitness of things pursued him with that fact, and he remembered that Will, who had betaken himself to China in this past summer—it being now October—had left in his hands a certain commission to this end.

"Buy Dolly something stunning for her birthday, Sir, and take the spoils out of my allowance. Tell her I left it for her. Iím I late for the steamer, or Iíd buy it myself."

So Mr. Vane took the next train for the city, and when the birthday came, Dolly found on her plate a wonderful morocco box "from Will," bearing on its snowy satin lining a necklace and armlets of turquoises set in dead gold; but her dimples and blushes over the charming toys deepened into speechless delight when, before dinner, papa hung over her cream-white corded silk jacket a slender but sparkling chain of deep-tinted rubies, to which hung a great sapphire set in milky pearls.

Oh, Dolly! was it hecause that little head was so child-like, so simple, that these jewels were only pretty toys, and did not set thee up in thine own conceit? For what are jewels to a goose? Nevertheless, Dolly liked the shining things. She liked their lustre and their hue, the bit of color added to her colorless attire, and their unfading splendors; for her flowers died in her hands and her hair before they had done more than scant service, and it pained her foolish little soul to see them droop and pale so soon. If Katy had still been by, her common-sense might have curbed Dollyís delight. She would have priced the trinkets and watched over them with careful eye, and done her best to impress their owner with their value and the terror of their loss; but this vigilant monitress was gone. Parson Preston was laid up in his bed with rheumatic fever, and the mother could not do without Katy, all the more that at the rectory there now sojourned a young minister from New York, come to take Mr. Preston's place, and it was impossible for one woman to look after a sick man and a well one too; so Katy went home.

Parson Preston was ill a long time, very ill, and Mr. Vane and Dolly had the kindest hearts in the world, and ample powers of expressing them; so the road from one house to the other was traversed often by the bearers of kindly messages and offerings; fruit, dainties from Roxy's skillful hands, old wine from Mr. Vaneís cellar. All these the servants carried. But it was Dolly who arranged and carried the flowers, sheltered safely from wind and rain under her long cloak of gentian blue, whose rose-lined hood, half slipping from her gold-brown coronet of hair made her a living picture, a delight to the eyes. Not to Mr. Prestonís eyes, for he was as cross as fever and rheumatism can make any tortured mortal, and if the host of seraphim had appeared before him, he would probably have growled at their light in his eyes; but to this temporary pastor, this youth from New York, this elegent being whose broadcloth, eyeglass, manners, and customs were the theme of every Basset tea table already—to the Reverend Augustus Rycker, Dolly appeared as a vision in the desert. Now it would be according to general usage if I were to present this young man, who was always well dressed, fastidious, elegant of manner, and charming of aspect, as a piteous idiot, who always said, "Aw, yaas," "Really, now," and also an accomplished and heartless male flirt. It is true, these traits are not really compatible; it takes a certain acute quality of mind to flirt successfully, either in man or woman; the most desperate characters of that sort I have ever known relied neither on beauty nor youth to beguile their captives, for they had neither. Still, in novels and stories one meets so often the impossible in fact that I must take the risk of being natural at my own cost. So I must say that Mr. Rycker was really an intelligent, well-educated young man, thoroughly a gentleman, honorable and good. If he was a little conceited, tolerably dogmatic, and a very High Churchman, what of that? These are bagatelles necessary to humanity. How we should all hate a perfect man, even Doily! But Dolly did not hate Mr. Rycker. She incautiously told Katy that she thought he was "a duck," at which the little preceptress turned pale directly, and was about to give Dolly a large apple from the tree of knowledge at once, and force her to eat it, had not the duck himself opportunely entered and begun a gentle ministerial quack about Christmas decorations, which distracted Katyís mind, till her father impatiently called her, and Dolly left, having escaped, ignorantly, a sharp lesson, and perhaps a useful one. But if Dolly liked the young minister, what was the harm, so long as she staid at liking? He was very different from the youths of Basset, who ignored grammar and talked broad Yankee, who were honest, hard-handed sons of toil, or simpering creatures behind a counter—Basset, like most New England towns, being depopulated by that dragon the Great West. In fact, if Dolly, brought up from her youth in refined and fastidious retirement, had ever met these beings in society, they would have regarded her either as a lily of the field, lovely, adorable, indeed, but quite useless, or as an unattainable angel from a fashion plate; or even if her simple soul had accepted them calmly, as a botanist does fungi, with some curiosity but no surprise, they would have gone no further—the farmers repelled by the uselessness of the blossom, the mercantile youths by its expense. However, she never met them. She did not know how to sew, and therefore never went to the weekly "circle" of the village, and Mr. Rycker, handsome, intelligent, polished, was really the first gentleman into whose society she had ever fallen. Moreover, he was her minister, and Dolly was a pious little soul, who said her prayers, as a bird sings, from a heavenward impulse of grateful joy, and who went to church as a happy duty, lifting up her voice in chant and psalm with a clear childish treble that was shrill for want of soul or sorrow. Are these convertible terms? She always listened to Mr. Prestonís nasal and monotonous homilies with patience and perseverance; she fixed her eyes on his pasty countenance and round head, with its red fringe of hair, with perfect politeness and attention. But here was the head of a young saint, with dark sad eyes and clustering raven hair, with lips from whose tranquil curves flowed Words of picturesque splendor, ardent faith, pure devotion; whose flowing snowy robes, tinged by the rose light of a painted window, seemed to be typical wings flushed with heavenly dawn. She forgot how ugly those pink shadows had seemed to her, cast against Mr. Prestonís frantically disheveled locks.

Here was where Dolly needed a mother. Had hers lived, my tale never would have been told; and yet it might not have ended as happily. Mr. Rycker was not of the im- pressionable type. He was the son of a wealthy family, well known and respected. He had been born and brought up in New York, and knew his own value quite well. Hosts of mammas had petted and encouraged him in behalf of numerous daughters since he was a little child, some of them being of a thrifty and forecasting turn, and he was somewhat surfeited with girlish society. But while he could not, having the common perceptions of humanity, be ignorant of these things, he had, thanks to being the son of a lady in the fullest sense of the word, never plumed himself on the distinction, but even at times felt it a certain drawback on his ideal of life, and wished it were possible to play Lord Burleigh, and be sure of some gentle heart that was unaware of his surroundings. He was a little vain, of course; but he had seen so many and such various styles of girls that he cared for none really, and therefore at twentyeight he was still unmarried and with an untouched heart, altogether devoted to his work. He certainly admired Dolly very much: children he always loved—if they were clean, well-bred, and pretty (it is only a woman who can love dirty and naughty children); and here was a peculiarly lovely child, elegant of aspect and attire, dainty, smiling, charming, coming up the little yard like a fashionable Flora, with bunches of late rich roses, clusters of velvet pansies, crowded chrysanthemums with disks of garnet, gold, and snow, or mystic passion-flowers and dusk heliotrope that lingered still in the conservatory. Sometimes in a dainty basket she brought fragrant peaches, pears of gilded russet, grapes of various tints struck through with October sunshine till they glowed like jewels against the odorous leaves on which she laid them; and thus, shaded sometimes with a wide black hat that made her face sparkle out of its shelter, or hooded with that rose-edged mantle of darkest blue from the soft morning mist that set every straying lock to curl about her glowing face like the moss calyx about a roseóbud, or with a bit of lace tied round her head like a baby cap, its delicate tracery against the pearly outlines of cheek and chin making a human cherub of her sweetest face, and suggesting cloud or cradle as its fit framing, she offered to this admiring young man a series of beautiful pictures that were a real godsend in the dingy surroundings of the parsonage; and when he became a frequent visitor at Mr. Vaneís house, not only in his official quality, but often invited as a genial and cultivated gentleman whom Mr. Vane enjoyed as a companion rarely vouchsafed to him in his retirement, he found Dolly interesting and delightful as the baby nieces he had left behind him in New York, and innocently wished she were not so tall and so overgrown, that he might pet and fondle her as he did Annetje and Hilda. Nor did Mr. Vane look at him in the light that a mother would have looked: Dolly was a child still to him, despite her seventeen years and her womanish trinkets, which, indeed, seemed no more mature or gorgeous than her baby corals, she wore them with such careless amusement and played with them so child- ishly. Alas! it was Dollyís very childishness that brought matters to a crisis. In her heart she was innocent as they all thought her, but not so ignorant. She had found, in her researches on rainy days, an old shelf of books in the garret, and plunged into the volumes of Sir Charles Grandison with a certain delight in her simple soul at a real story-book, unknown to most modern girls who live on novels from earliest youth. So Dolly had her ideal of a man and of marriage, while her father and Katy supposed her yet absorbed in Hans Andersen and Grimm, and here arose before her the beaming image of which long since she dreamed, and she turned toward it as simply, as directly, as unconsciously as a daisy in the meadow turns its innocent yellow eye and candid rays toward the journeying sun. Without a shade of coquetry, or passion, or consideration, but at once, simply and without hesitation, Dolly loved this man, and knowing it, knew or thought of no reason why he should not love her—in fact, took it for granted that he would, if ever she thought about it; but now, like the baby—or the woman—that she was, only knew that she loved him, and that was life and wisdom enough for her.

So the winter went on, like a lovely dream to this pretty creature, like a long tedium to Mr. Rycker, except for his visits at Mr. Vaneís house and his Sunday and saint-day services. He found the parsonage more and more in- tolerable, for Mr. Preston was at once too ill and too irritable to be socially useful, and poor Katy and her mother were too busy to do more than attend to the young parsonís material wants: a blessed thing, no doubt, for Katy, since she was a woman, and propinquity lent its mighty aid to the spells which Satan finds for idle hearts as well as idle hands. But hard work is armor of proof against Satan and Cupid both; so the old parsonís daughter went her way absorbed in the savory pottages and unsavory tempers of the sick-room, while pretty, idle Dolly, with nothing more to occupy her than her daily walk to vespers, when she floated through snow and ice like a Christmas fairy in ermine and velvet to say her prayers and sing her psalms, or her occasional drive through the aisles of scented pine woods or over the shining fields, when her heart kept glad time to the sleigh-bells and her thoughts flew faster and further than the swift feet of the horses her father loved to drive—pretty Dolly fell into those golden meshes that gods and men are 'ware of, nor even fluttered, dove that she was, in that glittering captivity. So the year wore on, past its death and renewal, into the first days of February—it is those days about me now that have recalled Dollyís simple story—and one afternoon, as the little girl, crouched in a corner of the deep luxurious lounge her father had wheeled into the sunshine for her, was absorbed in a pretty book of poems that came among her Christmas presents, she fell on a valentine therein: tinkling of cadence, gay with quips and conceits, roses and posies, doves and loves—a fanciful love poem in fact, but mysterious of title to Dolly.

"Papa," she said to her dozing father, who started from a half dream to answer—"papa, what is a valentine ?"

Now when a man just wakes up, in answering the question that wakes him he is sometimes unnecessarily and unintentionally honest. It had been Mr. Vaneís plan, when he made a theory of education, years ago, for his baby girl, never to let her talk, or hear talk, of love and lovers; but here was he taken all unawares and half awake, so he answered, concisely:

"A sort of love-letter, little girl, that is sent on St. Valentineís Day. Iím sure I donít know why. Ask Katy next time you see her."

"A real in earnest love-letter, papa ?"

"Why, no, child, by no means—just a custom. I suppose sometimes people take that opportunity to be earnest." And with a half laugh that merged in a yawn, he fell off again into a doze.

He had driven twenty miles in the keen wind that morning, and taken soup and sherry at lunch—unusual practice for him; but he was tired and chilled. No wonder he slept. So has many a guardian slept before, and while sleeping an angel, good or evil, has come and loosed the seal above his treasure, to his loss.

"How nice it would be to have a valentine !" said Dolly that evening after dinner, when her, father had given himself over to the evening paper, and Mr. Rycker, who had dined with them, was playing a stupid game of jack-straws with her, just as he had done forty times with six-year-old Hilda, only Hilda had not such pink and taper fingers, being Dutch-blooded for six generations, and sturdy as a small Delft jar.

"Did you never have a valentine, Miss Dolly ?" asked the young man, with a pleasant, fond sort of look at her, inspired, if truth must out, by the remembrance of Annetjeís delight at a certain red and gold missive he had sent her last year.

"No, Sir; I never did in the world," pathetically answered Dolly, looking at him full with those wistful gold-brown eyes.

"What a pity !" he said, coolly, resolving then and there to send her one the very next week, but not to give her the least idea of it beforehand, or, indeed, ever, simply intending to give her a pleasure without being impertinent or even suggestive.

Forgive him for his caution. He had seen so much of conventional girls, and he did not even yet know Dolly. If he had— But according to the last and profanest punctuation of Shakspeare,

"Thereís a divinity that shapes our ends rough,
Hew them how we will;"

and our dear young parson

"Builded better than he knew"

when he devised this pleasant surprise for his pretty parishioner. It was useless for him to try to find the valentine of the period in Basset; no shops there dabbled in the elegancies of life; and he did not quite like to send on to New York to a stationer, and run a doubtful chance of procuring the delicate, graceful sheet he would prefer to inscribe to Dolly. But being well drilled in all churchly ordinances and modern floriations of the good old establishment, he had in the theological seminary cultivated a native talent for drawing and a quick sense of color, for the purpose of illuminating prayer and psalm books and designing memorial windows. With a sort of meek contempt at his own folly, and a certain doubt if it were not bordering on sacrilege, he recalled his knowledge and betook himself to his study, hunted out paints, brushes, and gilding, locked the door, and sat down to illuminate with floral emblems a valentine.

Heaven save the mark! Had he been a mediæval saint, he would have suspected a present and mocking spirit guided his essaying hand, it would so persistently drift into ecclesiastical symbolism. Crosses, lambs, lilies, perked up at him at every turn, not because he was thinking of Dolly, for he was not, being repossessed for the time by an old-time effort to design a stained window for the seminary chapel. But at last the window retired into the past, and he presently achieved on a sheet of creamwhite paper a fit frame for some little verses, which seemed to him impersonal and vague enough, but rather pretty for the purpose. Taking it for granted, carelessly enough, that Dolly had never seen his handwriting, he inscribed the verses, without any attempt at disguise, in his own clear and elegant script, and sealing the thick, smooth envelope with wax after the good old respectful fashion, stamped the vermilion surface with a seal that had belonged to him in college, and was the motto of a secret society, the device being a rose on its stalk, and "Sub" cut beneath it in old English letters.

Things work together in this world more strangely than we know: the wind brings us hidden influences, the shower that keeps us from our way turns our life into a new channel, the very pebble on which we slip in the road may be the beginning of life or death to us, and the fact that Miss Alvira Peck sent home some linen she had been making up for Dolly in an old religions newspaper had in it an element of our little girlís fate. She was lonely that day. Papa had gone to New York for a week, and Dolly was an idle little thing. When Roxy brought up the bundle of garments, she put them down in a chair, and being in a great hurry, for it was Monday, she did not see Dolly behind the long window-curtain, idly noting the industrious skips and chirps of a pair of chickadees on the near woodpile. Presently mademoiselle turned her head to see what Roxy had left; then she wanted to examine the work; and having approved its dainty perfection, she took up the paper to fold and dispose of it, when her eye fell on the title of a story in the "secu- lar" department. It was a valentine story, and in it the hero, being a shy youth, took the good saint for a patron and excuse, and told his love in earnest under cover of flowers and rhyme. Dolly was charmed with the bright little tale, and said to herself, with a long-drawn sigh, "I wonder—I wish—" and then a gentle bloom stole over the baby face; but words came no more; some flitting dream wrapped her in silvery mists, and possibilities floated about her like the saffron-tinged cloudlets that forebode dawn. It was the 12th of February to-day: one day more and it would be St. Valentineís. What if—

Let us stop here: a maidenís dreams are her own; we will not intrude. But at last that morning came, and Dollyís heart beat faster than ever as she went down to her solitary breakfast; her eyes were star-bright, her half-open lips scarlet with eagerness, and her soft cheeks deeper of hue than the roseate gown she wore, that shone under its translucent frillings and flutings of white with the "celestial rosy red" becoming the hour. But there was no missive beside her plate except the daily note from papa, and it interested her less than ever before that he was to come back to-morrow. Now she must wait till John went again to the office. How long and tedious were those hours! She decked the house with flowers from the greenhouse, she read and re-read the old newspaper story, she fed her cats and her chickens, made one rose-bud on her bit of embroidery, and watched the clocks, undoubting that the next mail would bring her the love-lorn epistle she had hoped and dreamed about so long it had become a fact, and its arrival a certainty. And at three John really brought it. There it was—a thick white cover guarded with its vermilion seal and mystic device.

Dolly shut herself into the library; glowing, trembling, blushing, she tore apart the envelope, and unfolded a creamy sheet bordered with narrow Greek tracery in rose and black and gold; across the top of the page was flung a branch of wild roses, innocent open blooms, delicate pointed buds, graceful foliage, and thorn-guarded stems, so perfectly drawn and tinted that they seemed almost odorous with summerís forest breath; while at the very foot of the same page, creeping from the spaces and angles of the border, and crowding upward with baby faces, thick forget-me-nots, their sky-deep azure lit with golden eyes, seemed to sign, with artless assent, the three verses inscribed between them and the rose branch in a hand Dolly knew by heart, for had she not looked over Katyís shoulder one day as the good creature read aloud to Parson Preston one of his colleagueís sermons? And these are the verses:

Sweets to the sweet, and roses to the rose.
Dear bud, infolded in serene repose,
Fair maiden flower, that dost so shyly stand
Waiting thy fate at some too venturous hand,

Keep thy still sweetness from the rifling bee;
Let not the winds too rudely wanton thee;
Bloom safe and slowly in the summer air;
Unfold to love alone thy petals rare;

Perfume some breast that offers shelter sweet,
That life-long clasps thee in a safe retreat:
Nay, in my heart discern that sacred shrine;
Breathe soft assent to thy first valentine.

Perhaps if Augustus had not entered at that moment, half curious to know the effect of his missive, which he naturally supposed had reached Dolly in the morning—perhaps if she had had time to calm down the sudden passion of delight and gratitude and fondness—but why do I say perhaps? it is a delusive form of speech, with possibilities that stretch far back into Eden, for perhaps if Eve had not eaten that apple!—But he did enter, just as the third reading of his verses was ended, and Dolly, turning from the beatitude of the writing, perceived the writer. Pretty little innocent! witless as a new-fledged bird, she trembled and flew to him; her head was on his shoulder, her perfumy, silken, floating tresses crowded against his cheek, her little tender hands upon his breast, before the astonished young parson could peep or mutter.

He was awfully shocked, grieved, amused (though he never would have owned this last emotion), and touched in spite of himself. Involuntarily his arms folded around her. I suppose there are people who would say it was an automatic action of the unconscious nervous centres. I donít think it was. But, dear, proper, right-minded reader, just think of it! what could he do? He certainly had a quick intellect: so much the worse for him just now! for while Dolly for one minuteís space nestled close to his heart, as ifshe had just got home and was so glad, at least three pages of thoughts fled pell-mell through our dear young ministerís brain. He saw, like a drowning man, all the past—at least of his Basset life—in array before him, and quite innocent he was, as regarded Dolly, in intention; but she—why, she was a child! Only a child could have been so pure of impulse, so thoughtless in action. But now—now she had bloomed into a woman, and what was he to do? Surely one thing only could be done to save Dolly, to satisfy her father.

It can not be said that two short minutes ago the Reverend Augustus Rycker would have married Dolly Vane at the point of the bayonet, for he was not the least in love with her, or had ever expected to be; but now, with all this sweet caressing warmth in his arms, this tender trust and simple passion thrown on him like a shower of blossoms, this sudden storming of the very citadel, there was but one thing to do—he must accept the situation; and he did.

He left that house in an hour not only an engaged man, but a man meshed in so sweet a dream, so kindled into sudden emotion, so surprised at his own possibilities, that I think one might fairly say he was in love.

But the nature of man is complex. In the very midst of his discreet and voluntary ardor, Mr. Rycker had not forgotten to charge Dolly not to show any body her valentine. He was careful both for her and himself in this matter; for he would not for a world have betrayed to her father the surprise that had beset and bewitched him, the unconscious and innocent mistake Dolly had made, to so good an ending. Indeed—lam sorry to say it of a young minister, but it is true, and shall we not let the sky fall?—he proved himself the next day, in an interview with Mr. Vane, solemnly asked and accorded, as accomplished a master of fiction as ever wrote a dime novel. He expatiated on the fascinating presence and society of Miss Vane, on his deep attachment, and his suddenly being overcome by her loveliness into a premature avowal of his sentiments, apologizing with deep humility for giving way to his emotion instead of proceeding in proper form by approaching her father first. I think he really believed all this himself before he got through; and Mr. Vane believes it to this day; so does Dolly.

There was nothing to interfere. Will wrote that he was coming home in May from China, with a wife—not a Chinese wife, but a charming English girl—so there was somebody to take care of dear papa, as Dolly fondly fancied she had done. As to dear papaís feelings at losing his treasure, nobody seemed to care much about it. A daughter well married! That is the accomplished success of life. Step aside, 0 useless progenitors! here is a new reign, and you may abdicate. If you weep, do it decently and in seclusion: you must not damp this new happiness.

So in Easter-week Dolly was married, and in trailing robes of India muslin, and a cloud of tulle about her beautiful head, looked more child-like than ever, till she raised her lovely eyes. In their sweet, troubled depths shone the clouds of a dawn no childhood knows—the dimness of a tender doubt, a wistful prophecy, that was her transition into womanhood. Mr. Preston hobbled into the chancel to perform the service, being just able to go through with it; and Katy looked on from a side pew, wondering in her heart why some people had every thing and some nothing. It is the riddle of the Sphinx, Katy, and God alone can answer it when time shall be no more.

Dolly is flourishing now, stout, rosy, beautiful, the wife of a New York clergyman in high standing. Her children cluster about her like a group of cherubs, and she placidly pets or scolds them as the case demands. Augustus blesses the day he sent that fateful valentine, and thereby endowed his home with such a creature of down and sunshine to come back to from the frets of life—for life has frets even for him; and Dolly keeps the sacred missive laid away in a sandal-wood box, her first and last piece of sentiment.

 
           

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Last updated:
January 31, 2004
   
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