I was still a young man when I came into the possession of an
excellent estate. This consisted of a large country house,
surrounded by lawns, groves, and gardens, and situated not far
from the flourishing little town of Boynton. Being an orphan
with no brothers or sisters, I set up here a bachelor's hall, in
which, for two years, I lived with great satisfaction and
comfort, improving my grounds and furnishing my house. When I
had made all the improvements which were really needed, and
feeling that I now had a most delightful home to come back to, I
thought it would be an excellent thing to take a trip to Europe,
give my mind a run in fresh fields, and pick up a lot of bric-a-
brac and ideas for the adornment and advantage of my house and
It was the custom of the residents in my neighborhood who
owned houses and travelled in the summer to let their houses
during their absence, and my business agent and myself agreed
that this would be an excellent thing for me to do. If the house
were let to a suitable family it would yield me a considerable
income, and the place would not present on my return that air of
retrogression and desolation which I might expect if it were
left unoccupied and in charge of a caretaker.
My agent assured me that I would have no trouble whatever in
letting my place, for it offered many advantages and I expected
but a reasonable rent. I desired to leave everything just as it
stood, house, furniture, books, horses, cows, and poultry, taking
with me only my clothes and personal requisites, and I desired
tenants who would come in bringing only their clothes and
personal requisites, which they could quietly take away with them
when their lease should expire and I should return home.
In spite, however, of the assurances of the agent, it was not
easy to let my place. The house was too large for some people,
too small for others, and while some applicants had more horses
than I had stalls in my stable, others did not want even the
horses I would leave. I had engaged my steamer passage, and the
day for my departure drew near, and yet no suitable tenants had
presented themselves. I had almost come to the conclusion that
the whole matter would have to be left in the hands of my agent,
for I had no intention whatever of giving up my projected
travels, when early one afternoon some people came to look at the
house. Fortunately I was at home, and I gave myself the pleasure
of personally conducting them about the premises. It was a
pleasure, because as soon as I comprehended the fact that these
applicants desired to rent my house I wished them to have it.
The family consisted of an elderly gentleman and his wife,
with a daughter of twenty or thereabout. This was a family that
suited me exactly. Three in number, no children, people of
intelligence and position, fond of the country, and anxious for
just such a place as I offered them--what could be better?
The more I walked about and talked with these good people and
showed them my possessions, the more I desired that the young
lady should take my house. Of course her parents were included
in this wish, but it was for her ears that all my remarks were
intended, although sometimes addressed to the others, and she was
the tenant I labored to obtain. I say "labored" advisedly,
because I racked my brain to think of inducements which might
bring them to a speedy and favorable decision.
Apart from the obvious advantages of the arrangement, it
would be a positive delight to me during my summer wanderings in
Europe to think that that beautiful girl would be strolling
through my grounds, enjoying my flowers, and sitting with her
book in the shady nooks I had made so pleasant, lying in my
hammocks, spending her evening hours in my study, reading my
books, writing at my desk, and perhaps musing in my easy-chair.
Before these applicants appeared it had sometimes pained me to
imagine strangers in my home; but no such thought crossed my mind
in regard to this young lady, who, if charming in the house and
on the lawn, grew positively entrancing when she saw my Jersey
cows and my two horses, regarding them with an admiration which
even surpassed my own.
Long before we had completed the tour of inspection I had
made up my mind that this young lady should come to live in my
house. If obstacles should show themselves they should be
removed. I would tear down, I would build, I would paper and
paint, I would put in all sorts of electric bells, I would reduce
the rent until it suited their notions exactly, I would have my
horses' tails banged if she liked that kind of tails better than
long ones--I would do anything to make them definitely decide to
take the place before they left me. I trembled to think of her
going elsewhere and giving other householders a chance to tempt
her. She had looked at a good many country houses, but it was
quite plain that none of them had pleased her so well as mine.
I left them in my library to talk the matter over by
themselves, and in less than ten minutes the young lady herself
came out on the lawn to tell me that her father and mother had
decided to take the place and would like to speak with me.
"I am so glad," she said as we went in. "I am sure I shall
enjoy every hour of our stay here. It is so different from
anything we have yet seen."
When everything had been settled I wanted to take them again
over the place and point out a lot of things I had omitted. I
particularly wanted to show them some lovely walks in the woods.
But there was no time, for they had to catch a train.
Her name was Vincent--Cora Vincent, as I discovered from her
As soon as they departed I had my mare saddled and rode into
town to see my agent. I went into his office exultant.
"I've let my house," I said, "and I want you to make out the
lease and have everything fixed and settled as soon as possible.
This is the address of my tenants."
The agent asked me a good many questions, being particularly
anxious to know what rent had been agreed upon.
"Heavens!" he exclaimed, when I mentioned the sum, "that is
ever so much less than I told you you could get. I am in
communication now with a party whom I know would pay you
considerably more than these people. Have you definitely settled
with them? Perhaps it is not too late to withdraw."
"Withdraw!" I cried. "Never! They are the only tenants I
want. I was determined to get them, and I think I must have
lowered the rent four or five times in the course of the
afternoon. I took a big slice out of it before I mentioned the
sum at all. You see," said I, very impressively, "these Vincents
exactly suit me." And then I went on to state fully the
advantages of the arrangement, omitting, however, any references
to my visions of Miss Vincent swinging in my hammocks or musing
in my study-chair.
It was now May 15, and my steamer would sail on the twenty-
first. The intervening days I employed, not in preparing for my
travels, but in making every possible arrangement for the comfort
and convenience of my incoming tenants. The Vincents did not
wish to take possession until June 1, and I was sorry they had
not applied before I had engaged my passage, for in that case I
would have selected a later date. A very good steamer sailed on
June 3, and it would have suited me just as well.
Happening to be in New York one day, I went to the Vincents'
city residence to consult with them in regard to some awnings
which I proposed putting up at the back of the house. I found no
one at home but the old gentleman, and it made no difference
to him whether the awnings were black and brown or red and
yellow. I cordially invited him to come out before I left, and
bring his family, that they might look about the place to see if
there was anything they would like to have done which had not
already been attended to. It was so much better, I told him, to
talk over these matters personally with the owner than with an
agent in his absence. Agents were often very unwilling to make
changes. Mr. Vincent was a very quiet and exceedingly pleasant
elderly gentleman, and thanked me very much for my invitation,
but said he did not see how he could find the time to get out to
my house before I sailed. I did not like to say that it was not
at all necessary for him to neglect his affairs in order to
accompany his family to my place, but I assured him that if any
of them wished to go out at any time before they took possession
they must feel at perfect liberty to do so.
I mentioned this matter to my agent, suggesting that if he
happened to be in New York he might call on the Vincents and
repeat my invitation. It was not likely that the old gentleman
would remember to mention it to his wife and daughter, and it was
really important that everything should be made satisfactory
before I left.
"It seems to me," he said, smiling a little grimly, "that the
Vincents had better be kept away from your house until you have
gone. If you do anything more to it you may find out that it
would have been more profitable to have shut it up while you are
He did call, however, partly because I wished him to and
partly because he was curious to see the people I was so
anxious to install in my home, and to whom he was to be my legal
representative. He reported the next day that he had found no
one at home but Miss Vincent, and that she had said that she and
her mother would be very glad to come out the next week and go
over the place before they took possession.
"Next week!" I exclaimed. "I shall be gone then!"
"But I shall be here," said Mr. Barker, "and I'll show them
about and take their suggestions."
This did not suit me at all. It annoyed me very much to
think of Barker showing Miss Vincent about my place. He was a
good-looking young man and not at all backward in his manners.
"After all," said I, "I suppose that everything that ought to
be done has been done. I hope you told her that."
"Of course not," said he. "That would have been running dead
against your orders. Besides, it's my business to show people
about places. I don't mind it."
This gave me an unpleasant and uneasy feeling. I wondered if
Mr. Barker were the agent I ought to have, and if a middle-aged
man with a family and more experience might not be better able to
manage my affairs.
"Barker," said I, a little later, "there will be no use of
your going every month to the Vincents to collect their rent. I
shall write to Mr. Vincent to pay as he pleases. He can send a
check monthly or at the end of the season, as it may be
convenient. He is perfectly responsible, and I would much prefer
to have the money in a lump when I come back."
Barker grinned. "All right," said he, "but that's not the
way to do business, you know."
I may have been mistaken, but I fancied that I saw in my
agent's face an expression which indicated that he intended to
call on the first day of each month, on the pretext of telling
Vincent that it was not necessary to pay the rent at any
particular time, and that he also proposed to make many other
intervening visits to inquire if repairs were needed. This might
have been a good deal to get out of his expression, but I think I
could have got more if I had thought longer.
On the day before that on which I was to sail, my mind was in
such a disturbed condition that I could not attend to my packing
or anything else. It almost enraged me to think that I was
deliberately leaving the country ten days before my tenants would
come to my house. There was no reason why I should do this.
There were many reasons why I should not. There was Barker. I
was now of the opinion that he would personally superintend the
removal of the Vincents and their establishment to my home. I
remembered that the only suggestion he had made about the
improvement of the place had been the construction of a tennis-
court. I knew that he was a champion player. Confound it! What
a dreadful mistake I had made in selecting such a man for my
house-agent. With my mind's eye I could already see Miss Vincent
and Barker selecting a spot for tennis and planning the
arrangements of the court.
I took the first train to New York and went directly to the
steamboat office. It is astonishing how many obstacles can be
removed from a man's path if he will make up his mind to
give them a good kick. I found that my steamer was crowded. The
applications for passage exceeded the accommodations, and the
agent was delighted to transfer me to the steamer that sailed on
June 3. I went home exultant. Barker drove over in the evening
to take his last instructions, and a blank look came over his
face when I told him that business had delayed my departure, and
that I should not sail the next day. If I had told him that part
of that business was the laying out of a tennis-court he might
have looked blanker.
Of course the date of my departure did not concern the
Vincents, provided the house was vacated by June 1, and I did not
inform them of the change in my plans, but when the mother and
daughter came out the next week they were much surprised to find
me waiting to receive them instead of Barker. I hope that they
were also pleased, and I am sure that they had every reason to be
so. Mrs. Vincent, having discovered that I was a most complacent
landlord, accommodated herself easily to my disposition and made
a number of minor requirements, all of which I granted without
the slightest hesitation. I was delighted at last to put her
into the charge of my housekeeper, and when the two had betaken
themselves to the bedrooms I invited Miss Vincent to come out
with me to select a spot for a tennis-court. The invitation was
accepted with alacrity, for tennis, she declared, was a passion
The selection of that tennis-court took nearly an hour, for
there were several good places for one and it was hard to make a
selection; besides, I could not lose the opportunity of taking
Miss Vincent into the woods and showing her the walks I had
made and the rustic seats I had placed in pleasant nooks. Of
course she would have discovered these, but it was a great deal
better for her to know all about them before she came. At last
Mrs. Vincent sent a maid to tell her daughter that it was time to
go for the train, and the court had not been definitely planned.
The next day I went to Miss Vincent's house with a plan of
the grounds, and she and I talked it over until the matter was
settled. It was necessary to be prompt about this, I explained,
as there would be a great deal of levelling and rolling to be
I also had a talk with the old gentleman about books. There
were several large boxes of my books in New York which I had
never sent out to my country house. Many of these I thought
might be interesting to him, and I offered to have them taken out
and left at his disposal. When he heard the titles of some of
the books in the collection he was much interested, but insisted
that before he made use of them they should be catalogued, as
were the rest of my effects. I hesitated a moment, wondering if
I could induce Barker to come to New York and catalogue four big
boxes of books, when, to my surprise, Miss Vincent incidentally
remarked that if they were in any place where she could get at
them she would be pleased to help catalogue them; that sort of
thing was a great pleasure to her. Instantly I proposed that I
should send the books to the Vincent house, that they should
there be taken out so that Mr. Vincent could select those he
might care to read during the summer, that I would make a list of
these, and if Vincent would assist me I would be grateful
for the kindness, and those that were not desired could be
returned to the storehouse.
What a grand idea was this! I had been internally groaning
because I could think of no possible pretence, for further
interviews with Miss Vincent, and here was something better than
I could have imagined. Her father declared that he could not put
me to so much trouble, but I would listen to none of his words,
and the next morning my books were spread over his library floor.
The selection and cataloguing of the volumes desired occupied
the mornings of three days. The old gentleman's part was soon
done, but there were many things in the books which were far more
interesting to me than their titles, and to which I desired to
draw Miss Vincent's attention. All this greatly protracted our
labors. She was not only a beautiful girl, but her intelligence
and intellectual grasp were wonderful. I could not help telling
her what a great pleasure it would be to me to think, while
wandering in foreign lands, that such an appreciative family
would be enjoying my books and my place.
"You are so fond of your house and everything you have," said
she, "that we shall almost feel as if we were depriving you of
your rights. But I suppose that Italian lakes and the Alps will
make you forget for a time even your beautiful home."
"Not if you are in it," I longed to say, but I restrained
myself. I did not believe that it was possible for me to be more
in love with this girl than I was at that moment, but, of course,
it would be the rankest stupidity to tell her so. To her I was
simply her father's landlord.
I went to that house the next day to see that the boxes were
properly repacked, and I actually went the next day to see if the
right boxes had gone into the country, and the others back to the
storehouse. The first day I saw only the father. The second day
it was the mother who assured me that everything had been
properly attended to. I began to feel that if I did not wish a
decided rebuff I would better not make any more pretences of
business at the Vincent house.
There were affairs of my own which should have been attended
to, and I ought to have gone home and attended to them, but I
could not bear to do so. There was no reason to suppose she
would go out there before the first of June.
Thinking over the matter many times, I came to the conclusion
that if I could see her once more I would be satisfied. Then I
would go away, and carry her image with me into every art-
gallery, over every glacier, and under every lovely sky that I
should enjoy abroad, hoping all the time that, taking my place,
as it were, in my home, and making my possessions, in a measure,
her own, she would indirectly become so well acquainted with me
that when I returned I might speak to her without shocking her.
To obtain this final interview there was but one way. I had
left my house on Saturday, the Vincents would come on the
following Monday, and I would sail on Wednesday. I would go on
Tuesday to inquire if they found everything to their
satisfaction. This would be a very proper attention from a
landlord about to leave the country.
When I reached Boynton I determined to walk to my house,
for I did not wish to encumber myself with a hired vehicle. I
might be asked to stay to luncheon. A very strange feeling came
over me as I entered my grounds. They were not mine. For the
time being they belonged to somebody else. I was merely a
visitor or a trespasser if the Vincents thought proper so to
consider me. If they did not like people to walk on the grass I
had no right to do it.
None of my servants had been left on the place, and the maid
who came to the door informed me that Mr. Vincent had gone to New
York that morning, and that Mrs. Vincent and her daughter were
out driving. I ventured to ask if she thought they would soon
return, and she answered that she did not think they would, as
they had gone to Rock Lake, which, from the way they talked about
it, must be a long way off.
Rock Lake! When I had driven over there with my friends, we
had taken luncheon at the inn and returned in the afternoon. And
what did they know of Rock Lake? Who had told them of it? That
officious Barker, of course.
"Will you leave a message, sir?" said the maid, who, of
course, did not know me.
"No," said I, and as I still stood gazing at the piazza
floor, she remarked that if I wished to call again she would go
out and speak to the coachman and ask him if anything had been
said to him about the time of the party's return.
Worse and worse! Their coachman had not driven them! Some
one who knew the country had been their companion. They were not
acquainted in the neighborhood, and there could not be a shadow
of a doubt that it was that obtrusive Barker who had
indecently thrust himself upon them on the very next day
after their arrival, and had thus snatched from me this last
interview upon which I had counted so earnestly.
I had no right to ask any more questions. I left no message
nor any name, and I had no excuse for saying I would call again.
I got back to my hotel without having met any one whom I
knew, and that night I received a note from Barker, stating that
he had fully intended coming to the steamer to see me off, but
that an engagement would prevent him. He sent, however, his best
good wishes for my safe passage, and assured me that he would
keep me fully informed of the state of my affairs on this side.
"Engagement!" I exclaimed. "Is he going to drive with her
My steamer sailed at two o'clock the next day, and after an
early breakfast I went to the company's office to see if I could
dispose of my ticket. It had become impossible, I told the
agent, for me to leave America at present. He said it was a very
late hour to sell my ticket, but that he would do what he could,
and if an applicant turned up he would give him my room and
refund the money. He wanted me to change to another date, but I
declined to do this. I was not able to say when I should sail.
I now had no plan of action. All I knew was that I could not
leave America without finding out something definite about this
Barker business. That is to say, if it should be made known to
me that instead of attending to my business, sending a carpenter
to make repairs, if such were necessary, or going personally to
the plumber to make sure that that erratic personage would give
his attention to any pipes in regard to which Mr. Vincent might
have written, Barker should mingle in sociable relations with my
tenants, and drive or play tennis with the young lady of the
house, then would I immediately have done with him. I would
withdraw my business from his hands and place it in those of old
Mr. Poindexter. More than that, it might be my duty to warn Miss
Vincent's parents against Barker. I did not doubt that he was a
very good house and land-agent, but in selecting him as such I
had no idea of introducing him to the Vincents in a social way.
In fact, the more I thought about it the more I became convinced
that if ever I mentioned Barker to my tenants it would be to warn
them against him. From certain points of view he was actually a
This, however, I would not do until I found my agent was
really culpable. To discover what Barker had done, what he was
doing, and what he intended to do, was now my only business in
life. Until I had satisfied myself on these points I could not
think of starting out upon my travels.
Now that I had determined I would not start for Europe until
I had satisfied myself that Mr. Barker was contenting himself
with attending to my business, and not endeavoring to force
himself into social relations with my tenants, I was anxious that
the postponement of my journey should be unknown to my friends
and acquaintances, and I was, therefore, very glad to see in a
newspaper, published on the afternoon of the day of my intended
departure, my name among the list of passengers who had sailed
upon the Mnemonic. For the first time I commended the
super-enterprise of a reporter who gave more attention to the
timeliness of his news than to its accuracy.
I was stopping at a New York hotel, but I did not wish to
stay there. Until I felt myself ready to start on my travels the
neighborhood of Boynton would suit me better than anywhere else.
I did not wish to go to the town itself, for Barker lived there,
and I knew many of the townspeople; but there were farmhouses not
far away where I might spend a week. After considering the
matter, I thought of something that might suit me. About three
miles from my house, on an unfrequented road, was a mill which
stood at the end of an extensive sheet of water, in reality a
mill-pond, but commonly called a lake. The miller, an old man,
had recently died, and his house near by was occupied by a
newcomer whom I had never seen. If I could get accommodations
there it would suit me exactly. I left the train two stations
below Boynton and walked over to the mill.
The country-folk in my neighborhood are always pleased to
take summer boarders if they can get them, and the miller and his
wife were glad to give me a room, not imagining that I was the
owner of a good house not far away. The place suited my
requirements very well. It was near her, and I might live here
for a time unnoticed, but what I was going to do with my
opportunity I did not know. Several times the conviction forced
itself upon me that I should get up at once and go to Europe by
the first steamer, and so show myself that I was a man of sense.
This conviction was banished on the second afternoon of my
stay at the mill. I was sitting under a tree in the orchard
near the house, thinking and smoking my pipe, when along the road
which ran by the side of the lake came Mr. Vincent on my black
horse General and his daughter on my mare Sappho. Instinctively
I pulled my straw hat over my eyes, but this precaution was not
necessary. They were looking at the beautiful lake, with its
hills and overhanging trees, and saw me not!
When the very tip of Sappho's tail had melted into the
foliage of the road, I arose to my feet and took a deep breath of
the happy air. I had seen her, and it was with her father she
I do not believe I slept a minute that night through thinking
of her, and feeling glad that I was near her, and that she had
been riding with her father.
When the early dawn began to break an idea brighter than the
dawn broke upon me: I would get up and go nearer to her. It is
amazing how much we lose by not getting up early on the long
summer days. How beautiful the morning might be on this earth I
never knew until I found myself wandering by the edge of my woods
and over my lawn with the tender gray-blue sky above me and all
the freshness of the grass and flowers and trees about me, the
birds singing among the branches, and she sleeping sweetly
somewhere within that house with its softly defined lights and
shadows. How I wished I knew what room she occupied!
The beauties and joys of that hour were lost to every person
on the place, who were all, no doubt, in their soundest sleep. I
did not even see a dog. Quietly and stealthily stepping from
bush to hedge, I went around the house, and as I drew near the
barn I fancied I could hear from a little room adjoining it
the snores of the coachman. The lazy rascal would probably not
awaken for two or three hours yet, but I would run no risks, and
in half an hour I had sped away.
Now I knew exactly why I was staying at the house of the
miller. I was doing so in order that I might go early in the
mornings to my own home, in which the girl I loved lay dreaming,
and that for the rest of the day and much of the night I might
think of her.
"What place in Europe," I said to myself, "could be so
beautiful, so charming, and so helpful to reflection as this
sequestered lake, these noble trees, these stretches of
Even if I should care to go abroad, a month or two later
would answer all my purposes. Why had I ever thought of spending
five months away?
There was a pretty stream which ran from the lake and wended
its way through a green and shaded valley, and here, with a rod,
I wandered and fished and thought. The miller had boats, and in
one of these I rowed far up the lake where it narrowed into a
creek, and between the high hills which shut me out from the
world I would float and think.
Every morning, soon after break of day, I went to my home and
wandered about my grounds. If it rained I did not mind that. I
like a summer rain.
Day by day I grew bolder. Nobody in that household thought
of getting up until seven o'clock. For two hours, at least, I
could ramble undisturbed through my grounds, and much as I had
once enjoyed these grounds, they never afforded me the pleasure
they gave me now. In these happy mornings I felt all the
life and spirits of a boy. I went into my little field and
stroked the sleek sides of my cows as they nibbled the dewy
grass. I even peeped through the barred window of Sappho's box
and fed her, as I had been used to doing, with bunches of clover.
I saw that the young chickens were flourishing. I went into the
garden and noted the growth of the vegetables, feeling glad that
she would have so many fine strawberries and tender peas.
I had not the slightest doubt that she was fond of flowers,
and for her sake now, as I used to do for my own sake, I visited
the flower beds and borders. Not far from the house there was a
cluster of old-fashioned pinks which I was sure were not doing
very well. They had been there too long, perhaps, and they
looked stunted and weak. In the miller's garden I had noticed
great beds of these pinks, and I asked his wife if I might have
some, and she, considering them as mere wild flowers, said I
might have as many as I liked. She might have thought I wanted
simply the blossoms, but the next morning I went over to my house
with a basket filled with great matted masses of the plants taken
up with the roots and plenty of earth around them, and after
twenty minutes' work in my own bed of pinks, I had taken out all
the old plants and filled their places with fresh, luxuriant
masses of buds and leaves and blossoms. How glad she would be
when she saw the fresh life that had come to that flower-bed!
With light footsteps I went away, not feeling the weight of the
basket filled with the old plants and roots.
The summer grew and strengthened, and the sun rose earlier,
but as that had no effect upon the rising of the present
inhabitants of my place, it gave me more time for my morning
pursuits. Gradually I constituted myself the regular flower-
gardener of the premises. How delightful the work was, and how
foolish I thought I had been never to think of doing this thing
for myself! but no doubt it was because I was doing it for her
that I found it so pleasant.
Once again I had seen Miss Vincent. It was in the afternoon,
and I had rowed myself to the upper part of the lake, where, with
the high hills and the trees on each side of me, I felt as if I
were alone in the world. Floating, idly along, with my thoughts
about three miles away, I heard the sound of oars, and looking
out on the open part of the lake, I saw a boat approaching. The
miller was rowing, and in the stern sat an elderly gentleman and
a young lady. I knew them in an instant: they were Mr. and Miss
With a few vigorous strokes I shot myself into the shadows,
and rowed up the stream into the narrow stretches among the lily-
pads, under a bridge, and around a little wooded point, where I
ran the boat ashore and sprang upon the grassy bank. Although I
did not believe the miller would bring them as far as this, I
went up to a higher spot and watched for half an hour; but I did
not see them again. How relieved I was! It would have been
terribly embarrassing had they discovered me. And how
disappointed I was that the miller turned back so soon!
I now extended the supervision of my grounds. I walked
through the woods, and saw how beautiful they were in the early
dawn. I threw aside the fallen twigs and cut away encroaching
saplings, which were beginning to encumber the paths I had made,
and if I found a bough which hung too low I cut it off.
There was a great beech-tree, between which and a dogwood I had
the year before suspended a hammock. In passing this, one
morning, I was amazed to see a hammock swinging from the hooks I
had put in the two trees. This was a retreat which I had
supposed no one else would fancy or even think of! In the
hammock was a fan--a common Japanese fan. For fifteen minutes I
stood looking at that hammock, every nerve a-tingle. Then I
glanced around. The spot had been almost unfrequented since last
summer. Little bushes, weeds, and vines had sprung up here and
there between the two trees. There were dead twigs and limbs
lying about, and the short path to the main walk was much
I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to six. I had yet a
good hour for work, and with nothing but my pocket-knife and my
hands I began to clear away the space about that hammock. When I
left it, it looked as it used to look when it was my pleasure to
lie there and swing and read and reflect.
To approach this spot it was not necessary to go through my
grounds, for my bit of woods adjoined a considerable stretch of
forest-land, and in my morning walks from the mill I often used a
path through these woods. The next morning when I took this path
I was late because I had unfortunately overslept myself. When I
reached the hammock it wanted fifteen minutes to seven o'clock.
It was too late for me to do anything, but I was glad to be able
to stay there even for a few minutes, to breathe that air, to
stand on that ground, to touch that hammock. I did more than
that. Why shouldn't I? I got into it. It was a better one
than that I had hung there. It was delightfully comfortable. At
this moment, gently swinging in that woodland solitude, with the
sweet odors of the morning all about me, I felt myself nearer to
her than I had ever been before.
But I knew I must not revel in this place too long. I was on
the point of rising to leave when I heard approaching footsteps.
My breath stopped. Was I at last to be discovered? This was
what came of my reckless security. But perhaps the person, some
workman most likely, would pass without noticing me. To remain
quiet seemed the best course, and I lay motionless.
But the person approaching turned into the little pathway.
The footsteps came nearer. I sprang from the hammock. Before me
was Miss Vincent!
What was my aspect I know not, but I have no doubt I turned
fiery red. She stopped suddenly, but she did not turn red.
"Oh, Mr. Ripley," she exclaimed, "good morning! You must
excuse me. I did not know--"
That she should have had sufficient self-possession to say
good morning amazed me. Her whole appearance, in fact, amazed
me. There seemed to be something wanting in her manner. I
endeavored to get myself into condition.
"You must be surprised," I said, "to see me here. You
supposed I was in Europe, but—"
As I spoke I made a couple of steps toward her, but suddenly
stopped. One of my coat buttons had caught in the meshes of the
hammock. It was confoundedly awkward. I tried to loosen the
button, but it was badly entangled. Then I desperately
pulled at it to tear it off.
"Oh, don't do that," she said. "Let me unfasten it for you."
And taking the threads of the hammock in one of her little hands
and the button in the other, she quickly separated them. "I
should think buttons would be very inconvenient things--at least,
in hammocks," she said smiling. "You see, girls don't have any
I could not understand her manner. She seemed to take my
being there as a matter of course.
"I must beg a thousand pardons for this--this trespass," I
"Trespass!" said she, with a smile. "People don't trespass
on their own land--"
"But it is not my land," said I. "It is your father's for
the time being. I have no right here whatever. I do not know
how to explain, but you must think it very strange to find me
here when you supposed I had started for Europe."
"Oh! I knew you had not started for Europe," said she,
"because I have seen you working in the grounds--"
"Seen me!" I interrupted. "Is it possible?"
"Oh, yes," said she. "I don't know how long you had been
coming when I first saw you, but when I found that fresh bed of
pinks all transplanted from somewhere, and just as lovely as they
could be, instead of the old ones, I spoke to the man; but he did
not know anything about it, and said he had not had time to do
anything to the flowers, whereas I had been giving him credit for
ever so much weeding and cleaning up. Then I supposed that Mr.
Barker, who is just as kind and attentive as he can be, had
done it; but I could hardly believe he was the sort of man to
come early in the morning and work out of doors,"--("Oh, how I
wish he had come!" I thought. "If I had caught him here working
among the flowers!"),--"and when he came that afternoon to play
tennis I found that he had been away for two days, and could not
have planted the pinks. So I simply got up early one morning and
looked out, and there I saw you, with your coat off, working just
as hard as ever you could."
I stepped back, my mind for a moment a perfect blank.
"What could you have thought of me?" I exclaimed presently.
"Really, at first I did not know what to think," said she. "Of
course I did not know what had detained you in this country,
but I remembered that I had heard that you were a very particular
person about your flowers and shrubs and grounds, and that most
likely you thought they would be better taken care of if you kept
an eye on them, and that when you found there was so much to do
you just went to work and did it. I did not speak of this to
anybody, because if you did not wish it to be known that you were
taking care of the grounds it was not my business to tell people
about it. But yesterday, when I found this place where I had
hung my hammock so beautifully cleared up and made so nice and
clean and pleasant in every way, I thought I must come down to
tell you how much obliged I am, and also that you ought not to
take so much trouble for us. If you think the grounds need more
attention, I will persuade my father to hire another man, now and
then, to work about the place. Really, Mr. Ripley, you
ought not to have to--"
I was humbled, abashed. She had seen me at my morning devotions,
and this was the way she interpreted them. She considered me an
overnice fellow who was so desperately afraid his place would be
injured that he came sneaking around every morning to see if any
damage had been done and to put things to rights.
She stood for a moment as if expecting me to speak, brushed a
buzzing fly from her sleeve, and then, looking at me with a
gentle smile, she turned a little as if she were about to leave.
I could not let her go without telling her something. Her
present opinion of me must not rest in her mind another minute.
And yet, what story could I devise? How, indeed, could I devise
anything with which to deceive a girl who spoke and looked at me
as this girl did? I could not do it. I must rush away
speechless and never see her again, or I must tell her all. I
came a little nearer to her.
"Miss Vincent," said I, "you do not understand at all why I
am here--why I have been here so much--why I did not go to
Europe. The truth is, I could not leave. I do not wish to be
away; I want to come here and live here always--"
"Oh, dear! " she interrupted, "of course it is natural that
you should not want to tear yourself away from your lovely home.
It would be very hard for us to go away now, especially for
father and me, for we have grown to love this place so much. But
if you want us to leave, I dare say--"
"I want you to leave!" I exclaimed. "Never! When I say
that I want to live here myself, that my heart will not let me go
anywhere else, I mean that I want you to live here too--you, your
mother and father--that I want--"
"Oh, that would be perfectly splendid!" she said. "I have
ever so often thought that it was a shame that you should be
deprived of the pleasures you so much enjoy, which I see you can
find here and nowhere else. Now, I have a plan which I think
will work splendidly. We are a very small family. Why shouldn't
you come here and live with us? There is plenty of room, and I
know father and mother would be very glad, and you can pay your
board, if that would please you better. You can have the room at
the top of the tower for your study and your smoking den, and the
room under it can be your bedroom, so you can be just as
independent as you please of the rest of us, and you can be
living on your own place without interfering with us in the
least. In fact, it would be ever so nice, especially as I am in
the habit of going away to the sea-shore with my aunt every
summer for six weeks, and I was thinking how lonely it would be
this year for father and mother to stay here all by themselves."
The tower and the room under it! For me! What a contemptibly
little-minded and insignificant person she must think me. The
words with which I strove to tell her that I wished to live here
as lord, with her as my queen, would not come. She looked at me
for a moment as I stood on the brink of saying something but not
saying it, and then she turned suddenly toward the hammock.
"Did you see anything of a fan I left here?" she said. "I
know I left it here, but when I came yesterday it was gone.
Perhaps you may have noticed it somewhere--"
Now, the morning before, I had taken that fan home with me.
It was an awkward thing to carry, but I had concealed it under my
coat. It was a contemptible trick, but the fan had her initials
on it, and as it was the only thing belonging to her of which I
could possess myself, the temptation had been too great to
resist. As she stood waiting for my answer there was a light in
her eye which illuminated my perceptions.
"Did you see me take that fan?" I asked.
"I did," said she.
"Then you know," I exclaimed, stepping nearer to her, "why it
is I did not leave this country as I intended, why it was
impossible for me to tear myself away from this house, why it is
that I have been here every morning, hovering around and doing
the things I have been doing?"
She looked up at me, and with her eyes she said, "How could I
help knowing?" She might have intended to say something with her
lips, but I took my answer from her eyes, and with the quick
impulse of a lover I stopped her speech.
"You have strange ways," she said presently, blushing and
gently pressing back my arm. "I haven't told you a thing."
"Let us tell each other everything now," I cried, and we
seated ourselves in the hammock.
It was a quarter of an hour later and we were still sitting
together in the hammock.
"You may think," said she, "that, knowing what I did, it was
very queer for me to come out to you this morning, but I
could not help it. You were getting dreadfully careless, and
were staying so late and doing things which people would have
been bound to notice, especially as father is always talking
about our enjoying the fresh hours of the morning, that I felt I
could not let you go on any longer. And when it came to that fan
business I saw plainly that you must either immediately start for
"Or what?" I interrupted.
"Or go to my father and regularly engage yourself as a--"
I do not know whether she was going to say "gardener" or not,
but it did not matter. I stopped her.
It was perhaps twenty minutes later, and we were standing
together at the edge of the woods. She wanted me to come to the
house to take breakfast with them.
"Oh, I could not do that!" I said. "They would be so
surprised. I should have so much to explain before I could even
begin to state my case."
"Well, then, explain," said she. "You will find father on
the front piazza. He is always there before breakfast, and there
is plenty of time. After all that has been said here, I cannot
go to breakfast and look commonplace while you run away."
"But suppose your father objects?" said I.
"Well, then you will have to go back and take breakfast with
your miller," said she.
I never saw a family so little affected by surprises as those
Vincents. When I appeared on the front piazza the old gentleman
did not jump. He shook hands with me and asked me to sit down,
and when I told him everything he did not even ejaculate,
but simply folded his hands together and looked out over the
"It seemed strange to Mrs. Vincent and myself," he said,
"when we first noticed your extraordinary attachment for our
daughter, but, after all, it was natural enough."
"Noticed it!" I exclaimed. "When did you do that?"
"Very soon," he said. "When you and Cora were cataloguing
the books at my house in town I noticed it and spoke to Mrs.
Vincent, but she said it was nothing new to her, for it was plain
enough on the day when we first met you here that you were
letting the house to Cora, and that she had not spoken of it to
me because she was afraid I might think it wrong to accept the
favorable and unusual arrangements you were making with us if I
suspected the reason for them. We talked over the matter, but,
of course, we could do nothing, because there was nothing to do,
and Mrs. Vincent was quite sure you would write to us from
Europe. But when my man Ambrose told me he had seen some one
working about the place in the very early morning, and that, as
it was a gentleman, he supposed it must be the landlord, for
nobody else would be doing such things, Mrs. Vincent and I looked
out of the window the next day, and when we found it was indeed
you who were coming here every day, we felt that the matter was
serious and were a good deal troubled. We found, however, that
you were conducting affairs in a very honorable way,--that you
were not endeavoring to see Cora, and that you did not try to
have any secret correspondence with her,--and as we had no right
to prevent you from coming on your grounds, we concluded to
remain quiet until you should take some step which we would be
authorized to notice. Later, when Mr. Barker came and told me
that you had not gone to Europe, and were living with a miller
not far from here--"
"Barker!" I cried. "The scoundrel!"
"You are mistaken, sir," said Mr. Vincent. "He spoke with
the greatest kindness of you, and said that as it was evident you
had your own reasons for wishing to stay in the neighborhood, and
did not wish the fact to be known, he had spoken of it to no one
but me, and he would not have done this had he not thought it
would prevent embarrassment in case we should meet."
Would that everlasting Barker ever cease meddling in my affairs?
"Do you suppose," I asked, "that he imagined the reason for
my staying here?"
"I do not know," said the old gentleman, "but after the
questions I put to him I have no doubt he suspected it. I made
many inquiries of him regarding you, your family, habits, and
disposition, for this was a very vital matter to me, sir, and I
am happy to inform you that he said nothing of you that was not
good, so I urged him to keep the matter to himself. I
determined, however, that if you continued your morning visits I
should take an early opportunity of accosting you and asking an
"And you never mentioned anything of this to your daughter?"
"Oh, no," he answered. "We carefully kept everything from her."
"But, my dear sir," said I, rising, "you have given me no answer. You have not told me whether or not you will accept me as a son-in-law."
He smiled. "Truly," he said, "I have not answered you; but
the fact is, Mrs. Vincent and I have considered the matter so
long, and having come to the conclusion that if you made an
honorable and straightforward proposition, and if Cora were
willing to accept you, we could see no reason to object to--"
At this moment the front door opened and Cora appeared.
"Are you going to stay to breakfast?" she asked. "Because,
if you are, it is ready."
I stayed to breakfast.
I am now living in my own house, not in the two tower rooms,
but in the whole mansion, of which my former tenant, Cora, is now
mistress supreme. Mr. and Mrs. Vincent expect to spend the next
summer here and take care of the house while we are travelling.
Mr. Barker, an excellent fellow and a most thorough business
man, still manages my affairs, and there is nothing on the place
that flourishes so vigorously as the bed of pinks which I got
from the miller's wife.
By the way, when I went back to my lodging on that eventful
day, the miller's wife met me at the door.
"I kept your breakfast waitin' for you for a good while,"
said she, "but as you didn't come, I supposed you were takin'
breakfast in your own house, and I cleared it away."
"Do you know who I am?" I exclaimed.
"Oh, yes, sir," she said. "We did not at first, but when
everybody began to talk about it we couldn't help knowin' it."
"Everybody!" I gasped. "And may I ask what you and everybody
said about me?"
"I think it was the general opinion, sir," said she, "that
you were suspicious of them tenants of yours, and nobody wondered
at it, for when city people gets into the country and on other
people's property, there's no trustin' them out of your sight for
I could not let the good woman hold this opinion of my
tenants, and I briefly told her the truth. She looked at me with
moist admiration in her eyes.
"I am glad to hear that, sir," said she. "I like it very
much. But if I was you I wouldn't be in a hurry to tell my
husband and the people in the neighborhood about it. They might
be a little disappointed at first, for they had a mighty high
opinion of you when they thought that you was layin' low here to
keep an eye on them tenants of yours."