Read CHAPTER VI - HAPPINESS of Nobody , free online book, by Susan Warner, on ReadCentral.com.

Philip kept his promise.  Thinking, however, he soon found, did not amount to much till he had seen more; and he went a few days after to Mrs. Wishart’s house.

It was afternoon.  The sun was streaming in from the west, filling the sitting-room with its splendour; and in the radiance of it Lois was sitting with some work.  She was as unadorned as when Philip had seen her the other day in the street; her gown was of some plain stuff, plainly made; she was a very unfashionable-looking person.  But the good figure that Mr. Dillwyn liked to see was there; the fair outlines, simple and graceful, light and girlish; and the exquisite hair caught the light, and showed its varying, warm, bright tints.  It was massed up somehow, without the least artificiality, in order, and yet lying loose and wavy; a beautiful combination which only a few heads can attain to.

There was nobody else in the room; and as Lois rose to meet the visitor, he was not flattered to see that she did not recognize him.  Then the next minute a flash of light came into her face.

“I have had the pleasure,” said Dillwyn.  “I was afraid you were going to ignore the fact.”

“You gave us lunch the other day,” said Lois, smiling.  “Yes, I remember.  I shall always remember.”

“You got home comfortably?”

“O yes, after we were so fortified.  Mrs. Wishart was quite exhausted, before lunch, I mean.”

“This is a pleasant situation,” said Philip, going a step nearer the window.

“Yes, very!  I enjoy those rocks very much.”

“You have no rocks at home?”

“No rocks,” said Lois; “plenty of rock, or stone; but it comes up out of the ground just enough to make trouble, not to give pleasure.  The country is all level.”

“And you enjoy the variety?”

“O, not because it is variety.  But I have been nowhere and have seen nothing in my life.”

“So the world is a great unopened book to you?” said Philip, with a smile regarding her.

“It will always be that, I think,” Lois replied, shaking her head.

“Why should it?”

“I live at Shampuashuh.”

“What then?  Here you are in New York.”

“Yes, wonderfully.  But I am going home again.”

“Not soon?”

“Very soon.  It will be time to begin to make garden in a few days.”

“Can the garden not be made without you?”

“Not very well; for nobody knows, except me, just where things were planted last year.”

“And is that important?”

“Very important.”  Lois smiled at his simplicity.  “Because many things must be changed.  They must not be planted where they were last year.”

“Why not?”

“They would not do so well.  They have all to shift about, like Puss-in-the-corner; and it is puzzling.  The peas must go where the corn or the potatoes went; and the corn must find another place, and so on.”

“And you are the only one who keeps a map of the garden in your head?”

“Not in my head,” said Lois, smiling.  “I keep it in my drawer.”

“Ah!  That is being more systematic than I gave you credit for.”

“But you cannot do anything with a garden if you have not system.”

“Nor with anything else!  But where did you learn that?”

“In the garden, I suppose,” said Lois simply.

She talked frankly and quietly.  Mr. Dillwyn could see by her manner, he thought, that she would be glad if Mrs. Wishart would come in and take him off her hands; but there was no awkwardness or ungracefulness or unreadiness.  In fact, it was the grace of the girl that struck him, not her want of it.  Then she was so very lovely.  A quiet little figure, in her very plain dress; but the features were exceedingly fair, the clear skin was as pure as a pearl, the head with its crown of soft bright hair might have belonged to one of the Graces.  More than all, was the very rare expression and air of the face.  That Philip could not read; he could not decide what gave the girl her special beauty.  Something in the mind or soul of her, he was sure; and he longed to get at it and find out what it was.

She is not commonplace, he said to himself, while he was talking something else to her; ­but it is more than being not commonplace.  She is very pure; but I have seen other pure faces.  It is not that she is a Madonna; this is no creature

   “. . . . too bright and good
   For human nature’s daily food.”

But what “daily food” for human nature she would be!  She is a lofty creature; yet she is a half-timid country girl; and I suppose she does not know much beyond her garden.  Yes, probably Mrs. Caruthers was right; she would not do for Tom.  Tom is not a quarter good enough for her!  She is a little country girl, and she does not know much; and yet ­happy will be the man to whom she will give a free kiss of those wise, sweet lips!

With these somewhat contradictory thoughts running through his mind, Mr. Dillwyn set himself seriously to entertain Lois.  As she had never travelled, he told her of things he had seen ­and things he had known without seeing ­in his own many journeyings about the world.  Presently Lois dropped her work out of her hands, forgot it, and turned upon Mr. Dillwyn a pair of eager, intelligent eyes, which it was a pleasure to talk to.  He became absorbed in his turn, and equally; ministering to the attention and curiosity and power of imagination he had aroused.  What listeners her eyes were! and how quick to receive and keen to pass judgement was the intelligence behind them.  It surprised him; however, its responses were mainly given through the eyes.  In vain he tried to get a fair share of words from her too; sought to draw her out.  Lois was not afraid to speak; and yet, for sheer modesty and simpleness, that supposed her words incapable of giving pleasure and would not speak them as a matter of conventionality, she said very few.  At last Philip made a determined effort to draw her out.

“I have told you now about my home,” he said.  “What is yours like?” And his manner said, I am going to stop, and you are going to begin.

“There is nothing striking about it, I think,” said Lois.

“Perhaps you think so, just because it is familiar to you.”

“No, it is because there is really not much to tell about it.  There are just level farm fields; and the river, and the Sound.”

“The river?”

“The Connecticut.”

“O, that is where you are, is it?  And are you near the river?”

“Not very near.  About as near the river on one side as we are to the Sound on the other; either of them is a mile and more away.”

“You wish they were nearer?”

“No,” said Lois; “I don’t think I do; there is always the pleasure of going to them.”

“Then you should wish them further.  A mile is a short drive.”

“O, we do not drive much.  We walk to the shore often, and sometimes to the river.”

“You like the large water so much the best?”

“I think I like it best,” said Lois, laughing a little; “but we go for clams.”

“Can you get them yourself?”

“Certainly!  It is great fun.  While you go to drive in the Park, we go to dig clams.  And I think we have the best of it too, for a stand-by.”

“Do tell me about the clams.”

“Do you like them?”

“I suppose I do.  I do not know them.  What are they? the usual little soup fish?”

“I don’t know about soup fish.  O no! not those; they are not the sort Mrs. Wishart has sometimes.  These are long; ours in the Sound, I mean; longish and blackish; and do not taste like the clams you have here.”

“Better, I hope?”

“A great deal better.  There is nothing much pleasanter than a dish of long clams that you have dug yourself.  At least we think so.”

“Because you have got them yourself!”

“No; but I suppose that helps.”

“So you get them by digging?”

“Yes.  It is funny work.  The clams are at the edge of the water, where the rushes grow, in the mud.  We go for them when the tide is out.  Then, in the blue mud you see quantities of small holes as big as a lead pencil would make; those are the clam holes.”

“And what then?”

“Then we dig for them; dig with a hoe; and you must dig very fast, or the clam will get away from you.  Then, if you get pretty near him he spits at you.”

“I suppose that is a harmless remonstrance.”

“It may come in your face.”

Mr. Dillwyn laughed a little, looking at this fair creature, who was talking to him, and finding it hard to imagine her among the rushes racing with a long clam.

“It is wet ground I suppose, where you find the clams?”

“O yes.  One must take off shoes and stockings and go barefoot.  But the mud is warm, and it is pleasant enough.”

“The clams must be good, to reward the trouble?”

“We think it is as pleasant to get them as to eat them.”

“I believe you remarked, this sport is your substitute for our Central Park?”

“Yes, it is a sort of a substitute.”

“And, in the comparison, you think you are the gainers?”

“You cannot compare the two things,” said Lois; “only that both are ways of seeking pleasure.”

“So you say; and I wanted your comparative estimate of the two ways.”

“Central Park is new to me, you know,” said Lois; “and I am very fond of riding, ­driving, Mrs. Wishart says I ought to call it; the scene is like fairyland to me.  But I do not think it is better fun, really, than going after clams.  And the people do not seem to enjoy it a quarter as much.”

“The people whom you see driving?”

“Yes.  They do not look as if they were taking much pleasure.  Most of them.”

“Pray why should they go, if they do not find pleasure in it?”

Lois looked at her questioner.

“You can tell, better than I, Mr. Dillwyn.  For the same reasons, I suppose, that they do other things.”

“Pardon me, ­what things do you mean?”

“I mean, all the things they do for pleasure, or that are supposed to be for pleasure.  Parties ­luncheon parties, and dinners, and ­” Lois hesitated.

Supposed to be for pleasure!” Philip echoed the words.  “Excuse me ­but what makes you think they do not gain their end?”

“People do not look really happy,” said Lois.  “They do not seem to me as if they really enjoyed what they were doing.”

“You are a nice observer!”

“Am I?”

“Pray, at ­I forget the name ­your home in the country, are the people more happily constituted?”

“Not that I know of.  Not more happily constituted; but I think they live more natural lives.”

“Instance!” said Philip, looking curious.

“Well,” said Lois, laughing and colouring, “I do not think they do things unless they want to.  They do not ask people unless they want to see them; and when they do make a party, everybody has a good time.  It is not brilliant, or splendid, or wonderful, like parties here; but yet I think it is more really what it is meant to be.”

“And here you think things are not what they are meant to be?”

“Perhaps I am mistaken,” said Lois modestly.  “I have seen so little.”

“You are not mistaken in your general view.  It would be a mistake to think there are no exceptions.”

“O, I do not think that.”

“But it is matter of astonishment to me, how you have so soon acquired such keen discernment.  Is it that you do not enjoy these occasions yourself?”

“O, I enjoy them intensely,” said Lois, smiling.  “Sometimes I think I am the only one of the company that does; but I enjoy them.”

“By the power of what secret talisman?”

“I don’t know; ­being happy, I suppose,” said Lois shyly.

“You are speaking seriously; and therefore you are touching the greatest question of human life.  Can you say of yourself that you are truly happy?

Lois met his eyes in a little wonderment at this questioning, and answered a plain “yes.”

“But, to be happy, with me, means, to be independent of circumstances.  I do not call him happy, whose happiness is gone if the east wind blow, or a party miscarry, or a bank break; even though it were the bank in which his property is involved.”

“Nor do I,” said Lois gravely.

“And ­pray forgive me for asking! ­but, are you happy in this exclusive sense?”

“I have no property in a bank,” said Lois, smiling again; “I have not been tried that way; but I suppose it may do as well to have no property anywhere.  Yes, Mr. Dillwyn.”

“But that is equal to having the philosopher’s stone!” cried Dillwyn.

“What is the philosopher’s stone?”

“The wise men of old time made themselves very busy in the search for some substance, or composition, which would turn other substances to gold.  Looking upon gold as the source and sum of all felicity, they spent endless pains and countless time upon the search for this transmuting substance.  They thought, if they could get gold enough, they would be happy.  Sometimes some one of them fancied he was just upon the point of making the immortal discovery; but there he always broke down.”

“They were looking in the wrong place,” said Lois thoughtfully.

“Is there a right place to look then?”

Lois smiled.  It was a smile that struck Philip very much, for its calm and confident sweetness; yes, more than that; for its gladness.  She was not in haste to answer; apparently she felt some difficulty.

“I do not think gold ever made anybody happy,” she said at length.

“That is what moralists tell us.  But, after all, Miss Lothrop, money is the means to everything else in this world.”

“Not to happiness, is it?”

“Well, what is, then?  They say ­and perhaps you will say ­that friendships and affections can do more; but I assure you, where there are not the means to stave off grinding toil or crushing poverty, affections wither; or if they do not quite wither, they bear no golden fruit of happiness.  On the contrary, they offer vulnerable spots to the stings of pain.”

“Money can do a great deal,” said Lois.

“What can do more?”

Lois lifted up her eyes and looked at her questioner inquiringly.  Did he know no better than that?

“With money, one can do everything,” he went on, though struck by her expression.

“Yes,” said Lois; “and yet ­all that never satisfied anybody.”

“Satisfied!” cried Philip.  “Satisfied is a very large word.  Who is satisfied?”

Lois glanced up again, mutely.

“If I dared venture to say so ­you look, Miss Lothrop, you absolutely look, as if you were; and yet it is impossible.”

“Why is it impossible?”

“Because it is what all the generations of men have been trying for, ever since the world began; and none of them ever found it.”

“Not if they looked for it in their money bags,” said Lois.  “It was never found there.”

“Was it ever found anywhere?”

“Why, yes!”

“Pray tell me where, that I may have it too!”

The girl’s cheeks flushed; and what was very odd to Philip, her eyes, he was sure, had grown moist; but the lids fell over them, and he could not see as well as he wished.  What a lovely face it was, he thought, in this its mood of stirred gravity!

“Do you ever read the Bible, Mr. Dillwyn?”

The question occasioned him a kind of revulsion.  The Bible! was that to be brought upon his head?  A confused notion of organ-song, the solemnity of a still house, a white surplice, and words in measured cadence, came over him.  Nothing in that connection had ever given him the idea of being satisfied.  But Lois’s question ­

“The Bible?” he repeated.  “May I ask, why you ask?”

“I thought you did not know something that is in it.”

“Very possibly.  It is the business of clergymen, isn’t it, to tell us what is in it?  That is what they are paid for.  Of what are you thinking?”

“I was thinking of a person in it, mentioned in it, I mean, ­who said just what you said a minute ago.”

“What was that?  And who was that?”

“It was a poor woman who once held a long talk with the Lord Jesus as he was resting beside a well.  She had come to draw water, and Jesus asked her for some; and then he told her that whoever drank of that water would thirst again ­as she knew; but whoever should drink of the water that he would give, should never thirst.  I was telling you of that water, Mr. Dillwyn.  And the woman answered just what you answered ­’Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.’”

“Did she get it?”

“I think she did.”

“You mean, something that satisfied her, and would satisfy me?”

“It satisfies every one who drinks of it,” said Lois.

“But you know, I do not in the least understand you.”

The girl rose up and fetched a Bible which lay upon a distant table.  Philip looked at the book as she brought it near; no volume of Mrs. Wishart’s, he was sure.  Lois had had her own Bible with her in the drawing-room.  She must be one of the devout kind.  He was sorry.  He believed they were a narrow and prejudiced sort of people, given to laying down the law and erecting barricades across other people’s paths.  He was sorry this fair girl was one of them.  But she was a lovely specimen.  Could she unlearn these ways, perhaps?  But now, what was she going to bring forth to him out of the Bible?  He watched the fingers that turned the leaves; pretty fingers enough, and delicate, but not very white.  Gardening probably was not conducive to the blanching of a lady’s hand.  It was a pity.  She found her place so soon that he had little time to think his regrets.

“You allowed that nobody is satisfied, Mr. Dillwyn,” said Lois then.  “See if you understand this.”

“’Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money:  come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price.  Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.’”

Lois closed her book.

“Who says that?” Philip inquired.

“God himself, by his messenger.”

“And to whom?”

“I think, just now, the words come to you, Mr. Dillwyn.”  Lois said this with a manner and look of such simplicity, that Philip was not even reminded of the class of monitors he had in his mind assigned her with.  It was absolute simple matter of fact; she meant business.

“May I look at it?” he said.

She found the page again, and he considered it.  Then as he gave it back, remarked,

“This does not tell me yet what this satisfying food is?”

“No, that you can know only by experience.”

“How is the experience to be obtained?”

Again Lois found the words in her book and showed them to him.  “’Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him’ ­and again, above, ’If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.’  Christ gives it, and he must be asked for it.”

“And then ?” said Philip.

“Then you would be satisfied.”

“You think it?”

“I know it.”

“It takes a great deal to satisfy a man!”

“Not more than it does for a woman.”

“And you are satisfied?” he asked searchingly.

But Lois smiled as she gave her answer; and it was an odd and very inconsistent thing that Philip should be disposed to quarrel with her for that smile.  I think he wished she were not satisfied.  It was very absurd, but he did not reason about it; he only felt annoyed.

“Well, Miss Lothrop,” he said as he rose, “I shall never forget this conversation.  I am very glad no one came in to interrupt it.”

Lois had no phrases of society ready, and replied nothing.