Read CHAPTER XV - TACTICS of Nobody , free online book, by Susan Warner, on

Miss Caruthers carried on the tactics with which she had begun.  Lois had never in her life found her society so diligently cultivated.  If she walked out, Miss Caruthers begged to be permitted to go along; she wished to learn about the Islands.  Lois could not see that she advanced much in learning; and sometimes wondered that she did not prefer her brother or her lover as instructors.  True, her brother and her lover were frequently of the party; yet even then Miss Julia seemed to choose to take her lessons from Lois; and managed as much as possible to engross her.  Lois could see that at such times Tom was often annoyed, and Mr. Lenox amused, at something, she could not quite tell what; and she was too inexperienced, and too modest withal, to guess.  She only knew that she was not as free as she would have liked to be.  Sometimes Tom found a chance for a little walk and talk with her alone; and those quarters of an hour were exceedingly pleasant; Tom told her about flowers, in a scientific way, that is; and made himself a really charming companion.  Those minutes flew swiftly.  But they never were many.  If not Julia, at least Mr. Lenox was sure to appear upon the scene; and then, though he was very pleasant too, and more than courteous to Lois, somehow the charm was gone.  It was just as well, Lois told herself; but that did not make her like it.  Except with Tom, he did not enjoy herself thoroughly in the Caruthers society.  She felt, with a sure, secret, fine instinct, what they were not high-bred enough to hide; ­that they did not accept her as upon their own platform.  I do not think the consciousness was plain enough to be put into words; nevertheless it was decided enough to make her quite willing to avoid their company.  She tried, but she could not avoid it.  In the house as out of the house.  Tom would seek her out and sit down beside her; and then Julia would come to learn a crochet stitch, or Mrs. Caruthers would call her to remedy a fault in her knitting, or to hold her wool to be wound; refusing to let Mr. Lenox hold it, under the plea that Lois did it better; which was true, no doubt.  Or Mr. Lenox himself would join them, and turn everything Tom said into banter; till Lois could not help laughing, though yet she was vexed.

So days went on.  And then something happened to relieve both parties of the efforts they were making; a very strange thing to happen at the Isles of Shoals.  Mrs. Wishart was taken seriously ill.  She had not been quite well when she came; and she always afterwards maintained that the air did not agree with her.  Lois thought it could not be the air, and must be some imprudence; but however it was, the fact was undoubted.  Mrs. Wishart was ill; and the doctor who was fetched over from Portsmouth to see her, said she could not be moved, and must be carefully nursed.  Was it the air?  It couldn’t be the air, he answered; nobody ever got sick at the Isles of Shoals.  Was it some imprudence?  Couldn’t be, he said; there was no way in which she could be imprudent; she could not help living a natural life at Appledore.  No, it was something the seeds of which she had brought with her; and the strong sea air had developed it.  Reasoning which Lois did not understand; but she understood nursing, and gave herself to it, night and day.  There was a sudden relief to Miss Julia’s watch and ward; nobody was in danger of saying too many words to Lois now; nobody could get a chance; she was only seen by glimpses.

“How long is this sort of thing going on?” inquired Mr. Lenox one afternoon.  He and Julia had been spending a very unrefreshing hour on the piazza doing nothing.

“Impossible to say.”

“I’m rather tired of it.  How long has Mrs. Wishart been laid up now?”

“A week; and she has no idea of being moved.”

“Well, are we fixtures too?”

“You know what I came for, George.  If Tom will go, I will, and thankful.”

“Tom,” said the gentleman, as Tom at this minute came out of the house, “have you got enough of Appledore?”

“I don’t care about Appledore.  It’s the fishing.”  Tom, I may remark, had been a good deal out in a fishing-boat during this past week.  “That’s glorious.”

“But you don’t care for fishing, old boy.”

“O, don’t I!”

“No, not a farthing.  Seriously, don’t you think we might mend our quarters?”

“You can,” said Tom.  “Of course I can’t go while Mrs. Wishart is sick.  I can’t leave those two women alone here to take care of themselves.  You can take Julia and my mother away, where you like.”

“And a good riddance,” muttered Lenox, as the other ran down the steps and went off.

“He won’t stir,” said Julia.  “You see how right I was.”

“Are you sure about it?”

“Why, of course I am!  Quite sure.  What are you thinking about?”

“Just wondering whether you might have made a mistake.”

“A mistake!  How?  I don’t make mistakes.”

“That’s pleasant doctrine!  But I am not so certain.  I have been thinking whether Tom is likely ever to get anything better.”

“Than this girl?  George, don’t you think he deserves something better?  My brother?  What are you thinking of?”

“Tom has got an enormous fancy for her; I can see that.  It’s not play with him.  And upon my honour, Julia, I do not think she would do any thing to wear off the fancy.”

“Not if she could help it!” returned Julia scornfully.

“She isn’t a bit of a flirt.”

“You think that is a recommendation?  Men like flirts.  This girl don’t know how, that is all.”

“I do not believe she knows how to do anything wrong.”

“Now do set up a discourse in praise of virtue!  What if she don’t?  That’s nothing to the purpose.  I want Tom to go into political life.”

“A virtuous wife wouldn’t hurt him there.”

“And an ignorant, country-bred, untrained woman wouldn’t help him, would she?”

“Tom will never want help in political life, for he will never go into it.  Well, I have said my say, and resign myself to Appledore for two weeks longer.  Only, mind you, I question if Tom will ever get anything as good again in the shape of a wife, as you are keeping him from now.  It is something of a responsibility to play Providence.”

The situation therefore remained unchanged for several days more.  Mrs. Wishart needed constant attention, and had it; and nobody else saw Lois for more than the merest snatches of time.  I think Lois made these moments as short as she could.  Tom was in despair, but stuck to his post and his determination; and with sighs and groans his mother and sister held fast to theirs.  The hotel at Appledore made a good thing of it.

Then one day Tom was lounging on the piazza at the time of the steamer’s coming in from Portsmouth; and in a short time thereafter a new guest was seen advancing towards the hotel.  Tom gave her a glance or two; he needed no more.  She was middle-aged, plain, and evidently not from that quarter of the world where Mr. Tom Caruthers was known.  Neatly dressed, however, and coming with an alert, business step over the grass, and so she mounted to the piazza.  There she made straight for Tom, who was the only person visible.

“Is this the place where a lady is lying sick and another lady is tendin’ her?”

“That is the case here,” said Tom politely.  “Miss Lothrop is attending upon a sick friend in this house.”

“That’s it ­Miss Lothrop.  I’m her aunt.  How’s the sick lady?  Dangerous?”

“Not at all, I should say,” returned Tom; “but Miss Lothrop is very much confined with her.  She will be very glad to see you, I have no doubt.  Allow me to see about your room.”  And so saying, he would have relieved the new comer of a heavy handbag.

“Never mind,” she said, holding fast.  “You’re very obliging ­but when I’m away from home I always hold fast to whatever I’ve got; and I’ll go to Miss Lothrop’s room.  Are there more folks in the house?”

“Certainly.  Several.  This way ­I will show you.”

“Then I s’pose there’s plenty to help nurse, and they have no call for me?”

“I think Miss Lothrop has done the most of the nursing.  Your coming will set her a little more at liberty.  She has been very much confined with her sick friend.”

“What have the other folks been about?”

“Not helping much, I am afraid.  And of course a man is at a disadvantage at such a time.”

“Are they all men?” inquired Mrs. Marx suddenly.

“No ­I was thinking of my own case.  I would have been very glad to be useful.”

“O!” said the lady.  “That’s the sort o’ world we live in; most of it ain’t good for much when it comes to the pinch.  Thank you ­much obliged.”

Tom had guided her up-stairs and along a gallery, and now indicated the door of Lois’s room.  Lois was quite as glad to see her aunt as Tom had supposed she would be.

“Aunty! ­Whatever has brought you here, to the Isles of Shoals?”

“Not to see the Isles, you may bet.  I’ve come to look after you.”

“Why, I’m well enough.  But it’s very good of you.”

“No, it ain’t, for I wanted an excuse to see what the place is like.  You haven’t grown thin yet.  What’s all the folks about, that they let you do all the nursing?”

“O, it comes to me naturally, being with Mrs. Wishart.  Who should do it?”

“To be sure,” said Mrs. Marx; “who should do it?  Most folks are good at keepin’ out o’ the way when they are wanted.  There’s one clever chap in the house ­he showed me the way up here; who’s he?”

“Fair hair?”

“Yes, and curly.  A handsome fellow.  And he knows you.”

“O, they all know me by this time.”

“This one particularly?”

“Well ­I knew him in New York.”

“I see!  What’s the matter with this sick woman?”

“I don’t know.  She is nervous, and feverish, and does not seem to get well as she ought to do.”

“Well, if I was going to get sick, I’d choose some other place than a rock out in the middle of the ocean. Seems to me I would.  One never knows what one may be left to do.”

“One cannot generally choose where one will be sick,” said Lois, smiling.

“Yes, you can,” said the other, as sharp as a needle.  “If one’s in the wrong place, one can keep up till one can get to the right one.  You needn’t tell me.  I know it, and I’ve done it.  I’ve held up when I hadn’t feet to stand upon, nor a head to hold.  If you’re a mind to, you can.  Nervous, eh?  That’s the trouble o’ folks that haven’t enough to do.  Mercy!  I don’t wonder they get nervous.  But you’ve had a little too much, Lois, and you show it.  Now, you go and lie down.  I’ll look after the nerves.”

“How are they all at home?”

“Splendid!  Charity goes round like a bee in a bottle, as usual.  Ma’s well; and Madge is as handsome as ever.  Garden’s growin’ up to weeds, and I don’t see as there’s anybody to help it; but that corner peach tree’s ripe, and as good as if you had fifteen gardeners.”

“It’s time I was home!” said Lois, sighing.

“No, it ain’t, ­not if you’re havin’ a good time here. Are you havin’ a good time?”

“Why, I’ve been doing nothing but take care of Mrs. Wishart for this week past.”

“Well, now I’m here.  You go off.  Do you like this queer place, I want to know?”

“Aunty, it is just perfectly delightful!”

“Is it?  I don’t see it.  Maybe I will by and by.  Now go off, Lois.”

Mrs. Marx from this time took upon herself the post of head nurse.  Lois was free to go out as much as she pleased.  Yet she made less use of this freedom than might have been expected, and still confined herself unnecessarily to the sick-room.

“Why don’t you go?” her aunt remonstrated.  “Seems to me you ain’t so dreadful fond of the Isles of Shoals after all.”

“If one could be alone!” sighed Lois; “but there is always a pack at my heels.”

“Alone!  Is that what you’re after?  I thought half the fun was to see the folks.”

“Well, some of them,” said Lois.  “But as sure as I go out to have a good time with the rocks and the sea, as I like to have it, there comes first one and then another and then another, and maybe a fourth; and the game is up.”

“Why?  I don’t see how they should spoil it.”

“O, they do not care for the things I care for; the sea is nothing to them, and the rocks less than nothing; and instead of being quiet, they talk nonsense, or what seems nonsense to me; and I’d as lieve be at home.”

“What do they go for then?”

“I don’t know.  I think they do not know what to do with themselves.”

“What do they stay here for, then, for pity’s sake?  If they are tired, why don’t they go away?”

“I can’t tell.  That is what I have asked myself a great many times.  They are all as well as fishes, every one of them.”

Mrs. Marx held her peace and let things go their train for a few days more.  Mrs. Wishart still gave her and Lois a good deal to do, though her ailments aroused no anxiety.  After those few days, Mrs. Marx spoke again.

“What keeps you so mum?” she said to Lois.  “Why don’t you talk, as other folks do?”

“I hardly see them, you know, except at meals.”

“Why don’t you talk at meal times? that’s what I am askin’ about.  You can talk as well as anybody; and you sit as mum as a stick.”

“Aunty, they all talk about things I do not understand.”

“Then I’d talk of something they don’t understand.  Two can play at that game.”

“It wouldn’t be amusing,” said Lois, laughing.

“Do you call their talk amusing?  It’s the stupidest stuff I ever did hear.  I can’t make head or tail of it; nor I don’t believe they can.  Sounds to me as if they were tryin’ amazin’ hard to be witty, and couldn’t make it out.”

“It sounds a good deal like that,” Lois assented.

“They go on just as if you wasn’t there!”

“And why shouldn’t they?”

“Because you are there.”

“I am nothing to them,” said Lois quietly.

“Nothing to them!  You are worth the whole lot.”

“They do not think so.”

“And politeness is politeness.”

“I sometimes think,” said Lois, “that politeness is rudeness.”

“Well, I wouldn’t let myself be put in a corner so, if I was you.”

“But I am in a corner, to them.  All the world is where they live; and I live in a little corner down by Shampuashuh.”

“Nobody’s big enough to live in more than a corner ­if you come to that; and one corner’s as good as another.  That’s nonsense, Lois.”

“Maybe, aunty.  But there is a certain knowledge of the world, and habit of the world, which makes some people very different from other people; you can’t help that.”

“I don’t want to help it?” said Mrs. Marx.  “I wouldn’t have you like them, for all the black sheep in my flock.”