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

So they were all scattered.  But the moving and communicating wires of human society seem as often as any way to run underground; quite out of sight, at least; then specially strong, when to an outsider they appear to be broken and parted for ever.

Into the history of the summer it is impossible to go minutely.  What Mr. Dillwyn did in Canada, and how Lois fought with ignorance and rudeness and prejudice in her new situation, Mrs. Barclay learned but very imperfectly from the letters she received; so imperfectly, that she felt she knew nothing.  Mr. Dillwyn never mentioned Miss Lothrop.  Could it be that he had prematurely brought things to a decision, and so got them decided wrong?  But in that case Mrs. Barclay felt sure some sign would have escaped Lois; and she gave none.

The summer passed, and two-thirds of the autumn.

One evening in the end of October, Mrs. Wishart was sitting alone in her back drawing-room.  She was suffering from a cold, and coddling herself over the fire.  Her major-domo brought her Mr. Dillwyn’s name and request for admission, which was joyfully granted.  Mrs. Wishart was denied to ordinary visitors; and Philip’s arrival was like a benediction.

“Where have you been all summer?” she asked him, when they had talked awhile of some things nearer home.

“In the backwoods of Canada.”

“The backwoods of Canada!”

“I assure you it is a very enjoyable region.”

“What could you find to do there?”

“More than enough.  I spent my time between hunting ­fishing ­and studying.”

“Studying what, pray?  Not backwoods farming, I suppose?”

“Well, no, not exactly.  Backwoods farming is not precisely in my line.”

“What is in your line that you could study there?”

“It is not a bad place to study anything; ­if you except, perhaps, art and antiquity.”

“I did not know you studied anything but art.”

“It is hardly a sufficient object to fill a man’s life worthily; do you think so?”

“What would fill it worthily?” the lady asked, with a kind of dreary abstractedness.  And if Philip had surprised her a moment before, he was surprised in his turn.  As he did not answer immediately, Mrs. Wishart went on.

“A man’s life, or a woman’s life?  What would fill it worthily?  Do you know?  Sometimes it seems to me that we are all living for nothing.”

“I am ready to confess that has been the case with me, ­to my shame be it said.”

“I mean, that there is nothing really worth living for.”

That cannot be true, however.”

“Well, I suppose I say so at the times when I am unable to enjoy anything in my life.  And yet, if you stop to think, what does anybody’s life amount to?  Nobody’s missed, after he is gone; or only for a minute; and for himself ­There is not a year of my life that I can remember, that I would be willing to live over again.”

“Apparently, then, to enjoy is not the chief end of existence.  I mean, of this existence.”

“What do we know of any other?  And if we do not enjoy ourselves, pray what in the world should we live for?”

“I have seen people that I thought enjoyed themselves,” Philip said slowly.

“Have you?  Who were they?  I do not know them.”

“You know some of them.  Do you recollect a friend of mine, for whom you negotiated lodgings at a far-off country village?”

“Yes, I remember.  They took her, didn’t they?”

“They took her.  And I had the pleasure once or twice of visiting her there.”

“Did she like it?”

“Very much.  She could not help liking it.  And I thought those people seemed to enjoy life.  Not relatively, but positively.”

“The Lothrops!” cried Mrs. Wishart.  “I can not conceive it.  Why, they are very poor.”

“That made no hindrance, in their case.”

“Poor people, I am afraid they have not been enjoying themselves this year.”

“I heard of Mrs. Armadale’s death.”

“Yes.  O, she was old; she could not be expected to live long.  But they are all broken up.”

“How am I to understand that?”

“Well, you know they have very little to live upon.  I suppose it was for that reason Lois went off to a distance from home to teach a district school.  You know, ­or do you know? ­what country schools are, in some places; this was one of the places.  Pretty rough; and hard living.  And then a railroad was opened in the neighbourhood ­the place became sickly ­a fever broke out among Lois’s scholars and the families they came from; and Lois spent her vacation in nursing.  Then got sick herself with the fever, and is only just now getting well.”

“I heard something of this before from Mrs. Barclay.”

“Then Madge went to take care of Lois, and they were both there.  That is weeks and weeks ago, ­months, I should think.”

“But the sick one is well again?”

“She is better.  But one does not get up from those fevers so soon.  One’s strength is gone.  I have sent for them to come and make me a visit and recruit.”

“They are coming, I hope?”

“I expect them here to-morrow.”

Mr. Dillwyn had nearly been betrayed into an exclamation.  He remembered himself in time, and replied with proper self-possession that he was very glad to hear it.

“Yes, I told them to come here and rest.  They must want it, poor girls, both of them.”

“Then they are coming to-morrow?”

“Yes.”

“By what train?”

“I believe, it is the New Haven train that gets in about five o’clock.  Or six.  I do not know exactly.”

“I know.  Now, Mrs. Wishart, you are not well yourself, and must not go out.  I will meet the train and bring them safe to you.”

“You?  O, that’s delightful.  I have been puzzling my brain to know how I should manage; for I am not fit to go out yet, and servants are so unsatisfactory.  Will you really?  That’s good of you!”

“Not at all.  It is the least I can do.  The family received me most kindly on more than one occasion; and I would gladly do them a greater service than this.”

At two o’clock next day the waiting-room of the New Haven station held, among others, two very handsome young girls; who kept close together, waiting for their summons to the train.  One of them was very pale and thin and feeble-looking, and indeed sat so that she leaned part of her weight upon her sister.  Madge was pale too, and looked somewhat anxious.  Both pairs of eyes watched languidly the moving, various groups of travellers clustered about in the room.

“Madge, it’s like a dream!” murmured the one girl to the other.

“What?  If you mean this crowd, my dreams have more order in them.”

“I mean, being away from Esterbrooke, and off a sick-bed, and moving, and especially going to ­where we are going.  It’s a dream!”

“Why?”

“Too good to be true.  I had thought, do you know, I never should make a visit there again.”

“Why not, Lois?”

“I thought it would be best not.  But now the way seems clear, and I can take the fun of it.  It is clearly right to go.”

“Of course!  It is always right to go wherever you are asked.”

“O no, Madge!”

“Well, ­wherever the invitation is honest, I mean.”

“O, that isn’t enough.”

“What else? supposing you have the means to go.  I am not sure that we have that condition in the present instance.  But if you have, what else is to be waited for?”

“Duty ­” Lois whispered.

“O, bother duty!  Here have you gone and almost killed yourself for duty.”

“Well, ­supposing one does kill oneself? ­one must do what is duty.”

“That isn’t duty.”

“O, it may be.”

“Not to kill yourself.  You have almost killed yourself, Lois.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“Yes, you could.  You make duty a kind of iron thing.”

“Not iron,” said Lois; she spoke slowly and faintly, but now she smiled.  “It is golden!”

“That don’t help.  Chains of gold may be as hard to break as chains of iron.”

“Who wants them broken?” said Lois, in the same slow, contented way.  “Duty?  Why Madge, it’s the King’s orders!”

“Do you mean that you were ordered to go to that place, and then to nurse those children through the fever?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“I should be terribly afraid of duty, if I thought it came in such shapes.  There’s the train! ­Now if you can get downstairs ­”

That was accomplished, though with tottering steps, and Lois was safely seated in one of the cars, and her head pillowed upon the back of the seat.  There was no more talking then for some time.  Only when Haarlem bridge was past and New York close at hand, Lois spoke.

“Madge, suppose Mrs. Wishart should not be here to meet us?  You must think what you would do.”

“Why, the train don’t go any further, does it?”

“No! ­but it goes back.  I mean, it will not stand still for you.  It moves away out of the station-house as soon as it is empty.”

“There will be carriages waiting, I suppose.  But I am sure I hope she will meet us.  I wrote in plenty of time.  Don’t worry, dear! we’ll manage.”

“I am not worrying,” said Lois.  “I am a great deal too happy to worry.”

However, that was not Madge’s case, and she felt very fidgety.  With Lois so feeble, and in a place so unknown to her, and with baggage checks to dispose of, and so little time to do anything, and no doubt a crowd of doubtful characters lounging about, as she had always heard they did in New York; Madge did wish very anxiously for a pilot and a protector.  As the train slowly moved into the Grand Central, she eagerly looked to see some friend appear.  But none appeared.

“We must go out, Madge,” said Lois.  “Maybe we shall find Mrs. Wishart ­I dare say we shall ­she could not come into the cars ­”

The two made their way accordingly, slowly, at the end of the procession filing out of the car, till Madge got out upon the platform.  There she uttered an exclamation of joy.

“O Lois! ­there’s Mr. Dillwyn?”

“But we are looking for Mrs. Wishart,” said Lois.

The next thing she knew, however, somebody was carefully helping her down to the landing; and then, her hand was on a stronger arm than that of Mrs. Wishart, and she was slowly following the stream of people to the front of the station-house.  Lois was too exhausted by this time to ask any questions; suffered herself to be put in a carriage passively, where Madge took her place also, while Mr. Dillwyn went to give the checks of their baggage in charge to an expressman.  Lois then broke out again with,

“O Madge, it’s like a dream!”

“Isn’t it?” said Madge.  “I have been in a regular fidget for two hours past, for fear Mrs. Wishart would not be here.”

“I didn’t fidget,” said Lois, “but I did not know how I was going to get from the cars to the carriage.  I feel in a kind of exhausted Elysium!”

“It’s convenient to have a man belonging to one,” said Madge.

“Hush, pray!” said Lois, closing her eyes.  And she hardly opened them again until the carriage arrived at Mrs. Wishart’s, which was something of a drive.  Madge and Mr. Dillwyn kept up a lively conversation, about the journey and Lois’s condition, and her summer; and how he happened to be at the Grand Central.  He went to meet some friends, he said coolly, whom he expected to see by that train.

“Then we must have been in your way,” exclaimed Madge regretfully.

“Not at all,” he said.

“But we hindered you from taking care of your friends?”

“No,” he said indifferently; “by no means.  They are taken care of.”

And both Madge and Lois were too simple to know what he meant.

At Mrs. Wishart’s, Lois was again helped carefully out and carefully in, and half carried up-stairs to her own room, whither it was decided she had better go at once.  And there, after being furnished with a bowl of soup, she was left, while the others went down to tea.  So Madge found her an hour afterwards, sunk in the depths of a great, soft easy-chair, gazing at the fanciful flames of a kennel coal fire.

“O Madge, it’s a dream!” Lois said again languidly, though with plenty of expression.  “I can’t believe in the change from Esterbrooke here.”

“It’s a change from Shampuashuh,” Madge returned.  “Lois, I didn’t know things could be so pretty.  And we have had the most delightful tea, and something ­cakes ­Mrs. Wishart calls wigs, the best things you ever saw in your life; but Mr. Dillwyn wouldn’t let us send some up to you.”

“Mr. Dillwyn!” ­

“Yes, he said they were not good for you.  He has been just as pleasant as he could be.  I never saw anybody so pleasant.  I like Mr. Dillwyn very much.”

“Don’t!” said Lois languidly.

“Why?”

“You had better not.”

“But why not?  You are ungrateful, it seems to me, if you don’t like him.”

“I like him,” said Lois slowly; “but he belongs to a different world from ours.  The worlds can’t come together; so it is best not to like him too much.”

“How do you mean, a different world?”

“O, he’s different, Madge!  All his thoughts and ways and associations are unlike ours ­a great way off from ours; and must be.  It is best as I said.  I guess it is best not to like anybody too much.”

With which oracular and superhumanly wise utterance Lois closed her eyes softly again.  Madge, provoked, was about to carry on the discussion, when, noticing how pale the cheek was which lay against the crimson chair cushion, and how very delicate the lines of the face, she thought better of it and was silent.  A while later, however, when she had brought Lois a cup of gruel and biscuit, she broke out on a new theme.

“What a thing it is, that some people should have so much silver, and other people so little!”

“What silver are you thinking of?”

“Why, Mrs. Wishart’s, to be sure.  Who’s else?  I never saw anything like it, out of Aladdin’s cave.  Great urns, and salvers, and cream-jugs, and sugar-bowls, and cake-baskets, and pitchers, and salt-cellars.  The salt-cellars were lined with something yellow, or washed, to hinder the staining, I suppose.”

“Gold,” said Lois.

“Gold?”

“Yes.  Plated with gold.”

“Well I never saw anything like the sideboard down-stairs; the sideboard and the tea-table.  It is funny, Lois, as I said, why some should have so much, and others so little.”

“We, you mean?  What should we do with a load of silver?”

“I wish I had it, and then you’d see!  You should have a silk dress, to begin with, and so should I.”

“Never mind,” said Lois, letting her eyelids fall again with an expression of supreme content, having finished her gruel.  “There are compensations, Madge.”

“Compensations!  What compensations?  We are hardly respectably dressed, you and I, for this place.”

“Never mind!” said Lois again.  “If you had been sick as I was, and in that place, and among those people, you would know something.”

“What should I know?”

“How delightful this chair is; ­and how good that gruel, out of a china cup; ­and how delicious all this luxury!  Mrs. Wishart isn’t as rich as I am to-night.”

“The difference is, she can keep it, and you cannot, you poor child!”

“O yes, I can keep it,” said Lois, in the slow, happy accent with which she said everything to-night; ­“I can keep the remembrance of it, and the good of it.  When I get back to my work, I shall not want it.”

“Your work!” said Madge.

“Yes.”

“Esterbrooke!”

“Yes, if they want me.”

“You are never going back to that place!” exclaimed Madge energetically.  “Never! not with my good leave.  Bury yourself in that wild country, and kill yourself with hard work!  Not if I know it.”

“If that is the work given me,” said Lois, in the same calm voice.  “They want somebody there, badly; and I have made a beginning.”

“A nice beginning! ­almost killed yourself.  Now, Lois, don’t think about anything!  Do you know, Mrs. Wishart says you are the handsomest girl she ever saw!”

“That’s a mistake.  I know several much handsomer.”

“She tried to make Mr. Dillwyn say so too; and he wouldn’t.”

“Naturally.”

“It was funny to hear them; she tried to drive him up to the point, and he wouldn’t be driven; he said one clever thing after another, but always managed to give her no answer; till at last she pinned him with a point-blank question.”

“What did he do then?”

“Said what you said; that he had seen women who would be called handsomer.”

The conversation dropped here, for Lois made no reply, and Madge recollected she had talked enough.