"This won't do," said Frank Scherman. "Speak to them, Brookhouse.
Dakie Thayne, run over to Green's, and say,--The ladies' compliments to General Ingleside and friends, and beg the honor of their presence at the concluding tableaux."
Dakie was off with a glowing face, something like an odd, knowing smile twinkling out from the glow also, as he looked up at Scherman and took his orders. All this while he had said nothing.
Leonard Brookhouse made his little speech, received with applause and a cheer. Then they quieted down behind the scenes, and a rustle and buzz began in front,--kept up for five minutes or so, in gentle fashion, till two gentlemen, in plain clothes, walked quietly in at the open door; at sight of whom, with instinctive certainty, the whole assembly rose. Leslie Goldthwaite, peeping through the folds of the curtain, saw a tall, grand-looking man, in what may be called the youth of middle age, every inch a soldier, bowing as he was ushered forward to a seat vacated for him, and followed by one younger, who modestly ignored the notice intended for his chief. Dakie Thayne was making his way, with eyes alight and excited, down a side passage to his post.
Then the two actors hurried once more into position; the stage was cleared by a whispered peremptory order; the bell rung once, the tent trembling with some one whisking further out of sight behind it,--twice, and the curtain rose upon "Consolation."
Lovely as the picture is, it was lovelier in the living tableau. There was something deep and intense in the pale calm of Susan Josselyn's face, which they had not counted on even when they discovered that hers was the very face for the "Sister." Something made you thrill at the thought of what those eyes would show, if the downcast, quiet lids were raised. The earnest gaze of the dying soldier met more, perhaps, in its uplifting; for Frank Scherman had a look, in this instant of enacting, that he had never got before in all his practisings. The picture was too real for applause,--almost, it suddenly seemed, for representation.
"Don't I know that face, Noll?" General Ingleside asked, in a low tone, of his companion.
Instead of answering at once, the younger man bent further forward toward the stage, and his own very plain, broad, honest face, full over against the downcast one of the Sister of Mercy, took upon itself that force of magnetic expression which makes a look felt even across a crowd of other glances, as if there were but one straight line of vision, and that between such two. The curtain was going slowly down; the veiling lids trembled, and the paleness replaced itself with a slow-mounting flush of color over the features, still held motionless.
They let the cords run more quickly then. She was getting tired, they said; the curtain had been up too long. Be that as it might, nothing could persuade Susan Josselyn to sit again, and "Consolation" could not be repeated.
So then came "Mother Hubbard and her dog,"--the slow old lady and the knowing beast that was always getting one step ahead of her. The possibility had occurred to Leslie Goldthwaite as she and Dakie Thayne amused themselves one day with Captain Green's sagacious Sir Charles Grandison, a handsome black spaniel, whose trained accomplishment was to hold himself patiently in any posture in which he might be placed, until the word of release was given. You might stand him on his hind legs, with paws folded on his breast; you might extend him on his back, with helpless legs in air; you might put him in any attitude possible to be maintained, and maintain it he would, faithfully, until the signal was made. From this prompting came the Illustration of Mother Hubbard. Also, Leslie Goldthwaite had seized the hidden suggestion of application, and hinted it in certain touches of costume and order of performance. Nobody would think, perhaps, at first, that the striped scarlet and white petticoat under the tucked-up train, or the common print apron of dark blue, figured with innumerable little white stars, meant anything beyond the ordinary adjuncts of a traditional old woman's dress; but when, in the second scene, the bonnet went on,--an ancient marvel of exasperated front and crown, pitched over the forehead like an enormous helmet, and decorated, upon the side next the audience, with black and white eagle plumes springing straight up from the fastening of an American shield,--above all, when the dog himself appeared, "dressed in his clothes" (a cane, an all-round white collar and a natty little tie, a pair of three-dollar tasselled kid-gloves dangling from his left paw, and a small monitor hat with a big spread-eagle stuck above the brim,--the remaining details of costume being of no consequence),--when he stood "reading the news" from a huge bulletin,--"LATEST BY CABLE FROM EUROPE,"--nobody could mistake the personification of Old and Young America.
It had cost much pains and many dainty morsels, to drill Sir Charles, with all the aid of his excellent fundamental education; and the great fear had been that he might fail them at the last. But the scenes were rapid, in consideration of canine infirmity. If the cupboard was empty, Mother Hubbard's basket behind was not; he got his morsels duly; and the audience was "requested to refrain from applause until the end." Refrain from laughter they could not, as the idea dawned upon them and developed; but Sir Charles was used to that in the execution of his ordinary tricks; he could hardly have done without it better than any other old actor. A dog knows when he is having his day, to say nothing of doing his duty; and these things are as sustaining to him as to anybody. This state of his mind, manifest in his air, helped also to complete the Young America expression. Mother Hubbard's mingled consternation and pride at each successive achievement of her astonishing puppy were inimitable. Each separate illustration made its point. Patriotism, especially, came in when the undertaker, bearing the pall with red-lettered border,--Rebellion,--finds the dog, with upturned, knowing eye, and parted jaws, suggestive as much of a good grip as of laughter, half risen upon fore-paws, as far from "dead" as ever, mounting guard over the old bone "Constitution."
The curtain fell at last, amid peals of applause and calls for the actors.
Dakie Thayne had accompanied with the reading of the ballad, slightly transposed and adapted. As Leslie led Sir Charles before the curtain, in response to the continued demand, he added the concluding stanza,--
"The dame made a courtesy, The dog made a bow; The dame said, 'Your servant,'
The dog said, 'Bow-wow.'"
Which, with a suppressed "Speak, sir!" from Frank Scherman, was brought properly to pass. Done with cleverness and quickness from beginning to end, and taking the audience utterly by surprise, Leslie's little combination of wit and sagacity had been throughout a signal success. The actors crowded round her. "We'd no idea of it!"
"Capital!" "A great hit!" they exclaimed. "Mother Hubbard is the star of the evening," said Leonard Brookhouse. "No, indeed," returned Leslie, patting Sir Charles's head,--"this is the dog-star." "Rather a Sirius reflection upon the rest of us," rejoined Brookhouse, shrugging his shoulders, as he walked off to take his place in the "Oath," and Leslie disappeared to make ready for "Barbara Frietchie."
Several persons, before and behind the curtain, were making up their minds, just now, to a fresh opinion. There was nothing so very slow or tame, after all, about Leslie Goldthwaite. Several others had known that long ago.
"Taking the Oath" was piquant and spirited. The touch of restive scorn that could come out on Martha Josselyn's face just suited her part; and Leonard Brookhouse was very cool and courteous, and handsome and gentlemanly-triumphant as the Union officer.
"Barbara Frietchie" was grand. Grahame Lowe played Stonewall Jackson.
They had improvised a pretty bit of scenery at the back, with a few sticks, some paint, brown carpet-paper, and a couple of mosquito-bars;--a Dutch gable with a lattice window, vines trained up over it, and bushes below. It was a moving tableau, enacted to the reading of Whittier's glorious ballad. "Only an old woman in a cap and kerchief, putting her head out at a garret window,"--that was all; but the fire was in the young eyes under the painted wrinkles and the snowy hair; the arm stretched itself out quick and bravely at the very instant of the pistol-shot that startled timid ears; one skilful movement detached and seized the staff in its apparent fall, and the liberty-colors flashed full in Rebel faces, as the broken lower fragment went clattering to the stage. All depended on the one instant action and expression. These were perfect. The very spirit of Barbara stirred her representative. The curtain began to descend slowly, and the applause broke forth before the reading ended. But a hand, held up, hushed it till the concluding lines were given in thrilling tones, as the tableau was covered from sight.
"Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er, And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
"Honor to her! and let a tear Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.
"Over Barbara Frietchie's grave, Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!
"Peace and order and beauty draw Round thy symbol of light and law;
"And ever the stars above look down On thy stars below in Frederick town!"
Then one great cheer broke forth, and was prolonged to three.
"Not be Barbara Frietchie!" Leslie would not have missed that thrill for the finest beauty-part of all. For the applause--that was for the flag, of course, as Ginevra Thoresby said.
The benches were slid out at a window upon a lower roof, the curtain was looped up, and the footlights carried away; the "music" came up, and took possession of the stage; and the audience hall resolved itself into a ballroom. Under the chandelier, in the middle, a tableau not set forth in the programme was rehearsed and added a few minutes after.
Mrs. Thoresby, of course, had been introduced to the general; Mrs.
Thoresby, with her bright, full, gray curls and her handsome figure, stood holding him in conversation between introductions, graciously waiving her privilege as new-comers claimed their modest word. Mrs.
Thoresby took possession; had praised the tableaux, as "quite creditable, really, considering the resources we had," and was following a slight lead into a long talk, of information and advice on her part, about Dixville Notch. The general thought he should go there, after a day or two at Outledge.
Just here came up Dakie Thayne. The actors, in costume, were gradually mingling among the audience, and Barbara Frietchie, in white hair, from which there was not time to remove the powder, plain cap and kerchief, and brown woolen gown, with her silken flag yet in her hand, came with him. This boy, who "was always everywhere," made no hesitation, but walked straight up to the central group, taking Leslie by the hand. Close to the general, he waited courteously for a long sentence of Mrs. Thoresby's to be ended, and then said, simply,--"Uncle James, this is my friend Miss Leslie Goldthwaite. My brother, Dr.
Ingleside--why, where is Noll?"
Dr. Oliver Ingleside had stepped out of the circle in the last half of the long sentence. The Sister of Mercy--no longer in costume, however--had come down the little flight of steps that led from the stage to the floor. At their foot the young army surgeon was shaking hands with Susan Josselyn. These two had had the chess-practice together--and other practice--down there among the Southern hospitals.
Mrs. Thoresby's face was very like some fabric subjected to chemical experiment, from which one color and aspect has been suddenly and utterly discharged to make room for something different and new.
Between the first and last there waits a blank. With this blank full upon her, she stood there for one brief, unprecedented instant in her life, a figure without presence or effect. I have seen a daguerreotype in which were cap, hair, and collar, quite correct,--what should have been a face rubbed out. Mrs. Thoresby rubbed herself out, and so performed her involuntary tableau.
"Of course I might have guessed. I wonder it never occurred to me,"
Mrs. Linceford was replying, presently, to her vacuous inquiry. "The name seemed familiar, too; only he called himself 'Dakie.' I remember perfectly now. Old Jacob Thayne, the Chicago millionaire. He married pretty little Mrs. Ingleside, the Illinois Representative's widow, that first winter I was in Washington. Why, Dakie must be a dollar prince!"
He was just Dakie Thayne, though, for all that. He and Leslie and Cousin Delight,--the Josselyns and the Inglesides,--dear Miss Craydocke, hurrying up to congratulate,--Marmaduke Wharne looking on without a shade of cynicism in the gladness of his face, and Sin Saxon and Frank Scherman flitting up in the pauses of dance and promenade,--well, after all, these were the central group that night. The pivot of the little solar system was changed; but the chief planets made but slight account of that; they just felt that it had grown very warm and bright.
"O Chicken Little!" Mrs. Linceford cried to Leslie Goldthwaite, giving her a small shake with her good-night kiss at her door. "How did you know the sky was going to fall? And how have you led us all this chase to cheat Fox Lox at last?"
But that wasn't the way Chicken Little looked at it. She didn't care much for the bit of dramatic _denouement_ that had come about by accident,--like a story, Elinor said,--or the touch of poetic justice that tickled Mrs. Linceford's world-instructed sense of fun. Dakie Thayne wasn't a sum that needed proving. It was very nice that this famous general should be his uncle,--but not at all strange: they were just the sort of people he _must_ belong to. And it was nicest of all that Dr. Ingleside and Susan Josselyn should have known each other,--"in the glory of their lives," she phrased it to herself, with a little flash of girl-enthusiasm and a vague suggestion of romance.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Mrs. Linceford said to Dakie Thayne next morning. "Everybody would have--" She stopped. She could not tell this boy to his frank face that everybody would have thought more and made more of him because his uncle had got brave stars on his shoulders, and his father had died leaving two millions or so of dollars.
"I know they would have," said Dakie Thayne. "That was just it. What is the use of telling things? I'll wait till I've done something that tells itself."
There was a pretty general break-up at Outledge during the week following. The tableaux were the _finale_ of the season's gayety,--of this particular little episode, at least, which grew out of the association together of these personages of our story. There might come a later set, and later doings; but this last week of August sent the mere summer-birds fluttering. Madam Routh must be back in New York, to prepare for the reopening of her school; Mrs. Linceford had letters from her husband, proposing to meet her by the first, in N----, and so the Haddens would be off; the Thoresbys had stayed as long as they cared to in any one place where there seemed no special inducement; General Ingleside was going through the mountains to Dixville Notch. Rose Ingleside,--bright and charming as her name,--just a fit flower to put beside our Ladies' Delight,--finding out, at once, as all girls and women did, her sweetness, and leaning more and more to the rare and delicate sphere of her quiet attraction,--Oliver and Dakie Thayne,--these were his family party; but there came to be question about Leslie and Delight. Would not they make six? And since Mrs. Linceford and her sisters must go, it seemed so exactly the thing for them to fall into; otherwise Miss Goldthwaite's journey hither would hardly seem to have been worth while. Early September was so lovely among the hills; opportunities for a party to Dixville Notch would not come every day; in short, Dakie had set his heart upon it, Rose begged, the general was as pressing as true politeness would allow, and it was settled.
"Only" Sin Saxon said, suddenly, on being told, "I should like if you would tell me, General Ingleside, the precise military expression synonymous with 'taking the wind out of one's sails.' Because that's just what you've done for me."
"My dear Miss Saxon! In what way?"
"Invited my party,--some of them,--and taken my road. That's all. I spoke first, though I didn't speak out loud. See here!" And she produced a letter from her mother, received that morning. "Observe the date, if you please,--August 24. 'Your letter reached me yesterday'
And it had travelled round, as usual, two days in papa's pocket, beside. I always allow for that. 'I quite approve your plan; provided, as you say, the party be properly matronized, I--h'm--h'm!--That refers to little explanations of my own. Well, all is, I was going to do this very thing,--with enlargements. And now Miss Craydocke and I may collapse."
"Why? when with you and your enlargements we might make the most admirable combination? At least, the Dixville road is open to all."
"Very kind of you to say so,--the first part, I mean,--if you could possibly have helped it. But there are insurmountable obstacles on that Dixville road--to us. There's a lion in the way. Don't you see we should be like the little ragged boys running after the soldier-company? We couldn't think of putting ourselves in that 'bony light,' especially before the eyes of Mrs.--Grundy." This last, as Mrs. Thoresby swept impressively along the piazza in full dinner costume.
"Unless you go first, and we run after you," suggested the general.
"All the same. You talked Dixville to her the very first evening, you know. No, nobody can have an original Dixville idea any more. And I've been asking them,--the Josselyns, and Mr. Wharne and all, and was just coming to the Goldthwaites; and now I've got them on my hands, and I don't know where in the world to take them. That comes of keeping an inspiration to ripen. Well, it's a lesson of wisdom! Only, as Effie says about her housekeeping, the two dearest things in living are butter and experience!"
Amidst laughter and banter and repartee, they came to it, of course; the most delightful combination and joint arrangement. Two wagons, the general's and Dr. Ingleside's two saddle-horses, Frank Scherman's little mountain mare, that climbed like a cat, and was sure-footed as a chamois,--these with a side-saddle for the use of a lady sometimes upon the last, make up the general equipment of the expedition.
All Mrs. Grundy knew was that they were wonderfully merry and excited together, until this plan came out as the upshot.