XVII.

A LIVER AND A VOICE. -- THE TENT COMES DOWN.

THE summer is behind us. Directly we shall be living like civilized human beings in a house made by a carpenter. We shall not rise in the morning and look out first on the endless stretch of ocean, and then turn to see Cap'n Asel coming over the ridge. But I must not go on with this train of thought. The summer has been happy; its freedom has been delightful. We have worn short flannel dresses until it is terrible even to think of being corseted back again into what is called social life. We have forgotten that we have ever been tormented by sleepless nights and dyspeptic days. We are hardened to the inconveniences of tenting, and more and more alive to its pleasures. A sorely sentimental mood is upon us. Our trunks are packed, and this afternoon the tent will be struck. Max walks round aim lessly and desolately. During all this sojourn he has but once failed in his duty,-- that night he left the tent and came over to Randy Rankin's to protect us from burglars, when he had not been requested to do so.

We have seen the St. Johnswort fade from the roadsides and the marsh edge; the brassy glory of the tansy has long ago become dingy. The golden-rod and the asters possess the land. And we are to leave the shore. Do not blame us for feeling a little saddened sentiment.

Still, there is something from which we shall gladly part, and that thing is Cap'n Asel. For many weeks he has been seriously wearing to us. At first we were amused by him; now he is a contemptible bore. He has just stopped at the tent, probably to see if we had packed our things, and to report on the ridge concerning our state of preparation for departure. He inquired if we had a good wedding over at the ma'sh end last night. Carlos told him it was as good as it could be, considering that it was not a funeral, and that there was no corpse. That was all the remark he could extract from her. I said that he must take back his assertion that all women were fools, for there was Malvina Litchfield, who had proved her wisdom by accepting Mr. Simms. Cap'n Asel did not seem to enjoy our society, and he soon left us to prosecute more inquiries.

I think it must have been a very good wedding indeed. Mrs. Waters, the sister of the groom, wept so copiously, in view of the loss of her brother and his symptoms, that one might almost have been led to doubt that she had insisted upon his disposing of himself and symptoms in marriage in order that she might pave the way for her own second matrimonial venture. Her betrothed was present. He was a robust man of sixty, with a voluminous fob chain and a very round, hard-looking head. I thought he seemed greatly pleased with the exquisite sensibility manifested by his fiancee. Still, he had the appearance of a man who would make short work of his brother-in-law's symptoms if he had the management of them. I do not wonder that Mrs. Waters thought it best to marry her brother Thomas before she married herself.

Thomas Simms was dressed "jest beautiful," Mrs. Marlow said. The bride was in gray silk, and this dress had the same look of being about to burst its seams which we had noticed in a less pretentious frock when worn by Miss Litchfield. She was not in the least subdued by the occasion. Her eyes protruded more than ever, and her instructive baritone was heard every instant during the evening, except that very short period of time when the meagre Presbyterian marriage service was being pronounced.

Then her "I will" seemed to predominate over everything. I do not know how she did it, but she talked all the while that the pair were receiving congratulations. I heard something about her having once thought that Providence was calling her to a life-work in Burmah, but that now she was being led another way, etc.

At this moment I happened to be near Mr. Camden, the gentleman who is engaged to Mrs. Waters. He kept wiping his eyeglasses, and staring at Mrs. Thomas Simms.

"Thunder!" I heard him mutter. And then, "Oh, now! By Jove! What is she made of? Simms won't live a month! No, not a fortnight! Or else he'll get well and live forever."

He edged away, moving toward Malvina, as if drawn by a mysterious fascination. He had the air of a person who is desirous of finding out how a certain thing is done. Five minutes later I saw him standing near Mrs. Simms, looking and listening as if spellbound; her voice was pervading the whole house. Mr. Simms was near, leaning against the wall.

When the ceremony had been performed the couple had stood directly in front of the cigar-fish, which, in its dried state, had long adorned that part of the partition. Mrs. Marlow had requested them to occupy that position, for she said she thought the cigar-fish made a good background.

Just as the minister had kissed the bride, which he did with great jocularity, after his prayer, some one touched my arm, and, turning, I saw Lily Rankin, looking earnestly at me.

"I suppose," she said in a low voice, "that they are what is called being in love, are n't they?"

"Oh, no, indeed!" I replied. "In love!"

I am afraid my laugh was cynical, for the child shrank a little, and then I repented me of my words. I took the girlish hand and drew her closer. She was still absorbed in her subject.

"I didn't see how they could be," she said, "but I supposed of course they must be, or they would n't be married. My grandmother says there is n't a wickeder thing done than when two people get married if they don't love each other. I've always thought that being in love, you know, was a very different thing from just loving some one. What do you think?"

I did not quite understand the pang of pain which came to my heart as I met the child's clear eyes. I was sure that Lily Rankin was one of those unfortunate-- or shall I say, rather, fortunate--ones who would love too well.

It sometimes happens that a wedding is the last occasion in the world where love is an appropriate subject for conversation. Lily, perhaps, felt the incongruity of her words, for she ceased now to insist upon an answer. She began to smile.

"I declare," she said gayly, "I don't know which I am more sorry for. You know Mr. Simms has a liver, and his wife, --well, I should say his wife has a voice."

"Think of living with that voice!" said Carlos from behind Lily, who wheeled round.

"Think of living with that liver! " she cried.

The time approached when Mr. and Mrs. Simms were to take the waiting carriage and proceed to the railroad station. They were going to Philadelphia. They chose this city as their objective point, for in this way the bridegroom could combine business with pleasure. He would see there a new doctor who had risen to notoriety, and whose theory was that the more torpid the liver the more healthy and strong the owner of that organ would be. The argument was that a liver that worked a good deal soon exhausted itself and became useless, while one that kept still lasted much longer, and allowed of a much more robust development of the rest of the human frame. The pamphlet sent forth by this physician had fallen into the hands of Mr. Simms a week before, and had seemed so coherent and reasonable, and the directions for keeping a liver torpid were so plain, that he decided, with the consent of Malvina, that their wedding journey should be to consult this doctor. Especially did this consultation seem necessary since of late Mr. Simms's liver had been more active.

We approached to bid good-by to the bride. She shook hands with her usual rotary motion.

"The only fact I feel to regret," she said, as if we were a class come up for instruction, "in this change in my lot, is the fact that I shall not now, in all probability, be brought into immediate and refreshing contact with youthful minds. I shall always deeply deplore the loss of my pupils. I shall"--

"Malvina,'' said Mrs. Waters, anxiously grasping her arm, "don't forget that Thomas is to take the small silver-coated pills three quarters of an hour before the gray powder. Do you think you shall remember ? "

"Certainly," said the bride. " I have it on my memorandum-book. I have made it a rule that I will consult the memorandum every half hour. In that way "--

Some one else came up, and there was more shaking of hands. Mr. Camden had hovered near Mrs. Simms all the evening. It seemed as if he could not look at her and listen to her enough. When Carlos and I came out to go to our tent, Mr. Camden was standing with his hands in his pockets, looking in the direction in which the carriage had disappeared in the gloom. As we approached him he was saying to himself:--

"By Jove ! How do you suppose she does it? Thunder! Is it machinery?"

And the wedding was over.

Half an hour before it was time for our "barge" to pass on its way to the station, Randy Rankin appeared over the ridge, and came to where we sat to watch our tent fall beneath the hands of the carpenter who had set it up.

"I've just left Maria Jane," she said. "I guess she'll come over and live with me this fall and winter. We c'n do slop-work and take in washing sometimes. Or if she wants to, she c'n get a place as paster in one of the shoe-shops. I ain't afraid but she c'n support herself, and more too. She always had to support Marsh. Curious how she mourns for him. He wa'n't worth it. He was n't anything; only one of them men that everybody likes. I liked him myself. I 'm not likely to forget that day he took Lily out of her dory in the tempest. Actually Maria Jane is beginning to talk as if her husband used to take care of her. I shan't contradict her. I guess she always loved him, and now she 'll love him ten times more, and make him into kind of a model husband. It'll do me good to have her with me, 'n' I hope I shan't do her any harm. Odd, ain't it, how she 's took to Lily? The child was the first person she wanted to see after the funeral. But 't ain't strange, neither. There 's no child like Lily."

There was silence for a moment. Then Randy said, with almost tremulous earnestness:--

"I do hate to have you go. If you come again next summer, I think I could make it pleasant for you to stay over in the Two-mile at my house. I brought this for both of ye. I've read it a good deal. Goodby."

The gaunt figure hastened down toward the marsh.

She had given us a much-worn volume in that once popular binding of "blue and gold." It was "Aurora Leigh."

There was a miserable sensation in my throat and eyes as if I were going to cry.

We turned our forlorn faces away from each other's gaze. At that moment the tent fell. Max struggled out from under the canvas, and came and sat down near us, his black muzzle turned up dismally, as if he were about to howl.

*

THE END

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