THE doleful bride remained in bed all the next day, prostrate under the continuing heat;—in fact, it was not until a week had passed that she felt herself able to make the excursion projected by the hopeful bridegroom; and when they finally did set forth, in Dan’s light runabout, she began to suffer before they reached the gates of the carriage driveway.
“Oh, dear!” she said. “Is it going to be bumpy like this all the way? It hurts my back.”
Dan apologized. “I’m sorry I didn’t have those holes in the drive filled up; I’ll do it myself this evening. But here on the avenue,” he said, as they turned north from the gates, “we’ll have this fine cedar-block pavement for quite a good way.”
“Oh, dear!” she complained. “It’s worse on the cedar-block pavement than it was in your driveway.”
“It is a little teeny bit jolty,” Dan admitted. “You see this pavement’s been down over five years now, but it’s held out mighty well when you consider the traffic that’s been over it—mighty well! It’s been one of the finest pavements I ever saw in any town.”
She gave a little moan. “You talk as if what it has been were a great help to us now. It does hurt my back, Dan.”
“Oh, it isn’t goin’ to keep on like this,” he assured her comfortingly. “The contracts are already signed for a new pavement. Six months from now this’ll all be as smooth as a billiard table.”
“But we have to go over it to-day!”
“That’s why I thought the runabout would be pleasanter for you,” he said. “Our old family carriage is more comfortable in some ways, but it hasn’t got rubber tires. I hardly notice the bumps myself with these tires.”
“Think what a great invention it is, though,” he said cheerfully. “Why, before long I shouldn’t wonder if you’d see almost everything that rolls usin’ rubber tires, and a good many such light traps as this with inflated ones like bicycles. If horseless carriages ever amount to anything, they’ll get to usin’ inflated rubber tires, too, most likely.”
“Oh, dear me!” Lena sighed. “Doesn’t this heat ever relent a little?”
He assured her that it did; that the hot spell would soon be over, and that she wouldn’t mind it when they reached the Addition, which was on higher ground. “It’s always cool out at Ornaby,” he said proudly. “The mean level’s twenty-eight feet higher than it is in this part of the city; and I never saw the day when you couldn’t find a breeze out there.”
“Then hurry and get there! It must be a terribly long way. I don’t see any higher ground ahead of us—nothing but this eternal flatness and flatness and flatness! I don’t see how you people stand it. I should think somebody would build a hill!”
He laughed and told her that Ornaby was almost a hill. “Practically, it is,” he said. “Anyhow it’s a sort of plateau—practically. You see the mean level——”
“Oh, dear!” she sighed; and for a time they jogged on in silence.
He drove with one hand, holding over her with the other a green silk parasol, a performance not lacking in gallantry, nor altogether without difficulty, for his young horse was lively, in spite of the weather; yet it is doubtful if strangers, seeing the runabout pass, would have guessed the occupants a bride and groom.
Beneath the broad white rim of Lena’s straw hat the pretty little face was contorted with discontent; while her companion’s expression showed a puzzled discouragement not customarily associated with the expressions of bridegrooms. True, the discouragement passed before long, but it came back again after a little more conversation. Then it disappeared again, but returned when signs of capricious weather were seen in the sky. For it is new knowledge to nobody that the weather has an uneducated humour and will as soon play the baboon with a bride and groom, or with a kind cripple on an errand of mercy, as it will with the hardiest ruffian. But at first Dan welcomed the hints of change in the southwest.
“By George!” he said, nodding across the vast flat cornfields upon their left, for the runabout had now come into the open country. “There’s good news, Lena.”
“Look over yonder. We’re goin’ to get rain, and Heaven knows we need it! Look.”
Along the southwest horizon of cornfields and distant groves they saw a thickening nucleus of dark haze. Out of it, clouds of robust sculpture were slowly rising, muttering faintly as they rose, as if another planet approached and its giants grumbled, being roused from sleep to begin the assault.
“By George, that’s great!” Dan exclaimed in high delight. “That’s worth millions of dollars to the farmers, Lena.”
But Lena was as far as possible from sharing his enthusiasm. “I believe it’s going to be a thunderstorm. Turn back. I hate thunderstorms. I’m afraid of them.”
“Why, they won’t hurt you, Lena.”
“They frighten me and they do kill people. Please turn back.”
“But we’re almost there, dear. I think the rain’ll hold off, probably, but if it doesn’t we’d be more likely to get wet goin’ all the way back home than if we went ahead. I’ve got a tool shed out there we could wait under.”
“A tool shed? With all the tools in it? That’s just where the lightning would strike first!”
Dan laughed and tried to reassure her, but although they drove on in the bright sunshine for a time, she became more and more nervous. “It almost seems to me you don’t want to do things I want you to. We should have turned back when I first spoke of it.”
“Look, dear,” he said. “Just ahead of us there’s something you’re goin’ to be mighty proud of some day. It’s Ornaby Addition, Lena!”
Before them the dirt road, grown with long grass between the ruts, had been widened to the dimensions of a city street as it passed between old forest groves of beech and elm, through which other wide rough roads had recently been cut. Beyond the woods were some open fields, where lines of stakes were driven in the ground to outline—apparently in a mood of over-optimistic prophecy—some scores of building lots and various broad avenues. But so far as could be seen from the runabout, felled trees and wooden stakes were all that proved Ornaby to be an Addition and not a farm, though a few negroes were burning the remnants of a rail fence in a field not far from the road. And what made the whole prospect rather desolate was the malicious caprice of the weather;—the very moment when Dan stopped the runabout and waved his hand in a proud semicircle of display, the first of the robust clouds passed over the sun and Ornaby lay threatened in a monstrous shadow.
“Look, Lena!” the exultant proprietor cried. “This is Ornaby!”
“Is it?” she said desolately. “I do wish you’d turned round when I said. It’s going to thunder and lighten horribly, and I know I’m going to be frightened to death.”
Then, as a louder rumble sounded in the sky, she shivered, clutching Dan’s arm. “I know that struck somewhere!”
“It might have struck somewhere in the next county,” he laughed.
“What! Why, look at the sky right over us. I never saw anything so awful.”
Dan laughed again and patted her small, clutching hand soothingly. “It’s just a pleasant little summer thundershower, Lena.”
“Little!” she cried. “Do you call storms like this ‘little’ out here?”
For, in truth, Dan’s reassuring word was not well supported by the aspect of the sky. Above them hung what appeared to be a field of inverted gray haystacks, while from westward ragged, vast draperies advanced through a saffron light that suddenly lay upon all the land. A snort of wind tore at the road, carrying dust high aloft; then there was a curious silence throughout all the great space of the saffron light, and some large raindrops fell in a casual way, then stopped.
“You see?” said the cheery Dan. “That’s all we’ll get, likely enough. I shouldn’t be surprised it’d clear up now.”
“ ‘Clear up!’ ” Lena cried incredulously. “I do believe you’re crazy! Oh, heavens!”
And the heavens she thus adjured appeared heartily inclined to warrant her outcry. Satan fell from the sky in a demoniac swoop of lightning, carrying darkness with him; wind and water struck the runabout together; and Dan was fain to drive into the woods beside the road, while Lena clung to him and wailed. He tied the trembling horse to a tree, and got the bride and her wrecked parasol under the inadequate shelter of the tool house he had mentioned, but found little happiness there. A hinge had broken; the negroes had carried the door away to repair it; the roof leaked everywhere and was sonorous with the hail that fell presently with the heavy rain. At every bedazzlement of the lightning Lena gasped, then shrieked throughout the ensuing uproar, and before long whimpered that she was freezing. In fact, her wet clothes, little more than gauze, appeared to be dissolving upon her, while the air grew cold with the hail.
Dan put his soggy coat about her, petted her, and piled wet sticks together, saying that he would make a fire for her if he could. Whereupon she wept and uttered a pathetic laughter. “Burn up with the heat one minute,” she said, through chattering teeth, “and the next freeze to death if you can’t make a fire! What a place!”
Of course Dan defended his climate, but his argument was of as little avail as were his attempts to build a fire with sodden wood and drenched matches. Lena suffered from the cold as expressively as she had from the heat, and forgetting that these changes in temperature had not been unknown to her in her own native habitat and elsewhere, she convinced herself perfectly that all of her troubles were put upon her by “the West.” Yet in this she was not so unreasonable as might appear;—our sufferings from interior disturbances are adept in disguising themselves as inflictions from outside.
These troubles of hers were not alleviated by two unfortunate remarks made by her young husband in the course of his efforts to hearten her. After one of the numerous electrical outrages, appalling in brilliancy and uproar, he said he was sorry he couldn’t have taken her to the old Ornaby farmhouse for shelter; and when Lena reproached him for not having thought of this sooner, he explained too hastily that the house had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground during a thunderstorm earlier in the summer. After that, as she became almost hysterical, he straightway went on to his second blunder. “But nobody was hurt,” he said. “Nobody at all, Lena. There wasn’t anybody in the house; and anyhow I don’t believe the lightning’s really struck right near us during this whole shower. Why, it’s nothin’ at all; I’ve seen storms a thousand times worse than this. Only last summer I got caught out on a little lake, north of here, in a canoe, and pretty near a real tornado came up, with thunder and lightning that would make this little racket to-day look like something you’d get from a baby’s toy. We didn’t mind it; we just——”
“ ‘We?’ Who?”
“Martha Shelby was with me,” the incautious Dan replied. “Why, you ought to’ve seen how she behaved, Lena! She didn’t mind it; she just laughed and kept on paddlin’ like a soldier. I honestly think she enjoyed it. Now, why can’t you——”
“You hush!” Lena cried.
“But I only——”
“Haven’t I enough to bear? Be quiet!”
He obeyed, gazing out upon the tumultuous landscape, and wondering sadly what made her so angry with him. Then, all at once, beyond and through the mazes of tossing rain he seemed to see, however vaguely, the new Martha he had recognized in that queer night after his homecoming; and the recollection of their strange moment together brought him another not unlike it now. Something mystic operated here; he felt again that same enrichment, charged with an indefinite regret; and though the moment was no more than a moment, passing quickly, it comforted him a little. “There! Don’t worry!” Martha seemed to say to him gently. So he said it to himself and felt in better spirits.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” Lena wept, huddling in a corner of the shed. “How this horrible old world does make us pay for not knowing what to do!” And when he turned to try again to soothe her, she shrank but farther away from him and bade him let her alone.
“But it’ll be all cleared up, half an hour from now,” he said. “You’ll be warm as toast as soon as the sun comes out again, and then we’ll go over the whole Addition and see what’s what, Lena!”
The first half of this prediction was amply fulfilled; Lena was indeed warm soon after the sun reappeared; but they did not inspect the Addition further. They went home, and a few days later Lena wrote an account of the expedition in a letter to her brother George. Not altogether happy when she wrote, she was unable to refrain from a little natural exaggeration.
You said to me once you’d like to come here to live. Read Martin Chuzzlewit again before you do. “Eden!” That’s what the famous Ornaby Addition looks like! It isn’t swampy, but that’s all the difference I could see. We drove miles in the heat and choking dust and there wasn’t anything to see when we got there! Just absolutely nothing! People had been digging around in spots and cutting a lot of trees down and after a cyclone and cloudburst that came up while we were there he pointed out a post sticking out of the ground and showed the greatest pride because it had “47th St.” painted on it! This was when we were driving out of the woods. He wanted to poke all over the dreary place, looking at other posts and stumps of trees, but I couldn’t stand any more of it.
We had the most horrible storm I was ever out in, and it hailed so that after being ill in bed for a week with the ghastly heat, it got so cold I almost died, and then as soon as the cyclone was over it got hot again—it isn’t like ordinary heat; it gets hot with a sticky heaviness I can’t express and the thermometer must stay up over 100 even at night—and as soon as we got home I had to go to bed where I’ve been ever since—hence this pencil—and I’ve just escaped pneumonia! And during the cyclone when I was really ill with the nervous anguish lightning always causes me, he began telling me how wonderfully a former sweetheart of his behaved in a storm on a lake! It was his idea of how to make me not mind it. Of course he only meant to cheer me up—but really!
His father and mother aren’t bad, I must say. They’re quite like him, good-looking and full of kindness; his mother is really sweet and I like them both, though I’ll never get used to hearing people talk with this terrible Western accent. To a sensitive ear, it’s actual pain. The brother looks rather like Dan, too; but he’s pompous in a dry way and affected. Reads heavy things and seems to me a cold-hearted sort of prig, though he’s always polite. The father and mother read, too. Their idea is Carlyle and Emerson and Thoreau—you know the type of mind—and Harlan (the brother) talks about that Englishman, Shaw, who writes the queer plays. They say they have two theatres open in winter, but of course there’s no music here except something they brag about called the “April Festival,” when there’s a week of imported orchestra and some singing. Pleasant for me!—one week in the year!—though I suppose you’ll think it’s all I should have.
They meant to be kind, but they gave me the most fearful “reception.” I never endured such a ghastly ordeal. The weather was over 100 in the shade—and in crowded rooms, well, imagine it! The people were dressed well enough—some of them were rather queer, but so are some at home—but I wish you could have seen the vehicles they drive in and their coachmen! Slouchy darkies in old straw hats with long-tailed horses that get the reins under their tails—and fringed surreys and family carryalls, something like what you’d see out in the country towns in Connecticut. They have phaetons and runabouts and a few respectable traps, but I’ve seen just one good-looking victoria since I came here. They don’t like smartness really. I believe they think it’s effeminate!
The real head of the Oliphant family is an outrageous old hag, Dan’s grandmother, who behaved terribly to me at my only meeting with her—it will remain our only meeting! They’re all afraid of her, and she has a lot of money. Queer—I understand he’s tried to raise money for his Eden all over the town, but never asked the terrible grandmother. She doesn’t believe in it, and I must say she’s right about that! Rather!
How strange that any girl should do what I’ve done—and with my eyes wide open! I did it, and yet I knew he didn’t understand me. I ought to have known that he can never understand me, that we don’t speak the same language and never will. I ought to have realized what it means to know that I must live days, weeks, months, years with a person who will never understand anything whatever of my real self!
Yet I still care for him, and he is good. He does a thousand little kind things for me that do not help me at all, and the truth is most of them only irritate me. How odd it is that I write to you about not being understood—you who are seldom kind to me and often most unjust! Yet in a way I have always felt that you do understand me a little—perhaps unsympathetically—but at least you give me the luxury of being partly understood.
Yes, I still care for him, but when I think of his awful Ornaby thing I sometimes believe I have married a madman. It is nothing as I said—hopeless—a devastated farm—and yet when he speaks of it his eye lights up and he begins to walk about and gesture and talk as if he actually saw houses and streets—and shops—and thousands of people living there! If this isn’t hallucination, I don’t know what hallucination means.
But since our excursion to the place I’ve almost cured him of talking about it to me! I just can’t stand it! And what is pleasant, I think he probably goes to talk about it to another woman. Already! A perfectly enormous girl seven or eight feet tall that he’d picked out to be my most intimate friend! Because she’s been his most intimate friend, of course. But I suppose all men are like that.
The heat did relax for a day or two—but it’s back again. Sometimes I can’t believe I am actually in this place—apparently for life—and I begin to hope that I’ll wake up. I think even you would pity me sometimes, George.