At Fault


One month after their meeting on the train, Hosmer and Thérèse had gone together to Centerville where they had been made one, as the saying goes, by the good Père Antoine; and without more ado, had driven back to Place-du-Bois: Mr. and Mrs. Hosmer. The event had caused more than the proverbial nine days’ talk. Indeed, now, two months after, it was still the absorbing theme that occupied the dwellers of the parish: and such it promised to remain till supplanted by something of sufficient dignity and importance to usurp its place.

But of the opinions, favorable and other, that were being exchanged regarding them and their marriage, Hosmer and Thérèse heard little and would have cared less, so absorbed were they in the overmastering happiness that was holding them in thralldom. They could not yet bring themselves to look at it calmly—this happiness. Even the intoxication of it seemed a thing that promised to hold. Through love they had sought each other, and now the fulfillment of that love had brought more than tenfold its promise to both. It was a royal love; a generous love and a rich one in its revelation. It was a magician that had touched life for them and changed it into a glory. In giving them to each other, it was moving them to the fullness of their own capabilities. Much to do in two little months; but what cannot love do?

“Could it give a woman more than this?” Thérèse was saying softly to herself. Her hands were clasped as in prayer and pressed together against her bosom. Her head bowed and her lips touching the intertwined fingers. She spoke of her own emotion; of a certain sweet turmoil that was stirring within her, as she stood out in the soft June twilight waiting for her husband to come. Waiting to hear the new ring in his voice that was like a song of joy. Waiting to see that new strength and courage in his face, of whose significance she lost nothing. To see the new light that had come in his eyes with happiness. All gifts which love had given her.

“Well, at last,” she said, going to the top of the steps to meet him when he came. Her welcome was in her eyes.

“At last,” he echoed, with a sigh of relief; pressing her hand which she held out to him and raising it to his lips.

He did not let it go, but passed it through his arm, and together they turned to walk up and down the veranda.

“You didn’t expect me at noon, did you?” he asked, looking down at her.

“No; you said you’d be likely not to come; but I hoped for you all the same. I thought you’d manage it some way.”

“No,” he answered her, laughing, “my efforts failed. I used even strategy. Held out the temptation of your delightful Creole dishes and all that. Nothing was of any avail. They were all business and I had to be all business too, the whole day long. It was horribly stupid.”

She pressed his arm significantly.

“And do you think they will put all that money into the mill, David? Into the business?”

“No doubt of it, dear. But they’re shrewd fellows: didn’t commit themselves in any way. Yet I could see they were impressed. We rode for hours through the woods this morning and they didn’t leave a stick of timber unscrutinized. We were out on the lake, too, and they were like ferrets into every cranny of the mill.”

“But won’t that give you more to do?”

“No, it will give me less: division of labor, don’t you see? It will give me more time to be with you.”

“And to help with the plantation,” his wife suggested.

“No, no, Madame Thérèse,” he laughed, “I’ll not rob you of your occupation. I’ll put no bungling hand into your concerns. I know a sound piece of timber when I see it; but I should hardly be able to tell a sample of Sea Island cotton from the veriest low middling.”

“Oh, that’s absurd, David. Do you know you’re getting to talk such nonsense since we’re married; you remind me sometimes of Melicent.”

“Of Melicent? Heaven forbid! Why, I have a letter from her,” he said, feeling in his breast pocket. “The size and substance of it have actually weighted my pocket the whole day.”

“Melicent talking weighty things? That’s something new,” said Thérèse interested.

“Is Melicent ever anything else than new?” he enquired.

They went and sat together on the bench at the corner of the veranda, where the fading Western light came over their shoulders. A quizzical smile came into his eyes as he unfolded his sister’s letter—with Thérèse still holding his arm and sitting very close to him.

“Well,” he said, glancing over the first few pages—his wife following—“she’s given up her charming little flat and her quaint little English woman: concludes I was right about the expense, etc., etc. But here comes the gist of the matter,” he said, reading from the letter—“ ‘I know you won’t object to the trip, David, I have my heart so set on it. The expense will be trifling, seeing there are four of us to divide carriage hire, restaurant and all that: and it counts.

“ ‘If you only knew Mrs. Griesmann I’d feel confident of your consent. You’d be perfectly fascinated with her. She’s one of those highly gifted women who knows everything. She’s very much interested in me. Thinks to have found that I have a quick comprehensive intellectualism (she calls it) that has been misdirected. I think there is something in that, David; you know yourself I never did care really for society. She says it’s impossible to ever come to a true knowledge of life as it is—which should be every one’s aim—without studying certain fundamental truths and things.’ ”

“Oh,” breathed Thérèse, overawed.

“But wait—but listen,” said Hosmer, “ ‘Natural History and all that—and we’re going to take that magnificent trip through the West—the Yosemite and so forth. It appears the flora of California is especially interesting and we’re to carry those delicious little tin boxes strapped over our shoulders to hold specimens. Her son and daughter are both, in their way, striking. He isn’t handsome; rather the contrary; but so serene and collected—so intensely bitter—his mother tells me he’s a pessimist. And the daughter really puts me to shame, child as she is, with the amount of her knowledge. She labels all her mother’s specimens in Latin. Oh, I feel there’s so much to be learned. Mrs. Griesmann thinks I ought to wear glasses during the trip. Says we often require them without knowing it ourselves—that they are so restful. She has some theory about it. I’m trying a pair, and see a great deal better through them than I expected to. Only they don’t hold on very well, especially when I laugh.

“ ‘Who do you suppose seized on to me in Vandervoort’s the other day, but that impertinent Mrs. Belle Worthington! Positively took me by the coat and commenced to gush about dear sister Thérèse. She said: “I tell you what, my dear—” called me my dear at the highest pitch, and that odious Mrs. Van Wycke behind us listening and pretending to examine a lace handkerchief. “That Mrs. Lafirme’s a trump,” she said—“too good for most any man. Hope you won’t take offense, but I must say, your brother David’s a perfect stick—it’s what I always said.” Can you conceive of such shocking impertinence?’

“Well; Belle Worthington does possess the virtue of candor,” said Hosmer amused and folding the letter. “That’s about all there is, except a piece of scandal concerning people you don’t know; that wouldn’t interest you.”

“But it would interest me,” Thérèse insisted, with a little wifely resentment that her husband should have a knowledge of people that excluded her.

“Then you shall hear it,” he said, turning to the letter again. “Let’s see—‘conceive—shocking impertinence—’ oh, here it is.

“ ‘Don’t know if you have learned the horrible scandal; too dreadful to talk about. I shall send you the paper. I always knew that Lou Dawson was a perfidious creature—and Bert Rodney! You never did like him, David; but he was always so much the gentleman in his manners—you must admit that. Who could have dreamed it of him. Poor Mrs. Rodney is after all the one to be pitied. She is utterly prostrated. Refuses to see even her most intimate friends. It all came of those two vile wretches thinking Jack Dawson out of town when he wasn’t; for he was right there following them around in their perambulations. And the outcome is that Mr. Rodney has his beauty spoiled they say forever; the shot came very near being fatal. But poor, poor Mrs. Rodney!

“ ‘Well, good-bye, you dearest David mine. How I wish you both knew Mrs. Griesmann. Give that sweet sister Thérèse as many kisses as she will stand for me.

Melicent.’ ”

This time Hosmer put the letter into his pocket, and Thérèse asked with a little puzzled air: “What do you suppose is going to become of Melicent, anyway, David?”

“I don’t know, love, unless she marries my friend Homeyer.”

“Now, David, you are trying to mystify me. I believe there’s a streak of perversity in you after all.”

“Of course there is; and here comes Mandy to say that ‘suppa’s gittin’ cole.’ ”

“Aunt B’lindy ’low suppa on de table gittin’ cole,” said Mandy, retreating at once from the fire of their merriment.

Thérèse arose and held her two hands out to her husband.

He took them but did not rise; only leaned further back on the scat and looked up at her.

“Oh, supper’s a bore; don’t you think so?” he asked.

“No, I don’t,” she replied. “I’m hungry, and so are you. Come, David.”

“But look, Thérèse, just when the moon has climbed over the top of that live-oak? We can’t go now. And then Melicent’s request; we must think about that.”

“Oh, surely not, David,” she said, drawing back.

“Then let me tell you something,” and he drew her head down and whispered something in her pink ear that he just brushed with his lips. It made Thérèse laugh and turn very rosy in the moonlight.

Can that be Hosmer? Is this Thérèse? Fie, fie. It is time we were leaving them.