Jonathan and I
Records of Success
Eric A. Darling
Who wrote “For Love of Danny," etc.
SPRINGTIME is here, and the other day we, Jonathan and I, slipped away from the work-a-day world and lost ourselves from early morning until the little stars came out in a lilac and daffodil sky.
“Once again, dearie,” smiled Jonathan at my gate, where the lilacs are budding and the long rows of jonquils are yellow at Caesar's gold, “once again.”
My heart fluttered faintly, as the heart of an old maid is supposed to flutter when such a man as Jonathan calls her “dearie”; and I smiled back in his scholar’s face.
He opened the gate and I came through, though I had no hat on my grey-flecked hair—no, nor any sunshade, nor even a shawl. But when Jonathan calls I go, for the calling has come so late, and we both know the vague shortness of its duration. There is never a time when we come to my gate after one of our delightful, irresponsible wanderings, that I do not clutch his thin hand and look into his marvelous eyes and wonder with a presage of that anguish I know to lie sleeping within me, biding its time.
“The woods are full of lamb’s tongues on every northern slope, and the Johnnyjump-ups are thick by the branch,” he said, as he shut the gate—an old maid’s garden must be protected—and I looked up the slope behind the town and sniffed the good smell of fresh-turned earth. Some yokel was at his farming.
“Which road of the four?” I asked, and Jonathan drew out of his pocket a battered old coin and tossed it up like a boy— he who has given his scholar’s life to the great university frowning on the hill!
“Heads, east and south,” he said, “tails, west and north—two tosses." How well I knew that old coin ! I have handled it and looked at every worn mark upon it It has a Latin inscription running all around and the head of a petty monarch of the long ago, dead these three hundred years, on its discolored face.
It has decided many joyous pilgrimages for us, and found us untold delights. It fell now in the dew-shaded dust heads up, and Jonathan tried again. “East,” he said, and we turned our faces toward the newly risen sun.
HT HE EAST road is a never-ceasing ^ source of wonder, as, in fact, are the north and the west and the south roads. Never do we go along between its little groves of trees, its fields, and over its chuckling streams, but we find some new and beautiful thing, maybe a bupch of rosy-cheeked children roystering into the village to school (and oh, then, do we, Jonathan and I, avoid each other’s eyes that each may not see the longing, the regret for the life that we have missed!) maybe a pair of lovers, bright-eyed and laughing, shy and droop-headed or maybe only a new and wobbly calf, jumping at shadows in a fence corner. This day was very young, and we looked for anything to happen, any sweet picture to unfold.
Jonathan plucked me a handful of sturdy, scentless wild violets, and I hid them in my dress front. They are priceless, these offerings gleaned from the wild roadsides.
“See this tiny white velvet star—it is a-,” and my poor head whirled with Jonathan’s scientific syllables—but I took it, txxo, the wee white velvet star, and hid it w’ith the violets.
A turn was just ahead, and we looked eagerly, craning our necks to see around it, though we knew just what was there— a little meadow on the right, running swiftly down to a tiny branch, some low wooded hills in the distance, and a pretty wood on the left with, far back up a winding road that was ankle deep in fall with leaves, a wee little house of logs, ôld and always poverty-stricken from one generation to another. We had known, or Jonathan had known, since he had lived so long at the frowning pile on the hill, many of thoæ who had lived from time to time in the little house.
A young man lived there now, a big young man with a square chin and a homely, straightforward face, a young man who worked the neighboring fields on shares, and who wore a coat, clean but with many patches. I had seen the coat, and wondered what the wife of this youth was like—she who made the neat mends and kept the old coat clean.
A ND AS we craned our necks to look up the little road the young man was coming down it—striding down it with long, swinging steps, and his square chin set forward under thunder-cloud of the face above.
Jonathan gasped as leaned forward ! and stopped in his tracks and I hung onto his sleeve. It seemed as if I must hold onto him, for we were face to face with turmoil, with war and anger, and, it seemed to me, despair.
“Eh?” said Jonathan, astounded, as the young man met us, probing innocently and straightly at the heart of the matter, as his gray hair and boundless gentleness give him leave with all things, "What is this awful thing, Matthias?”
Matthias looked into his gray eyes, so sober and sweet and calm, and the black frown drew deeper between his eyes, from sudden pain, I knew, by the twitching of the straight lips.
“The end—for me,” he flung out and would have passed, but Jonathan caught his arm. The wonder of our east road had colored its gold with tragedy.
“Why, lad,” said my Jonathan, “there is always the end—and, the end is—the end. It is such a long end. Never hasten to meet it. All good is before it—none, surely, after. Tell me your trouble.”
The young giant dropped his stormy eyes and stood a moment Then he flung up his head.
“It is family trouble,” he said bluntly. ! “What can you know about that?”
Ah. what indeed, my Jonathan, who has never had a family—Jonathan waiting for me, who came too late—when the light of his life was flickering.
“It is my—my wife—Letitia. We’ve quarreled. Again. We’re always at it, and I’m tired of it. The love has gone—” Ah, now did the straight lips tremble truly!—“and I’m going, too. Step out of my way, professor!”
His pain had made him forge.ful of his country manners, but Jonathan said gently, still holding on to his sleeve, and I on to Jonathan’s sleeve:
“Wait a bit, Matthias, the day is still young.”
He shifted his hand very gently until it rested on the shoulder of the faded coat, just over one of the patches.
“Y'ou are going away. For ever?” Matthias nodded.
“And leave Letitia alone in the little house! Granted Letitia has quarreled with you, Matthias, there isn’t time in this world to hold spite. Hasten, lad, to go back and forgive her. See here,” Jonathan drew me forward, “here is my laetitia, the one who should have kept a little house for me thirty years ago, who should have sewed patches on my coat with loving fingers”—.the big shoulder winced under his hand—I saw it—“but who never came to me until my life was nigh spent. We have lost thirty years, and we will never cease to mourn their loss. You are ready to throw thirty years away—and love and Letitia with them. Let’s talk awhile, Matthias.”
JONATHAN looked at me and then up j the little road, and I understood with that quickness which would have been one ! of the joys lost in those thirty years.
They two stood together and I went up ! between the budding trees.
At the little house I found Letitia, and she was just as I had pictured her, a slim sweet creature with shining black hair and blue eyes drowned in tears, and she was flung prone across the poor little table, sobbinp terribly.
“Hush, dearie.” said I, with my arms around her in a moment; and. if she was startled at the apparition of a bareheaded old maid whom she had never seen before, she made no motion. Instead she came naturally to my shoulder and the tale was all out in a breath.
“He’s pone for pood this time, Matthias! And he doesn’t care any more! And he’s pot pood reason, such a fripht as I am these days! No ribbons nor any newdress this year and the old heavy shoes that weiph me down! And he says I’m awkward and not lipht on my feet like 1 was when he married me! And the meals —I can’t cook when there’s nothinp pood to cook—and I wish I was dead! And he’s pone, for pood!”
My eyes were wet by this time and I wished helplessly for Jonathan. Yet fifty years without him had not left me without resource, and I rocked and comforted the little wife, come to prief after only three y »ars with her Matthias — soothed and comforted until I saw, throuph the door left open for the sprinp. Jonathan cominp up the darlinp tree-topped road with a bip younp man rebelliously in tow. I waited until they stood in the portal and then I said over Letitia’s shoulder:
“Jonathan, what’s that bulpinp your two coat pockets?”
And Jonathan clapped a hand on either side, a little at random for the irrelevant question, yet followinp my lead with his deliphtful sympathy.
“Why," he said, “why—it’s a little lunch for our ramble.”
I knew Jonathan’s pocket lunches — thin, wafery sandwiches, a tiny pot of olives, a bar of milk chocolate and a thermos bottle steaminp with fraprant coffee.
“Here,” I said, “pive it to Matthias. He and Letitia are poinp out alonp the buddinp country for our aimless day of loiterinp, and you and I are poinp to I keep the little house.” , Jonathan’s eyes were like a bit of sky I suddenly flooded with sunlipht. “To keep house!” he cried, and I winced at the marvelous joy of him.
IT SEEMED for a time as if we were to lose our chance, so obstinately did Letitia cry by the table and Matthias stand twistinp his bip hands. But at last we thrust the bundles in his pockets and lifted Letitia to her feet, leadinp her to ; him and even puttinp her little work-hardened hand on his arm. And at last we saw them po, hesitant and awkward, down the road into the sunlit world of sprinp, thrust out and topether by two meddle. some old frumps who wanted to play for a day at the housekeepinp they had missed.
“Jonathan,” I said, when they had passed from view, “it is poverty and the wearinp strain of it that has frayed their love to frazzles. There are no more ribbons for her black hair and her shoes are worn and shapeless, so that she draps at her work and the bip younp simpleton thinks the lonpinp for them, the ribbons I mean, is discontent with her lot and him for not beinp able to better it, and so they are on the verpe of shipwreck. Oh, Jonathan ! See how small a thinp is likely to make them lose thirty years!”
Jonathan’s pale face was blank with the suddenness of _ his understandinp. Then he rose to the top, as he does in every emergency. What a general he would have made if the university could have spared him!
“They won’t be back till sundown,’’ he said, the enthusiasm growing in his voice. “We have all day. Come on, dearie, back to the village and the shops.’’
So we left the little house open to the spring and hastened back over the east road. It was past noon when we again stood in tfie bare log room and a cart was rumbling down the oretty road after leaving its load behind. Jonathan took off his coat and I laid his hat on the mantel, and the sun gltams touched his gray head, glorifying it.
T ONATHAN has more money than he ^ can ever spend, anc, in his will it is to be left to one, “my beloved companion”—an old maid who doesn’t want it. So we had spent prodigally that day.
I tucked up my skirt and together we fell to undoing the load of things the cart had left. We first moved out the little old table of pir.e wood, and rolled down upon the clean white floor a big gay rug that covered half the one room, the half where stood the bed with its patchwork quilt, the puffs between the quiltings worn quite through in places; and then we set upon it a shining new table with curley-cued legs.
“See!” I cried, the effect already making for joy.
“And see!” cried Jonathan, setting a little chair with rockers between it and the window. “Sit down in it, dearie.”
He stood a moment regarding me with all his lost young dreams in his fine eyes.
Next we hung a big bright picture over the rude mantel with a vase and two iron "candlesticks beneath, it. and Jonathan must needs run right out and get a bunch of green leaves from the nearest bush to go in the vase and I took out a part of my Johnny-jumps-ups, not without a pang, I confess, and added them, and we stood back and admired, critically. I took down the faded, dingy blue strip that hung forlornly at the north window and Jonathan got up on a box and fastened up a long pair of scrim curtains, cheery in their soft cream and crimson stripes; and we tied them back with a crimson cord.
You see there had been so much gloom and dinginess in the little house all through the winter that we were determined to bedizen it in the garb of spring and joy.
A bundle, unwrapped, disclosed two white tablecloths and six plain napkins, all ready-to-use, and I threw one on the shiny table. Another long glass vase went in the centre and we stopped again to look and admire.
“You’ll get me some more as we go home?” I questioned, and Jonathan smiled at me. There were three pretty plates, three cups and saucers, a sugar and cream pot, a bowl or two and a little platter, all picked out freshly in sprays of apple blossoms, just like the spring, and these I put in place—two of them, for a late little supper when two should come home, deliciously hungry, from their thrustupon-them day. Viands cold and tempting, Jonathan had foragnd w'hile I was at the shop; and these I set there, too. And then again we stood and looked and pushed the hair back from our foreheads, for we had worked like th-> youngsters we were—fitting a little new home for a big new love.
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Continued from page 37
And at last I undid a mysterious package that had all to do with me and none of Jonathan, though he stood at my shoulder and w’atched.
UT UPON the bed I laid a gown that would closely fit young Letitia — a white gown of my own youth, filmy and webbed with mists of finest lace, though yellowed with the years, and by it went a big white hat with red poppies bought from the village milliner, w’hile near the two stood on their tall French heels a pair of bronze slippers that had helped to dance my youth away. I sighed with joy as I looked around and Jonathan’s eyes were misty.
’Twas a fairy bower, and over it hung the glamor of romance. In its cheery brightness there was no room for Letitia’s discontent, for Matthias’s blundering misunderstanding, for here surely would linger the joy of the two of us. who had spent our day in making it.
And, indeed, we had spent our day. As . we turned, startled at the thought, we saw that the shadows were already deep in i the little road and twilight close upon us.
So we lighted the tall wax tapers in the candlesticks, adjusted the crimson shades, ! took one last look around at the bright j rug and picture, tjie dainty curtains, the fresh table in its springtime tracery, the I little chair waiting for Letitia and the ¡ dainty frou-frous on the bed, and Jonathan reached for my hand to depart, but ¡ dropped it again as he took a pad from ! his pocket and wrote a moment in the candlelight. He laid the slip on Matthias’s plate, and this is what it said:
“We have regained a part of the joy lost in our thirty years in the little house to-day, and we bequeath the rest to you.”
r I ' HEN he took my hand again and we went out into the sweet spring woods, turning on the threshold for a last glimpse of the little paradise we were leaving. We hastened then, not down the little road, but into the woods like two thieves, for down it we had caught a flash of the two young things coming home in the twilight, and his head was high again and she çlur.g to hiè arm, and the empty thermos bottle swung happily in his hand like a weapçn. Our day was done. But at my gate when we stopped in the dusk I lifted my old face like a maiden for Jona| than’s staid; caress—and got the kiss of ; youth, ioyoiis and live as spring, a kiss i from thirty jyears ago.