The Courting Of Lady Jane
by Josephine Daskam
THE COURTING OF LADY JANE
By Josephine Daskam
Copyright, 1903, by Charles Scribner's Sons
The colonel entered his sister's room abruptly, sat down on her bed,
and scattered a drawerful of fluffy things laid out for packing.
You don't seem to think about my side of the matter, he said
gloomily. What am I to do here all alone, for Heaven's sake?
That is so like a man, she murmured, one arm in a trunk. Let me
see: party-boots, the children's arctics, Dick's sweaterdid you think
I could live here forever, Cal?
Then you shouldn't have come at all. Just as I get thoroughly
settled down to flowers in the drawing-room, and rabbits in a
chafing-dish, and people for dinner, you skip off. Why don't you bring
the children here? What did you marry into the navy for, anyway?
Nagasaki! I wouldn't live in a place called Nagasaki for all that money
You're cross, said Mrs. Dick placidly. Please get off that
bath-wrapper. If you don't like to live aloneSix bath-towels, Dick's
shoe-bag, my old muff (I hope and pray I'll remember that!) Helen's
reeferWhy don't you marry?
Marry? Marry! Are you out of your mind, Dosia? I marry!
The colonel twisted his grayish mustache into points; a look of
horror spread over his countenance.
Men have done it, she replied seriously, and lived. Look at
Look at him? But how? Who ever sees him? I've ceased to believe in
him, personally. I can't look across the Pacific. Consider my age,
Dosia; consider my pepper-and-salt hair; consider my bronchitis;
Consider your stupidity! As to your hair, I should hate to eat a
salad dressed with that proportion of pepper. As to your age, remember
you're only ten years ahead of me, and I expect to remain thirty-eight
for some time.
But forty-eight is centenarian to a girl of twenty-two, Dosia.
The colonel was plaiting and un-plaiting the ball-fringe of the
bed-slip; his eyes followed the motion of his fingershe did not see
his sister's triumphant smile as she dived again into the trunk.
That depends entirely on the girl. Take Louise Morris, for
instance; she regards you as partly entombed, probablythe colonel
winced involuntarilybut, on the other hand, a girl like Jane Leroy
would have no such nonsense in her head, and she can't be much more
She is twenty-two, cried the unsuspecting colonel eagerly.
Ah? I should not have said so much. Now such a girl as that, Cal,
handsome, dignified, college-bred, is just the wife for an older man.
One can't seem to see her marrying some young snip of her own age.
She'd be wasted on him. I happen to know that she refused Wilbur Vail
entirely on that ground. She admitted that he was a charming fellow,
but she told her mother he was far too young for her. And he was
Did she? The colonel left the fringe. Butbut perhaps there were
other reasons; perhaps she didn't
Oh, probably she didn't. But still, she said he was too young.
That's the way with these serious girls. Now I thought Dick was
middle-aged when I married him, and he was thirty. Jane doesn't take
after her mother; she was only nineteen when she was bornI mean, of
course, when Jane was born. Will you hand me that crocheted shawl,
My dear girl, you're not going to try to get that into that trunk,
too? Something will break.
Not at all, my dear Clarence. Thank you. Will you send Norah up to
me as you go down?
It had not occurred to the colonel that he was going down, but he
decided that he must have been, and departed, forgetting Norah utterly
before he had accomplished half of the staircase.
He wandered out through the broad hall, reaching down a hat
absently, and across the piazza. Then, half unconscious of direction,
he crossed the neat suburban road and strolled up the gravel path of
the cottage opposite. Mrs. Leroy was sitting in the bay-window,
attaching indefinite yards of white lace to indefinite yards of white
ruffles. Jane, in cool violet lawn, was reading aloud to her. Both
looked up at his light knock at the side door.
But I am afraid I interrupt, he suggested politely, as he dropped
into a low chair with a manner that betokened the assurance of a warm
Not the least in the world, Mrs. Leroy smiled whimsically.
Lady is reading Pater to me for the good of my soul, and I am
listening politely for the good of her manners, she answered. But it
is a little wearing for us both, for she knows I don't understand it,
and I know she thinks me a little dishonest for pretending to.
The girl's gray eyes opened wide above her cool, creamy cheeks; the
deep dimples that made her mother's face so girlish actually added a
regularity and seriousness to the daughter's soft chin. Her chestnut
hair was thick and straight, the little half-curls of the same rich
tint that fell over her mother's forehead brushed wavelessly back on
each side of a deep widow's peak.
The two older ones laughed.
Always uncompromising, Lady Jane! the colonel cried.
I assure you, colonel, when Lady begins to mark iniquities, few of
Jane smiled gravely, as on two children. You know very well that is
nonsense, she said.
Black Hannah appeared in the door, beaming and curtsying to the
You-all ready foh yoh tea, Miss Lady? she inquired.
A sudden recollection threw Mrs. Leroy into one of her irresistible
fits of gentle laughter.
Oh, Lady, she murmured, do you remember that impossible creature
that lectured me about Hannah's asking you for orders? Did I tell you
about it, colonel?
Jane shook her head reprovingly.
Now, mother dearest, you always make him out worse
Worse, my darling? Worse is a word that couldn't be applied to that
man. Worse is comparative. Positive he certainly was, superlative is
mild, but comparativenever!
Tell about it, do, begged the guest.
Well, he came to see how Lady was growing uphe's a sort of
species of relativeand he sat in your chair, colonel, and talked the
most amazing Fourth Reader platitudes in a deep bass voice. And when
Hannah asked Lady what her orders were for the grocer, he gave me a
terrible look and rumbled out: 'I am grieved to see, Cousin Alice, that
Jennie has burst her bounds!'
It sounded horribly indecorousI expected to see her in fragments
on the floorand I fairly gasped.
Gasped, mother? You laughed in his face!
Did I, dearest? It is possible. Mrs. Leroy admitted. And when I
looked vague he explained, 'I mean that you seem to have relinquished
the reins very early, Cousin Alice!'
'Relinquished? Relinquished?' said I. 'Why, dear me, Mr. Wadham, I
never held 'em!'
He only meant, mother dear, that
Bless you, my child, I know what he only meant! He explained it to
me very fully. He meant that when a widow is left with a ten-year-old
child, she should apply to distant cousins to manage her and her
Disgusting beast! the colonel exclaimed with feeling, possessing
himself of one of Hannah's beaten biscuits, and smiling as Lady Jane's
white fingers dropped just the right number of lumps in his tea.
How charming she was, how dignified, how tender to her merry little
mother, this grave, handsome girl! He saw her, in fancy, opposite him
at his table, moving so stately about his big empty house, filling it
with pretty, useless woman's things, lighting every corner with that
last touch of grace that the most faithful housekeeper could never hope
to add to his lonely life. For Theodosia had taught him that he was
lonely. He envied Dick this sister of his.
He wondered that marriage had never occurred to him before: simply
it had not. Ever since that rainy day in April, twenty years ago, when
they had buried the slender, soft-eyed little creature with his twisted
silver ring on her cold finger, he had shut that door of life; and
though it had been many years since the little ring had really bound
him to a personality long faded from his mind, he had never thought to
open the doorhe had forgotten it was there.
He was not a talkative man, and, like many such, he dearly loved to
be amused and entertained by others who were in any degree attractive
to him. The picture of these two dear women adding their wit and charm
and dainty way of living to his days grew suddenly very vivid to him;
he realized that it was an unconscious counting on their continued
interest and hospitality that had made the future so comfortable for so
With characteristic directness he began:
Will your Ladyship allow me a half-hour of business with the
She rose easily and stepped out through the long window to the
little side porch, then to the lawn. They watched her as she paced
slowly away from them, a tall violet figure vivid against all the
She is a dear girl, isn't she? said her mother softly.
A sudden flood of delighted pride surged through the colonel's
heart. If only he might keep them happy and contented andand his! He
never thought of them apart: no rose and bud on one stem were more
essentially together than they.
She is too dear for one to be satisfied forever with even our
charming neighborliness, he answered gravely. How long have we lived
'across the street from each other,' as they say here, Mrs. Leroy?
She did not raise her eyes from her white ruffles.
It is just a year this month, she said.
We are such good friends, he continued in his gentle, reserved
voice, that I hesitate to break into such pleasant relations, even
with the chance of making us all happier, perhaps. But I cannot resist
the temptation. Could we not make one family, we three?
A quick, warm color flooded her cheeks and forehead. She caught her
breath; her startled eyes met his with a lightning-swift flash of
something that moved him strangely.
What do you mean, Colonel Driscoll? she asked, low and quickly.
I mean, could you give me your daughterif sheat any timecould
think it possible?
She drew a deep breath; the color seemed blown from her transparent
skin like a flame from a lamp. For a moment her head seemed to droop;
then she sat straight and moistened her lips, her eyes fixed level
Lady? she whispered, and he was sure that she thought the word was
spoken in her ordinary tone. Lady?
I knowI realize perfectly that it is a presumption in meat my
agewhen I think of what she deserves. Oh, we won't speak of it again
if you feel that it would be wrong!
No, no, it is not that, she murmured. II have always known that
I must lose her; but sheone is so selfishshe is all I have, you
But you would not lose her! he cried eagerly. You would only
share her with me, dear Mrs. Leroy! Do you thinkcould sheit is
Lady is an unusual girl, she said evenly, but with something gone
out of her warm, gay voice. She has never cared for young people. I
know that she admires you greatly. While I cannot deny that I should
prefer less difference than lies between your ages, it would be folly
in me to fail to recognize the desirability of the connection in every
other way. Whatever her decisionand the matter rests entirely with
hermy daughter and I are honored by your proposal, Colonel Driscoll.
She might have been reading a carefully prepared address: her eyes
never wavered from the wall in frontit was as if she saw her words
Thenthen will you ask her?
She stared at him now.
You mean that you wish me to ask her to marry you?
Yes, he said simply. She will feel freer in that way. You will
know as I should not, directly, if there is any chance. I can talk
about it with you more easilysomehow.
She shrugged her shoulders with a strange air of exhaustion; it was
the yielding of one too tired to argue.
Very well, she breathed, go now, and I will ask her. Come this
evening. You will excuse
She made a vague motion. The colonel pitied her tremendously in a
blind way. Was it all this to lose a daughter? How she loved her!
Perhaps to-morrow morning, he suggested, but she shook her head
No, to-night, to-night! she cried. Lady will know directly. Come
He went out a little depressed. Already a tiny cloud hung between
them. Suppose their pleasant waters had been troubled for worse than
nothing? Suddenly his case appeared hopeless to him. What follya man
of his years, and that fresh young creature with all her life before
her! He wondered that he could have dreamed of it; he wished the
evening over and the foolish mistake forgiven.
His sister was full of plans and dates, and her talk covered his
almost absolute silence. After dinner she retired again into packing,
and he strode through the dusk to the cottage; his had not been a
training that seeks to delay the inevitable.
The two women sat, as usual at this hour, on the porch. Their white
gowns shimmered against the dark honeysuckle-vine. He halted at the
steps and took off the old fatigue-cap he sometimes wore, standing
straight and tall before them.
Mrs. Leroy leaned back in her chair; the faintest possible gesture
indicated her daughter, who had risen and stood beside her.
Colonel Driscoll, she said in a low, uneven voice, my daughter
wishes me to say to you that she appreciates deeply the honor you do
her, and that if you wish it she will be your wife. Sheshe is sure
she will be happy.
The colonel felt his heart leap up and hit heavily against his
chest. Was it possible? A great gratitude and pride glowed softly
through him. He walked nearly up the steps and stood just below her,
lifting her hand to his lips.
My dear, dear child, he said slowly, you give me too much, but
you must not measure my thankfulness for the gift by my deserts.
Whatever a man can do to make you and your mother happy shall be done
so long as I live.
She smiled gravely into his eyes and bowed her head slightly; like
all her little motions, it had the effect of a graceful ceremony. Then,
slipping loose her hand, she seated herself on a low stool beside her
mother's chair, leaning against her knee. Her sweet silence charmed
He took his accustomed seat, and they sat quietly, while the breeze
puffed little gusts of honeysuckle across their faces. Occasional
neighbors greeted them, strolling past; the newly watered lawns all
along the street sent up a fresh turfy odor; now and then a bird
chirped drowsily. He felt deliriously intimate, peacefully at home. A
fine, subtle sense of bien-être penetrated his whole soul.
When he rose to go they had hardly exchanged a dozen words. As he
held, her hand closely, half doubting his right, she raised her face to
him simply, and he kissed her white forehead. When he bent over her
mother's hand it was as cold as stone.
Through the long pleasant weeks of the summer they talked and
laughed and drove and sailed together, a happy trio. Mrs. Leroy's
listless quiet of the first few days gave way to a brilliant, fitful
gayety that enchanted the more silent two, and the few hours when she
was not with them seemed incomplete. On his mentioning this to her one
afternoon she shot him a strange glance.
But this is all wrong, she said abruptly. What will you do when I
am gone in the winter?
What do you mean? he asked. Gone where, when, how?
My dear colonel, she said lightly, but with an obvious effort, do
you imagine that I cannot leave you a honeymoon, in spite of my doting
parenthood? I plan to spend the latter part of the winter in New York
with friends. Perhaps by spring
My dear Mrs. Leroy, how absurd! How cruel of you! What will Lady
do? What shall I do? She has never been separated from you in her life.
Does she know of this?
No; I shall tell her soon. As for what she will doshe will have
her husband. If that is not enough for her, she should not marry the
man who cannot
She stopped suddenly and controlled with great effort a rising
emotion almost too strong for her. Again a deep, inexplicable sympathy
welled up in him. He longed to comfort her, to give her everything she
wanted. He blamed himself and Jane for all the trouble they were
That afternoon she kept in her room, and he and his fiancée drank
their tea together alone. He was worried by the news of the morning,
dissatisfied out of all proportion, vexed that so sensible and natural
a proposition should leave him so uneasy and disappointed. He had meant
the smooth, quiet life to go on without a break, and now the new
relation must change everything.
He glanced at Jane, a little irritated that she should not perceive
his mood and exorcise it. But she had not her mother's marvellous
susceptibility. She drank her tea in serene silence. He made a few
haphazard remarks, hoping to lose in conversation the cloud that
threatened his evening; but she only assented tranquilly and watched
the changing colors of the early sunset.
Have you made a vow to agree with everything I say? he asked
finally, half laughing, half in earnest.
Not at all, she replied placidly, but you surely do not want an
Oh, no, he answered her, vexed at himself.
What do you think of Mrs. 's novel? he suggested, as the
pages, fluttering in the rising breeze, caught his attention.
Mother is reading it, not I, she returned indifferently. I don't
care very much for the new novels.
Involuntarily he turned as if to catch her mother's criticism of the
book: light, perhaps, but witty, and with a little tang of harmless
satire that always took his fancy. But she was not there. He sighed
impatiently; was it possible he was a little bored?
A quick step sounded on the gravel walk, a swish of skirts.
It is Louise Morris, she said, I'll meet her at the gate.
After a short conference she returned.
Will you excuse me, please? she said, quite eagerly for her.
Mother will be down soon, anyway, I am sure. Louise's brother is back;
he has been away in the West for six years. Mother will be
delightedshe was always so fond of Jack. Louise is making a little
surprise for him. He must be quite grown up now. I'll go and tell
A moment later and she was gone. Mrs. Leroy took her place in the
window, and imperceptibly under her gentle influence the cloud faded
from his horizon; he forgot the doubt of an hour ago. At her suggestion
he dined there, and found himself, as always when with his hostess, at
his best. He felt that there was no hypocrisy in her interest in his
ideas, and the ease with which he expressed them astonished him even
while he delighted in it. Why could he not talk so with Jane? It
occurred to him suddenly that it was because Jane herself talked
rarely. She was, like him, a listener, for the most part. His mind,
unusually alert and sensitive to-night, looked ahead to the happy
winter evenings he had grown to count on so, and when, with an effort,
he detached this third figure from the group to be so closely allied
after Christmas-tidethe date fixed for the weddinghe perceived that
there was a great gap in the picture, that the warmth and sparkle had
suddenly gone. All the tenderness in the world could not disguise that
flash of foresight.
He grew quiet, lost in revery. She, following his mood, spoke less
and less; and when Jane returned, late at night, escorted by a tall,
bronzed young ranchman, she found them sitting in silence in a
half-light, staring into the late September fire on the hearth.
In the month that followed an imperceptible change crept over the
three. The older woman was much alonevariable as an April day, now
merry and caressing, now sombre and withdrawn. The girl clung to her
mother more closely, sat for long minutes holding her hand, threw
strange glances at her betrothed that would have startled him, so
different were they from her old, steady regard, had not his now
troubled sense of some impalpable mist that wrapped them all grown
stronger every day. He avoided sitting alone with her, wondering
sometimes at the ease with which such tête-à-têtes were dispensed with.
Then, struck with apprehension at his seeming neglect, he spent his
ingenuity in delicate attentions toward her, courtly thoughtfulness of
her tastes, beautiful gifts that provoked from her, in turn, all the
little intimacies and tender friendliness of their earlier intercourse.
At one of these tiny crises of mutual restoration, she, sitting
alone with him in the drawing-room, suddenly raised her eyes and looked
steadily at him.
You care for me, then, very much? she said earnestly. Youyou
would missif things were different? You really count ononour
marriage? Are you happy?
A great remorse rose in him. Poor childpoor, young, unknowing
creature, that, after all, was only twenty-two! She felt it, then, the
strange mist that seemed to muffle his words and actions, to hold him
back. And she had given him so much!
He took her hands and drew her to him.
My dear, dear child, he said gently, forgive a selfish
middle-aged bachelor if he cannot come up to the precious ideals of the
sweetest girlhood in the world! I am no more worthy of you, Lady dear,
than I have ever been, but I have never felt more tender toward you,
more sensible of all you are giving me. I cannot pretend to the wild
love of the poets you read so much; that time, if it ever was, is past
for me. I am a plain, unromantic person, who takes and leaves a great
deal for grantedI thought you knew that. But you must never doubt
He paused a moment, and for the first time she interrupted him
I never willClarence, she said almost solemnly; and it struck
him for the first time that she had never called him by his name
before. He leaned over her, and as in one of her rare concessions she
lifted her face up to him, he bent lower than her forehead; what
compelled him to kiss her soft cheek rather than her lips he did not
Unexpected business summoned him to New York for a fortnight the
next day, and the great city drew him irresistibly into its noisy
maelstrom. The current of his thoughts changed absolutely. Old friends
and new took up his leisure. His affairs, as they grew more pressing,
woke in him a keen delight in the struggle with his opponents; as he
shook hands triumphantly with his lawyer after a well-earned victory he
felt years younger. He decided that he had moped too long in the
country: We must move into town this season, he said to himself.
He fairly ran up the cottage steps in the gathering dusk. He longed
to see them, full of plans for the winter. Hannah met him at the door:
the ladies had gone to a dance at the Morrises'; there had been an
invitation for him, so he would not intrude if he followed.
Hastily changing his clothes, he walked up the street. Lights and
music poured out of the open windows of the large house; the full moon
made the grounds about it almost as bright as the rooms. He stepped up
on the piazza and looked in at the swaying couples. Lady Jane,
beautiful in pale blue mull, drifted by in her young host's arms. She
was flushed with dancing; her hair had escaped from its usual calm. He
hardly recognized her. As he looked out toward the old garden, he
caught a glimpse of a flowing white gown, a lace scarf thrown over a
head whose fine poise he could not mistake.
A young man passed him with a filmy crêpe shawl he knew well. The
colonel stepped along with him.
You are taking this to Mrs. Leroy?
Yes, colonel, she feels the air a little.
Let me relieve you of it, and he walked alone into the garden with
the softly scented cobweb over his arm.
She was standing in an old neglected summer-house, her back to the
door. As he stopped behind her and laid the soft wrap over her firm
white shoulders, she turned her head with a startled prescience of his
personality, and met his eyes full. He looked straight into those soft
gray depths, and as he looked, searching for something there, he knew
not what, troubled strangely by her nearness and the helpless surrender
of her fastened gaze, a great light burst upon him.
It is you! it is you! he said hoarsely, and crushing her in his
arms, he kissed her heavily on her yielding mouth.
For a moment she rested against him. The music, piercingly sweet,
drove away thought. Then she drew herself back, pushing him blindly
No, no, no! she gasped, it is Lady! You are mad
Mad? he said quickly. I was never sane till now. When I think of
what I had to offer that dear child, when I realize to what a farce of
love I was sacrificing heroh, Alice dearest, you are a woman; you
must have known!
She raised her head; an unquenchable triumph smiled at him.
I did know! she cried exultantly. Suddenly her whole expression
changed, her head sank again.
Oh, Lady, my child, my baby! she moaned, all mother now, and
You must never tell her, never! she panted. You will forget;
youI will go away
It is you who are mad, Alice, he said sternly. Listen to me. For
all these weeks it has been your voice I have remembered, your face I
have seen in imagination in my house. It is you I have missed from us
threenever Lady. It is you I have tried to please and hoped to
satisfynot Lady. Ever since you told me you would not spend the
winter with us I have been discontented. Why, Alice, I have never
kissed her in my lifeas I have kissed you.
She grew red to the tips of her little ears, and threw him a quick
glance that tingled to his fingers' ends.
You would not have meoh, my dear, it is not possible! he cried.
She burst into tears. I don't knowI don't know! she sobbed. It
will break her heart! I don't understand her any more; once I could
tell what she would think, but not now.
Hush! some one is coming, he warned her, and taking her arm he
drew her out through a great gap in the side of the little house, so
that they stood hidden by it.
Then I will tell him to his face what I think of him! said a young
man's voice, angry, determined, but shaking with disappointment. To
hold a girl
He does not hold meI hold myself! It was Lady's voice, low and
trembling. It is all my fault, Jack. I bound myself before I knew
whatwhat a different thing it really was. I do love himI love him
dearly, but notnotNo, no; I don't mean what you thinkor, if I do,
I must not. Jack, I have promised, don't you see? And when I thought
that perhaps he didn't care so much, and asked himoh, I told you how
beautifully he answered me, I will never hurt him so, never!
It is disgusting, it is horrible; he is twenty-five years older
than youhe might be your father! stormed the voice.
II never cared for young people before!
Could this be Lady, this shy, faltering girl? Moved by an
overmastering impulse, the man behind the summer-house turned his head
and looked through the broken wall.
Lady Jane was blushing and paling in quick succession: the waves of
red flooded over her moved face and receded like the tide at turn. Her
eyes were piteous; her hair fell low over her forehead; she looked
Of course, said the young man bitterly, it is a good matcha
fine match, You will have a beautiful home and everything you want.
She put out her hands appealingly. Oh, Jack, how can you hurt me
so? You know I would live with you in a garreton the plains
Then do it.
I shall never hurt a person so terribly to whom I have freely given
my word, she said, with a touch of her old-time decision.
Colonel Driscoll felt his blood sweeping through his veins like
wine. He was far too excited for finesse, too eagerand he had been so
willing to wait, once!for the next sweet moment when this almost
tragedy should be resolved into its elements. He strode out into the
open space in front of the little house.
My dear young people, he said, as they stared at him in absolute
silence, I am, I am He had intended to carry the matter off
jocularly, but the sight of the girl's tear-stained face and the
emotion of the minutes before had softened and awed him. His eyes
seemed yet to hold those gray ones; he felt strangely the pressure of
that soft body against his.
Ah, my dear, he said gently, could you not believe me when I told
you that my one wish was to make you happy as long as I lived?
Happiness is not built on mistakes, and you must forgive us if we do
not always allow youth to monopolize them.
She has always been like a dear child to me, Mr. Morrishe turned
to the other manand you would never wish me to change my regard for
her, could you know it!
Go with him, Lady dear, and forgive me if I have ever pained
youbelieve me, I am very happy to-night.
He raised her softly as she knelt before him weeping, and kissed her
But there is nothing to forgive, he assured her.
They went away hand in hand, happy, like two dazed children for whom
the sky has suddenly but notbecause they are youngtoo miraculously
opened, and the shrubbery swallowed them.
He turned and strode back into the shadow. Mrs. Leroy sat crouching
on the fallen timber, her head still bent. Stooping behind her, he drew
her toward him.
They have forgotten us by now, he whispered, can I make you