Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Next
Otherwise Phyllis

Otherwise Phyllis

Meredith Nicholson

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 THE KIRKWOODS BREAK CAMP

  • "Stuff's all packed, Phil, and on the wagon. Camera safe on top and your suit- case tied to the tail-gate. Shall we march?"
  • "Not crazy about it, daddy. Why not linger another week? We can unlimber in _iffy."
  • "It's a tempting proposition, old lady, but I haven't the nerve." Kirkwoo_ropped an armful of brush on the smouldering camp-fire and stood back as i_rackled and flamed. There came suddenly a low whining in the trees and a gus_f wind caught the sparks from the blazing twigs and flung them heavenward. H_hrew up his arm and turned his hand to feel the wind. "The weather's at th_hanging point; there's rain in that!"
  • "Well, we haven't been soaked for some time," replied Phil. "We've bee_wfully respectable."
  • "Respectable," laughed her father. "We don't know what the word means! We'r_nmitigated vagabonds, you and I, Phil. If I didn't know that you like thi_ort of thing as well as I do, I shouldn't let you come. But your aunts are o_y trail."
  • "Oh, one's aunts! Oh, one's three aunts!" murmured Phil.
  • "Not so lightly to be scorned! When I was in town yesterday your Aunt Kat_eld me up for a scolding in the post-office. I'd no sooner climbed up to m_en than your Aunt Josie dropped in to ask what I had done with you; and whil_ was waiting for you to buy shoes at Fisher's your Aunt Fanny strolled by an_ave me another overhauling. It's a question whether they don't bring lega_rocess to take you away from me. What's a father more or less among thre_nxious aunts! As near as I can make out, Aunt Fanny's anxiety is chiefly fo_our complexion. She says you look like an Indian. And she implied that I a_ne."
  • "One of her subtle compliments. I've always thought Indians were nice."
  • It was clear that this father and daughter were on the best of terms, and tha_dmiration was of the essence of their relationship. Phil stooped, picked up _ebble and flung it with the unconscious grace of a boy far down the creek.
  • Her Aunt Fanny's solicitude for her complexion was or was not warranted; i_epended on one's standard in such matters. Phil was apparently not alarme_bout the state of her complexion.
  • "Suppose we wait for the moon," Kirkwood suggested. "It will be with us in a_our, and we can loaf along and still reach town by eleven. Only a littl_hile ago we had to get you to bed by eight, and it used to bother me a lo_bout your duds; but we've outgrown that trouble. I guess—"
  • He paused abruptly and began to whistle softly to himself. Phil was familia_ith this trick of her father's. She knew the processes of his mind and th_ange of his memories well enough to supply the conclusion of such sentence_s the one that had resolved itself into a doleful whistle. As he was a_xcellent amateur musician, the lugubrious tone of his whistling was th_ubject of many jokes between them.
  • The walls of a miniature cañon rose on either side of the creek, and the ligh_f the wind-blown camp-fire flitted across the face of the shelving rock, o_campered up to the edge of the overhanging cliff, where it flashed fitfull_gainst the sky. The creek splashed and foamed through its rough, boulder- filled channel, knowing that soon it would be free of the dark defile an_oving with dignity between shores of corn toward the Wabash. The cliffs tha_nclosed Turkey Run represented some wild whim of the giant ice plow as it ha_edivided and marked this quarter of the world. The two tents in which th_irkwoods had lodged for a month had been pitched in a grassy cleft of th_ore accessible shore, but these and other paraphernalia of the camp were no_acked for transportation in a one-horse wagon. As a fiercer assault of th_ind shook the vale, the horse whinnied and pawed impatiently.
  • "Cheer up, Billo! We're going soon!" called Phil.
  • Kirkwood stood by the fire, staring silently into the flames. Phil, havin_eassured Billo, drew a little away from her father. In earlier times whe_oods of abstraction fell upon him, she had sought to rouse him; but latterl_he had learned the wisdom and kindness of silence. She knew that this annua_utumnal gypsying held for him the keenest delight and, in another an_affling phase, a poignancy on which, as she had grown to womanhood, it ha_eemed impious to allow her imagination to play. She watched him now with th_ity that was woven into her love for him: his tall figure and the slightl_tooped shoulders; the round felt hat that crowned his thick, close-cut hair, the dejection that seemed expressed in so many trifles at such moments,—as i_is manner of dropping his hands loosely into the pockets of his corduro_oat, and standing immovable. Without taking his eyes from the fire he sa_own presently on a log and she saw him fumbling for his pipe and tobacco. H_ent to thrust a chip into the fire with the deliberation that marked hi_ovements in these moods. Now and then he took the pipe from his mouth, an_he knew the look that had come into his gray eyes, though she saw only th_rofile of his bearded face as the firelight limned it.
  • Now, as at other such times, on summer evenings in the little garden at home, or on winter nights before the fire in their sitting-room, she felt that h_hould be left to himself; that his spirit traversed realms beyond boundarie_he might not cross; and that in a little while his reverie would end and h_ould rise and fling up his long arms and ask whether it was breakfast-time o_ime to go to bed.
  • Phil Kirkwood was eighteen, a slim, brown, graceful creature, with a habit o_arrying her chin a little high; a young person who seemed to be enjoyin_lights into the realm of reverie at times, and then, before you were aware o_t, was off, away out of sight and difficult to catch with hand or eye. As _hild this abruptness had been amusing; now that she was eighteen her aunt_ad begun to be distressed by it. Her critics were driven to wild things fo_omparisons. She was as quick as a swallow; and yet a conscientiou_rnithologist would have likened her in her moments of contemplation to th_hrush for demureness. And a robin hopping across a meadow, alert in all hi_ysterious senses, was not more alive than Phil in action. Her middle-age_unts said she was impudent, but this did not mean impudent speech; it wa_hil's silences that annoyed her aunts and sometimes embarrassed or dismaye_ther people. Her brown eye could be very steady and wholly respectful when, at the same time, there was a suspicious twitching of her thread-of-scarle_ips. The aunts were often outraged by her conduct. Individually an_ollectively they had endeavored to correct her grievous faults, and she ha_eceived their instructions meekly. But what could one do with a mild brow_ye that met the gaze of aunts so steadily and submissively, while her lip_etrayed quite other emotions!
  • Phil's clothes were another source of distress. She hated hats and in ope_eather rejected them altogether. A tam-o'-shanter was to her liking, and _oy's cap was even better. The uniform of the basketball team at high schoo_uited her perfectly; and yet her unreasonable aunts had made a frightful ro_hen she wore it as a street garb. She gave this up, partly to mollify th_unts, but rather more to save her father from the annoyance of thei_omplaints. She clung, however, to her sweater,—on which a large "M"
  • advertised her _alma mater_ most indecorously,—and in spite of the aunts'
  • vigilance she occasionally appeared at Center Church in tan shoes; which wa_ot what one had a right to expect of a great-granddaughter of Amzi I, whos_enevolent countenance, framed for adoration in the Sunday-School room, spok_or the conservative traditions of the town honored with his name.
  • Phil had no sense of style; her aunts were agreed on this. Her hair-ribbon_arely matched her stockings; and the stockings on agile legs like Phil's, that were constantly dancing in the eyes of all Montgomery, should, by all th_anons of order and decency, present holeless surfaces to captious critics.
  • That they frequently did not was a shame, a reproach, a disgrace, but n_ault, we may be sure, of the anxious aunts. Manifestly Phil had no immediat_ntention of growing up. The idea of being a young lady did not interest her.
  • In June of this particular year she had been graduated from the Montgomer_igh School, in a white dress and (noteworthy achievement of the combine_unts!) impeccable white shoes and stockings. Pink ribbons (pink being th_lass color) had enhanced the decorative effect of the gown and a pink bow ha_iven a becoming touch of grace to her head. Phil's hair—brown in shadow an_old in sunlight—was washed by Montgomery's house-to-house hairdresse_henever Aunt Fanny could corner Phil for the purpose.
  • Phil's general effect was of brownness. Midwinter never saw the passing of th_an from her cheek; her vigorous young fists were always brown; when permitte_ choice she chose brown clothes: she was a brown girl.
  • Speaking of Phil's graduation, it should be mentioned that she had contribute_ ten-minute oration to the commencement exercises, its subject being "Th_ogs of Main Street." This was not conceded a place on the programme without _truggle. The topic was frivolous and without precedent; moreover, it wa_nliterary—a heinous offense, difficult of condonation. To admit the dogs o_ain Street to a high-school commencement, an affair of pomp and ceremony hel_n Hastings's Theater, was not less than shocking. It had seemed so to th_rincipal, but he knew Phil; and knowing Phil he laughed when the Englis_eacher protested that it would compromise her professional dignity to allow _tudent to discuss the vagrant canines of Main Street in a commencement essay.
  • She had expected Phil to prepare a thesis on "What the Poets Have Meant t_e," and for this "The Dogs of Main Street" was no proper substitute. Th_uperintendent of schools, scanning the programme before it went to th_rinter, shuddered; but it was not for naught that Phil's "people" were o_ontgomery's elect.
  • Phil was, in fact, _a_ Montgomery. Her great-grandfather, Amzi Montgomery, observing the unpopulous Hoosier landscape with a shrewd eye, had, in the yea_f grace 1829, opened a general store on the exact spot now occupied b_ontgomery's Bank, and the proper authorities a few years later called th_ame of the place Montgomery, which it remains to this day. This explains wh_he superintendent of schools overlooked the temerity of Amzi's great- granddaughter in electing the Main Street fauna as the subject of he_ommencement address rather than her indebtedness to the poets, though it ma_ot be illuminative as to the holes in Phil's stockings. But on this point w_hall be enlightened later.
  • Phil raised her head. There had come a lull in the whisper of the weathe_pirit in the sycamores, and she was aware of a sound that was not the nois_f the creek among the boulders. It was a strain of music not of nature'_aking and Phil's healthy young curiosity was instantly aroused by it. He_ather maintained his lonely vigil by the fire, quite oblivious of her and o_ll things. She caught another strain, and then began climbing the cliff.
  • The ascent was difficult, but she drew herself up swiftly, catching at bushes, seeking with accustomed feet the secure limestone ledges that promised safety, pausing to listen when bits of loosened stone fell behind her. Finally, catching the protruding roots of a great sycamore whose shadow had guided her, she gained the top. The moon, invisible in the vale, now greeted her as i_ose superbly above a dark woodland across a wide stretch of intervenin_ield. But there were nearer lights than those of star and moon, and thei_resence afforded her a thrill of surprise.
  • Clearer now came the strains of music. Here was a combination of phenomen_hat informed the familiar region with strangeness. The music came from _arn, and she remembered that barn well as a huge, gloomy affair on the Holto_arm. Satisfied of this, Phil turned, half-unconsciously, and glanced up a_he sycamore. That hoary old landmark defined a boundary, and a boundar_hich, on various accounts, it was incumbent upon the great-granddaughter o_mzi Montgomery I to observe. A dividing fence ran from the sycamore, straigh_oward the moon. It was a "stake-and-rider" fence, and the notches on th_olton side of it were filled with wild raspberry, elderberry, and weeds; bu_n the Montgomery side these interstices were free of such tangle. The fac_hat lights and music advertised the Holton farm to the eye and ear seemed t_hil a matter worthy of her attention. The corn was in the shock on th_ontgomery side; the adjacent Holton field had lain fallow that year. Th_hocks of corn suggested to Phil's imagination the tents of an unsentinele_ost or an abandoned camp; but she walked fearlessly toward the lights an_usic, bent upon investigation. The moon would not for some time creep hig_nough to light the valley and disturb her father's vigil by the camp-fire: there need be no haste, for even if he missed her he would not be alarmed.
  • The old Holton house and its outbuildings lay near the fence and Phi_alculated that without leaving her ancestral acres she would be able t_etermine exactly the nature and extent of this unprecedented revelry in th_olton barn. She approached as near as possible and rested her arms on th_ough top rail of the fence. There were doors on both sides of the lumberin_ld structure, and her tramp across the cornfield was rewarded by _omprehensive view of the scene within. The music ceased and she hear_oices—gay, happy voices—greeting some late-comers whose automobile had just
  • "chug-chugged" into the barnyard. She saw, beyond the brilliantly lighte_nterior, the motors and carriages that had conveyed the company to the dance; and she caught a glimpse of the farmhouse itself, where doubtless refreshment_ere even now in readiness. Phil was far enough away to be safe fro_bservation and yet near enough to identify many of the dancers. They wer_hiefly young people she had known all her life, and the strangers wer_resumably friends of the Holtons from Indianapolis and elsewhere.
  • The strains of a familiar waltz caused a quick reassembling of the dancers.
  • The music tingled in Phil's blood. She kept time with head and hands, an_hen, swinging round, began dancing, humming the air as her figure swayed an_ent to its cadences. By some whim the nearest corn-shock became the center o_er attention. Round and round it she moved, with a child's abandon; and no_hat the moon's full glory lay upon the fields, her shadow danced mockingl_ith her. Fauns and nymphs tripped thus to wild music in the enchanted lon_go when the world was young. Hers was the lightest, the most fantastic o_rresponsible shadows. It was not the mere reflection of her body, but _refigurement of her buoyant spirit, that had escaped from her control an_auntingly eluded capture. Her mind had never known a morbid moment; she ha_ever feared the dark, without or within. And this was her private affair—_oke between her and the moon and the earth. It was for the moment al_ers—earth and heaven, the mystery of the stars, the slumbering power of _eneficent land that only yesterday had vouchsafed its kindly fruits in rewar_f man's labor.
  • After a breathless interval a two-step followed, and Phil danced again, seizing a corn-stalk and holding it above her head with both hands like _and. When the music ended she poised on tiptoe and flung the stalk far fro_er toward the barn as though it were a javelin. Then as she took a ste_oward the fence she was aware that some one had been watching her. It was, indeed, a nice question whether the flying stalk had not grazed the ear of _an who stood on Holton soil, his arms resting on the rail just as hers ha_een ten minutes earlier, and near the same spot.
  • "'Lo!" gasped Phil breathlessly.
  • "'Lo!"
  • They surveyed each other calmly in the moonlight. The young man beyond th_ence straightened and removed his hat. He had been watching her antics roun_he corn-shock and Phil resented it.
  • "What were you doing that for?" she demanded indignantly, her hands in he_weater pockets.
  • "Doing what, for instance?"
  • "Watching me. It wasn't fair."
  • "Oh, I liked your dancing; that was all."
  • "Oh!"
  • An "Oh" let fall with certain intonations is a serious impediment t_onversation. The young gentleman seemed unable at this crucial instant t_hink of a fitting reply. Finding himself unequal to a response in her own ke_e merely said:—
  • "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to. I came over here to sit on the fence an_atch the party."
  • "Watch it! Why don't you go in and dance?"
  • He glanced down as though to suggest that if Phil were to scrutinize hi_aiment she might very readily understand why, instead of being among th_ancers, he contented himself with watching them from a convenient fenc_orner. He carried a crumpled coat on his arm; the collar of his flannel shir_as turned up round his throat. His hat was of battered felt with a rent i_he creased crown.
  • "My brother and sister are giving the party. I'm not in it."
  • "I suppose your invitation got lost in the mail," suggested Phil, this being _orm of explanation frequently proffered by local humorists for their failur_o appear at Montgomery functions.
  • "Nothing like that! I didn't expect to be here to-day. In fact, I've been of_rying to borrow a team of horses; one of mine went lame. I've just brough_hem home, and I'm wondering how long I've got to wait before the rumpus i_ver and those folks get out of there and give the horses a chance. It's goin_o rain before morning."
  • Phil had heard the same prognostication from her father, and it was in th_oung man's favor that he was wise in weather lore. The musicians had begun t_lay a popular barn dance, and the two spectators watched the dancers catc_tep to it. Then Phil, having by this time drawn a trifle closer to the fenc_nd been reassured by her observations of the clean-shaven face of the youn_an, became personal.
  • "Are you Charlie Holton?"
  • "No; Fred. Charlie's my brother."
  • "And your sister's name is Ethel."
  • "O. K. I'm trying to figure you out. If you weren't so tall I'd guess you wer_hyllis Kirkwood."
  • "That's all of my name," replied Phil. "I remember you now, but you must hav_een away a long time. I hadn't heard that anybody was living over there."
  • "The family haven't been here much since I was a kid. They have moved ou_heir things. What's left is mine."
  • Mr. Frederick Holton turned and extended the hand that held his hat with _omprehensive gesture. There was a tinge of irony in his tone that Phil di_ot miss. "What's left here—house, barn, and land—belongs to me. The tow_ouse has been sold and Charlie and Ethel have come out here to say good-by_o the farm."
  • "Oh!"
  • This time Phil's "Oh" connoted mild surprise, polite interest, and fain_uriosity.
  • The wind rustled the leaves among the corn-shocks. The moon gazed benevolentl_pon the barn, tolerant of the impertinence of man-made light and a gayet_hat was wholly inconsonant with her previous knowledge of this particular bi_f landscape.
  • Fred Holton did not amplify his last statement, so Phil's "Oh," in so far a_t expressed curiosity as to the disposition of the Holton territory and Mr.
  • Frederick Holton's relation to it, seemed destined to no immediat_atisfaction.
  • "I must skip," remarked Phil; though she did not, in fact, skip at once.
  • "Staying over at your grandfather's?" The young man's arm pointed toward th_orth and the venerable farmhouse long occupied by tenants of the Montgomerys.
  • Old Amzi had acquired much land in his day and his grandson, Amzi III, clun_o most of it. But this little availed Phil, as we shall see. Still it wa_onceivable and pardonable that Fred Holton should assume that Phil wa_omiciled upon soil to which she had presumably certain inalienable rights.
  • "No; I've been camping and my father's waiting for me down there in Turke_un. We've been here a month."
  • "It must be good fun, camping that way."
  • "Oh, rather! But it's tough—the going home afterwards."
  • "I hate towns myself. I expect to have some fun out here."
  • "I heard this farm had been sold," remarked Phil leadingly.
  • "Well, I suppose it amounts to that. They were dividing up father's estate, and I drew it."
  • "Well, it's not so much to look at," remarked Phil, as though the appraisemen_f farm property were quite in the line of her occupations. "I've been acros_our pasture a number of times on my way to Uncle Amzi's for milk, but _idn't know any one was living here. One can hardly mention your farm in term_f grandeur or splendor."
  • Fred Holton laughed, a cheerful, pleasant laugh. Phil had not thought of i_efore, but she decided now that she liked him. His voice was agreeable, an_he noted his slight drawl. Phil's father, who was born in the Berkshires, said all Hoosiers drawled. As a matter of fact, Phil, who was indubitably _oosier, did not, save in a whimsical fashion of her own, to give a humorou_urn to the large words with which she sometimes embellished her conversation.
  • Her father said that her freedom from the drawl was no fault of the Montgomer_igh School, but attributable to his own vigilance.
  • Phil knew that it was unseemly to be talking across a fence to a strange youn_an, particularly when her father was doubtless waiting for her to return fo_he homeward journey; and she knew that she was guilty of a grievous offens_n talking to a Holton in any circumstances. Still the situation appealed t_er imagination. There hung the moon, patron goddess of such encounters, an_ere were fields of mystery.
  • "They say it's no good, do they? They're right. I know all about it, so yo_on't need to be sorry for me."
  • Sensitiveness spoke here; obviously others had made the mistake, of which sh_ould not be guilty, of sympathizing with him in his possession of thes_nprofitable acres. Phil had no intention of being sorry for him. She rathe_iked him for not wanting her sympathy, though to be sure there was no reaso_hy he should have expected it.
  • "You've been living in Indianapolis?"
  • "The folks have. Father died, you know, nearly two years ago. I was in Mexico, and now I'm back to stay."
  • "I suppose you learned farming in Mexico?" Phil pursued.
  • "Well, hardly! Mining; no silver; quit."
  • "Oh," said Phil, and filed his telegram for reference.
  • They watched the dance for a few minutes.
  • "What's that?"
  • Phil started guiltily as Holton turned his head toward the creek, listening.
  • Her father was sounding the immelodious fish-horn which he called their signa_orps. He must have become alarmed by her long absence or he would not hav_esorted to it, and she recalled with shame that it had been buried in a soap- box with minor cooking-utensils at the bottom of the wagon, and could not hav_een resurrected without trouble.
  • "Good-bye!" She ran swiftly across the field toward the creek. The horn, sounding at intervals in long raucous blasts, roused Phil to her best speed.
  • She ran boy fashion with her head down, elbows at her sides. Fred Holto_atched her until she disappeared.
  • He made a detour of the barn, followed a lane that led to the town road, an_aited, in the shadow of a great walnut at the edge of a pasture. He was soo_ewarded by the sound of wheels coming up from the creek, and in a moment th_ne-horse wagon bearing Phil and her father passed slowly. He heard thei_oices distinctly; Kirkwood was chaffing Phil for her prolonged absence. Thei_ood comradeship was evident in their laughter, subdued to the mood of th_till, white night. Fred Holton was busy reconstructing all his previou_nowledge of the Kirkwoods, and he knew a good deal about them, now that h_hought of it.
  • At the crest of Listening Hill,—so called from the fact that in old time_arm-boys had listened there for wandering cows,—the wagon lingered for _oment—an act of mercy to the horse—and the figures of father and daughte_ere mistily outlined against the sky. Then they resumed their journey an_red slowly crossed the fields toward the barn.