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Old Valentines

Munson Aldrich Havens


  A Love Story



  With Illustrations

  Boston and New YorkHoughton Mifflin CompanyThe Riverside Press Cambridge1914

  Copyright, 1914, by Munson Havens


  ILLUSTRATIONS_From drawings by Griswold Tyng_







  You might enter this story by the stage door. You remember beautifulValentine Germain--the actress? She married Robert Oglebay, the painter,brother of Sir Peter Oglebay, the great engineer. Their baby Phyllis--

  But, after all, the main entrance is more dignified.

  Sir Peter Oglebay's passion is for Construction: to watch massivemachinery slowly hoisting materials more massive into positions ofincredible height with calculated accuracy. Wherever construction is inprogress you are likely to see him, standing at a little distance,holding his silk hat on his white head with one hand as he looksupward, and leaning, a little heavily, on his stick with the other. Andwhenever or wherever you see him, you will see an English gentleman.

  His portrait, in the lobby of the Engineering Society, is by Sargent.His erect bearing, white mustache, and something about the cut of hisclothes suggest the soldier. But he is one of the great engineers; hisfather and grandfather were engineers. You observe the red ribbon in hislapel; France honors him.

  Sir Peter's big house is in Armytage Street, near the park. You mayremember the house by its walled garden and the imposing wrought-irongrille through which one has access to the flagged walk, the wide steps,and the great doorway.

  In his house, the library defines his chief interest in life. Theshelves are filled with somber sets of the "Transactions" and"Proceedings" of several learned societies. Sir Peter is himself aFellow of these societies Mr. Rowlandson, his bookseller, has a standingadvertisement in "The Athenaeum" for certain missing volumes. One inparticular, the "Proceedings of the British Engineering Society for theyear 1848," he would tell you, was the very devil to find; it seemsthere was a fire at the printer's. Sir Peter's monograph on the"Egyptian Pyramids Considered in their Relation to Modern Engineering"was dedicated to this society. He presided over its grave deliberationsfor several years. "With dignity and impartiality," said his successor,when Sir Peter surrendered the gavel.

  He serves on boards of directors. His name is seen on subscription listsheaded by the Right People. Late afternoon should find him at theCarlton Club.

  Many years ago, Sir Peter brought together a number of fine pictures.They hang in the drawing-room, but the collection is not a notable onein these days. Each year, however, the Oglebay Prize speeds sometalented English lad to Paris. But that endowment was his brotherRobert's suggestion. Sir Peter's calls at the Christie Galleries ceasedwhen Robert married beautiful Valentine Germain, the actress. Perhapshalf of the cruel things Sir Peter said of her were true. But thequarrel was irreparable; the brothers never met afterward.

  Robert Oglebay was a painter of distinction, if not of genius. His fewfinished pictures enriched the world. His impulses were noble, but theywere impulses only; the will to complete the undertaken task waslacking. For patient work he substituted high talk of Art in the studiosof his friends. The gay little suppers in their own rooms were famous;nine at table, mostly men, entranced by Valentine's beauty and her wit.Charming were their afternoons among the curio shops, and their return,laden with loot too precious to wait over night for delivery. Gloriouswere their holidays in Paris and Vienna; wonderful nights in Venice!Always together! To their sudden migration to Egypt, whence he returnedwith a portfolio of exciting promise. Alas, the slender fulfilment! forthen was the time for work,--the sobering thought of Baby Phyllis.

  But to Valentine and Robert Oglebay, Baby Phyllis soon meant a newfrolic. Nurse Farquharson's were the competent hands. Their life went onunchanged.

  At five, Baby Phyllis, in her white nightie, her blue eyes shining, andher curls crowned with roses, danced among the wine-glasses at hermother's birthday party, and enraptured the guests by singing, invarious keys, the song with which beautiful Valentine herself hadcaptivated London,--"If I could wear trousers, I know what I should do."If you knew your way about town in the early eighties, you may rememberthe song. The encore was uproarious: three times Baby Phyllis had tolift her little leg and strike the match on her nightie. They drank herhealth standing, as she disappeared, smiling at them over NurseFarquharson's shoulder.

  Upstairs, having cuddled Phyllis in bed, Valentine caught the expressionon the nurse's face. She put her arms around Farquharson appealingly.

  "Don't be cross with me on my birthday," she pleaded.

  Farquharson patted the pretty upraised hands, glittering with diamonds.

  "You mustn't look cross at my mamma, Farkson," cooed Baby Phyllis.

  Careless, happy days and sparkling nights! Robert and Valentine werealways together, their honeymoon endless; in Paris, in Buda-Pesth, inRome, in Constantinople, in Holland. You should have seen Valentine inthe Dutch costume she brought home. Each of the inseparable trio ofartists, Mr. Singleton, Mr. Leonard, and Mr. Knowles, painted herportrait, and made love to her, and was laughed at and scolded. It islittle enough to say of her that she idolized Robert.

  When they returned from their first trip to Norway, in 1897, RobertOglebay, now forty and growing stout, told his friends he had found whathe was looking for at last. The strong, deep sentiment of the North hadclutched at him and held him fast. And indeed those shimmering, moonlitstudies of the little fishing village, where they spent that summer andautumn, are his best.

  Early in the following summer they flitted northward again, with joyfuleagerness. They took nine-year-old Phyllis with them.

  While her father painted, and her mother read, Phyllis explored cranniesin which the receding tide had left tiny, helpless creatures which sheexamined curiously, and then carried tenderly to the water, lest theyperish before the friendly waves came again to cover them.

  Their boatman sang songs to her,--strange songs that thrilled her,though she did not understand the words.

  At night, in the best room of the little inn, by a bright fire, herfather told tales of the vikings; of their high-prowed ships, and thelong-haired sailors, with fierce eyes; of their adventurous voyages overunknown seas. The stories ended when the golden head drooped, drowsily.

  The portfolio of sketches grew steadily during the weeks that followed.

  "Your best work, Robert," said Valentine

  "I have found what I have been seeking," was his answer.

  They were happy days. Robert painted, early and late, in all weathers.Valentine's joy was in him. Phyllis found hers in a closer companionshipwith them than she had ever known.

  Remembering their eager joy, how tragic the end! Drowned, under the sailof an overturned boat,--together.

  Their little Phyllis, saved by the boatman recovered from the shock oficy water and horrible fright before her clothing was dry. She wasspared immediate knowledge of her loss. The rough, weatherworn faces shesaw in the firelight of the fisherman's cottage, to which she had beencarried, were kindly and compassionate. The gloom of early evening, theglow of the firelight, the smell of the sea, the full-rigged ship on arude wall-bracket, and the moaning wind outside were memories of afteryears. At the moment, wrapped in a blanket, Phyllis was conscious onlyof security and warmth. She smiled up at the big fisherman who hadrescued her, and made friendly advances to the cluster of ragged littleones who gathered around her, with scared faces and brown, bare legs
andfeet. When the fisherman's wife tucked her into a warm bed, she inquiredsleepily for her mamma. A reassuring caress was the response: thelanguage of motherhood is universal, and requires no words.

  The patrol of the rocky inlet ended at dawn. When the burdened groups ofbooted men tramped past the cottage on their way to the inn, thefisherman's wife, peering through the window in the gray morning light,muttered to herself that both had been found.

  Some hours afterward came the innkeeper and the postmaster, the oneproud of his English, the other of his responsibilities as first citizenof the village. A large-eyed, terror-stricken Phyllis learned of herloneliness and sobbed on the good woman's broad bosom. The innkeeper andthe postmaster smoked their pipes outside until the first outburst ofchildish grief had spent itself.

  It appeared then that the little Miss must tell them to whom they shouldsend a telegram. How painful and new to be obliged to think; how chokingwere the vague thoughts. But at last a ray of comfort; they shouldtelegraph Farquharson, her dear, dear nurse. The name was slowlyspelled. And the address? Perfectly, Phyllis knew the street and numberof that fascinating home of hers, but she now remembered thatFarquharson would not be there; that Farquharson had gone to visit herbrother in a little town in the south of England; a little town of whichPhyllis had heard the most wonderful, true stories; but she did not knowits name. "Couldn't the telegraph find out?" she asked; and then,overcome with rushing thoughts, abandoned herself again to grief.

  "There are Mr. Knowles, Mr. Leonard, and Mr. Singleton," she bethoughther. "But they are painting in Algiers."

  There was a lady her mamma called Molly, too, whom Phyllis liked verymuch, who came often to tea, accompanied by a tiny brown dog; but thepatient innkeeper could learn no more of her than that mamma alwayscalled her Molly; the tiny brown dog's name, Phyllis remembered, wasTip.

  How might this poor innkeeper's meager vocabulary convey the idea ofrelatives to Phyllis's mind? But somehow, at last, it was done.

  "Yes," said Phyllis, struck suddenly with the thought. "There is UnclePeter. But my papa and mamma never went to see him, and he never came tosee them." A half-forgotten word occurred to her,--"They werees-tranged."

  The innkeeper eyed her doubtfully; but Uncle Peter's last name she knew,of course; was it not her own? And his title, too. The innkeeper,impressed, communicated his intelligence to the postmaster; they madetheir good-byes awkwardly and left the room.

  Two days must elapse before the steamer arrived; ample time forcomposition. It grieved the innkeeper that another name than theauthor's must be signed to his telegram; but intellect yielded to rank;the postmaster signed alone.

  And so, on a day when the dreary churchyard on a bleak hillside, nearthe little fishing village, received the poor remains of Robert Oglebayand Valentine, his wife, Sir Peter, in the paneled library of his greatLondon house, read these words:--

  VALFJELDET, NORWAY, August 18th, 1898.

  Your niece, Phyllis Oglebay, robbed of her parents by the remorseless sea, awaits the directions of her uncle.

  OLAF ULVESAKKER, _Postmaster_.

  Ten days later, Sir Peter Oglebay, with a drawn face, rode homewardthrough fog-enveloped streets, with a small girl in his arms. One ofPhyllis's hands held Sir Peter's tightly, and her tired, little headrested upon his shoulder.

  There was a sale, of course, of the thousand luxurious trifles withwhich improvident Robert Oglebay and his beautiful, spirited,improvident wife had surrounded themselves; trifles which had helped tocreate the artistic atmosphere that was the breath of life to them. Halfa hundred creditors divided the proceeds.

  When Sir Peter asked Phyllis what he should save from the wreck for her(not in those words, however) she asked him to send for all thevalentines her papa had given her mamma.

  "Her name was Valentine, you know, Uncle Peter," explained Phyllis. "Ithink it is the beautifullest name there is. Long before I was born, andlong before they were married, my papa gave my mamma valentines, newones and old ones too but mostly old ones. They were the prettiest. Someof them are a hundred years old. They are ever so pretty, Uncle Peter,and she let me play with them, whole boxes full of them. I loved thembest of all my playthings. Sometimes my papa called me his littleValentine, but they named me Phyllis, after my grandmamma, my papa'smamma. Why, Uncle Peter, she was your mamma, too, wasn't she?" Phyllis,sitting on Sir Peter's lap, regarded him gravely, with new interest. Inthe end, however, she returned to the subject. All the valentines--boxesand boxes of them--were to be brought to her, if Uncle Peter pleased.


  His bookseller bought in the valentines for Sir Peter.

  "God bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Rowlandson, when he read the order.

  The sale catalogue described it as one of the most remarkablecollections ever brought together, and intimated that the Museum shouldtake advantage of a rare opportunity.

  Another dealer was commissioned to buy one of Robert's pictures.

  "Any one,--the best. Use your own judgment," said Sir Peter.

  It was a charming study, unfinished, of course, that came the nextafternoon: a boat, rolling heavily in gray water; and seen through mist,the great brown sail, looming, shadowy; one sailor, in a red jersey, atthe tiller. In the corner Robert had scrawled his careless signature andthe words,--"Valfjeldet, Norway, 1897." Sir Peter gently laid thepicture upon the glowing coals of the grate.

  "There are six boxes come from Mr. Rowlandson's shop, sir," said hishousekeeper standing quietly behind him.

  "Have the screws removed and send them up to Miss Phyllis's room," hereplied. "They are old valentines, Burbage, old valentines that belongedto her m----for which she has a childish fondness."