The Gray Angels
The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Gray Angels, by Nalbro Bartley
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Title: The Gray Angels
Author: Nalbro Bartley
Release Date: January 28, 2019 [eBook #58785]
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THE GRAY ANGELS
THE GRAY ANGELS
Author of “A Woman’s Woman,”
“Paradise Auction,” etc.
SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY
By SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY
THE GRAY ANGELS
The younger generation of Birge’s Corners insistedthat nothing exciting had happened since Abigail Clergy’slove affair in 1867, and the older generation retorted thatThurley Precore, who must have been born in Arcadia,was bound to create excitement.
The older generation were content to have time snailover their doorsteps. To their placid minds much hadhappened and was happening to content any one of normalmakeup. Take the Hotel Button—what more didany one want than that two-story establishment with ramshackleoutbuildings and a crazy wooden fence about thewhole of it? Commercial travellers making the townannually never complained about Prince Hawkins’ hospitalityor Mrs. Prince Hawkins’ cooking—never. Andduring one of those comical cold spells, when twenty belowzero was registered on the thermometer, the younger generationwere mighty glad to end a sleigh ride before theHotel Button, and have one of Mrs. Prince Hawkins’oyster suppers—she had been Lena Button, an onlychild, and her working like a slave now ...! Also,the upstairs parlor with its flowered carpet and torturedwalnut furniture and the same square piano on whichLena Button had learned her “Battle of Prague”—theyounger generation never thought of refusing the upstairsparlor in which to have a wind-up dance. None of themcomplained about the slowness of Birge’s Corners—untilthe next day!
As for stores: there was Oyster Jim’s confectionerystore with a balcony overlooking Lake Birge, and herethe younger generation gathered to eat ice cream anddrink cream soda. Of course, Oyster Jim’s store was notlike New York tea-rooms which some of the youngergeneration had visited and drawn unkind comparisonsabout, but the ice cream was homemade, and, if he diddilute the cream, the water from Lake Birge was aboutas good as there was in the state; a chemist had said so.Besides, Oyster Jim’s other specialty was canary birds,yellow-throated songsters in every corner of the balcony,and it took a pretty smart man to keep an ice cream storeand raise canary birds, to say nothing of selling Ford suppliesto distressed tourists! Then there was SubmitCurler’s general store. She was always taking magazinesto keep “up to snuff”—and as for patterns ofginghams and calicos, there were no prettier patternsto be had. When the younger generation said why didMiss Curler insist on selling horse whips and lanterns andyear-old hard candies and marbles and soft soap andacorn picture frames and knitted things she made in betweenrings of the bell, and why didn’t she have decentsilk waists and neckties and stop calling you by yourfirst name long after your engagement had been announced,to say nothing of wrapping things in newspapersand expecting you to carry them through the streets—theolder generation sniffed in answer that Submit Curlerwas one of God’s own, and, although Algebra might havebeen the capital of a foreign country as far as she knew,she had crooned countless teething babies to sleep to givetheir mothers a rest, and helped lay out the dead andthen stayed “behind” to have a piping hot dinner readywhen the mourners “came back.”
Of course the younger generation were not silenced bythis. They began a complaint about the weekly paper,a ridiculous affair running three-year-old detective serialsand month-old national happenings, telling whose verandawas to be painted and who had bought a pair of new earlaps!To which the older generation magnanimously remarkedthat, as long as “Ali Baba” and Betsey Pilrighad their health, there would be no need for an up-to-datedaily newspaper. One did not have to wait until newswas gathered, edited and printed. Ali Baba, AbbyClergy’s coachman, and Betsey Pilrig, who lived in theyellow house across from Thurley Precore’s box-carwagon, kept the village informed of every happening insuch rapid-fire fashion that the need for a daily sheet wasnever experienced!
Granting this—where was there any society? Towhich the older generation answered, indignantly, thatnowhere in the United States of America HAD thereexisted such society, elegance and grandeur as at the summercolony on Birge’s Lake, and, if those days were contemporarywith Abigail Clergy’s great sorrow, what matteredit? The aroma of past grandeur lingers long, andeven yet the stately mansions with endless turrets andtowers stood about the shores of the lake causing oneto respect their closed shutters.
To this the younger generation, although protestingthat the society was entirely a memory, had no reply.For the older generation had spoken the truth. Aboutthe perfect little lake, an emerald in its coloring andflanked by pungent pine woods and an amphitheater oftiny hills, some half a century before, had been built thesummer homes of the oldest of America’s aristocracy.In those days when Birge’s Corners was but a postoffice and a few stray dogs, the lake had been an oasisfor the tired rich; here families came to grow tannedand rosy, while love affairs ripened and wedding bellswere listened for and the elders sat back in pleasedapproval. The rich owned the lake, so the saying went—butDaniel Birge owned the Corners and the rich!Daniel Birge was steward to the rich. If they desired animprovement in the way of carriage sheds or certaingrades of merchandise which were daily necessities, DanielBirge, founder of Birge’s Corners, saw to it that itwas accomplished. The lake had been named for hisgreat-great-grandfather, who discovered it, and, whenthe richest of the rich suggested that “Birge’s Lake” wasa trifle commonplace name for such a bit of paradise—“FairyLake” would be more appropriate—they mettheir Waterloo. This was the only thing Daniel Birgerefused the rich—the re-naming of the little lake.
“Great-great-grandpap found it, and it’ll keep hisname,” was all he said.
And because Dan Birge “had a way with him”—evenas his grandson, the present Dan Birge, had a “way withhim”—the summer colony never questioned the matteragain. Birge’s Lake and Birge’s Corners were christenedfor eternity.
Meanwhile, middle class inhabitants came to live atthe Corners, houses multiplied from season to season, theHotel Button came into existence, as did rival blacksmiths’shops and Submit Curler’s store. Even a travellingdentist took rooms at Betsey Pilrig’s for every Thursday,and the Methodist and Baptist churches ran a raceas to the height of their steeples.
Time soon enough changed the ways and the likings ofthe rich. The old homes came to be rented out or closedfor two and three years at a time. Some were put on themarket, but no one ever bought them. Well-built mansionsthey were, with twenty and thirty rooms andgrounds extending back for half an acre, stables withrooms for the coachman’s family, private boat landings,romantic rustic arbors where tea used to be served, andsummer houses with lacey latticework where débutantesgathered to read Tennyson and their own love letters.
Birge’s Corners built up so rapidly that the decline ofBirge’s Lake was scarcely noticed. One by one the familiesstopped coming to the lake for the summer. Therewere newer, more luxurious or more isolated places—theiryounger generation complained of the lack of thrillingevents. The “ghost village” it was truthfullycalled, house after house lying idle, save for stray sparrowsor squirrels who burrowed snugly in the eaves.
“Ali Baba”—Joshua Maples in writing—was madegeneral caretaker. One by one the families left him incharge of the ghost mansions. He knew just which roomit was where the Confederate captain married the Bostonbelle, and how many roses had been used in the decorations.He could tell the exact spot in the Luddingtonhouse where young Luddington had shot himself—thenight before his theft of bank funds should be made public.
A stranger could not point at any of the deserted mansionsbut what Ali Baba, taking off his tattered hat andscratching his white, curly head philosophically, wouldsummon a word picture of the past, when the curly headhad been black and the wrinkled face smooth and boyish.
“They say society has all gone to live at Newportin the summer,” Ali Baba would summarize. “Well,mebbe they has. All I know is this—that right hereat Birge’s Lake from 1860 to 1890—for nigh thirtyyears, there wasn’t no place in the land that could boastof entertaining any finer. We’ve had three presidentscome fishing—right there by that landing—and Pattisang ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ in that big house overthere—the one with the gables. I passed the punchafterwards—yes, sir, right up to time I was, in a newdress suit Major McAndrews bought me. I neverheard nobody sing as she did—and the wimmen said herpink satin train was six feet long. Well, I’ll take thatback—I have heard it sung as good and mebbe betterby a girl right in this village—a nightingale girl namedThurley Precore.
“That Swiss cha-lay over there was built in 1878 byHugo Fiske—he and his bride were going to comehere summers—she died the day before the wedding,and he come on here, as soon as she was buried, andstayed all alone, his wedding bags and finery stacked inthe hall and never unpacked. He kept trampin’,trampin’, trampin’ through the woods and around thelake, never speakin’ to a soul. By and by, when he hadwalked it all out, he come to the livery and asked to betaken to the train. I happened to be handy then, and soI drove him over. When I helped him out and toted hisbags, he says to me, ‘Ali Baba, tell Abby Clergy I understand’—andhe never come back again.”
Here the old man would become uncommunicative,and, when the stranger would idly ask, “Who was AbbyClergy?”—all the answer would be was:
Then the stranger might suggest the danger of burglars.To which Ali Baba would answer:
“I guess you don’t know these parts—oh, we got afew burglars—robins and chipmunks and that kind.”
If the stranger asked “Why are you called Ali Baba?”looking with interest at his rosy old face, Ali Baba wouldbid him good-by without further ado and make his wayhomeward, past Birge’s Corners to Birge’s Lake to acertain red brick mansion, with every shuttered windowfastened tight, save those at the back, and the gleamof lights showing from upper front windows. Ali Babawould find his way to the back of the house, tiptoeingmeekly inside an immaculate summer kitchen to find hiswidowed sister, Hopeful Whittier, to whom he wouldsay:
“Land sakes and Mrs. Davis, I got talkin’ again overto Oyster Jim’s—a fellow in one of those gosh-darnleather coats—seems to me he never would stop askin’questions!”
Hopeful, stern and forbidding in her slate-coloredcalico, would answer, “Ali Baba, do you know MissAbby has been waiting—it is PAST four o’clock?”
Without delay Ali Baba would rush to the barn and inmagical order arrange a shining, old-style harness on aniron gray mare, hitch the same to an old-style, closedcoupé padded with scarlet silk, shades of past glory! Onthe coupé door was a monogram—A. C., entwined withplumes and fleur-de-lis. Donning a black frock coat andsilk hat,