That night, when all the house was still and every one asleep, Dorothea slipped out of bed and, kneeling down beside it, folded her hands and began to pray.
“O Lord”—her voice was a high whisper—“please make my cousin Claudia come to her senses and promise my uncle Winthrop that she will marry him right away. She lives in Virginia. Her post-office is Brooke Bank, and she’s an awfully nice person, but father says even You don’t know why women do like they do sometimes, and of course a man don’t. Please make her love him so hard she’d just die without him, and make her write him to come quick. Give her plenteous sense from on high, and fill her with heavenly thankfulness and make her my aunt for ever and ever. Amen.”
She got up and scrambled into bed and closed her eyes tightly. “French prayers aren’t worth a cent when you want something and want it quick,” she said, half aloud. “And when you’re in dead earnest you have to get right down on your knees. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t talk in plain English to the Lord. I hope He will answer, for if He don’t I certainly couldn’t say right off, ’Thy will be done.’ I’d say I thought my cousin Claudia had mighty little sense.”
Winthrop Laine lifted the tangled vines which overhung the shrub-bordered path leading down the sloping lawn at the back of the house to the rose-garden at its foot, and held them so that Claudia could pass under.
“They ought to be cut.” She stopped and unfastened a long tendril of intertwined honeysuckle and bridal-wreath which had caught her hair. “Everything ought to be cut and fixed, only—”
“It would be beyond pardon. If any one should attempt to change this garden, death should be the penalty. One rarely sees such old-fashioned flowers as are here, never in modern places.”
“No one knows when many of them were planted, and nothing hurts them.” Stooping, Claudia picked from the ground a few violets and lilies-of-the-valley growing around the trunk of an immense elm-tree at the end of the path, then looked up.
“Don’t let’s go to the roses yet. I want to see what the sun-dial says. This is the way my great-grandmother used to come to meet my great-grandfather when she was a girl. Her parents wanted her to marry some one else. She would slip out of the house and down this path to that big magnolia-tree, from where she could see and not be seen, and it was there they made their plans to run away.”
“We will go there. It looks like a very nice place at which to make plans.”
Into Claudia’s face color sprang quickly, and for a moment she drew back. “Oh no! It is too beautiful to-day to make plans of any kind. It is enough to just—live. You haven’t seen half of Elmwood yet, and you want to talk of—other things.”
“I certainly do.” Laine stepped back that Claudia might lead the way down the path, box-bordered so high that those within could not be seen outside, and smiled in the protesting face. A few moments more and they had come out to the front lawn on the left of the house and some distance below the terrace on which it overlooked the river, and as they reached a group of spreading magnolias he drew in his breath.