ON THE SURFACE
After the members of the Jolly Six had departed from Sterling Ranch for their respective homes, Ann Sterling suffered the usual reaction. It had been “such a wonderful house party,” she told her mother. The presence of her aunt at the ranch depressed Ann, though after talking matters over with her father, she decided once more not to worry. Little things, however, irritated her, and she had to force herself to be polite and kind and not to let it seem that she avoided her aunt. This was the easier to manage because Suzanne was there. She and her cousin enjoyed a few quiet visits with Marjorie and Clifford Hart and rode out somewhere every morning, for the good of themselves and their horses. Kendall Gordon, Clifford’s college friend, had gone and the other boys were making up for lost time on the summer’s work, though Herman Olson once brought his sister Hilda, who had been away all summer and had not seen Ann at all.
The beautiful little lodge among the peaks, Ann’s “very own,” was visited once more before Suzanne went East with her mother. Mr. Sterling risked his new car, to take Madam LeRoy and Mrs. Tyson there, with Ann, Suzanne and Mrs. Sterling. They drove very slowly, reaching the lodge without accident; but Madam LeRoy insisted that the slow pace was for the sake of the car, not for her, “though I can enjoy the scenery twice as well because of it,” she said. “I do not wonder, Ann,” she added, “that you love your mountains.”
Mrs. Tyson frequently asked her mother if the altitude affected her, though the elevation was not particularly great at “Sterling Heights.” But they heard no more from her about “Mother’s mind failing,” and as Madam LeRoy openly expressed her irritation at being warned about her heart, Aunt Sue desisted. On the surface, everything was pleasant and happy.
Ann’s grandmother walked about with Ann and Suzanne, admiring the falls, the rushing river, the emerald lake, the peaks with their snow, and the floating clouds. “I am glad that I decided to come up,” she said. “I would not have missed this beautiful picture, to take back East with me. Then, girls, if you are here some time without me, as you will be, of course, I shall know how to imagine what you are doing.”
On the porch, with the background of the logs; on the lake shore, with a background of peaks and clouds; in various nooks among the trees, the girls snapped not only Madam LeRoy, but the rest of the family, alone or in groups. “These are for my family album,” laughed Ann. “I’m going to have a special album for Sterling Heights Lodge.”
“Is that what you are going to call it?” inquired Mr. Sterling.
“I think so, though I may change my mind again. I wish that I could put the beauty of the place into a name that would be appropriate.”
Madam LeRoy thought of several more improvements that she asked the privilege of helping to make another season, talking with Mrs. Ault, who promised to take care of the rugs and furniture, making things snug for the winter before she and Mr. Ault left the place. The Sterling party stayed over one night only.
Then, “at last,” Nancy said to Ann privately, Mrs. Tyson, Suzanne, Felice and the chauffeur rolled away in the Tyson car, intending to pick up Maurice Tyson further East, when he should leave the young men with whom he was camping.
Everybody, including Grandmother, drew a sigh6 of relief. There would be no more living on the surface, trying not to express what they felt. There would be no more listening to little poisoned barbs of speech implying criticism, expressing a feigned anxiety about Madam LeRoy, in the guise of virtue and devotion.
Rita came right out one day soon after the departure and asked Ann what she thought of her aunt. “Nothing here suited her,” said Rita. “You could feel how superior she felt to us all. You would have thought that your mother had kidnaped your grandmother by the way she shook her head to me once and said that they ran a terrible risk by bringing her mother away from the sanitarium where she put her.
“I spoke right up and said, ‘From what I hear there are others that have taken worse risks in regard to their mother.’ Of course I meant her, and I went right out of the room with my dust cloth, for fear I might say something else. Nancy told me a lot, you see, and I thought I’d better ask you if it was true.”
“What Nancy told you is probably true in the main, though I suppose that there is a lot of gossip among Grandmother’s servants that may not be true.”
“She,—I mean Mrs. Tyson—was not going to let you folks have her mother and her mother’s money, I suppose. That is what Nancy said. But it was a7 queer performance, in my opinion, to come right here, after what Nancy says she has done to your mother. It put you in a funny position, too. You couldn’t turn her out, though I think, myself, that that’s what ought to have been done!”
“We couldn’t do that, Rita,” laughed Ann. “People can’t act like ‘fish-wives’ in a fight. Can you imagine Mother’s doing anything of the sort?”
“Indeed I could not! And to be taken advantage of that way! If anything happens, we know what we know out here about the Sterling family!”
“I hope that it’s good, Rita.”
“It most certainly is!”
“Nothing is going to ‘happen,’ Rita. Grandmother knows us by this time. But you see, Rita, Aunt Sue is Grandmother’s daughter and Mother’s own sister. So it would make Mother feel bad to have any gossip about it out here.”
“You are right, Ann, and you need not warn me. I’ll not say a word outside of the family. And yet, Ann, Mrs. Tyson can’t say and do the things she does and have it all kept a secret!”
“I suppose not,” thoughtfully said Ann.
“We all liked that boy of hers, though, who stopped here on his way to your place in the mountains. My, but he is a handsome chap, and with such pleasant ways! Suzanne, too, is a pretty girl and pleasant for the way she’s been spoiled.”
It was characteristic of Mrs. Sterling’s reserve that she had not told Ann what took place when her sister first made her appearance at the ranch. “What did you say to her, Daddy?” Ann had asked her father, but her father passed the matter over lightly. “Very politely, Ann,” he replied, “I said to her frankly what your mother could not say, in regard to the openness of future relations and our regret that things had been misrepresented in the past, with the hope that such methods would not be used again. Then I made her welcome at the ranch and got out as quickly as I could!”
Time was all too short for all that had to be done before Ann started in on her sophomore year at school. Mrs. Sterling was tired with the strain which she had been under while her sister was there. “Never mind, Ann,” she said. “Leave all the traps that need mending behind. Perhaps we’ll have more time another summer. Your frocks are in pretty good condition and we shall have time to buy what is necessary in the East before school begins.”
“Am I going with you to Grandmother’s before school begins?” Ann joyously asked.
“Indeed you are. I would not appear there without you for anything,” her mother replied with a9 whimsical smile. “I need your courage to sustain me, little daughter, since your father is not going East with us. Just think, Ann, how many years it has been!” Mrs. Sterling looked away toward the distant mountains with a sad expression.
“See here, Mother, you are to be happy, not sad, to think about going back. Suppose Aunt Sue is there to spoil it a little. She hasn’t a bit more right there than you. I’m afraid that you have what Katherine says her father calls an ‘inferiority complex,’ when you think of your older sister. Don’t let her browbeat you, little mudder! She thinks that she is always right, or pretends to think it, and wants to run the universe. I believe that you do need your little old Ann to keep up your spirits!”
“Indeed I do, ‘Gentle Hands,’ but I am not without some spirit, my little daughter. Nobody there shall know what I feel.”
“Good. And don’t feel that you are ‘company’ there, Mother. Since Aunt Sue runs it all, I have always felt that way, but now it seems as if things ought to be different, don’t you think so?”
“We shall be Mother’s guests, of course. Yet, Ann, things cannot be changed all in a minute,—even if my mother were a younger woman, you know, able to take charge of a big establishment like that. I shall most certainly not place myself in opposition to my sister in regard to household affairs. They are not of enough importance.10 Mother is thinking matters over. Unless your Aunt Sue persists in making trouble, and I think that she has had a lesson in that respect, there will be little change, unless it is as regards financial affairs. Mother intends to look into that, she says. If they are not straight, it may make a difference.”
“I see,” said Ann. “Whatever happens, Mother, you can count on me not to embarrass you by making any trouble. I’ll be peaceful unless attacked!” Ann was laughing now.
“No aggressive warfare?”
“Exactly, Mother, and yet I am ready to defend you and Grandmother to the last gasp!”
“My Montana heroine!” laughed her mother, falling into Ann’s melodramatic mood. “Very good. I told you that I would not go without you, you see.”
Categories: English Literature