Read an Excerpt
THERE ARE any number of villages, small towns, and even cities of some size to which no one ever goes except on purpose. There are only travelers on business of one sort or another, personal or professional, who arrive without any inclination to dally, or to dawdle, or to daydream. And yet, almost always in these obscure precincts there is a fine grassy park, a statue, perhaps, and benches placed under tall old spreading trees and planted around with unexceptional seasonal flowers, petunias or geraniums or chrysanthemums in all likelihood, or possibly no more than a tidy patch of English ivy. A good many visitors have sat on such benches for a moment or two, under no burden to take account of their surroundings, under no obligation to enjoy themselves. A stranger to such a place may settle for longer than intended, losing track of the time altogether slouching a bit against the wooden slats, stretching an arm along the back of the bench, and enjoying the sun on a nice day, comfortably oblivious to passersby and unself-consciously relaxed without assuming the covertly alert, defensive, nearly apologetic posture of a tourist.
By and large these towns are middling to small, and are never on either coast or even any famous body of water, such as a good-sized lake or major river. These are communities that lie geographically and culturally in unremarkable locales: no towering mountains, no breathtaking sweep of deep valleys, no overwhelming or catastrophic history particular only to that place. In fact, with only a few exceptions, these unrenowned districts are all villages, towns, or small cities exactly like Washburn, Ohio, about which people are incurious, requiring only the information that it is approximately forty-five miles east of Columbus.
As it happens, Monument Square in the town of Washburn is not four sided but hexagonal and was a gift to the city from the Washburn Ladies Monument Society, ceded to the town simultaneously at the unveiling and dedication of the Civil War monument on July 4, 1877. The monument itself is a life-size statue of a Union soldier at parade rest, gazing southward from his perch atop a thirty foot fluted granite column, the pediment of which is over twelve feet high. Altogether the monument stands nearly fifty feet, and on its west face is the inscription:
OUR COUNTRY!BY THAT DREAD NAMEWE WAVE THE SWORD ON HIGH,AND SWEAR FOR HER TO LIVEFOR HER TO DIE.-Campbell
Within a year of the dedication ceremony the common idea among the citizens of Washburn was that the stonecutterimported all the way from Philadelphia, hurrying the work, eager to catch the train, and possibly with a few too many glasses of beer under his belthad chiseled into that smooth granite the mistake "dread name" as opposed to "dear name."
In the spring of 1882, Leo Scofield, soon after he and his brothers had cleared the woods and begun construction of their houses on the north side of the square, had written to Mrs. Dowd, who commissioned the statue but who had moved back to Philadelphia soon after its unveiling, to inquire if he might have the mistaken inscription altered at his own expense. He had attempted to cast his offer along the lines of being an act of gratitude for her generous gift, but Leo was only thirty-one years old then, a young man still, without much good sense. He was enormously pleased by the largesse of his ideawhich had occurred to him one day out of the blueand delighted that he finally had the wherewithal to make such an offer. A slightly self-congratulatory air tinged the tactlessly exuberant wording of his letter, and he was brought up short by her reply:
...furthermore, I shall arrange to have the statue removed piece by piece if need be, as it is I who pays out the money each year for its upkeep, should the inscription in any way be altered. I never shall believe in all the days left to me that the preservation of the Union was worth the price of the good life of my dear husband, Colonel Marcus Dowd, who left his post as President of Harcourt Lees College to head Company A. He died at Petersburg. The statue was undertaken at my instigation only as an honor to him. I shall live with nothing more than despair and contempt for this Union and Mr. Lincoln all the rest of my life. As my children do not share my sentiments in every respect, however, I have made arrangements to fund the maintenance of the monument and the fenced area of its surround. I have engaged a Mr. Olwin Grant who lives out Coshocton Road as a caretaker, and any further questions you may address to him. I implore you, Mr. Scofield, not to raise this matter to me again.
Leo spent several long evenings sitting in the square, contemplating that handsome statue, which towered over the young trees installed by the Marshal County Ladies Garden Club. It was his first inkling of the fickleness of legend, the ease with which one is misled by myth. He wrote a letter of deep and sincere apology but did not hear again from Mrs. Marcus Dowd, nor had he expected to.
He was young and perhaps still a little brash, but he was not an insensitive man, and he applied this glimpse of the possible effect of grief to his own circumstances, admonishing himself to take all the good fortune of his business and his marriage much less for granted. The spirit of expansiveness that had characterized his outlook up until the receipt of that letter was checked somewhat over the year that followed, and as his business ventures grew increasingly complicated, as his house took shape day by day, as his infatuation with his new wife inevitably grew more complex and profound, he became a man of a fairly solemn nature. The three houses built just north of Monument Square in the early 1880s for Leo, John, and George Scofield fronted on a semicircular drive and shallow common ground that in the summer became a crescent of feathery grass that bent in bright green ripples across the lawn in the slightest breeze. In time the grass at the inner curve of the drive gave way to a golden velvet moss under the elms as the trees matured and produced heavy shade all summer long.
The houses were comfortable though not grand. They were well built and nicely spaced, one from the other, and for a number of years those three south-facing houses marked the northernmost edge of the town of Washburn, Ohio. During the several years the houses were under construction, and long after, the residential property of those three brothers was known all over town simply as Scofields, whereas the twenty-odd buildings comprising the flourishing engine-manufacturing business of Scofields & Company, begun as no more than a foundry in 1830 by Leo's grandfather, had for some time been referred to merely as the Company.
The second Sunday of September 1888, on either side of a muddy wagon track that led into the east yard of his new house, Leo Scofield, at age thirty-seven, planted eight pairs of cultivated catalpa saplings. Six days later, on Saturday the fifteenth, there occurred the unusual incident of the birthsall within a twelve-hour spanof his first and his brother John's second childa daughter and son respectivelyand of the third child of Daniel Butler, a good friend and pastor of the Methodist church. John and Lillian Scofield's first child, Harold, born in 1883, had died before he was a year old, so the Scofields' compound had been childless for some time.
Some years earlier Leo had given up the idea that he and his wife, Audra, would have children. His wife was twenty-nine years old with this fourth pregnancy, and through the early months they both had dreaded and expected another miscarriage. They had been married for eight years when Lily was born. The planting of those young catalpa trees was only a coincidence, of course; Leo hadn't intended any sort of commemoration, but in spite of himself he developed a superstitious interest in the welfare of those trees. He had started them himself from seed six years earlier, and they were just barely established enough to transplant. Several days after his daughter's birth, when it was clear she and his wife and the other mothers and babies were thriving, his brother John and he walked the lane he had created, staking the saplings when necessary to guide them straight.
"And on the ides of the month, John," Leo said. "It's an amazing thing! All the Scofields are born on the ides of the month." Leo's birthday was March fifteenth, and his youngest brother George's was the fifteenth of October. John's birthday was February fifth, when he would turn thirty.
"Well, but this is September, Leo. The ides of the month was on Thursday. On the thirteenth, this month." But Leo wasn't paying close attention, and John himself, not born on the ides, was just as happy to be a little disburdened of "Scofieldness." He followed along, helping his brother. "But this is really something, isn't it, Leo?" John said. "Here we are. Two papas. Only three days ago, Leothree days ago!we were...fancy-free. We were just not papas."
Leo glanced sharply at John but didn't reply for a moment. John was a tall, elegant figure among the little sloping trees, which were leaning this way and that. Leo himself was one of those men no more than average height who are somehow imposing because they possess an inherent certainty, a lack of hesitancy, an easy assumption of authority. "No, you're right about that, John. You're right about that. Three days ago we were only two husbands."
John had squatted to secure the burlap around the spindly trunk of one of those young trees, and he aimed a considering look Leo's way and finally grinned, acknowledging the edge of chastisement in his brother's voice and feeling a genuine joyousness spike through him at all his sudden connection to the wide world. "Ah, Leo. Don't you think this'll make a good husband of me? Don't you imagine I get a clean slate now? The first baby... Leo, that nearly killed Lillian. And me, too." John's ebullience abruptly fell away. "But Lillian was just... It was like she had broken. That was it. That was what she must have been feeling," he mused. "But I was so stupid. I was just scared to death. I didn't know what it took... That poor little boy. Poor Harold! I couldn't do anything to help, though, Leo! It nearly drove me crazy to see Lillian so sad.
"But this one's so.... he's so lively, Leo. Why, he hardly stays still a minute. Healthy as a horse! And I haven't even raised a glass to toast their health. I haven't touched a drop, Leo. And I won't. I won't." Then John fell back into his usual wry tone, which signified that it was at the listener's own peril to take him entirely seriously. "I'll start all over with the lovely Lillian. And I can, you know. Because at least she loves me more than you do," he said, but with a lilting, teasing cadence. Leo watched John a moment as he stooped to hammer in a stake at an angle that would pull the rope tight, and he thought that even in so small a task his brother was graceful in the uncommon way with which he was at ease in his own body. "There isn't anyone in the world who doesn't love you, John. But that might not be such a good thing," he said, and he was quite serious.
"You're harder on me than anyone, Leo. Even Dan Butler's not so stern!" John straightened up and exhaled a short laugh, leaning his head back to take in the pale sky. "You'll have to go a little easy on me, you know. I've got to get used to it, still! It's wonderful that they're all healthy. As strong as can be. Lillian... and Audra and Martha Butler... everyone doing so well. All of them," he said. "I can hardly believe it!" They moved along, carefully wrapping the tender trunks before they looped and staked the guide ropes.
Leo had left the planting late because it had been an edgy summer and so dry that he had to haul water until the middle of November to irrigate that double row of saplings. The memory of June, July, and August merged into a blur of heat. The days had stretched out dry and hot, eventually falling into unsettling yellow green evenings preceding night after night of crackling thunder and hailstorms that lingered over the town with great bluster but produced very little measurable rainfall.
It had been a season that was not much good for planting, and a season that had produced a sort of communal unease, transforming the nearly simultaneous births in mid-September of Lillian Marshal Scofield, Warren Leonard Scofield, and Robert Crane Butler into an event that seemed less remarkable than inevitable. And the unwavering alliance of those three children took on the same quality of inevitability. Lily and Robert and Warren were rarely apart from one another during all the waking hours of their early youth.
But during the first months following his daughter's birth, when the heat finally loosened its grip and September led into one of those autumns of rare clarity in which everything seems to be in perfect balance, Leo made grand plans for his garden. In late November he stood in the wagon yard on a chilly but glorious day so dazzlingly clear that the air itself was charged with a blue translucent brilliance. He stood still and imagined the plot transformed. He became lost in the idea of abundant flowers, blooming bushes, towering trees.
The catalpas stood in fragile regulation, spare sticks once their leaves had dropped. They looked forlornly tenuous on the clear-cut acreage where the Scofield brothers had built their three houses. But by the time Lily was seven months old the following spring and those shoulder-high saplings finally budded and then leafed out, Leo privately exulted at their survival of the unusually brutal, snowless winter.
Leo Scofield was a good businessman, always a little skeptical, a trifle suspicious by nature. But he wasn't at all prone to melancholy; his brooding followed a more pragmatic course he might fret persistently, for instance, about a minor innovation to a Scofield engine or an antiquated valve design. But it was quite in character, in late April of 1889, when he was a year closer to forty years old than to thirty-five, that the notion of the future flying toward him was only exhilarating. He wasn't at all troubled by the idea of his own mortality. He walked the rutted track between those newly planted trees and imagined his daughter's wedding procession making its way along a raked gravel avenue beneath the catalpas' eventual leafy canopy under an overarching clear blue sky.
And during the years of Lily's childhood it was a great pleasure for him on the hottest summer days to sit in his fledgling garden, stunned by the Ohio heat and the salty yellow scent of cut grass, with her light, fluting voice ringing out above her playmates' as she directed her cousin, Warren, and little Robert Butler in some game she had devised.
Leo was continually surprised by and enamored of the solace of the domesticity he had happened into, and in a span of twenty years he transformed that scrubby patch of land into his idea of a replica of an English garden made up entirely of plants native to Ohio. The catalpa trees, however, didn't mature exactly as he had hoped. In fact, he realized three years too late that he had intended to plant an avenue of yellow poplars stately, flowering trees known locally as tulip trees. But when he had firmly fixed on the idea of his garden, had planned the east yard entrance, and had described the tree he had in mind, asking around town where he might find it, it was probably in the description of the tree's flowers that he had gone wrong. Leo never gave up the private notion, however, that the misinformation he had received was purposeful, that there might be someone in the world who was amused at his expense, and with solicitous pruning he coaxed the catalpas to assume a more elegant shape than was their unbridled inclination.
As the years passed, Leo came to like the pungency of a blooming catalpa, which was heavily sweet but elusive at a distance, drifting over the garden unexpectedly. He admired the tree's soft green, heart-shaped leaves, its abundantly frilled flowers, as showy as a flock of tropical birds in the rolling landscape of central Ohio. Daniel Butler, who had done missionary work in Brazil and Cuba, said that in midsummer, when the vining trumpet creeper overran the arbor, dripping with deep-throated red-orange blossoms, the entire garden took on a look of the tropics. Leo had nurtured that flowering vine from a single cutting he had taken from a plant growing on a pasture fence just a slip of stem cut on the diagonal and wrapped in a handkerchief he had moistened in the ditch alongside the road. The afternoon he had rounded a bend and come upon the glorious trumpet vine cascading over an unpainted board fence, he had paused for a long time before he had stooped to dampen his clean handkerchief in the brackish water. He was careful of his dignity, and his fascination with and cultivation of his flower garden was the only frivolity he allowed himself.
Even though Leo had forced the sturdy trunks of the catalpas to extend straight up about nine feet before they branched, each tree assumed the self-contained shape of a softened, rounded obelisk. Their crowns didn't form the leafy vault he had hoped forthe branches didn't arch, didn't intermingle overhead, really, as he had envisioned. And each year, when the catalpas' fringed and ruffling flowers bloomed and produced their startlingly phallic, cigar-brown fruit, and when those flowers began to shed in stringy drifts of petals and oily pollen so that guests arrived showered with residue from the burgeoning branches, Audra would declare that the trees should be taken out.
"They're a nuisance, Leo. I always think that if you want a flowering tree you can't go wrong with a dogwood. Dogwoods won't get so tall, of course, but they are such beautiful trees. And more restrained when they're in bloom. Oh, and sometimes in the spring when the dogwoods bloom early, it looks to me like the whole tree has burst into white lace." But the catalpa trees remained, and Leo's garden and the wide yards of Scofields became the geographical context of the childhood of each of those three children born coincidentally on September 15, 1888.
Robert Butler was a ruddy, brown-haired child, and Warren Scofield, too, was sturdy and round limbed. They were little boys who seemed all of a piece, whereas Lily's pale, attenuated arms and legs, her fragile neck, her knobby wrists and ankles seemed flimsy, as if, in her always hectic activity, she might fly apart, although for a long time it was clearly Lily who was the center and star of that inseparable threesome. At four or five or six years old, Robert wouldn't have known how to articulate impression that sometimes, in the blue or brassy light of any given day, a word Lily spokejust the plain, flat sound of it exploded cleanly into the moment, like a brilliant asterisk glinting through the atmosphere. Nor could he have explained that occasionally Lily's movements, a sweep of her arm, an abrupt turning of her head, would break through some ordinary instant with a flicker of blank white clarity.
And, of course, Robert had no way to know that his was a kind of perception lost to adults and older children. His mother was happier to see him only in Warren's company. Mrs. Butler didn't dislike Lily; it was only that it gave her a sense of satisfaction to see those two healthy boys absorbed entirely in the company of each other. Robert and Warren appeared to strike a natural balance between them that was disturbed when little Lily was with them, directing them to do this or that, dreaming up fantastic games with evolving rules that were played out for days at a time.
One summer afternoon Mrs. Butler was in the yard of the parsonage cutting flowers for a bouquet and inspecting the rose bushes for disease when the three children came tearing through the yard brandishing sticks, their heads wrapped turbanlike in white damask napkins, with Lily bringing up the rear, urging the boys on in her high-pitched voice. "Gallop, Warren! Gallop, Robert! We must not let them escape! We must run! We must run like the wind!"
Martha Butler's good mood was spoiled as she watched them race across the lawn and down the slope toward the creek. When she mentioned it to her husband that eveningmentioned that the two little boys never had a chance to play together without Lilyhe wasn't interested, said he couldn't seewhat difference it made. And Martha herself couldn't puzzle out her objection, couldn't understand why their threesomeness disturbed her. "It isn't natural, somehow, Daniel," she said to her husband. "Three never works out. There's always someone left out. Though, I don't know, not with those three....But it doesn't seem at all right... not healthy in some way. Well, I just don't know." And she let the subject drop.
But Robert's mother's censure emanating from the vicinity of the rosebushes that afternoon had overtaken and enveloped Lily as she herded their band onward, and she hesitated at the edge of the creek while the boys forged ahead. She was stricken for the first time in her life with self-consciousness. She unwrapped the napkin from around her head and was never again able to lose herself entirely in an imagined universe. She sometimes cringed in embarrassment when she remembered urging Robert and Warren to "run like the wind." She had only been eight years old, but for the rest of her life she could not forgive herself that moment of blatant melodrama.
Lily and Warren's uncle George returned from a business trip to New York one year with a remarkably fine set of marionette puppets for his niece and nephew's tenth birthday. George was an elusive and therefore romantic figure to the children and such a favorite of their parents because of his various endearing eccentricities that neither Leo and Audra nor Warren's parents, John and Lillian, let him know that such intricate toys were far too complicated for Lily and Warren. But as it turned out, the marionettes were immediately popular with Lily and Warren and Robert, too, and for the next five years or so they mounted numerous and increasingly elaborate shows. Robert wrote the plays, Warren took on the most difficult roles, and Lily kept everything organized and filled in wherever she was needed. All during their growing up, Lily relieved Robert and Warren of the effort of choreographing their own childhoods. Lily was forever keeping them from careening off on some tangent or another. It was clear to her that without her guidance they would not progress. And she loved Robert Butler always and thought of herself as one half of the whole of herself and her cousin Warren.
For Warren's part, his whole idea of himself until he was about eleven years old was as one third of this triumvirate. Answering Mrs. Butler's question, for instance, as to what the three of them had been up to all day, he knew instinctively to turn and weave all their disparate activities into a narrative that satisfied adults. Although he often interchanged the actions of any one of their threesome with those of another, he wasn't even aware of it; he was only reacting to some parent's slight uneasiness only shifting the details of the truth to ensure serenity all around.
One afternoon when the three of them arrived at Robert's house dripping wet, Warren gave an enthusiastic account of his failed plan to build a fort and laboratory in the big low-branching cherry tree over the horse pond.
"A laboratory! Well, a laboratory. That's where so many of my canning jars have disappeared to, I guess!" Mrs. Butler said, but her initial alarm at the sight of them had softened. Later Robert reminded Warren that the whole thing had been Lily's idea. Robert was surprised that Warren had taken the credit, but Warren only looked at Robert, perplexed. Warren knew intuitively that Robert's mother would never have been pleased with the actual account of their afternoon's enterprise. Lily was their inspiration; Robert was their conscience; Warren was their ambassador to the outside world. So deeply was each child connected to the other two that each one's loyalty was unconsidered, their mutual devotion fundamental.
But as they grew older, and by the time they were putting on their puppet shows for children's birthdays and at the county fair, Robert himself was unable to recall or name the quicksilver charisma Lily possessed that had captured his sensibilities. As an adult, whenever he thought back about his childhood, he remembered Lily always in motion, full to the brim with ideas and energy, but he lost the ability to remember the incandescence with which she had imbued the long hours of his early days. And Warren, too, as he grew older, translated all the emotion of their passionate connection into a manageable version of nothing more than a warm childhood friendship. Only Lily, left behind at the age of twelve when the boys went off to boarding school, understood that it was she alone who was likely to lose the underpinnings of the pleasure of her life, and she was single-minded in her determination that nothing of the sort would happen.
Lillian Marshal Scofield and Robert Crane Butler were married in her father's garden in an extravagant ceremony on a very hot Saturday in the summer of 1913. In spite of the heat and a long dry spell that caused the broad catalpa leaves to lose their lazy flutter, to pucker and droop a bit; in spite of a succession of cloudless, dusty days that dulled the glisten of all the foliage in the garden, the wedding was as splendid as Leo Scofield had hoped it would be.
There is a way in which a town the size of Washburn, Ohio, with perhaps six thousand residents, comes to a collective judgment, and communally the town had become fond of Lily, who had been in residence all year round when she attended the Linus Gilchrest Institute for Girls. She was among them as she gradually lost her childhood look of frailty and took on a wiry athleticism. Nevertheless, even during her late adolescence, Lily was eclipsed by the celebrated beauty of her mother and auntthe former Marshal sistersand by her distinguished and handsome father, her two tall, striking uncles, and especially by her constant summer companions, Robert Butler and her astonishingly good-looking cousin Warren.
No one knew how or why Lily Scofield and Robert Butler decided, in December of 1912, that they would marry the following summer when he returned from New England, where he had gone to college. He had stayed on as an instructor at Harvard to continue his studies and to teach for several academic years. No one knew the details, but, on the other hand, no one was particularly surprised. Lily had gone east to college, too, to Mount Holyoke in western Massachusetts, but had been at home again for almost three years, courted by several hopeful suitors, and she was nearly twenty-five years old.
In fact, Robert had come home for a week that Christmas, and one morning he asked Lily to come along with him to Stradler's Men's Clothiers and help him select a gift for his father. He wanted to ask her advice about the right tack to take with a young woman he had seen a good deal of in Cambridge who was his good friend David Musgrave's sister. The weather was crisp but not cold for December, and Lily had on a dark green suit and a brimmed hat that dipped over her face so that Robert could only catch glimpses of her expression. She carried a small, sleek brown muff from which she withdrew one hand or the other to illustrate some point. The muff intrigued him, with Lily's pretty hands plunged into the brown fur, and then he caught sight of her wide orange-brown eyes under the hat brim and stopped still, putting his hand on her arm to make her hesitate. She turned back to glance at him, perplexed, peering out from under her dark, winged Scofield brows, which were so striking in contrast to the puff of bright blond Scofield hair beneath her hat. She was telling Robert all about her father and mother's recent trip to Chicago, where everything had gone amiss.
But Robert interrupted her. "Ah, well, Lily. Your father wouldn't care if he was stranded in the middle of a desert as long as your mother was with him. I've never known a man to admire his wife as much as your father admires your mother," Robert said. "With plenty of reason, of course," he added. "But I don't know when I've ever been in his company for very long without hearing him talk of those 'Marshal girls.' Of the day he first met your mother. Their 'blue gaze,' he calls it. I've always remembered that phrase."
Claire Musgrave had wide, sweet blue eyes. But as he gazed at Lily it suddenly seemed to him that there was no glance more engaging than Lily's warm, golden brown consideration. He was disconcerted for a moment thinking of himself and Claire Musgrave closed away together in a tall house somewhere in Cambridge or Boston while Lily carried on, both participating in and wryly observing the familiar life around her. He stood there with Lily and all at once found himself bereft at the idea of being always away from her.
"Why, Lily," he said, "Lily? I wonder if you'd ever think of marrying me?" Lily's expression was no longer vexed; she had assumed a placid look of waiting as she gave him her full attention. She wasn't exactly assessing him, but he saw that she was waiting to hear more. He was still catching up to what he had already said. He hadn't had any idea that he was going to ask Lily to marry him, although he didn't have a single qualm now that the words had been said. In fact, all the disparities and loose ends of his life suddenly seemed to cohere and his world to settle into its proper orbit.
"You're the smartest girl I know, Lily," he went on, in an attempt to explain. "It's not long before you realize that the world's full of pretty girls. Everyone I knew at school seemed to have a sister. A pretty cousin... but none with a mind like yours. Or your sense of... honor. In all the time I've known youwell, my whole lifI've never heard you say an unkind thing about a single person! You'd be surprised to hear a girl say terrible things about someone who's supposed to be her dearest friend." But Lily still stood quietly, looking at him with a mildly curious expression, so he tried to make it clear even to himself.
"There's no other girl I've ever met who I could ever care so much about. I must have always been in love with you." And though he was startled to hear himself say it he knew at once that it was the truthso vigorous and absolute that suddenly the possibility of her refusal became dreadful. "I don't know that I'd ever be happy if I thought I'd go through my whole life and you wouldn't be with me. I think that all my life... Well, I can't imagine there would ever in the world be anyone else I would ask to marry me."
Lily continued to gaze at him in frank appraisal of his earnest brown head, his pleasant and familiar face. She tucked her arm through his and moved them along down Church Street toward Stradler's clothing store. "Of course I'll marry you, Robert. I've always thought I would."
In May of 1913, Robert returned from Boston, and, in late June, Warren traveled back from a branch office of Scofields & Company in Pennsylvania to serve as Robert's best man. On the afternoon of Saturday, June 28, Warren stood next to the groom in the oppressive two o'clock heat of Leo Scofield's garden and looked on placidly with a polite air of expectation.
Lily's mother had arranged for the prelude and wedding music to be performed by a string quartet and a singer from the College of Music of Cincinnati, and although the strings were muted by the heat, the soprano's voice was vivid. Lily's five attendants and the two flower girls, sprinkling rose petals from a basket they carried between them, made their way along the shady aisle beneath those tall trees and emerged blinking in the sudden dazzle of sunlight in the garden, proceeding in traditional hesitation step along the freshly raked gravel path dividing the rows and rows of chairs set out upon the grass.
One by one they arranged themselves across from the groomsmen on the other side of the trellised arbor where huge, clumsy-seeming bumblebees drank from the throats of the trumpet flowers, causing a little uneasiness among the brides-maids. Robert's father stood directly beneath the arbor, smiling solemnly, ignoring the bees, and waited to perform the marriage ceremony.
But when Lily emerged on Leo's arm from the shadows of the fervidly blooming catalpa trees, Warren startled visibly, lifting his hand and splaying his fingers across his chest. His gesture expressed not only surprise but dismay, and it appeared to a few of the onlookers that Warren hadn't believed until that moment that it was a marriage that was about to take place. It caught the attention of the assembled guests particularly, of course, because Warren was playing out a role that generally fell to the groom. It was Robert, though, who grasped Warren's arm to steady him. Nevertheless, just for a moment Warren's attitude was stripped bare of any pretense, as if he were a man who had lost any possibility of comfort in the world.
Lily saw nothing of that momentary drama. But Warren had been taken unawares by this clear bit of evidence that his youth was over. That he and Robert and Lily had become adults. It was the moment when he understood for the first timegrasped the clean, severe truth of the factthat the three of them had become who they had become, and from now on the association of their youth would be relegated to nostalgic musings and remembrances. It was the first moment that Warren looked back at the years of his childhood and thought that they seemed to have flown by so fast.
Lily stepped from the filtered light into the blinding sunshine, her hand resting lightly on Leo Scofield's arm, so that she paused for a moment when he did while he waited to get his bearings in the bright day. For just an instant while she hesitated alongside her father she had a cursory glimpse of the waiting bridal party. She caught the gleam of her cousin Warren's fair hair in juxtaposition to Robert's darker head, and a hazy, amorphous happiness clarified itself in one swift thought before she stepped forward once again: Here we are together. The three of us. Here we are again at last. And then she remembered to move forward with care in order to accommodate her heavy satin train. She considered the next step and then the next, her mind fully concentrated on her progress. But in those few seconds, that fragmentary passage of time, she had satisfied herself that Robert Butler and Warren Scofield were both hers once again and ever after. And everyone looking on had seenjust during that tiny hesitation as she had stepped from the shadows into the sudden, shimmering, metallic illumination, in her pale dress and with her yellow hairthat Lily was as shocking and slender and brilliant with potential as the blade of a knife.
It was one of those singular moments that is seared into a collective sensibility. In that instant when simultaneously Lily stepped into the garden on her father's arm and Warren Scofield clutched his heart, there was a redefinition of Lily. That day in 1913, at just a little past two o'clock in the afternoon, on Saturday, June 28, Lily accumulated real consequence in the town of Washburn. Within the blink of an eye she acquired a reputation for possessing unparalleled charm and remarkable, if unconventional, beauty. It was the very same moment, of course, that Warren Scofield was privately acknowledged by many of the wedding guests to have suffered a broken heart.
Lily and Robert traveled east for their wedding trip. Lily wanted to go to the galleries and museums in New York, where she had missed the sensational opening of the Armory Show in February. Several of her friends who lived in New York had written her about it, and Robert had thought it was astonishing. They spent several days in South Hadley, Massachusetts, visiting friends and teachers of Lily's, and then they went on to Boston so Lily could meet some of Robert's friends she didn't yet know.
Robert's circle of Harvard friends, an educated but unknowingly provincial bunch, sitting around a table at Madson's in Cambridge, listening to Lily and watching her small, slender hands fly as she spoke, eagerly promised to visit Robert and Lily in Washburn once they were settled. Robert had been offered and had accepted a teaching position in the English department at Harcourt Lees college. Robert's friendsjust like the girls who first encountered Lily at Mount Holyokewere surprised to find themselves mesmerized by this glittery-bright girl from the middle of nowhere, and they inevitably concluded that Ohio must be a far more sophisticated and delightful place than they had imagined.
Three weeks after their departure, Robert and Lily wired Warren. They sent the telegram the morning of the day they took the Boston packet to Tenants Harbor, Maine. The family of Lily's maid of honor, Marjorie Hockett, who was Lily's dearest friend from college, had offered the newlyweds the use of their empty farmhouse through the end of August. The note Lily and Robert sent was a clever sort of message:
HAVE TOO MUCH FUN STOP YOU MUST USE SOME UP STOP DO NOT HESITATE STOP WE ARE LOST STOP
It bore Lily's stamp of airy playfulness, and she later claimed that she had had her fill of culture and was sure that Robert would want more company than she was interested in providing to investigate the natural wonders of the Maine coast. Of course she didn't sayeven to herself in any organized waythat she had been taken aback by Robert's passionate interest in her. She was flattered, and sometimes taken by surprise by simple physical pleasure, but by and large she found so much attention a little tedious, often absurd. It wasn't entirely unlike the one time at Mount Holyoke that Marjorie Hockett had leaned overas they sat on Lily's bed studyingand kissed Lily lightly on the neck just behind her ear. A sizzling sort of thrill had shot through Lily, and she turned her head toward Marjorie, who kissed her lips very gently. But all of a sudden Lily had thought: What's this? For goodness sake! This is only Marjorie!
With Robert she often had to battle down the same notion, and she sometimes thought she would enjoy all of lovemaking much more if she were with an utter stranger. Familiarity bred in Lily a peculiar kind of self-consciousness. But she never let these thoughts coalesce; she never let them come into sharp focus. And she really did believe Robert would enjoy Warren's company. She thought it would be a good thing to have Warren among them. It would be a distraction, and Warren would love to go along with Robert for all the exploring he wanted to do. Also, Lily had great hopes of Warren and Marjorie getting to know each other even better. They had enjoyed each other's company during all the business of the wedding.
As she had explained to Robert's friends, and as she declared with slight variations when she and Robert returned to Ohio, "I love a game of golf, you know. Or tennis or croquet. Any sort of cards. Oh, I'll play just about anything. It doesn't matter to me if I'm any good at it. I like almost any sort of competition. But I don't think I possess a single bit of adventurousness," she said of herself ruefully.
"If it had been up to me I'd still be standing on my one wretched square foot of earth somewhere in England, struggling to subsist on whatever pitiful things I could coax from the kitchen garden. I've always liked the sound of thata kitchen gardenand I'm going to be sure to have one of my own. Well! I probably already do. If there's a garden to be planted, I'm sure my father will have done it!" This bit was left out in her retelling back home in Washburn, but she had made great characters of her delightful parents in the little stories she spun out for her school friends and any of Robert's acquaintances who gathered around the couple during their stay in Boston.
When Lily and Robert and Warren returned to Washburn the first week of September, the three of them were filled with amusing anecdotes, sitting out in Leo's garden, where Lily and her mother had strung Japanese lanterns. Once back home, Lily merely turned the tables and with quick, clever verbal twists managed to portray even the least interesting of their East Coast friends as wonderful characters, full of endearing idiosyncrasies. Lily told a good tale, and Robert always sat looking on with a little smile of contentment.
She claimed to her family and friends in Ohio that she couldn't have endured alone so much nature as they encountered in Maine. She knew Robert would want company, she said, on his hikes and outings, but she wanted to enjoy the sceneryat least when Marjorie Hockett visitedfrom the comfort of a chair set out under the trees. The Hocketts lived nearby, in a handsome old house overlooking the village and harbor of Port Clyde, where Lily had visited them several times during her years at Mount Holyoke.
"Oh, no! I would never have made an explorer," she insisted when her Washburn friends protested that they didn't know anyone more likely than she to relish a hike through the wilderness, a chance to discover a mysterious cove, some out-of-the-way place. "I might have been quite shocking, say, insisting on playing polohaving a pony of my own." And the company in the garden laughed at the idea of tiny little Lily on some great horse, swinging a huge mallet about determinedly, with that peculiar air of insistence with which she went at any game.
"Or taking a turn at cricket," she added, to further laughter.
"I can't ever resist trying something if there's any chance in the world that I might win. But I'd never have had the courage to venture into foreign territory. You know, I think it would be really frightening not to know the country. The customs and...well, it would be tedious, too. But anyway, I simply know I wouldn't have the patience or the forbearance or the courage. If I'd been born whenever the first Marshals emigrated I would have had to be orphaned. Staying behind and begging crusts of bread in the street. I wouldn't ever have set foot on any one of those little ships."
Lily was cheerfully self-deprecating. Everyone who knew her became fondly possessive of the shortcomings she found in herself, translated as they were into her own particular and amusing eccentricities, which she confided unabashedly and with charming chagrin. Everyone but her uncle John, who had never been fond of his brother's daughter. Who always said to his wife or to Warren that she reminded him of nothing so much as a scrawny hen that won't lay. "Pecking about and squawking, but not worth the feed it takes to keep her."
It was one of the few provocations that elicited a sharp rebuke from Lillian Scofield, whose namesake Lily was. "I won't have you say such a thing! Not another word!" Lillian never did realize that when she faced her husband down he backed off, just as he always did regarding his niece.
"Well, Lillian! Of the three of them ...Even you've got to admit she's the runt of that litter, and..."
"I'll leave the room! I really will not hear another word of this, Mr. Scofield! You're speaking unkindly of someone very dear to me....Why, John! She's my namesake! She's Audra's daughter. She might just as well be my own daughter!"
And Warren would notice that under the force of his mother's genuine pique his father would immediately become his most beguiling, his voice softening into a melodious wheedling. "Ah, my," he would sigh. "Well, Lillian. I suppose I ought to work harder at being a charitable man. But that girl is just slippery....All right. All right. But my lack of...gallantry ...well, it's truly your fault." And he would hunch his shoulders in a shrug of helplessness, hands spread wide apart and palms outward to illustrate the uselessness of any attempt to behave otherwise. "I do have to say that any woman has a hard time winning even a bit of my heart in comparison to you. You haven't changed since the day I met you. Won't you forgive me? Isn't there anyone in my own household who loves me just a little? Unkindplain stupidas I may be?"
Warren hated being in the company of his parents when his father's tone implied an extenuating and intimate connection between them. Lillian Scofield would soften and laugh a little, and Warren would be embarrassed for and even unreasonably angry at his mother, surprised each time at the evidence of her credulity. As an adult, Warren, too, objected to any criticism of Lily, but when he was a little boy it had been impossible for Warren not to be relieved to know his father favored him over his cousin.
Nor did Lily's lighthearted self-incrimination appeal to her mother-in-law, Martha Butler, who, pregnant and frighteningly seasick, had traveled with her husband to Brazil and then Cuba, where he had been entirely ineffective at the mission of founding Methodist schools for girls, but where she had given birth to Robert's two older siblings, both of whom were engaged in similarly unnerving work in South America. She believed but couldn't pin the idea down enough even to mention it to her husbandthat in some way Lily was tossing off her mother-in-law's own desperate housewifery in those hot and foreign places as an unnecessarya foolishsacrifice. She always thought that Lily was making an oblique disparagement, was indirectlyand, of course, unwittinglybelittling her.
"It's amazing to me that I could be even distantly related to someone who knowingly took a risk like that! Just sailing off to who knows where," Lily would carry on, and when the conversation got that far Martha Butler would look down at her hands folded in her lap and find herself restraining tears. "Leaving everything familiar behind. Well! And for that matter, someone who shouldered on even theneven after reaching landto the wilds of Ohio!" Lily hadn't noticed her mother-in-law's dismay, but it was true that Lily had never forgiven Mrs. Butler for the subtle disapproval she had aimed Lily's way when Lily was just a little girl, unable to make a case for herself as a suitable companion for Mrs. Butler's last and favorite child.
It was Warren and Robert who were pressed about details of what became their most popular story, since Lily's role in it seemed so unlikely. The two men had come back from a day-long hike along the rocks, clear around Herring Gut Point to the lighthouse, where they got soaked by spray and had very nearly been trapped by the tide. They had returned to the farmhouse to discover that Lily and Marjorie had spread a cloth in the yard under the trees and set out a picnic of cold fried chicken and a miraculous lemon meringue pie. "Well, we were mighty glad to see that chicken," Robert said. "We were as sorry for ourselves and just as pitiful as two wet dogs."
Warren teasingly described the pie, the height of the meringue, its peaks of browned gloss, the unparalleled lightness and delicacy of the crust. "By then," he said, "we had blueberries coming out of our ears. There's not enough good that can be said for a fine, tart lemon pie." And Lily smiled indulgently. "But Lily never wanted to cook anything in her life," her mother always interjected. "She was such a little tomboy. You mean to tell me Lily dressed that bird? Cut up and fried a chicken? You mean to tell me Lily made a pie?" her mother always asked, in a voice full of disbelief and a kind of tender musing.
The three of them described taking the little white mail boat to Monhegan Island, the beauty of the coast seen from the water. And to Lily's mother's horror, they described what they claimed were extraordinary meals prepared for them by the woman the Hocketts had found at Leo's behest to come in and clean and fix supper for the newlyweds and any guests they might have. Cod tongues and sounds and cheeks, Lily and Robert and Warren insisted, were delicacies indeed, although it made Audra Scofield shiver to hear about it. And finnan haddie. Why, it was wonderfully delicious, smoked over an alder fire under a hogshead. "I don't believe I ever knew there were as many things to do with fish," Robert declared, amused a little at his own landlocked bias.
"And thank goodness for that," his mother-in-law murmured.
One morning Marjorie had arrived in her father's big Regal auto with a picnic basket packed, but she and Lily ended up driving over muddy roads for miles, Lily said, while Warren and Robert devised a game of chess without a chessboard, drawing out and studying each successive move on a piece of paper. "The only time that afternoon I could persuade them to do a bit of sightseeing was when we all had to pile out while one or the other of them fixed a flat tire," Lily said with feigned disgust. "And I've never seen such roads. Why, we drove through small lakes, it seemed to me. But we went along the cove road and ate lunch at a spot where we could watch the beautiful sloops. Oh, they're sleek! They move like arrows through the water. We could see all the way to Matinicus!"
Everyone listened to these stories with real attention. At the heart of the abiding interest in every detail, of course, even among slight acquaintances, was the fact that Warren Scofield had joined the Butlers on their wedding trip, and that neither Robert nor Lily nor Warren ever satisfactorily explained the reason why. The people of Washburn silently pitied poor Warren Scofield, clearly so grieved by the loss of his cousin Lily the love of his lifeto the bed of his closest friend. And it was tacitly agreed that Robert and Lily Butler had pitied him, too, and had offered him the sad consolation of joining them for a visit after they had spent the first ardent weeks of their marriage alone. The situation was still fraught with the possibility of further developments. And trifling as they were, the stories the three of them told were incorporated in the town's communal, unrecorded history as a point of reference, to be reconsidered, if need be, in case anything else in the lives of those three became mysterious. Because Lily and Robert and Warren were young then, and anything might happen.
Copyright © 2001 by Robb Forman Dew