HAY, verbena and mignonette scented the languid July day. Large strawberries, crimsoning through sprigs of mint, floated in a bowl of pale yellow cup on the verandah table: an old Georgian bowl, with complex reflections on polygonal flanks, engraved with the Raycie arms ...
HAY, verbena and mignonette scented the languid July day. Large
strawberries, crimsoning through sprigs of mint, floated in a bowl of
pale yellow cup on the verandah table: an old Georgian bowl, with complex
reflections on polygonal flanks, engraved with the Raycie arms between
lions' heads. Now and again the gentlemen, warned by a menacing hum,
slapped their cheeks, their brows or their bald crowns; but they did so
as furtively as possible, for Mr. Halston Raycie, on whose verandah they
sat, would not admit that there were mosquitoes at High Point.
The strawberries came from Mr. Raycie's kitchen garden; the Georgian bowl
came from his great-grandfather (father of the Signer); the verandah was
that of his country-house, which stood on a height above the Sound, at a
convenient driving distance from his town house in Canal Street.
"Another glass, Commodore," said Mr. Raycie, shaking out a cambric
handkerchief the size of a table-cloth, and applying a corner of it to
his steaming brow.
Mr. Jameson Ledgely smiled and took another glass. He was known as "the
Commodore" among his intimates because of having been in the Navy in his
youth, and having taken part, as a midshipman under Admiral Porter, in
the war of 1812. This jolly sunburnt bachelor, whose face resembled that
of one of the bronze idols he might have brought back with him, had kept
his naval air, though long retired from the service; and his white duck
trousers, his gold-braided cap and shining teeth, still made him look as
if he might be in command of a frigate. Instead of that, he had just
sailed over a party of friends from his own place on the Long Island
shore; and his trim white sloop was now lying in the bay below the point.
The Halston Raycie house overlooked a lawn sloping to the Sound. The lawn
was Mr. Raycie's pride: it was mown with a scythe once a fortnight, and
rolled in the spring by an old white horse specially shod for the
purpose. Below the verandah the turf was broken by three round beds of
rose-geranium, heliotrope and Bengal roses, which Mrs. Raycie tended in
gauntlet gloves, under a small hinged sunshade that folded back on its
carved ivory handle. The house, remodelled and enlarged by Mr. Raycie on
his marriage, had played a part in the Revolutionary war as the settler's
cottage were Benedict Arnold had had his headquarters. A contemporary
print of it hung in Mr. Raycie's study; but no one could have detected
the humble outline of the old house in the majestic stone-coloured
dwelling built of tongued-and-grooved boards, with an angle tower, tall
narrow windows, and a verandah on chamfered posts, that figured so
confidently as a "Tuscan Villa" in Downing's "Landscape Gardening in
America." There was the same difference between the rude lithograph of
the earlier house and the fine steel engraving of its successor (with a
"specimen" weeping beech on the lawn) as between the buildings
themselves. Mr. Raycie had reason to think well of his architect.
He thought well of most things related to himself by ties of blood or
interest. No one had ever been quite sure that he made Mrs. Raycie happy,
but he was known to have the highest opinion of her. So it was with his
daughters, Sarah Anne and Mary Adeline, fresher replicas of the lymphatic
Mrs. Raycie; no one would have sworn that they were quite at ease with
their genial parent, yet every one knew how loud he was in their praises.
But the most remarkable object within the range of Mr. Raycie's
self-approval was his son Lewis. And yet, as Jameson Ledgely, who was
given to speaking his mind, had once observed, you wouldn't have supposed
young Lewis was exactly the kind of craft Halston would have turned out
if he'd had the designing of his son and heir.
Mr. Raycie was a monumental man. His extent in height, width and
thickness was so nearly the same that whichever way he was turned one had
an almost equally broad view of him; and every inch of that mighty
circumference was so exquisitely cared for that to a farmer's eye he
might have suggested a great agricultural estate of which not an acre is
untilled. Even his baldness, which was in proportion to the rest, looked
as if it received a special daily polish; and on a hot day his whole
person was like some wonderful example of the costliest irrigation. There
was so much of him, and he had so many planes, that it was fascinating to
watch each runnel of moisture follow its own particular watershed.