As Jay Gardiner drove down the village street behind his handsome pair of prancing bays, holding the ribbons skillfully over them, all the village maidens promenading up the village street or sitting in groups on the porches turned to look at him.
He was certainly a handsome fellow; there was no denying that. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a fair, handsome face, laughing blue eyes, a crisp, brown, curling mustache, and, what was better still, he was heir to two millions of money.
He was passing the summer at the fashionable little village of Lee, among the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.
That did more to advertise the place than all the glowing newspaper items the proprietor of the Summerset House could have paid for.
Every mother of a marriageable daughter who had heard of the millionaire managed to rake and scrape together enough money to pass the season at Lee.
It was laughable to see how adroitly these mothers managed to secure an introduction, upon one pretext or another, to the handsome millionaire. Then the daughters were duly brought forward and presented.
Every one knew the story of Jay Gardiner. His lady-mother and elder sister lived in what was called the Castle, the grandest and most famous homestead by far in Great Barrington.
With all the millions at her command, haughty Mrs. Gardiner had but one great sorrow, and that was that her handsome son could not be induced to remain at home and lead the life of a fashionable young gentleman of leisure.
At college he had declared his intention of studying medicine. He had graduated with high honors, and, much to his mother's annoyance, had established himself as a full-fledged M. D.
If he had been poor, perhaps patients might not have come to him so readily; but as it was, he found himself launched at once into a lucrative practice.
This particular summer upon which our story opens, his grand lady-mother was unusually incensed against handsome Jay. He had refused to spend his vacation at the Castle, because, as he explained, there was a bevy of fashionable girls invited there for him to fall in love with, and whom he was expected to entertain.
"The long and the short of it is, mother, I shall not do it," he decisively declared. "I shall simply run over to Lee and take up my quarters in some unpretentious boarding-house, where I can come down to my meals and lounge about in a négligé shirt, and read my papers and smoke my cigars swinging in a hammock, without being disturbed by girls."
In high dudgeon his lady-mother and sister had sailed off to Europe, and they lived all their after-lives to rue it, and to bemoan the fact that they had not stayed at home to watch over the young man, and to guard the golden prize from the band of women who were on the lookout for just such an opportunity.
Jay Gardiner found just such an ideal boarding-house as he was looking for. Every woman who came to the village with a marriageable daughter tried to secure board at that boarding-house, but signally failed.