A Court of Inquiry
by Grace S. Richmond
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



Author of "Red Pepper Burns," "Mrs. Red Pepper," "Second Violin," Etc.



114-120 East Twenty-third Street—New York


Copyright, 1909, 1916, by DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian



C. R. P. AND M. B. P.




I. Althea 3 II. Camellia 16 III. Dahlia 31 IV. Rhodora 44 V. Azalea 58 VI. Hepatica 72


I. Dahlia and the Professor 87 II. Camellia and the Judge 102 III. Azalea and the Cashier 117 IV. Althea and the Promoter 131 V. Rhodora and the Preacher 146 VI. Wistaria—and the Philosopher 162


I. Sixteen Miles to Boswell's 181 II. Honour and the Girl 220 III. Their Word of Honour 241 IV. "Half a League Onward" 261


A Court of Inquiry and Other Tales



Nothing impaired but all disordered. —Midsummer Night's Dream.

There are four guest-rooms in my house. It is not a large house, and how there came to be so many rooms to spare for the entertaining of friends is not a story to be told here. It is only a few years since they were all full—and not with guests. But they are nearly always full now. And when I assign each room it is after taking thought.

There are two men's rooms and two for women. The men's rooms have belonged to men, and therefore they suit other men, who drop into them and use their belongings, and tell me they were never more comfortable. The third room is for one after another of the girls and women who visit me. The fourth room——

"Is anybody really good enough to sleep in this place?"

It was the Skeptic, looking over my shoulder. He had chanced to be passing, saw me standing in the doorway in an attitude of adoration, and glanced in over my head. He had continued to look from sheer astonishment.

"I should expect to have to take off my shoes, and put on a white cassock over my tennis flannels before I could enter here," he observed.

"You would not be allowed to enter, even in that inappropriate costume," I replied. "I keep this room only for the very nicest of my girl friends. The trouble is——"

"The trouble is—you're full up with our bunch, and have got to put Miss Althea here, whether she turns out to be the sort or not."

I had not expected the Skeptic to be so shrewd—shrewd though he often is. Being also skeptical, his skepticism sometimes overcolours his imagination.

"Suppose she should leave her slippers kicking around over those white rugs, drop her kimono in the middle of that pond-lily bed, and—er—attach a mound of chewing-gum to the corner of the mirror," he propounded.

"I should send her home."

"No—you could do better than that. Make her change rooms with the Philosopher. He wouldn't leave a speck the size of a molecule on all that whiteness."

"I don't believe he would," I agreed. As the Skeptic went laughing away downstairs I turned again into the room, in order that I might tie back the little inner muslin curtains, to let the green branches outside show between.

* * * * *

Althea arrived at five. The Skeptic, in tennis flannels, was lounging on the porch as she came up the steps, and scanned her critically over the racquet he still held, after a brisk set-to with the Gay Lady, who is one of my other guests. (We call her the Gay Lady because of her flower-bright face, her trick of smiling when other people frown, and because of a certain soft sparkle and glow about her whole personality, as indescribable as it is captivating). The Gay Lady had gone indoors to dress for the evening, and the Philosopher had not returned from the long daily tramp by which he keeps himself in trim. The Lad was on the porch mending some fishing-tackle—my Lad, with the clear young eyes which see things.

Althea gave the Skeptic a glance, the Lad a smile, and me a hearty embrace. I had never seen her before, and her visit had been brought about by a request from her mother, an old friend, who was anxious to have her daughter spend a pleasant vacation in the absence of most of the girl's family.

It was impossible not to like my new guest at once. She was a healthy, hearty, blooming sort of girl, good to look at, pleasant company to have about, and, as I soon learned, sweet-tempered to a degree which it seemed nothing could upset. She followed me upstairs, talking brightly all the way, and made her entrance into the white room as a pink hollyhock might drop unconcernedly into a pan of milk.

"What a lovely, cool-looking room!" she cried, and dropped her coat and umbrella upon the bed.

The Lad, following with her handbag, stopped to look at his tennis shoes before he set foot upon the white rug, and dusted off the bag with a somewhat grimy handkerchief before he stood it on the white-tiled hearth. The Lad knows how I feel about the room, and though he races into his own with muddy feet, stands in awe of the place where only girls are made at home.

* * * * *

I have but two maid-servants, both of whom must be busy in kitchen and dining-room when the house is full of guests. So I always make the rounds of the bedrooms in the evening, to see to lights and water, and to turn down the coverings on the beds. The Skeptic's room needed only a touch here and there to put it in order for the night. The Philosopher's needed none. The Gay Lady had left her pretty, rose-hung quarters looking as if a lady lived in them, and had but dropped a dainty reminder of herself here and there to give them character—an embroidered dressing-case on the bureau, an attractive travelling work-box on the table by her bed, a photograph, a lace-bordered handkerchief, a gossamer scarf on a chair-back ready for use if she should need it for a stroll in the moonlight with the Skeptic. The closet door, ajar, gave a glimpse of summer frocks, hanging in order on padded hangers brought in a trunk; beneath, a row of incredibly small, smart shoes stood awaiting their turn. Even the Gay Lady's trunk was clad in a trim, beflowered cover of linen, and looked a part of the place. I smiled to myself as I turned down the white sheets over my best down-filled quilt of pale pink, and thought of the Gay Lady's delightful custom of keeping her room swept and dusted without letting anybody know when she did it.

* * * * *

I felt my way across Althea's room to light the lamp—there are no electrics in my old country home. As I went in I stumbled over a rug whose corner had been drawn into a bunch by the edge of a trunk which had been pulled too far toward the middle of the room. I encountered a chair hung full with clothing; I pushed what felt like a shoe out of my path.

It took some time for me to find the match-box, which ordinarily stands on a corner of the dressing-table. My groping hand encountered all sorts of unfamiliar objects in its quest, and it was not without a premonition of what I was about to see that I finally lit the lamp and looked around me.

Well—of course she had unpacked hurriedly, as hurriedly dressed for dinner, and she had been detained downstairs ever since. I should not judge in haste. Doubtless in the morning she would put things to rights. I removed a trunk-tray from the bed, hung up several frocks in the closet, cleared away the rest of the belongings from the counterpane, and arranged Althea's bed for the night. I did the rest of my work quickly, and returned to lower the light.

It couldn't be—really, no—it couldn't be! There must be some other way of accounting for those scratches on the hitherto spotless white wall, now marred by five long, brown marks, where a match had been drawn again and again before it struck into light!

It couldn't have been Althea. Yet—those marks were never there before. It was full daylight when my guest had arrived; she could have had no need for artificial light. Wait—there lay a long, black object on the white cover of the dressing-table—a curling iron!

In the hall I ran into the Skeptic.

"I beg your pardon," he cried under his breath. "I came up for her scarf. She said it was just inside her door, on her trunk. May I go in?"

"I'll get it for you," said I, and turned inside. The Skeptic stood outside the door, looking into the dimness. I could not find the scarf. I would not turn up the light. I searched and searched vainly.

"Let me give you something to see by," said the Skeptic, and before I could prevent him he had bolted into the room and turned up the lamp. "Here it is," said he, and caught up some article of apparel from the dressing-table. "Oh, no—this must be—a sash," said he, and dropped it. He stood looking about him.

"Go away," said I sternly. "I'll find it."

"I don't think you will," said he, "in this—er—this—pandemonium."

I walked over to the dressing-table and put out the lamp. "Now will you go away?" said I.

"You were expeditious," said he, making for the hall, and stumbling over something as he went, "but not quite expeditious enough. Never mind about the scarf. I think I'll let the Philosopher take the Girl Guest to walk—the Gay Lady's good enough for me. I say"—as he moved toward the staircase and I followed—"don't you think we'd better move the Philosopher in to-morrow?"

"To-morrow," said I with assumed conviction, "it will be different. Please reserve your judgment."

I tried to reserve my own. I did not go into Althea's room again until the next evening at the same hour. I found ten articles strewn where five had lain before. A bottle of something green had been tipped over upon the white embroidered cover of my dressing-table. A spot of ink adorned the edge of the sheet, and the condition of the bed showed plainly that an afternoon nap upon it had ended with some letter writing. I think Althea's shoes had been dusted with one of my best towels. I did not stay to see what else had been done, but I could not help noting three more brown scratches on my white wall.

* * * * *

At the end of the week Althea went away. When she had gone I went up to her room. I had been at work there for some time when a tap at the door interrupted me. The Skeptic stood outside with a hoe and a bushel-basket.

"Want some help?" offered he.

"It's not gentlemanly of you to notice," said I weakly.

"I know it," said he. He came in and inverted the bushel-basket on the hearth and sat down upon it. "But the door was always open, and I couldn't help seeing. If it wasn't shoes and a kimono in the middle of the floor it was a raincoat and rubber boots. Sometimes I stopped to count the things on that dressing——"

"It was very ungentlemanly of you!"

"Guilty," he admitted again—but not meekly. There was a sparkle in his eye. "But it isn't often, you see, that a man gets a chance to take notes like this. An open door—it's an invitation to look in. Now, the Gay Lady doesn't leave her door open, except by chance, but I know how it looks inside—by the Gay Lady herself."

"How?" I questioned, my curiosity getting the better of me. "I mean—how can you tell by the look of the Gay Lady that she keeps her room in order?—for she certainly does."

"I knew it," said he triumphantly.

"But how?"

"And I know that you keep yours in order."

"But how?"

"Oh, you think we are creatures of no discernment," said he. "But we can see a few things. When a woman, no matter how pretty, pins the back of her collar with a common brass pin——"

I felt of the back of my white stock. Of course I never use them, but his eyes are so keen and——

He laughed. "The Philosopher liked Miss Althea."

"She has many lovely qualities——" I began.

"Of course. That sort always have. It's their beautiful good-nature that makes them so easy on themselves. Er—by-the-way——Well, well——"

The Skeptic's gaze had fallen upon the brown marks on the white wall, above the lamp. There were now twenty-seven in all. He got up from his bushel-basket and walked over to them. He stood and studied them for a minute in silence. Finally he turned around, looked at me, made a dive for the bushel-basket and the hoe, and hurried out of the door.

"I'll bring up a pail of whitewash," he called.

* * * * *

I shall ask Althea again some time. She really has a great many lovely qualities, as I said to the Skeptic. But there is a little room I have, which I do not call a guest-room, into which I shall put Althea. It has a sort of chocolate paper on the walls, on which I do not think the marks of matches would much show, and it has a general suitableness to this particular guest. I have sometimes harboured small boys there, for the toilet appointments are done in red on brown linen, and curling irons could be laid on them without serious damage. And I've no doubt that she would like that room quite as well.



You thought to break a country heart For pastime, ere you went to town. —Tennyson.

"Did you say Camellia is going to stop here on her way home?" asked the Gay Lady.

"For a few days," I assented.

The Gay Lady was standing in front of the closet in her room, in which hung a row of frocks, on little hangers covered with pale blue ribbon. She sighed pensively as she gazed at the garments. Then she looked at me with a smile. "Would you mind if I keep to my room while Camellia is here?" she asked.

"I should mind very much," said I. "Besides, I've only two good dresses myself."

I went down to the porch. "Camellia is going to stop and make us a short visit on her way home from the South," I announced.

The Skeptic sat up. "Great guns!" he ejaculated. "I must send all my trousers to be pressed."

"Who's Camellia?" queried the Philosopher, looking up calmly from his book.

"Wait and see," replied the Skeptic.

"Probably I shall," agreed the Philosopher. "Meanwhile a little information might not come amiss. Sending all one's trousers to be pressed at once sounds to me serious. Is the lady a connoisseur in men's attire?"

"She may or may not be," said the Skeptic. "The effect is the same. At sight of her my cravat gets under my ear, my coat becomes shapeless, my shoes turn pigeon-toed. We have to dress for dinner every night when Miss Camellia is here."

"I won't," said the Philosopher shortly.

"Wait and see," chuckled the Skeptic. He looked at me. "Ask her," he added.

The Philosopher's fine blue eyes were lifted once more from his book. It was a scientific book, and the habit of inquiry is always strong upon your scientist. "Do you dress for dinner when Miss Camellia is here?" he asked of me. "That is—I mean in a way which requires a dinner-coat of us?"

"I think I won't—before she comes," I said. "Afterward—I get out the best I have."

"Which proves none too good," supplemented the Skeptic.

"It's July," said the Philosopher thoughtfully. He looked down at his white ducks. "Couldn't you wire her not to come?" he suggested after a moment.

The Skeptic grinned at me. I shook my head. He shook his head.

"We don't want her not to come," he said, more cheerfully. "She's worth it. To see her is a liberal education. To clothe her would be ruin and desolation. Brace up, Philo—she's certainly worth all the agony of mind she may cause you. I only refrain from falling head over ears in love with her by keeping my hand in my pocket, feeling over my loose change and reminding myself that it's all I have—and it wouldn't buy her a handkerchief."

The Gay Lady spent the morning freshening her frocks—which were somehow never anything but fresh, no matter how much she wore them. It was true that there were not very many of them, and that none of them had cost very much money, but they were fascinating frocks nevertheless, and she had so many clever ways of varying them with knots of ribbon and frills of lace, that one never grew tired of seeing her wear them.

The Skeptic sent several pairs of trousers to be pressed and a bundle of other things to be laundered. I got out a gown I had expected to wear only on state occasions, and did something to the sleeves. The Philosopher was the only person who remained unaffected by the news that Camellia was coming. We envied him his calm.

* * * * *

Camellia arrived. Three trunks arrived at the same time. Camellia's appearance, as she came up the porch steps, while trim and attractive, gave no hint to the Philosopher's eyes, observant though they were, of what was to be expected. He had failed to note the trunks. This was not strange, for Camellia had a beautiful face, and her manner was, as always, charming.

"I don't see," said the Philosopher in my ear, at a moment when Camellia was occupied with the Skeptic and the Gay Lady, "what there is about that to upset you all."

"Don't you?" said I pityingly. Evidently, from what he had heard us say, he had expected her to arrive in an elaborate reception gown—or possibly in spangles and lace!

Camellia went to her room—the white room. This time I had no fears for the embroidered linen on my dressing-table or for the purity of my white wall. I repaired to my own room—to dress for dinner. As I passed the porch door on my way I looked out. The Gay Lady had vanished—so had the Skeptic. The Philosopher was walking up and down—in white ducks. He hailed me as I passed.

"See here," he said under his breath. "I thought you people were all guying in that talk about dressing for dinner while—while Miss Camellia is here. But the Skeptic has gone to do it—if he's not bluffing. Is it true? Do you mean it? We—that is—we haven't been dressing for dinner—except, of course, you ladies seem always to—but that's different. And it's awfully hot to-night," he added plaintively.

"Don't do it," said I hurriedly. "I don't know any reason why we should—in the country—in July."

He looked at me doubtfully. "But is the Skeptic going to—really?"

"I presume he really is. You see—he has met Camellia before. He knows how she will be looking when she comes down. He admires Camellia very much, and he might possibly feel a little odd—in tennis flannels——"

"It's queer," murmured the Philosopher. "But perhaps I'd better not be behind in the procession, even if I wilt my collar." He fingered lovingly the soft, rolled-over collar of his white shirt, with its loose-knotted tie, and sighed again. Then he moved toward the stairs.

We were all on the porch when Camellia came down. The Gay Lady had put on a white muslin—the finest, simplest thing. The Philosopher, pushing a finger between his collar and his neck, to see if the wilting process had begun, eyed the Gay Lady approvingly. "Whatever she wears," he whispered to her, "she can't win over you."

The Gay Lady laughed. "Yes, she can," she declared.

* * * * *

She did. Camellia was a vision when she came floating out upon the porch. The Philosopher was glad he had on his dinner-coat—I saw it in his eye. The Skeptic's tanned cheek turned a reddish shade—he looked as if he felt pigeon-toed. The Gay Lady held her pretty head high as she smiled approval on the guest. Camellia's effect on the Gay Lady was to make her feel like a school-girl—she had repeatedly avowed it to me in private.

Camellia never seemed conscious of her fine attire—that could always truthfully be said. Although on the present occasion she was dressed as duchesses dress for a lawn-party, she seemed supremely unconscious of the fact. The only trouble was that the rest of us could not be unconscious of it.

The dinner moved slowly. We all did our best, including the Philosopher, whose collar was slowly melting, so that he had to keep his chin well up, lest it crush the linen hopelessly beneath. The Skeptic joked ceaselessly, but one could see that all the time he feared his cravat might be awry. The dinner itself was a much more formal affair than usual—somehow that always seemed necessary when Camellia was one's guest. We were glad when it was over and we could go back to the cool recesses of the porch.

The next morning Camellia wore an unpretentious dress of white—one which made the thing the Gay Lady had worn at dinner the evening before seem to her memory poor indeed. Later in the morning the Skeptic took Camellia boating on the river, and she went up and dressed for it in a yachting suit of white flannel. It was some slight consolation that she came back from the river much bedraggled about the skirts, for the boat had sprung a leak and all the Skeptic's gallantry could not keep her dry. But this necessitated a change before luncheon, and some of us were nearly unable to eat with Camellia sitting there in the frock she had put on at the last minute. She was a dream in the pale pink of it, and the Skeptic appeared to be losing his head. On the contrary, the Philosopher was seen to examine her thoughtfully through the eyeglasses he sometimes wears for reading, and which he had forgotten to remove.

On the morning of the third day I discovered the Gay Lady mending a little hole in the skirt of a tiny-flowered dimity, her bright eyes suspiciously misty.

"I'm a g-goose, I know," she explained, smiling at me through the mist, "but it does make me absurdly envious. My things look so—so—duddy—beside hers."

"They're not duddy!" I cried warmly. "But I know what you mean. My very best gown, that I had made in town by Lautier herself, seems countrified. Don't mind. Our things will look quite right again—next week."

"What do you suppose she will wear to-night?" sighed she.

"Heaven only knows," I answered feebly.

What she wore was a French frock which finished us all. I had fears for the sanity of the Skeptic. I was sure he did not know what he was eating. He could not, of course, sit with his hands in his trousers' pockets, from time to time giving his loose change a warning jingle, to remind himself that he could not buy her handkerchiefs. But the Philosopher appeared to retain his self-control. I caught his scientific eye fixed upon the pearl necklace Camellia wore. It struck me that the Philosopher and the Skeptic had temporarily exchanged characters.

In the late afternoon, at the end of the sixth day, Camellia left us. The Skeptic and the Philosopher came to dinner in flannels—it had grown slightly cooler. The Gay Lady and I wore things we had not worn for a week—and I was sure the Gay Lady had never looked prettier. After dinner, in the early dusk, we sat upon the porch. For some time we were more or less silent. Then the Skeptic, from the depths of a bamboo lounging chair, his legs stretching half-way across the porch in a relaxed attitude they had not worn for a week, heaved a sigh which seemed to struggle up from the depths of his interior.

The Philosopher rolled over in the hammock, where he had been reposing on his back, his hands clasped under his head, and looked scrutinizingly at his friend.

"Don't take it too hard," he counselled gently. "It's not worth it."

"I know it," replied the Skeptic with another sigh. "But I wish I were worth—millions."

"Oh, no, you don't," argued the Philosopher.

The Gay Lady and I exchanged glances—through the twilight. We would have arisen and fled, but the Skeptic caught at my skirts.

"Don't go," he begged. "I'm not really insane—only delirious. It'll wear off."

"It will," agreed the Philosopher.

"I suppose," began the Skeptic, after some further moments of silence, "that it's really mostly clothes."

"She's a very charming girl," said the Gay Lady quickly. "I don't blame you."

"Honestly," said the Skeptic, sitting up and looking at her, "don't you think her clothes are about all there is of her?"

"No," said the Gay Lady stoutly.

"Yes," said the Philosopher comfortably.

"Yes—and no," said I, as the Skeptic looked at me.

"A girl," argued the Philosopher, suddenly pulling himself out of the hammock and beginning to pace the floor, "who could come here to this unpretentious country place with three trunks, and then wear their contents——Look here"—he paused in front of me and looked at me as piercingly as somewhat short-sighted blue eyes can look in the twilight—"did she ever wear the same thing twice?"

"I believe not," I admitted.

"A girl who could come to a place like this and make a show figure of herself in clothes that any fool could see cost—Caesar, what must they cost!—and change four times a day—and keep us dancing around in starched collars——"

"You didn't have to——"

"Yes, we did—pardon me! We did, not to be innocently—not insolently—mistaken for farm hands. I tell you, a girl like that would keep a man humping to furnish the wherewithal. For what," continued the Philosopher, growing very earnest—"what, if she'd wear that sort of clothes here, would she consider necessary for—for—visiting her rich friends? Tell me that!"

We could not tell him that. We did not try.

The Gay Lady was pinching one of her little flowered dimity ruffles into plaits with an agitated thumb and finger. I was sure the Skeptic's present state of mind was of more moment to her than she would ever let appear to anybody.

The Skeptic rose slowly from his chair.

"Will you walk down the garden path with me?" he asked the Gay Lady.

They sauntered slowly away into the twilight.

* * * * *

The Philosopher came and sat down by me.

"He's not really hit," said he presently; "he's only temporarily upset. I was a trifle bowled over myself. She's certainly a stunning girl. But when I try to recall what she and I talked about when we sat out here together, at such times as he was willing to leave her in my company, I have really no recollection. When it was too dark to see her clothes—or her smile—I remember being once or twice distinctly bored. Now—the Gay Lady—don't you think she always looks well?"

"Lovely," I agreed heartily.

"I may not know much about it, being a man," said he modestly, "but I should naturally think the Gay Lady's clothes cost considerably less than Miss Camellia's."


"Though I never really thought about them before," he owned. "I don't suppose a man usually does think much about a woman's clothes—unless he's forced to. During this last week it occurs to me we've been forced to—eh?"

"Somewhat." I was smiling to myself. I had never imagined that the Philosopher troubled himself with such matters at all.

"And I don't think," he went on, "I like being forced to spend my time speculating on the cost of anybody's clothing.—How comfortable it is on this porch! And how jolly not to have to sit up in a black coat—on a July evening!"

The Skeptic and the Gay Lady returned—after an hour. The Skeptic, as he came into the light which streamed out across the porch from the hall, looked decidedly more cheerful than when he had left us. Although it had been too dark in the garden to see either the Gay Lady's clothes or her smile, I doubted if he had been bored.



O, weary fa' the women fo'k, For they winna let a body be! —James Hogg.

My neighbour Dahlia has returned. There is a considerable stretch of lawn, also a garden and a small orchard, intervening between her father's property and mine, not to mention a thick hedge; but in spite of these obstructions it did not take Dahlia long to discover that there were guests upon my porch. I think she recognized the Skeptic's long legs from her window, which looks down my way through a vista of tree-tops. At all events, on the morning after her arrival she appeared, coming through the hedge, down the garden path and across the lawn, a fresh and attractive figure in a pink muslin with ruffles, and one of those coquettish, white-frilled sunbonnets summer-girls wear in the country.

Dahlia is very pretty, very good company, and likable from many points of view. If only——

"Who's this coming to invade our completeness?" queried the Philosopher, looking up from his book of trout flies. Fishing, in its scientific aspect, presents many attractions to our Philosopher, although he spends so much time in getting ready to do it scientifically that he seldom finds much left in which to fish.

The Skeptic glanced at the figure coming over the lawn. Then he made a gesture as if he were about to turn up his coat collar. He hitched himself slightly behind one of the white pillars of the porch.

"Keep cool; you'll soon know," he replied to the Philosopher. "And once knowing, you'll always know."

The Philosopher looked slightly mystified at this oracular information, and gazed rather curiously at Dahlia as she came near, before he dropped his eyes to his trout flies.

The Skeptic appeared to be absorbed in a letter which he had hastily extracted from his pocket. It was merely a brief business communication in type, as I could not help seeing over his shoulder, but he withdrew his attention from it with difficulty as Dahlia paused before him. Her first greeting was for him, although I had risen just behind him.

"Oh—how do you do, Miss Dahlia?" cried the Skeptic, getting to his feet and receiving her outstretched hand in his own. Then he made as if to pass her on to me, but she wouldn't be passed until she had said something under her breath to him, smiling up into his face, her fingers clinging to his.

"Been—er—horribly busy," I heard him murmur in reply. I thought his hand showed symptoms of letting go before hers did.

I greeted Dahlia, introducing her to the Gay Lady, who smiled at her from over a handkerchief she was embroidering with my initials. I presented the Philosopher, who immediately presented his trout flies. She scanned him closely—the Philosopher is very good-looking (almost—but not quite—better-looking than the Skeptic)—then she dropped down upon one of the porch cushions by his side. He politely offered her a chair, but she insisted that she liked the cushion better, and we found it impossible to doubt that she did. At all events she remained upon it, close beside the Philosopher, as long as he retained his position; and she appeared to become absorbed in the trout flies, asking many questions, and exclaiming over some of them in a way which showed her to be of a most sympathetic disposition.

* * * * *

Finally the Philosopher seized upon an opportunity and rose. "Well," he observed, "I believe I'll go and try my luck."

Dahlia looked up at him. Her pretty face took on a beseeching expression.

The Philosopher regarded her uncomprehendingly.

"You will excuse——" he began.

But Dahlia did not let him finish. "I simply love to go fishing," she said softly.

"Do you?" said the Philosopher, blinking stupidly. "It is great sport, I think, myself."

Even then I believe he would have turned away. He is not used to it—at least, in Dahlia's style. But she detained him.

"Are you really not going to ask me?" she said, looking like a disappointed child.

I saw the Gay Lady look at her. The Skeptic glanced at the Gay Lady. I observed the Skeptic. But the Philosopher rose to the occasion. He is invariably courteous.

"Why, certainly," he responded, "if you would really care to go. It's rather a long walk to the stream and—I'm afraid the boat leaks considerably, but——"

"Oh, I don't mind that," she exulted, jumping up, her cheeks pink with delight. "In fact, I know that boat of old——" She gave the Skeptic a look from under her eyelashes, but he was looking at the Gay Lady and it failed to hit him. "Are you ready? All right. And I've my sunbonnet—just the thing. You shall see what we'll catch," she called back to us, as the two walked away.

* * * * *

The Skeptic got the pillar between himself and the departing pair. His face was convulsed with mirth. He slapped his knee. "I said he'd soon know," he chuckled, holding himself in with an effort, "but I didn't think he'd find out quite so soon. Smoke and ashes—but that was quick work!"

He turned about and looked up at the Gay Lady. "Will you go fishing?" he inquired, still chuckling.

"No, thank you," responded the Gay Lady, smiling at her embroidery without looking up.

"Will you go fishing?"

The inquiry was directed at me.

I shook my head.

The Skeptic fell into an attitude of mock despair. Then he sat up. "I'm going to go down and hide behind the big tree at the bend," he declared. "I want to see Philo when she——"

The Gay Lady spoke to me. "Do you think I'm getting that K too heavy?" she asked.

The Skeptic laughed, and strolled away—not in the direction of the trout stream.

Dahlia and the Philosopher came back just as luncheon was served. Dahlia was looking pinker than ever, and I thought the Philosopher's tan had rather a pinkish hue, also. I felt obliged to ask Dahlia to stay to luncheon and she promptly accepted. Throughout the meal she was very gay, sitting at my round table between the Philosopher and the Skeptic, and plying both with attentions. It is a singular phrase to use, in speaking of a girl, but I know no other that applies so well—in Dahlia's case.

After luncheon the Philosopher bolted. His movements are usually deliberate, but I never saw a quicker exit made from a dining-room which has only two doors. One door leads into the hall, the other to the pantry. The rest of us went out the hall door. When we reached the porch the Philosopher was missing. There is no explanation except that he went out by the pantry door.

On the porch the Skeptic said, "I must run down to the barn and look after Skylark's foot. He cut himself when I was out on him yesterday."

He hastened away down the driveway.

Dahlia looked after him.

"Is Skylark here?" she asked. "Oh, how I want to see the dear thing! And he's cut his foot!—I'm going to run down to the barn, too, and see him."

And she hurried away after the Skeptic.

"I think I'll go in and sleep a while," said the Gay Lady to me. Her expressive lips had a curious little twist of scorn.

"I should, too, if I hadn't a new guest," said I.

We tried not to smile at each other, but we couldn't quite help it.

The Gay Lady went away to her room. I heard her close the blinds on the side that looked off toward the barn, and, glancing up, saw that she had turned down the slats tightly.

* * * * *

I think it must have been well on toward four in the afternoon when the white sunbonnet at last disappeared through the gap in the hedge. The Skeptic came back up the garden path at the pace of an escaping convict, and went tearing up the stairs to his room. I heard him splashing like a seal in his bath. Presently he came out, freshly attired and went away down the road, in the opposite direction from that in which lay the house beyond the hedge.

Dahlia came over at twilight that evening—to bring me a great bunch of golden-glow. She was captivatingly arrayed in blue. She remained for an hour or so. When she went away the Skeptic walked home with her. He was forced to do it. The Philosopher had disappeared again, quite without warning, some twenty minutes earlier.

She came over the next afternoon. On the day following she practically took up her residence with us. I thought of inviting her to bring a trunk and occupy the white room. On the fourth night I accidentally overheard a brief but pregnant colloquy which took place just inside the library door, toward the last of the evening.

"You've got to take her home to-night, old man."

"I won't." It was the Philosopher.

"You've got to. It's your turn. No shirking."

"I'll be hanged if I will."

"I'll be hanged if I will. There's a limit."

"I'd always supposed there was. There doesn't seem to be."

"Come along—stand up to it like a man. It's up to you to-night. She can't carry you off bodily."

"I'm not so sure of that." The Philosopher's tone was grim.

So far I had been transfixed. But now I hurried away. I was consumed with anxiety during the next ten minutes, lest they come to blows in settling it. But when they appeared I could tell that they had settled it somehow.

When Dahlia arose and said that she positively must go they both accompanied her. The transit occupied less time than it had done on any previous occasion.

* * * * *

From this time on there was concerted action on the part of our two men. Where one was, the other was. The Gay Lady and I received less attention than we were accustomed to expect—the two men were too busy standing by each other to have much time for us.

"I'm so sorry," said Dahlia, coming over after dinner on the tenth evening, "but I'm going away to-morrow. I've an invitation that I'm simply not allowed to refuse."

The Philosopher's face lit up. He attempted to conceal it by burying his head in his handkerchief for a moment, in mock distress, but his satisfaction showed even behind his ears. The Skeptic bent down and elaborately tied his shoe-ribbon. The Gay Lady regarded Dahlia sweetly, and said, "That's surely very nice for you."

"I think," observed Dahlia, looking coyly from the Skeptic to the Philosopher, "that I shall have to let each of you take me for a farewell walk to-night. You first"—she indicated the Philosopher. "Or shall it be a row for one and a walk for the other?"

She and the Philosopher strolled away toward the river. There had been no way out for him.

"The Englishman, the Scotsman and the Irishman," began the Skeptic, in a conversational tone, "being about to be hanged, were given their choice of a tree. 'The oak for me,' says the Englishman. 'The Scotch elm for mine,' says the Scotsman. 'Faith,' says the Irishman, 'I'll be afther takin' a gooseberry bush.' 'That's too small,' says the hangman. 'I'll wait for it to grow,' says the Irishman contentedly."

Whereat he disappeared. When Dahlia and the Philosopher returned he had not come back. I was amazed at him, but my amazement did not produce him, and the Philosopher accompanied Dahlia home. When they were well away the Skeptic swung himself up over the side of the porch, from among some bushes.

"'All's fair in love and war,'" he grinned. "Besides, the campaign's over. Philo's gained experience. He's a veteran now. He'll never be such easy game again. Haven't we behaved well, on the whole?" he asked the Gay Lady, dropping upon a cushion at her feet.

"I don't think you have," said the Gay Lady gently.

"We haven't! Why not?"

She shook her head. "I refuse to discuss it," she said, as gently as before, but quite firmly.

The Skeptic sighed. "I'm sorry," he declared. "You really don't know——"

"I don't want to know," said the Gay Lady. "Isn't it a lovely, lovely evening?"

"Yes, it's a lovely evening," said the Skeptic, looking up at her. "It would be delightful on the river."

She shook her head again.

"Not nicer than here," she answered.

The Philosopher came back. When he was half-way across the lawn the Skeptic jumped up and rushed forward and offered his shoulder for the Philosopher to lean upon.

"Clear out," said the Philosopher shortly.

"I'm glad to hear it," rejoined the Skeptic. "I feared you might be clear in."

"It's not your fault that I'm not," grunted the Philosopher.

He dropped down upon the porch step in an exhausted way.

The Gay Lady rose.

"The air is making me sleepy," said she in her musically sweet voice. "Good-night."

The Skeptic and the Philosopher looked after her retreating figure even after it ceased to be visible, drifting down the wide, central hall.

"The worst of it is," grumbled the Skeptic, "that an exhibition of that sort of thing always makes the other kind draw off, for fear we may possibly think they're in the same class."

I, too, now said good-night, and went away to let them have it out between them.



Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm. —Gray.

This morning we had a surprise. Grandmother and Rhodora drove over from Langdale, ten miles away, to spend two days. Grandmother does not belong to us exclusively—she is Grandmother to a large circle of people, all of whom are glad to see her whenever they have the opportunity. Rhodora is a new granddaughter of the old lady—by which I mean to say that Rhodora never saw Grandmother till a fortnight ago, when the girl arrived to pay her a visit.

"I wanted to see you people so much," explained Rhodora, coming breezily upon the porch a step or two in advance of the old lady, "that I thought I'd drive over. Grandmother wanted to come too, so I brought her."

Grandmother's dark eyebrows below her white curls went up a trifle. It was quite evident that she thought she had brought Rhodora, inasmuch as the carriage, the horses, and the old family coachman were all her own. But she did not correct the girl. She is a tiny little lady, with a gentle, somewhat hesitating manner, but her black eyes are very bright, and she sees things with almost as keen a vision as Lad himself.

The Gay Lady was charmed with Grandmother. She put the frail visitor into the easiest chair on the porch, untied her bonnet-strings, smoothed her soft, white curls, and brought a footstool for her little feet. Then she sat by her, listening and talking—doing much more listening than talking—leaving Rhodora to me.

"I'm sorry our men are away to-day," I said to Rhodora, "and Lad is with them. They went early this morning to climb Bluebeard Mountain, and won't be back till night. It is rather quiet here without them."

"Are they young and jolly?" inquired Rhodora.

"They are extremely jolly. As for being young, that depends upon one's point of view," said I. "They are between twenty-five and thirty-five, I believe."

"Pretty wide margin," laughed Rhodora. "And how old is Lad?"


"I've had the bad luck to be stuck off with old people all the while lately," remarked Rhodora. She looked at me as she spoke. I wondered if she considered me "old people." Then she glanced at the Gay Lady.

"How old is she?" she inquired.

"I have never asked her."

"Looks like a girl, but I guess she isn't. A real girl would never settle down like that to talk to an old lady like Grandmother," she observed sagely.

I opened my lips—and closed them. I had known Miss Rhodora only about ten minutes, and one does not make caustic speeches to one's guests—if one can help it. But one does take observations upon them. I was taking observations upon Rhodora.

She was decidedly a handsome girl—handsome seems the word. She was rather large, well-proportioned, blooming in colour, with somewhat strikingly modeled features. She wore sleeves to her elbows, and her arms were round and firm. She sat in a nonchalant attitude in which her arms were considerably in evidence.

"Rhodora," said Grandmother, turning to look our way, "did I bring my little black silk bag from the carriage?"

"Didn't see it," replied Rhodora. "Which way is Bluebeard Mountain?" she inquired of me.

The Gay Lady and I arose at the same instant. I went into the house to search for the bag, and when I could not find it the Gay Lady went away down to the red barn to find if the black silk bag had been left in the carriage. She came back bringing it.

"Thank you, my dear," said Grandmother, with a smile which might have repaid anybody for a much longer trip than that to the carriage.

* * * * *

After a time I managed to exchange places with the Gay Lady, feeling that Rhodora very plainly did consider me an elderly person, and that, in spite of her confidence that the Gay Lady was not "a real girl," as girls of Rhodora's age use the term, she might take her as a substitute for one.

The Gay Lady took Rhodora down to the river, and out in the boat. I understood from what I heard later that the Gay Lady, although a fine oarswoman, did not row Rhodora about the river. Rhodora began by dropping into the stern seat among the cushions, but the Gay Lady fitted two sets of oars into the rowlocks, and offered Rhodora the position of stroke. The Gay Lady is very sweet and courteous in manner, but I could quite understand that when she offered the oars to Rhodora, Rhodora accepted them and did her best.

When they came back it was time for luncheon, and I took my guests to the white room.

"What a cool, reposeful room, my dear," said Grandmother. She patted her white curls in front of the mirror, which is an old-fashioned, oblong one, in which two people cannot well see themselves at the same time. Rhodora came up behind her, stooped to peer over her shoulder, and seized upon the ivory comb which lay on the dressing-table. Her elbow, as she ran the comb through her fluffy hair, struck Grandmother's delicate shoulder. The old lady turned and regarded her granddaughter in astonishment.

"Want the comb?" inquired Rhodora, having finished with it herself.

Rhodora went over to the washstand, and washed and splashed, and used one of the towels and threw it back upon the rack so that it overhung all the other fresh towels. Grandmother used one end of Rhodora's towel, and carefully folded and put it in place, looking regretfully at its rumpled condition. She took a clean pocket-handkerchief out of her bag. Rhodora caught sight of it.

"Oh, Grandmother, have you got a spare handkerchief?" she cried. "I've lost mine, I'm afraid."

Grandmother handed her the little square of fine linen, exquisitely embroidered with her own monogram, and took another and plainer one from her bag.

"Try not to lose that one, Granddaughter," she said, in her gentle way.

Rhodora pushed it inside her sleeve. "Oh, I seldom lose two in one day," she assured the handkerchief's owner.

I fear it was rather a dull afternoon for Rhodora. The Gay Lady took Grandmother away after luncheon into the quiet, green-hung library, and tucked her up on the couch, and covered her with a little silk quilt from her own room, and went away and played softly upon the piano in the distance until the old lady fell asleep. Late in the afternoon Grandmother awoke much refreshed, and found the Gay Lady sitting by the window, keeping guard.

"It does one's eyes good to look at you, my dear," were Grandmother's first words, after she had lain for some time quietly observing the figure by the window, freshly dressed in white. The Gay Lady got up and came over to the couch and bent down, smiling.

* * * * *

Just in time for a late dinner our men came home, sunburned and hungry. Seeing guests upon the porch they made for their rooms, and reappeared presently in that irreproachable trim which the dustiest and most disreputable-looking of them seems able to achieve, being given plenty of water, in the twinkling of an eye.

They were presented to Grandmother. At almost the same moment we were summoned to dinner. The Skeptic gave the old lady his arm. The Philosopher picked up her black silk bag from the porch floor, and followed with it dangling from his hand. Just as she reached the table she dropped her handkerchief, and the Lad sprang for it as a retriever springs for a stick, and handed it to her with his best boyish bow. The old lady beamed. Quite evidently this was the sort of thing to which she was accustomed.

At luncheon Rhodora had rather monopolized the conversation. At dinner she found herself unable to do so. The Philosopher and the Skeptic were too much occupied with Grandmother to be able to attend to Rhodora, beyond lending a polite ear to her remarks now and then and immediately afterward returning to the elderly guest. Grandmother was really a most interesting talker when occasion required it of her, as it certainly did now. We were all charmed with her clever way of putting things, her shrewd observation, her knowledge of and interest in affairs in general.

After dinner the Philosopher escorted her out to her chair on the porch. The Skeptic sat down beside the Gay Lady on a wide, wooden settle close by, and both listened, smiling, to the discussion which had arisen between Grandmother and the Philosopher. It was well worth listening to. The Philosopher, while wholly deferential, held his ground staunchly, but Grandmother worsted him in the end. Her cheeks grew pink, her black eyes shone. It was a captivating spectacle.

I called Rhodora's attention to it. Finding nobody else to do her honour she had entered into conversation with the Lad. Both looked up as I spoke to them.

"Yes, isn't she great!" agreed the Lad softly. "Nicest old lady I ever saw."

"It's too exciting for her, I should say," commented her granddaughter. "I didn't think she ought to come. I could have come alone just as well—I'd a good deal rather. She's getting pretty old."

The Skeptic and the Philosopher each did his duty by Rhodora before the evening was over. The Skeptic played four sets of tennis with her—she is an admirable player—but he beat her until he discovered that she was growing very much annoyed—then he allowed her to win the last set by a game. The Lad, who was watching the bout, announced it to me under his breath with a laugh. Then the Philosopher took Rhodora through the garden and over the place generally.

"I think you should have a shawl about your shoulders, Rhodora," said Grandmother, when the girl and the Philosopher had returned and taken their seats upon the steps of the porch. The twilight had fallen, and the Gay Lady had just wrapped Grandmother in a light garment of her own.

Rhodora shrugged her shoulders. "Heavens, no!" she ejaculated. "Old people are always fussing," she remarked, in a slightly lower tone to the Philosopher. "Because she's frozen is no reason why I should be."

"One could almost pretend to be frozen to please her," returned the Philosopher, in a much lower tone than Rhodora's. "She is the most beautiful old lady I ever saw."

"Goodness, I don't see how you can see anything beautiful about old persons," said the girl. "They give me the creeps."

The Philosopher opened his mouth—and closed it again, quite as I had done in the morning. He looked curiously at Rhodora. By his expression I should judge he was thinking: "After all—what's the use?"

* * * * *

The next afternoon Grandmother and Rhodora went home. When Grandmother was in the carriage the Skeptic tucked her in and put cushions behind her back and a footstool under her feet. Then the Philosopher laid a great nosegay of garden flowers in her lap. She was so pleased she coloured like a girl, and put out her delicate little old hand in its black silk mitt, and he took it in both his and held it close for a minute, looking at her with his blue eyes full of such a boyish expression of affection as his own mother might have seen now and then, years before. I think she would have liked to kiss him, and I am sure he wanted to kiss her, but we were all looking on, and they had known each other but a few hours. Nevertheless, there was something about the little scene which touched us all—except Rhodora, who exclaimed:

"Gracious, Grandmother—I suppose that brings back the days when you had lots of beaux! What a gorgeous jumble of old-fashioned flowers that is, anyhow. I didn't know there were so many kinds in the world!"

The Skeptic hustled her into the carriage, rather as if she were a bag of meal, handed her belongings in after her, shook hands with Grandmother in his most courtly fashion, and stood aside. We waved our hands and handkerchiefs, and Grandmother's fat old horses walked away with her down the driveway.

"It's a pity," said the Skeptic to me impatiently, when they were out of sight around the corner, and we had turned to go back to the house, "that a girl like that can't see herself."

"Rhodora is very young yet," said I. "Perhaps by the time she is even as old as the Gay Lady——"

"You don't think it," declared the Skeptic, looking ahead at the Gay Lady as she walked by the Philosopher over the lawn toward the house. "The two are no more the same sort—than——" he looked toward the garden for inspiration and found it, as many a man before him has found it, when searching after similes for the women he knows—"than those yellow tiger-lilies of yours are like—a clump of hepaticas that you find in the woods in spring."

* * * * *

That evening the Gay Lady had left us, as she sometimes does, and gone in to play soft, old-time melodies on my piano, while the rest of us sat silently listening. The men know well enough that it is useless to follow her in when she goes to play in the twilight—if they did she would send them back again, or stop playing. And as it is worth much to hear her play when she has a certain mood upon her, nobody does anything to break the spell. Sometimes the listening grows almost painful, but before we are quite overwrought she comes back and makes us gay again.

"When I was a boy," said the Skeptic, very softly to me, after the music stopped, "I used to pick out men to admire and follow about, and consume myself with wishing that some day I could be like them. How could a girl like that one we've had here to-day look at our Gay Lady and not want to copy her to the last hair on her head?"

"There are some things which can't be copied," I returned. "She is one of them."

The Skeptic gave me a grateful glance. "You never said a truer thing than that," said he.

Perceiving that he was in a sentimental mood, and that the Gay Lady had stopped playing and was coming out again upon the porch, I turned my attention to the Philosopher. In spite of the music he seemed not in a sentimental mood.

"You have a lot of girl company, first and last, don't you?" he queried, when he and I had agreed upon the beauty of the night.

"It happens so, for some reason," I admitted.

He shook his head regretfully. "If I thought you were going to have anything more like that to-day soon, I should take to the woods," said he.



It all depends upon a consciousness of values, a sense of proportion. —Arthur Christopher Benson.

"The heavens have fallen!" I announced in the doorway of the Gay Lady's room. "Cook is ill—I had the doctor for her in the night. And my little waitress went home just yesterday to her sister's wedding."

"And breakfast to get," responded the Gay Lady, arriving instantly at the point, as she always does. She had been dressing leisurely. Now she made all speed and instead of white linen she slipped into a blue-and-white-checked gingham. "Don't worry—I'll be down in three minutes," she assured me cheerily.

I found Lad building the kitchen fire—in the country we do not have gas ranges. "I'll have her roaring in a jiff," he cried. "I learned a dandy way camping last year."

Breakfast came off nearly on schedule time. The Gay Lady's omelet was a feathery success, her coffee perfect, my muffins above reproach. Lad had helped set the table, he had looked over the fruit, he had skimmed the cream.

Azalea came in a little late. She had been my guest for a week, and a delightful guest, too. She has a glorious voice for singing, and she is very clever and entertaining—everybody likes her.

* * * * *

Of course, when I arose to take away the fruit-plates and bring on the breakfast, the fact that I was servantless came out. To the Philosopher and the Skeptic, who were immediately solicitous, I explained that we should get on very well.

"We'll see that you do," promised the Skeptic. "There are a few things I flatter myself I can do as well as the next man—or woman. Consider me at your service."

"The same here," declared the Philosopher. "And—I say—don't fuss too much. Have a cold lunch—bread and milk, you know, or something like that."

I smiled, and said that would not be necessary. Nor was it. For five years after my marriage I had been my own maid-servant—and those were happy days. My right hand had by no means forgotten her cunning. As for both the Gay Lady's pretty hands—they were very accomplished in household arts. And she had put on the blue-and-white gingham.

"I can wipe dishes," offered the Philosopher, as we rose from the table.

"It's a useful art," said the Gay Lady. "In ten minutes we'll be ready for you."

The Skeptic looked about him. Then he hurried away without saying anything. Two minutes later I found him making his bed.

"Go away," he commanded me. "It'll be ship-shape, never fear. You remember I was sent to a military school when I was a youngster."

From below, as I made Azalea's bed, the strains of one of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies floated up to me. Azalea was playing. We had fallen into the habit of drifting into the living-room, where the piano stood, every morning immediately after breakfast, to hear Azalea play. In the evenings she sang to us; but one does not sing directly after breakfast, and only second in delight to hearing Azalea's superb voice was listening to her matchless touch upon the keyboard. I said to myself, as I went about the "upstairs work"—work that the Skeptic, with all his good will, could not do, not being allowed to cross certain thresholds—that we should sorely miss Azalea's music when she should go away next week.

The Gay Lady and I managed luncheon with very little exertion, we had so much assistance. Dinner cost us rather more trouble, for Cook's dinners are always delicious, and we could not have a falling off under our regime. But it was a great success, and our men praised us until we felt our labours fully repaid. Still, we were a trifle fatigued at the end of the day. Cook had needed a good deal of waiting upon, and though the Gay Lady had insisted on sharing this service with me it had required many steps and the exercise of some tact—Cook having been fully persuaded all day that her end was near.

"I have told her six times that people don't die of lumbago," said the Gay Lady, "but her tears flow just as copiously as ever. I've written three letters to her friends for her. To-morrow I suppose I shall have to write her last will and testament."

* * * * *

But on the morrow Cook was enough better to be able to indite her own documents, though as yet unable to come downstairs. It was well that she did not require much of our time, however, for just before noon a party of touring motorists drove up to our door and precipitated themselves upon us with warm greetings—and hungry looks toward our dining-room.

"Smoke and ashes!" cried the Skeptic, under his breath, appearing in the kitchen, whither the Gay Lady and I had betaken ourselves as soon as we had furnished our guests with soap and water and clothes-brushes, and left them to remove as much of the dust of the road from their persons as could be done without a full bath—"why didn't you send them on to the village inn? Of all the nerve!—and you don't know any of them intimately, do you?"

I shook my head. "One of them was my dearest enemy in school-days," I admitted, "and I never saw but one of the others. Never mind. Do you suppose you could saddle Skylark and post over to town for some beefsteak? I've sent Lad to the neighbours for other things. Beefsteak is what they must have—porterhouse—since I've not enough broilers in the ice-box to go around that hungry company."

"Sure thing," and the Skeptic was off. But he came back to say in my ear: "See here, why doesn't Miss Azalea come out and help? She's just sitting on the porch, looking pretty."

"Somebody ought to play hostess, since I must be here," I responded, without meeting his inquiring eye. I did urgently need some one to beat the oil into the salad dressing I was making, for there were other things I must do. The Gay Lady was already accomplishing separate things with each hand, and directing Lad at the same time. The Skeptic looked at her appreciatively.

"She mourns because she can't sing!" said he, and laughed quietly to himself as he swung away. Yet he had seemed much impressed with Azalea's singing all the week, and had turned her music for her devotedly.

We got through it somehow. "I thought they'd eat their heads off," commented the Philosopher, who had carved the beefsteak and the broilers, and had tried to give everybody the tenderloin and the white breast meat, and had eaten drumsticks and end pieces himself, after the manner of the unselfish host.

* * * * *

There were piles and mountains of dishes after that luncheon. They looked the bigger to us because we had been obliged to leave them for two hours while we sat upon the porch with our motorists, who said they always took a good rest in the middle of the day, and made up by running many extra miles at night. When they had gone, loudly grateful for our hospitality—two of the men had had to have some more things to eat and drink before they could get up steam with which to start—the Gay Lady and I stood in the door of the kitchen and drew our first sighs over the state of things existing.

"If Cook doesn't get down pretty soon——" said I dejectedly, and did not try to finish the sentence. Somehow that hasty cookery for five extra people had been depressing. I couldn't think of a thing that had been left in the house that would do for dinner—due now in three short hours.

But the Gay Lady rallied nobly.

"There's plenty of hot water," said she, "and those dishes will melt away in no time. Then—you're going to have a long sleep, whether we get any dinner to-night or not."

The Skeptic spoke from behind us. "Here's a fresh recruit," said he in a jovial tone, which I understood at once was manufactured for the occasion. We looked around and saw Azalea at his elbow. She was smiling rather dubiously. I wondered how he had managed it. Afterward I learned that he had boldly asked her if she didn't want to help.

"I hope I shan't break anything," murmured Azalea, accepting a dish-towel. The Skeptic took another. "Oh, no," he assured her. "That delicate touch of yours—why, I never heard anybody who could play pianissimolegatocantabile—like you. You wouldn't break a spun-glass rainbow."

Azalea did not break anything. I think it was because she did not dry more than one article to the Skeptic's three and the Gay Lady's six. Once she dropped a china cup, but the Skeptic caught it and presented it to her with a bow. "Don't mention it," said he. "I'm an old first-baseman."

The Philosopher came through the kitchen with a broom and dustpan. He had been attempting to sweep the dining-room floor—which is of hardwood, with a centre rug—and had had a bad time of it. The Skeptic jeered at him and mentioned the implements he should have used. Azalea looked at them both wonderingly.

"How in the world do you men come to know so much about housework?" she inquired, wiping a single teaspoon diligently. The Gay Lady had just lifted a dozen out of the steaming pan for her, but Azalea had laid them all down on the table, and was polishing them one by one.

"I find it comes in handy," said the Skeptic. "You never stay anywhere, you know, that sooner or later something doesn't happen unexpectedly to the domestic machinery. Besides, I like to show off—don't you? See here"—he turned to me. There was a twinkle in his wicked eye. "See here, why not let Miss Azalea and me be responsible for the dinner to-night—with Philo as second assistant? You and the Gay Lady are tired out. Miss Azalea can tell me what to do, and I'll promise to do it faithfully."

He had not the face to look at the guest as he made this daring suggestion. His audacity took my breath away so completely that I could make no rejoinder, but the Gay Lady came to the rescue. I don't know whether she had seen Azalea's face, but I had.

"I have a surprise for to-night," said she, picking up a trayful of china, "and I don't intend anybody shall interfere with it. Nobody is even to mention dinner in my presence."

The Skeptic took the tray away from her. "There are some other things I should like to mention in your presence," said he, so softly that I think nobody heard him but myself, who was nearest. "And one of them is that somebody I know never looked sweeter than she does this——"

I rattled the saucers in the pan that nobody might catch it. The Gay Lady was colouring so brilliantly that I feared the Skeptic might drop the tray, for he was not looking at all where he was going. But she disappeared into the pantry, and there was nothing left for him to do but to place the tray on the shelf outside, ready for her to take the contents in through the window.

* * * * *

The Gay Lady put me upon my own bed, tucked me up, drew the curtains, and left me to my nap. She left a kiss on my cheek also, and as she dropped it there I thought of the Skeptic again—I don't know why. I wondered casually what he would give for one like it.

When I awoke my room was so nearly dark that I was startled into thinking it next morning. The Lad's voice, speaking eagerly through my door, was what had roused me. He was summoning me to dinner. "It's all ready," he was calling.

I dressed dazedly, refreshed and wondering. I went down to preside at the most delicious meal I had eaten in a month. The Gay Lady—in white muslin, with cheeks like roses—seemed not in the least fatigued. The Skeptic looked like a young commanding general who had seen his forces win triumphantly against great odds. The Philosopher was hilarious. Azalea seemed somewhat quiet and thoughtful.

When the dishes were done and the kitchen in order—matters which were dispatched like wildfire—we gathered upon the porch as usual.

"There is nothing in the world I should like so much," said the Gay Lady presently, from the low chair where she sat, with the Skeptic on a cushion so near to her feet that in the shadow his big figure seemed to melt into her slight one, "as some music. Is it asking too much, dear, after all those dishes?"

"I don't feel a bit like singing," answered Azalea.

The Philosopher sat beside her on the settle, and he turned to add his request to the Gay Lady's.

The Skeptic spoke heartily from his cushion.

"If you knew how much pleasure you've given us all these mornings and evenings," he said, "never having to be urged, but being so generous with your great art——"

"Somehow it doesn't look so great to me to-night," said Azalea quietly.

I almost thought there were tears in her voice. She has a beautiful speaking voice, as singers are apt to have.

Everybody was silent for an instant, in surprise—and anxiety. Azalea was a very lovely girl—nobody had meant to hurt her.

Had the Skeptic's shot in the kitchen gone home? Nobody would be sorrier than he to deal a blow where only a feather's touch was meant.

"It looks so great to me," said the Gay Lady very gently, "that I would give—years of my life to be able to sing one song as you sing Beethoven's 'Adelaide.'"

"Of course I can't refuse, after that," said Azalea modestly, though more happily, I thought, and the Philosopher went away with her into the half-lit living room.

"May I say anything?" asked the Skeptic, looking up into the Gay Lady's face, in the way he has when he wants to say things very much but is doubtful how she will take them—a condition he is frequently in.

She shook her head—I think she must have been smiling. It was so evident—that which he wanted to say. He wanted to assure her that her own accomplishments——

But the Gay Lady shook her head. "Let's just listen," she said.

So we listened. It was worth it. But, after all, I doubt if the Skeptic heard.



Here's metal more attractive. —Hamlet.

The Gay Lady had gone away for a week and a day. Although four of us remained, the gap in our number appeared prodigious. The first dinner without her seemed as slow and dull as a dance without music, in spite of the fact that we did our best, each one of us, not to act as if anything were wrong.

When we had escaped from the dining-room to the porch, Lad was the first to voice his sentiments upon the subject of our drooping spirits. "I didn't know her being here made such a lot of difference—till she got away," he said dismally. "There's nobody to laugh, now, when I make a joke."

"Don't the rest of us laugh at your jokes, son?" inquired the Philosopher, laying a friendly hand upon the Lad's arm as the boy stood on the porch step below him.

"You do—if she does," replied Lad. "Lots of times you'd never notice what I say if she didn't look at you and laugh. Then you burst out and laugh too—to please her, I suppose," he added.

The Philosopher glanced at me over the boy's head. "Here's a pretty sharp observer," said he, "with a gift at analysis. I didn't know before that I take my cue from the Gay Lady—or from any one else—when it comes to laughing at jokes. Try me with one now, Lad, and see if I don't laugh—all by myself."

Lad shook his head. "That wouldn't be any good. I'd know you didn't mean it. She always means it. Besides—she thinks things are funny that you don't. She's 'most as good as a boy—and I don't see how she can be, either," he reflected, "because she isn't the least bit like one."

"You're right enough about that," observed the Philosopher. "She's essentially feminine, if ever a girl was."

"Girl!" repeated the Lad. "She isn't a girl. That is—I thought she was, till she told me herself she wasn't. She's twenty-seven."

The Philosopher grinned. The Skeptic, who had lit his pipe and was puffing away at it, sitting on the settle with his back to the sunset—which was unusually fine that evening—gave utterance to a deep note of derision at the Lad's point of view. I smiled, myself. If ever there was an irresistible combination of the girlish and the womanly it was to be found in our Gay Lady. As to her looks—even the blooming youth of Althea, and the more cultivated charms of Camellia, had not made the Gay Lady less lovely in our eyes, although she was by no means what is known as a "beauty."

"She's a whole lot nicer than any of those girls we've had here this summer," the Lad went on. He seemed to have the floor. There could be no doubt that the subject of his musings was of interest to all his hearers. "And they weren't so bad, either—except Dahlia. I can't stand her," he added resentfully.

The Philosopher shook his head slightly as one who would have said "Who could?" if it had been allowable. The Skeptic removed his pipe from his mouth and gazed intently into its bowl. I felt it my duty to stand by Dahlia, for the sake of the Lad, who must not learn to sneer at women behind their backs.

"There are a great many nice things about Dahlia," I said. "And she has surely given you many good times, Lad. Think how often she has gone out on the river with you—and helped you make kites, and rigged little ships for you——"

"Oh, yes," cried the Lad scornfully, "she'll take me—when she can't get a man!"

The Skeptic's shoulders heaved as he turned away to cough violently. Evidently he had swallowed a pipeful of smoke. The Philosopher abruptly removed his hand from the Lad's shoulder and dropped down on the porch step, where his face was hidden from the bright young eyes above him. I shook my head at Lad. Presently he ran off to the red barn to look after some small puppies down there in the hay.

* * * * *

We three left behind settled down for the evening. At least I did, and the others made a show of doing so. But the Skeptic was both restless and moody, the Philosopher unsociable. Finally the Skeptic flung an invitation to the Philosopher to go off for a walk. The Philosopher consented with a nod, and they strolled away, taking leave of me with formal politeness. I understood them, and I did not mind. A wise woman lets a man go—that he may return.

They came back just as twilight darkened into night, and sat down at my feet on the step, shoulder to shoulder, like the good comrades that they were. I wondered if they had been discussing the subject which the Lad had introduced.

"How much," inquired the Philosopher quite suddenly, "do you suppose it would cost to dress a girl like Miss Camellia?"

"I've really no idea," I answered, since the question seemed directed at me. "It depends on a number of things. There are girls so clever with their needles that they can produce very remarkable effects for a comparatively small amount of money."

"Is she one of them?"

"I don't know."

"I fancy you do," was his comment. Presently he went on again. "You see, I don't know much about all this," he declared. "So I've had rather an observant eye on—on these young ladies you've had here from time to time this summer, and I confess I'm filled with curiosity. Would you mind telling me what you think the average girl of good family, and well brought up, has in her mind's eye as a desirable future—I mean for the next few years after school?—I don't know that I make myself clear. What I want to get at is—You see, the great thing a young chap thinks about is what he is going to make of himself—and how to do it. It struck me as rather odd that not one of those girls seemed to have any particular end in view—at least, that ever came out in her conversation."

I couldn't help smiling, his tone was so serious.

The Skeptic chuckled. He had put up his pipe, and was sitting with his hands clasped behind his head, as he leaned against one of the great pillars of the porch. "They have one, just the same," he vouchsafed. "He who runs may read."

The Philosopher regarded him thoughtfully, through the half-light from the hall lamp. "I noticed you did a good deal of running, first and last," he observed. "I suppose you read before you ran—unless you have eyes in the back of your head. Well," he continued, "you can't make me believe that all girls are so anxious to make a good impression, or they wouldn't do some of the things they do."

"For instance?" I suggested, having become curious myself. Never before, in an acquaintance dating far back, had I heard the Philosopher hold forth upon this subject.

"They make themselves conspicuous," said he promptly—to my great surprise. "As nearly as I can get at it, that's the cardinal fault of the girl of to-day. Everywhere I go I notice it—in public—in private. Wherever she is she holds the floor, occupies the centre of the stage. If you'll pardon my saying it, every last girl you had here this summer did that thing, each in her own way."

I thought about them—one after another. It was true. Each had, in her own way, occupied the centre of the stage. And the Gay Lady, than whom nobody has a better right to keep fast hold of her position in the foreground of all our thoughts, had allowed each one to do it. And somehow, in every case, after all, the real focus for all our eyes, quite without her being able to help it, had been wherever the Gay Lady had happened to be.

We all went to bed early that night. The Philosopher's observations, though highly interesting, did not keep us from becoming very sleepy at an untimely hour. It was the same way next evening. And the next. In fact, up to the very night before the Gay Lady's expected return, we continued to cut short our days of waiting by as much as we could venture to do without exciting the suspicion that we were weary of one another.

On that last evening the Skeptic fastened himself to me. He insisted on my walking with him in the garden.

"So she comes back to-morrow," said he, as we paced down the path, quite as if he had just learned of the prospect of her return.

"I can hardly wait," said I.

"Neither can I," he agreed solemnly. "I knew I should miss her, but—smoke and ashes!—I didn't dream the week would be a period of time long enough for a ray of light to travel from Sirius to the earth and back again."

"If she could only hear that!" said I.

"She's going to hear it," he declared with great earnestness. "She's kept me quiet all summer, but—by a man's impatience!—she can't keep me quiet any longer. Do you blame me?" he inquired, wheeling to look intently at me through the September twilight.

"Not a bit," said I. "I've only wished she could stand still until Lad grows up."

"You must think well of her, to say that," said he delightedly. "And, on my word, I don't know but she will continue to stand still, as far as looks go. But in mind—and heart—well, the only thing is, I'm so far below her I don't dare to hope. All I know is that, for sheer womanly sweetness and strength, there's nobody her equal. And yet, when I try to put my finger on what makes her what she is—I can't tell."

"One can't analyze her charm," said I, "except as you've just done it—womanly sweetness and strength. Hepatica is—Hepatica. And being that, we love her."

"We do," said he, half under his breath, and caught my hand and gave it a grip which stung.

* * * * *

The next morning the Gay Lady came home. We had not expected her until evening, and when we heard a light footstep approaching through the hall as we sat at breakfast, we looked at one another in dumb astonishment and disbelief. But the next instant she stood smiling at us from the doorway.

She was glad to see us, too. From Lad's ecstatic embrace she came into mine, and I heard her eager whisper—"I'm so glad to get back to you!" The Skeptic and the Philosopher wrung her hand until I know her little fingers ached, and they stared at her, the one like a brother, the other like—well, she must have seen for herself. No, they were not rivals. The Philosopher had seen the Skeptic's case, I think, from the first, and being not only a philosopher but a man, and the Skeptic's best friend, had never allowed himself to enter the race at all. I had detected a wistful light in his eyes now and then, and had my own notion of what might have happened if he had let it, but—there was only a very warm brotherliness in the greeting he gave the Gay Lady, and she looked back into his eyes too frankly for me to think he had ever let her see anything else.

She sat down at the table with us for a little, while we finished, and you should have seen the difference in the look of the room. It was another place. She ran upstairs to her own room, and I followed her, and from being a deserted bedroom with a lonely aspect it became a human habitation with an atmosphere of home. She took off her travelling dress, talking gayly to me all the while, and brushed her bright locks, and put on one of the charming white frocks which her own hands had made, and then came and held me tight, and laughed, and was very near crying, and said there was never such another place as this.

"There certainly never is when you are in it, dear," I agreed, and received such a reward for that as only the Gay Lady knows how to give.

All day she stayed by me, wherever I might be. The Skeptic watched and waited—he got not the ghost of an opportunity. When I was upon the porch with the others she was there—and not a minute after.

* * * * *

When evening fell it found the Gay Lady on a cushion close by my knee. Presently the Philosopher went off with the Lad down to the river. The Skeptic accompanied them part of the distance, then returned quite unexpectedly by way of the shrubbery, and swung up over the porch rail at the end at a moment when the Gay Lady, feeling safe in his absence, had gone to that end to see the moonlight upon the river.

"'All's fair in love and war,'" exulted the Skeptic, somewhat breathlessly. It seemed to be a favourite maxim with him. I recalled his having excused himself for eluding Dahlia by that same well-worn proverb. "No—don't run! Have I become suddenly so terrifying?"

"Why should you be terrifying?" asked Hepatica. "Come and sit down and tell us what you've all been doing while I was away."

Her back was toward me. There was a long window open close beside me. My sympathy was with the Skeptic. I slipped through it.

An hour later I went out upon the porch again. Nobody was there. I sat down alone, feeling half excited and half depressed, and wholly anxious to know the outcome of the Skeptic's tactics. I waited a long time, as it seemed to me. Then, without warning, a voice spoke. I could hardly recognize it for the Skeptic's voice, it was strung so tense—with joy.

"Don't shoot," it said. "We'll come down."

I looked toward the end of the porch, where the vines cast a deep shadow. I could not see them, but they must have been there all the time. And the shadow cast by the vines was not a wide shadow at all.




Amen Stuck in my throat. —Macbeth.

The Skeptic and his wife, Hepatica, being happily established in a beautifully spacious flat in town, measuring thirty feet by forty over all, invited me to visit them. As both had spent considerable time at my country home in summer, they insisted that it was only just for me to allow them, that second winter after their marriage, to return my hospitality. This argument alone would hardly have sufficed, for winter in the country—connected by trolley with the town—is hardly less delightful to me than summer itself. But there were other and convincing arguments, and they ended by bringing me to the city for a month's visit in the heart of the season.

On the first morning at breakfast—I had arrived late the night before—there was much to talk about.

"It's a curious fact," said the Skeptic, stirring a cup of yellow-brown coffee with which his wife had just presented him, "as Hepatica and I discovered only the other day, that three of those girls who visited you that summer four years ago, when she and I were avoiding each other——"

"You—avoiding!" I interpolated.

"Well—I was trying to avoid being avoided by her," he explained. "Three of those girls are married and living in town."

"Yes, I know," said I. "At least I know Camellia and Althea are. Who else? Azalea lives across the river, doesn't she?"

"Yes. You haven't heard of the latest matrimonial alliance, then?" The Skeptic chuckled. Hepatica looked at him, and he looked at her, and then they both looked at me. "Dahlia was married yesterday," the Skeptic announced with relish, "in a manse study, with two witnesses."

I was astounded. I had just come from home, and Dahlia was my next neighbour. She had been away more or less all winter, but there had been no announcement of any engagement—nor sign of one.

The Skeptic, enjoying my stupefaction, proceeded to give what he considered an explanation. "I don't see why you should be so surprised," he said. "You knew Dahlia's methods. Her net was always spread, and though a certain wise man declares it in vain to spread it in the sight of any bird, humans are not always so wary. A man who chanced to be walking along with his head in the clouds might get his feet entangled in a cunningly laid net. And so it happened to the Professor."

"The Professor!" I ejaculated. "Not—our Professor?"

The Skeptic nodded solemnly.

"He was our Professor," he amended. "He's hers now. And day before yesterday he was free!"

He glanced at his watch, folded his napkin in haste, seized his coat and hat, kissed his wife, patted her shoulder, nodded at me, and was gone. A minute later we heard the whirr and slide of his car, and Hepatica, at the window, was returning his wave.

"He's looking extremely well," I observed. "He must be twenty pounds heavier than he was that summer. Avoiding being avoided was probably rather thinning."

"He does seem to enjoy his food," admitted Hepatica, regarding the Skeptic's empty plate with satisfaction.

"Not much doubt of that," I agreed, remembering the delicately hearty breakfast we had just consumed.

"It's really quite dreadful about Dahlia and the poor Professor, isn't it?" said Hepatica presently. "And it's just as Don says: he was literally caught in her net. I presume he couldn't tell to-day precisely how it happened."

"I've no doubt she could," said I ungenerously. "I shall be anxious to see them."

"Oh, you'll see them. It's in the middle of term—he couldn't take her away. And his old quarters are just two blocks below us. She knew you were coming. You'll probably see them within forty-eight hours."

We did, though not where we could do more than take observations upon them. The Philosopher came in that evening—he had known of my coming from the moment that Hepatica had planned to ask me. He was looking rather less well-fed than the Skeptic, but quite as philosophical, and altogether as friendly as ever. He looked hard at me, and wrung my hand, and immediately began to lay out a programme for my visit. As a beginning he had procured tickets for the Philharmonic Society concert to be given on the following evening.

We told him about Dahlia. He had not heard. He looked quickly and dumbfoundedly at the Skeptic, and the Skeptic grinned back at him. "You feel for him, don't you, Philo?" he queried.

The Philosopher shook his head, and seemed, for a time, much depressed; upon which the Skeptic rallied him. "You ought to be jubilant to think it's not yourself," he urged his friend. "You know, there was one time when you feared even to go home with her, though you were to be within call from the porch all the way."

But the Philosopher cheered up presently in the pleasure of talking over old times at the Farm. He had spent the past summer tramping through Germany, and he and I had not met for many months.

We went to the concert next evening, we four, in a jovial mood. There was considerable sly joking, on the Skeptic's part, concerning the change of conditions which now made Hepatica my chaperon, instead of, as in former days, my being alert to protect her from visiting philosophers and skeptics. The Philosopher and I took it quite in good part, for nothing could be more settled than the unimpassioned character of our old friendship—as there could be nothing more satisfactory.

We had not more than taken our seats when the Skeptic leaned past Hepatica to call my attention to two people who had come down the aisle and were finding their places just across it and in the row ahead of us. I turned to the Philosopher.

"There they are," I whispered. So our four pairs of eyes gazed interestedly that way.

As she settled into place, Dahlia, whose pretty, flushed face had been turned in every direction over the house as she got out of her evening coat, caught sight of us. She bowed and smiled with great cordiality, and immediately called her companion's attention to us. The Professor—eighteen years Dahlia's senior, but one of the best men who ever walked the earth, as we had long since discovered—turned and scanned us over his spectacles. Then he also responded to our smiling recognitions with a somewhat subdued but pleased acknowledgment. Dahlia continued to whisper to him, still glancing back at us from time to time with looks of good-fellowship, and he appeared to lend an attentive ear, though he did not again turn toward us.

As for us, in the interest of our observation of the bridal pair, we fell rather silent. I was conscious that the Philosopher, regarding them somewhat steadily, drew a deep breath which sounded like a sigh of dissatisfaction. Noting how thin the Professor's ash-coloured hair seemed to be, over the crown of his head, in comparison with Dahlia's luxuriant and elaborately dressed chestnut locks, I felt depressedly that the disparity in age was more marked than is often seen. This, in itself, of course, was nothing; but taken in connection with——

The Skeptic leaned forward again.

"What'll you wager I couldn't get up a flirtation with her to-night, if I happened to sit next her?" he challenged in a whisper.

"Don!" murmured Hepatica; but she smiled.

"I'm not anywhere near his age," continued the Skeptic. "My auburn tresses are thick upon my head, my evening clothes were made a decade later than his. If I were only sitting next her!"

At this moment some more people came down the aisle and were shown to the seats immediately beyond our friends. As the Professor and Dahlia stood up to let them through, we saw that though the newcomers passed the Professor without recognition, the young man exchanged greetings with Dahlia. As they took their seats the man, a floridly handsome person, was at Dahlia's elbow.

For the third time the Skeptic leaned forward. "It's just as well, perhaps," he whispered, "that my observations are to be made upon a proxy. What do you think the new chap's chances are for fun on both sides of him?"

I did not condescend to answer. And without further delay the famous conductor of a famous orchestra came commandingly to the front of the stage, welcomed by an outburst of applause, and with the rest of the audience we became silent.

But amidst all the delights of the ear which were ours that evening, the eyes of all of us would wander, from time to time, across the aisle. The Professor sat, with arms folded and head bent, drinking in the beauties of sound which beat against his welcoming ears. Next him, Dahlia, the bride of three days, was vindicating the Skeptic's opinion of her undiminished accomplishments. The young man upon her right proved an able second. The girl on his other side, by the time the concert was half over, was holding her head high, or bending it to study a programme which I am sure she did not see, while her companion played Dahlia's old game with a trained hand.

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" breathed the Philosopher in my ear, during an intermission.

"I'm afraid not," I assented dubiously. "But, of course, she may make a devoted wife, nevertheless. That sort of thing doesn't mean anything to her, you know. She merely does it as a matter of habit."

"It can't be precisely an endearing habit to a husband," protested the Philosopher. "If she would address a remark now and then to the poor man at her left one might excuse her. And if she could carry on a conversation with the other one in an ordinarily well-bred, friendly way—and confine it to the intervals between numbers—one might be able to forget her, which would be a relief. But all those silly tricks of hers—those smiles, those archings of the neck—those lengthy looks up into the eyes of that fool——"

"Don't look at them," I advised.

"I can't help looking at them. Everybody else is looking at them—including yourself."

It was quite true—everybody was, even people considerably out of range. If Dahlia herself was conscious of this—and I'm sure she must have been—she probably ascribed it to the charm of her appearance. She is even prettier than she used to be. But, as we were wont to say of her when we had owned to all her attractiveness—"if only!"

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse