Andrew the Glad
By MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS
Author of Miss Selina Lue, Rose of Old Harpeth The Melting of Molly, etc.
TO LIBBIE LUTTRELL MORROW
I THE HEART TRAP
II THE RITUAL
III TWO LITTLE CRIMES
IV ACCORDING TO SOLOMON
V DAVID'S ROSE AND SOME THORNS
VI THE BRIDGE OF DREAMS
VII STRANGE WILD THINGS
VIII THE SPELL AND ITS WEAVING
IX PURSUING THE POSSUM
X LOVE'S HOME AND ANDREW SEVIER
XI ACROSS THE MANY WATERS
ANDREW THE GLAD
THE HEART TRAP
"There are some women who will brew mystery from the decoction of even a very simple life. Matilda is one of them," remarked the major to himself as he filled his pipe and settled himself before his high-piled, violet-flamed logs. "It was waxing strong in her this morning and an excitement will arrive shortly. Now I wonder—"
"Howdy, Major," came in a mockingly lugubrious voice from the hall, and David Kildare blew into the room. He looked disappointedly around, dropped into a chair and lowered his voice another note.
"Seen Phoebe?" he demanded.
"No, haven't you?" answered the major as he lighted his pipe and regarded the man opposite him with a large smile of welcome.
"Not for three days, hand-running. She's been over to see Andy with Mrs. Matilda twice, and I've missed her both times. Now, how's that for luck?"
"Well," said the major reflectively, "in the terms of modern parlance, you certainly are up against it. And did it ever occur to you that a man with three ribs broken and a dislocated collar-bone, who has written a play and a sprinkle of poems, is likely to interest Phoebe Donelson enormously? There is nothing like poetry to implant a divine passion, and Andrew is undoubtedly of poetic stamp."
"Oh, poetry—hang! It's more Andy's three ribs than anything else. He just looks pale and smiles at all of 'em. He always did have yellow dog eyes, the sad kind. I'd like to smash all two dozen of his ribs," and Kildare slashed at his own sturdy legs with his crop. He had dropped in with his usual morning's tale of woe to confide to Major Buchanan, and he had found him, as always, ready to hand out an incendiary brand of sympathy.
"He ought not to have more than twenty-three; one on the right side should be missing. Some woman's got it—maybe Phoebe," said the major with deadly intent.
"Nothing of the kind. I'm shy a rib myself and Phoebe is it. Don't I get a pain in my side every time I see her? It's the real psychic thing, only she doesn't seem to get hold of her end of the wire like she might."
"Don't trust her, David, don't trust her! You see his being injured in Panama, building bridges for his country, while you sat here idly reading the newspapers about it, has had its appeal. I know it's dangerous, but you ought to want Phoebe to soothe his fevered brow. Nothing is too good for a hero this side of Mason and Dixon's, my son." The major eyed his victim with calculating coolness, gaging just how much more of the baiting he would stand. He was disappointed to see that the train of explosives he had laid failed to take fire.
"Well, he's being handed out a choice bunch of Mason-Dixon attentions. They are giving him the cheer-up all day long. When I left, Mrs. Shelby was up there talking to him, and Mrs. Cherry Lawrence and Tom had just come in. Mrs. Cherry had brought him several fresh eggs. She had got them from Phoebe! I sent them to her from the farm this morning. Rode out and coaxed the hens for them myself. Now, isn't a brainstorm up to me?"
"Well, I don't know," answered the major in a judicial tone of voice. "You wouldn't have them neglect him, would you?"
"Well, what about me?" demanded David dolefully. "I haven't any green eyes, 'cause I'm trusting Andy, not Phoebe; but neglect is just withering my leaves. I haven't seen her alone for two weeks. She is always over there with Mrs. Matilda and the rest 'soothing the fevered brow.' Say, Major, give Mrs. Matilda the hint. The chump isn't really sick any more. Hint that a little less—"
"David, sir," interrupted the major, "it takes more than a hint to stop a woman when she takes a notion to nurse an attractive man, a sick lion one at that. And depend upon it, it is the poetry that makes them hover him, not the ribs."
"Well, you just stop her and that'll stop them," said David wrathfully.
"David Kildare," answered the major dryly, "I've been married to her nearly forty years and I've never stopped her doing anything yet. Stopping a wife is one of the bride-notions a man had better give up early in the matrimonial state—if he expects to hold the bride. And bride-holding ought to be the life-job of a man who is rash enough to undertake one."
"Do you think Phoebe and bride will ever rhyme together, Major?" asked David in a tone of deepest depression. "I can't seem to hear them ever jingle."
"Yes, Dave, the Almighty will meter it out to her some day, and I hope He will help you when He does. I can't manage my wife. She's a modern woman. Now, what are we going to do about them?" and the major smiled quizzically at the perturbed young man standing on the rug in front of the fire.
"Well," answered Kildare with a spark in his eyes, as he flecked a bit of mud from his boots which were splashed from his morning ride, "when I get Phoebe Donelson, I'm going to whip her!" And very broad and tall and strong was young David but not in the least formidable as to expression.
"Dave, my boy," answered the major in a tone of the deepest respect, "I hope you will do it, if you get the chance; but you won't! Thirty-eight years ago last summer I felt the same way, but I've had a long time to make up my mind to it; and I haven't done it yet."
"Anyway," rejoined his victim, "there's just this to it; she has got to accept me kindly, affectionately and in a ladylike manner or I'm going to be the villain and make some sort of a rough house to frighten her into it."
"David," said the major with emphasis, "don't count on frightening a woman into a compliance in an affair of the affections. Don't you know they will risk having their hearts suspended on a hair-line between heaven and hell and enjoy it? Now, my wife—"
"Oh, Mrs. Matilda never could have been like that," interrupted David miserably.
"Boy," answered the major solemnly, "if I were to give you a succinct account of the writhings of my soul one summer over a California man, the agony you are enduring would seem the extremity of insignificance."
"Heavenly hope, Major, did you have to go up against the other man game, too? I seem to have been standing by with a basket picking up chips of Phoebe's lovers for a long lifetime; Tom, Hob, Payt, widowers and flocks of new fledges. But I had an idea that you must have been a first-and-only with Mrs. Matilda."
"Well, it sometimes happens, David, that the individuality of all of a woman's first loves get so merged into that of the last that it would be difficult for her to differentiate them herself; and it is best to keep her happily employed so she doesn't try."
"Well, all I can say for you, Major," interrupted Kildare with a laugh, "is that your forty years' work shows some. Your Mrs. Buchanan is what I call a finished product of a wife. I'll never do it in the world. I can get up and talk a jury into seeing things my way, but I get cross-brained when I go to put things to Phoebe. That reminds me, that case on old Jim Cross for getting tangled up with some fussy hens in Latimer's hen-house week before last is called for to-day at twelve sharp. I'm due to put the old body through and pay the fine and costs; only the third time this year. I'm thinking of buying him a hen farm to save myself trouble. Good-by, sir!"
"David, David," laughed the major, "beware of your growing responsibilities! Cap Hobson reported that sensation of yours before the grand jury over that negro and policeman trouble. The darkies will put up your portrait beside that of Father Abe on Emancipation Day and you will be in danger of passing down to posterity by the public-spirit-fame chute. Your record will be in the annals of the city if you don't mind!"
"Not much danger, Major," answered David with a smile. "I'm just a glad man with not balance enough to run the rail of any kind of heavy track affairs."
"David," said the major with a sudden sadness coming into his voice and eyes, "one of the greatest men I ever knew we called the glad man—the boy's father, Andrew Sevier. We called him Andrew, the Glad. Something has brought it all back to me to-day and with your laugh you reminded me of him. The tragedy of it all!"
"I've always known what a sorrow it was to you, Major, and it is the bitterness that is eating the heart out of Andy. What was it all about exactly, sir? I have always wanted to ask you." David looked into the major's stern old eyes with such a depth of sympathy in his young ones that a barrier suddenly melted and with the tone of bestowing an honor the old fire-eater told the tale of the sorrow of his youth.
"Gaming was in his blood, David, and we all knew it and protected him from high play always. We were impoverished gentlemen, who were building fences and restoring war-devastated lands, and we played in our shabby club with a minimum stake and a maximum zest for the sport. But that night we had no control over him. He had been playing in secret with Peters Brown for weeks and had lost heavily. When we had closed up the game, he called for the dice and challenged Brown to square their account. They threw again and again with luck on the same grim side. I saw him stake first his horses, then his bank account, and lose.
"Hayes Donelson and I started to remonstrate but he silenced us with a look. Then he drew a hurried transference of his Upper Cumberland property and put it on the table. They threw again and he lost! Then he smiled and with a steady hand wrote a conveyance of his home and plantation, the last things he had, as we knew, and laid that on the table."
"No, Major," exclaimed David with positive horror in his voice.
"Yes, it was madness, boy," answered the major. "Brown turned his ivories and we all held our breath as we read his four-three. A mad joy flamed in Andrew's face and he turned his cup with a steady wrist—and rolled threes. We none of us looked at Brown, a man who had led another man in whose veins ran a madness, where in his ran ice, on to his ruin. We followed Andrew to the street to see him ride away in a gray drizzle to a gambled home—and a wife and son.
"That morning deeds were drawn, signed, witnessed and delivered to Brown in his office. Then—then"—the major's thin, powerful old hands grasped the arm of his chair—"we found him in the twilight under the clump of cedars that crowned the hill which overlooked Deep-mead Farm—broad acres of land that the Seviers had had granted them from Virginia—dead, his pistol under his shoulder and a smile on his face. Just so he had looked as he rode at the head of our crack gray regiment in that hell-reeking charge at Perryville, and it was such a smile we had followed into the trenches at Franklin. Stalwart, dashing, joyous Andrew, how we had all loved him, our man-of-smiles!"
"Can anything ever make it up to you, Major?" asked David softly. As he spoke he refilled the major's pipe and handed it to him, not appearing to notice how the lean old hand shook.
"You do, sir," answered the major with a spark coming back into his eyes, "you and your gladness and the boy and his—sadness—and Phoebe most of all. But don't let me keep you from your hen-roost defense—I agree with you that a hen farm will be the cheapest course for you to take with old Cross. Give him my respects, and good-by to you." The major's dismissal was gallant, and David went his way with sympathy and admiration in his gay heart for the old fire-eater whose ashes had been so stirred.
The major resumed his contemplation of the fire. Hearty burning logs make good companions for a philosopher like the major, and such times when his depths were troubled he was wont to trust to them for companionship.
But into any mood of absorption, no matter how deep, the major was always ready to welcome Mrs. Matilda, and his expectations on the subject of her adventures had been fully realized. As usual she had begun her tale in the exact center of the adventure with full liberty left herself to work back to the beginning or forward to the close.
"And the mystery of it all, Matilda, is the mystery of love—warm, contradictory, cruel, human love that the Almighty puts in the heart of a man to draw the unreasoning heart of a woman; sometimes to bruise and crush it, seldom to kill it outright. Mary Caroline only followed her call," answered the major, responding to her random lead patiently.
"I know, Major; yes, I know," answered his wife as she laid her hand on the arm of his chair. "Mary Caroline struggled against it but it was stronger than she was. It wasn't the loving and marrying a man who had been on the other side—so many girls did marry Union officers as soon as they could come back down to get them—but the kind of enemy he was!"
"Yes," said the major thoughtfully, "it would take a wider garment of love to cover a man with a carpetbag in his hand than a soldier in a Yankee uniform. A conqueror who looked around as he was fighting and then came back to trade on the necessities of the conquered cuts but a sorry figure, Matilda, but a sorry figure!"
"And Mary Caroline felt it too, Major—but she couldn't help it," said Mrs. Buchanan with a catch in her voice. "The night before she ran away to marry him she spent with me, for you were away across the river, and all night we talked. She told me—not that she was going—but how she cared. She said it bitterly over and over, 'Peters Brown, the carpetbagger—and I love him!' I tried to comfort her as best I could but it was useless. He was a thief to steal her—just a child!" There was a bitterness and contempt in Mrs. Matilda's usually tender voice. She sat up very straight and there was a sparkle in her bright eyes.
"And the girl," continued the major thoughtfully, "was born as her mother died. He'd never let the mother come back and he never brought the child. Now he's dead. I wonder—I wonder. We've got a claim on that girl, Matilda. We—"
"And, dear, that is just what I came back in such a hurry to tell you about—I felt it so—I haven't been able to say it right away. I began by talking about Mary Caroline and—I—I—"
"Why, Matilda!" said the major in vague alarm at the tremble in his wife's voice. He laid his hand over hers on the arm of his chair with a warm clasp.
"It's just this, Major. You know how happy I have been, we all have been, over the wonderful statue that has been given in memory of the women of the Confederacy who stayed at home and fed the children and slaves while the men fought. As you advised them, they have decided to put it in the park just to the left of the Temple of Arts, on the very spot where General Darrah had his last gun fired and spiked just before he fell and just as the surrender came. It's strange, isn't it, that nobody knows who's giving it? Perhaps it was because you and David and I were talking last night about what he should say about General Darrah when he made the presentation of the sketches of the statue out at the opening of the art exhibition in the Temple of Arts to-night, that made me dream about Mary Caroline all night. It is all so strange." Again Mrs. Buchanan paused with a half sob in her voice.
"Why, what is it, Matilda?" the major asked as he turned and looked at her anxiously.
"It's a wonderful thing that has happened, Major. Something, I don't know what, just made me go out to the Temple this morning to see the sketches of the statue which came yesterday. I felt I couldn't wait until to-night to see them. Oh, they are so lovely! Just a tall fearless woman with a baby on her breast and a slave woman clinging to her skirts with her own child in her arms!
"As I stood before the case and looked at them the tragedy of all the long fight came back to me. I caught my breath and turned away—and there stood a girl! I knew her instantly, for I was looking straight into Mary Caroline's own purple eyes. Then I just opened my arms and held her close, calling Mary Caroline's name over and over. There was no one else in the great room and it was quiet and solemn and still. Then she put her hand against my face and looked at me and said in the loveliest tenderest voice:
"'It's my mother's Matilda, isn't it? I have the old daguerreotype!' And I smiled back and we kissed each other and cried—and then cried some more."
"I haven't a doubt of those tears," answered the major in a suspiciously gruff voice. "But where's the girl? Why didn't you bring her right back with you? She is ours, Matilda, that purple-eyed girl. When is she coming? Call Tempie and tell her to have Jane get those two south-wing rooms ready right away. I want Jeff to fill up the decanters with the fifty-six claret, too, and to put—"
"But wait, Major, I couldn't get her to come home with me! We went out into the sunshine and for a long drive into the country. We talked and talked. It is the saddest thing in the world, but she is convinced that her mother's people are not going to like her. She has been taught that we are so prejudiced. I think she has found out about the carpetbagging. She is so sensitive! She came because she couldn't help it; she wanted just to see her mother's country. She's only been here two days. She intends to steal away back now, over to Europe, I think. I tried to make her see—"
"Matilda," said the major sternly, "go right back and tell that child to pack her dimity and come straight here to me. Carpetbagging, indeed!—Mary Caroline's girl with purple eyes! Did old Brown have any purple eyes, I'd like to know?"
"I made her promise not to go until tomorrow. I think she would feel differently if we could get her to stay a little while. I want her to stay. She is so lonely. My little boy loved Mary Caroline and grieved for her when she went away. I feel I must have this child to comfort for a time at least."
"Of course she must stay. Did she promise she wouldn't slip away from you?"
"Yes, but I'm uneasy. I think I will go down to her hotel right now. Do you mind about being alone for lunch? Does Tempie get your coffee right?"
"She does pretty well considering that she hasn't been tasting it for thirty years. But you go get that child, Matilda. Bring her right back with you. Don't stop to argue with her, I'll attend to all that later; just bring her home!"
And as Mrs. Buchanan departed the major rose and stood at the window until he saw her get into her carriage and be driven out of sight. Looking down the vista of the long street, his eyes had a faraway tender light, and as he turned and took up his pipe from the table his thoughts slipped back into the province of memory. He settled himself in his chair before his fire to muse a bit between the whiffs of his heart-leaf.
And Mary Caroline Darrah's girl had come home—home to her own, he mused. There was mystery in it, the mystery that sometimes brands the unborn. Brown had never let Mary Caroline come back and the few letters she had written had told them little of the life she led. The constraint had wrung his wife's yearning heart. Only a letter had come when somehow the news had reached her of the death of Matilda's boy, and it had been wild and sweet and athrob with her love of them. And in its pages her own hopes for the spring were confessed in a passion of desire to give and claim sympathy. Her baby had been born and she was dead and buried before they had heard of it; twenty-three years ago! And Matilda's grief for her own child had been always mingled with love and longing for the motherless, unattainable young thing across the distance. Brown had kept the girl to himself and had never brought her back—because he dared not.
The major's powerful old hands writhed around the arms of his chair and his eyes glowed into the embers like live sparks. It was years, nearly thirty years ago—but, God, how the tragedy of it came back! The hot blood beat into his veins and he could feel it and see it all. Would the picture always burn in his brain? Nearly thirty years ago—
The logs crashed apart in the hearth and with a start the major rose to his feet, a tear dashed aside under his shaggy old eyebrows. He would go back to his Immortals—and forget. Perhaps Phoebe would come in for lunch. That would make forgetting easier.
Where had the girl been for the last few days? He smiled as he found himself in something of David's dismay at not having seen the busy young woman for quite a time.
And it was perhaps an hour later that, as he sat in the breakfast room partaking of his lunch in solitary comfort, lost to the world, his wish for her brought its materialization. He had the morning's paper propped up before him and an outspread book rested by his plate, while he held a large volume balanced on his knee, which he paused occasionally to consult.
Mrs. Buchanan had telephoned that she would be home with her guest at five o'clock and his mind was filled with pleasant anticipation. But there was never a time with the major, no matter how filled the life was around him with the excitement of events, with the echo of joy or woe, the clash of social strife or the turmoil of vaster interests, when he failed to be able to plunge into his books and lose himself completely.
He was in the act of consuming a remnant of a corn muffin and a draft from his paper at the same time, when he heard a merry voice in laughing greeting to Jeff, and the rose damask curtains that hung between the breakfast room and the hall parted, and Phoebe stood framed against their heavy folds. She was the freshest, most radiant, tailor-made vision imaginable and the major smiled a large joyful smile at the sight of her.
"Come in, come in, my dear; you are just in time for a hot muffin and a fried chicken wing!" he exclaimed as he rose and drew her to the table. The old volume crashed to the floor unheeded.
"Oh, no, Major, thank you, I couldn't think of it," exclaimed Phoebe. "I'm lunching on a glass of malted milk and a raw egg these days. I lost a pound and three-quarters last week and I feel so slim and graceful." As she spoke she ran her hands down the charming lines of her tall figure and turned slowly around for him to get the full effect of her loss. She was most beautifully set up and the long lines melted into curves where gracious curves ought to be.
"Nonsense, nonsense, Phoebe Donelson!" exclaimed the major. "Every pound is an added charm. Sit here beside me." And he drew her into a chair at the corner of the table.
In a twinkling of her black eyes Tempie had served her with the golden muffins and crisp chicken. With a long sigh of absolute rapture Phoebe resigned herself to the inevitable crash of her resolutions.
"Ah, I never was so miserable and so happy in all my life before," she said. "I'm so hungry—and I'm so stout—and these muffins are wickedly delicious."
"Phoebe," said the major sternly, "instead of starving yourself to death you need to lie awake at night with lovers' troubles. Why, the summer I courted Matilda I could have wrapped my belt around me twice. I have never been portly since. It's loving you need, good, hard, miserable loving. Didn't you ever hear of a 'lean and hungry lover'? Your conduct is positively—have another muffin and this little slice of upper joint—I say positively, unwomanly inhuman. Are there no depths of pity in your breast? Is your bosom of adamant? When did you see David Kildare? He is in a most pitiable condition. He left here not an hour ago and I felt—"
"Don't worry over David, please, Major," said Phoebe as she paused with a bit of buttered muffin suspended on the way to her white teeth. "He is the most riotously—thank you, Tempie, just one more—happy individual I know. What he wants he has, and he sees to it that he has what he wants—to which add a most glorious leisure in which to want and have."
"Phoebe, David Kildare has an aching void in his heart that weighs just one hundred and thirty-six pounds, lacking now I believe one and three-quarters pounds plus three muffins and a half chicken. How can you be so heartless?" The major bent a benignly stern glance upon her which she returned with the utmost unconcern.
"He did not see you all of yesterday or the day before and only once on Monday, and then you—"
"That sounds like one of those rhyming calendars, my dear Major.
"Monday I am going far away, Tuesday I'll be busy all the day, Wednesday is the day I study French, Thursday is the—"
and Phoebe hummed the little nonsense jingle to him in a most beguiling manner.
The major laughed delightedly. "Phoebe, some day you will be held responsible for David Kildare's—"
"But, my dear Major," interrupted Phoebe, "how could I be expected to work all day for raiment and food, with malted milk and eggs at the price they are now, and then be responsible for such a perfectly irresponsible person as David Kildare? Why, just yesterday, while I was writing up the Farrell dbutante tea with the devil waiting at my elbows for copy and the composing room in a stew, he called me twice over the wire. He knew better, but didn't care."
"Still, my dear, still it's love," said the major as he looked at her thoughtfully and dropped the banter that had been in his voice since she had come in. "A boy's? Perhaps, but I think not. You'll see! It's a call, a call that must be answered some time, child—and a mystery." For a moment the major sat and looked deep into the gray eyes raised to his in quick responsiveness to the change in his mood. "Don't trifle with love, girl, it's God Almighty's dower to a woman. It's hers; though she pays a bitter price for it. It's a wonder and a worker of wonders. It has all come home to me to-day and I think you will understand when I tell you about—"
"Major," interrupted Tempie with a broad grin on her black face, "Mr. Dave, he done telephoned fer you ter keep Miss Phoebe till he gits here. He says he'll hold you and me 'sponsible, sir."
A quick flush rose to Phoebe's cheeks and she laughed as she collected her notebook and pinned down her veil all at the same tune with a view to instant flight. She gave neither the major nor Tempie time for remonstrance.
"Good-by!" she called from the hall. "I only came in to tell Mrs. Matilda that I would meet her at the Cantrell tea at five-fifteen and afterward we could make that visit together. The muffins were divine!"
"Tempie," remarked the major as he looked up at her over the devastated table with an imperturbable smile, "I have decided positively that women are just half-breed angels with devil markings all over their dispositions."
And having received which admonition with the deepest respect, Tempie immediately fell into a perfect whirlwind of guest preparations which involved the pompous Jefferson, her husband, and the meek Jane, her daughter. The major issued her numberless, perfectly impossible but solicitous orders and then retired to his library chair with his mind at ease and his books at hand.
And it was in the violet flamed dusk as he sat with his immortal friends ranged around that Mrs. Matilda brought the treasure home to him. She was a very lovely thing, a fragrant flower of a woman with the tender shyness of a child in her manner as she laid her hands in his outheld to her with his courtly old-world grace.
"My dear, my dear," he said as he drew her near to him, "here's a welcome that's been ready for you twenty years, you slip of a girl you, with your mother's eyes. Did you think you could get away from Matilda and me when we've been waiting for you all this time?"
"I may have thought so, but when I saw her I knew I couldn't; didn't want to even," she answered him in a low voice that hinted of close-lying tears.
"Child, Matilda has had a heart trap ready for you ever since you were born, in case she sighted you in the open. It's baited with a silver rattle, doll babies, sugar plums, the ashes of twenty years' roses, the fragrance of every violet she has seen, and lately an aggregation of every eligible masculine heart in this part of the country has been added. She caught you fair—walk in and help yourself; it's all yours!"
"Well, it's a sensation all right, Major," said David as he stood in front of the major's fire early in the morning after the ceremonies of the presentation of sketches of the statue out at the Temple of Arts. "Mrs. Matilda told me the news and helped me sandwich it into my speech between that time and the open-up talk. People had asked so often who was giving the statue, laid it on so many different people, and wondered over it to such an extent all fall that they had got tired and forgot that they didn't know all about it. When I presented it in the name of Caroline Darrah Brown in memory of her mother and her grandfather, General Darrah, you could have heard a pin drop for a few seconds, then the applause was almost a sob. It was as dramatic a thing as has been handed this town in many a day. Still it was a bit sky-rockety, don't you think—keeping it like that and—"
"David," interrupted the major quickly, "she never intended to tell it. She had done the business part of it through her solicitors. She never wanted us to know. I persuaded her to let it be presented in her name, myself, just before Matilda went out with you. She shrinks—"
"Wait a minute, Major, don't get the two sides of my brain crossed. You persuaded her—she isn't in town is she?—don't tell me she's here herself!" And David ruffled his auburn forelock with a gesture of perplexity.
"Yes," answered the major, "Caroline Darrah Brown is here and is, I hope, going to stay for a time at least. I wanted to tell you about it yesterday but I hadn't seen her and I—"
"And, David dear," interrupted Mrs. Buchanan who had been standing by with shining eyes waiting for an opening to break in on Kildare's astonishment with some of the details of her happiness over her discovery. "I didn't tell you last night for the major didn't want me to, but she is so lovely! She's your inherited friend, for your mother and hers were devoted to each other. I do want you to love her and everybody help me to make her feel at home. Don't mind about her father being a—you know a—a carpetbagger. Three of her Darrah grandfathers have been governors of this state; just think about them and don't talk about her father or any carpet—you know. Please be good to her!"
"Be good to her," exclaimed David heartily, "just watch me! I am loving her already for making you so happy by this down-from-the-sky drop, Mrs. Matilda. And we'll all be careful about the carpetbags; won't even mention a rug; lots of talk can be got out of the dead governors I'm thinking. My welcome's getting more enthusiastic every moment. When can I hand it to her?"
"She's resting now and I think she ought to be quiet for to-day, because she has been under a strain," answered Mrs. Buchanan as she glanced tenderly at a closed door across the hall. "Oh, I'm so glad you think you are going to love her in spite of—of—"
"The Brown graft on the Darrah family tree?" finished David quizzically. His eyes danced with delighted amusement across her puffs at the major as he added, "Must have been silversmiths dangling on most of his ancestral branches, judging from his propensity for making dollars; a million or two, stocks, bonds, any kind of flimflam,—eh, Major?"
"Yes," answered the major as he blew a ring of smoke into the air, "yes, just about that; any kind of flimflam. And I can not conceive of Peters Brown rejoicing at having thirty thousand of those dollars put into an In Memoriam to the women who sniffed at him and his carpetbags for a good twenty years after the war. But the child doesn't take any of that in. Those were twenty rich years he put in in reconstructing us, but when he took those same heavy carpetbags North he took Mary Caroline Darrah, the prettiest woman in the county with him. This girl—as I have said before, isn't love a strange thing? And you say the populace was astonished?"
"Almost to the point of paralyzation," answered David as he filled a stray pipe with some of the major's most choice heart-leaf tobacco. "But we managed to open up the picture show all right. The entire hive of busy art-bees was there in a queer kind of clothes; but proud of it. They acted as if we were dirt under their feet. They smiled on the whole glad-crowd of us with pity and let us rave over the wrong pictures. The portrait of Mrs. Peyton Kendrick by the great Susie Carrie Snow is—er—well, a little more of it shows than seems natural about the left off arm, but it's a Susie Carrie all right. You ought to have gone, Major, you would take with the art-gang, but we didn't; we were too afraid of them. After we had been shooed in front of most of the pictures and told how to see things in them that weren't there at all, Hob Capers said:
"'Let's all go down to the University Club and get drunk to forget 'em.' That's why Mrs. Matilda came home so late."
"And I want Hobson to be nice to her too," continued Mrs. Buchanan as if she had not been interrupted in planning for her guest. "And Tom and Peyton Kendrick. I'll ask them to come and see her right away."
"Don't! Wait a bit, Mrs. Matilda," exclaimed David. "Hob saw a mysterious girl in an orchid hat out in the park day before yesterday. He says his heart creaked with expansion at just the glimpse of a chin he got from under her veil. Suppose she's the girl. Let him have first innings."
"David," remarked the major, "flag the sun, moon and stars in their courses and signal time to reverse a day or a year, but don't try to turn aside a maker of matches from her machinations."
David laughed as the major's wife shook her head at him in gentle reproof, and he asked interestedly:
"When may we come to call, madam? I judge the lady is under your roof?"
"Soon, dear. She is very tired to-day, and I feel sure you will—"
"Miss Matilda," called Tempie from the hall, "Miss Phoebe is holdin' the phone fer you. She's at Mis' Cantrell's and she wants ter speak with you right away."
"Wait, wait, don't answer her right now—ring her off, Tempie! If she has trouble getting you, Mrs. Matilda, and you keep her talking I can catch her. Let me get a good start and then answer. Good-by! Keep talking to her!" And with determination in his eyes David took his hurried departure.
"Good-by, good luck—and good hunting!" called the major after him.
And with the greatest skilfulness Mrs. Buchanan held Phoebe in hand for enough minutes to insure David's capture before she returned to the library.
"Major," she said as she rubbed her cheek against his velvet coat sleeve, "why do you suppose Phoebe doesn't love David? I can't understand it."
"Matilda," answered the major as he blew a little curl over one of the soft puffs of her white hair, "you were born in a day when women were all run into a love-mold. They are poured into other assorted fancy shapes in these times, but heat from the right source melts them all the same. We can trust David's ardor, I think."
"Yes, I believe you are right," she answered judicially, "and Phoebe inherits lovingness from her mother. I feel that she is more affectionate than she shows, and I just go on and love her anyway. She lets me do it very often."
And from the depth of her unsophisticated heart Mrs. Buchanan had evolved a course of action that had gone far in comforting a number of the lonely years through which Phoebe Donelson had waded. She had been young, and high-spirited and intensely proud when she had begun to fight her own battles in her sixteenth year. Many loving hands of her mother's and father's old friends had been held out to her with a bounty of protection, but she had gone her course and carved her own fortune. Her social position had made things easy for her in a way and now her society editorship of the leading journal had become a position from which she wielded much power over the gay world that delighted in her wit and beauty, took her autocratic dictums in most cases, and followed her vogue almost absolutely.
Her independence prompted her to live alone in a smart down-town apartment with her old negro mammy, but her affections demanded that she take refuge at all times under the sheltering wings of Mrs. Buchanan, who kept a dainty nest always in readiness for her.
The tumultuous wooing of David Kildare had been going on since her early teens under the delighted eyes of the major, who in turn both furthered and hindered the suit by his extremely philosophical advice.
Phoebe was the crystallization of an infusion of the blood of many cultured, high-bred, haughty women which had been melted in the retort of a stern necessity and had come out a rather brilliant specimen of the modern woman, if a bit hard. Viewed in some ways she became an alarming augury of the future, but there are always potent counter-forces at work in life's laboratory, and the kind of forces that David Kildare brought to bear in his wooing were never exactly to be calculated upon. And so the major spent much time in the contemplation of the problem presented.
And when she had come in after a late lunch to call upon their guest, it had been intensely interesting to the major to regard the effect of the meeting of Phoebe's and Caroline Darrah's personalities. Caroline's lovely, shy child's eyes had melted with delight under Phoebe's straight, gray, friendly glances and her fascination for the tall, strong, radiant woman, who sat beside her, had been so obvious that the major had chuckled to himself under his breath as he watched them make friends, under Mrs. Matilda's poorly concealed anxiety that they should at once adopt cordial relations.
"And so he consented to undertake the commission for you because he was interested?" Phoebe was asking as they talked about the sketches of the statue. A very great sculptor was doing the work for Caroline Darrah Brown, and it interested Phoebe to hear how he had consented to accept so unimportant a commission.
"Yes," answered Caroline in her exquisite voice which showed only the faintest liquid trace of her southern inheritance. "I told him all about it and he became interested. He is very great, and simple, and kind. He made it easy to show him how I felt. I couldn't tell him much except how I felt; but I think it has something of—that—in—it. Don't you think so?" As she spoke she laid her white hand on the arm of Phoebe's chair and leaned forward with her dewy tender eyes looking straight into the gray ones opposite her.
For a moment Phoebe returned the glance with a quiet seriousness, then her eyes lighted a second, were suffused with a quick moisture, and with a proud gesture she bent forward, laying both hands on Caroline's shoulders as she pressed a deep kiss on the girl's red lips.
"I do think so," she answered with a low laugh as she arose to her feet, drew Caroline up into the bend of her arm and faced Mrs. Buchanan and the major. "I know the loveliness in the statue is what the great man got out of the loveliness in your heart, and the major and Mrs. Matilda think so, too. And I'm going quick because I must; and I'm coming back as soon as I can because I'm going to find you here—that is partly, Major," and before they could stop her she had gone on down the hall and they heard her answer Jeff's farewell as he let her out the door.
"That, Caroline Darrah Brown, was your first and most important conquest," observed the major. "Phoebe has a white rock heart but a crystal cracked therefrom is apt to turn into a jewel of price. Hers is a blood-ruby friendship that pays for the wearing and cherishing. But it's time for the nap Mrs. Matilda decides for me to take and I must leave you ladies to your dimity talk." With which he betook himself to his room, still plainly pleased at the result of Phoebe's call on the stranger.
The two women thus left to their own devices spent a delightful half-hour wandering over the house and discussing its furnishings and arrangements. Mrs. Buchanan never tired of the delights of her town home. The house was very stately and old-world, with its treasures of rare ancestral rosewood and mahogany that she had brought in from the Seven Oaks Plantation. The rooms in the country home had been so crowded with treasures of bygone generations that they were scarcely dismantled by the furnishing of the town house.
She was in her glory of domesticity, and as she passed from one room to another she told Caroline bits of interesting history about this piece or that. In her naivet she let the girl see into the long hard years that had been a hand-to-hand struggle for her and the major on their worn farm lands out in the beautiful Harpeth Valley.
The cropping out of phosphate on the bare fields had brought a comfortable fortune in its train to the old soldier farmer and they had moved into this town house to spend the winter in greater accessibility to their friends. Her own particular little world had welcomed her with delight, and Caroline could see that she was taking a second bellehood as if it had been an uninterrupted reign.
Most of the financiers of the city were the major's old friends and they managed enormously advantageous contracts with mining companies for him, and had taken him into the schemes of the mighty with the most manifest cordiality.
His study became the scene of much important plot and counter-plot. They found in his mind the quality which had led them to outwit many an enemy when he scouted ahead of their tattered regiment, still available when the enemy appeared under commercial or civic front. Also it naturally happened that his library gradually became the hunting-grounds for Mrs. Matilda's young people, who were irresistibly drawn into the circle of his ever ready sympathy.
The whole tale and its telling was absorbingly interesting to Caroline Darrah Brown and she listened with enraptured attention to it all. She repeated carefully the names of her mother's friends as they came up in the conversation; and she was pathetically eager to know all about this world she had come back into, from, what already seemed to her, her birth in a strange land. Two days in this country of her mother, and the enchantment of traditions that had been given to her unborn was already at work with its spell!
And so they rambled around and talked, unheeding the time until the early twilight began to fall and Mrs. Buchanan was summoned by Jeff to a consultation in the domestic regions with the autocratic Tempie.
Left to herself, Caroline Darrah wandered back again through the rooms from one object to another that inspired the stories. It was like fairy-land to her and she was in a long dream of pleasure. Out of the shadows she seemed to be drawing her wistful young mother, and hand in hand they were going over the past together.
When it was quite deep into the twilight she sauntered back to the crackling comfort of the major's fragrant logs. A discussion with Jeff over his toilet had delayed the major in his bedroom and she found the library deserted, but hospitable with firelight.
How long she had been musing and castle-building in the coals she scarcely knew, when a step on the polished floor made her look up, and with a little exclamation she rose to her full, slim, young height and turned to face a man who had come in with the unannounced surety of a member of the household. He was tall, broad and dark, and his knickerbockers were splashed with mud and covered with clinging burrs and pine-needles. One arm was lashed to his side with a silk sling and he held a huge bunch of glowing red berries in his free hand. They were branches of the red, coral-strung buck bushes and Caroline had never seen them before. Their gorgeousness fairly took her breath and she exclaimed with the ingenuous delight of a child.
"How lovely, how lovely!" she cried as she stretched out her hands for them. "I never saw any before. Do they grow here?"
"Yes," answered the man with a gleam of amusement in his dark eyes, "yes, they came from Seven Oaks. The fields are full of them now. Do you want them?" And as he spoke he laid the bunch in her arms.
"And they smell woodsy and piny and delicious. Thank you! I—they are lovely. I—" She paused in wild confusion, looked around the room as if in search of some one, and ended by burying her face in the berries. "I don't know where Major Buchanan is," she murmured helplessly.
"Well, it doesn't matter," he said with a comforting smile as he came up beside her on the rug. "They'll introduce us when they come. I'm Andrew Sevier and the berries are yours, so what matter?"
"Oh," said Caroline Darrah in an awed voice, and as she spoke she raised her head from the wood flowers and her eyes to his face, "oh, are you really Andrew Sevier?"
"Yes, really," he answered with another smile and a slightly puzzled expression in his own dark eyes.
"But I read everything I can find about you, and the papers say you are ill in Panama. I've been so worried about you. I saw your play last week in New York and I couldn't enjoy it for wondering how you were. I wouldn't read your poem in this month's Review because I was afraid you were dead—and I didn't know it. I'm so relieved." With which astonishing remark she drew a deep breath and laid her cheek against the field bouquet.
"I am—that is I was smashed up in Panama until David came down and brought me home. It was awfully good of you to—to know that I—that I—" Andrew Sevier paused as mirth, wonder and gratitude spread in confusion over his suntanned face.
"How did it happen? Was it very dreadful?" And again those distractingly solicitous eyes, full of sympathetic anxiety, were raised to his. Andrew shook himself mentally to see if it could possibly be a dream he was having, and a little thrill shot through him at the reality of it all.
"Nothing interesting; end of a bridge collapsed and put a rib or two out of commission," he managed to answer.
"I knew it was something dreadful," said Caroline Darrah Brown as she moved a step nearer him. "I was really unhappy about it and I wondered if all the other people who read your poems and watch for them and—and love them like I do, were worried, too. But I concluded that they would know how to find out about you; only I didn't. I'm glad you are here safe and that I know it."
The puzzled expression in Andrew Sevier's face deepened. Of course he had become more or less accustomed to the interest which his work had caused to be attached to his personality, and this was not the first time he had had a stranger read the poet into the man on first sight. They had even gone so far as to expect him to talk in blank verse he felt sure, especially when his admirer had been a member of the opposite and fair sex, but a thing like this had never happened to him before. It was, at the least, disturbing to have a lovely woman rise out of the major's very hearthstone and claim him as a familiar spirit with the exquisite frankness of a child. It smacked of the wine of wizardry. He glanced at her a moment and was on the point of making a tentative inquiry when the major came into the room.
"Well, Andy boy, you're in from the fields, I see. How's the farm? Every thing shipshape?" As he spoke the major shot a keen glance from under his beetling old brows at the pair and wisely let the situation develop itself.
Andrew answered his salutation promptly, then turned an amused glance on the girl at his side.
"He isn't going to introduce us," she laughed with a friendly little look up into his face. "I ought to have done it myself when you did, but I was so astonished—and relieved to find you. I'm Caroline Darrah Brown."
The words were low and laughing and warm with a sweet friendliness, but they crashed through the room like the breath of a swarm of furies. Andrew Sevier's face went white and drawn on the instant, and every muscle in his body stiffened to a tense rigidity. His dark eyes narrowed themselves to slits and glowed like the coals.
The major's very blood stopped in his veins and his fine old face looked drawn and gray as he stretched out his hand and laid it on Caroline's young shoulder. Not a word came to his lips as he looked in Andrew's face and waited.
And as he waited a wondrous thing and piercing sweet unfolded itself under his keen old eyes and sank like a balm into his wise old heart. From the two deep purple pools of womanhood that were raised to his, shy with homage of him and unconscious of their own tender reverencing, Andrew Sevier drew a deep draught into his very soul. Slowly the color mounted into his face, his eyes opened themselves and a wonderful smile curled his lips. He held out his hand and took her slender fingers into a strong clasp and held them for a long moment. Then with a smile at the major, which was a mixture of dignity tinged with an infinite sadness, he bent over and gently kissed the white hand as he let it go. The little ceremony had more chivalry than she understood.
"Its part of our ritual of welcome I'm claiming," he said lightly as she blushed rose pink and the divine shyness deepened in her eyes. She again buried her face in the berries.
Then with a proud look into Andrew's face the major laid his hand on the young man's bandaged arm and bent and raised Caroline's hand to his lips.
"It's a ritual, my dear," he said, "that I'm honored in observing with him. Friendship these days has need of rituals of ratification and the pomp of ceremonials to give it color. There's danger of its becoming prosaic. Jefferson, turn on the lights."
TWO LITTLE CRIMES
And then in a few weeks winter had come down from over the hills across the fields and captured the city streets with a blare of northern winds, which had been met and tempered by the mellow autumn breezes that had been slow to retreat and abandon the gold and crimson banners still fluttering on the trees. The snap and crackle of the Thanksgiving frost had melted into a long lazy silence of a few more Indian summer days so that, with lungs filled with the intoxicating draught of this late wine of October, everybody had ridden, driven, hunted, golfed and lived afield.
Then had come a second sweep of the northern winds and the city had wakened out of its haze of desertion, turned up its lights, built up its fires and put on the trappings of revelry and toil.
The major's logs were piled the higher and crackled the louder, and his welcome was even more genial to the chosen spirits which gathered around his library table. He and Mrs. Buchanan had succeeded in prolonging the visit of Caroline Darrah Brown into weeks and were now holding her into the winter months with loving insistence.
The open-armed hospitality with which their very delightful little world had welcomed her had been positively entrancing to the girl and she had entered into its gaieties with the joyous zest of the child that she was. Her own social experiences had been up to this time very limited, for she had come straight from the convent in France into the household of her semi-invalided father. He had had very few friends and in a vaguely uncomfortable way she had been made to realize that her millions made her position inaccessible; but by these delightful people to whom social position was a birthright, and wealth regarded only as a purchasing power for the necessities and gaieties of life, she had been adopted with much enthusiasm. Her delight in the round of entertainments in her honor and the innocent and slightly bewildered adventures she brought the major for consultation kept him in a constant state of interested amusement. Such advice as he offered went far in preserving her unsophistication.
And so the late November days found him enjoying life with a decidedly added zest in things, though his Immortals claimed him the moment he was left to his own resources and at times he even became entirely oblivious to the eddies in the lives around him. One cold afternoon he sat in his chair, buried eyes-deep in one of his old books, while across from him sat Phoebe and Andrew Sevier, bending together over a large map spread out before them. There were stacks of blueprints at their elbows and their conference had evidently been an interesting one.
"It's all wonderful, Andrew," Phoebe was saying, "and I'm proud indeed that they have accepted your solution of such an important construction problem; but why must you go back? Aren't the commissions offered you here, the plays and the demand for your writing enough? Why not stay at home for a year or two at least?"
"It's the call of it, Phoebe," he answered. "I get restless and there's nothing for it but the hard work of the camp. It's lonely but it has its compensations, for the visions come down there as they don't here. You know how I like to be with all of you; and it's home—but the depression gets more than I can stand at times and I must go. You understand better than the rest, I think, and I always count on you to help me off." As he spoke he rested his head on his hands and looked across the table into the fire. His eyes were somber and the strong lines in his face cut deep with a grim melancholy.
Phoebe's frank eyes softened as they looked at him. They had grown up together, friends in something of a like fortune and she understood him with a frank comradeship that comforted them both and went far to the distraction of young David Kildare who, as he said, trusted Andrew but looked for every possible surprising maneuver in the conduct of Phoebe. And because she understood Andrew Phoebe was silent for a time, tracing the lines on his map with a pencil.
"Then you'll have to go," she said softly at last, "but don't stay so long again." She glanced across at the top of the major's head which showed a rampant white lock over the edge of his book. "We miss you; and you owe it to some of us to come back oftener from now on."
"I always will," answered Andrew, quickly catching her meaning and smiling with a responsive tenderness in a glance at the absorbed old gentleman around the corner of the table. "It is harder to go this time than ever, in a way; and yet the staying's worse. I'm giving myself until spring, though I don't know why. I—"
Just then from the drawing-room beyond there came a crash of soft chords on the piano and David's voice rose high and sweet across the rooms. He had gone to the piano to sing for Caroline who never tired of his negro melodies and southern love songs. He also had a store of war ballads with which it delighted him to tease and regale her, but to-day his mood had been decidedly on the sentimental vein.
"I want no stars in Heaven to guide me, I need no...................... ......but, oh, the kingdom of my heart, love, Lies within thy loving arms...."
His voice dropped a note lower and the rest of the distinctly enunciated words failed to reach through the long rooms. Phoebe also failed to catch a quick breath that Andrew drew as he began stacking a pile of blue-prints into a leather case.
"David Kildare," remarked the old major as he looked up over his book, "makes song the vehicle of expression of as many emotions in one half-hour as the ordinary man lives through in a lifetime. Had you not better attend to the safeguarding of Caroline Darrah's unsophistication, Phoebe?"
"I wouldn't interrupt him for worlds, Major," laughed Phoebe as she arose from her chair. "I'm going to slip by the drawing-room and hurry down to that meeting of the Civic Improvement Association from which I hope to get at least a half column. Andrew'll go in and see to them."
"Never!" answered Andrew promptly with a smile. "I'm going to beat a retreat and walk down with you. The major must assume that responsibility. Good-by!" And in a moment they had both made their escape, to the major's vast amusement.
For the time being the music in the drawing-room had stopped and David and Caroline were deep in an animated conversation.
"The trouble about it is that I am about to have my light put out," David was complaining as he sat on the piano-stool, glaring at a vase of unoffending roses on a table. "Being a ray of sunshine around the house for a sick poet is no job for a runabout child like me."
"But he's so much better now, David, that I should think you would be perfectly happy. Though of course you are still a little uneasy about him." As Caroline Darrah spoke she swayed the long-stemmed rose she held in her hand and tipped it against one of its mates in the vase.
"Uneasy, nothing! There's not a thing in the world the matter with him; ribs are all in commission and his collar-bone hitched on again. It's just a case of moonie sulks with him. He never was the real glad boy, but now he runs entirely to poetry and gloom. He won't go anywhere but over here to chew book-rags with the major or to read goo to Phoebe, which she passes on to you. Wish I'd let him die in the swamps; chasing away to Panama for him was my mistake, I see." And David ruffled a young rose that drooped confidingly over toward him.
"Why did he ever go to Panama? Why does he build bridges and things? Other people like you and me can do that sort of thing; but he—," and Caroline Darrah raised her eyes full of naive questioning.
"Heavens, woman, poetry never in the world would grub-stake six feet of husky man! But that's just like you and Phoebe and all the other women. You would like to feed me to the alligators, but the poet must sit in the shade and chew eggs and grape juice. You trample on my feelings, child," and David sighed plaintively.
Caroline eyed him a moment across the rose she held to her lips, then laughed delightedly.
"Indeed, indeed, I couldn't stand losing you, David, nor could Phoebe. Don't imagine it!" And Caroline confessed her affection for him with the navet with which a child offers a flower.
The absolute entente cordiale which had existed between her and Phoebe from the moment Mrs. Buchanan had presented them to each other in the dusk-shadowed library, had been extended to include David Kildare. He was duly appreciative of her almost appealing friendship, chaffed her about the three governors, depended upon her to further his tumultuous suit, admired her beauty, insisted upon it in season and out, and initiated her into the social intricacies of his gay set with the greatest glee.
"I don't trust you one little bit, Caroline Darrah Brown," David broke in on her moment's silent appreciation of him and his friendliness. "You look at him kinder partial-like, too."
"Oh, one must admire him, his poems are so lovely! I have watched for them from the first one years ago. Do you remember the one where he—"
"Don't remember a single line of a single one, and don't want to! Phoebe's always quoting them at me. She's got a book of 'em. See if I don't smash him up some day if I have to listen to much more of it." David's face was a study in the contradictions of a tormented grin.
Caroline eyed him again for a moment across the rose and then they both laughed delightedly. But David was for the pressing of his point just the same.
"Dear Daughter of the Three," he pleaded, "can't you help me out? Mollycoddle him a bit. Do, now, that's a good child! Keep him 'interested', as she calls it! You are quite as good to look at as Phoebe and are enough more—more,"—and David paused for a word that would compare Caroline's appeal and Phoebe's brisk challenge.
"Yes, I understand. I really am more so; but how can I help you out if he never even sees me when I'm there?" And Caroline raised eyes to him that held a hint of wistfulness in their banter.
"The old mole-eyed grump never sees anybody nor anything. But let's plot a scheme. This three-handed game doesn't suit me; promise to be good and sit in. I haven't had Phoebe to myself for the long time. He needs a heart interest of his own—I'm tired of lending him mine. You're not busy—that's a sweet girl! Don't make me feel I inherited you for nothing," said David in a most beguiling voice as he moved a shade nearer to her.
"I promise, I promise! If you take that tone with me, I'm afraid not to: but I feel you mistake my powers," and Caroline laid the rose across her knee and dropped her long lashes over her eyes. "I think I'll fail with your poet; something tells me it is a vain task. Let's put it in the hands of the gods. It may interest them."
"No, I'm going to shoo him in here right now," answered David, bent upon the immediate accomplishment of his scheme for the relief of his very independent lady-love from her friendly durance. "You just wait and get a line of moon-talk ready for him. Keep that rose in your hand and handle your eyes carefully."
"Oh, but it's impossible!" exclaimed Caroline with real alarm in her voice. She rose and the flower fell shattered at her feet. "I'm going to have a little business talk with the major before Captain Cantrell and the other gentlemen come. I have an appointment with him. Won't you leave it to the gods?"
"No, for the gods might not know Phoebe. She'd hunt a hot brick for a sick kitten if I was freezing to death, and besides I need her in my business at this very moment."
"Caroline, my dear," said the major from the door into the library, "from the strenuosity in the tones of David Kildare I judge he is discussing his usual topic. Phoebe and Andrew have just gone and left their good-bys for you both."
"Now, Major," demanded David indignantly, "how could you let her get away when you had her here?"
"Young man," answered the major, "the constraining of a woman of these times is well-nigh impossible, as you should have found out after your repeated efforts in that direction."
"That's it, Major, you can't hang out any signal for them now; you have to grab them as they go past, swing out into space and pray for strength to hold on. I believe if you stood still they would come and feed out of your hand a heap quicker than they will be whistled down—if you can get the nerve to try 'em. Think I'll go and see." And David took his studiedly unhurried departure.
"David Kildare translates courtship into strange modern terms," remarked the major as he led Caroline into the library and seated her in Mrs. Matilda's low chair near his own.
"The roses are blooming this morning, my dear," he said, looking with delight at the soft color in her cheeks and the stars in her black-lashed, violet eyes. A shaft of sunlight glinted in the gold of her hair which was coiled low and from which little tendrils curled down on her white neck.
She was very dainty and lovely, was Caroline Darrah Brown, with the loveliness of a windflower and young with the innocent youngness of an April day. She was slightly different from any girl the major had ever known and he observed her type with the greatest interest.
She had been tutored and trained and French-convented and specialized by adepts in the inculcating of every air and grace with which the women of vaster wealth are expected to be equipped. Money and the girl had been the ruling passions of Peters Brown's life and the one had been all for the serving purposes of the other. It had been the one aim of his existence to bring to a perfect flowering the new-born bud his southern wife had left him, and he had succeeded. Yet she seemed so slight a woman-thing to be bearing the burden of a great wealth and a great loneliness that the major's eyes grew very tender as he asked:
"What is it, clear, a crumpled rose-leaf?"
"Major," she answered as her slender fingers opened and closed a book on the table near her, "did you realize that two months have passed since I came to—to—"
"Came home, child," prompted the major as he touched lightly the restless hand near his own.
"I am beginning to feel as if it might be that, and yet I don't know—not until I talk to you about it all. Everybody has been good to me. I feel that they really care and I love it—and them all! But, Major, did you—know—my father—well?"
"Yes, my dear." He answered, looking her straight in the eyes, "I knew Peters Brown and had pleasantly hostile relations with him always."
"This memorandum—I got it together before I came down here, while I was settling up his estate. It is the list of the investments he made while in the South for the twenty years after the war. I want to talk them over with you." She looked at the major squarely and determinedly.
"Fire away," he answered with courage in his voice that belied the feeling beneath it.
"I see that in eighteen seventy-nine he bought lumber lands from Hayes Donelson. The price seems to have been practically nominal in view of what he sold a part of them for three years later. Was Hayes Donelson Phoebe's father? I want to know all about him."
"My dear, you are giving a large order for ancient history—Captain Donelson couldn't fill it himself if he were alive. Those lumber lands were just a stick or two that he threw on the grand bonfire. He sold everything he had and instituted and ran the most inflammatory newspaper in the South. He gloried in an attitude of non-reconstruction and died when Phoebe was a year old. Her mother raised Phoebe by keeping boarders, but failed to raise the mortgage on the family home. She died trying and Phoebe has kept her own sleek little head above water since her sixteenth year by reporting and editing Dimity Doings on the paper her father founded. I think she has learned a pretty good swimming stroke by this time. It is still a measure ahead of that of David Kildare and—"
"Oh, you must help me make her take what would have been a fair price for those lands, Major. I'm determined—I—I—" Caroline's voice faltered but her head was well up. "I'm determined; but we'll talk of that later. He bought the Cantrell land and divided it up into the first improved city addition. Was it, was it 'carpetbagging'?" She flushed as she said the word—"Was it pressure? Were the Cantrells in need?"
"Not for long, my dear, not for long! Mrs. Tom took that money and bought cows for the east farm, ran a dairy in opposition to Matilda's and then got her into a combine to ship gilt-edge to Cincinnati. I expected them to skim the milky way any night and put a star brand of butter on the market. They made a great deal of money and were proportionately hard to manage. Young Tom inherits from his mother and makes paying combines in stocks. Old Tom hasn't a thing to do but sit in the sun and spin tales about battles he was and was not in. It wouldn't do to drag up that pinched period of his life; he is too expansive now to be made to recall it." The major smiled invitingly as if he had hopes of an interested question that would turn the trend of the conversation, but Caroline Darrah held herself sternly to the matter in hand.
"And you, I see a sale of half of your land at—"
"Caroline Darrah Brown, look me straight in the eyes," interrupted the major in a commanding voice. He sat up and bent his keen black eyes that sparkled under his heavy white brows with absolute luminosity upon the girl at his side. When aroused the major was a live wire and he was buckling on his sword to do battle with a woman-trouble, and a dire one.
"Now," he continued, "I'm going to say things to you that you are to understand and remember, young woman. Your father did come down among us with what you have heard called a 'carpetbag' in his hands, but it wasn't an empty one: and while the sums he handed out to each of us might be considered inadequate, still they were a purchasing power at a time when things were congested for the lack of any circulating medium whatever. True, I sold him half my thousand acres for a song; but the song fenced the other half, bought implements and stock, and made Matilda possible. She was eighteen and I was twenty-eight when we joined forces and it was decidedly to the tune of your father's 'song'. It was the same with the rest of his—friends. You must see that in the painful processes of reconstructing us the carpetbag had its uses. If it went away plethoric with coal and iron and lumber, it left a little gold in its wake. And Peters Brown—"
"Major," said Caroline in a brave voice, "it killed him, the memory of it and not being able to bring me back to her people. He was changed and he realized that he left me very much alone in the world. If there had been any of her immediate family alive we might have felt differently—but her friends—I didn't know that I would be welcomed. Now—now—I begin to hope. I want to give some of it back! I have so much—"
"Caroline, child," answered the major with a smile that was infinitely tender, "we don't need it! We've had a hand-to-hand fight to inherit the land of our fathers but we're building fortunes fast; we and the youngsters. The gray line has closed up its ranks and toed hard marks until it presents a solid front once more; some of it bent and shaky but supported on all sides by keen young blood. A solid front, I say, and a friendly one, flying no banners of bitterness—don't you like us?" and the smile broadened until it warmed the very blood in Caroline Darrah's heart.
"Yes," she said as she lifted her eyes to his and laid both her hands in the lean strong one he held out for her then, "and all that awful feeling has gone completely. I feel—feel new born!"
"And isn't it a great thing that we mortals are given a few extra natal days? If we were born all at one time we couldn't so well enjoy the processes. Now, I intend to assume that fate has laid you on my door-step and—"
"Dearie me," said Mrs. Buchanan as she sailed into the room with colors flying in cheeks and eyes, "did Phoebe go on to that meeting after all? Did she promise to come back? Where's Andrew? Caroline, child, what have you and the major been doing all the afternoon? It's after four and you are both still indoors."
"I have been adopting Caroline Darrah and she has been adopting me," answered the major as he caught hold of the lace that trailed from one of his wife's wrists. "I think I am about to persuade her to stay with us. I find I need attention occasionally and you are otherwise engaged for the winter."
"Isn't he awful, Caroline," smiled Mrs. Matilda as she sank for a moment on a chair near them, "when I haven't a thought in the day that is not for him? But I must hurry and tell Tempie that they will all be here from the philharmonic musicale for tea. Dear, please see that the flowers are arranged; I had to leave it to Jane this morning. I find I must run over and speak to Mrs. Shelby about something important, for a moment. Shall I have buttered biscuits or cake for tea? Caroline, love, just decide and tell Tempie. I'll be back in a minute," and depositing an airy kiss on the major's scalp lock and bestowing a smile on Caroline, she departed.
The major listened until he heard the front door close then said with one of his slow little smiles, "If I couldn't shut my eye and get a mental picture of her in a white sunbonnet with her skirts tucked up trudging along behind me dropping corn in the furrows as I opened them with the plow, I might feel that I ought to—er—remonstrate with her. But there are bubbles in the nature of most women that will rise to the surface as soon as the cork is removed. Matilda is a good brand of extra dry and the cork was in a long time—rammed down tight—bless her!"
"She is the very dearest thing I ever knew," answered Caroline with a curly smile around her tender mouth. "A letter she wrote while under the pressure of the cork is my chiefest treasure. It was written to welcome me when I was born and I found it last summer, old and yellow. It was what made me think I might come—home."
"That was like Matilda," answered the major with a smile in his eyes. "She was putting in a claim for you then, though she didn't realize it. Women have always worked combinations by wireless at long time and long distance. Better make it buttered biscuits, and Phoebe likes them with plenty of butter."
Tempie's adoption of Caroline Darrah had been as complete and as enthusiastic as the rest of them and she had proceeded forthwith to put her through a course of domestic instruction that delighted the hearts of them both. She never failed to bemoan the fate that had left the child ignorant of matters of such importance and she was stern in her endeavor to correct the pernicious neglect. She had to admit, however, that Caroline was an extraordinarily apt pupil and she laid it all to what she called "the Darrah strain of cooking blood," though she was as proud as possible over each triumph. Nothing pleased them both more than to have Mrs. Buchanan occasionally leave culinary arrangements to their co-administration.
An hour later a gay party was gathered around the table in the drawing-room. The major sat near at hand enjoying it hugely, and his comments were dropped like philosophical crystals into the swell of the conversation.
Mrs. Cherry Lawrence had come in with Mrs. Matilda in all the bravery of a most striking, becoming and expensive second mourning costume, and she was keenly alive to every situation that might be made to compass even the smallest amount of gaiety. Her lavender embroideries were the only reminders of the existence of the departed Cherry, and their lavishness was a direct defiance of his years of effort in the curtailing of the tastes of his expensive wife.
Tom Cantrell's lean dark face of Indian cast lit up like a transparency when she arrived and he left Polly Farrell's side so quickly that Polly almost dropped the lemon fork with which she was maneuvering, in her surprise at his sudden desertion. In a moment he had divested the widow of a long cloth and sable coat that would have made Cherry sit up and groan if he had even had a grave-dream about it. She bestowed a smile on Polly, a still more impressive one on the major and sank into a chair near Phoebe.
"Why, where is David Kildare?" she asked interestedly. "I thought he would be here before me. He promised to come. Phoebe, you are sweet in that dark gray. Has anybody anything interesting to tell?"
"I have," answered Polly as she passed Phoebe a cup and a mischievous smile, for Mrs. Cherry's appointment with David tickled Polly's risibles to an alarming extent. "There's the most heavenly man down here from Boston to see Caroline Darrah Brown and she neglects him. I'm so sorry for him that I don't know what will happen. I'm—"
"Why, where is he?" interrupted Mrs. Cherry with the utmost cordiality.
They all laughed as Polly parted her charming lips and passed the questioner the lemon slices with impressive obviousness.
"He's gone to the station to see about his horses that he has had shipped down. We're going to hunt some more, no matter how cold; all of us, Caroline and David and the rest."
"Andrew Sevier hasn't hunted at all this fall, as fond of it as he is. He'll never come now that you've annexed a foreign element, Polly. He's among strangers so much that he's rather absurd about wanting the close circle of just his old friends to be unbroken when he's home. Where is he to-day?" As she spoke Mrs. Cherry had looked at Caroline Darrah with a glance in which Phoebe detected a slight insolence and at which the major narrowed his observant eyes.
"Why, he's gone down to the station with Caroline's friend to see about having the horses sent out to Seven Oaks," answered Phoebe in a smooth cool voice. "I think all of us have been disappointed that Andrew has had to be so careful since his accident; but now that he can come over here every day to book gloat with the major and have Mrs. Matilda and Tempie, to say nothing of Caroline Darrah, the new star cook-lady, to feed him up, I think we can go about our own affairs unworried over him." The sweet smile that Phoebe bent upon the widow was so delicious that the major rattled the sugar tongs on the tea-tray by way of relief from an unendurably suppressed chuckle.
"But when I hunt next David has promised me possums and persimmons," said Caroline Darrah from her seat on the sofa beside Phoebe. She was totally oblivious of the small tongue-tilt just completed. "He says the first damp night on the last quarter of the moon when the wind is from the southeast and—"
"Howdy, people!" came an interrupting call from the hall and at that moment David himself came into the room. "I'm late but I've been four places hunting for you, Phoebe, and had three cups of tea in the scramble. However, I would like a buttered biscuit if somebody feeds it to me. I've had a knock-out blow and I've got news to tell."
"You can tell it before you get the biscuit," said Phoebe cold-heartedly, but she laid two crisp disks on the edge of his saucer. She apparently failed to see that Mrs. Cherry was endeavoring to pass him the plate.
"It's only that Milly Overton has perpetrated two more crimes on the community, at three-thirty to-day—assorted boy and girl." And David grinned with sheer delight at having projected such a bomb in the circle.
"What!" demanded Phoebe while Mrs. Cherry lay back in her chair and fanned herself, and Mrs. Buchanan paused with suspended teapot.
"Yes," he answered jubilantly, "Of course little Mistake is only two and a quarter and Crimie can just toddle on his hocks at one and a fifth years; but the two little crimes are here, and are going to stay. Billy Bob is down at the club getting his back slapped off about it. He's accessory you understand. He says Milly is radiant and wants all of you to come and see them right away. But what I want to see is Grandma Shelby—won't she rage? I'm going to send her a message of congratulations and then stand away. Just watch for—"
"Why—I don't quite understand," said Caroline Darrah as she leaned forward with puzzled eyes.
"Neither do any of the rest of us," answered David gleefully. "We didn't understand how Billy Bob managed to pluck Mildred from the golden-dollar Shelby stem in the first place, at a salary of one twenty-five a month out at Hob's mills. But Billy Bob is the brave boy and he marched right up and told the old lady about the first kid as soon as he came. Then she glared at him and said in an awful tone, 'Mistake.' Billy Bob just oozed out of that door and Mistake the youngster has been ever since. I named the next Crimie before she got to it. But watch her rage, poor old dame! It's up to somebody to remonstrate with Milly about this unbecoming conduct it seems to me," and David glanced around the little circle for his laugh which he promptly received.
Only Phoebe sat with her head turned from him and Caroline Darrah exclaimed in distress:
"How could her mother not care for them?"
"Tempie," said Mrs. Buchanan, "pack up a basket of every kind of jelly. Get that little box I fixed day before yesterday; you know it; wasn't it fortunate that I embroidered two? And tell Jeff I want the carriage at six."
"And, Tempie, tell Jeff to get you two bottles of that seventy-two brandy; no, maybe the sixty-eight will be better; it's apple, and apples and colic bear a synthetic relation which in this case may be reversed. Those children must be started off in life properly." And the major's eyes shone with the most amused interest.
"What's that?" asked David in the general excitement that had arisen at a farther realization of his news. "Don't you want them to join the 'state wide' band, Major? Aren't you going to give them a chance to fly a white ribbon?"
"Well, I don't know," answered the major with a judicial eye, "temperance is a quality of mind and not solely of throat. Let's depend somewhat on eradication by future education and not give the colic a start."
"Don't you think it would be nice for you girls to drive down with me and take the babies some congratulations and flowers, Phoebe?" asked Mrs. Buchanan an hour later as they all lingered over the empty cups. "Will you come too, David?"
"Yes," answered Phoebe, "I think it would be lovely, but you and Caroline drive down and I will walk in with David, I think. Ready, David?" And Phoebe gathered up her muff and gloves and gave her hand to the major.
"David," she said after they had reached the street and were swinging along in the early twilight; and as she spoke she looked him full in the face with her gray level glance that counted whenever she chose to use it, "is it your idea—do you think it fair to ridicule Mildred about—the babies?"
"Why," answered the completely floored Kildare, "I just haven't any idea on the subject. Everybody was laughing about it—and isn't it—er—a little funny?"
"No," answered Phoebe emphatically, "it isn't funny and if you begin to laugh everybody else will. It may hurt Milly, she is so gentle and dear, and you are their best friend. I won't have it! I won't! I'm tired, anyway, of having fun made of all the sacred things in life. All of us swing around in a silly whirl and when a woman like Mildred begins to live her life in a—er—natural way, we—ridicule! She is brave and strong and works hard; and she has the real things of life and makes the sacrifices for them. While we—"
"Oh, heavenly hope, Phoebe!" gasped David Kildare, "don't rub it in! I see it now—a lot of magazine stuff jogging the women up about the kids and all—and here Milly is a hero and we—the jolly fun-pokers. I've got to help 'em some way! Wish Billy Bob would sell me this last bunch; guess he would—one, anyway?" And the contrite David gazed down at Phoebe in whose upturned eyes there dawned a wealth of mirth.
"David," she said, perhaps more softly than she had ever spoken to him in all the days of his pursuit, "I know—I felt sure that you felt all right about it. I couldn't bear to have you say or do—"
"Now, I'll 'fess a thing to you that I didn't think wild horses could drag out of me, Phoebe. I was down there an hour ago in the back hall of that flat and Billy Bob let me hold the pair of 'em and squeeze 'em. I guess we both—just shed a few, you know, because he was so excited. Men are such slobs at times—when women don't know about it." And David winked fiercely at the early electric light that glowed warm against the winter sky.
"And you are a very dear boy, David," said Phoebe softly as her hand slipped out of her muff and dropped into his and rested there for just one enchanting half-second. "Dearer than you know in some ways. No, don't think of coming up with me, you've paid your visit of welcome. Good night! Yes, I think so—in the afternoon about three o'clock and we can go on to Mrs. Pepton's reception. Good night again!"
"Phoebe," he called after her, "the one with the yellow fuzz is the girl, buy her for me if you can flimflam Milly into it! Any old price, you know. Hurrah, America for the Anglo-Saxons! Hurrah for Milly and Dixie!"
ACCORDING TO SOLOMON
"And it was by this very pattern, Caroline, I made the dozen I sent Mary Caroline for you. See the little slips fold over and hold up the petticoats," and Mrs. Buchanan held up a tiny garment for Caroline Darrah to admire. They sat by the sunny window in her living-room and both were sewing on dainty cambric and lace. Caroline Darrah's head bent over the piece of ruffling in her hand with flower-like grace and the long lines from her throat suggested decidedly a very lovely Preraphaelite angel. Her needle moved slowly and unaccustomedly but she had the air of doing the hemming bravely if fearfully.
"Isn't it darling?" she said as she raised her head for a half-second, then immediately dropped her eyes and went on printing her stitches carefully. "What else was in that box, I feel I need to know?" she asked.
"Let me see! The dozen little shirts, they were made out of some of my own trousseau things because of a scarcity of linen in those days, and two little embroidered caps and a blue cashmere sack and a set of crocheted socks and—and the major sent brandy, he always does. I have the letter she wrote me about it all. And to think she had to leave—" Mrs. Matilda's eyes misted as she paused to thread her needle.
"She didn't realize—that, and think of what she felt when she opened the box," said Caroline as she raised her eyes that smiled through a threatened shower. "Oh, I mustn't let the tears fall on Little Sister's ruffle!" she added quickly as she took up her work.
"That reminds me of an accident to the shirts I made for Phoebe. They were being bleached in the sun when a calf took a fancy to them and chewed two of them entirely up before we discovered him. I was so provoked, for I had no more linen as fine as I wanted."
"Of course the calf ate up my shirts," came in Phoebe's laughing voice from the doorway where she had been standing unobserved for several minutes, watching Mrs. Buchanan and Caroline. "Something is always chewing at my affairs but Mrs. Matilda shoos them away for me sometimes still—even calves when it is positively necessary. How very industrious you do look! At times even I sigh for a needle, though I wouldn't know what to do with it. There seems to be something in a woman's soul that nothing but a needle satisfies; morbid craving, that!"
"Phoebe, I want to make something for you. I feel I must as soon as these petticoats for Little Sister are done. What shall it be?" and Caroline Darrah beamed upon Phoebe with the warmest of inter-woman glances. The affection for Phoebe which had possessed the heart of Caroline Darrah had deepened daily and to its demands, Phoebe, for her, had been most unusually responsive.
"At your present rate of stitching I will have a year or two to decide, beautiful," she answered as she settled down on the broad window-seat near them. "David Kildare and I have come to lunch, Mrs. Matilda, and the major has sent him over for Andrew. I hope he brings him, but I doubt it. I have told Tempie and she says she is glad to have us," she added as Mrs. Buchanan turned and looked in the direction of the kitchen regions. They all smiled, for the understanding that existed between Phoebe and Tempie was the subject of continual jest.
"Have you seen the babies to-day?" asked Caroline as she drew a long new thread through the needle. "Isn't it lovely the way people are making them presents? Mr. Capers says the men at the mills are going to give them each a thousand dollar mill bond."
"Well, I doubt seriously if they will live to use the bonds if some one does not stop David from trying experiments with them," answered Phoebe with a laugh. "After dinner last night he came in with two little sleeping hammock machines which he insisted in putting up on the wall for them. If the pulley catches you have to stand on a chair to extract them; and if it slips, down they come. Milly was so grateful and let him play with them for an hour; she's a sweet soul."
"Has he sent any more food?" asked Mrs. Matilda as they all laughed.
"Two more cases of a new kind he saw advertised in a magazine. Somebody must tell him that—Milly is equal to the situation. Billy Bob won't; and so the cases continue to arrive. The pantry is crowded with them and they have sent a lot to the Day Nursery," and Phoebe slipped from the window-seat down on to the rug at Caroline's feet in a perfect ecstasy of mirth.
"But he is just the dearest boy, Phoebe," said Caroline Darrah as she paused in her sewing to caress the sleek, black, braided head tipped back against her knee. There was the shadow of reproach in her voice as she smiled down into the gray eyes upturned to hers.
"Yes," answered Phoebe, instantly on the defensive, "he is just exactly that, Caroline Darrah Brown—and he doesn't seem to be able to get over it. I'm afraid it's chronic with him."
"He's young yet," Mrs. Buchanan remarked as she clipped a thread with her bright scissors.
"No," said Phoebe slowly, "he is six years older than I am and that makes him thirty-two. I have earned my living for ten years and a man five years younger who sits at a desk next to mine at the office is taking care of his mother and educating two younger brothers on a salary that is less than mine—but David is a dear! Did you see the little coats Polly sent the babies?" she asked quickly to close the subject and to cover a note of pain she had discovered in her own voice.
"They were lovely," answered Mrs. Buchanan. "Now let me show you how to roll and whip your ruffle, Caroline dear," she added as she bent over Caroline's completed hem. In a moment they were both immersed in a scientific discussion of under-and-over stitch.
Phoebe clasped her knees in her arms and gazed into the fire. Her own involuntary summing up of David Kildare had struck into her inner consciousness like a blow. And Phoebe could not have explained to even herself what it was in her that demanded the hewer of wood and drawer of water in a man—in David. Decidedly Phoebe's demands were for elementals and she questioned Kildare's right to his leisurely life based on the Jeffersonian ideals of his forefathers.
And while they sewed and chatted the hour away, over in the library the major and David were in interested conclave.
"Now, I leave it to you, Major, if he isn't just the limit," said David on his return from his mission for the purpose of drawing Andrew from his lair. "I couldn't budge him. He is writing away like all possessed with a two-apple-and-a-cracker lunch on the table beside him. He seems to enjoy a death-starve."
"David," said the major as he laid aside the book he had been buried in and began to polish his glasses, "you make no allowances whatever for the artistic temperament. When a man is making connection with his solar plexus he doesn't consider the consumption of food of paramount importance. Now in this treatise of Aristotle—"
"Well, anyway, I've made up my mind to fix up something between him and Caroline Darrah. He's got to get a heart interest of his own and let mine alone. The child is daffy about his poetry and moons at him all the time out of the corners of her eyes, dandy eyes at that; but the old ink-swiller acts as if she wasn't there at all. What'll I do to make him just see her? Just see her—see her—that'll be enough!"
"David," said the major quietly as he looked into the fire with his shaggy brows bent over his keen eyes, "the combination of a man heart and a woman heart makes a dangerous explosive at the best, but here are things that make it fatal. The one you are planning would be deadly."
"Why, why in the world shouldn't I touch them off? Perfectly nice girl, all right man and—"
"Boy, have you forgotten that I told you of the night Andrew Sevier's father killed himself; yes, that he had sat the night through at the poker table with Peters Brown? Brown offered some restoration compromise to the widow but she refused—you know the struggle that she made and that it killed her. We both know the grit it took for Andrew to chisel himself into what he is. The first afternoon he met the girl in here, right by this table, for an instant I was frightened—only she didn't know, thank God! The Almighty gardens His women-things well and fends off influences that shrivel; it behooves men to do the same."
"So that's it," exclaimed Kildare, serious in his dismay. "Of course I remember it, but I had forgotten to connect up the circumstances. It's a mine all right, Major—and the poor little girl! She reads his poetry with Phoebe and to me and she admires him and is deferential and—that girl—the sweetest thing that ever happened! I don't know whether to go over and smash him or to cry on his collar."
"Dave," answered the major as he folded his hands and looked off across the housetops glowing in the winter sun, "some snarls in our life-lines only the Almighty can unravel; He just depends on us to keep hands off. Andrew is a fine product of disastrous circumstances. A man who can build a bridge, tunnel a mountain and then sit down by a construction camp-fire at night and write a poem and a play, must cut deep lines in life and he'll not cut them in a woman's heart—if he can help it."
"And she must never know, Major, never," said David with distress in his happy eyes; "we must see to that. It ought to be easy to keep. It was so long ago that nobody remembers it. But wait—that is what Mrs. Cherry Lawrence meant when she said to Phoebe in Caroline's presence that it was just as well under the circumstances that the committee had not asked Andrew to write the poem for the unveiling of the statue. I wondered at the time why Phoebe dealt her such a knock-out glance that even I staggered. And she's given her cold-storage attentions ever since. Mrs. Cherry rather fancies Andy, I gather. Would she dare, do you think?"
"Women," remarked the major dryly, "when man-stalking make very cruel enemies for the weaker of their kind. Let's be thankful that pursuit is a perverted instinct in them that happens seldom. We can trust much to Phoebe. The Almighty puts the instinct for mother guarding all younger or lesser women into the heart of superbly sexed women like Phoebe Donelson, and with her aroused we may be able to keep it from the child."
"Ah, but it is sad, Major," said David in a low voice deeply moved with emotion. "Sad for her who does not know—and for him who does."
"And it was farther reaching than that, Dave," answered the major slowly, and the hand that held the dying pipe trembled against the table. "Andrew Sevier was a loss to us all at the time and to you for whom we builded. The youngest and strongest and best of us had been mowed down before a four-years' rain of bullets and there were few enough of us left to build again. And of us all he had the most constructive power. With the same buoyant courage that he had led our regiment in battle did he lead the remnant of us in reconstructing our lives. He was gay and optimistic, laughed at bitterness and worked with infectious spirits and superb force. We all depended on him and followed him keenly. We loved him and let ourselves be laughed into his schemes. It was his high spirits and temperament that led to his gaming and tragedy. Nearly thirty years he's been dead, the happy Andrew. This boy's like him, very like him."
"I see it—I see it," answered David slowly, "and all of that glad heart was bred in Andy, Major, and it's there under his sadness. Heavens, haven't I seen it in the hunting field as he landed over six stiff bars on a fast horse? It's in some of his writing and sometimes it flashes in his eyes when he is excited. I've seen it there lately more often than ever before. God, Major, last night his eyes fairly danced when I plagued Caroline into asking him to whom he wrote that serenade which I have set to music and sing for her so often. It hurts me all over—it makes me weak—"
"It's hunger, David, lunch is almost ready," said Phoebe who had come into the room in time to catch his last words. "Why, where is Andrew? Wouldn't he come?"
"No," answered Kildare quickly, covering his emotion with a laugh as he refused to meet Caroline Darrah's eyes which wistfully asked the same question that Phoebe had voiced, "he is writing a poem—about—-about," his eyes roamed the room wildly for he had got into it, and his stock of original poem-subjects was very short. Finally his music lore yielded a point, "It's about a girl drinking—only with her eyes you understand—and—"