E-text prepared by Al Haines
Author of Glory of Youth
Illustrations by Charles S. Corson
[Frontispiece: She flashed a quick glance at him.]
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers Copyright 1914 by The Penn Publishing Company First printing, December, 1914 Second printing, February, 1915 Third printing, March, 1915 Fourth printing, March, 1915 Fifth printing, April, 1915 Sixth printing, July, 1915 Seventh printing, November, 1915
To My Sister
In Which Silken Ladies Ascend One Stairway, and a Lonely Wayfarer Ascends Another and Comes Face to Face with Old Friends.
In Which Rose-Leaves and Old Slippers Speed a Happy Pair; and in Which Sweet and Twenty Speaks a New and Modern Language, and Gives a Reason for Renting a Gentleman's Library.
In Which a Lonely Wayfarer Becomes Monarch of All He Surveys; and in Which One Who Might Have Been Presented as the Hero of this Tale is Forced, Through No Fault of His Own, to Take His Chances with the Rest.
In Which a Little Bronze Boy Grins in the Dark; and in Which Mary Forgets that There is Any One Else in the House.
In Which Roger Remembers a Face and Delilah Remembers a Voice; and in Which a Poem and a Pussy Cat Play an Important Part.
In Which Mary Brings Christmas to the Tower Rooms, and in Which Roger Declines a Privilege for Which Porter Pleads.
In Which Aunt Frances Speaks of Matrimony as a Fixed Institution and is Met by Flaming Arguments; and in Which a Strange Voice Sings Upon the Stairs.
In Which Little-Lovely Leila Sees a Picture in an Unexpected Place; and in Which Perfect Faith Speaks Triumphantly Over the Telephone.
In Which Roger Sallies Forth in the Service of a Damsel in Distress; and in Which He Meets Dragons Along the Way.
In Which a Scarlet Flower Blooms in the Garden; and in Which a Light Flares Later in the Tower.
In Which Roger Writes a Letter; and in Which a Rose Blooms Upon the Pages of a Book.
In Which Mary and Roger Have Their Hour; and in Which a Tea-Drinking Ends in What Might Have Been a Tragedy.
In Which the Whole World is at Sixes and Sevens; and in Which Life is Looked Upon as a Great Adventure.
In Which Mary Writes from the Tower Rooms; and in Which Roger Answers from Among the Pines.
In Which Barry and Leila Go Over the Hills and Far Away; and in Which a March Moon Becomes a Honeymoon.
In Which a Long Name is Bestowed Upon a Beautiful Baby; and in Which a Letter in a Long Envelope Brings Freedom to Mary.
In Which an Artist Finds What All His Life He Has Been Looking For; and in Which He Speaks of a Little Saint in Red.
In Which Mary Writes of the Workaday World; and in Which Roger Writes of the Dreams of a Boy.
In Which Porter Plants an Evil Seed Which Grows and Flourishes, and in Which Ghosts Rise and Confront Mary.
In Which Mary Faces the Winter of Her Discontent; and in Which Delilah Sees Things in a Crystal Ball.
In Which a Little Lady in Black Comes to Washington to Witness the Swearing-in of a Gentleman and a Scholar.
In Which the Garden Begins to Bloom; and in Which Roger Dreamt.
In Which Little-Lovely Leila Looks Forward to the Month of May; and in Which Barry Rides Into a Town With Narrow Streets.
In Which Roger Comes Once More to the Tower Rooms; and in Which a Duel is Fought in Modern Fashion.
In Which Mary Bids Farewell to the Old Life, and in Which She Finds Happiness on the High Seas.
In Which a Strange Craft Anchors in a Sea of Emerald Light; and in Which Mocking-Birds Sing in the Moonlight.
She flashed a quick glance at him . . . . . . Frontispiece
"What have I done?"
"You don't know what you are doing."
"Again I question your right."
In Which Silken Ladies Ascend One Stairway, and a Lonely Wayfarer Ascends Another and Comes Face to Face With Old Friends.
The big house, standing on a high hill which overlooked the city, showed in the moonlight the grotesque outlines of a composite architecture. Originally it had been a square substantial edifice of Colonial simplicity. A later and less restrained taste had aimed at a castellated effect, and certain peaks and turrets had been added. Three of these turrets were excrescences stuck on, evidently, with an idea of adornment. The fourth tower, however, rounded out and enlarged a room on the third floor. This room was one of a suite, and the rooms were known as the Tower Rooms, and were held by those who had occupied them to be the most desirable in the barn-like building.
To-night the house had taken on an unwonted aspect of festivity. Its spaciousness was checkered by golden-lighted windows. Delivery wagons and automobiles came and went, some discharging loads of deliciousness at the back door, others discharging loads of loveliness at the front.
Following in the wake of one of the front door loads of fluttering femininity came a somewhat somber pedestrian. His steps lagged a little, so that when the big door opened, he was still at the foot of the terrace which led up to it. He waited until the door was shut before he again advanced. In the glimpse that he thus had of the interior, he was aware of a sort of pink effulgence, and in that shining light, lapped by it, and borne up, as it were, by it toward the wide stairway, he saw slender girls in faint-hued frocks—a shimmering celestial company.
As he reached the top of the terrace the door again flew open, and he gave a somewhat hesitating reason for his intrusion.
"I was told to ask for Miss Ballard—Miss Mary Ballard."
It seemed that he was expected, and that the guardian of the doorway understood the difference between his business and that of the celestial beings who had preceded him.
He was shown into a small room at the left of the entrance. It was somewhat bare, with a few law books and a big old-fashioned desk. He judged that the room might have been put to office uses, but to-night the desk was heaped with open boxes, and odd pieces of furniture were crowded together, so that there was left only a small oasis of cleared space. On the one chair in this oasis, the somber gentleman seated himself.
He had a fancy, as he sat there waiting, that neither he nor this room were in accord with the things that were going on in the big house. Outside of the closed door the radiant guests were still ascending the stairway on shining wings of light. He could hear the music of their laughter, and the deeper note of men's voices, rising and growing fainter in a sort of transcendent harmony.
When the door was finally opened, it was done quickly and was shut quickly, and the girl who had entered laughed breathlessly as she turned to him.
"Oh, you must forgive me—I've kept you waiting?"
If their meeting had been in Sherwood forest, he would have known her at once for a good comrade; if he had met her in the Garden of Biaucaire, he would have known her at once for more than that. But, being neither a hero of ballad nor of old romance, he knew only that here was a girl different from the silken ladies who had ascended the stairs. Here was an air almost of frank boyishness, a smile of pleasant friendliness, with just enough of flushing cheek to show womanliness and warm blood.
Even her dress was different. It was simple almost to the point of plainness. Its charm lay in its glimmering glistening sheen, like the inside of a shell. Its draperies were caught up to show slender feet in low-heeled slippers. A quaint cap of silver tissue held closely the waves of thick fair hair. Her eyes were like the sea in a storm—deep gray with a glint of green.
These things did not come to him at once. He was to observe them as she made her explanation, and as he followed her to the Tower Rooms. But first he had to set himself straight with her, so he said: "I was sorry to interrupt you. But you said—seven?"
"Yes. It was the only time that the rooms could be seen. My sister and I occupy them—and Constance is to be married—to-night."
This, then, was the reason for the effulgence and the silken ladies. It was the reason, too, for the loveliness of her dress.
"I am going to take you this way." She preceded him through a narrow passage to a flight of steps leading up into the darkness. "These stairs are not often used, but we shall escape the crowds in the other hall."
Her voice was lost as she made an abrupt turn, but, feeling his way, he followed her.
Up and up until they came to a third-floor landing, where she stopped him to say, "I must be sure no one is here. Will you wait until I see?"
She came back, presently, to announce that the coast was clear, and thus they entered the room which had been enlarged and rounded out by the fourth tower.
It was a big room, ceiled and finished in dark oak, The furniture was roomy and comfortable and of worn red leather. A strong square table held a copper lamp with a low spreading shade. There was a fireplace, and on the mantel above it a bust or two.
But it was not these things which at once caught the attention of Roger Poole.
Lining the walls were old books in stout binding, new books in cloth and fine leather—the poets, the philosophers, the seers of all ages. As his eyes swept the shelves, he knew that here was the living, breathing collection of a true book-lover—not a musty, fusty aggregation brought together through mere pride of intellect. The owner of this library had counted the heart-beats of the world.
"This is the sitting-room," his guide was telling him, "and the bedroom and bath open out from it." She had opened a connecting door. "This room is awfully torn up. But we have just finished dressing Constance. She is down-stairs now in the Sanctum. We'll pack her trunks to-morrow and send them, and then if you should care to take the rooms, we can put back the bedroom furniture that father had. He used this suite, and brought his books up after mother died."
He halted on the threshold of that inner room. If the old house below had seemed filled with rosy effulgence, this was the heart of the rose. Two small white beds were side by side in an alcove. Their covers were of pink overlaid with lace, and the chintz of the big couch and chairs reflected the same enchanting hue. With all the color, however, there was the freshness of simplicity. Two tall glass candlesticks on the dressing table, a few photographs in silver and ivory frames—these were the only ornaments.
Yet everywhere was lovely confusion—delicate things were thrown half-way into open trunks, filmy fabrics floated from unexpected places, small slippers were held by receptacles never designed for shoes, radiant hats bloomed in boxes.
On a chair lay a bridesmaid's bunch of roses. This bunch Mary Ballard picked up as she passed, and it was over the top of it that she asked, with some diffidence, "Do you think you'd care to take the rooms?"
Did he? Did the Peri outside the gates yearn to enter? Here within his reach was that from which he had been cut off for five years. Five years in boarding-houses and cheap hotels, and now the chance to live again—as he had once lived!
"I do want them—awfully—but the price named in your letter seems ridiculously small——"
"But you see it is all I shall need," she was as blissfully unbusinesslike as he. "I want to add a certain amount to my income, so I ask you to pay that," she smiled, and with increasing diffidence demanded, "Could you make up your mind—now? It is important that I should know—to-night."
She saw the question in his eyes and answered it, "You see—my family have no idea that I am doing this. If they knew, they wouldn't want me to rent the rooms—but the house is mine—-I shall do as I please."
She seemed to fling it at him, defiantly.
"And you want me to be accessory to your—crime."
She gave him a startled glance. "Oh, do you look at it—that way? Please don't. Not if you like them."
For a moment, only, he wavered. There was something distinctly unusual in acquiring a vine and fig tree in this fashion. But then her advertisement had been unusual—it was that which had attracted him, and had piqued his interest so that he had answered it.
And the books! As he looked back into the big room, the rows of volumes seemed to smile at him with the faces of old friends.
Lonely, longing for a haven after the storms which had beaten him, what better could he find than this?
As for the family of Mary Ballard, what had he to do with it? His business was with Mary Ballard herself, with her frank laugh and her friendliness—and her arms full of roses!
"I like them so much that I shall consider myself most fortunate to get them."
"Oh, really?" She hesitated and held out her hand to him. "You don't know how you have helped me out—you don't know how you have helped me——"
Again she saw a question in his eyes, but this time she did not answer it. She turned and went into the other room, drawing back the curtains of the deep windows of the round tower.
"I haven't shown you the best of all," she said. Beneath them lay the lovely city, starred with its golden lights. From east to west the shadowy dimness of the Mall, beyond the shadows, a line of river, silver under the moonlight. A clock tower or two showed yellow faces; the great public buildings were clear-cut like cardboard.
Roger drew a deep breath. "If there were nothing else," he said, "I should take the rooms for this."
And now from the lower hall came the clamor of voices.
"I must not keep you," he said at once.
Poised for flight, she asked, "Can you find your way down alone? I'll go by the front stairs and head them off."
With a last flashing glance she was gone, and as he groped his way down through the darkness, it came to him as an amazing revelation that she had taken his coming as a thing to be thankful for, and it had been so many years since a door had been flung wide to welcome him.
In Which Rose-Leaves and Old Slippers Speed a Happy Pair; and in Which Sweet and Twenty Speaks a New and Modern Language, and Gives a Reason for Renting a Gentleman's Library.
In spite of the fact that Mary Ballard had seemed to Roger Poole like a white-winged angel, she was not looked upon by the family as a beauty. It was Constance who was the "pretty one," and tonight as she stood in her bridal robes, gazing up at her sister who was descending the stairs, she was more than pretty. Her tender face was illumined by an inner radiance. She was two years older than Mary, but more slender, and her coloring was more strongly emphasized. Her eyes were blue and her hair was gold, as against the gray-green and dull fairness of Mary's hair. She seemed surrounded, too, by a sort of feminine aura, so that one knew at a glance that here was a woman who would love her home, her husband, her children; who would lean upon masculine protection, and suffer from masculine neglect.
Of Mary Ballard these things could not be said at once. In spite of her simplicity and frankness, there was about her a baffling atmosphere. She was like a still pool with the depths as yet unsounded, an uncharted sea—with its mystery of undiscovered countries.
The contrast between the sisters had never been more marked than when Mary, leaning over the stair-rail, answered the breathless, "Dearest, where have you been?" with her calm:
"There's plenty of time, Constance."
And Constance, soothed as always by her sister's tranquillity, repeated Mary's words for the benefit of a ponderously anxious Personage in amber satin.
"There's plenty of time, Aunt Frances."
That Aunt Frances was a Personage was made apparent by certain exterior evidences. One knew it by the set of her fine shoulders, the carriage of her head, by the diamond-studded lorgnette, by the string of pearls about her neck, by the osprey in her white hair, by the golden buckles on her shoes.
"It is five minutes to eight," said Aunt Frances, "and Gordon is waiting down-stairs with his best man, the chorus is freezing on the side porch, and everybody has arrived. I don't see why you are waiting——"
"We are waiting for it to be eight o'clock, Aunt Frances," said Mary. "At just eight, I start down in front of Constance, and if you don't hurry you and Aunt Isabelle won't be there ahead of me."
The amber train slipped and glimmered down the polished steps, and the golden buckles gleamed as Mrs. Clendenning, panting a little and with a sense of outrage that her nervous anxiety of the preceding moment had been for naught, made her way to the drawing-room, where the guests were assembled.
Aunt Isabelle followed, gently smiling. Aunt Isabelle was to Aunt Frances as moonlight unto sunlight. Aunt Frances was married, Aunt Isabelle was single; Aunt Frances wore amber, Aunt Isabelle silver gray; Aunt Frances held up her head like a queen, Aunt Isabelle dropped hers deprecatingly; Aunt Frances' quick ears caught the whispers of admiration that followed her, Aunt Isabelle's ears were closed forever to all the music of the universe.
No sooner had the two aunts taken their places to the left of a floral bower than there was heard without the chanted wedding chorus, from a side door stepped the clergyman and the bridegroom and his best man; then from the hall came the little procession with Mary in the lead and Constance leaning on the arm of her brother Barry.
They were much alike, this brother and sister. More alike than Mary and Constance. Barry had the same gold in his hair, and blue in his eyes, and, while one dared not hint it, in the face of his broad-shouldered strength, there was an almost feminine charm in the grace of his manner and the languor of his movements.
There were no bridesmaids, except Mary, but four pretty girls held the broad white ribbons which marked an aisle down the length of the rooms. These girls wore pink with close caps of old lace. Only one of them had dark hair, and it was the dark-haired one, who, standing very still throughout the ceremony, with the ribbon caught up to her in lustrous festoons, never took her eyes from Barry Ballard's face.
And when, after the ceremony, the bride turned to greet her friends, the dark-haired girl moved forward to where Barry stood, a little apart from the wedding group.
"Doesn't it seem strange?" she said to him with quick-drawn breath.
He smiled down at her. "What?"
"That a few words should make such a difference?"
"Yes. A minute ago she belonged to us. Now she's Gordon's."
"And he's taking her to England?"
"Yes. But not for long. When he gets the branch office started over there, they'll come back, and he'll take his father's place in the business here, and let the old man retire."
She was not listening. "Barry," she interrupted, "what will Mary do? She can't live here alone—and she'll miss Constance."
"Oh, Aunt Frances has fixed that," easily; "she wants Mary to shut up the house and spend the winter in Nice with herself and Grace—it's a great chance for Mary."
"But what about you, Barry?"
"Me?" He shrugged his shoulders and again smiled down at her. "I'll find quarters somewhere, and when I get too lonesome, I'll come over and talk to you, Leila."
The rich color flooded her cheeks. "Do come," she said, again with quick-drawn breath, then like a child who has secured its coveted sugar-plum, she slipped through the crowd, and down into the dining-room, where she found Mary taking a last survey.
"Hasn't Aunt Frances done things beautifully?" Mary asked; "she insisted on it, Leila. We could never have afforded the orchids and the roses; and the ices are charming—pink hearts with cupids shooting at them with silver arrows——"
"Oh, Mary," the dark-haired girl laid her flushed cheek against the arm of her taller friend. "I think weddings are wonderful."
Mary shook her head. "I don't," she said after a moment's silence. "I think they're horrid. I like Gordon Richardson well enough, except when I think that he is stealing Constance, and then I hate him."
But the bride was coming down, with all the murmuring voices behind her, and now the silken ladies were descending the stairs to the dining-room, which took up the whole lower west wing of the house and opened out upon an old-fashioned garden, which to-night, under a chill October moon, showed its rows of box and of formal cedars like sharp shadows against the whiteness.
Into this garden came, later, Mary. And behind her Susan Jenks.
Susan Jenks was a little woman with gray hair and a coffee-colored skin. Being neither black nor white, she partook somewhat of the nature of both races. Back of her African gentleness was an almost Yankee shrewdness, and the firm will which now and then degenerated into obstinacy.
"There ain't no luck in a wedding without rice, Miss Mary. These paper rose-leaf things that you've got in the bags are mighty pretty, but how are you going to know that they bring good luck?"
"Aunt Frances thought they would be charming and foreign, Susan, and they look very real, floating off in the air. You must stand there on the upper porch, and give the little bags to the guests."
Susan ascended the terrace steps complainingly. "You go right in out of the night, Miss Mary," she called back, "an' you with nothin' on your bare neck!"
Mary, turning, came face to face with Gordon's best man, Porter Bigelow.
"Mary," he said, impetuously, "I've been looking for you everywhere. I couldn't keep my eyes off you during the service—you were—heavenly."
"I'm not a bit angelic, Porter," she told him, "and I'm simply freezing out here. I had to show Susan about the confetti."
He drew her in and shut the door. "They sent me to hunt for you," he said. "Constance wants you. She's going up-stairs to change. But I heard just now that you are going to Nice. Leila told me. Mary—you can't go—not so far away—from me."
His hand was on her arm.
She shook it off with a little laugh.
"You haven't a thing to do with it, Porter. And I'm not going—to Nice."
"But Leila said——"
Her head went up. It was a characteristic gesture. "It doesn't make any difference what any one says. I'm not going to Nice."
Once more in the Tower Rooms, the two sisters were together for the last time. Leila was sent down on a hastily contrived errand. Aunt Frances, arriving, was urged to go back and look after the guests. Only Aunt Isabelle was allowed to remain. She could be of use, and the things which were to be said she could not hear.
"Dearest," Constance's voice had a break in it, "dearest, I feel so selfish—leaving you——"
Mary was kneeling on the floor, unfastening hooks. "Don't worry, Con. I'll get along."
"But you'll have to bear—things—all alone. It isn't as if any one knew, and you could talk it out."
"I'd rather die than speak of it," fiercely, "and I sha'n't write anything to you about it, for Gordon will read your letters."
"Oh, Mary, he won't."
"Oh, yes, he will, and you'll want him to—you'll want to turn your heart inside out for him to read, to say nothing of your letters."
She stood up and put both of her hands on her sister's shoulders. "But you mustn't tell him, Con. No matter how much you want to, it's my secret and Barry's—promise me, Con——"
"But, Mary, a wife can't."
"Yes, she can have secrets from her husband. And this belongs to us, not to him. You've married him, Con, but we haven't."
Aunt Isabelle, gentle Aunt Isabelle, shut off from the world of sound, could not hear Con's little cry of protest, but she looked up just in time to see the shimmering dress drop to the floor, and to see the bride, sheathed like a lily in whiteness, bury her head on Mary's shoulder.
Aunt Isabelle stumbled forward. "My dear," she asked, in her thin troubled voice, "what makes you cry?"
"It's nothing, Aunt Isabelle." Mary's tone was not loud, but Aunt Isabelle heard and nodded.
"She's dead tired, poor dear, and wrought up. I'll run and get the aromatic spirits."
With Aunt Isabella out of the way, Mary set herself to repair the damage she had done. "I've made you cry on your wedding day, Con, and I wanted you to be so happy. Oh, tell Gordon, if you must. But you'll find that he won't look at it as you and I have looked at it. He won't make the excuses."
"Oh, yes he will." Constance's happiness seemed to come back to her suddenly in a flood of assurance. "He's the best man in the world, Mary, and so kind. It's because you don't know him that you think as you do."
Mary could not quench the trust in the blue eyes. "Of course he's good," she said, "and you are going to be the happiest ever, Constance."
Then Aunt Isabelle came back and found that the need for the aromatic spirits was over, and together the loving hands hurried Constance into her going away gown of dull blue and silver, with its sable trimmed wrap and hat.
"If it hadn't been for Aunt Frances, how could I have faced Gordon's friends in London?" said Constance. "Am I all right now, Mary?"
"Lovely, Con, dear."
But it was Aunt Isabelle's hushed voice which gave the appropriate phrase. "She looks like a bluebird—for happiness."
At the foot of the stairway Gordon was waiting for his bride—handsome and prosperous as a bridegroom should be, with a dark sleek head and eager eyes, and beside him Porter Bigelow, topping him by a head, and a red head at that.
As Mary followed Constance, Porter tucked her hand under his arm.
"Oh, Mary, Mary, quite contrary, Your eyes they are so bright, That the stars grow pale, as they tell the tale To the other stars at night,"
he improvised under his breath. "Oh, Mary Ballard, do you know that I am holding on to myself with all my might to keep from shouting to the crowd, 'Mary isn't going away. Mary isn't going away.'"
"You say that, but you don't mean it. Mary, you can't be hard-hearted on such a night as this. Say that I may stay for five minutes—ten—after the others have gone——"
They were out on the porch now, and he had folded about her the wrap which she had brought down with her. "Of course you may stay," she said, "but much good may it do you. Aunt Frances is staying and General Dick—there's to be a family conclave in the Sanctum—but if you want to listen you may."
And how the rose-leaves began to flutter! Susan Jenks had handed out the bags, and secretly, and with much elation had leaned over the rail as Constance passed down the steps, and had emptied her own little offering of rice in the middle of the bride's blue hat!
It was Barry, aided and abetted by Leila, who brought out the old slippers. There were Constance's dancing slippers, high-heeled and of delicate hues, Mary's more individual low-heeled ones, Barry's outworn pumps, decorated hurriedly by Leila for the occasion with lovers' knots of tissue paper.
And it was just as the bride waved "Good-bye" from Gordon's limousine that a new slipper followed the old ones, for Leila, carried away by the excitement, and having at the moment no other missile at hand, reached down, and plucking off one of her own pink sandals, hurled it with all her might at the moving car. It landed on top, and Leila, with a gasp, realized that it was gone forever.
"It serves you right." Looking up, she met Barry's laughing eyes.
She sank down on the step. "And they were a new pair!"
"Lucky that it's your birthday next week," he said. "Do you want pink ones?'"
Her delight was overwhelming. "Heavens, child," he condoned her, "don't look as if I were the grand Mogul. Do you know I sometimes think you are eight instead of eighteen? And now, if you'll take my arm, you can hippity-hop into the house. And I hope that you'll remember this, that if I give you pink slippers you are not to throw them away."
In the hall they met Leila's father—General Wilfred Dick. The General had married, in late bachelorhood, a young wife. Leila was like her mother in her dark sparkling beauty and demure sweetness. But she showed at times the spirit of her father—the spirit which had carried the General gallantly through the Civil War, and had led him after the war to make a success of the practice of law. He had been for years the intimate friend and adviser of the Ballards, and it was at Mary's request that he was to stay to share in the coming conclave.
He told Leila this. "You'll have to wait, too," he said. "And now, why are you hopping on one foot in that absurd fashion?"
"Dad, dear, I lost my shoe——"
"Her very best pink one," Barry explained; "she threw it after the bride, and now I've got to give her another pair for her birthday."
The General's old eyes brightened as he surveyed the young pair. This was as it should be, the son of his old friend and the daughter of his heart.
He tried to look stern, however. "Haven't I always kept you supplied with pink shoes and blue shoes and all the colors of the rainbow shoes!" he demanded. "And why should you tax Barry?"
"But, Dad, he wants to." She looked eagerly at Barry for confirmation. "He wants to give them to me—for my birthday——"
"Of course I do," said Barry, lightly. "If I didn't give her slippers, I should have to give her something else—and far be it from me to know what—little—lovely—Leila—wants——"
And to the tune of his chant, they hippity-hopped together up the stairs in a hunt for some stray shoe that should fit little-lovely-Leila's foot!
A little later, the silken ladies having descended the stairway for the last time, Aunt Frances took her amber satin stateliness to the Sanctum.
Behind her, a silver shadow, came Aunt Isabelle, and bringing up the rear, General Dick, and the four young people; Leila in a pair of mismated slippers, hippity-hopping behind with Barry, and Porter assuring Mary that he knew he "hadn't any business to butt in to a family party," but that he was coming anyhow.
The Sanctum was the front room on the second floor. It had been the Little Mother's room in the days when she was still with them, and now it had been turned into a retreat where the young people drifted when they wanted quiet, or where they met for consultation and advice. Except that the walnut bed and bureau had been taken out nothing had been changed, and their mother's books were still in the low bookcases; religious books, many of them, reflecting the gentle faith of the owner. On mantel and table and walls were photographs of her children in long clothes and short, and then once more in long ones; there was Barry in wide collars and knickerbockers, and Constance and Mary in ermine caps and capes; there was Barry again in the military uniform of his preparatory school; Constance in her graduation frock, and Mary with her hair up for the first time. There was a picture of their father on porcelain in a blue velvet case, and another picture of him above the mantel in an oval frame, with one of the Little Mother's, also in an oval frame, to flank it. In the fairness of the Little Mother one traced the fairness of Barry and Constance. But the fairness and features of the father were Mary's.
Mary had never looked more like her father than now when, sitting under his picture, she stated her case. What she had to say she said simply. But when she had finished there was the silence of astonishment.
In a day, almost in an hour, little Mary had grown up! With Constance as the nominal head of the household, none of them had realized that it was Mary's mind which had worked out the problems of making ends meet, and that it was Mary's strength and industry which had supplemented Susan's waning efforts in the care of the big house.
"I want to keep the house," Mary repeated. "I had to talk it over to-night, Aunt Frances, because you go back to New York in the morning, and I couldn't speak of it before to-night because I was afraid that some hint of my plan would get to Constance and she would be troubled. She'll learn it later, but I didn't want her to have it on her mind now. I want to stay here. I've always lived here, and so has Barry—and while I appreciate your plans for me to go to Nice, I don't think it would be fair or right for me to leave Barry."
Barry, a little embarrassed to be brought into it, said, "Oh, you needn't mind about me——"
"But I do mind." Mary had risen and was speaking earnestly. "I am sure you must see it, Aunt Frances. If I went with you, Barry would be left to—drift—and I shouldn't like to think of that. Mother wouldn't have liked it, or father." Her voice touched an almost shrill note of protest.
Porter Bigelow, sitting unobtrusively in the background, was moved by her earnestness. "There's something back of it," his quick mind told him; "she knows about—Barry——"
But Barry, too, was on his feet. "Oh, look here, Mary," he was expostulating, "I'm not going to have you stay at home and miss a winter of good times, just because I'll have to eat a few meals in a boarding-house. And I sha'n't have to eat many. When I get starved for home cooking, I'll hunt up my friends. You'll take me in now and then, for Sunday dinner, won't you, General?—Leila says you will; and it isn't as if you were never coming back—Mary."
"If we close the house now," Mary said, "it will mean that it won't be opened again. You all know that." Her accusing glance rested on Aunt Frances and the General. "You all think it ought to be sold, but if we sell what will become of Susan Jenks, who nursed us and who nursed mother, and what shall we do with all the dear old things that were mother's and father's, and who will live in the dear old rooms?" She was struggling for composure. "Oh, don't you see that I—I can't go?"
It was Aunt Frances' crisp voice which brought her back to calmness. "But, my dear, you can't afford to keep it open. Your income with what Barry earns isn't any more than enough to pay your running expenses; there's nothing left for taxes or improvements. I'm perfectly willing to finance you to the best of my ability, but I think it very foolish to sink any more money—here——"
"I don't want you to sink it, Aunt Frances. Constance begged me to use her little part of our income, but I wouldn't. We sha'n't need it. I've fixed things so that we shall have money for the taxes. I—I have rented the Tower Rooms, Aunt Frances!"
They stared at her stunned. Even Leila tore her adoring eyes from Barry's face, and fixed them on the girl who made this astounding statement.
"Mary," Aunt Frances gasped, "do you meant that you are going to take—lodgers——?"
"Only one, Aunt Frances. And he's perfectly respectable. I advertised and he answered, and he gave me a bank reference."
"He. Mary, is it a man?"
Mary nodded. "Of course. I should hate to have a woman fussing around. And I set the rent for the suite at exactly the amount I shall need to take me through this year, and he was satisfied."
She turned and picked up a printed slip from the table.
"This is the way I wrote my ad," she said, "and I had twenty-seven answers. And this seemed the best——"
"Twenty-seven!" Aunt Frances held out her hand. "Will you let me see what you wrote to get such remarkable results?"
Mary handed it to her, and through the diamond-studded lorgnette Aunt Frances read:
"To let: Suite of two rooms and bath; with Gentleman's Library. House on top of a high hill which overlooks the city. Exceptional advantages for a student or scholar."
"I consider," said Mary, as Aunt Frances paused, "that the Gentleman's Library part was an inspiration. It was the bait at which they all nibbled."
The General chuckled, "She'll do. Let her have her own way, Frances. She's got a head on her like a man's."
Aunt Frances turned on him. "Mary speaks what is to me a rather new language of independence. And she can't stay here alone. She can't. It isn't proper—without an older woman in the house."
"But I want an older woman. Oh, Aunt Frances, please, may I have Aunt Isabelle?"
She had raised her voice so that Aunt Isabelle caught the name. "What does she want, Frances?" asked the deaf woman; "what does she want?"
"She wants you to live with her—here." Aunt Frances was thinking rapidly; it wasn't such a bad plan. It was always a problem to take Isabelle when she and her daughter traveled. And if they left her in New York there was always the haunting fear that she might be ill, or that they might be criticized for leaving her.
"Mary wants you to live with her," she said, "While we are abroad, would you like it—a winter in Washington?"
Aunt Isabelle's gentle face was illumined. "Do you really want me, my dear?" she asked in her hushed voice. It had been a long time since Aunt Isabelle had felt that she was wanted anywhere. It seemed to her that since the illness which had sent her into a world of silence, that her presence had been endured, not coveted.
Mary came over and put her arms about her. "Will you, Aunt Isabelle?" she asked. "I shall miss Constance so, and it would almost be like having mother to have—you——"
No one knew how madly the hungry heart was beating under the silver-gray gown. Aunt Isabella was only forty-eight, twelve years younger than her sister Frances, but she had faded and drooped, while Frances had stood up like a strong flower on its stem. And the little faded drooping lady yearned for tenderness, was starved for it, and here was Mary in her youth and beauty, promising it.
"I want you so much, and Barry wants you—and Susan Jenks——"
She was laughing tremulously, and Aunt Isabelle laughed too, holding on to herself, so that she might not show in face or gesture the wildness of her joy.
"You won't mind, will you, Frances?" she asked.
Aunt Frances rose and shook out her amber skirts "I shall of course be much disappointed," she pitched her voice high and spoke with chill stateliness, "I shall be very much disappointed that neither you nor Mary will be with us for the winter. And I shall have to cross alone. But Grace can meet me in London. She's going there to see Constance, and I shall stay for a while and start the young people socially. I should think you'd want to see Constance, Mary."
Mary drew a quick breath. "I do want to see her—but I have to think about Barry—and for this winter, at least, my place—is here."
Then from the back of the room spoke Porter Bigelow.
"What's the name of your lodger?"
"There are Pooles in Gramercy Park," said Aunt Frances. "I wonder if he's one of them."
Mary shook her head. "He's from the South."
"I should think," said Porter, slowly, "that you'd want to know something of him besides his bank reference before you took him into your house."
"Why?" Mary demanded.
"Because he might be—a thief, or a rascal," Porter spoke hotly.
Over the heads of the others their eyes met. "He is neither," said Mary. "I know a gentleman when I see one, Porter."
Then the temper of the redhead flamed. "Oh, do you? Well, for my part I wish that you were going to Nice, Mary."
In Which a Lonely Wayfarer Becomes Monarch of All He Surveys; and in Which One Who Might Have Been Presented as the Hero of This Tale is Forced, Through No Fault of His Own, to Take His Chances With the Rest.
When Roger Poole came a week later to the big house on the hill, it was on a rainy day. He carried his own bag, and was let in at the lower door by Susan Jenks.
Her smiling brown face gave him at once a sense of homeyness. She led the way through the wide hall and up the front stairs, crisp and competent in her big white apron and black gown.
As he followed her, Roger was aware that the house had lost its effulgence. The flowers were gone, and the radiance, and the stairs that the silken ladies had once ascended showed, at closer range, certain signs of shabbiness. The carpet was old and mended. There was a chilliness about the atmosphere, as if the fire, too, needed mending.
But when Susan Jenks opened the door of the Tower Room, he was met by warmth and brightness. Here was the light of leaping flames and of a low-shaded lamp. On the table beside the lamp was a pot of pink hyacinths, and their fragrance made the air sweet. The inner room was no longer a rosy bower, but a man's retreat, with its substantial furniture, its simplicity, its absence of non-essentials. In this room Roger set down his bag, and Susan Jenks, hanging big towels and little ones in the bathroom, drawing the curtains, and coaxing the fire, flitted cozily back and forth for a few minutes and then withdrew.
It was then that Roger surveyed his domain. He was monarch of all of it. The big chair was his to rest in, the fire was his, the low lamp, all the old friends in the bookcases!
He went again into the inner room. The glass candlesticks were gone and the photographs in their silver and ivory frames, but over the mantel there was a Corot print with forest vistas, and another above his little bedside table. On the table was a small electric lamp with a green shade, a new magazine, and a little old bulging Bible with a limp leather binding.
As he stood looking down at the little table, he was thrilled by the sense of safety after a storm. Outside was the world with its harsh judgments. Outside was the rain and the beating wind. Within were these signs of a heart-warming hospitality. Here was no bleak cleanliness, no perfunctory arrangement, but a place prepared as for an honored guest.
Down-stairs Mary was explaining to Aunt Isabelle. "I'll have Susan Jenks take some coffee to him. He's to get his dinners in town, and Susan will serve his breakfast in his room. But I thought the coffee to-night after the rain—might be comfortable."
The two women were in the dining-room. The table had been set for three, but Barry had not come.
The dinner had been a simple affair—an unfashionably nourishing soup, a broiled fish, a salad and now the coffee. Thus did Mary and Susan Jenks make income and expenses meet. Susan's good cooking, supplementing Mary's gastronomic discrimination, made a feast of the simple fare.
"What's his business, my dear?"
"Mr. Poole's? He's in the Treasury. But I think he's studying something. He seemed to be so eager for the books——"
"Your father's books?"
"Yes. I left them all up there. I even left father's old Bible. Somehow I felt that if any one was tired or lonely that the old Bible would open at the right page."
"Your father was often lonely?"
"Yes. After mother's death. And he worked too hard, and things went wrong with his business. I used to slip up to his bedroom sometimes in the last days, and there he'd be with the old Bible on his knee, and mother's picture in his hand." Mary's eyes were wet.
"He loved your mother and missed her."
"It was more than that. He was afraid of the future for Constance and me. He was afraid of the future for—Barry——"
Susan Jenks, carrying a mahogany tray on which was a slender silver coffee-pot flanked by a dish of cheese and toasted biscuit, asked as she went through the room: "Shall I save any dinner for Mr. Barry?"
"He'll be here," Mary said. "Porter Bigelow is taking us to the theater, and Barry's to make the fourth."
Barry was often late, but to-night it was half-past seven when he came rushing in.
"I don't want anything to eat," he said, stopping at the door of the dining-room where Mary and Aunt Isabelle still waited. "I had tea down-town with General Dick and Leila's crowd. And we danced. There was a girl from New York, and she was a little queen."
Mary smiled at him. To Aunt Isabella's quick eyes it seemed to be a smile of relief. "Oh, then you were with the General and Leila," she said.
"Yes. Where did you think I was?"
He started up-stairs and then came back. "I wish you'd give me credit for being able to keep a promise, Mary. You know what I told Con——"
"It wasn't that I didn't believe——" Mary crossed the dining-room and stood in the door.
"Yes, it was. You thought I was with the old crowd. I might as well go with them as to have you always thinking it."
"I'm not always thinking it."
"Yes, you are, too," hotly.
He stood uneasily at the foot of the stairs. "You can't understand how I feel. If you were a boy——"
She caught him up. "If I were a boy? Barry, if I were a boy I'd make the world move. Oh, you men, you have things all your own way, and you let it stand still "
She had raised her voice, and her words floating up and up reached the ears of Roger Poole, who appeared at the top of the stairway.
There was a moment's startled silence, then Mary spoke.
"Barry, it is Mr. Poole. You don't know each other, do you?"
The two men, one going up the stairway, the other coming down, met and shook hands. Then Barry muttered something about having to run away and dress, and Roger and Mary were left alone.
It was the first time that they had seen each other, since the night of the wedding. They had arranged everything by telephone, and on the second short visit that Roger had made to his rooms, Susan Jenks had looked after him.
It seemed to Roger now that, like the house, Mary had taken on a new and less radiant aspect. She looked pale and tired. Her dress of white with its narrow edge of dark fur made her taller and older. Her fair waved hair was parted at the side and dressed compactly without ornament or ribbon. He was again, however, impressed by the almost frank boyishness of her manner as she said:
"I want you to meet Aunt Isabella. She can't hear very well, so you'll have to raise your voice."
As they went in together, Mary was forced to readjust certain opinions which she had formed of her lodger. The other night he had been divorced from the dapper youths of her own set by his lack of up-to-dateness, his melancholy, his air of mystery.
But to-night he wore a loose coat which she recognized at once as good style. His dark hair which had hung in an untidy lock was brushed back as smoothly and as sleekly as Gordon Richardson's. His dark eyes had a waked-up look. And there was a hint of color in his clean-shaven olive cheeks.
"I came down," he told her as he walked beside her, "to thank you for the coffee, for the hyacinths; for the fire, for the—welcome that my room gave me."
"Oh, did you like it? We were very busy up there all the morning, Aunt Isabelle and I and Susan Jenks."
"I felt like thanking Susan Jenks for the big bath towels; they seemed to add the final perfect touch."
She laughed and repeated his remark to Aunt Isabelle.
"Think of his being grateful for bath towels, Aunt Isabelle."
After his presentation to Aunt Isabelle, he said, smiling:
"And there was another touch—the big gray pussy cat. She was in the window-seat, and when I sat down to look at the lights, she tucked her head under my hand and sang to me."
"Pittiwitz? Oh, Aunt Isabelle, we left Pittiwitz up there. She claims your room as hers," she explained to Roger. "We've had her for years. And she was always there with father, and then with Constance and me. If she's a bother, just put her on the back stairs and she will come down."
"But she isn't a bother. It is very pleasant to have something alive to bear me company."
The moment that his remark was made he was afraid that she might interpret it as a plea for companionship. And he had no right—— What earthly right had he to expect to enter this charmed circle?
Susan Jenks came in with her arms full of wraps. "Mr. Porter's coming," she said, "and it's eight o'clock now."
"We are going out——" Mary was interested to note that her lodger had taken Aunt Isabelle's wrap, and was putting her into it without self-consciousness.
Her own wrap was of a shimmering gray-green velvet which matched her eyes, and there was a collar of dark fur.
"It's a pretty thing," Roger said, as he held it for her. "It's like the sea in a mist."
She flashed a quick glance at him. "I like that," she said in her straightforward way. "It is lovely. Aunt Frances brought it to me last year from Paris. Whenever you see me wear anything that is particularly nice, you'll know that it came from Aunt Frances—Aunt Isabelle's sister. She's the rich member of the family. And all the rest of us are as poor as poverty."
Outside a motor horn brayed. Then Porter Bigelow came in—a perfectly put together young man, groomed, tailored, outfitted according to the mode.
"Are you ready, Contrary Mary?" he said, then saw Roger and stopped.
Porter was a gentleman, so his manner to Roger Poole showed no hint of what he thought of lodgers in general, and this one in particular. He shook hands and said a few pleasant and perfunctory things. Personally he thought the man looked down and out. But no one could tell what Mary might think. Mary's standards were those of the dreamer and the star gazer. What she was seeking she would never find in a Mere Man. The danger lay however, in the fact that she might mistakenly hang her affections about the neck of some earth-bound Object and call it an Ideal.
As for himself, in spite of his Buff-Orpington crest, and his cock-o'-the-walk manner, Porter was, as far Mary was concerned, saturated with humility. He knew that his money, his family's social eminence were as nothing in her eyes. If underneath the weight of these things Mary could find enough of a man in him to love that could be his only hope. And that hope had held him for years to certain rather sedate ambitions, and had given him moral standards which had delighted his mother and had puzzled his father.
"Whatever I am as a man, you've made me," he said to Mary two hours later, in the intermission between the second and third acts of the musical comedy, which, for a time, had claimed their attention. Aunt Isabelle, in front of the box, was smiling gently, happy in the golden light and the nearness of the music. Barry was visiting Leila and the General who were just below, in orchestra chairs.
"Whatever I am as a man, you've made me," Porter repeated, "and now, if you'll only let me take care of you——"
Hitherto, Mary had treated his love-making lightly, but to-night she turned upon him her troubled eyes. "Porter, you know I can't. But there are times when I wish—I could——"
"Then why not?"
She stopped him with a gesture. "It wouldn't be right. I'm simply feeling lonely and lost because Constance is so far away. But that isn't any reason for marrying you. You deserve a woman who cares, who really cares, heart and soul. And I can't, dear boy."
"I was a fool to think you might," savagely, "a man with a red head is always a joke."
"As if that had anything to do with it."
"But it has, Mary. You know as well as I do that when I was a youngster I was always Reddy Bigelow to our crowd—Reddy Bigelow with a carrot-head and freckles. If I had been poor and common, life wouldn't have been worth living. But mother's family and Dad's money fixed that for me. And I had an allowance big enough to supply the neighborhood with sweets. You were a little thing, but you were sorry for me, and I didn't have to buy you. But I'd buy you now—with a house in town and a country house, and motor cars and lovely clothes—if I thought it would do any good, Mary."
"You wouldn't want me that way, Porter."
"I want you—any way."
He stopped as the curtain went up, and darkness descended. But presently out of the darkness came his whisper, "I want you—any way."
They had supper after the play, Leila and the General joining them at Porter's compelling invitation.
Pending the serving of the supper, Barry detained Leila for a moment in a palm-screened corner of the sumptuous corridor.
"That girl from New York, Leila—Miss Jeliffe? What is her first name?"
Leila's light laughter mocked him. "Yes, it is, Barry. She calls herself Lilah and pronounces it as I do mine. But she signs her cheques De-lilah."
Barry recovered. "Where did you meet her?"
"At school. Her father's in Congress. They are coming to us to-morrow. Dad has asked me to invite them as house guests until they find an apartment."
"Well, she's dazzling."
Leila flamed. "I don't see how you can like—her kind——"
"Little lady," he admonished, "you're jealous. I danced four dances with her, and only one with your new pink slippers."
She stuck out a small foot. "They're lovely, Barry," she said, repentantly, "and I haven't thanked you."
"Why should you? Just look pleasant, please. I've had enough scolding for one day."
Leila glanced into the dining-room, where, in her slim fairness, Mary was like a pale lily, among all the tulip women, and poppy women, and orchid women, and night-shade women of the social garden.
"If Mary scolded you, you deserved it," she said, loyally.
"You too? Leila, if you don't stick to me, I might as well give up."
His face was moody, brooding. She forgot the Delilah-dancer of the afternoon, forgot everything except that this wonderful man-creature was in trouble.
"Barry," she said, simply, like a child, "I'll stick to you until I—die."
He looked down into the adoring eyes. "I believe you would, Leila," he said, with a boyish catch in his voice; "you're the dearest thing on God's great earth!"
The chilled fruit was already on the table when they went in, and it was followed by a chafing dish over which the General presided. Red-faced and rapturous, he seasoned and stirred, and as the result of his wizardry there was placed before them presently such plates of Creole crab as could not be equaled north of New Orleans.
"To cook," said the General, settling himself back in his chair and beaming at Mary who was beside him, "one must be a poet—to me there is more in that dish than merely something to eat. There's color—the red of tomatoes, the green of the peppers, the pale ivory of mushrooms, the snow white of the crab—there's atmosphere—aroma."
"The difference," Mary told him, smiling, "between your cooking and Susan Jenks' is the difference between an epic—and a nursery rhyme. They're both good, but Susan's is unpremeditated art."
"I take off my hat to Susan Jenks," said the General—"when her poetry expresses itself in waffles and fried chicken."
Mary was devoting herself to the General. Porter Bigelow who was on the other side of her, was devoting himself to Aunt Isabelle.
Aunt Isabelle was serenely content in her new office of chaperone.
"I can hear so much better in a crowd." she said, "and then there's so much to see."
"And this is the time for the celebrities," said Porter, and wrote on the corner of the supper card the name of a famous Russian countess at the table next to them. Beyond was the Speaker of the House; the British Ambassador with his fair company of ladies; the Spanish Ambassador at a table of darker beauties.
Mary, listening to Porter's pleasant voice, was constrained to admit that he could be charming. As for the freckles and "carrot-head," they had been succeeded by a fine if somewhat florid complexion, and the curled thickness of his brilliant crown gave to his head an almost classic beauty.
As she studied him, his eyes met hers, and he surprised her by a quick smile of understanding.
"Oh, Contrary Mary," he murmured, so that the rest could not hear, "what do you think of me?"
She found herself blushing, "Porter."
"You were weighing me in the balance? Red head against my lovely disposition?"
Before she could answer, he had turned back to Aunt Isabelle, leaving Mary with her cheeks hot.
After supper, the young host insisted that Leila and the General should go home in his limousine with Barry and Aunt Isabelle.
"Mary and I will follow in a taxi," he said in the face of their protests.
"Young man," demanded the twinkling General, "if I accept, will you look upon me in the light of an incumbrance or a benefactor?"
"A benefactor, sir," said Porter, promptly, and that settled it.
"And now," said Porter, as, having seen the rest of the party off, he took his seat beside the slim figure in the green velvet wrap, "now I am going to have it out with you."
"I've a lot to say. And we are going to ride around the Speedway while I say it."
"All the better. It will be we two and the world away, Mary."
"And there isn't anything to say."
"Oh, yes, there is—oodles."
"And Aunt Isabelle will be worried."
He drew the rug up around her and settled back as placidly as if the hands on the moon face of the clock on the post-office tower were not pointing to midnight. "Aunt Isabelle has been told," he informed her, "that you may be a bit late. I wrote it on the supper card, and she read it—and smiled."
He waited in silence until they had left the avenue, and were on the driveway back of the Treasury which leads toward the river.
"Porter, this is a wild thing to do."
"I'm in a wild mood—a mood that fits in with the rain and wind, Mary. I'm in such a mood that if the times were different and the age more romantic, I would pick you up and put you on my champing steed and carry you off to my castle."
He laughed, and for the moment she was thrilled by his masterfulness. "But, alas, my steed is a taxi—the age is prosaic—and you—I'm afraid of you, Contrary Mary."
They were on the Speedway now, faintly illumined, showing a row of waving willow trees, spectrally outlined against a background of gray water.
"I'm afraid of you. I have always been. Even when you were only ten and I was fifteen. I would shake in my shoes when you looked at me, Mary; you were the only one then—you are the only one—now."
Her hand lay on the outside of the rug. He put his own over it.
"Ever since you said to-night that you didn't care—there's been something singing—in my brain, and it has said, 'make her care, make her care.' And I'm going to do it. I'm not going to trouble you or worry you with it—and I'm going to take my chances with the rest. But in the end I'm going to—win."
"There aren't any others."
"If there aren't there will be. You've kept yourself protected so far by that little independent manner of yours, which scares men off. But some day a man will come who won't be scared—and then it will be a fight to the finish between him—and me."
"Oh, Porter, I don't want to think of marrying—not for ten million years."
"And yet," he said prophetically, "if to-morrow you should meet some man who could make you think he was the Only One, you'd marry him in the face of all the world."
"No man of that kind will ever come."
"That will make me willing to lose the world."
The rain was beating against the windows of the cab.
"Porter, please. We must go home."
"Not unless you'll promise to let me prove it—to let me show that I'm a man—not a—boy."
"You're the best friend I've ever had. I wish you wouldn't insist on being something else."
"But I do insist——"
"And I insist upon going home. Be good and take me."
It was said with decision, and he gave the order to the driver. And so they whirled at last up the avenue of the Presidents and along the edges of the Park, and arrived at the foot of the terrace of the big house.
There was a light in the tower window.
"That fellow is up yet," Porter said. He had an umbrella over her, and was shielding her as best he could from the rain. "I don't like to think of him in the house."
"Oh, he sees you every day. Talks to you every day. And what do you know of him? And I who've known you all my life must be content with scrappy minutes with other people around. And anyhow—I believe I'd be jealous of Satan himself, Mary."
They were under the porch now, and she drew away from him a bit, surveying him with disapproving eyes.
"You aren't like yourself to-night, Porter."
He put one hand on her shoulder and stood looking down at her. "How can I be? What am I going to do when I leave you, Mary, and face the fact that you don't care—that I'm no more to you—than that fellow up there in the—tower?"
He straightened himself, then with the madness of his earlier mood upon him, he said one thing more before he left her:
"Contrary Mary, if I weren't such a coward, and you weren't so—wonderful—I'd kiss you now—and make you—care——"
In Which a Little Bronze Boy Grins in the Dark; and in Which Mary Forgets That There is Any One Else in the House.
Up-stairs among his books Roger Poole heard Mary come in. With the curtains drawn behind him to shut out the light, he looked down into the streaming night, and saw Porter drive away alone.
Then Mary's footstep on the stairs; her raised voice as she greeted Aunt Isabelle, who had waited up for her. A door was shut, and again the house sank into silence.
Roger turned to his books, but not to read. The old depression was upon him. In the glow of his arrival, he had been warmed by the hope that things could be different; here in this hospitable house he had, perchance, found a home. So he had gone down to find that he was an outsider—an alien—old where they were young, separated from Barry and Porter and Mary by years of dark experience.
To him, at this moment, Mary Ballard stood for a symbol of the things which he had lost. Her youth and light-heartedness, her high courage, and now, perhaps, her romance. He knew the look that was in Porter Bigelow's eyes when they had rested upon her. The look of a man who claims—his own. And behind Bigelow's pleasant and perfunctory greeting Roger had felt a subtle antagonism. He smiled bitterly. No man need fear him. He was out of the running. He was done with love, with romance, with women, forever. A woman had spoiled his life.
Yet, if before the other, he had met Mary Ballard? The possibilities swept over him. His life to-day would have been different. He would be facing the world, not turning his back to it.
Brooding over the dying fire, his eyes were stern. If it had been his fault, he would have taken his punishment without flinching. But to be overthrown by an act of chivalry—to be denied the expression of that which surged within him. Daily he bent over a desk, doing the work that any man might do, he who had been carried on the shoulders of his fellow students, he whose voice had rung with a clarion call!
In the lower hall, a door was again opened, and now there were footsteps ascending. Then he heard a little laugh. "I've found her—Aunt Isabelle, she insists upon going up."
He clicked off his light and very carefully opened his door. Mary was in the lower hall, the heavy gray cat hugged up in her arms. She wore a lace boudoir cap, and a pale blue dressing-gown trailed after her. Seen thus, she was exquisitely feminine. Faintly through his consciousness flitted Porter Bigelow's name for her—Contrary Mary. Why Contrary? Was there another side which he had not seen? He had heard her flaming words to Barry, "If I were a man—I'd make the world move——" and he had been for the moment repelled. He had no sympathy with modern feminine rebellions. Women were women. Men were men. The things which they had in common were love, and that which followed, the home, the family. Beyond these things their lives were divided, necessarily, properly.
He groped his way back through the darkness to the tower window, opened it and leaned out. The rain beat upon his face, the wind blew his hair back, and fluttered the ends of his loose tie. Below him lay the storm-swept city, its lights faint and flickering. He remembered a test which he had chosen on a night like this.
"O Lord, Thou art my God. I will exalt Thee, I will praise Thy name, for Thou hast done wonderful things; Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in distress . . . a refuge from the storm——"
How the words came back to him, out of that vivid past. But to-night—why, there was no—God! Was he the fool who had once seen God—in a storm?
He shut the window, and finding a heavy coat and an old cap put them on. Then he made his way, softly, down the tower steps to the side door. Mary had pointed out to him that this entrance would make it possible for him to go and come as he pleased. To-night it pleased him to walk in the beating rain.
At the far end of the garden there was an old fountain, in which a bronze boy rode on a bronze dolphin. The basin of the fountain was filled with sodden leaves. A street lamp at the foot of the terrace illumined the bronze boy's face so that it seemed to wear a twisted grin. It was as if he laughed at the storm and at life, defying the elements with his sardonic mirth.
Back and forth, restlessly, went the lonely man, hating to enter again the rooms which only a few hours before had seemed a refuge. It would have been better to have stayed in his last cheap boarding-house, better to have kept away from this place which brought memories—better never to have seen this group of young folk who were gay as he had once been gay—better never to have seen—Mary Ballard!
He glanced up at the room beneath his own where her light still burned. He wondered if she had stayed awake to think of the young Apollo of the auburn head. Perhaps he was already her accepted lover. And why not?
Why should he care who loved Mary Ballard?
He had never believed in love at first sight. He didn't believe in it now. He only knew that he had been thrilled by a look, warmed by a friendliness, touched by a frankness and sincerity such as he had found in no other woman. And because he had been thrilled and warmed and touched by these things, he was feeling to-night the deadly mockery of a fate which had brought her too late into his life.
* * * * * *
Coming in, shivering and excited after her ride with Porter, Mary had found evidence of Aunt Isabelle's solicitous care for her. Her fire was burning brightly, the covers of her bed were turned down, her blue dressing-gown and the little blue slippers were warming in front of the blaze.
"No one ever did such things for me before," Mary said with appreciation, as the gentle lady came in to kiss her niece good-night. "Mother wasn't that kind. We all waited on her. And Susan Jenks is too busy; it isn't right to keep her up. And anyway I've always been more like a boy, taking care of myself. Constance was the one we petted, Con and mother."
"I love to do it," Aunt Isabelle said, eagerly. "When I am at Frances' there are so many servants, and I feel pushed out. There's nothing that I can do for any one. Grace and Frances each have a maid. So I live my own life, and sometimes it has been—lonely."
"You darling." Mary laid her cool young lips against the soft cheek. "I'm dead lonely, too. That's why I wanted you."
Aunt Isabelle stood for a moment looking into the fire. "It has been years since anybody wanted me," she said, finally.
There was no bitterness in her tone; she simply stated a fact. Yet in her youth she had been the beauty of the family, and the toast of a county.
"Aunt Isabelle," Mary said, suddenly, "is marriage the only way out for a woman?"
"The only way?"
"To freedom. It seems to me that a single woman always seems to belong to her family. Why shouldn't you do as you please? Why shouldn't I? And yet you've never lived your own life. And I sha'n't be able to live mine except by fighting every inch of the way."
A flush stained Aunt Isabelle's cheeks. "I have always been poor, Mary——"
"But that isn't it," fiercely. "There are poor girls who aren't tied—I mean by conventions and family traditions. Why, Aunt Isabelle, I rented the Tower Rooms not only in defiance of the living—but of the dead. I can see mother's face if we had thought of such a thing while she lived. Yet we needed the money then. We needed it to help Dad—to save him——" The last words were spoken under her breath, and Aunt Isabelle did not catch them.
"And now everybody wants me to get married. Oh, Aunt Isabelle, sit down and let's talk it out. I'm not sleepy, are you?" She drew the little lady beside her on the high-backed couch which faced the fire. "Everybody wants me to get married, Aunt Isabelle. And to-night I had it out with—Porter."
"You don't love him?"
"Not—that way. But sometimes—he makes me feel as if I couldn't escape him—as if he would persist and persist, until he won. But I don't want love to come to me that way. It seems to me that if one loves, one knows. One doesn't have to be shown."
"My dear, sometimes it is a tragedy when a woman knows."
"Because men like to conquer. When they see love in a woman's eyes, their own love—dies."
"I should hate a man like that," said Mary, frankly. "If a man only loves you because of the conquest, what's going to happen when you are married and the chase is over? No, Aunt Isabelle, when I fall in love, it will be with a man who will know that I am the One Woman. He must love me because I am Me—Myself. Not because some one else admires me, or because I can keep him guessing. He will know me as I know him—as his Predestined Mate!"
Thus spoke Sweet and Twenty, glowing. And Sweet and Forty, meeting that flame with her banked fires, faltered. "But, my dear, how can you know?"
"How did you know?"
The abrupt question drove every drop of blood from Aunt Isabelle's face. "Who told you?"
"Mother. One night when I asked her why you had never married. You don't mind, do you?"
Aunt Isabelle shook her head. "No. And, Mary, dear, I've faced all the loneliness, all the dependence, rather than be untrue to that which he gave me and I gave him. There was one night, in this old garden. I was visiting your mother, and he was in Congress at the time, and the garden was full of roses—and it was—moonlight. And we sat by the fountain, and there was the soft splash of the water, and he said: 'Isabelle, the little bronze boy is throwing kisses at you—do you see him—smiling?' And I said, 'I want no kisses but yours'—and that was the last time. The next day he was killed—thrown from his horse while he was riding out here to see—me.
"It was after that I was so ill. And something teemed to snap in my head, and one day when I sat beside the fountain I found that I couldn't hear the splash of the water, and things began to go; the voices I loved seemed far away, and I could tell that the wind was blowing only by the movement of the leaves, and the birds rounded out their little throats—but I heard—no music——"
Her voice trailed away into silence.
"But before the stillness, there were others who—wanted me—for I hadn't lost my prettiness, and Frances did her best for me. And she didn't like it when I said I couldn't marry, Mary. But now I am glad. For in the silence, my love and I live, in a world of our own."
"Aunt Isabelle—darling. How lovely and sweet, and sad——" Mary was kneeling beside her aunt, her arm thrown around her, and Aunt Isabelle, reading her lips, did not need to hear the words.
"If I had been strong, like you, Mary, I could have held my own against Frances and have made something of myself. But I'm not strong, and twenty-five years ago women did not ask for freedom. They asked for—love."
"But I want to find freedom in my love. Not be bound as Porter wants to bind me. He'd put me on a pedestal and worship me, and I'd rather stand shoulder to shoulder with my husband and be his comrade. I don't want him to look up too far, or to look down as Gordon looks down on Constance."
"Looks down? Why, he adores her, Mary."
"Oh, he loves her. And he'll do everything for her, but he will do it as if she were a child. He won't ask her opinion in any vital matter. He won't share his big interests with her, and so he'll never discover the big fine womanliness. And she'll shrivel to his measure of her."
Aunt Isabelle shook her head, smiling. "Don't analyze too much, Mary. Men and women are human—and you may lose yourself in a search for the Ideal."
"Do you know what Porter calls me, Aunt Isabelle? Contrary Mary. He says I never do things the way the people expect. Yet I do them the way that I must. It is as if some force were inside of me—driving me—on."
She stood up as she said it, stretching out her arms in an eager gesture. "Aunt Isabelle, if I were a man, there'd be something in the world for me to do. Yet here I am, making ends meet, holding up my part of the housekeeping with Susan Jenks, and taking from the hands of my rich friends such pleasures as I dare accept without return."
Aunt Isabelle pulled her down beside her. "Rebellious Mary," she said, "who is going to tame you?"
They laughed a little, clinging to each other, and than Mary said, "You must go to bed, Aunt Isabelle. I'm keeping you up shamefully."
They kissed again and separated, and Mary made ready for bed. She took off her cap, and all her lovely hair fell about her. That was another of her contrary ways. She and Constance had been taught to braid it neatly, but from little girlhood Mary had protested, and on going to bed with two prim pigtails had been known to wake up in the middle of the night and take them down, only to be discovered in the morning with all her fair curls in a tangle. Scolding had not availed. Once, as dire punishment, the curls had been cut off. But Mary had rejoiced. "It makes me look like a boy," she had told her mother, calmly, "and I like it."
Another of her little girl fancies had been to say her prayers aloud. She said them that way to-night, kneeling by her bed with her fair head on her folded hands.
Then she turned out the light, and drew her curtains back. As she looked out at the driving rain, the flare of the street lamp showed a motionless figure on the terrace. For a moment she peered, palpitating, then flew into Aunt Isabelle's room.
"There's some one in the garden."
"Perhaps it's Barry."
"Didn't he come with you?"
"No. He went on with Leila and the General."
"But it is two o'clock, Aunt Isabelle."
"I didn't know; I thought perhaps he had come."
Going back into her room, Mary threw on her blue dressing-gown and slippers and opened her door. The light was still burning in the hall. Barry always turned it out when he came. She stood undecided, then started down the back stairs, but halted as the door opened and a dark figure appeared.
Roger Poole looked up at her. "It isn't your brother," he said. "I—I must beg your pardon for disturbing you. I could not sleep, and I went out——" He stopped and stammered. Poised there above him with all the wonder of her unbound hair about her, she was like some celestial vision.
She smiled at him. "It doesn't matter," she said; "please don't apologize. It was foolish of me to be—frightened. But I had forgotten that there was any one else in the house."
She was unconscious of the effect of her words. But his soul shrank within him. To her he was the lodger who paid the rent. To him she was, well, just now she was, to him, the Blessed Damosel!
Faintly in the distance they heard the closing of a door. "It's Barry," Mary said, and suddenly a wave of self-consciousness swept over her. What would Barry think to find her at this hour talking to Roger Poole? And what would he think of Roger Poole, who walked in the garden on a rainy night?
Roger saw her confusion. "I'll turn out this light," he said, "and wait——"
And she waited, too, in the darkness until Barry was safe in his own room, then she spoke softly. "Thank you so much," she said, and was gone.
In Which Roger Remembers a Face and Delilah Remembers a Voice—and in Which a Poem and a Pussy Cat Play an Important Part.
Since the night of his arrival, Roger had not intruded upon the family circle. He had read hostility in Barry's eyes as the boy had looked up at him; and Mary, in spite of her friendliness, had forgotten that he was in the house! Well, they had set the pace, and he would keep to it. Here in the tower he could live alone—yet not be lonely, for the books were there—and they brought forgetfulness.
He took long walks through the city, now awakening to social and political activities. Back to town came the folk who had fled from the summer heat; back came the members of House and of Senate, streaming in from North, South, East and West for the coming Congress. Back came the office-seekers and the pathetic patient group whose claims were waiting for the passage of some impossible bill.
There came, too, the sightseers and trippers, sweeping from one end of the town to the other, climbing the dome of the Capitol, walking down the steps of the Monument, venturing into the White House, piloted through the Bureau where the money is made, riding on "rubber-neck wagons," sailing about in taxis, stampeding Mt. Vernon, bombarding Fort Myer, and doing it all gloriously under golden November skies.
And because of the sightseers and statesmen, and the folk who had been away for the summer, the shops began to take on beauty. Up F Street and around Fourteenth into H swept the eager procession, and all the windows were abloom for them.
Roger walked, too, in the country. In other lands, or at least so their poets have it, November is the month of chill and dreariness. But to the city on the Potomac it comes with soft pink morning mists and toward sunset, with amethystine vistas. And if, beyond the city, the fields are frosted, it is frost of a feathery whiteness which melts in the glory of a warmer noon. And if the trees are bare, there is yet pale yellow under foot and pale rose, where the leaves wait for the winter winds which shall whirl them later in a mad dance like brown butterflies. And there's the green of the pines, and the flaming red of five-fingered creepers.
It was on a sunny November day, therefore, as he followed Rock Creek through the Park that Roger came to the old Mill where a little tea room supplied afternoon refreshment.
As it was far away from car lines, its patronage came largely from those who arrived in motors or on horseback, and a few courageous pedestrians.
Here Roger sat down to rest, ordering a rather substantial repast, for the long walk had made him hungry.
It was while he waited that a big car arrived with five passengers. He recognized Porter Bigelow at once, and there were besides two older men and two young women.
The taller of the two young women had eyes that roved. She had blue black hair, and she wore black—a small black hat with a thin curved plume, and a tailored suit cut on lines which accentuated her height and slenderness. Her furs were of leopard skins. Her cheeks were touched with high color under her veil.
The other girl had also dark hair. But she was small and bird-like. From head to foot she was in a deep dark pink that, in the wool of her coat and the chiffon of her veil, gave back the hue of the rose which was pinned to her muff.
But it was on the girl in black that Roger fixed his eyes. Where had he seen her?
They chose a table near him, and passed within the touch of his hand. Porter did not recognize him. The tall man in the old overcoat and soft hat was not linked in his memory with that moment of meeting in Mary's dining-room.
"Everybody mixes up our names, Porter," the girl with the rose was saying as they sat down; "the girls did at school, didn't they, Lilah?"
"Yes," the girl in black did not need many words with her eyes to talk for her.
"Was it big Lilah and little Leila?" Porter asked.
"No," the dark eyes above the leopard muff widened and held his gaze. "It was dear Leila, and dreadful Lilah. I used to shock them, you know."
The three men laughed. "What did you do?" demanded Porter, leaning forward a little.
Men always leaned toward Delilah Jeliffe. She drew them even while she repelled.
"I smoked cigarettes, for one thing," she said; "everybody does it now. But then—I came near being expelled for it."
The little rose girl broke in hotly. "I think it is horrid still, Lilah," she said.
Lilah smiled and shrugged. "But that wasn't the worst. One day—I eloped."
She was making them all listen. The old men and the young one, and the man at the other table.
"I eloped with a boy from Prep. He was nineteen, and I was two years younger. We started by moonlight in Romeo's motor car—it was great fun. But the clergyman wouldn't marry us. I think he guessed that we were a pair of kiddies from school—and he scolded us and sent me back in a taxi——"
The tall, thin old gentleman was protesting. "My dear——"
"Oh, you didn't know, Daddy darling," she said. "I got back before I was discovered, and let myself in by the door I had unlocked. But I couldn't keep it from the girls—it was such fun to make them—shiver."
"And what became of Romeo?" Porter asked.
"He found another Juliet—a lovely little blonde and they are living happy ever after."
Leila's eyes were round. "But I don't see," she began.
"Of course you don't, duckie. To me, the whole thing was an adventure along the road—to you, it would have been a heart-break."
Her words came clearly to Roger. That, then, was what love meant to some women—an adventure along the road. One man served for pleasuring, until at some curve in the highway she met another.
Lilah was challenging her audience. "And now you see why I was dreadful Lilah. I fit the name they had for me, don't I?"
Her question was put at Porter, and he answered it. "It is women who set the pace for us," he said; "if they adventure, we venture. If they lead, we follow."
General Dick broke in. With his halo of white hair and his pink face, he looked like an indignant cherub. "The way you young people treat serious subjects is appalling;" then he felt his little daughter's hand upon his arm.
"Lilah is always saying things that she doesn't mean, Dad. Please don't take her seriously."
"Nobody takes me seriously," said Lilah, "and that's why nobody knows me as I really am."
"I know you," said her father, "and you're like a little mare that I used to drive out on the ranch. As long as I'd let her have her head, she was lovely. But let me try to curb her, and she'd kick over the traces."
They all laughed at that; then their tea came, and a great plate of toast, and the conversation grew intermittent and less interesting.
Yet the man at the other table had his attention again arrested when Lilah said to Porter, as she drew on her gloves:
"We are invited to Mary Ballard's for Thanksgiving, and you're to be there."
"Yes—mother and father are going South, so I can escape the family feast."
"Mary Ballard is—charming——" It was said tentatively, with an upward sweep of her lashes.
But Porter did not answer; and as he stood behind her chair, there was a deeper flush on his florid cheeks. Mary's name he held in his heart. It was rarely on his lips.
Mary had not wanted Delilah and her father for Thanksgiving. "But we can't have Leila and the General without them," she said to Barry, after a conversation with Leila over the telephone, "and it wouldn't seem like Thanksgiving without the Dicks."
"Delilah," said Barry, comfortably, "is good fun. I'm glad she is coming."
"She may be good fun," said Mary, slowly, "but she isn't—our kind."
"Leila said that to me," Barry told her. "I don't quite see what you girls mean."
"Well, you wouldn't," Mary agreed; "men don't see. But I should think when you look at Leila you'd know the difference. Leila is like a little wild rose, and Delilah Jeliffe is a—tulip."
"I like tulips," murmured Barry, audaciously.
Mary laughed. What was the use? Barry was Barry. And Delilah Jeliffe would flit in and out of his life as other girls had flitted; but always there would be for him—Leila.
"If you were a woman," she said, "you'd know by her clothes, and the pink of her cheeks, and by the way she does her hair—she's just a little too much of—everything—Barry."
"There's just enough of Delilah Jeliffe," said Barry, "to keep a man guessing."
"Guessing what?" Mary demanded with a spark in her eyes.
"Oh, just guessing," easily.
"Whether she likes you?"
"But why should you want to know, Barry? You're not in love with her."
His blue eyes danced. "Love hasn't anything to do with it, little solemn sister; it's just in the—game."
Later they had a tilt over inviting Mary's lodger.
"It seems so inhospitable to let him spend the day up there alone."
"I don't see how he could possibly expect to dine with us," Barry said, hotly. "You don't know anything about him, Mary. And I agree with Porter—a man's bank reference isn't sufficient for social recognition. And anyhow he may not have the right kind of clothes."
"We are to have dinner at three o'clock," she said, "just as mother always had it on Thanksgiving Day. If you don't want me to ask Roger Poole, I won't. But I think you are an awful snob, Barry."
Her eyes were blazing.
"Now what have I done to deserve that?" her brother demanded.
"You haven't treated him civilly," Mary said. "In a sense he's a guest in our house, and you haven't been up to his rooms since he came—and he's a gentleman."
"How do you know?"
"Because I do."
"Yet the other day you hinted that Delilah Jeliffe wasn't a lady, not in your sense of the word—and that I couldn't see the difference because was a man. I'll let you have your opinion of Delilah Jeliffe if you'll let me have mine of Roger Poole."
So Mary compromised by having Roger down for the evening. "We shall be just a family party for dinner," she said. "But later, we are asking some others for candle-lighting time. We want everybody to come prepared to tell a story or recite, or to sing, or play—in the dark at first, and then with the candles."
His pride urged him to refuse—to spurn this offer of hospitality from the girl who had once forgotten that he was in the house!
But as he stood there on the threshold of the Tower Rooms, her smile seemed to draw him, her voice called him, and he was young—and desperately lonely.
So as he dressed carefully on Thanksgiving afternoon, he had a sense of exhilaration. For one night he would let himself go. He would be himself. No one should snub him. Snubs came from self-consciousness—he who was above them need not see them.
When at last he entered the drawing-room, it was unillumined except for the flickering flame of a fire of oak logs. The guests, assembling wraith-like among the shadows, were given, each, an unlighted candle.
Roger found a place in a big chair beside the piano, and sat there alone, interested and curious. And presently Pittiwitz, stealing toward the hearth, arched her back under his hand, and he reached down and lifted her to his knee, where she stretched herself, sphinx-like, her amber eyes shining in the dusk.
With the last guest seated, Barry stood before them, and gave the key to the situation.
"Everybody is to light a candle with some stunt," he explained. "You know the idea. All of you have some parlor tricks, and you're to show them off."
There were no immediate volunteers, so Barry pounced on Leila.
"You begin," he said, and drew her into the circle of the firelight.
She looked very childish and sweet as she stood there with her unlighted candle, and sang a lullaby. Mary Ballard played her accompaniment softly, sitting so near to Roger in his dim corner that the folds of her velvet gown swept his foot.
And when the song was finished, Leila touched a match to her candle and stood on tiptoe to set it on the corner of the mantel, where it glimmered bravely.
General Dick and Mr. Jeliffe came next. Solemnly they placed two cushions on the hearth-rug, solemnly they knelt thereon, facing each other. Then intently and conscientiously they played the old game of "Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold." The General's fat hands met Mr. Jeliffe's thin ones alternately and in unison. Not a mistake did they make, and, ending out of breath, the General found it hard to rise, and had to be picked by Porter, like a plump feather pillow.
And now the candles were three!
Then Barry and Delilah danced, a dance which they had practiced together. It had in it just a hint of wildness, and just a hint of sophistication, and Delilah in her dress of sapphire chiffon, with its flaring tunic of silver net, seemed in the nebulous light like some strange bird of the night.
And now the candles were five!
Following, Leila went to the piano, and Porter and Mary gave a minuet. They had learned it at dancing-school, and it had been years since they had danced it. But they did it very well; Porter's somewhat stiff bearing accorded with its stateliness, and Mary, having added to her green velvet gown a little Juliet cap of lace and a lace fan, showed the radiant, almost boyish beauty which had charmed Roger on the night of the wedding.
His pulses throbbed as he watched her. They were a well-matched pair, this young millionaire and the pretty maid. And as their orderly steps went through the dance, so would their orderly lives, if they married, continue to the end. But what could Porter Bigelow teach Mary Ballard of the things which touch the stars?
And now the candles were seven! And the spirit of the carnival was upon the company. Song was followed by story, and story by song—until at last the room seemed to swim in a golden mist.
And through that mist Mary saw Roger Poole! He was leaning forward a little, and there was about him the air of a man who waited.
She spoke impetuously.
"Mr. Poole," she said, "please——"
There was not a trace of awkwardness, not a hint of self-consciousness in his manner as he answered her.
"May I sit here?" he asked. "You see, my pussy cat holds me, and as I shall tell you about a cat, she gives the touch of local color."
And then he began, his right hand resting on the gray cat's head, his left upon his knee.
He used no gestures, yet as he went on, the room became still with the stillness of a captured audience. Here was no stumbling elocution, but a controlled and perfect method, backed by a voice which soared and sang and throbbed and thrilled—the voice either of a great orator, or of a great actor.
The story that he told was of Whittington and his cat. But it was not the old nursery rhyme. He gave it as it is written by one of England's younger poets. Since he lacked the time for it all, he sketched the theme, rounding it out here and there with a verse—and it seemed to Mary that, as he spoke, all the bells of London boomed!
"'Flos Mercatorum,' moaned the bell of All Hallowes, 'There was he an orphan, O, a little lad, alone!' 'Then we all sang,' echoed happy St. Saviour's, 'Called him and lured him, and made him our own.'"
And now they saw the little lad stealing toward the big city, saw all the color and glow as he entered upon its enchantment, saw his meeting with the green-gowned Alice, saw him cold and hungry, faint and footsore, saw him aswoon on a door-step.
"'Alice,' roared a voice, and then, O like a lilied angel, Leaning from the lighted door, a fair face unafraid, Leaning over Red Rose Lane, O, leaning out of Paradise Drooped the sudden glory of his green-gowned maid!"
Touching now a lighter note, his voice laughed through the lovely lines; of the ship which was to sail beyond the world; of how each man staked such small wealth as he possessed; "for in those days Marchaunt adventurers shared with their prentices the happy chance of each new venture."
But Whittington had nothing to give. "Not a groat," he tells sweet Alice. "I staked my last groat in a cat!"
"'Ay, but we need a cat,' The Captain said. So when the painted ship Sailed through a golden sunrise down the Thames, A gray tail waved upon the misty poop, And Whittington had his venture on the seas!"