GLORY OF YOUTH
BY TEMPLE BAILEY
AUTHOR OF CONTRARY MARY
ILLUSTRATED BY HENRY HUTT and C. S. CORSON
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
First printing, August, 1913 Second printing, February, 1916 Third printing February, 1917 Fourth printing August, 1919
Camden, N. J.
The Glory of Youth
To My Mother
I. BETTINA 9
II. IN THE SHADOWY ROOM 21
III. IN WHICH DIANA REAPS 36
IV. WHITE LILACS 51
V. IN WHICH BETTINA DANCES 64
VI. "FOR EVERY MAN THERE IS JUST ONE WOMAN" 80
VII. HARBOR LIGHT 94
VIII. THE EMPTY HOUSE 105
IX. THE GOLDEN AGE 116
X. STORM SIGNALS 127
XI. THE WHITE MAIDEN 141
XII. YOUTH AND BEAUTY 155
XIII. HER LETTER TO ANTHONY 170
XIV. THE LITTLE SILVER RING 185
XV. IN WHICH BETTINA FLIES 199
XVI. VOICES IN THE DARK 213
XVII. GLORY OF YOUTH 227
XVIII. PENANCE 242
XIX. HER FATHER'S RING 257
XX. THE "GRAY GULL" 272
XXI. BROKEN WINGS 285
XXII. THE ENCHANTED FOREST 300
XXIII. THE PROCESSION OF PRETTY LADIES 316
XXIV. THE AFTERGLOW 323
Glory of Youth
The girl knelt on the floor, feverishly packing a shabby little trunk.
Outside was a streaming April storm, and the rain, rushing against the square, small-paned windows, shut out the view of the sea, shut out the light, and finally brought such darkness that the girl stood up with a sigh, brushed off her black dress with thin white hands, and groped her way to the door.
Beyond the door was the blackness of an upper hall in a tall century-old house. A spiral stairway descended into a well of gloom. An ancient iron lantern, attached to a chain, hung from the low ceiling.
The girl lighted the lantern, and the faint illumination made deeper the shadows below.
And from the shadows came a man's voice.
"May I come up?"
As the girl bent over the railing, the glow of the lantern made of her hair a shining halo. "Oh," she cried, radiantly, "I'm so glad you've come. I—I was afraid——"
The thunder rolled, the waves pounded on the rocks, and the darkness grew more dense, but now the girl did not heed, for what mattered a mere storm, when, ascending the stairs, was one who knew fear neither of life nor of death, nor of the things which come after death?
When at last her visitor emerged from the gloom, he showed himself beyond youthful years, with hair slightly touched with gray, not tall, but of a commanding presence, with clear, keen blue eyes, and with cheeks which were tanned by out-of-door exercise, and reddened by the prevailing weather.
"I just had to come," he said, as he took her hand. "I knew you'd be frightened."
"Yes," she said, "Miss Matthews is at school, and I am alone——"
Her lips quivered, but she drew her hand from his, and went on into the shabby room, where she lighted a candle in a brass holder, and touched a match to a fire which was laid in the blackened brick fireplace.
The doctor's quick eye noted the preparations for departure.
"What does that mean?" he asked, and pointed to the trunk.
"I—I am going away——"
"Yes," nervously; "I—I can't stay here, doctor."
"Oh," tremulously, "it was all right when I had mother, because she was so sick that I was too busy to realize how deadly lonely it was here. I knew she needed the sea air, and she could get it better in the top of this old house than anywhere else. But now that she's gone—I can't stand it. I'm young, and Miss Matthews is away all day teaching—and when she comes home at night we have nothing in common, and there's the money left from the insurance—and so—I'm going away."
He looked at her, with her red-gold hair in high relief against the worn leather of the chair in which she sat, at the flower-like face, the slender figure, the tiny feet in childish strapped slippers.
"You aren't fit to fight the world," he said; "you aren't fit."
"Perhaps it won't be such a fight," she said. "I could get something to do in the city, and——"
He shook his head. "You don't know—you can't know——" Then he broke off to ask, "What would you do with your furniture?"
"Miss Matthews would be glad to take the rooms just as they are. She was delighted when you asked her to stay with me after mother died. She loves our old things, the mahogany and the banjo clock, and the embroidered peacocks, and the Venetian heirlooms that belonged to Dad's family. But I hate them."
"Because, oh, you know, because Dad treated mother so dreadfully. He broke her heart."
His practiced eye saw that she was speaking tensely.
"I wish you'd get me a cup of tea," he said, suddenly. "I'm just from the sanatorium. I operated on a bad case—and, well, that's sufficient excuse, isn't it, for me to want to drink a cup of tea with you?"
She was busy in a moment with her hospitality.
"Oh, why didn't you tell me? And you're wet." Her hand touched his coat lightly as she passed him.
"The rain came so suddenly that I couldn't get the window of my car closed; it's an awful storm.
"And now," he said, when she had brought the tea on an old Sheffield tray, and had set it on a little folding table which he placed between them on the hearth, "and now let's talk about it."
"Please don't try to make me stay——"
"Because, oh, because you can't know what I suffer here; it isn't just because I've lost mother, but the people—they all know about her and about Dad, and they aren't nice to me."
"My dear child!"
"Perhaps it's because father was a singer and an Italian, and mother came of good old Puritan stock. They seem to think she lowered herself by marrying him. They can't understand that though he was unkind to her, he belonged to an aristocratic Venetian family——"
"It's from those wonderful women of Venice, then, that you get that hair. Do you remember Browning's:
"'Dear dead women, with such hair, too—what's become of all the gold Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old.'"
There was no response to his thought in her young eyes.
"I've never read Browning," she said, negligently, "and I hate to think of 'dear dead women.' I want to think of live things, of bright things, of gay things. It seems sometimes as if I should die here among the shadows."
She was sobbing now, with her head on the table.
"Bettina," the doctor bent over her, "poor child, poor little child."
"Please let me go," she whispered.
"I can't keep you, of course. I wish I knew what to do. I wish Diana were here."
"I forgot that you did not know her. She has been away for two years. She's rather wonderful, Bettina."
The girl raised her head. The man was gazing straight into the fire. All the eager light that had made his face seem young had gone, and he looked worn and tired. Bettina had no worldly intuitions to teach her the reason for the change a woman's name had wrought, and so absorbed was she in her own trouble that she viewed the transformation with unseeing eyes.
"What could she do if she were here?" she asked with childish directness.
"She would find some way out of it—she is very wise." He spoke with some hesitation, as a man speaks who holds a subject sacred. "She has had to decide things for herself all her life—her father and mother died when she was a little girl; now she is over thirty and the mistress of a large fortune. She spends her winters in the city and her summers down here by the sea—but for the past two years she has been staying in Europe with a widowed friend who was a schoolmate of hers in Berlin."
"When is she coming back?"
Out of a long silence, he answered, "I am not sure that she will come back. Her engagement was announced last fall—to a German, Ulric Van Rosen—she is to be married in June."
The fact, to him so pregnant of woeful possibilities, meant little to Bettina.
"Of course if she's not here, she can't do anything—and anyhow most people don't care to do practical things to help, do they?"
She looked so childish, so appealing, so altogether exquisite and young in her black-robed slenderness, that he answered her as he would have answered a child.
"It's too bad that the world should hurt you."
"But I'm going to do wonderful things in the city."
"Wonderful things—poor little girl——"
As he brought his eyes back from the fire to her face, he seemed to bring his thoughts back from an uneasy reverie.
"You ought," he said, "to marry——"
The color flamed into the girl's cheeks. "Mother was always saying that, in those last days. But I hated to have her; it seemed so dreadful to talk of marriage—without love. I know she didn't mean it that way, poor darling! She married for love and her life was such a failure. But I couldn't—not just to get married, could I—not just to have some one take care of me?"
He stood up, and thrust his hands in his pockets. "No," he agreed bluffly, "you couldn't, of course."
"And there's never been any one in love with me," was her naive confession, "and I've never been in love, not really——"
He was looking down at her with smiling eyes. "There's plenty of time."
"Yes—that's what I always told mother—but she dreaded to think of me—alone."
The eager, dying woman had said the same thing to the doctor, and it had seemed to him, sometimes, that her burning eyes had begged of him a favor which he could not grant.
For there had always been—Diana!
He straightened his shoulders. "I'm going to ask you to stay here," he said, "instead of going to the city. I haven't any real right to keep you, for I'm not legally your guardian, but I promised your mother to look after you. I can find work for you. We need some one at the sanatorium to look after the office——"
For a moment she set her will against his. "But I'd rather go to the city."
He put his strong hands on her shoulders. "Little child, look at me," he said, and when she flashed up at him a startled glance, he went on, gently, "Your mother wanted me to take care of you—to keep you from harm. In the city you'll be too far away. I want you to stay here. Will you?"
And presently she whispered, "I will stay."
Outside the rain was rushing and the wind was blowing, and plain little Miss Matthews battled with the storm. Miss Matthews, who, every day in the year, taught a class of tumultuous children, and whose life dealt always with the commonplace. And it was plain little Miss Matthews who, having weathered the storm and climbed the winding stairs, came in, rain-coated and soft-hatted, to find by the fire the doctor drawing on his gloves and Bettina hovering about him like a gold-tipped butterfly.
"It's a dreadful storm," said Miss Matthews, superfluously, as Bettina went to get boiling water. "There's a young man down-stairs who wants to speak to you, Dr. Blake. He said that he couldn't find you at the sanatorium. He saw your car in front of the house and knew you were here. But the bell wouldn't ring, and so he waited. I told him the bell was broken and that you'd come down at once. He's hurt his hand."
"They would have fixed him up at the sanatorium."
"He said he wanted you, and nobody else, and that he came into the hall because he was like a pussy cat and hated the rain. He is a queer looking creature in a leather cap and leather leggins."
The doctor gave an amused laugh. "That's Justin Ford," he said; "the pussy-cat speech sounds like him, and he wears the leather costume when he flies."
Bettina, coming back with fresh tea for Miss Matthews, asked, "How does he fly?"
"In an aeroplane. He's to try out his hydro-aeroplane to-morrow. He's probably been at work on the machinery and hurt his hand."
Bettina sparkled. "Think of a man who can fly," she said. "Doesn't it sound incredible?"
"It's the most marvelous thing in the world," said the big-hearted surgeon, not knowing that he, as a man of healing, was more marvelous, for he had to do with the mechanics of flesh and blood, while Justin had to do only with steel and aluminum and canvas, which are, at best, unimportant things when compared with nerves and ligaments and bones.
"Would you mind if Ford came up?" the doctor asked. "I've got to go straight to my old man with the pneumonia after I leave here, and I could look at his hand."
Bettina shivered. "Shall I have to look at it?" she asked in a little voice.
He laughed. "Of course not. You can go in the other room."
But when the young man, who had answered the doctors call, entered, she did not go, for the face which was framed by the leather cap was that of a youth whose beauty matched her own, and whose mocking eyes, as he acknowledged the introduction, seemed to beat against the door of her maiden heart and demand admission.
IN THE SHADOWY ROOM
The injury to Justin's hand proved to be one of strain and sprain.
"A bandage for a few days," the doctor pronounced, "and then a little carefulness, and you'll be all right."
Justin lingered. The little fire was like a heart of gold in the shadowy room. Plain little Miss Matthews sipped her tea, with her feet on the fender. Bettina, during the doctor's examination of Justin's hand, had seated herself in her low chair on the hearth, and now her eyes were fixed steadily on the flames.
"It's a shivery, shaky sort of day," said Justin, surveying the teapot longingly, and Anthony laughed. "He wants his tea, Bettina," he said, "and a place by your fire. It's another of his pussy-cat traits—so if you'll be good to him, I'll have another cup, and he shall tell us about his hydro-aeroplane."
Justin, standing in front of the fire, was like a young god fresh from Olympus. His nose was straight, his mocking eyes a golden-brown, and, with his cap off, his upstanding shock of hair showed glittering lights. In deference to the prevailing fashion, his fair little mustache was slightly upturned at the corners. He had doffed his rain coat, and appeared in a brown Norfolk suit with leather leggins that reached his knees.
"I'm afraid I've intruded upon your hospitality," he said to Bettina, as she handed him a steaming cup, "but I'm always falling into pleasant things—and I haven't the will power to get out when I should, truly I haven't. But it isn't my fault—it's just a part of my pussy-cat inheritance."
"He can afford to say such things," Anthony remarked; "he's really more like a bird than a pussy cat. You should see him up in the air."
Justin's eyes flashed. "You should see me coming down on the water after a flight. By Jove, Anthony, that's the most wonderful little machine. I've called her 'The Gray Gull' because she not only flies but swims—cuts through the water like a motor boat."
As he talked his eyes were on Bettina. "You beauty, you beauty," was the thought which thrilled him.
When, at last, he stood up, he apologized somewhat formally. "I've stayed too long," he said, "but Anthony must make my excuses. I was down there in Purgatory—and he showed me—Paradise."
The doctor looked at him sharply. He knew Justin as a man of the world—gay, irresponsible—and Bettina had no one to watch over her.
"I'll take you as far as the shops," he said, crisply, "and then I must get at once to my old man with the pneumonia."
As the two men rode away in the doctor's small covered car, Justin asked, "Where did you discover her?" Anthony, his eyes fixed on the muddy road ahead of them, gave a brief outline: "Professionally. The mother died in those rooms. The girl is alone, except for Miss Matthews and the old Lane sisters who own the house and live in the lower part. I have constituted myself a sort of guardian for Bettina—the mother requested it, and I couldn't refuse."
"I see." Justin asked no more questions, but settled himself back in a cushioned corner, and as the two men rode on in silence, their thoughts were centered on the single vision of a shadowy room, and of a slender golden-haired, black-robed figure against a background of glowing flame.
All that night and the next day the doctor battled with Death, and came out triumphant. By four o'clock in the afternoon the old man with pneumonia showed signs of holding his own.
Worn out, Anthony drove back toward the sanatorium. The rain was over, but a heavy fog had rolled in, so that the doctor's little car seemed to float in a sea of cloud. Now and then another car passed him, specter-like amid the grayness. Silent figures, magnified by the mist, came and went like shadow pictures on a screen. From the far distance sounded the incessant moan of fog-horns.
Anthony stopped his car in front of a small shop, whose lights struggled faintly against the gloom.
Crossing the threshold, he went from a world of dampness and chill into the warmth and cheer of an old-fashioned fish house.
For fifty years there had been no change in Lillibridge's. The floor of the main room was bare and clean, and, in the middle, a round black stove radiated comfort on cold days. Along one side of the room ran three stalls, in which were placed tables for such patrons as might desire partial privacy. On the spick and span counter were set forth various condiments and plates of crackers. A card, tacked up on the wall, tempted the appetite with its list of sea foods.
Anthony wanted nothing to eat. He ordered coffee, and went into one of the stalls to drink it.
But a man at one of the tables in the main part of the room wanted more than coffee. He was a little man in a blue reefer, but he had, evidently, more than a little appetite. As Anthony sat down, he was just finishing a bowl of chowder, and was gazing with eyes of hungry appreciation upon various dishes of fried fish and fried potatoes, of hot rolls and pickles which were being set before him.
"You'd better have some, doctor," was his hoarse invitation.
"Too tired," said Anthony. "I'll wait till I've had a bath and rub-down before I eat——"
"What you need," said the little man, between large mouthfuls, "is a good day's fishin'. You come out to-morrow morning, and we'll catch some cod."
The doctor's tired eyes brightened. "There's nothing that I'd like better, captain, but I've got an old man ill of pneumonia, and there's a girl with appendicitis."
"There you go," said the little man; "if it wasn't a girl with appendicitis, it would be a kid with the colic, or a lady with a claim to heart trouble. What you've got to do, doctor, is to cut it all out and come with me."
Anthony shook his head. "Suppose some one had said to you when you sailed the seas that you could leave the ship——?"
"I shouldn't have left," said the little man, "but I didn't have such a look as you've got in your eyes. What you need is a good night's sleep, and a day's fishin'. And you need it now."
Having eaten presently his last morsel, he ordered a piece of pie. "There's nothing like sea air to blow your brains clear," he stated. "And when this fog lifts, it'll be fine fishin' weather."
Again the doctor shook his head. "I'd like it, more than a little, but I've got to stick to my post."
Captain Stubbs began on his pie, and remarked, "The trouble with you is that you're mixed up with too many wimmen."
Anthony's head went up. "What do you mean?"
"Wimmen," said the little captain, "are bad enough anyhow. But when you have to handle a lot of wimmen with nerves, then the Lord help you."
He said it so solemnly that Anthony threw back his head and laughed.
"Now, up at that sannytarium of yours," said the captain, "there's about ten of them that need to be dipped into the good salt sea and hung up in the sun to dry, and that's all they need, no coddling and medicine and operations—but just a cold shock and a warm-up—and a day's fishin'."
And now Anthony did not laugh. "By Jove," he said, "I believe you're right. I'm going to try some personally conducted parties, and you shall take them out, captain——"
"Me——?" the captain demanded, incredulously. "Me take those wimmen out fishin'?"
Anthony nodded. "Yes, once a week. Is it a bargain?"
The captain stood up. "No, it ain't," he said, firmly. "I'll take you and gladly. But not any of that nervous bunch."
He settled his cap firmly on his head, and went toward the door. Then he turned. "Some day," he said, "I'm going to ask that Betty child to go out in my boat."
"Bettina?" Anthony's mind went swiftly to the shadowed room.
"Yes. She's lonesome, and so was her mother. I used to take fish up to them, and I showed the Betty child how to make chowder."
"She told me," said Anthony. "You're one of her best friends, captain."
"Well, goodness only knows she needs friends," said the little captain, adding with a significant emphasis which escaped the preoccupied Anthony, "She needs somebody to take care of her."
Receiving no response, the little man lighted his pipe, buttoned his coat, and, remarking genially, "Well, you let me know about that day's fishin'," he steamed out.
After his departure Anthony sat for some time in the deserted room. He knew that rest and refreshment were waiting for him and he knew that he needed them, but his mind was weighed down by the problem of that helpless child in the old house. All through the night as he had battled for the life of his patient, he had thought of her, who must battle with the world. He could get her work, of course, but he shrank from the thought of her pale loveliness set to sordid uses.
With a sudden gesture of resolution, he stood up and drew on his gloves.
Ten minutes later he was climbing the winding stairway, where the iron lantern again illumined the darkness.
There had been no response to his call from below, and when he reached the upper landing he found the door shut. He knocked and presently Bettina came. He saw at a glance that she had been crying.
"I can stay only a minute," he said. "I haven't had much sleep since I saw you yesterday."
"I'll make you some tea," she offered, but he stopped her with a quick, "No, no,—I've just had coffee, and I must get home."
They sat down, somewhat stiffly, on opposite sides of the hearth.
"What made you cry?" he asked, with his keen eyes on her downcast face.
"Everything—the rain yesterday—the fog to-day. I wish the sun would shine—I wish—I were—dead——"
With a sharp exclamation, he stood up. "You're too young to say such things—there's all of life before you."
"Yes," she said dully, "there's all of life——"
To him she was a most appealing figure. Her weakness seemed to stand out against the background of his strength. Suddenly he held out his hands to her. "Come here, Betty child," he said, using, unconsciously, the little captain's name for her, "come here."
Some new note in his voice made her cheeks flame, but she obeyed him. He took both of her hands in his. "I've been thinking of you, and your future. Somehow I can't see you, a little slip of a thing like you, being beaten and bruised by the hard things of life. The world is cruel and you are so—sweet. You need some one to take care of you——"
"Yes," she whispered; "but there isn't any one."
"Except me. And I'm such an old fellow—years too old for you. But I'm alone, and you're alone. Could I make you happy, Betty child?"
She stared at him, all the bright color gone from her face.
"Why, how?" Her voice fluttered and died.
"As my wife. There's the big house on the rocks that I am building."
He faltered. The great house had been built for Diana, on a sudden hopeful impulse that when it was finished she would consent to be its mistress.
"There's the big house," he went on, after a moment, "and there's money enough and to spare. Not that I want you to marry me for that, but I think I could comfort you in your loneliness, Bettina."
In her secluded girlhood there had been no opportunity for masculine adoration; hence there seemed nothing lacking when this man of men, whose coming during her mother's illness had made the one bright spot in her day, whose sympathy had comforted her in her sorrow, whose friendship had sustained her in the months which had followed her great loss, when he spoke of marriage with never a word of love.
"But I'm not wise enough or good enough," she said, with a quick catch of her breath.
He drew her to him, holding her gently.
"Would you like," he asked, "would you like to think that all your life I should take care of you?"
She lay quietly, not answering for a while, then she whispered, "Do you really want me?"
Perhaps his arm relaxed a little, but his voice was very steady. "I really want to make you happy."
"And you'll let me love you with all my heart?" Her eyes were hidden.
He put his hand against the softness of her hair, turning her face up toward him. "I shall hope that you may love me with all your heart, and that I may be worthy of it."
Her hand crept up and touched his cheek. "Kiss me," she whispered, like a child.
He would have been less than a man if his heart had not leaped a little, if he had not responded to the love call of this wistful white and gold woman creature.
"My dear," he said, brokenly, and bent his head.
On the foggy streets below men and women passed and repassed like ghosts in the stillness. Little Miss Matthews, meeting Captain Stubbs on a street corner, was unconscious of his nearness until the little captain, guided by that sixth sense, which is given to sailors for their protection at sea, hailed her.
"You needn't hurry home," he told her; "that Betty child don't want you. Dr. Blake is there. That's his car."
"He was there yesterday," said Miss Matthews, disturbed by the doctor's departure from his usual routine.
"And he'll probably be there to-morrow; he's getting sweet on that Betty child, Miss Mattie."
"Oh, dear, no," said the shocked Miss Matthews. "Why, he's in love with Diana Gregory."
The captain gazed at her blankly. "You don't mean it," he protested.
"Yes, I do," said Miss Matthews; "they've known each other all their lives. But she doesn't want to settle down."
"Well, she'd better look out," said the little captain; "men won't wait forever."
"Men like Anthony Blake," returned Miss Matthews with conviction, "will. And as for Bettina, she's nothing but a child!"
The little captain carried the conversation over, tactfully, to his favorite topic. "I want you and that Betty child to go with me for a day's fishin' soon," he said; "you just name the day."
Little Miss Matthews hated the sea, with the hatred of a woman whose ancestors had made their living on the Banks and had been drowned in storms. But she liked the captain. "I am sure you are very kind," she said, primly, "but it will have to be Saturday when there isn't any school."
"All right," said the captain,—"make it a week from Saturday, and we'll probably have clearing weather."
The doctor, going down, met little Miss Matthews. Bettina, leaning over the rail, greeted the little lady somewhat self-consciously. "I'll make your tea in a minute," she said; "the doctor didn't want any."
When Anthony reached the bottom of the stair, he looked up. The faint light of the lantern drew a circle of radiance about Bettina's head.
"Wait," she called softly, and came down to him, and in the darkness whispered that she was happy, so very happy—and would she see him soon?
"To-morrow," he promised, and went away with his pulses pounding.
All the way home he thought of her. She had been charming. He felt like an adventuring knight, who, having killed all the dragons, rescues the captive princess from her tower. She was a dear child. A dear—child.
At the sanatorium he had a bath and a good dinner, and made his rounds. One little woman, when he had passed, spoke to another of his smile. "It is as if he were happy in his heart," she said, quaintly; "before this his eyes have been sad."
Later the doctor found time to read his mail. On the top of the pile of letters was a thick one in a gray envelope addressed in feminine script. He opened it and read eagerly. Then he sat very still, trying, amid all the beating agony of emotion, to grasp the truth as she had told it. Diana was free. Her engagement was broken. She was coming back to America. "I am coming home to the big house—and to you—Anthony." And she would be there in just ten days!
IN WHICH DIANA REAPS
All the way down in the train Diana kept saying to her friend, "I am so glad you are going to see my house, Sophie. You can't imagine how lovely it is."
But even then Mrs. Martens was not prepared. She was given a room on the third floor from which glass doors opened on a little balcony which overhung the harbor. It was like the upper deck of a ship with the open sea to the right and left, and with a strip of green peninsula cutting into it beyond the causeway.
"That's the Neck," Diana explained; "the yacht clubs are over there and some hotels and big houses. But I like it on this side, in the town. It's so quaint and lovely. I'll show you some of it to-morrow morning."
"I'm not going anywhere to-morrow morning. I am going to sleep until noon."
Diana bent and kissed her. "Poor thing, is she tired?"
"Well, I won't wake you. But I am going to be up with the dawn, Sophie."
Mrs. Martens turned and looked at her. "Is Anthony here?"
Diana caught her breath as she said it, and the two friends stood, silently, looking over the harbor.
The twilight was taking the blue out of the water, but the beauty was still there—with the lights on the anchored boats twinkling like stars in the grayness, and the lighthouse making a great moon above them.
"When will you see him, Diana?"
"Then I'm going to bed."
"You're not—I want you to meet him, Sophie."
"You want him every bit for yourself. Don't be a hypocrite, Diana."
Diana laid her hands on Sophie's shoulders and shook her a little, laughing.
"Sophie, do you ever feel so young that you are almost wild with it—as if there hadn't been any years since you wore pinafores and pigtails?"
"No—I'm thirty-five, Diana."
"Don't shout it from the housetops. I'm a very few years behind. What a lot of wasted years, Sophie."
"It's your own fault, Diana."
"But I wanted to be free——"
"And now you are longing for your prison——"
"You'd better go down and dress, dear. Put on that pale blue, with your pearls, Diana. It fits in with the moonlight."
"Then you won't come down?"
"No. I'll have Peter for company."
Peter Pan was Diana's cat. He was as yellow as a harvest moon, he was fed on fish, and was of a prodigious fatness. During Diana's sojourn abroad he had been looked after by Delia Hobbs.
Delia was Diana's housekeeper. She had a lame hip and a lovely mind. She went up to Mrs. Martens' room after Diana had left to see if the little lady was comfortable for the night.
She eyed Peter Pan, who was in the middle of the big bed.
"Peter," she said, severely, "that's no place for you."
Peter rolled over, and clawed the lace spread luxuriously.
"Shall I take him off, ma'am?" Delia asked.
"It's nice to have him here," said Mrs. Martens, doubtfully, "but perhaps I ought not to let him stay. You know best, Delia."
Delia, a little flattered by such deference, hesitated. "I might bring his basket up here," she said; "he isn't a bit of trouble. He just goes to sleep and doesn't wake up until morning."
As Delia opened the door to go down, the rippling measures of "The Spring Song," played softly, came up to them. Sophie had a vision of Diana in her shimmering gown, waiting in the moonlight for Anthony.
Delia came back with the basket. It was of brown wicker with brown cushions. Peter, curled up in it, made a sunflower combination.
"You are sure you're all right, Miss Sophie?" Delia asked as she stood on the threshold. "If you don't want the electric light, there's a candle on your table, and if you like the air straight from the sea you can open the door on the porch. Miss Diana used to like to lie and look at the moonlight."
The whole world seemed obsessed by the moonlight. Its white radiance, when Mrs. Martens at last turned off the glaring bulbs, seemed to cast a spell over sea and land. She stepped out on the porch, and was awed by the beauty of the wide sweep of shining sky and sea. Then, far below on the hidden road, she heard the beat of a motor.
The sound ceased and a man's quick step came up the path. There was the whirr of an electric bell, and she knew that Anthony had come.
Well, Diana had her Anthony—and she had—Peter! She laughed a little to stifle a sigh. Diana had the substance—she her shadowy memories.
A faint breeze had sprung up. The yachts tugged at their moorings as the tide turned. Far to the southeast Minot's light blinked its one-four-three—"I-warn-you"—message to the ships. Diana had once said of it, "The sweethearts off the coast translate it differently—'I-love-you.' That's what Anthony told me."
How she had always quoted him! Even when for a brief time she had drifted toward that other, she had clung to her belief in Anthony's faith and goodness—and when she had shaken herself free she had flown back to him.
And now—in the dim room below Diana was coming at last into her own!
The little lady crept into bed, shivering—perhaps with the chill of the spring night, perhaps with the thought of the happiness from which she was left out.
Presently she heard again the beat of the motor. Beginning in front of the house, it grew fainter in the distance; then silence, and at last a soft step on the stairs.
"Sophie," there was that in Diana's voice which made her sit up and listen, "Sophie, are you asleep?"
Mrs. Martens lighted the bedside candle with shaking hands. Diana came forward into the circle of light. Diana—with all of youth gone from her. Diana stripped of joy. Diana with the shimmering blue gown seeming to mock the tragedy in her face.
She came up to the bed and stood looking down at her friend.
"Listen, Sophie," she said, brokenly, "see what I've done. Anthony is engaged, Sophie. Engaged to another girl!"
* * * * *
Peter, in his basket, slept soundly all night. But Sophie slept not at all. And early in the morning she went down to her friend.
Diana had taken the room which had been her mother's. She had kept the carved canopy bed and other massive pieces, but she had changed the hangings and the wall covering from mauve to rose-color.
"You see, Sophie," she had explained one day in Berlin, "there comes a time in the life of every woman when she needs rose-color to counteract the gray of her existence. If you put blue with gray you get gray. But if you put pink with gray you get rose-color. Perhaps you didn't know that before, Sophie, but now you do. And you'll know also that when I dare wear a blue gown I am feeling positively infantile."
Diana, in neglige, had always made Mrs. Martens think of a rose in bloom. She had a fashion of swathing her head, cap-fashion, in wide pink ribbon, and her crepe kimonos always reflected the same enchanting hue.
But this morning it was a white rose which lay back on the pillows. Diana's loose brown braids hung straight down on each side of her pale face. There were shadows under her eyes.
"Don't look at me that way, Sophie," she said, sharply, as Mrs. Martens came up to the bed. "I—I'm not going into a decline—or break my heart—or——"
She broke off and said in a changed voice, "You're a dear." Then with a pitiful little laugh, "It wouldn't be so hard—but she's so young, Sophie."
"Do you think he is really unhappy, Sophie?"
The night before when she had lain in Mrs. Martens' comforting arms, she had thought only of her own misery. For a time she had been just a little sobbing child to be consoled. All her poise, all her self-restraint had gone down under the force of the overwhelming shock.
But now a wild hope sprang up in her breast. Why should two people suffer for the sake of one? And the other girl was so young—she would get over it.
Yet, remembering Anthony's face as he had left her, she had little hope.
"I wish you might have been prepared for this," he had said. "I wrote a letter, but it must have missed you. Perhaps it has been best to talk it out—that's why I came. May I still come, sometimes, Diana?"
Then her pride had risen to meet the crisis.
"As if anything could spoil our friendship, Anthony," she had told him bravely. "I want you to come—and some day you must bring—the Girl."
"You will like her," he had said, eagerly, with a man's blundering confidence, "and you can help her. She is very lonely, Diana—and I was lonely——"
That had been the one shred of apology which he had vouchsafed for the act which had spoiled their lives.
When he had first entered the moonlighted room, she had turned from the piano and had held out her hands to him.
He had taken them, and had stood looking down at her, with eyes which spoke what his lips would not say.
And at last he had asked, "Why didn't you marry that fellow in Berlin, Di?"
"Because I didn't love him, Anthony. I found out just in time—and I found out, too, just in time that—it was you—Anthony."
Then he had said, "Hush," and had dropped her hands, and after a long time, he had spoken. "Di, I've asked another woman to marry me, and she has said, 'Yes.'"
Out of a stunned silence she had whispered. "How—did it happen?"
"Don't ask me—it is done—and it can't be undone—we have made a mess of things, Diana——"
He gave the bare details; of the sick mother who had crept back after years of absence to die in her own town, of the girl and her loneliness, of her child-like faith in him.
When he had finished, she had laid her hand on his arm. "But do you love her, do you really love her, Anthony?" had been her desolate demand.
He had drawn back, and not meeting her eyes, had said, very low, "You haven't the right to ask that question, Di, or I to answer it——"
And in that moment she had realized that the barrier which separated herself and Anthony was high enough to shut out happiness.
"Oh—oh." As Diana's thoughts came back to the present, she sat up in bed and wept helplessly. "Oh, I don't know what I am going to do, Sophie. I've always been so self-sufficient, and now it seems as if my whole world revolves about one man——"
Never before had Diana, self-contained Diana, talked to her friend of the things which lay deep beneath the surface, but now she revealed her soul to the little woman who had known love in all its fulfilment, and who, having lost that love, still lived.
"What you must do," said Sophie, softly, "is to face it. You've got to look at the thing squarely, dearest-dear. It is because you and Anthony forgot to keep burning the sacred fires that this trouble has come upon you."
"What do you mean, Sophie?"
"When two people love each other," said Sophie, slowly, "it is a wonderful thing, a sacred thing, Diana. What you gave Ulric was not love—you were fascinated for the moment, and when you found him disappointing, you let him go lightly, yet all the time, deep in your heart, was this great Anthony—is it not so, my Diana?"
"Yes," the other whispered, with her face hidden.
"And Anthony, when he thought he had lost you, took this little girl to fill your place—and she can never fill it, and so because each of you has made of love a light thing, you must have your punishment. We must reap what we sow, Diana.
"Don't think I am not sympathetic, liebchen," she went on, "but, oh, Diana, I'd rather see you this way than with Ulric Van Rosen as your lover."
She knelt by the bed with her arms about her friend. Two years before Diana had comforted Sophie when death had claimed the great-hearted husband who had made the little woman's life complete. Since then they had clung together, and there had developed in Sophie an almost maternal devotion for the brilliant girl who had hitherto moved through life triumphant and serene.
Delia, at the door, presented a worried face. "I've got some milk toast for Miss Diana," she explained, "and your breakfast is waiting for you, Miss Sophie——"
"Breakfast," Diana pushed back the brown brightness of her hair and laughed hysterically; "is that the way the world must go on for me now, Sophie? You know—for you've been through it—must I eat and drink and be merry when my heart is—broken——?"
"Hush." Again she was in Sophie's arms. "Delia will hear."
But Delia's imagination had not grasped the possibility of any mental or spiritual disturbance. "I guess she's got one of her mother's headaches," she said, as she edged herself further into the room. "I always knew she'd have them some day—although up to now she's been perfectly well."
"Set the tray on the table, Delia," Mrs. Martens spoke over her shoulder, "and I'll come down presently—and you might go up and get Peter. I think I shut the door as I came out——"
Delia took the hint. "There's broiled fish and waffles," she complained, as she departed, "and they don't taste any better for waiting."
"You go down, Sophie," said Diana, when they were alone—"and I'll get up presently, and then—I'll see some way out of it——"
At her tone, her friend who had crossed the room to pull up the shades turned and looked at her. "What way can you see, Diana?"
Diana slipped out of bed and stood up, tall and white, with the long brown braids hanging heavily to her knees.
"There must be some way," she said, "for all of us. I don't believe in sitting down and letting things go wrong, and they may be as wrong for that little girl as for Anthony and me—surely one must use common sense in a case like this——"
Sophie pulled up the curtain, letting in a flood of sunshine.
"One may use common sense," she said, "but one must be very careful——"
Diana twisted her braids into a coronet, and put on a padded Japanese robe, for the air blew cool from the sea. Then she sat down at her desk.
"I am going to ask her to come and visit me, Sophie. I want you to take the letter when you go down to breakfast."
"To visit you—who?"
"Bettina. She can stay until Anthony's big house is ready. I want to know his little girl."
While Diana wrote her note, Sophie stepped out on the porch which matched her own above it. The harbor lay still and beautiful, a sapphire sheet in the morning calm. The anchored boats seemed to sleep like great white birds on its bosom.
Suddenly there broke upon the stillness the sound of a great buzzing, as of some mammoth bee.
"What is it?" asked Diana, standing in the doorway.
"Look, oh, look," cried Sophie, and then they saw above them, darting like a dragon-fly through the golden haze, a magic ship of the air.
"I wonder who's flying," said Diana, as they watched it go up and up until it was a mere speck against the blue. "They are daring folk, these flying men—yet there are men more daring. If you could see Anthony's hands! Those strong, competent hands that work with instruments and surgeon's needles, and a slip may mean some one's life—it's such men who are the bravest, Sophie, not the men who fly."
The little woman stepped back within the circle of her friend's arm. Diana towered a head above her, yet spiritually she leaned on Sophie's fineness and faith.
Their eyes followed that astounding flight, but their thoughts were with a man whose mornings were spent not in the golden radiance of the upper air, but in the bare blackness of an operating room.
Suddenly Diana spoke sharply. "If I have lost him, Sophie, what shall I do?"
"What do all women do," said Sophie, still gazing with rapt face up into the heavens, "what do all women do who lose the men they love? They pray for courage, Diana, and for strength—and then—and then they fight as best they can until the end—Diana."
"Isn't it dear of her to ask me?"
"Very." Anthony took the note which Bettina handed him. In his desk were many letters written on the gray paper with the silver monogram. Subconsciously he realized that he ought to destroy them, but there was time enough for that.
"She says she wants me to stay with her all summer; do you think I ought?"
"She would not have asked you if she had not meant it."
Bettina, with her small feet on the fender, considered the situation.
"You'll have to come and see me there, and I'll miss our twilight talks by the fire, with Miss Matthews away, and tea, and no one to interrupt——"
"The days are growing longer. Soon there will be no twilights and no fire——"
"And you want me to go?"
His nature was perfectly honest, and he meant that there should be no barriers between himself and this child-woman. So he told her the truth. "I don't know. But you'll be very gay. There'll be the dances at the yacht clubs, and you'll be entertained on the boats, and you'll meet lots of people. Diana knows every one, and her money and position and her beauty make her much in demand."
"Isn't it funny she has never married?"
"Funny"—sharply; "no, it's not funny. It's tragic."
"Because such women as Diana should marry. She has all the qualities for a wife and mother—she is wise and true and good, and there aren't many women like that in the world——"
"Oh," the girl drew her breath quickly, "I'm not like that—I'm little and childish, and I'm not wise."
He saw what he had done and tried to make amends.
"You are—you, Bettina."
"Well," Bettina crossed the hearth-rug, and sat down on a stool at his feet, "she's awfully old, isn't she?"
"My dear, she's years younger than I."
"Oh, you," she laughed and laid her cheek against his hand. "Your heart is just my age, isn't it?"
He moved restlessly, then stood up, with Diana's note still in his hand.
"You'd better write and tell her you'll come," he said. "I'll take you over to-morrow in my car."
She surveyed him wistfully. "Oh, must you really go?"
"Yes. There's the old man with the pneumonia, and the girl with appendicitis, and the new baby at the hospital—I can't neglect them, Bettina."
"When we are married," she asked, tremulously, "will all these sick people keep you from me——"
"A doctor belongs to his patients, my dear——"
"I suppose he does," pensively, "but I shall be terribly jealous of your old men with the pneumonia, and your girls with appendicitis. I shall want you."
If she had hoped to please him by her frank avowal she failed, for he stood looking at her with an expression which made her say hastily, "Don't you want me to want you?"
"I was wondering if I could make you happy."
She gave a little musical note of protest. "I am the happiest girl in the world, except—oh, if mother could only know."
With a quick change of mood, she was sobbing in his arms. The masses of her hair lay soft against his lips, one slim white hand crept to touch his cheek. He imprisoned the small hand in his. "We must have a ring for this soon," and she shifted her head so that she could look up at him from under wet lashes. "Oh," she said, "shall I?"
"Of course. What shall it be?"
"Anything but pearls; they mean tears, you know."
With a quick throb of the heart, he remembered that Diana always wore pearls. Was there something after all in the old superstition, and were the rest of Diana's days to be dreary because she had chosen the wrong jewels?
Diana, Diana, Diana, would his mind never leave her?
Then as if his thought had brought her, he heard her voice upon the stairs.
"May I come up? I rang, but no one answered."
"The bell is broken." He hurried out into the hall, and watched her ascend, with her arms full of white lilacs, her gray eyes shaded by a white veil thrown back from a broad hat, and around her throat the inevitable string of pearls.
"I've come to bring some of my flowers to your little Betty child, and to get her answer to my note."
She was smiling now, smiling at him, and at Bettina, who had come forward timidly.
Diana laid the lilacs on the table, and drew the girl into her arms. "When shall it be, my dear? It seems such a perfect plan to me. The big house isn't finished. You can't go into it until fall, and I can help you get things ready. What do you think, Anthony?"
"I don't know. I'll leave it to your wisdom."
"Then I am sure it will be best," she responded cheerfully, "and now, why not to-morrow?"
"I haven't anything to wear," Bettina stated, anxiously.
"There's a sewing woman at the house, and Sophie and I have brought lots of things from Paris."
"Really? And will you tell me all about your trip?"
"Sophie will tell you. She's the talker. I like to listen—Anthony knows that."
If she had meant to stab him by reviving old memories, she succeeded. How he had missed the responsiveness which had spurred him on to talk his best only his hurt heart knew. It had been her belief in him, which had supplemented his ability, and had brought him success, and he knew it and she knew it, and now Bettina was to try to play that inspiring part.
Nothing of his thought showed, however, in his impassive countenance. He stood up and held out his hand.
"My old man with the pneumonia is waiting," he said, "and you'll want to visit a bit with Bettina."
"But there's one thing," he continued hurriedly "that I'd like to speak of before I leave—to have settled. Do you think it will be wise to make a public announcement of our engagement?"
"Why not?" sharply.
Bettina glanced from one to the other, conscious of some undercurrent of feeling which she did not share.
"It's just this way," said Anthony, slowly; "if Bettina could meet your friends and mine, under your auspices, chaperoned by you, they would discover her charms and loveliness," he smiled at the girl, "and they'd then welcome her with open arms. Now she knows none of them; it would be only on your account that she would be received, not upon her own, and I think she'd like the other better Diana. What do you think, Bettina?" he asked. "It is for you to say."
Bettina, who was making a tiny white nosegay of lilacs to pin on Anthony's coat, turned to them a sparkling countenance.
"Me—does it matter? Does anything matter except that I am going to marry you, Anthony?"
She held out her hands to him, laughing over her shoulder at Diana. With her flower face, her hair of gold, her figure slim and swaying like a lily on its stem, she was radiantly, almost impertinently young, and, with a sudden sense of age and weariness, Diana buried her face in the lilacs to hide a whiteness which matched their own.
But she had not been quick enough to escape the keen eyes of Anthony.
He dropped Bettina's hands. "I'll stop to-morrow morning, child, on my way to the sanatorium, and take you over."
"And dine with us later," said Diana. "I'm going to have a lot of people. It will be a sort of impromptu housewarming. I've telephoned about a dozen old friends."
"But I haven't anything to wear." Bettina was again in a panic.
"You'll have about twelve hours to get ready," Diana comforted; "we can do a lot in that time."
But her mind was not on clothes, for she followed the doctor out into the hall to say, "She's just sweet, Anthony——"
"Don't," suddenly all the calm of his fine face was broken up, "don't, Diana——"
Then Bettina came out with the little nosegay of white lilacs.
"You were going away without it," she said reproachfully to the doctor, who was half-way down the stairway.
"Throw it to me and I'll catch it," he called.
But she ran after him and pinned it on and dropped a hasty kiss in the midst of its fragrance, and ran up again, blushing.
And Diana watched the little scene from the top of the stairs and wondered if she had overestimated her own power to endure.
The two women, standing at the window high up in the hallway, saw the doctor depart, then Diana said, suddenly, "Betty, dear, must you wear black?"
The girl's lip trembled.
"I know. But, dearie, it wouldn't make her any happier to see you so somber. And there's white for you, and all the pale, pretty tints, and you wouldn't be too gay, nor sadden others."
"But your friend, Mrs. Martens," said Bettina, eagerly; "Anthony pointed her out to me this afternoon—she passed here on her way to the post-office, and she was in deep mourning——"
"Sophie's life is all behind her; yours is ahead of you."
"Wouldn't it seem like—forgetting?"
"You can never forget. But when you come to me there will be young people, and I want you to share their life. Shall we call it settled, and plan a white dress for to-morrow night?"
Diana had a fashion of calling things settled, and of bringing others to her point of view. Bettina had no sense of injury, but only boundless confidence in the decisions of the wonderful woman creature who was to fill her life with gladness.
"There will be twelve of us to-morrow night," she sketched rapidly. "Anthony and you and Sophie and I will make four, then there will be two comfortable married couples, and Justin Ford, who is flying his hydro-aeroplane over the harbor, and Bobbie Tucker, who has his yacht in commission, and Sara Duffield, whom you won't care for, because she is a bit of a snob, and Doris Sears, who is sweet and girlish and about your age.
"Sophie and I have picked out the dress you are to wear," she continued. "I think you are just about Sophie's size, and there's an embroidered white, very sheer and fine, with a round low neck and short sleeves, and a girdle of amethyst, and silk stockings and satin slippers of the same color. I'm not sure whether the slippers will fit, but I fancy that a bit of cotton tucked into the toes would make them all right.
"And I want you to wear your hair like I saw the girls in Paris—curled over your ears with a soft fringe—you'll look adorably young, Betty, and so dear and sweet."
The girl's cheeks were brilliant with excitement. "Why, it doesn't seem true. Two days ago I was like Cinderella sitting in the ashes, and now I'm a fairy princess, and you are the fairy godmother."
"Am I, my dear?" Diana spoke absently; her eyes were on a wonderful piece of lace, which, framed quaintly against a background of velvet, hung above a cabinet in the corner.
"Where did you get that collar, Bettina?" she asked.
"It was one of the things that belonged to father's family," the girl explained. "You know he was an Italian, a Venetian—and mother would never let me wear the collar or the old jewels. There's a queer ring. I'm going to give it to Anthony for a wedding ring."
She spoke the last words with a charming hesitation, then went to the little cabinet in the corner and unlocked a drawer. Within was a carved box which when opened showed a massive golden circlet.
"Dad wore it," said Bettina, "on his little finger, but his hands were fat. Anthony's fingers are slim, and he can fit it on the third finger. If he can't get it on the third finger, he shan't wear it."
Diana stared at her in surprise. "Why not?"
"Because it would remind me of Dad," said Bettina, "and I hated Dad."
Here was a new phase of a nature which Diana had judged gentle and yielding.
"But, my dear," she protested, "surely he was your father."
"He broke mother's heart," said Bettina, obstinately; "he loved so many times, and there's only one love that is worth while, and people who can go from one person to another aren't worth thinking about."
It was the judgment of a child ignorant of life, but so aptly did her condemnation fit in with Sophie's words of the night before, that Diana drew a sharp breath. "Perhaps he was only mistaken," she said; "perhaps he didn't understand until it was too late what he had lost."
"He should have understood. I don't want to be harsh—he was my father, and I wouldn't talk this way to every one. But suppose Anthony treated me the way my father treated mother. Suppose he told me he loved me, and then—some day, I found that he cared—for some one else. What would you think of him then—what would you think of Anthony?"
As she brought her argument to a triumphant close, Diana put up her white-gloved hands as if to ward off a blow, then she said, a little breathlessly, "Don't let Anthony wear the ring—not yet——"
Bettina, unconscious of the emotion she had roused, put the ring back in the box.
"I don't believe I shall," she said, thoughtfully; "there's an old superstition that a ring worn by an inconstant person carries inconstancy with it—and while I don't believe it—it would make me uncomfortable."
"It would—indeed," was Diana's fervent confirmation.
She was still shivering with the shock of the girlish outburst.
"She loves him," she said to herself in dismay. "She really loves him."
She rose and laid her hand on Bettina's shoulder. "Forget to be unhappy while you are with me, Betty, dear. You are going to be very gay—and, oh, so very, very young——" She bent and kissed her. "And now, I want you to do two things for me;—first, you must call me Diana—and second, you must believe that I am really your friend. If I ever do anything to make you doubt, remember this, that in my heart is just one wish, to help my old friend Anthony to happiness——"
The girl laughed softly, her head up, her eyes shining. "You can't make him much happier than he is," she said; "it may sound awfully conceited, but I think he's happy—because he's going to marry me—Diana."
IN WHICH BETTINA DANCES
Diana's house, set high on the rocks, hung over the harbor. In the quaint old town, front doors became back doors, kitchens looked out on the street, and the windows of living-rooms and dining-rooms faced the sea. But there were two seasons when the rocky and ignored gardens of the town were ablaze with beauty—in the lilac month of the spring, and in the dahlia month of the fall.
It was at the time of lilac bloom that Bettina came to make her wonderful visit to Diana, and, after an exciting day in which she had been swept from the hands of the dressmaker to the hands of the hair-dresser, thence to Sophie for inspection and to Diana for confirmation of the completeness of her attire, she found herself, arrayed in all her glory, alone in the wide hallway.
The door was open at the end which faced the town, and the fragrance of the lilacs poured in. The soft wind swayed the branches of the bushes so that they seemed to float like white and purple clouds against a background of blue.
On the step sat Peter Pan, and as Bettina came toward him he rose to meet her and together they went down the path.
It was there in the old garden that Justin and Bobbie came upon her. They were in the white flannels and blue coats which Diana's informality permitted. The insignia on Bobbie's cap proclaimed him a yachtsman.
Justin, having presented Bobbie, smiled straight into Bettina's eyes.
"To think of finding you here," he said.
"How is your hand?" was her practical question.
"Dr. Anthony cured it. I was able to fly yesterday over the harbor. When are you going to fly with me?"
"Never." Bettina shivered with apprehension.
"Oh, but you'd like it," broke in Bobbie, eagerly. "I've been up with him, and it's like floating on a sea of sunshine. I give you my word the sensation is delightful."
Justin said no more on the subject. He could wait, but some day he was going to fly with this little golden girl. He wondered who had been inspired to dress her in that white and amethyst combination. She was as flower-like as the lilacs themselves—she belonged to them; she was exquisite.
He walked beside her, content to let Bobbie monopolize the conversation, which was unusual, for Justin liked to be the center of things. He had always been the center of things, and he was not diffident, as a rule, in his approaches toward friendship.
"The funny thing about this place," Bobbie was saying, "is that you have to pass the kitchen door to get to the front. When I was a little boy Delia used to roll out cookies on that table by the window, and I'd sit on the step and wait for them."
"Delia's a dear," said Bettina. "I fell in love with her the minute I came. And I fell in love with Peter."
Peter, hearing his name, jumped down from the stone wall, where he had been watching the robins, and again joined them.
"Peter and I are old friends," said Bobbie, and stopped to pet him.
"So you are going to stay with Diana?" Justin asked.
Bettina nodded. "Yes. Isn't she wonderful?"
"Wonderful. It's a pity we aren't a monarchy, so that Diana could rule as a queen. She's that kind of woman. A man instinctively looks up to her."
"That's what Anthony says."
Marveling somewhat at her familiar use of the name of the distinguished surgeon, Justin replied, "Oh, of course, Anthony thinks she's perfect. He'll marry her some day."
Bettina's startled glance questioned him. "What makes you say that? He won't, of course, but what makes you say it?"
"Because it would be such a perfect arrangement. They are so well matched."
"It wouldn't be perfect at all. People who are alike never ought to marry. And, anyhow, they've never thought of such a thing."
"How do you know?"
"Because they are not in love. Any one can see that who sees them together. They are just good friends—and friendship is a very different thing from love."
Justin stared at her in amazement for a moment, then he threw back his head and laughed. "Oh, wise young woman," he said, "talk to me some more of love——"
"Who's talking of love?" asked Bobbie, coming up.
"Bobbie doesn't think of anything else," said Justin; "only he's never sure of its object. Last month it was Sara, and now it is Doris—next week it will be——"
"Next week," said Bobbie, firmly, "it will be Doris,—and the next and the next—and always——"
They were on the porch now—the wide porch with its rugs and low wicker chairs, its gay striped awning and its bowls of white and purple lilacs.
Sophie was waiting for them, and Justin greeted her with all the light carelessness gone from his voice.
"Dear lady, it is good to see you again, but hard to see this," and his eyes went to her black gown.
Her lips were tremulous. "I know. But when I meet people who knew him, it does not make me sad; it makes me glad because all of his friends are my good friends."
"There are two men whom I always place side by side as peers; one is Anthony Blake and the other your husband. The surgeon and the scientist——"
"Yes," she said, "and they never met. But Diana knew him—and loved him."
"And she loves—Anthony——"
Mrs. Martens gave him a startled look. "Hush," she said. "Oh, no, you mustn't think that."
"Perhaps she doesn't realize," he said, slowly, "but the world can see it with half an eye. And everybody knows Anthony's devotion."
He stopped short as Diana appeared in the doorway. She wore white lace, with a crescent of pearls set just above the parting of her dark hair.
Justin was on his feet in a moment. "Diana, the huntress," he said. "You shouldn't appear like that suddenly on a moonlight night unless you want to be worshiped as a goddess——"
Diana laughed. "Please don't call me 'the huntress' again. It has a sort of 'woman still pursued him' sound."
Justin, with Diana, was his light mocking self. With Bettina he had been self-conscious, with Sophie tenderly sympathetic—but Diana played up, as it were, to his boyish attitude of adoration.
"Are we all here but Anthony?" she asked, with her eyes sweeping the length of the porch where the guests had gathered. "He's probably looking after somebody with appendicitis, or with a broken arm——"
"No, he isn't." Bettina spoke with the assurance of direct knowledge. "This time it is a man's nose; it had to be sewed up."
She shivered as she said it, and her audience roared.
"I'm glad it's not Bobbie's nose," said Justin, "it's the only really handsome feature he possesses isn't it, Doris?"
The blushing Doris murmured inarticulately. She thought Bobbie beautiful, and wondered why any one should designate his nose so explicitly.
Diana regretted that she had not warned Bettina against such assumption of intimacy with Anthony. If people were not to know of the engagement, it was not well—
But Anthony had come, perfectly groomed, from the tips of his white shoes to the top of his head, and presently he was bending over her hand, and saying, pleasantly, "It's a jolly lot of us you've got together, Di. Did I keep you waiting?"
"If you had, it wouldn't be me, but Delia, to whom you'd have to apologize. She's the real head of the house, you know."
Justin took Bettina out, Anthony took Sophie, and one of the married men Diana. At the table Bettina sat between the other married man and Justin, much to her discomfort, for she craved the seat next to the doctor, where perchance she might slip her fingers into his; he seemed so far away, and they were all strangers.
But no one could be shy with Justin. "Of course we're going to be great friends," he said.
Bettina eyed him doubtfully.
"Why?" she asked.
Here at least was no meek surrender to his charms, and Justin girded himself for the flirtation.
"Well, I'm Diana's friend," he ventured.
"Isn't that reason enough?"
"I like to choose my friends for myself."
"Won't you choose me?"
She smiled up at him. "Of course; don't be silly."
After that they got on famously. Justin exerted himself to please, and Bettina, with shining eyes, laughed softly in response to his clever wit.
Sara Duffield watched and wondered. Justin had of late seemed her especial property. Yet she had heard him offer to take this strange young woman in his aeroplane, and he had never taken Sara.
"Who is she?" Sara asked of Bobbie, who was next to her.
"A friend of Diana's. She has been looking after her sick mother for a year. Then Mrs. Dolce died, and Diana asked the girl here. She's a beauty, isn't she?"
"Yes," said Sara, who, in certain shimmering greens and blues, looked like a shining little peacock, an effect which was further emphasized by a slender feather caught by an emerald which she wore in her black hair. "Where did she live before she came to Diana?"
"In the top of the Lane mansion."
"The Lane mansion." Sara's tone was scornful. "But it's an awful old place——"
"I fancy they didn't have much money. But she doesn't need it, not with that face."
"Doris had better look out," said Sara, unpleasantly.
"Doris?" Bobbie's round young face grew red. "Doris is the last one, Sara, and there won't be any other. You and Justin can just let that subject alone."
Sara shrugged her shoulders, and returned to her survey of Bettina. "I wonder where she got that stunning gown, if she's so poor. It's straight from Paris."
"Oh, you women," Bobbie exploded, and rested his eyes on Doris, across the table, and the thought of her gentleness was like soothing balm in contrast to Sara's sharpness.
After dinner Diana sang. She sat at the piano, which was placed just within the door of the unlighted music room, and her guests grouped themselves on the porch outside.
She gave them, first, a little German serenade, then a gay bit of Paris music-hall frivolity, and finally her fingers strayed into the accompaniment of a song which she had written for Anthony. It was called "The Wind From the Sea," and it had a haunting refrain.
Diana's thrilling voice rose and fell with the beating cadences. She had sung the song for Anthony on the night before she sailed for Berlin, and when she had finished he had made once more his insistent plea, and she had said, "Wait."
Bettina, next to Anthony, in a corner of the porch, had had a rapturous moment when he had murmured, "How lovely you are to-night," and had laid his hand over hers in the darkness.
But as Diana sang, her joy was suddenly shadowed. Why was Diana singing things that seemed to drag the heart out of one, and why had Anthony taken his hand away, and why was he so still?
Even as she questioned the search-light from the little ferry that plied between the Head and the Neck sent a shaft of blinding radiance across the harbor. Bettina caught a glimpse of her lover's face, and of the longing look in his eyes as they rested on Diana.
Why did Anthony look at Diana like that?
As the insistent question obsessed her, Bettina was conscious of no feeling of jealousy. Her faith in Anthony made impossible any thought that his heart was not wholly hers. She merely coveted the look in his eyes as they rested on another woman.
"Of course it's just the way she sings," she told herself, restlessly. "Why, it almost makes me cry."
The music ceased abruptly, and Diana sat very still in the darkness.
It was Sophie's voice which broke the silence.
"Betty, dear, haven't you a song for us?"
"No," came the response from the far corner. "Dad sang. I can only dance."
"Really?" Justin was on his feet at once. "If you'll dance, we will light all the candles in the music room."
Bettina came forward. "It's an interpretive dance. Can you play the 'Spring Song,' Diana?"
Sophie, observing anxiously, wondered what further test would try her friend. But she saw no sign of an emotion which had to do with a night when Diana had waited in the moonlight for the lover who belonged to another woman, as with firm touch she played the first chords of the rippling melody.
And Bettina danced.
Justin, watching her, thought of lilacs blown by light breezes, of clouds on a May morning, of the drift of white petals from blossoming trees. Was she a woman or a wraith, this slender thing swaying in the candle-light?
Anthony watched, too, leaning back, tired, in his chair.
Diana watched, and asked herself, "Can any man resist such youth and beauty?"
And Sophie watched, and said to herself, out of the pity of her great and loving heart, "She is such a child—and things are going to be hard for her."
When Bettina finished, she went straight back to Anthony. "Did you like it?" she demanded.
But his answer was lost in the applause which forced her to face the rest of them, and explain:
"Dad taught me. He loved beauty, and he felt that the dance was beauty in motion."
"Sit here by me," urged Justin, in a wheedling tone, and placed a chair for her.
Bettina yearned wistfully for her corner and Anthony, but Sara was there now, and her light hard laugh floated out to them.
"I think I'm tired," said Bettina, as she dropped into the chair, and Justin, the much sought after Justin, looked at her with chagrin.
"Are you tired of me?" he asked in an injured voice.
She shook her head. "No—but it's been an exciting day."
Somewhere back in the house the telephone rang, and presently Delia came out for the doctor. "You're wanted at the Neck, sir," she said; "it's the old gentleman with the pneumonia."
As Anthony went to answer the call, the other guests said their farewells.
Justin reproached Bettina. "You haven't been a bit good to me; if I come again will you talk to me?"
Bettina smiled. "I'll let you talk to me."
She turned to Sophie. "When shall I let him come?"
"He'll see you to-morrow on Bobbie's boat," said Sophie; "he wants us for lunch——"
"Till to-morrow, then," said Justin, and bent over her hand; then he ran down the porch steps to Sara, who was waiting with her head held high.
When Anthony came back from the telephone Bettina said, mournfully, "Now you must go, and I haven't talked to you for a single minute."
He looked down into the wistful face, and hesitated, then he asked, "Would you like to ride with me over to the Neck? It won't take long, but you'd have time to tell me all about your beautiful day."
She was radiant at once.
"Of course I can go."
"Take my cloak," said Sophie; "the long black one; it's warmer, and the air is cool."
Diana, returning from a conference with Delia, asked, "Where's Betty?"
"Gone for a little ride with Anthony."
"But, Sophie, what will people say—at this hour?"
"I told her to wear my black cloak," said Sophie; "it's less conspicuous, and she was so eager."
Diana stood very still in the darkness. How she coveted the intimacy of the little car! She had ridden so often with Anthony, and he never talked so well as when driving; he never revealed so fully the depth and fineness of his great nature. Would he reveal himself to Bettina? Would he? And was she shut out from his life forever?
She went up-stairs slowly. "You wait for them, Sophie," she said. "I'm tired—it's been a hard day——"
"Poor dear." Sophie stood looking up at her from the foot of the stairs. "I'll come up and rub your head presently."
"It isn't my head," Diana answered over her shoulder.
"Poor dear," said Sophie again, softly, and saw with anxious eyes the droop of the ascending figure in the white gown.
An hour later Bettina came.
"We rode across the causeway, and down the shore drive. It was beautiful and Anthony is going to take me again. It's been such a lovely, lovely day, Mrs. Martens."
All the doubts of the early evening had been swept away, and Bettina was triumphantly happy.
When they reached the second floor, she stopped outside of Diana's room.
"Good-night, dear lady," she called softly, with her lips against the door.
"Good-night," came faintly, then after a moment, "dear child."
But Diana did not open the door.
"FOR EVERY MAN THERE IS JUST ONE WOMAN"
When Sophie, having donned a smoke-gray kimono and brushed her shining hair, went down to Diana, she expected to find her pensive. She found her, instead, with various little white jars and silver bottles set before her on her dressing table.
"When a woman takes to cold cream, Sophie," she remarked, as her friend came in, "it's a deadly sign. It shows that she has found her first wrinkle."
"Diana, how can you! You know that you are beautiful without such aids."
"When I was in Paris," Diana continued, "I was persuaded into buying these. I was told that they held the secret of perpetual youth."
"Perpetual youth is from the heart, Diana."
"Then my heart is as old as the ages."
Diana was gazing into the mirror, which reflected her tired face.
"I can't think of anything but that child, dancing in the candle-light. Oh, youth, youth, Sophie; is there anything like it in the whole wide world!"
"Diana," Sophie's voice was sharpened by her solicitude, "come away from that mirror."
Diana obediently turned her back on her dressing table, and presently she said, "I wonder if it was wise to have her here?"
Sophie was thoughtful. "I'm not sure. Yet it seemed to me to-night that perhaps—you had been wise——"
"What made you think that?"
"Anthony's face when you played, Diana."
"Oh!" Diana crossed the room and dropped down on the rug at her friend's feet. "Tell me how he looked," she said, softly, with her arm outflung across the other's knees.
"It was just in a flash that I saw his face—under the search-light from the ferry. It was the face of a man who had lost the one woman in the world for him, Diana."
"If I could believe that," said Diana, tensely, "nothing else would matter."
"Yet, believing it, how can it be right for him to marry some one else?"
Diana, with her chin propped between her hands, stared with wide eyes into space. "It isn't right—but she loves him, Sophie."
"Yet she's not the one woman—oh, what a muddle, Diana."
"What a muddle," and for a time they sat in silence.
Then Sophie said, "Perhaps it's because I was so happy in my marriage—that I can see so clearly. I've worked it out this way, dearest, dear—that in all the world there's just one woman for one man. If he meets and marries her, no matter how hard their life may be, they will be drawn together, not separated, by the hardness; no matter how the world may use them, they will cling together against the world. But when a man marries the wrong woman, he goes through life a half-man, crippled in mind and spirit, because of his mistake. Sometimes the man finds the one woman in a second marriage; sometimes he finds her too late; sometimes he is too blind to know that she is the one woman, and he lets her go, to discover afterward that no other can fill his life. That's the pity of it. If Anthony marries Bettina, she will know some day—that she is—the wrong woman——"
Diana rose and moved restlessly about the room. "But she's so slim and white and young—and no man can resist that sort of thing long. She has youth to give him, Sophie, and I, why, soon I'll be middle-aged."
Diana's laugh had a sob in it. "Well, I shall be."
"You'll never be anything but lovely—when you're an old lady you'll be stately and distinguished, and your eyes will shine like stars, and men will still fall in love with you——"
"Oh, Sophie, you're such a comfort——"
* * * * *
The next morning Delia sent up three breakfasts on trays.
"If it wasn't for that pretty child," she said to little Jane Trefry, who helped her in the kitchen, "there wouldn't be any satisfaction in getting things ready. Miss Sophie has learned foreign ways and wants rolls and coffee, and Miss Diana wants grape fruit. I don't know what's the matter with her appetite; she hasn't eaten enough for a bird since she came, and yet that first night she said to me, 'Oh, Delia, I'm just dying for some of your good New England cooking!'"
"Maybe she's in love," said little Jane, who was romantic.
Delia turned her omelette deftly. "Of course she is. Everybody knows she just about worships Dr. Blake, only she won't marry him till she gets good and ready. That's the house he's building for her—up the road, with the red-tiled roof and the wide stone porches. He had the window of her room toward Minot's, so that the light could say, 'I love you' to her at night."
"She'd better look out," stated little Jane, with provincial frankness; "if she waits too long he'll be finding some one else to say 'I love you' to."
"You keep your mind on that toast," Delia was dishing up the omelette, "and don't you forget that Miss Diana isn't the kind that a man goes back on. She could have had a dozen richer men than the doctor. But she didn't want them, and maybe she doesn't want him, but don't you get it into your head that he wants anybody else."
Little Jane sniffed. "You can't tell about men," she said, as she went out of the door with Bettina's tray.
Bettina, sitting up in bed, welcomed little Jane with enthusiasm. She ate everything from strawberries to omelette with a hearty appetite, then she lay comfortably, looking out toward the eastern horizon where the smoky streak of a steamer showed faintly.
Presently Sophie came in with a gown of white serge—of simple lines, with wide collar and cuffs of sheer embroidered muslin. "Diana insisted that I should get some white things in Paris," she said, as she laid it over a chair. "She hoped that I might be induced to dress in something besides black, but I can't, and so I am sure that you will be willing to wear these out for me, my dear."
Bettina put one bare foot on the floor, then the other, then she fluttered across the room like a white butterfly and embraced Mrs. Martens.
"It's lovely, only it doesn't seem quite right for me to take everything."
"It is right. They would lie in my trunks until they were out of fashion. There's a white felt hat that goes with this, and a long white coat, and Diana is going to take you over to town this morning to get white shoes and gloves and a veil."
"I thought we were to lunch on Bobbie Tucker's yacht."
"We were—but Bobbie has just telephoned that his yacht has to go to the yard for repairs—something happened last night—so Justin will take us for a ride."
"Oh," said Bettina. "Mr. Ford?"
"Yes. Justin has put his car at our disposal. He'll drive us to-day, but when he can't there's the chauffeur—it's very kind of him."
"He's awfully good looking," said Bettina in a cool little voice, "but don't you think he's terribly conceited, Mrs. Martens?"
Sophie nodded. "He's been spoiled. But back of it all he's a man. His lightness is on the surface. I know, for he was in Berlin when my husband was living. I saw the other side then. He was poor; it was before he came so unexpectedly into his uncle's money. You know the old man and his son were drowned in a dreadful accident. Justin was studying aviation when we first knew him. He lived in shabby rooms, and ate at shabby little places, and he used to come in the afternoons to call on me, and I'd fill him up with thick bread and butter and coffee, and we'd talk for hours of America. He was lonely poor lad, and I was like a big sister. I shall never forget one bitter cold afternoon, when he came in with his hands all red and rough, and with a hoarse cough, and I had the maid bring him a bowl of soup hot from the kitchen, and he tried to make a joke of it, but his voice broke, and presently he said, 'Dear big sister, some day I can thank you, but not now.'
"And when my husband died," she went on, softly, "he did thank me in a most generous way. He had just received his fortune when he heard of my—trouble. He sent a wonderful cross to mark where my husband sleeps—and I could have afforded only a little stone—and there are flowers every week, even when I am far away, and there will always be flowers because of his great generosity."
Here was a background for the light-hearted young Justin which appealed to Bettina's imagination. "Why, how lovely," she said with her eyes shining; "he didn't seem like that to me. He seemed so—shallow."
"But he isn't," Sophie defended; "if it had not been for him and for Diana I should have lost heart many times—the world knows Justin as a rich young man, ready for a good time, but I know him as the Knight of the Tender Heart."
"How old is he?"
"Twenty-six. I didn't realize until I reached here that he was flying again. He does such dangerous things. I saw the aeroplane yesterday morning, and found out afterward that he was up—and since then my heart seems to stop every time I think of him in the air——"
With all the optimism of youth, Bettina tried to reassure her.
"He said last night that he was very careful. He wants to take me up."
"Oh, don't ever do anything so dreadful."
"I couldn't if I wanted to. Anthony made me promise last night that I wouldn't——"
She said it with a comfortable sense of her lover's care for her; "I'd rather ride any day with Anthony in his little car."
"My dear," Sophie said with some hesitation, "I'm going to suggest that except to Diana and myself, you try not to seem too much interested in—your doctor—the world might suspect—and you don't want to announce your engagement yet, Diana tells me——"
Bettina shrugged her white shoulders. "I don't care if everybody knows," she said; "but Diana thought that Anthony's friends might like to get acquainted with me first. But if you could know what he's been to me, Mrs. Martens—why, when I waked this morning it seemed like a dream to think that I wasn't in the top floor of the old Lane house, with Miss Matthews making her breakfast coffee over an alcohol stove, and a little impatient because I hadn't the toast ready, and with the prospect ahead of me of another lonely day, when I should try to read and try not to think, and miss mother until I nearly died.
"Do you wonder that I love him?" She came up to Mrs. Martens and put her hands on her shoulders. "He's so wonderful and good—and he loves me——"
Sophie could not meet the frank young eyes. "It's nice that you feel that way," she said, "and I hope you don't mind what I said—it was only that it might save you some future—embarrassment."
"I'll be careful," said Bettina, "only I'm perfectly sure that everybody will know every time I look at Anthony that he's the one man in the world for me. You can't imagine how uninteresting other men seem beside him—and then his manner, isn't it lovely and protecting and—sure?"
Sophie had a sudden sense of the comedy which was intermingled with the tragic of the situation. Diana and Bettina each harped incessantly on one string, "Anthony, Anthony, Anthony," and she must play listener to their ecstatic songs of praise.
During the trip to town, Bettina sat beside Justin.
"Since Bobbie's yacht is out of commission," suggested Justin, "why not extend our ride up the North Shore road? There's a war-ship anchored just off Beverly, and a tea room where we can have lunch."
"I must stop at the sanatorium first," said Diana. "Anthony has a patient there who is to be operated on. She's a little young thing, and she's afraid, and I want to take her some lilacs. I told Jane to pick some and have them ready when we returned, so perhaps you'd better go first to our house, and then to the sanatorium, then we can do as we please——"
"A sanatorium," said Justin to Bettina, "always used to suggest vague horrors. But Dr. Anthony's doesn't. He has a wonderful way with his patients, puts their hands to work, because it's their minds that make them sick; they weave and make pottery. The last time I was there an anxious-eyed, beautifully-gowned woman was working on a rug, with three rabbits as a design. She was having trouble with the bunnies' ears when Dr. Blake came up.