BY TEMPLE BAILEY
AUTHOR OF CONTRARY MARY, ETC.
FRONTISPIECE BY F. VAUX WILSON
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
COPYRIGHT 1917 BY THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
Made in U. S. A.
P. V. B.
who sees the sunsets
I. IN WHICH THINGS ARE SAID OF DIOGENES AND OF A LADY WITH A LANTERN 11
II. IN WHICH A PRINCESS SERVING FINDS THAT THE MOTTO OF KINGS IS MEANINGLESS 21
III. IN WHICH THE CROWN PRINCE ENTERS UPON HIS OWN 36
IV. IN WHICH THREE KINGS COME TO CROSSROADS 51
V. IN WHICH PEGGY TAKES THE CENTER OF THE STAGE 62
VI. IN WHICH A GRAY PLUSH PUSSY CAT SUPPLIES A THEME 77
VII. IN WHICH GEOFFREY WRITES OF SOLDIERS AND THEIR SOULS 91
VIII. IN WHICH A GREEN-EYED MONSTER GRIPS EVE 111
IX. IN WHICH ANNE, PASSING A SHOP, TURNS IN 136
X. IN WHICH A BLIND BEGGAR AND A BUTTERFLY GO TO A BALL 149
XI. IN WHICH BRINSLEY SPEAKS OF THE WAY TO WIN A WOMAN 160
XII. IN WHICH EVE USURPS AN ANCIENT MASCULINE PRIVILEGE 178
XIII. IN WHICH GEOFFREY PLAYS CAVE MAN 196
XIV. IN WHICH THERE IS MUCH SAID OF MARRIAGE AND OF GIVING IN MARRIAGE 210
XV. IN WHICH ANNE ASKS AND JIMMIE ANSWERS 226
XVI. IN WHICH PAN PIPES TO THE STARS 239
XVII. IN WHICH FEAR WALKS IN A STORM 256
XVIII. IN WHICH WE HEAR ONCE MORE OF A SANDALWOOD FAN 274
XIX. IN WHICH CHRISTMAS COMES TO CROSSROADS 284
XX. IN WHICH A DRESDEN-CHINA SHEPHERDESS AND A COUNTRY MOUSE MEET ON COMMON GROUND 298
XXI. IN WHICH ST. MICHAEL HEARS A CALL 314
XXII. IN WHICH ANNE WEIGHS THE PEOPLE OF TWO WORLDS 333
XXIII. IN WHICH RICHARD RIDES ALONE 347
XXIV. IN WHICH ST. MICHAEL FINDS LOVE IN A GARDEN 361
In Which Things Are Said of Diogenes and of a Lady With a Lantern.
THE second day of the New Year came on Saturday. The holiday atmosphere had thus been extended over the week-end. The Christmas wreaths still hung in the windows, and there had been an added day of feasting. Holidays always brought people from town who ate with sharp appetites.
It was mostly men who came, men who fished and men who hunted. In the long low house by the river one found good meals and good beds, warm fires in winter and a wide porch in summer. There were few luxuries, but it pleased certain wise Old Gentlemen to take their sport simply, and to take pride in the simplicity. They considered the magnificence of modern camps and clubs vulgar, and as savoring somewhat of riches newly acquired; and they experienced an almost aesthetic satisfaction in the contrast between the rough cleanliness of certain little lodges along the Chesapeake and its tributary tide-water streams, and the elegance of the Charles Street mansions which they had, for the moment, left behind.
It was these Old Gentlemen who, in khaki and tweed, each in its proper season, came to Peter Bower's, and ate the food which Peter's wife cooked for them. They went out in the morning fresh and radiant, and returned at night, tired but still radiant, to sit by the fire or on the porch, and, in jovial content, to tell of the delights of earlier days and of what sport had been before the invasion of the Philistines.
They knew much of gastronomic lore, these Old Gentlemen, and they liked to talk of things to eat. But they spoke of other things, and now and then they fell into soft silences when a sunset was upon them or a night of stars.
And they could tell stories! Stories backed by sparkling wit and a nice sense of discrimination. On winter nights or on holiday afternoons like this, as, gathered around the fire they grew mildly convivial, the sound of their laughter would rise to Anne Warfield's room under the eaves; she would push back the papers which held her to her desk, and wish with a sigh that the laughter were that of young men, and that she might be among them.
To-day, however, she was not at her desk. She was taking down the decorations which had made the little room bright during the brief holiday. To-morrow she would go back to school and to the forty children whom she taught. Life would again stretch out before her, dull and uneventful. The New Year would hold for her no meaning that the old year had not held.
It had snowed all of the night before, and from her window she could see the river, slate-gray against the whiteness. Out-of-doors it was very cold, but her own room was hot with the heat of the little round stove. With her holly wreaths in her arms, she stood uncertain in front of it. She had thought to burn the holly, but it had seemed to her, all at once, that to end thus the vividness of berry and of leaf would be desecration. Surely they deserved to die out in that clear cold world in which they had been born and bred!
It was a fanciful thought, but she yielded to it. Besides, there was Diogenes! She must make sure of his warmth and comfort before night closed in.
She put on her red scarf and cap and, with the wreaths in her arms, she went down-stairs. The Old Gentlemen were in the front room and she had to pass through. They rose to a man. She liked the courtliness, and gave in return her lovely smile and a little bow.
They gazed after her with frank admiration. "Who is she?" asked one who was not old, and who, slim and dark and with a black ribbon for his eye-glasses, seemed a stranger in this circle.
"The new teacher of the Crossroads school. There wasn't any place for her to board but this. So they took her in."
The Old Gentlemen agreed, but they did not discuss her charms at length. They belonged to a generation which preferred not to speak in a crowd of a woman's attractions. One of them remarked, however, that he envied her the good fortune of feasting all the year round at Peter Bower's table.
Anne, trudging through the snow with the wreaths in her arms, would have laughed mockingly if she had heard them. It was not food that she wanted, not the game and oysters and fish over which these old gourmands gloated. What she wanted was the nectar and ambrosia of life, the color and glow—the companionship of young things like herself!
Of course there were the school children and there was Peggy. But to the children and Peggy she was a grown-up creature. Loving her, they still made her feel age's immeasurable distance, as she had felt her own distance from the Old Gentlemen.
It was Peggy, who, wound in her mother's knitted white shawl until she looked like a dingy snowball, bounced from the kitchen to meet her.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
The young teacher laughed. "Peggy," she said, "if you will never tell, you may come with me."
"Where?" demanded Peggy.
"Across the road and into the woods and down to the river."
"What are you carrying the wreaths for?"
"Wait and see."
The road which they crossed was the railroad. Over the iron rails the trains thundered from one big city to another, with a river to cross just before they reached Peter Bower's. Very few of the trains stopped at Peter's, and it was this neglect of theirs, and the consequent isolation, which constituted the charm of Bower's for town-tired folk. Yet Anne Warfield always wished that some palatial express might tarry for a moment to take her aboard, and whirl her on to the world of flashing lights, of sky-scraping towers and streaming crowds.
"What are you going to do with the wreaths?" Peggy was still demanding as they entered upon the frozen silence of the pine woods.
"I am going down as close as I can to the water's edge, and I am going to fling them out as far as I can into the river. And perhaps the river will carry them down to the sea, and the sea will say, 'Whence came you?' and the wreaths will whisper, 'We came from the forest to die on your breast, the river brought us, and the winds sang to us, and above us the sky smiled. And now we are ready to die, for we have seen life and its loveliness. It would have been dreadful if we had come to our end in the ashes of a little round stove.'"
Peggy stared, open-eyed. She had missed the application, but she liked the story.
"Let me throw one of them," she said.
"You couldn't throw them far enough, dear heart. But you shall count, 'one, two, three' for me. And when you say 'three' I'll throw one of them away, and then you must count again, and I will throw the others."
So Peggy, quite entranced by the importance of her office, took her part in the ceremony, and Anne Warfield stood on top of the snowy bank above the river, and cast upon its tumbling surface the bright burden which it was to carry to the sea.
It was at this moment that there crossed the bridge the only train from the north which stopped by day at Peter Bower's. The passengers looking out saw, far below them, sullen stream, somber woods, and a girl in a gay red scarf. They saw, too, a dingy white dot of a child who danced up and down. When the train stopped a few minutes later at Bower's, six of the passengers stepped from it, three men and three women, a smartly-dressed, cosmopolitan group, quite evidently indifferent to the glances which followed them.
Anne and Peggy had no eyes for the new arrivals. If they noticed the train at all, it was merely to give it a slurring thought, as bringing more Old Gentlemen who would eat and be merry, then hurry back again to town. As for themselves, having finished the business of the moment, they had yet to look after Diogenes.
Diogenes was a drake. He lived a somewhat cloistered life in the stable which had been made over into a garage. He had wandered in one morning soon after Anne had come to teach in the school. Peter had suggested that he be killed and eaten. But Anne, lonely in her new quarters, had appreciated the forlornness of the old drake and had adopted him. She had named him Diogenes because he had an air of searching always for something which could not be found. Once when a flock of wild ducks had flown overhead, Diogenes had listened, and, as their faint cries had come down to him, he had stretched his wings as if he, too, would fly. But his fat body had held him, and so still chained to earth, he waddled within the limits of his narrow domain.
In a cozy corner of the garage there was plenty of straw and a blanket to keep off draughts. Mrs. Bower had declared such luxury unsettling. But Anne had laughed at her. "Why should pleasant things hurt us?" she had asked, and Mrs. Bower had shaken her head.
"If you had seen the old men who come here and stuff, and die because their livers are wrong, you'd know what I mean. Give him enough, but don't pamper him."
In the face of this warning, however, Anne fed the old drake on tidbits, and visited him at least once a day. He returned her favors by waiting for her at the gate when it was not too cold and, preceding her to the house, gave a sort of major-domo effect to her progress.
Entering the stable, they found a lantern lighting the gloom, and Diogenes in a state of agitation. His solitude had been invaded by an Irish setter—a lovely auburn-coated creature with melting eyes, who, held by a leash, lay at length on Diogenes' straw with Diogenes' blanket keeping off the cold.
The old drake from some remote fastness flung his protest to the four winds!
"He's a new one." Peggy patted the dog, who rose to welcome them. "He ought to be in the kennels. Somebody didn't know."
Somebody probably had not known, but had learned. For now the door opened, and a young man came in. He was a big young man with fair hair, and he had arrived on the train.
"I beg your pardon," he said, as he saw them, "but they told me I had put my dog in the wrong place."
Peggy was important. "He belongs at the kennels. He's in Diogenes' corner."
The old drake, reassured by the sound of voices, showed himself for a moment in the track of the lantern light.
"There he is," Peggy said, excitedly; "he lives in here by himself."
Anne had not spoken, but as she lifted the lantern from its nail and held it high, Richard Brooks was aware that this was the same girl whom he had glimpsed from the train. He had noted then her slenderness of outline, the grace and freedom of her pose; at closer range he saw her delicate smallness; the bloom on her cheek; the dusky softness of her hair; the length of her lashes; the sapphire deeps of her eyes. Yet it was not these charms which arrested his attention; it was, rather, a certain swift thought of her as superior to her surroundings.
"Then it is Diogenes whose pardon I must beg," he said, his eyes twinkling as the old drake took refuge behind Anne's skirts. "Toby, come out of that. It's you for a cold kennel."
"It's not cold in the kennels," Peggy protested; "it is nice and warm, and the food is fixed by Eric Brand."
"And where can I find Eric Brand?"
"He isn't here." It was Anne who answered him. "He is away for the New Year. Peggy and I have been looking after the dogs."
She did not tell him that she had done it because she liked dogs, and not because it was a part of her day's work. And he did not know that she taught school. Hence, as he walked beside her toward the kennels, with Peggy dancing on ahead with Toby, and with Diogenes left behind in full possession, he thought of her, quite naturally, as the daughter of Peter Bower.
It was an uproarious pack which greeted them. Every Old Gentleman owned a dog, and there was Peter's Mamie, two or three eager-eyed pointers, setters, hounds and Chesapeake Bay dogs. Old Mamie was nondescript, and was shut up in the kennels to-night only because Eric was away. She was eminently trustworthy, and usually ran at large.
Toby, given a box to himself, turned his melting eyes upon his master and whined.
"He was sent to me just before I left New York," Richard explained. "I fancy he is rather homesick. I am the only thing in sight that he knows."
"You might take him into the house," Anne said doubtfully, "only it is a rule that if there are many dogs they all have to share alike and stay out here. When there are only two or three they go into the sitting-room with the men."
"He can lie down behind the stove in the kitchen," Peggy offered hospitably. "Mamie does."
Richard shook his head. "Toby will have to learn with the rest of us that life isn't always what we want it to be."
He was startled by the look which the girl with the lantern gave him. "Why shouldn't it be as we want it?" she said, with sudden fire; "if I were Providence, I'd make things pleasant, and you are playing Providence to Toby. Why not let him have the comfort of the kitchen stove?"
In Which a Princess Serving Finds That the Motto of Kings is Meaningless.
TOBY, safe and snug behind the kitchen stove, was keenly alive to the fact that supper was being served. He had had his own supper, so that his interest was purely impersonal.
Mrs. Bower cooked, and her daughter Beulah waited on the table. The service was not elaborate. Everything went in at once, and Peter helped the women carry the loaded trays.
Anne Warfield ate usually with the family. She would have liked to sit with the Old Gentlemen at their genial gatherings, but it would not, she felt, have been sanctioned by the Bowers. Their own daughter, Beulah, would not have done it. Beulah had nothing in common with the jovial hunters and fishers. She had her own circle of companions, her own small concerns, her own convictions as to the frivolity of these elderly guests. She would not have cared to listen to what they had to say. She did not know that their travels, their adventures, their stored-up experience had made them rich in anecdote, ready of tongue to tell of wonders undreamed of in the dullness of her own monotonous days.
But Anne Warfield knew. Now and then from the threshold she had caught the drift of their discourse, and she had yearned to draw closer, to sail with them on unknown seas of romance and of reminiscence, to leave behind her for the moment the atmosphere of schoolhouse, of small gossip, of trivial circumstance.
It was with this feeling strong upon her that to-night, when the supper bell rang, she came into the kitchen and asked Mrs. Bower if she might help Beulah. She had no feeling that such labor was beneath her. If a princess cared to serve, she was none the less a princess!
Secure, therefore, in her sense of unassailable dignity, she entered the dining-room. She might have been a goddess chained to menial tasks—a small and vivid goddess, with dusky hair. Richard Brooks, observing her, had once more a swift and certain sense of her fineness and of her unlikeness to those about her.
The young man with the black ribbon on his eye-glass also observed her. Later he said to Mrs. Bower, "Can you give me a room here for a month?"
"I might. Usually people don't care to stay so long at this time of year."
"I am writing a book. I want to stay."
Beside Richard Brooks at the table sat Evelyn Chesley. With the Dutton-Ames, and Philip Meade, she had come down with Richard and his mother to speed them upon their mad adventure.
Evelyn had taken off her hat. Her wonderful hair was swept up in a new fashion from her forehead, a dull gold comb against its native gold. She wore a silken blouse of white, slightly open at the neck. On her fingers diamonds sparkled. It seemed to Anne, serving, as if the air of the long low room were charged with some thrilling quality. Here were youth and beauty, wit and light laughter, the perfume of the roses which Evelyn wore tucked in her belt. There was the color, too, of the roses, and of the cloak in which Winifred Ames had wrapped her shivering fairness. The cloak was blue, a marvelous pure shade like the Madonna blue of some old picture.
Even Richard's mother seemed illumined by the radiance which enveloped the rest. She was a slender little thing and wore plain and simple widow's black. Yet her delicate cheeks were flushed, her eyes were shining, and her son had made her, too, wear a red rose.
The supper was suited to the tastes of the old epicures for whom it had been planned. There were oysters and ducks with the juices following the knife, hot breads, wild grape jelly, hominy and celery.
The fattest Old Gentleman carved the ducks. The people who had come on the train were evidently his friends. Indeed, he called the little lady with the shining eyes "Cousin Nancy."
"So you've brought your boy back?" he said, smiling down at her.
"Oh, yes, yes. Cousin Brin, I feel as if I had reached the promised land."
"You'll find things changed. Nothing as it was in your father's time. Foreigners to the right of you, foreigners to the left. Italians, Greeks—barbarians—cutting the old place into little farms—blotting out the old landmarks."
"I don't care; the house still stands, and Richard will hang out my father's sign, and when people want a doctor, they will come again to Crossroads."
"People in these days go to town for their doctors."
Richard's head went up. "I'll make them come to me, sir. And you mustn't think that mother brought me back. I came because I wanted to come. I hate New York."
The listening Old Gentlemen, whose allegiance was given to a staid and stately town on the Patapsco, quite glowed at that, but Evelyn flamed:
"You might have made a million in New York, Richard."
"I don't want a million."
"Oh," she appealed to Brinsley Tyson, "what can you do with a man like that—without red blood—without ambition?"
And now it was Richard who flamed. "I am ambitious enough, Eve, but it isn't to make money."
"He has some idea," the girl proclaimed recklessly to the whole table, "of living as his ancestors lived; as if one could. He believes that people should go back to plain manners and to strict morals. His mission is to keep this mad world sane."
A ripple of laughter greeted her scorn. Her own laughter met it. The slim young man at the other end of the table swung his eye-glasses from their black ribbon negligently, but his eyes missed nothing.
"It is my only grievance against you, Mrs. Nancy," Eve told the little shining lady. "I love you for everything else, but not for this."
"I am sorry, my dear. But Richard and I think alike. So we are going to settle at Crossroads—and live happy ever after."
Anne Warfield, outwardly calm, felt the blood racing in her veins. The old house at Crossroads was just across the way from her little school. She had walked in the garden every day, and now and then she had taken the children there. They had watched the squirrels getting ready for the winter, and had fed the belated birds with crumbs from the little lunch baskets. And there had been the old sun-dial to mark the hour when the recess ended and to warn them that work must begin.
She had a rapturous vision of what it might be to have the old house open, and to see Nancy Brooks and her son Richard coming in and out.
Later, however, alone in her dull room, stripped of its holiday trappings, the vision faded. To Nancy and Richard she would be just the school-teacher across the way, as to-night she had been the girl who waited on the table!
There was music down-stairs. The whine of the phonograph came up to her.
Peggy, knocking, brought an interesting bulletin.
"They are dancing," she said. "Let's sit on the stairs and look."
From the top of the stairs they could see straight into the long front room. The hall was dimly lighted so that they were themselves free from observation. Philip Meade and Eve were dancing, and the Dutton-Ames. Eve had on very high shoes with very high heels. Her skirt was wide and flaring. She dipped and swayed and floated, and the grace of the man with whom she danced matched her own.
"Isn't it lovely," said Peggy's little voice, "isn't it lovely, Anne?"
It was lovely, lovely as a dream. It was a sort of ecstasy of motion. It was youth and joy incarnate. Anne had a wild moment of rebellion. Why must she sit always at the head of the stairs?
The music stopped. Eve and Philip became one of the circle around the fireplace in the front room. Again Eve's roses and Winifred's cloak gave color to the group. There was also the leaping golden flame of the fire, and, in the background, a slight blue haze where some of the Old Gentlemen smoked.
The young man with the eye-glasses was telling a story. He told it well, and there was much laughter when he finished. When the music began again, he danced with Winifred Ames. Dutton Ames watched them, smiling. He always smiled when his eyes rested on his lovely wife.
Evelyn danced with Richard. He did not dance as well as Philip, but he gave the effect of doing it easily. He swung her finally out into the hall. The whine of the phonograph ceased. Richard and Eve sat down on a lower step of the stairway.
The girl's voice came up to the quiet watchers clearly. "When are you coming to New York to dance with me again, Dicky Boy?"
"You must come down here. Pip will bring you in his car for the week-ends, with the Dutton-Ames. And I'll get a music box and a lot of new records. The old dining-room has a wonderful floor."
"I hate your wonderful floor and your horrid old house. And when I think of Fifth Avenue and the lights and the theaters and you away from it all——"
"Poor young doctors have no right to the lights and all the rest of it. Eve, don't let's quarrel at the last moment. You'll be reconciled to it all some day."
"I shall never be reconciled."
And now Philip Meade was claiming her. "You promised me this, Eve."
"I shall have all the rest of the winter for you, Pip."
"As if that made any difference! I never put off till to-morrow the things I want to do to-day. And as for Richard, he'll come running back to us before the winter is over."
Richard shrugged. "You're a pair of cheerful prophets. Go and fox-trot with him, Eve."
Left alone, the eyes of the young doctor went at once to the top of the stairs.
"Come down and dance," he said.
"Do you mean me?" Peggy demanded out of the dimness.
"I mean both of you."
"I can't dance—not the new dances." Anne was conscious of an overwhelming shyness. "Take Peggy."
"How did you know we were up here?" Peggy asked.
"Well, I heard a little laugh, and a little whisper, and I looked up and saw a little girl."
"Oh, oh, did you really?"
"Well, I can't dance. But I can try."
So they tried, with Richard lifting the child lightly to the lilting tune.
When he brought her back, he sat down beside Anne. Shyness still chained her, but he chatted easily. Anne could not have told why she was shy. In the stable she had felt at her ease with him. But then she had not seen Eve or Winifred. It was the women who had seemed to make the difference.
Presently, however, he had her telling of her school. "It begins again to-morrow."
"Do you like it?"
"Teaching? No. But I love the children."
"Do you teach Peggy?"
"Yes. She is too young, really, but she insists upon going."
"There used to be a schoolhouse across the road from my grandfather's. A red brick school with a bell on top."
"There is still a bell. I always ring it myself, although the boys beg to do it. But I like to think of myself as the bell ringer."
It was while they sat there that Eric Brand came in through the kitchen-way to the hall. He stood for a moment looking into the lighted front room where Eve still danced with Philip Meade, and where the young man with the eye-glasses talked with the Dutton-Ames. Anne instinctively kept silent. It was Peggy who revealed their hiding place to him.
"Oh, Eric," she piped, "are you back?" She went flying down the stairs to him.
He caught her, and holding her in his arms, peered up. "Who's there?"
Peggy answered. "It's Anne and the new doctor. I danced with him, and he came on the train with those other people in there—and he has a dog named Toby—it's in the kitchen."
"So that's his dog? It will have to go to the kennels for the night."
Richard, descending, apologized. "I shouldn't have let Toby stay in the house, but Miss Bower put in a plea for him."
"He means Anne," Peggy explained. "Her name is Warfield. It's funny you didn't know."
"How could I?" Richard had a feeling that he owed the little goddess-girl an explanation of his stupidity. He found himself again ascending the stairs.
But Anne had fled. Overwhelmingly she realized that Richard had believed her to be the daughter of Peter Bower. Daughter of that crude and common man! Sister of Beulah! Friend of Eric Brand!
Well, she had brought it on herself. She had looked after the dogs and she had waited on the table. People thought differently of these things. The ideals she had tried to teach her children were not the ideals of the larger world. Labor did not dignify itself. The motto of kings was meaningless! A princess serving was no longer a princess!
Sitting very tense and still in the little rocking-chair in her own room, she decided that of course Richard looked down on her. He had perceived in her no common ground of birth or of breeding. Yet her grandfather had been the friend of the grandfather of Richard Brooks!
When Peggy came up, she announced that she was to sleep with Anne. It was an arrangement often made when the house was full. To-night Anne welcomed the cheery presence of the child. She sang her to sleep, and then sat for a long time by the little round stove with Peggy in her arms.
She laid her down as a knock sounded on her door.
"Are you up?" some one asked, and she opened it, to find Evelyn Chesley.
"May I borrow a needle?" She showed a torn length of lace-trimmed flounce. "I caught it on a rocker in my room. There shouldn't be any rocker."
"Mrs. Bower loves them," Anne said, as she hunted through her little basket; "she loves to rock and rock. All the women around here do."
"Then you're not one of them?"
"No. My grandmother was Cynthia Warfield of Carroll."
The name meant nothing to Evelyn. It would have meant much to Nancy Brooks.
"How did you happen to come here? I don't see how any one could choose to come."
"My mother died—and there was no one but my Great-uncle Rodman Warfield. I had to get something to do—so I came here, and Uncle Rod went to live with a married cousin."
Evelyn had perched herself on the post of Anne's bed and was mending the flounce. Although she was not near the lamp, she gave an effect of gathering to her all the light of the room. She was wrapped in a robe of rose-color, a strange garment with fur to set it off, and of enormous fullness. It spread about her and billowed out until it almost hid the little bed and the child upon it.
Beside her, Anne in her blue serge felt clumsy and common. She knew that she ought not to feel that way, but she did. She would have told her scholars that it was not clothes that made the man, or dress the woman. But then she told her scholars many things that were right and good. She tried herself to be as right and good as her theories. But it was not always possible. It was not possible at this moment.
"What brought you here?" Eve persisted.
"I teach school. I came in September."
"What do you teach?"
"Everything. We are not graded."
"I hope you teach them to be honest with themselves."
"I am not sure that I know what you mean?"
"Don't let them pretend to be something that they are not. That's why so many people fail. They reach too high, and fall. That's what Nancy Brooks is doing to Richard. She is making him reach too high."
She laughed as she bent above her needle. "I fancy you are not interested in that. But I can't think of anything but—the waste of it. I hope you will all be so healthy that you won't need him, and then he will have to come back to New York."
"I don't see how anybody could leave New York. Not to come down here." Anne drew a quick breath.
Eve spoke carelessly: "Oh, well, I suppose it isn't so bad here for a woman, but for a man—a man needs big spaces. Richard will be cramped—he'll shrink to the measure of all this—narrowness." She had finished her flounce, and she rose and gave Anne the needle. "In the morning, if the weather is good, we are to ride to Crossroads. Is your school very far away?"
"It is opposite Crossroads. Mrs. Brooks' father built it."
Anne spoke stiffly. She had felt the sting of Eve's indifference, and she was furious with herself for her consciousness of Eve's clothes, of her rings—of the gold comb in her hair.
When her visitor had gone, Anne took down her own hair, and flung it up into a soft knot on the top of her head. Swept back thus, her face seemed to bloom into sudden beauty. She slipped the blue dress from her shoulders and saw the long slim line of her neck and the whiteness of her skin.
The fire had died down in the little round stove. The room was cold. She thought of Eve's rose-color, and of the warmth of her furs.
Bravely, however, she hummed the tune to which the others had danced. She lifted her feet in time. Her shoes were heavy, and she took them off. She tried to get the rhythm, the lightness, the grace of movement. But these things must be taught, and she had no one to teach her.
When at last she crept into bed beside the sleeping Peggy, she was chilled to the bone, and she was crying.
Peggy stirred and murmured.
Soothing the child, Anne told herself fiercely that she was a goose to be upset because Eve Chesley had rings and wore rose-color. Why, she was no better than Diogenes, who had fumed and fussed because Toby had taken his straw in the stable.
But her philosophy failed to bring peace of mind. For a long time she lay awake, working it out. At last she decided, wearily, that she had wept because she really didn't know any of the worth-while things. She didn't know any of the young things and the gay things. She didn't know how to dance or to talk to men like Richard Brooks. The only things that she knew in the whole wide world were—books!
In Which the Crown Prince Enters Upon His Own.
IT developed that the name of the young man with the eye-glasses was Geoffrey Fox. Mrs. Bower told Anne at the breakfast table, as the two women sat alone.
"He is writing a book, and he wants to stay."
"The little dark man?"
"I shouldn't call him little. He is thin, but he is as tall as Richard Brooks."
"Is he?" To Anne it had seemed as if Richard had towered above her like a young giant. She had scarcely noticed the young man with the eye-glasses. He had melted into the background of old gentlemen; had become, as it were, a part of a composite instead of a single personality.
But to be writing a book!
"What kind of a book, Mrs. Bower?"
"I don't know. He didn't say. I am going to give him the front room in the south wing; then he will have a view of the river."
When Anne met the dark young man in the hall an hour later, she discovered that he had keen eyes and a mocking smile.
He stopped her. "Do we have to be introduced? I am going to stay here. Did Mrs. Bower tell you?"
"She told me you were writing a book."
"Don't tell anybody else; I'm not proud of it."
He shrugged. "My stories are pot-boilers, most of them—with everybody happy in the end."
"Why shouldn't everybody be happy in the end?"
"Because life isn't that way."
"Life is what we make it."
"Who told you that?"
She flushed. "It is what I tell my school children."
"But have you found it so?"
She faltered. "No—but perhaps it is my fault."
"It isn't anybody's fault. If the gods smile—we are happy. If they frown, we are miserable. That's all there is to it."
"I should hate to think that was all." She was roused and ready to fight for her ideals. "I should hate to think it."
"All your hating won't make it as you want it," his glance was quizzical, "but we won't quarrel about it."
"Of course not," stiffly.
"And we are to be friends? You see I am to stay a month."
"Are you going to write about us?"
"I shall write about the Old Gentlemen. Is there always such a crowd of them?"
"Only on holidays and week-ends."
"Perhaps I shall write about you——" daringly. "I need a little lovely heroine."
Her look stopped him. His face changed. "I beg your pardon," he said quickly. "I should not have said that."
"Would you have said it if I had not waited on the table?" Her voice was tremulous. The color that had flamed in her cheeks still dyed them. "I thought of it last night, after I went up-stairs. I have been trying to teach my little children in my school that there is dignity in service, and so—I have helped Mrs. Bower. But I felt that people did not understand."
"You felt that we—thought less of you?"
"Yes," very low.
"And that I spoke as I did because I did not—respect you?"
"Then I beg your pardon. Indeed, I do beg your pardon. It was thoughtless. Will you believe that it was only because I was thoughtless?"
"Yes." But her troubled eyes did not meet his. "Perhaps I am too sensitive. Perhaps you would have said—the same things—to Eve Chesley—if you had just met her. But I am sure you would not have said it in the same tone."
He held out his hand to her. "You'll forgive me? Yes? And be friends?"
She did not seem to see his hand. "Of course I forgive you," she said, with a girlish dignity which sat well upon her, "and perhaps I have made too much of it, but you see I am so much alone, and I think so much."
He wanted to ask her questions, of why she was there and of why she was alone. But something in her manner forbade, and so they spoke of other things until she left him.
Geoffrey went out later for a walk in the blinding snow. All night it had snowed and the storm had a blizzard quality, with the wind howling and the drifts piling to prodigious heights. Geoffrey faced the elements with a strength which won the respect of Richard Brooks who, also out in it, with his dog Toby, was battling gloriously with wind and weather.
"If we can reach the shelter of the pines," he shouted, "they'll break the force of the storm."
Within the wood the snow was in winding sheets about the great trees.
"What giant ghosts!" Geoffrey said. "Yet in a month or two the sap will run warm in their veins, and the silence will be lapped by waves of sound—the singing of birds and of little streams."
"I used to come here when I was a boy," Richard told him. "There were violets under the bank, and I picked them and made tight bunches of them and gave them to my mother. She was young then. I remember that she usually wore white dresses, with a blue sash fluttering."
"You lived here then?"
"No, we visited at my grandfather's, a mile or two away. He used to drive us down, and he would sit out there on the point and fish,—a grand old figure, in his broad hat, with his fishing creel over his shoulder. There were just two sports that my grandfather loved, fishing and fox-hunting; but he was a very busy doctor and couldn't ride often to hounds. But he kept a lot of them. He would have had a great contempt for Toby. His own dogs were a wiry little breed."
"My grandfather was blind, and always in his library. So my boyhood was different. I used to read to him. I liked it, and I wouldn't exchange my memories for yours, except the violets—I should like to pick them here in the spring—perhaps I shall—I told Mrs. Bower I would take a room for a month or more—and since we have spoken of violets—I may wait for their blooming."
He laughed, and as they turned back, "I have found several things to keep me," he said, but he did not name them.
All day Anne was aware of the presence in the house of the young guests. She was aware of Winifred Ames' blue cloak and of Eve's roses. She was aware of Richard's big voice booming through the hall, of Geoffrey's mocking laugh.
But she did not go down among them. She ate her meals after the others had finished. She did not wait upon the table and she did not sit upon the stairs. In the afternoon she wrote a long letter to her Great-uncle Rodman, and she went early to bed.
She was waked in the morning by the bustle of departure. Some of the Old Gentlemen went back by motor, others by train. Warmed by a hearty breakfast, bundled into their big coats, they were lighted on their way by Eric Brand.
It was just as the sun flashed over the horizon and showed the whiteness of a day swept clear by the winds of the night that the train for the north carried off the Dutton-Ames, Philip and Eve.
Evelyn went protesting. "Some day you are going to regret it, Richard."
"Don't croak. Wish me good luck, Eve."
But she would not. Yet when she stood at last on the train steps to say "Good-bye," she had in her hand one of the roses he had given her and which she had worn. She touched it lightly to her lips and tossed it to him.
By the time he had picked it up the train was on its way, and Evelyn, looking back, had her last glimpse of him standing straight and tall against the morning sky, the rose in his hand.
It was eight o'clock when Eric drove Anne and Peggy through the drifts to the Crossroads school. It was nine when Geoffrey Fox came down to a late breakfast. It was ten when Richard and his mother and the dog Toby in a hired conveyance arrived at the place which had once been Nancy's home.
Imposing, even in its shabbiness, stood the old house, at the end of an avenue of spired cedars.
As they opened the door a grateful warmth met them.
"David has been here," Nancy said. "Oh, Richard, Richard, what a glorious day to begin."
And now there came from among the shadows a sound which made them stop and listen. "Tick, tock," said the great hall clock.
"Mother, who wound it?"
Nancy Brooks laughed tremulously. "Cousin David had the key. In all these years he has never let the old clock run down. It seemed queer to think of it ticking away in this empty house."
There were tears in her eyes. He stooped and kissed her. "And now that you are here, you are going to be happy?"
"Very happy, dear boy."
It was nearly twelve when David Tyson came limping up the path. He had a basket in one hand, and a cane in the other. Behind him trotted a weedy-looking foxhound. The dog Toby, charging out of the door as Nancy opened it, fell, as it were, upon the neck of the hound. His overtures of friendship were met with a dignified aloofness which merged gradually into a reluctant cordiality.
Nancy held out both hands to the old man. "I saw you coming. Oh, how good it seems to be here again, Cousin David."
"Let me look at you." He set the basket down, and took her hands in his. Then he shook his head. "New York has done things to you," he said. "It has given you a few gray hairs. But now that you are back again I shall try to forgive it."
"I shall never forgive it," she said, "for what it has done to me and mine."
"But you are here, and you have brought your boy; that's a thing to be thankful for, Nancy."
They were silent in the face of overwhelming memories. The only sound in the shadowy hall was the ticking of the old clock—the old clock which had tick-tocked in all the years of loneliness with no one to listen.
Richard greeted him with heartiness. "This looks pretty good to me, Cousin David."
"It's God's country, Richard. Brin hates it. He loves his club and the city streets. But for me there's nothing worth while but this sweep of the hills and the river between."
He uncovered his basket. "Tom put up some things for you. I've engaged Milly, a mulatto girl, but she can't get here until to-morrow. She is about the best there is left. Most of them go to town. She'll probably seem pretty crude after New York servants, Nancy."
"I don't care." Nancy almost sang the words. "I don't care what I have to put up with, Cousin David. I shall sleep to-night under my own roof with nothing between me and the stars. And there won't be anybody overhead or underneath, and there won't be a pianola to the right of me, and a phonograph to the left, and there won't be the rumble of the subway or the crash of the elevated, and in the morning I shall open my eyes and see the sun rise over the river, and I shall look out upon the world that I love and have loved all of these years——"
And now she was crying, and Richard had her in his arms. Over her head he looked at the older man. "I didn't dream that she felt like this."
"I knew—as soon as I saw her. You must never take her back, Richard."
"Of course not," hotly.
Yet with the perverseness of youth he was aware, as he said it, of a sudden sense of revolt against the prospect of a future spent in this quiet place. Flashing came a vision of the city he had left, of crowded hospitals, of big men consulting with big men, of old men imparting their secrets of healing to the young; of limousines speeding luxuriously on errands of mercy; of patients pouring out their wealth to the men who had made them well.
All this he had given up because his mother had asked it. She had spoken of the place which his grandfather had filled, of the dignity of a country practice, of the opportunities for research and for experiment. At close range, the big town set between its rivers and the sea had seemed noisy and vulgar. Its people had seemed mad in their race for money. Its medical men had seemed to lack the fineness and finish which come to those who move and meditate in quiet places.
But seen from afar as he saw it now, it seemed a wonder city, its tall buildings outlined like gigantic castles against the sky. It seemed filled to the brim with vivid life. It seemed, indeed, to call him back!
While David and Nancy talked he went out, and, from the top of the snowy steps, surveyed his domain. Back and back in the wide stretch of country which faced him, beyond the valleys, on the other side of the hills, were people who would some day listen for the step of young Richard as those who had gone before had listened for the step of his grandfather. He saw himself going forth on stormy nights to fight pain and pestilence; to minister to little children, to patient mothers; to men beaten down by an enemy before whom their strength was as wax. They would wait for him, anxious for his verdict, yet fearing it, welcoming him as a saviour, who would stand with flaming sword between disease and the Dark Angel.
The schoolhouse was on the other side of the road. It was built of brick like the house. Richard's grandfather had paid for the brick. He had believed in public schools and had made this one possible. Children came to it from all the countryside. There were other schools in the sleepy town. This was the Crossroads school, as Richard Tyson had been the Crossroads doctor. He had given himself to a rural community—his journeys had been long and his life hard, but he had loved the labor.
The bell rang for the noon recess. The children appeared presently, trudging homeward through the snow to their midday dinners. Then Anne Warfield came out. She wore a heavy brown coat and soft brown hat. In her hand was a small earthen dish. She strewed seeds for the birds, and they flew down in front of her—juncoes and sparrows, a tufted titmouse, a cardinal blood-red against the whiteness. She was like a bird herself in all her brown.
When the dish was empty, she turned it upside down, and spread her hands to show that there was nothing more. On the Saturday night when she had waited on the table, Richard had noticed the loveliness of her hands. They were small and white, and without rings. Yet in spite of their smallness and whiteness, he knew that they were useful hands, for she had served well at Bower's. And now he knew that they were kindly hands, for she had fed the birds who had come begging to her door.
Peggy joined her, and the two came out the gate together. Anne looking across saw Richard. She hesitated, then crossed the road.
He at once went to meet her. She flushed a little as she spoke to him. "Peggy and I want to ask a favor. We've always had our little Twelfth Night play in the Crossroads stable. And we had planned for it this year—you see, we didn't know that you were coming."
"And we were afraid that you wouldn't want us," Peggy told him.
"Were you really afraid?"
"I wasn't. But Miss Anne was."
"I told the children that they mustn't be disappointed if we were not able to do this year as we had done before. I felt that with people in the house, it might not be pleasant for them to have us coming in such a crowd."
"It will be pleasant, and mother will be much interested. I wish you'd come up and tell us about it."
She shook her head. "Peggy and I have just time to get back to Bower's for our dinner."
"Aren't the roads bad?"
"Not when the snow is hard."
Peggy went reluctantly. "I think he is perfectly lovely," she said, at a safe distance. "Don't you?"
Anne's reply was guarded. "He is very kind. I am glad that he doesn't mind about the Twelfth Night play, Peggy."
Richard spoke to David of Anne as the two men, a few minutes later, climbed the hill toward David's house.
"She seems unusual."
"She is the best teacher we have ever had, but she ought not to be at Bower's. She isn't their kind."
David's little house, set on top of a hill, was small and shabby without, but within it was as compact as a ship's cabin. David's old servant, Tom, kept it immaculate, and there were books everywhere, old portraits, precious bits of mahogany.
From the window beside the fireplace there was a view of the river. It was a blue river to-day, sparkling in the sunshine. David, standing beside Richard, spoke of it.
"It isn't always blue, but it is always beautiful. Even when the snow flies as it did yesterday."
"And are you content with this, Cousin David?"
The answer was evasive. "I have my little law practice, and my books. And is any one ever content, Richard?"
Going down the hill, Richard pondered. Was Eve right after all? Did a man who turned his face away from the rush of cities really lack red blood?
Stopping at the schoolhouse, he found teacher and scholars still gone. But the door was unlocked and he went in. The low-ceiled room was charming, and the good taste of the teacher was evident in its decorations. There were branches of pine and cedar on the walls, a picture of Washington at one end with a flag draped over it, a pot of primroses in the south window.
There were several books on Anne's desk. Somewhat curiously he examined the titles. A shabby Browning, a modern poet or two, Chesterton, a volume of Pepys, the pile topped by a small black Bible. Moved by a sudden impulse, he opened the Bible. The leaves fell back at a marked passage:
"Let not your heart be troubled."
He shut the book sharply. It was as if he had peered into the girl's soul. The red was in his cheeks as he turned away.
* * * * *
That night Nancy Brooks went with Richard to his room. On the threshold she stopped.
"I have given this room to you," she said, "because it was mine when I was a girl, and all my dreams have been shut in—waiting for you."
"Mother," he caught her hands in his, "you mustn't dream too much for me."
"Let me dream to-night;" she was looking up at him with her shining eyes; "to-morrow I shall be just a commonplace mother of a commonplace son; but to-night I am queen, and you are the crown prince on the eve of coronation. Oh, Hickory Dickory, I am such a happy mother."
Hickory Dickory! It was her child-name for him. She had not often used it of late. He felt that she would not often use it again. He was much moved by her dedication of him to his new life. He held her close. His doubts fled. He thought no more of Eve and of her flaming arguments. Somewhere out in the snow her rose lay frozen and faded where he had dropped it.
And when he slept and dreamed it was of a little brown bird which sang in the snow, and the song that it sang seemed to leap from the pages of a Book, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
In Which Three Kings Come to Crossroads.
ANNE'S budget of news to her Great-uncle Rod swelled to unusual proportions in the week following the opening of Crossroads. She had so much to say to him, and there was no one else to whom she could speak with such freedom and frankness.
By the Round Stove.
I am sending this as an antidote for my doleful Sunday screed. Now that the Lovely Ladies are gone, I am myself again!
I know that you are saying, "You should never have been anything but yourself." That's all very well for you who know Me-Myself, but these people know only the Outside-Person part of me, and the Outside-Person part is stiff and old-fashioned, and self-conscious. You see it has been so many months since I have hobnobbed with Lilies-of-the-Field and with Solomons-in-all-their-Glory. And even when I did hobnob with them it was for such a little time, and it ended so heart-breakingly. But I am not going to talk of that, or I shall weep and wail again, and that wouldn't be fair to you.
The last Old Gentleman left yesterday in the wake of the Lovely Ladies. Did I tell you that Brinsley Tyson is a cousin of Mrs. Brooks? His twin brother, David, lives up the road. Brinsley is the city mouse and David is the country one. They are as different as you can possibly imagine. Brinsley is fat and round and red, and David is thin and tall and pale. Yet there is the "twin look" in their faces. The high noses and square chins. Neither of them wears a beard. None of the Old Gentlemen does. Why is it? Is hoary-headed age a thing of the dark and distant past? Are you the only one left whose silver banner blows in the breeze? Are the grandfathers all trying to look like boys to match the grandmothers who try to look like girls?
Mrs. Brooks won't be that kind of grandmother. She is gentle and serene, and the years will touch her softly. I shall like her if she will let me. But perhaps little school-teachers won't come within her line of vision. You see I learned my lesson in those short months when I peeped into Paradise.
I wonder how it would seem to be a Lily-of-the-Field. I've never been one, have I? Even when I was a little girl I used to stand on a chair to wipe the dishes while you washed them. I felt very important to be helping mother, and you would talk about the dignity of labor—you darling, with the hot water wrinkling and reddening your lovely long fingers, which were made to paint masterpieces.
I am trying to pass on to my school children what you have given to me, and oh, Uncle Rod, when I speak to them I seem to be looking with you, straight through the kitchen window, at the sunset. We never knew that the kitchen sink was there, did we? We saw only the sunsets. And now because you are a darling dear, and because you are always seeing sunsets, I am sending you a verse or two which I have copied from a book which Geoffrey Fox left last night at my door.
"When Salomon sailed from Ophir, With Olliphants and gold, The kings went up, the kings went down, Trying to match King Salomon's crown; But Salomon sacked the sunset, Wherever his black ships rolled. He rolled it up like a crimson cloth, And crammed it into his hold.
CHORUS: "Salomon sacked the sunset, Salomon sacked the sunset, He rolled it up like a crimson cloth, And crammed it into his hold.
"His masts were Lebanon cedars, His sheets were singing blue, But that was never the reason why He stuffed his hold with the sunset sky! The kings could cut their cedars, And sail from Ophir, too; But Salomon packed his heart with dreams, And all the dreams were true."
Now join in the chorus, you old dear—and I'll think that I am a little girl again—
"The kings could cut their cedars, Cut their Lebanon cedars; But Salomon packed his heart with dreams, And all the dreams were true!"
* * * * *
In the Schoolroom.
I told you that Geoffrey Fox left a book for me to read. I told you that he wore eye-glasses on a black ribbon, that he is writing a novel, and that I don't like him. Well, he went into Baltimore this morning to get his belongings, and when he comes back he will stay until his book is finished. It will be interesting to be under the same roof with a story. All the shadows and corners will seem full of it. The house will speak to him, and the people in it, though none of the rest of us will hear the voices, and the wind will speak and the leaping flames in the fireplace, and the sun and the moon—and when the snow comes it will whisper secrets in his ear and presently it will be snowing all through the pages.
It snowed this morning, and from my desk I can see young Dr. Brooks shoveling a path from his front porch. He and his mother came to Crossroads yesterday, and they have been very busy getting settled. They have a colored maid, Milly, but no man, and young Richard does all of the outside work. I think I shall like him. Don't you remember how as a little girl I always adored the Lion-hearted king? I always think of him when I see Dr. Brooks. He isn't handsome, but he is broad-shouldered and big and blond. I haven't had but one chance to speak to him since he and his mother left Bower's. Perhaps I shan't have many chances to speak to him. But a cat may look at a king!
I am all alone in the schoolroom. The children went an hour ago. Eric and Beulah are to call for me on their way home from town. They took Peggy with them. Did I tell you that Eric is falling in love with Beulah? I am not sure whether it is the best thing for him, but I am sure it is for her. She is very happy, and blushes when he looks at her. He is finer than she, and bigger, mentally and spiritually. He is crude, but he will grow as so many American men do grow—and there are dreams in his clear blue eyes. And, after all, it is the dreams that count—as Salomon discovered.
Yet it may be that Eric will bring Beulah up to his level. She is an honest little thing and good and loving. Her life is narrow, and she thinks narrow thoughts. But he is wise and kind, and already I can see that she is trying to keep step with him—which is as it should be.
I like to think that father and mother kept step through all the years. She was his equal, his comrade; she marched by his side with her head up fitting her two short steps to his long stride.
King Richard has just waved to me. I stood up to see the sunset—a band of gold with black above, and he waved, and started to run across the road. Then somebody called him from the house. Perhaps it was the telephone and his first patient. If I am ever ill, I should like to have a Lion-hearted Doctor—wouldn't you?
* * * * *
At the Sign of the Lantern.
I am with Diogenes in the stable, with the lantern making deep shadows, and the loft steps for a desk. Eric and Beulah came for me before I had asked a question—an important question—so I am finishing my letter here, while Eric puts Daisy in her stall, and then he will post it for me.
Diogenes has had his corn, and is as happy as Brinsley Tyson after a good dinner. Oh, such eating and drinking! How these old men love it! And you with your bread and milk and your book propped up against the lamp, or your handful of raisins and your book under a tree!
But I must scribble fast and ask my question. It isn't easy to ask. So I'll put it in sections:
Do you ever see Jimmie—Ford?
That is the first time that I have written his name since I came here. I had made up my mind that I wouldn't write it. But somehow the rose-colored atmosphere of the other night, and these men of his kind have brought it back—all those whirling weeks when you warned me and I wouldn't listen. Uncle Rod, if a woman hadn't an ounce of pride she might meet such things. If I had not had a grandmother as good as Jimmie's and better—I might have felt less—stricken. Geoffrey Fox spoke to me on Saturday in a way which—hurt. Perhaps I am too sensitive—but I haven't quite learned to—hold up my head.
You mustn't think that I am unhappy. Indeed, I am not, except that I cannot be with you. But it is good to know that you are comfortable, and that Cousin Margaret is making it seem like home. Some day we are to have a home, you and I, when our ship comes in "with the sunset packed in the hold." But now it is well that I have work to do. I know that this is my opportunity, and that I must make the most of it. There's that proverb of yours, "The Lord sends us quail, but he doesn't send them roasted." I have written it out, and have tucked it into my mirror frame. I shall have to roast my own quail. I only hope that I may prove a competent cook!
Eric is here, and I must say "Good-bye." Diogenes sends love, and a little feather that dropped from his wing. Some day he will send a big one for you to make a pen and write letters to me. I love your letters, and I love you. And oh, you know that you have all the heart's best of your own
* * * * *
The Morning After the Magi Came.
I am up early to tell you about it. But I must go back a little because I have had so much else to talk about that I haven't spoken of the Twelfth Night play.
It seems that years ago, when old Dr. Brooks first built the schoolhouse, the children used his stable on Twelfth Night for a spectacle representing the coming of the Wise Men.
Mr. David had told me of it, and I had planned to revive the old custom this year, and had rehearsed the children. I thought when I heard that the house was to be occupied that I might have to give it up. But Peggy and I plucked up our courage and asked King Richard, and he graciously gave permission.
It was a heavenly night. Snow on the ground and all the stars out. The children met in the schoolhouse and we started in a procession. They all wore simple little costumes, just some bit of bright color draped to give them a quaint picturesqueness. One of the boys led a cow, and there was an old ewe. Then riding on a donkey, borrowed by Mr. David, came the oldest Mary in our school. I chose her because I wanted her to understand the sacred significance of her name, and our only little Joseph walked by her side. The children followed and their parents, with the wise men quite in the rear, so that they might enter after the others.
When we reached the stable, I grouped Joseph and Mary in one of the old mangers, where the Babe lay, and he was a dear, real, baby brother of Mary. I hid a light behind the straw, so that the place was illumined. And then my little wise men came in; and the children, who with their parents were seated on the hay back in the shadows, sang, "We Three Kings" and other carols. The gifts which the Magi brought were the children's own pennies which they are giving to the other little children across the sea who are fatherless because of the war.
It was quite wonderful to hear their sweet little voices, and to see their rapt faces and to know that, however sordid their lives might be, here was Dream, founded on the Greatest Truth, which would lift them above the sordidness.
Dr. Brooks and his mother and Mr. David were not far from me, and Dr. Brooks leaned over and asked if he might speak to the children. I said I should be glad, so he stood up and told them in such simple, fine fashion that he wanted to be to them all that his grandfather had been to their parents and grandparents. He wanted them to feel that his life and service belonged to them. He wanted them to know how pleased he was with the Twelfth Night spectacle, and that he wanted it to become an annual custom.
Then in his mother's name, he asked them to come up to the house—all of them—and we were shown into the Garden Room which opens out upon what was once a terraced garden, and there was a great cake with candles, and sandwiches, and coffee for the grown-ups and hot chocolate for the kiddies.
Wasn't that dear? I had little Francois thank them, and he did it so well. Why is it that these small foreigners lack the self-consciousness of our own boys and girls? He had been one of the wise men in the spectacle, and he still wore his white beard and turban and his long blue and red robes. Yet he wasn't in the least fussed; he simply made a bow, said what he had to say, made another bow, with never a blush or a quaver or giggle. His mother was there, and she was so happy—she is a widow, and sews in the neighborhood, plain sewing, and they are very poor.
I rode home with the Bowers, and as we drove along, I heard the children singing. I am sure they will never forget the night under the winter stars, nor the scene in the stable with the cow and the little donkey and the old ewe, and the Light that illumined the manger. I want them always to remember, Uncle Rod, and I want to remember. It is only when I forget that I lose faith and hope.
Blessed dear, good-night.
In Which Peggy Takes the Center of the Stage.
THE bell on the schoolhouse had a challenging note. It seemed to call to the distant hills, and the echo came back in answer. It was the voice of civilization. "I am here that you may learn of other hills and of other valleys, of men who have dreamed and of men who have discovered, of nations which have conquered and of nations which have fallen into decay. I am here that you may learn—ding dong—that you may learn, ding ding—that you may learn—ding dong ding—of Life."
As she rang the bell, Anne had always a feeling of exhilaration. Its message was clear to her. She hoped it would be clear to others. She tried at least to make it clear to her children.
And now they came streaming over the countryside, big boys with their little sisters beside them, big girls with their little brothers. Some on sleds and some sliding. All rosy-cheeked with the coldness of the morning.
As they filed in, Anne stood behind her desk. They had opening exercises, and then the work of the day began.
It began scrappily. Nobody had his mind upon it. The children were much excited over the events of the preceding night—over the play and the feast which had followed.
Anne, too, was excited. On the way to school she had met Richard, and he had joined her and had told her of his first patient.
"I had to walk at one o'clock in the morning. I must get a horse or a car. I am not quite sure that I ought to afford a car. And I like the idea of a horse. My grandfather rode a horse."
"Are you going to do all the things that your grandfather did?"
He was aware of her quick smile. He smiled back.
"Perhaps. I might do worse. He made great cures with his calomel and his catnip tea."
"Did you cure your patient with catnip tea?"
"Last night? No. It was a child. Measles. I told the rest of the family to stay away from school."
"It is probably too late. They will all have it."
"No. I am never sick."
Her good health seemed to him another goddess attribute. Goddesses were never ill. They lived eternally with lovely smiles.
He felt this morning that the world was his. He had been called up the night before by a man in whose household there had been a tradition of the skill of Richard's grandfather. There had been the memory, too, in the minds of the older ones of the days when that other doctor had thundered up the road to succor and to save. It was a proud moment in their lives when they gave to Richard Tyson's grandson his first patient. They felt that Providence in sending sickness upon them had imposed not a penance but a privilege.
Richard had known of their pride and had been touched by it, and with the glow of their gratitude still upon him, he had trudged down the snowy road and had met Anne Warfield!
"You'd better let me come and look over your pupils," he had said to her as they parted; "we don't want an epidemic!"
He was to come at the noon recess. Anne, anticipating his visit, was quite thrillingly emphatic in her history lesson. Not that history had anything to do with measles, but she felt fired by his example to do her best.
She loved to teach history, and she had a lesson not only for her children, but for herself. She was much ashamed of her mood of Sunday. It had been easy enough this morning to talk to Richard; and with Evelyn away, clothes had seemed to sink to their proper significance. And if she had waited on the table she had at least done it well.
Her exposition gained emphasis, therefore, from her state of mind.
"In this beautiful land of ours," she said, "all men are free—and equal. You mustn't think this means that all of you will have the same amount of money or the same kind of clothes, or the same things to eat, or even the same kind of minds. But I think it means that you ought all to have the same kind of consciences. You ought to be equal in right doing. And in love of country. You ought to know when war is righteous, and when peace is righteous. And you can all be equal in this, that no man can make you lie or steal or be a coward."
Thus she inspired them. Thus she saw them thrill as she had herself been thrilled. And that was her reward. For in her school were not only the little Johns and the little Thomases and the little Richards—she found herself quite suddenly understanding why there were so many Richards—there were also the little Ottos and the little Ulrics and the little Wilhelms, and there was Francois, whose mother went out to sew by the day, and there were Raphael and Alessandro and Simon. Out from the big cities had come the parents of these children, seeking the land, usurping the places of the old American stock, doing what had been left undone in the way of sowing and planting and reaping, making the little gardens yield as they had never yielded, even in those wonder days before the war.
It was Anne Warfield's task to train the children of the newcomers to the American ideal. With the blood in her of statesmen and of soldiers it was given to her to pass on the tradition of good citizenship. She was, indeed, a torch-bearer, lighting the way to love of country. Yet for a little while she had forgotten it.
She had cried because she could not wear rose-color!
But now her head was high again, and when Richard came she showed him her school, and he shook hands first with the little girls and then with the little boys, and he looked down their throats, and asked them questions, and joked and prodded and took their temperature, and he did it all in such happy fashion that not even the littlest one was afraid.
And when Richard was ready to go, he said to her, "I'll look after their bodies if you'll look after their minds," and as she watched him walk away, she had a tingling sense that they had formed a compact which had to do with things above and beyond the commonplace.
It began to snow in the afternoon, and it was snowing hard when the school day ended. Eric Brand came for Anne and Peggy in the funny little station carriage which was kept at Bower's. Eric and Anne sat on the front seat with Peggy between them. The fat mare, Daisy, jogged placidly along the still white road. There was a top to the carriage, but the snow sifted in, so Anne wrapped Peggy in an old shawl.
"I don't need anything," she said, when Eric offered her a heavier covering. "I love it—like this——"
Eric Brand was big and blond and somewhat slow in his movements. But he had brains and held the position of telegraph operator at Bower's Station. He had, too, a heart of romance. The day before he had seen Evelyn toss the rose to Richard, and he had found it later where Richard had dropped it. He had picked it up, and had put it in water. It had seemed to him that the flower must feel the slight which had been put upon it.
He spoke now to Anne of Richard. "They say he is a good doctor."
"I can't see why he came here."
"His mother wanted him to come. She hates the city. She went there as a bride. Her husband was rich, but he was always speculating. Sometimes they were so poor that she had to do her own work, and sometimes they had a half dozen servants. But they never had a home. And then all at once he lost other people's money as well as his own—and he killed himself——"
She turned on him her startled eyes. "Richard's father?"
"Yes. And after that young Brooks decided that as soon as he finished his medical course he would come here. He thinks that he came because he wanted to come. But he won't stay."
"You saw his friends. And the women. Some day he'll go back and marry that girl——"
"Is that her name? She threw him a rose;" he forgot to tell her that he had seen it fade.
They had reached the stable garage. Diogenes welcomed them from his warm corner. The old dog Mamie who had followed the carriage shook the snow from her coat and flopped down on the floor to rest. The little horse Daisy steamed and whinnied. It was a homely scene of sheltered creatures in comfortable quarters. Anne knelt down by the old drake, and he bent his head under her caressing hand. Her face was grave. Eric, watching her, asked; "Has it been a hard day?"
"No;" but she found herself suddenly tired.
She went in with Eric presently. They had a good hot supper, and Anne was hungry. Gathered around the table were Peter and his wife, Beulah and Eric, with Peggy rounding out the half dozen. Geoffrey Fox had gone to town to get his belongings.
Anne had a vision of Richard and his mother in the big house. At their table would be lovely linen and shining silver, and some little formality of service. She felt that she belonged to people like that. She had nothing in common with Peter and his wife and with Eric Brand. Nor with Beulah.
Beulah was planning a little party for the evening. There was to have been skating, but the warmer weather and the snow had made that impossible.
"I don't know just what I'll do with them," she said; "we might have games."
"Anne knows a lot of things." This from Peggy, who was busy with her bread and milk.
Anne flushed. "Peggy!"
"But we do. We make bows like this——"
Peggy slid out of her chair and bobbed for them—a most entrancing little curtsey, with all her curls flying.
"And the boys do this." She was quite stiff as she showed them how the little boys bowed.
Anne seemed to feel some need of defense. "Well, they must learn manners."
Peggy, wound up, would not be interrupted. "We dance like this," and away she went in a mad gallop.
Anne laughed. "It warms their blood when the fire won't burn. Peggy, it isn't quite as bad as that. Show them nicely."
So Peggy showed them some pretty steps, and then came back to her bread and milk.
"We might dance." Beulah's mind was on her party. "But some of them don't know how."
Anne offered no suggestions. She really might have helped if she had cared to do it. But she did not care.
When she had finished supper, Eric followed her into the hall. "You'll come down, won't you?"
"I'm not sure."
"Beulah would like it if you would."
"I have a lot of things to do."
"Let them go. You can always work. When you hear the fire roaring up the chimney, you will know that it is calling to you, 'Come down, come down!'"
He stood and watched her as she climbed the stairs. Then he went back and helped Beulah.
Beulah was really very pretty, and to-night her cheeks were pink as she made her little plans with him.
He gave himself pleasantly to her guidance. He moved the furniture for her into the big front room, so that there would be a space for dancing. And presently it became not a sanctum for staid Old Gentlemen, but a gathering place for youth and joy.
Eric made his rounds before the company came. He looked after the dogs in the kennels and at Daisy in her stall. He flashed his lantern into Diogenes' dark corner and saw the old drake at rest.
The snow was whirling in a blinding storm when at last he staggered in with a great log for the fire, and with a basket of cones to make the air sweet. And it was as he knelt to put the cones on the fire that Anne came in and stood beside him.
She had swept up her hair in the new way from her forehead. She wore white silk stockings and little flat-heeled black slippers, and a flounced white frock. She was not in the least in fashion, but she was quaintly childish and altogether lovely.
The big man looked up at her. "You look nice in that dress."
She smiled down at him. "I'm glad you like it, Eric."
When the young belles and beauties of the countryside came in later, Anne found herself quite eclipsed by their blooming charms. The young men, knowing her as the school-teacher, were afraid of her brains. They talked to her stiffly, and left her as soon as possible for the easier society of girls of their own kind. Peggy sat with Anne on the big settle beside the fire. The child's hand was hot, and she seemed sleepy.
"My eyes hurt," she said, crossly.
"You ought to be in bed, Peggy; shall I take you?"
"No. There's going to be an oyster stew. Daddy said I might sit up."
Beulah in pink and very important came over to them. "Could you show us some of the dances, Anne?"
"Oh, Beulah, can't they play games?"
"I think you might help us." Beulah's tone was slightly petulant.
Anne stood up. "There's a march I taught the children. We could begin with that."
She led the march with Eric. Behind her was the loud laughter of the brawny young men, the loud laughter of the blooming young women. Their merriment sounded a different note from that struck by the genial Old Gentlemen or by the gay group of young folk from New York. What was the difference? Training? Birth?
Anne felt suddenly much alone. She had not belonged to Evelyn Chesley's crowd, she did not belong with Beulah's friends. She wondered if she really belonged anywhere.
Yet as her mind went over and over these things, her little slippered feet led the march. Eric was not awkward, and he fell easily into the step.
"How nicely we do it together," he said, and beamed down on her, and because her heart was really a kind little heart and a womanly one, she smiled up at him and tried to be as fine and friendly as she would have wanted her children to be.
After the dance, the young folks played old-fashioned games—"Going to Jerusalem" and "Post Office." Anne fled to the settle when the last game was announced. Peggy was moping among the cushions.
"Let me take you up to bed, dearie."
"No, I won't. I want to stay here."
The fun was fast and furious. Anne had a little shivery feeling as she watched the girls go out into the hall and come back blushing. How could they give so lightly what seemed to her so sacred? A woman's lips were for her lover.
She sat very still among the cushions. The fire roared up the chimney. Outside the wind blew; far away in the distance a dog barked.
The barking dog was young Toby. At the heels of his master he was headed straight for the long low house and the grateful shelter of its warmth.
Richard stood for a moment on the porch, looking in through the lighted window. A romping game was in full progress. This time it was "Drop the Handkerchief" and a plump and pretty girl was having a tussle with her captor. Everybody was shouting, clapping. Everybody? On an old settle by the fire sat a slim girl in a white gown. Peggy lay in the curve of her arm, and she was looking down at Peggy.
Richard laughed a big laugh. He could not have told why he laughed, but he flung the door open, and stood there radiant.
"May I come in?" he demanded of Beulah, "or will I break up your party?"
"Oh, Dr. Brooks, as if you could. We are so glad to have you."
"I had a sick call, and we are half frozen, Toby and I, and we saw the lights——"
Now the best place for a half-frozen man is by the fire, and the best place for an anxious and shivering dog is in a warm chimney corner, so in a moment the young dog Toby was where he could thaw out in a luxurious content, and Richard was on the settle beside Anne, and was saying, "Isn't this great? Do you think I ought to stay? I'm not really invited, you know."
"There's never any formality. Everybody just comes."
"I like your frock," he said suddenly. "You remind me of a little porcelain figure I saw in a Fifth Avenue window not long ago."
"Tell me about it," she said with eagerness.
"New York and the shops. Oh, I saw them once. They were like—Heaven."
She laughed up at him as she said it, and he laughed back.
"You'd get tired of them if you lived there."
"I should never get tired. And if I had money I'd go on in and try on everything. I saw a picture of a gown I'd like—all silver spangles with a pointed train. Do you know I've never worn a train? I should like one—and a big fan with feathers."
He shook his head. "Trains wouldn't suit your style. Nor big fans. You ought to have a little fan—of sandalwood, with a purple and green tassel and smelling sweet. Mother says that her mother carried a fan like that at a White House ball."
"I've never been to a ball."
"Well, you needn't want to go. It's a cram and a jam and everybody bored to death."
"I shouldn't be bored. I should love it."
His eyes were on the fire. And presently he said, "It seems queer to be away from it—New York. There's something about it that gets into your blood. You want it—as you do—drink."
"Then you'll be going back."
He jerked around to look at her. "No," sharply; "what makes you say that?"
"Because—it—it doesn't seem possible that you could be—buried—here."
"Do you feel buried?"
She nodded. "Oh, yes."
His face was grave. "And doesn't the school work—help?"
She caught her breath. "That's the best part of it. You see I love—the children."
He flashed a quick glance at her. "Then you're lonely sometimes?"
"I fancy these people aren't exactly—your kind. I wish you'd come and see my mother. She's awfully worth while, you know. And she'd be so glad to have you."
She found herself saying, "My grandmother was Cynthia Warfield. She knew your grandfather. I have some old letters. I think your mother might like to see them."
"No wonder I've been puzzling over you! Cynthia Warfield's portrait hangs in our library. And you're like your grandmother. Only you're young and—alive."
Again his ringing laugh and her own to meet it. She felt so young and happy. So very, very young, and so very, very happy!
Mrs. Bower, appearing importantly, announced supper. Beyond the hall, through the open door of the dining-room they could see the loaded table with the tureens of steaming oysters at each end.
There was at once a rollicking stampede.
Anne leaned down to wake Peggy. The child opened her heavy eyes, and murmured: "I want a drink."
Richard glanced at her. "Hello, hello," he said, quickly. "What's the matter, Pussy?"
"I'm not Pussy—I'm Peggy." The child was ready for tears.
He picked her up in his arms and carried her to the light. With careful finger he lifted the heavy eyelids and touched the hot little cheeks. "How long has she been this way?" he asked Anne.
"Just since supper. Is there anything the matter with her? Is she really sick, Dr. Brooks?"
"Measles," he said succinctly. "You'd better get her straight to bed."
In Which a Gray Plush Pussy Cat Supplies a Theme.
ANNE at the top of the stairs talked to Geoffrey Fox at the foot.
"But you really ought not to stay."
"Because if you haven't had the measles you might get them, and, besides, poor Mrs. Bower is so busy."
"Why not tell me the truth? You don't want me to stay."
"What difference can it possibly make to me?"
"It may make a great difference," Geoffrey said, quietly, "whether I go or stay, but we won't talk of that. I am here. All my traps, bag and baggage, typewriter and trunks—books and bathrobe—and yet you want to send me away."
"I haven't anything to do with it. But the house is closed to every one."
"And everything smells of antiseptics. I rather like that. I spent six weeks in a hospital once. I had a nervous breakdown, and the quiet was heavenly, and all the nurses were angels."
She would not smile. "Of course if you will stay," she said, "you must take things as they come. Mrs. Bower will send your meals up to you. She won't have time to set a company table."
"I'm not company; let me eat with the rest of you."
She hesitated. "You wouldn't like it. I don't like it. There's no service, you see—we all just help ourselves."
"I can help myself."
She shook her head. "It will be easier for Mrs. Bower to bring it up."
He climbed three steps and stopped. "Are you going to do all the nursing?"
"I shall do some of it. Peggy is really ill. There are complications. And Mrs. Bower and Beulah have so much to do. We shall have to close the school. Dr. Brooks wants to save as many as possible from having it."
"So Brooks is handling Peggy's case."
"Of course. Peter Bower knew his grandfather."
"Well, it is something to have a grandfather. And to follow in his footsteps."
But her mind was not on grandfathers. "Dr. Brooks will be here in an hour and I must get Peggy's room ready. And will you please look after yourself for a little while? Eric will attend to your trunks."
It took Geoffrey all the morning to settle. He heard Richard come and go. At noon Anne brought up his tray.
Opening the door to her knock, he protested. "You shouldn't have done it."
"Why not? It is all in the day's work. And I am not going to be silly about it any more."
"You were never silly about it."
"Yes, I was. But I have worked it all out in my mind. My bringing up the tray to you won't make me any less than I am or any more. It is the way we feel about ourselves that counts—not what other people think of us."
"So you don't care what I think of you?"
"No, not if I am doing the things I think are right."
"And you don't care what Richard Brooks thinks?"
The color mounted. "No," steadily.
"Nor Miss Chesley?"
"Of course not."
"Not of course. You do care. You'd hate it if you thought they'd criticize. And you'd cry after you went to bed."
She felt that such clairvoyance was uncanny. "I wouldn't cry."
"Well, you'd feel like it."
"Please don't talk about me in that way. It really doesn't make any difference how I feel, does it? And your lunch is getting cold."
"What made you bring it? Why didn't you let Mrs. Bower or Beulah?"
"Mrs. Bower is lying down, and Beulah has been ironing all the morning."
"The next time call me, and I'll wait upon myself."
"Perhaps I shall." She surveyed his tray. "I've forgotten the cream for your coffee."
"I don't take cream. Oh, please don't go. I want you to see my books and my other belongings."
He had brought dozens of books, a few pictures, a little gilded Chinese god, a bronze bust of Napoleon.
"Everything has a reason for being dragged around with me. That etching of Helleu's is like my little sister, Mimi, who is at school in a convent, and who constitutes my whole family. The gilded Chinese god is a mascot—the Napoleon intrigues the imagination."
"Do you think so much of Napoleon?" coldly. "He was a little great man. I'd rather talk to my children of George Washington."
"You women have a grudge against him because of Josephine."
"Yes. He killed something in himself when he put her from him. And the world knew it, and his downfall began. He forgot that love is the greatest thing in the world."
How lovely she was, all fire and feeling!
"Jove," he said, staring, "if you could write, you'd make people sit up and listen. You've kept your dreams. That's what the world wants—the stuff that dreams are made of. And most of us have lost ours by the time we know how to put things on paper."
* * * * *
For days the sound of Geoffrey's typewriter could be heard in the hall. "Does it disturb Peggy?" he asked Anne late one night as he met her on the stairs.
"No; her room is too far away. You were so good to send her the lovely toys. She adores the plush pussy cat."
"I like cats. They are coy—and caressing. Dogs are too frankly adoring."
"The eternal masculine." She smiled at him. "Is your work coming on?"
"I have a first chapter. May I read it to you?"
"Please—I should love it."
She was glad to sit quietly by the big fireplace. With eyes half-closed, she listened to the opening sentences. But as he proceeded, her listlessness vanished. And when he laid down the manuscript she was leaning forward, her slim hands clasped tensely on her knees, her eyes wide with interest.
"Oh, oh," she told him, "how do you know it all—how can you make them live and breathe—like that?"
For a moment he did not answer, then he said, "I don't know how I do it. No artist knows how he creates. It is like Life and Death—and other miracles. If I could keep to this pace, I'd have a masterpiece. But I shan't keep to it."
"I never do."
"But this time—with such a beginning."
"Will you be my critic, Mistress Anne? Let me read to you now and then—like this?"
"I am afraid I should spoil you with praise. It all seems so—wonderful."
"You can't spoil me, and I like to be wonderful."
In spite of his egotism, she found herself modifying her first unfavorable estimate of him. His quick eager speech, his mobile mouth, his mop of dark hair, his white restless hands, his long-lashed near-sighted eyes, these contributed a personality which had in it nothing commonplace or conventional.
For three nights he read to her. On the fourth he had nothing to read. "It is the same old story," he burst out passionately. "I see mountain peaks, then, suddenly, darkness falls and my brain is blank."
"Wait a little," she told him; "it will come back."
"But it never comes back. All of my good beginnings flat out toward the end. And that's why I'm pot-boiling, because," bitterly, "I am not big enough for anything else."
"You mustn't say such things. We achieve only as we believe in ourselves. Don't you know that? If you believe that things are going to end badly, they will end badly."
"Oh, wise little school-teacher, how do you know?"
"It is what I teach my children. That they must believe in themselves."
"What else do you teach them?"
"That they must believe in God and love their country, and then nothing can happen to them that they cannot bear. It is only when one loses faith and hope that life doesn't seem worth while."
"And do you believe all that you teach?"
Silence. She was gazing into the fire thoughtfully. "I believe it, but I don't always live up to it. That's the hard part, acting up the things that we believe. I tell my children that, and I tell them, too, that they must always keep on trying."
She was delicious with her theories and her seriousness. And she was charming in the crisp blue gown that had been her uniform since the beginning of Peggy's illness.
He laughed and leaned toward her. "Oh, Mistress Anne, Mistress Anne, how much you have to learn."
She stood up. "Perhaps I know more than you think."
"Are you angry because I said that? But I love your arguments."
His frankness was irresistible; she could not take offense so she sat down again.
"Perhaps," she said, hesitating, "you might understand better how I feel if I told you about my Great-uncle Rodman Warfield. When he was very young he went to Paris to study art, and he attracted much attention. Then after a while he began to find the people interested him more than pictures. You see we come from old Maryland stock. My grandmother, Cynthia Warfield, was one of the proudest women in Carroll. But Uncle Rodman doesn't believe in family pride, not the kind that sticks its nose in the air; and so when he came back to America he resolved to devote his talents to glorifying the humble. He lived among the poor and he painted pictures of them. And then one day there was an accident. He saved a woman from drowning between a ferry-boat and the slip, and he hurt his back. There was a sort of paralysis that affected the nerves of his hand—and he couldn't paint any more. He came to us—when I was a little girl. My father was dead, and mother had a small income. We couldn't afford servants, so mother sewed and Uncle Rod and I did the housework. And it was he who tried to teach me that work is the one royal thing in our lives."
"Where is he now?"
"When mother died our income was cut off, and—I had to leave him. He could have a home with a cousin of ours and teach her children. I might have stayed with her, but there was nothing for me to do. And we felt that it was best for me to—find myself. So I came here. He writes to me—every day——" She drew a long breath. "I don't think I could live without letters from my Uncle Rod."
"So you are really a princess in disguise, and you would love to stick your nose in the air, but you don't quite dare?"
"I shouldn't love to do anything snobbish."
"There is no use in pretending that you are humble when you are not. And your Great-uncle Rodman is a dreamer. Life is what it is, not what we want it to be."
"I like his dreams," she said, simply, "and I want to be as good as he thinks I am."
"You don't have to be too good. You are too pretty. Do you know that Cynthia Warfield's granddaughter is a great beauty, Mistress Anne?"
"I know that I don't like to have you say such things to me."
"I am not sure that you mean them."
"But I do mean them," eagerly.
"Perhaps," stiffly, "but we won't talk about it. I must go up to Peggy."
Peter Bower was with Peggy. He was a round and red-faced Peter with the kindest heart in the world. And Peggy was the apple of his eye.
"Do you think she is better, Miss Anne?"
"Indeed I do. And now you go and get some sleep, Mr. Bower. I'll stay with her until four, and then I'll wake Beulah."
He left her with the daily paper and a new magazine, and with the light shaded, Anne sat down to read. Peggy was sleeping soundly with both arms around the plush pussy which Geoffrey had given her. It was a most lifelike pussy, gray-striped with green glass eyes and with a little red mouth that opened and mewed when you pulled a string. Hung by a ribbon around the pussy cat's neck was a little brass bell. As the child stirred in her sleep the little bell tinkled. There was no sound except the sighing of the wind. All the house was still.
The paper was full of news of the great war. Anne read it carefully, and the articles on the same subject in the magazine. She felt that she must know as much as possible, so that she might speak to her children intelligently of the great conflict. Of Belgium and England, of France and Germany. She must be fair, with all those clear eyes focussed upon her. She must, indeed, attempt a sort of neutrality. But how could she be neutral, with her soul burning candles on the altar of the allies?
As she read on and on in the silence of the night, there came to her the thought of the dead on the field of battle. What of those shining souls? What happened after men went out into the Great Beyond? Hun and Norman, Saxon and Slav, among the shadows were they all at Peace?
Again the child stirred and the little bell tinkled. It seemed to Anne that the bell and the staring eyes were symbolic. The gay world played its foolish music and looked with unseeing eyes upon murder and madness. If little Peggy had lain there dead, the little bell would still have tinkled, the wide green eyes would still have stared.
But Peggy, thank God, was alive. Her face, like old ivory against the whiteness of her pillow, showed the ravages of illness, but the doctor had said she was out of danger.