OLD ROSE AND SILVER
BY MYRTLE REED
The music which appears in the following pages is from an unpublished piano arrangement, by Grant Weber, of Wilson G. Smith's "Entreaty," published by G. Schirmer, New York.
I A FALLING STAR
II WELCOME HOME
III THE VOICE OF THE VIOLIN
IV THE CROSBY TWINS
V AN AFTERNOON CALL
VI THE LIGHT ON THE ALTAR
VII FATHER AND SON
VIII "THE YEAR'S AT THE SPRING"
IX A KNIGHT-ERRANT
XI KEEPING THE FAITH
XII AN ENCHANTED HOUR
XIII WHITE GLOVES
XIV THE THIRTIETH OF JUNE
XV "HOW SHE WILL COME TO ME"
XVI HOW ISABEL CAME
XVIII "LESS THAN THE DUST"
XIX OVER THE BAR
XX RISEN FROM THE DEAD
XXI SAVED—AND LOST
XXII A BIRTHDAY PARTY
XXIII "TEARS, IDLE TEARS"
XXIV THE HOUSE WHERE LOVE LIVED
A FALLING STAR
The last hushed chord died into silence, but the woman lingered, dreaming over the keys. Firelight from the end of the room brought red- gold gleams into the dusky softness of her hair and shadowed her profile upon the opposite wall. No answering flash of jewels met the questioning light—there was only a mellow glow from the necklace of tourmalines, quaintly set, that lay upon the white lace of her gown.
She turned her face toward the fire as a flower seeks the sun, but her deep eyes looked beyond it, into the fires of Life itself. A haunting sense of unfulfilment stirred her to vague resentment, and she sighed as she rose and moved restlessly about the room. She lighted the tall candles that stood upon the mantel-shelf, straightened a rug, moved a chair, and gathered up a handful of fallen rose-petals on her way to the window. She was about to draw down the shade, but, instead, her hand dropped slowly to her side, her fingers unclasped, and the crushed crimson petals fluttered to the floor.
Outside, the purple dusk of Winter twilight lay soft upon the snow. Through an opening in the evergreens the far horizon, grey as mother-of- pearl, bent down to touch the plain in a misty line that was definite yet not clear. At the left were the mountains, cold and calm, veiled by distances dim with frost.
There was a step upon the stair, but the strong, straight figure in white lace did not turn away from the window, even when the door opened. The stillness was broken only by the cheerful crackle of the fire until a sweet voice asked:
"Are you dreaming, Rose?"
Rose turned away from the window then, with a laugh. "Why, I must have been. Will you have this chair, Aunt Francesca?"
She turned a high-backed rocker toward the fire and Madame Bernard leaned back luxuriously, stretching her tiny feet to the blaze. She wore grey satin slippers with high French heels and silver buckles. A bit of grey silk stocking was visible between the buckle and the hem of her grey gown.
Rose smiled at her in affectionate appreciation. The little old lady seemed like a bit of Dresden china; she was so dainty and so frail. Her hair was lustreless, snowy white, and beautifully, though simply, dressed in a bygone fashion. Her blue eyes were so deep in colour as to seem almost purple in certain lights, and the years had been kind to her, leaving few lines. Her hands, resting on the arms of her chair, had not lost their youthful contour, but around her eyes and the corners of her mouth were the faint prints of many smiles.
"Rose," said Madame Bernard, suddenly, "you are very lovely to-night."
"I was thinking the same of you," responded the younger woman, flushing. "Shall we organise ourselves into a mutual admiration society?"
"We might as well, I think. There seems to be nobody else."
A shadow crossed Rose's face and her beauty took on an appealing wistfulness. She had been sheltered always and she hungered for Life as the sheltered often do. Madame Bernard, for the thousandth time, looked at her curiously. From the shapely foot that tapped restlessly on the rug beneath her white lace gown, to the crown of dusky hair with red- gold lights in it, Rose was made for love—and Madame wondered how she had happened to miss it.
"Aunt Francesca," said Rose, with a whimsical sadness, "do you realise that I'm forty to-day?"
"That's nothing," returned the other, serenely. "Everybody has been forty, or will be, if they live."
"I haven't lived yet," Rose objected. "I've only been alive."
"'While there's life there's hope,'" quoted Madame lightly. "What do you want, dear child? Battle, murder, and sudden death?"
"I don't know what I want."
"Let's take an inventory and see if we can find out. You have one priceless blessing—good health. You have considerably more than your share of good looks. Likewise a suitable wardrobe; not many clothes, but few, and those few, good. Clothes are supposed to please and satisfy women. You have musical talent, a love of books and flowers, a fine appreciation of beauty, a host of friends, and that one supreme gift of the gods—a sense of humour. In addition to all this, you have a comfortable home and an income of your own that enables you to do practically as you please. Could you ask for more?"
"Not while I have you, Aunt Francesca. I suppose I'm horrid."
"You couldn't be, my dear. I've left marriage out of the question, since, if you'd had any deep longing for it, you'd have chosen some one from the horde that has infested my house for fifteen years and more. You've surely been loved."
Rose smiled and bit her lip. "I think that's it," she murmured. "I've never cared for anybody—like that. At least, I don't think I have."
"'When in doubt, don't,'" resumed the other, taking refuge in a platitude. "Is there any one of that faithful procession whom you particularly regret?"
"No," answered Rose, truthfully.
"Love is like a vaccination," continued the little lady in grey, with seeming irrelevance. "When it takes, you don't have to be told."
Her tone was light, almost flippant, and Rose, in her turn, wondered at the woman and her marvellous self-control. At twenty-five, Madame Bernard married a young French soldier, who had chosen to serve his adopted country in the War of the Rebellion. In less than three months, her gallant Captain was brought home to her—dead.
For a long time, she hovered uncertainly between life and death. Then, one day, she sat up and asked for a mirror. The ghost of her former self looked back at her, for her colour was gone, her hair was quickly turning grey, and the light had vanished from her eyes. Yet the valiant spirit was not broken, and that day, with high resolve, she sent her soul forward upon the new way.
"He was a soldier," she said, "and I, his wife, will be a soldier too. He faced Death bravely and I shall meet Life with as much courage as God will give me. But do not, oh, do not even speak his name to me, or I shall forget I am a soldier and become a woman again."
So, gradually, it became understood that the young soldier's name was not to be mentioned to his widow. She took up her burden and went on, devoting herself to the army service until the war was over. Then she ceased to labour with lint and bandages and betook herself to new surroundings. Her husband's brother offered her a home, but she was unable to accept, for the two men looked so much alike that she could not have borne it. Sometimes, even now, she turned away in pain from Rose, who resembled her father.
"'Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,'" Madame Bernard was saying. "I seem to run to conversational antiques tonight. 'Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief—' which will you have, Rose? If I remember rightly, you've had all but the thief already. Shall I get you a nice embezzler, or will a plain burglar do?"
"Neither," laughed Rose. "I'm safe from embezzlers, I think, but I live in nightly fear of being burgled, as you well know."
"None the less, we've got to take the risk. Isabel will not be contented with you and me. She'll want other hats on the rack besides the prehistoric relic we keep there as a warning to burglars."
"I'd forgotten Isabel," answered Rose, with a start. "What is she doing?"
"Dressing for dinner. My dear, that child brought three trunks with her and I understand another is coming. She has enough clothes to set up a modest shop, should she desire to 'go into trade' as the English say."
"I'd forgotten Isabel," said Rose, again. "We must find some callow youths to amuse her. A girl of twenty can't appreciate a real man."
"Sometimes a girl of forty can't, either," laughed Madame, with a sly glance at Rose. "Cheer up, my dear—I'm nearing seventy, and I assure you that forty is really very young."
"It's scarcely infantile, but I'll admit that I'm young—comparatively."
"All things are comparative in this world, and perhaps you and Isabel, with your attendant swains, may enable me to forget that I'm no longer young, even comparatively."
The guest came in, somewhat shyly. She was a cousin of Rose's, on the mother's side, and had arrived only that afternoon on a visit.
"Bless us," said Madame Bernard; "how pretty we are! Isabel, you're a credit to the establishment."
Isabel smiled—a little, cool smile. She was almost as tall as Rose and towered far above the little lady in grey who offered her a welcoming hand and invited her to sit by the fire. Isabel's gown was turquoise blue and very becoming, as her hair and eyes were dark and her skin was fair. Her eyes were almost black and very brilliant; they literally sparkled when she allowed herself to become interested in anything.
"I'm not late, am I?" she asked.
"No," answered Rose, glancing at the clock. "It's ten minutes to seven."
"I couldn't find my things. It was like dressing in a dream, when, as soon as you find something you want, you immediately lose everything else."
"I know," laughed Rose. "I had occasion to pack a suit-case myself last night, during my troubled slumbers."
A large yellow cat appeared mysteriously out of the shadows and came, yawning, toward the fire. He sat down on the edge of Madame's grey gown, and blinked.
Isabel drew her skirts away. "I don't like cats," she said.
"There are cats and cats," remarked Madame Bernard in a tone of gentle rebuke. "Mr. Boffin is not an ordinary cat. He is a gentleman and a scholar and he never forgets his manners."
"I've wondered, sometimes," said Rose, "whether he really knows everything, or only pretends that he does. He looks very wise."
"Silence and reserve will give anyone a reputation for wisdom," Madame responded. She bent down to stroke the yellow head, but, though Mr. Boffin gratefully accepted the caress, he did not condescend to purr. Presently he stalked away into the shadows, waving his yellow tail.
"What a lovely room this is," observed Isabel, after a pause.
"It's comfortable," replied Madame. "I couldn't live in an ugly place."
Everything in the room spoke eloquently of good taste, from the deep- toned Eastern rug at the hearth to the pictures upon the grey-green walls. There was not a false note anywhere in the subtle harmony of line, colour, and fabric. It was the sort of room that one comes back to, after long absence, with renewed appreciation.
"I love old mahogany," continued Isabel. "I suppose you've had this a long, long time."
"No, it's new. To me—I mean. I have some beautiful old French mahogany, but I don't use it."
Her voice was very low at the end of the sentence. She compressed her lips tightly and, leaning forward, vigorously poked the fire. A stream of sparks went up the chimney and quick flames leaped to follow.
"Don't set the house on fire, Aunt Francesca," cautioned Rose. "There's the dinner gong."
The three went out, Madame Bernard a little ahead and the two younger women together. Rose sat opposite the head of the table and Isabel was placed at Madame's right. In a single glance, the guest noted that the table was perfectly appointed. "Are you making company of me?" she asked.
"Not at all," smiled Madame. "None the less, there is a clear distinction between eating and dining and we endeavour to dine."
"If Aunt Francesca were on a desert island," said Rose, "I believe she would make a grand affair of her solitary dinner, and have her coffee in the morning before she rolled out of the sand."
The little old lady dimpled with pleasure. "I'd try to," she laughed. "I think I'd—"
She was interrupted by a little exclamation of pleasure from Rose, who had just discovered a small white parcel at her plate. She was untying it with eager fingers, while her colour came and went. A card fluttered out, face upward. "To my dear Rose, with love from Aunt Francesca," was written in a small, quaint hand.
It was a single magnificent ruby set in a ring which exactly fitted. Rose seldom wore rings and wondered, vaguely, how Aunt Francesca knew.
"I filled a finger of one of your gloves," said Madame, as though she had read the thought, "and had it fitted. Simple, wasn't it?"
"Oh," breathed Rose, "it's beautiful beyond words! How shall I ever thank you!"
"Wear it, dear. I'm so glad you're pleased!"
"It's lovely," said Isabel, but the tone was cold and she seemed to speak with an effort. With a swift little stab at the heart, Rose saw that the girl envied her the gift.
"It reconciles me to my years," Rose went on, quickly. "I'm willing to be forty, if I can have a ring like this."
"Why, Cousin Rose!" cried Isabel, in astonishment. "Are you forty?"
"Yes, dear. Don't be conventional and tell me I don't look it, for I feel it—every year."
"I should never have thought it," Isabel murmured.
Rose turned the ring slowly upon her finger and the ruby yielded the deep crimson glow of its heart to the candlelight that softly filled the room. "I've never had a ruby," she said, "and yet I feel, someway, as though I'd always had this. It seems as if it belonged to me."
"That's because it suits you," nodded Madame Bernard. "I hope that sometime our civilisation may reach such a point of advancement that every woman will wear the clothes and jewels that suit her personality, and make her home a proper setting for herself. See how women break their hearts for diamonds—and not one woman in a hundred can wear them."
"Could I wear diamonds?" asked Isabel. She was interested now and her eyes sparkled.
Madame Bernard studied her for a moment before replying. "Yes," she admitted, "you could wear them beautifully, but they do not belong to Rose, or to me."
"What else could I wear?"
"Turquoises, if they were set in silver."
"I have one," Isabel announced with satisfaction. "A lovely big turquoise matrix set in dull silver. But I have no diamonds."
"They'll come," Rose assured her, "if you want them. I think people usually get things if they want them badly enough."
Isabel turned to Madame Bernard. "What stones do you wear?" she inquired, politely.
"Only amethysts," she laughed. "I have a pearl necklace, but it doesn't quite 'belong,' so I don't wear it. I won't wear anything that doesn't 'belong.'"
"How can you tell?"
"By instinct." "I can walk into a shop, look around for a moment, and say: 'please bring me my hat.' The one I ask for is always the right one. It is invariably becoming and suitable, and it's the same with everything else."
"It's a wonderful experience to go shopping with Aunt Francesca," put in Rose. "She knows what she wants and goes straight to it, without loss of time. Utterly regardless of fashion, for its own sake, she always contrives to be in the mode, though I believe that if hoop skirts were suited to her, she'd have the courage of her crinoline, and wear one."
"Let us be thankful they're not," remarked Madame. "It's almost impossible to believe it, but they must have looked well upon some women. Every personality makes its own demand for harmony and it is fascinating to me to observe strange people and plan for them their houses and clothes and belongings. You can pick out, from a crowd, the woman who would have a crayon portrait of herself upon an easel in her parlour, and quite properly, too, since her nature demands it. After you are experienced, you can identify the man who eats sugar and vinegar on lettuce, and group those who keep parrots—or are capable of it."
The seventy years sat lightly upon Madame Francesca now. Her deep eyes shone with inward amusement, and little smiles hovered unexpectedly about the corners of her mouth. A faint pink tint, like a faded rose, bloomed upon her cheeks. Rose watched her with adoring eyes, and wondered whether any man in the world, after fifteen years of close association, could be half so delightful.
Coffee was brought into the living-room, when they went back, preceded by Mr. Boffin, emanating the dignified satisfaction of a cat who has supped daintily upon chicken and cream. He sat down before the fire and methodically washed his face.
"I believe I envy Mr. Boffin his perfect digestion," remarked Madame, as she sipped her coffee from a Royal Canton cup. She and Rose stood for half an hour after dinner, always.
Isabel finished her coffee and set the cup upon the table. She slipped the Sheffield tray from under the embroidered doily and took it to the light, where she leaned over it, studying the design. Rose thought that the light from the tray was reflected upon the girl's face, she became at once so brilliant, so sparkling.
"Speaking of harmony—" said Madame Bernard, in a low tone, glancing at Rose and inclining her head toward Isabel.
"Yes," replied Isabel, returning the tray to its place; "it is a lovely one, isn't it?"
Madame turned toward the window to hide a smile. Rose followed, and drew the little grey lady into the circle of her strong arm.
"Dear Aunt Francesca!" she said softly. "I thank you so much!"
The older woman patted the hand that wore the ruby, then turned to Isabel. "Come," she said, "and be glad you're indoors."
The three women stood at the wide window, looking out across the snow, lighted only by the stars and a ghostly crescent of moon. The evergreens were huddled closely together as though they kept each other warm. Beyond, the mountains brooded in their eternal sleep, which riving lightnings and vast, reverberating thunders were powerless to change.
Suddenly, across the purple darkness between the pale stars, flamed a meteor—an uncharted voyager through infinite seas of space. It left a trail of fire across the heavens, fading at last into luminous mist, the colour of the stars. When the light had quite died out, Madame Bernard spoke.
"A passing soul," she sighed.
"A kiss," breathed Rose, dreamily.
"Star-dust!" laughed Isabel.
"Great news, my dears, great news!" cried Madame Bernard, gaily waving an open letter as she came into the room where Rose was sewing and Isabel experimenting with a new coiffure. "I'll give you three guesses!"
"Somebody coming for a visit?" asked Isabel.
"Somebody coming, but not for a visit?" queried Rose.
"You're getting warmer."
"How can anybody come, if not for a visit?" inquired Isabel, mildly perplexed. "That is, unless it's a messenger?"
"The old Kent house is to be opened," said Madame, "and we're to open it. At last we shall have neighbours!"
"How exciting," Rose answered. She did not wholly share the old lady's pleasure, and wondered with a guilty consciousness of the long hours she spent at her music, whether Aunt Francesca had been lonely.
"Listen, girls!" Madame's cheeks were pink with excitement as she sat down with the letter, which had been written in Paris.
"MY DEAR MADAME FRANCESCA:
"'At last we are coming home—Allison and I. The boy has a fancy to see Spring come again on his native heath, so we shall sail earlier than we had otherwise planned.
"'I wonder, my dear friend, if I dare ask you to open the house for us? I am so tired of hotels that I want to go straight back. You have the keys and if you will engage the proper number of servants and see that the place is made habitable, I shall be more than ever your debtor. I will cable you when we start.
"'Trusting that all is well with you and yours and with many thanks, believe me, my dear Madame,
"'Most faithfully yours,
"How like a man," smiled Rose. "That house has been closed for over ten years, and he thinks there is nothing to be done but to unlock the front door and engage two or three servants who may or may not be trustworthy."
"What an imposition!" Isabel said. "Aunt Francesca, didn't I meet Allison Kent when I was here before?"
"Don't you remember? Mother brought me here once when I was a little tot. We stayed about a week and the roses were all in bloom. I can see the garden now. Allison used to come over sometimes and tell me fairy stories. He told me that the long, slender gold-trimmed bottles filled with attar of roses came from the roots of the rose bushes—don't you remember? And I pulled up rose bushes all over the garden to find out."
"Dear me, yes," smiled Aunt Francesca. "How time does fly!"
"You were very cross with Allison—that is, as cross as you ever could be. It seemed so queer for you to be angry at him and not at me, for I pulled up the bushes."
"You were sufficiently punished, Isabel. I believe the thorns hurt your little hands, didn't they?"
"They certainly did," responded the girl, with a little shudder at the recollection. "I have a scar still. That was—let me see—why, it was fifteen years ago!"
"Just before I came to live with Aunt Francesca," said Rose. "You and your mother went away the same day."
"Yes, we went in the morning," Isabel continued, "and you were to come in the afternoon. I remember pleading with my mother to let me stay long enough to see 'Cousin Wose.'"
"Fifteen years!" Madame repeated. "Allison went abroad, then, to study the violin, and the house has been open only once since. Richard came back for a Summer, to attend to some business, then returned to Europe. How the time goes by!"
The letter fell to the floor and Francesca sat dreaming over the interlude of years. Colonel Kent had been her husband's best friend, and after the pitiless sword had cleaved her life asunder, had become hers. At forty the Colonel had married a young and beautiful girl. A year later Francesca had gone to him with streaming eyes, carrying his new- born son in her arms, to tell him that his wife was dead.
Drawn together by sorrow, the two had been as dear to each other as friends may be but seldom are. Though childless herself, Francesca had some of the gifts of motherhood, and, at every step, she had aided and counselled the Colonel in regard to his son, who had his mother's eyes and bore his mother's name. Discerning the boy's talent, long before his father suspected it, she had chosen the violin for him rather than the piano, and had herself urged the Colonel to take him abroad for study though the thought of separation caused her many a pang.
When the two sailed away, Francesca had found her heart strangely empty; her busy hands strangely idle. But Life had taught her one great lesson, and when one door of her heart was closed, she opened another, as quickly as possible. So she sent for Rose, who was alone in the world, and, for fifteen years, the two women had lived happily together.
As she sat there, thinking, some of her gay courage failed her. For the moment her mask was off, and in the merciless sunlight, she looked old and worn. Rose, looking at her with tender pity, marvelled at the ignorance of man, in asking a frail little old lady to open and make habitable, in less than a fortnight, a house of fifteen large rooms.
"Aunt Francesca," she said, "let me open the house. Tell me what you want done, and Isabel and I will see to it."
"Certainly," agreed Isabel without enthusiasm. "We'll do it."
"No," Madame replied stubbornly. "He asked me to do it."
"He only meant for you to direct," said Rose. "You surely don't think he meant you to do the scrubbing?"
Madame smiled at that, and yielded gracefully. "There must be infinite scrubbing, after all these years. I believe I'll superintend operations from here. Then, when it's all done, I'll go over and welcome them home."
"That is as it should be. Isabel and I will go over this afternoon, and when we come back, we can tell you all about it."
"You'd better drive—I'm sure the paths aren't broken."
So, after luncheon, the two started out with the keys, Madame waving them a cheery good-bye from the window.
"Everything about this place seems queer to me," said Isabel. "It's the same, and yet not the same."
"I know," Rose answered. "Things are much smaller, aren't they?"
"Yes. The rooms used to be vast and the ceilings very far away. Now, they're merely large rooms with the ceilings comfortably high. The garden used to seem like a huge park, but now it's only a large garden. There used to be a great many steps in the stairway, and high ones at that. Now it's nothing compared with other flights. Only Aunt Francesca remains the same. She hasn't changed at all."
"She's a saint," said Rose with deep conviction, as the carriage turned into the driveway.
The house, set far back from the street, was of the true Colonial type, with stately white pillars at the dignified entrance. The garden was a tangled mass of undergrowth—in spite of the snow one could see that— but the house, being substantially built, had changed scarcely at all.
"A new coat of paint will freshen it up amazingly," said Rose, as they went up the steps. She was thrilled with a mysterious sense of adventure which the younger woman did not share. "I feel like a burglar," she continued, putting the key into the rusty lock.
"I feel cold," remarked Isabel, shivering in her furs.
At last the wide door swung on its creaking hinges and they went into the loneliness and misery of an empty house. The dust of ages had settled upon everything and penetrated every nook and cranny. The floors groaned dismally, and the scurrying feet of mice echoed through the walls. Cobwebs draped the windows, where the secret spinners had held high carnival, undisturbed. An indescribable musty odour almost stifled them and the chill dampness carried with it a sense of gloom and foreboding.
"My goodness!" Isabel exclaimed. "Nobody can ever live here again."
"Don't be discouraged," laughed Rose. "Soap, water, sunshine, and fire can accomplish miracles."
At the end of the hall a black, empty fireplace yawned cavernously. There was another in the living-room and still another in the library back of it. Isabel opened the door on the left. "Why, there's another fireplace in the dining-room," she said. "Do you suppose they have one in the kitchen, too?"
"Go in and see, if you like."
"I'm afraid to go alone. You come, too."
There was no fireplace in the kitchen, but the rusty range was sadly in need of repair.
"I'm going down cellar," Rose said. "Are you coming?"
"I should say not. Hurry back, won't you?"
Rose went cautiously down the dark, narrow stairway. The light was dim in the basement but she could see that there was no coal. She went back and forth several times from bin to window, making notes in a small memorandum book. She was quite determined that Aunt Francesca should be able to find no fault with her housekeeping.
When she went back, there were no signs of Isabel. She went from room to room, calling, then concluded that she had gone back to the carriage, which was waiting outside.
Rose took measurements for new curtains in all the rooms on the lower floor, then climbed the creaking stairway. She came upon Isabel in the sitting-room, upstairs, standing absorbed before an open desk. In her hand she held something which gleamed brightly, even in the gathering shadow.
"Isabel!" she cried, in astonishment.
The girl turned and came forward. Her eyes were sparkling. "Look! There's a secret drawer in the desk and I found this in it. I love secret drawers, don't you?"
"I never have looked for them in other people's houses," Rose answered, coldly.
"I never have either," retorted Isabel, "except when I've been invited to clean other people's houses."
There was something so incongruous in the idea of Isabel cleaning a house that Rose laughed and the awkward moment quickly passed.
"Look," said Isabel, again.
Rose took it from her hand—a lovely miniature framed in brilliants. A sweet, old-fashioned face was pictured upon the ivory in delicate colours—that of a girl in her early twenties, with her smooth, dark hair drawn back over her ears. A scarf of real lace was exquisitely painted upon the dark background of her gown. The longing eyes held Rose transfixed for an instant before she noted the wistful, childish droop of the mouth. The girl who had posed for the miniature, if she had been truthfully portrayed, had not had all that she asked from life.
"Look at this," Isabel continued.
She offered Rose a bit of knitting work, from which the dust of years fell lightly. It had once been white, and the needles were still there, grey and spotted with rust. Rose guessed that the bit had been intended for a baby's shoe, but never finished. The little shoe had waited, all those years, for hands that never came back from the agony in which they wrung themselves to death in the room beyond.
The infinite pity of it stirred Rose to quick tears, but Isabel was unmoved. "Here's something else," she said.
She shook the dust from an old-fashioned daguerreotype case, then opened it. On the left side was a young soldier in uniform, full length—a dashing, handsome figure with one hand upon a drawn sword. Printed in faded gilt upon the dusty red satin that made up the other half of the case, the words were still distinct: "To Colonel Richard Kent, from his friend, Jean Bernard."
"Jean Bernard!" Isabel repeated, curiously. "Who was he?"
"Aunt Francesca's husband," answered Rose, with a little catch in her voice, "and my uncle. He died in the War."
"Oh," said Isabel, unmoved. "He was nice looking, wasn't he? Shall we take this to Aunt Francesca?"
"You forget that it isn't ours to take," Rose reminded her. "And, by the way, Isabel, you must never speak to Aunt Francesca of her husband. She cannot bear it."
"All right," assented the girl. "What is this?"
From the back of the drawer she took out a bronze medal, with a faded ribbon of red, white, and blue attached to it. She took it to the light, rubbed it with her handkerchief, and slowly made out the words: "Awarded to Colonel Richard Kent, for conspicuous bravery in action at Gettysburg."
"Put the things back," Rose suggested, gently. This tiny, secret drawer, Colonel Kent's holy of holies, symbolised and epitomised the best of a man's life. The medal for military service, the miniature of his wife, the picture of his friend, and the bit of knitting work that comprehended a world of love and anguish and bereavement—these were the hidden chambers of his heart.
Isabel took up the miniature again before she closed the drawer. "Do you suppose those are diamonds?"
"No; only brilliants."
"I thought so. If they'd been diamonds, he would never have left them here."
"On the contrary," answered Rose, "I'm very sure he would." She had met Colonel Kent only a few times, years ago, during the Summer he had spent at home while Allison was still abroad, but she knew him now, nevertheless.
They went on through the house, making notes of what was needed, while their footsteps echoed and re-echoed through the empty rooms. "I'm glad there are no carpets, except on the stairs," said Rose, "for rugs are much easier to clean. It resolves itself simply into three C's—coal, curtains, and cleaning. It won't take long, if we can get enough people to work at it."
It was almost dusk when they went downstairs, but the cold slanting sunbeams of a Winter afternoon came through the grimy windows and illumined the gloomy depths of the open fireplace in the hall. Motes danced in the beam, and the house somehow seemed less despairing, less alone. A portrait of Colonel Kent, in uniform, hung above the great mantel. Rose smiled at it with comprehension, but the painted lips did not answer, nor the unseeing eyes swerve from their steady searching of Beyond.
"How was it?" asked Madame, when they reached home. "Dirty and bad?"
"Rather soiled," admitted Rose.
"And colder than Greenland," Isabel continued, warming her hands at the open fire.
"We'll soon change all that," Madame said. "I've ordered coal and engaged people to do the cleaning since you've been gone, and I have my eye upon two permanent retainers, provided their references are satisfactory."
"I've measured for all the curtains," Rose went on. "Shall we make them or buy them?"
"We'll make them. If we have help enough we can get them done in time."
The following day a small army, with Rose at the head of it, took possession of the house. Every night she came home exhausted, not from actual toil, but from the effort to instill the pride of good service into unwilling workers who seemed to rejoice in ignorance.
"I'm tired," Rose remarked, one night. "I've cerebrated all day for seven bodies besides my own and I find it wearing."
"I don't wonder," answered Madame. "I'll go over to-morrow and let you rest."
"Indeed you won't," declared Rose, with emphasis. "I've begun it and I'm going to finish it unless the Seven Weary Workers fail me absolutely."
At last the task was completed, and even Rose could find no speck of dust in the entire establishment. The house was fresh with the smell of soap-suds and floor wax and so warm that several windows had to be kept open. The cablegram had come while the curtains were being made, but everything was ready two days before the wayfarers could possibly reach home.
On the appointed day, Rose and Isabel were almost as excited as Madame Bernard herself. She had chosen to go over alone to greet the Colonel and his son. They were expected to arrive about four in the afternoon.
At three, Madame set forth in her carriage. She wore her best gown, of lavender crepe, trimmed with real lace, and a bunch of heliotrope at her belt. Rose had twined a few sprays of heliotrope into her snowy hair and a large amethyst cross hung from her neck by a slender silver chain. She wore no other jewels except her wedding ring.
Fires blazed cheerily in every fireplace on the lower floor, and there was another in the sitting-room upstairs. She had filled the house with the flowers of Spring—violets, daffodils, and lilies of the valley. A silver tea-kettle with a lamp under it waited on the library table.
When she heard the wheels creaking in the snowy road, Madame lighted the lamp under the kettle with her own hands, then opened the door wide. Followed by their baggage, the two men came up the walk—father and son.
The Colonel was a little older, possibly, but still straight and tall— almost as tall as the son who walked beside him, carrying a violin case under his arm. He wore the familiar slouch hat, the same loose overcoat, and the same silvery goatee, trimmed most carefully. His blue eyes lighted up warmly at the sight of the figure in the doorway.
"Welcome home!" cried Madame Francesca, stretching a hand toward each. "Welcome home!"
Allison only smiled, taking the little hand in his strong young clasp, but his father bent, hat in hand, to kiss the one she offered him.
"Oh," cried Madame, "I'm so glad to see you both. Come in!"
They entered their own hospitable house, where fires blazed and the kettle sang. "Say," said Allison, "isn't this great! Why did we ever leave it? Isn't it fine, Father?"
But "father" still had his eyes upon the dainty little lady who had brought forth the miracle of home from a wilderness of dust and ashes. He bent again over the small, white hand.
"A woman, a fire, and a singing kettle," he said. "All the dear, familiar spirits of the house to welcome us home."
THE VOICE OF THE VIOLIN
Madame Bernard and Isabel had not yet come down when Rose entered the living-room, half an hour before dinner. The candles were lighted, and in the soft glow of the reading lamp was a vase of pink roses, sent by Colonel Kent to his old friend. The delicate sweetness filled the room and mingled with the faint scent of attar of roses and dried rose petals which, as always, hung about the woman who stood by the table, idly rearranging the flowers.
The ruby ring caught the light and sent tiny crimson gleams dancing into the far shadows. Her crepe gown was almost the colour of the ruby; warm and blood-red. It was cut low at the throat, and an old Oriental necklace of wonderfully wrought gold was the only ornament she wore, aside from the ring. The low light gave the colour of the gown back to her face, beautiful as always, and in her dusky hair she had a single crimson rose.
Aunt Francesca had said that the Colonel was very much pleased with the house and glad to be at home again. She had sent over her own cook to prepare their first dinner, which, however, she had declined to share, contenting herself with ordering a feast suited to the Colonel's taste. To-night, they were to dine with her and meet the other members of her household.
Madame came in gowned in lustreless white, with heliotrope at her belt and in her hair. She wore a quaintly wrought necklace of amethysts set in silver, and silver buckles, set with amethysts, on her white shoes. More than once Rose had laughingly accused her of being vain of her feet.
"Why shouldn't I be vain?" she had retorted, in self-defence. "Aren't they pretty?"
"Of course they are," smiled Rose, bending down to kiss her. "They're the prettiest little feet in all the world."
Madame's fancy ran seriously to shoes and stockings, of which she had a marvellous collection. Silk stockings in grey and white, and in all shades of lavender and purple, embroidered and plain, with shoes to match in satin and suede, occupied a goodly space in her wardrobe. At Christmas-time and on her birthday, Rose always gave her more, for it was the one gift which could never fail to please.
"How lovely the house is," said Madame, looking around appreciatively. "I hope the dinner will be good."
"I've never known it to be otherwise," Rose assured her.
"Am I all right? Is my skirt even?"
"You are absolutely perfect, Aunt Francesca."
"Then play to me, my dear. If my outward semblance is in keeping, please put my mind into a holiday mood."
Rose ran her fingers lightly over the keys. "What shall I play?"
"Anything with a tune to it, and not too loud."
Smiling, Rose began one of the simple melodies that Aunt Francesca loved:
Suddenly, she turned away from the piano. Her elbow, falling upon the keys, made a harsh dissonance. "Isabel, my dear!" she cried. "Aren't you almost too gorgeous?"
The girl stood in the open door, framed like a portrait, against the dull red background of the hall. Her gown was white net, shot and spangled with silver, over lustrous white silk. A comb, of filagree silver, strikingly lovely in her dark hair, was her only ornament except a large turquoise, set in dull silver, at her throat.
"I'm not overdressed, am I?" she asked, with an eager look at Madame.
"Not if it suits you. Come here, dear."
Isabel obeyed, turning around slowly for inspection. Almost instantly it was evident that Madame approved. So did Rose, after she saw how the gown made Isabel's eyes sparkle and brought out the delicate fairness of her skin.
"You do suit yourself; there's no question about that, but you're gorgeous, nevertheless." Thus Rose made atonement for her first impulsive speech.
Mr. Boffin came in, with a blue ribbon around his neck, and helped himself to Aunt Francesca's chair. Isabel rocked him and he got down, without undue haste. He marched over to a straight-backed chair with a cushion in it; glared at Isabel for a moment with his inscrutable topaz eyes, then began to purr.
The clock chimed seven silvery notes. Madame Bernard waved her white lace fan impatiently. "It's the psychological moment," Rose observed. "Why don't they come?"
"It's Allison's fault, if they're late," Madame assured her. "I could always set my watch by the Colonel. He—there, what did I tell you?" she concluded triumphantly, as footsteps sounded outside.
When the guests were ushered in, Madame advanced to meet them. The firelight had brought a rosy glow to her lovely face, and her deep eyes smiled. Allison put his violin case in a corner before he spoke to her.
"Did you really?" asked Madame. "How kind you are!"
"I brought it," laughed the young man, "just because you didn't ask me to."
"Do you always," queried Rose, after he had been duly presented to her, "do the things you're not asked to do?"
"Invariably," he replied.
"Allison," said Madame, "I want you to meet my niece once removed—Miss Ross." The Colonel had already bowed to Isabel and was renewing his old acquaintance with Rose.
"Not Isabel," said Allison, in astonishment.
"Yes," answered the girl, her eyes sparkling with excitement, "it's Isabel."
"Why, little playmate, how did you ever dare to grow up?"
"I had nothing else to do." "But I didn't want you to grow up," he objected.
"You've grown up some yourself," she retorted.
"I suppose I have," he sighed. "What a pity that the clock won't stand still!"
Yet, to Madame, he did not seem to have changed much. He was taller, and more mature in every way, of course. She noted with satisfaction that he had gained control of his hands and feet, but he had the same boyish face, the same square, well-moulded chin, and the same nice brown eyes. Only his slender, nervous hands betrayed the violinist.
"Well, are you pleased with me?" he asked of Madame, his eyes twinkling.
"Yes," she answered with a faint flush. "If you had worn long hair and a velvet collar, I should never have forgiven you."
Colonel Kent laughed outright. "I should never have dared to bring him back to you, Francesca, if he had fallen so low. We're Americans, and please God, we'll stay Americans, won't we, lad?"
"You bet," answered Allison, boyishly, going over to salute Mr. Boffin. "'But in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations, I'm an Am- er-i-can,'" he sang, under his breath. Through the mysterious workings of some sixth sense, Mr. Boffin perceived approaching trouble and made a hurried escape.
"Will you look at that?" asked Allison, with a hearty laugh. "I hadn't even touched him and he became suspicious of me."
"As I remember," Madame said, "my cats never got on very well with you."
"I don't like them either," put in Isabel.
"I like 'em," Allison said. "I like 'em a whole lot, but it isn't mutual, and I never could understand why."
At dinner, it seemed as though they all talked at once. Madame and the Colonel had a separate conversation of their own, while Allison "reminisced" with Isabel, as he said, and asked numerous questions of Rose in regard to the neighbours.
"Please tell me," he said, "what has become of the Crosby twins?"
"They're flourishing," Rose answered.
"You don't mean it! What little devils they were!"
"Are," corrected Rose.
"Who are the Crosby twins?" inquired Isabel.
"They'll probably call on you," Rose replied, "so I won't spoil it by endeavouring to describe them. The language fails to do them justice."
"What were their names?" mused Allison. "Let me see. Oh, yes, Romeo and Juliet."
"'Romie' and 'Jule' by affectionate abbreviation, to each other," Rose added. Did you know that an uncle died in Australia and left them a small fortune ?"
"No, I didn't. What are they doing with it?"
"Do you remember, when you were a child, how you used to plan what you'd do with unlimited wealth?"
"Well," Rose resumed, "that's just what they're doing with it. They have only the income now, but this Fall, when they're twenty-one, they'll come into possession of the principal. I prophesy bankruptcy in five years."
"Even so," he smiled, "they'll doubtless have pleasant memories."
"What satisfaction do you think there will be in that?" queried Isabel.
"I can't answer just now," Allison replied, "but the minute I'm bankrupt, I'll come and tell you. It's likely to happen to me at any time."
Meanwhile Colonel Kent was expressing the pleasure he had found in his well-appointed household. "Was it very much trouble, Francesca?"
"None at all—to me."
"You always were wonderful."
"You see," she smiled, "I didn't do it. Rose did everything. I merely went over at the last to arrange the flowers, make the tea, and receive the credit."
"And to welcome us home," he added. "They say a fireplace is the heart of a house, but I think a woman is the soul of it."
"Then the soul of it was there, waiting, wasn't it?"
"But only for a little while," he sighed. "I am very lonely sometimes, in spite of the boy."
Francesca's blue eyes became misty. "When a door in your heart is closed," she said, "turn the key and go away. Opening it only brings pain."
"I know," he answered, clearing his throat. "You've told me that before and I've often thought of it. Yet sometimes it seems as though all of life was behind that door."
"Ah, but it isn't. Your son and at least one true friend are outside. Listen!"
"No," Allison was saying, "I got well acquainted with surprisingly few people over there. You see, I always chummed with Dad."
"Bless him," said Francesca, impulsively.
"Have I done well?" asked the Colonel, anxiously. "It was hard work, alone."
"Indeed you have done well. I hear that he is a great artist."
"He's more than that—he's a man. He's clean and a good shot, and he isn't afraid of anything. Someway, to me, a man who played the fiddle always seemed, well—lady-like, you know. But Allison isn't."
"No," answered Francesca, demurely, "he isn't. Do I infer that it is a disgrace to be ladylike?"
"Not for a woman," laughed the Colonel. "Why do you pretend to misunderstand me? You always know what I mean."
After dinner, when the coffee had been served, Allison took out his violin, of his own accord. "You haven't asked me to play, but I'm going to. Who is going to play my accompaniment? Don't all speak at once."
Rose went to the piano and looked over his music. "I'll try. Fortunately I'm familiar with some of this."
His first notes came with a clearness and authority for which she was wholly unprepared. She followed the accompaniment almost perfectly, but mechanically, lost as she was in the wonder and delight of his playing. The exquisite harmony seemed to be the inmost soul of the violin, speaking at last, through forgotten ages, of things made with the world —Love and Death and Parting. Above it and through it hovered a spirit of longing, infinite and untranslatable, yet clear as some high call.
Subtly, Rose answered to it. In some mysterious way, she seemed set free from bondage. Unsuspected fetters loosened; she had a sense of largeness, of freedom which she had never known before. She was quivering in an ecstasy of emotion when the last chord came.
For an instant there was silence, then Isabel spoke. "How well you play!" she said politely.
"I ought to," Allison replied, modestly. "I've worked hard enough."
"How long have you been studying?"
"Thirty years," he answered. "That is, I feel as if I had been at work all my life."
"How funny!" exclaimed Isabel. "Are you thirty?"
"Just," he said.
"Then Cousin Rose and I are like steps, with you half way between us. I'm twenty and she's forty," smiled Isabel, with childlike frankness.
Rose bit her lips, then the colour flamed into her face. "Yes," she said, to break an awkward pause, "I'm forty. Old Rose," she added, with a forced smile.
"Nonsense," said Allison quickly. "How can a rose be old?"
"Or," continued the Colonel, with an air of old-world gallantry, "how can earth itself be any older, having borne so fair a rose upon its breast for forty years?"
"Thank you both," responded Rose, her high colour receding. "Shall we play again?"
While they were turning over the music Madame grappled with a temptation to rebuke Isabel then and there. "Not fit for a parlour yet," she thought. "Ought to be in the nursery on a bread and milk diet and put to bed at six."
For her part, Isabel dimly discerned that she had said something awkward, and felt vaguely uncomfortable. She was sorry if she had made a social mistake and determined to apologise afterward, though she disliked apologies.
Allison was playing again, differently, yet in the same way. Through the violin sounded the same high call to Rose. Life assumed a new breadth and value, as from a newly discovered dimension. She had been in it, yet not of it, until now. She was merged insensibly with something vast and universal, finite yet infinite, unknown and undreamed-of an hour ago.
She was quite pale when they finished. "You're tired," he said. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not," she denied, vigorously.
"But you are," he insisted. "Don't you suppose I can see?" His eyes met hers for the moment, clearly, and, once more, she answered an unspoken summons in some silent way. The room turned slowly before her; their faces became white spots in a mist.
"You play well," Allison was saying. "I wish you'd let me work with you."
"I'll be glad to," Rose answered, with lips that scarcely moved.
"Will you help me work up my programs for next season?"
"Indeed I will. Don't stop now, please—really, I'm not tired."
While she was still protesting, he led her away from the piano to an easy chair. "Sit there," he said, "and I'll do the work. Those accompaniments are heavy."
He went back to his violin, tightened a string, and began to play, alone. The melody was as delicate in structure as the instrument itself, yet strangely full of longing. Slowly the violin gave back the music of which it was made; the wind in the forest, the sound of many waters, moonlight shimmering through green aisles of forest, the mating calls of Spring. And again, through it all, surged some great question to which Rose thrilled in unspoken answer; a great prayer, which, in some secret way, she shared.
It came to an end at last when she felt that she could bear no more. "What is it?" she forced herself to ask.
"I haven't named it," he replied, putting down his violin.
"Of course. Why not?"
Isabel came to the piano and took up the violin. "May I look at it?"
She stroked the brown breasts curiously and twanged the strings as though it were a banjo. "What make is it?"
"Cremona. Dad gave it to me for Christmas, a long time ago. It belonged to an old man who died of a broken heart."
"What broke his heart?" queried Isabel, carelessly.
"One of his hands was hurt in some way, and he could play no more."
"Not much to die of," Isabel suggested, practically.
"Ah, but you don't know," he answered, shaking his head.
Francesca had leaned forward and was speaking to Colonel Kent in a low tone. "I think that somewhere, in the House not Made with Hands, there is a young and lovely mother who is very proud of her boy to-night."
The Colonel's fine face took on an unwonted tenderness. "I hope so. She left me a sacred trust."
Francesca crossed the room, drew the young man's tall head down, and kissed him. "Well done, dear foster-child. Your adopted mother, once removed, is fully satisfied with you, and very much pleased with herself, being, vicariously, the parent of a great artist."
"I hope you don't consider me 'raised,'" replied Allison. "You're not going to stop 'mothering' me, are you?"
"I couldn't," was her smiling assurance. "I've got the habit."
He seemed very young as he looked down at her. Woman-like she loved him, through the man that he was, for the child that he had been.
"Come, lad," the Colonel suggested, "it's getting late and we want to be invited again."
Allison closed his violin case with a snap, said good-night to Aunt Francesca, then went over to Rose. "I don't feel like calling you 'Miss Bernard," he said. "Mayn't I say 'Cousin Rose,' as we rejoice in the possession of the same Aunt?"
"Surely," she answered, colouring faintly.
"Then good-night, Cousin Rose. I'll see you soon again, and we'll begin work. Your days of leisure are over now."
Isabel offered him a small, cool hand. Her eyes were brilliant, brought out by the sparkling silver of her gown. She glittered even in the low light of the room. "Good-night, Silver Girl," he said. "You haven't really grown up after all."
When the door closed, Rose gathered up the music he had forgotten, and put it away. Isabel came to her contritely. "Cousin Rose, I'm so sorry I said that! I didn't think!"
"Don't bother about it," Rose replied, kindly. "It was nothing at all, and, besides, it's true."
"'Tell the truth and shame the—family,'" misquoted Madame Bernard. "Age and false hair are not things to be flaunted, Isabel, remember that."
Isabel flushed at the rebuke, and her cheeks were still burning when she went to her room.
"I don't care," she said to herself, with a swift change of mood. "I'm glad I told him. They'd never have done it, and it's just as well for him to know."
Madame Bernard and Rose soon followed her example, but Rose could not sleep. Through the night the voice of the violin sounded through her consciousness, calling, calling, calling—heedless of the answer that thrilled her to the depths of her soul.
THE CROSBY TWINS
The Crosby twins were making a formal call upon Isabel. They had been skating and still carried their skates, but Juliet wore white gloves and had pinned her unruly hair into some semblance of order while they waited at the door. She wore a red tam-o'-shanter on her brown curls and a white sweater under her dark green skating costume, which was short enough to show the heavy little boots, just now filling the room with the unpleasant odour of damp leather.
"Won't you take off your coat?" asked Isabel. "You'll catch cold when you go out, if you don't take it off."
"Thanks," responded Juliet, somewhat stiffly. Then she stretched out both hands to her hostess, laughing as she did so. "Look!" The sweater sleeves had crept up to her elbows, displaying several inches of bare, red arm between the sleeves and the short white gloves.
"That's just like us," remarked Romeo. "If we try to be elegant, something always happens."
The twins looked very much alike. They were quite tall and still retained the dear awkwardness of youth, in spite of the near approach of their twenty-first birthday. They had light brown curly hair, frank blue eyes that met the world with interest and delight, well-shaped mouths, not too small, and stubborn little chins. A high colour bloomed on their cheeks and they fairly radiated the joy of living.
"Can you skate?" inquired Romeo.
"No," smiled Isabel.
"Juliet can. She can skate as far as I can, and almost as fast."
"Romie taught me," observed Juliet, with becoming modesty.
"Do you play hockey? No, of course you don't, if you don't skate," he went on, answering his own question. "Can you swim?"
"No," responded Isabel, sweetly.
"Jule's a fine swimmer. She saved a man's life once, two Summers ago."
"Romie taught me," said Juliet, beaming at her brother.
"Can you row?" he asked, politely.
"No," replied Isabel, shortly. "I'm afraid of the water."
"Juliet can row. She won the women's canoe race in the regatta last Summer. The prize was twenty-five dollars in gold."
"Romie taught me," put in Juliet.
"We'll teach you this Summer," said Romeo, with a frank, boyish smile that showed his white teeth.
"Thank you," responded Isabel, inwardly vowing that they wouldn't.
"Juliet can do most everything I can," went on Romeo, with the teacher's pardonable pride in his pupil. "She can climb a tree in her knickers, and fish and skate and row and swim and fence, and play golf and tennis, and shoot, and dive from a spring board, and she can ride anything that has four legs."
"Romeo taught me," chanted Juliet, in a voice surprisingly like his own.
There was an awkward pause, then Romeo turned to his hostess. "What can you do?" he asked, meaning to be deferential. Isabel thought she detected a faint trace of sarcasm, so her answer was rather tart.
"I don't do many of the things that men do," she said, "but I speak French and German, I can sing and play a little, sew and embroider, and trim hats if I want to, and paint on china, and do two fancy dances. And when I go back home, I'm going to learn to run an automobile."
The twins looked at each other. "We never thought of it," said Juliet, much crestfallen.
"Wonder how much they cost," remarked Romeo, thoughtfully.
"Where can you buy 'em?" Juliet inquired. "Anywhere in town?"
"I suppose so," Isabel assented. "Why?"
"Why?" they repeated together. "We're going to buy one and learn to run it!"
"You must have lots of money," said Isabel, enviously.
"Loads," replied Romeo, with the air of a plutocrat. "More than we can spend."
"We get our income the first day of every month," explained Juliet, "and put it into the bank, but when the next check comes, there's always some left." They seemed to consider it a mild personal disgrace.
"Why don't you save it?" queried Isabel.
"What for?" Romeo demanded, curiously.
"Why, so you'll have it if you ever need it."
"It keeps right on coming," Juliet explained, pulling down her sweater. "Uncle died in Australia and left it to us. He died on the thirtieth of June, and we always celebrate."
"Why don't you celebrate his birthday?" suggested Isabel, "instead of the day he died?"
"His birthday was no good to us," replied Romeo, "but his death-day was."
"But if he hadn't been born, he couldn't have died," Isabel objected, more or less logically.
"And if he hadn't died, his being born wouldn't have helped us any," replied Juliet, with a dazzling smile.
There was another pause. "Will you have some tea?" asked Isabel.
"With rum in it?" queried Juliet.
"I don't think so," said Isabel, doubtfully. "Aunt Francesca never does."
"We don't, either," Romeo explained, "except when it's very cold, and then only a teaspoonful."
"The doctor said we didn't need stimulants. What was it he said we needed, Romie?"
"Yes, that was it—sedatives. I looked it up in the dictionary. It means to calm, or to moderate. I think he got the word wrong himself, for we don't need to be calmed, or moderated, do we, Romie?"
"I should say not!"
The twins sipped their tea in silence and nibbled daintily at wafers from the cracker jar. Then, feeling that their visit was over, they rose with one accord.
"We've had a dandy time," said Juliet, crushing Isabel's hand in hers.
"Bully," supplemented Romeo. "Come and see us."
"I will," Isabel responded, weakly. "How do you get there?"
"Just walk up the main road and turn to the left. It's about three miles."
"Three miles!" gasped Isabel. "I'll drive out."
"Just so you come," Romeo said, graciously. "It's an awful old place. You'll know it by the chimney being blown over and some of the bricks lying on the roof. Good-bye."
Juliet turned to wave her hand at Isabel as they banged the gate, and Romeo awkwardly doffed his cap. Their hostess went up-stairs with a sigh of relief. She had the sensation of having quickly closed a window upon a brisk March wind.
The twins set their faces toward home. The three-mile walk was nothing to them, even after a day of skating. The frosty air nipped Juliet's cheeks to crimson and she sniffed at it with keen delight.
"It's nice to be out," she said, "after being in that hot house. What do you think of her, Romie?"
"Oh, I don't know," he replied carelessly. "Say, how did she have her hair done up?"
"She had rats in it, and it was curled on a hot iron."
"Rats? What in thunder is—or are—that, or they?"
"Little wads of false hair made into cushiony rolls."
"Did she tell you?"
"No," laughed Juliet. "Don't you suppose I can see a rat?"
"I thought rats had to be smelled."
"Not this kind."
"She smelled of something kind of sweet and sticky. What was it?'
"Sachet powder, I guess, or some kind of perfume."
"I liked the smell. Can we get some?"
"I guess so—we've got the price."
"Next time you see her, ask her what it is, will you?"
"All right," answered Juliet, unperturbed by the request.
The rest of the way was enlivened by a discussion of automobiles. Romeo had a hockey match on for the following day, which was Saturday, so they were compelled to postpone their investigations until Monday. It seemed very long to wait.
"It's no good now, anyhow," said Romeo. "We can't run it until the roads melt and dry up."
"That's so," agreed his twin, despondently. "Why did she tell us now? Why couldn't she wait until we had some chance?"
"I guess we can learn something about it before we try to run it," he observed, cheerfully. "If we can get it into the barn, we can take it all apart and see how it's put together."
"Oh, Romie!" cried Juliet, with a little skip. "How perfectly fascinating! And we'll read all the automobile literature we can get hold of. I do so love to be posted!"
Upon the death of their father, several years ago, the twins had promptly ceased to go to school. The kindly old minister who had been appointed executor of their father's small estate and guardian of the tumultuous twins had been unable to present any arguments in favour of systematic education which appealed to them even slightly.
"What good is Latin?" asked Romeo, apparently athirst for information.
"Why—er—mental discipline, mostly," the harassed guardian had answered.
"Isn't there anything we'd like that would discipline our minds?" queried Juliet.
"I fear not," replied the old man, who lacked the diplomacy necessary to deal with the twins. Shortly after that he had died with so little warning that he had only time to make out a check in their favour for the balance entrusted to him. The twins had held high carnival until the money was almost gone. The bequest from the Australian uncle had reached them just in time, so, with thankful hearts, they celebrated and had done so annually ever since.
Untrammelled by convention and restraint, they thrived like weeds in their ancestral domicile, which was now sadly in need of repair. Occasionally some daring prank set the neighbourhood by the ears, but, for the most part, the twins behaved very well and attended strictly to their own affairs. They ate when they were hungry, slept when they were sleepy, and, if they desired to sit up until four in the morning, reading, they did so. A woman who had a key to the back door came in every morning, at an uncertain hour, to wash the dishes, sweep, dust, and to make the beds if they chanced to be unoccupied.
As Romeo had said, the chimney had blown down and several loose bricks lay upon the roof. They had a small vegetable garden, fenced in, and an itinerant gardener looked after it, in Summer, but they had no flowers, because they maintained a large herd of stray dogs, mostly mongrels, that would have had no home had it not been for the hospitable twins. Romeo bought the choicest cuts of beef for them and fed them himself. Occasionally they added another to their collection and, at the last census, had nineteen.
Their house would have delighted Madame Bernard—it was so eminently harmonious and suitable. The ragged carpets showed the floor in many places, and there were no curtains at any of the windows. Romeo cherished a masculine distaste for curtains and Juliet did not trouble herself to oppose him. The furniture was old and most of it was broken. The large easy chair in the sitting room was almost disembowelled, and springs showed through the sofa, except in the middle, where there was a cavernous depression. Several really fine paintings adorned the walls, and the dingy mantel was glorified by exquisite bits of Cloisonne and iridescent glass, for which Juliet had a pronounced fancy.
"Set the table, will you, Romie?" called Juliet, tying a large blue gingham apron over her sweater. "I'm almost starved."
"So'm I, but I've got to feed the dogs first."
"Let 'em wait," pleaded Juliet. "Please do!"
"Don't be so selfish! They're worse off than we are, for they haven't even had tea."
While the pack fought, outside, for rib bones and raw steak, Juliet opened a can of salmon, fried some potatoes, put a clean spoon into a jar of jam, and cut a loaf of bread into thick slices. When Romeo came in, he set the table, made coffee, and opened a can of condensed milk. They disdained to wash dishes, but cleared off the table, after supper, lighted the lamp, and talked automobile until almost midnight.
In less than an hour, Romeo had completed the plans for remodelling the barn. They had no horse, but as a few bits of harness remained from the last equine incumbent, they usually alluded to the barn as "the bridle chamber."
"We'll have to name the barn again," mused Juliet, "and we can name the automobile, too."
"Wait until we get it. What colour shall we have?"
"They're usually red or black, aren't they?" she asked, doubtfully.
"I guess so. We want ours different, don't we?"
"Sure. We want something that nobody ever had before—something bright and cheerful. Oh, Romie," she continued, jumping up and down in excitement, "let's have it bright yellow and call it 'The Yellow Peril'!"
Her twin offered her a friendly hand. "Jule," he said solemnly, "you're a genius!"
"We'll have brown leather inside, and get brown clothes to match. Brown hats with yellow bands on 'em—won't it be perfectly scrumptious?"
"Scrumptious is no word for it. Shall we have two seats or four?"
"Four, of course. A two-seated automobile looks terribly selfish."
"Stingy, too," murmured Romeo, "and we can afford the best."
"Do you know," Juliet suggested, after deep thought, "I think it would be nice of us if we waited to take our first ride until we celebrate for Uncle?"
"It would," admitted Romeo, gloomily, "but it's such a long time to wait."
"We can learn to run it here in the yard—there's plenty of room. And on the thirtieth of June, we'll take our first real ride in it. Be a sport, Romie," she urged, as he maintained an unhappy silence.
"All right—I will," he said, grudgingly. "But I hope Uncle appreciates what we're doing for him."
"That's settled, then," she responded, cheerfully. "Then, on our second ride, we'll take somebody with us. Who shall we invite?"
"Oughtn't she to go with us the first time?"
"She? Who's 'she'?"
"Miss Ross—Isabel. She suggested it, you know. We might not have thought of it for years."
Juliet pondered. "I don't believe she ought to go the first time, because the day that Uncle died doesn't mean anything to her, and it's everything to us. But we'll take her on the second trip. Shall I write to her now and invite her?"
"I don't believe," Romeo responded, dryly, "that I'd stop to write an invitation to somebody to go out four months from now in an automobile that isn't bought yet."
"But it's as good as bought," objected Juliet, "because our minds are made up. We may forget to ask her."
"Put it on the slate," suggested Romeo.
In the hall, near the door, was a large slate suspended by a wire. The pencil was tied to it. Here they put down vagrant memoranda and things they planned to acquire in the near future.
Juliet observed that there was only one entry on the slate: "Military hair brushes for R." Underneath she wrote: "Yellow automobile, four- seated. Name it 'The Yellow Peril.' Brown leather inside. Get brown clothes to match and trim with yellow. First ride, June thirtieth, for Uncle. Second ride, July first, for ourselves. Invite Isabel Ross."
"Anything else?" she asked, after reading it aloud.
"Dog biscuit," yawned Romeo. "They're eating too much meat."
It was very late when they went up-stairs. Their rooms were across the hall from each other and they slept with the doors open. The attic had been made into a gymnasium, where they exercised and hardened their muscles when the weather kept them indoors. A trapeze had been recently put up, and Juliet was learning to swing by her feet.
She lifted her face up to his and received a brotherly peck on the lips. "Good-night, Jule."
"Good-night, Romie. Pleasant dreams."
It was really morning, but there was no clock to tell them so, for the timepieces in the Crosby mansion were seldom wound.
"Say," called Romeo.
"What do you think of her?"
"Miss—you know. Isabel."
"Oh, I don't know," responded Juliet, sleepily. "I guess she's kind of a sissy-girl."
AN AFTERNOON CALL
"Aunt Francesca," asked Isabel, "is Colonel Kent rich?"
"Very," responded Madame. She had a fine damask napkin stretched upon embroidery hoops and was darning it with the most exquisite of stitches.
"Then why don't they live in a better house and have more servants? That place is old and musty."
"Perhaps they like to live there, and, again, perhaps they haven't enough money to change. Besides, that has been Colonel Kent's home ever since he was married. Allison was born there."
Isabel fidgeted in her chair. "If they're very rich, I should think they'd have enough money to enable them to move into a better house."
"Oh," replied Madame, carefully cutting her thread on the underside, "I wasn't thinking of money when I spoke. I don't know anything about their private affairs. But Colonel Kent has courage, sincerity, an old- fashioned standard of honour, many friends, and a son who is a great artist."
The girl was silent, for intangible riches did not appeal to her strongly.
"Allison is like him in many ways," Madame was saying. "He is like his mother, too."
"When is he going away?"
"In September or October, I suppose—the beginning of the season."
"Is he going to play everywhere?"
"Everywhere of any importance."
"Perhaps," mused Isabel, "he will make a great deal of money himself."
"Perhaps," Madame responded, absently. "I do hope he will be successful." She had almost maternal pride in her foster son.
"Is Cousin Rose going, too?"
"Going where? What do you mean, dear?"
"Why, nothing. Only I heard him ask her if she would go with him on his concert tour and play his accompaniments, providing you or the Colonel went along for chaperone, and Cousin Rose laughed and said she didn't need a chaperone—that she was old enough to make it quite respectable."
"And—-" suggested Madame.
"Allison laughed, too, and said: 'Nonsense!'"
"If they are going," said Madame, half to herself, "and decide to take me along, I hope they'll give me sufficient time to pack things decently."
"Would the Colonel go, if you went?"
"I hardly think so. It wouldn't be quite so proper."
"I don't understand," remarked Isabel, wrinkling her pretty brows.
"I don't either," Madame replied, confidentially. "However, I've lived long enough to learn that the conventions of society are all in the interests of morality. If you're conventional, you'll be good, in a negative sense, of course."
"How do you mean, Aunt Francesca?"
"Perfect manners are diametrically opposed to crime. For instance, it is very bad form for a man to shoot a lady, or even to write another man's name on a check and cash it. It saves trouble to be conventional, for you're not always explaining things. Most of the startling items we read in the newspapers are serious lapses from conventionality and good manners."
"The Crosbys aren't very conventional," Isabel suggested.
"No," smiled Madame, "they're not, but their manners proceed from the most kindly and friendly instincts, consequently they're seldom in error, essentially."
"They have lots of money, haven't they?"
"I have sometimes thought that the Crosbys had more than their age and social training fitted them to use wisely, but I've never known them to go far astray. They've done foolish things, but I've never known either to do a wrong or selfish thing. Money is a terrible test of character, but I think the twins will survive it."
"I suppose they've done lots of funny things with it."
Madame's eyes danced and little smiles wrinkled the corners of her mouth. "On the Fourth of July, last year, they presented every orphan in the Orphans' Home with two dollars' worth of fireworks, carefully chosen. Of course the inevitable happened and the orphans managed to set fire to the home, but, after two hours of hard work, the place was saved. Some of the children were slightly injured during the celebration, but that didn't matter, because as Juliet said, they'd had a good time, anyway, and it would give them something to talk about in years to come."
"It would have been better to spend the money on shoes, wouldn't it?"
"I don't know, my dear. The finest gift in the world is pleasure. Sometimes I think it's better to feed the soul and let the body fast. There is a time in life when one brief sky-rocket can produce more joy than ten pairs of shoes."
Isabel smiled and glanced at Madame Bernard's lavender satin slipper. The old lady laughed and the soft colour came into her pretty face.
"I frankly admit that I've passed it," she said. "Better one pair of shoes than ten sky-rockets, if the shoes are the sort I like."
"Do they come often?" queried Isabel, reverting to the subject of the twins.
"Not as often as I'd like to have them, but it doesn't do to urge them. I can only keep my windows open and let the wind from the clover field blow in as it will."
"Do they live near a clover field?" inquired Isabel, perplexed.
"No, but they remind me of it—they're so breezy and wholesome, so free and untrammelled, and, at heart, so sweet."
"I hope they'll come again soon."
"So do I, for I don't want you to be lonely, Isabel. It was good of your mother to let you come."
"Mamma doesn't care what I do," observed Isabel, placidly. "She's always busy."
Madame Bernard checked the sharp retort that rose to her lips. What Isabel had said was quite true. Mrs. Ross was so interested in what she called "The New Thought" and "The Higher World Service" that she had neither time nor inclination for the old thought and simple service that make—and keep—a home.
From the time she could dress herself and put up her own hair, Isabel had been left much to herself. Her mother supplied her liberally with money for clothes and considered that her duty to her daughter ended there. They lived in an apartment hotel and had their coffee served in their rooms in the morning. After that, Isabel was left to her own devices, for committees and directors' meetings without number claimed her mother.
More often than not, Isabel dined alone in the big dining-room downstairs, and spent a lonely evening with a novel and a box of chocolates. On pleasant days, she amused herself by going through the shops and to the matinee. She did not make friends easily and the splendid isolation common to hotels and desert islands left her stranded, socially. She had been very glad to accept Aunt Francesca's invitation, and the mother, looking back through her years of "world service" to the quiet old house and dream-haunted garden, had thought it would be a good place for Isabel for a time, and had hoped she might not find it too dull to endure.
Madame Bernard had no patience with Mrs. Ross. When she had come for a brief holiday, fifteen years before, bringing her child with her, she had just begun to be influenced by the modern feminine unrest. Later she had definitely allied herself with those whose mission it is to emancipate Woman—with a capital W—from her chains, forgetting that these are of her own forging, and anchor her to the eternal verities of earth and heaven.
A single swift stroke had freed Mrs. Ross from her own "bondage." Isabel's father had died, while her mother was out upon a lecturing tour—in a hotel, which is the most miserable place in the world to die in. The housekeeper and chambermaids had befriended Isabel until the tour came to its triumphant conclusion. Mrs. Ross had seemed to consider the whole affair a kindly and appropriate recognition of her abilities, on the part of Providence. She attempted to fit Isabel for the duties of a private secretary, but failed miserably, and, greatly to Isabel's relief, gave up the idea.
Madame Bernard had looked forward to Isabel's visit with a certain apprehension, remembering Mrs. Ross's unbecoming gowns and careless coiffures. But the girl's passion for clothes, amounting almost to a complete "reversion to type," had at once relieved and alarmed her. "If I can strike a balance for her," she had said to herself in a certain midnight musing, "I shall do very well."
As yet, however, Isabel had failed to "balance." She dressed for morning and luncheon and afternoon, and again for dinner, changing to street gowns when necessary and doing her hair in a different way for each gown. Still, as Rose had said, she "suited herself," for she was always immaculate, beautifully clad, and a joy to behold.
Madame Bernard greatly approved of the lovely white wool house gown Isabel was wearing. She had no fault to find with the girl's taste, but she wished to subordinate, as it were, the thing to the spirit; the temple to the purpose for which it was made.
Isabel smiled at her sweetly as she folded up her work—a little uncomprehending smile. "Are you going away now for your 'forty winks,' Aunt Francesca?"
"Yes, my dear. Can you amuse yourself for an hour or so without playing upon the piano?"
"Certainly. I didn't know that you and Cousin Rose were asleep yesterday, or I wouldn't have played."
"Of course not." Madame leaned over her and stroked the dark hair, waved and coiled in quite the latest fashion. "There are plenty of books and magazines in the library."
Madame went upstairs, followed at a respectful distance by Mr. Boffin, waving his plumed tail. He, too, took his afternoon nap, curled up cosily upon the silken quilt at the foot of his mistress's couch. In the room adjoining, Rose rested for an hour also, though she usually spent the time with a book.
Left to herself, Isabel walked back and forth idly, greatly allured by the forbidden piano. She looked over, carelessly, the pile of violin music Allison had left there. Some of the sheets were torn and had been pasted together, all were marked in pencil with hieroglyphics, and most of them were stamped, in purple, "Allison Kent," with a Berlin or Paris address written in below.
Isabel had met very few men, in the course of her twenty years. For this reason, possibly, she remembered every detail of the two weeks she had spent at Aunt Francesca's and the hours with Allison, on the veranda, when he chose to amuse himself with the pretty, credulous child. It seemed odd to have him coming to the house again, though, unless he came to dinner, he usually spent the time playing, to Rose's accompaniment. She had not seen him alone.
She surveyed herself in the long, gilt-framed mirror, and was well pleased with the image of youth and beauty the mirror gave back. The bell rang and she pinned up a stray lock carefully. It was probably someone to see Aunt Francesca, but there was a pleasing doubt. It might be the twins, though she had not returned their call.
Presently Allison came in, his cheeks glowing from his long walk in the cold. "Silver Girl," he smiled, "where are the spangles, and are you alone?"
"The spangles are upstairs waiting for candlelight," answered Isabel, as he took her small, cool hand, "and I'm very much alone—or was."
"Where are the others?"
"I hope I haven't tired Rose out," said Allison, offering Isabel a chair. He had unconsciously dropped the prefix of "Cousin." "We've been working hard lately."
"Is she going with you on your tour?"
"I don't know. I wish she could go, but I haven't the heart to drag father or Aunt Francesca along with us, and otherwise, it would be— well, unconventional, you know. The conventions make me dead tired," he added, with evident sincerity.
"And yet," said Isabel, looking into the fire, "they are all in the interests of morality. If you're conventional, you'll be good, negatively. It isn't good manners for a man to shoot a lady or to sign a check with another man's name and get it cashed. If you're conventional, you're not always explaining things."
"Very true," laughed Allison, "but sometimes 'the greatest good for the greatest number' bears heavily upon the few."
"Of course," Isabel agreed, after a moment's pause. "Your friends, the Crosby twins, have called," she continued.
"Really?" Allison asked, with interest. "How do you like them?"
"I wish they'd come often," she smiled. "They remind me of a field of red clover, they're so breezy and so wholesome."
"I must hunt 'em up," he returned, absently. "They used to be regular little devils. It's a shame for them to have all that money."
"Because they'll waste it. They don't know how to use it."
"Perhaps they do, in a way. One Fourth of July they gave every orphan in the Orphans' Home two dollars' worth of fireworks. Anybody else would have wasted the money on shoes, or hats."
"I see you haven't grown up. Would you rather have fireworks than clothes?"
"There is a time in life when one sky-rocket can give more pleasure than a pair of shoes, and the gift of pleasure is the finest gift in the world."
Allison was agreeably surprised, for hitherto Isabel's conversation had consisted mainly of monosyllables and platitudes, or the hesitating echo of someone's else opinion. Now he perceived that it was shyness; that Isabel had a mind of her own, and an unusual mind, at that. He looked at her quickly and the colour bloomed upon her pale, cold face.
"Tell me, little playmate, what have the years done for you since you went out and pulled up the rose bushes to find the scent bottles?"
"Nothing," she answered, not knowing what else to say.
"Still looking for the unattainable?"
"Yes, if you like to put it that way."
"Where's your mother?"
"The Bloodless Revolution, or the Gradual Emancipation of Woman," she repeated, parrot-like.
"Her work must keep her away from home a great deal," he ventured, after a pause.
"Yes. I seldom see her."
"You must be lonely."
She turned her dark eyes to his. "I live in a hotel," she said.
In the simple answer, Allison saw an unmeasured loneliness, coupled with a certain loyalty to her mother. He changed the subject.
"You like it here, don't you?"
"Yes, indeed. Aunt Francesca is lovely and so is Cousin Rose. I wish," she went on, with a little sigh as she glanced about the comfortable room, "that I could always stay here." The child-like appeal in her tone set Allison's heart to beating a little faster.
"I wish you could," he said. Remorsefully, he remembered the long hours he had spent with Rose at the piano, happily oblivious of Isabel.
"Are you fond of music?" he asked.
"Yes, indeed! I always sit outside and listen when you and Cousin Rose play."
"Come in whenever you want to," he responded, warmly.
"Won't I be in the way? Won't I be a bother?"
"I should say not. How could you be?"
"Then," Isabel smiled, "I'll come sometimes, if I may. It's the only pleasure I have."
"That's too bad. Sometime we'll go into town to the theatre, just you and I. Would you like to go?"
"I'd love to," she answered, eagerly.
The clock ticked industriously, the fire crackled merrily upon the hearth, and the wind howled outside. In the quiet room, Allison sat and studied Isabel, with the firelight shining upon her face and her white gown. She seemed much younger than her years.
"You're only a child," he said, aloud; "a little, helpless child."
"How long do you think it will be before I'm grown up?"
"I don't want you to grow up. I can remember now just how you looked the day I told you about the scent bottles. You had on a pink dress, with a sash to match, pink stockings, little white shoes with black buttons, and the most fetching white sunbonnet. Your hair was falling in curls all round your face and it was such a warm day that the curls clung to your neck and annoyed you. You toddled over to me and said: 'Allison, please fix my's turls.' Don't you remember?"
She smiled and said she had forgotten. "But," she added, truthfully, "I've often wondered how I looked when I was dressed up."
"Then," he continued, "I told you how the scent bottles grew on the roots of the rose bushes, and, after I went home, you went and pulled up as many as you could. Aunt Francesca was very angry with me."
"Yes, I remember that. I felt as though you were being punished for my sins. It was years afterward that I saw I'd been sufficiently punished myself. Look!"
She leaned toward him and showed him a narrow white line on the soft flesh between her forefinger and her thumb, extending back over her hand.
"A thorn," she said. "I shall carry the scar to my dying day."
With a little catch in his throat, Allison caught the little hand and pressed it to his lips. "Forgive me!" he said.
THE LIGHT ON THE ALTAR
Colonel Kent had gone away on a short business trip and Allison was spending his evenings, which otherwise would have been lonely, at Madame Bernard's. After talking for a time with Aunt Francesca and Isabel, it seemed natural for him to take up his violin and suggest, if only by a half-humorous glance, that Rose should go to the piano.
Sometimes they played for their own pleasure and sometimes worked for their own benefit. Neither Madame nor Isabel minded hearing the same thing a dozen times or more in the course of an evening, for, as Madame said, with a twinkle in her blue eyes, it made "a pleasant noise," and Isabel did not trouble herself to listen.
Both Rose and Allison were among the fortunate ones who find joy in work. Rose was so keenly interested in her music that she took no count of the hours spent at the piano, and Allison fully appreciated her. It had been a most pleasant surprise for him to find a good accompanist so near home.
The discouraging emptiness of life had mysteriously vanished for Rose. Her restlessness disappeared as though by magic and her indefinite hunger had been, in some way, appeased. She had unconsciously emerged from one state into another, as the tiny dwellers of the sea cast off their shells. She had a sense of freedom and a large vision, as of dissonances resolved into harmony.
Clothes, also, which, as Madame had said, are "supposed to please and satisfy women," had taken to themselves a new significance. Rose had made herself take heed of her clothes, but she had never had much real interest. Now she was glad of the time she had spent in planning her gowns, merely with a view to pleasing Aunt Francesca.
To-night, she wore a clinging gown of deep green velvet, with a spray of green leaves in her hair. Her only ornament was a pin of jade, in an Oriental setting. Allison looked at her admiringly.
"There's something about you," he said, "that I don't know just how to express. I have no words for it, but, in some way, you seem to live up to your name."
"How so?" Rose asked, demurely.
"Well, I've never seen you wear anything that a rose might not wear. I've seen you in red and green and yellow and pink and white, but never in blue or purple, or any of those soft-coloured things that Aunt Francesca wears."
"That only means," answered Rose, flushing, "that blue and grey and tan and lavender aren't becoming to me."
"That isn't it," Allison insisted, "for you'd be lovely in anything. You're living up to your name."
"Go on," Rose suggested mischievously. "This is getting interesting." "You needn't laugh. I assure you that men know more about those things than they're usually given credit for. Your jewels fit in with the whole idea, too. That jade pin, for instance, and your tourmaline necklace, and your ruby ring, and the topazes you wear with yellow, and the faint scent of roses that always hangs about you."
"What else?" she smiled.
"Well, I had a note from you the other day. It was fragrant with rose petals and the conventionalised rose, in gold and white, that was stamped in place of a monogram, didn't escape me. Besides, here's this."
He took from his pocket a handkerchief of sheerest linen, delicately hemstitched. In one corner was embroidered a rose, in palest shades of pink and green. The delicate, elusive scent filled the room as he shook it out.
"There," he continued, with a laugh. "I found it in my violin case the other day. I don't know how it came there, but it was much the same as finding a rose twined about the strings."
Aunt Francesca was on the other side of the room, by the fire. Her face, in the firelight, was as delicate as a bit of carved ivory. Her thoughts were far away—one could see that. Isabel sat near her, apparently absorbed in a book, but, in reality, listening to every word.