A Love Story
Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press Cambridge 1914
Copyright, 1914, by Munson Havens
TO MY WIFE
ILLUSTRATIONS From drawings by Griswold Tyng
"SHE WAS YOUR MAMMA, TOO, WASN'T SHE?"
"MAY I CALL YOU PHYLLIS?"
"ARE YOU CERTAIN YOU CAN SPARE SO LARGE A SUM?"
SIR PETER GAVE IT INTO THE TINY FINGERS
You might enter this story by the stage door. You remember beautiful Valentine Germain—the actress? She married Robert Oglebay, the painter, brother of Sir Peter Oglebay, the great engineer. Their baby Phyllis—
But, after all, the main entrance is more dignified.
Sir Peter Oglebay's passion is for Construction: to watch massive machinery slowly hoisting materials more massive into positions of incredible height with calculated accuracy. Wherever construction is in progress you are likely to see him, standing at a little distance, holding his silk hat on his white head with one hand as he looks upward, and leaning, a little heavily, on his stick with the other. And whenever or wherever you see him, you will see an English gentleman.
His portrait, in the lobby of the Engineering Society, is by Sargent. His erect bearing, white mustache, and something about the cut of his clothes suggest the soldier. But he is one of the great engineers; his father and grandfather were engineers. You observe the red ribbon in his lapel; France honors him.
Sir Peter's big house is in Armytage Street, near the park. You may remember the house by its walled garden and the imposing wrought-iron grille through which one has access to the flagged walk, the wide steps, and the great doorway.
In his house, the library defines his chief interest in life. The shelves are filled with somber sets of the "Transactions" and "Proceedings" of several learned societies. Sir Peter is himself a Fellow of these societies Mr. Rowlandson, his bookseller, has a standing advertisement in "The Athenaeum" for certain missing volumes. One in particular, the "Proceedings of the British Engineering Society for the year 1848," he would tell you, was the very devil to find; it seems there was a fire at the printer's. Sir Peter's monograph on the "Egyptian Pyramids Considered in their Relation to Modern Engineering" was dedicated to this society. He presided over its grave deliberations for several years. "With dignity and impartiality," said his successor, when Sir Peter surrendered the gavel.
He serves on boards of directors. His name is seen on subscription lists headed by the Right People. Late afternoon should find him at the Carlton Club.
Many years ago, Sir Peter brought together a number of fine pictures. They hang in the drawing-room, but the collection is not a notable one in these days. Each year, however, the Oglebay Prize speeds some talented English lad to Paris. But that endowment was his brother Robert's suggestion. Sir Peter's calls at the Christie Galleries ceased when Robert married beautiful Valentine Germain, the actress. Perhaps half of the cruel things Sir Peter said of her were true. But the quarrel was irreparable; the brothers never met afterward.
Robert Oglebay was a painter of distinction, if not of genius. His few finished pictures enriched the world. His impulses were noble, but they were impulses only; the will to complete the undertaken task was lacking. For patient work he substituted high talk of Art in the studios of his friends. The gay little suppers in their own rooms were famous; nine at table, mostly men, entranced by Valentine's beauty and her wit. Charming were their afternoons among the curio shops, and their return, laden with loot too precious to wait over night for delivery. Glorious were their holidays in Paris and Vienna; wonderful nights in Venice! Always together! To their sudden migration to Egypt, whence he returned with a portfolio of exciting promise. Alas, the slender fulfilment! for then was the time for work,—the sobering thought of Baby Phyllis.
But to Valentine and Robert Oglebay, Baby Phyllis soon meant a new frolic. Nurse Farquharson's were the competent hands. Their life went on unchanged.
At five, Baby Phyllis, in her white nightie, her blue eyes shining, and her curls crowned with roses, danced among the wine-glasses at her mother's birthday party, and enraptured the guests by singing, in various keys, the song with which beautiful Valentine herself had captivated London,—"If I could wear trousers, I know what I should do." If you knew your way about town in the early eighties, you may remember the song. The encore was uproarious: three times Baby Phyllis had to lift her little leg and strike the match on her nightie. They drank her health standing, as she disappeared, smiling at them over Nurse Farquharson's shoulder.
Upstairs, having cuddled Phyllis in bed, Valentine caught the expression on the nurse's face. She put her arms around Farquharson appealingly.
"Don't be cross with me on my birthday," she pleaded.
Farquharson patted the pretty upraised hands, glittering with diamonds.
"You mustn't look cross at my mamma, Farkson," cooed Baby Phyllis.
Careless, happy days and sparkling nights! Robert and Valentine were always together, their honeymoon endless; in Paris, in Buda-Pesth, in Rome, in Constantinople, in Holland. You should have seen Valentine in the Dutch costume she brought home. Each of the inseparable trio of artists, Mr. Singleton, Mr. Leonard, and Mr. Knowles, painted her portrait, and made love to her, and was laughed at and scolded. It is little enough to say of her that she idolized Robert.
When they returned from their first trip to Norway, in 1897, Robert Oglebay, now forty and growing stout, told his friends he had found what he was looking for at last. The strong, deep sentiment of the North had clutched at him and held him fast. And indeed those shimmering, moonlit studies of the little fishing village, where they spent that summer and autumn, are his best.
Early in the following summer they flitted northward again, with joyful eagerness. They took nine-year-old Phyllis with them.
While her father painted, and her mother read, Phyllis explored crannies in which the receding tide had left tiny, helpless creatures which she examined curiously, and then carried tenderly to the water, lest they perish before the friendly waves came again to cover them.
Their boatman sang songs to her,—strange songs that thrilled her, though she did not understand the words.
At night, in the best room of the little inn, by a bright fire, her father told tales of the vikings; of their high-prowed ships, and the long-haired sailors, with fierce eyes; of their adventurous voyages over unknown seas. The stories ended when the golden head drooped, drowsily.
The portfolio of sketches grew steadily during the weeks that followed.
"Your best work, Robert," said Valentine
"I have found what I have been seeking," was his answer.
They were happy days. Robert painted, early and late, in all weathers. Valentine's joy was in him. Phyllis found hers in a closer companionship with them than she had ever known.
Remembering their eager joy, how tragic the end! Drowned, under the sail of an overturned boat,—together.
Their little Phyllis, saved by the boatman recovered from the shock of icy water and horrible fright before her clothing was dry. She was spared immediate knowledge of her loss. The rough, weatherworn faces she saw in the firelight of the fisherman's cottage, to which she had been carried, were kindly and compassionate. The gloom of early evening, the glow of the firelight, the smell of the sea, the full-rigged ship on a rude wall-bracket, and the moaning wind outside were memories of after years. At the moment, wrapped in a blanket, Phyllis was conscious only of security and warmth. She smiled up at the big fisherman who had rescued her, and made friendly advances to the cluster of ragged little ones who gathered around her, with scared faces and brown, bare legs and feet. When the fisherman's wife tucked her into a warm bed, she inquired sleepily for her mamma. A reassuring caress was the response: the language of motherhood is universal, and requires no words.
The patrol of the rocky inlet ended at dawn. When the burdened groups of booted men tramped past the cottage on their way to the inn, the fisherman's wife, peering through the window in the gray morning light, muttered to herself that both had been found.
Some hours afterward came the innkeeper and the postmaster, the one proud of his English, the other of his responsibilities as first citizen of the village. A large-eyed, terror-stricken Phyllis learned of her loneliness and sobbed on the good woman's broad bosom. The innkeeper and the postmaster smoked their pipes outside until the first outburst of childish grief had spent itself.
It appeared then that the little Miss must tell them to whom they should send a telegram. How painful and new to be obliged to think; how choking were the vague thoughts. But at last a ray of comfort; they should telegraph Farquharson, her dear, dear nurse. The name was slowly spelled. And the address? Perfectly, Phyllis knew the street and number of that fascinating home of hers, but she now remembered that Farquharson would not be there; that Farquharson had gone to visit her brother in a little town in the south of England; a little town of which Phyllis had heard the most wonderful, true stories; but she did not know its name. "Couldn't the telegraph find out?" she asked; and then, overcome with rushing thoughts, abandoned herself again to grief.
"There are Mr. Knowles, Mr. Leonard, and Mr. Singleton," she bethought her. "But they are painting in Algiers."
There was a lady her mamma called Molly, too, whom Phyllis liked very much, who came often to tea, accompanied by a tiny brown dog; but the patient innkeeper could learn no more of her than that mamma always called her Molly; the tiny brown dog's name, Phyllis remembered, was Tip.
How might this poor innkeeper's meager vocabulary convey the idea of relatives to Phyllis's mind? But somehow, at last, it was done.
"Yes," said Phyllis, struck suddenly with the thought. "There is Uncle Peter. But my papa and mamma never went to see him, and he never came to see them." A half-forgotten word occurred to her,—"They were es-tranged."
The innkeeper eyed her doubtfully; but Uncle Peter's last name she knew, of course; was it not her own? And his title, too. The innkeeper, impressed, communicated his intelligence to the postmaster; they made their good-byes awkwardly and left the room.
Two days must elapse before the steamer arrived; ample time for composition. It grieved the innkeeper that another name than the author's must be signed to his telegram; but intellect yielded to rank; the postmaster signed alone.
And so, on a day when the dreary churchyard on a bleak hillside, near the little fishing village, received the poor remains of Robert Oglebay and Valentine, his wife, Sir Peter, in the paneled library of his great London house, read these words:—
VALFJELDET, NORWAY, August 18th, 1898.
Your niece, Phyllis Oglebay, robbed of her parents by the remorseless sea, awaits the directions of her uncle.
OLAF ULVESAKKER, Postmaster.
Ten days later, Sir Peter Oglebay, with a drawn face, rode homeward through fog-enveloped streets, with a small girl in his arms. One of Phyllis's hands held Sir Peter's tightly, and her tired, little head rested upon his shoulder.
There was a sale, of course, of the thousand luxurious trifles with which improvident Robert Oglebay and his beautiful, spirited, improvident wife had surrounded themselves; trifles which had helped to create the artistic atmosphere that was the breath of life to them. Half a hundred creditors divided the proceeds.
When Sir Peter asked Phyllis what he should save from the wreck for her (not in those words, however) she asked him to send for all the valentines her papa had given her mamma.
"Her name was Valentine, you know, Uncle Peter," explained Phyllis. "I think it is the beautifullest name there is. Long before I was born, and long before they were married, my papa gave my mamma valentines, new ones and old ones too but mostly old ones. They were the prettiest. Some of them are a hundred years old. They are ever so pretty, Uncle Peter, and she let me play with them, whole boxes full of them. I loved them best of all my playthings. Sometimes my papa called me his little Valentine, but they named me Phyllis, after my grandmamma, my papa's mamma. Why, Uncle Peter, she was your mamma, too, wasn't she?" Phyllis, sitting on Sir Peter's lap, regarded him gravely, with new interest. In the end, however, she returned to the subject. All the valentines—boxes and boxes of them—were to be brought to her, if Uncle Peter pleased.
His bookseller bought in the valentines for Sir Peter.
"God bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Rowlandson, when he read the order.
The sale catalogue described it as one of the most remarkable collections ever brought together, and intimated that the Museum should take advantage of a rare opportunity.
Another dealer was commissioned to buy one of Robert's pictures.
"Any one,—the best. Use your own judgment," said Sir Peter.
It was a charming study, unfinished, of course, that came the next afternoon: a boat, rolling heavily in gray water; and seen through mist, the great brown sail, looming, shadowy; one sailor, in a red jersey, at the tiller. In the corner Robert had scrawled his careless signature and the words,—"Valfjeldet, Norway, 1897." Sir Peter gently laid the picture upon the glowing coals of the grate.
"There are six boxes come from Mr. Rowlandson's shop, sir," said his housekeeper standing quietly behind him.
"Have the screws removed and send them up to Miss Phyllis's room," he replied. "They are old valentines, Burbage, old valentines that belonged to her m——for which she has a childish fondness."
"Doesn't it seem to you that the windows let in more sunlight of late, ma'am?" asked a housemaid. She had just finished cleaning those in the octagonal dining-room. Burbage inspected the windows.
"There is no change in the windows that I can see," she replied. "But there's more sunlight in the house than in many a year."
This comment of his old housekeeper, six weeks after Sir Peter brought Phyllis home, might be accepted as the epitome of her life there for ten long years. Sir Peter was as grim as ever to the servants; but, bless your heart, hadn't they caught him at his pranks on the floor? Hadn't they seen his haggard face when the doctor pronounced it diphtheria? Hadn't they seen him carry her downstairs in his own arms on the first day it was allowed? Hadn't they seen him helping her with her lessons, at night,—solving her complex problems in his head while she struggled over columns of figures, and waiting at the end of that tortuous road with a smile on his gaunt face, and the right answer, to prove hers right or wrong? But in languages, Sir Peter was left at the post. Her master in French was astonished until he learned her mother's name,—by accident, for it was rarely spoken in that house. The dead languages were alive to her, too. The shelves in her study-room, upstairs, contained Sir Peter's old "classics," prettily rebound. The commission went to Mr. Rowlandson; the execution was Riviere's. Sir Peter had scarcely looked into them since the old days at Cambridge.
Sunlight in the house, indeed. Her sweet voice, in sudden song, might be heard at any moment of the day; or the ripple of her piano; or her gay laughter, musical as the joyous notes of a bird.
She had her intent of them all. Even the determined mind of Burbage, stern-featured and steel-spectacled, she moulded to a plastic acquiescence with her own sweet will. In extreme urgency, when Burbage was very firm, indeed, Phyllis had a way of referring to dear Farquharson. Burbage learned to anticipate this by yielding in the nick of time.
By the way, they had not found a trace of Farquharson.
Several short, sharp battles she had with Sir Peter; the cause, in each instance, the same. He did not try to disguise his desire that she should forget her mother. The first encounter between them took place within a year of her home-coming.
"If I cannot remember my darling, darling mamma in your house, Uncle Peter, I shall not stay here," she declared. "I will go away and never, never come back any more. And then you would be sorry."
Sir Peter compromised with irrelevant sweets. But he saw she was terribly in earnest, for such a little girl.
From time to time a similar incident disturbed the loving relationship between them; a relationship that was perfect otherwise, in confidence, sincerity and affection.
When she was eighteen, some one told her she began to look like her mother.
"God forbid!" said Sir Peter, when she told him.
Phyllis went white.
"Uncle Peter, my mother was an angel. She was my father's——"
"Ruin," interposed Sir Peter, his brows darkening.
"She was his dream of Heaven. I heard him tell her so. She was a dear, sweet woman."
Sir Peter growled; but Phyllis always had the last word on these occasions.
"I love her memory and I always shall, as I should have dearly loved her if—if she could have stayed with me. You must never speak or even think unkindly of her if you want me to love you, or if you want me to live with you. She was my mother and——" Then she fled to her room. Burbage could have been heard murmuring, "There, there, my pretty."
It was true. As she grew older it became apparent she had inherited her mother's marvelous beauty. She was a tall girl; a mass of golden coils surmounted the proud head, set so well on her neck and shoulders; her eyes were the deepest blue; you might have thought her expression sad, but her sensitive mouth was mirthful as well as tender; in merriment her eyes danced. When she talked earnestly she caught her breath in the prettiest way; she had indescribable charm. Her hands were long and slender, unadorned with rings; she simply didn't care for them. She usually wore white, and the larger the hat the better she liked it.
By the time Phyllis was twenty, she had read all that was good for her, and was ready to look at life itself with frankness, and judge it by standards of her own. The windows of the Carlton Club knew Sir Peter no more. She led him everywhere. You might have seen them at the Abbey one day; on another in the Temple Gardens or looking up at Dr. Johnson's house, in Gough Square. Sir Peter gloomed in the doorways of shops while she made leisurely purchases within. He pointed out the best pictures in the National Gallery; and could tell her why they were the best. They motored through England and France; Sir Peter absorbed in old fortifications, Phyllis regardful of the babies tumbling through cottage doorways. In London one often saw them walking in the park, her face aglow with animation, her movements as free from constraint as a young deer; her flow of conversation never failing. Sir Peter, keeping step, regarded her, idolatrous. Unconsciously she showed him her soul, and looking therein he found his eyes blurred with unexpected tears.
Soft but imperious Phyllis! The theater bored Sir Peter beyond expression. But on First Nights you might be certain he would have a box. Radiant Phyllis, in white silk, leaning forward eagerly to catch every word, was tremulous with excitement at the end of the play. During the drive homeward Sir Peter endeavored, artfully, to conceal that he had slept through half an act.
You may be sure that mothers with eligible sons invited him to dine; grumbling, but facing the inevitable, he accepted. His hawk's eyes glowered at the young men: from Cambridge and Oxford, but he invited them to his house. Coaxed by their mothers they called the first time, and thereafter were with difficulty restrained. Phyllis was kind to each, and interested in all; but Sir Peter observed with satisfaction that she was most pleased when they came in pairs. He chuckled over his magazine, under a reading-lamp, at the far end of the library many times, while Phyllis entertained her admirers; but at times he scowled. "Too fast, too fast, you young fool," he muttered to his white mustache.
They were thoroughly agreeable young men, and Phyllis enjoyed it all hugely. She approached the consideration of the sex from a perfectly fresh and candid point of view. Sir Peter had the benefit of her impressions each morning with his egg and toast and tea. "The Times" had long since been banished from breakfast.
One morning she was spiritless.
"Uncle Peter, I have something very, very important to tell you."
"I am listening most attentively, my dear."
"Uncle Peter, you know Mr. Holroyd,—Mr. Mark Holroyd, I mean, not his brother Dick."
"I can't say I know him very well, my dear. He has called several times, to be sure, and dined with us once. We have dined at General Holroyd's twice, I think, when Mark was present. I believe he has made three remarks to me: first, that Cambridge was slow; second, that he liked a Doherty racket best,—I think it was a Doherty he preferred; and third, that the Halls, this month, were—'rather.'"
Phyllis's smile comprehended and confirmed
"But he is very nice, Uncle Peter."
"I have no doubt of it," said Sir Peter. "His father is one of the finest men I have ever known; his mother was a Churchill. Is Mark to read for the Bar?"
"Y-e-es," said Phyllis doubtfully. "I hope so. Oh! Uncle Peter, last night, in the hall——"
"In the hall, eh?" interrupted Sir Peter.
"Yes, dear, in the hall. He—he proposed to me. I told him I had never thought of him in that way at all. And——"
"I should hope not," said Sir Peter. He liked Mark well enough, but there was plenty of time. And he made a mental memorandum to keep his eye on the hall thereafter.
"And, oh! Uncle Peter, he said the light had gone out of his life, and that he could never get over such a crushing blow, and that he wished he was—Uncle Peter, they—they always do get over it, don't they?"
"In no time at all," replied Sir Peter briskly, and helped himself to toast. There was a pause.
"Still, I doubt if Mr. Holroyd will get over it as quickly as that," said Phyllis thoughtfully.
"Haberdashers are a very present help in time of trouble," Sir Peter assured her. "They are a great comfort to young men in Mark's situation."
When she kissed him good-bye for the day, he said:—
"My little girl must wait a long while and meet many young men before she finally—er—finally—you know,—eh?"
But on that very afternoon she went with her friend, the Hon. Margaret Neville, to visit Saint Ruth's Social Settlement, in Whitechapel. And there she met John Landless. The Honorable Margaret introduced them.
"Hullo, Mr. Landless—oh! Miss Oglebay—Mr. Landless. It's her first time here. Show her about a bit like a good chap, will you, while I look for to see what my angel children's sewing-class is doing so blithely, blithely?"
John Landless looked at Phyllis, and Phyllis looked at John. If there is ever love at first sight! Perhaps it never happens in this prosy old twentieth century. But, if it ever does, then—there you are.
"It will be a pleasure to show you through the house," said John. "I wish Dr. Thorpe, the warden, were here, though? you should meet him; he's great. That is Mrs. Thorpe—over there, talking to the woman who is crying. She will have her straightened out before you can say Jack Robinson,—and no nonsense either."
It took a little longer than that, but in a few minutes the woman went away smiling; and then Phyllis met Mrs. Thorpe, who won her at once.
"I leave you in good hands, Miss Oglebay," she said, when she was called away. "You will hear Saint Ruth's praises sung. We shall hope to see you here often."
"I am so glad I came," said Phyllis, "and you are very kind, Mr. Landless, to explain things to me. Are you certain I am not taking too much of your time?"
"Oh, we will glance at my boys as we go along," replied John. "The afternoons are not especially busy. The evenings are full, though, with classes, and clubs, and games, and all that,—you know."
They walked through the rooms devoted to social amelioration; to the mental, physical and spiritual redemption of sordid lives. To these rooms men from the universities, impelled by a new conscience, bring their learning and their refinement. In these rooms men from the docks—the flotsam and jetsam of humanity—receive their first glimpse of
"Plato and the swing of Pleiades."
While John explained the theory and practice of such social settlements as Toynbee Hall, and Mansfield House, and Saint Ruth's, Phyllis found time to study his face. His black hair was cut short, but it curled for all that; his dark eyes were fine, the eyebrows very thick. His mouth closed tightly, a little too tightly, perhaps. But his chin! "He will have his way," thought Phyllis. She noticed that he stood very straight, that his shoulders were broad, and that his light gray suit became him well.
In the room to which the Hon. Margaret Neville consecrated ten hours a week were a number of very small girls, trying to use needles without pricking their fingers, and not succeeding very well. John and Phyllis stood just outside the door, waiting for the dismissal of the class.
Now, John Landless had a test for new acquaintances, a test evolved of trying experience If she laughed now!—or said, "How odd!"
"I find this work tremendously absorbing" said John, "and I hope I am helpful, a little, you know. But besides all that I think the work helps me in my profession."
"Your profession," repeated Phyllis, turning toward him the sweet, interested face he was watching so intently. "May I ask what is your profession?"
"I am a poet," said John simply, and awaited results.
"That is a noble profession," said Phyllis "I am glad you have chosen it. I hope you will succeed in it." She colored. "And I believe you will," she added. She was looking at his chin.
Then, for the first time, Phyllis saw John's smile. He had a wonderful smile; the most winning; he should have smiled oftener; but life is a serious business to poets, especially at twenty-four.
"It is good of you to say that," said John. "Almost every one roars. That is—the men. The girls giggle, or say, 'How curious!' I think you are the first girl who has ever taken it quite as a matter of course that a man might make poetry his profession. I am prepared to defend the profession of poetry against the world, if need be; but I don't like to be stared at while I am doing it."
"I understand," replied Phyllis warmly. "If you said the Army, or the Church, or Engineering, no one would be surprised or unsympathetic. But they think one should be a little ashamed of owning himself a poet. So much the worse for them," she concluded, nodding her pretty head and catching her breath in that quick way of hers.
"You're very kind to say so, but——" John was about to ask her if she was sure she meant it. Looking into Phyllis's candid eyes he thought better of it.
"Are any of your—that is—have you——?" she stammered, partly because the form of her question puzzled her; partly because she was aware of John's ardent eyes.
"Yes, I have been in the magazines three or four times," he replied. He knew that question. "But I hope to bring out a little book of poems in the spring."
"I shall be eager to see it," said Phyllis.
"Really?" asked John.
"Of course," she replied, coloring again. Mark Holroyd had looked at her like that; but how different it had been.
"You shall have one of the first copies off the press," said John, in a low voice, "because you were one of the first to encourage me in all this great London. And I shall write that in the book, if you will let me."
Phyllis looked at him earnestly.
"You must never be discouraged," she said slowly. "There will be difficulties, of course, and obstacles, and—and hard places to get over. All the poets I have read about had a hard time at first. But there will be friends to believe in you, many of them, who will wish you success in your profession."
"If I could know there was one, at least," said John, his dark eyes glowing.
Phyllis smiled at him. "There will be many," she repeated.
The Honorable Margaret joined them, having delivered her closing remarks to her class; remarks somewhat pointed on the subject of noses and handkerchiefs, but inclusive of cleanliness and godliness generally.
"Splendid place, isn't it, Phil?" she remarked with enthusiasm. "Did you see the dispensary, and the nursery, and the gymnasium and the laundry, and all around the shop?"
"Yes, I think we saw everything," replied Phyllis. "Mr. Landless has explained it all in the most interesting way."
"Will you come again?" asked John, as he stood at the curb, while they stepped into the Neville motor.
"She's sure to," replied the Honorable Margaret promptly. "Saint Ruth's eats 'em alive. I came to scoff and remained to thread needles myself. Phyllis will be minding the babies in a month,—eh, Phil?"
"I should love to come again," said Phyllis.
"To-morrow?" asked John.
"No," said the Honorable Margaret. "To-morrow's not my day. I come on Thursday next."
"I think it would be convenient for me to come to-morrow," said Phyllis. "Perhaps that nice Mrs. Thorpe, to whom you introduced me, could find something for me to do. I am afraid I shall have to be taught how myself first, though."
"Great Scott!" cried the Honorable Margaret, leaning back in the car. "Saint Ruth has made one mouthful of you."
"Good-bye, Mr. Landless. Thank you again," said Phyllis, extending a cordial hand.
"Until to-morrow," said John.
He stood at the curb watching the receding car. When he reentered the house, his smile lighted his face wonderfully.
"What do you think, Phyllis!" whispered the Honorable Margaret, her eye on the chauffeur. "Mark Holroyd telephoned me at the Settlement. He told me he needed bucking up a bit, and was coming to me to be comforted. He's to be at the house at nine. Isn't he the dearest fellow?"
Phyllis opened her eyes wide; and then half closed them.
"He is one of the dearest, Peggy," she said softly.
"Lady Neville is a most estimable woman," observed Sir Peter, at breakfast the next morning, "and your friend Margaret is a very nice girl, as I have observed. But these places, my dear, these social settlements, as they call them, Saint Ruth's, and—er—the rest of them, are the breeding-places of discontent, of unrest hotbeds of socialism. I can't approve of your going there often."
"Well, of course, Uncle Peter, you know far more about it than I do. But I should think that Saint Ruth's would make the poor people more contented. If there were no such clean, bright, cheery places to go to, and to leave their babies in, and to hear music on summer nights, and see the motion-pictures which make them forget their hard, drudging, colorless lives for a little while,"—here Phyllis caught her breath in that fascinating way she has—"if there were no such helpful places, I should think they might be more hopeless and bitter. But when they know that Lady Neville, and you, and other rich people care something for them,—enough to want to give them some happy hours; when they see Peggy Neville teaching their little girls to sew,—don't you think they may feel less like throwing a stone through the windows of her motor?"
"Perhaps, my dear child, perhaps. I do not say you are wrong. I am inclined to think, however, that they suppose these—er—social settlements are maintained by the County Council, and supported by the rates. And I rather think," added Sir Peter, lighting his cigar, "I rather think they believe they pay the rates themselves."
"Have you ever visited Saint Ruth's, Uncle Peter? But I am sure you haven't, or I should have known it. Now, how can you sit in your library here and analyze the thoughts and motives of those poor people? What must Saint Ruth's seem to them, compared with their miserable dwellings?"
"I can't say I have ever been there," owned Sir Peter, "but I am one of the Board of Trustees, in charge of the funds of several philanthropic institutions, and I hear these things discussed. But, my dear child, I do not wish to offer any objection to your going there if you are interested. Good idea; see the other side. Of course, you won't ever go alone, though. Those East End streets, you know—better take the car and have Thompson wait. I will make an inquiry or two of Sir Charles Anstruther at the Club; he takes a deep interest in—er—these social settlements,—Toynbee Hall and——Ten o'clock! I shall be late. Good-bye, my dear. Have a good time in your own way."
Phyllis may have confused inclination with duty a little; in any event, Mrs. Thorpe, whose kind face might have served for a likeness of Saint Ruth herself, found plenty of work for her. And Phyllis did love the babies; they did not all look alike to her, as they did to John. The Honorable Margaret found her quite at home when Thursday rolled around.
"Good for you, Phil!" was her salutation "My word! Don't they get dirty over-night!"
When a month had passed, it was Phyllis's custom to go to Saint Ruth's nearly every day. The work was engrossing; Dr. Thorpe warned her against overdoing it; his experience of volunteer workers was large.
"Oh! she will stay with us," laughed Mrs. Thorpe, to whom his misgivings were clear. "Miss Oglebay and I are to make calls in the neighborhood this afternoon."
"You will see sad sights," said the doctor; "but lots of funny ones, too."
To the Christmas ceremonies she brought Sir Peter, determined to be pleased, against his better judgment. He liked Dr. Thorpe at once; Sir Peter knew a man when he saw one. Mrs. Thorpe made him chuckle; so he liked her, too. The place was crowded; mostly with the very poor, in their best and at their best; but Sir Peter was surprised to meet a number of his acquaintances; not so surprised as they were, however.
There were two adjoining houses to be leased and connected with Saint Ruth's; a matter of arrangement was submitted by Dr. Thorpe. Sir Peter paced off the rooms for himself and gave his opinion. Dr. Thorpe consulted strangers on problems of obvious solution; the hard ones he and Mrs. Thorpe thought out after they went to bed.
They occupied front seats for the entertainment and Phyllis pointed people out to him.
"There is Father Carroll," she said, indicating direction with her programme. "Dr. Thorpe and Father Carroll and Mr. Landless are the committee. Father Carroll will give the address later; Mr. Landless arranged the songs. I helped him with that."
The entertainment was a success. Such proud mothers and fathers when the prizes were distributed! Every child had honorable mention, at least. Father Carroll told the funniest stories; how the crowd laughed. And when he talked seriously to them—you could have heard a pin drop.
When John was introduced to Sir Peter, he stood very straight; one stood at attention instinctively, before Sir Peter.
"Very pleased, indeed, to meet you, sir," said Sir Peter. "You don't happen to be of the Sussex Landlesses, do you; I knew a Hugh Landless at Cambridge."
"Yes, sir. They are my people. He was my father."
"Really. Let me see: he took orders, did he not? I hope I am not to infer——"
"He died last June, sir."
"I beg your pardon. I didn't know. I am sorry not to have seen more of him after he left the University. He was a most likeable fellow. We shall see more of you, I trust? Have you been long in London?"
"I came after—at once. There was nothing to keep me there, and I felt I must begin work in my profession immediately."
If John had been looking at Phyllis, he would have seen her face flush slightly; an anxious look came into her eyes. But he was looking at Sir Peter.
"What is it to be?" asked Sir Peter. "Not the Church?"
"No, sir." John's chin was noticeable now. "I follow the profession of poetry."
"Upon my word!" exclaimed Sir Peter, and would have said more.
"Isn't it fine, Uncle Peter!" Phyllis interrupted, her cheeks rosy, and her eyes starry pleaders for a lost cause. "Mr. Landless means to be a poet. That is his chosen profession. Don't you think it fine to make such a choice,—when one has the talent, of course?" Her earnest voice fell before Sir Peter's stony gaze.
"But poetry isn't a profession," declared Sir Peter roundly. He gave a short, hard laugh. "A pastime, perhaps; a recreation; but not a profession, Mr. Landless. But, pshaw! You don't expect me to take you seriously?"
There was an awkward moment. When Phyllis ventured a look at John, she was surprised to see him smiling.
"I assure you I am quite serious," he answered easily. "But I am accustomed to the other view. Thank you cordially for your willingness to see something of me. My father would have been pleased. When I was going through his papers I fancy I ran across your name in one of his old diaries. You won't think me disrespectful if I tell you that the diary spoke of you as 'Top' Oglebay."
"Good Gad!" said Sir Peter; "I have not heard that name in thirty years. Yes, I was 'Top' Oglebay."
Phyllis was glad to see Mark Holroyd and her dear Peggy Neville coming toward them. Mark was sheepish, at first, but Phyllis put him at his ease in no time. The Honorable Margaret and John Landless were sworn friends. John had applied the test to her. "Perfectly smashing!" was her expressed opinion of his profession; the foresight of Phyllis had smoothed the way.
"Well, well," said Sir Peter, as they drove homeward, "that was all very interesting and new. You will help me to remember to send a check to Thorpe in the morning, won't you, my dear?"
Phyllis, snuggled in furs, wondered if she dared to make a remark, ever so casually, about Mr. Landless; concluded she daren't, and resigned herself to think of him in silence.
A week later John presented himself, in evening dress. Sir Peter chatted with them for a while, and then buried himself in the "Engineering Review." Over this he nodded, oblivious, while John recited his verses to Phyllis at the other end of the long library. They were pretty verses; Phyllis thought them beautiful. You should have seen John's smile. He tried to screw his courage up to recite his "Lines to Phyllis," but at ten he hadn't, and Sir Peter awoke then, and reentered the conversation.
John said good-night to Sir Peter in the library. He would have to Phyllis, also, but she went with him into the hall. Sir Peter followed them there, and said good-night again, in the friendliest way.
Phyllis called on Saint Ruth's neighbors often in the weeks that followed. Mindful of her uncle's command, she was never alone. Sometimes Mrs. Thorpe, at others Peggy Neville, and quite often John Landless went with her. The squalor and misery all about them was shocking to every sense; hideous at its worst; but the sharp, sweet, bitter-sweet memories of those winter afternoons will linger in Phyllis's mind as long as she lives. Sad memories and joyous ones! And one more lovely than all the rest.
There came a day when, long in advance of its arrival, there was a sudden hint of spring. Carrying a parcel, John walked beside Phyllis. The soft air was filled with magic. The mildness of it brought the tenement dwellers to windows and doors.
"Warm, isn't it?" remarked John, trying to fan himself with the parcel, and failing "Please don't walk so fast? I have something to tell you."
"Tell away, Mr. Landless, tell away," said Phyllis, gayly, and slackened her pace. "Is there good news of your book? Do the flinty-hearted publishers at last see their opportunity?"
"No, they don't," said John. "In fact—well, I am glad my opinion of my poetry isn't governed by theirs."
Phyllis stole a quick look at his face; but the chin was uplifted, confident as ever.
"Is the boys' club making progress?" she asked.
"Splendid! But I want to talk about you and me."
"You and me——" three little words. The subtle spring air wafted odors of Arcady.
For a few moments they walked on silently John was preparing his sentences, and he could never be hurried at that.
Phyllis knew what was coming; she knew, she knew! Ah! the rapture of it, the loveliness of it all! the poignant beauty of the still unspoken words. Phyllis was willing to wait; he had nothing to tell her she didn't know; but she wanted to hear it said, and remember each word to dream over afterward.
Slowly they walked, in the mean little street, past dark passages, leading into tenements; past knots of lounging men; little mothers with heavy babies struggling in their thin arms; rowdies with vacuous eyes; and girls flaunting cheap finery.
"May I call you Phyllis?" asked John, breaking the silence suddenly.
"Why, yes; if you wish—and if you think you ought, you know."
"Well, then,—Phyllis. Your name has become to me the one name worth saying in the world. Ever since I met you for the first time, four months ago, I have been saying it, Phyllis; but I wanted to say it to you. So with your face: I know every mood of you by the lights and shadows of it. I can see it in your absence, almost as well as when I am with you. Your dear, sweet face, Phyllis, and your crown of gold, and your loyal eyes, I know by heart, as well as your name. Dear Phyllis. And I know, too, your quick and beautiful mind; its clear, wise judgment of the true and the false. I know its freedom from selfishness, and all littleness. I know its purity and its steadfastness I know your capable hands, Phyllis, and your eager, pitying heart,—for I have seen them at work day after day, and week after week. I love you, my dearest, and I must tell you so. I think I have loved you longer than I have known you, but I know I have loved you as long. Perhaps you can care for me, and perhaps you can't. Sometimes I have dared to hope you might, but almost always I have known it was too high a hope. For I am only a poor poet, with nothing but faith in myself and love for you to offer. I know you have everything; a beautiful home, and beautiful clothes, and beautiful jewels, probably, though I haven't seen them. Every wish of yours is answered almost before you know it is yours. Life's promise to you is the earth and the fullness thereof; and I offer you only love. But in the end I shall win, Phyllis, I am perfectly certain of that. I shall never, never be rich; possibly never even well-to-do; but I love you, Phyllis; I love you. I want to ask you to wait for me—and be my wife."
With a pretty impulse she took one of his hands and raised it to her lips.
People were passing almost constantly. They were forced to separate, to pass a group of children, playing noisily on the pavement.
"I know I should have spoken to your uncle, first," he said, "but I knew he would say no, unless—unless you asked him, too."
"Ah! but I am so glad you told me to-day," said Phyllis. "I am so glad, so glad! Of all the days in the year I should have chosen to-day. You don't know why, do you? Because to-day is the fourteenth of February,—Saint Valentine's Day."
In a rush of words she told him of her mother's name, and of her mother, and of her valentines.
"You haven't told me you love me yet," said John.
"Can't you hear my heart singing it?" asked Phyllis.
"But I want to hear you say the words," he urged.
"I love you, John," said Phyllis softly.
"And you will promise to marry me—some day?" he asked.
"Yes—some day," she repeated shyly.
"And you are not afraid of the future?"
"Not a bit," said Phyllis. She smiled up at him. "You must take me home, now, and we will tell Uncle Peter."
They rode home on the top of a motor-bus. He tucked her hand into his greatcoat pocket, and held it there. Their mood was exalted. The streets were glorified; the gloomy buildings had become wonderful castles; their fellow-passengers were surrounded with the mystery of romance.
It grew colder rapidly; at the terminus they clambered down stiffly. Twilight had fallen when they reached the great gates of the park. John stopped and laid a detaining hand on Phyllis's arm. They kissed for the first time. Moment of ecstasy!
It is doubtful if they would ever have got past the park gates except for the warning whistle of a hurrying messenger boy, on a bicycle.
"My eye! What a smack!" he yelled, as he shot past. John glared, but Phyllis laughed happily.
He would have lingered as they walked down the long street to the house; but Phyllis had no doubt of the outcome; Sir Peter's frown was without terrors for her, but to John—how formidable. His footsteps lagged as they climbed the wide steps to the door.
"Sir Peter was called out of town by a telegram," said Burbage, in the hall. "He said he would be home by a late train. Thompson's to meet the twelve-thirty."
John clutched at this reprieve.
"I have a class at Saint Ruth's at seven," he said. "I must hurry away, Miss Oglebay." Burbage was helping Phyllis with her furs.
It was arranged he should call early the following morning. They exchanged significant looks, and he was gone. A ring, set with old-fashioned garnets, was left in the hand he had pressed; one of his mother's rings, worn on his watch-chain. Phyllis seized Burbage and danced her up and down the hall and back again, demoralizing the rugs. Then, having picked up her muff and thrown it at her, Phyllis raced up the stairs.
Sir Peter was gruff at the breakfast table. The hurriedly written telegram, or his hasty reading of it, had led him a wild-goose chase. To find your host concealing surprise as he shakes hands, and to learn, at the end of ten minutes of feverish cordiality, that you were invited to dine the following night, is never comfortable, even at the home of an old friend. When two hours on a train each way are involved, and loss of one's sleep as well——! A bleak east wind, this morning, too, and Sir Peter was Jarndyced as to that quarter.
Worst of all, Phyllis looked like her mother, with her hair over her ears, like that; the likeness always irritated Sir Peter, but this morning it was particularly striking.
He accepted her morning endearments graciously, but Phyllis was glad the toast wasn't cold. She recognized unpropitious portents.
John was shown into the library at ten, sharp; his chin had come to his rescue. He gave Phyllis a bright look, and led up to the business in hand promptly.
Sir Peter, savoring his cigar, "The Times" spread over his knees, invited the young man to be seated; the young man preferred to stand, and did, very straight, his back to the fireplace. His eyes were large and serious his color high; his hands were behind him and the nervous fingers couldn't be seen. Phyllis viewed her champion with approving eyes, and sat on the edge of her chair.
"I am afraid my errand won't be an agreeable one to you, sir," John began. "I am sure it wouldn't be to me if—if I were you. But I must tell you my story from the beginning, if you are willing. You knew my father and something of my family. The people of his parish were tremendously fond of him. He gave them all of himself. He died poor, of course, and left me a good name and two hundred pounds a year. The countryside came to his funeral. The faces of the men were streaked with tears, as they stood by his grave, and women wept openly. I had letters of sympathy from every county in England, from Canada, and from far-away India. His spirit was as gentle as a child's; but he welded men and women to him as with bonds of steel. Yet he had never tried a cause, nor built a bridge, nor saved a life as a physician, nor laid one down as a soldier. He hasn't even left a sermon in print, for he never wrote one."
John hesitated. Sir Peter rustled "The Times" uneasily. Phyllis sat perfectly still, waiting.
"My father taught me more than I learned at Magdalene, and he gave me my ideals. Perhaps they are unusual, but I believe they are true. They may be told in a few words,—to face life fearlessly, live it cleanly and fully, and use it to what end one's conscience and one's talents direct without too much regard for the careless opinion of the world. I haven't anything behind me that I am ashamed of. I am far from being ashamed of my profession though I admit it has seemed to require defense rather often since I came to London. My father encouraged me to adopt it when I suggested the idea to him. I will tell you what he said to me. It was this: 'All work is fine. Of course, I think labor in the Church of God is the finest. But every profession offers opportunities for useful service; and trade is honorable to honorable men. But, John,' said he, 'one imperishable poem is worth more to mankind than all the gold and silver stored in the stronghold of the Bank of England. You may never write one, but a lifetime devoted to trying will not be wasted.' That was what my father said, sir."
"That would be like him as I recall him," said Sir Peter shortly. He had no inkling yet of John's errand. He was disposed to be generous to this quixotic young man for his father's sake.
Phyllis wondered how any one could look at John or hear him speak, and not love him; but she had momentary pangs of foreboding; a vague presentiment of impending unhappiness.
"I settled his few affairs,—he did not owe a penny,—and I came to London. There had been some correspondence between Dr. Thorpe and my father, and I called at Saint Ruth's. I thought I saw a chance of touching a larger life and of doing a little good; I have given some of my afternoons and all of my evenings there ever since. Dr. Thorpe is a brick, as you know, sir; he and his wife have been very kind to me. I was rather lonely at first, and—all that. My mornings I devote to my profession. I think I have made some progress, if only in finding the wrong ways of putting words together." John smiled. "There are a great many wrong ways and I am finding them all, one by one."
Sir Peter concealed his impatience; the dull ache in Phyllis's heart continued, she knew not why.
"I met Miss Oglebay at Saint Ruth's some months ago. I think I must tell you, sir, that from the very first moment I loved her."
Sir Peter half rose from his chair, in his sudden astonishment.
"The devil you say!" he gasped. "Upon my word, this is effrontery. You amaze me, Landless. You must have lost your senses. My niece"—he turned to Phyllis. Something he saw in her face diverted the torrent "Has Landless spoken of this to you?" he asked grimly.
"Yes, Uncle Peter. He told me yesterday that he—he cared for me, and we both hurried home to tell you, but you were——"
Sir Peter was out of his chair, and on his feet, now.
"You spoke to my niece before you came to me, Landless; knowing that I had met you—not more than three times, at most; that you had been in my house but once?" His voice was raised, his scowl threatening.
"I am sorry to have seen so little of you, sir," said John. "But I have seen a great deal of Phyllis."
"Where, sir?" demanded Sir Peter.
"At Saint Ruth's, and in its neighborhood," John answered evenly. "We have worked there together."
"How long has this been going on?" Sir Peter had regained control of himself, but his fine face was distorted. Phyllis's hands were clenched tightly in her lap. She was very pale.
"If you mean how long have we been meeting each other there, and going about in the neighborhood together——"
"I think my meaning is clear, sir."
"About four months, then. It seems a short time, but we have seen each other almost every day."
"Landless, you are a sneak," said Sir Peter quietly. "You are a damned sneak."
John's face flamed; he started as if struck by a whip.
"Oh, no! Uncle Peter!" cried Phyllis. "Oh, no, no! Uncle Peter."
"Leave the house, Landless."
"But Mr. Landless is my guest!" She was as pale as death, now, and breathing hurriedly; her eyes were unnaturally large, and there was a stricken look in them.
"You heard what I said, Landless." The voice was unyielding.
John moved toward the door, chin up and shoulders squared. Phyllis intercepted him swiftly, and put both hands appealingly on his arm.
"Wait a moment, John. Oh, wait a moment for my sake, John," she pleaded.
"I can't," said John. "You know that I can't."
"Ah, but you must, John, for my sake; for my sake."
She linked her hands closely about his arm and turned to her uncle. John, facing the door, moved slowly toward it, trying gently to disengage her hands, and forcing her to walk a step or two backward as she spoke.
"I must ask you to apologize to Mr. Landless, Uncle Peter," she said earnestly. "Whatever fault there has been, if there has been any, is mine. I have often spoken to you of meeting Mr.—of meeting John at Saint Ruth's. But I see now you didn't realize how often I went there, nor that I was with him so many of the times. I should have told you, Uncle Peter; the fault was mine, not John's. I am sorry, Uncle Peter, and I ask you to forgive me. But you must apologize to John." She looked at the stern face entreatingly; the doorway was very near.
"Oh, John," she implored, "I beg you to wait a moment; just a tiny second. Uncle Peter will tell you he didn't understand."
John stopped, and stood facing the doorway his back turned to Sir Peter.
They waited in silence; the slow ticking of the tall clock could be heard.
"I love him dearly, Uncle Peter," whispered Phyllis.
Ah! Valentine Germain; pretty, dead Valentine Germain; your daughter is wonderfully like you now.
"I ask you to wait, Landless," said Sir Peter.
His next words were calmly spoken; deliberate passionless; the more awful for that.
"I have known one reckless marriage, Landless, and one is enough for a lifetime. There is a taint in all of this of which you know nothing. This unhappy child's father was a fool. Her mother was a shallow, soulless, shameless creature—and worse. Her——"
"It is a lie!" cried Phyllis. "A cruel, cruel lie! God pity you, Uncle Peter, and forgive you. I am sorry for you; I am sorry for you. You have nursed those bitter, black thoughts in your heart for so many years that they have poisoned your life. But you have soiled my mother's memory for the last time in my presence. Never, never again!" A great sob choked her. "I am going to leave you, Uncle Peter. I am grateful to you for many years of generous, loving kindness. Indeed, I do not forget them; indeed, I am grateful. But I cannot stay here any longer. I should be miserable—wretched if I stayed. I cannot breathe in this room—in this house." She rocked her body as if in pain. She would have said more, but——
"Go, then!" said Sir Peter, through set teeth.
Phyllis ran from the room and out of the house, bareheaded; John snatched his hat and stick in the hall and overtook her as she fled through the iron grille. They ran together a short distance. Then Phyllis slackened the pace to a rapid walk. She was breathless, her hands pressed to her heart; a maid distraught. Pitiful, inarticulate little cries escaped her from time to time. John walked beside her, silently. They passed through the gates of the park, and she walked more slowly. Slowly, and still more slowly they wandered, aimlessly, under the leafless trees. She turned to him at last, her lips blue with the cold.
"You must take care of me now, John. I have no one else," she said quietly.
Was it Dr. Johnson who remarked that one great charm of London is that you may walk in a crowded street, eating a twopenny bun, without attracting a second glance? Or was it Benjamin Franklin? Not that it matters.
On a wintry morning, in a public conveyance a hatless and coatless young woman of unusual beauty, and a very self-conscious young man, sitting beside her, were not annoyed by more than a curious stare or two.
John had suggested a cab.
"We must economize from the very beginning," said Phyllis, with a wan smile.
She blushed deliciously when John handed her money, and she hurried into a shop. Such a simple, brown hat she found, a little shopworn; the long, warm coat she bought matched perfectly. Standing at the street corner, waiting for her, John counted the money in his pockets; enough for luncheon, fares, and even contingencies, he was glad to find. But he thought with satisfaction of the full quarter's income at his lodgings. When she rejoined him, John looked her over critically.
"I suppose that is a terribly cheap coat," he said, trying to remember other coats he had seen on her pretty figure.
"It is a lovely coat. I like it very much," replied Phyllis, stroking the flaps of the pockets.
"Well, it really is becoming," John assured her. "So is the hat."
"I think so, too," said Phyllis. "And I am particular about hats."
"I would be willing to wager five shillings you never had such an inexpensive one before," said John. Phyllis didn't answer that; and John added, "Your uncle will send your pretty clothes to—to—wherever you go," he ended lamely.
Phyllis held up two slender fingers.
"Two things I didn't like in one sentence" she admonished him. "First, Uncle Peter will send me nothing. Oh, John, I couldn't, couldn't take anything from him now. I really could not." She stopped suddenly "I must have my valentines, though. They were my mother's. They will go with me wherever—That reminds me of the second thing you said I didn't like. You should not have said—'Wherever you go,' but 'Wherever we go'!"
She smiled at him bravely.
"Well, we will go to lunch now," said John, smiling, too, and making the most of the pronoun. "It is early, but we can sit and talk it all over."
"Where?" she asked, almost gayly. Her heart was bruised, but she meant to forget all that, and the thought of a lunch with John was a very good place to begin.
John took his bearings as to restaurants.
"If you could walk a short distance, there is Mildmay's," he suggested.
"I can walk miles," she answered; but she thought ruefully of her thin soles.
A white table between them, a waitress with rolls, and something hot in prospect; John thought the time had come.
"But, seriously, my darling, what shall we do? What is the best for you? Shall I take you to the Nevilles'?"
Phyllis looked blank.
"To be sent home in their car, bound hand and foot, and lectured besides!" she remonstrated.
"Well, Mrs. Thorpe could certainly put you up for the night. Odd I didn't think of her first."
"John, dear," began Phyllis, and then blushed, for the word had popped out of itself. However, after a moment she went on courageously—"Did you hear me say 'we,' a little while ago? We are going together wherever we go." She hesitated. "Don't you want me, John?" A swift look at his face, and hers glowed.
"My dearest, dearest girl." John's voice expressed his earnest sincerity. "I won't pretend to misunderstand your meaning, and I do so long to believe it possible that my head swims. But—"
"I perfectly hate 'buts,'" she interrupted She put her elbows on the table, and flashed a smile at him, through her arched fingers.
"But, dearest, you must consider this seriously I want you to think for a moment. Need I tell you I love you more than life! Only yesterday I scarcely dared hope that you might be willing to wait years for me to—to earn enough with my pen to ask you to share my lot. To-day—the doors of Paradise are opened wide. Ah! my dear, my dear, I am eager to enter, but I fear for you. I should be taking advantage of your helplessness——"
"Listen, John," said Phyllis. "I am not the least bit helpless. There are dozens of houses to which I can go and dozens of friends who would be glad to have me come to them. But at every open door there is also a finger pointing inevitably back to Uncle Peter's house. And there I shall never, never go. So far as your lot is concerned—it is mine. For better or for worse John, dear. But I trust you, and believe in you, and think perhaps there is a high destiny for you. I want to share in that, too, if you will let me, please. And I can't do so fully unless we go, hand in hand, all the way, together. I am not dismayed by the thought of doing without a great many unnecessary things. And the really vital things I hope to have more of than ever—with you. And so, John, if you don't mind, please, we will eat our lunch like sensible young people, and afterward—and afterward—Now, John, I simply cannot say that. You must say that, you know. I haven't left much of it for you to say, but that little I insist upon your saying for yourself."
Ah! Valentine Germain! pretty, dead Valentine Germain! your daughter is wonderfully like you now.
John looked steadily into her trustful eyes; a long, long look.
"Then I ask you to marry me this afternoon my dearest," he said solemnly. "And—oh! Phyllis, I pray God you may never reproach me."
"I never shall, John," she answered. "For I honestly believe I am to be the happiest and the proudest girl in England."
"Wich of you gets the chocolate, and wich the tea?" asked the waitress.
They were married before three; it was amazing how short, how simple, so marvelous an event could be. John spent ten minutes at the telephone. A quarter of an hour was passed in the coldly official precincts of Doctors' Commons. In the Faculty Office, through an open doorway, Phyllis caught glimpses of the formalities incident to securing a license. A clerk filled up a printed form; John made affidavit to the clerk's accuracy of transcription; a stamp was affixed; a document was blotted, examined; the dotting of an i was attended to, and the dot blotted; a bank-note changed hands. The license in his pocket, John rejoined her.
"We must hurry now, darling," said he.
"Oh, dear!" said Phyllis. "I am glad to hurry away from here. That clerk's face was so unsympathetic."
Half an hour after they entered the dark, quiet church, the clergyman, with a cold in his head, had pronounced them "bad ad wife."
They were on top of a motor-bus, jolting cityward, and John was gayly addressing her as Mrs. Landless, before Phyllis realized that it was really all over—that the irrevocable step was taken—that they were married. The whirl of her thoughts then!
At the terminus, John bought a newspaper and scanned its advertisements. They started on their search for lodgings. His room was in Whitechapel, near Saint Ruth's.
"It is up under the roof, and looks over the week's washing of the submerged tenth; it won't do at all!" he had declared.
The idea of a hotel impressed Phyllis unpleasantly.
"Well, then," said John, "we must look for a new tree in which to build our nest."
How many dissonant bells jangled to their touch; how many dreary hallways they entered and stood waiting in; how many steep staircases they climbed; how many rooms they peeped into—one look enough; how many others they viewed at greater length, but with no more satisfaction in the end; a few, John thought, had possibilities, but Phyllis could not bear the sight of them!
The curious questions they were asked; as though the lodgers instead of the lodgings were undergoing inspection. Most of the lodging-house keepers asked John where he was employed; some of them wanted to know if he could give references.
"How cime you to leave your last plice?" was one shrill question.
In utter weariness Phyllis at last consented to John's suggestion; he would make a preliminary survey and she should be called into counsel only in promising cases. They were few enough. She walked up and down monotonous streets while John was indoors; to be told, time after time, that was not the place they sought.
Even John might have been discouraged; on the contrary, that young man's chin rose to his difficulties. But Phyllis's eyes grew more and more troubled when darkness fell, and the lights in windows reminded them that they were still homeless.
Seeking new bills, "To Let," they found themselves in a small square, surrounded by houses; a fine neighborhood in its day.
"Oh dear, John, I fear I can walk no farther," said Phyllis. "We must go to a hotel after all, though I detest the idea. My shoes are worn through."
He led her to a bench in the little square, and kneeling before her took off one shoe, and then the other, and carefully fitted each with a new sole, made from a page of "The Daily Chronicle."
"If I fail as a poet I shall be a cobbler," he said to her brightly.
He sat down beside her. "My dearest, I am so sorry. I have blundered through this afternoon, horribly. Perhaps I should have taken you to my own room at once, poor as it is. Perhaps I should have sought advice from Mrs. Thorpe. Perhaps I should have insisted on a hotel, for a few days, until we could look about. At least, we might have had a cab. I have been most inconsiderate. I am so strong in the new hope and strength you have given me that I haven't thought enough for you. My poor, tired Phyllis."
He held her hands; his face contrite. She was too dispirited for words, but she patted his hand softly.
As they sat there, John saw a lighted shop-window, not fifty yards distant.
"Sit here and rest, darling, while I run over there and inquire for any lodgings in this vicinity. If there are none, I will call a cab and we will go to a hotel. Think of the beautiful dinner we shall have. Our wedding dinner, dearest! I warn you I mean to be extravagant." He leaned over her and kissed her, and then ran across the street.
Then she allowed herself to cry for the first time. Poor, sad, tired little bride, whose wedding day had been so different from all her girlish dreams of it. She cried quietly, on the bench, alone, in the darkness. She was cold and tired and lonely.
John came back on the run, from the opposite direction.
"I inquired at the bookseller's shop," said he. "He directed me to the house in which he lodges himself. He recommended it so highly I thought I would leave you alone for a few minutes longer and see the rooms. Phyllis, I really believe I have found what we want. There are three rooms, though one is very small. There is the coziest little sitting-room, with a fireplace and an easy-chair. Adjoining it is a smaller room. But the bedroom is large, and has two windows. The place is spotlessly clean. And the woman who lets the rooms is a wholesome, good-hearted soul; I am sure you will like her. The terms are a little—well, just a little higher; but the woman says, of course, that is to be expected—with the view of the square from our windows."
John looked at Phyllis doubtfully. "Do you think, dearest, that you could see these for yourself? It isn't far, and I will not ask you to look at another place if you don't like this one."
She drew new courage from his hopefulness They walked the length of the little square.
John rang. The door opened, and a motherly looking woman stood aside to let them enter. Phyllis stood directly below a flaring gas-jet, as she turned to wait for their conductress.
The woman screamed and her hands went to her heart.
"Valentine Oglebay!" she exclaimed.
"That was my mother's name," said Phyllis. She was too tired to be surprised, even. The woman took a step forward.
"Your mother! Then you must be little Phyllis. You don't remember—"
"Farquharson!" cried Phyllis. "Farquharson! Oh! dear, dear Farquharson."
They were crying in each other's arms, repeating names endearingly, incredulously.
John stood staring.
Finally, Mrs. Farquharson, tears streaming down her kindly face, held Phyllis away from her and looked at her long and lovingly.
"My dear, my dear, my deary dear. How ever did you come to find me?"
"I didn't," replied Phyllis. "John found you. He—we—we are looking for lodgings. We—we were married this afternoon. We have been hunting for rooms for hours—and this was the last place——" Phyllis faltered. She turned to John, and then to Mrs. Farquharson. "This is Mr. Landless, my—this is my dear, dear old Nurse Farquharson. She knew my mother and father, and she took care of me when I was a little, little girl. Oh, John, you cannot know how glad I am to see her!"
They shook hands.
"I told her she would like you," said John to Mrs. Farquharson.
"And to think of her being married," said Mrs. Farquharson. "And coming to my house with her husband, looking for a place to live, and me with three rooms all ready for them as soon as ever I can get a fire laid in the grate."
She turned to Phyllis again.
"Just you sit down here in the warm hall a minute, my deary dear," she said, "while I get—though maybe you would like to look at them first. Yes, of course. Come straight upstairs, Miss—my dear. If you decide to stay—"
"Oh, Farquharson! How can you suggest that we shouldn't stay!" said Phyllis.
"Never would I hint such a thing," replied Mrs. Farquharson. "But, of course, there are only the three rooms, and one of them small, to be sure, and no others in the house unoccupied. This way,—these are the rooms, Miss—my dear. And as I says to the young gentleman—your husband, that is—the sitting-room is that cozy, with the fire, and the bedroom is airy. The view is something pretty, I do assure you. Oh! my deary dear, my deary dear! How ever did you come to find me?"
It was hard to tell whether Mrs. Farquharson was laughing or crying. Phyllis sank into the easy-chair with a sigh.
"I shall never get up again," she said to John.
"Slippers," said Mrs. Farquharson, and vanished.
John kissed Phyllis and tried, awkwardly, to take off her hat. He managed it finally, and a loose strand of beautiful hair fell over one of her ears. She tucked it away.
"Isn't it too wonderful to be true!" she said. John's heart was too full for speech. He turned away to hide his working mouth.
Mrs. Farquharson was on her knees before Phyllis a moment later. The slippers were too large, but how welcome to her aching feet. One of her shoes, upturned, caught Mrs. Farquharson's eye. She inspected John's handiwork; then gave Phyllis a startled look.
"In February, my dear. And on your wedding day! How ever came it? With newspapers, all wadded in. Whatever's happened?"
"It has all been very sudden, dear Farquharson" said Phyllis. "I will tell you all about it as soon as I have rested a little. Oh! It is good, good, to be with you. I am so glad, so glad. Aren't you glad, John? Just think—if you hadn't tried once more. If you hadn't asked at that little shop."
"Shop?" inquired Mrs. Farquharson.
"The little old bookshop, at the other aid of the square," explained John.
"Oh, Mr. Rowlandson's. He sent you here. He would, to be sure. My oldest lodger, sir, and the easiest to do for—though odd. Here's Genevieve with the tea. Don't put the tray on the sofa, Genevieve On the table, of course. Whenever will you learn? Here, drink this, my deary dear. It will prepare your stomach for something more. I am getting your supper ready now downstairs, and the young gentleman's. There's a chop. Do drink a little of the tea, my dear, even if you don't want it. It's for your best. Do you like apricots as well as ever you did? Oh, whoever has had the bringing of you up, that I should have had! The many times I've thought. And your poor dear mother and father both taken at once, too."
"I went to my Uncle Peter," said Phyllis "I have lived there ever since."
"Sir Peter Oglebay—your father's brother I might have known." Mrs. Farquharson nodded her head vigorously. "Though he was terrible down on your—To think of that now! And so you have been here in London all these many years! And me never to know! Deary me!"
"We—my uncle did everything to find you," Phyllis assured her. "He even advertised for you. I cried for you very often when I was little, dear Farquharson."
"Did you, indeed, my dear?" asked Mrs. Farquharson, smiling, and wiping her eyes with her apron. "And advertised for me. In the papers. Reward offered and no questions asked. I've read them myself, but never did I think."
"Oh, yes. I wanted you very badly," Phyllis assured her again. "I used to tease Burbage when I was naughty, by telling her you were never cross with me."
"And who is Burbage?" asked Mrs. Farquharson.
"She is my uncle's housekeeper. She was very good to me, too. But I missed you dreadfully. You know, John, my mother and father were away from home for weeks at a time, and Farquharson took such care of me."
"Such games as we had," said Mrs. Farquharson reflectively; and then to John,—"She was everything whatever from Mary, Queen of Scots, to a dromedary, I've beheaded her many's the time, and her humps was the pillows off her little bed. If Genevieve hasn't burned those chops to a cinder, they must be ready, and why ever she doesn't bring them up I do not know."
What a dainty supper! John did full justice to it.
Mrs. Farquharson brooded over Phyllis; but she could eat nothing.
The kind-hearted woman maintained a constant stream of talk, in which lodgers, rooms, chops, apricots, and toast, and the old times were inextricably intermingled.
The first-floor front and his wife had seen better days; in stocks, they were. The vagaries of Mr. Rowlandson, the bookseller, third-floor front, the walls of his rooms lined with—what do you think? No, not with books, nor pictures, but with glazed cases containing old patch-boxes and old fans. Mrs. Farquharson had seen Mr. Singleton and Mr. Leonard once. But the trio of painters was inseparable no longer. Mr. Knowles had married their favorite model. "The hussy!" said Mrs. Farquharson.
One reminiscence followed another.
"Ah, me," she sighed. "Your father and mother was a pair of lovers if ever there was a pair. As long as I knew them, they never had a word—much less words. 'Pard' he called her. 'What shall we do to-day, Pard?' he would ask her of a morning. She would want him to be at his pictures 'On such a sunshiny morning!' he would say. And the next day, maybe, it would rain. 'You know I can't paint these dark days,' says he. And off they would go, on some harum-scarum or other, like a couple of children. Like a couple of children—and so they ever were, too. Do you mind my speaking of them?"
"I love it," Phyllis assured her. "I—you know I have had no one with whom I could talk about my mother and father. Uncle Peter—" She could not finish the sentence.
"Yes, yes, my deary dear, I know," said Mrs. Farquharson soothingly. "Your mother knew what he thought. Often and often she told me she wished she could find a way to make Sir Peter not think so hard of her. 'Oh, Farquharson,' says she, 'he thinks I snared Robert. If he only knew how hard I tried to refuse him.' She was wild for a stage career when first they met. It grieved her sorely that your uncle didn't know the rights of it; but, bless your heart, she couldn't bear the thought of any one, high or low, not being good friends with her. She was that tender-hearted, you wouldn't believe. But along with it as proud as—as—I can't think of his name—that makes the matches. You know, my dear."
Mrs. Farquharson mused over her memories
"Your father was her first love-affair," she resumed. "She was wrapped up in her acting till she met him. Her mother and father were both on the stage. Did you know that? Yes, my deary dear, she told me a costume-trunk was her cradle, and a dressing-room the only nursery that ever she knew. She hated to give it all up, but she did; your mother loved your father beyond all that ever I saw or heard of, and he worshiped the ground she walked on. Strong words, my dear, but true as true."
It was midnight before they knew it. The dark circles under her darling's eyes gave Mrs. Farquharson occasion for concern. Genevieve had visited the bedroom with clean linen in her arms.
"I will take a short walk," whispered John to Phyllis.
Poor Phyllis. She needed her old nurse; the excitement and fatigue had exhausted her completely.
Standing in the square, looking upward at the stars, a white-faced poet, his thoughts unutterable, at last saw the lights in her windows grow dim and disappear.
On the stairs he met Mrs. Farquharson. Her voice was anxious as she bade him good night.
From the little sitting-room John could see into the bedroom. The light shone on the face of Phyllis asleep.
He sat watching the dying fire for a long while. Finally he rose, slowly wound up his watch, turned out the gas, and lay down on the sofa. He soon slumbered peacefully.
In the gray dawn Phyllis awakened. Recollections slowly crowded upon her consciousness. She rose and stood by the window, looking out on the quiet square, and at the houses, opposite, emerging from obscurity with the growing light. She stepped to the door and peeped into the other room. John lay on the sofa, sleeping soundly, one arm flung boyishly over his head.
The rooms were very cold. She took the coverlet from her bed and spread it over him.
He stirred a little. "Thanks, old chap," he murmured sleepily.
Phyllis tiptoed back to bed.
Within a fortnight their rooms were transformed. Mrs. Farquharson declared she would not have known them herself.
John's old room, dismantled, yielded his bookshelves and his books; his father's old desk, a Sheraton, and therefore a beauty and joy forever; and his armchair, which took its place in a corner of the cheery sitting-room and seemed to say—"Come, sit here, and be comfortable," as naturally as though it had been established there for years. Certainly it had this advantage over the other chairs; it was so roomy John and Phyllis could sit in it together; and often did.
There were photographs of his father as a young man; and of his mother, a flower-like creature, who had faded like a flower, leaving a fragrant memory. Phyllis gazed at her picture with wistful eyes; and once, when John was absent, held it to her lips.
But Phyllis's old valentines gave the rooms their charm. A dozen or more, framed in dull gold, hung on the walls, their delicate coloring softened by the passing of many years; their sentiment as fresh and gentle as of yesterday.
On the day after her marriage, Phyllis had written this letter:—
DEAR UNCLE PETER:—
John Landless and I were married yesterday. We have found a pleasant place to live, with Farquharson, my old nurse. I hope you will try to think of me as kindly as you can, and kindly, too, of John, whose heart is pure gold, and all mine, as mine is his. I want you to know I am sorry, even when I am happiest,—and, indeed, Uncle Peter, I am happy,—sorry for the pain my thoughtlessness gave you? sorry for the mischief that was done, unconsciously, because I did not tell you, long ago, that I was learning to love him. It would have been far, far better to have told you? I am truly, truly sorry. Some day, when you want me to, I hope to tell you all this much better than I can write it.
I have a favor to ask of you, Uncle Peter. I want my valentines. Could Burbage put them all in the leather cases, and send them, by Thompson, to Saint Ruth's? And, please, I ask you to send nothing else? just the valentines, please, Uncle Peter.
Always lovingly, PHYLLIS.
On the following afternoon, John went to Saint Ruth's to tell the news, and announce his unavoidable absence from the Settlement for the month to be devoted to his book.
"And to you," he said, as he kissed Phyllis good-bye.
"Tell Mrs. Thorpe we shall both be back in a month, eager to do more than ever," was her reply to this. "Tell her, please, not to think we are selfish; but the little book is so important just now."
Phyllis listened, smilingly, to Mrs. Farquharson's gossip about her lodgers.
"'Never again,' he says to me solemnly, and pointing at me with his long finger. 'The keys I shall leave in the cases as I ever have, but never again touch dust-cloth to my fans and patch-boxes!' And never have I since that day, which is seven years if it's a minute. He dusts them himself of a Sunday morning. I've caught him at it!" Mrs. Farquharson picked a thread from her skirt, and carefully wound it around her finger.
"Speaking of catching him at it reminds me of that Mrs. Burbage," she continued. She never referred to her save as "that" Mrs. Burbage; the designation expressed anathema. "I have wondered, did ever it occur to you whether Sir Peter asked that Mrs. Burbage to take the advertisements to the papers; it being my belief that if he ever did she never did. And consequently, however could I see them, and know my deary dear wanted her old nurse?"
The whir of a motor, immediately below the windows, caused Mrs. Farquharson to look out.
"Whoever is that now? A man in leggings and a middle-aged woman in spectacles. I never set eyes on her before. He's beginning to take the little leather trunks out. Whatever is—"
Phyllis's intuition was swift as light. A glimpse from another window, and—
"It is Uncle Peter's car, Farquharson," she exclaimed. "The boxes are the old Valentines you remember so well—that I sent for yesterday. The woman is——"
"That Mrs. Burbage, of course. She found me quick enough when she wanted to!"
Phyllis was in flight down the stairs. Mrs. Farquharson smoothed her hair, and followed majestically. They met in the hall. While Thompson carried the boxes up, Phyllis introduced the rivals. They talked for a few moments constrainedly, surveying each other as though watchful for an opening. When the last of the cases had gone up Phyllis said:—
"I want to hear news of my uncle, and show Burbage our pretty rooms. You will excuse us, Farquharson, won't you?"
"Certainly, my dear," she replied; then, addressing Mrs. Burbage—"Shall I light the gas for you, ma'am? I see your age is beginning to tell on your eyes."
"Oh, no, thank you, ma'am," replied Burbage. "I can see perfectly. Though your hall is uncommonly dark."
Both shots told. Phyllis hurried Burbage upstairs.
There was little to learn. Sir Peter had not spoken her name since she had left. He had given her note to Burbage.
"Carry out these directions implicitly," he had said. But Burbage allowed herself latitude; the directory gave Mrs. Farquharson's address—and here, rather than to Saint Ruth's she had brought the valentines—eager to see her darling,—now a bride.
Phyllis chatted happily with her for an hour. She spoke affectionately of her uncle. "It will all come out right in the end," she concluded.
Burbage promised to come often to see her.
"My pretty," she whispered, as she held Phyllis's hand, in parting, "I warn you of this Mrs. Farquharson. A woman with eyes like hers is not to be trusted."
The framed valentines were hung when John came home. Thus they were the first of their Lares and Penates; the first of the pretty things that made a home of lodgings.
"Ah, John, you have no idea how I love my old valentines," said Phyllis that evening, as they looked around the rooms. "I love them dearly for themselves—as well as for their association with my mother. Aren't they sweet and pretty?"
"Indeed, they are," said John warmly. "Don't they light up the rooms, though?"
And so, with John's books and furniture, and Phyllis's valentines, the rooms were transformed. "I wouldn't know them myself" was Mrs. Farquharson's oft-repeated comment.
* * * * *
Of course you have read "Old Valentines, and Other Poems," by John Landless; that is the disadvantage under which this story labors. You know, beforehand, that the little book won instant hearing; you know that "Lyrics" quickly followed, and the favorable verdict of the critics whose good opinion was most worth having. When that wonderful epic—"London: A Poem"—made its appearance, our poet was fairly on the royal road.
But you must pretend you don't know all this; and that "Lyrics" and "London" are not, at this moment, in plain sight on your reading-table. You must forget that you saw John's portrait in the last "Bookman." Unless you are good at make-believe, it is no fun at all. You must know nothing of the rosy glow on the peaks of Parnassus, so that you may struggle with John and Phyllis up the first, heart-breaking, storm-swept steeps.
We are back in their pretty rooms now. Are you there? Very well, then; we proceed.
They had lived at Mrs. Farquharson's for a fortnight. John worked steadily at his desk; Phyllis sewed. Poetry reads very smoothly on a printed page; but Phyllis had not realized that ten satisfying lines is a fair morning's stint; nor that a little book of synonyms is first aid in emergency cases; nor that one may talk as much as one pleases at times, but must be quiet as a mouse when the pen is scratching away so busily; she had to learn that when John's eyes were full of anguish he was probably at his best.
"Phyllis," said John, one morning, looking up from his writing.
"That's all—just Phyllis," he replied, smiling.
She beamed at him over her embroidery. The pen resumed its slow progress. Phyllis rocked happily. When the pen paused again, she watched his face. It welcomed speech, so—
"What word from the publishers?" asked Phyllis.
"They will have none of it," replied John. "They all tell me the verses have merit; they all regret the public taste; but—in short, business is business."
Phyllis bit her thread in two. John continued
"If I could get the first little book out,—and reviewed in the papers that count,—I have enough verses for a second, to follow at once, and catch the favoring breeze;—but if there is no first, how can there be a second?"
Phyllis shook her head. The idiosyncrasies of the publishing trade were beyond her comprehension. How they could refuse such beautiful—Well!
"I had a proposal from Kendall, Ransome & Company yesterday afternoon that I meant to have told you about—only Miss Neville's and Mark Holroyd's coming to spend the evening knocked it out of my head."
"Wasn't it dear of them! Didn't Peggy look sweet in that blue gown? What was the proposal, John? Any proposal is encouraging isn't it?" asked Phyllis.
"I suppose so," John answered, running his hand through his hair. "But this one couldn't be accepted under the circumstances They offered to publish the book if I would pay the cost of printing and relinquish copyright."