THE AWAKENING OF HELENA RICHIE
By MARGARET DELAND
Author of "Dr Lavendar's People," "Old Cheater Tales," etc.
MAY 12, 1906
Dr. Lavendar and Goliath had toiled up the hill to call on old Mr. Benjamin Wright; when they jogged back in the late afternoon it was with the peculiar complacency which follows the doing of a disagreeable duty. Goliath had not liked climbing the hill, for a heavy rain in the morning had turned the clay to stiff mud, and Dr. Lavendar had not liked calling on Benjamin Wright.
"But, Daniel," said Dr. Lavendar, addressing a small old dog who took up a great deal more room on the seat of the buggy than he was entitled to, "Daniel, my boy, you don't consult your likings in pastoral calls." Then he looked out of the mud-spattered window of the buggy, at a house by the roadside—"The Stuffed Animal House," Old Chester children called it, because its previous owner had been a taxidermist of some little local renown. "That's another visit I ought to make," he reflected, "but it can wait until next week. G'long, Goliath!"
Goliath went along, and Mrs. Frederick Richie, who lived in the Stuffed Animal House, looking listlessly from an upper window, saw the hood of the buggy jogging by and smiled suddenly. "Thank Heaven!" she said.
Benjamin Wright had not thanked Heaven when Dr. Lavendar drove away. He had been as disagreeable as usual to his visitor, but being a very lonely old man he enjoyed having a visitor to whom to be disagreeable. He lived on his hilltop a mile out of Old Chester, with his "nigger" Simmons, his canary-birds, and his temper. More than thirty years before he had quarrelled with his only son Samuel, and the two men had not spoken to each other since. Old Chester never knew what this quarrel had been about; Dr. Lavendar, speculating upon it as he and Goliath went squashing through the mud that April afternoon, wondered which was to blame. "Pot and kettle, probably," he decided. "Samuel's goodness is very irritating sometimes, and Benjamin's badness is— well, it's not as distressing as it should be. But what a forlorn old critter he is! And this Mrs. Richie is lonely too—a widow, with no children, poor woman! I must call next week. Goliath wouldn't like to turn round now and climb the hill again. Danny, I fear Goliath is very selfish."
Goliath's selfishness carried them home and landed Dr. Lavendar at his own fireside, rather tired and full of good intentions in regard to calls. He confided these intentions to Dr. William King who looked in after supper to inquire about his cold.
"Cold? I haven't any cold! You can't get a job here. Sit down and give me some advice. Hand me a match first; this ragamuffin Danny has gone to sleep with his head on my foot, and I can't budge."
The doctor produced the match; "I'll advise you not to go out in such weather. Promise me you won't go out to-morrow."
"To-morrow? Right after breakfast, sir! To make calls on the people I've neglected. Willy, how can I find a home for an orphan child? A parson up in the mountains has asked me to see if I can place a little seven-year-old boy. The child's sister who took care of him has just died. Do you know anybody who might take him?"
"Well," said Willy King, "there's Mrs. Richie."
Dr. Lavendar looked at him over his spectacles. "Mrs. Frederick Richie?—though I understand she calls herself Mrs. Helena Richie. I don't like a young female to use her own name, William, even if she is a widow! Still, she may be a nice woman I suppose. Do you think a little boy would have a good home with her?"
"Well," the doctor demurred, "of course, we know very little about her. She has only been here six months. But I should think she was just the person to take him. She is mighty good-looking, isn't she?"
"Yes," Dr. Lavendar said, "she is. And other things being equal I prefer a good-looking woman. But I don't know that her looks are a guarantee that she can train up a child in the way he should go. Can't you think of anybody else?"
"I don't see why you don't like Mrs. Richie?" "I never said I didn't like her," protested Dr. Lavendar; "but she's a widow."
"Unless she murdered the late Richie, that's not against her."
"Widows don't always stay widows, Willy."
"I don't believe she's the marrying kind," William said. "I have a sort of feeling that the deceased Richie was not the kind of husband who receives the compliment of a successor—"
"Hold on; you're mixing things up! It's the bad husband and the good wife that get compliments of that kind."
William laughed as he was expected to, but he stuck to his opinion that Mrs. Richie had had enough of husbands. "And anyway, she's devoted to her brother—though he doesn't come to see her very often."
"There's another point," objected Dr. Lavendar; "what kind of a man is this Mr. Pryor? Danny growled at him once, which prejudiced me against him."
"I don't take to him much myself," William King confessed; "though I must say he seems a decent man enough. He doesn't cultivate acquaintances in Old Chester, but that only shows bad taste."
"She says he is not very well," Dr. Lavendar explained; "she says he likes to keep quiet when he comes down here."
"I don't see anything wrong with him."
"Hasn't taken any of your pills? Maybe he doesn't believe in doctors. I don't myself."
"Thank you," said William King.
"There's too much fuss anyway over our precious carcasses! And you fellows encourage it," Dr. Lavendar grumbled. Then he said he wished he knew more about Mrs. Richie. "I ask you for information and all you say is that she's good-looking, and her brother doesn't take your pills."
"She doesn't come to church very regularly, and she never stops afterwards to talk," Dr. Lavendar ruminated.
"Well, she lives 'way up there on the hill road—"
"Yes, she does live pretty far out of town," Dr. Lavendar admitted, "but that's not a reason for not being neighborly after church."
"She's shy," said William King, "that's all. Shyness isn't anything very wrong. And she's mighty pleasant when she does talk to you. I tell you Dr. Lavendar, pleasantness goes a good way in this world. I'd say it was better than goodness—only they are the same thing."
"No, they're not," said Dr. Lavendar.
"I grant she doesn't belong to the sewing society," William said grinning. "Martha says that some of the ladies say she doesn't show proper grief for her husband. She actually smiles sometimes! They say that if the Lord were to remove their beloved husbands, they would never smile again."
"William," said Dr. Lavendar chuckling, "I begin to like your widow."
"She's not my widow, thank you! But she's a nice woman, and she must be pretty lonely up there all by herself."
"Wish I had gone in to see her this afternoon," the old man said thoughtfully. "As you say she may be a suitable person to take this little boy. I wonder if she's going to stay in Old Chester?"
"Sam Wright says she has spoken to him of buying the house. That looks as if she meant to settle down. Did you know that Sam's Sam is casting sheep's eyes at her?"
"Why, she's old enough to be his mother!" said Dr. Lavendar.
"Oh, no. Sam's Sam is twenty-three, and one of my patients says that Mrs. Richie will never see forty-five again. Which leads me to conclude that she's about thirty."
"Of course she doesn't encourage him?" Dr. Lavendar said anxiously.
"She lets him come to see her, and she took him out once in that wicker-work vehicle she has—looks like a clothes-basket on wheels. And she provides the clothes to put into it. I'm told they're beautiful; but that no truly pious female would be willing to decorate poor flesh and blood with such finery. I'm told—"
"William! Is this the way I've brought you up? To pander to my besetting sin? Hold your tongue!" Dr. Lavendar rose chuckling, and stood in front of the fireplace, gathering the tails of his flowered cashmere dressing-gown under his arms. "But Willy I hope Sam isn't really smitten? You never can tell what that boy will do."
"Yes, he's a hair-trigger," the doctor agreed, "a hair-trigger! And his father understands him about as well as—as Danny there understands Hebrew! I think it's a case of Samuel and his father over again. Dr. Lavendar, do you suppose anybody will ever know what those two quarrelled about?"
"I suppose," William King ruminated, "that you'd call Sam a genius?"
"No, I wouldn't; he has no patience. You can't have genius without patience. Sam hasn't a particle."
"Well," the doctor explained, "he hasn't the slightest sense of responsibility; and I notice that when people have no sense of responsibility, you call them either criminals or geniuses."
"I don't," said Dr. Lavendar dryly, "I call 'em poor critters, either way. But Willy, about this little boy; the great point is who needs him? I expect he'll be here on Saturday."
"What! This week? But you haven't found anybody to take him."
"Oh, he'll stay with me for a while, Mary'll look after him. And I'll play marbles with him. Got any white alleys? Gimme six, and I'll give you an agate."
"But Dr. Lavendar, that will be a nuisance to you," William King protested. "Let me take him. Or, at least—I'll ask Martha; she's house-cleaning now, and she says she's very tired; so I'm not sure—" William ended weakly.
"No, no; I want him myself," said the old minister.
"Well," Dr. King said with evident relief, "shall I speak to Mrs. Richie about him? I'm going up there to-morrow; she's got a sick cook, and she asked me to call. What's his name?"
"David Allison. You might sound her William, but don't be definite. Don't give her any chance to say yes or no. I want to know her a little better before I make up my mind. When the boy comes I'll happen along in my buggy with him, and then we'll see. And meantime Willy, keep your eye on Sam's Sam. He mustn't get too much interested up there. A little falling in love with an older woman doesn't hurt most boys; in fact, it's part of their growing up and likely as not it does 'em good. But Sam's Sam isn't like most boys."
"That's so," said William King, "he may not be a genius and he certainly isn't a criminal, but he has about as much stability as a sky-rocket."
"You can't think of anybody who might like to take this little David Allison, can you, my dear?" William King asked his wife at breakfast the next morning.
"I certainly cannot," Martha said decidedly. "I think it's a very dangerous thing to take unknown children into your family. I suppose you think I ought to offer to do it? But in the first place, I'm very tired, and in the second place, I don't like boys. If it was a girl it might be different."
"No doubt we could find a girl," William began, but she interrupted him.
"Girls are a great expense. And then, as I said—unknown children!— they might turn into anything. They might have evil tendencies; they probably have. If the parents die early, it's a sign of weakness of some sort. I've no doubt this boy's father drank. I don't want to seem unkind, but I must say flatly and frankly that considering how hard it is for us to make both ends meet—as you keep up a sort of free practice—I don't think it's prudent to suggest any new responsibilities and expenses."
"Oh, I wasn't making suggestions," William King said. "I guess we're not the people to bring up a child. I'd spoil him, I've no doubt."
"I'm sure you would!" Martha said, greatly relieved. "It would be the worst possible thing for him. But Willy, there's that Mrs. Richie?"
"You think his evil tendencies wouldn't hurt her?" the doctor said dryly.
"I think she's a rich woman, so why shouldn't she do a thing like that? I'll go and see her if you want me to—though she never makes you feel welcome; and tell her about the boy?"
"You needn't bother; Dr. Lavendar will see her himself."
"I don't understand that woman," Mrs. King said. "She keeps herself to herself too much. It almost looks as if she didn't think we were good enough to associate with her!"
William made no reply.
"Willy, does she use perfumery?"
"How in the world should I know!"
"Well, there's a sort of fragrance about her. It isn't like cologne, it's like—well, orris-root."
William made no comment.
"It's a kind of sachet, I guess; I'd like to know what it is. Willy, Sam Wright's Sam went out walking with her yesterday. I met them on the River Road. I believe the boy is in love with her!"
"He's got eyes," William agreed.
"Tck!" said Martha, "the idea of calling her good-looking! And I don't think it speaks well for a woman of her age—she's forty if she's a day—to let a boy trail round after her like that. And to fix herself up with sachet-powders and things. And her Sarah told the Draytons' Jean that she had her breakfast in bed every morning! I'd like to know how my housekeeping would go on if I had breakfast in bed, though dear knows I'm very tired and it would be pleasant enough. But there's one thing about me: I may not be perfect, but I don't do lazy things just because they are pleasant."
The doctor made no defence of Mrs. Richie. Instead he asked for another cup of coffee and when told that it would not be good for him, got up, then paused patiently, his hand on the door-knob, to hear his Martha out.
"William, what do you suppose is the last thing Sam Wright's Sam has done?"
The doctor confessed his ignorance.
"Well, his father sent him to Mercer on Monday to buy supplies for the bank. He gave him seventy-five dollars. Back comes my young gentleman with—what do you suppose? A lot of pictures of actors and actresses! And no supplies."
"What! you don't mean he spent the money on the pictures?"
"Every bit of it! His mother came in and told me about it last night. She said his father was frantic. She was dreadfully upset herself. As for Sam, he kept saying that the 'prints,' as he called them, were very valuable. Though I'm sure I can't see why; they were only of actor people, and they had all died sixty or seventy years ago."
"Actors!" the doctor said. "Poor Samuel! he hates the theatre. I do believe he'd rather have pictures of the devil."
"Oh, but wait. You haven't heard the rest of it. It appears that when the boy looked at 'em yesterday morning he found they weren't as valuable as he thought—I don't understand that part of it," Martha acknowledged—"so what does he do but march downstairs, and put 'em all in the kitchen stove! What do you think of that?"
"I think," said William King, "that he has always gone off at half- cock ever since he was born. But Martha, the serious thing is his spending money that didn't belong to him."
"I should think it was serious! If he'd been some poor little clerk in the bank, instead of Mr. Samuel Wright's only son, he would have found it was serious! Willy, what do you make of him?"
"He is queer," William said; "queer as Dick's hatband; but that's all. Sam wouldn't do a mean thing, or a dirty thing, any more than a girl would."
"And now he thinks he's in love with this Richie woman," Martha went on—but William made his escape. He had to go and hitch up, he said.
Before he took Jinny out of her stall he went into the harness-room and hunted about on a shelf until, behind a rusty currycomb and two empty oil-bottles, he found a small mirror. It was misty and flecked with clear spots where the quicksilver had dropped away, but when he propped it against the cobwebbed window he could see himself fairly well. Staring into its dim depths he retied his necktie; then he backed the buggy out of the carriage-house. But after he had put his mare between the shafts he hesitated.... The buggy was very shabby; it sagged badly on the right side and there was a rent in the faded cushion. The doctor looked at his watch.... Then, hurriedly, led Jinny back to her stall, got a bucket of water and a sponge, and washed off the dashboard and wheels. After that he fumbled along a dusty beam to find a bottle of oil with which he touched up the harness. But when all was done he shook his head. The buggy was hopeless. Nevertheless, when he climbed in and slapped Jinny's flank with the newly oiled rein he was careful to sit in the middle of the seat to make the springs truer, and he avoided the mud-puddles on the road up to the Stuffed Animal House. There were a good many puddles, for it had rained the day before. To-day the clouds had gathered up behind the hills into white domes, but the sky was that faint April blue that dims easily into warm mists. There was the smell of earth, the fainter scent of unopened buds, and from the garden borders of the Stuffed Animal House came the pungent odor of box.
Helena Richie, standing by a bed of crown-imperials, bareheaded, a trowel in her gloved hand, her smooth cheek flushed with the unwonted exertion of planting seeds, caught the exquisite breath of the box, and sighed; then, listlessly, she turned to walk back towards the house. Before she reached it the gate clicked and Dr. King came up the path. She saw him and looked hurriedly about, as if seeking a way of escape, but it was too late.
"Gardening?" he called to her.
"Yes," she said, and her smile like reluctant sunshine did not betray to the doctor that he was not welcome.
"Don't work too hard," he cautioned her. It seemed to William King, looking at her with wondering admiration, that she was too delicate a creature to handle a trowel. There was a certain soft indolence in the way she moved that was a delight to his eye. It occurred to him that he would ask his Martha why she didn't wear gardening-gloves. Mrs. Richie wore them, and as she pulled one off he saw how soft and white her hand was....
"How's the patient?" he asked.
"Poor Maggie? Oh, she's pretty uncomfortable I'm afraid."
They had gone together to the front porch, and as she stood on the lower step looking up at him, the sunshine suddenly filled her eyes with limpid brown light. "Maggie is in her room in the ell—the first door on the left. Shall I show you the way?"
"I know the way," he said.
Mrs. Richie sat down on the porch step to wait for him. She had nothing else to do. She never had anything to do. She had tried to be interested in the garden, and bought a trowel and some seeds and wandered out into the borders; but a manufactured interest has no staying quality—especially if it involves any hard work. She was glad when William King came back and sat down beside her; sickness was not an agreeable topic, but it was a topic.
"Maggie will be all right in two or three days, but don't let her go into the kitchen before Monday. A bad throat pulls you down. And she's had a good deal of pain."
"Oh, poor Maggie!" she said wincing.
"A sore throat is nothing so very dreadful," William assured her with open amusement.
She drew a breath of relief. "Oh, I'm glad! I can't bear to think of pain." Then she looked at him anxiously. "Don't you think she can cook before Monday? I'm so tired of scrappy dinners.
"I'm afraid not," William King said. "I'm very sorry." But that his sorrow was not for Maggie was evident.
"Oh, dear!" said Mrs. Richie; and then her eyes crinkled with gayety at his concern. "I don't really mind, Dr. King."
"I shouldn't blame you if you did. Nobody likes scrappy dinners. I wish you would come down and have dinner with us?"
"Oh, thank you, no," she said. And the sudden shy retreat into her habitual reserve was followed by a silence that suggested departure to the doctor. As he got up he remembered Dr. Lavendar and the little boy, but he was at a loss how to introduce the subject. In his perplexity he frowned, and Mrs. Richie said quickly:
"Of course she sha'n't do any work. I'm not so bad-tempered as you think; I only meant that I don't like discomfort."
"You bad-tempered?" he said. "No, indeed! You're just the opposite. That's why I suggested you when I heard about this boy."
"Why, a little fellow of seven—David his name is—that Dr. Lavendar is trying to find a home for. And I thought perhaps you—"
"—would take him?" cried Mrs. Richie in astonishment, and then she laughed. "I!"
"Why, it occurred to me that perhaps you might be lonely, and—"
Helena Richie stopped laughing; she pulled off her other glove and looked down at her white hands. "Well, yes, I'm lonely. But—I don't like children, Dr. King."
"You don't?" he said blankly, and in his surprise he sat down again. "Oh, I'm sure that's only because you don't know them. If you had ever known a child—"
"I have," Mrs. Richie said, "one." Her voice was bleak; the gayety had dropped out of it; for an instant she looked old. William King understood.
She nodded. She began to pull her gloves on again, smoothing down each finger carefully and not looking at him.
"A little girl?"
"Boy." She turned her face away, but he saw her chin tremble. There was a moment's silence; then the doctor said with curious harshness.
"Well, anyhow, you know what it means to have owned your own."
"Better not have known!"
"I can't feel that. But perhaps I don't understand."
"You don't understand." Her head, with its two soft braids wound around it like a wreath, was bent so that he could not see her face. "Dr. King, his father—hurt him. Yes; hurt a little baby, eight months and twelve days old. He died seven weeks later."
William drew in his breath; he found no words.
"That was twelve years ago, but I can't seem to—to get over it," she said with a sort of gasp.
"But how—" Dr. King began.
"Oh, he was not himself. He was—happy, I believe you call it 'happy'?"
"How did you bear it!"
"I didn't bear it I suppose. I never have borne it!"
"Did he repent before he died?" William King said passionately.
"Before he—?" Her voice suddenly shook; she made elaborate pretence of calmness, fastening her gloves and looking at them critically; then she said: "Yes, Dr. King; he repented. He repented!"
"If there ever was excuse for divorce, you had it!"
"You don't think there ever is?" she asked absently.
"No," William said. "I suppose you'll think I'm very old-fashioned, but I don't, unless—" he stopped short; he could not have put his qualifying thought into words to any woman, especially not to this woman, so like a girl in spite of her thirty-odd years. "You see," he said, awkwardly, "it's such an unusual thing. It never happened in Old Chester; why, I don't believe I ever saw a—a divorced person in my life!"
"Well," she said, "anyhow, I didn't get a divorce."
"Mrs. Richie!" he said, blushing to his temples, "you didn't think I thought of such a thing?"
But it was plain that she regretted her confidence; she rose with the evident purpose of changing the subject. "I must go and put in some more seeds. Why doesn't Dr. Lavendar keep this little boy? After all, he's lonely himself."
"Well, he's an old man you know, and—"
"Dr. King," she broke in, "I don't mind having the child here for a week while Dr. Lavendar is looking for somebody to take him. Not longer. It wouldn't do. Really it wouldn't. But for a week, perhaps, or maybe two!"
"That would be a great help," William King said. "Then Dr. Lavendar can have plenty of time to find a home for him. I would have been glad to take him myself, but just at present it happens that it is not—I should say, Mrs. King is very tired, and—"
"It is perfectly convenient for me," Mrs. Richie said, "if you'll only cure Maggie! You must cure Maggie, so that she can make cookies for him."
"I'll cure Maggie," the doctor assured her smiling, and went away much pleased with himself. But when he got into his shabby old buggy he sighed.
"Poor soul!" he said. "Poor soul!"
William King reported the result of his call to Dr. Lavendar, and when he told the tragic story of the dead baby the old man blinked and shook his head.
"Do you wonder she doesn't call herself Mrs. Frederick Richie?" William demanded. "I don't!"
"No; that's natural, that's natural," Dr. Lavendar admitted.
"I suppose it was a dreadful thing to say," said William, "but I just burst out and said that if ever there was an excuse for divorce, she had it!"
"What did she say?"
"Oh, of course, that she hadn't been divorced. I was ashamed of myself the next minute for speaking of such a thing."
"Poor child," said Dr. Lavendar, "living up there alone, and with such memories! I guess you're right; I guess she'd like to have little David, if only for company. But I think I'll keep him for a week or two myself, and let her get sort of acquainted with him under my eye. That will give me a chance to get acquainted with her. But to think I haven't known about that baby until now! It must be my fault that she was not drawn to tell me. But I'm afraid I wasn't drawn to her just at first."
Yet Dr. Lavendar was not altogether at fault. This newcomer in Old Chester was still a stranger to everybody, except to Sam Wright's Sam and to William King. To be sure, as soon as she was settled in her house Old Chester had called and asked her to tea, and was confused and annoyed because its invitations were not accepted. Furthermore, she did not return the calls. She went to church, but not very regularly, and she never stopped to gossip in the vestibule or the church-yard. Even with Dr. Lavendar she was remote. The first time he went to see her he asked, with his usual directness, one or two questions: Did Mr. Pryor live in Mercer? No; he had business that brought him there occasionally. Where did he live? In Philadelphia. Had she any relatives in this part of the world—except her brother? No, none; none anywhere. Was Mr. Pryor married? Yes. Had he any family? One daughter; his wife was dead. "And you have lost your husband?" Dr. Lavendar said, gently. "This is a lonely life for you here, I am afraid."
But she said oh, no; not at all; she liked the quiet. Then, with faint impatience as if she did not care to talk about her own affairs, she added that she had always lived in the East; "but I find it very pleasant here," she ended vaguely.
Dr. Lavendar had gone away uneasy and puzzled. Why didn't she live with her brother? Family differences no doubt. Curious how families fall out! "You'd think they'd be glad to hang together," the solitary old man thought; "and they are not necessarily bad folk who quarrel. Look at Sam and his boy. Both of 'em good as gold. But it's in the blood there," he said to himself sighing.
Sam and his son were not bad folk. The boy had nothing bad about him; nothing worse than an unexpectedness that had provided Old Chester with smiles for many years. "No; he is not bad; I have seen to that," his father used to say. "He's hardly been out of my sight twenty-four hours at a time. And I put my foot down on college with all its temptations. He's good—if he's nothing else!" And certainly Samuel Wright was good too. Everybody in Old Chester said so. He said so himself. "I, my dear Eliza, have nothing with which to reproach myself," he used to tell his wife ponderously in moments of conjugal unbending. "I have done my duty. I always do my duty; under all circumstances. I am doing my duty now by Sam."
This was when he and his son fell out on one point or another, as they had begun to do as soon as young Sam learned to talk; and all because the father insisted upon furnishing the boy with his own most excellent principles and theories, instead of letting the lad manufacture such things for himself. Now when Sam was twenty-three the falling-out had become chronic. No doubt it was in the blood, as Dr. Lavendar said. Some thirty years before, Sam senior, then a slim and dreamy youth, light-hearted and given to writing verses, had fallen out with his father, old Benjamin Wright; fallen out so finally that in all these years since, the two men, father and son, had not spoken one word to each other. If anybody might have been supposed to know the cause of that thirty-year-old feud it was Dr. Lavendar. He certainly saw the beginning of it....
One stormy March evening Samuel Wright, then twenty-four years old, knocked at the Rectory door; Dr. Lavendar, shielding his lamp from the wind with one hand, opened it himself.
"Why, Sam, my boy," he said and stopped abruptly. He led the way into his study and put the lamp down on the table. "Something is the matter?"
"What is it, Samuel?"
"I can't tell you, sir."
"Does your father know?"
"My father knows.... I will tell you this, Dr. Lavendar—that so help me God, I will never speak to my father again."
The young man lifted one hand; his face was dreadful to look upon. Then trying to speak in a natural voice he asked if he might stay at the Rectory for that night.
Dr. Lavendar took two turns about his study, then he said, "Of course you may, Samuel, but I shall feel it my duty to acquaint your father with the fact."
"Just as you please, sir."
"And Sam—I hope the night will bring wisdom."
Sam was silent.
"I shall see your father in the morning and try to clear this thing up."
"Just as you please, sir. I would like to go to my room now if you have no objection."
And that was all Dr. Lavendar got out of the son.
He lighted a lamp and silently preceded his guest up-stairs; then he went back to his study and wrote a line to the father. He sent it out to the Wright house and sat up until midnight waiting for an answer. None came. "Well," said Dr. Lavendar at last trudging up to bed, "the boy comes by his obstinacy honestly." The next morning he went early to see Mr. Benjamin Wright. But as far as any straightening out of the trouble went or any enlightenment as to its cause, he might as well have stayed at home.
"Sam send you?"
"No; I came to see what I could do for you both. I take it for granted that Sam is at fault in some way? But he is a good boy, so I am sure he can be made to see his error."
"Did he tell you what was the trouble?"
"No; will you?"
"Let him come back and behave himself!" the older man said.
Dr. Lavendar thrust out his lower lip with a thoughtful frown. "It would expedite things, Wright, if you could tell me a little about the affair?"
Mr. Wright hesitated. He thrust his hand down into a blue ginger-jar for a piece of dried orange-skin and bit at it as if to steady his lips. "Sam can tell you if he wants to. He has perhaps informed you that he wishes to see the world? That he thinks life here very narrow? No? Well, I sha'n't quote him. All I shall say, is that I am doing my duty to him. I've always done my duty to him. If he sees fit to set up his own Ebenezer, and say he won't speak to me—I suppose he conveyed that filial sentiment to you?—he can do so. When he gets hungry he can speak. That's what other puppies do when they are hungry."
And that was all Dr. Lavendar got out of the father....
This was thirty-two years ago. Sain Wright may have been hungry, but he never spoke. Instead, he worked. Old Chester seethed with curiosity for a while—to see Benjamin Wright pass his son with a contemptuous stare, to see Sam pass his father without a glance was very exciting. But excitement ebbs in thirty-two years. For one thing, old Mr. Wright came less often into town—because he could not bear to meet his son, people said; and Samuel never took the hill road out of Old Chester for a corresponding reason. Furthermore, it was hard to connect Samuel with anything so irrational as a quarrel, for every year he grew in solemn common sense. Benjamin Wright's growth was all in the way of temper; at least so his boy Simmons, a freckled mulatto of sixty years, informed Old Chester.
"He 'ain't got no human feelin's, 'cept for them there canaries," Simmons used to say in an aggrieved voice; "he'll stand and look at 'em and chirp to 'em by the hour—an' 'en he'll turn round and swear at you 'nough to take your leg off," Simmons said, bitterly. Simmons did his best for the canaries which he detested, cleaning out the cages and scraping the perches and seeing that the seed-trays and bath-tubs were always full; he did his best conscientiously, and it was hard to be "swore at when you 'ain't done nothin'." Perhaps Benjamin Wright had some "human feelings" for his grandson, Sam; but certainly Simmons's opinion was justified by his treatment of his granddaughters. When by their father's orders the little girls came up to the lonely house on the hill, the old man used to pitch small coins to them and tell them to go and look at the canaries,—"and then clear out. Simmons, give 'em some cake or something! Good-by. Good-by. Clear out." Long before he had settled into such dreary living, the son with whom he had quarrelled had made a life of his own. His slimness and gayety had disappeared as well as his dreaminess and versifying instincts. "Poetry?" he had been heard to say, "why, there isn't a poem that was ever written that I'd take five minutes out of my business to read!" It seemed as if the quarrel had wrenched him from the grooves, physical and spiritual, in which Nature had meant him to run and started him on lines of hard common sense. He was intensely positive; heavy and pompous and painfully literal; inclined to lay down the law to everybody; richer than most of us in Old Chester, and full of solemn responsibilities as burgess and senior warden and banker. His air of aggressive integrity used to make the honestest of us feel as if we had been picking pockets! Yes; a good man, as Old Chester said.
Years ago Dr. Lavendar had given up trying to reconcile the two Wrights; years ago Old Chester's speculations languished and died out. Once in a while some one remembered the quarrel and said, "What in the world could it have been about?" And once in a while Samuel's own children asked awkward questions. "Mother, what was father's row with grandfather?" And Mrs. Wright's answer was as direct as the question. "I don't know. He never told me."
When this reply was made to young Sam he dropped the subject. He had but faint interest in his father, and his grandfather with whom he took tea every Sunday night was too important a person to connect with so trivial an affair as a quarrel.
This matter of offspring is certainly very curious. Why should the solid Samuel Wright and his foolish, obedient Eliza have brought into the world a being of mist and fire? A beautiful youth, who laughed or wept or sung aloud, indifferent to all about him! Sometimes Sam senior used to look at his son and shake his head in bewildered astonishment; but often he was angry, and oftener still—though this he never admitted—hurt. The boy, always impersonally amiable, never thought it worth while to explain himself; partly because he was not interested in his father's opinion of his conduct, and partly because he knew he could not make himself understood.
"But who, my dear Eliza," Samuel would say to his wife—"who could understand such a boy? Look at this last performance of his! Purchasing pictures of actors! Where does he get such low tastes?—unless some of your family were interested in such things?"
"Oh no, Samuel; no, indeed," Mrs. Wright protested nervously.
"And to use money not his own! Do you know what that is called, my dear Eliza? It is called—"
"Oh don't, Samuel." whimpered the poor mother.
"And to think how carefully I have trained him! And all I have done for him. I let him buy that skiff he said he wanted. Absolute waste of money! Our old rowboat is good enough for the girls, so why isn't it good enough for him? And I never laid a hand on him in punishment either; not many fathers can say that."
As for the bank supplies young Sam had explained to his mother that they had been ordered and charged, so what was the matter? And Mrs. Wright kneading her tear-soaked handkerchief into a ball, cried some more and said:
"Oh, Sam dear, why do you act so?"
Sam looked at her attentively, wondering why her little nose always reddened when she cried. But he waited patiently, until she finished her rambling reproaches. It occurred to him that he would tell Mrs. Richie all about this matter of the prints. "She will understand," he thought.
Sam's acquaintance with Mrs. Richie had begun when she was getting settled in her new house. Sam senior, having no desire to climb the hill road, sent his various communications to his tenant by his son, and afterwards Sam junior had communications of his own to make. He fell into the habit of stopping there on Sunday afternoons, quite oblivious of the fact that Mrs. Richie did not display any pleasure at seeing him. After one of these calls he was apt to be late in reaching "The Top," as his grandfather's place was called, and old Benjamin Wright, in his brown wig and moth-eaten beaver hat, would glare at him with melancholy dark eyes.
"Gad-a-mercy, what do you mean,—getting here at six-five! I have my tea at six, sir; at six sharp. Either get here on time or stay away. I don't care which. Do you hear?"
"Yes, sir," young Sam would murmur.
"Where have you been? Mooning after that female at the Stuffed Animal House?"
"I had to leave a message, sir, about the lease."
"How long does it take to leave a message about a lease?"
"She was not down-stairs and I had to wait—"
"I had to wait! That's more to the point. There, don't talk about it. You drive me crazy with your chatter."
Then they would sit down to supper in a black silence only broken by an occasional twitter from one of the many cages that hung about the room. But afterwards young Sam had his reward; the library, a toby, long before he was old enough to smoke, and his grandfather reading aloud in a wonderful voice, deep, sonorous, flexible—Shakespeare, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher. To be sure, there was nothing personal in such reading—it was not done to give pleasure to young Sam. Every night the old man rumbled out the stately lines, sitting by himself in this gloomy room walled to the ceiling with books, and warmed by a soft-coal fire that snapped and bubbled behind the iron bars of the grate. Sometimes he would burst into angry ecstasy at the beauty of what he read "There! What do you think of that?"
"Oh, it's splendid!"
"Hah! Much you know about it! There is about as much poetry in your family as there is in that coal scuttle."
It was when he was eighteen that once the old man let his grandson read The Tempest with him. It was a tremendous evening to Sam. In the first place, his grandfather swore at him with a fury that really attracted his attention. But that night the joy of the drama suddenly possessed him. The deed was done; the dreaming youth awoke to the passion of art. As Benjamin Wright gradually became aware of it delight struggled with his customary anger at anything unexpected. He longed to share his pleasure with somebody; once he mentioned to Dr. Lavendar that "that cub, Sam, really has something to him!" After that he took the boy's training seriously in hand, and his artless pride concealed itself in a severity that knew no bounds of words. When Sam confessed his wish to write a drama in blank verse, his grandfather swore at him eagerly and demanded every detail of what he called the "fool plot of the thing."
"What does that female at the Stuffed Animal House say to the idea of your writing a drama?" he asked contemptuously.
"She says I may read it to her."
"Knows as much about dramatic poetry as you do I suppose? When you finish the first act bring it to me. I'll tell you how bad it is."
His eager scoffing betrayed him, and every Sunday night, in spite of slaughtering criticism the boy took courage to talk of his poem. He had no criticism from Mrs. Richie.
When he first began to call at the Stuffed Animal House she had been coldly impatient, then uneasy then snubbing. But nothing can be so obtuse as a boy; it never occurs to him that he is not wanted. Sam continued to call and to tell her of his play and to look at her with beautiful, tragic eyes, that by and by openly adored. Inevitably the coldness to which he was so calmly impervious wore off; a boy's innocent devotion must touch any woman no matter how self-absorbed she may be. Mrs. Richie began to be glad to see him. As for his drama, it was beautiful, she said.
"No," Sam told her, "it isn't—yet. You don't know. But I like to read it to you, even if you don't." His candor made her laugh, and before she knew it in spite of the difference in their years they were friends As William King said, she was lonely, and Sam's devotion was at least an interest. Besides, she really liked the boy; he amused her, and her empty days were so devoid of amusement! "I can't read novels all the time," she complained. In this very bread-and-butter sort of interest she had no thought of possible consequences to Sam. A certain pleasant indolence of mind made it easy not to think of consequences at all. But he had begun to love her—with that first passion of youth so divinely tender and ridiculous! After a while he talked less of his play and more of himself. He told her of his difficulties at home, how he hated the bank, and how stupid the girls were.
"Lydia is the nicest, but she has no more imagination than a turnip. They are very uninteresting—my family," he said meditatively. "I don't like any of them—except mother. Mother hasn't any sense, but she's good," Sam ended earnestly.
"Oh, but you mustn't say things like that!"
"Why not? They're true," he said with a surprised look.
"Well, but we don't always tell the truth right out," she reminded him.
"I do," said Sam, and then explained that he didn't include his grandfather in his generalization. "Grandfather's bully; you ought to hear him swear!"
"Oh, I don't want to!" she said horrified.
"I told him that I burned the prints up," Sam went on. "And he said, 'good riddance to bad rubbish.' That was just like grandfather! Of course he did say that I was a d—I mean, a fool, to buy them in the first place; and I knew I was. But having bought them, the only thing to do was to burn them. But father!—"
Mrs. Richie's eyes crinkled with mischievous gayety. "Poor Mr. Wright!"
Sam dropped his clasped hands between his knees. "It's queer how I always do the wrong thing. Though it never seems wrong to me. You know father would not let me go to college for fear I'd go to the devil?" he laughed joyously. "But I might just as well, for be thinks everything I do in Old Chester is wrong." Then he sighed. "Sometimes I get pretty tired of being disapproved of;—especially as I never can understand why it is. The fact is people are not reasonable," he complained. "I can bear anything but unreasonableness."
She nodded. "I know, I never could please my grandmother—she brought me up. My mother and father died when I was a baby. I think grandmother hated me; she thought everything I did was wrong. Oh, I was so miserable! And when I was eighteen I got married—and that was a mistake."
Sam gazed up at her in silent sympathy,
"I mean my—husband was so much older than I," she said. Then with an evident effort to change the subject she added that one would think it would be simple enough to be happy; "all my life I only wanted to be happy," she said.
"You're happy now, aren't you?" he asked,
She looked down at him—he was sitting on a stool before the fire near her feet—and laughed with a catching of the breath. "Oh, yes, yes; I'm happy."
And Sara caught his breath too, for there were tears in her eyes.
But instantly she veered away from personalities. "What is that scar on your wrist?"
Sam looked down at his hands clasped about his knees, and blushed faintly. "Oh, nothing; I was very young when that happened."
"How did it happen?" she asked absently. It was often possible to start Sam talking and then think her own thoughts without interruption.
"Why, I was about twelve, I believe," Sam said, "and Miss Ellen Bailey—she used to teach school here, then she got married and went out West;—she gave me a little gold image of Pasht, at least I thought it was gold. It was one of those things you ladies wear on your watch-chains, you know,"
"Yes?" she said indolently.
"Well, I took a tremendous fancy to it. But it seems it wasn't gold, it was brass, and somebody told me so; I think it was Miss Ellen herself. I was so disappointed, I didn't want to live—queer! I can remember now just how I felt; a sort of sinking, here;" Sam laid his hand on his breast, "So I decided to throw myself out of the window. I did; but unfortunately—"
"You threw yourself out of the window!" she is interrupted horrified.
Sam laughed. "Oh, well, I wasn't successful: I continued to live. Unfortunately my trousers caught on the grape trellis under the window, and there I hung! It must have been pretty funny—though I didn't think so at the time. First place, I tore my wrist on a nail— that's the scar; and then father caught me and sent me to bed for being a fool; so I didn't gain anything." His lip drooped. His feeling for his father was a candid mixture of amusement and contempt.
"But do you always act on the spur of the moment?" she said astonished.
Sam laughed and said he supposed so. "I am a good deal of a fool," he added simply.
"Well," she said sighing, "it's dangerous to be like that. I know, because I—I am a good deal of a fool myself." Then again, abruptly, she changed the subject. "What do you think? I'm going to have some company!"
Sam frowned. "Your brother?"
"No, oh no; not—Mr. Pryor." Then she told him that Dr. Lavendar had asked her if she would look after a little boy for him for a few weeks.
Sam was not responsive. Little boys were a great deal of trouble, he said.
"Come now; how long since—"
Sam's limpid deer's-eyes reproached her silently.
"How shall I amuse him?" she said.
And Sam eager to serve her promised to find a pair of rabbits for the child. "I used to like rabbits when I was young," he explained.
At last, after his hostess had swallowed many yawns, Sam reluctantly said good night. He went bounding down the hill in the darkness, across the fields, through the woods. In the starlight, the great world lay dim and lovely before him—it belonged to him! He felt the joyous buffet of the night wind upon his face, the brush of boughs against his shoulder, the scent of young ferns, and the give of the spongy earth under his feet; he sprang in long leaps over the grass, the tears were wet upon his fresh cheeks, he sang aloud. But he did not know what he sang; in his young breast, Love, like some warm living thing, stirred, and lifted glorious wings and drove his voice throbbing and exultant to his lips! As he came down Main Street, the church clock struck eleven. But it might have struck twelve and he would not have been disturbed.
Standing in the doorway of the Wright house in thunderous silence the senior warden, lamp in hand awaited his son. As Sam entered, the silence broke into a flash of crackling and scathing contempt.
"It does not occur to you, sir, I suppose, that a lady may find your society tiresome? It is after eleven!"
Sam smiling to himself hung up his hat. He was reflecting that he must see about those rabbits at once.
"You will understand, sir, if you please, that while you do me the honor to live under my roof you will return to it at night at a respectable hour. I will not sit up for you in this way. You will be in at ten o'clock. Do you hear?"
"Yes, sir," said Sam; and added with sudden awakening of interest, "if you would let me have a key, father, I—"
"I will not let you have a key! I will have no boy entering my house at midnight with a key! Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," Sam murmured falling back into his own thoughts.
Mr. Wright, still talking, stood at the foot of the stairs so that his son could not pass him. Sam yawned, then noticed how in oratorical denunciation his father's long upper lip curved like the beak of a bird of prey; behind his hand he tried to arch his own lip in the same manner. He really did not hear what was said to him; he only sighed with relief when it was over and he was allowed to go up-stairs and tumble sleepily into bed.
As for his long-suffering hostess, when she was alone Helena Richie rubbed her eyes and began to wake up. "That boy never knows when to go!" she said to herself with amused impatience. Then her mind turned to her own affairs. This little boy, David Allison, would be in Old Chester on Saturday; he was to stay with Dr. Lavendar for a while, and then come to her for a week or two. But she was beginning to regret the invitation she had sent through Dr. King. It, would be pleasant to have the little fellow, but "I can't keep him. so why should I take him even for a week? I might get fond of him! I'm afraid it's a mistake. I wonder what Lloyd would think? I don't believe he really loves children. And yet—he cared when the baby died."
She pulled a low chair up to the hearth and sat down, her elbows on her knees, her fingers ruffling the soft locks about her forehead. "Oh, my baby! my little, little baby!" she said in a broken whisper. The old passion of misery swept over her; she shrank lower in her chair, rocking herself to and fro, her fingers pressed against her eyes. It was thirteen years ago, and yet even now in these placid days in Old Chester, to think of that time brought the breathless smother of agony back again—the dying child, the foolish brute who had done him to death.... If the baby had lived he would be nearly fourteen years old now; a big boy! She wondered whether his hair would still have been curly? She knew in her heart that she never could have had the courage to cut those soft curls off—and yet, boys hated curls, she thought; and smiled proudly. He would have been so manly! If he had lived, how different everything would have been, how incredibly different! For of course, if he had lived she would have been happy in spite of Frederick. And happiness was all she wanted.
She brushed the tears from her flushed cheeks, and propping her chin in her hands stared into the fire, thinking—thinking.... Her childhood had been passed with her father's mother, a silent woman who with bitter expectation of success had set herself to discover in Helena traits of the poor, dead, foolish wife who had broken her son's heart. "Grandmamma hated me," Helena Richie reflected. "She begrudged me the least little bit of pleasure." Yet her feeling towards the hard old woman now was not resentment; it was only wonder. "Why didn't she like me to be happy?" she thought. It never occurred to her that her grandmother who had guarded and distrusted her had also loved her. "Of course I never loved her," she reminded herself, "but I wouldn't have wanted her to be unhappy. She wanted me to be wretched. Curious!" Yet she realized that at that time she had not desired love; she had only desired happiness. Looking back, she pondered on her astounding immaturity; what a child she had been to imagine that merely to get away from that gray life with her grandmother would be happiness, and so had married Frederick. Frederick.... She was eighteen, and so pretty. She smiled remembering how pretty she was. And Frederick had made such promises! She was to have every kind of happiness. Of course she had married him. Thinking of it now, she did not in the least blame herself. If the dungeon doors open and the prisoner catches a glimpse of the green world of sunshine, what happens? Of course she had married Frederick! As for love, she never thought of it; it did not enter into the bargain—at least on her part. She married him because he wanted her to, and because he would make her happy. And, oh, how glad her grandmother had been! At the memory of that passionate satisfaction, Helena clasped her hands over the two brown braids that folded like a chaplet around her head and laughed aloud, the tears still glittering on her lashes. Her prayers, her grandmother said, had been answered; the girl was safe—an honest wife! "Now lettest Thou Thy servant—" the old woman murmured, with dreadful gratitude in her voice.
Thinking of that gratitude, the tears dried upon Helena's cheeks, hot with the firelight and with her thoughts. "Suppose she had lived just a little longer?—just three years longer? Where would her gratitude have been then?" Helena's face overflowed with sudden gay malice, but below the malice was weariness. "You are happy now—aren't you?" Sam Wright had said.... Why, yes, certainly. Frederick had "repented," as Dr. King expressed it; she had seen to his "repentance"! That in itself was something to have lived for—a searing flame of happiness. Enough one might think to satisfy her—if she could only have forgotten the baby. At first she had believed that she could forget him. Lloyd had told her she would. How young she had been at twenty-one to think that any one could forget! She smiled dryly at her childish hope and at Lloyd's ignorance; but his tenderness had been so passionately convincing,—and how good he had been about the baby! He had let her talk of him all she wanted to. Of course, after a while he got a little tired of the subject, and naturally. It was Frederick's baby! And Lloyd hated Frederick as much as she did. How they used to talk about him in those first days of his "repentance!"... "Have you heard anything?" "Yes; running down-hill every day." "Is there any news?" "Yes, he'll drink himself into his grave in six months." Ah, that was happiness indeed!—"his grave, in six months!"... She flung herself back in her chair, her hands dropping listlessly into her lap. "Oh—my little, dead baby!"...
It was nearly midnight; the fire had burned quite out; the room had fallen into shadows. Oh, yes, as she told Sam Wright, she was happy. Her face fell into lines of dull indifference.
She got up, wearily, rubbing her eyes with her knuckles, as a child does; then suddenly remembered that she had reached no conclusion about this little boy Dr. Lavendar was interested in. Suppose she should get fond of him and want to keep him—how would Lloyd feel about it? Would he think the child might take her thoughts from him? But at that she smiled; he could not be so foolish! "I'll write and ask him, anyhow. Of course, if he objects, I wouldn't dream of it. I wonder what he will think?"
Mr. Lloyd Pryor thought very deeply after he read Mrs. Richie's letter. He sat in his office and smoked and reflected. And as he reflected his face brightened. It was a handsome face, with a mouth that smiled easily. His heavy-lidded eyes behind astonishingly thick and curling lashes were blue; when he lifted them the observer felt a slight shock, for they were curiously motionless; generally, however, the heavy lids drooped, lazily good-humored. He read Mrs. Richie's letter and tapped the edge of his desk with strong, white fingers.
"Nothing could be better," he said.
Then suddenly he decided that he would go to Old Chester and say so in person. "I suppose I ought to go, anyhow; I haven't been there for six weeks. Yes; this child is just what she needs."
And that was how it came about that when he went home he pulled his daughter Alice's pretty ear and said he was going away that night. "I shall take the ten-o'clock train," he said.
His girl—a pleasant, flower-like young creature—scolded him affectionately. "I wish you wouldn't take so many journeys. Promise to be careful; I worry about you when I'm not with you to take care of you," she said, in her sweet, anxious young voice. Her father, smiling, promised prudence, and for the mere joy of watching her let her pack his bag, lecturing him as she did so about his health. "Now that you have undertaken all this extra business of the Pryor-Barr people, you owe it to your stockholders to be careful of your health," she told him, refusing to notice his smile when he solemnly agreed with her.
"What would happen to the Company if anything happened to you?" she insisted, rubbing her soft cheek against his.
"Ruin, of course."
But she would not laugh. "And what would happen to me?"
"Ah, well, that's a different matter," he admitted, and kissed her and bade her be careful. "What would happen to me if anything happened to you?" he teased.
She hung about him, brooding over him like a little mother dove with a hundred questions. "Are you going anywhere except to Mercer?"
"Well, yes; possibly."
"Oh, to a place called Old Chester."
"Who are you going to see there?"
"Nobody you know, Gas-bag! I never heard of such curiosity!"
"Ah, but I like to think about you when you are away, and know just where you are and what you are doing every minute of the time."
At which he laughed and kissed her, and was off to take the night train for Mercer, which made it possible for him to catch the morning stage for Old Chester.
There was one other passenger in the stage—a little boy with a soft thatch of straight, yellow hair that had been chopped short around the bowl of some domestic barber. He sat on the opposite seat and held a bundle in his arms, peering out over the top of it with serious blue eyes.
"Well, young man, where are you bound?" inquired Mr. Pryor. When the child said "Old Chester," Lloyd Pryor tossed a quarter out of the window to a hostler and bade him go into the stage-house and buy an apple. "Here, youngster," he said, when the man handed it up to him, "take that.—Keep the change, my man."
When it did not involve any personal inconvenience, Mr. Lloyd Pryor had a quick and cordial kindliness which most people found very attractive. The child, however, did not seem much impressed; he took the apple gravely, and said, "Thank you, sir;" but he was not effusive. He looked out of the window and hugged his bundle. Half-way to Old Chester he began to nibble the apple, biting it very slowly, so that he might not make a noise, and thrusting it back into his pocket after each bite with an apprehensive glance at the gentleman in the corner. When he had finished it and swallowed the core, he said, suddenly:
"Mister, have you any little boys and girls?"
His companion, who had quite forgotten him, looked over the top of his newspaper with a start. "What? What did you say? Oh—boys and girls? Yes; I have a girl." He smiled as he spoke.
"Is she as big as me?"
Lloyd Pryor put down his paper and twitched his glasses off. "About twice as big I should think," he said kindly.
"Twice as big! And twice as old?"
"How old are you?"
"I'm seven, going on eight."
"Well, then, let's see. Alice is—she is twice and five years more as old. What do you make of that?"
The child began to count on his fingers, and, after looking at him a minute or two with some amusement, Mr. Pryor returned to his paper. After a while the boy said, suddenly, "In the flood the ducks couldn't be drowned, could they?"
But Lloyd Pryor had become interested in what he was reading. "You talk too much, young man," he said coldly, and there was no further conversation. The old stage jogged along in the uncertain sunshine; sometimes Mr. Pryor smoked, once he took a nap. While he slept the little boy looked at him furtively, but by and by he turned to the window, absorbed in his own affairs.
As the stage pulled into Old Chester, Mr. Pryor roused himself. "Well, my boy, here we are," he said.
The child quivered and his hands tightened on his bundle, but he said nothing. When they drew up at the tavern, there was Danny and Goliath and Dr. Lavendar.
"Mary gave me some gingerbread for him," Dr. Lavendar was saying to Van Horn. "I've got it tied up in my handkerchief. Why," he interrupted himself, screwing up his eyes and peering into the dusk of the old coach—"why, I believe here's Mrs. Richie's brother too!"
As the horses came to a standstill, Dr. Lavendar was in quite a flutter of eagerness. But when the very little boy clambered out, the old minister only shook hands with him, man fashion, with no particular display of interest.
"I'm glad to see you, David. I am Dr. Lavendar." Then he turned to say "How do you do?" to Mr. Pryor. "Why, look here," he added in a cheerful after-thought, "I'm going up your way; get out and come along in my buggy. Hey! Danny! Stop your snarling. The scoundrel's temper is getting bad in his old age. Those snails Jonas drives can't keep up with my trotter."
"But you have one passenger already," Mr. Pryor protested. "I'll just go on up in the stage, thank you."
"Oh," Dr. Lavendar said, "David's bundle is the biggest part of him, isn't it, David? We'll leave it with Van Horn and get it as we come back. Come along, Mr. Pryor. There, David, tuck yourself down in front; Danny can tag behind." There was a moment's hesitation, and then Mr. Pryor did as he was bid. Dr. Lavendar climbed in himself and off they jogged, while Jonas remarked to Van Horn that the old gentleman wasn't just the one to talk about snails, as he looked at it. But Mr. Pryor, watching the April sunshine chased over the hills by warm cloud shadows and bursting into joy again on the low meadows, reflected that he had done well for himself in exchanging the dark cavern of the stage for Dr. Lavendar's easy old buggy and the open air. They stopped a minute on the bridge to look at the creek swollen by spring rains; it was tugging and tearing at the branches that dipped into it, and heaping up rocking lines of yellow froth along the banks.
"In summer that's a fine place to wade," Dr. Lavendar observed. David glanced up at him and then down at the water in silence.
"Well, Goliath! at this rate Jonas could beat us," said Dr. Lavendar, and smacked a rein down on the shaggy old back. David looked around at Mr. Pryor with sudden interest.
"Is your name Goliath?" he asked.
Lloyd Pryor was greatly amused. "I hope you haven't such a thing as a sling with you, David?" he said.
The little boy grew very red, but made no reply.
"It's my horse's name," Dr. Lavendar told him, so kindly that David did not hear the chuckle in his voice. But the color was hot in the child's face for many minutes. He had nothing to say for the rest of the pull up the hill, except briefly, "'Bye," when Mr. Pryor alighted at the green gate of a foot-path that led up to the Stuffed Animal House.
"I'm very much obliged for the lift, Dr. Lavendar," he said in his coldly courteous voice, and turned quickly at an exclamation behind him.
"I've brought your brother home, Mrs. Richie," said Dr. Lavendar.
Helena Richie was standing inside the hedge, her face radiant.
"Oh, Lloyd!" she said again breathlessly.
Mr. Pryor laughed and shook hands with her in somewhat formal greeting.
"Do you see my other passenger?" Dr. Lavendar called out. "He came with your brother. David, suppose you shake hands with Mrs. Richie? I generally take my hat off, David, when I shake hands with a lady."
"I don't, sir," said David, gently, putting a hand out across the wheel. Mrs. Richie had not noticed the little boy; but when she took his hand her eyes lingered on his face, and suddenly she drew him forward and kissed him.
David bore it politely, but he looked over her head at Mr. Pryor. "Mister, Alice is nineteen."
"What?" Mr. Pryor said, his heavy-lidded eyes opening with a blue gleam; then he laughed. "Oh yes, I'd forgotten our sum in arithmetic; yes, Alice is nineteen."
"Well," Dr. Lavendar said, "g'long, Goliath!" and the buggy went tugging on up the hill. "David, if you'll look in my pocket you'll find some gingerbread."
David thrust a hand down into the capacious pocket and brought up the gingerbread, wrapped in a red silk handkerchief. He offered it silently to Dr. Lavendar.
"I don't believe I'll take any. Suppose you eat it, David?"
"No, thank you, sir."
Dr. Lavendar shook his head in a puzzled way.
David swallowed nervously. "Please, sir," he said, "was that lady that gentleman's sister?"
"Yes," Dr. Lavendar told him cheerfully.
"But if she is his sister," the little boy reasoned, "why didn't she kiss him? Janey, she—she always gave me forty kisses."
"Just forty?" Dr. Lavendar inquired, looking at the child over his spectacles.
David was silent for a moment, then he said, earnestly: "I never counted. But Janey, she always said 'forty kisses.'" His whole face quivered. A very large tear gathered, trembled, then rolled over; he held his hands together under the lap-robe and looked the other way; then he raised one shoulder and rubbed his cheek against it.
"I guess Janey was a pretty nice sister," Dr. Lavendar said.
David's hands tightened; he looked up speechless, into the kind old face.
"David," said Dr. Lavendar in a business-like way, "would you mind driving for me? I want to look over my note-book."
"Driving?" said David. "Oh, my!" His cheeks were wet but his eyes shone. "I don't mind, sir. I'd just as lieves as not!"
"So that's the youngster we're going to adopt, is it?" Mr. Pryor said; then he looked at Helena through his curling brown lashes, with open amusement. Her eyes were full of tears.
"It has been—so long," she said faintly.
"I've been very busy," he explained.
She nodded and smiled. "Anyhow, you are here now. But, oh, Maggie has a sore throat. I don't know what we're going to have for dinner. Oh, how glad I am you're here!" Her face was glowing, but her chin trembled.
"Why, this is very flattering, I'm sure; I thought you were so taken up with your orphan that you wouldn't care whether I came or not."
"You know that isn't true," she said gayly, brushing her cheek against his arm; "but isn't he a dear little fellow?—though I'm sorry his hair isn't curly." Then her face changed. "What did he mean about Alice being nineteen?"
"Oh, Alice? Why, he asked me in the stage if I had any children, and I put Alice's age as a sum in mental arithmetic for him. And he asked me if my name was Goliath."
But she had forgotten David. "Lloyd! To think you are here!"
"Yes, I'm here, and a hamper is here, too. I hope the stage will bring it up pretty soon. I don't believe I could stand an Old Chester bill of fare. It's queer about women; they don't care what they eat. I don't believe you've got anything on hand but bread and jam and tea?"
"I care a great deal!" she assured him laughing, and then looked worried. "Yes, I really have been living on bread and jam." She was hanging on his arm, and once she kissed his hand. "Will you go upstairs? And I'll see what we can do about food. That dreadful Maggie! She's sick in bed."
Mr. Pryor looked annoyed. "Can't she get us something to eat? Ask her, Nelly; I don't believe it will hurt her. Here; give her that," and he took a crumpled bill out of his waistcoat pocket.
She did not take the money, but her eyes shone. "You are the most generous being!" she said. Then, sobering, she thought of Maggie's throat—hesitated—and Maggie was lost. For when she opened the woman's door, and in her sweet, appealing voice declared that Mr. Pryor had come unexpectedly, and was so hungry—what should they do?—Maggie, who adored her, insisted upon going down to the kitchen.
"Oh, Maggie, you oughtn't to! I oughtn't to let you. Maggie, look here: you will be careful, won't you?"
"Now, you go right along back to your brother," the woman commanded smiling. "I'm goin' to get into my clothes; t'won't do me a bit of harm."
And Helena, protesting and joyous, fled to her room and to her mirror. She flung off her cambric morning dress and ran to hunt in her wardrobe for something pretty. With girlish hurry she pulled her hair down, braided it afresh, and fastened the burnished plats around her head like a wreath; then she brushed the soft locks in the nape of her neck about her finger, and let them fall into loose curls. She dressed with breathless haste, and when she finished, stood for a minute, her lip between her teeth, staring at herself in the glass. And as she stared her face fell; for as the color and sparkle faded a little, care suddenly looked out of the leaf-brown eyes—care and something like fright. But instantly drawing in her breath, she flung her head up as one who prepares for battle. When she went down-stairs and found Mr. Pryor waiting for her in the parlor, the sparkle had all come back. She had put on a striped silk dress, faint rose and green, made very full in the skirt; her flat lace collar was fastened by a little old pin—an oval of pearls holding a strand of hair like floss-silk.
"Why, Nelly," her visitor said, "you look younger every time I see you."
She swept him a great courtesy, making her dress balloon out about her; then she clasped her hands at her throat, her chin resting on the fluff of her white undersleeves, and looked up at him with a delighted laugh. "We are not very old, either of us; I am thirty-three and you are only forty-six—I call that young. Oh, Lloyd, I was so low- spirited this morning; and now—you are here!" She pirouetted about the room in a burst of gayety.
As he watched her through half-shut eyes, the bored good humor in his face sharpened into something keener; he caught her hand as she whirled past, drawing her close to him with a murmured caress. She, pausing in her joy, looked at him with sudden intentness.
"Have you heard anything of—Frederick?"
At which he let her go again and answered curtly: "No; nothing. Perfectly well, the last I heard. In Paris, and enjoying himself in his own peculiar fashion."
She drew in her breath and turned her face away; they were both silent. Then she said, dully, that she never heard any news. "Mr. Raynor sends me my accounts every three months, but he never says anything about—Frederick."
"I suppose there isn't anything to say. Look here, Nelly, hasn't that stage-driver brought the hamper yet? When are we going to have something to eat?"
"Oh, pretty soon," she said impatiently.
They were standing at one of the long windows in the parlor; through the tilted slats of the Venetian blinds the April sunshine fell in pale bars across her hair and dress, across the old Turkey carpet on the floor, across the high white wainscoting and half-way up the landscape-papered walls. The room was full of cheerful dignity; the heavy, old-fashioned furniture of the Stuffed Animal House was unchanged, even the pictures, hanging rather near the ceiling, had not been removed—steel-engravings of Landseer's dogs, and old and very good colored prints of Audubon's birds. The mantel-piece of black marble veined with yellow was supported by fluted columns; on it were two blown-glass vases of decalcomania decoration, then two gilt lustres with prisms, then two hand-screens of woolwork, and in the middle an ormolu clock—"Iphigenia in Aulis"—under a glass shade. In the recess at one side of the fireplace was a tall bookcase with closed doors, but a claw-footed sofa stood out from the wall at an angle that prevented any access to the books. "I can't read Stuffed Animal books," Helena had long ago confided to Lloyd Pryor. "The British Classics, if you please! and Baxter's Saint's Rest, and The Lady of the Manor." So Mr. Pryor made a point of providing her with light literature. He pulled a paper-covered volume out of his pocket now, and handed it to her.
"Not improving, Nelly, I assure you; and there is a box of candy in the hamper."
She thanked him, but put the book down. "Talk to me, Lloyd. Tell me— everything! How are you? How is Alice? Are you very busy with politics and things? Talk to me."
"Well," he said good naturedly, "where am I to begin? Yes: I'm very well. And very busy. And unusually poor. Isn't that interesting?"
"Oh, Lloyd! Are you in earnest? Lloyd, you know I have a lot of money, and of course, if you want it, it is yours."
He was lounging lazily on the sofa, and drew her down beside him, smiling at her through his curling lashes. "It isn't as bad as that. It is only that I have shouldered the debts of the old Pryor-Barr Co., Limited. You know my grandfather organized it, and my father was president of it, and I served my 'prenticeship to business in it."
"But I thought," she said, puzzled, "you went out of it long ago, before—before—"
"The flood? Yes, my dear, I did. I've only been a silent partner for years—and that in a very small way. But I regret to say that the young asses who have been running it have got into trouble. And they propose going into bankruptcy, confound them! It is very annoying," Lloyd Pryor ended calmly,
"But I don't understand," she said; "what have you to do with it?"
"Well, I've got to turn to and pay their damned debts."
"Pay their debts? But why? Does the law make you?"
"The law?" he said, looking at her with cold eyes. "I suppose you mean statute law? No, my dear, it doesn't."
"Then I can't understand it," she declared laughing.
"It's nothing very abstruse. I can't have stockholders who trusted our old firm cheated by a couple of cousins of mine. I've assumed the liabilities—that's all."
"But you don't have to, by law?" she persisted, still bewildered.
"My dear Nelly, I don't do things because of the law," he said dryly. "But never mind; it is going to give me something to do. Tell me about yourself. How are you?"
"I'm—pretty lonely, Lloyd," she said.
And he answered, sympathetically, that he had been afraid of that. "You are too much by yourself. Of course, it's lonely for you. I am very much pleased with this idea of the little boy."
She shook her head. "I can't take him."
"Why not?" he protested, and broke off. "Nelly, look! You are going to have company."
He had caught sight of some one fumbling with the latch of the green gate in the hedge. Helena opened her lips in consternation.
"Lloyd! It's old Mr. Benjamin Wright. He lives in that big house with white columns on the top of the hill. Do you suppose he has come to call?"
"Tell your woman to say you are out."
But she shook her head, annoyed and helpless. "Don't you see how tired he is?—poor old man! Of course, he must come in. Go and help him, Lloyd." She put her hands on his arm. "Please!" she said.
"No, thank you; I have no desire to help old gentlemen." And as she left him and ran impetuously to open the door herself, he called after her, "Nelly, don't have dinner held back!"
Mr. Benjamin Wright stood, panting, at the foot of the porch steps; he could hardly lift his head to look up at the figure in the doorway. "You—Mrs. Richie?" he gasped.
"Yes, sir," she said. "May I help you? These steps are so steep."
"No," he snarled. "Do you think I'm so decrepit that I have to have a female help me up-stairs?" Then he began toiling up the steps. "My name is Wright. You know my grandson? Sam? Great fool! I've come to call on you." On the porch he drew a long breath, pulled off his mangy old beaver hat, and, with a very courtly bow, held out his hand. "Madam, permit me to pay my respects to you. I am your neighbor. In fact, your only neighbor; without me,
'Montium domina ut fores silvarumque virentium saltuumque reconditorum amniumque sonantum.'
Understand that? No? Good. I don't like learned females."
She took his hand in a bewildered way, glancing back over her shoulder at Mr. Pryor, uncertain what she ought to do. Mr. Wright decided for her.
"I know this house," he said, pushing past her into the dusky hall; "friend of mine used to live here. Ho! This is the parlor. Well; who's this?" He stood chewing orange-skin and blinking up at Lloyd Pryor, who came forward reluctantly.
"My name is Pryor, sir, I—"
"Oh! Yes. I know. I know. The lady's brother. Here! Push that chair out for me."
And Mr. Lloyd Pryor found himself bringing a chair forward and taking the hat and stick from the trembling old hand. Helena had gone quickly into the dining-room, and came back with a decanter and glass on a little tray. She gave a distressed glance at her other guest as though to say, "I can't help it!"
Benjamin Wright's old head in its brown wig was still shaking with fatigue, but under the prickle of white on his shaven jowl the purplish color came back in mottled streaks. He sipped the sherry breathlessly, the glass trembling in his veined and shrunken hand. "Well," he demanded, "how do you two like this God-forsaken place?"
Mr. Pryor, looking over their visitor's head at Helena, shrugged his shoulders.
"It is very nice," she said vaguely,
"It's a narrowing place," he demurred, "very narrowing; sit down, sit down, good people! I'll take some more sherry. My grandson," he went on, as Helena filled his glass, "is always talking about you, madam. He's a great jackass. I'm afraid he bothers you with his calls?"
"Oh, not at all," Helena said nervously. She sat down on the other side of the big rosewood centre-table, glancing with worried eyes at Lloyd Pryor.
"Move that lamp contraption," commanded Mr. Wright. "I like to see my hostess!"
And Helena pushed the astral lamp from the centre of the table so that his view was unobstructed.
"Is he a nuisance with his talk about his drama?"
Mr. Wright said, looking across at her with open eagerness in his melancholy eyes.
"Why, no indeed."
"Do you think it's so very bad, considering?"
"It is not bad at all," said Mrs. Richie.
His face lighted like a child's. "Young fool! As if he could write a drama! Well, madam, I came to ask you to do me the honor of taking supper with me to-morrow night, and then of listening to this wonderful production. Of course, sir, I include you. My nigger will provide you with a fairly good bottle. Then this grandson of mine will read his truck aloud. But we will fortify ourselves with supper first."
His artless pride in planning this distressing festivity was so ludicrous that Lloyd Pryor's disgust changed into involuntary mirth. But Helena was plainly nervous. "Thank you; you are very kind; but I am afraid I must say no."
Mr. Pryor was silently retreating towards the dining-room. As for the visitor, he only had eyes for the mistress of the house.
"Why should you say no?"
She tried to answer lightly. "Oh, I like to be quiet."
"Quiet?" cried Benjamin Wright, rapping the table with his wine-glass. "At your age? Nonsense!" He paused, cleared his throat, and then sonorously:
"'Can you endure the livery of a nun, For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd, To live a barren sister all your life, Chanting faint hymns to the cold, fruitless moon?' Give me some more sherry. Of course you must come. No use being shy—a pretty creatur' like you! And you said you liked the play," he added with childlike reproach.
Helena, glad to change the subject, made haste to reassure him. "I do, I do!" she said, and for a few minutes she kept the old face beaming with her praise of Sam and his work. Unlike his grandson, Mr. Wright was not critical of her criticism. Nothing she could say seemed to him excessive. He contradicted every statement, but he believed it implicitly. Then with a sigh of satisfaction, he returned to his invitation. Helena shook her head decidedly.
"No; thank you very much. Mr. Pryor couldn't possibly come. He is only here over Sunday, and—" She looked towards the dining-room for protection, but the door had been gently closed.
"Hey?" Benjamin Wright said blankly. "Well, I won't insist; I won't insist. We'll wait till he goes. Come Monday night."
"Oh," she said, her voice fluttering, "I am sorry but I really can't."
"Why can't you?" he insisted. "Come, tell the truth! The advantage of telling the truth, young lady, is that neither God nor the devil can contradict you!" He laughed, eying her with high good humor.
"Oh, it's merely—" she hesitated, and he looked affronted.
"What! Some female airs about coming to an unmarried man's house?" Her involuntary mirth disarmed him. "No? Well, I'm glad you've got some sense. Then you'll come?"
"If I went to your house, it would seem unfriendly not to go to other houses."
"Why shouldn't you go to other houses? Done anything you're ashamed of?" He laughed uproariously at his own wit. "Come now; don't be finikin and ladylike!"
"I don't make visits," she explained, the color rising angrily in her cheeks.
"Gad-a-mercy! Why not?" he interrupted. "Do you think you're too good for us here in Old Chester?"
"Oh, Mr. Wright!"
"Or perhaps Old Chester is too good for you?"
His face had softened wonderfully; he was looking at her with the same quizzical delight with which he would look at one of his canaries when he caught it, and held it struggling in his hand. "Are we too good for you?" he jeered, "too—"
He stopped abruptly, his laugh breaking off in the middle. Then his mouth fell slowly open in blank amazement; he leaned forward in his chair and stared at her without a word.
"I don't care for society," she said, in a frightened way, and rose as if to bring the visit to an end.
But Benjamin Wright sat still, slowly nodding his head. "You don't care for society? I wonder why."
"Oh, because I am—a very quiet person," she stammered.
The dining-room door opened and Sarah came in, looked about, found the decanter, and withdrew.
"Where is—that gentleman?" the old man demanded.
"Mr. Pryor went in to dinner," she said faintly. "Please excuse him; he was tired."
The silence that fell between them was like a blow. ... Mr. Wright pulled himself to his feet, and with one shaking hand on the table felt his way around until he stood directly in front of her; he put his face close to hers and stared into her eyes, his lower lip opening and closing in silence. Then, without speaking, he began to grope about on the table for his hat and stick.
"I will bid you good day," he said.
Without another word he went shuffling out into the dark hall. At the front door he turned and looked back at her; then, slowly, shook his head.
Poor Maggie paid for her good nature. On Sunday morning she was so decidedly worse that William King, to the disgust of his Martha, was summoned from his breakfast-table.
"Women who can't look after a simple sore throat without bothering their doctors are pretty inefficient creatures," she said coldly.
William thought of women who were so efficient that they did not hesitate to advise their doctors; but he only agreed with proper seriousness to Martha's declaration that it was too bad, for he would be late for church—"unless you hurry, William!" she called after him.
Perhaps he hurried when he was with Maggie, but certainly he displayed no haste when giving his directions to Mrs. Richie, nor even later when just as he was about to drive off, Mr. Pryor hailed him from the garden.
"How's your patient, doctor?"
"Pretty sick. She didn't obey your sister's orders and keep in bed yesterday. So, of course, she's worse to-day."
Mr. Pryor leaned a comfortable elbow on the green gate. "That's a nice prospect! What am I going to have to eat?" he said, good-humoredly.
Yet behind the good humor there was annoyance. It came into William King's mind that this fellow would not spare his sister his irritation, and with a sudden impulse of concern for her, he said, "Well now, look here, why don't you and Mrs. Richie come in this evening and take tea with us? I don't know what you'll get, but come and take pot-luck."
"Thank you," Lloyd Pryor said, "but—"
"Oh, come now," interrupted the doctor, gathering up his reins; "you good people are not neighborly enough. We'll expect you both at six."
"You are very kind, but I think—" But William would not listen. He was in great spirits. "It will be pot-luck, and my wife will be delighted—" then, his voice dragged—"I hope you'll come," he said uncertainly.
Mr. Pryor began to protest, but ended with a laugh. "Well, we'll come! Thank you very much."
"That's good," the doctor said a little less cordially, indeed, as he drove away he looked distinctly less cordial, and once he sighed.... Now, how should he put it? "Oh, Martha, by the way, Mr. Pryor and his sister will drop in to tea to-night. I suggested it, and—" No, that would not do.... "Martha, it occurred to me it would be neighborly—" No. "Confound it," William King muttered to himself, "what did I do it for, anyhow? 'Martha, my dear, I know you like to do a kindness, so I asked Mrs. Richie and her brother'"—that was better. "But I hate a circumbendibus!" William said, irritably, to himself. Then he drew a long breath, and set his lips as a man may who is about to face the domestic cannon's mouth.
After he had driven on, screwing up his courage, it appeared that Mr. Pryor also had a cannon to face. Helena Richie came out into the garden, and found. him sitting on a bench built round a great silver poplar. Her face was worried. "I ought not to have made poor Maggie get up yesterday," she said, "but I was so distressed not to have a good dinner for you."
"Well, at least you need have no anxieties about supper; we've had an invitation,"
"An invitation! From Dr, King? Well, that's very nice in him. But, of course—"
"I told him we would come"
"You told him we would come!"
"I couldn't help it, Nelly. People who invite you face to face are perfect nuisances. But, really, it's no great matter—for once, And I knew it would be a convenience for you. Besides, I wanted a good supper."
"Well, we must make some excuse."
"There isn't any excuse to make," he explained, good-naturedly: "I tried to find one and couldn't. We've got to go."
"I sha'n't go."
He looked at her from under his heavy eyelids; then blew two smoke wreaths slowly. "You're a queer creature."
She turned on him hotly. "Queer? Because I won't go out to supper with you? I'd be queer if I did! I'm entirely satisfied with myself, Lloyd; I consider that I have a perfect right to be happy in my own way. You know I don't care a copper for what you call 'morality'! it's nothing but cowardly conventionality. But I won't go out to supper with you."
"Please don't let us have a tirade," he said "I thought it would be more convenient for you. That's always the way with your sex, Helena, you do a thing to help them out, and they burst into tears."
"I haven't burst into tears," she said sullenly, "but I won't go."
"Come, now! don't be a goose. I wouldn't make a practice of accepting their invitations; but for once, what does it matter?"
"Can't you understand?" she said passionately; "they are kind to me!"
She turned quickly and ran into the garden, leaving him to call after her: "Well, you've got to go to-night, because I've accepted."
"I won't go to-night!" she flung back, her voice breaking.
Lloyd Pryor shook his head. "And she wonders I don't come oftener," he said to himself.
So the sleepy Sunday morning passed. Mr. Pryor roamed about the garden, looking furtively over his shoulder now and then—but Helena had disappeared. "Sulking in her room, I suppose," he thought.
He had come at some inconvenience, to spend Sunday and talk over this project of the child, "for I'd like to see her happier," he told himself; and now, instead of sitting down, sensibly, to discuss things, she flared out over this invitation to supper. Her intensity fatigued him. "I must be getting old," he ruminated, "and Helena will always be the age she was ten years ago. Ten? It's thirteen! How time flies; she was twenty. How interested I was in Frederick's health in those days!"
He stretched himself out on the bench under the poplar, and lit another cigar. "If I'm willing to go, why is she so exercised? Women are all alike—except Alice." He smiled as he thought of his girl, and instantly the hardness in his face lifted, as a cloud shadow lifts and leaves sunshine behind it. Then some obscure sense of fitness made him pull himself together, and put his mind on affairs that had nothing in common with Helena; affairs in which he could include his girl without offending his taste.
After a while he got up and wandered about between the borders, where the clean, bitter scent of daffodils mingled with the box. Once he stood still, looking down over the orchard on the hill-side below him, at the bright sheen of the river edged with leafless maples; on its farther side were the meadows, and then the hills, smoky in their warm haze. Over all was the pale April sky with skeins of gray cloud in the west. He wondered what Alice was doing at this moment, and looked at his watch. She must be just coming back from church. When he was at home Mr. Pryor went to church himself, and watched her saying her little prayers. This assumption of the Pryor-Barr liabilities would be a serious check to the fortune he was building up for her; he set his jaw angrily at the thought, but of course it couldn't be helped. Furthermore, Alice took great pride in the almost quixotic sense of honor that had prompted the step; a pride which gave him a secret satisfaction, quite fatuous and childlike and entirely out of keeping with certain other characteristics, also secret.
There was a gleam of humor in his eyes, as he said to himself that he hoped Alice would not ask him how he had spent his Sunday morning. Alice had such a feeling about truth, that he did not like to tell her even little lies, little ones that she could not possibly find out. It was the sentiment of fibbing to his girl that offended him, not the fib; for Mr. Lloyd Pryor had no doubt that, in certain matters, Truth must be governed by the law of benefit.
Thinking of his daughter, and smiling to himself, he lounged aimlessly about the garden; then it occurred to him to go into the stable and look at Helena's pony. After that he strolled over to the carriage- house where were stored a number of cases containing stuffed creatures—birds and chipmunks and small furry things. Some larger animals were slung up under the beams of the loft to get them out of the way; there was a bear in one corner, and a great crocodile, and a shark; possessions of the previous owner of the Stuffed Animal House, stored here by her executor, pending the final settlement of the estate.
Lloyd Pryor stood at the doorway looking in. Through a grimed and cobwebbed window at the farther end of the room the light filtered down among the still figures; there was the smell of dead fur and feathers, and of some acrid preservative. One box had been broken in moving it from the house, and a beaver had slipped from his carefully bitten branch, and lay on the dusty boards, a burst of cotton pushing through the splitting belly-seam. Lloyd Pryor thrust it into its case with his stick, and started as he did so. Something moved, back in the dusk.
"It's I, Lloyd," Helena Richie said.
"You? My dear Nelly! Why are you sitting in this gloomy place?"
She smiled faintly, but her face was weary with tears. "Oh, I just— came in here," she said vaguely.