THE INDIFFERENCE OF JULIET
By GRACE S. RICHMOND
Author of "The Second Violin" "The Dixons"
With Illustrations By HENRY HUTT
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
Copyright, 1902, 1903, 1904, by The Curtis Publishing Company
Copyright, 1905, by Doubleday, Page & Company
Published, March, 1905
All rights reserved, including that of translation—also right of translation into the Scandinavian languages
To Father and Mother
CHAPTER PAGE I. An Audacious Proposition 3 II. Measurements 12 III. Shopping with a Chaperon 17 IV. The Cost of Frocks 23 V. Muslins and Tackhammers 30 VI. A Question of Identity 36 VII. An Argument Without Logic 46 VIII. On Account of the Tea-Kettle 57 IX. A Bishop and a Hay-Wagon 69 X. On a Threshold 80 XII. The Bachelor Begs a Dish-Towel 101 XIII. Smoke and Talk 114 XIV. Strawberries 120 XV. Anthony Plays Maid 136 XVI. A House-Party—Outdoors 144 XVII. Rachel Causes Anxiety 155 XVIII. An Unknown Quantity 164 XIX. All the April Stars Are Out 175 XX. A Prior Claim 181 XXI. Everybody Gives Advice 191 XXII. Roger Barnes Proves Invaluable 201 XXIII. Two Not of a Kind 215 XXIV. The Careys Are at Home 233 XXV. The Robeson Will 246 XXVI. On Guard 266 XXVII. Lockwood Pays a Call 282 XXVIII. A High-Handed Affair 294 XXIX. Juliet Proves Herself Still Indifferent 303
HORATIO MARCY, an elderly New Englander of some wealth.
ANTHONY ROBESON, the last young male representative of the Kentucky ROBESONS, now making his own way in Massachusetts.
WAYNE CAREY, Robeson's former college chum, an office clerk on a salary.
DR. ROGER WILLIAMS BARNES, a surgeon.
LOUIS LOCKWOOD, an attorney-at-law.
STEVENS CATHCART, an architect.
MRS. DINGLEY, sister of Horatio Marcy.
JULIET MARCY, daughter of Horatio Marcy.
JUDITH DEARBORN, Juliet's friend since school-days.
SUZANNE GERARD, MARIE DRESSER, other friends of Juliet.
RACHEL REDDING, a poor country girl—of education.
MARY MCKAIM—in the background, but valuable.
THE INDIFFERENCE OF JULIET
I.—AN AUDACIOUS PROPOSITION
Anthony Robeson glanced about him in a satisfied way at the shaded nook under the low-hanging boughs into which he had guided the boat. Then he drew in his oars and let the little craft drift.
"This is an ideal spot," said he, looking into his friend's face, "in which to tell you a rather interesting piece of news."
"Oh, fine!" cried his friend, settling herself among the cushions in the stern and tilting back her parasol so that the light through its white expanse framed her health-tinted face in a sort of glory. "Tell me at once. I suspected you came with something on your mind. There couldn't be a lovelier place on the river than this for confidences. But I can guess yours. Tony, you've found 'her'!"
"And you'll be my friend just the same?" questioned Anthony anxiously. "My chum—my confidante?"
"Oh, well, Tony, that's absurd," declared Juliet Marcy severely. "As if she would allow it!"
"She's three thousand miles away."
"I'm ashamed of you!"
"Just in the interval, then," pleaded Anthony. "I need you now worse than ever. For I've a tremendous responsibility on my hands. The—the—you know—is to come off in September, and this is June—and I've a house to furnish. Will you help me do it, Juliet?"
"Anthony Robeson!" she said explosively under her breath, with a laugh. Then she sat up and leaned forward with a commanding gesture. "Tell me all about it. What is her name and who is she? Where did you meet her? Are you very much——"
"Would I marry a girl if I were not 'very much'?" demanded Anthony. "Well—I'll tell you—since you insist on these non-essentials before you really come down to business. Her name is Eleanor Langham, and she lives in San Francisco. Her family is old, aristocratic, wealthy—yet she condescends to me."
He looked up keenly into her eyes, and her brown lashes fell for an instant before something in his glance, but she said quickly: "Go on."
"When the—affair—is over I want to bring my bride straight home," Anthony proceeded, with a tinge of colour in his smooth, clear cheek. "I shall have no vacation to speak of at that time of year, and no time to spend in furnishing a house. Yet I want it all ready for her. So you see I need a friend. I shall have two weeks to spare in July, and if you would help me—"
"But, Tony," she interrupted, "how could I? If—if we were seen shopping together——"
"No, we couldn't go shopping together in New York without being liable to run into a wondering crowd of friends, of course—not in the places where you would want to go. But here you are only a couple of hours from Boston; you will be here all summer; you and Mrs. Dingley and I could run into Boston for a day at a time without anybody's being the wiser. I know—that is—I'm confident Mrs. Dingley would do it for me——"
"Oh, of course. Did Auntie ever deny you anything since the days when she used to give you jam as often as you came across to play with me?"
"Have you her photograph?" inquired Miss Marcy with an emphasis which left no possible doubt as to whose photograph she meant.
"I expected that," said Anthony gravely. "I expected it even sooner. But I am prepared."
She sat watching him curiously as he slowly drew from his breast-pocket a tiny leather case, and gazed at it precisely as a lover might be expected to gaze at his lady's image before jealously surrendering it into other hands. She had never seen Anthony Robeson look at any photograph except her own with just that expression. She had often wondered if he ever would. She had recommended this course of procedure to him many times, usually after once more gently refusing to marry him. She had begun at last to doubt whether it would ever be possible to divert Tony's mind from its long-sought object. But that trip to San Francisco, and the months he had spent there in the interests of the firm he served, had evidently brought about the desired change. She had not seen him since his return until to-day, when he had run up into the country where was the Marcy summer home, to tell her, as she now understood, his news and to make his somewhat extraordinary request.
She accepted the photograph with a smile, and studied it with attention.
"Oh, but isn't she pretty?" she cried warmly—and generously, for she was thinking as she looked how much prettier was Miss Langham than Miss Marcy.
"Isn't she?" agreed Anthony with enthusiasm.
"Lovely. What eyes! And what a dear mouth!"
"She looks clever, too."
"How tall is she?"
"About up to my shoulder."
"She's little, then."
"Well, I don't know," objected Anthony, surveying his own stalwart length of limb. "A girl doesn't have to be a dwarf not to be on a level with me. I should say she must be somewhere near your height."
"What a magnificent dresser!"
"Is she? She never irritates one with the fact."
"Oh, but I can see. And she's going to marry you. Tony, what can you give her?"
"A little box of a house, one maidservant, an occasional trip into town, four new frocks a year—moderate ones, you know, in keeping with her circumstances—and my name," replied Anthony composedly.
"You won't let her live in town, then?"
"Let her! Good heavens, what sort of a place could I give her in town on my salary? Now, in the very rural suburb I've picked out she can live in the greatest comfort, and we can have a real home—something I haven't had since Dad died and the old home and the money and all the rest of it went."
His face was grave now, and he was staring down into the water as if he saw there both what he had lost and what he hoped to gain.
"Yes," said Juliet sympathetically, though she did not know how to imagine the girl whose photograph she held in the surroundings Anthony suggested. Presently she went on in her gentlest tone: "I'm not saying that the name isn't a proud one to offer her, Tony—and if she is willing to share your altered fortunes I've no doubt she will be happy. Along with your name you'll give her a heart worth having."
"Thank you," said Anthony without looking up.
Miss Marcy coloured slightly, and hastened to supplement this speech with another.
"The question is—since the home is to be hers—why not let her furnish it? Her tastes and mine might not agree. Besides——"
"Why—you know, Tony," explained Juliet in some confusion, "I shouldn't know how to be economical."
"I'm aware that you haven't been brought up on the most economical basis," Anthony acknowledged frankly. "But I'll take care of my funds, no matter how extravagant you are inclined to be. If I should hand you five dollars and say, 'Buy a dining-table,' you could do it, couldn't you? You couldn't satisfy your ideals, of course, but you could give me the benefit of your discriminating choice within the five-dollar limit."
Juliet laughed, but in her eyes there grew nevertheless a look of doubt. "Tony," she demanded, "how much have you to spend on the furnishing of that house?"
"Just five hundred dollars," said Anthony concisely. "And that must cover the repairing and painting of the outside. Really, Juliet, haven't I done fairly well to save up that and the cost of the house and lot—for a fellow who till five years ago never did a thing for himself and never expected to need to? Yes, I know—the piano in your music-room cost twice that, and so did the horses you drive, and a very few of your pretty gowns would swallow another five. But Mrs. Anthony Robeson will have to chasten her ideas a trifle. Do you know, Juliet—I think she will—for love of me?"
He was smiling at his own audacious confidence. Juliet attempted no reply to this very unanswerable statement. She studied the photograph in silence, and he lay watching her. In her blue-and-white boating suit she was a pleasant object to look at.
"Will you help me?" he asked again at length. "I'm more anxious than I can tell you to have everything ready."
"I shouldn't like to fail you, Tony, since you really wish it, though I'm very sure you'll find me a poor adviser. But you haven't been a brother to me since the mud-pie days for nothing, and if I can help you with suggestions as to colour and style I'll be glad to. Though I shall all the while be trying to live up to this photograph, and that will be a little hard on the five-dollar-dining-table scale."
"You've only to look out that everything is in good taste," said Anthony quietly, "and that you can't help doing. My wife will thank you, and the new home will be sweet to her because of you. It surely will to me."
It was on the first day of Robeson's two-weeks' July vacation that he came to take Juliet Marcy and her aunt, Mrs. Dingley, who had long stood to her in the place of the mother she had early lost, to see the home he had bought in a remote suburb of a great city. It was a three-hours' journey from the Marcy country place, but he had insisted that Juliet could not furnish the house intelligently until she had studied it in detail.
So at eleven o'clock of a hot July morning Miss Marcy found herself surveying from the roadway a small, old-fashioned white house, with green blinds shading its odd, small-paned windows; a very "box of a house," as Anthony had said, set well back from the quiet street and surrounded by untrimmed trees and overgrown shrubbery. The whole place had a neglected appearance. Even the luxuriant climbing-rose, which did its best to hide the worn white paint of the house-front, served to intensify the look of decay.
"Charming, isn't it?" asked Robeson with the air of the delighted proprietor. "Of course everything looks gone to seed, but paint and a lawn-mower and a few other things will make another place of it. It's good old colonial, that's sure, and only needs a bit of fixing up to be quite correct, architecturally, small as it is."
He led the way up the weedy path, Mrs. Dingley and Juliet exchanging amused glances behind his back. He opened the doors with a flourish and waved the ladies in. They entered with close-held skirts and noses involuntarily sniffing at the musty air. Anthony ran around opening windows and explaining the "points" of the house. When they had been over it Mrs. Dingley, warm and weary, subsided upon the door-step, while Juliet and Anthony fell to discussing the possibilities of the place.
"You see," said Anthony, mopping his heated brow, "it isn't like having big, high rooms to decorate. These little rooms,"—he put up his hand and succeeded, from his fine height, in touching the ceiling of the lower front room in which they stood—"won't stand anything but the most simple treatment, and expensive papers and upholsteries would be out of place. It will take only very small rugs to suit the floors. The main thing for you to think of will be colours and effects. You'll find five hundred dollars will go a long way, even after the repairs and outside painting are disposed of."
He looked so appealing that Juliet could but answer heartily: "Yes, I'm sure of it. And now, Tony, don't you think you'd better draw a plan of the house, putting in all the measurements, so we shall know just how to go to work? And I will go around and dream a while in each room. Give me the photograph, you devoted lover, so I can plan things to suit her."
Anthony laughed and put his hand into his breast-pocket. But he drew it out empty.
"Why—I've left it behind," he admitted in some embarrassment. "I really thought I had it."
"Oh, Tony! And on this very trip when we needed it most! How could you leave it behind? Don't you always carry it next your heart?"
"Is that the prescribed place?"
"Certainly. I should doubt a man's love if he did not constantly wear my likeness right where it could feel his heart beating for me."
"Now I never supposed," remarked Anthony, considering her attentively, "that you had so much romance about you. Do you realise that for an extremely practical young person such as you have—mostly—appeared to be, that is a particularly sentimental suggestion? Er—should you wear his in the same way, may I inquire?"
"Of course," returned Juliet with defiance in her eyes, whose lashes, when they fell at length before his steadily interested gaze, swept a daintily colouring cheek.
"Have you ever worn one?" inquired this hardy young man, nothing daunted by these signs of righteous indignation. But all he got for answer was a vigorous:
"You absurd boy! Now go to work at your measurements. I'm going upstairs. There's one room up there, the one with the gable corners and the little bits of windows, that's perfectly fascinating. It must be done in Delft blue and white. Since I haven't the photograph"—she turned on the threshold to smile roguishly back at him—"memory must serve. Beautiful dark hair; eyes like a Madonna's; a perfect nose; the dearest mouth in the world—oh, yes——"
She vanished around the corner only to put her head in again with the air of one who fires a parting shot at a discomfited enemy: "But, Tony—do you honestly think the house is large enough for such a queen of a woman? Won't her throne take up the whole of the first floor?"
Then she was gone up the diminutive staircase, and her light footsteps could be heard on the bare floors overhead. Left alone, Anthony Robeson stood still for a moment looking fixedly at the door by which she had gone. The smile with which he had answered her gay fling had faded; his eyes had grown dark with a singular fire; his hands were clenched. Suddenly he strode across the floor and stopped by the door. He was looking down at the quaint old latch which served instead of a knob. Then, with a glance at the unconscious back of Mrs. Dingley, sitting sleepily on the little porch outside, he stooped and pressed his lips upon the iron where Juliet's hand had lain.
III.—SHOPPING WITH A CHAPERON
"Five hundred dollars," mused Miss Marcy, on the Boston train next morning. "Six rooms—living-room, dining-room, kitchen, and three bedrooms. That's——"
"You forget," warned Anthony Robeson from the seat where he faced Juliet and Mrs. Dingley. "That must cover the outside painting and repairs. You can't figure on having more than three hundred dollars left for the inside."
"Dear me, yes," frowned Juliet. She held Anthony's plan in her hand, and her tablets and pencil lay in her lap. "Well, I can spend fifty dollars on each room—only some will need more than others. The living-room will take the most—no, the dining-room."
"The kitchen will take the most," suggested Mrs. Dingley. "Your range will use up the most of your fifty. And kitchen utensils count up very rapidly."
"It will be a very small range," Anthony said. "A little toy stove would be more practical for our—the kitchen. How big is it, Juliet?"
"'Ten by fourteen,'" read Juliet. "From the centre of the room you can hit all the side walls with the broom. Speaking of walls, Tony—those must be our first consideration. If we get our colour scheme right everything else will follow. I have it all in my head."
So it proved. But it also proved, when they had been hard at work for an hour at a well-known decorator's, that the tints and designs for which Miss Marcy asked were not readily to be found in the low-priced wall-papers to which Anthony rigidly held her.
"I must have the softest, most restful greens for the living-room," she announced. "There—that——"
"But that is a dollar a roll," whispered Anthony.
"But for that little room, Tony——"
"Twenty-five cents a roll is all we can allow," insisted Anthony firmly. "And less than that everywhere else."
The salesman was very obliging, and showed the best things possible for the money. It was impossible to resist the appeal in the eyes of this critical but restricted young buyer.
"There, that will do, I think," said Juliet at length, with a long breath. "The green for the living-room and for the bit of a hall—No, no, Tony; I've just thought! You must take away that little partition and let the stairs go up out of the living-room. That will improve the apparent size of things wonderfully."
"All right," agreed Anthony obediently.
"Then we'll put that rich red in the dining-room. For upstairs there is the tiny rose pattern, and the Delft blue, and that little pale yellow and white stripe. In the kitchen we'll have the tile pattern. We won't have a border anywhere—the rooms are too low; just those simplest mouldings, and the ivory white on the ceilings. The woodwork must all be white. There now, that's settled. Next come the floors."
There could be no doubt that Juliet was becoming interested in her task. Though the July heat was intense she led the way with rapid steps to the place where she meant to select her rugs. Here the three spent a trying two hours. It was hard to please Miss Marcy with Japanese jute rugs, satisfactory in colouring though many of them were, when she longed to buy Persian pieces of distinction. If Juliet had a special weakness it was for choice antique rugs.
She cornered Anthony at last, while Mrs. Dingley and the salesman were politely but unequivocally disputing over the quality of a certain piece of Chinese weaving.
"Tony," she begged, "please let me get that one dear Turkish square for the living-room. It will give character to the whole room, and the colours are perfectly exquisite. I simply can't get one of those cheap things to go in front of that beautiful old fireplace. Imagine the firelight on that square; it would make you want to spend your evenings at home. Please!"
"Do you imagine that I shall ever want to spend them anywhere else?" asked Tony softly, looking down into her appealing face. "Why, chum, I'd like to get that Tabriz you admire so much, if it would please you, in spite of the fact that we should have to pull the whole house up forty notches to match it. But even the Turkish square is out of the question."
"But, Tony"—Juliet was whispering now with her head a little bent and her eyes on the lapel of his coat—"won't you let me do it as my—my contribution? I'd like to put something of my own into your house."
"You dear little girl," Anthony answered—and possibly for her own peace of mind it was fortunate that Miss Langham, of California, could not see the look with which he regarded Miss Marcy, of Massachusetts—"I'm sure you would. And you are putting into it just what is priceless to me—your individuality and your perfect taste. But I can't let even you help furnish that house. She—must take what I—and only I—can give her."
"You're perfectly ridiculous," murmured Juliet, turning away with an expression of deep displeasure. "As if she wouldn't bring all sorts of elegant stuff with her, and make your cheap things look insignificant."
"I don't think she will," returned Anthony with conviction. "She'll bring nothing out of keeping with the house."
"I thought you told me she was of a wealthy family."
"She is. But if she marries me she leaves all that behind. I'll have no wife on any other basis."
"Well—for a son of the Robesons of Kentucky you are absolutely the most absurd boy anybody ever heard of," declared the girl hotly under her breath. Then she walked over and ordered a certain inexpensive rug for the living-room with the air of a princess and the cheeks of a poppy.
IV.—THE COST OF FROCKS
It may have been that Miss Marcy was piqued into trying to see how little she could spend, but certain it was that from the time she left the carpet shop she begged for no exceptions to Mr. Robeson's rule of strict economy. She selected simple, delicate muslins for the windows, one and all, without a glance at finer draperies; bought denims and printed stuffs as if she had never heard of costlier upholsteries; and turned away from seductive pieces of Turkish and Indian embroideries offered for her inspection with a demure, "No, I don't care to look at those now," which more than once brought a covert smile to Anthony's lips and a twinkle to the eyes of the salesman. It was so very evident that the fair buyer did not pass them by for lack of interest.
Altogether, it was an interesting week these three people spent—for a week it took. Anthony began to protest after the first two days, and said he could not ask so much of his friends. But Juliet would not be hindered from taking infinite pains, and Mrs. Dingley good humouredly lent the two her chaperonage and her occasional counsel, such as only the gray-haired matron of long housewifely experience can furnish.
The selection of the furniture took perhaps the most time, and was the hardest, because of the difficulty of finding good styles in keeping with the limited purse. Anthony possessed a number of good pieces of antique character, but beyond these everything was to be purchased. Juliet turned in despair from one shop after another, and when it came to the fitting of the dining-room she grew distinctly indignant.
"It's a perfect shame," she said, "that they can't offer really good designs in the cheap things. Did you ever see anything so hideous? Tony, if I were you I'd rather eat my breakfast off one of those white kitchen tables—or——"
She broke off suddenly, rushed away down the long room to a group of chastely elegant dining-room furniture and came back after a little with a face of great eagerness to drag her companions away with her. She took them to survey a set of the costliest of all.
"Have you gone crazy?" Anthony inquired.
"Not at all. Tony, just study that table. It's massive, but it's simple—simple as beauty always is. Look at those perfectly straight legs—what clever cabinet maker couldn't copy that in—in ash, Tony? Then there are stains—I've heard of them—that rub into wood and then finish in some way so it's smooth and satiny. You could do that—I'm sure you could. Then you'd get the lovely big top you want. And the chairs—do you see the plain, solid-looking things? I know they could be made this way. Then the dining-room would be simply dear!"
* * * * *
"Juliet, you're coming on," declared Anthony with satisfaction that evening as the two, back at the Marcy country place, strolled slowly over the lawn toward the river edge. "At this rate you'll do for a poor man's wife yourself some day. That frock you have on now—isn't that a sort of concession to the humble company you're in?"
"In what way?" Juliet glanced down at the pale-green gown whose delicate skirts she was daintily lifting, and in which she looked like a flower in its calyx. She had rejoiced to exchange the dusty dress in which she had come home from town for this, which suggested coolness in each fresh fold.
"Why, it strikes me as about the simplest dress I ever saw you wear. Isn't it really—well—the least expensive thing you have had in that line in some time?"
The amused laugh with which this observation was greeted might have been disconcerting to anybody but Anthony Robeson, but he maintained his ground with calmness.
"How many of these do you think you can furnish Mrs. Anthony with in a year?" Juliet inquired, her lips forcing themselves to soberness, but the laughter lingering in her eyes.
"Several, as girlishly demure as that, I fancy," asserted the young man with confidence.
But Juliet's momentary gravity broke down. "Oh, you clever boy!" she said. "I shall advise Mrs. Anthony to send you shopping for her when she needs a new frock. You will order home just what she wants without stopping to ask the price, you will be so confident that you know a cheap thing when you see it. Afterward you will pay the bill—and then the awful frown on your brow! You will have to live on bread and milk for a month to get your accounts straightened out. Oh, Tony!—No, I shouldn't do for a poor man's wife—not judging by this 'girlishly demure' gown, you poor lamb.—But, Tony," with a swift change of manner, "I do think the little house will be very charming indeed. I can hardly wait to know that the painting and papering are done, so that we can go down and get things in order. I long to arrange those fascinating new tin things in that bit of a cupboard. Tony"—turning to him solemnly—"does she know how to cook?"
"I think she is learning now," he assured her. "Seems to me she mentioned it in to-day's——" He fumbled in his breast-pocket and brought out a letter.
Juliet stole an interested glance at it. She observed that there were three closely written sheets of the heavy linen paper, and that the handwriting was one suggestive of a pleasing individuality. Anthony, in the dim twilight, was scanning page after page in a lover's absorbed way. Juliet walked along by his side in silence. She was thinking of the face in the photograph, and wondering if Miss Eleanor Langham really loved Anthony Robeson as he deserved to be loved.
"For he is a dear, dear fellow," she said to herself, "and if she could just see him planning so enthusiastically for her comfort, even if he does have to economise, she'd——"
"No, it's not in this letter," observed Anthony, putting the sheets together with a lingering touch which did not escape his companion's quick eyes. "It must have been in yesterday's."
"Does she write every day?"
"Did you ever hear of an engaged pair who didn't write every day?"
"It must take a good deal of your time," she remarked. "But, of course, she can cook. Every sane girl takes a cooking-school course nowadays. It's as essential as French."
"You did, then?"
"Of course. Don't you remember when I used to edify you with new and wonderful dishes every time you dropped in to luncheon?"
"But did you learn the more important things?"
"I paid especial attention to soups, sir," laughed Juliet. "Now, if Mrs. Anthony has done that you can live very economically."
"I'll suggest it to her," said Anthony gravely.
V.—MUSLINS AND TACKHAMMERS
It took several trips to the small house, and a great deal of hemming and ruffling of muslin on the part of Juliet and the Marcy sewing-woman, to say nothing of many days of Anthony's hard labour, to get everything in place. But it was all done at length, and the hour arrived to close the new home and leave it to wait the oncoming day in September when it should be permanently opened.
"I'll just go over it once more," said Juliet to Mrs. Dingley. The latter lady was lying in a hammock out under the apple trees, waiting for train time and her final release from duties which were becoming decidedly wearisome. It was the first day of August, and the evening was a warm one. Anthony had gone off upon a last errand of some sort. Mrs. Dingley was too exhausted to offer to accompany her niece, and Juliet ran back into the house alone. She wandered slowly through the rooms, looking about to see if there might be any perfecting touch which she could add.
It was a charming place; even a daughter of the house of Marcy could but own to that. Under her skilful management the little rooms had blossomed into a fresh, satisfying beauty that needed only the addition of the personal adornment which Anthony's bride would be sure to bring, to become a home—the home not only of a poor man but of a refined and cultured one as well. Restricted though she had been to the most inexpensive means of bringing about this happy result, Juliet had made them all tell toward an effect of great harmony and beauty. Perhaps to nobody was this more of a revelation than to the girl herself.
She was very proud of the living-room, as she looked about it. The partition between it and the tiny hall had been removed, according to her suggestion, and the straight staircase altered by means of a landing and an abrupt turn which transformed it into picturesqueness. With its low, broad steps, its slender spindles and odd posts, it added much to the character of the room.
Like most old New England houses, this one's chief glory was its great central chimney, with big fireplaces opening both into the living-room and the dining-room. In the former, between the fireplace and the staircase, and forming a suggestion of an inglenook, Juliet had contrived a high, wide seat, cushioned in dull green, and boasting a number of pretty pillows. It must be confessed that she had surreptitiously added a little to these in the matter of certain modestly rich bits of material, and she contemplated the result with great satisfaction. It may be remarked, with no comment whatever, that in spite of their beauty there was not a pillow of all those scattered about the house which a weary man might not tuck under his head without fear of ruining a creation too delicate for any use but to be admired.
Having seized upon the idea of staining cheap material, she had carried it out in a set of low bookcases across the end and one side of the room. These awaited the coming of the several hundreds of choice books which Anthony had saved from his father's library. Two fine old portraits, dear to the hearts of many generations of the "Robesons of Kentucky," lent distinction to the home of their young descendant. Altogether the room was both quaint and artistic, and with its few plain chairs and tables, mostly heirlooms, and all of good old colonial design, was a room in which one could readily imagine one's self sitting down to a winter evening of cosy comfort, such as is not always to be had in far finer abiding-places.
The dining-room was a study in its reds and browns, and its home-made furniture was an astonishing success—if one were not too severely critical. As she surveyed it Juliet seemed to see the future master and mistress of this little home sitting down opposite each other in the fireglow, and smiling across.
The coming Mrs. Robeson, if one might judge by her photograph, was a woman to lend grace and dignity to her surroundings, whatever they might be. Juliet could imagine her pretty, stately way of presiding at such small feasts as the room was destined to see, making her guests quite forget that she was not mistress of a mansion equal to any in the land. Would she be happy? Could she be happy here, after all that she had had of another and very different sort of life? For some reason, as Juliet stood and looked and thought, her face grew very sober, and a long-drawn breath escaped her lips.
The little kitchen was an exceedingly alluring place, gay in the bravery of fresh paint and spotless, shining utensils. There were even crisp curtains—at eight cents a yard—tied back at the high, wide-silled, triple window with its diminutive panes. It needed only a pot or two of growing plants in the window, and a neat-handed Phyllis in a figured gown, to be the old-time kitchen of one's dreams.
But it was upon the rooms on the upper floor that Juliet had exhausted her imagination and effort. Nothing could have been conceived of more dainty than they. Here her denims and muslins had run riot. Low dressing-tables clad in ruffled hangings, their padded tops delicate with the breath of orris; beds valanced with similar stuffs; high-backed chairs, their seats cushioned into comfort—everything was done in the cleverest imitation of the ancient styles in keeping with the old-fashioned house. It all made one think of the patter of high-heeled, buckled slippers, and stiff, rustling, brocaded gowns, and powdered hair, and the odours of long ago. Anthony would never know what his friendly home-maker had put into these rooms of sentiment and charm.
VI.—A QUESTION OF IDENTITY
At the door of the blue-and-white room, the one upon which the girl had lavished her most tender fancies, she stood at length, looking in. And as she looked something swam before her eyes. A sob rose in her throat. She choked it back; she brushed her hand across her face. Then she tried to laugh. "Oh, what a goose I am!" she said sternly to herself. And then she ran across the room, sank upon her knees before the window-seat with its blue and white cushions, and burying her face in one of them cried her wretched, jealous, longing heart out.
Anthony, coming in hastily but softly through the small kitchen, heard the rush of footsteps overhead, and stopped. He waited a moment, listening eagerly; then he came noiselessly into the living-room and stood still. His face, always strong and somewhat stern in its repose, had in it to-night a certain unusual intensity. He looked at his watch and saw that there was an hour before train time. Then he sat down where he could see the top of the staircase and waited.
By and by light footsteps crossed the floor above and came through the little hall. From where he sat Anthony caught the gleam of Juliet's crisp linen skirt. Presently she came slowly down. As she turned upon the landing she met Anthony's eyes looking up. In a fashion quite unusual to the straightforward gaze of his friend her eyes fell. He saw that her cheeks were pale. He rose to meet her.
"Come and rest," he said. "You are tired. You have worked too hard. Such a helper a man never had before. And you have made a wonderful success. Juliet, I can't thank you. It's beyond that."
But she would not be led to the cosy corner by the window. She found something needing her attention in the curtain of the bookcase in the dimmest corner of the room, and began solicitously to pull it in various ways, as if there were something wrong with it. He watched her, standing with his arm on the high chimney-piece.
"I think you enjoyed it just a little bit yourself, though," he observed. "Didn't you, chum?"
"Yes, indeed," said Juliet.
Her back was toward him, her head bent down, but his quick ear detected a peculiar quality in her voice. He questioned her again hurriedly.
"You're not sorry you did it?"
"Oh, no," said Juliet.
Now there is not much in two such simple replies as these to indicate the state of one's mind and heart; but when a girl has been crying stormily and uninterruptedly for a half-hour, and is only not crying still because she is holding back the torrent of her unhappiness by sheer force of will, it is radically impossible to say so much as four words in a perfectly natural way. Anthony understood in a breath that the unfamiliar note in his friend's voice was that of tears. And, strange to say, into his face there flashed a look of triumph. But he only said very gently:
"Come here a minute—will you, Juliet?"
She bent lower over the curtain. Then she stood up, without looking at him, and moved toward the door.
"I believe I'm rather tired," she said in a low tone. "It has been so warm all day, and I—I have a headache."
In three steps he came after her, stopping her with his hand grasping hers as she would have left the room.
"Come back—please," he urged. "Your aunt is asleep out there, I think. I wanted to go over the house once more with you, if you would. But you're too tired for that. Just come back and sit down in this nook of yours, and let's talk a little."
She could not well refuse, and he put her into a nest of cushions, arranging them carefully behind her back and head, and sat down facing her. He had placed her just where the waning light from the western sky fell full on her face; his own was in the shadow. He was watching her unmercifully—she felt that, and desperately turned her face aside, burying in a friendly pillow the cheek which was colouring under his gaze.
"Is the headache so bad?" he asked softly. "I never knew Juliet Marcy to have a headache before. Poor little girl—dear little girl—who has worked so hard to please her old friend." He leaned forward and she felt his hand upon her hair. The tenderness in his voice and touch were carrying away all her defences. But he went on without giving her respite.
"Do you think she will be happy here, chum? Will it take the place of the old life for a few years, till I can give her more? She'll have nothing here, you know, outside of this little home, but my love. That wouldn't be enough for any ordinary woman, would it?"
She was not looking at him, but she could see him as plainly as if she were. Always she had thought him the strongest, best fellow she knew. He had been her devoted friend so long; she had not realised in the least until lately how it was going to seem to get on without him. But she knew now.
She felt a dreadful choking in her throat again. It seemed to be closely connected with another peculiar sensation, as if her heart had turned into a lump of lead. In another minute she knew that she should break down, which would be humiliating beyond words. She started up from her cushions with a fierce attempt to keep a grip upon herself.
"I know you're very happy," she breathed, "and I'm very glad. But really I—I'm not at all sentimental to-night. I'm afraid a headache does not make one sympathetic."
But she could not get past him; Anthony's stalwart figure barred the way. His strong hands put her gently back among the cushions. She turned her head away, fighting hard for that thing she could not keep—her self-control.
"Is it really a headache?" asked the low voice in her ear. "Just a headache? Not by any chance—a heartache, Juliet?"
"Anthony Robeson!" she cried, but guardedly, lest the open window betray her. "What do you mean? You say very strange things. Why should I have a heartache? Because you are marrying the girl you love? How often have I begged you to go and find her? Do you think I would have done all this for her—and you—if I had cared?"
She tried to look defiantly into his eyes—those fine eyes of his which were watching her so intently—tried to meet them steadily with her own lovely, tear-stained ones—and failed. Swiftly an intense colour dyed her cheeks, and she dropped her head like a guilty child.
"Of course I care—that is, in a way," she was somehow forced to admit before the bar of his silence. "Why shouldn't I hate to lose the friend who used to carry my books to school, and fought the other boys for my sake, and has been a brother to me all these years? Of course I do. And when I am tired I cry for nothing—just nothing. I——"
It was certainly a brave attempt at eloquence, but perhaps it was not wonderfully convincing. At all events it did not keep Anthony from taking possession of one of her hands and interrupting her with a most irrelevant speech.
"Juliet, do you remember telling me that you should expect a man who loved you to carry your likeness always with him? And you asked me for hers—and I had to own I had left it behind. Yet I had one with me then—it is always with me—and that was why I forgot the other. Look."
He drew out a little silver case, and Juliet, reluctantly releasing one eye from the shelter of the friendly sofa pillow, saw with a start her own face look smiling back at her. It was a little picture of her girlish self which she had given him long ago when he went away to college.
"No," he said quickly, as he recognised the indignant question which instantly showed in her eyes, "I'm not disloyal to Eleanor Langham. Because—dear—there is no such person."
With a little cry she flung herself away from him among the pillows, hiding her face from sight. There was a moment's silence while Anthony Robeson, his own face growing pale with the immensity of the stakes for which he played, made his last venture.
"The little home is only for you, Juliet. If you won't share it with me it shall be closed and sold. Perhaps it was an audacious thing to do—it has come over me a great many times that it was too audacious ever to be forgiven. But I couldn't help the hope that if you should make the home yourself you might come to feel that life with a man who had his way to make could be borne after all—if you loved him enough. It all depended on that. As I said, I didn't mean to be presumptuous, but it was a desperate chance with me, dear. I couldn't give you up, and I thought perhaps—just perhaps—you cared—more than you knew. Anyhow—I loved you so—I had to risk it."
Juliet's charming brown head was buried so deep in the pillows that only its back with the masses of waving, half-rumpled hair was visible. But up from the depths came a smothered question:
Anthony's face lightened as if the sun had struck it, but he kept his voice quiet. "Borrowed—it's my old friend Dennison's. I never even saw the girl—though I ought to beg her pardon for the use I have made of her face. She's married now, and lives abroad somewhere. Will you forgive me?"
He was standing over her, leaning down so that his cheek touched the rumpled hair. "How is it, Juliet? Could you live in the little home—with love—and me?"
It was a long time before he got any answer. But at last a flushed, wet, radiant face came into view, an arm was reached out, and as with an inarticulate, deep note of joy he drew her up into his embrace, a voice, half tears, half laughter, cried:
"Oh, Tony—you dear, bad, darling, insolent boy! I did think I could do without you—but I can't. And—oh, Tony"—she was sobbing in his arms now, while he regarded the top of her head with laughing, exultant eyes—"I'm so glad—so glad—so glad—there isn't any Eleanor Langham! Oh, how I hated her!"
"Did you, sweetheart?" he answered, laughing aloud now. Then bending, with his lips close to hers—"well, to tell the truth—to tell the honest truth, little girl—so did I!"
VII.—AN ARGUMENT WITHOUT LOGIC
"I don't like it," repeated Mr. Horatio Marcy, obstinately, and shook his head for the fifth time. "I've not a word to say against Anthony, my dear—not a word. He's a fine fellow and comes of a good family, and I respect him and the start he has made since things went to pieces, but——"
Juliet waited, her eyes downcast, her cheeks very much flushed, her mouth in lines of mutiny.
"But—" her father continued, settling back in his chair with an air of decision, "you will certainly make the mistake of your life if you think you can be happy in the sort of existence he offers you. You're not used to it. You've not been brought up to it. You can spend more money in a forenoon than he can earn in a twelve-month. You don't know how to adapt yourself to life on a basis of rigid economy. I——"
"You don't forbid it, sir?"
"Forbid it?—no. A man can't forbid a twenty-four year old woman to do as she pleases. But I advise you—I warn you—I ask you seriously to consider what it all means. You are used to very many habits of living which will be entirely beyond Anthony's means for many years to come. You are fond of travel—of dress—of social——"
"Father dear," said his daughter, interrupting him gently by a change of tactics. She came to him and sat upon the arm of his chair, and rested her cheek lightly upon the top of his thick, iron-gray locks.—"Let's drop all this for the present. Let's not discuss it. I want you to do me a particular favour before we say another word about it. Come with me down to see the house. It's only three hours away. We can go after breakfast to-morrow and be back for dinner at seven. It's all I ask. My arguments are all there. Please!—Please!"
So it came about that at eleven o'clock on a certain morning in August, Mr. Horatio Marcy discovered himself to be eyeing with critical, reluctant gaze a quaintly attractive, low-spreading white house among trees and vines. He became aware at the same time of a sudden close clasp on his arm.
"Here it is," said a low voice in his ear. "Does it look habitable?"
"Very pretty, very pretty, my dear," Mr. Marcy admitted. No sane man could do otherwise. The little house might have been placed very comfortably between the walls of the dining-room at the Marcy country house, but there was an indefinable, undeniable air of gracious hospitality and homelikeness about its aspect, and its surroundings gave it an appearance of being ample for the accommodation of any two people not anxious to get away from each other.
Juliet produced an antique door-key of a clumsy pattern, and opened the door into the living-room. She ran across to the windows and threw them open, then turned to see what expression might be at the moment illumining Mr. Marcy's face. He was glancing about him with curious eyes, which rested finally upon the portrait of a courtly gentleman in ruffles and flowing hair, hanging above the fireplace. He adjusted a pair of eyeglasses and gave the portrait the honour of his serious attention.
"That is an ancestor," Juliet explained. "Doesn't he give distinction to the room? And isn't the room—well—just a little bit distinguished-looking itself, in spite of its simplicity?—because of it, perhaps. The tables and most of the chairs are what Anthony found left in the old Kentucky homestead after the sale last year, and bought in with—the last of his money." Her eyes were very bright, but her voice was quiet.
Mr. Marcy looked at the furniture in question, stared at the walls, then at the rug on the polished floor. The rug held his attention for two long minutes, then he glanced sharply at his daughter.
"The colourings of that rug are very good, don't you think?" she asked with composure. "It will last until Anthony can afford a better one."
Mr. Marcy turned significantly toward the door of the dining-room, and Juliet led him through. He surveyed the room in silence, laying a hand upon a chair back; then looked suddenly down at the chair and brought his eyeglasses to bear upon it.
"The furniture was made by a country cabinet-maker who charged country prices for doing it. Tony rubbed in a very thin stain and rubbed the wood in oil afterward till it got this soft polish."
The visitor looked incredulous, but he accepted the explanation with a polite though exceedingly slight smile. Then he was taken to inspect the kitchen. From here he was led through the pantry back to the living-room, and so upstairs. He looked, still silently, in at the door of each room, exquisite in its dainty readiness for occupancy. As he studied the blue-and-white room his daughter observed that he retained less of the air of the connoisseur than he had elsewhere exhibited. She had shown him this place last with artful intent. No room in his own homes of luxury could appeal to him with more of beauty than was visible here.
When Mr. Marcy reached the living-room again he found himself placed gently but insistently in the easiest chair the room afforded, close by an open window through which floated all the soft odours of country air blowing lightly across apple orchards and gardens of old-fashioned flowers. His daughter, bringing from the ingle seat a plump cushion, dropped upon it at his feet. But instead of beginning any sort of argument she laid her arm upon his knee, and her head down upon her arm, and became as still as a kitten who has composed itself for sleep. Only through the contact of the warm young arm, her father could feel that she was alive and waiting for his speech.
When he spoke at last it was with grave quiet, in a gentler tone than that which he had used the day before in his own library.
"You helped Anthony furnish this house?"
"Do you mind telling me how much you had at your disposal?"
"Five hundred dollars." Juliet maintained her position without moving, and her face was out of sight.
"Did this include the repairs upon the place?"
"Yes—but you know wages are low just now and lumber is cheap. Having no roof to the porch made it inexpensive. The painting Anthony helped at himself. He worked every minute of his two weeks' vacation on whatever would cost most to hire done."
"Anthony worked at painting the house?" There was astonishment in Mr. Marcy's voice. He had known the Robesons of Kentucky all his life. He had never seen one of them lift his hand to do manual labour. There had been no need.
"Yes," said Juliet, and the cheek which rested against her father's knee began to grow warm.
"You have obtained a somewhat extraordinary effect of harmony and comfort inside the house," Mr. Marcy pursued. "It is difficult to understand just how you brought it about with so small an expenditure of money."
It was quite impossible now for Juliet to keep her head down. She looked up eagerly, but she still managed to speak quietly.
"It is effect, father, and it is art—not money. The paper on the wall cost twenty-five cents a roll, but it is the right paper for the place, and the wrong paper at ten times that sum wouldn't give the room such a background of soft restfulness. Then, you see, the old white woodwork is in very good style, and the green walls bring it out. The old floor was easily dressed to give that beautiful waxed finish. They told me how to do that at the best decorator's in Boston. The rug fits the colourings very well. Anthony's old furniture would give any such room dignity. The portrait lends the finishing touch, I think. You see, when you analyse it all there's nothing in the least wonderful. But it looks like a home—doesn't it? And when the little things are in which grow in a home—the photographs, a bowl of sweet-williams from the garden, the lovely old copper lamp you gave me on my birthday—can't you think how dear it will all be?"
Mr. Marcy glanced down keenly into his daughter's face.
"There are a great many things of your own at home which would naturally come into your married home," he said.
Juliet coloured richly. "Yes," she answered with steady eyes, "but except for the lamp, and the photographs, and a few such very little things, I should not bring them. Anthony is poor, but he is very proud. I couldn't hurt him by furnishing his home with the overflow of mine. Besides—I don't need those things. I don't want them. All I want out of the old home is—your love—your blessing, dear!"
The sharp eyes meeting hers softened suddenly. Juliet drew herself to her knees, and leaning forward across her father's lap, reached both arms up and flung them about his neck. He held her close, her head upon his shoulder, and all at once he found the slender figure in his arms shaken with feeling. Juliet was not crying, but she was drawing long, deep breaths like a child who tries to control itself.
"You need have no doubt of either of those things, my little girl," said her father in her ear. "Both are ready. It is only your happiness I want. I distrust the power of any poor man to give it to you. That is all. Since I have seen this house the question looks less doubtful to me—I admit that gladly. But I still am anxious for the future. Even in this attractive place there must be monotony, drudgery, lack of many things you have always had and felt you must have. You have never learned to do without them. I understand that Robeson will not accept them at my hand, nor at yours. I don't know that I think the less of him for that—but—you will have to learn self-denial. I want you to be very sure that you can do it, and that it will be worth while."
There was a little silence, then Juliet gently drew herself away and rose to her feet. She stood looking down at the imposing figure of the elderly man in the chair, and there was something in her face he had never seen there before.
"There's just one thing about it, sir," she said. "I can't possibly spare Anthony Robeson out of my life. I tried to do it, and I know. I would rather live it out in this little home—with him—than share the most promising future with any other man. But there's this you must remember: A man who was brought up to do nothing but ride fine horses, and shoot, and dance, must have something in him to go to work and advance, and earn enough to buy even such a home as this, in five years. He has a future of his own."
Mr. Marcy looked thoughtful. "Yes, that may be true," he said. "I rather think it is."
"And, father——" she bent to lay a roseleaf cheek against his own—"you began with mother in a poorer home than this, and were so happy! Don't I know that?"
"Yes, yes, dear," he sighed. "That's true, too. But we were both poor—had always been so. It was an advance for us—not a coming down."
"It's no coming down for me." There was spirit and fire in the girl's eyes now. "Just to wear less costly clothes—to walk instead of drive—to live on simpler food—what are those things? Look at these," she pointed to the rows of books in the bookcases which lined two walls of the room. "I'm marrying a man of refinement, of family, of the sort of blood that tells. He's an educated man—he loves the things those books stand for. He's good and strong and fine—and if I'm not safe with him I'll never be safe with anybody. But besides all that—I—I love him with all there is of me. Oh—are you satisfied now?"
Blushing furiously she turned away. Her father got to his feet, stood looking after her a moment with something very tender coming into his eyes, then took a step toward her and gathered her into his arms.
VIII.—ON ACCOUNT OF THE TEA-KETTLE
"This is the nineteenth day of August," observed Anthony Robeson. "We finished furnishing the house for my future bride on the third day of the month. Over two weeks have gone by since then. The place must need dusting."
He glanced casually at the figure in white which sat just above him upon the step of the great porch at the back of the Marcy country house. It was past twilight, the moon was not yet up, and only the glow from a distant shaded lamp at the other end of the porch served to give him a hint as to the expression upon his companion's face.
"I'm beginning to lie awake nights," he continued, "trying to remember just how my little home looks. I can't recall whether we set the tea-kettle on the stove or left it in the tin-closet. Can you think?"
"You put it on the stove yourself," said Juliet. "You would have filled it if Auntie Dingley hadn't told you it would rust."
Anthony swerved about upon the heavy oriental rug, which covered the steps, until his back rested against the column; he clasped his arms about one knee, and inclined his head at the precise angle which would enable him to study continuously the shadowy outlines of the face above him, shot across with a ruby ray from the lamp. "I wish I could recollect," he pursued, "whether I left the porch awning up or down. It has rained three times in the two weeks. It ought not to be down."
"I'm sure it isn't," Juliet assured him. There was a hint of laughter in her voice.
"It was rather absurd to put up that awning at all, I suppose. But when you can't afford a roof to your piazza, and compromise on an awning instead, you naturally want to see how it is going to look, and you rush it up. Besides, I think there was a strong impression on my mind that only a few days intervened before our occupancy of the place. It shows how misled one can be."
There was no reply to this observation, made in a depressed tone. After a minute Anthony went on.
"These cares of the householder—they absorb me. I'm always wondering if the lawn needs mowing, and if the new roof leaks. I get anxious about the blinds—do any of them work loose and swing around and bang their lives out in the night? Have the neighbours' chickens rooted up that row of hollyhock seeds? Then those books I placed on the shelves so hurriedly. Are any of them by chance upside down? Is Volume I. elbowed by Volume II. or by Volume VIII.? And I can't get away to see. Coming up here every Saturday night and tearing back every Sunday midnight takes all my time."
"You might spend next Sunday in the new house."
"Of course. You have so many cares they would keep you from getting lonely."
Anthony made no immediate answer to this suggestion, beyond laughing up at his companion in the dim light for an instant, then growing immediately sober again. But presently he began upon a new aspect of the subject.
"Juliet, are we to be married in church?"
"Tony!—I don't know."
"But what do you think?"
"What! Do you mean that?"
"Of course you don't. Well—what about it?"
"I don't know."
"Are we to have a big wedding?"
"Do you want one?"
"I—but that's not the question. Do you want a big wedding?"
She hesitated an instant. Then she answered softly, but with decision: "No."
Anthony drew a long breath. "Thank the Lord!" he said devoutly.
"Why?" she asked in some surprise.
"I've never exactly understood why the boys I've been best man for were so miserable over the prospect of a show wedding—but I know now. A runaway marriage appeals to me now as it never did before. I want to be married—tremendously—but I want to get it over."
A soft laugh answered him. "We'll get it over."
Anthony sat up suddenly. "Will we?" he asked with eagerness. "When?"
"I didn't say 'when'!"
"Juliet—when are you going to say it?"
"That's right—put in the 'dear,'" he murmured. "I've heard mighty few of 'em yet, and they sound great to me——"
"We've been engaged only two weeks—"
"And two days——"
"And the little house isn't spoiling, even though you're not sure about the tea-kettle and the awning. I—you don't want to hurry things——"
"If I'm very good and say 'Christmas'——"
"Now see here—" he leaned forward and stared up at her, without touching her—he was as yet allowed few of the lover's favours and prized them the more for that—"do you think our case is just like other people's? Here I've been waiting for you all my days—waiting and waiting, and tortured all the time by suspense. Then I lived that month of July with my heart in my mouth—you'll never know what you put me through those days, talking and jollying about 'Eleanor Langham,' and never for one instant, until just that last day, giving me the smallest pinch of hope that it was anything to you except just what it pretended to be. Then—I've been a long time without a home—and the little house—sweetheart—it looks like Heaven to me. Must I stay outside till Christmas—when everything's all ready? Confound it—I don't want to play the pathetic string, and the Lord knows I'm happy as a fellow can be who's got the desire of his life. But——"
A warm hand came gently upon his hair, and for joy at the touch he fell silent. Once he turned his head and put his lips against the white sleeve as it fell near, and looked up an instant with eyes whose expression the person above him felt rather than saw through the subdued light. By and by she took up the conversation.
"So you are rejoiced that I don't want a great wedding?"
"What would you like best?"
"I don't dare tell you."
"Tell me what you would like, Julie."
"Of course father would say the town house, even if it were a small affair. Auntie Dingley would probably agree to having it here—if that were what you—we—wanted—that is——"
Anthony looked up quickly. "Even at Christmas?"
"Why—yes. We could come back. People do that sometimes."
"Yes. Must we do what other people do?"
"Would you rather not?"
"Ten thousand times. It seems to me that the biggest mistake people make is the way they do this thing. Juliet—think of the little house. We made it—you made it. For years, without doubt, it's to hold us and our experiences. Do you know I'd like to give it this one to begin with?—I'm holding my breath!"
Plainly she was holding hers. Her head was turned away—he could just see her profile outlined against the ruby light. And at the moment there were footsteps inside a long French window near at hand which lay open into the library. Mr. Horatio Marcy came out and stood still just behind them.
Anthony sprang to his feet, and came forward up the steps. The older man greeted him cordially. Anthony pulled a big chair into position, and Mr. Marcy sat down. He was smoking and wore an air of relaxation. He and his guest fell to talking, the younger man entering into the conversation with as much ease and spirit as if he were not fresh from what was to him at this hour a much more interesting discussion. Juliet sat quietly and listened.
It grew into an absorbing argument after a little, the two men taking opposite sides of a great governmental question just then claiming public interest. Mrs. Dingley came out and joined the group, and she and Juliet listened with increasing delight in a contest of brains such as was now offered them. Mr. Marcy himself, while he put forth his arguments with conviction and with skill, was evidently enjoying the keen wit and wisdom of his young opponent. The elder man met objection with objection, set up men of straw to be knocked down, and ended at last with a hearty laugh and a frankly appreciative:
"Well, Anthony—you have convinced me of one thing, certainly. There are more sides to the question than I had understood. I will admit that you've made a strong argument. But when I come back I'll down you with fresh material. I shall have plenty of it."
"Are you going away soon, sir?" Anthony asked with some surprise. Mr. Marcy was a frequent traveller, preferring to look after various business interests in faraway ports himself rather than entrust them to others.
"Yes—I shall be off in a few weeks—and for a longer time than usual. I haven't told these ladies of my household yet—but this is as good a time as any. Juliet, little girl—I may be gone all winter this time."
She came quickly to him without speaking, and gave him her regretful answer silently.
"When do you go, Horatio?" Mrs. Dingley asked.
"About the first of October. I hadn't fully decided till to-day. I had thought of inviting you two to go with me."
He looked with a smile at his sister and his daughter, then somewhat quizzically at Anthony. The latter was regarding him with an alert face in which, as nearly as could be made out in the dim light, were no signs of discomfiture.
"Horatio," said Mrs. Dingley, "I wish you would come into the library for a few minutes. This reminds me of a letter I had to-day from one of your old friends, asking when you were to be at home."
The French window closed on the two older people. Juliet, left sitting on the arm of her father's chair, found Anthony behind her.
"Do you want to go on a voyage to the Philippines?" he was asking over her shoulder.
"I'm not sure just what I do want," she answered rather breathlessly.
"The tea-kettle would rust while you were gone."
He got no reply.
"The dust would grow inches deep on the dining-table we polished so carefully."
Juliet rose and walked slowly to the edge of the steps. Anthony followed. "Let's go and walk on the terrace," he proposed, and they ran down to the smooth sward below. It was a warm night, with no dew, and the short-shaven grass was dry. All the stars were out. Anthony walked beside the figure in white, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Do white ruffled curtains like those at our windows ever grow musty from being shut up?" he insinuated gently.
"I don't know."
"Will you write from every port you touch at? It will take a good many letters to satisfy me."
"I suppose so."
"Suppose what? That you will write?"
Juliet stood still. "You're the greatest wheedler I ever saw," she said.
"Is that a compliment?"
"It's not meant for one. What am I to do when I'm——"
"Married to me?—I don't know, poor child. I can only pity you. What do you think the prospect is for me, never to be able to get the smallest concession from you except by every art of coaxing? Yet—if I can get this thing I want, by any means—I warn you I shall not give up until I've seen you sail."
"You'll not see me sail."
He wheeled upon her. He had her hand in his grasp. "And if you don't go?"
She laughed irresistibly. "How could I stay without you?"
"Will you marry me before your father goes?"
"Oh, Tony, Tony——"
"We can't be married without his blessing, can we?"
"I'll tell you to-morrow," said she.
IX.—A BISHOP AND A HAY-WAGON
Juliet Marcy's prospective maid-of-honour found Anthony Robeson's best man at her elbow the moment she entered the waiting-room of the big railway station. Now, although she greeted him with a charming little conscious look, there was nothing either new or singular about the quiet rush he had made across the waiting-room the instant he saw her. The rest of the party of twenty people who were going down into the country to the Marcy-Robeson wedding understood it perfectly, although the engagement had not been announced and probably would not be until Wayne Carey should have an income decidedly larger than he had at present.
Judith Dearborn joined the group at once, and Carey reluctantly followed her. Judith had a way of joining groups and of giving her betrothed many impatient half-hours thereby.
"Just think of this," she said to the others. "When I knew Juliet had really given in to Anthony Robeson at last I thought I should be asked to assist at an impressive church wedding. But here we are going down to what Tony describes as 'a box of a house' in the most rural of suburbs. If it's really as small as he says even twenty people will be a tight fit."
"How in the world did they come to be married there?" asked the sister of the best man. Everybody had been summoned to this wedding so hurriedly and so informally that nobody knew much about it.
The son of the Bishop—whose father was going down to perform the ceremony—answered promptly:
"Tony tells me its Juliet's own choice. You see they furnished the house together, with her aunt, Mrs. Dingley; and Juliet fell so in love with it that she must needs be married in it. What's occurred to that girl I don't know. After the Robesons of Kentucky lost their money and everything else but their social standing I thought it was all up with Anthony. But he's plucky. He's made a way for himself, and he's won Juliet somehow. He seems to be a late edition of that obstinate chap who remarked 'I will find a way or make one.' By Jove—he must have made one when he convinced Juliet Marcy that she could be happy in a house where twenty people are a tight fit."
When the train stopped at the small station Judith Dearborn said in Wayne Carey's ear, as he glanced wonderingly from the train: "Is this it? Juliet Marcy must be perfectly crazy!"
"She certainly must," admitted Robeson's best man. But he stifled a sigh. If Juliet Marcy could do so crazy a thing as to marry Anthony Robeson on the comparatively small salary that young man—brought up to do nothing at all—was now earning, why must Wayne Carey wait for several times that income before he could have Juliet's closest friend? Was there really such a difference in girls?
But at the next instant he was shouting hilariously, and so was everybody else except the Bishop and the Bishop's wife, who only smiled indulgently. The rest of the party were young people, and their glee brooked no repression. The moment they reached the little platform they comprehended not only that they were coming to a most informal wedding—they were also in for a decidedly novel lark.
Close to the edge of the platform stood a great hay-wagon, cushioned with fragrant hay and garlanded with goldenrod and purple asters. Standing erect on the front, one hand grasping the reins which reached out over a four-in-hand of big, well-groomed, flower-bedecked farm horses, the other waving a triumphant greeting to his friends, was Anthony Robeson, in white from head to foot, his face alight with happiness and fun. He looked like a young king; there could be no other comparison for his splendid outlines as he towered there. And better yet, he looked as he had ever looked, through prosperity and through poverty, like a "Robeson of Kentucky."
Below him, prettier than she had ever been—and that was saying much—her eyes brilliant with the spirit of the day, laughing, dressed also in white, a big white hat drooping over her brown curls, stood Juliet Marcy.
In a storm of salutations and congratulations the guests rushed toward this extraordinary equipage and the radiant pair who were its charioteers. All regrets over the probable commonplaceness of a small country wedding had vanished.
"Might have known they would do things up in shape somehow," grunted the Bishop's son approvingly. "This is the stuff. Conventionality be tabooed. They're going to the other extreme, and that's the way to do. If you don't want an altar and candles, and a high-mucky-muck at the organ, have a hay-wagon. Gee!—Let me get up here next to Ben Hur and the lady!"
Even the Bishop, sitting with clerical coat-tails carefully parted, his handsome face beaming benevolently from under his round hat, and Mrs. Bishop, granted by special dispensation a cushion upon the hay seat, enjoyed that drive. Anthony, plying a long, beribboned lash, aroused his heavy-footed steeds into an exhilarating trot, and the hay-wagon, carrying safely its crew of young society people in their gayest mood, swept over the half-mile from the station to the house like a royal barge.
As they drew up a chorus of "Oh's!" not merely polite but sincerely surprised and admiring, recognised the quaint beauty of the little house. It was no commonplace country home now, though the changes wrought had been comparatively slight. It looked as if it might have stood for years in just this fashion, yet it was as far removed from its primitive characterless condition as may be an artist's drawing of a face upon which he has altered but a line.
Mrs. Dingley and Mr. Horatio Marcy—a pair whose presence anywhere would have been a voucher for the decorum of the most unconventional proceedings—welcomed the party upon the wide, uncovered porch.
"We're going to be married very soon, to have it over," called Anthony. "But you may explore the house first, so your minds shall be at rest during the crisis. Just don't wander too far away in examining this ancestral mansion. There are six rooms. I should advise your going in line, otherwise complications may occur in the upper hall. Please don't all try to get into the kitchen at once; it can't be done. It will hold Juliet and me at the same time—all the rooms have been stretched to do that—they had to be; but I'm not sure as to their capacity for more. Now make yourselves absolutely at home. The place is yours—for a few hours. After that it's mine—and Juliet's."
He glanced, laughing, at his bride, as he spoke from where he stood in the doorway. She was on the little landing of the staircase, at the opposite end of the living-room. She looked down and across at him, and nearly everybody in the room—they were thronging through at the moment—caught that glance. She was smiling back at him, and her eyes lingered only an instant after they met his, but her friends all saw. There could be no question that the Juliet Marcy who, since she had laid aside her pinafores, had kept many men at bay, had at last surrendered. As for Anthony——
"Why, he's always been in love with her," said the Bishop's son in the ear of the best man, as in accordance with their host's permission they peeped admiringly in at the little kitchen, "but any idiot can see that he's fairly off his feet now. Ideal condition—eh? Say, this dining-room's great—Jove, it is. I'm going to get asked out here to dinner as soon as they are back. Let's go upstairs. The girls are just coming down—hear 'em gurgling over what they saw?"
Upstairs the best man looked in at the blue-and-white room with eyes which one with penetration might have said were envious. Indeed, he stared at everything with much the same expression. He was the soberest man present. Ordinarily he could be counted on to enliven such occasions, but to-day his fits of hilarity were only momentary, and during the intervals he was observed by the Bishop's son to be gazing somewhat yearningly into space with an abstraction new to him.
Nobody knew just how the moment for the ceremony arrived. But when the survey of the house was over and everybody had instinctively come back to the living-room, the affair was brought about most naturally. The Bishop, at a word from the best man, took his place in the doorway opening upon the porch, which had been set in a great nodding border of goldenrod. Anthony, making his way among his guests, came with a quiet face up to Juliet and, bending, said softly, "Now, dear?" A hush followed instantly, and the guests fell back to places at the sides of the room. Anthony's best man was at his elbow, and the two went over to the Bishop, to stand by his side. Mr. Marcy moved quietly into his place. Juliet, with Judith, who had kept beside her, walked across the floor, and Anthony, meeting her, led her a step farther to face the Bishop. It was but a suggestion of the usual convention, and Anthony, in his white clothes, surrounded as he was by men in frock-coats, was assuredly the most unconventional bridegroom that had ever been seen. Juliet, too, wore the simplest of white gowns, with no other adornment than that of her own beauty. Yet, somehow, as the guests, grown sober in an instant, looked on and noted these things, there was not one who felt that either grace or dignity was lacking. The rich voice of the Bishop was as impressive as it had ever been in chancel or at altar; the look on Anthony's face was one which fitted the tone in which he spoke his vows; and Juliet, giving herself to the man whose altered fortunes she was agreeing to share, bore a loveliness which made her a bride one would remember long—and envy.
"There, that's done," said the Bishop's son with a gusty sigh of relief, which brought the laugh so necessary to the relaxing of the tension which accompanies such scenes. "Jove, it's a good thing to see a fellow like Robeson safely tied up at last. You never can tell where these quixotic ideas about houses and hay-wagons and weddings may lead. It's a terrible strain, though, to see people married. I always tremble like a leaf—I weigh only a hundred and ninety-eight now, and these things affect me. It's so frightful to think what might happen if they should trip up on their specifications."
There was a simple wedding breakfast served—by whom nobody could tell. It was eaten out in the orchard—a pleasant place, for the neglected grass had been close cut, and an old-fashioned garden at one side perfumed the air with late September flowers. The trim little country maids who brought the plates came from a willow-bordered path which led presumably to the next house, some distance down the road. There were several innovations in the various dishes, delicious to taste. Altogether it was a little feast which everybody enjoyed with unusual zest. And the life of the party was the bridegroom.
"I never saw a fellow able to scintillate like that at his own wedding," remarked the son of the Bishop to the best man's sister. "Usually they are so completely dashed by their own temerity in getting into such an irretrievable situation that they sit with their ears drooping and their eyes bleared. Do you suppose it's getting married in tennis clothes that's done it?"
"Tennis clothes!" cried the best man's sister with a merry laugh. "If you realised how much handsomer he looks than you men in your frock-coats you would not make fun."
"Make fun!" repeated the Bishop's son solemnly. "I joke only to keep my head above water. I never in my life was so completely submerged in the desire to get married instantly and live in a picturesque band-box. Nothing can keep me from it longer than it takes to find the girl and the band-box. If—if—" his voice dropped to a whisper, and a hint of redness crept into his face which belied his jesting words, "you knew of the girl—I—er—say—should you mind living in a band-box?"
The best man's sister was the sort of girl who can discern when even an inveterate joker is daring to be somewhat more than half in earnest, and she flushed so prettily that the son of the Bishop caught her hand boyishly under the little table. He had hitherto been considered a hopeless old bachelor, so it may readily be seen that, now the contagion had caught him, his was quite a serious case.
X.—ON A THRESHOLD
When it was all over Judith Dearborn went upstairs with Juliet to help her dress for her going away. The maid-of-honour looked about the blue-and-white room with thoughtful eyes.
"This is certainly the dearest room I ever saw," she said. "Oh, Juliet, do you think you really will be happy here?"
"What do you think about it, dear?" asked Juliet.
"Oh—I—well, really—I never imagined that a little old house like this could be made so awfully attractive. But, Juliet—you—you must be very, very fond of Anthony to give up so many things. How well he looked to-day. Seems to me he's grown gloriously in every way since he—since his family came into so many misfortunes."
Juliet smiled, but answered nothing.
"And you're so different, too. Never in my life would I have imagined you having a wedding like this—and yet it's been absolutely the prettiest one I ever saw. That's a sweet gown to go away in—but it's the simplest thing you ever wore, I'm sure. Juliet, where are you going?"
"We are going to drive through the Berkshires in a cart."
"'Robeson,'" corrected Juliet with a little laugh, but in a tone which it was a pity Anthony could not hear. "Don't forget that. I'm so proud of the name. And I think a drive through the Berkshires will be a perfectly ideal trip."
Judith Dearborn was not assisting the bride at all. Instead she was sitting in a chair, staring at Juliet with much the same abstraction of manner observable in the best man throughout the day.
"Of course you didn't need to live this way," observed Miss Dearborn at length. "You could have afforded to live much more expensively."
"No, I couldn't," said Juliet with a flash in her eyes, though she smiled; "I couldn't have afforded to do one thing that would hurt Tony's pride. Why, Judith—he's a 'Robeson of Kentucky.'"
"Well, he looks it," admitted Judith. "And you're a Marcy of Massachusetts. The two go well together. Juliet, do you know—somehow—I thought it was a fearful sacrifice you were making, even for such a man as Anthony—but—this blue-and-white room——"
"Ah, this blue-and-white room——" repeated Juliet. Then she came over and dropped on her knees by her friend in her impulsive way and put both arms around her. The plain little going-away gown touched folds with the one whose elegance was equalled only by its cost. Anthony Robeson's wife looked straight up into the eyes of her maid-of-honour and whispered:
"Judith, don't put Wayne—and—your blue-and-white room off too long. You will not be any happier to wait—if you love him."
* * * * *
Drawn up close to the door stood the cart. Beside it waited Anthony. Around the cart crowded twenty people. When Juliet came through them to say good-bye the son of the Bishop murmured:
"Yes, Mr. Farnham——" said Juliet promptly, her delicate flush answering the name, as it had answered it many times that day.
"When are you going to be at home to your friends?"
"The fifteenth day of October," said Juliet. "And from then on, every day in the week, every week in the year. Come and see us—everybody. But don't expect any formal invitations."
"I'll be down," declared the Bishop's son. "I'll be down once a week."
"Please don't stay long after we are gone," requested Anthony, putting his bride into the cart and springing in beside her. He gathered up the reins. "Good-bye," he called. "Take this next train home. It goes in an hour. Lock the door, Carey, and hang the key up in plain sight by the window there. We live in the country now, and that's the way we do. Good-bye—good-bye!"
Then he drove rapidly away down the road.
"And that pair," said the son of the Bishop gravely, looking after them and speaking to the company in general, "married, so to speak, in a hay-wagon, and going for a wedding trip in a wheel-barrow through the Berkshires, is Juliet Marcy and Anthony Robeson."
"No, my son," said the Bishop slowly—and everybody always listened when the Bishop spoke: "It is Anthony and Juliet Robeson—and that makes all the difference. I think two happier young people I never married. And may God be with them."
The best man said that he and the maid-of-honour would walk the half-mile to the station. The son of the Bishop and the sister of the best man had already taken this course without saying anything about it. Nearly everybody murmured something about it being a lovely evening and a glorious sunset and a charming road, and, pairing off advisedly, adopted the same plan. The Bishop and Mrs. Bishop, Mrs. Dingley and Mr. Marcy decided on being driven over to the station in a light surrey provided for this anticipated emergency.
The best man and the maid-of-honour succeeded in dropping behind the rest of the pedestrians. Their friends were used to that, and let them mercifully alone.
"Mighty pretty affair," observed Carey in a melancholy tone.
"Yes—in its way," admitted Judith Dearborn with apparent reluctance.
"Tony seemed happy."
"Ecstatic." Judith's inflection was peculiar.
"Nobody would have suspected Juliet of feeling blue about living off here."
"She doesn't seem to."
"What's made the difference?"
"Anthony Robeson, probably."
"Must seem pretty good to him to have her care like that."
"I presume so."
"It isn't everybody that could inspire such an—affection—in such a girl."
Carey looked intensely gloomy. The two walked on in silence, Miss Dearborn studying the sunset, Carey studying Miss Dearborn. Suddenly he spoke again.
"Judith, do all our plans for the future seem as desirable to you as they did this morning?"
"Apartment in the locality we've picked out—life in the style the locality calls for—and wait for it all until I'm gray——" with a burst of tremendous energy. "Good heavens, darling, what's the use? Why—if I could have you and a little home like that——"
He bit his lip hard. The maid-of-honour walked on, her head turned still farther away than before. They were nearing the station. Just ahead lay a turn in the road—the last turn. The rest of the party, with a shout back at this dilatory pair, disappeared around it. From the distance came the long, shrill whistle of the approaching train.
The maid-of-honour glanced behind: there was not a soul in sight; ahead: and saw nothing to alarm a girl with an impulse in her heart. At a point where great masses of reddening sumac hid a little dip in the road from everything earthly she stopped suddenly, and turning, put out both hands. She looked up into a face which warmed on the instant into a half-incredulous joy and said very gently: "You may."
* * * * *
The sun had been gone only two hours, and the soft early autumn darkness had but lately settled down upon the silent little house, waiting alone for its owners to come back some October day, when a cart, driven slowly, rolled along the road. In front of the house it stopped.
"Where are we?" asked Juliet's voice. "This is a private house. I thought we—Why, Tony—do you see?—We've come around in a circle instead of going on to that little inn you spoke of. This is—home!"
"Is it?" said Anthony's voice in a tone of great surprise. "So it is!" He leaped out and came around to Juliet's side. "What a fluke!" But the happy laugh in his voice betrayed him.
"Anthony Robeson," cried Juliet softly, "you need not pretend to be surprised. You meant to do it."
"Did I?" He reached out both arms to take her down. "Perhaps I did. Do you mind—Mrs. Robeson? Shall we go on?"
Juliet looked down at him. "No, I don't think I mind," she said.
He swung her down, and they went slowly up the walk. "Somehow," said Anthony Robeson, looking up at the house, lying as if asleep in the September night, "when I thought of taking you to that little public inn, and then remembered that we might have this instead—We can go on with our wedding journey to-morrow, dear-but—to-night——"
He led her silently upon the porch. He found the key, where in jest he had bade his best man put it, and unlocked the door and threw it open.
He stepped first upon the threshold, and, turning, held out his arms.
"Come," he said, smiling in the darkness.
XI.—A BACHELOR AT DINNER
"Hallo there—Anthony Robeson—don't be in such a hurry you can't notice a fellow."
The big figure rushing through the snow paused, wheeled, and thrust out a hand of hearty greeting. "That you, Carey? Hat over your eyes like a train robber—electric lights all behind you—and you expect me to smile at you as I go by! How are you? How's Judith?"
"Infernally lonely—I mean I am—Judith's off on a visit to her mother. Say, Tony—take me home with you—will you? I want some decent things to eat, so I'm holding you up on purpose."
"Good—come on. Train goes in a few minutes. Juliet will be delighted."
The two hurried on together into the station from which the suburban trains were constantly leaving. As they entered they encountered a mutual friend, at whom both flung themselves enthusiastically with alternate greetings:
"Roger—old fellow—glad to see you back!"
"Patient safely landed?"
"Get a big fee?"
"Where you going?"
"Let's take him home with us, Tony——" The third man looked smiling at Tony. "I'll challenge you to," said he.
"That's easy—come on," responded Anthony Robeson with cordiality. "I'll just telephone Mrs. Robeson."
"That's it," said Dr. Roger Barnes. "You don't dare not to. I understand. Go ahead. But if she's too much dashed let me know, will you?"
Anthony turned, laughing, into a telephone closet, from which he emerged in time to catch his train with his guests.
"It's all right," he assured them. "But it's only fair to let her know a few minutes ahead. You like to understand, Roger, before you start, don't you, whether your emergency case is a hip-fracture or a cut lip, so you can tell whether to take your glue or your sewing-silk?"
"By all means," said the bachelor of the party. "And I suppose you think Mrs. Juliet Marcy Robeson is now smiling happily to herself over this little surprise. I'll lay you anything you please that if I can make her own up she'll admit that she said 'Merciful heavens!' into the telephone when she got your message."
Anthony shook his head. "Evidently you don't know what guests in the remote suburbs on a stormy February night mean to a poor girl whose nearest neighbour is five hundred feet away. Your ideas of married life need a little freshening, too. They're pretty antique."
It was a half-mile from the station to the house—the "box of a house"—which had been Anthony's home for five months, and toward which he now led his friends with the air of a man about to show his most treasured possessions. He strode through the deepening snow as if he enjoyed the strenuous tramp, setting a pace which Wayne Carey, with his office life, if not the doctor, more vigorously built and bred, found difficult to maintain.
"Here we are," called the leader, pointing toward windows glowing with a ruddy light. The doctor looked up with interest. Carey was a frequent visitor, but the busy surgeon, old school-and-college chum of Anthony's though he was, was about to have his first introduction to a place of which he had heard much, but of whose nearness to Paradise he doubted with the strong skepticism of a man who has seen many a fair beginning end in all unhappiness and desolation.
As they stamped upon the little porch the door flew open, the brilliancy and comfort of a fire-and-lamplit room leaped out at them, a delicious faint odour of cookery assailed their hungry nostrils, and the welcome which makes all worth having met them on the threshold.
"Wayne," said the rich young voice of the mistress of the house, "I'm so glad. Roger Barnes, this is just downright good of you; it's so long you've promised us this. Tony——"
What she said to Tony must have been whispered in his ear if voiced at all, for the two guests, looking on with laughing, envious eyes, saw their hostess swept unceremoniously into a bearlike embrace, swung into the air as one thrusts up a child, poised there an instant, laughing and protesting, then slowly lowered to be kissed, and set down once more lightly upon the floor.
"It's all right. I didn't tumble your hair a bit," said Anthony coolly. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but Wayne understands—and Roger will some day, I hope—that a man who has been thinking about it all the way home can't put it off on account of a couple of idiots who stand and stare instead of politely turning their backs. Oh, don't mention it—it doesn't disturb me at all; and Mrs. Robeson is becoming reconciled to my impetuosity by degrees. Make yourselves at home, boys. Juliet——"
"Take them upstairs, Tony, please. Of course we can't let them go back to-night, now we have them. It's beginning to storm heavily, isn't it? I thought so. Take them to the guest-room, Tony—and dinner will be served as soon as you are down."
* * * * *
"By Jupiter, I believe she means it," declared the doctor, with approval, as the door of the bedroom closed on his host. "I think I can tell when a woman is shamming. She's improved, hasn't she, tremendously? Pretty girl always, but—well—bloomed now. Nice little house. Believe I'll have to stay, though I ought not—just to take observations on Tony. His enthusiasm has all the appearance of reality. In fact, it strikes me he has rather——"
It was on his lips to say "rather more than you have," but it occurred to him in time that jokes on this ground are dangerous. Wayne Carey had been married in November, was living in a somewhat unpretentious way in a downtown boarding-house, and certainly had to-night so much of a lost-dog air that it made the doctor pause. So he substituted: "—rather more than I should have expected, even of a fellow who has got the girl he has wanted all his life," and fell to washing and brushing vigorously, eyeing meanwhile the little room with a critical bachelor's appreciation of beauty and comfort in the quarters he is to occupy. It was very simply furnished, certainly, but it struck him as a place where his dreams were likely to be pleasant for every reason in the world.
Downstairs, Juliet, in the dining-room, was surveying her table with the hostess's satisfaction. Opposite her stood a tall and slender girl, black-haired, black-eyed, with a face of great attractiveness.
"I wish, Mrs. Robeson," she was saying eagerly, "you would let me serve you as your maid, and not make a guest of me. Really, I should love to do it. I don't need to meet your friends, and I don't mind seeming what I really am—your——"
"Rachel Redding," Juliet interrupted, lifting an affectionate glance across the table, "if you want to seem what you really are—my friend—you will let me do as I like."
"My shabby clothes——" murmured the girl.
"If I could look as much like a princess as you do in them——"
"Mrs. Robeson, in that lovely dull red you're a queen——"
"—dowager," finished Juliet gayly. "Well, I'll be proud of you, and you can be proud of me, if you like, and together we'll make those hungry men think there's nothing like us. The dinner's the thing. Isn't it the luckiest chance in the world I sent for those oysters this morning? Doctor Barnes is perfectly fine, but he never would believe in the happiness of married life if the coffee were poor or the beefsteak too much broiled. Doesn't the table look pretty? Those red geranium blossoms you brought me give it just the gay touch it needed this winter night."
* * * * *
Three men, standing about the wide fireplace, warming cold hands at its friendly blaze, turned expectantly as their youthful hostess came in, followed by a graceful girl in gray. Juliet presented her guests with the air of conferring upon them a favour, and they seemed quite ready to accept it as such.
Anthony looked on with interest to see a person whom he had known hitherto only as a pretty but poor young neighbour whom Juliet had engaged to help her for a certain part of every day, introduced as his wife's friend, and greeted by Doctor Barnes and Wayne Carey with quite evident admiration and pleasure. He looked hard at her, as Carey seated her, noticing for the first time that she was really worth consideration, and remembering vaguely that Juliet had more than once tried to impress him with the fact. If it had not been for the other fellows, with whose eyes as their host he was now stimulated to observe her, he might have been still some time longer in coming to the realisation that Juliet had found somebody in whom her genuine interest was not misplaced. But Anthony Robeson had all his life been singularly blind to the fascinations of most other women than Juliet. As he turned his keen gaze from Rachel Redding to the charming figure that sat on the other side of the table the satisfaction in his eyes became so pronounced that it could mean, Dr. Roger Barnes admitted to himself, as he caught it, nothing less than a very real happiness.