THE RICH MRS. BURGOYNE
TO KATHLEEN MARY THOMPSON
Lover of books, who never fails to find Some good in every book, your namesake sends This book to you, knowing you always kind To small things, timid and in need of friends.
O friend! I know not which way I must look For comfort, being, as I am, opprest, To think that now our life is only drest For show; mean handy-work of craftsman, cook, Or groom!—We must run glittering like a brook In the open sunshine, or we are unblest; The wealthiest man among us is the best: No grandeur now in nature or in book Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense, This is idolatry; and these we adore: Plain living and high thinking are no more: The homely beauty of the good old cause Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence. And pure religion breathing household laws. —WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.
"Annie, what are you doing? Polishing the ramekins? Oh, that's right. Did the extra ramekins come from Mrs. Brown? Didn't! Then as soon as the children come back I'll send for them; I wish you'd remind me. Did Mrs. Binney come? and Lizzie? Oh, that's good. Where are they? Down in the cellar! Oh, did the extra ice come? Will you find out, Annie? Those can wait. If it didn't, the mousse is ruined, that's all! No, wait, Annie, I'll go out and see Celia myself."
Little Mrs. George Carew, flushed and excited, crossed the pantry as she spoke, and pushed open the swinging door that connected it with the kitchen. She was a pretty woman, even now when her hair, already dressed, was hidden under snugly pinned veils and her trim little figure lost under a flying kimono. Mrs. Carew was expecting the twenty-eight members of the Santa Paloma Bridge Club on this particular evening, and now, at three o'clock on a beautiful April afternoon, she was almost frantic with fatigue and nervousness. The house had been cleaned thoroughly the day before, rugs shaken, mirrors polished, floors oiled; the grand piano had been closed, and pushed against the wall; the reading-table had been cleared, and wheeled out under the turn of the stairway; the pretty drawing-room and square big entrance hall had been emptied to make room for the seven little card-tables that were already set up, and for the twenty-eight straight-back chairs that Mrs. Carew had collected from the dining-room, the bedrooms, the halls, and even the nursery, for the occasion. All this had been done the day before, and Mrs. Carew, awakening early in the morning to uneasy anticipations of a full day, had yet felt that the main work of preparation was out of the way.
But now, in mid-afternoon, nothing seemed done. There were flowers still to arrange; there was the mild punch that Santa Paloma affected at card parties to be finished; there was candy to be put about on the tables, in little silver dishes; and new packs of cards, and pencils and score-cards to be scattered about. And in the kitchen—But Mrs. Carew's heart failed at the thought. True, her own two maids were being helped out to-day by Mrs. Binney from the village, a tower of strength in an emergency, and by Lizzie Binney, a worthy daughter of her mother; but there had been so many stupid delays. And plates, and glasses, and punch-cups, and silver, and napkins for twenty-eight meant such a lot of counting and sorting and polishing! And somehow George and the children must have dinner, and the Binneys and Celia and Annie must eat, too.
"Well," thought Mrs. Carew, with a desperate glance at the kitchen clock, "it will all be over pretty soon, thank goodness!"
A pleasant stir of preparation pervaded the kitchen. Mrs. Binney, enormous, good-natured, capable, was opening crabs at one end of the table, her sleeves rolled up, and her gingham dress, in the last stage of age and thinness, protected by a new stiff white apron; Celia, Mrs. Carew's cook, was sitting opposite her, dismembering two cold roasted fowls; Lizzie Binney, as trim and pretty as her mother was shapeless and plain, was filling silver bonbon-dishes with salted nuts.
"How is everything going, Celia?" said Mrs. Carew, sampling a nut.
"Fine," said Celia placidly. "He didn't bring but two bunches of sullery, so I don't know will I have enough for the salad. They sent the cherries. And Mrs. Binney wants you should taste the punch."
"It's sweet now," said Mrs. Binney, as Mrs. Carew picked up the big mixing-spoon, "but there's the ice to go in."
"Delicious! not one bit too sweet," Mrs. Carew pronounced. "You know that's to be passed around in the little glasses, Lizzie, while we're playing; and a cherry and a piece of pineapple in every glass. Did Annie find the doilies for the big trays? Yes. I got the bowl down; Annie's going to wash it. Oh, the cakes came, didn't they? That's good. And the cream for coffee; that ought to go right on ice. I'll telephone for more celery."
"There's some of these napkins so mussed, laying in the drawer," said Lizzie, "I thought I'd put a couple of irons on and press them out."
"If you have time, I wish you would," Mrs. Carew said, touching the frosted top of an angel-cake with a tentative finger. "I may have to play to-night, Celia," she went on, to her own cook, "but you girls can manage everything, can't you? Dinner really doesn't matter—scrambled eggs and baked potatoes, something like that, and you'll have to serve it on the side porch."
"Oh, yes'm, we'll manage!" Celia assured her confidently. "We'll clear up here pretty soon, and then there's nothing but the sandwiches to do."
Mrs. Carew went on her way comforted. Celia was not a fancy cook, she reflected, passing through the darkened dining-room, where the long table had been already set with a shining cloth, and where silver and glass gleamed in the darkness, but Celia was reliable. And for a woman with three children, a large house, and but one other maid, Celia was a treasure.
She telephoned the grocer, her eyes roving critically over the hall as she did so. The buttercups, in a great bowl on the table, were already dropping their varnished yellow leaves; Annie must brush those up the very last thing.
"So far, so good!" said Mrs. Carew, straightening the rug at the door with a small heel and dropping wearily into a porch rocker. "There must be one thousand things I ought to be doing," she said, resting her head and shutting her eyes.
It was a warm, delicious afternoon. The little California town lay asleep under a haze of golden sunshine. The Carews' pretty house, with its lawn and garden, was almost the last on River Street, and stood on the slope of a hill that commanded all Santa Paloma Valley. Below it, the wide tree-shaded street descended between other unfenced lawns and other handsome homes.
This was the aristocratic part of the town. The Willard Whites' immense colonial mansion was here; and the Whites, rich, handsome, childless, clever, and nearing the forties, were quite the most prominent people of Santa Paloma. The Wayne Adamses, charming, extravagant young people, lived near; and the Parker Lloyds, who were suspected of hiding rather serious money troubles under their reckless hospitality and unfailing gaiety, were just across the street. On River Street, too, lived dignified, aristocratic old Mrs. Apostleman and nervous, timid Anne Pratt and her brother Walter, whose gloomy, stately old mansion was one of the finest in town. Up at the end of the street were the Carews, and the shabby comfortable home of Dr. and Mrs. Brown, and the neglected white cottage where Barry Valentine and his little son Billy and a studious young Japanese servant led a rather shiftless existence. And although there were other pretty streets in town, and other pleasant well-to-do women who were members of church and club, River Street was unquestionably THE street, and its residents unquestionably THE people of Santa Paloma.
Beyond these homes lay the business part of the town, the railway station, and post-office, the library, and the women's clubhouse, with its red geraniums, red-tiled roof, and plaster arches.
And beyond again were blocks of business buildings, handsome and modern, with metal-sheathed elevators, and tiled vestibules, and heavy, plate-glass windows on the street. There was a drug store quite modern enough to be facing upon Forty-second Street and Broadway, instead of the tree-shaded peace of Santa Paloma's main street. At its cool and glittering fountain indeed, a hundred drinks could be mixed of which Broadway never even heard. And on Broadway, three thousand miles away, the women who shopped were buying the same boxed powders, the same bottled toilet waters, the same patented soaps and brushes and candies that were to be found here. And in the immense grocery store nearby there were beautifully spacious departments worthy of any great city, devoted to rare fruits, and coffees and teas, and every pickle that ever came in a glass bottle, and every little spiced fish that ever came in a gay tin. A white-clad young man "demonstrated" a cake-mixer, a blue-clad young woman "demonstrated" jelly-powders.
Nearby were the one or two big dry-goods stores, with lovely gowns in their windows, and milliners' shops, with French hats in their smart Paris boxes—there was even a very tiny, very elegant little shop where pastes and powders and shampooing were the attraction; a shop that had a French name "et Cie" over the door.
In short, there were modern women, and rich women, in Santa Paloma, as these things unmistakably indicated. Where sixty years ago there had been but a lonely outpost on a Spanish sheep-ranch, and where thirty years after that there was only a "general store" at a crossroads, now every luxury in the world might be had for the asking.
All this part of the town lay northeast of the sleepy little Lobos River, which cut Santa Paloma in two. It was a pretty river, a boiling yellow torrent in winter, but low enough in the summer-time for the children to wade across the shallows, and shaded all along its course by overhanging maples, and willows, and oaktrees, and an undergrowth of wild currant and hazel bushes and blackberry vines. Across the river was Old Paloma, where dust from the cannery chimneys and soot from the railway sheds powdered an ugly shabby settlement of shanties and cheap lodging-houses. Old Paloma was peppered thick with saloons, and flavored by them, and by the odor of frying grease, and by an ashy waste known as the "dump." Over all other odors lay the sweet, cloying smell of crushed grapes from the winery and the pungent odor from the tannery of White & Company. The men, and boys, and girls of the settlement all worked in one or another of these places, and the women gossiped in their untidy doorways. Above the Carew house and Doctor Brown's, opposite, River Street came perforce to an end, for it was crossed at this point by an old-fashioned wooden fence of slender, rounded pickets. In the middle of the fence was a wide carriage gate, with a smaller gate for foot passengers at each side, and beyond it the shabby, neglected garden and the tangle of pepper, and eucalyptus, and weeping willow trees that half hid the old Holly mansion. Once this had been the great house of the village, but now it was empty and forlorn. Captain Holly had been dead for five or six years, and the last of the sons and daughters had gone away into the world. The house, furnished just as they had left it, was for sale, but the years went by, and no buyer appeared; and meantime the garden flowers ran wild, the lawns were dry and brown, and the fence was smothered in coarse rose vines and rampant wild blackberry vines. Dry grass and yarrow and hollow milkweed grew high in the gateways, and when the village children went through them to prowl, as children love to prowl, about the neglected house and orchard, they left long, dusty wakes in the crushed weeds. Further up than the children usually ventured, there was an old bridge across the Lobos, Captain Holly's private road to the mill town; but it was boarded across now, and hundreds of chipmunks nested in it, and whisked about it undisturbed. The great stables and barns stood empty; the fountains were long gone dry. Only the orchard continued to bear heavily.
The Holly estate ran up into the hill behind it, one of the wooded foothills that encircled all Santa Paloma, as they encircle so many California towns. Already turning brown, and crowned with dense, low groves of oak, and bay, and madrona trees, they shut off the world outside; although sometimes on a still day the solemn booming of the ocean could be heard beyond them, and a hundred times a year the Pacific fogs came creeping over them long before dawn, and Santa Paloma awakened in an enveloping cloud of soft mist. Here and there the slopes of these hills were checkered with the sharp oblongs and angles of young vineyards, and hidden by the thickening green of peach and apple orchards. A few low, brown dairy ranch-houses were perched high on the ridges; the red-brown moving stream of the cattle home-coming in mid-afternoon could be seen from the village on a clear day. And over hill and valley, on this wonderful afternoon in late spring, the most generous sunlight in the world lay warm and golden, and across them the shadows of high clouds—for there had been rain in the night—traveled slowly.
"I declare," said little Mrs. Carew lazily, "I could go to sleep!"
A moment later when a tall man came up the path and dropped on the top porch step with an air of being entirely at home, Mrs. Carew was still dreaming, half-awake and half-asleep.
"Hello, Jeanette!" said the newcomer. "What's new with thee, coz?"
"Don't smoke there, Barry, and get things mussy!" said Mrs. Carew in return, smiling to soften the command, and to show Barry Valentine that he was welcome.
Barry was usually welcome everywhere, although not at all approved in many cases, and criticised even by the people who liked him best. He was a sort of fourth cousin of Mrs. Carew, who sometimes felt herself called to the difficult task of defending him because of the distant kinship. He was very handsome, lean, and dark, with a sleepy smile and with eyes that all children loved; and he was clever, or, at least, everyone believed him to be so; and he had charm—a charm of sheer sweetness, for he never seemed to be particularly anxious to please. Barry was very gallant, in an impersonal sort of way: he took a keen, elder-brotherly sort of interest in every pretty girl in the village, and liked to discuss their own love affairs with them, with a seriousness quite paternal. He never singled any girl out for particular attention, or escorted one unless asked, but he was flatteringly attentive to all the middle-aged people of his acquaintance and his big helpful hand was always ready for stumbling old women on the church steps, or tearful waifs in the street—he always had time to listen to other people's troubles. Barry—everyone admitted—had his points. But after all—
After all, he was lazy, and shiftless, and unambitious: he was content to be assistant editor of the Mail; content to be bullied and belittled by old Rogers; content to go on his own idle, sunny way, playing with his small, chubby son, foraging the woods with a dozen small boys at his heels, working patiently over a broken gopher-trap or a rusty shotgun, for some small admirer. Worst of all, Barry had been intemperate, years ago, and there were people who believed that his occasional visits to San Francisco, now, were merely excuses for revels with his old newspaper friends there.
And yet, he had been such a brilliant, such a fiery and ambitious boy! All Santa Paloma had taken pride in the fact that Barry Valentine, only twenty, had been offered the editorship of the one newspaper of Plumas, a little town some twelve miles away, and had prophesied a triumphant progress for him, to the newspapers of San Francisco, of Chicago, of New York! But Barry had not been long in Plumas when he suddenly married Miss Hetty Scott of that town, and in the twelve years that had passed since then the golden dreams for his future had vanished one by one, until to-day found him with no one to believe in him—not even himself.
Hetty Scott was but seventeen when Barry met her, and already the winner in two village contests for beauty and popularity. After their marriage she and Barry went to San Francisco, and shrewd, little, beautiful Hetty found herself more admired than ever, and began to talk of the stage. After that, Santa Paloma heard only occasional rumors: Barry had a position on a New York paper, and Hetty was studying in a dramatic school; there was a baby; there were financial troubles, and Barry was drinking again; then Hetty was dead, and Barry, fearing the severe eastern winters for the delicate baby, was coming back to Santa Paloma. So back they came, and there had been no indication since, that the restless, ambitious Barry of years ago was not dead forever.
"No smoking?" said Barry now, good-naturedly. "That's so; you've got some sort of 'High Jinks' on for to-night, haven't you? I brought up those hinges for your mixing table, Jen," he went on, "but any time will do. I suppose the kitchen is right on the fault, as it were."
"The kitchen DOES look earthquakey," admitted Mrs. Carew with a laugh, "but the girls would be glad to have the extra table; so go right ahead. I'll take you out in a second. I have been on the GO," she added wearily, "since seven this morning: my feet are like balls of fire. You don't know what the details are. Why, just tying up the prizes takes a good HOUR!"
"Anything go wrong?" asked the man sympathetically.
"Oh, no; nothing particular. But you know how a house has to LOOK! Even the bathrooms, and our room, and the spare room—the children do get things so mussed. It all sounds so simple; but it takes such a time."
"Well, Annie—doesn't she do these things?"
"Oh, ordinarily she does! But she was sweeping all morning, we moved things about so last night, and there was china, and glasses to get down, and the porches—"
"But, Jeanette," said Barry Valentine patiently, "don't you keep this house clean enough ordinarily without these orgies of cleaning the minute anybody comes in? I never knew such a house for women to open windows, and tie up curtains, and put towels over their hair, and run around with buckets of cold suds. Why this extra fuss?"
"Well, it's not all cleaning," said Mrs. Carew, a little annoyed. "It's largely supper; and I'm not giving anything LIKE the suppers Mrs. White and Mrs. Adams give."
"Why don't they eat at home?" said Mr. Valentine hospitably. "What do they come for anyway? To see the house or each other's clothes, or to eat? Women are funny at a card party," he went on, always ready to expand an argument comfortably. "It takes them an hour to settle down and see how everyone else looks, and whether there happens to be a streak of dust under the piano; and then when the game is just well started, a maid is nudging you in the elbow to take a plate of hot chicken, and another, on the other side, is holding out sandwiches, and all the women are running to look at the prizes. Now when men play cards—
"Oh, Barry, don't get started!" his cousin impatiently implored. "I'm too tired to listen. Come out and fix the table."
"Wish I could really help you," said Barry, as they crossed the hall; and as a further attempt to soothe her ruffled feelings, he added amiably, "The place looks fine. The buttercups came up, didn't they?"
"Beautifully! You were a dear to get them," said Mrs. Carew, quite mollified.
Welcomed openly by all four maids, Barry was soon contentedly busy with screws and molding-board, in a corner of the sunny kitchen. He and Mrs. Binney immediately entered upon a spirited discussion of equal suffrage, to the intense amusement of the others, who kept him supplied with sandwiches, cake and various other dainties. The little piece of work was presently finished to the entire satisfaction of everyone, and Barry had pocketed his tools, and was ready to go, when Mrs. Carew returned to the kitchen wide-eyed with news.
"Barry," said she, closing the door behind her, "George is here!"
"Well, George has a right here," said Barry, as the lady cast a cautious glance over her shoulder.
"But listen," his cousin said excitedly; "he thinks he has sold the Holly house!"
"Gee whiz!" said Barry simply.
"To a Mrs. Burgoyne," rushed on Mrs. Carew. "She's out there with George on the porch now; a widow, with two children, and she looks so sweet. She knows the Hollys. Oh, Barry, if she only takes it; such a dandy commission for George! He's terribly excited himself. I can tell by the calm, bored way she's talking about it."
"Who is she? Where'd she come from?" demanded Barry.
"From New York. Her father died last year, in Washington, I think she said, and she wants to live quietly somewhere with the children. Barry, will you be an angel?"
"Eventually, I hope to," said Mr. Valentine, grinning, but she did not hear him.
"Could you, WOULD you, take her over the place this afternoon, Barry? She seems sure she wants it, and George feels he must get back to the office to see Tilden. You know he's going to sign for a whole floor of the Pratt Building to-day. George can't keep Tilden waiting, and it won't be a bit hard for you, Barry. George says to promise her anything. She just wants to see about bathrooms, and so on. Will you, Barry?"
"Sure I will," said the obliging Barry. And when Mrs. Carew asked him if he would like to go upstairs and brush up a little, he accepted the delicate reflection upon the state of his hair and hands, and said "sure" again.
Mrs. Burgoyne was a sweet-faced, fresh-looking woman about thirty-two or-three years old, with a quick smile, like a child's, and blue eyes, set far apart, with a little lift at the corners, that, under level heavy brows, gave a suggestion of something almost Oriental to her face. She was dressed simply in black, and a transparent black veil, falling from her wide hat and flung back, framed her face most becomingly in square crisp folds.
She and Barry presently walked up River Street in the mellow afternoon sunlight, and through the old wooden gates of the Holly grounds. On every side were great high-flung sprays of overgrown roses, dusty and choked with weeds, ragged pepper tassels dragged in the grass, and where the path lay under the eucalyptus trees it was slippery with the dry, crescent-shaped leaves. Bees hummed over rank poppies and tangled honeysuckle; once or twice a hummingbird came through the garden on some swift, whizzing journey, and there were other birds in the trees, little shy brown birds, silent but busy in the late afternoon. Close to the house an old garden faucet dripped and dripped, and a noisy, changing group of the brown birds were bathing and flashing about it. The old Hall stood on a rise of ground, clear of the trees, and bathed in sunshine. It was an ugly house, following as it did the fashion of the late seventies; but it was not undignified, with its big door flanked by bay-windows and its narrow porch bounded by a fat wooden balustrade and heavy columns. The porch and steps were weather-stained and faded, and littered now with fallen leaves and twigs.
Barry opened the front door with some difficulty, and they stepped into the musty emptiness of the big main hall. There was a stairway at the back of the house with a colored glass window on the landing, and through it the sunlight streamed, showing the old velvet carpet in the hall below, and the carved heavy walnut chairs and tables, and the old engravings in their frames of oak and walnut mosaic. The visitors peeped into the old library, odorous of unopened books, and with great curtains of green rep shutting out the light, and into the music room behind it, cold even on this warm day, with a muffled grand piano drawn free of the walls, and near it two piano-stools, upholstered in blue-fringed rep, to match the curtains and chairs. They went across the hall to the long, dim drawing room, where there was another velvet carpet, dulled to a red pink by time, and muffled pompous sofas and chairs, and great mirrors, and "sets" of candlesticks and vases on the mantels and what-nots. The windows were shuttered here, the air lifeless. Barry, in George Carew's interest, felt bound to say that "they would clear all this up, you know; a lot of this stuff could be stored."
"Oh, why store it? It's perfectly good," the lady answered absently.
Presently they went out to the more cheerful dining-room, which ran straight across the house, and was low-ceiled, with pleasant square-paned windows on two sides.
"This was the old house," explained Barry; "they added on the front part. You could do a lot with this room."
"Do you still smell spice, and apples, and cider here?" said Mrs. Burgoyne, turning from an investigation of the china-closet, with a radiant face. A moment later she caught her breath suddenly, and walked across the room to stand, resting her hands on a chair back, before a large portrait that hung above the fireplace. She stood so, gazing at the picture—the portrait of a woman—for a full minute, and when she turned again to Barry, her eyes were bright with tears.
"That's Mrs. Holly," said she. "Emily said that picture was here." And turning back to the canvas, she added under her breath, "You darling!"
"Did you know her?" Barry asked, surprised.
"Did I know her!" Mrs. Burgoyne echoed softly, without turning. "Yes, I knew her," she added, almost musingly. And then suddenly she said, "Come, let's look upstairs," and led the way by the twisted sunny back stairway, which had a window on every landing and Crimson Rambler roses pressing against every window. They looked into several bedrooms, all dusty, close, sunshiny. In the largest of these, a big front corner room, carpeted in dark red, with a black marble fireplace and an immense walnut bed, Mrs. Burgoyne, looking through a window that she had opened upon the lovely panorama of river and woods, said suddenly:
"This must be my room, it was hers. She was the best friend, in one way, that I ever had—Mrs. Holly. How happy I was here!"
"Here?" Barry echoed.
At his tone she turned, and looked keenly at him, a little smile playing about her lips. Then her face suddenly brightened.
"Barry, of course!" she exclaimed. "I KNEW I knew you, but the 'Mr. Valentine' confused me." And facing him radiantly, she demanded, "Who am I?"
Barry shook his head slowly, his puzzled, smiling eyes on hers. For a moment they faced each other; then his look cleared as hers had done, and their hands met as he said boyishly:
"Well, I will be hanged! Jappy Frothingham!"
"Jappy Frothingham!" she echoed joyously. "But I haven't heard that name for twenty years. And you're the boy whose father was a doctor, and who helped us build our Indian camp, and who had the frog, and fell off the roof, and killed the rattlesnake."
"And you're the girl from Washington who could speak French, and who put that stuff on my freckles and wouldn't let 'em drown the kittens."
"Oh, yes, yes!" she said, and, their hands still joined, they laughed like happy children together.
Presently, more gravely, she told him a little of herself, of the early marriage, and the diplomat husband whose career was so cruelly cut short by years of hopeless invalidism. Then had come her father's illness, and years of travel with him, and now she and the little girls were alone. And in return Barry sketched his own life, told her a little of Hetty, and his unhappy days in New York, and of the boy, and finally of the Mail. Her absorbed attention followed him from point to point.
"And you say that this Rogers owns the newspaper?" she asked thoughtfully, when the Mail was under discussion.
"Rogers owns it; that's the trouble. Nothing goes into it without the old man's consent." Barry tested the spring of a roller shade, with a scowl. "Barnes, the assistant editor he had before me, threw up his job because he wouldn't stand having his stuff cut all to pieces and changed to suit Rogers' policies," he went on, as Mrs. Burgoyne's eyes demanded more detail. "And that's what I'll do some day. In the six years since the old man bought it, the circulation has fallen off about half; we don't get any 'ads'; we're not paying expenses. It's a crime too, for it's a good paper. Even Rogers is sick of it now; he'd sell for a song. I'd borrow the money and buy it if it weren't for the presses; I'd have to have new presses. Everything here is in pretty good shape," he finished, with an air of changing the subject.
"And what would new presses cost?" Sidney Burgoyne persisted, pausing on the big main stairway, as they were leaving the house a few minutes later.
"Oh, I don't know." Barry opened the front door again, and they stepped out to the porch. "Altogether," he said vaguely, snapping dead twigs from the heavy unpruned growth of the rose vines, "altogether, I wouldn't go into it without ten thousand. Five for the new presses, say, and four to Rogers for the business and good-will, and something to run on—although," Barry interrupted himself with a vehemence that surprised her, "although I'll bet that the old Mail would be paying her own rent and salaries within two months. The Dispatch doesn't amount to much, and the Star is a regular back number!" He stood staring gloomily down at the roofs of the village; Mrs. Burgoyne, a little tired, had seated herself on the top step.
"I wish, in all seriousness, you'd tell me about it," she said. "I am really interested. If I buy this place, it will mean that we come here to stay for years perhaps, and I have some money I want to invest here. I had thought of real estate, but it needn't necessarily be that. It sounds to me as if you really ought to make an effort to buy the paper, Barry, Have you thought of getting anyone to go into it with you?"
The man laughed, perhaps a little embarrassed.
"Never here, really. I went to Walter Pratt about it once," he admitted, "but he said he was all tied up. Some of the fellows down in San Francisco might have come in—but Lord! I don't want to settle here; I hate this place."
"But why do you hate it?" Her honest eyes met his in surprise and reproof. "I can't understand it, perhaps because I've thought of Santa Paloma as a sort of Mecca for so many years myself. My visit here was the sweetest and simplest experience I ever had in my life. You see I had a wretchedly artificial childhood; I used to read of country homes and big families and good times in books, but I was an only child, and even then my life was spoiled by senseless formalities and conventions. I've remembered all these years the simple gowns Mrs. Holly used to wear here, and the way she played with us, and the village women coming in for tea and sewing; it was all so sane and so sweet!"
"Our coming here was the merest chance. My father and I were on our way home from Japan, you know, and he suddenly remembered that the Hollys were near San Francisco, and we came up here for a night. That," said Mrs. Burgoyne in a lower tone, as if half to herself, "that was twenty years ago; I was only twelve, but I've never forgotten it. Fred and Oliver and Emily and I had our supper on the side porch; and afterward they played in the garden, but I was shy—I had never played—and Mrs. Holly kept me beside her on the porch, and talked to me now and then, and finally she asked me if I would like to spend the summer with her. Like to!—I wonder my heart didn't burst with joy! Father said no; but after we children had gone to bed, they discussed it again. How Emily and I PRAYED! And after a while Fred tiptoed down to the landing, and came up jubilant. 'I heard mother say that what clothes Sidney needed could be bought right here,' he said. Emily began to laugh, and I to cry—!" She turned her back on Barry, and he, catching a glimpse of her wet eyes, took up the conversation himself.
"I don't remember her very well," he said; "a boy wouldn't. She died soon after that summer, and the boys went off to school."
"Yes, I know," the lady said thoughtfully. "I had the news in Rome—a hot, bright, glaring day. It was nearly a month after her death, then. And even then, I said to myself that I'd come back here, some day. But it's not been possible until now; and now," her voice was bright and steady again, "here I am. And I don't like to hear an old friend abusing Santa Paloma."
"It's a nice enough place," Barry admitted, "but the people are—well, you wait until you meet the women! Perhaps they're not much worse than women everywhere else, but sometimes it doesn't seem as if the women here had good sense. I don't mean the nice quiet ones who live out on the ranches and are bringing up a houseful of children, but this River Street crowd."
"Why, what's the matter with them?" asked Mrs. Burgoyne with vivacity.
"Oh, I mean this business of playing bridge four afternoons a week, and running to the club, and tearing around in motor-cars all day Sunday, and entertaining the way they think people do it in New York, and getting their dresses in San Francisco instead of up here," Barry explained disgustedly. "Some of them would be nice enough if they weren't trying to go each other one better all the time; when one gets a thing the others have all got to have it, or have something nicer. Take the Browns, now, your neighbors there—"
"In the shingled house, with the babies swinging on the gate as we came by?"
"Yes, that's it. They've got four little boys. Doctor Brown is a king; everybody worships him, and she's a sweet little woman; but of course she's got to strain and struggle like the rest of them. There's a Mrs. Willard White in this town—that big gray-shingled place down there is their garage—and she runs the whole place. She's always letting the others know that hobbles are out, and everything's got to hang from the shoulder—"
"Very good!" laughed Mrs. Burgoyne, "you've got that very nearly right."
"Willard White's a nice fellow," Barry went on, "except that he's a little cracked about his Packard. They give motoring parties, and of course they stop at hotels way up the country for lunch, and the women have got to have veils and special hats and coats, and so on. Wayne Adams told me it stood him in about thirty dollars every time he went out with the Whites. Wayne's got his own car now; his wife kept at him day and night to get it. But he can't run it, so it's in the garage half the time."
"That's the worst of motoring," said the lady with a thoughtful nod, "the people who sell them think they've answered you when they say, 'But you don't run it economically. If you understood it, it wouldn't cost you half so much!' And the alternative is, 'Get a man at seventy-five dollars a month and save repairing and replacing bills.' Nice for business, Barry, but very much overdone for pleasure, I think. I myself hate those days spent with five people you hardly know," she went on, "rushing over beautiful roads that you hardly see, eating too much in strange hotels, and paying too much for it. I sha'n't have a car. But tell me more about the people. Who are the Adamses? Didn't you say Adams?"
"Wayne Adams; nice people, with two nice boys," he supplied; "but she's like the rest. Wayne lies awake nights worrying about bills, and she gives silver photograph-frames for bridge prizes. That white stucco house where they're putting in an Italian garden, is the Parker Lloyds. Mrs. Lloyd's a clever woman, and pretty too; but she doesn't seem to have any sense. They've got a little girl, and she'll tell you that Mabel never wore a stitch that wasn't hand-made in her life. Lloyd had a nervous breakdown a few months ago—we all knew it was nothing but money worry—but yesterday his wife said to me in all good faith that he was too unselfish, he was wearing himself out. She was trying to persuade him to put Mabel in school and go abroad for a good rest."
Mrs. Burgoyne laughed.
"That's like Jeanette Carew showing me her birthday present," Barry went on with a grin. "It seems that George gave her a complete set of bureau ivory—two or three dozen pieces in all, I guess. When I asked her she admitted that she had silver, but she said she wanted ivory, everybody has ivory now. Present!" he repeated with scorn, "why, she just told George what she wanted, and went down and charged it to him! She's worried to death about bills now, but she started right in talking motor-cars; and they'll have one yet. I'd give a good deal," he finished disgustedly, "to know what they get out of it."
"I don't believe they're as bad as all that," said the lady. "There used to be some lovely people here, and there was a whist club too, and it was very nice. They played for a silver fork and spoon every fortnight, and I remember that Mrs. Holly had nearly a dozen of the forks. There was a darling Mrs. Apostleman, and Mrs. Pratt with two shy pretty daughters—"
"Mrs. Apostleman's still here," he told her. "She's a fine old lady. When a woman gets to be sixty, it doesn't seem to matter if she wastes time. Mrs. Pratt is dead, and Lizzie is married and lives in San Francisco, but Anne's still here. She and her brother live in that vault of a gray house; you can see the chimneys. Anne's another," his tone was cynical again, "a shy, nervous woman, always getting new dresses, and always on club reception committees, with white gloves and a ribbon in her hair, frightened to death for fear she's not doing the correct thing. They've just had a frieze of English tapestries put in the drawing-room and hall,—English TAPESTRIES!"
"Perhaps you don't appreciate tapestries," said Mrs. Burgoyne, with her twinkling smile. "You know there is a popular theory that such things keep money in circulation."
"You know there's hardly any form of foolishness or vice of which you can't say that," he reminded her soberly; and Mrs. Burgoyne, serious in turn, answered quickly:
"Yes, you're quite right. It's too bad; we American women seem somehow to have let go of everything real, in the last few generations. But things are coming around again." She rose from the steps, still facing the village. "Tell me, who is my nearest neighbor there, in the white cottage?" she demanded.
"I am," Barry said unexpectedly. "So if you need—yeast is it, that women always borrow?"
"Yeast," she assented laughing. "I will remember. And now tell me about trains and things. Listen!" Her voice and look changed suddenly: softened, brightened. "Is that children?" she asked, eagerly.
And a moment later four children, tired, happy and laden with orchard spoils, came around the corner of the house. Barry presented them as the Carews—George and Jeanette, a bashful fourteen and a self-possessed twelve, and Dick, who was seven—and his own small dusty son, Billy Valentine, who put a fat confiding hand in the strange lady's as they all went down to the gate together.
"You are my Joanna's age, Jeanette," said Mrs. Burgoyne, easily. "I hope you will be friends."
"Who will I be friends with?" said little Billy, raising blue expectant eyes. "And who will George?"
"Why, I hope you will be friends with me," she answered laughing; "and I will be so relieved if George will come up sometimes and help me with bonfires and about what ought to be done in the stable. You see, I don't know much about those things." At this moment George, hoarsely muttering that he wasn't much good, he guessed, but he had some good tools, fell deeply a victim to her charms.
Mrs. Carew came out of her own gate as they came up, and there was time for a little talk, and promises, and goodbyes. Then Barry took Mrs. Burgoyne to the station, and lifted his hat to the bright face at the window as the train pulled out in the dusk. He went slowly to his office from the train and attacked the litter of papers and clippings on his desk absent-mindedly. Once he said half aloud, his big scissors arrested, his forehead furrowed by an unaccustomed frown, "We were only kids then; and they all thought I was the one who was going to do something big."
Barry appeared at Mrs. Carew's house a little after midnight to find the card-players enjoying a successful supper, and the one topic of conversation the possible sale of Holly Hall. Barry, suspected of having news of it, was warmly welcomed by the tired, bright-eyed women and the men in their somewhat rumpled evening clothes, and supplied with salad and coffee.
"Is she really coming, Barry?" demanded Mrs. Lloyd eagerly. "And how soon? We have been saying what WONDERS could be done for the Hall with a little money."
"The price didn't seem to worry her," said George Carew.
"Oh, she's coming," Barry assured them; "you can consider it settled."
"Good!" said old Mrs. Apostleman in her deep, emphatic voice. "She'll have to make the house over, of course; but the stable ought to make a very decent garage. Mark my words, me dears, ye'll see some very startling changes up there, before the summer's out."
"The house could be made colonial," submitted Mrs. Adams, "or mission, for that matter."
"No, you couldn't make it mission," Mrs. Willard White decided, and several voices murmured, "No, you couldn't do that." "But colonial—it would be charming," the authority went on. "Personally, I'd tear the whole thing down and rebuild," said Mrs. White further; "but with hardwood floors throughout, tapestry papers, or the new grass papers—like Amy's library, Will—white paint on all the woodwork, white and cream outside, some really good furniture, and the garden made over—you wouldn't know the place."
"But that would take months," said Mrs. Carew ruefully.
"And cost like sixty," added Dr. Brown, at which there was a laugh.
"Well, she won't wait any six months, or six weeks either," Barry predicted. "And don't you worry about the expense, Doctor. Do you know who she IS?"
They all looked at him. "Who?" said ten voices together.
"Why, her father was Frothingham—Paul Frothingham, the inventor. Her husband was Colonel John Burgoyne;—you all know the name. He was quite a big man, too—a diplomat. Their wedding was one of those big Washington affairs. A few years later Burgoyne had an accident, and he was an invalid for about six years after that—until his death, in fact. She traveled with him everywhere."
"Sidney Frothingham!" said Mrs. Carew. "I remember Emily Holly used to have letters from her. She was presented at the English court when she was quite young, I remember, and she used to visit at the White House, too. So THAT'S who she is!"
"I remember the child's visit here perfectly," Mrs. Apostleman said, "tall, lanky girl with very charming manners. Her husband was at St. Petersburg for a while; then in London—was it? You ought to know, Clara, me dear—I'm not sure—Even after his accident they went on some sort of diplomatic mission to Madrid, or Stockholm, or somewhere, remember it perfectly."
"Colonel Burgoyne must have had money," said Mrs. White, tentatively.
"Some, I think," Barry answered; "but it was her father who was rich, of course—"
"Certainly!" approved Mrs. Apostleman, fanning herself majestically. "Rich as Croesus; multi-millionaire."
"Heavens alive!" said Mrs. Lloyd unaffectedly.
"Yes," Willard White eyed the tip of a cigar thoughtfully, "yes, I remember he worked his own patents; had his own factories. Paul Frothingham must have left something in the neighborhood of—well, two or three millions—"
"Two or three!" echoed Mrs. Apostleman in regal scorn. "Make it eight!"
"Eight!" said Mrs. Brown faintly.
"Well, that would be about my estimate," Barry agreed.
"He was a big man, Frothingham," Dr. Brown said reflectively. "Well, well, ladies, here's a chance for Santa Paloma to put her best foot forward."
"What WON'T she do to the Hall!" Mrs. Adams remarked; Mrs. Carew sighed.
"It—it rather staggers one to think of trying to entertain a woman worth eight millions, doesn't it?" said she.
From the moment of her arrival in Santa Paloma, when she stood on the station platform with a brisk spring wind blowing her veil about her face, and a small and chattering girl on each side of her, Mrs. Burgoyne seemed inclined to meet the friendly overtures of her new neighbors more than half-way. She remembered the baggage-agent's name from her visit two weeks before—"thank Mr. Roberts for his trouble, Ellen"—and met the aged driver of the one available carriage with a ready "Good afternoon, Mr. Rivers!" Within a week she had her pew in church, her box at the post-office, her membership in the library, and a definite rumor was afloat to the effect that she had invested several thousand dollars in the Mail, and that Barry Valentine had bought the paper from old Rogers outright; and had ordered new rotary presses, and was at last to have a free hand as managing editor. The pretty young mistress of Holly Hall, with her two children dancing beside her, and her ready pleased flush and greeting for new friends, became a familiar figure in Santa Paloma's streets. She was even seen once or twice across the river, in the mill colony, having, for some mysterious reason, immediately opened the bridge that led from her own grounds to that unsavory region.
She was not formal, not unapproachable, as it had been feared she might be. On the contrary, she was curiously democratic. And, for a woman straight from the shops of Paris and New York, her clothes seemed to the women of Santa Paloma to be surprising, too. She and her daughters wore plain ginghams for every day, with plain wide hats and trim serge coats for foggy mornings. And on Sundays it was certainly extraordinary to meet the Burgoynes, bound for church, wearing the simplest of dimity or cross-barred muslin wash dresses, with black stockings and shoes, and hats as plain—far plainer!—as those of the smallest children. Except for the amazing emeralds that blazed beside her wedding ring, and the diamonds she sometimes wore, Mrs. Burgoyne might have been a trained nurse in uniform.
"It is a pose," said Mrs. Willard White, at the club, to a few intimate friends. "She's probably imitating some English countess. Englishwomen affect simplicity in the country. But wait until we see her evening frocks."
It was felt that any formal calling upon Mrs. Burgoyne must wait until the supposedly inevitable session with carpenters, painters, paper-hangers, carpet-layers, upholsterers, decorators, furniture dealers, and gardeners was over at the Hall. But although the old house had been painted and the plumbing overhauled before the new owner's arrival, and although all day long and every day two or three Portuguese day-laborers chopped and pruned and shouted in the garden, a week and then two weeks slipped by, and no further evidences of renovation were to be seen.
So presently callers began to go up to the Hall; first Mrs. Apostleman and Mrs. White, as was fitting, and then a score of other women. Mrs. Apostleman had been the social leader in Santa Paloma when Mrs. White was little Clara Peck, a pretty girl in the High School, whose rich widowed mother dressed her exquisitely, and who was studying French, and could play the violin. But Mrs. Apostleman was an old woman now, and had been playing the game a long time, and she was glad to put the sceptre into younger hands. And she could have put it into none more competent than those of Mrs. Willard White.
Mrs. White was a handsome, clever woman, of perhaps six-or seven-and-thirty. She had been married now for seventeen years, and for all that time, and even before her marriage, she had been the most envied, the most admired, and the most copied woman in the village. Her mother, an insipid, spoiled, ambitious little woman, whose fondest hope was realized when her dashing daughter made a financially brilliant match, had lost no time in warning the bride that the agonies of motherhood, and the long ensuing slavery, were avoidable, and Clara had entirely agreed with her mother's ideas, and used to laughingly assure the few old friends who touched upon this delicate topic, that she herself "was baby enough for Will!" Robbed in this way of her natural estate, and robbed by the size of her husband's income from the exhilarating interest of making financial ends meet, Mrs. White, for seventeen years, had led what she honestly considered an enviable and carefree existence. She bought beautiful clothes for herself, and beautiful things for her house, she gave her husband and her mother very handsome gifts. She was a perfect hostess, although it must be admitted that she never extended the hospitalities of her handsome home to anyone who did not amuse her, who was not "worth while". She ruled her servants well, made a fine president for the local Women's Club, ran her own motor-car very skillfully, and played an exceptionally good game of bridge. She was an authority upon table-linens, fancy needlework, fashions in dress, new salads, new methods in serving the table.
Willard White, as perfect a type in his own way as she was in hers, was very proud of her, when he thought of her at all, which was really much less often than their acquaintances supposed. He liked his house to be nicely managed, spent his money freely upon it, wanted his friends handsomely entertained, and his wine-cellar stocked with every conceivable variety of liquid refreshment. If Clara wanted more servants, let her have them, if she wanted corkscrews by the gross, why, buy those, too. Only let a man feel that there was a maid around to bring him a glass when he came in from golfing or motoring, and a corkscrew with the glass!
As a matter of fact, his club and his office, and above all, his motor-cars, absorbed him. His natural paternal instinct had been diverted toward these latter, and, quite without his knowing it, his cars were his nursery. Willard White had owned the first electric car ever seen in Santa Paloma. Later, there had been half-a-dozen machines, and he loved them all, and spoke of them as separate entities. He spoke of the runs they had made, of the strains they had triumphantly sustained, and he and his chauffeur held low-toned conferences over any small breakage, with the same seriousness that he might have used had Willard Junior—supposing there to have been such a little person—developed croup, and made the presence of a physician necessary. He liked to glance across his lawn at night to the commodious garage, visible in the moonlight, and think of his treasures, locked up, guarded, perfect in every detail, and safe.
He and Mrs. White always spoke of Santa Paloma as a "jay" town, and compared it, to its unutterable disadvantage, to other and larger cities, but still, business reasons would always keep them there for the greater part of the year, and they were both glad to hear that a fabulously wealthy widow, and a woman prominent in every other respect as well, had come to live in Santa Paloma. Mrs. White determined to play her game very carefully with Mrs. Burgoyne; there should be no indecent hurry, there should be no sudden overtures at friendship. "But, poor thing! She will certainly find our house an oasis in the desert!" Mrs. White comfortably decided, putting on the very handsomest of her afternoon gowns to go and call formally at the Hall.
Mrs. Burgoyne and the little girls were always most cordial to visitors. They spent these first days deep in gardening, great heaps of fragrant dying weeds about them, and raw vistas through the pruned trees already beginning to show the gracious slopes of the land, and the sleepy Lobos down beneath the willows. The Carew children and the little Browns were often there, fascinated by the outdoor work, as children always are, and little Billy Valentine squirmed daily through his own particular gap in the hedge, and took his share of the fun with a deep and silent happiness. Billy gave Mrs. Burgoyne many a heartache, with his shock of bright, unbrushed hair, his neglected grimed little hands, his boyish little face that was washed daily according to his own small lights, with surrounding areas of neck and ears wholly overlooked, and his deep eyes, sad when he was sad, and somehow infinitely more pathetic when he was happy. Sometimes she stealthily supplied Billy with new garters, or fastened the buttons on his blue overalls, or even gave him a spoonful of "meddy" out of a big bottle, at the mere sight of which Ellen shuddered sympathetically; a dose which was always followed by two marshmallows, out of a tin box, by way of consolation. But further than this she dared not go, except in the matter of mugs of milk, gingerbread, saucer-pies, and motherly kisses for any bump or bruise.
The village women, coming up to the Hall, in the pleasant summer afternoons, were puzzled to find the old place almost unchanged. Why any woman in her senses wanted to live among those early-Victorian horrors, the women of Santa Paloma could not imagine. But Mrs. Burgoyne never apologized for the old walnut chairs and tables, and the old velvet carpets, and the hopelessly old-fashioned white lace curtains and gilt-framed mirrors. Even Captain Holly's big clock—"an impossibly hideous thing," Mrs. White called the frantic bronze horses and the clinging tiger, on their onyx hillside—was serenely ticking, and the pink china vases were filled with flowers. And there was an air of such homely comfort, after all, about the big rooms, such a fragrance of flowers, and flood of sunny fresh air, that the whole effect was not half as bad as it might be imagined; indeed, when Mammy Curry, the magnificent old negress who was supreme in the kitchen and respected in the nursery as well, came in with her stiff white apron and silver tea-tray, she seemed to fit into the picture, and add a completing touch to the whole.
Very simply, very unpretentiously, the new mistress of Holly Hall entered upon her new life. She was a woman of very quiet tastes, devoted to her little girls, her music, her garden and her books. With the negress, she had one other servant, a quiet little New England girl, with terrified, childish eyes, and a passionate devotion to her mistress and all that concerned her mistress. Fanny had in charge a splendid, tawny-headed little boy of three, who played happily by himself, about the kitchen door, and chased chickens and kittens with shrieks of delight. Mrs. Burgoyne spoke of him as "Fanny's little brother," and if the two had a history of any sort, it was one at which she never hinted. She met an embarrassing question with a readiness which rather amused Mrs. Brown, on a day when the two younger ladies were having tea with Mrs. Apostleman, and the conversation turned to the subject of maids.
"—but if your little girl Fanny has had her lesson, you'll have no trouble keepin' her," said Mrs. Apostleman.
"Oh, I hope I shall keep Fanny," said Mrs. Burgoyne, "she comes of such nice people, and she's such a sweet, good girl."
"Why, Lord save us!" said the old lady, repentantly, "and I was almost ready to believe the child was hers!"
"If Peter was hers, she couldn't be fonder of him!" Mrs. Burgoyne said mildly, and Mrs. Brown choked on her tea, and had to wipe her eyes.
In the matter of Fanny, and in a dozen other small matters, the independence of the great lady was not slow in showing itself in Mrs. Burgoyne. Santa Paloma might be annoyed at her, and puzzled by her, but it had perforce to accept her as she stood, or ignore her, and she was obviously not a person to ignore. She declined all invitations for daytime festivities; she was "always busy in the daytime," she said. No cards, no luncheons, no tea-parties could lure her away from the Hall, although, if she and the small girls walked in for mail or were down in the village for any other reason, they were very apt to stop somewhere for a chat on their way home. But the children were allowed to go nowhere alone, and not the smartest of children's parties could boast of the presence of Joanna and Ellen Burgoyne.
Santa Paloma children were much given to parties, or rather their parents were; and every separate party was a separate great event. The little girls wore exquisite hand-made garments, silken hose and white shoes. Professional entertainers, in fashionably darkened rooms, kept the little people amused, and professional caterers supplied the supper they ate, or perhaps the affair took the shape of a box-party for a matinee, and a supper at the town's one really pretty tea-room followed. These affairs were duly chronicled in the daily and weekly papers, and perhaps more than one matron would have liked the distinction of having Mrs. Burgoyne's little daughters listed among her own child's guests. Joanna and Ellen were pretty children, in a well-groomed, bright-eyed sort of way, and would have been popular even without the added distinction of their ready French and German and Italian, their charming manners, their naive references to other countries and peoples, and their beautiful and distinguished mother.
But in answer to all invitations, there came only polite, stilted little letters of regret, in the children's round script. "Mother would d'rather we shouldn't go to a sin-gul party until we are young ladies!" Ellen would say cheerfully, if cross-examined on the subject, leaving it to the more tactful Joanna to add, "But Mother thanks you JUST as much." They were always close to their mother when it was possible, and she only banished them from her side when the conversation grew undeniably too old in tone for Joanna and Ellen, and then liked to keep them in sight, have them come in with the tea-tray, or wave to her occasionally from the river bank.
"We've been wondering what you would do with this magnificent drawing-room," said Mrs. White, on her first visit. "The house ought to take a colonial treatment wonderfully—there's a remarkable man in San Francisco who simply made our house over for us last year!"
"It must have been a fearful upheaval," said Mrs. Burgoyne, sympathetically.
"Oh, we went away! Mr. White and I went east, and when we came back it was all done."
"Well, fortunately," said the mistress of Holly Hall cheerfully, as she sugared Mrs. Apostleman's cup of tea, "fortunately all these things of Mrs. Holly's were in splendid condition, except for a little cleaning and polishing. They used to make things so much more solid, don't you think so? Why, there are years of wear left in these carpets, and the chairs and tables are like rocks! Captain Holly apparently got the very best of everything when he furnished this place, and I reap the benefit. It's so nice to feel that one needn't buy a chair or a bed for ten years or more, if one doesn't want to!"
"Dear, sweet people, the Hollys," said Mrs. White, pleasantly, utterly at a loss. Did people of the nicer class speak of furniture as if it were made merely to be useful? "But what a distinct period these things belong to, don't they?" she asked, feeling her way. "So—so solid!"
"Yes, in a way it was an ugly period," said Mrs. Burgoyne, placidly. "But very comfortable, fortunately. Fancy if he had selected Louis Quinze chairs, for example!"
Mrs. White gave her a puzzled look, and smiled.
"Come now, Mrs. Burgoyne," said she, good-naturedly, "Confess that you are going to give us all a surprise some day, and change all this. One sees," said Mrs. White, elegantly, "such lovely effects in New York."
"In those upper Fifth Avenue shops—ah, but don't you see lovely things!" the other woman assented warmly. "Of course, one could be always changing," she went on. "But I like associations with things—and changing takes so much time! Some day we may think all this quite pretty," she finished, with a contented glance at the comfortable ugliness of the drawing-room.
"Oh, do you suppose we shall REALLY!" Mrs. White gave a little incredulous laugh. She was going pretty far, and she knew it, but as a matter of fact, she was entirely unable to believe that there was a woman in the world who could afford to have what was fashionable and expensive in household furnishings or apparel, and who deliberately preferred not to have it. That her own pretty things were no sooner established than they began to lose their charm for her, never occurred to Mrs. White: she was a woman of conventional type, perfectly satisfied to spend her whole life in acquiring things essentially invaluable, and to use a naturally shrewd and quick intelligence in copying fashions of all sorts, small and large, as fast as advanced merchants and magazines presented them to her. She was one of the great army of women who help to send the sale of an immoral book well up into the hundreds of thousands; she liked to spend long afternoons with a box of chocolates and a book unfit for the touch of any woman; a book that she would review for the benefit of her friends later, with a shocked wonder that "they dare print such things!" She liked to tell a man's story, and the other women could not but laugh at her, for she was undeniably good company, and nobody ever questioned the taste of anything she ever said or did. She was a famous gossip, for like all women, she found the private affairs of other people full of fascination, and, having no legitimate occupation, she was always at liberty to discuss them.
Yet Mrs. White was not at all an unusual woman, and, like her associates, she tacitly assumed herself to be the very flower of American womanhood. She quoted her distinguished relatives on all occasions, the White family, in all its ramifications, supplied the correct precedent for all the world; there was no social emergency to which some cousin or aunt of Mrs. White's had not been more than equal. Having no children of her own, she still could silence and shame many a good mother with references to Cousin Ethel Langstroth's "kiddies", or to Aunt Grace Thurston's wonderful governess.
Personally, Mrs. White vaguely felt that there was something innately indecent about children anyway, the smaller they were the less mentionable she found them. The little emergencies, of nose-bleeds and torn garments and spilled porridge, that were constantly arising in the neighborhood of children, made her genuinely sick and faint. And she had so humorous and so assured an air of saying "Disgusting!" or "Disgraceful!" when the family of some other woman began to present itself with reasonable promptness, that other women found themselves laughing and saying "Disgusting!" too.
Mrs. Burgoyne, like Mrs. White, was a born leader. Whether she made any particular effort to influence her neighbors or not, they could not but feel the difference in her attitude toward all the various tangible things that make a woman's life. She was essentially maternal, wanted to mother all the little living and growing things in the world, wanted to be with children, and talk of them and study them. And she was simple and honest in her tastes, and entirely without affectation in her manner, and she was too great a lady to be either laughed at or ignored. So Santa Paloma began to ask itself why she did this or that, and finding her ways all made for economy and comfort and simplicity, almost unconsciously copied them.
When Mrs. Apostleman invited several of her friends to a formal dinner given especially for Mrs. Burgoyne everyone realized that the newcomer was accepted, and the event was one of several in which the women of Santa Paloma tried with more than ordinary eagerness to outshine each other. Mrs. Apostleman herself never entered into competition with the younger matrons, nor did they expect it of her. She gave heavy, rich, old-fashioned dinners in her own way, in which her servants were perfectly trained. It was a standing joke among her friends that they always ate too much at Mrs. Apostleman's house, there were always seven or eight substantial courses, and she liked to have the plates come back for more lobster salad or roast turkey. In this, as in all things, she was a law unto herself.
But for the other women, Mrs. White set the pace, and difficult to keep they often found it. But they never questioned it. They admired the richer woman's perfect house-furnishing, and struggled blindly to accumulate the same number and variety of napkins and fingerbowls, ramekins and glasses and candlesticks and special forks and special knives. The first of the month with its bills, became a horror to them, and they were continually promising their husbands, in all good faith, that expenses should positively be cut down.
But what use were good resolves; when one might find, the very next day, that there were no more cherries for the grapefruit, that one had not a pair of presentable white gloves for the club, or that the motor-picnic that the children were planning was to cost them five dollars apiece? To serve grapefruit without cherries, to wear colored gloves, or no gloves at all to the club, and to substitute some inexpensive pleasure for the ride was a course that never occurred to Mrs. Carew, that never occurred to any of her friends. Mrs. Carew might have a very vague idea of her daughter's spiritual needs, she might be an entire stranger to the delicately adjusted and exquisitely susceptible entity that was the real Jeanette, but she would have gone hungry rather than have Jeanette unable to wear white shoes to Sunday School, rather than tie Jeanette's braids with ribbons that were not stiff and new. She was so entirely absorbed in pursuit of the "correct thing," so anxious to read what was "being read," to own what was "right", that she never stopped to seriously consider her own or her daughter's place in the universe. She was glad, of course when the children "liked their teacher," just as she had been glad years before when they "liked their nurse." The reasons for such likings or dislikings she never investigated; she had taken care of the children herself during the nurse's regular days "off", but she always regarded these occasions as so much lost time. Mrs. Carew kept her children, as she kept her house, well-groomed, and she gave about as much thought to the spiritual needs of the one as the other. She had been brought up to believe that the best things in life are to be had for money, and that earthly happiness or unhappiness falls in exact ratio with the possession or non-possession of money. She met the growing demands of her family as well as she could, and practised all sorts of harassing private economies so that, in the eyes of the world, the family might seem to be spending a great deal more money than was actually the case. Mrs. Carew's was not an analytical mind, but sometimes she found herself genuinely puzzled by the financial state of affairs.
"I don't know where the money GOES to!" she said, in a confidential moment, to Mrs. Lloyd. They had met in the market, where Mrs. Carew was consulting a long list of necessary groceries.
"Oh, don't speak of it!" said Mrs. Lloyd, feelingly. "That's so, your dinner is tomorrow night, isn't it?" she added with interest. "Are you going to have Lizzie?"
"Oh, dear me, yes! For eight, you know. Shan't you have her?" For Mrs. Lloyd's turn to entertain Mrs. Burgoyne followed Mrs. Carew's by only a few days.
"Lizzie and her mother, too," said the other woman. "I don't know what's the matter with maids in these days," she went on, "they simply can't do things, as my mother's maids used to, for example. Now the four of them will be working all day over Thursday's dinner, and, dear me! it's a simple enough dinner."
"Well, you have to serve so much with a dinner, nowadays," Mrs. Carew said, in a mildly martyred tone. "Crackers and everything else with oysters—I'm going to have cucumber sandwiches with the soup—"
"Delicious!" said Mrs. Lloyd.
"'Cucumbers, olives, salted nuts, currant jelly'", Mrs. Carew was reading her list, "'ginger chutney, saltines, bar-le-duc, cream cheese', those are for the salad, you know, 'dinner rolls, sandwich bread, fancy cakes, Maraschino cherries, maple sugar,' that's to go hot on the ice, I'm going to serve it in melons, and 'candy'—just pink and green wafers, I think. All that before it comes to the actual dinner at all, and it's all so fussy!"
"Don't say one word!" said Mrs. Lloyd, sympathetically. "But it sounds dee-licious!" she added consolingly, and little Mrs. Carew went contentedly home to a hot and furious session in her kitchen; hours of baking, boiling and frying, chopping and whipping and frosting, creaming and seasoning, freezing and straining.
"I don't mind the work, if only everything goes right!" Mrs. Carew would say gallantly to herself, and it must be said to her credit that usually everything did "go right" at her house, although even the maids in the kitchen, heroically attacking pyramids of sticky plates, were not so tired as she was, when the dinner was well over.
But there was a certain stimulus in the mere thought of entertaining Mrs. Burgoyne, and there was the exhilarating consciousness that one of these days she would entertain in turn; so the Santa Paloma housewives exerted themselves to the utmost of their endurance, and one delightful dinner party followed another.
But a dispassionate onlooker from another planet might have found it curious to notice, in contrast to this uniformity, that no two women dressed alike on these occasions, and no woman who could help it wore the same gown twice. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Carew, to be sure, wore their "little old silks" more than once, but each was secretly consoled by the thought that a really "smart" new gown awaited Mrs. White's dinner; which was naturally the climax of all the affairs. Only the wearers and their dress-makers knew what hours had been spent upon these costumes, what discouraged debates attended their making, what muscular agonies their fitting. Only they could have estimated, and they never did estimate—the time lost over pattern books, the nervous strain of placing this bit of spangled net or that square inch of lace, the hurried trips downtown for samples and linings, for fringes and embroideries and braids and ribbons. The gown that she wore to her own dinner, Mrs. White had had fitted in the Maison Dernier Mot, in Paris;—it was an enchanting frock of embroidered white illusion, over pink illusion, over black illusion, under a short heavy tunic of silver spangles and threads. The yoke was of wonderful old lace, and there was a girdle of heavy pink cords, and silver clasps, to match the aigrette that was held by pink and silver cords in Mrs. White's beautifully arranged hair.
Mrs. Burgoyne's gowns, or rather gown, for she wore exactly the same costume to every dinner, could hardly have been more startling than Santa Paloma found it, had it gone to any unbecoming extreme. Yet it was the simplest of black summer silks, soft and full in the skirt, short-sleeved, and with a touch of lace at the square-cut neck. She arranged her hair in a becoming loose knot, and somehow managed to look noticeably lovely and distinguished, in the gay assemblies. To brighten the black gown she wore a rope of pearls, looped twice about her white throat, and hanging far below her waist; pearls, as Mrs. Adams remarked in discouragement later, that "just made you feel what's the use! She could wear a kitchen apron with those pearls if she wanted to, everyone would know she could afford cloth of gold and ermine!"
With this erratic and inexplicable simplicity of dress she combined the finish of manner, the poise, the ready sympathies of a truly cultivated and intelligent woman. She could talk, not only of her own personal experiences, but of the political, and literary, and scientific movements of the day. Certain proposed state legislation happened to be interesting the men of Santa Paloma at this time, and she seemed to understand it, and spoke readily of it.
"But, George," said Mrs. Carew, walking home in the summer night, after the Adams dinner, "you have often said you hated women to talk about things they didn't understand."
"But she does understand, dearie. That's just the point."
"Yes; but you differed with her, George!"
"Well, but that's different, Jen. She knew what she was talking about."
"I suppose she has friends in Washington who keep her informed," said Mrs. Carew, a little discontentedly, after a silence. And there was another pause before she said, "Where do men get their information, George?"
"Papers, dear. And talking, I suppose. They're interested, you know."
"Yes, but—" little Mrs. Carew burst out resentfully, "I never can make head or tail of the papers! They say 'Aldrich Resigns,' or 'Heavy Blow to Interests,' or 'Tammany Scores Triumph,' and I don't know what it's about!"
George Carew's big laugh rang out in the night, and he put his arm about her, and said, "You're great, Jen!"
Shortly after Mrs. White's dinner a certain distinguished old artist from New York, and his son, came to stay a night or two at Holly Hall, on their way home from the Orient, and Mrs. Burgoyne took this occasion to invite a score of her new friends to two small dinners, planned for the two nights of the great Karl von Praag's stay in Santa Paloma.
"I don't see how she's going to handle two dinners for ten people each, with just that colored cook of hers and one waitress," said Mrs. Willard White, late one evening, when Mr. White was finishing a book and a cigar in their handsome bedroom, and she was at her dressing-table.
"Caterers," submitted Mr. White, turning a page.
"I suppose so," his wife agreed. After a thoughtful silence she added, "Sue Adams says that she supposes that when a woman has as much money as that she loses all interest in spending it! Personally, I don't see how she can entertain a great big man like Von Praag in that old-fashioned house. She never seems to think of it at all, she never apologizes for it, and she talks as if nobody ever bought new things until the old were worn out!"
Her eyes went about her own big bedroom as she spoke. Nothing old-fashioned here! Even eighteen years ago, when the Whites were married, their home had been furnished in a manner to make the Holly Hall of to-day look out of date. Mrs. White shuddered now at the mere memory of what she as a bride had thought so beautiful: the pale green carpet, the green satin curtains, the white-and-gold chairs and tables and bed, the easels, the gilded frames! Seven or eight years later she had changed all this for a heavy brass bedstead, and dark rugs on a polished floor, and bird's-eye maple chests and chairs, and all feminine Santa Paloma talked of the Whites' new things. Six or seven years after that again, two mahogany beds replaced the brass one, and heavy mahogany bureaus with glass knobs had their day, with plain net curtains and old-fashioned woven rugs. But all these were in the guest-rooms now, and in her own bedroom Mrs. White had a complete set of Circassian walnut, heavily carved, and ornamented with cunningly inset panels of rattan. On the beds were covers of Oriental cottons, and the window-curtains showed the same elementary designs in pinks and blues.
"She dresses very prettily, I thought," observed Mr. White, apropos of his wife's last remark.
"Dresses!" echoed his wife. "She dresses as your mother might!"
"Very pretty, very pretty!" said the man absently, over his book.
There was a silence. Then:
"That just shows how much men notice," Mrs. White confided to her ivory-backed brush. "I believe they LIKE women to look like frumps!"
These were busy days in the once quiet and sleepy office of the Santa Paloma Morning Mail. A wave of energy and vigor swept over the place, affecting everybody from the fat, spoiled office cat, who found himself pushed out of chairs, and bounced off of folded coats with small courtesy, to the new editor-manager and the lady whose timely investment had brought this pleasant change about. Old Kelly, the proof-reader, night clerk, Associated Press manager, and assistant editor, shouted and swore with a vim unknown of late years; Miss Watson, who "covered" social events, clubs, public dinners, "dramatic," and "hotels," cleaned out her desk, and took her fancy-work home, and "Fergy," a freckled youth who delighted in calling himself a "cub," although he did little more than run errands and carry copy to the press-room, might even be seen batting madly at an unused typewriter when actual duties failed, so inspiring was the new atmosphere.
Mrs. Burgoyne had a desk and a corner of her own, where her trim figure might be seen daily for an hour or two, from ten o'clock until the small girls came in to pick her up on their way home from school for luncheon. Barry found her brimming with ideas. She instituted the "Women's Page," the old familiar page of answered questions, and formulas for ginger-bread, and brief romances, and scraps of poetry, and she offered through its columns a weekly cash prize for contributions on household topics. An exquisite doll appeared in the window of the Mail office, a doll with a flower-wreathed hat, and a ruffled dress, and a little parasol to match the dress, and loitering little girls, drawn from all over the village to study this dream of beauty, learned that they had only to enter a loaf of bread of their own making in the Mail contest, to stand a chance of carrying the little lady home. Beside the doll stood a rifle, no toy, but a genuine twenty-two Marlin, for the boy whose plans for a vegetable garden seemed the best and most practical, Mrs. Burgoyne herself talked to the children when they came shyly in to investigate. "She seems to want to know every child in the county, the darling!" said Miss Watson to Fergy.
The Valentines, father and son, came into the Mail office one warm June morning, to find the editor of the "Women's Page" busy at her desk, with the sunlight lying in a bright bar across her uncovered hair, and a vista of waving green boughs showing through the open window behind her.
"What are you two doing here at this hour?" said Sidney, laying down her pen and leaning back in her chair as if glad of a moment's rest. "Why, Billy!" she added in admiring tones, "let me see you! How very, VERY nice you look!"
For the little fellow was dressed in a new sailor suit that was a full size too large for him, his wild mop had been cut far too close, and a large new hat and new shoes were much in evidence.
"D'you think he looks all right?" said Barry with an anxious wistfulness that went straight to her heart. "He looks better, doesn't he? I've been fixing him up."
"And free sailor waists, and stockings, and nighties," supplemented Billy, also anxious for her approval.
"He looks lovely!" said Sidney, enthusiastically, even while she was mentally raising the collar of his waist, and taking an inch or two off the trousers. She lifted the child up to sit on his father's desk, and kissed the top of his little cropped head.
"We may not express ourselves very fluently," said Barry, who was seated in his own revolving chair and busily opening and shutting the drawers of his desk, "but we appreciate the interest beautiful ladies take in our manners and morals, and the new tooth-brushes they buy us—"
"My dear!" protested Mrs. Burgoyne, between laughter and tears, "Ellen used his old one up, cleaning out their paint-boxes!" And she put her warm hand on his shoulder, and said, "Don't be a goose, Barry!" as unselfconsciously as a sister might. "Where are you two boys going, Billy?" she asked, going back to her own desk.
"'Cool," Billy said.
"He's going over to the kindergarten. I've got some work I ought to finish here," Barry supplemented. "I'll take you across the street, Infant, I'll be right back, Sidney."
"But, Barry, why are you working now?" asked the lady a few minutes later when he took his place at his desk.
"Oh, don't you worry," he answered, smiling; "I love it. The thought of old Rogers' face when he opens his paper every morning does me good, I'm writing this appeal for the new reservoir now, and I've got to play up the Flower Festival."
"I'm not interested in the Flower Festival," said Mrs. Burgoyne good-naturedly, "and the minute it's over I'm going to start a crusade for a girls' clubhouse in Old Paloma. Conditions over there for the girls are something hideous. But I suppose we'll have to go on with the Festival for the present. It's a great occasion, I suppose?"
"Oh, tremendous! The Governor's coming, and thousands of visitors always pour into town. We'll have nearly a hundred carriages in the parade, simply covered with flowers, you know. It's lovely! You wait until things get fairly started!"
"That'll be Fourth of July," Sidney said thoughtfully, turning back to her exchanges, "I'll begin my clubhouse crusade on the fifth!" she added firmly.
For a long time there was silence in the office, except for the rustling of paper and the scratch of pens. From the sunny world out-of-doors came a pleasant blending of many noises, passing wagons, the low talk of chickens, the slamming of gates, and now and then the not unmusical note of a fish-horn. Footsteps and laughing voices went by, and died into silence. The clock from Town Hall Square struck eleven slowly.
"This is darned pleasant," said Barry presently, over his work.
"Isn't it?" said the editor of the "Women's Page," and again there was silence.
After a while Barry said "Finished!" with a great breath, and, leaning back in his chair, wheeled about to find the lady quietly watching him.
"Barry, are you working too hard?" said she, quite unembarrassed.
"Am I? Lord, not I wish the days were twice as long. I"—Barry rumpled his thick hair with a gesture that was familiar to Sidney now—"I guess work agrees with me. By George, I hate to eat, and I hate to sleep; I want to be down here all the time, or else rustling up subscriptions and 'ads.',"
"And I thought you were lazy," said Sidney, finding herself, for the first time in their friendship, curiously inclined to keep the conversation personal, this warm June morning. It was a thing extremely difficult to do, with Barry. "You certainly gave me that impression," she said.
"Yes; but that was two months ago," said Barry, off guard. A second later he changed the topic abruptly by asking, "Did your roses come?"
"All of them," answered Sidney pleasantly. And vaguely conscious of mischief in the air, but led on by some inexplicable whim, she pursued, "Do you mean that it makes such a difference to you, Rogers being gone?"
Barry trimmed the four sides of a clipping with four clips of his shears.
"Exactly," said he briefly. He banged a drawer shut, closed a book and laid it aside, and stuck the brush into his glue-pot. "Getting enough of dinner parties?" he asked then, cheerfully.
"Too much," said Sidney, wondering why she felt like a reprimanded child. "And that reminds me: I am giving two dinners for the Von Praags, you know. I can't manage everybody at once; I hate more than ten people at a dinner. And you are asked to the first."
"I don't go much to dinners," Barry said.
"I know you don't; but I want you to come to this one," said Sidney. "You'll love old Mr. von Praag. And Richard, the son, is a dear! I really want you."
"He's an artist, too, isn't he?" said Barry without enthusiasm.
"Who, Richard?" she asked, something in his manner putting her a little at a loss. "Yes; and he's very clever, and so nice! He's like a brother to me."
Barry did not answer, but after a moment he said, scowling a little, and not looking up:
"A fellow like that has pretty smooth sailing. Rich, the son of a big man, traveling all he wants to, studio in New York, clubs—"
"Oh, Richard has his troubles," Sidney said. "His wife is very delicate, and they lost their little girl... Are you angry with me about anything, Barry?" she broke off, puzzled and distressed, for this unresponsive almost sullen manner was unlike anything she had ever seen in him.
But a moment later he turned toward her with his familiar sunny smile.
"Why didn't you say so before?" he said sheepishly.
"Say—?" she echoed bewilderedly. Then, with a sudden rush of enlightenment, "Why, Barry, you're not JEALOUS?"
A second later she would have given much to have the words unsaid. They faced each other in silence, the color mounting steadily in Sidney's face.
"I didn't mean of ME," she stammered uncomfortably; "I meant of everything. I thought—but it was a silly thing to say. It sounded—I didn't think—"
"I don't know why you shouldn't have thought it, since I was fool enough to show it," said Barry after a moment, coming over to her desk and facing her squarely. Sidney stood up, opposite him, her heart beating wildly. "And I don't know why I shouldn't be jealous," he went on steadily, "at the idea that some old friend might come in here and take you away from Santa Paloma. You asked me if it was old Rogers' going that made a difference to me—"
"I know," interrupted Sidney, scarlet-cheeked. "PLEASE"—
"But you know better than that," Barry went on, his voice rising a little. "You know what you have done for me. If ever I try to speak of it, you say, as you said about the kid just now, 'My dear boy, I like to do it.' But I'm going to say what I mean now, once and for all. You loaned me money, and it was through your lending it that I got credit to borrow more; you gave me a chance to be my own master; you showed you had faith in me; you reminded me of the ambition I had as a kid, before Hetty and all that trouble had crushed it out of me; you came down here to the office and talked and planned, and took it for granted that I was going to pull myself together and stop idling, and kicking, and fooling away my time; and all through these six weeks of rough sailing, you've let me go up there to the Hall and tell you everything—and then you wonder if I could ever be jealous!" His tone, which had risen almost to violence, fell suddenly. He went back to his desk and began to straighten the papers there, not seeing what he did. "I never can say anything more to you, Sidney, I've said too much now," he said a little huskily; "but I'm glad to have you know how I feel."
Sidney stood quite still, her breath coming and going quickly. She was fundamentally too honest a woman to meet the situation with one of the hundred insincerities that suggested themselves to her. She knew she was to blame, and she longed to undo the mischief, and put their friendship back where it had been only an hour ago. But the right words did not suggest themselves, and she could only stand silently watching him. Barry had opened a book, and, holding it in both hands, was apparently absorbed in its contents.
Neither had spoken or moved, and Sidney was meditating a sudden, wordless departure, when Ellen Burgoyne burst noisily into the room. Ellen was a square, splendid child, always conversationally inclined, and never at a loss for a subject.
"You look as if you wanted to cry, Mother," said she. "Perhaps you didn't hear the whistle; school's out. We've been waiting ever so long. Mother, I know you said you hoped Heaven would not send any more dogs our way for a long while, but Jo and Jeanette and I found one by the school fence. Mother, you will say it has the most pathetic face you ever saw when you see it. Its ear was bloody, and it licked Jo's hand so GENTLY, and it's such a lit-tul dog! Jo has it wrapped up in her coat. Mother, may we have it? Please, PLEASE—"
Barry wheeled about with his hearty laugh, and Mrs. Burgoyne, laughing too, stopped the eager little mouth with a kiss.
"It sounds as if we must certainly have him, Baby!" said she.
The new mistress of the Hall, in her vigorous young interest in all things, included naturally a keen enjoyment of the village love affairs, she liked to hear the histories of the old families all about, she wanted to know the occupants of every shabby old surrey that drew up at the post-office while the mail was being "sorted." But if the conversation turned to mere idle talk and speculation, she was conspicuously silent. And upon an occasion when Mrs. Adams casually referred to a favorite little piece of scandal, Mrs. Burgoyne gave the conversation a sudden twist that, as Mrs. White, who was present, said later, "made you afraid to call your soul your own."
"Do you tell me that that pretty little Thorne girl is actually meeting this young man, whoever he is, while her mother thinks she is taking a music lesson?" demanded Mrs. Burgoyne, suddenly entering into the conversation. "There's nothing against him, I suppose? She COULD see him at home."
"Oh, no, he's a nice enough little fellow," Mrs. White said, "but she's a silly little thing, and I imagine her people are very severe with her; she never goes to dances or seems to have any fun."
"I wonder if we couldn't go see the mother, and hint that there is beginning to be a little talk about Katherine," mused Mrs. Burgoyne. "Don't you think so, Mrs. Adams?"
"Oh, my goodness!" Mrs. Adams said nervously, "I don't KNOW anything about it! I wouldn't for the world—I never dreamed—one would hate to start trouble—Mr. Adams is very fond of the Thornes—"
"But we ought to save her if we can, we married women who know how mischievous that sort of thing is," Mrs. Burgoyne urged.
"Why, probably they've not met but once or twice!" Mrs. White said, annoyed, but with a comfortable air of closing the subject, and no more was said at the time. But both she and Mrs. Adams were a little uneasy two or three days later, when, returning from a motor trip, they saw Mrs. Burgoyne standing at the Thornes' gate, in laughing conversation with pretty little Katherine and her angular, tall mother.
"And there is nothing in that story at all," said Mrs. Burgoyne later, to Mrs. Carew.
"I suppose you walked up and said, 'If you are Miss Thorne, you are clandestinely meeting Joe Turner down by the old mill every week!'" laughed Mrs. Carew.
"I managed it very nicely," Mrs. Burgoyne said, "I admired their yellow rose one day, as I passed the gate. Mrs. Thorne was standing there, and I asked if it wasn't a Banksia. Then the little girl came out of the house, and she happened to know who I am—"
"Astonishingly bright child!" said Mrs. Carew.
"Well, and then we talked roses, and the father came home—a nice old man. And I asked him if he'd lend me Miss Thorne now and then to play duets—and he agreed. So the child's been up to the Hall once or twice, and she's a nice little thing. She doesn't care tuppence for the Turner boy, but he's musical, and she's quite music-mad, and now and then they 'accidentally' meet. Her father won't let anyone see her at the house. She wants to study abroad, but they can't afford it, I imagine, so I've written to see if I can interest a friend of mine in Berlin—But why do you smile?" she broke off to ask innocently.