WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT 1914, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
COPYRIGHT 1915, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
PUBLISHED, JANUARY 27, 1915
SECOND PRINTING, FEBRUARY 6, 1915
THIRD PRINTING, MARCH 12, 1915
FOURTH PRINTING, APRIL 23, 1915
FIFTH PRINTING, JUNE 10, 1915
SIXTH PRINTING, AUGUST 6, 1915
SEVENTH PRINTING, OCTOBER 21, 1915
EIGHTH PRINTING, MAY 1, 1916
NINTH PRINTING, OCTOBER 30, 1916
* * * * *
* * * * *
IN LOVING MEMORY
HOWARD TAYLOR WIDDEMER
* * * * *
THE ROSE-GARDEN HUSBAND
The Liberry Teacher lifted her eyes from a half-made catalogue-card, eyed the relentlessly slow clock and checked a long wriggle of purest, frankest weariness. Then she gave a furtive glance around to see if the children had noticed she was off guard; for if they had she knew the whole crowd might take more liberties than they ought to, and have to be spoken to by the janitor. He could do a great deal with them, because he understood their attitude to life, but that wasn't good for the Liberry Teacher's record.
It was four o'clock of a stickily wet Saturday. As long as it is anything from Monday to Friday the average library attendant goes around thanking her stars she isn't a school-teacher; but the last day of the week, when the rest of the world is having its relaxing Saturday off and coming to gloat over you as it acquires its Sunday-reading best seller, if you work in a library you begin just at noon to wish devoutly that you'd taken up scrubbing-by-the-day, or hack-driving, or porch-climbing or—anything on earth that gave you a weekly half-holiday!
So the Liberry Teacher braced herself severely, and put on her reading-glasses with a view to looking older and more firm. "Liberry Teacher," it might be well to explain, was not her official title. Her description on the pay-roll ran "Assistant for the Children's Department, Greenway Branch, City Public Library." Grown-up people, when she happened to run across them, called her Miss Braithwaite. But "Liberry Teacher" was the only name the children ever used, and she saw scarcely anybody but the children, six days a week, fifty-one weeks a year. As for her real name, that nobody ever called her by, that was Phyllis Narcissa.
She was quite willing to have such a name as that buried out of sight. She had a sense of fitness; and such a name belonged back in an old New England parsonage garden full of pink roses and nice green caterpillars and girl-dreams, and the days before she was eighteen: not in a smutty city library, attached to a twenty-five-year-old young woman with reading-glasses and fine discipline and a woolen shirt-waist!
It wasn't that the Liberry Teacher didn't like her position. She not only liked it, but she had a great deal of admiration for it, because it had been exceedingly hard to get. She had held it firmly now for a whole year. Before that she had been in the Cataloguing, where your eyes hurt and you get a little pain between your shoulders, but you sit down and can talk to other girls; and before that in the Circulation, where it hurts your feet and you get ink on your fingers, but you see lots of funny things happening. She had started at eighteen years old, at thirty dollars a month. Now she was twenty-five, and she got all of fifty dollars, so she ought to have been a very happy Liberry Teacher indeed, and generally she was. When the children wanted to specify her particularly they described her as "the pretty one that laughs." But at four o'clock of a wet Saturday afternoon, in a badly ventilated, badly lighted room full of damp little unwashed foreign children, even the most sunny-hearted Liberry Teacher may be excused for having thoughts that are a little tired and cross and restless.
She flung herself back in her desk-chair and watched, with brazen indifference, Giovanni and Liberata Bruno stickily pawing the colored Bird Book that was supposed to be looked at only under supervision; she ignored the fact that three little Czechs were fighting over the wailing library cat; and the sounds of conflict caused by Jimsy Hoolan's desire to get the last-surviving Alger book away from John Zanowski moved her not a whit. The Liberry Teacher had stopped, for five minutes, being grown-up and responsible, and she was wishing—wishing hard and vengefully. This is always a risky thing to do, because you never know when the Destinies may overhear you and take you at your exact word. With the detailed and careful accuracy one acquires in library work, she was wishing for a sum of money, a garden, and a husband—but principally a husband. This is why:
That day as she was returning from her long-deferred twenty-minute dairy-lunch, she had charged, umbrella down, almost full into a pretty lady getting out of a shiny gray limousine. Such an unnecessarily pretty lady, all furs and fluffles and veils and perfumes and waved hair! Her cheeks were pink and her expression was placid, and each of her white-gloved hands held tight to a pretty picture-book child who was wriggling with wild excitement. One had yellow frilly hair and one had brown bobbed hair, and both were quaintly, immaculately, expensively kissable. They were the kind of children every girl wishes she could have a set like, and hugs when she gets a chance. Mother and children were making their way, under an awning that crossed the street, to the matinee of a fairy-play.
The Liberry Teacher smiled at the children with more than her accustomed goodwill, and lowered her umbrella quickly to let them pass. The mother smiled back, a smile that changed, as the Liberry Teacher passed, to puzzled remembrance. The gay little family went on into the theatre, and Phyllis Braithwaite hurried on back to her work, trying to think who the pretty lady could have been, to have seemed to almost remember her. Somebody who took books out of the library, doubtless. Still the pretty lady's face did not seem to fit that conjecture, though it still worried her by its vague familiarity. Finally the solution came, just as Phyllis was pulling off her raincoat in the dark little cloak-room. She nearly dropped the coat.
"Eva Atkinson!" she said.
Eva Atkinson!... If it had been anybody else but Eva!
You see, back in long-ago, in the little leisurely windblown New England town where Phyllis Braithwaite had lived till she was almost eighteen, there had been a Principal Grocer. And Eva Atkinson had been his daughter, not so very pretty, not so very pleasant, not so very clever, and about six years older than Phyllis. Phyllis, as she tried vainly to make her damp, straight hair go back the way it should, remembered hearing that Eva had married and come to this city to live. She had never heard where. And this had been Eva—Eva, by the grace of gold, radiantly complexioned, wonderfully groomed, beautifully gowned, and looking twenty-four, perhaps, at most: with a car and a placid expression and heaps of money, and pretty, clean children! The Liberry Teacher, severely work-garbed and weather-draggled, jerked herself away from the small greenish cloak-room mirror that was unkind to you at your best.
She dashed down to the basement, harried by her usual panic-stricken twenty-minutes-late feeling. She had only taken one glance at herself in the wiggly mirror, but that one had been enough for her peace of mind, supposing her to have had any left before. She felt as if she wanted to break all the mirrors in the world, like the wicked queen in the French fairy-tale.
Most people rather liked the face Phyllis saw in the mirror; but to her own eyes, fresh from the dazzling vision of that Eva Atkinson who had been dowdy and stupid in the far-back time when seventeen-year-old Phyllis was "growin' up as pretty as a picture," the tired, twenty-five-year-old, workaday face in the green glass was dreadful. What made her feel worst—and she entertained the thought with a whimsical consciousness of its impertinent vanity—was that she'd had so much more raw material than Eva! And the world had given Eva a chance because her father was rich. And she, Phyllis, was condemned to be tidy and accurate, and no more, just because she had to earn her living. That face in the greenish glass, looking tiredly back at her! She gave a little out-loud cry of vexation now as she thought of it, two hours later.
"I must have looked to Eva like a battered bisque doll—no wonder she couldn't place me!" she muttered crossly.
And it must be worse and more of it now, because in the interval between two and four there had been many little sticky fingers pulling at her sleeves and skirt, and you just have to cuddle dear little library children, even when they're not extra clean; and when Vera Aronsohn burst into heartbroken tears on the Liberry Teacher's blue woolen shoulder because her pet fairy-book was missing, she had caught several strands of the Teacher's yellow hair in her anguish, much to the hair's detriment.
It was straight, heavy hair, and it would have been of a dense and fluffy honey-color, only that it was tarnished for lack of the constant sunnings and brushings which blonde hair must have to stay its best self. And her skin, too, that should have been a living rose-and-cream, was dulled by exposure to all weathers, and lack of time to pet it with creams and powders; perhaps a little, too, by the very stupid things to eat one gets at a dairy-lunch and boarding-house. Some of the assistants did interesting cooking over the library gas-range, but the Liberry Teacher couldn't do that because she hadn't time.
She went on defiantly thinking about her looks. It isn't a noble-minded thing to do, but when you might be so very, very pretty if you only had a little time to be it in—"Yes, I might!" said Phyllis to her shocked self defiantly.... Yes, the shape of her face was all right still. Hard work and scant attention couldn't spoil its pretty oval. But her eyes—well, you can't keep your eyes as blue and luminous and childlike as they were back in the New England country, when you have been using them hard for years in a bad light. And oh, they had been such nice eyes when she was just Phyllis Narcissa at home, so long and blue and wondering! And now the cataloguing had heavied the lids and etched a line between her straight brown brows. They weren't decorative eyes now ... and they filled with indignant self-sympathy. The Liberry Teacher laughed at herself a little here. The idea of eyes that cried about themselves was funny, somehow.
"Direct from producer to consumer!" she quoted half-aloud, and wiped each eye conscientiously by itself.
"Teacher! I want a liberry called 'Bride of Lemon Hill!' demanded a small citizen just here. The school teacher, she says I must to have it!"
Phyllis thought hard. But she had to search the pinned-up list of required reading for schools for three solid minutes before she bestowed "The Bride of Lammermoor" on a thirteen-year-old daughter of Hungary.
"This is it, isn't it, honey?" she asked with the flashing smile for which her children, among other things, adored her.
"Yes, ma'am, thank you, teacher," said the thirteen-year-old gratefully; and went off to a corner, where she sat till closing time entranced over her own happy choice, "The Adventures of Peter Rabbit," with colored pictures dotting it satisfactorily. The Liberry Teacher knew that it was her duty to go over and hypnotize the child into reading something which would lead more directly to Browning and Strindberg. But she didn't.
"Poor little wop!" she thought unacademically. "Let her be happy in her own way!"
And the Liberry Teacher herself went on being unhappy in her own way.
"I'm just a battered bisque doll!" she repeated to herself bitterly.
But she was wrong. One is apt to exaggerate things on a workaday Saturday afternoon. She looked more like a pretty bisque figurine; slim and clear-cut, and a little neglected, perhaps, by its owners, and dressed in working clothes instead of the pretty draperies it should have had; but needing only a touch or so, a little dusting, so to speak, to be as good as ever.
"Eva never was as pretty as I was!" her rebellious thoughts went on. You think things, you know, that you'd never say aloud. "I'm sick of elevating the public! I'm sick of working hard fifty-one weeks out of fifty-two for board and lodging and carfare and shirtwaists and the occasional society of a few girls who don't get any more out of life than I do! I'm sick of libraries, and of being efficient! I want to be a real girl! Oh, I wish—I wish I had a lot of money, and a rose-garden, and a husband!"
The Liberry Teacher was aghast at herself. She hadn't meant to wish such a very unmaidenly thing so hard. She jumped up and dashed across the room and began frantically to shelf-read books, explaining meanwhile with most violent emphasis to the listening Destinies:
"I didn't—oh, I didn't mean a real husband. It isn't that I yearn to be married to some good man, like an old maid or a Duchess novel. I—I just want all the lovely things Eva has, or any girl that marries them, without any trouble but taking care of a man. One man couldn't but be easier than a whole roomful of library babies. I want to be looked after, and have time to keep pretty, and a chance to make friends, and lovely frocks with lots of lace on them, and just months and months and months when I never had to do anything by a clock—and—and a rose-garden!"
This last idea was dangerous. It isn't a good thing, if you want to be contented with your lot, to think of rose-gardens in a stuffy city library o' Saturdays; especially when where you were brought up rose-gardens were one of the common necessities of life; and more especially when you are tired almost to the crying-point, and have all the week's big sisters back of it dragging on you, and all its little sisters to come worrying at you, and—time not up till six.
But the Liberry Teacher went blindly on straightening shelves nearly as fast as the children could muss them up, and thinking about that rose-garden she wanted, with files of masseuses and manicures and French maids and messenger-boys with boxes banked soothingly behind every bush. And the thought became too beautiful to dally with.
"I'd marry anything that would give me a rose-garden!" reiterated the Liberry Teacher passionately to the Destinies, who are rather catty ladies, and apt to catch up unguarded remarks you make. "Anything—so long as it was a gentleman—and he didn't scold me—and—and—I didn't have to associate with him!" her New England maidenliness added in haste.
Then, for the librarian who cannot laugh, like the one who reads, is supposed in library circles to be lost, Phyllis shook herself and laughed at herself a little, bravely. Then she collected the most uproarious of her flock around her and began telling them stories out of the "Merry Adventures of Robin Hood." It would keep the children quiet, and her thoughts, too. She put rose-gardens, not to say manicurists and husbands, severely out of her head. But you can't play fast and loose with the Destinies that way.
"Done!" they had replied quietly to her last schedule of requirements. "We'll send our messenger over right away." It was not their fault that the Liberry Teacher could not hear them.
He was gray-haired, pink-cheeked, curvingly side-whiskered and immaculately gray-clad; and he did not look in the least like a messenger of Fate.
The Liberry Teacher was at a highly keyed part of her narrative, and even the most fidgety children were tense and open-mouthed.
"'And where art thou now?' cried the Stranger to Robin Hood. And Robin roared with laughter. 'Oh, in the flood, and floating down the stream with all the little fishes,' said he—" she was relating breathlessly.
"Tea-cher!" hissed Isaac Rabinowitz, snapping his fingers at her at this exciting point. "Teacher! There's a guy wants to speak to you!"
"Aw, shut-tup!" chorused his indignant little schoolmates. "Can't you see that Teacher's tellin' a story? Go chase yerself! Go do a tango roun' de block!"
Isaac, a small Polish Jew with tragic, dark eyes and one suspender, received these and several more such suggestions with all the calm impenetrability of his race.
"Here's de guy," was all he vouchsafed before he went back to the unsocial nook where, afternoon by faithful afternoon, he read away at a fat three-volume life of Alexander Hamilton.
The Liberry Teacher looked up without stopping her story, and smiled a familiar greeting to the elderly gentleman, who was waiting a little uncertainly at the Children's Room door, and had obviously been looking for her in vain. He smiled and nodded in return.
"Just a minute, please, Mr. De Guenther," said the Liberry Teacher cheerfully.
The elderly gentleman nodded again, crossed to Isaac and his ponderous volumes, and began to talk to him with that benign lack of haste which usually means a very competent personality. Phyllis hurried somewhat with Robin Hood among his little fishes, and felt happier. It was always, in her eventless life, something of a pleasant adventure to have Mr. De Guenther or his wife drop in to see her. There was usually something pleasant at the end of it.
They were an elderly couple whom she had known for some years. They were so leisurely and trim and gentle-spoken that long ago, when she was only a timorous substitute behind the circle of the big charging-desk, she had picked them both out as people-you'd-like-if-you-got-the-chance. Then she had waited on them, and identified them by their cards as belonging to the same family. Then, one day, with a pleased little quiver of joy, she had found him in the city Who's Who, age, profession (he was a corporation lawyer), middle names, favorite recreation, and all. Gradually she had come to know them both very well in a waiting-on way. She often chose love-stories that ended happily and had colored illustrations for Mrs. De Guenther when she was at home having rheumatism; she had saved more detective stories for Mr. De Guenther than her superiors ever knew; and once she had found his black-rimmed eye-glasses where he had left them between the pages of the Pri-Zuz volume of the encyclopedia, and mailed them to him.
When she had vanished temporarily from sight into the nunnery-promotion of the cataloguing room the De Guenthers had still remembered her. Twice she had been asked to Sunday dinner at their house, and had joyously gone and remembered it as joyously for months afterward. Now that she was out in the light of partial day again, in the Children's Room, she ran across both of them every little while in her errands upstairs; and once Mrs. De Guenther, gentle, lorgnetted and gray-clad, had been shown over the Children's Room. The couple lived all alone in a great, handsome old house that was being crowded now by the business district. She had always thought that if she were a Theosophist she would try to plan to have them for an uncle and aunt in her next incarnation. They suited her exactly for the parts.
But it's a long way down to the basement where city libraries are apt to keep their children, and the De Guenthers hadn't been down there since the last time they asked her to dinner. And here, with every sign of having come to say something very special, stood Mr. De Guenther! Phyllis' irrepressibly cheerful disposition gave a little jump toward the light. But she went on with her story—business before pleasure!
However, she did manage to get Robin Hood out of his brook a little more quickly than she had planned. She scattered her children with a swift executive whisk, and made so straight for her friend that she deceived the children into thinking they were going to see him expelled, and they banked up and watched with anticipatory grins.
"I do hope you want to see me especially!" she said brightly.
The children, disappointed, relaxed their attention.
Mr. De Guenther rose slowly and neatly from his seat beside the rather bored Isaac Rabinowitz, who dived into his book again with alacrity.
"Good afternoon, Miss Braithwaite," he said in the amiably precise voice which matched so admirably his beautifully precise movements and his immaculate gray spats. "Yes. In the language of our young friend here, 'I am the guy.'"
Phyllis giggled before she thought. Some people in the world always make your spirits go up with a bound, and the De Guenther pair invariably had that effect on her.
"Oh, Mr. De Guenther!" she said, "I am shocked at you! That's slang!"
"It was more in the nature of a quotation," said he apologetically. "And how are you this exceedingly unpleasant day, Miss Braithwaite? We have seen very little of you lately, Mrs. De Guenther and I."
The Liberry Teacher, gracefully respectful in her place, wriggled with invisible impatience over this carefully polite conversational opening. He had come down here on purpose to see her—there must be something going to happen, even if it was only a request to save a seven-day book for Mrs. De Guenther! Nobody ever wanted something, any kind of a something, to happen more wildly than the Liberry Teacher did that bored, stickily wet Saturday afternoon, with those tired seven years at the Greenway Branch dragging at the back of her neck, and the seven times seven to come making her want to scream. So few things can possibly happen to you, no matter how good you are, when you work by the day. And now maybe something—oh, please, the very smallest kind of a something would be welcomed!—was going to occur. Maybe Mrs. De Guenther had sent her a ticket to a concert; she had once before. Or maybe, since you might as well wish for big things while you're at it, it might even be a ticket to an expensive seat in a real theatre! Her pleasure-hungry, work-heavy blue eyes burned luminous at the idea.
"But I really shouldn't wish," she reminded her prancing mind belatedly. "He may only have come down to talk about the weather. It mayn't any of it be true."
So she stood up straight and gravely, and answered very courteously and holding-tightly all the amiable roundabout remarks the old gentleman was shoving forward like pawns on a chessboard before the real game begins. She answered with the same trained cheerfulness she could give her library children when her head and her disposition ached worst; and even warmed to a vicious enthusiasm over the state of the streets and the wetness of the damp weather.
"He knows lots of real things to say," she complained to herself, "why doesn't he say them, instead of talking editorials? I suppose this is his bedside—no, lawyers don't have bedside manners—well, his barside manner, then——"
It is difficult to think and listen at the same time: by this time she had missed a beautiful long paragraph about the Street-Cleaning Department; and something else, apparently. For her friend was holding out to her a note addressed to her flowingly in his wife's English hand, and was saying,
"—which she has asked me to deliver. I trust you have no imperative engagement for to-morrow night."
Something had happened!
"Why, no!" said the Liberry Teacher delightedly. "No, indeed! Thank you, and her, too. I'd love to come."
"Teacher!" clamored a small chocolate-colored citizen in a Kewpie muffler, "my maw she want' a book call' 'Ugwin!' She say it got a yellow cover an' pictures in it."
"Just a moment!" said Phyllis; and sent him upstairs with a note asking for "Hugh Wynne" in the two-volume edition. She was used to translating that small colored boy's demands. Last week he had described to her a play he called "Eas' Limb", with the final comment, "But it wan't no good. 'Twant no limb in it anywhar, ner no trees atall!"
"Do you have much of that?" Mr. De Guenther asked idly.
"Lots!" said Phyllis cheerfully. "You take special training in guesswork at library school. They call them 'teasers'. They say they're good for your intellect."
"Ah—yes," said Mr. De Guenther absently in the barside manner.
And then, sitting calmly with his silvery head against a Washington's Birthday poster so that three scarlet cherries stuck above him in the manner of a scalp-lock, he said something else remarkably real:
"I have—we have—a little matter of business to discuss with you to-morrow night, my dear; an offer, I may say, of a different line of work. And I want you to satisfy yourself thoroughly—thoroughly, my dear child, of my reputableness. Mr. Johnstone, the chief of the city library, whose office I believe to be in this branch, is one of my oldest friends. I am, I think I may say, well known as a lawyer in this my native city. I should be glad to have you satisfy yourself personally on these points, because——" could it be that the eminently poised Mr. De Guenther was embarrassed? "Because the line of work which I wish, or rather my wife wishes, to lay before you is—is a very different line of work!" ended the old gentleman inconclusively. There was no mistake about it this time—he was embarrassed.
"Oh, Mr. De Guenther!" cried Phyllis before she thought, out of the fulness of her heart, catching his arm in her eagerness; "Oh, Mr. De Guenther, could the Very Different Line of Work have a—have a rose-garden attached to it anywhere?"
Before she was fairly finished she knew what a silly question she had asked. How could any line of work she was qualified to do possibly have rose-gardens attached to it? You can't catalogue roses on neat cards, or improve their minds by the Newark Ladder System, or do anything at all librarious to them, except pressing them in books to mummify; and the Liberry Teacher didn't think that was at all a courteous thing to do to roses. So Mr. De Guenther's reply quite surprised her.
"There—seems—to be—no good reason," he said, slowly and placidly, as if he were dropping his words one by one out of a slot;—"why there should not—be—a very satisfactory rose-garden, or even—two—connected with it. None—whatever."
That was all the explanation he offered. But the Liberry Teacher asked no more. "Oh!" she said rapturously.
"Then we may expect you to-morrow at seven?" he said; and smiled politely and moved to the door. He walked out as matter-of-coursely as if he had dropped in to ask the meaning of "circumflex," or who invented smallpox, or the name of Adam's house-cat, or how long it would take her to do a graduation essay for his daughter—or any such little things that librarians are prepared for most days.
And instead—his neat gray elderly back seemed to deny it—he had left with her, the Liberry Teacher, her, dusty, tousled, shopworn Phyllis Braithwaite, an invitation to consider a Line of Work which was so mysteriously Different that she had to look up the spotless De Guenther reputation before she came!
One loses track of time, staring at a red George Washington poster, and wondering about a future with a sudden Different Line in it.... It was ten minutes past putting-out-children time! She stared aghast at the ruthless clock, then created two Monitors for Putting Out at one royal sweep. She managed the nightly eviction with such gay expedition that it almost felt like ten minutes ago when the place, except for the pride-swollen monitors, was cleared. While these officers watched the commonalty clumping reluctantly upstairs toward the umbrella-rack, the Liberry Teacher paced sedately around the shelves, giving the books that routine straightening they must have before seven struck and the horde rushed in again. It was really her relieving officer's work, but the Liberry Teacher felt that her mind needed straightening, too, and this always seemed to do it.
She looked, as she moved slowly down along the shelves, very much like most of the librarians you see; alert, pleasant, slender, a little dishevelled, a little worn. But there was really no librarian there. There was only Phyllis Narcissa—that dreaming young Phyllis who had had to stay pushed out of sight all the seven years that Miss Braithwaite had been efficiently earning her living.
She let her mind stray happily as far as it would over the possibilities Mr. De Guenther had held out to her, and woke to discover herself trying to find a place under "Domestic Economy—Condiments" for "Five Little Peppers and How They Grew." She laughed aloud in the suddenly empty room, and then lifted her head to find Miss Black, the night-duty girl that week, standing in the doorway ready to relieve guard.
"Oh, Anna, see what I've done!" she laughed. Somehow everything seemed merely light-hearted and laughable since Mr. De Guenther's most fairy-tale visit, with its wild hints of Lines of Work. Anna Black came, looked, laughed.
"In the 640's!" she said. "Well, you're liable to do nearly everything by the time it's Saturday. Last Saturday, Dolly Graham up in the Circulation was telling me, an old colored mammy said she'd lost her mittens in the reading-room; and the first they knew Dolly was hunting through the Woollen Goods classification, and Mary Gayley pawing the dictionary wildly for m-i-t!"
"And they found the mittens hung around her neck by the cord," finished the Liberry Teacher. "I know—it was a thrilling story. Well, good-by till Monday, Anna Black. I'm going home now, to have some lovely prunes and some real dried beef, and maybe a glass of almost-milk if I can persuade the landlady I need it."
"Mine prefers dried apricots," responded Miss Black cheerfully, "but she never has anything but canned milk in the house, thus sparing us the embarrassment of asking for real. Good-by—good luck!"
But as the Liberry Teacher pinned her serviceable hat close, and fastened her still good raincoat over her elderly sweater, neither prunes nor mittens nor next week's work worried her at all. After all, living among the fairy-stories with the Little People makes that pleasant land where wanting is having, and all the impossibilities can come true, very easy of access. Phyllis Braithwaite's mind, as she picked her way down the bedraggled street, wandered innocently off in a dream-place full of roses, till the muddy marble steps of her boarding-place gleamed sloppily before her through the foggy rain.
She sat up late that night, doing improving things to the white net waist that went with her best suit, which was black. As her needle nibbled busily down the seams she continued happily to wonder about that Entirely Different Line. It sounded to her more like a reportership on a yellow journal than anything else imaginable. Or, perhaps, could she be wanted to join the Secret Service?
"At any rate," she concluded light-heartedly, as she stitched the last clean ruching into the last wrist-covering, sedate sleeve, "at any rate I'll have a chance to-morrow to wear mother's gold earrings that I mustn't have on in the library. And oh, how lovely it will be to have a dinner that wasn't cooked by a poor old bored boarding-house cook or a shiny tiled syndicate!"
And she went to bed—to dream of Entirely Different Lines all the colors of the rainbow, that radiated out from the Circulation Desk like tight-ropes. She never remembered Eva Atkinson's carefully prettied face, or her own vivid, work-worn one, at all. She only dreamed that far at the end of the pink Entirely Different Line—a very hard one to walk—there was a rose-garden exactly like a patchwork quilt, where she was to be.
When Phyllis woke next morning everything in the world had a light-hearted, holiday feeling. Her Sundays, gloriously unoccupied, generally did, but this was extra-special. The rain had managed to clear away every vestige of last week's slush, and had then itself most unselfishly retired down the gutters. The sun shone as if May had come, and the wind, through the Liberry Teacher's window, had a springy, pussy-willowy, come-for-a-walk-in-the-country feel to it. She found that she had slept too late to go to church, and prepared for a joyful dash to the boarding-house bathtub. There might be—who knew but there actually might be—on this day of days, enough hot water for a real bath!
"I feel as if everything was going to be lovely all day!" she said without preface to old black Maggie, who was clumping her accustomed bed-making way along the halls, with her woolly head tied up in her Sunday silk handkerchief. Even she looked happier, Phyllis thought, than she had yesterday. She grinned broadly at Phyllis, leaning smilingly against the door in her kimona.
"Ah dunno, Miss Braithways," she said, and entered the room and took a pillow-case-corner in her mouth. "Ah never has dem premeditations!"
Phyllis laughed frankly, and Maggie, much flattered at the happy reception of her reply, grinned so widely that you might almost have tied her mouth behind her ears.
"You sure is a cheerful person, Miss Braithways!" said Maggie, and went on making the bed.
Phyllis fled on down the hall, laughing still. She had just remembered another of old Maggie's compliments, made on one of the rare occasions when Phyllis had sat down and sung to the boarding-house piano. (She hadn't been able to do it long, because the Mental Science Lady on the next floor had sent down word that it stopped her from concentrating, and as she had a very expensive room there was nothing for the landlady to do but make Phyllis stop.) Phyllis had come out in the hall to find old Maggie listening rapturously.
"Oh, Miss Braithways!" she had murmured, rolling her eyes, "you certainly does equalize a martingale!"
It had been a compliment Phyllis never forgot. She smiled to herself as she found the bathroom door open. Why, the world was full of a number of things, many of them funny. Being a Liberry Teacher was rather nice, after all, when you were fresh from a long night's sleep. And if that Mental Science Lady wouldn't let her play the piano, why, her thrilling tales of what she could do when her mind was unfettered were worth the price. That story she told so seriously about how the pipes burst—and the plumber wouldn't come, and "My dear, I gave those pipes only half an hour's treatment, and they closed right up!" It was quite as much fun—well, almost as much—hearing her, as it would have been to play.
... All of the contented, and otherwise, elderly people who inhabited the boarding-house with Phyllis appeared to have gone off without using hot water, for there actually was some. The Liberry Teacher found that she could have a genuine bath, and have enough water besides to wash her hair, which is a rite all girls who work have to reserve for Sundays. This was surely a day of days!
She used the water—alas for selfish human nature!—to the last warm drop and went gayly back to her little room with no emotions whatever for the poor other boarders, soon to find themselves wrathfully hot-waterless. And then—she thoughtlessly curled down on the bed, and slept and slept and slept! She wakened dimly in time for the one o'clock dinner, dressed, and ate it in a half-sleep. She went back upstairs planning a trolley-ride that should take her out into the country, where a long walk might be had. And midway in changing her shoes she lay back across the bed and—fell asleep again. The truth was, Phyllis was about as tired as a girl can get.
She waked at dusk, with a jerk of terror lest she should have overslept her time for going out. But it was only six. She had a whole hour to prink in, which is a very long time for people who are used to being in the library half-an-hour after the alarm-clock wakes them.
* * * * *
Some houses, all of themselves, and before you meet a soul who lives in them, are silently indifferent to you. Some make you feel that you are not wanted in the least; these usually have a lot of gilt furniture, and what are called objects of art set stiffly about. Some seem to be having an untidy good time all to themselves, in which you are not included.
The De Guenther house, staid and softly toned, did none of these things. It gave the Liberry Teacher, in her neat, last year's best suit, a feeling as of gentle welcome-home. She felt contented and belonging even before quick-smiling, slender little Mrs. De Guenther came rustling gently in to greet her. Then followed Mr. De Guenther, pleasant and unperturbed as usual, and after him an agreeable, back-arching gray cat, who had copied his master's walk as exactly as it can be done with four feet.
All four sat amiably about the room and held precise and pleasant converse, something like a cheerful essay written in dialogue, about many amusing, intelligent things which didn't especially matter. The Liberry Teacher liked it. It was pleasant beyond words to sit nestlingly in a pluffy chair, and hear about all the little lightly-treated scholarly day-before-yesterday things her father had used to talk of. She carried on her own small part in the talk blithely enough. She approved of herself and the way she was behaving, which makes very much for comfort. There was only once that she was ashamed of herself, and thought about it in bed afterwards and was mortified; when her eyes filled with quick tears at a quite dry and unemotional—indeed, rather a sarcastic—quotation from Horace on the part of Mr. De Guenther. But she smiled, when she saw that they noticed her.
"That's the first time I've heard a Latin quotation since I came away from home," she found herself saying quite simply in explanation, "and Father quoted Horace so much every day that—that I felt as if an old friend had walked in!"
But her hosts didn't seem to mind. Mr. De Guenther in his careful evening clothes looked swiftly across at Mrs. De Guenther in her gray-silk-and-cameo, and they both nodded little satisfied nods, as if she had spoken in a way that they were glad to hear. And then dinner was served, a dinner as different—well, she didn't want to remember in its presence the dinners it differed from; they might have clouded the moment. She merely ate it with a shameless inward joy.
It ended, still to a pleasant effortless accompaniment of talk about books and music and pictures that Phyllis was interested in, and had found nobody to share her interest with for so long—so long! She felt happily running though everything the general, easy taking-for-granted of all the old, gentle, inflexible standards of breeding that she had nearly forgotten, down in the heart of the city among her obstreperous, affectionate little foreigners.
They had coffee in the long old-fashioned salon parlor, and then Mr. De Guenther straightened himself, and Mrs. De Guenther folded her veined, ringed old white hands, and Phyllis prepared thrilledly to listen. Surely now she would hear about that Different Line of Work.
There was nothing, at first, about work of any sort. They merely began to tell her alternately about some clients of theirs, a Mrs. Harrington and her son: rather interesting people, from what Phyllis could make out. She wondered if she was going to hear that they needed a librarian.
"This lady, my client, Mrs. Harrington," continued her host gravely, "is the one for whom I may ask you to consider doing some work. I say may, but it is a practical certainty. She is absolutely alone, my dear Miss Braithwaite, except for her son. I am afraid I must ask you to listen to a long story about them."
It was coming!
"Oh, but I want to hear!" said Phyllis, with that quick, affectionate sympathy of hers that was so winning, leaning forward and watching them with the lighted look in her blue eyes. It all seemed to her tired, alert mind like some story she might have read to her children, an Arabian Nights narrative which might begin, "And the Master of the House, ascribing praise unto Allah, repeated the following Tale."
"There have always been just the two of them, mother and son," said the Master of the House. "And Allan has always been a very great deal to his mother."
"Poor Angela!" murmured his wife.
"They are old friends of ours," her husband explained. "My wife and Mrs. Harrington were schoolmates.
"Well, Allan, the boy, grew up, dowered with everything a mother could possibly desire for her son, personally and otherwise. He was handsome and intelligent, with much charm of manner."
"I know now what people mean by 'talking like a book,'" thought Phyllis irreverently. "And I don't believe any one man could be all that!"
"There was practically nothing," Mr. De Guenther went on, "which the poor lad had not. That was one trouble, I imagine. If he had not been highly intelligent he would not have studied so hard; if he had not been strong and active he might not have taken up athletic sports so whole-heartedly; and when I add that Allan possessed charm, money and social status you may see that what he did would have broken down most young fellows. In short, he kept studies, sports and social affairs all going at high pressure during his four years of college. But he was young and strong, and might not have felt so much ill effects from all that; though his doctors said afterwards that he was nearly at the breaking point when he graduated."
Phyllis bent closer to the story-teller in her intense interest. Why, it was like one of her fairy-tales! She held her breath to listen, while the old lawyer went gravely on.
"Allan could not have been more than twenty-two when he graduated, and it was a very short while afterwards that he became engaged to a young girl, the daughter of a family friend. Louise Frey was her name, was it not, love?"
"Yes, that is right," said his wife, "Louise Frey."
"A beautiful girl," he went on, "dark, with a brilliant color, and full of life and good spirits. They were both very young, but there was no good reason why the marriage should be delayed, and it was set for the following September."
A princess, too, in the story! But—where had she gone? "The two of them only," he had said.
"It must have been scarcely a month," the story went on—Mr. De Guenther was telling it as if he were stating a case—"nearly a month before the date set for the wedding, when the lovers went for a long automobile ride, across a range of mountains near a country-place where they were both staying. They were alone in the machine.
"Allan, of course, was driving, doubtless with a certain degree of impetuosity, as he did most things.... They were on an unfrequented part of the road," said Mr. De Guenther, lowering his voice, "when there occurred an unforeseen wreckage in the car's machinery. The car was thrown over and badly splintered. Both young people were pinned under it.
"So far as he knew at the time, Allan was not injured, nor was he in any pain; but he was held in absolute inability to move by the car above him. Miss Frey, on the contrary, was badly hurt, and in suffering. She died in about three hours, a little before relief came to them."
Phyllis clutched the arms of her chair, thrilled and wide-eyed. She could imagine all the horror of the happening through the old lawyer's precise and unemotional story. The boy-lover, pinioned, helpless, condemned to watch his sweetheart dying by inches, and unable to help her by so much as lifting a hand—could anything be more awful not only to endure, but to remember?
"And yet," she thought whimsically, "it mightn't be so bad to have one real tragedy to remember, if you haven't anything else! All I'll have to remember when I'm old will be bad little children and good little children, and books and boarding-houses, and the recollection that people said I was a very worthy young woman once!" But she threw off the thought. It's just as well not to think of old age when all the idea brings up is a vision of a nice, clean Old Ladies' Home.
"But you said he was an invalid?" she said aloud.
"Yes, I regret to say," answered Mr. De Guenther. "You see, it was found that the shock to the nerves, acting on an already over-keyed mind and body, together with some spinal blow concerning which the doctors are still in doubt, had affected Allan's powers of locomotion." (Mr. De Guenther certainly did like long words!) "He has been unable to walk since. And, which is sadder, his state of mind and body has become steadily worse. He can scarcely move at all now, and his mental attitude can only be described as painfully morbid—yes, I may say very painfully morbid. Sometimes he does not speak at all for days together, even to his mother, or his attendant."
"Oh, poor boy!" said Phyllis. "How long has he been this way?"
"Seven years this fall," the answer came consideringly. "Is it not, love?"
"Yes," said his wife, "seven years."
"Oh!" said the Liberry Teacher, with a quick catch of sympathy at her heart.
Just as long as she had been working for her living in the big, dusty library. Supposing—oh, supposing she'd had to live all that time in such suffering as this poor Allan had endured and his mother had had to witness! She felt suddenly as if the grimy, restless Children's Room, with its clatter of turbulent little outland voices, were a safe, sunny paradise in comparison.
Mr. De Guenther did not speak. He visibly braced himself and was visibly ill-at-ease.
"I have told most of the story, Isabel, love," said he at last. "Would you not prefer to tell the rest? It is at your instance that I have undertaken this commission for Mrs. Harrington, you will remember."
It struck Phyllis that he didn't think it was quite a dignified commission, at that.
"Very well, my dear," said his wife, and took up the tale in her swift, soft voice.
"You can fancy, my dear Miss Braithwaite, how intensely his mother has felt about it."
"Indeed, yes!" said Phyllis pitifully.
"Her whole life, since the accident, has been one long devotion to her son. I don't think a half-hour ever passes that she does not see him. But in spite of this constant care, as my husband has told you, he grows steadily worse. And poor Angela has finally broken under the strain. She was never strong. She is dying now—they give her maybe two months more.
"Her one anxiety, of course, is for poor Allan's welfare. You can imagine how you would feel if you had to leave an entirely helpless son or brother to the mercies of hired attendants, however faithful. And they have no relatives—they are the last of the family."
The listening girl began to see. She was going to be asked to act as nurse, perhaps attendant and guardian, to this morbid invalid with the injured mind and body.
"But how would I be any better for him than a regular trained nurse?" she wondered. "And they said he had an attendant."
She looked questioningly at the pair.
"Where does my part come in?" she asked with a certain sweet directness which was sometimes hers. "Wouldn't I be a hireling too if—if I had anything to do with it?"
"No," said Mrs. De Guenther gravely. "You would not. You would have to be his wife."
The Liberry Teacher, in her sober best suit, sat down in her entirely commonplace chair in the quiet old parlor, and looked unbelievingly at the sedate elderly couple who had made her this wild proposition. She caught her breath. But catching her breath did not seem to affect anything that had been said. Mr. De Guenther took up the explanation again, a little deprecatingly, she thought.
"You see now why I requested you to investigate our reputability?" he said. "Such a proposition as this, especially to a young lady who has no parent or guardian, requires a considerable guarantee of good faith and honesty of motive."
"Will you please tell me more about it?" she asked quietly. She did not feel now as if it were anything which had especially to do with her. It seemed more like an interesting story she was unravelling sentence by sentence. The long, softly lighted old room, with its Stuarts and Sullys, and its gracious, gray-haired host and hostess, seemed only a picturesque part of it.... Her hostess caught up the tale again.
"Angela has been nearly distracted," she said. "And the idea has come to her that if she could find some conscientious woman, a lady, and a person to whom what she could offer would be a consideration, who would take charge of poor Allan, that she could die in peace."
"But why did you think of asking me?" the girl asked breathlessly. "And why does she want me married to him? And how could you or she be sure that I would not be as much of a hireling as any nurse she may have now?"
Mrs. De Guenther answered the last two questions together.
"Mrs. Harrington's idea is, and I think rightly, that a conscientious woman would feel the marriage tie, however nominal, a bond that would obligate her to a certain duty toward her husband. As to why we selected you, my dear, my husband and I have had an interest in you for some years, as you know. We have spoken of you as a girl whom we should like for a relative——"
"Why, isn't that strange?" cried Phyllis, dimpling. "That's just what I've thought about you!"
Mrs. De Guenther flushed, with a delicate old shyness.
"Thank you, dear child," she said. "I was about to add that we have not seen you at your work all these years without knowing you to have the kind heart and sense of honor requisite to poor Angela's plan. We feel sure you could be trusted to take the place. Mr. De Guenther has asked his friend Mr. Johnston, the head of the library, such things as we needed to supplement our personal knowledge of you. You have everything that could be asked, even to a certain cheerfulness of outlook which poor Angela, naturally, lacks in a measure."
"But—but what about me?" asked Phyllis Braithwaite a little piteously, in answer to all this.
They seemed so certain she was what they wanted—was there anything in this wild scheme that would make her life better than it was as the tired, ill-paid, light-hearted keeper of a roomful of turbulent little foreigners?
"Unless you are thinking of marriage—" Phyllis shook her head—"you would have at least a much easier life than you have now. Mrs. Harrington would settle a liberal income on you, contingent, of course, of your faithful wardership over Allan. We would be your only judges as to that. You would have a couple or more months of absolute freedom every year, control of much of your own time, ample leisure to enjoy it. You would give only your chances of actual marriage for perhaps five years, for poor Allan cannot live longer than that at his present state of retrogression, and some part of every day to seeing that Allan was not neglected. If you bestow on him half of the interest and effort I have known of your giving any one of a dozen little immigrant boys, his mother has nothing to fear for him."
Mr. De Guenther stopped with a grave little bow, and he and his wife waited for the reply.
The Liberry Teacher sat silent, her eyes on her slim hands, that were roughened and reddened by constant hurried washings to get off the dirt of the library books. It was true—a good deal of it, anyhow. And one thing they had not said was true also: her sunniness and accuracy and strength, her stock-in-trade, were wearing thin under the pressure of too long hours and too hard work and too few personal interests. Her youth was worn down. And—marriage? What chance of love and marriage had she, a working-girl alone, too poor to see anything of the class of men she would be willing to marry? She had not for years spent six hours with a man of her own kind and age. She had not even been specially in love, that she could remember, since she was grown up. She did not feel much, now, as if she ever would be. All that she had to give up in taking this offer was her freedom, such as it was—and those fluttering perhapses that whisper such pleasant promises when you are young. But, then, she wouldn't be young so very much longer. Should she—she put it to herself crudely—should she wait long, hard, closed-in years in the faith that she would learn to be absolutely contented, or that some man she could love would come to the cheap boarding-house, or the little church she attended occasionally when she was not too tired, fall in love with her work-dimmed looks at sight, and—marry her? It had not happened all these years while her girlhood had been more attractive and her personality more untired. There was scarcely a chance in a hundred for her of a kind lover-husband and such dear picture-book children as she had seen Eva Atkinson convoying. Well—her mind suddenly came up against the remembrance, as against a sober fact, that in her passionate wishings of yesterday she had not wished for a lover-husband, nor for children. She had asked for a husband who would give her money, and leisure to be rested and pretty, and—a rose-garden! And here, apparently, was her wish uncannily fulfilled.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" inquired the Destinies with their traditional indifference. "We can't wait all night!"
She lifted her head and cast an almost frightened look at the De Guenthers, waiting courteously for her decision. In reply to the look, Mr. De Guenther began giving her details about the money, and the leisure time, and the business terms of the contract generally. She listened attentively. All that—for a little guardianship, a little kindness, and the giving-up of a little piece of life nobody wanted and a few little hopes and dreams!
Phyllis laughed, as she always did when there were big black problems to be solved.
"After all, it's fairly usual," she said. "I heard last week of a woman who left money along with her pet dog, very much the same way."
"Did you? Did you, dear?" asked Mrs. De Guenther, beaming. "Then you think you will do it?"
The Liberry Teacher rose, and squared her straight young shoulders under the worn net waist.
"If Mrs. Harrington thinks I'll do for the situation!" she said gallantly,—and laughed again.
* * * * *
"It feels partly like going into a nunnery and partly like going into a fairy-story," she said to herself that night as she wound her alarm. "But—I wonder if anybody's remembered to ask the consent of the groom!"
He looked like a young Crusader on a tomb. That was Phyllis's first impression of Allan Harrington. He talked and acted, if a moveless man can be said to act, like a bored, spoiled small boy. That was her second.
Mrs. Harrington, fragile, flushed, breathlessly intense in her wheel-chair, had yet a certain resemblance in voice and gesture to Mrs. De Guenther—a resemblance which puzzled Phyllis till she placed it as the mark of that far-off ladies' school they had attended together. There was also a graceful, mincing white wolfhound which, contrary to the accepted notion of invalids' faithful hounds, didn't seem to care for his master's darkened sick-room at all, but followed the one sunny spot in Mrs. Harrington's room with a wistful persistence. It was such a small spot for such a long wolfhound—that was the principal thing which impressed itself on Phyllis's frightened mind throughout her visit.
Mrs. De Guenther convoyed her to the Harrington house for inspection a couple of days after she had accepted some one's proposal to marry Allan Harrington. (Whether it counted as her future mother-in-law's proposal, or her future trustee's, she was never sure. The only sure thing was that it did not come from the groom.) She had borrowed a half-day from the future on purpose, though she did not want to go at all. But the reality was not bad; only a fluttering, emotional little woman who clung to her hands and talked to her and asked useless questions with a nervous insistence which would have been nerve-wearing for a steady thing, but was only pitiful to a stranger.
You see strange people all the time in library work, and learn to place them, at length, with almost as much accuracy as you do your books. The fact that Mrs. Harrington was not long for this world did not prevent Phyllis from classing her, in her mental card-catalogue, as a very perfect specimen of the Loving Nagger. She was lying back, wrapped in something gray and soft, when her visitors came, looking as if the lifting of her hand would be an effort. She was evidently pitifully weak. But she had, too, an ineradicable vitality she could summon at need. She sprang almost upright to greet her visitors, a hand out to each, an eager flood of words on her lips.
"And you are Miss Braithwaite, that is going to look after my boy?" she ended. "Oh, it is so good of you—I am so glad—I can go in peace now. Are you sure—sure you will know the minute his attendants are the least bit negligent? I watch and watch them all the time. I tell Allan to ring for me if anything ever is the least bit wrong—I am always begging him to remember. I go in every night and pray with him—do you think you could do that? But I always cry so before I'm through—I cry and cry—my poor, helpless boy—he was so strong and bright! And you are sure you are conscientious——"
At this point Phyllis stopped the flow of Mrs. Harrington's conversation firmly, if sweetly.
"Yes, indeed," she said cheerfully. "But you know, if I'm not, Mr. De Guenther can stop all my allowance. It wouldn't be to my own interest not to fulfil my duties faithfully."
"Yes, that is true," said Mrs. Harrington. "That was a good thought of mine. My husband always said I was an unusual woman where business was concerned."
So they went on the principle that she had no honor beyond working for what she would get out of it! Although she had made the suggestion herself, Phyllis's cheeks burned, and she was about to answer sharply. Then somehow the poor, anxious, loving mother's absolute preoccupation with her son struck her as right after all.
"If it were my son," thought Phyllis, "I wouldn't worry about any strange hired girl's feelings either, maybe. I'd just think about him.... I promise I'll look after Mr. Harrington's welfare as if he were my own brother!" she ended aloud impulsively. "Indeed, you may trust me."
"I am—sure you will," panted Mrs. Harrington. "You look like—a good girl, and—and old enough to be responsible—twenty-eight—thirty?"
"Not very far from that," said Phyllis serenely.
"And you are sure you will know when the attendants are neglectful? I speak to them all the time, but I never can be sure.... And now you'd better see poor Allan. This is one of his good days. Just think, dear Isabel, he spoke to me twice without my speaking to him this morning!"
"Oh—must I?" asked Phyllis, dismayed. "Couldn't I wait till—till it happens?"
Mrs. Harrington actually laughed a little at her shyness, lighting up like a girl. Phyllis felt dimly, though she tried not to, that through it all her mother-in-law-elect was taking pleasure in the dramatic side of the situation she had engineered.
"Oh, my dear, you must see him. He expects you," she answered almost gayly. The procession of three moved down the long room towards a door, Phyllis's hand guiding the wheel-chair. She was surprised to find herself shaking with fright. Just what she expected to find beyond the door she did not know, but it must have been some horror, for it was with a heart-bound of wild relief that she finally made out Allan Harrington, lying white in the darkened place.
A Crusader on a tomb. Yes, he looked like that. In the room's half-dusk the pallor of his still, clear-featured face and his long, clear-cut hands was nearly the same as the whiteness of the couch-draperies. His hair, yellow-brown and waving, flung back from his forehead like a crest, and his dark brows and lashes made the only note of darkness about him. To Phyllis's beauty-loving eyes he seemed so perfect an image that she could have watched him for hours.
"Here's Miss Braithwaite, my poor darling," said his mother. "The young lady we have been talking about so long."
The Crusader lifted his eyelids and let them fall again.
"Is she?" he said listlessly.
"Don't you want to talk to her, darling boy?" his mother persisted, half out of breath, but still full of that unrebuffable, loving energy and insistence which she would probably keep to the last minute of her life.
"No," said the Crusader, still in those empty, listless tones. "I'd rather not talk. I'm tired."
His mother seemed not at all put out.
"Of course, darling," she said, kissing him. She sat by him still, however, and poured out sentence after sentence of question, insistence, imploration, and pity, eliciting no answer at all. Phyllis wondered how it would feel to have to lie still and have that done to you for a term of years. The result of her wonderment was a decision to forgive her unenthusiastic future bridegroom for what she had at first been ready to slap him.
Presently Mrs. Harrington's breath flagged, and the three women went away, back to the room they had been in before. Phyllis sat and let herself be talked to for a little longer. Then she rose impulsively.
"May I go back and see your son again for just a minute?" she asked, and had gone before Mrs. Harrington had finished her permission. She darted into the dark room before her courage had time to fail, and stood by the white couch again.
"Mr. Harrington," she said clearly, "I'm sorry you're tired, but I'm afraid I am going to have to ask you to listen to me. You know, don't you, that your mother plans to have me marry you, for a sort of interested head-nurse? Are you willing to have it happen? Because I won't do it unless you really prefer it."
The heavy white lids half-lifted again.
"I don't mind," said Allan Harrington listlessly. "I suppose you are quiet and trustworthy, or De Guenther wouldn't have sent you. It will give mother a little peace and it makes no difference to me."
He closed his eyes and the subject at the same time.
"Well, then, that's all right," said Phyllis cheerfully, and started to go. Then, drawn back by a sudden, nervous temper-impulse, she moved back on him. "And let me tell you," she added, half-laughing, half-impertinently, "that if you ever get into my quiet, trustworthy clutches you may have an awful time! You're a very spoiled invalid."
She whisked out of the room before he could have gone very far with his reply. But he had not cared to reply, apparently. He lay unmoved and unmoving.
Phyllis discovered, poising breathless on the threshold, that somehow she had seen his eyes. They had been a little like the wolfhound's, a sort of wistful gold-brown.
For some reason she found that Allan Harrington's attitude of absolute detachment made the whole affair seem much easier for her. And when Mrs. Harrington slipped a solitaire diamond into her hand as she went, instead of disliking it she enjoyed its feel on her finger, and the flash of it in the light. She thanked Mrs. Harrington for it with real gratitude. But it made her feel more than ever engaged to marry her mother-in-law.
She walked home rather silently with Mrs. De Guenther. Only at the foot of the De Guenther steps, she made one absent remark.
"He must have been delightful," she said, "when he was alive!"
After a week of the old bustling, dusty hard work, the Liberry Teacher's visit to the De Guenthers' and the subsequent one at the Harringtons', and even her sparkling white ring, seemed part of a queer story she had finished and put back on the shelf. The ring was the most real thing, because it was something of a worry. She didn't dare leave it at home, nor did she want to wear it. She finally sewed it in a chamois bag that she safety-pinned under her shirt-waist. Then she dismissed it from her mind also. There is very little time in a Liberry Teacher's life for meditation. Only once in a while would come to her the vision of the wistful Harrington wolfhound following his inadequate patch of sunlight, or of the dusky room where Allan Harrington lay inert and white, and looking like a wonderful carved statue on a tomb.
She began to do a little to her clothes, but not very much, because she had neither time nor money. Mr. De Guenther had wanted her to take some money in advance, but she had refused. She did not want it till she had earned it, and, anyway, it would have made the whole thing so real, she knew, that she would have backed out.
"And it isn't as if I were going to a lover," she defended herself to Mrs. De Guenther with a little wistful smile. "Nobody will know what I have on, any more than they do now."
Mrs. De Guenther gave a scandalized little cry. Her attitude was determinedly that it was just an ordinary marriage, as good an excuse for sentiment and pretty frocks as any other.
"My dear child," she replied firmly, "you are going to have one pretty frock and one really good street-suit now, or I will know why! The rest you may get yourself after the wedding, but you must obey me in this. Nonsense!—you can get a half-day, as you call it, perfectly well! What's Albert in politics for, if he can't get favors for his friends!"
And, in effect, it proved that Albert was in politics to some purpose, for orders came up from the Head's office within twenty minutes after Mrs. De Guenther had used the telephone on her husband, that Miss Braithwaite was to have a half-day immediately—as far as she could make out, in order to transact city affairs! She felt as if the angels had told her she could have the last fortnight over again, as a favor, or something of the sort. A half-day out of turn was something nobody had ever heard of. She was even too surprised to object to the frock part of the situation. She tried to stand out a little longer, but it's a very stoical young woman who can refuse to have pretty clothes bought for her, and the end of it was a seat in a salon which she had always considered so expensive that you scarcely ought to look in the window.
"Had it better be a black suit?" asked Mrs. De Guenther doubtfully, as the tall lady in floppy charmeuse hovered haughtily about them, expecting orders. "It seems horrible to buy mourning when dear Angela is not yet passed away, but it would only be showing proper respect; and I remember my own dear mother planned all our mourning outfits while she was dying. It was quite a pleasure to her."
Phyllis kept her face straight, and slipped one persuasive hand through her friend's arm.
"I don't believe I could buy mourning, dear," she said. "And—oh, if you knew how long I'd wanted a really blue blue suit! Only, it would have been too vivid to wear well—I always knew that—because you can only afford one every other year. And"—Phyllis rather diffidently voiced a thought which had been in the back of her mind for a long time—"if I'm going to be much around Mr. Harrington, don't you think cheerful clothes would be best? Everything in that house seems sombre enough now."
"Perhaps you are right, dear child," said Mrs. De Guenther. "I hope you may be the means of putting a great deal of brightness into poor Allan's life before he joins his mother."
"Oh, don't!" cried Phyllis impulsively. Somehow she could not bear to think of Allan Harrington's dying. He was too beautiful to be dead, where nobody could see him any more. Besides, Phyllis privately considered that a long vacation before he joined his mother would be only the fair thing for "poor Allan." Youth sides with youth. And—the clear-cut white lines of him rose in her memory and stayed there. She could almost hear that poor, tired, toneless voice of his, that was yet so deep and so perfectly accented.... She bought docilely whatever her guide directed, and woke from a species of gentle daze at the afternoon's end to find Mrs. De Guenther beaming with the weary rapture of the successful shopper, and herself the proprietress of a turquoise velvet walking-suit, a hat to match, a pale blue evening frock, a pale green between-dress with lovely clinging lines, and a heavenly white crepe thing with rosy ribbons and filmy shadow-laces—the negligee of one's dreams. There were also slippers and shoes and stockings and—this was really too bad of Mrs. De Guenther—a half-dozen set of lingerie, straight through. Mrs. De Guenther sat and continued to beam joyously over the array, in Phyllis's little bedroom.
"It's my present, dearie," she said calmly. "So you needn't worry about using Angela's money. Gracious, it's been lovely! I haven't had such a good time since my husband's little grand-niece came on for a week. There's nothing like dressing a girl, after all."
And Phyllis could only kiss her. But when her guest had gone she laid all the boxes of finery under her bed, the only place where there was any room. She would not take any of it out, she determined, till her summons came. But on second thought, she wore the blue velvet street-suit on Sunday visits to Mrs. Harrington, which became—she never knew just when or how—a regular thing. The vivid blue made her eyes nearly sky-color, and brightened her hair very satisfactorily. She was taking more time and trouble over her looks now—one has to live up to a turquoise velvet hat and coat! She found herself, too, becoming very genuinely fond of the restless, anxiously loving, passionate, unwise child who dwelt in Mrs. Harrington's frail elderly body and had almost worn it out. She sat, long hours of every Sunday afternoon, holding Mrs. Harrington's thin little hot hands, and listening to her swift, italicised monologues about Allan—what he must do, what he must not do, how he must be looked after, how his mother had treated him, how his wishes must be ascertained and followed.
"Though all he wants now is dark and quiet," said his mother piteously. "I don't even go in there now to cry."
She spoke as if it were an established ritual. Had she been using her son's sick-room, Phyllis wondered, as a regular weeping-place? She could feel in Mrs. Harrington, even in this mortal sickness, the tremendous driving influence which is often part of a passionately active and not very wise personality. That certitude and insistence of Mrs. Harrington's could hammer you finally into believing or doing almost anything. Phyllis wondered how much his mother's heartbroken adoration and pity might have had to do with making her son as hopeless-minded as he was.
Naturally, the mother-in-law-elect she had acquired in such a strange way became very fond of Phyllis. But indeed there was something very gay and sweet and honest-minded about the girl, a something which gave people the feeling that they were very wise in liking her. Some people you are fond of against your will. When people cared for Phyllis it was with a quite irrational feeling that they were doing a sensible thing. They never gave any of the credit to her very real, though almost invisible, charm.
She never saw Allan Harrington on any of the Sunday visits. She was sure the servants thought she did, for she knew that every one in the great, dark old house knew her as the young lady who was to marry Mr. Allan. She believed that she was supposed to be an old family friend, perhaps a distant relative. She did not want to see Allan. But she did want to be as good to his little, tensely-loving mother as she could, and reassure her about Allan's future care. And she succeeded.
It was on a Friday about two that the summons came. Phyllis had thought she expected it, but when the call came to her over the library telephone she found herself as badly frightened as she had been the first time she went to the Harrington house. She shivered as she laid down the dater she was using, and called the other librarian to take her desk. Fortunately, between one and four the morning and evening shifts overlapped, and there was some one to take her place.
"Mrs. Harrington cannot last out the night," came Mr. De Guenther's clear, precise voice over the telephone, without preface. "I have arranged with Mr. Johnston. You can go at once. You had better pack a suit-case, for you possibly may not be able to get back to your boarding-place."
So it was to happen now! Phyllis felt, with her substitute in her place, her own wraps on, and her feet taking her swiftly towards her goal, as if she were offering herself to be made a nun, or have a hand or foot cut off, or paying herself away in some awful, irrevocable fashion. She packed, mechanically, all the pretty things Mrs. De Guenther had given her, and nothing else. She found herself at the door of her room with the locked suit-case in her hand, and not even a nail-file of the things belonging to her old self in it. She shook herself together, managed to laugh a little, and returned and put in such things as she thought she would require for the night. Then she went. She always remembered that journey as long as she lived; her hands and feet and tongue going on, buying tickets, giving directions—and her mind, like a naughty child, catching at everything as they went, and screaming to be allowed to go back home, back to the dusty, matter-of-course library and the dreary little boarding-house bedroom!
They were all waiting for her, in what felt like a hideously quiet semicircle, in Allan's great dark room. Mrs. Harrington, deadly pale, and giving an impression of keeping herself alive only by force of that wonderful fighting vitality of hers, lay almost at length in her wheel-chair. There was a clergyman in vestments. There were the De Guenthers; Mr. De Guenther only a little more precise than his every-day habit was, Mrs. De Guenther crying a little, softly and furtively.
As for Allan Harrington, he lay just as she had seen him that other time, white and moveless, seeming scarcely conscious except by an effort. Only she noticed a slight contraction, as of pain, between his brows.
"Phyllis has come," panted Mrs. Harrington. "Now it will be—all right. You must marry him quickly—quickly, do you hear, Phyllis? Oh, people never will—do—what I want them to——"
"Yes—yes, indeed, dear," said Phyllis, taking her hands soothingly. "We're going to attend to it right away. See, everything is ready."
It occurred to her that Mrs. Harrington was not half as correct in her playing of the part of a dying woman as she would have seen to it that anyone else was; also, that things did not seem legal without the wolfhound. Then she was shocked at herself for such irrelevant thoughts. The thing to do was to keep poor Mrs. Harrington quieted. So she beckoned the clergyman and the De Guenthers nearer, and herself sped the marrying of herself to Allan Harrington.
... When you are being married to a Crusader on a tomb, the easiest way is to kneel down by him. Phyllis registered this fact in her mind quite blankly, as something which might be of use to remember in future.... The marrying took an unnecessarily long time, it seemed to her. It did not seem as if she were being married at all. It all seemed to concern somebody else. When it came to the putting on of the wedding-ring, she found herself, very naturally, guiding Allan's relaxed fingers to hold it in its successive places, and finally slip it on the wedding-finger. And somehow having to do that checked the chilly awe she had had before of Allan Harrington. It made her feel quite simply sorry for him, as if he were one of her poor little boys in trouble. And when it was all over she bent pitifully before she thought, and kissed one white, cold cheek. He seemed so tragically helpless, yet more alive, in some way, since she had touched his hand to guide it. Then, as her lips brushed his cheek, she recoiled and colored a little. She had felt that slight roughness which a man's cheek, however close-shaven, always has—the man-feel. It made her realize unreasonably that it was a man she had married, after all, not a stone image nor a sick child—a live man! With the thought, or rather instinct, came a swift terror of what she had done, and a swift impulse to rise. She was half-way risen from her knees when a hand on her shoulder, and the clergyman's voice in her ear, checked her.
"Not yet," he murmured almost inaudibly. "Stay as you are till—till Mrs. Harrington is wheeled from the room."
Phyllis understood. She remained as she was, her body a shield before Allan Harrington's eyes, her hand just withdrawing from his shoulder, till she heard the closing of the door, and a sigh as of relaxed tension from the three people around her. Then she rose. Allan lay still with closed eyelids. It seemed to her that he had flushed, if ever so faintly, at the touch of her lips on his cheek. She laid his hand on the coverlet with her own roughened, ringed one, and followed the others out, into the room where the dead woman had been taken, leaving him with his attendant.
The rest of the evening Phyllis went about in a queer-keyed, almost light-hearted frame of mind. It was only the reaction from the long-expected terror that was over now, but it felt indecorous. It was just as well, however. Some one's head had to be kept. The servants were upset, of course, and there were many arrangements to be made. She and Mr. De Guenther worked steadily together, telephoning, ordering, guiding, straightening out all the tangles. There never was a wedding, she thought, where the bride did so much of the work! She even remembered to see personally that Allan's dinner was sent up to him. The servants had doubtless been told to come to her for orders—at any rate, they did. Phyllis had not had much experience in running a house, but a good deal in keeping her head. And that, after all, is the main thing. She had a far-off feeling as if she were hearing some other young woman giving swift, poised, executive orders. She rather admired her.
After dinner the De Guenthers went. And Phyllis Braithwaite, the little Liberry Teacher who had been living in a hall bedroom on much less money than she needed, found herself alone, sole mistress of the great Harrington house, a corps of servants, a husband passive enough to satisfy the most militant suffragette, a check-book, a wistful wolfhound, and five hundred dollars, cash, for current expenses. The last weighed on her mind more than all the rest put together.
"Why, I don't know how to make Current Expenses out of all that!" she had said to Mr. De Guenther. "It looks to me exactly like about ten months' salary! I'm perfectly certain I shall get up in my sleep and try to pay my board ahead with it, so I shan't have it all spent before the ten months are up! There was a blue bead necklace," she went on meditatively, "in the Five-and-Ten, that I always wanted to buy. Only I never quite felt I could afford it. Oh, just imagine going to the Five-and-Ten and buying at least five dollars' worth of things you didn't need!"
"You have great discretionary powers—great discretionary powers, my dear, you will find!" Mr. De Guenther had said, as he patted her shoulder. Phyllis took it as a compliment at the time. "Discretionary powers" sounded as if he thought she was a quite intelligent young person. It did not occur to her till he had gone, and she was alone with her check-book, that it meant she had a good deal of liberty to do as she liked.
It seemed to be expected of her to stay. Nobody even suggested a possibility of her going home again, even to pack her trunk. Mrs. De Guenther casually volunteered to do that, a little after the housekeeper had told her where her rooms were. She had been consulting with the housekeeper for what seemed ages, when she happened to want some pins for something, and asked for her suit-case.
"It's in your rooms," said the housekeeper. "Mrs. Harrington—the late Mrs. Harrington, I should say——"
Phyllis stopped listening at this point. Who was the present Mrs. Harrington? she wondered before she thought—and then remembered. Why—she was! So there was no Phyllis Braithwaite any more! Of course not.... Yet she had always liked the name so—well, a last name was a small thing to give up.... Into her mind fitted an incongruous, silly story she had heard once at the library, about a girl whose last name was Rose, and whose parents christened her Wild, because the combination appealed to them. And then she married a man named Bull.... Meanwhile the housekeeper had been going on.
... "She had the bedroom and bath opening from the other side of Mr. Allan's day-room ready for you, madam. It's been ready several weeks."
"Has it?" said Phyllis. It was like Mrs. Harrington, that careful planning of even where she should be put. "Is Mr. Harrington in his day-room now?"
For some reason she did not attempt to give herself, she did not want to see him again just now. Besides, it was nearly eleven and time a very tired girl was in bed. She wanted a good night's rest, before she had to get up and be Mrs. Harrington, with Allan and the check-book and the Current Expenses all tied to her.
Some one had laid everything out for her in the bedroom; the filmy new nightgown over a chair, the blue satin mules underneath, her plain toilet-things on a dressing-table, and over another chair the exquisite ivory crepe negligee with its floating rose ribbons. She took a hasty bath—there was so much hot water that she was quite reconciled for a moment to being a check-booked and wolf hounded Mrs. Harrington—and slid straight into bed without even stopping to braid her loosened, honey-colored hair.
It seemed to her that she was barely asleep when there came an urgent knocking at her door.
"Yes?" she said sleepily, looking mechanically for her alarm-clock as she switched on the light. "What is it, please?"
"It's I, Wallis, Mr. Allan's man, Madame," said a nervous voice. "Mr. Allan's very bad. I've done all the usual things, but nothing seems to quiet him. He hates doctors so, and they make him so wrought up—please could you come, ma'am? He says as how all of us are all dead—oh, please, Mrs. Harrington!"
There was panic in the man's voice.
"All right," said Phyllis sleepily, dropping to the floor as she spoke with the rapidity that only the alarm-clock-broken know. She snatched the negligee around her, and thrust her feet hastily into the blue satin slippers—why, she was actually using her wedding finery! And what an easily upset person that man was! But everybody in the house seemed to have nerves on edge. It was no wonder about Allan—he wanted his mother, of course, poor boy! She felt, as she ran fleetly across the long room that separated her sleeping quarters from her husband's, the same mixture of pity and timidity that she had felt with him before. Poor boy! Poor, silent, beautiful statue, with his one friend gone! She opened the door and entered swiftly into his room.
She was not thinking about herself at all, only of how she could help Allan, but there must have been something about her of the picture-book angel to the pain-racked man, lying tensely at length in the room's darkest corner. Her long, dully gold hair, loosening from its twist, flew out about her, and her face was still flushed with sleep. There was a something about her that was vividly alight and alive, perhaps the light in her blue eyes.
From what the man had said Phyllis had thought Allan was delirious, but she saw at once that he was only in severe pain, and talking more disconnectedly, perhaps, than the slow-minded Englishman could follow. He did not look like a statue now. His cheeks were burning with evident pain, and his yellow-brown eyes, wide-open, and dilated to darkness, stared straight out. His hands were clenching and unclenching, and his head moved restlessly from side to side. Every nerve and muscle, she could see, was taut.
"They're all dead," he muttered. "Father and Mother and Louise—and I—only I'm not dead enough to bury. Oh, God, I wish I was!"
That wasn't delirium; it was something more like heart-break. Phyllis moved closer to him, and dropped one of her sleep-warm hands on his cold, clenched one.
"Oh, poor boy!" she said. "I'm so sorry—so sorry!" She closed her hands tight over both his.
Some of her strong young vitality must have passed between them and helped him, for almost immediately his tenseness relaxed a little, and he looked at her.
"You—you're not a nurse," he said. "They go around—like—like a—vault——"
She had caught his attention! That was a good deal, she felt. She forgot everything about him, except that he was some one to be comforted, and her charge. She sat down on the bed by him, still holding tight to his hands.
"No, indeed," she said, bending nearer him, her long loose hair falling forward about her resolutely-smiling young face. "Don't you remember seeing me? I never was a nurse."
"What—are you?" he asked feebly.
"I'm—why, the children call me the Liberry Teacher," she answered. It occurred to her that it would be better to talk on brightly at random than to risk speaking of his mother to him, as she must if she reminded him of their marriage. "I spend my days in a basement, making bad little boys get so interested in the Higher Culture that they'll forget to shoot crap and smash windows."
One of the things which had aided Phyllis to rise from desk-assistant to one of the Children's Room librarians was a very sweet and carrying voice—a voice which arrested even a child's attention, and held his interest. It held Allan now; merely the sound of it, seemingly.
"Go on—talking," he murmured. Phyllis smiled and obeyed.
"Sometimes the Higher Culture doesn't work," she said. "Yesterday one of my imps got hold of a volume of Shaw, and in half an hour his aunt marched in on me and threatened I don't know what to a library that 'taught chilren to disrespect their lawful guardeens.'"
"I remember now," said Allan. "You are the girl in the blue dress. The girl mother had me marry. I remember."
"Yes," said Phyllis soothingly, and a little apologetically. "I know. But that—oh, please, it needn't make a bit of difference. It was only so I could see that you were looked after properly, you know. I'll never be in the way, unless you want me to do something for you."
"I don't mind," he said listlessly, as he had before.... "Oh, this dreadful darkness, and mother dead in it somewhere!"
"Wallis," called Phyllis swiftly, "turn up the lights!"
The man slipped the close green silk shades from the electric bulbs. Allan shrank as if he had been hurt.
"I can't stand the glare," he cried.
"Yes, you can for a moment," she said firmly. "It's better than the ghastly green glow."
It was probably the first time Allan Harrington had been contradicted since his accident. He said nothing more for a minute, and Phyllis directed Wallis to bring a sheet of pink tissue paper from her suit-case, where she remembered it lay in the folds of some new muslin thing. Under her direction still, he wrapped the globes in it and secured it with string.
"There!" she told Allan triumphantly when Wallis was done. "See, there is no glare now; only a pretty rose-colored glow. Better than the green, isn't it?"
Allan looked at her again. "You are—kind," he said. "Mother said—you would be kind. Oh, mother—mother!" He tried uselessly to lift one arm to cover his convulsed face, and could only turn his head a little aside.
"You can go, Wallis," said Phyllis softly, with her lips only. "Be in the next room." The man stole out and shut the door softly. Phyllis herself rose and went toward the window, and busied herself in braiding up her hair. There was almost silence in the room for a few minutes.
"Thank—you," said Allan brokenly. "Will you—come back, please?"
She returned swiftly, and sat by him as she had before.
"Would you mind—holding my wrists again?" he asked. "I feel quieter, somehow, when you do—not so—lost." There was a pathetic boyishness in his tone that the sad, clear lines of his face would never prepare you for.
Phyllis took his wrists in her warm, strong hands obediently.
"Are you in pain, Allan?" she asked. "Do you mind if I call you Allan? It's the easiest way."
He smiled at her a little, faintly. It occurred to her that perhaps the novelty of her was taking his mind a little from his own feelings.
"No—no pain. I haven't had any for a very long time now. Only this dreadful blackness dragging at my mind, a blackness the light hurts."
"Why!" said Phyllis to herself, being on known ground here—"why, it's nervous depression! I believe cheering-up would help. I know," she said aloud; "I've had it."
"You?" he said. "But you seem so—happy!"
"I suppose I am," said Phyllis shyly. She felt a little afraid of "poor Allan" still, now that there was nothing to do for him, and they were talking together. And he had not answered her question, either; doubtless he wanted her to say "Mr. Allan" or even "Mr. Harrington!" He replied to her thought in the uncanny way invalids sometimes do.
"You said something about what we were to call each other," he murmured. "It would be foolish, of course, not to use first names. Yours is Alice, isn't it?"
Phyllis laughed. "Oh, worse than that!" she said. "I was named out of a poetrybook, I believe—Phyllis Narcissa. But I always conceal the Narcissa."
"Phyllis. Thank you," he said wearily. ... "Phyllis, don't let go! Talk to me!" His eyes were those of a man in torment.
"What shall I talk about?" she asked soothingly, keeping the two cold, clutching hands in her warm grasp. "Shall I tell you a story? I know a great many stories by heart, and I will say them for you if you like. It was part of my work."
"Yes," he said. "Anything."
Phyllis arranged herself more comfortably on the bed, for it looked as if she had some time to stay, and began the story she knew best, because her children liked it best, Kipling's "How the Elephant Got His Trunk." "A long, long time ago, O Best Beloved...."
Allan listened, and, she thought, at times paid attention to the words. He almost smiled once or twice, she was nearly sure. She went straight on to another story when the first was done. Never had she worked so hard to keep the interest of any restless circle of children as she worked now, sitting up in the pink light in her crepe wrappings, with her school-girl braids hanging down over her bosom, and Allan Harrington's agonized golden-brown eyes fixed on her pitying ones.
"You must be tired," he said more connectedly and quietly when she had ended the second story. "Can't you sit up here by me, propped on the pillows? And you need a quilt or something, too."
This from an invalid who had been given nothing but himself to think of this seven years back! Phyllis's opinion of Allan went up very much. She had supposed he would be very selfish. But she made herself a bank of pillows, and arranged herself by Allan's side so that she could keep fast to his hands without any strain, something as skaters hold. She wrapped a down quilt from the foot of the bed around her mummy-fashion and went on to her third story. Allan's eyes, as she talked on, grew less intent—drooped. She felt the relaxation of his hands. She went monotonously on, closing her own eyes—just for a minute, as she finished her story.
"I've overslept the alarm!" was Phyllis's first thought next morning when she woke. "It must be—" Where was she? So tired, so very tired, she remembered being, and telling some one an interminable story.... She held her sleepy eyes wide open by will-power, and found that a silent but evidently going clock hung in sight. Six-thirty. Then she hadn't overslept the alarm. But ... she hadn't set any alarm. And she had been sleeping propped up in a sitting position, half on—why, it was a shoulder. And she was rolled tight in a terra-cotta down quilt. She sat up with a jerk—fortunately a noiseless one—and turned to look. Then suddenly she remembered all about it, that jumbled, excited, hard-working yesterday which had held change and death and marriage for her, and which she had ended by perching on "poor Allan Harrington's" bed and sending him to sleep by holding his hands and telling him children's stories. She must have fallen asleep after he did, and slid down on his shoulder. A wonder it hadn't disturbed him! She stole another look at him, as he lay sleeping still, heavily and quietly. After all, she was married to him, and she had a perfect right to recite him to sleep if she wanted to. She unrolled herself cautiously, and slid out like a shadow.
She almost fell over poor Wallis, sleeping too in his clothes outside the door, on Allan's day couch. He came quickly to his feet, as if he were used to sudden waking.
"Don't disturb Mr. Harrington," said Phyllis as staidly as if she had been giving men-servants orders in her slipper-feet all her life. "He seems to be sleeping quietly."
"Begging your pardon, Mrs. Harrington, but you haven't been giving him anything, have you?" asked Wallis. "He hasn't slept without a break for two hours to my knowledge since I've been here, not without medicine."
"Not a thing," said Phyllis, smiling with satisfaction. "He must have been sleeping nearly three hours now! I read him to sleep, or what amounted to it. I got his nerves quiet, I think. Please kill anybody that tries to wake him, Wallis."
"Very good, ma'am," said Wallis gravely. "And yourself, ma'am?"
"I'm going to get some sleep, too," she said. "Call me if there's anything—useful."
She meant "necessary," but she wanted so much more sleep she never knew the difference. When she got into her room she found that there also she was not alone: the wistful wolfhound was curled plaintively across her bed, which he overlapped. From his nose he seemed to have been dipping largely into the cup of chocolate somebody had brought to her, and which she had forgotten to drink when she found it, on her first retiring.
"You aren't a bit high-minded," said Phyllis indignantly. She was too sleepy to do more than shove him over to the back of the bed. "All—the beds here are so—full," she complained sleepily; and crawled inside, and never woke again till nearly afternoon.
There was all the grave business to be done, in the days that followed, of taking Mrs. Harrington to a quiet place beside her husband, and drawing together again the strings of the disorganized household. Phyllis found herself whispering over and over again:
"The sweeping up the heart And putting love away We shall not need to use again. Until the Judgment Day."
And with all there was to see after, it was some days before she saw Allan again, more than to speak to brightly as she crossed their common sitting-room. He did not ask for her. She looked after his comfort faithfully, and tried to see to it that his man Wallis was all he should be—a task which was almost hopeless from the fact that Wallis knew much more about his duties than she did, even with Mrs. Harrington's painstakingly detailed notes to help her. Also his attitude to his master was of such untiring patience and worship that it made Phyllis feel like a rude outsider interfering between man and wife.
However, Wallis was inclined to approve of his new mistress, who was not fussy, seemed kind, and had given his beloved Mr. Allan nearly three hours of unbroken sleep. Allan had been a little better ever since. Wallis had told Phyllis this. But she was inclined to think that the betterment was caused by the counter-shock of his mother's death, which had shaken him from his lethargy, and perhaps even given his nerves a better balance. And she insisted that the pink paper stay on the electric lights.
After about a week of this, Phyllis suddenly remembered that she had not been selfish at all yet. Where was her rose-garden—the garden she had married the wolfhound and Allan and the check-book for? Where were all the things she had intended to get? The only item she had bought as yet ran, on the charge account she had taken over with the rest, "1 doz. checked dish-towels"; and Mrs. Clancy, the housekeeper's, pressing demand was responsible for these.
"It's certainly time I was selfish," said Phyllis to the wolfhound, who followed her round unendingly as if she had patches of sunshine in her pocket: glorious patches, fit for a life-sized wolfhound. Perhaps he was grateful because she had ordered him long daily walks. He wagged his tail now as she spoke, and rubbed himself curvingly against her. He was a rather affected dog.
So Phyllis made herself out a list in a superlatively neat library hand:
One string of blue beads. One lot of very fluffy summer frocks with flowers on them. One rose-garden. One banjo and a self-teacher. (And a sound-proof room.) One set Arabian Nights. One set of Stevenson, all but his novels. Ever so many Maxfield Parrish pictures full of Prussian-blue skies. A house to put them in, with fireplaces. A lady's size motor-car that likes me. A plain cat with a tame disposition. A hammock. A sun-dial. (But that might be thrown in with the garden.) A gold watch-bracelet. All the colored satin slippers I want. A room big enough to put all father's books up.
It looked shamelessly long, but Phyllis's "discretionary powers" would cover it, she knew. Mrs. Harrington's final will, while full of advice, had been recklessly trusting.