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The Squirrel-Cage
by Dorothy Canfield
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THE SQUIRREL-CAGE

By DOROTHY CANFIELD

With Illustrations By JOHN ALONZO WILLIAMS

New York HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1912

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Copyright, 1911, 1912, By THE RIDGWAY COMPANY

Copyright, 1912, By HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

Published March, 1912

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CONTENTS

BOOK I

THE FAIRY PRINCESS

CHAPTER PAGE

I An American Family 3 II American Beauties 12 III Picking up the Threads 22 IV The Dawn 32 V The Day Begins 42 VI Lydia's Godfather 55 VII Outside the Labyrinth 61 VIII The Shadow of the Coming Event 78 IX Father and Daughter 88 X Casus Belli 99

BOOK II

IN THE LOCOMOTIVE CAB

XI What is Best for Lydia 115 XII A Sop to the Wolves 122 XIII Lydia Decides in Perfect Freedom 131 XIV Mid-Season Nerves 139 XV A Half-Hour's Liberty 154 XVI Engaged to be Married 165 XVII Card-Dealing and Patent Candles 177

BOOK III

A SUITABLE MARRIAGE

XVIII Two Sides to the Question 193 XIX Lydia's New Motto 207 XX An Evening's Entertainment 215 XXI An Element of Solidity 226 XXII The Voices in the Wood 233 XXIII For Ariadne's Sake 244 XXIV "Through Pity and Terror Effecting a Purification of the Heart" 261 XXV A Black Mile-stone 270 XXVI A Hint from Childhood 277 XXVII Lydia Reaches Her Goal and has Her Talk with Her Husband 289 XXVIII "The American Man" 307 XXIX ".........In Tragic Life, God Wot, No Villain Need be. Passions Spin the Plot" 318 XXX Tribute to the Minotaur 328

BOOK IV

BUT IT IS NOT TOO LATE FOR ARIADNE

XXXI Protection from the Minotaur 337 XXXII As Ariadne Saw It 342 XXXIII What is Best for the Children? 351 XXXIV Through the Long Night 359 XXXV The Swaying Balance 365 XXXVI Another Day Begins 369

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ILLUSTRATIONS

Paul stood by her, looking down into her eyes, bending over her, smiling, pressing, confident, masterful (Page 96) Frontispiece

PAGE

"You say beautiful things!" he replied quietly. "My rough quarters are glorified for me" 69

"No, no; I can't—see him—I can't stand any more—" 137

"I see everything now," she went on. "He could not stop." 272

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THE SQUIRREL-CAGE

BOOK I

THE FAIRY PRINCESS



CHAPTER I

AN AMERICAN FAMILY

The house of the Emery family was a singularly good example of the capacity of wood and plaster and brick to acquire personality. It was the physical symbol of its owners' position in life; it was the history of their career, written down for all to see, and as such they felt in it the most justifiable pride. When Mr. and Mrs. Emery, directly after their wedding in a small Central New York village, had gone West to Ohio they had spent their tiny capital in building a small story-and-a-half cottage, ornamented with the jig-saw work and fancy turning popular in 1872, and this had been the nucleus of their present rambling, picturesque, many-roomed home. Every step in the long series of changes which had led from its first state to its last had a profound and gratifying significance for the Emerys, and its final condition, prosperous, modern, sophisticated, with the right kind of woodwork in every room that showed, with the latest, most unobtrusively artistic effects in decoration, represented their culminating well-earned position in the inner circle of the best society of Endbury.

Moreover, they felt that just as the house had been attained with effort, self-denial and careful calculations, yet still without incurring debt, so their social position had been secured by unremitting diligence and care, but with no loss of self-respect or even of dignity. They were honestly proud both of their house and of their list of acquaintances and saw no reason to regard them as less worthy achievements of an industrious life than their four creditable grown-up children or Judge Emery's honorable reputation at the bar. In their youth they had conceived of certain things as worth attaining. They had worked hard for these things and their unabashed pleasure in possessing them had the vivid and substantial quality which comes from a keen memory of battles with a world none too ready to grant human desires.

The two older children, George and Marietta, could remember those early struggling days with almost as fresh an emotion as that of their parents. Indeed, Marietta, now a competent, sharp-eyed matron of thirty-two, could not see the most innocuous colored lithograph without an uncontrollable wave of bitterness, so present to her mind was the period when they painfully groped their way out of chromos.

The date of that epoch coincided with the date of their first acquaintance with the Hollisters. The Hollisters were Endbury's First Family; literally so, for they had come up from their farm in Kentucky to settle in Endbury when it was but a frontier post. It was a part of their superiority over other families that their traditions took cognizance of the time when great stumps from the primeval forest stood in what was now Endbury's public square, the hub of interurban trolley traffic, whence the big, noisy cars started for their infinitely radiating journeys over the flat, fertile country about the little city. The particular Mrs. Hollister who, at the time the Emerys began to pierce the upper crust, was the leader of Endbury society, had discarded chromos as much as five years before. Mrs. Emery and Marietta, newly admitted to the honor of her acquaintance, wondered to themselves at the cold monotony of her black and white engravings. The artlessness of this wonder struck shame to their hearts when they chanced to learn that the lady had repaid it with a worldly-wise amusement at their own highly-colored waterfalls and snow-capped mountain-peaks. Marietta could recall as piercingly as if it were yesterday, in how crestfallen a chagrin she and her mother had gazed at their parlor after this incident, their disillusioned eyes open for the first time to the futility of its claim to sophistication. As for the incident that had led to the permanent retiring from their table of the monumental salt-and-pepper "caster" which had been one of their most prized wedding presents, the Emerys refused to allow themselves to remember it, so intolerably did it spell humiliation.

Even the oldest son, prosperous, well-established manufacturer that he was, could not recall without a shudder his first dinner-party. A branch of the Hollisters had moved next door to the Emerys and, to Mrs. Emery's great satisfaction, an easy neighborly acquaintance had sprung up between the two families. Secure in this familiarity, and not distinguishing the immense difference between a chance invitation to drop in to dinner and a formal invitation to dine, the young business-man had almost forgotten the date for which he had been bidden. Remembering it with a start, he had gone straight from his office to the house of his hosts, supposing that he would be able, as he had done many times before, to wash his face and hands in the bath-room and brush his hair in the room of the son of the house.

The sight of a black man in evening dress, who opened the door to him instead of the usual maid, sent a vague apprehension through his preoccupied mind, but it was not until he found himself in the room set apart for the masculine guests and saw everyone arrayed in "swallow-tails," as he thought of them, that he realized what he had done. The emotion of the moment was one that made a mark on his life.

He had an instant's wild notion of making some excuse to go home and dress, for his plight was by no means due to necessity. He had a correct outfit of evening clothes, bought at the urgent command of his mother, which he had worn several times at public dinners given by the city Board of Trade and once at a dancing party at the home of the head of his firm. However, the hard sense which made him successful in his business kept him from a final absurdity now. He had been seen, and he decided grimly that he would be, on the whole, a shade more laughable if he appeared later in a changed costume.

He was twenty-one years old at that time; he considered himself a man grown. He had been in business for five years and his foot was already set firmly on the ladder of commercial success on which he was to mount high, but not for nothing had he felt about him all his life the inextinguishable desire of his family to outgrow rusticity. He chided himself for unmanly pettiness, but the fact remained that throughout the interminable evening the sight of his gray striped trousers or colored cuffs affected him to a chagrin that was like a wave of physical nausea. Four years later he had married a handsome young lady from among the Hollister connections, and, moving away to Cleveland, where no memory of his antecedents could handicap him, had begun a new social career as eminently successful as his rapid commercial expansion. He forced himself sometimes to think of that long-past evening as one presses on a scar to learn how much soreness is left in an old wound, and he smiled at the little tragedy of egotism it had been to him. But it was a wry smile.

A brighter recollection to all the Emerys was the justly complacent and satisfied remembrance of the house grounds during the first really successful social event they had achieved. It was a lawn-fete, given for the benefit of St. Luke's church, which Mrs. Emery and Marietta had recently joined. Socially, it was the first fruits of their conversion from Congregationalism. The weather was fine, the roses were out, the very best people were there, the bazaar was profitable, and the dowager of the Hollister matrons had spoken warm words of admiration of the competent way in which the occasion had been managed to Mrs. Emery, smiling and flushed in an indomitably self-respecting pleasure. The older Emerys still sometimes spoke of that afternoon and evening as parents remember the hour when their baby first walked alone, with something of the same mixture of pride in the later achievements of the child and of tenderness for its early weakness.

The youngest of the Emerys, many years the junior of her brothers and sister, knew nothing at all of the anxious bitter-sweet of these early endeavors for sophistication. By the time she came to conscious, individual life the summit had been virtually reached. It is not to be denied that Lydia had witnessed several abrupt changes in the family ideal of household decoration or of entertaining, but since they were exactly contemporaneous with similar changes on the part of the Hollisters and other people in their circle, these revolutions of taste brought with them no sense of humiliation. Such, for instance, was the substitution for carpets of hardwood floors and rugs as oriental as the purse would allow. Lydia could remember gorgeously flowered carpets on every Emery floor, but since they also covered all the prosperous floors in town at the same time, it was not more painful to have found them attractive than to have worn immensely large sleeves or preposterously blousing shirt waists, to have ridden bicycles, or read E. P. Roe, or anything else that everybody used to do and did no more. She could remember, also, when charades and book-parties were considered amusing pastimes for grown-ups, but in passing beyond these primitive tastes the Emerys had been well abreast of their contemporaries. The last charade party had not been held in their parlors, they congratulated themselves.

A philosophic observer who had known the history of Mrs. Emery's life might have found something pathetic in her pleasure at Lydia's light-hearted jesting at the funny old things people used to think pretty and the absurd pursuits they used to think entertaining. It was to her a symbol that her daughter had escaped what had caused her so much suffering, the uneasy, self-distrusting dread lest she might still be finding pretty things that up-to-date people thought grotesque; lest suddenly what she had toiled so painfully to obtain should somehow turn out to be not the "right thing" after all. Marietta did not recall more vividly than did her mother the trying period that had elapsed between their new enlightenment on the subject of chromos and the day when an unexpected large fee from a client of Mr. Emery (not yet Judge) enabled them to hang their Protestant walls with engravings of pagan gods and Roman Catholic saints. For their problem had never been the simple one of merely discovering the right thing. There had always been added to it the complication of securing the right thing out of an income by no means limitless. The head of the household had enjoyed the success that might have been predicted from his whole-souled absorption in his profession, but Judge Emery came of old-fashioned rural stock with inelastic ideas of honesty, and though he was more than willing to toil early and late to supply funds for his family and satisfy whatever form of ambition his women-folk might decree to be the best one, he was not willing to take advantage of the perquisites of his position, and never, as the phrase in the town ran, "made on the side." Of his temptations and of his stout resistance to them, his wife and children knew no more, naturally, than of any of the other details of his professional life, which, according to the custom of their circle, were as remote and hidden from them as if he had departed each morning after his hearty early breakfast into another planet; but his wife was proud of the integrity which she divined in her husband and, as she often declared roundly to Marietta, would not have exchanged his good name for a much larger income.

Indeed, the acridity which for Marietta lingered about the recollection of their efforts to make themselves over did not exist in the more amply satisfied mind of her mother. The difference showed itself visibly in the contrast between the daughter's face, stamped with a certain tired, unflagging intensity of endeavor, and the freshness of the older woman. At thirty-two, Marietta looked, perhaps, no older than her age, but obviously more worn by the strain of life than her mother at fifty-six. Sometimes, as she noted in her mirror the sharp lines of a fatigue that was almost bitterness, she experienced a certain unnerving uncertainty, a total lack of zest for what she so eagerly struggled to attain, and she envied her mother's single-minded satisfaction in getting what she wanted.

Mrs. Emery had enjoyed the warfare of her life heartily; the victories for their own sake, the defeats because they had spurred her on to fresh and finally successful efforts, and the remembrance of both was sweet to her. She loved her husband for himself and for what he had been able to give her, and she loved her children ardently, although she had been sorely vexed by her second son's unfortunate marriage. He had always been a discordant note in the family concert, the veiled, unconscious, uneasy skepticism of Marietta bursting out openly in Henry as a careless, laughing cynicism, excessively disconcerting to his mother. She sometimes thought he had married the grocer's daughter out of "contrariness." The irritation which surrounded that event, and the play of cross-purposes and discord which had filled the period until the misguided young people had voluntarily exiled themselves to the Far West, remained more of a sore spot in Mrs. Emery's mind than any blow given or taken in her lifelong campaign for distinction. She admitted frankly to herself that it was a relief that Harry was no longer near her, although her mother's heart ached for the Harry he had seemed to her before his rebellion. She fancied that she would enjoy him as of old if the litter of inconvenient persons and facts lying between them could but be cleared away; with a voluntary blindness not uncommon in parents, refusing to recognize that these superficial differences were only the outward expression of a fundamental alienation within. At all events, it was futile to speculate about the matter, since the width of the continent and her son's intense distaste for letter-writing separated them. She had come, therefore, to turn all her attention and proud affection on her youngest child.

It seemed to her sometimes that Lydia had been granted her by a merciful Providence in order that she might make that "fresh start all over again" which is the never-realized ideal of erring humanity. Marietta had been a young lady fourteen years before, and fourteen years meant much—meant everything to people who progressed as fast as the Emerys. Uncertain of themselves, they had not ventured to launch Marietta boldly upon the waves of a society the chart of which was so new to them. She had no coming-out party. She simply put on long skirts, coiled her black hair on top of her head, and began going to evening parties with a few young men who were amused by the tart briskness of her tongue and attracted by the comeliness of her healthful youth. She had married the first man who proposed to her—a young insurance agent. Since then they had lived in a very comfortable, middling state of harmony, apparently on about the same social scale as Marietta's parents. That this feat was accomplished on a much smaller income was due to Marietta's unrivaled instinct and trained capacity for keeping up appearances.

All this history had been creditable, but nothing more; and Mrs. Emery often looked at her elder daughter with compunction for her own earlier ignorance and helplessness. She could have done so much more for Marietta if she had only known how. Mrs. Mortimer was, however, a rather prickly personality with whom to attempt to sympathize, and in general her mother felt the usual -in-law conclusion about her daughter's life: that Marietta could undoubtedly have done better than to marry her industrious, negligible husband, but that, on the whole, she might have done worse; and it was much to be hoped that her little boy would resemble the Emerys and not the Mortimers.

No such philosophical calm restrained her emotions about Lydia. She was in positive beauty and charm all that poor Marietta had not been, and she was to have in the way of backing and management all that poor Marietta had lacked. It seemed to Mrs. Emery that her whole life had been devoted to learning what to do and what not to do for Lydia. As the time of action drew nearer she nerved herself for the campaign with a finely confident feeling that she knew every inch of the ground. Her expectancy grew more and more tense as her eagerness rose. During the long year that Lydia was in Europe, receiving a final gloss, even higher than that imparted by the expensive and exclusive girls' school where she had spent the years between fourteen and eighteen, Mrs. Emery laid her plans and arranged her life with a fervent devotion to one end—the success of Lydia's first season in society. Every room in the house seemed to her vision to stand in a bright vacancy awaiting the arrival of the debutante.



CHAPTER II

AMERICAN BEAUTIES

On the morning of Lydia's long-expected return, as Mrs. Emery moved restlessly about the large double parlors opening out on a veranda where the vines were already golden in the September sunlight, it seemed to her that the very walls were blank in hushed eagerness and that the chairs and tables turned faces like hers, tired with patience, toward the open door. She had not realized until the long separation was almost over how unendurably she had missed her baby girl, as she still thought of the tall girl of nineteen. She could not wait the few hours that were left. Her fortitude had given way just too soon. She must have the dear child now, now, in her arms.

She moved absently a spray of goldenrod which hid a Fra Angelico angel over the mantel and noted with dramatic self-pity that her hand was trembling. She sat down suddenly, and lost herself in a vain attempt to recall the well-beloved sound of Lydia's fresh young voice. A knot came in her throat, and she covered her face with her large, white, carefully-manicured hands.

Marietta came in briskly a few moments later, bringing a bouquet of asters from her own garden. She was dressed, as always, with a severe reticence in color and line which, though due to her extreme need for economy, nevertheless gave to the rather spare outlines of her tall figure a distinction, admired by Endbury under the name of stylishness. Her rapid step had carried her half-way across the wide room before she saw to her surprise that her mother, usually so self-contained, was giving way to an inexplicable emotion.

"Good gracious, Mother!" she began in the energetic fashion which was apt to make her most neutral remarks sound combative.

Mrs. Emery dried her eyes with a gesture of protest, adjusted her gray pompadour deftly, and cut off her daughter's remonstrance, "Oh, you needn't tell me I'm foolish, Marietta. I know it. I just suddenly got so impatient it didn't seem as though I could wait another minute!"

The younger woman accepted this explanation of the tears with a murmured sound of somewhat enigmatic intonation. Her thin dark face settled into a repose that had a little grimness in it. She began putting the flowers into a vase that stood between the reproduction of a Giotto Madonna and a Japanese devil-hunt, both results of the study of art taken up during the past winter by her mother's favorite woman's club. Mrs. Emery watched the process in the contemplative relief which follows an emotional outbreak, and her eyes wandered to the objects on either side the vase. The sight stirred her to speech. "Oh, Marietta, how do you suppose the house will seem to Lydia after she has seen so much? I hope she won't be disappointed. I've done so much to it this last year, perhaps she won't like it. And Oh, I was so tried because we weren't able to get the new sideboard put up in the dining-room yesterday!"

Mrs. Mortimer glanced without smiling at a miniature of her sister, blooming in a shrine-like arrangement on her mother's writing-desk. She shook her dark head with a gesture like her father's, and said with his blunt decisiveness, "Really, Mother, you must draw the line about Lydia. She's only human. I guess if the house is good enough for you and father it is good enough for her."

She crossed the room toward the door with a brisk rattle of starched skirts, but as she passed her mother her hand was caught and held. "That's just it, Marietta—that's just what came over me! Is what's good enough for us good enough for Lydia? Won't anything, even the best, in Endbury be a come-down for her?"

The slightly irritated impatience with which Mrs. Mortimer had listened to the first words of this speech gave way to a shrewd amusement. "You mean that you've put Lydia up on such a high plane to begin with that whichever way she goes will be a step down," she asked.

"Yes, yes; that's just it," breathed her mother, unconscious of any irony in her daughter's accent. She fixed her eyes, which, in spite of her having long since passed the half-century mark, were still very clear and blue, anxiously upon Marietta's opaque dark ones. She felt not only a need to be reassured in general by anyone, but a reluctant faith in the younger woman's judgment.

Marietta released herself with a laugh that was like a light, mocking tap on her mother's shoulder. "Well, folks that haven't got real worries will certainly manufacture them! To worry about Lydia's future in Endbury! Aren't you afraid the sun won't rise some day? If ever there was any girl that had a smooth road in front of her—"

The door-bell rang. "They've come! They've come!" cried Mrs. Emery wildly.

"Lydia wouldn't ring the bell, and her train isn't due till ten," Mrs. Mortimer reminded her.

"Oh, yes. Well, then, it's the new sideboard. I am so—"

"It's a boy with a big pasteboard box," contradicted Mrs. Mortimer, looking down the hall to the open front door.

Seeing someone there to receive it, the boy set the box inside the screen door and started down the steps.

"Bring it here! Bring it here!" called Mrs. Mortimer, commandingly.

"It's for Lydia," said Mrs. Emery, looking at the address. She spoke with an accent of dramatic intensity, and a flush rose to her fair cheeks.

Her olive-skinned daughter looked at her and laughed. "What did you expect?"

"But he didn't care enough about her coming home to be in town to-day!" Mrs. Emery's maternal vanity flared up hotly.

Mrs. Mortimer laughed again and began taking the layers of crumpled wax-paper out of the box. "Oh, that was the trouble with you, was it? That's nothing. He had to be away to see about a new electrical plant in Dayton. Did you ever know Paul Hollister to let anything interfere with business?" This characterization was delivered with an intonation that made it the most manifest praise.

Her mother seconded it with unquestioning acquiescence. "No, that's a fact; I never did."

Mrs. Mortimer in her turn had an accent of dramatic intensity as she cried out, "Oh! they are American Beauties! The biggest I ever saw!"

The two women looked at the flowers, almost awestruck at their size.

"Have you a vase?" Mrs. Mortimer asked dubiously.

Mrs. Emery rose to the occasion. "The Japanese umbrella stand."

There was a pause as they reverently arranged the great sheaf of enormous flowers. Then Mrs. Emery began, "Marietta—" She hesitated.

"Well," Mrs. Mortimer prompted her, a little impatiently.

"Do you really think that he—that Lydia—?"

Marietta accepted with a somewhat pinched smile her mother's boundary lines of reticence. "Of course. Did you ever know Paul Hollister to give up anything he wanted?"

Her mother shook her head.

Mrs. Mortimer rose with a "Well, then!" and the air of one who has said all there is to be said on a subject, and again crossed the room toward the door. Her mother drifted aimlessly in that direction also, as though swept along by the other's energy.

"Well, it's a pity he is not here now, anyhow," she said, adding in a spirited answer to her daughter's expression, "Now, you needn't look that way, Marietta. You know yourself that Lydia is very romantic and fanciful. It would be a very different matter if she were like Madeleine Hollister. She wouldn't need any managing."

Mrs. Mortimer smiled at the idea. "Yes, I'd like to see somebody try to manage Paul's sister," she commented.

"They wouldn't have to," her mother pointed out, "she's so levelheaded and sane. But Lydia's different. It's part of her loveliness, of course, only you do have to manage her. And she'll be in a very unsettled state for the first week or two after she gets home after such a long absence. The impressions she gets then—well, I wish he were here!"

Mrs. Mortimer waved her hand toward the roses.

"Of course, of course," assented her mother, subsiding peaceably down the scale from anxiety to confidence with the phrase. She looked at the monstrous flowers with the gaze of acquired admiration so usual in her eyes. "They don't look much like roses, do they?" she remarked irrelevantly.

Mrs. Mortimer turned in the doorway, her face expressing an extreme surprise. "Good gracious, no," she cried. "Why, of course not. They cost a dollar and a half apiece."

She did not stop to hear her mother's vaguely assenting reply. Mrs. Emery heard her firm, rapid tread go down the hall to the front door and then suddenly stop. Something indefinable about the pause that followed made the mother's heart beat thickly. "What is it, Marietta?" she called, but her voice was lost in Mrs. Mortimer's exclamation of surprise, "Why it can't be—why, Lydia!"

As from a great distance, the mother heard a confused rush in the hall, and then, piercing through the dreamlike unreality of the moment, came the sweet, high note of a girl's voice, laughing, but with the liquid uncertainty of tears quivering through the mirth. "Oh, Marietta! Where's Mother? Aren't you all slow-pokes—not a soul to meet us at the train—where's Mother? Where's Mother? Where's—" The room swam around Mrs. Emery as she stood up looking toward the door, and the girl who came running in, her dark eyes shining with happy tears, was not more real than the many visions of her that had haunted her mother's imagination during the lonely year of separation. At the clasp of the young arms about her face took light as from an inner source, and breath came back to her in a sudden gasp. She tried to speak, but the only word that came was "Lydia! Lydia! Lydia!"

The girl laughed, a half-sob breaking her voice as she answered whimsically, "Well, who did you expect to see?"

Mrs. Mortimer performed her usual function of relieving emotional tension by putting a strong hand on Lydia's shoulder and spinning her about. "Come! I want to see if it is you—and how you look."

For a moment the ardent young creature stood still in a glowing quiet. She drank in the dazzled gaze of admiration of the two women with an innocent delight. The tears were still in Mrs. Emery's eyes, but she did not raise a hand to dry them, smitten motionless by the extremity of her proud satisfaction. Never again did Lydia look to her as she did at that moment, like something from another sphere, like some bright, unimaginably happy being, freed from the bonds that had always weighed so heavily on all the world about her mother.

Before she could draw breath, Lydia moved and was changed. Her mother saw suddenly, with that emotion which only mothers know, reminiscences of little-girlhood, of babyhood, even of long-dead cousins and aunts, in the lovely face blooming under the wide hat. She felt the sweet momentary confusion of individuality, the satisfied sense of complete ownership which accompanies a strong belief in family ties. Lydia was not only altogether entrancing, but she was of the same stuff with those who loved her so dearly. It gave a deeper note to her mother's passion of affectionate pride.

The girl turned with a pretty, defiant tilt of her head. "Well, and how do I look?" she asked; and before she could be answered she flew at Mrs. Mortimer with a gentle roughness, clasping her arms around her waist until the matron gasped. "You look too good to be true—both of you—if you are such lazybones that you wouldn't go to the station to meet the prodigal daughter!"

"Well, if you will come on an earlier train than you telegraphed—" began Mrs. Mortimer, "Everybody's getting ready to meet you with a brass band. What did you do with Father?"

The girl moved away, putting her hands up to her hat uncertainly as though about to take out the hat-pins. There was between the three a moment of that constraint which accompanies the transition from emotional intensity down to an everyday level. In Lydia's voice there was even a little flatness as she answered, "Oh, he put me in the hack and went off to see about business. I heard him 'phoning something to somebody about a suit. We got through the customs sooner than we thought we could, you see, and caught an earlier train."

Mrs. Emery turned her adoring gaze from Lydia's slim beauty and looked inquiringly at her elder daughter. Mrs. Mortimer understood, and nodded.

"What are you two making faces about?" Lydia turned in time to catch the interchange of glances.

Mrs. Emery hesitated. Marietta spoke with a crisp straightforwardness which served as well in this case as nonchalance for keeping her remark without undue significance. "We were just wondering if now wasn't a good time to show you what Paul Hollister did for your welcome home. He couldn't be here himself, so he sent those." She nodded toward the bouquet.

As Lydia turned toward the flowers her two elders fixed her with the unscrupulously scrutinizing gaze of blood-relations; but their microscopic survey showed them nothing in the girl's face, already flushed and excited by her home-coming, beyond a sudden amused surprise at the grotesque size of the tribute.

"Why, for mercy's sake! Did you ever see such monsters! They are as big as my head! Look!" She whirled her hat from the pretty disorder of her brown hair and poised it on the topmost of the great flowers, stepping back to see the effect and laughing, "They don't look any more like roses, do they?" she added, turning to her mother. Mrs. Emery's answer rose so spontaneously to her lips that she was not aware that she was echoing Marietta. "Good gracious, no; of course not. They cost a dollar and a half apiece."

Lydia neither assented to nor dissented from this apothegm. It started another train of thought in her mind. "As much as all that! Why, Paul oughtn't to be so extravagant! He can't afford it, and I should have liked something else just as—"

Her sister broke in with an ample gesture of negation. "You don't know Paul. If he goes on the way he's started—he's district sales manager for southern Ohio already."

Lydia paid to this information the passing tribute of a moment's uncomprehending surprise. "Think of that! The last time Paul told me about himself he was working day and night in Schenectady, learning the business, and getting—oh, I don't know—fifty cents an hour, or some such starvation wages."

Mrs. Mortimer's bitterly acquired sense of values revolted at this. "What are you talking about, Lydia? Fifty cents an hour starvation wages!"

"Well, perhaps it was five cents an hour. I don't remember. And he worked with his hands and was always in danger of getting shot through with a million volts of electricity or mashed with a breaking fly-wheel or something. He said electricians were the soldiers of modern civilization. I told that to a German woman we met on the boat when she said Americans have no courage because they don't fight duels. The idea!"

She began pulling off her gloves, with a quick energetic gesture. Mrs. Mortimer went on, "Well, he certainly has a brilliant future before him. Everybody says that—" She stopped, struck by her rather heavy emphasis on the theme and by a curious look from Lydia. The girl did not blush, she did not seem embarrassed, but for a moment the childlike clarity of her look was clouded by an expression of consciousness.

Mrs. Emery made a rush upon her, drawing her away toward the door with a displeased look at Marietta. "Never mind about Paul's prospects," she said. "With Lydia just this minute home, to begin gossiping about the neighbors! Come up to your room, darling, and see the little outdoor sitting-room we've had fixed over the porch."

Mrs. Mortimer was not given to bearing chagrin, even a passing one, with undue self-restraint. She threw into the intonation of her next sentence her resentment at the rebuke from her mother. "I still live, you know, even if Lydia has come home!" As Mrs. Emery turned with a look of apology, she added, "Oh, I only wanted to make you turn around so that I could tell you that I am going to bring my two men-folks over here to-night, to the gathering of the clans, and that I must go home until then. Dr. Melton and Aunt Julia are coming, aren't they?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Lydia. "It doesn't seem to me I can wait to see Godfather. I sort of half hoped he might be here now."

"Well, Lydia!" her mother reproached her jealously.

"Oh, you might as well give in, Mother, Lydia likes the little old doctor better than any of the rest of us."

"He talks to me," said Lydia defensively.

"We never say a word," commented Mrs. Mortimer.

Lydia broke away from her mother's close clasp and ran back to her sister. She was always running, as though to keep up with the rapidity of her swift impulses. She held her subtly-curved cheek up to the other's strongly-marked face. "You just kiss me, Etta dear," she pleaded softly, "and stop teasing."

Mrs. Mortimer looked long into the clear dark eyes with an unmoved countenance. Then her face melted suddenly till she looked like her mother. She put her arms about the girl with a fervent gesture of tenderness. "Dear little Lydia," she murmured, with a quaver in her voice.



CHAPTER III

PICKING UP THE THREADS

After she was alone she looked again at the miniature of Lydia. The youthful radiance of the face had singularly the effect of a perfect flower. Mrs. Mortimer glanced at the hat still drooping its wide brim over the rose where Lydia had forgotten it, and stood still in a reverie that had, from her aspect, something of sadness in it. After a moment she sighed out, "Poor little Lydia!"

"What's the matter with Lydia?" asked someone behind her.

She turned and faced a dark, elderly personage, the robust dignity of whose bearing was now tempered with shamefacedness. Mrs. Mortimer's face sharpened in affectionate malice. "What are you doing here at this hour of the morning?" she asked with a humorously exaggerated air of amazement. "No self-respecting man is ever seen in his house during business hours!" She went on, "Oh, I know well enough. You let Mother have her first to make up for her being sick and not able to go to meet her ship; but you can't stay away."

The Judge waved her raillery away with a smile. The physical resemblance between father and daughter was remarkable. "I asked you what was the matter with Lydia," he repeated.

Mrs. Mortimer's face clouded. "Oh, it's a hateful, horrid sort of world we're all so eager to push her into. It's like a can full of angleworms, everlastingly squirming and wriggling to get to the top. I was just thinking that it would be better for her, maybe, if she could always stay a little girl and travel 'round to see things."

"Why, Etta! I tell you I'm glad to have Lydia get through with her traveling 'round. Maybe I can see something of her if I hurry up and do it now before your mother gets things going. I won't after that, of course. I never have."

To this his daughter had one of her abrupt, disconcerting responses. "You'd better hurry and do it before you get so deep in some important trial that you wouldn't know Lydia from a plaster image. There are more reasons than just Mother and card parties why you don't see much of her, I guess."

Judge Emery forbore to argue the point. "Where are they now?" he asked.

"Oh, upstairs, out of my way. Mother's usual state of mind about Lydia is more so than ever, I warn you. She thought I wasn't refined enough company."

"Now, Etta, you know your mother never thought any such thing."

"Well, I know she was inconsistent, whatever she thought. While we were here alone she was speculating about Paul Hollister like anything. And yet, because I just happened to mention to Lydia that he is getting on in the world, I got put down as if I'd tried to make her marry him for his prospects."

There was an edge in her voice which her father deprecated, rubbing his shaven chin mildly. He deplored the appearance of a flaw in the smooth surface of harmony he loved to see in his family.

"Well, you know, Marietta, we aim to have everything about right for Lydia. She's all we've got left now the rest of you are settled."

The deepening of the careworn lines in the woman's face seemed a justification for the undisguised bitterness of her answer. "I don't see why nobody must breathe a word to her about what everybody knows is so. What's the use of pretending that we'd be satisfied or she'd be comfortable a minute if Paul didn't promise to be a money-maker—or at least to have a good income?"

She turned away and walked rapidly down the hall, followed by her father, half apologetic, half reproachful. "Why, Daughter, you don't grudge your sister! We couldn't do so much for you; but we're better off since you were a young lady and we want Lydia to have the benefit."

Mrs. Mortimer paused on the veranda and stood looking in a troubled silence at the broad, well-kept lawn, stretching down to the asphalt street, shaded by vigorous young maples. Her father waited for her to speak, too good a lawyer to spoil by superfluous words the effect of a well-calculated appeal.

Finally she turned to him contritely. "I'm hateful, Dad, and I'm sorry. Of course I don't grudge dear little Lydia anything. Only I have a pretty hard time of it scratching along, and when I'm awfully tired of contriving and calculating how to manage somehow and anyhow, it's hard to come up to the standard of saying everything's lovely that you and Mother want for Lydia."

"Anything the trouble specially?" asked her father guardedly.

"Oh, no; same old thing. Keeping up a two-maid and a man establishment on a one-maid income, and mostly not being able to hire the one maid. There aren't any girls to be had lately. It means I have to be the other maid and the man all of the time, and all three, part of the time." She was starting down the step, but paused as though she could not resist the relief that came from expression. "And the cost of living—the necessities are bad enough, but the other things—the things you have to have not to be out of everything! I lie awake nights. I think of it in church. I can't think of anything else but the way the expenses mount up. Everybody's getting so reckless and extravagant and I won't go into debt! I'll come to it, though. Everybody else does! We're the only people that haven't oriental rugs now. Why, the Gilberts—and everybody knows how much they still owe Dr. Melton for Ellen's appendicitis, and their grocer told Ralph they owe him several hundred dollars—well, they have just got an oriental rug that they paid a hundred and sixty dollars for. Mrs. Gilbert said they 'just had to have it, and you can always have what you have to have.' It makes me sick! Our parlor looks so common! And the last dinner party we gave cost—" She detected a wavering in her father's attention, as though he were listening for sounds inside the house, and broke off abruptly with a hurt and impatient "Oh, well, no matter!" and ran down the steps.

Judge Emery called after with a relieved belittling of her complaints, "Oh, if that's all you mean. Why, that's half the fun. I remember when you were a baby your mother did the washings so that we could have a nurse to take you out with the other children and their nurses."

Mrs. Mortimer was palpably out of earshot before he finished his exhortation, so he wasted no more breath but turned back eagerly in response to a call from Lydia, who came skimming down the hall. "Oh, Daddy dearest, it's a jewel of a little sitting-room, the one you fixed up for me—and Mother says we can serve punch there the night of my coming-out party."

Mrs. Emery was at her heels. Her husband laughed at his wife's expression, and drew her toward him. "Here, Mother, stop staring at Lydia long enough to welcome me home, too." He bent over her and rubbed his cheek against hers. "Come, tell me the news. Are you feeling better?" He gave her a little playful push toward the door of the parlor. "Here, let's go in and visit for a while. I'm an old fool! I can't do any work this morning. I kept Lydia from telling me a thing all the way from New York, so that we could hear it together."

Lydia protested. "Tell you! After those monstrous great letters I've written! There's nothing you don't know. There's nothing much to tell, anyhow. I've been museumed and picture-galleried, and churched, and cultured generally, till I'm full—up to there!" She drew her hand across her slim white throat and added cheerfully, "But I forgot the most of that the last three months in Paris. Nearly every girl in the party was going home to come out in society, and of course we just concentrated on clothes. You don't mind, do you?"

As she hesitated, with raised eyebrows of doubt, her mother, heedless of what she was saying, was suddenly overcome by her appealing look and drew her close with a rush of little incoherent tender cries choked with tears. It was as though she were seeing her for the first time. Judge Emery twice tried to speak before his husky voice was under control. He patted his wife on the shoulder. "There, there, Mother," he said vaguely. To Lydia he went on, "You've been gone quite a while, you know, and—well, till you have a baby-girl of your own I guess you won't have much notion of how we feel."

Lydia's dark eyes filled, responsive to the emotion about her. "I'm just about distracted," she cried. "I love everybody and everything so, I can't stand it! I want to kiss you both and I can't make up my mind which to kiss first—and it's that way about everything! It's all so good I don't know what to begin on." She brought their faces together and achieved a simultaneous kiss with a shaky laugh. "Now, look here! If we stand here another minute we'll all cry. Come and show me the house. I want to see every single thing. All the old things, and all the new ones Mother's been writing about." She seized their hands and pulled them into the parlor. "I've been in this room already, but I didn't see it. I don't believe I even touched the floor when I walked, I was so excited. Oh, it's lovely—it's lovely!"

She darted about the room like a humming-bird, recognizing what was familiar with fond little exclamations. "Oh, that darling little wicker chair!—the picture of the dog!—oh! oh! here's my china lamb!" and crying out in admiration over new acquisitions.

"Oh, Mother, what a perfectly lovely couch—sofa—what do you call it? Why, it is so beautifully different! Wherever did you get that?"

Mrs. Emery turned to her husband. "There, Nathaniel, what did I tell you?" she triumphed.

"That's one of your mother's latest extravagances," explained Judge Emery. "There's a crazy fad in Endbury for special handmade furniture. Maybe it's all right, but I can't see it's so much better than what you buy in the department stores. Grand Rapids is good enough for me."

"He doesn't like the man who made it," said Mrs. Emery accusingly.

"What's the matter with him?" asked Lydia, rubbing her hand luxuriously over the satin-smooth, lusterless wood of the sofa's high back.

Judge Emery replied, with his laugh of easy, indifferent tolerance for everything outside the profession of the law, "Oh, I never said I didn't like him; I only said he struck me as a crack-brained, self-willed, conceited—"

Lydia laughed. She thought her father's dry, ironic turns very witty.

"I never saw anything conceited about him," protested Mrs. Emery, admitting the rest of the indictment.

Judge Emery sat down on the sofa in question and pulled his tie into shape. "Well, folks are always conceited who find the ordinary ways of doing things not good enough for them. Lydia, what do you think of this tie? Nobody pays a proper attention to my ties but you."

"I've brought you some beauties from London," said Lydia. Then reverting with a momentary curiosity to the subject they had left, "Whatever does this man do that's so queer?"

"Oh, he's just one of the back-to-all-fours faddists," said her father.

"Back-to-all-fours?" Lydia was dim as to his meaning, but willing to be amused.

"That's just your father's way," exclaimed Mrs. Emery, who had not her daughter's fondness for the Judge's tricks of speech.

"He lives as no Dago ditch-digger with a particle of get-up-and-get in him would be willing to," said Judge Emery finally.

Lydia turned to her mother.

"Why, it's nothing that would interest you in the least, dear," said the matron, taking in admiringly Lydia's French dress. "Only for a little while everybody was talking about how strangely he acted. He was an insurance man, like Marietta's husband, and getting on finely, when all of a sudden, for no reason on earth, he threw it all up and went to live in the woods. Do you mean to say you only paid twenty dollars for that dress?"

"In the woods!" repeated Lydia.

"Yes; the real woods. His father was a farmer, and left him—why you know, you've been there ever so many times—the Black Rock woods, the picnic woods. He has built him a little hut there and makes his furniture out of the trees."

Lydia's passing curiosity had faded. "Not quite twenty, even—only ninety-two francs," she at last answered her mother's question. "You never saw anything like the bargains there in summertime. Well, I should think your carpenter man was crazy." She glanced down with satisfaction at the hang of her skirt.

"Oh, not dangerous," her mother reassured her; "just socialistic, I suppose, and all that sort of thing."

"Well, who's crazier than a socialist?" cried her father genially. He added, "Where are you going, Daughter?"

Lydia stopped in the doorway, with a look of apology for her lack of interest in their talk. "I thought I'd just slip into the hall and see if there's anything new there. There's so much I want to see—all at once."

Her fond impatience brought her parents forward with a start of pleasure, and the tour of inspection began. She led them from one room to another, swooping with swallow-like motions upon them for sudden caresses, dazzling them with her changing grace. She liked it all—all—she told them, a thousand times better than she remembered. She liked the new arrangement of the butler's pantry; she loved the library for being all done over new; she adored the hall for being left exactly the way it was. The dining-room was the best of all, she declared, with so much that was familiar and so much that was new. "Only no sideboard," she commented. "Have they gone out of fashion while I was away?"

Mrs. Emery, whose delight at Lydia's approval had been mounting with every breath, looked vexed. "I knew you'd notice that!" she said. "We tried so hard to get the new one put in before you got back, but Mr. Rankin won't deliver a thing till it's just so!"

"Rankin!" cried Lydia, stopping so short in one of her headlong rushes across the room that she gave the impression of having encountered an invisible obstacle, "Who's that?"

"Oh, that's the crazy cabinet-maker we were talking about. The one who—"

"Why, I've met a Mr. Rankin," said Lydia, with more emphasis than the statement seemed to warrant.

"It's a common enough name," said her mother, struck oddly by her accent.

"But here, in Endbury. Only it can't be the same person. He wasn't queer; he was awfully nice. I met him once when a crowd of us were out skating that last Christmas I was home from school; the time when you and Father were in Washington and left me at Dr. Melton's with Aunt Julia. I used to see him there a lot. He used to talk to the doctor by the hour, and Aunt Julia and I were doing that set of doilies in Hardanger work and we used to sit and sew and count threads and listen."

"That's the one," said her father. "Melton has one of his flighty notions that the man is something wonderful."

"But he wasn't queer or anything then!" protested Lydia. "He never talked to me any, of course, I was such a kid, but it was awfully interesting to hear him and Godfather go on about morals, and the universe, and the future of man, and such—I never heard such talk before or after—but it can't be that one!" Lydia broke off to marvel incredulously at the possibility. "He was—why, he was awfully nice!" she fell back on reiteration to help out her affirmation.

"They say there's queer blood in the family, and I guess he's got his share," Judge Emery summed up and dismissed the case with a gesture of finality. He glanced up at a tall clock standing in the corner, compared its time with his watch, exclaimed impatiently, "Slow again!" and addressed himself with a householder's seriousness to setting it right.

A new aspect of the matter they had been discussing struck Lydia. "But what does he—what do people do about him?" she asked.

This misty inquiry was as intelligible to her mother as a cipher to the holders of a key. "Oh, he's very nice about that. He has dropped out of society completely and keeps out of everybody's way. Of course you see him when he comes to set up a piece of his furniture or to take an order, but that's all. And he used to be so popular!" The regret in the last clause was that of a thrifty person before waste of any kind. "I understand he still goes to Dr. Melton's a good deal, but that just counts him in as one of the doctor's collection of freaks; it doesn't mean anything. You know how your godfather goes on about—" She broke off to look out the window. "Oh, Lydia! your trunks are here. Quick! where are your keys? It seems as though I couldn't wait to see your dresses!" She hurried to the door and vanished.

Lydia did not stir for a moment. She was looking down at the table, absorbed in watching the dim reflections of her pink finger-tips as she pressed them one after another upon the dark polished wood. Her father opened the door of the clock with a little click, but she did not heed it. She drew her hand away from the table and inspected her finger-tips intently, as though to detect some change in them. When her father closed the clock-door and turned away she started, as though she had forgotten his presence. Her gaze upon him gave him an odd feeling of wonder, which he took to be apologetic realization that he had spent a longer time oblivious of her than he had meant. His explanation had a little compunction in it. "I have a time with that pendulum always. I can't seem to get it the right length!"

Lydia continued to look at him blankly for a moment. Then she drew a long breath and took an aimless step away from the table. "Well, if that isn't too queer for anything!" she exclaimed.

Judge Emery stared. "Why, no; it's quite common in pendulum clocks," he told her.



CHAPTER IV

THE DAWN

The morning after her return from Europe, Lydia awoke with a start, as though in answer to a call. The confusion of the last days had been such that she had for a moment the not uncommon experience of an entire blankness as to her whereabouts and identity. Realization of where and who she was came back to her with much more than the usual neutral relief at slipping into one's own personality as into the first protection available against the vague horror of nihility. After an instant's uncomfortable wandering in chaos, Lydia found herself with a thrill of exultation. She was not negatively relieved that she was somebody; she rejoiced to find herself Lydia Emery. She pounced on her own personality with a positive joy which for a moment moved her to a devout thanksgiving.

It all seemed, as she said to herself, too good to be true—certainly more than she deserved. Among her unmerited blessings she quaintly placed being herself, but this was the less naive in that she placed among her blessings nearly everything of which she was conscious in her world. Her world at this time was not a large one, and every element in it seemed to her ideal. Her loving, indulgent father, who always had a smile for her as he looked up over his newspaper at the table, and who, though she knew he was too good to be wealthy, always managed somehow to pay for dresses just a little prettier than other girls' clothes; her devoted, idolizing mother, whose one thought was for her daughter's pleasure; her rich big Brother George in Cleveland, whom she saw so seldom, but whose handsome presents testified to an affection that was to be numbered among the objects of her gratitude; good, sharp-tongued Sister Etta, who said such quick, bright things and ran her house so wonderfully; Aunt Julia, dear, dear Aunt Julia, whose warm heart was one of Lydia's happiest homes, and Aunt Julia's brother, Dr. Melton—ah, how could anyone be grateful enough for such an all-comprehending, quick-helping, ever-ready ally, teacher, mentor, playmate, friend and comrade as her godfather!

As she lay in her soft white bed and looked about her pretty room with an ineffable sense of well-being, it seemed to her that everything that had happened to her was lovely and that the prospect of her future could contain only a crescendo of good-fortune. It was not that she imagined for herself a future remarkably different in detail from what was the past of the people about her. Even now at what she felt was the beginning of the first chapter, she knew the general events of the story before her; but this morning she was penetrated with the keenest sense of the unfathomable difference it made in those events in that they were about to happen to her. She had been passively watching the excited faces of people hurling themselves down-hill on toboggans, but now she was herself poised on the crest of the slope, tense with an excitement not only more real, but somehow more vital to the scheme of things, than that felt by other people who had made the thrilling trip before her.

She lay still for a few moments, luxuriating in the innocent egotism of this view of her future, which was none the less absorbing for being so entirely unterrifying, and then sprang up, impatient to begin it. No one else in the house was awake. She saw with surprise that it was barely five o'clock. She wondered that she felt so little sleepy, since she had been up late the night before. All the family and connections had gathered, and she had talked with an eager breathlessness and had listened as eagerly to pick up all those details of home news which do not go into letters; those insignificant changes and events that make up the physiognomy of an existence, without which one cannot again become an integral part of a life once familiar. It had been a fatiguing, illuminating evening.

A change of mood had come in the night. As she dressed she felt that, in some way, neither the fatigue nor the illumination had lasted on through the blankness of her sound young sleep. She felt restlessly fresh and vigorous, like a creature born anew with the morning light, and she did not feel herself as yet an integral part of the busy, absorbing life to which she had returned. The countless tendrils of Endbury feelings, standards, activities, brushed against her, but had not as yet laid hold on her. Europe had never been more real to her young-lady eyes than an immense World's Exposition, rather overwhelmingly full of objects to be inspected, and now, here in Ohio, even that impression was dim and remote. But so, also, was Endbury; she had left the one, she had not yet arrived at the other. She felt herself for the moment in a neutral territory that was scarcely terrestrial.

The silent house was a kingdom of delight to be rediscovered. She wandered about it, enchanted with the impressions which her solitude gave her leisure to savor and digest. She threw open a window, and was struck with the sweet freshness of the morning air, as though it were a joy new in the history of the world. She looked out on the lawn, with its dew-studded cobwebs, and felt her heart contract with pleasure. When she stepped out on the veranda, the look of the trees, the breath of the light wind across her cheek, the odor of dawn, all the indefinable personality of that early hour was like an enchantment about her.

She ran out to her favorite arbor and plucked one of the heavy clusters of purple grapes, finding their cool acidity an exquisite surprise. She raised her face to the sky with wonder. She had never, it seemed to her, seen so pure yet colorful a sky. The horizon was still faintly flushed with the promise of a dawn already fulfilled in the fresh splendor of the sunbeams slanting across the fresh splendor of her own youth.

Never again did Lydia see the things she saw that morning. Never again did she have so unquestioningly the happy child's conception of the whole world as magically centered in indulgent kindness about herself. As she looked up the clean, empty street stretching away under the shade of its thrifty young trees, it seemed made only to lead her forward into the life for which she had been so long preparing herself. Endbury, with its shops, its bustle of factories so unmeaning to her, the great bulk of its inexplicable "business," existed only as the theater upon the stage of which she was to play the leading role in the drama of life—she almost consciously thought of it in those terms—which, after some exciting and pleasurable incidents and a few thrilling situations, was to have a happy ending, none the less actual to her mind because lost in so vague a golden shimmer. Her father's house, as familiar to her as her hand, took on a new and rich dignity as the background for the unfolding of that wonderful creature, herself; that unknown, future, grown-up self, which was to be all that everyone who loved her expected, and more than she in her inexperience knew how to expect.

She was in a little heaven, made up of the most ingenuous aspirations, the innocence of which seemed to her a guarantee of their certain fulfillment. Her fervent desire to be good was equal to and of the same quality as her desire to be a successful debutante. It would make her family so happy to have her both. These somewhat widely diverging aims were all a part of the current of her life, the impulse to be what those she loved would like to have her. It was not that she was willing to give up her own individuality to gratify the impulse, but rather that she did not for an instant conceive of the necessity for such a sacrifice. It was part of her immense happiness that she had always loved to be what it pleased everyone to have her, and that, apparently, people wished to have her only what she wished to be. She was like a child guarded by her elders from any knowledge of forbidden food. All the goodies of which she had ever heard were hers for the asking. In such a carefully arranged nursery it would be perversity to doubt the everlasting quality of the coincidence between one's desires and one's obedience. It was no more remarkable a coincidence than that both dew and sunshine were good for the grass over which she now ran lightly to another corner of the grounds about her parents' house. Here, just outside the circle of deep shade cast by an exuberantly leaved maple, she stood for a moment, her hands full of grapes, her eyes wandering about the green, well-kept double acres called diversely in the family "the grounds" (Mrs. Emery's name) and "the yard." Lydia always clung to her father's name; she had very little inborn feeling for the finer shades of her mother's vocabulary. Mrs. Emery rejoiced in the careless unconsciousness of the importance of such details, but she felt that Lydia should be cautioned against going too far. It was one of the girl's odd ways to be fond of the few phrases left over in the Emery dictionary from their simpler earlier days. She always called the two servants "the girls" or "the help" instead of "the maids," spoke of the "washwoman" instead of the "laundress," and, as did her father, called the man who took care of the grounds, ran the furnace, and drove the Emery's comfortable surrey, the "hired man" instead of the "gardener" or the "coachman," or, in Mrs. Emery's elegantly indefinite phrase, "our man."

Lydia explained this whimsical reaction rather incoherently by saying that those nice old words were so much more fun than the others, and in spite of remonstrance she clung to her fancy with so lightly laughing an obstinacy that neither she nor anyone suspected it of being a surface indication of a significant tendency.

She had occasionally other droll little ways of differing from the family, which were called indulgently "Lydia's notions." Her mother would certainly have thus named this flight out into the early morning. She would have found extravagant, and a little disconcerting, the completeness of Lydia's content in so simple a thing as standing in the first sunshine of an early morning in September, and she would have been unquestionably disturbed, perhaps even a little alarmed, by the beatific expression of Lydia's face as she gazed fixedly up into the sky, the tempered radiance of which was as yet not too bright for her clear gaze.

All the restless joy of a few minutes before, which had driven her about from one delight to another, fused under the sun's first warmth into a trance-like quiet. She stood still in the sunshine, a slow flush, like a reflection of dawn, rising to her cheeks, her lips parted, her eyes bright and vacant. An old person coming upon her at this moment would have been painfully moved by that tragic pity which age feels for the unreasoning joy of youth. She looked a child, open-eyed and breathless before the fleeting beauties of a bubble, most iridescent when about to disappear.

It was a man by no means old who swung suddenly into sight around the corner, walking swiftly and noiselessly upon the close-cut grass, and the startled expression with which he found himself close to Lydia was by no means one of pity. He fell back a step, and in the instant before the girl was aware of his presence his gaze upon her was that of a man dazzled by an incredible vision.

She brought her eyes down to him, and for the space of a breath the expression was hers as well. The sunlight glowing about them seemed the reflection of their faces. Then, for a moment longer, though mutual recognition flashed into their eyes, they did not speak, looking at each other long and seriously.

Finally, with a nymph-like stir of all her slender body, Lydia roused herself. "Well, I can speak—can you?" she asked whimsically. "Don't you remember me?"

The man drew a long breath and took off his cap, showing close-cropped auburn hair gleaming, like his beard, red in the sun. "You took my breath away!" he exclaimed.

"What was the matter with me?" asked Lydia, prettily confident of a compliment to follow.

It came in so much less direct a form than she had expected that before she recognized it she had returned it with naive impulsiveness.

"I didn't think you could be real," said the man, "you looked so exactly the way this glorious morning made me feel."

"Why, that's just how you looked to me!" she cried, and flushed at the significance of her words.

Before her confusion the other turned away his quiet gray eyes, and said lightly, "Well, that's because we are the only people in all the world with sense enough to get up so early on a morning like this. I've been out tramping since dawn."

Lydia explained herself also. "I just couldn't sleep, it seemed so lovely. It's my first morning home, you know."

"Is it?" responded the man, with a vagueness he made no effort to conceal.

It came over Lydia with a shock that he did not know she had been away. She felt hurt. It seemed ungracious for anyone in Endbury not to have missed her, not to share in the joyful excitement of her final return. "I've been in Europe for a year," she told him, with a dignity that was a reproach.

"Oh, yes, yes; I remember now hearing Dr. Melton speak of it," he answered, with no shade of apology for his forgetfulness. He looked at her speculatively, as if wondering what note to strike for the continuation of their talk. Apparently he decided on the note of lightness. "Well, you're the most important person there is for me to-day," he told her unexpectedly.

Lydia arched her dark eyebrows inquiringly. She was always sensitively responsive, and now had forgotten, like a sweet-tempered child, her momentary pique.

He smiled suddenly, moved, as people often were, to an apparently irrelevant tenderness for her. His voice softened into a playfulness like that of a person speaking to an imaginative little girl. "Why, didn't you learn in school that all wise old nations have the belief that the first person you meet after you go out in the morning decides the fortune of the day for you? Now, what kind of a day are you going to give me?"

Lydia laughed. "Oh, you must tell first! You forget you're the first person I've seen this morning. I'll see what I can do for you after I've seen what you are going to do for me." She added, with a solemnity only half jocular, "But it's ever so much more important in my case, for you're the first person I meet as I begin my life in Endbury. Think what a responsibility for you! You ought to give me something extra nice beside, for not remembering me any better and never noticing that I had been away." She broke into a sunny mitigation of her own severity, "But you can have some grapes, even if you are not very flattering."

The man took the cluster she held out to him, but only eyed them as he answered, "Oh, I remember you very well. You're a niece of Mrs. Sandworth's, or of her husband's, and Mrs. Sandworth is Dr. Melton's sister. You're the big-eyed little girl who used to sit in a corner and sew while the doctor and I talked, and now," he brought it out rotundly, "you've been to Europe for a year, and you're grown-up."

Lydia hung her head laughingly at his good-natured caricature. "Well, but I have, really and truly," she protested, "all of that. And I just guess you haven't had two such interesting things happen to you in such a short time as—" She stopped short, struck dumb by a sudden recollection. "Oh, I beg your pardon," she murmured; "I forgot about what they said you had—"

Her expression was so altered, she looked at him with so curious a change from familiarity to strangeness, that his steady eyes wavered a moment in startled surprise. "What's that?" he asked sharply; "I didn't catch what you said."

"Why, nothing—nothing—only they were telling me yesterday about how you—why, it just came over me that you had had a great deal happen to you this last year, as well as I."

He looked a relieved and slightly annoyed comprehension of the case. "Oh, that!" he summed it up for her with a grave brevity. "I have lost my father, and I have started life on a new footing during the past year."

Lydia fumbled for words that would be applicable and not wounding. "I was so sorry to hear that—about your father, I mean. And about the other—it must be very—interesting, I'm sure."

His silence and enigmatic gaze upon her moved her to a fluttered fear lest she seem ungracious. She added, with a droll little air of letting him see that she was not of the enemy, "I do hope some day you'll tell me all about it; it sounds so romantic."

The young man gave an inarticulate sound, and stroked his ruddy beard to conceal a smile. "It's not," he said briefly. He put his cap back on his head and looked down the street as though his thoughts were already away.

His lack of responsiveness came, Lydia thought, from her having wounded his feelings. "Oh, I'm sure you must have some good reason for doing such a queer thing," she said hurriedly. Then, appalled by the words on which the haste of her good intentions had carried her, "Oh, I mean that it's very brave, heroic, of you to have the courage—perhaps something very sad happened to you, and to forget it you—"

The other broke into the laugh he had been trying to suppress. His gray eyes lighted up brilliantly with his mirth. "You're very kind," he said, "you're very kind, but rather imaginative. It doesn't take any courage; quite the reverse. And it's not a picturesque way of doing a retreat from active life. I hope and pray that it's to be a way of getting into it."

The girl's face of bewilderment at his tone moved him to add, a ripple of amusement still in his voice, "Ah, don't try to make me out. I don't belong in your world, you know; I'm real."

Lydia continued to look at him blankly. The obscurity of his remarks was in no way lessened by this last addition, but he vouchsafed no further explanation. "You've given me my breakfast," he said, holding up the grapes; "I mustn't keep you any longer from yours."

He waited for a moment for Lydia to respond to this speech, struck by a sudden realization that it might sound like an unceremonious hint to her to retire, rather than the dismissal of himself he intended. When she made no answer, he turned away with a somewhat awkward gesture of leave-taking. Lydia looked after him in silence.



CHAPTER V

THE DAY BEGINS

She watched him until he was out of sight, and although the vigorous, rhythmic swing of his broad shoulders was like another manifestation of the morning's joyous, buoyant spirit, it did not move her to a responsive alertness. After he had turned a corner, she lowered her eyes to the cluster of grapes she still held; a moment after, without any change in expression, she relaxed her grasp on them and let them fall, turning away and walking soberly back to the house. The dew had already disappeared from the grass. There was now no hint of the dawn's coolness; the day had begun.

Her father met her at the door with an exclamation about her early hours. He would really see something of her, he said, if she kept up this sort of thing. It would be too good to be true if he could breakfast with her every morning. Whereupon he rang for the coffee and unfolded his newspaper. Lydia did not notice his absorption in the news of the day, partly because she was trained from childhood up to consider reading the newspaper as the main occupation of a man at home, but more because on this occasion she was herself preoccupied. When Mrs. Mortimer came in on an errand and was prevailed upon to sit down for some breakfast with her father and sister, there was a little more conversation.

Mrs. Emery had not come down stairs. A slight indisposition which she had felt for several days seemed to have been augmented by the excitement of Lydia's return. She had slept badly, and was quite uncomfortable, she told her husband, and thought she would stay in bed and send for Dr. Melton. It seemed foolish, she apologized, but now that Lydia was back, she wanted to be on the safe side and lose no time. After these facts had been communicated to her older daughter, Mrs. Mortimer asked, "How in the world does it happen that you're up at this hour?"

Lydia answered that she had been inspecting the yard, which she had not seen the day before. She described quite elaborately her tour of investigation, without any mention of her encounter with her early caller, and only after a pause added carelessly, "Who do you suppose came along but that Mr. Rankin you were all talking about yesterday?"

Judge Emery laid down his paper. "What under the sun was he prowling about for at that hour?"

"He wasn't prowling," said Lydia. "He was fairly tearing along past the house so fast that he 'most ran over me before I saw him. I'd forgotten he is so handsome."

"Handsome!" Mrs. Mortimer cried out at the idea. "With that beard!"

"I like beards, sometimes," said Lydia.

"It makes a man look like a barbarian. I'd as soon wear a nose-ring as have Ralph wear a beard."

"Why, everybody who is anybody in Europe wears a beard, or a mustache, anyhow," opposed Lydia. "I got to liking to see them."

"Oh, of course if they do it in Europe, we provincial stay-at-homes haven't a word to say." Mrs. Mortimer had invented a peculiar tone which she reserved for speeches like this, the neutrality of which gave a sharper edge to the words.

"Now, Marietta, that's mean!" Lydia defended herself very energetically; "you know I didn't say it for that." There was a moment's pause, of which Marietta did not avail herself for a retraction, and then Lydia went on pensively, "Well, he may be handsome or not, but he's certainly not very polite."

"He didn't say anything to you, did he?" asked her father in surprise, laying down the paper he had raised again during the passage between the sisters.

Lydia hastily proffered an explanation. "He couldn't help speaking; he almost ran into me, you know. I was standing under the maple tree in the corner as he came around from Garfield Avenue. He just took off his cap and said good morning, and what a fine day it was, and a few words like that."

"I don't see anything so impolite in that. Perhaps he wasn't European in his manners," suggested Mrs. Mortimer dryly. She had evidently arisen in the grasp of a mood, not uncommon with her, when an apparently causeless irritability drove her to say things for which she afterward suffered an honest but fruitless remorse. Dr. Melton had recently evolved for this characteristic of hers one of the explanations which the Emerys found so enigmatic. "Marietta," he said critically, "is in a perpetual state of nervous irritation from eye-strain. She has naturally excellent and normal eyesight, but she has always been trained to wear other people's spectacles. It puts her out of focus all the time, and that makes her snappy."

She had answered explicitly to this vague diagnosis, "Nonsense! The thing that makes me snappy is the lack of an oriental rug in our parlor."

"You're looking at that through Mrs. Gilbert's magnifying glasses," suggested the doctor.

"I'm not looking at it at all, and that's the trouble," Marietta had assured him.

"Absence makes the heart—" the doctor had the last word.

Lydia tried this morning at breakfast to obtain the same advantage over her sister. She flushed with a mixture of emotions and tried in a resentful silence to think of some definable cause for her accusation against Rankin's manners. Finally, "Well, I gave him a bunch of grapes, and he never so much as said thank you. He just took them and marched off."

"Perhaps he doesn't like grapes," suggested Mrs. Mortimer, grim to the last.

After breakfast, when Mrs. Mortimer and her father disappeared, Lydia found herself with a long morning before her. The doctor telephoned that he could not come before noon. Judge Emery, after his proprietary good-by kiss, advised her to be quiet and rest. She looked a little pale, he thought, and he was afraid that, after her cool ocean voyage, she would find the heat of an Ohio September rather trying. Indeed, as Lydia idled for a moment over the dismantled breakfast table she was by no means moved to activity. Dark shades were everywhere drawn down and the house was like a dimly-lighted cave, but through this attempt at protection the sun was making itself felt in a slowly rising, breathless, moist heat.

Lydia climbed the stairs to her mother's room. She was looking forward to a long visit, but finding the invalid asleep she turned away from the door rather blankly. She was as yet too much a stranger in her own home to have at hand the universal trivial half-dozen unfinished tasks that save idle women from the perils of uninterrupted thought. The ribbons were all run in her pretty underwear; she owed no notes to anyone, because she had been at home too short a time to have received any letters; her hair had been washed the last day on the steamer, and her new dresses needed no mending. Her trunks had been unpacked the day before by her mother's competent hands, which had also arranged every detail of her tasteful room until to touch it would disturb the effect.

Lydia began to experience that uneasy, unsettling discomfort that comes to modern people in ordinary modern life if some unusual circumstance throws them temporarily on their own resources. She lingered aimlessly for some time at the head of the stairs, and then, leaning heavily against the rail, began to descend slowly, one step at a time, to prolong the transit. Where the stairs turned she noticed a stain on the crisp sleeve of her white dress. It came, evidently, from one of the grapes she had eaten that morning under the maple tree. A current of cool air blew past her. It was the first relief from the stagnation of the sultry day and, sitting down on the landing, she lost herself in prolonged meditation.

In the obscurity of the darkened hall she was scarcely visible save as a spot of light showing dimly through the balustrade, and she sat so still that the maid, stepping about below, did not see her. On her part, Lydia noticed but absently this slight stir of domestic activity, nor, after a time, louder but muffled noises from the dining-room. Even when the door to the dining-room opened and quick, light steps came to the foot of the stairs, she did not heed them. A confused, hushed sound of someone busy about various small operations did not rouse her, and it was not until the fall of a large object, clattering noisily on the floor, that she became conscious that someone beside the maid was in the hall. She leaned forward, and saw that the object which had fallen was the newel-post of the stairs. It had evidently been detached from its fastenings by the workman who, with his back to her, now knelt over a tool-box, fumbling among the tools with resultant little metallic clicks.

Lydia ran down the stairs, finger on lip. "Hush! Don't make any more noise than you can help. Mother's still asleep." At his gaze of stupefaction she broke into her charming light laugh, "Why, I always seem to strike you speechless. What's the matter with me now?"

The other emerged from his surprise with a ready, smiling acceptance of her tone, "I was wondering if I oughtn't to apologize to you—if I should ever see you again—for being so curt this morning. And then you spring up out of the ground before me. Well, so I will apologize. I do. I'm very sorry."

They adopted, as in the first part of their earlier talk, the half-humorous familiarity of people surprised in an unconventional situation, but, in spite of this, the young man's apology was not without the accent of serious sincerity.

Lydia responded heartily in kind. "Oh, it was I who was horrid. And—wasn't it funny—I was just thinking—wondering if I should ever have a chance to try to make you see that I didn't mean to be so—" she hesitated, and fell back on iteration again—"so horrid."

The fashionable Endbury boarding-school had not provided its graduate with any embarrassment of riches in the way of expression for various shades of meaning. He answered, lowering his voice as she did, "Oh, you were all right, but I was most objectionable with my impertinent laugh. I'm sorry."

She challenged his sincerity, "Are you really, really?"

"Oh, really, really," he assured her.

"And you want to do something nice to make it up to me?"

"Anything," he promised, smiling at her as at a child.

"You've promised! You've promised!" She indulged herself in a noiseless hand-clasp. "Well, then, the forfeit is to tell me all about it."

"All about what?"

"Goodness gracious! Don't you remember? That's what we were both horrid about. I asked you to tell me about it, and you—"

He remembered, evidently with an amusement not entirely free from annoyance. "Oh, I'm safe. I'll never see you to tell you."

She sat down on the bottom step and drew her white skirts about her. "What's the matter with right now?" she asked, smiling.

"I've got to earn my living right now," he objected, beginning with a swift deftness to bore a tiny hole.

She was diverted for an instant. "What are you doing to our nice old newel-post?" she asked. "I thought they said you were going to set up the new sideboard."

"Oh, that's no job at all; it's done. Didn't you hear me pushing and banging things around? Now I've the job before me of fitting the very latest thing in newel-posts in place of your old one."

The girl returned to her first attack. "Well, anyhow, if it's a long job, it's all the better. Go ahead and talk at the same time. You won't feel you're wasting time."

Their low-toned talk and the glimmering light of the hall made them seem oddly intimate. Lydia expressed this feeling while Rankin stood looking doubtfully at her, a little daunted by the pretty relentlessness of her insistence. "You see, you're not nearly so much a stranger to me as I am to you. Remember how I sewed and listened. I'm a grown-up little pitcher, and my ears are still large. I was remembering just now, before you came in, how strangely you used to talk to Dr. Melton, and I thought it wasn't so surprising, after all, your doing 'most anything queer."

Rankin laughed as he bent over his tools. "Little pitchers have tongues, too, I see."

Either Lydia felt herself more familiar with her interlocutor than before, or one result of her meditation had been the loss of her excessive fear of wounding his feelings. She spoke now quite confidently, "But, honestly, what in the world did you do it for?"

"It?" He made her define herself.

"Oh, you know! Give up everything—lose your chance in society, and poke off into the woods to be a common—" In spite of her new boldness she faltered here.

He supplied the word, with a flash of mirth. "Don't be afraid to say it right out—even such an awful term as workman, or carpenter. I can bear it."

"I knew it!" Lydia exclaimed. "As I was thinking it over on the stairs just now, I said to myself that probably you weren't a bit apologetic about it; probably you had some queer reason for being proud of yourself for doing it."

He cast a startled look at her. "You're the only person in Endbury with imagination enough to guess that."

"But why? why? why?" she urged him, her flexible eyebrows raised in the eagerness of her inquiry. "I feel just as though I were going to hear the answer to a perfectly maddeningly unanswerable riddle."

He had another turn in his attempt at evasion. "It wouldn't be polite to tell you the answer, for what I'm trying to do is to get out of being what everybody you know thinks is the only way to be—except Dr. Melton, of course."

"What's the matter with 'all the people I know,'" she challenged him explicitly.

He laughed and shook his head. "Oh, I've nothing new to say about them. Everybody has said it, from Ecclesiastes to Tolstoi."

"They never say anything about just ordinary folks in Endbury that I know."

Rankin looked at her whimsically. "Oh, don't they?"

"Do they?" Lydia wondered at the possibility. Presently she brought out, as a patently absurd supposition, "You don't mean to say that Endbury people are wicked?"

"Do you think that none but wicked people are written about in serious books? No; Lord, no! I don't think they are wicked—just mistaken."

"What about? Now we're getting warm. I'll guess in a minute."

He looked a little sadly down at her bright, eager face. "I'm afraid you would never guess. It's all gone into your blood. You breathe it in and out as you live, every minute."

"What? what? what? You can't say it, you see, when it comes right down to the matter."

"Oh, yes, I can; I can ask you if it wouldn't be a tragedy if they should all be killing themselves to get what they really don't want and don't need, and starving for things they could easily have by just putting out their hands."

Lydia's blankness was immense.

He said, with ironic triumph: "You see, when I do say it you can't make anything out of it." After this he turned for a time all his attention to his work.

He had evidently reached a critical point in his undertaking. Lydia watched in silence the deft manipulations of his strong, brown fingers, wondering at the eager, almost sparkling, alertness with which he went from one step to another of the process that seemed unaccountably complicated to her. After he had finally lifted the heavy piece of wood into place, handling its great weight with assurance, and had submitted the joint to the closest inspection, he gave a low whistle of satisfaction with himself, and stepped back to get the general effect. As he did so he happened to glance at the girl, drooping rather listlessly on the stair. He paused instantly, with an exclamation of dismay.

"No; I'm not going to cry," Lydia told him with a very small smile, "but it would serve you right if I did."

The workman wiped his forehead and surveyed her in perplexity. "What, can I do for you?" he asked.

"If you're really serious in asking that," said Lydia with dignity, "I'll tell you. You can take for granted that I am not an idiot or a child and talk to me sensibly. Dr. Melton does. And you can tell me what you started out to—the real reason why you are a common carpenter instead of in the insurance business. Of course if you think it is none of my concern, that's another matter. But you said you would."

Rankin looked a little abashed by the grave seriousness of this appeal, although he smiled at its form. "You speak as though I had my reason tied up in a package about me, ready to hand, out."

Lydia said nothing, but did not drop her earnest eyes.

He thrust his hands into his pockets and returned this intent gaze, a new expression on his face. Then picking up a tool, and drawing a long breath, he said, with the accent of a man who takes an unexpected resolution: "Well, I will tell you."

He returned to his work, tightening various small screws under the railing, speaking, as he did so, in a reasonable, quiet tone, with none of the touch of badinage which had thus far underlain his manner to the girl. "It's very simple—nothing romantic or sudden about it all. I did not like the insurance business as I saw it from the inside, and the more I saw of it, the less I liked it. I couldn't see how I could earn my living at it and arrive at the age of forty with an honest scruple left. Not that the insurance business is, probably, any worse than any other—only I knew about it from the inside. So far as I could guess the businesses my friends were in weren't very different. At least, I didn't think I could improve things by changing to them. Also, it was going to grow more and more absorbing—or, at least, that was the way it affected the older men I knew—so that at forty I shouldn't have any other interests than getting ahead of other people in the line of insurance.

"Now, what was I to do about it? I can't make speeches, and nobody but crack-brained soreheads like me would listen to them if I did. I'm not a great philosopher, with a cure for things. But I didn't want to fight so hard to get unnecessary things for myself that I kept other people from having the necessaries, and didn't give myself time to enjoy things that are best worth enjoying. What could I do? I bothered the life out of Dr. Melton and myself for ages before it occurred to me that the thing to do, if I didn't like the life I was in, was to get out of it and do something harmless, at least, if I didn't have gumption enough to think of something worth while, that might make things better.

"I like the cabinet-maker's trade, and I couldn't see that practicing it would interfere with my growing all the honest scruples that were in me. Oh, I know that it's the easiest thing in the world for a carpenter to turn out bad work for the sake of making a little more money every day; I haven't any illusions about the sanctity of the hand-crafts. But, anyhow, I saw that as a maverick cabinet-maker I could be pretty much my own master. If I had strength of mind enough I could be honest without endless friction with partners, employers, banks, creditors, employes, and all the rest of the spider web of business life. At any rate, it looked as though there were a chance for me to lead the life I wanted, and I had an idea that if I started myself in square and straight, maybe after a little while I could see clearer about how to help other people to occupations that would let them live a little as well as make money, and let them grow a few scruples into the bargain.

"You see, there's nothing mysterious about it—nor interesting. Just ordinary. I'm living the way I do because I'm not smart enough to think of a better way. But one advantage of it is that I have a good deal of time to think about things. Maybe I'll think of a way to help, later. And, anyway, just to look at me is proof that you don't have to get ground up in the hopper like everybody else or shut the door of the industrial squirrel-cage on yourself in order not to starve. Perhaps that'll give some cleverer person the courage to start out on his own tangent."

Lydia drew a long breath at the conclusion of this statement. "Well—" she said, inconclusively; "well!" After a pause she advanced, "My sister's husband is in the insurance business."

"You see," said the workman, drilling a hole with great rapidity, "you see I ought not to talk to you. I can't without being impolite."

Lydia seemed in no haste to assure him that he had not been. She pulled absently a loose lock of hair—a little-girl trick that came back to her in moments of abstraction—and looked down at her feet. When she looked up, it was to say with a bewildered air, "But a man has to earn his living."

Rankin made a gesture of impatience, and stopped working to answer this remark. "A living isn't hard to earn. Any healthy man can do that. It's earning food for his vanity, or his wife's, that kills the average man. It's coddling his moral cowardice that takes the heart out of him. Don't you remember what Emerson says—Melton's always quoting it—'Most of our expense is for conformity to other men's ideas? It's for cake that the average man runs in debt.' He must have everything that anyone else has, whether he wants it or not. A house ever so much bigger and finer than he needs, with ever so many more things in it than belong there. He must keep his wife idle and card-playing because other men's wives are. He must have his children do what everyone else's children do, whether it's bad for their characters or not. Ah! the children! That's the worst of it all! To bring them up so that these futile complications will be essentials of life to them! To teach them that health and peace of mind are not too high a price for a woman to pay for what is called social distinction, and that a man must—if he can get it in no other way—pay his self-respect and the life of his individuality for what is called success—"

Lydia broke in with a sophisticated amusement at his heat. "Why, you're talking about Newport, or the Four Hundred of New York—if there is any such thing! The rest of America—why, any European would say we're as primitive as Aztecs! They do say so! Endbury's not complicated. Good gracious! A little, plain, middle-western town, where everybody that is anybody knows everybody else!"

"No; it's not complicated compared with European standards, but it's more so than it was. Why, in Heaven's name, should it strain every nerve to make itself as complicated as possible as fast as it can? We're free yet—we're not Europeans so shaken down into a social rut that only a red revolution can get us out of it. Why can't we decide on a rational—" He broke off to say, gloomily: "The devil of it is that we don't decide anything. We just slide along thinking of something else. If people would only give, just once in their lives, the same amount of serious reflection to what they want to get out of life that they give to the question of what they want to get out of a two-weeks' vacation, there aren't many folks—yes, even here in Endbury that seems so harmless to you because it's so familiar—who wouldn't be horrified at the aimless procession of their busy days and the trivial false standards they subscribe to with their blood and sweat."

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