THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF JUNE
GRACE S RICHMOND
I. The Curtain Rises on a Home
II. Richard Changes His Plans
III. While It Rains
V. Richard Pricks His Fingers
VI. Unsustained Application
VII. A Traitorous Proceeding
VIII. Roses Red
IX. Mr. Kendrick Entertains
X. Opinions and Theories
XI. "The Taming of the Shrew"
XIII. Lavender Linen
XIV. Rapid Fire
XV. Making Men
XVIII. The Nailing of a Flag
XIX. In the Morning
XX. Side Lights
XXII. Roberta Wakes Early
XXIII. Richard Has Waked Earlier
XXIV. The Pillars of Home
XXV. A Stout Little Cabin
THE CURTAIN RISES ON A HOME
None of it might ever have happened, if Richard Kendrick had gone into the house of Mr. Robert Gray, on that first night, by the front door. For, if he had made his first entrance by that front door, if he had been admitted by the maidservant in proper fashion and conducted into Judge Calvin Gray's presence in the library, if he had delivered his message, from old Matthew Kendrick, his grandfather, and had come away again, ushered out of that same front door, the chances are that he never would have gone again. In which case there would have been no story to tell.
It all came about—or so it seems—from its being a very rainy night in late October, and from young Kendrick's wearing an all-concealing motoring rain-coat and cap. He had been for a long drive into the country, and had just returned, mud-splashed, when his grandfather, having taken it into his head that a message must be delivered at once, requested his grandson to act as his messenger.
So the young man had impatiently bolted out with the message, had sent his car rushing through the city streets, and had become a still muddier and wetter figure than before when he stood upon the porch of the old Gray homestead, well out in the edge of the city, and put thumb to the bell.
His hand was stayed by the shrill call of a small boy who dashed up on the porch out of the dusk. "You can't get in that way," young Ted Gray cried. "Something's happened to the lock—they've sent for a man to fix it. Come round to the back with me—I'll show you."
So this was why Richard Kendrick came to be conducted by way of the tall-pillared rear porch into the house through the rear door of the wide, central hall. There was no light at this end of the hall, and the old-fashioned, high-backed settee which stood there was in shadow.
With a glance at the caller's muddy condition the young son of the house decided it the part of prudence to assign him this waiting-place, while he himself should go in search of his uncle. The lad had seen the big motor-car at the gate; quite naturally he took its driver for a chauffeur.
Ted looked in at the library door; his uncle was not there. He raced off upstairs, not noting the change which had already taken place in the visitor's appearance with the removal of the muddy coat and cap.
Richard Kendrick now looked a particularly personable young man, well built, well dressed, of the brown-haired, gray-eyed, clear-skinned type. The eyes were very fine; the nose and mouth had the lines of distinction; the chin was—positive. Altogether the young man did not look the part he had that day been playing—that of the rich young idler who drives a hundred and fifty miles in a powerful car, over the worst kind of roads, merely for the sake of diversion and a good luncheon.
While he waited Richard considered the hall, at one end of which he sat in the shadow. There was something very homelike about this hall. The quaint landscape paper on the walls, the perceptibly worn and faded crimson Turkey carpeting on the floors, the wide, spindle-balustrade staircase with the old clock on its landing; more than all, perhaps, on an October night like this, the warm glow from a lamp with crystal pendants which stood on the table of polished mahogany near the front door—all these things combined to give the place a quite distinctive look of home.
There were one or two other touches in the picture worth mentioning, the touches which spoke of human life. An old-fashioned hat-tree just opposite the rear door was hung full with hats. A heavy ulster lay over a chair close by, and two umbrellas stood in the corner. And over hat-rack, hats, ulster, and chair, with one end of silken fringe caught upon one of the umbrella ribs, had been flung by some careless hand, presumably feminine, a long silken scarf of the most intense rose-colour, a hue so vivid, as the light caught it from the landing above, that it seemed almost to be alive.
From various parts of the house came sounds—of voices and of footsteps, more than once of distant laughter. Far above somewhere a child's high call rang out. Nearer at hand some one touched the keys of a piano, playing snatches of Schumann—Der Nussbaum, Mondnacht, Die Lotosblume. Richard recognized the airs which thus reached his ears, and was sorry when they ceased.
Now there might be nothing in all this worth describing if the effect upon the observer had not been one to him so unaccustomed. Though he had lived to the age of twenty-eight years, he had never set foot in a place which seemed so curiously like a vague dream he had somewhere at the back of his head. For the last two years he had lived with his grandfather in the great pile of stone which they called home. If this were no real home, the young man had never had one. He had spent periods of his life in various sorts of dwelling-places; in private rooms at schools and college—always the finest of their kind—in clubs, on ships, in railway trains; but no time at all in any place remotely resembling the house in which he now waited, a stranger in every sense of the word, more strange to the everyday, fine type of home known to the American of good birth and breeding than may seem credible as it is set down.
"Hold on there!" suddenly shouted a determined male voice from somewhere above Richard. A door banged, there was a rush of light-running feet along the upper hall, closely followed by the tread of heavier ones. A burst of the gayest laughter was succeeded by certain deep grunts, punctuated by little noises as of panting breath and half-stifled merriment. It was easy to determine that a playful scuffle of some sort was going on overhead, which seemed to end only after considerable inarticulate but easily translatable protest on the part of the weaker person involved.
Then came an instant's silence, a man's ringing laugh of triumph; next, in a girl's voice, a little breathless but of a quality to make the listener prick up ears already alert, these most unexpected words:
"'O, it is excellent To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant!'"
"Is it, indeed, Miss Arrogance?" mocked the deeper voice. "Well, if you had given it back at once, as all laws of justice, not to mention propriety, demanded, I should not have had to force it away from you. Oh, I say, did I really hurt that wrist, or are you shamming?"
"Shamming! You big boys have no idea how brutally violent you are when you want some little thing you ought not to have. It aches like anything," retorted the other voice, its very complaints uttered in such melodious tones of contralto music that the listener found himself wishing with all his might to know if the face of its owner could by any possibility match the loveliness of her voice. Dark, he fancied she must be, and young, and strong—of education, of a gay wit, yet of a temper—all this the listener thought he could read in the voice.
"Poor little wilful girl! Did she get hurt, then, trying to have her own way? Come in here, jade, and I'll fix it up for you," the deeper tones declared.
Footsteps again; a door closed. Silence succeeded for a minute; then the Schumann music began again, a violin accompanying. And suddenly, directly opposite the settee, a door swung slowly open, the hand upon the knob invisible. A picture was presented to the stranger's eyes as if somebody had meant to show it to him. He could but look. Anybody, seeing the picture, would have looked and found it hard to turn his eyes away.
For it was the heart of the house, right here, so close at hand that even a stranger could catch a glimpse of it by chance. A great, wide-throated fireplace held a splendid fire of burning logs, the light from it illumining the whole room, otherwise dark in the October twilight. Before it on the hearth-rug were silhouetted, in distinct lines against its rich background, two figures. One was that of a woman in warm middle life, sitting in a big chair, her face full of both brightness and peace; at her feet knelt a young girl, her arm upon her mother's knees, her face uplifted. The two faces were smiling into each other.
Somebody—it looked to be a tall young man against the fire-glow—came and abruptly closed the door from within, and the picture was gone. The fitful music ceased again; the house was quiet.
Thereupon Richard Kendrick grew impatient. Fully ten minutes must have elapsed since his youthful conductor had disappeared. He looked about him for some means of summoning attention, but discovered none.
Suddenly a latchkey rattled uselessly in the lock of the front door; then came lusty knocks upon its stout panels, accompanied by the whirring of a bell somewhere in the distance.
A maidservant came hurriedly into the hall through a door near Richard, and at the same moment a boy of ten or eleven came tearing down the front stairs. As the lad shouted through the door, Richard recognized his late conductor.
"You can't get in, Daddy; the lock's gone queer. Come around to the back. I'll see to him, Mary," the boy called to the maid, who, nodding, disappeared.
At this moment the door opposite Richard opened again, and the mother of the household came out, her comely waist closely clasped by the arm of the young girl. The two were followed by the tall young man.
Richard stood up, and was, of course, instantly upon the road to the delivery of his message.
Ted, ushering in his father, and spying the waiting messenger, cried repentantly, "Oh, I forgot!" and the tall young man responded gravely, "You usually do, don't you, Cub?" This elder son of the house, waving the small boy aside, attended to taking Richard to the library, and to summoning Judge Calvin Gray.
In five minutes the business had been dispatched, Judge Gray had made friendly inquiry into the condition of his old friend's health, and Richard was ready to take his departure. Curiously enough he did not now want to go. As he stood for a moment near the open library door, while Judge Gray returned to his desk for a newspaper clipping, the caller was listening to the eager greetings taking place in the hall just out of his sight. The father of the family appeared to have returned from an absence of some length, and the entire household had come rushing to meet and welcome him. Richard listened for the contralto notes he had heard above, and presently detected them declaring with vivid emphasis: "Mother has been a dear, splendid martyr. Nobody would have guessed she was lonely, but—we knew!"
"She couldn't possibly have been more lonely than I. Next time I'll take her with me!" was the emphatic response.
Then the whole group swept by the library door, down the hall, and into the room of the great fireplace. Nobody looked his way, and Richard Kendrick had one swift view of them all. Vigorous young men, graceful young women, a child or two, the mother of them all on the arm of her husband—there were plenty to choose from, but he could not find the one he looked for. Then, quite by itself, another figure flashed past him. He had a glimpse of a dusky mass of hair, of a piquant profile, of a round arm bared to the elbow. As the figure passed the hat-tree he saw the arm reach out and catch the rose-coloured scarf, flinging it over one shoulder. Then the whole vision had vanished, and he stood alone in the library doorway, with Judge Gray saying behind him: "I cannot find the clipping. I will mail it to your grandfather when I come upon it."
"I knew that scarf was hers," Richard was thinking as he went out into the night by way of the rear door, Judge Gray having accompanied him to the threshold and given him a cordial hand of farewell. What a voice! She could make a fortune with it on the stage, if she couldn't sing a note. The stage! What had the stage to do with people who lived together in a place like that?
He looked curiously back at the house as he went down the box-bordered path which led, curving, from it to the street. It was obviously one of the old-time mansions of the big city, preserved in the midst of its grounds in a neighbourhood now rampant with new growth. It was outside, on this chill October night, as hospitable in appearance as it was inside; there was hardly a window which did not glow with a mellow light. As Richard drove down the street, he was recalling vividly the picture of the friendly-looking hall with its faded Turkey carpet worn with the tread of many rushing feet, its atmosphere of welcoming warmth—and the rose-hued scarf flung over the dull masculine belongings as if typifying the fashion in which the women of the household cast their bright influence over the men.
It suddenly occurred to Richard Kendrick that if he had lived in such a home even until he went away to school, if he had come back to such a home from college and from the wanderings over the face of the earth with which he had filled in his idle days since college was over, he should be perhaps a better, surely a different, man than he was now.
* * * * *
Louis Gray, coming into the hall precisely as Richard Kendrick, again enveloped in his muddy motoring coat, was releasing Judge Gray's hand and disappearing into the night, looked curiously after the departing figure. His sister Roberta, following him into the hall a moment after, rose-coloured scarf still drifting across white-clad shoulder, was in time to receive his comment:
"Seems rather odd to see that chap departing humbly by any door but the front one."
"You knew him, then. Who was he?" inquired his sister.
"Didn't you? He's a familiar figure enough about town. Why, he's Rich Kendrick. Grandson of Matthew Kendrick, of Kendrick & Company, you know. Only Rich doesn't take much interest in the business. You'll find his doings carefully noticed in certain columns in certain society journals."
"I don't read them, thank you. Do you?"
"Don't need to. Kendrick's a familiar figure wherever the gay and youthful rich disport themselves—when he's in the country at all. He's doing his best to get away with the money his father left him. Fortunately the bulk of the family fortune is still in the hands of his grandfather, who seems an uncommonly healthy and vigorous old man." Louis laughed. "Can't think what Rich Kendrick can be doing here with Uncle Cal. I believe, though, he and old Matthew Kendrick are good friends. Probably grandson Richard came on an errand. It certainly behooves him to do grandfather's errands with as good a grace as he can muster."
"He was sitting in the hall quite a while before Uncle Cal saw him," volunteered Ted, who had tagged at Roberta's heels, and was listening with interest.
"Sitting in the hall, eh—like any district messenger?" Louis was clearly delighted with this news. "How did it happen, Cub? Mary take him for an everyday, common person?"
"I let him in. I thought he was a chauffeur," admitted Ted. "He was awfully wet and muddy. Steve took him in to Uncle Cal."
An explosion of laughter from his interested elder brother interrupted him. "I wish I'd come along and seen him. So he had the bad manners to sit in our hall in a wet and muddy motoring coat, and go in to see Uncle Cal—"
"The young man had on no muddy coat when Stephen brought him in to see me," declared Judge Calvin Gray, coming out and catching the last sentence. "He put it on in the hall before going out. What are you saying? That was the grandson of my good friend, Matthew Kendrick, and so had claim upon my good will from the start, though I haven't laid eyes upon the boy since his schooldays. He was rather a restless and obstreperous youngster then, I'll admit. What he is now seems pleasing enough to the eye, certainly, though of course that may not be sufficient. A fine, mannerly young fellow he appeared to me, and I was glad to see that he seemed willing enough to run upon his grandfather's errands, though they took him out upon a raw night like this."
But Louis Gray, though he did not pursue the subject further, was still smiling to himself as he obeyed a summons to dinner.
At opposite ends of the long table sat Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gray. The head of the house looked his part: fine of face, crisp of speech, authoritative yet kindly of manner. His wife may be described best by saying that one had but to look upon her to know that here sat the Queen of the little realm, the one whose gentle rule covered them all as with the brooding wing of wise motherhood. Down the sides of the board sat the three sons: Stephen, tall and slender, grave-faced, quiet but observant; Louis, of a somewhat lesser height but broad of shoulder and deep of chest, his bright face alert, every motion suggesting vigour of body and mind; Ted—Edgar—the youngest, a slim, long-limbed lad with eyes eager as a collie's for all that might concern him—this was the tale of the sons of the house. There were the two daughters: Roberta, she of the rose-coloured scarf—it was still about her shoulders, seeming to draw all the light in the room to its vivid hue, reflecting itself in her cheeks—Roberta, the elder daughter, dusky of hair, adorable of face, her round white throat that of a strong and healthy girl, her laugh a song to listen to; the other daughter, Ruth, a fair-haired, sober-eyed creature of growing sixteen, as different as if of other blood. One would not have said the two were sisters. There was one more girl at the table; no, not a girl, yet she looked younger than Roberta—a little person with a wild-rose, charming face, and the sweetest smile of them all—Rosamond, Stephen's wife, quite incredibly mother of two children of nursery age, at this moment already properly asleep upstairs.
Last but far from least, loved and honoured of them all above the lot of average man to command such tribute, was the elder brother of the master of the house, his handsome white head and genial face drawing toward him all eyes whenever he might choose to speak—Judge Calvin Gray. All in all they were a goodly family, just such a family as is to be found beneath many a fortunate roof; yet a family with an individuality all its own and a richness of life such as is less common than it ought to be.
RICHARD CHANGES HIS PLANS
The next time Richard Kendrick went to the Gray home was a fortnight later, when old Matthew Kendrick was sending some material for which Judge Gray had written to ask him—books and pamphlets, and a set of maps. This time he would have sent a servant, but his grandson Richard heard him giving directions and came into the affair with a careless suggestion that he was driving that way and might as well take the stuff if Mr. Kendrick wished it. The old man glanced curiously at him across the table where the two sat at luncheon.
"Glad to have you, of course," he commented, "but you made so many objections when I asked you before I thought I wouldn't interfere with your time again. Did you meet any of the family when you went?"
"Only Judge Gray and two of his nephews," responded Richard, truthfully enough.
So he went with the big package. This time, it being a fine, sunny, summerlike day almost as warm as September, he went clad in careful dress with only a light motoring coat on over all to preserve the integrity of his attire. He left this in the car when he leaped out of it, and appeared upon the doorstep looking not at all like his own chauffeur, but quite his comely self.
The door-lock was in full working order now, and he was admitted by the same little maid whom he remembered seeing before. Upon his inquiry for Judge Gray he was told that that gentleman was receiving another caller and had asked to be undisturbed for a short time, but if he could wait—
Now there was no reason in the world for his waiting, since the package of books, pamphlets, and maps was under his arm and he had only to bestow it upon the maid and give her the accompanying directions. But, at this precise moment, Richard caught sight of a figure running down the staircase; concluded in one glance, as he had concluded in one glance before, that if a personality could be expressed by a speaking voice, a laugh, and a rose-hued scarf, this must be the one they expressed; and decided in the twinkling of an eye to wait. The maid conducted him toward the room on the right of the hall and he followed her, passing as he did so the person who had reached the foot of the stairs and who went by him in such haste that he had only time to give her one short but—it must be described as—concentrated look straight in the eyes. She in turn bestowed upon him the one glance necessary to inform her whether she knew him and so must stay long enough in her rapid progress to greet him. Their eyes therefore met at rather close range, lingered for the space of two running seconds, and parted.
Richard Kendrick accepted the chair offered him and sat upon it for the space of some eighteen-odd minutes; they might have been hours or seconds, he could not have told which. He could hardly have described the room to which he had been shown, unless to say that it was a square, old-fashioned reception room, a little formal, decidedly quaint, and dignified, and clearly not used by the family as other rooms were used. Certainly the piano, from which he had heard the Schumann music on his former visit, was not here, and certainly there were no rose-hued scarfs flung carelessly about. It was undoubtedly a place kept for the use of strange callers like himself, and had small part in the life of the household.
At length he was summoned to Judge Gray's library. He was met with the same pleasant courtesy as before, delivered his parcel, and lingered as long as might be, listening politely to his host's remarks, and looking, looking—for a chance to make a reason to come again. Quite unexpectedly it was offered him by the Judge himself.
"I wonder if you could recommend to me," said Judge Gray as Richard was about to take his leave, "a capable young man—college-bred, of course—to come here daily or weekly as I might need him, to assist me in the work of preparing my book. My eyes, as you see, will not allow me to use them for much more than the reading of a paragraph, and while my family are very ready to help whenever they have the time, mine is so serious a task, likely to continue for so long a period, that I shall need continuous and prolonged assistance. Do you happen to know—?"
Well, it can hardly be explained. This was a rich man's heir and the grandson of millions more, in need—according to his own point of view—of no further education along the lines of work, and he had a voyage to the Far East in prospect. Certainly, a fortnight earlier the thing furthest from his thoughts would have been the engaging of himself as amanuensis and general literary assistant to an ex-judge upon so prosaic a task as the history of the Supreme Court of the State. To say that a rose-hued scarf, a laugh, and an alluring speaking voice explain it seems absurd, even when you add to these that which the young man saw during that moment of time when he looked into the face of their owner. Rather would I declare that it was the subtle atmosphere of that which in all his travels he had never really seen before—a home. At all events a new force of some sort had taken hold upon him, and was leading him whither he had never thought to go.
If Judge Gray was surprised that the grandson of his old friend Matthew Kendrick should thus offer himself for the obscure and comparatively unremunerative post of secretary, he gave no evidence of it. Possibly it did not seem strange to him that this young man should show interest in the work the Judge himself had laid out with an absorbing enthusiasm. Therefore a trial arrangement was soon made, and Richard Kendrick agreed to present himself in Judge Gray's library on the following morning at ten o'clock. The only stipulation he made was that if, for any reason, he should decide suddenly to go upon a journey he had had some time in contemplation, he should be allowed to provide a substitute. He had not yet so completely surrendered to his impulse that he was not careful to leave himself a loophole of escape.
The young man laughed to himself all the way down the avenue. What would his grandfather say? What would his friends say? His friends should not know—confound them!—it was none of their business. He would have his evenings; he would appear at his clubs as usual. If comments were made upon his absence at other hours he would quietly inform the observing ones that he had gone to work, but would refuse to say where. It certainly was a joke, his going to work; not that his grandfather had not often and strenuously recommended it, saying that the boy would never know happiness until he shook hands with labour; not that he himself had not fully intended some day to go into the training necessary to the assuming of the cares incident to the handling of a great fortune. But thus far—well, he had never been ready to begin. One journey more, one more long voyage—
Her eyes—had they been blue or black? Blue, he was quite sure, although the masses of her hair had been like night for dusky splendour, and her cheeks of that rich bloom which denotes young vigour and radiant health. He could hear her voice now, quoting a serious poet to fit a madcap mood—and quoting him in such a voice! What were the words? He remembered her mockingly exaggerated inflection:
"'O, it is excellent To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant!'"
Well, from his flash-fire observation of her he should say that a man might need a giant's strength to overcome her, if she chose to oppose him, in any situation whatever. What a glorious task—to overcome her—to teach that lovely, teasing voice gentler words—
He laughed again. Since he had left college he had not been so interested in what was coming next—not even on the day he met Amelie Penstoff in St. Petersburg—nor on the day, in Japan, when his friend Rogers made an appointment with him to meet that little slant-eyed girl, half Japanese, half French, and whole minx—the beauty!—he could not even recall her name at this moment—with whom he had had an absorbing experience he should be quite unwilling to repeat. And now, here was a girl—a very different sort of girl—who interested him more than any of them. He wondered what was her name. Whatever it was, he would know it soon—call her by it—soon.
He went home. He did not tell his grandfather that night. There was not much use in putting it off, but—somehow—he preferred to wait till morning. Business sounds more like business—in the morning.
* * * * *
The first result of his telling his grandfather in the morning was a note from old Matthew Kendrick to old Judge Gray. The note, which almost chuckled aloud, was as follows:
MY DEAR CALVIN GRAY: Work him—work the rascal hard! He's a lazy chap with a way with him which plays the deuce with my foolish old heart. I could make my own son work, and did; but this son of his—that seems to be another matter. Yet I know well enough the dangers of idleness—know them so well that I'm tickled to death at the mere thought of his putting in his time at any useful task. He did well enough in college; there are brains there unquestionably. I didn't object seriously to his travelling—for a time—after his graduation; but that sort of life has gone on long enough, and when I talk to him of settling down at some steady job it's always "after one more voyage." I don't yet understand what has given him the impulse—whim—caprice—I don't venture to give it any stronger name—to accept this literary task from you. He vows he's not met the women of your household, or I should think that might explain it. I hope he will meet them—all of them; they'll be good for him—and so will you, Cal. Do your best by the boy for my sake, and believe me, now as always,
Gratefully your old friend,
"Eleanor, have you five minutes to spare for me?" Judge Gray, his old friend's note in hand, hailed his brother's wife as she passed the open door of his library. She came in at once, and, though she was in the midst of household affairs, sat down with that delightful air of having all the time in the world to spare for one who needed her, which was one of her endearing characteristics.
When she had heard the note she nodded her head thoughtfully. "I think the grandfather may well congratulate himself that the grandson has fallen into your hands, Calvin," said she. "The work you give him may not be to him the interesting task it would be to some men, but it will undoubtedly do him good to be harnessed to any labour which means a bit of drudgery. By all means do as Mr. Kendrick bids you—'work him hard.'" She smiled. "I wonder what the boy would think of Louis's work."
"He would take to his heels, probably, if it were offered him. It's plain that Matthew's pleased enough at having him tackle a gentleman's task like this, and hopes to make it a stepping-stone to something more muscular. I shall do my best by Richard, as he asks. You note that he wants the young man to meet us all. Are you willing to invite him to dinner some time—perhaps next week—as a special favour to me?"
"Certainly, Calvin, if you consider young Mr. Kendrick in every way fit to know our young people."
Her fine eyes met his penetratingly, and he smiled in his turn. "That's like you, Eleanor," said he, "to think first of the boy's character and last of his wealth."
"A fig for his wealth!" she retorted with spirit. "I have two daughters."
"I have made inquiries," said he with dignity, "of Louis, who knows young Kendrick as one young man knows another, which is to the full. He considers him to be more or less of an idler, and as much of a spendthrift as a fellow in possession of a large income is likely to be in spite of the cautions of a prudent grandfather. He has a passion for travel and is correspondingly restless at home. But Louis thinks him to be a young man of sufficiently worthy tastes and standards to have escaped the worst contaminations, and he says he has never heard anything to his discredit. That is considerable to say of a young man in his position, Eleanor, and I hope it may constitute enough of a passport to your favour to permit of your at least inviting him to dinner. Besides—let me remind you—your daughters have standards of their own which you have given them. Ruth is a girl yet, of course, but a mighty discerning one for sixteen. As for Roberta, I'll wager no young millionaire is any more likely to get past her defences than any young mechanic—unless he proves himself fit."
"I am confident of that," she agreed, and with her charming gray head held high went on about her household affairs.
WHILE IT RAINS
The advanced age of the Honourable Calvin Gray, and the precarious state of his eyesight, made it possible for him to work at his beloved self-appointed task for only a scant number of hours daily. His new assistant, therefore, found his own working hours not only limited but variable. Beginning at ten in the morning, by four in the afternoon Judge Gray was usually too weary to proceed farther; sometimes by the luncheon hour he was ready to lay aside his papers and dismiss his assistant. On other days he would waken with a severe headache, the result of the overstrain he was constantly tempted to give his eyes, in spite of all the aid that was offered him. On such days Richard could not always find enough to do to occupy his time, and would be obliged to leave the house so early that many hours were on his hands. When this happened, he would take the opportunity to drop in at one or two of his clubs, and so convey the impression that only caprice kept him away on other days. Curiously enough, this still seemed to him an object; he might have found it difficult to explain just why, for he assuredly was not ashamed of his new occupation.
Rather unexplainably to Richard, nearly the first fortnight of his new experience went by without his meeting any members of the family except the heads thereof and the younger son, Edgar, familiarly called by every one "Ted." With this youthful scion of the house he was destined to form the first real acquaintance. It came about upon a particularly rainy November day. Richard had found Judge Gray suffering from one of his frequent headaches, as a result of the overwork he had not been able wholly to avoid. Therefore a long day's work of research in various ancient volumes had been turned over to his assistant by an employer who left him to return to a seclusion he should not have forsaken.
Richard was accustomed to run down to an excellent hotel for his luncheon, and was preparing to leave the house for this purpose when Ted leaped at him from the stairs, tumbling down them in great haste.
"Mr. Kendrick, won't you stay and have lunch with me? It's pouring 'great horn spoons' and I'm all alone."
"Alone, Ted? Nobody here at all?"
"Not a soul. Uncle Cal's going to have his upstairs and he says I may ask you. Please stay. I don't go to school in the afternoon and maybe I can help you, if you'll show me how."
Richard smiled at the notion, but accepted the eager invitation, and presently found himself sitting alone with the lad at a big, old-fashioned mahogany table, being served with a particularly tempting meal.
"You see," Ted explained, spooning out grapefruit with an energetic hand, "father and mother and Steve and Rosy have gone to the country to a funeral—a cousin of ours. Louis and Rob aren't home till night except Saturdays and Sundays, and Ruth is at school till Friday nights. It makes it sort of lonesome for me. Wednesdays, though, every other week, Rob's home all day. When she's here I don't mind who else is away."
"I was just going to ask if you had three brothers," observed Richard. "Do I understand 'Rob' is a girl?"
"Sure, Rob's a girl all right, and I'm mighty glad of it. I wouldn't be a girl myself, not much; but I wouldn't have Rob anything else—I should say not. Name's Roberta, you know, after father. She's a peach of a sister, I tell you. Ruth's all right, too, of course, but she's different. She's a girl all through. But Rob's half boy, or—I should say there's just enough boy about her to make her exactly right, if you know what I mean."
He looked inquiringly at Richard, who nodded gravely. "I think I get something of your idea," he agreed. "It makes a fine combination, does it?"
"I should say it did. You know a girl that's all girl is too much girl. But one that likes some of the things boys like—well, it helps out a lot. Through with the grapefruit, Mary," he added, over his shoulder, to the maid. "Have you any brothers or sisters, Mr. Kendrick?" he inquired interestedly, when he had assured himself that the clam broth with which he was now served was unquestionably good to eat.
"Not one—living. I had a brother, but he died when I was a little chap."
"That was too bad," said Ted with ready sympathy. He looked straight across the table at Richard out of sea-blue eyes shaded by very heavy black lashes, which, it struck Richard quite suddenly, were much like another pair which he had had one very limited opportunity of observing. The boy also possessed a heavy thatch of coal-black hair, a lock of which was continually falling over his forehead and having to be thrust back. "Because father says," Ted went, on, "it's a whole lot better for children to be brought up together, so they will learn to be polite to each other. I'm the youngest, so I'm most like an only child. But, you see," he added hurriedly, "the older ones weren't allowed to give up to me, and I had to be polite to them, so perhaps"—he looked so in earnest about it that Richard could not possibly laugh at him—"I won't turn out as badly as some youngest ones do."
There was really nothing priggish about this statement, however it may sound. And the next minute the boy had turned to a subject less suggestive of parental counsels. He launched into an account of his elder brother Louis's prowess on the football fields of past years, where, it seemed, that young man had been a remarkable right tackle. He gave rather a vivid account of a game he had witnessed last year, talking, as Richard recognized, less because he was eager to talk than from a sense of responsibility as to the entertainment of his guest.
"But he won't play any more," he added mournfully. "He took his degree last year and he's in father's office now, learning everything from the beginning. He's just a common clerk, but he won't be long," he asserted confidently.
"No, not long," agreed Richard. "The son of the chief won't be a common clerk long, of course."
"I mean," explained Ted, buttering a hot roll with hurried fingers, "he'll work his way up. He won't be promoted until he earns it; he doesn't want to be."
Richard smiled. The boy's ideals had evidently been given a start by some person or persons of high moral character. He was considering the subject in some further detail with the lad when the dining-room door suddenly opened and the owner of the black-lashed blue eyes, which in a way matched Ted's, came most unexpectedly in upon them. She was in street dress of dark blue, and her eyes looked out at them from under the wide gray brim of a sombrero-shaped hat with a long quill in it, the whole effect of which was to give her the breezy look of having literally blown in on the November wind which was shaking the trees outside. Her cheeks had been stung into a brilliant rose colour. Two books were tucked under her arm.
"Why, Rob!" cried her younger brother. "What luck! What brought you home?"
Rising from his chair Richard observed that Ted had risen also, and he now heard Ted's voice presenting him to his sister with the ease of the well-bred youngster.
From this moment Richard owed the boy a debt of gratitude. He had been waiting impatiently for a fortnight for this presentation and had begun to think it would never come.
Roberta Gray came forward to give the guest her hand with a ready courtesy which Richard met with the explanation of his presence.
"I was asked to keep your brother company in the absence of the family. I can't help being glad that you didn't come in time to forestall me."
"I'm sure Ted's hospitality might have covered us both," she said, pulling off her gloves. He recognized the voice. At close range it was even more delightful than he had remembered.
"I doubt it, since he tells me that when you're here he doesn't mind who else is away."
"Did you say that, Teddy?" she asked, smiling at the boy. "Then you'll surely give me lunch, though it isn't my day at home. I'm so hungry, walking in this wind. But the air is glorious."
She went away to remove her hat and coat, and came back quickly, her masses of black hair suggesting but not confirming the impression that the wind had lately had its way with them. Her eyes scanned the table eagerly like those of a hungry boy.
"Some of your scholars sick?" inquired Ted.
"Two—and one away. So I'm to have a whole beautiful afternoon, though I may have to see them Wednesday to make up. I am a teacher in Miss Copeland's private school," she explained to Richard as simply as one of the young women he knew would have explained. "I have singing lessons of Servensky."
This gave the young man food for thought, in which he indulged while Miss Roberta Gray told Ted of an encounter she had had that morning with a special friend of his own. This daughter of a distinguished man—of a family not so rich as his own, but still of considerable wealth and unquestionably high social position—was a teacher in a school for girls; a most exclusive school, of course—he knew the one very well—but still in a school and for a salary. To Richard the thing was strange enough. She must surely do it from choice, not from necessity; but why from choice? With her face and her charm—he felt the charm already; it radiated from her—why should she want to tie herself down to a dull round of duty like that instead of giving her thoughts to the things girls of her position usually cared for? Taking into consideration the statement Ted had lately made about his elder brother, it struck Richard Kendrick that this must be a family of rather eccentric notions. Somewhat to his surprise he discovered that the idea interested him. He had found people of his own acquaintance tiresomely alike; he congratulated himself on having met somebody who seemed likely to prove different.
"So you rejoice in your half-holiday, Miss Gray," Richard observed when he had the chance. "I suppose you know exactly what you are going to do with it?"
"Why do you think I do?" she asked with an odd little twist of the lip. "Do you always plan even unexpected holidays so carefully?"
It occurred to Richard that up to the last fortnight his days since he left college had been all holidays, and there had been plenty of them throughout college life itself. But he answered seriously: "I don't believe I do. But I had the idea that teachers were so in the habit of living on schedules scientifically made out that even their holidays were conscientiously lived up to, with the purpose of getting the full value out of them."
Even as he said it he could have laughed aloud at the thought of these straitlaced principles being applicable to the young person who sat at the table with himself and Ted. She a teacher? Never! He had known no women teachers since his first governess had been exchanged for a tutor, the sturdy youngster having rebelled, at an extraordinarily early age, against petticoat government. His acquaintance included but one woman of that profession—and she was a college president. He and she had not got on well together, either, during the brief period in which they had been thrown together—on an ocean voyage. But he had seen plenty of teachers, crossing the Atlantic in large parties, surveying cathedrals, taking coach drives, inspecting art galleries—all with that conscientious air of making the most of it. Miss Roberta Gray one of that serious company? It was incredible!
"Dear me," laughed Roberta, "what a keen observer you are! I am almost afraid to admit that I have no conscientiously thought-out plan—but one. I am going to put myself in Ted's hands and let him personally conduct my afternoon."
Blue eyes met blue eyes at that and flashed happy fire. Lucky Ted!
"Oh, jolly!" exclaimed that delighted youth. "Will you play basket-ball in the attic?"
"Of course I will. Just the thing for a rainy day."
"Take a cross-country tramp?" His eyes were sparkling.
Roberta glanced out of the window. The rain was dashing hard against the pane. "If you won't go through the West Wood marshes," she stipulated.
"Sure I won't. They'd be pretty wet even for me on a day like this. Is there anything you'd specially like to do yourself?" he bethought himself at this stage to inquire.
Roberta shrugged her shoulders. "Of course it seems tame to propose settling down by the living-room fire and popping corn, after we get back and have got into our dry clothes," said she, "but—"
Ted grinned. "That's the stuff," he acknowledged. "I knew you'd think of the right thing to end up the lark with." He looked across at Richard with a proud and happy face. "Didn't I tell you she was a peach of a sister?" he challenged his guest.
Richard nodded. "You certainly did," he said. "And I see no occasion to question the statement."
His eyes met Roberta's. Never in his life had the thought of a cross-country walk in the rain so appealed to him. At the moment he would have given his eagerly planned trip to the Far East for the chance to march by her side to-day, even though the course should lie through the marshes of West Wood, unquestionably the wettest place in the country on that particular wet afternoon. But nobody would think of inviting him to go—of course not. And while Roberta and Ted were dashing along country lanes—he could imagine how her cheeks would look, stung with rain, drops clinging to those bewildering lashes of hers—he himself would be looking up references in dry and dusty State Supreme Court records, and making notes with a fountain pen—a fountain pen—symbol of the student. What abominable luck!
Roberta was laughing as his eyes met hers. The gay curve of her lips recalled to him one of the things Ted had said about her, concerning a certain boyish quality in her makeup, and he was strongly tempted to tell her of it. But he resisted.
"I can see you two are great chums," said he. "I envy you both your afternoon, clear through to the corn-popping."
"If you are still at work when we reach that stage we will—send you in some of it," she promised, and laughed again at the way his face fell.
"I thought perhaps you were going to invite me in to help pop," he suggested boldly.
"I understand you are engaged in the serious labour of collecting material for a book on a most serious subject," she replied. "We shouldn't dare to divert your mind; and besides I am told that Uncle Calvin intends to introduce you formally to the family by inviting you to dinner some evening next week. Do you think you ought to steal in by coming to a corn-popping beforehand? You see now I can quite truthfully say to Uncle Calvin that I don't yet know you, but after I had popped corn with you—"
She paused, and he eagerly filled out the sentence: "You would know me? I hope you would! Because, to tell the honest truth, literary research is a bit new and difficult to me as yet, and any diversion—"
But she would not ask him to the corn-popping. And he was obliged to finish his luncheon in short order because Roberta and Ted, plainly anxious to begin the afternoon's program, made such short work of it themselves. They bade him farewell at the door of the dining-room like a pair of lads who could hardly wait to be ceremonious in their eagerness to be off, and the last he saw of them they were running up the staircase hand in hand like the comrades they were.
During his intensely stupid researches Richard Kendrick could hear faintly in the distance the thud of the basket-ball and the rumble of the bowls. But within the hour these tantalizing sounds ceased, and, in the midst of the fiercest dash of rain against the library window-panes that had yet occurred that day, he suddenly heard the bang of the back-hall entrance-door. He jumped to his feet and ran to reconnoitre, for the library looked out through big French windows upon the lawn behind the house, and he knew that the pair of holiday makers would pass.
There they were! What could the rain matter to them? Clad in high hunting boots and gleaming yellow oilskin coats, and with hunters' caps on their heads, they defied the weather. Anything prettier than Roberta's face under that cap, with the rich yellow beneath her chin, her face alight with laughter and good fellowship, Richard vowed to himself he had never seen. He wanted to wave a farewell to them, but they did not look up at his window, and he would not knock upon the pane—like a sick schoolboy shut up in the nursery enviously watching his playmates go forth to valiant games.
When they had disappeared at a fast walk down the gravelled path to the gate at the back of the grounds, taking by this route a straight course toward the open country which lay in that direction not more than a mile away, the grandson of old Matthew Kendrick went reluctantly back to his work. He hated it, yet—he was tremendously glad he had taken the job. If only there might be many oases in the dull desert such as this had been!
* * * * *
"How do you like him, Rob?" inquired the young brother, splashing along at his sister's side down the country road.
"Like whom?" Roberta answered absently, clearing her eyes of raindrops by the application of a moist handkerchief.
"I think Uncle Cal might have looked a long way and not picked out a less suitable secretary," said she with spirit.
"Is that what he is? What is a seccertary anyway?" demanded Ted.
"Several things Mr. Kendrick is not."
"Oh, I say, Rob! I can't understand—"
"It is a person who has learned how to be eyes, ears, hands, and brain for another," defined Roberta.
"Gee! Hasn't Uncle Cal got all those things himself—except eyes?"
"Yes, but anybody who serves him needs them all, too. I don't believe Mr. Kendrick ever helped anybody before in his life."
"Maybe he has. He's got loads of money, Louis says."
"Oh, money! Anybody can give away money."
"They don't all, I guess," declared Ted, with boyish shrewdness. "Say, Rob, why wouldn't you ask him to the corn-pop frolic?"
Roberta looked round at him. Drenched violets would have been dull and colourless beside the living tint of her eyes, the raindrops clinging to her lashes. "Because he was too busy," she replied, and looked away again.
"I didn't think he seemed so very much in a hurry to get back to the library," observed Ted. "When I went down to the kitchen after the corn I looked in the door and he was sitting at the desk looking out of the window. But then I look out of the window myself at school," he admitted.
"Ted, shall we take this path or the other?" asked his sister, halting where three trails across the meadow diverged.
"This one will be the wettest," said he promptly. "But I like it best."
"Then we'll take it." And she plunged ahead.
"I say, Rob, but you're a true sport!" acknowledged her young brother with admiration. "Any girl I know would have wanted the dry path."
"Dry?" Roberta showed him a laughing profile over her shoulder. "Where all paths are soaking, why be fastidious? The wetter we are the more credit for keeping jolly, as Mark Tapley would say. Lead on, MacDuff!"
"You seem to be leading yourself," shouted Ted, as she unexpectedly broke into a run.
"It's only seeming, Ted," she called back. "Whenever a woman seems to be leading, you may take my word for it she's only following the course pointed out by some man. But—when she seems to be following, look out for her!"
But of this oracular statement Ted could make nothing and wisely did not try. He was quite content to splash along in Rob's wake, thinking complacently how hot and buttery the popped corn would be an hour hence.
Richard Kendrick had been guest at a good many dinners in the course of his experience, dinners of all sorts and of varying degrees of formality. Club dinners, college-class dinners, "stag" dinners at imposing hotels and cafes, impromptu dinners hurriedly arranged by three or four fellows in for a good time, dinners at which women were present, more at which they were not—these were everyday affairs with him. But, strange to say, the one sort of dinner with which he was not familiar was that of the family type—the quiet gathering in the home of the members of the household, plus one or two fortunate guests. He had never sat at such a table under his own roof, and when he was entertained in the homes of his friends the occasion was invariably made one for summoning many other guests, and for elaborate feasting and diversion of all kinds.
It will be seen, therefore, that Richard looked forward to a totally new experience, without in the least realizing that he did so. His principal thought concerning the invitation to the Grays' was that he should at last have the chance to meet again the niece of his employer, in a way that would show him considerably more of her as a woman than he had been able to observe on the occasion when they had so hurriedly finished a luncheon together, and she had escaped from him as fast as possible in order to set forth on a madcap adventure with her small brother.
On the day of which he expected to spend the evening with the Grays he found it not a little difficult to keep his mind upon his work with the Judge, and that gentleman seemed to him extraordinarily particular, even fussy, about having every fact brought to him painstakingly verified down to the smallest detail. When at last he was released, and he rushed home in his car to dress, he discovered that his spirits were dancing as he could not remember having felt them dance for a year. And all over a simple invitation to a family dinner!
As he dressed it might have been said of him that he also could be particular, even fussy. When, at length, he was ready, he was as carefully attired as ever he had been in his life—and this not only in body but in mind. It was curious, to his own observation of himself, how differently he felt, in what different mood he was, than had ever been the case when he had left his room for the scene of some accustomed pleasure-making. He could not just define this difference to himself, though he was conscious of it; but there was in it a sense of wishing the people he was to meet to think well of him, according to their own standards, and he was somehow rather acutely aware that their standards were not likely to be those with which he was most intimate.
When he entered the now familiar door of the Gray homestead he was surprised to hear sounds which seemed to indicate that the affair was, after all, much larger and more formal than he had been led to suppose. Strains of music fell upon his ears—music from a number of stringed instruments remarkably well played—and this continued as he made his entrance into the long drawing-room at the left of the hall, of whose interior he had as yet caught only tempting glimpses.
As he greeted his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gray, Judge Calvin Gray, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Gray, wondering a little where the rest of the family could be, his eye fell upon the musicians, and the problem was solved. Ruth, the sixteen-year-old, sat before a harp; Louis, the elder son, cherished a violin under his chin; Roberta—ah, there she was! wearing a dull-blue evening frock above which gleamed her white neck, her half-uncovered arms showing exquisite curves as she handled the bow which was drawing long, rich notes from the violoncello at her knee.
Not one of the trio looked up until the nocturne they were playing was done. Then they rose together, laying aside their instruments, and made the guest welcome. He had a vivid impression of being done peculiar honour by their recognition of him as a new friend, for so they received him. As he looked from one to another of their faces he experienced another of those curious sensations which had from time to time assailed him ever since he had first put his head inside the door of this house, the sensation of looking in upon a new world of which he had known nothing, and of being strangely drawn by all he saw there. It was not alone the effect of meeting a more than ordinarily alluring girl, for each member of the family had for him something of this drawing quality. As he studied them it was clear to him that they belonged together, that they loved each other, that the very walls of this old home were eloquent of the life lived here.
He had of course seen and noted families before, noted them carelessly enough: rich families, poor families, big families, little, newly begun families; but of a certain sort of family of which this was the interesting and inviting type he knew as little as the foreigner, newly landed on American shores, knows of the depths of the great country's interior. And as he studied these people the desire grew and grew within him to know as much of them as they would let him know. The very grouping of them, against the effective background of the fine old drawing-room, made, it seemed to him, a remarkable picture, full of a certain richness of colour and harmony such as he had never observed anywhere.
The evening did not contain as much of gay encounter with Roberta as he had anticipated—but, somehow, as he afterwards looked back upon it, he could not feel that there had been any lack. He had fancied himself, in prospect, sitting beside her at the table, exchanging that pleasant, half-foolish badinage with which young men are wont to entertain girls who are their companions at dinners, both nearly oblivious of the rest of the company. But it turned out that his seat was between his hostess and her younger daughter, Ruth, and though Roberta was nearly opposite him at the table and he could look at her to his full content—conservatively speaking—he was obliged to give himself to playing the part of the deferential younger man where older and more distinguished men are present.
Yet—to his surprise, it must be admitted—he found himself not bored by that table-talk. It was such table-talk, by the way, as is not to be had under ordinary roofs. He now recognized that he had only partially appreciated the qualities of mind possessed by Judge Gray—certainly not his capacity for brilliant conversation. Mr. Robert Gray was quite his elder brother's match, however, and more than once Kendrick caught Louis Gray's eye meeting his own with the glance which means delighted pride in the contest of wits which is taking place. All three young men enjoyed it to the full, and even Ted listened with eyes full of eager desire to comprehend that which he understood to be worth trying hard for.
"They enjoy these encounters keenly," said Mrs. Gray, beside Richard, as a telling story by Mr. Robert Gray, in illustration of a point he had made, came to a conclusion amid a burst of appreciative laughter. "They relish them quite as much, we think, as if they often succeeded in convincing each other, which they seldom do."
"Are they always in such form?" asked Richard, looking into the fresh, attractive face of the lady who was the mistress of this home, and continuing to watch her with eyes as deferential as they were admiring. She, too, represented a type of woman and mother with which he was unfamiliar. Grace and charm in women who presided at dinner-tables he had often met, but he could not remember when before he had sat at the right hand of a woman who had made him begin, for almost the first time in his life, to wonder what his own mother had been like.
"Nearly always, at night, I think," said she, her eyes resting upon her husband's face. Richard, observing, saw her smile, and guessed, without looking, that there had been an exchange of glances. He knew, because he had twice before noted the exchange, as if there existed a peculiarly strong sympathy between husband and wife. This inference, too, possessed a curious new interest for the young man—he had not been accustomed to see anything of that sort between married people of long standing—not in the world he knew so well. He seemed to be learning strange new possibilities of existence at every step, since he had discovered the Grays—he who at twenty-eight had not thought there was very much left in human experience to be discovered.
"Is it different in the morning?" Richard inquired.
"Quite different. They are rather apt to take things more seriously in the morning. The day's work is just before them and they are inclined to discuss grave questions and dispose of them. But at night, when the lights are burning and every one comes home with a sense of duty done, it is natural to throw off the weights and be merry over the same matters which, perhaps, it seemed must be argued over in the morning. We all look forward to the dinner-table."
"I should think you might," agreed Richard, looking about him once more at the faces which surrounded him. He caught Roberta's eye, as he did so—much to his satisfaction—and she gave him a straightforward, steady look, as if she were taking his measure for the first time. Then, quite suddenly, she smiled at him and turned away to speak to Ted, who sat by her side.
Richard continued to watch, and saw that immediately Ted looked his way and also smiled. He wanted so much to know what this meant, that, as soon as dinner was over and they were all leaving the room, he fell in with the boy and, putting his hand through Ted's arm, whispered with artful intent: "Was my tie under my left ear?"
Ted stared up at him. "Your tie's all right, Mr. Kendrick."
"Then it wasn't that. Perhaps my coat collar was turned up?"
"Why, no," the boy laughed. "You look as right as anything. What made you think—"
"I saw you and your sister laughing at me and it worried me. I thought I must be looking the guy some way."
Ted considered. "Oh, no!" he said. "She asked me if I thought you were enjoying the dinner as well as you would have liked the corn-popping."
"And what did you decide?"
"I said I couldn't tell, because I never saw you at a corn-popping. I asked her that day we went to walk why she wouldn't ask you to it, but she just said you were too busy to come. I didn't think you acted too busy to come," he said naively, glancing up into Richard's down-bent face.
"Didn't I? Haven't I looked very busy whenever you have seen me in your uncle's library?"
Ted shook his head. "I don't think you have—not the way Louis looks busy in father's office, nor the way father does."
Richard laughed, but somehow the frank comment stung him a little, as he would not have imagined the comment of an eleven-year-old boy could have done. "See here, Ted," he urged, "tell me why you say that. I think myself I've done a lot of work since I've been here, and I can't see why I haven't looked it."
But Ted shook his head. "I don't think it would be polite to tell you," he said, which naturally did not help matters much.
Still holding the lad's arm, Richard walked over to Roberta, who had gone to the piano and was arranging some sheets of music there.
"Miss Gray," he said, "have you accomplished a great deal to-day?"
She looked up, puzzled. "A great deal of what?" she asked.
"The usual amount. Lessons—and lessons—and one more lesson. I have really more pupils than I can do justice to, but I am promised an assistant if the work grows too heavy," she answered. "Why, please?"
"I've been wondering if the motto of the Gray family might be 'Let us, then, be up and doing.' Ted gives me that notion."
Roberta glanced at Ted, whose face had grown quite grave. "Can you tell him what the motto is, Ted?"
"Of course I can," responded Ted proudly. "It's Hoc age."
Richard hastily summoned his Latin, but the verb bothered him for a minute. "This do," he presently evolved. "Well, I should say I came pretty near it."
"What's yours?" the boy now inquired.
"My family motto? I believe it is Crux mihi ancora; but that doesn't just suit me, so I've adopted one of my own"—he looked straight at Roberta—"Dum vivimus, vivamus. Isn't that a pleasanter one in this workaday world?"
Ted was struggling hard, but his two months' experience with the rudiments of Latin would not serve him. "What do they mean?" he asked eagerly.
"The second one means," said Roberta, with her arm about the slim young shoulders, "'While we live, let us live—well.'" Her eyes met Richard's with a shade of defiance in them.
"Thank you," said he. "Do you expect me to adopt the amendment?"
"Even you—take cross-country runs."
She nodded. "And am all the better teacher for them next day."
He laughed. "I should like to take one with you some time," said he. He saw Judge Gray coming toward them. "I wonder if I'm likely ever to have the chance," he added hurriedly.
"You take a cross-country run when you could have a sixty-mile spin in that motor-car of yours instead?"
"I couldn't go cross-country in that. You see I've been by the beaten track so much I should like to try exploring something new."
He was eager to say more, but Judge Gray, coming up to them, laid an affectionate hand on his niece's shoulder.
"She doesn't look the part she plays by day, does she?" he said to Richard. "Curious, how times have changed. In my day a teacher looked a teacher every minute of her time. One stood in awe of her—or him—particularly of her. A prim, stuff gown, hair parted in the middle and drawn smoothly away"—his glance wandered from Roberta's ivory neck to the dusky masses of her hair—"spectacles, more than likely—with steel bows. And a manner—ye gods—the manner! How we were impressed by it! Well, well! Fine women they were and true to their profession. These modern girls who look younger than their pupils—" He shook his head with an air of being quite in despair about them.
"Uncle Calvin," said Roberta, demurely, with her hand upon his arm, "do tell Mr. Kendrick about your teaching school 'across the river' when you were only sixteen years old."
And, of course, that settled the chance of Richard's hearing anything about Roberta's teaching, for, though Judge Gray was called out of the room in the midst of his story, Stephen and Louis came up and joined the group and switched the talk a thousand miles away from schools and school-teaching.
Presently there was music again, and this time Richard found himself sitting beside young Mrs. Stephen Gray. Between numbers he found questions to ask, which she answered with evident pleasure.
"These three must have been playing together a good many years?"
"Dear me, yes—ever since they were born, I think. They do make real harmony, don't they?"
"They do—in more ways than one. Is that colour scheme intentional, do you think?"
Mrs. Stephen's glance followed his as it dwelt upon the group. "I hadn't noticed," she admitted, "but I see it now; it's perfect. And I've no doubt Ruth thought it out. She's quite a wonderful eye for colour, and she worships Rob and likes to dress so as to offset her—always giving Rob the advantage—though of course she would have that, anyway, by virtue of her own colouring."
"Blue and corn-colour—should you call it?—and gold. Dull tints in the background, and the candle-light on Miss Ruth's hair and her sister's cheek. It makes the prettiest picture yet in my new collection of family groups."
Mrs. Stephen looked at him curiously. "Are you making a collection of family groups?" she inquired. "Beginning away back with your first memories?"
"My first memories are not of family groups—only of nurses and tutors, with occasional portraits of my grandfather making inquiries as to how I was getting on. And my later memories are all of school and college—then of travel. Not a home scene among them."
"You poor boy!" There was something maternal in Mrs. Stephen's tone, though she looked considerably younger than the object of her pity. "But you must have looked at plenty of other family groups, if you had none of your own."
"That's exactly what I haven't done."
"But you've lived—in the world," she cried under her breath, puzzled.
A curious expression came into the young man's face. "That's exactly what I have done," he said quietly. "In the world, not in the home. I've not even seen homes—like this one. The sight of brother and sisters playing violin and harp and 'cello together, with the father and mother and brother and uncle looking on, is absolutely so new to me that it has a fascination I can't explain. I find myself continually watching you all—if you'll forgive me—in your relations to each other. It's a new interest," he admitted, smiling, "and I can't tell you what it means to me."
She shook her head. "It sounds like a strange tale to me," said she, "but I suppose it must be true. How much you have missed!"
"I'm just beginning to realize it. I never knew it till I began to come here. I thought I was well enough off—it seems I'm pretty poor."
It was rather a strange speech for a young man of his class to make. Possibly it indicated the existence of those "brains" with which his grandfather had credited him.
"Well, Rob, do you think he had as dull a time as you said he would have?"
The inquirer was Ruth. She stood, still in the corn-coloured frock, in the doorway of her sister's room, from which her own opened. "Please unhook me," she requested, approaching Roberta and turning her back invitingly.
Roberta, already out of the blue-silk gown, released her young sister from the imprisonment of her hooks and eyes.
"His manners are naturally too good to make it clear whether he had a dull time or not," was Roberta's non-committal reply.
"I don't believe his manners are too good to cover up his being bored, if he was bored," Ruth went on. "He certainly wasn't bored all the time, anybody could tell that. He's very good-looking, isn't he?"
"If you care for that sort of good looks—yes."
"The kind that doesn't express anything—except having had a good time every minute of one's life."
"Why, Rob, what's the matter with you? Anybody would think you had something against poor Mr. Kendrick."
"If he were 'poor Mr. Kendrick' there might be a chance of liking him, for he would have had to do something."
Roberta was pulling out hairpins with energy, and now let the whole dark mass tumble about her shoulders. The half-curling locks were very thick and soft, and as she shook them away from her face she reminded Ruth of a certain wild little Arabian pony of her own.
"You throw back your head just like Sheik when he's going to bolt," Ruth cried, laughing. "I wish my hair were like that. It looks perfectly dear whatever you do with it, and mine's only pretty when it's been put just right."
"It certainly was put just right to-night then," said a third voice, and Rosamond, Stephen's wife, appeared in Roberta's half-open door. "May I come in? Steve hasn't come up yet, and I'm so comfortable in this loose thing I want to sit up a while and enjoy it."
Rosamond looked hardly older than Roberta; there were times when she looked younger, being small and fair. Ruth considered her quite as much of a girl as either herself or Roberta, and welcomed her eagerly to the discussion in which she herself was so much interested.
"Rosy," was her first question, "did you think our guest was bored to-night?"
"Bored?" exclaimed Mrs. Stephen in surprise. "Why should he be? He didn't look it whenever I observed him. And if you had seen him when the trio was playing you wouldn't have thought so. By the way, he has an eye for colour. He noticed how your frock and Rob's went together in the candle-light, with the harp to give a touch of gold."
"Did he say so?" cried Ruth in delight.
"He asked if the colour scheme was intentional. I said I thought it probably was—on your part. Rob never thinks of colour schemes."
"Neither does any man," murmured Roberta from the depths of the hair she was brushing with an energetic arm. "Unless it happens to be his business," she amended.
"Rob doesn't like him," declared Ruth, "just because he has money and good looks and doesn't work for his living, and likes pretty colour schemes. He probably gets that from having seen so much wonderful art in his travels. Aren't painters just as good as bridge-builders? Rob doesn't think so. She wants every man to get his hands grubby."
Roberta turned about, laughing. "This one isn't even a painter. Go to bed, you foolish, analytical child. And don't dream of the beautiful guest who admired your corn-coloured frock."
"He only liked it because it set off your blue one," Ruth shot back.
"He said nothing whatever about my lovely new white gown," Rosamond called after her.
Roberta came up to her sister-in-law from behind and put both arms about her. "Stephen came and whispered in my ear to-night," said she, "and wanted to know if I had ever seen Rosy look sweeter. I said I had—an hour before. He asked what you had on, and I said, 'A gray kimono—and the baby on her arm.' He smiled and nodded—and I saw the look in his eyes."
"Rob, you're the dearest sister a girl ever had given to her," Rosamond answered, returning the embrace.
"And yet you two say I don't care for colour schemes," Roberta reminded her as she returned to her hair-brushing. "I care enough for them to want them made up of colours that will wash—warranted not to fade—that will stand sun and rain and only grow the more beautiful!"
"What are you talking about now, dear?" laughed Rosamond happily, still thinking of what Stephen had said to Roberta.
RICHARD PRICKS HIS FINGERS
Hoofbeats on the driveway outside the window! Beside the window stood the desk at which Richard was accustomed to work at Judge Gray's dictation. And at the desk on this most alluring of all alluring Indian-summer days in middle November sat a young man with every drop of blood in his vigorous body shouting to him to drop his work and rush out, demanding: "Take me with you!"
For there, walking their horses along the driveway from the distant stables, were three figures on horseback. There was one with sunny hair—Ruth—her brown habit the colour of the pretty mare she rode; one with russet-gaitered legs astride of the little Arabian pony called Sheik—Ted; one, all in dark, beautifully tailored green, with a soft gray hat pulled over masses of dusky hair, her face—Richard could see her face now as the horses drew nearer—all gay and eager for the ride—Roberta.
Judge Gray, his glance following his companion's, looked out also. He rose and came and stood behind Richard at the window and tapped upon the pane, waving his hand as the riders looked up. Instantly all three faces lighted with happy recognition and acknowledgment. Ruth waved and nodded. Ted pulled off his cap and swung it. Roberta gave a quick military salute, her gray-gauntleted hand at her hat brim.
Richard smiled with the Judge at the charming sight, and sighed with the next breath. What a fool he had been to tie himself down to this desk when other people were riding into the country! Yet—if he hadn't been tied to that desk he would neither have known nor cared who rode out from the old Gray stables, or where they went.
The Judge caught the slight escaping breath and smiled again as the riders passed out of sight. "It makes you wish for the open country, doesn't it?" said he. "I don't blame you. I should have gone with the young folks myself if I had been ten years younger. It is a fine day, isn't it? I've been so absorbed I hadn't observed. Suppose we stop work at three and let ourselves out into God's outdoors? Not a bad idea, eh?"
"Not bad," agreed Richard with a leap of spirits, "if it pleases you, sir. I'm ready to work till the usual time if you prefer."
"Well spoken. But I don't prefer. I shall enjoy a stroll down the avenue myself in this sunshine. What sunshine—for November!"
It was barely three when the Judge released his assistant, two hours after the riding party had left. As he opened the front door and ran to his waiting car, Richard was wondering how many miles away they were and in what direction they had gone. He wanted nothing so much as to meet them somewhere on the road—better yet, to overtake and come upon them unawares.
A powerful car driven by a determined and quick-witted young man may scour considerable country while three horses, trotting in company, are covering but a few short miles. Richard was sure of one thing: whichever road appealed to the young Grays as most picturesque and secluded on this wonderful Indian-summer afternoon would be their choice. Not the main highways of travel, but some enticing by-way. Where would that be? He decided on a certain course, with a curious feeling that he could follow wherever Roberta led, by the invisible trail of her radiant personality. He would see! Mile after mile—he took them swiftly, speeding out past the West Wood marshes with assurance of the fact that this was certainly one of the favourite ways.
Twelve miles out he came to a fork in the road. Which trail? One led up a steep hill, the other down into the river valley, soft-veiled in the late sunshine. Which trail? He could seem to see Roberta choosing the hill and putting her horse up it, while Ruth called out that the valley road was better. With a sense of exhilaration he sent the car up the hill, remembering that from the top was a broad view sure to be worth while on a day like this. Besides, up here he might be able to see far ahead and discern the party somewhere in the distance.
Just over the brow he came upon them where they had camped by the roadside. It was a road quite off the line of travel and they were a hundred feet back among a clump of pine trees, their horses tied to the fence-rail. A bonfire sent up a pungent smoke half veiling the figures. But the car had come roaring up the hill, and they were all looking his way. Two of the horses had plunged a little at the sudden noise, and Ted ran forward. Richard stopped his engine, triumphant, his pulses quickening with a bound.
"Oh, hullo!" cried Ted in joyful excitement. "Where'd you come from, Mr. Kendrick? Isn't this luck!"
"This is certainly luck," responded Richard, doffing his hat as the figures by the fire moved his way, the one in brown coming quickly, the one in green rather more slowly. "Your uncle released me at three and I rushed for the open. What a day!"
"Isn't it wonderful?" Ruth came up to the brown mare, which was eying the big car with some resentment. She patted the velvet nose as she spoke. "Don't you mind, Bess," she reproached the mare. "It's nothing but a puffing, noisy car. It's not half so nice as you."
She smiled up at Richard and he smiled back. "I rather think you're right," he admitted. "I used to think myself there was nothing like a good horse. I'd like to exchange the car for one just now; I'm sure of that."
"It wouldn't buy any one of ours." Roberta, coming up, glanced from the big machine to the trio of interested animals, all of which were keeping watchful eyes on the intruder. "Nonsense, Colonel,—stand still!"
"I don't want to buy one of yours; I want one of my own, to ride back with you—if you'd let me."
"Anyhow, you can stop and have a bite with us," said Ted, with a sudden thought. "Can't he, Rob?"
Roberta smiled. "If he is as hungry as he looks."
"Do I look hungry?"
"Starving. So do we, no doubt. Come and have some sandwiches."
"We're going to toast them," explained Ruth, walking back to the fire with Richard when he had leaped with alacrity over the fence, his hat left behind, his brown head shining in the sun, his face happier than any of his fellow-clubmen had seen it in a year, as they would have been quick to notice if any of them had come upon him now. "We have ginger ale, too; do you like ginger ale?"
"Immensely!" Richard eyed the preparations with interest. "How do you toast your sandwiches?"
"On forks of wood; Ted's going to cut them."
"Please let me." And the guest fell to work. He found a keen enjoyment in preparing these implements, and afterward in the process of toasting, which was done every-one-for-himself, with varying degrees of success. The sandwiches were filled with a rich cheese mixture, and the result of toasting them was a toothsome morsel most gratifying to the hungry palate.
"One more?" urged Ruth, offering Richard the nearly empty box which had contained a good supply.
"Thank you—no; I've had seven," he refused, laughing. "Nothing ever tasted quite so good. And I'm an interloper."
"Here's to the interloper!" Ruth raised her glass and drank the last of her ginger ale. "We always provide for one. Usually it's a small boy."
"More often a pair of them. And always there are Bess, Colonel, and Sheik." Roberta rose to her feet, the last three sandwiches in hand, and walked away to the horses tied to the fence-rail.
Richard's eyes followed her. In the austere lines of her riding-habit he could see more clearly than he had yet done what a superb young image of health and energy she was.
"Rob adores horses," Ruth remarked, looking after her sister also. "You ought to see her ride cross-country. My Bess can't jump, but her Colonel can. I don't believe there's anything in sight Rob and Colonel couldn't jump. But I can never get used to seeing her; I have to shut my eyes when Colonel rises, and I don't open them till I hear him land. But he's never fallen with her, and she says he never will."
"Why not? Any horse might, you know, if he slipped on wet ground or something."
"He never will with her on his back. He's more likely to jump so high he'll never come down."
Ruth laughed. "Look at Colonel rub his nose against her, now he's had the sandwich. Don't you wish you had a picture of them?"
"Indeed I do!" The tone was fervent. Then a thought struck him and he jumped to his feet. "By all luck, I believe there's a little camera in the car. If there is we'll have it."
He ran to the fence, took a flying leap over, and fell to searching. In a moment he produced something which he waved at Ruth. She and Ted went to meet him as he returned. Roberta, busy with the horses, had not seen.
"There are only two exposures left on the film, but they'll do, if she'll be good. Will she mind if I snap her, or must I ask her permission?"
"I think you'd better ask it," counselled Ruth doubtfully. "If it were one of us she wouldn't mind—"
"I see." He set the little instrument with a skilled touch and rapidly, then walked toward Roberta and the horses. He aimed it with care, then he called: "You won't mind if I take a picture of the horses, will you?"
Roberta turned quickly, her hand on Colonel's snuggling nose. "Not at all," she answered, and took a quick step to one side. But before she had taken it the sharp-eyed little lens of the camera had caught her, her attitude at the instant one of action, the expression of her face that of vivacious response. She flew out of range and before she could speak the camera clicked again, this time the lens so obviously pointed at the animals, and not at herself, that the intent of the operator could not be called in question.