HotFreeBooks.com
The Wishing-Ring Man
by Margaret Widdemer
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Wishing-Ring Man

By MARGARET WIDDEMER



TO THE MEMORY OF MY OWN GRANDFATHER

E. S. W.

ONE OF THE DEAREST, BEST AND KINDLIEST OF MEN



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. JOY IN AMBER SATIN

II. BY GRACE OF THE WISHING RING

III. PHYLLIS RIDES THROUGH

IV. THE RESCUE OF THE PRINCESS

V. THE SHADOW OF GAIL

VI. ROSE GARDENS AND MEN

VII. A VERY CHARMING GENTLEMAN

VIII. A FOUNTAIN IN FAIRYLAND

IX. THE TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

X. CLARENCE SWOOPS DOWN

XI. PIRATE COUSINS TO THE RESCUE

XII. DINNER FOR FIVE

XIII. THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF "IOLANTHE"

XIV. THE SLIGHTLY SURPRISING CLARENCE

XV. THE GIFT OF THE RING



CHAPTER ONE

JOY IN AMBER SATIN

Joy Havenith had no business at all to be curled up on the back stairs under Great-Grand-Aunt Lucilla's picture. She ought to have been sliding sweetly up and down the long double parlors with teacups and cake, and she knew it. But she just didn't care.

As a matter of fact, Aunt Lucilla and the other ancestors ought to have been in the parlors, too; but Grandfather had ordained differently. He had gobbled the parlor walls for his autographed photograph collection, and Grandmother, long before Joy was born or orphaned, had sorrowfully hung her ancestors-in-law out in the long, narrow hall, where they were a tight fit. Grandfather was one of the last survivors of the old school of American poetry. He was tall and slender, and very gentle and nice, but he always had things the way he said he wanted them, and he preferred his autographed friends to his family portraits.

"It's rather a good thing it's so dark out here, Aunt Lucilla," said Joy to the smiling Colonial lady in the dark corner above her. "You mayn't much like being where people can't see you—but think how you'd feel, up garret!"

Aunt Lucilla Havenith, red of lip, flashing of eye, blue and silver of gown, laughed on down at her great-grand-niece, who was holding a surreptitious little red candle up to talk to her. Aunt Lucilla, from all accounts, had had too excellent a time in her life to mind a little thing like being put in a back hall afterwards. She had been a belle from her fifteenth year, eloped with her true-love at sixteen, and gone on being a belle all the rest of her life, in the intervals of three husbands and ever so many children. She had managed everything and everybody she came across gaily all her life; she had been proposed to by practically the whole Society of the Cincinnati; and had died at eighty-three, a power and a charmer to the last.

"I don't think you need to mind dark corners one bit," said Joy, tipping the candle so that the red wax dribbled down on her slim fingers. "If Rochambeau and Lafayette and all the rest of the people in the history-books had made a fuss over me—"

Joy sat down on the stairs again, on a cushion. Nobody used the back stairs, fine curly ones that they were, and Joy's cushion, which she had put there on purpose to be mournful on a fortnight before, was untouched since last time.

Joy Havenith was nineteen, but you never would have known it. She had been told so often by her grandparents that she was only a child yet, that she quite believed it. No, not quite—but enough to make her a little shy, and have almost the expression and manner still of a little girl. She had big, black-lashed, kitten-blue eyes, scarlet lips, and two ropes of bronze hair that she wanted very badly to put up. It sounds like rather an exciting personality, but Joy was so young and so shy and so obedient that she was only like a rather small Blessed Damozel, or some other not-grown-up Rossetti person. She knew it well, because she had been told so frequently, and she didn't care about it at all. She leaned her head against the frame containing Great-Grandfather John Havenith at twenty, and considered Aunt Lucilla afresh.

"All the people in the history-books!" she said again softly, but none the less regretfully.

Ordinarily you couldn't ask for a dearer, sweeter child than Joy, slipping noiselessly up and down the old house in the city, being just as good as she knew how. She had always been told that she must be good and obedient and affectionate, and it had never been any trouble to her, because she was naturally that way. She lived all alone with Grandfather and Grandmother and Elizabeth the cook, and did just what Grandfather told her to. So did everybody else. It wasn't that he was cross, or anything like that. He was more charming than most people. But he was a Personage; and if you live with a Personage your own personality gets a bit pushed into the background, without its being anybody's fault at all.

Joy had been perfectly happy, as far as she knew, until two weeks before. You can be, you know, if no one tells you you aren't, especially when you're young.

Grandfather had Afternoons every two weeks, when he sat at the end of the parlors in a big chair and received his admirers. In his youth he had looked like Shelley, and he was still tall and slender and clean-shaven, with straight, abundant white hair, and black brows and lashes like Joy's. And he had what is called immense personal charm, and loved his little grand-daughter devotedly. He simply didn't know she was grown up. For the matter of that, neither did Joy herself until....

You see, it had been very much like life in a fairy-book. She never remembered anything but the old house and the old people, and everybody literary coming and going and telling her how wonderful Grandfather was: and nothing that concerned her very closely, at all. She scarcely knew how to treat anybody, except respectfully, because they had always all been so much older than she was. It was like living in an enchanted tower. Enchanted towers are very pleasant places, because you can have all sorts of dreams in them. Joy hadn't missed anything much, till the thing that happened at the reception.

Grandfather, in his frock-coat and stock, his white fluffy hair flying, had been moving up and down the autographed parlors with his usual dominant charm. Little gray Grandmother, in her gathered, fichued black silk, was putting lemon or cream in teacups, as people should prefer. Joy had been walking up and down by Grandfather, as he liked to have her on reception days. They dressed her, on these days, in lovely strange frocks, cut medieval fashion, with the ropes of bronze-gold hair trailing down either side of her vividly colored, incongruously dreamy little face. According to the way Joy figured it out, Grandfather had her dress that way, the better to write poetry about her. She didn't mind. The truth was, she lived so far inside herself that she didn't care. It was so much easier to do quickly what you were told, and then go back to the place where you played by yourself—a fairy country.

This particular reception day was a damp, heavily hot afternoon in early September. There weren't many people back in the city yet, but Grandfather always began his "days" as early as he could. He was fond of having people around him. And even on this very sticky day people did come. Only two of them were young.

Joy didn't know any young people. Some day she intended to. In her dream-world she had friends who were young and gay and lovely and talked to her, and to whom she talked back gaily; but it never occurred to her to expect anything like that to really happen right now. The young men and young girls she sometimes crossed she admired quite happily and remotely, as if they were people from another planet.

It was so that she watched these two people that were young. She liked watching them so much that presently she escaped from Grandfather, and slid behind the window-curtains, to be closer to them.

"They feel so lovely and happy," said Joy, warming her little hands at their happiness.

They were lovers; anybody could see that. And they weren't poets or anything of the sort; you could see that, too. She was in a little trim white pongee street suit, with a close little hat above a little rosy, powdered, cheerful face. He had rather heavy shoulders and a shock of carefully brushed straight light hair, and looked about one year out of Harvard. They didn't at all belong with the middle-aged roomful. As a matter of fact, her mother knew Mrs. Havenith a little, and so they had dashed in here to save her suit from the rain. They were sitting and smiling at each other against a background of Mark Twain's life-sized head in a broad gilt frame. They faced another life-sized head of Browning, also autographed, but they liked looking at each other better.

Joy, from her hiding-place, could feel the current of their happiness and youth, and it made her very warm in her soul, and comfortable. She listened to them quite unashamedly, as she would have to a nice play.

"She has wonderful hair, hasn't she?" she heard the girl say.

"Not as lovely as my girl's," the man answered softly.

His girl laughed, a little low pleased laugh. "But you can't see mine hanging down that way, like a picture," she fenced.

"I'm glad you don't wear it that way," he insisted. "I like you to look like a real girl, not a movie star or an advertisement."

"Do you suppose she likes it?" asked the girl. "I'd go crazy if I had to be like that—why, she isn't as old as I am! I suppose they write poems about her, though," she added, as if that might be a compensation.

"Oh, if that's all—" began the man, and they both laughed happily, as at a wonderful joke.

Joy, frozen behind her curtains, heard a little rustle, as if he was taking her hand, and her protest—

"Oh, Dicky, don't—they'll see us!"

"Not a bit," said he cheerfully. "They're all looking at dear Grandpapa, the Angora Poet—oldest in captivity to be reading his own sonnets. Bet you it's about the little girl, poor kid—he seems to be looking around for her."

"Sonnets? Oh, let's go; the rain's stopped," whispered the girl. "You were awfully extravagant this afternoon. Now we're going to take a nice, inexpensive walk up home."

She heard him protesting a little at that; then they slid out softly, while poor Joy sat behind her curtains, moveless and aghast.... Oh, was this what she was like ... to real, happy, gay people her own age? And she had liked the girl so, and been so glad she had her lover, and that they loved each other! And Grandfather.... She had never thought whether he wrote poetry about her or not. She had just taken it for granted. People had to write about something, and it was just as apt to be you as a public crisis or a sunset, or anything else useful for the purpose. But they had laughed about it.... Oh, she did hope it wouldn't be a poem about her that he was going to read! She felt she couldn't stand it, if it were. She knew that when she was the subject she was expected to be in sight, as a sort of outward and visible sign.

"I won't go out into the room!" she said defiantly. "He doesn't expect the sunsets and public crises to stand up and be looked at when he reads about them!"

So she stayed just where she was. As she stayed, incongruously, a joke out of an old Punch came into her head—not at all an esthetic one. It was a picture of a furious woman brandishing a broom, while the tips of her husband's boots showed under the bed-foot. The husband was saying: "Ye may poke at me and ye may threaten me, but ye canna break my manly sperrit. I willna come out fra under the bed!"

Joy laughed a little, even in her sad state of mind, at the remembrance. "I willna come out fra under the bed, either," she decided rather shakily, curling her flowing yellow satin closer about her, and making herself quite flat against the window-frame. She tried to stop her ears and not listen, so she wouldn't know whether the poetry was about her or not. But she had fatally sharp ears, and Grandfather always practised on her and Grandmother, adoringly silent at the breakfast table. She would know the poems apart if she only caught a half word.... And it was about her.

Grandfather's beautiful voice carried as well as it ever had. No matter how many fingers you had in how many ears, you heard it just the same. And the poem's name was, "To Joy in Amber Satin."

It was doubtless a very lovely poem, and she'd been as pleased as anybody when it had sold to the Century for fifty dollars last week. But it suddenly came over Joy that she wasn't a crisis, nor yet a sunset, and that people oughtn't to write poetry to their granddaughters, and then have them wear the clothes that were written about right in the room with the poem. She knew, too, that as soon as it was over, purry, nice, prettily dressed ladies would come and hunt her out and use admiring adjectives on her. She had never minded it before; she had taken it as a well-behaved little dog would; as a curious thing people did, which meant that they wanted to be nice. With this new viewpoint drenching her like cold water it didn't seem nice a bit.

She pulled the curtain stealthily apart and peeped out. Everything seemed fairly all right. Between her and Grandfather, a useful shelter, spread the massive purple-velvet back of Mrs. Harmsworth-Jones, who always came, and always asked afterwards, "And how is our little Joy-Flower today?" She was as good as she could be, but she was one more of the things Joy felt as if she couldn't stand right now.

She tiptoed very carefully indeed past Mrs. Harmsworth-Jones, and past Grandfather's bronze bust at twenty-five, and almost past the framed autograph letter of Whittier, on the easel. That was as far as she got, because there was a nail sticking out at the side of the Whittier frame, and it caught her by one of the straps that held her satin panels together across the violet chiffon sidepieces. The framed letter came down with a clatter, spoiling the last line of the poem forever; and Joy was caught, for of course every one turned around to see what the noise was.

Grandfather, who had great presence of mind, read the last four lines of the poem over again slowly, directly at Joy, who stood like a wistful little figure out of Fairyland, pressed back against the easel; her frightened eyes wide, her golden-bronze braids glimmering in the firelight. It seemed to her that the delivery of those last four lines was endless.

Yet they were done at last, and still Joy stood motionless. She really did not know how to run away, because she had never done it.

Before she moved Grandfather had finished his reading and the people, who had been sitting and standing raptly about, began to move; all fluttering dresses and perfumes, and little laughters, and pleasant little speeches to each other. It was a part of the reception that Joy usually looked forward to happily. She was just pulling herself together for flight when Mrs. Harmsworth-Jones, jingling, purple-upholstered and smiling, bore down on her.

"How is our dear little Joy-Flower this afternoon?" she asked as inevitably as Fate, patting Joy's slim bare arm with one plump, gloved hand, and beaming. "Oh, dearest child, do you realize the privilege you have? Think of actually living so close to a poet that you become a part of his inspiration. Dear little Joy—"

Mrs. Harmsworth-Jones was one of the nicest, kindest, fattest people that ever lived, and furthermore, she had taken Joy, all by herself, to a performance of "Pelleas and Melisande" only the spring before. And though Joy had thought privately that the people sang too long at a time on one note, and wished Melisande was less athletic-looking, she had liked it very much, and felt obliged to the lady ever since. So she really shouldn't have behaved the way she did—if it hadn't been for the lovers, she doubtless wouldn't have. As it was, she braced herself against the easel.

"It isn't a privilege a bit," she said defiantly, out of a clear sky. "It isn't half as much fun as being the kind of girl everybody else is. I hate wearing moving-picture clothes" [not even in her excitement could Joy bring herself to say "movies"] "and I hate never knowing girls and men my own age, and I hate having poems written to me worse than anything at all!"

Poor Mrs. Harmsworth-Jones! She hadn't done a thing. Her own girls went to fashionable schools and attended sub-deb dances by the score until they came out, which they did at eighteen each like clockwork. She couldn't have been expected to see to it for somebody else's girl, too. Her getting the full blast of it was a quite fortuitous affair, and Joy always felt, looking back afterwards on her explosion, that it had been hard on the lady—who was frightened by it to the point of silence. It must have been very much as if the sedate full-length of Mr. Shakspere, over in the corner and not autographed, had opened its mouth and begun to recite limericks.

"Why—why!" she said; and that was all she was capable of saying for the moment. Joy, terrified herself at her deed, turned and fled.

What happened between Mrs. Jones and Grandfather she never knew, and never asked. She never halted in her flight till she was safe in her own little eyrie upstairs.

There she stopped before her dresser mirror, and looked at the flushed, breathless girl in the glass.

"I wonder," Joy said aloud, "what really is the difference between me and other people?"

She stared into the glass to see if she couldn't find out, leaning her hands down on the dresser-top. But the pretty white-enamel-framed mirror showed her just the same Joy as ever. Her heavy bronze-gold braids swung forward, and their ends coiled down on the dresser-top. Between them her little pointed face looked straight at her, blue-eyed, red-lipped, and serious. Its owner eyed it perplexedly awhile, then gave up the riddle.

"If you look like pictures and poetry you do, and that's all there is to it. I suppose living with Grandfather's had an effect on me... I wonder..." Joy still stared steadily into the glass—"I wonder if having somebody in love with me would make a difference. It's the only thing Grandfather's ever said he was willing to have happen to me. He's always talking about 'I would give you up willingly to the first breath of true love....' But there's never anybody comes to his parties you could love with a pair of tongs... I wonder if he would? It would have to be love at first sight, too, I suppose. He doesn't think much of any other kind of love.... But I'd be dreadfully frightened of him.... I hope he'd have blond curly hair!"

She lifted herself from her leaning position, and went and curled up on the side of the bed, the better to think.

"There's no use wondering about a lover," she decided. "Lovers never come to hear Grandfather read, not unless they come in pairs to get out of the rain, like the animals in the ark.... Anyway I don't think I'd want the one today, even if he hadn't been a pair. But a nice fresh one that didn't belong to anybody else...."

Grandmother, released at last from finding out what people wanted in their tea, and giving it to them, hurried into the room at this point, and was very much relieved to find Joy perfectly well to all appearances, and sitting quietly on the side of the bed gazing off into space.

"Darling, were you ill?" she panted, sitting down by her. "Your grandfather was quite disturbed over it, and I was terribly frightened. We knew something must have happened. What was it, lambie? Where do you feel badly?"

Joy looked away from the wall, at her grandmother's kind, anxious, wrinkled little face under the lace lappets. Grandfather liked Grandmother to wear caps, so she did it; also fichus and full-skirted silks, whether such were in fashion or no.

"I didn't feel ill one bit," explained Joy deliberately. "Only I'm tired of being a decoration. I want to be like other people... I don't want to wear any more clothes like paintings, or ever have any more poetry written to me. I—oh, Grandmother, everything's going on and going on, and none of it's happening to me!" She looked at her grandmother appealingly. "And it feels as if it wouldn't ever!"

But Grandmother didn't seem to understand a bit. And yet she must have been young once—wasn't there that poem of Grandfather's, "To Myrtilla at Seventeen," to prove it? The one beginning "Sweetheart, whose shadowed hair!" Why, he must have—yes, he spoke of it in the poem—Grandfather must have held Grandmother's hand, like the Dicky-lover today, and even kissed her because he wanted to, not because it was nine in the morning or ten at night. Those were the times he kissed her now. Of one thing Joy was certain, Grandmother had never told Grandfather he must stop. She wouldn't have dared.

"Dear, would you like a hot-water bottle, and your supper in bed?" inquired Grandmother, breaking in on these meditations.... Oh, it was a long time since Grandmother had been Myrtilla at seventeen! Joy looked at her wistfully once more.

"No, thank you, Grandmother," she said decidedly. "I feel very well, thank you. I'll be down to supper as soon as I've changed my frock."

She felt as if getting off the actual clothes that were in the poem would be escaping from it a little, and perhaps drawing a little nearer the having of real things happen to her. Grandmother, nearly reassured, patted Joy's little slim hand with her own little wrinkled one, and trotted downstairs to tell Grandfather happily that Joy would soon be down.

Joy, left alone, pulled off the amber robe, and stood before the wardrobe in her silk slip, pushing along the hangers to try and find something practical. It was pretty hard. All her gowns were lovely loose or draped or girdled things: you could have costumed the whole cast of two Maeterlinck plays from just those hangers. She was very tired, suddenly, of all of them. At last she found a green dress that was the delight of her life, even if it was picturesque, because it was such a nice, cheerful color, put it on, and went down. She had tried to fasten her hair up as the lover-girl's had been fastened, but hers was so curly and heavy and alive and long that it couldn't be done. She strapped it in desperation around her head, wished she had some powder, and dashed down the long flights of stairs just in time to save herself from a second summons. She wasn't quite satisfied with her own general effect, but it would do for a beginning.

So, dreamer as she still was, nevertheless the only thing alight and alive in the old house, she ran down the staircases, past the statues that stood severely in the niches at the head of each flight, down finally to the basement dining-room where the three old people, her grandfather and grandmother and old Elizabeth, were waiting for her.

They sat at either end of the old mahogany table—that had been Lucilla Havenith's, too—with supper, plus the sandwiches left over from the tea, waiting untouched till Joy should come. By the way all three stopped short when she came in, Joy was sure they had been wondering what was the matter with her. She sank into her own chair, and took one of the walnut sandwiches which had been spared by the reception people. She was still hungry, and proceeded to eat it, at which Mrs. and Mr. Havenith looked happier.

"You see, Alton, she has an appetite," said Grandmother thankfully.

"Yes, I am glad to see she has," answered Grandfather, as if the circumstance was gratifying to him also. "I am very much relieved."

Joy felt guilty. When your grandparents were as fond as all that of you, you really hadn't any right to feel as if you wanted anything else. She straightened up and smiled gallantly at them, and took another sandwich by way of proving her health.

"I think I'm all right," she said.

"You were overtired," said Grandmother solicitously—Grandmother, who had cut all the sandwiches, which Joy had only buttered! "The day's been oppressive."

So she passed Joy some more of the walnut sandwiches, and smiled to see that they were being eaten.

"But I am not satisfied, yet," said Grandfather. If Grandfather had only let well enough—and young girls' whimsies—alone, Joy wouldn't have been tempted. "What made you rush out that way, Joy—just as I was finishing the last stanza of the lyric, 'To Joy in Amber Satin,' too? You couldn't have chosen a worse possible moment. You nearly spoiled the effect."

Joy threw her head back defiantly. She knew that if Grandmother didn't understand her appeal, certainly Grandfather wouldn't.

"Grandfather," she said, "do you remember the anecdote you always tell to small groups of people, the one about the farmer who used to meet your friend, James Russell Lowell, on his afternoon walk every day, and say, 'Waal, Mr. Lowell, had a poem yet today?' I had a poem!"

It was a most amazing fish story. Joy hadn't had any such thing as a poem: nothing at all but a fit of rebellion. But if she wanted to check her grandfather's inquiries she had taken the most perfect way known to civilization. He couldn't possibly blame her for bolting if the poem had to be put down. Nor even for being impolite to Mrs. Harmsworth-Jones.

"You always say, 'The Muse must out,'" continued Joy defiantly. "Or would you rather I didn't have any Muse?"

There was only one thing for Grandfather to say, and he said it.

"My dear, if you are really intending to do serious work along that line nothing should prevent you. I quite understand."

Grandmother looked over at her little girl with a new respect—and perhaps a new apprehension. One poet in a family is supposed to be enough, as a rule. And Joy had always been such a good, dear child to manage.

So no more was said. But Joy wondered if she hadn't let herself in for something dreadful. Grandfather would certainly expect to see that poem some day!

Nothing more was said about it for the two weeks that led to Grandfather's next Afternoon. Joy was delighted to find that her Muse wasn't asked for, and her grandparents may have been rather pleased at her continuing to behave as she always had, instead of saying curious things about wanting to be like other people. She continued to wear her picture-frocks and do as she was told. Her own feelings were that she had been naughty, but that she was rather glad of it.

And so it was that when the reception day came around again, Joy helped with the sandwiches and sliced the lemons and piled up the little cakes and dressed herself prettily—and then went and hid at the foot of the back stairs, with Aunt Lucilla for a companion.

"I hope I shall behave if somebody finds me, and tells me what a privilege it is to be me," said Joy; "but I doubt it. Because it isn't. It isn't one bit."

"What isn't?" demanded a man's voice interestedly.



CHAPTER TWO

BY GRACE OF THE WISHING RING

Joy turned her head to look. She was quite sure that the speaker couldn't see her very well, but she could see him, or the top of him, perfectly, because he was standing in the crack of a door that gave on to the back hall; a door few people remembered existed, as a picture hung on it, and it gave no impression of ever being used. He was young and broad-shouldered and sure-looking, little as she could see of him. She could see his face as far down as the eyes, and that was all. They were pleasant, steel-colored eyes, very amused and direct, and his hair, in the light of the old-fashioned chandelier behind him, glittered, fair and a little curlier than he evidently approved of.

He slipped entirely through the door; at the same moment Joy blew out the candle she had been holding up to Aunt Lucilla. Then she laughed, a little shy, pretty laugh. She wished she could light it again, to look at him, but she remembered that if she did that he might think she did want to look at him.

"I'm so glad you've come!" she almost said. He seemed like some one she had been waiting for a long while, some way, instead of the usual stranger you had to get used to. There was such a breath of freshness and courage and cheer in just the few words he had spoken and the little laugh they were borne on, that Joy felt irrationally what a nice world it was. Then she remembered to reply to what he had said.

"It isn't a privilege, being me," she explained from her shadows.

He looked over to where her voice came from, but there wasn't anything visible except a little dark heap on the last three stairs.

"I could tell better if I could see you," he stated pleasantly. "Don't you want to take the hint?"

But Joy, mindful of the hanging braids that would certainly make him think she was a little girl, would not take it at all. She snuggled against the wall.

"Oh, you can see me any time," she said carelessly, "but you can scarcely ever get to talk to me. At least, I heard somebody say so last month."

She felt quite like somebody else, a gay, teasing, careless sort of real girl, talking to him here in the dark. She was sure she wouldn't if the lights were on. She could talk to him as if he were some one out of a book or a story, so long as he didn't know she looked like a book-person or a play-person herself.

"Well, anyway, do let me stay here," he begged, doing it. "For the last hour I haven't felt as if it was much of a privilege to be me, either. Do you know that feeling of terrible personal unworthiness you get at a party where everybody knows everybody else and nobody knows you? I feel like precisely the kind of long, wiggly worm the little boy ate."

Joy felt very sorry for him; because if she didn't know that feeling she knew one to match it; having everybody know her and nobody think of playing with her.... This man was playing with her for a minute, anyway.

"And I'll always have him to remember," she thought happily, "even when I'm an old, old lady, writing reminiscences of Grandfather, the way they all say I should ..." She went off into a little daydream of writing all this down in her reminiscences, and having him—old, too, then—write back to her and say that he, also, had always remembered the time happily, and wondered who she was.... Then she answered him.

"You know me, anyway—don't say you know no one," she told him. "Anyway, I'm glad you're talking to me. I'm Joy."

He laughed again, leaning against the door-frame in the thread of light.

"Then you're something I've been looking for a long time," he said. "I've had friends and success, and good times—but I've never found Joy till now."

She knew, of course, that he was just being pleasant about her name, as people were sometimes. But it sounded very lovely to remember.

"I'm Alton Havenith's granddaughter," she explained sedately. And, with a sudden desire that he should know the worst, she added, "I'm the one he writes poetry to."

He must have caught a note of regret in her voice—oh, he was a very wonderful person! for what he said wasn't a bit what Joy expected even him to say—the "How lovely for you!" that she was braced for.

"Why, you poor kiddie!" said he, "and you ought to be playing tag or tennis or something. I can't see much of you, except one braid that the light's on; but you're just a little thing, aren't you?"

Joy did not answer. She looked up at him, as the crack of light widened behind him, and showed him clearly for a moment. He was so very handsome, standing there with his brows contracted in a little frown over his pleasant gray eyes, that Joy felt her heart do a queer thing, as if it turned over.

He came a little nearer her, and sat down on the floor, below her, quite naturally.

"And you're awfully lonesome, and you wish something would happen?" said his kind voice. It was a lovely voice, Joy thought. It was authoritative, yet with a little caressing note in it, as if he would look after you very carefully—and you would love it.

"How did you know?" she asked.

"Oh, I just could tell," he said, and it seemed a perfectly clear explanation. "Well, don't forget that there's lots of time yet. You just keep on believing things will happen—don't lose heart—and maybe they will."

Somehow, the way he said it, Joy was sure they would.

"Like a wishing ring?" she asked eagerly.

He laughed.

"You are a kiddie. Why, yes, like a wishing ring, if you like."

Before Joy could answer there came a brisk voice from the door.

"Oh, this is where you've hidden! You may be decorative, Jack, but as an escort I've known nephews more useful."

Joy looked up and saw a tiny elderly lady, quite a new one, in the doorway.

"Good-by, Joy," he said in too low a voice for the old lady to hear. "I'm glad we've met—I can't say I'm glad to have seen you, because I haven't, you know. But thanks for a human five minutes—and keep hoping."

He sprang lightly to his feet, opened the door, shut the door—was gone, and Joy was alone in the dark again.

She smiled up at Aunt Lucilla unseeingly.

"Not even Lafayette could have been as kind as that," she said proudly, and leaned happily against the wall again.

"Why, Joy, dear, don't you want to come in and see the people?" Grandmother was asking her solicitously, bending over her. "You aren't sick again, are you?"

Joy sprang up with a little laugh.

"Not a bit," she assured her. "I'm especially all right. Why, yes—I'll come in if you want me, of course. The people don't matter."

She threaded her way, behind Grandmother, up and down the parlors for the next hour, quite happy. She'd had such a wonderful five minutes in the back hall—why, what difference did it make if Mr. James Arthur Gosport captured her and told her about his ideas on universal brotherhood? She didn't have to listen specially, because she knew just what he was going to tell: the story about how he went out from his parlor-car and hunted through the day-coach to find a brake-man, on purpose to tell him how fond he was of him. And how the brakeman's eyes filled up with tears at being loved, and how Mr. Gosport had to hurry back to his Pullman in order not to go to pieces himself.

When Mr. Gosport told this tale—it was one he used in his lectures, and it always went splendidly—Joy usually had to keep herself from wondering why he didn't go to pieces anyhow; he was so long and loosely built you'd think he was merely pinned together. But this afternoon she smiled at him so brightly that he liked the way he told the story better than ever. She was really thinking—

"The man she called Jack is built ever so much better than Mr. Gosport is. He wouldn't just cry over a brakeman. He'd give him some money or...."

"It is very wonderful to feel that we are all brothers, and that so little a thing as bringing it home to a train-hand could move him so profoundly," finished Mr. Gosport, cheered by the success of his anecdote. "I make it a point never to neglect such little things—"

He was left with a period in mid-air, for Joy, with a flurry of skirts, was running toward her grandfather. She didn't care a bit whether men were all brothers or second cousins; she thought maybe Grandfather would know the real name of the man she had talked to, the one besides Jack.

"Grandfather, what was the name of the man with curly, fair hair and big gray eyes, the one who had a little old lady with him?" she demanded breathlessly, clinging to her grandfather's arm and interrupting him ruthlessly in the middle of something he was saying to somebody.

"I haven't the faintest recollection," said Grandfather; and Grandmother whispered:

"Come away, dear. The lady with him just asked him whether he wrote under his own name or a nom-de-plume, and you know how irritating that is."

Joy came obediently away. After all, it didn't matter about Jack's other name. She knew perfectly well that she should see him again. Everything was bound to go happily.... And till she saw him again, she had him to remember.

"I have something pleasant to tell you, dear," said Grandmother, patting the arm she still held.

"Yes, Grandmother?" she asked, smiling. An hour or so before she would have been wild to know what it was, but now she was only serenely glad that it did exist. She knew perfectly well that things had begun to happen. And now they would go on and on and on till the fairy-tale ending came. She knew that, too. Somehow, the shut-out feeling was all gone, ever since the gray-eyed man had sat at her feet in the hall and given her the wishing ring. The curtain was up—or, rather, the door was open into things, just as he'd pushed open the door from her little dark dream-place, the door that had always been there, but nobody'd thought to use. Of course, things were going to happen—lovely ones!

"I know I'll like it," she ended, with a happy little laugh.

"You seem better already, dear," said her grandmother happily, and began: "We have been talking about your health, and we have decided that you need a change, and some young life. So we are going up to an inn in the Maine woods for a month or more. There's boating there, and—and games, I understand, and there's a literary colony near, so there'll be people for your grandfather. He thinks he may go on holding small Afternoons. It's a cottage inn."

Joy did not know then what a cottage inn was, but neither did she care. She clasped her hands happily over the invisible wishing ring.

As Joy helped Grandmother pack, the next week, she wondered a little about clothes. She did not worry now, because she had a conviction that if she only knew what she wanted, and hoped as Jack had told her, she could hope things straight to her. There was a gray taffeta in a window uptown, together with a big gray chiffon hat, a little pair of glossy gray strapped slippers, and filmy gray silk stockings. And the hat, instead of having pink roses on it, as you'd think a normal hat would, by the mercy of Providence had deep yellow roses, exactly the color Joy knew she could wear if she got the chance. The chance, to be sure, was remote. She did not have an allowance, just money when she asked for it; and her fall wardrobe had been bought only a few weeks before. Besides the amber satin that the poetry was about, there were three other frocks, lovely, artistic, but, Joy was certain, no mortal use for tennis. She didn't know how to play tennis, but she intended to, just the same.

Now, how, with just seven dollars left from your last birthday's ten, could you buy a silk frock, with a hat and shoes and stockings to match? The answer seemed to be that you couldn't, but Joy did not want to look at it that way yet. And as she gazed around her bedroom in search of inspiration, her eyes fell on an illuminated sentiment over her bureau. It had been sent Grandfather by a Western admirer who had done it by hand herself in three colors, not counting the gilt. Grandfather had one already, so Joy had helped herself to this, because it matched the color of her room. She had never read it before, but, reading it today, it impressed her as excellent advice to the seeker after fine raiment.

"Let the farmer," Mr. Emerson had said, "give his corn, the miner a gem, the painter his picture, the poet his poem." Joy did not stop to wonder (for the Western lady had left it out) on just what principle these contributions were being made. She didn't care.

"Now, that's the way people earn money," said she practically, and tried to think what she could do.

Cook—she could make very good things to eat, but Grandmother would have to know about that, and, besides, it wouldn't be a thing they would approve of. Sewing—no, you couldn't get much out of that. She could recite poetry and be decorative, but she gave a little shiver at the thought. She played and sang as Grandmother had taught her—harp and piano—and spoke Grandmother's French. She couldn't do much with them.... Oh, she was just decorative! And as she prepared to be vexed at the idea, suddenly the motto caught her eye again.

"It's a perfectly impossible idea from their standpoint," said Joy, with the light of battle in her eye for almost the first time in her life, "but I simply have to have that gray dress."

She rose and fished the amber satin out of her trunk. She put it on, put her long coat over it, packed her next most picturesque frock in a bag, fastened on a hat, and walked out the front door.

Just three blocks away lived a dear, elderly mural decorator who was always telling her how he wished he had her for a model. She knew he was making studies now for about a half-mile of walls in a new, rich statehouse somewhere far away.

She should have been frightened at this, her first adventure, but she wasn't. She found her heart getting gayer and lighter as she ran down the steps with her little bag. It was the kind of a day when all the policemen and street-sweepers and old women selling shoe-laces look at you pleasantly, and make cheerful remarks to you. Even the conductor whose street-car she didn't take smiled pleasantly at her after stopping his car by mistake. It was as kind-hearted and pleasant-minded a worldful of people as Joy had ever met, and she was singing under her breath with happiness as she ran up the steps leading to Mr. Morrow's studio. There wasn't any particular excuse for her being so light-hearted, excepting that the street-people had been so friendly minded, and there was such a dear little breeze with a country smoke-scent on it, and that somewhere in the world was a tall man with fair hair and a kind, authoritative voice, who had said wonderful things to her—a man she would meet again some day, when she was charming and worldly and dressed in a tailor-made suit.

Mr. and Mrs. Morrow were artists both; and she found them, blouse-swathed and disheveled, doing charcoal studies in a corner of the room apiece. Mrs. Morrow kissed Joy, arching over her so that the smudges on her pinafore wouldn't be transferred. Mr. Morrow came out of his corner and shook hands with her with less care, so that his smudges did come off on her. Then they both listened to her story with the same kindness and interest every one else had shown her that morning.

"I can sit still or stand still as long as ever you want me to," Joy explained. "And you said yourself I was decorative, Mr. Morrow; you know you did!"

"I did, indeed," Mr. Morrow answered promptly, while Mrs. Morrow asked some more questions.

Joy answered them.

"And I would be able to earn enough money for all those things in the window by Friday?" she ended.

The Morrows smiled and glanced at each other. Joy did not know, till some months later, why they smiled. Then they spoke, nearly together.

"Yes, indeed, dear child—quite enough!"

Joy was reassured, because, though she didn't know model-prices, she had been afraid that it wouldn't be.

Then they gave her some purple draperies—the satins wouldn't do, after all, it appeared—and arranged her in them. And, to anticipate, when Joy went out to that statehouse, the next year, she was able to pick out her own bronze-gold braids and purple royalties all up and down the frieze.

"By Jove, she is a good model!" said Mr. Morrow after a couple of hours, pulling at his pointed gray beard and speaking enthusiastically in his soft artist-voice.

"Splendid!" said untidy, handsome Mrs. Morrow, sitting down on the model-throne to view her own work the better. "But she must be ready to drop, aren't you, Joy, dear? You aren't used to it."

But Joy shook her head.

"I'm not tired a bit," she said truthfully. "I just let go all over and stay that way. It isn't sitting any stiller than I do lots of days, when Grandfather has me stay close by him, and keep very still so he can write. Why, it seems downright sinful," she went on earnestly, "to earn beautiful gray clothes by just sitting still! But you would have to have somebody, anyway, wouldn't you?"

"Of course we would!" said Mrs. Morrow, picking up her crayon again. "Indeed, we have to have two most of the time."

They all kept very quiet for a while after that, Joy sitting still in her robes of state, a slim young Justice presiding over an as yet undrawn Senate, and the Morrows working hard at her. She had been posing for another half hour, when there came a whirlwind of steps up the stairs, and the door banged open.

"Mrs. Morrow, can you let me have some fixative?" called a voice; and Joy moved her eyes cautiously, and saw a pretty, panting girl in the doorway. She looked like an artist, too, for she had a smudge of paint on one vivid cheek, and her black hair was untidily down over her gipsy eyes.

"Nice model you've got—good skin tints—oh, don't bother about the fixative if you're working. I see it."

She darted in, past Joy, snatched a bottle half full of something yellow, and was out again before any one could speak.

"I'm hurrying," she called superfluously back as she fled to the floor below. "Giving a dance tonight."

Joy, most mousy-quiet in her chair, mentally registered another requirement toward being the kind of girl she ought to be. There were such lots of wonderful things to learn!

She went to the Morrows regularly every day after that, six days in all. She told Grandmother where she was, not what she was doing. It didn't occur to her that Grandmother would mind, but she thought it would be pleasanter to surprise her, and say, "See the lovely dress I earned all myself, posing for the Morrows!"

Meanwhile, Grandmother, pleased at her little girl's brightened face and general happiness of demeanor, asked no questions.

"You've been one of the best models we ever had, my dear," said Mrs. Morrow in her deep, unceremonious voice, when the last day came. "And it occurred to me that you might be too hurried when the last day came to do your shopping yourself. So I just ran uptown and got your pretties for you."

It was not for a long time that Joy discovered the regular pay of a model to be fifty cents an hour, and the sum total of her gray costume to have been—it was late for summer styles, so they were marked down—fifty-three dollars and ninety cents. But Mrs. Morrow had said to Mr. Morrow, who usually saw things as she did, even before she explained them:

"Alton Havenith would never let that dear little thing have anything as modish as those clothes. He'd keep her for a living illustration to his poem-books till he died. And we're making a lot on that Sagawinna Courthouse thing.... And we haven't any daughter."

And Mr. Morrow, remembering a seven-year-old with blue eyes and yellow hair, who had never grown old enough to ask for French-heeled shoes and picture hats, said only, "That's what I thought, too."

Joy, blissfully ignorant that she had been given a good deal of a present, kissed them both ecstatically on receiving a long, large pasteboard box, and almost ran home. She was so eager, indeed, to get upstairs and try on her finery that she quite upset a Neo-Celtic poet who had come to see if Grandfather would write an article about him, and was standing on the doorstep on one foot in a dreamy manner. He was rather small, and so not difficult to fall over. She did not stop to see if he was injured; she merely recovered herself, grasped her precious boxes more closely and sped on upstairs, thinking how pleasant it was that she was no relation to him. To have even fine poetry written about you was bad enough; it must be much worse if the poetry was bad, too.

When she opened her box she found that Mrs. Morrow had seen and bought something else for her; a golden-brown wool jersey sweater suit, with a little brown cap to match.

"Oh, how lovely! I can wear them all day, and the gray things all night—all evening, I mean," Joy exulted. "And maybe I'll never have to put on the picture dresses at all!"

She went to sleep that night with the brown suit laid out in its box across the foot of her bed, below her feet, and the gray chiffon hat, with its golden yellow roses, on a chair by her, where she could touch it if she woke in the night and thought she had dreamed it. She said her prayers almost into it; she was so obliged to the Lord for the hat and the frocks, and the man who had talked to her in the dark, that she felt as if she ought to take the hat, at least, and show it to God while she was praying.

* * * * *

They had been in Maine long enough for Joy to discover what a cottage inn really was. It appeared that the inn itself lived in the middle, as a sort of parent; and all around it sprang up small cottages, where you and yours could dwell, and never associate with anybody you didn't want to, except at mealtime, or lingering about a little afterwards, or at dances. And if you were unusually exclusive (also unusually rich), they took you over your meals, and you never saw anybody at all. Joy was exceedingly glad that Grandfather was only comfortably off, because she liked, best of all the day's round, the little times before and after dinner when she could sit on the porch and watch people, and decide whom she was going to like most, and whom she was going to be most like.

She wore her brown woolen frock all day long the first day, changing to the gray silk in the evening—the dear gray silk, all little glints of embroidery and little falls of chiffon!—and the gray hat with it. She was waiting for her grandparents to ask her where she got it, but they were so occupied with getting themselves settled, and seeing that their place and hers at table were sufficiently far from the noisier crowds of people not to be a strain on Grandfather's nerves and Joy's, that nothing was said. As a matter of fact, Grandfather thought Grandmother had bought it for her, and Grandmother thought Grandfather had; so each said pretty things about it to the other, without coming straight out, as their courteous custom with each other was; and the secret was still Joy's.

By the second day Joy saw that people were beginning to find out who Grandfather was. So she deliberately ran away. Not badly, nor far; she only had a waiter who seemed to want to be nice to her make her up a little packet of sandwiches, and then she took to the nearest woods. She quite intended to be back for dinner; she wouldn't have missed the pageant of sunburned, laughing people streaming in, for anything; not even at the risk of being asked if she, too, wrote poetry.

The woods gained, she leaned back against a big oak tree with a rested sigh. There might be all the poetry in the world a half mile off, but here you couldn't see anything but trees and more trees, all autumn reds and browns and yellows, and the two little brown paths that crossed near where she sat. Her blue, black-lashed eyes rested happily on a great bough of scarlet and yellow maple leaves.

"I haven't got to say one word about them," she breathed. "Nice leaves!"

Then she felt vaguely penitent; and in spite of the scenery, began to think about Grandfather, and therefore poetry, again—so firm a clutch has habit. There in the wonderful tingling air, with the late sunset glimmering a little through the trees, an old poem began to sing itself through her head. For, though she didn't think so, Joy did like poetry.

It was out of Bryant's "Library of Poetry and Song" that she had been brought up on. The book always opened of itself under Joy's hand to "Poems of Fancy."

"...And I galloped and I galloped on my steed as white as milk, My gown was of the grass-green and my shoes were of the silk, My hair was golden-yellow, and it floated to my shoe, My eyes were like two harebells dipped in little drops of dew..."

Joy leaned herself back more luxuriously.

"It is like the enchanted forest," she breathed. "I can almost see the Lady in the poem galloping along, and the Green Gnome leaping up to stop her. The path out there is wide enough—people from the inn go riding on it. I remember their saying so, that old lady with the daughter that wriggles too much."

At this stage in her meditations Joy laughed and ceased wishing. It was all very well to desire Green Gnomes and golden-haired fairy-ladies to gallop down the bridle-path, but the chances were that if any one did come it would be the old lady and her daughter, on livery horses, and that they would wish to alight and talk to her. City-bred Joy didn't want to talk. She only wanted to be left here alone with the trees and the sunset. It was more than time to dress for dinner, she knew it well, for the sunset was a little less bright. But she deliberately stayed where she was, the ballad singing itself dreamily still through her head.

And then she did hear the click of a horse's hoofs, quite plainly.



CHAPTER THREE

PHYLLIS RIDES THROUGH

When Joy could see the rider she was relieved to find that he had no intention of stopping. Then—a little too late—she sprang up and ran after him; for the horse was a pony, and the rider a little boy, laughing too gleefully not to be in mischief, and lashing the pony on. He was having a perfectly wonderful time, apparently, and seemed to have a safe seat; but he was certainly much too young to be galloping through the woods at sunset alone.

Joy fell back panting from her vain chase.

"Why, he wasn't more than four or five," she said half-aloud. "What will his mother say?"

But the clatter of the light hoofs, and the delighted shouts of the child, passed like an apparition, leaving Joy half wondering if she had imagined it all. Though she was still a little concerned, because somebody was very fond of that mop of flying dusky hair, and the triumphant little voice that had echoed past her.

"I can wait here, anyway," she decided at once. "Some one may come looking for him, and I can tell which way he went."

She sat still where she was for a little while longer. She had nearly made up her mind to follow the child, when, to her great relief, she heard another horse coming.

"I can send whoever it is after him," she thought, springing up and running out to the path. "Oh, wait! Please wait!" she called to the as yet unseen rider.

The horse was pulled to a walk, and its rider slipped to the ground, coming into Joy's sight with the bridle over her arm, and the animal following her.

"Did you see—" began the strange lady, just as Joy said:

"Would you please—"

Then each stopped and waited for the other to go on, though the lady with the big white horse seemed in haste to ask and be gone. She was the first to continue, rather hurriedly.

"Did you see a little boy on a pony, riding this way?" she asked. "I'm hunting for him."

While Joy replied she looked admiringly at the speaker. She was much taller than Joy, and very pretty, with long blue eyes, a creamy skin, and hair that was the very "golden-yellow" of the ballad. She might have been anywhere in the later twenties, but Joy learned afterwards that she was thirty-two. To Joy's eyes she was the fairy lady of the ballad come true; for she had evidently flung herself on her horse just as she was, in a green evening gown with a light cloak over it. Even in her anxiety for the child she had about her an atmosphere of bright serenity that made Joy in love with her.

"I was just going to ask you to go after him," Joy replied as she looked. "He went past here a few minutes ago. I'm sure he is too little to be riding alone."

"He is indeed," said the golden lady, smiling. "Little villain! But it seems he doesn't think so! Which way did he go, please?"

"Straight along this path," Joy answered, pointing.

The lady sprang to her horse again.

"Thank you," she called back, then more and more faintly, "I haven't much time—now, to be—grateful as I should be. We'll—come—back—"

The last words were hardly distinguishable from the echo of the flying hoofs. The ballad-lady was gone.

The whole thing seemed to Joy like something out of a pageant. She wondered if the lovely lady in green was the little boy's mother, or his sister or aunt.

"It was a little like the Green Gnome poem, except that she was hunting for him, and that the little boy was pretty," she thought. In the poem the Gnome had turned to a "tall and comely man" when the lady kissed him. She liked the lady; there had been something so gay and friendly about her, just in those few words, that Joy's heart felt warmed. Very few people near her own age came close enough to stately little Joy to be as friendly as the lady had been—or as the wishing-ring man had been.

"Somewhere," Joy decided happily, "there must be lots of people like them, if I could only find the place. I'm sure I shall some day."

She sat on in the gathering twilight, waiting for them to return. As she sat the thought of the wishing-ring man came back again. Wherever he was, he was wishing her well, and remembering her—he had said—what was it—he'd had a "human five minutes" with her. Her heart beat unreasonably, as if he might be coming down the brown path in the twilight, this instant,—as if the golden lady might bring him back with her.

It was nearly dark, and the wind was getting colder, when the hoofs sounded down the path again. There were three of them now—and Joy's heart gave a little spring, till she saw that the man riding the other horse was no one she knew. The pony was riderless, and he was leading it, while the naughty little boy who had caused all the trouble was perched in front of the lady's saddle, most impenitently conversational. She had one arm tight around him, as if she did not want to lose him again, and she was smiling down at him and answering him gaily as he talked. Punishment was evidently waived, or so far in the future as not to worry anybody. The child's clear little assured voiced came to her, sitting in the shadows.

"But if God takes care of me, Faver, I don't see why I need a nurse bovvering," he was expostulating.

Joy didn't hear just how his family met this objection. She saw that the lady looked about for her, and could not see her in the gathering darkness.

Then she went back to the hotel, where she was very late for dinner. She looked around for the riders, but she did not see them. Evidently they were having dinner taken over.

* * * * *

Phyllis Harrington, rather regretfully, hooked a dog-chain to the porch railing of the cottage she and her husband had just hired. It was an entirely unnecessary part of the family bull-terrier's wardrobe, and she intended to use it as an instrument of justice. So she called her small son. She believed in making the punishment fit the crime, and Philip had flagrantly run away, quite against orders, the evening before.

He appeared at her summons, smiling angelically. Philip Harrington had not the smallest visible excuse for being the son of his parents, for his father was not particularly dark, and his mother distinctly gold-blond. Philip threw back, it was supposed, to the family Pirate, a semi-mythical person whom Phyllis said she'd had some thirteen generations ago. Phyllis was a New Englander. The Pirate must have been dark; at least Philip had tragic, enormous brown eyes with dense lashes, a mop of straight black hair, and a dusky skin, deeply rose-red at cheeks and lips. He also possessed the gentle, solemn courtesy of a Spanish grandee, which the Pirate may or may not have been. He was full of charm of manner, and combined a spirit of fearless loving-kindness to all the world with an inability to see why he shouldn't always have his own way; which made him difficult to manage.

"You goin' to chain me up, Mother?" he inquired affectionately, nestling up to her.

"Yes," explained his mother, hardening her heart, "little boys who run away from home like little dogs have to be treated like little dogs."

"Oh, I'll be a little dog," replied Philip, entering agreeably into the idea, and backing up to be chained. "No, I'll be a big dog. I'll run around an' jerk my chain an' say 'Woof! Woof!' like the Hewitts' setter. And Foxy 'n I'll have bones together!" His small Velasquez face lighted rapturously at the prospect. "Here, Foxy, Foxy!"

The black French bull whose chain Philip was using dashed up at the summons. He was middle-aged, but he had a young heart still, and his tail vibrated madly as he bounded between Phyllis and her son.

"Oh, he's got a bone!" exclaimed Philip, gleefully dropping on all fours.

Phyllis stood up from chaining her child, and turned appealingly to her husband, coming down the steps of the little bungalow with two-and-a-half-year-old Angela on his shoulder.

"You look like a colored illustration from the Graphic," she said irrelevantly. "You're just in time to assist discipline. Look!" she pointed tragically to her victim.

He would have been happily disputing the opportune bone with Foxy, had not that faithful animal's devotion led him to hand it over at once.

"Faver, make him take it away from me!" he demanded. "Faver, I'm all chained up! I'm a little dog!"

Little Angela, who looked like a slim, tiny Christmas-card Christ-kind, and was as fascinating a little demon as ever coquetted with the world at large, struggled to get down, and demanded to be chained up and be another little dog. Her father set her down, whereat she made a bolt for the dog, the bone, and her happily engaged brother.

"Do you think there's any way of conveying to him that this is not a new amusement, Allan?" demanded his mother, half-laughing.

"Don't let's try," said Allan promptly. "Everything's going beautifully. Philip's happy, and Angela's going to be gloriously dirty in a minute, which will give her nurse something to wash. You know how bitter Viola is about never getting the children to herself for a minute."

Phyllis slipped an arm through her tall husband's, as they stood by the steps together.

"No, but Allan, what would you do?"

Allan laughed.

"Send him back to Wallraven, and tell Johnny Hewitt to see that he's plunged into the middle of the chickenpox epidemic we fled from. How would you like that, young man?"

Philip looked up with deprecating politeness, on being directly addressed.

"Please, Faver, if you don't mind my name's Jinks! You must say, 'Here, Jinks,' and I say 'Woof! Woof!' and wag my tail."

"Say wuff!" echoed Angela, with a dazzling smile at her elders, and an effort not to tumble over on the grass.

Phyllis pounced on her babies at Allan's alarming suggestion, and managed to hug them both at once; an ordeal which Philip stood with every evidence of pleasure, and Angela under protest.

"My poor little lambs! ... Allan, this is the first chickenpox they've had up there since the summer we came. We'd been married a month or so, and you weren't quite sure whether you liked me or not. Do you remember?"

"I remember that first summer," said he. "It's the only part of those seven years that I do want to remember. But the chickenpox part of it had escaped me."

"Well, of course," his wife admitted, "in those days children's diseases were nothing whatever in our lives. But when Johnny Hewitt refers to it as that wonderful summer seven years ago, I have discovered that he means it was wonderful because he saved forty-three out of forty-three cases, not because you and I had married each other to please your mother, and were finding out that it was rather nice."

"I'll be hanged if I know to this day what possible niceness there was for you in being married to a man everybody thought would never get well," said Allan.

"He was you," explained Phyllis matter-of-factly, sitting down on a step to look at him better. "Anybody'd fall in love with you, Allan. You know perfectly well that it even happens now."

"Certainly," said he scornfully. "My well-known beauty and charm attract all classes; they besiege my path by day and night. By Jove, Phyllis, there's one now, the flapper I saw in the dining-room lately. She's doubtless come over to say that she'll wait for me till you're through, being young. She's pretty, too."

Phyllis laughed, and patted his foot, the only part of him she could reach without getting up. "Now, now—I meant no harm. You can't help being attractive.... Why, it's the girl in brown, the one who started out of a tree like a dryad, and showed me the way Philip had gone, last night. She was the loveliest creature I ever saw. Look, Allan, she's like a Rossetti picture."

"She is like a Rossetti," he answered, "but she looks rather happier. Most of the Rossetti ladies I ever saw hoped to die of consumption shortly."

Joy, coming slowly over the grass on an errand from her grandfather, kept her eyes on the ground, because that way it was easier to remember the message she had to repeat up and down the rows of cottages dotted among the trees. So it was not until she was quite close that she knew Phyllis again.

Philip barked her a cheerful greeting, and Phyllis rose to greet her.

"I am Alton Havenith's granddaughter," Joy began, and then interrupted herself joyfully.

"Oh, it's my lady in green!" she cried. "You didn't see me when you came back."

"I looked for you," Phyllis explained, holding out both hands in welcome, "but it was too dark to see you. I thought you had gone home. Did you say you were Alton Havenith's granddaughter? I love his poems. I'm Phyllis Harrington, and this is my husband. I'm eternally grateful to you for helping me find my little boy. You see I've made sure he won't escape again."

"He isn't chained for life, as you might infer from that," Allan explained.

Philip ceased being a dog for the moment, and held his hand out amiably to Joy.

"I'm Philip," he explained, following his mother's example and introducing himself. "They called me Philip 'cause it was the nearest thing Faver could get to Phyllis. You see, they didn't know there was going to be Angela. This is Angela. Isn't she pretty?"

Angela, on being righted and shown off, produced her usual dazzling smile, and gave Joy a sweet, sidelong look out of her azure eyes—the look she knew conquered people. They were both, as Phyllis often said, such satisfactory children for exhibition purposes!

"Oh, aren't they darlings!" cried Joy, forgetting her mission gladly. "Will—will they mind if I hug them?"

"Not a bit," answered their father, whom Joy had asked. "They are practically indestructible, and they like petting."

Joy knelt down, putting a shy arm around baby Angela, who, after a moment's survey of her, kissed her frankly of her own accord, with two tight little arms around her neck.

Allan had an idea that the newcomer would be more at ease alone with Phyllis and the children, so he made some excuse about golf (which he hated) and disappeared. Joy sat down on the grass, with Angela momentarily in her lap, and Foxy, who hinted that he, too, liked kind words, at her side.

She had never had so many people (counting dogs) act as if they liked really her. Foxy and the children didn't care a bit whose granddaughter she was, and Mrs. Harrington, too, had made friends with her without minding. But she was conscientious, and she felt she ought to go on with her errand before she really gave herself up to the enjoyment of her call.

"My grandfather is giving a reading from his works this evening," she said, sitting up mechanically and crossing her hands, "and he sent me to say that he would be glad if you and Mr. Harrington would care to come."

"We'd love to," Phyllis answered on the spot. "At his cottage?"

Joy nodded.

"It's fun," Phyllis went on, "leading this semidetached life, with no responsibilities whatever. There's only one drawback as far as I'm concerned; if Philip strays off too far somebody may take him for a rabbit or a deer. The places where there's hunting are only two miles away. That's why Allan and I were scouring the woods last night for him. Usually we let him run away as much as he likes, and the poor child can't understand the new arrangement."

Joy looked down at Philip, who had curled himself into an indiscriminate heap with the dog, and was taking a nap by way of whiling away his imprisonment.

"Do you hunt?" she asked.

Phyllis shook her head.

"The way the gun bangs when it goes off worries me. I believe there's a bangless gun, but even so, you're expected to kill things, and I think the things are much happier alive. I don't even like the taste of them cooked. But Allan hunts. He brings game-bags full of poor little dead things back whenever he's where he can do it. He hasn't yet, here. We just came, you know."

"I'm so glad you did!" said Joy fervently.

"We were like Old Man Kangaroo—we had to!" smiled Phyllis. "There's chickenpox at our usual summer home, so we basely fled, leaving Johnny to struggle against its fearful ravages single-handed."

Joy sat Angela down, because she was beginning to wriggle.

"Is Johnny your brother?" she asked shyly.

Phyllis shook her head.

"I haven't a relative on earth, except these babies—of course Allan's more of a relative by marriage. No, Johnny Hewitt's the family doctor, a classmate of Allan's, and a family possession. He might as well live with us, he's so much about the house and garden. I suppose this place is very good for the angel-children, but I'm afraid that in a few days I'm going to wish I was back among the roses, with Allan and Johnny and a banjo and a moon!"

Joy's eyes lighted.

"Roses?" she said. "Oh, have you a rose-bush!"

Phyllis laughed.

"'Do we keep a bee?' We have a garden full of roses. The gardener hints mournfully that we ought to take prizes with them, but I know perfectly well that would mean I couldn't pick them unless he let me. So I've given him a bush to play with, and he does take prizes with that. He's colored, so Allan says we have to encourage him to have ambitions. He's married to the cook. Our having colored servants shocked the neighbors terribly at first, but they're hardened to it now. I gave an intelligence office carte blanche when I was married, and got the ones I have now; and we're so fond of each other that I simply can't part with them and get haughty white persons."

Phyllis' one idea in those early days, as Joy learned later, had been to have a summer staff who were cheerful. The intelligence office woman had, naturally, chosen happy-minded darkies. And happy they still remained; also adoring.

The neighbors, though Phyllis did not state this, from being shocked had become passionately envious. Servants who had stayed eight years without a change, merely one addition, were things to be watched hungrily.

"I beg your pardon, but it's luncheon-time, Mrs. Harrington," said the children's nurse at this point, appearing in the doorway. "May I have the children?"

Phyllis bent over the sleeping boy and dog and unfastened her son. The nurse gathered him up affectionately, and went in search of Angela, who had strayed around the corner of the house a little while before.

"Oh, I must go," cried Joy, starting to her feet. "They'll be wondering where I am. And I haven't been to half the cottages."

She turned to go, then looked back at Phyllis wistfully.

"Think of it," she breathed. "A garden full of roses, and two men, and a banjo, and a moon!"

Her hands locked together over the invisible wishing ring. She wondered if there was a garden like that anywhere that he lived.

Phyllis Harrington looked thoughtfully after her. There was something about Joy Havenith that always made people eager to do pleasant things for her, and watch her enjoying them. She did get so much pleasure out of life whenever it let her.

"It won't be my fault," said Phyllis, coming to a determination, "if that child doesn't get a chance at the garden and the moon, and the men, too!"

When Phyllis made up her mind it generally stayed made. Accordingly, she went to the reading that night, and afterwards made herself as lovely to the Haveniths as she knew how, which was a good deal. She asked them to have tea with her the next day, and continued to be lovely. She also managed to give them a very fair idea of everything they might be supposed to need to know about the Harrington family. When she had finished they had discovered several mutual friends, a meeting with Mr. Harrington's late mother abroad, the genealogies of both Allan and Phyllis, and even a common ancestor somewhere in the seventeen-nineties on Allan's side. The Haveniths thought it had all just transpired, but Phyllis had really been tactfully offering references. After about a week of pleasant friendship Phyllis produced her invitation.

She wanted to take Joy home with her for the last part of September and the first part of October. Joy was wild with delight at the idea; but her grandparents would not let her go. They never had before, and it didn't occur to them that they could now.

"Just for a little while?" she pleaded.

But her grandparents were firm.

"Under no circumstances could we let you go away from us, dear," said her grandfather firmly. "I am an old man, and the time will come soon enough when I shall be with you no longer. If you loved me, you would not ask it. When your lover comes it will be time enough."

It sounded true enough. Joy did not exactly know how to meet it. Then she brightened up.

"If you let me go for a little while, I'm sure I'd miss you dreadfully, and love you more than ever. I'm sure I would!"

But Grandfather didn't intend to part with his little girl on any such premise as that, and Grandmother was sure something dreadful would happen if she was allowed to go.

"There is no excuse for it, unless you were engaged to be married, dear, and going on a visit to your prospective people-in-law," she said. "I couldn't let you go off without me otherwise."

It was too tempting. Before she thought, Joy had spoken.

"If I were, would it be all right?" she asked.

Grandfather answered her, somewhat at length.

"My dear child, you know my feelings about love. I myself married your grandmother after a two days' courtship, when she was seventeen and I was twenty-one; and I may say that I have never regretted it—nor, I hope, has she. If you were affianced, nothing should cause me to interfere with the course of true love. Your grandmother and I would let you go to visit his people willingly. Your assurance that you loved him——"

Joy leaned forward, her eyes blazing with excitement.

"And suppose I told you I was engaged, would you let me go to visit Phyllis, if she lived near him, and—and his people were so situated that he couldn't have me?"

Grandfather was perfectly certain that Joy was no more engaged than old Elizabeth the cook was, and he went on placidly with his hypothetical case, which was also his hobby.

"If I had met the young man, received him socially, even once, my child, you may be sure, under those circumstances, you might go. One has no right to interfere with——"

Grandmother in the background wasn't so sure, her eager little face said, but she was a very obedient and adoring wife.

Joy interrupted him. He had given her a loophole, and she was desperate to go. She couldn't wait forever for the lover!

"Grandfather, I—I am engaged! I met him at one of your receptions, and so did you, quite socially. You—I know you must have met him, and liked him, too—everybody does."

It was a terrible thing to do, and Joy's heart beat fast. But surely the Wishing-Ring Man wouldn't mind—he would never know even! And Grandfather had talked so long about giving her up at sight to that hypothetical lover, that he might almost have been said to put the wickedness into her head. And if she waited for a real one she might wander alone about the parlors till she was an old, old maid with trailing gray braids.

There was a frozen silence.

"En-gaged?" said Grandfather faintly.

Grandfather had a code all to himself. He didn't know it, being a man, but he had. It forbade ever being taken by surprise, ever being at a loss, ever being in the wrong, or ever contradicting himself. This made for great respect, given to him by the world at large, his family, and himself; but it put him at a terrible disadvantage in things like this. He couldn't go back on what the great Alton Havenith had said for many years. Joy, shivering but desperate, knew this perfectly well, though she didn't formulate it.

"You always hoped for it," she told him firmly.

"I—I did," said Grandfather with an obvious discomfort, but with unabated loyalty to himself. Then he snatched at a pretext. Poor little Grandmother's, hands were opening and shutting, but she was well trained, and she didn't speak till he was through dealing with the situation.

"Can your friends vouch for him socially?" Grandfather demanded.

Joy's alert, frightened mind scurried about for a moment, then she plunged into further fabrications.

"He's—why, Grandfather, he's their closest friend, the one they call Johnny. He—he lives near them."

Grandfather was entirely what the profane would call up a tree. He had been giving his consent for some seventeen years. And Joy had swept the ground from under his feet. He did not in the least remember meeting this amazing lover at any of his receptions, but there had been a tradition for many years that he never forgot a name or a face. Now he had been doing it for two or three seasons past, but he never admitted it to himself, and nobody else dared admit it, either.

As for the truth of what Joy said, it did not occur to him to doubt that. Joy had never told them anything but the truth in her life. As a matter of fact, there had never been anything for her to deceive them about. But that did not dawn on him.

There was another frozen silence. Grandfather was checkmated.

Joy had not intended to do it, of set purpose. She respected Grandfather too thoroughly. But she was struggling for the only piece of happiness that had ever come her way in the whole of her placid, tranced little life.

"In that case, my dear," Grandfather pronounced slowly, "I give my consent. What did you say the young man's name was?"

"John," she said faintly, bending her head, and coloring hotly and suddenly. She had just remembered that the Wishing-Ring Man's name really was Jack, and she hadn't meant to use that name. That was private.

"That makes it a little better," said Grandmother; why, Joy did not see or know until much too late. "His name is Hewitt. You remember Mrs. Harrington's discussing him with us, Alton." ... Then all her obedience to Grandfather did not keep her from putting her arms around Joy and beginning to cry.

"Oh, my dear, my dearest," she said. "Why didn't you confide in me about it? You know I would have been so interested!"

Joy had a little lump in her throat, and she almost cried out, "I'm not, Grandmother!"

But she had all Grandfather's pride, and—and besides, she had gone this far—how could she go back?

Grandfather interposed, struggling hard with his natural surprise.

"A little emotion is natural in this case, dear Jennie," he said, "but you must make allowance for a young girl's shyness. The young man, I trust, will speak to us about it."

How she would explain to Phyllis had not yet occurred to Joy.... There are times when an education in all the best poets is an everlasting nuisance.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave When first we practise to deceive!"

danced through Joy's head.... If only those fatal first sentences hadn't popped out, and if she only hadn't been too proud to take them back!

Just the same she continued to feel that a month of life off with gay, kind people her own age was worth almost any price; which was exceedingly wrong, and got Joy into a fearful mess, as amateur lying is apt to do. Because Grandfather rose up after this, with what Phyllis called his Earl of Dorincourt air, and spoke.

"There is no time like the present for the rectifying of an error. We will go over now, and explain to Mrs. Harrington that when we refused our consent to this visit we were unaware of all the circumstances. Come, my love. Come, Joy."

From sheer paralysis of will power Joy let him draw her hand through his arm in his accustomed way, and march her off towards the Harrington cottage between himself and Grandmother. She felt like Mary-Queen-of-Scots being led to execution, and exceedingly regretful that she had never learned to faint. Suddenly a wonderful thought came over her.

"Let me run ahead, please, and see if Phyllis is at home," she asked, and ran ahead of them without waiting for an answer.

It was golden, late afternoon, and she could see Phyllis on her veranda. She was lying in the hammock with little Angela nestled beside her, and Philip constructing something monumental with screws and wires on the floor by them. She had apparently been telling them a quite unexpurgated edition of Little Red-Riding-Hood, for as Joy flew up the steps Philip swerved with a startled look.

"Do you think there could be a wolf after Joy?" he inquired of his mother.

"Phyllis, please, I want to talk to you alone," Joy panted. "I have to tell you before they get here. And—" she laughed a little breathlessly—"it isn't fit for the children's ears."

"You don't know what their ears are used to," Phyllis answered leisurely. "Philip, darling, you can go and hunt for your friend Mr. Jones on the links, if you want to."

Philip dashed off, grinning happily. He had hopes, which his mother was not supposed to know (but did), of being allowed to caddy some glorious day, if he watched his opportunity.

"Oh, Phyllis, I'm in dreadful trouble, and please won't you help me?" Joy began, flinging herself close to the hammock and clutching its edge with one nervous hand. "Please help me—"

"Of course," said Phyllis. "What's it about?"

But Joy had delayed her story too long. Before Phyllis had more than made her rash promise of help the elder Haveniths were upon her. Phyllis rose to her feet to greet them, with an air of gracious courtesy which the infant swinging beside her scarcely impaired at all.

"We have brought our little girl over, my dear Mrs. Harrington, to tell you that we have reconsidered our decision," Mr. Havenith stated, sweeping his broad Panama from his wonderful white hair. "The information Joy has brought us—"

He was interrupted by the appearance round the corner of the cottage of two men. One was Allan Harrington. The other—

"Here's Johnny, Phyllis," Allan called joyously. "His old epidemic's all over, everybody either killed or cured. He was actually on the right train, the one he said he'd take."

Joy's heart turned over. This was a doubly dreadful thing she had brought on herself.

It was the Wishing-Ring Man!



CHAPTER FOUR

THE RESCUE OF THE PRINCESS

For one awful moment nobody spoke. John Hewitt, having no key to the situation, was quite unembarrassed. So was Angela, who wriggled herself to earth with a rapturous shriek of "Johnny! Johnny! Cakies!"

Hewitt gathered up Angela, and, followed by his host, came up the steps, to where Phyllis stood, tall and gracious, with Joy clinging to her.

"Why, it's little Joy!" he said surprisedly, smiling at her as he took Phyllis' hand. "Where did you find her, Phyllis?"

Joy clung closer to Phyllis, waiting for the storm to break, for Mr. Havenith was stepping forward now, holding a courteous, if dazed, hand to the man his granddaughter had elected as her fiance. He spoke before Phyllis could answer.

"And so you are my little girl's betrothed!" he said with rather stiff courtesy. "Ah—yes. I remember you, sir."

John Hewitt's gray eyes moved from Phyllis, standing there obviously quite taken by surprise, to Joy, clinging to her burning-cheeked, in what was quite as obviously an agony of terror. He caught his breath for a moment, moved forward and opened his lips to speak, then shut them again firmly and stood still where he was, with the afternoon sunlight glinting over his fair head, and little Angela's more golden one, pressed close beside it. As he remained still, his eyes rested gravely on Joy: the very little princess of the fairytale, with the dragon imminent at any moment. She looked very piteous and terrified and small; not more than fifteen, and unbearably afraid of him, with her black-framed blue eyes fixed on his in an appeal as agonized as it was unconscious. He caught his breath again, then turned to answer her grandfather, his decision made.

"I am glad you remember me, sir," he said gravely, "and exceedingly glad that you are willing Joy should—"

Joy gave a long shudder of relief, and relaxed all over. He was not going to put her to shame there before all of them. She would have time to explain. She would not have her visit, but that, even, seemed a small thing beside the dreadful danger she had just escaped. She could tell him when they were alone.

Grandmother was coming forward now, to speak to him, where he stood, straight and dignified and handsome, with the little girl still on one arm.

"You are my old friend Grace Carpenter's son, as I was just telling Mr. Havenith. Edith Carpenter's nephew.... I—I am glad you are a friend's son," Grandmother finished tremulously.

John set Angela down and took Grandmother's hand, saying something to her gently—Joy never knew what. She had stood enough.

Phyllis felt Joy's hand pull out of hers. The inn-cottages were all built alike, so Joy knew perfectly well how to bolt through the front door, through the living-room to the back door and away. Viola, mending a little sock, caught a glimpse of flying skirts and flying braids.

"Them red-haired folks certainly is tempestuous, but they's gitters," she remarked to herself philosophically, and went on with her mending.

Outside, Phyllis looked at Allan and Allan looked at Phyllis. There didn't seem much to say about it. At last Allan spoke, in a way that he and Phyllis agreed afterwards was painfully inadequate, but was all he could think of to say.

"Ah—would you like to put away your suitcase, old man?" he inquired. "You must be tired of—of seeing it there."

Phyllis gurgled under her breath, but every one else was deadly serious. Nobody seemed to see anything funny about the offer.

"Thank you very much," John responded solemnly. "Yes, thank you, Harrington, I believe I would."

He bent over and picked it up, and followed his host inside.

Neither of them said anything as they went upstairs.

"Here's your room," Allan offered, showing it politely.

"So it is," murmured John in a quite expressionless voice, looking at it without seeming to know how to enter.

"It's to live in, you know," Allan suggested.

At this broad hint John went in and put his suitcase on the bed. He still appeared to be in more or less of a trance-state.

"If we'd known, we'd have tied a little white ribbon here and there, and arranged a rice-cascade—a shower, isn't it? or something," continued his host, amiably. "Awfully sorry, old chap, but you shouldn't have been so darn secretive. But we'll do our best—"

John awoke at this, and caught up a small pink pincushion which sat in the mathematical middle of his dresser, and threw it. It didn't hit Allan, because he dodged.

"That's one of Phyllis' favorite pincushions," he warned John from outside the door. "I say, Johnny, this isn't any way to repay hospitality."

He went on down the stair, and John could see his shoulders shaking.

"They've both got too confounded much sense of humor," said John bitterly.

But he went out and picked up the pincushion just the same, and addressed himself to the methodical unpacking of his suitcase.

"Oh, I forgot! Congratulations!" Allan called cheerily up from the stair-foot.

John, casting collars automatically from suitcase to dresser-top, growled.

"Congratulations! I need prayers more!" he said under his breath. "But—poor little thing! I might as well have stepped on a kitten! ... I certainly did tell her to hope for better things and they'd come.... I didn't know I was going to be one of 'em!"

Then, as he continued to unpack he grinned in spite of himself, for into his mind came a poem of Guiterman's he'd read lately, about an agnostic Brahmin who didn't believe in prayer, and came inadvertently on a tiger praying for a meal in the jungle:

"The trustful Tiger closed his prayer— Behold—a Brahmin trembling there! The Brahmin never scoffed a whit. The Prayer had answer.—He was It."

"I wonder," mused John, "whether she's a kitten, or a tiger? Anyway, I was It! ... I can't stand any more of anything just now. I'll get out till dinner-time!"

He tiptoed downstairs, and in his turn slid out the back door. The Haveniths were still talking to the Harringtons on the front veranda, he noted with a certain pleasure in their durance, and Phyllis' back looked polite but tired. He headed for the adjacent woods, diving into the leafy coolness with a feeling of escape. The wood blew cool and a little moist, and fragrant with far-off wood-smoke, and there was a feeling of solitude that he liked. He sighed with relief as he rounded the turn in the wood-path.

And there before him, at the foot of her great oak, stood Joy, not expecting him in the least. She uttered a little cry at sight of him, and turned to run away. Then she thought better of it, and stood her ground. Just what John might be going to do or say to her she did not know, but she thought he was entitled to do almost anything, and stood prepared for it, her face buried in her hands.

John had been a little irritated at the sight of her, but her evident terror moved him, as it had before. He was, through and through, the best type of physician; a man whose first and ruling impulse was always to help and heal, whether it was body or soul, or only feelings. Joy, standing with her face hidden, felt him laying his hands, smooth and strong, over hers.

"Aren't you even going to look at the fiance you've picked out?" she heard him say half-amusedly. "Why, I'm not going to hurt you, child."

He took her hands down. She let him, and raised her eyes to his kindly, wise steel-gray ones. He seemed to be regarding her in a friendly fashion, and she dared to look at him friendlily, too—even to smile a little. He brought to her the same sense of brightness and well-being that she had experienced before, and her heart felt lighter, though by every law of reason she should have been more ashamed than ever, confronted with him, there alone.

"Of course you won't hurt me," she said. "But—well, when you steal anybody's name and get engaged to it, they have a right to be cross. You can be, if you want to, and I won't say a word. I know very well I deserve it!"

John Hewitt had intended to be cross—very cross indeed; but with Joy's kitten-blue eyes fixed trustfully on his he found it difficult even to be stern. He made an attempt, nevertheless.

"Don't you know that a little girl like you isn't old enough to be engaged to be married?" he told her severely. He sat down on a heap of brown and scarlet leaves, the better to show Joy the error of her ways. "What made you think of it at all?"

Joy smiled. She was quite at ease now, with the curious feeling of ease and happiness he always gave her, and she answered him calmly, drawing a heavy copper plait forward over each shoulder.

"It's these that have made you think so all along. I'm nineteen."

John sat back a little, with both hands clasped over one gray-clad knee, and looked at her again in the light of that.

"It's hard to realize, I know," she said apologetically. She lifted the wonderful braids and bound them crownwise around her head, tying the ends together behind as if they were pieces of ribbon, and tucking them under with a comb, from behind one ear. She anchored them in front with the other comb, and smiled flashingly at him again. "Now it seems real, doesn't it? And now I'll tell you all about it—that is, if you have the time."

He looked again at the lovely, earnest little face under the crown of hair, and nodded gravely. She was not like any girl he had ever known.... She was like the girls you imagined might exist, sometimes, and wondered if you'd like them, after all, if they did. He wanted her to go on, at least, and felt stealing over him a conviction that she couldn't have done so particularly wrong.

Joy felt the lessened severity of his attitude, and took courage from it as she began.

"You remember that day you came to Grandfather's? You remembered my name, so I'm sure you do remember the rest. Well, that day I was especially unhappy because—well, it's hard to explain the because. Things were just as good as they always had been, really; only that day I couldn't stand them any more. You know things can be that way."

She looked at him expectantly, and he nodded again.

"It was a forlorn little life for a child like you—oh, I keep forgetting!"

He laughed.

"But even nineteen," he explained, "isn't particularly aged to an elderly gentleman of thirty-four."

"As old as that?" queried Joy.

She looked at him again in the light of new information, but she shelved it for the time, and went on with her defense.

"Well, that afternoon, when things were perfectly down to the very flattest bottom—'and not a ray of hope to gild the gloom'—you came. And things brightened up. You know you told me that if I hoped along, things I wanted would come?"

"I do know it!" said John with a fervor she did not understand.

"Well, they did!" she announced, looking at him radiantly, and pausing a little so he would have time to realize it.

John Hewitt's patients had always told him that just his coming in made them better, and he had simply accepted the faculty as useful in his work. But he had never thought that his personality could affect a perfectly well person. At Joy's tribute, unconsciously given, his pulse quickened a little. Had he really had this much power for happiness over the child?...

"Almost right away they brought me to this lovely place," she went on happily, "and almost right after that I met the Harringtons. It's all seemed to me because of your wishing ring."

"What wishing ring?" he asked, smiling indulgently at her, as one does at a child's fancies.

"Don't you remember?" she asked a little forlornly. "Well—you have such lots of things to remember! You said, 'Just keep on believing things will come right, don't lose heart, and they will.' I said, 'Like a wishing ring?' and you said, 'Yes.' I've felt as if I wore one—played I did, I suppose you'd say. I—I suppose I really am not being grown-up very well, after all.... Well, after I knew Phyllis the best thing of all happened. She asked me to come stay with her, and have roses and a moon, and children all day long. But Grandfather always said I couldn't go under any circumstances but being engaged.... And I was so wild to go—it just slipped out—truly it did! And then—the gods overtook me!"

She clasped her hands in her lap, and looked up at him—she had sunk to the ground when he did, and was also sitting on a leaf-heap. She tilted her head back against the big tree, and awaited her sentence.

John felt for the moment exactly the mingled pleasure and embarrassment that a man does who has been adopted by an unusually nice dog. It is a compliment, but one doesn't know exactly what to do with the animal. Joy sat and looked at him with what seemed to him to be a perfect trust that he would be good to her. As a matter of fact, Joy was merely pleased because he was there and not angry at her. She did hope a little that he would offer to do the explaining that they weren't engaged to Grandfather. But she was quite unprepared for what he said next, after a little silence.

"You're a brave little thing," he told her gently. "You shan't miss your roses and your moons on my account.... I'll tell you what we'll do, Joy. We'll stay engaged till we're out of sight of land."

She looked at him with parted lips.

"What—what do you mean?"

"You shall go to Phyllis' just the same, child. We won't even tell the Harringtons that it isn't true till we're on the train for Wallraven."

Joy stared at him, incredulous still. She could not speak for a moment.

"Oh!" she said then. "Oh—why, you're the kindest man I ever knew. But then, I knew you were! Thank you ever so much ... but—are you sure you don't mind at all?"

"Quite sure," he told her.

"Well—thank you!" said Joy fervently. "And oh, if I ever get the chance, I promise I'll do something for you you want. Just think of what you're giving me—a whole month of being just as happy as I like! We can go back to the bungalows now. I don't mind being congratulated one bit after this—do you?"

"N-no," said John a little dubiously. Then he laughed. "There's one thing you've forgotten. There's always a ring when people are engaged, even for four days."

Joy said nothing to this. She watched him while he slipped a curious, chased dull gold band with a diamond sunk in it, from his little finger. "It isn't a conventional solitaire sitting up on stilts, but it will do, won't it?" he asked.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse