A ROMANCE OF YOUTH
BY MARGARET REBECCA PIPER
I MOSTLY TONY
II WITH ROSALIND IN ARDEN
III A GIRL WHO COULDN'T STOP BEING A PRINCESS
IV A BOY WHO WASN'T AN ASS BUT BEHAVED LIKE ONE
V WHEN YOUTH MEETS YOUTH
VI A SHADOW ON THE PATH
VII DEVELOPMENTS BY MAIL
VIII THE LITTLE LADY WHO FORGOT
IX TEDDY SEIZES THE DAY
X TONY DANCES INTO A DISCOVERY
XI THINGS THAT WERE NOT ALL ON THE CARD
XII AND THERE IS A FLAME
XIII BITTER FRUIT
XV ON THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPICE
XVI IN WHICH PHIL GETS HIS EYES OPENED
XVII A WEDDING RING IT WAS HARD TO REMEMBER
XVIII A YOUNG MAN IN LOVE
XIX TWO HOLIDAYS MAKE CONFESSION
XX A YOUNG MAN NOT FOR SALE
XXI HARRISON CRESSY REVERTS
XXII THE DUNBURY CURE
XXIII SEPTEMBER CHANGES
XXIV A PAST WHICH DID NOT STAY BURIED
XXV ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE
XXVI THE KALEIDOSCOPE REVOLVES
XXVII TROUBLED WATERS
XXVIII IN DARK PLACES
XXIX THE PEDIGREE OF PEARLS
XXX THE FIERY FURNACE
XXXI THE MOVING FINGER CONTINUES TO WRITE
XXXII DWELLERS IN DREAMS
XXXIII WAITING FOR THE END OF THE STORY
XXXIV IN WHICH TWO MASSEYS MEET IN MEXICO
XXXV GEOFFREY ANNERSLEY ARRIVES
XXXVI THE PAST AND FUTURE MEET
XXXVII ALAN MASSEY LOSES HIMSELF
XXXVIII THE SONG IN THE NIGHT
XXXIX IN WHICH THE TALE ENDS IN THE HOUSE ON THE HILL
Among the voluble, excited, commencement-bound crowd that boarded the Northampton train at Springfield two male passengers were conspicuous for their silence as they sat absorbed in their respective newspapers which each had hurriedly purchased in transit from train to train.
A striking enough contrast otherwise, however, the two presented. The man next the aisle was well past sixty, rotund of abdomen, rubicund of countenance, beetle-browed. He was elaborately well-groomed, almost foppish in attire, and wore the obvious stamp of worldly success, the air of one accustomed to giving orders and seeing them obeyed before his eyes.
His companion and chance seat-mate was young, probably a scant five and twenty, tall, lean, close-knit of frame with finely chiseled, almost ascetic features, though the vigorous chin and generous sized mouth forbade any hint of weakness or effeminacy. His deep-set, clear gray-blue eyes were the eyes of youth; but they would have set a keen observer to wondering what they had seen to leave that shadow of unyouthful gravity upon them.
It happened that both men—the elderly and the young—had their papers folded at identically the same page, and both were studying intently the face of the lovely, dark-eyed young girl who smiled out of the duplicate printed sheets impartially at both.
The legend beneath the cut explained that the dark-eyed young beauty was Miss Antoinette Holiday, who would play Rosalind that night in the Smith College annual senior dramatics. The interested reader was further enlightened to the fact that Miss Holiday was the daughter of the late Colonel Holiday and Laura LaRue, a well known actress of a generation ago, and that the daughter inherited the gifts as well as the beauty of her famous mother, and was said to be planning to follow the stage herself, having made her debut as the charming heroine of "As You Like It."
The man next the aisle frowned a little as he came to this last sentence and went back to the perusal of the girl's face. So this was Laura's daughter. Well, they had not lied in one respect at least. She was a winner for looks. That was plain to be seen even from the crude newspaper reproduction. The girl was pretty. But what else did she have beside prettiness? That was the question. Did she have any of the rest of it—Laura's wit, her inimitable charm, her fire, her genius? Pshaw! No, of course she hadn't. Nature did not make two Laura LaRue's in one century. It was too much to expect.
Lord, what a woman! And what a future she had had and thrown away for love! Love! That wasn't it. She could have had love and still kept on with her career. It was marriage that had been the catastrophe—the fatal blunder. Marriage and domesticity for a woman like that! It was asinine—worse—criminal! It ought to have been forbidden by law. And the stubbornness of her! After all these years, remembering, Max Hempel could have groaned aloud. Every stage manager in New York, including himself, had been ready to bankrupt himself offering her what in those days were almost incredible contracts to prevent her from the suicidal folly on which she was bent. But to no avail. She had laughed at them all, laughed and quit the stage at six and twenty, and a few years later her beauty and genius were still—in death. What a waste! What a damnation waste!
At this point in his animadversions Max Hempel again looked at the girl in the newspaper, the girl who was the product of the very marriage he had been cursing, LaRue's only daughter. If there had been no marriage, neither would there have been this glorious, radiant, vividly alive young creature. Men called Laura LaRue dead. But was she? Was she not tremendously alive in the life of her lovely young daughter? Was it not he, and the other childless ones who had treated matrimony as the one supreme mistake, that would soon be very much dead, dead past any resurrection?
Pshaw! He was getting sentimental. He wasn't here for sentiment. He was here for cold, hard business. He was taking this confounded journey to witness an amateur performance of a Shakespeare play, when he loathed traveling in hot weather, detested amateur performances of anything, particularly of Shakespeare, on the millionth of a chance that Antoinette Holiday might be possessed of a tithe of her mother's talent and might eventually be starred as the new ingenue he was in need of, afar off, so to speak. It was Carol Clay herself who had warned him. Carol was wonderful—would always be wonderful. But time passes. There would come a season when the public would begin to count back and remember that Carol had been playing ingenue parts already for over a decade. There must always be youth—fresh, flaming youth in the offing. That was the stage and life.
As for this Antoinette Holiday girl, he had none too much hope. Max Hempel never hoped much on general principles, so far as potential stars were concerned. He had seen too many of them go off fizz bang into nothingness, like rockets. It was more than likely he was on a false trail, that people who had seen the girl act in amateur things had exaggerated her ability. He trusted no judgment but his own, which was perhaps one of the reasons why he was one of the greatest living stage managers. It was more than likely she had nothing but a pretty, shallow little talent for play acting and no notion under the sun of giving up society or matrimony or what-not for the devilish hard work of a stage career. Very likely there was some young galoot waiting even now, to whisk Laura LaRue's daughter off the stage before she ever got on.
Moreover there was always her family to cope with, dyed in the wool New Englanders at that, no doubt with the heavy Puritan mortmain upon them, narrow as a shoe string, circumscribed as a duck pond, walled in by ghastly respectability. Ten to one, if the girl had talent and ambition, they would smother these things in her, balk her at every turn. They had regarded Ned Holiday's marriage to Laura a misalliance, he recalled. There had been quite a to-do about it at the time. Good God! It had been a misalliance all right, but not as they reckoned it. It had not been considered suitable for a Holiday to marry an actress. Probably it would be considered more unsuitable for a Holiday to be an actress. Suitable! Bah! The question was not whether the career was fit for the girl, but whether the girl could measure up to the career. And irascibly, unreasonably indignant as if he had already been contending in argument with legions of mythical, over-respectable Holidays, Max Hempel whipped his paper open to another page, a page that told of a drive somewhere on the western front that had failed miserably, for this was the year nineteen hundred and sixteen and there was a war going on, "on the other side." Oh, typically American phrase!
Meanwhile the young man, too, had stopped staring at Antoinette Holiday's pictured face and was staring out of the window instead at the fast flying landscape. He had really no need anyway to look at a picture of Tony. His head and heart were full of them. He had been storing them up for over eight years and it was a considerable collection by now and one in which he took great joy in lonely hours in his dingy little lodging room, or in odd moments as he went his way at his task as a reporter for a great New York daily. The perspicuous reader will not need to be told that the young man was in love with Tony Holiday—desperately in love.
Desperately was the word. Slight as Max Hempel's hope may have been that Laura LaRue's daughter was to prove the ingenue he sought, infinitely slighter was Dick Carson's hope of ever making Tony his wife. How could it be otherwise? Tony Holiday was as far above him in his own eyes as the top of Mount Tom was high above the onion beds of the valley. The very name he used was his only because she had given it to him. Dick Nobody he had been. Richard Carson he had become through grace of Tony.
Like his companion the young man went back into the past, though not so far a journey. As vividly as if it were but yesterday he remembered the misery of flesh and spirit which had been his as he stowed himself away in the hay loft in the Holiday's barn, that long ago summer dawn, too sick to take another step and caring little whether he lived or died, conscious vaguely, however, that death would be infinitely preferable to going back to the life of the circus and the man Jim's coarse brutality from which he had made his escape at last.
And then he had opened his eyes, hours later, and there had been Tony—and there had been chiefly Tony ever since, for him.
If ever he amounted to anything, and he meant to amount to something, it would be all due to Tony and her Uncle Phil. The two of them had saved him in more ways than one, had faith in him when he wasn't much but a scarecrow, ignorant, profane, unmoral, miserable, a "gutter brat" as some one had once called him, a phrase he had never forgotten. It had seemed to brand him, set him apart from people like the Holidays forever. But Tony and Doctor Phil had shown him a different way of looking at it, proved to him that nothing could really disgrace him but himself. They had given him his chance and he had taken it. Please God he would make himself yet into something they could be proud of, and it would all be their doing. He would never forget that, whatever happened.
A half hour later the train puffed and wheezed into the station at Northampton. Dick Carson and Max Hempel, still close together, descended into the swarming, chattering crowd which was delightfully if confusingly congested with pretty girls, more pretty girls and still more pretty girls. But Dick was not confused. Even before the train had come to a full stop he had caught sight of Tony. He had a single track mind so far as girls were concerned. From the moment his eyes discovered Tony Holiday the rest simply did not exist for him. It is to be doubted whether he knew they were there at all, in spite of their manifest ubiquity and equally manifest pulchritude.
Tony saw him, too, as he loomed up, taller than the others, bearing resistlessly down upon her. She waved a gay greeting and smiled her welcome to him through the throng. Max Hempel, close behind, caught the message, too, and recognized the face of the girl who smiled as the original of the newspaper cut he had just been studying so assiduously. Deliberately he dogged the young man's heels. He wanted to get a close-up view of Laura LaRue's daughter. She was much prettier than the picture. Even from a distance he had made that out, as she stood there among the crowd, vivacious, vivid, clad all in white except for the loose coral-hued sweater which set off her warm brunette beauty and the slim but charmingly rounded curves of her supple young body. Yes, she was like Laura, like her and yet different, with a quality which he fancied belonged to herself and none other.
Almost jealously Hempel watched the meeting between the girl and the youth who up to now had been negligible enough, but suddenly emerged into significance as the possible young galoot already mentally warned off the premises by the stage manager.
"Dick! O Dick! I'm so glad to see you," cried the girl, holding out both hands to the new arrival. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes shining. She looked quite as glad as she proclaimed.
As for the young man who had set down his suitcase and taken possession of both the proffered hands, there wasn't the slightest doubt that he was in the seventh heaven of bliss wherever that may be. Next door to Fool's Paradise, Max Hempel hoped somewhat vindictively.
"Just you wait, young man," he muttered to himself. "Bet you'll have to, anyway. That glorious young thing isn't going to settle down to the shallows of matrimony without trying the deep waters first, unless I'm mightily mistaken. In the meantime we shall see what we shall see to-night." And the man of power trudged away in the direction of a taxicab, leaving youth alone with itself.
"Everybody is here," bubbled Tony. "At least, nearly everybody. Larry went to a horrid old medical convention at Chicago, and can't be here for the play; but he's coming to commencement. Of course, Granny isn't able to travel and Aunt Margery couldn't come because the kiddies have been measling, but Ted is here, and Uncle Phil—bless him! He brought the twins over from Dunbury in the car. Phil Lambert and everybody are waiting down the street. Carlotta too! To think you haven't ever met her, when she's been my roommate and best friend for two years! And, oh! Dicky! I haven't seen you myself for most a year and I'm so glad." She beamed up at him as she made this rather ambiguous statement. "And you haven't said a word but just 'hello!' Aren't you glad to see me, Dicky?" she reproached.
He grunted at that.
"About a thousand times gladder than if I were in Heaven, unless you happened to be sitting beside me on the golden stairs. And if you think I don't know how long it is since I've seen you, you are mightily mistaken. It is precisely one million years in round numbers."
"Oh, it is?" Tony smiled, appeased. "Why didn't you say so before, and not leave me to squeeze it out of you like tooth-paste?"
Dick grinned back happily.
"Because you brought me up not to interrupt a lady. You seemed to have the floor, so to speak."
"So to speak, indeed," laughed Tony. "Carlotta says I exist for that sole purpose. But come on. Everybody's crazy to see you and I've a million things to do." And tucking her arm in his, Tony marshaled the procession of two down the stairs to the street where the car and the old Holiday Hill crowd waited to greet the newest comer to the ranks of the commencement celebrants.
With the exception of Carlotta Cressy, Tony's roommate, the occupants of the car are known already to those who followed the earlier tale of Holiday Hill.
[Footnote 1: The earlier experiences of the Holidays and their friends are related in "The House on the Hill."]
First of all there was the owner of the car, Dr. Philip Holiday himself, a married man now, with a small son and daughter of his own, "Miss Margery's" children. A little thicker of build and thinner of hair was the doctor, but possessed of the same genial friendliness of manner and whimsical humor, the same steady hand held out to help wherever and whenever help was needed. He was head of the House of Holiday now for his father, the saintly old pastor, had gone on to other fields and his soldier brother Ned, Tony's father, had also gone, in the prime of life, two years before, victim of typhus, leaving his beloved little daughter, and his two sons just verging into manhood, in the care of the younger Holiday.
As Dick and the doctor exchanged cordial greetings, the latter's friendly eyes challenged the young man's and were answered. Plainly as if words had been spoken the doctor knew that Dick was keeping faith with the old pact, living up to the name the little girl Tony had given him in her impulsive generosity.
"Something not quite right, though," he thought. "The boy isn't all happy. Wonder what the trouble is. Probably a girl. Usually is at that age."
At the wheel beside the doctor was his namesake and neighbor, Philip Lambert. Phil was graduating, himself, this year from the college across the river, a sturdy athlete of some note and a Phi Beta Kappa man as well. Out of a harum-scarum, willful boyhood he had emerged into a finely tempered, steady young manhood. The Dunbury wiseacres who had been wont to shake their heads over Phil's youthful escapades and prophesy a bad end for such a devil-may-care youngster now patted themselves complacently on the back, as wiseacres will, and declared they had always known the boy would turn out a credit to his family and the town.
On the back seat were Phil's sisters, the pretty twins, Charley and Clare, still astonishingly alike at twenty, as they had been at twelve, and still full of the high spirits and ready laughter and wit that had made them the life of the Hill in the old days. Neither looked a day over sixteen, but Clare had already been teaching two years in a Dunbury public school and Charley was to go into nurse's training in the fall.
Larry, the young doctor, as Dunbury had taken to calling him in distinction from his uncle, was not yet arrived, as Tony had explained; but Ted, her younger brother, was very much on the scene, arrayed in all the extravagant niceties of modish attire affected by university undergraduates. At twenty, Ted Holiday was as handsome as the traditional young Greek god and possessed of a godlike propensity to do as he liked and the devil take the consequences. Already Ned Holiday's younger son had acquired something of a reputation as a high flier among his own sex, and a heart breaker among the fairer one. Reckless, debonair, utterly irresponsible, he was still "terrible Teddy" as his father had jocosely dubbed him long ago. Yet he was quite as lovable as he was irrepressible, and had a manifest grace to counterbalance every one of his many faults. His soberer brother Larry worried uselessly over Ted's misdeeds, and took him sharply to task for them; but even Larry admitted that there was something rather magnificent about Ted and that possibly in the end he would come out the soundest Holiday of them all.
There remains only Carlotta to be introduced. Carlotta was lovely to look upon. A poet speaks somewhere of a face "made out of a rose." Carlotta had that kind of a face and her eyes were of that deep, violet shade which works mischief and magic in the hearts of men. As for her hair, it might well have been the envy of any princess, in or out of the covers of a book, so fine spun was it in texture, so pure gold in color, like the warm, vivid shimmer of tropical sunshine. She lifted an inquiring gaze now to Dick, as she held out her hand in acknowledgment of the introduction, and Dick murmured something platitudinous, bowed politely over the hand and never noticed what color her eyes were. A single track mind is both a curse and a protection to a man.
"Carlotta would come," Tony was explaining gaily, "though I told her there wasn't room. Let me inform you all that Carlotta is the most completely, magnificently, delightfully spoiled young person in these United States of America."
"Barring you?" teased her uncle.
"Barring none. By comparison with Carlotta, I am all the noble army of saints, martyrs and seraphim on record combined. Carlotta is preordained to have her own way. Everybody unites to give it to her. We can't help it. She hypnotizes us. Some night you will miss the moon in its accustomed place and you will find that she wanted it for a few moments to play with."
Philip Lambert had turned around in his seat and was surveying Carlotta rather curiously during this teasing tirade of Tony's.
"Oh, well," murmured Carlotta. "Your old moon can be put up again when I am through with it. I shan't do it a bit of harm. Anyway, Mr. Carson must not be told such horrid things about me the very first time he meets me, must he, Phil? He might think they were true." She suddenly lifted her eyes and smiled straight up into the face of the young man on the front seat who was watching her so intently.
"Well, aren't they?" returned the young man addressed, stooping to examine the brake.
Carlotta did not appear in the least offended at his curt comment. Indeed the smile on her lips lingered as if it had some inner reason for being there.
"Hop in, Tony," ordered Ted with brotherly peremptoriness. "Carlotta, you are one too many, my love. You will have to sit in my lap."
"I'm getting out," said Phil. "I'm due across the river. Want Ted to take the wheel, Doctor?"
"I do not. I have a wife and children at home. I cannot afford to place my life in jeopardy." The doctor's eyes twinkled as they rested a moment on his youngest nephew.
"Now, Uncle Phil, that's mean of you. You ought to see me drive."
"I have," commented Dr. Holiday drily. "Come on over here, one of you twinnies, if Phil must go. See you to-night, my boy?" he turned to his namesake to ask as Charley accepted the invitation and clambered over the back of the seat while the doctor took her brother's vacated post.
Phil shook his head.
"No. I was in on the dress rehearsal last night. I've had my share. But you folks are going to see the jolliest Rosalind that ever grew in Arden or out of it. That's one sure thing."
Phil smiled at Tony as he spoke, and Dick, settling himself in the small seat beside Ted, felt a small barbed dart of jealousy prick into him.
Tony and Phil were obviously exceedingly good friends. They had, he knew, seen much of each other during the past four years, with only a river between. Phil was Tony's own kind, college-trained, with a certified line of good old New England ancestry behind him. Moreover, he was a darned fine fellow—one of the best, in fact. In spite of that hateful little jabbing dart, Dick acknowledged that. Ah well, there was more than a river between himself and Tony Holiday and there always would be. Who was he, nameless as he was, to enter the lists against Philip Lambert or any one else?
The car sped away, leaving Phil standing bareheaded in the sunshine, staring after it. The mocking silver lilt of Carlotta Cressy's laughter drifted back to him. He shrugged, jammed on his hat and strode off in the direction of the trolley car.
Dick Carson might just as well have spared himself the pain of jealousy. Phil had already forgotten Tony, was remembering only Carlotta, who would never deliberately do a mite of harm to the moon, would merely want to play with it at her fancy and leave it at her whim for somebody else to replace, if anybody cared to take the pains. And what was a moon more or less anyway?
WITH ROSALIND IN ARDEN
Of course it is understood that every graduating class rightfully asserts, and is backed up in its belief by doting and nobly partisan relatives and blindly devoted, hyperbolic friends, that its particular, unique and proper senior dramatics is the most glorious and unforgettable performance in all the histrionic annals of the college, a thing to make Will Shakespeare himself rise and applaud from his high and far off hills of Paradise.
Certainly Tony's class knew, past any qualms of doubt, and made no bones of proclaiming its conviction that there never had been such a wonderful "As You Like It" and that never, so long as the stars kept their seats in the heavens and senior classes produced Shakespeare—two practically synonymous conditions—would there ever be such another Rosalind as Tony Holiday, so fresh, so spontaneous, so happy in her acting, so bewitchingly winsome to behold, so boyish, yet so exquisitely feminine in her doublet and hose, so daring, so dainty, so full of wit and grace and sparkle, so tender, so merry, so natural, so all-in-all and utterly as Will himself would have liked his "right Rosalind" to be.
So the class maintained and so they chanted soon and late, in many keys, "with a hey and a ho and a hey nonino." And who so bold or malicious, or age cankered as to dispute the dictum? Is it not youth's privilege to fling enthusiasm and superlatives to the wind and to deal in glorious arrogance?
It must be admitted, however, in due justice, that the class that played "As You Like It" that year had some grounds on which to base its pretensions and vain-glory. For had not a great stage manager been present and applauded until his palms were purple and perspiration beaded his beak of a nose? Had he not, as the last curtain, descended, blown his nose, mopped his brow, exclaimed "God bless my soul!" three times in succession and demanded to be shown without delay into the presence of Rosalind?
As we know already, the great stage manager had not come over-willingly or over-hopefully to Northampton to see Tony Holiday play Rosalind. Indeed, when it had been first suggested that he do so, he had objected violently and remarked with conviction that he would "be da—er—blessed if he would." But he had come and he had been blessed involuntarily.
For he had seen something he had not expected to see—a real play, with real magic to it, such magic as all his cunning stage artifice, all the studied artistry of his fearfully and wonderfully salaried stellar attachments somehow missed achieving. He tried afterwards to explain to Carol Clay, his favorite star, just what the quality of the magic was, but somehow he could not get it into words. It wasn't exactly wordable perhaps. It was something that rendered negligible the occasionally creaking mechanism and crudeness of stage business and rendition; something compounded of dew and sun and wind, such as could only be found in a veritable Forest of Arden; something elusive, exquisite, iridescent; something he had supposed had vanished from the world about the time they put Pan out of business and stopped up the Pipes of Arcady. It was enchanting, elemental, genuine Elizabethan, had the spirit of Master Skylark himself in it. Maybe it was the spirit of youth itself, immortal youth, playing immortal youth's supreme play? Who knows or can lay finger upon the secret of the magic? The great stage manager did not and could not. He only knew that, in spite of himself, he had drunk deep for a moment of true elixir.
But as for Rosalind herself that was another matter. Max Hempel was entirely capable of analyzing his impressions there and correlating them with the cold hard business on which he had come. Even if the play had proved a greater bore than he had anticipated, the trip from Broadway to the Academy of Music would still have been materially worth while. Antoinette Holiday was a genuine find, authentic star stuff. They hadn't spoiled her, plastered her over with meaningless mannerisms. She was virgin material—untrained, with worlds to learn, of course; but with a spark of the true fire in her—her mother's own daughter, which was the most promising thing anybody could say of her.
No wonder Max Hempel had peremptorily demanded to be shown behind the scenes without an instant's delay. He was almost in a panic lest some other manager should likewise have gotten wind of this Rosalind and be lurking in the wings even now to pounce upon his own legitimate prey. He couldn't quite forget either the tall young man of the afternoon's encounter, his seatmate up from Springfield. He wasn't exactly afraid, however, having seen the girl and watched her live Rosalind. The child had wings and would want to fly far and free with them, unless he was mightily mistaken in his reading of her.
Tony was still resplendent in her wedding white, and with her arms full of roses, when she obeyed the summons to the stage door on being told that the great manager wished to see her. She came toward him, flushed, excited, adorably pretty. She laid down her roses and held out her hand, shy, but perfectly self-possessed.
"'Well, this is the Forest of Arden,'" she quoted. "It must be or else I am dreaming. As long as I can remember I have wanted to meet you, and here you are, right on the edge of the forest."
He bowed low over her hand and raised it gallantly to his lips.
"I rather think I am still in Arden myself," he said. "My dear, you have given me a treat such as I never expected to enjoy again in this world. You made me forget I knew anything about plays or was seeing one. You carried me off with you to Arden."
"Did you really like the play?" begged Tony, shining-eyed at the praise of the great man.
"I liked it amazingly and I liked your playing even more amazingly. Is it true that you are going on the stage?" He had dropped Arden now, gotten down to what he would have called brass tacks. The difference was in his voice. Tony sensed it vaguely and was suddenly a little frightened.
"Why, I—I don't know," she faltered. "I hope so. Sometime."
"Sometime is never," he snapped. "That won't do."
The Arden magic was quite gone by this time. He was scowling a little and thrust out his upper lip in a way Tony did not care for at all. It occurred to her inconsequentially that he looked a good deal like the wolf, in the story, who threatened to "huff and puff" until he blew in the house of the little pigs. She didn't want her house blown in. She wished Uncle Phil would come. She stooped to gather up her roses as if they might serve as a barricade between her and the wolf. But suddenly she forgot her misgivings again, for Max Hempel was saying incredible things, things which set her imagination agog and her pulses leaping. He was offering her a small role, a maid's part, in one of his road companies.
"Me!" she gasped from behind her roses.
"To-morrow—the day after—next week at the latest. Chances like that don't go begging long, young lady. Will you take it?"
"Oh, I wish I could!" sighed Tony. "But I am afraid I can't. Oh, there is Uncle Phil!" she interrupted herself to exclaim with perceptible relief.
In a moment Doctor Holiday was with them, his arm around Tony while he acknowledged the introduction to the stage manager, who eyed him somewhat uncordially. The two men took each the other's measure. Possibly a spark of antagonism flashed between them for an instant. Each wanted the lovely little Rosalind on his own side of the fence, and each suspected the other of desiring to lure her to the other side if he could. For the moment however, the advantage was all with the doctor, with his protecting arm around Tony.
"Holiday!" muttered Hempel. "There was a Holiday once who married one of the finest actresses of the American stage—carried her off to nurse his babies. I never forgave that man. He was a brute."
Tony stiffened. Her eyes flashed. She drew away from her uncle and confronted the stage manager angrily.
"He wasn't a brute, if you mean my father!" she burst out. "My mother was Laura LaRue."
"I know it," grinned the manager, thoroughly delighted to have struck fire. The girl was better even than he had thought. She was magnificent, angry. "That's why I'm here," he added. "I just offered this young person a part in a practically all-star cast, touring the West. Do you mind?" he challenged Doctor Holiday.
"I should mind her accepting," said the other man tranquilly. "As it is, I am duly appreciative of the offer. Thank you."
"What if I told you she had accepted?" the wolf snapped.
Tony saw the swift shadow cloud her uncle's face and hated the manager for hurting him like that.
"I didn't," she protested indignantly. "You know I wouldn't promise anything without talking to you, Uncle Phil. I told him I couldn't go."
"But you wanted to," persisted the wolf, bound to get his fangs in somewhere.
Tony smiled a little wistfully.
"I wanted to most awfully," she confessed, patting her uncle's arm to take the sting out of her admission. "Will you ask me again some day?" she appealed to the manager.
He snorted at that.
"You'll come asking me, young lady, and before long, too. Laura LaRue's daughter isn't going to settle down to being either a butterfly or a blue-stocking. You are going on the stage and you know it. No use, Holiday. You won't be able to hold her back. It's in the blood. You may be able to dam the tide for a time, but not forever."
"I don't intend to dam it," said the doctor gravely. "If, when the time comes, Tony wishes to go on the stage, I shall not try to prevent her. In fact I shall help her in every way in my power."
"Uncle Phil!" Tony's voice had a tiny catch in it. She knew her grandmother would be bitterly opposed to her going on the stage, and had imagined she would have to win even her uncle over by slow degrees to the gratifying of this desire of her heart. It had hurt her even to think of hurting him or going against him in any way—he who was, "father and mother and a'" to her. Dear Uncle Phil! How he always understood and took the big, broad viewpoint!
The manager grunted approval at that. His belligerency waned.
"Congratulate you, sir. That's spoken like a man of sense. Evidently you are able to see over the wall farther than most of the witch-ridden New Englanders I've met. I should like the chance to launch this Rosalind of yours. But don't make it too far off. Youth is the biggest drawing card in the world and—the most transient. You have to get in the game early to get away with it. I'll start her whenever you say—next week—next month—next year. Guarantee to have her ready to understudy a star in three months and perhaps a star herself in six. She might jump into the heavens overnight. Stranger things have happened. What do you say? May I have an option on the young lady?"
"That is rather too big a question to settle off hand at midnight. Tony is barely twenty-two and she has home obligations which will have to be considered. Her grandmother is old and frail and—a New Englander of the old school."
"Too bad," commiserated the manager. "But never mind all that. All I ask is that you won't let her sign up with anybody else without giving me a chance first."
"I think we may safely promise that and thank you. Tony and I both appreciate that you are doing her a good deal of honor for one small school girl, eh Tony?" The doctor smiled down at his flushed, starry-eyed niece. He understood precisely what a big moment it was for her.
"Oh, I should think so!" sighed Tony. "You are awfully kind, Mr. Hempel. It is like a wonderful dream—almost too good to be true."
Both men smiled at that. For youth no dream is quite too extravagant or incredible to be potentially true. No grim specters of failure and disillusionment and frustration dog its bright path. All possibilities are its divine inheritance.
"Mr. Hempel, did you know my mother?" Tony asked suddenly, with a shadow of wistfulness in her dark eyes. There were so few people whom she met that had known her mother. It was as if Laura LaRue had moved in a different orbit from that of her daughter. It always hurt Tony to feel that. But here was one who was of her mother's own world. No wonder her eyes were beseeching as they sought the great manager's.
He bowed gravely.
"I knew her very well. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen—and one of the greatest actresses. Your father was a lucky man, my dear. Few women would have given up for any man what she gave up for him."
"Oh, but—she loved him," explained Laura LaRue's daughter simply.
Again Hempel nodded.
"She did," he admitted grimly. After all these years there was no use admitting that that had been the deepest rub of all, that Laura had loved Ned Holiday and had never, for even the span of a moment, thought of caring for himself. "I repeat, your father was a very lucky man—a damnably lucky one."
And with that they shook hands and parted.
It was many months before Tony was to see Max Hempel again and many waters were to run under the bridge before the meeting came to pass.
Outside in the car, Ted, Dick and the twins waited the arrival of the heroine of the evening. The three latter greeted her with a burst of prideful congratulation; the former, being merely a brother, was distinctly cross at having been kept waiting so long and did not hesitate to express his sentiments fully out loud. But Doctor Holiday cut short his nephew's somewhat ungracious speech by a quiet reminder that the car was here primarily for Tony's use, and the boy subsided, having no more to say until, having deposited the occupants of the car at their various destinations, he announced to his uncle with elaborate carelessness that he would take the car around to the garage.
But he did not turn in at the side street where the garage was. Instead he shot out Elm Street, "hitting her up" at forty. There had been a reason for his impatience. Ted Holiday had important private business to transact ere cock crow.
Tony lay awake a long time that night, dreaming dreams that carried her far and far into the future, until Rosalind's happy triumph of the evening almost faded away in the glory of the yet-to-be. It was characteristic of the girl's stage of development that in all her dreams, no lovers, much less a possible husband, ever once entered. Tony Holiday was in love with life and life alone that wonderful June night. As Hempel had shrewdly perceived she was conscious of having wings and desirous of flying far and free with them ere she came to pause.
She did remember, in passing however, how she had caught Dick's eyes once as he sat in the box near the stage, and how his rapt gaze had thrilled her to intenser playing of her part. And she remembered how dear he was afterward in the car when he held her roses and told her softly what a wonderful, wonderful Rosalind she was. But, on the whole, Dick, like most of the rest of the people with whom she had held converse since the curtain went down upon Arden, seemed unimportant and indistinct, like courtiers and foresters, not specifically named among the dramatis personae, just put in to fill out and make a more effective stage setting.
Dick, too, in his room on Greene Street, was wakeful. He sat by the window far into the night. His heart was heavy within him. The gulf between him and Tony had suddenly widened immeasureably. She was a real actress. He hadn't needed a great manager's verdict to teach him that. He had seen it with his own eyes, heard it with his own ears, felt it with his own heart. He had worshiped and adored and been made unutterably sad and lonely by her dazzling success, glad as he was that it had come to her. Tony would go on in her shining path. He would always lag behind in the shadows. They would never come together as long as they both lived. She had started too far ahead. He could never overtake her.
If only there were some way of finding out who he was, get some clue as to his parentage. He only knew that the man they called Jim, who had kicked and beaten and sworn at him with foul oaths until he could bear it no longer, was no kin of his, though the other had claimed the authority to abuse him as he abused his horses and dogs when drink and ugliness were upon him. If only he could find Jim again after all these years, perhaps he could manage to get the truth out of him, find out what the man knew of himself, and how he had come to be in a circus troupe. Yet after all, perhaps it was better not to know. The facts might separate him from Tony even more than he was separated by his ignorance of them. As it was, he started even, with neither honor nor shame bequeathed him from the past. What he was, he was in himself. And if by any miracle of fortune Tony ever did come to care for him it would be just himself, plain Dick, that she would love. He knew that.
The thought was vaguely comforting and he, too, fell adreaming. Most of us foiled humans learn to play the game of make-believe and to find such consolation as we may therein. Often and often in his lonely hours Dick Carson had summoned Tony Holiday to his side, a Tony as bright and beautiful and all adorable as the real Tony, but a dream Tony, withal, a Tony who loved him even as he loved her. And in his make-believe he was no longer a nameless, impecunious cub reporter, but a man who had arrived somewhere, made himself worthy, so far as any mere man could, of the supreme gift of Tony's caring.
To-night, too, Dick played the game determinedly, but somehow he found its consolation rather meager, as cold and remote as the sparkle of the June stars, millions of miles away up there in the velvet sky, after having sat by the side of the living, breathing Tony and, looking into her happy eyes, known how little, how very little, he was in her thoughts. She liked him to be near her, he knew, just as she liked her roses to be fragrant, but neither the roses nor himself was a vital necessity to her. She could do very well without either. That was the pity of it.
At last he got up and went to bed. Falling into troubled sleep he dreamed that he and Tony were wandering, hand in hand, in the Forest of Arden. From afar off came the sound of music, airy voices chanting:
"When birds do sing, hey ding a ding Sweet lovers love the spring."
And then somebody laughed mockingly, like Jacques, and somebody else, clad in motley like Touchstone, but who seemed to speak in Dick's own voice, murmured, "Ay, now am I in Arden, the more fool I."
And even with these words the forest vanished and Tony with it and the dreamer was left alone on a steep and dusty road, lost and aching for the missing touch of her hand.
But later he woke to the song of a thousand birds greeting the new day with full-throated joy. And his heart, too, began to sing. For it was indeed a new day—a day in which he should see Tony. He was irrationally content. Of such is the kingdom of lad's love!
A GIRL WHO COULDN'T STOP BEING A PRINCESS
In the lee of a huge gray bowlder on the summit of Mount Tom sat Philip Lambert and Carlotta Cressy. Below them stretched the wide sweep of the river valley, amethyst and topaz and emerald, rich with lush June verdure, soft shadowed, tranquil, in the late afternoon sunshine. They had been silent for a little time but suddenly Carlotta broke the silence.
"Phil, do you know why I brought you up here?" she asked. As she spoke she drew a little closer to him and her hand touched his as softly as a drifting feather or a blown cherry blossom might have touched it.
He turned to look at her. She was all in white like a lily, and otherwise carried out the lily tradition of belonging obviously to the non-toiling-and-spinning species, justifying the arrangement by looking seraphically lovely in the fruits of the loom and labor of the rest of the world. And after all, sheer loveliness is an end in itself. Nobody expects a flower to give account of itself and flower-like Carlotta was very, very lovely as she leaned against the granite rock with the valley at her feet. So Phil Lambert's eyes told her eloquently. The valley was not the only thing at Carlotta's feet.
"I labored under the impression that I did the bringing up myself," he remarked, his hand closing over hers. "However, the point is immaterial. You are here and I am here. Is there a cosmic reason?"
"There is." Carlotta's voice was dreamy. She watched a cloud shadow creep over the green-plumed mountain opposite. "I brought you up here so that you could propose to me suitably and without interruption."
"Huh!" ejaculated Phil inelegantly, utterly taken by surprise by Carlotta's announcement. "Do you mind repeating that? The altitude seems to have affected my hearing."
"You heard correctly. I said I brought you up here to propose to me."
"Too much 'As You Like It,'" he observed. "These Shakespearean heroines are a bad lot. May I ask just why you want me to propose to you, my dear? Do you have to collect a certain number of scalps by this particular rare day in June? Or is it that you think you would enjoy the exquisite pleasure of seeing me writhe and wriggle when you refuse me?"
Phil's tone was carefully light, and he smiled as he asked the questions, but there was a tight drawn line about his mouth even as he smiled.
"Through bush, through briar, Through flood, through fire"
he had followed the will o' the wisp, Carlotta, for two years now, against his better judgment and to the undoing of his peace of mind and heart. And play days were over for Phil Lambert. The work-a-day world awaited him, a world where there would be neither space nor time for chasing phantoms, however lovely and alluring.
"Don't be horrid, Phil. I'm not like that. You know I'm not," denied Carlotta reproachfully. "I have a surprise for you, Philip, my dear. I am going to accept you."
"No!" exclaimed Phil in unfeigned amazement.
"Yes," declared Carlotta firmly. "I decided it in church this morning when the man was telling us how fearfully real and earnest life is. Not that I believe in the real-earnestness. I don't. It's bosh. Life was made to be happy in and that is why I made up my mind to marry you. You might manage to look a little bit pleased. Anybody would think you were about to keep an appointment with a dentist, instead of having the inestimable privilege of proposing to me with the inside information that I am going to accept you."
Phil drew away his hand from hers. His blue eyes were grave.
"Don't, Carlotta! I am afraid the chap was right about the real-earnestness. It may be a fine jest to you. It isn't to me. You see I happen to be in love with you."
"Of course," murmured Carlotta. "That is quite understood. Did you think I would have bothered to drag you clear up on a mountain top to propose to me if I hadn't known you were in love with me and—I with you?" she added softly.
"Carlotta! Do you mean it?" Phil's whole heart was in his honest blue eyes.
"Of course, I mean it. Foolish! Didn't you know? Would I have tormented you so all these months if I hadn't cared?"
"But, Carlotta, sweetheart, I can't believe you are in earnest even now. Would you marry me really?"
"Would I? Will I is the verb I brought you up here to use. Mind your grammar."
Phil clasped his hands behind him for safe keeping.
"But I can't ask you to marry me—at least not to-day."
Carlotta made a dainty little face at him.
"And why not? Have you any religious scruples about proposing on Sunday?"
He grinned absent-mindedly and involuntarily at that. But he shook his head and his hands stayed behind his back.
"I can't propose to you because I haven't a red cent in the world—at least not more than three red cents. I couldn't support an everyday wife on 'em, not to mention a fairy princess."
"As if that mattered," dismissed Carlotta airily. "You are in love with me, aren't you?"
"Lord help me!" groaned Phil. "You know I am."
"And I am in love with you—for the present. You had better ask me while the asking is good. The wind may veer by next week, or even by tomorrow. There are other young men who do not require to be commanded to propose. They spurt, automatically and often, like Old Faithful."
Phil's ingenuous face clouded over. The other young men were no fabrication, as he knew to his sorrow. He was forever stumbling over them at Carlotta's careless feet.
"Don't, Carlotta," he begged again. "You don't have to scare me into subjection, you know. If I had anything to justify me for asking you to marry me I'd do it this minute without prompting. You ought to know that. And you know I'm jealous enough already of the rest of 'em, without your rubbing it in now."
"Don't worry, old dear," smiled Carlotta. "I don't care a snap of my fingers for any of the poor worms, though I wouldn't needlessly set foot on 'em. As for justifications I have a whole bag of them up my sleeve ready to spill out like a pack of cards when the time comes. You don't have to concern yourself in the least about them. Your business is to propose. 'Come, woo me, woo, me, for now I am in a holiday humor and like enough to consent'"—she quoted Tony's lines and, leaning toward him, lifted her flower face close to his. "Shall I count ten?" she teased.
"Carlotta, have mercy. You are driving me crazy. Pretty thing it would be for me to propose to you before I even got my sheepskin. Jolly pleased your father would be, wouldn't he, to be presented with a jobless, penniless son-in-law?"
"Nonsense!" said Carlotta crisply. "It wouldn't matter if you didn't even have a fig leaf. You wouldn't be either jobless or penniless if you were his son-in-law. He has pennies enough for all of us and enough jobs for you, which is quite sufficient unto the day. Don't be stiff and silly, Phil. And don't set your jaw like that. I hate men who set their jaws. It isn't at all becoming. I don't say my dear misguided Daddy wouldn't raise a merry little row just at first. He often raises merry little rows over things I want to do, but in the end he always comes round to my way of thinking and wants precisely what I want. Everything will be smooth as silk, I promise you. I know what I am talking about. I've thought it out very carefully. I don't make up my mind in a hurry, but when I do decide what I want I take it."
"You can't take this," said Philip Lambert.
Carlotta drew back and stared, her violet eyes very wide open. Never in all her twenty two years had any man said "can't" to her in that tone. It was a totally new experience. For a moment she was too astounded even to be angry.
"What do you mean?" she asked a little limply.
"I mean I won't take your father's pennies nor hold down a pseudo-job I'm not fitted for, even for the sake of being his son-in-law. And I won't marry you until I am able to support you on the kind of job I am fitted for."
"And may I inquire what that is?" demanded Carlotta sharply, recovering sufficiently to let the thorns she usually kept gracefully concealed prick out from among the roses.
Phil laughed shortly.
"Don't faint, Carlotta. I am eminently fitted to be a village store-keeper. In fact that is what I shall be in less than two weeks. I am going into partnership with my father. The new sign Stuart Lambert and Son is being painted now."
"Phil! You wouldn't. You can't."
"Oh yes, Carlotta. I not only could and would but I am going to. It has been understood ever since I first went to college that when I was out I'd put my shoulder to the wheel beside Dad's. He has been pushing alone too long as it is. He needs me. You don't know how happy he and Mums are about it. It is what they have dreamed about and planned, for years. I'm the only son, you know. It's up to me."
"But, Phil! It is an awful sacrifice for you." For once Carlotta forgot herself completely.
"Not a bit of it. It is a flourishing concern—not just a two-by-four village shop—a real department store, doing real business and making real money. Dad built it all up himself, too. He has a right to be proud of it and I am lucky to be able to step in and enjoy the results of all his years of hard work. I'm not fooling myself about that. Don't get the impression I am being a martyr or anything of the sort. I most distinctly am not."
Carlotta made a little inarticulate exclamation. Mechanically she counted the cars of the train which was winding its black, snake-like trail far down below them in the valley. It hadn't occurred to her that the moon would be difficult to dislodge. Perhaps Carlotta didn't know much about moons, after all.
Phil went on talking earnestly, putting his case before her as best he might. He owed it to Carlotta to try to make her understand if he could. He thought that, under all the whimsicalities, it was rather fine of her to lay down her princess pride and let him see she cared, that she really wanted him. It made her dearer, harder to resist than ever. If only he could make her understand!
"You see I'm not fitted for city life," he explained. "I hate it. I like to live where everybody has a plot of green grass in front of his house to set his rocking chair in Sunday afternoons; where people can have trees that they know as well as they know their own family and don't have to go to a park to look at 'em; where they can grow tulips and green peas—and babies, too, if the lord is good to 'em. I want to plant my roots where people are neighborly and interested in each other as human beings, not shut away like cave dwellers in apartment houses, not knowing or caring who is on the other side of the wall. I should get to hating people if I had to be crowded into a subway with them, day after day, treading on their toes, and they on mine. Altogether I am afraid I have a small town mind, sweetheart."
He smiled at Carlotta as he made the confession, but she did not respond. Her face gave not the slightest indication as to what was going on in her mind as he talked.
"I wouldn't be any good at all in your father's establishment. I've never wanted to make money on the grand scale. I wouldn't be my father's son if I did. I couldn't be a banker or a broker if I tried, and I don't want to try."
"Not even for the sake of—having me?" Carlotta's voice was as expressionless as her face. She still watched the train, almost vanishing from sight now in the far distance, leaving a cloud of ugly black smoke behind it to mar the lustrous azure of the June sky.
Phil, too, looked out over the valley. He dared not look at Carlotta. He was young and very much in love. He wanted Carlotta exceedingly. For a minute everything blurred before his gaze. It seemed as if he would try anything, risk anything, give up anything, ride rough shod over anything, even his own ideals, to gain her. It was a tense moment. He came very near surrendering and thereby making himself, and Carlotta too, unhappy forever after. But something stronger held him back. Oddly enough he seemed to see that sign Stuart Lambert and Son written large all over the valley. His gaze came back to Carlotta. Their eyes met. The hardness was gone from the girl's, leaving a wistful tenderness, a sweet surrender, no man had ever seen there before. A weaker lad would have capitulated under that wonderful, new look of Carlotta's. It only strengthened Philip Lambert. It was for her as well as himself.
"I am sorry, Carlotta," he said. "I couldn't do it, though I'd give you my heart to cut up into pieces if it could make you happy. Maybe I would risk it for myself. But I can't go back on my father, even for you."
"Then you don't love me." Carlotta's rare and lovely tenderness was burned away on the instant in a quick blaze of anger.
"Yes I do, dear. It is because I love you that I can't do it. I have to give you the best of me, not the worst of me. And the best of me belongs in Dunbury. I wish I could make you understand. And I wish with all my heart that, since I can't come to you, you could care enough to come to me. But I am not going to ask it—not now anyway. I haven't the right. Perhaps in two years time, if you are still free, I shall; but not now. It wouldn't be fair."
"Two years from now, and long before, I shall be married," said Carlotta with a sharp little metallic note in her voice. She was trying to keep from crying but he did not know that and winced both at her words and tone.
"That must be as it will," he answered soberly. "I cannot do any differently. I would if I could. It—it isn't so easy to give you up. Oh, Carlotta! I love you."
And suddenly, unexpectedly to himself and Carlotta, he had her in his arms and was covering her face with kisses. Carlotta's cheeks flamed. She was no longer a lily, but a red, red rose. Never in her life had she been so frightened, so ecstatic. With all her dainty, capricious flirtations she had always deliberately fenced herself behind barriers. No man had ever held her or kissed her like this, the embrace and kisses of a lover to whom she belonged.
"Phil! Don't, dear—I mean, do, dear—I love you," she whispered.
But her words brought Phil back to his senses. His arms dropped and he drew away, ashamed, remorseful. He was no saint. According to his way of thinking a man might kiss a girl now and then, under impulsion of moonshine or mischief, but lightly always, like thistledown. A man didn't kiss a girl as he had just kissed Carlotta unless he had the right to marry her. It wasn't playing straight.
"I'm sorry, Carlotta. I didn't mean to," he said miserably.
"I'm not. I'm glad. I think way down in my heart I've always wanted you to kiss me, though I didn't know it would be like that. I knew your kisses would be different, because you are different."
"How am I different?" Phil's voice was humble. In his own eyes he seemed pitifully undifferent, precisely like all the other rash, intemperate, male fools in the world.
"You are different every way. It would take too long to tell you all of them, but maybe you are chiefly different because I love you and I don't love the rest. Except for Daddy. I've never loved anybody but myself before, and when you kissed me I just seemed to feel my meness going right out of me, as if I stopped belonging to myself and began to belong to you forever and ever. It scared me but—I liked it."
"You darling!" fatuously. "Carlotta, will you marry me?"
It was out at last—the words she claimed she had brought him up the mountain to say—the words he had willed not to speak.
"Of course. Kiss me again, Phil. We'll wire Daddy tomorrow."
"Wire him what?" The mention of Carlotta's father brought Phil back to earth with a jolt.
"That we are engaged and that he is to find a suitable job for you so we can be married right away," chanted Carlotta happily.
Phil's rainbow vanished almost as soon as it had appeared in the heavens. He drew a long breath.
"Carlotta, I didn't mean that. I can't be engaged to you that way. I meant—will you marry me when I can afford to have a fairy princess in my home?"
Carlotta stared at him, her rainbow, too, fading.
"You did?" she asked vaguely. "I thought—"
"I know," groaned Phil. "It was stupid of me—worse than stupid. It can't be helped now I suppose. The damage is done. Shall we take the next car down? It is getting late."
He rose and put out both hands to help her to her feet. For a moment they stood silent in front of the gray bowlder. The end of the world seemed to have come for them both. It was like Humpty Dumpty. All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't restore things to their old state nor bring back the lost happiness of that one perfect moment when they had belonged to each other without reservations. Carlotta put out her hand and touched Philip's.
"Don't feel too badly, Phil," she said. "As you say, it can't be helped—nothing can be helped. It just had to be this way. We can't either of us make ourselves over or change the way we look at things and want things. I wish I were different for both our sakes. I wish I were big enough and brave enough and fine enough to say I would marry you anyway, and stop being a princess. But I don't dare. I know myself too well. I might think I could do it up here where it is all still and purple and sweet and sacred. But when we got down to the valley again I am afraid I couldn't live up to it, nor to you, Philip, my king. Forgive me."
Phil bent and kissed her again—not passionately this time, but with a kind of reverent solemnity as if he were performing a rite.
"Never mind, sweetheart. I don't blame you any more than you blame me. We've got to take life as we find it, not try to make it over into something different to please ourselves. If some day you meet the man who can make you happy in your way, I'll not grudge him the right. I'm not sure I shall even envy him. I've had my moment."
"But Phil, you aren't going to be awfully unhappy about me?" sighed Carlotta. "Promise you won't. You know I never wanted to hurt the moon, dear."
Philip shook his head.
"Don't worry about the moon. It is a tough old orb. I shan't be too unhappy. A man has a whole lot of things beside love in his life. I am not going to let myself be such a fool as to be miserable because things started out a little differently from what I would like to have them." His smile was brave but his eyes belied the smile and Carlotta's heart smote her.
"You will forget me," she said. It was half a reproach, half a command.
Again he shook his head in denial.
"Do you remember the queen who claimed she had Calais stamped on her heart? Well, open mine a hundred years from now and you'll read Carlotta."
"But won't you ever marry?" pursued Carlotta with youth's insistence on probing wounds to the quick.
"I don't know. Probably," he added honestly. "A man is a poor stick in this world without a home and kiddies. If I do it will be a long time yet though. It will be many a year before I see anybody but you, no matter where I look."
"But I am horrid—selfish, cowardly, altogether horrid."
"Are you?" smiled Phil. "I wonder. Anyway I love you. Come on, dear. We'll have to hurry. The car is nearly due."
And, as twilight settled down over the valley like a great bird brooding over its nest, Philip and Carlotta went down from the mountain.
A BOY WHO WASN'T AN ASS BUT BEHAVED LIKE ONE
Baccalaureate services being over and the graduates duly exhorted to the wisdom of the ages, the latter were for a time permitted to alight from their lofty pedestal in the public eye and to revert temporarily to the comfortable if less exalted state of being plain every day human girls.
While Philip and Carlotta went up on the heights fondly believing they were settling their destinies forever, Tony had been enjoying an afternoon en famille with her uncle and her brother Ted.
Suddenly she looked at her watch and sprang up from the arm of her uncle's chair on which she had been perched, chattering and content, for a couple of hours.
"My goodness! It is most four o'clock. Dick will be here in a minute. May I call up the garage and ask them to send the car around? I'm dying for a ride. We can go over to South Hadley and get the twins, if you'd like. I'm sure they must have had enough of Mt. Holyoke by this time."
"Car's out of commission," grunted Ted from behind his sporting sheet.
"Out of commission? Since when?" inquired Doctor Holiday. "It was all right when you took it to the garage last night."
"I went out for a joy ride and had a smash up," explained his nephew nonchalantly, and still hidden behind the newspaper.
"Oh Ted! How could you when you know we want to use the car every minute?" There was sharp dismay and reproach in Tony's voice.
"Well, I didn't smash it on purpose, did I?" grumbled her brother, throwing down the paper. "I'm sorry, Tony. But it can't be helped now. You'd better be thankful I'm not out of commission myself. Came darn near being."
"Oh Ted!" There was only concern and sympathy in his sister's exclamation this time. Tony adored her brothers. She went over to Ted now, scrutinizing him as if she half expected to see him minus an arm or a leg. "You weren't hurt?" she begged reassurance.
"Nope—nothing to signify. Got some purple patches on my person and a twist to my wrist, but that's all. I was always a lucky devil. Got more lives than a cat."
He was obviously trying to carry matters off lightly, but never once did he meet his uncle's eyes, though he was quite aware they were fixed on him.
Tony sighed and shook her head, troubled.
"I wish you wouldn't take such risks," she mourned. "Some day you'll get dreadfully hurt. Please be careful. Uncle Phil," she appealed to the higher court, "do tell him he mustn't speed so. He won't listen to me."
"If Ted hasn't learned the folly of speeding by now, I am afraid that nothing I can say will have much effect. I wonder—"
Just here the telephone interrupted with an announcement that Mr. Carson was waiting downstairs. Tony flew from the phone to dab powder on her nose.
"Since we can't go riding I think I'll take Dick for a walk in Paradise," she announced into the mirror. "Will you come, too, Uncle Phil?"
"No, thank you, dear. Run along and tell Dick we expect him back to supper with us."
The doctor held open the door for his niece, then turned back to Ted, who was also on his feet now, murmuring something about going out for a stroll.
"Wait a bit, son. Suppose you tell me first precisely what happened last night."
"Did tell you." The boy fumbled sulkily at the leaves of a magazine that lay on the table. "I took the car out and, when I was speeding like Sam Hill out on the Florence road, I struck a hole. She stood up on her ear and pitched u—er—me out in the gutter. Stuck her own nose into a telephone pole. I telephoned the garage people to go after her this morning. They told me a while ago she was pretty badly stove up and it will probably take a couple of weeks to get her in order." The story came out jerkily and the narrator kept his eyes consistently floorward during the recital.
"Is that all?"
"What more do you want?" curtly. "I said I was sorry, if that is what you mean."
"It isn't what I mean, Ted. I assume you didn't deliberately go out to break my car and that you are not particularly proud of the outcome of your joy ride. I mean, exactly what I asked. Have you told me the whole story?"
Ted was silent, mechanically rolling the corner of the, rug under his foot. His uncle studied the good-looking, unhappy young face. His mind worked back to that inadvertent "u—er—me" of the confession.
"Were you alone?" he asked.
A scarlet flush swept the lad's face, died away, leaving it a little white.
The answer was low but distinct. It was like a knife thrust to the doctor. In all the eight years in which he had fathered Ned's sons, both before and since his brother's death, never once to his knowledge had either one lied to him, even to save himself discomfort, censure or punishment. With all their boyish vagaries and misdeeds, it had been the one thing he could count on absolutely, their unflinching, invariable honesty. Yet, surely as the June sun was shining outside, Ted had lied to him just now. Why? Rash twenty was too young to go its way unchallenged and unguided. He was responsible for the lad whose dead father had committed him to his charge.
Only a few weeks before his death Ned had written with curious prescience, "If I go out any time, Phil, I know you will look after the children as I would myself or better. Keep your eye on Ted especially. His heart is in the right place, but he has a reckless devil in him that will bring him and all of us to grief if it isn't laid."
Doctor Holiday went over and laid a hand on each of the lad's hunched shoulders.
"Look at me, Ted," he commanded gently.
The old habit of obedience strong in spite of his twenty years, Ted raised his eyes, but dropped them again on the instant as if they were lead weighted.
"That is the first time you ever lied to me, I think, lad," said the doctor quietly.
A quiver passed over the boy's face, but his lips set tighter than ever and he pulled away from his uncle's hands and turned, staring out of the window at a rather dusty and bedraggled looking hydrangea on the lawn.
"I wonder if it was necessary," the quiet voice continued. "I haven't the slightest wish to be hard on you. I just want to understand. You know that, son, don't you?"
The boy's head went up at that. His gaze deserted the hydrangea, for the first time that day, met his uncle's, squarely if somewhat miserably.
"It isn't that, Uncle Phil. You have every right to come down on me. I hadn't any business to have the car out at all, much less take fool chances with it. But honestly I have told you all—all I can tell. I did lie to you just now. I wasn't alone. There was a—a girl with me."
Ted's face was hot again as he made the confession.
"I see," mused the doctor. "Was she hurt?"
"No—that is—not much. She hurt her shoulder some and cut her head a bit." The details came out reluctantly as if impelled by the doctor's steady eyes. "She telephoned me today she was all right. It's a miracle we weren't both killed though. We might have been as easy as anything. You said just now nothing you could say would make me have sense about speeding. I guess what happened last night ought to knock sense into me if anything could. I say, Uncle Phil—"
"Well?" as the boy paused obviously embarrassed.
"If you don't mind I'd rather not say anything more about the girl. She—I guess she'd rather I wouldn't," he wound up confusedly.
"Very well. That is your affair and hers. Thank you for coming halfway to meet me. It made it easier all around."
The doctor held out his hand and the boy took it eagerly.
"You are great to me, Uncle Phil—lots better than I deserve. Please don't think I don't see that. And truly I am awfully ashamed of smashing the car, and not telling you, as I ought to have this morning, and spoiling Tony's fun and—and everything." Ted swallowed something down hard as if the "everything" included a good deal. "I don't see why I have to be always getting into scrapes. Can't seem to help it, somehow. Guess I was made that way, just as Larry was born steady."
"That is a spineless jellyfish point of view, Ted. Don't fool yourself with it. There is no earthly reason why you should keep drifting from one escapade to another. Get some backbone into you, son."
Ted's face clouded again at that, though he wasn't sulky this time. He was remembering some other disagreeable confessions he had to make before long. He knew this was a good opening for them, but somehow he could not drive himself to follow it up. He could only digest a limited amount of humble pie at a time and had already swallowed nearly all he could stand. Still he skirted warily along the edge of the dilemma.
"I suppose you think I made an awful ass of myself at college this year," he averred gloomily.
"I don't think it. I know it." The doctor's eyes twinkled a little. Then he grew sober. "Why do you, Ted? You aren't really an ass, you know. If you were, there might be some excuse for behaving like one."
"That's what Larry told me last spring when he was pitching into me about—well about something. I don't know why I do, Uncle Phil, honest I don't. Maybe it is because I hate college so and all the stale old stuff they try to cram down our throats. I get so mad and sick and disgusted with the whole thing that I feel as if I had to do something to offset it—something that is real and live, even if it isn't according to rules and regulations. I hate rules and regulations. I'm not a mummy and I don't want to be made to act as if I were. I'll be a long time dead and I want to get a whole lot of fun out of life first. I hate studying. I want to do things, Uncle Phil—"
"I don't want to go back to college."
"What do you want to do?"
"Join the Canadian forces. It makes me sick to have a war going on and me not in it. Dad quit college for West Point and everybody thought it was all right. I don't see why I shouldn't get into it. I wouldn't fall down on that. I promise you. I'd make you proud of me instead of ashamed the way you are now." The boy's voice and eyes were unusually earnest.
His uncle did not answer instantly. He knew that there was some truth in his nephew's analysis of the situation. It was his uneasy, superabundant energy and craving for action that made him find the more or less restricted life of the college, a burden, a bore and an exasperation, and drove him to crazy escapades and deeds of flagrant lawlessness. He needed no assurance that the boy would not "fall down" at soldiering. He would take to it as a duck to water. And the discipline might be the making of him, prove the way to exorcise the devil. Still there were other considerations which to him seemed paramount for the time at least.
"I understand how you feel, Ted," he said at last. "If we get into the war ourselves I won't say a word against your going. I should expect you to go. We all would. But in the meantime as I see it you are not quite a free agent. Granny is old and very, very feeble. She hasn't gotten over your father's death. She grieves over it still. If you went to war I think it would kill her. She couldn't bear the strain and anxiety. Patience, laddie. You don't want to hurt her, do you?"
"I s'pose not," said Ted a little grudgingly. "Then it is no, Uncle Phil?"
"I think it ought to be no of your own will for Granny's sake. We don't live to ourselves alone in this world. We can't. But aside from Granny I am not at all certain I should approve of your leaving college just because it doesn't happen to be exciting enough to meet your fancy and means work you are too lazy and irresponsible to settle down to doing. Looks a little like quitting to me and Holidays aren't usually quitters, you know."
He smiled at the boy but Ted did not smile back. The thrust about Holidays and quitters went home.
"I suppose it has got to be college again if you say so," he said soberly after a minute. "Thank heaven there are three months ahead clear though first."
"To play in?"
"Well, yes. Why not? It is all right to play in vacation, isn't it?" the boy retorted, a shade aggressively.
"Possibly if you have earned the vacation by working beforehand."
Ted's eyes fell at that. This was dangerously near the ground of those uncomfortable, inevitable confessions which he meant to put off as long as possible.
"Do you mind if I go out now?" he asked with unusual meekness after a moment's rather awkward silence.
"No, indeed. Go ahead. I've had my say. Be back for supper with us?"
"Dunno." And Ted disappeared into the adjoining room which connected with his uncle's. In a moment he was back, expensive panama hat in one hand and a lighted cigarette held jauntily in the other. "I meant to tell you you could take the car repairs out of my allowance," he remarked casually but with his eye shrewdly on his guardian as he made the announcement.
"Very well," replied the latter quietly. Then he smiled a little seeing his nephew's crestfallen expression. "That wasn't just what you wanted me to say, was it?" he added.
"Not exactly," admitted the boy with a returning grin. "All right, Uncle Phil. I'm game. I'll pay up."
A moment later his uncle heard his whistle as he went down the driveway apparently as care free as if narrow escapes from death were nothing in his young life. The doctor shook his head dubiously as he watched him from the window. He would have felt more dubious still had he seen the boy board a Florence car a few minutes later on his way to keep a rendezvous with the girl about whom he had not wished to talk.
WHEN YOUTH MEETS YOUTH
Three quarters of an hour later Ted was seated on a log, near a small rustic bridge, beneath which flowed a limpid, gurgling stream. On a log beside him sat a girl of perhaps eighteen years, exceedingly handsome with the flaming kind of beauty like a poppy's, striking to the eye, shallow-petaled. She was vividly effective against the background of deep green spruces and white birch in her bright pink dress and large drooping black hat. Her coloring was brilliant, her lips full, scarlet, ripely sensuous. Beneath her straight black brows her sparkling, black eyes gleamed with restless eagerness. An ugly, jagged, still fresh wound showed beneath a carefully curled fringe of hair on her forehead.
"I don't like meeting you this way," Ted was saying. "Are you sure your grandfather would have cut up rough if I had come to the house and called properly?"
"You betcher," said his companion promptly. "You don't know grandpa. He's death on young men. He won't let one come within a mile of me if he can help it. He'd throw a fit if he knew I was here with you now. We should worry. What he don't know won't hurt him," she concluded with a toss of her head. Then, as Ted looked dubious, she added, "You just leave grandpa to me. If you had had your way you would have spilled the beans by telephoning me this morning at the wrong time. See how much better I fixed it. I told him a piece of wood flew up and hit me when I was chopping kindling before breakfast and that my head ached so I didn't feel like going to church. Then the minute he was out of the yard I ran to the 'phone and got you at the hotel. It was perfectly simple that way—slick as grease. Easiest thing in the world to make a date. We couldn't have gotten away with it otherwise."
Ted still looked dubious. The phrase "gotten away with it" jarred. At the moment he was not particularly proud of their mutual success in "getting away with it." The girl wasn't his kind. He realized that, now he saw her for the first time in daylight.
She had looked all right to him on the train night before last. Indeed he had been distinctly fascinated by her flashing, gypsy beauty, ready laughter and quick, keen, half "fresh" repartee when he had started a casual conversation with her when they chanced to be seat mates from Holyoke on.
Casual conversations were apt to turn into casual flirtations with Ted Holiday. Afterward he wasn't sure whether she had dared him or he had dared her to plan the midnight joy ride which had so narrowly missed ending in a tragedy. Anyway it had seemed a jolly lark at the time—a test of the mettle and mother wit of both of them to "get away with it."
And she had looked good to him last night when he met her at the appointed trysting place after "As You Like It." She had come out of the shadows of the trees behind which she had been lurking, wearing a scarlet tam-o'-shanter and a long dark cloak, her eyes shining like January stars. He had liked her nerve in coming out like that to meet him alone at midnight. He had liked the way she "sassed" him back and put him in his place, when he had tried impudently enough to kiss her. He had liked the way she laughed when he asked her if she was afraid to speed, on the home stretch. It was her laugh that had spurred him on, intoxicated him, made him send the car leaping faster and still faster, obeying his reckless will.
Then the crash had come. It was indeed a miracle that they had not both been killed. No thanks to the rash young driver that they had not been. It would be many a day before Ted Holiday would forget that nightmare of dread and remorse which took possession of him as he pulled himself to his feet and went over to where the girl's motionless form lay on the grass, her face dead white, the blood flowing from her forehead.
Never had he been so thankful for anything in his life as he was when he saw her bright eyes snap open, and heard her unsteady little giggle as she murmured, "My, but I thought I was dead, didn't you?"
Game to her fingertips she had been. Ted acknowledged that, even now that the glamour had worn off. Never once had she whimpered over her injuries, never hurled a single word of blame at him for the misadventure that had come within a hair's breadth of being the last for them both.
"It wasn't a bit more your fault than mine," she had waived aside his apologies. "And it was great while it lasted. I wouldn't have missed it for anything, though I'm glad I'm not dead before I've had a chance to really live. All I ask is that you won't tell a soul I was out with you. Grandpa would think I was headed straight for purgatory if he knew."
"I won't," Ted had promised glibly enough, and had kept his promise even at the cost of lying to his uncle, a memory which hurt like the toothache even now.
But looking at the girl now in her tawdry, inappropriate garb he suffered a revulsion of feeling. What he had admired in her as good sport quality seemed cheap now, his own conduct even cheaper. His reaction against himself was fully as poignant as his reaction against her. He was suddenly ashamed of his joy ride, ashamed that he had ever wished or tried to kiss her, ashamed that he had fallen in with her suggestion for a clandestine meeting this afternoon.
Possibly Madeline sensed that he was cold to her charms at the moment. She flashed a shrewd glance at him.
"You don't like me as well to-day as you did last night," she challenged.
Caught, Ted tried half-heartedly to make denial, but the effort was scarcely a success. He had yet to learn the art of lying gracefully to a lady.
"You don't," she repeated. "You needn't try to pretend you do. You can't fool me. You're getting cold feet already. You're remembering I'm just—just a pick-up."
Ted winced again at that. He did not like the word "pick-up" either, though to his shame he hadn't been above the thing itself.
"Don't talk like that, Madeline. You know I like you. You were immense last night. Any other girl I know, except my sister Tony, would have had hysterics and fainting fits and lord knows what else with half the excuse you had. And you never made a bit of fuss about your head, though it must have hurt like the deuce. I say, you don't think it is going to leave a scar, do you?"
He leaned forward with genuine concern to examine the red wound.
"I think it is more than likely. Lot you'll care, Ted Holiday. You'll never come back to see whether it leaves a scar or not. See that bee over there nosing around that elderberry. Think he'll come back next week? Not much. I know your kind," scornfully.
That bit into the lad's complacency.
"Of course, I care and of course, I'll come back," he protested, though a moment before he had had not the slightest wish or purpose to see her again, rather to the contrary.
"To see whether there is a scar?"
"To see you," he played up gallantly.
Her hard young face softened.
"Will you, honest, Ted Holiday? Will you come back?"
She put out her hand and touched his. Her eyes were suddenly wistful, gentle, beseeching.
"Sure I'll come back. Why wouldn't I?" The touch of her hand, the new softness, almost pathos of her mood touched him, appealed to the chivalry always latent in a Holiday.
He heard her breath come quickly, saw her full bosom heave, felt the warm pressure of her hand. He wanted to put his arm around her but he did not follow the impulse. The code of Holiday "noblesse oblige" was operating.
"I wish I could believe that," Madeline sighed, looking down into the water which whirled and eddied in white foam and splash over the rocks. "I'd like to think you really wanted to come—really cared about seeing me again. I know I'm not your kind."
He started involuntarily at her voicing unexpectedly his own recent thought.
"Oh, you needn't be surprised," she threw at him half angrily. "Don't you suppose I know that better than you do. Don't you suppose I know what the girls you are used to look like? Well, I do. I've watched 'em, on the street, on the campus, in church, everywhere. I've even seen your sister and watched her, too. Somebody pointed her out to me once when she had made a hit in a play and I've seen her at Glee Club concerts and at vespers in the choir. She is lovely—lovely the way I'd like to be. It isn't that she's any prettier. She isn't. It's just that she's different—acts different—looks different—dresses different from me. I can't make myself like her and the rest, no matter how I try. And I do try. You don't know how hard I try. I got this dress because I saw your sister Tony wearing a pink dress once. I thought maybe it would make me look more like her. But it doesn't. It makes me look more not like her than ever, doesn't it?" she appealed rather disconcertingly. "It's horrid. I hate it."
"I don't know much about girls' dresses," said Ted. "But, now you speak of it, maybe it would be prettier if it were a little—" he paused for a word—"quieter," he decided on. "Do you ever wear white? Tony wears it a lot and I think she looks nice in it."
"I've got a white dress. I thought about putting it on to-day. But somehow it didn't look quite nice enough. I thought—well, I thought I looked handsomer in the pink. I wanted to look pretty—for you." The last was very low—scarcely audible.
"You look good to me all right," said the boy heartily and he meant it. He thought she looked prettier at the moment than she had looked at any time since he had made her acquaintance.
Perhaps he was right. She had laid aside for once her mask of hard boldness and was just a simple, humble, rather pathetic little girl, voicing secret aspirations toward a fineness life had denied her.
"I say, Madeline," Ted went on. "You don't—meet other chaps the way you met me to-day, do you?" Set the blind to lead the blind! If there was anything absurd in scapegrace Ted's turning mentor he was unconscious of the absurdity, was exceedingly in earnest.
"What's that to you?" She snapped the mask back into place.
"Nothing—that is—I wouldn't—that's all."
She laughed shrilly.
"You're a pretty one to talk," she scoffed.
"I know I am. See here, Madeline. You're dead right. I ought not to have taken you out last night. I ought not to have let you meet me here to-day."
"I made you—I made you do both those things."
Ted shook his head at that.
"A man's to blame always," he asserted.
"No, he isn't," denied Madeline. "A girl's to blame always."
They stared at each other a moment while the brook tinkled through the silence. Then they both laughed at the solemnity of their contradictions.
"But there isn't a bit of harm done," went on Madeline. "You see, I knew that first night on the train that you were a gentleman."
"Some gentlemen are rotters," said Ted Holiday, with a wisdom beyond his twenty years.
"But you are not."
"No, I'm not; but some other chap might be. That is why I wish you would promise not to go in for this sort of thing."
"With anybody but you," she stipulated.
"Not with anybody at all," corrected Ted soberly, remembering his own recent restrained impulse to put his arm around her.
"Well, I don't want to—at least not with anybody but you. I never did it before with anybody. Honest, Ted, I never did."
"That's good. I felt sure that you hadn't."
He grinned sheepishly and stooped to break off a dry twig from a nearby bush.
"By the way you didn't let me kiss you," he admitted. "A fellow likes that in a girl. Did you know it?" He tossed away the twig and looked back at the girl as he asked the question.
"I thought they liked—the other thing."
"They do and they don't," said Ted, his paradox again betraying a scarcely to be expected wisdom. "But that is neither here nor there. What I started out to say was that I'm glad you don't make a practice of this pick-up business. It—it's no good," he summed up.
"I know." Madeline nodded understanding of the import of his warning. She was far too handsome and too prematurely developed physically to be devoid of experience of the ways of the opposite sex. Like Ophelia she knew there were tricks in the world and she liked frank Ted Holiday the better for reminding her of them. "I won't do it," she promised. "That is, unless you don't ever come back yourself. I don't know what I'll do then—something awful, maybe."
"I'll come fast enough. I'll come to-morrow." he added obeying a sudden impulse, Ted fashion.
"Will you?" The girl's face flushed with delight. "When?"
"To-morrow afternoon. I can't dodge the ivy stuff in the morning. Will four o'clock do all right?"
"Yes. Come here to this same place."
"I say, Madeline, can't I come to the house? I hate doing it like this."
"No, you can't. If you want to see me you'll have to do it this way. It's lots nicer here than in the house, anyway."
Ted acquiesced, since he had no choice, and rose, announcing that it was time to go now.
"We don't have to go yet. I told Grandpa I was going to spend the evening with my friend, Linda Bates. He won't know. We can stay as long as we like."
"I am afraid we can't," said Ted decidedly. "Come on, my lady." He held out both hands and Madeline let him draw her to her feet, though she was pouting a little at his gainsaying of her wishes.