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Title: The Butterfly House
Author: Freeman, Mary Eleanor Wilkins, 1852-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Butterfly House" ***

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[Illustration: "You must steal in and not wake anybody"]


The Butterfly House

By

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

  Author of
  "A Humble Romance," "A New England Nun,"
  "The Winning Lady," etc.

  With illustrations by
  Paul Julien Meylan

New York
Dodd, Mead and Company
1912



Chapter I


Fairbridge, the little New Jersey village, or rather city (for it had
won municipal government some years before, in spite of the protest
of far-seeing citizens who descried in the distance bonded debts out
of proportion to the tiny shoulders of the place), was a misnomer.
Often a person, being in Fairbridge for the first time, and being
driven by way of entertainment about the rural streets, would
inquire, "Why Fairbridge?"

Bridges there were none, except those over which the trains thundered
to and from New York, and the adjective, except to old inhabitants
who had a curious fierce loyalty for the place, did not seemingly
apply. Fairbridge could hardly, by an unbiassed person who did not
dwell in the little village and view its features through the rosy
glamour of home life, be called "fair."  There were a few pretty
streets, with well-kept sidewalks, and ambitious, although small
houses, and there were many lovely bits of views to be obtained,
especially in the green flush of spring, and the red glow of autumn
over the softly swelling New Jersey landscape with its warm red soil
to the distant rise of low blue hills; but it was not fair enough in
a general way to justify its name. Yet Fairbridge it was, without
bridge, or natural beauty, and no mortal knew why. The origin of the
name was lost in the petty mist of a petty past.

Fairbridge was tragically petty, inasmuch as it saw itself great. In
Fairbridge narrowness reigned, nay, tyrannised, and was not
recognised as such. There was something fairly uncanny about
Fairbridge's influence upon people after they had lived there even a
few years. The influence held good, too, in the cases of men who
daily went to business or professions in New York. Even Wall Street
was no sinecure. Back they would come at night, and the terrible,
narrow maelstrom of pettiness sucked them in. All outside interest
was as naught. International affairs seemed insignificant when once
one was really in Fairbridge.

Fairbridge, although rampant when local politics were concerned, had
no regard whatever for those of the nation at large, except as they
involved Fairbridge. Fairbridge, to its own understanding, was a
nucleus, an ultimatum. It was an example of the triumph of the
infinitesimal. It saw itself through a microscope and loomed up
gigantic. Fairbridge was like an insect, born with the conviction
that it was an elephant. There was at once something ludicrous, and
magnificent, and terrible about it. It had the impressiveness of the
abnormal and prehistoric. In one sense, it _was_ prehistoric. It was
as a giant survivor of a degenerate species.

Withal, it was puzzling. People if pinned down could not say why, in
Fairbridge, the little was so monstrous, whether it depended upon
local conditions, upon the general population, or upon a few who had
an undue estimation of themselves and all connected with them. Was
Fairbridge great because of its inhabitants, or were the inhabitants
great because of Fairbridge? Who could say? And why was Fairbridge so
important that its very smallness overwhelmed that which, by the
nature of things, seemed overwhelming? Nobody knew, or rather, so
tremendous was the power of the small in the village, that nobody
inquired.

It is entirely possible that had there been any delicate gauge of
mentality, the actual swelling of the individual in his own
estimation as he neared Fairbridge after a few hours' absence, might
have been apparent. Take a broker on Wall Street, for instance, or a
lawyer who had threaded his painful way to the dim light of
understanding through the intricate mazes of the law all day, as his
train neared his loved village. From an atom that went to make up the
motive power of a great metropolis, he himself became an entirety. He
was It with a capital letter. No wonder that under the circumstances
Fairbridge had charms that allured, that people chose it for suburban
residences, that the small, ornate, new houses with their perky
little towers and æsthetic diamond-paned windows, multiplied.

Fairbridge was in reality very artistically planned as to the sites
of its houses. Instead of the regulation Main Street of the country
village, with its centre given up to shops and post-office, side
streets wound here and there, and houses were placed with a view to
effect.

The Main Street of Fairbridge was as naught from a social point of
view. Nobody of any social importance lived there. Even the
physicians had their residences and offices in a more aristocratic
locality. Upon the Main Street proper, that which formed the centre
of the village, there were only shops and a schoolhouse and one or
two mean public buildings. For a village of the self-importance of
Fairbridge, the public buildings were very few and very mean. There
was no city hall worthy of the name of this little city which held
its head so high. The City Hall, so designated by ornate gilt letters
upon the glass panel of a very small door, occupied part of the
building in which was the post-office. It was a tiny building, two
stories high. On the second floor was the millinery shop of Mrs.
Creevy, and behind it the two rooms in which she kept house with her
daughter Jessy.

On the lower floor was the post-office on the right, filthy with the
foot tracks of the Fairbridge children who crowded it in a noisy
rabble twice a day, and perpetually red-stained with the shale of New
Jersey, brought in upon the boots of New Jersey farmers, who always
bore about with them a goodly portion of their native soil. On the
left, was the City Hall. This was vacant except upon the first Monday
of every month, when the janitor of the Dutch Reformed Church, who
eked out a scanty salary with divers other tasks, got himself to
work, and slopped pails of water over the floor, then swept, and
built a fire, if in winter.

Upon the evenings of these first Mondays the Mayor and city officials
met and made great talk over small matters, and with the labouring of
a mountain, brought forth mice. The City Hall was closed upon other
occasions, unless the village talent gave a play for some local
benefit. Fairbridge was intensely dramatic, and it was popularly
considered that great, natural, histrionic gifts were squandered upon
the Fairbridge audiences, appreciative though they were. Outside
talent was never in evidence in Fairbridge. No theatrical company had
ever essayed to rent that City Hall. People in Fairbridge put that
somewhat humiliating fact from their minds. Nothing would have
induced a loyal citizen to admit that Fairbridge was too small game
for such purposes. There was a tiny theatre in the neighbouring city
of Axminister, which had really some claims to being called a city,
from tradition and usage, aside from size. Axminister was an ancient
Dutch city, horribly uncomfortable, but exceedingly picturesque.
Fairbridge looked down upon it, and seldom patronised the shows (they
never said "plays") staged in its miniature theatre. When they did
not resort to their own City Hall for entertainment by local talent,
they arrayed themselves in their best and patronised New York itself.

New York did not know that it was patronised, but Fairbridge knew.
When Mr. and Mrs. George B. Slade boarded the seven o'clock train,
Mrs. Slade, tall, and majestically handsome, arrayed most elegantly,
and crowned with a white hat (Mrs. Slade always affected white hats
with long drooping plumes upon such occasions), and George B., natty
in his light top coat, standing well back upon the heels of his shiny
shoes, with the air of the wealthy and well-assured, holding a belted
cigar in the tips of his grey-gloved fingers, New York was most
distinctly patronised, although without knowing it.

It was also patronised, and to a greater extent, by little Mrs.
Wilbur Edes, very little indeed, so little as to be almost symbolic
of Fairbridge itself, but elegant in every detail, so elegant as to
arrest the eye of everybody as she entered the train, holding up the
tail of her black lace gown. Mrs. Edes doted on black lace. Her
small, fair face peered with a curious calm alertness from under the
black plumes of her great picture hat, perched sidewise upon a
carefully waved pale gold pompadour, which was perfection and would
have done credit to the best hairdresser or the best French maid in
New York, but which was achieved solely by Mrs. Wilbur Edes' own
native wit and skilful fingers.

Mrs. Wilbur Edes, although small, was masterly in everything, from
waving a pompadour to conducting theatricals. She herself was the
star dramatic performer of Fairbridge. There was a strong feeling in
Fairbridge that in reality she might, if she chose, rival Bernhardt.
Mrs. Emerston Strong, who had been abroad and had seen Bernhardt on
her native soil, had often said that Mrs. Edes reminded her of the
great French actress, although she was much handsomer, and so moral!
Mrs. Wilbur Edes was masterly in morals, as in everything else. She
was much admired by the opposite sex, but she was a model wife and
mother.

Mr. Wilbur Edes was an admired accessory of his wife. He was so very
tall and slender as to suggest forcible elongation. He carried his
head with a deprecatory, sidewise air as if in accordance with his
wife's picture hat, and yet Mr. Wilbur Edes, out of Fairbridge and in
his law office on Broadway, was a man among men. He was an exception
to the personal esteem which usually expanded a male citizen of
Fairbridge, but he was the one and only husband of Mrs. Wilbur Edes,
and there was not room at such an apex as she occupied for more than
one. Tall as Wilbur Edes was, he was overshadowed by that immaculate
blond pompadour and that plumed picture hat. He was a prime favourite
in Fairbridge society; he was liked and admired, but his radiance was
reflected, and he was satisfied that it should be so. He adored his
wife. The shadow of her black picture hat was his place of perfect
content. He watched the admiring glances of other men at his
wonderful possession with a triumph and pride which made him really
rather a noble sort. He was also so fond and proud of his little twin
daughters, Maida and Adelaide, that the fondness and pride fairly
illuminated his inner self. Wilbur Edes was a clever lawyer, but love
made him something bigger. It caused him to immolate self, which is
spiritually enlarging self.

In one respect Wilbur Edes was the biggest man in Fairbridge; in
another, Doctor Sturtevant was. Doctor Sturtevant depended upon no
other person for his glory. He shone as a fixed star, with his own
lustre. He was esteemed a very great physician indeed, and it was
considered that Mrs. Sturtevant, who was good, and honest, and portly
with a tight, middle-aged portliness, hardly lived up to her husband.
It was admitted that she tried, poor soul, but her limitations were
held to be impossible, even by her faithful straining following of
love.

When the splendid, florid Doctor, with his majestically curving
expanse of waistcoat and his inscrutable face, whirred through the
streets of Fairbridge in his motor car, with that meek bulk of
womanhood beside him, many said quite openly how unfortunate it was
that Doctor Sturtevant had married, when so young, a woman so
manifestly his inferior. They never failed to confer that faint
praise, which is worse than none at all, upon the poor soul.

"She is a good woman," they said. "She means well, and she is a good
housekeeper, but she is no companion for a man like that."

Poor Mrs. Sturtevant was aware of her status in Fairbridge, and she
was not without a steady, plodding ambition of her own. That utterly
commonplace, middle-aged face had some lines of strength. Mrs.
Sturtevant was a member of the women's club of Fairbridge, which was
poetically and cleverly called the Zenith Club.

She wrote, whenever it was her turn to do so, papers upon every
imaginable subject. She balked at nothing whatever. She ranged from
household discussions to the Orient. Then she stood up in the midst
of the women, sunk her double chin in her lace collar, and read her
paper in a voice like the whisper of a blade of grass. Doctor
Sturtevant had a very low voice. His wife had naturally a strident
one, but she essayed to follow him in the matter of voice, as in all
other things. The poor hen bird tried to voice her thoughts like her
mate, and the result was a strange and weird note. However, Mrs.
Sturtevant herself was not aware of the result. When she sat down
after finishing her papers her face was always becomingly flushed
with pleasure.

Nothing, not even pleasure, was becoming to Mrs. Sturtevant. Life
itself was unbecoming to her, and the worst of it was nobody knew it,
and everybody said it was due to Mrs. Sturtevant's lack of taste, and
then they pitied the great doctor anew. It was very fortunate that it
never occurred to Mrs. Sturtevant to pity the doctor on her account,
for she was so fond of him, poor soul, that it might have led to a
tragedy.

The Zenith Club of Fairbridge always met on Friday afternoons. It was
a cherished aim of the Club to uproot foolish superstitions, hence
Friday. It did not seem in the least risky to the ordinary person for
a woman to attend a meeting of the Zenith Club on a Friday, in
preference to any other day in the week; but many a member had a
covert feeling that she was somewhat heroic, especially if the
meeting was held at the home of some distant member on an icy day in
winter, and she was obliged to make use of a livery carriage.

There were in Fairbridge three keepers of livery stables, and
curiously enough, no rivalry between them. All three were natives of
the soil, and somewhat sluggish in nature, like its sticky red shale.
They did not move with much enthusiasm, neither were they to be
easily removed. When the New York trains came in, they, with their
equally indifferent drivers, sat comfortably ensconced in their
carriages, and never waylaid the possible passengers alighting from
the train. Sometimes they did not even open the carriage doors, but
they, however, saw to it that they were closed when once the
passenger was within, and that was something. All three drove
indifferent horses, somewhat uncertain as to footing. When a woman
sat behind these weak-kneed, badly shod steeds and realised that
Stumps, or Fitzgerald, or Witless was driving with an utter
indifference to the tightening of lines at dangerous places, and also
realised that it was Friday, some strength of character was doubtless
required.

One Friday in January, two young women, one married, one single, one
very pretty, and both well-dressed (most of the women who belonged to
the Fairbridge social set dressed well) were being driven by Jim
Fitzgerald a distance of a mile or more, up a long hill. The slope
was gentle and languid, like nearly every slope in that part of the
state, but that day it was menacing with ice. It was one smooth glaze
over the macadam. Jim Fitzgerald, a descendant of a fine old family
whose type had degenerated, sat hunched upon the driver's seat, his
loose jaw hanging, his eyes absent, his mouth open, chewing with slow
enjoyment his beloved quid, while the reins lay slackly on the rusty
black robe tucked over his knees. Even a corner of that dragged
dangerously near the right wheels of the coupé. Jim had not
sufficient energy to tuck it in firmly, although the wind was sharp
from the northwest.

Alice Mendon paid no attention to it, but her companion, Daisy Shaw,
otherwise Mrs. Sumner Shaw, who was of the tense, nervous type, had
remarked it uneasily when they first started. She had rapped
vigorously upon the front window, and a misty, rather beautiful blue
eye had rolled interrogatively over Jim's shoulder.

"Your robe is dragging," shrieked in shrill staccato Daisy Shaw; and
there had been a dull nod of the head, a feeble pull at the dragging
robe, then it had dragged again.

"Oh, don't mind, dear," said Alice Mendon. "It is his own lookout if
he loses the robe."

"It isn't that," responded Daisy querulously. "It isn't that. I don't
care, since he is so careless, if he does lose it, but I must say
that I don't think it is safe. Suppose it got caught in the wheel,
and I know this horse stumbles."

"Don't worry, dear," said Alice Mendon. "Fitzgerald's robe always
drags, and nothing ever happens."

Alice Mendon was a young woman, not a young girl (she had left young
girlhood behind several years since) and she was distinctly beautiful
after a fashion that is not easily affected by the passing years. She
had had rather an eventful life, but not an event, pleasant or
otherwise, had left its mark upon the smooth oval of her face. There
was not a side nor retrospective glance to disturb the serenity of
her large blue eyes. Although her eyes were blue, her hair was almost
chestnut black, except in certain lights, when it gave out gleams as
of dark gold. Her features were full, her figure large, but not too
large. She wore a dark red tailored gown; and sumptuous sable furs
shaded with dusky softness and shot, in the sun, with prismatic
gleams, set off her handsome, not exactly smiling, but serenely
beaming face. Two great black ostrich plumes and one red one curled
down toward the soft spikes of the fur. Between, the two great blue
eyes, the soft oval of the cheeks, and the pleasant red fullness of
the lips appeared.

Poor Daisy Shaw, who was poor in two senses, strength of nerve and
money, looked blue and cold in her little black suit, and her pale
blue liberty scarf was horribly inadequate and unbecoming. Daisy was
really painful to see as she gazed out apprehensively at the dragging
robe, and the glistening slant over which they were moving. Alice
regarded her not so much with pity as with a calm, sheltering sense
of superiority and strength. She pulled the inner robe of the coupé
up and tucked it firmly around Daisy's thin knees.

"You look half frozen," said Alice.

"I don't mind being frozen, but I do mind being scared," replied
Daisy sharply. She removed the robe with a twitch.

"If that old horse stumbles and goes down and kicks, I want to be
able to get out without being all tangled up in a robe and dragged,"
said she.

"While the horse is kicking and down I don't see how he can drag you
very far," said Alice with a slight laugh. Then the horse stumbled.
Daisy Shaw knocked quickly on the front window with her little,
nervous hand in its tight, white kid glove.

"Do please hold your reins tighter," she called. Again the misty blue
eyes rolled about, the head nodded, the rotary jaws were seen, the
robe dragged, the reins lay loosely.

"That wasn't a stumble worth mentioning," said Alice Mendon.

"I wish he would stop chewing and drive," said poor Daisy Shaw
vehemently. "I wish we had a liveryman as good as that Dougherty in
Axminister. I was making calls there the other day, and it was as
slippery as it is now, and he held the reins up tight every minute. I
felt safe with him."

"I don't think anything will happen."

"It does seem to me if he doesn't stop chewing, and drive, I shall
fly!" said Daisy.

Alice regarded her with a little wonder. Such anxiety concerning
personal safety rather puzzled her. "My horses ran away the other
day, and Dick went down flat and barked his knees; that's why I have
Fitzgerald to-day," said she. "I was not hurt. Nobody was hurt except
the horse. I was very sorry about the horse."

"I wish I had an automobile," said Daisy. "You never know what a
horse will do next."

Alice laughed again slightly. "There is a little doubt sometimes as
to what an automobile will do next," she remarked.

"Well, it is your own brain that controls it, if you can run it
yourself, as you do."

"I am not so sure. Sometimes I wonder if the automobile hasn't an
uncanny sort of brain itself. Sometimes I wonder how far men can go
with the invention of machinery without putting more of themselves
into it than they bargain for," said Alice. Her smooth face did not
contract in the least, but was brooding with speculation and thought.

Then the horse stumbled again, and Daisy screamed, and again tapped
the window.

"He won't go way down," said Alice. "I think he is too stiff. Don't
worry."

"There is no stumbling to worry about with an automobile," said
Daisy.

"You couldn't use one on this hill without more risk than you take
with a stumbling horse," replied Alice. Just then a carriage drawn by
two fine bays passed them, and there was an interchange of nods.

"There is Mrs. Sturtevant," said Alice. "She isn't using the
automobile to-day."

"Doctor Sturtevant has had that coachman thirty years, and he doesn't
chew, he drives," said Daisy.

Then they drew up before the house which was their destination, Mrs.
George B. Slade's. The house was very small, but perkily pretentious,
and they drove under the porte-cochère to alight.

"I heard Mr. Slade had been making a great deal of money in cotton
lately," Daisy whispered, as the carriage stopped behind Mrs.
Sturtevant's. "Mr. and Mrs. Slade went to the opera last week. I
heard they had taken a box for the season, and Mrs. Slade had a new
black velvet gown and a pearl necklace. I think she is almost too old
to wear low neck."

"She is not so very old," replied Alice. "It is only her white hair
that makes her seem so."  Then she extended a rather large but well
gloved hand and opened the coupé door, while Jim Fitzgerald sat and
chewed and waited, and the two young women got out. Daisy had some
trouble in holding up her long skirts. She tugged at them with
nervous energy, and told Alice of the twenty-five cents which
Fitzgerald would ask for the return trip. She had wished to arrive at
the club in fine feather, but had counted on walking home in the
dusk, with her best skirts high-kilted, and saving an honest penny.

"Nonsense; of course you will go with me," said Alice in the calmly
imperious way she had, and the two mounted the steps. They had
scarcely reached the door before Mrs. Slade's maid, Lottie, appeared
in her immaculate width of apron, with carefully-pulled-out bows and
little white lace top-knot. "Upstairs, front room," she murmured, and
the two went up the polished stairs. There was a landing halfway,
with a diamond paned window and one rubber plant and two palms, all
very glossy, and all three in nice green jardinières which exactly
matched the paper on the walls of the hall. Mrs. George B. Slade had
a mania for exactly matching things. Some of her friends said among
themselves that she carried it almost too far.

The front room, the guest room, into which Alice Mendon and Daisy
Shaw passed, was done in yellow and white, and one felt almost sinful
in disturbing the harmony by any other tint. The walls were yellow,
with a frieze of garlands of yellow roses; the ceiling was tinted
yellow, the tiles on the shining little hearth were yellow, every
ornament upon the mantel-shelf was yellow, down to a china
shepherdess who wore a yellow china gown and carried a basket filled
with yellow flowers, and bore a yellow crook. The bedstead was brass,
and there was a counterpane of white lace over yellow, the muslin
curtains were tied back with great bows of yellow ribbon. Even the
pictures represented yellow flowers or maidens dressed in yellow. The
rugs were yellow, the furniture upholstered in yellow, and all of
exactly the same shade.

There were a number of ladies in this yellow room, prinking
themselves before going downstairs. They all lived in Fairbridge;
they all knew each other; but they greeted one another with the most
elegant formality. Alice assisted Daisy Shaw to remove her coat and
liberty scarf, then she shook herself free of her own wraps, rather
than removed them. She did not even glance at herself in the glass.
Her reason for so doing was partly confidence in her own appearance,
partly distrust of the glass. She had viewed herself carefully in her
own looking-glass before she left home. She believed in what she had
seen there, but she did not care to disturb that belief, and she saw
that Mrs. Slade's mirror over her white and yellow draped dressing
table stood in a cross-light. While all admitted Alice Mendon's
beauty, nobody had ever suspected her of vanity; yet vanity she had,
in a degree.

The other women in the room looked at her. It was always a matter of
interest of Fairbridge what she would wear, and this was rather
curious, as, after all, she had not many gowns. There was a certain
impressiveness about her mode of wearing the same gown which seemed
to create an illusion. To-day in her dark red gown embroidered with
poppies of still another shade, she created a distinctly new
impression, although she had worn the same costume often before at
the club meetings. She went downstairs in advance of the other women
who had arrived before, and were yet anxiously peering at themselves
in the cross-lighted mirror, and being adjusted as to refractory
neckwear by one another.

When Alice entered Mrs. Slade's elegant little reception-room, which
was done in a dull rose colour, its accessories very exactly
matching, even to Mrs. Slade's own costume, which was rose silk under
black lace, she was led at once to a lady richly attired in black,
with gleams of jet, who was seated in a large chair in the place of
honour, not quite in the bay window but exactly in the centre of the
opening. The lady quite filled the chair. She was very stout. Her
face, under an ornate black hat, was like a great rose full of
overlapping curves of florid flesh. The wide mouth was perpetually
curved into a bow of mirth, the small black eyes twinkled. She was
Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder, who had come from New York to deliver her
famous lecture upon the subject: "Where does a woman shine with more
lustre, at home or abroad?"

The programme was to be varied, as usual upon such occasions, by
local talent. Leila MacDonald, who sang contralto in the church
choir, and Mrs. Arthur Wells, who sang soprano, and Mrs. Jack Evarts,
who played the piano very well, and Miss Sally Anderson, who had
taken lessons in elocution, all had their parts, besides the
president of the club, Mrs. Wilbur Edes, who had a brief address in
readiness, and the secretary, who had to give the club report for the
year. Mrs. Snyder was to give her lecture as a grand climax, then
there were to be light refreshments and a reception following the
usual custom of the club.

Alice bowed before Mrs. Snyder and retreated to a window at the other
side of the room. She sat beside the window and looked out. Just then
one of the other liverymen drove up with a carriage full of ladies,
and they emerged in a flutter of veils and silk skirts. Mrs. Slade,
who was really superb in her rose silk and black lace, with an artful
frill of white lace at her throat to match her great puff of white
hair, remained beside Mrs. Snyder, whose bow of mirth widened.

"Who is that magnificent creature?" whispered Mrs. Snyder with a gush
of enthusiasm, indicating Alice beside the window.

"She lives here," replied Mrs. Slade rather stupidly. She did not
quite know how to define Alice.

"Lives here in this little place? Not all the year?" rejoined Mrs.
Snyder.

"Fairbridge is a very good place to live in all the year," replied
Mrs. Slade rather stiffly. "It is near New York. We have all the
advantages of a great metropolis without the drawbacks. Fairbridge is
a most charming city, and very progressive, yes, very progressive."

Mrs. Slade took it rather hardly that Mrs. Snyder should intimate
anything prejudicial to Fairbridge and especially that it was not
good enough for Alice Mendon, who had been born there, and lived
there all her life except the year she had been in college. If
anything, she, Mrs. Slade, wondered if Alice Mendon were good enough
for Fairbridge. What had she ever done, except to wear handsome
costumes and look handsome and self-possessed? Although she belonged
to the Zenith Club, no power on earth could induce her to discharge
the duties connected herewith, except to pay her part of the
expenses, and open her house for a meeting. She simply would not
write a paper upon any interesting and instructive topic and read it
before the club, and she was not considered gifted. She could not
sing like Leila MacDonald and Mrs. Arthur Wells. She could not play
like Mrs. Jack Evarts. She could not recite like Sally Anderson.

Mrs. Snyder glanced across at Alice, who looked very graceful and
handsome, although also, to a discerning eye, a little sulky, and
bored with a curious, abstracted boredom.

"She is superb," whispered Mrs. Snyder, "yes, simply superb. Why does
she live here, pray?"

"Why, she was born here," replied Mrs. Slade, again stupidly. It was
as if Alice had no more motive power than a flowering bush.

Mrs. Snyder's bow of mirth widened into a laugh. "Well, can't she get
away, even if she was born here?" said she.

However, Mrs. George B. Slade's mind travelled in such a circle that
she was difficult to corner. "Why should she want to move?" said she.

Mrs. Snyder laughed again. "But, granting she should want to move, is
there anything to hinder?" she asked. She wasn't a very clever woman,
and was deciding privately to mimic Mrs. George B. Slade at some
future occasion, and so eke out her scanty remuneration. She did not
think ten dollars and expenses quite enough for such a lecture as
hers.

Mrs. Slade looked at her perplexedly. "Why, yes, she could I
suppose," said she, "but why?"

"What has hindered her before now?"

"Oh, her mother was a helpless invalid, and Alice was the only child,
and she had been in college just a year when her father died, then
she came home and lived with her mother, but her mother has been dead
two years now, and Alice has plenty of money. Her father left a good
deal, and her cousin and aunt live with her. Oh, yes, she could, but
why should she want to leave Fairbridge, and--"

Then some new arrivals approached, and the discussion concerning
Alice Mendon ceased. The ladies came rapidly now. Soon Mrs. Slade's
hall, reception-room, and dining-room, in which a gaily-decked table
was set, were thronged with women whose very skirts seemed full of
important anticipatory stirs and rustles. Mrs. Snyder's curved smile
became set, her eyes absent. She was revolving her lecture in her
mind, making sure that she could repeat it without the assistance of
the notes in her petticoat pocket.

Then a woman rang a little silver bell, and a woman who sat short but
rose to unexpected heights stood up. The phenomenon was amazing, but
all the Fairbridge ladies had seen Miss Bessy Dicky, the secretary of
the Zenith Club, rise before, and no one observed anything remarkable
about it. Only Mrs. Snyder's mouth twitched a little, but she
instantly recovered herself and fixed her absent eyes upon Miss Bessy
Dicky's long, pale face as she began to read the report of the club
for the past year.

She had been reading several minutes, her glasses fixed firmly (one
of her eyes had a cast) and her lean, veinous hands trembling with
excitement, when the door bell rang with a sharp peremptory peal.
There was a little flutter among the ladies. Such a thing had never
happened before. Fairbridge ladies were renowned for punctuality,
especially at a meeting like this, and in any case, had one been
late, she would never have rung the bell. She would have tapped
gently on the door, the white-capped maid would have admitted her,
and she, knowing she was late and hearing the hollow recitative of
Miss Bessy Dicky's voice, would have tiptoed upstairs, then slipped
delicately down again and into a place near the door.

But now it was different. Lottie opened the door, and a masculine
voice was heard. Mrs. Slade had a storm-porch, so no one could look
directly into the hall.

"Is Mrs. Slade at home?" inquired the voice distinctly. The ladies
looked at one another, and Miss Bessy Dicky's reading was unheard.
They all knew who spoke. Lottie appeared with a crimson face, bearing
a little ostentatious silver plate with a card. Mrs. Slade adjusted
her lorgnette, looked at the card, and appeared to hesitate for a
second. Then a look of calm determination overspread her face. She
whispered to Lottie, and presently appeared a young man in clerical
costume, moving between the seated groups of ladies with an air not
so much of embarrassment as of weary patience, as if he had expected
something like this to happen, and it had happened.

Mrs. Slade motioned to a chair near her, which Lottie had placed, and
the young man sat down.



Chapter II


Many things were puzzling in Fairbridge, that is, puzzling to a
person with a logical turn of mind. For instance, nobody could say
that Fairbridge people were not religious. It was a church going
community, and five denominations were represented in it;
nevertheless, the professional expounders of its doctrines were held
in a sort of gentle derision, that is, unless the expounder happened
to be young and eligible from a matrimonial point of view, when he
gained a certain fleeting distinction. Otherwise the clergy were
regarded (in very much the same light as if employed by a railroad)
as the conductors of a spiritual train of cars bound for the Promised
Land. They were admittedly engaged in a cause worthy of the highest
respect and veneration. The Cause commanded it, not they. They had
always lacked social prestige in Fairbridge, except, as before
stated, in the cases of the matrimonially eligible.

Dominie von Rosen came under that head. Consequently he was for the
moment, fleeting as everybody considered it, in request. But he did
not respond readily to the social patronage of Fairbridge. He was,
seemingly, quite oblivious to its importance. Karl von Rosen was
bored to the verge of physical illness by Fairbridge functions. Even
a church affair found him wearily to the front. Therefore his
presence at the Zenith Club was unprecedented and confounding. He had
often been asked to attend its special meetings but had never
accepted. Now, however, here he was, caught neatly in the trap of his
own carelessness. Karl von Rosen should have reflected that the
Zenith Club was one of the institutions of Fairbridge, and met upon a
Friday, and that Mrs. George B. Slade's house was an exceedingly
likely rendezvous, but he was singularly absent-minded as to what was
near, and very present minded as to what was afar. That which should
have been near was generally far to his mind, which was perpetually
gathering the wool of rainbow sheep in distant pastures.

If there was anything in which Karl von Rosen did not take the
slightest interest, it was women's clubs in general and the Zenith
Club in particular; and here he was, doomed by his own lack of
thought to sit through an especially long session. He had gone out
for a walk. To his mind it was a fine winter's day. The long,
glittering lights of ice pleased him and whenever he was sure that he
was unobserved he took a boyish run and long slide. During his walk
he had reached Mrs. Slade's house, and since he worked in his
pastoral calls whenever he could, by applying a sharp spur to his
disinclination, it had occurred to him that he might make one, and
return to his study in a virtuous frame of mind over a slight and
unimportant, but bothersome duty performed. If he had had his wits
about him he might have seen the feminine heads at the windows, he
might have heard the quaver of Miss Bessy Dicky's voice over the club
report; but he saw and heard nothing, and now he was seated in the
midst of the feminine throng, and Miss Bessy Dicky's voice quavered
more, and she assumed a slightly mincing attitude. Her thin hands
trembled more, the hot, red spots on her thin cheeks deepened.
Reading the club reports before the minister was an epoch in an
epochless life, but Karl von Rosen was oblivious of her except as a
disturbing element rather more insistent than the others in which he
was submerged.

[Illustration: He was doomed by his own lack of thought to sit
through an especially long session]

He sat straight and grave, his eyes retrospective. He was constantly
getting into awkward situations, and acquitting himself in them with
marvellous dignity and grace. Even Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder, astute as
she was, regarded him keenly, and could not for the life of her tell
whether he had come premeditatedly or not. She only discovered one
thing, that poor Miss Bessy Dicky was reading at him and posing at
him and trembling her hands at him, and that she was throwing it all
away, for Von Rosen heard no more of her report than if he had been
in China when she was reading it. Mrs. Snyder realised that hardly
anything in nature could be so totally uninteresting to the young man
as the report of a woman's club. Inasmuch as she herself was devoted
to such things, she regarded him with disapproval, although with a
certain admiration. Karl von Rosen always commanded admiration,
although often of a grudging character, from women. His utter
indifference to them as women was the prime factor in this; next to
that his really attractive, even distinguished, personality. He was
handsome after the fashion which usually accompanies devotion to
women. He was slight, but sinewy, with a gentle, poetical face and
great black eyes, into which women were apt to project tenderness
merely from their own fancy. It seemed ridiculous and anomalous that
a man of Von Rosen's type should not be a lover of ladies, and the
fact that he was most certainly not was both fascinating and
exasperating.

Now Mrs. George B. Slade, magnificent matron, as she was, moreover
one who had inhaled the perfume of adulation from her youth up, felt
a calm malice. She knew that he had entered her parlour after the
manner of the spider and fly rhyme of her childhood; she knew that
the other ladies would infer that he had come upon her invitation,
and her soul was filled with one of the petty triumphs of petty
Fairbridge.

She, however, did not dream of the actual misery which filled the
heart of the graceful, dignified young man by her side. She
considered herself in the position of a mother, who forces an
undesired, but nevertheless, delectable sweet upon a child, who gazes
at her with adoration when the savour has reached his palate. She did
not expect Von Rosen to be much edified by Miss Bessy Dicky's report.
She had her own opinion of Miss Bessy Dicky, of her sleeves, of her
gown, and her report, but she had faith in the truly decorative
features of the occasion when they should be underway, and she had
immense faith in Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder. She was relieved when Miss
Bessy Dicky sat down, and endeavoured to compose her knees, which by
this time were trembling like her hands, and also to assume an
expression as if she had done nothing at all, and nobody was looking
at her. That last because of the fact that she had done so little,
and nobody was looking at her rendered her rather pathetic.

Miss Bessy Dicky did not glance at the minister, but she,
nevertheless, saw him. She had never had a lover, and here was the
hero of her dreams. He would never know it and nobody else would ever
know it, and no harm would be done except very possibly, by and by, a
laceration of the emotions of an elderly maiden, and afterwards a
life-long scar. But who goes through life without emotional scars?

After Miss Bessy Dicky sat down, Mrs. Wilbur Edes, the lady of the
silver bell, rose. She lifted high her delicate chin, her perfect
blond pompadour caught the light, her black lace robe swept round her
in rich darkness, with occasional revelations of flower and leaf, the
fairly poetical pattern of real lace. As she rose, she diffused
around her a perfume as if rose-leaves were stirred up. She held a
dainty handkerchief, edged with real lace, in her little left hand,
which glittered with rings. In her right, was a spangled fan like a
black butterfly. Mrs. Edes was past her first youth, but she was
undeniably charming. She was like a little, perfect, ivory toy, which
time has played with but has not injured. Mrs. Slade looked at her,
then at Karl von Rosen. He looked at Mrs. Wilbur Edes, then looked
away. She was most graceful, but most positively uninteresting.
However, Mrs. Slade was rather pleased at that. She and Mrs. Edes
were rival stars. Von Rosen had never looked long at her, and it
seemed right he should not look long at the other woman.

Mrs. Slade surveyed Mrs. Edes as she announced the next number on the
programme, and told herself that Mrs. Edes' gown might be real lace
and everything about her very real, and nice, and elegant, but she
was certainly a little fussy for so small a woman. Mrs. Slade
considered that she herself could have carried off that elegance in a
much more queenly manner. There was one feature of Mrs. Edes' costume
which Mrs. Slade resented. She considered that it should be worn by a
woman of her own size and impressiveness. That was a little wrap of
ermine. Now ermine, as everybody knew, should only be worn by large
and queenly women. Mrs. Slade resolved that she herself would have an
ermine wrap which should completely outshine Mrs. Edes' little
affair, all swinging with tails and radiant with tiny, bright-eyed
heads.

Mrs. Edes announced a duet by Miss MacDonald and Mrs. Wells, and sat
down, and again the perfume of rose leaves was perceptible. Karl von
Rosen glanced at the next performers, Miss MacDonald, who was very
pretty and well-dressed in white embroidered cloth, and Mrs. Wells,
who was not pretty, but was considered very striking, who trailed
after her in green folds edged with fur, and bore a roll of music.
She seated herself at the piano with a graceful sweep of her green
draperies, which defined her small hips, and struck the keys with
slender fingers quite destitute of rings, always lifting them high
with a palpable affectation not exactly doubtful--that was saying too
much--but she was considered to reach limits of propriety with her
sinuous motions, the touch of her sensitive fingers upon piano keys,
and the quick flash of her dark eyes in her really plain face. There
was, for the women in Fairbridge, a certain mischievous fascination
about Mrs. Wells. Moreover, they had in her their one object of
covert gossip, their one stimulus to unlawful imagination.

There was a young man who played the violin. His name was Henry
Wheaton, and he was said to be a frequent caller at Mrs. Wells', and
she played his accompaniments, and Mr. Wells was often detained in
New York until the late train. Then there was another young man who
played the 'cello, and he called often. And there was Ellis
Bainbridge, who had a fine tenor voice, and he called. It was
delightful to have a woman of that sort, of whom nothing distinctly
culpable could be affirmed, against whom no good reason could be
brought for excluding her from the Zenith Club and the social set. In
their midst, Mrs. Wells furnished the condiments, the spice, and
pepper, and mustard for many functions. She relieved to a great
extent the monotony of unquestioned propriety. It would have been
horribly dull if there had been no woman in the Zenith Club who
furnished an excuse for the other members' gossip.

Leila MacDonald, so carefully dressed and brushed and washed, and so
free from defects that she was rather irritating, began to sing, then
people listened. Karl von Rosen listened. She really had a voice
which always surprised and charmed with the first notes, then ceased
to charm. Leila MacDonald was as a good canary bird, born to sing,
and dutifully singing, but without the slightest comprehension of her
song. It was odd too that she sang with plenty of expression, but her
own lack of realisation seemed to dull it for her listeners. Karl von
Rosen listened, then his large eyes again turned introspective.

Mrs. Edes again arose, after the singing and playing ladies had
finished their performance and returned to their seats, and announced
a recitation by Miss Sally Anderson. Miss Anderson wore a light
summer gown, and swept to the front, and bent low to her audience,
then at once began her recitation with a loud crash of emotion. She
postured, she gesticulated. She lowered her voice to inaudibility,
she raised it to shrieks and wails. She did everything which she had
been taught, and she had been taught a great deal. Mrs. Sarah Joy
Snyder listened and got data for future lectures, with her mirthful
mouth sternly set.

After Sally Anderson, Mrs. Jack Evarts played a glittering thing
called "Waves of the Sea."  Then Sally Anderson recited again, then
Mrs. Wilbur Edes spoke at length, and with an air which commanded
attention, and Von Rosen suffered agonies. He laughed with sickly
spurts at Mrs. Snyder's confidential sallies, when she had at last
her chance to deliver herself of her ten dollar speech, but the worst
ordeal was to follow. Von Rosen was fluttered about by women bearing
cups of tea, of frothy chocolate, plates of cake, dishes of bonbons,
and saucers of ice-cream. He loathed sweets and was forced into
accepting a plate. He stood in the midst of the feminine throng, the
solitary male figure looking at his cup of chocolate, and a slice of
sticky cake, and at an ice representing a chocolate lily, which
somebody had placed for special delectation upon a little table at
his right. Then Alice Mendon came to his rescue.

She deftly took the plate with the sticky cake, and the cup of hot
chocolate, and substituted a plate with a chicken mayonnaise
sandwich, smiling pleasantly as she did so.

"Here," she whispered. "Why do you make a martyr of yourself for such
a petty cause? Do it for the faith if you want to, but not for thick
chocolate and angel cake."

She swept away the chocolate lily also. Von Rosen looked at her
gratefully. "Thank you," he murmured.

She laughed. "Oh, you need not thank me," she said. "I have a natural
instinct to rescue men from sweets."  She laughed again maliciously.
"I am sure you have enjoyed the club very much," she said.

Von Rosen coloured before her sarcastic, kindly eyes. He began to
speak, but she interrupted him. "You have heard that silence is
golden," said she. "It is always golden when speech would be a lie."

Then she turned away and seized upon the chocolate lily and pressed
it upon Mrs. Joy Snyder, who was enjoying adulation and good things.

"Do please have this lovely lily, Mrs. Snyder," she said. "It is the
very prettiest ice of the lot, and meant especially for you. I am
sure you will enjoy it."

And Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder, whose sense of humour deserted her when
she was being praised and fed, and who had already eaten bonbons
innumerable, and three ices with accompanying cake, took the
chocolate lily gratefully. Von Rosen ate his chicken sandwich and
marvelled at the ways of women.

After Von Rosen had finished his sandwiches and tea, he made his way
to Mrs. Snyder, and complimented her upon her lecture. He had a
constitutional dislike for falsehoods, which was perhaps not so much
a virtue as an idiosyncrasy. Now he told Mrs. Snyder that he had
never heard a lecture which seemed to amuse an audience more than
hers had done, and that he quite envied her because of her power of
holding attention. Mrs. Snyder, with the last petal of her chocolate
lily sweet upon her tongue, listened with such a naïveté of
acquiescence that she was really charming, and Von Rosen had spoken
the truth. He had wondered, when he saw the eagerly tilted faces of
the women, and heard their bursts of shrill laughter and clapping of
hands, why he could not hold them with his sermons which, he might
assume without vanity, contained considerable subject for thought, as
this woman, with her face like a mask of mirth, held them with her
compilation of platitudes.

He thought that he had never seen so many women listen with such
intensity, and lack of self-consciousness. He had seen only two pat
their hair, only one glance at her glittering rings, only three
arrange the skirts of their gowns while the lecture was in progress.
Sometimes during his sermons, he felt as if he were holding forth to
a bewildering sea of motion with steadily recurrent waves, which
fascinated him, of feathers, and flowers, swinging fur tails, and
kid-gloved hands, fluttering ribbons, and folds of drapery. Karl von
Rosen would not have acknowledged himself as a woman-hater, that
savoured too much of absurd male egotism, but he had an under
conviction that women were, on the whole, admitting of course
exceptions, self-centered in the pursuit of petty ends to the extent
of absolute viciousness. He disliked women, although he had never
owned it to himself.

In spite of his dislike of women, Von Rosen had a house-keeper. He
had made an ineffectual trial of an ex-hotel chef, but had finally
been obliged to resort to Mrs. Jane Riggs. She was tall and strong,
wider-shouldered than hipped. She went about her work with long
strides. She never fussed. She never asked questions. In fact, she
seldom spoke.

When Von Rosen entered his house that night, after the club meeting,
he had a comfortable sense of returning to an embodied silence. The
coal fire in his study grate was red and clear. Everything was in
order without misplacement. That was one of Jane Riggs' chief
talents. She could tidy things without misplacing them. Von Rosen
loved order, and was absolutely incapable of keeping it. Therefore
Jane Riggs' orderliness was as balm. He sat down in his Morris chair
before his fire, stretched out his legs to the warmth, which was
grateful after the icy outdoor air, rested his eyes upon a plaster
cast over the chimney place, which had been tinted a beautiful hue by
his own pipe, and sighed with content. His own handsome face was rosy
with the reflection of the fire, his soul rose-coloured with complete
satisfaction. He was so glad to be quit of that crowded assemblage of
eager femininity, so glad that it was almost worth while to have
encountered it just for that sense of blessed relief.

Mrs. Edes had offered to take him home in her carriage, and he had
declined almost brusquely. To have exchanged that homeward walk over
the glistening earth, and under the clear rose and violet lights of
the winter sunset, with that sudden rapturous discovery of the
slender crescent of the new moon, for a ride with Mrs. Edes in her
closed carriage with her silvery voice in his ear instead of the keen
silence of the winter air, would have been torture. Von Rosen
wondered at himself for disliking Mrs. Edes in particular, whereas he
disliked most women in general. There was something about her feline
motions instinct with swiftness, and concealed claws, and the half
keen, half sleepy glances of her green-blue eyes, which irritated him
beyond measure, and he was ashamed of being irritated. It implied a
power over him, and yet it was certainly not a physical power. It was
subtle and pertained to spirit. He realised, as did many in
Fairbridge, a strange influence, defying reason and will, which this
small woman with her hidden swiftness had over nearly everybody with
whom she came in contact. It had nothing whatever to do with sex. She
would have produced it in the same degree, had she not been in the
least attractive. It was compelling, and at the same time irritating.

Von Rosen in his Morris chair after the tea welcomed the intrusion of
Jane Riggs, which dispelled his thought of Mrs. Wilbur Edes. Jane
stood beside the chair, a rigid straight length of woman with a white
apron starched like a board, covering two thirds of her, and waited
for interrogation.

"What is it, Jane?" asked Von Rosen.

Jane Riggs replied briefly. "Outlandish young woman out in the
kitchen," she said with distinct disapproval, yet with evident
helplessness before the situation.

Von Rosen started. "Where is the dog?"

"Licking her hands. Every time I told her to go, Jack growled. Mebbe
you had better come out yourself, Mr. Von Rosen."

When Von Rosen entered the kitchen, he saw a little figure on the
floor in a limp heap, with the dog frantically licking its hands,
which were very small and brown and piteously outspread, as if in
supplication.

"Mebbe you had better call up the doctor on the telephone; she seems
to have swooned away," said Jane Riggs. At the same time she made one
long stride to the kitchen sink, and water. Von Rosen looked aghast
at the stricken figure, which was wrapped in a queer medley of
garments. He also saw on the floor near by a bulging suitcase.

"She is one of them pedlars," said Jane Riggs, dashing water upon the
dumb little face. "I rather guess you had better call up the doctor
on the telephone. She don't seem to be coming to easy and she may
have passed away."

Von Rosen gasped, then he looked pitifully at the poor little figure,
and ran back to his study to the telephone. To his great relief as he
passed the window, he glanced out, and saw Doctor Sturtevant's
automobile making its way cautiously over the icy street. Then for
the first time he remembered that he had been due at that time about
a matter of a sick parishioner. He opened the front door hurriedly,
and stated the case, and the two men carried the little unconscious
creature upstairs. Then Von Rosen came down, leaving the doctor and
Martha with her. He waited in the study, listening to the sounds
overhead, waiting impatiently for the doctor's return, which was not
for half an hour or more. In the meantime Martha came downstairs on
some errand to the kitchen. Von Rosen intercepted her. "What does
Doctor Sturtevant think?" he asked.

"Dunno, what he thinks," replied Martha brusquely, pushing past him.

"Is she conscious yet?"

"Dunno, I ain't got any time to talk," said Martha, casting a flaming
look at him over her shoulder as she entered the kitchen.

Von Rosen retreated to the study, where he was presently joined by
the doctor. "What is it?" asked Von Rosen with an emphasis, which
rendered it so suspicious that he might have added: "what the devil
is it?" had it not been for his profession.

Sturtevant answered noiselessly, the motion of his lips conveying his
meaning. Then he said, shrugging himself into his fur coat, as he
spoke, "I have to rush my motor to see a patient, whom I dare not
leave another moment, then I will be back."

Von Rosen's great Persian cat had curled himself on the doctor's fur
coat, and now shaken off, sat with a languid dignity, his great
yellow plume of a tail waving, and his eyes like topazes fixed
intently upon Sturtevant. At that moment a little cry was heard from
the guest room, a cry between a moan and a scream, but unmistakably a
note of suffering. Sturtevant jammed his fur cap upon his head and
pulled on his gloves.

"Don't go," pleaded Von Rosen in a sudden terror of helplessness.

"I must, but I'll break the speed laws and be back before you know
it. That housekeeper of yours is as good as any trained nurse, and
better. She is as hard as nails, but she does her duty like a
machine, and she has brains. I will be back in a few minutes."

Then Sturtevant was gone, and Von Rosen sat again before his study
fire. There was another little note of suffering from above. Von
Rosen shuddered, rose, and closed his door. The Persian cat came and
sat in front of him, and gazed at him with jewel-like eyes. There was
an expression of almost human anxiety and curiosity upon the animal's
face. He came from a highly developed race; he and his forbears had
always been with humans. At times it seemed to Von Rosen as if the
cat had a dumb knowledge of the most that he himself knew. He reached
down and patted the shapely golden head, but the cat withdrew, curled
himself into a coil of perfect luxuriousness, with the firelight
casting a warm, rosy glow upon his golden beauty, purred a little
while, then sank into the mystery of animal sleep.

Von Rosen sat listening. He told himself that Sturtevant should be
back within half an hour. When only ten minutes had passed he took
out his watch and was dismayed to find how short a time had elapsed.
He replaced his watch and leaned back. He was always listening
uneasily. He had encountered illness and death and distress, but
never anything quite like this. He had always been able to give
personal aid. Now he felt barred out, and fiercely helpless.

He sat ten minutes longer. Then he arose. He could reach the kitchen
by another way which did not lead past the stairs. He went out there,
treading on tiptoe. The cat had looked up, stretched, and lazily
gotten upon his feet and followed him, tail waving like a pennant. He
brushed around Von Rosen out in the kitchen, and mewed a little,
delicate, highbred mew. The dog came leaping up the basement stairs,
sat up and begged. Von Rosen opened the ice box and found therein
some steak. He cut off large pieces and fed the cat and dog. He also
found milk and filled a saucer.

He stole back to the study. He thought he had closed all the doors,
but presently the cat entered, then sat down and began to lick
himself with his little red rough tongue. Von Rosen looked at his
watch again. The house shook a little, and he knew that the shaking
was caused by Jane Riggs, walking upstairs. He longed to go upstairs
but knew that he could not, and again that rage of helplessness came
over him. He reflected upon human life, the agony of its beginning;
the agony, in spite of bravery, in spite of denial of agony, the
agony under the brightest of suns, of its endurance; the agony of its
end; and his reflections were almost blasphemous. His religion seemed
to crumble beneath the standing-place of his soul. A torture of
doubt, a certainty of ignorance, in spite of the utmost efforts of
faith, came over him. The cat coiled himself again and sank into
sleep. Von Rosen gazed at him. What if the accepted order of things
were reversed, after all? What if that beautiful little animal were
on a higher plane than he? Certainly the cat did not suffer, and
certainly suffering and doubt degraded even the greatest.

He looked at his watch and saw that Sturtevant had been gone five
minutes over the half hour. He switched off the electric light, and
stood in his window, which faced the street down which the doctor in
his car must come. He realised at once that this was more endurable.
He was doing what a woman would have done long before. He was
masculine, and had not the quick instinct to stand by the window and
watch out, to ease impatience. The road was like a broad silver band
under the moon. The lights in house windows gleamed through drawn
shades, except in one house, where he could see quite distinctly a
woman seated beside a lamp with a green shade, sewing, with regular
motions of a red, silk-clad arm. Von Rosen strained his eyes, and
saw, as he thought, a dark bulk advancing far down the street. He
watched and watched, then noted that the dark bulk had not moved. He
wondered if the motor had broken down. He thought of running out to
see, and made a motion to go, then he saw swiftly-moving lights pass
the dark bulk. He thought they were the lights of the motor, but as
they passed he saw it was a cab taking someone to the railroad
station. He knew then that the dark bulk was a clump of trees.

Then, before he could fairly sense it, the doctor's motor came
hurtling down the street, its search-lights glaring, swinging from
side to side. The machine stopped, and Von Rosen ran to the door.

"Here I am," said Sturtevant in a hushed voice. There was a sound
from the room above, and the doctor, Von Rosen and nurse looked at
each other. Then Von Rosen sat again alone in his study, and now, in
spite of the closed door, he heard noises above stairs. Solitude was
becoming frightful to him. He felt all at once strangely young, like
a child, and a pitiful sense of injury was over him, but the sense of
injury was not for himself alone, but for all mankind. He realised
that all mankind was enormously pitiful and injured, by the mere fact
of their obligatory existence. And he wished more than anything in
the world for some understanding soul with whom to share his sense of
the universal grievance.

But he continued to sit alone, and the cat slept in his golden coil
of peace. Then suddenly the cat sat up, and his jewel eyes glowed. He
looked fixedly at a point in the room. Von Rosen looked in the same
direction but saw nothing except his familiar wall. Then he heard
steps on the stairs, and the door opened, and Jane Riggs entered. She
was white and stern. She was tragic. Her lean fingers were clutching
at the air. Von Rosen stared at her. She sat down and swept her
crackling white apron over her head.



Chapter III


When Margaret Edes had returned home after the Zenith Club, she
devoted an hour to rest. She had ample time for that before dressing
for a dinner which she and her husband were to give in New York that
evening. The dinner was set for rather a late hour in order to enable
Margaret to secure this rest before the train-time. She lay on a
couch before the fire, in her room which was done in white and gold.
Her hair was perfectly arranged, for she had scarcely moved her head
during the club meeting, and had adjusted and removed her hat with
the utmost caution. Now she kept her shining head perfectly still
upon a rather hard pillow. She did not relax her head, but she did
relax her body, and the result, as she was aware, would be
beautifying.

Still as her head remained, she allowed no lines of disturbance to
appear upon her face, and for that matter, no lines of joy. Secretly
she did not approve of smiles, more than she approved of tears. Both
of them, she knew, tended to leave traces, and other people,
especially other women, did not discriminate between the traces of
tears and smiles. Therefore, lying with her slim graceful body
stretched out at full length upon her couch, Margaret Edes' face was
as absolutely devoid of expression as a human face could well be, and
this although she was thinking rather strenuously. She had not been
pleased with the impression which Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder had made upon
the Zenith Club, because Mrs. Slade, and not she, had been
instrumental in securing her valuable services. Mrs. Edes had a
Napoleonic ambition which was tragic and pathetic, because it could
command only a narrow scope for its really unusual force. If Mrs.
Edes had only been possessed of the opportunity to subjugate Europe,
nothing except another Waterloo could have stopped her onward march.
But she had absolutely nothing to subjugate except poor little
Fairbridge. She was a woman of power which was wasted. She was
absurdly tragic, but none the less tragic. Power spent upon petty
ends is one of the greatest disasters of the world. It wrecks not
only the spender, but its object. Mrs. Edes was horribly and
unworthily unhappy, reflecting upon Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder and Mrs.
Slade. She cared very much because Mrs. Slade and not she had brought
about this success of the Zenith Club, with Mrs. Snyder as
high-light. It was a shame to her, but she could not help it, because
one living within narrow horizons must have limited aims.

If only her husband had enough money to enable her to live in New
York after the manner which would have suited her, she felt capable
of being a leading power in that great and dreadful city. Probably
she was right. The woman was in reality possessed of abnormal nerve
force. Had Wilbur Edes owned millions, and she been armed with the
power which they can convey, she might have worked miracles in her
subtle feminine fashion. She would always have worked subtly, and
never believed her feminine self. She understood its worth too well.
She would have conquered like a cat, because she understood her
weapons, her velvet charm, her purr, and her claws. She would not
have attempted a growling and bulky leap into success. She would have
slid and insinuated and made her gliding progress almost
imperceptible, but none the less remorseless.

But she was fated to live in Fairbridge. What else could she do?
Wilbur Edes was successful in his profession, but he was not an
accumulator, and neither was she. His income was large during some
years, but it was spent during those years for things which seemed
absolutely indispensable to both husband and wife. For instance,
to-night Wilbur would spend an extravagant sum upon this dinner,
which he was to give at an extravagant hotel to some people whom Mrs.
Edes had met last summer, and who, if not actually in the great swim,
were in the outer froth of it, and she had vague imaginings of future
gain through them. Wilbur had carried his dress suit in that morning.
He was to take a room in the hotel and change, and meet her at the
New York side of the ferry. As she thought of the ferry it was all
Mrs. Edes could do to keep her smooth brow from a frown. Somehow the
ferry always humiliated her; the necessity of going up or down that
common, democratic gang plank, clinging to the tail of her fine gown,
and seating herself in a row with people who glanced askance at her
evening wrap and her general magnificence.

Poor Mrs. Edes was so small and slight that holding up magnificence
and treading the deck with her high-heeled shoes was physically
fatiguing. Had she been of a large, powerful physique, had her body
matched her mind, she might not have felt a sense of angry
humiliation. As it was, she realised that for her, _her_, to be
obliged to cross the ferry was an insult at the hands of Providence.
But the tunnel was no better, perhaps worse,--that plunged into
depths below the waters, like one in a public bath. Anything so
exquisite, so dainty, so subtly fine and powerful as herself, should
not have been condemned to this. She should have been able to give
her dinners in her own magnificent New York mansion. As it was, there
was nothing for her except to dress and accept the inevitable.

It was as bad as if Napoleon the Great had been forced to ride to
battle on a trolley car, instead of being booted and spurred and
astride a charger, which lifted one fore-leg in a fling of scorn. Of
course Wilbur would meet her, and they would take a taxicab, but even
a taxicab seemed rather humiliating to her. It should have been her
own private motor car. And she would be obliged to descend the stairs
at the station ungracefully, one hand clutching nervously at the tail
of her gorgeous gown, the other at her evening cloak. It was
absolutely impossible for so slight a woman to descend stairs with
dignity and grace, holding up an evening cloak and a long gown.

However, there would be compensations later. She thought, with
decided pleasure, of the private dining-room, and the carefully
planned and horribly expensive decorations, which would be eminently
calculated to form a suitable background for herself. The flowers and
candle-shades were to be yellow, and she was to wear her yellow
chiffon gown, with touches of gold embroidery, a gold comb set with
topazes in her yellow hair, and on her breast a large, gleaming stone
which was a yellow diamond of very considerable value. Wilbur had
carried in his suit case her yellow satin slippers, her gold-beaded
fan, and the queer little wrap of leopard skin which she herself had
fashioned from a rug which her husband had given her. She had much
skill in fashioning articles for her own adornment as a cat has in
burnishing his fur, and would at any time have sacrificed the
curtains or furniture covers, had they met her needs.

She would not be obliged--crowning disgrace--to carry a bag. All she
would need would be her little case for tickets, and her change
purse, and her evening cloak had pockets. The evening cloak lay
beside the yellow chiffon gown, carefully disposed on the bed, which
had a lace counterpane over yellow satin. The cloak was of a creamy
cloth lined with mink, a sumptuous affair, and she had a tiny mink
toque with one yellow rose as head covering.

She glanced approvingly at the rich attire spread upon the bed, and
then thought again of the dreadful ferry, and her undignified hop
across the dirty station to the boat. She longed for the days of
sedan chairs, for anything rather than this. She was an exquisite
lady caught in the toils of modern cheap progress toward all her
pleasures and profits. She did not belong in a democratic country at
all unless she had millions. She was out of place, as much out of
place as a splendid Angora in an alley. Fairbridge to her instincts
was as an alley; yet since it was her alley, she had to make the best
of it. Had she not made the best of it, exalted it, magnified it, she
would have gone mad. Wherefore the triumph of Mrs. Slade in
presenting Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder seemed to her like an affair of
moment. For lack of something greater to hate and rival, she hated
and rivalled Mrs. Slade. For lack of something big over which to
reign, she wished to reign over Fairbridge and the Zenith Club. Mrs.
Slade's perfectly-matched drawing-room took on the semblance of a
throne-room, in which she had seen herself usurped.

Then she thought of the young clergyman, even as he was thinking of
her. She knew perfectly well how he had been trapped, but she failed
to see the slightest humour in it. She had no sense of humour. She
saw only the additional triumph of Mrs. Slade in securing this rather
remarkable man at the Zenith Club, something which she herself had
never been able to do. Von Rosen's face came before her. She
considered it a handsome face, but no man's face could disturb her.
She held her virtue with as nervous a clutch as she held up her fine
gown. To soil either would be injudicious, impolitic, and she never
desired the injudicious and impolitic.

"He is a handsome man," she said to herself, "an aristocratic-looking
man."  Then the telephone bell close beside her divan rang, and she
took up the receiver carefully, not moving her head, sat up, and put
her delicate lips to the speaking tube.

"Hello," said a voice, and she recognised it as Von Rosen's although
it had an agitated, nervous ring which was foreign to it.

"What is it?" she said in reply, and the voice responded with
volubility, "A girl, a young Syrian girl, is at my home. She is in a
swoon or something. We cannot revive her. Is the doctor at home? Tell
him to hurry over, please. I am Mr. von Rosen. Tell him to hurry. She
may be dead."

"You have made a mistake, Mr. von Rosen," said Mrs. Edes' thin voice,
as thin and silvery as a reed. "You are speaking to Mrs. Wilbur Edes.
My telephone number is 5R. You doubtless want Doctor Sturtevant. His
number is 51M."

"Oh, pardon," cried the voice over the telephone. "Sorry to have
disturbed you, Mrs. Edes, I mistook--"

The voice trailed into nothingness. There was a sharp ring. Mrs. Edes
hung up her receiver. She thought slowly that it was a strange
circumstance that Mr. von Rosen should have a fainting or dead young
Syrian girl in his house. Then she rose from the divan, holding her
head very stiffly, and began to dress. She had just enough time to
dress leisurely and catch the train. She called on one of the two
maids to assist her and was quite equipped, even to the little mink
toque, fastened very carefully on her shining head, when there was a
soft push at the door, and her twin daughters, Maida and Adelaide,
entered. They were eight years old, but looked younger. They were
almost exactly alike as to small, pretty features and pale blond
colouring. Maida scowled a little, and Adelaide did not, and people
distinguished them by that when in doubt.

They stood and stared at their mother with a curious expression on
their sharp, delicate little faces. It was not exactly admiration, it
was not wonder, nor envy, nor affection, yet tinctured by all.

Mrs. Edes looked at them. "Maida," said she, "do not wear that blue
hair-ribbon again. It is soiled. Have you had your dinners?"

"Yes, mamma," responded first one, then the other, Maida with the
frown being slightly in the lead.

"Then you had better go to bed," said Mrs. Edes, and the two little
girls stood carefully aside to allow her to pass.

"Good night, children," said Mrs. Edes without turning her
mink-crowned head. The little girls watched the last yellow swirl of
their mother's skirts, disappearing around the stair-landing, then
Adelaide spoke.

"I mean to wear red, myself, when I'm grown up," said she.

"Ho, just because Jim Carr likes red," retorted Maida. "As for me, I
mean to have a gown just like hers, only a little deeper shade of
yellow."

Adelaide laughed, an unpleasantly snarling little laugh. "Ho," said
she, "just because Val Thomas likes yellow."

Then the coloured maid, Emma, who was cross because Mrs. Edes'
evening out had deprived her of her own, and had been ruthlessly
hanging her mistress's gown which she had worn to the club in a wad
on a closet hook, disregarding its perfumed hanger, turned upon them.

"Heah, ye chillun," said she, "your ma sid for you to go to baid."

Each little girl had her white bed with a canopy of pink silk in a
charming room. There were garlands of rosebuds on the wallpaper and
the furniture was covered with rosebud chintz.

While their mother was indignantly sailing across the North River,
her daughters lay awake, building air-castles about themselves and
their boy-lovers, which fevered their imaginations, and aged them
horribly in a spiritual sense.

"Amy White's mother plays dominoes with her every evening," Maida
remarked. Her voice sounded incredibly old, full of faint
derisiveness and satire, but absolutely non-complaining.

"Amy White's mother would look awfully funny in a gown like Mamma's,"
said Adelaide.

"I suppose that is why she plays dominoes with Amy," said Maida in
her old voice.

"Oh, don't talk any more, Maida, I want to go to sleep," said
Adelaide pettishly, but she was not in the least sleepy. She wished
to return to the air-castle in which she had been having sweet
converse with Jim Carr. This air-castle was the abode of innocence,
but it was not yet time for its building at all. It was such a little
childish creature who lay curled up under the coverlid strewn with
rosebuds that the gates of any air-castle of life and love, and
knowledge, however innocent and ignorant, should have been barred
against her, perhaps with dominoes.

However, she entered in, her soft cheeks burning, and her pulse
tingling, and saw the strange light through its fairy windows, and
her sister also entered her air-castle, and all the time their mother
was sailing across the North River toward the pier where her husband
waited. She kept one gloved hand upon the fold of her gown, ready to
clutch it effectually clear of the dirty deck when the pier was
reached. When she was in the taxicab with Wilbur, she thought again
of Von Rosen. "Dominie von Rosen made a mistake," said she, "and
called up the wrong number. He wanted Doctor Sturtevant, and he got
me."  Then she repeated the message. "What do you suppose he was
doing with a fainting Syrian girl in his house?" she ended.

A chuckle shook the dark bulk in its fur lined coat at her side. "The
question is why the Syrian girl chose Von Rosen's house to faint in,"
said he lightly.

"Oh, don't be funny, Wilbur," said Margaret. "Have you seen the
dining-room? How does it look?"

"I thought it beautiful, and I am sure you will like it," said Wilbur
Edes in the chastened tone which he commonly used toward his wife. He
had learned long ago that facetiousness displeased her, and he lived
only to please her, aside from his interest in his profession. Poor
Wilbur Edes thought his wife very wonderful, and watched with delight
the hats doffed when she entered the hotel lift like a little
beruffled yellow canary. He wished those men could see her later,
when the canary resemblance had altogether ceased, when she would
look tall and slender and lithe in her clinging yellow gown with the
great yellow stone gleaming in her corsage.

For some reason Margaret Edes held her husband's admiration with a
more certain tenure because she could not be graceful when weighed
down with finery. The charm of her return to grace was a never-ending
surprise. Wilbur Edes loved his wife more comfortably than he loved
his children. He loved them a little uneasily. They were unknown
elements to him, and he sometimes wished that he had more time at
home, to get them firmly fixed in his comprehension. Without the
slightest condemnation of his wife, he had never regarded her as a
woman in whom the maternal was a distinguishing feature. He saw with
approbation the charming externals with which she surrounded their
offspring. It was a gratification to him to be quite sure that
Maida's hair ribbon would always be fresh and tied perkily, and that
Adelaide would be full of dainty little gestures copied from her
mother, but he had some doubts as to whether his wonderful Margaret
might not be too perfect in herself, and too engrossed with the
duties pertaining to perfection to be quite the proper manager of
imperfection and immaturity represented by childhood.

"How did you leave the children!" he inquired when they were in their
bedroom at the hotel, and he was fitting the yellow satin slippers to
his wife's slender silk shod feet.

"The children were as well as usual. I told Emma to put them to bed.
Do you think the orchids in the dining-room are the right shade,
Wilbur?"

"I am quite sure. I am glad that you told Emma to put them to bed."

"I always do. Mrs. George B. Slade is most unpleasantly puffed up."

"Why?"

"Oh, because she got Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder to speak to the club."

"Did she do her stunt well?"

"Well enough. Mrs. Slade was so pleased, it was really offensive."

Wilbur Edes had an inspiration. "The Fay-Wymans," said he (the
Fay-Wymans were the principal guests of their dinner party), "know a
lot of theatrical people. I will see if I can't get them to induce
somebody, say Lydia Greenway, to run out some day; I suppose it would
have to be later on, just after the season, and do a stunt at the
club."

"Oh, that would be simply charming," cried Margaret, "and I would
rather have it in the spring, because everything looks so much
prettier. But don't you think it will be impossible, Wilbur?"

"Not with money as an inducement."  Wilbur had the pleasant
consciousness of an unusually large fee which was sure to be his own
before that future club meeting, and he could see no better
employment for it than to enable his adored wife to outshine Mrs.
George B. Slade. When in New York engaged in his profession, Wilbur
Edes was entirely free from the vortex of Fairbridge, but his wife,
with its terrible eddies still agitating her garments, could suck him
therein, even in the great city. He was very susceptible to her
influence.

Margaret Edes beamed at her husband as he rose. "That will make
Marion Slade furious," she said. She extended her feet. "Pretty
slippers, aren't they, Wilbur?"

"Charming, my dear."

Margaret was so pleased that she tried to do something very amiable.

"That was funny, I mean what you said about the Syrian girl at the
Dominie's," she volunteered, and laughed, without making a crease in
her fair little face. She was really adorable, far more than pretty,
leaning back with one slender, yellow-draped leg crossed over the
other, revealing the glittering slippers and one silken ankle.

"It does sound somewhat queer, a Syrian girl fainting in the
Dominie's house," said Wilbur. "She could not have found a house
where her sex, of any nationality, are in less repute."

"Then you don't think that Alice Mendon--?"  There was a faint note
of jealousy in Margaret's voice, although she herself had not the
slightest interest in Dominie von Rosen or any man, except her
husband; and in him only because he was her husband. As the husband
of her wonderful self, he acquired a certain claim to respect, even
affection, such as she had to bestow.

"I don't think Alice Mendon would take up with the Dominie, if he
would with her," responded Wilbur Edes hastily. Margaret did not
understand his way of speaking, but just then she looked at herself
in an opposite mirror, and pulled down one side of her blond
pompadour a bit, which softened her face, and added to its
allurement. The truth was Wilbur Edes, before he met Margaret, had
proposed to Alice Mendon. Alice had never told, and he had not,
consequently Margaret did not know. Had she known it would have made
no difference, since she could not imagine any man preferring Alice
to herself. All her jealousy was based upon the facts of her superior
height, and ability to carry herself well, where she knew herself
under many circumstances about as graceful as an Angora cat walking
upon her hind legs. She was absolutely sure of her husband. The
episode with Alice had occurred before he had ever even seen Herself.
She smiled radiantly upon him as she arose. She was conscious of no
affection for her husband, but she was conscious of a desire to show
appreciation, and to display radiance for his delectation.

"It is charming of you to think of getting Lydia Greenway to read,
you dear old man," said she. Wilbur beamed.

"Well, of course, I can not be sure, that is not absolutely sure, but
if it is to be done, I will manage it," said he.

It was at this very time, for radically different notes sound at the
same time in the harmony or discord of life, that Von Rosen's
housekeeper, Jane Riggs, stood before him with that crackling white
apron swept over her face.

"What is it?" asked Von Rosen, and he realised that his lips were
stiff, and his voice sounded strange.

A strange harsh sob came from behind the apron. "She was all bent to
one side with that heavy suit case, as heavy as lead, for I hefted
it," said Jane Riggs, "and she couldn't have been more than fifteen.
Them outlandish girls get married awful young."

"What is it?"

"And there was poor Jack lickin' her hands, and him a dog everybody
is so scared of, and she a sinkin' down in a heap on my kitchen
floor."

"What is it?"

"She has passed away," answered Jane Riggs, "and--the baby is a boy,
and no bigger than the cat, not near as big as the cat when I come to
look at him, and I put some of my old flannels and my shimmy on him,
and Doctor Sturtevant has got him in my darning basket, all lined
with newspapers, the New York _Sun_, and the _Times_ and hot water
bottles, and it's all happened in the best chamber, and I call it
pretty goings on."

Jane Riggs gave vent to discordant sobs. Her apron crackled. Von
Rosen took hold of her shoulders. "Go straight back up there," he
ordered.

"Why couldn't she have gone in and fainted away somewhere where there
was more women than one," said Jane Riggs. "Doctor Sturtevant, he
sent me down for more newspapers."

"Take these, and go back at once," said Von Rosen, and he gathered up
the night papers in a crumpled heap and thrust them upon the woman.

"He said you had better telephone for Mrs. Bestwick," said Jane. Mrs.
Bestwick was the resident nurse of Fairbridge. Von Rosen sprang to
the telephone, but he could get no response whatever from the Central
office, probably on account of the ice-coated wires.

He sat down disconsolately, and the cat leapt upon his knees, but he
pushed him away impatiently, to be surveyed in consequence by those
topaz eyes with a regal effect of injury, and astonishment. Von Rosen
listened. He wondered if he heard, or imagined that he heard, a
plaintive little wail. The dog snuggled close to him, and he felt a
warm tongue lap. Von Rosen patted the dog's head. Here was sympathy.
The cat's leap into his lap had been purely selfish. Von Rosen
listened. He got up, and tried to telephone again, but got no
response from Central. He hung up the receiver emphatically and sat
down again. The dog again came close, and he patted the humble loving
head. Von Rosen listened again, and again could not be sure whether
he actually heard or imagined that he heard, the feeblest, most
helpless cry ever lifted up from this earth, that of a miserable new
born baby with its uncertain future reaching before it and all the
sins of its ancestors upon its devoted head.

When at last the door opened and Doctor Sturtevant entered, he was
certain. That poor little atom of humanity upstairs was lifting up
its voice of feeble rage and woe because of its entrance into
existence. Sturtevant had an oddly apologetic look. "I assure you I
am sorry, my dear fellow--" he began.

"Is the poor little beggar going to live?" asked Von Rosen.

"Well, yes, I think so, judging from the present outlook," replied
the doctor still apologetically.

"I could not get Mrs. Bestwick," said Von Rosen anxiously. "I think
the telephone is out of commission, on account of the ice."

"Never mind that. Your housekeeper is a jewel, and I will get Mrs.
Bestwick on my way home. I say, Von Rosen--"

Von Rosen looked at him inquiringly.

"Oh, well, never mind; I really must be off now," said the doctor
hurriedly. "I will get Mrs. Bestwick here as soon as possible. I
think--the child will have to be kept here for a short time anyway,
considering the weather, and everything."

"Why, of course," said Von Rosen.

After the doctor had gone, he went out in the kitchen. He had had no
dinner. Jane Riggs, who had very acute hearing, came to the head of
the stairs, and spoke in a muffled tone, muffled as Von Rosen knew
because of the presence of death and life in the house. "The roast is
in the oven, Mr. von Rosen," said she, "I certainly hope it isn't too
dry, and the soup is in the kettle, and the vegetables are all ready
to dish up. Everything is ready except the coffee."

"You know I can make that," called Von Rosen in alarm. "Don't think
of coming down."

Von Rosen could make very good coffee. It was an accomplishment of
his college days. He made some now. He felt the need of it. Then he
handily served the very excellent dinner, and sat down at his
solitary dining table. As he ate his soup, he glanced across the
table, and a blush like that of a girl overspread his dark face. He
had a vision of a high chair, and a child installed therein with the
customary bib and spoon. It was a singular circumstance, but
everything in life moves in sequences, and that poor Syrian child
upstairs, in her dire extremity, was furnishing a sequence in the
young man's life, before she went out of it. Her stimulation of his
sympathy and imagination was to change the whole course of his
existence.

Meanwhile, Doctor Sturtevant was having a rather strenuous argument
with his wife, who for once stood against him. She had her
not-to-be-silenced personal note. She had a horror of the alien and
unusual. All her life she had walked her chalk-line, and anything
outside savoured of the mysterious, and terrible. She was
Anglo-Saxon. She was what her ancestresses had been for generations.
The strain was unchanged, and had become so tense and narrow that it
was almost fathomless. Mrs. Sturtevant, good and benevolent on her
chalk-line, was involuntarily a bigot. She looked at Chinese laundry
men, poor little yellow figures, shuffling about with bags of soiled
linen, with thrills of recoil. She would not have acknowledged it to
herself, for she came of a race which favoured abolition, but nothing
could have induced her to have a coloured girl in her kitchen. Her
imaginations and prejudices were stained as white as her skin. There
was a lone man living on the outskirts of Fairbridge, in a little
shack built by himself in the woods, who was said to have Indian
blood in his veins, and Mrs. Sturtevant never saw him without that
awful thrill of recoil. When the little Orientals, men or women,
swayed sidewise and bent with their cheap suitcases filled with
Eastern handiwork, came to the door, she did not draw a long breath
until she had watched them out of sight down the street. It made no
difference to her that they might be Christians, that they might have
suffered persecution in their own land and sought our doorless
entrances of hospitality; she still realised her own aloofness from
them, or rather theirs from her. They had entered existence entirely
outside her chalk-line. She and they walked on parallels which to all
eternity could never meet.

It therefore came to pass that, although she had in the secret depths
of her being bemoaned her childlessness, and had been conscious of
yearnings and longings which were agonies, when Doctor Sturtevant,
after the poor young unknown mother had been laid away in the
Fairbridge cemetery, proposed that they should adopt the bereft
little one, she rebelled.

"If he were a white baby, I wouldn't object that I know of," said
she, "but I can't have this kind. I can't make up my mind to it,
Edward."

"But, Maria, the child is white. He may not be European, but he is
white. That is, while of course he has a dark complexion and dark
eyes and hair, he is as white, in a way, as any child in Fairbridge,
and he will be a beautiful boy. Moreover, we have every reason to
believe that he was born in wedlock. There was a ring on a poor
string of a ribbon on the mother's neck, and there was a fragment of
a letter which Von Rosen managed to make out. He thinks that the poor
child was married to another child of her own race. The boy is all
right and he will be a fine little fellow."

"It is of no use," said Maria Sturtevant. "I can't make up my mind to
adopt a baby, that belonged to that kind of people. I simply can not,
Edward."

Sturtevant gave up the matter for the time being. The baby remained
at Von Rosen's under the care of Mrs. Bestwick, and Jane Riggs, but
when it was a month old, the doctor persuaded his wife to go over and
see it. Maria Sturtevant gazed at the tiny scrap of humanity curled
up in Jane Riggs' darning basket, the old-young face creased as
softly as a rosebud, with none of its beauty, but with a compelling
charm. She watched the weak motion of the infinitesimal legs and arms
beneath the soft smother of wrappings, and her heart pained her with
longing, but she remained firm.

"It is no use, Edward," she said, when they had returned to Von
Rosen's study. "I can't make up my mind to adopt a baby coming from
such queer people."  Then she was confronted by a stare of blank
astonishment from Von Rosen, and also from Jane Riggs.

Jane Riggs spoke with open hostility. "I don't know that anybody has
asked anybody to adopt our baby," said she.

Von Rosen laughed, but he also blushed. He spoke rather stammeringly.
"Well, Sturtevant," said he, "the fact is, Jane and I have talked it
over, and she thinks she can manage, and he seems a bright little
chap, and--I have about made up my mind to keep him myself."

"He is going to be baptised as soon as he is big enough to be taken
out of my darning basket," said Jane Riggs with defiance, but Mrs.
Sturtevant regarded her with relief.

"I dare say he will be a real comfort to you," she said, "even if he
does come from such queer stock."  Her husband looked at Von Rosen
and whistled under his breath.

"People will talk," he said aside.

"Let them," returned Von Rosen. He was experiencing a strange new joy
of possession, which no possibility of ridicule could daunt. However,
his joy was of short duration. The baby was a little over three
months old, and had been promoted to a crib, and a perambulator, had
been the unconscious recipient of many gifts from the women of Von
Rosen's parish, and of many calls from admiring little girls. Jane
had scented the danger. She came home from marketing one morning,
quite pale, and could hardly speak when she entered Von Rosen's
study.

"There's an outlandish young man around here," said she, "and you had
better keep that baby close."

Von Rosen laughed. "Those people are always about," he said. "You
have no reason to be nervous, Jane. There is hardly a chance he has
anything to do with the baby, and in any case, he would not be likely
to burden himself with the care of it."

"Don't you be too sure," said Jane stoutly, "a baby like that!"

Jane, much against her wishes, was obliged to go out that afternoon,
and Von Rosen was left alone with the baby with the exception of a
little nurse girl who had taken the place of Mrs. Bestwick. Then it
was that the Syrian man, he was no more than a boy, came. Von Rosen
did not at first suspect. The Syrian spoke very good English, and he
was a Christian. So he told Von Rosen. Then he also told him that the
dead girl had been his wife, and produced letters signed with the
name which those in her possession had borne. Von Rosen was
convinced. There was something about the boy with his haughty, almost
sullen, oriental manner which bore the stamp of truth. However, when
he demanded only the suit-case which his dead wife had brought when
she came to the house, Von Rosen was relieved. He produced it at
once, and his wonder and disgust mounted to fever heat, when that
Eastern boy proceeded to take out carefully the gauds of feminine
handiwork which it contained, and press them upon Von Rosen at
exorbitant prices. Von Rosen was more incensed than he often
permitted himself to be. He ordered the boy from the house, and he
departed with strong oaths, and veiled and intricate threats after
the manner of his subtle race, and when Jane Riggs came home, Von
Rosen told her.

"I firmly believe the young rascal was that poor girl's husband, and
the boy's father," he said.

"Didn't he ask to have the baby?"

"Never mentioned such a thing. All he wanted was the article of value
which the poor girl left here."

Jane Riggs also looked relieved. "Outlandish people are queer," she
said.

But the next morning she rushed into Von Rosen's room when he had
barely finished dressing, sobbing aloud like a child, her face
rigidly convulsed with grief, and her hands waving frantically with
no effort to conceal it.



Chapter IV


The little Syrian baby had disappeared. Nobody had reckoned with the
soft guile of a race as supple and silent as to their real intentions
as cats. There was a verandah column wound with a massive wistaria
vine near the window of the baby's room. The little nurse girl went
home every night, and Jane Riggs was a heavy sleeper. When she had
awakened, her first glance had been into the baby's crib. Then she
sprang, and searched with hungry hands. The little softly indented
nest was not warm, the child had been gone for some hours, probably
had been taken during the first and soundest sleep of the household.
Jane's purse, and her gold breast pin, had incidentally been taken
also. When she gave the alarm to Von Rosen, a sullen, handsome Syrian
boy was trudging upon an unfrequented road, which led circuitously to
the City, and he carried a suit-case, but it was held apart, by some
of the Eastern embroideries used as wedges, before strapping, and
from that came the querulous wail of a baby squirming uncomfortably
upon drawn work centre pieces, and crepe kimonas. Now and then the
boy stopped and spoke to the baby in a lovely gentle voice. He
promised it food, and shelter soon in his own soft tongue. He was
carrying it to his wife's mother, and sullen as he looked and was,
and thief as he was, love for his own swayed him, and made him
determined to hold it fast. Von Rosen made all possible inquiries. He
employed detectives but he never obtained the least clue to the
whereabouts of the little child. He, however, although he grieved
absurdly, almost as absurdly as Jane, had a curious sense of joy over
the whole. Life in Fairbridge had, before birth and death entered his
home, been so monotonous, that he was almost stupefied. Here was a
thread of vital gold and flame, although it had brought pain with it.
When Doctor Sturtevant condoled with him, he met with an unexpected
response. "I feel for you, old man. It was a mighty unfortunate thing
that it happened in your house, now that this has come of it," he
said.

"I am very glad it happened, whatever came of it," said Von Rosen.
"It is something to have had in my life. I wouldn't have missed it."

Fairbridge people, who were on the whole a good-natured set, were
very sympathetic, especially the women. Bessy Dicky shed tears when
talking to Mrs. Sturtevant about the disappearance of the baby. Mrs.
Sturtevant was not very responsive.

"It may be all for the best," she said. "Nobody can tell how that
child would have turned out. He might have ended by killing Mr. von
Rosen."  Then she added with a sigh that she hoped his poor mother
had been married.

"Why, of course she was since there was a baby," said Bessy Dicky.
Then she rose hastily with a blush because Doctor Sturtevant's motor
could be heard, and took her leave.

Doctor Sturtevant had just returned from a call upon Margaret Edes,
who had experienced a very severe disappointment, coming as it did
after another very successful meeting of the Zenith Club at Daisy
Shaw's, who had most unexpectedly provided a second cousin who
recited monologues wonderfully. Wilbur had failed in his attempt to
secure Lydia Greenway for Margaret's star-feature. The actress had
promised, but had been suddenly attacked with a very severe cold
which had obliged her to sail for Europe a week earlier than she had
planned. Margaret had been quite ill, but Doctor Sturtevant gave her
pain pellets with the result that late in the afternoon she sat on
her verandah in a fluffy white tea gown, and then it was that little
Annie Eustace came across the street, and sat with her. Annie was not
little. Although slender, she was, in fact, quite tall and wide
shouldered and there was something about her which seemed to justify
the use of the diminutive adjective. Possibly it was her face, which
was really small and very pretty, with perfect cameo-like features
and an odd, deprecating, almost painfully humble expression. It was
the face of a creature entirely capable of asking an enemy's pardon
for an injury inflicted upon herself. In reality, Annie Eustace had
very much that attitude of soul. She always considered the wrong as
her natural place, and, in fact, would not have been comfortable
elsewhere, although she suffered there. And yet, little Annie Eustace
was a gifted creature. There was probably not a person in Fairbridge
who had been so well endowed by nature, but her environment and
up-bringing had been unfortunate. If Annie's mother had lived, the
daughter might have had more spirit, but she had died when Annie was
a baby, and the child had been given over to the tyranny of two
aunts, and a grandmother. As for her father, he had never married
again, but he had never paid much attention to her. He had been a
reserved, silent man, himself under the sway of his mother and
sisters. Charles Eustace had had an obsession to the effect that the
skies of his own individual sphere would fall to his and his child's
destruction, if his female relatives deserted him, and that they had
threatened to do, upon the slightest sign of revolt. Sometimes
Annie's father had regarded her wistfully and wondered within himself
if it were quite right for a child to be so entirely governed, but
his own spirit of yielding made it impossible for him to realise the
situation. Obedience had been little Annie Eustace's first lesson
taught by the trio, who to her represented all government, in her
individual case.

Annie Eustace obeyed her aunts, and grandmother (her father had been
dead for several years), but she loved only three,--two were women,
Margaret Edes and Alice Mendon; the other was a man, and the love was
not confessed to her own heart.

This afternoon Annie wore an ugly green gown, which was, moreover,
badly cut. The sleeves were too long below the elbow, and too short
above, and every time she moved an arm they hitched uncomfortably.
The neck arrangement was exceedingly unbecoming, and the skirt not
well hung. The green was of the particular shade which made her look
yellow. As she sat beside Margaret and embroidered assiduously, and
very unskilfully, some daisies on a linen centre-piece, the other
woman eyed her critically.

"You should not wear that shade of green, if you will excuse my
saying so, dear," she remarked presently.

Annie regarded her with a charming, loving smile. She would have
excused her idol for saying anything. "I know it is not very
becoming," she agreed sweetly.

"Becoming," said Margaret a trifle viciously. She was so out of sorts
about her failure to secure Lydia Greenway that she felt a great
relief in attacking little Annie Eustace.

"Becoming," said she. "It actually makes you hideous. That shade is
impossible for you and why,--I trust you will not be offended, you
know it is for your own good, dear,--why do you wear your hair in
that fashion?"

"I am afraid it is not very becoming," said Annie with the meekness
of those who inherit the earth. She did not state that her aunt
Harriet had insisted that she dress her hair in that fashion. Annie
was intensely loyal.

"Nobody," said Margaret, "unless she were as beautiful as Helen of
Troy, should wear her hair that way, and not look a fright."

Annie Eustace blushed, but it was not a distressed blush. When one
has been downtrodden one's whole life, one becomes accustomed to it,
and besides she loved the down-treader.

"Yes," said she. "I looked at myself in my glass just before I came
and I thought I did not look well."

"Hideous," said Margaret.

Annie smiled agreement and looked pretty, despite the fact that her
hair was strained tightly back, showing too much of her intellectual
forehead, and the colour of her gown killed all the pink bloom lights
in her face. Annie Eustace had a beautiful soul and it showed forth
triumphant over all bodily accessories, in her smile.

"You are not doing that embroidery at all well," said Margaret.

Annie laughed. "I know it," she said with a sort of meek amusement.
"I don't think I ever can master long and short stitch."

"Why on earth do you attempt it then?"

"Everybody embroiders," replied Annie. She did not state that her
grandmother had made taking the embroidery a condition of her call
upon her friend.

Margaret continued to regard her. She was finding a species of salve
for her own disappointment in this irritant applied to another. "What
does make you wear that hair ring?" said she.

"It was a present," replied Annie humbly, but she for the first time
looked a little disturbed. That mourning emblem with her father's and
mother's, and a departed sister's hair in a neat little twist under a
small crystal, grated upon her incessantly. It struck her as a
species of ghastly sentiment, which at once distressed, and impelled
her to hysterical mirth.

"A present," repeated Margaret. "If anybody gave me such a present as
that, I would never wear it. It is simply in shocking bad taste."

"I sometimes fear so," said Annie. She did not state that her Aunt
Jane never allowed her to be seen in public without that dismal
adornment.

"You are a queer girl," said Margaret, and she summed up all her mood
of petty cruelty and vicarious revenge in that one word "queer."

However, little Annie Eustace only smiled as if she had been given a
peculiarly acceptable present. She was so used to being underrated,
that she had become in a measure immune to criticism, and besides
criticism from her adored Mrs. Edes was even a favour. She took
another bungling stitch in the petal of a white floss daisy.

Margaret felt suddenly irritated. All this was too much like raining
fierce blows upon a down pillow.

"Do, for goodness sake, Annie Eustace, stop doing that awful
embroidery if you don't want to drive me crazy," said she.

Then Annie looked at Margaret, and she was obviously distressed and
puzzled. Her grandmother had enjoined it upon her to finish just so
many of these trying daisies before her return and yet, on the other
hand, here was Margaret, her adorable Margaret, forbidding her to
work, and, moreover, Margaret in such an irritable mood, with that
smooth brow of hers frowning, and that sweet voice, which usually had
a lazy trickle like honey, fairly rasping, was as awe-inspiring as
her grandmother. Annie Eustace hesitated for a second. Her
grandmother had commanded. Margaret Edes had commanded. The strongest
impulse of her whole being was obedience, but she loved Margaret, and
she did not love her grandmother. She had never confessed such a
horror to herself, but one does not love another human being whose
main aim toward one is to compress, to stiffen, to make move in a
step with itself. Annie folded up the untidy embroidery. As she did
so, she dropped her needle and also her thimble. The needle lay
glittering beside her chair, the thimble rolled noiselessly over the
trailing fold of her muslin gown into the folds of Margaret's white
silk. Margaret felt an odd delight in that. Annie was careless, and
she was dainty, and she was conscious of a little pleasurable
preening of her own soul-plumage.

Margaret said nothing about the thimble and needle. Annie sat
regarding her with a sort of expectation, and the somewhat mussy
little parcel of linen lay in her lap. Annie folded over it her very
slender hands, and the horrible hair ring was in full evidence.

Margaret fixed her eyes upon it. Annie quickly placed the hand which
wore it under the other. Then she spoke, since Margaret did not, and
she said exactly the wrong thing. The being forced continually into
the wrong, often has the effect of making one quite innocently take
the first step in that direction even if no force be used.

"I hear that the last meeting of the Zenith Club was unusually
interesting," said little Annie Eustace, and she could have said
nothing more hapless to Margaret Edes in her present mood. Quite
inadvertently, she herself became the irritant party. Margaret
actually flushed. "I failed to see anything interesting whatever
about it, myself," said she tartly.

Annie offended again. "I heard that Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder's address
was really very remarkable," said she.

"It was simply a very stupid effort to be funny," returned Margaret.
"Sometimes women will laugh because they are expected to, and they
did that afternoon. Everything was simply cut and dried. It always is
at Mrs. George B. Slade's. I never knew a woman so absolutely
destitute of originality."

Annie looked helplessly at Margaret. She could say no more unless she
contradicted. Margaret continued. She felt that she could no longer
conceal her own annoyance, and she was glad of this adoring audience
of one.

"I had planned something myself for the next meeting, something which
has never been done," said she, "something new, and stimulating."

"Oh, how lovely!" cried Annie.

"But of course, like all really clever plans for the real good and
progress of a club like ours, something has to come up to prevent,"
said Margaret.

"Oh, what?"

"Well, I had planned to have Lydia Greenway, you know she is really a
great artist, come to the next meeting and give dramatic
recitations."

"Oh, would she?" gasped Annie Eustace.

"Of course, it would have meant a large pecuniary outlay," said
Margaret, "but I was prepared, quite prepared, to make some
sacrifices for the good of the club, but, why, you must have read it
in the papers, Annie."

Annie looked guiltily ignorant.

"I really do not see how you contrive to exist without keeping more
in touch with the current events," said Margaret.

Annie looked meekly culpable, although she was not. Her aunts did not
approve of newspapers, as containing so much information, so much
cheap information concerning the evil in the world, especially for a
young person like Annie, and she was not allowed to read them,
although she sometimes did so surreptitiously.

"It was in all the papers," continued Margaret, with her censorious
air. "Lydia Greenway was obliged to leave unexpectedly and go to the
Riveria. They fear tuberculosis. She sailed last Saturday."

"I am so sorry," said Annie. Then she proceeded to elaborate her
statement in exactly the wrong way. She said how very dreadful it
would be if such a talented young actress should fall a victim of
such a terrible disease, and what a loss she would be to the public,
whereas all that Margaret Edes thought should be at all considered by
any true friend of her own was her own particular loss.

"For once the Zenith Club would have had a meeting calculated to take
Fairbridge women out of their rut in which people like Mrs. Slade and
Mrs. Sturtevant seem determined to keep them," returned Margaret
testily. Annie stared at her. Margaret often said that it was the
first rule of her life never to speak ill of any one, and she kept
the letter of it as a rule.

"I am so sorry," said Annie. Then she added with more tact. "It would
have been such a wonderful thing for us all to have had Lydia
Greenway give dramatic recitals to us. Oh, Margaret, I can understand
how much it would have meant."

"It would have meant progress," said Margaret. She looked imperiously
lovely, as she sat there all frilled about with white lace and silk
with the leaf-shadows playing over the slender whiteness. She lifted
one little hand tragically. "Progress," she repeated. "Progress
beyond Mrs. George B. Slade's and Mrs. Sturtevant's and Miss Bessy
Dicky's, and that is precisely what we need."

Annie Eustace gazed wistfully upon her friend. "Yes," she agreed,
"you are quite right, Margaret. Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Sturtevant and
poor Bessy Dicky and all the other members are very good, and we
think highly of them, but I too feel that we all travel in a rut
sometimes. Perhaps we all walk too much the same way."  Then suddenly
Annie burst into a peal of laughter. She had a sense of humour which
was startling. It was the one thing which environment had not been
able to subdue, or even produce the effect of submission. Annie
Eustace was easily amused. She had a scent for the humorous like a
hound's for game, and her laugh was irrepressible.

"What on earth are you laughing at now?" inquired Margaret Edes
irritably.

"I was thinking," Annie replied chokingly, "of some queer long-legged
birds I saw once in a cage in a park. I really don't know whether
they were ibises or cranes, or survivals of species, but anyway, the
little long-legged ones all walked just the same way in a file behind
a tall long-legged one, who walked precisely in the same way, and all
of a sudden, I seemed to see us all like that. Only you are not in
the least like that tall, long-legged bird, Margaret, and you are the
president of the Zenith Club."

Margaret surveyed Annie with cool displeasure. "I," said she, "see
nothing whatever to laugh at in the Zenith Club, if you do."

"Oh, Margaret, I don't!" cried Annie.

"To my mind, the Zenith Club is the one institution in this little
place which tends to advancement and mental improvement."

"Oh, Margaret, I think so too, you know I do," said Annie in a
shocked voice. "And my heart was almost broken because I had to miss
that last meeting on account of grandmother's having such a severe
cold."

"The last meeting was not very much to miss," said Margaret, for
Annie had again said the wrong thing.

Annie, however, went on eagerly and unconsciously. She was only aware
that she was being accused of disloyalty, or worse, of actually
poking fun, when something toward which she felt the utmost respect
and love and admiration was concerned.

"Margaret, you know," she cried, "you know how I feel toward the
Zenith Club. You must know what it means to me. It really does take
me out of my little narrow place in life as nothing else does. I
cannot tell you what an inspiration it really is to me. Oh, Margaret,
you know!"

Margaret nodded in stiff assent. As a matter of fact, she _did_ know.
The Zenith Club of Fairbridge did mean very much, very much indeed,
to little Annie Eustace. Nowhere else did she meet _en masse_ others
of her kind. She did not even go to church for the reason that her
grandmother did not believe in church going at all and wished her to
remain with her. One aunt was Dutch Reformed and the other Baptist;
and neither ever missed a service. Annie remained at home Sundays,
and read aloud to her grandmother, and when both aunts were in the
midst of their respective services, and the cook, who was intensely
religious, engaged in preparing dinner, she and her old grandmother
played pinocle. However, although Annie played cards very well, it
was only with her relatives. She had never been allowed to join the
Fairbridge Card Club. She never attended a play in the city, because
Aunt Jane considered plays wicked. It was in reality doubtful if she
would have been permitted to listen to Lydia Greenway, had that
person been available. Annie's sole large recreation was the Zenith
Club, and it meant, as she had said, much to her. It was to the
stifled young heart as a great wind of stimulus which was for the
strengthening of her soul. Whatever the Zenith Club of Fairbridge was
to others, it was very much worth while for little Annie Eustace. She
wrote papers for it, which were astonishing, although her hearers
dimly appreciated the fact, not because of dulness, but because
little Annie had written them, and it seemed incredible to Fairbridge
women that little Annie Eustace whom they had always known, and whose
grandmother and aunts they knew, could possibly write anything
remarkable. It was only Alice Mendon who listened with a frown of
wonder, and intent eyes upon the reader. When she came home upon one
occasion, she remarked to her aunt, Eliza Mendon, and her cousin,
Lucy Mendon, that she had been impressed by Annie Eustace's paper,
but both women only stared and murmured assent. The cousin was very
much older than Alice, and both she and her mother were of a placid,
reflective type. They got on very well with Alice, but sometimes she
had a queer weariness from always seeing herself and her own ideas in
them instead of their own. And she was not in the least dictatorial.
She would have preferred open, antagonistic originality, but she got
a surfeit of clear, mirror-like peace.

She was quite sure that they would quote her opinion of Annie
Eustace's paper, but that did not please her. Later on she spoke to
Annie herself about it. "Haven't you something else written that you
can show me?"  She had even suggested the possibility, the
desirability, of Annie's taking up a literary career, but she had
found the girl very evasive, even secretive, and had never broached
the subject again.

As for Margaret Edes, she had never fairly listened to anything which
anybody except herself had written, unless it had afforded matter for
discussion, and the display of her own brilliancy. Annie's
productions were so modestly conclusive as to apparently afford no
standing ground for argument. In her heart, Margaret regarded them as
she regarded Annie's personality, with a contempt so indifferent that
it was hardly contempt.

She proceeded exactly as if Annie had not made such a fervent
disclaimer. "The Zenith Club is the one and only thing which lifts
Fairbridge, and the women of Fairbridge, above the common herd," said
she majestically.

"Don't I know it? Oh, Margaret, don't I know it," cried the other
with such feverish energy that Margaret regarded her wonderingly. For
all her exploiting of the Zenith Club of Fairbridge, she herself,
unless she were the main figure at the helm, could realise nothing in
it so exceedingly inspiring, but it was otherwise with Annie. It was
quite conceivable that had it not been for the Zenith Club, she never
would have grown to her full mental height. Annie Eustace had a mind
of the sequential order. By subtle processes, unanalysable even by
herself, even the record of Miss Bessy Dicky started this mind upon
momentous trains of thought. Unquestionably the Zenith Club acted as
a fulminate for little Annie Eustace. To others it might seem, during
some of the sessions, as a pathetic attempt of village women to raise
themselves upon tiptoes enough to peer over their centuries of weedy
feminine growth; an attempt which was as futile, and even ridiculous,
as an attempt of a cow to fly. But the Zenith Club justified its
existence nobly in the result of little Annie Eustace, if in no
other, and it, no doubt, justified itself in others. Who can say what
that weekly gathering meant to women who otherwise would not move
outside their little treadmill of household labour, what uplifting,
if seemingly futile grasps at the great outside of life? Let no one
underrate the Women's Club until the years have proven its
uselessness.

"I am so sorry about Lydia Greenway," said Annie, and this time she
did not irritate Margaret.

"It does seem as if one were simply doomed to failure every time one
really made an effort to raise standards," said Margaret.

Then it was that Annie all unconsciously sowed a seed which led to
strange, and rather terrifying results. "It would be nice," said
little Annie, "if we could get Miss Martha Wallingford to read a
selection from _Hearts Astray_ at a meeting of the club. I read a few
nights ago, in a paper I happened to pick up at Alice's, that she was
staying in New York at the Hollingsgate. Her publishers were to give
her a dinner last night, I believe."

Margaret Edes started. "I had not seen that," she said. Then she
added in a queer brooding fashion, "That book of hers had an enormous
sale. I suppose her publishers feel that they owe it to her to give
her a good time in New York. Then, too, it will advertise _Hearts
Astray_."

"Did you like the book?" asked Annie rather irrelevantly. Margaret
did not reply. She was thinking intently. "It would be a great
feature for the club if we could induce her to give a reading," she
said at length.

"I don't suppose it would be possible," replied Annie. "You know they
say she never does such things, and is very retiring. I read in the
papers that she was, and that she refused even to speak a few words
at the dinner given in her honour."

"We might ask her," said Margaret.

"I am sure that she would not come. The paper stated that she had had
many invitations to Women's Clubs and had refused. I don't think she
ought because she might be such a help to other women."

Margaret said nothing. She leaned back, and, for once, her face was
actually contracted with thought to the possible detriment of its
smooth beauty.

A clock in the house struck, and at the same time Maida and Adelaide
raced up the steps, followed by gleeful calls from two little boys on
the sidewalk.

"Where have you been?" asked Margaret. Then she said without waiting
for a reply, "If Martha Wallingford would come, I should prefer that
to Lydia Greenway."

Maida and Adelaide, flushed and panting, and both with mouths full of
candy, glanced at their mother, then Maida chased Adelaide into the
house, their blue skirts flitting out of sight like blue butterfly
wings.

Annie Eustace rose. She had noticed that neither Maida nor Adelaide
had greeted her, and thought them rude. She herself had been most
carefully trained concerning manners of incoming and outgoing. She,
however, did not care. She had no especial love for children unless
they were small and appealing because of helplessness.

"I must go," she said. "It is six o'clock, supper will be ready."
She glanced rather apprehensively as she spoke at the large white
house, not two minutes' walk distant across the street.

"How very delightful it is to be as punctual as your people are,"
said Margaret. "Good-bye, Annie."  She spoke abstractedly, and Annie
felt a little hurt. She loved Margaret, and she missed her full
attention when she left her. She passed down the walk between
Margaret's beautifully kept Japanese trees, and gained the sidewalk.
Then a sudden recollection filled her with dismay. She had promised
her grandmother to go to the post-office before returning. An
important business letter was expected. Annie swept the soft tail of
her muslin into a little crushed ball, and ran, her slender legs
showing like those of a young bird beneath its fluff of plumage. She
realized the necessity of speed, of great speed, for the post-office
was a quarter of a mile away, and the Eustace family supped at five
minutes past six, with terrible and relentless regularity. Why it
should have been five minutes past instead of upon the stroke of the
hour, Annie had never known, but so it was. It was as great an
offence to be a minute too early as a minute too late at the Eustace
house, and many a maid had been discharged for that offence, her plea
that the omelet was cooked and would fall if the meal be delayed,
being disregarded. Poor Annie felt that she must hasten. She could
not be dismissed like the maid, but something equally to be dreaded
would happen, were she to present herself half a minute behind time
in the dining-room. There they would be seated, her grandmother,
her Aunt Harriet, and her Aunt Jane. Aunt Harriet behind the silver
tea service; Aunt Jane behind the cut glass bowl of preserves; her
grandmother behind the silver butter dish, and on the table would be
the hot biscuits cooling, the omelet falling, the tea drawing too
long and all because of her. There was tremendous etiquette in the
Eustace family. Not a cup of tea would Aunt Harriet pour, not a spoon
would Aunt Jane dip into the preserves, not a butter ball would her
grandmother impale upon the little silver fork. And poor Hannah, the
maid, white aproned and capped, would stand behind Aunt Harriet like
a miserable conscious graven image. Therefore Annie ran, and ran, and
it happened that she ran rather heedlessly and blindly and dropped
her mussy little package of fancy work, and Karl von Rosen, coming
out of the parsonage, saw it fall and picked it up rather gingerly,
and called as loudly as was decorous after the flying figure, but
Annie did not hear and Von Rosen did not want to shout, neither did
he want, or rather think it advisable, to run, therefore he followed
holding the linen package well away from him, as if it were a
disagreeable insect. He had never seen much of Annie Eustace. Now
and then he called upon one of her aunts, who avowed her preference
for his religious denomination, but if he saw Annie at all, she
was seated engaged upon some such doubtfully ornamental or useful
task, as the specimen which he now carried. Truth to say, he
had scarcely noticed Annie Eustace at all. She had produced the
effect of shrinking from observation under some subtle shadow of
self-effacement. She was in reality a very rose of a girl, loving and
sweet, and withal wonderfully endowed; but this human rose, dwelt
always for Karl von Rosen, in the densest of bowers through which her
beauty and fragrance of character could not penetrate his senses.
Undoubtedly also, although his masculine intelligence would have
scouted the possibility of such a thing, Annie's dull, ill-made garb
served to isolate her. She also never came to church. That perfect
little face with its expression of strange insight, must have aroused
his attention among his audience. But there was only the Aunt Harriet
Eustace, an exceedingly thin lady, present and always attired in rich
blacks. Karl von Rosen to-day walking as rapidly as became his
dignity, in pursuit of the young woman, was aware that he hardly felt
at liberty to accost her with anything more than the greeting of the
day. He eyed disapprovingly the parcel which he carried. It was a
very dingy white, and greyish threads dangled from it. Von Rosen
thought it a most unpleasant thing, and reflected with mild scorn and
bewilderment concerning the manner of mind which could find amusement
over such employment, for he divined that it was a specimen of
feminine skill, called fancy work.

Annie Eustace ran so swiftly with those long agile legs of hers that
he soon perceived that interception upon her return, and not
overtaking, must ensue. He did not gain upon her at all, and he began
to understand that he was making himself ridiculous to possible
observers in windows. He therefore slackened his pace, and met Annie
upon her return. She had a letter in her hand and was advancing with
a headlong rush, and suddenly she attracted him. He surrendered the
parcel. "Thank you very much," said Annie, "but I almost wish you had
not found it."

[Illustration: "I almost wish you had not found it"]

Von Rosen stared at her. Was she rude after all, this very pretty
girl, who was capable of laughter. "You would not blame me if you had
to embroider daisies on that dreadful piece of linen," said Annie
with a rueful glance at the dingy package.

Von Rosen smiled kindly at her. "I don't blame you at all," he
replied. "I can understand it must be a dismal task to embroider
daisies."

"It is, Mr. von Rosen--" Annie hesitated.

"Yes," said Von Rosen encouragingly.

"You know I never go to church."

"Yes," said Von Rosen mendaciously. He really did not know. In future
he, however, would.

"Well, I don't go because--" again Annie hesitated, while the young
man waited interrogatively.

Then Annie spoke with force. "I would really like to go
occasionally," she said, "I doubt if I would always care to."

"No, I don't think you would," assented Von Rosen with a queer
delight.

"But I never can because--Grandmother is old and she has not much
left in life, you know."

"Of course."

"It is all very well for people to talk about firesides, and knitting
work, and peaceful eyes of age fixed upon Heavenly homes," said
Annie, "but all old people are not like that. Grandma hates to knit
although she does think I should embroider daisies, and she does like
to have me play pinocle with her Sunday mornings, when Aunt Harriet
and Aunt Jane are out of the way. It is the only chance she has
during the whole week you know because neither Aunt Harriet nor Aunt
Jane approves of cards, and poor Grandma is so fond of them, it seems
cruel not to play with her the one chance she has."

"I think you are entirely right," said Von Rosen with grave
conviction and he was charmed that the girl regarded him as if he had
said nothing whatever unusual.

"I have always been sure that it was right," said Annie Eustace, "but
I would like sometimes to go to church."

"I really wish you could," said Von Rosen, "and I would make an
especial effort to write a good sermon."

"Oh," said Annie, "Aunt Harriet often hears you preach one which she
thinks very good."

Von Rosen bowed. Suddenly Annie's shyness, reserve, whatever it was,
seemed to overcloud her. The lovely red faded from her cheeks, the
light from her eyes. She lost her beauty in a great measure. She
bowed stiffly, saying: "I thank you very much, good evening," and
passed on, leaving the young man rather dazed, pleased and yet
distinctly annoyed, and annoyed in some inscrutable fashion at
himself.

Then he heard shouts of childish laughter, and a scamper of childish
feet, and Maida and Adelaide Edes rushed past, almost jostling him
from the sidewalk. Maida carried a letter, which her mother had
written, and dispatched to the last mail. And that letter was
destined to be of more importance to Von Rosen than he knew.

As for Annie Eustace, whose meeting with Von Rosen had, after her
first lapse into the unconsciousness of mirth, disturbed her, as the
meeting of the hero of a dream always disturbs a true maiden who has
not lost through many such meetings the thrill of them, she hurried
home trembling, and found everything just exactly as she knew it
would be.

There sat Aunt Harriet perfectly motionless behind the silver tea
service, and although the cosy was drawn over the teapot, the tea
seemed to be reproachfully drawing to that extent that Annie could
hear it. There sat Aunt Jane behind the cut glass bowl of preserved
fruit, with the untouched silver spoon at hand. There sat her
grandmother behind the butter plate. There stood Hannah, white capped
and white aproned, holding the silver serving tray like a petrified
statue of severity, and not one of them spoke, but their silence,
their dignified, reproachful silence was infinitely worse than a
torrent of invective. How Annie wished they would speak. How she
wished that she could speak herself, but she knew better than to even
offer an excuse for her tardiness. Well she knew that the stony
silence which would meet that would be worse, much worse than this.
So she slid into her place opposite her Aunt Jane, and began her own
task of dividing into sections the omelet which was quite flat
because she was late, and seemed to reproach her in a miserable,
low-down sort of fashion.

However, there was in the girl's heart a little glint of youthful
joy, which was unusual. She had met Mr. Von Rosen and had forgotten
herself, that is at first, and he had looked kindly at her. There was
no foolish hope in little Annie Eustace's heart; there would be no
spire of aspiration added to her dreams because of the meeting, but
she tasted the sweet of approbation, and it was a tonic which she
sorely needed, and which inspired her to self-assertion in a
childishly naughty and mischievous way. It was after supper that
evening, that Annie strolled a little way down the street, taking
advantage of Miss Bessy Dicky's dropping in for a call, to slink
unobserved out of her shadowy corner, for the Eustaces were fond of
sitting in the twilight. The wind had come up, the violent strong
wind which comes out of the south, and Annie walked very near the
barberry hedge which surrounded Doctor Sturtevant's grounds, and the
green muslin lashed against it to its undoing. When Annie returned,
the skirt was devastated and Aunt Harriet decreed that it could not
be mended and must be given to the poor Joy children. There were many
of those children of a degenerate race, living on the outskirts of
Fairbridge, and Annie had come to regard them as living effigies of
herself, since everything which she had outgrown or injured past
repair, fell to them. "There will be enough to make two nice dresses
for Charlotte and Minnie Joy," said Aunt Harriet, "and it will not be
wasted, even if you have been so careless, Annie."

Annie could see a vision of those two little Joy girls getting about
in the remnants of her ghastly muslin, and she shuddered, although
with relief.

"You had better wear your cross barred white muslin afternoons now,"
said Aunt Harriet, and Annie smiled for that was a pretty dress. She
smiled still more when Aunt Jane said that now as the cross-barred
white was to be worn every day, another dress must be bought, and she
mentioned China silk--something which Annie had always longed to
own--and blue, dull blue,--a colour which she loved.

Just before she went to bed, Annie stood in the front doorway looking
out at the lovely moonlight and the wonderful shadows which
transformed the village street, like the wings of angels, and she
heard voices and laughter from the Edes' house opposite. Then
Margaret began singing in her shrill piercing voice from which she
had hoped much, but which had failed to please, even at the Zenith
Club.

Annie adored Margaret, but she shrank before her singing voice. If
she had only known what was passing through the mind of the singer
after she went to bed that night, she would have shuddered more, for
Margaret Edes was planning a possible _coup_ before which Annie, in
spite of a little latent daring of her own, would have been aghast.



Chapter V


The next morning Margaret announced herself as feeling so much better
that she thought she would go to New York. She had several errands,
she said, and the day was beautiful and the little change would do
her good. She would take the train with her husband, but a different
ferry, as she wished to go up town. Wilbur acquiesced readily. "It is
a mighty fine morning, and you need to get out," he said. Poor Wilbur
at this time felt guiltily culpable that he did not own a motor car
in which his Margaret might take the air. He had tried to see his way
clear toward buying one, but in spite of a certain improvidence, the
whole nature of the man was intrinsically honest. He always ended his
conference with himself concerning the motor by saying that he could
not possibly keep it running, even if he were to manage the first
cost, and pay regularly his other bills. He, however, felt it to be a
shame to himself that it was so, and experienced a thrill of positive
pain of covetousness, not for himself, but for his Margaret, when one
of the luxurious things whirled past him in Fairbridge. He, it was
true, kept a very smart little carriage and horse, but that was not
as much as Margaret should have. Every time Margaret seemed a little
dull, or complained of headache, as she had done lately, he thought
miserably of that motor car, which was her right. Therefore when she
planned any little trip like that of to-day, he was immeasurably
pleased. At the same time he regarded her with a slightly bewildered
expression, for in some subtle fashion, her face as she propounded
the trifling plan, looked odd to him, and her voice also did not
sound quite natural. However, he dismissed the idea at once as mere
fancy, and watched proudly the admiring glances bestowed upon her in
the Fairbridge station, while they were waiting for the train.
Margaret had a peculiar knack in designing costumes which were at
once plain and striking. This morning she wore a black China silk,
through the thin bodice of which was visible an under silk strewn
with gold disks. Her girdle was clasped with a gold buckle, and when
she moved there were slight glimpses of a yellow silk petticoat. Her
hat was black, but under the brim was tucked a yellow rose against
her yellow hair. Then to finish all, Margaret wore in the lace at her
throat, a great brooch of turquoise matrix, which matched her eyes.
Her husband realised her as perfectly attired, although he did not in
the least understand why. He knew that his Margaret looked a woman of
another race from the others in the station, in their tailored
skirts, and shirtwaists, with their coats over arm, and their
shopping bags firmly clutched. It was a warm morning, and feminine
Fairbridge's idea of a suitable costume for a New York shopping trip
was a tailored suit, and a shirtwaist, and as a rule, the shirtwaist
did not fit. Margaret never wore shirtwaists,--she understood that
she was too short unless she combined a white skirt with a waist.
Margaret would have broken a commandment with less hesitation than
she would have broken the line of her graceful little figure with two
violently contrasting colours. Mrs. Sturtevant in a grey skirt and an
elaborate white waist, which emphasised her large bust, looked
ridiculous beside this fair, elegant little Margaret, although her
clothes had in reality cost more. Wilbur watched his wife as she
talked sweetly with the other woman, and his heart swelled with the
pride of possession. When they were on the train and he sat by
himself in the smoker, having left Margaret with Mrs. Sturtevant, his
heart continued to feel warm with elation. He waited to assist his
wife off the train at Jersey City and realised it a trial that he
could not cross the river on the same ferry. Margaret despised the
tube and he wished for the short breath of sea air which he would get
on the Courtland ferry. He glanced after her retreating black skirts
with the glimpses of yellow, regretfully, before he turned his back
and turned toward his own slip. And he glanced the more regretfully
because this morning, with all his admiration of his wife, he had a
dim sense of something puzzling which arose like a cloud of mystery
between them.

Wilbur Edes sailing across the river had, however, no conception of
the change which had begun in his little world. It was only a shake
of the kaleidoscope of an unimportant life, resulting in a different
combination of atoms, but to each individual it would be a tremendous
event partaking of the nature of a cataclysm. That morning he had
seen upon Margaret's charming face an expression which made it seem
as the face of a stranger. He tried to dismiss the matter from his
mind. He told himself that it must have been the effect of the light
or that she had pinned on her hat at a different angle. Women are so
perplexing, and their attire alters them so strangely. But Wilbur
Edes had reason to be puzzled. Margaret had looked and really was
different. In a little while she had become practically a different
woman. Of course, she had only developed possibilities which had
always been dormant within her, but they had been so dormant, that
they had not been to any mortal perception endowed with life.
Hitherto Margaret had walked along the straight and narrow way,
sometimes, it is true, jostling circumstances and sometimes being
jostled by them, yet keeping to the path. Now she had turned her feet
into that broad way wherein there is room for the utmost self which
is in us all. Henceforth husband and wife would walk apart in a
spiritual sense, unless there should come a revolution in the
character of the wife, who was the stepper aside.

Margaret seated comfortably on the ferry boat, her little feet
crossed so discreetly that only a glimpse of the yellow fluff beneath
was visible, was conscious of a not unpleasurable exhilaration. She
might and she might not be about to do something which would place
her distinctly outside the pale which had henceforth enclosed her
little pleasance of life. Were she to cross that pale, she felt that
it might be distinctly amusing. Margaret was not a wicked woman, but
virtue, not virtue in the ordinary sense of the word, but straight
walking ahead according to the ideas of Fairbridge, had come to drive
her at times to the verge of madness. Then, too, there was always
that secret terrible self-love and ambition of hers, never satisfied,
always defeated by petty weapons. Margaret, sitting as gracefully as
a beautiful cat, on the ferry boat that morning realised the
vindictive working of her claws, and her impulse to strike at her
odds of life, and she derived therefrom an unholy exhilaration.

She got her taxicab on the other side and leaned back, catching
frequent glances of admiration, and rode pleasurably to the regal
up-town hotel which was the home of Miss Martha Wallingford, while in
the city. She, upon her arrival, entered the hotel with an air which
caused a stir among bell boys. Then she entered a reception room and
sat down, disposing herself with slow grace. Margaret gazed about her
and waited. There were only three people in the room, one man and two
ladies, one quite young--a mere girl--the other from the resemblance
and superior age, evidently her mother. The man was young and almost
vulgarly well-groomed. He had given a glance at Margaret as she
entered, a glance of admiration tempered with the consideration that
in spite of her grace and beauty, she was probably older than
himself. Then he continued to gaze furtively at the young girl who
sat demurely, with eyes downcast beneath a soft, wild tangle of dark
hair, against which some pink roses and a blue feather on her hat
showed fetchingly. She was very well dressed, evidently a
well-guarded young thing from one of the summer colonies. The mother,
high corseted, and elegant in dark blue lines, which made only a
graceful concession to age, without fairly admitting it, never
allowed one glance of the young man's to escape her. She also saw her
slender young daughter with every sense in her body and mind.

Margaret looked away from them. The elder woman had given her costume
an appreciative, and herself a supercilious glance, which had been
met with one which did not seem to recognise her visibility. Margaret
was not easily put down by another woman. She stared absently at the
ornate and weary decorations of the room. It was handsome, but
tiresome, as everybody who entered realised, and as, no doubt, the
decorator had found out. It was a ready-made species of room, with no
heart in it, in spite of the harmonious colour scheme and really
artistic detail.

Presently the boy with the silver tray entered and approached
Margaret. The young man stared openly at her. He began to wonder if
she were not younger than he had thought. The girl never raised her
downcast eyes; the older woman cast one swift sharp glance at her.
The boy murmured so inaudibly that Margaret barely heard, and she
rose and followed him as he led the way to the elevator. Miss
Wallingford, who was a young Western woman and a rising, if not
already arisen literary star, had signified her willingness to
receive Mrs. Wilbur Edes in her own private sitting-room. Margaret
was successful so far. She had pencilled on her card, "Can you see me
on a matter of importance? I am not connected with the Press," and
the young woman who esteemed nearly everything of importance, and was
afraid of the Press, had agreed at once to see her. Miss Martha
Wallingford was staying in the hotel with an elderly aunt, against
whose rule she rebelled in spite of her youth and shyness, which
apparently made it impossible for her to rebel against anybody, and
the aunt had retired stiffly to her bedroom when her niece said
positively that she would see her caller.

"You don't know who she is and I promised your Pa when we started
that I wouldn't let you get acquainted with folks unless I knew all
about them," the aunt had said and the niece, the risen star, had set
her mouth hard. "We haven't seen a soul except those newspaper men,
and I know everyone of them is married, and those two newspaper women
who told about my sleeves being out of date," said Martha
Wallingford, "and this Mrs. Edes may be real nice. I'm going to see
her anyhow. We came so late in the season that I believe everybody in
New York worth seeing has gone away and this lady has come in from
the country and it may lead to my having a good time after all. I
haven't had much of a time so far, and you know it, Aunt Susan."

"How you talk, Martha Wallingford! Haven't you been to the theatre
every night and Coney Island, and the Metropolitan and--everything
there is to see?"

"There isn't much to see in New York anyway except the people,"
returned the niece. "People are all I care for anyway, and I don't
call the people I have seen worth counting. They only came to make a
little money out of me and my sleeves. I am glad I got this dress at
McCreery's. These sleeves are all right. If this Mrs. Edes should be
a newspaper woman, she can't make fun of these sleeves anyway."

"You paid an awful price for that dress," said her aunt.

"I don't care. I got such a lot for my book that I might as well have
a little out of it, and you know as well as I do, Aunt Susan, that
South Mordan, Illinois, may be a very nice place, but it does not
keep up with New York fashions. I really did not have a decent thing
to wear when I started. Miss Slocumb did as well as she knew how, but
her ideas are about three years behind New York. I didn't know
myself, how should I? And you didn't, and as for Pa, he would think
everything I had on was stylish if it dated back to the ark. You
ought to have bought that mauve silk for yourself. You have money
enough; you know you have, Aunt Susan."

"I have money enough, thanks to my dear husband's saving all his
life, but it is not going to be squandered on dress by me, now he is
dead and gone."

"I would have bought the dress for you myself, then," said the niece.

"No, thank you," returned the aunt with asperity. "I have never been
in the habit of being beholden to you for my clothes and I am not
going to begin now. I didn't want that dress anyway. I always hated
purple."

"It wasn't purple, it was mauve."

"I call purple, purple, I don't call it anything else!"  Then the
aunt retreated precipitately before the sound of the opening door and
entrenched herself in her bedroom, where she stood listening.

Margaret Edes treated the young author with the respect which she
really deserved, for talent she possessed in such a marked degree as
to make her phenomenal, and the phenomenal is always entitled to
consideration of some sort.

"Miss Wallingford?" murmured Margaret, and she gave an impression of
obeisance; this charming elegantly attired lady before the Western
girl. Martha Wallingford coloured high with delight and admiration.

"Yes, I am Miss Wallingford," she replied and asked her caller to be
seated. Margaret sat down facing her. The young author shuffled in
her chair like a school girl. She was an odd combination of enormous
egotism and the most painful shyness. She realised at a glance that
she herself was provincial and pitifully at a disadvantage personally
before this elegant vision, and her personality was in reality more
precious to her than her talent.

"I can not tell you what a great pleasure and privilege this is for
me," said Margaret, and her blue eyes had an expression of admiring
rapture. The girl upon whom the eyes were fixed, blushed and giggled
and tossed her head with a sudden show of pride. She quite agreed
that it was a pleasure and privilege for Margaret to see her, the
author of _Hearts Astray_, even if Margaret was herself so charming
and so provokingly well dressed. Miss Martha Wallingford did not hide
her light of talent under a bushel with all her shyness, which was
not really shyness at all but a species of rather sullen pride and
resentment because she was so well aware that she could not do well
the things which were asked of her and had not mastered the art of
dress and self poise.

Therefore, Martha, with the delight of her own achievements full upon
her face, which was pretty, although untutored, regarded her visitor
with an expression which almost made Margaret falter. It was probably
the absurd dressing of the girl's hair which restored Margaret's
confidence in her scheme. Martha Wallingford actually wore a frizzled
bang, very finely frizzled too, and her hair was strained from the
nape of her neck, and it seemed impossible that a young woman who
knew no better than to arrange her hair in such fashion, should not
be amenable to Margaret's plan. The plan, moreover, sounded very
simple, except for the little complications which might easily arise.
Margaret smiled into the pretty face under the fuzz of short hair.

"My dear Miss Wallingford," said she, "I have come this morning to
beg a favour. I hope you will not refuse me, although I am such an
entire stranger. If, unfortunately, my intimate friend, Mrs.
Fay-Wyman, of whom I assume that you of course know, even if you have
not met her, as you may easily have done, or her daughter, Miss Edith
Fay-Wyman, had not left town last week for their country house,
Rose-In-Flower, at Hyphen-by-the-Sea, a most delightful spot. Mr.
Edes and I have spent several week ends there. I am prevented from
spending longer than week ends because I am kept at home by my two
darling twin daughters. Mrs. Fay-Wyman is a sweet woman and I do so
wish I could have brought her here to-day. I am sure you would at
once fall madly in love with her and also with her daughter, Miss
Edith Fay-Wyman, such a sweet girl, and--"  But here Margaret was
unexpectedly, even rudely interrupted by Miss Wallingford, who looked
at her indignantly.

"I never fall in love with women," stated that newly risen literary
star abruptly, "why should I? What does it amount to?"

"Oh, my dear," cried Margaret, "when you are a little older you will
find that it amounts to very much. There is a soul sympathy, and--"

"I don't think that I care much about soul sympathy," stated Miss
Wallingford, who was beginning to be angrily bewildered by her
guest's long sentences, which so far seemed to have no point as far
as she herself was concerned.

Margaret started a little. Again the doubt seized her if she were not
making a mistake, undertaking more than she could well carry through,
for this shy authoress was fast developing unexpected traits.
However, Margaret, once she had started, was not easily turned back.
She was as persistently clinging as a sweet briar.

"Oh, my dear," she said, and her voice was like trickling honey,
"only wait until you are a little older and you will find that you do
care, care very, very much. The understanding and sympathy of other
women will become very sweet to you. It is so pure and ennobling, so
free from all material taint."

"I have seen a great many women who were perfect cats," stated Miss
Martha Wallingford.

"Wait until you are older," said Margaret again and her voice seemed
fairly dissolving into some spiritual liquid of divine sweetness.
"Wait until you are older, my dear. You are very young, so young to
have accomplished a wonderful work which will live."

"Oh, well," said Martha Wallingford, and as she spoke she fixed
pitiless shrewd young eyes upon the face of the other woman, which
did not show at its best, in spite of veil and the velvety darkness
of hat-shadow. This hotel sitting-room was full of garish cross
lights. "Oh, well," said Martha Wallingford, "of course, I don't know
what may happen if I live to be old, as old as you."

Margaret Edes felt like a photograph proof before the slightest
attempt at finish had been made. Those keen young eyes conveyed the
impression of convex mirrors. She restrained an instinctive impulse
to put a hand before her face, she had an odd helpless sensation
before the almost brutal, clear-visioned young thing. Again she
shrank a little from her task, again her spirit reasserted itself.
She moved and brought her face somewhat more into the shadow. Then
she spoke again. She wisely dropped the subject of feminine
affinities. She plunged at once into the object of her visit, which
directly concerned Miss Martha Wallingford, and Margaret, who was as
astute in her way as the girl, knew that she was entirely right in
assuming that Martha Wallingford was more interested in herself than
anything else in the world.

"My dear," she said, "I may as well tell you at once why I intruded
upon you this morning."

"Please do," said Martha Wallingford.

"As I said before, I deeply regret that I was unable to bring some
well-known person, Mrs. Fay-Wyman, for instance, to make us
acquainted in due form, but--"

"Oh, I don't care a bit about that," said Martha. "What is it?"

Margaret again started a little. She had not expected anything like
this. The mental picture which she had formed of Martha Wallingford,
the young literary star, seemed to undergo a transformation akin to
an explosion, out of which only one feature remained intact--the
book, "_Hearts Astray_."  If Miss Wallingford had not possessed a
firm foundation in that volume, it is entirely possible that Margaret
might have abandoned her enterprise. As it was, after a little gasp
she went on.

"I did so wish to assure you in person of my great admiration for
your wonderful book," said she. Martha Wallingford made no reply. She
had an expression of utter acquiescence in the admiration, also of
having heard that same thing so many times, that she was somewhat
bored by it. She waited with questioning eyes upon Margaret's face.

"And I wondered," said Margaret, "if you would consider it too
informal, if I ventured to beg you to be my guest at my home in
Fairbridge next Thursday and remain the weekend, over Sunday. It
would give me so much pleasure, and Fairbridge is a charming little
village and there are really many interesting people there whom I
think you would enjoy, and as for them--!"  Margaret gave a slight
roll to her eyes--"they would be simply overwhelmed."

"I should like to come very much, thank you," said Martha
Wallingford.

Margaret beamed. "Oh, my dear," she cried, "I can not tell you how
much joy your prompt and warm response gives me. And--" Margaret
looked about her rather vaguely, "you are not alone here, of course.
You have a maid, or perhaps, your mother--"

"My Aunt Susan is with me," said Miss Wallingford, "but there is no
use inviting her. She hates going away for a few days. She says it is
just as much trouble packing as it would be to go for a month. There
is no use even thinking of her, but I shall be delighted to come."

Margaret hesitated. "May I not have the pleasure of being presented
to your aunt?" she inquired.

"Aunt Susan is out shopping," lied Miss Martha Wallingford. Aunt
Susan was clad in a cotton crepe wrapper, and Martha knew that she
would think it quite good enough for her to receive anybody in, and
that she could not convince her to the contrary. It was only recently
that Martha herself had become converted from morning wrappers, and
the reaction was violent. "The idea of a woman like this Mrs. Edes
seeing Aunt Susan in that awful pink crepe wrapper!" she said to
herself. She hoped Aunt Susan was not listening, and would not make a
forcible entry into the room. Aunt Susan in moments of impulse was
quite capable of such coups. Martha glanced rather apprehensively
toward the door leading into the bedroom but it did not open. Aunt
Susan was indeed listening and she was rigid with indignation, but in
truth, she did not want to accompany her niece upon this projected
visit, and she was afraid of being drawn into such a step should she
present herself. Aunt Susan did dislike making the effort of a visit
for a few days only. Martha had told the truth. It was very hot, and
the elder woman was not very strong. Moreover, she perceived that
Martha did not want her and there would be the complication of
kicking against the pricks of a very determined character, which had
grown more determined since her literary success. In fact, Aunt Susan
stood in a slight awe of her niece since that success, for all her
revolts which were superficial. Therefore, she remained upon her side
of the door which she did not open until the visitor had departed
after making definite arrangements concerning trains and meetings.
Then Aunt Susan entered the room with a cloud of pink crepe in her
wake.

"Who was that?" she demanded of Martha.

"Mrs. Wilbur Edes," replied her niece, and she aped Margaret to
perfection as she added, "and a most charming woman, most charming."

"What did she want you to do?" inquired the aunt.

"Now, Aunt Susan," replied the niece, "what is the use of going over
it all? You heard every single thing she said."

"I did hear her ask after me," said the aunt unabashed, "and I heard
you tell a lie about it. You told her I had gone out shopping and you
knew I was right in the next room."

"I didn't mean to have you come in and see a woman dressed like that
one, in your wrapper."

"What is the matter with my wrapper?"

Martha said nothing.

"Are you going?" asked her aunt.

"You know that too."

"I don't know what your Pa would say," remarked Aunt Susan, but
rather feebly, for she had a vague idea that it was her duty to
accompany her niece and she was determined to shirk it.

"I don't see how Pa can say much of anything since he is in South
Mordan, Illinois, and won't know about it, unless you telegraph,
until next week," said Martha calmly. "Now, come along, Aunt Susan,
and get dressed. I have made up my mind to get that beautiful white
silk dress we looked at yesterday. It did not need any alteration and
I think I shall buy that pearl and amethyst necklace at Tiffany's. I
know Mrs. Edes will have an evening party and there will be
gentlemen, and what is the use of my making so much money out of
_Hearts Astray_ if I don't have a few things I want? Hurry and get
dressed."

"I don't see why this wrapper isn't plenty good enough for a few
errands at two or three stores," said the aunt sulkily, but she
yielded to Martha's imperative demand that she change her wrapper for
her black satin immediately.

Meantime Margaret on her way down town to the ferry was conscious of
a slight consternation at what she had done. She understood that in
this young woman was a feminine element which radically differed from
any which had come within her ken. She, however, was determined to go
on. The next day invitations were issued to the Zenith Club for the
following Friday, from four to six, and also one to dinner that
evening to four men and five women. She planned for Sunday an
automobile ride; she was to hire the car from the Axminister garage,
and a high tea afterward. Poor Margaret did all in her power to make
her scheme a success, but always she had that chilling doubt of her
power. Miss Martha Wallingford had impressed her as being a young
woman capable of swift and unexpected movements. She was rather
afraid of her but she did not confess her fear to Wilbur. When he
inquired genially what kind of a girl the authoress was, she replied:
"Oh, charming, of course, but the poor child does not know how to do
up her hair."  However, when Martha arrived Thursday afternoon and
Margaret met her at the station, she, at a glance, discovered that
the poor child had discovered how to do up her hair. Some persons'
brains work in a great many directions and Martha Wallingford's was
one of them. Somehow or other, she had contrived to dispose of her
tightly frizzed fringe, and her very pretty hair swept upward from a
forehead which was both intellectual and beautiful. She was well
dressed too. She had drawn heavily upon her royalty revenue. She had
worked hard and spent a good deal during the short time since
Margaret's call, and her brain had served her body well. She stepped
across the station platform with an air. She carried no provincial
bag--merely a dainty little affair mounted in gold which matched her
gown--and she had brought a small steamer trunk.

Margaret's heart sank more and more, but she conducted her visitor to
her little carriage and ordered the man to drive home, and when
arrived there, showed Martha her room. She had a faint hope that the
room might intimidate this Western girl, but instead of intimidation
there was exultation. She looked about her very coolly, but
afterward, upon her return to East Mordan, Illinois, she bragged a
good deal about it. The room was really very charming and rather
costly. The furniture was genuine First Empire; the walls, which were
hung with paper covered with garlands of roses, were decorated with
old engravings; there was a quantity of Dresden ware and there was a
little tiled bathroom. Over a couch in the bedroom lay a kimona of
white silk embroidered with pink roses. Afterward Martha made cruel
fun of her Aunt's pink crepe and made her buy a kimona.

"Shall I send up my maid to assist you in unpacking, Miss
Wallingford?" inquired Margaret, inwardly wondering how the dinner
would be managed if the offer were accepted. To her relief, Martha
gave her an offended stare. "No, thank you, Mrs. Edes," said she, "I
never like servants, especially other peoples', mussing up my
things."

When Margaret had gone, Martha looked about her, and her mouth was
frankly wide open. She had never seen such exquisite daintiness and
it daunted her, although she would have died rather than admit it.
She thought of her own bedroom at home in East Mordan, Illinois, with
its old black walnut chamber set and framed photographs and chromos,
but she maintained a sort of defiant pride in it even to herself. In
Martha Wallingford's character there was an element partaking of the
nature of whalebone, yielding, but practically unbreakable, and
sometimes wholly unyielding. Martha proceeded to array herself for
dinner. She had not a doubt that it would be a grand affair. She
therefore did not hesitate about the white silk, which was a robe of
such splendour that it might not have disgraced a court. It showed a
great deal of her thin, yet pretty girlish neck, and it had a very
long train. She had a gold fillet studded with diamonds for her
hair--that hair which was now dressed according to the very latest
mode--a mode which was startling, yet becoming, and she clasped
around her throat the Tiffany necklace, and as a crowning touch, put
on long white gloves. When she appeared upon the verandah where
Margaret sat dressed in a pretty lingerie gown with Wilbur in a light
grey business suit, the silence could be heard. Then there was one
double gasp of admiration from Maida and Adelaide in their white
frocks and blue ribbons. They looked at the visitor with positive
adoration, but she flushed hotly. She was a very quick-witted girl.
Margaret recovered herself, presented Wilbur, and shortly, they went
in to dinner, but it was a ghastly meal. Martha Wallingford in her
unsuitable splendour was frankly, as she put it afterward, "hopping
mad," and Wilbur was unhappy and Margaret aghast, although apparently
quite cool. There was not a guest besides Martha. The dinner was
simple. Afterward it seemed too farcical to ask a guest attired like
a young princess to go out on the verandah and lounge in a wicker
chair, while Wilbur smoked. Then Annie Eustace appeared and Margaret
was grateful. "Dear Annie," she said, after she had introduced the
two girls, "I am so glad you came over. Come in."

"It is pleasanter on the verandah, isn't it?" began Annie, then she
caught Margaret's expressive glance at the magnificent white silk.
They all sat stiffly in Margaret's pretty drawing-room. Martha said
she didn't play bridge and upon Annie's timid suggestion of pinocle,
said she had never heard of it. Wilbur dared not smoke. All that
wretched evening they sat there. The situation was too much for
Margaret, that past mistress of situations, and her husband was
conscious of a sensation approaching terror and also wrath whenever
he glanced at the figure in sumptuous white, the figure expressing
sulkiness in every feature and motion. Margaret was unmistakably
sulky as the evening wore on and nobody came except this other girl
of whom she took no notice at all. She saw that she was pretty, her
hair badly arranged and she was ill-dressed, and that was enough for
her. She felt it to be an insult that these people had invited her
and asked nobody to meet her, Martha Wallingford, whose name was in
all the papers, attired in this wonderful white gown. When Annie
Eustace arose to go, she arose too with a peremptory motion.

"I rather guess I will go to bed," said Martha Wallingford.

"You must be weary," said Margaret.

"I am not tired," said Martha Wallingford, "but it seems to me as
dull here as in South Mordan, Illinois. I might as well go to bed and
to sleep as sit here any longer."

When Margaret had returned from the guest room, her husband looked at
her almost in a bewildered fashion. Margaret sank wearily into a
chair. "Isn't she impossible?" she whispered.

"Did she think there was a dinner party?" Wilbur inquired
perplexedly.

"I don't know. It was ghastly. I did not for a moment suppose she
would dress for a party, unless I told her, and it is Emma's night
off and I could not ask people with only Clara to cook and wait."

Wilbur patted his wife's shoulder comfortingly. "Never mind, dear,"
he said, "when she gets her chance to do her to-morrow's stunt at
your club, she will be all right."

Margaret shivered a little. She had dared say nothing to Martha about
that "stunt."  Was it possible that she was making a horrible
mistake?

The next day, Martha was still sulky but she did not, as Margaret
feared, announce her intention of returning at once to New York.
Margaret said quite casually that she had invited a few of the
brightest and most interesting people in Fairbridge to meet her that
afternoon and Martha became curious, although still resentful, and
made no motion to leave. She, however, resolved to make no further
mistakes as to costume, and just as the first tide of the Zenith Club
broke over Margaret's threshold, she appeared clad in one of her
South Mordan, Illinois, gowns. It was one which she had tucked into
her trunk in view of foul weather. It was a hideous thing made from
two old gowns. It had a garish blue tunic reaching well below the
hips and a black skirt bordered with blue. Martha had had it made
herself from a pattern after long study of the fashion plates in a
Sunday newspaper and the result, although startling, still half
convinced her. It was only after she had seen all the members of the
Zenith Club seated and had gazed at their costumes, that she realised
that she had made a worse mistake than that of the night before. To
begin with, the day was very warm and her gown heavy and clumsy. The
other ladies were arrayed in lovely lingeries or light silks and
laces. The Zenith Club was exceedingly well dressed on that day.
Martha sat in her place beside her hostess and her face looked like a
sulky child's. Her eye-lids were swollen, her pouting lips dropped at
the corners. She stiffened her chin until it became double. Margaret
was inwardly perturbed but she concealed it. The programme went on
with the inevitable singing by Miss MacDonald and Mrs. Wells, the
playing by Mrs. Jack Evarts, the recitation by Sally Anderson.
Margaret had not ventured to omit those features. Then, Mrs.
Sturtevant read in a trembling voice a paper on Emerson. Then
Margaret sprang her mines. She rose and surveyed her audience with
smiling impressiveness. "Ladies," she said, and there was an
immediate hush, "Ladies, I have the pleasure, the exceeding pleasure
of presenting you to my guest, Miss Martha Wallingford, the author of
_Hearts Astray_. She will now speak briefly to you upon her motive in
writing and her method of work."  There was a soft clapping of hands.
Margaret sat down. She was quite pale. Annie Eustace regarded her
wonderingly. What had happened to her dear Margaret?

The people waited. Everybody stared at Miss Martha Wallingford who
had written that great seller, _Hearts Astray_. Martha Wallingford
sat perfectly still. Her eyes were so downcast that they gave the
appearance of being closed. Her pretty face looked red and swollen.
Everybody waited. She sat absolutely still and made no sign except
that of her obstinate face of negation. Margaret bent over her and
whispered. Martha did not even do her the grace of a shake of the
head.

Everybody waited again. Martha Wallingford sat so still that she gave
the impression of a doll made without speaking apparatus. It did not
seem as if she could even wink. Then Alice Mendon, who disliked
Margaret Edes and had a shrewd conjecture as to the state of affairs,
but who was broad in her views, pitied Margaret. She arose with
considerable motion and spoke to Daisy Shaw at her right, and broke
the ghastly silence, and immediately everything was in motion and
refreshments were being passed, but Martha Wallingford, who had
written _Hearts Astray_, was not there to partake of them. She was in
her room, huddled in a chair upholstered with cream silk strewn with
roses; and she was in one of the paroxysms of silent rage which
belonged to her really strong, although undisciplined nature, and
which was certainly in this case justified to some degree.

"It was an outrage," she said to herself. She saw through it all now.
She had refused to speak or to read before all those women's clubs
and now this woman had trapped her, that was the word for it, trapped
her.

As she sat there, her sullenly staring angry eyes saw in large
letters at the head of a column in a morning paper on the table
beside her, "'_The Poor Lady_,' the greatest anonymous novel of the
year."

Then she fell again to thinking of her wrongs and planning how she
should wreak vengeance upon Margaret Edes.



Chapter VI


Martha Wallingford was a young person of direct methods. She scorned
subterfuges. Another of her age and sex might have gone to bed with a
headache, not she. She sat absolutely still beside her window, quite
in full view of the departing members of the Zenith Club, had they
taken the trouble to glance in that direction, and some undoubtedly
did, and she remained there; presently she heard her hostess's tiny
rap on the door. Martha did not answer, but after a repeated rap and
wait, Margaret chose to assume that she did, and entered. Margaret
knelt in a soft flop of scented lingerie beside the indignant young
thing. She explained, she apologised, she begged, she implored Martha
to put on that simply ravishing gown which she had worn the evening
before; she expatiated at length upon the charms of the people whom
she had invited to dinner, but Martha spoke not at all until she was
quite ready. Then she said explosively, "I won't."

She was silent after that. Margaret recognised the futility of
further entreaties. She went down stairs and confided in Wilbur. "I
never saw such an utterly impossible girl," she said; "there she sits
and won't get dressed and come down to dinner."

"She is a freak, must be, most of these writer people are freaks,"
said Wilbur sympathetically. "Poor old girl, and I suppose you have
got up a nice dinner too."

"A perfectly charming dinner and invited people to meet her."

"How did she do her stunt this afternoon?"

Margaret flushed. "None too well," she replied.

"Oh, well, dear, I don't see how you are to blame."

"I can say that Miss Wallingford is not well, I suppose," said
Margaret, and that was what she did say, but with disastrous results.

Margaret, ravishing in white lace, sprinkled with little gold
butterflies, had taken her place at the head of her table. Emma was
serving the first course and she was making her little speech
concerning the unfortunate indisposition of her guest of honour when
she was suddenly interrupted by that guest herself, an image of sulky
wrath, clad in the blue and black costume pertaining to South Mordan,
Illinois.

"I am perfectly well. She is telling an awful whopper," proclaimed
this amazing girl. "I won't dress up and come to dinner because I
won't. She trapped me into a woman's club this afternoon and tried to
get me to make a speech without even telling me what she meant to do
and now I won't do anything."

With that Miss Wallingford disappeared and unmistakable stamps were
heard upon the stairs. One woman giggled convulsively; another took a
glass of water and choked. A man laughed honestly. Wilbur was quite
pale. Margaret was imperturbable. Karl von Rosen, who was one of the
guests and who sat behind Annie Eustace, looked at Margaret with
wonder. "Was this the way of women?" he thought. He did not doubt for
one minute that the Western girl had spoken the truth. It had been
brutal and homely, but it had been the truth. Little Annie Eustace,
who had been allowed to come to a dinner party for the first time in
her life and who looked quite charming in an old, much mended, but
very fine India muslin and her grandmother's corals, did not, on the
contrary, believe one word of Miss Wallingford's.

Her sympathy was all with her Margaret. It was a horrible situation
and her dear Margaret was the victim of her own hospitality. She
looked across the table at Alice Mendon for another sympathiser, but
Alice was talking busily to the man at her right about a new book.
She had apparently not paid much attention. Annie wondered how it
could have escaped her. That horrid girl had spoken so loudly. She
looked up at Von Rosen. "I am so sorry for poor Margaret," she
whispered. Von Rosen looked down at her very gently. This little
girl's belief in her friend was like a sacred lily, not to be touched
or soiled.

"Yes," he said and Annie smiled up at him comfortably. Von Rosen was
glad she sat beside him. He thought her very lovely, and there was a
subtle suggestion of something besides loveliness. He thought that
daintily mended India muslin exquisite, and also the carved
corals,--bracelets on the slender wrists, a necklace--resting like a
spray of flowers on the girlish neck, a comb in the soft hair which
Annie had arranged becomingly and covered from her aunt's sight with
a lace scarf. She felt deceitful about her hair, but how could she
help it?

The dinner was less ghastly than could have been expected after the
revelation of the guest of honour and the blank consternation of the
host, who made no attempt to conceal his state of mind. Poor Wilbur
had no society tricks. Alice Mendon, who was quite cognizant of the
whole matter, but was broad enough to leap to the aid of another
woman, did much. She had quite a talent for witty stories and a
goodly fund of them. The dinner went off very well, while Martha
Wallingford ate hers from a dinner tray in her room and felt that
every morsel was sweetened with righteous revenge.

The next morning she left for New York and Margaret did not attempt
to detain her although she had a lunch party planned besides the
Sunday festivities. Margaret had had a scene with Wilbur after the
departure of the guests the previous evening. For the first time in
her experience, the devoted husband had turned upon his goddess. He
had asked, "Was it true, what that girl said?" and Margaret had
laughed up at him bewitchingly to no effect. Wilbur's face was very
stern.

"My dear," said Margaret, "I knew perfectly well that if I actually
asked her to speak or read, she would have refused."

"You have done an unpardonable thing," said the man. "You have
betrayed your own sense of honour, your hospitality toward the guest
under your roof."

Margaret laughed as she took an ornament from her yellow head but the
laugh was defiant and forced. In her heart she bitterly resented her
husband's attitude and more bitterly resented the attitude of respect
into which it forced her. "It is the very last time I ask a Western
authoress to accept my hospitality," said she.

"I hope so," said Wilbur gravely.

That night Karl von Rosen walked home with Annie Eustace. She had
come quite unattended, as was the wont of Fairbridge ladies. That
long peaceful Main Street lined with the homes of good people always
seemed a safe thoroughfare. Annie was even a little surprised when
Von Rosen presented himself and said, "I will walk home with you,
Miss Eustace, with your permission."

"But I live a quarter of a mile past your house," said Annie.

Von Rosen laughed. "A quarter of a mile will not injure me," he said.

"It will really be a half mile," said Annie. She wanted very much
that the young man should walk home with her, but she was very much
afraid of making trouble. She was relieved when he only laughed again
and said something about the beauty of the night. It was really a
wonderful night and even the eyes of youth, inhabiting it with fairy
dreams, were not essential to perceive it.

"What flower scent is that?" asked Von Rosen.

"I think," replied Annie, "that it is wild honeysuckle," and her
voice trembled slightly. The perfumed night and the strange presence
beside her went to the child's head a bit. The two walked along under
the trees, which cast etching-like shadows in the broad moonlight,
and neither talked much. There was scarcely a lighted window in any
of the houses and they had a delicious sense of isolation,--the girl
and the man awake in a sleeping world. Annie made no further allusion
to Miss Wallingford. She had for almost the first time in her life a
little selfish feeling that she did not wish to jar a perfect moment
even with the contemplation of a friend's troubles. She was very
happy walking beside Von Rosen, holding up her flimsy embroidered
skirts carefully lest they come in contact with dewy grass. She had
been admonished by her grandmother and her aunts so to do and
reminded that the frail fabric would not endure much washing however
skilful. Between the shadows, her lovely face showed like a white
flower as Von Rosen looked down upon it. He wondered more and more
that he had never noticed this exquisite young creature before. He
did not yet dream of love in connection with her, but he was
conscious of a passion of surprised admiration and protectiveness.

"How is it that I have never seen you when I call on your Aunt
Harriet?" he asked when he parted with her at her own gate, a stately
wrought iron affair in a tall hedge of close trimmed lilac.

"I am generally there, I think," replied Annie, but she was also
conscious of a little surprise that she had not paid more attention
when this young man, who looked at her so kindly, called. Then came
one of her sudden laughs.

"What is it?" asked Von Rosen.

"Oh, nothing, except that the cat is usually there too," replied
Annie. Von Rosen looked back boyishly.

"Be sure I shall see you next time and hang the cat," he said.

When Annie was in her room unclasping her corals, she considered how
very much mortified and troubled her friend, Margaret Edes, must
feel. She recalled how hideous it had all been--that appearance of
the Western girl in the dining-room door-way, her rude ways, her
flushed angry face. Annie did not dream of blaming Margaret. She was
almost a fanatic as far as loyalty to her friends was concerned. She
loved Margaret and she had only a feeling of cold dislike and
disapprobation toward Miss Wallingford who had hurt Margaret. As for
that charge of "trapping," she paid no heed to it whatever. She made
up her mind to go and see Margaret the very next day and tell her a
secret, a very great secret, which she was sure would comfort her and
make ample amends to her for all her distress of the night before.
Little Annie Eustace was so very innocent and ignorant of the ways of
the world that had her nearest and dearest been able to look into her
heart of hearts, they might have been appalled, incredulous and
reverent, according to their natures. For instance, this very good,
simple young girl who had been born with the light of genius always
assumed that her friends would be as delighted at any good fortune of
hers as at their own. She fairly fed upon her admiration of Alice
Mendon that evening when she had stepped so nobly and tactfully into
the rather frightful social breach and saved, if not wholly, the
situation.

"Alice was such a dear," she thought, and the thought made her face
fairly angelic. Then she recalled how lovely Alice had looked, and
her own mobile face took on unconsciously Alice's expression.
Standing before her looking-glass brushing out her hair, she saw
reflected, not her own beautiful face between the lustrous folds, but
Alice's. Then she recalled with pride Margaret's imperturbability
under such a trial. "Nobody but Margaret could have carried off such
an insult under her own roof too," she thought.

After she was in bed and her lamp blown out and the white moon-beams
were entering her open windows like angels, she, after saying her
prayers, thought of the three, Margaret, Alice, and Karl von Rosen.
Then suddenly a warm thrill passed over her long slender body but it
seemed to have its starting point in her soul. She saw very
distinctly the young man's dark handsome face, but she thought, "How
absurd of me, to see him so distinctly, as distinctly as I see
Margaret and Alice, when I love them so much, and I scarcely know Mr.
von Rosen."  Being brought up by one's imperious grandmother and two
imperious aunts and being oneself naturally of an obedient
disposition and of a slowly maturing temperament, tends to lengthen
the long childhood of a girl. Annie was almost inconceivably a child,
much more of a child than Maida or Adelaide Edes. They had been
allowed to grow like weeds as far as their imagination was concerned,
and she had been religiously pruned.

The next afternoon she put on her white barred muslin and obtained
her Aunt Harriet's permission to spend an hour or two with Margaret
if she would work assiduously on her daisy centre piece, and stepped
like a white dove across the shady village street. Annie, unless she
remembered to do otherwise, was prone to toe in slightly with her
slender feet. She was also prone to allow the tail of her white gown
to trail. She gathered it up only when her Aunt called after her. She
found Margaret lying indolently in the hammock which was strung
across the wide shaded verandah. She was quite alone. Annie had seen
with relief Miss Martha Wallingford being driven to the station that
morning and the express following with her little trunk. Margaret
greeted Annie a bit stiffly but the girl did not notice it. She was
so full of her ignorant little plan to solace her friend with her own
joy. Poor Annie did not understand that it requires a nature seldom
met upon this earth, to be solaced, under disappointment and failure,
by another's joy. Annie had made up her mind to say very little to
Margaret about what had happened the evening before. Only at first,
she remarked upon the beauty of the dinner, then she said quite
casually, "Dear Margaret, we were all so sorry for poor Miss
Wallingford's strange conduct."

"It really did not matter in the least," replied Margaret coldly. "I
shall never invite her again."

"I am sure nobody can blame you," said Annie warmly. "I don't want to
say harsh things, you know that, Margaret, but that poor girl, in
spite of her great talent, cannot have had the advantage of good
home-training."

"Oh, she is Western," said Margaret. "How very warm it is to-day."

"Very, but there is quite a breeze here."

"A hot breeze," said Margaret wearily. "How I wish we could afford a
house at the seashore or the mountains. The hot weather does get on
my nerves."

A great light of joy came into Annie's eyes. "Oh, Margaret dear," she
said, "I can't do it yet but it does look as if some time before long
perhaps, I may be able myself to have a house at the seashore. I
think Sudbury beach would be lovely. It is always cool there, and
then you can come and stay with me whenever you like during the hot
weather. I will have a room fitted up for you in your favourite white
and gold and it shall be called Margaret's room and you can always
come, when you wish."

Margaret looked at the other girl with a slow surprise. "I do not
understand," said she.

"Of course, you don't. You know we have only had enough to live here
as we have done," said Annie with really childish glee, "but oh,
Margaret, you will be so glad. I have not told you before but now I
must for I know it will make you so happy, and I know I can trust you
never to betray me, for it is a great secret, a very great secret,
and it must not be known by other people at present. I don't know
just when it can be known, perhaps never, certainly not now."

Margaret looked at her with indifferent interrogation. Annie did not
realise how indifferent. A flood-tide of kindly joyful emotion does
not pay much attention to its banks. Annie continued. She looked
sweetly excited; her voice rose high above its usual pitch. "You
understand, Margaret dear, how it is," she said. "You see I am quite
unknown, that is, my name is quite unknown, and it would really
hinder the success of a book."

Margaret surveyed her with awakening interest. "A book?" said she.

"Yes, a book! Oh, Margaret, I know it will be hard for you to
believe, but you know I am very truthful. I--I wrote the book they
are talking about so much now. You know what I mean?"

"Not the--?"

"Yes, _The Poor Lady_,--the anonymous novel which people are talking
so much about and which sold better than any other book last week. I
wrote it. I really did, Margaret."

"You wrote it!"

Annie continued almost wildly. "Yes, I did, I did!" she cried, "and
you are the only soul that knows except the publishers. They said
they were much struck with the book but advised anonymous
publication, my name was so utterly unknown."

"You wrote _The Poor Lady_?" said Margaret. Her eyes glittered, and
her lips tightened. Envy possessed her, but Annie Eustace did not
recognise envy when she saw it.

Annie went on in her sweet ringing voice, almost producing the effect
of a song. She was so happy, and so pleased to think that she was
making her friend happy.

"Yes," she said, "I wrote it. I wrote _The Poor Lady_."

"If," said Margaret, "you speak quite so loud, you will be heard by
others."

Annie lowered her voice immediately with a startled look. "Oh," she
whispered. "I would not have anybody hear me for anything."

"How did you manage?" asked Margaret.

Annie laughed happily. "I fear I have been a little deceitful," she
said, "but I am sure they will forgive me when they know. I keep a
journal; I have always kept one since I was a child. Aunt Harriet
wished me to do so. And the journal was very stupid. So little
unusual happens here in Fairbridge, and I have always been rather
loath to write very much about my innermost feelings or very much
about my friends in my journal because of course one can never tell
what will happen. It has never seemed to me quite delicate--to keep a
very full journal, and so there was in reality very little to write."
Annie burst into a peal of laughter. "It just goes this way, the
journal," she said. "To-day is pleasant and warm. This morning I
helped Hannah preserve cherries. In the afternoon I went over to
Margaret's and sat with her on the verandah, embroidered two daisies
and three leaves with stems on my centre piece, came home, had
supper, sat in the twilight with Grandmother, Aunt Harriet and Aunt
Susan. Went upstairs, put on my wrapper and read until it was time to
go to bed. Went to bed. Now that took very little time and was not
interesting and so, after I went upstairs, I wrote my entry in the
journal in about five minutes and then I wrote _The Poor Lady_. Of
course, when I began it, I was not at all sure that it would amount
to anything. I was not sure that any publisher would look at it.
Sometimes I felt as if I were doing a very foolish thing: spending
time and perhaps deceiving Grandmother and my aunts very wickedly,
though I was quite certain that if the book should by any chance
succeed, they would not think it wrong.

"Grandmother is very fond of books and so is Aunt Harriet, and I have
often heard them say they wished I had been a boy in order that I
might do something for the Eustace name. You know there have been so
many distinguished professional men in the Eustace family and they of
course did not for one minute think a girl like me could do anything
and I did not really think so myself. Sometimes I wonder how I had
the courage to keep on writing when I was so uncertain but it was
exactly as if somebody were driving me. When I had the book finished,
I was so afraid it ought to be typewritten, but I could not manage
that. At least I thought I could not, but after awhile I did, and in
a way that nobody suspected, Aunt Harriet sent me to New York. You
know I am not often allowed to go alone but it was when Grandmother
had the grippe and Aunt Susan the rheumatism and Aunt Harriet had a
number of errands and so I went on the Twenty-third Street ferry, and
did not go far from Twenty-third Street and I took my book in my
handbag and carried it into Larkins and White's and I saw Mr. Larkins
in his office and he was very kind and polite, although I think now
he was laughing a little to himself at the idea of my writing a book,
but he said to leave the MSS. and he would let me hear. And I left it
and, oh, Margaret, I heard within a week, and he said such lovely
things about it. You know I always go to the post-office, so there
was no chance of anybody's finding it out that way. And then the
proof began to come and I was at my wits' end to conceal that, but I
did. And then the book was published, and, Margaret, you know the
rest. Nobody dreams who wrote it, and I have had a statement and oh,
my dear, next November I am to have a check."  (Annie leaned over and
whispered in Margaret's ear.)  "Only think," she said with a burst of
rapture.

Margaret was quite pale. She sat looking straight before her with a
strange expression. She was tasting in the very depths of her soul a
bitterness which was more biting than any bitter herb which ever grew
on earth. It was a bitterness, which, thank God, is unknown to many;
the bitterness of the envy of an incapable, but self-seeking nature,
of one with the burning ambition of genius but destitute of the
divine fire. To such come unholy torture, which is unspeakable at the
knowledge of another's success. Margaret Edes was inwardly writhing.
To think that Annie Eustace, little Annie Eustace, who had worshipped
at her own shrine, whom she had regarded with a lazy, scarcely
concealed contempt, for her incredible lack of wordly knowledge, her
provincialism, her ill-fitting attire, should have achieved a triumph
which she herself could never achieve. A cold hatred of the girl
swept over the woman. She forced her lips into a smile, but her eyes
were cruel.

"How very interesting, my dear," she said.

Poor Annie started. She was acute, for all her innocent trust in
another's goodness, and the tone of her friend's voice, the look in
her eyes chilled her. And yet she did not know what they signified.
She went on begging for sympathy and rejoicing with her joy as a
child might beg for a sweet. "Isn't it perfectly lovely, Margaret
dear?" she said.

"It is most interesting, my dear child," replied Margaret.

Annie went on eagerly with the details of her triumph, the book sales
which increased every week, the revises, the letters from her
publishers, and Margaret listened smiling in spite of her torture,
but she never said more than "How interesting."

At last Annie went home and could not help feeling disappointed,
although she could not fathom the significance of Margaret's
reception of her astonishing news. Annie only worried because she
feared lest her happiness had not cheered her friend as much as she
had anticipated.

"Poor Margaret, she must feel so very bad that nothing can reconcile
her to such a betrayal of her hospitality," she reflected as she
flitted across the street. There was nobody in evidence at her house
at window or on the wide verandah. Annie looked at her watch tucked
in her girdle, hung around her neck by a thin gold chain which had
belonged to her mother. It yet wanted a full hour of supper time. She
had time to call on Alice Mendon and go to the post-office. Alice
lived on the way to the post-office, in a beautiful old colonial
house. Annie ran along the shady sidewalk and soon had a glimpse of
Alice's pink draperies on her great front porch. Annie ran down the
deep front yard between the tall box bushes, beyond which bloomed in
a riot of colour and perfume roses and lilies and spraying heliotrope
and pinks and the rest of their floral tribe all returned to their
dance of summer. Alice's imposing colonial porch was guarded on
either side of the superb circling steps by a stone lion from over
seas. On the porch was a little table and several chairs. Alice sat
in one reading. She was radiant in her pink muslin. Alice seldom wore
white. She was quite sensible as to the best combinations of herself
with colours although she had, properly speaking, no vanity. She
arranged herself to the best advantage as she arranged a flower in a
vase. On the heavily carved mahogany table beside her was a blue and
white India bowl filled with white roses and heliotrope and lemon
verbena. Annie inhaled the bouquet of perfume happily as she came up
the steps with Alice smiling a welcome at her. Annie had worshipped
more fervently at Margaret Edes' shrine than at Alice's and yet she
had a feeling of fuller confidence in Alice. She was about to tell
Alice about her book, not because Alice needed the comfort of her joy
but because she herself, although unknowingly, needed Alice's ready
sympathy of which she had no doubt. Her interview with Margaret had
left the child hurt and bewildered and now she came to Alice. Alice
did not rise and kiss her. Alice seldom kissed anybody but she
radiated kindly welcome.

"Sit down, little Annie," she said, "I am glad you have come. My aunt
and cousin have gone to New York and I have been alone all day. We
would have tea and cake but _I_ know the hour of your Medes and
Persians' supper approaches instead of my later dinner."

"Yes," said Annie, sitting down, "and if I were to take tea and cake
now, Alice, I could eat nothing and grandmother and my aunts are very
particular about my clearing my plate."

Alice laughed, but she looked rather solicitously at the girl. "I
know," she said, then she hesitated. She pitied little Annie Eustace
and considered her rather a victim of loving but mistaken tyranny. "I
wish," she said, "that you would stay and dine with me to-night."

Annie fairly gasped. "They expect me at home," she replied.

"I know, and I suppose if I were to send over and tell them you would
dine with me, it would not answer."

Annie looked frightened. "I fear not, Alice. You see they would have
had no time to think it over and decide."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"I have time to make you a little call and stop at the post-office
for the last mail and get home just in time for supper."

"Oh, well, you must come and dine with me a week from to-day, and I
will have a little dinner-party," said Alice. "I will invite some
nice people. We will have Mr. von Rosen for one."

Annie suddenly flushed crimson. It occurred to her that Mr. von Rosen
might walk home with her as he had done from Margaret's, and a
longing and terror at once possessed her.

Alice wondered at the blush.

"I was so sorry for poor Margaret last night," Annie said with an
abrupt change of subject.

"Yes," said Alice.

"That poor Western girl, talented as she is, must have been oddly
brought up to be so very rude to her hostess," said Annie.

"I dare say Western girls are brought up differently," said Alice.

Annie was so intent with what she had to tell Alice that she did not
realise the extreme evasiveness of the other's manner.

"Alice," she said.

"Well, little Annie Eustace?"

Annie began, blushed, then hesitated.

"I am going to tell you something. I have told Margaret. I have just
told her this afternoon. I thought it might please her and comfort
her after that terrible scene at her dinner last night, but nobody
else knows except the publishers."

"What is it?" asked Alice, regarding Annie with a little smile.

"Nothing, only I wrote _The Poor Lady_," said Annie.

"My dear Annie, I knew it all the time," said Alice.

Annie stared at her. "How?"

"Well, you did not know it, but you did repeat in that book verbatim,
ad literatim, a sentence, a very striking one, which occurred in one
of your papers which you wrote for the Zenith Club. I noticed that
sentence at the time. It was this: 'A rose has enough beauty and
fragrance to enable it to give very freely and yet itself remain a
rose. It is the case with many endowed natures but that is a fact
which is not always understood.'  My dear Annie, I knew that you
wrote the book, for that identical sentence occurs in _The Poor Lady_
on page one hundred forty-two. You see I have fully considered the
matter to remember the exact page. I knew the minute I read that
sentence that my little Annie Eustace had written that successful
anonymous book, and I was the more certain because I had always had
my own opinion as to little Annie's literary ability based upon those
same Zenith Club papers. You will remember that I have often told you
that you should not waste your time writing club papers when you
could do work like that."

Annie looked alarmed. "Oh, Alice," she said, "do you think anybody
else has remembered that sentence?"

"My dear child, I am quite sure that not a blessed woman in that club
has remembered that sentence," said Alice.

"I had entirely forgotten."

"Of course, you had."

"It would be very unfortunate if it were remembered, because the
publishers are so anxious that my name should not be known. You see,
nobody ever heard of me and my name would hurt the sales and the poor
publishers have worked so hard over the advertising, it would be
dreadful to have the sales fall off. You really don't think anybody
does remember?"

"My dear," said Alice with her entirely good-natured, even amused and
tolerant air of cynicism, "the women of the Zenith Club remember
their own papers. You need not have the slightest fear. But Annie,
you wonderful little girl, I am so glad you have come to me with
this. I have been waiting for you to tell me, for I was impatient to
tell you how delighted I am. You blessed child, I never was more glad
at anything in my whole life. I am as proud as proud can be. I feel
as if I had written that book myself, and better than written it
myself. I have had none of the bother of the work and my friend had
it and my friend has the fame and the glory and she goes around among
us with her little halo hidden out of sight of everybody, except
myself."

"Margaret knows."

Alice stiffened a little. "That is recent," she said, "and I have
known all the time."

"Margaret could not have remembered that sentence, I am sure," Annie
said thoughtfully. "Poor Margaret, she was so upset by what happened
last night that I am afraid the news did not cheer her up as much as
I thought it would."

"Well, you dear little soul," said Alice, "I am simply revelling in
happiness and pride because of it, you may be sure of that."

"But you have not had such an awful blow as poor Margaret had," said
Annie. Then she brightened. "Oh Alice," she cried, "I wanted somebody
who loved me to be glad."

"You have not told your grandmother and aunts yet?"

"I have not dared," replied Annie in a shamed fashion. "I know I
deceived them and I think perhaps grandmother might find it hard not
to tell. She is so old you know, and she does tell a great deal
without meaning and Aunt Susan likes to tell news. I have not dared,
Alice. The publishers have been so very insistent that nobody should
know, but I had to tell you and Margaret."

"It made no difference anyway about me," said Alice, "since I already
knew."

"Margaret can be trusted too, I am sure," Annie said quickly.

"Of course."

Annie looked at her watch. "I must go," she said, "or I shall be
late. Isn't it really wonderful that I should write a successful
book, Alice?"

"You are rather wonderful, my dear," said Alice. Then she rose and
put her arms around the slender white-clad figure and held her close,
and gave her one of her infrequent kisses. "You precious little
thing," she said, "the book is wonderful, but my Annie is more
wonderful because she can be told so and never get the fact into her
head. Here is your work, dear."

An expression of dismay came over Annie's face. "Oh, dear," she said,
"I have only embroidered half a daisy and what will Aunt Harriet
say?"

"You have embroidered a whole garden as nobody else can, if people
only knew it," said Alice.

"But Alice," said Annie ruefully, "my embroidery is really awful and
I don't like to do it and the linen is so grimy that I am ashamed.
Oh, dear, I shall have to face Aunt Harriet with that half daisy!"

Alice laughed. "She can't kill you."

"No, but I don't like to have her so disappointed."

Alice kissed Annie again before she went, and watched the slight
figure flitting down between the box-rows, with a little frown of
perplexity. She wished that Annie had not told Margaret Edes about
the book and yet she did not know why she wished so. She was very far
from expecting the results. Alice was too noble herself to entertain
suspicions of the ignobility of others. Certainty she was obliged to
confront, as she had confronted the affair of the night before. It
was, of course, the certainty that Margaret had been guilty of a
disgraceful and treacherous deed which made her uneasy in a vague
fashion now and yet she did not for one second dream of what was to
occur at the next meeting of the Zenith Club.

That was at Mrs. Sturtevant's and was the great affair of the year.
It was called, to distinguish it from the others, "The Annual
Meeting," and upon that occasion the husbands and men friends of the
members were invited and the function was in the evening. Margaret
had wished to have the club at her own house, before the affair of
Martha Wallingford, but the annual occasions were regulated by the
letters of the alphabet and it was incontrovertibly the turn of the
letter S and Mrs. Sturtevant's right could not be questioned. During
the time which elapsed before this meeting, Margaret Edes was more
actively unhappy than she had ever been in her life and all her
strong will could not keep the traces of that unhappiness from her
face. Lines appeared. Her eyes looked large in dark hollows. Wilbur
grew anxious about her.

"You must go somewhere for a change," he said, "and I will get my
cousin Marion to come here and keep house and look out for the
children. You must not be bothered even with them. You need a
complete rest and change."

But Margaret met his anxiety with irritation. She felt as if some
fatal fascination confined her in Fairbridge and especially did she
feel that she must be present at the annual meeting. Margaret never
for one minute formulated to herself why she had this fierce desire.
She knew in a horrible way at the back of her brain, but she kept the
knowledge covered as with a veil even from herself.

She had a beautiful new gown made for the occasion. Since she had
lost so much colour, she was doubtful of the wisdom of wearing her
favourite white and gold, or black. She had a crepe of a peculiar
shade of blue which suited her and she herself worked assiduously
embroidering it in a darker shade which brought out the colour of her
eyes. She looked quite herself when the evening came and Wilbur's
face brightened as he looked at her in her trailing blue with a
little diamond crescent fastening a tiny blue feather in her golden
fluff of hair.

"You certainly do look better," he said happily.

"I am well, you old goose," said Margaret, fastening her long blue
gloves. "You have simply been fussing over nothing as I told you."

"Well, I hope I have. You do look stunning to-night," said Wilbur,
gazing at her with a pride so intense that it was almost piteous in
its self-abnegation.

"Is that your stunt there on the table?" he inquired, pointing to a
long envelope.

Margaret laughed carefully, dimpling her cheeks. "Yes," she said, and
Wilbur took the envelope and put it into his pocket. "I will carry it
for you," he said. "By the way, what is your stunt, honey? Did you
write something?"

"Wait, until you hear," replied Margaret, and she laughed carefully
again. She gathered up the train of her blue gown and turned upon
him, her blue eyes glowing with a strange fire, feverish roses on her
cheeks. "You are not to be surprised at anything to-night," she said
and laughed again.

She still had a laughing expression when they were seated in Mrs.
Sturtevant's flower-scented drawing-room, a handsome room, thanks to
the decorator, who was young and enthusiastic. Margaret had duly
considered the colour scheme in her choice of a gown. The furniture
was upholstered with a wisteria pattern, except a few chairs which
were cane-seated, with silvered wood. Margaret had gone directly to
one of these chairs. She was not sure of her gown being exactly the
right shade of blue to harmonise with the wisteria at close quarters.
The chair was tall and slender. Margaret's feet did not touch the
floor, but the long blue trail of her gown concealed that, and she
contrived to sit as if they did. She gave the impression of a tall
creature of extreme grace as she sat propping her back against her
silvered chair. Wilbur gazed at her with adoration. He had almost
forgotten the affair of Martha Wallingford. He had excused his
Margaret because she was a woman and he was profoundly ignorant of
women's strange ambitions. Now, he regarded her with unqualified
admiration. He looked from her to the other women and back again and
was entirely convinced that she outshone them all as a sun a star. He
looked at the envelope in her blue lap and was sure that she had
written something which was infinitely superior to the work of any
other woman there. Down in the depths of his masculine soul, Wilbur
Edes had a sense of amused toleration when women's clubs were
concerned, but he always took his Margaret seriously, and the Zenith
Club on that account was that night an important and grave
organisation. He wished very much to smoke and he was wedged into an
uncomfortable corner with a young girl who insisted upon talking to
him and was all the time nervously rearranging her hair, but he had a
good view of his Margaret in her wonderful blue gown, in her silver
chair, and he was consoled.

"Have you read _The Poor Lady_?" asked spasmodically the girl, and
drove in a slipping hair-pin at the same time.

"I never read novels," replied Wilbur absently, "haven't much time
you know."

"Oh, I suppose not, but that is such a wonderful book and only think,
nobody has the least idea who wrote it, and it does make it so
interesting. I thought myself it was written by Wilbur Jack until I
came to a sentence which I could quite understand and that put him
out of the question. Of course, Wilbur Jack is such a great genius
that no young girl like myself pretends to understand him, but that
is why I worship him. I tell Mamma I think he is the ideal writer for
young girls, so elevating. And then I thought _The Poor Lady_ might
have been written by Mrs. Eudora Peasely because she is always so
lucid and I came to a sentence which I could not understand at all.
Oh, dear, I have thought of all the living writers as writing that
book and have had to give it up, and of course the dead ones are out
of the question."

"Of course," said Wilbur gravely, and then his Margaret stood up and
took some printed matter from an envelope and instantly the situation
became strangely tense. Men and women turned eager faces; they could
not have told why eager, but they were all conscious of something
unusual in the atmosphere and every expression upon those expectant
faces suddenly changed into one which made them as a listening unit.
Then Margaret began.



Chapter VII


Wilbur Edes thought he had never seen his wife look as beautiful as
she did standing there before them all with those fluttering leaves
of paper in her hand. A breeze came in at an opposite window and
Margaret's blue feather tossed in it; her yellow hair crisped and
fluffed and the paper fluttered. Margaret stood for an appreciable
second surveying them all with a most singular expression. It was
compounded of honeyed sweetness, of triumph, and something else more
subtle, the expression of a warrior entering battle and ready for
death, yet terrible with defiance and the purpose of victory, and
death for his foe.

Then Margaret spoke and her thin silvery voice penetrated to every
ear in the room.

"Members of the Zenith Club and friends," said Margaret, "I take the
opportunity offered me to-night to disclose a secret which is a
source of much joy to myself, and which I am sure will be a source of
joy to you also. I trust that since you are my friends and neighbours
and associates in club work, you will acquit me of the charge of
egotism and credit me with my whole motive, which is, I think, not an
unworthy one coming to you in joy, as I would come in sorrow for your
sympathy and understanding. I am about to read an extract from a book
whose success has given me the most unqualified surprise and delight,
knowing as I do that a reading by an author from her own work always
increases the interest even though she may not be an able expositor
by word of mouth of what she has written."

Then Margaret read. She had chosen a short chapter which was in
itself almost a complete little story. She read exceedingly well and
without faltering. People listened with ever-growing amazement. Then
Mrs. Jack Evarts whispered so audibly to a man at her side that she
broke in upon Margaret's clear recitative. "Goodness, she's reading
from that book that is selling so,--_The Poor Lady_--I remember every
word of that chapter."

Then while Margaret continued her reading imperturbably, the chorus
of whispers increased. "That is from _The Poor Lady_, yes, it is. Did
she write it? Why, of course, she did. She just said so. Isn't it
wonderful that she has done such a thing?"

Wilbur Edes sat with his eyes riveted upon his wife's face, his own
gone quite pale, but upon it an expression of surprise and joy so
intense that he looked almost foolish from such a revelation of his
inner self.

The young girl beside him drove hair pins frantically into her hair.
She twisted up a lock which had strayed and fastened it. She looked
alternately at Wilbur and Margaret.

"Goodness gracious," said she, and did not trouble to whisper. "That
is the next to the last chapter of _The Poor Lady_. And to think that
your wife wrote it! Goodness gracious, and here she has been living
right here in Fairbridge all the time and folks have been seeing her
and talking to her and never knew! Did you know, Mr. Edes?"

The young girl fixed her sharp pretty eyes upon Wilbur. "Never
dreamed of it," he blurted out, "just as much surprised as any of
you."

"I don't believe I could have kept such a wonderful thing as that
from my own husband," said the girl, who was unmarried, and had no
lover. But Wilbur did not hear. All he heard was his beloved
Margaret, who had secretly achieved fame for herself, reading on and
on. He had not the slightest idea what she was reading. He had no
interest whatever in that. All he cared for was the amazing fact that
his wife, his wonderful, beautiful Margaret, had so covered herself
with glory and honour. He had a slightly hurt feeling because she had
not told him until this public revelation. He felt that his own
private joy and pride as her husband should have been perhaps sacred
and respected by her and yet possibly she was right. This public
glory might have seemed to her the one which would the most appeal to
him.

He had, as he had said, not read the book, but he recalled with a
sort of rapturous tenderness for Margaret how he had seen the posters
all along the railroad as he commuted to the city, and along the
elevated road. His face gazing at Margaret was as beautiful in its
perfectly unselfish pride and affection, as a mother's. To think that
his darling had done such a thing! He longed to be at home alone with
her and say to her what he could not say before all these people. He
thought of a very good reason why she had chosen this occasion to
proclaim her authorship of the famous anonymous novel. She had been
so humiliated, poor child, by the insufferable rudeness of that
Western girl that she naturally wished to make good. And how modest
and unselfish she had been to make the attempt to exalt another
author when she herself was so much greater. Wilbur fully exonerated
Margaret for what she did in the case of Martha Wallingford in the
light of this revelation. His modest, generous, noble wife had
honestly endeavoured to do the girl a favour, to assist her in spite
of herself and she had received nothing save rudeness, ingratitude,
and humiliation in return. Now, she was asserting herself. She was
showing all Fairbridge that she was the one upon whom honour should
be showered. She was showing him and rightfully. He remembered with
compunction his severity toward her on account of the Martha
Wallingford affair, his beautiful, gifted Margaret! Why, even then
she might have electrified that woman's club by making the revelation
which she had won to-night and reading this same selection from her
own book. He had not read Martha Wallingford's _Hearts Astray_. He
thought that the title was enough for him. He knew that it must be
one of the womanish, hysterical, sentimental type of things which he
despised. But Margaret had been so modest that she had held back from
the turning on the search-light of her own greater glory. She had
made the effort which had resulted so disastrously to obtain a lesser
one, and he had condemned her. He knew that women always used
circuitous ways toward their results, just as men used sledge-hammer
ones. Why should a man criticise a woman's method any more than a
woman criticise a man's? Wilbur, blushing like a girl with pride and
delight, listened to his wife and fairly lashed himself. He was
wholly unworthy of such a woman, he knew.

When the reading was over and people crowded around Margaret and
congratulated her, he stood aloof. He felt that he could not speak of
this stupendous thing with her until they were alone. Then Doctor
Sturtevant's great bulk pressed against him and his sonorous voice
said in his ear, "By Jove, old man, your wife has drawn a lucky
number. Congratulations."  Wilbur gulped as he thanked him. Then
Sturtevant went on talking about a matter which was rather dear to
Wilbur's own ambition and which he knew had been tentatively
discussed: the advisability of his running for State Senator in the
autumn. Wilbur knew it would be a good thing for him professionally,
and at the bottom of his heart he knew that his wife's success had
been the last push toward his own. Other men came in and began
talking, leading from his wife's success toward his own, until Wilbur
realised himself as dazzled.

He did not notice what Von Rosen noticed, because he had kept his
attention upon the girl, that Annie Eustace had turned deadly pale
when Margaret had begun her reading and that Alice Mendon who was
seated beside her had slipped an arm around her and quietly and
unobtrusively led her out of the room. Von Rosen thought that Miss
Eustace must have turned faint because of the heat, and was conscious
of a distinct anxiety and disappointment. He had, without directly
acknowledging it to himself, counted upon walking home with Annie
Eustace, but yet he hoped that she might return, that she had not
left the home. When the refreshments were served, he looked for her,
but Annie was long since at Alice Mendon's house in her room. Alice
had hurried her there in her carriage.

"Come home with me, dear," she had whispered, "and we can have a talk
together. Your people won't expect you yet."

Therefore, while Karl von Rosen, who had gone to this annual meeting
of the Zenith Club for the sole purpose of walking home with Annie,
waited, the girl sat in a sort of dumb and speechless state in Alice
Mendon's room. It seemed to her like a bad dream. Alice herself
stormed. She had a high temper, but seldom gave way to it. Now she
did. There was something about this which roused her utmost powers of
indignation.

"It is simply an outrage," declared Alice, marching up and down the
large room, her rich white gown trailing behind her, her chin high.
"I did not think her capable of it. It is the worst form of thievery
in the world, stealing the work of another's brain. It is
inconceivable that Margaret Edes could have done such a preposterous
thing. I never liked her. I don't care if I do admit it, but I never
thought she was capable of such an utterly ignoble deed. It was all
that I could do to master myself, not to stand up before them all and
denounce her. Well, her time will come."

"Alice," said a ghastly little voice from the stricken figure on the
couch, "are you sure? Am I sure? Was that from my book?"

"Of course it was from your book. Why, you know it was from your
book, Annie Eustace," cried Alice and her voice sounded high with
anger toward poor Annie herself.

"I hoped that we might be mistaken after all," said the voice, which
had a bewildered quality. Annie Eustace had a nature which could not
readily grasp some of the evil of humanity. She was in reality dazed
before this. She was ready to believe an untruth rather than the
incredible truth. But Alice Mendon was merciless. She resolved that
Annie should know once for all.

"We are neither of us mistaken," she said. "Margaret Edes read a
chapter from your book, _The Poor Lady_, and without stating in so
many words that she was the author, she did what was worse. She made
everybody think so. Annie, she is bad, bad, bad. Call the spade a
spade and face it. See how black it is. Margaret Edes has stolen from
you your best treasure."

"I don't care for that so much," said Annie Eustace, "but--I loved
her, Alice."

"Then," said Alice, "she has stolen more than your book. She has
stolen the light by which you wrote it. It is something hideous,
hideous."

Annie gave a queer little dry sob. "Margaret could not have done it,"
she moaned.

Alice crossed swiftly to her and knelt beside her. "Darling," she
said, "you must face it. It is better. I do not say so because I do
not personally like Margaret Edes, but you must have courage and face
it."

"I have not courage enough," said Annie and she felt that she had
not, for it was one of the awful tasks of the world which was before
her: The viewing the mutilated face of love itself.

"You must," said Alice. She put an arm around the slight figure and
drew the fair head to her broad bosom, her maternal bosom, which
served her friends in good stead, since it did not pillow the heads
of children. Friends in distress are as children to the women of her
type.

"Darling," she said in her stately voice from which the anger had
quite gone. "Darling, you must face it. Margaret did read that
chapter from your book and she told, or as good as told everybody
that she had written it."

Then Annie sobbed outright and the tears came.

"Oh," she cried, "Oh, Alice, how she must want success to do anything
like that, poor, poor Margaret! Oh, Alice!"

"How she must love herself," said Alice firmly. "Annie, you must face
it. Margaret is a self-lover; her whole heart turns in love toward
her own self, instead of toward those whom she should love and who
love her. Annie, Margaret is bad, bad, with a strange degenerate
badness. She dates back to the sins of the First Garden. You must
turn your back upon her. You must not love her any more."

"No, I must not love her any more," agreed Annie, "and that is the
pity of it. I must not love her, Alice, but I must pity her until I
die. Poor Margaret!"

"Poor Annie," said Alice. "You worked so hard over that book, dear,
and you were so pleased. Annie, what shall you do about it?"

Annie raised her head from Alice's bosom and sat up straight, with a
look of terror.

"Alice," she cried, "I must go to-morrow and see my publishers. I
must go down on my knees to them if necessary."

"Do you mean," asked Alice slowly, "never to tell?"

"Oh, never, never, never!" cried Annie.

"I doubt," said Alice, "if you can keep such a matter secret. I doubt
if your publishers will consent."

"They must. I will never have it known! Poor Margaret!"

"I don't pity her at all," said Alice. "I do pity her husband who
worships her, and there is talk of his running for State Senator and
this would ruin him. And I am sorry for the children."

"Nobody shall ever know," said Annie.

"But how can you manage with the publishers?"

"I don't know. I will."

"And you will have written that really wonderful book and never have
the credit for it. You will live here and see Margaret Edes praised
for what you have done."

"Poor Margaret," said Annie. "I must go now. I know I can trust you
never to speak."

"Of course, but I do not think it right."

"I don't care whether it is right or not," said Annie. "It must never
be known."

"You are better than I am," said Alice as she rang the bell, which
was presently answered. "Peter has gone home for the night, Marie
said," Alice told Annie, "but Marie and I will walk home with you."

"Alice, it is only a step."

"I know, but it is late."

"It is not much after ten, and--I would rather go alone, if you don't
mind, Alice. I want to get settled a little before Aunt Harriet sees
me. I can do it better alone."

Alice laughed. "Well," she said, "Marie and I will stand on the front
porch until you are out of sight from there and then we will go to
the front gate. We can see nearly to your house and we can hear if
you call."

It was a beautiful night. The moon was high in a sky which was
perceptibly blue. In the west was still a faint glow, which was like
a memory of a cowslip sunset. The street and the white house-front
were plumy with soft tree shadows wavering in a gentle wind. Annie
was glad when she was alone in the night. She needed a moment for
solitariness and readjustment since one of the strongest
readjustments on earth faced her--the realisation that what she had
loved was not. She did not walk rapidly but lingered along the road.
She was thankful that neither of her aunts had been to the annual
meeting. She would not need to account for her time so closely.
Suddenly she heard a voice, quite a loud voice, a man's, with a music
of gladness in it. Annie knew instinctively whose it was, and she
stepped quickly upon a lawn and stood behind a clump of trees. A man
and woman passed her--Margaret Edes and her husband--and Wilbur was
saying in his glad, loving voice, "To think you should have done such
a thing, Margaret, my dear, you will never know how proud I am of
you."

Annie heard Margaret's voice in a whisper hushing Wilbur. "You speak
so loud, dear," said Margaret, "everybody will hear you."

"I don't care if they do," said Wilbur. "I should like to proclaim it
from the housetops."  Then they passed and the rose scent of
Margaret's garments was in Annie's face. She was glad that Margaret
had hushed her husband. She argued that it proved some little sense
of shame, but oh, when all alone with her own husband, she had made
no disclaimer. Annie came out from her hiding and went on. The Edes
ahead of her melted into the shadows but she could still hear
Wilbur's glad voice. The gladness in it made her pity Margaret more.
She thought how horrible it must be to deceive love like that, to
hear that joyful tone, and know it all undeserved. Then suddenly she
heard footsteps behind and walked to one side to allow whoever it was
to pass, but a man's voice said: "Good evening, Miss Eustace," and
Von Rosen had joined her. He had in truth been waiting like any
village beau near Alice Mendon's house for the chance of her emerging
alone.

Annie felt annoyed, and yet her heart beat strangely.

"Good evening, Mr. von Rosen," she said and still lingered as if to
allow him to pass, but he slowed his own pace and sauntered by her
side.

"A fine evening," he remarked tritely.

"Very," agreed Annie.

"I saw you at the evening club," said Von Rosen presently.

"Yes," said Annie, "I was there."

"You left early."

"Yes, I left quite early with Alice. I have been with her since."

Annie wondered if Mr. von Rosen suspected anything but his next words
convinced her that he did not.

"I suppose that you were as much surprised as the rest of us,
although you are her intimate friend, at Mrs. Edes' announcement
concerning the authorship of that successful novel," said he.

"Yes," said Annie faintly.

"Of course you had no idea that she had written it?"

"No."

"Have you read it?"

"Yes."

"What do you think of it? I almost never read novels but I suppose I
must tackle that one. Did you like it?"

"Quite well," said Annie.

"Tell me what is it all about?"

Annie could endure no more. "It will spoil the book for you if I tell
you, Mr. von Rosen," said she, and her voice was at once firm and
piteous. She could not tell the story of her own book to him. She
would be as deceitful as poor Margaret, for all the time he would
think she was talking of Margaret's work and not of her own.

Von Rosen laughed. After all he cared very little indeed about the
book. He had what he cared for: a walk home with this very sweet and
very natural girl, who did not seem to care whether he walked home
with her or not.

"I dare say you are right," he said, "but I doubt if your telling me
about it would spoil the book for me, because it is more than
probable that I shall never read it after all. I may if it comes in
my way because I was somewhat surprised. I had never thought of Mrs.
Edes as that sort of person. However, so many novels are written
nowadays, and some mighty queer ones are successful that I presume I
should not be surprised. Anybody in Fairbridge might be the author of
a successful novel. You might, Miss Eustace, for all I know."

Annie said nothing.

"Perhaps you are," said Von Rosen. He had not the least idea of the
thinness of the ice. Annie trembled. Her truthfulness was as her
life. She hated even evasions. Luckily Von Rosen was so far from
suspicion that he did not wait for an answer.

"Mrs. Edes reads well," he said.

"Very well indeed," returned Annie eagerly.

"I suppose an author can read more understandingly from her own
work," said Von Rosen. "Don't you think so, Miss Eustace?"

"I think she might," said Annie.

"I don't know but I shall read that book after all," said Von Rosen.
"I rather liked that extract she gave us. It struck me as out of the
common run of women's books. I beg your pardon, Miss Eustace. If you
were a writer yourself I could not speak so, but you are not, and you
must know as well as I do, that many of the books written by women
are simply sloughs of oversweetened sentiment, and of entirely
innocent immorality. But that chapter did not sound as if it could
belong to such a book. It sounded altogether too logical for the
average woman writer. I think I will read it. Then after I have read
it, you will not refuse to discuss it with me, will you?"

"I do not think so," replied Annie tremulously. Would he never talk
of anything except that book? To her relief he did, to her relief and
scarcely acknowledged delight.

"Are you interested in curios, things from Egyptian tombs, for
instance?" he inquired with brutal masculine disregard of sequence.

Annie was bewildered, but she managed to reply that she thought she
might be. She had heard of Von Rosen's very interesting collection.

"I happened to meet your aunt, Miss Harriet, this afternoon," said
Von Rosen, "and I inquired if she were by any chance interested and
she said she was."

"Yes," said Annie. She had never before dreamed that her Aunt Harriet
was in the least interested in Egyptian tombs.

"I ventured to ask if she and her sister, Miss Susan, and you also,
if you cared to see it, would come some afternoon and look at my
collection," said Von Rosen.

Nobody could have dreamed from his casual tone how carefully he had
planned it all out: the visit of Annie and her aunts, the delicate
little tea served in the study, the possible little stroll with Annie
in his garden. Von Rosen knew that one of the aunts, Miss Harriet,
was afflicted with rose cold, and therefore, would probably not
accept his invitation to view his rose-garden, and he also knew that
it was improbable that both sisters would leave their aged mother. It
was, of course, a toss-up as to whether Miss Harriet or Miss Susan
would come. It was also a toss-up as to whether or not they might
both come, and leave little Annie as companion for the old lady. In
fact, he had to admit to himself that the latter contingency was the
more probable. He was well accustomed to being appropriated by elder
ladies, with the evident understanding that he preferred them. He
would simply have to make the best of it and show his collection as
gracefully as possible and leave out the rose-garden and the
delicious little tête-à-tête with this young rose of a girl and think
of something else. For Karl von Rosen in these days was accustoming
himself to a strange visage in his own mental looking-glass. He had
not altered his attitude toward women but toward one woman, and that
one was now sauntering beside him in the summer moonlight, her fluffy
white garments now and then blowing across his sober garb. He was
conscious of holding himself in a very tight rein. He wondered how
long men were usually about their love-making. He wished to make love
that very instant, but he feared lest the girl might be lost by such
impetuosity. In all likelihood, the thought of love in connection
with himself had never entered her mind. Why should it? Karl in love
was very modest and saw himself as a very insignificant figure.
Probably this flower-like young creature had never thought of love at
all. She had lived her sweet simple village life. She had obeyed her
grandmother and her aunts, done her household tasks and embroidered.
He remembered the grimy bit of linen which he had picked up and he
could not see the very slightest connection between that sort of
thing and love and romance. Of course, she had read a few love
stories and the reasoning by analogy develops in all minds. She might
have built a few timid air castles for herself upon the foundations
of the love stories in fiction, and this brought him around to the
fatal subject again almost inevitably.

"Do you know, Miss Eustace," he said, "that I am wishing a very queer
thing about you?"

"What, Mr. von Rosen?"

"I am wishing, you know that I would not esteem you more highly, it
is not that, but I am wishing that you also had written a book, a
really good sort of love story, novel, you know."

Annie gasped.

"I don't mean because Mrs. Edes wrote _The Poor Lady_. It is not
that. I am quite sure that you could have written a book every whit
as good as hers but what I do mean is--I feel that a woman writer if
she writes the best sort of book must obtain a certain insight
concerning human nature which requires a long time for most women."
Von Rosen was rather mixed, but Annie did not grasp it. She was very
glad that they were nearing her own home. She could not endure much
more.

"Is _The Poor Lady_ a love story?" inquired Von Rosen.

"There is a little love in it," replied Annie faintly.

"I shall certainly read it," said Von Rosen. He shook hands with
Annie at her gate and wanted to kiss her. She looked up in his face
like an adorably timid, trustful little child and it seemed almost
his duty to kiss her, but he did not. He said good-night and again
mentioned his collection of curios.

"I hope you will feel inclined to come and see them," he said,
"with--your aunts."

"Thank you," replied Annie, "I shall be very glad to come, if both
Aunt Harriet and Aunt Susan do not. That would of course oblige me to
stay with grandmother."

"Of course," assented Von Rosen, but he said inwardly, "Hang
Grandmother."

In his inmost self, Von Rosen was not a model clergyman. He, however,
had no reason whatever to hang grandmother, but quite the reverse,
although he did not so conclude, as he considered the matter on his
way home. It seemed to him that this darling of a girl was fairly
hedged in by a barbed wire fence of feminine relatives.

He passed the Edes' house on his way and saw that a number of the
upper windows were still lighted. He even heard a masculine voice
pitched on a high cadence of joy and triumph. He smiled a little
scornfully. "He thinks his wife is the most wonderful woman in the
world," he told himself, "and I dare say that a novel is simply like
an over-sweetened ice-cream, with an after taste of pepper, out of
sheer deviltry."  Had he known it, Margaret Edes herself was tasting
pepper, mustard and all the fierce condiments known, in her very
soul. It was a singular thing that Margaret had been obliged to
commit an ignoble deed in order to render her soul capable of tasting
to the full, but she had been so constituted. As Karl von Rosen
passed that night, she was sitting in her room, clad in her white
silk negligee and looking adorable, and her husband was fairly on his
knees before her, worshipping her, and she was suffering after a
fashion hitherto wholly uncomprehended by her. Margaret had never
known that she could possibly be to blame for anything, that she
could sit in judgment upon herself. Now she knew it and the knowledge
brought a torture which had been unimaginable by her. She strove not
to make her shrinking from her husband and his exultation--her
terrified shrinking--evident.

"Oh, Margaret, you are simply wonderful beyond words," said Wilbur,
gazing up into her face. "I always knew you were wonderful, of
course, darling, but this! Why, Margaret, you have gained an
international reputation from that one book! And the reviews have
been unanimous, almost unanimous in their praise. I have not read it,
dear. I am so ashamed of myself, but you know I never read novels,
but I am going to read my Margaret's novel. Oh, my dear, my
wonderful, wonderful dear!"  Wilbur almost sobbed. "Do you know what
it may do for me, too?" he said. "Do you know, Margaret, it may mean
my election as Senator. One can never tell what may sway popular
opinion. Once, if anybody had told me that I might be elected to
office and my election might possibly be due to the fact that my wife
had distinguished myself, I should have been humbled to the dust. But
I cannot be humbled by any success which may result from your
success. I did not know my wonderful Margaret then."  Wilbur kissed
his wife's hands. He was almost ridiculous, but it was horribly
tragic for Margaret.

She longed as she had never longed for anything in her life, for the
power to scream, to shout in his ears the truth, but she could not.
She was bound hard and fast in the bands of her own falsehood. She
could not so disgrace her husband, her children. Why had she not
thought of them before? She had thought only of herself and her own
glory, and that glory had turned to stinging bitterness upon her
soul. She was tasting the bitterest medicine which life and the whole
world contains. And at the same time, it was not remorse that she
felt. That would have been easier. What she endured was
self-knowledge. The reflection of one's own character under unbiased
cross-lights is a hideous thing for a self-lover. She was thinking,
while she listened to Wilbur's rhapsodies. Finally she scarcely heard
him. Then her attention was suddenly keenly fixed. There were
horrible complications about this which she had not considered.
Margaret's mind had no business turn. She had not for a moment
thought of the financial aspect of the whole. Wilbur was different.
What he was now saying was very noble, but very disconcerting. "Of
course, I know, darling, that all this means a pile of money, but one
thing you must remember: it is for yourself alone. Not one penny of
it will I ever touch and more than that it is not to interfere in the
least with my expenditures for you, my wife, and the children.
Everything of that sort goes on as before. You have the same
allowance for yourself and the children as before. Whatever comes
from your book is your own to do with as you choose. I do not even
wish you to ask my advice about the disposal of it."

Margaret was quite pale as she looked at him. She remembered now the
sum which Annie had told her she was to receive. She made no
disclaimer. Her lips felt stiff. While Wilbur wished for no
disclaimer, she could yet see that he was a little surprised at
receiving none, but she could not speak. She merely gazed at him in a
helpless sort of fashion. The grapes which hung over her friend's
garden wall were not very simple. They were much beside grapes.
Wilbur returned her look pityingly.

"Poor girl," he said, kissing her hands again; "she is all tired out
and I must let her go to bed. Standing on a pedestal is rather
tiresome, if it is gratifying, isn't it, sweetheart?"

"Yes," said Margaret, with a weary sigh from her heart. How little
the poor man knew of the awful torture of standing upon the pedestal
of another, and at the same time holding before one's eyes that
looking-glass with all the cross-lights of existence full upon it!

Margaret went to bed, but she could not sleep. All night long she
revolved the problem of how she should settle the matter with Annie
Eustace. She did not for a second fear Annie's betrayal, but there
was that matter of the publishers. Would they be content to allow
matters to rest?

The next morning Margaret endeavoured to get Annie on the telephone
but found that she had gone to New York. Annie's Aunt Harriet
replied. She herself had sent the girl on several errands.

Margaret could only wait. She feared lest Annie might not return
before Wilbur and in such a case she could not discuss matters with
her before the next day. Margaret had a horrible time during the next
six hours. The mail was full of letters of congratulation. A local
reporter called to interview her. She sent word that she was out, but
he was certain that he had seen her. The children heard the news and
pestered her with inquiries about her book and wondering looks at
her. Callers came in the afternoon and it was all about her book.
Nobody could know how relieved she was after hearing the four-thirty
train, to see little Annie Eustace coming through her gate. Annie
stood before her stiffly. The day was very warm and the girl looked
tired and heated.

"No, thank you," she said, "I can not sit down. I only stopped to
tell you that I have arranged with the publishers. They will keep the
secret. I shall have rather a hard task arranging about the checks,
because I fear it will involve a little deceit and I do not like
deceit."

Annie, as she spoke, looked straight at Margaret and there was
something terrible in that clear look of unsoiled truth. Margaret put
out a detaining hand.

"Sit down for a minute, please," she said cringingly. "I want to
explain?"

"There is nothing whatever to explain," replied Annie. "I heard."

"Can you ever forgive me?"

"I do not think," said Annie, "that this is an ordinary offence about
which to talk of forgiveness. I do pity you, Margaret, for I realise
how dreadfully you must have wanted what did not belong to you."

Margaret winced. "Well, if it is any satisfaction to you, I am
realising nothing but misery from it," she said in a low voice.

"I don't see how you can help that," replied Annie simply. Then she
went away.

It proved Margaret's unflinching trust in the girl and Annie's
recognition of no possibility except that trust, that no request nor
promise as to secrecy had been made. Annie, after she got home,
almost forgot the whole for a time, since her Aunt Harriet, and Aunt
Harriet was the sister who was subject to rose-colds, announced her
determination to call at Mr. von Rosen's the next afternoon with
Annie and see his famous collection.

"Of course," said she, "the invitation was meant particularly for me,
since I am one of his parishioners, and I think it will be improving
to you, Annie, to view antiquities."

"Yes, Aunt Harriet," said Annie. She was wondering if she would be
allowed to wear her pale blue muslin and the turquoise necklace which
was a relic of her grandmother's girlhood. Aunt Susan sniffed
delicately.

"I will stay with Mother," she said with a virtuous air.

The old lady, stately in her black satin, with white diamonds
gleaming on her veinous hands, glanced acutely at them. The next day,
when her daughter Harriet insisted that the cross barred muslin was
not too spoiled to wear to the inspection of curios, she declared
that it was simply filthy, and that Annie must wear her blue, and
that the little string of turquoise beads was not in the least too
dressy for the occasion.

It therefore happened that Annie and her Aunt Harriet set forth at
three o'clock in the afternoon, Annie in blue, and her aunt in thin
black grenadine with a glitter of jet and a little black bonnet with
a straight tuft of green rising from a little wobble of jet, and a
black-fringed parasol tilted well over her eyes. Annie's charming
little face was framed in a background of white parasol. Margaret saw
them pass as she sat on her verandah. She had received more
congratulatory letters that day, and the thief envied the one from
whom she had taken. Annie bowed to Margaret, and her Aunt Harriet
said something about the heat, in a high shrill voice.

"She is a wonderful woman, to have written that successful novel,"
said Aunt Harriet, "and I am going to write her a congratulatory
note, now you have bought that stationery at Tiffany's. I feel that
such a subject demands special paper. She is a wonderful woman and
her family have every reason to be proud of her."

"Yes," said Annie.

"It is rather odd, and I have often thought so," said Aunt Harriet,
moving alongside with stately sweeps of black skirts, "that you have
shown absolutely no literary taste. As you know, I have often written
poetry, of course not for publication, and my friends have been so
good as to admire it."

"Yes, Aunt Harriet," said Annie.

"I realise that you have never appreciated my poems," said Aunt
Harriet tartly.

"I don't think I understand poetry very well," little Annie said with
meekness.

"It does require a peculiar order of mind, and you have never seemed
to me in the least poetical or imaginative," said her aunt in an
appeased voice. "For instance, I could not imagine your writing a
book like Mrs. Edes, and _The Poor Lady_ was anonymous, and anybody
might have written it as far as one knew. But I should never have
imagined her for a moment as capable of doing it."

"No," said Annie.

Then they had come to the parsonage and Jane Riggs, as rigid as
starched linen could make a human being, admitted them, and presently
after a little desultory conversation, the collection, which was
really a carefully made one, and exceedingly good and interesting,
was being displayed. Then came the charming little tea which Von
Rosen had planned; then the suggestion with regard to the rose-garden
and Aunt Harriet's terrified refusal, knowing as she knew the agony
of sneezes and sniffs sure to follow its acceptance; and then Annie,
a vision in blue, was walking among the roses with Von Rosen and both
were saying things which they never could remember afterward--about
things in which neither had the very slightest interest. It was only
when they had reached the end of the pergola, trained over with
climbers, and the two were seated on a rustic bench therein, that the
conversation to be remembered began.



Chapter VIII


The conversation began, paradoxically, with a silence. Otherwise, it
would have begun with platitudes. Since neither Von Rosen nor Annie
Eustace were given usually to platitudes, the silence was
unavoidable. Both instinctively dreaded with a pleasurable dread the
shock of speech. In a way this was the first time the two had been
alone with any chance of a seclusion protracted beyond a very few
minutes. In the house was Aunt Harriet Eustace, who feared a rose, as
she might have feared the plague, and, moreover, as Annie comfortably
knew, had imparted the knowledge to Von Rosen as they had walked down
the pergola, that she would immediately fall asleep.

"Aunt Harriet always goes to sleep in her chair after a cup of tea,"
Annie had said and had then blushed redly.

"Does she?" asked Von Rosen with apparent absent-mindedness but in
reality, keenly. He excused himself for a moment, left Annie standing
in the pergola and hurried back to the house, where he interviewed
Jane Riggs, and told her not to make any noise, as Miss Eustace in
the library would probably fall asleep, as was her wont after a cup
of tea. Jane Riggs assented, but she looked after him with a long,
slow look. Then she nodded her head stiffly and went on washing cups
and saucers quietly. She spoke only one short sentence to herself.
"He's a man and it's got to be somebody. Better be her than anybody
else."

When the two at the end of the pergola began talking, it was
strangely enough about the affair of the Syrian girl.

"I suppose, have always supposed, that the poor young thing's husband
came and stole his little son," said Von Rosen.

"You would have adopted him?" asked Annie in a shy voice.

"I think I would not have known any other course to take," replied
Von Rosen.

"It was very good of you," Annie said. She cast a little glance of
admiration at him.

Von Rosen laughed. "It is not goodness which counts to one's credit
when one is simply chucked into it by Providence," he returned.

Annie laughed. "To think of your speaking of Providence as
'chucking.'"

"It is rather awful," admitted Von Rosen, "but somehow I never do
feel as if I need be quite as straight-laced with you."

"Mr. von Rosen, you have talked with me exactly twice, and I am at a
loss as to whether I should consider that remark of yours as a
compliment or not."

"I meant it for one," said Von Rosen earnestly. "I should not have
used that expression. What I meant was I felt that I could be myself
with you, and not weigh words or split hairs. A clergyman has to do a
lot of that, you know, Miss Eustace, and sometimes (perhaps all the
time) he hates it; it makes him feel like a hypocrite."

"Then it is all right," said Annie rather vaguely. She gazed up at
the weave of leaves and blossoms, then down at the wavering carpet of
their shadows.

"It is lovely here," she said.

The young man looked at the slender young creature in the blue gown
and smiled with utter content.

"It is very odd," he said, "but nothing except blue and that
particular shade of blue would have harmonised."

"I should have said green or pink."

"They would surely have clashed. If you can't melt into nature, it is
much safer to try for a discord. You are much surer to chord. That
blue does chord, and I doubt if a green would not have been a sort of
swear word in colour here."

"I am glad you like it," said Annie like a school girl. She felt very
much like one.

"I like you," Von Rosen said abruptly.

Annie said nothing. She sat very still.

"No, I don't like you. I love you," said Von Rosen.

"How can you? You have talked with me only twice."

"That makes no difference with me. Does it with you?"

"No," said Annie, "but I am not at all sure about--"

"About what, dear?"

"About what my aunts and grandmother will say."

"Do you think they will object to me?"

"No-o."

"What is it makes you doubtful? I have a little fortune of my own. I
have an income besides my salary. I can take care of you. They can
trust you to me."

Annie looked at him with a quick flush of resentment. "As if I would
even think of such a thing as that!"

"What then?"

"You will laugh, but grandmother is very old, although she sits up so
straight, and she depends on me, and--"

"And what?"

"If I married you, I could not, of course, play pinocle with
grandmother on Sunday."

"Oh, yes, you could. I most certainly should not object."

"Then that makes it hopeless."

Von Rosen looked at her in perplexity. "I am afraid I don't
understand you, dear little soul."

"No, you do not. You see, grandmother is in reality very good, almost
too good to live, and thinking she is being a little wicked playing
pinocle on Sunday when Aunt Harriet and Aunt Susan don't know it,
sort of keeps her going. I don't just know why myself, but I am sure
of it. Now the minute she was sure that you, who are the minister,
did not object, she would not care a bit about pinocle and it would
hurt her."

Annie looked inconceivably young. She knitted her candid brows and
stared at him with round eyes of perplexity. Karl von Rosen shouted
with laughter.

"Oh, well, if that is all," he said, "I object strenuously to your
playing pinocle with your grandmother on Sunday. The only way you can
manage will be to play hookey from church."

"I need not do that always," said Annie. "My aunts take naps Sunday
afternoons, but I am sure grandmother could keep awake if she thought
she could be wicked."

"Well, you can either play hookey from church, or run away Sunday
afternoons, or if you prefer and she is able, I will drive your
grandmother over here and you can play pinocle in my study."

"Then I do think she will live to be a hundred," said Annie with a
peal of laughter.

"Stop laughing and kiss me," said Von Rosen.

"I seldom kiss anybody."

"That is the reason."

When Annie looked up from her lover's shoulder, a pair of topaz eyes
were mysteriously regarding her.

"The cat never saw me kiss anybody," said Von Rosen.

"Do you think the cat knows?" asked Annie, blushing and moving away a
little.

"Who knows what any animal knows or does not know?" replied Von
Rosen. "When we discover that mystery, we may have found the key to
existence."

Then the cat sprang into Annie's blue lap and she stroked his yellow
back and looked at Von Rosen with eyes suddenly reflective, rather
coolly.

"After all, I, nor nobody else, ever heard of such a thing as this,"
said she. "Do you mean that you consider this an engagement?" she
asked in astonishment.

"I most certainly do."

"After we have only really seen and talked to each other twice!"

"It has been all our lives and we have just found it out," said Von
Rosen. "Of course, it is unusual, but who cares? Do you?"

"No, I don't," said Annie. They leaned together over the yellow cat
and kissed each other.

[Illustration: They leaned together over the yellow cat and kissed
each other]

"But what an absurd minister's wife I shall be," said Annie. "To
think of your marrying a girl who has staid at home from church and
played cards with her grandmother!"

"I am not at all sure," said Von Rosen, "that you do not get more
benefit, more spiritual benefit, than you would have done from my
sermons."

"I think," said Annie, "that you are just about as funny a minister
as I shall be a minister's wife."

"I never thought I should be married at all."

"Why not?"

"I did not care for women."

"Then why do you now?"

"Because you are a woman."

Then there was a sudden movement in front of them. The leaf-shadows
flickered; the cat jumped down from Annie's lap and ran away, his
great yellow plume of tail waving angrily, and Margaret Edes stood
before them. She was faultlessly dressed as usual. A woman of her
type cannot be changed utterly by force of circumstances in a short
time. Her hat was loaded with wisteria. She wore a wisteria gown of
soft wool. She held up her skirts daintily. A great amethyst gleamed
at her throat, but her face, wearing a smile like a painted one, was
dreadful. It was inconceivable, but Margaret Edes had actually in
view the banality of confessing her sin to her minister. Of course,
Annie was the one who divined her purpose. Von Rosen was simply
bewildered. He rose, and stood with an air of polite attention.

"Margaret," cried Annie, "Margaret!"

The man thought that his sweetheart was simply embarrassed, because
of discovery. He did not understand why she bade him peremptorily to
please go in the house and see if Aunt Harriet were awake, that she
wished to speak to Mrs. Edes. He, however, went as bidden, already
discovering that man is as a child to a woman when she is really in
earnest.

When he was quite out of hearing, Annie turned upon her friend.
"Margaret," she said, "Margaret, you must not."

Margaret turned her desperate eyes upon Annie. "I did not know it
would be like this," she said.

"You must not tell him."

"I must."

"You must not, and all the more now."

"Why, now?"

"I am going to marry him."

"Then he ought to know."

"Then he ought not to know, for you have drawn me into your web of
deceit also. He has talked to me about you and the book. I have not
betrayed you. You cannot betray me."

"It will kill me. I did not know it would be like this. I never
blamed myself for anything before."

"It will not kill you, and if it does, you must bear it. You must not
do your husband and children such an awful harm."

"Wilbur is nominated for Senator. He would have to give it up. He
would go away from Fairbridge. He is very proud," said Margaret in a
breathless voice, "but I must tell."

"You cannot tell."

"The children talk of it all the time. They look at me so. They
wonder because they think I have written that book. They tell all the
other children. Annie, I must confess to somebody. I did not know it
would be like this."

"You cannot confess to anybody except God," said Annie.

"I cannot tell my husband. I cannot tell poor Wilbur, but I thought
Mr. von Rosen would tell him."

"You can not tell Mr. von Rosen. You have done an awful wrong, and
now you can not escape the fact that you have done it. You cannot get
away from it."

"You are so hard."

"No, I am not hard," said Annie. "I did not betray you there before
them all, and neither did Alice."

"Did Alice Mendon know?" asked Margaret in an awful voice.

"Yes, I had told Alice. She was so hurt for me that I think she might
have told."

"Then she may tell now. I will go to her."

"She will not tell now. And I am not hard. It is you who are hard
upon yourself and that nobody, least of all I, can help. You will
have to know this dreadful thing of yourself all your life and you
can never stop blaming yourself. There is no way out of it. You can
not ruin your husband. You can not ruin your children's future and
you cannot, after the wrong you have done me, put me in the wrong, as
you would do if you told. By telling the truth, you would put me to
the lie, when I kept silence for your sake and the sakes of your
husband and children."

"I did not know it would be like this," said Margaret in her
desperate voice. "I had done nothing worth doing all my life and the
hunger to do something had tormented me. It seemed easy, I did not
know how I could blame myself. I have always thought so well of
myself; I did not know. Annie, for God's sake, let me tell. You can't
know how keenly I suffer, Annie. Let me tell Mr. von Rosen. People
always tell ministers. Even if he does not tell Wilbur, but perhaps
he can tell him and soften it, it would be a relief. People always
tell ministers, Annie."

It seemed improbable that Margaret Edes in her wisteria costume could
be speaking. Annie regarded her with almost horror. She pitied her,
yet she could not understand. Margaret had done something of which
she herself was absolutely incapable. She had the right to throw the
stone. She looked at a sinner whose sin was beyond her comprehension.
She pitied the evident signs of distress, but her pity, although
devoid of anger, was, in spite of herself, coldly wondering.
Moreover, Margaret had been guilty in the eyes of the girl of a much
worse sin than the mere thievery of her book; she had murdered love.
Annie had loved Margaret greatly. No, she loved her no longer, since
the older woman had actually blasphemed against the goddess whom the
girl had shrined. Had Margaret stolen from another, it would have
made no difference. The mere act had destroyed herself as an image of
love. Annie, especially now that she was so happy, cared nothing for
the glory of which she had been deprived. She had, in truth, never
had much hunger for fame, especially for herself. She did not care
when she thought how pleased her lover would have been and her
relatives, but already the plan for another book was in her brain,
for the child was a creator, and no blow like this had any lasting
power over her work. What she considered was Margaret's revelation of
herself as something else than Margaret, and what she did resent
bitterly was being forced into deception in order to shield her. She
was in fact hard, although she did not know it. Her usually gentle
nature had become like adamant before this. She felt unlike herself
as she said bitterly:

"People do not always tell ministers, and you cannot tell Mr. von
Rosen, Margaret. I forbid it. Go home and keep still."

"I cannot bear it."

"You must bear it."

"They are going to give me a dinner, the Zenith Club," said Margaret.

"You will have to accept it."

"I cannot, Annie Eustace, of what do you think me capable? I am not
as bad as you think. I cannot and will not accept that dinner and
make the speech which they will expect and hear all the
congratulations which they will offer. I cannot."

"You must accept the dinner, but I don't see that you need make the
speech," said Annie, who was herself aghast over such extremity of
torture.

"I will not," said Margaret. She was very pale and her lips were a
tight line. Her eyes were opaque and lustreless. She was in reality
suffering what a less egotistical nature could not even imagine. All
her life had Margaret Edes worshipped and loved Margaret Edes. Now
she had done an awful thing. The falling from the pedestal of a
friend is nothing to hurling oneself from one's height of self-esteem
and that she had done. She stood, as it were, over the horrible body
of her once beautiful and adored self. She was not actually
remorseful and that made it all the worse. She simply could not evade
the dreadful glare of light upon her own imperfections; she who had
always thought of herself as perfect, but the glare of knowledge came
mostly from her appreciation of the attitude of her friends and
lovers toward what she had done. Suppose she went home and told
Wilbur. Suppose she said, "I did not write that book. My friend,
Annie Eustace, wrote it. I am a thief, and worse than a thief."  She
knew just how he would look at her, his wife, his Margaret, who had
never done wrong in his eyes. For the first time in her life she was
afraid, and yet how could she live and bear such torture and not
confess? Confession would be like a person ill unto death, giving up,
and seeking the peace of a sick chamber and the rest of bed and the
care of a physician. She had come to feel like that and yet,
confession would be like a fiery torture. Margaret had in some almost
insane fashion come to feel that she might confess to a minister, a
man of God, and ease her soul, without more. And she had never been
religious, and would have formerly smiled in serene scorn at her own
state of mind. And here was the other woman whom she had wronged,
forbidding her this one little possibility of comfort.

She said again humbly, "Let me tell him, Annie. He will only think
the more of you because you shielded me."

But Annie was full of scorn which Margaret could not understand since
her nature was not so fine. "Do you think I wish him to?" she said,
but in a whisper because she heard voices and footsteps. "You cannot
tell him, Margaret."

Then Von Rosen and Aunt Harriet, whose eyes were dim with recent
sleep, came in sight, and Harriet Eustace, who had not seen Margaret
since the club meeting, immediately seized upon her two hands and
kissed her and congratulated her.

"You dear, wonderful creature," she said, "we are all so proud of
you. Fairbridge is so proud of you and as for us, we can only feel
honoured that our little Annie has such a friend. We trust that she
will profit by your friendship and we realise that it is such a
privilege for her."

"Thank you," said Margaret. She turned her head aside. It was rather
dreadful, and Annie realised it.

Von Rosen stood by smiling. "I am glad to join in the
congratulations," he said. "In these days of many books, it is a
great achievement to have one singled out for special notice. I have
not yet had the pleasure of reading the book, but shall certainly
have it soon."

"Thank you," said Margaret again.

"She should give you an autograph copy," said Harriet Eustace.

"Yes," said Margaret. She drew aside Annie and whispered, "I shall
tell my husband then. I shall."

Then she bade them good afternoon in her usually graceful way;
murmured something about a little business which she had with Annie
and flitted down the pergola in a cloud of wisteria.

"It does seem wonderful," said Harriet Eustace, "that she should have
written that book."

Von Rosen glanced at Annie with an inquiring expression. He wondered
whether she wished him to announce their engagement to her aunt. The
amazing suddenness of it all had begun to daunt him. He was in
considerable doubt as to what Miss Harriet Eustace, who was a most
conservative lady, who had always done exactly the things which a
lady under similar circumstances might be expected to do, who always
said the things to be expected, would say to this, which must, of
course, savour very much of the unexpected. Von Rosen was entirely
sure that Miss Harriet Eustace would be scarcely able to conceive of
a marriage engagement of her niece especially with a clergyman
without all the formal preliminaries of courtship, and he knew well
that preliminaries had hardly existed, in the usual sense of the
term. He felt absurdly shy, and he was very much relieved when
finally Miss Harriet and Annie took their leave and he had said
nothing about the engagement. Miss Harriet said a great deal about
his most interesting and improving collection. She was a woman of a
patronising turn of mind and she made Von Rosen feel like a little
boy.

"I especially appreciate the favour for the sake of my niece," she
said. "It is so desirable for the minds of the young to be improved."
Von Rosen murmured a polite acquiescence. She had spoken of his
tall, lovely girl as if she were in short skirts. Miss Harriet
continued:

"When I consider what Mrs. Edes has done," she said,--"written a book
which has made her famous, I realise how exceedingly important it is
for the minds of the young to be improved. It is good for Annie to
know Mrs. Edes so intimately, I think."

For the first time poor Annie was conscious of a distinct sense of
wrath. Here she herself had written that book and her mind, in order
to have written it, must be every whit as improved as Margaret Edes'
and her Aunt Harriet was belittling her before her lover. It was a
struggle to maintain silence, especially as her aunt went on talking
in a still more exasperating manner.

"I always considered Mrs. Wilbur Edes as a very unusual woman," said
she, "but of course, this was unexpected. I am so thankful that Annie
has the great honour of her friendship. Of course, Annie can never do
what Mrs. Edes has done. She herself knows that she lacks talent and
also concentration. Annie, you know you have never finished that
daisy centre piece which you begun surely six months ago. I am quite
sure that Mrs. Edes would have finished it in a week."

Annie did lose patience at that. "Margaret just loathes fancy work,
Aunt Harriet," said she. "She would never even have begun that centre
piece."

"It is much better never to begin a piece of work than never to
finish it," replied Aunt Harriet, "and Mrs. Edes, my dear, has been
engaged in much more important work. If you had written a book which
had made you famous, no one could venture to complain of your lack of
industry with regard to the daisy centre piece. But I am sure that
Mrs. Edes, in order to have written that book of which everybody is
talking, must have displayed much industry and concentration in all
the minor matters of life. I think you must be mistaken, my dear. I
am quite sure that Mrs. Edes has not neglected work."

Annie made no rejoinder, but her aunt did not seem to notice it.

"I am so thankful, Mr. von Rosen," said she, "that my niece has the
honour of being counted among the friends of such a remarkable woman.
May I inquire if Mrs. Edes has ever seen your really extraordinary
collection, Mr. von Rosen."

"No, she has not seen it," replied Von Rosen, and he looked annoyed.
Without in the least understanding the real trend of the matter, he
did not like to hear his sweetheart addressed after such a fashion,
even though he had no inkling of the real state of affairs. To his
mind, this exquisite little Annie, grimy daisy centre piece and all,
had accomplished much more in simply being herself, than had Margaret
Edes with her much blazoned book.

"I trust that she will yet see it," said Miss Harriet Eustace.
Harriet Eustace was tall, dull skinned and wide mouthed, and she had
a fashion, because she had been told from childhood that her mouth
was wide, of constantly puckering it as if she were eating alum.

"I shall be of course pleased to show Mrs. Edes my collection at any
time," said Von Rosen politely.

"I hope she will see it," said Harriet, puckering, "it is so
improving, and if anything is improving to the ordinary mind, what
must it be to the mind of genius?"

The two took leave then, Annie walking behind her aunt. The sidewalk
which was encroached upon by grass was very narrow. Annie did not
speak at all. She heard her aunt talking incessantly without
realising the substance of what she said. Her own brain was
overwhelmed with bewilderment and happiness. Here was she, Annie
Eustace, engaged to be married and to the right man. The combination
was astounding. Annie had been conscious ever since she had first
seen him, that Karl von Rosen dwelt at the back of her thoughts, but
she was rather a well disciplined girl. She had not allowed herself
the luxury of any dreams concerning him and herself. She had not
considered the possibility of his caring for her, not because she
underestimated herself, but because she overestimated him. Now, she
knew he cared, he cared, and he wanted to marry her, to make her his
wife. After she had reached home, when they were seated at the tea
table, she did not think of telling anybody. She ate and felt as if
she were in a blissful crystal sphere of isolation. It did not occur
to her to reveal her secret until she went into her grandmother's
room rather late to bid her good night. Annie had been sitting by
herself on the front piazza and allowing herself a perfect feast in
future air-castles. She could see from where she sat, the lights from
the windows of the Edes' house, and she heard Wilbur's voice, and now
and then his laugh. Margaret's voice, she never heard at all. Annie
went into the chamber, the best in the house, and there lay her
grandmother, old Ann Maria Eustace, propped up in bed, reading a
novel which was not allowed in the Fairbridge library. She had bidden
Annie buy it for her, when she last went to New York.

"I wouldn't ask a girl to buy such a book," the old lady had said,
"but nobody will know you and I have read so many notices about its
wickedness, I want to see it for myself."

Now she looked up when Annie entered. "It is not wicked at all," she
said in rather a disappointed tone. "It is much too dull. In order to
make a book wicked, it must be, at least, somewhat entertaining. The
writer speaks of wicked things, but in such a very moral fashion that
it is all like a sermon. I don't like the book at all. At the same
time a girl like you had better not read it and you had better see
that Harriet and Susan don't get a glimpse of it. They would be set
into fits. It is a strange thing that both my daughters should be
such old maids to the bone and marrow. You can read it though if you
wish, Annie. I doubt if you understand the wickedness anyway, and I
don't want you to grow up straight-laced like Harriet and Susan. It
is really a misfortune. They lose a lot."

Then Annie spoke. "I shall not be an old maid, I think," said she. "I
am going to be married."

"Married! Who is going to marry you? I haven't seen a man in this
house except the doctor and the minister for the last twenty years."

"I am going to marry the minister, Mr. von Rosen."

"Lord," said Annie's grandmother, and stared at her. She was a queer
looking old lady propped up on a flat pillow with her wicked book.
She had removed the front-piece which she wore by day and her face
showed large and rosy between the frills of her night cap. Her china
blue eyes were exceedingly keen and bright. Her mouth as large as her
daughter Harriet's, not puckered at all, but frankly open in an
alarming slit, in her amazement.

"When for goodness sake has the man courted you?" she burst forth at
last.

"I don't know."

"Well, I don't know, if you don't. You haven't been meeting him
outside the house. No, you have not. You are a lady, if you have been
brought up by old maids, who tell lies about spades."

"I did not know until this afternoon," said Annie. "Mr. von Rosen and
I went out to see his rose-garden, while Aunt Harriet--"

Then the old lady shook the bed with mirth.

"I see," said she. "Harriet is scared to death of roses and she went
to sleep in the house and you got your chance. Good for you. I am
thankful the Eustace family won't quite sputter out in old maids."
The old lady continued to chuckle. Annie feared lest her aunts might
hear. Beside the bed stood a table with the collection of things
which was Ann Maria Eustace's nightly requirement. There were a good
many things. First was a shaded reading lamp, then a candle and a
matchbox; there was a plate of thin bread and butter carefully folded
in a napkin. A glass of milk, covered with a glass dish; two bottles
of medicine; two spoons; a saucer of sugared raspberries; exactly one
square inch of American cheese on a tiny plate; a pitcher of water,
carefully covered; a tumbler; a glass of port wine and a bottle of
camphor. Old Ann Maria Eustace took most of her sustenance at night.
Night was really her happy time. When that worn, soft old bulk of
hers was ensconsed among her soft pillows and feather bed and she had
her eatables and drinkables and literature at hand, she was in her
happiest mood and she was none the less happy from the knowledge that
her daughters considered that any well conducted old woman should
have beside her bed, merely a stand with a fair linen cloth, a glass
of water, a candle and the Good Book, and that if she could not go
immediately to sleep, she should lie quietly and say over texts and
hymns to herself. All Ann Maria's spice of life was got from a hidden
antagonism to her daughters and quietly flying in the face of their
prejudices, and she was the sort of old lady who could hardly have
lived at all without spice.

"Your Aunt Harriet will be hopping," said the perverse old lady with
another chuckle.

"Why, grandmother?"

"Harriet has had an eye on him herself."

Annie gasped. "Aunt Harriet must be at least twenty-five years
older," said she.

"Hm," said the old lady, "that doesn't amount to anything. Harriet
didn't put on her pearl breast-pin and crimp her hair unless she had
something in her mind. Susan has given up, but Harriet hasn't given
up."

Annie still looked aghast.

"When are you going to get married?" asked the old lady.

"I don't know."

"Haven't settled that yet? Well, when you do, there's the white satin
embroidered with white roses that I was married in and my old lace
veil. I think he's a nice young man. All I have against him is his
calling. You will have to go to meeting whether you want to or not
and listen to the same man's sermons. But he is good looking and they
say he has money, and anyway, the Eustaces won't peter out in old
maids. There's one thing I am sorry about. Sunday is going to be a
pretty long day for me, after you are married, and I suppose before.
If you are going to marry that man, I suppose you will have to begin
going to meeting at once."

Then Annie spoke decidedly. "I am always going to play pinocle with
you Sunday forenoons as long as you live, grandmother," said she.

"After you are married?"

"Yes, I am."

"After you are married to a minister?"

"Yes, grandmother."

The old lady sat up straight and eyed Annie with her delighted china
blue gaze.

"Mr. von Rosen is a lucky man," said she. "Enough sight luckier than
he knows. You are just like me, Annie Eustace, and your grandfather
set his eyes by me as long as he lived. A good woman who has sense
enough not to follow all the rules and precepts and keep good, isn't
found every day, and she can hold a man and holding a man is about as
tough a job as the Almighty ever set a woman. I've got a pearl
necklace and a ring in the bank. Harriet has always wanted them but
what is the use of a born old maid decking herself out? I always knew
Harriet and Susan would be old maids. Why, they would never let their
doll-babies be seen without all their clothes on, seemed to think
there was something indecent about cotton cloth legs stuffed with
sawdust. When you see a little girl as silly as that you can always
be sure she is cut out for an old maid. I don't care when you get
married--just as soon as you want to--and you shall have a pretty
wedding and you shall have your wedding cake made after my old
recipe. You are a good girl, Annie. You look like me. You are enough
sight better than you would be if you were better, and you can make
what you can out of that. Now, you must go to bed. You haven't told
Harriet and Susan yet, have you?"

"No, grandmother."

"I'll tell them myself in the morning," said the old lady with a
chuckle which made her ancient face a mask of mirth and mischief.
"Now, you run along and go to bed. This book is dull, but I want to
see how wicked the writer tried to make it and the heroine is just
making an awful effort to run away with a married man. She won't
succeed, but I want to see how near she gets to it. Good-night,
Annie. You can have the book to-morrow."

Annie went to her own room but she made no preparation for bed. She
had planned to work as she had worked lately until nearly morning.
She was hurrying to complete another book which she had begun before
Margaret Edes' announcement that she had written _The Poor Lady_. The
speedy completion of this book had been the condition of secrecy with
her publishers. However, Annie, before she lit the lamp on her table
could not resist the desire to sit for a minute beside her window and
gaze out upon the lovely night and revel in her wonderful happiness.
The night was lovely enough for anyone, and for a girl in the rapture
of her first love, it was as beautiful as heaven. The broad village
gleaming like silver in the moonlight satisfied her as well as a
street of gold and the tree shadows waved softly over everything like
wings of benediction. Sweet odours came in her face. She could see
the soft pallor of a clump of lilies in the front yard. The shrilling
of the night insects seemed like the calls of prophets of happiness.
The lights had gone out of the windows of the Edes' house, but
suddenly she heard a faint, very faint, but very terrible cry and a
white figure rushed out of the Edes' gate. Annie did not wait a
second. She was up, out of her room, sliding down the stair banisters
after the habit of her childhood and after it.



Chapter IX


Margaret Edes, light and slender and supple as she was, and moreover
rendered swift with the terrible spur of hysteria, was no match for
Annie Eustace who had the build of a racing human, being long-winded
and limber. Annie caught up with her, just before they reached Alice
Mendon's house, and had her held by one arm. Margaret gave a stifled
shriek. Even in hysteria, she did not quite lose her head. She had
unusual self-control.

"Let me go," she gasped. Annie saw that Margaret carried a suit-case,
which had probably somewhat hindered her movements. "Let me go, I
shall miss the ten-thirty train," Margaret said in her breathless
voice.

"Where are you going?"

"I am going."

"Where?"

"Anywhere,--away from it all."

The two struggled together as far as Alice's gate, and to Annie's
great relief, a tall figure appeared, Alice herself. She opened the
gate and came on Margaret's other side.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"I am going to take the ten-thirty train," said Margaret.

"Where are you going?"

"To New York."

"Where in New York?"

"I am going."

"You are not going," said Alice Mendon; "you will return quietly to
your own home like a sensible woman. You are running away, and you
know it."

"Yes, I am," said Margaret in her desperate voice. "You would run
away if you were in my place, Alice Mendon."

"I could never be in your place," said Alice, "but if I were, I
should stay and face the situation."  She spoke with quite
undisguised scorn and yet with pity.

"You must think of your husband and children and not entirely of
yourself," she added.

"If," said Margaret, stammering as she spoke, "I tell Wilbur, I think
it will kill him. If I tell the children, they will never really have
a mother again. They will never forget. But if I do not tell, I shall
not have myself. It is a horrible thing not to have yourself, Alice
Mendon."

"It is the only way."

"It is easy for you to talk, Alice Mendon. You have never been
tempted."

"No," replied Alice, "that is quite true. I have never been tempted
because--I cannot be tempted."

"It is no credit to you. You were made so."

"Yes, that is true also. I was made so. It is no credit to me."

Margaret tried to wrench her arm free from Annie's grasp.

"Let me go, Annie Eustace," she said. "I hate you."

"I don't care if you do," replied Annie. "I don't love you any more
myself. I don't hate you, but I certainly don't love you."

"I stole your laurels," said Margaret, and she seemed to snap out the
words.

"You could have had the laurels," said Annie, "without stealing, if I
could have given them to you. It is not the laurels that matter. It
is you."

"I will kill myself if it ever is known," said Margaret in a low
horrified whisper. She cowered.

"It will never be known unless you yourself tell it," said Annie.

"I cannot tell," said Margaret. "I have thought it all over. I cannot
tell and yet, how can I live and not tell?"

"I suppose," said Alice Mendon, "that always when people do wrong,
they have to endure punishment. I suppose that is your punishment,
Margaret. You have always loved yourself and now you will have to
despise yourself. I don't see any way out of it."

"I am not the only woman who does such things," said Margaret, and
there was defiance in her tone.

"No doubt, you have company," said Alice. "That does not make it
easier for you."  Alice, large and fair in her white draperies,
towered over Margaret Edes like an embodied conscience. She was
almost unendurable, like the ideal of which the other woman had
fallen short. Her mere presence was maddening. Margaret actually
grimaced at her.

"It is easy for you to preach," said she, "very easy, Alice Mendon.
You have not a nerve in your whole body. You have not an ungratified
ambition. You neither love nor hate yourself, or other people. You
want nothing on earth enough to make the lack of it disturb you."

"How well you read me," said Alice and she smiled a large calm smile
as a statue might smile, could she relax her beautiful marble mouth.

"And as for Annie Eustace," said Margaret, "she has what I stole, and
she knows it, and that is enough for her. Oh, both of you look down
upon me and I know it."

"I look down upon you no more than I have always done," said Alice;
but Annie was silent because she could not say that truly.

"Yes, I know you have always looked down upon me, Alice Mendon," said
Margaret, "and you never had reason."

"I had the reason," said Alice, "that your own deeds have proved
true."

"You could not know that I would do such a thing. I did not know it
myself. Why, I never knew that Annie Eustace could write a book."

"I knew that a self-lover could do anything and everything to further
her own ends," said Alice in her inexorable voice, which yet
contained an undertone of pity.

She pitied Margaret far more than Annie could pity her for she had
not loved her so much. She felt the little arm tremble in her clasp
and her hand tightened upon it as a mother's might have done.

"Now, we have had enough of this," said she, "quite enough. Margaret,
you must positively go home at once. I will take your suit-case, and
return it to you to-morrow. I shall be out driving. You can get in
without being seen, can't you?"

"I tell you both, I am going," said Margaret; "I cannot face what is
before me."

"All creation has to face what is before. Running makes no
difference," said Alice. "You will meet it at the end of every mile.
Margaret Edes, go home. Take care of your husband, and your children
and keep your secret and let it tear you for your own good."

"They are to nominate Wilbur for Senator," said Margaret. "If they
knew, if he knew, Wilbur would not run. He has always had ambition. I
should kill it."

"You will not kill it," said Alice. "Here, give me that suit-case, I
will set it inside the gate here. Now Annie and I will walk with you
and you must steal in and not wake anybody and go to bed and to
sleep."

"To sleep," repeated Margaret bitterly.

"Then not to sleep, but you must go."

The three passed down the moon-silvered road. When they had reached
Margaret's door, Alice suddenly put an arm around her and kissed her.

"Go in as softly as you can, and to bed," she whispered.

"What made you do that, Alice?" asked Annie in a small voice when the
door had closed behind Margaret.

"I think I am beginning to love her," whispered Alice. "Now you know
what we must do, Annie?"

"What?"

"We must both watch until dawn, until after that train to New York
which stops here at three-thirty. You must stand here and I will go
to the other door. Thank God, there are only two doors, and I don't
think she will try the windows because she won't suspect our being
here. But I don't trust her, poor thing. She is desperate. You stay
here, Annie. Sit down close to the door and--you won't be afraid?"

"Oh, no!"

"Of course, there is nothing to be afraid of," said Alice. "Now I
will go to the other door."

Annie sat there until the moon sank. She did not feel in the least
sleepy. She sat there and counted up her joys of life and almost
forgot poor Margaret who had trampled hers in the dust raised by her
own feet of self-seeking. Then came the whistle and roar of a train
and Alice stole around the house.

"It is safe enough for us to go now," said she. "That was the last
train. Do you think you can get in your house without waking
anybody?"

"There is no danger unless I wake grandmother. She wakes very early
of herself and she may not be asleep and her hearing is very quick."

"What will she say?"

"I think I can manage her."

"Well, we must hurry. It is lucky that my room is away from the
others or I should not be sure of getting there unsuspected. Hurry,
Annie."

The two sped swiftly and noiselessly down the street, which was now
very dark. The village houses seemed rather awful with their dark
windows like sightless eyes. When they reached Annie's house Alice
gave her a swift kiss. "Good-night," she whispered.

"Alice."

"Well, little Annie?"

"I am going to be married, to Mr. Von Rosen."

Alice started ever so slightly. "You are a lucky girl," she
whispered, "and he is a lucky man."

Alice flickered out of sight down the street like a white moonbeam
and Annie stole into the house. She dared not lock the door behind
her lest she arouse somebody. She tip-toed upstairs, but as she was
passing her grandmother's door, it was opened, and the old woman
stood there, her face lit by her flaring candle.

"You just march right in here," said she so loud that Annie shuddered
for fear she would arouse the whole house. She followed her
grandmother into her room and the old woman turned and looked at her,
and her face was white.

"Where have you been, Miss?" said she. "It is after three o'clock in
the morning."

"I had to go, grandmother, and there was no harm, but I can't tell
you. Indeed, I can't," replied Annie, trembling.

"Why can't you? I'd like to know."

"I can't, indeed, I can't, grandmother."

"Why not, I'd like to know. Pretty doings, I call it."

"I can't tell you why not, grandmother."

The old woman eyed the girl. "Out with a man--I don't care if you are
engaged to him--till this time!" said she.

Annie started and crimsoned. "Oh, grandmother!" she cried.

"I don't care if he is a minister. I am going to see him to-morrow,
no, to-day, right after breakfast and give him a piece of my mind. I
don't care what he thinks of me."

"Grandmother, there wasn't any man."

"Are you telling me the truth?"

"I always tell the truth."

"Yes, I think you always have since that time when you were a little
girl and I spanked you for lying," said the old woman. "I rather
think you do tell the truth, but sometimes when a girl gets a man
into her head, she goes round like a top. You haven't been alone, you
needn't tell me that."

"No, I haven't been alone."

"But, he wasn't with you? There wasn't any man?"

"No, there was not any man, grandmother."

"Then you had better get into your own room as fast as you can and
move still or you will wake up Harriet and Susan."

Annie went.

"I am thankful I am not curious," said the old woman clambering back
into bed. She lit her lamp and took up her novel again.

The next morning old Ann Maria Eustace announced her granddaughter's
engagement at the breakfast table. She waited until the meal was in
full swing, then she raised her voice.

"Well, girls," she said, looking first at Harriet, then at Susan, "I
have some good news for you. Our little Annie here is too modest, so
I have to tell you for her."

Harriet Eustace laughed unsuspiciously. "Don't tell us that Annie has
been writing a great anonymous novel like Margaret Edes," she said,
and Susan laughed also. "Whatever news it may be, it is not that,"
she said. "Nobody could suspect Annie of writing a book. I myself was
not so much surprised at Margaret Edes."

To Annie's consternation, her grandmother turned upon her a long,
slow, reading look. She flushed under it and swallowed a spoonful of
cereal hastily. Then her grandmother chuckled under her breath and
her china blue eyes twinkled.

"Annie has done something a deal better than to write a book," said
she, looking away from the girl, and fixing unsparing eyes upon her
daughters. "She has found a nice man to marry her."

Harriet and Susan dropped their spoons and stared at their mother.

"Mother, what are you talking about?" said Harriet sharply. "She has
had no attention."

"Sometimes," drawled the old lady in a way she affected when she
wished to be exasperating, "sometimes, a little attention is so
strong that it counts and sometimes attention is attention when
nobody thinks it is."

"Who is it?" asked Harriet in rather a hard voice. Susan regarded
Annie with a bewildered, yet kindly smile. Poor Susan had never
regarded the honey pots of life as intended for herself, and thus
could feel a kindly interest in their acquisition by others.

"My granddaughter is engaged to be married to Mr. von Rosen," said
the old lady. Then she stirred her coffee assiduously.

Susan rose and kissed Annie. "I hope you will be happy, very happy,"
she said in an awed voice. Harriet rose, to follow her sister's
example but she looked viciously at her mother.

"He is a good ten years older than Annie," she said.

"And a good twenty-five younger than you," said the old lady, and
sipped her coffee delicately. "He is just the right age for Annie."

Harriet kissed Annie, but her lips were cold and Annie wondered. It
never occurred to her then, nor later, to imagine that her Aunt
Harriet might have had her own dreams which had never entirely ended
in rainbow mists. She did not know how hardly dreams die. They are
sometimes not entirely stamped out during a long lifetime.

That evening Von Rosen came to call on Annie and she received him
alone in the best parlour. She felt embarrassed and shy, but very
happy. Her lover brought her an engagement ring, a great pearl, which
had been his mother's and put it on her finger, and Annie eyed her
finger with a big round gaze like a bird's. Von Rosen laughed at the
girl holding up her hand and staring at the beringed finger.

"Don't you like it, dear?" he said.

"It is the most beautiful ring I ever saw," said Annie, "but I keep
thinking it may not be true."

"The truest things in the world are the things which do not seem so,"
he said, and caught up the slender hand and kissed the ring and the
finger.

Margaret on the verandah had seen Von Rosen enter the Eustace house
and had guessed dully at the reason. She had always thought that Von
Rosen would eventually marry Alice Mendon and she wondered a little,
but not much. Her own affairs were entirely sufficient to occupy her
mind. Her position had become more impossible to alter and more
ghastly. That night Wilbur had brought home a present to celebrate
her success. It was something which she had long wanted and which she
knew he could ill afford:--a circlet of topazes for her hair. She
kissed him and put it on to please him, but it was to her as if she
were crowned because of her infamy and she longed to snatch the thing
off and trample it. And yet always she was well aware that it was not
remorse which she felt, but a miserable humiliation that she,
Margaret Edes, should have cause for remorse. The whole day had been
hideous. The letters and calls of congratulation had been incessant.
There were brief notices in a few papers which had been marked and
sent to her and Wilbur had brought them home also. Her post-office
box had been crammed. There were requests for her autograph. There
were requests for aid from charitable institutions. There were
requests for advice and assistance from young authors. She had two
packages of manuscripts sent her for inspection concerning their
merits. One was a short story, and came through the mail; one was a
book and came by express. She had requests for work from editors and
publishers. Wilbur had brought a letter of congratulation from his
partner. It was absolutely impossible for her to draw back except for
that ignoble reason: the reinstatement of herself in her own esteem.
She could not possibly receive all this undeserved adulation and
retain her self esteem. It was all more than she had counted upon.
She had opened Pandora's box with a vengeance and the stinging things
swarmed over her. Wilbur sat on the verandah with her and scarcely
took his eyes of adoring wonder from her face. She had sent the
little girls to bed early. They had told all their playmates and
talked incessantly with childish bragging. They seemed to mock her as
with peacock eyes, symbolic of her own vanity.

"You sent the poor little things to bed very early," Wilbur said.
"They did so enjoy talking over their mother's triumph. It is the
greatest day of their lives, you know, Margaret."

"I am tired of it," Margaret said sharply, but Wilbur's look of
worship deepened.

"You are so modest, sweetheart," he said and Margaret writhed. Poor
Wilbur had been reading _The Poor Lady_ instead of his beloved
newspapers and now and then he quoted a passage which he remembered,
with astonishing accuracy.

"Say, darling, you are a marvel," he would remark after every
quotation. "Now, how in the world did you ever manage to think that
up? I suppose just this minute, as you sit there looking so sweet in
your white dress, just such things are floating through your brain,
eh?"

"No, they are not," replied Margaret. Oh, if she had only understood
the horrible depth of a lie!

"Suppose Von Rosen is making up to little Annie?" said Wilbur
presently.

"I don't know."

"Well, she is a nice little thing, sweet tempered, and pretty,
although of course her mental calibre is limited. She may make a good
wife, though. A man doesn't expect his wife always to set the river
on fire as you have done, sweetheart."

Then Wilbur fished from his pockets a lot of samples. "Thought I must
order a new suit, to live up to my wife," he said. "See which you
prefer, Margaret."

"I should think your own political outlook would make the new suit
necessary," said Margaret tartly.

"Not a bit of it. Get more votes if you look a bit shabby from the
sort who I expect may get me the office," laughed Wilbur. "This new
suit is simply to enable me to look worthy, as far as my clothes are
concerned, of my famous wife."

"I think you have already clothes enough," said Margaret coldly.

Wilbur looked hurt. "Doesn't make much difference how the old man
looks, does it, dear?" said he.

"Let me see the samples," Margaret returned with an effort. There
were depths beyond depths; there were bottomless quicksands in a lie.
How could she have known?

That night Wilbur looked into his wife's bedroom at midnight.
"Awake?" he asked in his monosyllabic fashion.

"Yes."

"Say, old girl, Von Rosen has just this minute gone. Guess it's a
match fast enough."

"I always thought it would be Alice," returned Margaret wearily. Love
affairs did seem so trivial to her at this juncture.

"Alice Mendon has never cared a snap about getting married any way,"
returned Wilbur. "Some women are built that way. She is."

Margaret did not inquire how he knew. If Wilbur had told her that he
had himself asked Alice in marriage, it would have been as if she had
not heard. All such things seemed very unimportant to her in the
awful depths of her lie. She said good-night in answer to Wilbur's
and again fell to thinking. There was no way out, absolutely no way.
She must live and die with this secret self-knowledge which abased
her, gnawing at the heart. Wilbur had told her that he believed that
her authorship of _The Poor Lady_ might be the turning point of his
election. She was tongue-tied in a horrible spiritual sense. She was
disfigured for the rest of her life and she could never once turn
away her eyes from her disfigurement.

The light from Annie Eustace's window shone in her room for two hours
after that. She wondered what she was doing and guessed Annie was
writing a new novel to take the place of the one of which she had
robbed her. An acute desire which was like a pain to be herself the
injured instead of the injurer possessed her. Oh, what would it mean
to be Annie sitting there, without leisure to brood over her new
happiness, working, working, into the morning hours and have nothing
to look upon except moral and physical beauty in her mental
looking-glass. She envied the poor girl, who was really working
beyond her strength, as she had never envied any human being. The
envy stung her, and she could not sleep. The next morning she looked
ill and then she had to endure Wilbur's solicitude.

"Poor girl, you overworked writing your splendid book," he said. Then
he suggested that she spend a month at an expensive seashore resort
and another horror was upon Margaret. Wilbur, she well knew, could
not afford to send her to such a place, but was innocently, albeit
rather shamefacedly, assuming that she could defray her own expenses
from the revenue of her book. He would never call her to account as
to what she had done with the wealth which he supposed her to be
reaping. She was well aware of that, but he would naturally wonder
within himself. Any man would. She said that she was quite well, that
she hated a big hotel, and much preferred home during the hot season,
but she heard the roar of these new breakers. How could she have
dreamed of the lifelong disturbance which a lie could cause?

Night after night she saw the light in Annie's windows and she knew
what she was doing. She knew why she was not to be married until next
winter. That book had to be written first. Poor Annie could not enjoy
her romance to the full because of over-work. The girl lost flesh and
Margaret knew why. Preparing one's trousseau, living in a love
affair, and writing a book, are rather strenuous, when undertaken at
the same time.

It was February when Annie and Von Rosen were married and the wedding
was very quiet. Annie had over-worked, but her book was published,
and was out-selling _The Poor Lady_. It also was published
anonymously, but Margaret knew, she knew even from the reviews. Then
she bought the book and read it and was convinced. The book was
really an important work. The writer had gone far beyond her first
flight, but there was something unmistakable about the style to such
a jealous reader as Margaret. Annie had her success after all. She
wore her laurels, although unseen of men, with her orange blossoms.
Margaret saw in every paper, in great headlines, the notice of the
great seller. The best novel for a twelve-month--_The Firm Hand_.
Wilbur talked much about it. He had his election. He was a Senator,
and was quietly proud of it, but nothing mattered to him as much as
Margaret's book. That meant more than his own success.

"I have read that novel they are talking so much about and it cannot
compare with yours," he told her. "The publishers ought to push yours
a little more. Do you think I ought to look in on them and have a
little heart-to-heart talk?"

Margaret's face was ghastly. "Don't do anything of the sort," she
said.

"Well, I won't if you don't want me to, but--"

"I most certainly don't want you to."  Then Margaret never had a day
of peace. She feared lest Wilbur, who seemed nightly more incensed at
the flaming notices of _The Firm Hand_ might, in spite of her
remonstrances, go to see the publishers, and would they keep the
secret if he did?

Margaret continued to live as she had done before. That was part of
the horror. She dared not resign from the Zenith Club. However, she
came in time to get a sort of comfort from it. Meeting all those
members, presiding over the meetings, became a sort of secret
flagellation, which served as a counter irritation, for her tormented
soul. All those women thought well of her. They admired her. The
acute torture which she derived from her knowledge of herself, as
compared with their opinion of her, seemed at times to go a little
way toward squaring her account with her better self. And the club
also seemed to rouse within her a keener vitality of her better self.
Especially when the New Year came and Mrs. Slade was elected
president in her stead. Once, Margaret would have been incapable of
accepting that situation so gracefully. She gave a reception to Mrs.
Slade in honour of her election, and that night had a little return
of her lost peace. Then during one of the meetings, a really good
paper was read, which set her thinking. That evening she played
dominoes with Maida and Adelaide, and always after that a game
followed dinner. The mother became intimate with her children. She
really loved them because of her loss of love for herself, and
because the heart must hold love. She loved her husband too, but he
realised no difference because he had loved her. That coldness had
had no headway against such doting worship. But the children
realised.

"Mamma is so much better since she wrote that book that I shall be
glad when you are old enough to write a book too," Adelaide said once
to Maida.

But always Margaret suffered horribly, although she gave no sign. She
took care of her beauty. She was more particular than ever about her
dress. She entertained, she accepted every invitation, and they
multiplied since Wilbur's flight in politics and her own reputed
authorship. She was Spartan in her courage, but she suffered, because
she saw herself as she was and she had so loved herself. It was not
until Annie Eustace was married that she obtained the slightest
relief. Then she ascertained that the friend whom she had robbed of
her laurels had obtained a newer and greener crown of them. She went
to the wedding and saw on a table, Annie's new book. She glanced at
it and she knew and she wondered if Von Rosen knew. He did not.

Annie waited until after their return from their short wedding
journey when they were settled in their home. Then one evening,
seated with her husband before the fire in the study, with the yellow
cat in her lap, and the bull terrier on the rug, his white skin rosy
in the firelight, she said:

"Karl, I have something to tell you."

Von Rosen looked lovingly at her. "Well, dear?"

"It is nothing, only you must not tell, for the publishers insist
upon its being anonymous, I--wrote _The Firm Hand_."

Von Rosen made a startled exclamation and looked at Annie and she
could not understand the look.

"Are you displeased?" she faltered. "Don't you like me to write? I
will never neglect you or our home because of it. Indeed I will not."

"Displeased," said Von Rosen. He got up and deliberately knelt before
her. "I am proud that you are my wife," he said, "prouder than I am
of anything else in the world."

"Please get up, dear," said Annie, "but I am so glad, although it is
really I who am proud, because I have you for my husband. I feel all
covered over with peacock's eyes."

"I cannot imagine a human soul less like a peacock," said Von Rosen.
He put his arms around her as he knelt, and kissed her, and the
yellow cat gave an indignant little snarl and jumped down. He was
jealous.

"Sit down," said Annie, laughing. "I thought the time had come to
tell you and I hoped you would be pleased. It is lovely, isn't it?
You know it is selling wonderfully."

"It is lovely," said Von Rosen. "It would have been lovely anyway,
but your success is a mighty sweet morsel for me."

"You had better go back to your chair and smoke and I will read to
you," said Annie.

"Just as if you had not written a successful novel," said Von Rosen.
But he obeyed, the more readily because he knew, and pride and
reverence for his wife fairly dazed him. Von Rosen had been more
acute than the critics and Annie had written at high pressure, and
one can go over a book a thousand times and be blind to things which
should be seen. She had repeated one little sentence which she had
written in _The Poor Lady_. Von Rosen knew, but he never told her
that he knew. He bowed before her great, generous silence as he would
have bowed before a shrine, but he knew that she had written _The
Poor Lady_, and had allowed Margaret Edes to claim unquestioned the
honour of her work.

As they sat there, Annie's Aunt Susan came in and sat with them. She
talked a good deal about the wedding presents. Wedding presents were
very wonderful to her. They were still spread out, most of them on
tables in the parlour because all Fairbridge was interested in
viewing them. After a while Susan went into the parlour and gloated
over the presents. When she came back, she wore a slightly disgusted
expression.

"You have beautiful presents," said she, "but I have been looking all
around and the presents are not all on those tables, are they?"

"No," said Annie.

Von Rosen laughed. He knew what was coming, or thought that he did.

"I see," said Aunt Susan, "that you have forty-two copies of Margaret
Edes' book, _The Poor Lady_, and I have always thought it was a very
silly book, and you can't exchange them for every single one is
autographed."

It was quite true. Poor Margaret Edes had autographed the forty-two.
She had not even dreamed of the incalculable depths of a lie.

THE END



[Transcriber's note:

The following spelling inconsistencies were present in the original
and were not corrected in this etext:

wordly
ensconsed/ensconced]





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