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Title: Outside Inn
Author: Kelley, Ethel M. (Ethel May), 1878-
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 "Outside Inn" ***

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OUTSIDE INN



[Illustration: "If--if you've made a woman really care"]



OUTSIDE INN

By

ETHEL M. KELLEY

Author of

Over Here, Turn About Eleanor, Etc.

With Frontispiece by

W. B. KING

INDIANAPOLIS

THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

PUBLISHERS



Copyright 1920

The Bobbs-Merrill Company

Printed in the United States of America

PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO.

BOOK MANUFACTURERS

BROOKLYN, N. Y.



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
        I A GOOD LITTLE DREAM                                        1
       II APPLICANTS FOR BLUE CHAMBRAY                              19
      III INAUGURATION                                              33
       IV CINDERELLA                                                49
        V SCIENCE                                                   69
       VI AN ELEEMOSYNARY INSTITUTION                               84
      VII CAVE-MAN STUFF                                            93
     VIII SCIENCE APPLIED                                          113
       IX SHEILA                                                   134
        X THE PORTRAIT                                             151
       XI BILLY AND CAROLINE                                       166
      XII MORE CAVE-MAN STUFF                                      180
     XIII THE HAPPIEST DAY                                         198
      XIV BETTY                                                    209
       XV CLOUDS OF GLORY                                          220
      XVI CHRISTMAS SHOPPING                                       236
     XVII GOOD-BY                                                  248
    XVIII TAME SKELETONS                                           259
      XIX OTHER PEOPLE'S TROUBLES                                  271
       XX HITTY                                                    288
      XXI LOHENGRIN AND WHITE SATIN                                299



OUTSIDE INN



CHAPTER I

A GOOD LITTLE DREAM


"I Elijah Peebles Martin, of the city and county of Harrison, in the
state of Rhode Island, being of sound and disposing mind and memory,
do make and declare the following, as and for, my last will and
testament.' ... I wish you'd take your head out of that barrel, Nancy,
and listen to the document that is going to make you rich beyond the
dreams of avarice."

"I was beyond them anyway." The young woman in blue serge made one
last effectual dive into the depths of excelsior, the topmost billows
of which were surging untidily over the edge of a big crate in the
middle of the basement floor, and secured a nest of blue and rose
colored teacups, which she proceeded to unwrap lovingly and display on
a convenient packing box. "Not one single thing broken in this whole
lot, Billy.... What is a disposing mind and memory, anyhow?"

"You don't deserve to know," the blond young man in the Norfolk jacket
assured her, adjusting himself more firmly to the idiosyncrasies of
the rackety step-ladder he was striding. "You're not human about this.
Here you are suddenly in possession of a fortune. Money enough to make
you independently wealthy for the rest of your life--money you didn't
know the existence of, two weeks ago--fed to you by a gratuitous
providence. A legacy is a legacy, and deserves to be treated as such,
and I propose to see that it gets what it deserves, without any more
shilly-shallying."

"I'm a busy woman," Nancy groaned, "and I've hammered my finger to a
pulp, trying to open this crate, while you perch on a broken
step-ladder and prate to me of legacies. The saucers to these cups may
be in here, and I can't wait to find out. I'm perfectly crazy about
this ware. It's English--Wedgewood, you know."

"I didn't know." Billy resignedly let himself to the floor, and
appropriated the screwdriver. "I thought Wedgewood was dove color, and
consisted chiefly of ladies in deshabille, doing the tango on a parlor
ornament. I smashed one in my youth, so I know. There, it's open now.
I may as well unpack what's here. These seem to be demi-tasses.

    'You may tempt your upper classes,
    With your villainous demi-tasses.
    But Heaven will protect the working girl,'"

he finished lugubriously, in a wailing baritone, taking an imaginary
encore by bowing a head picturesquely adorned with a crop of excelsior
curls, accumulated during his activities in and about the barrel.

"The trouble with the average tea-room, or Arts and Crafts table
d'hôte," Nancy said, sinking into the depths of a broken armchair in
the corner of the dim, overcrowded interior, "is that when the pinch
comes, quantity is sacrificed to quality. Smaller portions of food,
and chipped chinaware. People who can't keep a place up, let it run
down genteelly. They won't compromise on quality. I should never be
like that. I should go to the ten-cent stores and replenish my whole
establishment, if I couldn't make it pay with imported ware and
Colonial silver. I'd never go to the other extreme. I'd never be so
perceptibly second-rate, but in the matter of furnishings as well as
food values, I'd find my perfect balance between quality and quantity,
and keep it."

"I believe you would. You are a thorough child, when you set about a
thing. I'll bet you know the restaurant business from A to Z."

"I do. You know, I studied the organization of every well-run
restaurant in New York, when I was doing field work from Teachers'
College. I've read every book on the subject of Diet and Nutrition and
Domestic Economy that I could get my hands on. I'm just ready now for
the practical application of all my theories."

"Nancy Calory Martin is your real name. I don't blame you for
hating to give up this tea-room idea. You've dug so deep into the
possibilities of it, that you want to go through. I get that."

Nancy's eyes widened in satiric admiration.

"You could understand almost anything, couldn't you, Billy?" she
mocked.

"All I want now," Billy continued imperturbably, "is a chance to make
_you_ understand something." He smote the document in his left hand.
"Of course, your uncle's lawyer has explained all the details in his
letters to you, but if you won't read the letters or familiarize
yourself with the contents of this will, somebody has got to explain
it to you in words of one syllable. My legal training, slight as it
is--"

"Sketchy is the better word, don't you think so, Billy?"

"Slight as it is"--except for a prodigious frown, Billy ignored the
interruption, though he took advantage of her suddenly upright
position to encircle her neatly with a barrel hoop, as if she were the
iron peg in a game of quoits--"enables me to put the fact before you
in a few short, sharp, well-chosen sentences. I won't again attempt to
read the document--"

"You'd better not," Nancy interrupted witheringly, "your delivery is
poor. Besides, I don't want to know what is in that will. If I had, it
stands to reason that I would have found out long before this. I've
had it three days."

"You've had it three days and never once looked into it?" Billy
groaned. "Who started all this scandal about the curiosity of women,
anyway?"

"I don't want to know what's in it," Nancy insisted. "As long as I'm
not in possession of any definite facts, I can ignore it. I've got the
kind of mind that must deal with concrete facts concretely."

Billy grinned. "I'd hate the job of trying to subpoena you," he said,
"but you'd make a corking good witness, on the stand. Of course, you
can proceed for a certain length of time on the theory that what you
don't know can't hurt you, but take it from me, little girl, what you
ought to know and don't know is the thing that's bound to hurt you
most tremendously in the long run. What are you afraid of, anyway,
Nancy?"

"I'm not _afraid_ of anything," Nancy corrected him, with some heat.
"I just plain don't want to be interrupted at this stage of my career.
I consider it an impertinence of Uncle Elijah, to make me his heir. I
never saw him but once, and I had no desire to see him that time. It
was about ten years ago, and I caught a grippe germ from him. He told
me between sneezes that I was too big a girl to wear a mess of hair
streaming down my back like a baby. I stuck out my tongue at him, but
he was too near-sighted to see it. Why couldn't he have left his money
to an eye and ear infirmary? Or the Sailors' Snug Retreat? Or--or--"

"If you really don't want the money," Billy said, "it's your privilege
to endow some institution--"

"You know very well that I can't get rid of money that way," Nancy
cried hotly. "I am at least a responsible person. I don't believe in
these promiscuous, eleemosynary institutions. It would be against
all my principles to contribute money to any such philanthropy. I know
too much about them--but he didn't. He could have disposed of his
money to any one of a dozen of these mid-Victorian charities, but
no--he was just one of those old parties that want to shift their
responsibilities on to young shoulders, and so he chose mine."

"You don't speak very kindly of your dear dead relative."

"I don't feel very kindly toward him. He was a meddling old creature.
He never gave any member of the family a cent when they wanted it and
needed it. Now that I've just got my life in shape, and know what I
want to do with it without being beholden to anybody on earth, he
leaves me a whole lot of superfluous money."

"If I weren't engaged to Caroline, who is a jealous woman, though I
say it as shouldn't, I'd be tempted to undertake the management of
your fortune myself," Billy said reflectively; "as it is--honor--"

"I know what I want to do with my life," Nancy continued, as if he had
not spoken. "I want to run an efficiency tea-room and serve dinner and
breakfast and tea to my fellow men and women. I want the perfectly
balanced ration, perfectly served, to be my contribution to the cause
of humanity."

She looked about her ruefully. The sun, through the barred dusty
windows, struck in long slant rays, athwart the confusion of the
cellar, illuminating piles upon piles of gay, blue latticed
chinaware,--cups set out methodically in rows on the lids and bottoms
of packing boxes; assorted sizes of plates and saucers, graded
pyramidically, rising from the floor. There were also individual
copper casseroles and serving dishes, and a heterogeneous assortment
of Japanese basketry tangled in excelsior and tissue. A wandering
sunbeam took her hair, displaying its amber, translucent quality.

"I've just got capital enough to get it going right; to swing it for
the first year, even if I don't make a cent on it. It's my one big
chance to do my share in the world, and to work out my own salvation.
This legacy is a menace to all my dreams and plans."

"I see that," Billy said. "What I don't see is what you gain by
refusing to let it catch up with you."

"You're not it till you're tagged. That's all. If I don't know whether
my income is going to be five thousand dollars or twenty-five thousand
a year, I can go on unpacking teacups with--"

Billy whistled.

"Five thousand or twenty-five--my darling Nancy! You'll have fifty
thousand a year at the very lowest estimate. The actual money is more
than five hundred thousand dollars. The stock in the Union Rubber
Company will amount to as much again, maybe twice as much. You're a
real heiress, my dear, with wads of real money to show for it. That's
what I'm trying to tell you."

"Fifty thousand a year!" Nancy turned a shocked face, from which the
color slowly drained, leaving it blue-white. "Fifty thousand a year!
You're mad. It can't be!"

"Yes'um. Fifty thousand at least."

Nancy's pallor increased. She closed her eyes.

"Don't do that," Billy said sharply. "No woman can faint on me just
because she's had money left her. You make me feel like the ghost of
Hamlet's father."

Nancy clutched at his sleeve.

"Don't, Billy!" she besought. "I'm past joking now. Fifty thousand a
year! Why, Uncle Elijah bought fifteen-dollar suits and fifteen-cent
lunches. How could a retired sea captain get all that money by
investing in a little rubber, and getting to be president of a little
rubber company?"

"That's how. Be a good sensible girl, and face the music."

"I'll have to give up the tea-room."

Billy laid a consolatory arm over her shoulder, and patted her
awkwardly.

"Cheer up," he said, "there's worse things in this world than money.
The time may come when you'll be grateful to your poor little old
uncle, for his nifty little fifty thousand per annum."

Nancy turned a tragic face to him.

"I tell you I'm not grateful to him," she said, "and I doubt if I ever
will be. I don't want the stupid money. I want to work life out in my
own way. I know I've got it in me, and I want my chance to prove it. I
want to give myself, my own brain and strength, to the job I've
selected as mine. Now, it's all spoiled for me. I'm subsidized. I'm
done for, and I can't see any way out of it."

"You can give the money away."

"I can't. Giving money away is a special science of itself. If I
devote my life to doing that as it should be done, I won't have time
or energy for anything else. I'm not a philanthropist in that sense. I
wanted my restaurant to be philanthropic only incidentally. I wanted
to cram my patrons with the full value of their money's worth of good
nourishing food; to increase the efficiency of hundreds of people who
never suspected I was doing it, by scientific methods of feeding.
That's my dream."

"A good little dream, all right."

"To make people eat the right food; to help them to a fuller and more
effective use of themselves by supplying them with the proper fuel for
their functions."

"You could buy a chain of restaurants with the money you've got."

"I don't want a chain of restaurants."

"You can endow a perpetual diet squad. You can buy out the whole Life
Extension Institute. If you would only stop to think of the advantages
of having all the money you wanted to spend on anything you wanted,
you'd--"

"Billy," Nancy said solemnly, "I've been through all that. If I had
thought I would have been a better person with a great deal of money
at my disposal, I--I might have--"

"Married Dick," Billy finished for her. "I forgot that interesting
possibility. I suppose to a girl who has just turned down a cold five
millions, this meager little proposition"--he flourished the crumpled
document in his hand--"has no real allure. Lord! What a world this is.
You'll marry Dick yet. Them as has--_gits_. It never rains but it
pours. To the victor belong the spoils, _et cetera, et cetera_--"

"Money simply does not interest me."

"Dick interests you. I don't know to what extent, but he interests
you."

"Don't be sentimental, Billy. Just because you're in love with
Caroline, you can't make all your other friends marry each other. Tell
me what to do about this legacy. What is customary when you get a lump
of money like that? I suppose I'll have to begin to get rid of all
_this_ immediately." There was more than a hint of tears in her voice,
but she smiled at Billy bravely. "I'm so perfectly crazy about
these--these cups and saucers, Billy. See the lovely way that rose is
split to fit into the design. Oh, when do I come into possession,
anyway?"

"You don't come into possession right away, you know. You don't
inherit for a couple of years, under the Rhode Island law. The
formalities will take--"

"Billy Boynton, do you mean to say that I won't have to do a blessed
thing about this money for two years?" Nancy shrieked.

"Why, no. It takes a certain amount of red tape to settle an estate,
to probate a will, etc., and the law allows a period of time, varying
in different states--"

"Oho! Is there anything in all this universe so stupid as a man?"
Nancy interrupted fervently. "Why didn't you tell me that before? Do
you suppose I care how much money I have two years from now? Two years
of freedom, why, that's all I want, Billy. There you've been sitting
up winking and blinking at me like a sympathetic old owl, when all I
needed to know was that I had two years of grace. Of course, I'll go
on with my tea-room, and not a soul shall know the difference."

"While the feminine temperament has my hearty admiration and my most
cordial endorsement," Billy murmured, "there are things about it--"

"I won't have to tell anybody, will I?"

"There's no law to that effect. If your friends don't know it from
you, they're not likely to hear it."

"I haven't mentioned it," Nancy said. "I only told you, because it
seemed rather in your line of work, and I was getting so much mail
about it, I thought it would be wise to have some one look it over."

"I've given up my law practice and Caroline for three days in your
service."

"You've done more than well, Billy, and I'm grateful to you. Of
course, you would have saved me days of nervous wear and tear if it
had only occurred to you to tell me the one simple little thing that
was the essential point of the whole matter. If I had known that I
didn't inherit for two years, I wouldn't have cared _what_ was in that
will."

Billy stared at her feelingly.

"A peculiar sensation always comes over me," he said musingly, "after
I spend several hours uninterruptedly in the society of a woman who is
using her mind in any way. I couldn't explain it to you exactly. It's
a kind of impression that my own brain has begun to disintegrate, and
to--"

"Don't be too hard on yourself, Billy." Nancy soothed him sweetly,--Billy
was not one of the people to whom she habitually allowed full
conversational leeway: "Swear you won't tell Caroline or Betty--or Dick."

"I swear."

Nancy held out her hand to him.

"You're a good boy," she said, "and I appreciate you, which is more
than Caroline does, I'm afraid. Run along and see her now--I don't
need you any more, and you're probably dying to."

Billy bowed over her hand, lingeringly and politely, but once
releasing it, he shook his big frame, and straightening up, drew a
long deep breath of something very like relief.

"With all deference to your delightful sex," he said, "the only
society that I'm dying for at the present moment is that of the old
family bar-keep."

As Billy left her, Nancy turned to her basement window, and stood
looking out at the quaint stone court he had to cross in order to
reach the high gate that guarded the entrance to the marble worker's
establishment, under the shadow of which it was her intention to open
her out-of-door tea-room. She watched him dreamily is he made his way
among the cinerary urns, the busts and statues and bas-reliefs that
were a part of the stock in trade of her incongruous business
associate.

In her investigation of the various sorts and conditions of
restaurants in New York, she characteristically hit upon the garden
restaurant, a commonplace in the down-town table d'hôte district, as
the ideal setting for her adventure in practical philanthropy, while
the ubiquitous tea-room and antique-shop combination gave her the
inspiration to stage her own undertaking even more spectacularly. Her
enterprise was destined to flourish picturesquely in the open court
during the fair months of the year, and in the winter months, or in
the event of a bad storm, to be housed under the eaves in the rambling
garret of the old brick building, the lower floor of which was given
over to traffic in marbles.

She sighed happily. Billy, extricating himself from the grasp of an
outstretched marble hand, which bad seemed to clutch desperately at
his elbow, and narrowly escaping a plunge into a too convenient bird's
bath, turned to see her eyes following him, and waved gaily, but she
scarcely realized that he had done so. It was rather with the eye of
her mind that she was contemplating the dark, quadrangular area
outstretched before her. In spirit she was moving to and fro among the
statuary, bringing a housewifely order out of the chaos that
prevailed,--placing stone ladies draped in stone or otherwise;
cherubic babies, destined to perpetual cold water bathing; strange
mortuary furniture, in the juxtaposition that would make the most
effective background for her enterprise.

She saw the gritty, gray paving stones of the court cleared of their
litter, and scoured free from discoloration and grime, set with dozens
of little tables immaculate in snowy napery and shiny silver, and
arranged with careful irregularity at the most alluring angle. She saw
a staff of Hebe-like waitresses in blue chambray and pink ribbons, to
match the chinaware, and all bearing a marked resemblance to herself
in her last flattering photograph, moving among a crowd of well
brought up but palpably impoverished young people,--mostly social
workers and artists. They were _all_ young, and most of them very
beautiful. In all her twenty-five years, she had never before been so
close to a vision realized, as she was at that moment.

"Outside Inn," she said to herself, still smiling. "It's a perfect
name for it, really. Outside Inn!"



CHAPTER II

APPLICANTS FOR BLUE CHAMBRAY


Ann Martin was an orphan of New England extraction. Her father, the
eldest child of a simple unpretentious country family in Western
Massachusetts, had been a brilliant but erratic throw-back to
Mayflower traditions and Puritan intellectualism. He had married a
girl with much the same ancestry as his own, but herself born and
brought up in New York, and of a generation to which the assumption of
prerogative was a natural rather than an acquired characteristic. The
possession of a comfortable degree of fortune and culture was a matter
of course with Ann Winslow, while to poor David Martin education in
the finer things of life, and the opportunity to indulge his taste in
the choice of surroundings and associates, were hard-won privileges.

Both parents had been killed in a railroad accident when Ann, or Nancy
as her mother had insisted on calling her from the day of her
christening, was about seven years old. She had been placed in the
care of a maternal aunt, and had flourished in the heart of a well
ordered establishment of the mid-Victorian type, run by a vigorous,
rather worldly old lady.

From her lovely mother--Ann Winslow had been more than a merely
attractive or pretty woman; she had the real grace and distinction,
and purity of profile that placed her in the actual category of
beauty,--Nancy had inherited a healthy and equitable outlook on life,
while her father, irresistible and impracticable being that he was,
had endowed her with a certain eccentric and adventurous spirit in the
investigation of it.

She had been educated in a boarding-school, forty minutes' run from
New York, and had specialized in the domestic sciences and basket
ball; and on attaining her majority had taken up a course or two at
Columbia, rather more to put off the evil day of assuming the
responsibility of the stuffy, stately old house in Washington Square
than because she ever expected to make any use of her superfluous
education. She was conceded by every one to be her aunt's heir, but
old Miss Winslow died intestate, very suddenly in Nancy's twenty-third
year; and the beneficiaries of this accident, most of them extremely
well-to-do themselves, combined to make Nancy a regular allowance
until she was twenty-five. On her twenty-fifth birthday fifteen
thousand dollars was deposited to her account in the Trust Company
which conserved the family fortunes of the Winslows, and Nancy
understood that they considered their duty by her to be done. It was
with this fifteen thousand dollars that she was to inaugurate her
darling enterprise,--Outside Inn.

Money, as she had truthfully told Billy, meant nothing to her. Her
aunt, living and giving generously, had furnished her with a
background of comfortable, unostentatious well being, against which
the rather vivid elements that went to make up her intimate social
circle--she was a creature of intimates--stood out in alluring relief.
She had literally never wanted for anything. Her tastes, to be sure,
were modest, but the wherewithal to gratify them had always been
almost stultifyingly near at hand. The excitement and adventure of an
income to which there was attached some uncertainty had never been
hers, and she was too much her father's daughter to be interested in
the playing of any game in which she could not lose. With all she
possessed staked against her untried business acumen she was for the
first time in her life concerned with her financial situation, and
quite honestly resentful of any interruption of her experiment. Her
life was closely associated with her mother's family. Her father's
people had at no time entered into her scheme of living,--her uncle
Elijah less than any member of it, and she found his post-obit
intervention in her affairs embarrassing in a dozen different
connections.

The best friend she had in the world, before he had made the tactical
error of asking her to marry him, was Richard Thorndyke. He was still,
thanks to his immediate skill in trying to retrieve that error, a very
good friend indeed. Nancy would normally have told him everything that
happened to her in the exact order of its occurrence; but partly
because she did not wish to exaggerate her eccentricity in eyes that
looked upon her so kindly, and partly because she had the instinct to
spare him the realization that there was no way in which he might come
to her rescue in the event of disaster,--she did not inform him of her
legacy. She knew that he was shrewdly calculating to stand behind her
venture, morally and practically, and that the chief incentive of his
encouragement and helpfulness was the hidden hope that through her
experiment and its probable unfortunate termination she would learn to
depend on _him_. Nancy was so sure of herself that this attitude of
Dick's roused her tenderness instead of her ire.

The two girls who were closest to her, Caroline Eustace and Betty
Pope, had been actively enlisted in the service of Outside Inn and the
ideals that it represented. Betty, a dimpling, dynamic little being,
who took a sporting interest in any project that interested her,
irrespective of its merits, was to be associated with Nancy in the
actual management of the restaurant. Caroline, who took herself more
seriously, and was busy with a dozen enterprises that had to do with
the welfare of the race, was concerned chiefly with the humanitarian
side of the undertaking and willing to deflect to it only such energy
as she felt to be essential to its scientific betterment. She was
tentatively engaged to Billy Boynton,--for what reason no one--not
even Billy--had been able to determine; since she systematically
disregarded him in relation to all the interests and activities that
went to make up her life.

The affairs of the Inn progressed rapidly. It was in the first week of
May that Nancy and Billy had their memorable discussion of her
situation. By the latter part of June, when she could be reasonably
sure of a succession of propitious days and nights, for she had set
her heart on balmy weather conditions, Nancy expected to have her
formal opening,--a dinner which not only initiated her establishment,
but submitted it to the approval of her own group of intimate friends,
who were to be her guests on that occasion.

Meantime, the most extensive and discriminating preparations were
going forward. Billy and Dick were present one afternoon by special
request when Betty and Nancy were interviewing a contingent of
waitresses.

"We've got three perfectly charming girls already," Nancy said, "that
is, girls that look perfectly charming to me, but a man's point of
view on a woman's looks is so different that I thought it would be a
good plan to have you boys look over this lot. They are all very
high-class and competent girls. The Manning Agency doesn't send any
other kind."

"Trot 'em along," Billy said; "where are they anyway?"

"In the room in front." They were in the smallest of the nest of attic
rooms that Nancy planned to make her winter quarters. "Michael
receives them, and shows them in here one by one."

"You like Michael then?" Dick asked. "I always said his talents were
hidden at our place. He has a soul above the job of handy man on a
Long Island farm."

"He's certainly a handy man here," Nancy said; "I couldn't live
without him."

"The lucky dog," Billy said, with a side glance at Dick.

"You see," Betty explained, "the girl comes in, and we ask her
questions. Then if I don't like her I take my pencil from behind my
ear, and rap against my palm with it. If Nancy doesn't like her she
says, 'You're losing a hairpin, Betty.' If we like her we rub our
hands together."

"It's a good system," Billy said, "but I don't see why Nancy doesn't
take her pencil from behind her ear, or why you don't say to her--"

"I wouldn't put a pencil behind my ear," Nancy said scathingly.

"And she never loses a hairpin," Betty cut in. "If I approve this
system of signals I don't see what you have to complain of. Nancy
couldn't get a pencil behind her ear even if she wanted to. It's only
a criminal ear like mine that accommodates a pencil."

"Speaking of ears," Dick said, looking at his watch, "let's get on
with the beauty show. I have to take my mother to see _Boris_
to-night, and she has an odd notion of being on time."

"Aw right," Betty said. "Here's Michael. Bring in the first one
immediately, Michael."

"Sure an' I will that, Miss Pope." The old family servitor of the
Thorndykes pulled a deliberate lid over a twinkling left eye by way of
acknowledging the presence of his young master. "There's quite a
display of thim this time."

The first applicant, guided thus by Michael, appeared on the
threshold and stood for a moment framed in the low doorway. Seeing
two gentlemen present she carefully arranged her expression to meet
that contingency. She was a blonde girl with masses of doubtfully
tinted hair and no chin, but her eyes were very blue and matched a
chain of turquoise beads about her throat, and she radiated a peculiar
vitality.

Betty took her pencil from behind her ear.

"You're losing a hair--" Nancy began, but Dick and Billy exchanged
glances and began rubbing their hands together energetically and
enthusiastically.

"I'm sorry," Nancy said crisply, "but you're a little too tall for our
purpose."

"And too blonde," Betty added with a bland dismissing smile. "We're
looking for a special type of girl."

"I understood you were looking for a waitress," the girl said pertly,
with her eyes on Billy.

"I was," Billy answered, "but I'm not now. My--my wife won't let me."
He waved an inclusive hand in the direction of Nancy and Betty.

"If you don't behave," Nancy said, while they waited for Michael to
bring in the next girl, "you can't stay. If that is the kind of girl
you men find attractive then my restaurant is doomed from the
beginning. I wouldn't have that girl in my employ for--"

Before she could begin again, applicant number two stood before
them,--a comfortable, kind-eyed girl, no longer very young but with
efficiency written all over her, despite the shyness that beset her.

Nancy rubbed her hands with satisfaction and looked at Betty, who
beamed back at her. The girl, encouraged by Nancy's kindly smile took
a step forward, and began to recite her qualifications for the
position. Dick fumbled with a fountain-pen which he placed elaborately
behind his ear for an instant, and then as ostentatiously removed.

"I think you're losing a hairpin, Dick," Billy suggested solicitously,
as Nancy, ignoring their existence entirely, proceeded to make terms
with the newcomer.

The next girl created a diversion--being palpably an adventuress out
of a job and impressing none of the quartette as being interesting
enough to deserve one,--but the two girls who followed her were bright
and sprightly creatures, disarmingly graceful and ingenuous, of whom
the entire quartette approved. They were twin sisters, they said,
Dolly and Molly, and they had always had places together ever since
they had begun working out.

"Tell me, pretty maiden, _are_ there any more at home _like_--" Billy
was addressing Molly gravely when Dick slipped a friendly but firm
hand over his jugular region, and cut off his utterance.

"He's not feeling quite himself," he explained suavely to Dolly,
"but we'll bring him around soon.--I think you'll find Miss Martin
an ideal person to work for, and the salary and the hours unusually
satisfactory."

"Thank you, sir," said Molly and Dolly together, in the English manner
which showed the excellence of their training.

There were several other dubby creatures so much out of the picture
that they were not even considered, and then Michael brought in what
he called "a grand girl," and left her standing statuesquely in their
midst.

"With large lovely arms and a neck like a tower," Dick quoted in his
throat.

Nancy engaged her without enthusiasm.

"She'll draw," she said briefly. "Personally, I dislike these Alma
Tadema girls."

"What the men see," Betty said, curling around the better part of two
straight dining chairs, in the moment of relaxation that followed the
final disposition of the business of the day, "in a girl like that
first one is one of the mysteries of existence."

"I know it," Nancy agreed, with New England colloquialism. "You feel
reasonably allied to them as a sex, and then suddenly they show some
vulgar preference for a woman like that, and it's all off."

"This from the woman who thinks my chauffeur is an ideal of manly
beauty," Dick scoffed, "a dimpled man with a little finger ring."

"He can run a car, though," Nancy retorted.

"I'll bet little blue eyes could run a restaurant."

"That was just the trouble,--she would have been running mine in
twenty-four hours. Oh! I think what you men really like is a bossy
woman."

"Now, what a woman really likes in a man--" Betty began, "is--is--"

"Quality," Nancy finished for her succinctly.

"I wonder--" Dick mused. "I should have said finish."

"Almost any kind of finish so long as it is smooth enough," Billy
supplemented. "Look at the way they eat up this artistic and poetic
veneer."

"Look at the way they mangle their metaphors," Nancy complained to
Betty.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"I know what I really like in a woman," Dick whispered to Nancy, as he
helped her into her coat just before they started out together, "and
you know what I like, too. That's one of the subjects that needs no
discussion between us."

Betty and Billy walking up the avenue ahead of them,--Outside Inn was
located in one of the cross-streets in the thirties,--were discussing
their relation to one another.

"I wonder sometimes if Nancy's got it in her really to care for a
man," Betty argued; "she's as fond as she can be of Dick, but she'd
sacrifice him heart, soul and body for that restaurant of hers. She's
a perfect darling, I don't mean that; she's the very essence of
sweetness and kindness, but she doesn't seem to understand or
appreciate the possibilities of a devotion like Dick's. Do you think
she's really capable of loving anybody--of putting any man in the
world before all her ideas and notions and experiments?"

"Lord, yes," said Billy, accelerating his pace, suggestively in the
hope of getting Betty home in good time for him to dress to keep his
engagement with Caroline.



CHAPTER III

INAUGURATION


Nancy's heart was beating heavily when she woke on the memorable
morning of the day that was to inaugurate the activities of Outside
Inn. A confused dream of her Uncle Elijah in tatters on a park bench,
which was instantly metamorphosed into one of the rustic seats she had
arranged against the wall along the side of some of the bigger tables
in the marble worker's court, was ostensibly the cause of the
disturbance in her cardiac region. She had, it seemed, in the
interminable tangle of nightmare, given Molly and Dolly and the Alma
Tadema girl instructions to throw out the unwelcome guest, and she was
standing by with Michael, who was assuring her that the big blonde was
"certain a grand bouncer," when she was smitten with a sickening
dream-panic at her own ingratitude. "He has given me everything he had
in the world, poor old man," she said to herself, and approached him
remorsefully; but when she looked at him again she saw that he had the
face and figure of a young stranger, and that the garments that had
seemed to her to be streaming and unsightly rags, were merely the
picturesque habiliments of a young artist, apparently newly translated
from the Boulevard Montparnasse. At the sight of the stranger a
heart-sinking terror seemed to take possession of her, and so, quaking
and quavering in mortal intimidation,--she woke up.

She laughed at herself as she brushed the sleep out of her eyes, and
drew the gradual long breaths that soothed the physical agitation that
still beset her.

"I'm scared," she said, "I'm as excited and nervous as a youngster on
circus day.--Oh! I'm glad the sun shines."

Nancy lived in a little apartment of her own in that hinterland of
what is now down-town New York, between the Rialto and its more
conventional prototype, Society,--that is, she lived east of Broadway
on a cross-street in the forties. The maid who took care of her had
been in her aunt's employ for years, and had seen Nancy grow from her
rather spoiled babyhood to a hoydenish childhood, and so on to
soft-eyed, vibrant maturity. She was the only person who tyrannized
over Nancy. She brought her a cup of steaming hot water with a pinch
of soda in it, now.

"You were moaning and groaning in your sleep," she said, in the
strident accents of her New England birthplace, "so you'll have to
drink this before I give you a living thing for your breakfast."

"I will, Hitty," Nancy said, "and thank you kindly. Now I know you've
been making pop-overs, and are afraid they will disagree with me. I'm
glad--for I need the moral effect of them."

"I dunno whether pop-overs is so moral, or so immoral if it comes to
that. I notice it's always the folks that ain't had much to do with
morals one way or the other that's so almighty glib about them."

"There's a good deal in what you say, Hitty. If I had time I would go
into the matter with you, but this is my busy day." Nancy sat up in
bed, and began sipping her hot water obediently. She looked very
childlike in her straight cut, embroidered night-gown, with a long
chestnut pig-tail over either shoulder. "I feel as if I were going to
be married, or--or something. I'm so excited."

"I guess you'd be a good sight more excited if you was going to be
married"--Hitty was a widow of twenty-five years' standing--"and
according to my way of thinking 'twould be a good deal more suitable,"
she added darkly. "I don't take much stock in this hotel business. In
my day there warn't no such newfangled foolishness for a girl to take
up with instead o' getting married and settled down. When I was your
age I was working on my second set o' baby clothes."

"Don't scold, Hitty," Nancy coaxed. "I could make perfectly good baby
clothes if I needed to. Don't you think I'll be of more use in the
world serving nourishing food to hordes of hungry men and women than
making baby clothes for one hypothetical baby?"

"I dunno about the hypothetical part," Hitty said, folding back the
counterpane, inexorably. "What I do know is that a girl that's getting
to be an old girl--like you--past twenty-five--ought to be bestirring
herself to look for a life pardner if she don't see any hanging around
that suits her, instead of opening up a hotel for a passel of perfect
strangers. If ever I saw a woman spoiling for something of her own to
fuss over--"

"If ever there was a woman who _had_ something of her own to fuss
over," Nancy cried ecstatically, "I'm that woman to-day, Hitty. You're
a professional Puritan, and you don't understand the broader aspects
of the maternal instinct." She sprang out of bed, and tucked her bare
pink toes into the fur bordered blue mules that peeped from under the
bed, and slipped into the wadded blue silk bathrobe that lay on the
chair beside her. "Is my bath drawn, Hitty?"

"Your bath is drawed," Hitty acknowledged sourly, "and your breakfast
will be on the table in half an hour by the clock."

"I suppose I must require that corrective New England influence,"
Nancy said to herself, as she tried the temperature of her bath and
found it frigid, "just as some people need acid in their diet. If my
mother were alive, I wonder what she would have said to me this
morning."

Nancy spent a long day directing, planning, and arranging for the
great event of the evening, the first dinner served to the public at
Outside Inn.

From the basement kitchen to the ground-floor serving-room in the
rear, space cunningly coaxed from the reluctant marble worker, the
mechanism of Nancy's equipment was as perfect as lavish expenditure
and scientific management could make it. The kitchen gleamed with
copper and granite ware; huge pots for soup and vegetables, mammoth
double boilers of white enamel,--Nancy was firm in her conviction that
rice and cereal could be cooked in nothing but white enamel,--rows
upon rows of shelves methodically set with containers and casseroles
and odd-shaped metal serving-dishes, as well as the ubiquitous blue
and rose-color chinaware presenting its gay surface from every
available bit of space.

Presiding over the hooded ranges, two of gas and one coal for toasting
and broiling, there was to be a huge Franco-American man-cook,
discovered in one of the Fifth Avenue pastry shops in the course of
Nancy's indefatigable tours of exploration, who was the son of a
French _chef_ and a Virginian mother, and could express himself in the
culinary art of either his father's or his mother's nativity. His
staff of helpers and dishwashers had been chosen by himself, with what
Nancy considered most felicitous results, while her own galaxy of
waitresses, who operated the service kitchen up-stairs, proved
themselves to a woman almost unbelievably superior and efficient.

The courtyard itself was a brave spectacle in its final aspect of
background for the detail and paraphernalia of polite dining. The more
unself-conscious of the statues, the nymphs and nereids and Venuses,
she managed either to relegate to the storehouse within, or to add a
few cunningly draped vines to the nonchalance of their effect, while
the gargoyles and Roman columns and some of the least ambitious of the
fountain-models she was able to adapt delightfully to her outrageous
ideal of arrangement. Dick had denuded several smart florist shops to
furnish her with field flowers enough to develop her decorative
scheme, which included strangely the stringing of half a dozen huge
Chinese lanterns that even in the daylight took on a meteoric light
and glow.

The night was clear and soft, and Fifth Avenue, ingratiatingly swept
and garnished, stretched its wake of summer allure before the never
unappreciative eyes of Billy and Caroline, and Betty and Dick
respectively, who had met at the Waldorf by appointment, and were now
making their way, thus ceremoniously and in company, to the formal
opening dinner of Nancy's Inn.

Two nondescript Pagan gentlemen of Titanesque proportions had joined
the watch of the conventional leonine twins, and the big gate now
stood hospitably open, over it swinging the new sign in gallant
crimson and white, that announced to all the world that Outside Inn
was even at that moment, at its most punctilious service.

Molly and Dolly, in the prescribed blue chambray, their cheeks several
shades pinker than their embellishment of pink ribbon, and panting
with ill-suppressed excitement, rushed forward to greet the four and
ushered them solemnly to their places,--the gala table in the center
of the court, set with a profusion of fleur de lis, with pink ribbon
trainers. Thanks to Dick's carefully manipulated advertising campaign
and personal efforts among his friends and business associates, they
were not by any means the first arrivals. Half a dozen laughing groups
were distributed about the round tables in the center space, while
several tête-à-tête couples were confidentially ensconced in corners
and at cozy tables for two, craftily sheltered by some of the most
imposing of the marble figures and columns.

"It seems like a real restaurant," Caroline said wonderingly.

"What did you think it would seem like?" Betty asked argumentatively.
"Just because Nancy is the best friend you have in the world, and
you're familiar with her in pig-tails and a dressing-gown doesn't
argue that she is incapable of managing an undertaking like this as
well as if she were a perfect stranger."

"I don't suppose it does," Caroline mused, "but someway I'd feel
easier about a perfect stranger investing her last cent in such a
venture. I don't see how she can possibly make it pay, and I don't
feel as if I could ever have a comfortable moment again until I knew
whether she could or not.--What are you looking so guilty about,
Billy?"

"I was regretting your uncomfortable moments, Caroline," Billy said,
"and wishing it were in my power to do away with them, but it isn't. I
was also musing sadly, but quite irrelevantly, on the tangled web we
weave when first we practise to deceive."

"Are you deceiving Caroline in some way?" Dick inquired.

"No, he isn't," Caroline answered for him, "though he has full
permission to if he wants."

"The time may come when he will avail himself of that permission,"
Betty said; "you ought to be careful how you tempt Fate, Caroline."

"She ought to be," Billy groaned, "but the fact is that I am not one
of the things she is superstitious about. Pipe the dame at the corner
table with the lorgnette. Classy, isn't she?"

"Friend of my aunt's," Dick said, acknowledging the lady's salute.

"And the Belasco adventuress in the corner."

"My stenographer," Dick explained, bowing again.

"I've got a bunch of men coming," Billy said; "if they put the place
on the bum you've got to help me bounce them, Dick."

"Up-stairs in the service kitchen," Betty was explaining to Caroline,
"they keep all the dishes that don't have to be heated for serving,
also the silver and daily linen supply. When we seat ourselves at a
table like this, the waitress to whom it is assigned goes in and gets
a basket of bread--I think it's a pretty idea to serve the bread in
baskets, don't you?--and whatever silver is necessary, and a bottle of
water. When she places those things she asks us what our choice of a
meat course is,--there is a choice except on chicken night--and gives
that order in the kitchen when she goes to get our soup."

"Who serves the things,--puts the meat on the plates, and dishes up
the vegetables?"

"The cook--Nancy won't let me call him the _chef_--because she is
going to make a specialty of the southern element of his education. He
has a serving-table by his range and he cuts up the meat and fowl, and
dishes up the vegetables. In a bigger establishment he would have a
helper to do that."

"Why can't Michael help him?" Dick asked.

"Michael calls him the Haythan Shinee. He is rather a _glossy_ man,
you know, and he says when the time comes for him, Michael, to dress
like a street cleaner and pilot a gravy boat, he'll let us know."

"Respect for his superiors is not one of Michael's most salient
characteristics," Dick twinkled. "Nancy and I have a scheme for making
a match between him and Hitty."

"Here's the soup," Betty announced. "Nancy's idea is to have
everything perfectly simple, and--and--"

"Simply perfect," Billy assisted her.

"Isn't she going to eat with us?" Dick asked.

"She can't. She's busy getting it going just at present. She may
appear later."

"Somebody's got to direct this pageant, old top," Billy reminded him.

"The soup is perfect," Caroline said seriously. "It is simple--with
that deceptive simplicity of a Paris morning frock."

"French home cooking is all like that," Dick said. "I like purée of
forget-me-nots!"

"Molly or Dolly, I can't tell the difference between you," Billy said,
"extend our compliments to Miss Martin, and tell her that this course
is a triumph."

"Wait till you see the roast, sir."

"It's the very _best_ sirloin," Dick announced at the first mouthful,
"and these assorted vegetables all cut down to the same size are as
pretty as they are good, as one says of virtuous innocence."

"This variety of asparagus is expensive," Caroline said; "she can't do
things like this at seventy-five cents a head. She'll ruin herself."

"I don't see how she can," Dick said thoughtfully, "with the price of
foodstuffs soaring sky-high."

"I never for a moment expected it to pay," Betty said, "but think of
the run she will have for her money, and the experience we'll get out
of it."

"You're in it for the romance there is in it, Betty. I must confess it
isn't altogether my idea of a good time," Caroline said.

"I know, you would go in for military training for women, and that
sort of thing. There's a woman over there asking for more olives, and
she's eaten a plate full of them already."

"They're as big as hen's eggs anyhow," Caroline groaned, "and almost
as extravagant. I don't see how Nancy'll go through the first month at
this rate. There she comes now. Doesn't she look nice in that color of
green?"

"How do you like my party?" Nancy asked, slipping into the empty chair
between Dick and Billy; "isn't the food good and nourishing, and
aren't there a lot of nice-looking people here?"

"Very much, and it is, and there are," Dick answered with affectionate
eyes on her.

"The salad is alligator pear served in half sections, with French
dressing," she said dreamily. "I'm too happy to eat, but I'll have
some with you. Look at them all, don't they look relaxed and soothed
and refreshed? Every individual has a perfectly balanced ration of the
most superlatively good quality, slowly beginning to assimilate within
him."

"I don't see many respectable working girls," Billy said.

"There are though,--from the different shops and offices on the
avenue. There is a contingent from the Columbia summer school coming
to-morrow evening. This group coming in now is newspaper people."

"Who's the fellow sitting over in the corner with that Vie de Bohême
hat? He looks familiar, but I can't seem to place him."

"The man in black with the mustache?" Dick asked. "He's an artist,
pretty well known. That impressionistic chap--I can't think of his
name--that had that exhibition at the Palsifer galleries."

"Does he sell?" Caroline asked.

"No, they say he's awfully poor, refuses to paint down to the public
taste. What the deuce is his name--oh! I know, Collier Pratt--do you
know him, Nancy? Lived in Paris always till the war. He'll appreciate
Ritz cooking at Riggs' prices if anybody will."

Nancy looked fixedly at the small side-table where the stranger had
just placed himself as if he were etched upon the whiteness of the
wall behind him. He sat erect and brooding,--his dark, rather
melancholy eyes staring straight ahead, and a slight frown wrinkling
his really fine forehead. He wore an Inverness cape slung over one
shoulder.

"Looks like one of Rembrandt's portraits of himself," Caroline
suggested.

"He looks like a brigand," Betty said. "Nancy's struck dumb with the
privilege of adding fuel to a flame of genius like that. Wake up and
eat your peach Melba, Nancy."

Nancy started, and took perfunctorily the spoon that Molly was holding
out to her, which she forgot to lift to her lips even after it was
freighted with its first delicious mouthful.

"I dreamed about that man," she said.



CHAPTER IV

CINDERELLA


Nancy shut the door of her apartment behind her, and slipped out into
the dimly lit corridor. From her sitting-room came a burst of
concerted laughter, the sound of Betty's sweet, high pitched voice
raised in sudden protest, and then the echo of some sort of a physical
struggle; and Caroline took the piano and began to improvise.

"They won't miss me," Nancy said to herself, "I must have air." She
drew a long breath with a hand against her breast, apparently to
relieve the pressure there. "I can't stay shut up in a _room_," she
kept repeating as if she were stating the most reasonable of premises,
and turning, fled down the two flights of stairs that led to the
outside door of the building.

The breath of the night was refreshingly cool upon her hot cheeks, and
she smiled into the darkness gratefully. Across the way a row of
brownstone houses, implacably boarded up for the summer, presented
dull and dimly defined surfaces that reflected nothing, not even the
lights of the street, or the shadow of a passing straggler. Nancy
turned her face toward the avenue. The nostalgia that was her
inheritance from her father, and through him from a long line of
ancestors that followed the sea whither it might lead them, was upon
her this night, although she did not understand it as such. She only
thought vaguely of a strip of white beach with a whiter moon hung high
above it, and the long silver line of the tide,--drawing out.

"I wish I had a hat on," she said. There was a night light in the
chemist's shop at the corner, and the panel of mirror obligingly
placed for the convenience of the passing crowd, at the left of the
big window, showed her reflection quite plainly. She was suddenly
inspired to take the soft taffeta girdle from the waist of her dark
blue muslin gown, and bind it turban-wise about her head. The effect
was pleasingly modish and conventional, and she quickened her
steps--satisfied. There was a tingle in the air that set her blood
pleasantly in motion, and she established a rhythm of pace that made
her feel almost as if she were walking to music. Insensibly her mind
took up its responsibilities again as the blood, stimulated from its
temporary inactivity, began to course naturally through her veins.

"There is plenty of beer and ginger ale in the ice-box," she
thought, "and I've done this before, so they won't be unnaturally
disturbed about me. Billy wanted to take Caroline home early, and
Dick can go on up-town with Betty, without making her feel that she
ought to leave him alone with me for a last tête-à-tête. It will hurt
Dick's feelings, but he understands really. He has a most blessed
understandingness, Dick has."

She had the avenue almost entirely to herself, a silent gleaming
thoroughfare with the gracious emptiness that a much lived in street
sometimes acquires, of a Sunday at the end of an adventurous season.
It was early July, the beginning of the actual summer season in New
York. Nancy had never before been in town so late in the year, nor for
that matter had Caroline or Betty, but Betty's interest in the affairs
of the Inn was keeping her at Nancy's side, while Caroline had just
accepted a secretarial position in one of the big Industrial Leagues
recently organized by women for women, that would keep her in town all
summer. Billy and Dick, by virtue of their respective occupations,
were never away from New York for longer than the customary two weeks'
vacation.

"My soul smoothed itself out, a long cramped scroll,"--her conscience
placated on the score of her deserted guests, Nancy was quoting
Browning to herself, as she widened the distance between herself and
them. "I wonder why I have this irresistible tendency to shake the
people I love best in the world at intervals. I am such a really
well-balanced and rational individual, I don't understand it in
myself. I thought the Inn was going to take all the nonsense out of
me, but it hasn't, it appears," she sighed; "but then, I think it is
going to take the nonsense out of a lot of people that are only
erratic because they have never been properly fed. I guess I'll go and
have a look at the old place in its Sunday evening calm. Already it
seems queer not to be there at nine o'clock in the evening, but I
don't really think there are people enough in New York now on Sundays
to make it an object."

Nancy's feet turned mechanically toward the arena of her most serious
activities. Like most of us who run away, she was following by
instinct the logical periphery of her responsibilities.

The big green latticed gate was closed against all intruders. Nancy
had the key to its padlock in her hand-bag, but she had no intention
of using it. The white and crimson sign flapped in the soft breeze
companionably responsive to the modest announcement, "Marble Workshop,
Reproductions and Antiques, Garden Furniture," which so inadequately
invited those whom it might concern to a view of the petrified
vaudeville within. Through the interstices of the gate the courtyard
looked littered and unalluring;--the wicker tables without their fine
white covers; the chairs pushed back in a heterogeneous assemblage;
the segregated columns of a garden peristyle gaunt against the dark,
gleamed a more ghostly white than the weather-stained busts and
figures less recently added to the collection. It seemed to Nancy
incredible that the place would ever bloom again with lights and
bouquets and eager patrons, with her group of pretty flower-like
waitresses moving deftly among them. She stared at the spot with the
cold eye of the creator whose handiwork is out of the range of his
vision, and the inspiration of it for the moment, gone.

"I feel like Cinderella and her godmother rolled into one," she
thought disconsolately. "I waved my wand, and made so many things
happen, and now that the clock has struck, again here I am outside in
the cold and dark,"--the wind was taking on a keener edge, and she
shivered slightly in her muslins--"with nothing but a pumpkin shell to
show for it. Hitty says that getting what you want is apt to be
unlikely business, and I'm inclined to think she's right."

It seemed to her suddenly that the thing she had wanted,--a
picturesque, cleverly executed restaurant where people could be fed
according to the academic ideals of an untried young woman like
herself was an unthinkable thing. The power of illusion failed for the
moment. Just what was it that she had hoped to accomplish with this
fling at executive altruism? What was she doing with a French cook in
white uniform, a competent staff of professional dishwashers and
waitresses and kitchen helpers? How had it come about that she owned
so many mounds and heaps and pyramids of silver and metal and linen?
What was this Inn that she had conceived as a project so unimaginably
fine? Who were these shadow people that came and went there? Who was
she? Why with all her vitality and all her hungry yearning for life
and adventure couldn't she even believe in her own substantiality and
focus? Wasn't life even real enough for a creature such as she to
grasp it,--if it wasn't--

She saw a figure that was familiar to her turn in from the avenue, a
tall man in an Inverness with a wide black hat pulled down over his
eyes. For the moment she could not remember who he was, but by the
time he had stopped in front of the big gate, giving utterance to a
well delivered expletive, she knew him perfectly, and stood waiting,
motionless, for him to turn and speak to her. She was sure that he
would have no recollection of her. He turned, but it was some seconds
before he addressed her.

"Doubt thou the stars are fire," he said at last, with a shrug that
admitted her to the companionship of his discomfiture. "Doubt thou the
sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt that your
favorite New York restaurant will be closed on a Sunday night."

"Oh! _is_ it your favorite New York restaurant?" Nancy cried, her
heart in her throat. "It's mine, you know, my--my favorite."

"So I judged, or you wouldn't be beating against the gate so
disconsolately." It was too dark to see his face clearly, but Nancy
realized that he was looking down at her quizzically through the
darkness.

"Do you really like this restaurant?" she persisted.

"In some ways I like it very much. The food is quite possible as you
know, very American in character, but very good American, and it has
the advantage of being served out-of-doors. I am a Frenchman by
adoption, and I like the outdoor café. In fact, I am never happy
eating inside."

"The surroundings are picturesque?" Nancy hazarded.

The stranger laughed. "According to the American ideal," he said,
"they are--but I do admit that they show a rather extraordinary
imagination. I've often thought that I should like to make the
acquaintance of the woman,--of course, it's a woman--who conceived the
notion of this mortuary tea-room."

"Why, of course, is it a woman?"

"A man wouldn't set up housekeeping in--in _Père Lachaise_."

"Why not, if he found a really domestic-looking corner?"

"He _wouldn't_ in the first place, it wouldn't occur to him, that's
all, and if he did he couldn't get away with it. The only real
drawback to this hostelry is, as you know, that they don't serve
spirits of any kind. I'm accustomed to a glass or two of wine with my
dinner, and my food sticks in my throat when I can't have it, but I've
found a way around that, now."

"Oh! have you?" said Nancy.

"Don't give me away, but there's a man about the place here whose name
is Michael, and he possesses that blend of Gallic facility with Celtic
canniness that makes the Irish so wonderful as a race. I told my
trouble to Michael,--with the result that I get a teapot full of
Chianti with my dinner every night, and no questions asked."

"Oh! you do?" gasped Nancy.

"You see Michael is serving the best interests of his employer, who
wants to keep her patrons, because if I couldn't have it I wouldn't be
there. He couldn't trouble the lady about it, naturally, because it is
technically an offense against the law. Come, let's go and find a
quiet corner where we can continue our conversation comfortably.
There's a painfully respectable little hotel around the corner here
that looks like the Café L'avenue when you first go in, but is a place
where the most bourgeoise of one's aunts might put up."

"I--I don't know that I can go," said Nancy.

"There's no reason why you shouldn't, you know. My name is Collier
Pratt. I'm an artist. The more bourgeoise of my aunts would introduce
me if she were here. She's a New Englander like so many of your own
charming relatives."

"How did you know that?" Nancy asked, as she followed him with a
docility quite new to her, past the big green gate, and the row of
nondescript shops between it and the corner of Broadway.

"I was _born_ in Boston," Collier Pratt said a trifle absently. "I
know a Massachusetts product when I see one. Ah! here we are."

He led her triumphantly to a table in the far corner of the
practically empty restaurant, waved away the civilities of a swarthy
and somewhat badly coordinated waiter, and pulled out her chair for
her himself.

"Now, let me have a look at you," he said; "why, you've nothing on but
muslin, and you're wearing your belt for a turban."

"A sop to the conventions," Nancy said, blushing burningly. She was
not quite able yet to get her bearings with this extraordinary man,
who had assumed charge of her so cavalierly, but she was eager to find
her poise in the situation. "I ran away, and I thought it would look
better to have something like a hat on."

"Looks," said Collier Pratt, "looks! That's New England, always the
looks of a thing, never the feel of it. Mind you I don't mean the
_look_ of a thing, that's something different again."

"Yes, I know, the conventional slant as opposed to the artistic
perspective."

"Good! It isn't necessary to have my remarks followed intelligently,
but it always adds piquancy to the situation when they are. Speaking
of artistic perspective, you have a very nice coloring. I like a ruddy
chestnut hair with a skin as delicately white and pink as yours." He
spoke impersonally with the narrowing eye of the artist. "I can see
you either in white,--not quite a cream white, but almost,--against a
pearly kind of Quakerish background, or flaming out in the most crude,
barbaric assemblage of colors. That's the advantage of your type and
the environment you connote--you can be the whole show, or the veriest
little mouse that ever sought the protective coloring of the
shadows."

"You aren't exactly taking the quickest way of putting me at my ease,"
Nancy said. "I'm very much embarrassed, you know. I'd stand being
looked over for a few minutes longer if I could,--but I can't. I'm not
having one of my most equable evenings."

"I beg your pardon," Collier Pratt said.

For the first time since she had seen his face with the light upon it,
he smiled, and the smile relieved the rather empiric quality of his
habitual expression. Nancy noticed the straight line of the heavy
brows scarcely interrupted by the indication of the beginning of the
nose, and wondering to herself if it were not possible for a person
with that eyebrow formation to escape the venality of disposition that
is popularly supposed to be its adjunct,--decided affirmatively.

"I'm not used to talking to American girls very much. I forget how
daintily they're accustomed to being handled. I'm extremely anxious to
put you at your ease," he added quietly. "I appreciate the privilege
of your company on what promised to be the dullest of dull evenings. I
should appreciate still more," he bowed, as he handed her a bill of
fare of the journalistic proportions of the usual hotel menu, "if you
would make a choice of refreshment, that we may dispense with the
somewhat pathological presence of our young friend here," he indicated
the waiter afflicted with the jerking and titubation of a badly strung
puppet. "I advise Rhine wine and seltzer. I offer you anything from
green chartreuse to Scotch and soda. Personally I'm going to drink
Perrier water."

"I'd rather have an ice-cream," Nancy said, "than anything else in the
world,--coffee ice-cream, and a glass of water."

"I wonder if you would, or if you only think it's--safer. At any rate
I'm going to put my coat over your shoulders while you eat it. I never
leave my rooms at this hour of the night without this cape. If I can
find a place to sit out in I always do, and I'm naturally rather
cold-blooded."

"I'm not," said Nancy, but she meekly allowed him to drape her in the
folds of the light cape, and found it grateful to her.

"Bring the lady a big cup of coffee, and mind you have it hot,"
Collier Pratt ordered peremptorily, as her ice-cream was served by the
shaking waiter. "Coffee may be the worst thing in the world for you,
nervously. I don't know,--it isn't for me, I rather thrive on it, but
at any rate I'm going to save you from the combination of organdie and
ice-cream on a night like this. What is your name?" he inquired
abruptly.

"Ann Martin."

"Not at my service?"

"I don't know, yet."

"Well, I don't know,--but I hope and trust so. I like you. You've got
something they don't have--these American girls,--softness and
strength, too. I imagine you've never been out of America."

"I--I have."

"With two other girls and a chaperon, doing Europe, and staying at all
the hotels doped up for tourist consumption."

Nancy was constrained to answer with a smile.

"You don't like America very much," she said presently.

"I like it for itself, but I loathe it--for myself. My way of living
here is all wrong. I can't get to bed in this confounded city. I can't
get enough to eat."

"Oh! can't you?" Nancy cried.

"In Paris, or any town where there is a café life one naturally gets
fed. The technique of living is taken care of much better over there.
Your _concierge_ serves you a nourishing breakfast as a matter of
course. When you've done your morning's work you go to your favorite
café--not with the one object in life--to cram a _Châteaubriand_ down
your dry and resisting throat because he who labors must live,--but to
see your friends, to read your daily journals, to write your letters,
and do it incidentally in the open air while some diplomat of a waiter
serves you with food that assuages the palate, without insulting your
mood. That's what I like about the little restaurant in the court
there. It's out-of-doors, and you may stay there without feeling your
table is in requisition for the next man. It's a very polite little
place."

"You didn't expect to get in there to-night."

"I had hopes of it. I've not dined, you see."

"Not dined?" Nancy's eyes widened in dismay.

"There's no use for me to dine unless I can eat my food tranquilly, in
some accustomed corner. Getting nourished with me is a spiritual, as
well as a physical matter. It is with all sensitive people. Don't you
think so?"

"I suppose so. I--I hadn't thought of it that way. Couldn't you eat
something now--an oyster stew, or something like that?"

"Nothing in any way remotely connected with that. An oyster stew is to
me the most barbarous of concoctions. I loathe hot milk,--an oyster is
an adjunct to a fish sauce, or a preface to a good dinner."

"You ought to have something," Nancy urged, "even ice-cream is more
nourishing than mineral water, or coffee with cream in it."

"I like coffee after dinner, not before."

"If you only eat when it's convenient, or the mood takes you," Nancy
cried out in real distress, "how can you ever be sure that you have
calories enough? The requirement of an average man at active labor is
estimated at over three thousand calories. You must have something
like a balanced ration in order to do your work."

"Must I?" Collier Pratt smiled his rare smile. "Well, at any rate, it
is good to hear you say so."

She finished her ice-cream, and Collier Pratt drank his mineral water
slowly, and smoked innumerable cigarettes of Virginia tobacco. The
conversation which had proceeded so expeditiously to this point seemed
for no apparent reason, suddenly to become gratuitous. Nancy had never
before begun on the subject of the balanced ration without being
respectfully allowed to go through to the end. She had not been
allowed to feel snubbed, but she was a little bewildered that any
conversation in which she was participating, could be so gracefully
stopped before it was ended by her expressed desire.

Collier Pratt took his watch out of his pocket, and looked at it
hastily.

"By jove," he said, "I had entirely forgotten. I have a child in my
charge. I must be about looking after her."

"A child?" Nancy cried, astonished.

"Yes, a little girl. She's probably sitting up for me, poor baby. Can
you get home alone, if I put you on a bus or a street-car?"

"If you'll call a taxi for me--" Nancy said.

She noticed that the check was paid with change instead of a bill. In
fact, her host seemed not to have a bill of any denomination in his
pocket, but to be undisturbed by the fact. He parted from her
casually.

"Good-by, child," he said with his head in the door after he had given
the chauffeur her street number; "with the permission of _le bon
Dieu_, we shall see each other again. I feel that He is going to give
it to us."

"Good-by," Nancy said to his retreating shoulder.

At her own front door was Dick's big Rolls-Royce, and Dick sitting
inside of it, with his feet comfortably up, feigning sleep.

"You didn't think I'd go home until I saw you safe inside your own
door, did you?" he demanded.

"Where's Betty?" Nancy asked mechanically.

"I sent Williams home with her. Then he came back here, and left the
car with me."

"You needn't have waited," Nancy said, "I'm sorry, Dick, I--I had to
have air. I had to get out. I couldn't stay inside a minute longer."

"You need never explain anything to me."

"Don't you want to know where I've been?"

Dick looked at her carefully before he made his answer. Then he said
firmly.

"No, dear."

"I might have told you," she said, "if you had wanted to know." She
felt her knees sagging with fatigue, and drooped against the
door-frame.

"Come and sit in the car, and talk to me for a minute," he suggested.
"Do you good, before you climb the stairs."

He opened the car door for her ingratiatingly, but she shook her
head.

"I've done unconventional things enough for one evening," she said.
"Unlock the door for me. Hitty'll be waiting up to take care of me."

"What's that queer thing you're wearing?" he asked her, as he held the
door for her to pass through, "I never remember seeing you wear that
before."

Nancy looked down wonderingly at the folds of the Inverness still
swinging from her shoulders. She had been subconsciously aware of the
grateful warmth in which she was encased ever since she snuggled
comfortably into the depths of the taxi-cab into which Collier Pratt
had tucked her.

"No, I never _have_ worn it before," she said, answering Dick's
question.



CHAPTER V

SCIENCE


The activities of the day at Outside Inn began with luncheon and the
preparation for it. Nancy longed to serve breakfast there, but as yet
it had not seemed practicable to do so. Most of the patrons of the
restaurant conducted the business of the day down-town, but had their
actual living quarters in New York's remoter fastnesses,--Brooklyn,
the Bronx or Harlem. Nancy was satisfied that the bulk of her
patronage should be the commuting and cliff dwelling contingent of
Manhattanites,--indeed it was the sort of patronage that from the
beginning she had intended to cater to.

Nancy did most of the marketing herself at first, but Gaspard--the big
cook--gradually coaxed this privilege away from her.

"You see," he said, "we sit--us together, and talk of eating"--he
prided himself on his use of English, and never used his native tongue
to help him out, except in moments of great excitement. "It is
immediately after breakfast. Yes! I am full of milk-coffee sopped with
bread, and you of bacon with eggs and marmalade. We say, what shall we
give to our custom for its dinner and its luncheon? We think sadly--we
who have but now brushed away the crumbs of breakfast--of those who
must sit down so soon to the table groaning with viands. Therefore we
say, 'Market delicately. Have the soup clear, the entrée light and the
salad green with plenty of vinegar.' Even your calories--they do not
help us much. They are in quantities so unexpected in the food that
weighs nothing in the scales. We say you shall go to market and buy
these things, and you go. I stir and walk about, and grow restless for
my _déjeuner_, and when you return from market, hungry too, we are not
the same people who had thought our soup should be clear, and our
entrée more beautiful than nutritious. If I go to market myself _late_
I am inspired there to buy what is right, because by that hour I have
a proper relish and understanding of what all the world should eat."

"I know he is right," Nancy said to Billy afterward in reporting the
conversation, "I hate to admit it, but even my notion of what other
people should eat is colored by my own relation to food. I never
realized before how little use an intellect is in this matter of food
values. I can actually get up a meal that according to the tables is
scientifically correct that wouldn't feed anybody if they were
hungry."

"One banana is equal to a pound and three-quarters of steak," Billy
misquoted helpfully.

"The trouble is that it _isn't_," Nancy said, "except technically."

"You can't eat it and grow thin."

"You can't eat it and grow _fat_ unless it happens to be the peculiar
food to which you are idiosyncratic."

"If that's really a word," Billy said, "I'll overlook your trying it
out on me. If it isn't you'll have to take the consequences." He went
through the pantomime of one preparing to do physical violence.

"Oh! it's a word. Ask Caroline." Nancy's eyes still held their look of
being focussed on something in the remote distance. "The trouble with
all this dietetic problem is that the individual is dependent on
something more than an adjustment of values. His environment and his
heredity play an active part in his diet problem. Some people can eat
highly concentrated food, others have to have bulk, and so on. You
can't substitute cheese and bananas for steak and do the race a
service no matter what the cost of steak may soar to. You can't even
substitute rice for potatoes."

"Not unless your patronage is more Oriental than Celtic."

"Healthy people have to have honest fare of about the type to
which their environment has accustomed them, but intelligently
supervised,--that's the conclusion I've come to."

"You may be right," Billy said, "my general notion has always been
that everybody ate wrong, and that everybody who would stand for it
ought to be started all over again. I wouldn't stand for it, so I've
never looked into the matter."

"People don't eat wrong, that's the really startling discovery I've
made recently. I mean healthy people don't."

"I don't believe it," said Billy; "the way people eat is one of the
most outrageous of the human scandals. I read the newspapers."

"The newspapers don't know," Nancy said; "the individual usually has
an instinctive working knowledge of the diet that is good for him, and
his digestional experiences have taught him how to regulate it to some
extent."

"How do you account for the clerk that orders coffee and sinkers at
Child's every day?"

"That's exactly it," Nancy said. "He knows that he needs bulk and
stimulation. He's handicapped by his poverty, but he gets the nearest
substitute for the diet that suits him that he can get. If he could
afford it he would have a square meal that would nourish him as well
as warm and fill him."

"I don't see but what this interesting theory lets you out altogether.
Why Outside Inn, with its foxy table d'hôte, if what's one man's meat
is another man's poison, and natural selection is the order of the
day?"

"Outside Inn is all the more necessary to the welfare of a nation
that's being starved out by the high cost of living. All I need to do
is to have a little more variety, to have all the nutritive
requirements in each meal, and such generous servings that every
patron can make out a meal satisfying to himself."

"Everybody knows that all fat people eat all the sweets that they can
get, and all thin people take tea without sugar with lemon in it."

"These people aren't healthy. That's where the intelligent supervision
comes in."

"What do you intend to do about them?"

"Watch over them a little more carefully. Regulate their servings
craftily. Be sure of my tables. I have lots of schemes. I'll tell you
about them sometime."

"_Sometime_,--for this relief much thanks," murmured Billy; "just now
I've had as much of these matters as I can stand. I don't see how you
are going to run this thing on a profit, though."

"I'm not," Nancy said, "I'm losing money every minute. That fifteen
thousand dollars is almost gone now, of course. Billy, do you think it
would be perfectly awful if I didn't try to make money at all?"

"I think it would be a good deal wiser. I'll raise all the money you
want on your expectations."

"All right then. I'm not going to worry."

Billy looked down into the courtyard from the room up-stairs in which
they had been talking. Already the preparations for lunch were under
way. The girls were moving deftly about, laying cloths and arranging
flower vases and silver.

"Can I get right down there and sit down at one of those tables and
have my lunch," Billy inquired, "or do I have to go out of the back
door and come in the front like a regular customer?"

"Whichever you prefer. There's Caroline coming in at the gate now."

"Well, then, I know which I prefer," Billy said, swimming realistically
toward the stairs.

"You are getting fat, Billy," Caroline informed him critically after
the amenities were over, and the meal appropriately begun. "You ought
to watch your diet a little more carefully."

"No," Billy said firmly, "I don't need to watch my diet, I'm perfectly
healthy, and therefore my natural cravings will point the way to my
most judicious nourishment. Nancy has explained all to me."

"That's a very interesting theory of Nancy's," Caroline said, "but I
don't altogether agree with it."

"I do," said Billy, then he added hastily, "but I agree with you, too,
Caroline. You are to all other women what moonlight is to sunlight, or
I mean--what sunlight is to moonlight. In other words--you are the
goods."

"Don't be silly, Billy."

"There's only one thing in all this wide universe that you can't say
to me, Caroline, and 'don't be silly, Billy,' is that thing,--express
this same thing in _vers libre_ if you must say it! Look at the
handsome soup you're getting. What is the name of that soup, Molly?"

He smiled ingratiatingly at the little waitress, who always beamed at
any one of Nancy's particular friends that came into the restaurant,
and made a point of serving them if she could possibly arrange it.

"Cream of spinach," she said, "it's a special to-day."

"Beautiful soup so rich and green," Billy began in a soulful baritone,
"waiting in a hot tureen. Where's mine, Molly?"

"Dolly's bringing your first course, sir."

Billy gazed in perplexity at the half of a delicious grapefruit set
before him by the duplicate of the pretty girl who stood smiling
deprecatingly behind Caroline's chair.

"Where's my soup, Dolly?" Billy asked with a thundering sternness of
manner.

"I'm sorry, sir," Dolly began glibly, "but the soup has given out.
Will you be good enough to allow the substitution of--"

"That's a formula," Billy said. "The soup can't be out. We're the
first people in the dining-room. Go tell Miss Nancy that I will be
served with some of that green soup at once, or know the reason why."

The two waitresses exchanged glances, and went off together
suppressing giggles, to return almost immediately, their risibility
still causing them great physical inconvenience.

"Intelligent supervision, she says." Dolly exploded into the miniature
patch of muslin and ribbon that served her as an apron.

"She says that's the reason why," Molly contributed,--following her
sister's example.

"Nancy doesn't serve soup to a fat man if she can possibly avoid it.
That's part of her theory," Caroline explained. "There's no use making
a fuss about it, because you won't get it."

Billy sat looking at his grapefruit for some seconds in silence. Then
he began on it slowly.

"Well, I'll be damned," he said.

Nancy was learning a great many things very rapidly. The practical
application of her theories of feeding mankind to her actual
experiments with the shifting population of New York, revolutionized
her attitude toward the problem almost daily. She had started in with
a great many ideas and ideals of service, with preconceived notions of
balanced rations, and exact distribution of fuel stuffs to the human
unit. She had come to realize very shortly, that the human unit was a
quantity as incalculable in its relation to its digestive problems as
its psychological ones. She had believed vaguely that in reference to
food values the race made its great exception to its rule of working
out toward normality; but she changed that opinion very quickly as she
watched her fellow men selecting their diet with as sure an instinct
for their nutritive requirements as if she had coached them personally
for years.

From the assumption that she lived in a world gone dietetically mad,
and hence in the process of destroying itself, she had gradually come
to see that in this phase of his struggle for existence, as well as in
every other, the instinct of man operated automatically in the
direction of his salvation. This new attitude in tie matter relieved
her of much of her responsibility, but left her not less anxious to do
what she could for her kind in the matter of calories. She was, as she
had shown in her treatment of Billy, not entirely blinded by her
growing predilection in favor of the doctrine of natural selection.

Every day she had Gaspard make, in addition to his regular table
d'hôte menu, dozens of nutritive custards, quarts of stimulating
broths and jellies and other dishes containing the maximum of
easily digested and highly concentrated nutriment, and these she
managed to have Molly or Dolly or even Hildeguard--the Alma Tadema
girl--introduce into the luncheon or dinner service in the case of
those patrons who seemed to need peculiarly careful nourishing. Let a
white-faced girl sink into a seat within the range of Nancy's
vision,--she always ensconced herself in the doorway screened with
vines at the beginning of a meal,--and she gave orders at once for
the crafty substitution of invalid broth for soup, of rich nut
bread for the ordinary rolls and crackers, of custards or specially
made ice-cream for the dessert of the day. No overfed, pasty-faced
man ever escaped from Outside Inn until an attempt at least had been
made to introduce a portion of stewed prunes into his diet; and
all such were fed the minimum of bread and other starchy foods, and
the maximum of salad and green vegetables. Nancy had gluten bread made
in quantities for the stouter element of her patronage, and in
nine cases out of ten she was able to get it served and eaten
without protest. Some of her regular patrons began to change weight
gradually, a heavy man or two became less heavy, and a wraithlike
girl now and then took on a new bloom and substantiality. These were
the triumphs for which Nancy lived. Her only regret was that she
was not able to give to each her personal time and attention, and
establish herself on a footing with her patrons where she might learn
from their own lips the secrets of their metabolism.

She was not known as the proprietor of the place. In fact, the
management of the restaurant was kept a careful secret from those who
frequented it and with the habitual indifference of New Yorkers to the
power behind the throne, so long as its affairs were manipulated in
good and regular order, they soon ceased to feel any apparent
curiosity about it. Betty, who sometimes rebelled at remaining so
scrupulously incognita, defiantly took the limelight at intervals and
moved among the assembled guests with an authoritative and possessive
air, adjusting and rearranging small details, and acknowledging the
presence of _habitués_, but since her attentions were popularly
supposed to be those of a superior head waitress, she soon tired of
the gesture of offering them.

Nancy's intention had been to allow the restaurant to speak for
itself, and then at the climactic moment to allow her connection with
it to be discovered, and to speak for it with all the force and
earnestness of which she was capable. She had meant to stand sponsor
for the practical working theory on which her experiment was based,
and she had already partially formulated interviews with herself in
which she modestly acknowledged the success of that experiment, but
the untoward direction in which it was developing made such a
revelation inexpedient.

There was one regular patron to whom she was peculiarly anxious to
remain incognita. Collier Pratt made it his almost invariable habit to
come sauntering toward the table in the corner, under the life-sized
effigy of the _Vênus de Medici_, at seven o'clock in the evening, and
that table was scrupulously reserved for him. To it were sent the
choicest of all the viands that Outside Inn could command. Michael was
tacitly sped on his way with his teapot full of claret. Gaspard did
amazing things with the breasts of ducks and segments of orange, with
squab chicken stuffed with new corn, with _filets de sole a la
Marguery_. Nancy craftily spurred him on to his most ambitious
achievements under pretense of wishing her own appetite stimulated,
and the big cook, who adored her, produced triumph after triumph of
his art for her delectation, whereupon the biggest part of it was
cunningly smuggled out to the artist. From behind her screen of vines
Nancy watched the fine features of her quondam friend light with the
rapture of the _gourmet_ as be sampled Gaspard's sauce _verte_ or
Hollandaise or lifted the glass cover from the mushrooms _sous cloche_
and inhaled their delicate aroma.

"I wonder if he finds our food very American in character, now," she
said to herself, with a blush at the memory of the real southern
cornbread and candied sweet potatoes that were offered him in the
initial weeks of his patronage. Gaspard still made these delicacies
for luncheon, but they had been almost entirely banished from the
dinner menu. Afternoon tea at the Inn was famous for the wonderful
waffles produced with Parisian precision from a traditional Virginian
recipe, but Collier Pratt never appeared at either of these meals to
criticize them for being American.



CHAPTER VI

AN ELEEMOSYNARY INSTITUTION


One night during the latter part of July Betty had a birthday, and
according to immemorial custom Caroline and Nancy and Dick and Billy
helped her to celebrate it at one of the old-fashioned down-town
hotels where they had ordered practically the same dinner for her
anniversaries ever since they had been grown up enough to celebrate
them unchaperoned. Caroline's brother, Preston, had made a sixth
member of the party for the first two or three years, but he had been
located in London since then, in charge of the English office of his
firm, to which he had been suddenly appointed a month after he and
Betty, who had been sweethearts, had had a spectacular quarrel.

Nancy stayed by the celebration until about half past nine, and
then Dick put her into a taxi-cab, and she fled back to her
responsibilities as mistress of Outside Inn, agreeing to meet the
others later for the rounding out of the evening. As she drew up
before the big gate the courtyard seemed practically deserted. The
waitresses were busy clearing away the few cluttered tables left
by the last late guests, and in one sheltered corner a man and a girl
were frankly holding hands across the table, while they whispered
earnestly of some impending parting. The big canopy of striped awning
cloth had been drawn over the tables, as the rather heavy air of
the evening bad been punctured occasionally by a swift scattering
of rain. Nancy was half-way across the court before she realized
that Collier Pratt was still occupying his accustomed seat under the
shadow of the big Venus. She had not seen him face to face or
communicated with him since the day she had looked him up in the
telephone book and sent his cape to him by special messenger. She
stopped involuntarily as she reached his side, and he looked up and
smiled as he recognized her.

"You're late again, Miss Ann Martin," he said, rising and pulling out
a chair for her opposite his own. "I think perhaps I can pull the
wires and procure you some sustenance if you will say the word."

"I've no word to say," Nancy said, "but how do you do? I've just
dined elsewhere. I only stopped in here for a moment to get
something--something I left here at lunch."

"In that case I'll offer you a drop of Michael's tea in my water
glass." He poured a tablespoonful or so of claret from the teapot into
the glass of ice-water before him, and added several lumps of sugar to
the concoction, which he stirred gravely for some time before he
offered it to her. "I never touch water myself. This is _eau rougie_
as the French children drink it. It's really better for you than
ice-cream and a glass of water."

"And less American," Nancy murmured with her eyes down.

"And less American," he acquiesced blandly.

Nancy sipped her drink, and Collier Pratt stirred the dregs in his
coffee cup--Nancy had overheard some of her patrons remarking on the
curious habits of a man who consumed a pot of tea and a pot of coffee
at one and the same meal--and they regarded each other for some time
in silence. Michael and Hildeguard, Molly and Dolly and two others of
the staff of girls were grouped in the doorway exactly in Nancy's
range of vision, and whispering to one another excitedly concerning
the phenomenon that met their eyes.

"The little girl?" Nancy said, trying to ignore the composite scrutiny
to which she was being subjected, by turning determinedly to her
companion, "the little girl that you spoke of--is she well?"

"She's as well as a motherless baby could be, subjected to the
irregularities of a life like mine. Still she seems to thrive on it."

"Is she yours?" Nancy asked.

"Yes, she's mine," Collier Pratt said, gravely dismissing the subject,
and leaving Nancy half ashamed of her boldness in putting the
question, half possessed of a madness to know the answer at any cost.

"I've discovered something very interesting," Collier Pratt said,
after an interval in which Nancy felt that he was perfectly cognizant
of her struggle with her curiosity; "in fact, it's one of the most
interesting discoveries that I have made in the course of a not
unadventurous life. Do you come to this restaurant often?"

"Quite often," Nancy equivocated, "earlier in the day. For luncheon
and for tea."

"I come here almost every night of my life," Collier Pratt declared,
"and I intend to continue to come so long as _le bon Dieu_ spares me
my health and my epicurean taste. You know that I spoke of the food
here before. The character of it has changed entirely. It's
unmistakably French now, not to say Parisian. Outside of Paris or
Vienna I have never tasted such soups, such sauce, such delicate and
suggestive flavors. My entire existence has been revolutionized by the
experience. I am no longer the lonely and unhappy man you discovered
at this gate a short month ago. I can not cavil at an America that
furnishes me with such food as I get in this place.

    "Man may live without friends, and may live without books.
    But civilized man can not live without cooks,"

Nancy quoted sententiously.

"Exactly. The whole point is that the cooking here is civilized. Oh!
you ought to come here to dinner, my friend. I don't know what the
luncheons and teas are like--"

"They're very good," Nancy said.

"But not like the dinners, I'll wager. The dinners are the very last
word! I don't know why this place isn't famous. Of course, I do my
best to keep it a secret from the artistic rabble I know. It would be
overrun with them in a week, and its character utterly ruined."

"I wonder if it would."

"Oh! I'm sure of it."

"What is your discovery?" Nancy asked.

Collier Pratt leaned dramatically closer to her, and Nancy instinctively
bent forward across the tiny table until her face was very near to his.

"Do you know anything about the price of foodstuffs?" he demanded.

"A little," Nancy admitted.

"You know then that the price of every commodity has soared
unthinkably high, that the mere problem of providing the ordinary
commonplace meal at the ordinary commonplace restaurant has become
almost unsolvable to the proprietors? Most of the eating places in New
York are run at a loss, while the management is marking time and
praying for a change in conditions. Well, here we have a restaurant
opening at the most crucial period in the history of such enterprises,
offering its patrons the delicacies of the season most exquisitely
cooked, at what is practically the minimum price for a respectable
meal."

"That's true, isn't it?"

"More than that, there are people who come here, who order one thing
and get another, and the thing they get is always a much more
elaborate and extravagant dish than the one they asked for. I've seen
that happen again and again."

"Have you?" Nancy asked faintly, shrinking a little beneath the
intentness of his look. "How--how do you account for it?"

"There's only one way to account for it."

"Do you think that there is an--an unlimited amount of capital behind
it?"

"I think that goes without saying," he said; "there must be an
unlimited amount of capital behind it, or it wouldn't continue to
flourish like a green bay tree; but that's not in the nature of a
discovery. Anybody with any power of observation at all would have
come to that conclusion long since."

"Then, what is it you have found out?" Nancy asked, quaking.

"My discovery is--" Collier Pratt paused for the whole effect of his
revelation to penetrate to her consciousness, "that this whole outfit
is run _philanthropically_."

"Philanthropically?"

"Don't you see? There can't be any other explanation of it. It's an
eleemosynary institution. That's what it is."

Nancy met his expectant eyes with a trifle of wildness in her own, but
he continued to hold her gaze triumphantly.

"Don't you see," he repeated, "doesn't everything point to that as the
only possible explanation? It's some rich woman's plaything. That
accounts for the food, the setting,--everything in fact that has
puzzled us. Amateur,--that's the word; effective, delightful but
inexperienced. It sticks out all over the place."

"The food isn't amateur," Nancy said, a little resentfully.

"Nothing is amateur but the spirit behind it, through which we profit.
Don't you see?"

"I'm beginning to see," Nancy admitted, "perhaps you are right. I
guess the place is run philanthropically. I--I hadn't quite realized
it before."

"What did you think?"

"I knew that the--one who was running it wasn't quite sure where she
was coming out, but I didn't think of it is an eleemosynary
institution."

"Of course, it is."

"It's an unscrupulous sort of charity, then," Nancy mused, "if it's
masquerading as self-respecting and self-supporting. I--I've never
approved of things like that."

"Why quarrel with a scheme so beneficent?"

"Don't you care?" Nancy asked with a catch in her voice that was very
like an appeal.

He shook his head.

"Why should I?" he smiled.

"Then I don't care, either," she decided with an emphasis that was
entirely lost on the man on the other side of the table.



CHAPTER VII

CAVE-MAN STUFF


"Cave-man stuff," Billy said to Dick, pointing a thumb over his
shoulder toward the interior of the Broadway moving-picture palace at
the exit of which they had just met accidentally. "It always goes big,
doesn't it?"

"It does," Dick agreed thoughtfully, "in the movies anyhow."

"Caroline says that the modern woman has her response to that kind of
thing refined all out of her." Billy intended his tone to be entirely
jocular, but there was a note of anxiety in it that was not lost on
his friend.

Dick paused under the shelter of a lurid poster--displaying a fierce
gentleman in crude blue, showing all his teeth, and in the act of
strangling an early Victorian ingenue with a dimple,--and lit a
cigarette with his first match.

"Caroline may have," he said, puffing to keep his light against the
breeze, "but I doubt it."

"Rough stuff doesn't seem to appeal to her," Billy said, quite
humorously this time.

"She's healthy," Dick mused, "rides horseback, plays tennis and all
that. Wouldn't she have liked the guy that swung himself on the roof
between the two poles?" He indicated again the direction of the
theater from which they had just emerged.

"She would have liked him," Billy said gloomily, "but the show
would have started her arguing about this whole moving-picture
proposition,--its crudity, and its tremendous sacrifice of artistic
values, and so on and so on."

"Sure, she's a highbrow. Highbrows always cerebrate about the movies
in one way or another. Nancy doesn't get it at just that angle, of
course. She hasn't got Caroline's intellectual appetite. She's not
interested in the movies because she hasn't got a moving-picture house
of her own. The world is not Nancy's oyster--it's her lump of putty."

"I don't know which is the worst," Billy said. "Caroline won't listen
to anything you say to her,--but then neither will Nancy."

"Women never listen to anything," Dick said profoundly, "unless
they're doing it on purpose, or they happen to be interested. I
imagine Caroline is a little less tractable, but Nancy is capable of
doing the most damage. She works with concrete materials. Caroline's
kit is crammed with nothing but ideas."

"Nothing _but_--" Billy groaned.

"As for this cave-man business--theoretically, they ought to react to
it,--both of them. They're both normal, well-balanced young ladies."

"They're both runnin' pretty hard to keep in the same place, just at
present."

"Nancy isn't doing that--not by a long shot," Dick said.

"She's not keeping in the same place certainly," Billy agreed.
"Caroline is all eaten up by this economic independence idea."

"It's a good idea," Dick admitted; "economic conditions are
changing. No reason at all that a woman shouldn't prove herself
willing to cope with them, as long as she gets things in the order
of their importance. Earning her living isn't better than the
Mother-Home-and-Heaven job. It's a way out, if she gets left, or
gets stung."

"I'm only thankful Caroline can't hear you." Billy raised pious eyes
to heaven but he continued more seriously after a second, "It's all
right to theorize, but practically speaking both our girls are getting
beyond our control."

"I'm not engaged to Nancy," Dick said a trifle stiffly.

"Well, you ought to be," Billy said.

Dick stiffened. He was not used to speaking of his relations with
Nancy to any one--even to Billy, who was the closest friend he
had. They walked up Broadway in silence for a while, toward the
cross-street which housed the university club which was their common
objective.

"I know I ought to be," Dick said, just as Billy was formulating an
apology for his presumption, "or I ought to marry her out of hand.
This watchful waiting's entirely the wrong idea."

"Why do we do it then?" Billy inquired pathetically.

"I wanted Nancy to sow her economic wild oats. I guess you felt the
same way about Caroline."

"Well, they've sowed 'em, haven't they?"

"Not by a long shot. That's the trouble,--they don't get any forrider,
from our point of view. I thought it would be the best policy to stand
by and let Nancy work it out. I thought her restaurant would either
fail spectacularly in a month, or succeed brilliantly and she'd make
over the executive end of it to somebody else. I never thought of her
buckling down like this, and wearing herself out at it."

"There's a pretty keen edge on Caroline this summer."

"I'm afraid Nancy's in pretty deep," Dick said. "The money end of it
worries me as much as anything."

"I wouldn't let that worry me."

"She won't take any of mine, you know."

"I know she won't. See here, Dick, I wouldn't worry about Nancy's
finances. She'll come out all right about money."

"What makes you think so?"

"I know so. We've got lots of things in the world to worry about,
things that are scheduled to go wrong unless we're mighty delicate in
the way we handle 'em. Let's worry about _them_, and leave Nancy's
financial problems to take care of themselves."

"Which means," Dick said, "that you are sure that she's all right. I'm
not in her confidence in this matter--"

"Well, I am," Billy said, "I'm her legal adviser, and with all due
respect to your taste in girls, it's a very difficult position to
occupy. What with the things she won't listen to and the things she
won't learn, and the things she actually knows more about than I
do--"

The indulgent smile of the true lover lit Dick's face, as if Billy had
waxed profoundly eulogistic. Unconsciously, Billy's own tenderness
took fire at the flame.

"Why don't we run away with 'em?" he said, breathing heavily.

Dick stopped in a convenient doorway to light his third cigarette, end
on.

"It's the answer to you and Caroline," he said.

"Why not to you and Nancy?"

"It may be," Dick said, "I dunno. I've reached an _impasse_. Still
there is a great deal in your proposition."

They turned in at the portico that extended out over the big oak doors
of their club. An attendant in white turned the knob for them, with
the grin of enthusiastic welcome that was the usual tribute to these
two good-looking, well set up young men from those who served them.

"I'll think it over," Dick added, as he gave up his hat and stick,
"and let you know what decision I come to."

In another five minutes they were deep in a game of Kelly-pool from
which Dick emerged triumphantly richer by the sum of a dollar and
ninety cents, and Billy the poorer by the loss of a quarter.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There is a town in Connecticut, within a reasonable motoring distance
from New York that has been called the Gretna Green of America. Here
well-informed young couples are able to expedite the business of
matrimony with a phenomenal neatness and despatch. Licenses can be
procured by special dispensation, and the nuptial knot tied as
solemnly and solidly as if a premeditated train of bridesmaids and
flower girls and loving relatives had been rehearsed for days in
advance.

Dick and his Rolls-Royce had assisted at a hymeneal celebration or
two, where a successful rush had been made for the temporary altars of
this beneficent town with the most felicitous results, and he knew the
procedure. When he and Billy organized an afternoon excursion into
Connecticut, they tacitly avoided all mention of the consummation they
hoped to bring about, but they both understood the nature and
significance of the expedition. Dick,--who was used to the easy
accomplishment of his designs and purposes, for most obstacles gave
way before his magnetic onslaught,--had only sketchily outlined his
scheme of proceedings, but he trusted to the magic of that inspiration
that seldom or never failed him. He was the sort of young man that the
last century novelists always referred to as "fortune's favorite," and
his luck so rarely betrayed him that he had almost come to believe it
to be invincible.

His general idea was to get Nancy and Caroline to drive into the
country, through the cool rush of the freer purer air of the suburbs,
give them lunch at some smart road-house, soothingly restful and dim,
where the temperature was artificially lowered, and they could powder
their noses at will; and from thence go on until they were within the
radius of the charmed circle where modern miracles were performed
while the expectant bridegroom waited.

"Nancy, my dear, we are going to be married,"--that he had formulated,
"we're going to be done with all this nonsense of waiting and doubting
the evidence of our own senses and our own hearts. We're going to put
an end to the folly of trying to do without each other,--your folly of
trying to feed all itinerant New York; my folly of standing by and
letting you do it, or any other fool thing that your fancy happens to
dictate. You're mine and I'm yours, and I'm going to take you--take
you to-day and prove it to you." This was to be timed to be delivered
at just about the moment when they drew up in front of the office of
the justice of the peace, who was Dick's friend of old. "Hold up your
head, my dear, and put your hat on straight; we're going into that
building to be made man and wife, and we're not coming out of it until
the deed has been done." In some such fashion, he meant to carry it
through. Many a time in the years gone by he had steered Nancy through
some high-handed escapade that she would only have consented to on the
spur of the moment. She was one of these women who responded
automatically to the voice of a master. He had failed in mastery this
last year or so. That was the secret of his failure with her, but the
days of that failure were numbered now. He was going to succeed.

On the back seat of the big car he expected Billy and Caroline to be
going through much the same sort of scene.

"We've come to a show-down now, Caroline,--either I sit in this
game, or get out." He could imagine Billy bringing Caroline bluntly
to terms with comparatively little effort. That was what she
needed--Caroline--a strong hand. Billy's problem was simple.
Caroline had already signified her preference for him. She wore his
ring. Billy had only to pick her up, kicking and screaming if need
be, and bear her to the altar. She would marry him if he insisted.
That was clear to the most superficial of observers,--but Nancy was
different.

The day was hot, and grew steadily hotter. By the time Nancy and
Caroline were actually in the car, after an almost superhuman effort
to assemble them and their various accessories of veils and wraps, and
to dispose of the assortment of errands and messages that both girls
seemed to be committed to despatch before they could pass the
boundaries of Greater New York, the two men were very nearly
exhausted. It was only when the chauffeur let the car out to a speed
greatly in excess of the limitations on some clear stretch of road,
that the breath of the country brought them any relief whatsoever.

Dick looked over his shoulder at the two in the back seat, and noted
Caroline's pallor, and the fact that she was allowing a listless hand
to linger in Billy's; but when he turned back to Nancy he discovered
no such encouraging symptoms. She was sitting lightly relaxed at his
side, but there was nothing even negatively responsive in her
attitude. Her color was high; her breath coming evenly from between
her slightly parted lips. She looked like a child oblivious to
everything but some innocent daydream.

"You look as if you were dreaming of candy and kisses, Nancy,--are
you?" he asked presently.

"No, I'm just glad to be free. It's been a long time since I've played
hooky."

"I know it." The "dear" constrained him, and he did not add it:
"You've been working most unholy hard. I--I hate to have you."

"But I was never so happy in my life."

"That's good." His voice hoarsened with the effort to keep it steady
and casual. "Is everything going all right?"

"Fine."

"Is--is the money end of it all right?"

"Yes, that is, I am not worrying about money."

"You're not making money?"

"No."

"You are not losing any?"

"I am--a little. That was to be expected, don't you think so?"

"How much are you losing?"

"I don't know exactly."

"You ought to know. Are you keeping your own books?"

"Betty helps me."

"Are you losing a hundred a month?"

"Yes."

"Five hundred?"

"I suppose so."

"A thousand?"

"I don't really know."

"A thousand?" he insisted.

"Yes," Nancy answered recklessly, "the way I run it."

"It doesn't make any difference, of course;" Dick said, "you've got
all my money behind you."

"I haven't anybody's money behind me except my own."

"You had fifteen thousand dollars. Do you mean to say that you have
any of that left to draw on?"

"No, I don't."

"Do you mind telling me how you are managing?"

"Billy borrowed some money for me."

"On what security?"

"I don't know."

"Why didn't he come to me?"

"I told him not to."

"Nancy, do you realize that you're the most exasperating woman that
ever walked the face of this earth?" the unhappy lover asked.

Nancy managed to convey the fact that Dick's asseveration both
surprised and pained her, without resorting to the use of words.

"I wish you wouldn't spoil this lovely party," she said to him a few
seconds later. "I'm extremely tired, and I should like to get my mind
off my business instead of going over these tiresome details with
anybody."

"You look very innocent and kind and loving," Dick said desperately,
"but at heart you're a little fraud, Nancy."

She interrupted him to point out two children laden with wild flowers,
trudging along the roadside.

"See how adorably dirty and happy they are," she cried. "That little
fellow has his shoestrings untied, and keeps tripping on them, he's so
tired, but he's so crazy about the posies that he doesn't care. I
wonder if he's taking them home to his mother."

"You're devoted to children, Nancy, aren't you?" Dick's voice
softened.

"Yes, I am, and some day I'm going to adopt a whole orphan asylum,"--her
voice altered in a way that Dick did not in the least understand. "I
could if I wanted to," she laughed. "Maybe I will want to some day. So
many of my ideas are being changed and modified by experience."

The road-house of his choice, when they reached it, proved to have
deteriorated sadly since his last visit. The cool interior that he
remembered had been inopportunely opened to the hottest blast of the
day's heat, and hermetically sealed again, or at least so it
seemed to Dick; and the furniture was all red and thickly, almost
suffocatingly, upholstered. Nancy had no comment on the torrid air of
the dining-room,--she rarely complained about anything. Even the
presence of a fly in her bouillon jelly scarcely disturbed her
equanimity, but Dick knew that she was secretly sustained by the
conviction that such an accident was impossible under her system
of supervision at Outside Inn, and resented her tranquillity
accordingly.

Caroline, behaving not so well, seemed to him a much more human and
sympathetic figure, though her nose took on a high shine unknown to
Nancy's demurer and more discreetly served features; but Billy
evidently preferred Nancy's deportment, which was on the surface calm
and reassuring.

"Nancy's a sport," he pointed out to Caroline enthusiastically, "no
fly in the ointment gets her goat. She enjoys herself even when she's
perfectly miserable."

"She doesn't feel the heat the way I do," Caroline snapped.

"I feel the heat," Nancy said, "but I--"

"She's got a system," Dick cut in savagely: "she stands it just as
long as she can, and then she takes it out of me in some diabolical
fashion."

Nancy's gray-blue eyes took on the far-away look that those who loved
her had learned to associate with her most baffling moments.

"Just by being especially nice to Dick," she said thoughtfully, "I can
make him more furious with me than in any other way."

Nancy and Caroline finished their sloppy ices at the table together
while Dick and Billy sought the solace of a pipe in the garage
outside.

"I don't understand coming into Connecticut to-day," Nancy said as
soon as they were alone; "it seems like such a stupid excursion for
Dick to make. He's usually pretty good at picking out places to go. In
fact, he has a kind of genius for it."

"He slipped up this time," Caroline said, "I'm so hot."

"So am I," said Nancy, slumping limply into the depths of her red
velour chair. "I want to get back to New York. Oh! what was it you
told me the other day that you had been saving up to tell me?"

Caroline brightened.

"Oh, yes! Why, it was something Collier Pratt said about you. You know
Betty has scraped up quite an acquaintance with him. She goes and sits
down at his table sometimes."

"She's going to be stopped doing _that_," Nancy said.

"Well, you remember the night when you went home early with a
headache, and passed by his table going out?"

"Yes, but I didn't know he saw me."

"He sees everything, Betty says."

"He didn't suspect me?"

"He didn't know you came out of the interior. He said to Betty, 'It's
curious that Miss Martin never stays here to dine in the evening,
though she so often drops in.' Betty is pretty quick, you know. She
said, 'I think Miss Martin is a friend of the proprietor.'"

"So I am," said Nancy, "the best friend she's got. Go on, dear."

"Then he said slowly and thoughtfully, 'It's a crime for a woman like
that not to be the mother of children. If ever I saw a maternal type,
Miss Ann Martin is the apotheosis of it. Why some man hasn't made her
understand that long ago I can not see.'"

Nancy's cheeks burned crimson and then white again.

"How dare Betty?" she said.

"Wait till you hear. You know Betty doesn't care what she says. Her
reply to that was peculiarly Bettyish. She sighed and cast down her
eyes,--the little imp! 'The course of true love never does run
smooth,' she said; 'perhaps Ann has discovered the truth of that old
saying in some new connection.' She didn't mean to be a cat, she was
only trying to create a romantic interest in your affairs, doing as
she would be done by. The effect was more than she bargained for
though. Collier Pratt's eyes quite lit up. 'I can imagine no greater
crime than frustrating the instincts of a woman like that,' he said.
Imagine that--the instincts--whereupon Betty, of course, flounced off
and left him."

"She would," Nancy said. Then a storm of real anger surged through
her. "I'll turn her out of my place to-morrow. I'll never look at her
or speak to her again."

"I think it would be more to the point," Caroline said, "to turn out
Collier Pratt. That was certainly an extraordinary way for him to
speak of you to a girl who is a stranger to him."

"Caroline, you're almost as bad as Betty is. You're both of you
hopelessly--helplessly--provincially American. I don't think that was
extraordinary or impertinent even," Nancy said. "I--I understand how
that man means things."

                  *       *       *       *       *

The car drove up in front of the office of the justice of the peace in
the town beyond that in which they had had their unauspicious luncheon
party.

"Are we stopping here for any particular reason?" Caroline said.

Nancy had not spoken in more than a monosyllable since they had
resumed their places in the car again.

"Not now," Dick said wearily. "I thought I'd point out the sights of
the town. This place is called the Gretna Green of America, you know.
A great many runaway couples come out here to be married. The man
inside that office, the one with whiskers and no collar, is the one
that marries them."

"Does he?" Billy asked a trifle uncertainly.

Nancy turned to Dick with a real appeal in her voice. It was the first
time during the day that she had addressed him with anything like her
natural tenderness and sweetness.

"Oh! Dick, can't we start on?" she said.



CHAPTER VIII

SCIENCE APPLIED


Gaspard was ill--very ill. He lay in the little anteroom at the top of
the stairs and groaned thunderously. He had a pain in his back and a
roaring in his head, and an extreme disorder in the region of his
solar plexus.

"Sure an' he's no more nor less than a human earthquake," Michael
reported after an examination.

Nancy applied ice caps and hot-water bags to the afflicted areas
without avail. The stricken man had struggled from his bed in the
Twentieth Street lodging-house that he had chosen for his habitation,
and staggered through the heavy morning heat to his post in the
basement kitchen of Nancy's Inn, there to collapse ignominiously
between his cooking ranges. With Molly and Dolly and Hildeguard at his
feet and herself and Michael and a dishwasher at his head they had
managed to get him up the two short flights of stairs. It developed
that it would be necessary to remove him in an ambulance later in the
day, but for the time being he lay like a contorted Colossus on the
fragile-looking cot that constituted his improvised bed of pain: "Like
the great grandfather," to quote Michael again, "of all of them
Zeus'es and gargoyles, and other cavortin' gentlemen in the yard
down-stairs."

With the luncheon menu before her, Nancy decided that the hour had
come for her to prove herself. She had assumed the practical
management of the business of the Inn only to have the responsibility
and much of the authority of her position taken from her by the very
efficiency of her staff. She was far too good a business woman not to
realize that this condition was distinctly to her advantage, and to
encourage it accordingly, but there was still so much of the child in
her that she secretly resented every usurpation of privilege.

With Gaspard ill she was able to manipulate the affairs of the kitchen
exactly as she chose, and even in the moment of applying the "hot at
the base of the brain and the cold at the forehead" that the doctor
had prescribed as the most effective method for relieving the pressure
of blood in the tortured temples of the suffering man, she had been
conscious of that thrill of triumph that most human beings feel when
the involuntary removal of the man higher up invests them with power.

Michael did the marketing, and the list went through as Gaspard had
planned it, with some slight adaptations to the exigency, such as the
substitution of twenty-five cans of tomato soup for the fresh
vegetables with which Gaspard had planned to make his tomato bisque,
and brandied peaches in glass jars instead of peach soufflé.

"If I allow myself a little handicap in the matter of details," she
said, "I know I can put everything else through as well as Gaspard;"
whereupon she enveloped herself in a huge linen apron, tucked her hair
into one of the chef's white caps, and attacked the problem of
preparing luncheon for from sixty-five to two hundred people, who were
scheduled to appear at uncertain intervals between the hours of twelve
and two-thirty. Later she must be ready to serve tea and ices to a
problematical number of patrons, but she tried not to think beyond the
immediate task.

She could make a very good tomato bisque by adding one cup of milk and
a dash of cream to one half-pint can of MacDonald's tomato soup,
enough to serve three people adequately, and she proceeded to multiply
that recipe by twenty-five. She didn't think of getting large cans
till Michael in the process of opening the half-pint tins made the
belated suggestion, which she greeted with some hauteur.

"I'm not the person to mind a little extra work, Michael, when I am
sure of my results. Precision--that's the secret of the difference
between American and French cooking."

"An' sure and I fail to see the difference between the preciseness of
a quart can and four half-pint ones, but I suppose it's my ignorance
now."

"Your supposition is correct, Michael," she said airily, but out of
the corner of her eye she saw him smiling to himself over the growing
heap of half-pint tins, and reddened with mortification at her naiveté
in the matter.

She looked at the vat of terra-cotta purée with considerable dismay
when she had stirred in the last measure of cream. Twenty-five pints
of tomato bisque is a rather formidable quantity of a liquid the chief
virtue of which is its sparing and judicious introduction into the
individual diet scheme. Nancy hardly felt that she wanted to be alone
with it.

"They'll soon lick it all up, and be polishing their plates like so
many Tom-cats," Michael said, indicating their potential patronage by
waving his hand toward the courtyard. "Here comes Miss Betty, now.
She'll be after lending a hand in the cooking."

"Keep her away, Michael," Nancy cried; "go out and head her off. Make
her go up-stairs and sit with Gaspard,--anything, but don't let her
come in here. If she does I won't answer for the consequences.
I'll--I'll--I don't know what I'll do to her."

"Throw her in the soup kettle, most likely," Michael chuckled. "Faith,
an' I never saw a woman yet that wasn't ready to scratch the eyes out
of the next one that got into her kitchen."

"She isn't safe," Nancy said darkly. "I need every bit of brain and
self-control I have to put this luncheon through. You keep Miss
Betty's mind on something else--anything but me and the way I am doing
the cooking."

"'Tis done," said Michael; "sure an' I'll protect her from you, if I
have to abduct her myself!"

"I wish he would," Nancy said to herself viciously, "before she gets
another chance at Collier Pratt.--Creamed chicken and mushrooms. It's
a lucky thing that Gaspard diced the chicken last night, and fixed
that macédoine of vegetables for a garnish.--She's a dangerous woman;
she might wreck one's whole life with her unfeeling, histrionic
nonsense.--I wonder if thirteen quarts of cream sauce is going to be
enough."

It turned out to be quite enough after the crises in which the butter
basis got too brown, and the flour after melting into it smoothly
seemed unreasonably inclined to lump again as Nancy stirred the cold
milk into it, but the result after all was perfectly adequate, except
for the uncanny brown tinge that the whole mixture had taken on. Nancy
was unable to restrain herself from taking a sample of it to Gaspard's
bedside.

"_Mais_--but I can not eat it now," he cried, misunderstanding the
purpose of her visit, "nor again--nor ever again. _Jamais!_"

"I don't want you to eat it, Gaspard, I want you to look at it, and
tell me what makes it that color. It turned tan, you see. I don't want
to poison any one."

"I am too miserable," Gaspard said. "The sauce--you have made into
Béchamel with the browning butter, _voilà tout_. It is better so,--it
would not hurt any one in the world but me--and me it would kill."

"Poor thing," sighed Nancy, as she took her place by the kitchen
dresser again, trying to remember where she had last seen brown eyes
that reflected the look of stricken endurance that glazed Gaspard's
velvet orbs, recalled with a start that Dick had gazed at her in
much the same helpless fashion on their drive home from their
recent motor trip in Connecticut. She had been too absorbed in her
own distresses to consider anybody's state of mind but her own, on
that occasion, but now Dick's expression came back to her vividly,
and she nearly ruined a big bowl of French dressing, at the crucial
moment of putting in the vinegar, trying to imagine which one of
the events of that inauspicious day might conceivably have caused it.

After the actual serving of the meal began, however, she had very
little time for reflection or reminiscence. The distribution of
food to the waitresses as they called for it required the full
concentration of her powers. Molly and Dolly coached her, and with
their assistance she was soon able to fill the bewilderingly rapid
orders from the line of girls stretching from the door to the open
space in front of her serving-table, which never seemed to diminish
however adequately its demands were met.

Mechanically she took soup and meat dishes from the hooded shelves at
the top of the range where they were kept warming, and ladled out the
brick-colored bisque, the creamed chicken and garnishing of the
individual orders. The chicken looked delicious with its accompaniment
of vari-colored vegetables,--Nancy had done away with the side dish
long since--and each serving was assembled with special reference to
its decorative qualities. The girls went up-stairs to put the salad on
the plates, where the desserts were already dished in the quaint blue
bowls in which stewed fruits and the more fluid sweets were always
served.

In her mind's eye Nancy could see the picture. At noon the court was
almost entirely in the shade, and instead of the awning top, which
shut out the air, there were gay striped umbrellas at the one or two
tables that were imperfectly protected from the sun. She had recently
invested in some table-cloths with bright blue woven borders. Flowers
were arranged in low bowls and baskets on respective tables. Nancy
instinctively grouped tired young business men in blue serge and soft
collars at the tables decorated with the baskets of blue flowers; and
pale young women in lingerie blouses before the bowls of roses. She
could see them,--those big-eyed girls with delicate blue veins
accentuating the pallor of their white faces--sinking gratefully into
the wicker seats and benches, and sniffing rapturously at the faint
far-away fragrance of the woodland blossoms.

"I hope they will steal a great many of them," she thought, for her
patrons were given to despoiling her flower vases in a way that
scandalized the good Hildeguard, who was a just but ungenerous soul in
spite of her ample proportions and popular qualities. Molly and Dolly
were rather given to encouraging the vandals, knowing that they had
Nancy's tacit approval.

Automatically dipping the huge metal ladle--one filling of which was
enough for a service--into the big soup kettle, she stood for a moment
gazing into its magenta depths oblivious to everything but the
rhapsodic consideration of her realized dream. Now for the first time
she was contributing directly her own strength and energy to the
public which she served. She had prepared with her own hands the meal
which her grateful patrons were consuming. The little girls with the
tired faces, the jaded men, the smart, weary business women--buyers
and secretaries and modistes,--who were occupied in the neighborhood
were all being literally nourished by her. She had actually
manufactured the product that was to sustain them through the weary
day of heat and effort.

"How do they like the lunch, Molly?" she asked, as she deftly
deposited the forty-fifth serving of chicken with Béchamel sauce on
the exact center of the plate before her. "Are they pleased with the
soup? Are they saying complimentary things about the chicken?"

"Some of them is, Miss Nancy. Some of them is complaining that they
can't get any other kind of soup. Them that usually gets invalid broth
don't understand our running out of it."

"I forgot about the specials," Nancy cried.

"That red-haired girl that we feed on custards and nut bread and that
special cocoa Gaspard makes for her, she acted real bad. They get
expecting certain things, and then they want them."

"I'm sorry," Nancy said; "I'll make all those things to-morrow."

"The old feller that always has the stewed prunes is terrible pleased
though. I give him two helps of the peaches, and he wanted another. He
was pleased to get white bread too. He complains something dreadful
about his bran biscuit every day."

"I meant to send to the woman's exchange for different kinds of health
bread, but I forgot it," Nancy moaned. "Do they like the peaches at
all?"

"Most of them likes them too well. There was one old lady that got one
whiff of them, and pushed back her chair and left. I guess she had
took the pledge, and the brandy went against her principles."

"I never thought of that. I only thought that brandied peaches would
be a treat to so many people who didn't have them habitually served at
home."

The picture in Nancy's mind changed in color a trifle. She could see
sour-faced spinsters at single tables pushing back their chairs,
overturning the rose bowls in their hurry to shake the dust of her
restaurant from their feet.

"Don't accept any money from people who don't like their luncheon,"
she admonished Molly, who was next in line with several orders to be
filled at once. "Tell them that the proprietor of Outside Inn prefers
not to be paid unless the meal is entirely satisfactory."

"I'm afraid there wouldn't never be any satisfactory meals if I told
them that, Miss Nancy."

"I don't want any one ever to pay for anything he doesn't like," Nancy
insisted. "Slip the money back in their coat pockets if you can't
manage it any other way."

"There's lots of complaints about the soup," Dolly said; "so many
people don't like tomato in the heat. Gaspard, he always had a choice
even if it wasn't down on the menu. I might deduct, say fifteen cents
now, and slip it back to them with their change."

"Please do," Nancy implored. "Tell Molly and Hildeguard."

"Hilda would drop dead, but Molly'd like the fun of it."

It was hot in the kitchen. The soup kettle bad been emptied of more
than half its contents, but the liquid that was left bubbled thickly
over the gas flame that had been newly lit to reheat it. The pungent,
acrid odor of hot tomatoes affronted her nostrils. She had a vision
now of the pale tired faces of the little stenographers turning in
disgust from the contemplation of the flamboyant and sticky purée on
their plates, annoyed by the color scheme in combination with the soft
wild-rose pink of the table bouquets, if not actually sickened by the
fluid itself. For the first time since his abrupt seizure that morning
she began to hope in her heart that Gaspard's illness might be a
matter of days instead of weeks. She served Hildeguard and one of the
other waitresses with more soup, and then began to boil some eggs to
eke out the chicken, which, owing to her unprecedented generosity in
the matter of portions, seemed to be diminishing with alarming
rapidity.

From the kitchen closet beyond came the clatter of dishwashing, the
interminable splashing of water, and stacking of plates, punctuated by
the occasional clang of smashing glass or pottery. She had discharged
two dishwashers in less than two weeks' time, with the natural feeling
that any change in that department must be for the better, but the
present incumbent was even more incompetent than his predecessors.
Even Nancy's impregnable nerves began to feel the strain of the
continual clamorous assault on them.

Betty appeared in the doorway that led directly from the restaurant
stairs.

"I'm sorry to intrude," she said. "Don't blame Michael, I'm breaking
my parole to get in here. He locked me in and made me swear I'd keep
out of the kitchen before he'd let me out at all, but I had to tell
you this. The tomato soup has curdled and you ought not to serve it
any more."

"Well, I thought it looked rather funny," Nancy moaned.

"It won't do anybody any harm, you know. It just looks bad, and a lot
of people are kicking about it. Did Molly tell you about the old
fellow that got tipsy on the peaches?"

"No, she didn't. I sent Michael out for some ripe peaches and other
fruit to serve instead."

"That's a good idea. How's the food holding out? There are lots of
people you know up-stairs," she rattled on, for Nancy, who was getting
more and more distraught with each disquieting detail, made no
pretense of answering her. "Dolly has probably kept you informed.
Dick's aunt is here, and that terribly highbrow cousin of Caroline's;
and that good-looking young surgeon that suddenly got so famous last
winter, and admired you so much. Dr. Sunderland--isn't that his name?
I never saw Collier Pratt here for lunch before. There's a little girl
with him, too."

"Collier Pratt?" Nancy cried, "Oh, Betty, he isn't here. He couldn't
be. Don't frighten me with any such nonsense. He never comes here in
the day-time."

"He is though," Betty said, "and a queer-looking little child with
him, a dark-eyed little thing dressed in black satin."

"It seems a good deal to me as if you were making that up," Nancy
cried in exasperation; "it's so much the kind of thing you do make
up."

"I know it," Betty said, unexpectedly reasonable, "but as it happens
I'm not. Collier Pratt really is up-stairs with a poor little orphan
in tow. Ask any one of the girls."

At this moment Dolly, her ribbons awry and her china-blue eyes widened
with excitement, appeared with a dramatic confirmation of Betty's
astonishing announcement.

"There's a little girl took sick from the peaches, and moved up-stairs
in the room next to Gaspard's," she cried breathlessly. "The doctor
that was sitting at the next table, had her moved right up there. He
wants to see the lady that runs the restaurant, and he wants a lot of
hot water in a pitcher, and some baking soda."

"You see," Betty said, "go on up, I'll take your place here. Dolly,
get the things the doctor asked for."

Nancy stripped off her cap and her apron and resigned her spoons and
ladles to Betty without a word. She was still incredulous of what she
would find at the top of the three flights of creaking age-worn stairs
that separated her from the nest of rooms that were the storm quarters
of her hostelry, now converted by a sudden malevolence on the part of
fate into a temporary hospital. As she took the last flight she could
hear Gaspard's stertorous breathing coming at the regular intervals of
distressful slumber, and through that an ominous murmur of grave and
low-voiced conference, such as one hears in the chambers of the dead.
The convulsive application of a powder puff to the tip of her burning
nose--her whole face was aflame with exertion and excitement--was
merely a part of her whole subconscious effort to get herself in hand
for the exigency. Her mind, itself, refused any preparation for the
scene that awaited her.

On one of the cushioned benches against the wall in the most
decorative of the dining-rooms of the up-stairs suite, a little girl
was lying stark against the brilliant blue of the upholstery. She was
a child of some seven or eight, lightly built and delicate of features
and dressed all in black. Her eyes were closed, but the long lashes
emphasizing the shadows in which they were set, prepared you for the
revelation of them. Nancy understood that they were Collier Pratt's
eyes, and that they would open presently, and look wonderingly up at
her. She recognized the presence of Dr. Sunderland, of Michael and
several of the waitresses, and a flighty woman in blue taffeta--an
ubiquitous patron,--but she made her way past them at once, and sank
on her knees before the prostrate child.

"It's nothing very serious, Miss Martin," the young surgeon reassured
her, "delicate children of this type are likely to have these
seizures. It's not exactly a fainting fit. It belongs rather to the
family of hysteria."

"Wasn't it the peaches?" Nancy asked fearfully. "They--they had a
little brandy in them."

"They may have been a contributing cause," Dr. Sunderland acknowledged,
"but the child's condition is primarily responsible. Let her alone
until she rouses,--then give her hot water with a pinch of soda in it
at fifteen-minute intervals. Keep her feet hot and her head cold and
don't try to move her until after dark, when it's cooler."

"All right," Nancy said, "I'll take care of her."

"Here comes her poor father, now," the lady in taffeta announced with
the dramatic commiseration of the self-invited auditor. "He thought an
iced towel on her head might make her feel better. Is the dear little
thing an orphan--I mean a half orphan?"

The assembled company seeming disinclined to respond, she repeated her
inquiry to Collier Pratt himself, as with the susceptive grace that
characterized all his movements, he swung the compress he was carrying
sharply to and fro to preserve its temperature in transit. "Is the
poor little thing a half orphan?"

"The poor little thing is nine-tenths orphan, madam," said Collier
Pratt, "that is--the only creature to whom she can turn for protection
is the apology for a parent that you see before you. Would you mind
stepping aside and giving me a little more room to work in?"

"Not at all." Irony was wasted on the indomitable sympathizer in blue.
"Hasn't she really anybody but you to take care of her?"

Collier Pratt arranged the towel precisely in position over the little
girl's forehead, smoothing with careful fingers the cloud of dusky
hair that fell about her face.

"She has not," he answered with some savagery.

"Hasn't she any women friends or relatives that would be willing to
take charge of her?"

"No, madam."

"Then some woman that has no child of her own to care for ought to
adopt her, and relieve you of the responsibility. It's a shame and
disgrace the way these New York women with no natural ties of their
own go around crying for something to do, when there are sweet little
children like this suffering for a mother's care. I'd adopt her myself
if I was able to. I certainly would."

"I'm perfectly willing to give over the technical part of her bringing
up to some one of the women whom you so feelingly describe," Collier
Pratt said. "The trouble is to find the woman--the right woman. The
vicarious mother is not the most prevalent of our modern types, I
regret to say."

The little girl on the couch stirred softly, and the hand that Nancy
was holding, a pathetic, thin, unkempt little hand, grew warm in hers.
The lids of the big eyes fluttered and lifted. Nancy looked into their
clouded depths for an instant. Then she turned to Collier Pratt
decisively.

"I'll take care of your little girl for you, if you will let me," she
said.



CHAPTER IX

SHEILA


"I had _mal de mer_ when I was on the steamer," the child said, in her
pretty, painstaking English--she spoke French habitually. "I do not
like to have it on the land. The gentleman in there," she pointed to
the room beyond where Gaspard was again distressfully sleeping the
sleep of the spent after a period of the most profound physical
agitation, "he does not like to have it, too,--I mean either."

Nancy had propped the little girl up on improvised pillows made of
coats and wraps swathed in towels and covered her with some strips of
canton flannel designed to use as "hushers" under the table
covers. As soon as the intense discomfort and nausea that had
followed the first period of faintness had passed, Nancy had
slipped off the shabby satin dress, made like the long-sleeved
kitchen apron of New England extraction, and attired the child in a
craftily simulated night-gown of table linen. Collier Pratt had
worked with her, deftly supplementing all her efforts for his little
girl's comfort until she had fallen into the exhausted sleep from
which she was only now rousing and beginning to chatter. Her father
had left her, still sleeping soundly, in Nancy's care, and gone
off to keep an appointment with a prospective picture buyer. He had
made no comment on Nancy's sudden impulsive offer to take the child
in charge, and neither she nor he had referred to the matter again.

"Are you comfortable now, Sheila?" Nancy asked. She had expected the
child to have a French name, Suzanne or Japonette or something equally
picturesque, but she realized as soon as she heard it that Sheila was
much more suitable. The cloudy blue-black hair, and steel-blue eyes,
the slight elongation of the space between the upper lip and nose, the
dazzling satin whiteness of the skin were all Irish in their
suggestion. Was the child's mother--that other natural protector of
the child, who had died or deserted her--Nancy tried not to wonder too
much which it was that she had done,--an Irish girl, or was Collier
Pratt himself of that romantic origin?

"_Oui_, Mademoiselle, I mean, yes, thank you. I do not think I will
say to you Miss Martin. We only say their names like that to the
people with whom we are not _intime_. We are _intime_ now, aren't we,
now that I have been so very sick _chez vous_? In Paris the
_concierge_ had a daughter that I called Mademoiselle Cherie, and we
were _very intime_. I think I would like to call you Miss Dear in
English after her."

"I should like that very much," Nancy said.

"I am glad the sick gentleman is called Gaspard. So many _messieurs_--I
mean gentlemen in Paris are called Gaspard, and hardly any in the
United States of America. American things are very different from
things in Paris, don't you think so, Miss Dear?"

"I'm afraid they are," Nancy acquiesced gravely.

"I'm afraid they are too," the child said, "but afraid is what I try
not to be of them. My father says America is full of beasts and
devils, but he does not mind because he can paint them."

"Do you live in a studio?" Nancy asked after a struggle to prevent
herself from asking the question. She felt that she had no right to
any of the facts about Collier Pratt's existence that he did not
choose to volunteer for himself.

"Yes, Miss Dear, but not like Paris. There we had a door that opened
into a garden, and the birds sang there, and I was allowed to go and
play. Here we have only a fire-escape, and the _concierge_ is only a
janitor and will not allow us to keep milk bottles on it. I do not
like a janitor. _Concierges_ have so much more _politesse_. Now, no
one takes care of me when father goes out, or brings me soup or
_gâteaux_ when he forgets."

"Does he forget?" Nancy cried, horrified.

"Sometimes. He forgets himself, too, very often except dinner. He
remembers that because he likes to come to this Outside Inn
restaurant, where the cooking is so good. He brought me here to-day
because it was my birthday. I think the cooking is very good except
that I was so sick of eating it, but father swore to-day that it was
not."

"Swore?"

"He said damn. That is not very bad swearing. I think _nom de Dieu_ is
worse, don't you, Miss Dear?"

"I'm going to take you up in my arms," said Nancy with sudden passion.
"I want to feel how thin you are, and I want to feel how you--feel."

"Why, your eyes are wetting," the little girl exclaimed as she nestled
contentedly against Nancy's breast, where Nancy had gathered her,
converted table-cloth and all.

"It's your not having enough to eat," Nancy cried. "Oh! baby child,
honey. How could they? It's your calling me Miss Dear, too," she said.
"I--I can't stand the combination."

The child patted her cheek consolingly.

"Don't cry," she said; "my father cries because I get so hungry, when
he forgets, but he does forget again as soon."

"Would you like to come and live with me, Sheila?" Nancy asked.

"I think so, Miss Dear."

"Then you shall," Nancy said devoutly.

Collier Pratt found his child in Nancy's arms when he again mounted
the stairs to the third floor of Outside Inn. The place was curiously
cool to one who had been walking the sun-baked streets, and he gave an
appreciative glance at the dim interior and the tableau of woman and
child. Nancy's burnished head bent gravely over the shadowy dark one
resting against her bosom.

"All right again, is she?" he inquired with the slow rare smile that
Nancy had not seen before that day.

"Yes," Nancy said, "she's better. She's under-nourished, that's what
the trouble is."

"I suspected that," Collier Pratt said ruefully. "I'm not specially
talented as a parent. I feed her passionately for days, and then I
stop feeding her almost entirely. Artists in my circumstances eat
sketchily at best. The only reason that I am fed with any regularity
is that I have the habit of coming to this restaurant of yours. By the
way, is it yours? I found you in charge to-day to my amazement."

"I am in charge to-day," Nancy acknowledged; "in fact I have taken
over the management of it for--for a friend."

"The mysterious philanthropist."

"Ye-es."

"Then I will refrain from any comment on the lunch to-day."

"Oh! that--that was a mistake," Nancy cried, "an experiment. Gaspard
the _chef_--was ill."

"He was very ill, father, dear," Sheila added gravely, "like crossing
the Channel, much sicker than I was. I was only sick like crossing the
ocean, you know."

"These fine distinctions," Collier Pratt said, "she's much given to
them." His eyes narrowed as they rested again on the picture Nancy
made--the cool curve of her bent neck, the rise and fall of the
breast in which the breathing had quickened perceptibly since his
coming,--the child swathed in the long folds of white linen outlined
against the Madonna blue of the dress that she was wearing. Nancy
blushed under the intentness of his gaze, understanding, thanks to
Caroline's report of his conversation with Betty, something of
what was in his mind about her.

"Gaspard is going to be taken away in an ambulance," the child said,
"to the hospital."

"Then who is going to cook my dinner?" Collier Pratt asked.

"Good lord, I don't know," Nancy cried, roused to her responsibilities.

She looked at the watch on her wrist, a platinum bracelet affair with
an octagonal face that Dick had persuaded her to accept for a
Christmas present by giving one exactly like it to Betty and Caroline.
It was twenty-five minutes of five. Dinner was served every night
promptly at half past six, and there was absolutely no preparation
made for it, not so much as a loaf of bread ordered. Instead of doing
the usual marketing in the morning she had sent Michael out for the
things that she needed in the preparation of luncheon, and planned to
make up a list of things that she needed for dinner just as soon as
her midday duties in the kitchen had set her free. She thought that
she would be more like Gaspard, "inspired to buy what is right" if she
waited until the success of her luncheon had been assured. The ensuing
events had driven the affairs of her cuisine entirely out of her mind.
She was constrained by her native tendency to concentrate on the
business in hand to the exclusion of all other matters, big and
little. She had dismissed Betty during the excitement that followed
Sheila's illness, and Betty had seemed unnaturally willing to leave
the hectic scene and go about her business. Michael had made several
ineffectual attempts to speak to her, but she had waved him away
impatiently. She knew that neither he nor any one else on the
restaurant staff would believe that she hadn't made some adequate and
mysterious provision for the serving of the night meal. She had never
failed before in the smallest detail of executive policy. She set the
child back upon the cushion, and arranged her perfunctorily in
position there.

"I don't know _what_ you are going to have for dinner," she said,
"much less who's going to cook it for you."

"Perhaps I had better arrange to have it elsewhere, since this seems
to be literally the cook's day out."

"There'll be dinner," said Nancy uncertainly.

Dick came up the stairs three at a time, and in his wake she heard the
murmur of women's voices--Caroline's and Betty's.

"I heard you were in difficulties," Dick said, "so I made Sister Betty
and Caroline give up their perfectly good trip into the country, in
order to come around and mix in."

"I didn't know Betty was going driving with you," Nancy said. "She
didn't say so. Oh! Dick, there isn't any dinner. I forgot all about
it. This is Mr. Collier Pratt and his little daughter,--Mr. Richard
Thorndyke. She's coming to live with me soon, I hope, and let Hitty
take care of her."

The two men shook hands.

"Hold on a minute," Dick said, "that paragraph is replete with
interest, but I want to get it assimilated. Sure, Betty was going
driving with me. I told her to ask you if she thought it would be any
use, but she allowed it wouldn't. I am delighted to meet Mr. Pratt,
and pleased to know that his daughter is coming to live with you, but
isn't that rather sudden? Also, what's this about there not being any
dinner?"

"There isn't," Nancy was beginning, when she realized that Caroline
and Betty, who had followed closely on Dick's footsteps, were looking
at her with faces pale with consternation and alarm. She could see the
anticipatory collapse of Outside Inn writ large on Caroline's
expressive countenance. Caroline was the type of girl who believed
that in the very nature of things the undertakings of her most
intimate friends were doomed to failure. "There isn't any dinner yet,"
Nancy corrected herself, "but you go up to my place, Dick, and get
Hitty. Tell her she's got to cook dinner for this restaurant to-night.
She can cook three courses of anything she likes, and have _carte
blanche_ in the kitchen. You have more influence with her than
anybody, so, no matter what she says, make her do it. Then when she
decides what she wants to cook, drive her around until she collects
her ingredients. She won't let anybody do the marketing for her."

"All right," Dick said, "I'll do my best."

"You'll have to do more than that," Betty laughed as he started off,
"but you're perfectly capable of it. How do you do, Mr. Pratt? This is
Miss Eustace, pale with apprehension about the way things are going,
but still recognizable and answering to her name." Betty always
enjoyed introducing Caroline with an audacious flourish, since
Caroline always suffered so much in the process.

"And this is little Miss Sheila Pratt," Nancy supplemented.

"_Enchanté_," the little girl said, "I mean, I am very pleased to meet
you. I was very sick, but I am better now, and I am going to live with
Miss Dear."

"It seems to be settled," her father said, shrugging.

"Would you mind it so very much?" Nancy asked.

"I wouldn't mind it at all," Collier Pratt said. "I think it would be
a delightful arrangement,--if I'm to take you seriously."

"Nancy is always to be taken seriously," Betty put in. "What she
really wants of the child is to use her for dietetic experiment, I'm
sure."

"That's what she's used to, poor child," Collier Pratt said ruefully.

The removal of Gaspard created a diversion. Nancy took Sheila in to
bid him good-by, and the great creature was so touched by the farewell
kiss that she imprinted on his forehead, and the revelation of the
fact that a fellow being had been suffering kindred throes in the
chamber just beyond his own that he was of two minds about letting
himself be moved at all from her proximity. A group of waitresses
collected on the second landing, and Nancy and her friends stood
together at the head of the stairs while the white-coated intern from
the hospital rolled his great bulk upon a fragile-looking stretcher,
and with the assistance of all the male talent in the establishment,
managed to head him down the stairs, and so on across the court and
into the waiting ambulance.

Nancy's eyes filled with inexplicable tears, and she caught Collier
Pratt regarding them with some amusement.

"He's such a dear," she said somewhat irrelevantly. "I really didn't
care whether he was sick or not this morning,--but you get so fond of
people that are around all the time."

"I don't," said Collier Pratt,--he spoke very lightly, but there was
something in his tone that made Nancy want to turn and look at him
intently. She seemed to see for the first time a shade of defiant
cruelty in his face,--"I don't," he reiterated.

"I do," Nancy repeated stubbornly, but as she met his slow smile, the
slight impression of unpleasantness vanished.

"We artists are selfish people," he said. "I'm going to run away now,
and leave my daughter to cultivate your charming friends. Will you
come and eat your dinner at my little table to-night, and talk,
discuss this matter of her visit to you?"

"I will if there is any dinner," Nancy said, putting out a throbbing
hand to him.

There was a dinner. It was Hitty's conception of an emergency
meal--the kind of thing that her mother before her had prepared on
wash-day when an unexpected relative alighted from the noon train, and
surprised her into inadvertent hospitality. It began with steamed
clams and melted butter sauce. Hitty knew a fish market where the
clams were imported direct from Cape Cod by the nephew of a man who
used to go to school with her husband's brother, and he warranted
every clam she bought of him. They were served in soup plates and the
drawn butter in demi-tasses, but Hitty would have it no other way. The
_pièce de résistance_ was ham and eggs, great fragrant crispy slices
of ham browned faintly gold across their pinky surface, and
eggs--Hitty knew where to get country eggs, too--so white, so
golden-yolked, so tempting that it was difficult to associate them
with the prosaic process of frying, but fried they were. With them
were served boiled potatoes in their jackets,--no wash-day cook ever
removed the peeling from an emergency potato,--and afterward a course
of Hitty's famous huckleberry dumplings, the lightest, most ephemeral
balls of dumplings that were ever dipped into the blue-black deeps of
hot huckleberry--not blueberry, but country huckleberry--sauce.

"Where's the coffee?" Nancy asked Dolly miserably, when the
humiliating meal was drawing to its close.

"She won't make coffee," Dolly whispered; "she says it will keep
everybody awake, and they're much better off without it, but Miss
Betty, she's watching her chance, and she's making it."

Collier Pratt had received each course in silence, but had eaten
heartily of the food that was set before him.

"I suppose he was hungry enough to eat anything," Nancy thought; "the
lunch was humiliating enough, but this surpasses anything I dreamed
of."

She had given up trying to estimate the calories that each man was
likely to average in partaking of Hitty's menu. She noticed that a
great many of her patrons had taken second helpings, and that threw
her out in her calculation of quantities, while the relative
digestibility of the protein and the fats in pork depend so much upon
its preparation that she could not approximate the virtue of Hitty's
bill of fare without consultation with Hitty.

"That was a very excellent dinner," Collier Pratt broke through her
painful reverie to make his pronouncement. "Astonishing, but very
satisfactory. It reminds me of days on my grandfather's farm when I
was a youngster."

"I should think it might," Nancy said, for the first time in her
relation with her new friend becoming ironical on her own account.
Then she added seriously, "It's Hitty, you know, that will have all
the real care of Sheila. I'm pretty busy down here, and I--" she
hesitated, half expecting him to threaten to remove his child at once
from the prospective guardianship of a creature who reverted so
readily to the barbarism of ham and eggs.

"Well, if it's Hitty that is to have the care of Sheila," Collier
Pratt said, and Nancy was not longer puzzled as to which element of
her parentage Sheila owed her Irish complexion, "why, more power to
her!"

Nancy dreamed that night that she was married to Dick, and that Hitty
made and served them _pâté de foies gras_ dumplings, while Collier
Pratt in freckles and overalls sat in a high chair, and had his dinner
with the family. Later it was discovered that Betty had poisoned his
bread and milk, and he died in Nancy's arms in dreadful agony,
swearing in a beautiful Irish brogue that in all his life he had never
looked at another woman,--which even in her dream seemed to Nancy a
somewhat irreconcilable statement.



CHAPTER X

THE PORTRAIT


To Nancy's surprise Hitty welcomed the little girl warmly, when she
was introduced into the family circle. She liked to be busy all day,
and her duties in taking care of Nancy were not onerous enough to keep
her full energy employed. She liked children and family life, and she
seemed to have the feeling that if Nancy continued to assemble the
various parts that go to make up a family, she would end by adding to
it the essential masculine element, though it was Dick and not Collier
Pratt that she visualized at the head of the table cutting up Sheila's
meat for her. Collier Pratt was to her a necessary but insignificant
detail in Nancy's scheme of things, a poor artist who had "frittered
away so much time in furrin parts" that he was incapable of supporting
his only child--"poor little motherless lamb!"--in anything like a
befitting and adequate manner. Whenever he came to see Sheila she
treated him with the condescension of a poor relation, and served his
tea in the second best china with the kitchen silver and linen, unless
Nancy caught her at it in time to demand the best.

Nancy had expected that Collier Pratt would try to make some business
arrangement with her when she took Sheila in charge,--that he would
insist on paying her at least a nominal sum a week for the child's
board. She had lain awake nights planning the conversations with him
in which she would overcome his delicate but natural scruples in the
matter and persuade him to her own way of thinking. She had even fixed
on the smallest sum--two dollars and a half a week--at which she
thought she might induce him to compromise, if all her eloquence
failed. She knew that he considered her the hard working, paid manager
of Outside Inn, and took it for granted that she had no other source
of income. She was a little disconcerted that he made no effort,
beyond thanking her sincerely and simply for her kindness, to put the
matter on a more concrete basis, but when he told her presently that
he was going to do a portrait of her, she scourged herself for her New
England perspective on an affair that he handled with so much
delicacy.

Her friends were, on the whole, pleased with her experiment in
vicarious motherhood. Dick instinctively resented the fact that Nancy
had taken Collier Pratt's daughter into her home and heart, but the
child herself was a delight to him, and he spent hours romping with
her and telling her stories, loading her with toys and sweetmeats, and
taking her off for enchanting holiday excursions "over the Palisades
and far away." Billy was hardly less diverted with her, and Betty
regarded her advent as a provision on the part of Providence against
things becoming too commonplace. Caroline, as was her wont, took the
child very seriously, and tried to interest Nancy in all the latest
educational theories for her development, including posture dancing,
and potato raising.

Nancy herself had loved the child from the moment the big lustrous
gray eyes opened, on the day of her sudden illness at Outside Inn, and
looked confidingly up into hers. For the first time in her life her
maternal ardor--the instinct which made her yearn to nourish and
minister to a race--had concentrated on a single human being. Sheila,
hungry for mothering, had turned to her with the simplicity of the
people among whom she had been brought up, taking her sympathetic
response as a matter of course; and the two were soon on the closest,
most affectionate terms.

Sheila and Outside Inn divided Nancy's time to the practical exclusion
of all other interests. She had, without realizing her processes,
taken into her life artificial responsibilities in almost exact
proportion to the normal ones of any woman who makes the choice of
marriage rather than that of a career. She was doing housekeeping on a
large scale,--she had a child to care for, and she felt that she had
entirely disproved any lingering feeling in the mind of any one
associated with her that she ought to marry,--at least that she ought
to marry Dick.

No woman ought to marry for the sake of marrying, but she was growing
to understand now that the experiences of love and marriage might be
necessary to the true development of a woman like herself; that there
might even be some tragedy in missing them. She was twenty-five,
practically alone in the world, and the growing passion of her life
was for a child that she had borrowed, and might be constrained to
relinquish at any moment.

She was tired. The unaccustomed confinement of the long hours at the
Inn, the strain of enduring the thick, almost unalleviated heat of an
exceptionally humid New York summer, and the tension engendered by her
various executive responsibilities, all told on her physically, and
her physical condition in its turn reacted on her mind, till she was
conscious of a nostalgia,--a yearning and a hunger for something that
she could not understand or name, but that was none the less
irresistible. She fell into strange moods of brooding and lassitude;
but there were two connections in which her spirit and ambition never
failed her. She never failed of interest in the distribution of food
values to her unconscious patrons, and incidentally to Collier Pratt,
or in directing the activities and diversions of Sheila.

She bathed and dressed the child with her own hands every morning,
combed out the cloudy black hair, fine spun and wavy, that framed the
delicate face, and accentuated the dazzling white and pink of her
coloring. She had bought her a complete new wardrobe--she was spending
money freely now on every one but herself--venturing on one dress at a
time in fear and trepidation lest Collier Pratt should suddenly call
her to account for her interference with his rights as a parent, but
he seemed entirely oblivious of the fact that Sheila had changed her
shabby studio black for the most cobwebby of muslins and linens,
frocks that by virtue of their exquisite fineness cost Nancy
considerably more than her own.

"I say to my father, 'See the pretty new gown that Miss Dear bought
for me,' and my father says to me, 'Comb your hair straight back from
your brow, and don't let your arms dangle from your shoulders.'"
Sheila complained, "He sees so hard the little things that nobody
sees--and big things like a dress or a hat he does not notice."

"Men are like that," Nancy said. "Last night when I put on my new
rose-colored gown for the first time, your friend Monsieur Dick told
me he had always liked that dress best of all."

"_Comme il est drôle_, Monsieur Dick," Sheila said; "he asked me to
grow up and marry him some day. He said I should sit on a cushion and
sew a fine seam, and feast upon strawberries, sugar and cream--like
the poetry."

"And what did you say?" Nancy asked.

"I said that I thought I should like to marry him if I ever got to be
big enough,--but I was afraid I should not be bigger for a long time.
Miss Betty said she would marry him if I was _trop petite_."

"What did Dick say to that?" Nancy could not forbear asking.

"He said she was very kind, and maybe the time might come when he
would think seriously of her offer."

There was a feeling in Nancy's breast as if her heart had suddenly got
up and sat down again. Betty bore no remotest resemblance to the pale
kind girl, practically devoid of feminine allure, that Nancy had
visualized as the mate for Dick, and frequently exhorted him to go in
search of.

"Miss Betty was only making a joke," she told Sheila sharply.

"We were all making jokes, Miss Dear," Sheila explained.

"I have never loved any one in the world quite so much as I love you,
Sheila," Nancy cried in sudden passion as the little girl turned her
face up to be kissed, as she always did when the conversation puzzled
her.

"I like being loved," Sheila said, sighing happily. "My father loves
me,--when he is not painting or eating. He is very good to me, I
think."

"Your father is a very wise man, Sheila," Nancy said, "he understands
beautiful things that other people don't know anything about. He looks
at a flower and knows all about it, and--and what it needs to make it
flourish. He looks at people that way, too."

"But he doesn't always have time to get the flower what it wants,"
Sheila said; "my jessamine died in Paris because he forgot to water
them."

"Your father needs taking care of himself, Sheila. We must plan ways
of trying to make him more comfortable. Don't you think of something
that he needs that we could get for him?"

"More socks--he would like," Sheila said unexpectedly. "When his socks
get holes in them he will not wear them. He stops whatever he is doing
to mend them, and the mends hurt him. He mends my stockings, too,
sometimes, but I like better the holes especially when he mends them
on my feet."

Sheila could have presented no more appealing picture of her father to
Nancy's vivid imagination. Collier Pratt with the incongruous sewing
equipment of the unaccustomed male, using, more than likely, black
darning cotton on a white sock--Nancy's mental pictures were always
full of the most realistic detail--bent tediously over a child's
stocking, while the precious sunlight was streaming unheeded upon the
waiting canvas. She darned very badly herself, but the desire was not
less strong in her to take from him all these preposterous and
unbefitting tasks, and execute them with her own hands. She stared at
the child fixedly.

"You buy him some socks out of your allowance," she said at last. Then
she added an anxious and inadequate "Oh, dear!"

"Aren't you happy?" Sheila asked in unconscious imitation of Dick,
with whom she had been spending most of her time for days, while Nancy
superintended the additions and improvements she was making in the
up-stairs quarters of her Inn, preparatory to moving in for the
winter.

"Yes, I'm happy," Nancy said, "but I'm sort of--stirred, too. I wish
you were my own little girl, Sheila. I think I'll take you with me to
the Inn to-day. You might melt and trickle away if I left you alone
here with Hitty."

"_Quelle joie!_ I mean, how nice that will be! Then I can talk about
Paris to Gaspard, and he will give me some baba, with a _soupçon of
maraschine_ in the sauce, if you will tell him that I may, Miss Dear."

"I'll think about it." It was Nancy's dearest privilege to be asked
and grant permission for such indulgences. "Put on that floppy white
hat with the yellow ribbon, and take your white coat."

"When I had only one dress to wear I suppose I got just as dirty,"
Sheila reflected, "only it didn't show on black satin. Now I can tell
just how dirty I am by looking. I make lots of washing, Miss Dear."

"Yes, thank heaven," Nancy said, unaccountably tearful of a sudden.

The first part of the day at the Inn went much like other days.
Gaspard, eager to retrieve the record of the week when Hitty and a
Viennese pastry cook had divided the honors of preparing the daily
menus between them--for Nancy had never again attempted the
feat--never let a day go by without making a new _plat de jour_ or
inventing a sauce; was in the throes of composing a new casserole, and
it was a pleasure to watch him deftly sifting and sorting his
ingredients, his artist's eyes aglow with the inward fire of
inspiration. Nancy called all the waitresses together and offered
them certain prizes and rewards for all the buttermilk, and prunes
and other health dishes that they were able to distribute among
ailing patrons,--with the result they were over assiduous at the
luncheon hour, and a red-headed young man with gold teeth made a
disturbance that it took both Hilda and Michael, who appeared
suddenly in his overalls from the upper regions where he was
constructing window-boxes, to quell. But these incidents were not
sufficiently significant to make the day in any way a memorable
one to Nancy. It took a telephone message from Collier Pratt,
requesting, nay demanding, her presence in his studio for the first
sitting on her portrait, to make the day stand out upon her calendar.

"Sheila is with me. Shall I bring her?" Nancy asked.

"No," Collier Pratt said uncompromisingly, "I am not a parent at this
hour. She would disturb me."

"What shall I wear?"

"What have you got on?"

"That blue crêpe, made surplice,--the one you liked the other night."

"That's just what I want--Madonna blue. Can you get down here in
fifteen minutes?"

"Yes, I'll send Michael up-town with Sheila."

The bare, ramshackle studio on Washington Square shocked her,--it was
so comfortless, so dingy; but the canvases on the walls, set up
against the wainscoting, stacked on every available chair, gave her a
new and almost appalling impression of his personality, and the
peculiar poignant power of him. She could not appraise them, or get
any real sense of their quality apart from the astounding revelation
of the man behind the work.

"They're wonderful!" she gasped, but "You're wonderful" were the words
she stifled on her lips.

He painted till the light failed him.

"It's this diffused glow,--this gentle, faded afternoon light that I
want," he said. "I want you to emerge from your background as if you
had bloomed out of it that very moment. Oh! I've got you at your hour,
you know! The prescient maternal--that's what I want. The conscious
moment when a woman becomes aware that she is potentially a mother.
Sheila's done that for you. She's brought it out in you. It was ready,
it was waiting there before, but now it's come. It's wonderful!"

"Yes," Nancy said, "it's--it's come."

"It hasn't been done, you know. It's a modern conception, of course;
but they all do the thing realized, or incipient. I want to do it
_implicit_--that's what I want. I might have searched the whole world
over and not found it."

"Well, here I am," said Nancy faintly.

"Yes, here you are," Collier Pratt responded out of the fervor of his
artist's absorption.

"It's rather a personal matter to me," Nancy ventured some seconds
later.

Collier Pratt turned from the canvas he was contemplating, and looked
at her, still posed as he had placed her, upright, yet relaxed in the
scooped chair that held her without constraining her.

"Like a flower in a vase," he said; "to me you're a wonderful
creature."

"I'm glad you like me," Nancy said, quivering a little. "This is a
rather uncommon experience to me, you know, being looked at so
impersonally. Now please don't say that I'm being American."

"But, good God! I don't look at you impersonally."

"Don't you?" Nancy meant her voice to be light, and she was appalled
to hear the quaver in it.

"You know I don't." He glanced toward a dun-colored curtain evidently
concealing shelves and dishes. "Let's have some tea."

"I can't stay for tea." Nancy felt her lips begin to quiver
childishly, but she could not control their trembling. "Oh! I had
better go," she said.

Collier Pratt took one step toward her. Then he turned toward the
canvas. Nancy read his mind like a flash.

"You're afraid you'll disturb the--what you want to paint," she said
accusingly.

"I am." He smiled his sweet slow smile, then he took her stiff
interlaced hands and raised them, still locked together, to his lips
where he kissed them gently, one after the other. "Will you forgive
me?" he asked, and pushed her gently outside of his studio door.



CHAPTER XI

BILLY AND CAROLINE


It was one night in middle October when Billy and Caroline met by
accident on Thirty-fourth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
Caroline stood looking into a drug-store window where an automatic
mannikin was shaving himself with a patent safety razor.

"There's a wax feller going to bed in an automatic folding settee, a
little farther down the street," Billy offered gravely at her elbow;
"and on Forty-second Street there is a real live duck pond advertising
the advantages of electric heaters in the home."

"H'lo," said Caroline, who was colloquial only in moments of real
pleasure or excitement. "I've just written to you. I asked you to come
and see me to-morrow evening," she added more seriously, "to talk
about something that's weighing on my mind."

"I'm going out with a blonde to-morrow, night," Billy said speciously,
"but what's the matter with to-night? I'm free until six-fifty A. M.
and I could spare an hour or two between then and breakfast time."

"I can't to-night," Caroline said, "I promised Nancy to dine at the
Inn."

"That wasn't your line at all," Billy groaned. "Who's the blonde?--that
was your cue. If it's only Nancy you're dining with--that can be
fixed."

"I regard an engagement with Nancy as just as sacred as--"

"So do I," Billy cut in. "She is the blonde. Well, let to-morrow night
be as it may; let's you and I call up the Nancy girl now and tell her
that we're going batting together; she won't care."

"I don't like doing that," Caroline said; "it's a nice night for a
bat, though."

"I walked down Murray Hill and saw the sun set in a nice pinky gold
setting," Billy said artfully. Caroline liked to have him get an
artistic perspective on New York. "Let's walk down the avenue to the
Café des Artistes and have Emincé Bernard, and a long wide high, tall
drink of--ginger ale," he finished lamely.

"We'd have to telephone Nancy," Caroline hesitated.

Billy took her by the arm and guided her into the interior of the
drug-store to the side aisle where the telephones were, and stepped
into the first empty booth that offered. Caroline stopped him firmly
as he was about to shut himself inside.

"I'd rather hear what you say," she said.

Billy slipped his nickel in the slot and took up the receiver.

"Madison Square 3403 doesn't answer," Central informed him crisply
after an interval.

"Oh! Nancy, dear," Billy replied softly into her astonished ear.
"Caroline and I are going off by ourselves to-night, you don't care,
do you?"

"Ringing thr-r-ree-four-o-thr-r-ee, Madison Square."

"That's nice of you," Billy responded heartily. "I thought you'd say
that."

"Madison Square thr-r-ree-four-o-t-h-r-r-ree doesn't answer. Hang up
your receiver and I'll call you if I get the party."

"Of course I will. You're always so tactful in the way you put things,
always so generous and kind and thoughtful. I can't tell you how much
I appreciate it."

"What did Nancy say?" Caroline asked, as they turned away from the
booth.

"You heard my end of the conversation," Billy said blandly. "You can
deduce hers from it."

"There was something about your end of the conversation that sounded
queer to me somehow. It was odd that Central should have returned your
nickel to you after you had talked so long."

"Yes, wasn't it?" Billy asked innocently. "Well, I suppose mistakes
will happen in the best regulated telephone companies."

"I like you," Billy said contentedly, as the lights of the avenue
strung themselves out before them. "I like walking down this royal
thoroughfare with you. You're a kind of a neutral girl, but I like
you."

"You're a kind of ridiculous boy."

"Don't you like me a little bit?"

"Yes, a little."

"What did you get engaged to me for if you only like me a little?"

"Ought not to be engaged to you. That's one of the things I want to
talk to you about."

"Well, you are engaged to me, and that's one of the things I don't
care to discuss--even with you."

"Oh! Billy," Caroline sighed, "why can't we be just good friends and
see a good deal of each other without this perpetual argument about
getting married?"

"I don't know why we can't, but we can't," Billy said firmly. "What
was the other thing you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Nancy's affairs. The reckless--the criminal way she is running that
restaurant, and the unthinkable expenditure of money involved. I can't
sleep at night thinking of it."

"And I thought this was going to be a pleasant evening," Billy cried
to the stars.

"I wish you'd be serious about this," Caroline said. "Nancy's the best
friend I have in the world, and she doesn't seem to be quite right in
her mind, Billy. Of course, I approve of a good part of her scheme. I
believe that she can be of incalculable value as a pioneer in an
enterprise of this sort. Her restaurant is based on a strictly
scientific theory, and every person who patronizes it gets a balanced
ration, if he has the good sense to eat it as it's served."

"And not leave any protein on his plate," Billy murmured.

"I don't even mind the slight extra expenditure and the deficit that
is bound to follow her theory of stuffing all her subnormal patrons
with additional nourishment. That is charity. I believe in devoting a
certain amount of one's income to charity, but what I mind about the
whole proceeding is the crazy way that Nancy is running it. She's not
even trying to break even. She orders all the delicacies of the
season--no matter what they are. She's paid an incredible amount for
the new set of carved chairs she has bought for up-stairs. You'd think
she had an unlimited fortune behind her, instead of being in a
position where the sheriff may walk in upon her any day."

"Handy men to have around the house,--sheriffs. I knew a deputy
sheriff once that helped the lady of the house do a baby wash while he
was standing around in charge of the place. All the servants had
deserted, and--"

"You pretend to be Nancy's friend, and you're the only thing remotely
approaching a lawyer that she has, and yet you can shake with joy at
the thought of her going into bankruptcy."

"That isn't what I'm shaking with joy about."

"Nancy must have spent at least twice the amount of her original
investment."

"Just about," Billy agreed cheerfully.

Caroline turned large reproachful eyes on him.

"Billy, how can you?"

"Listen to me, Caroline, honey love, it will be all right. Nancy isn't
so crazy as she seems. She is running wild a little, I admit, but
there's no danger of the sheriff or any other disaster. She knows what
she's doing, and she's playing safe, though I admit it's an
extraordinary game."

"She's unhappy," Caroline said. "You don't suppose she's going to
marry Dick to get out of the scrape, and that she's suffering because
she's had to make that compromise."

"No, I don't," said Billy.

"I can't imagine anything more dreadful than to give up your
career--your independence because you were beaten before you could
demonstrate it."

"Let's go right in here," Billy said, guiding her by the arm through
the door of the grill of the Café des Artistes which she was ignoring
in her absorption.

It was early but the place was already crowded with the assortment of
upper cut Bohemians, Frenchmen, and other discriminating diners to
whom the café owed its vogue. Billy and Caroline found a snowy table
by the window, a table so small that it scarcely seemed to separate
them.

"If it's Dick that Nancy's depending on," Caroline shook out her
mammoth napkin vigorously, "then I think the whole situation is
dreadful."

"I don't see why," Billy argued; "have him to fall back on--that's
what men are for."

"Your opinion of women, Billy Boynton, just about tallies with the
most conservative estimate of the Middle Ages."

"Charmed, I'm sure," he grinned, then his evil genius prompting, he
continued. "Isn't that just about what you have me for--to fall back
on? You're fond of me. You know I'll be there if the bottom drops out.
You're sure of me, and you're holding me in reserve against the time
when you feel like concentrating your attention on me."

"Is that what you think?"

"Sure, it's the way it is. If I haven't got any kick coming I don't
see why you should have any. You're worth it to me. That's the
point."

Caroline opened her lips to speak, and then thought better of it. The
dangerous glint in her pellucid hazel eyes was lost on Billy. He was
watching the clear cool curve of her cheek, the smooth brown hair
brushed up from the temple, and tucked away under the smart folds of a
premature velvet turban.

"I like those mouse-colored clothes of yours," he said contentedly.

"I think the only reason a woman should marry a man is that
she--she--"

"Likes him?" Billy suggested.

"No, that she can be of more use in the world married than single. She
can't be that unless she's going to marry a man who is entirely in
sympathy with her point of view."

"That I know to be unsound," Billy said. "Caroline, my love, this is a
bat. Can't we let these matters of the mind rest for a little? See,
I've ordered _Petite Marmite_, and afterward an artichoke, and all the
nice fattening things that Nancy won't let me eat."

"I wish you'd tell me about Nancy," Caroline said. "It makes a lot of
difference. You haven't any idea how much difference it makes."

"See the nice little brown pots with the soup in them," Billy implored
her. "Cheese, too, all grated up so fine and white. Sprinkle it in
like little snow-flakes."

But in spite of all Billy's efforts the evening went wrong after that.
Caroline was wrapped in a mantle of sorrowful meditation the opacity
of which she was not willing to let Billy penetrate for a moment.
After they had dined they took a taxi-cab up-town and danced for an
hour on the smooth floor of one of the quieter hotels. Billy's dancing
being of that light, sure, rhythmic quality that should have installed
him irrevocably in the regard of any girl who had ever danced with a
man who performed less admirably. Caroline liked to dance and fell in
step with an unexpected docility, but even in his arms, dipping,
pivoting, swaying to the curious syncopation of modern dance time, she
was as remote and cool as a snow maiden.

At the table on the edge of the dancing platform where they sat
between dances, Billy pledged her in nineteen-four _Chablis Mouton_.

"This is what you look like," he said, holding up his glass to the
light, "or perhaps I ought to say what you act like,--clear, cold
stuff,--lovely, but not very sweet."

"If it's Dick,"--Caroline refused to be diverted--"Nancy is merely
taking the easiest way out. Just getting married because she hasn't
the courage to go through any other way. She and Dick have hardly a
taste in common--they don't even read the same books."

"What difference does that make?"

"If you don't know I can't tell you. When you see somebody else in
danger of following the same course of action that you, yourself, are
pursuing," she added cryptically, "it puts a new face on your own
affairs."

"Oh! let's get out of here," Billy said, signaling for his check.

Caroline lived, for the summer while her family were away, in an
elaborate Madison Avenue boarding-house. The one big room into
which the entrance gave, dim and palatial in effect--at least in
the light of the single gas-jet turned economically low--seemed
scarcely to present a departure from its prototype, the great
living hall of the private residence for which the house was
originally designed. It was only on the second floor that the
character of the establishment became unmistakable. Billy took
Caroline's latchkey from her,--she usually opened the door for
herself--and let her quietly into the dim interior. Then he
stepped inside himself, and closed the door gently after him.
Being a man he entirely failed to note the drift of psychological
straws that indicated the sudden sharp turn of the wind, and the
presage of storm in the air. He was thinking only of the illusive,
desirable, maddening quality of the girl that walked beside him,
filled with inexplicable forebodings for a friend, whom he knew to
be invulnerable to misfortune. Certain phrases of Dick's were ringing
in his ears to the exclusion of all more immediate conversational
fragments.

"Cave-man stuff--that's the answer to you and Caroline.... This
watchful waiting's entirely the wrong idea...."

Billy made a great lunge toward the figure of his fiancée, and caught
her in his arms.

"I've never really kissed you before," he cried, "now I shan't let you
go."

She struggled in his arms, but he mastered her. He covered her cool
brow with kisses, her hands, the lovely curve of her neck where the
smooth hair turned upward, and at last--her lips.

"You're mine, my girl," he exulted, "and nothing, nothing, nothing
shall ever take you away from me now."

There was a click in the latch of the door through which they had just
entered. Another belated boarder was making his way into the domicile
which he had chosen as a substitute for the sacred privacy of home.
Caroline tore herself out of Billy's arms just in time to exchange
greetings with the incoming guest with some pretense of composure. He
was a fat man with an umbrella which clattered against the balusters
as he ascended the carved staircase.

"Caught with the goods," Billy tried to say through lips stiffened in
an effort at control.

Caroline turned on him, her face blazing with anger, the transfiguring
white rage of the woman whose spiritual fastnesses have been invaded
through the approach of the flesh.

"There is no way of my ever forgiving you," she said. "No way of my
ever tolerating you, or anything you stand for again. You are
utterly--utterly--utterly detestable in my eyes."

"Is--is that so?" Billy stammered, dizzied by the suddenness of the
onslaught.

"I--I've got some decent hold on my pride and self-respect--even if
Nancy hasn't, and I'm not going to be subjugated like a cave woman by
mere brute force either."

"Aren't you?" said Billy weakly, his mind in a whirl still from the
lightning-like overthrow of all his theories of action.

"I'm not going to do what Nancy is going to do, just out of sheer
temperamental weakness, and--and tendency to follow the line of least
resistance."

Billy had no idea of the significance of her last phrase, and let it
go unheeded. Caroline turned and walked away from him, her head high.

"But, good lord, Nancy isn't going to do it," he called after her
retreating figure, but all the answer he got was the silken swish of
her petticoat as she took the stairs.



CHAPTER XII

MORE CAVE-MAN STUFF


When Nancy left Collier Pratt's studio on the day of her first sitting
for the portrait he was to do of her, she never expected to enter it
again. She was in a panic of hurt pride and anger at his handling of
the situation that had developed there, and in a passion of
self-disgust that she had been responsible for it.

It was a simple fact of her experience that the men she knew valued
her favors, and exerted themselves to win them. She had always had
plenty of suitors, or at least admirers who lacked only a few smiles
of encouragement to make suitors of them, and she was accustomed to
the consideration of the desirable woman, whose privilege it is to
guide the conversation into personal channels, or gently deflect it
therefrom. An encounter in which she could not find her poise was as
new as it was bewildering to her.

From the moment that she had begun to realize Collier Pratt's
admiration for her she had scarcely given a thought to any other man.
With the insight of the artist he had seen straight into the heart of
Nancy's secret--the secret that she scarcely knew herself until he
translated it for her, the most obvious secret that a prescient
universe ever throbbed with,--that a woman is not fulfilled until she
is a mate and a mother. The nebulous urge of her spirit had been
formulated. In Nancy's world there was no abstract sentimentality--if
this man indulged himself in emotional regret for her frustrated
womanhood--she called it that to herself--it must in some way concern
him. She had never in her life been troubled by a condition that she
was not eager to ameliorate, and she could not conceive of an
emotional interest in an individual disassociated from a certain
responsibility for that individual's welfare. She took Collier Pratt's
growing tenderness for her for granted, and dreamed exultant dreams of
their romantic association.

The scene in the studio had shocked her only because he put his art
first. He had taken a lover's step toward her, and then glancing at
the crudely splotched canvas from which his ideal of her was presently
to emerge, he had thought better of it, soothing her with caresses as
if she were a child, and like a child dismissing her. She felt that
she never wanted to see again the man who could so confuse and
humiliate her. But this mood did not last. As the days went on, and
she feverishly recapitulated the circumstances of the episode, she
began to feel that it was she who had failed to respond to the
beautiful opportunity of that hour. She had inspired the soul of an
artist with a great concept of womanhood, and had, in effect, demanded
an immediate personal tribute from him. He had been wise to deflect
the emotion that had sprung up within them both. After the picture was
done--. She became eager to show him that she understood and wanted to
help him conserve the impression of her from which his inspiration had
come, and when he asked her to go to the studio again the following
week she rejoiced that she had another chance to prove to him how
simply she could behave in the matter.

She looked in the mirror gravely every night after she had done her
hair in the prescribed pig-tails to try to determine whether or not
the look he had discovered in her face was still there,--the look of
implicit maternity that she had been fortunate enough to reflect and
symbolize for him,--but she was unable to come to any decision about
it. Her face looked to her much as it had always looked--except that
her brow and temples seemed to have become more transparent and the
blue veins there seemed to be outlined with an even bluer brush than
usual.

She was busier than she had ever been in her life. The volume of her
business was swelling. With the return of the native to the city of
his adoption--there is no native New Yorker in the strict sense of the
word--Outside Inn was besieged by clamorous patrons. Gaspard, with the
adaptability of his race, had evolved what was practically a perfect
system of presenting the balanced ration to an unconscious populace,
and the populace was responding warmly to his treatment. It had taken
him a little time to gauge the situation exactly, to adapt the supply
to the idiosyncrasies of the composite demand, but once he had
mastered his problem he dealt with it inspiredly. His southern
inheritance made it possible for him to apprehend if he could not
actually comprehend the taste of a people who did not want the flavor
of nutmeg in their cauliflower, and who preferred cocoanut in their
custard pie, and he realized that their education required all the
diplomacy and skill at his command.

Nancy found him unexpectedly intelligent about the use of her tables.
He grasped the essential fact that the values of food changed in the
process of cooking, and that it was necessary to Nancy's peace of mind
to calculate the amount of water absorbed in preparing certain
vegetables, and that the amount of butter and cream introduced in
their preparation was an important factor in her analysis. He also
nodded his head with evident appreciation when she discoursed to him
of the optimum amount of protein as opposed to the actual requirements
in calories of the average man, but she never quite knew whether the
matter interested him, or his native politeness constrained him to
listen to her smilingly as long as she might choose to claim his
attention. But the fact remained that there was no such cooking in any
restaurant in New York of high or low degree, as that which Gaspard
provided, and as time went on, and he realized that expense was not a
factor in Nancy's conception of a successfully conducted restaurant,
the reputation of Outside Inn increased by leaps and bounds.

To Nancy's friends--with the exception, of course, of Billy, who was
in her confidence--the whole business became more and more puzzling.
Caroline, her susceptibility to vicarious distress being augmented by
the sensitiveness of her own emotional state, yearned and prayed over
her alternately. Betty, avid of excitement, spent her days in the
pleasurable anticipation of a dramatic bankruptcy. It was on Dick,
however, that the actual strain came. He saw Nancy growing paler and
more ethereal each day, on her feet from morning till night
manipulating the affairs of an enterprise that seemed to be assuming
more preposterous proportions every hour of its existence. He made
surreptitious estimates of expenditures and suffered accordingly,
approximating the economic unsoundness of the Inn by a very close
figure, and still Nancy kept him at arm's length and flouted all his
suggestions for easing, what seemed to him now, her desperate
situation.

He managed to pick her up in his car one day with Sheila, and
persuaded her to a couple of hours in the open. She was on her way
home from the Inn, and had meant to spend that time resting and
dressing before she went back to consult with Gaspard concerning the
night meal. She had no complaint to make now of the usurpation of her
authority or the lack of actual executive service that was required of
her. With the increase in the amount of business that the Inn was
carrying she found that every particle of her energy was necessary to
get through the work of the day.

"I'm worried about you," Dick said, as they took the long ribbon of
road that unfurled in the direction of Yonkers, and Nancy removed her
hat to let the breeze cool her distracted brow. His man Williams, was
driving.

"Well, don't tell me so," she answered a trifle ungraciously.

"Miss Dear is cross to-day," Sheila explained. "The milk did not come
for Gaspard to make the poor people's custard, _crême renversé_, he
makes--deliciously good, and we give it to the clerking girls."

"The buttermilk cultures were bad," Nancy said. "And I wasn't able to
get any of the preparations of it, that I can trust. There are one or
two people that ought to have it every day and their complexions show
it if they don't."

"I suppose so," Dick said, with a grimace.

"These people who have worked in New York all summer have run pretty
close to their margin of energy. You've no idea what a difference a
few calories make to them, or how closely I have to watch them, and
when I have to substitute an article of diet for the thing they've
been used to, it's awfully hard to get them to take it."

"I should think it might be," Dick said. "It's true about people who
have worked in New York all summer, though. I have--and you have."

"Oh! I'm all right," Nancy said.

"So am I," Sheila said, "and so is Monsieur Dick, _n'est-ce pas_?"

"_Vraiment, Mademoiselle."_

"Father isn't very right, though. Even when Miss Dear has all the
beautiful things in the most beautiful colors in the world cooked for
him and sent to him, he won't eat them unless she comes and sits
beside him and begs him."

"He's very fond of _sauce verte_," Nancy said hastily, "and _apricot
mousse_ and _cèpes et pimentos_, things that Gaspard can't make for
the regular menu,--bright colored things that Sheila loves to look
at."

"He likes _petit pois avec laitue_ too and _haricot coupé_, and
_artichaut mousselaine_. Sometimes when he does not want them Miss
Dear eats them."

"I'm glad they are diverted to some good use," Dick said.

"I've been looking into the living conditions of my waitresses." Nancy
changed the subject hastily. "Did you realize, Dick, that the
waitresses have about the unfairest deal of any of the day laborers?
They're not organized, you know. Their hours are interminable, the
work intolerably hard, and the compensation entirely inadequate.
Moreover, they don't last out for any length of time. I'm trying out a
new scheme of very short shifts. Also, I'm having a certain sum of
money paid over to them every month from my bank. If they don't know
where it comes from it can't do them any harm. That is, I am not
establishing a precedent for wages that they won't be able to earn
elsewhere. I consider it immoral to do that."

"You are paying them an additional sum of money out of your own
pocket? You told me you paid them the maximum wage, anyhow, and they
get lots of tips."

"Oh! but that's not nearly enough."

"Nancy," Dick said dramatically, "where do you get the money?"

"Oh, I don't know," Nancy said, "it comes along. The restaurant makes
some."

"Very little."

"I could make it pay any time that I wanted to."

"Sometimes I wonder if you are in full possession of your senses."

"Caroline is affected that way, too. I feel that she is likely to get
an alienist in at any time. She is so earnest in anything she
undertakes. She and Billy have had a scrap, did you know it?"

"I didn't."

"Billy wants to marry her, and he has shocked her delicate feelings by
suggesting it to her."

"I imagine you have a good deal to do with her feelings on the
subject," Dick said gloomily. "I suppose at heart you don't believe in
marriage, or think you don't and you've communicated the poison to
Caroline."

"I've done nothing of the kind," Nancy insisted warmly. "I do believe
in marriage with all my heart. I think the greatest service any woman
can render her kind in this mix-up age is to marry one man and make
that marriage work by taking proper scientific care of him and his
children."

"This is news to me," Dick said. "I thought that _you_ thought that
the greatest service a woman could do was to run Outside Inn, and
stuff all the derelicts with calories."

"That's a service, too."

"Sure."

They were out beyond the stately decay of the up-town drive, with its
crumbling mansions and the disheveled lawns surrounding them, beyond
the view of the most picturesque river in the world, though,
comparatively speaking, the least regarded, covering the prosaic
stretch of dusty road between Van Courtland Park and the town of
Yonkers.

"I like the _Bois_ better," Sheila said, "but I like Central Park
better than the _Champs Elyseés_. In Paris the children are not so gay
as the grown-up people. Here it is the grown-up people who are without
smiles on the streets."

"Why is that, Dick?" Nancy asked.

"That's always true of the maturer races, the gaiety of the French is
appreciative enthusiasm,--if I may invent a phrase. The children
haven't developed it."

"I would like to have my hand held, Monsieur Dick," Sheila announced.
"I always feel homesick when I think about Paris. I was so contente
and so _malheureuse_ there."

"Why were you unhappy, sweetest?" Nancy asked.

"My father says I am never to speak of those things, and so I
don't--even to Miss Dear, my _bien aimée_."

Dick lifted Sheila into his lap, he took the hand that still clung to
Nancy's in his warm palm, and held them both there caressingly.

"My _bien aimée_," he said softly.

Beyond the town a more gracious and magnificent country revealed
itself; lovely homes set high on sweeping terraces, private parks and
gardens and luxuriant estates, all in a blaze of October radiance with
the glorious pigments of the season.

"Isn't it time to go back?" Nancy asked.

"Not yet," Dick said. "I want to show you something. There's an old
place here I want you to see. That colonial house set way back in the
trees there."

"Williams is driving in," Nancy said as they approached it.

"He's been here before."

"Are we going to get out?" Sheila asked.

Dick was already opening the door of the tonneau and assisting Nancy
out of the car.

"I'm going to leave Sheila with Williams, and take you over the house,
Nancy. She'll be more interested in the grounds than she would in the
interior. I want you to see the inside."

He took a key out of his pocket, and unlocked the stately door.
Everything about the place was gigantic, stately,--the huge columns
that supported the roof of the porch, the big elms that flanked it,
and the great entrance hall, as they stepped into its majestic
enclosure.

"It's a biggish sort of place, isn't it?" Nancy said.

"But it's rather lovely, don't you think so?" Dick asked anxiously.
"These old places are getting increasingly hard to find,--real old
homes, dignified and beautiful, within a reasonable distance from
town."

"It is lovely," Nancy said, "it could be made perfectly wonderful to
live in. I can see this big hall--furnished in mahogany or even carved
oak that was old enough. Thank heaven, we're no longer slaves to a
_period_ in our decorating; we can use anything that's beautiful and
suitable and not intrinsically incongruous with a clear conscience."

"Come up-stairs."

Nancy lingered on the landing of the fine old staircase, white
banistered with a mahogany hand-rail, that turned only once before it
led into the region up-stairs.

"I'd rather see the kitchen," she said.

"The kitchen isn't the thing that I'm proudest of. Its plumbing is
early English, or Scottish, I'm afraid. I think this arrangement up
here is delightful. See these front suites, one on either side of the
hall. Bedroom, dressing-room, sitting-room. Which do you like best? I
thought perhaps I might take the one that overlooks the orchard."

Nancy stopped still on her way from window to window.

"Dick Thorndyke, whose house _is_ this?" she demanded.

"Mine."

"Yours--have you bought it?"

"Yes, I put the deed in my safe deposit vault yesterday. Come in
here. Isn't this a cunning little guest chamber nested in the
trees? Be becoming to Betty's style of beauty, wouldn't it?" He
held the door open for her ingratiatingly, and she passed under
his arm perfunctorily.

"What on earth did you buy a house like this for?"

"I thought you might like it."

"I--what have I to do with it?"

Dick turned the rusty key in the lock deliberately, and put it in his
pocket, thus closing them into the little musty room which had no
other exit. A branch of flaming maple leaves tapped lightly on the
window.

"You've a whole lot to do with it, Nancy," he said. "It's yours, and
I'm yours, and I want to know how much longer you're going to hedge."

"I'm not hedging," Nancy blazed. "Take that key out of your pocket.
This is moving-picture stuff."

"I know it is. I can't get you to talk to me any other way, so I
thought I'd try main force for a change."

"Well, it is a change," she agreed. "Shall I begin to scream now, or
do you intend to give me some other provocation?"

"Don't be coarse, darling." There is a certain disadvantage in having
known the woman who is the object of your tenderest emotions all your
life, and to be on terms of the most familiar badinage with her. Dick
was feeling this disadvantage acutely at the moment. He took a step
toward her, and put a heavy hand on her shoulder. "Nancy, don't you
love me?" he said, "don't you really?"

"No," Nancy said deliberately, "I don't, and you know very well I
don't. Unlock that door, and let's be sensible."

"Don't you know, dear, or care that you're hurting me?"

"No, I don't," Nancy said. "You say so, and I hear you, but I don't
really believe it. If I did--"

"If you did--what?"

"Then I'd be sorrier."

"You aren't sorry at all, as it stands."

"I find it's awfully hard to be sorry for you, Dick, in any
connection. There's really nothing pathetic about you, no matter how
tragic you think you are being. You're rich and lucky and healthy. You
have everything you want--"

"Not everything."

"And you live the way you want to, and eat the food you want to--"

"The ruling passion."

"And make the jokes you want to." Nancy literally stuck up a saucy
nose at him. "There is really nothing that I could contribute to your
happiness. I mean nothing important. You are not a poor man whom I
could help to work his way up to the top, or a genius that needs
fostering, or a--"

"Dyspeptic that needs putting on a special diet,--but for all that I
do need a mother's love, Nancy."

"I don't believe you do," Nancy said, a trifle absently. "Unlock the
door, Dick. I don't think Sheila put on that sweater when I told her
to, and I'm afraid she'll get cold."

"Kiss me, Nancy."

"Will you unlock the door if I do?"

"Yes'um."

Nancy put up cool fragrant lips to meet a brother's kiss, and for the
moment was threatened with a second salute that was very much less
fraternal, but the danger passed. Dick unlocked the door and let her
pass him without protest.

"If you had been any other girl," he mused, as they went down the
stairs together companionably, "you wouldn't have got away with
that."

"With what?" Nancy asked innocently.

"If you don't know," Dick said, "I won't tell you. If you'd been any
other girl I should have thrown that key out of the window when you
began to sass me."

"And then?" Nancy inquired politely.

"And then," Dick replied finally and firmly.

"Are there any other girls?" Nancy asked, faintly curious, as they
stood on the deep steps of the porch waiting for Sheila and Williams
who were emerging from the middle entrance.

Dick met her glance a little solemnly, and hesitated for a perceptible
instant.

"Are there, Dick?" she insisted.

"Yes, dear," he said.



CHAPTER XIII

THE HAPPIEST DAY


It was thoroughly characteristic of Nancy to turn her back on the most
significant facts of her experience, and occupy herself exclusively
with its by-products. She refused to consider herself as an heiress
entitled to spend money lavishly for her own uses, but she squandered
it on her pet enterprise. She dismissed the idea that Dick, whom she
neglected to discourage as decisively as her growing interest in
another man would seem to warrant, had bought a country estate for the
sole purpose of ensconcing her there as mistress. She dreamed of
Collier Pratt and his ideal of her, and presented herself punctually
at his studio as a model for that ideal, while ignoring absolutely the
fact that he was nearly a hundred dollars in debt to her for meals
served at Outside Inn. She had sufficient logic and common sense to
apply to these matters, and sufficient imagination to handle them
sympathetically, had she chosen to consider them at all, but she did
not choose. She was deep in the adventure of her existence as
differentiated from its practical working out.

The day Collier Pratt finished his portrait of her she was not alone
in the studio with him. Sheila, in a fluffy white dress with a floppy
black satin hat framing her poignant little face, was omnipresent at
the interview which succeeded the actual two hours of absorption when
he put in the last telling strokes.

"It's done," he said, as he set aside pigments and brushes, and
divested himself of his painting apron. "I don't want to look at it
now. I've got it, but I can't stand the strain of contemplating it
till my brain cools a trifle. Let's go out and celebrate."

"Where shall we go?" Nancy said. This was the moment she had dreamed
of for weeks, the hour of fruition when the work was done, and they
could face each other, man and woman again with no strip of canvas
between them.

"The place I always go when I've finished a picture is a little café
under the shadow of _Notre Dame_, where I get cakes and beer and an
excellent perspective on all my favorite gargoyles."

"And the little birds flutter in the sun, and eat my crumbs and the
great music swells out while you ask the _garçon_ for another _bock_.
Do you remember, father dear, the day that _she_ found us there?"

"I remember only that you made yourself ill eating _Madelaines_ and
had to be taken home _en voiture_," Collier Pratt said quickly. "We
will go and have some coffee at the Café des Artistes, and discuss
ships and shoes and sealing wax--anything but the art of painting."

"And cabbages and kings," Sheila contributed ecstatically. "I used to
think when I was a very little girl and couldn't read English very
well that it was really Heaven where Alice went, and it made me sad to
think she was dead and I didn't understand it, but now Miss Dear has
explained to me."

"Miss Dear has made a good many things clear to us both," Collier
Pratt said, but he said no more that might be even remotely construed
as referring to the issue between them, and Nancy finished out her day
with dragging limbs and an aching empty heart that a word of
tenderness would have filled to running over.

But after her work for the day was done, and she was back in her own
apartment with Sheila tucked snugly in bed, and Hitty out for the
night with a sick friend, there came the touch on her bell that she
knew was Collier Pratt's; and she opened the door to find him standing
on her threshold.

"I knew you'd come," she said, as women always say to the man they
have that hour given up looking for.

"I wasn't sure I would," Collier Pratt said, "but I did, you see."

"Why weren't you sure?" She stood beside him in her little rectangular
hall while he divested himself of his cape, and placed his hat, stick
and gloves in orderly sequence on the oak settee beside it. She liked
to watch the precision with which he always arranged these things.

"Why should I be sure?" He turned and faced her. "Miss Dear," he said
to himself softly, "Miss Dear," and she saw that in his eyes which
made the moment simpler for her to bear.

She led the way into her drawing-room.

"Light the candles," he said, "this firelight is too good to drown in
a flood of electric light!"

"Is that better?" she asked.

They were standing before the fireplace; the embers had burned to a
gentle glowing radiance. Of the four candles she had lighted, the wick
of only one had taken fire and was burning. Nancy's breath caught in
her throat, and she could not steady it. Collier Pratt took a step
forward and held out his arms.

"No, this is better," he said.

"I thought there was some place in the world where I could
be--comfortable," Nancy said, when she finally lifted her head from
the shoulder of the shabby, immaculate black suit, "but I wasn't quite
sure."

"Are you sure now, you little wonder woman?" He held her at the length
of his arm for a moment and gazed curiously into her face. Then he
drew her slowly toward him again. She met his kiss bravely, so bravely
that he understood the quality of her courage.

"I didn't realize that this would be the first time," he said.

"There couldn't have been any other time," Nancy breathed, "you know
that."

"I didn't know," Collier Pratt said thoughtfully. "Oh! you little
American girls, with your strange, straight-laced little bodies and
your fearless souls!"

"Betty told you something," Nancy cried, scarcely hearing him, "but it
wasn't true. There never has been anybody else." She put her head down
on his shoulder again. "It is comfortable here," she said, "where I
belong."

She felt the sudden passion sweep through him,--the high avid wave of
tenderness and desire,--and she exulted as all purely innocent women
exult when that madness surges first through the veins of the man they
love. He put his hands on her shoulders and pressed her into the
armchair by the fire, and there she took his head on her breast and
understood for all time what it means for a woman to be called the
mother of men.

"You wonder woman," he murmured again.

She brushed the dark hair back from his forehead and kissed his eyes.
"You dear," she said, "you boy, you little boy."

Suddenly through the darkness came the sound of a shrill cry, and the
thud of a fall in some room down the corridor.

"It's Sheila," Nancy said, "she has those little nightmares and falls
out of bed."

"I know she does," Collier Pratt said, "but she picks herself up
again."

"Not always," Nancy said; "don't you want to come in and help me put
her back?"

"I do not," Collier Pratt said with unnecessary emphasis.

Nancy was of two minds about picking the child up in her little white
night-gown and bringing her out to her father, flushed and lovely with
sleep as she was. It was Collier Pratt's baby she had in her arms; her
charge, the child she loved, and the child of the man she loved, a
part of the miracle that was slowly revealing itself to her; but a
sudden sharp instinct warned her that her impulse was ill-timed.

"I had forgotten the child was here," Collier Pratt said when she
returned to him.

"I hadn't," Nancy said happily.

"I suppose she has to be somewhere, poor little wretch," he said.
"She's an extraordinarily picturesque baby, isn't she?"

Nancy crept nearer to him. He stood leaning against the mantel and
frowning slightly, but he made no move toward her again.

"She doesn't have nightmares often now," Nancy said with stiffening
lips. "She used to have them almost every night, but by watching her
diet carefully we have practically eliminated them."

"The Hitty person doesn't like me," Collier Pratt said. "_Pas du
tout_. She treats me as if I were a book agent."

"She loves Sheila, she--she'd do anything for her."

"The women who do not find me attractive are likely to find me quite
conspicuously otherwise, I am afraid." He had been carefully avoiding
Nancy's eyes, but her little cry at this drew his gaze. She was
standing before him, slowly blanching as if he had struck her,
absolutely still except for the trembling of her lips.

"What am I," he said, "to hold out against all the forces of the
Universe? Do you love me, Nancy, do you love me?"

"You know," she whispered, once more in the shelter of the shabby
shoulder.

"This is madness," he swore as he kissed her; "we're both out of our
senses, Nancy; don't you know it?"

"The picture is done, anyhow," she said. "I don't know how I can ever
bear to look it in the face, but I shall have to."

"It's the best work I've ever done," he said.

"I don't look like it now, do I?"

He held her off to see.

"No, by jove, you don't. It's gone, now--just that thing I painted."

"How do I look now?"

"Much more commonplace from the point of view from which I painted
you. Much more beautiful though,--much more beautiful."

"I'm glad."

"I might paint you again,--like this. No, I swear I won't. I got the
thing itself down on canvas. I'll never try to paint you again."

"Is--that flattering?"

"Supremely."

"When am I going to have my picture?" she asked after another
interlude. "Do you want me to send for it?"

"I can't give you the picture," he said. "I intended to if I had done
merely a portrait, but I can't part with this. It has got to make my
fame and fortune."

"I thought I was to have it," Nancy said. "I--I--" then she felt she
was being ungenerous, unworthy, "but I couldn't take it, of course,
it's too valuable."

"Please God."

"It would be wonderful, wouldn't it, if my picture did make you
famous!"

"I think it will."

"I'm nothing but a grubby little working girl, and you're a great
artist,--and you love me."

"You're not a grubby little working girl to me," he said, "you're a
glorious creature--a wonder woman. I ought to go down on my knees to
you for what you've given me in that picture."

"In the picture?" Nancy said. "I love you. I love you. That wasn't in
the picture--I kept it out."

                  *       *       *       *       *

"I won't marry him until he is ready for me," she said to herself at
one time during the night. She lay perfectly quiet till morning, her
hands folded upon her breast, and her little girl pig-tails pulled
down on either side of the coverlet, wide-eyed and tranquil. She could
not bear to sleep and forget for a moment the beautiful thing that had
happened to her between dawn and dawn. "I'll take care of him and
Sheila, and nourish him, and help him to sell my picture. It isn't
every woman who would understand his kind of loving, but I understand
it."

At eight o'clock Hitty came in to her, and roused her from the light
drowse into which she had fallen at last.

"You was crying in your sleep again," she said, "your cheeks is all
wet. I heard you the minute I put my key into the latch. You're as bad
as Sheila, only I expect she suffers from something laying hard on her
stummick. It's always something on your mind that starts you in."

"There's nothing on my mind, Hitty," Nancy said, sitting up in bed,
"nothing but happiness, I mean. In some ways, Hitty dear, this is the
happiest day that I've ever waked up to."

"Well, then, there's other ways that it isn't," Hitty said, opening
the door to stalk out majestically.



CHAPTER XIV

BETTY


"There's a lady waiting to see you, sir," Dick's man servant informed
him on his arrival at his apartment one evening when he had been
dining at his club, and was putting in a leisurely appearance at his
own place after his coffee and cigar.

"A lady?"

"Yes, sir, she has been here since nine. She says it's not important,
but she insisted on waiting."

"The deuce she did."

Dick's quarters were not, strictly speaking, of the bachelor variety.
That is, he had a suite in one of the older apartment houses in the
fifties, a building that domiciled more families and middle-aged
married couples than sprightly young single gentlemen. Dick had fallen
heir to the establishment of an elderly uncle, who had furnished the
place some time in the nineties and when he grew too decrepit to keep
his foothold in New York had retired to the country, leaving Dick in
possession. Even if Dick had been a conspicuously rakish young
gentleman, which he was not, the traditional dignity of his
surroundings would have certainly protected him from incongruous
indiscretion in their vicinity.

Betty rose composedly from the pompous red velour couch that ran along
the wall under a portrait of a gentleman that looked like a Philip of
Spain, but was really Dick's maternal great grandfather.

"Why, Betty," Dick said, "this isn't _convenable_ unless you have a
chaperon somewhere concealed. We don't do things like this."

"I do," Betty said. "I wanted to see you, so I came. In these
emancipated days ladies call upon their men friends if they like. It's
archaic to prattle of chaperons."

"Still we were all brought up in the fear of them."

"Mine were brought up in the fear of me. I like this place, Dicky. Why
don't you give us more parties in it? You haven't had a crowd here for
months."

"Everybody's so busy," Dick said, "we don't seem to get together any
more. I'm willing to play host any time that the rest want to come."

"You mean Nancy is so busy with her old Outside Inn."

"You are busy there, too."

"I'm not so busy that I wouldn't come here when I was asked, Dicky."

"Or even when you weren't?" Dick's smile took the edge off his
obviously inhospitable suggestion.

"Or even when I wasn't," Betty said impudently. "Won't you sit down,
Mr. Thorndyke?"

"Can't I call you a cab, Miss Pope?"

"I don't wish to go away."

"Betty, be reasonable," Dick said, "it's after ten o'clock. It is not
usual for me to receive young ladies alone here, and it looks badly. I
don't care for myself, of course, but for you it looks badly."

"If it's only for me--I don't care how it looks. Come and sit down
beside me, and talk to me, Dicky, and I'll tell you really why I
came."

Dick folded his arms and looked down at her. Betty's piquant little
face, olive tinted, and pure oval in contour, was turned up to him
confidently; under the close seal turban the soft brown hair framed
the childish face, while the big dark eyes danced with mischief. She
patted the couch by her side invitingly.

"I'll go away in fifteen minutes, Dicky dear. It certainly wouldn't
look well if you put me out immediately, after all your establishment
knowing that I waited here an hour for you."

Dick took out his watch.

"Fifteen minutes, then," he said. "What's your trouble, Betty?"

"Well, it's a long sad story," she temporized. "Perhaps I had better
not begin on it now that our time is so short. You wouldn't like to
hold my hand, would you, Dicky?"

"I'm not going to, at any rate."

"I thought you'd say that," she sighed. "Have you seen Nancy lately?"

"Yesterday."

"She's looking better, don't you think so?"

"Yes."

"Preston Eustace is back."

"Is that so? I didn't know he was here yet. I knew he was coming."

"He's to be here six months, or so."

"Have you seen him?"

"No, Caroline told me." Her voice was carefully steadied but Dick
noticed for the first time the shadows etched under the big brown
eyes, and the flush of excitement splotched high on her cheek-bones.
She had been engaged to Preston Eustace for three months succeeding
her twentieth birthday.

"On second thoughts I think I will hold your hand, Betty," he said,
covering that childlike member with his own rather brawny one. "You
are not a very big little girl, are you, Betty?"

"My mother used to tell me that I was a very destructive child."

"I shouldn't wonder if you were that yet."

"Don't let's talk about me. Let's talk about you, Dicky."

"About me?"

"Yes, please. I think you're a very interesting subject."

Having arrived at some conclusion concerning this unprecedented attack
upon his privacy, Dick was disposed to be kind to his unexpected
visitor. The fact that Preston Eustace was in town and Betty had not
seen him shed an entirely new light on her recklessness. Like every
other incident in Betty's history her love-affair had been very
conspicuously featured.

"The interesting things about me just at present are--" he was just
about to say "six shirts of imported gingham" but he bethought himself
that she would be certain to demand to see them, so he finished lamely
with--"my game of golf, and my new dogs."

"What kind of dogs?"

"Belgian police dogs."

"Where do you keep them?"

"I haven't taken them over yet."

"I heard that you had bought a place up in Westchester, but I asked
Nancy, and she said she didn't know. I don't think Nancy appreciates
you, Dick."

"That so often happens."

"I mean that seriously."

"It's a serious matter--being appreciated. The only person who I ever
thought really appreciated me was Billy's old aunt. Every time she saw
me she used to say to me, 'You're such a clean-looking young man I
can't take my eyes off you.'"

"You _are_ clean-looking, and awfully good-looking too."

"Do you mind if I smoke, Betty?" Dick carefully disengaged his hand
from her clinging fingers, and a look of something like intelligence
passed between them, before Betty turned her ingenuous child's stare
on him again.

"Not if you'll give me a cigarette, too."

Dick fumbled through his pockets.

"It's awfully stupid, but I haven't any about me," he said, fingering
what he knew that she knew to be the well filled case he always
carried in his inner pocket. He did not approve of women smoking.

But "Poor Dicky!" was all she said.

"Your fifteen minutes are up, Betty," he said presently, taking out
his watch.

"Well, I suppose I'll have to go then."

Dick rose politely.

"You really don't care whether I go or stay, do you?" she sighed.

"I would rather have you go, Betty," he said gravely.

Betty's eyes filled with sudden tears, that Dick to his surprise
realized were genuine.

"I wanted you to want me to stay," she said incoherently.

"I suppose you're just a miserable little thing that doesn't want to
be alone," he concluded. "Come, I'll take you home."

The telephone bell on the table beside him rang sharply.

"I'm just going out," he said to Billy, on the wire. "Betty is here
with a fit of the blues. I'm going to take her home. Ride up with us,
will you?"

"He'll meet us down-stairs in ten minutes," he said. "I'll order a
taxi."

"I don't want to see Billy," Betty said rebelliously. She rose
suddenly, pulling on her gloves, and took a step forward as if about
to brush by him petulantly, but as she did so she staggered, put her
hand to her eyes, and fell forward against his breast.

Dick picked up the limp little body, and made his way to the couch
where he deposited it gently among the stiff red pillows there. Then
he began to chafe her hands, to push back the tumbled hair from which
the fur hat had been displaced, and finally fallen off, and to call
out her name remorsefully.

"Betty, dear, dearest," he cried, "I didn't know, I didn't dream,--I
thought you were just trying it on. I'm so sorry, dear, I am so
sorry."

She moaned softly, and he bent over her again more closely. Then he
gathered her up in his arms.

"Betty, dear, Betty," he said again.

She opened her eyes. Her two soft arms stole up around his neck, and
she lifted her lips.

"You little devil," Dick cried, almost at the same instant that he
kissed her.

"She deserves to be spanked," he told Billy grimly at the door. "She
got in my apartment when I was out, and insisted on staying there till
I came in, to make me a visit."

"He doesn't understand me," Betty complained, as she cuddled
confidingly in the corner of the taxi-cab, "when I'm serious he
doesn't realize or appreciate it, and he doesn't understand the nature
of my practical jokes."

"I don't like--practical jokes," Dick said. "Have you seen Preston
Eustace, Billy?"

"I haven't seen Caroline," Billy said, as if that disposed of all the
interrogatory remarks that might be addressed to him in the present or
the future.

"It's a nice-looking river," Betty said, looking out at the softly
gleaming surface of the Hudson, as their cab took the drive. "It looks
strange to-night, though, laden with all kinds of queer little boats.
I wonder how it would feel to be drifting down it, or up it, on a
barque or a barkentine--I don't know what a barkentine is--all dead
like Elaine or Ophelia,--with your hands neatly folded across your
breast?"

"For heaven sake's, Betty," Billy cried, "I don't like your style of
conversation. I'm in a state of gloom myself, to-night."

"I didn't say I was in a state of gloom," Betty said. They rode the
rest of the way in silence, but when Dick got out of the cab to open
her door for her, she whispered to him, "I'm awfully ashamed, Dick,"
before she fled up-stairs through the darkened hallway of her own
home.

"Queer little thing,--Betty," Billy said as Dick stepped back to the
cab again, "you never know where you have her. Full of the deuce as
she can stick. Unscrupulous little rascal, too, but made of good
stuff."

"Don't you think so?" Billy inquired presently as Dick did not
answer.

"Think what?"

"That Betty's a queer sort of girl."

Dick took his pipe out of his pocket and began stuffing it full of
tobacco. When this was satisfactorily accomplished, he struck a match
on his boot heel, and lit the mixture, drawing at it critically
meanwhile.

"Damn' queer," he admitted, between puffs.



CHAPTER XV

CLOUDS OF GLORY


Nancy, trailing clouds of glory, took up the management of her Inn
with renewed vigor. She had found her touchstone. The flower of love,
which she had scarcely understood to be indigenous to the soil of her
own practical little garden, had suddenly lifted up its head there in
fragrant, radiant bloom. She was so happy that she was impatient of
all the inadequate, inefficient manipulation of affairs in the whole
world. She felt strong and wise to put everything right in a neglected
universe.

She loved. She was satisfied to live in that love for the present,
with no imagination of the future except as her lover should construct
it for her; and in him she had absolute faith. The things that he had
said or left unsaid had no significance to her. Before she had dreamed
of a personal relation with him he had singled her out as a creature
made for the consummation and fulfilment of the greatest passion of
all. The merest suspicion that there had been a man in the world who
could have frustrated this beautiful potentiality in her had moved him
profoundly. There was nothing in her experience to help her to
differentiate between the sensibility of the artistic temperament and
the manifestations of the more reliable emotions. The presence in the
human breast of a fire that gave out light and not heat was a
condition undreamed of in her philosophy. To doubt Collier Pratt's
love for her in the face of his tacit pursuit of her, and the
acceptance of the obligation she had chosen to put him under, would
have seemed to her the rankest kind of heresy.

She had been brought up on terms of comradely equality with boys and
men, and she understood the rules of all the pretty games of fluffing
and light flirtation that young men and women play with each other,
but serious love-making--that was a thing apart. In the world of honor
and fair dealing a man took a woman's kiss of surrender for one reason
and one reason only----that she was his woman, and he so held her in
his heart.

Now that she was in this sort committed to her love for Collier Pratt,
her one ambition was to put her life in order for him,--to pick up the
raveling threads of her achievement and prove to him and to herself
that she was the kind of woman who accomplishes that which she
attempts. In the light of his indefatigable patience in all matters
that pertained to his art--his clean-cut workmanship--his skill in
handling his material--she blushed for the amateur spirit that
animated all her undertakings, and for the first time recognized it
for what it was.

"Gaspard," she said one morning soon after her miracle had been
achieved, "where do you think the greatest leak is? We spend a great
deal too much money in running this place. As you know, that is not
the most important matter to me. Getting my customers properly
nourished with invitingly prepared food is the essential thing, but if
there was a way to adjust the economical end of it, I should feel a
great deal more comfortable in my mind."

"But certainly, mademoiselle, I should like myself to try the pretty
little economies. The Frenchman he likes to spend his money when it is
there, but it hurts him in the heart to waste this money without
cause."

"Am I wasting money without cause, Gaspard, in your opinion?"

"What else?"

"How can I stop it?"

"By calculation of the tall cost of living, and by buying what is good
instead of what is expensive."

"What do you mean, Gaspard?"

Gaspard contemplated her for a moment.

"We have had this week--squab chicken," he said, "racks of little
unseasonable lambs, sweetbreads, guinea fowl and _filet du boeuf_. We
have with them mushrooms, fresh string bean, cooked endive, and new,
not very good peas grown in glass. We have the salted nuts, the
radish, the olive, the celery, the _bon bon_, all extra without pay.
Then you make in addition to this the health foods, and your bills are
sky high up. Is it not?"

"I'm afraid it is, Gaspard. I had no idea I was as reckless as all
that."

"But yes, and more of it."

"What would you do if you were running this restaurant, Gaspard?"

"I would give _ragoût_, and rabbits--so cheap and so good too--stewed
in red wine, and the good pot roast with vegetables all in the
delicious sauce, and carrots with parsley and the peas out of the can,
cooked with onion and lettuce, and macédoine of all the other things
left over. Lentils and flageolet I should buy dried up, and soak them
out.--All those things which you have said were needless.--In my way
they would be so excellent."

"You make my mouth water, Gaspard. I don't know whether it's a Gallic
eloquence, or whether that food really would work. They might like it
for a change anyhow."

"I have many personal patrons now," Gaspard said with some pride; "all
day they send me messages, and very good tips. I think what I would
serve them they would eat.--But there is one thing--" he paused and
hesitated dejectedly, "that, what you say, takes the heart out of the
beautiful cooking."

"What thing is that, Gaspard?"

"Those calories."

"Why, Gaspard, surely you're used to working with tables now. It must
be almost second nature to you. My whole end and aim has been to serve
a balanced ration."

"I know, but the ration when he is right, he balances himself. These
tables they are like the steps in dancing--to learn and to forget. I
figure all day all night to get those calories, and then I find I have
eight--and eight are so little--lesser than I would have had without
the figuring, and if our customer he has taken himself one piece of
sweetmeat outside, he has more than made it up."

"I always have worried about what they eat between meals," Nancy
said,--"but that, of course, we can't regulate."

"Could I perhaps go to it, as you say, and cook like the _bourgeoisie_
for a week or two of trials?"

"Yes, I think you could, Gaspard," Nancy said thoughtfully. "Go to it,
as we say, and I won't interfere in any way. Maybe they'd like it.
Perhaps our food is getting to be too much like hotel food, anyway."

She knew in her heart that the gradually increasing scale of luxury on
which she had been running her cuisine had been largely due to her
desire to provide Collier Pratt with all the delicacies he loved,
without making the fact too conspicuous. The specially prepared dishes
sent out to his table had become a matter of so much comment among the
members of the staff, and the target of so much piquant satire from
Betty that she had become sensitive on the subject, especially since
Betty had access to the books, and knew in actual dollars and cents
how much this favoritism was costing her. Now that matters had been
settled between herself and her lover, she felt vaguely ashamed of
this elaboration of method. It was so simple a thing to love a man and
give him all you had, with the eyes of the world upon you, if
necessary. She felt that she handled the matter rather unworthily.

She had also a consultation with Molly and Dolly about the economic
problem, and discovered that they agreed with Gaspard about the
unnecessary extravagance of her management.

"Them health foods," Dolly said,--she was not the more grammatical of
the twins, "the ones that gets them regular gets so tired of them, or
else they gets where they don't need them any more. There's one girl
that crumbs up her health muffins and puts them on the window-sill
every day when I ain't looking, so's not to hurt my feelings."

"That accounts for all those chittering sparrows," Nancy said.

"And some of those buttermilk men threatens not to come any more if I
don't stop serving it to them."

"What do you say to them, Dolly, when they object to it?"

"Well, sometimes I say one thing, and sometimes another. Sometimes I
say it's orders to serve it; and sometimes I say will they please to
let it stand by their plate not to get me in trouble with the
management; and sometimes I coax them to take it."

"By an appeal to their better nature," Nancy said. "I'm glad Dick
can't hear all this,--he'd think it was funny."

"We don't have so much trouble with the broths," Molly said, "but so
many people would rather have the cream soups Gaspard makes, that we
waste a good deal."

"It sours on us," Dolly elucidated.

"What do you think would be the best way out of that?"

"I think to charge for the invalid things," Dolly said; "people would
think more of them if they was specials, and had to be paid good money
for. Health bread, if you didn't call it that, would go good, if it
cost five cents extra."

"What would you call it?" Nancy asked.

"California fruit nut bread, or something like that, and call the
custards crême renversé, and the ice-cream, French ice-cream."

"Oh, dear!" Nancy said, "that isn't the way I want to do things at
all."

"We can slip the ones that needs them a few things from time to time,
can't we, Molly?" Dolly said.

"We'll do it," Nancy said. "I hate the way that the most uninspired
ways of doing things turn out to be the best policy after all. I don't
believe in stereotyped philanthropy, but I did think I had found a way
around this problem of feeding up people who needed it."

"They get fed up pretty good if they do pay a regular price for it,"
Dolly said. "You can't get something for nothing in this world, and
most everybody knows it by now."

"I'm managing my restaurant a little differently," she told Collier
Pratt a few days later, as she took her place at the little table
beside him, where she habitually ate her dinner. "If you don't like it
you are to tell me, and I'll see that you have things you will like."

"This dinner is good," he said reflectively, "like French home
cooking. I haven't had a real _ragoût_ of lamb since I left the
pension of Madame Pellissier. Has your mysterious patroness got tired
of furnishing _diners de luxe_ to the populace?"

"Not exactly that," Nancy said, "but she--she wants me to try out
another way of doing things."

"I thought that would come. That's the trouble with patronage of any
kind. It is so uncertain. There is no immediate danger of your being
ousted, is there?"

"No," Nancy said, "there--there is no danger of that."

"I don't like that cutting you down," he said, frowning. "It would be
rather a bad outlook for us all if she threw you over, now wouldn't
it?"

"Oh!--she won't, there's nothing to worry about, really."

"It would be like my luck to have the only café in America turn me
out-of-doors.--I should never eat again."

"I promise it won't," Nancy said; "can't you trust me?"

"I never have trusted any woman--but you," he said.

"You can trust me," Nancy said. "The truth is, she couldn't put me out
even if she wanted to. I--she is under a kind of obligation to me."

"Thank God for that. I only hope you are in a position to threaten her
with blackmail."

"I could if anybody could," Nancy said. She put out of her mind as
disloyal, the faintly unpleasant suggestion of his words. He owed her
mythical patron a substantial sum of money by this time. He was not
even able to pay Michael the cash for the nightly teapot full of
Chianti that Nancy herself now sent out for him regularly. For the
first time since her association with him she was tempted to compare
him to Dick, and that not very favorably; but at the next instant she
was reproaching herself with her littleness of vision. He was too
great a man to gauge by the ordinary standards of life. Money meant
nothing to him except that it was the insignificant means to the end
of that Art, which was to him consecrated.

They were placed a little to the left of the glowing fire--Nancy had
restored the fireplace in the big central dining-room--and the light
took the brass of the andirons, and all the polished surface of copper
and pewter and silver candelabra that gave the room its quality of
picturesqueness.

"Some of those branching candlesticks are very beautiful," he said;
"the impression here is a little like that of a Catholic altar just
before the mass. I've always thought I'd like to have my meals served
in church, _Saint-Germain-des-Prés_ for instance."

"It is rather dim religious light." Nancy had no wish to utter
this banality, but it was forced from her by her desire to seem
sympathetic.

"Can we go to your place for a little while to-night?"

These were the words she had spent her days and nights hungering for;
yet now she hesitated for a perceptible instant.

"Yes, we can, of course. There is a friend of mine--Billy Boynton, up
there this evening. He is not feeling very fit, and phoned to ask if
he could go up and sprawl before my fire, so, of course, I said he
could."

"Oh! yes, Sheila's friend. Can't he be disposed of?"

"I think so. We could try."

But at Nancy's apartment they found not only Billy, but Caroline, and
the atmosphere was like that of the glacial regions, both literally
and figuratively.

"Hitty had the windows open, and the fire went out, and I forgot to
turn on the heat," Billy explained from his position on the hearth
where he was trying to build an unscientific fire with the morning
paper, and the remains of a soap box. There was a long smudge across
his forehead.

Caroline drew Nancy into the seclusion of her bedroom and clutched her
violently by the arm.

"I can't stand the strain any longer," she cried, "you've got to tell
me. Are you or are you not going to marry Dick Thorndyke for his
money, and is Billy Boynton putting you up to it--out of cowardice?"

"No, I'm not and he isn't," Nancy said. "What's the matter with you
and Billy anyway?"

"I haven't seen him for weeks before. I just happened to be in this
neighborhood to-night, and ran in here, and there he was."

"Why don't you take him home with you?" Nancy said.

"I don't want him to go home with me."

"Don't you love him?"

"Oh, I don't know. That isn't the point."

"It is the point," Nancy said; "there isn't any other point to the
whole of existence. There's nothing else in the world, but love, the
great, big, beautiful, all-giving-up kind of love, and bearing
children for the man you love; and if you don't know that yet,
Caroline, go down on your bended knees and pray to your God that He
will teach it to you before it is too late."

"I--I didn't know you felt like that," Caroline gasped.

"Well, I do," Nancy said, "and I think that any woman who doesn't is
just confusing issues, and taking refuge in sophistry. I wouldn't give
_that_"--she snapped an energetic forefinger, "for all your silly,
smug little ideas of economic independence and service to the race,
and all that tommy-rot. There is only one service a woman can do to
her race, and that is to take hold of the problems of love and
marriage,--and the problems of life, birth and death that are involved
in them--and work them out to the best of her ability. They _will_
work out."

"You--you're a sort of a pragmatist, aren't you?" Caroline gasped.

"Billy loves you, and you love Billy. Billy needs you. He is the most
miserable object lately, that ever walked the face of the earth. I'm
going to call a taxi-cab, and send you both home in it, and when you
get inside of it I want you to put you arms around Billy's neck, and
make up your quarrel."

"I won't do that," said Caroline, "but--but somehow or other you've
cleared up something for me. Something that was worrying me a good
deal."

"Shall I call the taxi?" Nancy said inexorably.

"Well, yes--if--if you want to," Caroline said.

The fire was crackling merrily in the drawing-room when she stepped
into it again after speeding her departing guests. Collier Pratt was
walking up and down impatiently with his hands clasped behind his
back.

"You got rid of them at last," he said. "I was afraid they would
decide to remain with us indefinitely."

"I didn't have as much trouble as I anticipated," admitted Nancy
cryptically.

Collier Pratt made a round of the rose-shaded lamps in the room--there
were three including a Japanese candle lamp,--and turned them all
deliberately low. Then he held out his arms to Nancy.

"We'll snatch at the few moments of joy the gods will vouchsafe us,"
he said.



CHAPTER XVI

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING


Sheila and Nancy were doing their Christmas shopping. The weather,
which had been like mid-May--even to betraying a bewildered Jersey
apple tree into unseasonable bloom that gave it considerable newspaper
notoriety,--had suddenly turned sharp and frosty. Sheila, all in gray
fur to the beginning of her gray gaiters, and Nancy in blue, a smart
blue tailor suit with black furs and a big black satin hat--she was
dressing better than she had ever dressed in her life--were in that
state of physical exhilaration that follows the spur of the frost.

"We mustn't dance down the avenue, Sheila," Nancy said, "it isn't
done, in the circles in which we move."

"It is you who are almost very nearly dancing, Miss Dear," Sheila
said, "I was only walking on my toetips."

"Oh! don't you feel good, Sheila?" Nancy cried.

"Don't you, Miss Dear?"

"I feel almost too good," Nancy said, "as if in another minute the top
of the world might come off."

"The top of the world is screwed on very tight, I think," said Sheila.
"I used to think when I was a little girl that it was made out of blue
plush, but now I know better than that."

"It might be," Nancy argued, "blue plush and bridal veils. There's a
great deal of filmy white about it, to-day."

"It's a long way off from Fifth Avenue," Sheila sighed, "too far. I am
not going to think about it any more. I am going to think hard about
what to give my father. Michael said to get a smoking set, but I don't
know what a smoking set is. Hitty said some hand knit woolen
stockings, but I am afraid he would be scratched by them. Gaspard said
a big bottle of _Cointreau_, but I do not know what that is either."

"Couldn't we give him a beautiful brocaded dressing-gown and a Swiss
watch, thin as a wafer, and some handkerchiefs cobwebby fine, and a
dozen bottles of _Cointreau_, and--then get the other things as we
think of them?"

"Are we rich enough to do _that_?" Sheila asked, her eyes sparkling
with excitement.

"Rich enough to buy anything we want, Sheila," Nancy cried. "I had no
idea it was going to be such a heavenly feeling. When you say your
prayers to-night, Sheila, I hope you will ask God to bless somebody
you've never heard of before. _Elijah Peebles Martin_, do you think
you could remember that long name, Sheila?"

"Yes, Miss Dear,--do you remember him in your prayers every night?"

"Well, I haven't," Nancy said, "but I intend to from now on. Do you
think Collier--father--would like to have a new pipe?"

"I don't know," Shelia said; "wouldn't Uncle Dick like to have one?"

"I don't know whether Uncle Dick is going to want a Christmas present
from me or not, Sheila." Nancy answered seriously. "There may
be--reasons why he won't come to see us for a while when he knows
them."

"Oh, dear," Sheila said, "but I can buy him a Christmas present
myself, can't I? I don't want it to be Christmas if I can't."

"Of course, dear. What shall we buy Aunt Caroline and Uncle Billy?"

"Some pink and blue housekeeping dishes, I think."

"I'm going to have trouble buying Caroline _anything_," Nancy said.
"She's so sure I can't afford it. If I give a silver chest I'll have
to make Billy say it came from his maiden aunt."

"What shall we give Aunt Betty?"

"I don't know exactly why," Nancy said, "but someway I feel more like
giving her a good shaking than anything else."

"For a little surprise," Sheila said presently, "do you think we could
go down to see my father in his studio, after we have shopped? I feel
like seeing my father to-day. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I
think of Hitty and my breakfast, and the canary bird, and of you, Miss
Dear, fast asleep where I can hear you breathing in your room--if I
listen to it--and then other mornings I wake up thinking only of my
father, and how he looks in his shirt-sleeves and necktie. I was
thinking of him this morning like that. So now I should like to see
him."

"You shall, dear. I want him to see you in your new clothes. He'll
think you look like a little gray bird with a scarlet breast."

"Then I must open the front of my coat when I go in so he shall see my
vest at once, mustn't I?"

"Do you know how much I love you, Sheila?" Nancy cried suddenly.

"Is it a great deal, Miss Dear?"

"It's more than I've ever loved anybody in this world but one person,
and if I should ever be separated from you I think it would break my
heart--so that you could hear it crack with a loud report, Sheila."

The little girl slipped her gray gloved hand into Nancy's and held it
there silently for a moment.

"Then we won't ever be separated, Miss Dear," she said.

The shops were crowded with the usual conglomerate Christmas throng,
and their progress was somewhat retarded by Sheila's desire to make
the acquaintance of every department-store and Salvation Army Santa
Claus that they met in their peregrinations. In the toy department of
one of the Thirty-fourth Street shops there was a live Kris Kringle
with animated reindeers on rollers, who made a short trip across an
open space in one end of the department for a consideration, and
presented each child who rode with him a lovely present, tied up in
tissue and marked "Not to be opened until Christmas." Sheila refused a
second trip with him on the ground that it would not be polite to take
more than one turn.

Nancy was able to discover the little girl's preferences by a tactful
question here and there when they were making the rounds of the
different counters. She wanted, it developed, a golden-haired doll
with a white fur coat, a pair of roller skates, an Indian costume, a
beaded pocketbook, with a blue cat embroidered on it, a parchesi board
to play parchesi with her Uncle Dick, some doll's dinner dishes, a
boy's bicycle, some parlor golf sticks, a red leather writing set, a
doll's manicure set, a sailor-boy paper doll, a dozen small suede
animals in a box, a drawing book and crayon pencils and several other
trifles of a like nature. The things she did not want she rejected
unerringly. It pleased Nancy to realize that she knew exactly what she
did want, even though her range of taste was so extensive. Nancy had a
sheaf of her own cards with her address on them in her pocketbook, and
each time Sheila saw the thing her heart coveted Nancy nodded to the
saleswoman and whispered to her to send it to the address given and
charge to her account.

They took their lunch in a famous confectionary shop, full of candy
animals and alluring striped candy sticks and baskets. Here Sheila's
eye was taken by a basket of spun sugar flowers, which she insisted on
buying for Gaspard. By the time they were ready to resume their
shopping tour, Sheila began to show signs of fag, so they bought only
brooches for the waitresses, and the watch as thin and exquisite of
workmanship as a man's pocket watch could be, for Collier Pratt.

"I think we had better give it to him now, Miss Dear," Sheila decided.
"I don't see how he can wait till Christmas for it--it is so
beautiful. He has not had a gold watch since that time in Paris when
we had all that trouble."

"What trouble, Sheila dear?" Nancy said. She had tucked the child in a
hansom, and they were driving slowly through the lower end of Central
Park to restore Sheila's roses before she was exhibited to her
parent.

"When we lost all our money, and my father and some one I must not
speak of, had those dreadful quarrelings, and we ran away. I do not
like to think of it. My father does not like to think of it."

"Well, then, you mustn't, dear," Nancy said, "but just be glad it is
all over now. I don't like to realize that so many hard things
happened to you and him before I knew you, but I do like to think that
I can perhaps prevent them ever happening to you again."

She closed resolutely that department of her mind that had begun to
occupy itself with conjectures concerning the past of the man to whom
she had given her heart. The child's words conjured up nightmare
scenes of unknown panic and dread. It was terrible to her to know that
Collier Pratt had the memory of so much bitterness and distress of
mind and body locked away in the secret chambers of his soul. "Some
one of whom I must not speak," Sheila had said, "and some one of whom
I must not think," Nancy added to herself. It was probably some one
with whom he had quarreled and struggled passionately maybe, with
disastrous results. He could not have injured or killed anybody, else
how could he be free and honorably considered in a free and honorable
country? She laughed at her own melodramatic misgivings. It was only,
she realized, that she so detested the connotation of the words "ran
away." Nancy had never run away from anything or anybody in her life,
and she could not understand that any one who was close to her should
ever have the instinct of flight.

The most conscientious objector to New York's traffic regulations can
not claim that they fail to regulate. The progress of their cab down
the avenue was so scrupulously regulated by the benignant guardians of
the semaphores that twilight was deepening into early December evening
before they reached their objective point,--the ramshackle studio
building on the south side of Washington Square where the man she
loved lived, moved and had his being, with the gallant ease and grace
which made him so romantic a figure to Nancy's imagination.

She had never been to his studio before without an appointment, and
her heart beat a little harder as, Sheila's hand in hers, they tiptoed
up the worn and creaking stairs, through the ill-kept, airless
corridors of the dingy structure, till they reached the top, and stood
breathless from their impetuous ascent, within a few feet of Collier
Pratt's battered door.

"I feel a little scared, Miss Dear," Sheila whispered. "I thought it
was going to be so much fun and now I don't think so at all. Do you
think he will be very angry at my coming?"

"I don't think he will be angry at all," Nancy said. "I think he will
be very much surprised and pleased to see both of us. Turn around,
dear, and let me be sure that you're neat."

Sheila turned obediently. Nancy fumbled with her pocket mirror, and
then thought better of it, but passed a precautionary hand over the
back of her hair to reassure herself as to its arrangement, and
straightened her hat.

"Now we're ready," she said.

But Sheila put out her hand, and clutched at Nancy's sleeve.

"There's some one in there," she said, "somebody crying. Oh! don't
let's go in, Miss Dear."

From behind the closed door there issued suddenly the confused murmur
of voices, one--a woman's--rising and falling in the cadence of
distress, the other low pitched in exasperated expostulation.

"It's Collier," Nancy said mechanically, "and some woman with him."

Sheila shrank closer into the protecting shelter of her arms.

"Don't let's go in, Miss Dear," she repeated.

"It may be just some model," Nancy said. "We'll wait a minute here and
see if she doesn't come out."

"I--I don't want to see who comes out," the child said, her face
suddenly distorted.

There was a sharp sound of something falling within, then Collier
Pratt's voice raised loud in anger.

"You'd better go now," he said, "before you do any more damage. I
don't want you here. Once and for all I tell you that there is no
place for you in my life. Weeping and wailing won't do you any good.
The only thing for you to do is to get out and stay out."

This was answered by an indistinguishable outburst.

"I won't tell you where the child is," Collier Pratt said steadily.
"She's well taken care of. God knows you never took care of her.
There's nothing you can do, you know. You might sue for a restitution
of conjugal rights, I suppose, but if you drag this thing into the
courts I'll fight it out to the end. I swear I will."

"You brute,--you--"

At the first clear sound of the woman's voice the child at Nancy's
side broke into sobs of convulsive terror.

"Take me away, Miss Dear. Oh! take me away from here, quickly,
quickly, I'm so frightened. I'm so afraid she'll come out and get me.
It's my _mother_," she moaned.



CHAPTER XVII

GOOD-BY


Nancy had no memory of her actions during the time that elapsed
between leaving the studio building and her arrival at her own
apartment. She knew that she must have guided Sheila to the beginning
of the bus route at the lower end of the square, and as perfunctorily
signaled the conductor to let her off at the corner of Fifth Avenue
and her own street, but she could never remember having done so. Her
first conscious recollection was of the few minutes in Sheila's room,
while she was slipping off the child's gaiters, in the interval before
she gave her over to Hitty for the night. The little girl was still
sobbing beneath her breath, though her emotion was by this time purely
reflexive.

"I didn't understand that your mother was living, Sheila," she said.

"She isn't very nice," the little girl said miserably. "We don't tell
any one. She always cries and screams and makes us trouble?"

"Did she live with you in Paris?"

"Only sometimes."

"Does she do--something that she should not do, Sheila?" Nancy asked,
with her mind on inebriety, or drug addiction.

"She just isn't very nice," Sheila repeated. "She is _histérique_; she
pounded me with her hands, and hurt me."

Nancy telephoned to the Inn that she had a headache, and shut herself
into her room, without food, to gather her scattered forces. She lay
wide-awake all the night through, her mind trying to work its way
through the lethargy of shock it had received. She remembered falling
down the cellar stairs, when she was a little girl, and lying for
hours on the hard stone floor, perfectly serene and calm, without
pain, until she tried to do so much as move a little finger or lift an
eyelid, when the intolerable nausea would begin. She was calm now,
until she made the attempt to think what it was that had so prostrated
her, and then the anguish spread through her being and convulsed her
with unimaginable distress of mind and body.

By morning she had herself in hand again,--at least to the extent of
dealing with the unthinkable fact that Collier Pratt, her lover, the
man to whom she had given the lover's right to hold her in his arms
and cover her upturned face with kisses, had a living wife, and that
he was not free to make honorable love to any woman.

Her life had been too sound, too sweet, to give her any perspective on
a situation of the kind. It was inconceivable to her that a married
man should make advances to an unmarried woman,--but gradually she
began to make excuses for this one man whose circumstances had been so
exceptional. Tied to an insane creature, who beat his child, who made
him strange hectic scenes, and followed him all over the world to
threaten his security, and menace that beautiful and inexplicable
creative instinct that animated him like a holy fire, and set him
apart from his kind; she began to see how it might be with him. She
was still the woman he loved,--she believed that; he was weaker than
she had thought,--that was all, weaker and not so wise. This being
true, she must put aside her own pain and bewilderment, her own
devastating disillusionment, and comfort him, and help him. She rose
from her bed that morning firmly resolved to see him before the day
was through.

She breakfasted with Sheila, and made a brave attempt to get through
the morning on her usual schedule, but once at the Inn she collapsed,
and Michael and Betty had to put her in a cab and send her home again,
where Hitty ministered to her grimly,--and she slept the sleep of
exhaustion until well on into the evening, and into the night again.

On the day following she was quite herself; but she still hesitated to
bring about the momentous interview that she so dreaded, and yet
longed for. She intended to take her place at the table beside Collier
Pratt when he came for his dinner that night, but when the time came
she could not bring herself to do it, and fled incontinently. Later in
the evening he telephoned that he wanted to see her, and she told him
that he might come.

She faced him with the facts, breathlessly, and in spite of herself
accusingly,--and then waited for the explanation that would extenuate
the apparent ugliness of his attitude toward her, and set all the
world right for her again. As she looked into his face she felt that
it must come. She noted compassionately how the shadows under the dark
eyes had deepened; how weary the pose of the fine head; and for the
moment she longed only to rest it on her breast again. Even as she
spoke of the thing that had so tortured her it seemed insignificant in
light of the fact that he was there beside her, within reach of her
arms whenever she chose to hold them out to him.

"I regret that the revelation of my private embarrassments should have
been thrust upon you so suddenly," he said, when she had poured out
the story to him. "My marriage has proved the most uncomfortable
indiscretion that I ever committed; and unfortunately my indiscretions
have been numberless as the well-known leaves of Vallombrosa."

"You always said that Sheila was motherless," Nancy said.

"It is simpler than stating that she is worse than motherless."

"Why didn't you tell me you were married?"

Collier Pratt smiled at her--kindly it seemed to Nancy.

"It hadn't anything to do with _us_," he said. "I should never want to
marry again--even if I were free. The thought is horrible to me. You
mean a great deal to me. _Think_, if you doubt that and think again. I
have had in this little front room of yours the only real moments of
peace and happiness that I have had for years. I value them--you can
not dream or imagine how much--but surely it is understood between us
that our relation can not be anything but transitory. I am an artist
with a way to make for my art: you are a working woman with a career,
odd as it is," he smiled whimsically, "that you have chosen, and that
you will pursue faithfully until some stalwart young man dissuades you
from it, when you will take your place in your niche as wife and
mother, and leave me one more beautiful memory."

"Surely," Nancy said, "you know it isn't--like that."

"What is it like then?"

Nancy felt every sane premise, every eager hope and delicate ideal
slipping beyond her reach as she faced his mocking, tender eyes.

"It can't be that you believe you have been--fair with me," she
faltered.

"I don't think I have been unfair," he said, "I have made no
protestations, you know."

Nancy shut her eyes. Curious scraps of her early religious education
came back to her.

"You have partaken of my bread and wine," she said.

"It wasn't exactly consecrated."

"I think it was," she said faintly. "Oh! don't you understand that
that isn't a way for a man to think or to feel about a woman like
me?"

"Little American girl," Collier Pratt said, "little American girl,
don't you understand that there is only one way for a woman to think
or feel about a _man_ like _me_? I have had my life, and I haven't
liked it much. I'm to be loved warmly and lightly till the flesh and
blood prince comes along, but I'm never to be mistaken for him."

"I don't believe you're sincere," Nancy cried; "women must have loved
you deeply, tragically, and have suffered all the torture there is, at
losing you."

"That may be. Sincerity is a matter of so many connotations. You
haven't known many artists, my dear."

"No," said Nancy. "No, but I thought they were the same as other men,
only worthier."

"How should they be? He who perceives a merit is not necessarily he
who achieves it. Else the world would be a little more one-sided than
it is."

"I can't believe those things," Nancy said. "I want to believe in you.
You _must_ care for me, and what becomes of me. You have known so long
what I was like, and what I was made for. All this seems like a
terrible nightmare. I want you to tell me what it is you want of me,
and let me give it to you."

"I am proving some faint shadow of worthiness at least, when I say to
you that I want absolutely nothing of you. I love, but I refrain."

"You love," Nancy cried, "you _love_?"

"Not as you understand loving, I am afraid. In my own way I love
you."

"I don't like your way, then," Nancy said wearily.

"We're both so poor, little girl,--that's one thing. If I were free
and could overcome my prejudice against matrimony, and could be a
little surer of my own heart and its constancy,--even then, don't you
see, practical considerations would and ought to stand in our way. I
couldn't support you, you couldn't possibly support me."

"I see," said Nancy. "Would you marry me If I were rich?" she said
slowly.

"I already have one wife," Collier Pratt smiled. Nancy remembered
afterward that he smiled oftener during this interview than at any
other. "But if somebody died, and left you a million, she might
possibly be disposed of."

For one moment, perhaps, his fate hung in the balance. Then he took a
step forward.

"Kiss me good night, dear," he said, "and let us end this bitter and
fruitless discussion."

"Kiss you good night," Nancy cried. "Kiss you good night. Oh! how dare
you!--How dare you?" And she struck him twice across his mouth. "I
wish I could kill you," she blazed. "Oh! how dare you,--how dare
you?"

"Oh! very well," said Collier Pratt calmly, wiping his mouth with his
handkerchief. "If that's the way you feel--then our pleasant little
acquaintanceship is ended. I'll take my hat and stick and my
child--and go."

"Your child?" Nancy cried aghast. "You wouldn't take Sheila away from
me."

"I don't feel exactly tempted to leave her with you," he said
deliberately. "I don't mind a woman striking me--I'm used to that; it
is one of my charming wife's ways of expressing herself in moments of
stress--but I do object to any but the most purely formal relations
with her afterward. There is a certain degree of intimacy involved in
your having charge of my child. I think I will take the little girl
away with me now."

"Please, please, please don't," Nancy said. "I love her. I couldn't
bear it now. You can't be so cruel."

"Better get it over," Collier Pratt said. "Will you call Hitty, or
shall I?"

"Sheila is in bed," Nancy cried. "You wouldn't take her out of her
warm bed to-night. I'll send her to you to-morrow at whatever hour you
ask."

"I ask for her now."

There was no fight left in Nancy. She called Hitty and superintended
the dressing of the little girl to its last detail. She could not
touch her.

"Won't you kiss me good night, Miss Dear?" Sheila said, drowsily, as
she took her father's hand at the door.

"Not to-night," Nancy said hoarsely. "I've a bad throat, dear, I
wouldn't want you to catch it."

"I don't know where I'm going," the little girl said, "but I suppose
my father knows. I'll come back as soon as I can."

"Yes, dear," Nancy said. "Good-by."

Collier Pratt turned at the door and made an exaggerated gesture of
farewell.

"We part more in anger than in sorrow," he said.

"Oh! Go," Nancy cried.

As the door closed upon the two Nancy sank to her knees, and thence to
a crumpled heap on the floor, but remembering that Hitty would find
her there shortly, and being entirely unable to regain her feet
unaided, she started to crawl in the direction of her own room, and
presently arrived there, and pushed the door to behind her with her
heel.



CHAPTER XVIII

TAME SKELETONS


It was Sunday night, and New Year's Eve. Gaspard was preparing, and
Molly and Dolly were serving a special dinner for Preston Eustace,
planned weeks before on his first arrival in New York.

Before the great logs--imported by Michael for the occasion--that
blazed in the fireplace, a round table was set, decorously draped in
the most immaculate of fine linen, and crowned with a wreath of holly
and mistletoe, from which extended red satin trailers with a present
from Nancy for each guest, on the end of each. All the impedimenta of
the restaurant was cleared away, and a couch and several easy chairs
that Nancy kept in reserve for such occasions were placed comfortably
about the room. Only the innumerable starry candles and branching
candelabra were reminiscent of the room's more professional aspect.

Billy and Caroline were the first to arrive,--Caroline in pale
floating green tulle, which accentuated the pure olive of her
coloring, and transported Billy from his chronic state of adoration to
that of an almost agonizing worship. Dick and Betty were next. He had
realized the possible awkwardness of the situation for her, and had
been thoughtful enough to offer to call for her. She was in defiant
scarlet from top to toe, and had never looked more entrancing. Preston
Eustace was to come in from Long Island where he was spending the
holidays with a married sister. Michael received the guests and did
the honors beamingly.

"Where's Nancy?" Dick asked, as, divested of his outer garments, he
appeared without warning in the presence of the lovers. "Don't bother
to drop her hand, Billy. I don't see how you have the heart to, she's
so lovely to-night."

"We don't know where Nancy is," Caroline answered for him. "It seems
to be all right, though. She's expected, Michael says."

"Where's Nancy?" Betty asked, in her turn, appearing on the threshold
with every hair most amazingly in place.

"Coming," Dick reassured her.

"Has anybody heard from her?" Betty asked.

"Michael has, I think."

"You aren't worried about her, are you?" Caroline asked.

"Yes, I am," Betty said.

"I thought you and Nancy were rather on the outs," Caroline suggested.
"It seems odd to have you worrying about her like her maiden aunt."

"You wait till you see her, you'll be worried about her, too."

"What's wrong?" Dick asked quickly.

"She's lost Sheila for one thing. That unspeakable Collier Pratt--I
hope he chokes on his dinner to-night, and I hope it's a rotten
dinner--has taken the child away."

"The devil he has."

There was a step on the rickety stair.

"Hush! There she is now," Caroline cried.

"No," Betty said quietly, listening. "That's not Nancy. That's your
brother, Caroline."

"I haven't heard his step for such a long time I've forgotten it,"
Billy said.

"I haven't heard it for a long time either," Betty said, her face
draining of its last bit of color.

"Promises to be one of those merry little meals when everybody present
is attended by a tame skeleton," Billy whispered, "except us,
Caroline."

"I don't feel that we have any right to be so happy with the whole
continent of Europe in the state it's in," Caroline whispered in
reply.

"I feel better about the continent of Europe than I did a while back,"
Billy said, contentedly.

"Hello, everybody," Preston Eustace said as Michael held the door for
him. "How's everything, Caroline?"

"All right," Caroline said. Then she added unnecessarily, "You--you
know Betty, don't you?"

"I used to know Betty," he said slowly.

The two looked at each other, with that look of incredulity with which
lovers sometimes greet each other after absence and estrangement.
"This can't be you," their eyes seem to be saying, "I've disposed of
you long since, God help me!"

"How do you do, Preston?" Betty said, giving him her hand. Then she
smiled faintly, and added with a caricature of her usual manner:
"Lovely weather we're having for this time of year, aren't we?"

"I'm very fond of you, Betty,"--Dick smiled as she sank into the chair
beside him and Preston turned to his sister. "I think you're a little
sport."

"I don't know how you can, Dicky," she smiled at him forlornly. "I've
got a bad black heart, and I play the wrong kind of games."

"Well, I see through them, so it's all right. What's this about
Nancy?"

"I'll tell you later," Betty said; "there she comes now."

Nancy, stimulated by massage and steam, her hair dressed by a
professional; powdered, and for the first time in her life rouged to
hide the tell-tale absence of her natural quickening color, came
forward to meet her guests in supreme unconsciousness of the pathos of
the effect she had achieved. She was dressed in snowy white like a
bride,--the only gown she had that was in keeping with the holiday
decorations, and she moved a little clumsily, as if her brain had
found itself suddenly in charge of an unfamiliar set of reflexes. Her
lids drooped over burning eyes that had known no sleep for many
nights, and every line and lineament of her face was stamped with
pain.

"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting," she said. Her voice,
curiously, was the only natural thing about her. "I've been scouring
off every vestige of my work-a-day self, and that takes time. Thank
you for the roses, Dick, but the only flowers I could have worn with
this color scheme would have been geraniums."

"I'll send you some geraniums to-morrow."

"Don't," she said. "How do you do, Preston?"

She gave him a cold hand, and he stared at her almost as he had stared
at Betty. He was a tall grave-looking youth, with Caroline's straight
features and olive coloring, and a shock of heavy blond hair.

"I hope you'll like your party," Nancy hurried on. "Gaspard is
bursting with pride in it. I think it would be a nice thing to have
him in and drink his health after the coffee. He would never forget
the honor."

"My God!" Dick said in an undertone to Betty, "how long has she been
like this?"

"I'll tell you later," she promised him again.

With the serving of the first course of dinner--Gaspard's wonderful
_Purée Mongol_--an artist's dream of all the most delicate vegetables
in the world mingled together as the clouds are mingled, the tensity
in the air seemed to break and shatter about them in showers of
brilliant, artificial mirth, which presently, because they were all
young and fond of one another and their group had the habit of
intimacy, became less and less strained and unreal.

Nancy's tired eyes lost something of their unnatural glitter, and
Betty seemed more of a woman than a scarlet sprite, while Caroline's
smile began to reflect something of the real gladness that possessed
her soul. Dick and Billy took up the burden of the entertainment of
the party, and gave at least an excellent imitation of inspirational
gaiety.

"This _filet of sole_," Billy observed as he sampled his second course
appreciatively, "is common or barnyard flounder,--and the shrimp and
the oyster crab, and that mushroom of the sea, and the other little
creature in the corner of my plate who shall be nameless, because I
have no idea what his name is,--are all put in to make it harder."

"Gaspard is using some of the simpler native products now instead of
the high-priced imported ones," Nancy said eagerly, "and he is getting
wonderful results, I think."

"Flounder _a la Française_ is all right," Dick said.

"Our restaurant has reformed," Betty said. "We're running it on a
strictly business basis."

"And making money?" Dick asked quickly.

"We're not losing much," Betty said. "That's a great improvement."

"Some of those little girls from the publishing houses look paler to
me than they did," Nancy said. "I wish I could give them hypodermics
of protein and carbohydrates."

"Give me the name and address of any of your customers that worry
you," Dick said, "and I'll buy 'em a cow or a sugar plum tree or a
flivver or anything else they seem to be in need of."

"Don't those things tend to pauperize the poor?" Caroline's brother
put in gravely.

"Sure they do," Billy agreed, "only Nancy has kind of given up her
struggle not to pauperize them."

"I started in with some very high ideals about scientific service,"
Nancy explained. "I was never going to give anybody anything they
hadn't actually earned in some way, except to bring up the average of
normality by feeding my patrons surreptitious calories. I had it all
figured out that the only legitimate charity was putting flesh on the
bones of the human race,--that increasing the general efficiency that
way wasn't really charity at all."

"You don't believe that now?" Preston Eustace asked.

"I don't know what I believe now."

"What is scientific charity, anyhow?" Dick looked about inquiringly.

"There ain't no such animal," Billy contributed.

"It's substituting the cool human intellect for the warm human heart,
I guess," Betty said dreamily.

"But that so often works," Caroline said.

"I was never going to make any mistakes," Nancy said. "I was going
to keep my fists scientifically shut, and my heart beatifically
open." She hesitated. "I--I was going to swing my life, and my
undertakings--right." It became increasingly hard for her to
speak, and a little gasp went round the table. "I've--I've made
nothing--nothing but mistakes," she finished piteously.

"But you've rectified them," Betty put in vigorously. "Nancy, dear,
I've never known you to make a mistake that you haven't rectified, and
that is more than I can say of any other person in the world."

"Sirloin and carrots," Caroline said, as the next course came in.
"I'll wager you've cut the price of this dinner in two by judicious
ordering."

"There's nothing else but field salad," Nancy said, still piteously,
"and raspberry _mousse_."

"Nancy, you'll break my heart," Betty said, wiping her eyes frankly,
but Nancy only looked at her wonderingly, wistfully, preoccupied and
remote, while Preston Eustace gazed at Betty as if he too would find a
welcome relief in shedding a heavy tear or two.

"Collier Pratt has broken her heart, Dick," Betty told him in the
limousine on the way home. "It's been going on ever since the first
time she saw him. Down at the restaurant we've all known it. She's
been eating at his table every night for months, and Gaspard and
everybody else in the place, in fact, has been a slave to his lightest
whim. I've always disliked him intensely, myself."

"Why didn't you tell me before, Betty?"

"It wasn't my business to tell you. I thought it was coming off, you
know."

"What was coming off?"

"Their affair. I thought it was past my meddling."

"Do you mean to say that you thought Nancy was going to marry Collier
Pratt--_Nancy_?"

"Why, yes, if I hadn't I--I wouldn't have acted up the way I did in
your rooms that night."

But Dick neither heard nor understood her.

"Do you mean to say that you think Collier Pratt has been making love
to her?"

"I think so."

"But the damned scoundrel is married."

"Oh!" Betty cried. "_Oh!_--I didn't know that."

"I've known it--I've always known it," Dick said. "I never dreamed
that Nancy had any special interest in him."

"Well, she had. She's going through everything, Dick, even Sheila--you
know how she loved Sheila?"

"I know," Dick said grimly. "Do you mind going on home alone, Betty?
You'll be perfectly safe with Williams, you know."

"Of course not. What are you going to do, Dick? Are you going to
Nancy?"

"No, I'm not going to Nancy."

Betty, looking at him more closely, realized for the first time that
she was sitting beside a man in whom the rage of the primitive animal
was gaining its ascendency. His breath was coming in short stertorous
gasps, his hands were clinched, the purplish color was mounting to his
brows, but he still went through the motions of a courteous
leave-taking.

"Where are you going, Dick?" she asked again, as he stood on the curb
where he had signaled Williams to leave him, with the door of the car
in his hand, staring down at it, and for the moment forgetting to
close it.

"I'm going to find Collier Pratt," he said thickly. Then with a slam
that splintered the hinge of the door he was holding he crashed it in
toward the car.



CHAPTER XIX

OTHER PEOPLE'S TROUBLES


Nancy was trying conscientiously to interest herself in other people's
troubles. After the first great shock of pain following her loss at a
blow of her lover and Sheila, she began automatically to try to work
her way through her suffering. The habit of application to the daily
task combined with her instinct for taking immediate action in a
crisis stood her in good stead in her hour of need. She decided what
to occupy herself with, and then devoted herself faithfully to the
prescribed occupation.

The Inn did not need her. With Betty to guide him economically Gaspard
was able to superintend all the details of the establishment
adequately and artistically. Sheila was gone. She packed up several
trunks of dresses and toys and other childish belongings and sent them
to Washington Square, but even without these constant reminders of
her, the hunger for the child's presence did not abate. The little
girl was curiously dissociated from her father in Nancy's mind. She
had seen so little of the two together that they seemed to belong to
entirely different compartments of her consciousness. It was only the
anguish of losing them that linked them together.

Nancy decided to devote a certain proportion of her days and nights to
remedying such evils as lay under her immediate observation;--to
helping the individuals with whom she came into daily contact--the
dependents and tradespeople with whom she dealt. She had always been
convinced that the people who ministered to her daily comfort in New
York should occupy some part in her scheme of existence. It was one of
her favorite arguments that a little more energy and imagination on
the part of New York citizens would develop the communal spirit which
was so painfully lacking in the soul of the average Manhattanite.

So the milkman and the corner grocer, the newspaper man, and Hitty's
small brood of grand nieces and nephews, to say nothing of the Italian
fruit man's family, and her laundress's invalid daughter, were all
occupying a considerable place in Nancy's daily schedule. In a very
short interval she had the welfare of more than half a dozen families
on her hands, and was involved in all manner of enterprises of a
domestic nature,--from the designing of confirmation gowns to the
purchase of rubber-tired rolling chairs, and heterogeneous woolen
garments and other intimate necessities.

She was a little ashamed of her new line of activities, and still hurt
enough to shun the scrutiny of her friends, and thereby succeeded in
mystifying and alarming Billy and Dick and Betty and Caroline almost
beyond the limit of their endurance by resolutely keeping them at
arm's length. She was supremely unconscious of anything at all
remarkable in her behavior, and believed that they accepted her
excuses and apologies at their face value. She had no conception of
the fact that her tortured face, with tragedy looking newly out of her
eyes, kept them from their rest at night.

Sheila wrote to thank her for sending the trunks.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"My dear, _ma chère_, Miss Dear," she said. "_Merci beaucoup pour_ my
clothes and other beautiful things. I like them. _Je t'aime--je t'aime
toujours_. My father will not permit me to go back. _Comme_--how I
desire to see you! My father has been sick. He fell down or was hurt
in the street. There was blood--a great deal. Are they well--the
others? Tell Monsieur Dick I give him _tout mon coeur_. Come to see me
if it is _permit_. No more. You could write _peut-être_. _Je
t'aime_."

                                                       "Yours,
                                                           "SHEILA."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Nancy read this letter, in the quaint childish hand, with a great wave
of dumb sickness creeping over her--a devastating, disintegrating
nausea of soul and body. The most significant fact in it, however,
that Collier Pratt had fallen down "or been hurt in the street," of
course escaped her entirely, except to stir her with a kind of dim
pity for his distress.

In one of her long night vigils Preston Eustace's face came back to
her oddly. She remembered suddenly the strange sad way he had stared
at Betty on the evening of her party at the Inn. She reconstructed
Betty's love-story, and its sudden breaking off, three years before,
and with her new insight into the human heart, decided that these two
loved each other still, and must be helped to the consummation of
their happiness. She telephoned to them both the next day that they
could be of service to her; and made an appointment to meet them at a
given hour the next evening at her apartment.

She expected and intended to be there herself to give the meeting the
semblance of coincidence, and to offer them the hospitality of her
house before she was inspired with the excuse that would permit her an
exit that left them alone together; but she found herself in the slums
of Harlem by an Italian baby's bedside at that hour, and decided that
even to telephone would be superfluous, as once finding each other the
lovers would be oblivious to all other considerations.

What actually happened was that Preston Eustace, exactly on time as
was his habit, had been waiting some ten minutes on Nancy's hearth-rug
when Betty, delayed by the eccentricities of a casual motor-bus
engine, and frantic with anxiety for her friend, burst in upon him. So
full was she of the most hectic speculations concerning Nancy's sudden
appeal to her that she scarcely noticed who was waiting there to greet
her, and when she did notice, scarcely heeded that recognition.

"Where's Nancy?" she demanded breathlessly.

"I don't know, Betty," Preston Eustace said.

"Doesn't Hitty know?"

"She says she doesn't!"

"How did you happen to be here?"

"She sent for me."

"She's probably sent for everybody else," Betty said. "She's killed
herself, I know she has."

"What makes you think so?"

"Her heart is broken, she's been suffering terribly."

"I don't think she would have sent for me if she had been going to
kill herself," Preston Eustace said, a little as if he would have
added, "We are not on those terms."

"I don't suppose she would," Betty said. "But oh, Preston, I'm so
worried about her. I don't know where she is or anything. I tell you
her heart is broken."

"I didn't know you believed in hearts--broken or otherwise, Betty."

"I believe in Nancy's heart."

"You never believed in mine."

"You never gave me much reason to, Preston. You--you let me give you
back your ring the first time I threatened to."

"Of course I did."

"You never came near me again."

"Of course I didn't."

"You let three years go by without a word."

"Of course--"

"If you say 'of course I did' again I'll fly straight up through this
roof. If you'd ever loved me you wouldn't have gone away and left
me."

"If I hadn't loved you I wouldn't have gone away."

"Oh, dear," Betty sighed. "I don't see how you can stand there and
think about yourself with Nancy out in the night--we don't know
where."

"Ourselves, Betty--did you ever really love me?"

"It doesn't make any difference whether I did or not," Betty said. "I
hate men."

"I think I'd better be going," Preston Eustace said, his face dark
with pain. He was rather a literal-minded young man, as Caroline's
brother would have been likely to be.

Betty buried her face in her hands.

"My head aches," she said, "and I was never in my life so mad and so
miserable. I can't understand why everything and everybody should
behave so--devilishly. You and every one else, I mean. I just simply
can't bear to have Nancy suffer so. My head aches and my heart aches
and my soul aches." She lifted her head defiantly.

"I think I had better be going," Preston Eustace repeated, looking
down at her sorrowfully.

"Oh! don't be going," Betty said. "What in the name of sense do you
want to be going for?" Then without warning or premeditation she
hurled herself at his breast. "Oh! Preston, if there is anything
comforting in this world," she said, "tell it to me, now."

Preston Eustace gathered her to his breast with infinite tenderness.

"I love you," he said with his lips on her brow. "Doesn't that comfort
you a little?"

"Yes," she admitted, "yes," winding her arms about his neck, "but you
have no idea what a little devil I am, Preston."

"I don't want to have any idea," he said, still holding her hungrily.

"No, I don't think you do," Betty said. "Oh! kiss me again, dear, and
tell me you won't ever let me go now."

When Nancy came in she found the lovers so oblivious to the sound of
her key in the latch or her footstep in the corridor that she decided
to slip into bed without disturbing them, and did so, without their
ever realizing that for the latter part of the evening at least, they
had a hostess within range of the sound of their voices--indeed, she
was obliged to stuff the pillow into her ears to prevent herself from
actually hearing what they were saying.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At first her freedom--her release from the monotonous constraint of
her daily confinement at the Inn--the unaccustomed independence of her
new activities which justified her most untoward goings and
comings--was very soothing to her. She liked the feeling of slipping
out of the house at night, accountable to no one except the
redoubtable Hitty to whom she presented any explanation that happened
to occur to her,--however wide its departure from the actual
facts--and losing herself in the resurgent town. But after a while her
liberty lost its savor. She began to feel uncared for and neglected.
The unaccountable anguish in her breast was neither assuaged nor
mitigated by the geographical latitude she permitted herself. She kept
doggedly on with her personally conducted philanthropies, but she
began to feel a little frightened about her capacity for endurance.
Her body and brain began to show strange signs of fatigue. She was
afraid that one or the other might suddenly refuse to function.

One night, on coming out into the heterogeneous human stream on Avenue
A, after a visit to a Polish family in the model tenements on
Seventy-ninth Street, she ran into Dick.

"Why, Dick," she said, "what an extraordinary place to find you!"

"Yes, isn't it?" he said. "My business often brings me up this way."

"Your business? What business?" she asked incredulously.

"I don't know exactly what business it is. The ministering business, I
guess." He motioned toward the basket on her arm: "Let me carry that,
and you, too, if you'll let me, Nancy. You look tired."

"I am tired, Dick," she said. "Have you got a car anywhere around?"

"I can phone for it in two shakes," he said. "Here in this ice-cream
parlor. Can I buy you a cone while you're waiting?"

"Buy cones for that crowd of children and I'll watch them eat them.
Doesn't that little girl in the pink dress look like Sheila, Dick?"

She sank down on a stool in the interior of the candy shop and rested
her elbows on the damp marble table in front of her, splotched and
streaked still with the refreshment of the last customer who occupied
the seat there and watched the horde of dirty clamorous street
children devouring ice-cream cones and cheap sweets to the limit of
their capacity.

"I didn't know you believed in this promiscuous feeding of children
between meals," Dick said, when she was settled comfortably at last
among the cushions of his car, which had arrived on the scene with an
amazing, not to say, suspicious promptness.

"I don't," Nancy said, "in the least; but I don't _really_ believe in
the things I believe in any more."

"Poor Nancy!" Dick said.

"I've had some trouble, Dick. I'm shaken all out of my poise. I can't
seem to get my universe straight again."

"I'm sorry for that," he said. "Anything I can do?"

"Stand by; that's all, I guess."

"You couldn't tell me a little more about it, could you?"

"No, I couldn't, Dick."

"I'm not even to guess?"

"You couldn't guess. It's the kind of thing that's entirely outside
of--of the probabilities. I think it's outside of the range of your
understanding, Dick. I don't think you know that there is exactly that
kind of trouble in the world."

"And you think you'd better not enlighten me?"

"I couldn't, Dick, even if I wanted to. Funny you happened to be in
this part of town to-night just when I really needed you."

He smiled. Every night of his life he followed her, watching over her,
dodging down dark alley ways, waiting at squalid entrances until she
came out. To-night he had ventured to speak to her only because he
knew her to be in need of actual physical assistance.

"Awfully glad to be anywhere around when you need me," he said; "still
I hope you don't mind my suggesting that this is a Gehenna of a place
for either of us to be in."

"Haven't you any feeling for the downtrodden?" Nancy asked, with a
faint reflection of what Billy referred to as her "older and better
manner."

"I'm downtrodden myself, Nancy."

She smiled in her turn.

"You don't look very downtrodden to me," she said. "_You've_ got
everything to live for."

"Everything?"

"Well, money and freedom and--and--"

"Money is the only thing I've got that you haven't, and that doesn't
mean much unless you can share it with the person you love."

"No, it doesn't, does it?" Nancy said unexpectedly. "What's that scar
on your forehead?"

"That's a scratch I got."

"How?"

"Shaving or fighting, or something like that."

"_Was_ it fighting, Dick?"

"Yes."

"Who were you fighting with?"

"I wasn't fighting. I was assaulting and battering."

"Why, Dick!"

"If it's any satisfaction to you to know it I made one grand job of
it."

"Why should it be any satisfaction to me?"

"I don't know."

"Why, Dick!" Nancy said again. "I didn't know you had any of that kind
of brutality in you."

"Didn't you?"

"What happens to a man when he--does a thing like that?"

"He gets jugged."

"Did he get jugged?"

"Well, that wasn't the part that interested me."

An odd picture presented itself to Nancy's mind of the men of the
world engaged in one grand mêlée of brawling; struggling, belaying one
another with their bare fists, drawing blood; brutes turned on
brutes.

"Men are queer things," she said.

Dick's face was turned away from her. It was not at the moment a face
she would have recognized. The eyes were contracted: the nostrils
quivering: the teeth set.

"I'm always at your service, Nancy," he said presently. "Is there
anything in the world you want that I can get for you?"

"The only thing I want is something you can't get?"

"And that is?"

"Sheila."

"No," Dick said. "I can't get Sheila for you. I'm sorry. I suppose
that's the whole answer to you," he went on musingly. "You want
something, somebody to mother--to minister to. It doesn't make so much
difference what else it is, so long as it's--downtrodden. That's why
I've never made more of a hit with you. I've never been downtrodden
enough. I didn't need feeding or nursing. I've always sort of
cherished the feeling that I liked to be the one creature you didn't
have to carry on your back. I thought that to stand behind _you_ was a
pretty good stunt, but you've never needed anything yet to fall back
on."

"I don't think I ever shall," Nancy said. "Not,--not in the way you
mean, Dick."

"So be it," he said, folding his arms. "But there's still one thing
you'll take from me, and that's the thing I've got that you
haven't--money. I never have cared much about it before, but now that
there are so many things I can't put right for you, I know you won't
be selfish enough to deny this one satisfaction. Let me make over to
you all the money you need to get you out of your difficulties with
the Inn. Let me hand out a good round sum for all these charities of
yours. If you knew how everything else in connection with you had
conspired to hurt me,--how this being discounted and losing out all
around has cut into me, you wouldn't deny me this one privilege. You
don't want _me_, you wouldn't take me, but for God's sake, Nancy, take
this one thing that I can give you."

They had just swung into the lower entrance of the Park, and the big
car was speeding silently into the deepening night, low hung with
silver stars, and jeweled with soft lights.

"You're awfully good to me, Dick," Nancy said, "and I appreciate every
word you've been saying. I'd take your money, not for myself, but for
the things I'm doing, if I needed it, but I don't, you know." She
looked out into the coolness of the evening, lulled by the transition
to a region of so much airiness and space, soothed by the soft motion,
and the presence of a friend who loved her. The conversation in which
she was engaged suddenly became trivial and unimportant to her. She
was very tired, and she found herself beginning to rest and relax. "I
don't need it," she repeated vaguely. "I've got plenty of money of my
own. Over a million, Billy says now. Uncle Elijah left it to me. I
didn't want him to, but perhaps it was all for the best." She put her
head back against the cushions and shut her eyes. "I'm terribly
sleepy," she said, "and as for the Inn--that's making money, too, you
know. Last month we cleared more than two hundred dollars."

And Dick saying nothing, but continuing to stare into space--the
panoramic space fleeting rhythmically by the car window,--she let
herself gradually slip into the depths of sudden drowsiness that had
overtaken her.



CHAPTER XX

HITTY


Hitty put on her bonnet--she had worn widow's weeds for twenty-five
years--and went out into the morning. She finally succeeded in
boarding a south-bound Sixth Avenue car,--though since it was her
habit to ignore the near side stop regulation, she always had
considerable trouble in getting on any car,--and in seating herself
bolt upright on the lengthwise seat, her black gloved hands folded
indomitably before her.

At Fourth Street she descended and made her way east to the square,
and thence to the top floor of the studio building to which Collier
Pratt had taken his little daughter on the memorable occasion when he
had plucked her from her warm nest of blankets and led her, sleepy and
shivering, into the cold of the night. She had been at some pains to
secure the address without taking Nancy into her confidence.

She took each creaking stair with a snort of disgust, and reaching the
battered door with Collier Pratt's visiting card tacked on the smeary
panel on a level with her eye, she knocked sharply, and scorning to
wait for a reply, turned the knob and walked in.

Collier Pratt was making coffee on a small spirit lamp, set on the
wash-stand, which was decorously concealed during the more formal
hours of the day behind a soft colored Japanese screen. He was wearing
a smutty painter's smock, and though his face was shining with soap
and water, his hair was standing about his face in a disorder eloquent
of at least a dozen hours' neglect. Sheila, in a mussy gingham dress,
was trying to pry off the pasteboard covering of a pint bottle of milk
with a pair of scissors, and succeeding only indifferently. They both
turned on Hitty's entrance, and the milk bottle went crashing to the
floor when the little girl recognized her friend, but after one
terrified look at her father she made no move at all in Hitty's
direction.

"And to what," Collier Pratt ejaculated slowly and disagreeably, as is
any man's wont before he has had his draught of breakfast coffee, "am
I to attribute the pleasure of this visit?"

"It ain't no pleasure to me," Hitty said, advancing, a figure of
menace, into the center of the dusty workshop, strangely uncouth and
unprepossessing in the cold morning light,--"and if it's any pleasure
to you, that's an effect that I ain't calculated to produce. I've come
here on business--the business of collecting that poor neglected child
there, and taking her back where she belongs, where there's folks that
knows enough to treat her right."

"Another of Miss Martin's friends and well-wishers, I take it. These
American girls are given to surrounding themselves with groups of warm
and impulsive associates. Do you by any chance happen to know a young
lawyer by the name of Boynton, Hitty? A collection lawyer?"

"I'll thank you to call me Mrs. Spinney, if you please, or if you
don't please. Mrs. Spinney is the name I go by when I'm spoken to by
them that knows their manners. If Billy Boynton thinks he can collect
blood out of a stone he's welcome to try, but I should think he was
too long headed to waste his time."

"I gave him my I. O. U.," Collier Pratt said wearily. "If you don't
mind, Hitty,--I really must be excused from your inexcusable
surname--I am going to drink a cup of coffee before we continue this
interesting discussion--_café noir_, our late unfortunate accident
depriving me of _café au lait_ as usual. Sheila, get the cups."

"You don't mean to say that you feed that peaked child with full
strength coffee, do you? It'll stunt her growth; ain't you got the
sense to know that?"

"I don't like _big_ women," Collier Pratt said. "She's very fond of
coffee."

"Well! I've come to get her and take her away where you won't be in a
position to stunt her growth, whatever your ideas on the subject is."

Collier Pratt seated himself at the deal table that Sheila had set
with the coffee-cups and a big loaf of French bread, and began slowly
consuming a bowl of inky fluid, strong of chicory, into which from
time to time he dipped a portion of the loaf. Sheila imitated his
processes with less daintiness and precision, since she was shaken
with excitement at Hitty's appearance.

"I should spread a newspaper down if I was you," Hitty said, "before I
et my vittles off a table that way. If a table ain't scrubbed as often
as twice a day it ain't fit to be et off."

"I know your breed," Collier Pratt said. "You'd be capable of taking
your breakfast off _The Evening Telegram_ if no more appropriately
colored sheet were at hand. Tell me, did Miss Martin send you here
this morning, or was the inspiration to come entirely your own?"

"Nobody had to send me. Wild horses wouldn't have kept me away from
here."

"Nor drag you away from here, I suppose, until your gruesome visit is
accomplished. What makes you think that I would give up Sheila to
you?"

"I don't _think_ you would. I know you're a-goin' to."

"Indeed."

"We want the child. You don't want her, and you can't pretend to me
that you do. Even if you did want her you can't take care of her in no
way that's decent."

"There's a great deal in what you say, Hitty."

"What you're going to do is to sign a paper giving up your claim to
her, and then Nancy can adopt her when she sees fitting to do so."

"What would you suggest my doing about the child's mother? She has a
mother living, you know."

"Well, I didn't know," Hitty said, "but now I do know I guess I ain't
going to have so much trouble as I thought I was. You're just a plain
low-down yellow cur that any likely man I know would come down here
and lick the lights out of."

"Well, don't send any more of them, Hitty," Collier Pratt protested.
"My work won't stand it."

"You 'tend to the child's mother then, and I'll 'tend to you. You'd
better let Sheila come away peaceable without any more trouble."

"What do you propose doing to me if I don't?"

"There's so many different things I could use," Hitty said thoughtfully,
"that I don't know which one to hold over your head first."

"I don't see how you could use anything you've got."

"I'd just as soon use something I hadn't got," Hitty said grimly. "I'd
sue you for breach o' promise myself ruther than lose what I come
after."

"I don't doubt you're capable of it," Collier Pratt said, surveying
her ruefully. "That certainly would ruin my reputation. But seriously,
supposing I were to give my consent to Sheila's going back to Miss
Martin--Sheila's fond of her, and I should be very glad to do Miss
Martin a service--little as you may be inclined to believe it of me.
I'm fond enough of the child, but she is a considerable embarrassment
to a man situated as I am. Supposing I should consent to giving her up
as you suggest, how can a woman situated as Miss Martin is situated
undertake such a charge permanently? How could she afford it? What
kind of a future should I be surrendering my little girl to? One has
to think of those things. Miss Martin is a poor girl--"

"It's a lucky thing that you didn't know it before," Hitty said
deliberately. "What you don't know that a woman's got, you wouldn't be
trying to get away from her. Nancy's Uncle Elijah that died last year
left her a million dollars in his will."

"The devil he did--"

"I guess if anybody's going to talk about devils it had better be me,"
Hitty said dryly. "Does the child go or stay?"

"Oh! she goes," Collier Pratt said. "I'm sorry you didn't come after
me too, Hitty."

"Nobody from up our way is ever coming after you. You can put that in
your pipe and smoke it. Put on your bonnet, Sheila."

"In some ways that is more of a relief than you know, Hitty. Some of
the young men from up your way are so violent."

"It ain't generally known yet," Hitty said as a parting shot when,
Sheila's hand in hers, she stood at the door preparatory to taking her
triumphal departure. "But Nancy is going to marry considerable money
in addition to what she's inherited."

Nancy finding it impossible to spend an hour of her time idly and with
no appointments before noon that day, was engaged in darning a basket
full of slum socks that she had brought home from the tenements to
occupy Hitty's leisure moments. She was not very expert at this
particular task, and the holes were so huge, and their method of
behaving under scientific management so peculiar--it is hardly
necessary to say that Nancy knew the theory of darning perfectly--that
she was becoming more and more dissatisfied with her progress. Hitty's
unprecedented and taciturn donning of her best bonnet in the early
morning hours, followed by her abrupt departure without explanation or
apology, was also a little disconcerting to any one acquainted with
her habits. Nancy was relieved to hear her key in the lock again, and
put down her work to greet her.

The door opened and Sheila stood on the threshold. Hitty was close
behind her, but Nancy had eyes only for the child.

"Don't cry, Miss Dear," Sheila said, in her arms. "I cried hard every
night when I was gone from you, but now I have come back. My father
does not want me, and he says that you can have me."

"He signed a paper," Hitty said. "I've got it in my bag with my specs.
If ever he shows his face around here we can have the law on him."

"Can I really have Sheila?" Nancy cried. "I can't believe that--her
father would let her go. I can't understand it."

"He's a kind of a poor soul," Hitty said. "He ain't got no real
contrivance. He's glad enough to get rid of her."

"Did he say so?"

"Well, nearabout. He has a high-falutin way of talking but that was
the amount of it. He knows which side his bread is buttered. He ain't
nobody's fool. I'll say that for him."

"I can't say that you make him out a very pleasant character," Nancy
said. "But he's an artist, Hitty. Artists don't react to the same set
of laws that we do. They're different somehow."

"They ain't so different, when it comes to that," Hitty said dryly.
"They won't take a hint, but the harder you kick 'em the better for
all concerned. Don't you go sticking up for that low-down loon. He
ain't worth it."

"I suppose he isn't," Nancy said; "he's a pretty poor apology for a
man as we understand men, Hitty, but there's something about him,--a
power and a charm that you can't altogether discount, even though you
have lost every particle of your respect for him."

"He has a kind of way," Hitty conceded, "but I ain't one o' them kind
o' women that hankers much for the society of a man that's once shown
himself to be more of a sneak than the average."

"I don't think that I am, either," Nancy said gravely.

"I want to be your little girl always," Sheila announced, "if I may
talk now, may I? And Monsieur Dick's, too, and sit on a cushion and
sew a fine seam, and feast upon strawberries, sugar and cream. I want
to see Monsieur Dick. Where is he?"

"He's been sick," Nancy said, "but he's getting better now, I think. I
haven't seen him for some time, myself."

"Don't you love him very much and aren't you very sorry?"

"He probably isn't very sick," Nancy said. "I don't think he could
be--but if he were I should be sorry, of course."

"I don't want him to be sick," Sheila said, making herself a nest in
Nancy's lap, and curling around in it like a kitten. "If he was I
should be very, very unhappy, and I am tired of being unhappy, Miss
Dear."

Nancy's arms closed tight about her little body, which was lighter in
her arms than she had ever known it. "Oh! I'm going to make such a
strong well, little girl of you," she cried, "and we're going to have
so many pleasant times together. I'm tired of being unhappy, too,
Sheila, dear."



CHAPTER XXI

LOHENGRIN AND WHITE SATIN


Dick, having la grippe, and doing his bewildered best to get pneumonia
and gastritis by creeping out of bed when his temperature was highest,
and indulging in untrammelled orgies of food and drink and exposure to
draughts, had finally succeeded in making himself physically very
miserable indeed. His mind had been out of joint for weeks. He reached
the phase presently of refusing all nourishment and spiritual
consolation, indiscriminately, and finding himself unbenefited by
these heroic methods, decided in his own mind that all was over with
him.

He knew nothing about sickness, having led a charmed life in that
respect since the measles period, and the persistent misery in his
interior, attacking lung and liver impartially,--to say nothing of the
top of his head and the back of his neck, and as his weakness
increased, his cardiac region where there was a perpetual palpitation,
and the calves of his legs which set up an ache like that of a
recalcitrant tooth,--persuaded him that such suffering as his must be
a certain indication of the approaching end. He had dismissed his
doctor after the first visit, and denying himself to visitors, found
himself alone and apparently in a desperate condition, with no one to
minister to him but paid dependents. It was then that the loss of
Nancy began to assume spectral proportions. He had been so long
accustomed to think of himself as the strong silent lover, equipped
with the patience and understanding that would outlast all the
vagaries of Nancy's adventurous tendencies, that it was difficult to
readjust himself to a new conception of her as a woman that another
and even less worthy man had so nearly won,--under his nose.

He had never thought much of his money until it began to acquire the
virtue of an alkahest in his mind, an universal solvent that would
transmute all the baser metals in Nancy's life and the lives of the
people in whom Nancy was interested, into the pure gold of luxury and
ease. He knew that the conventional fairy gifts would mean very little
to her, but he had dreamed, when she was ready, of working out with
her some practicable and gracious scheme of beneficence. There was one
power she coveted that he could put in her hands,--one way that he
could befriend and relieve her even before she conceded him that
prerogative. When he learned that she had a fortune of her own his
hopes came tumbling about his head, and he lay disconsolate among the
ruins. His creeping physical disability seemed significant of the
cataclysmic overthrow of all his dreams and desires. From having
secretly and in some terror arrived at the conclusion that death was
imminent, he began to look upon such a solution of his misery with
some favor.

It was a very gaunt and hollow-eyed caricature of the Dick she had
known that confronted Nancy, when instigated by Betty, who had his
illness heavily on her mind, she forced her way unannounced into the
curious Georgian living-room of the suite wherein he was incarcerated.
He had been stretched in an attitude of abandon on the couch when she
opened the oak paneled door, but he jumped to his feet in a spasm of
rage and alarm when he discovered that he had a visitor.

"Go away," he said, "I am not able to see anybody. There's a mistake.
I gave strict orders that nobody at all was to be admitted."

"I know, Dick," Nancy said gently, "don't blame your faithful
servitors. I thought I should have to use a gun on them, but I
explained to them that you must be looked after."

"I don't want to be looked after. I'm all right, thank you. Are you
alone?"

"No, Hitty's outside. Betty simply insisted on my bringing her,--I
don't know why, but she said you'd be kinder to me if I did. I don't
think you're very kind."

A flicker of a smile crossed Dick's face, which seemed to say that if
anything could bring back a momentary relish of existence the mention
of Betty's name would be that thing. Nancy saw the expression and
misinterpreted it.

"I don't want to see anybody," Dick repeated firmly. "Will you be good
enough to go away and leave me to my misery?"

"No, I won't," Nancy said, "I never left anybody to their misery yet,
and I'm not going to begin on you. Of course, if you'd rather see
Betty, I'll send for her. She seems to know a good deal about your
habits and customs. You look like a monk in that bathrobe. I'm glad
you're not a fat man, Dick. It's so very hard to calculate just how
much to cut down on starches and sweets without injury to the health.
What are you feeding up on?"

"You know very well that I'm not feeding up on anything, but if you
think you can come around here, and dope out one of your darned health
menus for me, and sit around watching me eat it, you are jolly well
mistaken. I wish you'd go home, Nancy. I don't like you to-day. I
don't like myself or anybody in this whole universe. I'm not fit for
human society--don't you see I'm not?"

"You're awful cross, dear."

"Don't call me dear. I'm not Sheila or one of your sick waitresses,
you know."

"Sheila's back."

"Is she?"

"Don't you care?"

"Oh, I suppose so."

"She loves you."

"She's unique."

"You told me once there were other girls, Dick."

"They're all over it by now."

"Dick, can't I do something for you?"

"Yes, leave me alone."

"I've never seen you like this before."

"No, thank God."

"I didn't know you were ever anything but sort of smug and superior."

"Grand description."

"You ought to be in bed, dear--I didn't mean to call you dear, it
slipped out, Dicky,--and taking nourishment every hour or so. What
does the doctor say?"

"Nothing, he's given me up as a bad job."

"Given you up?"

"Yes, there's nothing he can do for me."

"Why, Dick, my dear, what is it?"

"Oh! lungs or liver or something. I don't know."

"What are you taking, Dick?"

"I tell you I can't take anything," he said, misunderstanding her. "It
makes me sick to eat. Every time I try to eat anything I feel a lot
worse for it."

"When did you try last?"

"Oh, yesterday some time. Now what in the name of sense makes a woman
shed tears at a simple statement like that? I'm not in shape to stand
this. Once and for all, Nancy, will you get out and leave me? I tell
you I never wanted to see you less in my life. I'll write you a letter
and apologize if you'll only go, now."

"Oh, I'll go," Nancy said. "I couldn't really believe that you wanted
me to,--that's all."

She started for the door--but Dick, weakened by lack of food, tortured
beyond his endurance by the sudden assault on his nerves made by
Nancy's appearance, gave way to his relief at her going an instant too
soon. Like a small boy in pain he crooked his elbow and covered his
face with his arm.

Nancy ran to him and knelt at his side, taking his head on her
breast.

"Dear," she said, "you do want me. We want each other. You love me,
Dicky, and I am going to love you--if you'll only let me look after
you and nurse you back to health again."

"I don't want to be nursed," Dick blubbered, his head buried in her
bosom, "I want to look out for you, and take care of you, and--and now
look at me. You'll never love me after this, Nancy."

"Yes, I shall, dear," Nancy said. "I've always loved you somehow.
It'll--it'll be the saving of me, Dick."

"Well, then I do want to be nursed. I--I haven't cried before since I
had the measles, Nancy."

"I'm glad you cried, now, then," Nancy said.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"I suppose you'll want to be married in the courtyard of the Inn,"
Dick said some weeks later, when they were conventionally ensconced in
Nancy's own drawing-room; Hitty happily rattling silverware in the
butler's pantry in the rear, "with old Triton blowing his wreathed
horn above us, and all the nymphs and gargoyles and Hercules as
interested spectators. Well, go as far as you like. I haven't any
objection. I'll be married in a Roman bath if you want me to, and eat
bran biscuit and hygienic apple sauce for my wedding breakfast."

"Betty and Preston are going to be married at the Inn," Nancy said;
"you know her mother's an invalid, and they can't have it at home. Do
you know what I'd like to give them as a wedding present?"

"I don't."

"Well, you know, Preston's firm has gone out of existence. The war
simply killed it. They haven't much money ahead, and he may have a
harder time than he thinks getting located again."

"Yes?"

"I thought I'd like to give them Outside Inn for a wedding present.
Besides, I don't see what else there is to do with it. It's making
several hundred a month, now, and promises to make more."

"Good idea," Dick said.

"You don't seem exceedingly interested."

"Oh, I am," Dick said, "I'm more interested in our wedding than
Betty's wedding present, but that doesn't imply a lack of merit in
your idea. _You'll_ want to be married at the Inn, I take it?"

"You'd let me, wouldn't you?"

"Sure I'd let you. When a man marries a modern girl with all the
trappings and the suits of modernity, he ought to be prepared to take
the consequences cheerfully."

"Then I'm going to surprise you. I don't want anything modern at all
about my wedding. I want it in church with a huge bridal bouquet and
_Lohengrin_ and white satin; Caroline for my matron of honor and Betty
for my bridesmaid, and Sheila for flower girl. I want a wedding
breakfast at the Ritz and rice and old shoes--just all the old
traditional things."

"Gee whiz," Dick ejaculated, "is this straight, or are you only making
it up to sound good to me? You can have it anyway you like it, you
know."

"That's the way I like it," Nancy said. "It's good to be a modern
girl, but I really prefer to be an old-fashioned wife--with
reservations," she added hastily.

"That's what we all come to in the end," Dick said, "no matter how we
feel or think we feel about it--being modern with reservations."

"I saw Collier Pratt to-day," Nancy said suddenly, as she watched a
log split apart in the fireplace and scatter its tiny shower of
sparks, "on the avenue."

Dick carefully stamped out two smoldering places on the rug before he
answered.

"Did you?" he said.

"He had a cheap little creature with him, dark haired in messy
cerise."

"It may have been his wife. I hear that she's living with him again."

"Is she?"

"Nancy," Dick said with an effort, after a few minutes of silence,
"are you all over that? Is it really fair and right of me to take you?
I've been puzzling over that lately. I want you on any terms, you
know, as far as I am concerned, but I'm a sort of monogamist. If a
woman has once cared for a person, no matter who or what that person
is, can she ever care again in the same way for any one? Isn't it pity
you feel for me, after all?"

"No it isn't pity," Nancy said slowly. "I cared for that man until I
found that he was the shadow and not the substance. He isn't fit to
black your shoes, Dick.--Besides--if--if it was pity," she added
irrelevantly, "that's the way to get me started, you know."

"If I only have got you started--really."

Nancy crossed the two feet of space between them and sank at his feet,
leaning her head back against his knee while he stroked her hair
silently.

"There's one way of proving," she said presently, "if--if you've made
a woman really care for you. I should think you'd know that. I told
you how you'd made me feel about the bridal bouquet and _Lohengrin_."

"Does that prove something?"

"Doesn't it?"

"I suppose it does. You mean it proves that a woman truly loves a man
if he's made her feel that she wants to be an old-fashioned wife--"

"And mother, Dick," Nancy finished for him bravely.

THE END





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