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Title: A Pasteboard Crown - A Story of the New York Stage
Author: Morris, Clara, 1849-1925
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: Book Cover]



A PASTEBOARD
CROWN



[Illustration: "I will place the crown upon your head," said the
actor-manager; "only promise not to reproach me when you find for
yourself that it is only pasteboard!"]



A PASTEBOARD
CROWN

_A Story of the New York Stage_


BY
CLARA MORRIS

_Author of "Life on the Stage," etc._


_WITH A FRONTISPIECE FROM A DRAWING BY
HOWARD CHANDLER CHRISTY_


[Illustration]


CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK
1902



Copyright, 1902, by
Clara Morris Harriott



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
       I. THE LAWTONS ARRIVE                                           1
      II. A POWERFUL NEIGHBOR                                         12
     III. SHOPPING UNDER DIFFICULTIES                                 23
      IV. AN ACQUAINTANCE RENEWED                                     32
       V. "THE WOMAN OF FATE"                                         44
      VI. A RECOGNITION AND A DINNER                                  53
     VII. A PRAYER AND A PROMISE                                      64
    VIII. "TELL HER YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION"                           73
      IX. THE ACCIDENT--A FRIEND IN NEED                              85
       X. CALLING ON THE MANAGER                                      97
      XI. THE DOUBLE BIRTHDAY                                        113
     XII. THE PROMISED CROWN                                         129
    XIII. THE FORMING OF THE CHRYSALIS                               143
     XIV. THE RETURN FROM THE WEST                                   152
      XV. MRS. LAWTON LAYS PLANS                                     163
     XVI. A STRANGE BETROTHAL                                        171
    XVII. THE COSTUMING OF JULIET                                    188
   XVIII. A LOVER'S PLEA                                             204
     XIX. A FAMILY SCENE                                             219
      XX. A PROFESSIONAL LESSON                                      228
     XXI. SEEKING REFUGE FROM THE STORM                              243
    XXII. PREPARING THE PIT                                          265
   XXIII. THE WOMAN IN THE BOX                                       279
    XXIV. "I WILL NOT DIVORCE YOU"                                   294
     XXV. "TO LOVE IS TO FORGIVE"                                    309
    XXVI. THE OPAL                                                   325
   XXVII. THE FALL OF THE CURTAIN                                    344
  XXVIII. "THOU KNOWEST!"                                            359



A PASTEBOARD
CROWN



CHAPTER I

THE LAWTONS ARRIVE


It was on a Monday, the 30th of April, that the boys with the grocers'
and butchers' delivery wagons, the gray-uniformed postmen behind their
bony, always-tired horses, and the blue-coated, overfed mounted
policemen began to circulate the report that the old White house had
found a tenant; and every soul that listened made answer: "Impossible!
No one could live in that old rookery!" and then, with incredible
inconsistency, ended with: "Who's taken it?"

At first no answer could be given to that question, but later in the day
a man who strung telegraph wires won a brief importance through
overhearing a conversation between two men standing below him and beside
the pole he was mounted on. One man was Jacob Brewer, who now owned the
old White estate, and the other he ascertained, by careful listening, to
be John Lawton; and he learned that Mr. Lawton was to take possession of
the old house the next day, which would be May 1st, the conventionally
correct day for moving.

Through the usual suburban channels this bit of information was put
into circulation and swiftly reached every householder in the
village--to say nothing of outlying farmhouses. And everywhere women
with towels about their heads--sure sign that the house-cleaning microbe
is abroad in the land--could be seen talking over back fences to
neighbors whose fingers were still puckered from long immersion in the
family wash-tub, and the name Lawton and such disjointed exclamations
as: "Who?" "Why--how many do you suppose?" and "Did you ever hear of
such a thing?" filled the warm air, even as the frail, inconsequent
little May-flies filled it.

The telegraph lineman over his noon beer told many times what old Brewer
had called the stranger: "Lawton--yes, John Lawton--was the name, and he
was coming up the next day; yes, come to think of it, he had said _they_
were coming--so there was a family of some sort." The letter-carrier, in
leaving the mail, paused a moment to catch these last words, and at his
next stopping-place he was enabled to leave with a letter the
information that "John Lawton, who had taken that roofless old sheebang,
had a family coming with him"; and the lady informed made sure "he would
not have a family very long, if he tried to keep them in that mouldering
old ruin." Doctors hearing the news exchanged jests as they met on the
roads, one opining that "some business was coming their way and that
quinine would soon be in demand," while another, always a pessimist,
said that "any one that was poor enough to take the White house to live
in was too hard up to pay a doctor."

But really, no one knowing anything about the old place could help
having a feeling of amazement at hearing of a tenant being found for it.
It was that saddest, most uncanny thing--a deserted house. A great, big,
Colonial-like frame structure, it stood high on the hillside, showing
white and ghostly between the too-closely set evergreens and conifers
before it. That money had been lavished upon the place in the distant
past was evident even in these very trees, which were the choicest of
their kind. He who had planted them must have been a melancholy man.
Drooping, mournful trees seemed particularly to appeal to him, for the
very rare weeping hemlock, like a black fountain, was there as well as
the weeping larch, with its small cones; and a veritable army of white
pines, Norway spruces, balsam firs, and the red cedar that in its
blackish stateliness is so like the Irish yew. A solemn company at the
best of times, when properly spaced and trimmed, but now with unpruned
branches intertwining, the trees that were killing one another in their
struggle for light were positively lugubrious. And behind that screen of
matted, many-shaded evergreen the pallid, bony old house stood trembling
under high winds, while its upper windows stared blankly down upon that
Broadway that, escaping from the hurrying city with its millions of
restless feet, here passed calmly on, by woodland and green meadows,
toward distant Albany.

The cruel roadway had swept away with it all the footsteps that had used
to make life in the old house. Two great gates were let into the stone
wall. One was locked so securely that even a burglar might have failed
to solve the combination of a ten years' twisted leafy growth of
woodbine; but whenever anyone wished to enter the grounds he went to the
second gate, which was easily opened by the simple process of throwing
it down and walking over it. Grass grew in tufts down the old carriage
drive, and all about the lower part of the house were curious stains
that looked as though little green waves had washed up against it, while
on the north side the long streaks of green beneath the windows
painfully suggested tear-marks on its white old face. A melancholy and
unwholesome place for people to seek a home in, and yet the morning's
report proved reliable, for Jacob Brewer's handy man had been over to
the old White house, as people would call it, because Peter White had
lived and died there years ago, and had cleared up a bit; had secured
two or three hanging shutters, put a swing-door in the kitchen and a
bolt on the front door, and had tacked on to the mighty body of an
ancient willow--a landmark for miles about that grew directly by the
unhinged gate--a strip of black painted tin, bearing in gold letters the
word "Woodsedge"--and lo! the old house was ready for the new tenant.

Promptly the Lawtons arrived upon the scene the next day, preceded by a
furniture van under the directorship of a very young, very rumpled, but
most optimistic German maid-of-all-work, who proudly carried a large key
in her hand as a symbol of authority. She had unlocked and thrown wide
the creaking front door, opened the windows, made a fire in the kitchen,
and had undone the bundle she had carried in her lap all the way from
the city, revealing to the astonished men a small black tea-kettle.

"Oh, ja! I carry him mysel', und den I have him alretty und can make
quick de tea for de mistress--right so soon as she gits here!"

And before the van had been emptied a dust-covered hack arrived, with
four people inside and several boxes and a trunk sharing the top with
the driver. A mounted policeman, loitering along Broadway and watching
the debarkation, saw John Lawton--tall and thin and almost white-haired,
a gentleman without a doubt--descending. Then an elderly lady, with
surprisingly red cheeks glowing through a dotted veil, followed, and
then--"Oh, by Jove!" muttered the blue-coat, as out sprang, one after
the other, the two young girls, as fresh and bright and full of bubbling
laughter as the day was bright and full of sunshine and bird song.
Suddenly a voice cried: "Sybil--O Sybil, take care--you've broken the
package of bird seed!"

And with a laugh the girl addressed caught up her skirt to save the
falling seeds, revealing as she did so a pair of pretty feet, that
presently began to dance wildly about as their owner cried: "Dorothy--O
Dorothy! did you see it--a robin? it's over there!"

And up went two veils, and two young faces turned eagerly toward the
spot where Mr. Robin, with black cap, yellow bill, and orange-red
breast, sat and looked at them with round black eyes, quite unmoved by
their human beauty, as was right and proper--seeing that he was himself
a bridegroom just settling in life. But the policeman suddenly put his
horse to the gallop, and in an hour's time everyone in the village knew
that the Lawtons had arrived, that they were gentlefolk, and that the
two girls were "regular beauties." While at Woodsedge, secure in the
privacy the screening evergreens provided, the Lawtons turned to and
assisted the small German maid in setting up their somewhat battered
household gods upon the altars that had been so long empty and cold in
that sad old house.

As Mrs. Lawton crossed the sagging porch the front door was held open by
Lena, who, curtseying and smiling her widest, flattest smile, told her
that "She was com' at de right place und she vas velcom' alretty as
anyt'ing," the dignity of this reception being somewhat marred by the
fact that Lena was hooking herself up as she spoke, she having hastily
exchanged her Sunday clothes for her working ones.

"Ah," moaned the welcomed mistress to her following husband and
daughters, "in former years my butler and housekeeper would have
received me, and with their clothes all on" (the girls choked audibly),
"but," sighed Mrs. Lawton, "that was before your poor misguided father
had lost everything for us!"

"Including the servants' clothes," whispered Dorothy, and with a "Poor
papa!" each girl gave him a pat on the arm as, passing him by, they took
hold of their mother, and with much loving bustle got her bonnet and
veil and gloves and beady mantle off and put her into the only chair yet
brought into the house, where, with a soap-box beneath her feet, she
could sit and comfortably give directions that no one heeded, and scold
people who were unconscious that they were the objects of her wrath.
Some shades were up, two carpets were down, and a gruesome old piano
stood, glooming, from one end of the sitting-room, before the girls
would consent to have lunch, for, said Sybil, "That piano, that noble
instrument of perfect tone and action, standing outside on the grass,
was a direct challenge to Heaven to send down rain."

"My dear," mildly remonstrated Mr. Lawton, "don't be sarcastic."

"John!" interrupted Mrs. Lawton, "I don't see why you should accuse the
child of being sarcastic. You must remember that in about the seventies
some of our greatest pianists sat before that instrument, which was one
of my many wedding gifts, and Sybil very reasonably called it a piano of
perfect tone and action. You should not be so ready to criticise your
children, John. Oh, I do hope that tea is going to be strong, my dears,
for I am positively beyond speech." A declaration which lost
considerable of its force when she continued to describe the glorious
past of her rosewood monster, until she was silenced momentarily by a
cup of strong tea. For, camping in all the wild confusion of boxes and
bundles, they proceeded to enjoy a luncheon of bread and butter and
chipped dried beef, with the soul-reviving accompaniment of fragrant
though forbidden green tea. Just as Mrs. Lawton, groaning over the
thickness of the bread, was starting out to describe the transparent
thinness of the slices cut by some bondwoman of the past, Lena, all
smiles, came tramping in with a boiled egg in a shaving-mug:

"Youst for de mistress," she announced, and placed the mug on that
lady's knee. "Dat's youst laid fresh dis minute alretty. Wat you t'ink
of dat, eh?"

"But--but!" flustered Mr. Lawton, "that doesn't belong to us--we have no
hens!"

"No," acquiesced Lena, "but dot hen she nest on us--so I tak' dot egg!"

"Well, that's dishonest!" declared Mr. Lawton.

"Nein! nein!" contradicted Lena, who always grew more German in
excitement: "Uf it is tree egg--four--six egg, dot may make of de
steal--but youst one eggs only pay for de use of de nest!" And Lena made
a triumphant exit to the laughter of the girls and a thrill of song from
the canary on the mantel-piece, who dearly loved a noise.

Meantime Mrs. Lawton, untroubled by questions of right or wrong, enjoyed
the fresh egg without even a word of protest against the shaving-mug
accompaniment. As she wiped her lips, she asked, suddenly: "Girls, where
on earth are your dear grandparents?"

"Under the piano," promptly replied Sybil, who was worrying a tough chip
of beef between her white teeth.

Dorothy giggled hysterically, while John Lawton exclaimed: "Sybil, are
you absolutely without reverence?"

"Why, papa," replied the indomitable Sybil, "I'm sure the old people are
better off under the piano than they would have been lying with the
tables and chairs in the grass out there, a temptation to Lena's fairy
footsteps. We'll hang the old people up as soon as we finish our
luncheon. They had better stay in this room--don't you think so, mamma?"
And Mrs. Lawton again took up the proffered thread of direction and
never laid it down till she at the same moment laid her head upon her
pillow.

After that picnicky luncheon Mr. Lawton betook himself to the village to
hunt up the butcher, the baker, and, if not the candle-stick maker, at
least his successor, the gas man. Firmly rejecting the piece of string
Mrs. Lawton wished to tie about his thumb as an assistance to his
somewhat unreliable memory, he rearranged his thin locks with the aid of
a pocket-comb, tightly buttoned his well-fitting, seedy old coat, and
with a warm young kiss on either cheek sallied forth, pursued by his
wife's warning cry: "Candles--candles! Now, John, no matter what they
promise at the gas-store, gas-house--er--er, I mean office--don't I,
girls? Oh, well, no matter what _anyone_ promises, _anywhere_, do you
buy some candles for fear of accidents, for light we must have! Food for
to-morrow is desirable, but light for to-night is an absolute necessity!
So get candles, for fear----"--then, as John disappeared, "Do you
suppose your father understood?" she asked, anxiously.

"Why--er! why--er!" hesitated Sybil, as she gently rubbed the canvas
that preserved Grandmamma Bassett's antique prettiness: "Dorothy--what
is the condition of papa's intelligence at present?"

But Dorothy, passing an armful of bed linen to the waiting Lena,
soothingly declared: "It's no fault of yours, mamma dear, if he does not
understand--I'm sure you tried hard enough," and Mrs. Lawton, bridling
and important, at once followed Lena upstairs to make things interesting
for that handmaiden. As soon as they were alone the girls looked
ruefully at each other, and Dorothy exclaimed: "Fancy sending papa on
such an errand!"

"Yes," groaned Sybil, "it _is_ funny--and oh, if he could only throw a
little light on the family finances, I'd forgive him if we all lay in
total darkness to-night. Dorrie! Dorrie! what are we coming to? Is not
this an awful place? I would not say a word against it before poor
papa--he seems so proud of his bargain. But, Dorrie, we'll all find our
teeth rattling like castanets some fine morning, and chills mean
quinine, and quinine means money--money!"

Dorothy sat down dejectedly on a step of the ladder and pushed her sunny
brown hair back from her damp forehead. "Yes--it is dreadful! We must
put mamma and papa in the driest room and see what the cellar is like,
and perhaps we may find some boy about who will cut away some of those
branches and let a little sunlight in on this window that I see mamma
has marked for her own. A little shaking and shivering won't matter so
much for us, Sybil. We are young and can stand it, but papa is not
strong and fever would simply eat him up, poor dear!"

Sybil bent suddenly, and, kissing her sister's cheek: "You're a patient
little soul, Dorrie," she said, "but I tell you I shall go mad presently
over this never-ending mending and turning and dyeing, this wearing of
each other's clothes, this mad effort to keep up appearances! Why can't
we do something as other girls do--who help themselves?"

"Ah, but mamma!" interposed Dorothy. "She would never consent. We are
ladies, you know, dear, and----"

"Idiots!" savagely completed Sybil, "who don't know how to do one single
thing well. I can paint--a little; you can play--a little. We both can
sing--a little, and we both can dance perfectly!"

And she flung her arm about Dorothy's slim waist and together they went
waltzing out into the old hall, their light, swaying figures skimming
swallow-like over the sunken porch and out into the sunshine, where
presently a great brown root tripped them up, and they fell, a laughing
heap, on the moss. Next instant two excited voices were crying:
"Violets! Oh, real violets!" And with fingers trembling with haste, and
eyes wide with delight, they gathered the timid little hooded darlings
of the spring, forgetting their poverty, their makeshifts, and their
anxieties, as God meant young things should forget at times, and only
remembering that they were sisters, who loved each other and had found
out there under the sky their first bed of sweet wild violets.



CHAPTER II

A POWERFUL NEIGHBOR


It was near the end of the week. Already Woodsedge seemed to have
wakened, drawn a long breath, and assumed that pleasant expression so
earnestly sought for by generations of photographers. In fact, the old
house had taken on a homelike look, and both the girls had been sewing
at break-needle speed trying to finish some muslin curtains that they
wished to have put up in their own room before Sunday, as those windows
were in full view of Broadway drivers, and they felt that propriety
demanded muslin curtains as well as shades. And this, according to Lena,
was "Friday alretty," so together they were driving Dick, the canary,
nearly wild by singing against him over their work, when John Lawton,
wearing an ancient alpaca coat and a mournful and repentant straw hat,
appeared upon the porch clasping a left finger in a very bloody right
hand; remarking, with his usual moderation of speech: "I think I have
got a cut."

"Do you, indeed?" Sybil snapped, as she rushed for an old handkerchief.
"I suppose a severed artery would about convince you of the fact! Bring
me a bit of thread, Dorrie! Oh, you white-faced goose, that screech of
yours has brought mamma!" And mamma was followed by the ever-faithful
Lena. And so it happened that Mr. Lawton's injured finger drew to his
service four devoted women. Sybil, first pouring some fair water over
the cut, proceeded to bandage it with a bit of old linen. Dorothy,
keeping her face averted, held out a spool of white silk. Lena, with a
trail of rejected cobweb in one hand and an enormous pair of shears in
the other, waited to cut the thread off; while Mrs. Lawton, with
eye-glasses on nose, superintended Sybil's efforts and sagely advised
her that if she wound the bandage too tight it would stop circulation,
and if it were too loose it would come off, and----

"And if I should get it just right, what would happen, mamma?" meekly
questioned the girl.

"Why--why--er," confusedly stammered Mrs. Lawton, "why--really I----"

"Your mother can't conceive the idea of anything being just right, this
side of our heavenly home, my dear," gravely remarked her husband, which
was unexpected, not to say ungrateful.

"John!" sternly spoke the lady, "instead of jeering at the wife of your
bosom in the presence of your children----"

"There, mamma washes her hands of us, you see, Dorrie," interposed
Sybil; but Mrs. Lawton went straight on:

"--you would do well, first, to remember that though I have lost my
illusions, I have not neglected my religious duties, and next to explain
what you were about to get a cut shaped like that?"

"O observant mamma!" laughed Sybil, while Lena remarked, with
unconscious impertinence: "I tink dot cut make himself mit a sickle
alretty. Ain't dot so, my Herr Mister?"

"Oh, papa," cried both girls, "you were never trying to cut the grass
yourself, were you?"

"Why not?" asked the old gentleman. "It needs it badly, and it will be a
bit of change saved if I can do it myself."

"Nein! nein!" cried Lena, indignantly. "I make mit de sickles myself by
and bye, ven I got of de times. I vork youst so well as any mans on de
grass! Dot is not for you, my Herr Mister; dot is for me. Und you don't
see alretty yet vat I got in dose gartens. You come with me, Miss
Ladies--I show!" and all one broad, flat laugh, she led Sybil and
Dorothy to the rear of the house, and proudly pointed to a freshly dug
garden bed.

"Why!" cried they, "who did it?" and "Oh, Lena, did you make a bargain
beforehand?" asked the sadly experienced young Dorothy.

But Lena laughed and laughed and pounded her knee so vigorously that the
girls fairly winced at sight of the blows. Then joyously, if slangily,
she explained: "Dot mash-man, he do dot diggins--youst for me. Und he
say he do more to-morrow. Und Sunday I rake 'em fine, dot bed, und put
in der seeds, und behold, der vill be a garten one of dose days. Vat you
tink, eh?"

Both the girls had very bright eyes. They looked at each other. Sybil
started to unfasten the pretty belt she wore, but Dorothy shook her head
warningly, then put her hand up and drew from her hair a little
side-comb.

"Wait!" cried Sybil, and she took out one of hers, and with much
laughter saw Lena proudly place the combs in her own flaxen locks; and
as the maid returned to her endless work, Sybil exclaimed: "What a
nature! what a good-hearted creature!"

"And yet," laughed Dorothy, "how mercenary in her treatment of her
'mash-man'! Oh, Sybil, where do you suppose she got that word? Poor
thing, I did not dare let you give her the belt, dear, because we have
but the one between us, just now. But here is the other comb--yes, take
it! Your hair is heavier than mine. Oh, Sybil, darling girl, don't, oh,
don't cry! Things will come right, somehow--only wait!"

"I can't! I--I won't!" cried Sybil. "The shame, the mortification of
accepting help from that poor, overworked little German girl, who
coquets with a laborer for our benefit--oh, it sickens one! Dorrie, I'm
going to tell papa, right out, straight and plain, that I'm going on the
stage! There--I can at least earn my own living, if I can't win fame. I
know he will be terribly upset, but I'll say--that----"

"Suppose," gently suggested the practical Dorothy, "that we finish the
curtains, Sybil dear, and you can tell me all about what you intend
saying to papa while we sew!"

When, twenty-five years ago, "all in the merry month of May," John
Lawton had married Letitia Bassett, there had not been wanting at the
wedding-feast one or two of those distant relatives who generally make
such unwelcome guests; since not near enough to be known and loved, yet
not distant enough to be ignored, they are very apt to amuse themselves
by keeping tab on the bride's birthdays and the groom's debts, while
with suspicious glances they closely search the wedding gifts for
something plated. Grandaunt Lucilla and old James Baker, with blood
chilled against the kindly influence of sparkling champagne or rare good
sherry, had that day peered into the future with wise old eyes, and,
foreseeing, had mumblingly foretold the financial ruin that was now full
upon John Lawton. Of those who heard the croaking of the ancient pair
the most indignant had been Nellie Douglass--bridesmaid and intimate of
Letitia Lawton. She cried: "Shame," to Grandaunt Lucilla, "for
prophesying evil upon one of her own blood, and the very handsomest
bride the Bassetts had ever led to altar-rail and expectant groom. But
then, it was just crass envy and malice that moved her, unmarried at
seventy-five, to such wicked speech--ruin indeed!" And she tossed her
flower-wreathed head, as she glanced about at the lavish decorations, at
the newly added shelf, circling the library walls, to accommodate the
many late-coming wedding gifts: "Only--only, she wished now, more than
ever, that Letitia had not been a May bride, and had not wound all those
lovely pearls around her slender throat! What on earth had made her so
reckless? it was risky enough to say 'Yes,' without winding yourself up
in pearls and saying it in May!"

But certain men who heard the prophesy looked over at the wealthy
bridegroom, and, noting the dimpled, pointed chin, the wide-apart blue
eyes, with their absent expression, they thought of the far-away coffee
plantations that had come with the fortune they had already made into
his helpless looking hands, and shook their heads, fearing old man
Baker's saying might yet come true. Lawton had come to New York on a
matter of business connected with those plantations, and, instead of
devoting himself to that and returning at once, he fell head over heels
in love and straightway married, and as his bride was of a very fair
complexion and dreaded the sun, and was very fond of society and dreaded
loneliness, she simply could not go to South America with him; and when
once he bravely tried to go alone back to his duty, she indulged in such
an hysterical outburst of temper and grief combined as did herself
serious injury at the time, and ended at once and forever his personal
management of the plantations.

They were both outrageously extravagant--not in a gross, flaunting way,
desiring the pained humiliation of those less fortunate than themselves,
but in a way that showed an almost childish ignorance of the value of
money. John Lawton, Sr., had been a shrewd, far-sighted, honorable man,
a hard worker, who held fast to what he earned until it could earn too.
Strong and self-denying, he yet fathered a son who seemed to have been
born for the express purpose of being fleeced. Honest, honorable,
temperate, moral, without a single vice, possessing most of the virtues,
he was nevertheless that piteous creature--the well-intentioned but
unsuccessful man.

After the plantations had gently slipped away from him he did not
attempt to retrench. He loved his wife; he had not the heart to deny her
anything; also he remembered the hysterical outburst and a tiny, tiny
little grave, and he--well, he dared not suggest even a slight change in
their style of living, but he did decide that something must be found to
take the place of the money-yielding coffee plantations. Hence it
followed that for some years there were few salted mines, whether of
gold or silver; few gushing oil-wells, located miles outside of the oil
belt; few Eden-like land-booms in Southern swamps, that had not found in
John Lawton an eager purchaser of shares. Some fine corner lots in the
business centre of a Western city--built entirely on paper--were his
last, large, losing investment. After that he dribbled away the few
dollars left to him in helping to secure patents for such useless
inventions as an ink-well with automatic cover that was meant to keep
the ink from evaporating, but failed to do it. A dish-washing machine
looked like a winner, until he found it was apt suddenly to go wrong and
crush more dishes in a moment than the most impetuous Bridget would
destroy in a week. And a cow-milker had lately absorbed the money that
should have gone for walking boots. Each time he was deceived he was as
greatly surprised as he had been on the first occasion; then, sadly
gathering up his worthless shares, he tied them neatly together with
pink tape, labelled them, laid them aside--and was ready to be taken in
again. In all these foolish investments he was actuated solely by love
for his family. There was no taint of selfishness underlying his desire
to regain a lost fortune. He suffered twice to their once, since he felt
every one of their privations in addition to his own. In his slow way he
had come to understand that his weakness had brought about the family's
downfall. He had not been strong enough to hold what he had once
possessed, and even when he knew they were rushing to destruction, he
had not been strong enough to put the brakes down hard. He said
little--almost nothing; but there were times when his wife thought him
sleeping when he sat with closed eyes thanking God for that tiny grave
which held his only son, for had he lived a weakling like himself he
might have carried the good old name down to no one knows what depths;
while the girls, such good girls, such pretty girls they were, would
doubtless marry some time, and so the name would pass, would be
forgotten; and the absent look would be very marked, when his pale blue
eyes opened again. The poor, tender-hearted, gullible old gentleman!

That Grandaunt Lucilla, who at their wedding feast had prophesied ruin
within twenty years for the Lawtons, had lived long enough to see the
seeds of extravagance sown by them take root, develop stalk and stem,
and blossom forth into many mortgages--for stranger hands to gather; so,
leaving her savings to that "tinkling cymbal of humanity," as she called
her grandniece, Letitia Lawton, she first secured the legacy with so
many legal knots and seals and witnesses and things, that it simply
could not be squandered by one Lawton, nor invested by the other; and
now it was to that small inheritance that they clung for their lives.

The family's position was most painful, but the girls suffered most. In
the past John and Letitia had danced long and merrily, so it was but
fair that they should now "pay the piper," but Sybil and Dorothy, for
all their warm young blood and springy feet, danced not, for their hands
were empty, and there was no one to "pay the piper" for them. Poor
things, they could remember when their fine feathers had made them very
fine little birds, indeed; when they had taken their walks abroad under
the care of a voluble French nurse. They could remember, too, the day
their pretty, ever-talkative mamma had refused to go to church with but
one man on the carriage box. Then there had come a time when there was
no man and no carriage and no French maid. Then flittings followed, and
after each one fewer friends had followed them, and the last flitting
had brought them here, to the old White house, or to Woodsedge, as Mrs.
Lawton sternly commanded all to call it; and no old friends seemed
likely to follow them out of the land of plenty, while it was too soon
yet to know whether they would find new friends in the desert. So they
could only make the best appearance possible and rush up their bedroom
curtains. And as they worked, Sybil, the impetuous, with flushing
cheeks, told Dorothy, who steadily turned-down and hemmed, how
impossible it was for her to do anything but act; how sure she was she
could act; how clearly she was going to put the case before papa. And
then Dorothy wished to know how Sybil was going to get into a theatre--a
really nice theatre was not so easily entered. For herself, she would
rather try to write--then you could send your manuscript to the
publishers and not go outside of your own home-- "That is," she added,
reluctantly, "if--you have plenty of stamps."

And just then John Lawton lowered the paper he had been reading, as he
sat at the far end of the porch, and asked: "Girls, have you noticed a
young woman who rides past here on horseback evenings, generally without
a groom?"

"Yes!" cried the girls. "Sometimes she comes scrambling down that rocky
lane below us," said Sybil, "but she never does that on the big
chestnut--he'd break his legs."

"Nice horse, that," commented Mr. Lawton. "But do you know who she is?"

"No, papa, do you?" asked Dorothy, turning the last hem.

"Y--e--s," was the slow answer. "I was looking at the swelling on the
leg of that black police-horse last night, and I told him--the
policeman, I mean--that a bandage was needed, and just then along came
the young woman, riding a small bay at almost a dead run. I thought at
first there was work for the policeman to do, but the rider touched her
cap as she rushed past, and the officer guessed my thought, for he said:
'No; that ain't no runaway! I suspect the bay's been a bit unruly;
anyway, she never rides at such a spanking gait as that except in the
cool of the evening and when the roads are quiet.' He seemed to know the
lady so well that I asked if she lived in the neighborhood, and he said:
'Why, good Lord! Don't you know who she is? Why, that's Claire Morrell,
the actress.'"

With a cry Sybil sprang to her feet, wide-eyed and palpitating with
excitement, while Dorothy exclaimed, reproachfully: "Oh, papa, why did
you not tell us before? Where does she live? Now don't say you don't
know and so reduce us to the necessity of interviewing the policeman for
ourselves!"

Mr. Lawton gently pinched his bandaged finger, to see how much it was
hurt, before answering: "Miss Morrell, who is Mrs. Barton in private
life, you know, lives as the crow flies exactly opposite us on Riverdale
Avenue, at a place called The Beeches."

"Oh! oh!" cried Dorothy. "Let's go and tell mamma whom she has for a
neighbor--she will be so interested! She used to be quite proud of
living near a former residence of Miss Kemble, the English actress.
Come, Sybil dear--why, are you asleep?" For her sister had been
standing, staring dumbly into space. Now she leaned forward and
whispered, rapidly:

"Dorrie! Dorrie! Here is the answer to your question, and here is my one
chance! This woman has power to help me, and she shall use it--yes, if I
have to go upon my knees to her! Her hand shall open to me the
stage-door of the theatre!"



CHAPTER III

SHOPPING UNDER DIFFICULTIES


Early in their second week at Woodsedge it became evident that someone
would have to go to the city to do some very necessary shopping, and a
great gloom descended and enwrapped the Lawtons in consequence. The
ancient legend says that the prospect of a shopping expedition ever
fills the female soul with wild, unreasoning joy, which is a too general
and too positive prediction. But that is the trouble with most legends,
composed as they are of a little truth, much imagination, and more
sweeping assertion; and I have no doubt this last irritating quality has
caused the destruction of many a legend that was both beautiful and
poetic. Now, fable to the contrary notwithstanding, shopping is not an
unalloyed joy--always fatiguing--often a positive penance. It is
sometimes a pleasure, and on rare occasions it may become an absolute
delight, say, for instance, when a woman is young and pretty and has a
full purse. The knowledge of her own beauty and her ability to adorn it
will make the selecting, the choosing, the trying, the adapting, the
decision, the retraction, the fluttering, and the hesitating--all
delightful. Or when a woman who has herself passed the period of
coquettish dressing shops from a full purse for those she loves, whose
tastes and desires she knows perfectly, with what beaming eyes she will
hover over the best, the rarest, comparing, selecting without a thought
of price, only seeking beauty and quality--such shopping is unqualified
pleasure.

But the gates of this shopping Paradise were closed against the Lawtons,
and Sybil and Dorothy, like two made-over, rebound, cotton-backed little
Peris, stood and wept as they shook vainly at the bars. Mr. Lawton had
in all good faith offered to go to the city and do their errands for
them, but his services had been promptly declined, though with many
qualifying pats and strokes from Sybil and a violet boutonnière from
Dorothy, who had remarked, as she tied it with a blade of grass: "Poor
papa--he would come home with barely half the list filled."

"Worse than that," said Sybil. "Poor papa would have come home plucked
bare to his innocent old breast."

"Yes!" sighed Dorothy, "someone would surely swindle him out of part of
his money, if he went down by his tempting old self."

It was very difficult for the sisters to go out together, because of the
lack of appropriate clothing, yet neither one wished to have Mrs. Lawton
as a shopping companion. Not that they were lacking in affection for
their mother--far from it; but, truth to tell, she was a very silly old
person, who, like a certain royal house of France, never learned
anything and never forgot anything; and when she walked through the
shopping district with her girls, she invariably made them wish they
had never been born. She had such a dreadful habit of stopping before
some show window and remarking, in a high shrill voice: "Yes, that's
fairly good, but it's not to be compared with what I had when," etc.,
etc. Or she would sit at a counter, and, with eye-glasses on nose,
carefully examine forty-cent pairs of cotton stockings, describing
meantime to the clerk the exact style of silk stockings she used to wear
years before, closing the incident with a condescending: "You may give
me three pairs of these--though, to confess the truth, my foot has never
yet become accustomed to such coarse web." Small wonder the girls did
not care to shop with their mamma.

Therefore, they had spent an entire day making the preparations that
were necessary if they were to go to the city together. Dorothy had
pulled apart a black velvet bow from an old hat, steamed it free of
wrinkles, and had made a fairly decent belt, and hours had gone to the
minute stitching of her gloves; while Sybil's wrath had been aroused by
the necessity of inking her purplish boot heels.

"No other shoes but mine go like that," she grumbled. "One would suppose
my skirts had teeth to gnaw my heels," and at Dorothy's quick laughter
Sybil attacked her with her inky bit of cotton, and their wild struggle
so aroused Yellow Dick that he instantly assumed the horrid front of
war--quivering his drooping wings, extending his neck, with wee beak
open an eighth of an inch wide, and fierce crest rising and lowering
rapidly. He felt himself to be a terrifying object, and nothing short
of three fat hemp seeds, held to him between the lovely lips of Sybil
could induce him to accept peace.

"What a quick-tempered little wretch Dick has become of late," said
Dorothy.

"Oh, well--never mind his small tantrums, so long as he doesn't begin to
tell about what a splendid cage he used to have."

"He can't," laughed Dorothy, "for he was hatched as well as brought up
in this old cage--he doesn't know any other."

"Thank Heaven for that!" responded Sybil, who then ran to the window,
crying:

"There she goes, Dorrie!" and her sister understood at once that "she"
was that actress-neighbor of whom Sybil dreamed at night and talked by
day. For of late the girl's desire to go upon the stage had developed
into a passion. Ardent, romantic, and imaginative as she was, the
sweetness of a life of ease and pleasure would probably have smothered
the ambition that sharp necessity was now rapidly developing. For it is
the almost sterile soil of poverty that oftenest produces the
cactus-like plant of Ambition, whose splendid and dazzling flowers are,
alas, so often without perfume.

And now Dorothy had John Strange Winter and The Duchess quite to herself
evenings, while Sybil thumbed the family Shakspere--a dreadful edition
of the fifties, all aflaunt with gilt edges and gilt lettering on the
outside, and sprinkled through with most harrowing pictures and
libellous and defamatory portraits of Forrest, Cushman, and the
rest--for the steel engraver too "loveth a shining mark."

Looking once at a picture of the "Merry Wives of Windsor"--a blowsy,
frowsy, dreadfully decolleté couple--Dorothy had deprecatingly
exclaimed: "Oh, Syb, dear! You won't ever have to look like that, will
you, if you become an actress?"

"Good heavens, no! Don't be such a goose, Dorrie! Can't you see these
are not actresses at all? They are just imaginary pictures of Mrs. Ford
and Mrs. Page, drawn by some stupid, coarse-minded man!"

And Dorrie, properly snubbed, went back to "Molly Bawn," and left Sybil
to rumple her hair and grow very red-cheeked over her study of
Juliet--for where is the stage-struck girl who begins with any lesser
character? Then, while they brushed their hair and plaited it à la
Chinoise for the night, Sybil laid before her sister some wildly
impossible plan for making the immediate acquaintance of Claire Morrell,
and Dorothy listened to her continual harping on that one string with a
gentle patience that was wonderful in one so young. But Dorrie had a
firm faith in God's promise to His people--His people being, in her
eyes, those who loved Him; and from that faith came the patience that
was her strength, and that often supported older members of the family
through trying hours.

All being in readiness, it did not take long for the girls to dress for
breakfast and for an early start cityward. So, carrying down their hats
and gloves and the sunshade they had borrowed over night from Mrs.
Lawton, they came laughing into the dining-room, to find that lady
trussed up in her street gown, instead of the usual breakfast jacket,
and heard her sharply announce: "I, too, am going to the city this
morning!"

"W--why, mamma!" faltered both girls, and then Dorothy turned her blue
eyes away, that the rising tears might not be seen.

"But--but I thought everything was all settled last night?" quavered
Sybil.

"I can't help last night!" snapped Mrs. Lawton. "This is to-day, and
I've got to go down town. Time was when I had not to account for every
movement to my own children--when my husband would have risen in his
place and forbidden such a humiliating action----"

Now to be just, one must admit that, though very garrulous, Letitia
Lawton was not an ill-tempered woman, and this unusual sharpness of tone
and word brought utter amazement into the eyes of her daughters. John
Lawton's slippered feet shifted uneasily beneath the table: "I'm afraid
your coffee will grow cold, my dear!" he murmured.

Sybil ventured to suggest that the shopping list, though long, was
simple enough for a child to manage successfully, and just then both
girls became aware of something unusual in their mother's appearance--of
a sort of toning down--a--a lessening of color--a--not a pallor exactly,
but a--why? As they turned troubled, bewildered eyes toward each other,
Lena, who always left them to wait upon themselves at breakfast, while
she played femme de chambre upstairs, came stumbling down, volubly
defending herself in advance from some unspoken charge and holding
something in her closed wet hand: "I no have done dot ting! no, I neffer
make mit dot ting! No, neffer! My Miss Ladies! Vunce--youst vunce--I
touch dot cork to de tongue--youst dot I see if it vas beet juice
alretty, und it vasn't--und I ain't broke nottings! No, my Herr
Mister--nottings!"

"In other days," groaned Mrs. Lawton, "this girl would only have known
my scullery!"

"Why, Lena," said Dorothy, "nothing has been broken--so, of course, you
cannot be blamed."

"Oh!" cried Lena, desperately, "der mistress's red-cheeks bottle is
broked, und I don't do it!"

"Lena!" ejaculated Mrs. Lawton, "leave the room!"

"I show first, den I leave der rooms!" said Lena, tearfully. "See you
here, my Miss Ladies," said she, opening her hand. "I find him in der
slops-jar--but, I don't neffer break der lady's cheeks-bottle--neffer!--
no!"

There, on the wet palm, lay the half of a tiny bottle, whose contents
had been red, and on its front still clung the legend "Rouge-Vinaigre."
The girls' eyes sank, their faces flushed red all over. This explained
the unusual paleness of their mother, the sudden necessity for visiting
the city, and the spoiling of their day. A painful silence, broken only
by Lena's snuffle, held them for a moment; then Mr. Lawton spoke, almost
sternly: "You may go, Lena--I know all about who broke the toilet
bottle. Give me my coffee, Letitia."

And then Sybil gave unconscious proof of an ability to act. For,
conquering her shamed surprise at learning that her mother painted, she
raised calm eyes, and said, in a perfectly matter-of-course way: "Oh,
mamma, it's a shame not to feel more sorry for your accident, but I was
always a selfish little wretch, and I know right where that lovely store
is where all the imported toilet articles are on sale--and oh, dear
mamma! if you will only trust me to get your 'vinaigre de toilette' I
shall have a chance of seeing all those exquisite shell ornaments, and
the Rhinestone hair-pins, and the newest models for hair dressing.
Indeed, Dorrie and I might pick up some very useful ideas there."

Mrs. Lawton hesitated. Sybil's manner of accepting the mortifying
discovery as a mere matter of course was certainly comforting, but she
"did not think it proper," she said, "for young girls to go into a store
and buy r--r--that is, vinaigre de toilette."

"But," urged Sybil, who knew her mother, enjoying perfect health, dearly
loved to be treated as an invalid, "the day is going to be a warm one,
and the first heat is very trying to one inclined to be delicate."

Mrs. Lawton sighed, and unconsciously drooped a little. Sybil continued:
"And bonnet and gloves and corset and walking-boots and all the harness
a well-dressed woman has to carry are so fatiguing. And the car-ride
after the shopping--you will be used up, mamma!"

And in a burst of self-pity mamma concluded she would best serve the
family by conserving her own poor strength. And Dorrie, meantime, under
cover of following the flight of an oriole past the window, had dried
the shamed tears from her eyes, and her father, cup in hand, discoursing
upon the superiority of the Baltimore over the orchard oriole, had
screened her from the other two, and had left a pitying kiss on the
crown of her bonnie head. And so at last they started for what Sybil
called their day of "ninety-nine-and-a-half-cent" shopping.



CHAPTER IV

AN ACQUAINTANCE RENEWED


As they came out of the Forty-second Street station they rushed, after
the true American fashion, for a Fourth Avenue car. Another followed in
two minutes, and had they been German or English they would in leisurely
comfort have taken that, but being American they quite needlessly made a
breathless rush for the first car, and at its step collided violently
with a rotund and florid old male--"glass-of-fashion and mould-of-form."
Three "beg pardons" rose simultaneously into the air. Each party drew
back deferentially. The conductor, with murder in his eye, yelled
fiercely: "Step lively there, will youse!" With beautiful obedience they
all sprang forward to a--second collision. Puffing like a porpoise, the
old man, hat in hand, gasped apologies to the now helplessly confused
girls, until the conductor, with a contemptuous: "Ah--what's the matter
wid youse--eider get on or take de nex'," began hauling the girls
roughly up the steps with one hand, while with the other he savagely
jerked the starting-bell, leaving the man to decide for himself whether
to risk his elderly limbs boarding a moving car or to wait for "de nex'"
The decision was swiftly made, for, firmly grasping the platform
railing, he ran a few steps by the car and then swung himself safely
up, in quite a jaunty fashion--for this rakish old beau had determined
to keep the girlish young beauties in sight.

Coming from the station, and each carrying, as he noticed, a small black
silk bag, he correctly concluded that, all unattended, they were
undertaking a shopping expedition, and he drew himself up with an air
and began to twirl his gray mustache, for, relying on their innocence,
his own impressive manner, and the recent contretemps for assistance, he
hoped to force an acquaintance--one of those chance acquaintances that,
dreaded by all parents, are the absolute bête noir of those mothers who
have not been able to teach their young daughters to distinguish between
a very courteous reserve and an almost "hail fellow" freedom of speech
with amiable strangers. So, it was not long before Sybil, earnestly
discussing at what point on their list they should begin, and whether
they should leave the car at Twenty-third or at Fourteenth Street,
discovered that the overdressed old man opposite was ogling Dorrie
outrageously, and her dark eyes flashed indignant glances at him, while
she did her best to hold her sister's attention, that she might not be
annoyed and shamed by his conduct. This comedy of glances finally caught
the attention of a grave-faced young man sitting next to Sybil. He
followed the direction of the old man's bold glances, and Dorothy's
sweet face held him like a magnet. The rounded cheek, the soft, clear
coloring, the sunny, brown hair, the innocent, widely open blue eyes,
and the slight lift of the brows, that all unconsciously gave her the
pathetic, pleading look that made people ever eager to serve her, moved
him instantly to a feeling of positive gratitude for the other girl who
was trying to protect her.

The car had filled rapidly, and people, mechanically hanging themselves
each by one hand from the overhead straps, swayed back and forth and
trampled alike upon the feet of the just and the unjust, forming a
solidly opaque screen between tormentor and tormented. Suddenly the
whirr of the wheels and the demoniacal voice of the conductor crying:
"Move up there--move up! There's room enough up front, if you'se'll step
up to the end!" became faint and far off to the hearing of the
grave-faced young man, whose gray eyes had discovered a little knot of
wild violets snuggled into one of their own round green leaves and drawn
through the button-hole of Dorothy's jacket. Through one dim moment he
saw a boy's stumpy brown fist holding out a bunch of "vi'lets" to a sick
white hand all netted over with distended blue veins, and heard a thin
whispering voice saying: "And mother would have loved them quite as well
if her boy had called them 'violets' instead of 'vi'lets,'" and the
little blossoms became but a purple blur as he thought with a pang how
long that dear admonishing voice had been silent.

The crowd had increased, and Sybil, in bobbing her head this way and
that in an effort to see just where they were, became conscious of a
young woman standing before her. She was very pale, and great drops of
perspiration stood on her hollow temples. She carried a heavy-looking
baby in her arms, and, having no strap to hold to, she reeled and
staggered and pitched with every sudden start or jerking stop of the
car. Sybil, with a pitying exclamation, rose and gave her place to the
poor, sick-looking creature, who, sinking into the seat, raised
grateful, tear-filled eyes to the dark, glowing face above her, saying:
"It's the baby--he's that heavy, or I wouldn't take it from you, ma'am."
Then up sprang the old beau, and offered his place to Sybil, who coldly
thanked him, but preferred to stand by her sister. But that was just
what he proposed to do himself--to stand by her, and quite naturally to
address a few words to that fair sister, and he so far forgot himself as
to put his hand on Sybil's arm and try to force her into his seat, when
suddenly the grave young man rose, touched the woman with the baby on
the shoulder, and said: "Move into my place, please, and allow this
young lady to resume her seat." The thing had been done so quickly that
there was no time for thought, and the two quick "thank yous" of the
girls were followed by a grateful smile and an upward glance of Dorrie's
blue eyes straight into the face of the young man, who felt his hand
tremble as he lifted his hat and silently made his way through the crowd
to the rear platform.

The elderly ogler, meantime, very red as to face and neck, looked out of
the window nearest him. The girls, who had been consulting their lists,
rose suddenly while he was so occupied, and with several other
passengers left the car. The moment he missed them he started to his
feet, but as he moved he saw a card fallen on the matting, and stooping
picked it up. It was one of Mrs. Lawton's visiting cards, and on its
back was scribbled yards and pounds of various articles, evidently a
shopping list. As he turned it over and read "Mrs. John W. Lawton," with
a former address crossed off and "Woodsedge" written beneath it, he
exclaimed: "The devil! Lawton's girls grown up, and I didn't recognize
them? By thunder! I must find them again! Hi! conductor!" He plunged
toward the platform, brushing against open papers and stepping on toes
without apology, and, dropping off the car, he returned to the corner of
the street where the girls had disappeared.

"Lawton's girls!" he muttered. "Woodsedge--where the devil is Woodsedge,
I'd like to know! But that blondest girl's a beauty, and no mistake! The
dark one glared at me like a cat. Let's see, now, what did they call
those youngsters when they were over in the Oranges?" And hunting
through his wicked old memory for the names he had forgotten, he placed
himself on guard in front of a certain great store, on the chance of
seeing Sybil and Dorothy come out. A most undignified occupation for Mr.
William Henry Bulkley, aged fifty-five years, worth some eight hundred
thousand dollars, but rated as a millionaire. Yet there were certain
people in the city who would have expressed no surprise had they seen
him so engaged, since they knew the occupation was neither new nor
strange to him. He had long retired from business, and now relied
principally upon the devil to provide work for his idle hands to do, and
it is but fair to admit that he was seldom without a job. That he was
looked upon and spoken of as a millionaire filled him with pride
unspeakable. There is not a doubt that from the two hundred thousand
dollars with which the world mistakenly accredited him he drew greater
satisfaction and delight than from the eight hundred thousand dollars he
really owned. So much pleasanter it is to be over, rather than
correctly, estimated.

A big man was Mr. Bulkley--whose employees used to call "Old Hulkey"--a
heavily breathing man, who had lost his waist-line years ago, to his
great chagrin. He had long yellow teeth, his own beyond a doubt, since
no dentist on earth would have risked his reputation by making such an
atrocious set. His cheeks sagged, and were of a brick red, netted over
with tiny purplish veins. He had pale, impudent blue eyes, and his
occasional trick of leering from under half-drooped lids made them
offensively ugly. He dressed in the fashion of--to-morrow. No novelty
escaped him, and his jewelry was really the best thing about him, since
it was genuine and modest.

In the days when he had been a neighbor of the Lawtons, over in the
picturesque Orange Mountains, he had had a wife, or, to be more exact,
there had been a Mrs. Bulkley, since for many years she had been nothing
more to him than an unsalaried housekeeper. His contemptuous
indifference as to her knowledge of his infamies deprived her even of
the cloak of pretended ignorance with which many a betrayed wife hides
her wounded pride and self-respect. So, from a rosy, cheery, happy wife,
she had been changed into a pale and silent housekeeper. Sometimes a
certain alleviating friendship exists between a wife and her disloyal
husband, but not in this case; for without sympathy there can be no
friendship, and there was not a particle of sympathy between the
dutiful, pure-minded, humiliated Anna Bulkley and the lax, self-loving,
and carnal William H. Bulkley.

So she had folded her lips closely to hide their tendency to tremble,
and had borne her lot silently, growing a little paler, a little
thinner, a little more retiring year by year, until there came that
hottest morning of a long, hot stretch of weather when she failed to
descend to breakfast, and her husband had angrily rapped upon her door,
declaring that because he wished to go to the city early that day he
supposed she meant to sleep forever, and was surprised to find his
supposition was an absolutely correct one, for she slept forever. "Heart
failure," said the hastily summoned doctor, and doubtless he accurately
stated the immediate cause of death, but there were certain women among
these lovely country homes who felt sure that the fatal weakness was
neither recent nor caused by the summer heat; who believed the poor
wife's heart failure dated from the time her husband abandoned home for
harem, and by the publicity of his infidelities had made her an object
of contemptuous pity. Therefore cold and unfriendly were the glances
they cast upon the black-clothed, crêpe-bound widower in their midst.

Now, looking back to that time, he recalled his dead wife's fondness for
the little ones of her neighbor's--the bon-bons she always kept at hand,
the swing she had put up for her childish visitors' amusement, and the
accident, one day, when the rope broke, and--yes, these very children of
Lawton's were the ones that fell; and then quite suddenly he seemed to
hear his wife's voice, crying: "Oh, Dorrie, Sibbie, are you hurt?"

With a triumphant laugh he struck his hands together, exclaiming: "I've
found them! I've got their names at last! Now, if I can find the girls
again in this confounded crowd, I'll have fair sailing!"

But it happened that the girls saw him first, and cleverly avoided him
by whipping through a side street over to Sixth Avenue, where, with a
sigh for the salads and strawberries of Broadway, they lunched upon
coffee and buns in a clean little bakery; for, by so doing and by
walking and saving cross-town fares both ways, they were able each to
buy a bit of bright ribbon for Lena to turn into the awful bows with
which she loved to plaster her honest German breast.

"Poor thing!" sighed Dorothy; "I wish we could get her something worth
while!"

"So do I," answered Sybil; "for positively she is the staff of our
family at present, and to think that papa should have found her! I
believe the one dollar he paid to the intelligence office that day was
the only lucky investment of his life!"

"Poor thing!" repeated Dorothy; "I'm afraid she will not walk a primrose
path to-day!"

"No!" answered Sybil, "it will not be easy for mamma to forgive that
'cheeks bottle' speech, and Lena will probably hear a good many
allusions to sculleries in consequence, or mamma may crush her into
speechless awe by suddenly and apropos of nothing telling her that
she--the mistress--once danced in the same room with the Prince of
Wales!" And they laughed a little over the old boast as they hastened
back to Broadway to secure the new bottle of rouge-vinaigre.

Meantime Mr. Bulkley, who, like most vain men, had a corn or two, had
grown weary of watching from the sidewalk, and, swearing a little to
himself, had gone to a fashionable restaurant, much favored by women;
and, little dreaming that the place was far beyond the means of the
girls he sought, he secured a seat near the door, where he sat, and,
like a fat old spider, watched for his pretty flies. But they came not,
and when he could decently sit there no longer, he cursed just under his
breath with an ease and fluency that showed long and earnest practice;
then, red and hot with wine and anger, he paid his bill and went out,
quite forgetting that truthful old saying, "The devil takes care of his
own," until his infernal majesty did it in his case by suddenly bringing
into view the two girlish figures he had so long been searching for.

Having mamma's new "cheeks-bottle" concealed in a non-committal box of
white pasteboard, Sybil came forth, followed slowly by Dorothy, who had
not completed her study of the coiffure worn by one of the waxy beauties
with inch-long eyelashes and button-hole mouth, who lived in the window
and turned about slowly and steadily all the time the public eye was
upon her.

"Just wait, Sybil," said Dorothy, "until her back comes this way again.
I'm sure that jug-handle knot is not tied, and yet how can you make a
knot of back hair stand up firmly like that without tying it, I should
like to know?"

"Why," replied Sybil, "I believe it's done by extremely tight twisting.
Haven't you noticed how a tightly twisted cord will double itself back
in just that shape, and----"

She got no farther. A cough, "I beg your pardon!" interrupted her. Both
girls turned, to face the smiling, bowing William Henry Bulkley, who,
ignoring their frowns, hastened to say, with a sort of bluff and
fatherly cordiality: "My dear Miss Lawton--Miss Dorothy--I hesitated to
recall myself to your memory at our first meeting this morning, as I saw
with regret you had quite forgotten me. [This is the sort of thing that
keeps Truth at the bottom of her well.] But this second accidental
meeting seems so like a Providence restoring a valued friendship that I
venture to address you with messages to my old-time friend and neighbor,
John Lawton!"

"Yes?" softly queried Dorothy, but Sybil, with back-thrown head,
regarded him with an angry suspicion he could have shaken her for. Still
he proceeded, blandly: "A man I highly esteemed, and have long hoped to
meet again. You have, then [regretfully], quite forgotten me? You used
to be rather fond of visiting my wife and swinging----"

"Oh, Mrs. Bulkley!" exclaimed Dorothy, catching Sybil's arm. "Don't you
remember our fall from the swing, and how good she was to us?" And
maliciously interrupted Sybil: "How angry Mr. Bulkley was? Yes, I
remember you, sir!"

And looking into each other's eyes, they hated one another right
heartily. But Dorothy, thinking only of what a pleasant surprise this
finding of an old friend would be to her father, hastened to say: "Papa
will remember you well, Mr. Bulkley, I'm sure!"

"Thank you!" beamed that gentleman. "And your charming mamma, how is
she? Well? So glad! A very lovely woman. May I ask your present address,
and your kind permission to call upon your parents--that, according to
our foreign critics, is, I believe, the correct formula, since they
declare that parents are governed absolutely by their children in
America. Woodsedge? Broadway? Ah, yes--yes, near the new park the city
is about opening--quite so! I--I shall do myself the pleasure of driving
out to present my compliments to your mamma and renew my friendship with
your father. Do allow me, Miss Dorrie--no trouble at all. I am on my way
uptown, and I shall esteem it a pleasure to see you young ladies on to
your home train."

And almost forcibly removing various packages from both girls' hands, he
constituted himself their escort and guardian, feasting his eyes upon
the fresh young beauty of Dorothy when the noise prevented talking. At
the station he added to their parcels a couple of magazines and a box of
chocolates, and, seeing them safely through the door that admitted them
to their train's platform, he doffed his hat in farewell. And Dorothy
gave him a rather forced smile and hasty good-by, while Sybil, with
unsmiling lips, gave a short nod of her haughty young head, and William
Henry Bulkley said, low: "You damned little cat," put on his hat again
and went out, and, climbing into a car, added to himself: "But the other
one--good Lord! When you come to talk about peaches, why----"



CHAPTER V

"THE WOMAN OF FATE"


At the back of Woodsedge there was a place of green and fragrant
mystery. In former years it had been an orchard, but unlimited sun and
rain had combined, with man's neglect, to reduce it to this state of
ruinous beauty. At one end the trees were so close, the boughs so
intermingled, that their foliage seemed a canopy dense enough to turn
aside the sharpest sun-lance, and the orchard, abutting, as it did, upon
the forest growth belonging to the park, seemed but the more like a
wilderness. For the girls it had many delights, the chief one being that
the unscraped, uncleaned trunks, the unpruned branches, the weedy, seedy
growths by the walls, all provided food in incalculable quantities for
innumerable birds--long before fruit time. Your bird hates the
well-cleaned, scraped-down, poison-washed, eggless, larvæless orchard of
the commercially inclined farmer; but this seemed to be the general
refectory for all the birds in the county. Baltimore orioles hung a nest
from the tip of an elm bough directly over it. Orchard orioles,
cat-birds, thrushes, and robins took apartments in it. A cuckoo and his
wife dropped an inadequate and slovenly nest into an overgrown shrub,
and though their slim, gray shapes were seldom seen, their "chug, chug,
chug" was so often heard that Lena indignantly declared: "Dem rain
crows cum make great lies in dis country. In de olt country, ven dey
says 't-chug, t-chug,' ten it rain by jiminy! But here dey youst say
't-chug, t-chug' to make you worry mit de clothes dryin'," while the
dainty antics of a jewel-like little redstart filled her with laughter.
"I vork youst behind dat grapevine arbor, und I see him, my Miss Ladies;
and he got von frau--youst so big as my tum, und so qwiet, und he make
to dance und yump before her--und cock de eye at her, und he shiver out
dem orange und black fedders for her to look at, und he svitch de leetle
tail dis vay und dat vay, und she youst look up und say, plain, my Miss
Ladies: 'Gott in himmel! Vas dere eber such a bird-mans as dis von of
mine?'" And though the refectory was visited by warblers of many kinds,
none of them made music sweeter than the innocent laughter of the
sisters over the bird courtship Lena described.

On this particular morning the girls had gone to the tangled old orchard
for secret conclave. The ground was white with spring's snowstorm of
fruit blossoms, and they could feel the petals falling lightly upon
their uncovered heads as they walked. Sybil pulled a monster dandelion,
and, after touching the great golden disc with her lips, she drew the
long stem through her dark hair, leaving the blossom blazing just above
her ear.

"If this was only a rare growth," said she, "how people would rave over
its beauty. Dorothy, take warning--don't be common! Always remember old
gardener Jake's words to us when we were little: 'Make yerselves
skeerce, young ladies, and y'ell be valley'd accordin'.' But what's the
use of trying to teach wisdom to a girl who shows she's chock full of
black superstitions!"

For beyond a doubt Dorothy was earnestly searching for a four-leaf
clover, and presently she held out a five-leaf specimen for Sybil to
look at. But she waved it away, gloomily misquoting: "That clover doth
protest too much, methinks. You will do better to cling to the
three-leaf, that, promising nothing, has no power to disappoint you,
Dorrie!"

"Oh, but I'm looking for the four-leaf for _you_, Sib dear! If I find
it, you will get the introduction you long for without another such
disappointment as yesterday."

"Oh, don't!" cried Sybil, leaning her brow against a tree trunk; "don't
talk about it!" though that was exactly what they had come out there
for--to talk over the failure of Sybil's last, best, most natural
seeming plan for an accidental meeting with the woman of her dreams. She
was busy winking back her tears when Dorothy gave an exclamation, thrust
out her hand to brush aside a big, yellow-belted, booming bumble-bee,
then plucked and held up triumphantly a four-leaf clover, and, her face
all flushed with heat and excitement, she cried: "See that! She's yours,
dear! The Woman of Fate--she's yours! Now you see if she isn't!"

Sybil took the little emblem of good luck, and, putting her arm around
her sister's waist to hug her close, she laughed: "Oh, Dorrie, for a
girl who says her prayers every night and morning, you are the most
superstitious little beast--what's that?"

"It's her!" answered Dorothy, in ungrammatical delight; and Sybil,
catching some of her spirit, held the little emblem above her head,
crying, laughingly: "Now let the poor leaf get in its fine work!"

The words were scarcely out of her lips when clear and sharp there rose
the sound of metal's ringing blow against stone, followed by a quick
"Ho--lá" in a woman's voice, and the instant stoppage of the regular
"click-klack, click-klack" of a trotting horse.

Down under the gigantic willow--his favorite tree--had been sitting John
Lawton, reading his paper, and now the girls saw him rise and hasten out
to Broadway; saw him, with hat off, speaking to the fretful chestnut and
his blue habited rider, who pointed backward with her crop. The watching
girls, without hesitation, clambered over the low stone wall and came
nearer. They made out that their father remonstrated, and the woman
laughed. And then they caught from her the words: "Very kind, and in
half an hour," and she was away again; but this time the
"clipperty-clapperty-clip" told that she rode at a gallop. The girls
fairly tore down the hill, crying "Papa--papa! what was it? Tell us
about it!" But first he pointed to the disappearing pair, saying: "Look
at that--that's not bad riding for a woman to do without a stirrup!"

"Without a stirrup?" questioned the girls. "Why, what do you mean,
papa?"

"Just what I say. I told her it wasn't safe, but she says it's a poor
horsewoman who can't ride from balance, and on she went; but she's--just
wait a bit," he broke off, "I'll be back in a moment;" and he went down
the road, crossed over to a large stone at the roadside, and, stooping,
picked something up. Returning, the girls saw that he carried a woman's
stirrup.

"That's what we heard clear up in the orchard!" said Sybil.

"Is she going to send for it?" asked Dorothy.

Sybil's very breath was suspended as she waited for the answer. How slow
he was about it! At last, feeling in his pocket for a bit of twine, he
replied:

"No; she's going to stop here and pick it up on her way home."

Sybil went white for an instant, then flushed red from brow to chin.
Dorothy squeezed her hand sympathetically. Mr. Lawton took up the
stirrup and examined the leather straps critically.

"I'm going to try to tie this thing on when she comes back. She rides
all right enough for looks without it, but if that horse should shy, and
I don't believe he's a bit above it, for he's as nervous as a headachy
woman, she might be unseated, so I'm going----"

The girls did not wait for him to finish, but hand in hand they made a
rush for the house, and flew up the outraged and groaning old stairs, to
bathe their flushed faces and to brush into propriety certain flying
locks of hair, and, in old-time parlance, to "prink" themselves
generally for the coming interview. As they hastened down again they
were disappointed to see their father standing at the gate.

"Oh!" cried Dorothy, "why did he not stay here and let her ride up to
the porch for the stirrup. Then we could have appeared naturally and as
a matter of course; now----"

"Now!" broke in Sybil, "as a matter of course we'll appear unnaturally,
thrusting ourselves forward like ill-bred children! Oh, let's run down
and bring papa back!"

And away they started, but almost immediately the
"clipperty-clapperty-clip" of the approaching horse was heard, and they
stopped. Dorothy, noting how swiftly the color came and went on her
sister's cheek, said, piteously: "I wonder if--oh, I hope she will be
nice, dear!"

"Nice?" repeated Sybil, savagely. "Why should she be nice? She is on the
top wave of success--we're two little nobodies! Why nice, pray? But my
pride is pushed well down in my pocket, Dorrie, and, if need be, I'll
grovel for the help she alone can give me!"

She said no more, for the horse had already been pulled up, and with a
laugh Miss Morrell held out her hand for the broken stirrup; but with
almost incredible determination Mr. Lawton not only refused to give it
up, but, leading the horse into the willow's dense shade, he produced an
old awl and some twine, at sight of which the rider smilingly lifted her
knee from the pommel and twisted about in the saddle, to give him a
chance to find the broken strap--and the girls looked at her in
amazement.

They had seen her often at the theatre--had wept themselves sick over
her stage heart-break and death; but now they saw no faintest trace of
that moving actress in the pleasant-faced woman before them--a
fair-complexioned, wholesome-looking woman, with lots of brown hair,
that had glittering threads all through and through it that were
accentuated by the blackness of the velvet derby-cap she wore. Her
straight nose was a little too short, her cheek-bones a little too high,
her mouth a little too wide; in fact, she had escaped being a beauty so
easily that one could not help feeling she had never been in danger. All
of which did not prevent her from being adored by women. Presently Mr.
Lawton called: "Girls, come here and help me a moment! One of you keep
this horse still and the other hold Miss Morrell's habit out of the way
for me."

Dorothy, forgetting her timidity, ran to the big chestnut's head, so
that her sister might take the place nearest to the rider; and as Sybil
held the habit's folds out of her father's way, she raised such
passionately pleading dark eyes that the actress, ever sensitive to
human emotions, felt her heart give a quickened throb, and said to
herself: "What on earth is it this girl is demanding of me?" Then she
spoke: "I beg your pardon, sir, but if these are your young daughters,
will you not introduce them to me?"

And John Lawton, who had the twine between his lips and the awl just
piercing the strap, jerked his head to the right, and mumbled: "M--m--my
oldest daughter, Sybil," then jerked it to the left, with: "M--m--my
youngest daughter, Dorothy--Miss Morrell."

And pulling off her loose riding-glove, Miss Morrell gave her hand to
each of the girls with a close, warm pressure of the long, nervous
fingers that was like the greeting of an old friend.

Dorothy chatted away, asking the name of the horse and making
extravagant love to him. But what had happened to Sybil--the voluble,
sometimes the sharp? She stood there dumb, and apparently unable to take
her pleading eyes from the smiling face above her. At last the job was
finished, and as Mr. Lawton placed the bronze-booted foot in the stirrup
Miss Morrell's sigh of comfort and exclamation: "Ah, it does feel good
to have it again, after all!" made that melancholy old gentleman laugh
aloud from sheer self-satisfaction; and then, as she gathered up her
reins, she gayly remarked: "Young ladies, since your father has
introduced you by your first names only, perhaps you will now introduce
him to me?"

And with much laughter they each took him by a hand and presented him in
full name--"Mr. John W. Lawton."

Still feeling Sybil's glance, and being well used to adoring girls,
Claire Morrell said, after thanking him for his kindness: "Mr. Lawton, I
live just opposite, on Riverdale Avenue. If you go so far afield, will
you not call upon me?" Then, touching the fading dandelion with her
crop, she added: "I see you are fond of flowers. Perhaps your father
will permit you and Miss Dorothy to come over some day and take a look
at my posies?"

The color rushed over Sybil's face and her eyes fairly blazed in sudden
joy, and the actress felt she had at least partly translated that
beseeching gaze. Dorothy accepted the invitation very prettily for
herself and sister, Mr. Lawton raised his hat, and as the actress
wheeled her horse about her white glove fell to the ground and she rode
on, leaving it there. Dorothy snatched it up and passed it to Sybil,
while John Lawton looked after the rider and remarked, with emphasis: "A
charming woman!"

And Dorothy answered, excitedly: "I always thought actresses had to be
pretty women, though at night even this Miss Morrell looks----"

"Never mind what she looks!" interrupted her father. "She's a charming
woman! You must go over some day and see her at home!" And he returned
to his paper under the willow.

Dorothy went at once to her mother to give that lady a voluminous and
detailed account of what had happened, and to be cross-examined at great
length as to the make of the actress's habit, the quality of her horse,
and the condition of her complexion, greatly doubting, as she did,
Dorothy's assertion as to its naturalness. But Sybil fled upstairs and
flung herself across the bed and pressed her hot cheek against the
crumpled rein-rubbed glove. Her wish had been granted, and all had
happened so unexpectedly. Nervous, foolish, joyful tears ran down her
cheeks, and, as she recalled the comprehending blue eyes of her Woman of
Fate, she knew in her heart that she had found help.



CHAPTER VI

A RECOGNITION AND A DINNER


It was Sunday. The inevitable May cold spell was over. Like
half-perished insects, the Lawtons gathered on the porch and basked in
the early sunshine. Presently John Lawton, who was sensitive to heat,
particularly on Sundays, remarked that by the calendar it was May, but
by his feelings it was late June. And Sybil dabbed at his forehead with
her wisp of a handkerchief, and answered, with affectionate
impertinence: "Well, it's not excessive originality of thought that
wears you out, papa, for yesterday you made the dignified and impressive
statement that the calendar said it was May, but your feelings told you
it was November. No, don't apologize, dear," and she gave him an
explosive kiss, "but put your little calendar idea away now for a
while--say till fall, and it'll come out quite bright and useful."

Mrs. Lawton exclaimed: "Sybil!" then, in an excusing tone, "Ah! if we
had our former surroundings I'm sure your manners and words would be
quite in consonance with them!"

"No doubt of it!" promptly acquiesced Sybil, while Dorothy cried: "Papa,
positively you ought to take strong measures with Syb, even though she
is as tall as you are--you should shake her!" And the utter absurdity
of the suggestion sent them indoors in a gale of laughter that Mrs.
Lawton denounced from behind the coffee urn as "absolutely heretical."

Instantly Sybil, with lance in rest, came charging at her mother:
"Ho--ho! To the rescue! The English language is in danger! Mamma, had I
so misused a word, you would have rapped me on the head with your
thimble, _à la_ governess Anna Smith, of evil memory."

Mrs. Lawton pushed up the quite dry bandage from her brows--that bandage
was generally visible on Sunday mornings till after church bells ceased
their troubling--and said: "'Pon my word, Sybil, your conduct sometimes
approaches the contumacious! Dorothy, a smile may degenerate into a
grin, and what amuses you is beyond my power of vision. I do know,
however, that my English is unassailable."

"But," Dorothy tremulously ventured, "but, by heretical laughter, mamma,
did you not mean instead that our noise was inappropriate, or----?"

"Miss!" broke in Letitia Lawton, "I meant what I said. It's Sunday, and
it's heresy to laugh aloud on that day! Pass your father the cream-jug;
I've lived with him in honorable wedlock for twenty years, but I can't
sugar or cream his coffee right to this day."

"But, mamma," said Sybil, crunching a tiny radish, "is not heresy an
unsound opinion----"

"Well, it's got to be an opinion opposed to Scripture!" and Mrs. Lawton
hammered the words to the table with her knife-handle.

"Not necessarily," mildly objected John Lawton, as he pushed his cup
toward the deity behind the urn. "People have committed heresy against
other things than the Scriptures. You can have an unsound opinion
without its being a religious one."

"There! That's just what I said!" cried Mrs. Lawton. "Immoderate
laughter on Sunday is ill-bred, and is, therefore, unsound religious
conduct, which is worse than unsound opinion, which you, yourself
declare to be heresy. Thank you, John, you seldom back me up so readily.
Why! those girls have scarcely tasted breakfast, and there they go
rushing upstairs. Oh, well, the walk is rather long to St. John's, and I
suppose they wish to take their time over it!" And she settled down
contentedly to her own dilly-dallying meal, while Mr. Lawton, with a
very red face, silently drank his second cup of coffee.

After the girls had gone churchward, and Lena was in full control of the
apartment, which Mrs. Lawton always referred to till three o'clock as
the breakfast-room, and afterward as the dining-room, father and mother
again resorted to the porch, each occupying one of its corners. Mrs.
Lawton, who prided herself upon the propriety of her attitude toward the
church, sat with the prayer-book open at the lesson for the day, feeling
that the bandage on her brow so fully justified her absence from the
church that she was exceptionally devout in thus following the service
at the correct moment, and making her responses distinctly a few times,
so that she might properly impress her dangerously lax husband.
Then--well, the book seemed to be a long way off--the printed words ran
together, jumped apart, whirled round about, a warm haze closed softly
down--she, she could not see. She slept, while over in the other corner
Mr. Lawton sat by the Sunday paper that itself occupied an entire chair,
and in its bulky entirety might well have required the ice-man's tongs
to carry it up the hill. And in St. Johns, that church, picturesque and
time-honored, that, gathering the little town about its knees, stands
with it in the very centre of a hill-girdled hollow, and is in May
already greenly veiled with tender ivy and young clambering rose, there
sat none more devoutly attentive to the stately service than those two
fair sisters from the old White house. Both were used to attracting more
or less attention; therefore, when they rose for the Gospel, Sybil's
"Glory be to Thee!" died away in her throat from sheer astonishment at
the burning blush she saw sweeping over Dorothy's face from chin to
down-bent brow. With swift, indignant eyes she searched for the cause of
her sister's embarrassment, and no sooner had she found the guilty man,
who stood at gaze, wrapped in what truly seemed unconscious admiration
for that sweet face, than she gave a violent start of recognition; then,
with sharp question in her eye, turned back to Dorothy, to find that
blush even hotter, redder than it was before, and knew instinctively
that she, too, had recognized the grave young man of the city car--he
who had frustrated Mr. Bulkley's plan; and with a sudden swelling of the
throat the conviction came to her that these two had fallen in love at
sight, and in a very passion of tenderness for her sister Sybil
whispered to herself, "Dorrie! little Dorrie! what are you doing, dear?
He looks brave and gentle, and--and exacting, and--you dear little
idiot, you are conscious of nothing but his gaze! And he, grave as he
is, has quite lost track of any other presence here but Dorrie's--my
little Dorrie, who is barely done with dolls!" And Sybil's dark eyes
were dimmed with tears for a little time.

While they were sitting through the sermon, the dozing Letitia and John
were being sorely confused and disturbed by the unexpected arrival of
the oppressively opulent Mr. Bulkley. Poor Mrs. Lawton had been the last
to awaken, and the glittering trap and big high-stepping sorrel with the
wickedly rolling eye were coming up the unused grass-grown driveway
before her eyes opened. She could not fly; she was fairly caught in
bedroom slippers and bandaged head. There was but one thing to do, she
decided, as John Lawton with drowsy eyes went forward to welcome his
guest; she must hide her feet and play up to the bandage. In pursuance
of this plan she instantly became very languid in manner and patiently
enduring in expression; nor did she forget the bright bloom on her
cheeks, but touching their cool surface with the back of her hand
announced resignedly that she supposed her fever was coming on again.

And Mr. Bulkley frowned at the trees and talked malaria and quinine and
thinning out; and finding the young ladies absent, decided to await
their return. And so the evil moment came when Mr. Lawton had to confess
himself unable to offer hospitality to the fretting sorrel, who was
fidgeting and stamping and throwing gravel all over the place. And Mr.
Bulkley had ordered his man to take the horse back the road a bit to a
stable attached to a road-house they had passed and put him up there;
and as Letitia heard him add, "You can also get your dinner at the
house, Dolan," her heart sank like lead before a vision of her almost
empty pantry.

As the returning girls stepped aside to let the horse and trap pass out
they heard Mr. Bulkley's big laugh from the porch, and in an instant two
frightened blue eyes were staring into two troubled dark ones, while
both girls exclaimed, in absolute terror: "Dinner!"

To those who have lived in the midst of plenty all their days, this
dinner question may seem very amusing or very absurd, but the genteel
poor understand it well. They know the humiliation and torture the
sensitive hostess feels in trying to entertain the uninvited stranger
within her gates; and here was this great, flaunting, high-feeding old
man! There were people to whom the girls could have frankly offered
bread and butter and tea, or crackers and cheese and a cup of coffee,
but not to this "big animal," as Sybil called him. Dorothy laid her hand
on her sister's arm and whispered: "Let us climb through the break in
the wall and go up to the orchard and signal Lena to come to us, and
there arrange what we are to do."

"Good idea, that!" agreed Sybil, "for you--er--I mean, we shall never be
able to escape papa's ponderous friend after we once make our appearance
upon the scene." So in the orchard the sorely troubled three held secret
conclave.

"Uf id vasn't Suntay!" Lena kept groaning, "or uf id vas breakfas'
alretty instet of dinner, ven tings get chopped all up mit demselves so
peoples don't know vat tings dey com' eat; but der dinner, Himmel! Und
dat old mans, he eat--ach! I know he eat like dot great hop-up-on-to-mus
at der park! Himmel!"

And Sybil threatened. "Dorrie! Dorrie! stop laughing this moment! Don't
you dare grow hysterical! Lena, hold your tongue, and only answer direct
questions. One chicken, you say? Only one? For five people? Dear heaven!
But, Lena, has mamma her head bandaged up yet? Yes? Oh, joy! She need
have no helping, then! She will be too sick, you see!"

"Nein! nein!" cried Lena, "der mistress lofes der dinner too mooch!"

"Yes, I know all that," sternly answered Sybil, "but she will restrain
her appetite to-day for the reputation of her house! Dorrie, you _must_
manage that mamma demands in her most plaintive tone some very thin
toast and some tea, and she must shiver daintily at the merest
suggestion of dinner. Promise her eggs for late supper, to comfort her."

Lena was for broiling their solitary chicken, but a cry of condemnation
burst from Dorothy. "Broil it? Never! It must be eked out in some way.
Lena, you can fry it--can't you? And make a great deal of cream sauce,
and have some diamonds of toast around the edge of the dish to make it
look full?"

"Ja!" nodded the willing Lena, "but dat young hens only make four goot
pieces for all dat gravy sauce; und you can't be sick too, my Miss
Ladies!"

"Oh!" cried Sybil. "Listen, Dorrie, listen! Lena, was there not a bit of
veal left from dinner yesterday?"

"Ja!" answered Lena, "but dat goes mit de oder scraps to be chopped for
der breakfas'!"

"No, no!" interrupted Sybil, "put them on the platter with the chicken;
cover them well with sauce and drop a tiny morsel of parsley on each
piece to mark it; and we will coach papa, Dorrie, to help us to the
parsley marked portions without letting the old dear know just why, and
with a little care on our part no one need guess we are not eating
chicken. That will leave the whole of it for the gentlemen, and Mr.
Bulkley can have the second helping he will want, for you can cook a
chicken à la Maryland as well as any aunty, Lena!" Then they agreed that
neither one of them would care for salad that day, but might freely
indulge in coffee, though sharing very delicately in dessert. And so,
patting Lena's sturdy shoulder in sign of their trust and gratitude,
they picked up from the grass their shabby old prayer-books, and
presently made demure appearance, coming slowly up the steep path that
led to the weary, sagging, old porch.

And William Henry Bulkley, who for the last half hour had been calling
himself every kind of a fool, ran his greedy old eyes over the tempting
loveliness of Dorothy and changed his mind suddenly, feeling that the
boredom caused by John and Letitia Lawton was not too high a price to
pay for the pleasure of loitering by the side of this wonderful girl.
And so he made his devoirs in most expansive fashion; cast dust in Mr.
Lawton's mild blue eyes by referring, in quite a fatherly tone, to his
daughters as little Dorrie and Sybbie, was deferential in the extreme to
Sybil, and confessed to a distinct recollection of every horse, every
equipage, of Mrs. Lawton's ownership in the past, even to one or two she
had owned only in her imagination. But never, she observed, did he for
one moment lose sight of Dorothy.

At last Sybil, like a pitying angel, placed herself between Mr. Bulkley
and her mother's slippers, and covered that lady's retreat to her own
room to arrange herself for dinner. And it was Sybil who had sternly to
replace the bandage and coach the hungry and irate mother in her part of
delicate sufferer, closing the scene with the words: "I know, darling,
you're too proud to allow anyone to guess at the straits we are in."
Then, kissing the hungry tears from her mother's eyes, she added: "Just
say to yourself, now and then, 'Eggs! eggs!' and that will keep your
courage up--that and the knowledge that you are the only woman alive who
can wear a handkerchief about her forehead and yet look pretty."

And Letitia simpered, and sprinkled a little bay-rum on her hair to
suggest headache; ate a handful of crackers to take off the sharp edge
of her keen appetite, and languidly descended to the distinctly musty
parlor.

Dorothy had desired to go for a few wild flowers for the table, but she
had not escaped from William Henry Bulkley. In all the immaculate glory
of his spring attire, as tightly trussed up as a large fowl ready for
the oven, he walked at her side when the path permitted, and breathed
stertorously behind her when it wouldn't. And when with a cry of joy she
discovered that a twisted old hawthorn had actually hung out some
garlands of snowy blossoms, he nearly had an apoplexy from his frantic
efforts to obtain them for her. He loaded her with fulsome compliments,
and he looked so strangely at her that the poor child hurried back to
the house, vowing it was the last time she would go out with him, if he
were papa's friend twenty times over; and passing him over to mamma in
the parlor, she hastily arranged her handful of blossoms for the centre
of the table, and captured her father and instructed him as to the
serving of the chicken. As she spoke a trembling came upon his weak
mouth, and his pained blue eyes looked away over her head. She put a
pink-tipped forefinger on his lip and said, low: "Don't, papa, don't!
It's all right, only dear, dear papa, you won't forget, will you
now--for Syb and me the portions with the bits of green--you understand,
papa?"

And he sighed and answered bitterly: "Yes, I understand! God knows I
understand!"

At last, then, they sat at table. Sybil, holding her hatchet behind her
in temporary amity, glowed and sparkled, cheerfully proclaimed her
interest in the cult of delicate feeding, and boldly challenged judgment
on the principal dish before them, the chicken _à la_ Maryland, sorely
frightening her family by her reckless daring. But Mr. Bulkley, with
Dorothy's wistful blue eyes upon him, without hesitation gallantly
declared it could not be equalled this side of Mason and Dixon's line;
and, to poor Lena's sorrow, proved his sincerity by accepting a second
helping, which was hard on that help-maiden, who had not even eggs to
look forward to later on.

But Mrs. Lawton's shiver of repulsion at the offered soup and her faint
consent to the making of a little thin toast--"oh, very, _very_
thin"--were so cleverly done that both girls mentally promised her a hug
and a kiss by and by. And William Henry Bulkley, who lived solely for
physical comfort and mental excitement, and was enjoying both at that
moment, beamed and sympathized and complimented and ogled, and finally
left the table swept so bare of food that the very locusts of Egypt
might have gained points from the completeness of his ravages. And when
with grateful hearts the Lawtons saw his red face smiling "good-by" from
the gorgeous trap, as it went glittering down the drive, John went
directly to his beloved willow, Letitia flew to the dining-room, but
Sybil, dashing her fist upon the porch railing, cried, with white lips:
"Oh, what a tawdry farce life has become for us! Dorothy Lawton, I go to
Miss Morrell's to-morrow! If she helps me--good! If she does not, I'll
kill myself! I swear I will! Oh, mamma--Lena! Come quick! Dorrie has
fainted!"



CHAPTER VII

A PRAYER AND A PROMISE


Next day, in spite of the faint her sister had frightened her into,
Dorothy's cheeks and lips wore their usual clear, bright color, and it
was Sybil's face that seemed drained of blood down to the edges of her
scarlet lips, while faint violet shadows lay beneath her brooding dark
eyes. True to the resolve formed the evening before, she prepared
herself, early in the day, for a walk over to Riverdale Avenue. She did
not ask Dorothy to go with her, but when the latter noted the
preparations being made, she cast down the paper she was dawdling over
and herself made ready to go out, and Sybil put her arm about her
sister's neck for a moment, in sign of gratitude for her companionship,
and together they started forth to make the fateful call.

As they scrambled through the stony lane that made a short cut for them
Dorothy said: "Did you pray to God to help you, Sybbie? I did."

"Oh!" recklessly replied Sybil. "I notice God generally helps those who
help themselves!"

"You mean," corrected Dorothy, "who try to help themselves. All one can
do by one's own self, Syb, is just to try. But God always keeps His
promises, and will surely give help if you ask for it, _believing_ in
Him. And you do believe--you do, don't you dear?"

Sybil shot a quick sidelong glance at her sister, hesitated a moment,
then stopped, bent her head, and whispered, rapidly: "Lord! dear Lord!
who seems always so far off, hear me, I pray! Soften this woman's heart
toward me, incline her to help me, not because of any merit, but because
of my great need. In your blessed Son's name I ask it. Amen!"

And then she hurried on ahead, while Dorothy, radiant with faith,
scrabbled and slipped and laughed quite happily as they came out upon
the wide, shady avenue, short of breath but sound of limb and skirt and
shoe. As they passed the big gate and walked slowly up the driveway of
The Beeches they saw a large red sunshade go bobbing around the corner
of the house and halted.

"Shall we go on and ring the bell," asked Dorothy, "or shall we venture
to follow her?"

"No! no!" answered Sybil. "The last refuge of the genteel beggar who
comes to ask a favor is an absolute propriety of behavior--strict
conformity to the demands of etiquette. To follow and join our hostess
in her garden would be delightfully informal, but it would be too
suggestive of familiarity. No! no! We must ring the bell and pass in a
few ounces of pasteboard to the housemaid or the boy or----"

But just then there came a sound like a splash of something into water,
a scream that trailed off into a gurgle of laughter, and finally clear
and distinct the words: "You abominable little beast--poor angel! Hold
still! You're wetting me all over, far worse than the lawn sprinkler!"
And around the corner of the house came their hostess, her skirts wound
well about her, while from her two outstretched hands dangled and kicked
a muddy, dripping, coughing, spitting morsel of a skye-terrier. The
three women gazed at one another a moment and then burst into laughter.

"If you will rest a little on the veranda--there are seats there--I will
join you the moment I am divorced from this small martyr to scientific
research. No levity, please, Miss Dorothy." Then suddenly lifting her
voice Miss Morrell cried: "Frida! Mary! M--a--r--y! Somebody come here,
please!" and swiftly resumed her reproachfully explanatory tone, saying:
"This animated bit of mud is, when washed and dried, a very earnest
student of biology, or, to be more exact, of zoology, since she is most
deeply interested in the structure and daily habits of the fugacious
frog, which, up to this time, she has considered a terrestrial beast,
inhabiting shady garden beds; but now she knows him to be amphibious;
has proved it, indeed, by plunging after him into the muddy depths of
the lily tub, just to see for herself, you know. There's devotion to
study! Oh, Frida, here you are, at last! Take Mona and put her kindly
but very firmly into her tub, no soap, you know, just a thorough
rinsing--and then dry her as you would be dried, that is, tenderly. Miss
Dorothy, I'm afraid you are what the old comedies call 'a frivol.'" And
so with light banter they entered the house.

But Miss Morrell, being an observant person, saw from the first the
preoccupation of Sybil, and to her the girl's pale face, cloudy hair,
insistent dark eyes, and sullen red mouth, suggested a touch of tragedy,
and again she asked herself: "What does she want? What is she demanding
of me?"

Dorothy, in answer to Sybil's look, was trying to find some excuse for
leaving the two together, and had just expressed a desire to cross the
lawn to look at a very fine hawthorn when they saw a young woman coming
up the steps and heard a ring of the doorbell. Claire Morrell's eyes
happened to be upon Sybil's at the moment, and the look of despair that
settled whitely down upon her face made her think, with a quickening
pulse, "That's just the expression of face many a woman must have seen
reflected from the clear water a moment before the fatal plunge." And
going swiftly forward to greet the new-comer, who was her neighbor, she
decided to give Miss Lawton a chance to speak with her alone if she so
desired. Therefore, directly introductions had been made, she asked Miss
Helen Gray if she would not show Miss Dorothy about a bit, and,
laughingly joining their hands, she shoo'd them before her, crying: "Go
forth, lovers of flowers, and seek diligently for the oriole that hideth
the nest in mine orchard! A prize awaits the fair, the chaste, the
inexpressive she who first locates that nest!"

And as they went willingly forth Miss Morrell returned to the parlor,
pushing to the door nearest the stairs, and remarked, casually: "We've
got the whole floor to ourselves, now, so we may expand!"

Then, with a jerk and apropos of nothing, Sybil asked: "Miss Morrell,
is it very difficult to get upon the stage?"

A flash came from the blue eyes of the actress, and her lip curled
contemptuously as she answered: "Oh, no! If a woman has been party to a
particularly offensive scandal, or to a shooting, or has come straight
from the divorce court, then she turns quite naturally to the
stage-door, which seems to open readily to her touch--such is the
baneful power of notoriety. But your respectable, clean-minded girl, who
wishes to enter a theatre of high standing, will find it easier to break
through the wall, removing brick by brick, than to open unaided the door
closed against her."

"Oh, don't!" cried Sybil, in a pained voice, "don't jest! I am in
earnest! I--I--I want to go on the stage, Miss Morrell. Can you, will
you, help me?"

"Certainly not!" came the swift answer. "Help to the stage a young girl
who has a father and a mother and a good home? Be grateful for them,
and----"

But her words were crossed by a shrill laugh and the bitter cry: "'A
good home!' Dear God, hear her! 'A good home!'" And Sybil clasped her
throat with both hands to choke back the strangling sobs that were
following that laugh.

Claire Morrell rose, and, swiftly crossing to her guest, remarked: "You
are not well." Then, quite ignoring the gasped: "Oh, yes, I am! I am
well enough," she drew out the long pins securing it, lifted the heavy
hat from Sybil's head, and, running her long fingers through the dark
waves, said, gently: "What is it, child?"

And Sybil threw her arms about the actress's waist, crying: "May I tell
you? Will you listen?" A moment's pause; then, with a swiftly clouding
face, she continued: "But, what's the use, you will not understand my
trouble! If death had robbed me--if a lover had deserted me--any great
disaster would touch your heart! But you, who are rich, successful,
secure, cannot be expected to understand the shame, the humiliation, the
suffering caused by mere poverty! And yet, it is genteel poverty that is
crushing out the lives of all those who are dear to me! That is my
trouble, but," she let her arms drop heavily away from the waist they
had clasped, "you cannot understand!"

Claire Morrell stood tall in her soft amber gown, looking down into the
troubled eyes lifted to her face. A half quizzical, half tender smile
was on her lips. "You must not jump so hastily to your conclusions, Miss
Lawton," she said. "I am very comfortable now, it is true. I have
sufficient to eat, to wear, but I have known the time when I had
neither." As Sybil's eyes widened, she went on: "You think you know
poverty? Well, have you ever wandered about the city streets, clinging
to the fingers of a mother who staggered with weakness, while she
searched for work--for shelter? Have you felt the pinch of cold, the
gnawing, the actual pangs of hunger? Once Death and I were kept apart by
a single slice of bread. I think you may go on, my dear, for I have
matriculated, and can well understand. Thank you, dear!" For Sybil had
caught the speaker's hand, and, with quick sympathy, had pressed it to
her lips.

And as the actress sank down beside her, on the dark red cushions, Sybil
poured forth all the story of her early luxury, her aimless education,
their ever-deepening poverty, the isolation of her sister and herself,
her mother's obstinate determination not to let them work, confessing
even to her own dark thoughts and wicked threats, should this one hope
be taken from her.

"For, you see," said she, "I can do nothing else--nothing, _nothing_!
But I am young, I have intelligence, I have good common sense. I don't
expect ever to be a crowned queen of the stage, but might not I be one
of the little people that are required in so many plays? I think I
might, for, oh, Miss Morrell, I do believe I could act!"

And noticing the swift play of expression on the vivid young face before
her, that lady answered, quietly: "Yes, and I believe so, too."

Sybil clasped her hands, fairly gasping the words: "You will help me,
then?"

"Wait? wait!" cried the other. "You are again jumping too quickly. I do
not refuse entirely to consider your wishes; but, my dear girl, before I
lift one finger, speak one word in your behalf, I must have the
assurance that you are acting with the full approval, or at least with
the consent, of your parents. No! No!" raising her hand imperatively,
"don't coax, it would be useless, it would be unpardonable,
dishonorable, to assist a daughter to enter a profession that her father
and mother disapproved of."

Sybil leaned forward, and clutching a fold of the amber gown, asked,
with dry lips: "And--and, if I win their consent? Oh, Miss Morrell,
Miss Morrell, what then?" She trembled all over with excitement.

The actress, looking back to the days of her own desperate struggle,
felt a great pity for this poor child, who was so eager to rush, all
unarmed, into the fray--a pity and a dread. "Child," she said,
earnestly, almost piteously, "promise me that in the future you will
never blame me for opening the stage-door to you. No matter what
happens, promise to hold me in kindly, even forgiving memory, if need
be!"

And Sybil said, fervently: "I shall worship you all your life and honor
and revere you my own life through, if of your mercy you make me a
bread-winner!"

"Had you come to me one week ago," continued Miss Morrell, "I could have
given you a small position in my company for next season, but a young
widow, who has never looked upon the footlights yet, came before you,
and, well, she will undertake the small parts you might have
experimented with. Don't look so hopeless! When your father and mother
have consented to the step we will go down to the city to do a little
shopping, and we will just happen in at a certain theatre where I have
often played, and I will present you to its manager, and will speak a
little word for you, and _perhaps_ he may give you the chance you long
for. Child! child! Rise this moment! Kneel only to your God! Quick! Here
are the others! Go over to that farthest mirror and put on your hat!
Well, what luck?" as the girls came in, flushed and laughing. "What, you
really found the nest?"

"Yes," said Dorothy; "but you misled us. It was not in the orchard, but
hanging from the tip of an elm-bough this side the orchard wall."

"And who won the prize?" smilingly inquired Miss Morrell.

"Miss Lawton did," said Miss Gray. "My neck soon grew tired, and I gave
up staring upward."

"Then behold the reward of the patient searcher and the strong of neck!"
And Miss Morrell handed Dorothy a silver souvenir spoon, bearing on the
bowl an etched picture of The Beeches.

"Oh, how pretty!" exclaimed the recipient. "Sybil, see! Is this not
charming?" And as her sister turned to look at the bit of silver Miss
Morrell was positively amazed at the brilliant beauty of the girl's face
when hope-illumined! As the Lawtons withdrew, Sybil, who passed out
last, looked at her Woman of Fate with luminous worshipping eyes, and
whispered: "God was very good when He created you!"



CHAPTER VIII

"TELL HER YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION"


When the girls had returned from their call on the actress they were met
at the door by a wildly excited, tearfully angry Lena: "Oh, my Miss
Ladies!" she cried. "Vat you tink now? Vas I a mans I could say tarn!
But I'm youst a vomans, so I cry mit my eyes! Dose mens of der gas
houses com und dey make mit de bill und vant money right now dis minute
down. Und I say der Herr Boss he's out, und der Frau Mistress comes in
der bed mit der headaches, und de Miss Ladies go visitin' mit dat big
actor lady's over yonter, und dey shall put de bill on der mantel-poard
unter dat clock, dot doan't go no more! Und dot smarty mans, he gif big
laughs, und say, 'Oh, no! dot plan's like de clock, it doan't go!' Und
he say gif him right avay quick de pay for der gas! Und I say, Did he
tink I carry de gas money in my clothes? Und den dey say dey cut off dot
gas--cut it short off unless dey hav' de money. Und dey shov' me avay
und go down in der cellar, und for sure, my Miss Ladies, I haven't seen
dem mens cut nodings at all. But after dot dey take avay demselves. I
youst go to light der dark entry vay out dere, and oh! oh! der gas don't
light it, it don't even make no smells, und dose men did cut off dot
gas, und carry it off mit 'em! Und we ain't got only vun candles in der
house! And [sobbing loudly] uf anybody in der fam'ly should be took to
die, all unexpec' like, it vill be in der dark to-night--you see, now!"

Perhaps Sybil's courage might have required a little time to tighten it
up to the sticking point, but this tale of Lena's was like a sharp goad
pricking her forward. Throwing off her hat she said: "Lena, go make me a
cup of coffee! Miss Dorothy will give you some change to buy a few
candles for to-night." And as Lena trotted off to the kitchen Dorothy
asked: "Shall you want me, Sybbie?" And as a shaken head was her only
answer, she picked up her sister's hat and slowly turned away. At the
stairs she looked back and said: "If you should want me, I'll be in our
room waiting."

And the set, frowning face of Sybil softened for a moment, and she
answered, gently: "Thank you, Dorrie! I know you will be wishing me
success!"

And, satisfied with a kind word, Dorothy ascended to her own room, and
presently heard the high shrill voice of her mother, crying out against
"needless ignominy" and "degradation," caught the words "strollers,
play-actors," "constables," "depths of vulgarity," "painted
caricatures," and "serpent-tooth," and then suddenly the long wavering
shriek and laugh of hysteria; and, knowing that Sybil needed help by
that time, she softly entered the room and held her mother's beating
hands, while Sybil administered soothing drops, applied a bit of plaster
here and there to the self-inflicted scratches, and fastened a
cologne-soaked handkerchief tightly about the doubtless aching head.
But after the girls had placed her in bed she suddenly lifted her head
and said, resentfully: "Miss Morrell might at least have called on me
before talking things over seriously with you girls. I've been fifty
times better off than she is! She may be a very great actress, but her
social usages are all wrong, I can tell her that! And she can call on
me, or you can keep off the stage all your life, Sybil Lawton!"

And with violently restrained laughter the girls stole out of the room,
leaving their mother to enjoy a nap.

"Oh," cried Dorothy, when they had locked themselves into their own
room, "was not that mamma all over? Now it is Miss Morrell who is trying
to induce you to go on the stage, and mamma will not consent unless she
is called upon in state by the famous suppliant! Oh, it is funny!"

But Sybil's laugh was not hearty. She was thinking of her father, whose
coming she waited anxiously; and when at last they were out on the
porch, alone in the sweet June dusk, she, leaning back against the
railing, said, suddenly: "Dada!"

John Lawton started at the word. In an instant his memory presented him
the picture of his handsome, vexed young wife as she fretted over the
dark-eyed baby's persistent use of "dada" instead of papa; and his blue
old eyes were very tender as they looked at the speaker expectantly.

"I went over to call upon Miss Morrell to-day."

"Did you?" he asked, in a pleased tone. "I'm sure you found her a
charming companion?"

"She?" exclaimed Sybil. "She is the best, she is the kindest woman in
the whole world!"

"It's a habit with you, dear, to indulge in somewhat hasty conclusions.
And you are a little extravagant, too, are you not? I have heard some
very pretty stories of Miss Morrell's kindness to the people about here,
but 'the whole world'?"

He smiled indulgently, and was going on to complete his remark, when,
noticing the tightly clasped hands, the eager manner of his daughter, he
paused, and, quick as a flash, she flung herself into the story of the
day. Once only he moved, once only he spoke. When first she declared her
intention of going on the stage he cried "Sybil!" then clasped his hand
about his lips and chin and said no other word.

She was passionately portraying their hopeless, friendless state, when
he turned restlessly in his chair, and murmured: "Why doesn't Lena light
the gas--the house looks so dreary?"

"Why? why?" cried Sybil. "Why, because there is no gas to light. The
bill was not paid to-day! Oh! see--see, dear! Something _must_ be done!
And I'm the only one to do it, you know that!"

Faintly a groaned "Oh, God! Oh, God!" came to her ear, and she cried:
"Don't misunderstand! Oh, dada, don't! There was no reproach in that! I
only mean I'm so well and strong I ought to help, at least, myself!"

"It's a hard life," he whispered.

"No harder for me than for other girls," she answered.

"You might fail--you might, you know?"

"Even so," responded Sybil, "it would be more brave, more honorable to
try and fail than not to try at all, but be content to cling like a
parasitical growth to you and mamma, stealing from your vitality!"

He turned his pale face to her, and said: "There speaks my father,
through your lips. The courage, the spirit, that passed by me reappears
in you, a girl!" Again he turned away, and silence fell. She had
reasoned, argued, entreated. Had it all been in vain? she asked herself.
At last she faltered: "Dada, are you going to refuse your consent? Shall
you forbid me?"

He turned upon her in a white passion of misery: "Refuse you? Forbid
you? What right have I to forbid anything? Fathers who bring honor to
the family name, who support, shelter, and protect their children, have
earned the right to guide them--to forbid them for their good! But what
right have I? My father gave me a fortune--I was too weak to hold it!
God gave me daughters, and I am too weak to protect them!" His head fell
upon his breast, he extended his trembling old hands to her, and
abjectly murmured: "Pardon me, my daughter! pardon me!"

In an instant his shamed old face was resting above the high-beating
young heart of his child. She smoothed back the silvery hair from his
lined brow, and said, imperatively: "Dada, answer me this one question,
and we will have done. Answer truly! Do you believe there is a father,
great, strong, rich, influential, in this city to-night who is more
truly, reverently loved than you are? Tell me!"

And the old man answered: "No! no! Though I have lost everything else in
the world, my children's love remains to me. That is the one sweet drop
left in the bottom of the cup! It is compensation, daughter, it is
compensation!"

Sybil rested her cheek upon his head, and crooned over him as though he
were a sick child, until the young summer night lifted her mighty silver
shield high above the grewsome black trees, then a peevish voice from
above called: "Sybil! John! What are you mooning over down there? Why on
earth don't you come in out of the damp? The quinine bottle's more than
half empty now! No one ever seems to consider ways and means in this
house unless I do! And John, this room's full of all sorts of flopping,
flying things! They've put the candle out twice, and you ought to come
up here and try and chase 'em away! Besides, I--I don't want you two
down there, anyway!"

John answered, obediently, "Yes, Letitia!" But Sybil laughed a short
laugh, and said: "The wasp carries his sting in his tail, and the pith
of mamma's remarks are generally found at their end. No, she doesn't
want us two down here anyway! Papa, I knew mamma was jealous of me when
I was only as high as your knee, and----"

But her father put his finger on her lip, saying: "Don't, daughter; it
is not a gracious thing to speak of a mother's faults."

And Sybil said, hastily: "I beg your pardon, papa!" Then, as they rose,
she put her hands on his shoulders and asked, very prettily: "Papa, will
you not in so many words give me your permission to try for a position
on the stage? Miss Morrell will not move an inch without it."

"She is a good woman, an honest woman!" he said. Then he put his hand
under Sybil's chin and, lifting her face to the moonlight, looked
steadily at her a long moment, sighed heavily, and answered: "Since you
are so determined, dear, yes, you may tell Miss Morrell you are acting
with my permission in seeking to enter her profession." And he put her
quickly from him and went slowly into the house, stumbling up the stairs
in the darkness.

And Sybil lifted her arms above her head, stretching her hands up toward
the moon in a very ecstasy of joy. "Oh," she whispered, "_am_ I to
escape from this 'slough of despond'--_am_ I to have my chance in life?
Perhaps I may become successful, happy?"

And right across her smiling, upturned face a hideous creature of the
night flew so low, so near, one leathery wing touched her loosened hair.
She flung her hands across her face with a startled cry, then laughed a
little tremulously, saying: "B-r-r-r! a bat--ugh! How I loathe them!
I--I think I'll go in" and she entered the house, closing and with some
difficulty locking the door in the darkness.

As she reached the top step of the stairs a door opened, and Mrs. Lawton
in her undress uniform of mind as well as body, a guttering candle held
high above her head, stood enframed in the doorway--Mrs. Lawton in
night-dress and knitted bedroom slippers, but without her upper teeth,
without her thick switch of hair, without her rosy bloom of rouge
vinaigre; and without all these things it was surprising how little
there seemed to be left of the every-day familiar Letitia Lawton.
Looking at the small, sleek head; the pallid, sunken face; the flattened
figure--Sybil thought, rather wickedly: "This is a sort of skeleton
mamma. I wonder if papa would like to put her in the closet?"

But the lady was addressing her querulously: "Oh, you have decided it to
be worth while to follow a mother's suggestion, and come into the house
at last? In former days I could have called in a doctor for every chill
in the family, even for the servants--though, to tell the truth,
servants rarely have real hearty chills; indeed, I doubt their ability
to contract genuine malaria. It's a mere desire to imitate their
employers. But now that your poor father has lost everything--that is,
everything except his good name [with a stinging look at Sybil, which,
that young person understood perfectly]--I can only defend the health of
my family with the quinine bottle, and I do think you and your father
might have held your secret consultation inside the house. I'm sure
neither Dorothy nor I would have tried to pry!"

"Oh, mamma!" indignantly exclaimed Sybil, "you know what I was asking of
papa!"

"I know!" broke in Mrs. Lawton, "that you were twisting him about your
little finger, as you usually do. It is not for a father to decide a
girl's destiny, without even asking the mother's advice. You two have
connived together, I believe, with that Morrell woman, who has not even
called upon the mother she would rob! But remember this--the house that
is divided against itself goes to the wall, or--er falls, or something;
and how you can stand and laugh at the mother that bore you is more than
I can understand! Your Grandmother Bassett never received such treatment
from me--I know that! But you and your father may think everything is
safely settled, and you as good as on the stage; but let me tell you I
am not quite helpless in this matter. There is still one link between me
and the life of ease and luxury and beauty I once knew! You seem to
forget you have a god-mother--though how you can forget the only human
being who has been able to give you presents for ten long years, I don't
know! But you have a god-mother, and Sybil Van Camp has at least enough
of her fortune left to merit our respect! Oh, you need not pout! Down
you go to-morrow to Mrs. Van Camp, and if she sees no shame in spreading
the name of Lawton all over New York, well and good! She was a power in
her day. I nearly fainted from joy and pride when she consented to stand
god-mother to you! You don't like to trouble her--very private matter? I
wish it was a private matter. As for trouble, didn't she vow in church
to become your surety and see that you renounced things and--ah, well,
what's a god-mother for if she don't take some responsibility? Anyway,
you go on to no stage without Mrs. Van Camp's consent, nor without
proper social amenities being extended to your mother!

"And Sybil, I simply _can't_ be kept standing here all night in my
state of health! Of course, dear, I am interested in all your plans, but
it would have been more thoughtful had you waited till morning to talk
them over. But that's where you take after your poor father in a certain
unpremeditated selfishness--unpremeditated, I admit, for he's a
gentleman and you've had the upbringing of a lady--though you are
deprived of the surroundings of one, but through no fault of yours or
mine! John!"--turning sharply to peer into the darkness behind
her--"what are you groaning about, I'd like to know? It's my legs and
back that are bearing the fatigue of this interview. I saw you took good
care to loll comfortably through your talk with Sybil. So why you should
groan now, I don't know, unless you've hit your bunion on the frame of
the sewing-machine again, and you generally swear a little when you do
that. Sybil, I'm fairly worn out in mind as well as body, and you tore
your veil the other day, didn't you? Cheap lace always goes that way.
There was a time when my veils made people turn around to look at them.
I had one with a border of grapes and vines, I remember; I am always an
honest woman, and as the border had the effect of cutting off one's
chin, I can't pretend it was becoming--but, my dear, it cost thirty
dollars, as I'm a living woman! But you can wear my net veil to-morrow,
and you will have to take Dorothy with you, for I shall be utterly used
up and unable to chaperon you; though once they get you upon the stage,
I suppose you'll go prancing about without attendance of any sort. But
until that time, you will show some respect to social conventions.
Good-night, Sybil! Take a quinine pill before you go to bed. You have
advanced me well upon my way to the grave this day. But I can't forget
you are my child, and if you should get a chill, you couldn't go down to
Mrs. Van Camp, who will probably put an estoppel upon these theatre
plans of yours. Yes, yes! John! I'm coming! It does seem that I might be
allowed to speak a few words of advice and caution to my own daughter
without interruption every moment or two!"

And profiting by the momentary diversion, Sybil flew past her mother to
the room she shared with her sister. Dorothy had placed the candle high
on a small bracket that held their shabby little hymnals and
prayer-books, and as Sybil entered she saw directly before her the young
girl on her knees at the bedside praying. The light fell upon her
uplifted, happy face, making a faint aureole in the bright hair that at
the back fell in a long queue. A tenderness came into Sybil's eyes, but
as they fell upon the upturned soles of Dorrie's feet from beneath the
night-dress, rising mischief triumphed. She looked at the pink round
heels, at the whiteness of the hollows, and then the pinkness again
across the balls of the little trotters; and, resisting not a moment,
stooped and drawing her finger zig-zag across them both, produced a wild
lash out, a startled: "Oh! ouch!--for ever and ever--Amen! You ought to
be ashamed of yourself, Syb!"

And before Dick could pull his head out from beneath his wing and set it
in the right direction, the bed was pillowless; those useful articles
serving as ammunition in the battle royal raging gloriously between the
dressed and the undressed, while happily neither one guessed they were
bidding farewell to childish romps in this, their last great pillow
fight.

And across the hall the subdued John bowed in silence, and allowed the
conquering Letitia to place her foot a little more firmly upon his neck.
The light had gone out, 'tis true; yet, as the victorious one could talk
on perfectly well in the dark, it was nothing short of a merciful
dispensation that permitted meek and conquered John, under cover of the
darkness, to sleep--sleep quietly, almost attentively, thus escaping
actual madness. For as constant dropping weareth away a stone, so
constant talking weareth away the listener's brain!



CHAPTER IX

THE ACCIDENT--A FRIEND IN NEED


Early the next morning the girls prepared for their ride cityward, for,
though their sharp young eyes saw Mrs. Lawton's follies and her faults;
though they writhed under her despairing lamentations and blushed at her
outrageous boastings--perhaps because they were guiltily conscious of
sitting in judgment upon their mother--they yielded her prompt obedience
whenever she gave a command.

Mr. Lawton elected to walk with them to the station, and Lena, on her
way upstairs to the "frau mistress," bearing on a tray a breakfast of
simple material but of amazing size, nodded and smiled, and with
unconscious impertinence commented upon their looks, declaring with
hearty admiration that they were "youst lofely right away down to der
ground!"

Dorothy laughed and said, "Take good care of mamma, Lena!"

And that handmaiden glanced down at the stack of buttered toast and the
eggs and young home-raised onions, and made answer with a droll not to
say sly look in her light blue eye: "Oh, ja! I make goot care mit her,
my Miss Ladies--und ven she eat all dese breakfas', she'll be all right,
uf she don't be vorse!" And away she went up the groaning stairs with
the odor of coffee trailing behind her.

When the three had reached the little station that like a hen covering
her brood nestles low at the very foot of the hill, with the glistening
metal rails passing on one side and the glittering, dimpling, rippling
river flowing by on the other, John Lawton lifted his hat and kissed his
daughters good-by with the careful courtesy habitual with him, and
holding Sybil's hand a moment he said: "I--I shall walk over to The
Beeches to-day, dear----"

"Papa!" exclaimed the girl.

"Yes," he went on; "I shall make my acknowledgments to Miss Morrell. You
think she did a fine thing when she sympathized with and promised to
help you, but she did a finer thing when she refused to ignore the
parents--the old people, who are generally pushed to the wall in such
cases. I shall thank her for her consideration, and----" but the roar of
the approaching train sent the girls scurrying through the little
waiting-room out to the platform and into the car. A pair of kisses were
waved, and they had lost sight of the tall, slender, old gentleman.

And Sybil, as she sank into the seat beside Dorothy, exclaimed: "Is he
not a dear? Is it not wonderful that this sordid poverty has not made
him selfish, narrow-minded, sullen? Poor papa! Do you know, Dorrie, I'm
afraid he suffers more than we imagine!"

"Oh!" cried Dorothy, "don't say that! I always thought papa was almost
contented with things, except on our birthdays! But now we must love
him more than ever, Sybbie!"

And to drive away the anxious look from her sister's eyes, Sybil called
attention to the odd appearance of the car, which was almost filled with
gentlemen, and remarked, laughingly: "We have taken what mamma calls
'the busy man's train.' They are a sociable lot, are they not--every
man-jack of them with his nose in his paper, and a nice little wrinkle
between his puckered brows?"

"That's from trying to get and keep the proper focus," laughed Dorrie,
who added: "I've a five-cent nickel in my pocketbook, and I'll give it
to you, Syb, if you can learn the color of a single pair of eyes in this
car--barring mine, of course."

"Well, the nickel must be plugged or you wouldn't have it, so I'm not
losing much; but, oh! after all, I may win it--plug and all! One male
creature has eyes, for he has lifted them, and they are--are! Pass over
the nickel, Miss, they are gray with black lashes, and--_oh_!"

She stopped in confusion, for the male creature she was watching had
lowered his paper a moment, and she recognized the grave young man; and
to herself she ruefully remarked: "And the third time's the charm!"

And though Dorothy busied herself in finding the despised nickel, her
swiftly deepening color told her sister that she, too, had recognized
their fellow-traveller whose calm features showed no trace of the
surprised delight he felt at again seeing the face of the
"violet-girl," as he termed her in his thoughts. He only gave a severe,
scrutinizing glance at the shade of his window, carefully lowered it
about an inch, and then returned to his paper, reading over and over and
over again how a certain Mr. Somebody had become the benefactor of his
race through selling shoes to men for three dollars a pair. Yet, in
spite of his steady reading, he kept saying to himself how strange it
was that the fair-faced Violet-Girl should cross his path on this the
red-letter day of his life--the setting of whose sun would leave him so
much better off financially than it had found him in the morning. And he
could not help thinking how much sweeter his good fortune would seem if
there was someone to share it with him.

If his mother had not left him, what soft, silky, flowery pillows and
spreads her couch should have; what rich, dull rugs! But the almost
surreptitious care bestowed upon her grave was all that he could give
her now. Yet he could imagine how those appealing eyes over there would
widen with surprise and dance with pleasure if one she cared for brought
a story of endeavor crowned with success. He wondered what her name was.
He knew her family name, for he had heard someone at the church corner,
on Sunday, refer to them as "those Lawton girls," and had winced at both
tone and words.

And the Lawton girls, meantime, were discussing the probable result of
their visit to Mrs. Van Camp.

"I'm afraid the chances are against you," said Dorothy, anxiously. "You
know how she goes on about family. 'Old families and the proprieties'
are words of sweetness to her, though she is as gay as a girl and as
droll as a Merry Andrew--on occasions. 'The stage'--only two words--but
when spoken in relation to Mrs. Van Camp's god-daughter, Sybbie, I'm
afraid you can't manage her."

"She won't need managing, Dorrie. She's mercenary to the point of
worshipping Mammon, but, thank heaven, she never meanders as mamma does,
who wanders away from the subject into tortuous and serpentine courses.
No manoeuvring will be required with God-mother Sybil. I shall marshal
my facts, dwell upon the honor of being introduced by Miss Morrell into
the profession--she has professed the greatest admiration for her all
her life--and, as she knows already our unspeakably helpless condition,
I'm sure she will come to a quick decision. Oh, mercy! They are already
lighting the gas. How I do detest the tunnel! I always come out so
sticky and prickly about my face and neck--and grimy, too!"

"Oh," answered Dorothy, "I wouldn't object to being sticky and grimy, if
only I were not afraid. But, Syb, I can't help it; I never have passed
through this tunnel yet without taking part in an imaginary accident."

"You should follow the example of your religious friend, Mr. Walton,"
laughed Sybil, "who declares he always fills in the time by praying."

"Yes, and I think he should be ashamed of himself!" indignantly
interrupted Dorothy. "It's nothing short of an insult to his Maker to
pass through the beautiful green fields and the warm, sunny air reading
a newspaper; and, when entering a foul, ill-smelling, black hole of
man's creating, to begin praying because he can't do anything else!"

Under cover of the roar of the train Sybil laughed aloud, delighted to
have got a rise, as the slang phrase is, out of Dorrie's mild temper.

The men, looking waxy pale under the light of the overhead lamps, were
folding up papers, settling hats afresh and preparing for the famous
American rush from the train when Sybil, noticing that her sister's eyes
were closed, exclaimed, with malicious triumph: "I believe you are
praying yourself! You are, at this very moment!"

"Well," smiled Dorothy, "you see, you don't know how frightened I am,
and anyway I don't reserve my prayers for an otherwise useless moment. I
prayed this morning, with my eyes open, looking right into God's rising
sun!"

Crash! _Recoil!_ CRASH! And a swift, appalling darkness, cut across by
one woman's piercing scream! Running footsteps! The venomous hissing of
escaping steam; the stench of gas; and then in that Stygian darkness,
rising clear above the undertone of groans and short-breathed oaths, was
a girl's voice crying: "Dorrie! Dorrie! Oh, Dorrie!"

Noises outside were growing louder, and Sybil scrambled up from the
floor, where she had fallen, and, mad with terror, stretched out groping
hands in the direction she had last seen Dorothy, and oh! blessed God!
encountered two little hands, that closed on hers. The next moment she
had her utterly silent sister in her arms, and impatiently shook away
something warm that kept creeping, creeping down her temple and her
cheek. The din outside was awful, the darkness an anguish! Suddenly
there was a flare of a match--it went out! A groping, searching hand
struck Sybil's shoulder. Another match, a wax one, was lighted, and the
young man she had jested about, hatless and very pale, asked, swiftly:
"Is she hurt? I hope she has not fainted?"

He leaned closer, and Dorothy's great, strained blue eyes stared up at
him from her sister's breast.

"Can't you speak, dear?" pleaded Sybil. "Oh, she is half killed with
fright!" she added, turning to the stranger, and again the creeping
thing was on her cheek, and Dorothy cried, sharply: "Blood! blood! Oh!
Sybbie's hurt! Can't you help her?" And the match was out, and they were
again in that hell of darkness and steam and gas and roar! But a calm
and friendly voice came to them, saying: "Stay here; take part of these
matches and light one now and then while I get out and find what can be
done! Oh, here come the torches! Now we'll soon have help!" But before
he left them he drew from a pocket a handkerchief, folded it, and
swiftly tied it about Sybil's head, and even then the girl smiled at his
naïve, lover-like excuse: "The blood frightens her so!" And through a
few agonized minutes the girls clung tightly together, shivering in a
very ague of terror. And then, through the billows of steam, the
low-hanging, strangling clouds of smoke, they saw men with lanterns,
heard orders, short and sharp, then their friend was lifting them down
from the high, high step; and Sybil, with her arms about Dorothy, was
aided, led, pushed, or pulled along at the will of the only person who
noticed their presence or existence.

There had been much noise--noise of voices, of metal ringing on metal,
of hurrying feet--but suddenly it ceased. A moment's quiet came into
that place of mad excitement. The crowd before them drew apart. Like
lightning, their guide threw himself in front of the girls, whispering:
"Don't look! Don't let her look!" And Sybil, with chilling blood,
recalled that one piercing cry, that woman's cry, and to save her soul
could not help sending a glance toward the four men who bore upon a
stretcher a hastily covered form, so still, so pathetically slight!
Covered? Yes, but one little foot in oxford-tie was exposed. A foot so
like--so like-- And Sybil caught Dorothy in an embrace fierce enough to
wring a cry from her, and the words: "What is it, dear? Are you hurt
again? Have you turned your ankle, or-- Oh, Sybbie! It was that poor
man! Oh, can't we get out? _Can't we?_" and her voice broke into
frightened sobs.

The other two exchanged meaning glances, for, as this outburst had been
caused by the sight of two stalwart blue-coated men, who, after the
manner of children "making a chair" were carrying on their crossed arms
a passenger whose leg was broken, they trembled at the thought of the
collapse that must surely have followed upon the sight of that frail,
broken thing, whose mute authority had yet the power to silence the
awful din.

How they escaped from the stifling, sloppy, grimy place of torment they
could not have told, had the saving of an immortal soul depended upon
such telling. There was a ladder, and a failure, and a carrying of the
ladder to another place by the aid of a trainman, who roared some advice
as he stole a few moments for their service. Then coaxings for Dorrie,
sharp directions for Sybil, and--and somehow they were standing in a
street, dazzled by the sunlight, sick and faint and dirty and drabbled,
but out in the pure air once more. And knowing that Dorothy's life might
have gone out from sheer terror but for the aid and encouragement of the
grave young man, Sybil held out both hands to him, crying: "I thank you
from my heart, and I will serve you at command, for Dorrie's sake,
who--who----"

Her lips whitened--trembled. She clutched blindly at his arm for
support. Her self-control had been wonderful, but, like everything else,
it had to be paid for. The shock to her nerves had been terrible, her
wound had bled profusely, and when a strong arm about her waist lifted
her over the threshold into a quiet pharmacy she was just barely
conscious and no more.

The bald-headed little proprietor closed his doors upon the gaping
crowd, and, while reviving Sybil and dressing the really ugly cut her
head had received from striking against the frame of a seat, when she
had fallen to the floor, he called upon his wife to descend from her
room above, and she, with ready sympathy, brushed and pinned up
Dorothy's raiment and sponged away the smears and smuts from her face.
And when the cheerful little woman turned for a moment to the young man,
to tell him she could bring him her husband's second hat, if he did not
mind its being a bit burned by the suns of last summer, he overheard
poor Dorothy saying: "Whatever shall we do, Sybbie? We bought return
tickets, and--and we only have left ten cents, that was to have paid our
street-car fare to god-mother's."

A swift "S-h-h!" from Sybil silenced her. The man's heart contracted
with a pang of pity for their distressful situation. The next moment he
stood before them, and, addressing the elder, said: "Miss Lawton, I am
going to ask permission to introduce myself to you, as there is no one
to perform the service for me. I am a sort of neighbor of your family,
since I, too, am summering at Yonkers. My name is Galt--Leslie Galt--and
in consequence of this accident I ask you to trust yourself and your
sister to my care, until I can leave you at your own front door--will
you?" He waited for no answer, but continued: "I will have a carriage
here almost directly, and we will board a Harlem train, get off at Mount
Vernon, and then drive to your house."

Sybil's spirits began to rise. "Don't you think," she asked, glancing at
their sooty, oily, dirty white gowns, "we should be sent to the steam
laundry before that?"

"No," he gravely replied, though his eye gleamed; "not before, but
after, by all means."

"But," Dorothy began, anxiously, "do you suppose mamma and----?"

"I am going to send them word," broke in Galt, "that you are quite safe
before I get the carriage. You are safe, you know, physically, mentally,
morally. Only your wardrobe's ruin is complete." And gayly donning the
proprietor's ancient hat he hurried away, in their service.

And so it happened that the reassuring telegram had not yet reached the
old White house, though a rumor of an accident in the tunnel had, when a
shabby old hack came rattling up the grass-grown drive and stopped
before the sagging porch, where Letitia, ghastly under all her rouge,
stood clinging to John Lawton, who trembled visibly all his length. And
when a strange man got out he closed his eyes a moment, and passed his
tongue over his dry under lip.

Then, as thrilling sweet as had been their faint birth-cries, there came
to his ears two joyous "Papas! Mammas!" And then ensued a very whirlwind
of embraces, of kisses, of cries, of exclamations! And when Sybil had
said: "Mr. Galt saved us and brought us back to you, papa!" the old man
held out his hands and grasped those of the young man. His kindly,
frightened blue eyes gazed and gazed. His piteous old mouth trembled and
formed words that would not be said. And like a flash Leslie Galt saw
again Dorothy's wide blue eyes and fright-stricken mouth, as she lay
upon her sister's breast, beneath the flare of the waxen taper. And,
recognizing the likeness between father and daughter, he opened his
heart to the helpless old gentleman then and there. Though John Lawton
never got his thanks into words, his silent gratitude made a deeper
impression than did the bursting dam of Letitia's eloquence. And Lena,
rushing upon the scene to inquire as to the welfare of her Miss Ladies,
started out joyously with: "Ach! You com' all right again? Eh? You com'
back mit all your arms und legs und feet, und--und [a look of horror
growing on her face] mein Gott! mein Gott! Get avay, quick, und put
yourselves by der vash-tubs!" an ending which sent everyone into
laughter.

And as the girls were swept away by their mother, one blue flash met a
waiting pair of gray eyes; and as John Lawton walked down to the gate
with Leslie Galt, who had asked for and obtained leave from Mrs. Lawton
to make a call of inquiry next day as to the young ladies' healths, they
paused a moment, and Lawton, holding his new friend's hand tightly,
waved his left, indicating all the forlorn and neglected old place in
one gesture, and said: "You see, our daughters are all we have left on
earth--all, all! And you----"

He gently drew his hand away, lifted his hat punctiliously, and,
turning, walked slowly back to the decaying old White house!



CHAPTER X

CALLING ON THE MANAGER


It was the last week of the season at the Globe Theatre, and it was
closing in a blaze of glory. To leave a good taste in the mouth of the
public, the actor-manager, Stewart Thrall, had given it a final week of
Shakspere. "Romeo and Juliet" was playing with a very good and beautiful
young woman as star, who could not quite hide her contemptuous
misunderstanding of the passion-shaken little maid of Verona, the
swiftness of whose love is ever matched by its purity; and who,
therefore, seized upon the potion scene, making much of it and of the
final scene of all, so that it was not an ideal Juliet, but a most
beautiful woman in a rich and picturesque setting, who, brilliantly
successful in other characters, was accepted readily in this, because,
forsooth, nothing is so successful as success.

A large and beefy but an emphatic Romeo, who had to enthuse for two, an
exquisite Mercutio, a deliriously droll Nurse, and an excellent general
cast by their united efforts gave this very pleasing performance, whose
seven repetitions would do much to dim the memory of the many French
abominations that earlier in the season had freely scattered wink,
innuendo, and double-entendre while trailing their chic indecencies
about the same stage. Of course a few real lovers and students of
Shakspere felt the pity of the marred, misunderstood characters, while
keenly enjoying other more poetic presentations; but Stewart Thrall was
appealing to another class, the great uncultivated, who, though secretly
bored to extinction, dearly loved to pose (for one week only) as patrons
of the Bard; and as they exchanged platitudes with one another, when
meeting by chance at the box-office window, they invariably
congratulated themselves upon having one manager in their midst who
dared to produce Shakspere.

And some declared, with enthusiasm, that he deserved a public vote of
thanks for thus giving their sons and daughters an opportunity to study
a Shaksperian drama. And Mr. Thrall, sitting in the box-office out of
sight, but not out of hearing, smiled sardonically, and signed a cable
order to his Paris agent to secure a great Frenchman's newest, wittiest
indecency for New York's future delight, knowing well that the
Shaksperian poseurs outside would be found among its most generous
patrons.

Then, glancing at the treasurer, busy over his floor-plans,
change-drawer, and ticket stamps, he said: "By the way, Barney, you
reserved the wrong box for Claire Morrell last night. I told you plainly
the right box--didn't you understand me so?"

"Yes, sir," replied that young man of amazing collars, throwing back his
head and tilting up his cruelly scraped jaw in an effort to escape the
strangle-hold of the white linen long enough to answer his employer's
question. "Yes, sir; but--but you remember you were standing on the
stage when you called out to me to hold the right-hand box, and I
thought you meant the box to your right as you stood, and that, of
course, is the left box on the seat chart; and so I reserved that,
and----"

"And spoiled the evening for Miss Morrell, who, for some reason, will
never occupy a seat on the left of the house if she can help it."

"Well, sir, I thought----" writhed and twisted he of the collar.

"Don't think, then, Barney. I'll do the thinking if you'll do the
obeying. Next time ask--that's easier than thinking, or [with a laugh]
it would be to anyone else. Barney, that infernal collar will cut your
head off one of these days. Why don't you have it lowered a couple of
inches and enjoy some of the comforts of life?" And, striking a match,
he lifted it toward his cigar, stopped suddenly, shook out the small
flame, put the cigar back into the box on the shelf, and turning to
Barney said: "I'll take your place five minutes. I want you to run as
quickly as you can round to the confectioner's and get me some sugared
violets. Hurry, now, that's a good fellow!"

And Barney, snatching his hat from the nail, made a dash for the street,
wondering as he ran "who was coming to see the governor, for, of course,
he wasn't going to squat down there alone and stuff himself with
violets." By which anyone can see what a coarse-minded young person this
seller of tickets was.

But he was swift of foot, and was soon back in his place at the office
window, while, dainty package in hand, his employer came out, crossed
the vestibule, and, entering his private office, proceeded to untie his
parcel and pour the fragrant, crystallized violets into a charming
bonbonnière standing on the corner of his desk.

The prevailing tone of this room was a dull, rich red, and it made an
agreeable background for the figure of the man standing there, Stewart
Thrall, the actor-manager of the Globe Theatre, who was at that moment
expecting a call from the popular actress, Claire Morrell, and a certain
young lady who wished (oh, foolish young lady!) to go upon the stage. A
tall man, of excellent figure. He was a well-groomed, clean-skinned man.
There was nothing of the long-haired, floating necktied, fur-coated,
comic-journal actor about him. He was no "beauty man," either; but, as a
certain very great lady had once truly said, "He had eyes and a manner."

A charming manner it was--gracious, graceful, sincere. And as one takes
a certain simple base for a sauce, and, by adding various flavors or
acids, produces innumerable different sauces, so to that natural manner
he, by adding a touch of dignity or sternness or jollity or deprecation,
came very near making himself all things to all men. His closely cropped
hair was black--not the blue-black of the Latins, but that darkest brown
that is America's black--and his eyes were those Irish blue ones that
are "smudged in" with black lashes, luminous, quick sparkling, softly
darkening, wooing, winning, faithless eyes--an actor's eyes par
excellence, but with a droop of the heavily fringed lids that played sad
havoc with the dreams of the romantic girl patrons of the theatre.

Stewart Thrall was a popular idol. His stroll down the sweet sunny side
of Broadway was a triumphal progress. Glances, smiles, turning heads,
and flattering remarks trailed after him like a tail to the kite of his
vogue. He had earned his popularity--it had not been thrust upon him. He
had been shrewd and clever and determined. He had acted up to the motto
of his choice: "To be agreeable." He made everything serve him. If he
had a friend in a high place he never forgot it or allowed anyone else
to forget it either. If he went occasionally to church on a fine Sunday,
where wealthy pewholders vied with one another in courteous hospitality,
he saw to it that that was the church attended by his banker. "The
recollection will do him no harm and may do me a service," he would say
to himself with a laugh. When he went to a dance he never failed to
bestow attentions upon any homely girl or woman who wore jewels, and in
more than one instance the effects of such a one's gratitude had been
distinctly felt in the box-office.

But these wealthy wall-flowers were never waltzed with. The very
prettiest girl in the room could be relied upon to arrange her card to
favor this man with the speaking eyes. And so, with drooping lids in
full evidence, he swayed and whirled, reversed and backed, apparently by
instinct, since his challenging glance never left his partner's face. He
would think triumphantly of the two birds he had brought down with one
stone, winning gratitude from one and a flirtation from another.

Nor did he fail "to be agreeable" to humble people, for no one knew
better than he how swift were the ups and downs of his profession.
Therefore, he treated with friendly consideration the "nobody" who might
be a "somebody" the next time he saw him. Gravely respectful to the gray
old solid men of commerce, hail fellow with that body of men known as
"the boys," gambling just enough to keep in friendly touch with the big
guns of the business, and seemingly ready to give up his very soul to
the reporters, he was a matinée idol, a successful man, a general
favorite. And yet, after all, disappointed; so many brief, transient
loves had he known; so many charming hypocrites had made a farce of the
grand passion, depriving it of any touch of sanctity, that now an
apathetic weariness had come upon him, and yet that was not the worst.
No one could have forced the confession from him, but in his heart he
admitted his defeat. He had started out to win fame, but had attained
only notoriety; and though he sneered and said to himself: "Fame has
generally gone hungry, and I at least am well fed and have a nice little
story to read in my bank-book," he was, all the same, a disappointed
man.

As he turned to toss the paper wrapper and bits of ribbon from his
parcel into the waste-basket his eyes encountered a picture of himself
as the young Laertes. And he paused, looked at it frowningly, and
commented: "You poor young fool! What a burning mass of hope and
ambition you were! So honestly believing in acting as a veritable art,
and--and forgetting everything in the joy of it! Damned if you didn't!
But Lord! that was before you found your motto and began 'to be
agreeable' to the world! Couldn't serve two gods, could you, sonny?
Well, being agreeable has paid, in some ways. But I have put up with
your reproachful glances long enough. I think I'll take you down from
there and send you over to the Missus. You won't hurt her the way you do
me!" And, with a half-laughing, half-frowning face, he stepped on a low
couch, that he might reach and lift down the offending, boyish Laertes.

He hurried a bit, for he knew that Claire Morrell was very exact in
keeping her appointments, and that she might come in at any moment now,
with her confounded stage-struck protégée, to whom he would never have
given a thought, let alone an engagement, for he hated amateurs, had it
not been that he had met the clever and witty, if ancient, Mrs. Van
Camp, and knew her to be of the best old Dutch stock. Therefore, it
would rather flatter his vanity to be able to exploit the name of her
god-daughter as a member of his company, if only she might not be too
heavy a load of awkward self-consciousness--if only she might be
moderately good-looking. And then he set the picture down hard, with its
long wire hooping, and coiling, like a live and very angry thing about
it, and whistled, exclaiming aloud: "Oh, by Jove! I wonder if either of
those bright and pretty girls the Morrell had with her last night might
be the protégée? They were both charming, but how that dark one did
light up when Morrell led the applause for my Queen Mab speech! But no
such luck, I suppose!"

And, man-fashion, he drew out his handkerchief to dust the small
wingless Love on the pedestal between the draped curtains of a
mock-window, whose long Holland shade really covered a very narrow door,
spring locked and never used--never, one could readily understand that
from the inconvenience of its approach, but Mr. Thrall carried the key.

And out in Broadway Claire Morrell was saying: "It's so very tiring,
this shopping; suppose, Miss Lawton, that we step in at the theatre and
see if Mr. Thrall is there now, instead of making a special trip
to-morrow. If he is in he will see us, if he has gone home we can cool
off in the dark auditorium. What do you say, Miss Dorothy?"

For Miss Morrell had kept her talk with the manager and her appointment
a secret, feeling that Sybil would thus be more at her ease, more
natural in manner, than she could possibly be if she knew she was being
inspected or examined, like a servant seeking a new place. And now, as
the sisters smilingly consented to her plan, she turned in between the
big billboards that announced the week's run of "Romeo and Juliet," with
the name of the lady star in very, very large letters and "supported by"
in small type. Then the name of the gentleman who played Romeo appeared
in letters two sizes smaller than those of the star, and lower down, in
quite small type, one read: "Mr. Stewart Thrall as Mercutio."

And Sybil tapped the letters with her parasol-tip, and said: "His
performance was the best in the play. Why are his letters not the
biggest?"

And the actress laughed, as she answered: "Children always ask difficult
questions. Wait till you're older, my dear. Perhaps this time next year
all this mystery of type and printers' ink will be clear to your
understanding. But you are right about the acting of Thrall; his
Mercutio is the best of his time."

She went to the box-office window, and learning from the half-strangled
Barney that the manager was in his private office, she swept them across
the vestibule, from whose walls the gold-framed pictured actors looked
down inquiringly, tapped at a door, and, in answer to a cheery "Entrez!"
entered the room, crying: "May I bring up my light infantry?"

And in answer to his laughing "By all means--I'm in need of
reinforcements, you know!" she drew the girls inside, saying: "The
Misses Lawton, Mr. Thrall, who ask of your grace a few moments
hospitality and rest, as they, like myself, are country bred, and
therefore easily shop-wearied."

"Well, none of you are shop-worn, at all events!" He laughed, as he
found seats for them by the simple process of sweeping manuscripts,
sheet-music, and what-not from the chair to the floor in a corner.

"Ah!" exclaimed Miss Morrell to the girls, "would he not make a blithe
and bonnie housekeeper?"

And Sybil acquiesced with: "A place for everything and everything in
that one place," while Thrall drew up the shade of the one real window,
and let the full light into the dull red room, showing the
age-blackened, iron-heavy, splendidly carved table and desk and chair
and the freshness of the two young creatures looking up at him with such
honest admiration in their innocent eyes as to fairly embarrass him.
And, so strange a thing is memory, for just one moment he was a boy
again in roundabout jacket and broad white collar, and his only sister,
seventeen years old, stood at the altar with her young minister
bridegroom, and looked at him with just such sweetly innocent eyes. He
shook his head sharply and passed his hand across his eyes. His sister
had been dead these twenty years--what had come over him?

And then Miss Morrell, who had been peering under and over everything in
the room, asked, plaintively: "Where is it, Stewart, mon ami? What have
you done with it? Am I to die before your eyes from sheer exhaustion,
and without even an effort on your part to save me?"

And he, pointing to a hanging cabinet, said: "There's the life-saving
station!" and threw open the door, revealing a complete outfit for
coffee-making. Then, noting the girls' surprised looks, he went on: "Ah!
I see you are not very well acquainted with my friend here, or has she
been clever enough to conceal her dissipation? Be that as it may, we
have here an awful example--a victim to----"

"Stewart Thrall!" threateningly exclaimed Miss Morrell, as she lighted
the spirit-lamp beneath the coffee-pot.

"A victim to coffee! Morning, noon, or night, her one cry is 'Coffee!'
Ah, it's sad! Such a promising young-creature as she was, too! But you
see what coffee has brought her to!"

"I'll buy a French pot and a bottle of alcohol on the way home," laughed
Sybil, "and see where it will land me!"

"Gracious!" cried Dorothy, "you will land in a sanitarium if you attempt
to increase the amount of coffee you are taking already!"

"Oh, are you one of the devotees of the little brown berry?" asked Miss
Morrell. "Well, we are three, then, for that man there adores it, in
spite of his jibes at me!"

"I drink but a reasonable amount," declared Thrall, "while you--Miss
Lawton, will you push that biscuit-jar this way? Do you know, when the
rehearsal is called, this enslaved creature drinks coffee because work
is beginning. Later she drinks coffee because work is over. When it is
cold, she drinks coffee to warm her. When it is warm, she drinks coffee
to cool her!"

"My very dear friend," interrupted Miss Morrell, "there is a strangely
familiar sound about all that. Do you really believe no one else ever
heard of Thackeray?"

"And Thackeray's daughter?" laughed Sybil.

"Who read Dickens," added Dorothy, with dancing eyes.

"'When she was glad, she read Dickens,'" quoted Miss Morrell.

"'When she was sad, she read Dickens,'" added Sybil.

"So you see, sir," continued the actress, "even if quotations are not
exact to the letter, they are sufficient to prove you are a plagiarist!"

"Good heavens! Who would have believed so many people remembered a man
named Thackeray!" said Thrall, with mock astonishment. "Now Vanity Fair
forgets him entirely."

"A very natural revenge! Who cares to remember the artist who paints an
unflattering portrait? Poor Vanity Fair wanted to be idealized a bit.
Oh, wait, Stewart--wait! Don't pour yet, there's a cigar-clip and a
postage-stamp in the bottom of that cup! Now pour! If only you could be
induced to write a few 'Household Hints' for the aid of young
house-keepers!"

"Yes! My services to domestic science would about equal in value my
services to art!" he jeered.

Honest little Dorothy, accepting the Sèvres cup extended to her, lifted
clear blue eyes to her host's face, saying: "You should not speak so
contemptuously of what you have done, Mr. Thrall. If acting is an art,
as persons say, a man who acts Shaksperian characters very beautifully
does a real service to that art--I think!"

"Bravo!" cried Miss Morrell, tapping her spoon against her cup. "Bravo,
little play-lover! A charming compliment, and a very just rebuke also
for your insincerity of speech, Stewart, my friend!"

And he, jumping to the conclusion that it was Dorothy who wanted to go
upon the stage, felt a pang of disappointment that surprised him by its
sharpness, as he somewhat gravely answered: "It was not insincere. You
know well enough," nodding his head toward Claire Morrell, "that this
week's return to the fountain-head of English drama has not been made
from love or from a desire to improve public taste. You know it is but a
catch-penny device--an advertisement. I might"--he glanced at the wrapt
face of the young Laertes as he spoke--"I might have served art once.
Indeed, I know it; but"--he laughed a hard little laugh--"art and mammon
are no more to be served by the same man than God and mammon, and he who
serves art entirely and lovingly will have mighty little to show for his
labor!"

"At least," broke in Sybil, hotly, with dark face aglow, "he would have
the joy of his unskimped service and the comfort of a thorough
self-respect!"

And again Thrall felt that swift pang of regret that this was not the
stage aspirant. For to himself he had been saying: "These innocent,
wholesome girls are two buds in the garden of life. This fair one, like
a pale blush-rose, reaches her most perfect beauty now, in the
close-folded bud form; later its perfect blossoming will reveal it pale
and shallow, though very sweet. But the other one, she with the lustrous
eyes and the mutinous red mouth, is like one of the red damask buds of
Southern France, now ideally beautiful, yet the opening of velvety
petals will betray depth after depth of deepening color, free wave after
wave of perfume, until the very sweetest, the very purest tint of
glowing color, will be found at last in the deep splendor of the fully
open heart! Yes, this girl will blossom into a splendid womanhood. And
what a face for the stage!"

And then he was aware of Miss Morrell setting down her cup and saying,
briskly: "A little business now, Mr. Manager, if you please! Miss Lawton
here is very keen to go upon the stage. She is immensely ambitious,
absolutely without experience, but humble in mind enough to be willing
to begin at the bottomest bottom. I would gladly give her her start in
my company, if I had room for her, and I would not ask you to consider
her wish if I did not truly believe she had in her the making of a good
actress."

Mr. Thrall turned surprised eyes toward the happily smiling Dorothy.
Sybil had gone white when her friend began to speak for her, and sat
still and cold, waiting for her doom.

"In heaven's name!" thought he. "What has come to the Morrell--to think
that child can act?" Then he glanced at the rigid figure of Sybil, and
said, slowly: "And you--have you no desire for the stage life?"

She raised her dark eyes, and said, very low: "I would give my soul to
act!"

Miss Morrell's nervous fingers closed sharply. She wished the girl had
not said that, and in the same instant Dorothy exclaimed: "Oh, Miss
Morrell, Mr. Thrall thought you were speaking of me!"

And actor as he was, the man turned suddenly to his desk to hide the
color he knew was burning over his face, and the senseless delight that
flashed through him at the words. Presently he asked if her friends
permitted her to take this step. Being reassured on that point, he
inquired if she had had any experience as an amateur. And when she
replied "No!" with a sadly fallen countenance, he smilingly commented:
"No tears are called for yet!"

And Miss Morrell broke in with: "And no lessons in elocution has she
had--no, not one!"

"Thank God!" fervently exclaimed Thrall. "Decidedly, your case looks
hopeful, Miss Lawton."

After some further conversation, finding Sybil would be in town for a
day or two, he asked permission to call on her at Mrs. Van Camp's home
and let her know what his decision was. As he spoke he caught the swift
expression of anxiety on Dorothy's face and followed her glance, and,
noting the close attention Sybil was bestowing on a picture, knew she
was hiding the tears of disappointment, of fear, and felt a throb of
sympathy. Poor little soul! Had he not been just as impatient, just as
sensitive--once? So, while Dorothy gathered up the fans and parcels, and
Miss Morrell paused to place a candied violet between her lips, Stewart
Thrall stepped close to Sybil's side, and said, very low: "Don't be
distressed--you shall have the engagement. Only I don't know yet just
how or where I can place you!"

And the incredulous joy flashing through the tears, the tremulous smile
on her lips, as she turned her face to him, made him exclaim, mentally:
"Good God! If she could do but the half of that upon the stage!"

Then, as they were ready to depart, ever punctually exact in the small
courtesies, he placed himself at Miss Morrell's side and led the way to
the vestibule, where a tall, shabby fellow was slouching before the
box-office window, while young Barney could be plainly heard refusing to
give him money without Mr. Thrall's order.

Hearing advancing footsteps, the man turned a pale, liquor-soddened face
toward them, and, seeing the ladies, he let go of the window-ledge he
had clung to, removed his hat with a trembling hand, advanced
hesitatingly, and attempted to address Thrall, who said, savagely: "Step
aside! I'll speak to you presently!" And, as the poor wreck drew back,
they passed on to the open front doors.

And Claire Morrell raised mildly surprised eyes, and said: "Jim Roberts
is still with you, then?"

And Thrall, with a shrug of his shoulders, answered, flippantly: "Like
the poor!" and bowed them out.



CHAPTER XI

THE DOUBLE BIRTHDAY


With June a renewal of life seemed to have come to the old White house.
A riotous maple massed its vivid green canopy over a side door, tender
young vines with small, tenacious fingers felt their way over its
southern wall, an old-time peony at the corner of the porch lifted its
enormous, bitter-sweet blossoms of deepest pink. A length of white
matting lay on the porch, two neatly painted butter-tubs (in lieu of
majolica jars) held plants, a few chairs and a table kept them company,
and every wind that blew the white curtains in or out of the upper
windows brought forth a ripple of laughter or a snatch of song. For the
old house had received the gift of tongues, and spoke, not only with the
voice of age and disappointment and regret, but with that of youth and
hope and joy; and Dick's yellow throat, like a small golden ewer, poured
forth trill and gurgle all day long in happy answer to all the
delightful sounds about him. And two little paths were creeping through
the thick-growing grass--one, leading up to the tangle of orchard and an
oft-mended old hammock, had been worn by the feet of the sisters; the
other, leading down to a side lane, was shorter but broader, for Lena's
feet were sturdy, her step heavy, and her "mash-man's" whistle called
her often to the lane in the twilight. So, with love flitting about the
kitchen door and youth and beauty dreaming dreams in its ancient
chambers, no wonder the White house seemed rejuvenated.

Sybil was happy--happy as she had never been before. Nothing definite
had yet been decided beyond the fact that she was to begin her work in
September. Mr. Thrall might let her play a small part in New York, or he
might send her with a travelling company and let her have something
better to start with. Meantime, he had advised her to learn several
small parts, and when she had done so, swiftly and willingly, he told
her it would be good practice for her to study a number of important
characters, since she might be called upon to play a Jessica or a
Nerissa, if not the difficult Portia, a Celia, if not a Rosalind; and it
would give her an immense advantage if she were already familiar with
the lines, while, if she had not to play any of them, she would herself
be the richer for her knowledge and her brain would be trained to the
habit of quick study.

Then Mrs. Van Camp, flattered by the popular actor's deferential
attitude toward herself and his warily moderate admiration for
Sybil--well he knew that any rapturous praise of her beauty would act as
a danger-signal to the ancient butterfly of fashion--had not only
consented to her god-daughter's going upon the stage, but for a birthday
gift had lined her hungry little purse with crisp bank-notes, of modest
denomination, it is true, but with power to free her from the care of
things bodily and temporal for all that coming summer, and had added a
note to her "very dear Letitia" earnestly requesting her "not to make a
fool of herself!"

So Sybil, having passed the pocketbook over to Dorothy's management,
knowing that she would get twice as much out of it, gave herself up to
study and to dreams.

John Lawton's misty old eyes noted how she sweetened under this small
ray of prosperity; missed the old sharpness from her tongue, the sting
from her words; saw the increase in her beauty, and was tortured with
shame that his child's happiness came to her from strangers. His
wistful, apologetic eyes often hurt Sybil to the heart, and one morning,
on her way to the orchard, play-book in hand, she saw him leaning
against the grape arbor, gazing at her with such jealous pain in his
face that suddenly she understood, and, throwing an arm about his neck,
she exclaimed: "I am so happy, father, I just have to stop and thank
you!" and she kissed him soundly.

He drew away a little, saying, incredulously: "Thank me? Your happiness
does not come from me, poor little one; to my sorrow, dear--to my
sorrow!"

"Not from you?" cried the girl. "Why--why, what could I have done
without your consent, dada? That was the very corner-stone of my whole
plan!"

His face brightened, then clouded again, as he asked, hesitatingly:
"Supposing I--had--refused, daughter; would--would that have made any
difference to you?"

"Oh, father!" cried Sybil, reproachfully, "you would have closed the
incident with a vengeance--I could not have moved another step!" Seeing
the troubled old face beginning to brighten, she laid her arm upon his
shoulder, and added: "Everything depended on your word. No one wanted to
help a girl who had not the backing of her own father. So, you see, all
hung on your 'yes' or 'no,' dear!"

And the poor old gentleman, comforted and heartened up, kissed her and
patted her back and told her, quite patronizingly, she should have had
more confidence in his willingness to assist her, and, seeing she was
studying Jessica that morning, he devoted himself to a careful reading
of Shylock down under the monster willow. Thus Sybil, with passions and
desires all sleeping, studied and dreamed, and wondered vaguely would
she always be unknown, or would she, some day, some far away radiant
day, be a crowned Queen of the Drama?

And to Dorothy--the patient, practical Dorothy, who knew to the hour how
long a pound of tea would last; who knew to a spoonful how much sugar,
salt, or baking-powder there was in the house--there had come a habit of
musing, a trick of sudden and utter abstraction at the most improbable
moments, when her hands would drop idly at her sides, and, gazing into
space, she would wonder vaguely why all her anxieties, worries, and
annoyances could be so swiftly drowned in the depths of a pair of gray
eyes, whose steely look always darkened and softened when their owner
spoke to her. For so swift is the blossoming of love when once the magic
hour has struck, that already Leslie Galt, the friend of three weeks'
standing, was her reliance and her ever-quoted authority.

Sybil quite understood the situation, and when she jibed gently at the
girl's fits of abstraction, Dorothy would answer nothing, save with
smile and blush and dimple, and surely they were eloquent enough.

John Lawton, considering his daughters as mere well-grown babes, saw
nothing but a liking for himself in young Galt's visits, and Letitia's
usually quick eyes were so dazzled by a certain jack-o'-lantern of her
own discovery that she saw in the young man only a patient listener,
whom she believed she was training to fetch and carry quite nicely.

The discordant note in all this melody of love was William Henry
Bulkley. The overbearing, consequential manner, the fine raiment, and
the red face and neck of the elderly beau aroused the imagination of
Lena, and she named him "Dat Herr Gobbler-mans," and it was with
ill-suppressed laughter and but half-hearted severity that Miss Dorothy
called her to account for her disrespect; and Lena, somewhat sullenly,
made answer that "she guessed she had youst as much respect for der Herr
Bulkley as der Herr Bulkley has for himself. For her mash-mans, he
knowed some tings about----"

"Lena!" interrupted Dorothy, warningly. "Lena!" And Lena, catching the
laughing eyes of Sybil, grinned broadly back at her while in the very
act of making her apologetic peasant bob to Dorothy, and murmuring:
"Oxcuse me! I don't make mit der Herr Gobbler name, nein! no more!"

She retired to the kitchen, while the laughing Sybil inquired of Dorothy
how much she thought she had gained by her lecture on propriety to the
sharp little German girl.

'Twas well for all of them that Mrs. Lawton had not heard of the "Herr
Gobbler" episode, for she alone approved of William Henry Bulkley, she
alone greeted him warmly, effusively, and urged him to repeat his
patronizing visits. She passed much of her time in trying to appraise at
its exact value that long gloating look of admiration he had bestowed
upon the fair Dorothy that day of his first visit to them, back in May.
Like a very small cat in waiting for a very large mouse, she sat with
unwinking eyes, with sharply alert ears, with every strained nerve
ready, like a sensitive whisker, to warn her back from a dangerously
tight place, and watched tensely, patiently watched, ready to spring
upon the silky-coated, cheese-fed big mouse and drag him in triumph to
the feet of her little white kitten, whom she would instruct to pat him
judiciously, with velvet paw, or tear punitively, with sharp curved
claws, just as pussy-mamma should think fit. Nothing in all Letitia
Lawton's silly, superficial life had betrayed so completely her absolute
selfishness as did this eager desire to secure a son-in-law in the
person of William Henry Bulkley. Her knowledge of the man in the past,
and the piteous picture her memory held of Mrs. Bulkley's pale,
fast-thinning face, when, bravely hiding her wounded pride and slain
affection, she received her sympathetically prying neighbors with
uncomplaining chill courtesy, but such woful eyes, that they had
withdrawn without daring to speak one word of condemnation against the
man of whom a certain splendid infamy had but recently caused it to be
said: "Why, his conduct brings a blush of shame to the cheek of
impropriety's self!"

These memories should have filled her mother's heart with sick
repulsion, but, instead, it was filled with fallacies. His conduct had
not been quite what it should have been, perhaps, but then, no one
knew--perhaps his wife had not been entirely faultless. She may not have
been a suitable companion for so jovial and high-spirited a man. She had
probably not known how to manage him. Now she herself had had no such
trouble with her husband, though, of course, she had been a much
prettier woman than had been the late Mrs. Bulkley. Then he had been a
very wealthy man (Letitia's eyes gleamed at the thought), and much was
to be forgiven to the wealthy, they were more tried and tempted than
other men, and--and--oh, well! someone had said that a man had to break
the heart of one wife before he learned how to care properly for a
second one. Dorothy, too, was so young and unsuspicious that he would
probably justify her sweet confidence in him, while she, Letitia, would
keep her eyes very wide open. Not that she would ever interfere between
husband and wife--not she! But still there could be no harm in keeping a
mother's eye upon what was going on. And then, her very soul hungered
after the unforgotten flesh-pots. She calculated to a nicety what
William Henry would in common decency have to do for the parents of his
bride. They could not be left in that shackly old White house, that was
sure; and, of course, she would pay very long visits to her daughter,
and--and assist her in guiding her household. Almost she felt the
caressing touch of rich furs about her; in imagination she ordered "the
brougham," and closely inspected the liveries of the men on the box;
and, in fact, was so dazzled with the gleam of Mr. Bulkley's money, so
a-hungered for the flesh-pots in his keeping, that she was almost
blinded to the sin and shame and degradation that covered his moral
character like a leprosy. Yet, not quite--surely not quite! Else why was
she so silent as to her wild hopes? A secret she had never kept in all
her life before! For years she had crowded the portals of John Lawton's
unwilling ears with not only her own secrets but all those she could
come by of other people's. Why, then, did she often catch herself up, in
that expansive and confidential chat or monologue, peculiar to the
marital chamber?

Why did she press her thin, rouge-tinted lips so closely and stop so
suddenly every time she started to speak of a "splendid chance"? Whose
"chance" was she thinking of, and why did she not complete her sentence?

John, slow John, began to wonder to himself. It was odd. All her married
life Letitia had exalted herself--had proclaimed herself; her
superiority, mentally and spiritually, had usurped the husband's
authority; yet now it was that helpless, broken gentleman, whose
pathetic eyes she shrank from meeting, into whose ears she dared not
pour her shameful secret wish: to marry little Dorothy to William Henry
Bulkley.

Slow and uncertain, foolishly trustful, weak as he had been in business
matters, there was a certain austerity in John Lawton's moral character.
His life had been singularly clean and wholesome. He had known how to
resist the temptations that many men consider it rather "goody-goody" or
"middle-class" to resist. The "high-roller" and the gambler he classed
together, but the immoral married man was, to his old-fashioned belief,
the man unspeakable! And that was why Letitia was learning to keep a
secret! She, the tyrant, was afraid of her slave! So John Lawton was the
only person in that house who was not dreaming dreams or weaving plans
for the future! He was like a mossy stone, immovable, in the middle of a
gentle stream. The water does not rush over it, but parts and races
about it with touches of white caressing foam, then joins again below it
and continues on in one united stream.

But this June day was a special one in the Lawton family, since on it
fell the birthdays of both Mrs. Lawton and Sybil; a fact sufficiently
unusual to justify the mentioning of it, according to Mrs. Lawton's
ideas, though her doing so to such mere acquaintances as Mr. Galt and
Mr. Bulkley covered the girls with mortification. "Poor Sybil!" said
Dorothy, sympathetically, when the mother had mentioned the interesting
coincidence to the second gentleman, "but don't mind, dear! Anyone can
see you are innocent of--of----"

"Of giving a disgracefully broad hint! Oh, what is coming to mamma! Her
pride--where is it? Poor papa simply tries to hide his needs, as mamma
did formerly, at least from strangers. She would always demand help
from any relative, but of late--oh, nothing is so humiliating as the
hint direct! There's no use denying it, mamma reminds me of one of those
creamy-white, fine silky sponges----"

"Oh, don't!" almost whispered Dorothy. "For truly, I'd a great deal
rather hear her say boldly: 'Stand and deliver!'" At which both girls
had broken into laughter.

Now Sybil, who had read his signs of love aright from the first, was
greatly admired and honestly liked by young Galt, and he was quick to
turn to her when he needed a friend at court. Sybil had noted the swift
disappointment clouding his face when he learned that it was not Dorothy
who shared the honors of the twenty-fifth of June with Mrs. Lawton.
More, with swift intuition she had even guessed the exact gift he wished
to offer her young sister; for, being very short of fans, Mrs. Lawton,
when on dress parade, nearly always took Dorrie's little fan from her,
with "Just for a moment, my dear," which moment generally reached to her
final withdrawal, while the owner meantime crimped up a sheet of
newspaper with which to fan her flushed cheeks or defend herself from
the persistent fly. And Galt's brows would knit and his lips twitch
nervously as he helplessly noted the need of his Violet Girl. So it was
easy to guess, when Mrs. Lawton had, with joyous abandon, confided to
him the date of the double birthday, that a fan for his adored was the
first thought that sprang into his mind, and lo! the name of Sybil
dashed all his hopes to flinders.

Though she laughed at his disappointed face, she felt sorry for him
too, and determined to help him to his wish if possible, for she argued:
"He simply can't help himself; he is forced to accept that coy hint--not
more than a yard broad--of mamma's offering, but I think he is a
gentleman sufficiently well-bred not to humiliate us with extravagant
offerings, and he ought to have the pleasure of remembering Dorrie." So:
"Mr. Galt!" she cried, "will you help me fasten up a bit of vine on the
side of the house? It's just above my reach." And, as he obediently
followed her, she continued: "Now, you may weep unobserved."

He looked frowningly at her, and she went on: "You are not going to deny
your vexed disappointment, are you?"

A wry smile twisted his lips as he murmured: "I beg your pardon-- I did
not mean-- I was not aware----"

"No, I suppose not," she laughed; "but you must better control your
features or wear a good heavy veil, to hide them, after this."

"Good Lord! What an idiot you must think me," he said. "But honesty is
the best policy, and I admit I want awfully to offer a certain trifle to
Dor--to Miss Dorothy, and I fancied the opportunity had arrived,
and--and----"

"And it hadn't!" laughed Sybil. "But see here, now, you don't know much
about our family--you are a stranger to us."

"Oh! Miss Sybil!" gasped Leslie Galt. "That's downright cruel. You said
the other day----"

"Do be still!" snapped Sybil, "and attend to what I am saying. You
are--or you ought to be--a stranger yet to the Lawton family history.
You have learned of a double birthday, and you wish to mark the occasion
with some small remembrances; but, for the life of you, being a
stranger, you can't remember which girl it is who shares the day with
Mrs. Lawton, therefore----"

But Galt, with a whoop, had both her hands in his, crying, rapturously:
"Oh, you angel! You angel! Of course I am uncertain, and so I have taken
the liberty! Oh, what a blessed little brick you are!" and on that hint
he acted.

So, on this twenty-fifth of June, many kisses had been exchanged, some
piteously small gifts offered and joyously accepted. A few mixed roses,
with very plenteous greens, were presented by the tremulous hand of John
Lawton to his Letitia, but he had laid aside all the deep red ones, then
made them into a knot, with thorns all carefully removed, and, as he
kissed his first-born daughter on lip and brow and from his soul wished
happy returns of the day, he laid them against her rounded throat, and
said: "Because they are so like you, dear!"

Later in the day Leslie Galt drove up in the dusty old station hack,
carrying in one hand his mandolin and in the other a basket of the
choicest, rarest fruits, prettily decorated with vines and blossoms.
These being accepted, he next brought forth two slim parcels in white
wrappers--but standing before Mrs. Lawton, and suddenly conscious that
Sybil's laughing eyes were upon him, he blushed and stammered and lied
his lie, so redly, so confusedly, that anyone would have sworn he told
the truth, and did not know which girl to congratulate. And Mrs. Lawton
clapped her hands in juvenile delight, and gave consent to Dorothy's
acceptance of the gift. "She really had no right to, naughty thing!"

And the boxes being opened revealed two little Empire fans: one a bit of
scarlet gauze, gold flecked in sandal frame, and the other of
cream-tinted silk, which some true artist's hand had showered thick with
violets so heavenly blue, so mauve, so white, so real that involuntarily
one bent to catch the perfume. No apportionment had been made at all,
yet with a single blue gleam of an upward glancing eye, a swirl of color
in a peachy cheek, Dorothy put out her hand unhesitatingly and claimed
her own, thus proving that she knew herself to be the Violet Girl, and
Sybil, fluttering her gay fan above her head, said, aside to Galt: "I
suppose then, I am a sort of dahlia-girl or a--a--hibiscus-girl?" And
he, being merry and light of heart because of that sweet, comprehending
blue-eyed glance, caught up the mandolin and sang in answer: "My love is
like the red, red rose!" At this Mrs. Lawton, speaking against a rather
large portion of fruit which gave her words a somewhat muffled sound,
remarked that "that used to be a very popular air in her own blooming
days. She had been serenaded by it once; that is, those who serenaded
her sang it; and a public singer--oh, mercy goodness!" coughed and
choked the fruit-eater. Then, the unexpected pit having been ejected
from her throat, she proceeded, with quite watery eyes--"A public
singer, of no breeding at all, no offence meant to you, Sybil, though of
course you will not be a singer--but she was stopping a few days next
door, and if you'll believe me, that creature came to her window and
bowed and smiled, when my serenaders sang: 'Red, red rose!' Her name, by
the way, was Roze--with a z, you understand, not an s. Did you ever hear
of anything more incredibly impertinent? Well, I was a very pretty woman
in those days! Sybil, here, is almost my exact image--not quite so rich
in coloring, perhaps, even now. You may have noticed my color is good
for a poor buried-alive creature who knew only luxury in the past and
knows only penury in the present. I'm sorry I ate the last of those
strange Japanese plums; I meant to save one to show to John. Yes, that's
right, practice a little, my dears--as much as you like--but--but if
that is what you are going to do I won't urge this fruit upon you--it's
fatal to the voice."

And thus it was that Sybil took her place at the piano--which she
hated--and played accompaniments stumblingly but cheerfully, because she
knew that, to the pair behind her, singing together thus unobserved by
others was as the joy of Paradise.

And finally it was upon the picture of Leslie Galt, bending over and
half encircling Dorothy with his arm, as he tenderly placed her
unaccustomed little hands in position to hold the mandolin correctly,
that William Henry Bulkley stumbled, and stood and glared and mentally
swore. Loaded with gifts whose expense made their acceptance a
humiliation, he had, without hesitation, included Dorothy in his list of
recipients, and oddly enough he too presented a fan--a gorgeous affair
of white ostrich plumes mounted on sticks of carved white pearl; and
when Mrs. Lawton had rather sharply commanded its acceptance by the
reluctant girl, Sybil remarked, sweetly: "It is so beautiful, and will
be so useful when you attend balls or the opera, my dear! I suppose you
will hardly care to carry it with a white linen gown to church, will
you?" And truly Mr. Bulkley could have strangled her. The men understood
each other in an instant, and each measured the other swiftly and
savagely. Leslie Galt, who was supposed to be a very poor young lawyer,
yielded not one inch before the old friend-of-the-family air of the
wealthy visitor, and held his place by his Violet Girl's side as long as
it was possible. He was quick to recognize Mrs. Lawton's efforts to
throw Dorothy and Bulkley together, and he was filled with a sick rage
as he saw the blasé old eyes greedily devouring the innocent loveliness
of the girl he adored.

This undercurrent of concealed hatred made itself so plainly felt that
no one was sorry when the little party broke up. Mr. Bulkley, after
using a heavy gold-handled pocket knife in cutting some cord from his
parcels, had left it on the piano. As he was leaving he remembered it
and thought to secure a few moments alone with Dorothy, so he paused at
the porch-step and with amazing ill-breeding called familiarly to
Dorothy to bring his knife to him. But Leslie Galt, black-browed, took
the knife from her a moment, and, going to Mr. Bulkley, said, as he
extended it to him: "Permit me to be your servant, sir, for this
occasion!"

For a moment they glared at each other, then Bulkley went his way,
saying to himself: "The impudent young upstart!" while Galt turned
back, muttering, with curling lip: "Gross old animal!"

And when Mrs. Lawton had moaned several times that she "did not
know--no, she was sure she did not know--what was the matter with dear
Mr. Bulkley that day," Sybil, on mischief bent, whispered to Galt: "Do
you know what is the matter with him, by any chance?"

And the young man's eyes were very hard and bright as he replied,
slowly: "Yes, I know what is the matter with him," and then, with a grim
smile, he added, "just as well as he knows what is the matter with me!"



CHAPTER XII

THE PROMISED CROWN


The Globe Theatre had closed for the summer and the season had ended in
the triumphant manner desired by the manager. He had waved his flags and
beaten his tin pans lustily up to the very last moment, and had
successfully hived the public's swarm of bees in his theatre, as the
honey in the box-office amply proved. Nothing that made for this success
had been too small to receive personal attention, so even that city
directory-like quarter column of "among those present were" had been
cleverly made to serve him through his careful and judicious
introduction of the names of two or three of the great nouveau riche,
among the fashionably holy ones of the Vandergrifts, the Asteroids, the
revolutionary Byrds, the colonial Fishers, the Carmichaels, and the
Vinelanders, etc.--not, mind you, as of them, but as notedly close
students of Shakspere. Oh, what a court-jester was lost in Thrall!

These very new rich men, who, had they owned a folio of earliest
edition, would eagerly have swapped it for an édition de luxe of to-day
and given fifty dollars to boot--so much they knew of Shakspere--were
nevertheless filled with joy to see their names in that dear list,
"among those present were." And their gratitude to the man who had
worked the miracle for them would take the form of steady attendance in
the future, of many box parties, of loud public praise.

So, with these additions to his sure clientèle, the season closed, and
Manager Thrall, at first amused and then annoyed by the haunting memory
of a twice seen face, accepted, as had been his wont in former summers,
an invitation to join a gay yachting party, only to find himself more or
less bored. Eating too much, drinking too much, and smoking like a
chimney palled on him. The stories told were all frankly old or poorly
revamped, and he grumbled one night that "chestnuts in summer-time were
an anomaly!"

A young sap-head, dizzy with champagne, gazing at him in heavy-eyed
admiration, remarked: "Isn't he deep? Must be college man, eh--Thrall?
I'm pretty f-fly myself; I know 'chestnut' a-and 'summer,' but
'n-nomaly' puts me out in the first round!"

And with a pencil and paper he went about almost tearfully, begging
people to explain the meaning of the word "anomaly"; and each one
appealed to wrote out a more wildly absurd definition than had the man
before him, which was a highly intellectual amusement indeed.

Only one thing had power to lay, for a little while, the lovely,
dark-eyed ghost haunting the actor, and that was poker--the great
American game played with the aid of the gayly colored pasteboards and
an astonishing vocabulary, containing, among other things, "kitties,"
"antes," and "lob--" no, "jack-pots." A long line of "flushes,"
"straights"--royal, bob-tailed; and people "came in" and "went out"
and "stood pat," and "opened things" and "shut them," and, indeed, did
so much in the course of the wonderful game that it claimed the whole
attention and left no room for memories of any kind. Still poker could
not go on all the time, and finally when one night all hands went ashore
to attend a hotel-hop, Thrall, the waltzer par excellence, suddenly
realized that each frisky young matron, each pretty débutante who so
readily honored him, was being measured by the standard of Sybil's
beauty. This one he found slender to the point of angularity; that one
plump to the verge of lost outlines; another pretty but crudely
overdressed; while the fair face that seemed floating before him as on
waves of melody, with the almost sullen red mouth that could flash into
smiles of such penetrating sweetness, the sensitive color, wavering,
fading, flaming again, the level, tragic brows and dark eyes, in which
burning passion still slept, but lightly--he knew but lightly--was, he
told himself, "simply incomparable"! And then he pulled up short,
saying, angrily: "What in the devil's name has come to me? Am I a green
boy to be bowled over and left sprawling in the dust by a glance from a
pair of fine eyes? Eyes owned by an inexperienced girl, too, a mere
miss--one of those creatures who, knowing nothing, suspect everything,
and keep you ever on guard? Bah! I hate green fruit! let me have it
ripe, with all its florid coloring and rich mellowness--even if many
rough experiences have left a bruised spot here or there. One can turn
the blemished side away, and until the bruise becomes a taint that
embitters all the pulp--then?--why then leave the fruit and seek
something fresher, but not green enough to be astringent to the lips."

He decided, finally, "This is a case of nerves, just such an one as
women suffer from. I am at the end of a long season, I have overworked,
I have lived well but not wisely--no, certainly not wisely!
Result--nerves are all at loose ends, imagination over-stimulated, so
that a strange face makes an unusually vivid impression. Now the thing
for me to do is to see this girl's face again and let a second
impression efface the first, since my imagination has, no doubt, been
playing me tricks, and the real face will fall far short of the beauty
of the imaginary one."

So, acting at once upon that idea, he fell back upon the perennial
"business telegram" excuse, tore himself away from his jovial
companions, and returned to the oven-like city, from which wild horses
could not have dragged Mrs. Van Camp until August, when she left with a
heavy heart and "wholly in the interest of appearances," she said. He
arranged with the old lady for a business chat with her god-daughter
next day but one and spent the intervening time superintending the
movements of a brigade of cleaners, painters, and paper-hangers whom he
had sent charging through the closed theatre--the cleaners routing out
dust and dirt from stairs and floors and long-dimmed windows, the
painters following and covering up head-marks, finger-marks, scratches,
or bruises appearing on the white woodwork and retouching the gilding
where it had darkened or worn thin; while the paper-hangers made the
boxes not only fresh but most attractive to women, through hanging them
with the dull, lustreless velvet paper that makes such a perfect
background for a careful toilette and its lovely wearer.

It was a dreary job, for surely one can find no more desolate and
melancholy place in a great city than a theatre seen by daylight. From
the front of the house one receives an impression of loss. The sight of
an empty chair is saddening--here are a thousand of them. This dimness
and vastness, this gilding and crystal and metal that does not glisten
nor glitter. The depressing silence of checked music, of vanished
laughter--even an actor shivers at sight of the auditorium of a closed
theatre; it is like looking on the face of a dead pleasure. But to turn
about and look at the stage is even worse, so distressingly complete is
the betrayal of its shabby deceptions. It is as though an admired,
brilliant, and successful liar stood there who had been found out and
suddenly reduced to telling the bare, bald truth. No, a day in a closed
theatre during the house-cleaning period is not an enlivening
experience, and Thrall told himself that that was why he looked forward
so eagerly to his late afternoon call at Mrs. Van Camp's, where he was
to have his business chat with Sybil.

And then when he had arrived and was being effusively greeted by Mrs.
Van Camp, a gracious young figure in a white linen gown came slowly out
from the shadows of the darkened room, a red damask rose drowsing on her
breast, and, smiling, waited to offer him greeting; and in that moment
he knew his plan had failed--the second impression would not efface the
first, because the real, the living face was fairer than his mental
portrait of it.

So it happened that Mr. Thrall's manner toward this young would-be
actress was one of dignity and reserve that was in sharp contrast to the
gay freedom and almost boyish liberty of his conduct toward his ancient
hostess, who did her fair share toward spoiling him. And not knowing the
true cause of the swift change and difference, she could but consider
him a very properly correct young man in his attitude as the manager of
her namesake, Sybil Lawton; and therefore she withdrew into the far
extension breakfast-room and conversed with a mumbling old parrot, who
for thirty years had implored the people of his world to "scratch
Polly's head," and had invariably rewarded the good Samaritan who heeded
his appeal by biting viciously the hand that scratched.

Only an occasional artificial laugh from Polly reached to the dim
parlor, whose white-matted floor, flowery chintz furniture covering,
great Chinese screens, strange sea-shells, old portraits, and mighty
china jars made a quaint eighteenth century sort of background for the
white-gowned maiden with the dark, eager face, whom her father had
lovingly likened to a June rose. And the ever-alert dramatic instinct of
the actor-manager, working in seeming independence of the preoccupied
mere man and naissant lover, took note of the room as a possible
charming stage-setting for some new comedy. That instinct, keen, never
sleeping, is one of the unpleasant traits in the make-up of a great
actor; for there is no situation in life too sacred, no emotion even of
his own heart too tender not to be "used" if it seems dramatic.

And so now, through the bald, forced questions with which he began his
interview, like his dignified reserve of manner, were the result of a
violent restraint, he was putting upon a sudden passionate longing--an
idiotic impulse that had seized him at sight of Sybil, to take her head
between his hands and bury his face in the warm darkness of her cloudy
hair--even that struggle with impulse did not prevent the dramatic
instinct of the stage-manager from taking note of surroundings.

Presently the calm and earnest answers of the girl and his own effort at
self-control restored his poise, and his more gracious manner returned
to him. He found that she was faithfully devoting herself to the small
parts first; and in discussing the Shaksperian characters she put
questions to him anent the meaning of certain passages that more than
once "gave him pause" ere he could answer them. She even so far forgot
her awe of him as manager as boldly to differ with the view he took of
Desdemona's character, she declaring that a greater tragedy than mere
physical murder would have come about had the fair Venetian lived
longer.

"No! no!" cried Sybil, "she was not the doll you think her! High-born,
high-bred, musician, artist, student, over-accomplished,
over-cultivated--the intellect rebelled! Over-guarded, over-restrained,
repressed--nature revolted. Othello, the splendid perfection of the
animal-man looming in black majesty against a background of flame and
smoke, glittering in harness, blazing with honors and orders, armed with
barbaric weapons--his very power to destroy fascinated! Contrariety
attracted and a great wave of passion swept the petted daughter of the
Venetian senator into the arms of the Moorish warrior. But had she lived
to regain her normal vision--to see her husband as the world saw him,
merely a rough but very honest soldier, without tastes or even memories
in common--she would have wearied of him and of their wandering life.
She would have longed for the ease and luxury and refinement of old
days. She would have sighed for the companionship of the learned and
accomplished--and the beautiful "misunderstood," being no longer blind
with passion, would probably have gone, girl fashion, to the other
extreme and have loathed the blackness of her lord, while adoring,
possibly, the whiteness of--y-e-s, there might be a worse tragedy than
the dreadful murder of innocent Desdemona!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Sybil, in trepidation, for Thrall had broken into
sudden, hearty laughter, "oh, are my ideas so bad as that? It's--it's
horrid to be laughed at, but I suppose I have not expressed myself very
clearly; only if Desdemona inherited the characteristics of her people,
duplicity was as strong in her as love of luxury and appreciation of
art--and a dead passion is a thing to conceal; and when concealment
begins, duplicity may follow, may it not?"

She stopped suddenly; she had spoken rapidly, in impetuous self-defence.
Now angry tears rushed to her eyes. "Oh," she cried, "I don't make you
understand one bit! No wonder you laugh! Only I feel somehow that
Desdemona's was not a love that would have lasted. But I'm punished for
going out beyond my depth in argument. I won't do it again!"

The fact that Sybil's reasoning had been so good made it all the harder
for Thrall to explain his laughter. Few men understood the eternal
feminine better than he did; and when the young girl, with innocent,
instinctive knowledge, was speaking of a "passion" as distinct from
"love," her glance met his as straightly, as frankly, as if she had been
a boy. And suddenly there came to him the memory of a little child he
had once seen playing, ignorantly happy, with his mother's scissors and
his father's knife, and he laughed aloud in spite of himself, for he
knew well that the girl was clashing together her terms of "love" and
"passion" with just as much real knowledge as the baby had had of the
scissors and the knife. And when he saw the angry tears shining in her
eyes he could have kissed them away with as pure tenderness as if she
had been that baby's self.

And all the time the managerial side of his brain, so to speak, was
receiving impressions and was trying to get the attention of the man's
whole mind; and presently, through the smallest of incidents, it
succeeded. While Thrall was trying to reassure Sybil and convince her
that he had meant no mockery by his laughter, she sat with down-bent
face, hiding her mortifying tears. He noted the hair, dark clouding over
the straight, black brows, the outward thrust of the sullen, red lip
that made and kept the whole face mutinous, when a quick glint came to
the averted eyes, a lift to the brows, a tremor to the lips that
suddenly parted, curling like petals into the most delicious smile ever
made for man's undoing. Old Poll, sidling into view and waddling across
the floor in search of mischief, had caused the swift change of
expression, and the expression had brought the stage-manager to the
front with a bound.

"Great Shakspere!" said Thrall to himself; "what a face for the balcony
scene! The sweetness--the positive radiance--the lovely outline of the
down-bent face! I've half a mind--I--why, the girl has just shown she
has brains, whether her ideas of Desdemona are right or wrong; it proves
that she can think for herself! And--and if to her beauty, youth, and
brains you can add good family, and to them all the subtle, intangible
thing we call charm--what do all these things mean to a manager? Why,
unless he's a dolt, a blind bat, they mean a find, a discovery, a future
card of great commercial value! Dear Lord! if I only knew whether she
could walk across the stage without going to pieces, whether the sight
of the audience would give her a palsy!"

He had come there intending to tell her that she was to have a part of
eight lines in the opening play of the New York season--but now, but
now! New ideas were rushing through his mind. If only she had a little
training! All at once--apropos of nothing, he asked: "Miss Lawton, do
you dance?"

She raised her eyes in unspeakable surprise.

His face brightened; he went on rising as he spoke: "Do you waltz?"

In a breath she was swaying in his encircling arms to the waltz he
softly hummed. As they circled the big room and stopped by the window a
boy went down the street, whistling high and clear, and simply from the
actor-like habit of quoting, Thrall said, with a laugh:

  "It was the lark--the herald of the morn!"

When, like a flash, Sybil, with pretty impatience and obstinacy, made
response:

  "It was the nightingale and _not_ the lark,
  That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear!"

The surprise was so startling that Thrall caught the girl's face between
his hands almost roughly, exclaiming: "Why! do you know the lines of
Juliet?"

And poutingly she answered: "Does not every stage-struck girl know
them?"

But he frowned: "That's no answer! Be direct in matters of business! Do
you or do you not know Juliet's lines?"

She was vaguely conscious that she really ought to be angry at the
liberty this man was guilty of, but she quailed at the frown and
answered, meekly: "Only part of them. I studied up to the potion scene,
and there I got frightened and stopped!"

"Ah!" he exclaimed; "and may I ask what frightened you?" He released her
as he spoke.

"Well," she said, with her head a little to one side, as she traced the
pattern on the curtain with one slim finger, "well, you see, it was
night, and--and Dorrie was asleep--and--there are a good many owls in
our trees, and they do hoot and shiver their voices so! And they and the
vault and the 'dead men's bones' rather got on my nerves, I suppose, for
I only got as far as Tybalt--in his 'festering shroud'--when I was so
scared I backed over to the bed and Dorrie! Oh, I didn't dare turn
around, you see!"

Stewart Thrall fairly shook with laughter, in which this time both Sybil
and Polly joined. Then he said at last, not without a touch of sarcasm:
"It was not the fear of acting the part that disturbed you, then?"

"Oh, no!" she replied with great simplicity. "It's too soon to get
frightened about that--ages too soon!" She sighed heavily: "I'm nineteen
now, and I suppose I must wait years and years--five at the very
least--before I dare even to hope to act Juliet? And then people say no
one can play her unless they have loved."

"No one can," assented Thrall.

"Oh, well, in five years," Sybil responded, hopefully and vaguely.

"Yes," thought the man, "in far less than five years, you lovely child,
you will have learned to play Juliet!"

An old engraving of Mrs. Siddons hung upon the wall, and Sybil stood
looking at it. The crown the actress wore well became the high chill
beauty of her face.

"Queen of the English-speaking stage," murmured Sybil. "How proud and
happy she must have been! what love and homage her fame must have won
from her countrymen!" Quickly turning her head, she asked: "Mr. Thrall,
when you have become famous, do you forget all the bitterness of past
struggles and feel like loving the whole world for very joy and
gratitude?"

"Having no experience to guide me, I am unable to answer your question,"
was the somewhat curt reply.

"Unable?" repeated the girl, all her respectful admiration writ large
upon her face. "You mean----"

"I mean," he interrupted, "that I am not famous; that now I never shall
be! I started out meaning to--to win fame, but I--missed the way." He
paused a moment, then went on, bitterly: "Question me about notoriety,
Miss Lawton, and no man alive can give you more authentic information as
to the method of its creation, its staying power, and its value. But I
know not fame! If I died to-morrow I'd die like a dog--so far as memory
or renown is concerned. Learn early to distinguish between the sound,
noise, and rumor of notoriety and the credit, honor, and excellence of
fame!"

"I'll try," the girl answered, simply, and then she added, gently: "I'm
sorry you missed the way!"

A dimness came into the man's eyes as he responded, briefly, "Thank
you!" and gazed at the picture that Sybil had returned to.

"Crowned queen!" she repeated. "Of course if you give me the chance, Mr.
Thrall, I shall work hard for work's own sake, as well as to be a
bread-winner. But all the time down in my heart I shall hope and hope
that some day, in years to come, I may win a crown like that!"

The actor laughed derisively. "A pasteboard crown," he cried, "so thinly
covered with gold-leaf you dare not try to burnish it!"

"You do not mean that, Mr. Thrall!"

"I do mean it! A cheap and gaudy thing, the outside blazing with rare
jewels, made of glass! Inside, paper, glue--a pasteboard crown! A thing
worthless, meaningless!"

"No!" protested the girl; "your words are very cruel! I do not think you
rightly judge the value of the Crown Dramatic, for even if it were but
pasteboard it would not be worthless or meaningless! It would still be a
sign, a symbol, of artistic triumph, of true excellence, of the world's
approval!"

"You are obstinate," he declared.

"And you are not grateful to your profession, I'm afraid," she said,
reproachfully; then she hurriedly added: "I beg your pardon! Of course
you know of what you speak, and I am very presuming in my ignorance,
but"--she clasped her hands tightly above the rose on her breast--"I
long to wear that crown some day."

A few red petals fell from the rose and were caught in Thrall's hand. He
glanced at Sybil's rapt young face--his resolve was taken. "You shall
have your wish," he said. "I will place the crown upon your head; only
promise not to reproach me when you find for yourself that it is only
pasteboard!"



CHAPTER XIII

THE FORMING OF THE CHRYSALIS


That Stewart Thrall wasted no time when once a plan was settled upon and
a thing seriously undertaken may be gathered from a letter written in a
Western city by the manager of a stock company playing a summer season
in the theatre attached to a soldiers' home. The park coaxed people from
the city, and the theatre then drew them from the park to the play.

This letter, having mentioned the safe arrival of certain manuscripts,
scene-plots, and property-plots, continued:

     "And now about the young maid of high degree you sent us,
     with the valiant Jim Roberts acting as guard and henchman.
     And, to begin at the ending, like the Irishman I am, let me
     just tell you no better sheep-dog ever lived than this same
     James. He's kept as straight as a colonial
     front-door--honest, he has! If you could see the poor devil
     shake and quake for need of a few drops of 'mountain dew,'
     you'd believe me fast enough! He escorts her to and from the
     theatre and follows her like a secret-service man whenever
     she goes to the city of an errand. Of course, keeping
     straight to play sheep-dog leaves him all right as to memory
     too, and he hasn't lost a word since he's been here.

     "Now as to the young damsel you want me to report on. She's
     all right and safe in the boarding-house my wife secured
     for her. She's a little too stiff and reserved and a great
     deal too pretty to be very thoroughly liked by the women.
     She started out very friendly and pleasant, but--well, you
     see, Lou Daskam and Dick Turner are engaged to each other,
     and George Jones and his wife Grace have only been married a
     few months, and their unrestrained endearments were somewhat
     confusing to her conservative mind. My wife explained
     matters to her; but though she now understands that the
     whole affair was a question of manners, not of morals, she
     remains a bit starchy toward the amorous four.

     "As to business--she's doing well. She's got _act_ in her,
     _sure_! And Lord! what a face for the footlights! My wife's
     teaching her how to make-up, and when she's properly rouged
     and carmined and promaded, and that fleece of black hair
     loosened about her head, she's a cross between a princess
     and a gypsy, with the bearing of one and the coloring of the
     other. The audience has not disturbed her much. At my advice
     she looks at the people who are on the stage with her,
     instead of staring in front all the time. The thing that
     embarrassed her most was the tilt of the stage, which is
     very steep in this shop. That worried her a bit at first,
     but she walks quite naturally and unconsciously now. She is
     learning to gauge her voice to the house--by my rule. I send
     someone out in front, who stands at the back of the seats.
     When her scene is on, she glances at him. If he shifts
     about, or bends his head as if to hear better, she gently
     raises her voice or speaks with a little more force, until
     he stands still, hearing satisfactorily. She will soon be
     able to make the voice test in any theatre by watching for a
     moment or two some distant auditor.

     "The greatest stumbling-block in her way is that, so far,
     she simply cannot talk while walking. She speaks her exit
     speech standing still, and then walks off in an awkward
     silence, or she walks to the door silently, then speaks her
     lines and _pops_ off--making the house laugh.

     "To-day Jim Roberts has taken her in hand, and out on the
     stage I can hear this going on: (Girl's voice) 'I will go'
     (Jim's voice, warningly: 'Step!') 'to my aunt's' (Jim:
     'Step!') 'and say' ('Step!') 'I shall keep' ('Step!') 'my
     promise' ('Step!') 'to marry Harry!' ('Exit!!' shouts Jim.)
     'Now, Miss Sybil, try it again, and say "step" to yourself
     this time. Pretty soon your feet will carry you along
     unconsciously.'

     "Now her voice, sounding very forlorn and unbelieving,
     begins: 'I will go (step) to my aunt's (step)----'

     "It sounds awfully funny, but she's a persistent little
     devil, and she will hang on till she can make a decent exit.

     "I'd like to bet something, old man, that I'm on to your
     game! You are not a man to put me into baby-farming like
     this for nothing. Well, good luck! She's bright and quick,
     and I'm crowding as much 'shop' into her head as I can on
     short notice. Jim Roberts has done a good deal in the way of
     teaching her technicalities. She understands all the
     entrance directions, the uppers and lowers and centres, etc.

     "I believe that's all. Any further orders will be attended
     to. Thank you for the use of that play--it pulled us through
     in fine shape.

  "Fraternally,
  "J. A. WILLIAMSON."

By the same mail there had come a second letter from the theatre at the
Soldiers' Home. It was written with woful shakiness showing in every
spidery line, and with more than a spider's venom in its words. The
envelope held, too, a folded ten-dollar note, which was a return for the
like amount paid out by Thrall to a certain Mrs. Hoskins, who in her
character of suspicious landlady had basely broken her promise "to wait
a week," and had impudently presented her claim against Roberts to his
manager--which was certainly an injurious proceeding and treacherous as
well. Therefore the letter opened with some remarks about landladies,
individual and in bulk, and though his style was a trifle florid and
his spirit somewhat bitter, he nevertheless showed a thorough and
discriminating knowledge of his subject, particularly where he pointed
out the difference between a "she-shylock" and a harpy (Mrs. Hoskins was
a harpy), the shylock being, he declared, ever satisfied with her single
pound of flesh, while the harpy, beginning with your eyes, picks your
every bone bare, and then tries to reach through your vitals.

Having eased his bosom of much perilous stuff, he went on:

     "Business is very good. The company is far better than you'd
     expect to see at the salaries paid, but every one's so
     devilish glad to get something to do in the summer that they
     are willing to work on half pay. Old Williamson's a
     first-class stage-manager--queer thing he never gets into
     New York, and he's taking so much pains with Miss Lawton, or
     Miss Sylvia Latimer, as you've got her billed here, that
     everyone is talking and wondering about it. But there's no
     mystery to me in this matter any longer. I went to her door
     yesterday to hand in a few pounds of mail from her
     people--they must all write every day of the week to her.
     She was not in the room, but the door was ajar, and I
     entered and placed the letters on the table. As I did so the
     wind fluttered open the leaves of a play-book--it was 'Romeo
     and Juliet,' and the lines of Juliet were all pencil-marked
     for study. So that's the game, is it? That's why the girl is
     hidden under a stage-name, while she is learning her acting
     a-b-abs out here in the West? That's why I suddenly become
     of service to you? I am to guard this fruit from wicked
     little boys who may look over the orchard wall and spy it
     out? Oh, you think you are immeasurably deep, don't you?
     Well, you're not! But you're the damndest, luckiest beggar
     on earth! And you're smart--oh, yes, you're smart, where
     number one comes in!

     "What a card you have found! and how cleverly you will play
     it, and gather in the stakes--for yourself! Beautiful,
     talented, poor, and good--now! Don't give me your sneer,
     please! Even a drunkard knows an honest woman when he comes
     up with one. And this girl is a wonder! She is innocent,
     though she's not ignorant. Theoretically she knows of sin's
     existence--her stories, poems, and plays have all made her
     so monstrous wise; but, practically, she is as much of a
     child as was that other girl who came to you to learn to be
     an actress. Damn you! Oh, yes, I know this girl has gifts my
     sister Bess never had, but--purity is the subject now, and
     Sybil Lawton looks at you with precisely the same innocent,
     dauntless eyes that made my sister irresistible. Poor little
     maid! If it were not that she and the Missus, and even this
     last, your pet devil of a divorcée, were all such fair
     women, I'd think your sending me on here to guard this girl
     would have made me suspicious of another sort of game! See
     here, Thrall, don't you come any of your dam'd
     drooping-eyelid and lowered-voice effect over this girl!
     Leave her alone, if you know when you are well off. I know
     I've been your dog, your cur, but curs snap sometimes, and a
     silence, however long, may be broken. No, we don't want any
     Bessie in this! Stewart Thrall, manager--even Stewart
     Thrall, Romeo to the loveliest Juliet God ever made! But,
     don't you see how like she is to your victim, little Bessie,
     save in color of her hair and eyes? How like! For God's sake
     let that likeness protect-- I--oh, my head's all gone to
     pieces! No, I'm not drunk! I'm queer for want of drink--but
     I dare not touch it while I have her to care for. I think if
     I met her eyes when I was 'off' I'd curl up like a worm
     that's stepped on!

     "She--so gentle and so kind! And yet Herod could not touch
     her for pride! There, I've had a smoke; I'm steadier now.
     Yes, your find is a great one. When once she conquers her
     trouble over her exits she will be quite a decent actress.
     Her voice is clear and carries well. Hers is a genuine stage
     beauty too, lighting up radiantly. To your question--yes,
     she is easily coached. I've got rather a long part to break
     in, so I guess I'll go at it, after I mail this and get a
     bite. Watching others' preserves is hungry work. Tout à
     vous!--which I wish I wasn't!

  "_Jim_."

"Confound him!" said Thrall, "I don't know when he is worst--crazy drunk
or crazy sober! Why must he remind me of that resemblance? For, deuce
take him, it does exist! It's not his drunken fancy, as I wish it were!"

He shivered in the warmth as he recalled the fair, childish face that
used to beam with adoration upon him, unconscious avowal shining in each
blue, honest eye. Shallow and inconsequent he had thought the little
creature, and yet she had snapped the thread of life with her own hand
rather than wait for its slow fraying under abandonment and separation
from him. And Jim, by his silence and his craft combined, had averted an
awful scandal.

He wiped his forehead and re-read the letter. Suddenly his face flushed.
"The drivelling idiot!" he muttered. "I believe in my soul he's in love
with this little Crown Princess, who yearns to be a Queen! If he dares
to let her know of it I'll wring his neck! He's mighty brave on
paper--threatening me, who has kept him out of the poor-house these five
years! And my young affections are supposed to be strictly confined to
'the fair Ophelia' type, eh? I am to be blind to the fact that there's
more beauty in this dark, lowering young face, more temptation in the
upward curl of her swift smile, than could be found in the
pink-and-white redundancy of the most perfect Rubens type alive! Oh, I
am a fool to notice his rambling, maudlin nonsense! Let me keep to the
business in hand. It's very evident that this girl has something in her,
when tough old Williamson finds her promising and can see her beauty
too. And this crazy wretch, Jim, who knows the requirements of a good
actress as well as I do, says she's quite a decent actress now. All of
which means that if she is let alone she will probably succeed only
after years of struggle and hard work and many disappointments. Yet that
is the natural, normal way to success. Perhaps I'd better leave her
alone [surely, if Stewart Thrall ever had a guardian angel, its friendly
whisper was in his ear at that moment]--leave her to work out her own
artistic salvation? I--I could give her a start--I could use my
influence to secure a good position somewhere for her first season. That
would be the wise thing, Stewart, my boy! For there's no denying the
girl's getting too strong a hold on my imagination. Yet what a furore it
would create to spring this unknown, unheard-of beauty upon the public!
What a vision she would be in the white satin lace and pearls of Juliet,
with her young, dark, swift-changing face; and, as for acting the part,
why--" A slow smile crept across his lips, unconsciously he drooped his
heavily fringed eyelids, in the very way that Jim Roberts had cursed,
and murmured: "I could teach her--I could teach her. This letter says
she is easily coached. I could open the season with this new French
play, holding 'The Duke's Motto' ready for revival in case the new play
doesn't strike hard enough; and meantime I could either place my little
Princess with old Mrs. Mordaunt for training, or--coach her myself,
work the press to arouse curiosity, and by February at furthest spring
my surprise--play my great card! The production will cost--but I'll
gather it in again from the houses she will draw, if I bring her out as
a star. I suppose I'd be wiser to drop this plan--but, oh, by Jove, I
can't! I promised, fairly and squarely promised, she should have her
crown. Poor little girl! I'd like to make the path to success easier to
her than most people find it. Then, again, some cheap tuppenny-ha'penny
actor may gather her up and marry her, out of hand, and so spoil all her
future. Oh, devil take it! I'll toss a coin. No, I won't, either; that
doesn't seem decent! But I'll wait for the next letter, and if she has
learned by that time to make a correct exit, I'll bring her back here at
the end of old Williamson's summer season, and begin coaching her on the
quiet for the great coup! If she has not yet succeeded, I leave her to
her own efforts. There, fate has it to manage now! I stand aside and
wait!"

Seven days later this telegram reached Jim Roberts: "Bring Miss L---- on
here at close. She can't go with Williamson for winter season. Train
arrives late, so escort her to Riverdale first, then report to me at
theatre.--Thrall." While in a certain paper's "Stage Gossip" there
appeared:

     "The air of the Rialto is full of mystery just now. There
     are whispers of a society _débutante_ who is to become a
     stage _débutante_. Sometimes she comes from the West with
     consenting friends; sometimes, being wealthy, she has defied
     the authority of lover and guardian alike and is openly
     preparing for a stage career. The one thing that steadies
     the wavering rumor is that the name of the theatre to be
     favored by this shadowy society actress never changes--that
     part of the story is ever the same. Stewart Thrall is to be
     her manager and the Globe is to be the scene of her triumph.
     So much for the _on dit_ of the Rialto. Perhaps Mr. Thrall
     will kindly rise and explain."

And a more staid and conservative paper stated: "That it was undoubtedly
true that a young lady of birth and breeding, a member of one of New
York's oldest families, was to be brought before the public as soon as
the full consent of her family could be obtained, Mr. Stewart Thrall,
with a most commendable sense of honor, refusing by his aid to place the
beautiful suppliant in opposition to her natural guardians. The lady's
name will only be given to the public when all opposition to her wishes
have been withdrawn."

So the good angel had whispered his warning all in vain; and Thrall was
already busy with glue-pot and paper and book of gold-leaf, for had he
not promised, with the rose-petals that fell from her breast held red in
his hand--had he not promised to crown the obstinate, ambitious girl who
longed to be Queen of that fair domain, the Drama, who, while hoping to
win fame herself, was "sorry that he had missed the way"? "God bless
her!" he murmured, "God bless her!" and he made note of several new
fables to give to the press anent the social débutante's private
brougham, her lovers, her maids; for thus is the chrysalis formed from
which, the dormant time being passed, the radiant butterfly will flutter
forth to gladden the eyes of those whose curiosity has been cleverly
aroused. Ah, yes! no chrysalis, no butterfly!



CHAPTER XIV

THE RETURN FROM THE WEST


It was October already. The old White house stood and shivered when the
wind came sharp from the steely river. Lena, making ineffectual war upon
fallen leaves, could not even keep the porch free from them, and they
skirled and whirled and gently slid and madly rushed, while in the house
their movement could be distinctly heard like light pattering footsteps,
ever seeking, never resting.

They even disturbed Lena's nerves. She looked about uneasily, while
Dorothy laughed as they tied up each other's fingers, for they had been
engaged in what Lena called "veather vending," and what Dorothy called
"battening" the windows in her mother's room. For there was no question
about it, the Lawtons had to face the winter right where they were. So
Lena, with Dorothy's help, was doing her best to make a few rooms
comfortable, and the hammering of nails and tacks had included
thumb-nails as well. But what of that; their "veather vending" was
turning lots of cold air from the rooms, and there was a comforting
smell of freshly baked cookies coming from the kitchen, and great
crimson and dappled branches of dogwood--Sybil's favorite autumn
leaf--were over mantel and door, while dark purple and pale grayish
lavender asters were nodding from corner and vase. For joy! oh joy!
Sybil was coming home from the West--that vague, chaotic place that had
swallowed her sister, an outsider, and now cast her back a professional,
a "for-true" actress, with three real newspaper notices of her work,
though they had been won under an assumed name. Dear Syb! how proud they
all were! Papa had split up a cigar-box and made a little frame for her
very first newspaper notice and had it hanging in the corner by the
window where he shaved.

And then, late that night, poor, pallid Jim Roberts had handed Sybil out
of the shaky old hack at the White house door, and saying "Good-night,"
had turned to go, when grateful hands had drawn him inside, to receive
courteous thanks from John Lawton and an explanation from Mrs. Lawton as
to her present inability to send a comfortable carriage for her daughter
and her escort.

"Oh, Mrs. Jones was Miss Lawton's escort quite as much as I was!"
stammered Roberts. "I--I only looked after the checks and things,
and----"

"And," said Sybil, "hungry and tired, came away up here with me instead
of going straight to your supper and your bed. And, papa, he had no
overcoat with him, and he shivered dreadfully in the hack after the
fearful heat of the car." Whereupon Dorothy insisted upon coffee being
brought to him, and Sybil cried out: "I smell fresh cookies! Oh, Lena,
bring some here!" Then, still in hat and gloves, she stood before him,
saying: "You shall not miss the next train down. I will watch the time
for you, so please drink your coffee and eat your cookies in peace!"

"Cookies and coffee!" moaned Mrs. Lawton. "Barbarous combination! Mr.
Roberts's dinner will be destroyed, or, to speak more correctly, his
appetite will be destroyed. And while I'll not call it vulgar, still
there is something so very domestic, so very intimate about a home-made
cookie, that personally--no, my daughter, I could not have offered one
to a stranger! Still I suppose we must expect these touches of
bohemianism, now that you have become a professional actress!"

In the few moments that he sat there, Jim saw the poverty surrounding
them. He could not help noticing the carpets and curtains, worn to the
bone; the ancient and honorable furniture, the severity of the chairs;
and yet the Lawtons were, temporarily at least, unconscious of it all.
They were caught up in a golden glory of family love, of mutual
admiration, of ineffable tenderness, and while all other eyes were
turned with pride upon the dear wanderer returned, she, still timing
him, still holding the plate of cookies, with an impulse that would not
be denied, stretched out her free arm and drew her sister close to her
side, gazing at her with an expression of love so protecting, so
maternal, she might have been Dorrie's elder by ten years instead of
two.

"Ah!" thought Roberts, "you'd be quick to suspect danger for her, and
you'd be strong to protect; but to your own peril you'd be as blind as
a young white owl facing the sun!"

With almost a groan he sprang to his feet, a movement that wrung a
disappointed "Ach!" from Lena, who, to the amusement of Dorothy and the
fuming indignation of Mrs. Lawton, had been eagerly peering through the
crack of the door, trying to get a good look at "Vun of dem Herr actin'
mens, ven dey vasn't makin' no believes to nobody," and her betraying
"Ach!" came with such a pony-like snort that even Mr. Lawton had joined
in his daughters' laughter.

Then Sybil stepped close to Roberts and whispered, swiftly: "Will you be
vexed if I ask you just to speak one word to our little German maid, who
is the staff of the whole family, and whose manner is the only bad thing
about her? Ah, you are good! [What would he not have done for Sybil's
asking?] Dorrie, you call her. She wouldn't come for anyone else now."

"Lena! Lena!" called Dorothy's gay voice. "Lena! Quick, please!" And
then, very, very red in the face, the sturdy, square little
serving-woman stood in the doorway.

"We are in such a hurry, Lena," said Sybil, "because Mr. Roberts has to
catch this next train; but, as he is the gentleman who brought me safe
home after helping me to learn to act, I know you too want to thank
him."

"Oh, ja! I doos so!" answered Lena, heartily, making her peasant-like
bob of a courtesy.

But Jim Roberts went over to her, saying, with a laugh: "If there's any
thanking to be done, I'm the one to do it; for, Mistress Lena, I haven't
tasted cookies like yours since, as a bad boy, I came home at recess to
hook them fresh and warm from my mother's pantry. Thank you, Lena!"

As she backed smilingly out of the doorway, Sybil laughed: "You have
saved her life by granting her a good look at that wondrous thing, a
real, sure-enough actor!"

"Carefully edited and lavishly illustrated, this tale will doubtless
reach her grandchildren," smiled John Lawton.

"Oh!" cried the girls, "hear papa making jokes!"

"You all seem to forget that you have an actress of your own in the
family now for your little maid to feast her eyes upon," remarked
Roberts.

"Oh!" exclaimed Sybil, flushing beautifully, "not yet. I am only 'a
trying-to-be actress' yet! There, your time's up!" And she caught up his
travelling cap and tossed it to him.

"Sybil!" remonstrated Mrs. Lawton, "Sybil! a little more decorum, even
in the protecting presence of your family! Good-night, sir! In former
days I should have sent you in my own brougham to the----"

But Mr. Lawton had swept the actor out of the room to a chorus of
"Good-nights." On the porch, he said: "Mr. Roberts, I have some
clippings from the papers about my little daughter's work. Can you tell
me, for I am very ignorant of such things, whether those--er--those
notices were inspired, or--you understand me, were they--er--commanded
from the box-office, or at--er--a manager's suggestion, or were they
unsought by anyone?" The old gentleman's voice trembled with eagerness
and anxiety.

"My dear sir," replied Roberts, "what may happen in that line in the
future I dare not say, but as to the past, nothing was inspired. Those
notices commending Miss Lawton's work were honestly earned, for she has
natural gifts, neither is she afraid of work, and does not resent
criticism--as yet."

Mr. Lawton took his hand and pressed it gratefully. "Thank you!" he
said, "thank you, for your goodness to my Sybil!"

Roberts flung himself into the old hack, muttering, as he slammed the
door: "Hear him! Just hear him!" He burst into a laugh that ended in a
groan. "Oh!" he continued, "I wonder if God, in some mighty shuffle of
His worlds, has dropped this one out of His hands entirely! For surely
nothing higher, nothing wiser than blind fate or a malicious devil can
be guiding the affairs of man!"

He threw off his cap and held his head hard between his bony, long
hands, and broke out again: "That gentle, helpless old fool, with his
unmistakably aristocratic elbows nearly out of his sleeves, is the
natural protector of two lovely daughters! How the devil will laugh when
he takes note of the situation! If so weak a creature was to be trusted
with daughters at all, they should for their own sakes have been plain
girls, whose homeliness would have acted as a prohibitory tariff on
folly of any kind! Again, the circling arms of some mothers would be as
towers of strength for the guarding of innocent beauty; but not this
mother--this elegant 'has been,' who twists her memories of past wealth
and power into thongs to lash her friends and family with! And, by Jove,
the old rattle can carry herself well! She's been a fine-looking woman
in her day--a fact she will never forget in this world, probably not in
the next! But selfish? Lord! I'll bet her time is principally given to
pulling out for her own use any plum of comfort to be found in their
economical family pie! But they see nothing amiss! It's 'this chair for
mamma!' One places a stool for her feet, and another brings a cushion
for her back, and papa throws a scarf about her shoulders and lowers the
light to suit her eyes; and when they have all made her quite
comfortable, she rewards them with sighs and moans and tales of her
former glory. But for family love commend me to this Lawton set. I never
saw anything so beautiful in my life as the palpitating pride of that
old gentleman in his daughters and their protecting love for him! And
there it is. The natural position of father and child is reversed, and
that lovely creature, Sybil, with father and mother both living, is as
absolutely unprotected as any orphan on earth! Lord! How I wish I had a
drink of whiskey! My nerves will jump clear through my skin before I get
to the city! I wonder what Stewart would say if he knew I'd been
travelling without a flask? Wouldn't believe it, I suppose. Gad! I've
had heaven and hell pretty thoroughly well mixed together these last few
weeks. Thrall gave me a bit of heaven when he sent me to act as
sheep-dog for this girl, and I ordered up a portion from the other place
when I doomed myself to sobriety, out of consideration for her trust in
me! Not a drop of anything to be had either at this infernal, suicidal
station, and I've had nothing since Albany! Well, I must grin and bear
it! I wish I hadn't to see Thrall to-night, and yet I want to know just
what he's up to. Of course I'm dead sure he's going to coach this
ambitious child for Juliet, but maybe he'll pass her over to old mother
Mordaunt. She's clever and knows her business. Perhaps, too, he means to
put young Fitzallen up for Romeo, and play Mercutio himself? May be! Ah,
bah! May-bees don't fly at this time of year. I'd bet my bottom
dollar--a coin always within easy reach--that he will coach her
himself--yes, and play Romeo, too! But as I live by bread, Stewart, my
boy, there must be no Bessie in this case, or something will
happen--something that would have happened five years ago had I not been
as completely under the spell of your fascination as ever she was, poor
little maid! Hello, here we are, and the train coming, thank the Lord!"

Roberts hurried through the little waiting-room, past the small office,
from which came the curt, short "tick-tick tack" that is as the voice of
the ever-imperative telegraph wire, crossed the open space, tripping
over the line of rails in the darkness, clambered up the steps, and
entered the purgatorial heat of the car, made nauseating by the odor of
banana and stale orange-peel, and dropped into a seat by the side of a
sleeping man, only to spring up again when suddenly aware that he had
sat upon a bottle.

The movement aroused the sleeper, who, with his hat on the back of his
head and a lock of hair clinging damply to his forehead, muttered
apologies as he gathered up his overcoat out of the way. Having felt
carefully in one of its outer pockets, he turned to Roberts with that
loose smile of world-embracing geniality peculiar to the good-natured
man who is "three sheets in the wind," and thickly remarked: "I's all
right! Best kind of glass! I've sat on that flask dozen times myself 'nd
never cracked it!" His head wobbled a moment, then he added,
confidentially: "Soon's I can think--w-where in thunder I put
cup--w-we'll have a drink together--like little men, eh? Why h-here it
is, r-right in other pocket! Been a b-bear it might 'a' tore my
g-gizzard out! Join me?"

Jim Roberts glanced a moment down the brilliantly lighted, well-filled
car, then clenched his hands and, drawing a long, almost sobbing
breath--declined.

"W-what's--w-what's reason you won't join me?" demanded the stranger,
indignantly, yet showing at the same time a disposition to weep. "W-what
have I done--say, now, w-what have I done? Slept with my m-mouth open, I
s'pose? Slept out loud, too--very likely? But w-what of that? It isn't
pretty, of course--but's no crime--eh?" He brought forth the metal cup
and carefully wiped it out with a stubby forefinger, while he tearfully
added that "the very dogs in the streets'd bark at him when they knew a
gentleman had refused to drink with him!"

And Roberts, with set jaws and feet twisting together, tried to control
the leaping muscles and nerves that seemed to be crying out with a
thousand gasping mouths for liquor! liquor! The tears of self-inflicted
disappointment were stinging beneath his lids when there came to his
ears, with infernal power to charm, the delicious "blub-blub-blub" of
whiskey poured from a full bottle. He gave a gasp. In an instant his
left hand held his hat before his face, his right hand grasped the cup
and poured the contents straight and raw down his aching throat. The
drink was followed by that convulsive shudder, so familiar to most
drunkards. Heart shock someone has called it; but almost before he had
returned the cup to its rejoicing owner a delicious warmth and comfort
was stealing over him, a sense of well-being made him tolerant even of
the disjointed conversation of his chance acquaintance.

       *       *       *       *       *

He reported presently at the private office of Manager Thrall, who
received him eagerly and greeted him with unusual heartiness. The
interview was long and confidential--very. When Jim Roberts finally
reached his own room he had been drinking heavily and had been tramping
the streets for hours. He was at his very worst. Flinging off only his
hat and coat, he cast himself across the bed, and rolling his head face
downward on his folded arms, he groaned: "I can't do anything! I'm less
than a fly on the wheel! He's all right now--he means well--he honestly
does! But, oh! good God! don't I know the man better than he knows
himself! Don't I know that Stewart Thrall is never more dangerous than
when he means well?" and the poor wretch lay there and grovelled in
helpless, drunken misery.



CHAPTER XV

MRS. LAWTON LAYS PLANS


Before Sybil's trunks had been opened and her simple little home-coming
gifts distributed, she knew that her sister, the patient, cheerful
Dorothy, was being seriously worried by somebody or something, and she
had not sat at the family table three times before she saw that her
mother waged a secret, petty warfare against the young girl, who was
really the mainspring that kept the whole family machinery in clock-work
motion.

They had been so wholly united in their home-life that this
surreptitious nagging, these swift side-glances that made sure John
Lawton was out of ear-shot before the jeer or sneer or wounding innuendo
was delivered, filled Sybil with amazement as well as hot anger.

"Poor little Dorrie!" she thought; "denied every pleasure that a young,
healthy, pretty girl longs for! Skimping and saving, turning and
cleaning and pressing, rarely going out dressed entirely in her own
garments, never complaining, always smilingly winking back threatening
tears, smoothing rough places, straightening out the tangles for others,
and when the burden becomes too heavy, the cloud of small torments
unendurable, instead of bursting into bitter railing or furious tears as
I do, Dorrie, with the absolute, unquestioning faith of a child, goes to
her room and prays, asking that her burden be made lighter, or, if that
may not be, that the blessed Lord will give her strength and patience
and please make her understand what it is wisest for her to do in that
special emergency! Poor little trusting ninny! As though God could
trouble about her infinitesimal affairs! As though He would distinguish
her faint appeal when once it had fluttered upward and been caught in
that mighty whirlwind of a world's anguished prayer that, with a
thousand times Niagara's sound, goes thundering to the Throne! Dear
Dorrie! Such a patient little slave as she is to mamma, too! But I'll
take a few hours from work and find out what is going on here--yes, even
if I have to question Lena!"

She shook her head. "An indecorous and undignified proceeding that, but
what else can I do? Poor papa never sees an inch beyond his handsome old
nose! If it concerned anyone but mamma, Dorothy would tell me everything
herself, for we have confided in each other ever since we had to 'make
up' the secrets we shared. But she and papa always make a sort of fetish
of mamma. It's strange, too," said Sybil to herself, "for mamma was very
little to either of us, indeed, in the old days of luxury. As that
English housemaid once said of us, 'we were little better nor horphans
for all our finery and our sweets!' Mamma was always out, or going out,
or just getting ready to go out. Or there were people staying with her,
and we had to keep close to the nursery. We should just have been
servant-bred but for papa. Shall I ever forget his face the day he asked
Dorrie some question, which she answered with a hearty, 'Bedad! I have
then!' After he had read us a lecture on the subject of English as it
should be used by intelligent and obedient little girls, Dorothy lifted
her repentant, small countenance to be kissed, saying, 'Please forgive
me, papa!' and he caught her up in his arms and said, 'Oh, baby girl, it
is for you to forgive us--forgive us!' And when he was gone we talked
and talked, and finally concluded that 'us' meant papa and Delia,
because she was all the time saying 'bedad' and 'bad-cess,' and such
words. That same night I heard mamma's voice, high and excited, from her
dressing-room. She was saying, 'I really do _not_ see why I am to be
held responsible for the aimless chatter of children of _that_ age. Of
course, when they are older, and it's worth while, I shall impress
myself upon them--shall take complete charge of--what? my mother? Never
mind my mother! Times are changed, and really it's more than a trifle
presumptuous for any Lawton to attempt to teach a Bassett how to--' and
the voice became inaudible, because mamma had entered her sleeping-room
and closed the door. But next day we took our drive with her, instead of
the nurse or maid, and in our big feathered hats--I in pink and Dorrie
in blue--we sat one on each side of her and swung our slim, black-silk
legs against her skirts and wished papa was there. And that very day she
cut Mr. Bulkley dead as he saluted her in passing, and said, under her
breath, 'Horrid wretch!' Horrid wretch then! And now? She can't be too
cordial to him, actually pressing him to come again. Has she no eyes?
Can't she see how he stares poor Dorrie out of countenance, and
how--how--" Suddenly the girl started. "Why," she said, "it can't be!
Oh, it can't be that she _does_ see and understand and--and--still
welcomes him--that she is tormenting my little sister about _him_?"

A certain ominous tremble of the ceiling told of the energetic Lena's
presence in the room above. Sybil flew up the stairs, went first to her
trunk, and a moment later came to Lena, holding in her hand a spray of
artificial flowers, and saying: "If you will bring me your hat I'll
freshen it up with these velvet roses. I can do it right here while you
are finishing mamma's room." With a cry of rapture the little,
square-rigged German girl dropped the pillow she was holding between her
teeth, while trying to introduce its further end into a fresh cover, and
rushed from the room, to return in the twinkling of an eye with one of
those forlornly tawdry hats, peculiar to the foreign servant. They
always seemed to be trimmed with samples, boasting a pale spring blossom
twisted with a dahlia or a few hips and haws of autumnal tinting, a bit
of feather, always straight; a bit of lace, always cotton; a scrap of
velvet, always dusty--the whole incongruity invariably suggesting the
police station, no matter how respectable the wearer of the "mussy"
confection may be. For a moment Lena looked frightened as Sybil's long
fingers swiftly tore the rubbish apart; but a glance at the deep rich
glow of color in the crushed velvet rose with the trail of bronzy-green
leaves reassured her, and she smiled the whole breadth of her honest
moon-face as she exclaimed:

"Mein Gott! my Miss Lady! Dot mash-man will sure make me of der name of
Miss Klippert, ven I make der Sunday valk, mit der roses on, youst like
I com' by America! Ja! dot is too fine youst for Lena--all short! Dot
make of me Miss Klippert--sure! you see now!" And full of excitement and
happy anticipations, Lena rose like a hungry trout to Sybil's first
cast, which was the remark: "I don't think Miss Dorothy is looking quite
well?"

In her broken English the maid poured out the story of the trials and
persecutions to which Dorothy had been subjected; of how her mother's
selfishness in her imaginary illness had taxed the girl's strength; of
how Leslie Galt had tried unsuccessfully to take Miss Dorrie for a
drive, to bring the color back to her cheeks; of how Mrs. Lawton had
changed her mind about the proprieties when Mr. Bulkley had driven up to
the house with a similar object; and of a disgraceful scene at a near-by
resort in which Mr. Bulkley and several "painted ladies" figured--a
scene of which she and her "mash-man" were the witnesses.

The pitiful story finished, Sybil, controlling her feelings, went to the
troubled Lena, set the newly trimmed hat on her head, gave her a little
push toward the glass, and then fled to her own room, where, with
blazing eyes and flushed cheeks, she paced the floor, repeating, over
and over: "How dare he? How dare he force his attentions upon an
innocent young girl? He is as vulgar as he is wicked! His conduct is
unpardonable--disgraceful! Oh, what can I do? How can I shield Dorrie,
and where is Leslie Galt? I know he loves her, devotedly, but he can't
have spoken yet, for she would have shared the secret with me within an
hour of my coming! He's not a man to change, nor yet to hesitate without
grave cause. Oh, I suppose it's poverty that commands his
silence--poverty, fruitful mother of many miseries, of shame and
humiliation! And yet--and yet," frowned Sybil, as she called up a mental
picture of Leslie Galt, "he never looks like a poor man; and surely I
ought to recognize any or all of the symptoms of indigence, know all the
dear little earmarks made by straitened circumstances. And now that I
think of it, his dress is perfect in its way, quiet, oh, yes, quiet
enough, but such perfect cut and fit can scarcely belong to ready-made
'marked-downs.'"

And when had she ever seen spot or soil or sagging pocket, loose button,
frayed binding, or faded tie? Her mother had called him "a salaried
boy," but she recalled Lena's statement that he wished to take her
sister to drive. She knew he often rode a horse, hired in Yonkers. He
lavished gifts of fruit upon Mrs. Lawton and music and books and flowers
on Dorrie. Surely, she thought, a young lawyer must receive a good
salary to do all that and dress so well. She wondered if she ought to
make him understand Dorothy's position. Even if they were only engaged,
that engagement would protect the young fiancée from the detested
approaches of another man. Papa? Ah! poor dear papa had no authority
where mamma was concerned! What should she do? Then suddenly she began
to dress for the street. She decided that she would go to her god-mother
with her trouble. She had always been fond of Dorothy, and if Mrs.
Lawton feared any adverse opinion it was that of Mrs. Van Camp.

As she hurried down-stairs, hoping, by fast walking to the station, to
catch the next train cityward, Mrs. Lawton came into the hall, to
express shocked disapproval of her daughter's action and her sorrow at
not having more fully impressed herself upon that daughter's mind and
character, in which case she could have seen for herself the horrible
impropriety of going to the city unaccompanied; in fact, to be perfectly
explicit and exact, 'er _alone_! And Sybil, as she rapidly buttoned her
gloves, replied with the humble deference of tone, which usually cloaked
her worst impertinences: "Yes, mamma dear, undoubtedly the girl who can
buy tickets for two and pay the salary of a chaperon who watches her, is
guilty of a criminal impropriety in travelling alone. You see the point,
don't you, dear mamma? Without wealth there is no impropriety. Of course
that's unfair, but the fact remains that a poor girl may ride for an
hour in a public car in broad daylight, and not only retain her
self-respect, but fail to hear a single charge of impropriety. Of course
it's hard, but since we have fallen upon poverty, we must not lay claim
to the attributes of the wealthy. Good-by, dear mamma! Tell Dorrie and
papa I shall probably have to see the costumer to-morrow, if Mr. Thrall
can spare the time to accompany me, and decide upon correct designs; but
I shall be home in time for tea--D. V.--I mean of course."

As she flew down the steep driveway leading to the street, Mrs. Lawton,
looking after her, said, aloud: "Dear me! With Sybil assuming this
freedom of action and Dorothy developing a streak of real obstinacy, I
have to ask myself why I ever assumed the responsibility of bringing
daughters into the worlds. Sons would doubtless have been far more
satisfactory, particularly under the present unfortunate circumstances."
And she returned to her rocker, her smelling-bottle, and her French
novel, shaking her head and sighing portentously.



CHAPTER XVI

A STRANGE BETROTHAL


Nothing of Dorothy's doing in all her young life had so exasperated Mrs.
Lawton as her refusal to drive out with William Henry Bulkley. How, she
asked herself, could a child of hers be so stupidly content in poverty
and obscurity, when, by a little self-sacrifice, she could acquire
wealth; then with beauty and wealth combined with the Bassett-Lawton
finesse she could attain position and exist socially. With the slightest
sense of her own value and an adroit touch of coquetry now and then, she
could simply twist Mr. Bulkley about her little finger.

"Of course he is a bit old for her, indeed," admitted Mrs. Lawton to
herself. "He is a trifle older than her father, but--but--love for me, a
tender desire for my welfare, should outweigh that objection; and I have
tried hard to make her understand that my worldly salvation depends
wholly upon her conduct. And yet the stupid creature receives the rich
man who has cast her his handkerchief with frightened silence or with
prim monosyllables! I--I could shake her! In my days of affluence and
power, I always raised my voice against corporal punishment for
children; but live and learn, live and learn! I know now I was in
error, for the other day when she hid herself to avoid going to drive
with William Henry Bulkley nothing would have given me more unalloyed
pleasure than to have soundly trounced Miss Dorothy Lawton, my own
youngest born daughter! If he only had an opportunity, no doubt Mr.
Bulkley would flatter her vanity, arouse her ambition; but if he has no
chance even to make splendid promises to her--well, he _shall_ have a
chance! She _shall_ go out for a drive with him! Simpleton! She might
herself have been driving a pair of dear little ponies this month past
but for John Lawton's stiff-necked refusal to permit her to accept them.
He's always ready to join hands with the girls in any sentimental folly.
But I have a plan in my mind. The bird that can sing, but won't sing, my
dear, must be made to sing! So next time Mr. Bulkley drives out here you
will accept the seat beside him for at least a short drive, or I am not
Letitia Lawton and your mother, Miss!"

While she was brooding over her plans in the sitting-room, Dorothy and
Lena were busy in the kitchen, which was filled with the pleasant odor
of baking bread. A large bottle of Lena's providing had been carefully
covered with white flannel, and around and around it Dorothy was
smoothly winding and basting down a bit of good old lace that was soiled
beyond all using, and, as there was no money to spare for its
renovation, she was taking this slow and tiresome way of cleaning it
herself.

Lena, always delighted to do something for her favorite Miss Lady, was
shaving some white soap up, ready for melting in a kettle of boiling
water, and was earnestly assuring Miss Dorothy that she would "get uf
der hands scalded, uf she attempted to do dose jobs! Youst tell me, my
Miss," she begged, "und I vill boil de bottle, or younce him up und
down, or twist him round or vat you vant every hows, only don' you get
of der hands scalted."

And just then, around at the front of the house, William Henry Bulkley
drove to the door. Mrs. Lawton heard the approaching horse dashing
through the sea of fallen leaves, and, springing from her chair, she
hurried to the hall, opened the door a crack, and, with finger on lip,
whispering: "Don't ring! wait a moment!" she closed it again upon the
wondering visitor, who, nevertheless, obeyed, and stood there waiting.

Mrs. Lawton, with astonishing speed, ascended the stairs, entered her
room, and taking a bottle from her dressing-table containing a mixture
known to the whole family as "Mamma's drops," she swiftly poured the
contents from the window, corked the bottle, and returned it empty to
its place. She then seized a handkerchief, shook a few drops of camphor
upon it, and, tying it about her head as she moved, hurried lightly on
tiptoe down-stairs, and, opening the door again, whispering to Mr.
Bulkley "Ring now!" she slipped into the sitting-room, and became
instantly a stricken sufferer from violent sick headache.

As the bell jangled loudly in the kitchen it startled both occupants.

Lena made an exclamation, and Dorothy, starting out with: "Why, surely,
it's too early for----," stopped and flushed consciously, for she had
that morning received a wee bit of a note from Leslie Galt, saying that
he would be returning from the office earlier than usual that day and
asking her permission to call, that he might speak to her on a very
important subject--"a subject the enclosed might faintly hint at." And
the enclosed being a violet, had "hinted" so sweetly that a sort of
blissful misery of anticipation had been thrilling her nerves and
flushing and paling her cheeks all the day. Now, as Lena left the
kitchen, she glanced into the bit of broken looking-glass the little
German maid had tacked on the wall for guidance in her own Sunday
prinking, and, with tremulous fingers, was training the fluffy curls on
her brow in the way they should go, when Lena returned with the heavy
dragoon's men stride that anger always engendered in her, announcing,
sullenly: "It's dot Herr Bergamots man, miss"--a name she had given Mr.
Bulkley on account of the perfumes he used so lavishly--"und smellin'
like a whole drug-store turned outside der door!"

"Oh!" gasped poor Dorothy in dismay, for she instantly realized that if
his ponderous loitering was as long as usual poor Leslie Galt would find
no opportunity to discuss that important subject with her that day. With
a fallen countenance she was turning toward the door, when Lena added:
"Und miss, der Mistress Mudder, she say you shall first com' quick right
away by her, in der sittin'-rooms, where she make almost to die by der
sick stomach head!"

"What!" exclaimed Dorothy, "mamma sick--why, since when?" Then
anxiously: "Had she not her lunch and tea as usual, Lena?"

"Ja! she had, und she eat like a soldier!" scornfully asserted that
handmaiden. "Und den sit mit der feet on der cushions und der plate full
of der Herr Galt's grapes on der knee, und eat und tell me, vile I clear
der tray avay, how hard is der life by her now! Und how hard for her to
have der children mit ungrateful teeth not so sharp as der serpents! Und
now she com' all tied up by der head und all crazy like by der pains,
und vant you quick pefore even you go to der parlor to see der Herr
Bulkley!"

"Oh!" cried Dorothy, "get a glass and spoon quick, for mamma will want
her 'drops' the very first thing!"

As she hurried to the sitting-room she wondered why on earth her mother
had not called or rang the bell, as was her custom when she was not
feeling well. Entering the room she asked: "What can I do for you,
mamma, and what has made you ill so suddenly?"

"Anxiety for the future of my family and the unhappiness of being a
disobeyed, unloved mother has made me ill!" answered the sufferer. "I am
of a very sensitive and delicate temperament; I have borne the neglect
of the world in patience; I have suffered for the ordinary comforts of
life without a murmur."

"Oh, mamma!" deprecatingly interjected Dorothy.

"Hold your tongue, miss!" snapped Mrs. Lawton. "You know, as well as I
do, I have not had a silk stocking to my leg for years, and I have borne
it all, and lived on, some way! But when my own flesh and blood flout
me, and coldly deny me a little comfort for my last days, my courage
breaks, and sickness supervenes--'er--'er, perhaps I mean intervenes.
I--'er--'er, well, anyway--oh, dear heaven! help me, someone! My drops!
my drops!" She rolled her head frantically about and called louder and
louder for "drops."

Dorothy ran out, but, Mr. Bulkley stopping her in the hall, she took
glass and spoon from Lena, and told her to run upstairs for mamma's
drops-bottle (Mrs. Lawton smiled as she heard), and then explained that
a sudden headache had attacked her mother, but her drops would relieve
her and produce sleep.

"Hum! Opium, I should think!" remarked Mr. Bulkley.

"Oh, I hope not!" said Dorothy, and held out her hand for the bottle
Lena had brought, and lo! it was empty.

"Did you spill it?" she asked, in a frightened voice.

"Nein! I huf not spilled nottings, my Miss Lady!" said Lena, shortly.
"And my bread com' burn uf I don't go back by der kitchen!"

"O--o--h! o--o--h!" groaned Mrs. Lawton. "Where are my drops? What's
that? _All_ gone? Not even _one_ dose? Well, I shall die without it! I
simply can't bear this pain!"

She shot a meaning glance at Mr. Bulkley, who caught the cue, and
exclaimed: "My poor dear friend! If this remedy can be had at Yonkers,
and Miss Dorothy will direct me, I will go at once and procure these
precious drops!"

A distressed, a harried look came into the girl's face. "Mamma," she
said, "Sybil will go and I'll stay by you."

"Sybil's in New York by this time!" answered Mrs. Lawton. "I have been
too ill to be able to tell you before! So, hurry your hat on and start
at once!"

"Dear mamma, Lena can get the drops--she knows where the store is--and
then we need not trouble Mr. Bulkley."

"No trouble!--no trouble at all!" pompously declared that gentleman.

"Lena has an oven full of bread to watch!" snapped the suffering one,
whose head seemed surprisingly clear, by spells, at least.

"Then," despairingly cried Dorothy, "I will run for it myself! I can go
very quickly, mamma, and perhaps Mr. Bulkley will be so good as to keep
you company till I return!"

"Dorothy," cried Mrs. Lawton, "are you so utterly heartless that you can
deliberately lengthen out this period of suffering, simply to gratify
some whim of your own? O--o--o--h!" she groaned, dismally.

While Mr. Bulkley remonstrated: "Really, now, my dear little girl, while
we have no right to--er--er, to expect logic from a lovely creature like
yourself--you'll pardon me, Miss Dorrie, but you really don't show your
usual good sense in this instance! It is quite absurd, your idea of
walking when you can reach the village and return in less than a third
of the time by driving, and--and you know the poor lady's comfort should
be our first thought, so toss on your hat and let us start at once!"

With a lump big and hard in her throat the girl turned and left the
room, and half way up the stairs she was almost sure that she heard a
low laugh from the room she had left. "Oh," she thought, "if only papa
was back from his long walk, or if my Syb were here! How I wish Leslie
had arrived before this dreadful old man, who quite wears himself out
pretending to be a young man! Oh, dear! oh, dear! if Leslie should
happen to see me out with Mr. Bulkley--on the very day he was to call!
Oh, mamma, mamma! you are not playing fair!" and she dried two big tears
from her eyes before pulling down her veil, and then, all ungloved, she
ran down, and scrambling unassisted--to Mr. Bulkley's annoyance--into
the trap, sat there clutching the empty bottle, whose various labels
told plainly of visits to more than one chemist's shop, and so
overheard, though imperfectly, the groom making some suggestion about
the horse, "the chin-strap (mumble, mumble), curb, pretty severe
(mumble, mumble), tender mouth."

Mr. Bulkley's domineering tones answered: "Let it alone, I tell you! I
know what I'm about! I don't want my arms pulled out! Stay here till I
come back!" And, without the comforting presence of even a groom, they
started toward Yonkers.

The mounted police of those days found little to do on Broadway, and
even less on the quiet length and breadth of Riverdale Avenue, and many
of them, from very weariness and ennui, made pets of their horses,
sometimes teaching them simple tricks. Most of the men walked a good
deal, and, with bridles hanging loosely over their arms, allowed the
horses to browse the grass at the roadside. But one man had fallen into
the habit of leaving his horse entirely free, to follow him like a dog.
This animal was the big black, whose swollen leg Mr. Lawton had been
interested in, in the spring. His name was Napoleon. He had been on the
force for years, and was famous for his speed in short dashes. He had
become well acquainted with the Lawtons, and would beg from the girls in
the most barefaced manner whenever he met them; while he had established
apron-nibbling relations with Lena, who talked much to the policeman of
her "mash-man," who was his friend, while Napoleon meditatively sampled
the gingham she wore.

Sometimes, while the officer gossiped, the horse would be a third of a
block and more away, climbing an embankment, or reaching into some
hollow after an enticing bit of dandelion or clover clump; and though he
answered to a whistle, as a dog would, Sybil had several times remarked
that some day an interesting moment would arrive for that policeman,
that some sudden call would come for his services, and before the
sundered man and horse could be united time would be lost and trouble
would accrue--for the man, at least. But October had arrived, and her
prophecy was as yet unfulfilled.

As Mr. Bulkley drove out of the old White house gateway the most
unobservant person must have noticed that the big chestnut gelding was
either in great discomfort or in a very bad temper. Dorothy was
surprised, too, to see Mr. Bulkley trying to pull the animal, who
wanted to go, down to a walk, and, finally, in a burst of temper, sawing
the poor brute's mouth so cruelly that Dorothy, with a cry of pity,
caught at Mr. Bulkley's wrist with her ungloved hand, saying: "Please,
oh, please, don't do that, it hurts him so! See, there's a streak of
blood on the foam of his mouth!"

And, at that unconscious touch, William Henry Bulkley, with the red of
his cheek spreading over brow and neck, turned avid eyes upon her,
saying thickly that "that little hand of hers had power to guide him
where it would," adding, with brutal coarseness, that he "would crush
the horse's jaw, like a nutshell, to spare her annoyance!" a speech that
was a trifle wide of the mark, since he, and not the horse, had hurt and
frightened her.

"Mr. Bulkley," said Dorothy, "won't you please let him go on a little
faster? Mamma will find the time very long!"

And her companion laughed aloud, as, with ill-considered frankness, he
made answer: "Oh, I guess mamma's all right!" Then he traitorously
added: "She's being treated vicariously. The drive _you_ take will cure
_her_ headache!" laughing immoderately.

"I do not understand you," said Dorothy, coldly.

"Oh, my little girl!" he gurgled; "my little girl, whims in the young
and beautiful are not only pardonable, they are adorable. They should be
obeyed without hesitation, but the whims of the elderly are ridiculous.
My friend Mrs. Lawton has whims, and that headache of hers will be
helped quite as readily by a little quiet as by these wonderful drops.
This is a lovely day for the view from Park Hill, and we'll just drive
up there and enjoy it!"

"Mr. Bulkley," broke in the distressed and angry girl, "I must insist
upon getting mamma's medicine and returning at once!"

And just then, through a side street leading to Broadway, came Leslie
Galt, tall, well set up, well-dressed, some law books under his arm, and
in his face all the pride and bright hopefulness that belong by natural
right to the face of the man who goes to seek his love and ask her
promise. He recognized the big chestnut as it passed his corner, and
also he knew but too well who was the wearer of the white-winged,
blue-veiled hat, and his heart sank like lead in his breast in bitter
disappointment. He stood a moment at the corner, then, instead of
turning down Broadway toward Woodsedge, he followed up the street in the
direction taken by the slowly moving carriage.

Dorothy had not seen him, but, instead, caught a glimpse of old black
Napoleon, half-way up a bank, after a bunch of late clover blooms
peeping out invitingly from the fallen leaves, while his uniformed
master, a third of a block away, conversed gallantly with a sturdy young
blowzy-belle of his own nationality. And even as Sybil's prophecy came
into her mind, she noted a small store on her left with red and blue
bottle-filled windows and stands of soda-water and cod-liver oil signs
outside, and she eagerly cried: "Stop, please! Here's a drug-store!"

"But," grumbled Mr. Bulkley, "I thought we were going up into the town?
This is not the place you intended going to?"

"Oh, any drug-store will answer," insisted the girl; "the drops are not
difficult to prepare."

And with an angry jerk her vexed companion pulled the fretting horse in
close to the sidewalk and stopped. But as Dorothy, bottle in hand, rose,
the animal started, throwing her back into her seat, and Mr. Bulkley's
loud "whoa!" and violent jerk on the tormented mouth did not add much to
his steadiness in standing. For again, yes, and a third time, was
Dorothy's effort to descend frustrated by the irritable, nervous
starting of the chestnut.

And then Mr. Bulkley's always feeble hold upon his temper gave way
entirely, and, snatching the bottle from the girl's hand, he violently
exclaimed: "Good God! Let _me_ get out! Here!" and he flung the reins
into her lap and sprang out of the trap. Answering her startled cry with
"I won't be more than a moment" he started across the walk to the store.

And sometimes more than one would be superfluous, for some moments are
crowded with incident; this was one of them. In the same instant that
followed the sudden lessening of the strain upon the horse's mouth there
had come Dorrie's startled cry and the sharp bang of the store door,
violently slammed by Mr. Bulkley, each causing a leap of the chestnut's
every nerve, and followed by the swift response of a raked up pile of
leaves to some impish current of air that sent them in swirling circle
out into the street, where, whirling down the hill like a veritable
dancing Dervish of the Dust, they passed fair between the horse's legs!
A bound, a long, wild scream from Dorothy, and the chestnut was off,
with the trap slewing this way and that from side to side!

That cry had reached Galt's ears, and it almost stopped the beating of
his heart for a hideous moment. Then, hurling the books he carried to
the ground, he started on a run, when suddenly he heard the shrill, long
whistle of the policeman recalling his horse, and glancing behind him he
saw the officer racing toward him. Right in front came the big, black
Napoleon, obediently answering his master's call. With a single bound
Galt was at the horse's side, had grabbed the bridle with one hand, the
pommel with the other, and hurling himself into the saddle, pelted by a
very hail of furious oaths and threats to shoot, he gave the good old
black the heel and a chance once more to prove his vaunted speed, for
the runaway was now a race between the chestnut and the black!

And all the time, this frantic lover on his illegal mount, though
praying dumbly for the safety of his love, was, all unconsciously,
swearing like a madman. The policeman followed until his breath was
gone, and, pausing an instant to regain it, he saw a boy come from a
side street, who was exercising a livery horse. Before the half of Jack
Robinson could have been said the policeman had the boy by the leg,
down, and himself striding the horse, and pelted madly off in wild
pursuit--and the race became a hunt.

At sight of the girl in the swaying, swinging vehicle, people racing
along the sidewalks cried out in pity. Drivers turned out to give free
passage to the furious horse. And Dorothy, who, white-faced, staring
straight ahead, had gasped once or twice, "Sybbie! oh, Sybbie!" feeling
faintness stealing over her, could only hope it might come before the
inevitable crash.

And then she was dimly conscious of regularly beating hoofs behind her.
Something dark showed close at her side, fell back, reappeared, seemed
stationary for a moment, then rushed ahead, and she recognized Napoleon,
and wondered vaguely why his rider wore no uniform.

The old horse knew his business well. He had avoided the wheels, but now
crowded in close upon the runaway. Galt reached for and caught the
bridle; the chestnut swerved to the sidewalk; then a tree, a high curb,
cramped wheels, sudden splintering of a shaft, and the high cart was
over, and Dorothy, hurled half-way across the street, fell on one
doubled-up arm and lay silent and motionless.

The crowd that so miraculously appears upon the scene of even a suburban
accident, was closing about her, when, leaving the horses to the care or
the neglect of others, Leslie Galt dropped on one knee, and lifting the
pallid face, whose left side, dust-smeared, bruised, and sand-cut, was
so piteous a sight to him, in breathless, unthinking haste, cried:
"Dorothy! my darling! For God's sake, speak to me!"

And even as the words left his lips he remembered his situation, but it
was too late. He caught the exchanged glances, the half-wink, half-leer
on the face of a hulking fellow, and, like a flash, boldly lied to
protect the helpless girl, saying: "Run for a doctor, someone, please!
This is my affianced wife, Miss Lawton, and I dare not think of leaving
her!"

The effect of that statement was instantaneous. Murmurs of sympathy were
heard, women pressed closer. One drew the tossed skirt smooth about the
girl's ankles; another produced a smelling bottle from her chatelaine; a
third gently strove to straighten that crumpled looking arm; while the
leering fellow went plunging diagonally across the street to call out a
doctor residing near. Galt had barely time to feel a pang of terror over
his headlong assertion, an awful fear that Dorothy might repudiate his
claim, when the furious policeman came pounding up, threatening
unspeakable and dire punishment for this disturber of the peace, this
breaker of the law, and--and horse-thief, and demanding that he submit
at once to arrest.

"All right," answered Galt. "As an officer you have every right to hale
me to prison; and yet, as a man, I'm sure you will make some allowance
for a fellow who sees his future wife in danger! For," desperately
thought Leslie, "I may as well hang for a sheep as a lamb, and stick now
to my claim."

Then, with a glint in his eye, he added, innocently: "I know you are
anxious not only to lock me up, officer, but to get the opportunity to
explain to your superiors how you and your horse came to be so widely
separated while you were on duty?"

The policeman's jaw dropped a bit. He looked distinctly troubled. A
lady came out just then and asked that the injured girl be brought into
her house, and, as the policeman stooped to help Leslie lift her, he
exclaimed: "God be good to us! Wh-y it's Miss Dorothy Lawton! Won't
there be ructions when the old man at home hears of this! Them girls are
just his two eyes! What's that? Will I be leavin' you free of arrist
till the doctor comes? What kind of a bounder do you take me for,
anyway? I'll leave you free till you'll be gettin' the little colleen
safe home, sure, and thin maybe you'll show up and stand for a fine and
the like? Divil take that gang out there!" and out he charged upon the
crowd.

Finding himself for a few precious moments alone with Dorothy, who was
lying on a settle in a hall, Galt began a hurried search of his
breast-pocket. He brought out a small box, and, opening it, was shaking
out into his palm a glittering ring, when a faint moan reached his ear,
and, bending over, he saw the blue eyes he loved slowly open, saw the
dazed look passing, and as glad recognition dawned in them he swiftly
took her hand, and slipping the ring upon her finger, he whispered,
rapidly, urgently: "Little Dorothy, listen! Try to understand! And oh,
try, too, to forgive me! But you are hurt, dear, and that I may have the
right to protect and care for you, I--I--oh, Dorrie, see, dear!" He
lifted her hand that she might see the ring. "I have dared to claim you,
sweet--have declared you my promised wife! For God's sake, don't deny
me! Promise!"

But Dorothy promised nothing. The faint blush that had crept into her
cheek died there. The wide-amazed eyes slowly closed, and in utter
silence she slipped back into the unconsciousness in which the doctor
presently found her.



CHAPTER XVII

THE COSTUMING OF JULIET


While Dorothy was taking prominent and uncomfortable part in that
impromptu "Wild West" show on Broadway, in picturesque and hilly
Yonkers, Sybil, in New York, sat in Mrs. Van Camp's old-timey
drawing-room and fairly astounded her hostess by confiding to her Mrs.
Lawton's evident desire to marry Dorrie to William Henry Bulkley.

"Has Letitia gone stark, staring mad?" she exclaimed. "Why, the man is
the merest nobody, who could no more name his grandfather than he could
fly! Money he has--yes, of course! But money without family can't
balance the public flaunting of all his coarse amours, his bad manners,
and worse temper! She must perfectly remember, too, the life he led his
poor wife--who was, by the way, a member of the Massachusetts Stone
family. Why, her great-uncle was a judge, and her second cousin was
lieutenant-governor of the State. How she ever came to accept young
Bulkley is a mystery. But she paid for her folly, poor thing. However, I
shall take it upon myself to inform Letitia Lawton of some of the
atrocities of his recent years, and tell her that as his wife Dorothy
would be as dead socially as if she were over in Greenwood."

"Oh, don't!" shivered Sybil, "dear god-mamma! I hope I may go to
Greenwood before my little sister Dorrie does!"

And Mrs. Van Camp pushed the girl's dark hair back with a caressing
touch and said: "How devoted you two girls are to each other! You might
be twins. Even as children I never knew you to squabble or sulk. You,
Sybbie, had a furious temper, but your rages were almost always in
defence of Dorothy. Do you remember how you kicked the shins of the
gardener once because he had kicked her dog?"

"Yes!" laughed Sybil, "and scratched and bit a boy-tramp who attempted
to snatch her little locket from her neck. But I can't help loving her,
for she's the bravest, sweetest, jolliest, prettiest sister a girl ever
had, and she's all the world to me!"

And Mrs. Van Camp, laughing a little at her enthusiasm, held up a finger
and said, "Wait!"

And a bit later Sybil was on her way to the theatre, where Mr. Thrall
joined her, and together they walked to a house on Fourth Avenue, where
Sybil was presented to an ancient couple, who in the profession were
recognized as authorities on the subject of correct historic costuming.

Never had the girl received a greater surprise. She had expected a
stately and dignified presence, and certainly the sumptuous entourage of
a very fashionable dressmaker. But here there was no reception-room, no
parlor, no fitting-room, no boy in buttons. Here the thing that first
commanded attention and longest held it was the almost overpowering odor
of garlic. It led them through the little drab hallway, up the stairs,
and to the door of the stuffy and crowded living room, where an old
woman in a false front and a black alpaca dress and a snuffy old man in
carpet slippers received them.

And, as they heartily greeted the manager, Sybil wondered what on earth
there could be in common between the rich and splendid dresses she had
seen at the theatre and these frumpish old people, while she shuddered
at the thought of their stumpy, uncared-for hands, pulling about
beautiful satins and velvets. "But of course," she thought, "they have
people under them who do the real work." Afterward she knew that it was
the cunning of these same fingers that produced all the wonderful
embroideries in bullion and spangles that are so difficult to obtain in
this country.

Now, however, she saw that Mr. Thrall treated the couple most
deferentially. Indeed, he was secretly anxious to see what impression
his "Princess," as he mentally called Sybil, would make upon the old
pair, who had dressed every famous Juliet of the past twenty years, and
who were in their own way veritable artists.

He had come there with one or two fixed ideas on the subject in hand,
and he hoped there might not be a struggle with the old pair, whose
obstinacy he well knew. But he had a vision of Sybil with cloudy, dark
hair, all netted over with pearls, after the Venetian fashion, with
pearl-encircled neck and arms, and pearl-engirdled waist; and he was
determined that she should not wear glittering ornaments of any
kind--which he rather fancied they would favor--or much gold and
general splendor, after the style in which they had clothed the Juliet
of his previous season. For he forgot how well these old people knew
their business, or perhaps he did not know the passionate love of beauty
that produced in them an almost poetic power of expression, through
color, fabrics, draperies. They were like artists, who got their "darks"
from heavy velvets, "middle tints" from cloths and satins, and their
"highest lights" from laces and jewels.

Sybil, hatted and veiled and jacketted, had remained in the background,
a position that gave her a glimpse of another room, shelved about from
floor to ceiling, with every shelf quite crowded with green boxes. She
had been so interested in her surroundings that she had not heeded the
conversation going on until the strong disapproval on both old faces
drew her attention to the words "society" and "débutante"; and when, to
a question, Mr. Thrall answered, "Juliet," they gazed at him with
incredulous wonder for a moment. Then, exchanging glances of
contemptuous derision that made poor Sybil's cheeks burn, with
innumerable shrugs and much sniffing they scuffled back and forth,
bringing out and throwing open boxes, until the room was presently a
confusion of such splendid materials as velvets, satins, crêpes, of
silver tissues and cloth of gold; while camphor gum and cedar wood sent
odors from the boxes holding rare furs, cut into strips of trimming
width, correct for king or prince, for judge or queen. For in this
cramped and shabby place one could be provided with everything, from the
rough woolens and leathers of Macbeth, the black and purple satins, the
jet and sable of Hamlet, the crimson velvets and ermine of queens, the
embroideries and laced fripperies of white-wigged courtiers, down to the
floating gauze of a Titania and the silvered wings of a cupid.

In the splendor of the display Sybil forgot her recent mortification,
and thrilled with delight at the thought that some portion of it was to
be placed at her service--for her adornment!

As the old man came lumbering in with two great volumes, bearing the
title "Modes et Costumes Historique--Étranger," and, slamming them down
on the table, began ostentatiously turning over the colored plates,
Thrall, laughing good-naturedly, closed the book, saying: "Now, now,
Lefebvre! You and Nonna Angelique here need no plates to dress
Shakspere's people by, and you won't be so cross when you _see_ your new
Juliet! Come now, Madame, no one knows better than you do how important
is the setting of a jewel! Oh, I know what that shrug means and that
'la, la, la!' But as a just woman you must at least see my young Capulet
before you condemn her. Miss Lawton," he continued, "please remove your
jacket. Thanks! And now take off your veil and hat, please!"

The autumn wind had somewhat roughened Sybil's hair, and she raised her
hands to smooth it, but he stopped her: "Not for the world!" he said,
laughingly. Then he took her by the hand and led her to the centre of
the room, saying:

"Monsieur et Madame, you will kindly costume this young girl for me, but
only _if_ you can see in her a Juliet. If not, why--" he stopped.

Flushed, excited, embarrassed under deliberate inspection, Sybil stood
with downcast eyes and red, half-sullen lip, already quivering to a
smile.

The old pair stood at gaze. Then mutely the woman's hand went out and
was caught in his.

The girl saw, and with her sudden flashing smile, she raised imploring,
dark eyes and looked at them.

"Par Dieu!" cried old Lefebvre, "'tis Juliet's self!"

"And oh, mon Dieu! mon Dieu!" the old woman exclaimed, "if you can act
as you can look the part! Oh, Mr. Thrall, I crave your pardon! Will I
costume her?--_will I?_ We shall make of her that last blossom of the
House of Capulet--the very Juliet herself!" She turned and half
whispered to the old man, "Slight and dark!"

He took snuff furiously, and added: "Rich colored, quick tempered, hot!"

And then, together: "Let's see! let's see!" and they turned excitedly
toward their boxes.

"No velvet, I think?" suggested Thrall, who was highly elated that his
judgment, so far, had been so heartily seconded by this experienced old
couple.

"Velvet? Bah!" responded Nonna Angelique, with a condemnatory wave of
the hand that swept velvet entirely out of consideration. "Too old! too
heavy! but--but--" She tossed things right and left in hurried, nervous
search.--"Where's that blond lace scarf?" she fretted, "where?--where?
And why don't you open the cabinet, and not stand there wasting time,
mon mari?"

As they stood waiting, Stewart Thrall said, laughingly: "Patience,
patience! We are in the hands of the powers that be. These are the
people who 'paint the lily' and--er--er--touch up refined gold! And,
Miss Lawton, haven't you been about a theatre long enough to learn how
indiscreet it is to laugh at your manager's imperfect quotations? You
should reserve your merriment for those occasions when he tells a
supposedly funny story. Ah! ah! the lost is found!"

For Nonna Angelique came trotting up with a long scarf of silky old
blond lace trailing from her hands, and Sybil, turning toward her, gave
a cry of rapture. Drawer, too, after drawer had been drawn out from the
chiffonier, and from their velvet-lined depths there came a blaze and
glow and gleam and such dancing prismatic colors of violet, indigo,
blue, green, yellow, orange, red, from jewels in such good and careful
setting that, imitation though they were, they commanded admiration even
in broad daylight.

Among these crowns and crosses, stomachers and necklaces, there were
minutely exact copies of some famous originals treasured in the museums
of Europe. Nor were these ornaments cheap; the price of many of them was
told in hundreds of dollars, not tens. And Sybil, while missing their
real value, which lay in their historical accuracy, might well be
forgiven for her childish delight in their meretricious splendor.

"Oh, how I wish Dorrie could see, too!" she exclaimed, and the snuffy
old man nudged his rumpled old wife with his elbow, and, looking at
Sybil's flushed and happy young face, they wagged their heads
knowingly.

And Stewart Thrall said to himself: "To watch her countenance is like
watching the surface of a land-locked lake--one moment glass-smooth
beneath the sun, then reflecting a slow white cloud, then breaking into
ripples, fretting into waves and blackening to sudden storm! Ah, surely
you are the headlong Capulet in love with love!" and his meditation
broke off short.

Lefebvre was advancing, diamond coronet in hand, and he anxiously waited
results. Nonna Angelique, with stumpy brown fingers, had still further
loosened Sybil's black hair and fluffed it out, crooning to herself the
while, and had turned her head this way and that, bent it down, lifted
it, then put her hand out for the coronet her husband brought, placed
it, drew back a step, then tore it off to a chorus of, "o! no!"

"Too old!" said Lefebvre.

"C'est cela! too old!" nodded Nonna Angelique.

"Too old!" acquiesced Thrall.

Then was handed over a golden net, studded with jewels; and oh, Sybil
did hope they would let her wear that!

Old Angelique put it on with deft hands. "Mais comme elle est belle!"
she exclaimed; "but----"

Thrall shook his head and repeated: "Beautiful, but----"

And the old man explained the "buts" fully with the remark: "Too
Zingary, n'est ce pas?"

"Yes! yes!" cried Nonna, throwing her arms over her head and snapping
her fingers to imitate castanets. "Oui! oui! too Zingary--too
gypsy-like!" and off came the golden net.

A head-piece of colored stones barely touched her brow when, with a
contemptuous "Bah! too Egyptian" it was returned to the drawer.

The costumers stood looking at each other, silently. Thrall waited; he
wanted them to propose pearls themselves, and thus avoid a wrangle, for
they did not accept suggestions willingly. Then, suddenly, Nonna
Angelique said: "Let me hear the voice, Mr. Thrall. Give her a cue; let
me know whether her voice matches the mobilité of her face. That may
give me my idée!"

Sybil gave a frightened, deprecating, "Oh, Mr. Thrall!"

But he answered with: "Steady! steady!" then added: "Give her 'Wherefore
art thou Romeo?'"

She looked at him with dilating eyes, then clasped her hands, and gazing
into space, obediently began:

  "Oh, Romeo! Romeo! wherefore art thou, Romeo?
  Deny thy father and refuse thy name--
  Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn--my--love!
  And [with a rush] I'll no longer be a Capulet!"

Nonna Angelique caught the girl's face between her hands and kissed her
soundingly. It had been an unexpected test, and Thrall, pleased at her
courage and obedience, was simply delighted with the effect she got from
that pause, as if at her own temerity in using the words:

  "... be but sworn--_my_ love!"

and then the reckless dash of the declaration:

  "... I'll no longer be a Capulet!"

And Sybil, glancing up, noted for the very first time the extreme beauty
of the man's eyes, and if the open admiration beaming from their
sapphire depths gave her a thrill of gratification, it was the approval
of the manager that moved her, not the man, she told herself; and since
there is no one in this world so easy to deceive as one's self, she
undoubtedly believed her own statement.

"Ah! ah! monsieur, you have a find in this young girl!" said old
Lefebvre to Thrall. "She should be a big card--and in your hands, eh?"
he poked the managerial ribs and winked his round black eye knowingly.
"The wires will be pulled, eh? And the public, it will dance! And the
dollars they will rattle, eh? A-a-ah! Qu'est-ce, cherie? Les perles?
mais oui--certainement! In a moment I shall bring them! My key? Ah, the
devil flies away with everything this day! Where is my key? Ah, here in
my vest-pocket all the time!"

And at last Thrall's patience was rewarded as pearls came to the front,
and "Oh!" exclaimed Sybil, in amazed delight. For her idea of imitation
pearls had been founded upon the cheap bluish-white glass beads with
just a skim of wax for lining. Now she stood astonished by the weight
and lustre of these lovely things from Paris, where by some clever
artifice the scales of fish are used to produce upon the forms of almost
solid wax the wonderful "nacre" of the true gem of the sea. So artistic
was the work that small imperfections in shape and flaws in tinting had
been carefully reproduced, the monotony of a mechanical perfection being
thus avoided. Really they were very beautiful, and among those selected
strands intended for the throat it was as if color, having life and
breath, a rosy pink, had gently breathed across their milky lustre,
faintly flushing the swelling round of each great pearl. Nor were they
too frail for service; weight and solidity made them almost as durable
as the true jewel's self. And here was bunch after bunch of seed pearls,
so small, for embroidery on lace or satin; long strands for plaiting in
the hair, for the suspension from the waist of feather fan or tiny
mirrors à la Marie Stuart, when dauphine of France; great girdles for
the waist, whose pendant tassels fell almost to the wearer's feet. And
at last--at last, the heavy net which he so much wished to see upon that
waywardly waving dark cloud of hair!

Old Angelique, having raised a sternly instructing index finger to close
proximity with Sybil's glowing face, proceeded to strike off with it
upon the air these verbal commands: "You will do exact now as I tell
you, if you wish to look the little Juliet--so high-bred, so headstrong,
yet so young! Mais, _so_ young--mon Dieu! mon Dieu! comme--like a bébé!
Now make the mark of my words, Miss--Miss--er? Lawsons! oui! oui! merci!
For I have in the mind that Juliet--me--I know! So you must make no
height on the top of the head, no cross braid, no pile up curl, no
coronet! No--no! that make very handsome, mais--but not _the Juliet_!
Tumble the hair to the shoulders, half curl! No curl, all regular! Wat
is call 'em, 'em ring-a-let? No! no! half-curl, half-wave--oui! all
natural! And for the front, the hair all fluff--so! [puffing out her
breath]--low to the brows, that the big eyes look from under it, like
from a cloud. Then turn all back from the cheeks, after the manner of
the angels in the old masters' pictures! Obey me, and you shall see! The
city shall see! Why, even now!" She flung the net upon Sybil's head,
drawing a pear-shaped pendant pearl forward to rest upon her brow,
rapidly twisted the white lace scarf about her shoulders to hide the
street gown, threw a rope of pearls about her neck, and with triumphant
eyes turned to Thrall, saying: "Is not the Italian angel's the coiffure
correct for this, Miss Lawsons?"

Thrall answered, briefly, "Quite correct!"

And Sybil, with an ecstatic sigh, said again: "How I do wish Dorothy
were here!"

And Thrall commented: "Your lovers have cause for jealousy of that young
sister, I fancy, Miss Lawton?"

But, with careless frankness, Sybil answered: "I never had a lover in my
life! So Dorrie can have caused no jealousy, you see!" and turned her
whole attention back to Nonna Angelique, who was checking off costumes
on her fingers.

And she would have been an astonished girl had she been told that her
brusquely spoken words had made this man's heart leap in his breast, as
no seductive wile of most tactful coquetry could have done; and the
fact that he had no right to heed the words of any maid, however sweet
or fair, did nothing to check that hurried thumping at his ribs. For,
like many other men, he had something of the explorer's spirit about
him--something that responded eagerly to the charm of the strange, the
vague, the new,--something that makes the would-be explorer of the terra
incognita ignore all thought of danger, and dream only of the beauty of
virgin forests, strange flowers, and fabled fountains of youth and love
eternal! No one could have guessed that the calm-faced, stately
gentleman, looking on at the selection of Juliet's finery, was mentally
repeating those candid, girlish words: "I never had a lover in my life!"

"Ah, no!" he thought; "no more had Juliet ever had a lover in her life,
up to an hour before that 'trifling, foolish banquet,' given by old
Capulet. Yet, ere its end, swift love had grown so great that she had
declared already for the grave, if 'twere a passion unrequited!"

Then old Angelique broke in upon his thought, and claimed attention
with: "The cloak, now, Mr. Thrall--the cloak for the visit to old
Laurence's cell? Shall it be black or brown or gray?"

"Gray!" he answered, readily. "Dark gray, I think, gives a hint of
mystery. Though, 'tis true, Juliet seeks the Friar with her parents'
knowledge, still it is with secret purpose. So gray and very large and
full and hooded, Nonna Angelique, so that a young maid might slip like a
shadow by high walls and through Verona's streets to the cloisters of
the convent without revealing a trace of beauty or of rich attire."

"C'est bon! c'est bon!" nodded Lefebvre, taking a prodigious pinch of
snuff, and entering in a greasy little note-book "One large, gray,
circle cloak, hooded"--"c'est bon!"

On Angelique's four fingers her grimy thumb checked off "Cloak for
Friar's cell--gray. Chamber scene--white, of course, but flowing, loose,
long, light as air. For tomb--white also, but heavy, rich, eh? The satin
gown for County Paris bride, and only one spot of color, eh? The
jewelled sheath of the dagger, at the waist. Oh, yes! oh, yes! all that
is clear, but--but, my Mr. Manager, how shall it be for the ball--for
that first time to meet the Romeo--eh?"

She pursed her lips, she scratched her forehead thoughtfully, and so
pushed her false front over to a most rakish angle. But the old man
shuffled across the room, and with a: "Permettez that I correct the
coiffure, my Angelique! It have slide, and it make a little of what you
call the--the 'jaky' look! That way--so!" And with the palms of both
hands he calmly replaced the foxy-red front, and the search for a color
suitable for the first act went on.

Thrall, drawing his hand lightly across the loosened folds of many webs,
over purples, mauves, ambers, with a snapping accompaniment of "No! no!
no!" paused, by merest chance, at a delicate blue brocade, at which
Angelique almost shrieked: "No! no!--I say no! Pretty? Yes, mais too
calm--cool--collected--obedient! Ah, bah! A fool color! What, that
amber would become her? Hear you that, old man?" She appealed to
Lefebvre with up-cast hands: "Y-es, and it would be Spanish in effect!
Oh, what _is_ it that we want?"

The old man squinted up his eyes, and, studying Sybil, answered:
"Something happy, v-e-r-y happy! Something like a flower, a-a very early
flower--but what?"

And Thrall, who had caught the old snuff-taker's idea, asked, quickly:
"Why not the blossom of the peach? That's early!"

"God bless the man!" cried Nonna Angelique, throwing her arms about him
in frantic demonstration of delight. "It is the coup-de-grâce! The
pinks, mon mari! vite! vite done! Vraiment you have the head still! A
happy color, said you!"

She threw out a fold of satin her husband offered: "Non! non! it is too
deep--too common!" Another: "Bah! too pale, but mere flesh color!" A
beautiful bright pink brocade next was tried. "Oh, non! non!" she almost
cried from disappointment; "too-'er, too-'er!" In despair she resorted
to pantomime to help make her meaning clear, and, catching up her skimpy
alpaca skirt, she danced a wild step or two, saying: "Too comme-ça! too
what you call 'frisky,' eh? You feel me, what I mean? But that sweet,
first flowering thing--that soft promise of the spring, that
peach-blossom pink, that would make this dark girl beautiful--can I not
find it, then?" She beat her breast with Gallic despair. Lefebvre
clutched his few hairs, and apparently pulled up a memory, and cried:
"One chance more! The old chest with Eastern things! India, China,
Japan!" He disappeared--he lost a shoe, but left it lying till he came
back, and slid into it in passing. Some rolls were cast down, soft,
non-crackling paper removed, and, with cries of joy and gurgles of
delight, Nonna Angelique flung out, fold upon fold, a silky crêpe of so
pure and true a peach-blossom pink that the petals of the flower itself
scattered over it could hardly have been perceived.

Pearls with this color would be perfection. Then the round white fan,
dagger,--everything ordered, the measures were taken in the inner room
of shelves, a day fixed for fitting, and, quivering with excitement and
delight, Sybil was descending the house-steps, when Jim Roberts came up
to Thrall, and looking rather oddly at him--the girl thought--said: "The
property-man says that cloisonné-jar you made such a fuss about was
cared for by the Missus. So, if you want it used, give me her key!"

There was a sort of half-frightened daring in the pale face of Roberts,
and the look of sardonic comprehension burning in Thrall's eyes might
well have shaken the nerves of such a poor wreck as he answered: "We
won't trouble about the cloisonné, just now; but I understand your good
intention in following me here to tell me about it. And--I--shall--
remember--it! Oh, here's your car, Miss Lawton; good-by!"



CHAPTER XVIII

A LOVER'S PLEA


With all her gentleness, Dorothy Lawton was not without spirit, and she
might have resented the unauthorized announcement made by Leslie Galt
had she not been reduced to helpless terror by the prompt reappearance
of William Henry Bulkley, pompously claiming the privilege of "restoring
her to her home and her parents."

Trembling like a leaf, she lifted pleading eyes to Galt, who, reading
with deep gratitude their prayer, answered it by turning to the old
beau, and coldly remarking that "the doctor had placed his carriage at
Miss Lawton's service, and together they were about to escort her home."

"You will do nothing of the kind, sir!" blustered the bombastic William
Henry. "This young lady was placed under my care. I have been made
responsible for her safety; therefore, she will return home under my
escort, sir!"

"Safety?" sneered Galt. "That word does not come gracefully from your
lips! Safety? Your utter irresponsibility is amply illustrated by the
injuries Miss Lawton has received while under your thoughtful care!"

"Anyone," hotly interrupted Mr. Bulkley, "anyone may be the victim of an
act of Providence, of--of a catastrophe!"

"Act of Providence!" cried Galt; "act of bad temper--act of stupid
discourtesy! No man has the right to take a woman out behind a tricky
horse, even when he exercises every caution in handling him! And no one
but a madman or a man in an unspeakably bad temper would think of
leaving a woman alone and utterly at the mercy of a shying, nervous
brute! The wonder is that we have been spared a tragedy to-day! And this
young lady can scarcely be blamed for not wishing to trust herself to
such doubtful protection again!"

"You will let the young lady speak for herself, you young upstart!"
answered the now furious Mr. Bulkley. "She will do well to remember she
is still in tutelage to her parents, and that by a parent she was given
to my care!" Then, turning to the girl, he went on: "I have obtained a
buggy from the livery man, and we can start at once!"

"Oh, Mr. Bulkley," quavered Dorothy, "I can't! I am afraid of that
horse! Please--please don't ask me to ride behind him again!"

She trembled so violently that the doctor interposed, saying, curtly: "I
must disallow your claim, sir! My patient's nerves are to be considered,
and, really, though you were acting as the young lady's escort for this
unfortunate drive, it seems to me her fiancé is the proper person to
look after her now!"

William Henry Bulkley's eyes stood out like a crab's. His red face
purpled. He breathed in loud gasps. "Her--her what?" he exclaimed. "Her
fiancé! Who the devil are you talking about? She has no fiancé!"

The doctor had raised Dorothy and given her his arm, but now he turned
in astonishment from the white, set face of Galt to the red fury of
Bulkley, and back again. When, with a little tremulous laugh, Dorothy,
with surprised blue eyes, said: "Why, Mr. Bulkley, were you not told,
then? Now, had you been a woman," she held out her hand, the third
finger all brave with flashing solitaire, "you would not have needed
telling. See?"

And Leslie, bending to draw down her veil and hide the wounded cheek,
whispered: "Ah! my love! my love!"

And then they were in the doctor's carriage and on the way to Woodsedge,
while William Henry Bulkley, in a black devil's rage, followed.

John Lawton had returned from his walk, and, as a hen-mother frets over
her ducklings in the water, so he fretted over the absence of both his
girls. He wandered aimlessly about, instead of piling up the wood in the
shed, as he had intended doing, while the lengthening absence of Dorothy
filled Mrs. Lawton with secret satisfaction. They were taking a drive,
just as she had intended they should, and Mr. Bulkley was undoubtedly
making the most of his opportunity. She hoped he might not make the
mistake of being too--too impulsively ardent. "Very young girls
sometimes take alarm so easily!" she thought. "And Dorrie is the merest
baby in such matters!"

And then confusion reigned, when, with helpless arm, bruised, cut face,
and yet such curiously shining eyes, Dorothy, who had gone forth with
Mr. Bulkley, was assisted into the house by a strange doctor and young
Galt. Then came tender greetings, hurried footsteps, and curt
explanations. The doctor, aided by the temporarily German-speaking Lena,
whose fright had strangled English in her very throat, was attending the
injured girl in her own room. Letitia was weeping hysterically, and John
Lawton, the father, was struggling hard to maintain the composure
expected of Mr. Lawton, the man. For the calm indifference of a doctor's
attitude toward a simple fracture, especially when young bones are in
question, is rarely emulated by anxious relatives. Even within the
ordinary family circle a broken limb is regarded as a serious mishap;
but in this abode of genteel poverty, where yet there was such wealth of
family love, a daughter's broken arm was a terrifying disaster, a
grievous catastrophe.

Mrs. Lawton was piteously inquiring of heaven, which she seemingly
located in the far corner of the ceiling, near the biggest stain: "Why
had she permitted Sybil to leave her alone, to face the contretemps that
was sure to occur in her most desolate hour?" ignoring the fact that her
"desolate hour" had been carefully contrived by herself.

Galt, catching sight of Mr. Lawton, went to him, and, taking his arm,
led him out across the porch and drive down to the great old willow,
whose mighty drooping made a gray green tent of privacy. Then he seated
him, and, taking off his own hat, he stood before the older man, who,
though looking at him with anxious eyes, yet noted the erect figure, the
clear gaze, and rather stern, well-featured face, and thought him a
goodly sight.

A moment of silence, then Leslie said, slowly: "Mr. Lawton, you have
shown me great kindness, and I----"

The old man held up his hand, saying, with quick deprecation: "No! no!
Without power, one can show kindness to no man! I like you, my lad! I
shall be grateful to you all my life, but I have done you no kindness!"

Leslie moistened his lips as might a nervous girl: "I--you--" he
stammered, then went on eagerly--"How well do you like me, sir? Well
enough to trust me with--oh, good God!" he cried, "what's the use of
beating about the bush? If you don't know it already, you ought to know
that I love your daughter with all my heart, and--don't look at me like
that, Mr. Lawton! I know I don't deserve her! But--I'd be true to her,
as my father was true to his choice before me! If--if Dorothy tells you
that she wishes it so, will you then give her to me, for my wife?"

Two slow tears crept into the pale blue eyes. Again there came that
piteous, silent movement of the lips, that had so touched Leslie on the
day he had rescued the girls from the tunnel accident.

"What is it?" asked Galt, gently. "You know who I am--who my father was.
You know personally one, at least, of the firm of Gordon, Stone &
Wheatleigh, in whose offices I have read and worked, and who have
promised--but never mind that now. What troubles you so, sir? My past is
an open book for you. Is it a question of age?"

John Lawton shook his head, and just then Mr. Bulkley drove through the
farthest gate and on up to the house.

They paid no heed to that; Galt went on questioning the silent,
distressed, old man: "Is it that you cannot trust me--that you doubt the
sincerity of my love?" A faint, reproachful smile accompanied a second
shake of the head.

"Is it----" started Leslie.

"It's poverty!" gasped John Lawton. Then, having regained his power of
speech, he went on: "Don't ask me to condemn my girl to poverty for
life. Love sweetens the draught, but the bitterness is there all the
time! Wait, my boy, wait! It is not for her alone I speak! Spare
yourself the torment, the shame, the pain of denying to the woman that
you love the little fripperies and follies and small luxuries that she
craves as a flower craves sunshine! There's no pain like it in the
world! And," his lips writhed as he spoke, "I ought to know, for--for
ten years past it has so pierced my heart that there can be but a
shapeless pulp there now! No! no! you can't afford to marry my
daughter!"

"It's hard to think of you as a lover of mammon--a seeker after mere
wealth!" frowned Leslie.

"Don't be unjust, my lad. The joy of counting one's dollars in seven
figures is a joy without savor for me. Very great wealth is either a
great trust or a greater temptation. I neither seek for nor desire it
for our girls; but I cannot calmly face for them a future of such
poverty as they are enduring now. You should be able, positively able,
to provide at least a modest home; be able to make both of these
inelastic ends not only meet but lap over a bit. The poor working-man
has a right to marry a poor girl, but a poor gentleman has no right to
condemn a girl with the training, tastes, and requirements of a lady to
a lifelong struggle with ways and means. Then, remember, when a man
marries he not only doubles his joys but his responsibilities as well.
Oh, my boy! if only you had a few thousands in hand--a wall to plant
your back against if the fight went against you for awhile! But--but, I
dare not give my child into empty hands! Why--why--boy? What in heaven's
name?"

Galt was flinging his hat high in the autumn sunlight, catching it and
flinging it again, like a boy at boisterous play! Then, with dancing
eyes, he made apology for his antics, adding: "I have no father, as you
know. So I think I'll follow the fashion of the Japanese and adopt one!"
taking a chill, veiny old hand in his firm, warm ones. "You, sir, by
your leave? So, Father Lawton, listen! I have not deceived you at any
time, but I may have been a trifle more reticent than was necessary, for
I hate talking of myself. But now I'll tell you what, I see, should have
been told before, and, when I've done, I'll ask again for Dorothy! No!
no! adopted father, you may only answer yea or nay when you have earned
the right by listening!"

And just then both men fancied they heard a sort of screech from the
house, and glanced up toward it. But old John said, indifferently: "An
owl, I guess. Lena disturbs them when she's rooting about that tumbling
barn behind the cedars. Go on!"

But, up in the sitting-room, William Henry Bulkley, rampant and blindly
furious while charging Mrs. Lawton with insincerity and bad faith, had
flung the engagement of Dorothy in her astonished face, and it was the
screech of the stricken Letitia that faintly reached them. But Mr.
Lawton, whose mind moved slowly, and who, though undoubtedly American,
was yet no "guesser," being all at sea as to the meaning of Galt's
sudden change from bitter disappointment to an exuberance of spirits he
had not thought the grave young man capable of, repeated, more urgently:
"Go on, please, go on!"

And, in the handsome weak old face and piteous faded eyes raised to him,
Galt saw again the likeness to Dorothy, and, with a pang, he thought:
"This is what years of sorrow and privation might put into her fair
face," and swiftly prayed, "protect, defend her, Lord, in part at least,
through my poor human agency," and then plunged into the simple story,
whose telling might change the color of the sky for him and make the old
world new for his young sweetheart and himself.

"You remember, sir, I told you before, that it was through Mr.
Wheatleigh's friendship for my dead father that I was first taken into
the office where so many wished to secure a berth. He advanced me, too,
as rapidly as he could, because he knew the mother I worked so hard for
would not be with me long. Well, the only property my father left me,
besides a small cottage, was an extensive sweep of swamp, over in our
neighboring State. This inheritance was considered a great jest, and was
continually referred to as my 'mosquito foundry.' The only harvest ever
gathered from its acres was a harvest of poor and pointless jokes. My
mother and I used to spend two or three months in the cottage during the
summer, and the rest of the year an old couple used it rent free, save
for keeping the small shell in repair. That my father had twice refused,
when the neighboring town was making spasmodic spurts of growth, to sell
portions of his swampy holdings, made people think him quite off his
head. But my mother told me he had once declared the time would come
when thousands of dollars would be offered eagerly where hundreds were
then spoken of grudgingly. She had said, 'Why, do you believe these
swamps can ever be made healthy enough to attract the wealthy?' and he
had answered, 'My dear wife, wealthy people often have other uses for
property than the making of homes. Nor do I anticipate a sudden fad
among millionnaires for personally cultivating cranberries.
Nevertheless, there's money lying in those mud-flats and out there in
the meadows--money waiting for a Galt; and if we don't gather it up,
Leslie will.'

"Every word," the young man continued, "I treasured, and while I was yet
a lad I used to rack my brain to find a cause for my father's faith, and
though I found it not I yet resolved to follow his plan and--wait. So
silently, tenaciously I kept my hold upon my 'mosquito foundry,' and
endured many things in the name of wit from my companions, who sought
information as to proper 'treatment of stings,' as to the usual period
'for mating among the young birds,' as to the 'outlook for cranberries,'
etc. As years went by the subject dropped, thank heaven! I had worked
desperately for my mother's needs. Then--well, when I found myself
alone, I worked desperately still, to prove to Mr. Wheatleigh that I was
grateful. The firm noticed me. They tested my discretion. Then one day
old Mr. Gordon said to Mr. Stone: 'A young fellow who can so lock his
lips, and give the combination to no one is wanted in this office for
confidential work.' It was a big step they offered me, and--and, Father
Lawton, I did not have a soul to rejoice with me or say 'well done!' I
was so desolately alone in my good fortune that when I locked my room
door behind me I buried my face in my mother's old crêpe shawl, and
talked to it, and yet," he laughed a little, "upon my soul I quite
expect people to consider me a man!

"Well, one day I was mildly surprised to receive a letter making an
offer for a small portion of my land. The price was modest--I declined
it, briefly. But before I had mailed my note another letter and another
offer to purchase reached me. I declined both, and dropped the matter
from my mind, when lo! my correspondents renewed their efforts to buy,
doubling the price first offered, at a single bound. I had heard of no
boom in town lots--no sudden growth outward in my direction, yet both
letters expressly stated that 'simple cottage homes were to be built.'
Homes out there on those dreary flats? Builders of simple cottages were
rarely able to double an offered price for the ground alone. I
astonished Mr. Wheatleigh by asking for half a day's absence. The old
pair at the cottage could only tell me that two or three of the widely
scattered residents had recently sold out and all but one had gone away.
These people had lived along the river. I walked out in that direction,
and stopped at the small truck garden, that had been sold but was not
yet vacated. I questioned the woman--a dull creature--from whom I gained
no information beyond her joy at going to live in the town. Her little
girl was teasing for a penny to spend for that childish solace--gum.
Being refused, I told her if she would walk along with me for company I
would give her a nickel; I paid in advance, and we went out together.
She was a sharp little monkey, as keen as her mother was dull. Inquiring
about what had been going on, I learned of the advent of six puppies
down the road a bit; of the lamentable fate of old Tom Hale, a local
ne'er-do-weel, and also of the presence of the 'queer men,' who used to
get dinner at her house. 'Why were they queer?' 'Why, because they did
funny things, and were squintin' along the road and across the meadows,'
'Squinting?' I repeated. 'Yes,' she explained; 'they had three wooden
legs, that had a funny brass and glass fixin' on top, that they
squinched through, and then they'd make marks in books and stick sticks
in the ground.' Surveyors, I thought. 'And,' went on the child, 'they
used to say, before they came into dinner, "don't talk!"'

"Ah! I pricked up my ears! Surveyors doing work that was not to be
talked of. I dropped another nickel into the child's hand. 'Tell me,' I
asked, 'what the funny men said outside the house, when they were
squinting through the meadows.' The child's face clouded. 'They didn't
say nothin'! Must I give back the nickel now?' 'Oh,' I urged, 'they must
have talked among themselves, and you must have heard a word now and
then, when you were watching them or playing. Come, think a bit! Perhaps
I have another nickel.' Her eyes shone--she knit her brows and bit her
lips. 'Well,' she said, doubtfully, 'I 'spose just words without no
sense to 'em ain't no use? But they did use to say things about "the
shops," and they said, too, "beds" many times.' 'Beds?' I repeated. 'Are
you sure?' 'Yes, beds, 'cause I thought it was a funny thing for a man
to say! And--oh, yes! Once, over by that mud flat, they said that their
"beds" would cost lots of money, and one man said they might be glad
there wasn't snakes here to cost more. And I told 'em there was snakes
in some places, and they laughed at me, they did.' I caught her hand,
and said: 'Lou, think again. Did not the men talk of "road-beds"?' I
held my breath till the answer came. 'Well, my ma says I'm a fool, and I
guess I am. That is just the kind of beds they said, "road-beds."' 'Oh,
thank you, thank you!' I replied, for, like a cheap modern god, I
showered my small Danaë, not with gold, but with nickels and with
dimes.

"I understood at last the possible value of my property. Mosquito stock
went up! This child had given me the clew to what was going on. At once
I laid the facts before Mr. Wheatleigh. He chuckled. 'Leave this matter
with us, my boy. Railroads are bulldozers! They pay low to the poor, but
high to the rich and strong. If this thing works out as it should, and
you should care to enter our firm as its youngest member in, say another
year, I think it can be arranged.' Well, Father Lawton, it has been
arranged, and the day that made me independent of money worries was the
very day of the railroad accident in the tunnel. And as the crash came I
was looking at Dorothy with all my heart in my eyes, for I had seen her
twice before, and I knew quite well that I loved her, and that I should
marry her, if we both lived long enough. You, sir, can have full details
of my financial situation whenever you may desire. 'Tis true I have no
splendor to offer. My only Aladdin's lamp is the partnership, but in
such a firm that means rare opportunity, and good work brings good pay.
But even Aladdin had to rub his lamp before his wish was granted. So,
never doubt my willingness to rub my lamp hard. I may not promise both
town and country houses; and butler, coachman, and groom may be
conspicuous by their absence--just at first. But a home, a pretty one of
her very own, a few maids inside, a man to potter about a bit of lawn,
and a jewel-box not quite empty--so much I can safely and reasonably
promise to my wife, if you will trust your little girl to my honor and
my love! Once more, Mr. Lawton, will you give me your daughter Dorothy
for wife?"

Lawton closed his eyes, and in that moment he recalled the day when she
was gurgling on his clasping arm, the yellow, downy covering of her baby
head so like a wee new chick's coat that he had laughed, and when, at
the sound, her blue eyes opened wide at him, and with a thrill he noted
her likeness to himself. Then, half proud, half pitiful, he had kissed
her many times--why! that was only yesterday--surely but little more!
Yet, here was this man, almost a stranger, asking her for his wife. He
opened his eyes, and asked, piteously: "D-o-e-s, does Dorrie wish this?"

"I think she will tell you so, sir," Leslie answered, gently.

"Have you spoken to Leti--to Mrs. Lawton?"

"N-no, sir," said the young man. "I--I thought I should speak first to
you."

"Dear me! I'm afraid you've made a mistake, my boy," murmured the old
man, innocently. "Letitia thinks that, in the case of daughters, you
understand, the mother is in authority--is the head, so to speak--of the
family. You--er, you should have spoken to her, but--now----"

"Yes, sir, now?" eagerly repeated Galt.

The old man rose. He held out his hand, which the younger man grasped
tightly. "I believe you are an honest man, and since you have the power
to care for and protect her I give you my Dorothy, than whom a truer,
sweeter, purer girl God never gave to undeserving father or adoring
lover!"

The two men stood eye to eye a long moment, then Leslie Galt said,
slowly: "Thank you, sir!" dropped Lawton's hand, and, turning, walked
rapidly away, leaving the shaken, excited, and confused old man in his
gray green tent, trying to straighten things out and prepare himself for
the meeting with his Letitia.



CHAPTER XIX

A FAMILY SCENE


While Mr. Lawton still strove to regain his self-control he saw, passing
out through the further gate, the big chestnut, the battered looking
livery buggy, and the gorgeous William Henry Bulkley, whose cowed,
dispirited "man" was driving, while he--W. H.--gave himself the pleasure
of vigorously damning the entire outfit, individually and collectively.
A little later the doctor drove his lightly built, dark bays out--full
sisters they were, with faces so kind and manners so gentle as always to
suggest a pair of nurses. After that John Lawton thought he might then
go up to the house and get a quiet peep at Dorothy, whose face he half
expected to see changed somehow since she had given him her morning
kiss. "She had been a child then, and now, yes now, she was a woman." He
did not realize that the sudden change had been but in his point of
view.

Walking slowly up the steep rise to the porch, he thought he heard high
voices, and, opening the door, he stood amazed. Looking up, where at the
stair-top German Lena stood, one outstretched hand against the wall, the
other on the bannister, both feet braced firm and wide apart, her small
blue eyes a-light, a girl on guard! And just beneath her, hair
disarranged, face crimson, and eyes snapping, Mrs. Lawton, in high,
piercing tones, was spitting and hissing abusive epithets:

"You! how dare you? You German steerage rat! You stupid wooden-headed,
wooden-shod _thing_! How dare you--dare you! In my days of wealth, my
housekeeper, my _cook_, wouldn't have allowed you to care for my pots
and pans! My daughter's nothing to you! I can say what I please to her,
and say it how I please! How dare you interfere! You shall feel the law
for your Dutch insolence! Stand aside, and let me into that room!"

"Nein! _nein!_" said Lena, savagely. "_Nein!_ I don't stand on my sides!
I make by Herr Doctor's orders, und I keep my Miss Lady quiet uf I can!"
Then, catching sight of John Lawton, she cried: "Oh, my Herr Mister! is
dat you? Oh, you vas velcome as never vas!"

"John Lawton!" cried Mrs. Lawton, at the same time, "if you have one
spark of manhood in you, if you even dimly remember your promise to
protect and cherish me, you will order this crazy Dutch slattern to the
scullery!"

"Letitia! Letitia!" remonstrated the mortified and bewildered man, "come
away, I beg of you, and explain quietly what has happened."

But a perfect shriek of rage leapt from the woman's throat: "What has
happened? Do you know, that _thing_ there has struck me--me--a lady!"

"Nein! nein!" stoutly protested Lena, "I don't strike nobodys, my Herr
Mister! She com' mad by me! for dat--dat doctor mans--ven he have put
der sticks und shplinters on der Miss Lady's arm, dat com' got break by
der Bergamots man, he com' say dat I must make for der quiet! Und two
time he tell me dot! He say she make of der fever rite avay quick uf she
com' get excite! und nobody shall com' by her, for much talk! Und I
shall vatch until der odder vun, der Miss Sybells com', und take care by
her! Und--und--I tell you true now, Herr Boss, he say der mutter
downstair seem very hy-strikle like, und not fit to com' by der
sickroom! Und den he go und der Frau Mistress, she com' fly in der room,
und she com' mad like a vitch! Und she say some tings at my Miss Lady
'how she dare do sometings?' Und my Miss Lady, she com' vite, com' red,
und begin shake! Und I say, 'Blease for go!' Und she say, 'Miss Doroty
is a God-forsakens simpletons!' und I say vonce more, 'Blease!' und--und
den I don't strike, I don't shuf der Frau Mistress, I youst pick her
round by der waist, und I histe her out of der room! Und she shmack me
on der cheek und try to come by der room again! Und I lock der door, und
now I stand here und keep my Miss Lady quiet, youst so long as I have
der legs to shtand by! Ja! So!"

The old man's face was a study of pained bewilderment. He slowly
ascended the stairs, and taking by the arm the dishevelled creature, in
whom it was hard for him to recognize his wife, he said: "Come to your
room, Letitia. You will bring upon yourself an attack of nerves if this
continues. You need some drops." And the innocently spoken words wrung
a cry of rage from the woman, as she recalled how, down-stairs, a few
minutes before, William Henry Bulkley had hurled the bottle across the
room to the sofa, with the courteous words: "There's your damned old
drops! Much good they've done us, haven't they!"

"Come!" continued John. Then, looking back, he added to Lena: "Open Miss
Dorothy's door and tell her 'my love' and I'll be with her directly, and
will read a little out of Sybbie's play to her while you get tea ready."

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Mrs. Lawton. "When you hear of her outrageous
conduct it will be a lecture, not Sybil's play, that you will read!
Anything, _anything_ but slyness in a girl!"

"_Letitia!_" The tone rather startled the angry woman. She allowed
herself to be led into her room, where John filled the basin with water,
added a little cologne, and opened out a fresh towel ready for use. For
though Letitia had had no maid for years past, she had not been without
trained service. Now, however, she could not put aside her grievance
even to lave her burning face. She went on: "Never have I been so--so
discredited, so lowered, so belittled! One does not often meet two such
hypocrites on the same day! She, with her pretended coyness and shyness!
That any child of mine should be capable of such deception, such
concealment!"

"My dear! my dear!" interrupted John Lawton, "you are not stopping to
consider the force of your words. There has been no deception, no
concealment. Our young people have been learning to love each other,
wife, and we were too blind to see what was going on."

"W-why! w-why! do you know about it?" surprisedly questioned Mrs.
Lawton. "Did Mr. Bulkley tell you, too, before he drove away?"

"Mr. Bulkley?" frowned Lawton, "I don't see what on earth Mr. Bulkley
has to do with our affairs. Besides, he has been most unpleasant in his
manner toward Leslie Galt."

"It's a pity that we have not followed his example--the young hypocrite!
with his suave tone and underhand conduct!"

"No! no!" interrupted Lawton, "there has been nothing underhand in
Leslie Galt's conduct. He loves Dorothy; there's no crime in that,
surely, and he has come like a man and asked for her, and----"

"And you! Have you presumed to encourage that mere salaried clerk to
hope to marry a Lawton? Understand this, if any child of mine ever went
to live in a flat, I would not recognize her though she lay upon her
death-bed! To be dragged down to poverty by another [the old man winced]
is no crime, but to deliberately choose poverty is a vulgarity that is
worse than crime! You will forbid this thing at once! What--love? They
love each other? Bah! He's got a straight, flat back and good teeth and
eyes--will they make up for a shabby wardrobe and no visiting list?
Love? Love in poverty is an impossibility! I ought to know by this
time!" she sneered, bitterly. "I've had plenty of opportunity for
experimenting!" Without noticing the quivering of her husband's chin
and mouth, she went on: "She's mad or a fool to throw away money and
position for some hole-in-a-corner existence with a good-looking
lawyer's clerk!"

"Letitia," broke in her husband very gently, "I don't just know what you
mean, my dear, but I suppose you are speaking figuratively of money and
position; but if you will let me explain all about young Galt's present
standing and his future prospects, I think you will yourself sanction an
engagement."

"The prospects of a mere clerk!" she jeered. "What a poor-spirited,
broken thing you have become, calmly permitting one daughter to go upon
the public stage, and giving the other to the first poverty-stricken
applicant that asks for her! No! I'm not speaking figuratively of money
and position! They are within her reach, and she shall accept them! She
has no right to keep me in poverty, because she prefers it for herself!
The time will come when she will thank me for my interference--that is,
if she has not driven the man off forever! Perhaps even I may not be
able to whistle back a Mr. Bulkley, once he is gone!"

"_My God!_" the words came in a sort of choking gasp. The man's pale
eyes stared at her with a sort of questioning horror. "You do not
mean--you can not mean?"

"I mean," recklessly responded the woman, "that with a few smiles and
half promises from Dorothy and a little veiled management on my part,
her well-ringed fingers might this moment be holding the strings of the
Bulkley purse!"

"She must be mad!" interjected the trembling voice of the husband, as if
thinking aloud. "It is a charity to believe her mad!"

"Then I'm mad from disappointment and wasted effort. Any opportunity is
thrown away upon you! And Sybil hated him and opposed me at every turn!
Yet with a little more time my finesse would have brought William Henry
Bulkley to the point of marrying Dorothy!"

"_Damnation!_" cried John Lawton, as he sprang to his feet and stood a
hard, breathing moment, holding fast to the corner of the dressing-table
for support. His pale eyes shone with the phosphorescent glare of the
angry cat. His long fingers opened and closed convulsively. For the
first time in all her life, Letitia saw danger in him.

"You--are--an--infamous woman!" The words came slowly and with effort
from his tremulous lips. "You have forgotten your motherhood, your
womanhood! But you never forget the sweetly spicy savor of the
flesh-pots of Egypt! No!" he cried with increasing anger, "nor have you
forgotten the nature, the gross brutality, of this man, who has control
of the flesh-pots you still dream of! You have not forgotten either the
long, slow dying of his faithful wife, whom he crowned with public
infamies! And since that time you know, as all people know, he has been
one of the mightiest in a very sink of iniquity--know him to be a
walking danger to unprotected innocence and a vainglorious 'friend' of
fashionable vice! Yet to this immorality add an uncontrollably violent
temper, impaired health, and a grandfather's years; and for a few
fripperies and gew-gaws, a wrap or two of fur and velvet for the
satisfaction of your vanity, you would fling, without a thought of her
pure soul's fate--fling the white, sweet body of your innocent child
into his foul embrace, relying on the name of wife to cover the
iniquity! Dorothy, my little white-souled woman-child, and Bulkley? I--I
wonder--I don't kill you, Letitia!"

He advanced toward her so fiercely that she shrank back, crying out in
terror: "John! John! don't hurt me!"

"Why not?" he asked, savagely. "Why not? Do you know what you have done
for me? You have dragged down the woman I have loved and honored as my
wife--down, down to within one step of being a procu----!"

Her sharp scream of shame and terror cut across the hideous word.

"No, I won't hurt you; but oh, God! oh, God! to wake and find the wife
you have pillowed on your breast for twenty years is, after all, a
stranger to you! That hurts!--yes, that hurts!"

He passed his hand across his eyes, then he said, sternly: "Never bring
that man into Dorothy's presence again--I forbid it! Yes, I told you you
would make yourself ill!"

But as she lapsed into a faint she was dimly conscious that John was
leaving the room. She had gone too far--her slave had rebelled for
once. He who always had waited upon her himself in her previous attacks,
now called on Lena to attend her and get her to bed, while he went to
Dorothy's room and kissed and blessed her and made her very soul sing
for joy, because he praised her beloved.

And in the silence, when his cheek rested on her piled-up sunny hair,
she did not know of the bitter tears creeping down his face--tears of
disapppointment and sorrow, because he had that day learned that the
wife he believed to be but frivolous was in truth a personified
selfishness.



CHAPTER XX

A PROFESSIONAL LESSON


Sybil, hurried by a message from Leslie Galt, had come flying back from
the city to the aid of her injured sister; and, as she dropped upon her
knees beside the bed, she cried, breathlessly: "Oh, Dorrie! what an
unfortunate, lucky, lucky girl you are!"--a bull that scattered
threatening tears and set them both laughing.

As Sybil tossed off her street garments and prepared to make Dorothy
more comfortable, she said, heedlessly: "No wonder you believe so in
your God, when He never fails to save you from danger. Let me put myself
behind a vicious, bolting brute of a horse, and the Supreme Power would
leave me to the broken neck appropriate to the situation; and a good
diamond and a lover saved for--why! why! silly girl! I meant no harm!
Did I say something irreverent? Oh, don't you understand? My heart's so
full of gratitude for your safety, dear, that my head is turning a bit
silly. You would trust Him anyway? Of course you would, you loyal little
Christian! I have known your prayers unanswered many a long month, and
that you thought the fault was somehow yours. You are one of those
wonderful beings who could wring joy out of sorrow, believing that
'whom God loveth, He chasteneth'! I am not saint enough for that, but at
this moment my very heart is beating out the triumphant old Doxology,
'Praise God from whom all blessings flow!' because you were not killed
yesterday; but are here at home only a little chipped and scratched, and
because you have a promised husband and I have a strapping big-promised
brother. And I do pray, I honestly do! on my knees, dear! that God will
bless you both, and so renew your love each day that it may never grow
old. And there's a kiss for _you_ [kissing her on the lips], and here's
a kiss for _him_ [kissing Dorothy's cheek], and, ah! you simpleton--
you--you boiled beet! Oh, why have you an arm in splints? To blush so
idiotically before just _me_! Oh, what joy it would be to pound you with
a pillow! But sit up instead, and let me brush that tangled hair. The
idea of poor papa trying to arrange it for the night, and yet his
efforts were to be preferred to Lena's. Now, miss, while I am engaged
behind you with the brush, you may proceed to explain how it feels to
wear a solitaire--such a solitary solitaire! Poor little
ringless-fingers girl! And you may also throw some light upon the
feelings of a young person who engages herself to be married over her
elder sister's head."

But Dorothy had groaned a little from pain, and Sybil silenced her
teasing tongue, made Dorothy all orderly and comfortable, cast hemp-seed
recklessly before noisy Dick to buy his quiet; and then, seating herself
by the bed, was studying Juliet's lines while Dorothy dozed, until
awakened by the arrival of a big bunch of flowers and a note.

For several days there seemed to be an odd constraint upon the
household. John Lawton, always rather silent, now became fairly dumb. He
never entered the sitting-room, but remained out of doors nearly all the
time.

Mrs. Lawton looked heavy-eyed and nervous, and evidently greatly missed
Dorothy's care and gentle coddling. Lena she had attempted to ignore;
but, alas, she depended too utterly upon that sole servitor for food and
drink and warmth and order. So she had to content herself with giving
commands in a very cold voice, using very large words, and averting her
face during their delivery. Her manner during her short visits to the
girls' room was one of poorly restrained anger. She had not seen Dorothy
alone since her attempted lecture on the day of the accident; and, as
John Lawton had never resumed the interrupted subject of the hated
engagement, she remained uninformed as to Leslie Galt's bright prospects
until that day when, with nerve worthy of respect, he had presented
himself before the irate mother of his sweetheart, and, remembering her
contemptuous disregard of the famous warning against "Greeks bearing
gifts"--knowing, indeed, that she really had no use for Greeks otherwise
engaged--he kept some suggestive small packages in evidence as he
entered the sitting-room.

And as he brought himself a chair and placed it close to her
never-resting "rocker," he recognized in the buzzing swarm of verbal
wasps she turned loose upon him the words "disrespectful--unnerved--
paralysed--disingenuous--stealthy--infringing--intruding--inveigling,"
and with failing breath the last warning injunction: "And let me hear no
panegyrical eulogy on poverty, if you please, sir!"

Then with a wisdom far beyond his years he retired to the background his
lover's raptures, his glowing admiration for her daughter's beauty; and
bringing forward the thrilling question of "pounds, shillings, and
pence," they soon resolved themselves into a "ways and means committee."
And presently Letitia's wasps turned to bees, and the bees began to bear
the honey of sweet words.

Then she accepted most graciously these offerings, and bridled and
declared she "already felt quite old at the prospect of mothering such a
great wicked man!" And when he made the usual complimentary rejoinder,
she pronounced him "saucy," and "wondered, if he talked in that fashion
to her, what on earth he would not say to Dorothy!" and was full of
regret when he insisted upon going out to look for Mr. Lawton. Then up
she went to the room above, where Dorothy was holding the play-book in
her free hand and giving the cues, while Sybil repeated her lines to see
how nearly letter perfect she was.

Both girls exclaimed: "Why, mamma!" Her expression had changed so
completely and her walk was so important--quite her old-time society
movement. And then as she approached the bed they caught the first
glimpse of a long fine chain of exquisite workmanship, strung at
intervals of five or six inches with pale pink coral beads that were in
turn girdled with a circle of tiny diamonds.

Mrs. Lawton ostentatiously lifted her lorgnon, and again the girls
exclaimed: "Why, mamma!" And then, as she stooped over to kiss Dorothy,
she remarked, quite patronizingly: "Yes, our Leslie is very generous and
thoughtful. He wanted me to have a little memento of your engagement,
dear fellow!"

She did not add that the other memento was a large Strasbourg pâté. She
kept that fact, like the pâté, to herself.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some weeks slipped by, and early winter was turning the old white house
into a very Franz Joseph Land. "Oh!" cried Dorothy one day, "to think of
your having to buy all the coal, Sybil! What stupid things the
conventions are! I may accept any extravagant outlay of money in flowers
or candy or fruit, but the entire family would be under the grand taboo
if I received a ton of coal or a barrel of flour."

"Is the flour out, dear?" quickly asked Sybil, laying down her
play-book. "Have you been worrying your poor little head? Don't hide
things from me, Dorrie! If I have the money, I love to spend it for
home. Of course my salary is small, but, dear heaven! what should we
have done without it in this old sieve of a building, where fuel simply
melts away, and the grate or stove is always calling out for more? Oh,
Dorrie, if I could only make a hit in Juliet! Mr. Thrall would surely
raise my salary; yes, in spite of the cost of those costumes that fall
upon him, poor man! Are they not a wonderful people--Claire Morrell and
Stewart Thrall? Think of the kindness of that woman to me, a nobody! And
think of such an actor as Thrall--Stewart Thrall--taking the trouble to
teach me the business of Juliet, his very self. Oh, I shall be so
frightened! Dorrie, Mr. Roberts has been very patient, going over and
over the scenes with me; telling me where I am to stand and where the
other people will be, and what they will do, but he never has taught me
anything about the actual acting of Juliet. And now to think that I am
to be coached at God-mother Van Camp's house by Mr. Thrall in person! I
only hope and pray he may not light up as he does sometimes when he is
acting, for, if he does, I shall forget my own lines in rapturously
listening to him. Do you know, Mr. Roberts is sorry that Mr. Thrall ever
undertook the management of a theatre?"

"Why?" asked Dorothy, "he is successful--he must make a great deal of
money?"

"That is the very thing poor Mr. Roberts bemoans. He says the artist in
him has been suffocated by his commercially won money. He says that Mr.
Thrall will himself admit that his acting to-day is not as convincingly
true and fine as it was five years ago. Because then he was all
enthusiasm, and believed in the dignity and beauty of the art of acting,
while to-day he regards it as a means to an end--and that end, money.
Poor Mr. Roberts, he seems to know so much about the profession, and
yet only plays such small parts. It must be very humiliating. His lip
curled so contemptuously when he told me he was going to play the
Apothecary. Do you know, Dorrie, I have a suspicion about him, poor man!
He always, always smells of cloves, and twice yesterday when he pulled
out his handkerchief some cloves fell to the floor, and I said: 'I
believe you have a corner on cloves, Mr. Roberts.' And, oh, his poor
face turned so red, and I added, hurriedly, 'Don't you think the
excessive use of cloves may be injurious to the digestion?' 'Possibly,'
he answered, satirically, 'and doubtless still more injurious to the
reputation.' I saw his trembling hands; I recalled the watery look his
eyes sometimes have; his rapid, almost incoherent speech as opposed to
his long silences; and, all at once, I suspected him of drinking."

"Sybil!" exclaimed Dorothy in a shocked voice, "and you have been under
his care, and may be again, and he----"

"Has acted like some kind and patient old relative or friend of the
family; don't let us forget that. Besides, I may be wrong and ungrateful
in suspecting such a thing, but--but it would explain why Mr. Thrall,
whom he so admires, only trusts him with such poor, small parts."

Sybil had been nursing her right elbow in her left hand while speaking,
and now suddenly exclaimed: "Oh, where's the arnica bottle? I can't bear
this last bruise--it's the worst one yet!"

"The bottle is on the wash-stand behind the ewer, but I'm afraid it's
nearly empty, for Lena fairly baptized me with it that day of the----"

"Circus?" put in Sybil. "Just look, Dorrie." She pushed up her loose
sleeve, and her sister gave a cry of pity at sight of a cruel black
bruise on that most sensitive spot--the elbow.

"And your poor shoulder only yesterday?"

"And my poor knees only last week!" ruefully groaned Sybil, tenderly
sopping some arnica dregs upon the bruised member.

"Oh, those black knees!" giggled Dorothy, "they looked as if you had
knelt in the coal cellar!"

"You heartless little beast!" cried Sybil. "See here, if you laugh at my
professional troubles and ensuing physical pains--I'll----"

"You can't pound me," triumphed Dorothy, "my arm is too weak!"

"No, but I can do worse! Lena has fully informed you of the horrors that
follow upon 'calling a maid by a married name,' and the certainty that
said maid will never have a married name to be called by, so
Mrs.--Mrs.----"

"Oh, Syb! Syb! don't!" pleaded the repentant one. "Syb, I'm awfully
sorry for your knees--honestly I am! And if I could fall for you, I
would--gladly; though how in mercy's name actresses tumble down in
faints or in death-scenes, without either breaking their bones or
getting laughed at, is more than I can understand."

"Oh, it's the fear of being laughed at that tortures me, Dorrie. I could
never, never face an audience again. Why, last summer out at the
Soldiers' Home theatre, a woman had to fall in the play and the people
fairly screamed with laughter, and a newspaper said that 'Miss ---- had
not fallen, but had tumbled down in sections.' Ever since I have been
studying this part, I have agonized over my fall, and with what result?
I've bruised myself from head to foot; shaken mamma's nerves--crumbled
the ceiling--frightened papa out of the house at each crash,
and"--actually tears were in Sybil's dark eyes--"and I always land in a
hunched-up heap that would arouse scornful merriment in the very
supers."

"Poor Sybbie!" condoled Dorothy. Then more brightly: "As you can't ask
Mr. Thrall or Mr. Roberts to help you, why don't you go over to
Brooklyn; make papa take you--Claire Morrell's playing there this week.
Ask for just a moment's interview, and make a clean breast of your
trouble to her. I'm sure she would help you--she's so kind."

"Oh, I hate to trouble her when she is working so hard; and, besides, I
am afraid falling is a thing that can't be taught, Dorothy. But, oh, do
you remember her lovely fall in 'Camille'--the ballroom one I mean--all
stretched out so long and smooth, and yet falling with a crash that made
you nearly leap from your chair? It's a mystery beyond my solving."

"Lena's mash-man told her--Miss Morrell's coachman told _him_--she was
coming over home one day this week, and perhaps----"

Jangle-jangle interrupted the bell at the front door, followed by the
peculiarly business-like tread of Lena that ever indicated a suspicion
of pedler or tramp, and a shuffling, slippered flight by Mrs. Lawton,
who hissed over the banisters: "Say I'm lying down, resting, but will
descend--that is, if she has sufficient knowledge of the amenities of
social life to ask for me instead of my offspring."

Then as the girls gazed wonderingly at each other Lena appeared, smiling
broadly, but somewhat puzzled too, saying: "The big actor voman's com'
und ask for der mudder und for der miss ladies. Und I say ja, dey all
com' by der house, und blease com' in by der sittin'-rooms, 'cause we
didn't ever make of der fire in der parlor. Und she say dat vas right,
der parlor never com' like a home, und I com' up to tell. Und she leave
all dose visitin' tickets on der hall table. Und I don't know for vy."
And she held out five cards, adding, distressedly, "Und von of 'em has a
man's name on it. Dat com' by mistake, eh? I take dat back to her?"

"No, no! Lena!" laughed the girls, "that's the card of her husband!"

"Vell, shall I take back of der extra tickets? She com', a nice voman,
und it is too bad to have of der tickets vasted?"

"Oh, Lena! do go and tell mamma Miss Morrell is waiting, and leave the
cards alone," said Dorothy, "and we will explain about them to you by
and by!"

And after Mrs. Lawton had attempted to crush her caller by explaining
the "wait" for her descent by the statement that she "hardly expected
callers before three," Miss Morrell, with a gracious ignoring of the
intended snub that the girls adored her for, proceeded to explain the
necessity of calling early or not at all, as she had to return to
Brooklyn in time for her play. Whereupon Mrs. Lawton found herself, to
her own surprise be it stated, descending from her high horse and
eagerly discussing the probabilities of English five-o'clock teas ever
becoming really domesticated in America. And presently she went in
search of Mr. Lawton (whom she knew to be in the kitchen whittling
kindlings for the quick lighting of Lena's fire in the arctic-like
morning).

And then Miss Morrell, happening to press Sybil's arm, brought forth a
whimper of pain and an exhibition of bruises the cause of which she
comprehended in a moment. "Oh, you poor mottled child--what a state you
must be in? Have you been falling on the bare floor, then?"

"I've tried to fall on a mattress," confessed Sybil, "but some part of
me always flies over on the floor."

Miss Morrell threw back her head and laughed till the tears stood in her
eyes. "Then you must let me help you," she said, "it is very, very
easy." She was drawing off her gloves as she spoke, and, tossing them to
the piano, she stepped toward the centre of the room, saying, "You see,
now--" She raised her hands toward her head, and without further
preparation, without a warning word, she fell suddenly face downward
with a crash that made things jingle on the mantel, and brought two
startled screams from the girls and Mr. Lawton rushing to her
assistance. That gentleman, bending over to lift her, was stricken
helpless by her raising her head and asking, pleasantly: "My skirts are
lying all right, aren't they?" Then she added: "Oh, how do you do, Mr.
Lawton? Just give me your hand, will you? This dress is a little tight
for falling in, and I can't get up." Then, turning to Sybil, she laughed
at her astonished face: "I'm afraid you did not catch the trick, did
you?"

"Oh!" answered the girl with her hand on her heart, "I never got such a
scare in my life! How, oh, how do you do it? Just look at Dorothy! She's
quite white."

And it was difficult for the girl to believe that Miss Morrell had not
suffered in the least from such a fall.

"Why, it's just a trade secret," laughed the actress. "Some people never
fall well because their nerve fails them at the last moment, but all
their lives long are content with a sort of jointed fall--they drop on
their knees and then forward on their faces. If it is done very quickly
it passes, but one never looks graceful, and the immense effect of the
crash of the fall is missing. Then, too, an actress who goes down in
that manner not only runs the risk of being made fun of, but the
bruising over and over again of the same spot may produce a lump with a
very ugly and alarming name.

"But here is the whole wonderful secret." She held out her open hands,
and both girls saw their palms were slightly reddened. "Always throw out
your hand, both of them in beginning; keep your knees nearly stiff, and
just topple over like a great tree, but strike on the flats of your open
hands. The blow won't hurt them beyond making them sting a little. Your
knees, elbows, head, shoulders, are all safe--yet you have fallen with
immense force."

Sybil lifted her hands and made a movement as if about to try the trick,
but stopped, looking rather frightened.

"No, no--not here!" said Miss Morrell. "Try on your mattress first, and
close your eyes when you have marked where you want to strike, and then
the distance won't frighten you so. The bolder you get, the less you
will extend your hands. It requires nerve, but I'm sure that is a
quality you possess, my dear. Besides, you may not play a part requiring
a fall for a year or two yet."

And Sybil blushed hotly because she had been so charged to secrecy that
she dared not tell even this woman who was so good to her that she was
the girl about whom all the newspaper stories were appearing, and that
she was being coached for Juliet.

After a few moments of general conversation the caller rose to go, and,
while Mr. Lawton stepped to the door to signal the coachman, who had
been keeping his horses moving, Mrs. Lawton explained that in former
years the "porte cochère of her old home would have made such action
needless, but this," waving her hand condemningly, "was not a home,
but--er--er a mere shelter."

"Ah!" graciously responded the actress, "but you know there are people
who have the gift of carrying the home atmosphere with them even to
a--mere shelter."

And Mrs. Lawton really looked very handsome and quite impressive, for
she felt she was receiving her due, and all the time Sybil was secretly
squeezing the fingers of her friend, and in the hall, while her father
gallantly opened the carriage door, she whispered: "I love you so for
having helped me! And Dorothy prays for you!"

With quick anxiety in eye and voice the woman questioned: "Why not do it
yourself, my child?" But good-byes were being repeated, and with that
slight sense of dissatisfaction upon her she had to take her departure.

Then the floodgates of Mrs. Lawton's eloquence were opened, and Dorothy
and John Lawton were caught in the swirl of eulogy and reminiscence
until suddenly a heavy jar overhead and a rattling of mortar between the
partitions was followed by a shrill cry of: "I've done it! I've done it!
Dorothy! Papa! Mamma! Come here, quick! quick!"

They all fled up the stairs to find Sybil stretched out on her face on a
mattress, kicking her slippers impatiently for their coming: "Look at
me!" she cried. "See my skirts--they are just exactly as I fell! I
haven't moved an inch!"

John said, slowly: "I-t wasn't an accident, was it, daughter? Are you
sure you can do it again?"

"Oh, Sybbie!" cried Dorothy, "do try it once more--only be very careful
not to fly over and get bruised!"

And willingly enough up scrambled Sybil, and, standing at the foot of
the mattress, she threw up her hands and with closed eyes pitched
recklessly forward, and arrived in good order to cries of admiration and
wonder from the lookers-on when, suddenly, Lena appeared, saying: "Miss
Sybbils, uf you blease, do dose yumps und tumbles in der odder room. Der
ceilin's too tender under here, und a chunk com' by der floor down youst
now."

And while Mr. and Mrs. Lawton went below to measure the disaster, Sybil
threw her arm about Dorothy's waist, crying: "Oh, won't Mr. Thrall be
surprised and delighted with me when he finds I can make a real Morrell
fall!"

Then to the tune of "Take back the heart that thou gavest!" she burst
into singing:

  Take back the bottle thou gavest
  What are my bruised knees to thee!

and tossed the arnica bottle at Dorothy, and renewed her everlasting
study of Juliet.



CHAPTER XXI

SEEKING REFUGE FROM THE STORM


The first appearance of the new Juliet was but one week off. Sybil had
spent the last fortnight with Mrs. Van Camp, and some very hard work had
been done in the quaint old drawing-room, for be it known there are few
more difficult undertakings than the proper coaching of an inexperienced
girl for the playing of a great part.

The actress who has made her way gradually acquires, all unconsciously,
a hundred nameless graces, little tricks of manner, movement or
expression, poses, poises, flutterings, the turn of the head or the
glance of the eye, and all seem so natural, so spontaneous; but try to
teach them to a novice and both coach and pupil will find their work cut
out for them.

The process is an unnatural one, and the result is a forced blossom,
that, however brilliantly beautiful, has a frail exotic air that makes
even admirers wonder if the plant has sufficient strength ever to bloom
again.

Stewart Thrall knew perfectly what drudgery coaching meant, and
perversely told himself, up to the very last moment, that he should
send, in a day or two, to-morrow, next day, for "Mother Mordaunt" (whose
home was irreverently termed "The Hatchery," because of the numbers of
amateurs she ever had in training there), and place the Crown Princess
in her hands, "for drill, tuition, and discipline," and with insidious
self-deception he went so far as to write a note to summon her. Then he
caught at the word "drill" to hang his changed opinion on. He did not
want her "drilled" out of all the bright spontaneity that was in her
now; and, come to think of it, all Mrs. Mordaunt's pupils were trained
to the same pattern--they were merely weak copies of herself. He
believed, after all, he would undertake the task himself, and he tore to
bits the note summoning Mrs. Mordaunt, and wrote instead that line to
Sybil, which had caused her so much surprised gratitude, and then
remarked casually to Jim Roberts, who sat in the private office with him
and carefully polished the metalled gauntlets that belonged to a coat of
mail: "I don't know but what young Fitzallen is too inexperienced to do
Romeo with a green-girl Juliet. It's rather too great a risk. Maybe I
had better go on for it myself, though I suppose I'll scarcely look the
part now, even in some new and youthful toggery?"

Roberts looked up from his task, with a queer expression of blended
admiration and anger on his face, and answered: "You'll look the part
all right, just as well as you ever did, but--what's the use of trying
to deceive yourself, for you wouldn't condescend to try to deceive me
surely. You know well enough that as long ago as when you telegraphed me
to bring Miss Lawton back from the West you had already decided to play
Romeo to her Juliet, and I knew it as well as you did, so what's the
use?"

"Indeed! Why, you are becoming clairvoyant! Isn't that what they call
the fellow who lies about seeing things that have never occurred? Jim,
you're off your base!"

"Easy, Thrall!" answered Roberts, in a low tone. "A sneer more or less
doesn't matter much, but we will draw the line at 'lying!' And if I'm
off my base no one knows why better than you do!"

With a muttered oath Thrall left the room, but he took the note that
summoned Sybil and mailed it himself.

They had worked hard and long in the old-timey drawing-room, for only
the very last rehearsals were to be held upon the stage with the full
company. Sybil had rehearsed until her head ached, her throat throbbed,
and her lips were dry and parched. High-spirited, restless,
quick-tempered, she forced herself to docility, and patiently repeated,
went back, and began over, bore criticisms with hard-won meekness, and
when she received an approving word her tired lips curled into the
lovely smile that thrilled her teacher's nerves.

Then her patience, her determination to succeed, her passionate desire
to understand the part, added to her keen appreciation of the beauty of
the language, all appealed to the artist in him; while her attitude of
reverent admiration toward himself touched even while it humiliated him,
in that he knew he was not worthy of such reverence. Yet, in some
strange way, he seemed to see in her the reincarnation of his own
youthful sincerity, passionate ambition, and eager, loving labor,
before the testing fires of life had found so much dross in him; and,
with a great wave of tenderness swelling in his heart, he vowed she
should not "lose the way," as he had done; that her dainty imaginings,
her original ideas, should not be frightened back by sneer or sarcasm;
and that her reverent love for the mighty playwright of the ages should
not be ridiculed or "guyed" into a mere question of which of his plays
had the most money in it.

She had the fire, the magnetism, the imaginative power of the artistic
temperament, and, in guarding her from the banalities and the cheap
cynicisms that are so deadly in their effect upon the enthusiastic young
beginner, he somehow felt as if he were making reparation for the wrong
he had done that younger self, who had hoped for fame, but had been
given notoriety instead.

Nor was that the last excuse Thrall found for his willing work in
training this young actress. The manager, the money-getter in him, was
appealed to also. More and more plainly he saw in this young gentlewoman
of the unusual beauty, whose very imperfections were just enough to
humanize, to attract, the public--not to repel and chill as absolutely
statuesque perfection has a way of doing, a "card" of great value. More
and more surely he knew that there was "money in her," and he meant that
every dollar she could be made to draw should roll safely into the
box-office drawer. And so he told himself that in order to discount the
dulled edge of a curiosity gratified she must be taught really to
act--to act well. For that was what they would have to rely upon at the
last--beauty and acting combined, when the drawing power of mere novelty
was exhausted. Therefore, it was simply good, sound, business tactics to
train and explain and repeat--repeat--repeat! and to be very stern
sometimes, because a drooping figure and a white, tired face made him
long so to gather the weary young body into his arms and whisper: "Rest!
poor little queen to be! rest!"

All these reasons for coaching Sybil himself, instead of engaging Mrs.
Mordaunt to do it for him, he acknowledged, and if there was yet another
one, he ignored its existence until that morning when the first
performance was but one week off.

Leslie Galt, the grave young lover of Dorothy, had from the first found
a friend in Sybil, and she had been a willing screen for hardly secured
hand-pressures at sundry partings; had made swift and fairly reasonable
excuses for brief, but to Mrs. Lawton unaccountable, absences from porch
or parlor; had given many a vital hint, that he had followed to his
profit, and, in consequence, he had fallen into the habit of depending
upon her sisterly advice in his love-affairs. "When in doubt, consult
your Sybil!" was his way of describing the situation; and on that
morning, being in doubt, he had appeared at Mrs. Van Camp's and had
sought an interview before work began.

After greetings and a few commonplaces had been exchanged, a slight
pause was broken by Sybil saying, briskly: "Brother-to-be! you are
evidently on the anxious seat about something, so rise up like a little
man and tell me all about what brought you there! Do you know [she
cocked her head to one side in a ludicrous imitation of old Poll], you
look like a young person who, having gone and done something he is half
sorry for, is now in search of a friend who will brace him up and tell
him how wondrous wise he has been?"

Galt laughed rather nervously, rather flatly, and a dismal "Ha! ha!"
came in quick response from beneath the sofa.

"There!" the speaker went on; "did you hear that? There's the same
clear, mirthful ring in that laugh that yours had just now--so hearty!"

He threatened the girl with the walking-stick he was rolling restlessly
across his knee. "Upon my word," he said, "you are wonderfully well
named. I believe you are a true descendant of the mighty Cumæan Sybil of
old, whose peculiar business methods worried Tarquin of Rome--just as
you will in all probability worry Mr. Thrall! Sybil, do you see what
that wretched bird is about? He is cutting the buckle off your slipper."

"Go away!" exclaimed she, pushing the ancient torment from her.

"Scratch poor Poll!" hoarsely suggested the bird, cocking his head to
one side in just the manner she had been imitating a moment before.

"I won't!" she refused. "I scratched your treacherous old head for half
an hour, and had to trim my nails for my trouble! Go away, Poll! Oh,
Leslie! take him off, he's getting cross, and he'll bite my skirt full
of holes if you don't!"

And, after some little manoeuvring, the green tyrant was induced to
clamber laboriously and profanely on to the stick, and was thus carried
to Mrs. Van Camp, who cried: "Come to his mamma, then, and stop his
naughty damning! and let dear mamma scratch Poll's pretty head!" adding
aside to Galt: "It's so odd, he always speaks so much more distinctly
when he swears. Just hear how plainly he is damning me now, yet words
that I have been trying with all possible care to teach him he gives in
such guttural tones that only a loving ear can comprehend them."

"Yes," replied the young man, "it's probably an inherited preference,
since it is common to all parrots. Sailors have told me that even the
females--who do not talk, you know, save in the exceptional case that
makes the rule--even they are capable of saying 'hell!' with apparent
appreciation, though they never learn another word."

"Dear me, how interesting!" smiled Mrs. Van Camp, who then sweetly
asked: "Are you, by any chance, concerned in the establishment of
Sunday-schools in your river town?"

Amid general laughter Leslie returned to Sybil, who gurgled: "Oh, dear
boy; never again try to poke fun at my god-mother! But now that Poll has
gone, what is the matter?"

"Just this: day after to-morrow is Dorothy's birthday, and----"

"Oh!" murmured Sybil, and drew nearer with brightening eyes. "You want
to get a present for her. Well?"

"I've already got it," said Galt, anxiously, "and now I'm wondering what
she will think of it. May I show it to you, and will you tell me
honestly whether I should offer it or get something else?"

She nodded her head, and first he drew from his coat-pocket a cabinet
photograph of Mrs. Lawton, which he returned, thanking her for its, to
her, mysterious loan. Then he took from its tissue wrapping a locket.

"Oh, how pretty!" cried Sybil. "A 'D' in pearls on one side, and on the
other"--she gave him a roguish glance of understanding--"a violet in
enamel!"

But his face kept its unsmiling, anxious look. "Open it," he said.

"Is there a picture, Leslie? Oh, I am glad! An empty locket always seems
such an absurdity. Oh!" For two pictures were within. She gave a
startled glance, and continued, "Mamma! Such a good likeness, too,
and--" a pause, and, in a lower tone, she added, "and _your_ mother!"
For, looking at that fair-haired, gentle-faced woman, one saw at a
glance from whom Galt had obtained his steady gray eyes.

"You don't think Dorothy will misunderstand, do you?" he asked. "Yet it
has just occurred to me that some people shrink from reminders of, of--
Sybil, there is just that one cloud upon my perfect joy that my beloved
mother cannot know and love my promised wife!"

Raising big, tear-brimmed eyes to his face she said, gently: "Very
likely Dorrie will tell you that she can, for _her_ faith is absolutely
boundless."

"God bless her!" whispered Galt.

"Amen! to that," answered her sister. "Leslie," she went on, "your gift
is an inspiration! I did not know a man was capable of such delightful
sentiment. And Dorothy will be touched to the heart by your pathetic
little effort to share your happiness with the dear mother who is
absent."

His face cleared. "Thank you!" he said. "I see no one wears lockets at
the throat now, so I got this to suspend it from." He rose to bring from
his pocket a box. The bell rang, but they did not notice it, and the man
going to the door in his ancient and wonderfully cut mulberry livery for
once failed to wring surreptitious laughter from the young visitor. The
box held a heavy chain bracelet of gold.

"Goodness!" cried Sybil, "don't put that on Dorrie's left arm, or you
will break it again!" Then, as he slipped the gifts back into his
pocket, she said: "Leslie, dear, they are beautiful! Dorothy will be
delighted, and I love you because you are so good to her!" She took his
face between her hands, and, reaching up, kissed his cheek, and Stewart
Thrall, unannounced, entering the front room, saw her, and stood stock
still, while a sick qualm of jealousy drained the color from his face
and turned his hands to ice.

Then, like one cruelly wounded by a treachery, he recalled, with fierce
anger, those seemingly honest words, "I never had a lover in my life!"
and, out of a momentary darkness about him, came the clear voice of
Sybil, saying: "You are not looking well this morning, Mr. Thrall."

Being coldly assured he was quite as well as usual, she went on: "Let me
introduce Mr. Galt, of whom I am very proud, because I never had a
brother until Dorothy presented me with this one."

The sudden lighting of the new-comer's face, was startling as he turned
his brilliant eyes on Galt and crushed his hand in hearty greeting. "Let
me offer congratulations," he smiled. "Indeed, you should be doubly
congratulated, your position is so much more secure and agreeable as a
brother to this young lady than it would have been had she 'been a
sister to you.'"

"Oh!" laughed Sybil, "he never gave me a chance to make him that offer!
There's no flitting from flower to flower about a Galt! They may be a
bit cool and hard, but they are true!"

Thrall winced at the unconscious thrust. She slipped her hand under
Leslie's arm, and, giving it a little squeeze, added: "You see, I've
been studying up your family records along with those of the Montagues
and Capulets."

After a few courteous words the men saluted, and Sybil went on out into
the hall with Leslie, to give some final message for Dorothy before
saying good-by.

And Thrall walked to a window and leaned his head against the cool
glass. He closed his eyes and muttered to himself: "Good God! Good God!"
and yet again, in utter helplessness, "Good God!" He recalled that sick
jealousy, the almost insensate rage, that had possessed him at the sight
of that innocent caress, and said to himself: "It is useless to deny it
longer, I love that child blindly, stupidly, senselessly!" Then he
lifted his head quickly, indignantly saying: "No! no! that would mean
infatuation--the besotting, mere physical attraction, that men who are
not Galts yield to, and repent of so swiftly! No! In her, I love the
dear ideal I sought and dreamed of in young manhood. It is the purity,
the joyous spirit, the high ambition, the unawakened power of loving,
and the beauty--the sullen, smiling, changing beauty--that charms,
holds, and fascinates me! Oh, yes! I love her--no doubt left of that.
And principally because she has no right in it at all she is becoming
the ruling factor of my life. I knew the danger to myself of this daily
close companionship; yet that being the devil's plan and he my honored
master, I pretended doubt of Mordaunt's skill, and took the task of
training into my own hands. And now--well, self-deception being over, I
must trust to my powers of dissembling to hide from her the longing love
that may only speak through lips dead three hundred years ago. Ah, Will!
sweet Will Shakspere! you were ever a warm lover; but, depend upon it,
your glowing words will not be the cooler from my delivery of them!"

He laughed at his own fancy, and Sybil, returning, said: "I'm glad to
hear that laugh, Mr. Thrall; for positively, when I saw you first, I
thought you looked almost ill. And, see how unconsciously selfish one
can be, I was quite aware of a fleeting regret for a lost rehearsal,
when my better self came forward in sympathy for you! But you will
observe that I thought of my own interests first. Humanity must be very
disappointing to its Creator! What on earth is the matter with
god-mamma?"

Mrs. Van Camp, with ringed hands high in air, was summoning them both to
come to the extension-room, from whence she distantly chaperoned all
their many and prolonged rehearsals. "Come! come quickly!" she cried.
"You, neither of you, really appreciate him! And you will doubt my
assertions unless you hear him your own selves! Hush! hush!" She lifted
a warning finger, and they drew cautiously near to the big sun-flooded
window, where, on his perch, standing on one foot, the other curled up
into a bluish gray ball, stood Poll, his head on one side, a white film
drawn over his vicious old eye, while, in a rasping voice, he said, over
and over again: "'Omeo! 'Omeo!"

"Is he not wonderful?" whispered his adoring mistress.

"Why? what?" began Thrall.

But Sybil shook her head warningly, and even while Mrs. Van Camp's eyes
flashed ominously at him he understood, and exclaimed, in tones of
amazed admiration: "If he is not calling Romeo, I'm a sinner!"

"'Omeo! 'Omeo!" rasped Poll, and Mrs. Van Camp, unable to restrain
herself longer, clasped him to her bosom, whereupon he yelled and swore
and screeched, and swallowed two buttons from the front of her gown.

"Perhaps they will kill him?" hopefully whispered Thrall.

"Not a bit of it!" laughed Sybil; "they do him good! He has bolted
nearly half a string of beads for me since I've been here! Oh, is he not
awful?"

Mrs. Van Camp was finally forced to put him in his cage for punishment,
and to quiet him a blanket was being wrapped about the top, when
suddenly, with surprising distinctness, he croaked "Dead! dead!" then
"'Omeo! 'Omeo!" again. And Mrs. Van Camp, with emotion, pressed Thrall's
hands and kissed Sybil, and blessed them for their long rehearsals, that
were ending in instructing her dear, dear Polly! And the pair writhed in
a very anguish of suppressed mirth, until Mrs. Van Camp went back to her
embroidery, and their laughter in the drawing-room could be laid to the
account of "acting."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day Sybil had been presented to the company, on the stage of the
Globe. She was being announced as an amateur, and people were filled
with wonder that a young girl could pass from the drawing-room directly
to the stage. But her first scene was not over before some knowing
smiles and glances were being exchanged, and one of the actresses was
saying: "Amateur--drawing-room? Well, she is from the drawing-room, no
doubt of that; but she has halted at some other theatre before reaching
this one, for she is no amateur!"

"Oh, I don't know!" argued the "old woman," who was, of course, cast for
the Nurse. "I find her quite novicey in the 'business' of our scenes."

"That may be," replied the other speaker, a blonde person, referred to
by Roberts as "that devil divorcée!" the first term alluding to her
malicious temper, the second to the scandalous divorce that preceded her
appearance in New York. "It may be that she is not familiar with the
'business' of Juliet, but did you see her awhile ago looking for her
boa? The carpenter told her it was hanging across a chair on the 'o. p.'
side, and she crossed over instantly to get it? To an amateur the 'o.
p.' side would have been Greek. And when something was said about 'the
borders,' did you see how quickly she looked up at them? Amateur? Call
up the marines to listen to that yarn, but I was not born yesterday!"

"No, dear!" pleasantly acquiesced the other. "No one who has seen you
would make such a charge, I'm sure!"

"Oh, don't be too clever, for your own good! You shouldn't waste such
brilliant bon-mots on a mere actress!"

"Merest mere!" interrupted a voice from behind her. "Don't glare so,
you'll spoil your beautiful expression. Good Lord!"

For the angry face had suddenly wreathed itself in smiles, and the
divorcée advanced with outstretched hand to meet Sybil, who, the scene
being over, was hesitating which way to turn.

"Come and sit here by me," she cooed. "Does your throat get dry from
long speaking? Mine does." And she offered a beautiful little
bonbonnière, saying, "Try these French paste troches, they are
delicious."

And the actor, Joseph Grant, who detested her, said, aside to old Mrs.
Elmer: "Do you see that? Manice is not getting ready to pump, is she?
She'll know that pretty girl's history clear from the very day of her
birth before the next act is set."

"Not if Stewart Thrall is as clever as I think he is. There!" chuckled
the old woman. "What did I tell you? Oh, do look at Manice's face!"

For Mr. Thrall had suddenly called out, seeing who was talking to her:
"Miss Lawton! Here I am in the parquet. Your aunt would like to speak to
you during this wait!"

And no one guessed that the white-haired, upright old person attending
Sybil, as watchful chaperon, was really only Mrs. Van Camp's ancient
maid, who, at the instigation of Thrall, had been commanded thus to
masquerade. And the papers duly noted: "That the young society bud, who
had abandoned all social delights for love of art, had arrived promptly
at the stage-door, an aristocratic, white-haired lady--a
relative--accompanying her, and waiting patiently during the entire
rehearsal, thus disposing of the rumor that her family was bitterly
opposing the step she was taking."

Truly Thrall was pulling the wires, even the very little wires, for
small people must be made to dance as well as great ones, if your
ballroom is to present a really animated appearance.

Miss Cora Manice was not in the bill, and her unnecessary presence at
rehearsals met with such frowning disapproval from Thrall that she
withdrew, but with a furious face that fully presaged, to those who
understood, the tempest that burst later on, in that private office,
whose secret, shade-hung door was never used.

The other members of the company were wholly indifferent as to whether
the interloper sank or swam. Jim Roberts stood afar off, and watched
with burning, eager eyes every movement the young girl made, and his
swift anticipation of her slightest wish soon attracted attention and
comment; and one day some fellow said: "I believe Jim's gone back on
Thrall, at last, and has taken a new master."

"No," replied Joseph Grant, "you mean a new mistress!" and this
exquisite joke almost strangled maker and hearer with laughter.

The rehearsals were almost over. Scenery and properties took up much
time, and made them very wearying, but there was a delightful break when
Thrall made coffee in his office, and with Margaret, the ancient maid,
doing propriety, in the corner, he served his "queen to be" with all the
skill of a French waiter, and all the tenderness of a mother, while,
with a hearty girl's appetite, she disposed of dainty sandwiches,
coffee, and fruit--save on that one day when she ran out and gave every
blessed sandwich there was to a poor waif whom she saw from the window.

"Why did you not give him money?" Thrall asked.

"I had none," she frankly answered.

"You should have told me, then I would have given him something for
you."

She frowned a bit, and answered: "He would not have dared enter any
place about here, and I could not put him to the torture of
waiting--forgive me!"

And one day--one threatening day, when gas was burning everywhere, so
dark it was--Thrall told himself he could do no more for this creature
who had grown so precious in his secret sight. Only one thing troubled
his artistic sense: Sybil's Juliet was a trifle too frank--too boyishly
honest in her love. The soft confusion, the flushing cheek and drooping
eye, that sweetly contradict the open plainness of her speech, were
missing. He knew why it was so; and when the artist in him asked if he
would have it otherwise, the man, recalling that sick qualm of jealousy,
answered: No! no!

Rehearsal being over, Sybil had sent old Margaret home in the carriage
that Thrall had hired for them, and had herself turned downtown a few
blocks, and had then gone across to a little shop, where stage shoes
were to be tried on.

"I'm afraid Mrs. Van Camp will be angry if I leave you, Miss Sybil," the
woman had protested. "There's an awful storm coming up, too!"

"Nonsense!" said the girl, who even then had to hold her hat on with
both hands, so high was the wind. "Go on, god-mother needs you at once!
I'll be home in no time, but I can't leave those shoes another day.
Suppose they should be wrong in some way? By-by!" and, laughing, she
faced the tearing wind.

Coming from the shop she felt the rain begin to fall. She fairly flew
along the streets. Two cars passed without heeding her signal. What
should she do? The theatre? She had a right to seek shelter there,
surely, and that way she rushed. A sign came hurling through the air!
She screamed, and the next moment dashed, damp, chill, dishevelled, into
the vestibule.

At the bang of the great door young Barney, pale under the box-office
gas-light, raised his head and looked through the little window, trying
to see who was outside, but the darkness was almost that of night, and
Sybil, catching her breath in gasps, said: "I beg your pardon, Mr.
Barney, I--I have just run in here for shelter--it's awful outside!
Don't you know me? I'm Miss--Miss--" She stopped, in confusion. A tall
man was stooping to peer out over Barney's shoulder. Those well-shaped,
amazingly brilliant eyes were unmistakable. Then a voice of incredulity,
of pleased incredulity, was saying: "It's not Miss Lawton, alone in this
fearful storm, surely?"

The door was pulled open, and through the out-streaming light came
Stewart Thrall. His overcoat over one arm, and a closely furled umbrella
in the hand, whose finger and thumb also held an unlit cigar, told
plainly that he was just leaving, that had she been one single moment
later she would have found only Barney in the theatre.

Only one moment, but, oh, there are single moments full, replete, and
pregnant with possibilities--moments that may bring forth results dire
and strange! William Henry Bulkley's one moment had been sufficient for
the mad runaway of the big chestnut, and things more terrible than
horses may fiercely break away from all restraint in equally brief time.

But Sybil, shaken, breathless, and embarrassed in the dusk, made,
unconsciously, a mental, never-to-be-forgotten portrait of Stewart
Thrall standing in that informing stream of light--handsome, debonair,
stately of height, and graceful of bearing, and on his face that eager
look that made it strangely young.

He held his hand out: "Miss Lawton, is it really you? Why--good heaven,
you are wet and cold!" The wind rattled windows, doors, and signs so
that she could scarcely hear his words; but the warm pressure of his
clasping hand was comforting to her. "Where is your carriage? eh? I
can't hear you!"

Something, probably a billboard, fell with a crash against the door, and
the girl gave a violent start of terror. Suddenly Thrall turned, still
holding her hand fast. He cast his coat, umbrella, and cigar into the
office, saying sharply to Barney: "I'm not here--to anyone! You
understand?"

Barney looked up inquiringly. Their eyes met fully, and Thrall repeated:
"Not to _anyone_!" And, closing the box-office door, he felt for the
baize ones leading to the auditorium, pushed one leaf open and entered,
drawing Sybil after him by the hand. As it closed he reached up and
softly pushed the bolt.

Outside, in the office, Barney stared stupidly, then began a double
shuffle, chuckling to himself: "Oh, wait till Manice gets on to this!
But one of these days the governor will stand up to her, and then she'll
get a pointer on temper that will astonish her, I guess! He's too easy!
I wish he'd chuck her out of the company--spiteful, bleached cat!"
Undoubtedly a very vulgar-minded boy was Barney.

Inside the red baize doors Sybil was amazed to find almost perfect
silence. The auditorium, being in the very middle of the building, was
cut off from outer sounds. Even the wild shriek of the wind was greatly
softened. The darkness seemed at first complete, but the accustomed eye
could see a faint grayness at the stage end opposite them.

A row of open French boxes extended across the back of the lower circle.
Thrall laid his hat in a chair in one of them as he passed, and still
leading Sybil, said, in a cheerful, matter-of-course tone, intended to
quiet any possible uneasiness of mind: "This way, Miss Lawton! Don't be
afraid, there are no steps. The register is right in this corner, and
there is at least enough heat on to dry your damp clothing. It would be
a pretty serious thing, my young lady, for you to catch cold at this
late hour. There, you can feel a little hot air, can't you?"

The building now fairly trembled under the force of the gale, and
Thrall, with a tightening of his fingers on hers, asked, reproachfully:
"In God's name, child, what induced you to face a storm like this? Tell
me."

But in that warm, dark silence words would not come easily. She murmured
something about "god-mamma's needing Margaret's services," paused, added
a confused assurance that her "stage shoes had proved satisfactory," and
became mute.

The empty auditorium was vast, the white linen hangings, draping boxes
and dress-circle, were mysterious as the swaying mosses of a Southern
swamp. A sense of isolation came upon her, of distance from the world.
She did not seem to think consecutively, but in broken, fragmentary,
foolish bits. She wondered why Mr. Thrall was so silent. Was it
because--. She wondered if her dress was drying all around evenly--if
her boots would spoil from the heat--her mother had thought them
expensive, and--and how many nerves and pulses did one girl carry about
with her? And why need they all quiver and beat at the same time?

She drew her hand gently from Thrall's, but he took up the other that
was still in a wet and clammy glove. Silently, deftly unbuttoning and
peeling it off, he softly chafed the little member. Sybil drew a long,
slow breath--what was it that troubled her?

The darkness seemed to hide something--secret, sweet! A strange,
evanescent perfume seemed to have been left out there by beauty, wealth,
and fashion! In the mingling odors of rice-powder, orris, violet, and
fine tobacco in the close warm air there was a sensuous suggestion of
eyes and smiles, of whispers and pressed hands! The potent perfume of
human love was all about her! She moved restlessly. "I--the heat! my
head!" she whispered, and drew away from him.

He put his foot out and closed the register. "I--I must go now," she
slowly added, when there came a sound--a steady, loud sort of even roar,
and Thrall knew a very deluge of icy rain must be descending upon the
city to be heard so plainly there.

"Go?" he queried, gently. "Go? Why, my child, you could not stand on
your feet a moment--the gale would dash you to the earth. Stay here,
where you are safe."

The silence closed about them again, yet she vaguely felt there was no
calm in it--it seemed only dormant. Then dimly it came to her to ask Mr.
Thrall to let her go to the box-office to wait, when suddenly the
building shook as a toy house might have done, and there came a
deafening, rumbling crash above their very heads, it seemed, though
truly it was a chimney falling above the stage roof, and Sybil's one
wild scream of terror was smothered on Thrall's breast!

"Don't, don't, my--!" he whispered, hoarsely, holding her trembling hand
to his lips and covering it with kisses. "Don't shiver so! 'Twas
nothing! You are quite safe--quite safe! Sybil--Princess! I'd shelter
you in my arms, and guard you with my life--always! if I might! if I
might!"

His arms were about her. The dull roar of the rain was like the roaring
from a distant world--they were alone--utterly alone--in the dimness
warm and fragrant. She was all unstrung and weak from fright. His words
seemed half real, half dreamed. She raised her head--she put two
impotent little hands against his breast.

"Please!" she gasped. "I am not frightened now! I--" A strange lassitude
was upon her. A door somewhere banged heavily--she shivered as at a
blow! Her head sank back upon his breast. He bent over her, his face all
passion-pale, his heavy, drooping lids betraying their girl-like length
of lashes.

"Sybil!" he breathed.

Her eyes, wide and startled, met his. "Sybil!" he entreated.
"Sweetheart!" His lips met hers in one long, tender kiss, and the house
rocked in the fury of the gale!



CHAPTER XXII

PREPARING THE PIT


For some time the question troubling the Lawton family had been how and
where to establish Sybil for the term of her engagement at the Globe.
Returning to Woodsedge after performances was not to be thought of. No,
a residence in the city was an absolute necessity.

Mrs. Lawton indignantly wondered if Sybil Van Camp had ever realized
that a sort of deputy-maternity devolved upon a god-mother--a term that
had taken Leslie Galt, who was sharing the family council, out of the
room in search of a handkerchief in his overcoat pocket. At which Mrs.
Lawton gloomily expressed a fear of his "becoming a fussy old man in
time, because," said she, "Leslie had a handkerchief in his breast
pocket that might easily have served his purpose. Now, Dorothy," she
continued, "take a mother's advice, and check at once any symptom of
faddishness that appears in him, or he'll have you in heelless shoes or
on a milk diet, or something of that sort, before you know it. But
really, dear, you shouldn't interrupt. [Leslie returned to his seat
here.] The question at this moment is, what is to become of your
unfortunate sister; for though she has cast in her lot with 'mere
players,' and has rejected the comfort and sweet privacy of home life,
it does not follow that she is prepared to pass the rest of her life
upon the unsheltered, stony streets of the city. What is the matter with
you, Leslie? You are not in need of another handkerchief, are you? As I
was saying when someone interrupted me, I doubt if Sybil Van Camp ever
had any idea of the duties of a god-mother."

"Rattle," counted Sybil on her fingers, "silver mug, corals----"

"Given long ago!" triumphed Dorothy.

"Renouncing the devil for you," went on Sybil, "and seeing that you knew
creed, prayers, commandments, and church catechism----"

"Which she didn't do!" cried Mrs. Lawton; "for I have heard your father
bribing you many a time to learn and repeat them to him. And now, if she
had any appreciation of the duties devolving upon her, would she not
open her home to her god-daughter, and shelter her for a brief period
from the perils of the city?"

"Upon my word, mamma," laughed Sybil, "if you keep on in that strain
I'll drop down on all fours and beg for a bone. Anyone would think you
were speaking of a homeless dog. God-mother Van Camp has done more for
me than I can ever repay, and she has invited me to stay in her house
during my engagement, but it is not to be thought of. Why, papa, dear, I
am now quite turning the household topsy-turvey by the irregularity of
my hours. Rehearsals may be short, or they may be long. The cook gets
cross, and god-mamma gets anxious. Her daily life is regulated like a
railroad schedule for precision and exactitude of time. Then, when
acting once begins, the watching for my late return at night would be a
cruel penance to god-mamma and ancient Margaret and the butler Murphy,
who is the greatest old woman of the lot. No, I can't think of so
desecrating that last retreat of all the Knickerbocker proprieties; but,
in a boarding-house----"

"A barracks!" said Leslie. "Oh, I know all about boarding-houses and
their keepers, from the black-bugled lady with ancestors down to the
loud-voiced, false-fronted person who makes her husband eat in the
kitchen, and I tell you a boarding-house is quite out of the question
for you."

"That's just what Mr. Thrall said," eagerly interrupted Sybil, "when the
matter was mentioned in his presence. And he knows a woman, whom he has
employed for years as a wardrobe woman and sort of general dresser, to
help those ladies who have no maids of their own. She is a widow, and
she owns--mortgaged, of course--one of those old-fashioned,
two-and-a-half-story, red-brick basemented houses----"

"Take a breath, Syb!" laughed Dorothy.

"That's a gem," gravely asserted Galt, "that descriptive sentence is.
Spoken rapidly it does leave the impression that the widow is mortgaged
and a doubt as to the red brick reaching beyond the basement. But when
one writes it all out, and punctuates carefully----"

"Leslie Galt, my young brother! Will you remember that you are still on
probation? Final vows have not yet been administered. Though under
instruction, you have not yet been admitted into the Lawton community
for life!"

"That's about the only thing I do remember at all clearly these days,"
answered Galt, smiling meaningly at Dorothy.

But John Lawton rumpled his thin hair, and said, anxiously: "Let's get
back to that mortgaged house, daughter--it's most train time for you,
dear."

"Well," went on Sybil, drawing her father's hand about her neck as she
spoke, "her name is--is, oh, something with an S, Mrs.--Stow--Stover--
Stine--Sty--Stivers! that's it! Mrs. Jane Stivers--odd, isn't it, papa?
And she----"

"My dear child," remonstrated Mrs. Lawton, somewhat wearily, "why will
you not adopt my method of remembering names? It's so embarrassing at
times to have a cognomen escape you, just when you feel it, too, on the
tip of your tongue, but can't get it off. Now, I always associate a name
with a thing or an action or an idea, and the result is I never have to
go skipping through the alphabet as you and Dorothy do. I recall the
case of Mrs.--Mrs.--dear me! Mrs.--you know, girls, to whom I
refer--that woman I disliked so. I like most people, but she was
underbred--at One Hundredth Street? You must remember her perfectly. I
know at the time I associated her name with something--er--er, something
she hated. Now, what did that woman hate? Her husband was bandy--polite
enough, but bandy, and he had a cross eye! Something she hated--now
what?"

"Perhaps she hated anything very straight," laughed Dorothy. "I think I
should under the circumstances!"

"There!" broke in Mrs. Lawton. "What did I tell you? Straight--she hated
anything straight, because her name was Crook! And Mr. Crook was
cross-eyed! It's infallible, my system! But do get on, Sybil, or really
you will lose that train!"

"Well, papa!" said the girl, in a quivering voice, "Mrs. Stivers's house
is--Mr. Thrall says--fairly near the theatre. It is quiet as a church,
and in a most respectable quarter. She has been in the habit of renting
the second floor to student lodgers. She has never kept regular
boarders, but Mr. Thrall thinks she might, for a few dollars increase in
the rent, take me in, instead, and do for me. He uses so many Englishy
expressions in ordinary conversation. He says her age, character, and
habits would recommend her, and another advantage would be that I could
go home nights under her wing, without troubling Mr. Roberts for escort,
who lives in the opposite direction. The parlor, he says, is given over
to horse-hair. Mrs. Stivers was married during the mahogany reign of
terror, you see. But I could do what I liked in my own room, to
modernize. And, mamma, he proposes, as she can't come from her work out
here, to be interviewed by you, that you authorize Mrs. Van Camp
[Letitia straightened up in her chair] to receive her and talk the
matter over, and then to report to you for your decision."

Mrs. Lawton closed her eyes, and said, impressively: "A most sensible
suggestion from a man très comme il faut!"

To Sybil's questioning eyes Mr. Lawton answered: "Yes, dear! That has a
promising sound. What do you think, Leslie?"

"I agree with you, sir, if the woman is kindly disposed. The fact of her
working in the theatre should be a distinct advantage. The question is,
will she board as well as lodge her guest? For even if a restaurant were
next door Sybil is far too pretty a girl to pass in and out unnoticed."

"So very like me," breathed Letitia. "It's the Bassett coloring, I
think, that attracts the public eye."

"Dorothy!" exclaimed Sybil, turning from adjusting her hat before the
dim old mirror, "my descendants shall rise up and call you blessed, for
in the fine art of selecting a brother for your only sister you take the
cake. Oh, papa! I beg your pardon! I--I meant she wins the laurel!"

"Sybil!" moaned Mrs. Lawton, distressfully, "I don't wish to rebuke you
at the very moment of leave-taking, but, my very dear child, you must
really check your tendency toward reckless speech. To allude to your
descendants when you are not yet even engaged is not far from
indelicacy; and, Dorothy, causeless laughter is rightly esteemed a proof
of bad manners. Good-by, my dear; say to Mrs. Van Camp I am quite unable
to go to the city in this cold weather, and must therefore ask her to
act for me in the case of Mrs.--er, I don't think I quite caught the
name? Eh? oh, Stivers--yes, I shall easily remember that by connecting
it with a saying contradicted."

"A what, mamma?" laughed the girls.

"Stivers?" repeated Galt, meditatively, "a 'saying contradicted!' I
can't find the connection. It's a mystery--impenetrable!"

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Lawton, "it's very simple. You need just say
to yourself 'not worth a stiver'--there's your saying; but she owns a
house, there's your contradiction, and you have the name as quickly as
possible. Yes, I shall always remember the name Stivers!"

"If," slowly put in John, "if you don't happen to forget 'the saying.'"

And good-by being said, with arms about waists the sisters held in the
hall one of those secret conclaves over only heaven and themselves knew
what, but without which they were never known to part for more than
twenty-four hours.

Then with her moon face all red with heat and hurry Lena rushed out with
a package of hot cookies, crying: "I bake dem cake youst by der train
time, und dere blazes hot! But I tie 'em mit a long string so you don't
com' burnt by der hants!"

Mrs. Lawton came to the door and indignantly demanded: "What folly and
presumption is this, Lena Klippert? Retire at once and take your
obnoxious offering with you!"

"Den you don' vant dem cookies, my Miss Lady? You tink I com' by der
cheek, uf I bring 'em here?" poor Lena quavered, shamefacedly.

But Sybil fitted the looped string over her finger and flashed a radiant
smile at the faithful little German drudge, and, dangling the package in
the air, quoted:

"'This little pig went to market!' Just wait till to-night, Lena, when
I'm alone in my room, and the little pig will have cookies, eh?"

"Ja! ja!" nodded and smiled Lena. "You com' make very fine little pig,
Miss Sybbils; sometimes you can com' black, but ven you smiles, your
lips youst curl up like a flower!"

And, amid general laughter, Sybil departed for the city with Leslie
doing escort duty, while John and Dorothy Lawton received an informing
lecture upon the structure, quality, and quantity of brain to be found
in the low-class Germans that nicely filled up the rest of their
afternoon.

At Mrs. Van Camp's house Sybil's return was followed almost immediately
by the announcement from the wearer of the mulberry livery of: "A
person--an elderly female person--to see you, ma'am; by appointment, she
claims, ma'am. Show her up? Yes, ma'am. Hem! if you'll excuse the
boldness--Mr. Poll's in the library, and he do be swearing awful, beyond
anythink, ma'am. What for is it? Why, ma'am, someone--I suppose it's the
young lady, ma'am--put a shaving-glass in his cage, and he's been
cussin' of he'self ever since he laid eyes on it. Shall I be carryin'
him to the basement, or covering him up? I don't know. Yes, ma'am, I'll
take him down as you say." And a few moments later he returned,
haughtily ushered in Mrs. Jane Stivers, and retired.

Sybil, entering by the opposite door, saw a thin, elderly woman, whose
dark hair sprinkled with gray and banded smoothly down over each ear,
whose small, dark eyes, whose thin, pale-lipped, closely closed mouth,
and long, drooping nose spelled as plainly as letters could the
word--discreet. Her black gown and unspeakably respectable bonnet, her
thick but plain cloak, her neat cashmere gloves, were all prim adjuncts
to that picture of _discretion_. She stood in true servant-like
attitude, eyes down and hands crossed at the exact waist-line; and as
Sybil reached her god-mother's side that lady, raising her glasses to
look at the stranger, said: "Mrs. Stivers, I wish to--why! why! you're
Martin--you are surely Jane Martin?" and sat staring.

"Yes, Madam Van Camp," she replied, "I am Jane that was in your
sewing-room three years and more. I didn't think you'd remember a
servant's face so long, so I didn't tell Mr. Thrall I'd been in your
service. My husband was a boss carpenter in a theatre, and that took me
there. Me being a good needle-woman, I got work in the wardrobe, and
gradually learned the business thorough-like; and when my husband died,
as I wanted to hold on to the house, I began taking lodgers as well as
working at the theatre, so as to pay off the mortgage some time, I do
hope, ma'am."

Both women sighed sympathetically as they listened to Mrs. Stivers's
calm and self-controlled statement of her financial and professional
situation, little dreaming that the oppressive mortgage existed only in
the imagination of the undemonstrative widow, who found it too powerful
a lever in raising the rent of rooms, in raising her salary, and in
raising the hats of compassionate observers--to be willingly abandoned.

But though the house mortgage had been cancelled long ago, she was then
by way of secretly placing a mortgage upon her own character for upright
honesty, for sincerity, for honor. True, there was no overt agreement to
dupe a young girl and to circumvent her friends; yet if she made no
slip, trip, or blunder in this matter intrusted to her, she surely knew
that at its end Stewart Thrall, who guided, governed, and controlled
her, would hold first mortgage on her character, since by tacit,
unspoken agreement she would become a living surveillance, a personified
treachery, while still deceptively wearing the livery of prim
respectability and honest labor.

Now, Mrs. Van Camp asked the woman to be seated; expressed regret for
her bereavement, and, because of the excellent impression Jane Martin
had made upon her in the past, looked with unusually lenient eyes upon
Jane Stivers of the present, and accepted readily her statements, and
trustingly saw in her rectitude, her intelligence, and her respectful
and deferential manner the most desirable sort of combination--landlady,
maid, and sheep-dog.

When terms came to be considered, though they seemed surprisingly easy,
Sybil nervously checked Mrs. Van Camp's acceptance of them, saying that
her salary hardly justified such an outlay.

"Oh, Miss Lawton, if you'll pardon the interruption," said Jane Stivers,
"your salary will be quite a different thing when you begin playing
Juliet. Anyone would know that, as a mere matter of course. But besides
that, when Mr. Thrall did me the service of mentioning this matter, he
honored my little home with a call, and as he was going he puts on his
hat and says: 'And I must have now a bit of a business talk with our
little Royal Princess'--that's you, Miss; theatrical people are great
for tagging folks with names, be you high or be you low--you're bound to
get a tag; even I, miss, have been 'Jane Penny' ever since some
rattle-brain found that Stiver was Dutch for a penny."

Sybil recalled her mother's old saying, "Not worth a stiver," and
laughed, while Jane went on.

"Yes, ma'am, he said he must have a little talk with the Royal Princess
and add a cipher to her salary, so she could settle down with a quiet
mind, free for Juliet alone."

And on the strength of that report Mrs. Van Camp accepted the offered
terms, but advised Sybil to run over with "Martin," as she would call
her, "to look at the apartments and ascertain if there was a sun
exposure for at least one room; and whether the drains were all right,
and the gas-pipes innocent of dangerous leakage."

And Sybil--the wish being father to the thought--declared the house
quite perfect. Mrs. Lawton was notified by letter, and while awaiting
her answer a "lightning-change artist" had been at work upon walls and
floor of the front room. The drab and blue horror of the wall had become
a clear primrose yellow with white enamelled picture-rails. The floor
being of old, badly matched pine-boards, and there being no time for
painting or staining, was completely covered with a dull grayish-green
carpet, with pure white rugs before sofa, writing-desk, etc.; and with
flowing white curtains with broad primrose ribbon-ties and a
white-framed rocker with cushion of grayish green, flowered over with
pale primroses. These changes made so magical an effect that Sybil,
coming on the third day to take possession, stood astounded.

"Yes, ma'am," evenly admitted Jane Stivers, "it was a bit of a rush, and
I could not manage to get the second room done so quickly. The expense?
Oh, I have been saving up for months for the express purpose of doing up
my rooms."

But Sybil was amazed at the artistic taste shown here; it was in such
strange contrast to the black hair-cloth, the shiny white and gold
paper, the wax flowers of the parlor, that yet evidently filled Jane's
soul with pride.

"Whom did you advise with, Mrs. Stivers?" she asked, as her fingers
stroked the flowered cushion.

"No one. I did it all myself." Then, as a quick side-glance caught the
unbelief on her lodger's face, she added: "No, I don't know, on second
thought, but what I did get a hint about the color you would be likely
to favor. I recall now that Mr. Thrall remarked, seeing that paper
hanging in the dealer's window: 'What a fine background for some
dark-haired woman.' So I just caught the idea, as you may say."

"You are a very clever woman, I see," answered Sybil, who went joyously
about her unpacking, looking every ten minutes from the window for
Dorothy, who was coming with home photographs, Lena's personally
constructed pillow-sham with a large blue cotton "S. L." worked in the
middle, a beautiful old paper-knife from papa, a silver powder-box from
Leslie, and two pretty but broken fans from mamma, who thought they
would decorate a room nicely, giving quite a little studio-like
touch--all to be used in "homing the rooms," as Dorothy put it.

Godmamma Van Camp sent three really precious old engravings that
Dorothy, with hat still on, went about rapturously holding up against
the clear yellow wall, smacking her young lips as though she were
tasting something.

The most exciting moment of the girls' day was when going into the
second room Dorothy pointed to a corner cabinet and said: "What's that,
Syb?"

"What's what?" asked that person from near the bottom of the trunk Jane
was waiting to remove to the attic.

"That in the corner?"

Sybil rose, red and hot, and looked while Jane pulled the trunk out.
Then she exclaimed: "Why, that was not there when I came to look at the
rooms first!" She went over to it. A small visiting-card was attached to
the key--the card of Stewart Thrall. She opened the cabinet door and
revealed a coffee outfit. Two cries of delight arose; alcohol was sent
for--the picnic was on!

In Africa when a creature is too mighty for the hunters, the wily
natives contrive a great trap--they dig a deep pit, and then cover it
over with frail green boughs and grasses, until it looks like the rest
of the green matted ground about it. They are careful, too, to place
this trap in the neighborhood of some rushing river or some stilly pool
where in the moonlight or at earliest flush of dawn the great creature
must go to lap the cooling water. Then, when it has crashed through into
helpless captivity, the small cunning enemy may work their will upon it.

Now, the strange thing is--this cruel and treacherous practice is not
confined to Africa. Sometimes pits are dug before young feet and
carefully hidden beneath boughs of friendship and flowers of love. Right
here in our great city, if we listen closely, we may hear the crashing
fall of the victim!



CHAPTER XXIII

THE WOMAN IN THE BOX


At the Globe Theatre they were settling down to a long and brilliant
run. Thrall had staged the old play splendidly, costumed it royally,
rehearsed it to exact precision of movement, and cast it with such
knowledge, such consideration for the requirements of each character
that the fiery Tybalt, the stately Prince, the benignant Friar Laurence,
and the grotesque Peter were not more judiciously placed than the
Apothecary, Gregory, or the Page. "Romeo and Juliet" had "caught the
town"; for once the matinée girl had two idols in the same theatre.
Never, never had Thrall been so raved over. In his desire to make
himself look as youthful as possible for the early acts, he had
permitted the Lefebvres to costume him in white, from his cap and
floating ostrich plume down to his shoes; but shoes with yellow
leathered heels, cloak lined with a golden yellow satin, that reappeared
in such trunk puffings and love-knots of yellow lustre that all
suggestion of coldness was lost in extreme richness and delicacy.
Indeed, in grace and beauty and extravagance, he was the ideal courtly
young popinjay of Verona--the idolized only son and heir of the mighty
family of Montague.

And Juliet? Truly they were a pair to joy the eye of poet or of
painter! From the moment when she appeared upon the scene and the
laughing mockery of her "How now! who calls?" to the Nurse, had changed
into the respectful "Madam, I am here!" to her mother, the public had
been enslaved by the vividness of the dark and changeful beauty of her
girlish face.

For Thrall's was the artificial youth of the wig, the grease paint; of
skilful costuming and brilliant acting; a youth that does not care to
come quite down to the footlights. But Sybil was so young that even some
of the dear gaucheries of the still growing girl showed faintly in her
and made tender tears start to some very worldly eyes; therefore but
little was expected from her in the way of acting. So, when at the end
of the first act Juliet learns from the Nurse that the young masker is
really a Montague, her moaning words,

  "My only love sprung from my only hate;
  Too early seen unknown, and known too late!"

were given in tones so helpless and amazed, and she stood so dazed and
motionless under the shock of her discovery, that with a great roar of
applause the audience hailed the actress in her!

Sybil had given much thought to her part, and she had advanced some
ideas of her own now and then when Thrall was teaching her the
"business" of the play, as, for instance, in the potion scene. The
Juliets generally rave and wildly scream the line:

  "As with a club, dash out my desperate brains!"

and, if they have strength left, scream louder still the

  "----Stay, Tybalt, stay!--"

and then, having swallowed the potion, declare it has

  "----chilled me to the heart!"

that their "senses fail" them, etc., but still in fullest voice cry
they:

  "Oh, Romeo! Romeo!"

and collapse.

When this was being explained Sybil asked gravely, but with dancing
eyes: "Where were the rest of the Capulet family that night, I wonder?
Such a dreadful row would bring the entire household, maids and
stable-boys included, to the rescue. I thought this potion-taking was a
secret between the Friar, Romeo, and Juliet? I believed she was half
suffocated with the horror of the scenes she conjured up, and gasped the
words out. Then that scream would be just as effective, I should think,
if she fell on her knees near the bed and stifled her shrieks in the
pillows or the bed-clothing. Would not the suppressed, almost
whispering, voice add to the sense of secrecy--of danger?"

And Thrall, whenever it was possible, permitted her small innovations,
was even proud of them, as evidences of her natural ability. And so it
came about that this new Juliet had a tang of originality about her that
was delightful to the old theatre-goer; while the remarkable
appreciation of the public for sheer physical beauty was shown night
after night in the rounds of applause it bestowed, one after another,
before a line was spoken by the ill-fated lovers as they were
"discovered" in Juliet's chamber.

Thrall had taken his idea in part from a picture he had seen abroad. The
balcony of Juliet's wide-open window, all swathed in vines, lay before
the audience. The silken ladder, plainly seen between the tubbed
oranges, dangled from the ledge; the room in some disorder; the
bed-curtains drawn close; low burnt candles on the dressing-table;
Juliet with feet thrust into small Turkish mules, all free from pearls
or ornament of any kind--a sort of idealized robe de chambre, white,
trailing voluminously, frothed with lace, its open wing-like sleeves
touching the floor, fell free from chin to foot, while all the dark mass
of hair tumbling riotously over shoulders and clouding about her level,
tragic brows suggested the new dear freedom of the nuptial chamber.

In the picture, then, that the public loved, Romeo, close cap on head,
long travelling cloak depending from his shoulders--being under the ban
of the law--was secretly about to leave his few hours-made bride. Out on
the balcony, with right foot on the silken ladder, he rested the left
bent knee upon the balcony's ledge. With right arm aloft he steadied
himself by holding to the vines above, while with his left arm he
crushed the slender, white-robed figure close. Upon his breast her face
was resting, with maddening lips and glowing eyes uplifted, her round
young arms wreathing his neck; the warm, soft hair flowing over his
hand and arm, seeming to him magnetic, alive, tingling!

So he stood, a gracious shape, with regular fine features, with heavy
amorous lids and sweeping black lashes that, downcast, helped to soften
the almost savage love burning in the blue depths of his bold eyes.

No more perfect picture of physical beauty and passionate, romantic love
could be imagined, and it was nightly received with admiring applause,
beneath which his whisper came to her: "My beloved! my beloved!"

And her eyes would sink and all her throat flush red, for she had lived
a lover's life-time during that one storm-shaken kiss--and she
understood!

Others, too, there were who, though they heard no whispered word, saw
the lowered lids and moving lips of Thrall, and, knowing him of old,
guessed the rest.

And Roberts groaned and Manice was so like a spitting cat that poor Jim
said wearily one night: "Look out, Thrall! I know the wrong side of
woman pretty well, and that bleached friend of yours is going to play
you a trick before long--either you or--or--" He could not force himself
to speak the name, but looked so piteously at the manager that Thrall
nodded, answeringly: "All right, Jim! all right! She can try all the
tricks she likes on me! The--the other person's safe enough--they don't
come in contact, you know! Why, you're all to pieces, and imagine
things!"

"She's dangerous, I tell you!" persisted Jim.

"She's a coward!" contemptuously replied Thrall. "Besides, if you must
know, I've succeeded in shipping her. She's to be starred in a comedy
next season. Jake Huntley takes her out."

"Humph!" said Jim, "that must cost you something?"

"Well, yes! But better pay your piper quietly when your dance is over,
and not stop to count your pennies. I'm mighty lucky to get rid of a
firebrand so peaceably."

"You look out, Thrall!" repeated Jim, nervously. "Don't you see that's
unnatural conduct for her? She is laying a trap for you--look out, I
say!"

"Oh, come out and take a nip of something. You want bracing--come on!"
But in a fortnight's time Thrall saw Roberts's fears justified.

Miss Manice, enraged by her "release"--theatrical synonym for
"dismissal"--even when profiting most by the managerial generosity, was
making secret use of that coward's weapon, the anonymous letter, and
each foreign mail day was watched for eagerly, and Thrall's face studied
covertly with treacherous feline eyes that sought there some reflex pain
or fear from the wounds she was dealing to another--until at last she
was rewarded.

Sybil was living in a sort of trance. Stewart Thrall had become her only
law. This great success she accepted as a direct gift from him. She had
been so helplessly poor, friendless! He, only, had discovered some
talent in her, and she had been at first ashamed because she was
dependent upon him for all the means of making anything of herself
until--until, oh, pride! oh, joy! wonderful! inexplicable! he loved her!
Then all was changed. She could go to him in every difficulty--she could
accept help, instruction, everything, without thought of shame. Before,
she had simply regarded him as the master of a beautiful art, as a stern
and exacting teacher, whose approval was hard to win--until love came to
glorify and lift her up to the high throne of his heart.

And so absolute, so unquestioning was her faith and pride and trust,
that she had as yet no thought at all of shame or of wrong done, but
breathed the incense of public worship and read and re-read her printed
praises, and saw the turning heads in the street, the nudging elbows,
heard the swift whisper: "There she is--there's Sybil Lawton!" and all
day long dreamed of that moment on the balcony when they two were as
alone as though they stood upon an island and the applause was surf
thundering an accompaniment to his passion-choked words.

It was a double intoxication--that of both mind and heart. For a little
space her life was pure joy, without one clouding thought of--_after_;
without conscious knowledge of the envy and calumny, the conflict and
detraction going on about her. Occasionally she heard allusions to the
"Missus," as when some one would "wonder how the Missus would like this
or that," and once or twice she had intended to ask Jane Stivers whether
it was a nickname or just a slang term. But what did it matter--what did
anything matter?--save to win the approbation of Stewart Thrall, and
consequently the public.

And Thrall, spoiled by the world, looking back along the twenty arid
years between them, saw dead passions cast aside like so many outworn
gloves; knew the price of every illegitimate whim, and had seen his own
danger. Yet instead of flying from it he had trusted to the strange new
desire he felt to help, to guard, to advance the interests of another,
and now he found himself dominated by a great passion, such a one as
none who knew him gave him credit for.

Jim Roberts writhed miserably, crying: "She thinks he loves her! Great
God! See her worshipping eyes! But it's not love with him--it's the joy
of the pursuit; damn him! Why, oh, why do good women always love such
men? Even if I were a man instead of a miserable wreck, just trembling
to the fall--my reverent worship, my humble, waiting, devoted love would
stand no chance against him or one like him! But why?"

Poor Jim did not know that it is the bold man, who, not restrained by
deep respect, pushes past the reverent waiting one, and speaking first,
is first loved; and worthiness all unconsidered!

But now he judged Thrall from his conduct in the past and groaned to
himself: "He will leave her, just as he did my little Bess--not so soon,
perhaps. This girl is many-sided and fascinating, and will not pall so
soon, but the change will come. Not to her, though--Heaven bless her!
She's as true as steel. Hot and fierce of temper if much tried, but
loyal for life! No, the change will be in him. But when he puts her away
from him--I'll put him away from the world he ko-tow's to so devotedly!
I will, I swear it! in spite of threatening chair or noose! How cleverly
he played his cards in placing the poor child under the
'protection'--God be merciful to the protected!--of that smug-faced,
lynx-eyed hypocrite, Stivers, who would sell her soul for money! Had he
really wanted Miss Lawton guarded, guided, and watched over, why did he
not place her with old Mrs. Elmer--as good a woman and as true a lady as
ever lived? But no, she is not a servant; she could not be dismissed or
sent away on conveniently important matters of business. Sometimes I
think Mrs. Elmer begins to suspect Thrall of a new treachery to the
Missus, whom she is really fond of, because they are both English, I
suppose. And I can see how sad the good old actress's face is as she
watches the by-play between manager-actor and his beautiful young
'find.' But no matter what she may think, there'll be no scandal of her
starting. And so far Sybil Lawton's own frankness has been her perfect
concealment. Her immeasurable admiration of his 'manly grace and fine
eyes,' her unstinted gratitude for his 'teaching and help,' are
expressed openly, fervently, and as yet cause only concealed amusement.
But Cora Manice is not deceived. Jealous eyes are as sharp as they are
cruel. I should know, for my own show me many torturing things that
other people are quite blind to; and when her sugary words of
compliment became but vehicles for wounding sneer and cutting
criticism, Thrall's cold anger and his expressed desire that Miss Lawton
should not associate further with her told her spiteful catship all
there was to tell. And if she does not drag this poor girl's name into a
scandal, it will not be for want of stealthy trying. She dare not
antagonize Thrall openly. If she did, her chance of starring would soar
some hundred feet higher than 'Gilderoy's kite.' But oh, poor little
girl! your beauty and your genius, like the bloom and perfume of the
flower, act as lures to the roving, inconstant seeker of nectar. Your
life will be spoiled--if it be not already. Why could Stewart Thrall not
leave you alone? You would have made your way slowly, but surely and
naturally. But it's no use to speculate now on what might have been.
Thrall, who finds it difficult to say 'no' to anyone, could not say it
to himself to save his immortal soul from burning fire! And so he wins
your dear love, and by and by he will cast it away, and then my
beautiful--I'll----"

Jim laughed unsteadily; his pale eye had a greenish animal glare. "I'm a
mere wreck--a poor broken-down, drunken actor; and yet it's curious how
often it happens that the shaking, unaccustomed hand sends in the
killing shot!"

But Stewart Thrall loved Sybil with a difference. His life had become a
drear, monotonous triviality. He had been sick to death of those brief
amours that ring truest to the sound of gold. Love had so long
degenerated into a coarse appetite that it had at last become veritable
dead-sea fruit to him. But this little girl had thrilled him into life
again, had aroused his ambition, touched his heart to tenderness and
respect and love--real love, that made him try to be the man she thought
him, that made him shake with fear lest she find him unworthy--as he
knew himself to be. His passion was so adorned with poetry and grace and
charm, so surrounded with every illusion his intellect could invent,
that a wiser than Sybil Lawton might well have been swept
unquestioningly into his arms.

He knew the abyss he faced. He knew there was that "afterward," but he
had trusted blindly to his own powers of concealment--to his
self-control. Stewart Thrall's self-control! Truly, the devil has many a
jest offered him in all gravity!

But right or wrong--and it was all very wrong--he loved her with heart
and brain, and being what he was, the immediate moment was sufficient.
He was careful of the conventions, but so far as he dared he surrounded
his Princess, his beloved, with the enchantments of luxury. Her rooms
were bowers of flowers (they bore various cards on arrival), rare books,
precious bibelots; but his fierce jealousy denied her a living pet. And
in this fool's paradise they were walking, their feet among the grasses
and the flowers, their beautiful mad heads high in the clouds, when the
curtain rose on the play one night.

The crowded house watching for Juliet's coming, at her laughing "How
now, who calls?" broke into welcoming applause, which continued so long
that she was forced to acknowledge the greeting. As she turned again
and faced her mother, Lady Capulet, she saw a woman in the stage-box.
She was alone. She leaned forward a little and looked intently,
piercingly straight into her face, and Sybil noticed that the woman's
hand resting on the box ledge clenched itself hard.

Why, she could not have told, but at that movement her heart gave a
frightened bound, and she was glad to get off the stage. She found
herself strangely nervous during the balcony scene, but she could not
see the strange woman from that side, and was happily forgetting her.
But no sooner was she in line with the box again than its occupant fixed
her as a basalisk might. No matter what went on, no matter who was
speaking, those slowly moving pale-blue eyes with their whity lashes
followed her, measuring her height, movements, her very heart-throbs, it
seemed to the puzzled, distressed girl. She felt that there was
something threatening, inimical, in the very air about her. When the
chamber scene began, as she stood on the balcony with Romeo, she was
instantly aware of the new rigid clasp of his arm, of the pallor about
his mouth, and the sternness that shone in his erstwhile amorous eyes.
Sensitive and quick, she translated these signs into disapproval of her
work; her nervousness must have made her lose some point, blur some
delicate passage or slur over some all-important sentence, she thought,
and she tightened her arms about his neck, and whispered with dark eyes
wide, like a pleading child: "Master, are you vexed? Is my work
ill-done?" The rigid arm grew flexible and drew her close. The stern
eyes fell to the level of her glance. "It's not negligence," she went
on, "it's that woman with the cold, pale eyes--she frightens me!"

He whispered swiftly, "Pay no heed! Ignore her! Let others tremble who
have cause!"

Tenderly he drooped the black-lashed, heavy lids which his followers
adored, and, looking on his Juliet's face, he thought her mouth was like
a fresh red rose, all dewy sweet and pure; and suddenly, for them, the
applause was pierced by a short laugh--sneering, cold, and wounding. It
might have been the sharp, cold thrust of an icicle, so violently Thrall
started at the sound, and as the act moved on and Sybil faced again the
occupant of the box, a slow, contemptuous smile grew about the woman's
lips--a smile so injuriously significant that a flood of color rushed
over Sybil's face and breast and arms, and her confusion and
bewilderment were so great that those who shared the scene had once or
twice to prompt her. Indeed, she might have failed utterly had she not
recalled the tenderly whispered words, "Pay no heed; ignore her."
Stewart's word was law. He said "ignore" this cruel, sneering creature,
and she would obey and play her best--but, oh, she would be glad when
the play was over!

Sybil next became conscious of a certain amount of
excitement--suppressed, yet evident, behind the scenes--whisperings and
nudges and smiles that were gone the moment Thrall appeared; and,
somehow, she felt that she was involved in what was going on; it was
all vague, unreal, like a dream.

Stivers, thin of figure, in black gown and white apron--her flat, hard
chest covered with a sort of breastplate of neatly quilted-in needles of
all numbers and pins of all sizes--had sidled into an entrance that
commanded a view of the stranger's box, a most unusual thing for her to
do, who rarely left the dressing-room save to carry Juliet's train as
far as the stage and at once return. But there she was and Jim Roberts,
dressed and ready for the Apothecary, stood shaking like a leaf beside
her, and as she approached she heard him say: "I knew it! I knew she had
some devil's trick in mind! That's Manice's work over there, bringing
her back from London! Oh----"

He stopped at sight of Sybil, and moved away a bit. She was just opening
her lips to send Stivers for Mr. Thrall when a door slammed opposite,
and she glanced across.

It has been said that Thrall was a man who never forgot appearances,
never disregarded the customary, regular social conventions, and now he
was doggedly doing "the proper thing" in full view of the admiring
public and the observant critic. For in his stage costume he, seemingly
taking care to keep well back, was greeting with empressement the chill,
flaxen blond woman there, leaning toward her to catch her valued
remarks, and doing the agreeably surprised with such inimitable grace
that Sybil's pained amazement at the sight wrung from her the question:
"Who is that woman in the box?"

Stivers slid quietly away. Miss Manice, who had been "in front," came
back just then, her mean little face all aglow with satisfaction, and
she it was who answered: "That, my dear? Why, that's the Missus."

Sybil looked almost stupidly at her. Manice laughed. "Don't you
hunderstand low-class Henglish?" she jeered, "or have you really never
heard of her before?"

"Who is the Missus?" slowly asked the girl.

And Manice answered, sharply: "She is Mrs. Stewart Thrall!"

It was Jim Roberts who caught Sybil as she fell, and, as he carried her
past Manice, he whispered: "I'd like to kill you, you viper!"

"Y-e-s?" she sneered, "I suppose your boss is too big game for you to
tackle; but he's the party you ought to kill, if you will insist on
being so melodramatic."

And over in the box Mrs. Thrall, who had seen the fall, remarked,
coolly: "There seems to be a commotion over there. Oh, I wouldn't leave
the box suddenly if I were you; it might not look well, and you are
always so careful of appearances." But Thrall was rushing back to the
stage like a madman.



CHAPTER XXIV

"I WILL NOT DIVORCE YOU"


In the "Stage Notes," or "Stage Whispers," or "Gossip of the Stage," of
the Sunday papers (next morning), there had been mention made of "A
pleasant little surprise at the Globe Theatre, where a lady had so
successfully secluded herself in the shadows of her box that the play
was half over before Mr. Thrall had discovered in her his wife, whom he
supposed to be still in London. Strict disciplinarian as he is, the
manager was so far lost in the husband that he hurried, all costumed as
he was, to the box to greet and warmly welcome her. The audience would
gladly have taken a hand in the greeting, had they been quite sure the
lady was Mrs. Thrall, but as she had arrived too late to make a proper
evening toilette, yet could not deny herself the pleasure of seeing at
once her husband's latest great production, she almost wrapped herself
in the box curtain, thus facing the stage while hiding herself from the
house. When discovered, the returned wanderer laughingly told Mr. Thrall
she hoped that, in common justice, he would place his own name at the
head of that week's 'docked list,' as a heavy forfeit is demanded of
anyone who appears in front of the house after taking any part, no
matter how brief, in the performance, and he was doubly guilty, in that
he was in full costume. He gravely argued there would be no one to
profit by the forfeit, since he was himself manager as well as offending
actor. But she quickly extended an open hand, and cheerfully offered to
receive the forfeit, and even to invest it wisely and cautiously, and
Mr. Thrall retired from both argument and box."

Also, there had been a brief mention of "The swooning of Miss Sybil
Lawton, between acts. The cause given was fatigue, the long run of the
play, and the double performance of Saturday, making a heavy draught
upon the strength of so young a girl."

One paper added that "Miss Lawton herself made light of the matter,
saying, 'Fainting was a mere family trait with the Lawtons, an
inheritance the same as a very long thumb or a peculiar ear,' but though
she laughed, she looked very white, and leaned heavily upon the arm of
her woman companion."

When the play ended that night the call-boy had been sent to tell Mr.
Roberts that "he was wanted at Mr. Thrall's dressing-room, as quickly as
possible," and presently, shabby and shambling, with every nerve
aquiver, and in a most savage temper, he obeyed. Outside the door he
stood respectfully enough, his hat in hand. Inside his manner became a
half-cowed insolence. He put his hat on, and, nervously buttoning and
unbuttoning his coat, said: "Well; you whistled your cur--here I am!
Whom am I to be sic'd at this time?"

The most of Romeo's delicate finery hung about on hooks; the splendor of
his waving, golden-brown locks graced a wooden block standing on the
dressing-shelf; his cloak and cap and sword were piled in a pell-mell
heap; his dainty shoes were most anywhere; while everywhere were
cigarettes--damp, spoiled, but unlighted, because of his own strict rule
against smoking in the dressing-rooms, and the man himself, bending over
the marble basin in that frenzy of soapy lather, without which the male
countenance may not be considered cleansed, answered from its midst:
"I'm not sic'ing you on anyone!"

"That's queer! There was a time when I was often sent for, to discuss an
important 'set,' or listen to some troublesome or involved scene, or was
sent to libraries to root out notes for your information, but Lord!
Lord! that was long ago! The stage-manager is your counsellor now, but I
can still do all those hateful services that pass under the general term
of 'dirty-work.' Whenever a request is to be refused; whenever a
discharge is to be made; whenever a furious woman is to be faced--that a
scene may be prevented at the theatre--I am summoned, and the damned
funny part of it is, I come and accept my orders and carry them out; but
even you can hardly expect me to enjoy the work of getting you out of
every scrape."

"You were not called upon in the Manice matter," Thrall somewhat
sullenly remarked from the folds of a towel.

"N--o!" assented Roberts, regretfully. "I should have enjoyed handing in
her dismissal. But go ahead with your orders! The job must be pretty
tough, judging from the way you hang fire in naming it."

Thrall turned, and his face startled Roberts. It was so pale, so drawn,
so anxious, he seemed to have washed away all its youth and pride and
brightness, along with the grease paint and the rouge, in the basin of
soapy water. He turned his troubled eyes in silent reproach upon the
speaker, who asked, in a more respectful tone: "Well, what is it?"

"It is," said Thrall, turning to the shelf and taking up a brush, which
he began to use hurriedly upon his hair, "it's the child, Jim--the
Princess! She--well, she's had a blow. The moment I'm out of here I'll
run against some of the boys from the papers, then I'll have to see the
Missus home--and stay there. And, Jim, those two women are all alone in
that house, and should the child go to pieces, and need a doctor's
care----"

Jim muttered an oath. "As bad as that?" he asked, fiercely. "Didn't she
know?"

"Oh, I don't know--I don't know anything to-night," groaned Thrall,
"except her need of protection! Jim, can't you go there? Jane Stivers
will let you in, quietly; she'll give you a couch in the parlor to rest
until dawn, and you can carry that old medicine case with you, too, so
that any early rising neighbor may mistake you for a doctor leaving the
house. Then, should any need arise, you would be on hand to serve her,
and I--[he dropped the brush and held his head hard between his hands] I
should be a trifle farther away from the insane asylum! Will you do it?
Say, speak quick! I've got to hurry down to the Missus! Jim, what the
devil brought her back from London so suddenly, though she will tell me
presently herself, I suppose?"

And Jim answered: "Manice brought her back--well, you see if I'm not
right! She's been sending anonymous letters. Y-e-s, I'll follow Stivers,
and stand by till morning. Hand down that medicine-case. But I'm doing
it for her sake, not yours, mind you!"

And then Stewart Thrall, with a pang at his heart, had seen Sybil leave
the theatre on Stivers's arm, while he, with seeming gayety, was
presenting Mrs. Thrall to a little group of friends, among whom were a
couple of ubiquitous newspaper men--hence the "Stage Notes" next day.

Early Sunday morning Stewart had slipped from his room and the house,
and hurrying off in search of Jim Roberts had found him at his
boarding-house, already well on the way to complete inebriation, early
as it was; and so unruly, headstrong, and unmanageable that it was
difficult indeed to learn anything about the passing of the night at
Stivers's house; and what he did wring from him only added to his own
pain.

"For two hours by that cussed watch," said Jim, flinging the scratched
and dented timepiece across the room, "minute by minute, I watched and
listened to her unceasing walk--walk--walk over my head. She had shut
Stivers out! She had acted a five-act tragedy twice that day, she had
had neither dinner nor supper, and there she was walking miles up there
alone--in the night! And then we heard speaking, and Jane and I listened
on the stairs, and she was saying, over and over--oh, how I wish you had
died last summer, Thrall, you with your infernal soft eyes and girl
lashes and stony, hard heart! Friendship?--nothing! How can there be
friendship without mutual respect and esteem and good will? You've a lot
of esteem for me, haven't you? Well, I've less for you! Why should I
tell you what she said or did? Oh, the _past_! You let that past alone,
do you hear? Poor child, saying over and over, 'Too early seen unknown
and known too late! known too late! _known too late!_' Oh, you're going,
are you? Well, I was starting for a doctor when that cat Stivers played
her last card. She said: 'Miss Sybil, dear, you _must_ take a little
nourishment, or I shall send this telegram I've written to your mamma,
Mrs. Lawton, and she will be here by ten in the morning. I can't have
you fainting from exhaustion, and me getting the blame;' and at that the
door opened quickly, and the cup of beef-tea was accepted. Stivers even
got the chance to brush her hair a bit, but not one word did she speak
of any trouble or worry, other than that she 'was suffering from an
attack of the nerves.' Poor, plucky little soul! She'd never give anyone
away! Well, go! I'm devilish glad to see your back, for your face puts
murder in my heart!"

And as Thrall left Jim, who was dragging a full flask from his pocket,
he muttered to himself: "God! I begin to understand what makes drunkards
of some men! Oh, my beloved! my beloved! If I could only go to
you--claim you before all the world--do you public reverence! Perhaps--I
wonder if Lettice would accept her freedom, we are such utter strangers
to each other--perhaps----"

He hastened back home, and was surprised to find that Mrs. Thrall had
already breakfasted in her own room. He would have been more surprised
had he known that her quick ears had heard and her pale eyes had watched
his early departure, and that the suspicion it had aroused in her mind
would add much to the difficulties of the interview he sought. For what
he had to face, he faced without hesitation or delay.

Stewart Thrall's knowledge of feminine character was considerable, yet
it was neither deep nor thorough--it was superficial. He understood the
tastes, the fancies, the caprices of women; he was a past-master in
delicate flattery; he was quick to recognize the almost unconscious pose
of a pretty woman. Was she literary, he was earnest and intellectual and
quoted her favorite poet; was she artistic, he straightway saw in her
the potential painter, only handicapped by circumstance; while, if she
were simply coquettish, he was indeed upon solid ground. Women loved to
be appreciated; he not only accepted them at their own valuation, but
added something to the appraisement. What wonder, then, that he thought
of them as conceited, vain, full of pride, without merit? But even what
knowledge he had was to-day useless and unavailing, for there was
probably no woman in the world so hopelessly incomprehensible to him as
this chill, ashen-blonde creature, whom he had called his wife these
twelve years past, though she remained abroad so long at a time for her
health (which was perfect) that other people almost forgot he was a
Benedick. Save in the theatre one never heard her mentioned. Long ago, a
low-class English servant had habitually referred to her as the
"Missus," and with gleeful unanimity the actors adopted the title, and
thus Sybil remained all ignorant that behind the screening nickname of
the "Missus" stood a secure and dominant Mrs. Stewart Thrall.

The pair, who had been talking long, were sitting facing each other. The
table between them had a dish of half-dead ferns in a handsome
receptacle. Though meant for ornament, they were sadder even than the
paper-dry, stick-dead contents of the window jardinière, for they at
least no longer struggled, no longer suffered for loving care. Stewart
had remarked apropos of their condition: "You see they have felt your
absence, Lettice?"

And she had given the little downward pull to the corners of her mouth
that always made him wince, and answered: "But _you_ were never looking
better or younger in your life than"--(she glanced at his thin, pale,
anxious face, and significantly finished)--"than you were yesterday."

There was a litter, too, of Sunday papers, a Tauchnitz novel, and
writing materials keeping the dead ferns company, and now, in the pause
that was lengthening out between them, he carefully piled up the pencils
and penholders, building and unbuilding pens, some square, some
three-cornered, while all the time the ash-blonde woman opposite sat
steady, self-contained; and, though her satirical lightness of manner
was changing fast into a sullen anger that settled heavily about her
lips and clouded her brow, her hands yet rested quietly in her lap,
while her cold eyes watched the man she wondered at not a little--for
he was changed. Heretofore, innuendoes had ever had power to drive him
to hot rage, to-day his tolerance might have passed for indifference,
but for the quick trembling of those ever-building fingers.

She told him of the anonymous letters that had convinced her that he was
making a fool of himself, publicly enough, to endanger her dignity as a
wife, and so----

"And so," he interrupted, "you broke faith with me on the strength of an
anonymous lie? You have returned, not to find the scandal in existence,
but to learn that your presence here makes life much harder for us both.
You must feel proud to know that a creature like Manice has used you so
easily!"

"Almost as proud as you must be to recall certain love passages between
you," retorted Lettice.

"Pardon me, one cannot 'recall' what has never existed. I have even yet
a little respect for the word and the sentiment of love, and would never
think of casting such pearls into the Manice trough!"

"You are so remarkably frank about this malicious young person, perhaps
you will be equally so about this rare conservatory blossom--this quite
wonderful Juliet, this new 'chère amie'? Oh, you can't deny--save to the
blind--your infatuation for her! Admitting that you have had so far an
eye to appearances, that no open scandal is yet afoot, it is still plain
to all that you love her! Silence? That's odd--from you! Does she
understand how she is honored? Have you acquainted her with the number
she should wear upon her breast? Don't break that holder! What
creatures men are! Deception, ingratitude, and treachery were your very
wedding-gifts to me. Disloyalty has long become a habit with you."

"Lettice, did it ever occur to you that a wife's unjust suspicions may
help a man on to disloyalty? You no sooner took my name than you became
a personified suspicion. You claimed dominion over my very thoughts. My
every movement seemed to arouse your mistrust. You put spies upon me,
when I had not even a thought of disloyalty. I discovered it, and,
though I am ashamed now of the boyish folly, it's none the less true
that I first broke my solemn vow to you out of revenge for your unjust
suspicion. Then you helped me with your money and with your astonishing
ability to twist and turn everything to our advantage and profit; and
let me say that your audacious plans were not always quite scrupulous,
Lettice! But when I found that that troubled you not a bit, I somehow
felt that my disloyalty was not worth troubling about either. I was
truly grateful for your help, but you wanted me on my knees, and you
rubbed the service in so hard that it became unendurable, and I was in
torment until I paid you the money back, with interest. But still you
feel that I owe you a debt of gratitude, because, finding me an artist,
full of dreams and willing to wait for their fulfilment, you have made
of me a showman instead--a successful one at that. And now we have
become such strangers that we place the ocean between us, for the
comfort of its vast breadth dividing us. Lettice, we can't be less to
each other than we are, and yet you reproach me with my infidelities. I
can't understand why. I can't even understand why you married me. If you
had ever loved me"--(he was busy with the pencils, he never saw the
slowly rising blood creeping up even to the roots of her hair)--"but you
never did, even at the first. I suppose you could not resist that
craving you had to show what you could do with me, how you could push
me. Lettice, don't you want to accept half of my earnings, and--and take
your freedom--your legal freedom, I mean--without any blame being
attached to you? Lettice, cast back my name, you can't care for it
longer. See, I humble myself to entreat your favor in this matter!
Accept your freedom--become once more Lettice Rowland!"

And, as the urgent voice ceased, Lettice asked, coldly: "Why?" and then
had followed the silence.

And the man with the restless fingers saw all the time the dark,
stricken face of the girl he loved, and seemed to hear the rapid, uneven
footfalls of the young creature pursued by bitter memories through the
heavy hours of the night, and the perspiration stood upon his forehead.

The pale eyes opposite that watched saw he suffered, and bitterness grew
evenly with the wonder that filled her heart. She was a tenacious woman,
one who would even hold fast a thing which she no longer valued, simply
because it belonged to her. She was clever and shrewd, and she was
making some astonishingly correct deductions from Thrall's looks and
manner as well as his words. Hitherto his amours had been lightly
formed and lightly broken, and she had been conscious at times of a sort
of contemptuous pity for the women whose reign she knew would be so
brief--but this was different. She had known last night--she told
herself, she had seen, she had heard the new tenderness in his glance
and tone. She saw in Sybil a new type of rival, a creature of
intelligence as well as of beauty; and then and there had lighted even
the dull anger that was burning in her now. She looked at his goodly
length of limb, at his well-shaped, closely cropped head, at the black
sweep of lashes she knew he hated. A sudden quiver came about her pale
lips as she recalled how, in their early married days, she had often
called his attention to something on the floor just for the pleasure of
seeing their silky length sweep downward. He had never known, or he
would probably have repeated the deed of his boyhood, when in a rage he
had cut them off close to the lids and had been shut up under the
doctor's care in consequence. And now he wanted her to give him up.

"Why?" She had not known that she had spoken the word until his start
told her. Then he said, slowly:

"You would be happier, I think, Lettice" (he smiled faintly). "You would
not be distressed, then, by my bad conduct, you know."

"Your consideration for my feelings is as touching as it is novel, but
it is not a convincing reason for the putting away of a wife."

"A wife?" repeated Thrall, as he raised his eyes and looked steadily,
meaningly, at her. "I think the precise and unemotional dictionary
itself will describe wife as a 'woman united to a man by marriage.' Are
we united, Lettice? It is nearly three years since our tenderly
emotional public parting at the steamer, but our real parting dates much
farther back."

She interrupted, to say, sharply: "Well, no one knows of that, and I'm
sure my presence in London was of great service to you. At least two
important plays would have escaped you, but for me and my clever
planning."

"Yes," he answered, a little weariedly. "But I was not speaking of our
relations as manager and agent--they are quite satisfactory; but I was
about to state that while I am not an unmarried man--I am wifeless."

"Ah!" she ejaculated; "that never troubled you before!"

He paid no heed, but went on, steadily: "The law cannot put us one inch
farther asunder than we are now, but it can free us from this hypocrisy
and pretence, and restore us our dignity and independence and freedom."

"My friend," came in the well-modulated voice that was the sole charm of
the woman opposite, "do you then take me for a fool? It required two to
make our bargain, it will require two to break it. I am Mrs. Stewart
Thrall as surely to-day as I have ever been. You have broken your vows;
but I have kept mine, at least [in answer to an accusing look] I have
not broken them--I have been loyal."

"Why?" dryly put in Thrall.

A little of color came into her face as she answered: "From
self-respect, sir! I have pushed your interests, I have seen you rise,
and I mean to stand by your side and share your honors! You are mine!
You can't divorce me, and I won't divorce you, without more reason than
this new whim of yours for a swarthy, black-browed girl with a red mouth
that you will tire of in six months' time, and who, in spite of her good
breeding, which is evident enough, may give you sufficient trouble for
you to be glad to have this marriage service to hide behind!"

"_Lettice!_" cried Thrall, springing to his feet, "so help me God, you
tempt me to strangle you! Oh, but see here! You are hard as nails in
seeming, but how can I tell what is in your heart? Perhaps it is big and
generous and warm enough to pity the innocent victim of your husband's
lust; yes, and there you have a reason strong enough for a divorce."

Perhaps she might, in sheer swift contempt, have cast him his freedom
had he not blundered, as men will in their dealings with women; and, in
a sudden passionate burst of love and pity and remorse for the girl not
yet twenty years old, whose life and honor were resting in their hands,
"prayed her to be generous and great in magnanimity; to leave him free
to right the horrible wrong he had done, and in return to accept his
lifelong service, his reverent friendship!" His eyes were misty, his
voice was trembling, his very soul was at his lips.

She rose, and, looking coldly into his pleading face, she said: "I am
Mrs. Stewart Thrall. I will not be cast aside!"

Patiently he answered: "I ask you to put _me_ away!"

Steadily she resumed: "I will not act against the law. Collusion is
illegal!"

He picked up a book, and bent it back and forth unconsciously.

"You are my husband!"

"That is false!" he said, sharply.

"In the eyes of the law," she went on, unheedingly, "if I choose to
condone your offences, that is sufficient. Your light o' love is naught
to me. _I_ have been a faithful wife!" Thrall laughed aloud.

"Hereafter I shall live here at your side. I will not divorce you, and
so give you to another. I shall remain Mrs. Stewart Thrall, while I live
and while I die. I am a good woman, and therefore you cannot be divorced
by any law on earth!"

Glancing down at the book, Thrall saw it was Milton's "Paradise Lost,"
and, flinging it on the table, he cried: "I wonder why Milton didn't
make a virtuous woman the keeper of the gate of hell!"

As he left the room he added: "Lettice, against your hard, repellent
virtue a generous sinner shines like an angel!" And he went forth to the
bitterest hour of his life--his next meeting with Sybil Lawton.



CHAPTER XXV

"TO LOVE IS TO FORGIVE"


The troubles of the young are tragic in their intensity, and during that
night of despair Sybil had suffered keenly, cruelly, hopelessly. It
seemed to her that she had fallen into an abyss from which rescue was
impossible. For the first time she realized that in the recklessly
generous giving of her love there had been destroyed something more
precious even than the "alabaster box" so recklessly shattered,
centuries ago, by a loving woman in the eager doing of a more sacred
homage.

The bitterness of her fall revealed to her how great her pride had been,
and at first a furious resentment filled her heart against the man who
in love's name had so humbled her. Looking back through the golden light
of that time of perfect joy, she tried to see what path had led her to
the precipice, to understand why she had not resisted and held back.
Then slowly, very slowly, it dawned on her that _opportunity_ had been
the lure that gently led her into a laxity that almost imperceptibly
through remissness became latitude. Her daily carefully guarded
companionship with Stewart Thrall at Mrs. Van Camp's home had placed her
upon a friendly footing of perfect confidence, and he was so great he
must, she thought, be good; and so she had scarcely noticed when at
Stivers's house he first read her her Tennyson, sitting at her feet,
leaning against her knee, and had paid no heed to the increasing
frequency of those afternoon demands for Stivers's presence at the
theatre wardrobe-room; and when she played for him upon the little
upright piano, standing across the corner of the room, it had not
startled her, when he was turning her music, to feel him drop a kiss
into her wavy, up-gathered hair. Experience and opportunity as against
inexperience and foolish trust!

Again the words of Juliet came to her lips: "Known too late! known too
late!" And Juliet thought herself unhappy--unhappy, when she was not
shamed, when she was loved!

"Oh!" she wrung her hands hard, "he seemed--he truly seemed to love me!
His beautiful eyes glowed so! His lips had a smile that seemed for me
alone! But then, dear God! I forget now, as I forgot then, he is an
actor!" She laughed contemptuously. "A great actor! and I have helped to
pass away those weary hours, when he was bereft of the gayety of the
joyous Mrs. Thrall!"

For women know one another well, and, as Sybil had passed on Stivers's
arm that night, Mrs. Thrall had sent a merry laugh forth, apropos of
nothing spoken, but simply to pierce the lonely girl's heart with
jealous pain--and she had succeeded perfectly.

The long, sleepless night of agony and shame had left its mark on the
girl, young and strong as she was. Her room, made bower-like with ferns
and palms and many scarlet poinsettias (Thrall taboo'd all perfumed,
growing plants there) seemed to accentuate the languor and the weariness
of its girlish occupant. Wrapped in a Japanese kimona, white and gold
outside and peachy pink within, with wavy, densely dark hair tucked up
carelessly with a big shell comb, the bluish shadows beneath her heavy
eyes, the level brows drawn close, and the sullen, red mouth all
unsmiling, she looked a very tragic young figure and pitiful withal, to
the haggard gaze of Stewart Thrall, the man who loved her and had
wronged her.

He stood before her, very erect, very pale. His dark-blue eyes,
guiltless of amorous droop, wide and bright, had in them a strained
intensity of regard that was painful. Raw soldiers, under waiting
orders, though yet in sight of action, wear just that expression of
strained vision--of desperate self-control. At first sight of him Sybil
had felt her tired heart give a glad upward spring in her breast, and
her impulse was to fly into his arms for shelter, and there to weep, and
weep, and weep--while he, in fond, foolish fashion, kissed and beat her
slim hand softly against his cheek--just as might the mother of a little
wailing child. But suddenly she seemed to see beside him the pale,
ashen-blonde woman, who, from the shadowy box, had so tormented her, and
who later stood beneath the blazing lights, and, holding fast the arm of
this man--her husband--had sent forth that mocking, triumphant laugh,
that, like a hate-sped arrow, had fairly reached its victim's heart,
where it would rankle for many a day to come! And she checked the
impulse, and asked, instead, "What brings you here?"

"Sybil! Sybil!" the man pleaded.

She looked at him with gloomy eyes, and said, slowly: "My father is an
old man, esteemed weak even by his family; yet, being one of those
old-fashioned absurdities--a gentleman--he values the honor of his
daughters so highly that if he knew the truth he would surely kill you,
Mr. Thrall!"

"And he would be within his rights," gravely assented Stewart.

"But," continued the girl, in coldly contemptuous tones, "after all, we
are not properly located, geographically, for such a deed. I lack, too,
the instinctive love of carnage that makes the shedding of an enemy's
blood necessary to the girl of the tropics, when the wrecking of her
honor has been the amusement of some married man!"

Thrall stood as if he had received the cut of a whip, but said
nothing--not one word.

"Why are you here?" she broke out then more hotly. "Your coming is an
insult to me! Perhaps, pitying my loneliness and now having made me a
fit companion for the Manice, you may be about to remove the embargo
formerly placed upon my association with her!"

He turned pained eyes upon her and said, faintly: "Child, you strike
hard and deep, but don't turn the knife!"

"Oh!" she cried, "so highly placed, so powerful, so flattered and so
sought, why could you not pass _me_ by? Why need you stoop to break so
poor and lowly a thing? You were cowardly! you were cruel! No wonder you
are silent--had you no truth, no honor, no love?"

He answered, still very low: "Of truth and honor, very little, but
love?" he looked at her with devouring eyes, "dear God, _love_?"

And she repeated bitterly, jeeringly: "Love? You, a married man?"

He smiled a little and answered, gently: "Love comes as it wills,
and--and--" There he stopped, for he saw by the horror in her eyes that
for the first time she saw in their relations simply sin, bereft of all
sophistry, and he was dumb--he, the clever, the brilliant, usually so
full of subtlety and finesse, who in a like situation in the past would
have laughingly denounced the folly of blushing for an undiscovered sin,
or have gayly taught his fair companion in guilt that eleventh
commandment, so dear to the worldly man and the light woman: "Be ye not
found out, for of such is the kingdom of the Successful." He stood with
all the artifices stricken from him, incapable of specious argument, of
trick or wile of any kind. Erstwhile, where money had had power to
tempt, he had seen that money had power to comfort, too--but not here!
not here! Where grief and passionate reproach looked from eyes that
yesterday had shone all radiant with love--her glory then--her shame
to-day! And all there was of manhood in him was roused to vehement
longing to honor publicly the creature whom he had secretly dishonored.

"Oh!" she moaned, helplessly, "what shall I do with my life! I am
ashamed to look back--I am afraid to look forward! They said there was
no sex in art! And when you showed such patience with me and my
ignorance, I almost worshipped you, and hoped art might make me as
generous in time! But it was your approval I toiled for! It was your
acting that I strove to emulate! Perhaps you thought I was not grateful;
but, oh, I was! I was! And I used to think if I ever wore the dramatic
crown I yearned for, I'd proudly tell to all the world whose hand had
placed it in my reach! Perhaps if you had known how humbly grateful I
was, you would not have made me pay this awful price!"

The man's jaws clenched so tightly that their outlines showed white on
his cheeks.

"As a conquest, Mr. Thrall, I am scarcely worthy of your skill, and yet
my being a 'society débutante' may add a slight fillip of novelty to the
old, old story of ruined girlhood--such trifles help, no doubt, to keep
up an actor's popularity!"

"You are very cruel!" he groaned.

"_I?_" she cried, accusingly, "_I_ am cruel?"

"Yes; it is cruel to take pleasure in another's pain, but--" He closed
his eyes an instant, and then went on very patiently. "I may not ask you
for mercy. Being guilty, it is right I _should_ suffer!"

"Suffer?" she repeated, unbelievingly. "You? Why should you suffer,
pray? You have hung a millstone about _my_ neck for life! But you go
lightly enough along the conqueror's path! _You_ suffer--from what? You
have done nothing to unfit you for your world! You will be feasted and
banqueted as usual; you are quite secure with your fashionable clientèle
of women, who will applaud you rapturously, while looking upon me as
forever defiled!" Then, rather wildly, she added: "You said the crown
you promised me was pasteboard, but you did not tell me it was wreathed
inside with thorns! Oh, why have you betrayed my adoring faith in you!
What have I ever done to harm you? Why--why in God's great name--why
have you so deceived me?"

Slowly he answered: "I thought you----"

"Do not dare!" gasped Sybil, "do not dare add a last infamous insult to
cruel injury by telling me you thought I knew you were married!"

"At first," he persisted, "I supposed you knew; then when I found you
did not, I--I--was in the grasp of a merciless passion. Dear, I _could_
not speak! I _could not_, I tell you! Sybil! beloved! I would step
between you and death without the flicker of an eyelash! I would give my
life's blood for you as freely as a cup of water! Yet, I--who would
gladly defend you from a world, was not strong enough to defend you from
myself--from the love that possessed me utterly--at whose fire I relit
ambition--romance--the desire for high achievement! You believe me
guilty of a mere base passion; you are wrong! Doubtless there are men in
the world who, loving even as I loved you, could have held their
feelings well in leash, sealed their lips for honor's sake, but that
power would come from long training and much practice in
self-denial--not from one sporadic effort of self-control! And I, oh,
child, flattered by the world--vain, egotistical, and spoiled--when had
I acquired strength through patient endurance or through temptations
resisted? I was incapable of self-abnegation; I, who had denied myself
nothing all my life long, could not begin by denying my desperate love
the possession that it longed for! For men are like that, dear, in spite
of your contemptuous unbelief. Be they good or be they bad, be they ever
so reverently true, their senses will demand possession of the beloved.
And I was so desolate--so lonely! There was not even friendship within
the whited sepulchre of my domestic life."

The girl shrank. "Don't!" she cried, "don't add to cruelty and
cowardice--treachery to her! She is very cruel, but then a good wife who
suspects a wrong to her love has a right to be cruel!"

"Oh, you innocent, just soul!" the man cried. "Yes, she is cruel in very
deed, since being a wife in name alone these years past she yet clings
tenaciously to that empty title. She has not enough womanly pride to
free the man who earnestly pleads to be released, whose chill
indifference protects her from temptation. She is technically a loyal
wife, but practically a foe--a sort of satiric keeper of the records of
my life. 'A wrong to her love,' you said. You generous child, she does
not know what love means, but she does know her legal rights; and to my
agony will maintain them to the last, since the shibboleth of her life
is: 'What will the world say?' Yes, she is very cruel!"

Sybil shivered as she recalled the contemptuous slow smile, the
unrelenting, inquisitorial, pale eyes, but answered: "I suppose I should
be cruel, too, if I were a wronged wife." She stopped; the blood rushed
in a scarlet tide over all her shamed, pained face. "A wife?"--she gave
a gasp and put her hand to her throat as if to remove some stricture
there. "I may never be a wife! Marriage is honorable! Dorothy may wed,
but I--" And then an agonized cry rang through the house: "Dorothy! oh,
Dorothy! Little sister! I have lost you! I shall not dare to look into
your honest eyes, lest you should see the sin in mine! I may not kiss
your lips or touch your cheek, nor ever again pillow your dear head upon
my arm the long night through because of the pollution on my life that
makes me base, unworthy, and unfit associate for innocence like yours!"

"Be silent!" savagely interrupted Thrall, with death-white face.

"I have fallen to a level with the creatures you pity in the street,
little sister! I am defiled forever!" And she fell prone upon the couch
in an agony of tears.

Thrall sprang at her like a tiger; he dragged her to a sitting position
among the tumbled cushions, and, grasping her shoulders, he rocked her
back and forth in savage rage, crying: "How dare you? how dare you, I
say? You have been pleased to call me coward many times to-day, but you
have the bitter right to say what you will to me, and I must bear it
patiently because I merit more even than you say; but I am not coward
enough to stand by and hear you blaspheme against yourself! I, by every
wile at my command, by the compelling charm and strength of a great
love, and by your ignorance of human nature, have led you into a breach
of the law! Well, the fault is mine--God knows that! You vile? you
defiled? how dare you? You are as pure in heart as any earthly creature
can be! Your sense of honor, your respect for duty, your high ideals
have made deception and falsehood hateful to me! Your quick sympathy for
those who suffer has made me more considerate of the feelings of those
about me! What have you done--what have you to blush for? You have been
guilty of a generosity that brings me to my knees in adoration! All
glorious as the morning, without suspicion, without fear, having given
your great heart, with royal prodigality you gave yourself! You obeyed
the instinct nature placed in you, in loving so! How dare you, then,
compare yourself to those unfortunates who sell their forced and painted
smiles? How dare you--you, pure-hearted, proud, gifted, clean-minded?
Have I been rough to you? Forgive me, sweet, but you nearly drove me
mad, and--and I suffer, Sybil!"

He sank at her feet, and laid his brow against her knees.

She trembled, but did not speak.

"Beloved," he went on, "I only live through you! My soul is yours! I
worship--I adore you! Let me serve you! I dare not say forgive, but try
to forget this private pain in public triumph. You have great gifts;
don't neglect them. You are a fashion now--if I live you shall have
fame. You shall not be hippodromed, as I was, into the success that
stifles faith in the purity of art, the prosperity that swallows up
energy and sincerity."

She sat as in a trance, her heart thrilling to the music of a voice that
even the public found irresistible. Half her torture had been in the
belief that she had become contemptible in his eyes--that she had been a
mere "pour passer le temps"; therefore, this homage had something of
comfort in its respectful wording as he went on: "I have experience,
knowledge, skill; let me use them for your advancement. You shall be
left free to study, to realize your beautiful ideals, unhampered by
commercial questions of any kind. I will do my best, my very best, to
warn you away from pitfalls of mannerisms; to polish and refine without
producing artificiality. The service of my whole life shall be
yours--the sole object of my life, the secure placing of the dramatic
crown upon your head; and in return I ask [he held out empty, trembling
hands] such scraps of affection as may fall from your table of family
love--such crumbs of your time as you can spare to me!"

And that humble pleading came from Stewart Thrall, to whom love had been
before such a tumultuous, triumphant distraction and amusement!

The girl flushed and paled, but kept her sombre eyes averted from the
face, where rage had changed to tender pity and passionate pleading.

"Sybil?" he almost whispered.

Still she was silent. It was very hard what she had in mind to say. This
winning, gracious man had been the hero of all her girlish dreams, as
well as the honored "master," who was arbiter of her fate, and only now
she realized how he had absorbed her life--how hard it was to give him
up, all in a moment. Poor child! this second peril was almost greater
than the first; but, worn and weary, she was incapable of reasoning, of
seeking out motives then.

"Sybil?" came again the dear, tempting voice, "if I begged for bread,
you would not treat me so! Beloved, answer me!" Kneeling there he
reached out his arms and clasped her waist. "Answer me, at least!"

She sprang to her feet, and as she put her hands behind her, striving to
break his strong clasp, she answered confusedly, brokenly:
"I--I--can't--I must go--go quite away! You must know that! I--I--can't
play--ever--any more!"

Very compassionately he reminded her: "You must have learned before
this, Princess, the inexorable claim of the stage. Nothing but death
releases an actor from duty."

"Well," she answered, bitterly, "that Sybil Lawton _is_ dead!"

His face contracted painfully, but he answered steadily: "The world does
not know that. It would be fatal to us all to close. I am sorry, but
the play must go on, beloved."

Like lightning she recalled the warm hand pressures, the whispered sweet
"asides," the passionate love-scene, and that long embrace in the
chamber balcony, and cried out sharply: "With _you_? with _you_? I must
act again with _you_?"

His arms fell from her waist; his face was hard and white as marble as
he rose to his feet. His voice was icy, but during his next courteous,
chill words he kept his eyes downcast that the tears might not bear
witness to his pain.

"I forgot," he said, "that you were not experienced enough to sink the
man in the artist, and--and you must pardon my dulness, but--I did not
fully appreciate the--[he moistened his unwilling, stammering lips] the
loathing you feel for me personally. I have proved very slow-witted, but
I am not a pachyderm, and my intelligence can be reached, you see, by
sharp, stinging pain. Your method is severe, Miss Lawton, but eminently
successful. I am not likely to forget the lesson now that I have learned
it."

Sybil's dark eyes dilated with pain. Her need of sympathy was so great
that those icy tones turned her faint with misery.

"It was hard enough before," she murmured, and a piteous quiver came
about her lips.

He had been mortified, humbled, and wounded when she shrank so from
acting with him again. He thought it signified bitter hate,
unconquerable aversion; and, instead, it had been an expression of
terror, a confession of a weakness which she only began to realize when
she found how hard if was not to yield at once to his pleading. There
was something so pathetic, so unconsciously pleading in those words, "It
was hard enough before," that he asked pardon, and went gravely on: "It
is my duty to obey your wishes so far as my power goes. I cannot take
off the play; you will understand yourself when you have time for
thought, but being a gentleman, at least superficially [he corrected
himself with a flush rising to his face], I will not publicly force my
companionship upon you as Romeo, to your private annoyance [his voice
shook a little in spite of himself, and he paused a moment]. I will put
things in motion at once--looking to your relief."

Sybil sank into the corner of the couch, and, folding her arms upon a
pillow, buried her face in the loose sleeve of her kimona.

"My throat," he went on, "can be in bad shape, and a drop of atropia now
and then will keep me hoarse enough for our purpose--just at first.
Young Fitzallen [Sybil's hand clenched suddenly], who is quite up in the
lines, will take my place 'at short notice to oblige,' and--and, well,
after a while we will find some excuse for continuing him in the part.
'Sufficient unto the day,' I have to scurry a bit about the printing and
the finding of the young man. He will have to wear some of my costumes;
you won't mind that, I hope--Monday night is so very close. He will come
over here about ten or half-past in the morning to rehearse with you,
and you must be very exacting about the 'business.' See that nothing is
forgotten; the public is quick to miss anything it has become accustomed
to. The balcony scene [the girl's figure seemed to writhe among the
cushions] is--very--important--and--" He stopped, and then quite
suddenly he turned toward the door, saying: "I'll do my best to save you
from the degradation you dread. I'll send your new Romeo to you early."

Like pictures on a scroll, she saw all the tender love-scenes, growing
one out from another, ever sweeter, stronger, more intense, and at the
balcony of Juliet's chamber, at the farewell embrace--that the applause
made long--she thought "another's arms about me, another's eyes
searching mine," and so, shuddering, repulsion seized upon her and wrung
from her lips the cry: "No! no! don't! Oh, don't! I could not bear it--I
should die!"

She was standing, one bent knee among the cushions, leaning forward on
one supporting arm. He turned. "Sybil--do you mean--you will have mercy
on me--that you will try for art's sake to forget the man in the actor?
Oh, beloved, if you could believe! To my arid life you brought freshness
and strength and reverence--yes, in spite of my sin against you, oh,
wife of my soul! Pity me! my sin is very hard to bear!"

Suddenly she stretched out her arms to him. With wide, almost
unbelieving eyes he sank on his knees before her, asking, faintly: "You
pity me? But, oh, you cannot forgive?"

She took his head between her hands and kissed his brow, saying: "To
love is to forgive!"

He gave a cry and started to his feet. A deadly paleness came upon her
face.

"I am not strong enough," she said, "for martyrdom--alas! I am no child
of light! But where I love--be it strength or be it weakness--I love
forever!"

His arms closed about her, her weary head sank upon his breast. He
stooped and kissed her tenderly, solemnly. She lifted her heavy eyes and
added "My fidelity shall be my purification!"



CHAPTER XXVI

THE OPAL


Three years had passed, and Sybil, now the reigning queen of the New
York stage, still lived in the quiet little red brick house among the
West Thirtieths, to the great indignation of Mrs. Lawton. Inside there
was a frank luxury clearly explained to love-sealed eyes by that one
elastic word "salary"; though an observant outsider, noting the
age-darkened, carved wood, the rare polar-bear robes, and the exquisite
bits of bronze, must have thought her a marvellously lucky buyer, or a
remarkably well-paid actress. But there were no such observers at hand;
perhaps that was why Sybil's vine-dripping, flower-crowded windows
seemed to laugh in the face of the grim, shade-drawn propriety of the
entire block.

At the rear of the red brick house was a small cooper or carpenter shop
that faced on the other street. It had long been unoccupied, so that
when Stivers took a notion to hire it for a store-room and sort of
laundry, she got it cheap; and after the neighbors had once or twice
seen her going in and out, and hanging a few pieces of linen to dry,
there was no further heed paid to the matter. But if one was very
intimate with Mrs. Stivers, and received from her a shop key, why, one
could both enter and leave the house from the back street without
bothering with the front door bell.

Sybil had "overflowed," as Dorothy said, and had swept away Stivers's
too dreadful parlor, and in its stead there was now a library and
sitting-room combined--a nook glorious in winter because of an open fire
and in summer made dim and cool by many clambering vines, and sweet by
boxes of mignonette crowding the small balcony, a room full of the
scattered riches of rare books, of carved ivories, of miniatures, of
bubbles of Venetian glass, beautiful as jewels and almost as precious, a
room for study, for dreams, for love, and sometimes a room for bitter
brooding and regret.

Visitors to this house were a rare occurrence, but Sybil had just been
speeding the parting guest in the person of her mother, who was "to pick
up" John at Forty-second Street, and thus receive protection on the
homeward ride to Riverdale; for "positively in these days," she
declared, "unless you're perfectly white and doubled together with age,
men ogle you as if you were twenty. There was a dreadful little
pot-bellied, Hebraic person--that sounds queer, doesn't it, but it's an
absolutely correct expression and perfectly descriptive of the man's
shape--and I declare to you he kept his eyes on my face until I felt
quite agitated, and everyone in the car must have noticed his conduct.
Yet John Lawton was so unfeeling as to tell me that if I stopped looking
at the man, I wouldn't know that he was staring. Not know it, indeed!
Why, I could feel anyone ogling me through the back of my neck! Still,
after such an experience, I hope I shall not miss John!"

Mrs. Lawton had devoted one of her three days to her old friend, Mrs.
Van Camp, and to shopping, and two days to Sybil. She had arrived in
state, and after a supercilious glance at her, had addressed the owner
and mistress of the house as "Stivers"--though Sybil was most
punctilious in calling her Mrs. Stivers. She had so traduced the coffee
(which was perfect) by asking "if the blackness was not the result of
licorice," that, though Jane Penny had maintained a strictly respectful
attitude, murder had shown so plainly in her eye that Letitia had not
dared to take the second cup she longed for, for fear of poison. And
when she was alone with her daughter she remarked: "She's a cat, that
Stivers! Clean and neat, like any other cat, and purry! Oh, yes, she can
purr about _you_, but she's crafty, cunning, shrewd! You keep your desk
locked, my dear! She's too soft-footed for my taste; she's got an eye
for a key-hole, too!"

While Jane said to herself: "There's a vain old cockatoo--overbearing,
hectoring, using her high and mighty birth as an excuse for wiping her
shoes on us as is beneath her. I guess I could add a chapter to her
family history that would take the wind out of her sails pretty quick!
But my bank book's more important to me than her nasty slurs! 'Stivers,'
indeed! It's a wonder it wasn't 'Penny.' The young ladies don't find it
beneath them to call me Mrs. Of course in this one it might be policy,
but the other one does it, too. It's plain enough to me the daughters
get their decent manners from the father. A nice old man that, a
gentleman clear through and always welcome here, even by Mr. Thrall;
though for appearance sake he does then have to come hat and stick in
hand and make a proper fifteen-minute or half-hour call and go. Poor,
pale old gentleman; he's an idolator, if ever there was one, just bowing
down to and worshipping those girls of his'n. If he knew the secret of
that little locked closet upstairs, if he knew of the dinner-jacket, the
lounging robe hanging there, he'd die without a word right as he stood.
Poor old gentleman! But, Lord! how our boss does hate that old cockatoo!
and how she does ko-tow to him and bridle and smirk! Not but what she
looks well enough at the supper-table, for with all her rouge she can
carry her clothes well. I think Mr. Thrall dislikes her for one thing,
because of the likeness he sees in her to Miss Sybil. I overheard her
saying in fun to him: 'I shall be just like mamma when I am as old,' and
he said: 'Then for God's sake die in your youth!' and, though she tried
hard to look angry, she had to laugh, and he looked ashamed of himself,
and asked pardon.

"It does beat all, how long this affair lasts. Talk about worshipping
the ground she walks on; I believe he's jealous of the air she breathes.
Well, my nest is getting a good warm lining, for they are both generous,
and she's easy to serve besides, which is more than I can say of the
Missus, who is always prowling about the wardrobe room, ready to make a
fuss about a quarter of a yard of gold or silver lace, or an inch or
two of linen-backed velvet, and weighing the camphor-gum to see if it
agrees with the amount mentioned in the bill. These splendid Shaksperian
productions deprive her of the delight of dickering with authors for new
plays, and so she drives Barney wild by her visits to the box-office,
and keeps tab on me in the wardrobe, hoping to prevent the escape of a
nickel through someone's hands. That woman's heart--if she has
one--bears the dollar-mark, I'll wager!"

In the library, Sybil, being alone, dropped down on an old French
tabouret, and with chin in hand fell into a reverie. Her other hand drew
from her bosom the little diamond heart, whose centre was a registered
ruby, flawless and exquisite. It had been Stewart's first gift to her
after she had forgiven him, and he had said, very earnestly: "The real
value of this jewel is in a word engraved back of that ruby. No,
beloved! you cannot open and read without a jeweler's help, but if the
locket will not open for you, why, when you have to remove it in your
dressing-room, it will not open for another and betray our secret. No, I
will not tell the precious word--only wear it always. If the ornament is
not suitable to your gown or the occasion, then wear it inside and out
of sight--but wear it, beloved, for my sake!"

And now she wondered still what was the word that to him made the value
of this rare gift? Was it _love_? Was it _forgiveness_? Was it
_beloved_? She sighed a little. The house was rather lonely since her
father and mother had departed. They had come down to see her new great
triumph as Beatrice in "Much Ado about Nothing."

Her improvement was wonderful, and Thrall had thrilled with pride when
he had heard it commented upon. For Beatrice is a test part that
combines comedy the lightest, airiest, and most polished, with both
pathos and passion. All actors know that more technical knowledge is
required for fine high-comedy acting than for sentiment or even tragedy.
And it would have been a bold man who in the first weeks of Juliet had
ventured to suggest a future Beatrice in the inexperienced, though
immensely tragic, young actress.

Yet here she was, Thrall's ideal Beatrice, well-born, well-bred,
beautiful, graceful, but possessed of a young devil of mockery that you
saw dancing in her eyes and heard in her bubbling laughter. The stings
of her wit seemed healed by the honey of her manner. Full of
affectations, airs, and graces toward the courtiers, her "If I were a
man!" speech was so full of tender love and sorrow for her injured
cousin Hero that its final hot burst of rage and scorn left her with
tears wet upon her cheeks.

And consummate artist that he was, Thrall threw such sudden passionate
intensity into Benedick's answer, "By this hand I love thee!" that it
was no wonder the act brought the people upstanding; and one old
playgoer remarked that "it was like watching an exhibition of skilful
fencing, where flying sparks made you uncertain whether the bout was
friendly or a duel to the death."

Thrall had kept his promise; he had warned her away from so many
pitfalls that some of the critics declared she had triumphed through
what she had not done almost as much as through what she had. She had
avoided the absolute shrewishness with which Beatrice is often invested;
also the vindictive ferocity of the "If I were a man!" that catches the
gallery, while it "makes the judicious grieve," and wonder, too, why
Benedick should have been called upon for assistance by such a
man-eating creature. Neither did she fire her best witticisms
point-blank at the audience and pause--to make her "point." And better
still, she avoided that strained, unnatural merriment that makes the
public pity the evident fatigue of an otherwise satisfactory Beatrice.
And this last bore strongest witness to the depth of study she had given
to the play--yes, the play; for the actress who studies only her own
lines gains but the narrowest and baldest view of the character. Sybil
had studied the environment of the brilliant, high-born, wilful "she
Mercutio," as Jim Roberts in an inspired moment of intoxication had
termed Beatrice, in order to know in what manner she should address her
impertinences to her uncle--whether with a spoiled-child daring, made
pardonable by a respectful bearing; in open insolence, or in veiled
dislike. So she studied Leonato carefully, and so she did all the
characters she came in contact with, with the result that her manner
varied according to her varying companions; and the tension of the bow
was not strained to the breaking-point at any time.

Actors and certain critics knew that that swallow-like skimming from
laughing badinage to biting satire--that fine restraint, that incredible
lightness of touch was backed by certainty, that certainty meant
knowledge, and that knowledge meant work. Yet, though Thrall told her
again and again that she had in herself the same mocking spirit that
informed Beatrice, she would have it that he and he alone had made the
performance possible to her. And though he denied it, the assertion was
like nectar to the vanity of the artist--like balm to the heart of the
man who longed to serve her.

And as it happened the newspapers had, in so many words, hailed her as
Queen of the Stage. The term had not been inspired by a suggestion from
him. It was extravagant, perhaps, but it was impromptu. And as he read
it, the blood swept over his face so redly that the watchful eyes of
Mrs. Thrall, sitting behind the tea-urn at the breakfast-table, saw and
noted, and when he had left for the theatre, she had studied eagerly
that side of the paper, but could not solve the riddle of that deep
flush of pleasure. For, though the notice of the play was very
flattering to his Benedick, he could not be moved so by the praise of a
single newspaper, she thought, even though he triumphed doubly as actor
of a part and as managerial producer of nobly correct scenery.

No, she could not solve the riddle; she could never have understood
that, because the praise had not been extorted, it was doubly precious,
or that one who lauded Sybil--magnified him.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes," the girl said to herself, as she sat there, "he has crowned me,
but--" She sighed, and turned the ruby to catch the light. "I wonder
what your message is? One word, he says; perhaps it's _faith_. And yet,
no! that would be satirical. What is there to be faithful to--no
churchly vows! no!" she bit her lip to silence.

She missed Dorothy very greatly, now, in the lull that always follows
the hurry and excitement of preparing for a production, for an irregular
love is a great isolation--of necessity.

Dorothy, now two years a wife, had become so precious that she might no
more be permitted to pass through that tunnel than to kneel before the
car of the Juggernaut. Indeed, Leslie challenged the right of the very
winds of heaven to blow too harshly on her face, and if any sweet folly
of exaggerated care escaped him John Lawton was on hand to bring it to
his attention.

"Ja!" said Lena, who was herself preparing for marriage to her "Mickle,"
her "mash-man." "Ja, my Miss Lady, I youst hav' ter make of der lies to
der Herr Galts und der Herr Boss in der fron' uf der house, und keep
der' tentions, vile der Miss Dorrie-Galts com' by der back porch und
find out uf she's got any feet on der legs. Youst vat I tell you--der
Herr Mens vatch her like der two pig cats, und, ven she get der chance,
she laf und say, 'Lena! com' take me out uf der cottin'-battin, quvick!
und let's see den uf I break ven I cross der room!"

When the news had reached Sybil first, she had lain across her bed and
sobbed and wept the night away. But next day, when she had repeated it
to Thrall, she had withstood the piercing inquiry of his searching eyes,
until she heard the sigh of relief that told her he had seen no sign of
pain. And she had had hard work to convince him that the splendor of the
gift he wished her to send the happy, expectant young mother would not
be consistent with her supposed salary, and that Leslie would not be as
innocently unobservant as Dorothy.

So now she had not the dear pleasure of her sister's occasional visits.
Her face was unutterably sad. Suddenly she stretched her arms above her
head, in the same passionate gesture which she had used that night at
the old White house, under the starry sky, and now as then she cried out
against the bondage that held her! Then it had been poverty--now it was
sin! She wore her crown; she lived in luxurious comfort; Stewart's
loyalty was complete, beyond question, but--"Love and the world well
lost!" she quoted, and laughed aloud--such a woful little laugh. For
now, with tear-washed, experienced eyes, she saw the awful error she had
made, when in ignorant young passion she had declared "that love was
enough"!

A certain austere power of endurance had developed in her during these
crowded years. She neither whimpered nor complained, only to her own
soul she admitted that lawful, virtuous living was better than love
alone; that one could not depart from rectitude and morality without
sorrow, tears, and much bitterness of spirit. Just at first the wild
sweetness of the forbidden fruit enthralled her--the romance of secret
love, the thrill of stolen caresses, of fingers pressed under cover of a
stage direction, of kisses swiftly given upon the little "scolding" lock
of hair upon her neck, as he deftly and gallantly tied her veil after
rehearsal, the precious rare half-days stolen from task-mistress and the
world, and spent with her among the palms and poinsettias. Then all the
levity fell from him, and he was at his fascinating best--witty,
gracious, tender, sympathetic, wholly free from the smell of the
footlights that some actors carry about with them all their days. The
tiny notes pressed into warm palms, the code of signals--had all been so
deliciously mysterious that she had felt herself a real heroine of
romance.

"Poor little fool!" she murmured, contemptuously now, for she recalled
that for a time in her infatuation she had felt how ineffably superior
was her own romantic, secret, self-sacrificing love to the dull,
commonplace, strictly legalized affection of Dorothy and Leslie. But
since then--oh, since then! she had had time to wake from her beautiful
dream, she had had time to think and to suffer. She knew now that the
beautiful temple of love must stand on a foundation of legality, or it
would tremble dangerously under every wind that blew! She no longer
found anything to deride in the word "propriety," since she had come in
bitterness of spirit to realize its meaning: "What ought to be--what
should be." And dear Dorothy's life was what it should be, and she had
peace and security and had never known humiliation. "Humiliation!" Sybil
twisted her hands and gasped aloud, "God! oh, God!" at the recollections
that came to her. For Stewart Thrall's wife had kept her word and stood
at his side, and shared his popularity, and applauded him from her box,
and called him "dear" before all men on all possible occasions. And
suspecting that Sunday evenings might not be spent with "the boys," she
had inaugurated small "at homes," to give her dear Stewart a chance to
gather his valued friends about him in his own home. And he who had
never disregarded public opinion felt compelled to dance attendance upon
his wife in name, who held him to his bond for her vanity and
convenience. The trite endearments necessity forced from his lips were
torture to Sybil when she chanced to hear them; and oh, the agony of a
woman, who is secretly loved, when she sees the man who is hers--for
whom she has paid with her pride and honor and self-respect--held to the
side of another woman, by her legitimate rights! Just as maddening pain
will sometimes drive a sufferer to press upon the torturing wound, so
Sybil would cry to herself: "She is his true wife, and I am a--caprice!"

It was not true, she knew it was not true, yet a strange necessity for
self-torture forced her to repeat the cruel words, as it forced her
often to remind Stewart that it was time for him to hasten to some
appointment, to drive or to lunch with Mrs. Thrall, who much enjoyed
displaying publicly the devotion of her actor-husband. And once, when
Sybil had longed to attend a sacred concert that offered her an only
opportunity to hear a certain great singer, she had been forced either
to accept Roberts's escort or remain at home, because Mr. Thrall learned
at the last moment that Lettice had invited a large party, who were to
return afterward and sup with them in the informal way "dear Stewart so
enjoys." And, having swiftly decided in favor of a long evening of
loneliness at home, taking a bitter pleasure in her own suffering, she
had tried to hasten his departure, saying: "A man should never keep his
wife waiting."

And in sudden passion, shamed, wounded, angry, he had turned upon her,
forbidding her ever to so misapply that word again. "If you must call
her Mrs. Thrall, well, be it so--that is enough to bear!"

But Sybil pressed upon the wound, insisting obstinately: "But she is
your wife!" and he had doggedly contradicted: "No! no! She is a sort of
legalized money-changer in the temple of marriage! She is not a wife!
Our wedded life is a monstrous hypocrisy! We are false to ourselves,
false to society, false in word, deed, and thought! And yet she is a
good woman, whose legal and technical virtue would certainly have given
her the valued right to hurl rocks at the woman taken in adultery. Wife?
She? The woman whose companionship dragged me down to a lower level than
that at which she found me? Oh, I see in your cloudy, scornful face your
contempt for the man who blames a woman, and Lettice Rowland Thrall
should not be censured for not giving what she has not to give! But oh,
her chains are very heavy, and my bondage grows more bitter day by day!
Sometimes I think that I could welcome the death that, taking me from
you, beloved, would at least free me from her!"

Frankness was so natural to Sybil's nature that the secrecy and
stratagem of intrigue wearied her; the manoeuvring, the clandestine,
the sly, the underhand, shamed her. She knew now the secret of the
window-curtained door in Thrall's private office, opening on a narrow
passage that led up a stair to another door opening in turn behind a
wardrobe in a dressing-room--her dressing-room now these three years.
And Jim Roberts knew of it, too; she wondered why, and reddened as she
glanced toward a key that lay in an open desk-drawer.

"Oh!" she groaned, "how can I bear it! I love him! I love him! but it is
not right that love should bring only dishonor! I do not need churchly
vows to keep me loyal! I shall be faithful till I die; but I am a woman,
and I long for the privileges and prerogatives that marriage gives--and
that _she_ receives!"

She thought that she hid her suffering--she tried to do so, and
sometimes, in her work, forgot for a while her false position and the
weight of the chains she had herself forged. But those brilliant blue
eyes saw more than she guessed; and always, beside the growing hatred of
his bitter bondage, there was the agony of fear that this young
creature, made to win love, would weary of the double life, would some
day be sought by one brave enough to take her to wife--knowing all there
was to know! He saw glowing admiration in the eyes of men young and
free, and he cursed them in his heart _for_ their freedom, for he knew
he had no claim upon her, no legal tie bound her to him. She, the wife
of his heart and soul, might turn from him. Her beautiful, cloudy face
might flash into smiles for another, should she weary of him and of his
secret love. Therefore _his_ days, too, were often days of torment, and
the blonde woman, who watched them both with cold, keen eyes, knew much
and understood perfectly. She believed the taste for forbidden fruit was
common to all men. Thrall's conduct in the past had done little to
dispel that belief; but she knew now that his love for the beautiful,
gifted girl, whose faith he longed to justify by wedding her, was a
real--and oh! galling thought--a _loyal_ love! In the past her
suspicions had often borne fruit, and she could recall certain gas-lit,
laughing trysts, very scant of secrecy, mere counterfeit amours, that he
had lived to loathe, and she knew that this was no such caprice.

When he escaped for a little, she knew that he was at the feet of the
girl whose sombre eyes were so woful that sometimes they moved her heart
to a faint throb of pity. A nobler, warmer, more self-sacrificing woman
would have set them free, to find a purer faith, to form happier ties.
But Lettice, forced to realize the existence of this great mutual love,
this loyal passion, watched, and slowly grew to hate--intensely,
bitterly to hate--them both. Verily a noxious plant is illegitimate
love, and its poison far-reaching!

"Oh! Dorothy!" cried Sybil to the silent walls; "dear little mother to
be! I shall be so thankful when you can once more bring a breath of
honesty, of every-day open frankness, into this house!"

And then she heard a step, light but firm, coming from the back of the
hall, and the blood rushed into her face as she sprang to her feet, for
her fear was great lest the approaching man might read her grieving
thoughts in her face.

He entered, and, tossing a bunch of violets to the table, came to her,
and, taking her in his arms, buried his face in the cloudy, dark hair
that had always tempted him. Presently he said: "I should have been here
earlier, sweetheart, for I thought you would be lonely after your
people's departure." (She looked gratefully at him.) "But Jim kept me;
yes, he has broken loose again, and though I had someone take him home
and look after him, I was so doubtful of his being able to play to-night
that I gave his small part to an understudy, and that all took time."

"How good you are to that poor, worthless fellow! I don't believe any
other man in the world would be so generous and so patient as you are."

But Thrall said quickly, almost sharply: "Don't--don't say that!" and
turned away his face, while Sybil continued:

"But actors are so queer--actresses, too. They will hide malice under
compliments; they will deliver innuendoes in a jest; they will make most
injurious statements about one another; but let one of them be stricken
down with sickness or trouble and every hand goes instantly into the
pocket, even if it is already nearly empty, and the only feeling is
sympathy, the only thought relief for the unfortunate. You are a
generous people, Stewart!"

"_You?_" he repeated, pointedly.

And she laughed, and answered: "Oh, well! _we_ are generous--is that
better?"

"Yes!--much!" he answered, and knelt at her feet.

"What are you doing there?" she asked.

"One kneels to a queen!" replied he. She laughed, and flushed a little.
She had become actress enough to send out early for her papers. "And,"
he added, "particularly when one wishes to make an offering. This is an
anniversary, beloved!"

Her color fled, for that was the one unsympathetic note that had ever
sounded between them. She did not understand him in that one respect. To
her it seemed almost indelicate to remind her of that day when she had
forgiven. She was to understand him later; but now he saw the shadow on
her face, and his interpretation was, she "regrets her generosity," and
all his love shone appealing in his eyes as he took her hand, and,
whispering, "In memory of your mercy, beloved," slipped a great ring
upon her finger.

She glanced down at it, and a startled cry came from her lips. It was an
opal--a marvel! a very wonder! It was not merely the play of color
through the soft, milky translucence, the ghost of blue, the vivid
flecks of green, the pale rose deepening into flashes of ruby red, the
amber glow, but it was the strange quiver and throb in it that made it
seem alive--uncanny! She looked at him questioningly. "Did he not know,
then," she asked herself, "the superstition attached to this noblest,
most fascinating gem, that he offered it as a love gift?"

"See," he said, "how sharp the diamond scintillations are compared to
this softened glory! Do you see that throbbing that keeps the colors all
the time in play? That's my heart, beloved, as it quivers with pain and
shame when, belonging to you utterly, I have to ignore you before the
world. Do you guess how I suffer--I, who am bound--I, who am helpless! I
live only by your mercy--for I love you with all my soul!"

And, woman-like, she hid her own grief, and comforted him, and arranged
her violets and talked over their mutual triumphs and Dorothy's last
note. For he had great regard for the gentle creature in whom he
recognized great moral strength. And, as he was leaving, he looked at a
trophy of small arms and weapons on the wall, and said: "This Turkish
inlaid thing is rusting, Sybil, and this dagger--which is genuine--needs
attention, too. Let Jane Penny bring them over to-night, with that
bulldog revolver I left upstairs. If Jim is straightened up by that time
he will clean the whole outfit to-morrow. The property-man's
shooting-irons are all out of kilter, too. There'll be a good day's job
to clean and oil them all, but it's the sort of pottering work Jim
likes. Good-by, sweetheart! Take an hour's rest, dear, before going to
the theatre. Beatrice needs to be well keyed up, you know." He kissed
her lips and eyes and hair, and left her.

And she stood and cried: "He loves me! He has crowned me! I love him
with my whole heart! I thank him from my very soul! But oh, what a
position is mine! Unmarried--I am deprived of all freedom and girlish
pleasures! A wife--I am denied the honors and prerogatives of marriage!"
Her eyes fell upon the great opal, quivering, glowing, glinting! "He
suffers, too," she said. "Poor Stewart!" and again she wondered if he
knew the superstition attached to opals, and, turning, took the rusting
weapons from the trophy.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE FALL OF THE CURTAIN


Long before Sybil rose next morning Leslie Galt had left at the door a
great bunch of lilacs, the very first spring blossoms from Dorothy's own
garden, and with it a note. Stivers took them into the bedroom with the
breakfast tray, and as Sybil put out her hand to take the letter Jane
gave a cry of dismay. "For God's sake! is that thing real?" she asked,
pointing to the splendid ring. "I--I thought last night it was an extra
fine stage jewel. Do you mean to sit there with that unlucky stone just
calling out for death and destruction, fire or flood or scandal or--or
all of them together to come upon you? Take it off, I say! _take it
off_! and let me carry it back, for, of course, it was Mr. Thrall who
gave it to you! He must be off his head--and I'll tell him so!"

"Oh!" laughed Sybil, "do you mind it so much? No! I could not send it
back, that would hurt the giver's feelings; besides, what possible harm
can a thing so beautiful do to one?"

"H--uh!" snorted Stivers. "I suppose Mary Stuart thought opals
beautiful, too, but they didn't help to keep her head on her shoulders!"

"But," argued Sybil, "the poor, lovely, tormented, blundering queen
would have lost her royal head even if she had never owned an opal."

"You don't know that," answered Stivers; "but you do know that she wore
opals and lost it. My very own cousin had a little, weeny, footy bit of
an opal scarf-pin given him, and wore it, like the fool he always was,
and had his house burned over his head for his pains. Don't talk to me!
I _know_! Wasn't a friend of my husband's given an opal, and while he
was carrying it round in his clothes, making up his silly mind how to
set it, didn't his mother-in-law, a great, bouncing, big, hearty woman,
up and die?"

Sybil nearly strangled over a combination of coffee and laugh. "Oh, Mrs.
Stivers," she exclaimed, "if you make that story public there will
certainly be a boom in the sale of small opals--if one can believe the
statements of the comic papers, at least."

"All right, Miss. You may laugh, but I'll watch my home closer than ever
for fire or burglars. I'd as soon move into a new house on Friday, and
I'd a sight rather break a looking-glass than wear that thing for an
hour!" and she retired pretty thoroughly vexed.

Sybil touched the great, shimmering quiver of color with her lips,
whispering: "Poor heart, that suffers for me!" And then, with the fresh
odor of the lilacs about her, she opened the envelope which contained a
note from Dorothy, enclosing a portion of a letter written by Mrs.
Lawton within the hour of her arrival at the White house.

Dorrie wrote briefly, sending proudest congratulations to "the
successful, admired, newly triumphant actress, who was yet her own dear
Sybbie--sweet sister, all unchanged, in truth and love," and a tender
assurance of her own well-being, of her hopeful, trustful waiting,
knowing that whether she received death or life the gift would come from
God, who never made mistakes. So she waited calmly. "It seems rather
mean," she added, "to enclose a portion of mamma's 'note'--of six
pages--but, Syb, I can't help it, I simply _can't_! I wouldn't let papa
or Leslie know it for the world, but you will understand and not think
it disrespectful. Do write, Sybbie, to your Dorothy!"

"Yes," the fragment of Mrs. Lawton's letter read, "I'm afraid I overdid
it a bit. Shopping, you know, is very fatiguing, even to one who like
myself never loiters or hesitates. Anyway, if my looking-glass did not
so flatly contradict me, I should call myself quite an old woman to-day.
But let me get on to what I wish to say. I hate anyone who
meanders--never meander, Dorothy. Though you are a married woman you
should not be averse to a little advice now and then from one who
watched over your infancy--and a very quiet, well-sleeping babe you
were, too, quite different from Sybil, who was-- Well, as I was saying,
meeting Mr. Thrall--a man très comme il faut--as I have always said, I
mentioned your hopes--he being a married man these years past, and most
friendly in his inquiries. He, in offering congratulations, expressed
the opinion that a gift of twins would be desirable, as it was easier to
select names for two than for one, and family friction would be lessened
in consequence. I confess I was startled, and 'er, well, not far from
being vexed, and I plainly told him I hoped you would be guilty of no
such vulgarity. You should have seen his eyes--very remarkable eyes, you
must have noticed their amazing blueness--quite like the paler
sapphires. Yes, he looked perfectly amazed. 'Vulgar?' he repeated.
'Could a Merivale-Merivale be guilty of vulgarity? You must surely know
the Merivale-Merivales, Mrs. Lawton?' Imagine my haste to tell him that
Mrs. Merivale-Merivale was the only child and heiress of my friend old
Tom Bligh, who used to say she was so democratic that she would never be
content till she had every Tom, Dick, and Harry in society about her.
And people said she married Dick Merivale-Merivale so that she could
help out her father's saying. And Mr. Thrall said: 'Dear me! and did you
not know that she has twin boys, and that she calls them Tom and Harry?
Quite clever, for society, is it not? Tom, Dick, and Harry, right in her
own family, too!' My dear, I was never more taken aback! And then he
went on to tell me of Lady Somebody-Somebody, of some sort of 'hurst,'
in some shire in England, who has twin daughters, and drives about with
them, and has them always mentioned as 'Lady So-and-So's lovely twins'
in the society journals. I declare, I was quite startled; but fashions
do change so, and I'm sure its no fault of mine that I have fallen so
far behind the times--and been so out of everything. But I have hastened
to write this all out for your comfort, in case you have any anxiety on
that score. I don't suppose you have, but I frankly admit that I should
myself have looked upon the simultaneous arrival of yourself and Sybil
as verging upon an impropriety. But different times--different manners,
and there is no questioning the fact that twins, if not de rigueur, are
at least genuinely fashionable now."

Peal after peal of laughter from Sybil brought Stivers to the door, pale
and with distinctly frightened eyes. "In the name of heaven, what's the
matter with you? Stop it! _stop it!_ You're _fey_--that's what you are!
Ill will come of it--now mind!"

"_Fey?_" repeated Sybil, gurgling still with laughter. "What is _fey_,
Mrs. Stivers? Why, you look quite frightened!"

"You laugh in a room all by yourself! You're _fey_, and that means
you're sort of possessed. It's an evil spirit of mischievous fun that
takes hold of you just before a stroke of bad luck comes upon you. Lord
knows you've naught more to do now than to get up and smash a
looking-glass!"

"Don't be worried!" said Sybil, seeing the woman's distress! "I was not
_fey_, because I had cause for laughter. It was this letter that amused
me."

"But you laughed in a room by yourself," gloomily insisted Stivers, who
would not be comforted, and removed the tray rather sullenly.

And Sybil laughed again and yet again, for she could not know that there
was hurry and confusion at the old White house; that at the little
Riverdale station, crouching at the foot of the hill beside the
swift-running river, the quick tic-tic-tacking, and dot-dot-dot dashing
were spelling out words of sorrow for her. But, later, as she rose from
the piano and went to the window to look out, a messenger boy on the
steps reached far over and stole a flower from her balcony before he
rang the bell; and she laughed again, because he so nearly landed on his
head in his effort to reach the blossom.

She always remembered, with a sick misery, that she was laughing when
she opened the telegram that said: "_Your mother has died in her sleep.
Discovered an hour ago. Dorothy must not know. Come. Father._"

She never remembered how she was made ready for the street. She seemed
to recover her consciousness only as she found herself going into the
theatre by the back way, and she wondered vaguely why she had not gone
in the front. With the telegram crushed in her ungloved hand she had
flown instantly to Stewart--in the first place, from the blind instinct
that sends the stricken into the arms of the loved one for shelter, for
comfort; and now, in the second place, she sought him for business
reasons, so that he might have all the time possible in which to arrange
matters theatrical during her necessary absence.

She made her hurried way to Thrall's private office--that little
red-walled room, where she had first met him, and where her own picture
as Juliet now reigned supreme.

An old cloth had been spread over the open desk, and on it lay a litter
of oily rags, bits of wire, polishing powder, loose cartridges, several
revolvers, a tiny pistol used by stage heroines, and Sybil's beautiful
dagger.

Jim Roberts, pallid, puffy-eyed, and trembling visibly, sat there at
work, and Thrall, seeing the great trickling drops of perspiration
which the slightest effort brought out upon his pasty skin, said: "Jim,
either you must give that job up for to-day or you must take a nip to
steady your nerves. You can't break short off after being on the rampage
as you were yesterday."

But Jim lifted miserable eyes, and said, doggedly: "No! She--the
Princess--might come in, and notice--" (He had not forgotten that remark
about his fondness for cloves.)

"She's not at all likely to come in to-day, and if she did, she would
only feel sorry for your recklessness." He turned, and, taking a
handsome travelling-flask from a shelf, shook it, and smilingly
announced: "Half full yet." He poured a pretty stiff drink into a glass,
brought it to Jim, and, pointing to water standing on top of the desk,
said: "There you are, old man--racer--chaser--everything to your hand,
and, for heaven's sake, wipe your dripping face!"

Jim swallowed his liquor and resumed his work, asking, querulously:
"Where is that chamois skin? I've hunted that infernal thing till my
head is all a-buzz."

"Go to the box-office and get a new one," said Thrall. "There's a bundle
of them in the drawer. Barney will give you one."

"No! no!" irritably replied Jim. "I want the one I've been using! I hate
a new chamois; besides, how the devil could the thing disappear! I used
it on that 'bulldog' of yours a while ago. You're a nice man to own a
fine revolver like that, and let it get spotted and ate into with rust.
You ought to carry a bargain-counter ninety-nine-and-a-half-cent sort
of shooting-iron."

Thrall laughed good-temperedly, and, picking up the revolver, said:
"Well, you have cleaned and polished and oiled the old thing up in great
shape." He stood looking down at the weapon, whose white ivory handle
and heavily nickled barrel and trimmings took nothing from its
threatening look. Short, thick, heavy, the three-inch double barrel and
the wide ugly muzzle were so suggestive that Thrall exclaimed: "By
Jove! it's well named, for the bulldog is just what it reminds one of."

"Yes," answered Jim, still searching for the mislaid chamois; "that's a
dog whose bark is not worse than his bite. Be a little careful, will
you! That's a mighty easy trigger, and something less than ten-horse
power will cock the thing full. Oh, damn! damn! where is that chamois?"

How cruel is the despotism of trifling circumstance! It is humiliating
to think that a life's career--nay, even more than that--hung upon the
finding or the losing of a dirty bit of leather!

Thrall "broke" the revolver to look at the cartridges, somehow expecting
to see new ones, and remarked: "Oh, you've returned the old cartridges,
I see?"

"Yes," replied Jim, fretfully; "but what of it? I haven't get any new
32s on hand, but the old ones will bore holes in a man that will serve
every purpose. I wish I had an old silk handkerchief to polish this
inlaid work with." And just then they heard the rustling of skirts, the
tap of heels, and Sybil was in the room.

Jim Roberts looked up, and, at sight of her white face and frightened
eyes, his own expression changed so swiftly that Thrall was startled.
The latter turned, and, in the instant of recognition, the thought
flashed through him that, as Sybil had come without appointment, Barney,
unwarned, might send anyone here that asked for him; and he said,
surprisedly, even a little sharply: "Good heaven, child, what are you
doing here?" and the girl moaned:

"Oh, Stewart! Stewart! the message! the awful message!" and crept to him
and hid her face on his arm.

Roberts, weak and trembling, and with glaring eyes, made his way out,
muttering something about "going to the office." Outside he held his
head hard between his hands and leaned against the wall for support.
"It's come," he said, "at last! Oh, damn him! It's so awfully sudden,
too, but that's him all over--his love flaming sky-high one moment and
black out the next!"

He groaned, and rolled his head miserably about. He had understood
Sybil's words to be: "Your message--your awful message!" and that was
enough to arouse the suspicions of the poor half-crazed creature. "'What
are you doing here?' Curse him! I can remember how hard it was for you
to get her here in the first place! It was coax and plead and promise
then! Now, it's 'what are you doing here!' She is not like little Bess.
She will be more likely to kill _him_ than herself!"

He started, and stood upright. "That must not be!" he said. "That would
utterly ruin her young life! No, my beautiful! so pale--so frightened!
Oh, I--" He broke off, and went shambling over to the box-office and
asked for the chamois.

"In the drawer, there," said Barney, briefly.

"Hand one out," said Jim; "my hands are all oily and grimy from cleaning
that arsenal in there. I can't touch anything without leaving a mark."

Barney handed out the article, and Jim deliberately returned to the
private office. As he entered he drew the heavy portière over the closed
door and passed to the desk in the corner and sat down.

Stewart had been much shocked at the blow that had fallen so suddenly
upon Sybil, and had shown her such tender sympathy and love that at last
the tears had rushed to her hot eyes, and now, within the circle of his
arm, her head against his shoulder, she stood and sobbed piteously.
Neither of them noticed Jim, and then suddenly, for the first time, she
put into words something of her longing for his open protection and
love. "Oh," she cried, "must I go there alone? Must I face this terrible
thing without you?"

Jim heard, and his face was dreadful. A pale fire shone in his watery
eyes, his nostrils dilated and quivered rapidly, his upper lip drew
tremblingly upward at one corner, he had all the look of a helpless cur
about to pass into a convulsion.

Sybil had but spoken Thrall's own thought. He, too, was thinking how
hard it was that he could not take a husband's place by the side of this
stricken creature of his love, and he groaned but made no answer. And
then, poor child, the thought came to her of some other woman acting
with him. A jealous pain was in her voice as she cried: "And you will
put another woman in my place, Stewart? Oh, Stewart, how can I bear it
all?"

There came from the corner a strange sort of snarl. Jim Roberts was on
his feet, a dull red had spread over his face, his very eyeballs were
suffused. Thrall turned his head, saw, and, with all his strength, flung
Sybil from him, and simultaneously with Jim's "No, damn you, you'll put
no other woman in her place!" the "bulldog" barked, and the bullet
crashed into the breast where her head had rested.

For an instant there was utter silence; a smoke, an evil odor, and three
white faces--that was all! Thrall, who had clapped his hand over the
wound, stood tall and erect a moment, then he began to settle together,
as it were, and slowly he sank backward upon the couch behind him, his
head against the wall, his right hand partly supporting him. He was
perfectly ghastly, but entirely conscious, and calm and self-controlled
to an astounding degree. He tried to draw a long breath, and then a new
horror was in the room--the horror of that agonized breathing. He spoke,
painfully, word by word, and his thought was all for the woman he loved,
who lay against the wall opposite, her arms outstretched on either side
just as she had staggered there when Stewart flung her to safety.

"Jim--the--private--door--get--Princess--away--quick!
Save--her--from--scandal!"

And Jim, falling back instantly into the old subserviency and obedience,
sprang to the curtained door, that in opening outward took with it the
pedestal and statuette of the little "Love," which were securely
fastened to it, so that when the door was closed again the room looked
utterly undisturbed. Pushing the door open he flew to Sybil, who had
never moved, and, catching her about the waist, dragged her toward it.
As she was passing Thrall he took his hand from his breast and caught at
her fingers. She shuddered at the touch, so cold, so clammy, so--so wet!

"Beloved!" his eyes looked enormous in his pallid face.
"Beloved!--I--sinned--against--you--but--it--was--from--love!
Forgive--can--you?"

A sort of surprise came upon her face, and she said, simply, as if that
answered completely his question: "I love you, dear heart!"

One flash of the old triumphant light came to his eyes; then, though
Death's grim face looked at him, over her shoulder, the tormenting
jealousy of the passionate lover flared up in him, and he gasped,
painfully: "For--all--time--beloved?"

She bent and kissed his eyes, kissed his gasping clay-cold lips, and
answered: "I love you for time and for eternity!"

And Roberts, whispering: "Quick! Someone will come!" lifted her in his
arms and carried her to the passage and set her down. As the door was
closing on her she thought she heard Stewart say: "The word--the ruby--"
and then she was hurrying up to her dressing-room, passing through it
and down to the stage entrance, where there was no doorman at that
hour, and so out into the street.

At the corner she glanced down toward the theatre, and saw a hatless man
tearing madly out of the front door. It was Barney. He said something as
he ran. Two people stopped, turned, and stared at the building, and so
formed the nucleus of the swiftly gathering, traffic-impeding
crowd--that mushroom growth, so common to excitable Broadway.

Her knees trembled threateningly beneath her, faintness seemed stealing
over her senses. She dimly saw a cab, working its way up the street. The
man lifted his whip inquiringly; she raised her bare hand to summon him,
and then, there in the open street, she gave a cry of horror,
fortunately drowned by other sounds, for that was the hand Thrall had
clutched, and his chill, blood-wet fingers had left three close lines of
red, that, circling her fingers, led straight across the great opal. She
gasped out her street and number, and, stumbling into the cab, she heard
an excited passer-by remark: "That's Sybil Lawton! I'll bet a dollar she
was on her way to the theatre!" And as the cab passed on he continued:
"Well, she couldn't get through that crowd! I 'spose a policeman has
told her what's happened down there. We had seats for to-night, too--I
guess they'll redeem the tickets."

And ten minutes later the rumor was running like fire in dry grass:
"That Sybil Lawton had been shopping and a policeman stopped her, and,
without warning or preparation of any kind, had informed her of the
shooting of her manager, and she collapsed, and was driven home in a
cab."

Murder became suicide--suicide became accident, before the clang of the
ambulance-gong sent the depressing shivers through nerves that would
thrill with pleasurable excitement at the sound of the fire-gong. Then a
group of men came out of the front door, and hats came quickly off when
those nearest caught a glimpse of a marble-white face, with long, inky
lashes clinging close to ghastly cheeks.

For, between those dreadful whistling breaths, Thrall had warned Jim,
word by word, that it was "an accident," and explained that Jim, having
supposed the old cartridges were withdrawn, snapped the revolver,
standing at close range, adding: "Keep--steady--stick--to--story--Jim--
for--her--sake! Now--call--make--big--row! I'm--gone!"

And Jim, conscious of an awful blunder, obeying to the letter, as Thrall
fainted, tore away the heavy portière that had helped so much to deaden
the sound of the shot, dashed open the door, and, like a madman,
shouted: "A doctor! a doctor! for God's sake, Barney! I've shot Thrall!
I have! I have! Oh, run! run! I'll call a policeman myself!"

He was obeying orders--he was making "a big row," but suddenly he
thought of Sybil. "Oh, my beautiful!" he cried; "I meant to serve you,
and I've robbed you instead!" And, as the policeman advanced toward him,
he fell forward in the fit that had threatened him all the day. Yes, Jim
was obedient to the last--he made "a big row"!

The next day, almost at the same hour, the pale woman who had watched at
Thrall's side almost unwinkingly left the room for a moment to confer
with her maid. "English crêpe," she whispered, "of course. The heaviest
and best is always the cheapest in the long run."

It was only a moment's absence, but the long lashes on the stricken
man's ghastly face lifted, the hand went to the wounded breast. With the
instinct of the actor, who always considers effect, he thought
gratefully that the hemorrhage had been internal, and that he had not
been an offensive-looking object. He turned his eyes to the side where
Lettice had sat and watched. She was not there. His eyes widened with
pleasure. He rose suddenly--the effort was a mistaken one. He realized
it in a moment. There was a red spot creeping out on his shirt, and--and
a salty taste in his mouth. Yet he smiled, almost maliciously, as he
thought: "I am escaping her, after all!"

Then he knew. He shivered. "Sybil!" he said; "beloved!"

The door opened--the clock was striking down-stairs--from a near room
came the whir of a sewing-machine--Stewart Thrall was dead.



CHAPTER XXVIII

"THOU KNOWEST!"


Mrs. Van Camp put ease and comfort from her, placed Poll in his cage,
and left a bunch of white grapes dangling from its top, hoping that the
fruit might attract his attention sufficiently to stop his hoarse:
"'Omeo! 'Omeo! dead! dead!" that now was more distressing to listen to
than his most distinct profanity. She had dressed herself for the
street, and in her character of god-mother hastened to Sybil's side.
Then, finding her prostrated, and, for the time being, utterly incapable
of action of any kind, like the loyal friend she was, she went on up to
Riverdale at once to the assistance of John Lawton and Leslie Galt; who,
dazed and confused, seemed as helpless as two male babes, until the
bright, clever, capable old lady took charge and gave orders and made
suggestions.

Neither she nor Leslie liked the strange blank look in poor old John
Lawton's eyes. The blow had stunned him seemingly. Yet he was observant
enough about anything affecting his Letitia, and Sybil Van Camp had felt
tears springing to her eyes when, having to enter Mrs. Lawton's
sleeping-room, she saw John catch up the little bottle of rouge vinaigre
from the toilet-table and hide it in his pocket. "Poor, loyal old
gentleman!" she thought; "as if all her world did not know that Letitia
Lawton rouged!"

The absence of his worshipped children made the burden of his grief
almost unbearable. He knew that Dorothy was to be deceived, if possible,
for a few days, so that she might have undiminished strength and courage
for the great trial she was approaching so rapidly; but Sybil--"where
was Sybil?" That was all he said, muttering the words very low.

He could give no assistance to anyone, could not tell where anything
could be found; only he could not be kept away from that white, still
thing, that he looked at with such blank, piteously faded eyes, as
though he were trying to trace in it some resemblance to the light,
frivolous but vivid Letitia, who for twenty-four years had talked him to
sleep o' nights, and whose silence now was so sudden and so cruel.

Once Leslie, coming softly in to try again to lead the old man away,
overheard him murmuring: "She does not come--they are both independent
of me now. I--I--think I'll just go with you Letitia, my dear!" and,
frightened, he turned and sought Mrs. Van Camp.

And that wise woman answered: "You see, you were in error trying to hide
this disaster to Mr. Thrall from him. He thinks Sybil neglects him. The
shock will not break him entirely, as you imagine, but it will arouse
him to a desire to help his child."

"Right!" exclaimed Leslie. "That's the dear old chap all over! We must
make him believe her welfare depends wholly upon his protection and
care--or, indeed, Mrs. Van Camp, I fear he will--well, let us say, let
go!"

And so the kindly conspirators planned that, as the death of Mr. Thrall
could scarcely be kept from Dorothy's knowledge, and if she learned of
it she would think her mother was with Sybil for a few days, the
shattered old man Lawton should be made to believe Sybil's welfare
depended entirely upon him; and Sybil,--poor child!--crushed as she was,
would see at a glance that her father's life depended upon her loving
companionship. And then they led the old gentleman from the darkened
room out to the porch, and, each holding one of his hands, they told him
of the accidental shooting of Mr. Thrall, of the crushing effect of the
double blow upon Sybil. But before their story was done he was drawing
his hands away and crying: "My little girl! my little girl! I must go to
you at once!" and it required the repeated assurance of Mrs. Van Camp
that his child would come to him by an early train next morning to keep
him from hurrying to the city.

When Mrs. Van Camp had left the red brick house with the flower-filled
windows Sybil had raised herself from her pillows and had struck the
small gong-bell on the stand by her bed sharply--twice--three times. And
Stivers called up to her: "In a moment, Miss Sybil!" but did not appear;
and again the gong sounded, and at last the woman came with a cup of
black coffee in her hand. "It's no use frowning, Miss--no use waving
your hand! That doctor gave you an opiate last night, and now you
just--no! I won't listen to what you want until you swallow down this
coffee--to steady your nerves. No! Miss--no! He's not gone yet--there's
no 'extra' out at all. That's some pedler you hear. Take it down now,
all of it. There! You'll be the better for that. Now, what was it you
wanted?"

And Sybil fastened her woful eyes on the woman's face, and begged: "Mrs.
Stivers, will you bring a jeweler here to my room, as quickly as
possible?"

"A--a--what?" stammered Stivers, "a jeweler--no, I can't leave you to go
away over----"

"But," the girl interrupted, "anyone will do--any working jeweler. Right
in the next avenue there is a little shop--you won't be gone more than
fifteen minutes. You must, indeed you _must_!"

"O-o-oh!" thought Stivers; "she wants to get rid of that opal, now all
the damage is done." Aloud she warned: "If you're going to try to do any
business, you don't want a little tu-penny-ha'penny creature like that
to deal with. Well! well! I'm going--but suppose the bell rings? Yes,
I'll hurry!"

White and worn-looking, Sybil fell back upon the pillow, her tumbled
dark hair clouding over her brows, her hot eyes staring before her, and
every nerve tense, waiting for the "E-e-extray! e-e-extray!" at whose
sound her world of love would crumble to nothingness.

Had she or had she not heard Stewart gasp "The word--the _ruby_--?" If
she had, then the word must have had an immense significance for him,
and suddenly her dumb, inert despair was broken by an intense longing to
know what the word was that even rapidly approaching death had not
driven from his recollection. For Sybil did not try to deceive herself.
Anyone hearing that awful breathing must have realized that it meant a
pierced lung, and she had been hopeless from the first. She felt that
the explanation given by Thrall and Roberts was not true--that the
shooting had not been accidental; but she supposed it had been the
motiveless act of a drink-maddened man. For Jim Roberts had never
breathed a hint--drunk or sober--of the miserable fate of his young
sister, still less of his piteous passion of love for herself. So, in
the absence of reasonable motive, she charged the dreadful deed to
drunkenness.

Stivers had eagerly seized upon the cue given by rumor, and declared
that Sybil had been shopping, and was going toward the theatre, when,
etc., etc.; and she had carefully drilled her mistress in this story,
before the arrival of Mrs. Van Camp.

And now the unhappy girl lay there straining her ears for that cry of
"Extra!" that she so dreaded, and tormenting herself with thoughts of
what she might have said and done yesterday, had she not been so
stupefied with terror. At last she heard Stivers opening the door, and
presently she was showing in a sandy-haired, hooked-nosed young man,
with thick red lips and an appraising eye, that seemed at a glance to
put a price upon each article in the room. She took the glittering
diamond heart from her neck, and, placing it in the man's hand, asked
him to remove the back. She would not listen to his proposal to take it
to his shop--it must be done there, even at the risk of scratching the
gold. Scratch or dent it, if he must, but open it he should! At last the
back came off, and the man remarked: "I think there's something engraved
here." But Sybil's hand-clasp covered the inscription. "Wait in the
other room," she commanded.

She bolted the door, flew to the window, and, catching the light upon
the metal, read the word she had worn upon her breast three years--the
word Stewart said made the sole value of the gem--read and fell upon her
knees, and buried her face in the pillow and sobbed and cried: "I
understand you better now, dear heart!" and kissed again and again the
four little letters that formed that one significant word, "Wife."

An hour later the expected cry arose in the street. Hoarse bawling went
up one side and down the other, and Sybil knew the man who had been her
idol, dearer, more precious than the whole great world, he whose love
had been as the very breath of life to her, was gone away forever! And,
lying with the locket pressed against her lips, she breathed: "Wife, you
said, dear heart? Then your widow now, and as loyal in the shadow of
your death as I was in the sunlight of your life!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the passenger list there had appeared the names of Mr. J. Lawton
Bassett and daughter, and the pair thus registered had gone on board
over night because of the very early hour of sailing, they said, but it
was really an effort to avoid public notice; and all the bell-ringing,
pulling, hauling, rushing, and trampling were over and comparative quiet
reigned before John Lawton and Sybil, his daughter, ascended to the
deck to look about them and with sad eyes to take farewell of the great
city they loved, with its rapidly softening outlines, blending, blurring
into a grayish mass touched with a few strong darks, many sharp, white
lights, and here and there a gleam from the golden cross of some
sky-piercing spire. As they leaned against the rail, the girl with
cloudy hair, sombre eyes, and black-robed figure clinging to the arm of
the pale old gentleman, also in mourning, they made a pathetic picture.
Silently they watched--each was trying to hide grief for the other's
sake. It was well for Sybil that this helpless old father needed her
devoted care, for an awful temptation had come to her in her despair.
"Oh," she cried, now in her heart, "if I only had Dorothy's faith in
God! Dorothy's hope for the beautiful hereafter! But," she mused
bitterly, "Dorothy has not sinned, while I--and yet, if God is what she
believes Him, He could pity even me!" Then she shivered, for, looking
out over the water, she thought of the exultant old anthem, and quoting
"The sea is His, and He made it!" she felt suddenly that she was too
small, too insignificant, for her cry of repentance to be noticed.

The wind was sharpening. Her thoughts came back to her father. They had
been out there a very long time--too long, and--and what was that
man--the purser--doing? Handing an envelope to a big man already in cap
and ulster, and calling--could she be right--calling: "Miss Lawton? Is a
Miss Sybil Lawton here?" The pilot had been dropped half an hour or
more ago. Why--why, what was this? An envelope thrust into her unwilling
hand, and the purser was away, calling for a Mr. Pemberton Something,
and waving one last missive aloft for its claimant.

"Dorothy!" gasped the old man, and closed his eyes a moment.

Sybil's nervous fingers tore the envelope, and opened the bit of yellow
paper. She read breathlessly, looked about her, passed her hand over her
eyes, read again. And then she flung her arms about her father's
trembling, frail old body, buried her face in his breast, and
laughed--laughed with tears running down her cheeks--laughed and blessed
God for his goodness! Then, looking up at her father's quivering mouth,
she put her fingers on it, saying: "Don't, dada, it's good news--about
Dorothy!"

A smile came to his lips, an eager light to his eyes. "Why! why!" he
said. "I expected the news would be awaiting us at Liverpool; but
really, I----"

Again that hysterical laughter shook the girl. "You're surprised,
darling!" she said, "but wait till you hear the message."

     "_Sybil Letitia and Dorothy Grace have arrived. Mother and
     both babies well. Look for cable. Leslie._"

John Lawton straightened up suddenly. "W-w-what!" stammered he. "Sybil
Letitia? W-w-y? Who on earth--Dorothy Grace? Why, but that's two, Sybil!
Two's twins! Well, I am astonished--at Dorothy!" And then, before she
could answer, a pleased look came on his face, as he continued: "Poor
Letitia would have thought that so fashionable! I wish she knew, dear!
She so loved to be within the fashion!" He drew Sybil close to him, and
she thought with sick longing of that stronger arm that used to circle
her about so tenderly. He looked backward as he murmured: "Little
Dorrie's babies!" Then, glancing down at the dark, drooping head without
reason, a conviction came to him that Dorothy's children would have to
be Sybil's children, too.

She raised her woful eyes, and, meeting his pitying glance, answered the
look, saying: "Dorothy never failed yet to share her joys with me,
dada!"

He turned his eyes again toward the land they were leaving. "Sybil
Letitia--that's for you and wife. Dorothy Grace--that's for Dorrie and
Leslie's mother. I--didn't he say anything about the color of their
eyes, dear? Strange!" he murmured, discontentedly. "He might have said
_that_ much!"

"Probably we shall learn all you wish at Liverpool, dear!" she patiently
answered, while her heart contracted with a new loneliness. They had
fled together from two freshly made graves, but already it was evident
that baby hands were tuning the worn old heart-strings anew; that these
two creatures, with eyes full of knowledge from the great Beyond, held
speechless till they should forget from whence they came, and allowed
only wordless cries, were yet summoning him, with almost irresistible
power, back, back!

"Do you not think, daughter, that brief trips abroad at frequent
intervals are as beneficial as one more prolonged visit?" he naïvely
asked, his pale old eyes looking quite eagerly at her.

"Yes, dear," she answered him, and then she led him away, fearing the
effect on him of the cold and the increasing motion. Still he looked
backward, and she persuadingly said: "Go, now, dear, and as soon as you
are safely in your berth I'll come to you, and we will talk----"

"About Dorothy's babies--our little twins?"

"Yes, dada! All about them--their names and probable color, probable
weight, everything we can think of!" And then she went back and looked
long out over the vast gray, pathless expanse. "'The sea is His, and He
made it!' What inconceivable power! And yet that mighty Creator noted
the fall of a sparrow. Oh!" she thought, as she pressed the jewel to her
breast till it hurt the tender flesh. "I--who am widowed for all my
life--I thank you for your mercy and goodness in bringing safe and happy
deliverance to my beloved sister! And humbly I beseech you now, to
deliver me my soul! For I am a sinful woman--troubled and heavy, for
that we lost our way through love! But now I cannot bear my woe alone!
Help me, O mighty and powerful One, hereafter to live according to Thy
will! Purify me in heart and mind, that I may be a fit companion for
those little ones you have sent into our lives!"

She, too, began to feel a longing for sight and touch of those precious
mysteries--Dorrie's babies. Stewart had been so anxious for Dorothy's
welfare. She pressed her locket closer. "Oh!" she thought, "how I will
love them! Sybil Letitia--Dorothy Grace! Yes, you are very nice and
stately, and will look well upon the records, and, later on, upon
marriage cards; but, dear little gifts, you will answer, all your baby
years at least, to the tenderly commonplace Sybbie and Dorrie, so
familiar to a Lawton nursery, and will doubtless be as hardy, happy, and
sturdy as Lawton-Galt babies ought to be! And oh, if you thrive and are
spared to the years of your sweet budding, you shall, by your right
divine, be taught frankly and by high authority those great truths that
are too often learned only in degrading secrecy from unworthy lips. Do I
not know the danger, the cruelty, of sending forth the young in the
innocence of utter ignorance! But you, my Dorrie's little daughters,
shall be taught to look forward to some proud day in your girlhood when,
as a guerdon for patient waiting and unhesitating obedience, you shall
receive from reverent lips knowledge of the mysteries of life and
love--of the almost divine honor of a perfectly pure womanhood! So shall
propinquity be as naught; so no moment of strange, overwhelming
weakness, no sudden flaring up of impulse, shall have power to bewilder
and confuse you, to your harm! And thus, knowing something of both your
weakness and your strength, it will not be in the innocence of ignorance
that you will face the world, but with the clear-eyed, pure-hearted
innocence of wisdom!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Just then Sybil's skirts snapped in the wind, and whipped close about
her ankles. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Papa! I must go to papa!" She smiled
faintly as she thought, "While he has been waiting the babies have
grown up into lovely womanhood."

One more long look she gave over the heaving, restless, gray sea, and
suddenly a very agony of grief swept over her. She bowed her head. "I
can't help it," she breathed; "I repent of my sin, yet I still love and
long for him!"

She pressed the locket (with the word) closer. "But I will pray on, all
my life; for"--she raised great tear-brimmed eyes to heaven--"to
understand is to pardon, and 'Thou knowest'!"

THE END.





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