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Title: Amazing Grace - Who Proves that Virtue Has Its Silver Lining
Author: Sharber, Kate Trimble
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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Transcriber's Note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.



     AMAZING GRACE

  [Illustration: I took up the first one]



     AMAZING GRACE

     _Who Proves That Virtue Has Its Silver Lining_

     By
     KATE TRIMBLE SHARBER
     _Author of_
     THE ANNALS OF ANN, AT THE AGE OF EVE, ETC.

     ILLUSTRATED BY
     R. M. CROSBY

     INDIANAPOLIS
     THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
     PUBLISHERS



     COPYRIGHT 1914
     THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

     PRESS OF
     BRAUNWORTH & CO.
     BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS
     BROOKLYN, N. Y.



     TO
     LAURA NORVELL ELLIOTT
     WHO HAS THE OLD LETTERS--



CONTENTS


     CHAPTER                             PAGE

     I STRAINED RELATIONS                  1

     II A GLIMPSE OF PROMISED LAND        26

     III NIP AND TUCK                     40

     IV THE QUALITY OF MERCY              59

     V ET TU, BRUTE!                      82

     VI FLAG DAY                          99

     VII STRAWS POINT                    115

     VIII LONGEST WAY HOME               128

     IX MAITLAND TAIT                    141

     X IN THE FIRELIGHT                  157

     XI TWO MEN AND A MAID               168

     XII AN ASSIGNMENT                   186

     XIII JILTED!                        211

     XIV THE SKIES FALL                  230

     XV THE JOURNEY                      244

     XVI LONDON                          278

     XVII HOUSE OF A HUNDRED DREAMS      312



AMAZING GRACE



AMAZING GRACE



CHAPTER I

STRAINED RELATIONS


Some people, you will admit, can absorb experience in gentle little
homeopathic doses, while others require it to be shot into them by
hypodermic injections.

Certainly my Dresden-china mother up to the time of my birth had been
forced to take this bitter medicine in every form, yet she had never
been known to profit by it. She would not, it is true, fly in the very
face of Providence, but she _would_ nag at its coat tails.

"You might as well name this child 'Praise-the-Lord,' and be done with
it!" complained the rich Christie connection (which mother had always
regarded as outlaws as well as in-laws), shaking its finger across the
christening font into mother's boarding-school face on the day of my
baptism. "Of course all the world knows you're _glad_ she's
posthumous, but--"

"But with Tom Christie only six weeks in spirit-land it isn't decent!"
Cousin Pollie finished up individually.

"Besides, good families don't name their children for abstract
things," Aunt Hannah put in. "It--well, it simply isn't done."

"A woman who never does anything that isn't done, never does anything
worth doing," mother answered, through pretty pursed lips.

"But, since you must be freakish, why not call her Prudence, or
Patience--to keep Oldburgh from wagging its tongue in two?" Aunt
Louella suggested.

Oldburgh isn't the town's name, of course, but it's a descriptive
alias. The place itself is, unfortunately, the worst overworked
southern capital in fiction. It is one of the Old South's "types,"
boasting far more social leaders than sky-scrapers--and you can't
suffer a blow-out on _any_ pike near the city's limits that isn't
flanked by a college campus.

"Oldburgh knows how I feel," mother replied. "If this baby had been a
boy I should have named him Theodore--gift of God--but since she's a
girl, her name is _Grace_."

She said it smoothly, I feel sure, for her Vere de Vere repose always
jutted out like an iceberg into a troubled sea when there was a family
squall going on.

"_All_ right!" pronounced two aunts, simultaneously and acidly.

"All _right_!" chorused another two, but Cousin Pollie hadn't given up
the ship.

"Just name a girl Faith, Hope or Natalie, if you want her to grow up
freckle-faced and marry a ribbon clerk!" she threatened. "Grace is
every bit as bad! It is indicative! It proclaims what you think of
her--what you will expect of her--and just trust her to disappoint
you!"

Which is only too true! You may be named Fannie or Bess without your
family having anything up its sleeve, but it's an entirely different
matter when you're named for one of the prismatic virtues. You know
then that you're expected to take an A. B. degree, mate with a
millionaire and bring up your children by the Montessori method.

"Bet Gwace 'ud ruther be ducked 'n cwistened, anyhow!" observed
Guilford Blake, my five-year-old betrothed.--Not that we were Hindus
and believed in infant marriage exactly! Not that! We were simply
southerners, living in that portion of the South where the principal
ambition in life is to "stay put"--where everything you get is
inherited, tastes, mates and demijohns--where blood is thicker than
axle-grease, and the dividing fence between your estate and the next
is properly supposed to act as a seesaw basis for your amalgamated
grandchildren.--Hence this early occasion for "Enter Guilford."

"My daughter is not going to disappoint me," mother declared, as she
motioned for Guilford's mother to come forward and keep him from
profaning the water in the font with his little celluloid duck.

"Don't be too sure," warned Cousin Pollie.

"Well, I'll--I'll risk it!" mother fired back. "And if you must know
the truth, I couldn't express my feelings of gratitude--yes, I said
_grat_itude--in any other name than Grace. I have had a wonderful
blessing lately, and I am going to give credit where it is due! It was
nothing less than an act of heavenly grace that released me!"

At this point the mercury dropped so suddenly that Cousin Pollie's
breath became visible. Only six weeks before my father had died--of
delirium tremens. It was a case of "the death wound on his gallant
breast the last of _many_ scars," but the Christies had never given
mother any sympathy on that account. He had done nothing worse, his
family considered, than to get his feet tangled up in the line of
least resistance. Nearly every southern man born with a silver spoon
in his mouth discards it for a straw to drink mint julep with!

"Calling her the whole of the doxology isn't going to get that
Christie look off her!" father's family sniffed, their triumph
answering her defiant outburst. "She is the living image of Uncle
Lancelot!"

You'll notice this about in-laws. If the baby is like their family
their attitude is triumphant--if it's like anybody else on the face of
the earth their manner is distinctly accusing.

"'Lancelot!'" mother repeated scornfully. "If they had to name him for
poetry why didn't they call him Lothario and be done with it!"

The circle again stiffened, as if they had a spine in common.

"Certainly it isn't becoming in you to train this child up with a
disrespectful feeling toward Uncle Lancelot," some one reprimanded
quickly, "since she gives every evidence of being very much like him
in appearance."

"My child like that notorious Lancelot Christie!" mother repeated,
then burst into tears. "Why she's a Moore, I'll have you
understand--from here--down to _here_!"

She encompassed the space between the crown of my throbbing head and
the soles of my kicking feet, but neither the tears nor the
measurements melted Cousin Pollie.

"A Moore! Bah! Why, you needn't expect that she'll turn out anything
like you. A Lydia Languish mother always brings forth a caryatid!"

"A what?" mother demanded frenziedly, then remembering that Cousin
Pollie had just returned from Europe with guide-books full of strange
but not necessarily insulting words, she backed down into her former
assertion. "She's a Moore! She's the image of my revered father."

"There's something in that, Pollie," admitted Aunt Louella, who was
the weak-kneed one of the sisters. "Look at the poetic little brow
and expression of spiritual intelligence!"

"But what a combination!" Aunt Hannah pointed out. "As sure as you're
a living woman this mouth and chin are like Uncle Lancelot!--Think of
it--Jacob Moore and Lancelot Christie living together in the same
skin!"

"Why, they'll tear the child limb from limb!"

This piece of sarcasm came from old great-great-aunt, Patricia
Christie, who never took sides with anybody in family disputes,
because she hated them one and all alike. She rose from her chair now
and hobbled on her stick into the midst of the battle-field.

"Let me see! Let me see!"

"She's remarkably like Uncle Lancelot, aunty," Cousin Pollie declared
with a superior air of finality.

"She's a thousand times more like my father than I, myself, am," poor
little mother avowed stanchly.

"Then, all I've got to say is that it's a devilish bad combination!"
Aunt Patricia threw out, making faces at them impartially.

And to pursue the matter further, I may state that it was! All my life
I have been divided between those ancient enemies--cut in two by a
Solomon's sword, as it were, because no decision could be made as to
which one really owned me.

You believe in a "dual personality"? Well, they're mine! They quarrel
within me! They dispute! They pull and wrangle and seesaw in as many
different directions as a party of Cook tourists in Cairo--coming into
the council-chamber of my conscience to decide everything I do, from
the selection of a black-dotted veil to the emancipation of the
sex--while I sit by as helpless as a bound-and-gagged spiritual
medium.

"They're not going to affect her future," mother said, but a little
gasp of fear showed that if she'd been a Roman Catholic she would be
crossing herself.

"Of course not!" Aunt Patricia answered. "It's all written down,
anyhow, in her little hand. Let me see the lines of her palm!"

"Her feet's a heap cuter!" Guilford advised, but the old lady
untwisted my tight little fist.

"Ah! This tells the story!"

"What?" mother asked, peering over eagerly.

"Nothing--nothing, except that the youngster's a Christie, sure
enough! All heart and no head."

Mother started to cry again, but Aunt Patricia stopped her.

"For the lord's sake hush--here comes the minister! Anyhow, if the
child grows up beautiful she may survive it--but heaven help the woman
who has a big heart and a big nose at the same time."

Then, with this christening and bit of genealogical gossip by way of
introduction, the next mile-stone in my career came one day when the
twentieth century was in its wee small figures.

"I hate Grandfather Moore and Uncle Lancelot Christie, both!" I
confided to Aunt Patricia upon that occasion, having been sent to her
room to make her a duty visit, as I was home for the holidays--a
slim-legged sorority "pledge"--and had learned that talking about the
Past, either for or against, was the only way to gain her attention.
"I hate them both, I say! I wish you could be vaccinated against your
ancestors. Are they in you to stay?"

I put the question pertly, for she was not the kind to endure timidity
nor hushed reverence from her family connections. She was a woman of
great spirit herself, and she called forth spirit in other people. A
visit with her was more like a bomb than a benediction.

"Hate your ancestors?"

At this time she was perching, hawk-eyed and claw-fingered, upon the
edge of the grave, but she always liked and remembered me because I
happened to be the only member of the family who didn't keep a black
bonnet in readiness upon the wardrobe shelf.

"I hate that grandfather and Uncle Lancelot affair! Don't you think
it's a pity I couldn't have had a little say-so in that business?"

"Yes--no--I don't know--ouch, my knee!" she snapped. "What a
chatterbox you are, Grace! I've got rheumatism!"

"But I've got 'hereditary tendencies,'" I persisted, "and chloroform
liniment won't do any good with my ailment. I wish I need never hear
my family history mentioned again."

"Then, you shouldn't have chosen so notable a lineage," she exclaimed
viciously. "Your Grandfather Moore, as you know, was a famous
divine--"

"I know--and Uncle Lancelot Christie was an equally famous infernal,"
I said, for the sake of varying the story a little. I was so tired of
it.

She stared, arrested in her recital.

"What?"

"Well, if you call a minister a divine, why shouldn't you call a
gambler an infernal?"

"Just after the Civil War," she kept on, with the briefest pause left
to show that she ignored my interruption, "your grandfather did all
in his power--although he was no kin to me, I give him credit for
that--he did all in his power to re-establish peace between the states
by preaching and praying across the border."

"And Uncle Lancelot accomplished the feat in half the time by flirting
and marrying," I reminded her.

She turned her face away, to hide a smile I knew, for she always
concealed what was pleasant and displayed grimaces.

"Well, I must admit that when Lancelot brought home his third Ohio
heiress--"

"The other two heiresses having died of neglect," I put in to show my
learning.

"--many southern aristocrats felt that if the Mason and Dixon line had
not been wiped away it had at least been broken up into dots and
dashes--like a telegraph code."

I smiled conspicuously at her wit, then went back to my former stand.
I was determined to be firm about it.

"I don't care--I hate them both! Nagging old crisscross creatures!"

She looked at me blankly for a moment, then:

"Grace, you amaze me!" she said.

But she mimicked mother's voice--mother's hurt, helpless,
moral-suasion voice--as she said it, and we both burst out laughing.

"But, honest Injun, aunty, if a person's got to carry around a
heritage, why aren't you allowed to choose which one you prefer?" I
asked; then, a sudden memory coming to me, I leaped to my feet and
sprang across the room, my gym. shoes sounding in hospital thuds
against the floor. I drew up to where three portraits hung on the
opposite wall. They represented an admiral, an ambassador and an
artist.

"Why can't you adopt an ancestor, as you can a child?" I asked again,
turning back to her.

"Adopt an ancestor?"

Her voice was trembling with excitement, which was not brought about
by the annoyance of my chatter, and as I saw that she was nodding her
head vigorously, I calmed down at once and regretted my precipitate
action, for the doctor had said that any unusual exertion or change of
routine would end her.

"I only meant that I'd prefer these to grandfather and Uncle
Lancelot," I explained soothingly, but her anxiety only increased.

"Which one?" she demanded in a squeaky voice which fairly bubbled with
a "bully-for-you" sound. "_Which one_, Grace?"

"Him," I answered.

"They're all hims!" she screamed impatiently.

"I mean the artist."

At this she tried to struggle to her feet, then settled back in
exhaustion and drew a deep breath.

"Come here! Come here quick!" she panted weakly.

"Yes, 'um."

She wiped away a tear, in great shame, for she was not a weeping
woman.

"Thank God!" she said angrily. "Thank God! That awful problem is
settled at last! I knew I couldn't have a moment's peace a-dying until
I had decided."

"Decided what?" I gasped in dismay, for I was afraid from the look in
her eyes that she was "seeing things." "Shall I call mother, or--some
one?"

"Don't you dare!" she challenged. "Don't you leave this room, miss.
It's _you_ that I have business with!"

"But I haven't done a thing!" I plead, as weak all of a sudden as she
was.

"It's not what you've done, but what you _are_," she exclaimed.
"You're the only member of this family that has an idea which isn't
framed and hung up! Now, listen! I'm going to leave you
something--something very precious. Do you know about that artist over
there--James Mackenzie Christie--our really famous ancestor--_my_
great-uncle, who has been dead these sixty years, but will always be
immortal? Do you know about him?"

"Yes--I know!"

"Well, I'm going to leave--those letters--those terrible love-letters
to _you_!"

I drew back, as if she'd pointed a pistol straight at me.

"But they're the skeleton in the closet," I repeated, having heard it
expressed that way all my life.

She was angry for a moment, then she began laughing reminiscently and
rocking herself backward and forward slowly in her chair. Her face was
as detached and crazy as Ophelia's over her botany lesson, when she
gets on your nerves with her: "There is pansies, that's for thoughts,"
and so forth.

"Yes, he left a skeleton--what was considered a skeleton in those
days--Uncle James--our family's great man--but such a skeleton! People
now would understand how wonderful it is--with its carved ivory
bones--and golden joints and ruby eyes! _You little fool!_"

"Why, I'm proud!" I denied, backing back, all a-tremble. "I'll love
those letters, Aunt Patricia."

"You'd better!"

"I'll be sure to," I reiterated, but her face suddenly softened, and
she caught up my hand in her yellow claw. She studied the palm for a
moment.

"You'll understand them," she sighed. "Poor little, heart-strong
Christie!"

And, whether her words were prophetic or delirious, she had told the
truth. I have understood them.

She gave them over into my keeping that day; and the next morning we
found her settled back among her pillows, imagining that all her
brothers and sisters were flying above the mantlepiece and that the
Chinese vase was in danger. Another day passed, and on Sunday
afternoon all the wardrobe shelves yielded up their black bonnets.

I was not distressed, but I was lonely, with an ultra-Sabbathical
repression over my spirits.

"I believe I'll amuse myself by reading over those old letters," I
suggested to mother, as time dragged wearily before the crowd began to
gather. But she uttered a shriek, with an ultra-Sabbathical repression
over its tone.

"Grace, you amaze me!" she said.

"She's really a most American child!" Cousin Pollie pronounced
severely, having just finished doing the British Isles.

After this it seemed that years and years and years of the twentieth
century passed--all in a heap. I awoke one morning to find myself set
in my ways. Most women, in the formation of their happiness, are
willing to let nature take its course, then there are others who are
not content with this, but demand a postgraduate course. I,
unfortunately, belonged to this latter class. Growing up I was fairly
normal, not idle enough at school to forecast a brilliant career in
any of the arts, nor studious enough to deserve a prediction of
mediocre plodding the rest of my life; but after school came the
deluge. I was restless, shabby and _single_--no one of which mother
could endure in her daughter.

So I was a disappointment to her, while the rest of the tribe gloated.
The name, Grace, with all appurtenances and emoluments accruing
thereto, availed nothing. I was a failure.

"My pet abomination begins with C," I chattered savagely to myself one
afternoon in June, a suitable number of years after the
above-mentioned christening, as I made my way to my own private desk
in the office of _The Oldburgh Herald_, pondering family affairs in my
heart as I went. "Of course this is at the bottom of the whole agony!
They just can't bear to see me turn out to be a newspaper reporter
instead of Mrs. Guilford Blake. And I hate everything that they love
best--cities, clothes, clubs, culture, civilities, conventions,
chiffons!"

I was thinking of Cousin Pollie's comment when she first saw a feature
story in the _Herald_ signed with my name.

"Is the girl named Grace or Disgrace?" she had asked. "Not since
America was a wilderness has the name of any Christie woman appeared
outside the head-lines of the society column!"

"The whole connection has raised its eyebrows," I laughed, when I met
the owner and publisher of the paper down in his private office the
next day. He was an old friend of the family, having fought beside my
revered grandfather, and he had taken me into the family circle of the
_Herald_ more out of sympathy than need.

"That's all right! It's better to raise an eyebrow than to raise
hell!" he laughed back.

But on the June afternoon I have in mind, when I hurried up-town
thinking over my pet abominations beginning with C, I was still a
fairly civilized being. I lived at home with mother in the old house,
for one thing, instead of in an independent apartment, after the
fashion of emancipated women--and I still wore Guilford Blake's
heirloom scarab ring.

"Aren't your nerves a little on edge just now, Grace, from the scene
this morning?" something kept whispering in my ears in an effort to
tame my savagery. It was the soft virtuous personality of my inner
consciousness, which, according to science, was Grandfather Moore.
"You'll be all right, my dear, as soon as you make up your mind to do
the square thing about this matter which is agitating you. And of
course you are going to do the square thing. Money isn't all there
is."

"Now, that's all rot, parson!" Uncle Lancelot, in the other hemisphere
of my brain, denied stoutly. "Don't listen to him, Grace! You can't go
on living this crocheted life, and money will bring freedom."

"He's a sophist, Grace," came convincingly across the wires.

"He's a purist, Grace," flashed back.

"Hush! Hush! What do two old Kilkenny cats of ancestors know about my
problems?" I cried fiercely. Then, partly to drown out their clamor, I
kept on: "My pet abominations in several syllables are--checkered
career--contiguous choice--just because his mother and mine lived next
door when they were girls--circumscribed capabilities--"

"And the desire of your heart begins with H," Uncle Lancelot said
triumphantly. "You want Happy Humanness--different brand and harder to
get than Human Happiness--you want a House that is a Home, and above
all else you want a Husband with a sense of Humor!"

"But how could this letter affect all this?" I asked myself, stopping
at the foot of the steps to take a message in rich vellum stationery
from my bag. "How can so much be contained in one little envelope?"

After all, this was what it said:

      "My dear Miss Christie:

      "While in Oldburgh recently on a visit to Mr. Clarence
      Wiley"--he was the author of blood-and-thunder detective
      stories who lived on Waverley Pike and raised pansies between
      times--"I learned that you are in possession of the
      love-letters written by the famous Lady Frances Webb to your
      illustrious ancestor, James Mackenzie Christie. Mr. Wiley
      himself was my informer, and being a friend of your family
      was naturally able to give me much interesting information
      about the remaining evidences of this widely-discussed
      affair.

      "No doubt the idea has occurred to you that the love-letters
      of a celebrated English novelist to the first American artist
      of his time would make valuable reading matter for the
      public; and the suggestion of these letters being done into a
      book has made such charming appeal to my mind that I resolved
      to put the matter before you without delay.

      "To be perfectly plain and direct, this inheritance of yours
      can be made into a small fortune for you, since the material,
      properly handled, would make one of the best-selling books of
      the decade.

      "If you are interested I shall be glad to hear from you, and
      we can then take up at once the business details of the
      transaction. Mr. Wiley spoke in such high praise of the
      literary value of the letters that my enthusiasm has been
      keenly aroused.

      "With all good wishes, I am,
      "Very sincerely yours,

      "Julien J. Dutweiler."

There was an embossed superscription on the envelope's flap which
read: "Coburn-Colt Company, Publishers, Philadelphia." They were
America's best-known promoters--the kind who could take six inches of
advertising and a red-and-gold binding and make a mountain out of a
mole-hill.

"'Small fortune!'" I repeated. "Surely a great temptation _does_
descend during a hungry spell--in real life, as well as in human
documents."



CHAPTER II

A GLIMPSE OF PROMISED LAND


"Hello, Grace!"

I was passing the society editor in her den a moment later, and she
called out a cheery greeting, although she didn't look up from her
task. She was polishing her finger-nails as busily as if she lived for
her hands--not by them.

"Hello, Jane!"

My very voice was out of alignment, however, as I spoke.

"Are you going to let all the world see that you're not a headstrong
woman?" something inside my pride asked angrily, but as if for
corroboration of my conscientious whisperings, I looked in a
shamefaced way at the lines of my palm.--The head-line _was_ weak and
isolated--while the heart-line was as crisscrossed as a centipede
track!

But a heart-line has nothing at all to do with a city editor's
desk--certainly not on a day when the crumpled balls of copy paper
lying about his waste-basket look as if a woman had thrown them! Every
one had missed its mark, and up and down the length of the room the
typewriters were clicking falsetto notes. The files of papers on the
table were in as much confusion as patterns for heathen petticoats at
a missionary meeting.

"What's up?"

I had made my way to the desk of the sporting editor, who writes
poetry and pretends he's so aerial that he never knows what day of the
week it is, but when you pin him down he can tell you exactly what you
want to know--from the color of the bride's going-away gown to the
amount the bridegroom borrowed on his life insurance policy.

"Search me!" he answered--as usual.

"But there's something going on in this office!" I insisted.
"Everybody looks as exercised as if the baby'd just swallowed a
moth-ball."

"Huh?"

He looked around--then opened his eyes wider. "Oh, I believe I did
hear 'em say--"

"What?"

"That they can't get hold of that story about the Consolidated
Traction Company."

"--And damn those foreigners who come over here with their fool
notions of dignity!" broke in the voice of the city editor--then
stopped and blushed when he saw me within ear-shot, for it's a rule of
the office that no one shall say "damn" without blushing, except the
society editor and her assistants.

"Who's the foreigner?" I asked, for the sake of warding off apologies.
That's why men object so strongly to women mixing up with them in
business life. It keeps them eternally apologizing.

"Maitland Tait," he replied.

"Maitland Tait? But that's not foreign. That's perfectly good
English."

"So's he!" the city editor snapped. "It's his confounded John
Bullishness that's causing all the trouble."

"But the traction company's no kin to us, is it?" the poet inquired
crossly, for he was reporting a double-header in verse, and our
chatter annoyed him.

"Trouble will be kin to us--if somebody doesn't break in on Great
Britain and make him cough up the story," the city editor warned over
his shoulder. "I've already sent Clemons and Bolton and Reade."

"--And it would mean a raise," the poet said, with a tender little
smile. "A raise!"

"Are you sure?" I asked, after the superior officer had disappeared.
"I'd like--a raise."

He looked at me contemptuously.

"You don't know what the Consolidated Traction Company is, I suppose?"
he asked.

My business on the paper was reporting art meetings at the Carnegie
Library and donation affairs at settlement homes because the owner and
publisher drank out of the same canteen with my grandfather--and my
fellows on the staff called me behind my back their ornamental member.

"I do!" I bristled. "It's located at a greasy place, called
Loomis--and it's something that makes the wheels go round."

He smiled.

"It certainly does in Oldburgh," he said. "It's the biggest thing we
have, next to our own cotton mills and to think that they're
threatening to take their doll-rags and move to Birmingham and leave
us desolate!"

"Where the iron would be nearer?" I asked, and he fairly beamed.

_"Sure!_ Say, if you know that much about the company's affairs, why
don't you try for this assignment yourself?"

But I shook my head.

"I've got relatives in Alabama--that's how I knew that iron grows on
trees down there," I explained.

"Well--that's what the trouble is about! Oldburgh can't tell whether
this fellow, Maitland Tait, is going to pack the 'whole blarsted
thing, don't you know, into his portmanteau' and tote it off--or buy
up more ground here and enlarge the plant so that the company's
grandchildren will call this place home."

I turned away, feeling very indifferent. Oldburgh's problem was small
compared with that letter in my hand-bag.

"And he won't tell?" I asked, crossing over to my own desk and fitting
the key in a slipshod fashion.

"He seems to think that silence is the divine right of corporations.
Nobody has been able to get a word out of him--nor even to see him."

"Then--they don't know whether he's a human being or a Cockney?"

He leaned across toward me, his elbow flattening two tiers of keys on
his machine.

"Say, the society's column's having fever and ague, too," he
whispered. "The tale records that two of our 'acknowledged leaders'
met him in Pittsburgh last winter--and they're at daggers' points now
for the privilege of killing the fatted calf for him.--The one that
does it first is IT, of course, and Jane Lassiter's scared to death!
The calf is fat and the knife is sharp--but no report of the killing
has come in."

I laughed. It always makes me laugh when I think how hard some people
work to get rid of their fatted calves, and how much harder others
have to labor to acquire a veal cutlet.

"Of course he was born in a cabin?" I turned back to the poet and
asked, after a little while devoted to my own work, in which I learned
that my mind wouldn't concentrate sufficiently for me to embroider my
story of an embryo Michaelangelo the Carnegie Art Club had just
discovered. "A cabin in the Cornish hills--don't you know?"

The sporting editor pulled himself viciously away from his
typewriter.

"Ty Cobb--Dry sob--By mob--"

"Oh, I beg your pardon!"

"Can't you see when a poem is about to die a-borning?" he asked
furiously.

"I am sorry--and perhaps I might help you a little," I suggested with
becoming meekness. "How's this?--High job--Nigh rob--"

I paused and he began writing hurriedly. Looking up again he threw me
a smile.

"Bully! Grace Christie, you're the light o' my life," he announced,
"and--and of course that blamed Englishman was born in a cabin, if
that's what you want to know."

"It's not that I care, but--they always are," I explained. "They're
born in a cabin, come across in the steerage amid terrific storms--Why
is it that everybody's story of steerage crossing is stormy?--It seems
to me it would be bad enough without that--then he sold papers for two
years beneath the cart-wheels around the Battery, and by sheer
strength of brain and brawn, has elevated himself into the proud
privilege of being able to die in a 'carstle' when it suits his
convenience."

The sporting editor looked solicitous.

"And now, if I were you, to keep from wearing myself out with talking,
I'd get on the car and ride out to Glendale Park," he advised.

But I shook my head.

"I can't."

"You really owe it to yourself," he insisted. "You are showing
symptoms of a strange excitement to-day. You look as if you were
talking to keep from doing something more annoying--if such a thing
were possible."

"I'm not going to weep--either from excitement or the effects of your
rudeness," I returned, then wheeling around and facing my desk again I
let my dual personality take up its song.

     "I can and I can't;
     I will and I won't;
     I'll be damned if I do--
     I'll be damned if I don't!"

The story goes that a queen of Sweden composed this classic many years
ago, but it's certainly the national song of every one who has two
people living in his skin that are not on speaking terms with each
other.

Then, partly to keep from annoying the poet again, partly because it's
the thing a woman always does, I took out the letter and read it over
once more.

"Coburn-Colt--Philadelphia!"

The paper was a creamy satin, the embossing severely correct, the
typing so neat and businesslike that I could scarcely believe the
letter was meant for me when I looked at the outside only.

"Wonder what 'Julien J. Dutweiler' would call a small fortune?" I
muttered. "Five thousand dollars? Ten thousand dollars!--Good heavens,
then mother could have all the crepe meteor gowns she wanted without
my ever--_ever_ having to marry Guilford Blake for her sake!"

But as I sat there thinking, grandfather took up the cudgels
bravely--even though the people most concerned were Christies and not
Moores.

"Think well, Grace! That 'best-selling' clause means not only Maine
to California, but England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and
Berwick-on-the-Tweed!" he warned. "Everybody who had ever heard of
either of these two unfortunate people will buy a copy of the book and
read it to find out what really happened!"

"But the letters are hers!" Uncle Lancelot reminded him. "If people
don't want posterity to know the truth about them they ought to
confine themselves to wireless communications."

"And--what would your Aunt Patricia say?" grandfather kept on. "What
would James Christie say? What would Lady Frances Webb say?"

Thinking is certainly a bad habit--especially when your time belongs
to somebody else and you are not being paid to think! Nevertheless, I
sat there all the afternoon, puzzling my brain, when my brain was not
supposed to wake up and rub its eyes at all inside the _Herald_
office. I was being paid to come there and write airy little nothings
for the _Herald's_ airy little readers, yet I added to my sin of
indecision by absorbing time which wasn't mine.

"Of course the possession of these letters in a way connects you with
greatness," grandfather would say once in a while, in a lenient,
musing sort of way. "But I trust that you are not going to let this
fly to your head. Anyway, as the family has always known, your Uncle
James Christie didn't leave his letters and papers to his great-niece;
he merely _left_ them! True, she was very close to him in his last
days and he had always loved and trusted her--"

"But there's a difference between trusting a woman and trusting her
_with your desk keys_!" Uncle Lancelot interrupted. "Uncle James ought
to have known a thing or two about women by that time!"

"Yet we must realize that the value of the possession was
considerable, even in those days," grandfather argued gently. "We must
not blame his great-niece for what she did. James Mackenzie Christie
had caught the whole fashionable world on the tip of his camel's-hair
brush and pinioned it to canvases which were destined to get
double-starred notices in guide-books for many a year to come, and the
correspondence of kings and queens, lords and ladies made a mighty
appeal to the young girl's mind."

"Then, that's a sure sign they'd be popular once again," said Uncle
Lancelot. "Of course there's a degree of family pride to be
considered, but that shouldn't make much difference. The Christies
have always had pride to spare--now's the time to let some of it
slide!"

Thus, after hours of time and miles of circling tentatively around the
battlements of Colmere Abbey--the beautiful old place which had been
the home of Lady Frances Webb--I was called back with a stern
suddenness to my place in the _Herald_ office.

"Can _you_ think of anything else?" the poet's voice begged humbly.
"I'm trying to match up just plain 'Ty' this time--but I'm dry."

I turned to him forgivingly. I welcomed any diversion.

"Rye, lie, die, sky,--why, what's the matter with your think tank?" I
asked him. "They swarm!"

But before he could thank me, or apologize, the voice of the city
editor was in the doorway. He himself followed his rasping tones, and
as he came in he looked backward over his shoulder at a forlorn
dejected face outside. He looked at his watch viciously, then snapped
the case as if it were responsible for his spleen.

"Get to work then on something else," he growled. "There's no use
spending car fare again to Loomis to-day that I can see! He's an
Englishman--and of course he kisses a teacup at this time of the
afternoon."



CHAPTER III

NIP AND TUCK


When I reached home late that afternoon I was in that state of
spring-time restlessness which clamors for immediate activity--when
the home-keeping instinct tries to make you believe that you'll be
content if you spend a little money for garden seeds--but a reckless
demon of extravagance notifies you that nothing short of salary
sacrificed for railroad fare is going to avail.

Grandfather and Uncle Lancelot, of course, came in with their
gratuitous advice, the one suggesting nasturtium beds with geraniums
along the borders--the other slyly whispering that a boat trip from
Savannah to Boston was no more than I deserved.

Then, reaching home in this frame of mind, I was confronted with two
very perplexing and unusual conditions. _Mignon_ was being played with
great violence in the front parlor--and all over the house was the
scent of burnt yarn.

"What's up?" I demanded of mother, as she met me at the door--dressed
in blue. "Everything seems mysterious and topsyturvy to-day! I believe
if I were to go out to the cemetery I'd find the tombstones nodding
and whispering to one another."

"Come in here!" she begged in a Santa Claus voice.

I went into the parlor, then gave a little shriek.

"Mother!"

I have neglected to state, earlier in the narrative, that the one
desire of my heart which doesn't begin with H was a player-piano! It
was there in the parlor, at that moment, shining, and singing its
wordless song about the citron-flower land.

"It's the very one we've been _watching_ through the windows up-town,"
she said in a delighted whisper.

"But did you get it as a prize?" I inquired, walking into the dusky
room and shaking hands with my betrothed, who rose from the instrument
and made way for me to take possession. "How came it here?"

"I had it sent out--on--on approval," she elucidated. That is, her
words took the form of an explanation, but her voice was as appealing
as a Salvation Army dinner-bell, just before Christmas.

"On approval? But why, please?"

"Because I want you to get used to having the things you want,
darling!"

Then, to keep from laughing--or crying--I ran toward the door.

"What _is_ that burning?" I asked, sniffing suspiciously.

It was a vaguely familiar scent--scorching dress-goods--and suggestive
of the awful feeling which comes to you when you've stood too close to
the fire in your best coat-suit--or the comfortable sensation on a
cold night, when you're preparing to wrap up your feet in a red-hot
flannel petticoat.

"What is it? Tell the truth, mother!"

But she wouldn't.

"It's your brown tweed skirt, Grace," Guilford finally explained, as
my eyes begged the secret of them both. They frequently had secrets
from me.

"My brown tweed skirt?"

"It was as baggy at the knees as if you'd done nothing all winter but
_pray_ in it!" mother whimpered in a frightened voice. "I've--I've
burned it up!"

For a moment I was silent.

"But what shall I tramp in?" I finally asked severely. "What can I
walk out the Waverley Pike in?"

Then mother took fresh courage.

"You're not going to walk!" she answered triumphantly. "You're going
to ride--in your very--own--electric--coupé! Here's the catalogue."

She scrambled about for a book on a table near at hand--and I began to
see daylight.

"Oh, a player-piano, and an electric coupé--all in one day! I see! My
fairy godmother--who was old Aunt Patricia, and she looked exactly
like one--has turned the pumpkin into a gold coach! You two plotters
have been putting your heads together to have me get rich quick and
gracefully!"

"We understand that this stroke of fortune is going to make a great
change in your life, Grace," Guilford said gravely. He was always
grave--and old. The only way you could tell his demeanor from that of
a septuagenarian was that he didn't drag his feet as he walked.

"'Stroke of fortune?'" I repeated.

"The Coburn--" mother began.

"Colt--" he re-enforced, then they both hesitated, and looked at me
meaningly.

I gave a hysterical laugh.

"You and mother have counted your Coburn-Colts before they were
hatched!" I exclaimed wickedly, sitting down and looking over the
music rolls. I did want that player-piano tremendously--although I had
about as much use for an electric coupé, under my present conditions
in life, as I had for a perambulator.

"Grace, you're--indelicate!" mother said, her voice trembling.
"Guilford's a man!"

"A man's a man--especially a Kentuckian!" I answered. "You're not
shocked at my mention of colts and--and things, are you, Guilford?"

My betrothed sat down and lifted from the bridge of his nose that
badge of civilization--a pair of rimless glasses. He polished them
with a dazzling handkerchief, then replaced the handkerchief into the
pocket of the most faultless coat ever seen. He smoothed his already
well-disciplined hair, and brushed away a speck of dust from the toe
of his shoe. From head to foot he fairly bristled with signs of civic
improvement.

"I am shocked at your reception of your mother's kind thoughtfulness,"
he said.

He waited a little while before saying it, for hesitation was his way
of showing disapproval. Yet you must not get the impression from this
that Guilford was a bad sort! Why, no woman could ride in an elevator
with him for half a minute without realizing that he was the
flower-of-chivalry sort of man! He always had a little way of standing
back from a woman, as if she were too sacred to be approached, and in
her presence he had a habit of holding his hat clasped firmly against
the buttons of his coat. You can forgive a good deal in a man if he
keeps his hat off all the time he's talking to you!

"'Shocked?'" I repeated.

"Your mother always plans for your happiness, Grace."

"Of course! Don't you suppose I know that?" I immediately asked in an
injured tone. It is always safe to assume an injured air when you're
arguing with a man, for it gives him quite as much pleasure to comfort
you as it does to hurt you.

"I didn't--mean anything!" he hastened to assure me.

"Guilford merely jumped at the chance of your freeing yourself of this
newspaper slavery," mother interceded. "You know what a humiliation it
is to him--just as it is to me and to every member of the--Christie
family."

My betrothed nodded so violently in acquiescence that his glasses flew
off in space.

"You know that I am a Kentuckian in my way of regarding women, Grace,"
he plead. "I can't bear to see them step down from the pedestal that
nature ordained for them!"

I turned and looked him over--from the crown of his intensely
aristocratic fair head to the tip of his aristocratic slim foot.

"A Kentuckian?"

"Certainly!"

"A Kentuckian?" I repeated reminiscently. "Why, Guilford Blake, you
ought to be olive-skinned--and black-eyed--and your shoes ought to
turn up at the toes--and your head ought to be covered by a red
fez--and you ought to sit smoking through a water-bottle of an
evening, in front of your--your--"

"Grace!" stormed mother, rising suddenly to her feet. "I will not have
you say such things!"

"What things?" I asked, drawing back in hurt surprise.

"H-harems!" she uttered in a blushing whisper, but Guilford caught the
word and squared his shoulders importantly.

"But, I say, Grace," he interrupted, his face showing that mixture of
anger and pleased vanity which a man always shows when you tell him
that he's a dangerous tyrant, or a bold Don Juan--or both. "You don't
think I'm a Turk--do you?"

"I do."

He sighed wistfully.

"If I were," he said, shaking his head, "I'd have caught you--and
_veiled_ you--long before this."

I looked at him intently.

"You mean--"

"That I shouldn't have let you delay our marriage this way! Why should
you, pray, when my financial affairs have changed so in the last
year?"

I rose from my place beside the new piano, breaking gently into his
plea.

"It isn't that!" I attempted to explain, but my voice failed drearily.
"You ought to know that--finances hadn't anything to do with it. I
haven't kept from marrying you all these years because we were both so
poor--then, last year when you inherited your money--I didn't keep
from marrying you because you were so rich!"

"Then, what is it?" he asked gravely, and mother looked on as eagerly
for my answer as he did. This is one advantage about a life-long
betrothal. It gets to be a family institution. Or is that a
disadvantage?

"I--don't know," I confessed, settling back weakly.

"I don't think you do!" mother observed with considerable dryness.

"Well, this business of your getting to be a famous compiler of
literature may help you get your bearings," Guilford kept on, after an
awkward little pause. "You have always said that you wished to
exercise your own wings a little before we married, and I have given
in to you--although I don't know that it's right to humor a woman in
these days and times. Really, I don't know that it is."

"Oh, you don't?"

"No--I don't. But we're not discussing that now, Grace! What I'm
trying to get at is that this offer means a good deal to you. Of
course, it is only the beginning of your career--for these fellows
will think up other things for you to do--and it will give you a way
of earning money that won't take you up a flight of dirty office
stairs every day. Understand, I mean for just a short while--as long
as you insist upon earning your own living."

"And the honor!" mother added. "You could have your pictures in good
magazines!"

I stifled a yawn, for, to tell the truth, the conflict had made me
nervous and weary.

"At all events, I must decide!" I exclaimed, starting again to my
feet. "Somehow, the office atmosphere isn't exactly conducive to deep
thought--and I've had so little time since morning to get away by
myself and thresh matters out."

Mother looked at me incredulously.

"Will you please tell me just what you mean, Grace?" she asked.

"I mean that I must get away--I've imagined that I ought to take some
serious thought, weigh the matter well, so to speak--before I write to
the Coburn-Colt Publishing Company. In other words, I have to decide."

"Decide?" mother repeated, her face filled with piteous amazement.
"_Decide?_"

"Decide?" Guilford said, taking up the strain complainingly.

"If you'll excuse me!" I answered, starting toward the door, then
turning with an effort at nonchalance, for their sakes, to wave them a
little adieu. "Suppose you keep on playing 'Knowest thou the land
where the citron-flower blooms,' Guilford--for I am filled with
_wanderlust_ right now, and this music will help out Uncle Lancelot's
presentation of the matter considerably!"

"What?"

"I'm going to listen to the voices," I explained. "All day long
grandfather and Uncle Lancelot have been busy making the fur fly in my
conscience!"

Mother darted across the room and caught my hand.

"You don't mean to say that you have scruples--_scruples_--Grace
Christie?"

She couldn't have hated smallpox worse--in me.

"Honest Injun, I don't know!" I admitted. "Of course, it does seem
absurd to ponder over what a family row might be raised in the
Seventh Circle of Nirvana by the publication of these old
love-letters, but--"

"James Mackenzie Christie died in 1849," she declared vehemently.
"Absurd! It is _insane_!"

"That's what the Uncle Lancelot part of my intelligence keeps telling
me," I laughed. "But--good heavens! you just ought to hear the
grandfather argument."

"What does he--what does that silly _Salem_ conscience of yours say
against the publication of the letters?" she asked grudgingly.

I sat down again.

"Shall I tell you?" I began good-naturedly, for I saw that mother was
at the melting point--melting into tears, however, not assent.
"Whenever I want to do anything I'm not exactly _sure_ of, these two
provoking old gentlemen come into the room--the council-chamber of my
heart--and begin their post-mortem warfare. Grandfather is
white-bearded and serene, while Uncle Lancelot looks exactly as an
Italian tenor _ought_ to look--and never does."

"And you look exactly like him," mother snapped viciously. "Nothing
about you resembles your grandfather except your brow and eyes."

"I know that," I answered resignedly. "Hasn't some one said that the
upper part of my face is as lofty as a Byronic thought--and the lower
as devilish as a Byronic _deed_?"

Neither of them smiled, but Guilford stirred a little.

"Go on with your argument, Grace," he urged patiently. He was always
patient.

"I'm going!" I answered. "All day grandfather has been telling me what
I already know--that the Coburn-Colt Company doesn't want those
letters of James Christie's because they are literary, or beautiful,
or historical, but simply and solely because they are _bad_! They'll
make a good-seller because they're the thing the public demands right
now. Lady Frances Webb was a _married_ woman!"

"Nonsense," mother interrupted, with a blush. "The public doesn't
demand bad things! There is merely a craze for intimate, biographical
matter--told in the first person."

"I know," I admitted humbly. "This is what distinguishes a human from
an inhuman document."

"The craze demands a simple straightforward narrative--" Guilford
began, then hesitated.

"In literature this is the period of the great '_I Am_,'" I broke in.
"People want the secrets of a writer's soul, rather than the tricks of
his vocabulary, I know."

"Well, good lord--you wouldn't be giving the twentieth century any
more of these people's souls than they themselves gave to the early
nineteenth," he argued scornfully. "She put his portrait into every
book she ever wrote--and he annexed her face in the figure of every
saint--and sinner--he painted!"

"Well, that was because they couldn't _see_ any other faces," I
defended.

"Bosh!"

"But Lady Frances Webb was a good woman," mother insisted weakly.
"She had pre-Victorian ideas! She sent her lover across seas, because
she felt that she must! Why, the publication of these letters would do
_good_, not harm."

"They would shame the present-day idea of 'affinity' right," said
Guilford.

I nodded my head, for this was the same theory that Uncle Lancelot had
been whispering in my ears since the postman blew his whistle that
morning. And yet--

"Maybe you two--don't exactly understand the import of those letters
as I do," I suggested, sorry and ashamed before the gaze of their
practical eyes. "But to me they mean so much! I have always _loved_
James Christie and--his Unattainable. I can feel for them, and--"

"And you mean to say that you are going to give way to an absurd fancy
now--a ridiculous, far-fetched, namby-pamby, quixotic fancy?" mother
asked, in a tone of horror.

"I--I'm--afraid so!" I stammered.

"And miss this chance--for all the things you want most? The very
things you're toiling day and night to get?"

"And put off the prospect of our marriage?" Guilford demanded. "I had
hoped that this business transaction would satisfy the unaccountable
desire you seem to have for independence--that after you had circled
about a little in the realm of emancipated women and their strained
notions of what constitutes freedom, you'd see the absurdity of it all
and--come to me."

"I am awfully sorry, Guilford," I answered, dropping my eyes, for I
knew that "freedom," "independence" and "emancipation" had nothing on
earth to do with my delayed marriage--and I knew that I was doing
wrong not to say so. "I am _awfully_ sorry to disappoint you."

"Then you have decided finally?" mother asked in a suspicious voice.

"I believe I have," I answered. "Oh, please don't look at me that
way--and please don't cry! I can't help it!"

"It is preposterous," Guilford said shortly.

"But you don't--understand!" I cried, turning to him pleadingly. "You
don't know what it is to feel as I feel about those lovers--those
people who had no happiness in this world--and are haunted and
tormented by curiosity in their very graves!--don't you suppose I want
to do the thing you and mother want me to do? Of course, I do! I want
this--this new piano--and another brown tweed skirt that doesn't bag
at the knees--and I want--so many things!"

"Then why in the name of----" he began.

"Because I _won't_!" I told him flatly. "Call it conscience--fancy, or
what you will!--I have those two people in my power--their secrets are
right here in my hands! And I'm not going to _give them away_!"

"Grace, you a-maze me!" mother sobbed.

But Guilford rose tranquilly and reached for his hat.

"Any woman who has a conscience like that ought to cauterize it--with
a curling-iron--and get rid of it," he observed dryly.



CHAPTER IV

THE QUALITY OF MERCY


That night I went to my bedroom and pulled open the top of an
old-fashioned desk standing in the corner. Except for this desk there
was not another unnecessary piece of furniture in the apartment, for I
like a cell-like place to sleep. I consider that fresh air and a clear
conscience ought to be the chief adjuncts--for a cluttered-up,
luxurious bedroom always reminds me of Camille--and tuberculosis.

"And all this fuss about a few little faded wisps of paper!"

I sat down before the desk, after I had loosed my hair--which is that
very, very black, that is the Hibernian accompaniment to blue
eyes--and had slipped my slippers on.

"You have put me to considerable trouble to-day, Lady Frances."

Her portrait was hanging there--a small, cabinet-sized picture, in a
battered gold frame. Her lover had succeeded in making her face on
canvas very beautiful--with the exaggerated beauty of eyes and mouth
which all portraits of that period show. Her brow was fine and
thoughtful, irradiating the face with intelligence, yet I never looked
at her without having a feeling that I was infinitely wiser than she.

Isn't it queer that we have this feeling of superiority over the
people in old portraits--just because they are dead and we are living?
We open an ancient book of engravings, and say: "Poor little Mary
Shelley! Simple little Jane Austen! Naughty little Nell
Gwynne!"--There's only one pictured lady of my acquaintance who smiles
down my latter-day wisdom as being a futile upstart thing. I can't
pity her! Oh, no! Nor endure her either, for she's Mona Lisa!

I had always had this maternal protectiveness in my attitude toward
Lady Frances Webb, and to-night it was so keen that I could have
tucked her in bed and told her fairy tales to soothe away the
trembling fright she must have endured all that day. Instead of doing
this, however, I satisfied myself with reading some of the letters
over again. Isn't it a pity that above every writing-desk devoted to
inter-sex correspondence there is not a framed warning: "Beyond
Platonic Friendship Lies--Alimony!"

Anyway, Lady Frances and James Christie tried the medium ground for a
while. Over in a large pigeonhole, far away from the rest, was a
packet of letters tied with a strong twine. They were the uninteresting
ones, because they were _muzzled_. The handwriting was the same as
that of the others--dainty, last-century chirography, as delicate and
curling as a baby's pink fingers--but I never read them, for I don't
care for muzzled things. Gossip about Lady Jersey--Marlborough
House--the cold-blooded ire of William Lamb--all this held but little
charm--compared with the other.

"Not you--not to-night," I decided, pushing them aside quickly. "I've
got to have good pay for my pains of this day!"

I sought another compartment, where a batch huddled together--a
carefully selected batch. They were as many, and as clinging in their
contact with one another, as early kisses. I took up the first one.

"Dear Big Man"--it began.

"It has been weeks and weeks now since I have seen you! If it were not
that you lived in that terrible London and I in this lonely country, I
should be too proud to remind you of the time, for I should expect you
to be the one to complain.

"Surely it is because of this that I now hate London so! It keeps this
knowledge of separation--this sense of dreary waiting--from burning
into your heart, as it does into mine!

"There you are kept too busy to think--but here I can do nothing
else!--Or perhaps I am quite wrong, and it is not a matter of London
and Lancashire, after all, but the more primal one of your being a
man, and my being a woman! _Do_ I love the more? I wonder? And yet, I
don't think that I care much! I am willing to love more abjectly than
any woman ever loved before--if you care for me just a little in
return."

(I always felt _very_ wise and maternal at this point.)

"You were an awful goose, Lady Frances!" I said. "This is a mistake
that _I_ have never made!"

"Still, I am tormented by thoughts of you in London," the letter kept
on. "I think of you--there--as a lion. It presses down upon me, this
recollection that you are James Christie, the great artist, and the
only release from the torture is when I go alone into the library and
sit down before the fire. The two chairs are there--those two that
were there that day--and then I can forget about the lion.
'Jim--Jim!' I whisper--'just my _lover_!'

"Then your face comes--it has to come, or I could never be good! Your
rugged face that speaks of great forests which have been your
home--the fierce young freedom which has nurtured you--and the
glorious uplift you have achieved above all that is small and weak!

"You have asked me a thousand times why I love you, but I have never
known what to say--because I love you for so many things--until now,
when I have nothing but memories--and the ever-present sight of your
absent face. And now I don't know why I love you, but I know what I
love best about you. Shall I tell you--though of course you know
already! It is not your talent--wonderful as it is--for there have
been other artists; nor your terrible charm with its power to lure
women away from duty--for England is full of fascinating men; nor your
sweetness--and I think the first time I saw you smile I sounded the
depths of this--it is not any of these, dear heart! Not any of these!
I love best the strength of you which you use to control the
charm--the untamed force of your personality which makes your talent
seem just an incident--and the big, _big_ virility of you!

"Do you think for a moment that you look like an artist?
Half-civilized you? Why, you are a woodsman, dear love--but not a
hunter! You could never kill living things for the joy of seeing them
die!

"You look as if you had spent all your life in the woods, doing hard
tasks patiently--a woodcutter, or a charcoal burner! Ah, a charcoal
burner! A man who has had to grip life with bared hands and wrest his
bread from grudging circumstances. This is what you are, Jim, to my
heart's eyes. You are a primal creature--simple-souled, great-bodied,
and your mind is given over to naked truth.

"But all the time you are a famous artist--and London's idol! Your
studio in St. James's Street is the lounging-place for curled
darlings! The hardest task that your hands perform is over the ugly
features of a fat duchess!--How can you, Jim? Why don't you come away?
You are a man first, an artist afterward--and it is the man that I
love!

"And, Jim, _do_ you know how much I love you? Do you know how your
face leads me on?--It is your face I must have now, darling. _Portrait
of the Artist, by Himself_, is a title I have often smiled over,
wondering how a man could be induced to paint his own features, but
now I know! It is always because some woman has so clamorously
demanded it--a woman who loved him! What else can so entirely
satisfy--and when will you send it to me?"

When I came to the end I was sorry, for I had such a way of getting en
rapport with her sentiments that I eyed the next express wagon I
passed, eagerly, to see if it could possibly be bringing the _Portrait
of the Artist, by Himself_!

And on this occasion I reread a portion of the letter.

"Your face--your rugged face--or I could never be good!"

The picture of a rugged face was haunting me, and after a moment a
sudden thought came to me.

"Why, that's what _I_ should like!"

I had the grace to feel ashamed, of course, especially as I recalled
how mother and Guilford had tormented me that afternoon to know why I
wouldn't marry--and I found the answer in this sudden discovery.
Still, that didn't keep me from pursuing the subject.

"A rugged face--great forests--fierce freedom--glorious uplift!--Oh,
Man! Man! Where are you--and where is your great forest?--That's
exactly what I want!"

I turned back to the desk, after a while, and still allowing my mind
to circle away from the business at hand somewhat, I drew out another
letter. It was short--and troubled. The dear, little, lady-like
writing ran off at a tangent.

"Yes, I have seen the picture! Next to Murillo's _Betrothal of St.
Catherine_,--the face is the loveliest thing I have ever seen on
canvas.

"Of course it is idealized--yet so absurdly _like_ that they tell me
all Mayfair is staring! This talk--this stirring-up of what has been
sleeping--will make it a thousand times harder for us ever to see each
other, yet I am glad you did it!

"They are saying--Mayfair--that your 'making a pageant of a bleeding
heart' is as indelicate as Caroline Lamb's _Glenarvon_! If people are
going to be in love wickedly at least they ought not to write books
about it--nor paint pictures of it!... Oh, beloved, let us pray that
we may always keep bitterness out of our portraits of each other!"

The letter burned my fingers, for the pen marks were quick and
jagged--like electric sparks--and I felt the pain that had sent them
out; so I turned back to others of the batch--others that I knew
almost by heart, yet always found something new in.

"I don't know that it's such an enviable state, after all, this being
in love," I mused. "It seems to me it consists of--quite a mixture!
But, of course, it will take Heaven itself to solve the problem of a
thornless rose!"

I ran my finger over the edges of the improvised envelopes, heavily
sealed and bearing complicated foreign stamping. There were dozens of
them--many only the common garden variety of love-letters, long-drawn
out, confidential, reminiscent or hopeful, as the case might be--and a
few which sounded at times almost light-hearted.

"When I say that I think of you all the time I am not so original as
my critics give me credit for being, dear heart," she wrote in one.
"Nothing else in the annals of love-making is so trite as this, but
when I explain how persistently your image is before me, how
intricately woven with every thought of the future--how inseparably
linked with every vision of happiness--you will know that mine is no
light nor passing attachment.

"If I give you one foolish example of this will it bore you? I've
written you before, I believe, that this spring I have been outdoors
all the time--riding or driving about the country, because the mad
restlessness of thinking about you drives me out. In this house, in
these gardens, _you_ are so constantly present that I can do nothing
but remember--then I go away, hoping to forget--and what happens?--I
go into a castle--a place where you have never been, perhaps--and
before I can begin talking with any one, or think of any sensible
thing to say the thought comes to me: 'How well the figure of my lover
would fit in with all this grandeur! How naturally and easily he would
swing through these great rooms!'

"Then, early some mornings I ride into the village--past cottages that
look so humble and happy that I feel my heart stifling with longing to
possess one of them--and _you_! 'How happy I could be living there,' I
think, 'but--how tremendously tall and stalwart Jim would look coming
in through this low doorway, as I called him to supper!'

"Then I spend hours and hours planning the real home I want us to
have, dear love of mine. I don't care much whether it is a castle or a
cottage, just so it has you in it--and all around it must be the sight
of distant hills! These for _your_ artist's soul!

"You and a hundred distant hills, Jim! Then days--and nights, and
nights and days--and summers and winters of joy!

"Some time this will come to pass--it must--and we shall call it
heaven! And we shall rejoice that we were strong to keep the faith
through the days of trial and longing so that we could reach it and be
worthy of it.

"And, when this shall come, I can never know fear again--fear that
London will make you cease to love me--that some other woman may gain
possession of you--that the artist in you may crush out and starve the
lover. There will be but one thought of fear then, and that will be
that you may die and leave me, but this will not be hopeless, for I
too can die!

"Oh, do you remember that first day--that wonderful, anguished,
bewildering first day--then that night when I kissed you? When I think
of sickening fear I always remember that time. Two weeks before the
London newspapers had chronicled your visit to Colmere Abbey 'to paint
the portrait of the novelist, Lady Frances Webb,' but you were
deceiving the newspapers, for you had lost your power to paint!

"It was quite early in the morning of that eighth or ninth day of
blessed dalliance, when the canvas still showed itself accusingly
bare, that you threw down your brush and declared you were going back
to London, 'because--because Colmere Abbey had robbed your hands of
their power.'

"And what did I do when you told me this terrible thing? I said,
wickedly and without shame, 'Would you go away and leave me all alone
in idleness?'

"'Idleness?' you repeated, pretending not to understand.

"'Neither can I do any work--since you came to Colmere!'

"You stood quite still beside the easel for a breathless moment, then:

"'Do _I_--keep _you_--from working?' you asked.

"Your face tried to look sorry and amazed, but the triumph showed
through and glorified your dear eyes.

"'Then certainly I must go away--at once--to-day,' you kept on, but
you came straight across the room and placed your hands upon my
shoulders. 'Just this once--just one time, sweetheart, then I'll go
straight away and never see you again!'

"And that night, true to your promise, you did go away, but I followed
you to the gates--and when I saw horses ready saddled there to take
you away from me, the high resolves I had made came fluttering to
earth. I put my hands up to your face and kissed you. During all the
giddy joy of that day's confessional I had kept from doing this,
but--not when I saw you leaving!

"'I wish that this kiss could mark your cheek--and let all the world
know that you are mine,' I whispered, shivering against you in that
first madness of fear over losing you.

"'You've made a mark!' you laughed fondly. 'A mark that I shall carry
all the days of my life.'

"But I was still fearful.

"'You may know that you are marked, but how will the world--how will
other women know that you are mine?'

"'The world shall know it,' you declared, brushing back my hair and
kissing me again. 'There will never be another woman in my life--and
some day, when I can paint your portrait, it will certainly know then.
To me you are so very beautiful.'"

Another letter was just a note, addressed to London, and evidently
written in great haste to catch a delayed post-bag.

"Oh, my dear, that orange tree of ours--that you and I planted
together that day--is putting out tiny blossoms! Do you suppose it is
a happy omen, Jim? How I have worked with it through this dreary
winter--and now to think that it is blooming!

"Your dear hands have touched it! It is a living thing which can
receive my caresses and repay their tenderness by growing tall and
strong and beautiful--like you. Do you wonder that I love it?

"When you come again I shall take you out to see it, and we shall walk
softly up to the shelf where it stands--so carefully, to keep from
jarring a single leaf--and we shall separate the branches, still very
carefully, to look down at the little new stems. And, Jim--Jim--the
blossoms will be like starry young eyes looking up at us! The pink,
faintly-showing glow will be as delicate as a tiny cheek, when sleep
has flushed it--and the petals will close over our fingers with all
the clinging softness of a helpless little clutch!

"We will be very happy for a little while, but, because I am savage
and resentful over our delayed joy, I shall cry on your shoulder and
say it's cruel--_cruel_--that you and I have only this plant to love
together."

After this came two or three more, like it, then I reached for one
which brought a misty wetness to my eyes. The lover was gone--quite
gone--and the woman had seemed to feel that they would meet no more.

... "At other times I remember all the months which have gone by since
then--and the miles of dark water which roll between your land and
mine. God pity the woman who has a lover across the sea!

"_Am_ I sorry that I sent you away? You ask me this--yet how can you!
How many letters I have written, bidding you, nay _begging_ you to
come back--how many times have I dropped them into the post-bag in
the hall--then, after an hour's thought, have run in terror and
snatched them out again!

"I am trying so hard to be good! Can I hold out--just a little while
longer? I am going to die young, remember, and that is the one hope
which consoles me! It used to be that I shrank from the medical men
who told me this--who told me with their pitying eyes and grave
looks--but now I welcome their gravity. Sir Humphrey Davy has written
a letter to my husband, advising him to send me off to Italy for this
incoming winter--but I shall not go! 'I fear that dread phthisis in
the rigor of English cold,' he writes--but for me it can not come too
soon!

"... Yet all the time the knowledge haunts me that our lives are
passing! I can not bear it! I spend the hours out in the garden--where
the sun-dial tells me--all _silently_--of the day's wearing on.

"Since you went away I can not listen to the sound of the clock in the
hall. That chime--that holy trustful chime--'O Lord, our God, be Thou
our Guide,' shames the unholy prayer on my lips.

"Then the clock ticks, ticks, ticks--all day--all night--on, and on,
and on--to remind me of our hearts' wearying beats! Does this thought
ever come to madden you? That our hearts have only so many times to
throb in this life--and when we are apart every pulsation is wasted?"

I thrust this letter back into its place--then hastily closed down the
desk. The sensation of reading a thing like that is not pleasant. She
had written with an awful, _awful_ pain in her heart--and she had
lived before the days of anesthetics!

"Women don't feel things like that--now," I muttered, as I crossed the
room and lowered the curtain. "They--they have too many other things
to divert them, I suppose!"

I knew, however, that I was judging everybody by myself, and certainly
_I_ had never known an awful hurt like that.

"Why, I could listen to a _taximeter_ tick--for a whole year--while
Guilford was away from me, and I don't believe it would make me
nervous for a sight of him."

I was considerably disgusted with myself for my callousness as I came
to this conclusion, however, and I sat down in the window, overlooking
the tiny strip of rose-garden to think it out. Presently I crossed the
room again to the desk.

_"I'm_ not going to jest at scars--even if I haven't felt a wound!" I
decided, once and for always.

I opened the desk then and gathered up the letters, packet by packet,
tying them into one big bundle.

"Publish these--heart-throbs!"

I was so furious that I could have gagged Uncle Lancelot if he had
opened his mouth--which he didn't dare do! In this respect he and
grandfather are very much like living relatives. They'll argue with
you through ninety-nine years of indecision, but once you've made up
your mind irrevocably they close their lips into a sullen
silence--saving their breath for "I told you so!"

"I don't see how anybody could have thought of such blasphemy!" I kept
on. "It would be like a vivisection! That's what people want though,
nowadays--they won't have just a book! They want to be present at a
clinic!--They want to see others' hearts writhe--because they have no
feelings of their own!"

Then, after my thoughts had had time to get away from the past up into
the present and project themselves, somewhat spitefully, into the
future, I made another decision, slamming the desk lid to accentuate
it.

"I shall not publish them myself--nor ever give anybody else a chance
to publish them!" I declared. "By rights they are not really mine! I
am just their guardian, because Aunt Patricia couldn't take them on
her journey with her--and some day I shall take them on a journey with
me. To Colmere Abbey--that dream-house of mine! That's the thing to
do! And burn them on the hearth in the library, where she likely
burned his--if she did burn them! Of course I can't run the risk of
what the next generation might do!"

This last thought tormented me as I fell asleep.

"No, I can not hand those letters down to my daughters," I decided
drowsily, being in that hazy state where the mind traverses unheard-of
fields--unheard-of for waking thought--and queer little twisting
decisions come. "They would _never_ be able to understand!"

I was aroused by this hypothesis into sudden wakefulness.

"Of course they could not understand--me or my feelings!" I muttered,
sitting up in bed and facing the darkness defiantly. "They _could_
not--if--_if_ they were Guilford's daughters, too!"



CHAPTER V

ET TU, BRUTE!


My first waking thought the next morning had nothing on earth to do
with the dilemma of the day before. I stretched my arms lazily, then a
little shrinkingly, as I remembered what the daily grind would be.
There was to be a Flag Day celebration of the Daughters of the
American Revolution--and I was to report Major Coleman's speech.
That's why I shrank. I am not a society woman.

"D. A. R.," I grumbled, jumping out of bed and going across to the
window to see what kind of day we were going to have.--"_D-a-r-n!_"

Anyway, the day was all right, and after waving a welcome to the
sun--whose devout worshiper I am--I rubbed a circle of dust off the
mirror and looked at myself. Every woman has distinctly pretty
days--and distinctly homely ones; and usually the homely ones come to
the front viciously when you're booked for something extraordinary.
However, this proved to be one of my good-looking periods, and out of
sheer gratitude I polished off the whole expanse of the mirror.
Incidentally, I am not an absolutely dustless housekeeper, in spite of
my craze for simplicity. I consider that there are only two things
that need be kept passionately clean in this life--the human skin and
the refrigerator.

"Are you going to dress for the fête--before you go to the office?"
mother inquired rebelliously, as she saw me arranging my hair with
that look of masculine expectation later on in the morning. "Why don't
you get your other work off, then come back home and dress?"

"Well--because," I answered indifferently.

"But the _Sons_ of the Revolution are going to meet with the
Daughters!" she warned.

"I know that."

As if to demonstrate my possession of this knowledge I turned away
from the mirror and displayed my festive charms. A light gray
coat-suit had been converted into the deception of a gala garment by
the addition of Irish lace; and mother, looking it over
contemptuously, went into her own bedroom for a moment, and came back
carrying her diamond-studded D. A. R. pin. She held it out toward
me--with the air of a martyr.

"But--aren't you going to wear it yourself?" I asked, with a little
feeling of awe at the lengths of mother-love. She had been regent of
her chapter--and loved the organization well enough to go to
Washington every year.

"No."

"Then--then do you mean to say that you're not going to Mrs. Walker's
to-day?"

She shook her head.

"Why--mother!"

I turned to her and saw that a tear had dropped down upon the last
golden bar bridging the wisp of red, white and blue. There were ten
bars in all, each one engraved for an ancestor--and when I wore the
thing I felt like a foreign diplomat sitting for his picture.

"What's the matter, honey?" I asked. She had always been my little
girl, and I felt at times as if I were unduly severe in my discipline
of her.

"Grace, you don't know how I feel!"

The words came jerkily--and I knew that I was in for it.

"Does your head ache?" I asked hastily. "You'd better get on the car
and ride out into the--"

"My head _doesn't_ ache!" she denied stoutly. "It's my h-heart!--To
see you--Grace Chalmers Christie--racing around to such things as this
in a coat-suit! You ought, by right of birth and charm, be the chief
ornament of such affairs as this--the chief ornament, I say--yet you
go carrying a _'hunk o' copy paper_!'"

"In my bag," I modified.

"And you get up and leave places before you get a bite of food--and
race back to that office, like a wild thing, to _'turn it in_!'"

This contemptuous use of my own jargon caused me to laugh.

"And do you think that the wearing of this heavy pin will prove so
exhausting that I'll have to stay at Mrs. Walker's to-day for a bite
of food?" I asked.

She looked at me in helpless reproach.

"I want you to go to this thing as a D. A. R.," she explained, "not as
a _Herald_ reporter."

"Then I'll wear it," I promised, kissing her soothingly. "But you must
go, too."

She shook her head again.

"I can't--I really can't!" she said. "I've got nothing fine enough to
wear. This is going to be a magnificent thing, every one tells
me--with all the local Sons--and this wonderful Major Coleman to
lecture on flags."

She looked at me suspiciously as she uttered her plaint about the Sons
being present, and in answer, I thrust forward one gray suede pump.

"But I'm ready for any Son on earth--Oldburgh earth," I protested.
"Don't you _see_ my exquisite lace collar--and the pink satin rose in
my chapeau--and this silken and buskskin footgear? Surely no true Son
would ever pause to suspect the 'hunk o' copy paper' which lieth
beneath all this glory!"

"Isn't Guilford going with you?" she called after me as I left the
house a few minutes later. "Will he meet you at the office?"

"No--thank heaven--it's an awful thing to have to listen to two men
talk at the same time--especially when you're taking one down in
shorthand--and Guilford is mercifully busy this afternoon."

I had a bunch of pink roses, gathered fresh that morning from our
strip of garden, and I stopped in the office of the owner and
publisher when I had reached the _Herald_ building. Just because he's
old, and drank out of the same canteen with my grandfather I made a
habit of keeping fresh flowers in his gray Rookwood vase. This spot
of color, together with the occasional twinkle from his eyes, made the
only break in the dusty newspapery monotony of the room. He looked up
from his desk, and his face brightened as he saw my holiday attire.

"Well, Grace?"

He started up, big and shaggy--and wistful--like a St. Bernard. I like
old men to look like St. Bernards--and young ones to look like
greyhounds.

"Don't get up--nor clear off a chair for me," I warned, catching up
the vase and starting toward the water-cooler. "I can't stay a
minute."

He collapsed into his squeaky revolving chair. When he was a lad a
Yankee minnie ball had implanted a kiss upon his left shoulder-blade,
and he still carried that side with a jaunty little hike--a most
flirtatious little hike, which, however, caused the distinguished rest
of him to appear unduly severe.

"Ah! But you must explain the 'dolled-up' aspect," he begged.

I laughed at the schoolgirl slang.

"Why, this is Flag Day!" I told him. "How can you have
forgotten?--There will be a gigantic celebration at Mrs. Hiram
Walker's--and all the pedigreed world will be there."

He smiled--slowly.

"And you're writing it up?"

"Just Major Coleman's lecture! They say he is quite the most learned
man in the world on the subject of flags. He knows them and loves
them. He carries them about with him on these lecture tours in
felt-lined steel cases."

"Cases?" he smiled.

"Certainly," I answered. "Whatever a man esteems most precious--or
useful--he has cases for! The commercial man has his sample cases--the
medical man his instrument cases--the artistic man, his--"

"Divorce cases," he interrupted dryly.

"Alas, yes!" I sighed, my thoughts traveling back.

He wheeled slowly, giving me a glance which finally tapered off with
the pink rosebuds in my hands.

"Then," he asked kindly, "if you're going to a very great affair this
afternoon, why don't you keep these flowers and wear them yourself?"

I shook my head.

"But I'm a newspaper woman!" I said with dignity. "I might as well
wear a vanity-bag as to wear flowers."

"Bosh! You're not a newspaper woman, Grace," he denied, still looking
at me half sadly. "And yet--well, sometimes it is--just such women as
you who do the amazing things."

"Mother thinks so, certainly!" I laughed. "But you meant in what way,
for instance?"

He hesitated, studying me for a moment, while I held still and let
him, for there's always a satisfaction in being studied when there's a
satin rose in your hat.

"Oh--nothing," he finally answered, with a look of regret upon his
face.

"But it is something!" I persisted, "and, even if I am in a big hurry,
I shan't budge until you tell me!"

"Well, since you insist--I only meant to say that I'd been doing a
little thinking on my own account lately--as owner and publisher of
this paper, with its interests at heart--and I've wondered just how
much a woman might accomplish, after a man had failed."

"A woman?"

"By the ill use of her eyes, I mean," he confessed, his own eyes
twinkling a little. "Women can gain by the ill use of their eyes what
men fail to accomplish by their straightforward methods."

"But that's what men hate so in women!" I said.

He nodded.

"Ye-es--maybe! That is, they make a great pretense of hating a woman
when she uses her eyes to any end save one--charming them for their
own dear sakes!"

"They naturally grudge her the spoils she gains by the ill use of
those important members," I answered defensively.

"Oh," he put in quickly, "I wasn't going to suggest that you do any
such thing--unless you wanted to! I was merely thinking--that was
all!"

"And besides," I kept on, "all the men who have ever done anything
worth being interviewed for--nearly all of them, I mean--are so old
that--"

He interrupted me wrathfully.

"Old men are not necessarily blind men, Miss Christie," he explained.
"But we'll change the subject, if you please!"

"Anyway, it doesn't happen once in twenty years that a newspaper woman
gets a scoop just because she's a woman," I continued, not being ready
just then to change the subject even if he had demanded it.

"It does," he contradicted. "It's one of the most popular plots for
magazine stories."

"Bah! Magazine stories and life are two different propositions, my
dear Captain Macauley!" I explained with a blasé air. "I should like
some better precedent before I started out on an assignment."

"Yet you are a most unprecedented young woman," he replied in a
meaning tone. "I've suspected it before--but recent reports confirm my
worst imaginings."

I glanced at him searchingly.

"You've been talking with mother?" I ventured.

For a moment he was inscrutable.

"Oh, I know you have!" I insisted. "She's told it to everybody who
will listen."

"The story of the Coburn-Colt that wasn't hatched?"

His face was severe, but the little upward twist of his left shoulder
was twitching as if with suppressed emotion.

"She told you with tears in her eyes, I know," I kept on. "All the old
friends get the tearful accompaniment."

"Well, miss, doesn't that make you all the more ashamed of your
foolishness?" he demanded.

"My foolishness?"

Something seemed to give way under me as he said this, for he was
always on my side, and I had never found sympathy lacking before.

"I mean that--that Don Quixote carried to an extreme becomes Happy
Hooligan," he pronounced.

I drew back in amazement.

"Why, Captain Horace Macauley--of Company A--18th Kentucky Infantry!"

He tried hard not to smile.

"You needn't go so far back--stay in the present century, if you
please."

"But ever since then--even to this good day and in a newspaper office,
where the atmosphere is so cold-blooded that a mosquito couldn't fly
around without getting a congestive chill, you know your reputation!
Why, you could give the Don horse spurs and armor, then arrive a full
week ahead of him at a windmill!"

"Tommy-rot."

"Supererogation is a prettier word," I amended, but he shook his head.

"No! Six syllables are like six figures-they get you dizzy when you
commence fooling with them! Besides, I was discussing _your_ right to
commit foolish acts of self-sacrificing, Grace, not mine."

"But it didn't seem foolish to me," I tried to explain.

"When you're working in this rotten newspaper office, where no woman
could possibly feel at home, for the vigorous sum of seventy-five
dollars a month?--Then it doesn't seem idiotic?"

"No!"

"And your mother moping and pining for the things she ought to have?"

"No-o--not much!"

"And Guilford Blake standing by, waiting like a gentleman for this
fever of emancipation to pass by and desquamation to take place?"

This interested me.

"What's 'desquamation?'" I asked. "I haven't time to get my dictionary
now."

"You couldn't find it in any save a medical dictionary, likely," he
explained, with a pretense at patience. "Anyway, it's the peeling off
process which follows a high fever--especially such fevers as you
girls of this restless, modern temperament so often experience!"

I shivered.

"Ugh! It doesn't sound pretty!" I commented.

"Nor is it pretty," he assured me, "but it's very wholesome. Once
you've caught the fever, lived through it, peeled off and got a shiny
new skin you're forever immune against its return. This, of course, is
what Guilford is waiting so patiently for. He is one of the most
estimable young fellows I know, Grace, and--"

I looked wounded.

"Don't you suppose I know that?" I asked. Then glancing quickly at the
watch bracelet on my wrist, and seeing with a gasp of relief that the
hands were pointing toward the dangerous hour of three, I turned
toward the door.

"I must hurry!" I plead. "You've really no idea what an interesting
occasion a Flag Day celebration is, Captain Macauley!"

"No?" he smiled, understanding my sudden determination to leave.

"Indeed, no! Why, for three hundred and sixty-four days in the year
you may have a gentle Platonic affection for General Washington, Paul
Revere and the rest, but on the other day--Flag Day--your flame is
rekindled into a burning zeal! You can't afford to be late! You must
hurry!--Especially if you have to go there on the street-car!"

"It's a deuced pity you can't get up a zeal for a devoted _living_
man," he called after me in a severe voice as I reached the door.
"It's a pity you can't see the idiocy of this determination of
yours--before that publishing company revokes its offer."

"Well, who knows?" I answered, waving him a gay good-by. "I hate
street-cars above everything, and I'm sorry my coupé isn't waiting at
the door right now!"



CHAPTER VI

FLAG DAY


Now, according to my ethics, there are two kinds of men who go to
daylight parties--idiots and those that are dragged there by their
wives.

I had scarcely crossed the lawn of Seven Oaks and found for myself a
modest place beside the speaker's stand--which was garlanded with as
many different kinds of flags as there were rats in Hamelin Town--when
I observed that this present congregation held a fair sprinkling of
each kind.

But these held my attention for only a moment--because of the house in
the background, and the trees overhead. (To be candid, Mrs. Hiram
Walker's country place is not exactly a soothing retreat to visit
when temptation is barking at your heels like a little hungry dog--and
the desire of your heart begins with H.)

"House that's a Home" might have been written on the sign-board of the
car-station much more truthfully than "Seven Oaks"--for only the
immense patriarchal ones were included in the "Seven" there being
hordes of lesser ones which were no more mentioned than children are
when they're getting big enough to be paying railroad fare. The grove
was well cared for, but not made artificial, and even the
luxuriousness of the house itself could not hurt the charm, for the
Hiram Walkers were human beings before they were society column
acrobats.

Our families had always been friends, so I happened to know that years
and years ago, when Mr. Walker was a clerk in an insurance
office--with a horse and buggy for business through the week and joy
unconfined on Sunday--they had been in the habit of haunting this
spot, he and his slim young wife--bringing a basket full of supper
and thrusting the baby's milk bottle down into the ice-cream freezer.
Then, there were more years, of longing and saving; they bought the
hill, patiently enduring a period of blue-prints and architectural
advice before the house was built. By this time Mrs. Walker's slimness
was gone, and Mr. Walker had found out the vanity of hair tonics--but
the house was theirs at last. It was big and very beautiful--roomy,
rather than mushroomy--and thoughtful, rambling, old-timey, spreading
out a great deal of portico to the kiss of the sun. Brown-hooded monks
and clanking beads ought, by rights, to have gone with that portico.

Then, the June sunshine was doing such wonders with the oaks, great
and small, along the hillsides!

It touched up, with a tinge of glory, even the shining motor-cars in
the driveway. There were dozens of them--limousines, touring cars,
lady-like coupés--with their lazy, half-asleep attendants, and the
regularity of their unbroken files, their dignity, their quietness,
and the glitter of the sun against their metal gave them something of
a martial aspect. The silver sheen of the lamps and levers was brought
out in a manner to suggest a line of marching men, silent, but very
potent--and enjoying more than a little what they offered to view, the
dazzle of helmet, sword and coat-of-mail.

The beauty of it all--the softened glory of the shade in which I sat
making me feel that I was a spectator at a tournament--cast a spell
over me, for I never find it very hard to fall spellbound. Isn't it
funny that when you're possessed of an intelligence which has fits of
St. Vitus' dance they call it Imagination?--That's the kind mine
is--jerky and unreliable. It is the kind of imagination which can take
a dried-up acorn and draw forth a medieval forest; or gaze upon a
rusty old spur and live over again the time when knights were bold.

But to get back to "those present."

First of all, I noted Oldburgh's best-known remittance man. I noted
him mentally, mind you, not paragraphically, for they never made me do
the real drudgery of the society page. He was sitting beside his mama,
swinging her gauze fan annoyingly against her lorgnette chain. His
divorce the year before had come near uniting Church and State, since
it's a fact that nothing so cements conflicting bodies like the
uprising of a new common foe; and he had sinned against both
impartially. After him came two or three financial graybeards; three
or four yearling bridegrooms, not broken yet to taking the bit between
their teeth and staying rebelliously at the office; a habitual
"welcomer to our city"--Major Harvey Coleman, a high officer in the
Sons of the American Revolution, and the pièce de résistence of this
occasion--then--then--!

Well, certainly the impassive being next him was the most
unsocial-looking man I had ever had my eyes droop beneath the gaze of!

He was sitting in the place of honor--in the last chair of the first
row--but despite this, he so clearly did not belong at that party,
and he so clearly wished himself away that I--well, I instantly began
searching through the crowds to find a woman with handcuffs! I felt
sure that, whoever she might be--she hadn't got him there any other
way!

And yet--and yet--(my thoughts were coming in little dashing jerks
like that) he _was_ rather too big for any one woman to have handled
him!

I decided this after another look and another droop of my own eyes,
for he was still looking--and that was what I decided about him
first--that he was very _big_! Then misbehaving brown hair came next
into my consciousness. It came to top off a picture which for a moment
caused me to wonder whether he was really a flesh-and-blood man at
Mrs. Walker's reception, or the spirit of some woodsman--come again,
after many years, to haunt the grove of the Seven Oaks.

His New York clothes didn't make a bit of difference--except to spoil
the illusion a little. They were all light gray, except for a glimpse
of blue silk hose, and their perfection only served to remind you that
it was a pity for a man who looked like _that_ to dress like _that_!

Modern man has but one artistic garment--a bathrobe; yet it wouldn't
have relieved my feelings any if this man had been dressed in one. For
he wasn't artistic--and certainly he wasn't modern!

Still, I felt the pity of it all, for he ought to have had better
perceptions. He ought to have had his clothes and cosmic consciousness
match! He ought to have been dressed in a coat of goatskin--and his
knees ought to have been bare--and the rawhide thongs of his moccasins
ought to have been strong and firm!

I had just reached this point in my plans for the change in his
wardrobe, when our hostess bustled up and shooed me out of my quiet
corner.

"Grace," she whispered, "move out a bit, will you, and let me crowd a
man in over there--"

"In here?"

She nodded.

"Where he can't _escape_!" she explained.

I gathered up my opened sheet of copy paper and moved obediently into
the next chair, which she had indicated.

"That's right--thank you! I've found out by experience that if you let
certain suspicious characters linger on the ragged edges of a crowd
like this they're sure to disappear."

Then she turned and beckoned to my Fifth-Avenue-looking
backwoodsman--with a smile of triumph.

"_Him?_" I asked in surprise.

She was looking in his direction, so failed to see the expression of
my face.

"It's no more than he deserves--having this American Revolution rubbed
in on him," she observed absently. "I have never worked so hard in my
life over any one man as I have over this identical Maitland Tait!"

I saw him rise and come toward her--then I began having trouble with
my throat. I couldn't breathe very easily.

"Maitland Tait!" I gasped.

"Yes--_the_ Maitland Tait!"

Her voice sounded with a brass-band echo of victory.

"But how did you--"

"By outwitting Pollie Kendall--plague take her!"

The man was coming leisurely, stopping once to speak to one of the
graybeard financiers.

"Have you met him?" Mrs. Walker asked carelessly, as he approached.

"No."

She turned to him.

"I'm going to put you in here--where you'll have to stay," she
laughed, her big, heavy frame looking dwarfed beside his own towering
height.

"I wasn't going to run away."

"No? You can't always tell--and I thought it safe to take every
precaution, for this lecture may be long, and it's certain to be
irritating to one of your nationality.--In this location you'll be in
the clutches of the Press, you see, and--by the way, you must meet
Miss Christie!--Mr. Tait, Miss Christie!"

His face was still perfectly impassive, and he bowed gravely--with
that down-to-the-belt grace which foreigners have. I nodded the pink
satin rose on my hat in his direction. This was all! Neither made any
further demonstration than that!--And to think that since Creation's
dawn--the world over--the thing is done just as idly and carelessly as
that! "Mr. Tait, Miss Christie!"--These are the words which were
said--and, dear me, all the days of one's life ought to be spent in
preparation for the event!

"You are a Daughter of the Revolution, I presume?" his voice finally
asked me--a deep clear voice, which was strong enough to drown out the
Wagnerian processionals beating at that moment against my brain, and
to follow me off on the mother-of-pearl cloud I had embarked upon. It
was a glorious voice, distinctly un-American, but with the suggestion
of having the ability to do linguistic contortions. He looked like a
man who had traveled far--over seas and deserts--and his voice
confirmed it. It proclaimed that he could bargain with equal ease in
piasters and pence. Still, it was a big wholesome voice. It matched
the coat of goatskin, the bare knees and the moccasins I had planned
for him.

"Yes, I am," I answered.

Our eyes met for an instant, as he disengaged his gaze from that
ten-barred insignia on my coat. Far, far back, concealed by his dark
iris, was a tinge of amused contempt.

"Then I dare say you're interested in this occasion?" he inquired. I
shouldn't say that he inquired, for he didn't. His tone held a
challenge.

"No, indeed, I'm not!" I answered foolishly. "I came only because I
have to write up Major Coleman's speech for my paper. I am a special
writer for the _Herald_."

And it was then that he smiled--really smiled. I saw a transformation
which I had never seen in any other man's face, for with him a smile
escapes! There is a breaking up of the ruggedness, an eclipse of the
stern gravity for a moment, and--no matter how much you had cared for
these an instant before--you could not miss them then--not in that
twinkling flood of radiance!

"Oh--so you're not an ancestor-worshiper?"

"No."

"But I thought Americans were!" he insisted.

"Americans?" I repeated loftily. "Why, of course, that's an
English--religion."

"Not always," he answered grimly, and the Italian band stationed
behind the clump of boxwood cut short any further conversation.

I was glad, for I did not want to talk to him then. I merely wanted to
stand off--and look at him--and tell myself what manner of man he must
be.

To do this I glanced down at my copy paper, with one eyelid raised in
favor of his profile. An ancestor-worshiper? Absurd! Ancestors were
quite out of the question with him, I felt sure. There was something
gloriously _traditionless_ about his face and expansive frame. But his
hands? Those infallible records of what has gone before?--I dropped my
eyes to their normal position. His hands were _good_! They were big
and long and brown--that shade of brownness that comes to a meerschaum
pipe after it has been kissed a time or two by nicotine. And his hair
was brown, too light by several shades to match with his very dark
eyes, but it likely looked lighter on account of its conduct, standing
up, and away, and back from his face. His complexion spoke of an
early-to-bed and early-to-tub code of ethics. His nose and mouth were
well in the foreground.

"You are a man who cares nothing at all for your ancestors--but you'll
care a great deal for your descendants!" was the summing up I finally
made of him.

At the close of the band's Hungarian Rhapsody he leaned over and
whispered to me.

"Did you say the _Herald_?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I have had my--attention called to your paper recently," he said, in
so serious a tone that I was compelled to look up and search for the
smile which I felt must lurk behind it. And when I saw it there I felt
reassured, and smiled in response.

"So they told me at the office," I said with great cordiality. "Is it
three or four of our reporters you've thrown down your front steps?"

"Oh, I haven't got close enough to them to throw them down the steps,"
he disclaimed quickly. "That's one thing you have to guard against
with reporters. They've got you--if they once see the whites of your
eyes!"

I felt it my duty to bristle, in defense of my kind.

"Not unless your eyes _talk_," I said. Then, when he stared at me in
uncertainty for a moment, I dropped my own eyes again, for I felt
that they were proclaiming their convictions as loudly as a Hyde Park
suffragette meeting.

The band at that moment struck up _The Star-Spangled Banner_ in a
manner to suggest the president's advent into the theater, and I
searched in my bag for my pencil. I had seen the lecturer cough.

"I say--how long is this convocation supposed to last?" Maitland Tait
inquired in a very inconspicuous whisper, as the white-flanneled lion
of the affair arose from his chair and became the cynosure of
lorgnettes.

"Well, this talk will absorb about forty-five minutes, I should
hazard," I said. Already I had had the forethought to jot down the
usual opening: "Ladies and Gentlemen--Daughters and Sons of the
American Revolution: It is with a feeling of profoundest pleasure that
I have the privilege of being with you to-day," etc. So for the moment
my attention was undivided.

"And there will be other talks?"

"Yes."

"And a walk through the gardens, I believe Mrs.--Mrs. Walker said?"

"Probably so. The Seven Oaks gardens are very lovely in June."

At the mention of gardens his eyes wandered, with what I fancied was a
tinge of homesickness, toward the colorful flowering spaces beyond the
box hedges. There were acres and acres of typical English gardens back
there; and the odor of the sweet old-fashioned shrubs came in on
gentle heat waves from the open area. He looked as if he would like to
be back there in those English-looking gardens--with all the people
gone.



CHAPTER VII

STRAWS POINT


"And are you going to write up the whole thing?" he inquired, during a
little commotion caused by one of the large flags slipping from its
stand and threatening to obscure the speaker.

"You mean make a society column report of it?"

"Yes."

"No. I'm a sort of special feature writer on the _Herald_, and I am to
get only this speech of Major Coleman's to put in my Sunday page."

The lecture had commenced in good earnest by this time, and I was
scribbling away in shorthand as I talked.

"Not one among us is insensible to the visions of patriotic pride and
affection which the very name of 'Old Glory' conjures up within us,
but at the same time we may do well to review, quite dispassionately,
once in a while the wonderful chain of historical changes which came
about in evolving this flag to its present form.... For we all realize
that there is no perfect thing in this world which has not been an
evolution from some imperfect thing.... When Pope Gregory,
the"--Somethingth, I quite failed to catch his number--"granted to
Scotland the white cross of St. Andrew, and to England the red cross
of St. George, he faintly surmised what a tempest in a teapot he was
stirring up!"

He paused, and the man at my side got in a word, edgewise.

"All of it?" he asked, looking aghast at the pages of long-tailed dots
and dashes under my hand. I laughed.

"I'm paid to do it," I answered. "I don't disfigure my handwriting
this way for nothing."

"But--but--you must be very clever," he commented, so appalled at the
thought that he forgot he was talking to a stranger. I like that
faculty. I like a man who dares to be awkwardly sincere.

"Not clever--only very needy," I replied, turning over the page as I
saw the lecturer replace the white flag of St. Andrew into its stand
and take up the thread of his talk. "And I don't know that I need get
every word of the discourse. The women who read my page don't care a
rap about flags--but they do care to see a picture of Major Coleman
and his wife and their dog on the piazza of their winter home, just
out from Tampa!--I've got to have enough of this lecture to carry that
picture."

He nodded gravely.

"I see. But after you get this report?"

"I'm going back to the city," I answered. "I have to catch the five
o'clock car in."

"... The jealousy became so fierce between the two nations--the absurd
jealousy over which should first salute the flag of the other--St.
George claiming great superiority in the way of godliness over St.
Andrew, and St. Andrew, with the true Scotch spirit, stiffening his
neck to the breaking point, while waiting for St. George to take off
his hat to him, that when the story of this dissension reached the
ears of Pope Gregory, he--"

I never knew what he did until afterward, for at that moment I saw
Maitland Tait slip his watch out carefully, guarding the action with
an outspread left hand.

"I've an engagement at five, too," he said.

"... He determined to lose no time," was the next sentence I found
myself jotting down on paper, and wondering whether Major Coleman had
really said such a thing or whether it had been born in my mind of the
stress of the moment.... "He was a man of the most impulsive,
sometimes of the most erratic, actions."

"Of course!" my heart said between thumps. "I shouldn't like him if he
were not."

"I can make my excuses to Mrs. Walker at the same time you make
yours," the deep voice said, in a surprisingly soft tone.

"... For he saw in such a course protection and peace," Major Coleman
announced. "All the world suspected that his ultimate aim was union,
but--"

"An international alliance," my heart explained, as I jotted down the
words of the lecturer.

"Mayn't I take you back to town in my car?"

"... And all the world knew that he was a man absolutely untrammeled
by tradition," the white-flanneled one proclaimed.

"Thank you, that would be lovely, but I'm afraid Mrs. Walker won't
consent to your going so soon," I said between curlicues.

"I'm going, however," he answered. "I've an important engagement,
and--I'm not going to stay at this--this," he closed his lips firmly,
but the silence said "_cussed_," that dear, fierce, American
adjective. "I'm not going to stay at this party one minute after
you're gone. I don't like to talk to just any woman."

"... Yet I would have you understand that he was a temperamental man,"
was thundered in a warning tone from the speaker's stand. "He was
quick in judgment and action, but he was fine and sensitive in spirit.
I've never a doubt that he disliked and feared the occasion which
caused this precipitate action. He was quaking in his boots all the
time, but he was courageous. He decided to make brief work of
formalities and take a short cut to his heart's desire."

"What was it he did?" I asked of Mr. Tait, startled at the thought of
what I'd missed. "Do you know what this thing was that Pope Gregory
did?"

"No-o--listen a minute!" he suggested.

"... Can't you just imagine now that he was afraid of what people
might say--or do?" asked the major encouragingly. "It was absolutely
unprecedented in the annals of history--such a quick, rash and sudden
decision. If England and Scotland were going to be eternally bickering
over their flags, they should have _one_ flag! They should be united!
They should--"

"The _Union Jack_!" whispered the deep voice close at my side, while
the grave dark eyes lighted, as--as they should have lighted, or I'd
never have forgiven him. "He created the Union Jack, by George!"

And the speaker on the stand demonstrated the truth of this conclusion
by displaying a big British flag, which caught in its socket as he
attempted to lift it and occasioned another pause in the speech.

"This enthusiasm makes me hungry," Maitland Tait observed, as the
audience courteously saluted the ancient emblem of hostility, and the
echoes of applause died away. "Since we're going to get no tea here,
can't we drive by some place up-town? There's a good-looking place in
Union Street--"

"But that would make you very late for your engagement, I'm afraid," I
demurred. "It will take some little time to drive in."

He looked at me wonderingly for a moment.

"My engagement? Oh, yes--but it can wait."

"Then, if it can, I'm afraid Mrs. Walker will not let you off. I
happen to know that--"

He cut short my argument by motioning me to pay attention to the
speaker, who at the moment had replaced the flag of Pope Gregory's
cunning, and was talking away at a great rate.

"... Yet, who can say that the hastiest actions do not often bring
about the best results? Certainly when a decision is made out of an
excessive desire to bring happiness to all parties concerned, its
immediate action can not fail to denote a wholesome heartiness which
should always be emulated.... Different from most men of his native
country, possessing a genuinely warm heart, a subtle mentality,
coupled with a conscience which impelled him always toward the right,
he was enabled, by this one impetuous act, to become a benefactor of
mankind! What he longed for was harmony--a harmonious union; and what
he has achieved has been the direct outcome of a great longing. He
created a union--wholesome, strengthening and permanent," I took down
in shorthand.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have a confused impression--I suppose I should say post-impression,
for I didn't remember anything very clearly until afterward--that
Betsy Ross, Pope Gregory, the Somethingth, and Mrs. Hiram Walker were
all combining to tie my hands and feet together with thongs of red,
white and blue.

It seemed hours and hours before that lecture ended, then more hours
before the tall restless man and I could make our way through a sea of
massaged faces to a distant point where our hostess stood giving
directions to a white-coated servant.

She turned to me, with a fluttering little air of regret, when I
reached her side.

"Grace, surely you don't have to hurry off at this unchristian hour!"
she insisted. "My dear, you really should stay! Solinski has arranged
the loveliest spread, and I'm not going to keep the company waiting
forever to get to it, either!--The ices will be the surprise of the
season."

"I'm sorry," I began, but she interrupted me.

"Why _didn't_ your mother come?"

Already her vague regret over my own hasty departure had melted away,
and as she saw the tall man following me, evidently bent upon the same
mission as mine, she put her query in a perfunctory way to hide her
chagrin.

"Mother couldn't come, Mrs. Walker. There is only one D. A. R. pin in
the family, as you know--and I had to wear that."

Maitland Tait, looking over my shoulder, heard my explanation and
smiled.

"It is a great deprivation to miss the rest of your charming party,
Mrs. Walker," he began, but as he mentioned going, in a cool final
voice, our hostess emitted a little terrified shriek.

"What? Not you, too!"

His face was the picture of deep contrition.

"I _am_ sorry," he said, as only an Englishman can say it, and it
always sounds as if he were digging regret up out of his heart with a
shovel, "but I have an important engagement that really can not
wait--"

"And the General Seth O'Callen Chapter fairly holding its breath to
meet you!" she wailed, the despair in her voice so genuine that it was
impossible to keep back a smile. "That is our chapter composed
entirely of _young_ women, you know, and I'd given their regent my
word of honor that you'd be here to-day!"

"Which the Regent has entirely forgotten in the charm of that
delightful lecture we've just heard, I'm sure," he answered, his tones
regretfully mollifying. "If it were at all possible for me to get word
to the man--the men--"

The rest of the fabrication was cut short and drowned out by the
shriek of a trolley-car, grinding noisily round a curve of the track
at that instant. It was the five-o'clock car, and I had grown to
watch for its shriek as fearfully as ever Cinderella listened for the
stroke of twelve from the castle clock. For me there was never a
garden party without its trolley-car back to the city--its hateful,
five-o'clock car--its hurried, businesslike, hungry summons--while ice
in tea glasses tinkled to the echo.

From force of long habit now that grinding sound of the car-wheels
acted upon my nervous system like a fire alarm upon an engine
horse--and I started to run.

"Charming party--so sorry to have to rush off this way--hope next time
I'll not be so busy--yes, I'll tell mother!"

I gathered the folds of copy paper close, having forgotten to thrust
them away out of sight into my bag, and made a break for the front
gate. Then, as I reached the line of waiting motor-cars, I
remembered--and stopped still with a foolish little feeling.

Looking back I saw Mrs. Walker shaking hands in an injured fashion
with her troublesome lion--who, after the manner of lions, proved that
he could afford anxiety as well after being caught as before,--and
turning her back resolutely upon his departing glory.--The whole of
the General Seth O'Callen Chapter was before her, I knew she was
thinking bitterly.

"Thank goodness she won't see this!" I volunteered to myself, as the
tall gray figure came hastily down the line and caught up with me.
"She has troubles enough of her own, and--and she won't stop to wonder
over whether I went back to the city by trolley, motor, or chariot of
fire!"



CHAPTER VIII

LONGEST WAY HOME


"You hadn't forgotten?" he inquired, coming up behind me with an
expression of uneasiness as I passed the first two or three cars in
the line.

"No--that is, I forgot for only a moment! I'm so used to going to town
on this trolley-car."

"Then--ah, here we are--"

The limousine to which I was conducted was a gleaming dark-blue
affair, with light tan upholstery, and the door-knobs, clock-case and
mouth-piece of the speaking-tube were of tortoise-shell.

The chauffeur touched something and the big creature began a softened,
throbbing breathing. Isn't it strange how we can not help regarding
automobiles as _creatures_? Sometimes we think of them as gliding
swans--at other times as fiery-eyed dragons. It all depends upon
whether _we're_ the duster, or the dustee.

I gained the idea as I stepped into this present one--which of course
belonged to the gliding swan variety--that its master must be rather
ridiculously well-to-do--for a cave-man. His initials were on the
panels, and the man at the wheel said, "Mr. Tait, sir," after a
fashion that no American-trained servant, white, black, or
almond-eyed, ever said. Evidently the car had come down from
Pittsburgh and the chauffeur had made a longer journey. Together,
however, they spelled perfection--and luxury. Still, strange to say,
the notion of this man's possible wealth did not get on my throat and
suffocate me, as the notion of Guilford's did. I felt that the man
himself really cared very little about it all. The idea of his being a
man who could do hard tasks patiently did not fade in the glamour of
this damask and tortoise-shell.

"Which is--the longest way to town?" he asked in a perfectly grave,
matter-of-fact way as we started.

"Down this lane to the Franklin Pike, then out past Fort Christian to
Belcourt Boulevard--and on to High Street," I replied in a perfectly
grave, matter-of-fact way, as if he were a tubercular patient, bound
to spend a certain number of hours in aimless driving every day.

"Thank you," he answered very seriously, then turned to the chauffeur.

"Collins, can you follow this line? I think we drove out this way the
day the car came?"

"Oh, yes, sir--thank you," the man declared, slipping his way in and
out among the throngs of other vehicles.

Then as we whirled away down the pike I kept thinking of this
man--this young Englishman, who had come to America and elevated
himself into the position of vice-president and general-manager of the
Consolidated Traction Company, but, absurdly enough, no thought of the
limousine nor the traction company came into my musings. I thought of
him as a spirit--a spirit-man, who had lived in the woods. He had
dwelt in a hut--or a cave--and toiled with his hands, hewing down
trees, burning charcoal, eating brown bread at noon. Then, at dusk, he
laid aside his tools, rumbling homeward in a great two-wheeled cart,
whistling as he went, but softly--because he was deep in thought.

The seven _ages_ of man are really nothing to be compared in point of
interest with the different conditions of mind which women demand of
them.

Very young girls seek about--often in vain--for a man who can compel;
then later, they demand one who can feel; afterward their own
expansion clamors for one who can understand--but the final stage of
all is reached when the feminine craving can not be satisfied save by
the man who can _achieve_.

This, of course, indicates that the woman herself is
experienced--sometimes even to the point of being a widow--but it is
decidedly a satisfying state of mind when it is once reached, because
it is permanent.

And your man of achievement is pretty apt to be an uncomplicated
human. His deepest "problem" is how to make the voices of the
nightingale and alarm clock harmonize. For he is a lover between
suns--and a _laborer_ during them.

At Solinski's Japanese tea-room in Union Street, the limousine slowed
up. The band was playing _The Rosary_ as we went in, for it was the
hour of the afternoon for the professional seers and seen of
Oldburgh's medium world to drop in off the sidewalks for half an hour
and dawdle over a tutti-frutti. The ultra-sentimental music always
gets such people as these--and the high excruciating notes of this
love-wail were ringing out with an intense poignancy.

"Each hour a pearl--each pearl a prayer--"

"Which table do you prefer?" my companion asked me, but for a moment I
failed to answer. I was looking up at the clock, and I saw that the
hands were pointing to six. I had met Maitland Tait at four!--Thus I
had two pearls already on my string, I reckoned.

"Oh, which table--well, farther back, perhaps!"

I came down to earth after that, for getting acquainted with the
caprices of a man's appetite is distinctly an earthly joy. Yet it
certainly comes well within the joy class, for nothing else gives you
the comfortable sense of possession that an intimate knowledge of his
likes and dislikes bestows.

Just after the "each-hour-a-pearl" stage you begin to feel that you
have a _right_ to know whether he takes one lump or two! And the
homely, every-day joys are decidedly the best. You don't tremble at
the sounds of a man's rubber heels at the door, perhaps, after you're
so well acquainted with him that you've set him a hasty supper on the
kitchen table, or your fingers have toyed with his over the dear task
of baiting a mouse-trap together--but he gets a dearness in this phase
which a pedestal high as Eiffel Tower couldn't afford.--It is this
dearness which makes you endure to see Prince Charming's coronet
melted down into ducats to buy certified milk!

"And what are--those?" Maitland Tait asked, after the tea-service was
before us, and I had poured his cup. He was looking about the place
with a frank interest, and his gaze had lighted upon a group of
marcelled, manicured manikins at a near-by table. They were chattering
and laughing in an idly nervous fashion.

I dropped in two lumps of sugar and passed him his cup.

"They are wives," I answered.

"What?"

"Just wives."

Being English, it took him half a second to smile--but when he did I
forgave him the delay.

"_Just_ wives? Then that means not mothers, nor helpmeets, nor--"

"Nor housekeepers, nor suffragettes, nor saints, nor sinners, nor
anything else that the Lord intended, nor apprehended," I finished up
with a fierce suddenness, for that was what Guilford wanted me to be.
"They're _just_ wives."

He stirred his tea thoughtfully.

"That's what I find all over America," he said, but not with the air
of making a discovery. "Men must work, and women must _eat_."

"And the sooner it's over the sooner to--the opera," I said.

He looked at me in surprise.

"Then you recognize it?" he asked.

"Recognize it? Of course _I_ recognize it--but I'm not a fair sample.
I work for my living."

He was silent for a moment, looking at the manikins with a sort of
half-hearted pity.

"If they could all be induced to work they'd not be what they are--to
men," he observed.

"To men?"

"I find that an American wife is a tormenting side-issue to a man's
busy life," he said, with a tinge of regret. "And I am sorry, too--for
they are most charming. For my part, I should like a woman who could
do things--who was clever enough to be an inspiration."

I nodded heartily, forgetful of personalities.

"I too like the workers in the world," I coincided. "My ideal man is
one whose name will be made into a verb."

He laughed.

"Like Marconi, eh, and Pasteur--and--"

"And Boycott, and Macadam, and--oh, a host of others!"

It was quite a full minute before he spoke again.

"I don't see how I could make my name into a verb," he said quietly,
"but I must begin to think about it. It is certainly a valuable
suggestion."

It was my turn to laugh, which I did, nervously.

"In Oldburgh, Tait seems to stand for the opposite of dictate," I
hazarded. "That means to _talk_, and you won't--talk."

"But I am talking," he insisted. "I'm asking you questions as fast as
ever I can."

"However, your technique is wrong," I replied. "You shouldn't ask
questions of a newspaper woman. You should let her ask the questions,
and you should furnish the answers."

"But you're not a newspaper woman now, are you?" he demanded in some
alarm. "I hope not--and certainly I must ask you questions before I
begin to tell you things. There are quite a few facts which I wish to
find out now."

"And they are, first--?"

"Where you live?"

I told him, and he took from his pocket a small leather book with his
name, Maitland Tait, and an address in smaller letters which I could
not make out, on the inside lining. In a small, rather cramped hand,
he wrote the address I gave him, "1919 West Clydemont Place," then
looked up at me.

"Next?" I laughed, in a flutter.

"Next I want to know when you will let me come to see you?"

"When?" I repeated, rather blankly.

He drew slightly back.

"I should have said, of course, _if_ you will let me come, but--"

"But I shall be very glad to have you come," I made haste to explain.
"I--I was only thinking!"

I was thinking of my betrothed--for the first time that afternoon.

"The length of time I am to stay in the South is very uncertain," he
went on to explain with a gentle dignity. "At first it appeared that I
might have to make a long stay, but we are settling our affairs so
satisfactorily that I may be able to get back to Pittsburgh at any
time now. That's why I feel that I can't afford to lose a single day
in doing the really important things."

"Then come," I said, with a friendly show, which was in truth a
desperate spirit of abandon. "Come some day--"

"To-morrow?" he asked.

"To-morrow--at four."

But during the rest of the meal grandfather and Uncle Lancelot came
and took their places on either side of me. They were distinctly de
trop, but I could not get rid of them.

"This is--really the wrong thing to do, Grace," grandfather said, so
soberly that when I rose to go and looked in the mirror to see that my
hat was all right, his own sad blue eyes were looking out at me in
perplexed reproach. "--Very wrong."

Then the sad blue eyes took in the lower part of my face. I believe
I've neglected to say that there is a dimple in my chin, and Uncle
Lancelot's spirit is a cliff-dweller living there. He comes out and
taunts the thoughtful eyes above.

"Nonsense, parson!" he expostulated jauntily now. "Look on the lips
while they are red! She's _young_!"

"Youth doesn't excuse folly," said grandfather severely.

"It exudes it, however," the other argued.

I turned away, resolutely, from their bickering. I had enough to
contend with besides them--for suddenly I had begun wondering what on
earth mother _would_ say, after she'd said: "Grace, you amaze me!"



CHAPTER IX

MAITLAND TAIT


The only difference between the houses in West Clydemont Place and
museums was that there was no admission fee at the front door.
Otherwise they were identical, for the "auld lang syne" flavor greeted
you the moment you put foot into that corner of the town. You knew
instinctively that every family there owned its own lawn-mower and
received crested invitations in the morning mail.

Yet it was certainly not fashionable! Indeed, from a
butler-and-porte-cochère standpoint it was shabby. The business of
owning your own lawn-mower arises from a state of mind, rather than
from a condition of finances, anyway. We were poor, but aloof--and
strung high with the past-tension. The admiral, the ambassador and
the artist rubbed our aristocracy in on any stray caller who lingered
in the hall, if they had failed to be pricked by it on the point of
grandfather's jeweled sword in the library.

I saw 1919 through a new vista as I came up to it in the late dusk,
following the Flag Day reception, and I wondered what the effect of
all this antiquity would be on the mind of a man who so clearly
disregarded the grandfather clause in one's book of life. I hoped that
he would be amused by it, as he had been by the long-tailed D. A. R.
badge on my coat.

"You'd better have a little fire kindled up in the library, Grace,"
mother observed chillingly just after lunch that next afternoon. "It's
true it's June, but--"

"But the day _is_ bleak and raw," I answered, with a sudden cordial
sense of relief that she was on speaking terms with me again.
"Certainly I'll tell Cicely to make a fire."

"The dampness of the day has nothing at all to do with it," she kept
on with frozen evenness. "I suggested it because a fire is a safe
place for a girl to look into while her profile is being studied."

"Mother!"

Her sense of outraged propriety suddenly slipped its leash.

"It keeps her eyes looking earnest, instead of _eager_," she burst
out. "And any girl who'd let a man--allow a man--to run away from a
party whose very magnificence was induced on his account, and take her
off to tea in a public place, and come to see her the very next
afternoon--a stranger, and a foreigner at that--is--is playing with
fire!"

"You mean she'd better be playing with fire while he's calling?" I
asked quietly. "We must remember to have the old andirons polished,
then."

She stopped in her task of dusting the parlor--whose recesses without
the shining new player-piano suddenly looked as bare and empty as a
shop-window just after the holidays.

"You wilfully ignore my warning," she declared. "If this man left that
party yesterday and comes calling to-day, of course he's impressed!
And if you let him, of course _you're_ impressed. This much goes
without saying; but I beg you to be careful, Grace! You happen to have
those very serious, _betraying_ eyes, and I want you to guard them
while he's here!"

"By keeping my hands busy, eh?" I laughed. "Well, I'll promise,
mother, if that'll be any relief to you."

So the fire was kindled, as a preventative measure; and at four
o'clock he came--not on the stroke, but ten minutes after. I was glad
that he had patronized the street railway service for this call, and
left the limousine in its own boudoir--you couldn't imagine anything
so exquisite being kept in a lesser place--or I'm afraid that our
little white-capped maid would have mistaken it for an ambulance and
assured him that nobody was sick. Gleaming blue limousines were scarce
in that section.

"Am I early?" he asked, after we had shaken hands and he had glanced
toward the fire with a little surprised, gratified expression. "I
wasted a quarter of an hour waiting for this car."

Now, a woman can always forgive a man for being late, if she knows he
started on time, so with this reassurance I began to feel at home with
him. I leaned over and stirred the fire hospitably--to keep my eyes
from showing just how thoroughly at home I felt.

"No--you are not early. I was expecting you at four, and--and mother
will be down presently."

He studied my profile.

"I was out at the golf club dance last night," he said, after a pause,
with a certain abruptness which I had found characterized his more
important parts of speech. I stood the tongs against the marble
mantlepiece and drew back from the flame.

"Was it--enjoyable?" I asked politely.

"Extremely. Mrs. Walker was there, and she had very kindly forgiven
me for my defection of the afternoon. In fact, she was distinctly
cordial. She talked to me a great deal of you and your mother."

My heart sank. It always does when I find that my women friends have
been talking a great deal about me.

"Oh, did she?"

"She is very fond of you, it seems--and very puzzled by you."

"Puzzled because I work for the _Herald_?"

I spoke breathlessly, for I wondered if Mrs. Walker had told of the
Guilford Blake puzzle, as well; but after one look into the candid
half-amused eyes I knew that this information had been withheld.

"Well, yes. She touched upon that, among other things."

"But what things?" I asked impatiently. At the door I heard the maid
with the tea tray. "I suppose, however, just the usual things that people
tell about us. That we have been homeless and penniless--except for
this old barn--since I was a baby, and that, one by one, the pomps of
power have been stripped from us?"

He looked at me soberly for a moment.

"Yes, she told me all this," he said.

"And that our historic rosewood furniture was sold, years ago, to Mrs.
Hartwell Gill, the grocer's wife who used the chair-legs as
battering-rams?"

He smiled.

"Against Oldburgh's unwelcoming doors? Yes."

"And that--"

"That you belonged to the most aristocratic family in the whole
state," he interrupted softly. "So aristocratic that even the
possession of the rosewood furniture is an open sesame! And of course
this state is noted for its blooded beings, even in my own country."

"Really?" I asked, with a little gratified surprise.

"Indeed, yes!" he replied earnestly. "And Mrs. Walker told me
something that I had not in the least thought to surmise--that you are
a descendant of the famous artist, Christie. I don't know why I
happened not to think about it, for the name is one which an
Englishman instantly connects with portrait galleries. He was very
favorably known on our side."

"Yes. He had a very remarkable--a very pathetic history," I said.

Turning around, he glanced at a small portrait across the room.

"Is--is this James Christie?" he asked.

"Yes. There is a larger one in the hall."

He walked across the room and examined the portrait. After a
perfunctory survey, which did not include any very close examination
of the strong features--rugged and a little harsh, and by no means the
glorious young face which had been a lodestar to Lady Frances Webb--he
turned back to me. For a moment I fancied that he was going to say
something bitter and impulsive--something that held a tinge of
mass-hatred for class, but his expression changed suddenly. I saw
that his impulse had passed, and that what he would say next would be
an afterthought.

"Do you care for him--for this sort of thing?" he asked, waving his
hand carelessly toward the other portraits in the room and toward the
sword, lying there in an absurd sort of harmlessness beneath its glass
case. "I imagined that you didn't."

He spoke with a tinge of disappointment. Evidently he was sorry to
find me so pedigreed a person.

"I do--and I don't," I answered, coming across the room to his side
and drawing back a curtain to admit a better light. "I certainly care
for--him."

"The artist?"

"Yes."

"But why?" he demanded, with a sudden twist of perversity to his big
well-shaped mouth. "To me it seems such a waste of time--this
sentiment for romantic antiquity. But I am not an unprejudiced judge,
I admit. I have spent all the days of my life hating aristocracy."

"Oh, my feeling for him is not caused by his aristocracy," I made
haste to explain. "And indeed, the Christies were very commonplace
people until he elevated them into the ranks of fame. He was not only
an artist of note, but he was a very strong man. It is this part of
his history that I revere, and when I was a very young girl I
'adopted' him--from all the rest of my ancestors--to be the one I'd
care for and feel a pride in."

He smiled.

"Of course you don't understand," I attempted to explain with a little
flurry. "No _man_ would ever think of adopting an ancestor, but--"

He interrupted me, his smile growing gentler.

"I think I understand," he said. "I did the selfsame thing, years ago
when I was a boy. But my circumstances were rather different from
yours. I selected my grandfather--my mother's father, because he was
clean and fine and strong! He was--he was a collier in Wales."

"A collier?" I repeated, wondering for the moment over the
unaccustomed word.

"A coal-miner," he explained briefly. "He was honest and
kind-hearted--and I took him for my example. He left me no heirlooms
that--"

I turned away, looking at the room's furnishings with a feeling of
reckless contempt.

"Heirlooms are--are a nuisance to keep dusted!" I declared quickly.

"Yet you evidently like them," he said, as we took our places again
before the fire, and the little maid, in her nervous haste, made an
unnecessary number of trips in and out. The firelight was glowing
ruddily over the silver things on the tea-table, and looking up, I
caught his eyes resting upon the ring I wore--Guilford's scarab. "That
ring is likely an heirloom?"

"Yes--the story goes that Mariette himself found it," I elucidated,
slipping the priceless old bit of stone off my hand and handing it to
him to examine.

But as I talked my head was buzzing, for grandfather was at one ear
and Uncle Lancelot was at the other.

"Grace, you ought to tell him!" grandfather commanded sharply. "Tell
him this minute! Say to him: 'This ring is an heirloom in the family
of my betrothed.'"

"_Rot_, parson!" came in Uncle Lancelot's dear comforting tones.
"Shall a young woman take it for granted that every man who admires
the color of her eyes is interested in her entire history?--Why, it
would be absolutely indelicate of Grace to tell this man that she's
engaged. It's simply none of his business."

"You'll see! You'll see!" grandfather warned--and my heart sank, for
when a member of your family warns you that you'll see, the sad part
of it is that you _will_ see.

"It's a royal scarab, isn't it?" Maitland Tait asked, turning the
ancient beetle over and viewing the inscription on the flat side.

"Yes--perhaps--oh, I don't know, I'm sure," I answered in a bewildered
fashion. Then suddenly I demanded: "But what else did Mrs. Walker tell
you? Surely she didn't leave off with the mention of one illustrious
member of my family."

"She told me about your great-aunt--the queer old lady who left James
Christie's relics to you because you were the only member of the
family who didn't keep a black bonnet in readiness for her funeral,"
he laughed, as he handed me back the ring.

"They were just a batch of letters," I corrected, "not any other
relics."

"Yes--the letters written by Lady Frances Webb," he said.

It was my turn to laugh.

"I knew that Mrs. Walker must have been talkative," I declared. "She
didn't tell you the latest touch of romance in connection with those
letters, did she?"

He was looking into the fire, with an expression of deep
thoughtfulness; and I studied his profile for a moment.

"Late romance?" he asked in a puzzled fashion, as he turned to me.

"A publishing company has made me an offer to publish those letters!
To make them into a stunning 'best-seller,' with a miniature portrait
of Lady Frances Webb, as frontispiece, I dare say, and the
oftenest-divorced illustrator in America to furnish pictures of
Colmere Abbey, with the lovers mooning 'by Norman stone!'"

He was silent for a little while.

"No, she didn't tell me this," he finally answered.

"Then it is because she doesn't know it!" I explained. "You see,
mother is still too grieved to mention the matter to any one by
telephone--and it happens that she hasn't met Mrs. Walker face to face
since the offer was made."

"And--rejected?" he asked, with a little smile.

"Yes, but how did you know?"

The smile sobered.

"There are some things one _knows_," he answered. "Yet, after all,
what are you going to do with the letters? If you don't publish them
now how are you going to be sure that some other--some future
possessor will not?"

"I can't be sure--that's the reason I'm not going to run any risks," I
told him. "I'm going to burn them."

He started.

"But that would be rather a pity, wouldn't it?" he asked. "She was
such a noted writer that I imagine her letters are full of literary
value."

"It would be a cold-blooded thing for _me_ to do," I said
thoughtfully. "I've an idea that some day I'll take them back to
England and--and burn them there."

"A sort of feeling that they'd enjoy being buried on their native
soil?" he asked.

"I'll take them to Colmere Abbey--her old home," I explained. "To me
the place has always been a house of dreams! She describes portions of
the gardens in her letters--tells him of new flower-beds made, of new
walls built--of the sun-dial. I have always wanted to go there, and
some day I shall bundle all these letters up and pack them in the
bottom of a steamer trunk--to have a big bonfire with them on the very
same hearth where she burned his."



CHAPTER X

IN THE FIRELIGHT


Again there was a silence, but it was not the kind of silence that
gives consent. On the other hand his look of severity was positively
discouraging.

"If I may inquire, what do you know about this place--this Colmere
Abbey?" he finally asked. "I mean, do you know anything of it in this
century--whether it's still standing or not--or anything at all save
what your imagination pictures?"

It was a rather lawyer-like query, and I shook my head, feeling
somewhat nonplused.

"No--nothing!"

"Then, if you should go to England, how would you set about finding
out?"

"Oh, that wouldn't be so bad. In fact, I believe it would be a unique
experience to go journeying to a spot with nothing more recent than a
Washington Irving sketch as guide-book."

He looked at me half pityingly.

"You might be disappointed," he said gently. "For my part, I have
never taken up a moment's time mooning about people's ancestral
estates--I've had too much real work to do--but I happen to know that
residents often fight shy of tourists."

I had a feeling of ruffled dignity.

"Of course--tourists!" I answered, bridling a little.

"Because," he hastened to explain, "the owners of the places can so
often afford to live at home only a short season every year. Many of
them are poor, and the places they own are mortgaged to the turrets."

"And the shut-up dilapidation would not make pleasant sight-seeing for
rich Americans?"

He nodded.

"I happen to have heard some such report about this Colmere
Abbey--years ago," he said.

"Are you sure it was the same place?" I asked, my heart suddenly
bounding. "Colmere, in Lancashire?"

"Quite sure! I was brought up in Nottingham, and have heard of the
estate, but have never seen it."

"Then it's still there--my house of dreams?"

For a moment I waited, palpitatingly, for him to say more, but he only
looked at me musingly, then back into the fire. After a second he
leaned forward, shaking his unruly hair back, as if he were trying to
rid himself from a haunting thought.

"I--I can't talk about 'landed gentry,'" he said, turning to me with a
quick fierceness. "I grow violent when I do! You've no idea how
hateful the whole set is to a man who has had to make his own way in
the world--against them!" Then, after this burst of resentment, his
mood seemed to change. "But we must talk about England," he added,
with a hasty gentleness. "There are so many delightful things we can
discuss! Tell me, have you been there? Do you like it?"

I nodded an energetic affirmative.

"I have been there and--I love it! But it was a long while ago, and I
wasn't old enough to understand about the things which would interest
me most now."

"A long while ago?"

"Yes--let me see--ten years, I believe! At all events it was the
summer after we sold the rosewood furniture--and the piano. Mother was
so amazed at herself for having the nerve to part with the grand piano
that she had to take a sea-voyage to recover herself."

"But what a happy idea!" he commented seriously, as he looked around.
"A grand piano would really be a nuisance in this cozy room."

For a long time afterward I wondered whether my very deepest feeling
of admiration for him had been born at the moment I looked at him
first, or when he made this remark. But I've found it's as hard to
ascertain Love's birthday as it is to settle the natal hour of a
medieval author.

"How long have you been in America?" I next asked, abruptly; and he
looked relieved.

"Ten years--off and on," he answered briskly. "Most of the time in
Pittsburgh, for my grandfather had chosen that place for me. He would
not have consented to my going back to England often, if he had lived,
but I have been back a number of times, for I love journeying over the
face of the earth--and, strange as it may seem, I love England. Some
day--when things--when my affairs--are in different shape over there I
shall go back to stay."

The tea things were finally arranged by Cicely's nervous dusky hands,
and with a cordial showing of the letter-but-not-spirit-hospitality,
mother appeared, in the wake of the steaming kettle.

Her expression said more plainly than words that she would do the
decent thing or die.

"I was--" she began freezingly, as we both arose to greet her, "I
was--"

She took in at a glance Maitland Tait's gigantic size, and shrank
back--a little frightened. Then his good clothes reassured her. A
giant who patronizes a good New York tailor is a _cut_ above an
ordinary giant, she evidently admitted.

"--detained," she added, with the air of making a concession. She
accepted the chair he drew up for her, and his down-to-the-belt grace
began making itself conspicuous. She looked him over, and her
jaundiced eye lost something of its color.

"--_unavoidably_," she plead, with a regretful prettiness.

Then she made the tea, and when she saw how caressingly the big man's
smooth brown hands managed his cup, the remaining thin layer of ice
over her cordiality melted, and she became the usual charming mother
of a marriageable daughter. While she was at all times absolutely
loyal to Guilford, still she knew that a mother's appearance is a
daughter's asset, and she had always laid up treasures for me in this
manner.

"You were at Mrs. Walker's Flag Day reception yesterday Grace tells
me?" she inquired as casually as if a bloody battle of words had not
been waging over the occurrence all morning. "And Mrs. Kendall was
talking with me this morning on the telephone about her dance Friday
night--"

She paused, looking at him interrogatively, because that had been Mrs.
Kendall's own emotion when mentioning the matter.

Mr. Tait glanced toward me.

"Ah, yes--I had forgotten! You will be there?"

"Yes," I answered hastily, and mother came near scalding the kitten on
the rug in the excess of her surprise. All morning, through the smoke
of battle, I had sent vehement protestations against having my white
tissue redraped for the occasion, declaring that nothing could induce
me to go.

"I find that one usually goes to no less than three social affairs on
a trip like this--and I--well, I'm afraid I'm rather an unsocial
brute! I select the biggest things to go to, for one has to talk
less, and there is a better chance of getting away early," he
explained.

Mother left the room soon after this--the sudden change of decision
about the dance had been too much for her. Even perfect clothes and
well-bred hands and a graceful waist-line could not make her forgive
this in me. She made a hasty excuse and left.

Then our two chairs shifted themselves back into their former
positions before the fire and we talked on in the gloaming. Somehow,
since that outburst of anger against the present-day owners of Colmere
Abbey, the vision of the big man--the cave-man--in the coat of
goatskins, with the bare knees and moccasins, had come back
insistently.

Yet it was just a vision, and after a few minutes it vanished--after
the manner of visions since the world began. He looked out the window
at the creeping darkness and rose to go.

"Then I'm to see you Friday night?" he asked at parting.

"Yes."

"I'm--I'm glad."

There had been a green and gold sunset behind the trees in the park
across the way, and after a moment more he was lost in this weird
radiance; then he suddenly came to view again, in the glow of electric
light at the corner.

A car to the city swung round the curve just then, and a dark figure,
immensely tall in the shadows, stepped from the pavement. I heard the
conductor ring up a fare--a harsh metallic note that indicated
_finality_ to me--then silence.

"He's gone--gone--gone!" something sad and lonesome was saying in my
heart. "What if he should be suddenly called back to Pittsburgh and I
shouldn't see him again?"

To see the very last of him I had dropped down beside the front door,
with my face pressed against the lace-veiled glass, and so intent was
I upon my task that I had entirely failed to hear mother's agitated
step in the hall above.

I was brought to, however, when I heard the click of the electric
switch upon the stair. The lower hall was suddenly flooded with light.
I scrambled to my feet as quickly as I could. Mother's face, peering
at me from the landing, was already pronouncing sentence.

"Grace, I was just coming down to tell you that--well, I am compelled
to say that you _amaze_ me!" she emitted first, with a tone of utter
hopelessness struggling through her newly-fired anger. "Down on your
knees in your new gown--and gowns as scarce as angels' visits, too!"

"Ah--but--I'm sorry--"

"What on earth are you doing there?" she kept on.

I turned to her, blinking in the dazzling light.

"I was--let me see?--oh, _yes_!" A brilliant thought had just come to
me. "--I was looking for the _key_!"

Now, I happen to hate a liar worse than anything else on earth, and I
hated myself fervently as I told this one.

"The key?" she asked suspiciously.

"It--it had fallen on the floor," I kept on, for of course whatever
you do you must do with all your might, as we learn in copy-book days.

"And it never occurred to you to turn on the light?" she demanded,
coming up and looking at me as if to see the extent of disfigurement
this new malady had wrought. "Down on your knees searching for a
key--and it never occurred to you to turn on the light?"

"No," I answered, thankful to be able to tell the truth again. "No, it
never once occurred to me!"



CHAPTER XI

TWO MEN AND A MAID


Have you ever thought that the reason we can so fully sympathize with
certain great people of history, and not with others, is because we
are occasionally granted a glimpse of the emotion our favorites
enjoyed--or endured?

For instance, no man who has ever knocked the "t" out of "can't"
stands beside Napoleon's tomb without a sensation which takes the form
of: "_We_ understand each other--don't we, old top?"

And every year at spring-time, Romeo is patted on the back
condescendingly by thousands of youths--so susceptible that they'd
fall in love with anything whose skirt and waist met in the back.

The night of the Kendalls' dance _I_ knew what Cleopatra's cosmic
consciousness resembled--exactly. I knew it from the moment she
glanced away from the glint of her silver oars of the wonderful Nile
barge (because the glint of Antony's dark eyes was so much more
compelling) to the hour she recklessly unwrapped the basket of figs in
her death chamber! I ran the whole gamut of her emotions--'twixt love
and duty--and I came out of it feeling that--well, certainly I felt
that a conservatory is a room where eavesdroppers hear no good of
themselves!

"Is everybody crazy to-night?" I whispered to Guilford, as we paused
for a moment before the dancing commenced just outside one of the
downy, silky reception rooms--quite apart from the noisy ballroom
farther back--and I saw two people inside. The girl was seated before
the piano, and was singing softly, while the man stood at her side,
listening with a rapt expression.

"Who would ever have thought that _that_ girl would be singing _that_
song to _that_ man?" I asked, with a quivery little feeling that the
world was going topsyturvy with other people besides me. The singer
was the careless, rowdy golf champion of the state, and the man
listening was Oldburgh's astonishing young surgeon--the kind who never
went anywhere because it was said he laid aside his scalpel only when
he was obliged to pick up his fork.

"What is the song?" Guilford inquired, looking in, then drawing back
softly and dropping the curtain that screened the doorway.

"_Caro Mio Ben!_"

"A love song?"

I smiled.

"Well, rather!"

Then somebody crowded up and separated Guilford and me. I stood there
listening to the lovely Italian words, and wondering if the night were
in truth bewitched. Guilford, under the impulse induced by a white
tissue gown and big red roses, had suffered an unusual heart-action
already and had spent half an hour whispering things in my ear which
made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. The only thing which can
possibly make a lifelong engagement endurable is the brotherly
attitude assumed by the lover in his late teens.

"Come in," he said, elbowing his way back to me through the chattering
throng of the autumn's débutantes, after a few minutes. "I hear the
violins beginning to groan--and say--_haven't_ they got everybody
worth having here to-night?"

"I don't--know," I replied vaguely, looking up and down the length of
the room that we were entering.

"But--there's Mrs. Walker, and there are the Chester girls, and Dan
Hunter, just back from Africa--and--"

"Certainly they've got a fine selection of Oldburgh's solid,
rolled-gold ornaments," I commented dryly, as my eyes searched the
other side of the room.

"Oh, besides local talent in plenty to create some excitement, there's
an assortment of imported artists," he went on. "That French fellow,
d'Osmond, has been teaching some of the kids a new figure and they're
going to try it to-night. Have you met him?"

"Yes, indeed--oh, no, of course I haven't met him, Guilford!" I
answered impatiently. "How could I meet a stray French nobleman? The
society editor is _his_ Boswell."

He turned away, hurt at my show of irritation, but I didn't care. I
was in that reckless mood that comes during a great fire, or a storm
at sea, or any other catastrophe when the trivialities of living fade
into pygmy proportions before the vast desire for mere life.

"And there's that Consolidated Traction Company fellow," he said
humbly, calling my attention to a bunch of new arrivals at the doors
of the ballroom. "What's his name?"

"Maitland Tait."

"Have you met him?" he inquired.

Now usually Guilford is not humble, nor even very forgiving, so that
when he turned to me again and showed that he was determined to be
entertaining, I glanced at a mirror we happened to be passing. How
easy it would be to keep men right where we wanted them if life could
be carried on under frosted lights, in white tissue gowns, holding big
red roses!

"Yes, I've met him," I answered giddily. "He was at Mrs. Walker's Flag
Day reception Tuesday--and he brought me to town in his car, then came
calling Wednesday afternoon, and--"

Guilford had stopped still and was looking at me as if anxious to know
when I'd felt the first symptoms.

"Oh, it's true," I laughed desperately.

"Then why----"

"Didn't I tell you?"

"Yes--that is, you might have mentioned it. Of course, it really makes
no difference--" He smiled, dismissing it as a triviality.

Gentle reader, I don't know whether your sympathies have secretly been
with Guilford all the time or not--but I know that mine were
distinctly with him at that moment. If there is ever a season when a
woman's system is predisposed toward the malady known as sex love, it
is when some man is magnanimous about another man. And Guilford's
manner at that instant was magnanimous--and I already had fifty-seven
other varieties of affection for him! I decided then, in the twinkling
of my fan chain, which I was agitating rather mercilessly, that if
Guilford were the kind of a man I _could_ love, he'd be the very man I
should adore.

--But he wasn't. And the kind I could love was disentangling himself
from the group around the door and coming toward me at that very
moment.

"Have you met him?" I asked of my companion, trying to pretend that
the noise was my fan chain and not my heart.

"No."

In another instant they were shaking hands cordially.

"You'll excuse me a moment?" Guilford asked, turning to me--after he
and Maitland Tait had propounded and answered perfunctory questions
about Oldburgh. "I wanted to speak to--Delia Ramage."

I had never before in my life heard of his wishing to speak to Delia
Ramage, but she was the nearest one to him, so he veered across to her
side, while I was left alone with the new arrival. This is called
heaping coals of fire.

"I was glad to see you--a moment ago," Maitland Tait said in that low
intimate tone which is usually begotten only by daily or hourly
thought. Take two people who have not seen each other for a week, nor
thought of each other, and when they meet they will shrill out
spontaneous, falsetto tones--but not so with two people whose spirits
have communed five minutes before. They lower their voices when they
come face to face, for they realize that they are before the sanctum.
"You're looking most--unusually well."

He was not, but I refrained from telling him so. Most thoughtful men
assume a look of constraint when they are forced to mingle with a
shallow-pated, boisterous throng, and he was strictly of this type--I
observed it with a thrill of triumph.

Yet the festive appearance of evening dress was not unbecoming to him.
His was that kind of magnificent plainness which showed to advantage
in gala attire, and I knew that even if I could get him off to live
the life of a cave-man, occasionally a processional of the tribe would
cause him to thrust brilliant feathers into his goatskin cap and bind
his sandals with gleaming new thongs. But then the martial excitement
of a processional would cause his eyes to light up with a brilliancy
to match the feathers in his cap, and a dance could not do this.

"Of course you're engaged for the first dance?" he asked, as the music
began and a general commotion ensued. "I knew that I'd have to miss
that--when I was late. But"--he came a step closer and spoke as if
acting under some hasty impulse--"I want to tell you how very lovely
I think you are to-night! I hope you do not mind my saying this? I
didn't know it before--I thought it was due to other influences--but
you are beautiful."

It was at this moment that the silver oars of the Nile barge were
dimmed under the greater resplendence of dark eyes--and the purple
silk sails closed out the sky, but closed in heaven. Cleopatra and I
might have cut our teeth on the same coral ring, for all the
inferiority _I_ felt to her in that instant.

"I--I'm afraid--" I began palpitatingly, for you must know that
palpitations are part of the Egyptian rôle--the sense of danger and
wrong were what raised--or lowered--the flitting space of time out of
the ordinary lover thrills. "I am afraid----"

"But you must not say that!" he commanded, his deep voice muffled.
"This is just the beginning of what I wish to say to you."

I wrenched my eyes away from his--then looked quickly for Guilford.
Grandfather Moore's warnings in my ear were choking the violin music
into demoniac howls. I don't believe that any woman ever really enjoys
having two men love her at the same time--and this is not
contradicting what I've said in the above paragraph about Cleopatra. I
never once said that I had _enjoyed_ feeling like her--you simply took
it for granted that I had!

"Aren't you going to dance--with some one?" I asked, turning back
quickly, as Guilford's arm slipped about me and we started away into a
heartless, senseless motion. Maitland Tait stood looking at me for an
instant without answering, then swept his eyes down the room to where
Mrs. Charles Sefton--a sister-in-law of the house of Kendall--and her
daughter Anabel were standing. Mrs. Sefton was a pillar of society,
and, if one _must_ use architectural similes, Anabel was a block. They
caught him and made a sandwich of him on the spot. I whirled away with
Guilford.

At the end of the dance I found myself at the far end of the ballroom,
close to a door that opened into a small conservatory. The dim green
within looked so calm and uncomplicated beside the glare of light
which surrounded me that I turned toward it--thirstily.

"I'm going in here to rest a minute, Guilford," I explained, setting
him free with a little push toward a group of girls he knew. "You run
along and dance with some of them. Men aren't any too plentiful
to-night."

"No-o--I'll go with you," he objected lazily, slipping his cigarette
case from his pocket. "You're too darned pretty to-night to stay long
in a conservatory alone."

"But I'll not be alone," I replied, with a return of that frightful
recklessness which tempted me to throw myself on his mercy and say:
"I'm in love with this Englishman--madly in love! I have never been in
love before--and I hope I shall never be again if it always feels like
this!" Instead of saying this, however, I said, with a smile: "Don't
think for a moment that I shall be alone. Grandfather and Uncle
Lancelot will be with me."

He looked disgusted.

"What's going on in your conscience now?" he asked, with slightly
primped lips.

"Something--that I'll tell you about later."

"But has it got to be threshed out to-night?" he demanded irritably.
"I had hoped that we might spend this one evening acting like human
beings."

"Still, it seems that we can't," I answered, with a foolish attempt to
sound inconsequential. "Please let me sit down in here by myself for a
little while, Guilford."

He turned on his heel, with an unflattering abruptness, and left me. I
entered the damp, earthy-smelling room, where wicker tables held giant
ferns, and a fountain drizzling sleepily in the center of the
apartment, broke off the view of a green cane bench just beyond; I
made for this settee and sank down dejectedly.

How long I sat there I could not tell--one never can, if you've
noticed--but after a little while I heard the next dance start, and
then three people, still in the position of a sandwich, entered.

"How warm it is to-night!" I heard Maitland Tait's voice suddenly
proclaim, in a fretful tone, as if the women with him were responsible
for the disagreeable fact. But he drew up a chair, rather meekly, and
subsided into it. "This is the first really warm night we've had this
summer."

"It seems like the irony of fate, doesn't it?" Anabel Sefton asked
with a nervous little giggle. There are some girls who can never talk
to a man five minutes without bringing fate's name into the
conversation.

"We had almost no dances during April and May, when one really needed
violence of some sort to keep warm," her mother hastened to explain.
"And now, at this last dance of the season, it is actually hot."

"The last big dance, mother."

"Of course!" Mrs. Sefton leaned toward the other two chairs
confidentially. "A crush like this is too big," she declared.

"Oh, but I like the big affairs," Anabel pouted. "You never know then
who you're going to run across! Just think of the unfamiliar faces
here to-night! I happened up on Gayle Cargill and Doctor Macdonald
down in the drawing-room a while ago--where they'd hidden to sing
Italian, sotto voce!"

"Then Dan Hunter is here--for a wonder," her mother agreed, as if a
recital of Oldburgh's submerged tenth were quite the most interesting
thing she could think up for a foreigner's delectation, "and Grace
Christie! Have you met Miss Christie, Mr. Tait?"

"Yes," he replied.

"She's gone in for newspaper work," Anabel elucidated.

"Just a pose," her mother hastily added. "She really belongs to one of
our best families, and is engaged to Guilford Blake."

"But she won't marry him," Anabel said virtuously. "I'm sure _I_ can't
understand such a nature. They've been engaged all their lives
and----"

"She doesn't deserve anything better than to lose him," her mother
broke in. "If he should chance to look in some other direction for a
while she'd change her tactics, no doubt."

"Oh--no doubt," echoed a deep male voice, the tones as cool as the
water-drops plashing into the fountain beside him.

"Anyway, it's her kind--those women who would be sirens if the
mythological age hadn't passed--who cause so much trouble in the
world," Mrs. Sefton wound up. At fifty-two women can look upon sirens
dispassionately.

After a while the music began throbbing again, and a college boy came
up to claim Anabel. The trio melted quietly away. I rose from my chair
and started toward the door when I saw that Maitland Tait had not left
with the others. He was standing motionless beside the fountain.

I came up with him and he did not start. Evidently he had known all
the while that I was in the room.

"Well?" he said, with a certain aloofness that strangely enough gave
him the appearance of intense aristocracy. "Well?"

"Well--" I echoed, feebly, but before I could go away farther he had
drawn himself up sharply.

"I was coming to look for you--to say good-by," he said.

"Good-by?" I repeated blankly. "You mean good night, don't you?"

"No."

Our eyes met squarely then, and mine dropped. They had hit against
steel.

"And this is--good-by?" I plead, while I felt that wild wind and waves
were beating against my body and that the skies were falling.

"Of course!" he answered harshly. "What else could it be?"

I think that we must have stood there in silence for a minute or more,
then, without speaking another word, or even looking at me squarely
in the face again, he moved deliberately away and I lost all trace of
him in the crowd.



CHAPTER XII

AN ASSIGNMENT


The next afternoon the city editor again said "Damn" and blushed.

"You needn't blush," I said to him wearily.

He glanced around in surprise.

"No?"

"No! I quite agree with you!"

It was late in the afternoon, but I made no apology for my tardiness,
as I hung my hat on its nail and started toward my desk.

"Oh, you feel like saying it yourself, eh?" he questioned.

"I do."

He turned then and looked at me squarely. It was very seldom that he
did such a thing, and as some time had elapsed since his last look he
was likely able to detect a subtle change in my face.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked gruffly. "If you had _my_ job, now,
there'd be something to worry over! What's the matter?"

"Nothing."

He turned away, precipitately.

"Gee! Let me get out of here! That's what women always say when
they're getting ready to cry."

"But I'm not going to cry!" I assured him, as he dashed through the
doorway and I turned with some relief to my desk, for talking was
somewhat of an effort.

I raised the top, whistling softly--one can nearly _always_ manage a
little sizzling whistle--then shrank back in terror from what I saw
there.--Such chaos as must have been scattered about before sunrise on
the morning of the First Day! Was it possible that I had been excited
yesterday to the point of leaving the mucilage bottle unstopped?

I set to work, however, with a little sickening sense of shame, to
making right the ravages that had taken place.

"A woman may fashion her balloon of anticipation out of silver
tissue--but her parachute is _always_ made of sack-cloth!" I groaned.

My desk was really in the wildest disorder. The tin top of the
mucilage bottle had disappeared, the bottle had been overturned, its
contents had been lavished upon the devoted head of a militant
suffragette, and she was pinioned tightly to my blotting-pad.

"The elevator to Success is not running--take the stairs," grinned a
framed motto above the desk.

"You take a--back seat!" I said, jumping up and turning the thing to
the wall. "What do I care about success, if it's the sort of thing
connected with typewriters, offices, copy paper and a pot of paste?
I'm--I'm _des-qua-mat-ing_!"

Never before in my experience had the life of journalistic devotion
looked quite so black as the ink that accompanies it.

"Mottoes about success ought to belong to men, anyhow!" I said again,
looking up furiously at the drab back of the frame. "I'm not a man,
nor cut out for man's work. I'm just a woman, and my head aches!"

I looked again at the militant suffragette, for it was a tragedy to
me. I had spent a week of time and five honest dollars in the effort
to get that photograph from a New York studio. She wasn't any common
suffragette, but a strict head-liner.

"I'm not even a woman--I'm a child to let a little thing like this
upset me," I was deciding a while later, when the door of the room
opened again and some one entered.

"You're a big baby!" the city editor pronounced disgustedly, coming up
to my desk and lowering his voice. "I knew you were going to cry."

"I--I think I may be coming down with typhoid," I said coldly, to
keep from encouraging him in conversation. "And I've got a terrible
lot of work to do before it gets quite dark. Really, an awful lot."

He dropped back a few paces, then circled nearer once more.

"Got anything--special?" he asked aimlessly.

His manner was so entirely inconsequential that I knew he had the most
important thing for a month up his sleeve.

"Do you call this--mess anything special?" I asked. "I've got to do a
general house-cleaning, and I wish I had a vacuum machine that would
suck the whole business up into its mouth, swallow it and digest
it--so I'd never see a scrap of it again."

Have I said before that he was a middle-aged man, named Hudson, and
had scant red hair? It doesn't make any special difference about his
looks, since I hadn't taken any rash vow to marry the first
unfortunate man who crossed my path, but he looked so ludicrously
insignificant and unlike an instrument of fate as he stood there,
trying to break the news to me by degrees.

"Hate your ordinary work this afternoon?" he asked.

"I hate everything."

"Then, how would you like to change off a little?"

"I'd like to change off from breathing--if that would accommodate you
any," I replied.

He made a "tut-tut" admonition with the tip of his tongue.

"You might not find blowing red-hot coals any pleasanter," he warned,
"and angry little girls like you can't hope to go to heaven when they
die!"

I rose, with a great effort after professional dignity.

"Mr. Hudson, evidently you have an assignment for me," I said. "Will
you be so good as to let me know what it is?"

But even then he looked for a full thirty seconds into the luscious
doors of a fruit stand across the street.

"I want _you_ to get--that Consolidated Traction Company story for
me," he then declared.

I jumped back as I had never jumped but once in my life before--the
time when Aunt Patricia announced that she was going to leave James
Christie's love-letters to me.

"You were at that dance last night!" I cried out accusingly, then
realizing the absurdity of this I began stammering. "I mean, that I'm
a special feature writer!" I kept on before he had had time to send me
more than a demon's grin of comprehension.

"You are and this story is devilish special," he returned. "I want you
to get it."

His tone, which all of a sudden was the boiled-down essence of
business, sent me in a tremor over toward the nail where my hat hung.
It was getting dark and I remembered then that I had heard fragments
of telephonic conversation earlier in the evening anent "catching him
there about seven."

"Well?"

He looked at me--with almost a human expression.

"I wasn't at the ball last night--but grapevines have been rustling, I
admit," he said. "I hate like the very devil to ask you to do it, if
you want to know the truth, but there's no other way out. I hope you
believe me."

"A city editor doesn't have to be believed, but has to be obeyed," I
responded, rising again from my chair where I had dropped to lock my
desk. "Now, what is it I must do?"

"Well, I have a hunch that you will succeed where Clemons and Bolton
and Reade have failed," he said. "And the foolish way the fellow acts
makes it necessary for us to use all haste and strategy!"

"The fellow?"

"Maitland Tait. A day or two ago it was understood that he might
remain in this town for several days longer--then to-day comes the
news that he's straining every nerve to get away to-morrow!"

"Oh, to-morrow!"

"It appears that all the smoke in Pittsburgh is curling up into
question marks to find out when he's coming back--"

"He's so important?"

"Exactly! But to-night he's going to hold a final conference at
Loomis, and you can catch him before time for this if you'll go right
on now."

"Very well," I answered, feeling myself in profound hypnosis.

"And, say! You'll have to hurry," he said, pressing the advantage my
quiet demeanor offered. "Here! Take this hunk o' copy paper and hike!"

I accepted the proffered paper, still hypnotized, then when I had
reached the door I stopped.

"Understand, Mr. Hudson, I'm doing this because you have assigned it
to me!" I said with a cutting severity. "Please let that be perfectly
plain! I shouldn't go a step toward Loomis--not even if it were a
matter of life and death--if it were _not_ a matter of urgent
business!"

He looked at me blankly for a moment, then grinned. Afterward I
realized that he knew this declaration was being made to my own inner
consciousness, and not to him.

"Don't ask him for a photograph--for God's sake!" he called after me,
from the head of the steps. "Remember--you're going out there on the
_Herald's_ account and the _Herald_ doesn't need his picture, because
it happens that we've already got a dandy one of him!"

I turned back fiercely.

"I hadn't _dreamed_ of asking him for his photograph!" I fired. "I
hope I have some vestige of reasoning power left!"

At the corner a car to Loomis was passing, and once inside I inspected
every passenger in the deadly fear of seeing some one whom I knew.
There was no one there, however, who could later be placed on the
witness-stand against me, so I sat down and watched the town outside
speeding by--first the busy up-town portion, then the heavy wholesale
district, with its barrels tumbling out of wagon ends and its mingled
odor of fruit, vinegar and molasses, combined with soap and tanned
hides. After this the river was crossed, we sped through a suburban
settlement, out into the open country, then nearer and nearer and
nearer.

All the time I sat like one paralyzed. I hated intensely the thought
of going out there, but the very speed of the car seemed to furnish
excuse enough for me not to get off! I didn't have will power enough
to push the bell, so when the greasy terminal of the line was reached
I rose quietly and left the car along with a number of men in overalls
and a bevy of tired dejected-looking women.

"They ought to call it 'Gloom-is,'" I muttered, as I alighted at the
little wooden station, where one small, yellow incandescent light
showed you just how dark and desolate the place was. "And these people
live here!--I'll never say a word against West Clydemont Place again
as long as I live!"

Without seeming to notice the gloom, the people who had come out on
the car with me dispersed in different directions, two or three of the
men making first for the shadow of a big brick building which stood
towering blackly a little distance up from the car tracks. I followed
after them, then stopped before a lighted door at this building while
they disappeared into a giant round-house farther back. The whir of
machinery was steady and monotonous, and it served to drown out the
noise my heart was making, for I was legitimately frightened, even in
my reportorial capacity, as well as being embarrassed and ashamed,
independent of the _Herald_. It was a most unpleasant moment.

"This must be the office!"

The big door was slightly ajar, so I entered, rapping with unsteady
knuckles a moment later against the forbidding panels of another door
marked "Private."

"Well?"

"Well" is only a tolerant word at best--never encouraging--and now it
sounded very much like "Go to the devil!"

"I don't give a rap if he _is_ the Vice-President and General Manager
of the Consolidated Traction Company," I muttered, the capital letters
of his position and big corporation, however, pelting like giant
hailstones against my courage. "I'm Special Feature Writer for _The
Oldburgh Herald_!"

"If you've got any business with me open that door and come in!" was
the further invitation I received. "If you haven't, go on off!"

The invitation wasn't exactly pressing in its tone, but I managed to
nerve myself up to accepting it.

"But I have got some--business with you!" I gasped, as I opened the
door.

Mr. Tait turned around from his desk--a worse-looking desk by far than
the one I had left at the _Herald_ office.

"Good lord--that is, I mean to say, _dear_ me!" he muttered, as he
wheeled and saw me. "Miss Christie!"

  [Illustration: "This must be the office"]

"Are you so surprised--then?"

"Surprised? Of course, a little, but--no-o, not so much either, when
you come to think of it!"

The room was bare and barn-like, with a couple of shining desks, and
half a dozen chairs. A calendar, showing a red-gowned lady, who in
turn was showing her knees, hung against the opposite wall. Mr. Tait
drew up one of the chairs.

"Thank you--though I haven't a minute to stay!"

I stammered a little, then sat down and scrambled about in my bag for
a small fan I always carried.

"A minute?"

"Not long, really--for it's getting late, you see!"

My fingers were twitching nervously with the fan, trying to stuff it
back into the bag and hide that miserable copy paper which had sprung
out of its lair like a "jack-in-the-box" at the opening of the clasp.

He smiled--so silently and persistently that I was constrained to look
up and catch it. He had seemed not to observe the copy paper.

"If you're in such a hurry your '_business_' must be urgent," he said,
and his tone was full of satire.

"It is, but--"

I looked at him again, then hesitated, my voice breaking suddenly.
Somehow, I felt that I was a thousand miles away from that magic spot
on the Nile where the evening before had placed me. He looked so
different!

"You needn't rub it in on me!" I flashed back at him.

His chair was tilted slightly against the desk, and he sat there
observing me impersonally as if I were a wasp pinned on a cardboard.
He was looking aloof and keenly aristocratic--as he was at the
entrance of the conservatory the evening before.

"Rub it in on you?"

"I mean that I didn't want to come out here to-night!"

My face was growing hot, and try as I would to keep my eyes dry and
professional-looking something sprang up and glittered so
bewilderingly that as I turned away toward the lady on the calendar,
she looked like a dozen ladies--all of them doing the hesitation
waltz.

He straightened up in his chair, relieving that impertinent tilt.

"Oh,--you didn't want to come?"

"Of course not!"

I blinked decisively--and the red-gowned one faded back to her normal
number, but my eyelids were heavy and wet still.

"But--but--"

"Please don't think that I came out here to-night because I wanted to
see you, Mr. Tait!" I was starting to explain, when he interrupted me,
the satire quite gone.

"But, after all, what else was there to do?" he asked, with surprising
gentleness.

"What else?"

"Yes. Certainly it was _your_ next move,--Grace!"

My heart out-did the machinery in the round-house in the way of making
a hubbub at that instant, but he seemed not to hear.

"I mean to say--I--I expected to hear from you in some manner to-day.
That is, I _hoped_ to hear."

I gave a hysterical laugh.

"But you didn't expect me to board a trolley-car and run you down
after night in your own den--surely?" I demanded.

He half rose from his chair, hushing my mocking word with a gesture.
His manner was chivalrously protecting.

"You shan't talk that way about yourself!" he said insistently.
"Whatever you have chosen to do is--is--all right!"

I felt bewildered.

"I just wanted to let you know--" I began, when he stopped me again,
this time with an air of finality.

"Please don't waste this _dear_ little hour in explaining!" he begged.
"I want you to know--to feel absolutely that nothing you might ever do
could be misunderstood by me! I feel now that I _know_ you--your
impulsive, headstrong ways--"

"'Heart-strong,' Aunt Patricia used to say," I modified softly.

He nodded.

"Of course--'heart-strong!' I understand you! I understand why you
refrained from telling me of your engagement, even."

My eyes dropped.

"I didn't--know then."

"You didn't know how I felt--what an unhappy complication you were
stirring up."

There was a tense little silence, then he spoke again.

"If you are not in love with your fiancé--never have been in love with
him--why do you maintain the relationship?" he asked, in as careful
and businesslike a manner as if he were inquiring the price of
pig-iron.

"Because--because that's the way we do things down here in this
state," I answered. "What we _never_ have done before, we have a hard
time starting--and mother idolizes him!"

He smiled--his own particular brand of smile--for the first time.

"Little--goose!" he said.

"Then--last night, when you pretended that you were going straight
away--"

"I _am_ going away," he broke in with considerable dignity. "That is,
I have my plans laid that way now."

"Plans?"

"Yes. It's true that my resolution to get away from this town was born
rather precipitately last night; however, I have been able to make my
plans coincide."

"Oh!" I began with a foolish little quiver in my voice, then collected
myself. "I'm glad that you could arrange your affairs so
satisfactorily."

He looked across at me, his mouth grim.

"Why should I stay?" he demanded. "To-night will see the finishing up
of the business which brought me to Oldburgh!"

Then, and not until then, I'm afraid, did I really recall the face of
my city editor--and the fact that he had sent me out to obtain an
interview, not a proposal.

"Your business with the Macdermott Realty Company?" I inquired.

Maitland Tait looked at me with an amused smile.

"What do you know about that?" he asked.

"Nothing except what all the world knows!"

I managed to inject some hurt feeling into my voice, as if I had a
right to know more, which in truth I felt.

"And how much does the world know?"

"Merely that you've either planned to shut down this plant here and
move the whole business to Birmingham, or you've bought up acres and
acres more of Oldburgh's suburbs and will make this spot so important
and permanent that the company's grandchildren will have to call it
home."

"But you--_you_ don't know which I've done, eh?"

I shook my head.

"Then shall I tell you? Are you interested?"

"I'm certainly interested in knowing whether or not you'll--ever come
back to Oldburgh--but I don't want you to tell _me_ anything you'd
rather I shouldn't know."

"I believe I want to tell you," he replied, his face softening
humorously. "We have bought acres and acres more of Oldburgh's
suburbs, and we're going to have quite a little city out here!"

"There's room for improvement," I observed, looking out through the
window into the greasy darkness.

"There is and I'm going to see to it that the improvement's made!
There will be model cottages here in place of those miserable hovels
that I'm glad you can't see from here to-night--and each cottage will
have its garden spot--"

"That's good!" I approved. "I love gardens."

"Wait until you see some English ones I have seen," he said
patriotically.

"I shall--then pattern my own by them! But--these Loomis plans?"

"Model cottages, with gardens--then a schoolhouse, with well-kept
grounds--a club-room for men--"

"And a _sewing_ circle for their wives," I added contemptuously.

He looked taken aback.

"Don't you like that?" he asked anxiously. "Why shouldn't they sew?"

"But why should they--just because they're women?" I asked in answer,
and after a moment he began to see light.

"Of course if you prefer having them write novels, model in clay and
illumine parchments we'll add those departments," he declared, with a
generous air. "We're determined to have everything that an altruistic
age has thrust upon the manufacturer to reduce his net income."

"And--occasionally--_you'll_ be coming back to Oldburgh to see that
the gardens grow silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all
in a row?" I suggested, but after a momentary smile his face sobered.

"I don't know! There are things--in England--that complicate any
arrangements, I mean _business_ arrangements, I might wish to make
just now."

"And Loomis will have to get along without you?"

I had put the question idly, with no ulterior motive in the world, but
he leaned forward until the arm of his revolving chair scraped against
my chair.

"Loomis _can_ get along without me," he said, in a low tone, "and
therefore must--but if I should find that I am needed--_wanted_ here
in Oldburgh--"

The shriek of the city-bound trolley-car broke in at that instant
upon the quiet of the room, interrupting his slow tense words; and I
sprang up and crossed to the window, for I felt suddenly a wild
distaste to having Maitland Tait say important things to me then and
there! Something in me demanded the most beautiful setting the world
could afford for what he was going to say!

"I ought--I ought to catch that car!"

He followed me, his face gravely wondering.

"My motor is here. I'll take you back to town," he said, looking over
my shoulder into the noisy, dimly-lit scene.

"But--weren't you going to be busy out here this evening?"

"Yes--later. I'll go with you, then return to a meeting I have here."

He rang the bell beside his desk and a moment later the face of
Collins appeared in the doorway. Outside the limousine was breathing
softly.

I don't remember what we talked about going in to town, or whether we
talked at all or not; but when the machine slowed up at the _Herald_
building and Maitland Tait helped me out, there was the same light
shining from his eyes that shone there the night before--the light
that made the glint of the silver oars on Cleopatra's Nile barge turn
pale--and the radiance half blinded me.

"Grace, you don't want me to say anything to-night--I can see that,"
he said. "And you are right--if you are still bound to that other man!
I can say nothing until I know you are free--"

He whispered the words, our hands meeting warmly.

"But, if you are going away!--You'll come and say good-by?"

"If it's to say good-by there'll be no use coming," he answered. "You
_know_ how I feel!"

"But we must say good-by!" I plead.

He leaned forward then, as he made a motion to step back into the car.
His eyes were passionate.

"What matters where good-by is said--if we can do nothing but say it?"
he demanded. "It's _your_ next move, Grace."



CHAPTER XIII

JILTED!


When a tempest in a teapot goes out at the spout it is always
disappointing to spectators!

One naturally expects the vessel to burst--or the lid to fly off, at
least--and when neither takes place one experiences a little collapsed
feeling of disappointment.

The barest thought of the pain I was going to inflict upon Guilford
Blake when I broke my lifelong engagement to him had been sending
shivers up and down my backbone ever since four o'clock on the
afternoon of Mrs. Hiram Walker's reception--_then_, when I turned away
from Maitland Tait's motor-car the night I went to Loomis on urgent
business, and came face to face with my betrothed standing in the
shadow of the office door waiting for me--the unexpected happened!

Mr. Blake broke his engagement with me!

"Grace, you amaze me!" he said.

He said it so quietly, with so icy an air of disapproval that I looked
up quickly to see what the trouble was. Then I observed that he had
told the truth. I hadn't crushed, wounded, nor annihilated him. I had
simply amazed him.

"Oh, Guilford! I didn't know you were here!"

"I suppose not."

"But, how does it happen--?"

He motioned me to silence.

"Have the goodness to let me ask the questions," he suggested.

"Oh, certainly!"

"Will you, first of all, tell me what this means?" was the opening
query, but before I could reply he went on: "Not that _I_ have any
right to pry into your affairs, understand!"

"Guilford!"

"It's true! My right to question you has ceased to exist!"

"You mean that you have washed your hands of me?" I gasped. After all,
it was most unusual for Guilford and me to be talking to each other
like this. I was bewildered by the novelty of it.

He caught the sound of the gasp and interpreted it as a plea for
quarter. It settled him in his determination.

"I must," he declared.

"By all means--if that's the way you feel about it," I said
courteously, as if granting a request.

He looked down at me, in a manner that said: "It hurts me more than it
does you, my child."

"I've endured--things from you before this, Grace," he reminded me,
"But to-night--why, this out-Herods-Herod!"

Now, if he had looked hurt--cruelly wounded or deeply shocked--I'd
have been penitent enough to behave decently to him. But he didn't. He
was simply angry. He looked like the giant when he was searching
around for Jack and saying: "Fee! Faw! Fum! I smell the blood of an
Englishman!"

"But what have I done?" I demanded indignantly. "Mayn't a man come to
see me, and--"

"Certainly he may!"

"And mayn't I--"

"And you may go to see him, too--if you like!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean--I mean," he answered, stammering a little with wrath, "of
course _you_ may do such things--Grace Christie may--but my future
wife may not."

For a moment I had a blinded angry paralysis descend upon me. I had a
great desire to do something to relieve the situation, but I didn't
know what to do--rather as you feel sometimes at the breakfast table
when your morning grapefruit hits you squarely in the eye.

"Suppose you try to calm yourself a little and tell me just what the
trouble is," I said, struggling after calmness for my own individual
use.

He took off his hat and mopped his brow.

"Your mother suspected last night that something had gone wrong with
you at that dance," he began explaining, the flash of the street light
at the corner showing that he had gone quite pale.

"Well?"

"She said that you came in looking wild-eyed and desperate."

"I am not willing to admit that," I said with dignity.

"And, then she knew you didn't sleep!" he kept on. "All day she has
been feeling that something was amiss with you."

"I see! And when I didn't show up to-night at dinner--"

"She called the office--naturally."

"Naturally!" I encouraged.

"And the fool who answered the telephone consoled her by telling her
that you had--gone--out--to--_Loomis_!"

He paused dramatically, but I failed to applaud.

"Well, what next?" I inquired casually.

He drew back.

"Then you don't deny it?"

I gave a little laugh.

"Why should I attempt to deny it?" I asked. "Haven't you just caught
me in the act of coming back in Mr. Tait's car?"

"I have!" he answered in gloating triumph, "that is, I have caught you
leaving his car--while he made love to you at the curb! This, however,
doesn't necessarily confirm the Loomis rumor!"

He waited for me to explain further, but I simply bowed my head in
acquiescence.

"Yes," I said serenely. "He was making love to me."

"And you acknowledge this, too?"

I made a gesture of impatience.

"I acknowledge everything, Guilford!--That you and I have been the
victims of heredity, first of all, and--"

He drew back stiffly.

"Victims? I beg pardon?"

"I mean in this engagement of ours--that we had nothing to do with!"

"But I assure you that I have never looked upon myself in the light of
a victim!" he said proudly. "And--although I know that it will not
interest you especially--I wish to add that I have never given a
serious thought to any other woman in my life."

"Yet you have never been in love with me!" I challenged.

He hesitated.

"I have always felt very close to you," he endeavored to explain. "We
have so many things in common--there is, of course, a peculiar
congeniality--"

"Congeniality?"

It struck me that the only point of congeniality between us was that
we were both Caucasians, but I didn't say it.

"Our parents were friends long before we were born! This, of itself,
certainly must bring in its wake a degree of mutual affection," he
explained, and as the words "mutual affection" came unfeelingly from
his lips I suddenly felt a thousand years further advanced in wisdom
than he.

"But real love may be--is, I'm sure--a vastly different thing from the
regard we've had for each other," I ventured, trying not to make a
display of my superiority in learning, but he interrupted me
contemptuously.

"'Real love!' What could you possibly know about that?" he asked
chillingly. "You, who are ready to flirt with any stray foreigner who
chances to stop over in this city for a week! But for me--why, I have
never glanced at another woman! I have always understood my good
fortune in being affianced to the one woman in the whole country round
who was best fitted to bear the honored name which has descended to
me."

When he said this I began to feel sorry for him. I was not sorry for
his disappointment, you understand, but for his view-point. "I was
never fitted for it, Guilford!" I said humbly. "It's true I come of
the same sort of stock that produced you--but I am awkwardly grafted
on my family tree! At heart I am a barbarian."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean--the things you love most I simply forget about."

"I think you do!" he coincided heartily. "You have certainly forgotten
all about ordinary propriety to-night."

At this I waxed furious again.

"How I hate that word propriety!" I said. "And there's another one--a
companion word which I never mean to use until I'm past sixty! It's
_Platonic_!--Those two words remind me of tarpaulins in a smuggler's
boat because you can hide so much underneath them!"

"I'm not speaking of hiding things," he fired back, as angry as I was.
"And, if you want to know the truth, I rather admire your honesty in
not trying to pretend that your flirtation with this Englishman _is_
Platonic!--Yet that certainly doesn't throw any more agreeable light
upon this happening to-night.--You _did_ go to Loomis!"

I could scarcely keep from laughing at this, for his anger seemed to
be centered in one spot--like an alderman's avoirdupois! He was
thinking far less of losing me than of the indelicacy of my going to
Loomis.

"Yes," I answered, trying to make my words inconsequential. "Old man
Hudson sent me!"

His hat, which he had held deferentially in his hand all this time,
suddenly fluttered to the ground.

"What!"

"Didn't you and mother _know_ that?" I asked.

"That--that it was a business proposition?" he panted.

"Certainly--or I should never have gone! How little you and mother
know about me, after all, Guilford."

He looked crestfallen for a moment, then his face brightened once more
into angry triumph.

"But I saw him making love to you!" he summed up hastily, as an
afterthought.

"Yes--you did," I assured him exultantly.

"And you met him for the first time--let me see? What day was it?"

I ignored the sarcasm.

"Tuesday," I answered. "At four o'clock in the afternoon."

"And not a soul in this town knows a thing about him!"

"Except myself," I protested. "I know a great deal about him."

"Then, do you happen to know--I heard it from a fellow in Pittsburgh
who has followed his meteoric career as captain of industry--do _you_
happen to know that he makes no secret of having left England because
he was so handicapped by disadvantages of birth?"

I hesitated just a moment--not in doubt as to what I should say, but
as to how I should say it.

"That's all right, Guilford," I answered complacently. "If his
ancestors all looked like 'gentlemen of the jury' it doesn't lessen
his own dignity and grandeur."

Now, if you've never been in a circuit court room you can't appreciate
the above simile, but Guilford was a lawyer.

He looked at me in a dazed fashion for an instant.

"Grace, you don't feel ill--nor anything--do you?" he asked anxiously.

"Oh, no!"

"But I can't believe that you're exactly right in your mind!"

"Well--maybe--"

"I can't believe that to-morrow morning will actually dawn and find us
asunder," he kept on quickly. "It must be some sort of fantastic
dream."

"It will seem very--queer, at first, Guilford," I confessed, with a
preliminary shrinking at the thought of facing mother.

"Queer's no word to use in connection with it," he answered crossly,
then I heard heavy footsteps in the corridor above, and I took a
quick step toward him.

"I must go up-stairs," I whispered. "Old man Hudson is making night
hideous, I know!--But all this is really true, Guilford! And--and you
must wear _this_ in your vest pocket now!"

I slipped the scarab ring into his hand.

"You are determined?" he asked dully.

"I am--awakened," I replied.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you are not really in love with me--never have been in
love with me, and never could be except upon certain occasions when I
was dreadfully dressed-up--where there were red roses and the sound of
violin music."

"Grace, you are--unkind," he said, with a groping look on his face. "I
confess that I don't in the least understand you!"

"Then how lucky we are!" I exclaimed. "So many people don't find this
out until after they've got their house all furnished! We're going to
be friends always, Guilford."

Then, without waiting for him to say more I turned away and ran
breathlessly up the steps into the office.

The brilliant light in the city news room met me squarely as I opened
the door. I blinked a little--then raised my left hand and examined it
closely. It looked--_awful_! I had worn that same ring ever since I
was seventeen years old--and I felt as I might feel if I'd just had my
hair cut off or suffered some other unprecedented loss.

The city editor looked up from his desk.

"Well?" he inquired. "Have you got it?"

I was still gazing at that left hand.

"No," I answered stupidly. "It's _gone_!"

He jumped to his feet.

"Here!" he commanded sharply. "Sit down here!"

I sat down, letting my bag slide to the floor.

"You don't feel sick--do you?"

"No."

"You didn't fall off the street-car--did you?"

"No."

"You haven't happened to any sort of trouble--have you?"

"No."

The "No--No--No--" was in the monotonous tone a person says
"Ninety-nine" when his lungs are being examined.

Mr. Hudson looked at me closely.

"Then--the story!" he said.

I blankly reached for my bag, opened it and took out the blank copy
paper.

"Oh--damn--" he began, then swallowed.

This awakened me from my trance.

"But he _does_!" I exclaimed in triumph. He _is_--and he's _going to
be_!"

"Here?" the editorial voice called out sharply and joyously. "Here in
Oldburgh?"

My head bobbed a concise yes.

"Bigger and better than ever?" my questioner tormented.

"A thousand times! Happiness for everybody!--Where there's a family
there'll also be a House that's a Home--"

The old fellow began scribbling.

"I reckon he means model cottages," he observed sourly. "They all make
a great pretense of loving their neighbor as themselves in this day
and time."

"Yes--even if it's a cottage it will certainly be a model one--and
what more could one desire?" I asked, rambling again.

"Then--what else?"

"And--oh! Gardens! Gardens--gardens!"

He held up his hand.

"Wait--you go too darn fast!"

"I'm sorry! Maybe I have gone too fast!" I answered, as I settled back
in my chair and my face reddened uncomfortably. "Maybe I have gone too
fast!"

"You have! You confuse me--talking the way you do and looking the way
you do! By rights I ought to make you write the story out
yourself--but you don't look as if you could spell 'Unprecedented good
fortune in the annals of Oldburgh's industrial career,' to-night!"

"I'm sure I couldn't," I admitted readily. "Please don't ask me to."

"Well--go on with your narrative. What else?"

"Acres and acres! Acres and _acres_!" I impressed upon him. "That's
what I've always wanted! I love acres so much better than
neighbors--don't you?"

He paused in his writing.

"Of course the Macdermott Realty Company did the stunt?" he asked,
scratching his head with his pencil tip and leaving a little black
mark along the field of redness. "We mustn't forget to mention each
individual member of the firm.--And then--?"

"A schoolhouse," I remembered.

He glared.

"A schoolhouse?" he questioned. "What for?"

"For the children!" I answered, lowering my eyes. "Did you think there
wouldn't be any children? How could there be a House that was a Home
without them?"

"Oh, and this fellow, Tait, is going to see to it that they're
educated, eh? They're going to have advantages that he didn't
have--and all that sort of thing? Very praiseworthy, I'm sure!"

I sprang up from my chair.

"I'm going home, Mr. Hudson, please!" I begged. "There _is_ something
wrong with my head."

He smiled.

"It's different from any other woman's head I ever saw," he admitted
half grudgingly. "It's _level_!"

"But indeed you're mistaken!" I plead. "Right this minute I'm--I'm
seeing things!"

Then, when I said this a gentle light stole over his face--such a
light I'm sure that few people ever saw there--perhaps nobody ever had
except Mrs. Hudson the day he proposed to her.

"Visions?" he asked kindly. "A House that's a Home--and _English_
gardens."

"That's not fair!" I warned. "I really ought not to have gone out
there to-night--and I don't know whether he'll want all this written
up or not--for I didn't mention the _Herald's_ name in our
conversation, and--"

"Bosh!" he snapped. "Rot! And piffle! You had a right to go out there
if I sent you--and of course he can't object to the public knowing
_now_! Why, I expect any one of the reporters could have got as much
out of him to-night as you did!"

"Do you really think so?" I asked, from the doorway. "Good night, Mr.
Hudson. You can easily make two columns out of that, by drawing on
your--past experience."

He waved me crossly away, without once looking up or saying "Thank
you" and I caught a car home. Half an hour later, when the curve was
turned into the full face of West Clydemont Place I still thought I
was "seeing things." A big motor-car stood before our door, but my
heart changed its tune when I got closer. It was not a limousine. It
was a doctor's coupé. Mother had suffered a violent chill.

"Grace, I--have no words!" she moaned, as I came into the room.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SKIES FALL


Before morning words began coming to her--gradually. First she moaned,
then muttered, then raged. The chill disappeared and fever came on. By
daybreak, however, they had both been left with the things that were,
and mother slipped into her kimono.

"Go bring me the morning paper," she condescended, after the passing
of the creamery wagon announced that busy life was still going on.

I rushed out into the front yard. The tree-tops were misty with that
white fog which looks as if darkness were trailing her nightrobe
behind her; and already on the neighboring lawns the automatic
sprinklers were caroming across the green as if they had St. Vitus'
dance.

"On a day like this _nothing_ is too good to be true!" I decided, as I
picked up the paper and scurried back into the house.

"And got _your_ name to it--Grace Chalmers Christie!" mother wailed in
despair, as she opened the sheet and saw two columns, broken by a face
that could do much more sensible things than "launch a thousand ships
and burn the topless towers of Ilium."

"Let's--see," I suggested, peering over her shoulder and watching the
words dancing up and down on either side of this face. I couldn't read
anything, but I managed to catch an occasional "Macdermott" as it
pranced along in front of an occasional "model cottage."

"Take it!--Burn it!" mother commanded, after she had read enough to
realize that the thing was entirely too dull to prove interesting to
any feminine creature.

She thrust it into my hand, and I took it into my bedroom, where I
began a frenzied search for the scissors.

"I'd rather have you by yourself--away from all suggestions of
Macdermotts and enlarged traction companies," I whispered, snipping
the picture from the page and laying it caressingly in the drawer of
the old-fashioned desk.

There it lay all morning--and I whispered to it and caressed it.

"A picture in a drawer is worth two on the wall," I said once, as I
pushed it away quickly to keep mother from seeing it. But the fun of
the secret was not at all times uppermost.

"You are so beautiful--so beautiful," I wailed, as I looked at it
another time. "I almost wish you were not--so beautiful."

For you must know that no woman in love ever _enjoys_ her man's good
looks! She loves him for so many other things besides beauty that she
feels this demand is a needless cruelty--adding to her torture and
making her love him the more. The only male beauty she can
ungrudgingly adore is that which she cradles in her arms--the
miniature of the Big Good Looks which have lured her and tormented
her!

Then--just for the sake of keeping away from this drawer--I did
different things to pass away the morning. I said good-by to the
picture, then went into the library and looked up a word in the
dictionary. I looked at the picture again after that--to make sure
that it was still there--then I decided to wash my hair. But I changed
my mind, for I was afraid the water might drip on the picture and ruin
it. I looked up a bodkin and some blue baby ribbon--and forgot to gear
up the corset-cover whose eyelets were gaping hungrily before my eyes.
While I was trying to remember what one usually does with a bodkin and
blue ribbon I looked at the picture again--and, well, if you have ever
been there you can understand; and if you haven't no words could ever
explain.

Then the telephone in the hall! I tried to keep away from it as hard
as they say a murderer tries to keep away from the scene of his
crime.

"I won't call him until afternoon," I kept telling myself. "It would
be perfectly outrageous. I'll call him from the office--just about
dusk, and----"

Then I began seeing things again--houses and English gardens, with
children and schoolhouses in the background, and a smile on the face
of Pope Gregory, the Somethingth, when he saw the Union Jack and Old
Glory flying in peace above this vision--until I came to the office in
time for the one o'clock staff meeting.

The first thing I saw there was a note lying on my desk. It bore no
post-mark, so I knew that it must have come by messenger.

"What can he have said?" I thought, catching it up and weighing it in
my hands. "And I wonder why he sent it here to the _Herald_ office,
instead of out home--and why he addressed it to Miss G. C. Christie,
as if it were a business communication instead of to Miss Grace
Chalmers Christie, and why----"

I looked at it again. It was surely from him, for it was written on
traction company paper. I was glad of this, for I can forgive a man
for anything--if he doesn't use fancy note-paper with his monogram in
the corner.

I weighed it, and turned it over several times, and found a vague
"Habana" fragrance about it--before I ran a hairpin under the flap and
opened it. It ran as follows:

      "My dear Miss Christie--

      "I have no doubt that you already know every man to be an
      Achilles--who welds a heel protector out of his egotism. Now,
      it happens that my most vulnerable spot is a distaste to
      being made a fool of; and to-day I can realize what a heavy
      coating of self-importance lay over this spot yesterday to
      blind me to your real motive.

      "My apology for being such an easy-mark is that it was a case
      of mistaken identity. I want you to know that, as an actress,
      you are amazing! I firmly believed that an unusually fair and
      charming woman was doing me a great honor--but I awoke this
      morning from my trance to find that a clever newspaper
      reporter had outwitted me.

      "I understand now why American Woman must be kept as a
      tormenting side-issue in a man's busy life. He can't afford
      to let her come to the front or she throws dust in his eyes.

      "Of course the words I said to the vision of my own fancy and
      the promises I exacted, do not hold good with the reporter. I
      am leaving Oldburgh at noon to-day, and even if I were not,
      you would not care to see me again, since I know nothing more
      that would serve as a front-page article for the _Herald_."

      "Very sincerely yours,
      "MAITLAND TAIT."

Now, do you know what happens when a woman receives such a letter as
this--a letter that starts seismic disturbances? Well, first she
blames her eyesight. She thinks she hasn't read the thing aright! Then
she carries it off into some dark corner where she hopes she can see
better, for the strong glare of day seems to make matters worse. If
there's an attic near, so much the better!

But there was no available attic to the _Herald_ office, so I walked
into the society editor's private room and slammed the door. I had
thrust the note into my blouse, so that I'd have a little
breathing-spell while I was getting it out, and as I tugged with a
contrary belt pin I breathed very hard and fast.

But the second reading disclosed few details that had not been sent
over the wires at the first report. Likewise the third, fourth and
fifth. After that I lost count, and when I regained consciousness
there was a heavy knock at the door--a knock in the possessive case. I
rose wearily and admitted the rightful owner.

"Say, Grace," she commenced excitedly, "the old man's asking for
you--Captain Macauley! He wants you to come down to his den at once
for an interview. How does it feel to be the biggest thing on the
_Herald_--for a day?"

I put my hand up to my forehead.

"It feels like----"

She laughed.

"Then try to look like it," she suggested. "Why, you look positively
seasick to-day."

I didn't stop to explain my bearing false witness, but dashed past her
to the head of the stairs. Captain Macauley's office was on a lower
floor, and by the time I had gone leisurely down the steps I had
quieted my eyelids somewhat.

"Well, Grace--how about the illegitimate use of weapons?" the old man
laughed, lifting his shaggy head from the front page of the day's
_Herald_, as I entered. "Sit down! Sit down--I want to talk with you."

But for a moment he failed to talk. He looked me over quizzically,
then turned to his desk and drew a yellow envelope from a pigeonhole.
It was a telegram. I opened it wonderingly.

"Pauline Calhoun met with a serious motor-car accident yesterday and
will be compelled to cancel her contract with you." I read. I looked
at the old man.

"To go abroad this summer for the _Herald_?" I asked.

He nodded.

"We've _advertised_ her going," he said mournfully. "And the
transportation is here."

"She was to have sailed Saturday week?" I asked, wondering at the
cunning machinery of my own brain, which could keep on working after
it was cold and dead! Every inch of my body was paralyzed.

"On the _Luxuria_," he said cheeringly, as he saw my expression. "The
_Luxuria_, mind you, young lady!"

"And to miss it? How tragic!" I kept on absently, wishing that the
whole Cunard Line was at the bottom of the sea if he meant to keep me
there chattering about it all day.

"But it's tragic for the _Herald_," he snapped. "Don't you see we're
up against it? Here, every paper in the South is doing stunts like
this--getting out special stuff with its individual brand--and Pauline
Calhoun can deliver the goods."

"Not with her arm broken," I mused aloud.

He looked at me impatiently.

"The thing is, we've got to send _somebody_ abroad next week--somebody
whose leg is not broken!"

"Oh!"

"And Hudson and I have been discussing you. This job you roped in
last night was more than we'd given you credit for, and--so--well,
can't you speak?"

I couldn't speak, but I could laugh. I felt as if my fairy godmother
had taken me to a moving-picture show--where one scene was from
Dante's _Inferno_ and the next one was from a novel by the Duchess.

"There'd be Italy----" Captain Macauley began, but I shrank back.

"Not Italy!" I begged. "I couldn't go to Italy now."

"Why?"

"Because you'd want me to write a lot of sentimental stuff from
there--and I'm not sentimental--now."

He smiled.

"Italy is the land of lovers," he whispered, his eyes twinkling over
some 1870 recollection. "You must be in love with _somebody_ when
you're in Italy--and you can no more hide it than you can hide
nettle-rash."

"I don't want to go there," I said stiffly.

  [Illustration: "Well, can't you speak?"]

"Well, you wouldn't have to!" he answered readily. "This steamer
ticket reads from New York to Liverpool."

"Liverpool?" I repeated, as blankly as if geography hadn't been my
favorite book at school--to eat apples behind.

"And Hudson suggested, since you showed last night that you were keen
on getting the news of the hour, that you'd likely succeed in a new
line in England. We've been surfeited on Westminster Abbey and the
lakes, so we want _news_! Coal strikes and suffragettes--and other
curses!"

"News?"

"Instead of mooning around Hampstead Heath listening to the newest
scandal about George Romney and his lady friend, stay strictly in the
twentieth century and get in line with the militants. Describe how
they address crowds from cart-tails."

"I see," I said slowly.

But in my attempts to see I think I must have passed my left hand
across my forehead. At all events, he caught sight of its ringless
state.

"Grace!" he exclaimed, catching my fingers roughly and scrutinizing
the little pallid circle left by the ring's long contact--sometimes
the healthiest, sometimes the deadliest pallor that female flesh is
heir to! "Does this mean that you've broken off with Guilford Blake?"

"Yes."

His face grew grave.

"Then, child, I beg your pardon for talking so glibly about your going
away!--I didn't know."

"But it isn't that--it's not that I'm worrying over now," I explained
forlornly. "And Guilford's not hurt! Please don't waste sympathy on
him. He'll be glad, when the first shock gets over, for I've tormented
him unmercifully."

"Then--what is it?" he asked, very gently.

I drew away my hand.

"It's--something _else_! And please don't change your mind about
sending me abroad! I'd like very much to go away from here. Anywhere
except to Italy."

He reached over and patted my bereft hand affectionately.

"So the something else is the same sort of something, after all?"

"Perhaps."

"Then run along and begin getting ready," he said. "Get clothes in
your head--and salt-sprayed decks on moonlight nights, and wild
adventures."

I smiled.

"That's right! Smile! I _can't_ send out a representative with a
broken leg--and I'd prefer not sending out one with a broken heart."

I turned away then, struggling fiercely with something in my throat,
but just for an instant.

"Broken heart!" I repeated scornfully. "It's not that bad. You mustn't
think I'm such a fool."

"Well," he said briskly, "whatever it is, cut it out! And, believe me,
my dear, a steamer trunk is the best possible grave for unrequited
love."



CHAPTER XV

THE JOURNEY


Personally, I am of such an impatient disposition that I can't bear to
read a chapter in a book which begins: "Meanwhile----" Life is too
short for meanwhiles! But, since the Oldburgh epoch of my career has
passed, and the brilliant new epoch has a sea-voyage before it--and
crossing the ocean is distinctly a "meanwhile" occupation--I have
decided to mark time by taking extracts from my green leather voyage
book, with the solid gold clasp and the pencil that won't write. (The
city editor gave me the book.)

The first entry was made at the breakfast table in an unnecessarily
smart New York hotel. That's one bad feature about having a newspaper
pay your traveling expenses! You can't have the pleasure of indulging
the vagabondage of your nature--as you can when you're traveling on
your hook. The lonely little entry says:

      "_Hate_ New York! Always feel countrified and unpopular
      here!"

But the next one was much better. It reads:

      "_Love_ the sea, whose principal charm is the sky above it!
      The one acceptable fact about orthodox Heaven is that it's up
      in the sky. You couldn't endure it if it were in any closer
      quarters."

Yet between New York and Heaven there lay several unappreciated
days--days when I sat for long hours facing strange faces and hearing
a jumbled jargon about "barth" hours, deck chairs and miscarried
roses. By the way, a strange trick of fate had filled my own bare
little stateroom with flowers. I say a trick of fate, because some of
them were for Pauline Calhoun, whose New York friends had heard of her
proposed journey, but not of her accident, and some of them were
addressed to me. I could understand the Pauline blossoms, but those
directed to Miss Grace Christie were mystifying--very. But I accepted
them with hearty thanks, and the time I spent wondering over them kept
me from grieving over the fact that the Statue of Liberty was the only
person on the horizon whose face I had ever seen before; and they kept
me feeling like a prima donna for half a week.

"Henry Walker couldn't have sent them," I pondered the first day, as
the big, big box was deposited inside my door. "He's not such a close
friend, even though he is the Hiram Walkers' son--and then, New York
law students never have any money left over for orchids."

I enumerated all the other people I happened to know in New York at
that time, all of them there for the purpose of "studying" something,
and not for the purpose of buying vast quantities of the
highest-priced flower blown, and the mystery only loomed larger.

Still, the question could not keep me entirely occupied between meals,
and on the very day we sailed, before we had got into the space where
the union of the sea and sky seem to shut out all pettiness, I got to
feeling very sorry for myself. Thinking to get rid of this by mingling
with humanity, I went down into the lounge, where I was amazed to find
dozens of other women sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. It
was not an inspiring sight, so after a vain attempt to read, I curled
my arms round a sofa cushion in the corner of the big room and turned
my face away from the world in general. The next communication I
received was rather unexpected. I heard a brisk voice, close beside me
exclaim:

"My word! A great big girl like you crying!"

It was an English voice--a woman's, or rather a girl's, and as I
braced up indignantly I met the blue-gray eyes of a fresh-faced young
Amazon bent toward my corner sympathetically.

"I'm not crying," I denied.

She turned directly toward me then, and I saw a surprised smile come
over her face.

"Oh, _you_! No--I supposed that you were ill; but the little kid over
there----"

I saw then that there was a tiny girl tucked farther away into the
corner, her shoulders heaving between the conflict of pride and grief.

"Cheer up, and I'll tell you a story," the English girl encouraged,
and after a few minutes the small flushed face came out of its
hiding-place.

"So you thought I was talking to _you_?"

She turned to me laughingly after the smaller bunch of loneliness had
been soothed and sent away.

"I was--mistaken----"

"But I'm sure I should have offered to tell you a story--if I had
supposed that it would do you any good," she continued.

"Almost anything--any sound of a human voice would do me good now," I
answered desperately, and with that sky-rocket sort of spontaneity
which you feel you can afford once or twice in a lifetime.

"You're alone?"

"Yes--and miserable."

Her blue eyes were very frank and friendly, and I immediately
straightened up with a hope that we might discover some mutual
interest nearer and dearer than the Boston Tea-Party.

That's one good thing about a seafaring life--the preliminaries that
you are able to do without in making friends. If you meet a nice woman
who discovers that her son went to Princeton with your father's
friend's nephew you at once take it for granted that you may tell her
many things about yourself that are not noted down in your passport.

"You're American--of course?" this English girl asked next.

I acquiesced patriotically, but not arrogantly.

"Yes--I'm American! My name's Grace Christie, and I'm a newspaper
woman from--from----"

I hesitated, and she looked at me inquiringly.

"I didn't understand the name of the state?" she said.

"Because I haven't told you yet!" I laughed. "I remember other
experiences in mentioning my native place to you English. You always
say, 'Oh, the place where the negro minstrels come from!'"

She smiled, and her face brightened suddenly.

"The South! How nice! I _love_ Americans!" she exclaimed, confiding
the clause about her affection for my countrymen in a lowered voice,
and looking around to make sure that no one heard.

Then, after this, it took her about half a minute to invite me out of
my corner and to propose that I go and meet her father and mother.

"We'll find them in the library," she ventured, and we did.

"The South! How nice! We _love_ Americans!" they both exclaimed, as we
unearthed them a little while later in a corner of the reading-room.
And before they had confided to me their affection for my countrymen
they lowered their voices and glanced at their daughter to make sure
that she was not listening. They made their observations in precisely
the same tone and they looked precisely alike, except that the father
had side-whiskers. They were both small and slight and very durably
dressed.

"Miss Christie is a newspaper woman--traveling alone!"

The daughter, whom they addressed as "Hilda" made the announcement
promptly, and her manner seemed to warn them that if they found this
any just cause or impediment they were to speak now or else hereafter
forever hold their peace.

"Indeed?" said the mother, looking over my clothes with a questioning
air, which, however, did not disapprove. "Indeed?"

"My word!" said the father, also taking stock of me, but his glance
got no further than my homesick face. "My _word_!"

But you are not to suppose from the tone that anything had gone
seriously wrong with his word. He said it in a gently searching way,
as an old grandfather, seeking about blindly on the mantlepiece might
say, "My spectacles!"

So realistic was the impression of his peering around mildly in
search of something that I almost jumped up from my chair to see if I
could, by mistake, be sitting on his word.

"Isn't she young?"

His twinkling little gray eyes sought his wife's as if for
corroboration, and she nodded vigorously.

"Indeed, yes, Herbert! But they shed their pinafores long before our
girls do, remember!"

Then he turned to his daughter.

"My dear, the American women _are_ so capable!" he said, and she threw
him a smile which would have been regarded as impertinent--on English
soil.

"Well, I'm sure I've no objections to being an American woman myself,"
she said.

"And you do not mind the loneliness of the trip you're taking?" the
mother put in hastily, as if to cover her daughter's remark.

"I didn't--until to-day."

"But we must see to it now that you're not too lonely," she hastened
to assure me. "Where have they put you in the dining-room, my dear?"

I mentioned my table's location.

"Oh, but we'll get the steward to change you at once!" they chorused,
when it had been pointed out to them that my position in the salon was
isolated and far away from the music of the orchestra.

"We're just next the captain's table," Hilda explained. "We happened
to know him and----"

"And it's inspiring to watch the liberties he takes with the menu,"
the father said. "I'd best write down our number, though I'll see the
steward myself."

From his pocketbook he produced a card, scribbling their table number
upon the back and handing it to me.

I took it and glanced at the legend the face of it bore, first of all,
for figures are just figures, even though they do radiate out from the
captain's table.

"Mr. Herbert Montgomery, Bannerley Hall, Bannerley, Lancashire," was
the way it read.

"Lancashire?" I asked, looking up so quickly that Hilda mistook my
emotion for dismay.

"Yes, we live in Lancashire, but----"

"But we're going on to London first," Mrs. Montgomery assured me.

"We'll see to it that you're put down, safe and sound, at Charing
Cross," Mr. Herbert Montgomery finished up.

I looked up again, this time in sheer bewilderment.

"Liverpool's in Lancashire," Hilda explained. "I thought perhaps you
were afraid we would desert you as soon as we docked."

I laughed in some embarrassment.

"I'm sure I never before heard that Liverpool had any connection with
Lancashire," I explained. "But I was thinking of--something else."

"Something else--how curious! Why, what else is Lancashire noted for
in America, pray?"

They were all three looking at me in some excitement, for my eyes were
betraying the palpitations I was experiencing.

"Do you--does it happen that you have ever heard of Colmere Abbey?" I
asked.

They drew a deep breath, evidently relieved.

"Do we!" they chorused again, as they had a habit of doing, I learned,
whenever they were surprised or amused. "Well, _rather_!"

"Surely you don't mean to tell me that it's your own home?" I
demanded, wondering if coincidence had gone so far, but they shook
their heads.

"No! Just next-door neighbors."

"Next-door neighbors to the place, my dear young lady," Mr. Montgomery
modified, glancing at his wife rather reproachfully. "Not to
the--owner of Colmere!"

But I scarcely heard him. I was trying to place an ancient memory in
my mind.

"'Bannerley Hall!'"

"That's our place."

"But I'm trying to remember where I have heard of it," I explained.
"Of course! They all mentioned it at one time or another."

"They?--Who, my dear? Why Herbert--isn't this interesting?"

"Why, Washington Irving--and Lady Frances Webb--and Uncle James
Christie."

Their questions and my half-dazed answers were tumbling over one
another.

"James Christie--Grace Christie?" Mrs. Montgomery asked, connecting
our names with a delighted opening of her eyes. "Why, my _dear_!"

"How fortunate I was!" observed Hilda. "I knew, though, from the
moment I saw the back of your head that you were no ordinary American
tourist!"

"They all 'rode over to Bannerley Hall--the day being fine!'" I
quoted, from one of the letters written by Lady Frances Webb.

"That was in my great-grandfather's time," Mr. Montgomery elucidated.
"And James Christie was your----"

"Uncle--with several 'greats' between."

"He was even more famous in England than in his own country," Mrs.
Montgomery threw in hastily, as she saw her husband's eyes
twinkling--a sure sign, I afterward learned, that he was going to say
something wicked. "He painted all the notable people of the age."

"He made many pictures of the Lady Frances Webb," Mr. Montgomery
succeeded in saying, after a while. "I don't know whether it's well
known in America or not, but--there was--_talk_!"

"Herbert!"

He stiffened.

"It's true, my dear."

"We don't know whether it's true or not!" she contended.

"Well, it's tradition! I'm sure Miss Christie wouldn't want to come to
England and not learn all the old legends she might."

Then, partly because I was bubbling over with excitement, and partly
because I wished to ease Mrs. Montgomery's mind on the subject, I
began telling them my story--from the day of Aunt Patricia's sudden
whim, three days before her death, down to the packet of faded letters
lying at that moment in the bottom of my steamer trunk.

"I thought perhaps the present owner of Colmere might let me burn them
there!" I explained. "I have pictured her as a dear and somewhat
lonely old dowager who would take a great deal of interest in this
ancient affair."

The three looked at me intently for an instant, but not one of them
laughed.

"And you're carrying them back to Colmere--instead of selling them!"
Mrs. Montgomery finally uttered in a little awed voice, as I finished
my story. "How extraordinary!"

"Very," said Hilda.

"Most un-American--if you'll not be offended with me for saying so,
Miss Christie," Mr. Montgomery observed. Then he turned to his wife.
"My dear, only _think_ of Lord Erskine!" he said.

She shook her head.

"But I mustn't!" she answered, with a sad little smile. "I really
couldn't think of Lord Erskine while listening to anything so
pretty."

I caught at the name, curiously.

"Lord Erskine?"

"Yes--the present owner of the abbey."

"But--what a beautiful-sounding name! Lord Erskine!"

I looked at them encouragingly, but a hush seemed to have fallen over
their audible enthusiasm. Mrs. Montgomery's lips presently primped
themselves up into a signal for me to come closer to her side--where
her husband might not hear her.

"Lord Erskine is, my dear--the most--notorious old man in _England_!"
she pronounced--so terribly that "And may the Lord have mercy on his
soul" naturally followed. Her verdict was final.

"But what has he done?" I started to inquire, the journalistic
tendency for the moment uppermost, but her lips showed white lines of
repression.

"He is never _mentioned_!" she warned briefly, and I felt constrained
to wish that the same punishment could be applied to America's
ancient sinners.

"Oh, so bad as that?"

She leaned closer.

"My dear Miss Christie, it would be impossible--quite impossible--to
enumerate the peccadillos of that wretched old creature!"

"Yet you women are always ready to attempt the impossible!" her
husband interposed, after his noisy attempt at lighting a cigarette
had failed to drown out our voices.

She looked up at him.

"Herbert, I don't understand you, I'm sure."

He laughed.

"Well, I don't understand you, either!" he replied. "For twenty years
now I have noticed that when two or three women in our part of the
country are gathered together the first thing they say to each other
before the men have come into the room is that Lord Erskine's recent
escapades are positively unmentionable--then they fly at each other's
throats for the privilege of retailing them."

She continued to stare at him, steadily and with no especial
unfriendliness in her gaze.

"And the men--over their wine?" she asked casually.

He squared his shoulders.

"That's a very different matter," he declared. "With us he is as
honest and open a diversion as hunting! The first thing we say in
greeting, if we meet a neighbor on the road is: 'What's the latest
news from Lord Erskine?'"

Their eyes challenged each other humorously for another moment, when
Hilda broke in.

"Don't you think we've given Miss Christie a fairly good idea that she
mustn't expect to be invited down to Colmere Abbey--and that if she is
invited, she mustn't go?" she inquired, with gentle sarcasm.

"But, before we get away from the subject--what of the Webb family?" I
begged forlornly. "Is there no one living who might take an interest
in the story of Lady Frances?"

I am sure my voice was as sad with disappointment as old Joe
Jefferson's used to be when he'd plead: "Does _no one_ know Rip Van
Winkle?"

"Lord Erskine's mother was a Webb," Mrs. Montgomery explained.

"The one fact which can be stated about the old gentleman which need
not be blushed for," her husband added. "In truth, he has always been
vastly proud of his lineage."

"About all that he's ever had to be proud of! His own performances in
social and family life have been--well, what I have outlined to you. I
happened to know details of some earlier happenings, and all I can say
is that my own attitude toward Lord Erskine is rather unchristian."

"But I believe Miss Christie was asking about the family history
further back than the present lord," Hilda reminded them again, and
her mother took the cue.

"Ah, yes! To be sure! It's the failing of later years, my dear, to
wish to discuss one's own memories! But of course your interest lies
in the traditions of the novelist."

"Her history has always held a peculiar interest for me," I replied,
"first, naturally, on account of the connecting link--then on account
of the--tragic complication----"

She nodded her head briskly.

"Yes--poor Lady Frances! She was not very happy, if the ancient
reports be true."

"I judge not--from her letters."

"But her memory is held in great reverence by the educated people
around in the country," she hastened to assure me. "And there is a
lovely memorial tablet in the church--quite aside from the tomb! A
literary club of London had it placed there!"

"And every birthday there are wreaths," Mr. Montgomery threw in,
evidently hoping to make it up to me for the disheartening gossip of
the present age; but my dreams were rapidly fading--and I saw my
chances for having a bonfire on the library hearth at Colmere go up
in something far more unsubstantial than smoke.

"Well, I'm sure we've told Miss Christie quite enough about our
neighbors--for a first sitting," Hilda Montgomery broke in at this
point, as she rose and made a reckless suggestion that we go out and
walk a little while. "_I_ don't wish to spend the whole afternoon
talking about a villainous old Englishman!" she confided, when we were
well out of ear-shot. "One might spend the time talking about
'Americans--don't you know?'"

"Americans?"

"Yes--charming, handsome, young Americans! You remember the first
thing I told you was that I loved Americans?"

"Yes--and your father and mother said they did, too--when you weren't
listening."

She nodded her blond head, in energetic delight.

"They are trying to pretend that it will be a difficult matter to win
their consent--but it won't."

We steered our course around a group of people who were disputing, in
Wabash tones, over a game of shuffleboard.

"Consent?" I repeated.

"His name is John McAdoo Carpenter--and he lives at South Bend,
Indiana--did you ever hear of the place? Did you ever hear of him?"

She caught me by the arm and we walked precipitately over to the
railing--out of the sound of the Wabash tones.

"If I don't talk to somebody before that sun goes down I'll jump right
over this railing," she explained. "Here's his picture!"

I took the small blue leather case and looked at the honest, rather
distinguished face it held.

"But why should your parents disapprove of _him_?" I asked in such
genuine surprise that she gave me a smile which sealed forever our
friendship.

"They don't--really! It's just that they like to torment me because he
happened not to be born in either New York or Kentucky. An
Englishman's knowledge of America's excellence extends no further
than that."

Night was coming on--and the sea looked pretty vast and unfriendly. It
was the lonesome hour, when any feminine thing far away from home has
to wax either confidential or tearful. Hilda was determined to be
confidential, and I let her have her say. I went down, after a while,
and dressed for dinner--listlessly and without heart, but when I went
into the dining-room a little later and found my place at the table
next the captain's, the geniality of the family atmosphere I found
there was vastly cheering.

Mrs. Montgomery was a rather magnificent little gray-haired lady in
gray satin and diamonds, and her husband had made the evolution from
the chrysalis state into that of the butterfly by donning his dress
clothes and putting up a monocle in place of the comfortable reading
glasses he had worn in the afternoon. Hilda was wholesome and
sweet-looking but quite secondary to her parents, in a soft blue
gown.

The subject under discussion when I arrived was evidently the points
of superiority of one American locality over another and they took me
into their confidence at once.

"I appeal to you, Miss Christie, as an American," Mr. Montgomery said,
after the steward who had acted as my pilot was out of hearing.
"Shouldn't you think now--if you didn't know the difference--_shouldn't_
you think now that a 'South _Bender'_ was a species of acrobat?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, try as hard as I might to keep all physical signs of my mental
infirmity from cropping out in my log-book, the second evening out
found an entry like this showing itself--written almost entirely
without effort on my part--like "spirit writing":

      "To-night the orchestra is playing _The Rosary_, and I had to
      get away from all those people in the lounge!

      "I have come down here--away from it, as I thought, but, no!
      Those same high, wailing notes that we heard that first
      day--_that first day_--are ringing in my ears this minute.

      "How they sob--sob--sob! And over the hours they spent
      together! That's the foolish part of it! I am sobbing over
      the hours I _might_ have spent with him--and didn't!

      "'Are like a string of pearls to me!'

      "Bah! The hours I spent with him wouldn't make pearls enough
      for a stick-pin--much less a rosary!

      "To me _Caro Mio Ben_ is a much more sensible little love
      plaint! I wonder if _he_ knows it? I wonder if he heard that
      girl singing in the parlor the night of the Kendalls'
      dance--and if it still rings--rings--rings in his mind every
      time he thinks of me? Or if he ever thinks of me at all?"

I have inserted this not so much to show you how very critical my case
was, as to demonstrate how valuable a thing is diversion. Without
Hilda and the elder Montgomerys I should no doubt have tried to
emulate Lady Frances Webb in the feat of writing heart-throbs.

The third day's observation was a distinct improvement.

      "The men on shipboard are rather better than the women--just as
      they are on dry land. True, there are some who have sold
      Chicago real estate, and are now bent upon spending the rest of
      their lives running over to Europe to criticize everything that
      they can not buy. Nothing is sacred to them--until after they
      have paid duty on it. They revere and caress their own Italian
      mantlepieces, their cases of majolica, and their collection of
      Wedgwood--when these are safely decorating their lake-shore
      homes--but what Europe keeps for herself they scorn.

      "'Bah! I don't see anything so swell about St. Mark's--nor St.
      Doge's either!' I heard one emit this morning. 'But, old man,
      you just ought to see the champagne glasses I bought last year
      in Venice. The governor dined with me the other night, and he
      said----' etc.

      "Then, there's another sort of Philistine, who goes all over
      the Old World eating his lunch off places where men have
      suffered, died, or invented pendulums.

      "'That confounded Leaning Tower _does_ feel like it's wiggling
      as you go up, but pshaw! it's perfectly safe! Why, I stayed on
      top long enough to eat three sandwiches and drink a bottle of
      that red ink you get for half a dollar in Florence!'

      "This doesn't create much of a stir, however, because there's
      always one better.

      "'Nice little tower down there in Pisa--and you really have to
      have something like that to relieve your constitution of the
      pictorial strain in Florence--but you see, after you've eaten
      hard-boiled eggs on top of _Cheops_, climbing the Leaning Tower
      is not half so exciting as riding a sapling was when you were a
      boy!'

      "'And oh, speaking of hard-boiled eggs--have you ever been to
      Banff, Mr. Smith?' one of the women in the crowd speaks up.
      'Yes, the scenery in the Canadian Rockies is all right, of
      course, but just to _think_ of having your eggs perfectly hot
      and well done in the waters of Banff!'

      "There are other women on board, however, whose thoughts are
      not on food. They are more amusing by far to watch than the
      innocent creatures who love Banff. They manage to stay well out
      of view by strong daylight, then come into the lounge at night,
      dressed in plumes and diamonds like Cinderella's stepsisters,
      and select the husbands of sea-sick wives to ask advice about
      focusing a kodak or going to Gibraltar to buy a mandarin coat!

      "But, as I have said, the men for the greater part are much
      more interesting than the women--still I have never aspired to
      a nautical flirtation, for a month after one is past you can't
      recall the principal's name. You do well if you can remember
      his nationality."

The entry broke off with this piece of sarcasm, which, after all, is
actual truth. A friend of mine had such an experience. A month after a
bitter parting on a moonlit deck one night she came face to face with
the absent one in a church in Rome--and all she could stammer was:
"Oh--you _Canadian_!"

The fourth day--after the last vestige of the gulls had been left
behind--I began to grow impatient. The "meanwhile" aspect of life in
general was beginning to press down.

      "I wish mother had named me 'Patience,' for I love a joke!" I
      wrote frantically--with the same feeling of suffocation which
      caused Lady Frances Webb to rush out to the rose garden where
      the sun-dial stood, to keep from hearing the clock tick.

      "To me, the inertia which a woman is supposed to exhibit is
      the hardest part of her whole earthly task! And I don't know
      what it's for, either, unless to prepare her for a future
      incarnation into a camel!

      "Yet, if you're a woman, you just must stay still and let
      your heart's desire slip through your fingers--even if you
      have to lock yourself up into your bedroom closet to
      accomplish it!"

And yet, even as I wrote, I wondered what I'd do when I should be back
in America. Somehow, I didn't exactly fancy myself getting a ticket
home from New York with stop-over privileges at Pittsburgh--where I
could spend an exciting time looking up a city directory!

And so the remaining days of the voyage passed. The Montgomery family
planned to have me go home with them, after a day in London, and
declared that I could find as much interesting news to write home for
the _Herald_ from Lancashire as from any other portion of the United
Kingdom, since one never knew where a fire would be started or a bomb
discovered through the playful antics of the women who have changed
the "clinging" sex into the _flinging_ sex; and I had accepted
fervently--when, on the trip from Liverpool down to London, these
arrangements were abruptly upset.

We were a little late in landing, and rushed straight to the train,
where a tea-basket, operated in the compartment which we had to
ourselves, was giving me the assurance that surely, next to a hayloft
on a rainy morning, a private compartment in a British train is the
coziest spot on the face of the earth, when Mr. Montgomery suddenly
dropped the sheet of newspaper he had been eagerly scanning.

"My _word_!" he said.

His exclamation was so insistent that I immediately felt in my pocket
to see if I had his word, and his wife glanced up from the lamp which
she was handling lovingly.

"Yes, Herbert?"

"But I say--Lord Erskine is dead!"

"Herbert!"

Her tone was accusing, but her husband nodded, with a pleased look of
assurance.

"You may read it for yourself, I'm sure--if you don't believe me!"

He handed the paper over to her, and she received it gingerly, after
looking to the tea-basket with a housewifely air, and placing the
lamp quite to one side, out of harm's way. Then she turned to the
article indicated, reading slowly, while her daughter looked over her
shoulder.

"Why, he's _been_ dead!"

She glanced up suddenly, toward me, with a shamefaced look.

"He was dead at the very time you were telling Grace all those
atrocious things about him!" Hilda reminded her, smiling at the look
of discomfiture which had crept over the kindly, wrinkled little face.

"Yes! It's--extraordinary!"

"And it makes us both feel--a little uncomfortable, eh?"

Her husband's tone was tormenting, but she turned on him seriously.

"I'm sure, Herbert, dear, you said quite as much as I did!" she
declared, evidently finding relief in the knowledge. "Still--this news
does rather make one--think."

The girl rattled the sheet of paper excitedly.

"I'm thinking!" she announced, her eyes wide. "I'm thinking of Colmere
Abbey! What a chance for some rich decent American! Somebody that one
could easily endure, you understand!"

"Hilda!"

She waved aside the reprimand.

"Grace understands me--and what I think of Americans," she answered
quickly. "But, mother, this _is_ a problem! What Englishman would buy
the place--with its haunting tales--and monstrous value? Nobody would
be rich enough except one of the millionaires who owns a dozen homes
already. And the next-of-kin will inherit nothing along with the place
to keep it up!"

"Hilda! This is neither respectful nor neighborly," her mother
remonstrated again, then she turned to her husband. "Shall you write
to the new Lord Erskine from London, Herbert?"

Her tone was one of foregone conclusion, conventional enough, but very
kindly, and her husband nodded obediently.

"Oh, to be sure, my dear," he chirruped in a dutiful way. "I shall
wire his lawyers immediately and----"

"And ask for the pleasure of putting him up while he's in the
country?"

"Certainly! Certainly!"

"It will be unpleasant--this period of mourning that we shall have to
affect--for his sake," she went on, "but it is out of respect for the
neighborly proprieties, after all."

Mrs. Montgomery was looking at us all in turn, in some little
perplexity, when a sudden recollection came to me of how difficult it
is sometimes to amalgamate guests--no matter how many rooms there are
to one's house.

"And I'll defer my visit until later?" I suggested.

She instantly smiled across at me.

"Just a few days--if you don't mind, dear," she said. "I had planned
so many delightful things for _your_ stay--and I know that you
wouldn't enjoy the period of mourning."

"Not so much as you would if you had known Lord Erskine!" her husband
put in wickedly. "And I'm determined to mourn only the briefest time
possible."

"Not an hour later than Saturday!" his wife promised generously--and a
few hours afterward when they put me down at Charing Cross and sent me
whirling away to a lady-like hotel in Bloomsbury, it was with spoken,
written and pantomime directions as to which trains, and what-timed
trains--and _how many_ trains I was to take toward the end of the week
to get to Bannerley.

In the meanwhile I knuckled down devotedly to London--and sent my
deductions home across seas, in neatly typed packets, to _The Oldburgh
Herald_.



CHAPTER XVI

LONDON


What can't be appreciated can always be ridiculed--whether it's Old
Masters, new waltzes, or a wife's Easter bonnet--and this is the
reason we have always had such reams of journalistic "fun" at the
expense of the broad English "a" and the narrow English view.

For my part, I consider that--next to the French in New Orleans--the
English in England are the golden-ruliest people to be found in
profane history.

You'll find that they're "insular" only when they're traveling off
their dear island--and it's homesickness, after all, which makes them
so disagreeably arrogant.

To be sure, the Frenchman in New Orleans will, if you ask him for a
word of direction toward the Old Absinthe House, take you into his
private office, draw for you a diagram of the whole city, advise you
at length not to go unescorted into the Market, then follow you to the
door with the final warning: "And it would be well for you to observe
a certain degree of caution, my dear young lady, for our city is
filled with wickedness, and your eyes are--_pardon?_--most charming!"

This is delightful, of course, and by far the most romantic thing in
the way of adventure America has to offer, but rambling around London
presents a dearer and more home-like charm.

The Englishman who directs you to a church, or a university square,
stops to say nothing about your eyes--much less would he mention the
existence of good and evil--but he points out to you the tomb, or
chained Bible, or famous man's pew you are seeking, then glides
modestly away before you've had time to say: "It's awfully good of you
to take all this trouble for a stranger!"

But the truth of the matter is that you don't in the least feel
yourself a stranger in London, and you like your kindly Englishman so
cordially that you secretly resolve to put a muzzle on your own
particular cannon cracker the next Fourth of July.

The shilling guide-books speak of London as the "gray old grandmother
of cities," meaning thereby to call attention to her upstart progeny
across the seas, but to my mind the title of grandmother is much more
applicable on account of the joyous surprises she has shut away in
dark closets.

One of the main pleasures of a visit to any grandmother is the gift of
treasure which she is likely to call forth mysteriously from some
tightly-closed cupboard and place in your hands for your own exclusive
possession--and certainly this old dingy city outgrannies granny when
it comes to that.

In the dingiest little book-stall imaginable, lighted by a candle and
tended by a ragged-cuffed gentleman with a passion for Keats, you may
find the very edition of something that college professors in your
native town are offering half a year's salary for! You buy it for five
dollars--which seems much more insignificant when spoken of by the
pound--then run out and hail the nearest cab, offering the chauffeur
an additional shilling to get you out of the neighborhood in ten
seconds! Your heart is thumping in guilty fear that the ragged-cuffed
gentleman with the passion for Keats may discover his mistake and run
after you to demand his treasure back!

You make a similar escape, a few hours later, with a Wedgwood
tea-caddy, whose delicate color the pottery has never been able to
duplicate--and with Sheffield plate your suit-case runneth over!

And your emotions while doing all this? Why, you've never before known
what "calm content" could mean.

In the first place, you never feel countrified and unpopular in
London, as you do in New York. Your clothes have a way of brightening
up and looking noticeably smart as if they'd just enjoyed a sojourn
at the dry cleaner's--and everybody you meet seems to care
particularly for Americans. You are at home there--not merely with the
at-home feeling which a good hotel and agreeable society give--but
there's a feeling of satisfaction much deeper than this. Something in
you, which has always known and loved England, is seeing familiar
faces again--the something which made you strain your eyes over
_Mother Goose_ by firelight years ago, and thrill over _Ivanhoe_ and
anything which held the name "Sherwood Forest" on its printed page.
It's something congenial--or prenatal--who knows?

(Oh yes! I answer very readily "Present!" when any one calls:
"Anglomaniac!")

It was only natural that I should let my adoration for Great Britain
show through in the copy I sent home to _The Oldburgh Herald_, and as
if to prove that honesty is the best policy, I received a letter of
praise from Captain Macauley.

"Anybody can run a foreign country down," he wrote, "but you've proved
that you're original by praising one! Stay there as long as you have
an English adjective left to go upon, then forget your sorrows, chase
away down to Italy and show us what you can do with 'bellissimo.'"

But I didn't do this, for the letter overtook me only after I had
reached Bannerley, and was seeing things which I could hope for no
words, either English or Italian, to describe.

I left London on Friday--which I ought to have had better sense than
to do, having been properly brought up by a black mammy--hoping to
reach the home of my shipboard friends early enough Saturday morning
to hear the pigeons coo under the eaves of Bannerley Hall. All my life
I had cherished an ambition to hear pigeons coo under eaves of an
ancestral place, and with this thought uppermost in my heart, I packed
my suit-case and drove to Paddington Station. I received my first
damper at the ticket window.

"Bannerley?" the agent repeated, looking at me with a shade of pity,
as I mentioned my destination. "Bannerley?"

"Certainly, Bannerley!" I insisted, with some effort toward a
dignified bearing, but the first glance at his doubtful face caused my
spirits to sink. Being by nature an extremist, they sank to the
bottom. All in a twinkling the cooing of pigeons in my mental picture
was changed to the croaking of ravens. "It's not so very difficult to
get to Bannerley, is it?"

He scratched his head.

"No-o--not in a general way, miss, but there ain't no telling _when_
you'll get there."

I drew back, more hurt than angry.

"But my friends have already warned me that I shall have to change at
Leamington--and Manchester--and Oldham--and----"

"Can't help that!" he exclaimed heartlessly, looking over my shoulder
at the line of waiting tourists. "Since the coal strike, trains on
them side-lines has been as scarce and irregular as a youngster's
teeth at shedding time."

I tried to smile politely, but another glance at his face showed me
that he wasn't expecting such an act of supererogation.

"Getting off into the unbeaten paths sounds pretty enough in a
guide-book," he kept on hastily, "but the first thing you do when you
meet an unbeaten path is to want to beat it!"

I faded out of the line and let my successor take my place.

"He's just an old grouch!" I told myself consolingly, as I got a seat
next a window. "Nothing really terrible can befall you when
traveling--if you've got a Masonic pin on your coat!"

(One of my Christie relations had thus decorated me and assured me.)

Then I forgot all about his gloomy warnings, for the train rumbled
across a thousand street crossings--then out into all the sheep
pastures in the civilized world, and--it was summer!

"This country _must_ be Kent!" I mused, not geographically, but
esthetically certain--as soft feathery green broke off occasionally
into a pollard-trimmed swamp--then came up again a little later into a
gentle, sheep-dotted rise. And I remembered the Duchess once more--"A
stalwart, fair-haired lover, and a dozen Kentish lanes!"

I have lived to learn that this is common to Americans who have been
brought up to understand that Kent is the garden-spot of England. No
matter at which point along the entire coastline they may board a
train, their first conviction upon seeing suburban scenery is that it
_must_ be Kent! (I say "suburban" advisedly, for none of it is far
enough away from the other to be rural.)

So my journey through an elongated and rather circuitous Kent kept my
mind away from the croakings of the ticket seller at Paddington--until
the next morning at daybreak, when I found myself put down with
mournful ceremony at a little wayside station which ought to have
been labeled "St. Helena."

"Just as sorry as you are, miss, but this is your nearest hope for a
train to Bannerley!" the guard said, by way of an appropriate
farewell, so off I got.

"But this place is surely named St. Helena," I groaned, as I looked
about me, yet the only actual similarity was in the matter of its
being entirely surrounded. The island entirely surrounded by water, of
course--this station entirely surrounded by land. I believe that I had
never before in my life seen such a stretch of unimproved property!

"'The woods and I--and their infinite call,'" I quoted, as I looked
out somewhat shamefacedly across the acres. For it was exactly the
kind of place I had always longed to possess for my very own--yet here
I had arrived at it, and might, for all I knew to the contrary, take
possession of it by right of discovery--yet I was feeling lonely and
resentful at the very start.

Then I remembered Robinson Crusoe and took heart, straining my eyes in
hope of a sail, but nowhere was there a human face to be seen, nor
sign of life. Not even a freight car stood drearily on a
side-track--and, as you know, you have to be very far away from the
center of things not to find a freight car! None was here, however,
for there wasn't a side-track for it to stand upon--the main line
running in two shining threads far away toward Ireland.

The only moving bodies visible were a paper sack being blown gently
down the track, a blue fly buzzing around a blackened banana peeling
and a rook cawing overhead. I looked up at the rook and smiled
philosophically.

"I anticipated a 'coo,' then apprehended a 'croak'--what I get is a
happy compromise, a 'caw,'" I said, and I find that things usually
turn out this way in the great journey of life. Nothing is ever so
good, nor so bad, as you think it's going to be when you're standing
at the ticket window. The great anticipator is also a great
apprehender--therefore realization is bound to be a relief.

Then, as if in reward of my optimism, I began to scent the odor of
escaping coffee.

"It _is_ inhabited!" I cried.

Springing up, I darted around to the other side of the station, and
there, in a clump of trees, lying snug and humane-looking in the
morning light, was a tiny cottage. I waited, and presently there
issued from the doorway a man--wiping his mouth reminiscently.

He espied me at once and came up, cap in hand.

"Was you wanting something, miss?" he asked.

"A train," I replied, trying to sound inconsequential with the
lordliness that comes of intense disgust. "I have a ticket to
Bannerley--and I have friends there _waiting_!"

The man dared to smile.

"Since the coal strike that's mostly what folks does, miss," he
explained.

There was a moment of strained silence, which was broken by the
appearance of a young boy--an eerie creature who had seemed to glide
straight out of the eastern horizon on a bicycle. The station-master
turned to him.

"Take this here parcel up to Lord Erskine--and be quicker than you was
yesterday!" he said.

The boy's face and mine changed simultaneously, his brightening, mine
paling.

"Lord Erskine!" I cried, a little ghostly feeling of fear stealing
over me--for my American instincts failed to grasp the rapidity with
which dead men's shoes can be snatched off and fitted with new rubber
heels in England--"Lord Erskine is dead."

The little messenger boy looked at me pityingly.

"'E _wuz_," he explained, "but 'e ain't now!"

"And--and do you mean to tell me that this is the station for Colmere
Abbey?" I demanded, turning again to the man.

"Yes, miss."

He tried hard not to look supercilious, but there, six feet above my
head, was the name "Colmere" in faded yellow letters against the
black background of the sign-board. And I had always believed in
psychic warnings!

"I--I hadn't thought to look at the sign-board," I endeavored to
explain. "It seems that it doesn't matter what your station is, for
you're as far away from your destination at one place as at
another--during the coal strike! You think I can't get a train to
Bannerley until----"

"Perhaps to-night--perhaps not until to-morrow morning," he answered
with cruel frankness, and I knew from heresay that trains did
occasionally wander, comet-fashion, out of their orbit, and come
through stations at unexpected moments. "Still, there's a railroad
hotel about a mile down the track."

"A railroad hotel?"

"Where the men get their meals--the guards and porters!"

My spirits sank.

"That old kill-joy at Paddington knew what he was talking about!" I
said to myself--then aloud: "But, couldn't I get a carriage, or
a----"

He shook his head.

"We mostly uses bicycles around here--when we don't walk," he
explained.

"But I must get to Bannerley!" I burst out in desperation. "And I am a
first-rate walker! How far is it?"

I was beginning to realize that the adventure might make good copy,
headed: "Wonderful Pedestrian Journey through Historic Lancashire."
Many a slighter incident has called forth heavier head-lines.

"Walk?"

"Certainly--then take up the matter with the railroad company in
Glasgow, just before I sail for home!"

My terrible manner caused him to look me over, quickly.

"Was you wanting to get to the village--or the hall?" he asked,
evidently impressed by my severity, and my heart softened.

"To the hall," I answered. "Mrs. Montgomery is expecting me."

He tried hard not to show that he was impressed, but he failed.
Evidently Mrs. Montgomery was a great personage, and I took on a tinge
of reflected glory not to be entirely ignored.

"The hall is a mile from the village--and the village is three miles
from here," he explained gently. "Of course, there's short cuts, if a
body knows 'em--but for a lady like you----"

The click of the telegraph instrument clamored for his attention, so
he reluctantly left me. I remained outside, listening to the caw of
the rook. Presently he came out again.

"There will be a train through here pretty soon--but it's coming from
the direction of Bannerley instead of going toward there--still----"

"Still, it will give us occasion to hope for better things later on,"
I answered cheerfully. "And it has occurred to me that I might while
away a portion of the morning by walking up to the gates of Colmere
Abbey. That boy went in this direction, didn't he?"

"Not a quarter of a mile, miss--down in this direction," he assured
me. "Just follow this road, and you'll find the lodge in a clump of
trees."

The "May" hedges were glistening with the early sunbeams, and as I
walked down the railroad track the distance seemed quite a good deal
short of the quarter of a mile mentioned. I found the clump of trees
indicated--then a small gray building. My heart bounded, and I rubbed
my eyes to make sure that I was awake.

"Is this the entrance to Colmere Abbey?" I asked of the boy on the
bicycle, who was turning out of the gate at that moment.

"This is one of the lodges--but not the grand one, madam!" he answered
anxiously.

"Oh, indeed? But one can get to the park through this gate?" I
persisted.

"Oh, yes, madam."

He showed an inclination to act as my esquire, but I got rid of him by
promising him sixpence if he would take care of my bag until I
returned to the station--then I crossed the greasy railroad track and
entered the shade of the trees. It was far from being my ideal entrée
into the old house of my heart's desire, but it was something of an
adventure--until I reached the gates. There I was halted.

"Yes, miss--if you please?"

It was an acid voice, and I looked at the doorway of the house, out of
which an old woman was issuing. She was garbed in profound black.

"I want to get in--to see the grounds of the abbey," I explained
casually, but she was not to be overwhelmed by any airy nonchalance.
She shook her head.

"But that can't be!"

The smile which accompanied this information was almost gleeful.

"No? But why not?"

She looked at me pityingly.

"Didn't you know we was in mourning?" she demanded, bristling with
importance.

I instantly made a penitent face, then glanced appreciatively at her
gown, but she gave no evidence of being a physiognomist. She failed
to take note of my contrite expression.

"You can't go sight-seeing in here!" she said.

"Not even a little way?"

I accompanied this plea by the display of a shining half-crown, which
I carried in my glove for emergency. That's one good thing about being
away from the United States--you don't have to regard money so
tenderly. You realize that shillings and francs and lire were made to
spend for souvenirs and service, but dollars--ugh! They were made to
put in the bank! So I twinkled this ever-ready half-crown temptingly
in the morning light, but she shook her head again.

"While we was in mourning?" she demanded, with a gasp of outraged
propriety. "Why--_wha'ud the minister say?_"

At this I turned away sadly--for I had been in England long enough to
know there's never any use trying to surmise _what_ the minister 'ud
say!

"Just the same, you'd make a dandy old servant--and I'm a great mind
to buy you and put you in my suit-case, along with the Sheffield
candlesticks," I thought, as I made my way back to the station.

During my absence a train had come clattering in--and it stood
stock-still now, while the engineer and the station-master held a long
conversation over a basket of homing pigeons which had been deposited
upon the platform. I viewed the locomotive listlessly enough--the walk
having taken some of my former impatient energy away, but my interest
was aroused as I came upon the platform by the appearance of a servant
in livery, disentangling from one of the compartments a suit-case and
leather hat-box.

The man's back was toward me, as he struggled to lift his burden high
above the precious basket of pigeons which was usurping place and
attention, but the look of the traveling paraphernalia held my eye for
a moment.

"Could it belong to an American?" I mused.

The servant deposited the cases on the platform, then turned, still
with his back toward me, and took part in the lively pigeon argument.
I looked at the beautiful smoothness of the leather.

"Of course they're American!" I decided, for you must know that nearly
any Englishman's luggage would compare unfavorably with the bags Aunt
Jemima brings with her when she comes up to the city for a week's
mortification to her nephews.

"Never judge an Englishman by the luggage he lugs!" is only a fair act
of discretion.

I crossed the platform, partly to get away from the mournful sounds
emanating from the wicker basket, and then, at the door of the little
station I was arrested by another sound. It was a sound which had
certainly not been there when I had left, half an hour before! I
halted--wondering if there really could be anything in psychic
warnings!

Inside the dingy little room some one was whistling! The melody was
falling upon the air with a certain softness which, however, did not
conceal its suppressed vehemence--and the tune was _Caro Mio Ben!_

"Anybody has a right to whistle it!" I told myself savagely, but I
still hesitated--my heart standing still from the mere force of the
hypothesis. After a moment it began beating again, as if to make up
for lost time.

The whistling man inside left off his music--then I heard his
footsteps tramping impatiently across the bare wooden floor. He
finally came to the door and looked out. I glanced up, and our eyes
met! It _was Caro Mio Ben! It was Caro Mio Ben!_

"Well?" he said.

He stood perfectly still for half a minute it seemed--making no effort
toward a civilized greeting.

"Well!" I responded--as soon as I could.

"This is queer, isn't it?"

I looked at him.

"'Queer?'" I managed to repeat--that is, I heard the word escaping
past the tightening muscles of my throat. "_Queer!_"

"Most extraordinary!"

"I should--I think I should like to sit down!" I decided, as he
continued to stand staring at me, and I suddenly realized that I was
very tired.

He moved aside.

"By all means! Come in and sit down, Miss Christie. This station
fellow here tells me that you have been disappointed in your train."

"I have," I answered.

I might have added that I had been disappointed in everything most
important in life, as well--but his own face was wearing such an
expression of calm serenity that I was soothed as I looked at it.

"That's quite a problem here in England just now," he observed
politely.

"So I have been informed."

After this, conversation flagged, until the silence made me nervous.

"I should think we ought to be asking each other--questions!" I
suggested, trying to bring him to a realization of the necessary
formalities, but he only turned and looked down at me, with a slightly
amused, slightly superior smile.

"Questions?"

"About _ships_--and how long we intend staying--and what travelers
usually ask!" I said.

He shook his head, as if the subjects held little interest for him.

"Why should I ask that--when I happen to know?" he inquired.

"You know--what?"

"That you came over on the _Luxuria_."

"Yes?"

"And that _The Oldburgh Herald_ sent you--to write up the coal
strike."

"Yes--it did."

"And that you are going to stay--some time."

I was decidedly uncomfortable.

"Will you please explain how you knew all this?" I asked.

His smile died away.

"Mrs. Hiram Walker wrote her son to call on me while I was in New
York," he explained in his serious lawyer-like manner, "and he
happened to leave a copy of _The Oldburgh Herald_ in my rooms."

"Oh! That was quite simple, wasn't it?"

"Quite!"

It occurred to me then that there was no use trying to keep fate's
name out of this conversation--and also it came to me that the orchids
were no longer a mystery--but before I could make up my mind to
mention this he turned to me ferociously.

"You _did_ make a fool of me!" he accused.

My heart began thumping again.

"What do you mean?" I began, but he cut me short.

"It is this that I can not get over! The thought has come to me that
perhaps if I might hear you acknowledge it, I might be able to forgive
you better."

"Forgive me?"

He leaned toward me.

"If you don't mind, I should like to hear you say: 'Maitland Tait, I
did make a fool of you!'"

"But I didn't!" I denied stoutly, while my face flushed, and all the
fighting blood in me seemed to send forth a challenge from my cheeks.
"I'll say what I _do_ think, however, if you wish to hear it!"

"And that is----?"

"Maitland Tait, you made a fool of yourself!"

He looked disappointed.

"Oh, I know that!" he replied.

"You do? Since when, please?"

"Why, I knew it before I crossed the Ohio River!" he acknowledged,
seeming to take some pride in the fact. "I--I intended to
apologize--or something--when I got to Pittsburgh, but when I reached
New York, on my way here, I saw that you were coming to England,
too----"

"So you thought the matter could easily wait--I see!" I observed,
then, to change the subject, I asked: "Have you been here long?"

"Two weeks! I knew that I should get news of you in _this_
neighborhood, sooner or later."

I instantly smiled.

"I have come here for my first Sunday, you see, but----"

"But you haven't been to the abbey yet, have you?" he asked.

The boyish anxiety in his tone gave me a thrill. Something in the
thought of his remembering my romantic whim touched me.

"No. I have just come from there--the lodge--but the old woman at the
gates wouldn't let me in."

He looked interested.

"No? But why not?"

"The master of the house has just died," I explained. "It would be a
terrible breach of etiquette to go sight-seeing over the mourning
acres."

His lips closed firmly.

"Nonsense! I'll venture that's just a servant's whim." He slipped out
his watch. "Shall I go over and try to beg or bribe permission for
you? I'm not easily daunted by their refusals, and--I'll have a little
time to spare this morning, if you'd care to put your marooned period
to such a use."

"I _am_ marooned," I told him, wondering for a moment what the
Montgomerys would think of my delay, "and I should like this, of
course, above anything else that England has to offer, but----"

Then, after his precipitate fashion, he waited for no more. He paused
at the edge of the platform for a low-toned colloquy with Collins--I
could easily distinguish now that the liveried creature was
Collins--and the two disappeared down the car track. After the
briefest delay he returned.

"What can't be cured must be ignored," he said with a shrug, as he
came up. "The poor old devil evidently regards us as very impious
and--American, but I made everything all right with her."

"But how----?" I started to inquire, also at the same moment starting
down the track toward the lodge house, when he stopped both my
question and my progress.

"Let us wait here--I have sent Collins to get a car for us from the
garage not far away."

He led the way out to a drive, sheltered with trees, on the other side
of the track, and we awaited the coming of Collins--neither showing
any disposition to talk.

"Is this _your_ car?" I presently asked, as the servant driving a
gleaming black machine drew up in front of us. "I hadn't imagined that
you would have your own car down in the country with you."

"I've had experience with these trains," he explained briefly, then he
looked the car over with a masterful eye. "Yes, it's mine."

"I really shouldn't have needed to ask--there's so strong a family
resemblance to the other one--the limousine you had in Oldburgh."

He looked pleased.

"I hope you'll like this one--it's a Blanton Six, you see," he
explained with a pat of affectionate pride upon the door-handle as he
helped me in.

Collins climbed to his place at the wheel, and without another
word--without one backward look--I was whirled away into the Land of
Long Ago--the period where I had always belonged.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the second lodge--the grand one--I pinched myself. I had to, to see
whether I was awake--or dreaming a Jane Austen dream. Maitland Tait,
watching me closely, saw the act.

"You're quite awake," he assured me gravely.

"But--what are you?" I inquired. "Are you yourself--or Aladdin,
or----"

I broke off abruptly, for the car was gliding over a bridge, and
underneath was a silvery, glinting ribbon, that might, in fairy-land,
pass for a river.

"Shall I stop the car and let you dabble the toe of your shoe in the
water?" my guide asked.

I looked at him in bewilderment.

"I shan't be able to believe it's just water--unless you do," I
explained. He had seen the look I let fall upon the shining breast of
the stream.

"And I'll send Collins away."

"Of course! It's sacrilegious to let any wooden-faced human look
upon--all this!"

The car obediently let us out, then steamed softly away, up the road
and out of sight.

Mr. Tait held out his hand to me and helped me down the steep little
river bank. I dabbled the toe of my shoe in the water, and as he
finally drew me away, with the suggestion of further delights, I
caught sight of a tiny fish, lying whitely upward in a tangle of
weeds.

"How _could_ he die?" I asked mournfully, as we walked away and
climbed back to the level of the park. "It seems so unappreciative."

The man beside me laughed.

"_Things_--even the most beautiful things on earth--don't keep
people--or fish alive," he said. "They can't even make people want to
stay alive--if this is all they have, and after all, the river is
just a thing--and the park is a thing--and the house is a thing!"

We had walked on rapidly, and at that moment the house itself became
apparent. I clutched his arm.

"A thing!" I denied, looking at it in a dazed fashion. "Why, it's the
House of a Hundred Dreams! It's all the dreams of April mornings--and
Christmas nights--and----"

"And what?" he asked gravely. But my eyes were still intoxicated.

"Why, it's Religion--and Art--and _Love_--and Comfort!"

He looked at it wonderingly, as if he expected to see statues
representing these chapters in the book of Life.

What he saw was a tangle of gravel walks, gray as the desert, drawing
away from grassy places and coming up sharply against the house.
_Such_ a house! A church--a tomb--a fluttering-curtained
living-hall--all stretched out in one long chain of battlemented
stone. Where the church began and the living-hall ended no one could
say, for there were trees everywhere.

"The lower part of the abbey is in good condition, it seems," my
conductor remarked, as we approached.

"Good condition!" I echoed. "Why, those doorways are as realistic
as--Sunday morning! I feel that I ought to have on a silk dress--and
hold the corners of my prayer-book with a handkerchief--to keep from
soiling my white gloves."

"If you listen perhaps you can hear the choir-boys," he said, after a
pause, and without smiling.

"But there might be a sermon, too!" I objected.

High above the doors was a great open space of a missing window; then,
over this, smaller spaces for smaller windows; and--in a niched
pinnacle--the Virgin.

"How can she--a woman in love--endure all this beauty?" I asked, my
voice hushed with awe.

"She's endured it for many centuries, it seems," he answered.

But we came closer then.

"Why, she hasn't even seen it--not once!" I cried, for I saw then that
she was not looking up, but down--at the burden in her arms.

Instinctively Maitland Tait bared his head as we crossed the
threshold.

"Shall we try to find a way through here into the gardens?" he asked.



CHAPTER XVII

HOUSE OF A HUNDRED DREAMS


The shadows inside the roofless old abbey were warm and friendly. The
sunlight gleamed against the tombs with a cheer which always falls
over very old grief spots.

"This quietude--this sense of all rightness--makes you feel that nothing
really matters, doesn't it?" I asked, looking around with a sort of
awed delight as we paused to read one or two inscriptions--voluminous
in length and medieval in spelling.

The man at my side was less awed.

"Shall we go on to the gardens, then?" he asked. "You'll not think so
little of temporal pleasures there, perhaps."

I looked up at him.

"But why?"

"Well, because these gardens are usually filled with suggestions of
living joys--for one thing. There are millions of forget-me-nots,
which always give a cheering aspect to the landscape--and there are
frequently the flowers mentioned in Shakespeare's plays."

With a sigh of regret we left the sanctuary. Then, turning a corner of
the old stone wall we came full upon a side of the house which was
receiving shamelessly the biggest sun-kiss I had ever seen. But then,
it was the biggest house I had ever seen. It was the gladdest sun--and
it was the warmest blending. Between house and sun--as if they were
the love children of this union--lay thousands of brilliant flowers.

When I could get my breath I made a quick suggestion that we go
closer.

"I want to know which is rosemary--and which is rue!" I told him. But
he stopped a moment and detained me.

We halted beside a fallen stone, at a point slightly separated from
the walls of the house--a sort of half-way ground, where the shadow of
the Greek cross on an isolated pinnacle seemed still to claim the
ground for religion, against the encroachments of the work-a-day
world. Maitland Tait's sudden smile was a mixture of amusement and
tenderness.

"I've recently heard a story about this spot--this identical
stone--which will interest you," he said. "A monk comes here at
night--one of those old fellows buried in there."

I smiled.

"It's quite true!" he insisted. "People have seen him."

"I know it," I avowed seriously. "I was not smiling out of unbelief,
but out of sheer joy at beholding with mine own eyes the 'Norman
stone!'

     "'He mutters his prayers on the midnight air,
     And his mass of the days that are gone.'"

Maitland Tait looked at me in surprise.

"Do you know all the legends of the place?" he asked.

I shook my head sorrowfully.

"I wish I did," I replied. "For so many years this has been my House
of a Hundred Dreams!"

We both fell into a moment's dreamy thoughtfulness, which I was first
to cast aside.

"Come and tell me about the plants, if you can!" I begged. "Which _is_
rosemary, and which is rue?"

We walked down a flight of worn steps, and came upon prim gravel
pathways.

"This is rosemary," he said, "and here, by the sun-dial, is rue."

Then, even when I realized that this was the place where Lady Frances
Webb had spent her wearisome days, to keep from hearing the clock
chime in the hall, I could not be sad. The sun-dial was another grief
spot, it was true, but it was an ancient grief spot--and it was
located in a golden sea of sunshine, under a sky that was the
reflection of forget-me-nots.

"She could gather the rue while the sun-dial told, all silently, of
the day's wearing on," I said.

He looked at me uncertainly.

"Did she say that in her letters?" he asked.

"Yes. She had sent her lover away, you see, and--there was nothing
else in life."

"And she longed for the days to pass silently?"

"She stayed out here as much as she could--to keep from hearing the
clock in the hall," I told him. "The chime shamed the unholy prayer on
her lips, she said--and the sound of the ticking reminded her of her
heart's wearying beats."

"Of _their_ hearts' wearying beats, you mean," he exclaimed, and a
quick look of pain which darted into his face showed me that he
comprehended. Then, for the first time, I began to grasp what a lover
he would make! Before this time I had been absorbed with thoughts of
him as a beloved.

Suddenly my hat began to feel intolerably heavy, and my gloves
intolerably hot. I tampered fumblingly with the pearl clasp at my left
wrist, and drew that glove off first. Maitland Tait was watching me.
He saw my hand--my bare ringless hand. He stared at it as if it might
have been a ghost, although it looked fairly pink and healthy in the
warm glow of the noonday sun. Even the little pallid circle on the
third finger was quite gone.

"Grace----" he said.

"Yes?"

"Does this mean that you're--you're----"

A discreet cough--a still distant, but distinctly warning
cough--interrupted for a moment. Collins was coming toward us, from
the ruins of the old abbey. Maitland Tait looked up and saw him
coming, but he did not stop. On the other hand, the sight of his
servant seemed to goad him into a hasty precipitation.

"Grace, will you marry me?" he asked.

"Of _course_!" I managed to say, but not too energetically, for the
muscles of my throat were giving me trouble again.

"Soon?" he asked hungrily.

I felt very reckless and--American.

"Before the shadows pass round this dial again, if you _insist_," I
smiled.

But his eyes were very grave.

"Without knowing anything more about me than you know now?"

"Why, I know everything about you," I replied, in some astonishment.
"I know that you are the biggest, and the best-looking, and the
dearest----"

"You know nothing about me," he interrupted softly, "except what I
have told you. I am a working man! I have always had the mass hatred
for class, and--and my grandfather was a coal-digger in Wales."

I was silent.

"Yet, you are willing to marry me?" he asked.

"Of course! Coal is--very warming," I answered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Collins descended the flight of stone steps and came slowly along the
gravel walk. When he had come to the respectful distance he stopped.
No English servant ever approaches very close--as if there were a
quarantine around the sacred person of the served.

"My Lord," he said, but stammeringly, as a man halts over a
newly-acquired language--"My Lord, Mrs. Carr wishes to know if you
will have lunch served in the oak room, or in the----"

"In the oak room," the man standing beside me answered readily enough.
"And have the old wing opened and lighted, Collins. We want to see the
pictures in there."

The servant breathed the inevitable "Thank you," and turned away.

I seemed suddenly to feel that the golden sea of sunlight was sweeping
me away--up into the blue, which was the reflection of forget-me-nots.
And there loomed big on my horizon a house that was a home!

"My _Lord_?" I demanded, as soon as I could speak.

Maitland Tait nodded reassuringly.

"My father died two weeks ago," he said. "And I _had_ to come into the
title."

"And this place is _yours_!" I sang out, feeling that all the years of
my life I had been destiny's love-child. "This old abbey is yours! The
park is yours! The garden is yours! The sun-dial is yours!"

"And the girl is mine!" he said, with a grave smile. "I am careless of
all the other."

His gravity sobered my wild spirits.

"And your father was--Lord Erskine?" I finally asked.

"He _was_--Lord Erskine," he answered. "He married out of his
station--far, far above his station, _I_ think----"

His big beautiful mouth set grimly, but he said nothing more, and I
knew that this was as heavily as he would ever tread upon the ashes of
the dead. Gradually, bit by bit, I learned the history of the muddy
pool of mistake and fault, out of which the tender blossom of his
boyhood had been dragged. His father had never seen him, but a
certain stiff-necked family pride had caused him to provide material
bounty for his child. The combination of a good education and rugged
plebeian industry had made him what he was.

"But why didn't you tell me--that day when you first came to see me
and we talked about this place--why didn't you tell me that it was
_your_ ancestral home?"

He looked at me in surprise.

"Why, because I had made up my mind to marry you!" he said. "You told
me that this old place was a sort of dreamland of yours--and I didn't
want to complicate matters. I wanted your love for me to be a
reality."

"Well, it--it is!" I confessed.

After a long while--that is, the sun-dial said it was a long
while--spent this way a sudden thought of my waiting hosts at
Bannerley came over me. I sprang up from the step of the pedestal
where we had been sitting.

"I _must_ get some word to Mrs. Montgomery!" I said. "They will be
thinking that my rash American ways have got me into some dreadful
scrape, I'm afraid."

But the serene man at my side was still serene. His face looked as if
nothing on earth could ever cause him a pang again. He caught my hand
and drew me gently, but rather steadfastly back to my place.

"Mrs. Montgomery knows everything--except that we are going to be
married--when did you say, to-morrow?" he smiled. "I've been staying
with them, and they told me about you, and I told them about you--and
we had rather a satisfactory adjustment of neighborly relations."

I looked at him in awe. I could not quite shake off the idea that he
had a miraculous lamp hidden about somewhere in his pockets. Things
seemed to _happen_ when he wished them to happen.

"Did you chance to know that I would take a bad train and be delayed
here this morning at sunrise?" I asked, trying to look dignified and
unawed. "Did you know that I should be compelled to waste precious
morning hours pacing up and down a railway station platform?"

"Why, of course," he answered imperturbably. "Mrs. Montgomery sent me
over to meet you."

I sprang up again, more energetically this time.

"Then why didn't you meet me?" I asked, with the horror of shocking
English propriety overwhelming me. "Come! We must go to Bannerley at
once."

He rose and followed me toward the main garden path. Then he pointed
the way to the house door.

"I've had Collins telephone that your train was very, very late," he
explained. "She'll not be surprised--nor too inquisitive. She even
suggested this morning that if you shouldn't get in until evening--the
drive to Bannerley is very fine by moonlight."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the late afternoon the chilly dusk sent little forerunners ahead,
which caused the old wing of the house to be lighted from within,
instead of opened to the cool dying sunset. A cheery fire was kindled
in the room which had once been the library of Lady Frances Webb.

The dampness and air of disuse disappeared, and it seemed as if
personalities came forth from the shadowy corners and sat beside the
fire with Maitland Tait and me.

"This was her own desk, they tell me," he said, as he was showing the
ancient treasures to me, yet still looking at them himself with
half-awed, almost unbelieving eyes. "This was where all her famous
books were written."

I crossed the room to where the little locked secretary stood. Its
polished surface was sending back the firelight's glow and seemed to
proclaim that its own mahogany was imprisoned sunshine.

"And she wrote those letters here," I said in a hushed voice. "Do you
suppose she has some of his letters locked away somewhere?"

He nodded, fitting the key to its lock very carefully.

  [Illustration: He drew me to a corner of the room]

"All of them! All the letters written her by--Uncle James."

"And we are going to look over them together--you and I are going to
read these love-letters--before we burn them?" I asked, quick joy
making my voice tremulous.

For a moment there was silence in the old room, then he turned away
from the secretary, and came very close.

"Why burn them--now?" he asked, his own strong voice of a sudden more
tremulous than mine. "Why burn them, now, darling? Why not--hand--
them--down?"

Then--in that instant--I knew what life was going to mean to me. And I
felt as if I had the great joy of the world--hugged close--in a circle
of radiance--like the _Madonna della Sedia_!

"I can be good--a very good woman--if I have your face before me," I
told him.

After a while he smiled, then took my hand and drew me to a shadowy
corner of the room.

"You haven't seen this yet," he said.

There was a crimson velvet curtain hanging before a picture, and he
drew aside the folds.

"This is--Uncle James,"

The candlelight shone against the canvas, and glittered in dancing
little waves over the name-plate on the frame.

"_Portrait of the Artist, by Himself._"

"Was it a comfort to her, I wonder?" my lover said, his thoughts only
half with the past.

"A torturing comfort--the kind a woman like her demands," I answered.
"She had to go to it every hour in every day--and look at it--to make
her heart ache, because it was only a picture. She was a human
being--as well as a novelist, so that such as this could only add to
her anguish. She wanted a _living_ face----"

"She wanted--this?"

He set the candlestick down and put both arms round me.

"She wanted--_this_?" he breathed.

His face was close above mine-waiting for the first kiss. A moment
later it came--descending gently, like some blessed holy thing. And
it was that.

"You are like him," I whispered. "Your face can make me good."

His arms tightened, and a smile escaped.

"And yours? What will you be like to me?" he asked.

I looked up, remembering.

"Like--just an American woman--a tormenting side-issue in your busy
life?"

But he shook his head gravely.

"No--not that."

A casement was open near by, and he drew me toward the shaft of
radiance which fell into the shadowed room.

Across the courtyard, white now with moonlight, were the ruins of the
abbey. There shone a softened luster through the space of the absent
window, and above, resplendent in her niche, stood the Virgin. Her
head was bowed above the burden in her arms.

"Like that--_like that_!" he whispered.


THE END





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