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Title: Green Doors
Author: Eliot, Ethel Cook
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Green Doors" ***

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                         _By Ethel Cook Eliot_

  Ariel Dances
  Green Doors

                            ETHEL COOK ELIOT

                    [Illustration: Decorative glyph]



                              GREEN DOORS


               [Illustration: Little, Brown, and Company]

                       LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
                            _Boston_    1933


                           _Copyright, 1933_,
                          BY ETHEL COOK ELIOT
                         _All rights reserved_

                        Published February, 1933
                    Reprinted February, 1933 (twice)
                         Reprinted April, 1933
                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


                              DEDICATED TO
                               MY FATHER



                              GREEN DOORS



                             _Chapter One_


“Hello! What’s up with you?”

Doctor Lewis Pryne was obviously surprised at the intrusion of a mere
friend on office hours. “How did you persuade Miss Frazier to bring you
in? You aren’t—or are you—looking for a doctor?”

Dick Wilder’s smile was tinged with awed diffidence.

“No, I’m not wanting treatment myself,” he said. “All the same, I did
get a regulation appointment from your secretary via the telephone, and
I’ve been out there in your reception office meekly waiting my turn for
hours. But first I have a message for you, from Cynthia. They want you
for the week-end in Meadowbrook. Harry’s counting on golf with you, and
the children—”

Lewis broke in dryly. “Sorry, Dick, but I’m most frightfully busy just
now. If you insist on staying to chat, I’ll send you a bill—regulation
fee for a first appointment. But if you vanish at once, I’ll let you
off. Give my fondest love to Cynthia, tell her I’ll call her up; thanks,
good-by.”

But though the doctor rose, his visitor sat. “You’re hard, Lewis, hard,”
he murmured. “But it’s all right with me. I expect a bill. I’m here to
offer you a lovely new patient on a silver platter. It is
rather—ah—private, though.”

His embarrassment was due plainly to the presence of the secretary, Miss
Frazier. She had escorted him into the presence of the famous
psychiatrist and she was now hovering near the door on tiptoes, it
seemed, to escort him out again.

Lewis sighed, but with good nature. “Miss Frazier needn’t bother you,”
he explained. “She is my confidential secretary and it saves time having
her here to make a record as we go along. How many people are out there,
Miss Frazier?”

“Only two, Doctor. Mrs. Dickerman and—”

“A sullen but gorgeous fellow who doesn’t want to be spoken to,” Dick
finished for her. “Or is he one of the really unhinged ones and not
responsible for his manners?”

Lewis smiled—fleetly—at his secretary. He said to Dick, “That will be
Mr. Neil McCloud. He is perfectly sane. He’s lost the power of speech,
that’s all.”

“Really? Somehow it didn’t look all to me. He has a flash in his
eye,—well—a flash—. But I thought the dumb were deaf, Lewis. That fellow
heard every word I said—listened as if he heard—and then coolly turned
his shoulder. He might have wriggled his eyebrows or something, to show
he couldn’t speak. I only asked him were you likely to keep us waiting
much longer—assuming, do you see, that he was a regular patient and knew
the ropes. What was there in that to antagonize any one?”

Lewis’ smile a moment ago had been very fleeting. Now his face had taken
on its accustomed gravity. It was an unusual sort of gravity, however,
lacking any element of heaviness. “That encounter will have been harder
on McCloud than on you, Dick,” he said. “He isn’t deaf. Merely can’t
articulate. Hasn’t been able to for some months. It’s a rather
perplexing case of shock. Temporary, I’m certain, but awkward for him
while it lasts. It’s after four, I think, Miss Frazier. Did McCloud or
Mrs. Dickerman have appointments?”

“No, Doctor. Neither of them. Mrs. Dickerman telephoned yesterday and
there was no time I could give her within a week. She came on the chance
you might be able to work her in somewhere. Mr. McCloud dropped in in
the same way. I had no idea how long Mr. Wilder’s appointment would
take, so I rather encouraged them both to wait. Shall I tell them
there’s no use now? It’s quarter to five.”

“No. Don’t do that. I’ll see them. Only let McCloud in ahead of Mrs.
Dickerman.”

“Shall I? Mrs. Dickerman telephoned yesterday, as I told you! She came
in several minutes ahead of Mr. McCloud too.”

“Did she? I suppose then you’d better convey to McCloud, somehow, that I
won’t be long with Mrs. Dickerman. Tell Mrs. Dickerman that I will be
free in another few minutes. Do that now, please, and then come back to
take this record. Pardon all this, Dick. Have a cigarette?”

From the brief exchange between doctor and secretary, Dick had been able
to form a pretty complete mental picture of what was back of it. Mrs.
Dickerman must be some slightly neurotic lady of wealth who was falling
over herself to pay fabulous fees to Lewis for a little mental coddling,
while the rather gorgeous but definitely shabby dark-browed young giant
was, of course, a charity case, and in real trouble. But supposing their
needs had been equal, Dick suspected his friend still would favor the
penniless down-and-outer, for Lewis was slightly snobbish in his
mistrust of wealth and position. It was a little perverse in him. Even
his own sister, Cynthia, thought so.

Dick frowned to himself. This matter of Lewis’ prejudice against paying
patients was rather pertinent to himself at the moment on account of the
errand which had brought him here. What could Petra Farwell seem to
Lewis beyond what Dick himself thought her—a beautiful but dull ingénue
whose psychic maladjustments (if that was the term) were the result of
too much leisure and spoiling?

Dick took out his cigarette case, waving Lewis’ aside, for Lewis, he
knew, was as economical when it came to cigarette brands as he was about
clothes and office furniture. What a bare room this sanctum was! The
reception office had been on the luxurious side, but that was Cynthia’s
taste and doing. She had insisted on decorating it, and Dick could not
doubt she had drawn on her own purse for most of the accessories. But
even as he passed it up, Dick noticed that Lewis’ cigarette case holding
the Luckies or whatever they were, was rather wonderful. Finest jade.
You could see at a glance. Marvelous color. Some grateful woman patient,
of course, had forced the gem on Lewis, and probably he did not dream
what its value was; if he did, he would sell it, to give to the
deserving poor....

Miss Frazier was back and ready with her shorthand pad. Since they were
smoking, Dick offered her a cigarette, one of his own Club variety. But
she refused it, coldly, her eyes on her pad. Dick did not so much get
the idea of having been put in his place as of the secretary having
insisted on keeping hers, which was that of an invisible, impersonal
automaton—a dicta-phone with judgment. Suddenly Dick did not mind
talking before her.

“It’s a stepmother stepdaughter situation,” he explained to Lewis. “The
stepmother is my friend. She is a wonderful person. She knows that you
and I are related in a way. (The relationship between them consisted in
the fact that Lewis’ sister, Cynthia, was married to Dick’s first
cousin, Harry Allen.) And she got the idea that because of the
relationship I might have some sort of a pull with you, do you see? But
perhaps that’s stupid. Perhaps nobody has a pull with you in that sense.
I warned her. Is it stupid?”

Lewis smiled, that peculiar fleeting smile of his. But it was for
himself this time. He had assumed the position he kept through all these
office interviews. His chair was swung half around on its pivot so that
he did not directly face the patient, and his eyes, for the most part,
were on the knob of the door leading into Miss Frazier’s little private
office. “Of course you have pull, Dick, all the pull in the world. But I
don’t see what that has to do with it. When it comes to taking on
patients, one does it on the merits of the cases themselves, naturally.
Let me hear.”

“Well, it’s the stepdaughter who is—funny. Clare, who is my friend the
stepmother, do you see, is utterly devoted to the girl. In fact, to my
mind, she is almost obsessed with the idea that it’s up to her to make
the girl happy. That’s far-fetched, of course. You can’t do _that_ for
any one. But Clare tries desperately. And all she gets for her pains is
very nice polite manners and nothing under ’em. It is absurd. You would
think so—you _will_ think so—when you see Clare. But even if Clare
weren’t so wonderful as she is, the girl’s indifference would still be
absurd, for just on the material side she owes Clare everything she’s
got in the world. She and her father were as poor as poverty until Clare
came into their lives, married the father. Now that she is there, their
lives are all luxury.—Charm.—Beauty too. But what good does it do? Clare
is only getting her heart broken.

“But I ought to tell you,” Dick went on quickly, after a second’s pause
in which he had suddenly remembered some last admonishments of Clare’s,
“Clare doesn’t mind personal heartbreaks and things like that. That is
not why she wants you to psychoanalyze the girl. It is for the girl’s
own sake and her father’s sake. She doesn’t want those two to become
estranged. And it is bound to happen if things go on the way they are
going. The girl must be more responsive to Clare, return _some_ of her
devotion, or the father is going to begin to feel the antagonism in the
air and blame his daughter for it. For, in a choice of loyalties, the
man is Clare’s. It isn’t Clare’s fault it’s that way, though. From the
very beginning she has _worked_ to preserve—even to create—a fine
relationship between her husband and his daughter. She is big enough,
detached enough, to keep herself and her personal disappointments out of
the situation and think only of those two. And that’s why she sent me
here, at dollars a minute, I suppose, to ask you to see the girl and
straighten her out. She has an idea that there is some deeply hidden
resentment—some mix-up, anyway—in the girl’s subconscious mind and that
it only needs you to excavate it. She thinks—”

But there Dick faltered. Lewis was smiling and no longer fleetingly.
Miss Frazier, noticing Dick look around for it, pushed an ashtray along
the desk toward him. He crushed out his cigarette stub in it, looking
miserable and a little angry. “I can see what you’re thinking, Lewis,”
he exclaimed. “You think that it is a simple case of stepdaughterish
jealousy and that Clare and I are just too ingenuous for words to have
come bothering a top-notch psychiatrist with it. But you happen to be
wrong. You don’t know the people. Petra’s not jealous. Not for a minute.
She hasn’t enough warmth in her for such a passion, if it comes to that.
Really, she’s no jollier with her own father than with her stepmother.
But Clare doesn’t see that. She thinks it’s only herself Petra pushes
off. And what is there so absurd in her getting the idea that you might
help?”

But if Dick had only noticed, his belated mention of the girl’s name had
effectually changed his friend’s expression.

“Is it Petra Farwell you’re talking about?” he asked quickly. “Daughter
of Lowell Farwell, the novelist?”

Dick hesitated an instant, glancing a little painfully at Miss Frazier’s
efficient hand with its pen poised but so far idle—above her pad. But
after all, Miss Frazier’s presence at this conference was Lewis’
responsibility, and one had to trust Lewis.

So he said, “Yes. It’s the Farwells. I thought you would guess. You know
I built their house, Green Doors. We started it the minute they were
back from the honeymoon. Clare made Featherstone’s give me a free hand
with it. It was my first real chance at self expression. But Clare had
as many ideas as I had and the nice part was that our ideas didn’t
clash—merely supplemented. Until that summer I had only known Clare
socially and even so not very well. She is in an older crowd. It’s an
interesting crowd. The Lovings, you know,—the Stracheys, Jim Strange,
Isabell Peters Clough. Rather exciting, being accepted by them! Clare
sees to it that I am. And Lowell Farwell is the lion of the lot, I
suppose. Clare herself ought to be. Wait till you meet her!”

“I have met Mrs. Farwell, once, for a few minutes,” Lewis said. “She was
Mrs. Tom Otis then. It was just before the former Mrs. Farwell
abdicated. But it’s Petra, the girl, I’m interested to hear about. Is
she prepared to come to a psychiatrist for treatment for—what do you say
the trouble is? General lack of appropriate feeling toward the latest
Mrs. Novelist’s Wife? Or hasn’t she been consulted?”

“You keep on laughing at us,” Dick complained. “If I were a stranger,
would you? Yes, I knew about that meeting with Clare, of course. But I
meant, wait till you _really_ know her. Clare hasn’t said a word about
you to Petra, not yet. Petra would be sure to resent it, don’t you
think? What Clare wants is to have it come about—gradually. If you’re
week-ending at Cynthia’s, right there in Meadowbrook, you can drop
around at Green Doors, meet the family, have tea informally in the
garden, chat with Petra,—and let that call seem to put the idea of
having Petra psychoanalyzed into Clare’s head. That way, Petra might get
the idea that being psychoanalyzed by Doctor Lewis Pryne would be a
pretty interesting experience, do you see? That’s Clare’s scheme and I
think it’s a good one.”

Lewis, lighting himself another cigarette, murmured, “Good is an
adjective that I myself seldom apply to the word ‘scheme.’ But it
happens that I’ll like meeting Lowell Farwell. His psychological novels
interest me—at least, to the point of wanting to find out how he gets
that way. Even more I shall be glad of an excuse to see Petra again. I
met her at the same time I met your Mrs. Clare. By the way, Mrs. Clare
is Petra’s second or third stepmother, isn’t she! Mightn’t it be that
the child’s stand-offish attitude toward the species is cumulative and
not, strictly speaking, personal? Had that occurred to either of you?...
But it doesn’t matter. I’m charmed by the invitation to tea at Green
Doors. It’s only fair, though, that you should warn Mrs. Farwell that it
cannot, not possibly, be a professional call. And just remind yourself,
will you, Dick, if only now and then, that I’m not a psychoanalyst. It
always annoys me a little, being called one.”

“Sorry. Yes, I do know, of course. But the differences are too slight
for the laity to master. Then you will come for tea? That’s fine. All we
wanted, as a start-off, really. Clare knows you won’t be lionized and I
can promise you it will be informal. Shall we say Saturday afternoon?
It’ll be just the Farwells themselves and me. I’m there such a lot, I’m
almost family,” he added, flushing a little.

Dick was ready to get out now and give place to Mrs. Dickerman and Mr.
McCloud. But he had a diffident feeling that since this was actually a
professional seance he had been having with Lewis, it was up to Lewis to
bring it to an end. And Lewis had not stirred in his chair. He was
saying, “I’ll like seeing your work with that house, too. I’ve meant to
get Cynthia to take me over, ever since you finished it. Why do they
call it Green Doors?”

Lewis’ gaze, as he spoke, was still attached to the knob on Miss
Frazier’s door. Dick, now that he had secured part of what Clare wanted
and was no longer anxious, was looking at his friend with an increasing
discernment in his vision.

“He’s got the look of a medieval monk,” he told himself,—seeing it,
strangely, for the first time. Well, perhaps asceticism was the price
Lewis had had to pay for his astonishing success. He had accomplished in
ten years or so what usually takes a man in his profession the better
part of his life, if he ever achieves it at all. “Naturally Lewis hasn’t
had much time for the flesh-pots along the way,” mused Dick.

Doctor Lewis Pryne was only thirty-three, and yet in the years since
graduating from Harvard Medical he had made himself a specialist in
psychiatry, written three instantly famous books on dynamic psychology,
and accumulated a clientele which might be the envy of any other
psychiatrist not congenitally superior to envy, in the country. And he
was self-made. At least, ever since his father had died when Lewis was a
Senior in Latin High, he had earned his own way, and looked out for
Cynthia as well, until she married Dick’s cousin, Harry Allen. Yet here
he was, in spite of that stupendous early handicap, loaded with fame and
honor—and if not with money, that was simply because money did not seem
to be one of his goals.

Meeting Lewis in the ordinary way—that is, outside of an office
visit—you got no hint of past struggles and their necessary austerities.
His gray eyes were more sleepy than austere, with a languid droop at the
outer corners of the heavy upper lids. His mouth curled, slightly, as if
fleeting little smiles were habitual, and most of the time an almost
palpable light played over the lower part of the face, particularly the
full but chiseled lips. Without that light and the odd, fleeting smile,
Lewis’ mouth would have been definitely sensuous. As it was, you never
thought of that—only of its sensitive but exquisitely impersonal
sympathy.

The gray sleepy eyes released the door knob, came to rest on Dick
Wilder’s face. “How did Green Doors come by its name?”

Dick started, realizing that this was a repeated question. What had he
been woolgathering about? Lewis, himself. He had been busy seeing Lewis
in a new, fresh way, after a fifteen years’ friendship. That was
strange. Then he understood it. He had been seeing Lewis as Clare would
soon be seeing him,—looking at him through Clare’s eyes.

“Oh? The name? It was Clare’s idea. It’s in a poem. Published in _The
Glebe_, 1914.” (He got up as he answered. Lewis’ time _was_ precious,
and staying to chatter now would be inexcusable, after Lewis had been so
altogether patient and friendly.) “I don’t remember it all. But there’s
a line—

  “‘I know an orchard old and rare,
    I will not tell you where,
  With green doors opening to the sun....’

“Something like that anyway. Clare said we wouldn’t plan a house at all,
but just green doors, opening to the sun. We’ve done it too! You’ll see,
Saturday. I’ll pick you up at the Allens’ around four. Crazy to show the
place to you!”

During the brief interval between Dick Wilder’s departure from the
office and Mrs. Dickerman’s entrance, Lewis stood in the big window at
the back of his desk, looking down onto the glistening river of
automobile tops which was Marlboro Street, and recalled his first and
only meeting with Petra—the girl who was, so it seemed, the one
discordant note in the idyllic existence at that country estate, already
famous to literature,—Green Doors, in Meadowbrook.



                             _Chapter Two_


Lowell Farwell’s voice making the appointment over the telephone—it was
three or four years ago now—still vibrated through Lewis’ memory,
melodious, _interesting_. Lewis had never happened to catch sight of the
novelist at that time, nor had he since, but he knew from numberless
newspaper cuts what he looked like. And the voice perfectly fitted those
leonine, distinguished heads.

“My wife has been ill for months and now a friend has persuaded her to
see you. Her doctor agrees that it may be a wise move to get your
opinion, Doctor Pryne. You are acquainted with him. Doctor MacKay, here
in Cambridge. He has come to the end of his resources and is ready to
give psychiatry a try.”

It was a wind-clear, blue-red-gold October afternoon, when Lewis made
that call in Cambridge. The Farwells were living on the upper floor of
an unpretentious double house on Fayerweather Street. Instead of the
expected maid in cap and apron opening the door, there was a girl in a
brown smock.—Strange to be remembering color, and shades of color, after
so many months!—Her eyes were brown-gold, and as photographically as
Lewis remembered those gay and sincere eyes, he remembered the curves of
the smiling mouth.

The room into which she brought Lewis was a blank in memory. Perhaps,
even at the time, it had been a blank to his consciousness. Except for
the blue gentians. There was a clump of them growing out of dark earth
near where he laid down his hat. He supposed the flowers must have been
planted in some sort of dish, but his memory of the Farwells’ Cambridge
living room was fringed blue gentians growing out of dark earth.

The girl’s voice was as smiling as her mouth. “Mrs. Farwell will see you
in a minute, Doctor.”

“Are you Miss Farwell?” he asked, for he knew, from Cynthia, probably,
who read the columns of literary gossip in the Sunday papers, that
Lowell Farwell had a daughter.

The smile became laughter. Laughter which sounded like pure happiness,
translating itself into sound. The rarest sort of laughter in the world.
Not amusement. Not embarrassment. Mere self-unknown joy.

“No. I am Teresa Kerr. _This_ is Petra.”

The novelist’s daughter was sitting on the sill of an open window, her
background wall-less—a sea of blue October air and light. She was a
schoolgirl then, in a navy blue jersey schoolgirl dress. Her attentive,
innocent eyes, set wide in a grave young brow, were the precise color of
the gentians. That repetition of color and the eyes’ innocent
attentiveness stabbed Lewis like some too pure, too perfect note in
music. It was the most beautiful child’s face—or any face—of his memory.
No wonder he remembered _that_ so vividly! The short, straight nose, the
upper lip—short to the exquisite point of breath-taking beauty—the
Botticelli mouth, the strong, white, round chin!—The child was hardly
human, she was so lovely!—Her head against the window’s blue background
was a sculptor’s dream. Fine, very alive brown curls molded rather than
obscured its classic contours. The gawky schoolgirl body, in its
clinging jersey, was sculpture, too, with its wide shoulders and long
thighs....

Lewis had supposed, since, that the mood which took possession of him
when Teresa Kerr had opened the door to the Farwells’ Cambridge
apartment, and which had increased like daylight upon dawn during the
brief minutes he spent with those girls waiting for Mrs. Farwell to be
ready to see him, was merely a state of _rapport_ with their youth and
happiness. Their relationship with life and with each other had by some
miracle extended itself to him and created what at the time, and in
memory ever since, had seemed a golden age circumferenced by a passing
moment.

When the circumference contracted upon its enclosed eternity (these were
Lewis’ similes, far-fetched, of course, but for himself alone), it was
by way of a trivial voice calling out from the next room. Then he left
timelessness, passed through a door into a ceilinged, four-walled space,
and took a chair facing an emotional, pretty woman who lay relaxed among
cushions on a chaise-longue; and at once, quite as if he had never
passed through the sound of Teresa’s laugh and the sight of Petra’s
attentive, innocent gaze to reach this meeting, he gave his complete
attention to Mrs. Farwell and her woes.

She had these violent headaches. Weeks on end she could not sleep and
then for other weeks she slept too much, could do nothing else but
sleep. Her nerves needed either a stimulant or a sedative, constantly.
But Doctor MacKay did not approve of drugs, not in the quantities her
case demanded. Doctor MacKay said, “Exercise!” But she had this nervous
heart. He admitted the nervous heart and yet insisted on the exercise.
Imagine! Besides, how could she exercise? Riding was out of the
question. Couldn’t afford it. And golf bored her. Terribly! And what
other exercise is there, besides golf and riding? They hadn’t even a
car. If they had, she might at least get some fresh air each day. But
perhaps Doctor Pryne knew for himself—she was looking at his ready-made
tweed suit—that fame did not pay in dollars and cents. Her husband’s
novels were only for the discriminating few. The better the review, she
noticed, the smaller the royalties always.... And noises—cooped up in a
cheap little apartment like this—noises were a sort of crucifixion!

A laugh, muffled by the closed door, but audible enough for
demonstration, coincidentally bore her out. Or so she imagined. She
winced, becomingly, but genuinely enough.

“If only Petra could go away to school! She is my husband’s daughter,
you know. But we can’t even afford a camp for her. And big girls like
that are so noisy, so all over you! If she were a boy, she wouldn’t be
always at home. It would be easier then. If Doctor MacKay ever thinks I
am strong enough to have a baby I do hope it will be a boy!”

Lewis listened to all of this and much more with attention. And not
until Mrs. Farwell had worn herself out with the emotion which
accompanied her eager, fluent explanations of her nervous condition, did
he venture a few tentative suggestions. But it appeared that Doctor
MacKay had made the very same suggestions dozens of times already,—and
none of them were any good.

“Well then—?” But it was only a mental question, a mental shrug. Lewis
was grave and interested up till the very last. Doctor MacKay, however,
had not had the slightest excuse for calling in a psychiatrist. It was
an old story, but as disheartening and ridiculous as if it were the
first occasion on which Lewis had wasted his time like this.

As it happened, the laugh which had penetrated Mrs. Farwell’s closed
door, with its crucifying effect on one of its hearers, was Lewis’ last
touch with Teresa and Petra. When he came out of Mrs. Farwell’s bedroom
into the living room, they were gone. In their stead, a new
individual—younger than Mrs. Farwell, older than the girls—was lying in
wait for him. She had usurped Petra’s place in the open blue window, but
she quickly left it and came forward.

“I am Mrs. Tom Otis, Doctor Pryne. A friend of the Farwells. Mr. Farwell
has commissioned me to see you in his place. He is at a critical point
in the new novel, and if he leaves it, he’s lost. You know how that is,
since you write yourself. He is working in my house,—has his study
there. He wants you to tell me your ‘findings’ here—if that’s the
word—and then, when he comes to earth again, I’m to report to him. Do
you see?”

Mrs. Otis had spoken in a lowered voice in spite of Mrs. Farwell’s
closed door, and now she found a chair for herself with the obviously
gracious intention of permitting Lewis to do the same. She appeared so
altogether ingenuous a person that Lewis was fain to divert his
irritation over the stupidity of the situation to the absent Lowell
Farwell. Meanwhile he tried to get away from this Mrs. Otis as promptly
and tactfully as possible.

“That’s all right,” he said. “I’m glad Mr. Farwell didn’t interrupt his
work. There’s no reason why he should. Doctor MacKay will get in touch
with me to-morrow and he’ll give Mr. Farwell my ‘findings’ such as they
are, I suppose.”

He was looking for his hat, but wondering about Petra and Teresa. Why
had they had to go away? He had meant to ask them where they had found
the gentians.

“Here it is,” Mrs. Otis moved aside, so that he saw the dish of
gentians, and then his hat beside them. “But please don’t go right away.
Mr. Farwell will think I have failed him if you go without telling me
what you think about Marian. It was stupid of me, perhaps, not to have
explained myself more fully before I asked you to tell me. You couldn’t
understand, of course. You couldn’t know how very close I am to these
people. Why, it was I who persuaded them to get you. I couldn’t bear the
way things were going. Something had to be done. Doctor MacKay is so
tiresomely conservative. Any wise, up-to-date doctor would have seen
long ago that Marian Farwell ought to go right away—to a
sanitarium—abroad—anywhere—but _away_. It isn’t fair to let neurotics
inflict their nerves on people who are perfectly sane and healthy. And
it’s all the worse when an extremely sensitive artist like Lowell
Farwell is the victim! You think so too, don’t you?”

But Mrs. Otis had not waited for Lewis’ answer. She took his agreement
for granted and hurried on. “Doctor Pryne, see here. I am so eager—and
more important, perhaps—_able_ to help. Did you think I was merely
curious and officious? That would be too hateful of me, if it were true.
But it isn’t. This affair is almost as much mine as it is
Lowell’s—theirs, the Farwells’, I mean. I got Mr. Farwell to call you
in, I am paying your fees, and I will send Marian abroad, anywhere,
_to-morrow_, if you will only say the word. We—Society—owe to first-rate
artists their chance for good working conditions. Well, you and I
between us can manage things for this particular artist right now. He
won’t let me give Marian the money for Europe as things are, just for my
urging it. But if _you_ say she _must_ go— Don’t you see?”

Mrs. Otis had seemed to Lewis at the time a rather delightful person. A
magnetic smile and an air of almost naïve simplicity had robbed what she
said, and implied, of too much stupidity. And she went on to speak of
her wealth with simplicity. “What use is all this money,” she asked,
eyes shining and wide, “if I can’t do some ordinary human good with it
outside of organized charity, and without fuss? What I can’t spend
myself—spend beautifully, I mean—certainly belongs to the next person
who needs it. And Marian, poor darling, is really and truly my next
person. It’s as simple as that.”

But Mrs. Farwell, to Lewis’ mind, was neither mentally nor physically
ill. She was a “happiness hound,” nothing else in the world, and he
could not honestly prescribe Europe or a sanitarium as a cure for a
deeply rooted perversion in human character. Yet getting away without
committing himself to coöperation in Mrs. Otis’ naïve philanthropic
schemes was difficult, the more so since he could not, of course, tell
her his “findings.” But Lewis managed it at last and Dick’s errand here
just now seemed to indicate that she had not stayed permanently
resentful, however she had felt at the time.

And then, before anything of his call at the Cambridge apartment had had
time to fade from Lewis’ memory, the papers were full of the divorce of
Lowell and Marian Farwell. A little while more and two marriages were
front-page news, Lowell Farwell to Mrs. Clare Otis _née_ Fay, and Mrs.
Marian Farwell, _née_ Dodge to—somebody or other. The name hardly
mattered since it was merely her recent connection with the celebrated
novelist which gave the happiness hound’s new marriage its ephemeral
public interest. And now, less than three years after that so simple
solution of their problems—and a wonder Mrs. Clare had not hit on it
sooner and had ever bothered to try plotting with a psychiatrist!—she
had Lewis again marked down as a fellow conspirator.

What did she want to buy from him this time, Lewis asked himself. Her
stepdaughter’s affection, according to Dick. But that would be only part
of it. With three years for perspective, Lewis was more than a little
doubtful of “Clare’s” simplicity. But he could not guess what she might
be wanting. It would be interesting to see, possibly. And in any case,
there would be Petra. And Teresa Kerr. Who was Teresa Kerr, anyway, and
where was she now, Lewis wondered. Well, Petra could tell him that. He
would ask her on Saturday, the first thing.

To-day was only Wednesday. Three days, then, to go until he should see
Petra. It seemed an unconscionably long time to wait. But why, then, had
he let three years go past without inquiring from Cynthia, or the dozen
other people who could certainly have told him, what had become of Petra
since Farwell’s last marriage, and who was Teresa Kerr?

He turned sharply around, as if startled away from the window by
astonishment at himself for this strangely belated impatience.



                            _Chapter Three_


Green Doors lay a few miles beyond Meadowbrook, well away from the main
highway on a meandering country road of its own. The new house had been
built on the site of the old farmhouse which it had replaced, with its
front door only a few paces from the road. In a general way the new
house followed the contours of the old. The long, low lines of the sheds
and the high, gabled lines of the barn—all house now—gave the place, as
one came on it, a casual air of simplicity. It melted into the landscape
as if it were painted on it. The white walls, shadowed by old, gnarled
apple trees, were friendly with the dusty white country road, while the
entire landscape of meadows and fields, with stretches of brook-cooled
woodland, cradled the new dwelling as no changeling but its own child,
in a peaceful lap. So Lewis at any rate felt as he arrived with Dick, in
Dick’s car, at tea time on that Saturday afternoon which had come, at
last.

“That’s Clare’s guest house,” Dick explained of a small one-story
doll-house-like place directly across the way from the big house. “It
used to be the cow sheds. We found it amusing, having the estate cut in
two by the public road, and we have used the road in our landscaping—up
to the hilt. Autos almost never come this way, and the hay carts and
occasional cows that do only add to the flavor. Isn’t it jolly!”

“Very!” Lewis agreed. “And infinitely peaceful. Does Farwell write here
at Green Doors?” He was contrasting the novelist’s Cambridge home with
this latest one and thinking that Clare appeared, at least on the
surface, to have been successful in giving this particular artist an
ideal environment for his creative ventures.

“Oh, yes. But in a little studio off in the woods. He made us build it
according to his own ideas and Farwell’s genius doesn’t work along the
lines of architecture. But such as it is, it’s his own, and that’s charm
enough, I suppose. We’ve laughed over it quite a lot, Clare and I, but
it’s well out of sight and it doesn’t matter what it looks like so very
much, just so long as it serves its purpose. And it does that. The man
practically lives there.”

Lewis could not help thinking of his own books written in snatched
minutes at his office, on trains, in hotel bedrooms in the dead of night
with the call to sleep like a fire-engine siren shrieking a warning in
his brain. But Farwell’s was creative writing and that was a different
sort altogether, necessitating leisure and solitude, at any
price—possibly! But there Lewis pulled himself up. “Lord! This matter of
price is none of my business! They may be quite decent people at heart,
really, and even happy!”

The front door had its step—a big, flat slate stone—a little below the
level of the road. The hall into which one entered after so
unpretentious an approach was almost startling in its palatial
proportions. It was the height of the old barn, and the floor and the
walls—with a balcony running around the second story on three sides—were
made of composition which gave the effect of stone. In its own right,
this great hall was a work of art; but on such a day as this, with the
whole farther end opened to the New England countryside, it became
merely a neutral frame for the garden, which, a mass of passionate
color, cut a flaming swathe through a wooded valley to orchard-draped
hills beyond.

The maid who had opened the door for them said, “Mrs. Farwell would like
you to go through into the garden. She is under the elm.”

The terrace, as they came to it, was merely an unroofed continuation of
the floor of the great hall. It ended with wide slabs of flower-rimmed
stone shelving down into grassy sweeps of hot June color. Off at one
side, in a distant corner of the lawn, some Chinese garden chairs were
grouped around a rustic table in the shade of a perfect wineglass elm. A
little beyond, in the same shade, a woman in a white dress lay stretched
in a long chair, her back to the house. A big garden hat, brilliant
orange, was tossed on the grass beside her.

But Mrs. Farwell was not asleep, for she heard their voices, and jumping
up, came several steps out beyond the shade in her eagerness to welcome
them.

“Petra and I were to play tennis. She was to have joined me here—oh—ages
ago—and she hasn’t, and I’ve just stayed on waiting all afternoon, and
never dreamed it was tea time. Look at me!”—Mrs. Farwell meant apology
for her crumpled, sleeveless frock, for her ankle socks on suntanned
bare legs, for rather shabby sneakers. “I meant to change, of course.
But the afternoon is a dream and I have been dreaming with it, since
Petra never came. The child must not forget her tea date, though, and I
don’t think she will. She remembered you perfectly, Doctor Pryne, and
seemed actually _pleased_ that you were coming.—Yes, Richard! Petra
_showed pleasure_. Doesn’t that sound propitious?”

She stood for another minute out in the glare where she had met her
guests, looking hopefully toward the house, as if half expecting Petra’s
arrival to coincide with theirs. “Lowell too!” she murmured. “My husband
was terribly pleased you were coming, Doctor Pryne. But time doesn’t
exist for him when he is working. He will be sure to turn up, though. He
has no intention of missing you—this time.”

Then she shaded her brow with her palm and, turning suddenly to Dick,
smiled deliberately and sweetly into his eyes. Lewis wished he had been
looking somewhere else when this happened. She led them back to the
chairs and herself took the one nearest the tea table.

His hostess was not nearly so pretty as Lewis remembered her. But she
was much more than pretty! Yes—sitting upright against the fantastic
high back of the Chinese chair, in her sleeveless white frock, her hair
black as the lacquer of the wickerwork, her very long, curving lashes
black, tipped in gold, and dimples subtly hinted in her thin cheeks—she
was vital and engaging.

But specious!—Lewis quickly added. Before, when he had thought her
rather beautiful and certainly naïvely ingenuous, he had been looking at
her through the beginning of twilight in a city apartment. But this
second time her background was an elm and the light was of broad day.
That changed things somewhat. Lewis did not particularly enjoy his
present skepticism. But he could not help himself. And his next
unhallowed thought was “Poor Dick!” For the latest Mrs. Farwell’s
particular variety of predatoriness was of the sort that relishes a
spiritual flavor to its meat; so Lewis, at any rate, hazarded. The
bodies, even the hearts of men, would not be enough: Clare Farwell would
demand the soul before all.

“Pretty selfish of Petra to waste your afternoon for you like this!”
Dick exclaimed. He turned to Lewis. “You can see for yourself how it is.
You’ve run right onto it, first thing, without our showing you. It’s
always like this. This is the way Petra treats Clare.”

“Oh, Richard! Please! How horrid that sounds. It’s a little unjust as
well. This time I am almost certain she really and genuinely forgot I
was waiting for her. Her offering to play with me at all was generous.
Petra is a hum-dinger at tennis, Doctor Pryne, and I am only fairish. So
it’s not much fun for her, playing with me. This is probably the truth
of it: Petra wanted to be nice, then her subconscious mind got busy
making her forget and so saved her from having to be nice. Doctor Pryne
will tell you, Richard, that the hardest things not to forget are the
duties which bore us.” She was laughing but in spite of that she meant
them to believe her serious.

Clare _would_ call Dick “Richard.” Given her type, it was almost
inevitable. Lewis wondered why it had taken him so unaware and why it
need so irritate him. And it was also inevitable—but for this he had
been totally unprepared—that she would overtly exonerate the slandered
Petra and in the very act make it look worse for the child. For she was
a person who could have her cake and eat it too, every time. It was a
trick act, peculiar to the type.... But Lewis liked his own critical
self less and less in exact ratio as he found himself liking Petra’s
stepmother less and less. He wished he had never had to see her by
daylight.

“Subconscious mind nothing!” Dick scoffed. “Clare, you’re always making
excuses for everybody, but most of all for Petra. Couldn’t she _see_ you
waiting out here all afternoon from every window in the house? Wouldn’t
that circumvent her subconscious forgettery mechanisms?”

“Oh yes, if she were in the house, my dear Richard. But she may have
gone for a walk. Now, though, she’ll be back, dressing for this party of
ours. _I_ should have!”

“Well, I only wish I had known you were just waiting around here for
nothing!” Dick was thoroughly upset. “I’ve been spoiling for exercise
all afternoon. Cynthia insisted it was too hot to play, Harry stuck at
his bank, and Lewis couldn’t be torn from Marlboro Street one minute
ahead of time. But I’m sleeping at the Allens’ to-night, after Petra’s
dance. How about a game tomorrow morning?”

“But my dear boy, to-morrow is Sunday,” Clare reminded him. Then, to
Lewis, she explained, almost with a blush, “Don’t be shocked, Doctor
Pryne. I never impose my religious idiosyncrasies on others, not even on
my family. One doesn’t! And I don’t even carry my peculiarity to the
point of going to church—do I, Richard? Oh, yes, I do really, only
not”—she laughed—“the Meadowbrook Congregational Church! Green Doors is
my church.

  “I know an orchard, old and rare,
    I will not tell you where,
  With green doors opening to the sun,
    And the sky children gather there—

“I can slip away, with a volume of essays or poetry, stretch out
anywhere in the grass and sun on one of those slopes up there, and feel
God nearer than He would ever come to me in the four walls of any church
on earth, even the most beautiful cathedral. My husband says that that’s
pagan. Perhaps it is. I am pagan, I think. But words for one’s religion
don’t matter, do they! _I know what I know, and I feel what I feel, and
it is—beautiful._”

Then, laughing again, she asked, “What church do you go to, on Sundays,
Doctor Pryne? Not one built by men, any more than I, I’m sure. You too
are beyond that kindergarten point in evolution. You see, I know you
much better than you can even begin to know me, for I have read your
books!”

Good Lord! What had Lewis’ books to say of his religion? They were
austerely psychological, made up of the findings and the theories of a
practising psychiatrist. The philosophical humility in all his writing
was Lewis’ pride. But he was saved the trouble of defending his pride
just then, even if he had thought it worth the trouble, for Clare’s
stepdaughter, Petra, had come down the terrace steps and was hurrying
across the lawn.

“Imagine Clare calling herself the mother of that!” Dick laughed—and
Lewis, somehow, knew that the remark and its accompanying mirth was
probably as familiar at this tea table as was Clare’s explanation of her
individualistic out-of-doors worship.

Clare murmured hurriedly, softly—her fingers just touching Lewis’ coat
sleeve as she leaned toward him—“Richard is only teasing me. He knows
perfectly well that I’m not flattered. I am thirty years old and have no
ambition to compete with Petra’s _lovely youth_. What I long to be is a
mother to her, a real one. How I long for it! But I need your help,
Doctor Pryne. You will see how I need it....”

Petra, when she reached the shade of the elm, was constrained and even a
little awkward. But that was hardly surprising. All three of them had
watched her approach from the instant that she had come down the terrace
steps, and she might very well have felt that Clare’s murmurings in
Lewis’ ear, and even more, Dick’s laugh, concerned herself.

“Darling!” Clare exclaimed, smiling up at her through her really
fascinating lashes. “What a perfectly enchanting frock! It’s new! And
you never showed it to me! And look at me! I haven’t even changed!—This
is my daughter, grown up, since you saw her, Doctor Pryne. Sit down
quickly, darling. It’s too hot to keep the men standing. And here’s the
tea. Draw your chairs to the table.—You needn’t stay to pass things,
Elise.” She threw a warm, grateful smile to the maid who had brought out
the tray. The look she won in return was humbly idolizing.

Lewis held a chair out for Petra, and when she took it, drew his own
along beside it.

The gawky schoolgirl body had rounded into selfconscious maturity.
Otherwise Petra was exactly the girl of Lewis’, in this case strangely
explicit, memory ... until she turned from him and the intense gentian
blue of her eyes no longer blurred his power for deeper perception. Then
he saw that the attentive fairy-tale gaze was quite gone; or if there
was attentiveness there now, it was not bent on a happy, mystery-brimmed
world before the girl’s face, but on a realm within. Childlike
receptiveness was transformed to a look of reserve made vivid. The utter
beauty of the remembered child face was there—intact—but it no longer
took one’s breath; it was protected by this vivid reserve as by a sword,
on guard.

But Lewis was not sorry for the sword. He saw that it would, at any
rate, keep her safe from Clare. He knew that Youth often has need of its
seeming hardness until years give it some chance to acquire a little
subtlety in its denials, if it is to protect with any success the inner,
personal development of its own integrity.

Lewis took the teacup and saucer Clare handed him. He helped himself to
toast and strawberry jam. He laughed, amusedly, at some remark or other
of “Richard’s,” and could even have repeated the witticism word for word
if it had been required of him. But in spite of all this overt
conformity to the social requirements of those first minutes since
Petra’s arrival under the elm and his holding her chair for her, he was
conscious of one thing only, the young girl’s living, breathing, _still_
self, there at his side.



                             _Chapter Four_


It was Dick who brought up the broken tennis date, not Clare. Petra came
out of her stillness to show a mild surprise. “But I thought it wasn’t
definite,” she turned to Clare. “I thought we were to play if we felt
like it when the time came. And then it was so hot!”

The breath of silence which Clare allowed to follow this and the
expression which crossed her face spoke an acute surprise on her part;
but it was quickly followed by a seeming desire to shield Petra from
anybody’s criticism, even her own. Tactfully she changed the subject to
ask, “What did you do all afternoon, darling? It has been deliciously
hot.” And then to Lewis, “I’m like Shelley. I adore hot summer days and
am more alive then than ever.”—But she repeated her question to Petra:
“What did you do with yourself all afternoon, darling?”

Petra answered, after a momentary hesitation, as if she needed the pause
in which to choose between several possible replies, “After lunch I took
a book and went off in the woods, where it was cool—and read.”

“That was nice. What book, darling?”

“‘Marius, the Epicurean.’”

“Really! It’s years since I’ve even looked into it. I should love to
read some of ‘Marius’ with you, sometime, Petra. Why don’t we? I’ll take
it to bed with me to-night, skim through as far as you have gone to
refresh my memory, and then, to-morrow, we will go on with it together.
Petra, yes! You come to my church with me to-morrow morning, early, and
we’ll read ‘Marius.’ Where did you leave the book?”

Wild color flaming in Petra’s cheeks took Lewis by surprise. Again that
hesitation before answering her stepmother’s simple question. “I’m
afraid I left it in the woods—somewhere. I’ll find it before people
begin coming to-night. I might go and look now?”

“Oh, no. Not now. Of course not. At least, it depends on what copy you
took. Was it your father’s specially bound copy?”

“No.—I don’t think so.”

“My darling! You must know what your book looked like! If it was my
Modern Library edition, of course it doesn’t matter a bit,—though it has
my notes in it! Where did you find the one you used? In the library or
my sitting room?”

Petra’s eyes met Lewis’. She found his look completely, absorbedly hers.
She took a grip on that absorption, steadied herself by it, and answered
Clare. “I don’t remember where I found it, but it hasn’t your notes.
It’s not your copy. And it’s not Father’s. It’s my own.”

“But it must be your father’s or mine. There are only those two copies
of Pater in the house. I don’t see—”

But suddenly Clare did appear to see and broke off. Indeed, an
expression of seeing all too well had passed wavelike over her
quicksilver face. She turned to Lewis as if to distract attention from
what she had suddenly seen, and perhaps, too, from Petra’s hot cheeks,
and asked him whether he had read her husband’s latest novel. He had and
began talking about it. But he wanted to take Petra’s hand, where it lay
on her chair arm, and close his down on it with strength. He did not
care about what he surmised was a mere silly schoolgirl fib. If she
wanted to impress Clare and Dick—even himself—with the seriousness of
her reading, what of it! At least, she did not lie subtly, through the
medium of fleeting quicksilver changes of facial expression. Hardly. The
cheek he barely allowed himself to see was one flame—as if an angel had
lied.

Tea and a protracted discussion of Lowell Farwell’s novels came to an
end in time, and Lewis at last could turn to Petra with: “I want to hear
something about Teresa. Or must I say Miss Kerr?—But I’m not going to
‘Miss’ you, Petra, if you don’t mind. Until to-day I have never thought
of one of you girls without the other. Shall I meet her too, again? I
hope so.”

But something was wrong, terribly wrong. This, surely, was not a
question Petra would need to make up an answer for! But she was not even
trying to make up an answer. She was looking, almost wildly, toward
Clare.

Clare laughed. “Why, Petra! You never told me you and Doctor Pryne had
mutual friends! Teresa—?”

“Yes. Teresa Kerr.” Lewis spoke shortly, dryly, because of his complete
astonishment at Petra’s ill-concealed panic.

“Oh!” Clare remembered. Suddenly, it seemed. “That must have been the
maid. Petra, I wonder what has become of Teresa? You were David and
Jonathan once, you two. You were a funny child, my dear, when I first
knew you in Cambridge—and so beautifully democratic! But I’m afraid we
can’t tell you anything about the girl, Doctor Pryne. The whereabouts of
vanished domestics is as much a problem as that of all safety pins.
Richard! Do you remember Felix Fairfax, our inimitable butler! I wonder
what has become of him! My husband made me get rid of him, Doctor Pryne,
because he helped himself to one of my photographs and had it in his
room. I wrote him a recommendation that was a marvel, though. Anybody
who couldn’t read between the lines deserved what they got....”

Petra, who until this moment had tasted nothing, now took up her cold
cup of tea and drank thirstily, while Dick and Clare became mildly
hilarious over a growing volume of anecdotes concerning the inimitable
Felix Fairfax, the flirtatious, vanished and banished butler, whom
Lewis’ question about Teresa had brought to mind.

Lewis was silent. He was not looking at Petra, but he knew instinctively
when she lost her strange, inexplicable fear, and relaxed. A baby, with
a pretty young nurse in its wake, was running down the lawn, toward the
tea table. Petra had been the first to notice the invasion and welcomed
the diversion it brought. Then Clare, following Petra’s eyes, saw the
baby.

“Little Sophia!” she cried, quickly on her feet, while anecdotes of
Felix Fairfax hung broken off in mid-air. She ran forward a few steps
and knelt on the grass, her arms spread wide to receive her little
daughter. In that gracious moment Clare was like nothing in the world
but a dancing Greek figure on some lovely old vase—all quicksilver,
grace and charm. Dick’s face glowed appreciatively. Even Lewis, for that
minute, was aware of Clare’s loveliness.

The baby, however, made a swooping detour to avoid the wide-flung,
slender arms of the kneeling mother and plunged straight for Petra, her
big half-sister. Petra held her off, at arm’s length. “You’ve been in
the brook. You’re dirty. You’re muddy. Don’t touch my dress. No!”

The rebuffed cherub commenced to wail but Petra did not relent and draw
her into her arms. “No! No!” She repeated it. “Mustn’t spoil Petra’s
beautiful, clean dress. No. _I’m not going to pick you up._”

Then Clare swept down upon them and snatched the baby up. Two muddy
palms immediately made their mark on the shoulders of her white frock.
But she lifted the delicious little hands and kissed them, one after the
other, gravely—delicately. Her eyes, over the baby’s golden head, looked
at Petra now with healthy, open accusation, and she held the delicious
little body more and more tightly to her, while small wet shoes muddied
her skirt.

Clare, looking away from Petra at last, met Doctor Pryne’s puzzled eyes.
“I’m going to take little Sophia up to the nursery, if you’ll excuse me
for only a few minutes,” she said. “Anyway, I wanted you to see our
guest house—the view at its back. You get the river there. Petra will
show you. And this is a good time—before Lowell comes along.—Richard,
you may come up with us and see what a nice supper a nice cook has sent
up to a nice nursery for an adorable baby! Only first we’ll help a nice
nurse to wash these precious, dirty paws.... No, Richard, I want to
carry her myself. Truly. You don’t mind, Doctor? I always run up to the
nursery at little Sophia’s supper time, even in the middle of quite
formal parties. But it only takes a few minutes.”

Her eyes, on Lewis’, were replete with meaning. “Now is your time,” they
said. “Do make a beginning at helping me understand this strange girl.
You can’t deny she is lacking in normal responses. Help me!”

“Good-by, sister,” Petra murmured, and went near enough to lay her cheek
for just a breath against her little sister’s hair. “I couldn’t let you
spoil my pretty dress, honey. But I do love you!”

At this belated gesture, Clare’s beseeching look at Lewis transformed
itself to one of ironic amusement.


“If you are really interested in the view, Doctor Pryne, it’s across the
road. We can go through the kitchen garden. That is shorter than going
back through the house.”

The kitchen garden, through which Petra led him, was a jungle of
drooping, white-starred blackberry canes. They came out of it through a
little wicket gate and crossed the intimate, idle road to the guest
house opposite.

“Clare won’t let them cut the grass here,” Petra explained. “Any
objection to wading?” Lewis had none and followed the girl around the
side of the little house and came to an uncovered piazza at the back.
Ignoring the several chairs arranged with an eye to the view there, they
sat down side by side on the edge of the piazza boards. From under their
feet wide sweeps of June fields surged away in many-colored rippling
waves. White and yellow daisies, red and white clovers, golden
buttercups, orange devil’s-paintbrush, and sparkling sun-soaked grass
dazzled Lewis’ eyes against the view of river and blue hills beyond.

“Paradise will be a June field like this,” he thought, “with the saints
reunioning while the angels dance.” He was thinking of Fra Angelico’s
“Last Judgment,” the detail of the left corner.—“Petra and I seem to
have arrived somewhat ahead of time, though,—and, God knows, without our
crowns! This girl! She is a breaker of promises, a vain poser, a liar, a
traitor to friendship, and a repulser of innocent babyhood. Clare made
her do her paces. Just didn’t she, though!”

But his next thought was more like shock than thought. “Why need her
hands be as lovely as her face? Or _is_ this Paradise!” They were
clasped about her knees, strong, sun-tanned hands, with long,
squarish-tipped fingers. Angelic hands!

Lewis remarked, “It’s nice here.”

Petra agreed, “Yes, isn’t it!”

Lewis lighted a cigarette and Petra pulled a grass blade to make a
bracelet, bending forward from lithe hips.

“You thought I was horrid to my baby sister, didn’t you, Doctor Pryne?”
she asked bluntly. “I wasn’t, not really. But I couldn’t let her spoil
my dress, could I? This is the first time I’ve worn it. It would have to
be dry-cleaned if I had picked her up. And things are never so nice
again after they are dry-cleaned. Besides, I can’t afford it.”

The dress she had so ruthlessly protected against a bewitching baby was
smooth silk, the color of heavy cream. Its only decoration was a flight
of embroidered gold and brown bees. They flew up one full sleeve from
wristband to shoulder, across the back of the neck and down the other
body-side of the frock to the lower edge of the hem. It was—taken by
itself—a lovely frock, and if it had not been so utterly Petra’s own,
belonged so completely to her shapely young body and coloring, even
Lewis—no connoisseur in women’s clothes—would have noticed its lovely
detail before this.

Petra dropped her grass bracelet—half made—into the grass and picked up
the hem of her skirt, folding it back. “Look,” she said, “how
beautifully finished it is.”

The flight of bees had been carried on, in all its careful perfection,
to the upper edge of the hem on its inner side, where it would never
show. It was as if the embroiderer had loved her work too well to
realize when she had done enough.

“Clare’s dress was nothing at all,” Petra was saying. “It didn’t matter
what little Sophia did to it. Besides, if Clare ruined a dozen dresses,
it wouldn’t matter. She could buy dozens more.... So it wasn’t fair, was
it?”

“No. It was hardly fair,” Lewis agreed absently.

Petra jumped up. The bee-embroidered hem of her skirt brushed through
the flowers in the deep grass. She came closer to Lewis, stood there
before him in the long grass.

“Could you spare me a cigarette?” she asked.

She had not smoked at the tea table and Lewis had taken it for granted
she was that rare thing, a modern girl who did not smoke.
Apologetically, he offered her his opened cigarette case and struck a
match for her on the piazza boards. (The grateful patient should have
given Lewis a lighter along with the case!) But he might as well have
kissed her as have held the light for her,—with his face like that. Even
before the girl saw Lewis’ face, she felt what was there for her to see.
Her eyelids swept up, to verify her suddenly alert instinct, and for
just that instant blue reticence, under Lewis’ own startled eyes, leapt
into blue flame.... Petra drew a little away, trying to smile and
utterly failing. Lewis lighted a fresh cigarette for himself.

Petra puffed at hers for a minute only and then it went the way the
bracelet had gone, only she bent to press out the spark—firmly,
securely—into damp grass roots. Returning to her place, she clasped her
hands around her knees again and explained.

“Really I don’t know how to smoke, not gracefully. You shouldn’t have
watched me! You made me feel hypocritical, watching me like that. But I
do smoke, sometimes. Almost every night. One or two cigarettes after
dinner with Father. So I wasn’t pretending, you see....”

She went on, after a minute, “You asked me about Teresa, remember? I’ll
tell you now. I couldn’t say a word with Clare listening. But Clare lied
about her. She knows perfectly well that Teresa wasn’t our maid—not in
the sense that that Fairfax person was Clare’s butler, I mean. Teresa
was nothing in the world but our guardian angel,—father’s, Marian’s, and
mine. And she is my best friend.”

Lewis said coolly, “Yes, of course! I knew that. I saw that it was so,
that afternoon in Cambridge. And when Mrs. Farwell said that Teresa was
gone out of your life like a lost safety pin I knew it couldn’t be true.
But _why_ did she say it? And why did you let her say it?”

“Oh, Clare wasn’t lying when she said that. She thought, I mean, that it
was true enough. It was in saying Teresa was our maid, putting her with
Felix Fairfax,—that was the lie. But so far as Clare knows, Teresa is
gone—just as absolutely as any disappearing safety pin. I wish I were as
elusive,—that Clare had mislaid me too. But she has a use for me. She
thinks she has, anyway, and she actually pays me a wage of two thousand
dollars a year to live here at Green Doors and be a model
stepdaughter.”—Petra flashed a defiant look at Lewis and added, “I’m
different from Clare’s other servants, you see. I don’t adore her!”

The girl’s hands, Lewis noticed, were no longer clasping her knees. They
were gripping them. But he gave no sign that he was conscious of her
anger and her rebellion.

“Will you just listen to that bird,” he said. “Bobolinks are usually
cheerful, of course. But this fellow is carrying it beyond reason, it
seems to me! He might have a peephole into heaven,—the way he sounds.”
For a bobolink, apparently beside himself with rapture, was circling and
swooping, swooping and circling, singing his jetty little throat to
bursting. His nest must be hidden somewhere in the grass not a dozen
yards from where they sat on the piazza’s edge.

Petra tilted her head to see the speck of song against the sunlight. She
stayed silent until the rapture ended and the heaven-glimpser sank home.
She even waited a minute or two beyond that sudden silence before she
said, but calmly now, her twined fingers relaxing their grip, “My
friend, Teresa, is like that bobolink’s song. At least, she’s as happy
as that. Jolly as that. I’ll tell you about her, Doctor Pryne. I am glad
that you think of us together. I adore her, of course. She was born in
Edinburgh, Scotland, and she lived there till she was fifteen. Her
father and mother kept a day school for boys. But Teresa had four
sisters and they all went to the boys’ school. There were three
brothers. Eight children in Teresa’s family, you see....”



                             _Chapter Five_


Lewis listened, without looking at Petra. As she told him about Teresa,
they were both watching for another flight of the bobolink, their eyes
focused on the delicately waving tide of grass above the hidden nest.
Hearing Petra’s voice, this way, without looking at her, Lewis learned
as much about her as she was telling him about Teresa; for her voice had
none of the reticence of her gentian eyes nor the stubborn power of her
rounded chin. It was a gentle voice, clipped and ingenuous. Above all
ingenuous. What her face had lost with childhood her voice had strangely
taken on. It had a listening, attentive quality. Lewis, in the practice
of his profession, had gradually acquired a habit of separating voices
from their possessors. He had discovered that while the face and the
very pose and carriage of a person may deceive, the human voice simply
cannot. It is the materialization of personality into sound waves.

“... Eight children. Teresa’s mother had taught the fifth grade in a
public school in Cambridge. Teresa’s father was Scotch. They met when
Mr. Kerr was over here working for a doctor’s degree at Harvard. He came
from Edinburgh. They fell so much in love that they couldn’t wait for
the degree but got married and went to Edinburgh and started the day
school. But it didn’t pay except just in the beginning. By the time all
eight children were there in the Kerr family, they began to be really
poor. The Kerr children themselves were half the school, you see. Teresa
was the oldest. When Teresa was fifteen, they gave up the school in
Edinburgh and returned to Cambridge. Teresa’s father got all the
tutoring he could do. He was a magnificent teacher. They lived in a
five-room apartment on Lawrence Street, all crowded in, but soon they
moved to Boston and had a bigger place, in the top floor of a tenement
on Bates Street.

“Teresa’s mother and father taught the children as they had done in
Scotland. Only her mother did most of it, of course, because her father
was away tutoring all day. But the Kerrs had their own ideas about
education and didn’t want the children to go to public school. They
wanted them to learn Greek and Latin, you see, almost in their cradles.
But Teresa did go to High School. She was fifteen when they came to
America and her father let her go into the Senior Class in the High
School just so she could get a diploma that June. After school she
helped with the housework and helped with the children’s lessons too.

“That January two of Teresa’s sisters died, the two who came next her in
age. They had T B anyway, the doctor said, but they actually died of
pneumonia. Very suddenly. They had been Teresa’s playmates. The rest of
the children were more like her babies, she took so much care of them.
But Teresa stayed out of school only one week when they died. She needed
her diploma, you see, because she was going to go on through college and
become a teacher.

“... Well, but when spring came ... something terrible happened.... It
is too terrible to tell. But if Teresa bore it, I guess you can bear
hearing it, Doctor Pryne. Shall I tell you?”

“Yes,” Lewis urged. “I want to hear,” but added with quick compunction,
“if it doesn’t hurt you too much, Petra,”—and was utterly astonished by
the devastating look Petra gave him. But her scorn was for herself.

“Hurt me too much!” she exclaimed. “I only wish it could hurt me! Really
hurt me! It is too terrible that one person had to bear it all alone.
And Teresa, of all people! When she is so happy, so jolly—and loves God
more than all the rest of the people I know put together love Him! It
was to her it happened. _All I’m doing is tell it!_

“The twenty-third of April, the Principal of the High School sent for
Teresa to come to his office before she went home. He told her that she
was to graduate with very highest honors and that he had got a Radcliffe
scholarship for her. It was Teresa’s birthday. She was sixteen. Teresa
could hardly wait to get home to tell her mother all the Principal had
said. It would be Teresa giving a birthday present to her mother, you
see. Mothers should have presents even more than the children they have
borne should have them, Teresa thinks. For the mothers remember the
birthdays and the children can’t.... She ran as fast as she could, the
minute she got out of the subway. She didn’t care if people stared at a
grown-up girl racing through the streets. She wanted so to get there
with the wonderful news. There was a crowd of people at the end of her
street held back by ropes. The air was full of smoke....”

Again the bobolink soared, cascading rapture. Petra stopped telling
about Teresa’s sixteenth birthday and listened and watched with Lewis.
But this time she did not wait for the music to sink and fall away home;
after a breath or two she went on, her voice of necessity raised a
little, indenting itself through the bobolink’s Gloria.

“The whole building where the Kerr family lived was burned down to the
pavement. Somebody told Teresa that everybody had escaped except a woman
who lived in the top-story corner tenement and her six children. They
had all been burned alive. They came to the windows too late for the
fire ladders to reach them. They must have been asleep when the fire
started and waked too late. The alarm was sounded a little after eight.
Yes ... Teresa had left her mother and all the children sleeping deeply.
She and her father had got breakfast together and gone out with infinite
care not to wake them,—she to school, he to his work in Cambridge. The
baby had had croup during the night, you see, and the whole family had
been disturbed by it. Even the younger children. Teresa’s mother had
made a tent with sheets over the crib, and boiled a kettle in it, and
toward dawn it was over and the baby was sleeping. The police had
learned there were six children in the family and that was why they said
six were burned. But Teresa, you see, had gotten up early. She and her
father. They had been at infinite pains—I told you that—not to wake the
others. _Infinite pains._ The baby was sleeping naturally, breathing
softly when they stole out.

“It was a policeman who told Teresa about how the mother and ‘six’
children had come to the window. He had seen them himself.... But a
priest shoved him one side. That was Father Donovan. He was their parish
priest. The Kerrs were Catholic. Teresa is a Catholic. Teresa couldn’t
pray. But Father Donovan’s praying was really hers. He said, ‘_My_
mother, _my_ brothers and sisters, _my_ baby brother. May perpetual
light shine upon them.’ ... They gave Teresa brandy. In the rectory.
They put it in hot tea. The housekeeper rubbed her feet and hands, while
Father Donovan called up all the places her father might be. Father
Donovan had thought the police had made certain when they said that all
_six_ Kerr children had come to the window, and until Teresa got there,
you see, he had no way of tracing her father. But now Teresa gave the
names and addresses. Finally somebody said yes—Mr. Kerr was there.
Father Donovan said, ‘Then keep him and don’t let him know anything
until I come. I must tell him. Nobody else.’ But the people didn’t
wait,—or something happened. I don’t know what. I can’t ask Teresa.
Perhaps she doesn’t know. Whether he died of the shock or whether he
killed himself—thinking all were burned.... All that Teresa said was
‘Father Donovan was in time to give him absolution.’

“Father Donovan boarded Teresa with his housekeeper’s sister. And she
went on and got her diploma and graduated from High School with very
highest honors in June. Nobody came to her graduation for by then Father
Donovan was dying of cancer. He had not told Teresa until he had to.
When he found he couldn’t go to the graduation, you see, he told her.
She took her diploma right to him. She ran to the rectory the minute she
was out. He blessed her and was as delighted and proud as her mother
would have been, Teresa says, and her father, and her brothers and
sisters. He told her that his death would not be even an interruption to
his prayers for her goodness and happiness, and he asked her to pray for
him always, all her life. He died early the next morning....

“The week after Father Donovan died Marian found Teresa through an
employment agency, and she went to Cape Cod for the summer with us. That
was the summer Marian began to be ill. Teresa and I did the work and
took care of her, and swam all the rest of the time. I taught Teresa to
swim and she was simply mad about it. Marian had melancholia and Father
was terribly unhappy that summer. And I was selfish and cross, having to
wash so many dishes.... _But Teresa was happy!_... Yes, it is true. She
was the one who was happy.... But gradually, I grew terribly happy too,
because of her. She didn’t tell us anything about her family or what had
happened to them, only that they were dead. Whenever I asked her about
her brothers and sisters who had died, she put me off. And Marian never
asked her anything, I think. She had merely hired somebody who was to be
one of the family and work for less money because of that privilege. But
above all, Marian had chosen Teresa from all the other applicants for
the job at the agency because she seemed the most _cheerful_.

“In September, when we went back to Cambridge, Teresa wanted to use her
scholarship and enter Radcliffe. But Marian needed her so much and had
come to depend on her for everything so much—but most of all it was her
cheerfulness she needed—that Teresa gave up college for that year and
stayed on with us. But she told Father and me, then, when she decided to
stay on with us, about the fire, and about the two sisters who had died
of pneumonia, and about how her mother and father had wanted her to go
to college. Father said that she must go, of course, but that she was
surely young enough to wait a year. He was appalled about the fire and
said she must never tell Marian. It would be too harrowing. And he was
very sorry I had heard it....

“The summer after that we couldn’t afford the cottage on the Cape and we
stayed on in Cambridge. That was bad for Marian. All the time that she
was in the apartment she spent in her bedroom on her chaise-longue. But
it was frightfully hot and she would get wildly nervous and go out then
to luncheons and tea dances and places—looking very gay and well. But it
was only a false, nervous strength, the doctor said....

“Then that fall you came, Doctor Pryne. Teresa and I were so relieved!
But you didn’t have a chance. Marian went away, and there was the
divorce. But she went away without saying anything to Teresa and me. We
came back from a day in the country in time to get dinner that
afternoon, and she was gone. That evening Father explained it all to
us—in words of one syllable, you know,—what had happened.

“Teresa took it so hard that I don’t remember how _I_ felt about it. I
didn’t feel anything, I think. I was so surprised to hear Teresa
_crying_ that that was all I thought about, really. It was as if the
world was shaking under us—under Father and me—with Teresa, of all
people, crying. But Father was angry with Teresa. She said, you see,
that he must bring Marian back. He said he would not think of doing any
such thing—that she had a right to her freedom, if she wanted it. Teresa
started crying when Father said to us, ‘I can honestly say I am happy in
Marian’s happiness and I think she has done exactly right. It’s sheer
stupidity for people who are not happy together to go on pretending they
are. It is happiness that matters. There’s at least one person the
happier in the world to-night, and any one who really and genuinely
cares for her must be glad for her,—even if it means separation from
her, of a sort, and for a time. And after the divorce goes through, you
know, there’s no reason in the world why we shouldn’t all be as good
friends as ever.’

“But Teresa cried just exactly as if somebody was dead. And this time
Father Donovan was dead too and could not pray her prayers for her,
while she cried. That is what I thought, I remember, though I didn’t
understand why she was crying like that. I was terribly frightened by
her crying like that—and Father’s walking the floor so white and angry
with her.

“Clare came in about then. I think Father called her up and asked her to
come, to help him with Teresa. She made Teresa drink some water. And
then, when Teresa was quiet, she said, ‘You are a self-righteous,
ignorant girl. Mr. Farwell has the patience of a saint but this is more
than he can bear.—He is going to give you a month’s wages and you must
go away. You are only making things that are hard for him already much
harder.’

“I went with Teresa while she packed her suit cases. Clare called up
Morris Place House and told them to get a room ready for Teresa. She is
a trustee there. She ordered the taxi too, and told us when it came. She
took everything in charge, as if she were in Marian’s place already. But
Teresa told the taxi-driver to go somewhere else, not Morris Place
House. She wasn’t crying any more but she looked ghastly. She wouldn’t
let me go away with her but she promised never to forsake me. And she
never has. She is my guardian angel.... But Clare doesn’t know any more
about Teresa now—how she is, where she is—than she told you she did. And
she’s not going to know. That is _something_ I can do for Teresa.... But
you asked about her, Doctor Pryne. You remembered her. And now I have
told you about her.... I really wanted to....”

The bobolink’s Gloria had reached its climax minutes ago and ceased.
Petra’s voice—when she had come to telling how Clare had discharged
Teresa and sent her away, “as if she were in Marian’s place already”—had
taken on the reticence of her eyes. It was not her personality any
more—that voice—not as it had been. But the girl’s eyes, now that both
she and the bobolink were silent, and Lewis looked at her, were thick
with tears.

“But what did Teresa do? Was it too late to get into Radcliffe that
fall? I suppose so. That was late autumn—nearly three years ago. What
did Teresa do? Where did she go?”

Lewis had to know. Teresa had become increasingly real and important to
him with every word that Petra had said of her. Petra must go on, must
tell it all, even if she did cry, doing it.

But there were no tears in her voice. “Yes, it was too late for
Radcliffe. Father had again, you see, persuaded her to wait another
year. But I went to see her the next morning and she had a plan. She had
decided to get some kind of job—any kind—until she could begin earning
her way through Radcliffe in the shortest time possible. In the end she
meant to be a private secretary and I would go and live with her. Then I
would begin going to Business School. We would both be independent and I
needn’t live with Clare and Father. After Teresa had gone away in the
taxi, they told me, you see, that they were going to be married as soon
as the divorces went through,—so it was a very relieving idea, to live
with Teresa and earn my own living. Teresa started in to make it come
true right away. And it was coming true. She was all ready to graduate
when—”

Petra broke off there, jumping up as if a bell had rung for her, and her
first duty in life was to answer it. But it was only Dick Wilder,
whistling to them from the road.

“Teresa was all ready to graduate and what happened? It doesn’t matter
about Dick. Go on.” Lewis was impatient at the interruption.

“But they want us. Clare has sent him for us. She thinks I have kept you
too long,” Petra whispered, and promised, quickly, under her breath, “I
will tell you what happened the minute we are alone again. I want to
tell you. I want your advice, Doctor Pryne. Things have happened.—But
not now. Teresa is a secret here at Green Doors. From Dick Wilder too.
From everybody.”

Dick had come around the side of the house. “Why didn’t you sing out?”
he inquired, astonished at finding them there. “I thought you must have
passed up our famous view and gone somewhere else, you two! Lowell has
turned up at last. But whatever—”

Dick was silenced by a fresh astonishment. This was stranger than their
hiding and not answering,—Petra crying. Of all things! And even Lewis
was not quite himself. Well, Dick knew nothing to do about it other than
to recommence talking faster than ever—which he did—and somehow hurry
them back to the elm and Clare’s management. He began explaining, very
swiftly and at some length, as they went, how little Sophia had refused
to let anybody but her mother feed her her supper, and that that was why
they—he and Clare—had been gone such an unconscionably long while
themselves, and how, taking everything together, he was afraid that
Petra’s father was feeling that they hadn’t any of them much realized
that he had broken off his work half an hour ahead of the usual time to
join them at tea, since nobody was anywhere near the tea table when he
came up from his studio.

Petra may have heard something of Dick’s nervous chatter. Lewis heard
nothing. Left to himself, he would never have been so docile under
Dick’s high-handedness, of course. But Petra had shown such a passionate
will to obedience from the instant of the summoning whistle that there
was nothing else for Lewis but to seem docile too.

And here they were back on the lawn again, going down toward the group
of chairs under the elm. Lowell Farwell had risen and was standing,
waiting for them. He was more imposing even than the published
portraits. His leonine mane of frosty curls, his elegant but wide
shoulders, his height—and as they reached the shade and were near
enough—his luminous black eyes under striking black brows, were the
concrete and visible aspects of a personality to conjure with.



                             _Chapter Six_


Lewis had dined with his sister and her family and now he and she were
promenading her piazza. Cynthia was like her name, fragrantly feminine,
blond and delightful, a cool petaled flower of New England. They caught
glimpses of Harry, her banker husband, as they passed and repassed the
living-room windows. He was lying back in what might very well be the
world’s most comfortable chair, reading the financial pages of the
_Transcript_, smoking his Corona, and supposedly enjoying the jazz music
which came blaring to him from a Boston hotel through his radio; he had
only to raise a hand—no need even to lift his head—to turn the knob
which would produce a decent quiet.

“I always promise myself when I’m here that I will come oftener,” Lewis
was saying. “Then I get so devilish busy I don’t manage it. But now,
Cynthia, it may be different. You may be seeing too much of me.”

“That’s nice. I should love to see too much of you. But _why now_? Oh!
Green Doors, of course! And I’ve been trying to get you to go over there
with me for a year or more! You see why, now, don’t you! It’s
fascinating, isn’t it! I feel, sometimes, when I’m there, that the very
air is charged with a sort of electricity, if you know what I mean,
which you don’t, since it doesn’t express what I mean. But it’s all high
spots, somehow. We must seem commonplace to them, Harry and I. But Clare
is sweet to us, all the same. Even Lowell Farwell doesn’t seem bored. He
and Harry discuss international affairs, Russia and that sort of thing.
And Clare herself is so human. Isn’t she beautiful—in an unusual way!”

“But why wouldn’t Mrs. Farwell be human?” Lewis laughed. “Do you imply
that she is above or below the norm? As to being beautiful—Petra is
_really_ beautiful.”

“Petra—really beautiful? Yes, I suppose she is. But her features are too
classical to be interesting, don’t you think? And she’s so impassive.
She’s too big too. She’ll be positively statuesque some day. That type
always develop into Junos. Clare is frightfully sweet to her.
Frightfully patient. And what a background she’s providing her with! All
it needs is just a little playing up to! If she only knew how!”

“What do you mean, background?” Lewis asked curiously. And he wondered,
what had Petra ever done to Cynthia to bring out such malice. Malice was
no more natural to Cynthia than to himself.

“What do you think I mean?” she exclaimed, a little impatiently. “The
people she is meeting, of course. Yourself to-day, for instance. How
many times have you gone anywhere socially during the last year, Lewis?
Yet you went to the Farwells’. And you say you want to go again, often.
But it’s not only celebrities. Socially, too, Clare is giving Petra
everything. This dinner dance tonight. Dick says there isn’t a man
invited who isn’t the last word in eligibility. Why, Clare is providing
Petra opportunities any ordinary girl would give her eyes for. And it’s
probably wasted. Men want more than mere passive beauty these days.
Temperament, vivacity are what count. Clare doesn’t realize it, of
course, but the very contrast between herself and Petra puts them off
Petra in spite of Clare’s disadvantage in being married and thirty. It
couldn’t help to. Wait till little Sophia grows up, though. Then Clare
will have her innings as a mother. The little thing sparkles already!
Personality is a queer thing, isn’t it?”

“I’ve sometimes almost thought so,” Lewis agreed dryly. Then he asked,
“Can you tell me, Cynthia, why Dick, who is adult, after a
fashion—anyway, he isn’t a mere callow college boy—and seems practically
to live at Green Doors, hasn’t fallen in love with Petra? And she with
him? It’s a miracle.”

Lewis meant his question earnestly. For hours now, in his heart, he had
been religiously grateful for the miracle mentioned.

“Are you serious?” Cynthia asked. “Couldn’t you see for yourself—this
afternoon? Let’s sit down. No—I don’t want a chair. You take it. I’ll
perch here on the rail. Yes, do smoke. What an absolutely precious
cigarette case you’ve got there! My dear, let me take it! How delicious!
Just feeling it in your hand is thrilling! A present?”

Lewis nodded, but absently. Cynthia, as Dick had done, refrained from
commenting on the probable value of the gift. If Lewis realized the
value, he would only be made uncomfortable by it.

“You want to know why Dick doesn’t fall in love with Petra Farwell? It’s
too obvious. How could a person like Dick look twice at that gauche
girl, with Clare all the while in the same picture? Besides, Dick, more
than most moderns, is a romantic. It sticks out all over him. He’s an
incorrigible idealist. But I’m not worried for Dick. He won’t get his
heart broken. Clare is too big to let that happen. It’s really the most
civilizing thing that could happen to him to be in love with a woman
like Clare at precisely this stage in his development. Think of the
color, the sheer beauty, the _depth_ that knowing Clare so well—even
thinking he is breaking his heart over her—is giving to Dick’s life! As
for falling in love with a girl like Petra—why, he isn’t aware of her,
except, perhaps, as one of Clare’s problems. Dick hasn’t said anything
to us—Harry and me—of Petra’s being a problem at Green Doors. Clare
herself is too selfless and big in every way ever to let on, of course.
But anybody can see! Clare’s being so extraordinarily sweet and patient
only makes it stand out all the more, how much a problem Petra is.
Couldn’t you see it yourself, this afternoon, Lewis? Where’s your
psychology?”

“Where is your own, Cynthia, my dear?” Lewis’ voice was oddly
constrained, Cynthia thought, wondering at it. “Why don’t you look at
Petra for yourself? It’s obvious you never have. You’ve supinely
accepted Clare’s version of her, without using your own intelligence.”

“Clare’s version of Petra! But haven’t I just been saying that Clare is
absolutely loyal to Petra? She defends her, every time. She even goes so
far as to call her sullen silences ‘reticence.’ And her vanity—Petra’s
obsessed over clothes, thinks of nothing else—Clare merely treats that
as touchingly young and naïve. Or else she pretends that it’s evidence
of artistic appreciation and taste. But if that’s what it is, why
doesn’t it show itself in other directions, now and then? I’ve never
seen it. Why, the other day I mentioned something in her father’s last
novel, and Petra had to admit she hadn’t even read it! Imagine! No,
whatever Clare pretends to herself and the rest of us about it, Petra is
just plain dull.... One is sorry for Clare, of course....”

Lewis was keeping only a tenuous hold on his good temper. “How can you
be so dull yourself?” he asked. “She—Petra—is as far from dull as any
human being I’ve ever had the honor to know. I suppose you’ve seen her
nowhere but against the general unreality of Green Doors. That’s the
‘background’ your Clare has given the child.... Petra’s truth, against
her background’s untruth, has bewildered you. It hasn’t me....” He
lighted a fresh cigarette.

Cynthia flapped her arms and burst into as good an imitation of a
rooster crowing as is possible to the human species. It was an
accomplishment retained from childhood. In those early days it had been,
usually, the closing note in some argument between brother and sister,
where Cynthia had been proven the winner; and now, if ever, she knew
herself right.

“You lose! I win!” she laughed, dropping her wings. “What good does it
do you to be a psychiatrist? And a famous one? Petra and truth! That
girl would as soon tell an out-and-out lie as wink. Clare never knows
where she is with her when it’s a question of fact.”

“Oh, so Clare _has_ admitted that much—not excused it?”

“Not a bit of it. You haven’t caught _me_, darling, in a fib. Clare
couldn’t excuse it or cover it up. It’s too obvious. Petra is always
avoiding the truth.”

“Yes. I got a hint of that myself this afternoon. Couldn’t help it.”

But now that so suddenly and even surprisingly Lewis had acknowledged
her victorious in the scrimmage, Cynthia felt a little remorseful. Not
on Lewis’ account—he could afford his losses—on Petra’s.

“I needn’t have been so malicious!” she owned. “Come to think of it, I
suppose Petra Farwell’s never had one atom of religious training. What
is there to make her feel an obligation to be truthful—or even grateful,
for the matter of that? She’s never had a chance to see life lived
beautifully—till now.”

“But who of us has had religious training?” Lewis asked, surprised. “You
haven’t. I certainly haven’t. Your own children haven’t. What’s that got
to do with your judgments on Petra, then?”

“Oh, don’t be so logical, darling. I was only making excuses for her, I
suppose. But we are different, you must admit. Lying doesn’t come
natural to us, does it! And we are sincere....”

“Doesn’t it? Are we? Well—possibly. But then we are at peace with our
environment. Not in danger from it. Our best policy is sincerity,
telling the truth. If we were living in a jungle, my dear, an unfriendly
and mysterious jungle, where we couldn’t tell the trees from the
shadows, you know, we’d fall back on protective coloring and other
hypocrisies, lies, wouldn’t we? That’s where Petra’s living. In a
jungle. Where she can’t tell the shadows from the trees, if you want to
know....”

“You’re being fantastic on purpose. Or else you’re overworking and not
responsible!” Cynthia accused and then, suddenly, stopped breathing. How
had they ever got to talking like this, so earnestly, about Petra
Farwell? Lewis, anyway, who never talked personalities! What had
happened to him? Why was he looking so strained and different? Was Lewis
really interested in Petra Farwell for herself—in some particular way?

For years Cynthia had wanted Lewis to marry. Her husband agreed with her
that, unmarried, the world was losing much that her famous brother could
give it. He was terribly sweet with children. Her own four adored him.
And some of his best and most famous work had been done with children.
Besides, he was—although Cynthia herself, being only his sister, could
not quite see why—extraordinarily magnetic to women. They pursued him
shamelessly. Avoiding that pursuit, both in his work and socially, had
developed into something approximating an art in his contacts, Cynthia
imagined. So he had a world to choose from. If only he had met Clare
before Lowell Farwell met her! Cynthia had sighed this sigh to herself
before to-night. Clare would have been perfect. But there were others.
There must be. Lewis needn’t fall back on a Petra—a sullen, stodgy young
beauty, who wasn’t even enough of a personality herself to appreciate
personality in another, in Clare. If Lewis should be hypnotized by mere
beauty and youth, and do anything so stupid,—how simply ironic that
would be!

Catching back her breath, Cynthia descended precipitately from her perch
on the piazza rail. She wanted to be nearer Lewis. Physical nearness
might help their sympathetic nearness, which had been—she knew
now—scattered to the four winds when she flapped rooster wings and
crowed a minute ago. Besides, she had an inspiration. She drew a chair
close to his. The arms of the two chairs touched.

“Lewis!” she said. “Do you remember that strange book, ‘Phantastes,’ by
George MacDonald? We read it together the summer after Father died. No,
it was the summer before. Aunt Cynthia read it to us. Those weeks we
stayed with her. That was the summer _before_ Father died, wasn’t it?
Anyway, we were really too young for that book. But we got something out
of it. I remember parts quite vividly, every now and then....
Particularly that gruesome bit about the Maid of the Alder. Remember
that? How she was so perfectly beautiful to look at? Anodos thought so,
anyway. And he went with her that long walk through the forest and spent
the night with her in her cave? He thought she was the Lady of the
Marble—or was it Alabaster?—whom he had sung to life and who had fled
from him. He had never clearly seen her face but she was his ideal
woman, the woman his soul was seeking. Now he thought he was to possess
her at last.... But when morning came and he woke, his companion of the
night had waked ahead of him and was at the door of the cave, standing
there, looking out. Her back was turned to him.... Remember?... She had
had her desire of Anodos and she simply didn’t care now if he discovered
that she was not his ideal woman? She was perfectly careless that he
should see how she was hollow! Do you remember her standing there, in
the cave door, looking out into the forest—her hollow, rotten back, like
the stump of a decayed tree? Like a coffin stood upon end? Wasn’t it
gruesome just!”

Cynthia was genuinely shuddering by this time. Lewis laughed. “I should
say I do remember. That morning-after scene darkened my boyhood,” he
chuckled. “I’ve read ‘Phantastes’ through several times since that
summer. I keep it by me. I can’t imagine—can you?—why Aunt Cynthia chose
that particular book for youngsters like us? I suppose because of its
fairy element—the enchanted forest, and all. To my mind, it’s one of the
world’s deepest, wisest, but almost too obscurely mystical books. Do
_you_ remember, Cynthia, how one begins to feel the horror threatening
Anodos’ soul’s life, early, in the very beginning of this Maid of the
Alder business, when he starts off with her on the walk to the cave?
Your first twinges of horror and dread for Anodos set in when she takes
such precautions to keep her face always squarely toward him, walking
backwards to accomplish it, when necessary! Then, when they at last
reach the cave, she makes him go in _ahead_ of her. Inside, she always
keeps her back to the wall. How horrible it is when the lamp shines
through her! Anodos should have guessed then that she was hollow!... It
is a nightmare....”

“But Lewis! I meant—I’m afraid I meant—that Petra Farwell, young girl
though she is, has several times made me remember the Maid of the Alder.
I haven’t just made it up now. Truly. I thought of it the last time I
was at Green Doors. We were there for dinner....”

“Petra—the Maid of the Alder! You’re a little mad! But it’s rather a
curious coincidence that I myself have been brooding on ‘Phantastes’
very lately, this afternoon, in fact, at Green Doors and apropos of
Petra too. Fact! Do you remember Anodos’ song to his ideal woman—the
genuine one, not the imitation—through her shrouding marble? It says how
the world’s sculptors in their search for her have succeeded in
embodying in their creations no more than their ideas of what she may
be. They’ve never taken hold of her living self. I even remember some
lines. Bless me if I don’t!

  “Round their visions, form enduring,
  Marble vestments thou hast thrown;
  But thyself, in silence winding,
  Thou has kept eternally;
  Thee they found not, many finding—
  I have found thee: wake for me.”

Lewis murmuring poetry in the dusk! And with the little curly smile that
with him, paradoxically, meant utterest sincerity in what he was saying,
even solemnity! Cynthia’s heart beat slowly and with a kind of awe at
the simplicity of the way in which Lewis’ curly smile and his poetry had
shut her up, permanently, on the subject of Petra. The whole
situation—trivial and really nothing at all to Cynthia until only a
minute ago—had between a breath and a breath been lifted to the dignity
of a position on the knees of the gods, where she must perforce leave it
to its own developments in that realm of pure fatality. And she thought
they had been talking lightly!

But now her brother was asking—casual again, thank goodness—“Have the
kids gone up to bed yet? I’m terribly afraid I promised ’em a yarn after
they were packed away and that model starched nurse you indict on ’em
was well out of the picture. They’ll be looking for me.”



                            _Chapter Seven_


Lewis was pledged to return to Green Doors at ten o’clock that evening.
Cynthia and Harry, Clare was aware, had made plans which would keep
their cherished guest occupied for all of Sunday, and he could not come
then. This was the only time left. She had made the rendezvous under
cover of walking up to the house with Lewis when he was leaving Green
Doors this afternoon. He was to let himself in by the wicket gate and
she would meet him on the terrace, for Petra was not to know that he had
come back. Dick had explained her scheme to him, had he not?

Yes, Dick had explained, and while at the time of the explanation Lewis
had had no intention of collaborating with Mrs. Farwell in any schemes
whatever, now he agreed to return for a “talk.” Anything that touched
Petra’s existence would have drawn him irresistibly back.

The great hall was wide open onto the terrace tonight, as it had been
this afternoon. It made an excellent ballroom. It was a small party and
every one was inside, dancing. At least, as Lewis came up onto it, the
terrace seemed deserted.

His eyes found Petra first of all. She was dancing with a tall, dark
youth, over a restricted area in the center of the floor. Lewis saw that
the other girls were like flowers in the black-coated arms of their
partners—scarlet flowers, blue, yellow, exotically scented. Or was the
perfume from the flowers on the terrace? In any case, it harmonized with
the exotic music. But the girls themselves seemed too fragile for the
voluptuous implications of the perfume and the music. They were flowers
drifting on the dark current of sensuousness with petals not yet sodden.

Lewis was amused at himself over his fancifulness but it continued to
spin itself along. If the girls there were flowers, the boys were
leaves. And the leaves, no more than the flowers, belonged to the dark
current under the music; they were merely eddying over its surface,
vacant and bemused. It was strangely unreal, unconvincing—both the
would-be savage music and the would-be voluptuous dancing.

But Petra was different. His eyes came back to her. She was not bemused
and she was too alive to drift. So her dancing was out of key and came
near to awkwardness. Given solid earth, she could run fleetly,
beautifully, Lewis was certain,—a Diana, spirit and body one. But she
was too alive and too vital to find herself in this syncopated dalliance
with a shadow world of sensuousness. Passion, for her to recognize it,
must be bright, whole, burning with sun. Lewis was not amused now at his
thought. He knew what he knew about Petra, and his heart offered up a
gratitude that was religious in the knowing.

Clare stole up and stood beside him. She had been watching for his
arrival, sitting with Dick in the shadow of a tall flower-grown urn. She
had sent the young man back to the party peremptorily and with some
excitement the instant the older and more eminent visitor appeared.

“Aren’t they precious!” she exclaimed, her fingers just touching Lewis’
arm. “All of them! But my Petra in particular? In that frosty gown!—Come
to the library. We can’t talk against this racket. Lowell’s in town
speaking to a meeting of the Boston Authors’ Club, otherwise he would be
hiding in the library himself. He detests jazz. Except when your
brother-in-law plays it. Harry’s jazz is superb. He makes it art!”

The library was a surprisingly small room but its walls rose through two
stories with books all the way up to the high ceiling. A mild, yellow
and diffused light, radiating from unseen sources, would make reading
here—even at the top of the book ladder—as easy for the eyes as if it
were broad day.

Clare settled herself in a corner of the very low, built-in modern divan
which extended down one entire length of the room, and Lewis, obedient
to her gesture, sat down, experimentally, beside her. He had had little
practice with modernistic furniture such as this, which, he was learning
now, demanded a new technique in posture, unless one were built on
angular lines and accustomed to lolling. It would quite suit Farwell,
for instance, whose divan it was. But Lewis, who was stocky rather than
angular, found himself having to bend in all the wrong places to adapt
himself to it. Mrs. Farwell, however, was perfectly at home. She had
drawn her feet up under her, Japanese fashion, and sat now perched on
her heels, wand-straight, small and exquisite. But then, she was as
supple-bodied as a child and as poised as a dancer in every attitude
that she assumed.

“I am really delighted,” she was saying, “that you have come, like this.
If I had gone into town some day, instead, and seen you in your office,
everything would have been so different. I should have had to _tell_ you
about things. We may have saved weeks, don’t you think so, Doctor Pryne,
in getting you here where you can see it all for yourself and needn’t
draw it out bit by bit with questions?”

Clare’s evening gown was flame-colored taffeta, her jewels pearls, her
feet—out of sight but remembered—were sandal-shod with gold heels,
curved like dagger blades. It was an elegance in striking contrast to
the simplicity and seeming carelessness of her afternoon’s appearance.
But Lewis felt no contrast. It was all of the same piece: all part of
the game. And when he looked away from her, which he did rather quickly
in very shame for the ungenerosity of every thought he seemed able to
think concerning Petra’s stepmother, it was only to find her voice
increasing his prejudice. No matter what ideas her words in themselves
conveyed, certain inflections in the tones seemed to be asking over and
over, “What do you think of me, what do you think of me, _what do you
think of me_?” It was the eager and unappeasable cry of an insatiate
vanity. Lewis hated himself for hearing it so plainly; but his nerves
were taut. When had Doctor Pryne allowed himself the excuse of nerves
before! Yet to be so near Petra and shut away in here with Mrs. Farwell!

He wound his arms around his knees. That was it. That was what you had
to do to come to terms with this fantastic divan. Stick your knees up,
almost to your chin, and then not to be altogether too orang-utan-like,
wind your arms. The only alternative would be to sit on your feet, as
his hostess was doing.

“There wouldn’t have been any need for you to come to my office,” he
said. “Not to talk about Petra. She is the last person in the world, to
my mind, to need psychiatric treatment.” He might as well get this part
over quickly, Lewis felt.

Clare was surprised by the dry conviction with which Lewis spoke, but
she was not warned. She swayed toward him, from her heels, and put her
hand on his arm. The gesture was as unselfconscious, and
un-sex-conscious, as if she were a child of ten. Lewis was aware of her
unconsciousness all the time that her fingers stayed there, pressing
into his coat sleeve, and her soft warm breath was almost on his cheek.
He wondered whether she pawed Dick like this, with casual
unselfconsciousness,—and whether Dick found it engagingly innocent. Dick
was just the sort of romantic youth—Lewis hadn’t needed Cynthia to
explain Dick to him—to confuse sexual paucity with purity.

“Oh, but you don’t understand what we meant then, Richard and I,” she
protested. “Psychiatry—anyway as you practise it, Doctor Pryne—is not
for diseased minds merely. Petra is terribly sane. Saner than I am, I’m
certain of that. It is something less tangible I am asking your help
with. I want you to make it possible for my stepdaughter to be true to
herself and to be happy.—That wasn’t Petra’s true self you saw this
afternoon. I know, Doctor, that it is your faith, as much as it is mine,
that most people want to find themselves and be true to themselves, to
their best selves, I mean, if only they can be shown how. If you
_hadn’t_ that faith in human nature, then you couldn’t do for people
what you do. You see I know something about your work. Mrs. Dickerman is
one of my intimate friends. Cornelia James too. I’ve known Cornie ever
since we were at Miss Foster’s School together. So I know, for I have
seen, how you took at least one woman and made her into a charming,
agreeable person when she was over thirty. Why, Cornie was the most
morbid, oversensitive and unhappy soul until you began treating her!—And
even if I hadn’t seen these miracles, I’d still know from reading your
books what you can do for people in the way of orientating them with
their own highest potentialities. And all I am asking, Doctor Pryne, is
that you should do that for my Petra. You do believe, don’t you, that it
isn’t natural to her—can’t be natural to any one—to be so secretive and
indifferent as she seems? Not at nineteen, anyway! And with Lowell
Farwell for a father—and I so devoted to her!”—Clare’s fingers had
relaxed their steady pressure but she was slow to remove them from
Lewis’s coat sleeve.

Lewis might have laughed. He frowned to save himself from doing so; for
it would not have been a pleasant laugh and the frown was, at least,
silent. Clare was not the first blasphemous wealthy woman who had tried,
casually and even patronizingly, to buy his services as a cure of souls
for themselves or members of their family. But in this instance it was
Petra’s reserve—that clean, sword-edged reserve—he was being asked to
violate. Yes, this woman was looking forward to his pulling Petra all
apart, like the works of a clock, and laying the pieces on the table,
for them to mull over together.

He could hear Mrs. Lowell Farwell expatiating on it to her next dinner
partner. Yet, no. She would hardly do that. It would be worth saving
until the conversation was general. “Oh, yes. Doctor Pryne is
psychoanalyzing my stepdaughter. He is frightfully interested in her
case. It is too wonderful what he has done for her already. She’s a
different person. Oh, but you must know who he is! Doctor Lewis Pryne!
He wrote ‘Learning to be Adult.’”

Oh, yes! Mrs. Farwell would exploit it for all it was worth at dinners,
luncheons, teas and in the arms of dancing partners for weeks to come,
while all the time the inflections in her voice demanded, “What do you
think of me, what do you think of me, what do you think of _me now_?”

Only, of course she would not—because she could not. Fortunately she had
come to the wrong counter. Lewis had nothing to sell her—but, on second
thoughts, something, possibly, that he would give her for nothing; for
it had suddenly occurred to him that if he failed her entirely to-night,
she might try elsewhere. There _were_ psychoanalysts quite the sort she
imagined him to be, of course. Would Petra, with Mrs. Farwell setting
her heart on it, have the hardihood to stand out against going through
the fashionable paces of being psychoanalyzed? He must do what he could
to avoid such a possible calamity.

“This question of finding one’s self,” he murmured,—“it’s living one’s
life, isn’t it, that accomplishes that, in the end? Petra is too young
to have found herself in that sense, of course. But she is old enough,
on the other hand, to want to. That may be the conflict, the cause of
all her ‘indifference’ to you and her life here. She said something to
me this afternoon about wanting to go to business school and be
independent. Wouldn’t her father send her? That would be cheaper,
anyway, and infinitely more sensible than having her psychoanalyzed. She
could get quite away from Green Doors. Live in the Girls’ Studio Club—or
perhaps even set up an apartment with some girl friend....” He was, of
course, thinking of Teresa.

It had the effect, anyway, of removing Mrs. Farwell’s hand from his arm.
She was back in her corner, looking at him with surprise and even doubt.

“Petra didn’t tell you that she wanted to get away from Green Doors and
all I am doing for her here? Did she? Petra didn’t actually say—this
afternoon, the minute you were alone with her—that she was unhappy? Did
she? I simply don’t understand, Doctor Pryne!”

“But why are you surprised?” Lewis evaded. “I gathered from young Wilder
when he came to my office on Thursday that that was how things were with
Petra. You felt she was abnormally indifferent to you, he said, and to
all the nice things you were trying to do for her and to give her. But,
do you know, now I’ve seen Petra, that indifference seems perfectly
healthy to me? She is, after all, not a child. She’s a woman. _Let_ her
learn a profession and be independent! Why not?”

Mrs. Farwell was growing wider and wider eyed. Then suddenly Lewis knew
what he should have guessed: Clare had never really believed that Petra
was antagonistic to her. She had thought her indifference and reticence
merely temperamental idiosyncrasies. In fact, she had in all sincerity
thought Petra what she had made Cynthia think her, a girl deficient in
sensibility. So she was only tampering with Petra’s temperament, or
rather, asking Lewis to tamper with it, for the sake of drawing
him—Doctor Lewis Pryne—into the Farwells’ “interesting” circle. Modern
morbid psychology was much in the air these days. Being psychoanalyzed
by “well-known” doctors had become a fashionable pastime. Having one’s
stepdaughter, to whom one was in every way so marvelously generous,
psychoanalyzed, and then oneself discussing the case in the wings, as it
were, with the famous psychiatrist _ad infinitum_, would be a new way to
play the game.

A strained laugh from Clare interrupted Lewis’ bitter train of thought.
“I am afraid Petra has been deceiving you, rather,” she exclaimed. “What
I _can’t_ understand is how she managed it, and in so short a time, with
you, who are so—so wise. She must have deliberately set out to engage
your sympathies the minute I left her alone with you. But why? And as
for a girl like Petra living at the Studio Club—after Green Doors—can
you imagine it, really? Don’t tell me _she_ suggested that!”

“Perhaps not,” Lewis answered. “As a matter of fact, she would be more
restricted in her freedom there than here, I suppose. But with a friend,
then—in an apartment—”

Again the laugh. “You don’t know Petra, Doctor Pryne! She hasn’t an
intimate friend to her name. I invite girls here, of course, all the
time. They come, enjoy themselves with each other and the boys, and
invite Petra to their homes in return. But as for friends, she simply
doesn’t make them. She hasn’t the gift of friendship. It’s one of my
worries about her,—one of the things I thought your analysis of her
might cure!”

“But there’s Teresa. That’s one friend, at least, Teresa—” Too late
Lewis knew himself a traitor to Petra’s confidences, and broke off,
embarrassed and sorry. But to his great relief, Clare seemed not to have
even heard. She was repeating, but almost as if for her own ears, and
very softly, “I don’t understand. Petra took you to the guest house to
show you the river view. That is all the time you two were together. And
in that short while Petra conveyed to you that she was unhappy here and
wanted to get away. Why, it’s unbelievable! How could even Petra be
quite so—so outrageous as that!”

“But mightn’t Petra think it a little outrageous of us, of you and me,
to be discussing her here now, as we are doing?” Lewis inquired
reasonably. “Why shouldn’t _she_ be wounded—and angry? I don’t see any
difference, really....”

Shock dried the tears, just gathered, from the widened eyes which were
turned on him. If Clare had taken anything for granted, as certain to
result from to-day’s anticipated contact with this supposedly brilliant
psychiatrist, it was that he would be deeply impressed by her beautiful
disinterested kindness toward this girl who had no natural claim on her
whatever. But from the very first minute, so Clare began to think now,
Doctor Pryne had missed everything of what should have been obvious to
him. He had no subtlety then! But if this were true, why was everybody
so mad about him and how could he be a successful doctor of souls! That
was what Lowell called him, and he was even talking of putting him into
his next novel,—disguised, of course. And then the miracles he worked!
You simply had to have penetration of some sort, understanding of some
sort, to do for personalities what he had done for Julia Dickerman,
Cornie and all the rest! But even without any extraordinary amount of
penetration you would expect him to see that it was both disloyal and
cheap for Petra to have confided in him as she must have done this
afternoon, the very minute they were alone together.

Suddenly Clare gave up the idea of being hurt by Petra’s astounding
disloyalty. She would be too generous, too big to think of herself in
the situation at all. But she understood now that she would have to
_say_ to this man whatever it was she wanted him to know. No use
trusting to his discerning anything! That was what Petra had done,
apparently. Said things. Simply because Petra had said things, Doctor
Pryne had believed them—and that in spite of all that he should have
seen and all that Clare had meant him to see for himself! Well,
she—Clare—would have to descend to Petra’s crude methods. She would
explain herself to this exasperating person in words and expound her
relations with Petra. But she would leave the malice to Petra. The very
contrast between her generosity and Petra’s smallness ought to speak for
itself. He simply could not be so obtuse as to miss that much—or could
he?

She refrained from touching him, although her impulse had again been to
put her fingers on his arm. Instinctively she had a minute ago come to
feel that physical contact made this particular man uncomfortable. But
the urgency of Clare’s fingers’ pressure was transferred to her voice
when she said:

“I am afraid that you have begun by misunderstanding almost everything,
Doctor Pryne. But it doesn’t matter. I mean, it doesn’t matter that you
consider Petra justified in her attitude toward me and what I am trying
to do for her, as you seem to. What does matter—all that I care about at
all—is Petra’s good. It is for her own sake I want her to become
adjusted and happy, an integrated personality. It is not for my sake.
Not even for her father’s. And if you are right and I ought to give her
up, let her go away,—why, then I hope I am unselfish enough to let her
try it. But why business school—of all things, for a daughter of Lowell
Farwell’s? It will be interesting to know.”

But she gave Lewis no chance to answer that. She hurried on:

“First you must tell me everything she said to you. I don’t mean what
she may have said about Green Doors, her home here, or me. No, I am
afraid hearing that would hurt too much. But what she wanted different.
Let us just concentrate on the positive side of things and let the
negative go.... You see, even if you won’t take her as a patient, in the
way I hoped you would take her, I still need your advice, your wisdom,
Doctor. For in those brief moments you were alone with my stepdaughter,
you seem to have come nearer to understanding her than I have in the
years of our close association. You made her articulate for once. That
in itself is something. Petra, articulate!”

She paused there, but only to draw Lewis’ glance to her face. “You see,
my husband can’t help me with Petra.” Her eyes probed in the shallows of
Lewis’ cold, sleepy gaze. “He is out of it, even if she is his own
daughter. There is almost nothing of sympathy between them. That is what
I have been working for, ever since my marriage, to help them to a more
happy relationship. I have dreamed that Lowell might come to love the
daughter of his youth as he loves our little Sophia. He adores the baby.
But that, I am afraid, is merely because she is mine, and her very
existence makes _me_ more his. That is the way it is in happy marriages,
of course. Father-love is all bound up in the father’s love for the
mother. But Lowell, you see, loved Petra’s mother (if you can call it
love)—well, differently—and that is why Petra herself—I have figured it
out—means so little to him....”

Again Clare kept her fingers from Lewis’ coat sleeve but she actually
clutched her hands on her lap to accomplish it. And she swayed toward
him, her eyes insisting on holding his cold gaze. Her whole vivid,
quicksilver face was alive with her intention to make Lewis her ally, to
win from him something at last, of what she had intended to win when she
invited him back to-night.

“Do you mind my telling you intimate things like this?” she asked
naively. “I had meant to tell them and had everything—all the
information you could need—organized, you see. Even now, when you say
that Petra doesn’t need psychoanalyzing, I still rather want to tell
you. Before you are sure you are right about the wisdom of Petra’s
leaving her father and me, giving up her life here with all its
advantages, you ought to know a little more about the child herself,
don’t you think? I see now—you have let me see—that my Petra herself, as
a person, interests you, quite aside from your psychiatry. And I am
grasping at that interest as at a straw, Doctor. I am so alone in my
concern for this child and in my dreams for her! I’m not mistaken? You
_are_ interested, aren’t you?” This time at last the lady required an
answer—waited for it.

“Yes, I am very much interested,” Lewis admitted, after a mere instant’s
hesitation. But all the same he looked toward the door. If only Petra
herself would appear there! Come in, in her frosty gown! Interrupt this
really silly performance. He did not need any one to explain Petra to
him. It was her presence he wanted. One meeting of their eyes had told
him more than all the volumes Mrs. Lowell Farwell could say with that
overtone in her voice which insisted on bending his understanding to her
own interpretations of Petra—or more subtly yet, what she meant him to
think were her interpretations. Really he could not doubt that Clare
must know, as simply as he knew, that Petra did not need either of them;
the integration of her young self was a perfected accomplishment and all
the more perfected for having the seal of her reticence upon it.

Suddenly now Lewis knew why the blue gentians, there in the Cambridge
apartment where first he saw Petra, had stayed so sharply etched on his
memory. Petra herself was like a blue gentian,—a secret, brave flower
springing from an arid soil. Lewis remembered “The Wind Boy,” a story he
had bought lately for his nephews and read through before giving them.
The little girl in that story was named Gentian, and her brother
explained it: “Father always said that one small gentian had all the sky
folded around in its soft fringes. Gentian magic. Cold and frost don’t
scare it, for it has the whole sky held close to give it company and
heart....” Well, that was true of Petra, just as it was true of the
little girl in the fairy tale. But what made it true, how Petra had
appropriated the blue sky and held its secrets as her own, where she had
lain hold of it,—that Lewis could not guess.

Clare at this moment was vastly encouraged by the light which
played—palpably—over the doctor’s lips and almost rose in his cold
sleepy eyes This was approaching the way she had imagined things would
go between them when they really got to talking intimately, and he began
to see her in the way she intended he should see her. Before she was
through with telling him about Petra to-night—the excuse for the
tête-à-tête—this light of appreciation and admiration for herself would
have become established unequivocally in the cold sleepy eyes. She had
not a moment’s doubt of it. Nothing in past experience had instilled
trepidation or the imagination of the possibility of failure into this
sex-unconscious flirt whose line (she acknowledged it to herself and was
quite simply proud of it) was spiritual _rapport_ with interesting male
personalities in the higher areas of contact. If passion developed in
the course of these spiritual contacts, it was merely a sign, on a
slightly lower plane, that all had gone well in the upper airs. It was a
sign, in fact, that Clare’s vanity, though not her senses, ultimately
demanded.

Her eyes fell from Lewis’ cold eyes to his mouth. She thought cleverly
(she was far from stupid): “It’s a face of frozen passion. Not cold. It
is all there. But frozen by asceticism.”

She was suddenly, hardly understanding why herself, extraordinarily
excited.



                            _Chapter Eight_


Lewis continued to see a blue gentian etched on air, all the while Clare
told him about Petra. But he heard her, well enough, in spite of the
vision he was contemplating, and outwardly he was attentive.

“Lowell was frightfully young when he married Petra’s mother. And the
attraction between them—it’s almost inevitable in early marriages like
that, I suppose—was merely physical. So, when he waked up to that, it
wasn’t nearly enough, not for a person like Lowell Farwell, anyway. But
the only reason one need even remember that early tragedy is the way it
still affects Petra. Her father got the idea, almost from the day she
was born, that she was her mother over again. She was physically like
her, in the first place. They say that Ann was a great beauty. Lowell
says she was even more beautiful than Petra. But it wasn’t the physical
resemblance that repelled Lowell most and still hurts. It was her mind
and temperament. He got the idea that Petra had a commonplace mind,
ordinary. Like her mother. And now, nineteen years after, she is still
for him an echo—a reverberation—of an old disappointment. It seems
cruel, I know. But he can’t help himself, and one can understand, don’t
you think?

“I understand, anyway. And it is appalling to think that if Petra’s
mother hadn’t happened to die, Lowell might still be bound to her. She
was puritanical or fundamentalist or something. Whatever the particular
cult was, it was stupid and narrow and forbade divorce. She thought
herself religious! Imagine calling such cruelty religion! But Providence
had mercy, if she didn’t. She didn’t believe in birth control any more
than she did in divorce, and she died when the second child was born,
when Petra was only one year old. That, if anything, gives you the
picture of how impossible Petra’s mother made things for her young,
penniless, genius-husband—having another child right away. But the new
baby was premature and fortunately lived only a little while.

“Lowell was through with marriage, he thought then, for all time. His
religious wife had seared his faith in the sweetness of it as a human
relation. But though seared, his faith was not actually destroyed. It
has never been destroyed. Lowell Farwell has been bigger than the things
life has done to him. Six or seven years later he saw Elsa Larsen in
‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Munich. Elsa Larsen’s acting was beautiful enough
to break your heart. When she stuck to Shakespeare, anyway. She was
really a great actress, even if this country never woke up to her. Did
you ever see her? I saw her first in Munich, when I was a young girl. I
spent the year I was twelve abroad with my mother. We went to the
National Theater dozens of times to see Elsa Larsen in her Shakespeare
roles. I never dreamed then that I should marry her husband one day! I
may even have seen him, without knowing or remembering, in the theater.
They were married inside of a week after they met. It was a perfectly
wild marriage, of course. The result of utter loneliness on his part,
mad infatuation on hers.

“Larsen killed herself. Yes, I know it isn’t known. And it _is_
shocking. But she did it. She ran the car into those park gates on
purpose. She meant to kill Lowell at the same time. He was begging her
to get a divorce from him or let him get it, and she simply lost her
head and drove straight into the gates. She saw that they were closed in
plenty of time to have swerved. Lowell is certain of it.

“But what I want you to see and think about, Doctor, is Petra, of
course. They put her in boarding school and she stayed there vacations
and all, the few years till the so-called accident. But when poor Marian
made Lowell think he had compromised her—yes, every one except Lowell
himself, it seems, pretty well understood that little drama Marian
staged at the Tillotsons’ house party—well, when Marian became Petra’s
second stepmother, there wasn’t enough money to keep the child on at
boarding school. Larsen spent all she earned and left nothing. They
lived huddled up in that dreary little apartment in Cambridge with only
one servant to do the work. How Marian hated it! She never lifted her
hand for Petra or gave her a thought, except to resent her being there
at all, one could see. But the thing Marian has really to blame herself
for, to my mind, is the way she left the child to the sole companionship
of whatever general-housework girl happened to be in possession of the
place at the time. I myself was so appalled at seeing what Petra’s life
was like when I met them, that even if I hadn’t fallen head over heels
in love with Lowell I should have married him, almost, to rescue his
daughter. All that was maternal in me was roused and fighting. That day
I met you there—remember?—my heart was broken for Petra....

“So now you can see why I can’t blame Petra for any seeming disloyalty
she may have displayed this afternoon in the talk you had with her. She
has never known what it was to be loved before. How should she be
counted on to return it, or even to be loyal to it? It is asking too
much—even after three years, I think. But you see why I am grateful for
your interest in her, and why I am ready, almost without questioning it,
to act on any advice you care to give—now that you know the child’s
miserable history.”

As she had been talking, Clare’s eyes had now and then been starry with
tears, and on the final words one or two actually fell. She wiped them
away, quite simply, with a handkerchief. She had no need to consider her
make-up, as she never wore any.

Lewis withdrew his thought from a blue gentian, etched on air. He untied
himself somehow and struggled up from his low place at Clare’s side. He
asked if he might smoke. Clare had not remembered to offer him a
cigarette because she herself did not smoke any more than she used
make-up; but at once she was all charming apologies for her neglect and
motioned him toward the supply near at hand. But Lewis, apologetic
himself, preferred his own variety. He got out his case, lit a Lucky,
took a deep inhalation,—and laughed.

Clare did not understand the laugh, considering all she had been saying
to him—and her tears. But she waited. She had done what she could to
make herself clear to him and it was his turn now. He must have some
reaction other than that ambiguous laugh to all that she had said—and
_looked_—during the past minutes.

He was pacing back and forth before the long divan, his hands deep in
the already sagging pockets of his tweed jacket. They did not dress for
dinner at the Allens, and Lewis was in Meadowbrook without his dress
clothes. But when after a few seconds of this rather surprising
behavior, the man whirled and stood before her, looking down at her, his
face, at last, was beginning to mirror something—she was almost
certain—of what she was. Clare thought she saw her generosity reflected
in Doctor Pryne’s face as in a mirror. And on account of that true
reflection of herself, she forgave him all the bewilderment and
uncertainty he had for just a little while caused her. It was rather
wonderful having his cold, sleepy eyes no longer cold and sleepy but
aware of her. She had known all along of course that Doctor Lewis Pryne
was a person of rare power and magnetism, but until this instant she had
missed the biting tang of actually feeling it. To her own surprise her
heart beat fast. Madly!

“Are you serious?” he was asking. “Do you really want advice from me?
For I know what I would do in your place and I would do it like a shot.
Shall I say?”

She looked back up at him. Was this hypnotism? She felt excitedly
supine—submissive—open to this man’s will....

Her eyes, grave—and she herself knew how lovely!—promised him she was
ready to do whatever he said.

“Very well.”—But how dry his voice sounded! And already he had stopped
looking at her!—“First of all, I should cut off that absurd allowance.
Two thousand a year, Petra said it was, and just for clothes! And then I
should encourage her to take the job waiting for her in my office. It’s
a good job. It can begin on Monday morning at nine o’clock. And I
wouldn’t fuss any more about trying to create sympathy between father
and daughter. It is too late. The time is past. Petra has had, I
suppose, a pretty bad deal from the beginning, but from now on she ought
to be her own environment maker. You can’t possibly go on doing it for
her. Have you ever heard the phrase: ‘Environment is hidden identity’? I
believe that that is perfectly true of any personality, given half a
chance. It’s time Petra had her chance. Marriage and a home where she
herself is the protecting force—that’s the ultimate answer. But as a
stop-gap right now, a job. That’s what I think.”


Clare had sent for Petra and they were waiting. Lewis wandered over to
the massive, built-in library table. It was shaped like a scimitar. The
last words in biography, essays, poetry and fiction of two continents
seemed to be here under his hand, most of the volumes still in their
bizarre paper jackets. In the midst of the bright jumble stood two large
heavy silver frames holding photographs. One was Clare, the other Petra.
Petra was in evening dress and her posture and expression must have been
dictated by the photographer. The eyes in particular were self-conscious
and static in their inexpressive trance. The mouth alone was sentient,
not even the stare of the photographer and the camera together having
succeeded in betraying it into insincerity. Clare’s photographed face,
on the other hand, was vibrant, with just the hint of a candid smile
dawning in eyes and lips. She was not in evening dress but had been
taken in a simple blouse with a soft turnover collar. Of the two
photographs, hers was much the more interesting and alluring. And so
Lowell Farwell must think every time he noticed the two faces in
juxtaposition here on his table.

“Just one of Clare’s little touches,” Lewis told himself, wincing. But
now he was to get Petra away, out of it. That was exhilarating. He took
Petra’s photograph into his hands. He was studying it, and Clare from
her corner of the divan was watching him curiously, when Petra finally
came in. Clare beckoned Petra to the deserted place beside her while
Lewis replaced the photograph to the exact spot on the desk from which
he had taken it, and sat down on the arm of a chair facing the divan and
the two living, breathing women contrasted there. He lighted a fresh
cigarette but did not offer Petra one, remembering her afternoon’s
embarrassment.

He began at once. “You know what you said this afternoon, Petra, about
wanting to learn stenography and becoming ultimately somebody’s private
secretary? Well, I have a job for you that will begin paying right away,
and you can practise shorthand and typewriting in your spare moments.
It’s in my office, assistant to my secretary. Miss Frazier is
overworked. Has been for some time. It has been getting more and more on
my conscience lately.” This was perfectly true. “But with another girl
in the reception office to receive the patients, answer the telephone,
and take the preliminary records, I’ll not worry. You can begin Monday
morning.”

Lewis’ voice showed nothing of the elation he was feeling. His tone, in
fact, was dry and his look constrained. But Petra, as well as he, had
herself well in hand, it seemed. Reticence had leapt to her eyes with
almost his first words—a sword on guard.

“Darling! What _is_ the matter?” Clare demanded, but without much
genuine surprise. She had never expected that Petra would be delighted
by Doctor Pryne’s offer of this job. She knew her stepdaughter’s love of
freedom and luxury too well, she thought. And when Petra learned that
her allowance was to be cut as well as her days filled with work, Clare
imagined she would not even consider Doctor Pryne’s astonishing
proposition. Why, this very month Petra had borrowed ahead on her
allowance, to pay for the frock she had worn this afternoon. She was
always borrowing ahead. She spent more on her clothes than Clare spent
on her own. Petra considered that her contribution to the world’s work
was making and keeping herself beautiful, and if she had deceived Doctor
Pryne this afternoon into thinking her serious-minded and idealistic, he
was now to be undeceived, Clare told herself almost gleefully. Watching
it happen was like watching a play, immensely entertaining. But while
Clare watched, she spoke.

“There’s nothing to be frightened of,” she told Petra. “Don’t look like
that. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, darling. It is
only a suggestion Doctor Pryne is making. Have a cigarette?” She picked
one out of a box on a table at her hand, put it into Petra’s fingers,
and finding an automatic lighter, held it for Petra.

Even in his bewilderment at the way Petra had received his offer, Lewis
could appreciate what Clare was doing in insisting on that cigarette.
Petra was a foil for herself. Physically and temperamentally, all
Clare’s effects were heightened by her contrast with her stepdaughter.
And Clare, the artist tireless in procuring her own effects, took
advantage of even so trivial a difference as smoking and not smoking.
She had not remembered to offer Lewis a cigarette, but she was
practically forcing Petra to smoke. And Petra’s docile compliance was
only one of the ways in which she was of use to her stepmother and
earned that fantastic two thousand dollars....

But Petra’s fingers holding the cigarette were shaking. The trembling
began at her elbow, resting on her knee, but it was most visible in the
fingers. She said, in a voice that gave the lie to her shaking fingers,
“It is very nice of you to offer me a job, Doctor Pryne. How much is the
salary?”

Clare had made a mistake in insisting on the cigarette! She should have
presented Petra with a spear, not an English Oval, as an emblem of the
girl’s unyielding hardihood. The cigarette, moved to exquisite
vibrations in her trembling fingers, merely robbed Petra’s overt
hardness of its authenticity. Oh, yes, Clare would do better to play up
the Diana in the girl, not a sophistication which did not exist.

“Eighteen dollars a week,” he said. “That is a small living wage, I
know, but I am afraid it is all the job is really worth. And prices are
down. Food, rooms, clothes, everything. They have tumbled. You ought to
be able to manage on eighteen a week and get quite a lot of fun out of
it, Petra.”

In saying this so lightly he remembered, of course, the millions of
unemployed throughout the country, and his heart smote him at his
careless words. But he did not waver in his purpose. Petra’s need of
employment was different from theirs, it is true, but no less real. Her
situation, as much as theirs, was desperate.... But what was she saying!

“I don’t have to worry about living on your eighteen a week, Doctor
Pryne. I never could, you know. Just my dresses cost much more than
that. Besides, Clare doesn’t charge me board!”

“Petra darling! There is nothing in this offer to make you angry! Doctor
Pryne got the idea from you yourself, this afternoon, that you wanted to
leave Green Doors and be independent. That is why he thought of this
job. He thought you were unhappy because you weren’t independent and
living a life of your own. Whatever did you say to make him think that?”

Petra hesitated. Any one looking at her that moment could actually see
her deciding among a choice of answers to her stepmother. Lewis did look
at her and see. But Clare could not wait for the fabrication, whatever
it was to be. She went on: “But Doctor Pryne has convinced me of one
thing, Petra. He has made me ashamed, not for you, for myself. Your two
thousand dollars’ allowance is absurd. With people hungry right in
Boston. When you spend it only for clothes! It ought to be one thousand,
darling. And the other thousand you can give, yourself, any way you like
to do it, to charity.”

Petra’s cigarette was burning itself away in an ashtray between herself
and Clare. Its smoke ascended in thick violet ribbons. Lewis felt that
she was thinking with lightning speed,—but unguessable thoughts. Clare
was as much in the dark as himself as to Petra’s thoughts, he supposed;
but he suspected that, unlike himself, she did not know her own
ignorance. Against those ribbons of violet smoke Petra looked like a
sibyl—enigmatical—young—divinely young.

“Do you mean that you are cutting my allowance in half? Now, like
this,—without warning?” She spoke as if Lewis were not there, as if she
and Clare were alone. Her voice was more astonished than it was angry.

“No. I wouldn’t do that, Petra. You know I wouldn’t. You can still have
the second thousand for charity, to give any way you like. I will do the
same myself. I had been thinking of it for myself as a matter of
fact—even before my talk with Doctor Pryne about you to-night. I meant
to go over my dress bills and, beginning next month, budget myself to
half as much as I am accustomed to spend. Merely giving money outright,
the way I have been doing, isn’t enough. It is actual sacrifice that
counts.”

“But I don’t want either to give or to sacrifice,” Petra protested. “If
the two thousand is mine, I shall spend it just as I have been spending
it the last three years. Is it mine, or isn’t it mine, Clare? That is
what I asked you.”

Clare’s glance just flickered in Lewis’ direction. But she did not want
him to read the gratification in it and she put her hand to her cheek
quickly, shading her eyes. She said, “Darling, unless you will look up
some charity, get interested in it, and give the second thousand there,
it can’t be yours any more. Not now—when I have been seeing things
through Doctor Pryne’s clear vision. But surely—”

Lewis wanted to stop the woman, wanted to undo all that he himself had
so crudely brought about. But he might as well have tried to push back
an oncoming steam roller as turn Clare from her honorable participation
in this dramatic scene that he himself, no other, had staged. He felt
this and held his peace, knowing all the while that he had blundered
irreparably and made things worse for Petra than they already had been,
in some mysterious way that he was not yet in a position to understand.

Petra had interrupted Clare. Her anger had now risen to the level of her
astonishment. “It’s absolutely unfair,” she cried, her young face and
her young voice ablaze with wrath. “It is a _salary_ you are cutting,
Clare Otis-Farwell! Not a mere allowance. Does Doctor Pryne know that?
And you do it casually, like this, at his mere suggestion. I earn every
penny of it.”

“What in heaven’s name do you mean?” For that instant Clare forgot Lewis
as audience. Her expression was simply dumbfounded, with for once
nothing subtle about it. “_You_ earn two thousand dollars a year! Why,
you don’t even make your own bed!”

“But I do earn it, all the same. Every dollar of it. By being around all
the while as evidence of your generosity and goodness! Everybody praises
you for it! And you hope it will make my father keep on adoring you as
he has never kept on adoring his other wives. I am a perpetual reminder
to him of how you differ from all the others. _You_ are _maternal_!
Haven’t I let you play your part? Haven’t I played mine? What have I
done to spoil the picture? Surely you’ve thought it worth a miserable
two thousand!”

Clare was on her feet, every tinge of color whipped by Petra’s cruel,
wild words from her unrouged face.

“Petra! Hush! Are you crazy?”

Petra, too, was up. And then Lewis noticed that he himself was standing!
There was nothing he could say or do, however. He felt as if his own
poisonous thoughts about Clare Farwell had been, through some fault of
his own, broadcast through Petra’s sibyllic lips. All the blame for the
whiplash words, for the cruel scorn of them and their hatred, was his.
Not Petra’s. It was he, Lewis, who had thought them and now they were
brashly vocal.

But now suddenly again Petra’s voice was her own, and the words were her
own, no sibyl’s. “Oh, Clare!” she was faltering. “I am sorry. I am
terribly sorry. I was crazy, yes.—” And then, looking at Lewis, in a
different and utterly cold tone, she asked surprisingly, “How much does
eighteen a week make it a year, Doctor Pryne? Eighteen times fifty-two,
do you know?”

He told her, not showing his consternation. She said, “Well, that almost
makes up the two thousand, then; if I live here at Green Doors and Clare
pays me one thousand for part time. Am I to go on living here, Clare? Or
isn’t that possible—after what I just said?”

Clare, who was not tall, looked tall at the moment. Consciousness of a
chance to show magnanimity swayed her bodily as well as mentally, like a
refreshing wind, where only a minute ago she had been stifling. “Of
course you may go on living here. This is your home. Of course you
haven’t meant a word you said. You were a little hysterical. It was
Doctor Pryne’s idea, about your living in Boston,—not mine. He even
suggested Teresa Kerr as a roommate! Imagine! But as long as you can
tolerate me, Petra, no matter whether you can ever learn to trust me and
love me or not, I want you _at home_. Call it half-time salary if you
like. I shall certainly give you the one thousand.”

But at mention of Teresa’s name, Petra’s anger was back, lashing this
time toward Lewis. But only for a flash. It was over, as lightning is
over; and it had struck through her glance. She answered Clare, turning
her back on Lewis, “That _is_ wonderful of you. I don’t see how you can
be so forgiving. I don’t deserve it. But I want to tell you, Clare, that
ever since I have been with you here at Green Doors, I have never once
spoken a disloyal word about you—until this afternoon, to Doctor Pryne.
And I never will again—not as long as I live here, and ever after, I
hope. Can you ever trust me again? Do you believe me, Clare?”

Lewis turned away. He walked toward one of the French windows opening
onto the terrace. But Petra’s voice followed him, made him turn again.
She was asking in a polite voice, “Is your offer still open, Doctor
Pryne? Shall I come to work on Monday?”

He came back; looked at her for a confused, almost blank moment; then
said shortly, “Of course. If you really want to.”

“Do you think I can learn? Will I really be any use to you? It isn’t
just your conscience giving me that other thousand, since it’s through
you I’ve lost it?”

“I am sure you will earn every cent of it. Miss Frazier needs an
assistant badly. I told you that.”

“Shall I take this job, Clare? Do you advise it? Do you believe what
Doctor Pryne says? For I won’t take his charity. Will I be worth
eighteen a week to him?”

Lewis himself knew that Petra meant would having a job in Boston hurt
the effect Clare desired to obtain of her relation to her stepdaughter.
And did the part-time job she would now be holding at Green Doors—that
is, evenings and holidays—make the one thousand dollars a guaranteed
matter? But what was in Clare’s mind when she answered, Lewis was beyond
guessing.

“I should try it, anyway, Petra. Of all people, you can trust Doctor
Pryne’s sincerity. Working for him will be an interesting experience, at
the very least, and at the most you will be having some responsible part
in the world’s work and the joy that that inevitably brings. I think it
is very wonderful of Doctor Pryne to take such an interest—and help us
all. He is very generous—and understanding.”

“And shall I go back to the hall now? They will be wondering where I am,
I think.”

“Yes. You must go right back, of course. Darling, your frock is
charming! You do look too lovely to-night. Tell Dick about your job. He
will be particularly interested.”

As Petra started to leave, Lewis reached for her hand. She gave it to
him as if in contract. But such a contract! “I shall be on time Monday.
Thanks again,” she said.

Their eyes were almost on a level, when they stood together like this,
Lewis was so little taller. And Petra’s reticence, a two-edged sword—and
for him now—was not merely on guard. It cut down between them, severing
all understanding.



                             _Chapter Nine_


“I thought we were all right. There aren’t any loose ends that I know
of....”

Lewis had come to his office half an hour ahead of his usual time on
Monday morning in order to prepare his secretary for Petra’s appearance
there, which would be due, if she kept her word, a few minutes later.

“Certainly there are no loose ends. But that is just the trouble. You
are so conscientious that you won’t let the sun go down—no, you won’t
let it rise, and that is the point—on loose ends. You sit up nights over
the work. I simply had to get you an assistant and this seemed the
opportunity. By the way, and it’s very much by the way, did you do what
I said and forget the manuscript over the week-end, or did you keep it
right by you?”

Miss Frazier did not bother to answer. It was a foolish question. How
could she have done what he wanted! His book was going to press in
another month. At least, she and the publishers intended that it should.
Naturally, she had worked on it over Saturday and Sunday, and she would
continue to do that, if only Doctor Pryne kept his end up, until the
thing was in print. But now she would not waste time in defending her
industry, with this new girl due any minute.

“Who is she?” Miss Frazier asked. “Where did you find her?”

“It’s Petra Farwell. She needed a job so badly that I offered her this
one without considering very much her qualifications.” He had to admit
it. “She has no training but I believe she can typewrite a little. She
has done some copying for her father. But whether she can spell or knows
how to make out a check, or anything of the sort, I don’t know. I
thought we’d put her in the reception office with the telephone and the
patients. She has a nice clear voice and nice manners. That will relieve
you of the part you like least. Isn’t it so?”

Petra Farwell! That was the girl, the daughter of the novelist Lowell
Farwell, about whom they had been speaking here in the office only a few
days ago. A young architect, a Mr. Richard Wilder, had made an
appointment for the sole purpose of asking Doctor Pryne to psychoanalyze
the novelist’s daughter, and he had taken fifteen minutes or more of
Doctor Pryne’s time doing it. It was with some satisfaction Miss Frazier
had already made a memorandum of the bill she was to send for that
interview and obtained the doctor’s approval of it,—twenty-five dollars.
Doctor Pryne had turned down the case, naturally, since he was not a
psychoanalyst, and really, anyway, had time for only serious work; but
Miss Frazier remembered that he had accepted an invitation to tea at the
Farwell home in the country. And this was the result!

Miss Farwell had not sounded a very attractive person. And why should
she, the daughter of Lowell Farwell and the stepdaughter of a very rich
woman, need a job so badly that Doctor Pryne had engaged her without
consulting his secretary, or assuring himself of her qualifications?

But Miss Frazier pulled herself up at this point in her reflections. She
had no business letting herself remember anything that had been said
about Miss Farwell in a professional fifteen minutes here in the
doctor’s sanctum. Her standard for herself was to approximate her
employer’s professional attitude as closely as possible—one part of the
mind for confidences given professionally, and the other, quite
separated and even uncolored by that special knowledge, for the social
contact. So at this moment she did not show by so much as a lifted
eyebrow that she had any intimate knowledge whatever of Miss Farwell’s
character.

“And I’ve promised her,” the doctor was saying, “that between times,
when there’s nothing in particular to do for you, she can study
shorthand and practice typing. Please order the best textbooks for that,
will you, Miss Frazier, this morning,—and a machine. Rent or buy the
machine, whichever is more economical. And she will have to have a table
for it in the reception office. You can get that while you are out at
lunch.—After she gets going, she might take on some of the book. As I
said, she has done copying for her father.”

The expression with which his secretary received this last remark,
however, showed Lewis his stupid mistake. “I’m just talking through my
hat,” he said quickly. “That is a hopeless idea, of course. But can you
tell me how it is that you appear to be the only known human living who
can make out my stuff, Miss Frazier?”

The girl averted her face. Her clear-cut, almost cameo profile kept its
accustomed impersonal secretarial look, but her cheek was hot. Lewis saw
the unaccustomed color and was annoyed with himself for his second
stupidity in the minute.

She said, “It’s a sixth sense I have about your writing, I guess. It
almost seems so, anyway. I am not so extraordinarily good about all
illegible handwriting. But even the first day, yours was pretty clear to
me. It surprises me myself.”

“Well, that is the best of luck for me,” Lewis murmured, and was
grateful to hear a door opening and a step out in the reception office.
“That must be Petra,” he exclaimed, and went out quickly.

He brought her in. But Miss Frazier, at the moment of Petra’s entrance,
was blind to Petra’s bodily reality. It was rather the reflection of her
on the doctor’s face that Miss Frazier saw and read as easily as she was
accustomed to read his illegible script. “It has happened at last,” the
thought sliced through her brain, clean, knifelike. And then, flowing
through and over the wound, came the tides of her will, cooling the
painful gash. “Nobody must guess that it matters.... It doesn’t
matter.... It can’t matter....”

It was will, too, that jerked her attention from the doctor’s mirroring
face, after that first second, to the girl herself. There she stood in a
cool white frock with a violet-colored felt hat slouched Greta Garbo
fashion over bright curls. She looked frightened. Why should she be
frightened?

“Miss Frazier will initiate you,” the doctor’s voice was blurred and as
far away as his face, washed over by the tides of Miss Frazier’s brave
will. “You must ask her anything you need to know as it comes up, Petra.
That is the simplest way, I suppose, to learn the ropes. And now I had
better have a look at the mail.”—It was there, already sorted for him
into piles on his desk, with Miss Frazier’s accustomed clarifying notes
attached.

Miss Frazier took Petra, first, to the dressing room which now they must
share. “This door goes into my private office,” she explained, “and this
into the reception room, which will be in your charge. I’ll clear all my
personal things out of the desk at once.”

When she had taken off her hat and powdered her face, Petra followed the
secretary to the desk which was to be, miraculously, her very own, and
they stood looking down on it together—both of them inarticulate and at
a loss. “Perhaps the best way will be for you merely to stick around and
notice how I answer the telephone to-day,” Miss Frazier decided, after a
minute of cogitation. “One of your jobs, when you have caught on, will
be to take down the names and addresses of the new patients, and file
them here in this card drawer. Do you see? Whether the doctor accepts
them as patients or not, we want the names and addresses, and the date
that they telephoned or came. That is the only recording you will do out
here. The rest I attend to, and it all goes into the files in the inner
office. The most difficult thing to learn will be which calls to pass on
to the doctor, though. I don’t myself quite see how he thinks you are
going to begin learning that....”

Meanwhile Doctor Pryne, with his door shut, stood looking down at his
desk, but not touching the letters. He intended to take Petra out to
lunch with him in a few hours and explain to her—although he could never
do that really, since he didn’t understand it himself—how he had ever
been so stupidly forgetful as to mention Teresa’s name to Clare, after
Petra’s warning him not to. Petra would forgive him. She must, of
course. And then she would finish about Teresa. Or perhaps Teresa Kerr
was living in Boston and would be in at the office this very day to see
Petra. Or perhaps Petra would take him to see Teresa. In any case,
Lewis’ interest in Teresa had increased, almost unreasonably, since
Petra had broken off telling him about her, Saturday afternoon.

Now, in another second, he must start in on the day’s work, beginning
with the top letter on the right-hand pile—the pile Miss Frazier had
marked _immediate_. And when he did start in, he must put Petra out of
his mind,—luncheon plans, interrupted confidences, and all. If he was
_not_ capable of putting Petra clean out of his mind and keeping her
there for hours at a stretch, then the situation he had got himself into
would be absurd and impossible. But he had offered her the job of his
own impulse, and the fact that she had accepted it in a totally
different spirit from what he had expected, had nothing to do with her
right to keep it. It was hers, of course, just as long as she wanted it,
although her reason for wanting it had become a mystery to him. So, he
must—in half a second—clear his consciousness of her there just a few
feet beyond his closed door—clear it clean as a whistle.

But as he prepared to make the effort, the telephone buzzed at his
elbow. Petra’s voice came to him, clear, clipped, but a trifle unsteady.
“Mrs. Joseph Duffield is calling you from New York, Doctor. Shall I put
her through?”

Lewis mentally congratulated his secretary. She had got Petra started
already. That was fine. It was Miss Frazier who had decided, of course,
that this call was one he would certainly want to take, and now she was
showing Petra how to put it through to him. But he foresaw the time,
soon, when Petra, if she really was going to save Miss Frazier and be of
use to her, must be left to discriminate for herself, and that was going
to mean many mistakes. He frowned, rather, realizing that eventuality,
as he said, “Yes, thanks. I’ll take it.”

Mrs. Duffield’s first words, however, put everything else in the world
out of Lewis’ mind. His fingers gripped the bar of the instrument and he
listened with a graying face. Yet, when his turn came to speak, his
voice was full of confidence, even buoyant. “You have the very best man.
Doctor Stephens is an authority. That gives Michael every human chance
possible. You did just the right thing. Tell Michael I am catching the
first express and will be there in a few hours. My dear, don’t cry....”

He set down the instrument with soft precision then, on the sounds of a
woman’s sobs. The next instant he was out in his reception office, his
hat jammed under one arm, thrusting his letters into the two pockets of
his coat, and looking for Miss Frazier. Petra had no existence for him
now. She had been wiped from his consciousness by the bitter news he had
just received, without need of a struggle after all. Miss Frazier got up
from the chair she had drawn close to Petra’s while she taught her the
use of the telephone switchboard, ready for his demands.

“I’m catching the New York Express. Michael Duffield’s got infantile
paralysis. He wants me. Stephens is on the case. That gives the kid
every chance. I’ll call you up to-night if there’s anything to tell.
Doctor Cotsworth will have to take the clinic to-morrow. Give him the
dope on the Pettis case pretty carefully. It’s in the file. Tell Doctor
Hagar I’ll call him long distance at four this afternoon and to stay in
for it. He’ll have to handle that Arlington business without me. Put the
private patients off by telephone. But you’ll have to send a message to
McCloud, of course. Give him an appointment for Saturday afternoon. The
others will have to wait for appointments till we know when I’ll be
back. But before you do anything get in touch with the hospital—” But he
broke off. “This is nonsense. There isn’t time. Grab your hat, bring
your book. We’ll finish in the taxi.”

He remembered the new assistant then and commanded, “Petra, get us a
taxi and tell them it’s rush. Give her the number, Miss Frazier. I’ll
get the elevator up.”

Miss Frazier followed the doctor out, not bothering about her hat, but
her shorthand pad and her fountain pen were clutched in her hand, and
she even had the presence of mind to snatch a pencil from Petra’s desk
in case the pen ran dry. Petra got the promise from the taxi company
that the car would be at the door in a minute and then went through to
the doctor’s office to see whether they actually managed it. To her
utter relief, a taxi drew up at the curb just as the doctor and Miss
Frazier came out to it. Petra was exhilarated. So far, then, she was a
success at this job. There had been no slip. She had been efficient.

Petra had worries enough—even anguish of a sort—to keep her from being
radiantly happy over having a job. Yet it was a dream come true. A year
ago, why, even this spring, she _would_ have been radiantly happy. But
then it needn’t have been a double job; she needn’t have lived at Green
Doors and done the stepdaughter act evenings and holidays. She would
have gone to stay with Teresa and they would really have lived. Such
freedom, such self-respect, and happiness as would have been hers then!
That was the way she had planned it, exhilarated by the very imagining.
And now—how different—.

But suddenly Petra forgot brilliant might-have-beens, for her telephone
was ringing! She flew. She slipped into her chair, knees under the desk,
her spine very straight and businesslike, her eyes grave and
listening.—“This is Doctor Pryne’s office.”—And whoever was at the other
end of the wire must have known from the pure and winged quality of her
voice that the person answering Doctor Pryne’s telephone was young,
beautiful, and very much on the job.


“Ordinarily you and I must not tell each other, or discuss, things that
come up in Doctor Pryne’s work,—not in terms of personalities, anyway.
But Michael, of course, is different. He isn’t a ‘case.’ It is almost as
if a child of Doctor Pryne’s had infantile paralysis. Why, it isn’t even
almost. It is just the same, really. That’s why I’ve told you about
Michael. It would be inhuman for you not to know, when Doctor Pryne
returns, whether the boy is lost or saved—how he is feeling about it.”

The two girls were talking in Miss Frazier’s private office at the end
of Petra’s first day. Petra had her Greta Garbo hat jammed down over her
bright curls, ready to drive out to Green Doors with Dick Wilder, whose
car was waiting down on Marlboro Street. She had just looked down from
Miss Frazier’s window and seen it.

“I am so grateful you did tell me,” she assured the secretary. “And I am
going to ask something. Would you call me up at Meadowbrook
to-night—reversed charges—if you hear anything from New York? It’s as if
I knew Michael himself now—from your telling.”

Two years ago, Michael’s grandmother had been brought to Doctor Pryne’s
clinic. This was what Miss Frazier had just told Petra. The old lady was
insane and had to be placed in an asylum. Trailing along with the
neighbors who had taken it upon themselves to bring the poor creature to
the clinic was the boy, Michael, aged nine, who now, without his
grandmother, was alone and would also become a charge of the State. But
Doctor Pryne had taken Michael home with him that night.

“He brought him into the office the next morning,” Miss Frazier had told
Petra. “He actually wanted to adopt the kid himself. He was a most
interesting and lovable little fellow really; but what the doctor could
have done with him if he had kept him I cannot imagine. He lives in an
apartment hotel because he does not want to bother with a housekeeper.
Adopting Michael would have meant a housekeeper, of course, and a real
home. But that wasn’t what made Doctor Pryne give up the idea in the
end. He would have created a home for that child, given up all his
freedom to do it, I am sure, if Michael hadn’t been a Catholic. That
made Doctor Pryne feel that he ought to have a Catholic upbringing. It
would be the child’s best chance, Doctor Pryne was sure, for living down
the frightful memories of his grandmother’s slowly developing insanity.
Only continuity in the child’s religious life could carry him on over
the break which had come so tragically in his family life. Little
Michael had adored his old grandmother and she had been everything to
him until her reason began to go. Then she had commenced beating him and
imagining he had done things he had never thought of doing. It was
horrible.

“Doctor Pryne kept Michael a month or more, trying to decide what to do
with him. But he was always worried, wondering what he was up to in the
hours between school and the end of work here, when they could be
together. Then Doctor Pryne remembered his friend, Mrs. Duffield. She’s
a Catholic, a widow with seven children, and a close friend of Doctor
Pryne’s. She is extraordinarily beautiful-looking and that had something
to do with the doctor’s choosing her. No, I mean it. It did! Michael was
so sensitive to beauty and he had had so little of it! Doctor Pryne
thinks he has genius. I can’t see myself that Michael’s drawings are
remarkable but the doctor says they are. Anyway, when he remembered how
beautiful she was, and that she was a Catholic, he took Michael right to
New York and persuaded Mrs. Duffield to adopt him. She did it—over
night, practically. He would be her eighth child and they are all boys,
but she was delighted all the same, after she had had him there for an
hour. Pretty lucky she has so much money and didn’t have to think about
that! Doctor Pryne goes to New York to ‘play’ with them every few
months. They all do wonderful things together,—music, riding in the
park, even sea trips. When he comes back from New York he looks almost
as if he’d had a year’s vacation. He’s devoted to the whole Duffield
family, but Michael is the apple of his eye. It’s picturesque, isn’t
it!”

Petra had thought about it, her eyes on Miss Frazier’s pale face. The
day had been hot even for June and Miss Frazier had been typing for dear
life. Petra had heard her machine going madly hour after hour, in here,
through the closed door. That might account for the pallor, but Petra
thought not.

“It _is_ picturesque,” she agreed thoughtfully. “I hope, for your sake
as well as Doctor Pryne’s and Michael’s, that—that it turns out all
right. I hadn’t been realizing—hadn’t taken in—how anxious you have been
all day. I was thinking only of myself, I guess. I thought it was I,
that I was to blame,—that you didn’t really like my being here. I am
sorry now I was so blind and—and egotistical. It was Michael all the
time that made you so silent!”

Miss Frazier had leaned back in her chair at this point and lifted her
eyes to her new assistant’s. Before she looked away from that earnest
young face, she knew that she could never resent this girl. It was no
longer a case of willing. She said to herself in surprise, “She is kind
and strangely gentle. She’s a dear!”

Petra’s thought of Miss Frazier in that meeting of their glances had
been as sure and swift as Miss Frazier’s of her. Dick Wilder, when Petra
had returned to her party, Saturday night, to have the next dance with
him, had said that Doctor Pryne’s secretary was ridiculously starchy and
self-important. He had quite frightened Petra of her.—Well, he had been
wrong. Miss Frazier was a simply grand person. Her grandness was there
in the very curve of her eyelashes and the line of her nose.

Now Miss Frazier was promising: “Yes, when the doctor calls me to-night,
I’ll call you. I have a hunch it will be good news, since they got
Doctor Stephens onto it so promptly. He’s the last word on infantile
paralysis.”

Impulsively Petra came nearer the desk. “Miss Frazier,” she said, “I
have a friend I would love you to know. And she you. May I take you to
see her some time? She is my best friend. We have been friends for
years. She has studied to be a private secretary. I think you will like
knowing each other.”

Petra in that moment had no thought of making a friend for herself of
Miss Frazier. What had she to offer this clear-cut, high-salaried,
dependable person! But Teresa had everything to give her. Teresa and
Miss Frazier must know each other. That they would be friends seemed
inevitable.

She’s kind and strangely gentle. She’s a dear....

She’s a simply grand person. Good enough to know Teresa....

Friendship is as independent of time as is Eternity. It may require
years to arrive, or it may be there, how and why unknown, as if it had
always existed, at the trembling of a leaf. Miss Frazier and Teresa were
bound to be friends, sooner or later. But to her complete astonishment,
as Petra hurried belatedly down to join Dick in his car, she realized
that she and Miss Frazier were friends already.



                             _Chapter Ten_


Cynthia Allen was sitting at her dressing table giving her make-up its
final touches for dinner and the evening and chatting in the direction
of her husband, who was over on the window seat skimming the
_Transcript_. The real reading would come later, after dinner, with the
radio for accompaniment. But in spite of Harry’s being directly in the
open window, and silent while Cynthia was vocal, it was she, not he, who
knew that a car had turned in at their driveway, and ran, lipstick in
hand, to kneel beside him and see who it was. For Cynthia, like most
adults, if they told the truth about it, felt that every sound of a
car’s brakes, every ring of a bell, every knock, might be a possible
harbinger of Destiny.

In the present instance, however, there was no grinding of brakes where
the Allens’ driveway met the highway, for Lewis’ glittering, long-bodied
roadster was very nearly silent in all its ways. What Cynthia had heard
was merely the spurt of gravel between her gates. “If only Lewis would
live up to his car!” she often sighed to herself. “If he would have an
important-looking office and good-looking tailored clothes!” But she
supposed that the car was a tool in his work and that was why he allowed
himself always the latest and most expensive model.

“It’s Lewis,” she told Harry, who had not so much as turned his head.
Harry’s apparent indifference did not deceive his wife, however, nor
irritate her. She imagined him every bit as sensitive as herself to the
possibilities attending the unexpected; putting off the moment of
knowing merely prolonged his agreeable suspense. “But Lewis is a
thoughtless beast,” she said aloud. “He might have called up. Nellie
will be frantic.”

Then she pushed up the screen and leaned over the sill. Her brother had
seen her and stopped under the window.

“Go right around to the kitchen,” she whispered down, her hands
funneling her lips. “Tell Nellie that I didn’t invite you or dream you
were coming, that you’re not company, and she’s not to do the least bit
of fussing for you. I wouldn’t go near her on a bet, myself, but you,
with your wide experience, may know how to handle a maddened woman.”

Before Lewis had started on, she leaned from the window again and called
down in her natural voice, “Harry says we’re delighted you’ve come.”

A minute later her eyes met her husband’s in the mirror of her dressing
table. Her own were worried and Harry was curious about it. She answered
his silent question.

“Harry! I don’t like it. I don’t like it a bit. I’m—deeply troubled.”

“My dear! You blessed idiot! I thought it was merely your idea of being
funny. What has happened to your sense of humor? If Nellie doesn’t like
it, she can lump it. What’s it to us! She isn’t such a hot cook, anyway.
Besides—”

But Cynthia was laughing. “Blessed idiot yourself!” she crowed, but went
on quickly serious again. “It isn’t Nellie; it’s Lewis I mind! See here!
This is Thursday, isn’t it? Lewis was here over the week-end and now
he’s back again. Twice in one week. Why, do you suppose?”

But Harry had no idea. Certainly it was unprecedented. And Cynthia went
on. “Well, I’ll tell you. Lewis has come to see his new stenographer.
Being with her all day in town—having Petra right there in his office
from nine to four every single day in the week—isn’t enough. He has to
come shooting twenty miles out to Green Doors to spend the evening with
her. He’s a lost soul, I tell you.”

“But this isn’t Green Doors! This is my house. He has come to see me and
the kids—perhaps even you. If he wanted to be with Petra Farwell, he
could take her out to dinner in town or to the Country Club. Just the
two of ’em. No need to go all around Robin Hood’s barn to get at her.
But even if Petra lived here and he had come to see her—what of it?
What’s the matter with Petra? Why shouldn’t Lewis be left to choose his
own girl? Why need you fasten such an expression onto a perfectly good
face over it?”

Cynthia looked deeply into her mirror, curious to see what the
expression was. She answered amiably, “Lewis must choose for himself, of
course. But I have a right to my concern, haven’t I? He isn’t seriously
in love with Petra. He couldn’t be. It’s merely her youth and beauty....
I’m sure of it.... Mere physical attraction!”

Harry got up and started for the door. He had business with the
cocktails and also he must welcome his brother-in-law. But he turned
back, for a minute. “_Mere youth and beauty? Mere physical attraction?_
You might as well say ‘mere dynamite’ and have done with it,” he said
seriously. “You and your meres! You’re an idiot.... We are happily
married. Ten years happy. Who are you to be babbling like some old maid
of ‘mere physical attraction.’ Mere lightning—and you know it! Look
here! If they are really that way about each other—well, let’s hope
they’ll be happy.”

“Harry, you can’t make me mad. I know you’re an idealist.”

“Am I? Perhaps. But I’m not a sentimentalist.”

“Do you think I am?”

“When you say ‘mere physical attraction’ you are. A woman who has been a
lover herself for ten years! It’s mawkish and insincere.”

“But you and I are intellectually congenial, Harry!”

“We weren’t when we married. We’ve developed along the same lines since,
that’s all. But it was passion that melted us up and made our mental and
spiritual amalgamation a reality. We only thought we were congenial,
those early days, because we wanted each other so desperately.”

“Even if you’re right,” Cynthia said quickly, “it mightn’t turn out with
Lewis and Petra as it has with us. I don’t see how it could. She’s so
shallow.”

“Of course nobody knows how it will turn out ever. But if they’re drawn
to each other by mere—mere—what was it you said they were drawn by? I
don’t remember—but what you meant was mere cosmic forces—I guess you’ll
have to let that attraction take its course, and remain a mere sister
who hasn’t a thing to say. Sorry, darling. But you annoy me, rather.” He
kissed her, all the same, as if that was what he had come back for.

Cynthia had guessed right. Lewis was really headed for Green Doors,
intending only to dine with the Allens en route. He told Cynthia and
Harry about his summons to New York and gave them a dramatic account of
the latest methods in the treatment of infantile paralysis, but he was
careful to wait until the children were safely out of earshot. Little
Michael Duffield was going to get well and the probability was that he
would suffer no permanent disability from his terrible experience. The
other Duffield children had been packed off to the shore in charge of
tutors and with a trained nurse to watch for symptoms. They had gone off
in two large cars and were living in an isolated cottage to meet all the
requirements of quarantine. But Mrs. Duffield herself was staying with
her adopted boy and would not join the others until he was well enough
to be taken with her, unless one of her own children developed the
disease.

“There is almost no limit to what modern science can do, with wealth to
back it up,” Cynthia commented.

But Lewis met this with silence. He had just been through a
twenty-four-hour agonizing suspense, when all that science had to give,
and all that wealth could buy, and even all that love could plead, had
waited on—a Mystery. And the Mystery, over and over, during those dread
hours, had been named by Mrs. Duffield, “God’s Will.” Lewis’ face was
strained and his eyes still heavy from watching.

The Allens were a little embarrassed by the way Lewis had taken the
business; but they were touched as well. They knew how peculiarly
devoted to this little Michael he was. Cynthia was glad, indeed, that
she herself had not known that the boy was so ill all these past days,
and Lewis with him. That would have worried her for her brother’s sake
infinitely more than this Petra business was worrying her. Petra fears,
in fact, had dwindled, in the face of all that Lewis had just told them,
into mere goblin phantoms.

But even so she remarked, “It’s funny, but do you know, I don’t believe
Clare knows you’ve been away any more than we did. Petra couldn’t have
told them. And what’s still more inexplicable, Petra has gotten home
late every evening and hardly has time to dress for dinner. Clare rather
implied that you were overworking her, keeping her such unconscionable
hours! And all the time you haven’t been there at all!”

Lewis’ eyelids just flickered but he gave no other sign. He had told
Miss Frazier by telephone this morning that he would take an afternoon
train and be at the office at the usual time to-morrow morning. But Mrs.
Duffield had persuaded him to fly instead, and that swift and luxurious
way of travel had brought him to Boston late this afternoon. He had
dropped around at the office and found Miss Frazier still there. She had
sent Petra home early, she said, because of the heat; and the other
afternoons she had let Petra catch the three-forty express for
Meadowbrook, thinking there was so little need for two of them with the
doctor away.—What was the mystery? Why need Petra be so devious, Lewis
asked himself. But he was glad he had been warned. Very glad. He might
so easily have betrayed her to-night, later, at Green Doors.

It was dark when Lewis drove up the Green Doors road and recognized
Dick’s car standing before the door. He was taken to the library, after
having sent in his name and been left waiting a minute or two in the
hall. The maid who had admitted him had seemed none too sure that any
one was at home. He realized the reason for her caution when he saw what
his visit was interrupting. Lowell Farwell was reading aloud from his
own manuscript. Clare was picturesquely erect in a corner of the divan,
working on a brilliant square of needlepoint. Dick lounged and smoked a
briar pipe beside her, looking rather romantic, young and very handsome.
The author himself sat facing them, his hands full of canary-colored
scratch paper.—Lewis was, had he known it, the sole person who would
have been allowed to interrupt the reading.

He was welcomed warmly. Clare’s inward smile indeed was as brilliant, as
warm, as that on her lips and in her eyes. So soon! She had given Doctor
Pryne two or three weeks before he would allow himself to return—and
here he was back within the week! Doctor Lewis Pryne! The inaccessible!
The unobtainable! It was more than gratifying. It was—exciting and
delightful....

“Too bad Petra isn’t at home,” she said at once. “She won’t like missing
you. But she said there was extra work to-night and she would have
supper somewhere with Miss Frazier and then get back to it. I thought
you must be there in person, cracking the slave whip, Doctor. Awfully
nice to have you here instead!”

This time, because he was prepared, Lewis did not so much as blink. “No,
it wasn’t necessary for me to stay. But I am interrupting. You shouldn’t
have been ‘at home.’”

Lowell Farwell was putting away the manuscript. “Nothing of the kind,”
he exclaimed. “I can read to Clare any time. Dick came to play with
Petra and I did the ancient mariner turn with him; so _he_ won’t mind my
stopping. It isn’t every day I get a chance to talk with a genuine
psychologist. If I hadn’t gone in for writing, Doctor Pryne, I should be
in your field. Do you, by the way, read Dostoevsky? The Russians know a
thing or two. They aren’t afraid of turning to the findings of morbid
psychology for suggestion, at least, in their studies of human
character....”

It was sometime after ten when Petra let herself softly in at the front
door. The library door had been left open after Lewis’ interruption of
the reading and she heard voices. Dick’s. Her father’s. If Lewis had
happened to speak as she crossed the hall, she would never have gone on
and in. She would have stolen away to bed and sent a maid to tell Clare
she was at home. It was too late to retreat when she saw Lewis. Her face
hardened as she came forward. So Clare had won. They had not known at
the office—she and Miss Frazier—that Doctor Pryne had even returned, and
yet here he was the first hour he was back, sitting beside her
stepmother, helping her wind up a ball of yarn. But it was stupid to be
so surprised. Hadn’t she known ever since Saturday evening that Clare
had Doctor Pryne in tow! If it were not so, he would never have betrayed
Petra’s confidences to her as he had done.

Clare entranced every one, of course,—except Petra herself. But Saturday
afternoon, when Doctor Pryne had walked with Petra across to the
guest-house piazza and sat there, listening to the bobolink, and Petra
had been moved to be herself with him, and even to talk about Teresa,
she had thought that Doctor Pryne would be the one exception to the
general rule. He would be her friend—Petra’s—not Clare’s. _He would see
through Clare._ He belonged to herself and Teresa. That meeting, long
ago in the Cambridge apartment, had made him belong. Or rather they had
been deceived—and thought so. Where had the idea come from, anyway?
Teresa had been as illusioned as Petra herself. And when he held her
chair for her at Clare’s tea table—and even more, while she sat silent
beside him, and could not make herself eat or drink because it was so
wonderful that he had come at last—Petra had _known_ that he understood
her and was close to her in some indefinable but real way. She had known
but she had known a lie. It was an illusion brought away out of
childhood; and she had been enticed from her secret fastness by it, the
fastness where she hid from Clare and all of the life here at Green
Doors.

Doctor Pryne was holding a chair for her at this minute as he had held
the chair under the elm. The same look was on his face. If she did not
watch out, she would be betrayed by it into sincerity again, into being
simply herself.

“Darling! You should have called up from the station. I’d have sent a
car for you. I suppose you came in a taxi. I didn’t hear it. I was
beginning to worry, really. Here’s Elise with punch. You’re just in
time, Elise. We are famished. Petra, you do look tired. Pass them to
Miss Farwell first, Elise. Darling, you don’t look tired, you look
_exhausted_.”

Clare was justified in the observation. Petra’s face was shadowed by
obvious weariness, and Lewis thought that her long, sun-burned fingers
held the stem of her goblet of punch with a counterfeit steadiness.
Sheer will was keeping her steady—and hard. He was certain of it.

Lewis himself did not sit down again. He said that he must go. It would
be midnight as it was when he got to his rooms, and work would be piled
sky-high to-morrow after his absence. But he did not say this. They were
not to know that he had been away and not seen his office for several
days, since Petra had not told them. And if the child was fearful that
he had already explained that he had never kept her working over hours,
he would relieve her mind at once. But how?

He said, as casually as he could, “No need to be on time to-morrow,
Petra. Mrs. Farwell thinks I’m a slave driver and it will be true unless
we call a halt. After this, your hours are to be from nine till four, as
we first agreed, and an hour out for lunch.”

Petra was quick to understand. So they _had_ told him! He knew about her
lies! But he had not given her away and was not doing so now. That was
strange. Why? And it seemed almost as if he were promising her,
indirectly, that he had no intention of giving her away at all. At the
same time, he was laying a command on her: she must not use this
particular excuse ever again to gain her private ends, whatever they
were. Oh, yes, Petra thought she understood, and humiliation drowned
what might have been gratitude.

As for Lewis, he had never known that young eyes could hold such dumb,
repressed misery as he saw in those that Petra slowly raised to his own,
when she returned his formal “good night” with one more formal. But he
had only meant to reassure her. Did she think he was taunting or
judging? It was intolerable that she should have any such idea. It was
intolerable that he should have wounded her and that he could not
explain himself to her to-night, before she slept. But could he explain
himself to her to-morrow? Could he explain himself to himself, if it
came to that? Did he know why he was not appalled by this girl’s deceit
and why he was not angry with her for having put him in an unfair
position by her lies? If he had only been self-disciplined enough,
sensible enough, to have waited until morning to see Petra! Now the
night was going to be much longer than it would have been had he never
come out here at all. And he had thought to have shortened it by coming!

Lowell Farwell accompanied Lewis out to the street door, insisting
again, as they crossed the spaces of the great hall, that he would never
know all about morbid psychology until he had made a thorough study of
the Russian novelist, Dostoevsky,—and, possibly, a few other even more
modern writers of psychological novels. For your novelist knew
intuitively what your psychologist only came at through experiment, and
he knew it first.

“Yes, read the great novelists,” Farwell advised Lewis, with an almost
passionate insistence. “Read Thomas Mann. Read Hardy. And above all read
Dostoevsky. Then you might even read some Americans. There are one—or
two—you know—”

Lewis got away quickly without admitting the fact that he knew his
Dostoevsky practically by heart. Somehow, he hoped he would never have
to hear Farwell patronizing that master or comparing his novels to his
own, even by implication. Lewis wanted not to detest Petra’s father.



                            _Chapter Eleven_


Miss Frazier put a list of Friday’s appointments on Petra’s desk. “This
is going to be a crowded day,” she said. “Here they are. The doctor
won’t be able to see anybody who’s not down here, unless it is something
very special, and you’ll have to decide that. Of course, they’ll all say
it is very special. You’ll have to judge in spite of what they say. If
you get puzzled, just tell them to telephone again later, or, if it’s
somebody calling, keep them until I come out and you can ask me about
it. But I think you won’t have to do either of those things. I think
you’ll be perfectly able to decide anything that comes up for yourself,
Petra.”

“But Janet!” They were Petra and Janet to each other—had been since the
second day. “You’re throwing me in and telling me to swim. Suppose I
make a mistake?”

“Well, that will be just too bad!” But Janet belied the slangy irony of
the words by a quizzical accompanying smile. “It’s the way I myself
began,” she said. “And after all, you have had several days now of
answering telephones and talking to people here, with me right beside
you. I never had any such start. Don’t worry. Just dive in. You’ll be
all right. I know it.” The doctor’s buzzer had sounded and she had to
hurry away to the inner sanctum.

Petra, who had only just arrived at the office, was a little late. Dick
Wilder had slept last night at the Allens’ and offered to drive her into
town this morning. He had, however, overslept and been late in coming
for her. But that had seemed a feeble explanation when Petra offered it
to Janet a minute ago and she hoped now that Doctor Pryne need not know
of it. Janet, she felt sure, would not mention it unless he asked. As
his door was soundproof, the chances were he did not know whether she
had come late or early. He himself had been in there since eight. But
she decided to depend only on the trains after this. They were never
late. She wanted, with all her soul, to be as scrupulous and perfect as
humanly possible in this job.

She went into the dressing room, put her hat on the shelf, powdered her
face and held her wrists for a few seconds under the cold-water faucet.
The papers had promised a day of record-breaking heat for June, and now,
only a little after nine, the thermometer in the dressing-room window,
here in the shade, registered eighty-five. Petra was not like Clare—and
Shelley—elated and toned up by heat. Hot city days frightened her a
little and filled her with an anticipation of some unknown but dreaded
eventuality. But now that she had a real and an important job, she must
be superior to this idiosyncrasy, must keep her mind clear for action
and deny the childish mood.

It was not yet time for the telephone to begin its morning bombardment
and she would have leisure for a little study. Getting her shorthand
textbook out of its drawer, she drew pencil and paper toward her and
prepared for strenuous work. Janet had been “an angel” (Petra’s
expression) and constituted herself Petra’s shorthand teacher. She said
that there was no reason whatever why Petra, at the end of a year’s work
here, shouldn’t be prepared to take dictation from anybody, typewrite
rapidly, and have a profession at her finger tips. But during this year
of learning, Petra was determined to be worth every dollar that Doctor
Pryne paid her. He was not her friend—he never could be now—and it must
be a strictly business exchange between them and an honest one.... If
you really use your brain, really concentrate, heat—even city heat—is
nothing. The human brain, and the will back of it, _cut through
discomfort like a knife_. Well, perhaps that was all that Clare meant,
when she always said that hot days exhilarated her. Overcoming the
wretchedness of stifling heat, being superior to it, was the
exhilaration. Indeed, Petra found herself exhilarated at this moment. It
was exhilarating to concentrate on these word-symbols, master them, and
be of some account in the world!

But at this moment of full content—for it was content—Petra’s telephone
surprisingly buzzed. Her voice—she heard it herself, answering—had an
elated ring. But the voice that sounded in reply was no strange voice
from the outside. It was Doctor Pryne himself, speaking to her from
behind his closed door only a few yards away. He was asking her to have
lunch with him at one-thirty at the Copley.

“I’m sorry. I’m lunching with Dick Wilder. I’m afraid I can’t.”

That is all she said and it was uttered with polite deliberateness. But
her hand, putting down the telephone, was shaking. And this surprising
phenomenon had hardly impressed itself on Petra’s attention before she
was aware of the thunderous circulation of her blood.... What had so
startled her body! Her employer’s voice, it seemed. But the invitation
and her having to refuse it had meant very little to her conscious
thinking self. Did the body have a life of its own, then,—fears and
delights, even thoughts of its own? It seemed so. But she had first
learned it on Saturday afternoon, when Doctor Pryne had lighted her
cigarette for her. As he held the match, her body had given her this
same surprise then. It had been Doctor Pryne then and it was Doctor
Pryne again now. He had more significance to her, it seemed, than she
herself knew. But her body knew.... It was instinct of some sort, she
supposed. She was remembering one astonishing experience she had had of
an animal’s instinct. It occurred the summer she had been sent to camp
where there was riding. She and a few others had lost their way on the
country roads and had been caught by the dark. Petra was riding ahead,
loving the dark and the adventure, when suddenly her horse stopped and
she felt him bristling under her. She felt his fear but stubbornly tried
to urge him on. Whatever he was afraid of, they must get away from it.
She was as frightened as the horse, but her desire was to plunge on and
out of the situation—whatever it was. But a wiser and older girl, coming
along, dismounted, walked cautiously a few yards ahead and found that a
bridge was down over a deep gorge. Petra’s horse could not have seen it.
Had the sound of the rushing water proclaimed no bridge above it to his
sensitive ears?... But what bridge was down now? Why was her blood
thundering like this and her mind at a standstill?

It passed almost as suddenly as it had come. The thundering blood sank
back to the unknown and unconscious rhythms of its usual courses. But as
this was Petra’s second experience only of the alert separate mind of
the body, she was left strangely shaken by it. It took some effort to
return her attention to the shorthand textbook, and she was glad when
the telephone finally began ringing in earnest and she could put aside
her self-imposed and solitary work.

For a while everything went smoothly. Petra really seemed to have an
instinct for discriminating between the important and unimportant and it
is certain that her magnetic young voice won instant confidence from the
unseen inquirers; they felt that she would remember their requests and
do her best in getting Doctor Pryne’s attention for them the first
minute possible. She wrote everything down in a tidy, self-conscious
hand and filed what should be filed, all the while feeling effectual and
important. If the few patients waiting their turns in the little room
looked at her more than at the magazines and books they pretended to be
reading, she was unaware of it.

The door into the outer hall was standing wide open in the interest of
all the draft possible; and so since Petra’s shoulder was turned that
way, and the latest comer wore rubber-soled sneakers, she was not aware
of him until he came around her desk and stood over her. The little
desk, as he stood before her, leaning on it, suddenly became spindly, a
mere chip, he was so large and dynamic. He was looking at Petra in
surprise that she was not Janet. So she read his expression. She
noticed, even in her first startled glance up at him, how blue the eyes
were in his bronzed face and how the black brows over them met in a
straight line across his high, straight nose. She had never seen eyes of
so intense and deep a blue, she thought. They were rather like her own,
had she realized it, for it was a strange coincidence, but the girl at
the desk and the man bending over it might have been brother and sister.
Their coloring, their physiques and their vitality were all in the same
key.

The surprise in the man’s face was perhaps more like anger than
surprise, after all. A sort of tortured anger, Petra thought. The
intense blue of his eyes burned down at her with angry questioning. But
his fine, clean-cut lips were set in a defiant line as if he meant never
to speak. The thought flashed through Petra’s mind that he might be an
insane patient of Doctor Pryne’s who had broken loose from confinement
and was seeking out the man who had consigned him to the asylum, to
shoot him. But instantly she knew it wasn’t so; the fire in the intense
blue eyes was fire of intelligence burning to an expression almost as
articulate as speech.

“Do you want to see Doctor Pryne?” she asked. “I am sorry but—”

She got no farther. He had reached a swift hand and snatching a letter
from the top of the pile the postman had only a minute ago deposited
there, turned it over and, picking up a pencil, wrote on its back, “I am
dumb. Neil McCloud. No appointment. Only want to see Pryne for a minute.
Will wait till he can work me in.”

Dumb! This vital creature, radiating power and strength! Petra held out
her hand for the pencil. But he did not give it to her. He wrote again,
the strokes of his script swift and angry, “I’m not deaf. Speak!”

“Sit down,” she said. She could not talk to him while he towered like
that. It was like standing under an avalanche of physical and mental
force. There was a chair close to her desk. He took it. She felt that he
might mind having the other patients, who had appointments, hear him
being refused one, and so she leaned toward him and explained the
situation almost in a whisper. Doctor Pryne had been out of town and as
a consequence was extraordinarily busy to-day. He couldn’t possibly see
people without appointments, even for a minute. But next week—She took
up the appointment book. The minute McCloud had written his name Petra
had placed him, for on Janet’s advice she had studied and learned the
names of the regular patients by heart during her first day here. She
fluttered the pages of her book and came to McCloud. He had an
appointment for Saturday afternoon, to-morrow. That was odd. Janet had
said that Doctor Pryne kept his weekends absolutely free for his
writing. But here it was in Janet’s hand—McCloud, four o’clock, June 28.

She hesitated over it. Ought she to suggest that Mr. McCloud wait for
Janet’s next appearance from the inner office? This was the first time
to-day that Petra had felt so uncertain of her ground. But then she
decided, “No. I’m in. I must swim. That is what both Doctor Pryne and
Janet expect of me. McCloud’ll have to wait for his appointment like
everybody else.”—She looked across at him. Blue eyes met blue eyes, his
tormented and angry, hers cool but sorry. “I’m sorry—” she began, but
again he snatched at the pencil. “OK,” he almost tore it into the
envelope. And then he added, underlining it, “Don’t tell him I called.
I’d rather you didn’t. Back Saturday.”

Halfway to the door he swung around and came back to Petra. She handed
him the pencil. He wrote—but this time in small, scrupulously clear
characters—“You’re a damned beautiful girl.” She had read it easily
upside down as he wrote but he was gone before the color flamed in her
face.

A few minutes later, when Janet came out of the inner sanctum, trailing
a patient, and went over to Petra’s desk, Petra showed her the envelope;
but she had erased McCloud’s last remark. The secretary frowned. It
worried her, for some reason or other. That was obvious. After a minute
of brooding over it, she whispered, “I’m sorry you let him go, Petra.
The doctor would have made a point of seeing Mr. McCloud. It must be
something very special he wanted, really special, I mean. But you
couldn’t know.... I think we’d better do what he asks and not say
anything about it now to the doctor. It would bother him. I’m sorry I
wasn’t here. He must have hated explaining to you about his speech. He’s
morbidly sensitive about it. It was hard enough the first time he came
and wrote it all down for me—but to have to do it all over again—”

So it was as bad as that! Janet’s expression even more than the words
she said told Petra how serious a blunder she had made in sending
McCloud away. It was so serious, in fact, that Janet wanted to protect
Doctor Pryne from knowing that it had happened at all. But as to the
man’s embarrassment, Petra was skeptical, remembering the sentence she
had read upside down!

“But look here, Petra, don’t let this one first mistake discourage you,”
Janet murmured quickly, as the doctor’s buzzer summoned her to bring in
the next patient. “Go on swimming. Don’t get self-mistrustful. It’s like
riding. After a spill you must get right up and mount again, or you’re
queered. Better luck next time.”

At lunch Dick Wilder found Petra more bafflingly uncommunicative than
usual, even, and she ate almost nothing of the very expensive and
knowing meal he had ordered for her. What use was it for him to chatter
on about Green Doors—and incidentally, of course, Clare—with some one
who murmured back mere Yeses and Noes! The only consolation that Dick
got from that luncheon hour was the overt admiration he saw in
surrounding faces for his companion. These men and women had no way of
knowing that his companion was as completely uninteresting as she was
completely beautiful. They probably thought him much to be envied,
extraordinarily lucky.

“Look here,” he said rather desperately, when he opened the door of his
car to let her out in front of her office building, “let me drive you
out to-night, Petra. It will be beastly going in the train in this
heat.”

“Clare is giving that big dinner party to-night,” Petra reminded him.
“She won’t have a minute for you. Some other night.”

But Dick persisted. He was ready to take his chances. When they got to
Green Doors he would go in with Petra for a few minutes and stay
talking. Clare might be around somewhere. They could exchange one word
at least, one look. It would be little Sophia’s bedtime. He might be
invited up to the nursery to join with little Sophia’s nurse in her role
of enchanted chorus to the nightly repeated scene—the cherub’s supper
hour. But he said nothing of his real designs to Petra. He merely
exclaimed, “What has Clare to do with it? You’re a funny girl! It’s you
I’m asking. I’ll be down here at the door at four.”


Janet’s door, the doctor’s door, the door into the public hall were all
wide open when Petra got back. Janet heard her come in and sang out from
the dressing room, “I’m just off for lunch, Petra. Won’t be gone twenty
minutes. Too hot to eat.” Then, as Petra came up behind her, she turned
from the mirror where she had been adjusting her hat and her voice
changed. “You poor child! What is the matter?”

“Nothing. What should be?” Petra put away her hat and got out her
compact. But Janet would not accept the nonchalant denial. “I know
what’s wrong. That McCloud business. But cheer up. For months after I
began this job I averaged about half a dozen mistakes a week. Nobody’s
infallible. And anyway, I’ve reconsidered it. There is no real reason
why that young man should consider himself an exception and come around
without appointments. He did the same thing last week. And Doctor Pryne
saw him and was over an hour late in leaving the office as a
consequence. To-day he would probably have gone without his lunch. It’s
really rather cheeky. To-day may make him see it. I myself wouldn’t have
dared send him off, because I know how the doctor feels, but you didn’t
know, and he only got what he deserves. So cheer up. You’re in charge
now till I return. The doctor won’t be back before half-past two,
probably.”

But Petra was not much comforted. Her confidence in her own adequacy had
been so high only so few hours ago! And ever since the McCloud incident
she had felt dashed. But how was she to know who was important, of the
people who came to the office or called on the telephone, as long as
they remained merely names to her in her appointment book and in the
bare files in her desk. Janet, of course, knew the intimate details of
all the cases. She took their “histories” down in shorthand, and even
some of the conferences later, and filed them in the big steel cases in
the inner office. If Petra, now, had known something of Mr. McCloud’s
“history,” she might have known what to do with him this morning. But
Janet, in initiating her into the work, had told her absolutely nothing
of the personalities she would so soon be dealing with. Her information
had confined itself strictly to names and ages. It was too great a
handicap!

Besides, Petra was interested on her own account in this McCloud now.
Very much so! Any one would be.... His tormented impatient look.... The
way his very black brows met in a straight line over his straight high
nose. She had never seen brows like that. It gave a look of dominance,
of strength.... His hands were the hands of a workman, stained with oil
or grease, and the fingernails were cut very short where they were not
broken. Yet strangely, those hands were as expressive and impatient as
his face.... And the upside-down sentence—well—that was a touch of mere
deviltry. His eyes had mocked, as he pushed the envelope toward her—and
was gone!

The heat in the reception office was stifling. Holding your wrists under
water really didn’t help, except for the minute you were doing it. As
for getting out the shorthand textbook in this lull between the morning
and afternoon appointments, Petra simply couldn’t. She was smothered,
dismayed by the heat. It was really a kind of drowning, this
airlessness. Janet had looked so cool and superior to it. She had said,
“It’s torrid, isn’t it!” but she hadn’t minded it really. She had
created the effect, even as she mentioned it, of brushing mere physical
discomfort from her clear, cool self as if it were a fly.

There was, however, a slight breeze coming through from Doctor Pryne’s
big windows. A paper on his desk rustled intermittently. It might blow
off. Petra decided to go in there and put a book or an inkwell, some
solid object, on it. But when she had secured the object—a package of
Luckies, as it happened—she turned away from the desk to the steel
filing case across the room and stood looking at it curiously. She could
read the letters on the faces of the boxes from where she stood.



                            _Chapter Twelve_


Petra was pulling out the drawer marked in small black letters Mc. She
pulled it slowly, as one might open a door onto an unknown landscape.
She herself thought of Alice. “It might be the rabbit hole and here am I
on the verge of tumbling down it.” Indeed, she felt herself a second
Alice and as if this deep drawer held a wonderland into which she was
about to escape from the stifling hot afternoon of the upper world.
Could she have known what it held for her, how different her hesitation
in going on pulling out the drawer would have been, how much faster her
heart would have beat!

She ran her fingers over the tops of the stiff white cards and came to
those marked at the upper right-hand corners, “Neil McCloud.” There were
dozens of them in McCloud’s own handwriting—the handwriting, at least,
of that one last sentence of his which she had read upside down. Petra
lifted them out, removing first the metal clip that held them together.
Leaving the Mc drawer open, she leaned against other closed drawers and
started to read.

_Neil McCloud. Age twenty-six. Irish-American. Catholic. No known
insanity in family._

It read as if it had been written in answer to questions put to him by
Doctor Pryne. Ordinarily the patient would have answered vocally, and
Janet, or Doctor Pryne, taken it all down; but in this case, since
McCloud could not speak, the answers were written by the patient
himself. It seemed that the small, scrupulous script of the upside-down
sentence was his ordinary writing when he was not furious....

Petra turned the card over and read on: “Oldest of five. Father a garage
proprietor in Springfield, Mass. I graduated from High School tenth in
class of ninety. My mother wanted me to go to college but I wouldn’t.
Went to work for my father as a stop-gap. Wanted to get with airplanes.
Father paid me a skilled mechanic’s wages because I was by that time a
skilled mechanic,—grew up with the engines, so to speak. Machinery
interested me more than books. Except aeronautics books. Read all of
those the library had and bought all I could find. I got in with the
fellow who runs the Ocean Road Airport. Spent all my spare time there.
Took flying lessons by moonlight. Bought a second-hand plane on savings
and credit and began taking people up for hire. Father against it.
Wouldn’t let me live at home unless I worked for him.... One day my kid
brother turned up at the field. He was the baby. Eleven years old. I
knew the folks had forbidden him to go up with me. All the kids were
forbidden. But he had hooked a ride out, skipped school, and said he
would tell father when he got home, and take his licking. He hated
lickings as much as anybody, but it would be worth it to fly. I agreed
with him it would. He was captain of his grade football team, a great
little kid. After my mother, I guess he meant more to me than anybody
living. Anyway, I took him up. We had a grand ride, all afternoon, over
four States. Then, making the landing in the field, the propeller broke
and we hit the ground wrong. The kid was killed. Broken neck. He died in
my arms without the sacraments. I never saw my mother again. They
wouldn’t let me into the house. Dad wouldn’t. I don’t think mother ever
knew I came. She died that fall. She had been poorly ever since Stephen
was born, the kid—that was killed.

“Came to Boston. Got job. Chauffeur for Malcolm Dayton, banker. Eloped
with his daughter. We were married by a justice of the peace but Edyth
suspected I mightn’t feel really married unless a priest blessed us. She
looked up the priest of our parish and I went to him. No, hadn’t gone to
the Funeral Mass for the kid even, and never to confession since the
smash. The priest made me ashamed but agreed to get the dispensations.
He talked to Edyth and assured himself she was old enough to know her
own mind and really wanted to be my wife. She is ten years older than
me. So I confessed and was taken back and received communion, and we
were married again in the rectory before the housekeeper and janitor.
Edyth was to take instruction. I could have lived alone outside the
Church all right, but couldn’t have rested easy with my wife outside it.
So I was glad Edyth insisted, I guess. Remembered my mother too well!
Couldn’t imagine the mother of my children not a Catholic!

“Dayton went crazy when we told him. He wrote that he would buy a
divorce for Edyth any time she asked him to, but until then to keep away
from him. We had a baby the first year. A boy. I got a job selling the
new Ajax cars. I thought we were pretty well off, but Edyth didn’t. We
had a nice apartment and a maid. My mother never had a maid. Edyth’s
friends stuck to her. They were fine. Some of them I liked a lot. But
she was never really mine. Somehow she was her father’s girl. The baby
was born at the Lying-In. The day they were coming home, I had to give a
driving lesson in Arlington, but a girl friend of Edyth’s was bringing
them and would help the nurse and the maid fix them up comfortably. But
I came home and found nobody but the nurse. Called the hospital and they
told me that Dayton had come for his daughter and grandson. Called the
house. Got Dayton himself. Sorry—can’t remember a word he said. But I
knew that Edyth and the baby were with him and weren’t coming home. And
the next day he sent a lawyer around who told me that the old man had
had me watched and that they had a clear case for a divorce. They had
one framed, all right—but no use going into that. I had not been
unfaithful. No, I told you, I can’t remember a single word he said on
the ’phone.

“No—I didn’t say a word to the nurse who had stood staring at me while I
’phoned. Found I couldn’t. But I thought it was because I was crying.
The baby and his mother not coming home, you know. Thought it was tears
in my throat. I thought so then, I mean. I walked out of the apartment,
got into the car, drove all night. At dawn I was back in Boston. I don’t
remember where I drove or anything about it.

“Yes, I stopped for gasoline once or twice during the night. I held up
my fingers to show how many gallons and didn’t say a word. But I didn’t
realize it was because I couldn’t speak until I got back to the
apartment in the morning. The nurse had slept there and was waiting for
her money. Yes, my throat closes up whenever I try to speak. It’s like
tears—or a sob. Don’t like to try any more. No, haven’t been to Mass
since the Sunday before Edyth and the boy were coming home from the
hospital. No—don’t want to see a priest. I’ve lost my faith, I think.
No, my family know nothing about me. They won’t, either.

“The Ajax people kept me on as a mechanic. It’s charity, really. They’re
as hard hit as all the rest by the depression. They really can’t afford
a mechanic who can’t talk to the people who drive in. The boss sent me
to you. I make thirty a week. Can pay you ten. Ten a week goes to the
smashed plane debt. If you don’t cure me quickly, I’ll disappear. The
boss is risking his own job, keeping me on. Yes, the boy is fine. When I
saw him at the hospital he looked like my kid brother. The kid would
have been his uncle.”

There the history proper ended and Janet’s typing began. It was a report
of the physical condition of the patient. Doctor Pryne had, apparently,
passed McCloud on to various specialists. Petra skipped all this. It was
technical and dull but as much as she took in appeared to rate McCloud’s
physical condition as excellent. All the remaining cards in the pile, a
dozen or more, written on both sides, in Doctor Pryne’s illegible hand,
might as well have been inscribed in Chinese for all Petra could read of
them. They appeared to record the experiments in treatment Doctor Pryne
had tried on the case, and would have been fascinating, Petra thought,
if only she could have read three consecutive words.

But one sentence was clear,—and underlined: “_Must find out what Malcolm
Dayton said to him on the telephone._”

As she read this, Petra heard some one breathe.... She had not noticed
the step in the reception office nor in this room, but she heard the
breath, soft as it was. She looked up from the card she was studying and
saw Janet. It was the secretary’s sharply indrawn breath that had so
startled Petra. But when she woke to the expression on her new friend’s
face, her very blood ran cold. This was not Janet, the intelligent, the
kind, the clever Janet. What had happened to her? What was the matter?

“Petra Farwell! What are you doing with those files?”

“Reading about McCloud. I wanted to learn....” But her explanation died
stillborn. Suddenly, like a thunderclap, Petra knew what a fool she had
been, what a terrible thing she had done. She knew now why Janet looked
as if she had come upon a murderer, his hands dripping blood. Petra put
her hand up to her mouth. It was dry and her tongue was dry.

Janet said “You are stark crazy—or else you are a plain fool. It isn’t
just the sneakiness of it—reading private records. It’s the cruelty.
It’s violating another person’s rights to his own secrets. Petra, how
_could you_? _Are_ you crazy?”

She must be. Petra thought so herself now. It was worse than reading
other people’s letters, reading a doctor’s records of cases. Any one who
wasn’t crazy would know that. Even young children knew better than to
open drawers in other people’s houses. She _was_ crazy, crazy, crazy!
She was ready to die!

“Why weren’t the files locked, Miss Frazier? How did this happen? How
was it possible?” Doctor Pryne had come in without either of them
noticing. His voice was hard—cold too—like ice. There was a white area
around his lips.

“You went off with the key, Doctor. You were writing up the Fountain
dope. I knew the files weren’t locked but I was leaving Miss Farwell in
charge, you see. I was gone only a few minutes. I never dreamed that she
herself would open the files. How could I?”

The secretary had nothing more to say, nothing more to look. Her face
was paper white—white with anger at Petra, at herself, at Doctor Pryne.
She went into her own little office and shut the door behind her with
something approximating a slam. In another second the racket of an angry
typewriter came in from her office by way of the doctor’s open windows.


“Better put those cards away now. Are they in their right order?”

Petra looked down from Doctor Pryne’s cold face to her hands and what
they were all unconsciously still holding. She put the cards back into
the drawer with careful quickness. “Yes, they are in their right order.”
She almost whispered it. Her throat felt thick. Perhaps she was going to
lose her speech as McCloud had lost his, or it might be tears.

“Petra! Why _did_ you?”

“I wanted to know about this Neil McCloud. I was terribly interested.”

“Why?” And then with sudden sick suspicion Lewis asked, “Do you know his
wife? Is that why you were interested?”

Petra nodded. “I do know Edyth, of course. She’s one of Clare’s friends.
And I knew her before that, in Cambridge. But I didn’t know she was like
this—cruel....”

“Petra, this is impossible. I simply can’t take it in, what you’ve
done!” He was feeling in various pockets with quick exasperated motions
as he spoke, but his eyes had not left her face. “Lord! Miss Frazier was
right. Here’s the key. That lets her out.” He added, “And us in—you and
me in deep together. We both ought to go to jail.”

Petra exclaimed, “Not you! You couldn’t know I might be—abnormally
dishonorable. But I haven’t told you really why I did it. And you asked.
I didn’t know McCloud was that McCloud—Edyth’s husband. I didn’t even
think about the names being the same. He came to the office this morning
to see you. I said he must wait till to-morrow. Janet said that was a
mistake, that you would have seen him. It came to me, while Janet was
out at lunch, that if I had known about this case, McCloud’s case—as
Janet knew about it—I wouldn’t have made the mistake. So I walked right
in here and looked him up—the way you would in a library, you know, a
Who’s Who or something. I wanted to be efficient, to understand what it
was all about. But I _was_ crazy. It was as bad as reading private
letters. I see that now. I’m not like Shelley. The heat numbs me. My
brains stand still....”

“It looks as if they did!” But then he was sorry. He needn’t have said
that. But could he believe her in what she had just said? Could he
believe that it had not been mere curiosity about the mistaken marriage
of a woman she happened to know that had brought Petra to his files?
Well, strangely, he did believe her. She had lied, he supposed, about
the book she said she had been reading that afternoon at Green Doors,
and he knew she had lied about his keeping her working here after hours.
All the same, he believed that she was telling the truth now.

“I wonder what McCloud wanted. Wish I had seen him. Didn’t he leave any
message?” He would make her forget his anger, which was so quickly
passing.

Petra told him what McCloud had written, except for the upside-down
sentence. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you he came, since he asked me
particularly not to. But I couldn’t have you think it was because I knew
Edyth. Curiosity of that sort—well, I wouldn’t have felt any temptation.
Truly, I wouldn’t.”

His eyes were studying her face. She went on, “Of course, you will fire
me. There’s no reason you shouldn’t. But since it was you who made my
stepmother cut my allowance in two, you ought to persuade her to give it
back again—if I’m not to have this job now. Will you do that?”

She stopped, waiting for him to answer. But he said nothing, merely
continued to look at her, while his expression changed. It was ice
again. With the instinct to justify herself she stammered, “I told you—I
_told you_—at the guest house—Saturday—that it was a _salary_ Clare paid
me, not an allowance. I know that she said it wasn’t so—that very
night—that you heard her. But why should you believe her more than me?
Anyway, I must have that thousand again. It is your fault I lost it.”

“But don’t you want to keep this job?” Lewis asked.

He was beginning to admit to himself, at last, that Petra Farwell was
beyond him. He simply did not understand her.

“Yes. I do want to keep it. Very much. But how can I—after this?”

“I think it would be much better to keep it and make a success of it
than—than go back to the twenty-four-hour-a-day stepdaughter job. Don’t
you?”

Petra nodded. She had a voice but she did not trust it.

“Easier, even?”

Again she nodded.

“Well, you’re a great help to Miss Frazier. She says so.”

“She won’t now.” She _sounded_ all right. You couldn’t hear a tear.

“Oh, yes, I think she will. She was angry with herself just now, more
than with you, I imagine. Just as I was—with myself, I mean. Am still,
as a matter of fact. Miss Frazier realized that she should have warned
you about the privacy of the files and I knew that it was very nearly
criminal of me to leave the files unlocked while I was out. So we’ve all
had a miserable time of it. Did you look at anything besides McCloud’s
history, by the way?”

“No.”

“All right. If you’ll only wait a little this afternoon till I’m free,
Petra, I’d like the pleasure of driving you out to Meadowbrook. I want
you to finish about Teresa. Of course, you know that.”

“Dick’s driving me out.” But as Petra saw Doctor Pryne’s disappointment,
she said quickly almost the precise words she had said earlier to Dick,
“But it wouldn’t pay you, anyway, even if he wasn’t. Clare is giving a
big dinner party to-night and she’ll be busy seeing to things. She does
the flowers herself, cuts them and everything. It takes simply hours.”

“Good Lord! What has Mrs. Farwell’s cutting the flowers to do with it?
It is you I want to talk to. When will you finish about Teresa, then?
You said when we were alone next. And will you take me to see her? I
have been looking forward to seeing her again ever since our talk—at the
guest house.”

Lewis saw the look of deviousness creep over Petra’s face then, and he
knew, almost certainly, that whatever she said next would have no
reality in it. She was baffling to exasperation.

“I’ll take you to see Teresa if she invites you. But there’s nothing
more to tell you, really. Only I beg you not to mention her to Clare
again, not to tell her any more of all that I told you. I don’t know how
much you did tell her. She hasn’t said a word about it and I haven’t
asked. But you won’t again, will you?”

“My dear! That was a stupid slip I made. I broke my promise of secrecy.
But why should I talk about anything with Mrs. Farwell? It is you I am
trying to talk with—and you put me off. You don’t say anything _true_ to
me any more.”

“What do you want to know? About Teresa, I mean? I’ve told you the
absolute truth about her.”

“Yes, I know that—as far as it went. But I want the rest, all of it!”
Lewis exclaimed. “What Teresa did next. You said she was ready to become
a secretary and something happened. I want to know what happened, what
she is doing now, how things are with her. I’ve been waiting days.”

But even before Petra opened her lips, Lewis gave up hope of her
answering him truly. He saw her choosing between several possible
answers. And when she said, deliberately, very carefully, “Teresa got
her chance to go to college. She supports herself by dress-designing.
She’s all right, thank you,” Lewis knew that while these might be facts,
they weren’t the truth; they left him exactly where he had been left
Saturday. He knew not one real thing more. The swordlike reticence in
Petra’s gentian eyes guarded her against his knowing now every bit as
effectively as against Clare’s, her father’s, and Dick’s. But Dick!
Saturday Dick had seemed to stand with Clare and Farwell over against
Petra’s guard. But had that, perhaps, changed? Certainly he was very
much in evidence—lunching with Petra to-day, driving her out to-night.
Lewis himself had been away four days. Anything could have happened in
four days. Had Dick waked up, come to his senses?

“There’s your telephone,” he said then. “It’s been ringing some time.
Miss Frazier can’t hear it with her door shut and typing like that.
You’d better see to it. It’s your job.”

Petra flew to her desk, shutting the doctor’s door softly, on the wing.
The one thought she took with her, and it was utterly comforting, in
spite of the tears in her throat, was that she still had a job.



                           _Chapter Thirteen_


Saturday noon Lewis came near having a scene with his secretary, when he
insisted that, for once, she must take the half holiday. “No, you cannot
have the next chapter.” He felt rather like an ugly dog barking up at
her, with his paws on a bone—the bone his manuscript. “I’ve got to keep
it to revise. I fumbled it terribly last night. Couldn’t seem to
concentrate. You get along out to some beach or other. Lie in the sun.
You’re white as a daisy. Good-by and thanks.”

There had been strife; but Lewis, continuing to ape the behavior of a
dog with his bone, and doing it rather successfully, had finally won and
Miss Frazier went for her hat and bag. But she came back in a second to
explain, “Petra is staying to practice typing. Won’t it disturb you if
you’re working here? Mr. Wilder is coming for her at four. She wants to
wait for him.”

“What! Again?” But Lewis pulled himself up. He said in answer to her
question, “I don’t think it’ll disturb me. That door is very nearly
soundproof.”

“I want to tell you that she is broken-hearted about yesterday, Doctor.
She can’t get over it. Nothing like that will ever happen again, I know.
She’s awfully silly in some ways but she’s—she’s all right. Really she
is.”

“Yes, I know she is.” But Lewis looked up with quick gratitude at his
secretary. She was rather all right herself, he was thinking. He smiled
at her. It was a more human, a more personal smile than she had ever had
from her employer before. She smiled, dimly, back. She was silly
herself, a thousand times sillier than Petra. If Doctor Pryne saw that
she was fighting tears, he would think she had gone out of her head. She
turned quickly away.

In the reception office Janet said to Petra, “The door’s soundproof.
Doctor Pryne mightn’t even know you are staying if I hadn’t told him.
But it’s a long time till four. Don’t work too hard. I’ll meet you
Sunday at twelve.”

Petra answered, her hands suspended over the typewriter keys, “I love
it, Janet. I love typing. You’re going to be proud of me some day. I’ll
be as good a secretary as you are. To-morrow at noon, yes. How nice it
will be!”

That was at two. At three-thirty Lewis put the manuscript chapter into
his brief-case and got up, stretching. He lit a cigarette, turned to the
window and stood looking out for a minute. Then he took a few quick
paces back and forth between the windows and the reception-office door.
Then he pushed the patients’ easy chair from its usual position till its
back was at the window for whatever breeze there was. Dick was coming
for Petra at four. Lewis himself expected McCloud at the same time.
Well, this was only half-past three. He opened the door into his
reception office.

Petra was working at shorthand now, her typewriter covered up until
Monday. One hand was in her curls, ruffling them, and she appeared to be
eating the rubber end of her pencil. She looked at Lewis dazedly. She
was white with the heat in the stuffy little room. The doors should all
have been opened—or else she shouldn’t have stayed. It was not quite so
warm as yesterday, but it was bad enough.

“There’s a breeze in my office,” Lewis said. “A baby one, but rather
nice. Put away the lessons, do, and come along in. I’m going to lay off
too—till four.”

The violet of her frock was cool against the dark leather of the
patients’ chair. Why did she wear a yellow belt? Her thin stockings were
yellow, gold-yellow. Yellow and violet, with her gentian eyes, and vital
gold-brown curls brushed on her neck, back from her ears, made Petra too
lovely to look at with a level gaze. Why shouldn’t Petra care hugely
about clothes and spend all the dollars a year on them she could lay her
hands on—if clothes did this! The yellow belt was magic—a narrow yellow
magic made of nothing in the world but a silly, twisted bit of silk
cord.

Hundreds of women had sat in that chair facing Lewis, for years past,
and at no other time could he recall noticing what one of them had worn.
But he could no more help noticing this violet, cool frock of Petra’s
with the yellow belt than he could help noticing the texture of flowers
near at hand. The loveliness of Petra’s frocks was as inescapable as the
loveliness of flowers.

He offered her a cigarette. She took one but only, he felt, because she
did not see what they were going to talk about and this was something to
relieve the awkwardness.... This time, when he held the match for her,
their eyes did not meet....

Lewis put his arm along his desk. First of all, he had a duty to
perform. He should have done it yesterday had he not taken it for
granted it was unnecessary. But in the middle of the night he had been
bothered by that taking for granted. Now was the time to get it off his
mind,—and pray heaven it was not too late.

“You’re not to mind what I’m going to say, Petra. Probably it’s totally
unnecessary. But you will give me your promise now, won’t you, quite
solemnly, never so long as you live, to tell any one—any one at
all—anything that you learned about my patient McCloud yesterday. You
haven’t mentioned any of it to a soul, have you?”

Petra looked at him. No faltering now. Truth was on the way. She said
almost before he had finished, “No, of course I haven’t told a soul and
of course I promise. I do understand and you can trust me.” But even as
she finished, panic came. She put her hand to her mouth. She had
remembered something. Lewis _saw_ her remember.

His heart sank. This was too bad—too terribly too bad. He exclaimed,
“You have told some one, Petra. Who? In God’s name!”

“No,—no, I haven’t—” But she stopped the lie. She couldn’t lie to this
man. In the first place, he could spot it. In the second place, she did
not want to, somehow. She said, miserably, “I told Teresa. I told her
every word. I’d forgotten. But that doesn’t count as telling. It’s like
telling one’s self. She is so safe.... I told her that McCloud was
Edyth’s husband. She had known her in Cambridge. And all about the
flying accident. I told her that. And his mother’s dying. I told her,
too, how McCloud had only seen his baby at the hospital. Less than two
weeks. That seemed so unjust—so cruel! Oh, yes, I guess I told Teresa
everything. You see—You see, _I thought she might help_.”

“Petra! You are terrible!” Lewis groaned. “You’re impossible!”

But Petra seemed not to mind his consternation. She was looking past
Lewis’ head, a question in her eyes. Lewis swung around and there was
Neil McCloud himself, standing midway in the room—his expression
murderous.

McCloud was early for his appointment and had expected to be kept
waiting until four at least. But when he found the reception room
deserted and the doctor’s door wide open, he naturally came to it. It
had taken him some seconds to take it in—what was going on here—that the
man he had entrusted with his confidences as implicitly as if he had
been a priest in the confessional was using those confidences as a peg
on which to hang a flirtation with a beautiful new secretary. They sat
here in the place where he had written it all, hashing it over together.
Telling his secrets.... As Edyth had hashed over things with her father,
old man Dayton, telling his secrets.... Terrible secrets....

For in this moment he remembered what Pryne had so long wanted him to
remember! Pryne had questioned and questioned. Coaxed at his strangely
blank memory. And nothing doing. But now it was here. Clear, bright as a
lightning flash. Now, when remembering was no good to anybody! What the
old man had said, over the telephone, when McCloud had called him up
that night to ask him what he had done with Edyth and their son, was
this:

“Edyth has told me everything. You killed your brother. You broke your
mother’s heart. But you shan’t break my daughter’s heart and ruin my
grandson’s life. I have the power to protect my own. There isn’t
anything you can say. _Don’t say a word._”

And you had been obedient. You had gone dumb from that minute. In
obedience to Edyth’s father, who knew that you had killed your brother
and broken your mother’s heart. Edyth had told him all that. Told the
old man. All the things you had told her before you would marry her, in
sacred confidence. And now the old man was shouting at you through the
telephone. It was as if no time had passed since. As if you were hearing
it this minute, while you stood frozenly staring at Pryne and his
stenographer: “There isn’t anything you can say. Don’t say a word.”

Let the old brute shout! Keep on shouting through your brain! You don’t
mind it now. At least this one thing about you, Pryne shouldn’t ever
possess. One little bit he wouldn’t tell his beautiful
stenographer—simply because he wouldn’t ever know it. And now you’d get
out,—right out into the darkness which had been compassing you ever
since the moment the kid went out in your arms.

Pryne was getting up. The girl was up too. Why didn’t your hate and
scorn blast them where they stood? It was strong enough to do that. But
hate failing, there was the revolver. No! Shut up. Don’t think of that.
The kid—Mother—those were lives enough for you to have destroyed.
Two—three steps, and you would follow those beloveds into the dark void.
You should have followed before. But instead you had come whining for
help to this—fashionable psychiatrist. Hell! Your teeth were clenched
with the will it took not to put your hand to the pocket holding the
revolver. It was essential that you should be outside the door, that it
should be between you and them, or Pryne might somehow manage to spoil
it. The doctor had a look in his eyes—as if he suspected or even knew
your intention. But you weren’t even touching your pocket. Your hands
were at your sides. Straight down. How could Pryne know what you were
going to do?

Well, Pryne wouldn’t move, wouldn’t interfere, you were sure of it, as
long as you kept your eyes steady and your hands at your sides. You
started backing toward the door, holding the skunk where he was with
your scorn of him, and his girl beside him there, wide-eyed and scared.
She was a damned beauty. You had been right when you told her so. You
would back through the door. They should not stir. Then you would close
it with one lightning motion. But you must remember to use the left
hand. The right must be kept for the business of shooting your brains
out before either of them could stir. It would be a neat job. That was
one thing they should never hash over together,—your _attempted_
suicide. Attempted! Like hell, attempted! You’d have one clean mark for
that, so help you Christ.

At that moment McCloud’s seeking heel felt the rise of the doorsill, the
rim of the dark void.



                           _Chapter Fourteen_


On Wednesday Neil McCloud had lost his job of mechanic for the Ajax
people. At least the top boss had come along and Neil had surmised from
the dark looks he cast in his direction, as he spoke in a confidentially
low tone to Neil’s boss, that he was ragging him for keeping on such a
handicapped man when there were hundreds of good men to choose from. So
Neil had gone up, as soon as the fellow had left, and discharged
himself. His boss had a wife and small children. Nobody’s position was
any too secure these days. And the top boss had had a very nasty look in
his eye not only for Neil, but for Neil’s benefactor. Neil had quaked
under it. But not for himself. So he walked out of the place, just
another fellow out of a job.

A week ago, he had done a rash thing. One of the friends of his married
days—still, supposedly, a friend of Edyth’s—had seen him in crowded
Summer Street, rushed up to him and said that she must have some money.
Her husband had failed to meet her with it as he had promised, her bags
were waiting in the South Station for a week-end she was spending on the
Cape with friends, Neil must give her every cent he had on him and
probably that wouldn’t be enough! But would he hurry! He _had_ hurried.
He pulled his roll from his pocket—Saturday was pay day—and pushed it
into pretty, smart Joyce Clayton’s yawning snakeskin purse. His only
thought during the act was gratitude that the woman was in such a
tearing hurry that she seemed not to notice his wordlessness. It was his
pride that none of that crowd should know how things were with him, and
until this meeting with Joyce, success had seemed childishly easy; they
hadn’t bothered. But as Joyce had rolled off in the taxi into which he
had put her silent—and she not noticing his wordlessness—she had leaned
out and called back, “Your address, Neil darling! For heaven’s sake,
what is it? I’ll send a check to-morrow.” He had smiled, raised his hat
and blotted himself out from her eyes in the crowds of Summer Street.
When he discovered that he hadn’t even any loose change in his pocket
and must walk back to his room supperless and even put off breakfast
until he could borrow at the works on next week’s salary, he was not
much concerned. He had some chocolate in his room and plenty of
cigarettes. The chocolate served for supper and breakfast, and the few
dollars he let himself borrow on Monday kept him fed until Wednesday,
when—instead of asking for more—he walked out penniless an hour after
getting to the garage. There would be no more wages to ask an advance
on.

He walked over to the Common and sat on a bench all morning, doing what
he described to himself as face the situation. But every little while he
stopped looking into the ugly face of his predicament and tried to
speak. If he could only even whisper! He tried to say his own name. He
tried it dozens of times but the only result was the ghost of a sob.

When the noon bells and whistles sounded he came, before they ceased, to
a determination. He would look for work—yes—go into machine shops and
garages with pencil and pad in his hand, and offer his services. He
would face down all the curiosity and jeers that would come to him for
his inability to speak. He would scour Boston for any sort of job where
speech was not essential. But he would not go to any one to borrow money
for food. If he got a job, O.K. If not, starving would be a natural way
out and nobody, not even his guardian angel, could call it suicide.

Neil had followed what seemed to him this fair plan with action. Hungry,
he had job-hunted steadily, until Friday morning. Friday morning, in the
pursuit of the impossible job, he had stumbled, in a dirty alley, on a
little abandoned paper bag half full of peanuts. Yes, it seemed too good
to be true; and indeed he was by this time in such a giddy state that it
might very easily be illusion. He had not been sure it wasn’t, until he
had them in his teeth. Then, as he threw the bag from him, empty, Neil
remembered that to-morrow his room rent would be due. But something else
about Saturday was important too. After some groping he remembered—an
appointment with Doctor Pryne.

Doctor Pryne! The handful of peanuts seemed only to have increased his
hunger. Good luck, stumbled upon so astonishingly, had weakened his
will, he thought; but anyway, he would ask Doctor Pryne for the loan of
a dollar. Then he would buy himself food. He would go now and get the
money. With meat and coffee to back him up, the Saturday’s séance must
work—_Doctor Pryne must cure him._ Anyway, it would be Neil’s last shot
before letting himself starve. There was some chance it might work.
Pryne was always holding out hope—always seemed expectant of the thing’s
breaking. But even if it didn’t work, and the cure didn’t come through
on Saturday, and consequently he never got another job, and starved, and
so never paid back that dollar,—_Pryne was a good fellow._ Neil would
rather be owing Doctor Lewis Pryne a dollar through eternity than any
other soul he knew. He’d give himself that one more chance.

So he had walked the miles up to the doctor’s office on the strength of
the peanuts. And a new girl in the reception office—only she looked like
something in a fairy tale, and almost as illusory as the peanuts—had
said Pryne couldn’t possibly see him till his appointment the next day.

What he had done between then and his return just now a little ahead of
his appointment time, Neil could not have told—or written. The one thing
he knew, knew constantly, was that he had not eaten.

Now as his groping heel found the rim of the dark, and his left hand
reached for the door knob, Neil was grateful that after all he had not
seen Doctor Pryne yesterday. Now, as it was, he would be taking no debt
to this man over the ultimate doorsill; for, in this moment of
confusion, the hours the doctor had spent on him, for which he could
never now send a bill, did not loom as debt in the young man’s aching
brain.

His fingers had the door knob. It was cold and they were hot. Neil
exulted in the knowledge that one movement of his arm, and this door
would go shut forever and ever between himself and Doctor Lewis
Pryne—Doctor Lewis Pryne who had let him down to a girl with a
fairy-tale face in a violet dress with a yellow belt....

If it had been Lewis who had moved and spoken, the door would have
slammed then and the revolver roared. But it was Petra. To Neil’s
shaking vision the fairy-tale face was flaming—unbelievably—to a white
flame of angelicness—was becoming an angel’s face, against which no door
could shut. The blue eyes were swords. The violet, the yellow were gone,
and all her clothing was winged white fire. Fear that was awe and awe
that was fear paralyzed him. She—white fire—was coming upon him—

Lewis had put out a hand to drag her back. But to that hand Petra was
not spirit nor flame. She was solid young muscular strength, breaking
loose from his clutch. Before he had got around the desk, she had
reached the boy, her arms were around his neck, her face lifted to his,
which did not bend to it—only the eyelids were dropped so that he still
saw her angelic fire.

“Neil McCloud, you’ve got it all wrong. Doctor Pryne forgot to lock his
files and I came snooping in here and read your cards. That’s why you’ve
found us talking about you. Doctor Pryne is ready to _kill_ me for it.
And I ought to be killed. But the friend I told—she will keep your
secrets. Truly she will. Or she will tell them only in her prayers! It
is the Little Flower she is especially telling. She is offering a novena
to her for you—a novena to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Do you know the
Little Flower? Teresa, she has the Little Flower’s name herself, you
see—wants you to say ‘I love.’ She said last night, ‘Love is the Word.
He must say that.’ She asked the Little Flower to help you say it. Say
it now—Neil McCloud. Try to say, _I love_.”

Lewis was close to them. Petra was wild, mad. But no madder than
McCloud. If the boy lifted a hand, Lewis was ready. He had guessed about
the revolver. He would snatch Petra back, get between them, if the man
moved a finger. Then a strange thing happened. Up in McCloud’s face,
Petra’s face seemed to be reflected—or rather a flame, a flame burning
to whiteness that couldn’t be Petra, after all. It was an unearthly wing
of light. McCloud put his hands up to Petra’s hands that were clasped on
the back of his neck—but Lewis did not stir—and took them down; but he
kept them, as if he did not know he had them still. He was not even
looking at Petra now—but beyond her.

Neil said, “The Little Flower? Yes, of course, I know her. The kid had a
special devotion to her. Mother had too. The kid thought he saw her—his
First Communion morning. In his room. By the washstand. Mother believed
him. She had an idea he might be a priest some day. But he won’t grow up
now. He’s dead. The little fellow is dead.... How does the Little Flower
feel about that—my killing him?”

“You didn’t kill him. It was a fault, not a sin, when you took him
flying. Teresa says so. But see! The Little Flower has cured you, no
matter how she feels. She has answered Teresa’s prayers.... Even without
your saying ‘I love’! Your speech is perfect—you have spoken.”

Until Petra called his attention to it, Neil had not known that he had
spoken. But it was true. His voice still hung in the room—he heard it
now in echo—the warm, unstrained voice of young manhood. It was his own
voice!...

He let Petra’s hands go then. He backed up against the door jamb to his
full exultant young height. His face was rolling with tears, but it
could not be called crying. There was no grimace of the features and his
eyes were wide open. His hands were at his side. He spoke again: “I
love. My God, I do love. I love You, my Lord and my God. Have mercy on
me, a sinner.”



                           _Chapter Fifteen_


The elevator for which Lewis had rung brought Dick Wilder up with it.
Until he saw him there, Lewis had totally forgotten that he would be
coming along about now to keep his date with Petra.

“See here,” he exclaimed, taking Dick’s arm and pushing him back into
the elevator cage ahead of himself. “Come on down with me. I’ll explain
in the street. Petra’s busy just now and can’t possibly get away.” And
by the time they had walked out through the lower hall, come to the
sidewalk and crossed to the curb where Dick’s car was parked, Lewis had
decided how much—how little, rather—he would tell Dick.

“Petra’s doing something very special for me,” he said. “Helping with a
patient. Interruption would spoil the whole thing. You’d better wait
here in your car till she comes down. I’ll stick around with you for a
few minutes, if you’ll have me; then I must get back and see what she’s
accomplished.”

“But how long will she be?” Dick asked, puzzled. “Not long, I hope.
We’re a little late already. Featherstone kept me, talking over a
commission that came in this morning.”

“Yes? Well, Petra mayn’t be able to leave for half an hour or so. But
does it matter?”

“Oh, but see here, Lewis! She can’t be half an hour—or anything like it.
God! Do you expect me just to sit here in this heat?”

“Shut up!” Lewis’ anger blazed. It was too soon after that other voice,
McCloud’s, new-found, racked with love, had uttered the Name—and Lewis
could not bear it. But after all, Dick had not been there. He could not
know how shocking was the sound of his casual expletive.

So, quickly contrite for the injustice of his anger, Lewis exclaimed,
“I’m sorry. I’m edgy, I think. It is blistering, isn’t it!” Lewis was
decidedly not edgy and moreover, for some time now, ever since he had
invited Petra out of the reception office to sit in the patients’ chair,
facing him, he had not been aware of the heat. But it was the only
explanation of his mood he cared to trust Dick with, at the moment. And
his friend accepted it as reasonable.

“Oh, that’s all right.” Dick turned off Lewis’ apology, embarrassed,
then added quickly, “But look here. I’m taking the Farwell family to the
Meadowbrook Country Club for dinner. And there’s a tea party at Green
Doors first. Very special! In honor of little Sophia’s second birthday.
Her grandmother is coming—Clare’s mother. No one else. Clare’s counting
on Petra, of course. Why, she’ll be terribly disappointed if I don’t get
Petra there in the shortest possible time now. Do you see?”

Lewis did see, perfectly. Again Petra was to be forced into the role of
baby-snubber. Only this time it was his, Lewis’, fault.

“Too bad,” he said. “A pity. But what Petra is doing now is even more
important than two-year-old birthday parties. Take my deepest apologies
to Mrs. Farwell, will you please, and tell her that I was tiresome and
unreasonable and that Petra had nothing to say about it. Do that and
I’ll drive her out myself—get her there in time for your dinner at the
latest. I promise.”

“Well, Lewis, old-timer, I can only say that it seems to me you’re
taking a funny way to help Petra learn how to treat Clare. I don’t see
how anything can be quite so important as you’re making this out to be.
Really! If Clare forgives you, she’s an angel. But she will, of course.
She _is_ an angel.”

“That’s reassuring. But seriously, Dick, it’s none of my business how
Petra treats her stepmother. Thought I’d made that plain. As a matter of
fact, though, and just from the outside, she seems to me to be playing
her part at Green Doors rather well.—If you aren’t going to wait, you’d
better get along and explain, hadn’t you?”

“Yes, I suppose I had. Clare can’t keep little Sophia up, of course.
Somebody must be there before the cake and the candles to explain about
Petra and help make a party. But be sure to get her out in time to dress
for dinner, won’t you! Where will you dine yourself, Lewis? At the
Allens’?”

“Perhaps. It doesn’t matter.... Cynthia’ll think I have a Meadowbrook
complex for sure, if I turn up three times within the week!”

The last was spoken to himself as he stood on the curb, watching Dick’s
car nose out and creep away in the traffic. Lewis would give Petra and
McCloud another ten minutes before returning to his office. He went
across to the Public Garden in the hope of finding an empty bench where
he could smoke while waiting that ten minutes. But he wondered, as he
went, what Dick would have thought, could he know how Lewis had left
Petra occupied up there,—if he could see her, as Lewis had seen her from
the door before he closed it softly. Dick would, of course, think him
quite mad. But he was not mad. Lewis knew himself as sane—and as
collected—as he had ever been in his life.

McCloud, after his declaration of love, had walked past Petra and Lewis,
not seeing them any more, and dropped on his knees by the patients’
chair. There he had put his head down in his folded arms on the leather
cushion. Lewis himself had stayed where he was, inert and doubtful of
what to do. As a psychiatrist, he had no cue for further action. But
Petra felt no hesitation. She did not even so much as glance at Lewis
for approval of her intention when she quickly followed McCloud, and
quietly seating herself on the arm of the patients’ chair, put her hand
down on his dark head. After that, there was no sound or motion in the
place.

... Petra’s eyes met Lewis’ through the stillness. He smiled his slight,
fleeting smile—a smile that declared both his gravity and his
comprehension. Then he got out of there, leaving Petra alone with
McCloud, as quietly as he could. McCloud, when he returned to common
day, had better find himself with Petra than with a psychiatrist. It was
his best chance—Lewis was certain—of hanging on to the liberty he had
regained, over the first minutes of difficult adjustments.

Lewis found his vacant bench in the garden and lit a cigarette. A
squirrel, boldest and most insensitive of all animals to the moods of
humans, came rollicking up to his feet. A motion picture of a squirrel’s
gyrations, slowed down, ought to be excitingly beautiful. Lewis had long
intended to buy a moving-picture camera for the one purpose of taking
organic life in motion,—flowers opening, horses trotting, unconscious
children playing. But so far he had not had the price,—not been willing
to give it, anyhow. At this very minute the clinic was in crying need of
a new ceiling. If he didn’t scare up the money for that and set them to
work on it, the plaster would be coming down on people’s heads. You
couldn’t wait for the hospital trustees to get around to vote the money.
The psychological effect of such dinginess was bad for the patients
too....

The Little Flower! Saint Thérèse of Lisieux! It was precisely as if a
friend of some of Lewis’ best friends had stepped in between him and his
patient this afternoon, curing the patient. For the Little Flower was no
far-off legend-enshrouded figure in Christian myth. She was of modern
times. She had died, in fact, a girl then of twenty-five, only half a
dozen years before Lewis was born. His mother’s contemporary! And in
dying she had asked the privilege of spending her heaven doing good upon
earth; and since then countless miracles had been credited to her
interventions. Joseph Duffield, Lewis’ one greatest friend, had had,
during the last few years of his life, what he in his Catholic
terminology called a special devotion to this particular saint. Joseph
had died, as it happened, midway in a novena he and his wife were making
to the Little Flower for the cure of his angina. Strangely, her
husband’s death and the unhealing grief it had brought her had not
shaken Laura Duffield’s faith in the Little Flower’s loving goodness.
There was even now a framed picture of the Little Flower on the bookcase
in Laura’s bedroom where she had moved Michael when he fell so ill.
Lewis had often looked across the suffering, paralyzed little form
during his long watches this past week, and himself taken heart from the
pure smiling face of the young saint.

Michael, too, knew Thérèse and loved Thérèse best after Mary and Joseph
of all the saints his grandmother had taught him to reverence. The boy
had told Lewis that first night he spent with him in his rooms, that he
had begged the Little Flower—begged her over and over—to make his
grandmother well again, right up until his separation from her at the
clinic that afternoon. And when that did not happen, Michael had gone on
praying and loving Thérèse all the same, as soon as the first spasm of
homesickness passed a little. Laura Duffield, when Lewis had remarked on
this persistence of the boy’s faith in this particular saint, had
smilingly said that to her mind that was one of the Little Flower’s
favorite miracles, preserving and even increasing faith in the hearts
whose dearest desires she could not, in God’s mercy, answer.... It was
the miracle beyond miracles, Laura had said, this increased love and
faith in the face of denial. Didn’t Lewis himself see that?


The squirrel was now actually on Lewis’ knee, begging with nose and paws
and eyes for nuts. But Lewis looked through the avid little beggar as
through a bit of glass. Shock of some sort—he had made up his mind to
that weeks ago, hadn’t he!—was the best hope of restoring McCloud’s
speech. The only question had been how to procure a shock that would not
be calamitous. Well, this afternoon, McCloud had had his shock. Two of
them, in fact, one right on top of the other. First, the most violent
sort of anger at finding his doctor betraying his confidences. Second,
Petra’s reminding him with such unexpected suddenness of the Little
Flower—a person intimately connected with the brother for whose death
McCloud held himself responsible. It was possible even that “the kid”
had spoken Saint Thérèse’s name while dying. In any case this afternoon
had shown that she was all bound up with memories of “the kid” in
McCloud’s tortured mind. So there were the two shocks, either one of
which might easily account for the cure. Lewis admitted the
possibilities. But all the same, he was not convinced of the rational
explanation. Nor was he exactly convinced of the supernatural
explanation. He simply felt no compulsion to decide between them. Who
was he, to dare to say!

One thing only was certain. The McCloud records should be abstracted
from the files at once and burned; for no psychiatric theories, no pages
for a new book, would ever be forthcoming from this particular case.
That was Lewis’ only certainty.

The squirrel sprang away as Lewis got up. The ten minutes he had given
Petra and McCloud alone together must be up. He threw away his cigarette
and went back to the office building.

The door into his reception room was locked. That was surprising. Lewis
remembered, distinctly, that the latch had been off when he came out. It
was always off, in fact, until the place was finally shut up for the
day. He got out his latchkey, wondering.

The rooms were deserted. No Petra. No McCloud. They had both gone. But
surely Petra had interpreted Lewis’ final look at her before he closed
the door to mean he would be back almost at once. She must have known he
would want to keep McCloud in his care for the next few hours. Why, he
had left his hat there on the desk even, and his papers lay scattered.
Petra could see, if she couldn’t reason, that he was coming back.

He looked his desk over, thinking she might have left a note of
explanation for him. But she had not even done that. Then Lewis thought
he understood. She must suddenly have realized that Dick was very late,
called the architect’s office, found that Dick had left it some time
ago, decided that he was not, after all, coming for her, and dashed for
a train. But where would McCloud have gone off to, so quickly, without a
word, or a note? His room, most likely. Quickly Lewis looked up the
address. There was a telephone number, but Lewis dared not submit the
stability of the young man’s cure to such a drastic test. So he started
off in search.


A little after seven o’clock Lewis was back in his own rooms in the
apartment hotel where he lived. He had waited in his car outside
McCloud’s rooming house for something over an hour, watching for
McCloud’s return, after first making sure he was not already at home.
Then he had dined in anxious solitude in a humble restaurant and now he
was here to telephone Green Doors. He got Dick, but only to discover
that Petra had not come on the train, hadn’t showed up at all.

“But you promised to bring her yourself, I thought! We’ve been waiting.
Clare was delighted. She wants you to join our party at the Club. She
called your office the minute I told her your plan about driving Petra
out. But nobody answered. How do I know where Petra is, if you don’t?”

Lewis explained—but it sounded stupid in his own ears—that he and Petra
had missed each other somehow and she had never learned that he _was_
driving her out to Meadowbrook. She must have taken a train. Please
would Dick have her call Lewis at his rooms here the minute she came. It
was important. Yes, Lewis would wait in for the call.

After that, there was nothing Lewis could do but wait and try to read,
or work on the book. He would read. He wished he had installed an
electric fan this summer. It had been the expense, again, that had
deterred him. But this was a most oppressive variety of heat. Not a
breath. Extraordinary. You didn’t often get nights like this so close to
the Atlantic. A good thing he hadn’t let Cynthia hang curtains at his
windows. Every particle of air that could come in was here in his
curtainless rooms. Lewis took “Phantastes” down from his bookshelves and
settled into a chair against one of the windows to read. He had
hesitated between “Phantastes” and “Saint Augustine’s Confessions,” and
finally chosen the former. His recent talk with Cynthia on the subject
of Petra was the deciding factor.

Eight. Half-past eight. Quarter to nine. Dick must have forgotten to
tell Petra to call, that was all. They would be just about finishing
dinner at the Club now. Lewis would make himself wait until nine, to
make certain not to interrupt Dick’s dinner party, and then call.

This time he asked for Miss Farwell herself, but if she was not there
then Mr. Richard Wilder. It was Dick who came, and with promptness.
“Yes, just finished dinner. I was right here by the boxes, going to call
you. Petra hasn’t showed up. Clare wants to speak to you.”

“Doctor Pryne? Good evening. I’m really rather anxious, you know. What’s
become of Petra? Where is she? Dick doesn’t seem to have got it quite
straight.”

If Clare knew Teresa Kerr’s whereabouts, Lewis would have asked her for
the address then and there, in spite of the taboo Petra had imposed on
mentioning Teresa to anybody at Green Doors, for of course it had
occurred to him that Petra must have taken McCloud to see Teresa. If she
was living in Boston. It was she, Teresa, who had prayed for his cure to
Saint Thérèse. It was she who had understood that McCloud could say “I
love.” But Clare, Lewis was sure, knew nothing of Teresa Kerr’s present
existence. So he merely said, “The whole thing is due to my stupidity.
We missed somehow, Petra and I. But I am sure she is all right, that
there’s nothing to worry about. Only please ask her to call me the
minute she does turn up, will you. I am waiting in to talk with her.
Here at my rooms. Thanks so much.”

Lewis had been sincere in his assurances to Clare that Petra was all
right and that there was no cause for anxiety on the part of her
stepmother. Lewis’ only real anxiety at that time was about McCloud. He
wanted to know whether the cure had lasted; and it seemed hard, having
merely to sit here and wait for that information until Petra called him
up. He grew more certain as the evening wore on that she had taken him
to Teresa and that they were there now. The McCloud business had simply
put Green Doors and all her social obligations right out of Petra’s
mind. You could not wonder at that. Lewis’ own mind had had room for
nothing else since, in spite of his pretended reading of many pages,
already thrice familiar, of George MacDonald’s “Phantastes.”

He gave up even the pretense of reading now and started pacing his
sitting room. It was a large, long, low room, almost bare of furniture.
The partitions joining three rooms had been knocked out to make it. The
two things Lewis demanded of his living quarters were spaciousness and
absence of unessentials. So this sitting room of his—to which he had let
Cynthia do nothing—was rather like a very large, beautifully
proportioned cell,—except for a grand piano at one end set between
corner windows. This was a beautiful rosewood instrument, beautiful in
itself as a vase of flowers or a fire on a hearth. And it was heaped
with stacks of musical scores. Lewis read music for diversion as other
people read books. Sometimes he played to his reading—ghostlily, for his
mind alone. But whether his hands gave him back the sounds he read as
ghostly echo or not, he usually did his music-reading sitting at the
piano as if he were playing. The instrument itself, even when he was not
touching the keys, seemed in some inexplicable way to enrich his
comprehension of the scores. Bach and Brahms were the masters he
consorted with most, but he often turned to César Franck as well, and
understood him.

Above the piano between the windows, Lewis had hung a picture, framed in
narrow black wood. It was about a foot square, no more, and the only
picture in the room. Three trees, done in ordinary pencil. The first
impression was of meaning and beauty. The lines of the trees and the
grasses at their roots flowed upward with an ineffable sweep of freedom.
Even the trunks were fluid. That was the first strong impression. But if
one looked again, came nearer, one was surprised at oneself for having
seen it as full of meaning because now one guessed that here was but
another modernistic performance, seemingly careless, yet (if one was
given the grace to understand it) tremendously sophisticated—a
production of the very latest moderns. Then if one stayed on there,
trying to regain one’s first genuine thrilling response to loveliness,
one saw better: now the upward fluid sweep of the trees’ living lines
was pure unaffected copying of what some fresh, pure vision had seen. A
child! It was a child’s drawing.

It was, indeed, one of little Michael Duffield’s drawings. If Michael
kept this way of _seeing_ (for that was what his drawing was now, pure
_seeing_) through the rapids of adolescence, where so much is torn apart
and swept away as well as so much gathered together and added to in the
make-up of the psyche, Michael would be one of the masters. A great
artist. Lewis was certain of it. Meanwhile, this one drawing was enough
for Lewis to possess, of the hundreds Laura Duffield so carefully
cherished. When the piano was silent and the musical scores were put
away, it filled the room for him with perpetual music.

Lewis stopped his pacing. What sense was there in all this miserable
anxiety, when trees rose up out of the earth, like that, fluid, peace in
their flowing boughs! He went to the piano bench—opened Brahms’ Rhapsody
in G-minor—smoked and read, read and smoked.

It was after midnight when the telephone rang in the bedroom. He was
there almost before the second ring had started, sitting on his bed,
lifting the instrument from the table by the pillow. He knew it must be
Petra. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Lewis speaking.” Not Doctor Pryne. At
midnight, after two hours with Brahms, one’s surname is a thing of
peculiar unreality, impossible to speak seriously. Hence his “Lewis
speaking.” But there was silence on the wire. For a breath there came no
response to his announcement of baptismal selfhood. So he spoke again,
with an almost fantastic presumption, into the night at large, “Petra!
Are you there.... Petra?”



                           _Chapter Sixteen_


Out of the dark, out of the invisible, Lewis got his response: “Yes,
this is Petra. I hope you hadn’t gone to sleep. They said you wanted me
to call you. I’m sorry it’s so late.”

“That’s all right. No, I’m still up. But look here, Petra, of course I
want to know about McCloud. What you did with him. How he is.” And then
Lewis could not help adding to that, “Petra, have you only just got
home?”

Again the brief silence. Because of the hour, the stillness, and all the
Brahms in which Lewis was steeped, the stillness on the wire took on the
proportions of a cosmic stillness. Or was she only hesitating between
fabrication and fabrication—between stories to tell him? If he could
only see her face, he would know.

Finally, “Yes, I’ve just come in. Clare waited up for me. I’d forgotten
to telephone her, you see; I put it off, and then forgot it. I worried
them, I guess. But it was Neil—made me forget. Yes, he is all right. He
was starving, Doctor Pryne. Friday, when he came to the office, he was
starving. He lost his job early in the week. He came Friday to borrow a
dollar for food. Teresa and I have been feeding him up. He’s coming
around to-morrow to talk with you, at your hotel, at ten o’clock.... Is
that all right?”

She had paused before the question,—afraid, apparently, that she might a
second time have made a mistake. Lewis was appalled.

“But Petra! Starving! This is a bad business. Where is he now? Do you
mean he hasn’t money to buy meals with? What about his breakfast
to-morrow morning?”

“Oh, I loaned him some money, all he would take. He’s gone back to his
room. He thinks they’ll trust him for the rent until he gets a job. He’s
perfectly sure he’ll get a job, now, you see,—now that he’s all right,
you know. He’s terribly confident. He’s going to try to sell cars again.
He says he has a knack for that....”

“You say you and Teresa fed him.—Teresa—” Lewis stopped. But surely now
the barrier was broken down! Teresa was no longer to remain a mystery.
For after all, Lewis and Petra and McCloud and Teresa were now linked
together by the twist fate had taken this day. But Petra did not catch
the implications of his tone and his hesitation. She offered no further
details of the evening’s doings. Where they had fed the starving man,
what they had fed him, and Teresa’s part in it all, were not
forthcoming. “Is it all right about to-morrow at ten? That Neil should
come to see you then?”

“Of course. I wish he had come to breakfast, though. I wish you had
waited till I came back, this afternoon. Why didn’t you, Petra?”

“That’s what Teresa said, that we should have waited. But when I found
that Neil was _hungry_—everything else went out of my mind. I’m sorry.”

“My dear! You have nothing to be sorry about. You’d better be rather
satisfied with your day’s work, I should say! I hope your family
understand that your not turning up for the birthday party was—was not
your fault in any way.”

Petra lowered her voice to answer that. It was almost a whisper. Lewis
suspected then that she was afraid that her end of this midnight
conversation might be overheard. Clare had waited up for her. “I
couldn’t really explain anything much about it, Doctor Pryne. You
see—he—Neil—doesn’t want any one to know about—about what’s been
happening to him. He cares a lot that nobody should know. So I just said
it was work for you—my job—that kept me away, and that it had to be
confidential. But Clare’s upset—a little.”

“I’m sorry.... I’ll write your father a note tomorrow morning, Petra.
I’d better. He will make your stepmother understand. But I’m sorry it
was unpleasant when you got home....”

“Oh, I don’t mind that. Clare wasn’t cross. Only hurt, you know. But the
evening—well, the evening has been—lovely. We’ve had a wonderful time!”

“_We’ve had a wonderful time!_” The words and the lilt in them echoed
over and over in Lewis’ head, forbidding sleep. He told himself it was
the oppressive heat of the night which held him awake, his eyes open on
the dark. At least, he told himself that in the beginning. After an hour
or more of restless tossing, however, Lewis admitted the truth. It was
Petra’s happy, excited voice saying “_We’ve had a wonderful time_” that
was making the very idea of sleep fantastic. The words and the new tone
in which she uttered them opened vistas to Lewis’ imagination. It was
absolutely inevitable in the light of to-day’s happenings that McCloud
should—_worship_ Petra. How could he fail to! Only an imbecile, given
the situation, could help it. McCloud, of course, was no imbecile. And
Petra—how would she respond to the fellow’s idolization! Now that Lewis
was at last face to face with the prophetic misery which was keeping him
wakeful, he went on with it—followed the train of thought which he had,
in his attempted self-deception, dammed up, while he tossed and blamed
the stuffiness of the night.... McCloud was a gorgeous person. Gorgeous
was a cheap adjective ordinarily, but in this one instance, it was the
right adjective. McCloud—let Lewis face it, see it—was a gorgeous
creature, not only physically, to look at, but in inward ways as well.
Directness, simplicity and courage. Those qualities make for
gorgeousness in a man. How could Petra, after to-night, fail to see
McCloud as godlike? Why, her very share in bringing him back to life—for
wasn’t that practically what she had done?—would add to her sensibility
of his splendor.

“_Oh, I don’t mind. The evening—well, the evening has been—lovely._”
Lewis laughed audibly. Why should she mind! Why had he ever thought she
might, and been concerned about it? How should a stepmother’s annoyance
tarnish such a meeting and recognition as had come into Petra’s life
to-day! The very tone in which she used McCloud’s Christian name showed
how things had gone between them.... Neil and Petra.... “My God!” said
Lewis into the dark. “Neil and Petra! Was it foreordained?” He felt a
powerful impulse to communicate further with Him of whom he had so
spontaneously asked the bitter question. He turned over and buried his
face in his crossed arms. But he did not know how to go on with the
Contact—did not know how to pray. Lewis had been born into the tradition
that formal prayers which one has by heart have no functioning quality.
One must make up one’s own prayers, for originality is the only
guarantee of His creatures’ sincerity the Omniscient will recognize. But
Lewis doubted this proud notion now, as he lay here, facing down into
the dark, helpless with the anguish of loss. If only there were
patterns: sweet, fluent channels of accustomed prayer, through which one
could pour one’s blind groping toward fortitude and peace! What was it
McCloud had said to God in Lewis’ office this afternoon? That was
prayer, certainly,—even though not uniquely and strikingly the boy’s
individual invention. “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Yes, that would
do. “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Lewis uttered the ancient
unoriginal cry-of-all-souls with stark sincerity to God imminent, God
transcendent, and added to it, after a long sweet stillness, “It is Your
justice. Why did I think Petra was for such as me? Your justice is Your
mercy, Lord.”

In the morning Lewis seemed to remember that peace had flowed into the
channel his prayer had cut through his dark with a rushing benediction
in a sound as of many waters. Peace. Then sleep.


In the weeks that followed, Cynthia Allen gradually came to admit to
herself that she had had all her worry for nothing about Lewis’ untoward
infatuation for an uninteresting young girl; for the affair—if one could
give anything so fleetingly ephemeral such a title—had blown over. She
had been silly even to imagine it serious. A person like Lewis, so
subtle, so perceptive, could not long be held in thrall to mere physical
attraction and youth, with nothing to give it depth. No, Harry had not
succeeded in convincing Cynthia of the ineptitude of qualifying passion
with “mere.” Harry was a simple soul, really, in everything except
finance. You could not expect him to understand a man like Cynthia’s
famous brother. Lewis was all intellectual subtlety. First of all, in
any contact, he would look for understanding and depth. Passion, when it
appeared, would be a by-product of the discovery of his ideal. He was
like Anodos in “Phantastes” in that. Cynthia was sure of it. He was not
common clay!

For weeks now Lewis had not come out to Meadowbrook. That was hard on
the children and on Harry. They were so devoted to him. But Cynthia
herself was not the loser. She frequently met him in town for lunch,
where she had him much more to herself than she possibly could in the
midst of the family. And it was fun gossiping with him, her interesting
brother, in undomestic freedom, giving him innumerable anecdotes of the
children, telling him what Harry thought of the financial situation
between the countries, and in our own country, and of what she herself
thought of the latest selections of the book clubs. Cynthia subscribed
to all the American book clubs and had recently added an English one to
the list.... And sometimes, always in fact, she slipped in gossip of
Green Doors; for Green Doors and its inmates fascinated Cynthia
increasingly. The life there—the people who came and went—the parties,
the talk—all of it was just a degree above anything Cynthia had ever
experienced before of sophistication and a “newer, larger liberty of
thought and feeling.” The air was electric. She remarked on it often.

Why, even Petra now interested her, rather, and had taken her place as
part of the general fascination of all that made Clare’s life so
dramatic. For Petra was having a romance; and all the world loves a
lover—at least when no relations are involved. It was that attractive
young Irishman, Neil McCloud. Petra had picked him up somehow, all on
her own, without anybody’s help, it seemed. Cynthia’s curiosity as to
the precise how of that had never been satisfied, exactly. But he was
forever at Green Doors these days—followed Petra around like a faithful
dog—literally. If they weren’t engaged, it was obvious they were the
next thing to it. Perhaps they were engaged and were refraining from
mentioning it until Edyth Dayton McCloud should return from Switzerland
with a divorce in her pocket. Cynthia often imagined to herself—and with
some enjoyment—how the snobbish Daytons were going to feel when they
woke to the fact that the husband whom Edyth had so casually jilted was
marrying Lowell and Clare Farwell’s extraordinarily beautiful daughter.
Cynthia imagined that the wedding, when it came, would be at Green
Doors, outside, on the terrace or lawn; for Clare had no use for stuffy
churches and organized religion, although she was more religious,
Cynthia was sure of it, than most so-called pious people. Clare lived
her religion without any pretense. She would plan a beautiful wedding.
It was pretty wonderful of her, too, to take Neil McCloud in as she had
done, without apparent question or hesitation. Petra liked him. Petra
admired him. That was enough for Petra’s stepmother. She was ready to
like and admire him also. But it was only good luck and no special
credit to Petra’s discrimination, Cynthia felt, that nobody could help
liking the man. He was a perfect darling.

To-day Lewis himself had taken the trouble to call Cynthia up and ask
her to dine with him. And he was being very generous and extravagant,
for him; he had brought her to the New World Hotel, the best dining room
in the city. It was almost the middle of August, the end of a summer
that had been the warmest in Boston’s weather record. Lewis was
beginning to show, Cynthia saw, what the strain of the vacationless
summer in the city had been. There was a perpetual white line around his
mouth, two dark hollows in his forehead, and he was certainly thinner.
But—bless him—he appeared to be as interested in herself and her chatter
as ever, and as alive to all her interests. About himself and his work
he had nothing to say except to tell her, when she asked about it, that
his new book was all but finished. The last set of proofs, in fact,
would go to the publisher within a few days.

“That’s grand,” Cynthia congratulated him. “All’s well then and the
goose hangs high?”

“Oh, yes,” he laughed. “The goose hangs high. They’ve already started
arranging in Vienna for the translation. I’ve let Mendel have it. I’ve
quite a nice letter from him about it. Came to-day. If he comes over
this fall, and he must, I think, may I bring him to Meadowbrook? I
should like him to meet you.”

Cynthia was thrilled, naturally. Between her famous brother and Green
Doors, her life held all sorts of potentialities these days. It was fun
having interests outside and a little beyond mere “Society,” with all
its futilities!

“Somebody told me Mr. Malcolm Dayton has come to you for treatment,”
Cynthia said, suddenly remembering it. “Clare told me, I think. Not
Petra. She’s as secretive with me about office affairs as if I weren’t
your sister. Is it true?”

“No,” Lewis answered. He was always a little short when she questioned
him about his patients. Cynthia never got used to it nor quite
understood it. “Where’d Mrs. Farwell get such a notion?”

“She was waiting for Petra. In the reception office. She said he came in
while she was there. She was interested, of course, on account of Neil.
Very much interested, as you may imagine!”

“Oh? But yes, I remember. He wanted to see me about a personal matter.
It was a damned interruption in office hours.”

“Was it about Neil?” Cynthia was curious almost beyond bounds. And it
would be gratifying to have some really interesting news to take to
Clare. “Has old Dayton tumbled to the situation? Does he know Neil’s
fallen on his feet—in the inner circle at Green Doors?”

“No. At least, I don’t know anything about what he knows or doesn’t know
about his son-in-law. Certainly he didn’t mention McCloud to me. He
wouldn’t. It’s to be hoped he doesn’t even know McCloud came to me for
treatment. It’s Dick Wilder’s fault that anybody knows it. He saw him
here one day and then meeting him at Green Doors he remembered. That’s
how you know, my dear Cynthia, and the Green Doors crowd. Petra never
told. No, Dayton wanted my ideas on something in connection with a new
charity he is starting. That, too, was confidential.”

“Sorry! I didn’t mean to be prying, darling. But I hope he doesn’t know
about Neil and Petra. He might get dog-in-the-mangerish feelings and
stop the divorce going through. I’m not often so hateful, but I rather
hope that Edyth is going to see what a fool she has been, too late. Why,
from her, you’d think Neil was the veriest bounder. Clare says so,
anyway. Edyth had filled Clare up with stories. Now Clare doesn’t
believe a word of any of it. She never happened to see Neil, or she
wouldn’t have believed them before, she says. But how she detests Edyth!
Now more than ever—although she has always seen through her more or
less. I always liked Edyth myself; though now, of course, I can see what
Clare means about her! It’s nice Neil makes money so easily, isn’t it,
in these times! He sold Harry a car last week—on the very day when Harry
said we simply had to begin economizing. A joke on Harry! We have no
more need of a third car than—than you have, Lewis! But after Neil had
talked a few minutes, Harry thought life wouldn’t be life without it!
He’s a super-salesman,—must be. Clare is wonderful about the whole
thing. She says they’re bound to be happy if Petra goes into it
open-eyed. Petra must realize, though, Clare says, that Neil is the type
always to have affairs. Nobody so stunning-looking, so amusing and
good-natured, can help it. But also he is the type—if Petra’ll only be a
little understanding—who’ll be reverential to his wife and simply adore
his children. All Petra will need to manage him will be a little
adroitness. That’s Clare’s only worry about it—that Petra won’t know how
to manage him. Why even now—before he’s got Petra safely for his, he
flirts with Clare herself—absurdly—under Lowell’s very nose. With me
too. But nicely, you know. I’m rather thrilled and I love seeing Harry
glower! Petra’s a lucky girl.”

Lewis had decided that he wouldn’t have dessert, after all. Only black
coffee. He’d begin drinking it while Cynthia had her ice, if she didn’t
mind. He’d have a second cup with her when she came to it. He had some
work he had to do to-night later. Lots of coffee was necessary. He had
brought some English Ovals along for Cynthia. Yes, truly. Would she have
one now—or wait?

“_He’s a type who’ll be reverential to his wife and simply adore his
children._” Petra the wife, Petra’s the children. Why, now, after weeks
of mental self-discipline and grim philosophizing—and nightly prayer—did
such a remark have the power to rock Lewis’ very being in agony?

Cynthia was eating what she considered a particularly delectable ice.
Too bad Lewis didn’t want his. “But there’s one thing may spoil the
whole show,” she went on. Her chatter to-night was tireless! “It looks
almost as if Dick himself is getting serious about Petra. Remember your
asking me why he didn’t, weeks ago? And I said, how could he? Well, he
seems to be like most men—let another male admire a woman and they begin
to think there may be something in her. Men act like sheep in their
erotic adventures. I don’t know whether Clare has noticed it. But if she
has, she probably isn’t bothering. Dick needs some one quite different
from Petra—a younger Clare. He is so utterly a product of
super-civilization. While Petra and Neil—there’s something untamed,
unaccountable, about both of them. With Neil it’s his Celtic blood, I
s’pose. I shouldn’t wonder if Petra’s mother was Irish. Those blue eyes!
Are you interested in all this chatter? Lewis, _I’m boring you_!”

“No, Cynthia. I’m not bored. Only it’s all so futile. I didn’t know you
and your friend Clare had those two already married. Haven’t either of
you remembered that Neil is a Catholic? His marriage to Edyth Dayton was
confirmed by a priest. No matter how legal a divorce she gets, so far as
McCloud is concerned, he is married to Edyth as long as they both live.”

“Oh!—But if Edyth can be free, why can’t Neil? He never mentions
anything religious. I don’t believe he gives it a thought!”

“Perhaps not. I don’t know anything about that. But if your surmise is
true, it is only temporary. In his heart McCloud would feel that any
marriage he contracted now was no marriage. Whatever his plunge into
Clare’s circle has done to him, it won’t—in the last analysis—change his
Catholic heart. At least, I don’t see how it can.”

“But Lewis! Surely—surely you aren’t so—why, I don’t understand! You
wouldn’t have a man like that go _unmarried_! He’s just the sort to go
to the devil—if he hasn’t ties. Of course he will marry again. If not
Petra, some one else. He’s bound to.”

Lewis had good hold of himself now. He said, “No one is bound to be
disloyal to the truest thing in him. Any more than he’s bound to be
loyal to it. We’re creatures of free will. But if McCloud does use his
free will toward the destruction of his new-found integrated self, I
hope that it won’t be Petra who is the instrument. I’m very fond of
Petra, as it happens,—deeply fond of her; and to see her ruin any man’s
life—I simply can’t, that’s all. No matter what tragedy this means for
them both, I hope they don’t go so far as a marriage pretense. Now I’ve
told you my ideas on the subject, let’s forget it. It’s really their
affair, not ours. But somehow I’m putting my faith on McCloud’s
integration saving them both from inevitable misery. Petra’s doing
awfully well at the office, by the way. Losing her would be no joke!”
... He ended on something which Cynthia, taking it at its face value,
considered a laugh.

But though she let the sound pass as a laugh, Cynthia looked at her
brother rather keenly. Had she been wrong? Was he still attracted by
Petra himself? She shrugged it off. No, she was not wrong. Mere physical
attraction wasn’t going to twist Lewis’ fine, important career out of
shape, wasn’t going even to worry him for a minute. She was happily sure
of it.

It was true, what Lewis had just said of Petra’s work. She had made
herself invaluable in these long, hot, trying weeks, both to him and
Miss Frazier. She could take dictation now, if given a trifle slowly,
and when Lewis and Miss Frazier were both working under pressure, they
sometimes even left letters unread for Petra to sign. And in the
reception office people trusted her and liked her. They liked her even
to the point, it seemed, of not minding being put off by her. This was a
blessing in itself, since putting off people was one of the chief
functions of her job. Just her voice over the telephone seemed to have
the power to salve wounded feelings and instil resignation in
importunate patients.

Lewis had taken her out to lunch several times during the summer,
getting in his bid ahead of Neil or Dick. But those intimate hours
afforded no reprieve from his loneliness for the real Petra. Those hours
tête-à-tête over little tables turned Petra and Lewis into strangers.
Although Lewis never accepted Clare’s eager invitations to parties and
intimate teas at Green Doors, and met Clare only by accident at times
when she came up to the office ostensibly to see Petra, Petra still
considered him Clare’s friend, not hers. She clung almost passionately
to that assumption. Lewis knew no way of breaking it down. Her
stubbornness in this one matter was equalled only by her reticence. And
since their midnight telephone conversation, she had never spontaneously
brought Teresa into the conversation once. To his own tentative and
diffident suggestions, she had always the same answer, “If she asks me,
I will take you to see her some day. But not just now. She is—very
busy.”

So paradoxically their casual contacts in the office were better, more
satisfying, than any planned tête-à-têtes. When he stopped by her desk,
going out to lunch or coming back, Petra might tell him of some comical
incident that had come up during the morning in her gracious sphere, the
reception room, and they would chortle over it in good fellowship. But
sometimes she seized the opportunity to plead somebody’s case with him.
To-day she had done that. Wouldn’t he please give Mrs. Jack Loring more
attention? It was so special, so pitiful,—the thing she wanted his help
with. Wouldn’t Lewis at least talk with Mrs. Loring about it? Lewis had
not minded taking the time to explain to Petra—standing by her desk,
looking down into her lifted, serious eyes,—that this particular
committee worker was hysterical, and hopelessly sentimental, as well as
outrageously interfering. Children were better off—he expounded it at
some length, just to stay there near Petra—better off in degraded homes
than in public institutions. But he would promise to do something in his
own way, leaving the meddlesome social worker out of it, if he found
that anything could be done without violating ordinary human rights to
privacy.... It was at such moments as this that Petra was herself with
Lewis and that something real was regained—and retained for as many
precious minutes as it lasted—of their first intimacy on the edge of the
June meadow.

But suddenly Petra had looked past him, in their whispered colloquy this
afternoon, and smiled. McCloud had come in and was waiting until “the
boss” should leave off and Petra be free for him to take for a noon spin
in the glittering, swanky, sports roadster which, as a salesman, he had
at his disposal. Looking from one to another of them in that minute,
Lewis had been impressed more profoundly than ever with how alike they
were. The eyes were the identical shade of blue. Such a terribly intense
blue! They might be brother and sister. Or first cousins. But it was
always startling,—as freshly and poignantly startling, every time he saw
them together, as if he had never before noticed it. And they were both
so vibrantly young! Tall, long-limbed, wide-shouldered,
strong-chinned—and then again that intense blue of their eyes! They
might be Siegmund and Sieglinde in love, and above the incest-taboos of
mere mortals, belonging to each other by their very resemblance....

“Lewis, you look ghastly!” Cynthia broke into her brother’s swift lapse
into revery, shattering it with her concern for him. He was grateful. It
was not very easy, seeing Petra give to Neil what she had once seemed to
give to himself—and then withdrawn—with such adamant mysteriousness.

“You do. Simply ghastly! You’ve put off your vacation too long this
year. When are you taking it?”

“Well, that’s why I got you in to-night, to tell you. I’m taking a
little one right away. Going off to-morrow. With Dick. Down to Mount
Desert. We’re starting early in the morning. I’m driving. We’ll be there
several days. Sailing. Climbing. Dick’s in some sort of difficulty.
Something he wants to talk over, anyway. And it’s a good time to go. I
can take the proofs with me.”

“Oh, need you? Don’t. It’s too silly, on a vacation! But then it’s too
silly to call it a vacation, anyway—a few days! Yes—I’ve seen myself
Dick’s worried. But why doesn’t he confide in Harry or me—or Clare? Why
does he think he can spill it all out on you—you of all people—who have
altogether too much of this talking-it-all-out-stuff in your daily
grind! It’s pretty inconsiderate of him, I think. Clare’s wise, capable
of complete detachment, and besides all that, utterly devoted to the
creature. I suppose it is sympathy he wants. Or perhaps—I wonder—is he
all snarled up over Petra? If he is—Clare’s certainly the person to hash
that over with!”

Lewis said, “No, I don’t believe Dick has anything on his mind that has
to do with Petra. Why do you put that idea into my head, Cynthia? If I
had thought it was that—but it isn’t—I’d have gone alone. Cynthia, you
are the world’s prize idiot. Do lay off prying and finish your coffee.
It must be stone cold. How does Harry abide you! If you start crowing
here, they’ll put you in jail as a disturber of the peace. No, you can’t
have another cigarette. If I’m going in the morning, I’ve got to get
back to work now. It’s fun getting you furious in a position where you
have to consider your dignity. You’re really quite sweet, all bottled up
like that, but foaming around the cork. Come along, sweetheart. Let’s
get going.”

People turned to look at them as they left. Their conversation had been
far too animated for husband and wife. No, it was romance, it must be.
But how distinguished they were! It was always interesting, dining at
the New World! You might catch a glimpse of anybody there. It was
cosmopolitan and very chic for Boston.



                          _Chapter Seventeen_


Lewis had anticipated three or four days of sailing among the islands
about Mount Desert to the tune of blue sea, blue sky, white clouds,
whitecaps, and the salt wind over all. But an unprophesied nor’easter
did its best to ruin the holiday. The sky was clear when they started
from Boston in Lewis’ car (Dick had been unselfish in letting it be
Lewis’ car rather than his own) and it stayed clear until they were
within sight of the island. Then suddenly the wind changed and every
aspect told them that they were in for a likely three days of drifting
fog.

“It will have to be golf and walking, I’m afraid,” Dick apologized for
his island. “This is rotten luck. And we’ll have to use all the tact we
can muster in dealing with the Langleys. They will be humiliated beyond
words!”

The Langleys were the married couple, Yankees and native to Mount
Desert, who lived on the Wilder estate in Northeast Harbor and were in
charge of the place the year around. The elder Wilders for years past
had spent most of their time in Europe, returning for a few weeks each
winter to their Brookline home, but coming down to their Mount Desert
estate almost never. It had tacitly become Dick’s responsibility and
playground. Each summer he entertained several house parties here, and
often came alone with some friend, as he was doing now, for a few days
of sailing and climbing. If at his appearance the weather was not
“typical” the Langleys felt it a flaw in their hospitality; and his days
here with Lewis, Dick feared now, would be rife with the good couple’s
reiterated apologies for the weather—and all the more insistently
because the guest of this particular visit was so important a personage.

“Tell ’em you’d rather walk than sail!” Dick pleaded. “Tell them you
know the views so well that it is just as if they were there for you
behind the fog! Tell them that fog’s darned restful and just what you
need. You see, they are really well-informed people, and you can bet
they know all about who you are. You’ll have to work hard, right at the
beginning, to put them at their ease, or they’ll be so chagrined they’ll
follow us around apologizing all the time. They will be like parents who
keep saying when the rector calls that their children never acted up
like this before and they simply can’t understand it. You’d think they
had created Mount Desert and lived only to display it to me and my
guests.”

“I understand.” Lewis laughed. “I’ve noticed that most Mount Desert folk
are like that, other years. The first time I came down here, do you
know, I couldn’t see any farther than my hand could reach, practically,
for two solid weeks. That was in August too. I wouldn’t have known there
were any mountains if they hadn’t told me. But you can imagine _how_
they told me! We were just puffing away in the old _Morse_, when the
wind changed and it all came out diamond clear. It was like the
never-never land. I thought then that it was the finest scenery in the
world. Norway itself can’t beat it. I’ll tell the Langleys that. I’ll
tell them how I know it by heart. We’ll see, between us, that they don’t
suffer beyond endurance!”

So they drove in at the wide stone entrance gates, laughing.

It was pretty disappointing, all the same. The sky, the sea, the
mountains were all there, like the next page in a book—but a page that
has annoyingly stuck. Dick took it harder than Lewis, however. He had
counted on the sharp clear outlines of this Mount Desert environment to
make self-expression easy. He had got Lewis down here, really, for the
sole purpose of clearing his own mental and emotional decks of clutter.
And the fog, somehow, seemed now an externalization of that inward
confusion. Having it here, visibly and sensibly pressing in around him,
turned him inarticulate. It was Clare who had planned this expedition,
really. She it was who had suggested that Dick “clear his emotional
decks by talking things all out with Doctor Pryne.” But it wasn’t going
to be so easy.—Besides, Lewis wasn’t acting like himself, Dick thought.
You couldn’t call him morose exactly, but neither was he particularly
exuding sympathy. He was abstracted: as if he had his own thoughts—even
possibly his own worries.

At breakfast the next morning they decided against golf. Lewis wanted
exercise, he said, and how about climbing a few mountains? Even without
the view, he felt like climbing—strenuously. So Dick, putting aside his
own silent preference for a morning of golf, started off as cheerfully
as he could manage on a foggy all-day walking and climbing jaunt with
this somehow new and strange Lewis. The plan was that they should begin
gradually—Asticou Hill, Cedar-Swamp Mountain, and then with second wind
acquired, traverse the mile-long ledge to Sargent’s top, swim in the
pond below Jordan, and descend the bluffs to Jordan Pond, and a taxi
home in time for dinner.

They left Lewis’ car at the foot of Asticou Hill, and started up, thick
bars of chocolate in their pockets and thick Alpine sticks in their
hands. Lewis was ahead on the faint thread of trail, straining his eyes
for the cairns which marked the way. Gray gnomes, these cairns seemed to
him, each as it pierced the fog, toppling forward or sidewise, beckoning
him back from the pathlessness of foot-high forests of blueberry scrub
to the faint footworn windings of the climb.

“I planned a house one summer to stand right here,” Dick said, when they
came to a giant gray boulder and automatically halted, leaning their
backs against its inviting side, looking down into the sea of fog that
shut them onto the hill. “It was my first completely visualized house,
really. I was twelve, about. I saw the house as a sort of a growth out
of the hill. The skies came down, the sea came up, and the doorsill was
solid sunlight. Sometimes I really can’t believe it isn’t here, it was
so real to me then. But I went farther than architecture in that first
venture. I peopled that house, created a family to live in it. You
needn’t believe me, Lewis. I don’t expect you will. But the mother of
that family was quite extraordinarily like Clare Farwell. Looked like
her, I mean. When I first saw Clare, years after, I recognized her as
the woman of my early imagination—the mother in that first house of
mine. By the way, we are standing by one of the windows in the bedroom I
gave her. The bedrooms were on the ground floor, you see. The whole top
story was living room—one huge, spacious apartment, practically all
windows. But wasn’t it—eerie—about Clare! Imagining her like that when I
was just a kid! I’d never seen anybody like her then. Of course, I
couldn’t have. There isn’t anybody like her.... Is there?”

“No, I suppose not,” but Lewis’ response had an absent-minded
tonelessness. Yet in another minute he asked, his psychological
interests stirring, “What were you yourself in that picture, Dick? Or
weren’t you in it?”

“I was the middle son of a large family. I remember you that summer,
Lewis. You were down here at Doctor Montague’s with Cynthia. She and
Harry got themselves engaged at Jordan Pond. The second time they’d seen
each other! I remember my tutor saying to somebody or other that it was
a whirlwind affair and he wondered how it would turn out. The word
‘whirlwind’ was what made the grown-up gossip exciting to me and why I
remember it now. An exciting word! But speaking of Clare, don’t you
think it is rather thrilling the way she has managed to express herself
in Green Doors? The firm would be surprised if they knew how little,
really, I put myself into it. But that’s good architecting, as I see it.
Something like portraiture. If you see what I mean.”

Lewis’ mind was busy with a picture of Dick, a neglected only child,
spending long summers on Mount Desert with servants and callow young
college-boy tutors while his mother globe-trotted and his father made
money,—a child stealing off up here to this lonely, wild hill to plan
the ideal house and people it with a mother of his dreaming and a large
family of which he was the middle member. “Do you see what I mean? About
Green Doors? That it’s portraiture? Portraiture of Clare? And that’s why
it’s so perfectly what it should be?”—Would Lewis please come out of his
abstraction and pay attention. That’s what Dick’s tone said.

Lewis obeyed and answered. “But is that quite fair? Most houses have
more than one person living in ’em. Green Doors has. If you’re going to
do portraiture in your architecting, I should think it would have to be
composite portraiture.”

“Possibly, with some houses. But not Green Doors. It’s Clare who colors
everything there, and a lucky thing for the others! Have you ever known
such—such simplicity and utter _goodness_? Isn’t she wonderful! Aren’t
you grateful that I have brought you together? Isn’t just knowing her
worth all the trouble you’ve taken with Petra? I bet it is.”

“What do you mean, trouble with Petra? It’s Miss Frazier who had to take
trouble with Petra just at first, perhaps. But now she’s invaluable to
us both, let me tell you. She has a positive flair for the work.”

“Really! I didn’t realize that. Have you told Clare? She thinks it’s
really a kind of charity on your part, keeping Petra occupied. Petra
herself says you are patience itself and that she is always doing
something wrong.”

“That’s nonsense. Or else a form of perverted modesty. Miss Frazier and
I would be lost without her now.”

Dick would repeat this to Petra’s stepmother, Lewis hoped. It was
something at last, though almost infinitesimal, of course, that he could
do for Petra, who asked and wanted nothing of him really.

Then Dick fell mercifully silent, occupying himself by scrawling letters
in the sand at the base of the rock. Lewis began counting the fir-tree
tops which pricked the fog with their pointed spires at irregular
intervals down the hill; for Lewis had acquired a habit, when Petra was
called to mind suddenly, as she had been just now, or came without being
called, as she did all too often, God knew, of concentrating on the
first other thing that came to hand. Now he counted tree tops. And
though he was smoking far too much—he knew—but to whom could it
matter!—he took out his cigarette case.

“Clare wanted me to talk to you down here,” Dick said suddenly. “Tell
you things. But I rather suspect you know them already. You do, don’t
you?”

“What she means to you?” Lewis asked. He was sorry Dick had decided to
plunge into intimate confidences exactly at this point. If he would only
wait till the fog lifted—till the seascape was diamond clear. If a
northwester would only blow! If the weather shifted, Lewis might be able
to listen patiently (which was all Dick wanted, of course) to his
“If-you-know-what-I-means,” and “Do-you-sees.” But he was in for it now.
Dick had Lewis cornered just as, in his utter overworked weariness, he
felt the fog had him cornered.

“Yes, what Clare means to me and what I mean to her,” Dick was saying.
“I imagine you saw how I felt about her almost before I saw myself. That
day when I came to your office! And all during the summer it has gone on
getting—well, more and more so. But it isn’t Clare’s fault. She saw
things as they were even before I did and she warned me. She wanted me
to go away, for my own good. She was sane and beautiful about it. Why,
she talked in as detached and clear a way as you could have talked
yourself, Lewis. And all the time—which makes her detachment so
wonderful—she herself was involved in it all, do you see! I don’t mean
that she—that she feels exactly the way I do. She wouldn’t. She isn’t
like that, anyway. She’s too—unphysical. But our friendship means
everything to her, all the same. She says that passionate friendship is
actually more involving than passionate love. Because it absorbs and
colors the imagination, you see. If we were lovers, she says—as the
world understands the phrase, you know—why, we mightn’t mean nearly so
much to each other as we do with things as they are with us. But she was
ready to sacrifice this passionate friendship for my sake. She was
afraid I might suffer too much, if it continued. You mustn’t think I am
crazily conceited, Lewis, when I tell you that not seeing me any more
_would_ have meant sacrifice to Clare. I don’t understand myself why she
cares for me as she does. The miracle of her caring fills me with the
deepest humility. But she does care. Our being together so much means
everything to her, as it does to me, only in a different way. And she
was ready to give it up! She said that, quite aside from the suffering
it might bring me, there was always the chance that my caring so much
for her might keep me from falling in love with some girl I could marry,
do you see. And she talked it all out with me—quietly, bravely. But I
wanted to stay, of course,—just so long as I was sure it was not hurting
her, or making her unhappy. Do you understand?”

Lewis sighed. Not only Clare herself, but Clare even heard about,
invariably overwhelmed Lewis with the greatest ennui—or in happier
moments made him swearing, cursing mad. Just now it was ennui. But he
tried to conceal his weariness for Dick’s sake. Dick was not only
Cynthia’s husband’s cousin. He was Lewis’ friend of many years. He had
no brains—certainly—but artistic functioning in his brainpan somewhere
took the place of brains, and most whiles made him companionable enough.
So now, after sighing, Lewis said, “Yes, I understand perfectly. But
Clare is obviously right: clearsighted, as you yourself must see. The
friendship is destructive to you while it leaves her unhurt. You ought
to snap out of it. It’s no joke, I know, being head over heels in love
with a married woman. But it does happen. And it’s never any good
sticking around and trying to get nourishment on half a loaf. A clean
break is the only self-respecting possibility. Sorry—but you asked for
it, old-timer.”

A silence, charged with emotion (another of Dick’s substitutes for
brain) moving toward articulation followed. Then he blurted, “I can’t do
it, Lewis. One can’t choose to starve. Half a loaf is better than
none—even if it isn’t filling!”

Lewis’ response to that was unequivocal. “It is not better. It’s just a
sweet little hell. Clare gave you the right dope. Take it from her, if
you won’t from me. If you want to salvage your future, stay a long way
away from Green Doors, and snap out of it.”

“You talk as if you knew....” Dick was looking at his friend now with as
much curiosity as surprise. “But Clare has stopped saying anything about
my going. She put it up to me to decide for myself, anyway. She wasn’t
dogmatic and opinionated. Not for a minute! I decided to stay. It’s not
_that_ I want your opinion on. I believe, with Clare, in the
individual’s right to decide on the happiness or the misery he will take
for himself.... So I’m staying,—but, thanks to Clare, with my eyes open.
It hasn’t been easy. It is just about what you say—a sweet little hell.”

“Well, of course.... So that’s that. Shall we get going?” Lewis picked
up his stick and crushed a half-smoked cigarette under his heel.

“No, wait a minute. See here, Lewis, I want to talk to you. I can’t
talk, walking. It was Clare, really, who sent me off down here with you.
And I haven’t come to the point of what she wanted me to tell you yet.
That was only preliminary. Clare has a scheme.—She thought you’d agree
that it was, perhaps, rather a good one.”

Lewis groaned but selected another cigarette. Another “scheme”—“good.”
Clare was indomitable. He leaned back again, his elbows on the rock.
They might as well have the rest of it now, he supposed, so long as they
were messing about in thick fog, anyway. A little more or less confusion
from poor Dick’s mindlessness—what did it matter! But the next minute
Lewis was galvanized into feeling that it mattered enormously. For Dick
had said, “I didn’t go away, you see. And I’m not going to. I couldn’t
leave Clare, to save my life. Our friendship (Clare’s and mine) has
become of such importance to us both—yes, Clare too—that now we see that
nothing in this world could have the power to part us. Least of all,
mere physical separation. We must stay—passionate friends. We belong to
each other. I don’t think you can imagine, Lewis, what such friendship
can be—or what trying to stamp it out of one’s life would do to one. It
would be infinitely easier to stamp out a sexual relationship than such
a one as Clare’s and mine.... Well, this is her scheme. She thinks it
will make it possible for our friendship to go on being beautiful, even
grow more beautiful, more dynamic. She wants me to marry Petra. That
will make it safer for us both, do you see? What’s the matter?”

The obvious matter was that Lewis had torn his coat sleeve, a jagged
rent, somehow on the rock.

“Mrs. Langley will mend it for you. She can do a magnificent mend. But
how’d you manage it? You were just leaning—”

“Yes, just leaning, and hearing the ravings of a blasted idiot. What are
you trying to do? Be funny, I suppose! But I don’t care for that kind of
funniness. You can leave Petra out of it.”

Dick was amazed but not silenced by Lewis’ violence. “I felt surprised
myself at first,” he owned. “But it isn’t so wild as you seem to think.
And not a bit idiotic. I like Petra. I like her a lot. I didn’t used to.
It’s only lately I’ve begun to understand her. She’s—why, she’s a
stunning girl, really. And she isn’t in love with anybody else, that I
know of. She’s not engaged to that McCloud person, in spite of Clare
thinking for a while that she might be and was keeping it secret, the
way she likes keeping things secret. But now Petra has told me herself
she isn’t. And I’ve got Saint Paul with me: It’s better to marry than to
burn.... There’s the whole Greek idea, too. Those Greek fellows, of
course, weren’t faithful to their wives in the sense that I shall be
faithful to Petra. But the situation was rather parallel, all the same.
They had their intellectual and spiritual friendships with men or with
women not their wives—and it succeeded. It was wise and sane. Clare
thought you would be sympathetic—understand—”

“Look here, Dick! Prick me and wake me up. This isn’t real. If it is, if
I’m awake, then somebody’d better advise Farwell to get in a good
psychiatrist—but not me, thanks. I’m out of it. But Clare should be
under observation. You too. You both had better leave Petra alone. Not
that anything either of you could say or do will even so much as touch
her wholesomeness! I’m a fool to get so excited about it. What do you
say—shall we go back to the car and start for Boston—or shall we stick
this out till the fog lifts? I’m perfectly ready to go back.”



                           _Chapter Eighteen_


Dick was in favor of sticking it out. He thought Lewis madder, if
anything, than Lewis thought him, which had the advantage of evening
things up between them.... And then, halfway down the hill, Dick was
struck by an idea. Was Lewis himself in love with Petra? Could anything
be more probable? Petra was utterly beautiful. Propinquity too, and all
that!... But why hadn’t Clare seen this possibility? Suppose she had
seen it—. Was that the reason why she had been so insistent on Dick’s
telling Lewis the whole situation? So that Lewis would be forewarned?
But why would not Clare consider marriage between Petra and Doctor Pryne
a very good marriage indeed? Clare wanted the very best for Petra, Dick
never doubted that. Did Clare think, perhaps, that Petra could never be
happy without a great deal of money? Well, Petra probably couldn’t, and
Dick, not Lewis, had the money. Petra was mad about clothes, lovely
clothes. She dressed more interestingly than any girl he knew. Pretty
big of Clare, with her own indifference to luxury and clothes, to
consider Petra’s different temperament, and have such long, wise
thoughts for the girl’s future.

But Lewis was such a grand person! Quite aside from his fame, his
personality was head and shoulders above any other man Dick knew,—even
Lowell Farwell’s. Oughtn’t that personality to make up for Lewis’
comparative poverty, even to Petra’s rather shallow young view? Dick, in
all humility, should think that it would and that in a choice between
them any girl would choose Lewis, not himself.... But Clare understood
Petra better, it seemed. It was clever of her not to have told him that
Lewis might be his rival for Petra, but instead to send them off down
here together, where Dick could find it out for himself. But put
yourself in Lewis’ place. If you were in love with a girl, and a friend
came to you and told you he was _not_ in love with this same girl but
wanted to marry her all the same,—how would you feel? Pretty furious!
Just the way Lewis had acted! Dick wondered that Clare hadn’t had as
much imagination for Lewis’ feelings, as she had had for Dick’s own, and
Petra’s. Well, Clare loved him and Petra; and Lewis, after all, was only
a respected acquaintance. That explained it. But it was tough on Lewis,
all the same.

As they reached and crossed the wide trail toward Jordan Pond, Dick felt
a new emotion coming to life and ascending in his heart—like a
skyrocket. Elation! To win Petra from a fellow like Lewis! To imagine
Petra desired—and by such a man—had had the effect of making her
suddenly more desirable to himself. He would tell this phenomenon to
Clare, when he got back, quite frankly. You could tell Clare anything.
Her detachment was an exquisite, a consoling thing. If he told her that
Petra, he felt, might in time come to take Clare’s own place with him,
Clare would even then keep her dear, generous detachment. But of course,
Dick could never have any such nonsense as that to tell Clare. No matter
how fond he ever became of his beautiful wife, Clare would remain as
long as he lived, his—his most beloved.

Abruptly, Lewis interrupted these forecastings. “See here, Dick, I’m
sorry I got so hot. But let’s make a bargain. Don’t you mention Green
Doors again or anybody in it as long as we are together on this holiday,
and I’ll go back now and play golf with you instead of hiking. It’s what
you want, I know, and you were merely being altruistic.... The idea of
going on walking, anyway, doesn’t appeal to me.”

“Really?”

“Really! We can swing around to Asticou Inn and go back for our clubs,
can’t we?”

They could and they did. But Dick did not know what Clare would think of
the bargain he had struck with Lewis. She had expected the two to talk
endlessly, to hash everything over.... Or what had she expected after
all? Dick was no longer so certain. Well, he had only to get back to
Clare, look in her candid, sweet eyes, to lose this sudden new sense of
confusion about what her motives in getting him to confide in Lewis
might be. She could and would explain to Dick’s complete enlightenment
and satisfaction. She always did.


That evening Dick left Lewis reading Agatha Christie’s last detective
novel by an open fire and walked into Northeast Harbor alone for their
mail. If Clare had written him yesterday, as she had half promised to
do, the letter would come to-night. All through the long hours on the
misty golf course and ever since, this expectation of a letter coming
to-night had been a steady undertow to all that went on in Dick’s mind.
The entire day had been for him nothing in the world but a straight path
to the letter window of Northeast Harbor’s little post office. The mail
was sorted by eight-thirty, he knew, and sometimes a trifle earlier.
But, taking hold on all the strength of character he possessed, Dick had
determined not to arrive at that window of dreams one minute before the
certain time of half-past eight. He knew how painful it would be to
stand around waiting, watching the mail being sorted and not absolutely
certain of his letter. Now, as he came down the village street through
the drizzling fog, he saw that the cars parked near the post office were
starting up their engines and that people with letters and papers in
their hands were coming from the post-office door. And he walked faster.
Whether the thick thugging tom-tom his heart had set up was delight or
anguish, he did not consider.

The window gained, and Dick’s turn in the writing queue at last arrived,
he snatched the little bundle of letters from the smiling postmistress
with a muttered, blind “good evening” and turned with it to the counter.
His fingers, shuffling the letters through as he looked for Clare’s
hand, were shaking. There were half a dozen letters for Doctor Pryne
readdressed in Petra’s script. But there was nothing for himself.
Nothing that counted. Petra had written him, it seemed. A letter in a
fat envelope. But he was so dulled by disappointment that he hardly
bothered to wonder why she had written or what.

He stuffed the whole bunch into his pocket and returned to the delivery
window. “Are you sure there’s nothing else for Richard Wilder?” he
asked. It was a childish act, he knew, but he could not seem to help
himself. Obligingly, the, to Dick, faceless automaton at that fateful
window turned back to the letter boxes. She even thrust a hand up into
the Wilders’ now grimly empty pigeonhole, pretending to make certain of
what was already a certainty. The look on the man’s face asking the
unreasonable question made the gesture, empty as it was, a human
necessity. She came back to her window. “Nothing _now_.” The young woman
spoke tentatively, averting kindly eyes. “In the morning’s mail
perhaps.”

Out in the fog again Dick had to laugh at himself. Why did he need a
letter so? They trusted each other, he and Clare. What did passionate
friendship mean if not trust and peace, even in separation! Besides, it
was scarcely sixty hours since they had parted. And he would see her in
thirty-six more. Lewis and he had decided to cut their holiday short and
return to-morrow, after all. They gave the weather as their excuse to
each other, but not to the Langleys. It was agreed that the doctor
to-night was to receive an important letter which made their dashing off
necessary. The fact was that ever since Dick had begun to suspect Lewis’
feeling for Petra, a constraint had settled between them which made
their close companionship just now more of a strain than a relaxation.
So day after to-morrow Dick would be out at Green Doors again. It was
unworthy of Clare’s beautiful friendship that he should feel actual
written words from her, which he could keep in his pocket and touch, a
necessity to his sense of assurance of that friendship. It was unworthy
and faithless in him. But letters were uncanny things! _Wanting_ one so
terribly was uncanny too....

Lewis glanced up at Dick welcomingly as he came in. The detective story
had returned him to a healthy, intellectual mood. He was accustomed to
find this type of reading as effective as a good game of contract or
chess for keeping one sensible.

“This Christie is O.K., Dick,” he said. “You must read it yourself. It’s
as good as anything she has done. I’ll be through in half an hour or so
and you can have it.”

“Good! I picked up a new Dorothy Sayers as I came along, at Blaine’s
drug store. You can have that to finish the night with. Here’s your
mail.”

Dick had dropped the little pile of letters onto the arm of Lewis’
chair, and pulling another chair up to the hearth, he sprawled himself
into it, eyes moodily on the fire.

Petra’s fat letter to Dick was on the top of the pile. In his
disappointment at not hearing from Clare, Dick had completely forgotten
he had any letter at all. Lewis picked it up, turned it around in his
fingers, looked at Dick. But Dick was bent forward, poking the fire. He
jumped when Lewis spoke.

“This seems to be yours.”

“Oh, sure! I forgot it. Toss it across, will you. It’s a fat one.
Funny!”

Putting down the tongs and leaning back in his chair, Dick tore the flap
open with his thumb, and twisting around to get a better light on the
sheets, began lazily reading Petra’s long letter. Lewis made no pretense
of returning to his detective story or of looking over his own mail.
Petra’s handwriting on the envelopes in his little pile that remained
stared up at him ironically. This was as much as he had of her, or ever
would have, he felt. Her hand readdressing somebody else’s letter to
him. Petra’s handwriting was stirring—and Lewis believed it would be
stirring to him even if he did not know and love and desire Petra as he
did. The characters were consistently round, dear, black and perfectly
spaced. The writer of such a script was scrupulous—exquisitely
scrupulous—not to waste one instant of the recipient’s time or energy.
It was like Petra’s own perfect manners, visible in black and white. But
how arid to be sitting here, studying and appreciating the nuances of
Petra’s agreeable manners, while Dick was reading her heart; for Dick
had lost his indifferent, lounging attitude when he began to read
Petra’s long letter, and his profile—all that Lewis could see of his
face—was tense and excited.

Lewis got up hastily, leaving his letters where they were on the arm of
the chair, and went out onto the piazza. The fog sucked up to him,
enveloped him. He coughed, choked sharply. These Mount Desert fogs were
like no others in the world, he thought, and for once, it occurred to
him that he ought to possess himself of an automatic cigarette lighter:
you couldn’t strike a match successfully out here in this insidious fog.
But cigarette or not, he would not return to the warm fire-cheered room
until Dick had done with that letter and put it away out of sight.

What would Dick do with the sheets when he had finished them, anyway?
Lewis visualized him tossing them casually into the fire. Then he
visualized himself putting his own bare hand into the fire and pulling
them out! “Am I crazy?” he wondered. “What is there in her mere
handwriting that stirs me more than the sight of Petra herself? It is
the essence of her personality—as the voice is—only visible.” If Petra
should ever write himself a letter—if such a day ever came—Lewis felt
now that her handwriting on the envelope would produce as profound a
feeling in him as would her first kiss. He coughed again. The fog hated
him. Then Dick came to the door, shouting “Lewis! Oh, Lewis!”

“Oh! But I couldn’t see whether you were there or not, Lewis! This
heathenish fog! But come along in, do. I’ve got to talk to you. Really!”

And back in the room, over by the fire, the men stood facing each other
across Petra’s letter. For Dick had not tossed it in the fire. That had
been only a daydream of Lewis’ tired, driven mind. The letter lay on a
little table, under Dick’s palms, as he stood leaning on the table,
looking down at it.

“See here,” he was saying, “I promised to lay off our morning’s
discussion—Clare—Green Doors—all that. But something has happened....
This letter ... Petra has written.... Amazing.... It’s quite moving ...
Sweet.... And I want you to read it. It may open your eyes to something.
It has mine. You may thank me. What I didn’t get around to tell you this
morning was that I had already done it—proposed to Petra. She turned me
down but I wasn’t sure she meant it. Clare was sure she didn’t mean it.
Anyway, I meant to try again when I got back. But now I see Clare was
wrong. Petra did mean it. Will you read this?” Dick’s face was glowing
with the sheer generosity of the thing he was doing. “Will you read it?”
he asked again, for Lewis was looking at him strangely—blankly.

“Would Petra mind?” Lewis asked.

“That can’t matter. She wouldn’t mind if she really knew you. And I owe
it to you—after this morning. If we were two men in a novel, old boy, I
wouldn’t give it to you, and you wouldn’t know right up to the last
chapter that your girl is yours for the asking. But this is life and
we’ll let the suspense of the situation go by the boards. Read and see
what a darned fool I’ve been.”

Lews took the letter. The sheets were steady in his strong, long
fingers. Dick lounged back in the chair and watched his friend with
growing uneasiness; for no light dawned in Lewis’ serious dark face as
he read. That face seemed, indeed, under Dick’s very eyes, to grow thin
and grim with controlled emotion of a sort totally other than Dick had
expected.



                           _Chapter Nineteen_


It was the seventeenth of October. It was also Petra’s birthday; and
Lewis had relaxed in his practice of turning down all Mrs. Lowell
Farwell’s invitations and was now driving out to Green Doors to a dinner
party given in honor of the birthday. Himself, Dick and the Allens were
to be the only guests. Neil McCloud had been invited but was, Lewis
understood, not coming. Lewis suspected that Neil’s refusal had been the
cause of Petra’s manner to-day—not a birthday manner exactly. She had
moved about at her work in a spirit of recollection, but a strained,
anxious recollection which no doubt she thought went unnoticed by her
employer. Lewis had first been struck by it when he asked her who was
coming to her party to-night, and her answer had been that Neil was not.
He had laughed and said, “But it was a list of acceptances I wanted—not
refusals.” She had lifted her eyes to his, at that,—she was sitting at
her desk and he had stopped by it as he passed through to his own office
to say good morning—and they had been blank with a kind of subdued
misery. But she had answered, “Clare tells me that you are coming,
Doctor Pryne. The Allens. Dick. It is nice of _you_ to have accepted.”

“Don’t say that. I am looking forward to it very much. My dear, will you
accept this present? I’ve been days finding it, and if you don’t like it
I shall be terribly disconcerted.”

It was the detail from the Fra Angelico picture: angels dancing, and
saints embracing in a flower-studded meadow. A very good print, framed
in silver. Lewis had brought the cumbersome thing under his arm, done up
in brown paper, just as it had been sent to him from the store. Lewis
did not hope, of course, that Petra would ever know why he had hit upon
this particular present. It seemed inappropriate, perhaps, for a
twenty-year-old girl’s birthday present. But to Lewis it meant something
they had once experienced together—a meeting of souls where language and
explanations are no longer necessary, where all is unselfconscious joy,
camaraderie and fluent communication between the saints in Paradise.
That first sight of the June meadow behind Clare’s guest house, which
Lewis had likened to this picture—and thought of Petra and himself as
saints, without their crowns to be sure, and their presence there in the
paradisiacal meadow purest accident—had remained all summer a poignant
memory. He hoped that Petra would keep this picture all her life,
wherever she lived, and that even not understanding anything of what it
meant to him in the giving, she would remember him now and then in
looking at it; and thus his memory would stay alive for her because of
something which stood to him for their own one brief real meeting and
recognition. Let that same quality of recognition never come again on
this earth,—still it might yet come in heaven. Perhaps it only needed
their crowns for the consummation of its promise.

An early frost had followed the unprecedentedly hot summer, and the
trees all along the state highway to Meadowbrook had been stripped
during the past few days of their flaming foliage. The fields and
meadows stretched away brown and purple, barren too. But the clouds,
like levitated mountain ranges, hung above the western horizon, blazing
with autumn colors, red, gold, purple, buff. The day had had an Indian
summer warmth over it and to-night the sky promised to be divinely clear
with a full moon.

Lewis had sent Petra home from the office when she returned from her
lunch. “Somehow you don’t look like a party to-day,” he had said. “Lie
out in the sun on a blanket somewhere. It’s warm enough. Get rested.
This has been a heavy week.” Miss Frazier was away on the vacation she
had insisted on putting off until the book was actually in print and
Petra really had been working up to the full capacity of her strength
and ability.

If Lewis had not packed Petra off early, however, she would be beside
him now in his rushing car, sharing the beauty of those levitated
cloud-mountains along with him, and the bare tracery of tree branches
against the mellowed fields. He had had a selfish impulse to keep her
late just to make this drive together inevitable. And he would have
succumbed to his selfishness, had he not a better plan. Neil was not to
be there to-night. Whether Dick was absolutely out of the running or not
Lewis did not actually know. But Lewis had reached his limit of passive
endurance. He had accepted the invitation because in the very act of
reading Clare’s note a few days ago, tending it, he had made up his mind
that he would go with Petra by moonlight to the edge of that meadow
(October now, not June, but in the moonlight it would still be Paradise)
and tell her how he wanted her. If she was in love with Neil—and he
knew, of course, that she was—it did not matter. He wanted Petra at last
even if she came to him with a broken heart. It had taken Lewis weeks to
reach this depth of humility. But now it was reached. He had struck
bottom in his longing and suffering. If Petra in youth’s scorn of
compromises said that she had nothing she could give him, let it be so.
At least, he would have reached for his star. But if he did not touch
the sky to-night, did not draw it down to him, he must find Petra
another job at once. It was impossible to have her in his office,
feeling as he felt, longer.

At its very least, Lewis’ proposal would have the advantage of making
Petra see the necessity for her not going on at his office. She would
understand and not be wounded. And he would find her something even
better. In spite of the “depression” and Petra’s lack of business
experience, he promised himself—and he would promise her—that she should
not be the loser. In fact, all Lewis honestly hoped of this onrushing
moonlight night was for an understanding between himself and Petra. A
bitter understanding on his side—since she was going to tell him that
she could not possibly marry him without loving him—but on hers
illuminating. She would not go on, after to-night, so dangerously
unconscious of the power of her young beauty and loveliness.

Remembering her letter to Dick two months ago down at Northeast—and when
had Lewis forgotten it for a single hour!—he trusted Petra’s ability to
face things squarely, once they were given her to face. She had a clear,
honest mind. She had been clear and honest with Dick. Lewis would now,
to-night, by moonlight, on the edge of the Paradise meadow, be equally
clear and honest with her.

The car reached sixty-nine on the clear-ahead highway, and the lines of
Petra’s brave letter streaked through Lewis’ mind with almost a like
speed. He knew it by heart from the one reading—that brave, dear letter
to another man:

  Dear Dick:

  I am deeply sorry about the way I treated you last night. I have
  gotten up before dawn, Dick, to tell you how miserably sorry I am. Or
  I suppose it is really dawn, for all the east is red and purple. I am
  writing on Father’s desk in the library. Everybody is asleep. But I
  haven’t slept. I have been sitting up in bed all night, thinking of my
  cruelty to you. You see, this is the way it was, Dick. When you kissed
  me like that, it was really just as if somebody passing me in the
  street had kissed me. I mean it was as unexpected as that. My only
  feeling was terror. That is why I struck out like that—just as you
  would in the dark, if something strange were striking at you. You’d
  strike back. Besides, no one has ever kissed me before. Not like that,
  I mean. No one has ever been in love with me before. And you see,
  anyway, I have thought right along—never thought anything else—that
  you came to Green Doors on Clare’s account. It was Clare you always
  talked to. I didn’t know you even looked at me. This may seem strange
  to you, Dick. Now I see that thinking that was pretty stupid. You have
  been shy with me—just as one _is_ toward somebody one really loves.
  Clare has explained it. She came out on the terrace right after you
  went. I was crying. She found out what was the matter. And she showed
  me how cruel and stupid I had been. I know now that it was a great
  honor you did me in asking me to marry you, Dick. To love somebody
  like that and tell them so and have them do what I did—strike out at
  you like a serpent—must have been too terrible. The blow on your face
  was nothing to the blow on your heart, I know. But now I am cool and
  all night I have been thinking. It isn’t just because Clare says so
  but now I _feel myself_ how I owe you a deep apology. And I am going
  to tell you why, even if I hadn’t hated your kissing me the way you
  did, I would still have _said_ the same thing, that I couldn’t feel
  toward you as you do toward me. You asked me, you know, if there was
  anybody else. If I was engaged. I told you no. Well, that was true. Of
  course I am not engaged. But now I am going to tell you something to
  prove how sorry I am I treated you as I did last night and to show you
  how I trust you—and how fond I am of you really, now that I see things
  about you and Clare in a truer light than I have been seeing them. It
  is this, Dick. I am not engaged, and I am not likely to be. But I love
  some one terribly. I love him the way you love me, I guess. But he
  doesn’t love me any more than I love you. So that makes things even
  between us, Dick, doesn’t it? Don’t tell Clare this, of course. Or any
  one. I have told you to even things up, and to make you see that if I
  have hurt your pride terribly, and been cruel to you, the same thing
  has been done to me. All I said to Clare last night was that I should
  write to you and apologize and beg you to go on being friends and not
  stop coming to Green Doors. Clare and Father will miss you, Dick, if
  you stay away, and believe it or not, I think I shall too. I don’t
  know how I ever behaved so brutally as I did last night, but I am
  always making mistakes and doing terrible things. Please burn this
  letter.

                                             Affectionately—truly—Petra.

When Lewis looked up from that letter, Dick had said quickly, “It isn’t
McCloud, Lewis! Don’t think it for a minute. Anybody can see how _he_
feels about Petra. She could have him if she wanted him. It’s written
all over him. It’s you she means, Lewis. You. Nobody else.”

Lewis had said, “Damn you, Dick!” and then no more. He had held Dick to
their bargain from that minute, not to discuss Petra or anybody at Green
Doors ever again. He had seen to it that Dick did burn the letter as
Petra had asked. And as it charred and went up in a hot blaze between
the logs, Lewis had not reached his hand to rescue it. He had clenched
his hands instead, while his heart burned to a white heat and then
withered into charred nothingness with the letter. In that minute Lewis
had hated Dick almost as much as Clare. What had they tried to do,
between them, to this poor baffled child! Of course it was Neil she
meant. Poor Petra! And of course Neil did want her every bit as much as
she wanted him. But there was the man’s living faith—the faith neither
Clare nor Dick could comprehend as a reality—which stood between him and
Petra, forbidding them to each other.

Only now, after weeks of thinking and watching, had Lewis come to think
that it would be best for both Neil and Petra if Petra could bring
herself to accept half a loaf from life, and marry himself, if she could
care for him even a little. For she was created and designed for
giving—for motherhood, wifehood. And Lewis loved her with such utter
abandonment! Mightn’t the strength and truth of his love ultimately
force a response almost in kind?

Lewis had little hope that this was even a possibility. But he had said
his prayer—Neil’s prayer, rather—the only one Lewis had ever learned to
pray. He was saying it now, as he drew more slowly into Meadowbrook’s
environs. His nephews were expecting a romp with Lewis to-night before
their supper. Then he would be changing into evening clothes at the
Allens’, for Petra’s dinner, and would return there to sleep.

“Yes,” he assured himself, driving slowly and more slowly, “I shall lose
her forever to-night—or gain the chance of beginning to win her.” He had
decided to tell her that he had read her letter to Dick down at
Northeast and how innocent Dick had been in letting him.

“Dick, you see,” Lewis would say to Petra, “simply thought he was fixing
things up between you and me without making us wait for the last
chapter! He thought in all honesty it was I, not Neil, you meant in that
letter. Of course, I knew better.... But Petra, it isn’t broken hearts
that make for ruin and unhappiness in lives. Not ultimately, anyway. It
is broken faiths. Neil stayed away to-night—don’t you suppose—because of
something dearer to him than mere happiness. Something more blessed than
happiness.” That was part of what Lewis would say to her. And then, if
they kissed—if she let him kiss her there to-night on the edge of the
Paradise meadow—

Well! Lewis’ hope, though small, pierced his heart like a sword.



                            _Chapter Twenty_


The dinner was over—a medley of flowers and fruit, shining candles,
extravagantly imaginative food (Clare was no gourmand but her cook was a
prize), much banter and some conversation. The cake had crowned it all.
It was a perfectly recognizable model, two feet high or so, of the
building where Lewis had his offices, and Petra herself, done in
violet-colored gumdrops, was represented on the roof, sitting on a
typewriter and surrounded by twenty minute candelabras each holding five
candles. It was obvious that Dick had conspired with the cook. Every one
was enchanted, but Petra most of all. “What a child she is!” Lewis had
thought, with a variety of pang he had never before experienced
concerning this girl. “A baby, really!” A thousand candelabra of
birthday candles might have gone to the shining of her eyes, and her
cheeks were rosy. She clapped her hands like a child in a fairy tale ...
at least, that is something children outside of fairy tales seem not to
do, clap their hands when they are suddenly delighted.

But now they had left the dining room and come through the great hall to
a small drawing-room at one side of the street door. Lewis and his
hostess, at any rate, were there, sitting together on a sofa with ends
curved like a lyre, facing the wide arched doorway into the hall, their
backs to open French doors flooded with moonlight. Moonlight, dim
lamplight, a fire burning on a white-tiled hearth, roses in silver
vases—that was Clare’s little drawing-room to-night. Cynthia and Farwell
had drifted through the room with their cigarettes and out the French
door to the moonlit road. Farwell called back as they went, “This is
delicious, Clare! Your road is like a silver river to-night. You and
Doctor Pryne must come.”

But Clare by a glance had held Lewis where he was. She said to him in a
low voice, “I’d rather watch Petra! Isn’t she too delightful to-night!
This is the way I have dreamed her. If only all days were birthdays!”

Harry Allen had gravitated to the piano up on the dais at the side of
the great hall, and now he was drumming out jazz to make your heart
jump, while Petra and Dick danced. They did not confine themselves to
one small space on the floor in the usual way, but circled the whole
hall freely. At dinner Lewis had noticed how the relationship of these
two had changed since he had first seen them together, that fateful
Saturday in June. Then Dick had only been aware of Petra, it seemed, as
an excrescence on Clare’s life. Now they were comrades. You saw it in
the way they looked at each other, laughed at each other, teased each
other. In fact, they counted with each other every minute. This was a
development for which Lewis was totally unprepared; for Dick had kept
his promise, and since the fiasco of his and Lewis’ holiday at Northeast
Harbor had never so much as mentioned Petra the few times they had met.
So Lewis had rather taken it for granted that Petra’s naïve and
illusioned letter had destroyed any possibility of an honest relation
between them. From what ground had the present happy intimacy evolved?
Lewis could not guess. When the cake had been brought in and set on the
cleared table in front of Petra and she had clapped her hands, Dick who
was beside her had kissed her cheek. It was a brotherly caress, hearty
and genuine. But Lewis’ heart had stood still. Was this to be the
answer? Why not! How unconscionably unimaginative and stupid he had
been!

Lewis and Clare were in a position to see the dancers during much of
their way around the great hall. But Dick and Petra seemed not aware of
the little drawing-room and their audience there. They might have been
dancing out under the moon alone, so unconscious they appeared of
anybody’s eyes or attention. Dick held Petra as if she were a delightful
glass doll that might break. And Petra gave the impression of glass.
Brittle. Lovely. Her birthday gown made Lewis think of spun glass, it
was so stiff and fragile. Even her fantastically high-heeled slippers
seemed glassy. And her forehead, leaning against Dick’s bowed-down
forehead in the latest absurd mode of the dance, added the last aspect
of brittle fragility to what they were doing.

“Petra and Dick are great friends now,” Clare said suddenly. “You can
imagine, Doctor Pryne, how that gratifies me.”

“Yes?” he said. “Yes. It’s very nice.” Lewis did not mind the idiotic
sound of his own words. Clare simply did not count enough for him to
listen to her. She was less than nothing to his consciousness, with
Petra out there in Dick Wilder’s arms, turning on fantastic spun-glass
heels to Harry’s intrepid, persistent, absolutely compelling jazz.

Clare was all too aware of Lewis’ indifference. Nothing to-night had
gone quite as she had planned it. If she were honest with herself, she
would have known that the imperfection of the way the birthday party was
going really consisted in its perfection. The object of the party,
Petra, had somehow, strangely, unbelievably, taken the center of the
stage and held it. Even for her father she had held it. Several times,
when Clare had said something directly to Lowell down the table, he had
been slow to turn his eyes from his daughter. And once he had not turned
them at all—merely answered his wife absently, while he continued to
smile at some silly byplay between Dick and Petra. As for Doctor Lewis
Pryne—who sat at her right during dinner—his manners were impeccable but
his attention, she had known perfectly well, was for Petra. Even when he
was not looking at the girl—and to be fair, he scarcely looked at her at
all—he heard every silly, childish thing she said, every laugh,—heard
them through the things Clare was saying to him. This had never happened
to Clare before. To sit at her own table and have all the attention
sweep over her and away from her toward another. This was something she
had never imagined or planned! It filled her with a sort of wild
unbelief in its reality. It was dreamlike. Almost nightmarish.

She said now to Lewis, “Aren’t they precious. Sweet! And everything
before them! Petra seems to have had enough of young Neil, or he of her.
Anyway, he seldom comes here now. But it was none of my doing. I was
ready to stand back of him, in spite of my cherished hope that Dick
might find his happiness in Petra. Dick told you of that hope, at
Northeast. So you know how I have planned and dreamed for both those
children, Petra and Dick. We—you and I, Doctor, between us,—seem to have
succeeded in giving Petra her chance at life. Your job, anyway, has
given her self-respect, self-confidence. And I—well, Doctor Pryne, you
know because you are wise—pray Dick never knows—it has not been too easy
for me to give her Dick. For one thing, honestly, I am not sure she is
big enough for him. I tremble at my daring in taking her ultimate
development so for granted.—Tell me—I need you to tell me, Doctor—say
that in your judgment I have not been wrong. If I thought what I have
done wasn’t to mean Dick’s happiness,—well, I should blame myself
eternally. If in trying to mend his life I have complicated it—that is a
terrible thought. For you know—he told you—how he feels about me.
Through no fault of mine. I saw it happening and I warned him. But I
thought if only he could begin to care for Petra a little, in the end—in
the end—well—he might come to care for me less. He did tell you?”

Lewis sighed. Little he cared whether she heard the sigh. And she did
hear it. He said, “If you were actually giving Dick to Petra so that he
might get over his young, romantic infatuation for you, it would, of
course, be calamitous, Mrs. Farwell. Calamitous for them both. Ghastly.
But that won’t be the way of it. If they do marry, it will be because
they have fallen healthily in love. You—and I—we are out of it. Clean
out of it. Nothing to worry us.”

“You think Dick no longer cares for me, Doctor Pryne?” Her voice was
sharper than she meant it to be.

Lewis did not reply. His hostess or not, she was abominable. He watched
the dancers.

Clare said, after a minute, “I see what you think! If only you were
right! How happy that would make me, Doctor! But life isn’t like that.
Life makes us suffer. What I am so tortured by now is the fear that in
my blundering I may not only have failed to help Dick, but I may have
involved Petra in something amounting almost to tragedy for her. If she
cares for him, as she seems to lately—if she has given up Neil for Dick,
and Dick fails her—all our hearts may break in the end. But mine the
most. For I am the cause of the muddle. I have wanted only the best for
them both. For us all. And what have I really done! I begin to fear that
Dick—no matter how hard he tries—will never be satisfied with Petra.
Knowing Dick, I ought to have known that.—But I wanted his happiness
so.”

She was crying. Unashamedly. But they were angry, baffled tears and
Lewis knew it. The unkind part was that Clare knew he knew it. But she
would show him. She would give him a demonstration of how he was wrong,
how absolutely wrong he was. She would show him that Petra had no
possible chance of being her, Clare Farwell’s, rival! After long weeks
of fearing it, to-night Clare was faced with the fact that this Doctor
Lewis Pryne was not to increase her roll of wonderful friendships. But
one slight gratification she would yet wrest from the humiliating
situation: the man might himself distrust, even dislike her; but he
should see that Dick Wilder was still her slave.

She got up and went to the door: stood by it, one bare, rather thin arm
reached up along the jamb, watching the dancers. Lewis stayed where he
was and smoked his interminable cigarettes. He was glad his hostess had
left him, but concerned for the direction her steps had taken.

This time, as Petra and Dick neared the arch of the drawing-room
doorway, they could not fail to know that they were the object of some
one’s attention. Dick wavered, let Petra go from his arms, seemed to
wake from a fragile dream.

“Want to dance, Clare?” he said.

She shook her head.

“No. But Doctor Pryne is tired of talking to just me. Come on in and
play with us.”

Lewis got up and stood by the fire. Petra came and stood irresolutely
near him, at a loss and waiting for Clare to lead the “play,” whatever
it was to be. But Clare wandered toward the French doors and stood, her
back half turned, looking out onto the moonlight road. No one said
anything. Lewis had no intention of “playing.” He was swearing angry.
Clare turned her head after a minute’s silence, during which the three
of them—Lewis, Petra, Dick—had stayed watching her, turned her head and
looked at Dick over her shoulder. Then she stepped out into the
moonlight.

Harry, oblivious that his dancers no longer existed, that the frail
dream had broken, went on pouring out jazz. Dick had followed Clare, of
course. He went as naturally and with as little fuss as if he were her
shadow. Lewis and Petra were left, silent, by the fire.

Neither of them had a thing to say. The clock ticked,—an elegant little
glass clock with glass flowers for dials, on the mantel near them. Then
they heard Cynthia’s voice out in the moonlight. “You’ll need a scarf,
Clare dear. There’s an autumn tang.”

“Oh, no. The moonlight’s warm! We’ll be right back. Get out the cards,
Lowell, and since your heart is set on it, we’ll have some poker.”

But before Farwell and Cynthia came in through the French doors, Lewis
had said quickly to Petra, “My darling, you mustn’t mind. Dick’s such a
fool he’s not worth your little finger.”

That brought Petra’s face around to Lewis’. She took hold of the high
carved back of a chair between them. Took hold hard. Eyes,
lips,—suddenly they had become the attentive eyes of her childhood,
looking outward onto a wonder-filled world. The unsullen lips of her
childhood sweetly parted with expectant breath. For just that instant it
might have been Petra back in the Cambridge apartment three years ago.

But unfortunately Lewis was totally unaware that “my darling” had come
from his lips at all. He had no cue to the transformation. And then
Cynthia and Farwell joined them and Farwell was getting out the cards.
He sent Petra for a table. But as she started to obey, she was
intercepted by Elise in the doorway. Petra was wanted on the telephone.

“Who is it?” Farwell called after his daughter. “It can’t be important.
Why do you bother?”

The maid answered, not Petra. “He didn’t give his name, sir. But he said
it _was_ very important.”

“Well, Elise, don’t interrupt us again to-night with telephone messages
or anything else,” Farwell commanded. And then to Cynthia and Lewis,
“Telephones are the devil! Damned intrusions on decent privacy! Clare
agrees with me. We’re thinking of having ’em taken out. As it is, it’s a
private number, of course, but Petra has given it to several of her
friends. Only natural, I suppose. But I detest it.”

Petra was back almost before her father was done grumbling. She came
only to the door, however, and said, “I’m terribly sorry, Father, but
I’ve got a headache. Elise is bringing the table. I couldn’t possibly
play. Tell Clare when they come in, will you? I am going to bed.”

It would have been absurdly impossible to accept illness as an
explanation of Petra’s leaving her own birthday party so suddenly, if
her story were not so borne out by her look. She had lost all the
unusual high color of the earlier part of the evening and become
extraordinarily white and peaked. Cynthia saw it as plainly as her
doctor brother. She cried, “Petra, dear child! You must let me come with
you. You do look really ill. And at your own party! It’s a shame!”

“No, don’t come, please. I’ll be perfectly all right. I just want to be
alone. Will you tell Clare, please, not to come in, afterwards,
to-night? I may be asleep and I’d rather she didn’t. Good night, Doctor
Pryne. Good night, Mrs. Allen, and Father. I’m so sorry....”

When Clare and Dick drifted in a few minutes later, it was Cynthia who
did Petra’s explaining. But by then Harry had waked to the fact that
nobody was taking advantage of his jazz and had come to the
drawing-room.

“That’s funny!” he said, breaking into his wife’s account of Petra’s
sudden desertion. “Petra didn’t go to bed, you know. She went out of the
door. I saw her. That’s why I stopped playing. I thought you and Petra
were dancing, Dick. Then I looked up and saw Petra going alone out the
front door in a tearing hurry.”

“Did she have a wrap on?” Cynthia asked, concerned.

“No. Just her pretty party frock.”

“She’s back now then,” Clare said, “and in her bed. It’s really cold.”
But she looked at Lewis, her eyes distraught. Had the woman any
compunction for what she had done? If not, it was superb acting. She was
a Duse, Lewis thought, but with her genius devoted to personal, secret
dramas.

“Anyway, I’d better go up and see how she is,” Clare murmured. “She
doesn’t have headaches like this, you know. Not suddenly. She must have
been—disturbed about something. Put out. I’ll go up. I think she’ll come
back.”

“No, don’t.” That was Lewis. He did not care how sharply he spoke. “The
child really looked ill. _And she particularly asked that you shouldn’t
go to her._”

Clare’s eyes grew wide,—darkened. She was superb! “Really? Well—” And
then to her husband she said, with a shrug. “And I wanted her party to
be a success!”

“Well, it was, my dear. It still is. And Petra’ll be all right in the
morning. She doesn’t care much for poker, anyway. Let’s start playing.
It’s going on eleven.”

But Lewis was destined to blame himself, before many hours had passed,
for dissuading Clare from going up to see about Petra. Afterwards, he
never understood why he had sat there playing poker until midnight,
after what Harry had said of Petra’s going out of the door and not up to
bed. He had been stupid to the point of imbecility. But the reason was
that Petra’s transformation when he told her Dick wasn’t worth her
little finger, while she stood holding the back of that chair, had
filled his mind so full of a simply blinding hope that there was no room
for shadows—hardly for thought itself! He had accepted her story quite
simply, when she returned from the telephone: she had a headache. He
knew, too, of course, that she was furious with Clare. Any girl would
be, under the circumstances. But for Lewis himself she had had that
look.

It was hard for Lewis to have to wait until morning to see Petra again.
That was all her going to bed in the middle of the party had meant to
him—that he must wait now until morning. He was not to tell her his love
by moonlight in the Paradise meadow, but to-morrow, in daylight, driving
her in to Boston. He had got ahead of Dick in this, and it had been
agreed he should come to Green Doors from the Allens’ a little before
eight.

He won steadily at the game they were playing, but smiled now and then
his lighted smile that had nothing to do with material, mundane
winnings.



                          _Chapter Twenty-One_


Cynthia, bless her heart, came down for an early breakfast with her
brother.

“If Petra’s not over her headache, what will you do? Make her stay
home?” she asked.

“I think she’ll be over it. Miss Frazier’s away on vacation, and I need
Petra more than ordinary these days.”

“You seem a trifle brutal, darling. Don’t you believe the girl had a
headache? I do. She looked terrible. I know Clare didn’t believe it, but
then she hadn’t seen her. I heard Clare telling Lowell it was temper. I
thought that was rather horrid of Clare, I must say. And now you are
almost as heartless.”

“Cynthia Pryne Allen! Do I hear criticism of Clare? I’d better take your
temperature. You look all right but I am afraid you must be delirious!”

Cynthia leaned back in her chair. She had finished her grapefruit and
black coffee. That was all she allowed herself for breakfast, having no
ambition to compete with her Harry in avoirdupois.

“No, I’m not criticizing Clare. Not exactly. But lately—well, lately
I’ve sort of come to understand Petra a little better. I feel as if I
have, anyway. I don’t think things are so frightfully easy for her at
Green Doors. Not that Clare means to be unkind. Oh, hardly! But their
temperaments don’t jibe, that’s all. Clare can’t take it in, that any
one can be so simple as Petra is. That’s the trouble, I think. She
thinks Petra’s simplicity is always covering some design. But Petra
hasn’t any design. She’s just a healthy, nice, rather sweet girl. She
seems sweet to me, anyway. Just these last few weeks I’ve grown fond of
her. You don’t have to wonder where you are with her, ever. Why, I told
Clare just last night that if I had a daughter I’d adore her to be a
second Petra. She’d be so _comfortable_ to live with.”

“Yes? And what did Clare reply, if anything?”

“That made me rather cross, Lewis. She said that I didn’t know Petra.
She said she was ‘deep.’”

“Did she mean it as insult or compliment?”

“Dear Lewis! When one woman calls another deep!—It has looked to me
lately—nights at the Country Club, when they were all there together,
the Farwells and Dick and Neil (that simply grand McCloud person, you
know)—that Clare was almost jealous of Petra. Harry’s got an idea that
that’s why Neil doesn’t come to Green Doors any more. I shouldn’t be
surprised if he’s seeing Petra secretly, somewhere else. I think Clare
suspects it too. She’s almost insufferable, anyway, the way she
questions Petra as to where she has been and what she has been doing.
And she doesn’t mind who’s there, listening. It makes one very
uncomfortable. It’s hateful for Petra.”

“Yes. One feels that,” Lewis agreed. “But it isn’t worth Petra’s
bothering about, or yours, really. Clare is—incorrigible. All the same,
she must have some nice qualities, I suppose, or she couldn’t plan
gardens so astutely, and care about the books she does care about, and
music and all. She does honestly care for those things. That’s not sham.
One can’t sham that. Do you know what I think, Cynthia? I think that
people like Clare are so awful simply because they are so close to being
really fine. If Clare were just any silly woman, ‘out for the men,’
you’d laugh at her and find her, possibly, rather touchingly human. You
might even like her. But it’s precisely because she isn’t a silly,
superficial creature that the cruelty and ugliness in her seems such
wretched cruelty, such wretched ugliness. She is an exquisite person—has
exquisite perceptions, anyway. There’s only that one unpleasant spot,
her vanity in the admiration she excites in every one around her. If she
were only sensual or selfish (openly, healthily selfish, I mean)—if she
had any mean qualities at all, like the rest of us—she’d be forgivable.
But it is the under-bogging of all this highly emphasized spirituality
with endless quicksands of vanity that gives a fellow the jitters—unless
he’s sucked under, like Dick, and suffocated in it. It is obvious that
Clare deliberately took Petra on as handicap to add to the zest of a
game that was becoming almost too easy to be exciting any longer. But
now that the handicap begins really to weigh—as it did last night—she’s
lost her poise—and her pose. Last night Clare was openly vicious. One
could sympathize—just possibly—with her wanting to vie with Petra for
Dick’s attention. But when it is in enchanting and holding Petra’s own
father she uses the girl as her foil, I must say I find it revolting.
That’s vanity gone rotten. It’s better, though, she should show her
hand. It won’t do Farwell any harm to see it. He had it coming to him. I
didn’t mind seeing him squirm last night. It’s for Petra I mind.”

Cynthia almost agreed with Lewis. But she looked very sorry. After all,
Clare Farwell had for several years made life richer and more
significant for Cynthia. Cynthia was hungry for the good and the
beautiful, as are we all when given leisure to discover ourselves. It
was hard giving Clare up as an ideal. Cynthia took a brave hold on
honesty and justice when she said, after a painful silence, “Probably
you are right, Lewis, in all you say. But I owe Clare a lot. And I’m
going to try to stay friends with her and to like her. I mayn’t go on
idealizing her as I have. I can’t any more. I’ve seen too much, and last
night, as you say, finished the revelation. Any one could see that she
was vicious toward Petra. But I think her friendship for me is genuine.
And I shall try to make mine for her genuine and understanding. I am
sorry for her.—And now promise me, Lewis” (he was up, ready to be off.
It was quarter to eight), “promise me at least to suggest that Petra
stays home to-day. Couldn’t I take her place? I have nothing to do. I’d
love it.”

“You’re a dear,” Lewis said. “I’ll let you know if I need you. As I
said, I’m sure Petra’s all right by now. She’s a healthy creature. I
wish I had your charity, Cynthia. I need it terribly.”


Green Doors had a hushed air. Lewis felt, from the manner of Elise who
opened the door to him, that the curtain had not yet been rung up, as it
were, and that it was a little unreasonable of him to expect to be let
in on the stage while the hands were still busy shifting scenery from
night to morning. But when he asked for Petra, Elise’s face cleared.
Petra, since her job, had become a worker, one of the hands. Part of
real life. If it was only Petra he wanted, well, Petra could be produced
easily enough.

“She hasn’t come down to breakfast yet. She ought to have been down half
an hour ago. The cook was just asking me, was she coming.”

“She had a headache last night. Perhaps she is not able to get up. Will
you please go and see? Tell her that Doctor Pryne is calling and that
it’s all right, he’ll go along without her, unless she’s better.”

Lewis walked back and forth over a space of twelve of the floor tiles in
the great hall while he waited for Elise’s return. He counted them each
time. They were beautiful tiles. Gray-green and glistening with a silken
sheen. The maid seemed a long time away. But she came at last,
presenting to his expectant and quickly questioning look a face of blank
perplexity.

“Miss Farwell didn’t sleep in her room last night,” she said. “Her bed
is opened, just as I left it, and her night things laid out. I can’t
think—”

“Take me to her room. Let me see it.” Lewis had the woman by the elbow
and was pushing her toward the staircase. It was as if he had taken in
Harry’s words about Petra’s not going to bed but out the front door for
the first time. Without a wrap! And Clare had said, “She’ll be in bed by
now then. It’s really October.”—Something like that, anyway.

As Elise led the way up the stars, Lewis knew, absolutely, that he had
lived through these very moments before. He knew also that the
dénouement was to be a tragic one. He knew beyond this that he and
nobody else in the whole world was responsible and to blame. There was
nothing dreamlike in all this. It was as if he were more, not less,
sensibly conscious than ordinarily.

Lewis had no hesitation whatever about entering the room which the maid
whispered to him was Petra’s. It was a corner room: two windows on each
side. He looked about on perfect order. Glazed chintz draperies thickly
pleated, like cardboard, were drawn across the window-panes, pulled
there by the maid who had opened Petra’s bed for the night, as a screen
for her undressing. Petra would have pushed them wide and opened the
windows if she had slept here, of course. The curtains being drawn, and
the windows shut, was evidence that she had not. Lewis turned to the
bed. A pleated spread to match the curtains had been carefully removed
and laid across two chairs, stiff and unwrinkled. The sheets were turned
down. Across the foot of the bed a white nightgown was laid out, and
down on the floor a pair of high-heeled mules, gay with pompoms. The
dressing table, in one corner, with its rows of silver and glass-topped
jars and bottles, was in exquisite order. Everything in the room was
orderly—untouched. Even in his condition of fearful presentiment of
evil, Lewis looked for the picture he had given Petra yesterday for her
birthday. Had she hung it here in her bedroom, as he had hoped she
would? No, there was a painting by Georgia O’Keefe on one wall,—a
picture Petra couldn’t possibly understand. Nothing else.

Strange to be looking hungrily here for signs of Petra’s personality
when Petra herself was lost! Strange to care that there was nothing here
in Petra’s own place, her room, to speak her real! Stranger yet that
there was nothing, not a book, not a flower,—not a scrap of living
interest anywhere! It might have been a stage bedroom. All the
properties necessary for the idea that somebody did use it to sleep
in—yes. But you must wait for the actress to come on, to know what she
was like. _A stage bedroom!_ And yet this was Petra’s retreat, her very
own room, her place. Lewis almost shuddered at it. The Maid of the
Alder—the hollow woman. It might have been her cave! It was so soulless.

The brilliant October sunlight turned the shut curtains into a glaring
purplish pink. The image of a peacock spreading a mammoth spectroscopic
tail was embossed on the oyster-colored rug. There were smaller peacocks
on the backs of the chairs. Suddenly Lewis stopped looking for signs of
Petra. When she came in here, herself, her personality, was shut away,
outside the four walls of her bedroom. He felt that it must beat around
the walls all night to get in. She slept in a place shut away from
herself. This was madness! She wasn’t here. Hadn’t been here ever. Not
really. Where _was_ she?

Elise had followed him in. He turned to her and all she saw was an
efficient, cool person who would make everything all right. She was
beginning to get over her scare. Doctor Pryne was not scared.

“Has Miss Farwell any other room than this? A sitting room?”

“No, sir. There is the bath. I looked in there when I came up. She
didn’t use her towels last night. I don’t think she came into the room
at all after I fixed it, sir.”

“Miss Farwell wore a white dress last night. Whitish, anyway. See if
that is in her closet, please.”

Elise hurried to the closet. In spite of the way Doctor Pryne’s demands
came—like firecrackers crackling—Elise still trusted to his coolness. It
kept her cool.

“No, sir. That dress isn’t here. It was a new one.”

“Does Miss Farwell ever sleep anywhere else than here, when she’s at
home? At the guest house, for instance? Or in another bedroom?”

“No, sir. We don’t keep the beds made up, except when there are guests.”

“Have you any ideas at all where Miss Farwell _might_ have gone last
night? To sleep?”

“No, sir. I thought she came to bed early, sir. I stayed up last night
to close up the house. Mrs. Farwell told me then that Miss Farwell had
gone to bed early and that we were to be quiet. I mean, sir, we stood
just outside Miss Farwell’s door, talking in whispers, not to wake Miss
Farwell, when Mrs. Farwell said good night to me. Mrs. Farwell thought
just as I did that Miss Farwell was here in bed, asleep.”

“Would you be able to tell if any of Miss Farwell’s clothes were gone? A
coat, for instance. It was cold last night. She was dressed in a
low-necked, sleeveless dance frock. She couldn’t go away anywhere like
that.”

“Oh, no, sir, she couldn’t. I’ll see, sir.”

Lewis went to the windows, one after another, and yanking the cords that
worked the curtains, let in the light. From each cord dangled a heavy
silk peacock for tassel. Ugh!

The maid turned from the open sliding doors of the wardrobe which took
up one whole side of the room.

“Everything is here, sir. She hasn’t so many clothes! Lovely dresses,
but not many. I’d know if anything was gone, I am sure.”

“What time did you lock the house up last night? If Miss Farwell had
gone out for a walk, say, and came back after you locked it, could she
have got in?”

“It was after you had all gone, I locked it. After the party. Around
midnight. Miss Farwell hasn’t a key. There aren’t any. One of the
servants bolts the doors and windows the last thing at night and that is
the only time they are locked. If Miss Farwell had come to the door and
found it locked, though, she had only to ring the bell. Somebody would
have heard. Or she could have knocked on her father’s window. He has a
bedroom right on the terrace.”

Although Doctor Pryne’s coolness was still consoling her somewhat,
Elise’s face, during these rapid questions and answers, had gone
gradually dead white and her knees were shaking. She presumed at this
point to ask a question on her own part: “Oh, sir, do you think anything
has happened? There’s the river beyond the meadows....”

If looks could kill, the look Elise got from Doctor Lewis Pryne in
return for her own one question would have struck her down on the
spot.—So she said later, when she told the whole story of what she
called the “inquest” to Clare,—told it with tears and to the
accompaniment of many careful promptings. She knew from that look that
her idea of Miss Farwell as a possible suicide angered the doctor even
more than it frightened herself. So she said hastily, shaking more than
ever, but the color a little returning to her blanched cheeks, “Or it
might be she’s kidnaped. Mrs. Farwell is one of the richest women in the
State of Massachusetts. It said so in the _Transcript_. They might know
she would give anything to get Miss Farwell back. Do you think it’s a
kidnaping, sir? Oh, poor Mrs. Farwell! This will break her heart!”

She was weeping openly by then. But she hoped it would be she and no
other who told Mrs. Farwell the news. And certainly nobody could get
ahead of her in telling it to the other stage-hands at Green Doors. It
would be strange if anybody got ahead of her, since she was the very
first to learn of the disappearance and the inquest had begun with her,
so to speak.

“You say Mr. Farwell sleeps downstairs? Take me to his room. Hurry!”

Again the doctor had her by an elbow, pushing her ahead of him. Again
they were on the stairs, only this time he was propelling her downward.
But in spite of the steady pressure of the doctor’s fingers on her
elbow, and his air of a perfect right to command, she found the courage
to suggest, “Hadn’t we better tell Mrs. Farwell, sir? Mr. Farwell won’t
like being disturbed at this hour. Mrs. Farwell won’t mind. She’s a
lovely woman.”

All the doctor said to that was, “Mr. Farwell’s room. Which way?” They
were at the foot of the stairs.

But Elise never told Lewis which way, for he had dropped her arm. No,
more than that, he actually pushed her away. Petra was coming toward
them through the great hall from the street door. She had left it wide
open behind her. The door was a wide, high plaque of golden light; and
Petra against it, in her glassy frock, was more like a ghost than a
girl—just that first minute.

“What is it? What is the matter, Elise? Why, good morning, Doctor
Pryne.”

Yes, it was Petra, not ghostly now. Lewis’ eyes had adjusted themselves
to the morning sunlight flooding the door. It was Petra all right.
Reticent. Nice-mannered. Pleasant.

Lewis whirled on the staring maid. “Thanks for all you did,” he said.
“Go away now.” Elise went, but no farther than the dining room; from
there she heard most of what passed between the doctor and Miss Farwell
and reported it concisely, in spite of excited weeping, to Mrs. Farwell
herself a few minutes later.

“You didn’t sleep in your room last night, Petra. I was frightened. I am
afraid I frightened the maid. Are you all right?”

“Yes. I could see something was the matter with Elise. I am sorry either
of you was worried. I meant to get in before anybody noticed. I’m all
right, thanks.”

There she stood, quite close to him,—real. In her party frock and her
fragile high-heeled slippers, immaculate and self-possessed. Even her
hair was as shining and groomed as last night, but with a new touch
added: a narrow violet band was tied around her head, back of her ears,
holding the curls in place. It was that ribbon with its flat little bow
at the side of her head, which infuriated Lewis.

“Where did you sleep last night?”

Elise, listening from the dining-room, where after all it was her place
to be ready to serve Miss Farwell her breakfast when she came in for it,
was amazed at the harshness of the tone putting the question. Doctor
Pryne had been sharp and quick with herself—but not harsh like this.
This was downright rude—and to Miss Farwell! But Miss Farwell was equal
to him. She was equal to any one. She was every bit as real a lady as
was Mrs. Farwell herself, in spite of being so different. Elise knew.
She had lived in the house with Miss Farwell for three years now.

Petra said, “Somehow I don’t think that you have a right to ask, Doctor
Pryne. Not like that exactly.”

“I have. I have been in hell. Scared out of my wits. I thought you—I
didn’t know what had happened to you. You’ve got to tell me where you
were, Petra,—where you slept.”

Then Lewis saw that although Petra was very erect in the flooding
sunlight, with brushed hair, and coolly half-smiling lips, her face was
haggard beyond belief. Austerely haggard.

“Petra—!” he urged again—almost gently now—then stopped. “My dear, have
you had breakfast?” But she had brushed her hair, tied a ribbon about it
in an infinitely enchanting way,—so why not breakfast too? Why did he
worry about so trivial a matter in any case!

“Yes. We—I had breakfast. Hours ago.” But she looked down, away from
Lewis’ look, very quickly as she changed the “we” to “I.” Now that she
was looking down, Lewis could see how, over night, her face had thinned.
He could almost see the bones of her cheek through the transparent
flesh.

She looked up as if to ward off his discernment. “Doctor Pryne! Could
you get along at the office without me to-day? I am—I think I am—well,
perhaps too tired.”

“No, Petra! I can’t go off and leave you. You must come with me. Now.
You needn’t work. But I’m not going to leave you to Clare. We can talk
in the car.”

But Petra misunderstood the reason for his insistence. She had suddenly
remembered that Janet wouldn’t be in the office. The night she had
passed had blurred her memory of ordinary things. But now she took hold
of ordinary things again, even steadied herself by their cognizance. She
was young, strong, and no shirker.

“Oh, of course, I must come. I had forgotten Janet wasn’t coming. Truly
I had. Will you wait while I change? I saw your car outside. We’ll still
be in time. It is still early.”

Lewis went out to wait in the car. He would not think. There was not one
single thing that ordinary conjecture could do for him. Petra must
confide in him before he would ever be able to think one straight
thought again. In an amazingly short time she came running out, pulling
on a polo coat over one of her office dresses. She waited till she was
in the car beside him to put on her felt hat. Petra’s hats and coats,
Lewis had noticed gradually, as the summer wore on, had nothing of the
magic and unique loveliness of her frocks. They were merely concealing
and casual. In fact, this same violet-colored felt, with its moderately
wide and down-tilting brim, had sufficed her all summer in town, and
this polo coat was the only coat he had ever seen her wear.

“I’m sorry that I had to keep you waiting.” She said it in her ordinary
ingenuous and clear, clipped tones as he started his engine.

That she was not wavering in her good manners, that not so much as her
voice was nicked by the night’s experience (whatever it had been!),
brought all Lewis’ anger sweeping back. What was she made of! She might
play this game with Clare, years on end, if she liked,—this game of good
manners covering a secret, vital, beating heart. But she could not play
it with Lewis himself any longer. They were to understand each other
now. He felt capable of wrenching Petra’s secret from her heart with the
strength of his bare hands. Her reticence—it should go down. He would
destroy it. Never in his life had he been more exasperated.

Then they came to the one sharp turn in Clare’s beloved little country
road, and Lewis’ violent feelings almost ended in a violent smash; for a
stalled roadster was there, taking up the middle of the way. Only by a
superhuman pulling of his whole steering gear to one side, then
steadying the bounding car among threatening tree boles and so somehow
getting it back to the road, did Lewis avoid calamity. Back, safe in the
road, Lewis pressed his accelerator and sped on without a backward
glance or even a curse at the driver of the stalled car. Lewis had seen
the man well enough in that split second when he jammed on the brakes
and turned the wheel. It was Neil McCloud, on his knees, struggling to
get a tire either on or off one of the wheels of his gaudy roadster.
Neil McCloud, on the almost unused road to Green Doors, not fifteen
minutes after Petra had appeared from her mysterious night away from
home! If the tire had not punctured, Neil could have been a quarter of
the way back to Boston by this time. And he would have been. Certainly
he had not meant Lewis and Petra to pass him.

Lewis shut his lips and waited for Petra to speak. If she would only
exclaim, “Wasn’t that Neil?” Or “Why didn’t you stop? That man needed
help!” Or she might say, “Whatever is Neil McCloud doing out here so
early!” Yes, Petra might say practically any inane thing at this minute,
and Lewis, God help him, would have believed it ingenuous. It was her
saying nothing that was so blasting....

They had rushed on for almost a full minute’s damning silence before
Lewis gave up his desperate hope that Petra would say some innocent word
and looked at her. Her face under the rakish, slouched felt hat was
utterly colorless, but her eyes were _swimmingly bright_. Lewis could
see that. And even as he looked, although she did not turn her face or
give the slightest voluntary sign that she was conscious of his regard,
her pallor vanished. Fire kindled on her cheeks.

Now Lewis knew why he had been so bitterly angry all these minutes since
Petra’s safe return, with her hair brushed to glisteningness, and a
violet ribbon binding her curls. Intuition had outleapt conjecture. Even
before Petra had spoken a word, while she had stood, an angel, against
the bright gold plaque of the October sunlight filling the doorway,
Lewis had known that he hated her beyond reason, that he loved her
beyond reason—more than he had ever loved her before,—and that she was
not his.



                          _Chapter Twenty-Two_


Lewis gathered the morning’s mail out of the box let into the office
door, and passing through the reception room, shut himself into his own
office. He had let Petra out at the street entrance and then driven on
to find a parking place for his car. She had come up ahead of him and
would be in the dressing room now. He put the mail down on his desk and
settled himself into his chair.

This was Tuesday, the morning Lewis gave to the clinic. But he must sort
his mail first. He could not hear Petra come out of the dressing room
and move around in the reception-office, but he was as conscious of all
her motions out there beyond his shut door as if she were making them in
his heart. He saw her looking down, glancing up, picking up the
telephone. She must stop moving about in his consciousness....

He was here, alone, with the day’s work before him. Why, he needn’t even
think about Petra if he didn’t want to, still less let her move about,
looking up, looking down, picking up the telephone, through the very
tissues of his heart.

But what was it Petra had said to McCloud that day of the miracle? Lewis
knew it by heart, it was often in his mind; yet now he was groping for
it confusedly! He put his head into his hands. Was this it?—“Love is the
word. You must say that. Try to say ‘I love.’”

And McCloud had said it—while the shackles of hate and rebellion fell
away and left him a free man—free in love. If Lewis’ shackles could only
fall, as had Neil’s! If he could only love Petra and not hate her, then
he would be able to bear, perhaps, not having her. And hatred of Petra
seemed to make him hate everything else. What was even his work to him
now! He was bored by the sight of this pile of letters. He was unnerved,
paralyzed. But love does not unnerve and paralyze. It isn’t in its
nature. Hate does that. Yes, if only he could say, as Neil had said, “I
love!”

But how could he say it? How could an ordinary person like himself love
as the saints love? Well, Neil was no saint and he had said it. But the
Little Flower herself had helped Neil. She wasn’t helping Lewis. And why
should she? Lord have mercy on him, a sinner!

Lewis lifted his head from his hands. He must get to work, anyway. That
meant he must begin to use his mind—stop writhing! That was all his mind
had done ever since he had seen that hot blush spread over Petra’s face.
He and Petra had scarcely spoken to each other on the twenty-mile drive
which had been made in less time than Lewis cared to remember now. What
had he thought speed would do for the situation? But here was this bunch
of mail. He’d got to concentrate. This was his life, his job, here under
his hand. His plain duty.

Lewis tore open an envelope. Inside was a scrawl from Nelson, the brain
surgeon, giving the hour set for a certain Eric Larsen’s operation.
Nine-thirty, this morning. The chances of the man’s recovering were
slim, Lewis knew, but there was no choice; an operation there must be.
Lewis’ responsibility had ended, once he had passed the man on to
Nelson, of course. But he had promised Eric Larsen to go with him to the
operating room and stand by until the affair was over. Lewis had been at
the hospital yesterday just before driving out to Meadowbrook; had spent
the better part of an hour beside Larsen’s bed in the midst of the ward.
That Larsen did not once rouse to the point of recognizing him had not
made Lewis feel the time wasted. Who was he to say that the man’s
consciousness—at some incommunicable level—was not aware of his friend
at hand, sympathetic and hopeful for him. And when Larsen came out of
ether this morning, if he did come out, it would be no strange, chance
nurse whom his glance should meet, but the one person who knew all about
his failures, his crimes,—and his hopes of regeneration: the only friend
he laid claim to, Lewis himself.

But nine-thirty! That meant that Lewis must get along. The rest of this
mail must be handed over to—Petra.

“Let me love again! Give me the love to love You with. Not for my sake.
For Eric Larsen’s sake. He needs me now, this minute, worthless as I am.
Give me this love so that I may go on and do this one morning’s work
that You have given me. Make your gifts whole—the work and the love to
do it with.—For this suffering Eric Larsen’s sake, not mine, who am
unworthy, Lord.”

Lewis was looking around for his hat, as he prayed. There it was,
knocked onto the floor somehow. The office certainly needed Miss
Frazier. He collected the hat and snatched up the remaining bunch of
letters. And as he performed these simple, objective acts, the shackles
fell. There was no vision, no sensible response from on High. Nothing
like that. Nothing in the world—but hatred and anger dissolving from his
consciousness with the rapidity of light. “Deo Gratias” was all Lewis
breathed in recognition of the Spirit’s blowing, and in another instant
he was out in the reception office, by Petra’s desk.

Petra was talking to McCloud over the telephone. Lewis recognized the
vibrations of McCloud’s voice, although he caught nothing of the words.
Petra, glancing up at her employer, said quickly, interrupting the
voice, “The doctor’s here, Neil. Waiting to speak to me. Call me up when
I get back from lunching with Dick. Two this afternoon. Good-by,” and
put the instrument down sharply.

“I’m in a tearing hurry, Petra,” Lewis said. “You’ll have to go over
these letters. Clip all that look personal together. Whether they’re
marked personal or not. Make notes about the rest on the envelopes. If
anything urgent comes up, I’ll be at the hospital till noon, anyway, but
don’t call me for anything there till after eleven. No matter how
urgent. I’m watching an operation. I’ll be back here by two, and if it’s
possible, I’ll let you go home then. There’s aspirin in the right top
drawer of my desk. Better take two. If that Philadelphia man shows up or
calls, tell him I’ll see him at three, with the boy, here. But aside
from that, keep the afternoon clear. I don’t like your looking so tired.
Think you can stick it until two?”

“Oh, yes! I’m perfectly all right. The aspirin will help a lot.
Everything will be all right here. Is it Eric Larsen—the operation?”

Petra had a special interest in Eric Larsen, the big shambling Swede,
with his shifty eyes and oddly contrasting child-like trust in the
goodness and power of Doctor Pryne. But she had been almost afraid of
him when he first started coming. She had hidden her nervousness,
however, and even Janet had not guessed what an ordeal those first few
visits had been. Soon fear had turned to pity. Then had come the
afternoon when Eric Larsen had appeared before her desk, roaring drunk
and dangerously ugly, just after Doctor Pryne had gone for the day.
Petra, though in a very agony of terror, had stood by Janet when she
insisted they must get him quietly back to his lodging house and up to
his bedroom safe. Janet said that otherwise he would spend the night in
jail and that wouldn’t help what Doctor Pryne was doing for him,—now
would it! The next day Doctor Pryne had been appalled by their temerity,
or tried to seem so; but the truth was, and they both knew it, that he
was, in his heart, delighted.—So now, naturally, Petra had a special
interest, if this was the day they were operating on Eric Larsen.

“Yes, it’s Larsen,” Lewis replied. “Nine-thirty. If he pulls through,
we’ll write all about him to his mother in Upsala. She may send for him
to come home. Almost any mother would now, in spite of everything.”

Petra tingled with gratification. Why, this was the way Doctor Pryne
talked with Janet herself, confiding plans and hopes to her concerning
his cases! To cover up her sudden delight she said again, “Everything
will be all right here. Don’t give anything a thought, Doctor
Pryne.”—How ready she was to forget his unreasonableness of the early
morning, now that he was treating her not only with the respect he gave
Janet, but almost with the same intimacy of confidence! Perhaps he
hadn’t been really angry with her, after all, nor intended to humiliate
and wound her. Perhaps it was only because she had been so terribly
tired Petra had felt, suddenly, in the hall at Green Doors early this
morning, that Doctor Pryne disliked and mistrusted her. It must have
been just her stupid mistake. Even without his being so sweet now, she
would have come to realize her stupid mistake, given a little time. For
Doctor Pryne would never use the tone she thought he had used to her,
even if he had wanted to; he was too innately kind. And his silence all
the long drive in had had nothing to do with her, as she in her mean
selfish egoism had thought it had! He had been worrying about Eric
Larsen. About the operation. Naturally, he wouldn’t want to talk!—Now,
if only Petra weren’t just a little frightened about Teresa, she would
be happy indeed! For Doctor Pryne had said, “If he pulls through, we’ll
write all about him to his mother in Upsala. She may send for him to
come home. Almost any mother would now, in spite of everything.” _We
will write. We._ Not _I_! She might have been Janet!

The happiness of feeling herself not only reinstated but lifted even
higher than ordinary in Doctor Pryne’s good will did more for Petra than
the two aspirin tablets which she immediately and obediently gulped
down. She was hardly tired at all now, in spite of having had no sleep.


Lewis got back to the office before Petra had returned from lunching
with Dick. He supposed that date must have been made before last night.
He left his door open so that he would hear when Petra came in.

He heard her step at last and called out to her. “I’m back, Petra.
Please come in here.”

He was surprised that she neither answered nor came, for a long minute.
But he felt her there, all that tense, hesitant minute, just beyond the
line of his vision. He knew, by some sixth sense, that she was
struggling mightily with herself to obey his command. Then she came.

“But what is it? What has happened?” Lewis was up and around the desk
the instant he saw her face. “Petra! You frighten me, looking like
that!”

“Oh, no, I don’t. You’re like some kind of god, above everything. Above
being frightened.”

“You’d better tell me what’s happened, though. You’ve no reason to be
angry with me, anyway. What have I done?”

“I’m not angry with you. You haven’t done anything. How is Larsen?”

“Larsen’s dead. But don’t cry. Everything was done that could be. He
just had to die, I guess. _Don’t cry._”

“I’m not crying. Or am I? I thought I wasn’t!” She was wiping the tears
from her face with the back of her wrist. “We’ll never write that letter
to his mother in Upsala now, will we!”

“It may be better so. I’m afraid she was never much of a mother, you
know. What has happened between you and Dick, Petra? Anything you want
to tell me? I can see you have had some sort of a shock.”

“I have. It’s my letter. The one I wrote him. You read it, he said. That
simply idiotic letter. I wrote it because I was sorry for Dick. I
thought I’d been all wrong about him and Clare. I thought I’d been cruel
to him! I thought I’d insulted him, unforgivably. So I told him why I
couldn’t—couldn’t marry him. And you read it. And I won’t work here any
more. I couldn’t, now. But where can I work? How can I earn money? I
want never to see you again.”

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about, Petra. Why you don’t
want to work for me, I mean, or see me again. But that’s all right. No
reason I should know. There are other jobs. We’ll find you one. Is that
all that makes you—that makes you look like this? I thought something
terrible had happened. I really did.”

“Something has. Worse than his showing you that letter and your knowing
everything about me!” She stopped, took off her hat, dropped it into the
patients’ chair. That incongruously worn-looking, slouchy felt hat! Her
hands went to her hair, pressing it back from her forehead. Then,
standing very straight, and with eyes on the window, not Lewis, she
said, “Dick says that things are wearing ‘pretty thin’ between my father
and Clare. He says that he and Clare belong to each other ‘by right of
understanding and sympathy.’ He says he worships her and that—that she
kissed him. On the road. Last night. When they went out. You remember?
He says Clare wants me to know. He says Clare thinks that they owe it to
me, to _let_ me know. He says Clare is so fond of me that for a long
time—for months—she has tried to think that black was white, and white
black, so that she might not lose me as her daughter. He says Clare
feels more a traitor to me than to my father. He says Clare feels that I
need her more than my father needs her. He says Clare will never, never
stop loving me and taking care of me, as long as I will let her. He says
he means both financially and spiritually. He says it would simply break
Clare’s heart if I change in my feelings toward her simply because she
has changed in her feelings toward my father. He says Clare trusts me to
be objective and detached in this difficult situation. More difficult
for Clare than for any of us, but she is being big and brave. He says
Clare wants him, Dick, to help me to a sane, large-minded, unselfish
point of view.... But before he said anything at all, he swore me to
secrecy about what he was going to say. They are going to wait to tell
Father, you see, until he has finished the last chapter of the novel. It
might upset him, hurt the book. Clare thought even of that. But there’s
even a better reason for secrecy. Clare hasn’t actually decided she will
marry Dick. Dick says he has still to get her definite promise. Dick
says she is terrified that she can’t make him absolutely happy. But she
can. He will make her see she can. So he swore me to secrecy and then
told me all this. And my first conscious act, since, is to tell you
every word he said,—the whole business. That’s the kind of a girl I am.
You see the kind of girl I am. You see. You see. You see. The kind of
girl I am. You see! You see! You—”

But Lewis by now had stopped her. He had laid firm hands on her and put
her into his own chair, even in that moment remembering that the
patients’ chair was occupied by a violet felt hat,—shabby, yes, but
since it seemed to be Petra’s only hat, probably worth preserving....

“Sit there, Petra. Stop. There’s nothing to cry about. Be as mad as you
like. But don’t cry. Dick must have gone crazy. This is beyond reason.
Of course, a woman like Clare will never give up a Lowell Farwell for
that callow fool. She never expected him to believe she would. She was
merely practicing her art—out on the moonlit road last night. Dick
happened to be there to practice on, that was all. The poor boy’s stark
crazy. And Clare was rather mad herself, last night. She was horribly
wounded in the most vulnerable part of her spirit’s anatomy.”

But Petra was going on again. Her head was in her hands, as his had been
in his hands earlier in the day. And she was talking now not to him, but
to herself, behind her hands. “They are horrible. All of them. Clare,
Father, Dick, Marian. All the people who belong to me. All I belong to.
I have known it a long time. But I was weak. I didn’t know how to
escape. How to get out. Now I shall escape. Now I shall get out. Only
how can I earn the money? I won’t work here. Not for you. But I must get
away from Green Doors.”

Lewis heard Petra, faintly, going on with it while he was off getting
her a glass of water. He came back, said, “Drink this. Stop talking. Let
me think a minute. We’re both too excited.”

She stopped talking, but she did not take the water. And she kept her
head in her hands. Lewis sat himself on the corner of the desk. He took
his cigarette case from his pocket but put it back unopened.

He said, “Petra, I understand. Everything, almost, I think. Yes, you
must get away from Green Doors. Live your own life. I thought that, you
know, that first day, when I went there to tea. And last night it was
even more clear to me. But there’s nothing to be so frightened about.
You are silly to be scared about the money. You’ll make enough. And if
you don’t want to go on with this job, well, there’s no need to. At
least, not after Miss Frazier gets back. You must stand by till then, of
course. You wouldn’t like yourself if you didn’t. But after she’s back,
you can go. I’d already been thinking about it. There are other jobs,
you know. And what about Teresa? Can’t you live with her? The way you
planned—once before?”

Petra had listened, hardly breathing. Now she lifted her ravaged young
face and looked at him, hope dawning. “But do you mean it? Am I good
enough to recommend? Any one would believe you, of course, if you said I
was. But can you really say it? You have to go slow when you dictate to
me, you know. And yesterday in that letter I spelt hypophrenia wrong.”

“I _used_ it wrong, you mean,” he said. “It was a silly word to use. I
intended feeble-mindedness and should have said it.”

“You are laughing. You are making fun!”

“Not at all. But I’m not crying.”

“And you will recommend me? In spite of the spelling and all? But—but
eighteen dollars a week won’t be enough. If I don’t live at Green Doors,
if I go right away, I must have more than that. I’m not worth it, I
know, but I _must_ have it.”

“I don’t agree with you there. You could manage well enough. But we
needn’t go into that now. There’s loads of time. We’ll work the whole
thing out together. You and I. When you are quiet and rested. Once we
face the whole situation squarely and intelligently, the next steps will
come clear. But you must go home now and rest. That’s what I called you
in for, to tell you I wouldn’t need you this afternoon.”

“Has Neil called up? I’d better wait for that.”

“The telephone hasn’t rung since I came in.” Lewis took out his
cigarette case again and this time lit a cigarette. “Drink that water,
Petra,” he said. “You know, I thought you were going to have hysterics
here a minute ago. Congratulations that you didn’t. You had cause
enough. But now I want to tell you something. About Neil—. He can’t help
you disentangle yourself from this Green Doors spider web. Or if he
does, it will only be for you and him another web that you’ll start
spinning together with the same disastrous cruelty to lives. It doesn’t
matter what you two are to each other. It doesn’t matter what has
happened between you. If you want _really_ to be free of Green Doors—of
what Green Doors stands for in your life—you’ve got to do it alone. Neil
can’t help you.”

Petra had dropped her head into her hands again, when he assured her
that the telephone had not rung since he came in; but he thought she was
listening. He went on, anyway, speaking gently and with a kind of
brittle clearness. “Neil is married, Petra. Married. Just as long as
Edyth Dayton lives, he is married. No matter how devotedly he loves
another woman, Edyth will remain, in his deepest consciousness, his
wife.... Didn’t you know that, Petra?”

Lewis had never been farther from thinking of his own interests. For the
moment he, Lewis Pryne, existed only to save this girl from calamity. He
knew now that his yesterday’s intention of asking Petra to be his wife,
no matter if she did love Neil, had been mad and wrong. A heart like
Petra’s—so passionate and whole—must break or be reborn; it could never
be patched up and used again, like a broken vase.

“Didn’t you know that, Petra,” he repeated, when the silence grew too
painful. “Didn’t you know that Neil will consider himself married, no
matter how good a divorce his wife brings home from Switzerland?”

This she did hear and looked up at Lewis. She seemed, strangely, almost
herself, he thought,—almost natural now and calm. And she bore it out by
saying in her normal, ingenuous, even winged voice, “You are talking
about Neil? But I do know that about him, Doctor Pryne. Of course Neil
won’t marry as long as Edyth lives. He can’t. I understand perfectly. It
breaks my heart.”

It was rather ironic, perhaps, that those four definite, simple,
unenigmatic words spoken in that winged voice were what now finished the
business of Lewis’ own heart’s breaking.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “I know it does. But Petra, that isn’t the
point. The point is not to break Neil’s heart, and little children’s
hearts and—and Teresa’s. You must tell everything to Teresa, I think.
She, of all people, can help you.... But now you must get home and rest.
We’ll go in my car. No, I forgot. We can’t. There’s that appointment at
three you made with the Philadelphia people. You must go in a taxi then.
But look here, Petra. What about Clare? The maid—Elise?—will have told
her all about your coming in this morning. That you didn’t sleep at
Green Doors! You’d better, after all, wait till I’m free. That’s
something we’ll have to fix up. And these people are due now, almost. My
dear, I hadn’t realized what a mess I may have made for you this morning
until this minute. Had you?”

Petra was looking at him with the strangest, faint smile. Her eyes had
come blue. They must have been not blue but dark with pain and fear all
this time, or now they would not be coming blue like this as he looked
into them! There was a little color in her face too.

“You’re sweet to care about such little things—concerning me!” she was
saying. “But I’d rather go right along on the train now. I’ll just make
it. I haven’t a dollar to spend on a taxi. Clare has already questioned
me. She called up the first thing we got in this morning. But it’s all
right. I told her I slept in the guest house under one of the steamer
blankets. I said my room seemed airless and my head ached. She and
Father have gone to the Cape, anyway, for over night. That’s why she
called up instead of waiting till I came home. She won’t be there, you
see.”

Petra put her own construction on the strange gravity that grew in
Doctor Pryne’s eyes as she made these explanations, and added quickly,
“Yes, I know. A lie. But I have had to lie to Clare. She lies to me with
action. If I was to live with her at all, I had to protect myself,
hadn’t I! But now it will end. After I am away from her, I hope I shall
never tell another lie as long as I live. I am going to try terribly
hard. It is Neil who has made me ashamed of my lies. Teresa never knew
about them, of course. That’s why Neil stopped coming to Green Doors
with me. He wouldn’t lie, and simply hated having me.”

Lewis was suddenly aware of sounds out in the reception room. Somebody
coughed—to get his attention, he imagined. It would be the Philadelphia
people, with their son. He said in a low voice to Petra, and hurriedly,
“Go wash your face now, while I call the taxi. We’ll charge the mileage
to office expenses, so don’t fuss.” And when Petra—her face innocent of
tear stains and well powdered—returned from the dressing room through
Miss Frazier’s door, Lewis was tipping two small white pills from the
palm of his hand into an envelope. He put the envelope, carefully
sealed, into the pocket of Petra’s polo coat, and said, “Take two when
you get to Green Doors. They’re a sedative. Then go to bed. Really to
bed. Make them give you dinner on a tray. It won’t matter, since Clare
and your father are away.—_Would_ they have gone to the Cape, do you
think, on this jaunt, if Dick had things straight? Of course they
wouldn’t. Put that out of your head.—By eight or so you’ll be rested.
Then we can talk. Get dressed and I’ll be out as near nine as I can
manage. Perhaps we can go over to the guest-house piazza? Like the first
time, remember? We’ll talk out the whole thing,—about Neil, I mean now.
And after all, you mustn’t tell Teresa. You’d better tell me. It will be
easier—and save Teresa from being hurt. _We’ll protect Teresa._ You want
to, don’t you?”

Then, because the bewildered look she gave him stabbed him almost beyond
endurance, he whispered—for the door all this while was open into the
reception room—“My dearest, everything will be all right. In the end.
Why, the whole world is waiting spread out for you, lovely long years of
your life. Things pass. Even loneliness passes. Truly. I have—been
lonely—and I know.”

Down at the curb the taxi driver opened the taxi door when he saw them
emerge from the foyer of the office building. But Lewis stopped short,
midway across the pavement. There was something more he must say, even
if those people were waiting for him up there in his office, the pale
mother holding the writhing idiot boy desperately in tired arms.

“Petra,” Lewis exclaimed, “we’re in this together, you and I. You can
trust my devotion as you’d trust a brother’s. If you had a brother, I
mean, who loved you very deeply! I’m going to help you get clear of the
spider web of Green Doors—and you can talk to me about Neil all you
want. You can tell me anything. You see, my dear, I’m fond of Neil too.
There’s nothing I won’t understand when you tell it.”

Petra took Lewis’ hand, lifted it, and pressed her mouth on its back. A
warm, quick kiss. There in the middle of the sidewalk on Marlborough
Street in the midst of the foot traffic! Then she ran, before Lewis
could follow her, and stumbled blindly into the taxi. The driver stayed
waiting a second to see whether Doctor Pryne was coming with the young
lady all the way to Meadowbrook, decided he wasn’t—Lewis gave him no
sign one way or the other—and shut the door. As the cab drove off, Petra
kept her face turned away so that Lewis could not see it.



                         _Chapter Twenty-Three_


As Lewis reëntered the reception office, Petra’s telephone was ringing.
It was Neil, calling Petra as he had promised, but one hour late. He was
surprised that it was Lewis who answered, but said hastily, “I’m
grateful it is you, Doctor. I’m calling from Meadowbrook. Is there any
chance, if I drive right in now, you could see me? It’s something pretty
important, Doctor!”

“About yourself?—Or Petra?” If McCloud had been there in the room,
instead of merely on the wire, he would have been shocked by the
expression on the face of the man of whom he was so confidently asking a
favor. The accustomed light was quite gone from Lewis’ features. He was
gray and stern and looked ten years older.

“It concerns us both. Equally, I guess,” was Neil’s reply after an
instant’s hesitation. “But I wouldn’t ask for your time like this if it
weren’t pretty important, Doctor.”

“Well, if you start now, I’ll be free about the time you get here. But
make it snappy, for I’ve half a dozen professional calls slated between
now and dinner.”

“Thanks awfully. Will you tell Petra I’m coming? I’d rather not talk to
her now. Tell her everything’s all right; I’ll explain everything when I
get there and she mustn’t worry.”

To this casual request Lewis made a sound that McCloud accepted as both
promise and good-by—and hung up. He had not even asked was Petra there.
But Meadowbrook? McCloud must be calling from Green Doors itself. Had he
been there all day? Had it been more than a sick tire that ailed his
car? Well, Lewis did not care about the details—just so long as Petra
and Neil did not see each other again until Lewis himself could talk
with Petra on the edge of the meadow to-night.

He went through into his own office where the tragic trio awaited him.
He took the boy from the mother’s arms. The poor little creature came
quietly, without the struggle the parents obviously expected, and from
that moment, so kind are the ways of God with mortals when they have
learned to pray, Lewis’ expectation of Neil’s near visit and even his
anguish for and over Petra were dropped from his consciousness until the
work in hand was over—until, in fact, he escorted the parents, himself
still holding the boy, out to the elevator, and saw Neil sitting in the
reception office in a patient attitude that bore the stamp of having
lasted some time.

“Hello,” Lewis remarked, coming back. “The coast is clear now.”

Neil followed him into his office and took the patients’ chair. But
memory assailed him in the act and he went a little pale. The feeling
passed quickly, however. That page had been turned forever, he knew
well. His cure was permanent. Heaven would not take back its boon.

“Where’s Petra?” he asked. “I suppose you packed her off to Meadowbrook
early. I’m glad.”

“Yes, I did exactly that. You didn’t pass her on the road?”

“No, but I wasn’t expecting to, you see. I drove like blazes. But I’m
going right back. Pretty plucky of Petra, don’t you think, to come right
along to work this morning! I couldn’t. I couldn’t have gone to work
this morning if not going would bring the end of the world.”

“Well, Petra’s not working on commission. We have to keep hours here,”
Lewis remarked shortly. “You’re your own boss. That’s different.”

Lewis could not interpret the odd, quick look Neil gave him then. But
that did not matter. What right had the man to sit there so victorious
and exalted, speaking of Petra! Petra’s face had grown thin over night.
There had been no exaltation and glow on its pallor this day. But Lewis
was aware that Neil’s exaltation—if that was the word for the light in
his face—was of a grave variety. Not blatant. It was refined of all
dross, to the most casual eye. Gorgeousness had given place to something
deeper, richer.... Lewis felt his own expression of countenance to be
evil. It was as if he could feel a thin mask forming over his
face,—particularly ugly around his mouth and eyes. He looked at Miss
Frazier’s door knob. He dared not look at McCloud any more. But hate had
not returned. Only the awful fear that it might return was stiffening
his lips,—his eyelids. For if it did return, here while he faced
McCloud, it would be hate of the killing sort. He would hurl himself at
the man physically, destroy him if he could—or be destroyed.... He had
better smoke. They had better both smoke.

Neil refused the cigarette. Well, the gods on Olympus didn’t smoke
little white cigarettes. But Lewis had no nectar to proffer this young
giant, face and body aglow with some sweet, secret victory, eyes
sea-blue and steady, long-limbed, free-postured, at ease in the
patients’ chair. What right had such a being to usurp the place where
misery came, year in year out? _Why in God’s name was Neil here?_

“Has Petra told you anything about last night?” Neil asked. “I guess she
hasn’t, or you wouldn’t have spoken about her having to keep hours as
you did just now.”

Lewis shook his head. Then he trusted his voice. “No. I know nothing.
Except that the child ran away from her birthday party last night,—said
she was going to bed with a headache but ran out the front door instead,
without a wrap, and got back at eight this morning, still in her party
dress and fagged almost to the danger point. But she’s going to tell me.
She wants to, I think. I am going out there to-night. Petra has let me
assume a responsibility to her. And I might as well tell you, McCloud,
that she is as precious to me—and her welfare as precious—as if she were
my own flesh and blood. You’d better understand that. Now what are you
here for?”

“That’s wonderful!” was the man’s surprising answer. “But I rather felt
that all along, you know. What I can’t understand is Petra’s not feeling
it, not trusting you before. But this is a grand time for her to begin.
She may never need you again so much as she needs you right now, Doctor.
She’s going to need steadying—and a lot of loving. I’m frightened for
her, myself. She’s such a kid, really, in spite of the way she swells
around with her _three_ jobs and keeps a stiff upper lip. You’d think
she was made of iron! But she isn’t. She’s really just a tender-hearted,
frightened kid. Teresa, you see, is mother, brother, sister, parents to
her, as well as friend. Teresa is home to Petra. All the home she’s ever
known. Sanctuary too. If—if anything happens—to—to Teresa—I shouldn’t
wonder if Petra goes right off her head.”

Where was the exaltation now? This was just a boy, fighting back sobs.

Lewis got up. He went to the window and sat on the sill, staring at
McCloud. But McCloud got control of himself quickly—and with it the
exalted look returned. His eyes were blue fire and so terribly steady.

Lewis said, “Neil, I don’t know a thing. Petra has been secret with me.
From the beginning—or almost from the beginning. I thought you and she
were together last night. I’ve got it all wrong. What was it really?
Something to do with Teresa Kerr?”

Neil got up then. He came and sat on Lewis’ desk, his feet in Lewis’
chair. He hadn’t taken in what Lewis meant about himself and Petra—at
least not its implication. It simply passed him by.

“We _were_ together,” he said. “I was there. Teresa was terribly ill. It
must have been about ten o’clock when it started. Janet got the doctor
and Father Morris on the telephone. But I’m worried about that doctor. I
don’t like him or trust him much. Clark’s his name. He has a general
practice in Meadowbrook. He knows all about you, of course, but says you
won’t know him. I told him I was coming to ask you to see Teresa and
advise us. _He_ says Teresa’s got to go right off to a sanitarium.
There’s one in New Mexico that he says is her only chance. He says she
ought to start to-morrow. But I don’t take any stock in him. Neither
does Janet Frazier. She says you are the one who will know what we ought
to do. Janet is sure—”

But Lewis interrupted: “Neil McCloud! Start over, will you. I can’t seem
to catch on to what all this is about. You were at Teresa Kerr’s last
night? How does Miss Frazier come into it? Where does Teresa live?”

“It’s a little house between Meadowbrook and Green Doors. Off the road.
You’ve never seen it, probably. Nobody does. It’s right off the road—in
another world. The girls call it Mary’s Field. Teresa’s got a touch of
consumption. That’s why she’s there this summer. So that she can live
practically out of doors. On the porch. She was there, in the long
chair, last night. Janet and I had got supper together. Janet’s spending
her vacation there. We were talking, very gay. It was moonlight. Janet
has a mandolin. She’s good on it, too. Finally, quite late, Janet went
in to do the dishes. She wouldn’t let me come. So I stayed out with
Teresa. I was going in a few minutes, anyway. Getting back to Boston. I
was sitting there on the floor by Teresa’s chair. She was lying in the
long chair—almost flat. That’s what she’s had to do lately—whenever
she’s not sewing. She’s so terribly tired all the time! We weren’t
talking any more. I thought she’d better rest. I was trying to make
myself go home. Suddenly she sat up straight with a queer sound in her
throat. I jumped up. She put out her hands. Blood came from her mouth.
It was only moonlight but I knew it was blood. I thought—we both
thought—she was dying. We said things we’d never have said if we hadn’t
thought so. But that’s all right. God intended it, I guess. I called
Janet. She got Doctor Clark on the telephone—and then Father Morris.
Father Morris is pastor of St. Joseph’s in Meadowbrook. It’s been
Teresa’s church all summer. Father Morris seemed to know more than the
doctor what to do for Teresa. The doctor just stood around and scolded
us about Teresa’s having worked so hard on Petra’s birthday dress. A
good thing Petra wasn’t there then! It was Father Morris who told us
Teresa wasn’t dying. He and Petra, when Petra came, had the coolest
heads of us all. They managed everything. Petra and I stayed with Teresa
on the porch all night. She couldn’t sleep and Father Morris advised
against any drug. We just stayed there quiet. Close to her. At dawn she
went to sleep and Janet made us eat breakfast. I took Petra back to
Green Doors. We thought Teresa was all right then, you see. But early
this afternoon, Doctor Pryne, she had another hemorrhage. That’s why I
didn’t call Petra as I promised to. I didn’t want her to know until she
got to Mary’s Field this afternoon and could see how really better
Teresa seems, in spite of this second hemorrhage. She’s seemed so well
all day—even strong! She even wanted to sit up, but we haven’t let her.
Father Morris came to the house just before I did call you and said I’d
better not wait for Petra’s consent to our asking you to see Teresa. He
urged me to drive right in and bring you both out. He says Teresa is
very seriously ill, now, in spite of her feeling so well, and he feels
that we must do something as quickly as possible. He knows about you and
your work and was sure you’d come for Petra’s sake. You will, won’t
you?” Neil had told it all quickly, his eyes never leaving Lewis’.

“Of course, Neil. You don’t need to ask! But tell me more. Is this why
money is so important to Petra? Had she been supporting Teresa with the
allowance I was the cause of her losing? Of course. How blind I’ve
been!”

“Teresa makes Petra’s clothes and Petra pays her for that. Teresa’s got
the devil’s own pride. She insists on earning her money, even when she
can’t hold up her head. So you can’t say Petra’s been exactly supporting
Teresa. She went to Radcliffe, you know, on a scholarship and evenings
making Petra’s clothes. The idea was that when Teresa got her degree and
a job—perhaps one like Janet’s—Petra would kiss Clare good-by and live
with Teresa and go to some business college herself. They had it all
worked out. Teresa was so quick and worked so hard, she hoped to
graduate in less than four years. Petra’s ‘job’ at Green Doors was to be
merely temporary. That is how she has been able to stand it. But last
spring, when everything was working out beautifully, the college doctor
found that Teresa had T.B. and they wouldn’t let her take her exams.
They said she must live in the country, out of doors, all this summer.
Petra found the house. She furnished it—borrowed ahead on her allowance.
The place belongs to a farmer named Murray and it’s always been called
‘Murray’s Field.’ But Teresa understood it ‘Mary’s Field’ and took it
without seeing it on account of the name! It’s been easy to keep
Teresa’s living there secret from Green Doors—it’s so out of the way.
But that’s where Petra has been wrong. Teresa would think so too, if she
knew. It’s like living a double life. All Petra’s excuses for being away
from Green Doors, you know! Teresa has never guessed how Petra’s had to
twist and turn. She’d never have let her! Teresa’s like truth itself.
But sometimes I have to laugh when I picture how astonished Clare would
be if she could see Petra Saturday afternoons, on her hands and knees,
scrubbing the kitchen floor at Mary’s Field—until I came along, that is.
I do the kitchen floor now on Saturdays!—Both the girls are death on
dirt. But lately Teresa hasn’t been able even to wash the dishes and
Petra’s done all the cleaning ever since they took the house.—What’s the
matter, Pryne?”

“Why didn’t you trust me? Why did you all leave me out so long?”

“We did trust you. We do. Absolutely. Janet and I, at least. But Petra’s
been so afraid all the time! Afraid you wouldn’t keep it from Clare. She
says you belong to Green Doors—not Mary’s Field. Petra’s a grand kid but
she’s stubborn.”

“Well—let’s get going.”

“To Mary’s Field?”

“Where else? Petra’s bound to be there, I should think. And I’d better
see Teresa for myself before taking a specialist to her. You shut the
windows, Neil, while I just write up this card for the files. I’ll have
to cut out the calls I was making, for Father Morris may be right, that
quick action is needed. Meadowbrook may not be the place for Teresa to
stay,—but I hardly think we’ll send her so far as New Mexico—”

All the while Lewis talked, he was outlining his recent interview with
the idiot boy’s parents in illegible characters on a fresh white card.
His heart was shaken to its depths but his head and hand were steady.



                         _Chapter Twenty-Four_


“It’s the next turn to the right now. Go slow or you’ll miss it. It
looks like a cart road—a wood road.... Here ’tis. Yes, it’s all right.
My car’s gone over it hundreds of times.”

It was the roughest sort of track, cut through a beech wood, up a hill.
They had driven out in Lewis’ car, leaving Neil’s parked in Marlboro
Street. A quarter of a mile of rough going, a turn, and suddenly Lewis
saw the farmhouse through lacings of bare branches straight ahead. It
was set halfway up a sloping meadow with an orchard at its back. The
little old clapboarded dwelling was the color of the branches through
which Lewis was seeing it, silver-gray-black-violet. In some lights,
particularly after summer rains, the clapboards would be opal.

Neil suggested that they leave the car at the bottom of the meadow and
walk up. “Teresa may be sleeping. She won’t be expecting to hear a car
at this time of day, anyway, and it might startle her. The milkman
brings the groceries along with his milk once a day and that’s the only
car except mine that ever comes. We didn’t tell her I was bringing you.
We didn’t know you could get away. We thought we’d wait to explain—”

The doorstep, a flat stone, had beguiled the doorsill to follow its own
smooth sunken curve. The door stood open into a passage which appeared
nothing but transition to clearer, finer country, for it was open at its
farther end onto long rows of crooked old bare apple trees twisted by
many years of bearing into mysterious contours of beauty. And through
the orchard one saw the rounded, mellow slope of the hilltop, outlining
a horizon.

  There is an orchard, old and rare,—
    I cannot tell you where,—
  With green doors opening to the sun.

Green doors! This was the green doors that Clare had hoped to hymn—and
missed the note. “_I cannot tell you where!_” Cannot because there is no
telling it. In this moment of remembering the lines which had given
Clare her inspiration for Green Doors, and which she often quoted,
Lewis’ antipathy for Clare was transmuted into unalloyed pity. Clare
wanted the beautiful and good in her life. Sincerely wanted it. But she
thought it was necessary to spin it out of herself
somehow,—industriously, cleverly spin, spin, spin. It never occurred to
her to search for the Beautiful Good, or to love It for Itself in Its
objective reality. She was too busy, all times, manufacturing its
semblance out of fancy.

Yes. As Lewis stepped over the sill into the little old passage to the
crooked, beautiful orchard, a kaleidoscope shift took place in his
sympathy. And at the same moment the experience of the early morning was
upon him again; _he had been through all this before. He knew this
passage, that orchard, by heart._ He knew, too, that grief (he had been
wrong in this much of the morning’s prevision: it was grief but never
tragedy) was waiting him here at the real Green Doors.

Miss Frazier came through a door halfway down the passage and met them.
She said in a lowered voice, “You’ve come! Everything will be all right
now. I knew you’d come. Go into the living room, please, and I’ll
explain to Teresa. Or Neil, you come with me. You will be better than I.
We haven’t told her Neil was bringing you, you see, Doctor.”

“Where’s Petra?” Lewis asked quickly.

“She took a rug and her coat and went up into the orchard to sleep. She
took your sedative first. But she wants to know when you come. I
promised. She wouldn’t have rested unless. She doesn’t know about the
second hemorrhage, or what Father Morris has said. She thinks Teresa is
better.”

Lewis went into the living room. And even before his eyes began
assembling details, he knew, with a start, that everything was here that
he had looked to find this morning in Petra’s bedroom at Green Doors.
This was her environment, her sanctuary, her own place in the sun. He
felt Petra’s heart beating in this little room, no matter if they said
she was up in the orchard, sleeping. The wide old boards of the floor
slanted and dipped as the doorsill had slanted and dipped—fluid—one with
the flow of life and time. And there, across the room, between two
low-silled windows was the birthday present, his own Fra Angelico
picture—perfectly hung. So Petra had brought it here, not to Green
Doors. But of course. And under the Fra Angelico there were flowers
growing in a dish. Fringed, blue gentians. A big, living clump of them.
Planted in dark earth. It is impossible to gather them without the
roots, Lewis knew, hence the replanting. On the table, beside the
gentians, lay a book, open and face down.

Lewis, with an instinct to save any book, no matter what it was, from
abuse, crossed the floor; he would find a marker and close the volume
kindly. But when he had it in his hand, it defended its owner with dumb
sweetness. It was a Modern Library publication, made for easy usage; the
only value it set on itself the value of its word,—spirit not flesh.
Lewis glanced at the title: “Marius the Epicurean.” Memory stirred. This
was the book—wasn’t it?—Petra had claimed to have been reading when she
did not come to play tennis with Clare that day Lewis first went to
Green Doors! The identical volume. He was sure of it. So Clare had been
wrong—as, poor creature, she was ever in peril of being: Petra had been
reading “Marius” that afternoon. She had been lying out there in the
orchard, near the horizon, side by side with Teresa. They had lain
supported by their elbows, turn and turn about, reading “Marius”
together. Lewis knew all about that afternoon now, as well as if he had
been here himself, in the golden orchard with green doors opening to the
sun, sharing “Marius” with them!

And he was glad to know! Then, that June Saturday, he had told himself
it was nothing if Petra wanted to impress Clare with reading she had
never done. It didn’t matter. It was a trivial schoolgirl variety of
deception. But now he knew that it had mattered. He had cared more than
a little, deep down in his heart. It had left a mark, a tiny wound, but
still tender enough to feel the healing in this moment of discovery.

A paper fluttered from “Marius,” held open and face down in Lewis’ hand.
He rescued it from the floor and stood staring. It was his own picture,
cut from the rotogravure section of the _New York Times_,—a photograph
of the head that young Italian artist, Ponini, had made when Lewis was
in New York last spring, testifying in the Spalding murder case. Ponini
had been one of the State’s witnesses. He had introduced himself to
Lewis outside the courtroom and persuaded him to sit for him a few times
during that tedious week of the trial. Ponini had won surprising acclaim
for this particular work, and photographs of the head had been published
endlessly, till Lewis was sick of opening magazine or paper and seeing
it. But Petra! She had chanced on it, cut it out and preserved it. She
must have done this before that Saturday when they met again at Green
Doors. This was Petra’s writing, in the narrow white margin. She had
written “Marius.”

But this was carrying things beyond strangeness—into truth itself, which
cannot be strange or startling! Years ago, in college, Lewis had
identified himself with Marius. A peculiarly poignant identification it
had been.—Marius, born on the fringes of Christianity but never
amalgamated into it. Always wistful, speculative, skeptical. Infinitely
skeptical—but passionately searching. Drawn poignantly toward Christians
whenever they came into his life. Loving them beyond others with a sure,
contented love. Dying finally to save one of them from death. Ministered
to in the act of dying by Christians who took it for granted that the
martyr to friendship was one of themselves. Marius hungering for
Christianity but never attaining communion with it until the instant of
his death—and then attaining it by affinity and accident rather than
conviction! But how had Petra seen Lewis in all this? How had Petra
known!

Lewis replaced the marker in the book, and the book face down, open at
the place he had found it, beside the gentians. Thin October late
afternoon sunlight slanted through the little, low-ceiled room, casting
a transparency over the white, old paneled walls and the wine-colored
floorboards. It was a blest light. There was a blessing on this place.
And the blessing, for Lewis, suddenly seemed flowing in one direction
and coming to form and color in the clump of blue gentians under the Fra
Angelico.



                         _Chapter Twenty-Five_


Teresa’s bed was on the porch off the dining room. Miss Frazier took
Lewis as far as the door and left him to go out alone. But Neil was
there, sitting on the foot of Teresa’s bed. There was room for no more
than Teresa’s narrow cot, her long chair, a table and one other little
wicker chair. Yet Lewis, who had a penchant for spaciousness, had no
sense of crowding here. On the contrary, he felt that coming onto
Teresa’s little porch was like coming out onto deck at sea. The disused
farmlands rolled wavelike away on every side, with no glimpse of
dwelling or human being anywhere; all was soft, long sweep of meadow and
field, climbing waves of woodland, and over all the flowing sky.
Teresa’s cot stood against the outer edge of the porch, protected above
by deep eaves. Over its head, a dark crucifix, tarnished silver, and
about a foot high, was nailed against a supporting post.

Not a breath of change seemed to have passed over Teresa since that
October day four years ago, when she had opened the door for Lewis in
the Farwells’ Cambridge apartment. She was fresh and vivid, with smiles
rippling to light in brown-gold eyes, and an unselfish, lovely mouth,
molded by gaiety and humor. And her voice, exactly as Lewis had
remembered it through the years, bore out the smile in her eyes. Yes,
Teresa was still all of one piece—spirit and body one. Lewis saw an
almost palpable bloom upon her—not the bloom of health, since she was
emaciated and flushed with fever—but a bloom, all the same, of freshness
and well-being.

Neil pushed the wicker chair a few inches nearer the side of the bed for
Lewis’ benefit. Lewis, taking the chair, was moved by the effect the
dark crucifix, bathed in afternoon light from New England earth and sky,
produced on his mood. For, out of doors like this, superimposed against
New England fields and sky, the crucifix threw new proportions, as it
were, athwart Lewis’ concepts. It produced space for infinities and
eternities of joyful well-being. Without analyzing it—indeed scarcely
noting it—Lewis accepted the shifting of proportions, the touch of
sweetness his passing glance at the cross had brought, with simple
gratitude: an unuttered thank-you to the Savior.

Neil was saying, “I’ll be within call, Doctor, if you want anything.” As
Neil spoke, he came around past Lewis’ shoulder and adjusted Teresa’s
pillow, his arm for an instant back of it, under her shoulders. “Isn’t
that better? Is it all right, Teresa?”

The look that passed between the boy and the girl then was one that
Lewis charged his heart to remember. It was love, of course. And love
between a man and a woman. Complete recognition of all that such love
implies. Yet, although this recognition was no new thing with them, they
had kissed each other only when both thought Teresa was dying, and in
farewell. And beyond this, not even in farewell—since they were
forewarned, having “fallen” once—their lips would never touch again this
side of Paradise. Lewis knew. If Neil had not confided in him on the
drive here, by silences and broken words, Lewis would still have seen
the definiteness of their renunciation in the light of the smiling
glance that had passed between them as Neil adjusted the pillow, and
known that their love held no flaw of possible betrayal in it. These two
were at peace with their Faith and everything of both agony and joy that
it entailed for them. But this was not renunciation as religionless
moralists think of it. It was simplicity, the simplicity of spiritual
health.

When Neil had gone, leaving Lewis and the sick girl alone, Lewis was
suddenly shy of Teresa. It was she who should measure his health, not he
hers. For it is not the whole but the sick who need a physician. Yet he
took Teresa’s wrist, lying there on her counterpane, and started
counting her pulse.

Then Teresa laughed—putting him off, making him lose the count. “I
thought you never made an examination without Janet to take down notes,”
she protested. “She’s here, quite handy. Sha’n’t we call her?”

“No, thanks. This is an exception. I’ll remember well enough.” And
indeed he would. Every word that Teresa gave him, as he asked it, of
family history, the course of the development of her disease and the
treatment it had had, was etched on his mind for all of life, he felt.
He needed no filing card for Teresa. But neither had he needed her
answers to his short, quick questions. When he came to it, the
examination he gave her lungs told him that she was doomed.

After that examination he sat back, trying to smile at Teresa, trying to
be natural. Wasn’t there something simple and of ordinary day that he
could say? But he was shy of this girl as he had never been shy of any
one in all this mortal world before. Shy but not ill at ease. It was
good to be here, he felt. Simply that.

Teresa was smiling into his attempted smile. “Are you really all done?”
she asked.

“I think so. The specialists will be more thorough, of course. But I
know what to do now, what man we want for you.”

“But you will tell me what you think yourself, Doctor? How ill I am?”
She put her hand under her pillow as she asked the brave question and
kept it there. Lewis knew that she had found her rosary and was holding
it. “They say—Neil and Doctor Clark—even Petra—that I must go away to a
sanitarium somewhere. Leave Mary’s Field. But that won’t happen, will
it? I can stay here. I needn’t leave Mary’s Field. Is that what you
think?”

Lewis had no lies for Teresa. He would not lie to her by so much as a
glance. She was fit for the truth. Perfectly fit. Had he ever been face
to face with any one else so stripped, fit and ready for truth!

“There won’t be any question about that now. I’m sure of so much,” Lewis
said. “We’ll keep you right here at Mary’s Field. And Petra will stay
with you all the time. Move her things here. Make it her home. And Neil
will be near.”

She was smiling. Her hand stayed under her pillow. But tears came to her
eyes. Only two escaped, though: one down either cheek. She ignored them
but Lewis wiped them away with his own handkerchief. “My blessed child,”
he said. “You wanted to know. It is right that you should, I think.”

“Of course,” she answered. “And I knew that you would tell me. I am—very
satisfied. It will be nice, not leaving Mary’s Field. Having Petra here
all the time. Having Neil near. Will you tell them how things are with
me? You won’t leave it for me to tell them?”

“Yes. Soon, I’ll tell them. But not to-night, I think. They aren’t like
you, Teresa. It will go harder with them. They will need time—and your
prayers. You must pray that they may be brave. Neil suspects already, I
can tell you. But he still hopes. Petra has only a bewildered, vague
fear. So Neil says, anyway. They needn’t be told yet.”

“But when the time comes, it will be you—not Neil, nor Janet—nobody else
but you, Doctor Pryne,—who tells Petra? Unless it’s me. I may want to be
the one to tell her in the end. But otherwise you? And you’ll take care
of her?”

“Why do you say this? Petra is the dearest thing in life to me, Teresa.
But I don’t know that that will help her. She doesn’t let me very close
to her. Neil or Janet might be better.”

“Please tell her now, this afternoon, that she’s the dearest thing in
life to you. She doesn’t dream it. She’s so silly and humble. She’s
sweet. She told me, just a little while ago, before she took your pills
like a good child and went away to sleep in the meadow, that Dick had
showed you that letter she wrote to him at Mount Desert. She’s simply
dying with humiliation over it. You see, it was you, Doctor, she meant
in the letter, and she has no other thought but that you know it was.
That you might guess wrong hasn’t even occurred to her. You _did_ guess
wrong, didn’t you?”

Lewis pushed back his chair. Got up. “Teresa, bless you. I wouldn’t
believe any one but you—hardly Petra herself. It’s almost impossible to
believe. But somehow—I can—I do believe that you know what you are
saying.”

“You’re like Petra, I think. Humble and silly. But sweet.”

Neil, who for the last ten minutes or so had been pacing back and forth
in the meadow, out of earshot and where Lewis did not see him, had
started for the porch the minute Lewis moved back his chair. “All done?”
he asked, coming up onto the porch and looking at Lewis for one swift,
keen instant. Lewis nodded. “Yes and I want to see Petra. Is she still
sleeping?”

“Oh, no. Janet kept her promise and woke her when you came. She’s in the
kitchen, starting the supper. She and Janet—Teresa too—want you to stay
for supper with us. Petra’s getting it started early on purpose, so you
will. Janet’s gone across lots for an extra quart of milk just on the
chance. You won’t disappoint us, Doctor?”

“First let me use the telephone. If McKinstry can come out this evening,
I’ll want to wait and see him. That will make supping here very
convenient. Don’t talk to this girl too much now. She should rest,
Neil.”

Neil laughed. “I won’t talk at all then. One doesn’t, much, with Teresa.
She’s the conversationalist of our Mary’s Field crowd. Have you told her
to keep quiet, not talk?”

Lewis shook his head, smiling down into Teresa’s eyes. “No,” he said. “I
haven’t told her anything. Given no orders. Teresa is wiser than all of
us put together. She’s her own best physician.”

But in the end, Lewis merely stood thoughtful by the telephone in the
passage for an instant, and turned away, toward the kitchen. McKinstry,
immediately Lewis asked it, if he could be reached at all by telephone
to-day, would be at Lewis’ disposal; and if he were out of town or not
on the telephone, there would be some one else available who was good,
too. But there was no hurry. Getting a trained nurse out to Mary’s Field
was of far more immediate importance than getting a specialist. Miss
Frazier would help Lewis with that, when she returned with the milk.
Lewis himself couldn’t remember the name of that woman who had taken
such excellent care of the little Nolan girl last month. But Miss
Frazier, Janet, would remember. She would remember, too, how one could
reach her. The woman should come to-night, of course. Sleep here. Or
failing her, some one else whom Janet would recommend. He could wait for
Janet for all that.

Lewis went on down the passage to the kitchen door. It was the kitchen,
supposedly, since Neil had said that Petra was here, and here she was;
but for Lewis it was no special place at all. It was merely Petra. He
had come to where Petra was, at last. Come up with her. He felt as if he
had been running a long time through dark eternities to this overtaking
of his beloved. Between Petra and himself there now only remained a
little space of thin, late afternoon light. Blessed light! He saw her
through it as through thin glass—a pace away.

She was standing close up against an open window. Her back to it. She
was looking at Lewis through the glass-thin radiant atmosphere. Then
Lewis heard Teresa say, “Janet was careful not to disturb the chessmen,
Neil. The board’s on the dining-room table. Shall we finish the game?”

Neil said, “Sure, in a minute. Let me have a cigarette first, though,
and just stay by you. You lie quiet. Shut your eyes, dear.”

Petra was facing Lewis, yes; but she was not seeing him. She was stone
blind with tears. She had been here in the open window all the time. The
porch came within a few feet of it. It must, since those voices—Neil’s
and Teresa’s—sounded almost as if they were in the very room. And yet,
they were speaking softly. Every bit as softly as Lewis and Teresa had
been speaking. Petra had heard every word Lewis and Teresa had said,
then. She knew—she knew—why, the child knew that Teresa was going to
die. That was as far as Lewis’ thought went. Brutally, like that, merely
overhearing, she had learned it. With no warning. Alone, here in the
kitchen,—with supper to get.

Lewis could not move. Could not speak. He thought his heart would break
for Petra. But though she was stone blind, she had heard him come into
the passage, hesitate by the telephone, and then his every step to the
kitchen door. And now she whispered, “Are you there?”

At that he took the last pace—in a stride. The long race was over. She
was no longer a flying, mysterious shadow. Petra was flesh and blood
within his arms. But their first kiss had a taste he had not dreamed for
it. It was salt with both their tears.

As they drew apart, but not their hands—palm against palm they still
held each other securely—Neil’s laugh was ringing in their ears. Quite
heartily Neil was laughing, out there on the porch, sitting on the foot
of Teresa’s cot, at something she just had said.


                                THE END


                              Green Doors

                         _By_ ETHEL COOK ELIOT
                        Author of “Ariel Dances”

In this warm and colorful novel Dr. Lewis Pryne, asked by the beautiful
Clare Farwell to psycho-analyze her stepdaughter, finds himself falling
in love with the girl instead. Clare is Petra’s third stepmother and
their interest in the same man teems with conflict and event.

Those who responded so happily to the author’s previous novel, “Ariel
Dances,” will find an even deeper and more vital pleasure here. For
again Mrs. Eliot has given us a story of fresh charm and has added an
authentic element of joy which is born in a richly motivated soil of
character and human aspirations toward the “durable satisfactions of
life.”

The scene shifts between the doctor’s city office and Clare’s country
home. The office atmosphere is now and again stark with human suffering.
Luxury and an easy graciousness of living characterize the country home.
But the final shift of scene is to the “green doors” through which Lewis
and Petra and several others move toward the reality and meaning of
their lives.

Popular priced edition made possible by the author’s acceptance of
reduced royalty, and the use of plates of the original edition.


                         IN THE BRIDE’S MIRROR

                         _By_ MARGARET TURNBULL
                      Author of “The Handsome Man”
                               _75 cents_

She grasped the gilded edge of the great mirror tightly, the room seemed
to sway, yes, she could see him—that rat-like face. As a drowning man
sees his life flash before him, so she saw that long silver lane leading
back through the past to the ugly house at the crossroads. Wild rides,
drunken men, state troopers, an accident—then a visit to her Uncle’s
farm to “behave herself.” Even there—gamblers, crooks, then death! Could
she bear to lose Allan’s love by telling him her awful story? It was her
wedding day, but there was that rat-like face in the mirror. Should she
tell Allan? Would he understand?

Popular priced edition made possible by the author’s acceptance of
reduced royalty, and the use of plates of the original edition.

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                         _Transcriber’s Notes_


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italicized text by _underscores_.





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