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Title: "Good-Morning, Rosamond!"
Author: Skinner, Constance Lindsay
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 ""Good-Morning, Rosamond!"" ***

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      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

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CONTENTS


  CHAPTER      PAGE
       I          3
      II         19
     III         24
      IV         33
       V         49
      VI         62
     VII         73
    VIII         88
      IX        101
       X        110
      XI        122
     XII        132
    XIII        150
     XIV        165
      XV        184
     XVI        210
    XVII        221
   XVIII        231
     XIX        254
      XX        271
     XXI        278
    XXII        290
   XXIII        301
    XXIV        310
     XXV        323
    XXVI        341
   XXVII        351
  XXVIII        363



[Illustration: (cover)]


[Illustration: (inside front and back covers)]


  “_GOOD MORNING,
  ROSAMOND!_”

                        _Lulu Jones Downing_


[Illustration]


[Illustration: “_When one is to have perhaps only one wonderful day,
decision how one shall spend any moment of it is important_”

                        (See Page 24)]



“GOOD-MORNING, ROSAMOND!”

by

CONSTANCE LINDSAY SKINNER


[Illustration]


Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty



Garden City      New York
Doubleday, Page & Company
1917

Copyright, 1917, by
Constance Lindsay Skinner

All rights reserved, including that of
translation into foreign languages,
including the Scandinavian



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  “When one is to have perhaps only one wonderful day, decision how
    one shall spend any moment of it is important”   _Coloured frontis_.
                 (See page 24)

                                                             FACING PAGE
  “Mrs. Lee sat in her rocker knitting. Her ball of yarn was
    flipping about the sward under the paws of a white kitten”        42

  “Regarding each other and yielding to the charm of the sunset
    and the music, they did not observe a black-whiskered man who
    was crawling through the orchard”                                154

  “Rosamond saw a man who was presumably in his ‘middle
    thirties’--a strong, well-built man, with face and hands
    tanned by years of turning them, unprotected, toward all
    weathers”                                                        234


[Illustration: “_GOOD-MORNING, ROSAMOND!_”]



“_GOOD-MORNING, ROSAMOND!_”



CHAPTER I


Négligés were unknown in Roseborough. Even at seven in the morning,
which was Rosamond Mearely’s hour for greeting the new day, the ladies
of Roseborough did not kimono: they dressed.

Young Rosamond Mearely might be--as indeed she was--the richest and
fairest woman in Roseborough, and the widow of a gentleman whose name
the hamlet and countryside mentioned still with the bated breath
of pride; but she would no more have dared to appear at breakfast
before her housemaids, the imposing Frigget sorority--Amanda, aged
forty-nine years “come Michelmas,” and Jemima, forty-seven and three
quarter years--in what they would have pronounced (and condemned
as) a “wrapper,” than she would wittingly have committed any other
irretrievable _faux pas_.

The mother of the Frigget sorority had guided the first adventures
of the late, distinguished Hibbert Mearely about the by-ways of
Trenton Waters, his birthplace, in the infantile push-carts of his
period--that is to say, fifty-odd years before this morning when his
young widow slipped a decorous print gown (lavender with black floral
design) over her dainty, white roundness and the whalebone and batiste
article that confined it, and descended to her fourteen hundred and
eightieth solitary breakfast. It was four years since Hibbert Mearely’s
departure. His faithful nurse was slowly preparing to follow him;
she lay bedridden in Trenton Waters. Her two daughters, who had been
brought up to serve him, still dominated his household.

Rosamond saw them now, as the stairs circled to the door of the large
living room where summer breakfasts were spread. They were tall,
multi-boned women with straight, thin, gray hair--drawn sheerly
to a polka dot at the back, which one, or at most two, hairpins
controlled--and clad in skimpy, dark, cotton dresses, well starched
and designed to reveal every puritan angle. They stood at opposite
sides of a long, black table. The table was one of Hibbert Mearely’s
antiques (a ticket attached to the foot gave its date and history); its
“early Seventeenth” carvings were hidden now by a cloth of gleaming
white damask bearing Mrs. Mearely’s breakfast. Rosamond’s glance, by
habit, travelled in a direct line between her female grenadiers to
the wall where a life-size portrait, in oils, of the late master
depended. Outside the wide-open doors, the sunlight filtered through
the overlacing trees and kindled the proud red of the dahlias to flame.
A little breeze, vagrant and wilful, danced through the garden and set
all the leaves to clapping their hands. Rosamond sighed. She flitted
through the doorway and down the huge room, sedately, to her place.

“Good-mornin’, Mrs. Mearely, ma’am.”

“Good-mornin’, Mrs. Mearely, ma’am.”

“Good-morning, Amanda. Good-morning, Jemima.”

These salutations never varied. Rosamond spread her old-fashioned
damask napkin on her lap slowly with a sense of apprehension. Amanda
had her own manner of establishing an “atmosphere.” Out of the corner
of her eye Rosamond perceived that she was more unbending than usual
this morning.

“I was a’most a-comin’ up to see if you’d ben took sick--it’s five
after.” Amanda’s tone was dry and accusative.

“Is it? Perhaps I may have dawdled a little ... I mean,” hastily, “I
think one of my laces knotted.”

“Seven _sharp_ was a’ways Mr. Hibbert Mearely’s breakfast
hour”--Jemima’s tone was impersonal and final--“as we’d oughter know
that cooked and served it to him twenty year, not countin’ the long
time of his young an middle manhood when he was trapsein’ the world
after them curios an’ antics of his’n.”

“Antiques, Jemima,” the lady of the house corrected.

“That’s wot I said,” stubbornly.

“Your porridge was dished at seven sharp an’ was perfec’ for that hour;
but five minutes makes a world of difference in the nature of a hot
bowl of porridge.”

“I’m sure it will be delicious, Amanda,” her mistress murmured. Her
tone was timid and placating.

“Speakin’ of laces knottin’,” Amanda continued, “Mary Caroline was the
only one of us girls that was inclined to fat, an’ maw a’ways made her
let ’em out when she took ’em off, nights, so there’d be no time wasted
in the mornin’.”

“It was my _boot_-lace, Amanda,” milady protested.

“Mebbe ’twas--an’ mebbe ’twasn’t. It’s loosenin’ ’em overnight that
counts--both boots _an’_ stays. An’ so Mary Caroline found--leastways
if she didn’t want maw to wallop her for bein’ late--sloth bein’ one of
the seven deadly sins maw could not abide. Mary Caroline was a natural
temptation to a high-tempered, energetic woman like maw--she bein’
inclined to fat.”

Mrs. Mearely motioned the porridge bowl away with a chill gravity.

“I’d like my toast and eggs now. Of course I do not suppose you mean
anything personal, Amanda, by your repeated allusions to your deceased
sister’s physique. Nevertheless I may say, without lowering my dignity,
that, although I am not thin and--and--er--flat all over like some
of Roseborough’s women, I am not fat. I am not even ‘_inclined_ to
fat’ as it appears your--er--walloped sister was, according to your
description.”

Mrs. Mearely’s attempt to reduce Amanda Frigget, domestic, to a proper
sense of her relation toward the mistress of Villa Rose, failed
miserably. The haughty eye of the would-be _grande dame_ wavered
from that forbidding countenance and weakly sought refuge in the
colour-blend of buttered toast with yolk of egg. Alas, she had given
Amanda the sort of opportunity which never passed unimproved.

“You’re not fat as compared with _some_, but you’ve got a general curve
to you, which is on’y to be expected in the daughter-of-a-farmer’s
figure.” Amanda proceeded, uncompromisingly, to make the Frigget
position on curves and non-curves even plainer. “Now Mr. Hibbert
Mearely’s sisters, both what married small but choice titles, was
so lean an’ aristocratical you could count the ridges in their
backbones--on’y you wouldn’t of persoomed that way on born ladies. But
look who their father was--an’ Mr. Mearely’s father, too! A perfessor
an’ clergy that had his descent from the middle ages of Henery Seven!”

“No wonder Mr. Mearely felt he could afford to be condescendin’,”
Jemima put in, as she removed the tea cosy. “But I don’t s’pose he’d
ever have set his a’most royal foot onto ploughed an’ harrowed groun’,
if he hadn’t of seen you that day in the gate of your father’s farm in
Poplars Vale. That’s when he forgot about Henery Seven an’ went back
to the soil--a man that was past fifty an’ had seen all the museums of
Europe!”

“Strange--strange, indeed!” Mrs. Mearely hissed softly, striking a
small silver knife into a butter ball with intent to wound.

Amanda took up the theme.

“An’ how did it all come to happen? By the accident of him, a
absen’-minded man, takin’ the wrong turn at the cross-roads as he come
up from fishin’! The han’ of fate pinted him to Poplars Vale ’stead of
Roseborough. An’ there was you, eighteen--an’ allurin’ no doubt, but
’umble an’ uncultured--a-sittin’ on your paw’s farm gate, but lookin’
higher. What a talk it made in these parts! When I says to maw, I says,
‘Mr. Mearely’s goin’ to marry Rosamon’ Cort of Poplars Vale,’ she took
to her bed for the day with a spell. Such a shock it was to her to
think how him as she’d used to trundle had forgot his station.”

“By marrying a butter-maker?” Rosamond’s voice was sharp at the edges
now.

“We said then--maw an’ Jemima an’ me (Mary Caroline havin’ passed
beyon’)--we said, ‘We’ll never remember again in this life that Mr.
Hibbert Mearely’s fiancy’s mother made _an’ sol’_ the first _roun’_
fancy butter pats in this distric’.’ That’s the way all Trenton Waters
an’ Roseborough felt bounden towards the Mearelys. That’s, in special,
the way His Friggets felt bounden toward Mr. Hibbert Mearely.”

“No doubt he is very grateful to you both, and is waiting eagerly to
reward your devotion”--she paused also at the “cross-roads,” so to
speak, ere she gestured a vague direction and concluded--“wherever he
is.”

If her inflections were strangely pungent and her phraseology
speculative, the angle of vision sought by her too large,
cloud-flecked, sky-blue eyes was absolutely right. They gazed
ceilingward. Amanda folded her hands across her apron. She also looked
upward.

“No doubt,” she repeated, solemnly.

“No doubt;” Jemima echoed her sister’s sepulchral accents, and folded
_her_ hands and looked at the same bit of the gold cornice. If they had
concentrated on this point long enough in rapt faith--who knows?--they
might have materialized there the shade of the departed collector of
antiquities to demand of them, sternly, which careless handmaid with
intrusive mop had nicked his Florentine gilding.

“The raspberries, Jemima, please. I shall always wonder why it is that
... (cream, please) ... the very persons who wouldn’t for worlds ...
(and powdered sugar) ... recall the fact that Hibbert Mearely’s widow’s
mother once sold butter ... (are you sure this is sugar, Jemima? It
looks suspiciously like salt) ... are the very ones who are always
reminding me of ... the _butter, please_.” She finished, tartly.

Jemima hastened to pass the hereditary slur.

“Well, ma’am, I wouldn’t go to say that exac’ly.” Amanda studied the
question. “But them what thought so high of Mr. Mearely kind of wants
to help you remember what he done for you.”

“Ah! that is it, eh?”

“Yes. An’ you bein’ a widow an’ havin’ to put all his blue blood in the
tomb--when you hadn’t enjoyed it but a year an’ four month--we feel
like it comforts you to remin’ you that, even if _you_ come off a farm
in Poplars Vale, your diseased husban’ didn’t. _No, Sir!_ _He_ come off
of Henery Seven!”

An odd little squeak pierced through Rosamond’s damask napkin. It
terminated hastily in a cough.

“May I ask, ma’am, when Mrs. Witherby stopped in here yesterday mornin’
did you happen to be wearin’ them _white_ cuffs an’ collar with your
lavender ’stead of the black watered ribbon ones as you’ve worn for
nigh a year?”

“Yes. Yes, Amanda, I believe I did have these on yesterday--for
the first time in the daytime. You know I’ve worn _all_ white with
flowers--in the evening.”

“It’s doin’ it in broad daylight that causes remark. Oh, I’m not
forgettin’ my place an’ criticizin’. It’s all correc’ enough. You done
your eighteen months crape an’ one year plain, then your six month
black’n white. Then come your year of lavender with black ribbons, an’
now it’s time for white or even light colours, if you’re desirous,
an’ none should objec’. But Mrs. Witherby’s tongue is like a dog’s on
a huntin’ mornin’; it’s that easy set to waggin’ an’ anticipatin’.
Jemima, you it was overheard her remarks. Be so kin’ an’ repeat.”

Nothing loath, Jemima obliged.

“Mrs. Witherby says, says she, ‘well, you mark me,’ says she, ‘Mrs.
Mearely will not remain long a widder. It’ll be Judge Giffen or Wilton
Howard afore Christmas.’”

“Oh! the gossip!” Mrs. Mearely snapped indignantly. Amanda nodded
sagely.

“It was them white muslin trimmin’s what done it,” she averred. “She
says it afore her niece, Miss Mabel, who all Roseborough knows is jus’
a-pinin’ an’ a-languishin’ for Mr. Howard; and Miss Mabel she goes
white as your napkin--which ain’t so white, but considerable eggy now
you’ve had your sof’ boileds. I could a’ways tell your napkin from
Mr. Hibbert Mearely’s wherever I’d pick ’em up--be it in church or
tavern--for Mr. Mearely he could comfort his appetite without a smear.
But, of course, _he_ was born to refinements. Well, it’s too bad,
ma’am, but gossip is what you mus’ expec’ from now henceforth.”

“Yes,” Jemima went on to illustrate, “all Roseborough is a-waitin’
breathless to see what you’ll do nex’--you bein’ the widder of a
aristocrat but the chil’ of a farm.”

“Standing, so to speak, with one foot on the throne and the other on
the churn?” milady murmured between bites at a large berry.

“Wilton Howard’s too young--he’s on’y aroun’ thirty-five,” Jemima
continued. “Though him bein’ a relation of the departed has a sort
of sentimentality to it. It’ll be the Judge, if ever she do take
unto her another spouse. Him an’ Mr. Mearely was intimate bach’lor
frien’s; an’ the Judge is a highborn man, specially on his mother’s
side--‘Doubledott’ bein’ one of our proudest names. An’ he’s jus’
fifty-three years old, what is the exac’ age Mr. Hibbert Mearely was
when he lifted you from the farm gate to the altar. It’d be a’most like
gettin’ married to Mr. Mearely all over again--specially as the Judge
not havin’ any property, you’d be livin’ on here with him.”

This graphic prophecy of a second state of connubial bliss affected
Mrs. Mearely strongly. She burst into explosive sobs.

“Yes! yes--yes! It would be just the--the same as marrying
Hib--Hib--Hibbert Mearely all o--o--over again! And I’m only--only--not
quite--twenty-four. Oh--h--h!”

She swept the dishes back ruthlessly, overtoppling the hot water
pitcher--Amanda saved the cream just in time--and hid her face on her
black-flowered, lavender sleeves with their white cuffs (which, being
amorously interpreted by the Roseborough gossip, had provoked this
sorrow) and sobbed as stormily and shamelessly as if she were still
little Rosamond Cort pouring out the briny aftermath of punishment in
the hayrick behind the dairy.

“There, there, ma’am,” Amanda said, gently. “There, there. Who could
know better how you feel than His Friggets, what has been to Hibbert
Mearely fifty year--mother an’ daughters--all that hired help can be in
the life of any highborn man?”

“Who could know better’n us?” Jemima obbligatoed.

“It’s like a sacrilege to you to think of putting any man, even Judge
Giffen, acrost the table from you under that portrait. To take a secon’
spouse seems to some natures a’most indelicate. Ma’am, while His
Friggets is conductin’ Mr. Hibbert Mearely’s late home on earth, gossip
can say no word agin you, for I’ll promise you as no young sheeps-eyed,
gallantin’ male critter will ever get inside the walls of Villa Rose to
blaspheme your sacred mem’ries. It’ll be the Judge or none--an’ I ain’t
decided yet even as the Judge....” She stopped short.

From the little anteroom which connected the living room with the
formal dining room came a tinkling.

“A telephone in Mr. Hibbert Mearely’s antic an’ aristocratical home
is what I’ll never get accustomed to.” Amanda drew her lips down in
displeasure. “_He’d_ never have permitted it.”

“Answer it, if you please, Amanda.” Mrs. Mearely lifted her head with
an air that became her well, despite her tears.

“Answer it, Jemima,” the elder sister commanded, noting, with a glitter
of satisfaction, that her alleged “mistress’s” eyes flashed angrily. By
such subtleties did Amanda remind milady, when necessary, that, while
“His Friggets” would do whatever was to be expected of servants in
Villa Rose, neither would take personal orders--above all, if given as
such--from the farmer’s daughter of Poplars Vale.

“I don’t mind obligin’ you, Amanda,” Jemima responded, with a certain
pointedness.

“There won’t be anyone there to answer, if you don’t hurry,” Rosamond
said sharply. Perhaps it was the liberating influence of her white
cuffs and fichu; perhaps it was because the early morning sun and
breeze on a midsummer day have a rapture of their own which is
communicable and urges gay defiance of all convention; but, whatever
the cause, Rosamond Mearely was aware that, although she had been
irked aforetime, never had she felt the oppressiveness of the Frigget
sorority as she felt it at that moment. Inwardly she was thinking:

“I couldn’t discharge them. They wouldn’t go. Or, if they did leave,
they’d make it impossible for me to live in Roseborough. But if a
wicked tramp were to come by and I paid him a lot of money, and he
murdered them for me...?”

Mrs. Mearely’s assassination reverie was cut short by woeful wails from
Jemima at the telephone.

“Oh! Mercy! Amanda! oh...!”

It was only on extreme occasions that Amanda indulged in profanity. She
did so now.

“Jemima! What in all sassafras is the matter with you?” she demanded
sternly as her sister reeled into the room.

“Oh! Oh! Maw’s had another stroke! We’re to go to her bedside immejit.”

“Another stroke!” Amanda echoed in a ghostly voice. “It’s the _end_.
Poor Maw! _Another stroke!_”

“Oh, poor Mrs. Frigget. Oh, poor Amanda! Oh, poor Jemima! But it isn’t
the end. She’ll have lots more.” Rosamond, all tender consternation,
endeavoured to console. “It’s only her second, and they always have
_three_, at least. Dr. Wells says he knew a patient who had seven.”

Failing to stop their cries by hopeful words, she took practical steps.
She ran to the open door and called:

“Blake! Blake! Oh, there you are. Blake, you must harness the mare at
once and drive Amanda and Jemima to Trenton. Their mother is ill!”

“Good-mornin’, Mrs. Mearely, mum. Ill, is she? In course, she’s ill,”
came in a slow, rumbling voice from some aged masculine out of sight.
“She’s been bedridden nigh three year.”

“Hush, Blake. You must not be so unfeeling. She’s just had a stroke.”

“That’s them sleezy, new-style, board-roof cottages. They’d oughter
kep’ a green umbreller over ’er bed.”

“It isn’t a _sun_-stroke, Blake! It’s a--another kind. And you must
harness, at once, and take her daughters to her.”

“Oh, yep. If the wuss is a-goin’ to ’appen, them two Friggets has got
to be thar to see it. Good-mornin’, Amanda and Jemima.”

Blake, gray-haired, sixty, and stooped but hale and ruddyfaced, limped
to the threshold.

“So yer maw’s nearin’ ’er end, is she? That’s very sad--I know to a
t ’ow you feel--if so be ye’re feelin’ _bad_--coz my rheumatiz is
twistin’ me like a peavine this mornin’. I’m four square yards of
twinges. ’Owever, I’ll ’arness the mare an’ she’ll get us over to
Trenton lickety-split--judgin’ from the way she’s been actin’ sence
daybreak. That is, if she don’t fling us all over the bridge.”

“Yes, yes! That’ll do, Blake,” Mrs. Mearely interrupted impatiently.
“People could be dying while you’re talking, you know. Hurry, now!
hurry!”

“Oh, whatever’ll you do without us? Somethin’s mortally sure to
happen!” Amanda moaned, torn between two duties. “Somethin’ a’ways goes
wrong in Mr. Hibbert Mearely’s home when His Friggets leaves it. Oh,
be sure and sen’ right away for Bella Greenup to tidy up an’ get your
dinner.”

“Nonsense, Amanda. What _should_ happen? Nothing has ever happened
in Roseborough yet. Nothing ever _will_ happen in Roseborough. Leave
everything and go at once to your mother.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Jemima said between sobs. “It’s kin’ of you. If
you’ll telephone to Dollop’s Drugs, he’ll sen’ to Bella Greenup for
you--him bein’ sweet on her an’ more’n willin’ to take her messages.”

At the end of a half hour Rosamond saw them driven off down the winding
hill road, the gray mare snorting and kicking up her heels as if she
had not, some time since, reached years of discretion.

“Florence is not acting in the least like a _Roseborough_ mare,” she
commented aloud. “She is positively unladylike this morning. Oh, dear,
I do hope their mother will get better--the poor things!” Then, in
spite of her genuine sympathy, a giggle escaped her. “If it weren’t
such a sad occasion it would be rather fun to see Florence kick a
fraction too high and roll ‘His Friggets’ down the hill. They are so
unintentionally amusing that there are times when I could almost like
them if only they wouldn’t call themselves _that_!”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER II


Unless she meant to clear away her breakfast dishes herself, her
first duty was to send for Bella Greenup. She turned her back on both
telephone and dishes, however, and ran up the stairs and into her
room. It might be supposed that she intended to begin the day’s work
by making her bed; but she spared not a glance for its crumpled state.
Some secret purpose, brought to definite shape as the carriage had
disappeared, possessed and thrilled her.

There was a window seat formed by a huge, carved rosewood chest.
Rosamond dropped on her knees before it and began to search through
the layers of coloured frou-frous which were neatly sandwiched between
pieces of smooth, white linen. Pink muslin bags containing dried rose
leaves, and bunches of dried lavender blossoms woven together in loose
checker pattern by lavender and white baby ribbons, were tossed among
the rainbow flounces of a profuse wardrobe.

She rose presently with billows of perfumed satins and lace flowing
over her arm. Her cheeks were rosy not only from her exertions but from
the excitement that stirred her small round bosom, and also kindled
her eyes till they glowed like the blue sparks of a driftwood fire.
She skimmed across the dull-polished dark oak floor to the mirror.
This latter was the one bright article among the sombre furnishings of
the room. It was a huge thing with an ornate gold-enamelled frame that
finished in a top of turrets, flower-twined trellises, and one-stepping
cupids. It reflected the room for Rosamond in fan-shape, with herself
the Watteau figure in the fan’s centre.

As she unfastened the top button of the black-sprayed lavender gown
she began to hum a little song. They were tiny cut jet buttons, and
no doubt suggested to her that time could be saved and the adventure
hastened by a good pull. Two sharp tugs ripped them all out of the
button-holes; but two of the jet balls had shot, like stray bullets,
into the unknown, ere the hated garment reached the middle of the room,
having been propelled thereto by the farmer’s daughter’s toe.

The gown she selected in its place was of soft satin, thin and sheer
as silk, and of a lilac hue. The skirt, made in two panniers and short
round train, draped over an Irish lace petticoat. The round-necked
bodice and short, close-fitting sleeves were of the lace. From the
front of the girdle, silk folds went over the shoulders and hung in
sash-ends at the back. It was a frock of costly simplicity, witnessing
that the departed collector of curios, antiques, and _objets d’art_ had
been no niggard in the matter of supplying appropriate cases for his
purchases.

The other gown, shimmering and smelling of pink roses and trailing
with silver gossamer, she shook out and hung upon the high back of
some medieval Louis’ chair and draped it with linen to protect it from
dust. Presently she returned to the mirror to survey, at her delightful
leisure, a sight that would have caused His Friggets to swoon with
apprehension, so boldly did it register new claims on life and on
youth’s inalienable right to inspire love.

The figure reflected was not diminutive. Without being tall, there
was height enough, one would say, to insure the eyes a good view of
golden horizons and near heavens, and the arms an easy reach to the
honeysuckle clusters or the ripe purple plum hanging low by its own
weight. The lines were long and not fragile but well knit at knee and
thigh, at shoulders and supple waist; the curves were not less sturdy
than graceful and sinuous, like the outlines of a young, white, birch
tree, where poetic beauty harmonizes with limber, enduring strength.
The tenuousness of high breeding, which His Friggets so admired, was
wholly absent from Rosamond’s body. The well-made feet looked equal
to miles of meadow running; and the finely rounded, firm, white arms
would not tire under the pressure of market baskets. Yet there was a
daintiness about her--in her postures and her movements, in the set of
her throat and of the chin raised to thrust her eager face a little
forward--but it was the daintiness of the field, not of the hothouse.

Both _La France_ and the wild rose are roses; both permeate their
worlds with fragrance and are something alike in colour, but no one
would compare or contrast them for purposes of criticism. One, the
product of selection, is the aristocrat of horticulture. The other is
the queen of rusticdom, as unspoiled as she is undisputed in her sway,
the passing centuries of garden fancies and fads having influenced her
not at all. She is not the less lovely because she is sturdy and able
to bear wind and weather.

Rosamond Mearely, _née_ Cort--like the wild rose--proclaimed that the
cottager’s environs, and not lordly estates, were her native ground.
She was a willing little daughter of the earth, with the earth’s
promise in her; and her halesome, country-bred beauty challenged with a
frank admission that it would have shone as radiantly in a sun-bonnet,
patched gingham apron, and bare feet. This, despite its present
wrappings of Lyons silk and Limerick lace and its background of some
ancient, royal reprobate’s furniture; and also despite the fact that
the mirror which imaged the eager, wistful face under its bright hair
had once reflected (so ’twas said) the coronets and the _hauteur_ of
the princesses of the House of Orleans.

A joyous flush tinted her satiny skin which was innocent of even the
knowledge of powder. Thoughts of freedom came to her and made her
breath stir quickly. They promised her things vague and splendid and
she felt a flutter about her heart like the wings of birds waking for
the morning flight. She was beautiful, she was rich, she was young; and
for one whole day, at least, she was her own mistress. A laugh rippled
through the sombre old curio shop of a bedroom. She swept herself a
curtsy and called gleefully to the contented-looking apparition in the
mirror:

“Good-morning, Rosamond!”

She fairly danced down the stairs.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER III


In the living room she paused for a conference with herself.

“Let me see,” she said, aloud. “Amanda said I must send for Mrs.
Greenup at once, to manage the house till they come back. So I shan’t
do it! I’ll be my own Cinderella--sometimes in the kitchen and
sometimes my ladyship. This may be the only day I’ll ever have that
is all mine. So it _must_ be--it’s just _got_ to be--_wonderful_! and
nobody shall spy on it. What shall I do _first_?”

She dropped into an enormous padded chair and stared thoughtfully at
the farthest wall. When one is to have perhaps only one Wonderful Day,
decision regarding how to spend every moment of it is important.

Even immersed--as she was--in delicious hopes, she could not remain
long unaware that her eyes were fixed upon the countenance of the
man who had brought her to Villa Rose. The childish glow, the eager
make-believe, which had transformed her into a girl of eighteen again,
faded from her eyes. In their place came a wistful gravity, the look of
one who has probed and queried and accepted certain harsh facts, yet
refused to let them wholly dispel the fancy and optimism which alone
can make a life of facts livable. She accosted the portrait.

“You were very good to me, in your way, Hibbert Mearely; but you never
allowed me to forget how greatly you had honoured me. It pleased you
when I called you ‘sir.’ You didn’t marry me for love of me--you took
me as if I were a--a--bunch of wild flowers, to give just the right
contrasting touch of rustic simplicity to your fine house. No, not
home. It never was a home--only a museum.”

She looked about the large room. It was ornamented with scores of
pieces of bric-à-brac, with jars, images, plates, trays, boxes,
gathered from all parts of the globe. They were artistically arranged,
making pleasant spots of colour, and might have looked as if they
belonged there and together--but for the tags. Every article, no matter
what its size--even the thimble which, it is safe to say, Mary Stuart
never _did_ wear--had a ticket attached to it. Mr. Mearely had spent
most of his time, when at Villa Rose, in writing on these tickets, in
his small, pointed calligraphy, the fictions of dealers most pleasing
to his egotistical and highly artificial mind.

“I have been only another curio with a ticket on--” Rosamond said,
accusingly--“the rustic trifle to offset the art of all ages. You
even told me that was why you married me and thought I should feel
complimented. What higher compliment could a woman desire than to be
regarded by her husband purely as an art object? And I agreed--at
first. I thought that was finer than just love--the love of farm lads
and lasses. But, oh sir, the farm lads and lasses know something
more precious than any treasure that has ever come into Villa Rose.
Everybody in Roseborough said that the butter-maker’s daughter married
you from ambition, but it wasn’t only ambition. It was glamour!”

The wistful, far-away look came into her eyes again, despite the little
smile at the corners of her mouth--a smile as if she mocked herself for
a past foible, the while her eyes denied that it _was_ past.

“Yes, it was glamour. I had known nothing but humdrum farm poverty--but
I believed fairy tales. I thought it would be good to be the wife of
the distinguished Hibbert Mearely--to live in Villa Rose among the
antiques--among Cleopatra’s knitting needles and Madame Pompadour’s
stuffed lizards, with a knob of Charles I’s unwise, not to say wooden,
head for the handle of my shoe-horn!”

A short sharp laugh came from her, unmellowed by the spirit which had
bubbled in her since His Friggets’ departure. It suggested that, unless
she laughed, she might cry.

“There wasn’t a single woman in the district who wouldn’t have jumped
at the chance of marrying Hibbert Mearely. So I--yes, sir--I jumped!
And you never knew that I wasn’t happy. You never knew because you were
not interested to inquire. You of the portrait, there--do you accuse me
of ingratitude? Are you saying that you richly dowered a beggar maid
who gave you nothing but the beggar maid in return? Let us discuss
that. You made me believe it, and I did believe it, until lately. But
it isn’t true. I spoiled nothing that you gave me; but you!--I gave
you my dreams, all the fairy tales I’d imagined, all my ideals and
faith and all that I knew of reverence. But these things weren’t art
objects, so you despised them. Well, I suppose you’d say I gave you no
gifts at all, because I gave you what you had no taste for! Enough said
for my gifts. What do I owe you? Let us talk of _your_ gifts--without
glamour--heart to heart.”

Her hands smoothed down the crease in the hem of the satin pannier, and
she smiled.

“You dressed me very beautifully and extravagantly; but it was only
to delight your eyes--not to make me seem more lovable to you. Love
was too common--almost too vulgar--a sentiment to find lodgment in
the Mearely breast. I didn’t mind your being fifty-three, sir. That
was like being wooed by a prince with powdered hair--say, the Fourth
George, ‘the first gentleman in Europe.’”

She nodded emphatically over this.

“Yes, sir; indeed his nickname suited you, too, as well as his nature;
for you both had wonderful manners but no hearts at all. What other
gifts? Many. I remember, sir, and gratefully, that you taught me all I
know of fine airs--how to walk, as if I’d never paddled on flat bare
soles through the creeks and meadows; how to talk in drawing-room
accents without the ill-bred emphasis of excitement. ‘Don’t rattle
the milk pails, my love,’ is what you used to say, when my zest for
life keyed my tones above the Mearely pitch and tempo. How you enjoyed
seeing people writhe under your ridicule! It put you into a pleasant
mood again, presently. You taught me what music to admire, and what
to consider with pursed lips and lifted eyebrows; what books, modern
and classic, should lie on a cultured woman’s table. But I remember,
too, that you taught me these things by means of sarcasm that cut to
the bone; and my tears you called ‘squeezing out the buttermilk.’ You
had a sort of placid cruelty, sir, that always made the butter-maker’s
daughter cringe. And only a few days before you died you told me you
feared I was ‘irredeemably _bourgeoise_’--because I had ‘so much
emotion.’ And the last gift?”

A tremor of rebellion went through her, and her eyes flashed.

“Villa Rose, and your small, safe fortune! Villa Rose and the Mearely
money willed to me in terms that make me a prisoner all my life! So I
think, on the whole, I’ve earned my right to this day. I have paid your
memory the last jot of respect demanded by Roseborough. For four years
I have worn hideous blackish clothes which would have caused _you_ to
swoon with horror had the angels allowed you to lean out of heaven to
observe me. Now, I am going to be _young_ and dress like a bird of
paradise! And--and....”

In a trice she threw off the mood that had held her there. The grave
analyst disappeared. It was a young creature thrilling with the joy of
life who leaped up and threw her arms high above her head and laughed.

“Do you know what this ‘irredeemably _bourgeoise_’ bird of paradise is
going to do now? She is going out into the hedges and the river grass
and along the highways; and she is going to twirl her finery about,
and shake her hair out in the sun, and call--and call--till her true
mate comes to her! And he’ll jump down off his horse--or the wind, or a
heron’s back--and he’ll catch me up in his arms, because _he_, also, is
irredeemably _bourgeois_! And he’ll say ... he’ll say--‘Good-morning,
Rosamond!’ ‘Good-morning, Rosamond!’”

The sound of her name this morning gave her exquisite delight, as if it
introduced her to a new being; as if, indeed, she had discovered that
this new being, herself, contained in profusion all the elements of
the romance she coveted.

She sing-songed her matutinal salutation in the theme of the little
minuet she had hummed, from time to time, since her pleasant interview
with the Orleans mirror, and danced herself out with it to the garden.

The portrait of the late possessor of this rebellious bit of country
bric-à-brac was an excellent essay in flesh painting of the realistic
school. It had no psychic qualities. Therefore it did not change its
tints or take on shadows when Mrs. Hibbert Mearely, renouncing the life
of an art-object, wafted out on rustic love-adventure bent. The morning
sun, so kind to the fresh countenance of the farmer’s daughter, dealt
very sincerely with the gentleman in the picture. Its arrow rays, shot
across the wall, lent neither warmth nor softness--only pointedness--to
the long, thin head, and the nose, chin, and lips that were all long
and thin and curved. Nor did the sunshine kindle the prominent,
cold, pale eyes which looked out with condescension upon a world of
humanity that mattered little, collectively or individually, to the
self-contained self-sufficiency of Mr. Hibbert Mearely, aristocrat and
amateur collector of antiques.

One long, thin hand held a small gold-painted box from which James II
was supposed to have pecked his after-dinner comfits. With a fine
impartiality, the other hand rested on the head of a cane of English
oak and silver, said to have been given to William of Orange by Mary,
his spouse. Indeed, she may have given it to him for, as all history
knows, the intense but plain-faced lady put her Stuart pride in her
pocket and wooed her dour Dutch Bill, assiduously and submissively from
A to Z, before she finally convinced him--to his belated joy--that they
were two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one.

It may not be amiss to mention here (in whispers) that the
distinguished dilettante--whose taste and knowledge of arts past and
present had been that of an amateur and a gentleman without vulgar
taint of professionalism--had once (only once and _never again_) sought
the opinion of an expert on his collection. This “brutal person,” as
Mr. Mearely had characterized him on the only occasion thereafter,
when he permitted his name to be mentioned in his presence, found the
Orleans mirror and the Louis chair to be of the _periods_ claimed, but
doubted that princesses had ever looked in the one or kings sat in the
other. He approved the jade Buddha and certain bronzes, potteries, and
two pictures; but as to the rest, he had said, amid detestable chuckles:

“Well, sir, my advice to you is, don’t ever charge the public
admission to your private bazaar--Villa _Bizarre_, eh?--for the
law would be down on you for obtaining money under false pretences.
And I can promise you that all your ‘royal’ pepper pots and powder
puffs and poodles and _petits pois_--if they sold for what they’re
_worth_--wouldn’t bring in enough to pay your fines.”

“I have not a _poodle_ in my collection,” Mr. Hibbert Mearely retorted
with icy dignity, and showed the “brutal person” the door.

Perhaps it was not strange, therefore, that little Rosamond Cort,
equipped by Nature from the beginning to be a connoisseur in happiness,
should have found out that the crown of wifehood bestowed on her by
Hibbert Mearely was something less than royal, and that the joys which
had glistered to her through the window panes of Villa Rose were golden
only on the surface.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV


Down the hill and down the valley, where the crossroads pointed east to
Poplars Vale and west to Roseborough, and the low, gray stone bridge
with its mossy ooze led over the winding river toward Trenton Waters,
three miles north, stood a stone tower. In it an old ship’s bell hung,
which, so report said, had once rung meal hours and lullabies and other
clock stations for a captain and crew whose gory barque flew the “Jolly
Roger.” The aged pensioner, who collected the tow-path tolls, rang the
strokes of the hour on this bell from six A.M. until six P.M., and, so
closely did the low, curving hills advance to smile upon each other
from both sides of the running water that they made a channel for the
sound--like a great, twisted, golden horn--so that the bell-tones, rung
out at the crossroads, were heard at Roseborough and at Poplars Vale
and even rolled their echoes, when the wind was kind, upon the town of
Trenton Waters.

Nine o’clock! Rosamond heard it pealing as she reached the terrace.

“I must hurry to find whatever it is I am looking for,” she said,
“because my Wonderful Day won’t wait. It will move on, hour by hour,
just like any other day.”

The house was on a jut of the hill, sheer above the gravel road and
midway from the summit. The road must make a long detour about the
grounds of Villa Rose ere it could continue its progress round and over
the hilltops and on toward more modern and populous districts of Old
Canada. At the foot of the incline was the village proper, occupying
three streets in triangle about a combined courthouse, police station
and gaol, the latter seldom visited even by the constables. On one
street corner the post office stood, flanked by a few small houses.
The other two streets shared between them the business buildings of
Roseborough; such as Bilkin’s meat market and hardware store; Miss
Jenny’s millinery and dressmaking establishment; George Dollop’s drugs,
stationery and lending library, with John Dollop, plumber, and James
Dollop, undertaker, adjoining, and Horace Ruggle of the telegraph
office next door; and Brandon’s stables and feed store.

In going over the hill’s brow and on to the vague unknown, the road led
past Charleroy College whither the lads within twenty miles came to
acquire knowledge. The residential portion of Roseborough, comprising
about sixty houses and gardens, spread about the hillsides between the
village and Charleroy.

The sun fell aslant over the garden and the orchard, as if indeed
it had cast a golden net about Villa Rose to snare the willing lady
thereof in a witchery from which she might never escape. To decide that
this was to be the great day of her life, a day of splendid adventure,
was one thing; to make it so--to make any day a day of adventure in
Roseborough--was quite another. Pondering ways and means of conjuring
up romance, she fluttered about among the blazing dahlia beds like a
huge lavender butterfly.

“Oh!” She stopped suddenly. “I shall not deserve my Wonderful Day if I
don’t take Mrs. Lee her flowers and her fruit, as usual.”

She ran back to the verandah and picked up a willow basket containing
stout gloves and shears and returned to the flower beds. She lingered
only a moment or two among the dahlias. Beyond their haughty glory lay
the rose garden, a radiant and random half acre spilling forth every
tint and perfume known to the rose family. Here Rosamond’s shears went
to work busily. She found delight in the task, for she hummed again the
little minuet theme which she had recomposed into this day’s salutation
to herself.

When one is young, not only with the fearless years but with the brave
desires of youth and eager for fairy tale happenings, so that every
other sentence begins with “I wonder!” one must talk; and if fate has
set one in a high and lonely place with no young, imaginative twin soul
to companion one’s dreams, then one must talk to oneself--not merely
in silence but with the uttered phrase. Rosamond talked to herself
habitually.

She was musing aloud now:

“I wonder how it would feel to own all this--Villa Rose and its
gardens--with love, and then to lose it--and love, too. Mrs. Lee did.
I’m afraid I couldn’t be sweet about it, as she is.” She concluded
presently that in such circumstances she would even feel resentful when
flowers were brought to her from the garden that had once been hers.

She pictured Mrs. Lee in thought as she would see her presently--seated
in her bit of garden, knitting, or perhaps indoors, lovingly sorting
and dusting the precious (and, it must be confessed, prosy) manuscripts
written by her husband during his forty years as professor of
literature at Charleroy. She would hear the gentle voice greeting her
lovingly--not because she was the rich Mrs. Mearely but because Mrs.
Lee instinctively greeted all the world lovingly. Under the white hair
and dainty, white lace cap, the kind eyes, which had seen seventy years
of life--with its human sun and shadow--go by, would beam out of the
delicately wrinkled face with a delight in the flowers’ beauty and
fragrance as spontaneous and young as youth itself--the spirit which
discounts time because its habitation is with the good and the eternal.

“Maybe it is because she never thinks of herself that she has never
found out that she hasn’t things any more.”

Mrs. Lee’s ability to be happy, even after fate had bereft her of
everything, was a subject full of unusual interest for Rosamond this
morning. By some art this lonely woman, past her seventieth milestone,
managed to make every day of her life her “_wonderful_ day.” The song
of her “Good-morning!” came out of a deep-toned, divine joy which
neither age, poverty, nor grief could blur. The wistful look was in
Rosamond’s eyes again as she passed out of the rose garden and into the
orchard on her way to make her daily offering.

The orchard lay higher than the garden and the house. Rosamond went on
up rustic steps, made of earth and roots, that led between irregular
lines of pear trees weighted to the ground with their promise of
brown and golden fruit. She made her way to a huge cherry tree, ran
nimbly up the ladder, and covered the bottom of her basket with large,
red-cheeked, white cherries; then, jumping down, she hastened on up the
remaining steps into a small grass plot surrounding a tiny cottage. A
beech tree took up its full share of the grounds and, close beside it,
as if in friendly converse, rose the rustic, vine-clad top of a well
with wet bucket hung high on the roller.

Mrs. Lee sat in a rocker beside the well, knitting. Her ball of
yarn was filliping about the sward under the paws of a white kitten
whose smudgy face betrayed a nature so obsessed with the entrancing
amusements of a woollen tangle that the duty of the daily ablution was
wholly forgotten.

“Oh, Mrs. Lee, I’m late; but here they are.” Rosamond held out her
basket.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Mearely. How you spoil me, my dear! What lovely
roses--oh, and dahlias!--dahlias of the very hue of life itself, the
unquenchable crimson flame. How bravely and confidently they give
themselves to the sun and blend with its rays! And cherries, too!”

Rosamond laughed.

“Now, Mrs. Lee, how can you pretend to feel such delighted surprise
when you knew perfectly well that I’d bring them to-day just as I
always do?”

“Ah, my dear, that is the very secret of happiness.” She paused to pick
up a dropped stitch, and Rosamond, eager for data on this subject above
all others, asked quickly:

“_What_ is the secret of happiness?”

“Why--don’t you know? It is to anticipate only what you know will
surely happen. Then your every desire comes to pass. And the surprise
you feel is not so much surprise, after all, as a kind of charmed
wonder that life is so beautifully arranged.”

“_Is_ life beautifully arranged, Mrs. Lee?” Rosamond took the basket
from her friend’s lap, where it interfered with the stocking’s
progress, and set it on the grass. She sank down on the broad, rustic
seat which surrounded the well’s rim.

“Is it _not_? I am sure you feel that it is. To you, in particular,
in spite of the one great grief, life must seem like a fairy tale. I
must pause in discussion of this infinite theme to remark upon your
appearance, my dear. You look ravishing this morning. What a beautiful
frock! I know that it has been hard for you to put away the last black
ribbons. Although it is just what he would wish, it seems to you like
wilfully forgetting the beloved one.”

She laid a comforting hand lightly for a moment on Rosamond’s.
Rosamond, remembering the manner in which she had discarded the
black-garnished, lavender dress, drooped her head quickly to hide alike
the little blush of shame that tinted her cheeks and the wicked twinkle
that brightened her eyes.

“It is so fortunate,” Mrs. Lee went on, “that there are no ‘styles’
in Roseborough. In Roseborough all your lovely frocks will be as
fashionable now as when you bought them, four or five years ago. Miss
Jenny says that she does not know what this generation is coming to,
because, even in Trenton Waters, they are beginning to ask whether a
garment or a ribbon is ‘in style’ before they buy it. Miss Jenny says
that she has seen some of those so-called stylish hats, and garments
of various kinds, and that she is willing to take her ‘solemn oath
in court’--as she expressed it, being very much moved--that a few
scissor-snips would have laid the whole in ruins. ‘Mrs. Lee,’ she said
to me, ‘when Jenny Hackensee sews a bow on even a child’s hat, or a
bone button on the band of a genteel woman’s flannel petticoat, my
_conscience_ is satisfied that it will _never_ come off!’ Poor Miss
Jenny. She fears that the Roseborough ladies may forget her worth and
run after follies. My dear husband used to say that that trait was one
of the charms of Roseborough--namely, the loving regard each person in
the community has for the general _morale_.”

“Yes, that trait _is_ very marked in Roseborough.” Again Mrs. Mearely’s
drooped head hid a twinkle.

“It rejoices me to see you in that dainty lilac and white. It is just
as if the fragrance and tints of spring had lingered to make midsummer
more bewitching.”

“Are you going to make me vain again to-day, as you always do?”

“Nonsense, dear child. Does expatiating on the beauty of a rose or
a brook make it vain? Beauty is one of heaven’s choicest gifts, and
is always to be admired gratefully. How foolish must any fair woman
be who allows herself to become vain--as if the beauty admired were
_her_ possession exclusively, and not a free gift to the eyes of all
beholders! She might as reasonably be conceited about holding up a
candle in the dusk.”

Rosamond put out a hand and stopped the knitting for the moment. “You
were going to show me how perfectly life is arranged. I need to be
shown.” She laughed.

“Perhaps I did, too, at your age. And I was. For I married a remarkable
man and life became for me at once very simple and large--something
like the process of Nature’s unfoldment under sunlight. Professor Lee’s
spirit was just that--a mellow sunshine, which made for growth in those
who lived within its radius. A bright and searching spirit it was; for
it revealed to you the weeds as well as the grain, but in such a way
that you were not hurt or humiliated; your only feeling was a sense of
freedom, of relief that a danger had been pointed out, and that you had
therefore escaped it.”

“Perhaps it would not be so difficult to give up one’s faults if one
were told about them in that way. One would have no reason for trying
to excuse them.”

“Ah, that was it exactly! He always said that when you deprived people
of the feeling of personal possession in their errors you took away
their only reason for clinging to those errors. But for this egoism,
we would all see clearly enough how indefensible are many of the traits
we justify. My husband would have refused outright, if he could, to
believe there was any evil in the world at all. He _did_ insist that
it was no true part of any person. That was why he could help others
so wonderfully in their moral struggles, because he never censured,
never expressed a personal anger, only pointed out the wrong as if it
were--as, indeed, he regarded it--an outside thing trying to fasten
itself on the unsuspecting individual. He used to say that moral
victories over temptation were all-important--because they registered
something permanent, a degree of progress won--but that defeats, though
pitiable, were not deeply important, because they were of the moment
only--the next hour _might_ see victory; _some_ hour _must_ see it.”

“It must have been wonderful for his students to be trained by him--I
mean, to be taught first to look at life and themselves by a man who
had such a deep faith within him. But weren’t you always busy keeping
bad people from taking advantage of him?”

[Illustration: “Mrs. Lee sat in her rocker knitting. Her ball of yarn
was filliping about the sward under the paws of a white kitten”]

“Sometimes; but far less often than you would think. I came to see that
this spirit of my dear husband’s, so far from bringing deception and
imposture upon him, really contained its own protection against these
things. Those who were unworthy of his interest soon eliminated
themselves. He never seemed to guess why they went--but saw them go and
wished them well.”

“To live for nearly fifty years with a man like that might make me also
believe that life is beautifully arranged. But I am not convinced this
morning.”

“You are wilful!”

“I know it. There will be only twenty-four hours in this day and I need
at least twice that.” She paused.

Mrs. Lee smiled as she said: “You flit from one subject to another like
a bee after honey! My mental wings take slow and reasoned flights. I
cannot follow you. What am I to make of your last inconsequential spurt
through the air--that, for you, life would be rightly arranged if this
particular day could have double hours? If so, why?”

Rosamond laughed.

“Don’t let me give you ‘nerves,’ Mrs. Lee. I know I do lack sequence,
and that, to the life companion of a professor of literature, must be
very trying. I can begin things wonderfully and I know the ending I
_want_; but I can’t fill in the middle part. The middle is just dots
and dashes.”

“Principally dashes,” Mrs. Lee smiled.

“Principally. This time, though, there _is_ a connection. To-day is to
be my _Wonderful_ Day. So, if life really is beautifully arranged I
must find it out before to-morrow. And even a forty-eight hour day is
hardly long enough for one’s _only_ Wonderful Day.”

“Oh, youth, youth! With all life before it, it must still invent limits
for itself and tragic ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘perhapses.’ Why must to-day
alone be wonderful? _Every_ day has its wonders.”

There was no answer for a moment; then Rosamond leaned over and
kissed the elder woman’s cheek--a fragile bit of pale pink and ivory
modelling, faintly impressed with many tiny lines. She knew that she
could not uncover to Mrs. Lee’s eyes all the remote reasons for her
mood of this morning. She who had worn her weeds in loving sorrow and
resignation must not be told of the young heart beating its rebellious
tattoo for long irksome months, under crape and plain black, black and
white, and lavender with black trimmings--nor of the hoydenish kick
which had cast the last stage of woe from her forever.

It seemed to Rosamond, then, that the cynic touch of disillusionment,
and not the mere passing of time, was what aged; and that, according
to such calculation, she was years older than Mrs. Lee. Twenty-four’s
responsibility was to guard the _couleur de rose_ for Seventy! Her
thoughts culminated in the inward exclamation:

“It makes a difference, even in one’s _age_, what sort of a man one
marries!”

Aloud, she said:

“You see, I called this my ‘Wonderful Day,’ and put on this frock to
celebrate it. So I must _make_ it wonderful, mustn’t I?”

“Yes, indeed, my dear, and all the midsummer fairies will help you,”
her friend answered.

Mrs. Lee was placidly and patiently unmingling her kitten and her wool,
which had revolved and resolved themselves into one untidy ball with a
miewing centre.

Two sounds broke upon the lull in conversation.

Near by clattered the hoofs of the letter carrier’s pony rounding the
hill’s turn to the front gate. Far down by the river the old bell rang
its song of ten o’clock into the mouth of the golden horn valley, and
the tones--muted but round and perfect--floated up across the hillside
gardens and carried, even here, their separate theme dimly above the
murmurs of wind-rippled leaves and dripping bucket.

“Morning, Mrs. Lee. Morning, Mrs. Mearely, ma’am.”

Mr. Horace Ruggle--who was the mail carrier twice daily when he was
not the telegraph agent, and _vice versa_--blinked perspiringly over
the gate. Mr. Ruggle was stout--deliberately and tyrannically stout,
no doubt his equine would have said, had there been a bit of speech
instead of a bit of steel in his mouth--and whatever he did was done
with gusty effort.

“Good-morning, Mr. Ruggle. Is it possible that you have a letter for
me?” Mrs. Lee queried, putting her knitting aside and rising to the
rare occasion. Rosamond ran forward to receive it.

“One for you and one for Mrs. Mearely.” Mr. Ruggle put the letters into
Rosamond’s hand. “Yours has come quite a ways; but Mrs. Mearely’s is
just from Poplars. It’ll be from her folks, likely. Mebbe her mother’s
took sick or her sister’s children’s caught a epidemic; or, more likely
yet, has had a accident with that new farm machinery.”

“Oh, dear, oh, dear, I hope not!” Mrs. Lee looked upon him with gentle
disapprobation as if she considered his attempts to rival the literary
imagination of Edgar Allan Poe wholly out of tune with a midsummer
morning in Roseborough. “Do tell me there is nothing of the sort, Mrs.
Mearely, I can’t enjoy my own missive until I know. Mr. Ruggle has
alarmed me.”

“Telegrapher and postman,” Mr. Ruggle wheezed, mopping his huge cheeks,
“I’m the Bad News Syndicate. I made that anecdote first along in the
‘nineties,’ when the newspaper at Trenton joined the news syndicate and
gave me the idea; but it’s a joke that’s always good. Back about six
years ago, I added something to it that’s made it even better. It’s
this: ‘If I carry bad news and don’t know it, who carries worse and
knows it?’ Answer: the undertaker.’” He took his own time and told it
to the bitter end despite Mrs. Lee’s polite, but none-the-less quite
marked, attempts to prevent the sombre jest’s completion.

“Yes, yes, Mr. Ruggle. You are fond of your wit, we know; but while you
are entertaining us, think of the impatient ones elsewhere waiting for
their letters.”

“Right you are, ma’am--impatient for their doom, never thinking as how
what they don’t know won’t hurt them.” Mr. Ruggle drew his pony’s head
out of the greenery about the fence. “Bad news from Poplars?”

“Oh, no, not at all.” Mrs. Mearely gave him a nod that meant dismissal.

“It is only a line from my sister, Mrs. Lee, saying she can’t come to
me for a week.”

“Should think you’d be looking in your own envelope, ma’am,” Mr. Ruggle
hinted to Mrs. Lee. “It’s come quite a ways.”

“Not just now; I must find my other glasses first, so I shall wait some
time.”

“Well, _you_ may, but _I_ can’t!” The nonplussed Mr. Ruggle masked
his disappointment with a facetious air. “Good-day, ladies.” The
over-freighted pony jogged on up the hill.

“Dear, dear, I wonder how many thousand times Mr. Ruggle has repeated
to me that unpleasant ‘anecdote’ of his, as he insists on calling it.”
Mrs. Lee shook her head, with a mild perplexity that any one should
evince a taste for such humour.

“Dreadful person!” Rosamond concurred. “Wouldn’t you suppose that an
ordinary sense of the fitness of things would keep a fat man from being
morbid?”

Mrs. Lee laughed heartily.

“I’m afraid I have been guilty of a tiny fib. Although I generally use
my other glasses for reading, I do not positively require them. Still
I do feel that I should not be _compelled_ to share my mail with Mr.
Ruggle.” She slipped a knitting needle under the flap and opened the
envelope deftly. Presently a murmur of delight caused her guest to say:

“No epidemics or accidents in _your_ letter, either! I heard you purr.”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER V


“It’s from Jack--our Jack--and he is coming home!” Mrs. Lee’s deeply
set, dark eyes were shining, her cheeks flushed; her voice, keen-toned
with happiness, denied her three score and ten years.

“Oh, I hardly dared to believe it when he wrote months ago that he
would come! But he _did_ mean it--the dear, dear lad. Listen: ‘I will
walk in upon you on the morning of the fifteenth.’ The fifteenth?
why, that will be to-morrow! To-morrow morning! Oh, think of it,
Mrs. Mearely! I, too, am to have my ‘wonderful day’; and it is to be
to-morrow!”

“Who is coming to-morrow? It should be a remarkable person indeed to
inspire all this joy.”

“Oh, he is! But you shall see for yourself. It is Jack Falcon.”

“And who is Jack Falcon? His hawk-like name makes me none the wiser!”
Rosamond laughed in asking.

“Oh, you will not recall him at all. You must have been a small child
when he went away. Oh, dear, I am so excited! To-morrow morning! Come
in with me, dear friend, and do help advise me what preparations to
make. And let me chatter, too; for, really, if I cannot let out some of
this exhilaration in words, I fear I shall just puff and puff and go up
like a balloon.”

“No, you won’t, for I’ll hold on to you!”

“Oh, come in, dear, and help me--advise me.”

She drew Rosamond’s hand through her arm.

“I shall love to help in anything that makes you so happy. And
to-morrow, early, you shall have fresh flowers and fruit--and
everything that Villa Rose can supply. If only Amanda and Jemima were
there to cook things! But they went to Trenton for the day,” she added,
not wishing to cloud Mrs. Lee’s joy by a recital of His Friggets’
sudden sorrow. “But there! _I_ can cook! I’ll bake a cake. It will be
fun to do it.”

“Oh, my dear! will you? Oh, think of that!” Mrs. Lee fluttered in ahead
of her. “I must decide which room to give him.”

“You haven’t any room. He’ll have to sleep in the well!”

“Ah! I have it! yes! I’ve just thought that I can use the little room
as a dining-room and give Jack the dining-room because of the two sun
windows looking down toward the river. He will want a sunny room to
work in.”

She led the way into the dining-room where light and colour reigned
even in the woodwork and draperies. Purple, pink, and blue
morning-glories, burdened with bees, peered in at the broad, low
windows.

“To work?” Rosamond repeated interrogatively.

“Yes--I haven’t told even you yet. It has been such a secret! It is the
professor’s manuscripts. I have arranged them. Oh! it took months to
sort them. Look.”

She drew aside the scrim curtains before a low bookcase. The shelves
were packed with notebooks and loose pages covered with small, even
writing, all lying in neat piles.

“Sit down, my dear, and let me tell you all about it.”

She pressed her guest into a little wicker chair trimmed with rose
chintz, and then sat at the table, herself, with half a dozen of the
manuscripts before her. Marking a place with her forefinger, she
continued:

“You see, since my dear husband went away, these have been my
companions.”

“He must have written a great deal that no one else knew about. Why
were they never published?”

“Ah, that is the secret, dear! They _will_ be published. These are all
thoughts of his, fruits of experience, little jottings on life and
human character as he had observed them, descriptive and philosophical
essays: the result, as he said, of having been taught faithfully and
diversely by youth for forty years.”

“Of being taught by youth!” Rosamond repeated. “Oh! what things youth
_could_ teach if age would only let it.” Her eyes sparkled.

“He often spoke of it in that way, as if _he_ were the pupil, and a
very fortunate one, of all the hundreds of boys who passed through his
hands. And I know that he hoped, in these writings, to give back to his
boys--in their maturer life, when they could appreciate it--some of the
gold of their youth.”

“Did he care so much for all of them?”

“He cared for every living thing. In loving any individual it was _all_
life that he loved with all its potentialities. It came to me that if
I could only publish these notes and essays I would thus extend his
influence although he is no longer personally here. I wrote to several
of the boys about it. (I must still call them ‘boys,’ although some
have their gray and their bald spots, no doubt--and their whiskers!)”

“So Jack Falcon, dear filial soul, is bald and whiskered,” Rosamond
murmured. “I might have known it.”

Mrs. Lee, examining the manuscripts, in a search for some special
article or paragraph, did not hear her.

“Some of the boys were interested, and some I thought were a trifle
indifferent; but Jack wrote that he would come home to help arrange
and edit the scattered notes into coherent form. He said he was willing
to give a year to the task, if need be. And--think of it--he was
ever so far away in southern Europe at the time! Somewhere in those
excitable Balkans.”

“The poor old thing was probably scared to death in the Balkans and
grasped at the opportunity to get to a quiet spot,” went through
Rosamond’s mind, but she said, aloud: “He has a good, loyal heart,
evidently, and deserves that I bake him a cake.”

“Indeed he does. Though he was a dreadful cake-thief as a boy. I had
to wrap my cakes in a towel and hide them in my bonnet box. He would
go barefoot on long tramps through the valley and then come into the
house, after we had retired, and eat up everything. The dear boy!”

“He wouldn’t have done it a second time with _my_ cakes! The idea of
crawling in through windows at midnight hunting for food! _I’d_ ‘dear
boy’ him!”

Mrs. Lee laughed.

“Oh, dear, how I _am_ rambling on! It is the excitement, and not
knowing what to tell you first. But I fear that authentic news of Jack
Falcon could never be grouped in _orderly_ fashion, for he himself was
a very disorderly, lawless person. But _so_ lovable!”

In chattering breathlessly, as she was, her slender fingers had been
searching rather inefficiently among the leaflets; but now it appeared
that she had found what she wanted.

“Here’s his letter, pinned to this little prose poem about Roseborough.”

“He writes poems about Roseborough?”

“Oh, no, no! It is the professor’s. You see I copied the little gem
about our dear old town and enclosed it when I first wrote him about
publishing. I wanted it to awaken the home desire in him. He has never
married--it is too bad. Wait ... oh, here it is. He says:

    “I remember that names and dates never stayed in your head,
    Mother Lee, even simple Anglo-Saxon names. So I won’t burden
    you with the extensive and excruciating hereditary title of
    the royal personage who just now employs me at a handsome
    salary in laying out a recreation garden for his peasants.
    You would weary and faint before you reached the end of it!
    Suffice it for your pride to know that I have given to this
    royal personage the little article about Roseborough. It came
    about, naturally, one day in the garden that I read it to him.
    He was charmed with it, touched. So I, of course, let him keep
    it. He has translated it into his own jawcracking language
    [‘Jawcracking’ is in brackets--the naughty boy!], and has made
    an illuminated copy which hangs in his music room where he
    spends most of his time.

“There, my dear! Is not that something to be proud of? To think that
my dear husband is even helping unpronounceable personages in those
dreadful Balkans!”

Rosamond’s own cheeks were rosy from sympathetic thrill and she joined
warmly in the elder woman’s delight.

“Oh, Mrs. Lee, how lovely! I should think you would be so proud that
you would refuse to speak to poor commoners like us! You have known
that for weeks and never told it! _I_ should have gone up and down
Roseborough with a trumpet.”

“Oh, you must not tell it even now! I wish to keep it until the right
moment, when I can give it out in such a way that all Roseborough will
feel that the honour does not exalt _me_, in a personal way, but is
theirs as much as mine.”

Rosamond cocked her head, impudently.

“Afraid Mrs. Witherby will scratch?”

“No, you naughty girl! But Roseborough, having the communal spirit so
strongly, does not take kindly to personal exaltations. I have learned
to respect this sensitiveness.”

Rosamond’s eyes twinkled again, as she listened to Mrs. Lee’s
charitable paraphrase on local jealousy.

“What do you suppose it could have been, about Roseborough, that
appealed to the Balkan person?” she asked. “Try to imagine Roseborough
in the Balkans!”

“Do you know I, too, wondered about that at first? Then I saw how
natural it was--and felt that I had been stupid not to comprehend it at
once. What _should_ appeal to those poor, sad, explosive Balkans so
much as Roseborough’s peacefulness? They must grow very tired of the
continuous gun-popping and broken glass, and long for the ‘twelve hours
of dreamless sleep’ to which Professor Lee alludes in the article.
I always think that the sound of windows, or even glass tumblers,
breaking is such a sharp, perturbing noise. I particularly dislike it.
And then, too, the pieces of broken glass, flying through the air or
scattered in profusion about the roads, are really dangerous.”

She was adjusting her glasses, so did not see the sparkles of merriment
in Rosamond’s eyes.

“The article is short--only a few hundred words--let me read it to
you. It is entitled” (she paused--dwelling lovingly on the written
word before she uttered it) “‘Roseborough.’ Listen.” She repeated
“Roseborough.”

    “Here, where all hearts are tender and sincere, and no harsh
    word is ever breathed aloud, I will spend my days--be they few
    or many. Roseborough, thou art the other name of Happiness!
    Thy fragrance is a spiritual sweet that exudes from fadeless
    petals. Thy calm days are the flower, and thy velvety,
    star-veined nights of twelve hours of dreamless sleep are the
    leafy stem, of my perfect Rose of Content. I am happy indeed
    to be a busy bee plying my simple art at the centre of this
    sweetness. For what is my art--and all art? What is the art of
    pen, brush, chisel, and melodic strain? These are but parts
    of the great Art of Life, namely the distillation of love. If
    Happiness be thy other earthly name, dear Roseborough, thy ‘new
    name’--written in the heavens--is Love. To every seeker of
    harmony, thou art his end of journeying; to every wanderer, his
    home.

                        (Signed) PH. AUTOCRITUS LEE,
                                      21st June, 1895.

“He did not even initial all that he wrote; but he must have felt
himself that this was especially fine--of course, as a professor of
literature, with degrees, he would know that about his own work as
well as about another’s--for he signed it in full and dated it. Except
the first name,” she added. “He never signed Phineas but always used
Ph. instead, saying that Ph. was short for philosophy and so was he,
_short_ of it, in spite of all his profound cogitations.”

She sat gazing at the faded handwriting, though the tears, that slowly
formed and coursed her finely wrinkled cheeks, entirely blurred the
lines for her.

“‘Here where all hearts are tender and sincere.’ To think that he wrote
that about Roseborough nearly twenty years ago, my dear! And it was
just as true then as it is now.”

Rosamond put both her arms about the older woman’s neck and leaned her
cheek against hers.

“His faith saw the beautiful truth of things, nothing else. It was the
same quality he loved best in Jack. He used to say that Jack’s faith
was like the morning lark. Nothing could keep it from soaring and
singing.”

“Then he is the right person to edit those papers and you have reason
to be happy.”

Mrs. Lee looked down into Rosamond’s eyes with unwonted solemnity.

“Mrs. Mearely, I am going to tell you something now which, in days to
come, you will hear from many others. Then you will remember that it
was I who first told it to you--here, in this little room. Professor
Lee was one of the world’s great and original minds, though the world
has not yet found it out.”

“Dear Mrs. Lee, I am sure he was.”

“While Jack, of course, agrees with me about that, he feels that
Professor Lee’s highest value was of another quality. He writes
somewhere in this letter--wait; yes, it is in this one--mum-m-m.” She
buzzed softly over the lines, hunting for the passage. “Ah! here it is:

    “I think that to lay stress, in a preface, upon the vastness
    and originality of Professor Lee’s intellect would be a
    mistake. Besides, in these careless days, the words have been
    misapplied until their meaning is nil.”

She looked up from the letter. “He means by that, dear, that while the
words are _truly_ applicable to Professor Lee they would fail to make
him so conceived of by the reader; because they have been used noisily
by persons of no judgment to describe men of shallow attainments--like
some of those unfortunate foreign professors, for instance, who are so
pathetically askew about everything. Poor things. It was the electron
that set them all off. My dear husband used to say that the atomic
theory, though purely materialistic and proving nothing in the world,
was nevertheless not inimical to scientists’ sobriety and dignity, but
that, when they lost the atom, they lost their heads and their shoes
and their shirts as well! The electronic theory proved too exciting for
them. He would say to me: ‘My dear, they should have held on to the
atom. It was much the safer toy!’ When I saw the other day that radium
has shown that matter disappears altogether, I wondered what the poor
things would do now. They must be dreadfully disturbed.” She paused,
shaking her head from side to side in sympathy.

“What else does Mr. Falcon say about Professor Lee?” Rosamond called
her back, tactfully, to the main point.

“Ah! none knows better than Jack that Professor Lee was secretly a very
great man. He goes on to say:

    “He thought and said the things which all good and loving men
    have thought and said, and in much the same way. Because like
    them, he had discovered the truth of those things through
    living it. That was what made him priceless to us. He was a
    Sympathy--a refining and strengthening animus--which endured
    and went with us to meet life. The world of letters, science,
    and philosophy will hardly note these memoirs, perhaps; but if
    the day ever comes when greatness is measured by goodness--as
    _he_ measured it--and hope, faith, and charity form the lens
    of the scientist’s microscope, then his name, like Abou ben
    Adhem’s, will lead all the rest!”

“You can see by that last phrase that Jack considers Professor Lee to
have been far in advance of his time as a thinker.”

Rosamond did not speak at once. When she did, she said:

“Yes, one can see plainly what he thinks, and also what he
_feels_--which is more important. I think he is a very nice man, your
Mr. Falcon; and this afternoon I will bake him a _marvellous_ cake. He
deserves it.”

Mention of food brought Mrs. Lee back to the immediate present and its
problems.

“Oh, my dear, how good of you! I shall send for Bella Greenup to
cook other things. But there is something even more important than
food.” She paused and patted her lips with her forefinger, evidently
cogitating deeply.

“What?”

“Roseborough--dear, sensitive Roseborough. How shall I present my Jack
to Roseborough so that everyone will feel his homecoming--and the
book, and all of it--to be a communal event and not merely a selfish,
personal pleasure of mine? _That_ will require some planning. Yes, it
will need some quite subtle planning.”

She folded her hands on the pile of notebooks. Her absent gaze turned
to the window where the splashes of purple and pink morning-glories
vignetted a bit of sun-smitten river. She was thinking hard.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VI


Rosamond regarded her with eyes a-twinkle and presently interrupted her
meditation to ask:

“What did Roseborough think of him before he went away?”

Mrs. Lee sighed.

“That is what adds to the difficulty. The truth is that Roseborough
hardly knew him. Jack did not care for Roseborough! It seems
incredible, but it is a fact. Jack did not care for Roseborough--I
mean, the people. He was an orphan and a poor lad of whose beginnings
we knew little. He came to us because, in his wanderings, he had
met a Charleroy man and heard from him of my husband. He had been
tramping about the farming country, year after year, tilling, sowing,
reaping--whatever outdoor work he could get--and saving his pennies to
put toward an education when he should find just the right instructor.
As a child he had been with gypsies.”

“Gypsies! What adventures!”

“Yes, his mother, a young girl of excellent birth, had run away and
married a poor artist and been cast off by her proud family. They
suffered the hardship of poverty, and Jack was soon left an orphan.
Whether he joined the gypsies or they stole him I don’t remember, but
he was with them for awhile. At one time his mother’s relations found
him and offered to bring him up, but he considered the restrictions of
their home too irksome. After two years of it, he ran off and wandered
about, earning his way, as I have told you. I shall never forget the
night he came to us--it was a rainy, autumn evening--a black, splashing
night. There was a loud knock on the door and, when we opened it--for
I had followed the Professor, holding the candle (we did not have
electric lights in our day in Villa Rose)--there stood a dark, tall,
sturdy-looking young man, with long, black hair and the largest and
blackest eyes I’d ever seen; and, what’s more, he stood there on two
bare feet, and he had no coat, only a gray woollen shirt, belted into
dark, fustian trousers turned up above his ankles.”

“You were frightened, weren’t you?”

“Hardly that; I was more amazed. He said--and his voice was mellow
and attractive--‘You are Professor Lee and I have come to you to be
taught.’ My husband asked, ‘What do you wish to be taught?’ And Jack
said, ‘I can read and write and keep a merry heart under all skies;
but I wish you to teach me whatever men must know to make them good
and wise.’ Then my husband said, ‘Come in, and I will give you dry
clothes and something hot to drink.’ Jack answered, ‘Oh, as to that,
the weather and I are friends. It never hurts me.’ Well, my dear, he
came in and we attended to his needs and gave him a room for the night.
Of course he was not ready then to enter college, so my husband gave
him private instruction. And he seemed to take it for granted that
he could live in our home so we let him have the little room off the
living-room....”

“The little room? Which do you mean?”

“Oh, that is all changed now, of course. Mr. Mearely--when he bought
Villa Rose--had it enlarged and built out, taking in all that bend
of the verandah. It is your music room now. Jack was a good deal of
trouble, you may know!” She laughed. “But he loved my husband and was
constantly showing his gratitude, so that I never minded when he upset
things.”

“And he didn’t like Roseborough? You could forgive such sacrilege?”

“One forgave Jack everything. He made very few intimates. Indeed, I
doubt if he had any besides ourselves. He loved Nature, books, and
solitude. He was elusive and shy, I think. For instance I remember
that one day while we three were chatting over a cup of chocolate
we saw dear Mrs. Witherby and her aged uncle--the late Reverend Dr.
Cumming-Shaw of Trenton Waters--drive up to the door. As I turned
back from greeting them, I saw one leg of Jack’s fustian trousers and
a bare foot disappearing over the back fence. The worst of it was, he
had taken the cake with him and I had nothing but crackers to offer the
poor dear old vicar, who died almost immediately after of bronchitis.
It was really whooping-cough.”

“Wicked, careless lady! They weren’t crackers. You gave him dog-biscuit
by mistake and he barked himself to death.”

Mrs. Lee shook a stern forefinger at her irreverent guest.

“You say shocking things. What I mean to show by my little anecdote is
that Jack ... well ... that was, in general, Jack’s attitude toward
Roseborough.”

Rosamond burst out laughing.

“His attitude? A barefoot kick over the back fence? Oh, Mrs. Lee!”

“How very naughty you are this morning! To twist my words so! I shall
always maintain that it was shyness which made Jack avoid all intimacy
with those who would have received him for my husband’s sake. They did
know, later, that he had left the college abruptly, just because the
desire to wander was so strong in him; and that, too, after Professor
Lee had succeeded in having him appointed to teach minor subjects. They
were most indignant--even those who did not know him at all.”

“They might have left it to Professor Lee and to you to be indignant.”

“Oh! but you see, in a matter of that kind the communal spirit of
Roseborough was affronted. And, alas, it will be remembered. All that
must be overcome, and Roseborough must take him to its heart. How shall
it be managed?”

To manage the communal spirit of sensitive Roseborough was no light
undertaking. Old head and young head pondered in silence.

“If they could come together in some wholly unexpected way, without
personalities, and not as Roseborough and Jack Falcon, who shook the
dust of Roseborough from his feet sixteen years ago! If only they could
meet under other identities and, having no memories, each immediately
find the other’s true self!”

“Like a fairy prince and a fairy kingdom. Oh, yes, that would be
lovely. But,” the gay, mocking light danced within her eyes again,
“even if life _is_ ‘beautifully arranged,’ it is not _so_ beautifully
arranged as all that!”

“What would _you_ suggest?”

“Well, I think that--since he _can’t_ come as a fairy prince and
discover Roseborough’s true nature and, in turn, be discovered as a
human symbol of all Roseborough’s day-dreams--which is what you would
like, you writer of fairy tales”--(she paused, with wrinkled brow and
pursed lips) “I think you will have to make it the very opposite of all
that, and lay stress on the fact that this returning wanderer _is_ the
very same Jack Falcon who _did_ run away, but who has now come back to
dear old Roseborough with bells on, and all of them ringing! And then
Roseborough will be beside itself with delight at the opportunity of
welcoming home its distinguished prodigal son. Emphasize the point that
he has deserted kings’ palaces for Roseborough and they will all turn
out to greet him.”

“Yes! Yes! You’re right. Roseborough _would_ enjoy that view.”

“How will he come?”

“By the morning train to Trenton Waters. I know he will want to walk
home from there--the old walk he loved--down the river path. He should
arrive between ten and eleven, easily. What do you think of this? To
gather all our dear friends here to meet him, at a sort of informal
breakfast?”

Rosamond clapped her hands.

“Oh, yes! I knew you’d think of something clever in a moment! Make it
one of those breakfast-lunch affairs with delicious cold things to
eat, and have it set out in the garden in a semicircle about the well,
so that the big tree will shade them all. Mrs. Greenup can do all
the cooking for it this afternoon. I will run home and telephone her
that you want her. And do let me bring over enough of that old Mearely
damask to cover the tables.”

“Yes--yes. I shall be so grateful for everything. Oh, dear! I _never_
was in such a flutter! I do believe that I never, _never_ was in such a
flutter! How shall I let them all know?”

“I will telephone to all those who have telephones. And--oh! a splendid
idea! We will ask Mrs. Witherby to drive about to those who have no
telephones, and ask them to come. Then she will feel that it is really
_she_ who is arranging everything, and that will help tremendously.”

“Yes, yes--dear Mrs. Witherby. In a sense, her nature epitomizes our
sensitive little town. One must not take it by surprise--that is, not
deliberately. How fortunate that dear Jack has given me at least a
day’s leeway! If he had walked in on me to-morrow, without notice, I
doubt whether I could ever have truly convinced them that I had not
known of his coming and kept the secret from them perhaps for weeks.
Quite innocently I might have caused discord in Roseborough!”

“I think it would be nice for you to come to Villa Rose this evening
for an hour. Now, don’t shake your head, I know you go to bed when the
first star peeps out. Some of us will bring you home at eight, if
you like. This is my idea, and it is a very good one. I will ask Mrs.
Witherby to come over with Corinne and Mabel for a round or two of
cards with Dr. and Mrs. Wells--and Judge Giffen and Mr. Andrews. Wilton
will come, too. Just those few--oh, yes, and Dr. Frei also; he can play
for us. I can say that I wanted a few friends about me this evening,
since my sister has disappointed me. That will seem very natural to
them. And you can take the occasion, just at the right moment, to talk
about Mr. Falcon and to tell about the book and the royal person--all
in that unselfish, tactful way of yours. They will all be pleased, and
Mrs. Witherby will set the pace for Roseborough. Nobody dares gainsay
her.”

“How thoughtful you are! My dear, you have forgotten nothing. It is
really you who will have made my Jack’s homecoming a success. And _you_
have just called _me_ unselfish! The word belongs to _you_, dear.”

“No, I’m not. I’m not! I’m--I’m jealous.” Suddenly her eyes misted and
her lip quivered. Protest, passionate and clamorous, surged through her
and out at her trembling mouth. “Oh! must _I_ wait till I am seventy to
have a real, Wonderful Day? Nothing--nothing but make-believe.”

“My dear child, what is the matter?”

Rosamond’s fingers tightened on the hand which had gently taken hers.
She turned almost fiercely upon Mrs. Lee as if she challenged fate, or
an enemy, in this benign old lady who was regarding her now with some
perturbation.

“Will nobody ever come to _me_ till I’m old--_old_--_old_?”

“Will nobody ever come to you?” Mrs. Lee repeated, puzzling.

Tragedy rushed on, interrupting her.

“This is my Wonderful Day--my only, one, Wonderful Day. And somebody
should come--_he_ should come....”

“He? Oh, you mean Jack.”

“I _don’t_! I dare say he’s nice--a thoroughly good man. I’m glad that
you’re glad, and all that. But _I’m_ not glad! No, I’m not! I think
it’s an outrage. The gray, the bald, the whiskered! Roseborough is full
of _them_ already. Another of those is an outrage!”

“My--dear--child! _What_ is an outrage?”

“That another oldish man is coming to Roseborough! I want a fairy
prince--or a beggar--or a tramp--if only he is _young_! He can come
to the back door in bare feet and fustian, or in rags and patches. I
shan’t mind what he wears or how empty his pockets are, if only he is
young--young--and can laugh out loud and say ‘Good-morning, Rosamond!’”

“My--dear! You go so fast; and tears and laughter follow each other so
rapidly that I am all in a whirl. But if you think my Jack....”

Rosamond broke in impetuously:

“Do you hear that? Ding--dong, ding--dong. It is eleven o’clock and
nearly half my only Wonderful Day has passed already! I shall run
away now and do all that I have promised--telephones, cakes, linen,
Witherby, everything! But every moment of the time I shall be saying
in my heart: ‘It is an outrage that another gray, bald, whiskered,
middle-aged, prosy _old_ man is coming to Roseborough! It is an
outrage!’ ... _Why couldn’t he be young?_”

Before Mrs. Lee could gather herself into composure after a sudden
violent hug and as sudden and violent a release, her mercurial friend
was dashing through the gateway into the grounds of Villa Rose.

Mrs. Lee sat down and gave herself up to reflection.

“‘A gray--bald--whiskered--outrage!’ Is that what she said? Dear, dear.
What _can_ have given her the notion that Jack...?” She murmured. “To
be sure I _did_ say that some of our boys are past middle life now,
but I’m sure I didn’t say that Jack....” [She broke off her musing to
pat her sooty kitten smartly. “No, no! naughty kitty! You are not to
scratch the table legs!”] “Such a rebel cry for youth! Nay, it was
more; it was an unashamed cry for a young man! Yet we all thought hers
such a wonderful marriage for a farm girl. But perhaps it wasn’t,
after all. Do those who live by the soil need the cling of the earth
in all vital things? Why there! what a mate she might have made for my
Jack if....”

Her perplexed expression changed suddenly into a glow and a smile as
if her questioning thoughts had accidentally discovered something so
unexpected that she hardly knew what to make of it.

“If? Why, there _is_ no ‘if’! She is quite free! It may be difficult
for Roseborough to believe that its Hibbert Mearely has really
passed away from it to a better place--for, of course, it seems
almost disloyal to suggest that even heaven is a better place than
Roseborough--but the truth remains that Hibbert Mearely _has gone_.”
After contemplating this calamitous but none-the-less statistical fact,
she added, “And it would almost seem as if that April-hearted child he
married realizes it and is”--she cast about for a word and presently
decided upon--“resigned.”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VII


Ding-dong.

The last stroke of eleven drummed softly through the thick leafage of
the orchard. Rosamond sped down the path, as sure-footed as if she wore
no other heels, or soles either, than the ones she had come into the
world with, and by which Mother Earth had held little Rosamond Cort of
the Poplars Vale farm in close acquaintance until the fancy butter-pats
had reduced poverty and inspired ambition.

She executed faithfully the commissions she had given herself. After
having entranced “Dollop’s Drugs” via telephone, by sending him to
inform Bella Greenup--the lady of his heart--that her culinary art
was in requisition, she called for the number of that important
gentlewoman, whose nature--as Mrs. Lee had said--epitomized Roseborough.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Witherby.”

“Who is it? Oh, of course; it is Mrs. Mearely.” The answer came
back in rather high accents and the over-emphasized impressiveness
that commonly garnishes the slim utterances of self-importance. “I
was saying to Corinne not five minutes ago--actually, my dear Mrs.
Mearely, not five minutes ago, or _ten_ at the _most_--‘I think I shall
drive round to Mrs. Mearely’s this afternoon.’ Yes! that is exactly
what I said to Corinne _not five moments ago_.”

“How--er--remarkable! Then it is fortunate I rang up; because I shall
be out all afternoon and would be so disappointed if I returned to find
that I had missed you.”

“Indeed? Where are you going?”

“Ah! you may well ask what I am going to do.”

“What? What? A secret? (Be quiet, Central, I’m talking.)”

“A beautiful secret, but I’m going to tell _you_ about it now. It is
Mrs. Lee’s secret and she has asked me to let _you_ know of it first.
If she had a telephone she would be telling you about it now herself.
However, she said that she felt sure you would allow me to be her
messenger.”

“Oh, my _dear_ Mrs. Mearely!”

“One of Professor Lee’s old pupils--oh, of years ago--is coming back to
Roseborough to-morrow morning. Yes. Oh, very unexpected. A tremendous
surprise! And Mrs. Lee is inviting you and Roseborough to breakfast at
eleven to-morrow in her garden to help her welcome the prodigal home.”

“Oh! How exciting! But who _is_ he?”

“His name is Falcon--Jack Falcon.”

“Oh! no one _I_ ever knew, evidently. Jack Falcon?”

“Yes, Falcon is the name--one of them; the other, of course, being
Jack.”

“Falcon?--Jack? Stop!” (dramatically--as if Mrs. Mearely were running
from the instrument at the other end.) “Isn’t that the man who
literally decamped from Roseborough years ago?”

[“Waiting?” Maria Potts, the Central, always intoned her official
query at brief intervals through Mrs. Witherby’s telephonic monologues
and delighted to cut her off, which she always did, as soon as the
conversation ceased to interest Miss Potts herself.]

“Yes--er--that is--I understand he _did_ leave Roseborough some years
ago,” Rosamond answered.

“Falcon? Yes. I’m sure that is the name. We never encouraged the Lees
to talk about him after he went away, though they, no doubt, would
have liked to make us believe he was doing well. They were idiotic
about him when he _was_ here. (Be quiet, Central!) How extraordinary of
Mrs. Lee to be giving a breakfast to _that_ person! While he lived in
Roseborough, he _ignored_ Roseborough; and he ran away from it _just as
soon as ever he could_.”

Rosamond saw--or heard, rather--that hers was not to be so easy a task.
She summoned all her diplomacy and continued:

“It is because of all this that Mrs. Lee is calling on you to help her.
She feels--er--dependent on your generous heart to mellow the heart of
Roseborough. It seems that Mr. Falcon has come to a realization of what
Roseborough and--er--incidentally, Professor and Mrs. Lee--did for him.”

“Well! I should _hope_ so,” Mrs. Witherby broke in--it was always
difficult for her to remain silent and allow another to talk--“but I
certainly doubt it. Why, I’ve seen him climb a _thorn hedge_ to avoid
meeting me on the highway. I have always made it a point to stop the
boys, especially when I saw them dawdling about the countryside, and
say a few pointed words to them about wasted opportunities. (_Be quiet,
Central!_) But I don’t believe I ever once caught _that_ uncouth,
hedge-leaping youth. I can’t imagine _him_ coming to any good.”

“Life--the years--age, you know--have greatly changed him. He has come
to feel that, but for his training here in Roseborough, he could never
have made his” (she elongated the next two words) “great success.”

“What’s that? What’s that you say?” Mrs. Witherby shook the instrument
in her excitement. “Success? _What_ success?”

(“Waiting?”)

(“Be quiet, Central! Be quiet, I say!) What success?”

“You are to hear all about _that_ this evening. I told Mrs. Lee I
should ask you and the girls and the Wellses, the Judge, Mr. Andrews,
and Dr. Frei--and Wilton, of course--to come in for cards and a little
supper. My sister has disappointed me. So I shall be all alone, unless
you come. I shall coax Mrs. Lee to come, too, for an hour--though she
never goes anywhere in the evening. Then--with that inimitable tact and
sympathy of yours--you can lead her to tell us all about Mr. Falcon’s
achievements in Europe.”

“In _Europe_? Good gracious!”

“Yes. Of course, I only gathered odds and ends about it, because Mrs.
Lee is so retiring and seemed to feel that to tell of the old pupil’s
honours might appear vain on her part....”

“Oh, _dear_ Mrs. Lee! Why _should_ she feel so? If this Mr. Falcon
has won honours abroad, Mrs. Lee can hardly consider his return in a
_personal_ light. _I_ consider it entirely a _Roseborough_ matter.”

“There! Do you know I felt that you would? I told Mrs. Lee so. Isn’t
that remarkable?”

“Did you? _Did_ you? My _dear_ Mrs. Mearely! But don’t you yourself
consider that it is a Roseborough matter?”

“I do. Yes--I do.” Her tone was judicial. “However, I won’t say
anything more to Mrs. Lee about that. I will trust it all to your tact
and sympathy, when you see her this evening, here. Won’t that be
best?” Sweetly.

“Oh, entirely! Oh, yes! Oh, certainly! Leave it _absolutely_ in _my_
hands. Dear Mrs. Lee! I always know exactly how to manage her. In fact,
my dear Mrs. Mearely, I sometimes say that that is my one great gift;
(_Will_ you be quiet, Central?)--er--my one great gift is managing
people, _especially_ in emergencies.”

“All Roseborough admits that, Mrs. Witherby. It is a wonderful gift;
but not your only one, I’m sure. So we can rely on you this afternoon
to carry the breakfast invitation to those of our dear friends who have
no telephones? That means, chiefly, the Gleasons, the Montereys, and
the Pelham-Hews.”

“And the MacMillans, and the Grahams.”

“Yes, and the Wattses. If _only_ they all had telephones, I could spare
you the trouble. Really they _ought_ to have them put in, for their
friends’ sakes.”

“Ah! now, _there_ I _don’t_ agree with you! No, I really do
_not agree_. The telephone is a little luxury, like electric
lights--and--er--modern plumbing--to which those are entitled who can
afford them, and whose heads will not be turned by possessing them.
Like ourselves, dear Mrs. Mearely. But what is permissible luxury
in one home is wicked extravagance in another. (Maria Potts! If you
say ‘Waiting’ to me again while I am talking, I shall report you!)
If persons in the MacMillans’ straitened circumstances were to have
a telephone put in, I think all Roseborough would resent it. I am
convinced that _I_ should! And when one knows--as we all do--that the
Gleasons can hardly manage to keep their boy at Charleroy College! As
for the Pelham-Hews, with their small income and those seven simpering
girls on their hands! Well, I, for one, _dare_ not imagine what all
Roseborough would say if we heard, to-morrow, that they were piping
water to the second floor--and wallowing in enamelled tubs! No, my
dear Mrs. Mearely. In the Witherby home a stationary bath-tub is a
refinement; in the Pelham-Hew home it would be an immorality.”

It was at this point that Miss Potts deliberately disconnected
“Roseborough one-eight” from “Roseborough two-one” and turned deaf ears
to the latter’s indignant demand for “the manager at Trenton.”

Rosamond came to the door sill of the living-room again and drew a deep
breath of the breeze-stirred fragrance which enveloped Villa Rose on
this perfect midsummer morning. She sighed.

“Oh, Roseborough, couldn’t you make a milady of the little butter
girl from Poplars without making her--Milady Prevaricator? What is
it--you, there, Mr. Golden Sun, who sees everything; you, shining old
heart-searcher, tell me--what is it makes so many poor humans twist and
trick when it is their blessed privilege to speak the plain truth?
Did you laugh long ago, Mr. Sun, when you saw the little, barefoot
butter girl birched for telling fibs?--and did you know that some day
she would put on silk stockings and satin shoes and have to learn to
use something called ‘tact’--first, because the rod of a certain fine
gentleman’s sarcasm was merciless toward any feeling that frankly
revealed itself, and secondly, because--marvel of marvels!--most
people, it seems, prefer deceit? Heigh-ho! How the old pool in the
south meadow is shining among its reeds at this very moment!”

She laughed, and the wistful shadow which had darkened her eyes
disappeared.

“At any rate, I’ve managed Mrs. Witherby so that dear Mrs. Lee
can continue to believe in the beneficent spirit of Roseborough.
Roseborough will open its arms to her Jack Falcon instead of tearing
off his hair--that is, if he still _has_ hair. B’r’r’r, but I am
a-weary of old men!”

She gathered up her breakfast dishes, and took them into the kitchen.
The kitchen closet yielded a blue-checked all-over apron of Amanda’s.
Rosamond literally dropped herself into it at the neck. She pinned
it up in front so that she could not fall over it. The back she did
not bother about but let it trail. After washing the dishes, she set
about the cake-making. This was not so simple as she had expected.
It appeared presently that, in a few years of miladying, one could
forget even such native feminine knowledge as pints, pecks, and egg
calculations.

“This is absurd!” she exclaimed, indignantly. “I can’t have forgotten!
Why, I made much better cakes than Mrs. Greenup does. I shall have to
find a cook book.”

A thorough search of every shelf and drawer in Amanda’s domain
yielded naught in literature but a few almanacs, and a tract entitled
“Howl, Sodom!” This last, she knew, belonged to Jemima, who had
surreptitiously attended a revival in Trenton Waters during the spring
and had been roundly scolded for it by her elder sister, for whom the
Church of her fathers was sufficient. Mrs. Mearely surmised that Jemima
had hidden this leaflet of grace in the clove pot because no cranny of
her bedroom was safe from Amanda’s prying.

“Horrid nonsense!” She dropped it into the stove. “There! I’m not
going to have that Howl Jemima stuff in _my_ kitchen. No cook book? Of
course, not! His Friggets’ boast that they never even measure anything,
because they are such born cooks! What shall I do?”

She spent five minutes in dark despair. Then a light broke upon her. It
was a light with humour in its flash, evidently, for she giggled.

“Now, I wonder if there is a cake recipe in the old cook book written
by that Portuguese woman, Countess Lallia of Mountjoye, who catered
to the Prince of Paradis so attractively that she never lost his
affection?”

She was soon rummaging recklessly among the old volumes on the lowest
shelf of the glassed bookcase. Each book or collection of leaves was in
a leather binding and bore a tag, telling its name, date, and presumed
history in Mr. Hibbert Mearely’s fine flourish. Memoirs, missals and
Latin parchments of all sorts and sizes--some said to have been in
popes’ and princes’ pockets--were tumbled out on the floor, while
irreverent Mrs. Mearely hunted for information on practical cakemaking
to serve Mr. Falcon’s palate.

“Ah ha!” she cried, gleefully. “Here it is!” She scrutinized the
tag attached to some sheets of parchment in a green leather binding
(stamped with the Mearely crest). The parchment bore characters in
black India ink and each page was ornamented by a coloured margin
of very badly painted fishes, birds, bunches of fruit, and other
delicacies. There was even one little creature on a platter which
may have represented a stuffed suckling pig, or a mulatto baby _au
jus_, with its mouth pouting with prunes. The countess, by her own
confession, had wantonly tossed toxic and gaseous particles together
and then dared indigestion to murder love. Most of her gluttonous
recipes bore this introductory note:--

    And upon thys day, beinge of ambitious mynde to pleasure the
    gracious appetyte of milorde, the Prince of Paradis withe
    delicate dyshes of newe raptures, I didde herewythe devyse and
    prepare and with myne owne handes styrre the essences thereof,
    thys--“puddynge,” “sauce,” “souppe,” or whatever it might be.

So well had his fair one pleasured, devysed, and styrred to feed Dom
Paradis’s earthly appetite that it was easy to believe the last legend
of their love; namely, that, in dying, he had left her his jewelled
belt--no doubt as a grateful remembrance from the princely “tummy” it
had adorned though not restrained, and which she had kept so well lined.

“Contessa, if love and greed kept pace in your little affair, your
hearts must have been overflowing with sweet spices and _goo_; for you
smothered your food in them. I think a plain, boiled potato would have
been a chastening experience for you both.”

Rosamond was sitting on the floor, tailor fashion, in the centre of a
scattered ring of tagged leather cases and books of all sizes, with
the countess’s illuminated parchments spread on her knees. She turned
several pages of death-defying sauces, before she came upon the welcome
phrase “I didde devyse a cake”--or “a goodlie heartes cake”--as
Contessa Lallia y Poptu de Sillihofo Sanza Mountjoye preferred to
describe it.

Wrote the Countess:

    On thys day, beinge the same of a most warme myd-summere day,
    I dydde persuade milorde husbande to waite upon his highness
    and so to goe forthe and dydde sende unto milorde the Prince
    of Paradis, who is in alle weatheres mye beloved kinsmanne and
    friende in exile, to come unto me to taste of a cake....

“Oh, you wasteful woman, to use all those eggs!” exclaimed Rosamond,
in reading the list of ingredients. “You must have passed over the
first-born of the hen houses of Mountjoye like the destroying angel
over the Egyptians. A piece of butter as big as milord’s fist, she
says; that is, half to three quarters of a pound. Figs, raisins--so
‘thatte they dydde cover mye two handes.’ That’s the way Amanda
measures--by hand. All born cooks do. Contessa, I believe this is the
original Lady Baltimore cake--except that it is ever so much richer,
and peppered with spice and ground perfumes, which I shall omit with
the ‘oil of beaten milk,’ which is merely melted butter. No wonder he
died, your Dom Paradis. You oiled his goings for him, and slid him
down where all breakers of the commandments go. You were not only a
Portuguese, you were a Portu-grease.”

She read on and presently repeated the lines aloud with little murmurs
of laughter.

    Thys cake dydde so pleasure mye deare Dom Paradis thatte he
    therewythe expressed a greate love for mye person; whych he
    dydde declare to be beauteouse beyonde compare, and manny
    tymes dydde kysse me, and wysh milorde the Earl myght nevere
    return, and dydde suddenlye falle into a greate jealousie, and
    beseech me to vowe thatte I would no cakes make for Mountjoye,
    and dydde aske and importune me to saye if he be stille so
    younge and handsome thatte I do love him, I beinge twentie
    yeares youngere than milorde Dom Paradis. Then sayde I thatte
    I would bathe and dresse mye hearte for hys delights, but at
    this he cryde oute and would not and--when he had eaten alle my
    love-cake--Mountjoye dydde enter.

“Twenty years younger! and was Mountjoye old, too? Poor Contessa!
You and I both, it seems, must cater--and caker--for old men. Oh,
Mr. Falcon, when you bite into my modified edition of the Contessa’s
‘love-cake,’ I pray you, fall not in love with me!”

When she had popped her cake into the oven, tossed off Amanda’s apron,
and stepped outside to cool her cheeks in the breeze, the sun stood
directly over the rose garden and twelve o’clock was ringing from the
tower by the river.

“Noon! half my Wonderful Day has gone, and I haven’t even set out on
the adventures I planned at nine.” She thought this over for a few
moments, and concluded that, so far as this morning was concerned,
it had been a question of choice between her own day and Mrs. Lee’s,
and that Mrs. Lee’s had won because it was actual--one of age’s
realities--and her own was only a dream. Then, reversing all this
wisdom, she added hopefully, “But I still have this afternoon!”

She walked across the garden and leaned her elbows on the rough stone
wall that formed Villa Rose’s front defense. Portulacca and canary
creeper ran over the stone displaying their bright green foliage and
little blossoms attractively against the granite gray. Farther along,
the wall rose to a man’s height and ragged robins and rose ramblers
wantoned over it merrily, always a-hum and a-twitter with bees and
wrens.

“That looks like Mr. Andrews,” she thought, surveying a small cart,
drawn by a fat, stocky, black pony wending upward. The road was steep
and one could not keep travellers in sight for long at a time. She
decided to wait until he drew near, in order to give him his invitation
for the evening card game.

Forgetting her lilac-bud silk and her Irish lace petticoat; forgetting
the blush from the cook stove, which still mantled her modest brow,
forgetting that the strains of the gay minuet issuing from her lips,
with the words of salutation to herself, were being carried to the ears
of the gentleman in the cart; all innocently, she waited.

It was important that he should not pass without seeing her, since he
could save her the trouble and delay of telephoning to several of the
desired breakfast guests whom he would see on the round of his duties.
Mr. Andrews was the treasurer of the Widowers’ Mite Society of St.
Jephtha’s, which paid the sexton’s salary, and this was his day for
collecting from his associates. Mrs. Mearely, preferring to arrest
attention by a gesture rather than by a shout, plucked a rose-bud from
the bush nearest her, and threw it; well aimed, it struck the brim of
the gentleman’s straw hat and dropped into the cart in front of him. He
looked up, startled, and heard a glad young voice chanting:

“Oh, Mr. Andrews! I am waiting for you.”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VIII


Mr. Albert Andrews was a young man, according to Roseborough time,
being now in his forty-second year; and he was a widower. Although he
was not rich he was fairly “comfortable.” He was not brilliant, but his
character was exemplary. If he was somewhat deliberate--one need not
say pompous--of utterance, this was altogether becoming in a gentleman
who had twice been elected tax collector, and, once, president of
the Orphans’ Fund Board. He was not handsome, but Roseborough ladies
considered him “personable”--just as they had considered Hibbert
Mearely _distingué_ and as they did consider Judge Giffen imposing,
Wilton Howard magnetic, and Dr. Frei “so foreign and so elegant.” In
height, width, weight, colouring, and expression, he was medium; on
the top of his head he was less than that, because his hair there was
thin, but he devoted careful attention to it and, as yet, the shining,
pinky surface, lurking amid the tan-coloured strands, was screened.
His eyes were prominently set, pale and placid. He had been “alone”
for six years; but, during the last two, he had been slowly coming to
a momentous decision. In fact, he had already arrived at it. He had
decided to propose to Hibbert Mearely’s widow.

With this canny and romantic aim in view, he had recently visited a
millinery and tub frocks shop in Trenton, kept by a woman who owed his
mother for favours bestowed on her in poorer days, and had allowed her
to settle the score, so to speak, by informing him as to the etiquette
involved.

“It’s all but four years sence the departed did so,” Mrs. Bunny had
said, after ponderous consideration, “and you say her perferred raiment
seems to be of a palish hue with black ribbons? That’s lavender,
an’ no question ’tall about it. I’d say, Mr. Albert, after a’most a
lifetime of expeer’ence in dressin’ the genteel sets, that--so long
as the black ribbons indures--silence must be your potion. (It is
conceivable that she meant “portion.”) Even if she was to put on
white or lavender streamers, you couldn’t pop the question, but only
_hint_, an’ trim your subtile speech with looks an’ gestures. If she
was to step out afore you in colours, it would be good ettikay to fall
on your knees an’ offer your name an’ pertection. (Of course,” she
amended parenthetically, “your name ain’t nothing to the Mearely name;
an’ I don’t know how much pertection you’d be ekal to in a pinch--you
never havin’ played no basketball, nor nothing but whist--but there’s
no requiremints to tell _her_ so.) So long as she’s got a speck of
mournin’ onto her, do it rev’rence an’ utter no ardint word. Bestow
on her sighs an’ looks of yearnin’; an’ you can converse, offhand,
concernin’ wedded love an’ flowers that never fadeth, an’ the moon, an’
all such sent’mints--an’”--she wound up, impressively--“_hover_, Mr.
Albert, _hover_.”

This last bit of advice he had obeyed as consistently as was possible
to a man by nature meek and unobtrusive--he had hovered. He had, also,
in a measure, overcome his temperamental reserve through the private
practice of amorous facial expression in the mirror after shaving.

Mr. Albert Andrews, like the majority of his sex, was practically
colour-blind. He knew black and white, red, yellow, blue, and green in
their violent tints. A cobalt blue, for instance, a mustard yellow or
a bright bottle-green, he could immediately identify. Other shades,
such as tan, champagne, lilac-bud, lavender, mauve, cadet and alice
blues, pale pinks, straw-yellows, and delicate grass-stain and reseda
greens, he called gray. He knew gray also to be a colour; because he
himself--as well as other Roseborough gentlemen of quality, who were
nicely apparelled--favoured it in summer.

“Gray,” he had answered unhesitatingly in response to Mrs. Bunny’s
question as to what Mrs. Mearely was wearing; “Gray with a dark pattern
in it, and black ribbons.”

Her expert knowledge immediately translated this correctly. “Not gray,
Mr. Albert; _lavender_.”

“Ah!” with heavy facetiousness, “when _ladies_ wear it they call it
lavender? The sentimental dears! So that is lavender. Well. Well.”

Mrs. Bunny had thereupon led him to the ribbon counter and endeavoured
to teach him to distinguish between pastels.

“For,” said she, “Mrs. Mearely, being that kind of a brownish blonde,
an’ not pure goldin nor yet flaxin, she’ll not take to loud shades.
An’, Mr. Albert, if you don’t know a pale turkoy blue, nor a silver
green nor a fawn, from a lavender, how’ll you know if the time’s come
to cease your dumb yearnin’ and bust out?”

Earnestly seeking to profit by Mrs. Bunny’s instructions, he had
carefully scanned, several times daily, the little ribbon and chiffon
samples she had snipped from the reels and labelled for him. Even
without them in his hand, he believed he should feel a degree of
confidence if he were to encounter his charmer without her black
streamers and decked in a “pastel.”

He looked up now and saw her--a sight for rapture, even to the eyes
of an unimaginative widower of forty-two, and indeterminate as to
colours. He saw that the customary dark garniture was not there. He saw
the white lace bodice and sleeves, the blushing, radiant face, the
rosy lips, humming softly and mellifluously. He saw the silk folds of
shoulder-drape and girdle, where the sun cast a silvery sheen over the
material’s hue.

What _was_ that hue? Poor man: his heart leaped and fell before the
dooming fact that his mind--forgetful of its recent culture in this
subject--had automatically registered the word, “gray.” To find his
intellect immediately correcting its stumbling with “lavender” was no
consolation. Here, seemingly, was his great opportunity; it was calling
to him, throwing coquettish flowerets, and chanting: “I am waiting for
you”--yet, alas, he knew not whether the tint of that sun-silvered,
silken girdle enjoined upon him a silence to “do it rev’rence” or coyly
urged him to “bust out.”

Drops of moisture stood upon his brow, his hands became clammy, as he
drew the pony up to the wall of Villa Rose garden. Mutely he invoked
the spirit of Mrs. Bunny.

“Mrs. Mearely!”

“Yes,” she laughed back at him, cheerily. “Wasn’t that a lucky shot? It
hit you, didn’t it?”

“Mrs. Mearely!” (What _was_ that colour?)

“You’d better put your hat on again, to shade your eyes from the sun,”
she cautioned, for Mr. Albert Andrews’s pale, prominent optics were
almost popping out of their sockets.

“Mrs. Mearely!” (Surely that tint was blue? Now that she turned, and
her body shadowed it from the sun’s rays, it certainly looked as blue
as Mrs. Bunny’s inch of baby ribbon.)

“I want to ask all sorts of favours of you, Mr. Andrews.” She paused,
with her pretty head perked on one side. It was her fashion to request
favours with this little flirt and smile which suggested, with
guileless conceit, that to serve any one so beautiful and so young was
payment enough and to spare for any man in Roseborough. Little did she
remember at this moment, however, the results of that same perking from
her father’s farm gate, when Hibbert Mearely had asked her to tell him
if he had, or had not, taken the wrong turning at the bridge.

“Mrs. Mearely!” (He would dare to believe it blue. He would act as if
it _were_ blue!)

“What on earth is the matter with the poor man? He’ll be as red as a
beanflower in a minute,” ran through her mind. Aloud she said: “I know
you are making your collecting rounds and you will pass Dr. Wells’s and
Mr. Howard’s and also Judge Giffen’s. Will you deliver a message at
each house for me?”

A gulp was the only reply, for a second or two. It meant that Mr.
Andrews was done with “dumb yearnin’.” (The dress was, unquestionably,
blue.)

“Mrs. Mearely! I beg you to listen to what I am about to say.” The
words tumbled out pell-mell, now that he knew blue for what it was;
in Mrs. Bunny’s phrase, they “bust out.” “I will take any message of
yours, every message, wherever and whither you may send it. I shall be
honoured--nay, more, pleased.”

Surely she could not mistake such ardour! he had declared himself, and
as a man of honour, would stand by this avowal. He waited breathlessly
for her answer.

“Splendid!” She clapped her hands. “Then you shall ask the Wellses and
the Judge and Wilton to come for cards this evening. Mrs. Witherby and
her daughter and niece are coming; and Mrs. Lee, who has some news for
us all. You will come, of course, won’t you? I am relying on you.”

(She was relying on him--in blue!)

“Mrs. Mearely!”

“Well, then, _say_ that you will,” she prompted, inwardly provoked by
what she regarded as a stupid man’s more than usually dense mood, and
remembering that it would be wise to peep into the oven to see how Dom
Paradis’s “goodlie hearte’s” cake was behaving in a modern cook stove.

He removed his hat again. He spoke solemnly.

“I will,” he said--even as he had said it, thirteen years ago, at St.
Jephtha’s altar.

“Thank you ever so much, Mr. Andrews. Now I must run along in....”

“Mrs. Mearely!”

“Yes? Were you about to say something?”

(_Was_ he about to say something? She was leading him on--in blue!)

“Mrs. Mearely! I _have_ said it. Mrs. Mearely, did you understand the
purport of what I said to you just now?”

“What did you say to me just now, Mr. Andrews?”

Such smiles leaning to him over the low wall; such large blue eyes,
flecked and changing from grave to gay; and behind and about this
entrancing jewel of a woman her opulent setting of the Villa Rose
estate! He grew dizzy. Her dress was blue; and she was eager to hear
him repeat the declaration he had already made to her! This could
mean only one thing, he was convinced. She had observed his devotion
and secretly coveted him. She had noticed that he _hovered_ and had
approved his brooding flutter. In short, she had donned that blue satin
to allure him; and had hung her charms upon the wall, that morning,
because she well knew he must pass by.

Mr. Albert Andrews was the average, simple, masculine creature, making
up for other deficiencies by an excellent conceit of himself. The
tradition of his sex--that woman is the pursuer, because she recognizes
the superiority of the male and wishes to entrap a specimen of the
wonderful species for her glory--comprised the major part of Mr.
Andrews’s knowledge of the feminine. He had not learned more during his
marriage, because his satisfied opacity was proof against all attempts
to instruct.

It was to him wholly natural that Rosamond Mearely--being, for all
her beauty and wealth, only a woman after all and therefore an
inferior--should have decided to entrain him; because, forsooth, he
was a man. He did not see how she could have chosen better in all
Roseborough.

Literally he rose to do that which was demanded of him; for he stood up
in his cart and laid hold of the wall with both hands. By standing on
tiptoe he could just reach the ledge near where her two finely turned
arms rested.

“Goodness me!” she exclaimed with a trace of the Poplars Farm in her
accents. “Suppose your horse walks off and leaves you hanging to my
wall like--like a tom-cod in a fish market?”

He interrupted her.

“Mrs. Mearely! I said just now that I would carry any message of yours
wherever and whither you desire. I said even more. I said that I would
be _pleased_ to do so. I meant it. I mean it still. Mrs. Mearely!
Can I tell you--may I tell you....” He gulped. “Mrs. Mearely I have
long--Mrs. Mearely! I have often thought over the little sentiments
I might one day express to you. That is to say, when I should see
you again as I see you now, that is to say, without the black-edged
habiliments of woe....”

“Oh, my frock? I see. You are going to pay me compliments.”

(She was asking him to pay her compliments! She was making it easy for
him!)

He beamed at her--the eager, engaging young creature, so artful, yet
artless, too--the pursuing feminine.

“I have considered, in a poetical way, what I would say if I saw you
first in something--er--green. Some little phrase about the grass and
verdant innocence. Or, in pink. I had that thoroughly outlined, too;
because we thought, Mrs. Bunny and I, that the likeliest hue would be a
pastel pink.”

Her fair white forehead puckered; her perfect eyebrows lifted.

“Mrs. Bunny? Pastel pink?” She sought enlightenment.

“One moment. I would then have likened you to a rose and a sea-shell,
both chaste similes and very pretty conceits. But now I can say to
you, that you are most fair in this colour since it is the colour of
the sky, therefore--may we not say?--(I think we may) the colour of
heaven--and of my birthstone, the aquamarine, and, ah!--the colour of
your eyes.”

“What?” She was startled.

“Blue sky--that is to say, blue heavens--blue birthstone, blue dress,
blue eyes; gown and eyes a perfect match....”

“Mercy! I hope not,” she burst out laughing, “Whatever makes you think
this frock is blue? Or do my eyes look like lavender to you?”

Mr. Andrews’s rather loose under jaw slipped down, the smiles of rapt
satisfaction faded. Slowly he turned a purplish red that passed off in
a chill.

“Mrs. Mearely,” he asked hoarsely. “Did you say that gown is
l--lavender?”

She shrieked joyously. Then, taking pity on his plainly revealed agony
of mind, tried to control her laughter.

“Yes. At least, it is lilac; but they are much alike. Lavender,
lilac....”

“Stop!” he gasped.

“Mauve, heliotrope,” she tipped them off merrily on her digits.
“Amethyst.” She crooked her little finger.

“Don’t,” he groaned.

“Wood-violet.” She waggled the thumb of her other hand.

“Lavender!” He sank back into the seat of the cart like a stone into
the sea.

“Or lilac. But it doesn’t match my eyes, Mr. Andrews; no, really, I
haven’t lavender eyes.”

She found his error too entertaining and, ceasing her kind attempt at
gravity, she bubbled gaily.

“Lavender,” he muttered. He thought with gruelling shame of how he had
“bust out,” and added: “I have been indelicate.”

“Oh, why take it so seriously?” she giggled. “I’m not offended.
I’m--I’m--laughing.”

He could hear that she was!--but the ripples of her mirth fell balmless
upon his wound. His sober, orderly, plodding mind was in a perilous
whirl. She had _not_ lured him; she had _not_ been waiting for him, as
the desirous feminine awaiteth the superior being. Tradition itself,
the perfect tradition of the sexes, was exploding like firecrackers in
the little hisses and snickers that went off just above his humbled
head. He doubted that he would be able even to “hover” in silence--with
his wonted dignity and optimism--for some time to come.

“Lavender,” he repeated. He gathered up the reins, hardly knowing that
he did so, and motioned the stocky pony away from the vine-clad walls
of Mockery’s citadel.

“Don’t forget to give my messages,” she called after him. “Cards at
Villa Rose this evening. Don’t be later than seven.”

He might still be muttering “Lavender” as he went on his way; but there
was just one colour, at that moment, of which Mr. Albert Andrews was
positive, and that colour was gray. All the world was gray, drab-gray.

Rosamond ran into the house to examine Dom Paradis’s cake, but,
while she poked a sprig from the broom into its dough, she was still
pondering Mr. Andrews’s odd behaviour.

“Good gracious!” she exclaimed as she found to be satisfactory what the
end of the bent straw revealed. “Rosamond, dear, do you suppose that
dubby thing was making love to you? Is that what will happen to you,
Rosamond, now that you have put off the last black ribbon? Haven’t you
seen it coming? Proposals from the stupid men and gossip from the catty
women, till they _make_ you marry somebody--somebody _old_! Rosamond,
dear, you simply must go in search of that irredeemably _bourgeois_
lover this afternoon. And you have no time to lose.”

However, she refused to be downcast. There would still be six hours of
sun in this day--even if His Friggets came back to-morrow.

She was so busy in the kitchen and pantry that she did not hear one
o’clock ring from the tower bell at twenty minutes past the hour. The
toll-man, being full of years and midday dinner, had fallen asleep
immediately after tucking away his meal. On awaking he decided, very
sensibly, to ignore the occurrence, and to ring the hour as usual, no
matter what the time might be.



CHAPTER IX


Dom Paradis’s cake, as modified by Rosamond of Roseborough and
twentieth century dietetic caution, came from the oven a golden brown
and snowy white success. Its odour was unique and delectable. Its
weight was light as a puff. Rosamond surveyed it with a pride almost
equal to that which must have extended the cheeks and bosom of its
sybaritic inventor, Lallia y Poptu de Sillihofo Sanza, Countess of
Mountjoye, when she first saw the glory she had evolved to deck the
inner circles of her beloved. She sniffed it in long-drawn delight.

“Mum-mum--ooh-h! No wonder he ate himself to death for love of you,
Contessa! I wonder if Dom Jack, the Prince of Roseborough, is _fat_?”

She dropped herself into Amanda’s apron again and set about preparing
the icing. Countess Lallia had called it:

    A stylle and stykkie sauce of the smoothe colour of a pearle
    but lyke to a paste wych dydde covere my cake about lyke a
    napkyn, as it were a mysterie.

“I think my icing will be nicer than yours, Contessa--without all that
oriental sweetmeat chopped fine and beaten into it. There will be less
anticipatory excitement about my cake and more of the calm satisfaction
one feels when one knows what is coming next. You had so many mixed
spices and sweets and flavours in your cake that Dom Paradis could not
possibly tell from one bite what the next would taste like. There is a
modern slang term that describes the culinary tactics you employed on
the prince’s appetite--you ‘kept him guessing.’”

At first the whole conceit of the Countess of Mountjoye’s
cake--“devysed and styrred first in the yeare 1715,” and now reproduced
in almost identical mixture from the old recipe--had seemed to her
deliciously humorous. She had chuckled and chattered over it to herself
and extracted from it a larger degree of the essence of mirth than had
come to her palate and nostrils in many weeks; for it cannot be denied
that life at Villa Rose lacked brightness. A mansion full of antiques,
with no human associates but servants of the same vintage, did not
provide the kind of environment which spontaneously generates happiness
in the heart of youth. Hibbert Mearely’s widow had been a prisoner in
her own grandeur, daily acquainted with that state which, to the young,
is worse than sharp grief, namely, boredom.

To-day, with the departure of His Friggets, and the new meeting with
her young heart--which had taken place when she regarded herself in the
Orleans mirror--a joy had awakened within her like the return of her
girlhood. So vivid a joy it was, so brave and confident, that it had
sent her forth singing salutations to herself, as if she believed the
whole sun-filled, rose-scented earth were calling to her in that syren
phrase, “Good-morning, Rosamond!”

How swiftly joy had unfolded hope! And how naturally, inevitably, both
had promised love! Permeated with them, she had defied Villa Rose and
its antiquities to hold her spirit twenty-four hours longer. Lo, a day
was given her--a _Wonderful_ Day. In it she might recapture her lost
heritage--romance.

Now, while she beat white of egg and powdered sugar together to make
the fundamental paste of the icing for the Paradis cake, an indefinable
sense of sorrow descended upon her. Thought lost its elasticity of
hope--it lagged and drooped. A lassitude crept over her whole person.
Her eyelids felt hot and heavy. There was a pressure on her head that
kept it from tossing in the air after its wonted fashion like a proud
hollyhock.

“Everything is going wrong,” she whispered. “I have a presentiment of
it--just as if some dreadfully unhappy thing had taken place and I was
about to hear of it.” A tear fell, hit the rim of the soup plate in
which she was beating the icing, and, luckily, rolled off instead of
in. Both eyes filled again. She wiped them on the back of her arm, and,
by this mournful gesture, sent a trail of icing across the wall from
the fork in her hand.

“I never felt so sad in all my life,” was her inward admission, as she
set about filling the cake with the cooked concoction of chopped figs,
nuts, raisins, and candied fruit that made two inches of lusciousness
between the layers. This fruity mixture, further complicated with the
oriental “sweets and spyces” of her period, Countess Lallia had poured
into the centre of the original cake and baked the whole together. In
Rosamond’s day, fortunately for the more nervous digestive apparatus of
current humanity, wisdom has reduced weightiness in cookery--hence the
layer cake.

She proceeded to encase the whole--a large, imposing square of three
layers--in the “stylle and stykkie sauce of the smoothe colour of a
pearle.”

She went about it slowly and with downcast mien--sighing and
sniffing--tears welling over her lids. When she had put the perfected
achievement away in the pantry to await its modern Dom Paradis, she
sank down in the kitchen rocker and let woe take its way with her.
She thought of her high hopes of the morning and marvelled at the
malevolent power of fate, which could change those hopes, at the noon
hour, into vague, insidious griefs. Her body seemed to have lost its
substance, to be let out into space. She felt vacant and psychic.

“Something dreadful is going to happen,” she whimpered. “I feel my
heart sinking right out of me.”

She wished that she were not alone. The big house, so silent and aloof,
was oppressive. She questioned if it were safe for her to remain there,
solitary, and decided that she would have Blake sleep in the house that
night.

“I’d give anything right now to have His Friggets walk in and say ‘It’s
a quarter to one, Mrs. Mearely. I persoom you’ll like your lunch.’ That
reminds me,” she added, “I suppose it must be almost that time now.”

Unable to see the clock from where she sat she rose listlessly.

“Ten minutes past one? Why--no! It is the long hand that is at one.
Surely it can’t be five minutes past _two_!”

She was still denying this when the bell rang from the tower by the
river.

“_Two o’clock!_ Two--and I haven’t had my lunch. Why, I--I’m
_starving_!”

Discovery of the true cause of her sudden malady went far toward curing
it. She ran to the larder, to see what cold fare she could find there,
all ready to be devoured without delay in preparation. She thought,
with compunction, of the faithful Friggets, always as punctual as time
itself, who would never have let her fall into this pathos of the
interior vacuum, had a greater grief not called them from her service.

She found so many dishes, that she might have wondered if His Friggets
had not been secretly preparing for a party, except that she knew well
their one extravagance. They _would_ cook, when the spirit moved them.
They were proud of their cooking; and they argued that what was uneaten
could always be given to the clergyman, whose stipend was meagre, and
what he did not devour he could pass on to the thirteen McGuires, who
embodied Roseborough’s poor. It must be confessed not only that the
vicar was tempted from spiritual yearnings, by the tasty abundance
of His Friggets’ art, but that the thirteen McGuires were fattening
like pigs. Their sleek looks mocked at sweet charity’s very name. Mrs.
McGuire, herself, had given up her random profession of charwoman,
because, as she said: “Sure an’ I’ve got too heavy to be bendin’ me
waist, and up and down on me knees, and the loike.”

It occurred to Rosamond that His Friggets’ extravagance in this one
direction was fortunate for her, to-day, since it not only provided
her with lunch but with refreshments for her guests of the evening.
There were two large trembling jellies, bowls of cream, a junket, a
whole roasted chicken and a whole boiled one--[“I’ll turn the boiled
one into a salad for to-night,” she thought]--cold ham, which had been
boiled in a pot of Amanda’s own brew of currant wine, and half a dozen
quart bottles of the parsnip wine, considered by Amanda, metaphorically
speaking, as the diamond in her crown. All Roseborough admitted that
Amanda Frigget’s parsnip wine was so good, so golden, and so lively,
that it both looked and tasted “exactly like champagne, except that,
instead of the regular champagne taste, it had the taste of parsnips.”

Rosamond appropriated the roast chicken and found bread and butter also
for her needs. To these she added a tall glass of foamy milk. A crock
filled with cookies was another pleasant discovery.

She pictured to herself, amid giggles, the expressions that would adorn
the faces of Amanda and Jemima and all Roseborough if they could see
the distinguished Hibbert Mearely’s widow perched on the end of the
kitchen table eating with her fingers.

“I suppose, if I were a born lady, I’d starve because there’s no one
here to set my lunch before me properly,” she thought, “well, there are
advantages in having a pedigree of butter pats.”

As one second joint, followed by the other, was nipped all around
neatly to the bone, and the milk followed the chicken fragments,
Rosamond’s indefinable sorrow vanished. She hung Amanda’s apron on
its hook, and ran upstairs to wash her face and hands and catch up a
loosened curl or two.

She had decided to spend the afternoon hours in a nook she knew by the
river, not a stone’s throw from the bell tower. It was the loveliest
spot in the valley and, unseen, one might watch the three roads that
crossed one another at the tower. She needed a parasol, and ignoring
the four black ones--one with lavender flowers--and the two black and
white ones--the latest with a white chiffon frill--which, in their
appointed order, had screened her grieved countenance during the last
four years--she selected a shot silk of a grass green, its brightness
tempered with silver gray. As she set out from the house now, with its
silken shade arched over her bright hair and bringing out every bit of
life there was in her skin and her gown, even Mr. Albert Andrews could
not have doubted that the young widow’s mourning days were over.

With her hand on the latch of her gate, she paused. Far down the road,
just on the near side of the bridge, she perceived Blake returning with
the obstreperous mare. Even while she looked, she saw Florence rear and
dart off down the road to Poplars. There was a trotting on the gravel
road immediately round the curve of Villa Rose’s line. In a moment the
rider had reined in at the gate and uncovered in salute to her.

“I hope he doesn’t think he has come to make a special call--he looks
all dressed up--because I’m not going indoors again,” was her mental
greeting. Aloud, she said, cordially, “Good afternoon, Judge Giffen.”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER X


In Roseborough, as has been remarked, Judge Giffen was universally
listed by the adjective “imposing.” Those spinsters with clinging
natures preferred to describe him as “authoritative.” Miss Palametta
Watts, who was suspected (to put it mildly) of special leanings--not
to say intentions--in his direction, called him “masterful.” Quite
recently Miss Palametta had boldly charged him with this trait; and,
with the daring of desperate thirty-seven, had asked him if she were
not correct in deducing from his stern mien that his wife, when he
selected one, would be constrained to obey him; for her own part she
knew _she_ would.

“Such is the scriptural injunction,” he pronounced after weighing the
matter; but, to her disappointment, pursued the subject no further. To
be sure, not having his glasses on at the time, he may not have seen
her inviting looks.

Mrs. Witherby’s dicta were taken as final in Roseborough, for it was
conceded that she had “a wonderful way of expressing herself,” and Mrs.
Witherby had a vast admiration for Judge Giffen and frequently summed
him up thus:

“Well, it may be true that the Judge has had more decisions reversed
than any other judge in the land, and that but for Hibbert Mearely’s
influence he would never have been a judge at all; but what _I_ always
say is, ‘Where in all Roseborough (or elsewhere, either, for the matter
of that) will you find a man who has such an _air_ about him?’ Judge
Giffen is a gentleman who understands his own worth. One can see that
at a glance.”

One could see it at a glance this afternoon as he rode forward. It was
emphatically a man with a fine understanding of his own worth whom the
large, flea-bitten white horse brought to pause at Villa Rose’s gate.
Though above medium stature, he was still not so tall as he appeared,
from the height of his collar and the lofty manner of carrying his
head. It was this last habit in particular, no doubt, which gave him
the “air” so much admired.

His hair was graying with an even pepper-and-salt sprinkling. He
allowed it to grow long in front, that his small, square forehead
might be ornamented with a “statesman’s lock.” His eyes were small and
brown and of no marked luminosity or keenness; his pepper-and-salt
eyebrows were short and highly peaked at the outer corners--a sign,
phrenologists declare, of latent ferocity. Doubtless the eyebrows
assisted Miss Palametta Watts to her definition of “masterful.” He
wore a short-cropped moustache naturally, and affected an imperial
and goatee. His morals, of course, like all Roseborough morals, were
above reproach. His hobbies were chess and the _Weekly Digest_, which
gave him the news of the world in twelve pages of small paragraphs with
inserts of verse, fiction, humour, publisher’s advertisements, and
editorials on all world-wide topics, from single tax to the Oriental
problem and back by way of the clam middens of British Columbia to the
Greek schism and free verse. By lingering and studious perusal, he
managed to make each week’s _Digest_ last until the post brought the
next.

For the rest, he dwelt in apartments in the house of a Mrs. Taite,
a gentlewoman fallen into adverse circumstances, who was willing to
take in and care for a paying guest in order to eke out. He lived in
an economical and dignified style, and kept two horses, on the means
which could very much better have been applied to the purchase of
a neat cottage to shelter a wife. At least such was the opinion of
Roseborough’s spinsters.

Perhaps the Judge did not treat the Roseborough spinsters quite fairly.
The legal mind, by reason of its professional habits, becomes versed
in subtleties, evasions, and the like--“technicalities” as they are
called. The judge’s apartments were sincerely and solidly furnished by
Mrs. Taite; but they were decorated with technicalities and evasions.
In this wise: on the slippery horsehair sofa (supplied by Mrs. Taite)
there was a row of cushions contributed by hungry hearts. They were
stuffed with rags, excelsior, goose feathers, or ducks’ down, according
to the financial rating of Miss Hopeful; and covered with crochet,
tatting, crazy-quilt patches, sampler, or crewel work, according to
her taste and her proficiency with the embroidery needle, the bobbin,
or the small steel hook. One sampler-topped pillow bore the legend,
tidily cross-stitched in a circle: “When here you rest your weary head,
dream of the Giver.” The Judge had accepted the cushion and highly
complimented the workmanship, vaguely maundered on the sweet thoughts
that natively abide in woman’s breast, and set the pillow at the _foot_
of the sofa. As his stockinged or slippered pedal extremities were
not dreamers, he could use the gift without troubling his weary head
about the giver. Thus, it will be seen, that the learned jurist could
appropriate the soft advantages of a tentative contract, and escape the
expected payment on a technicality, as well as any man he ever solemnly
upbraided in court for the same act.

“I know what _I_ should like to do with these rooms,” Miss Hopeful
would say, with arch looks.

The Judge would answer promptly:

“What, for instance?”

He was, in his way, a shrewd man as a man who knows a trifle about
horses is apt to be. He asked purposely, because, since the spinsters
of Roseborough were each and all “homey” women, domestic by training,
he had found that their suggestions, when followed out, added to the
comfort of his bachelor life.

Encouraged by his receptivity, the lady would express her idea and even
offer to come and assist “dear Mrs. Taite” in putting it into effect.
More than one damsel had spent her half hour mounted on a kitchen
stool, with her mouth full of tacks, while dear Mrs. Taite handed the
hammer back and forth and made mental note of defects in the aspirant’s
figure to retail later to the judge, who liked what he called “a
well-turned woman.” To retain her paying guest was Mrs. Taite’s
life-work.

To tell the truth, the Judge had been in no haste to woo. He was not
touched with Romeo’s fever. His temperament was judicial and calm.
He was--it may again be remarked--shrewd. He knew to a penny exactly
what his monthly income could do for him in the way of providing a
Roseborough gentleman’s requisites, and he was in little danger of
deliberately seeking to curtail his small personal luxuries by taking
a dowerless wife. So he listened the more appreciatively to his
landlady’s analyses of the dispositions and physical characteristics of
Roseborough’s spinsters.

“Knowledge is power,” he would aver with a solemn sort of waggishness,
when she had permitted him to gather, from her discourse, that there
was not an ankle among the lot which would dare show itself in a plain
white stocking; or that a certain melting-eyed one’s shoulder blades
or hip bones were “at least no sharper than her _temper_.” He knew
from other of Mrs. Taite’s hints--dropped generally while stirring a
hot cup of chocolate for his nightcap and buttering a toasted scone
to accompany it, that some young ladies who owned to twenty-six would
never see thirty-three again, and that a baby-waisted white muslin
frock was no longer the badge of a guileless heart, as it had been in
the days when _she_ wore one to induce that maiden’s shock, the first
kiss.

What with Mrs. Taite’s chocolate and subtlety and the judge’s legal
technicalities, it will be seen that the Roseborough spinsters were
out-generalled. They had once been a threat; but, nowadays, there was
scarcely the aroma of danger surrounding them. Mrs. Taite felt that
the menace to her came from another quarter. It had (as she mentally
phrased it) “struck upon her bosom and fairly winded her” one evening
when Judge Giffen had remarked, between chocolate sips, that Mrs.
Mearely had received him that afternoon in a black-and-white striped
gown. Unlike Mr. Albert Andrews, the Judge rather prided himself on
having an eye for feminine apparel.

“And she looked uncommonly well in it, too,” he added. “A very
well-turned woman is Mrs. Mearely. Yes, Mrs. Taite, I believe poor dear
Mearely’s taste to have been as infallible in that case as in every
other.”

“Mr. Hibbert Mearely had the large means necessary to indulge a woman
of such extravagant fancies.” In Mrs. Taite’s voice there was a tremolo
as she shot the only dart she could find at that moment, knowing, alas,
that it was unbarbed save to her own heart.

“And now _she_ has the means, and none to please but herself.”

The landlady attempted to retrieve her error.

“Considering her humble origin, I should hope she’d spend her life
henceforth as an offering to her distinguished husband’s memory.” This
conversation had taken place on a winter’s evening, but that was not
the reason why Mrs. Taite’s teeth chattered.

“Ah, no doubt--for a year or so. Mearely, himself, was a great stickler
for form, and he trained her in the niceties of observance. Her
origin--that is to say, the butter pats and so on--is a forgotten myth
in Roseborough now.”

“Among the _men_, perhaps.”

“A forgotten myth, Mrs. Taite. Mearely put the quietus on it by his
will. He left her everything. I drew it up, you know. Yes; he was in
the pink of condition at the time--the very pink. Whoever thought he
would go to his last account not three months later?” He mused on this
so long that Mrs. Taite, anxious to get to the terms of the will and
learn the worst she had to fear, put in a remark to bring him back to
the theme.

“Cholera Morpheus, was it not?”

“_Morbus_, Mrs. Taite, _morbus_--a latin word meaning--er. Yes. Poor
dear Mearely said to me: ‘I am a healthy man and the Mearelys are a
long-lived family. I except to see ninety and bury my wife a dozen
years earlier, as my grandfather did before me. However, we are all
mortal and subject to climate and accident. I may die to-morrow and
leave Mrs. Mearely a widow. I wonder, ought I make the proviso that she
must lose all my fortune, if she marries again? What would you advise?’”

“And what _did_ you advise, Judge Giffen?” Mrs. Taite trembled.

“Ah, a really remarkable thing! I advised against it, and he didn’t do
it.”

“What a calamity!” Mrs. Taite cried out in spite of herself, and
hastened to add: “Leaving her at the mercy of fortune hunters.”

“I said that, in the very unlikely event of her being left a young
widow, it would be better that she should have the responsibility of
living up to the Mearely name and estate. This duty would guide her
choice in re-marriage. Whereas, without responsibilities, she might
hark back to the farm strain and contract a union which would be a slur
on the Mearely honour. He perceived the point, and, after providing for
a few bequests to relatives, he left her everything, on condition that
she continued to live in Villa Rose. ‘For,’ said he, ‘I won’t have her
running up and down Europe, spending money to fatten a conscienceless
army of waiters, guides, and _concierges_. Let her remain quietly at
home and continue to carry out my artistic scheme, as the one rustic
and indigenous object of beauty in the midst of my priceless antiques
and _objets d’art_.’ That was his idea. A very superior man--was my
dear friend, Mearely.”

“So Mrs. Mearely has control of her fortune and is obliged to live in
Roseborough? Then she is compelled to choose a man from these parts.”

“Yes. If she leaves Villa Rose and Roseborough, she loses everything.
Yes, it was I who drew up that will, Mrs. Taite. I relate the facts to
you now in strict confidence, relying on your discretion. You have been
my confidante for a number of years, Mrs. Taite, and I believe there is
no woman in Roseborough so discreet.”

Whereupon, Mrs. Taite had besought him to continue this reliance, as
no word of his confidences had ever passed, or should ever pass,
her lips; but she believed that the will’s terms were not unknown in
Roseborough; she had heard rumours, indeed, though she had not credited
them. Perhaps, she thought, Mr. Howard, being a distant cousin of Mr.
Mearely’s, had felt privileged to inform Roseborough. On the contrary,
the Judge argued, Mr. Howard had known nothing of this proviso. He was
sure of that.

“Poor Howard would have been left out entirely but for me. I got his
little legacy for him. So much per year, you know--just enough to keep
him, if prices don’t soar. I pointed out to Mearely that Howard is
really an excellent chess player.”

Mrs. Taite, of course, had never heard the terms of the will as they
affected Mrs. Mearely’s re-marriage. When she said she had heard
rumours she meant that she was about to set some afloat. She put on her
bonnet and took two pennies to the Widower’s Mite Society’s treasurer,
Mr. Albert Andrews, and dropped the hint which, in due course, matured
into the aim of his life. It was she who told the news to Wilton
Howard, amid sly compliments; again sowing seed which, though ignored
at the time, was to bear fruit later.

Mrs. Taite saw that the Judge was deliberately considering the pros and
cons of a union with the young widow when all her black should have
been put by, and she intended that he should not lack rivals. She knew
that his legal mind would take its time in coming to a decision, and
that his self-sufficient nature would neither anticipate rivals nor
that the widow might say him nay. Meanwhile, there was the one chance
in a hundred that Mrs. Mearely might marry a faster moving admirer.

She racked her brains for schemes to balk him. She even thought wildly
of sending Mrs. Mearely anonymous letters, or of poisoning Villa Rose’s
well by dropping a murdered cat into it. She nursed her fears in
secret, copiously wept, prayed nightly that a worthy gentlewoman might
not be brought to penury through the unnecessary matrimony of a paying
guest, and took to walking at midnight, shut-eyed, in her nainsook and
curl rags.

Meanwhile the judge had handed down his decision, and he apprehended no
reversal of it by the higher court, i. e., by fair Rosamond herself. He
felt that he, of all men, deserved her fortune because it was he who
had prevented a pen-stroke from depriving her of it. Having accepted
his decision, he began to formulate a plan of procedure. He rode out to
Trenton churchyard and verified the date on the headstone. From that
he computed a proper date for proposal, which appeared to be midsummer
week, a year and six months from the day on which Mrs. Mearely had
received him in black and white. He would go to see her--say, on a
Wednesday--and inform her, in dignified yet adequate language, of the
part he had played in smoothing life for her. She would have until
Sunday to regard him as a benign fate and to become so mellowed with
gratitude that, when he returned on the Sabbath afternoon to make
formal offer of himself, she would answer with blushing enthusiasm,
“Oh, be my fate again--a second time, and forever.”

Unaware that this midsummer day was Rosamond’s “Wonderful Day”
(though, if he had known, he would have found the fact pleasantly
apropos) or that she had given up her last attenuation of mourning
only a few hours before he set out to make this preliminary and
way-paving call--resolved upon, even to the date, eighteen months
previously--Judge Giffen nosed his flea-bitten white horse up to
the gate post, removed and replaced his tall hat in high and solemn
salutation, slipped off his glove (gray, with two pearl buttons),
enclosed Rosamond’s rosy palm, and said in the tone of one who conveys
information of grave import:

“Good-afternoon, my dear Mrs. Mearely.”

Almost simultaneously he noticed the green-gray shot parasol and the
lilac-bud silk gown and was distinctly pleased by the omen. It was,
indeed, as if she had expected him.



CHAPTER XI


Courtesy commanded Rosamond to open the gate and invite the Judge in.
She disobeyed. She leaned over the bar, so that he himself could not
effect entrance, and said sweetly:

“How fortunate that you arrived at this moment and not later. For I can
at least exchange a word of greeting with you ere I continue on my way.”

He pondered this unforeseen contingency. That she might not be at home
to receive him on the day set had never occurred to him.

“You are going out?”

“I am obliged to go. It is an unescapable duty that I must perform.”

“Surely you are not going any distance on foot?”

“Oh--er--the carriage will be here in a moment,” she said hastily.
“Er--in fact--I think I hear it--I mean, see it--down the hill. Isn’t
that Blake now, driving in from the Poplars road?” She shaded her eyes
and peered, as if she were honestly trying to distinguish the driver of
a romping steed, which was just then taking the lowest turn of the hill
at a gallop. By strategy and force, Blake had succeeded in driving the
mare round the tower and back to the Roseborough road.

“Ah, yes, Blake. You know I advised poor dear Mearely to sell Florence;
but he said she was such a beautiful creature that he would rather risk
his neck with her than sit safely behind an ugly beast. I should advise
you to use Marquis, my dear lady. That mare is not reliable.”

“So Blake says. He threatened to take her to the farm yesterday. But he
also says he can manage her; and, as he always _does_ manage her I take
his word for my safety and don’t worry.”

The Judge had a happy thought.

“You may regard your own safety thus lightly, fair lady. But will you
not consider the place you hold in _our_ hearts? Can any gallant man in
Roseborough think of your unprotected loveliness in danger and keep his
pulses steady?”

Inwardly Rosamond registered another plaintive and helpless protest
against the misuse of her bright gown which circumstance was making
that day. “They’ll drive me back to crape,” she said to herself, “in
order to have my adventures free from persecution.” Aloud she said,
veiling her eyes till they were only a peep of sparkling blue heavens
through clouds:

“I have begun to feel lately that Roseborough’s gentlemen have
indeed--so to speak--a perception of my lonely state.”

“Ah. As to the others I can’t say. They would hardly have the--ah--same
interest as myself. No, hardly, I have a personal responsibility
regarding you.”

She interrupted quickly.

“Has your invitation reached you yet, for to-night?”

“Ah--yes. I thank you. I met Mrs. Witherby on the bridge. Ah--I was
about to say....”

“Can that possibly be Florence pounding up the hill? Yes, it is. Dear
me. Really, I wish she were more sedate, to-day of all days.”

Rosamond was talking against time; her words meant nothing more than
that she desired to keep the Judge at bay until the carriage arrived,
when she would pretend she had visits to make and so dismiss him. Not
understanding this, the Judge was inspired by her last sentence to a
very pretty belief; namely, that Mrs. Mearely wished her mare to trot
sedately on this day, because she was on her way to the cemetery; a
visit to the Mearely plot being her delicate method of assuring both
the departed and Roseborough that her return to colours betokened no
frivolity of spirit--that she was still a Mearely and would maintain
the Mearely dignity. This also, he thought, was a good omen for him;
since there could be no question about his superfitness to assist her
in her loyal task.

“My dear lady....” He spoke with a slow profundity which made the
blinking, sparkling eyes open wide at him. “You are on the way to
his--ah--grave. I understand. I may say I more than understand. I will
postpone until this evening--ah--the communication I came here to make
to you. Um--ah--drop a posy--ah--on the poor fellow for me, will you
not?”

Rosamond stared at him as blankly as any milkmaid.

“_What?_” said she, with unmodified bluntness.

Whatever might have developed, in the course of explanation, was
prevented by a rival emissary of fate, with less propriety and more
force than Judge Giffen. Florence rounded the curve. She had the bit in
her teeth and blood in her eye--and the devil himself in her heels and
her head. Blake was chiefly occupied in administering punishment. If
she _would_ bolt, she should do it under the whip, until discouragement
set in.

Florence, being dumb, could not explain what it was about the stolid,
large, high-backed, flea-bitten white horse (and possibly his imposing
master) which irritated her beyond endurance; but she expressed herself
after her temperament. She swerved from the road and, charging upon
the unsuspecting nag--whose back was toward her, his head sunk in the
timothy along the wall--bit him sharply on the rump. The flea-bitten
white was less stolid than he looked. He emitted a shrill snort and
kicked with all his might; the Judge lost his hat and almost lost
his seat. Florence pranced in and nipped the other side. Whereupon
the flea-bitten white sounded his protest to all the world, reared,
turned and ran at a racing gait down the hill. The Judge’s _pince-nez_
flew off in one direction and his crop in the other; the bridle had
already been jerked from his easy hold, so that it is no slur on his
horsemanship to say that Judge Giffen rode down the first two winds of
the hill clinging to the pommel.

What of Florence? In sidling in to take her second nip, she had swung
the light vehicle half-round, and now, ere Blake could get the mastery,
she swung it all the way and charged off down the hill again. The
pounding of hoofs on the gravel brought more than one Roseborough
dweller to her front windows. Presumably Mrs. Mearely’s were not the
only eyes to see the _finale_. The judge’s horse, ignoring the shouts
of the toll-man and the closing of the bridge to let a tow go by,
leaped the gates and the towline and galloped over the bridge and
disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Blake’s experience was less happy. Florence did not include the
carriage in her calculations, but attempted to perform the same feat.
She got through the barrier, by taking it with her; but the wheels were
tipped by the fence rails, the vehicle rose upon its side and Blake
dived, as if from a springboard, into the river. His aquatics seemed to
satisfy Florence’s passion for excitement for that day at least. She
righted herself deftly and began to crop the clover beside the path,
all mildness now as to mien.

The men on the barge fished Blake out with ropes and a hook. He was
none the worse evidently, for he climbed to his seat and started
Florence homeward under a harsh hand.

Until then Mrs. Mearely had had the grace to resist the temptation
to laugh. Now the storm took her, and shook her the worse for her
repression. She laughed until she was so limp that she was obliged
to hang on to the gate to keep from falling, and then she laughed
until she was so limp that she could no longer hold to the gate. She
collapsed in a bed of mignonette and sweet alyssum, green parasol and
all, exactly as if some one had broken off a big bunch of lilac and
tossed it there. In the end, she turned over on her side, laid her head
on a white close-growing pillow of alyssum and wept quietly, because
flesh and blood could bear no more.

Thus Blake found her, when dripping coachman and foaming mare stopped
at the gate.

“By the Lud! Mrs. Mearely, mum, are ye in a swound? The dundered ’oss
’ll kill us all afore she’s contented.”

“No, Blake. I--I’m all right now,” Rosamond answered weakly.
“What--what do you suppose is the matter with the mare?”

“The mare,” he exploded wrathfully. “Well, mare she may be, an’ mare
she is; but a lady she ain’t, nor never will be! She’s a wicious, a
indecent, an’ a cavortin’ female--an’ ’eadstrong, also, like all of her
sect. I never saw a female of any specie that was wuth her salt; an’
they’re that irksome they wears a man out with chastisin’ of ’em. Soon
as I’ve got a dry change on me, I’m a-goin’ to take this she-_himp_ of
Satan out to the farm; and I’ll give her such a what-for on the road
as’ll tone down her ’abits, or I’m but a ol’ feeble liar.”

“You’ll bring Marquis back?”

“Ay, mum. Marquis is a gentleman. But I won’t be bringin’ ’im till
to-morrow afternoon, or mebbe next day. It’s accordin’. Look at
her--the deceiver! To see her now, you’d say she wouldn’t steal oats.
Ugh! You ’ap’azard critter! Did you see what she done, mum? Did you see
what she done to his honour, the Jodge--to his honour, Jodge Giffen?
‘As she got any rev’rence to her? Not a penn’orth! She prances on to
the werry dignity of the Court, an’ rares up an’ bites his Sycle-hops.
Ugh! You ’eretic! Bitin’ the werry dignity of the Court in his
Sycle-hops!”

“Bites? Blake, what on earth do you mean?” She asked the question
in trepidation, lest the strange word prove a disguise for some
indelicacy, Blake being simple and rustic of speech.

“His Sycle-hops. His ’oss, mum. His brown ’oss is named ‘Seep-yer’--for
the colour, he says; w’ich is some sort of a ’igh-tone joke befittin’
a Jodge, no doubt. An’ the flea-bitten w’ite he calls Sycle-hops, says
he, account of him bein’ sech a ’uge ’oss an’ one eye a bit better’n
t’other.” Mrs. Mearley’s recently acquired knowledge of mythology came
to her aid.

“Oh! Cyclops!” She was relieved.

“Jes’ wot I said. An’ that’s wot this wicious an’ wulgar female of her
sect’s gone an’ bit! I’m mortyfied, mum, plumb mortyfied. I’ll drive
round now an’ get a dry change, afore the five teeth I’ve got drops
out from chill; an’ then I’ll be off till to-morrow--or next day. It’s
accordin’. Ugh! You shameless, wile, an’ himproper hanimal, you! I’ll
learn ye to respect the Courts o’ the land.”

“So you won’t be here to-night. Very well. Hurry off at once, before
you get more rheumatism. But I hope you won’t whip Florence any more.
I’m particularly fond of her. You must not be cruel to her, Blake.”

“She’s a female; an’ wot else can ye do with a female? They’re
cavorters, from the first one down the line. If I’d a-ben Adam,
I’d a-seen wot the A’mighty meant when he called it the tree o’
knowledge--a tree full o’ switches, that’s wot! An’ I’d a-stopped the
cavortin’ of the sect right there where it started. Yes, mum; H’eve
would a-ben a different ’ooman if Timothy Blake had ’ad her. It would
a-ben the makin’ of her,” he added regretfully. “Good-day, mum.”

He did not turn his head as he drove off and, therefore, was not
affronted by the sight of his mistress rocking with laughter.

“I wonder if the Judge’s horse has stopped running yet?” she said to
herself, and danced up and down on her toes with delight. “I shall
always love Florence for that. I think she postponed a declaration.”

Three o’clock did not sound from the stone tower. The toll-man became
so interested in relating to a farmer, who was taking a load of live
fowls to Trenton, the exciting story of Florence’s achievements--with
historical references to the Giffen and Mearely families, and notes on
Blake’s pedigree, also Florence’s, besides digressions as to his own
age, health, and episodic life-story--that three passed to four without
interrupting his train of thought. When the farmer and his squawking
equipage passed on, the toll-man went into the tower to fill his pipe
from the cut plug in his coat pocket, planning to take a few pleasant
puffs before repeating the story all over again to a black-suited,
black-whiskered stranger he saw reaching the bridge on the Trenton
side. His coat hung under the clock; and, since the clock ticked at ten
after four, he rang the hour. When he stepped out again, the stranger
had disappeared. He did not observe an abnormal trembling of the tall
rushes and sedges by the Roseborough slough, as if a large body were
crawling among them.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XII


Since Blake would not be on the premises that night, Rosamond asked
herself whether she ought not to go to Mrs. Lee’s and engage Bella
Greenup to stay the night at Villa Rose. She had never spent a night
alone in the large house and questioned whether she cared to do so. In
the end she dismissed the idea of a companion; for, as she reminded
herself, the community had never had a burglar or even a burglar
scare, and, while an occasional tramp might stray to the Trenton road,
none had been known to climb the hill into the sacred precincts of
Roseborough.

Like the toll-man, she was unaware that nearly an hour had slipped by
in the combined delay of the Judge’s call and Florence’s manœuvres.
Still under the impression that the afternoon was hers to spend by
the river, she went into the house for more hair pins to catch up the
curls, shaken loose by laughter and the mignonette’s fingers. She
satisfied herself that the Orleans mirror reflected a vision both fair
and neat enough to entrance Love at sight, if he should come riding by
where the rushes divided and made a peephole to the slough. Then she
ran downstairs again, but her gay song ceased in the shock of hearing
four o’clock ring out--a shock by no means modified when she asked the
kitchen clock for denial and saw the long hand at eleven minutes past
the hour.

“Four o’clock! If Amanda were here she would be bringing me tea to
the summer-house. It seems very late to go to the river; because, of
course, I must have my supper at five-thirty as usual. Oh, dear! I
ought to have it at five to-night; because they will all be here by
seven, and I shall take so much longer than His Friggets would to get
my own supper and wash up, and then set out all the things for them on
the dining-room table.... And, of course, if I don’t have my tea now, I
shall be hungry _before_ five-thirty. Oh, dear! It would seem that His
Friggets have their uses in my life, after all.”

Another wave of indignation swept over her, to cool in despair, as she
realized how her Wonderful Day had vanished, hour by hour, leaving her
only the distressful discovery that colours were not going to free her.
From now on she would risk a proposal from some tiresome man every
time she stepped abroad, alone. As for the women...! she trembled to
think of the gossip that might gush forth as soon as they saw her.
Tittle-tattle and unwelcome proposals! Were these to be her lot until,
in desperation, she allowed herself to be persuaded by one or other of
Roseborough’s gentlemen? Angry, helpless tears filled her eyes.

“If I were smothered in crape I could go anywhere alone, and do
whatever I wanted to, without stupid, silly men intruding. I didn’t
know when I was well off,” she whimpered. “I’ve never once got outside
the gates of Villa Rose all this day!”

Barely one hour left! What should she do with it?

The question as to this hour, as with all the previous hours, was
settled for her by Roseborough. A sound of wheels on the road ceased
at her carriage-gate. In a trice, she saw the gate unlatched and borne
inward by a short, stout woman in a white mull dress, and a white hat
covered with a green mosquito-netting veil, which served to keep the
dust from her broad, pink countenance. She wore also a very wide tartan
sash with a large bunchy bow at the back, the worse for being much and
heavily sat upon.

“Whatever on earth are The Kilties coming here for?” Rosamond asked
herself with another rush of anger. “Isn’t this just too awful?” She
stamped her foot in vexation.

She did not need to see the cart come through to know that all three of
the Misses MacMillan were about to honour her with a visit. Wherever
one MacMillan went, all MacMillans went. While Miss Elspeth held the
gate open, a broken-kneed gray nag wobbled into the grounds, drawing
a loose-wheeled, scratched cart, with one seat that could comfortably
hold two, but always squeaked protestingly under three. Two more short,
stubby, green-netted, white-frocked maids crowned the cart; both, like
their eldest sister, displayed the MacMillan plaid.

To Rosamond’s dismay, their cart was followed by a four-wheeler laden
with furbelows. The spinsters of Roseborough always wore white fluffy
frocks with bright ribbon sashes, in the summer, because they were
“so young-looking” (the frocks, not the spinsters). The four-wheeler
held two seats, one stool, and seven girls. Only two could sit on each
narrow seat; but there was a stool wedged in between the seats and
one sat on that, holding the sixth girl on her lap. The seventh stood
partly on her own and partly on the fifth girl’s feet, and held on with
all her might to the back of the front seat to keep from toppling into
the road. When the vehicle stopped and they all tried to get out, the
whole looked more like a wrecked ice-cream cart than anything else,
with the white flounces spilling and tumbling over the edge in every
direction. These were the Misses Pelham-Hew.

Dr. Wells, Roseborough’s highly trusted physician--a doctor of the
old school and a man who loved his joke (no matter who else loved it
not)--was fond of saying that the difference between Jacob Pelham-Hew
and his namesake in the Old Testament was that Jacob of the Bible
waited seven years for one damsel whereas Jacob Pelham-Hew had seven
damsels waiting for one man--a witticism considered very funny by
everyone in Roseborough but the Pelham-Hews.

In the wake of the ice-cream cart came a scrawny sorrel, drawing a
sulky. Miss Graham sat in the one bowl-shaped seat, very erect and
mannish in demeanour with a tan coat over her white duck dress and
sporting a “choker” with a gold horseshoe pin. Miss Imogen Graham let
it be known that she was well able to take care of herself and despised
men; indeed, she would not look at one, save to be courteous. That
courtesy was the keystone of her character was at once made evident if
there was a man in the room, for he never lacked her company.

Miss Palametta Watts and her mother in their phaeton brought up the
rear. Miss Palametta was small--“a lean, simpering wisp of a thing,”
Mrs. Witherby called her. She possessed two brown eyes, with fairly
good possibilities in the line of flirtation, and a bang of curly,
brown hair that had received its first baptism of walnut tea--what is
called “touching up”--just above the ears and at the long ends. Miss
Palametta was arch. Some one had once told her that there was something
birdlike in the little tosses and dartings of her head on her long
throat, with the unfortunate result that her head was now never still a
moment and she twittered incessantly. Her mother, who was very fat and
nearly stone deaf, accompanied her everywhere; for, as Miss Palametta
said, she would not for worlds be classed with forward, modern women
who showed themselves in public, unchaperoned. Under cover of her
mother’s deafness, the modest creature had practically proposed to
every eligible man in Roseborough; and had so compromised one poor
fellow that he fled to Trenton, and became a bank clerk, to escape the
condemnation Roseborough heaped on any man who went so far and then
refused his destiny.

Rosamond’s surprise had turned to alarm by the time the Watts’ chariot
hove in sight.

“I’m not at home,” she muttered, blankly. “_I am not at home._”

What could be the cause of this white-starched avalanche descending
upon her out of four creaking rigs? She was not left long in doubt.

“We’ve come to hear all about the new man!” they chorused, in running
up the steps to her. “Mrs. Witherby says a new man is coming to
Roseborough and you know all about him.”

“I--er--I--I don’t know anything about him,” she stammered to the
eager, glittered-eyed ones, cramming her in on every side.

“Oh, yes, you do! You’ve been told everything,” Elspeth MacMillan
shrilled in her ear from behind.

“His name is Jack Falcon and he used to go to Charleroy,” her sister,
Jeanie Deans MacMillan, supplemented from in front. “Mrs. Witherby says
so.”

“You needn’t tell _me_ anything about him,” said Imogen Graham, in her
deep voice, and giving her mannish choker a tug. “I despise men--in
fact nothing--_nothing_--disgusts me like a man!” Any one of the group
might have completed the sentence for her; they had all heard it so
often.

“He’s done something _famous_,” Flora Macdonald MacMillan shrieked.

“He’s made a lot of _money_,” Anabeth Pelham-Hew called, pushing her
head into Rosamond’s ken under Imogen Graham’s elbow. Anabeth was
short, and Dr. Wells said her hair had grown thin on the top from
scraping against her taller sisters’ angles in order to thrust herself
into notice.

“A lot of money,” Anabel, her twin, echoed.

“A lot--a _lot_ of money!” Justinia Pelham-Hew stuttered.

“Oh, yes! he’s made a _lot_ of _money_.” Constanza Pelham-Hew came in
with the longer repetition--the whole line--exactly as if the thing
were a glee and she were concluding the first round.

“Oh! isn’t it interesting?” Maravene Pelham-Hew trebled, taking up the
second verse.

“Yes! _isn’t_ it interesting?”

“Oh! _so interesting_!”

Claribel and Berthalin Pelham-Hew generally expressed their view in
duet form.

“But I don’t know anything about Mr. Falcon. I really don’t. He’s a
friend of Mrs. Lee’s--I mean he was a pupil of the Professor’s--years
ago. He--he....” Rosamond stammered on, innocent that she was
arousing the worst suspicions in the breast of the one silent maiden
in the group, the chaperoned Palametta. “He--er--is coming home
to-morrow--from Europe.”

“Europe?”

“Europe?”

“Europe?” the MacMillans.

“For my part,” Miss Graham boomed, “if you don’t stop talking about
that man I shall go home. Nothing,” said she, putting her arms akimbo
and nudging into the verandah rail--“_Nothing_ disgusts me like a man!”

“I’d be so glad to--to--er--offer you tea,” Rosamond said hastily,
glad of a chance to change this embarrassing conversation, “only
Amanda and Jemima are away for the day; and I’ve--er been out to tea
myself--and--er--the fire’s out. But I hope you’ve all had your tea.”

“Mrs. Witherby wouldn’t tell us a thing about the man.”

“No! she didn’t tell _us_, either.”

“No! she thinks, if he has _money_, she’ll get him for Corinne or her
precious niece.”

“We tried to get Mabel Crewe to come with us, but she said she didn’t
care whether the man came to Roseborough, or not!”

“_I’ve_ always claimed that Mabel Crewe is insincere.

“It will be so nice to have another man at parties.”

“Did you hear how _much_ money he has?” a Pelham-Hew queried. At the
word “money” the chatter ceased; they all drew up at attention.

“I--that is--Mrs. Lee didn’t say anything about money. No, really, she
didn’t.” Rosamond felt as cruel as if she had wantonly run her hat pin
into seven palpitating Pelham-Hew hearts. Income was so pinched and
painful a strain in their home.

“Noth--ing--about--mon--ey?”

“You’re either mistaken or you are amusing yourself at our expense,
Mrs. Mearely!” A MacMillan’s nerves were snapping and her voice was so
sharp that it stung.

“Mrs. Witherby said positively he’d made a great success.”

“Positively!”

“_Grea-at_ success!”

“Yes--yes, Mrs. Lee said something of success,” Rosamond admitted, “but
I--er--gathered that it was an _artistic_ success.”

“Ugh! the brute!” Miss Graham snarled. The others looked blank.

One cold titter broke the silence. It emerged from Palametta’s thin
lips. Everyone looked at her. They knew that titter of Palametta’s.

“Why--of course,” said Palametta as if she had discerned what should
have been obvious to every one. “Why--of--course.” She drawled it.

“Of course _what_?” Rosamond, the sometimes blunt, demanded.

“I’ve been noticing your gown and wondering why you won’t tell us
anything really about Mr. Falcon,” she twittered archly, darting her
head from side to side; but there was rather more of the snake than of
the bird in her, as she did it.

“Miss Watts, what on earth do you mean?”

“Why, yes!” a MacMillan shrilled. “She’s in colours!”

“Mrs. Mearely’s in _colours_,” the Pelham-Hew septet sounded the tocsin.

Rosamond’s face blazed.

“There’s no change in my dress,” she asserted violently, “except that
there are no black ribbons. I’ve often worn white--with flowers--in the
evening. Why, the colour of this dress is”--she caught Palametta’s
glittering gaze, then a Pelham-Hew’s appraising eye, and, realizing
that this feline bevy was not composed of the colour-blind, finished
weakly--“well--it’s a sort of lavender.”

Miss Palametta tittered coldly.

“It’s a sort that never grew in a border of fragrant remembrance round
a last resting-place,” the eldest and Scotchest of the MacMillans
bur-r-red at her, sternly.

Anabeth Pelham-Hew’s eyes filled with tears; not only did her lip
tremble, but her chin wagged, with the volume and velocity of the fear
that seized her.

“You--you--you’ve _had one_ husband, you--you greedy thing!” She flung
herself on Anabel’s breast and cried hysterically.

“Well! I never!” Rosamond exclaimed hotly.

“Anabeth is su-subject to hys-s-teria,” Justinia explained, as if
all Roseborough did not know it. Roseborough held pronounced views
regarding Anabeth’s hysteria; views which coincided with Blake’s on the
cavorting of Eve and the remedy for it.

Never since she had come to reside in Villa Rose as milady, had
a Roseborough spinster shown Mrs. Mearely anything but an almost
sycophantic homage. But never until to-day had Mrs. Mearely clashed
with a Roseborough spinster’s hopes. Words and breath left her as she
saw herself--so recently an object of adulation--confronted with one
dozen enemies.

“For my part, I’d be astounded if there were anything in this,” Miss
Graham averred, with another tug at her choker; “because I can’t
see how a widow could be induced to _hang_ herself a _second_ time.
Nothing--_nothing_ disgusts _me_ like....”

“It’s a great shock to all of us to see you in colours again,” Flora
Macdonald MacMillan broke in. “In all your days of mourning, no other
hearts have beaten in such unison with yours as ours. We, the girls of
Roseborough, have felt almost as if we were widows with you.”

“Yes,” her sister, Jeanie Deans, chimed in, “the girls of Roseborough
loved to think of you as so beautiful and so sad, and forever alone.”

“Oh, yes! _forever alone!_” Elspeth concurred emphatically.

“We girls have often talked about it,” Maravene informed her; “we just
love to picture you like a mourning dove....”

“A fading rose is what _I_ always say, Maravene. I think it’s more
appropriate, besides sweeter,” Constanza interrupted.

“I know you do, sister; but I like the mourning dove idea better. It’s
_lonesomer_.”

Rosamond emitted an indignant sound nearly related to a snort.

“Stuff and nonsense! If that is the silly way you think about me, you
can just give it up right now. It is time for me to put on ordinary
colours and I intend to wear them--just as other people do. I am not
in the least eager to meet Mr. Falcon, except for my dear Mrs. Lee’s
sake. You can have him, for all I care and--and tear him to bits among
you! I forgot to tell you that he is quite an _old_ man--with a gray
beard--and a bald head.”

“Oh--h! No--o!”

“Naturally--what I expected,” Miss Graham began. “Nothing--nothing....”
She paused a fraction of a second to give her choker the usual
masculine tug, and Berthalin and Claribel burst in with:

“Old?--gray?--bald?--who says so?”

“Mrs. Lee says so.”

“And she hasn’t seen him for nearly twenty years,” Palametta ruminated.
“Oh, come now, Mrs. Mearely! Why can’t you be as frank about your
interest in the newcomer as we are? Tell us his real age,” she tittered
icily.

Rosamond’s bosom swelled and her hands clenched as the flame of anger
scorched her. It burned the more fiercely because she was, for the
moment, wholly at the mercy of the spinsterial dozen. She could not
force them to believe her: nay, it would appear that the only way to
change the “girls” of Roseborough from foes into friends again was to
return to the raiment of Niobe.

“I am sorry, but I must ask you to excuse me.” She tried to say it
with the dignity of the Mearely name and Villa Rose behind her; “Mrs.
Witherby and the Wellses and Mrs. Lee are coming in for cards this
evening. And I must prepare for them. Amanda and Jemima are away for
the day, and I have everything to do.”

“Shall you wear colours at Mrs. Lee’s breakfast to-morrow?” a MacMillan
demanded.

“Yes! That is what we all want to know,” a Pelham-Hew added.

As usual Rosamond’s sense of humour overcame her anger.

“I will compromise the matter if you will only run away now, like good
girls,” she answered, laughing a little in spite of herself. “I will
wear white--no ribbons. So put on your fanciest sashes and catch the
poor old chap fast in the bow knots.”

“Oh! Mrs. Mearely!” Elspeth MacMillan ejaculated, catching the
infection of Rosamond’s mirth, and smiling. “Of course--we only
meant--we think it would be so nice to have another man at parties.”

“So that we won’t always have to dance together all our lives,” the
Pelham-Hews choired.

“Make a circle around him and pin your sash ends to him as if he were
a maypole; then, at the signal, all run in different directions and see
which gets him--or the biggest piece of him.”

“Oh! Mrs. Mearely!” every one but Palametta (and, of course, her deaf
mother) exclaimed at once. Rosamond’s bold speech had made them feel
slightly absurd; they thought it best to laugh it off and make a joke
of the whole affair.

“Anabeth is su-subject to hys-s-teria so that wh-hen she makes a
je-jest she always c-cries,” Justinia elucidated tactfully.

“Yes,” Constanza amended, “we are not really all trying to catch a man
we’ve never seen.”

“And may not like when we _have_ seen him!” Claribel concluded.

“Come on, girls,” Imogen boomed. “Mrs. Mearely wants to get rid of us.
Let’s go down to Dollop’s. I’ll stand treat for one ginger syrup all
around.”

“Oh, goody!” “Oh, come on!” “Hooray!” “Imogen’s going to treat.”
Her offer was greeted with the shouts of joy that generally follow
on a treat, especially in communities like Roseborough. The seven
Pelham-Hews, who never had pennies to spend in Dollop’s, rushed,
giggling, down the steps and scrambled over one another into their
rig for all the world like a pan of dough “raising.” The MacMillans
followed as fast as was consistent with the dignity of the clan’s
tartan. Palametta made a point of lingering to offer a limp handshake
and, as her fingers slipped away and her head tossed and perked, she
tittered faintly.

“If she te-he-hes like that at me again I’ll box her ears,” Rosamond
vowed inwardly. An inspiration came to her, from the springs of her
naturally impulsive generosity, which went far to restore her to her
former position in the hearts of Roseborough’s spinsters.

“Wait, wait,” she called. “I’ll give you some bottles of Amanda’s
parsnip wine. That will be better than Dollop’s syrup. And a basket
full of glasses and some ginger cookies, and you can picnic down by the
tower in that little nook of the slough.”

Not delaying for more than the first “hooray,” she caught up her flower
basket from the porch and ran into the kitchen. To fill the basket
with glasses, cookies, and the three quart bottles was the work of
only a few minutes. She confided the precious cargo to the MacMillans
and smilingly waved off her now friendly guests, who departed amid
subdued and genteel cheering. Imogen even baritoned the first line of
“For he’s a jolly good fellow,” (substituting “she” of course); but the
Pelham-Hews, turning crimson in an agony of hurt refinement, begged her
to desist.

The gate clicked behind the spinsterical _cortège_; and five o’clock
rang from the tower.

Rosamond went indoors and set out the plates for her supper.

By the slough, where the spinsters of Roseborough picnicked, the reeds
and rushes were now silent and still, save where the light breeze
passed; though there was a trail of freshly crushed and broken ones,
where something heavier than the breeze had made its way through. One
individual besides the toll-man saw the black-suited, black-whiskered
stranger that afternoon. Johnson, the butcher’s boy, encountered him
in a lane almost directly behind the two neighbouring cottages where
lived Mr. Horace Ruggle and Miss Jenny’s mother, Mrs. Hackensee. Mrs.
Hackensee occupied the front of her cottage and rented the two back
rooms, overlooking the river, to Dr. Frei, the young musician who
had come to Roseborough within the last few weeks. “DR. FREI, VIOLIN
INSTRUCTOR” said the written placard on his door.

Johnson nursed an intense dislike for aliens; he “suspected ’em of
plottin’ agin the guver-mint.” Dr. Frei was an alien, and Johnson
told Mrs. Witherby’s day maid, Hannah Ann, that he suspected the
black-whiskered man of being in a plot with Dr. Frei to blow up the
Roseborough gaol or the bell tower “or sump’n”; because, when he turned
about at the end of the lane for a second look, _the stranger had
disappeared_! After he had left her, Hannah Ann was in a seriously
overwrought condition; and so Mrs. Witherby found her when she returned
from her drive. Such was Mrs. Witherby’s own temperament, that it was
not long before mistress and maid were in the same state of mind.
Indeed, Mrs. Witherby was obliged to forego her customary glass of
stout at dinner, because Hannah Ann refused to descend alone to the
cellar for it and Mrs. Witherby would not allow her daughter Corinne
to accompany her. Mabel Crewe, her niece, was not afraid, but she had
turned sulky and bitter under her aunt’s jibes on Wilton Howard’s
account. She revenged herself, therefore, by mocking at Mrs. Witherby’s
fears and by making her go without her ale.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIII


Rosamond brought out the roast chicken again and made another meal of
it with milk and bread and butter. His Friggets would have raised a
great to-do if they had known how slimly their distinguished master’s
widow had lunched and dined during their absence. She cleared away
her own few dishes quickly and put the contents of her larder on the
dining-room table. It looked a very respectable collation when set off
with the Mearely crockery and silver.

“I shan’t lay the table,” she decided, “because they never want to sit
down at the same time. They can wander in and out as they like between
games, and help themselves to plates and forks and so on.”

Blake, who was gardener as well as coachman, except in the seeding
season, had brought in fresh lettuce already before he had set out to
Trenton; and, as His Friggets kept a supply of their very excellent
mayonnaise always on hand, the big bowl of chicken salad was soon made.
She took another peep at Dom Paradis’s cake, and felt a just pride in
its smooth, snow-white beauty.

“If I can’t stand Villa Rose, in the end I can always go and be
somebody’s cake-maker.” She consoled herself with this thought as she
ran upstairs to dress herself in one of the costliest gowns in her
wardrobe.

This was the rose-and-silver garment taken from the chest in the
morning and hung upon the Louis chair under linen covers. She disposed
the lilac-bud silk in the carved mahogany closet, against the morrow.
As she exchanged her embroidery petticoat for one of organdie and
Valenciennes, it did not occur to her to ask herself how she would
like to have to dress in future on a cake-maker’s wages. Her rapid
fingers, removing hair pins, let down the massy bright waves of her
hair which separated into ringlets just above her waist. It was not a
pure yellow gold, that thick waving fall of hair; it was mingled with
light brown and reddish tints, which made the whole, when pyramided in
curls on her small head, as vital, brilliant, alluring, and indefinable
as the inner nature of its owner. It was hair that in its variety of
shades was truly indicative of milady’s mercurial spirit; for even her
occasional sobriety of mood resembled the sober brown strands that
twisted in with the auburn and gold threads; it was a sobriety inclined
to curl. Her own complaint about her hair was that it never look
combed. Five minutes after she had demurely parted it in the centre the
parting would disappear and the glistening waves, mocking the damp
brush’s authority, would rise and undulate and interlace again at their
pleasure.

She was in a hurry this evening and so let her curls please themselves,
looping the ends through an antique circular Spanish comb of pale gold
and seed pearls. She shook the dress out lovingly. She had never worn
it.

Slowly, so that none of the small raptures of sliding silk should be
missed, she let it descend, enveloping her, carefully keeping it from
touching her hair, till it skirted her ankles evenly and her face
looked over the top and flushed with pleasure to see itself so framed.

The material was a stiff silk of a quality too old for her if the
colour and make of the gown had been different; but the rich shade,
that was a rose-old-rose--neither so placid as old rose nor so positive
as pink--and the semi-pompadour fashion combined with the weave (which
would “stand by itself”) made her look quaint. She was neither of
one period nor another, nor was her gown old or young. The picture
presented was radiant young womanhood of all time in its perfection.
The gown had a partial overdress of dull silver gossamer, finished
in a broad silver lace, in which the vine figure was worked in a
brighter silver, toned again by gray-green leaves in the clusters. The
short sleeves were of the gossamer over rose net, fitted sheerly and
smoothly to the arm. A cuff of the lace turned back from the elbow. A
gossamer and lace collar stood up from the back of the bodice, which
was cut in a narrow low square in front. There were touches of rose in
the pattern of the lace of the collar; reversely, the narrow, smooth,
stiff, rose girdle had silver eyelet holes and a hint of the vine
tracery. Rose stockings and silver shoes, with buckles made of clusters
of tiny roses, completed her costume.

She surveyed herself for some time with a delight that needed no
formulated thought to express it. When she could endure parting with
the vision the Orleans mirror gave her, she tossed a white wrap over
her and went downstairs. Presently she giggled.

“Oh, wouldn’t the Pelham-Hews and Palametta and The Kilties” (her name
for the MacMillans) “rave if I were to go to Mr. Falcon’s breakfast in
this glorious thing! They needn’t worry. I shall be a dowd to-morrow.
But to-night! The shock may kill Mrs. Witherby--and incite Mr. Andrews
and the Judge--but I’ll end my Wonderful Day in splendour, even if it
must be _lonely_ splendour.” Whatever rashness her gown proclaimed, she
would refuse censure for it; it was her right to dare all things on her
Wonderful Day, which could not be said to have passed until midnight
struck.

The six o’clock bell, the last one to toll for the day, had rung ere
she left the mirror.

The fall of gold light through the clear air of the valley, with the
western sky giving just a hint of sunset and the river shining like
molten glass, wooed her to the garden again. Some of the little annuals
had already closed their eyes for the night. The insects and birds
were on homeward flight. She went on, to the incline where the orchard
began. From a point, here, she could look down at the gleaming river
with the picture framed in arching boughs. She found something mystical
in this view and loved it above all others, especially at this hour,
when the last yellow rays fell like a slanting mist and the shadowed
spaces under the huge apple trees were cool and dark.

[Illustration: “Regarding each other and yielding to the charm of the
sunset and the music, they did not observe a black-whiskered man who
was crawling through the orchard”]

She stood there for some time in deep, calm enjoyment. It came to her
then, as it had done before on such evenings, that the few small-minded
inhabitants, with their petty jealousies, were less than the gravel
on the hillroad that rattled to the passing wheel. There was indeed
a spirit of Roseborough, but the communal spirit was only a poor
counterfeit of it. Professor Lee and his wife had found that pure and
perfect spirit and translated it into human life. It was here for her
also to find and make her own. It grew out of Roseborough’s earth with
its abundant flowers and trees. It was in its clear air, with the
radiance of its light and of the wings that darted and floated and
bathed themselves in it. The river bore it upon its waters, and the
moving reeds sang of it by night and day. When the valley and hills
slept, that spirit soared to the domain of the moon and the stars and
kept watch with them.

“I couldn’t be happy anywhere else,” Rosamond said to herself. “There
is something about this valley that is a part of me. But it is hard
to live here, so close to earth, without love. Roseborough was made
for love. That is what ails us all--Palametta, and The Kilties and the
Pelham-Hews and--and--Rosamond Mearely! Well, I hope the old bald thing
will marry Anabeth and then she’ll stop that crying every time a man is
mentioned.”

The change to humour was only momentary, for the spell of Roseborough
at this hour was too profound to be put off with lightness. Rosamond
yielded to it, because she must. That mood was hers which only Nature,
or a pure art, can give--a yearning that blended peace and sadness,
and which made rich by what it withheld--a desire that was a deeper
happiness than completion could be.

Into her silent reverie strains of music crept. Soft, thin, but mellow
under a lover’s touch, they came from the muted strings of a violin.
The player was coming nearer, and from the upper end of the orchard.
It was no surprise to her now to find Dr. Frei using her orchard as
his concert hall. Dr. Frei had tested Roseborough’s communal spirit
from the first day of his arrival; for he chose to consider that all
Roseborough shared with him whatever it possessed--gladly, lovingly.
Roseborough, taken off guard by the quixotic confidence reposed in her,
had responded in kind. Instead of looking the stranger over through
her lorgnettes _ad lib._, she had returned his instant greeting and
opened her heart to him with a warmth that amazed herself, though the
recipient of her favour appeared to see nothing unusual in it.

“I wonder if he has been playing to Mrs. Lee?” was Rosamond’s mental
query.

In playing to Mrs. Lee, Dr. Frei had first introduced himself to
Roseborough. One bright spring morning, hearing strange, delectable
sounds, Mrs. Lee had hastened into her tiny garden and--found a young
man sitting by the well playing a violin. A Trenton carter sat on his
wagon beyond the gate, eating his way through a loaf of bread. The cart
was piled high with small luggage. The violinist had risen, at sight of
her, bowed profoundly, kissed her hand with emotion, explained himself
as a concert violinist whose health had failed under the strain of
public appearance, and begged leave to live in her cottage. This she
finally convinced him, to his great annoyance, was not to be.

“But I honour you when I say I wish to live in your home!” he had
exclaimed, autocratically. “It is not to be argued. I have decided.”
He pointed to the carter and the portmanteaux.

He was not insane, she had become comfortably assured of that, though
he was undeniably eccentric. In the end she had sent him with a note to
Mrs. Hackensee, asking that he be cared for as a dear young stranger
who had brought to Roseborough, not only his great talent, but also his
beautiful faith in human goodness.

From that moment Dr. Frei had waited for no introductions or
invitations. If a Roseborough door stood open, he entered it; and told
those within that he was rejoiced to be among them. If the inmates were
breakfasting, lunching, or supping, he pulled a chair up to the table
and waited to be served as naturally as if he were a member of the
family.

“Would you believe that this is the one spot on earth where I could
do this?” he would say. “Yet it is so. It is your spirit. It is
Roseborough. Roseborough restores my soul.”

Violin in hand, he had walked in upon their mother and the seven
Pelham-Hews at eight o’clock one morning in house-cleaning time.
Some of the septet were on ladders and on chairs with mops and with
dusters, rubbing the paper down or cleaning the pictures; and others
were beating cushions or mattresses and generally translating the word
home into horror. Thinking that nothing but financial ruin or a death
from infectious disease could make such an upheaval necessary, and
eager to offer the only consolation in his power--a tender, wordless
sympathy--he had seated himself on a rolled mattress and played to them
for two hours without cessation; then, with tender looks, taken his
departure.

“I, too, have the spirit. I, too, belong to Roseborough,” was all that
he said, as he waved them a majestic farewell from the door. Thinking
him mad, not a Pelham-Hew had dared to move or speak during the
recital. Anabeth, whose foot had gone to sleep, fell off the ladder as
soon as he had gone and struck her funny-bone, the accident resulting
in severe hysterics.

He had made himself equally free of the house and grounds of Villa
Rose. Though, before others, his manner to the Villa’s lady was formal,
he expressed, in private, the intimate affection of a brother. Her
widowhood appealed to his chivalry; and her black ribbons, he said, put
out the sun for him; how had the anomaly of grief entered Roseborough
and how had it attached itself to _her_?

“In me you have always a brother, a friend, a protector,” he would
say. “What privilege of manhood is more to be envied than the right to
shelter women?”

She saw him now, and perceived that he had already seen her and was
playing to her--the minuet she loved. He came slowly down the path, his
dark eyes fixed on her, a smile about the lips that were too finely and
sensitively formed for a man’s mouth.

Regarding each other and yielding to the charm of the sunset and the
music, they did not observe a black-whiskered man who was crawling
through the orchard and hiding from time to time behind the broad tree
trunks. He was observing them, however, minutely.

Frei paused beside her. They did not speak until the exquisite melody
was ended. He took her hand and kissed it.

“Rosamond.” It was his habit to address her so, because--so he
said--the sound of her name was like music.

“Your music supplies the only thing that this wonderful scene lacked,”
she said--“melody!”

“You are moved. How beautiful your eyes and lips are when feeling stirs
you! I have often remarked it. It is like a wind in the rose garden
to-night, because you are a rose. I can see rose petals under that
white cloud. Remove your cloak.”

She slipped it off and hung it on the gate. Not until she had done
so, did it occur to her that she had obeyed a command, given with
an authority which was inborn and unconscious that such a thing as
opposition existed in the human breast.

“If I could compose a melody noble, tender, wistful.... Ah! I lack
the words to describe it! But if I could compose it I would call it
‘Rosamond.’”

“And dedicate it to me as if I were a royal highness.”

He frowned.

“Not at all!” he asserted almost with violence. “I compose no
masterpieces for royal highnesses. Royal highnesses are ugly and
artificial. But you! Fair Rosamond, they tell me--Miss Watts, I think
it was, told me last--that you were born on the farm. ‘Farm product,’
she called you. Your mother....”

“Made and sold butter! I am sure all Roseborough has informed you of
that!”

“Ah, yes!” eagerly. “Almost every lady here--knowing by intuition how
I would regard it--has told me this. And to each I have expressed my
delight. Butter! how fragrant--how mellow! It is for you the perfect
origin. Clover and hay and the sweet things of earth! Butter! It
enraptures me to think your childish hands played in the churn with
what Nature alone had produced.” He caught her hands and kissed them
fervently.

“So that is how you think of it?” she smiled.

“Hush; I wish to play you the little Tschaikowsky.”

He leaned his head over the instrument again and began to play.
Watching him, she noted the whitening temple-locks against the coal
black of his hair where it had not turned, and the lines in his thin,
dark-skinned face, and wondered what sorrow had written these marks of
age upon so young a man.

“I am thirty-five,” he had once said to her. “I tell you only what all
the world knows.” This last was a pet phrase of his in relating details
about himself. She understood by it that, in some brilliant circle far
from Roseborough, he had been a concert artist of note.

When the little air was ended, she said:

“I have learned the accompaniment to that. We will play it this
evening. You have heard from Mrs. Lee that I am having a few guests for
an hour or so this evening.”

“No! I have not heard. I went just now to play for Mrs. Lee, whom I
love with a reverent affection. But I saw through the windows that
she had a woman there, and oh, such a running hither and thither with
towels and candles and so forth! So I stole silently away. I will come,
dear Rosamond, and we will play. But now I must go home to Mütterlein
Hackensee, who will have made a simple but perfect meal for me. She
will be so distressed that I am not there to eat it fresh from her
hands.”

“I see Mr. Andrews coming over the top of the hill. If you wait a
moment you will just catch him below the wall here, and he will drive
you home.”

“Ah! So? That is excellent. Rosamond, to-day, an hour ago, perhaps, I
made a wonderful discovery. I felt like some poor simple-minded peasant
who finds a sacred relic. I, also, wished to kneel, in awe and joy,
before a holy thing which I could not understand because my mind could
not grasp it. You are my dear sister and my spiritual kin, and to you I
will tell what I found.”

“What? Tell me,” she said gently.

“I discovered that I am Richard Frei--a man, like any other man; and
that I may love and marry--like any man. The amazement of it has
overwhelmed me.”

The rapt intensity in his eyes forbade her to smile. With a spontaneous
movement of sympathy she slipped her hand into his arm.

“But why does that amaze you? The right to love is given to every
man--to all the world. It has always been so.”

He looked at her in silence for a few moments; a sensitive quiver
passed over his face and his eyes filled.

“It is true,” he said at last, slowly. “It is true--that strange,
wonderful thing you have said there. It _is_ given to every man to love
one woman and to be loved by her. Oh, marvellous! I can no longer
believe that once I saw men who had not known the feeling of gratitude.”

She pressed his arm kindly, but did not try to speak.

Mr. Andrews’ cart wheels sounded near by. Rosamond withdrew her hand
then, and smilingly reminded him:

“You’ll have to run to catch him. His nag always canters down hill. It
has cast-iron knees.”

“Adieu. Till to-night.” He ran through the slanting orchard toward the
wall, calling back to her twice:

“To-night,” and, “later, I come.”

She watched him disappear among the trees, and presently heard the cart
stop, then go on again.

The last russet gold of sunset and the gray and purple of oncoming
twilight mingled over the gleaming river. One star shone high above
Villa Rose.

“It is night now,” she thought, as she looked at the star. “My
Wonderful Day is ended. And _he_ never came to say, ‘Good-morning,
Rosamond!’”

Turning, she caught a glimpse of Mrs. Lee’s dove-gray dress. She went
up the path to meet her. Together they walked across the garden and
into Villa Rose.

The black-whiskered man, stooping among the shadows, stole to the gate
and watched Rosamond until she disappeared. Then he disposed himself
comfortably on the grass under a pear tree and covered his face with
his hat. Anon his heavy breathing and zizz-z-zing told the rival
locusts and crickets that he slept.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIV


“Industrious lady! You have brought fancy work of some kind!” Rosamond
pointed to the little crocheted bag hanging from the older woman’s
wrist.

“Oh, no. Just a bit of lace I’m mending. What an exquisite twilight. It
seems a pity to turn on artificial light. Your lighting scheme is very
beautiful; but, nevertheless, I’ve always wondered that Mr. Mearely
did not keep to candles. They seem more harmonious with his antiques.
Electricity is so modern.”

“Mr. Mearely thought that electric light was a great protection. He
used to say that a burglar might come into the house, and clear out
with the most priceless of his antiques, while he himself was hunting
for the intruder with a candle, and that a draught, or even the burglar
himself, might blow out the candle; but that, with electric light,
one need only turn a button and the guilty party would be discovered
and confounded. It was his theory that a sudden blaze of light always
frightens wrongdoers.”

Mrs. Lee was composing herself on the large settee near the fireplace.
She exchanged her ordinary glasses for her “fine work” spectacles and,
setting thimble, scissors, and thread on the little table at the end of
the settee, she drew out of the bag a small, circular frame holding the
kerchief she was darning.

“Personally, I think he really wanted his art objects properly lit up
at night, so that he could sit in his swivel chair and look at them all
in turn.” Rosamond turned on the last of the little, separate lamps.
Then she opened a drawer in her inlaid desk at the back of the room,
near the door to the music room, and took out a pack of cards.

“I think this is the pack they had last. Mrs. Witherby is very hard
on cards--especially when she is losing. She tears the edges with her
teeth.”

“An intense nature, poor dear woman. Her married life, though otherwise
ideal, I fear was stormy. She was wildly jealous, poor soul; without
cause, I’m sure. I know Mr. Witherby came to my husband for advice
about it. ‘Tell me, for heaven’s sake, what to do with Emma,’ he said.
He was distracted.”

Rosamond giggled.

“He should have asked Blake. Blake has very practical ideas.”

“Has he? I can hear you laughing, so I know you’re at some mischief.
But I will say, nevertheless, that I believe humble peasant folk, like
Blake and his kind, have many simple, natural ideas that would benefit
all of us. Peasant unions are frequently happier than the marriages of
intellectuals. For all your laughing, I dare say Blake could have given
Mr. Witherby good advice.”

Rosamond giggled again.

“He could! excellent advice! ‘Hemma ud a-ben a different ’ooman if
Timothy Blake had ’ad ’er,’” she concluded, in fair mimicry of the
disciplinarian’s dialect.

“My dear husband told him there was nothing he could do with Emma, but
let time and patience prove her own folly to her. The poor man did not
live long, and I dare say she has often regretted her tantrums. I’m
afraid a good many married couples do have these times with each other.
The only things I ever scolded Professor Lee for were giving so much
money away, and being so unpunctual at meals; and that was only because
these were both so bad for him. But though his generosity did bring us
to very slender means and a tiny cottage, we had enough for our needs
after all; and I wouldn’t really have changed his nature, in this
respect, if I could. It is something of a problem to be both liberal
and cautious at the same time; and I confess the Lees never solved that
problem.” She laughed.

Rosamond, finding that a ten-spot was so torn that its identity could
not be hidden from any player who had once held it, was seeking through
the desk for another pack.

“Look, Mrs. Lee!” she called; “Look and tremble.”

“Dear me, what is it?” Mrs. Lee turned and tried to peer across the
room through her “fine work” spectacles. “It’s all a blur to me.”

“This!” Rosamond came over and stood beside her with something gleaming
in her hand. “An engine of destruction.”

“Good heavens, child! a revolver? I do hope it is not loaded.” She
drew back in trepidation from the shining toy with its mother-of-pearl
handle. Rosamond laughed.

“It’s a kind of revolver. It’s a pistol. And it _is_ loaded!”

“Dear, dear. What for? Are you afraid of marauders? Perhaps having all
these valuable art objects in the house makes you nervous; but I am
sure there is no need of pistols. Roseborough never has experiences of
that sort.”

“No,” she laughed. “I’m not afraid. I remember I took it with me two
weeks ago, when Wilton and I went riding with Miss Crewe and Corinne
into the other valley beyond Charleroy. I wanted to prove to him that I
could hit objects at a certain distance. And I did. Mr. Mearely taught
me to shoot and he said I had a straight eye. He was a crack shot
himself, you know. I remember now that I put it in that drawer when
we all came in for tea. Amanda made such a fuss about my keeping it
upstairs. She seemed to think I would get up and commit suicide in my
sleep. I wanted to teach the two girls to fire it, but they wouldn’t
learn, and they screamed every time I popped it off. So it wasn’t a
very successful shooting-party.”

She returned to the desk and slipped the pistol back into its drawer.

“I think I’ll put this new pack in an envelope and write on the outside
‘Losers should not bite.’ If I indulged in Mrs. Witherby’s manners,
she’d be the first to say that nothing else was to be expected from a
farm urchin! But, in her, they are a sign of the aristocrat’s fiery
soul! Pooh!” She put the cards in the centre of the large table.

“It is incredible to me how any one so beautiful as you are to-night
can be so naughty! I had almost said----” Mrs. Lee paused and looked
with mock severity over her glasses.

“What?” with airy defiance.

“‘Spiteful,’ was the word I _almost_ said.”

“I thought you did say it!” The unrepentant one tiptoed over and kissed
her.

“Well, if I did, I might better have kept my breath to cool my
porridge, as the country folk say. My wise rebukes do not seem to
benefit you in the least to-day.”

“Well, you mustn’t scold, for I baked Dom--I mean, Mr. Falcon’s cake,
and it is a marvel of flavoured architecture. It looks like a new
Parthenon--with raisin and fig filling.”

“Then no wonder you will not take reproof from me! And I suppose you
would say I am an ungrateful old woman to attempt to scold you. Very
well. You shall be as wicked as ever you please.”

“And when I have set all Roseborough by the ears, you will come and
straighten things out for me?”

“Oh, surely!” She smiled.

“Hark! The first carriage wheels. It will be the Wellses. They always
arrive first because they have farthest to come.” Rosamond ran to the
verandah. “They are not very far ahead this evening, though; because
Mrs. Witherby’s barouche is just behind.”

In a moment Mrs. Lee heard her exchanging good-evenings with the
arrivals. Then Dr. Wells’s deliberate but hearty voice greeted her from
the steps.

“Ah! there is Mrs. Lee. Well! Well! What an honour! Though, as the
one man in Roseborough who is responsible for the health of the
community--even as our Mrs. Witherby is responsible for its morals
_here_, and the vicar for its status _hereafter_, te-he-he--I ought to
order you home to bed at once. Anyone of your young years should be
asleep at this hour, especially when you keep up the habit of rising at
daybreak.”

Dr. Wells seldom spoke without making a little oration. He was wont to
say that he took his own time about everything because, the time being
his own, he knew he had plenty of it, and no one else had the right
to call him to account for his expenditure of it. That he frequently
forced others to spend a great deal of _their_ own time, in listening
to him wind away from exordium to peroration, was a point he did not
take into his consideration. He was a fine specimen of a fine type,
namely the country doctor of the old school who was constantly to be
seen in all weathers carrying hope and pills, human affection and
gray powders, camomile and cheer, into anxious homes, and caring far
less about his fee than about the patient’s relief. He was short and
stocky--a deep-chested, stout, sound, and roll-shaped body, every hard
layer of fat-protected gristle daring weather and disease to come
on and see what would happen to them. Nature had formed him to be a
country physician; for country folk put their faith only in doctors who
are never ill themselves. A doctor’s health is a country superstition.

It is the sadder, therefore, to be obliged to relate that Dr.
Wells--and his wife, also, for she was, in this temptation, even weaker
morally than himself--had become addicted to dyspepsia. There was
not a thing the matter with their interior mechanisms, really, but
some strain of notoriety-love had led him and his spouse to affect
this delicacy of constitution in order to remind people perpetually
that he was a cousin of Dr. Mayhew Pipp of London who had discovered a
remedy for the burning aftermath of the sin of gluttony--a pellet that
extinguished the fires of the inferno within. It must also be stated
that this pose was losing for Dr. Wells some of that confidence in
his immunity without which no medicine man can treat persons to their
profit or his own--in the country.

He took off his light topcoat, hat, and thin, white silk scarf, [of
the old school, he believed in bundling up for driving, at night,
regardless of the weather,] and laid them on a bamboo seat on the
verandah. His outer coverings removed, there emerged an apple-rosy,
rotund face, with white hair, moustache, and whiskers about it, every
hirsute atom crisp and electrical with health. The very man, one would
say, to enter a sick room; for the patient would inevitably cry: “No
matter what it is, give _me_ the dose _you_ take!”

“And where is Mrs. Wells?” Mrs. Lee inquired, as the doctor came down,
leaving the ladies still unwinding their wraps, with Mrs. Mearely’s aid.

“Ah! in bed. Yes, the dear soul. In bed. Another dyspeptic attack.
But she insisted on my coming without her. She knows that whist is my
weakness, and, being glad that I have no worse vices, she encourages
it. It is most satisfactory, my dear lady, to indulge in vices approved
of by one’s wife.” Smiling, he seated himself beside her.

“Well! There is our dear Mrs. Lee!” Mrs. Witherby sailed down upon her.
“What a surprise! I had no idea we should find you here!”

What more she might have said, in this vein, was curbed by a
supercilious glance from her niece, who bent to kiss Mrs. Lee’s left
cheek as soon as her aunt had completed her osculations on the other
one. Mrs. Witherby knew that Mabel was in a dangerous humour; and
she recalled that, at times, on far less provocation, Miss Crewe
had succeeded in conveying to an assembly her doubts of her aunt’s
truthfulness. Avoiding danger, therefore, she drew away from the settee
and seated herself at the table.

“Cards!” she cooed. “Isn’t that delightful? And a new pack, too! How
thoughtful of you, dear Mrs. Mearely, to get us a new pack. The others
were really rather spoiled. Men are so rough in their handling of
cards.”

Mrs. Witherby was, like Dr. Wells, less an individual than a type.
She was symbolic of efficiency, as the village understood the term.
That is, never having been obliged to do anything herself to satisfy
others, she felt completely competent to give anyone directions about
any task whatsoever. She knew how _she_ wanted things done, and had a
rooted conviction that she was the only person in the community whose
pleasure or approval mattered in the least. She was rather overwhelming
in appearance, being of more than medium height, and decidedly more
than medium breadth. Furthermore, she wore both those anatomical
protuberances cited by the ancient Hebraic scribes as perilous
next-door neighbours for a humble and a contrite heart--namely, the
proud bosom and the high stomach.

Her two chins reposed between the upper folds of her fichu, for she
held her head haughtily with chins in, brow high, eyebrows elevated,
eyes alert and ready to snap with indignation at the stupidity and
impropriety constantly affronting them, and mouth slightly open,
prepared to exclaim the scathing contempt surging within her for anyone
and everyone whose views on any subject differed from Emma Crewe
Witherby’s.

Her hair was but slightly touched with gray and she was still doing
all she could to conceal the blanched tendrils. She made an erection
of her tresses, after the tongs had crimped every strand, till the
formation suggested an overturned cornucopia; she then inset it with
tortoiseshell pins. Her dress was a plum-coloured brocade with black
velvet train, and elbow sleeves of brocade. Her fichu and her sleeves
were trimmed with Honiton lace. “A gentlewoman should adorn her
station,” was one of her favourite axioms. Three fourths of the money
spent on dress in her household went to assist her in living up to the
saying. The rest was sufficient to buy girlish muslins for Corinne, who
was “too young for silks,” being barely eighteen.

Mabel Crewe, who was twenty-five--and handsome, in a slim, dusky,
reserved fashion (with sulphurous suggestions underneath it)--was
provided for with her aunt’s cast-offs, which her own clever fingers
converted into passable, though not suitable, raiment for her comely
young body. She was in black silk to-night. The long skirt hid the
fact that her hose were not silk and that her slippers were rubbed in
places. Her well-shaped white arms and slender throat were oddly set in
Aunt Emma’s old _peau de soie_, but perhaps whiter by contrast.

This last was Wilton Howard’s opinion as his gaze sought and lingered
on her. He had driven up so closely upon the other two vehicles that
the sound of his wheels had not been heard. He stood on the verandah,
divesting himself of his topcoat. Anticipation of the only happiness
she knew--her few words and stolen moments with this man--made Mabel
Crewe keener than the others to detect his noiseless presence. She
turned and saw him, this handsome, well-bred, shallow young gentleman,
surveying her with admiration in his eyes and a frown between his
brows. Perchance the frown meant that he was resentful of her power
to stir him, since nothing could come of it but disappointment. In
Roseborough, persons of his and Miss Crewe’s birth and kindred could
not marry on nothing but love. Their families, and Roseborough,
demanded of them that they settle themselves properly in life, to keep
up appearances.

Her eyes met his and a movement went through her, like the slightest
swaying of a tree; but, after the first instant, her face revealed
nothing. It was proud, indifferent--cold, one might almost have said,
but for the undercurrents tingling through her and stirring the depths
of her eyes.

“Good-evening, Mr. Howard,” she called in her leisurely voice--a voice
refined and musical in quality and indifferent in its inflections. She
turned her back on him and moved to the settee where Dr. Wells and Mrs.
Lee were still in conversation.

“Mr. Howard has arrived, and I am sure Judge Giffen and Mr. Andrews
cannot be far off. Doctor, you will presently be rejoicing in beating
Aunt Emma at cards. That is, if she is not your partner. If she _is_
your partner, then you can rejoice in being beaten for her sake, with
many stripes.”

“I heard every word of that, Mabel,” Mrs. Witherby declared, with a
little more asperity than usual. “You delight to undermine my intellect
in the ears of my friends. As to cards, I frequently say, and without
egotism, that there is not a woman in Roseborough who plays a better
hand than I.”

Corinne Witherby giggled at this.

“I heard the Judge say one evening that no doubt there is no woman in
Roseborough who plays a _better_ hand than some he has seen you hold,
Mamma; and that he is positive no other woman in the world would play a
_good_ hand in the way he’s seen you play some of yours.”

“Corinne!”

“Oh, it’s no use reproving me! If I am old enough to play cards with
you, I’m old enough to criticise the way you play your hands.”

“Corinne, be quiet. I am speaking to Mrs. Mearely. I fear I’ve spoiled
you by making such a companion of you. You should be in the schoolroom.”

“But, I’m not!” Corinne cried, merrily. She was thinking little of what
she said; for her eyes, round as saucers, were devouring Rosamond in
her rose-and-silver trappings.

“Isn’t Mrs. Mearely too beautiful for words to-night?” she whispered
into her cousin’s ear.

“Who is she to have everything? Any one could be beautiful in such a
frock,” was the bitter reply.

Corinne’s arm went round Mabel’s slim waist. She whispered again:

“You look beautiful, too--even if your dress is plainer than hers. When
I am twenty-one, and mamma gives me some of the handsome things out of
the big box, I’m going to divide everything half and half with you.”

“Oh, Corinne!” she smiled. “Perhaps, when you’re twenty-one, you won’t
want to divide.”

“I’ll want to, more! Because I’ll be three and a half years fonder of
you than I am now.”

Seeing Mr. Howard manœuvring his greetings so that he could conclude
them naturally at Mabel’s side, Corinne withdrew. She was a pretty
little creature, plump, rosy, and lively. Her white muslin frock, the
work of her cousin’s clever fingers, set off her black, curly hair and
big, bright brown eyes. Mrs. Taite could never have cast her doubts
upon Corinne in her muslins, for the guileless heart made itself
evident in all her words and acts. One surmised--from her buoyancy
and sweetness of temper, and a native thoughtfulness she had for the
sensibilities of others--that her father, the late Jameson Witherby,
Esquire, had taken a good disposition away from earth with him when he
had quitted the side of his Emma--until that day when an overworked
Providence (meaning only to be systematic, not unkind) should re-unite
them for all eternity.

“Mrs. Mearely, do come aside a moment. I must ask you something.” Mrs.
Witherby took Rosamond firmly by the arm.

“It is my dress she is after!” Rosamond thought. “Ask; I’m all
attention,” she said.

“Your gown. Do tell me now, have you put off _all_--even the smallest
hint--of mourning?... _Permanently?_” She added the last word with
heavy emphasis.

“Yes. Even to the last, smallest hint. Permanently.”

“Indeed? Indeed?”

“Yes. Indeed and indeed!”

“Of course, I felt sure you would not resent my questions. Though if
any one else asked you, you might ask, in return, what business it was
of theirs. And I, for one, should back you up in that; for, if there
is one thing above another which I neither can nor will tolerate, it
is inquisitiveness. Why pry into the affairs of others? Whose business
is it but their own? That is what I say. All Roseborough knows what I
think about busybodying and gossip.”

“Yes; that is very true. All Roseborough knows.... By the way,
Roseborough has behaved beautifully to my mourning, never resenting
that it shadowed the pleasure of teas and little gatherings,
when--er--joy should have been unconfined. I am showing Roseborough how
well I understand it, and how grateful I am for its forbearance, by
returning to colours--the brightest and cheeriest I can select.” She
beamed sweetly.

“Oh!--oh-h? Really?” Mrs. Witherby felt her sails slacken as the wind
was taken out of them.

“To-morrow, at Mrs. Lee’s breakfast, I shall wear white--a very simple
frock. But to-night I have put this one on, to introduce myself in my
new character--first, to you and Mrs. Lee and our closest intimates.
You can understand how I would naturally do so?” She smiled again, more
sweetly.

“Oh, yes. Oh-h, ye-es! I understand it perfectly. Oh, _perfectly_! Are
you sure, my dear Mrs. Mearely, that you do not intend to make a little
announcement ere we leave to-night?”

“An announcement?”

“Judge Giffen is to be here--ah, he _is_ here! I didn’t see him come
in. It is very sweet of you to say that you have dressed yourself
so charmingly, to-night, to give pleasure to _my_ eyes, but are you
sure--are you _sure_” (she wagged a forefinger playfully) “that you
didn’t put on that ineffable gown to charm a _lover_?”

In spite of herself, Rosamond’s eyes snapped and the red flamed in her
cheeks.

“Not only sure, but certain and positive,” she said tartly.

Mrs. Witherby, much pleased to see the flush and discomposure, smiled,
bridled, and said:

“Well, we shall see what we shall see! and I feel confident we shall
know a great deal more about our dear Mrs. Mearely to-morrow. The sweet
blush is _most_ becoming.”

Knowing that she had the worst of the encounter and could not easily
recover, Rosamond was glad to be obliged to give her attention to the
Judge. She showed a proper solicitude regarding his misadventures on
horseback and made gracious response to his compliments.

Presently Mr. Andrews and Dr. Frei arrived. The latter, violin-case
in hand, loitered by Miss Crewe and Wilton Howard, who had seated
themselves on the verandah to observe the young moon rise over the
river, defiant of the wrath their _tête-à-têtes_ always aroused in Mrs.
Witherby’s breast. While it could be said of even the stocky doctor
that he wore evening dress naturally, and looked as if the coat--which
classifies all who wear it as either gentlemen or waiters--_belonged_
to him, yet it must be admitted that Dr. Frei brought a greater
distinction to the garment than did any other man in Roseborough.

Rosamond thought he carried his head like some _mæstro_ receiving the
homage of an enraptured public. As to features, he was less handsome
than Howard, and he lacked the smooth and respectfully caressing
manner which was the latter’s greatest charm to women; but there
was “an elegance about him”--as all Roseborough echoed Mrs. Witherby
in saying--that set him apart. Even Mrs. Witherby was baffled by his
manner. It stopped her questions before they were completed, making
her change their tenor and give them the semblance of innocent and
uninquisitive remarks.

Mr. Albert Andrews stood back surveying his hostess with a stare more
pop-eyed than usual. He knew _pink_ when he saw it; and he was seeing
pink. The silver overdress, however, raised a row of interrogation
points across the blank spaces of his mind. Mrs. Bunny had not shown
him silver’s place in the emotional scale. He was a cautious, sensitive
soul, and desired to avoid making himself ridiculous a second time. He
looked about for aid and anon decided that Dr. Wells, whose profession
brought him into intimate relations with death, was the man who should
know whether a silver overdress was a condition of mourning or not. He
drew him aside and asked the important question.

“Silver? Silver? God bless my soul, man, I don’t know. One sees a good
deal of it about.”

“I think I recall seeing silver wreaths on caskets?” Mr. Andrews
ruminated with questioning inflection.

“No doubt. No doubt. And on wedding cakes, too! Many a man wishes the
wreath that topped his wedding cake had adorned his casket instead.”
Dr. Wells was not interested in the subject, so he chuckled at his
own joke, gave Andrews a dig in the ribs, and made off to the whist
table, mentally resolving to have Corinne instead of her mother for his
partner. In this he was disappointed. Andrews had already asked Corinne
to play with him. He was practising gallantry, as well as colour
selection, to fit himself for the _rôle_ he wished to enact as the
master of the mistress of Villa Rose.

“I am eager to try the Tschaikowsky with you,” Frei said to Rosamond,
taking his violin from its case. “May we not play now?”

“Yes, certainly. We shall not be missed.”

She looked about at her guests and saw that they were all apparently in
contentment. Dr. Wells was dealing the cards, and the four at the table
were engrossed already with the pleasure to come. Howard and Mabel,
chatting in low tones on the verandah, had forgotten all the world
but each other. Mrs. Lee was absorbed in a difficult moment of her
lace-mending. The Judge had seated himself at the other end of the long
settee and descended into the profundities of the latest _Digest_.

Rosamond, lifting herself on tiptoe, put one finger on her laughing
lips and the other hand into Frei’s.

“Come,” she whispered.

Smiling delightedly at her prankishness, he clasped her fingers and
tiptoed with her into the music room.



CHAPTER XV


The musicians were not missed, and it is safe to say that, for some
time, their melody was unheard; not even the lovers on the verandah
lent ear to it, for Mabel was gathering her forces for an attack upon
all the conventions of maidenly reserve, while Howard was seeking
through the shallows of his diplomacy for some acceptable method of
writing “finis” across their romance. Each felt the secret strain and
battle within the other. They became silent, each waiting and guarding
against the other’s first move.

At the card table, as usual, the first rounds were played in silence.
The players were, as the saying is, “feeling one another out.” Judge
Giffen was not distracted, therefore, from the opening columns which
the _Digest_ had allotted to an “exclusive” bit of information supplied
by the young gentleman who acted as its special correspondent on the
Balkan peninsula. There was a page and a half of it. The Judge took off
his glasses--rubbed, and was replacing them, when Mrs. Lee addressed
him.

“I do hope you will find some charming item to regale us with, Judge
Giffen. I saw you tear off the wrapper so I know it is a new _Digest_.”

“Ah, yes--ah--just come, you know. A remarkable paper, the _Digest_.
Gives one the--ah--news of the world every week without a superfluous
word--ah--journalism in these days has become--ah--debauched. The
simplest events are distorted for sensationalism--ah--to wring tears
from the sentimentalists.”

“I’ve heard others say the same thing. What a pity, is it not?”

Mrs. Lee, finding that she could not turn a corner successfully, took
the kerchief out of the frame and drew the point of lace taut over her
thumb. Her motion attracted the judge’s attention and he watched her
deft fingers as he continued his strictures on journalism.

“A pity? A scandal! Does a celebrity die? We are intruded into the most
intimate details of his family history; what--ah--shaving soap he used
and whether he--ah--preferred to kiss his lady love on the--ah--nose
or behind the ear; and--ah--who cried, and how many, when he--ah--in
vulgar phrase--ah--‘kicked the bucket.’ And, mind you, not a word of
truth in the whole story! Whereas the _Digest_ merely states with
terseness and accuracy: ‘the--ah--Emperor of China died on Sunday,
of--ah--an overdose of--ah--bird’s-nest soup.’ It leaves you to infer
that, in the case of the death of a celebrated personage who met
thousands of people in his public life, there were some who cried and
some who--ah--did not. Any fool knows that, so why waste print on it?”

“My husband used to tell his students that, in literary composition,
sincerity was more important than rhetoric and that only a fine
_feeling_ could dictate the making of a truly fine _phrase_. He said
that pure English had come with the spiritual development of the race;
and that a forceful and intimate use of it must come about through the
individual writer’s spiritual evolution. Otherwise he claimed no man
could write with real power.”

“Ah. Um, very true. But all wasted on the--ah--young cubs, I dare say.”
The Judge wisely made no attempt to follow Professor Lee’s analyses.
Metaphysics was several points beyond him. He found the movements of
Mrs. Lee’s tiny needle, with its almost imperceptible gossamer thread,
more interesting.

“Ah. I have become quite absorbed in your work. It seems to be
so--ah--marvellously intricate. May I ask what, precisely, you are
doing?”

“I am mending a rare old cobweb of lace,” she answered--spreading the
white fragment across her palm for him to look at--“and, at the same
time, transferring it from its worn-out cambric to a new piece of
linen. A very delicate operation, judge; and a labour of love.”

“Ah! indeed?”

“Yes. It is for my granddaughter’s trousseau. She marries in December,
and--we feel confident--very happily. Yes, her intended seems a
thoroughly settled young man. She met him in Scotland.”

“It is a labour requiring both patience and skill, I should say.”

“I think that patience and skill are the two qualities required most in
any labour of love,” she answered, with gentle pleasure in the subject.
He peered at the dainty fabric as she cleverly set it into the frame
again.

“Now do find us some delicious item,” she urged.

“Ah. To be sure. Here’s something on the first page. I’ve just
begun--and it--ah--promises to be exciting, too, which is--ah--rather
unusual for the _Digest_.”

He had just found the place, preparatory to reading, when hubbub burst
about the card-table.

“Now, Mamma!” Corinne’s vigorous young voice broke in. “You simply
_cannot_ lead every time I take a trick. It’s--it’s ridiculous. This is
my play.”

“If the Witherbys are going to have a set to, there’ll be no use in my
reading aloud till they’ve fought it out,” the Judge said to himself,
and lost himself as promptly as possible in the “exclusive.”

“Corinne! You are speaking to your mother!” Mrs. Witherby so informed
her daughter, when she could get her breath. Dr. Wells hastened to
intervene.

“I think,” he said, “that on the whole it might be as well to play
in turn. Of course, I make no rule”--a deprecating gesture toward
his bristling partner forbade her to think he would presume to make
rules for her--“but it is generally done, I believe.” He rose, beamed
benignly. “Your card.” He passed it to her.

Corinne tossed her head at her mother and led the round.

When her turn came, Mrs. Witherby threw down the knave of hearts and
gathered up the cards.

“Trumps! Our trick, doctor,” she cried victoriously. Her success was
greeted with a profound silence, broken at last by Dr. Wells; he
coughed. Andrews, seeing that Corinne was about to express herself with
her customary frankness, flung himself into the breach.

“Er--you overlooked--oh, quite by accident, of course--er--you have the
three of clubs in your hand.”

“I refuse to play with any one--_any one_--who is capable of looking at
my hand.”

The sensitive Mr. Andrews turned the peony-red which is specially
inflicted upon sandy, blond men.

“I did not look at your hand,” he protested, with mild heat. “You
played the three of clubs when you led off, just now, in your
daughter’s place--oh, by mistake, of course. It is still in your hand.”

“Your card,” the doctor murmured, politely handing it to her. Corinne
gathered up the trick.

“Another round finishes the game. Come on, Mrs. Witherby. You must put
your best foot forward and cast these young people into the shade,” Dr.
Wells urged in his cheeriest tones, obviously endeavouring to banish
the sour gloom that had settled on his partner’s spirit. A darting,
knifelike glance of her eyes told that he had failed.

“My foot is not of such dimensions as to cast a shade over two
persons,” sourly. “I don’t understand your allusion.”

Again the peace-loving Andrews flew like the dove upon the storm.

“Of course, Mrs. Witherby, you will be one of Mrs. Lee’s breakfast
party to-morrow?” he said, and thus gave Mrs. Lee the opportunity she
needed. She had begun to wonder how she was to introduce her topic
sympathetically in the discordant atmosphere of one of Mrs. Witherby’s
“card-game humours.”

“Did I hear my name?” she asked, turning to them.

“I mentioned your breakfast party,” Andrews replied quickly. “It is to
be at eleven o’clock, is it not?”

“Yes. But everyone is to be there by a quarter to eleven, so that we
can be prompt in beginning.”

“To be sure. Ah. The breakfast party.” The Judge looked over his paper.

“Do tell us about it,” Mrs. Witherby interjected. “I am simply bored
with these cards.”

“Mr. Falcon will arrive at Trenton Waters on the morning train, and
I am sure he will prefer to ramble across the fields to Roseborough.
I suppose I am a little old-fashioned, but I wished him to feel that
all the town was welcoming him home--not only the widow of his old
professor.” She sighed and smiled.

“_Dear_ Mrs. Lee,” Mrs. Witherby exclaimed, effusively. “That is _so_
like you.”

Encouraged by this responsiveness, Mrs. Lee continued more hopefully:

“You see, there was a good deal of comment when Jack left college
so abruptly. There had just come the opportunity, through Professor
Lee, to teach languages--for which Jack had a rare gift--and certain
classes in literature also. That was quite an honour for a young man of
twenty-one. And to think he threw it all away just to go out into the
world and see what was to be seen!”

“Well, well,” Mr. Andrews said, as she paused; “I’d never have done
that. But, then, it isn’t my nature.”

“Roseborough was inclined to be indignant,” Mrs. Lee admitted. “But
my husband felt--and said openly--that there might be wisdom in his
wandering. Indeed he was the only one who stood the boy’s friend in the
matter. Sixteen years ago. Ah, me!” She bent over her lace, because her
eyes were wet.

The Judge looked over the edge of his paper again.

“I can’t place him. Falcon, do you say?”

“Yes, Jack Falcon.”

He shook his head.

“I don’t think I ever knew him.”

Dr. Wells had just dealt for a new game, but he lingered in picking up
his cards to say:

“Doubtless I treated him for measles, in his turn--along with every
other child in the district--but I have not a clear remembrance of him
as a young man. Was he on any of the athletic teams, do you remember?”

“Oh, he was past the measles stage when he came to Roseborough! He
would trudge for miles through the woods; but I remember that he hated
sports.”

“That accounts for my very hazy recollection of him. I was never called
from my Thanksgiving turkey to set his collarbone.”

He laughed cosily at his own repartee, and played, since Mrs. Witherby
had opened the game and his turn had come. His ruddy brow was rolled up
in furrows, though, because it was difficult to follow his partner’s
play at any time--more than difficult while conversing upon an alien
subject.

“The boy wasn’t one to--to ‘mix,’ as they say. He was devoted to my
dear husband. Professor Lee had a wonderful understanding of all
growing things--he loved them. Ah, well,” she sighed tenderly. “Jack
was much with us. He had his room here--the music room it is now--for
of course he knew us in our palmy days when we lived here, before Mr.
Mearely’s time. We loved him dearly and he never forgot us. He always
wrote to my husband at least twice a year, and--afterward--to me. When
I decided to publish the professor’s manuscripts, the boy wrote--he was
in the Balkans then--offering his services as editor, out of gratitude
and love for him who is gone. So you see why my heart is very tender
toward him, and why I am asking you all, dear friends, to join me
to-morrow in his welcome home.”

“Oh, Mrs. Lee,” Corinne cried, clapping her hands, “I think it’s
lovely!”

“Such a sweet notion!” her mother opined, and to show that her interest
was genuine, asked, with point: “Has he made any _money_?”

“Ah, I fancy he has,” Mrs. Lee said. “A little; though for years his
was a hand-to-mouth existence. Recently, I know, he was handsomely paid
by a wealthy gentleman of title....”

“Title?” Mrs. Witherby interrupted excitably.

“Yes, indeed--if my failing memory serves me--I believe he was almost
if not quite a _royal_ personage.”

“_Royal?_”

“But that reminds me of something that will stir your pride, I know,
as it stirred mine. There was a little prose poem of Professor Lee’s,
_about Roseborough_.” She beamed at them all.

“Quite a good subject for a poem, I dare say,” the Judge remarked.
“Personally, I never read a poem--though even the _Digest_ prints them,
to fill in.”

“I sent it to Jack,” Mrs. Lee hastened on--to forestall any discussion,
pro and con poetry--“hoping that it might revivify his memories
and lead him home from his wanderings. He showed it to this titled
gentleman, who was so charmed with it that he begged for a copy and
asked many question, about our dear old town.”

There were pleased and reverent murmurs from every one, and Howard, who
had also been listening, said:

“Very flattering.”

Miss Crewe kept her shoulder turned, and refused to let her thoughts
leave their main purpose to sympathize with her natal hamlet’s pride.

“It begins so beautifully,” Mrs. Lee continued. “Listen: ‘Here where
all hearts are tender and sincere.’”

“‘Here where all hearts are tender and sincere,’” Mrs. Witherby echoed,
rolling her eyes. “How lovely! One would know at once that meant
Roseborough.”

The phrase had caught Andrews’s ear. In playing, he parroted vacantly:

“‘Here where all hearts are tender and sincere!’ Very nice. Trumps.”

Mrs. Witherby returned to the item of greatest interest to her.

“But, dear Mrs. Lee, you spoke just now of his being handsomely paid
for something. What was he paid for, and how much was it?”

“Oh, yes. For designing a great pleasure garden for the peasants of
that place. But I don’t know the amount.”

“Oh, he is a landscape gardener now?” Andrews asked. He was an amateur
horticulturist, in a very small way, himself, and enjoyed gardening
details. The judge, whose interest in Mr. Falcon was exhausted, had
returned to his paper. Mrs. Lee laughed.

“No. Not a gardener. He is a writer. But one who can write on the
earth, if pencil and pad fail him. A practical poet--if you can
call ‘practical’ a man who roams the world in search of beauty, or
of conditions which will allow him to _make_ them beautiful. The
professor delighted in saying--oh, figuratively, of course--that one
could easily recognize the true artist, because his fingers are always
knuckle-deep in earth-dust; whereas the dilettante’s fingers are
chiefly remarkable for nail-polish.”

“And, there, I entirely agree with him! As I am constantly telling
Corinne, I consider the way people polish their nails, nowadays, is
positively vulgar.” Mrs. Witherby spoke emphatically and played her
card with a righteous flourish.

“Mamma! It’s my lead.” There was more than a suggestion of anger in
Corinne’s voice.

Bowing, Dr. Wells handed his partner her card, saying politely:

“Your card.”

“Corinne, you watch me like a hawk; as if you thought your own mother
would cheat you if you weren’t looking.”

“Ah! but I always _am_ looking,” that young lady cried gayly.

There was a lull at the table after this family tilt, and the Judge
seized the occasion to share the “exclusive,” which had proved too
thrilling to be kept to himself.

“Ah--give me your attention a moment. I have just read in my _Digest_,
here, such a peculiar tale. A reigning prince of some little European
state has run off.”

“Dear, dear,” Mrs. Lee said. “Was it a love-affair?”

“Ah--not precisely: though a princess had been arranged for him.”

Even Miss Crewe felt a degree of interest in a run-away prince, or
perhaps she felt that she had challenged her aunt’s wrath long enough.
She rose, as her cousin called to her:

“Oh, Mabel, come and hear about the prince. Do tell us more, Judge
Giffen.”

The Judge consulted his paper.

“Um--ah--here it is. Um--ah--odd chap. Very chivalrous
and--ah--romantic; eccentric; fond of wandering about, incognito, and
entering humble people’s houses and--ah--making friends with them.
Artistic. No love-affair suspected, but--ah--it seems he has never
enjoyed _ruling_. Too sensitive. Been missing for months. The Court
tried to--ah--hide the fact, but it is out now, and the whole world
is aware that His Highness--wait a minute till I find the place, for
it’s a fearful name. Ah--here it is. His Highness, Prince Adam Lapid,
reigning Duke of Woodseweedsetisky”--he stumbled over it badly.

“Good gracious!” Mabel said.

“Ah--His Highness has abdicated and run away in disguise, leaving a
letter. Ah--this is the letter. Listen”:

    Dear Subjects, Councillors, and neighbouring Princes, including
    Her Highness Princess Olga of Damala-Binootshia, to whom
    processes of state have affianced me although I have never seen
    her. I herewith and hereby abdicate and renounce my hereditary
    right to the throne of Woodseweedsetisky. I am too sensitive to
    endure the criticisms aimed at royalty by heartless radicals.
    Recently I have received harsh words from a visiting, untitled
    stranger, whom I had employed in executing a beneficent and
    beautiful plan for my ungrateful subjects. It was not my fault
    that it was, later, found to be impossible to bring the water
    to the top of the mountain, where I had insisted that the
    fountain--a memorial to my father--be erected. Criticism of me
    on that account was unjust and cruel. It was not I who failed,
    but the water. I abdicate. I go to a place where there is no
    criticism. Farewell.

                        ADAM LAPID.

“Well! What a....”

The Judge silenced the interrupting chorus. “A postscript.”

    P. S. People who criticise me are ignorant. If they knew as
    much as I do they would act as I do. As for the visiting
    stranger--a person of no antecedents--who criticised me because
    of the fountain, I have put him in prison. Let him see whether
    his pointed criticisms are sharp enough to pick my prison
    locks. The top of the mountain was the proper place for the
    memorial fountain to my honoured father. It was not my fault
    that the water did not arrive there to spout. But when this
    stranger of humble birth said to me, “I told you water will not
    run uphill, even to oblige a prince,” I put him in the prison.
    Farewell.

“Now, that’s a remarkable tale, eh?”

“He’s quite mad, of course,” Howard said. Dr. Wells wanted to know what
became of the man who designed the fountain where the water would not
arrive to spout.

“Oh--ah--he escaped.”

“So his criticisms _were_ sharp enough to pick locks,” the doctor
chuckled, as joyfully as if the original jest had been his.

“Ah. Quite so. The Councillors suspected at first that the prince’s
disappearance and--ah--the whole thing was an anarchistic plot. But
they are satisfied now that he really ran off of his own accord.”

“Oh, isn’t it thrilling?” Corinne clapped her hands again. Her large,
round eyes had been growing larger and larger, throughout the recital,
till it was impossible for them to stretch any more.

“I hope he’ll keep his freedom, poor dear, and let the kingdom rage,”
Mabel said. There was a bitterness in her intonation, which always drew
her aunt’s anger, for Mrs. Witherby held that Mabel should feel humbled
under the weight of gratitude.

“No doubt you feel so, Mabel,” she said, acidly. “But most of us
recognize duty and the importance of the world’s opinion. Ah! there is
our sweet hostess.”

“Did we disturb you with our melodic outcries?” Rosamond asked,
blithely. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes shining.

“We heard you, of course,” Andrews remarked--meaning to be polite. He
was leading a new round.

“You made _criticisms_?” the violinist asked, darkly.

“Oh, my dear Dr. Frei, we were charmed--utterly charmed.”

Frei acknowledged Mrs. Witherby’s impressive compliment with a low bow.
He was very grave.

“Dr. Frei plays _so_ beautifully.” Rosamond thought she saw his sad
mood coming upon him, and was eager to ward it off with sympathetic
eulogies. Mrs. Lee, unawares, abetted her.

“Dear Dr. Frei, how much you have added to the natural charm of our
dear old town by bringing your violin, and opening your little studio
among us.”

Frei bent and kissed her hand.

“You have a kind heart,” he said, gratefully. “_You_ criticise no one.”

“Oh, I hope not,” she replied. “The Judge has just been telling us
about a poor dear man out in the great world--ah, well! Life must be
very different in the vast cities, where people are strangers instead
of neighbours. Think of that! Strangers instead of neighbours! How
fortunate I am to live in Roseborough, where everybody is so interested
in everybody else. Dear Mrs. Witherby, in particular, takes such an
interest.” She patted that lady’s arm. Mrs. Witherby, having lost
the last round, had left the table. “Ah, well, that is the spirit of
Roseborough.”

“Some might call it a meddlesome spirit,” Miss Crewe suggested.

“Oh, my dear child,” Mrs. Lee reproved her, affectionately.

“I think we will not allow Mabel to interpret the spirit of
Roseborough.” Mrs. Witherby was smilingly spiteful.

“Where did you learn to play?” Judge Giffen drew Frei aside.

“In Warsaw.”

“Ah! Indeed? I know Warsaw.” He began to relate to Dr. Frei whatever
incidents remained in his mind of his visit to the Polish capital,
twenty-five years before.

Mrs. Witherby was assisting Mrs. Lee in gathering up her fancywork,
scissors, spools and so forth, and was receiving in return that lady’s
ardent thanks for her help in notifying guests without telephones of
Mr. Falcon’s home-coming breakfast. Mabel lifted the old lady’s white
wool shawl and wrapped it about her.

“Oh, do come here, Mrs. Mearely!” cried Corinne, who was now alone at
the card table. She caught Rosamond’s hand and began excitedly, “Oh,
Mrs. Mearely, Judge Giffen has just read such a thrilling thing in the
_Digest_. Just think! a real prince has run away from his throne, and
taken a different name, but they don’t know what it is and--and--he’s
gone looking for a real romance--and they think he has hidden himself
in some little town. Oh! think; if he’d only come to Roseborough! Oh,
Mrs. Mearely,” she panted, “all my life I’ve wanted something wonderful
to happen in Roseborough!”

Rosamond laughed, noting Corinne’s breathless excitement rather than
her news.

“My dear Corinne, nothing will ever happen in Roseborough.”

Corinne almost wailed her protest at this hard saying.

“Oh, it _might_ happen! Think if the prince came here. Oh, he _might_,
Mrs. Mearely,” she pleaded. “_He might._”

Rosamond, smiling, shook her head. Seeing that Mrs. Lee was ready to
leave, she threw her own wrap around her.

“Now, I must be off to bed. I have overstayed.” Mrs. Lee was rejecting
Mrs. Witherby’s efforts to keep her “just another half hour.” “One must
go to sleep when the twilight ends, if one would really enjoy early
rising. I think I may almost say I have not missed a sunrise for twenty
years.”

“Sunrise?” Howard repeated, “I often wonder how you do it! I find
half-past eight almost too early.”

“Dr. Frei and I will go with you,” Rosamond said. Frei, hearing his
name, turned. The Judge followed him for the purpose of concluding his
arguments.

“As I was saying,” he insisted, “I have only one criticism to make of
Beethoven’s sonatas....”

Frei wheeled upon him, and silenced him with a commanding gesture.

“Do not make it!” he said, frowning fiercely as at the most hated
of enemies. “Beethoven is not here to defend himself. Ach! I detest
criticism. It is the speech of those who do not understand.”

The judge, feeling aggrieved at this public snubbing, walked off,
muttering under his breath: “Touchy fiddler!” Frei gave his arm to Mrs.
Lee.

“Good-bye, for the present.” Rosamond waited an instant to offer
cheer to her remaining guests, before joining Mrs. Lee and Frei on
the verandah. “Some of you will have time for another game before we
return. The chess board is just as you and Wilton left it, Judge. When
cards and chess pall, you will find sandwiches and salad, with perhaps
a jelly or two and some of Amanda’s parsnip wine on the dining-room
table. I know we can’t persuade Mrs. Lee.”

“No, dear, not in the evening. Good-night, dear friends. I shall see
you all at breakfast, to-morrow. A quarter to eleven. Don’t fail me.”

“We won’t!” Corinne called to her, above the calmer promises of the
older folk.

“Oh, joy! A new man is coming to Roseborough! Though I suppose he’s
pretty old,” she added, after Mrs. Lee and her two escorts had
disappeared. “Mrs. Lee calls men of fifty ‘dear boys,’ if they ever
went to Charleroy.”

Mrs. Witherby, Wells, and Andrews seated themselves at the card table.
For the moment, Mrs. Witherby’s mind was occupied with something more
important than cards. Assuring herself that her niece could not hear
her, she said:

“Mrs. Barton is not coming from Poplars Vale till next week, so I shall
try to persuade Mrs. Mearely to let me leave our Thomas to sleep in the
house here, to-night. With her sister absent, she is quite alone. You
know, I consider it _suspicious_ that her _two_ maids should have been
called to their sick mother’s bedside the same day that her coachman
was obliged to take the gray mare out to the farm. It leaves Mrs.
Mearely _quite_ alone. I consider it _very_ suspicious. I think Mrs.
Barton should have been sent for. I think it peculiar that Mrs. Mearely
herself did not tell me about it.”

Wells, who was dealing, replied humorously:

“But--the maids being sisters--naturally, if Jemima’s mother is ill, so
is Amanda’s mother, te-he-he.”

He was rewarded with a frosty glance.

“It pleases you to be facetious. Corinne, come--we are having another
game.”

Corinne came, none too willingly. The Judge, who had had enough of the
_Digest_ for that evening, nodded to Wilton.

“Er--shall we try the chessmen to-night, Howard? Perhaps Miss Crewe
will sit by and inspire us.”

Howard, anxious to avoid another tête-à-tête with Mabel, answered with
alacrity, “By all means.”

Mabel, yawning, sank among the cushions of the settee. She was not
interested in chess, but she could watch her lover’s profile from this
position.

“Oh, I wish there were something _young_ to do,” Corinne protested.
“Cards aren’t young.”

“I don’t consider it safe for Mrs. Mearely to remain alone to-night,”
Mrs. Witherby resumed. “A most villainous-appearing man with a
multitude of black whiskers has been seen lurking about. Johnson, the
butcher’s boy, told my maid, Hannah Ann, about it. He saw _him_!”

“I don’t think Mrs. Mearely is timid,” Andrews said.

“In my day, Mr. Andrews, it was not considered _well-bred_ for women
to make an exhibition of courage. They had it, but they suppressed
it under a mask of timidity and sensitiveness. And the girls married
easily at eighteen. And the widows were wives again before they had
reached the lavender stage of their mourning. I shall try to insist
on Mrs. Mearely’s keeping our Thomas to-night, and I do think it rash
of her to don such a rich and conspicuous gown when she is entirely
alone....”

“Oh, my trick again! Oh, goody!” Corinne broke in enthusiastically.

“Congratulations, fair partner.” Andrews thought he had done very well
with that speech. So did Corinne.

“Oh, you say such lovely things, Mr. Andrews!”

“Losing as usual, aunt?” Mabel’s tone was delicately unpleasant. It
angered her aunt.

“Not at all! I doubt if there is a woman in Roseborough who plays a
better hand.”

In turning to make her speech more impressive and to give Miss Crewe a
broadside, as it were, of her displeasure, she had a full view of the
verandah, and was in the nick of time to see a swarthy, black-whiskered
face, topped by a soft, black felt hat, slowly raised over the verandah
rail. She panted twice from terror’s cold shock; then screamed with all
her might. The apparition disappeared.

“Eh? What?” Dr. Wells looked up, jerkily, from his cards. Howard had
half risen, from habit, at the feminine cry of distress. The Judge,
peering over his pince-nez, offered a practical explanation.

“A beetle? The summer bugs do bite.”

“Mamma! I wish you wouldn’t shriek when there’s no need.”

Mrs. Witherby was angry now as well as frightened. She gestured
frantically and gasped.

“There--there! I _saw_ him! Oh! the terrible man! Oh, quick--catch
him--a man!”

She continued to point and wave and gasp at such a rate, that Judge
Giffen and Wilton Howard, concealing their mirth as best they could,
went to the verandah and made a perfunctory investigation. The movement
of their shoulders suggested that they were not looking over the
verandah rail so much as laughing over it. Miss Crewe gave herself up
to an almost hysterical hilarity.

“You have so much imagination, Aunt Emma.”

Dr. Wells cackled with delight, “Te-he-he! The cry of the eternal
feminine--‘Catch him! Catch the _man_!’ Te-he-he.”

“You _must_ have seen him!” Mrs. Witherby’s face was crimson with fury.
She would have liked to tear out all the mocking eyes now regarding her.

“Not even a tiger,” Howard informed her cheerfully.

“Nary cannibal,” the Judge added, with facetious looks and stepping
about on tiptoe as if in mortal fear of bogies.

“I _saw_ him! I saw....” Words failed her. She played her card blindly,
and took the trick. This was the last straw, as far as Corinne was
concerned.

“Mamma! It’s _my_ trick!” She snatched it away from her mother with
trembling hands. Her nerves were taut from the scare she had received,
for the wild shriek had been sent almost into her ear. It proved the
last straw for Mrs. Witherby also.

“Corinne!” she thundered. “_This_ is _too_ much! Do you suppose your
mother is going to sit here the whole evening and not take a single
trick? How _dare_ you assert yourself so?”

Corinne threw down her cards and burst into explosive sobs.

“I don’t--I didn’t--I never did. It was my trick.” Wells patted her
shoulder affectionately.

“There, there, dear child. Don’t cry.”

“What’s this?” the Judge asked. “Our merry Corinne in tears?”

“No one thinks of _me_, the mother!” Mrs. Witherby whimpered.

“She--she--is always like that when she plays cards. What
has--a--mother to do with trumps--and things?”

“Oh, you heartless child! And after the terrible fright I’ve had! Judge
Giffen, your arm. I am not well.”

“Eh, what?” The Judge resented nothing so much as being asked to leave
his chess. “Oh--yes--with pleasure. Let us seek the--ah--sympathetic
seclusion of the dining room, eh? Mrs. Mearely spoke of sandwiches.
Yes--ah--a sustaining sandwich.”

“I couldn’t eat a mouthful. I’m so upset. Corinne’s behaviour--and--oh,
Judge--that dreadful face! Oh, if you’d seen the villainous whiskers!”

“Yes--yes--a little--ah--salad. A glass of Amanda’s parsnip wine.” He
guided her into the dining room.

“Shall we also refresh the inner soul, Miss Corinne?” Mr. Albert
Andrews asked, with gallantry.

“Now I am quite sure that Mrs. Mearely has provided creams and a fine
array of iridescent jellies to delight the youthful palate. Go with
Andrews, dear child.”

Corinne threw her arms around Dr. Wells’s neck.

“I think you are just too dear for anything, Dr. Wells. I wish I could
have you for a father.”

“Heaven forbid!” he answered absently. “Er--that is--thank you,
my dear. You are a very sweet girl, Corinne. Yes--considering the
circumstances--a remarkably sweet girl,” he added as the dining-room
door closed behind the couple. He rose, taking his pipe from his pocket.

“Do you find Aunt Emma wearing, doctor?” Mabel inquired flippantly.
“Some do.”

“Oh, no, no! What a sad idea. I shall go out now and have a pipe in
the moonlight, and all the little cares will blow away with the smoke.”

“Don’t let Mrs. Witherby’s wild man get you,” Howard urged, laughing.

“Te-he-he! the good lady is so excitable; but she means well. I leave
you to the pleasant task of dispelling pessimistic ideas from Miss
Crewe’s lovely head.” He went out on tiptoe, with extravagant antics of
mock caution.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XVI


“He’s a nice old chap,” Howard remarked. She did not answer. He
desired, at all hazards, to avoid an intimate talk so stepped quickly
toward the supper room as if to open the door. “Let me conduct you to
the crackers and cheese,” he said with forced lightness.

“No. I want to speak to you.”

“This is hardly a good opportunity,” he pleaded.

“Come here, please.” He hesitated only briefly; something new in her
to-night warned him that it would be unwise to gainsay her.

“Wilton, I am being talked about--too much. Talk _does_ things, after
awhile. When is this going to end?” Her voice was strained with her
effort to control herself.

“What?” His face was turned from her.

“When can I go to my aunt and tell her that you have asked me to marry
you? She persecutes me about it.”

“When you can answer your aunt’s first question--‘what are you and your
husband going to live on?’” he replied glumly.

“Oh, the same old story. I’m sick of it. When a man _loves_ he doesn’t
think of money.”

Her tone cut into him. Her contempt was not easy to bear.

“I _do_ love you,” he asserted hotly, “but how could I support you?
I’ve never worked. I can’t earn a round sum at anything. But for cousin
Hibbert Mearely’s little legacy, I’d have been on the parish long ago.
You and I can’t live any life but this. We’re not pioneer stuff. If we
eloped to the swamps, the gnats would eat us--that’s all.”

“Don’t talk like that! It sounds so cowardly. You must think of me. I
can’t face any more talk, and Aunt Emma’s sneers....”

“I’ve been thinking of that. Mabel, we must face facts squarely.”

“What do you mean?” tremulously.

“Our situation is hopeless. We can’t marry. The only thing for us to
do....”

“I know,” she broke in bitterly. “I’ve heard you say that before, but
I didn’t believe you meant it. We must separate and marry money; if we
can.”

“Has society provided any other way of life for merely useless men like
me, and merely ornamental women like you?”

She did not speak at once, but studied his face to find the reason
for a mood so positive and malign. Across the screen of her thoughts
floated a rose-and-silver gown--and she cried out as if she had been
struck.

“I’ve been blind! I see it now. You mean to marry Rosamond.”

“What an idea!” awkwardly, his eyes avoiding hers.

“Don’t try to deceive me. You may as well admit it. You’ve told me you
mean to throw me aside for some rich woman. Is it Rosamond? Yes, of
course, it is! What has she done to make you think you have a chance
with her?” She caught hold of his arm and turned him to her.

“Nothing,” he sneered; “but I suspect it works both ways--this benign
social law with its talk. It won’t let us marry--because we’re poor.
Well, it won’t let her alone, either--because she’s rich. This is
Rosamond’s fourth year of widowhood. Gossip has its eye on her. She’ll
have to marry. I am a kinsman--being a distant cousin of her departed
husband’s. That gives me a more familiar footing here. Gossip will
naturally pick me out as the most likely bridegroom. In other words,
don’t let their miserable, superwise social code crush you, but twist
it round and use it to your own advantage.”

The passion in her face seemed to blend all the bitter emotions--scorn,
jealousy, deep anger--with a fierce resolve.

“I see,” she answered presently, “I haven’t any illusions about you,
Wilton. I had once, of course. You’re selfish. You don’t really care
what happens to anybody but yourself. While this thing has dragged
on and you have put off making it an open engagement, I’ve hoped and
suffered everything--and you’ve let me. You know that we couldn’t walk
along the river-path three times together without all Roseborough
chattering about it and wondering whether you would marry me--and
then sneering at me because there was no announcement. You do care
for me--more than you can ever care for any one but yourself. I’m not
afraid of poverty--or work. Merely ornamental you called me! I do
everything at Aunt Emma’s--excepting the roughest work. I wouldn’t mind
if she’d be fair enough to say that I am not living on her charity,
but that I earn what she gives me. Don’t you suppose I could drudge
for you and myself as I do for her and Corinne? And I’d have my own
home--even if it was only two rooms, and not be slighted and treated
contemptuously as a poor hanger-on.” A hard, dry sob shook her. “I
_won’t_ go back to that awful life with aunt--without you--without any
hope. You can’t be so cruel to me.”

Howard winced. He had natural feeling enough to be ashamed of himself;
and his emotion for her was stirred by her intensity.

“Mabel, dear, need you say all this? You know I love you. You have said
so. But--it’s hopeless. I haven’t enough to keep us even in the poorest
comfort. We’ve got to end it.”

She shook her head.

“Don’t delude yourself. I will not be given up. You came and sought
me and paid me attentions. You let me think you meant to marry me.
And I’ve let you kiss me. I suppose that doesn’t mean anything to a
man. But it does to a girl. I kissed you as the man I was going to
belong to. I’d feel degraded if I could change. No, Wilton. You have
brought something into power in me that you will have to reckon with.
It controls me utterly; and I mean that it shall govern you, too. You
shall never marry Rosamond or any one but me. I will stop it somehow.
I’ll give Aunt Emma something worth while to talk about!”

“Hush! Don’t talk so wildly. If there were really a pot of gold at the
end of the rainbow, don’t you suppose I’d rather set off with you to
find it?”

He took her into his arms suddenly. She yielded to his embrace, as if
it soothed the wound he had dealt her love and her faith.

“Oh, Mabel, I’ve ceased to feel responsibility about anything. I’m
simply a product of this bloodless, stagnant little village. Conditions
rule individuals. Accept the facts, dear, and be wise.”

She put her arms round his neck. If her resolution did not falter,
tenderness overflowed it for the moment. She recognized that what
he said of himself was true--“the product of a bloodless, stagnant
village.” She thought that he did not love her less than she loved him,
but that he believed that the Roseborough which had shaped him must
conquer him; whereas, she, of more rebellious clay, had thrown down
the gauntlet to Roseborough. They clung to each other recklessly, then
tore apart, because they heard Rosamond’s voice in the garden and the
doctor’s answering.

Regaining a show of composure, they went into the dining room. The
doctor--entering with Rosamond and Frei--was induced by his hostess’s
urging to risk his digestion with “one small sandwich and a thimbleful
of wine.”

Frei was humming, with a bland and childlike look on his face. He
picked up his violin from the desk where he had laid it and put it into
its case.

“Will you not sup, too?” she asked him.

“No, I thank you.” He came toward her. “My body needs no salads, for my
soul is satisfied. I have found a place where there is no criticism;
where the memorial fountains of kindness are unsealed--and the waters
do arrive. Here, in Roseborough--‘here, where all hearts are tender and
sincere’--surely I shall find at last a beautiful woman to love me for
myself alone.”

“Why not?” she said kindly. “It is given to every man....”

She stopped in quoting what she, herself, had said to him in the
orchard, because of the change in his face. He strode forward and gazed
intently into her eyes.

“Ach!” he cried, as if she had now burst upon his sight for the first
time. “You are beautiful!” He seized her hand. “Could you love me for
myself alone?”

“Oh--oh!” She was startled. “I think your music would share in any love
given to you,” she parried.

“That I permit. My music is me.”

“Oh, yes; but--it is also Tschaikowsky, Beethoven, Mendelssohn,
Chopin....”

Instantly his head drooped and his face was overcast with gloom.

“True. I am nothing--but to play the tunes of others.” He sighed
heavily. Then, recovering from this humour, he drew himself up with a
regal air. “I will overlook your birth and station, because you are
beautiful and good. Here--here in Roseborough--with your devotion to
console me; here--in this peaceful village--is my journey’s end. Later,
when you have won my confidence by your serviceable affection, I will
reveal to you certain matters. These may prevent our marriage----”

“Er--oh--I mean aren’t you a little precipitate...?”

He waved her to silence.

“If our union be prevented, I shall still regard you with a noble and
platonic affection. And you will be forever faithful and devoted to
me.” He was obliged to conclude abruptly, for the other guests came in
from the supper room.

“Mercy!” Rosamond said, under her breath, and removed herself from the
impetuous musician’s proximity as quickly as possible.

“Well, we’re off,” the Judge announced. “Our lovely ladies must not
lose their beauty sleep. It must be far along after nine.”

Mrs. Witherby plucked at her hostess’s sleeve.

“Now, are you _sure_ there’s to be no interesting little item given
out, to match that gown? I find it almost impossible to believe it was
put on only for _us_. Well,” as she saw Rosamond frown, “keep your
secret.” She was half way to the door, when she turned back and said:
“Oh, do--do let me leave our Thomas. I can drive myself home. I feel
so alarmed about you. I can’t endure the thought of your being alone.
I wonder you didn’t tell me about it. Blake told the toll-man and the
toll-man told Johnson, the butcher’s boy. So it’s publicly known that
you are alone in this house to-night!” She was working herself up to a
lively pitch, ignoring attempts at interruption from the Judge, who had
had quite enough of her and her fears for one evening. “I assure you
that just now I saw....”

Mabel led the burst of laughter which put an end to her discourse. It
was useless to talk against such a gale of hilarity. Rosamond caught
the infection and laughed as unrestrainedly as the rest.

“It is so good to laugh,” she said; “I never miss the opportunity. But
please tell me what I am laughing at.”

Dr. Wells with little snickers, and glancing sidewise at Mrs. Witherby
to see how far he dared provoke her--that he might go just one step
further--undertook to enlighten her.

“Te-he--our dear Mrs. Witherby saw a spotted cannibal peering in at the
window; te-he-he.”

“’Twas--ah--Oolabaloo, the--ah--Matabele wild man.” The Judge was
airily facetious.

“He wore a battle club and a wreath of daisies, the evening being
cool,” Wilton Howard supplemented, whereupon every one roared again;
except Dr. Frei, whose foreign intellect did not adapt itself readily
to Anglo-Saxon humour. He was regarding the infuriated lady with
sympathy and credence.

“But if she says she saw something...” he protested in her behalf, only
to draw forth another peal of mirth.

He turned to Rosamond solicitously. “There is danger to you?”

“Oh, no! none. Tramps never come to Roseborough. Besides, I--I have a
pistol--though I’ve never shot anything but bottles and rabbits, and
never expect to!”

Mrs. Witherby was not easily overborne at any time, less than ever when
she knew she was not inventing.

“I tell you, I saw distinctly....” She took a few steps toward the
verandah, in order to point out the exact spot where the face had
appeared. It happened, unfortunately, that every one was looking at
her and laughing, instead of following the direction of her pointing
finger. Once again, hers were the only eyes to see the swarthy face
raised, this time till the tip of its nose was level with the rail. She
screamed in long, piercing wails. The face withdrew.

“There!--there!--again!--I saw...!”

Every one laughed again except Frei. Mrs. Mearely, forgetful of her
acquired deportment, put her hands on her hips and swayed with the
ripples of her joy. Dr. Wells doubled up and choked, till the Judge was
obliged to pat him on the back with a hand weak from his own mirth. The
farewells were lost in the echoes of laughter.

“You think you really saw something?” Frei asked, as he offered his arm
to Mrs. Witherby, who was trembling from alarm and insult.

“I shall notify the authorities. I am quite positive I saw
him--_absolutely positive_!”

“Don’t let mamma frighten you, Dr. Frei. Wait till you know her as
well as I do!” Corinne suppressed her giggles long enough to kiss her
hostess good-night. She ran out after her mother.

“Coming, Howard?” asked Wells over his shoulder.

“I’ll catch up with you at the foot of the hill. I think I’ll satisfy
myself that my cousin’s bolts and bars are all in working order.”

“Te-he--our poor, dear Mrs. Witherby--_such_ imagination!” The doctor
waved his hand, smiling, and went out.

“Good-night, Mrs. Mearely.”

Rosamond had gone to the verandah rail to wave her guests down the
hill. She was slightly startled to come upon Miss Crewe standing in the
shadow, and evidently watching Howard.

“Good-night,” she said. “I hear your aunt calling you.” She was aware
of a sombre flash from Mabel’s dark eyes; then the slender figure moved
off with leisurely pace and the bearing of a princess--at least, so
Rosamond, in her own mind, described Miss Crewe’s walk. One by one,
the carts and buggies started round the gravel drive to the hill-road.
As they passed just under the jut where the house stood, Mrs. Mearely
leaned over the rail and called her good-nights.



CHAPTER XVII


She loitered on the step, even after the sound of wheels grew dim. Her
eyes feasted on the golden river and her ears caught the pleasant notes
of insects and night birds; but her mind was alert and practical to the
moment. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Howard, standing
by the chimney-piece and leaning upon it in a handsome and familiar
attitude. He could not have looked more at home if he had owned the
house. A sense of anger stirred in her.

“If he were old I could understand it. Old men naturally want a snug
home to die in!” Then, as was habitual with her, amusement took the
place of indignation. “To-morrow I’ll hang a crape bow and streamers
between my shoulder-blades and go my way in lonesome peace.”

Thinking that she might as well have it over with, she went indoors
slowly. She looked quizzically at Howard as she said, with pointed
emphasis on the degree of relationship:

“Well, Mr. Fifth-Cousin-by-Marriage, what is this legend about my bolts
and bars? I shall leave my windows open as usual, I suppose.”

“Oh! that was an excuse, of course--and a thin one. Dear Rosamond, I
wonder if you have any idea why I have lingered?”

His assumption of tenderness did not please her. She sank into the
big chair by the settee, making herself comfortable with cushions and
footstool. If she must hear another proposal of marriage that day, she
would at least hear it at her ease.

“I’ve seen it taking shape, but I did hope you wouldn’t,” she said
shortly.

“Wouldn’t what?” in surprise, for no indication of her humour had
reached him.

“Propose. That is what you are about to do, isn’t it?” She let him see
that she felt a malicious enjoyment in his embarrassment.

Howard had been totally unprepared for her sally and he resented being
made to look foolish; but, after the first hesitation, he decided to
go on, according to his plan. Rosamond must marry; if she did not
know that she must marry, he would soon convince her that a prolonged
and colourful widowhood, with honour, could not be _her_ portion in
Roseborough. She must marry, and where could she find a more suitable
husband than himself? (Like Judge Giffen and Mr. Albert Andrews, he
also considered himself her inevitable choice.)

“Perhaps I ought hardly to go so far without more preparation;
but--er--Rosamond, jealousy of your friendship with the musical
newcomer to Roseborough has made me seem precipitate. But I have
desired to say all this to you for a long time.”

He was young, magnetic, and of her own race, and suddenly her longing
for comradeship went out to him.

“Oh, Wilton,” she almost pleaded, “I don’t want to marry you. I won’t
say that I never mean to marry, because some one might come. Yet, if he
were interesting enough to love, why would he ever come to Roseborough?
No, I couldn’t love Dr. Frei. But I wish I could marry the song of
his fiddle and be blown off on the wind with my bridegroom a thousand
leagues from here.”

“My dear girl, have you not lived happily here, where you are beloved
by all?”

She made a wry face.

“Can’t even you understand me a little? You’re _young_.”

“I _wish_ to understand you, above everything.”

“Can’t you guess what it’s been like, underneath the--the--velvet
surface? When I was a poor young girl in Poplars Vale I longed for a
finished education and a high station. Hibbert Mearely was fifty-three
when my ingenuous countenance met his collector’s eye. He put me
here--as a living ornament--among his paintings and his books and
antiques where everything is old and stable and has a set value.
Look at the chairs; when you sit down, you feel you are settled there
for life--and will not move again till some one carries you to the
churchyard. I came here so proudly--to be the wife of such a fine,
distinguished gentleman. I thought it would be a wonderful life--with
all this,” she waved her hands to indicate the furnishings of Mr.
Mearely’s museum. “But it wasn’t. It was dreadful. In its heart,
Roseborough still regards me as an alien and an upstart. My mother
once sold butter. They remember that. They are waiting for a chance
to rub it in. Now that my crape is two years behind me, the three or
four bachelors and the five widowers are eager to pounce on me with
marriage. And all the women are ready to destroy me with gossip.”

She ceased abruptly, holding out her hands to him with a plea for help,
for friendship and an open door of escape that should not bear the sign
“Matrimony” on the centre panel. Howard took her hands and bent over
them, giving her the benefit, too, of his magnetic and confident smile.
He saw in her appeal exactly the opportunity he needed.

“That, partly, is what hastens my offer. Gossip is inevitable. Why
not forestall it? As a matter of fact, a young woman cannot remain
alone--more especially if she is a widow, and beautiful.” He kissed her
hand.

“And rich,” she said dryly--as if completing his sentence for him--and
withdrew her hand.

“I--er--I hope you do not do me that injustice.” He spoke with hurt
dignity.

“Oh, certainly not,” she answered flippantly. “That is always
understood in offers of this kind.”

Howard was becoming angry. He told himself that he had not given up
Mabel, whom he loved, and done the butter-maker’s daughter the honour
to offer her himself in marriage, in order to let her insult him as the
mood swayed her. He spoke calmly but with the accents of a superior.

“You are cynical, my dear. Are you worldly-wise enough to realize that
Roseborough will make you marry?”

She walked away from him across the room.

“Yes, I know it. One link after another in the chain about me till
I’m crushed flat,” desperately--“and old--_old_!” A sob escaped her.
She picked up the pack of cards and tossed them loose over the table,
as if her last chance of happiness were proved no more than bits of
pasteboard and she had cast it from her as worthless. Wilton, thinking
her agitation in his favour, went to her.

“Perhaps,” she said, eyeing him resentfully, “it might as well be you
as any one.”

“Might it not _better_ be I than any one?” he demanded, capturing her
hand again.

“Yes, I suppose so,” she replied, considering it impersonally. “You’re
young.”

“Then it is ‘yes’?” ardently.

She pulled her hand away and came out of her abstraction.

“Good gracious, no!” bluntly. “Not so fast, cousin. I am much too
sleepy to decide anything so important to-night. Besides, to-night I am
in love with the song of the fiddle. And you are not that song!” She
sighed.

“A much more substantial lover,” he answered laughingly.

“Stupid thing!” she thought. “I suppose you think your ‘substantial’
person has more power to stir me than the echoes of Tschaikowsky!”

“And when?” he began.

“Do say good-night, like a good fellow. I am so tired. I want to go
to bed at once--and sleep forever.” She walked out to the verandah,
compelling him to follow. “I’ll think you over.”

“I hope you’ll think kindly,” he said, with a softness in his voice and
his eyes that he had not shown her before. But Mabel could have told
her how one woman, at least, yearned to him because of that note in his
gamut, for which he deserved as little credit as for the shape of his
nose.

“Oh, Wilton! I am so--so tired!” Her lip quivered. “Nothing but this
same narrow little life, over and over--daily--yearly! Oh! Look at
the river, running away so swiftly and freely; it is the only thing
that ever came to Roseborough and got away again! Every time I look
at it, I think it is laughing at me. It laughed at me down there in
Poplars Vale. It mocks me more cruelly here, with its swift journeying
to--somewhere.”

Turning to him, in her irrepressible longing for sympathy, she saw that
he did not understand her in the least, but was studying how he might
best impress her by a loverlike pose.

“I’ll think you over,” she promised airily. “Good-night. Go, before I
fall asleep at your feet,” she added, with the rather cruel intimation
that there was nothing about his wooing which could conquer her
boredom. By a quick, vigorous handshake she prevented him from kissing
her fingers again. She caught up his cap and gloves from the settle and
pressed them into his arms. He went out, smiling; for he believed this
haste to be rid of him was in reality a tribute to his irresistible
powers of fascination.

“Good-night, dear Rosamond. Good-night. Sleep soundly,” he called from
below the wall, as his dog-cart went by.

Rosamond made no reply. She stood by the rail, looking at the “velvety
star-veined night” and the river. The noise of wheels died down; the
only sound was the chirring of crickets. She turned off the verandah
light. She came into the room and went about, methodically putting out
all the individual lamps but one. This she left on for a purpose, it
appeared; because, presently, she found a little leather-bound book on
the flower-stand by the fireplace, and slid up into a corner of the
settee with it. In settling herself she almost knocked a paper off the
arm-piece.

“Dear me,” she said aloud. “The Judge’s sacred _Digest_! How could he
have forgotten it? I suppose Mrs. Witherby’s hysterics must have put it
out of his head.”

She glanced at it idly and her eye was caught by the first column.

“Corinne’s runaway prince!” She smiled, and began to read. When she
had perused the story she laid the _Digest_ aside, musing on the Royal
Highness whose heart was so oddly in tune with her own.

“Eccentric--romantic--artistic,” she repeated. “Fond of wandering about
incognito--and entering humble dwellings--and making friends. Making
friends.” She dwelt wistfully on the last words.

The little copy of Browning opened naturally at the place she sought;
and she need not have opened it at all, for she knew by heart the lines
she loved. This, it may be pointed out, was not her late master’s
“first edition,” autographed by Princess Victoria for sale at the
Indian Famine Relief Bazaar. She had bought this copy for herself and
loved it for its contents, not for its binding nor for a scrawl on its
fly-leaf. Softly, she said the lines:

  “‘While not a man of them broke rank and spoke,
  Or wrote me a vulgar letter all of love,
  Or caught my hand and pressed it like a hand.
  There have been moments if the sentinel,
  Lowering his halbert to salute the queen,
  Had flung it brutally and clasped my knees,
  I would have stooped and kissed him with my soul.’”

She laid the book on the stand and sat quite still and silent for some
time, then she murmured:

“We’re all alike, the queen and I, Corinne and her runaway prince. I
wonder if all the world is longing just for--something different?”

The large room was almost dark; its only light came from the one little
lamp on the mantel, which cast its dim halo upon her, and from the open
door of the music room. Outside, the moon, the stars, and the river
shed their mystic radiance over and through the slumbering valley.

“If there could only have been one word from some one--one note out of
the earth or the sky--to promise me something....”

Clear, mellow, and resonant, one note rang out from the tower and
rolled like an invisible golden wheel up the hills and down the valley.

Rosamond sat up, straining her ears.

“The tower bell!” she whispered. “It rang!--once! And it never rings
after six!”

The sound was not repeated, and, after a time, she began to ask
herself if perhaps she had not nodded for a second and dreamed that
she heard the bell. She rose and went into the dining room to turn off
the lights. Then she put out the little lamp on the chimney-piece and
passed into the music room where she busied herself in replacing the
Tschaikowsky album in the music rack and in closing the piano. The last
duty here was to turn out the tall stand-lamp.

“I wonder _did_ I dream that bell?” she queried, as she came back to
the living room.

If she had not been wondering so absorbedly about the bell, she might
have heard another and slighter noise much closer at hand. That noise
was the sound of a light-footed creature terminating a leap in the
centre of her verandah. Just prior to that sound, a man’s figure had
been silhouetted against the moonlit sky, as he climbed nimbly and
stood an instant on the railing.



CHAPTER XVIII


When Rosamond stepped over the threshold she was conscious of motion in
the living room. She stood still and strained her eyes into the dusk of
the room. She saw a figure emerge from the shadows and, feeling its way
about, arrive at the table behind the settee which supported one of Mr.
Hibbert Mearely’s genuine antiques--a bronze vase.

“Ah! What’s this?” he muttered, as his fingers felt about its design.

Rosamond knew now that the impossible had occurred: a burglar had
come to Roseborough. Her knees evinced a tendency to fold up and let
her shaking body find support upon the floor; but her soul was not
a coward. She held her breath and tiptoed to the desk. Noiselessly,
she pulled out the drawer and closed her clammy fingers about the
pistol. The dining room and quarters beyond provided the best channels
of escape, if she must flee, so she crept across the room behind the
marauder, just as he moved toward the chimney-piece, where the Louis XV
snuff-boxes were set all in a row and ticketed.

“Stop!--stop!” She quavered sternly, pointing the pistol at him.

He wheeled sharply and exclaimed in surprise:

“Oh! Are you up? er--I beg....”

“Who are you?” she demanded, with an access of courage due to the fact
that he had not immediately murdered her. She recalled that, in books,
one always firmly and at once asked a masked assassin or highwayman to
disclose his identity.

“Ah!” said he, “that is what I was about to ask you.”

“_Who--are--you?_” She wondered if that high, wavering voice was hers.

A sound came from him which she could not associate with any emotion
of fear or shame, proper to a burglarious tramp caught in the act. He
removed his hat with a sweep, and bowed.

“Madam, I am a bird of the air, seeking my meat from God.”

Noting his accent, which was that of an educated man, Mrs. Mearely’s
alarm decreased, but she did not relax vigilance.

“That is poetic, but vague. _Who are you, and what are you doing here?_”

“My biography, in short. Briefly, then, I am a poet out of a job.
Second stanza, I entered your home in the hope of finding food.
Refrain, I am a hungry, hungry, hungry man.”

This, she thought, was obviously insincere and merited rebuke.

“I do not believe you!”

“Well, perhaps not,” cheerfully. “Nevertheless I _am_ hungry. I always
prefer to tell the truth, irrespective of people’s beliefs. Allow me to
turn on the light.”

“Don’t move! Stay where you are.” She waved the pistol at him, as she
saw his hand reach to the mantel.

“I don’t need to move. The globe is here. Allow me.” He turned on the
light. In its soft small gleam they regarded each other, and for the
first few moments had nothing to say.

Rosamond saw a man who was presumably in his “middle thirties”--a
strong, well-built man, with breadth of shoulder and depth of chest,
and with face and hands tanned by years of turning them, unprotected,
toward all weathers. He had no beard or moustache. His face was lean,
and broad at the brow and chin; his eyes large, deep-set, and dark; and
his mouth wide--with firmness, humour, and sympathy in the lines about
it. His hat was a large battered felt, of weather-stained hue, trimmed
with a long, slender feather, dropped on the fields by a pheasant
and appropriated by this tramp who had an eye for ornamentation. He
wore in his belt a spray of pine, with small cones forming on it. His
clothes were brown, rough, and spattered with burrs. The coat--a loose
thing, held in by a dark, carved leather belt, must have had half a
dozen deep pockets in it. His trouser-legs were rolled up and it was
evident that his thick socks and his boots were wet through. His black
hair gleamed about his forehead, suggesting that he had had his head,
as well as his feet, in the brooks that coursed the fields to spill
their crystal into the river. The light was behind him, and she could
not see whether his physiognomy bore the marks of a life of crime, as
his raiment bore the marks of his profession--a gentleman of the road.
Though his speech was peculiar, she noticed, gratefully, that it was
clear. While the double pockets on both sides of his coat bulged, their
irregular convexity, she saw, was not due to bottles.

In the matter of view, he had the advantage; for the globe sent its
rays directly upon her, and she bloomed out of the shadows like some
legendary princess arriving from the Kingdom of Nowhere on a shaft of
light, wrapped in the silver radiance of the moon and the petals of a
rose.

“Why, you are _young_!” he said at last, in a low tone of such charmed
wonder as a wet and burr-bedecked vagabond might naturally feel at the
apparition of a fairy princess. “Only a girl. From your voice, so sweet
and cold and prim, I judged you to be as old as--as my heart.”

[Illustration: “Rosamond saw a man who was presumably in his ‘middle
thirties’--a strong, well-built man, with face and hands tanned by
years of turning them, unprotected, toward all weathers”]

She was unprepared for this mode of address and did not know how to
answer it; but she kept prominently in her mind the rules for
dealing with bandits, as she had gathered them from her reading,
namely, to avoid angering them unduly, and never to show fear. She
waggled the pistol at him and said with dignity:

“You see I am not afraid of you.”

She saw that he smiled.

“Are you not? H’m--I am afraid of you.” He looked about him for some
time before he spoke again, then said, “Since I have answered your
questions so satisfactorily, will you reciprocate by telling what
relation you are to this house?”

“I own it.”

He stared about again before answering.

“Do you? Do you indeed? That is very peculiar. Now, if you had said
you owned a corner in heaven, or a bit of fairyland, I should have
said: ‘Naturally. I believe you.’ But when ‘a rare and radiant maiden’
appears by magic at midnight, in the midst of--of--er--the village
museum, and says ‘I own it’--well, you won’t think me impolite, I hope,
if I say you are mistaken?”

“This is _not_ the ‘village museum’! It is my home, and I own it all
myself.” She spoke heatedly, because the museum character of Villa Rose
was secretly a sore subject with her.

“How interesting. Won’t you be seated? No? As you please. No doubt you
feel safer standing--with three doors to escape by. And I dare say if
I said ‘booh!’ you’d try to dash through all three of ’em at once.” He
walked about slowly, taking different views of the museum’s contents.
“Some very good things--and some ... not” he murmured.

“You--you must understand that I--I do not wish to shoot you unless it
is quite necessary,” she stammered. “But if it _is_ necessary, I--I
do know how to shoot. I--I am not helpless.” She drew herself up and
straightened her pistol arm. “I have _killed_--rabbits!”

“Have you?” He chuckled. “Call me Bunny, but, oh, do not shoot!” At
that moment his gaze fell upon the landscape hanging over the desk.
“Ah!” he cried, “a Turner--a real Turner!” He strode forward to get a
better look at it. His movement brought him close to Rosamond, and,
suspecting attack, she thrust her weapon at him with a violent gesture.
He threw his hands up over his head but continued to enjoy the picture.

“A beautiful thing. A poem in colour. Turner is the poet’s painter. He
not only _saw_ Nature, he _listened_ to her and communed with her, as a
poet; then he translated what he heard through colour. Can’t you hear
the scarlet trumpets blowing across that sunset?” In speaking he moved
back and sidewise, trying different angles of vision, still dutifully
keeping his hands up. Presently he turned to her. The light was on his
face and she saw how warm and merry his smile was. “That is the only
real beauty after all--the beauty of truth. Dear lady, I am sorry I
alarm you so. Just see how thoroughly at home _I_ feel.”

“I am not alarmed,” she protested.

“It is only terror that is evil enough--or mad enough--to point death
at a brother human.”

He put his hand over the pistol, looked into her face, smiling
whimsically, then coolly took the pistol from her and tossed it on the
table.

“You--you are the strangest tramp I ever saw,” she gasped.

“Tramp? Oh! Am I? Then look well at me--that noble and pathetic figure,
the tramp! Madam, the rich world you live in occasionally produces a
man like me, but it soon casts him out!” He sighed heavily.

Like most persons who have been lifted above their original station in
life, Mrs. Mearely thought others should keep to theirs. So she said,
with a degree of pride:

“What do you know of the world I live in?”

“Lady,” he whined, “I’ll tell you my secret. Once I, too, was
respectable; but I have lived it down.” He sat down on the arm of an
old mahogany chair, as casually as if it were a stump by the woodside,
and picked burrs from his stockings. Evidently they had pricked him as
his ankles swung together.

“Why did you leave my world--if, indeed, you were ever in it?”

“My biography, revised edition. I left your world because I had no
affinity with it. I was born to be a poet. I found, however, that
society felt no need of me and my verses. Society does not need poets.
Society’s great need is chauffeurs! And I could never stomach the smell
of gasolene.”

“But, even so, need you have become a tramp--an outcast? A--a vagabond
who enters houses at night for food? Frightening people!” Her
indignation rose. “Why don’t you _work_?”

He looked at her keenly, pointing at her with the burr he had just
caught between forefinger and thumb.

“Madam, do _you_ work? Is this house--that gown--a charming gown,
too--the result of _your_ labour?”

“No,” she admitted; and, after a brief pause, answering the unworded
question she felt those keen eyes were asking, she added: “I married
for this house and this gown.”

“Ah! then you, too, do cowardly things. You dared not face life without
wealth, so you sold yourself at so much per inch of beauty. Dear lady,
you are a parasite--and selfish, withal! What right have you, who
married for food, to blame me for taking food without the preliminary
of a church ceremony?”

Rosamond’s tone was plaintive and offended.

“You say very unpleasant things. You make very severe criticisms.
You have no right to enter my house in the middle of the night and
criticise.”

He made a gesture of alarm, and laughed.

“No, no! Heaven forbid! I make no more criticisms. I’ve suffered too
much from my critical tongue. Do you know there are places where they
put critics in prison?”

“You said you came for food. Did you find it?”

“Not yet,” hopefully. “Occasionally, in my wanderings, I have lived on
the back porches of the charitable in the great cities. Also I have
dined with princes--at great cost!” He smothered a laugh.

There was a silence; then she asked, a little wistfully:

“Who are you?”

He leaned forward, smiling, frankly charmed by her.

“I’ve told you. I am a bird of passage and I skim over the cities, on
my way to places where no cities are. In passing, I stopped but an
instant to sup with you. Only an instant, for summer is fleeing, and I
must away with her.”

“And whither are you and summer going?”

“With summer I turn my back on the crowded marts of men. In the heart
of a forest is a hut, built over a stream that laughs and sings to
me through storm and sun. And there I live till the snows drive me
to the place of humans again. There I write and dream--and dream and
write--with none to say me nay. Some day I shall buy that hut--so that
others may share my knowledge that it is mine.”

“And never have anything more than that?” thoughtfully.

“What more does a man need? See how your world--with its gowns and
houses you married for--has deluded you. You have never found out that
it is not _things_ which make one’s life rich and radiant.”

She heard the tone of sympathy for which, it seemed to her, she had
waited a very long lifetime, and her answer came with a little outburst
of feeling.

“I _have_ found it out. My life is one long boredom. In that respect it
is not so different from the other lives I see lived around me.”

“Only other people deceive themselves more successfully?”

“Yes. How you _understand_!” She smiled, and made a movement of
confidence toward him. “Is it true that you are hungry?”

“_Very_ true.” He rose and stood beside her, smiling down into her
upturned face. “Are you about to offer the vagabond a few crumbs from
the rich man’s table?”

“The rich man is gone. But his goods remain; and I can offer you the
food that is necessary even to a dreamer. Sit down. I will get it for
you.” She went to the tall lamp behind the card table and turned it on.

“The Lord bless ye, kind leddy. It’s a good deed ye are doin’ this day.”

She laughed.

“It’s a fair exchange. You give me a new experience. I give you food.”

“A rare experience to me, if not exactly a new one,” he retorted
cheerily. “It will be very wonderful to be waited on by you--to eat
your supper--surrounded by these--er--beautiful and priceless--that is
to say, high-priced--_objets d’art_.”

In following her toward the dining-room door, he passed the bookcase
with its central ornament, the jade-and-gold Buddha.

“Oh, I say!” he exclaimed. “Here _is_ something!” Catching it up he ran
toward the nearest light with it, and thereby re-awakened Rosamond’s
fears. She flew for her weapon. He put the Buddha back in its place and
came to her.

“And still you fear and doubt,” he chided. “Well, take your little
gun, since you believe that your goods are safe only when you have
death in your hand.”

“I can’t help it!” She looked at him, ashamed, pathetic, defiant.

“Too bad--too bad.” His eyes twinkled.

The colour flamed to her brow. Her eyes wavered from his. With a
sudden, reckless motion, she tossed the little weapon on the table
toward him.

“There! And I don’t know who you are!”

Smiling, with open delight in her, he reached for the pistol, drew the
charges, and dropped them into a vase on the bookcase.

“Much safer on the whole; don’t you think so, _child_?”

“Oh!” she cried passionately. “You make me feel like--like--so
foolish!” Avoiding his merry eyes, she dashed into the dining room.

“It’s extraordinary,” he muttered, moving about the room. “It _should_
be the house. But, of course, it can’t be. And where did she come
from--the little lady curator of the museum?”

He was hampered in his investigations by his hostess. She was in and
out with table-cloth, napkins, trays of bread and butter, sandwiches,
salad, and whatever she felt would appease a hungry, though refined,
tramp’s appetite. At one turn in his peregrinations about the apartment
he arrived at the flower-stand behind the settee, and saw the small
volume lying there.

“What, Browning?” he exclaimed. “Does she _read_ him? or does he only
ornament her table?” He opened it at the flyleaf. “‘From Rosamond
Mearely to herself.’ How delicious!” He explored further, unaware that
the owner of the book was watching him and straining her ears to hear
his self-communings. “Yes, she reads him, and marks her favourite
passages like a girl in her teens----. What’s this?”

  There is no good of life but love--but love.
  Never you cheat yourself one instant! Love,
  Give love, ask only love, and leave the rest.

“Ah ha! ‘Never you cheat yourself.’ With her little pencil she
underscores the line, and so confesses to any one who opens the book
that she cheated herself when she married Mr. Money-Bags Mearely.” He
looked for more self-revelations, and found the passage she had said
aloud to herself, there, just before the one bell-note had rolled
through the valley.

  There have been moments if the Sentinel,
  Lowering his halbert to salute the queen,
  Had flung it brutally and clasped my knees,
  I would have stooped and kissed him with my soul.
  Who could have comprehended?
  Why no one--but this one who did.
  ----even now perhaps it comes too late.

“Oh, Rosamond Mearely! Oh, merely Rosamond! ‘Who could have
comprehended?’”

He laid the book down, saying her name softly to himself.

“It--it’s all ready,” she called, timidly, hoping that her blush would
not be noticed. She did not wish even so charming a vagabond as this
midnight visitor to see how his reading of her favourite passages had
stirred her. In her own heart, she always held that it was the queen
of Villa Rose and not the queen of Browning’s “In a Balcony,” who had
first uttered those lines.

“The vagabond thanks Mrs. Mearely profoundly for her kindness. You
see I have discovered your name among the treasures of this room.” He
helped her take the dishes off the tray and arrange them on the table.

“Mrs. Mearely accepts no thanks for pleasing herself,” she replied,
colouring again and refusing to let her eyes meet his, lest he should
look through them into her mind and find confirmation of what the
pencil marks in the book had told him. She pointed to a chair. “Eat,
Vagabond!”

“Will you not share the beggar’s crust?” whimsically.

“It does make me feel hungry.”

“Good! Sit, then, and I’ll serve you: for, mind you, you are only a
guest at this wayside meal. I see just one slice of bread and butter I
think I can spare.”

“Oh, stingy!” she cried. A happy little laugh bubbled from her as she
slipped into a chair at his side. He helped her; then, proving his
earlier assertions, fell to with a will.

“Not stingy,” he mumbled, through bread and butter. “But _you_ have
already eaten three big, fat meals to-day.”

“I haven’t!” she protested. This was a most unfair charge. He went on:

“Eating _now_ is a mere--a Mearely--woman’s whim with you. You want
this supper just because it is mine!” He attacked the salad, hungrily.

“Well! _I gave_ it to you, didn’t I?” she demanded indignantly.

“And now, womanlike, you want to take it back. Never!--while I have
teeth!”--biting into the sandwich he had been waving to emphasize his
remarks. “Don’t plume yourself on your charity, either, dear young
Baroness of Castle de Junk----”

“Oh!” she scolded.

“Because you know you had to give me something to keep me from robbing
the museum.”

“It’s not a museum!” She stamped her foot. He laughed. They supped in
silence for several minutes.

“You know,” he said, as he held his cup for coffee, “after all, there
is a certain satisfaction in food. Nothing else gives one quite the
same feeling of completeness.” She nodded. “By the way, you can
probably tell me if this is the only little hillside town like this in
the neighbourhood with houses like this. Even a tramp sometimes likes
to know where he is--on a dark night.”

“There are the two towns, Roseborough and Poplars Vale. Roseborough is
the older. Poplars Vale used to be just a farm and a corner store. Now,
you see, it is quite a place. Almost like Roseborough.”

“Well, well; that accounts for it! Poplars Vale, eh?” he muttered. “And
I thought it was Roseborough.” Busy with the coffee-pot she did not
hear him. He leaned toward her. “Are the two towns comfortably close to
each other?”

“What? Oh, yes. An hour’s ride.”

“Only an hour’s separation? What a charming arrangement,” surveying
her with pleasure as she dropped two lumps into his cup. “What a queer
sugar-bowl?” he lifted it. “Sterling?”

“Oh--no--o. I suppose not.”

He laughed.

“Shame on you for a fibster! you are still a wee mite afraid I may
put it in my pocket. And what would I do with a monstrous thing
like that--all top-heavy with a row of little deformed cupids. ’Tis
cumbersome and unsightly--and quite useless. It reminds me of a royal
tea-service I’ve seen--than which nothing could be uglier. A white
china bowl would be prettier--and cleaner.” He set it down. “If I took
it I would not do so ill as the thief, Ambition, who came into your
house of life before me, and robbed you of your faith and the ability
to be glad. Believe me, faith--joyous faith--is worth more than many
silver bowls--and deformed little cupids,” he smiled.

“True, perhaps,” she said, thoughtfully. Suddenly she was stirred to
resentment at life and at him also; for his joyous, impudent freedom
seemed to make her feel her caged condition more than ever before. She
pushed her plate away, and rose. “And yet--do you suppose I could have
been robbed of it if I’d ever possessed a glad faith? It is not for
you to criticise me, is it?” She spoke with a trace of haughtiness.
“Let us think no more of serious things. Eating, drinking, comfort, and
ease--there’s my definition of life, Vagabond. And it seems to agree
with yours.” She pointed to his plate. He turned on her suddenly.

“Why do you lie to me and to yourself?”

The severity in his tone startled her.

“Oh!”

He went on, more gently, but not inclined to spare her a wholesome
truth or two.

“How can you face life if you are insincere? And that pitiful little
air of authority--because, forsooth, you still have the money you
married for! Fie, for shame! That is _not_ your definition of life.
Did I not tell you that I am a poet? Do you think a poet means only a
writer of rhymes? The poet is one who sees God walking wherever there
is a foothold of earth! What is your poor little mask to me? It is
shaped like a dollar-sign and I can see your eyes--and nose--through
it. Yes, and more: your heart. And I tell you that your place is not
here. Every hour that you lurk here in the shadows, you cheat yourself
of life.”

“Why do you say such things to me?” She was perturbed to the point of
resistance. “You--a vagabond--and outcast! This is my life.”

“Why do you throw _vagabond_ in my teeth, eh?”

“From scorn!”

“From envy. You envy me because I have dared to be a vagabond. I had
my choice once--as you had yours. I could have forsworn my liberty
and my poetry and--written the usual magazine trash. Oh, yes, I had
an ‘opening’ as they call it, into the world of spurious literature.
But, oh, how quickly I shut up that opening! I could also have taught
nice young lads to say _S’il vous plaît, madame_--or _La donna è
mobile_--and _Nein, das will Ich nicht machen!_ Not me. I have been
ridiculed, condemned. I have known poverty and hunger--and despair. But
let me tell you, when men cast me out, God received me. Earth took me
to her infinite embrace. She has fed me even in her deserts. She has
sheltered me among her hills. She has made me little brother to her
rains and her winds. And my despair--do you know what she has done to
that? She has taught me to make songs of it! And you--poor coward--how
you envy me!”

“Stop,” she commanded, hotly. “How dare you compare me with....”

“With a vagabond? Because you are _like_ me. Yes, you are! You hate
the shams as I do. You long for a real life, for a true love--just the
emotions and passions of common earth.”

“Be silent.”

He pursued his advantage relentlessly.

“Underneath that air of Madam Rich-and-Haughty, you are as romantic as
a schoolgirl, you who think you are cold and shallow! You, who.... Are
you crying?” She had dropped into her nook of the settee, with her face
hidden on her arm. He went to her.

“I--I--oh, you are very cruel.”

“Yes. It _is_ torture, to really see oneself.” She resisted this,
feebly.

“Oh, no--I’m not like that. Why should you think...?”

“Because I have read your heart in a book.” He lifted the volume. “How
you are longing for love--for a common, warm, human love. If some man,
no matter who or what he was, came to you--if even a vagabond were to
forget ‘the queen’ and throw himself boldly at your feet--you would
‘stoop and kiss him with your soul.’”

She turned her face up to him, then hid her eyes again from the look
in his--a look, searching and tender, that seemed to envelop her like
a caress, and to deny the trivialities of station and degree and the
opulent solidity of the Mearely house. It spoke from the life in him
to the life in her, with promise. He leaned over, near her, but not
touching her. “Who could have comprehended?” he whispered, wondering
at his own emotion for her, but accepting it with the same faith and
reverence with which he accepted sunrise, the falling of a star, or the
fragrance of the beneficent pines.

She looked up again and no longer hid the need she felt.

“Oh, don’t--don’t just trifle with me! You are the only man who has
ever understood: the only man who has ever....” She could not go on,
but her eyes and quivering mouth mutely besought him to say what she
longed to hear.

“Who has ever loved you?”

The tears filled her eyes again.

“Since you’re only a--a vagabond, and I don’t know you--and you will go
away like--like a make-believe prince--it couldn’t be very wrong for
you to say you love me--just once? I’ll never have anything _real_, so
can’t we just pretend?”

“Just pretend--you think? No. It couldn’t be very wrong for you to hear
me say just once that I love you. Only don’t repent to-morrow that you
heard love to-night from the lips of a vagabond.”

“Love will never come again,” sadly.

“I tell you it will. The very same love will come--not as a vagabond in
the night, but a love that you can accept.”

“Will it really come again?” wistfully.

“Yes. Now--good-night and good-bye.”

“Good-bye?” blankly. “You are going now? Oh--where?”

He picked up his hat and smoothed its pheasant’s feather, while he
smiled at her and said, mysteriously:

“Who knows? On through the woods, over the hills. Autumn is coming, and
the vagabond takes the road again.”

She went to him and put her hand in his. So, hand in hand, they walked
toward the verandah.

“I shall never forget you.”

“That is good,” he said. He stopped her as she was stepping out on
the verandah. “Wait. Go back. There is too much light behind you. Who
knows what curious eyes may lurk in the darkness below?” He leaped
back nimbly and turned off the light from the tall lamp. Pointing to
the valley and the river flooded with moonlight, he said, “See how my
golden path winds before me. Now, I leave you.” With another nimble
movement he had climbed to the railing.

“Oh--not that way,” she urged.

“It’s a quick way. A leap, and I am in the road below. Farewell,
Rosamond Mearely. Till love comes again, my merely Rosamond, say
good-night, and wish me well.”

“Good-night! I--I do not know your name!”

“A vagabond has no name.” he answered. He bent and swiftly kissed the
hand still trying to hold him, unclasped its fingers, and jumped to the
road.

“Good-bye, forever and ever, my vagabond.” Rosamond tried to call the
words to him, but a sob stopped them.

“Here!” “There!” “Get him!” Two rough voices shouted from below, and
there was the noise of tramping feet.

“Nay, nay! Good-night to you!” the vagabond called; his voice sounded
as if he were running.

“Hey! he’s off!” One of the rough voices roared. “Halt!” A shot
snapped through the air, followed quickly by another.

Rosamond stood motionless, stupefied by terror.

“I winged him,” she heard the same voice say. Then she threw off the
spell in which fear had gripped her and rushed out into the garden
and down the drive, calling wildly. Guns were as little known in
Roseborough as tramps. She had no idea what she should find in the
road, or who the men were who had shot at her vagabond and perhaps
killed him. No thought of danger to herself crossed her mind. She
dashed on recklessly, crying:

“Vagabond! My vagabond! Answer me!”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIX


The first sound she heard was a horse’s trotting as some one rode
away down the hill. There was a jumble of interjections, groans, and
arguments, amid which she distinguished her vagabond’s voice. He was at
least not slain! She sent up a swift prayer of grateful joy, and called
him again. He replied with a guarded question.

“Who’s calling?”

“I--I,” she answered. “What is it?”

“An accident. Nobody hurt.”

Following the direction of his voice, she came upon him seated on a
stone, with another man standing beside him. He addressed her formally.

“Madam, do not be alarmed. There has been an accident. This gentleman
is a constable. He was--er--under the impression that he ought to shoot
me, and did so without waiting for explanations.”

“Oh, dear--oh....”

He interrupted again, as quickly as he could get his breath.

“I presume the shots wakened you, or, if you were not asleep, alarmed
you. It was most charitable of you to run to the assistance of the
wounded.”

“Wounded!”

“Slightly. One favour only--let me ask. May we come in for a moment and
find out the extent of the damage? I am sure the officer will assist in
binding up the wounds he has made. We will trouble you for only a few
moments.”

She understood that she was to moderate her anxiety. Her vagabond did
not mean to let their former acquaintance be known to the village
sleuth who might gossip it about the valley.

“Can the constable carry you in?”

“_No_, ma’am! nor hi wouldn’t _try_ it!” came out of the night, with
indignant emphasis and a cockney accent as thick as the darkness.

“No need, officer. It’s my shoulder that is hit. If I may come in....”

“Hi might as well tell yer that, w’erever you go, _Hi_ goes with yer,
as Ruth she says to Nay-homy in the Scriptur’; cos w’y? Cos you’re
hunder arrest, that’s w’y.”

“Thank you for the explanation. I might have thought you were following
me from sheer affection.”

“Oh, don’t jest!” Rosamond pleaded. “It may be dreadfully serious. I
will run in ahead and find some linen to make bandages--and telephone
for the doctor.” She ran up the road toward her gate, not heeding his
protests against the doctor.

Dr. Wells’s office- and horse-boy, Peter, answered the telephone
almost immediately. He slept in the office downstairs for that purpose.
Dr. Wells was wont to say that while Peter never _woke_ up, when the
bell rang, he always _got_ up and took the name fairly correctly,
stumbled to his master’s door and repeated it, and then, after
harnessing the horse, rolled back to bed without knowing that he had
been up. When vagabond and constable entered Villa Rose, Peter was
even then rapping on the doctor’s chamber door and saying the name of
“Mearely.”

Rosamond scurried hither and thither producing soft linen and lotions,
safety pins and needle and thread, cotton batting and smelling salts,
until the end of the big table looked like a peep into a hospital. To
all protests she answered:

“Don’t talk! Don’t talk! Save your strength.”

The ball had furrowed the fleshy part of his left arm just below the
shoulder. Rosamond was obliged to remove his coat, cut the sleeve of
his shirt, and bathe and dress the wound herself without assistance
from the constable. That worthy stood by, twirling a battered straw hat
and staring open-eyed and open-mouthed at the contents of the living
room. He refused point blank to take any surgical responsibility.

“Hi’m a constable, and Hi ain’t no bloomin’ doctor. Hi drills ’oles in
yer; Hi don’t stop ’em hup again,” was his pithy and definite retort,
when besought to put the pins in the bandage while Mrs. Mearely held
it secure. In the end she was obliged to tie it, achieving quite a
pretty bow-knot which she spread out daintily and patted into place,
feeling a natural pride in it which she was not inclined to conceal.

While refusing to put a finger to the business, himself, the constable
was willing to make remarks and to offer criticisms, such as:

“Hi’ve ’eard of gangrene a-settin’ in hafter a shot. Hi shouldn’t be
surprised if ’e’d take to gangrene, ’im bein’ of that dark, bilious
complexion. A dark-skinned man is bound to be a bilious man. Hi never
knowed it to fail.”

Or:

“If Hi’d ben doin’ the job, Hi’d ’ave done it very different. But hit’s
not my place to nuss. Wot’s your name (’nyme’ he called it), by the
w’y?”

“Mrs. Mearely.” shortly. She already detested that constable.

He was a broad, slow person of forty or more, with a dragging
walk that, at first sight, seemed to be lameness; but save for
self-importance and a weary disgust at the world, his limbs were
whole. His head was as large as the average headstone, and of somewhat
the same shape; and though it was not of the same material, it was
thicker and looked as hard. He wore a gray linen duster, soiled and
much crumpled, from which he occasionally filliped bits of dried mud
with his thumb nail. He spoke in the deliberate, very positive accents
of a man who knows he has never made a mistake of any kind, even by
accident, in all his life. He forbore to argue with Mrs. Mearely when
she accused him of a callous soul, anent the bandaging. He simply put
back the flap of his duster and polished his badge with his cuff. The
inference was plain. She might _have_ riches; but he _was_ the _Law_.

“Why doesn’t Dr. Wells come? I am so frightened about you!” She burst
out presently, after the Law had expressed more of his uncomforting
views.

“But it’s nothing,” the victim protested.

“Oh, yes it is--it _is_! It’s a dreadful wound. It--it bled!”

“It’s only a graze on the shoulder. You have done everything needful.”

“Oh, no--I don’t know how to attend to it _properly_. If _only_ the
doctor would come! Don’t they c-cauterize--wounds?” She stammered over
the word, as she was not sure of it. “I--I--think I’ve read of that.
And sew them up with silk?--to--to prevent people from bleeding to
death?”

Her eyes were big and tearful with alarm.

“Please don’t be so troubled. It is only a trifle. You need not have
sent for the doctor at all.” He turned his head to hide the flicker of
amusement which he could not restrain.

“Oh, don’t talk!” she urged. “You haven’t the strength to waste. Ought
I to telephone again? Oh, dear! Dr. Wells’s boy is so stupid. Perhaps
he hasn’t told the doctor the right name--sent him off somewhere else.
And--and--you’ll bleed to death before he--he--comes to sew you up with
silk.” She wept.

“No--no, dear lady. Don’t be distressed. I’m all right.”

“Aw! ’E’ll do, I guess. Nuthin’ more’n a scratch; but wot a goin’-on
habout it!” The constable was disgusted.

Rosamond turned on him, angrily.

“What do _you_ know about it? It is all your fault! You might have
_killed_ him!”

This had far from the desired effect.

The constable replied proudly, looking from one to the other for
admiration:

“Hif it was my juty Hi’d ’ave _’ad_ ter kill ’im.” He put the straw hat
on his head with an air.

“Duty! How dare you shoot a man just because you see him alone on the
road at night!”

“Yes, ma’am. But, you see, ma’am, constable Gardner and me, we was sent
out to-night to look for a tramp. That’s hon account of some busybody
thinkin’ they seen ’im ’ereabouts this very hevenin’. So they tells the
chief, and ’e sends us, me an’ Gardner,--my nyme bein’ Marks, Halfred
Marks, Halfred Marks” (he touched his hat-brim to each in turn). “An’
so we comes beatin’ hit along hup the valley. An’ w’en Hi seen ’im on
the porch....”

Rosamond made an exclamation of alarm.

“You--you saw...?”

“Be careful,” her patient whispered.

“Yes, ma’am. I seen ’im standin’ on the railin’ as I come up the road.
And, considerin’ the time o’ night, hit looked queer--_to me_.” His
expression defied them to criticise his angle of vision.

“Why--why ...” Mrs. Mearely began, feeling for words that eluded her.
The vagabond came to her aid.

“Naturally--naturally--sergeant....”

The Law’s regard became more affable.

“Hi hain’t the sergeant, sir--thankin’ you kindly jest the same. Seein’
a man on the railin’ at that time o’ night....”

She interrupted, nervously:

“It couldn’t have been so very late....”

“Sh!” came the warning from behind her.

Slowly and laboriously, Mr. Marks took from his pocket a large,
open-faced silver watch, attached to a short loop and bow of bright,
cherry-coloured ribbon.

“Three-twelve; nigh on three-fifteen,” he said, after a prolonged
examination.

“But it was not three, _then_!”

“Hi didn’t say _three_, ma’am. Hi said three-twelve. Three-thirteen it
is now, bein’ as time an’ tide waits for no man. Must a’ben two-thirty,
any’ow--nearer two forty-five.” Preparing to return the watch to his
pocket, he noticed the other man gazing at its cherry bow. “Hi see
you’re hadmirin’ of _this_. It’s one of Mrs. Marks’s ’appy touches. She
‘as a good bit of sentiment, Mrs. Marks ’as--on haccount of marryin’
_late_ in life. Hi recommends Mrs. Marks as a wife; or hany spinster
that’s standin’, so to speak, hon the doorsill of the lonesome forties,
for, w’en they _gets_ took up by a man, they’re very grateful an’
supine. So as Hi was sayin’, seein’ ’im on the railin’ at that time of
night, Hi thought Hi’d see wot was hup!”

“Naturally, officer: of course.”

“So Hi starts hup the bank with Gardner; an’ jest then--bump!--the
feller jumps an’ lands on my ’ead, and we goes down a-rollin’ into the
road, with Gardner hafter us. Gardner, ’e picks ’isself hup an’ ’oofs
it for the station, never carin’ for me; but that’s hall reg’lar,
’cause _’e_ goes hoff juty at two-thirty. That’s ’ow Hi knowed wot
time it wos--haccount of Gardner leavin’ me in the ditch an’ ’oofin’
it for the station. Hi’d jest come _hon_ juty; so Hi ’as to pick
myself hup--an’ make it ’ot for _’im_,” indicating the wounded man in
the chair. “So Hi spits hout a mouthful of sand-pebbles back hon to
the road (where they’d houghter of stayed hin the first place) an’ I
_yells_ at ’im: ‘’Alt!’ says Hi. But off ’e goes,” His wooden face took
on an aggrieved look like a boy’s when left behind in a race.

Rosamond exclaimed angrily:

“You should have let him go. You had no right to shoot!”

“Hi’ll shoot hany man wot jumps on my ’ead--’specially _at that time o’
night_!” He spoke as one positively within his rights. “’Ow was Hi to
know ’e was your ’usband, ma’am?”

“My--my...?” she gasped.

“’Specially as hit was in the dark. But hi wouldn’t a-knowed if hit ’ad
ben in the light. Now, if you’ll give me the nyme, ma’am, Hi’ll be hoff
and make my report to the chief.” He brought a large tablet notebook
and pencil out of his pocket. Rosamond looked at the vagabond, her face
blank with dismay.

“Report? Oh-h--you mustn’t....”

“You needn’t report this, officer,”--quickly coming to her rescue--“I
have no complaint to make. It was purely an accident.”

“Oh yes! _purely_ an accident; not of the _least_ importance!” she
emphasized, snatching gratefully at the straw.

“Thank you kindly, ma’am. Hi’ll take his nyme jes’ the syme, as a
matter of juty.”

There was a pause in which two disconcerted persons faced each other
with perplexed looks.

“Certainly--certainly--er--but I am not this lady’s husband....”

“Then--wot is she makin’ such a goin’ hon habout yer for?” severely.

“Well--I--er--I’m--her chauffeur.”

“Yes!” she echoed, almost sobbing in her relief. “Yes! he’s the
chauffeur.”

The impromptu motorist continued:

“You see--er--there was a party this evening and I drove some of the
guests home--er--I had just returned. So--er--that was how it happened
I was so late--two-forty-five I think you said, by the cherry-ripe
timepiece.”

“Yes! that was it,” Rosamond assisted cheerfully. Her chauffeur!
Wonderful vagabond! How cleverly he had extricated her from a
problem which, in Roseborough, could have had but one--and that a
fatal--termination.

“Wot Hi’d like to know is, w’y was you standin’ on the porch railin’
w’en Hi was comin’ hup the road?” Mr. Marks, it appeared, had an
unfortunate memory for details.

“Oh, that?” with a _dégagé_ air. “When you were coming up the
road?--er--. Was _that_ what I heard? I was in here to--er--to get a
bite of supper--see, there are the plates on the table--when--hist!--I
heard something--something suspicious. I listened.” He paused
dramatically. Marks nodded, all agog. “Er--it was a _noise_!” He felt
his inventive powers weakening. Marks nodded again, wisely.

“’Earin’ a noise is wot makes hany man suspicious.”

“Er--I thought it might be a tramp. So I climbed on the railing--er--to
see better. I thought I saw a man--a tramp--climbing up the bank.
So--of course--I jumped on him!” His manner declared that to leap from
a high rail down upon the heads of tramps, was a tenet he had held from
childhood.

“W’en you saw hit were a horfcer of the law--w’y didn’t you ’alt w’en
Hi _said_ ’alt?”

“Oh--that?” casually; he considered: “Well, you see, I was so
frightened when I saw that I had apparently attacked a constable--I
lost my head and....”

“You nearly lost _me my_ ’ead--a-jumpin’ on it like a fancy ’igh diver
on a rollin’ wave.” He accosted Rosamond, formally, pointing his pencil
at her. “And your nyme’s ‘Mearely,’ you say, ma’am? Hi’d oughter know
but Hi hain’t been on the county force more’n three years an’ it takes
me a whiles to get hacquainted. My motto, as Hi says hit to myself a
’undred times a day, is ‘Slow and careful, Halfred.’ ‘_Mrs._ Mearely,’
you said?”

“Yes, Mrs. Mearely. Hawthorne Road.”

He bit his pencil carefully and indited.

“Hi knows the _road_ hall right--an’ hafter this Hi’ll _stick_ to
it--if hall the King’s ’orses an’ hall the King’s men is a-standin’
on the porch railin’. Let ’em stand there, Hi say. And see ’ow they
like it! Good-night, ma’am.” He put away his note book and pencil and
started slowly toward the door. The vagabond waved him a pleasant
farewell.

“There’ll be no complaint from me. Good-night sergeant.”

Mr. Marks retraced his few deliberate steps.

“Hi hain’t the sergeant, thankin’ you kindly. Hi ought to be. But to
_hought_ hain’t to is--as Hi tells Mrs. Marks--she bein’ hambitious.
Beggin’ your pardon, there’s a little matter Hi’d like to arsk
your hadvice about. An’ that his: Might you ’ave ’ad a confederate
houtside?” He gestured with his thumb.

“A confederate?” in surprise.

“No. Hi suppose not” disappointedly. “You bein’ the shoofer, Hi
couldn’t say wot you’d want of a confederate. But Hi could a-swore Hi
saw a ’eavy-set lookin’ man hon the ’illside habove me w’en Hi started
hup to inquire wot you was doin’ hon that there railin’. That’s wot I
fired the second shot for, w’en I got hup from hunder your boots. But
my eyes not bein’ the best, Hi couldn’t swear hif it was a man hor
a strayed cow, hor a juniper bush. But Hi took a pot shot at wot Hi
_thought_ it was; and hit seemed to me like Hi ’eard a groan. Hit might
’ave been a cow. Did you groan?”

“Moo--oo. Like that?”

Marks studied the sound.

“Hi carn’t say Hi reco’nize hit. Hi do wish Hi was a better ‘and at
’ittin wot Hi shoots at. That’s halways _been_ a failin’ o’ mine.
Look, in your hown case--just a _bit_ of a _scratch_, that’s hall--and
me a-’oldin’ on to your coat-tails at the time. It’ud _count_ for a
_miss_. Hit’s very ’umiliatin’ to a horfcer. At that, it might ’ave
been a juniper bush. Good-night, sir.”

He surveyed his victim from the doorway in a peevish fashion and
muttered:

“Hi do wish my aim was better. Hi do wish that.”

“Oh, _good-night_!” Rosamond cried in uncontrollable exasperation.

Constable Marks took out his watch.

“Good-_mornin’_, _Hi_ should say.” Without undue haste he put his watch
away, touched his hat, first to one, then to the other, and moved off
along the verandah.

“Thank heaven he’s gone! Oh Vagabond, I wish the doctor would come! If
only Blake were here to help you to bed.”

The vagabond was on his feet, rocking in a gale of laughter which only
main force had silenced until the constable’s exit.

“I’m not going to bed! For a bit of a scratch like this? Never.
Besides, I might miss something. Oh, human nature! How rich it is, how
glorious!”

“Oh! don’t laugh like that. It exerts you too much. You must be so
weak.” She tried to induce him to sit down again among the pillows of
the armchair.

“I’m not weak!”--he denied the charge as if it affronted him--“only
perishing for a drink of water.”

“There is ice-water in the cooler on the dining-room table. I’ll bring
you a glass.” She was flitting away to get it, but he intercepted her.

“Indeed, you shall not! You must not wait on me any more. I’m neither a
cripple--nor royalty. Oh, by the way”--he closed the dining room door
again and came back to her--“Who is Blake? You mentioned a Blake just
now.”

“He’s the coachman. Why?”

He laughed.

“You are sure he’s not the chauffeur?”

“No,” she smiled.

“To think I should have to be a chauffeur after all!” He threw out
his hands with the surrendering gesture of one who has ceased to defy
destiny. “Didn’t I tell you society’s greatest need was chauffeurs?
See how I arose, instinctively, to meet the demand. Your chauffeur,
madam--I mean ma’am.”

“It is _so_ lucky that you thought of that!” she replied; then they
both laughed again, in delight, as well as mirth, because they shared
so entertaining a secret unknown to all the world.

“But I warn you, never let me drive your automobile if you value your
life. I am a chauffeur in name only.”

“Never fear,” she answered gaily. “I don’t require your services. I
have no automobile--except a little electric; and I drive that myself.”

“Wise woman! If you could only drive your ‘little electric’ of life as
cleverly!”

She tossed her head, spiritedly.

“I’ve never had an accident!”

He challenged this.

“Because you never turn any other roads than the smooth paths of Mrs.
Mearely’s walled enclosure--where there are no fascinating dangers. At
least, not for _you_.”

Though she smiled, her answer was only half humorous.

“But what happens to people who try to escape from the safe
enclosures?--Those, I mean, who won’t live the way others want them to?”

“Ah!” he cried. “They make one glorious blind leap for freedom....”

“And land on--‘the ’ead of the Law,’” she retorted.

“_Break_ its head! The sooner the better” smilingly.

“They can’t,” she replied, gravely; though the light his coming had
put into her eyes, like new candles, was still there. “The law is too
strong. It brings them back again--wounded!” She pointed to the bandage.

When he answered, there was a defiant ring in his voice that was not
all pretence. All his gypsying past was calling to him to guard himself
against the unconscious power of the little lady of the museum whose
shining eyes told so frankly that her heart had set out on the great
search.

“A pin-scratch on the skin of my shoulder! That’s all that the talons
of social law have been able to do to _this_ vagabond. I go to drink to
liberty--and the open road--in a bumper of ice-water.”

He departed with a dramatic flourish. As the door closed behind him,
Rosamond indulged in a long, delicious sigh, thinking what a marvellous
end her Wonderful Day was coming to, and slipped into the big chair he
had vacated. On the stand just beside the chair, which was placed close
to the end of the settee, the bowl and linen strips were still in view.
She rose and gathered them up. The bowl still held some water. She ran
to the verandah rail and emptied it. Seeing a towel, another sponge
and a roll of batting on the big table, she picked up these various
items, and patted them into the bowl preparatory to putting them safely
out of sight until the doctor should arrive and perhaps need them.



CHAPTER XX


Suddenly she started, in alarm, and ran to the dining room door. She
had heard a loud groan. Even while she reached to turn the handle she
heard it again; but not from the direction of the dining room. If
sound indicated truly, there was someone outside--someone in distress.
Immediately, she heard a heavy tread on the verandah and a large
swarthy, black-whiskered man in black clothes limped upon her horizon.
She emitted a pathetic little moan of fright, turned pale and dropped
everything but the bowl. Her fingers clung to that, mechanically.

The intruder removed his hat, and bowed very low.

“_Guten Morgen, meine Dame. Verstehen Sie?_”

“Oh--oh!” She breathed out her interjections as a sort of windy,
wordless prayer to be spared more excitement even on her Wonderful Day.
Until this day nothing had ever happened in Roseborough. Now, too much
was happening. The swarthy man bowed again profoundly.

“_J’espère que je ne vous dérange pas, madame. Comprenez-vous?_”

“Oh--h! What is he saying?” Then, losing the last remnants of her
poise she waved him off wildly, chattering: “I don’t wish any, thank
you. No, I don’t want anything to-day. Oh--h! go-o away.”

He was unmoved by her explosion. Bowing again, he said:

“Ah, you speak the English. I cannot complain. It is your language. I
also speak it perfectly--as you hear.”

She did not venture to inform him that his accent was execrable. She
only stared, and her pale lips silently shaped the words “go away.”

“I speak it perfectly, but I detest it. The whole world must speak
their abominable language because they will not learn any other. Even
the Irish must learn English before they can curse it for sympathy.
I detest the English. When I meet a stranger, I address him first in
German; next”--he enumerated them rapidly--“in the French, Italian,
Spanish, Russ, Magyar, Turkish and the Chinese. Then if he will
not....”--with a shrug--“I condescend to speak the English--but always
against my will. I detest the English.”

If Rosamond thought at all during this address, she must have thought
the man mad. She was afraid to speak or move; she stared, hoping
perhaps to conquer the maniac, if such he were, by the power of her
fixed eye.

“Ah!--_pardon_.” He gave the word the French pronunciation; and
stooping painfully, picked up the towel and handed it to her. Since she
did not take it, he draped it over her arm, seemingly unaware that she
backed away from him.

“_Pardon._” He picked up the two sponges, one in each hand, and put
them into the bowl. “_Pardon_,” and the roll of batting followed the
sponges. “_Pardon_,” and “_pardon_,” et cetera, and one by one the
linen strips were hung over the towel on her arm. Then he withdrew a
few steps and bowed.

“What--what are you doing here?” She managed to ask at length. “Who are
you?”

“Madam, my mission in your detestable country, for a few hours longer,
is a secret. But my name I disclose: it is to comfort your alarms.
How can one better comfort the alarms than to introduce to you Teodor
Carl Peter Lassanavatiewicz, of the diplomatic secret service of
Woodseweedsetisky? I have been wounded in that service. Not my word
alone, but my murdered leg, introduces me to you as a patriot.”

“Wounded?” she repeated automatically.

“_Ja, meine Dame._ I have been execrably, abominably wounded in the
leg. My secret business--and, believe, it is of a most international
importance--has brought me to your country. I can explain no more. I am
a believer not in the discretion of woman.” He bowed.

“What are you doing in my garden?” She demanded with an effort to
master her fears.

He bowed.

“_Bitte._ That is the concern of my secret business. I wish to meet a
certain person very quietly, and induce that person to return with me
very quietly--to--shall I say?--yes?--his family? Yes. I wish to take
a certain great person home. Why I now make myself known to you, that
I will explain. In the peaceful and very secret pursuit of my duties,
I have been perceived by a lady of some age and much excitement, who
screams like a parrot because she sees me looking, very gently, over
your balcony. I wish to give no alarms. Therefore I look no more over
your balcony. Instead, I hide in the river-grass till the guests
have departed and the lights you have put out. Then I return. But it
becomes unsafe in your garden. There are bandits. I have been shot in
the leg. _Donnerwetter!_ I have been _detestably_ shot in the leg!
Therefore, I make myself known and request your permission to continue
to watch, in the road below your garden, for the arrival of a certain
person--without attacks from bandits. I will sit upon a stone under the
cypress trees. I will alarm no one. I request only that I be no more
attacked.”

“Oh yes! oh, please go now. No one will attack you.”

He bowed again, twice.

“_Grazia, grazia, signora._ It is most important that my business
remain secret. Be at ease. You, also, are safe while Teodor Carl Peter
Lassanavatiewicz is in your garden. Comfort your alarms. I request it
as a charity, madam,--will you of your goodness give me of the linen,
with which you have doubtless tended the wounds of the man of your
household, who has been attacked by the violent savages who infest this
road. I heard the terrible battle in the darkness. I tried to escape.
Psst! _I_ was shot!”

Holding out her arm on which he had hung the strips, and keeping
herself literally ’at arm’s length’ from his touch, she indicated that
he was to help himself. He took three pieces, bowed after each taking,
and thanked her in three languages.

“_Danke schön. Grazia. Je vous remercie mille fois, madame._” Then,
with an expression and gesture of dislike, he added, “But I forget!
you speak only this desolating and dolorific English--which I detest.
_Adios._ Farewell.” On the verandah, he paused. “When my secret
business is accomplished, I rejoice to return to Europe and my own
country, where there are no dangers to the distinguished official high
in the secret police. I give a gold coin to the brigands of Poland or
to the anarchists of our Balkans. ‘_¿De dónde bueno?_ Si, _Señor_.’ So
it is happily arranged. Here, no! They wait not for ‘good-evening.’
They _shoot_--in the _leg_! _Donnerwetter!_ I, who have fought close
to all the rebellions in Woodseweedsetisky without a match-burn, I
have here been execrably wounded in the leg. It is insult!” His voice
trembled and tears of humiliation wetted his cheeks. Drawing himself
up, he put on his hat and gestured to her with the formality of a
military salute. “_Je vous rends grâces, madame._” He limped out, with
groans that grew fainter as he progressed into the garden.

Mrs. Mearely stared after him, still in doubt that he had really
occurred. She tiptoed, fearfully, to the door and peeped out, to
satisfy herself that he was not loitering on her verandah. What had he
said in explanation of his presence? She tried to recall his words, but
remembered only the phrases about taking a certain great person home,
diplomatic service of some country, or city, hitherto unheard of, and
that he had looked over the balcony before and been screamed at by a
lady of some age and much excitement. So it was he and not the vagabond
who had looked over her balcony, alarming Mrs. Witherby. Then who was
the vagabond and why had _he_ also come to Villa Rose? Was there any
connection between the two? Were they both dark and secret “gentlemen
burglars,” about to strip Villa Rose of all its antiques? She rejected
this suspicion firmly, as soon as it rose. Romance forbade it.

In putting the bowl back on the stand she knocked off the _Digest_ and
the Browning. Automatically, she picked them up. The caption “A Runaway
Prince” caught her eye and held it. Gradually her expression changed.
The colour burned in her cheeks again, as the thrill of amazement and
excitement palpitated through her. She scanned the article feverishly,
muttering snatches of it aloud.

“‘The Runaway Prince! Secret search through Europe, Britain,
and America.’ The Prince is ‘eccentric, romantic, artistic, a
connoisseur.’--Of course! He picked out the Turner at once! and the
Buddha! Oh, can it be...?” She consulted the paper again. “‘The prince
is fond of entering, incognito, the homes of humble folk--frequently
attired like a vagabond.’” The paper fell from her hand. “‘Fond of
entering the homes’--‘secret search’--‘to bring a certain great person
home’--? Oh, it _is_--it _is_ the prince! A prince has come to me, on
my Wonderful Day!”



CHAPTER XXI


A voice broke in upon her blissful musings, in a strain both
matter-of-fact and gently reproachful.

“You never gave me any jelly. I found one out there; it was delicious.
Also a truly amazing cake. I think I may deduce from the state of my
appetite that I forgot to eat a dinner to-night. Yes, I remember now. I
wrote a poem instead. All but the last verse. That didn’t seem to come.
So I wound up with coffee and cheese.”

The Incognito sauntered in from the dining room with a comforted look
on his countenance.

“That farther compartment of your museum, the kitchen, seemed
familiar. I was led to explore it. I do not despise kitchens--nor
pantries. I have a fancy for them. Nothing delights me like entering a
pantry--unobserved.”

Noting Mrs. Mearely’s absorbed gaze, he became self-conscious. He
looked at her; then endeavoured, by looking directly from her eyes to
his own person, to discern what it was that had inspired her fixed
stare.

“Is anything the matter with me? I mean, anything more than usual?”

“Oh no, Your Hi----” She checked the reverent utterance quickly.
“Oh--oh--no!”

“I thought, perhaps.... Never mind. What I was about to tell you is,
that I explored your pantry with better success than _you_ did when you
prepared my supper. You overlooked a cake fit for a prince--Eh? What?
Oh, merely an exclamation? It is a miracle of beauty to look at--and,
to eat! Who made it? I ask, because the cooker of that cake has the
soul of an artist. I wish to spend my days in the shadow of her wing.”

“I made it.” She blushed, happily, under the royal praise.

“You? Put a raisin in your diadem, as its central jewel!”

“You will not mock at the ‘museum’ any more when I tell you that I
found the recipe for that cake in an old parchment. The Countess of
Mountjoye invented the cake first in 1715 for the Prince of Paradis:
and history says she was the only one of his sweethearts who never lost
his affection. So, you see, it was always a ...” (she paused, changed
the phrase she was about to use, namely, “a prince’s cake” into) “a
cake fit for a prince.”

“And she never lost his affection? I can well believe it! For I feel
tender toward her, even two hundred years later. But, since I cannot
lay _my_ royal heart at _her_ feet, I consign it to that spot on the
rug just between your two silver-toed slippers. Ah!” he sighed.

“Are you feeling any pain now?” respectfully. He was vaguely conscious
of a change in her manner but, being ignorant of the cause, attached no
importance to it, as yet.

“From the cake? By no means!”

“From your wound.” Her manner reproached him for his flippancy. Then
she remembered that he did not know how close his would-be captor lay;
and that, even if he were not wounded, it would be almost impossible
for him to slip away from Villa Rose, to pursue his glad, free
wanderings, unless perhaps she could devise some subtle disguise to
aid him--even as the medieval ladies, in Hibbert Mearely’s old books,
passed their gentlemen, royal and otherwise, out of compromising
situations.

“Oh none,--none” he answered. “I’ve forgotten I was ever at the wrong
end of a gun.”

She pushed the big chair toward him.

“Will you not sit down?”

“By no means. Allow me to place the chair for _you_.” He laid hold of
its other arm to push it toward her, and she resisted with all the
etiquette at her command.

“Oh no!” she was shocked. “You must allow _me_ to place it for _you_.”
He, in his turn, resisted as firmly.

“Because I am a poor, sick, helpless creature? Is that why you insist
on waiting on me?” He had a sturdy masculine objection to this view of
him. She blushed.

“Oh, no! That is not the reason.”

The expression in her shining eyes contented him. He sank among the
cushions; and, closing his hand over hers, drew her to the broad,
square stool beside his chair.

“There! I will sit; and you shall sit beside me and tell me wherefore
you have changed your ways with me--holding chairs for me and so forth.”

The whimsical air left him. His black eyes grew grave. He was touched
by the look of awe and wonder she turned up to him, and his feeling for
her was deepening and taking possession of him.

“One waits on--princes,” she said, with a little catch of her breath.
He laughed softly.

“Oh, Madam Make-Believe! Will you crown the vagabond now and make a
prince of him--thou cooker of prince’s cakes? If I were a prince, do
you know what my name would be? I’d be Prince Run-Away.”

“Yes!” she cried. “Prince Run-Away!”

“There are several kinds of vagabonds, my dear; and neither palace nor
cottage walls can hold them! Nor catch and cage them again, once they
have escaped.” Even as he said it, he knew that it was less true, at
that moment, than it had been before he entered the strange house and
encountered the fairy princess in the museum.

“If he knew that his own Secret Service is lurking just outside, to
snatch him back into his palace-prison!” she thought. Aloud she said,
timidly:

“But there’s the law.”

“What law is there that can’t be broken?” he demanded.

“Don’t you know,” she answered, “that there _is_ a law that can’t be
broken? It was made for us, by something stronger than we are; and it
says that human beings must live together, in families and groups.
Because the need of brotherhood is the strongest thing in them. And
that _need_ is the _law_. Have you never felt it, Prince Run-Away?”

He looked at her in silence for a moment. Then he said, seriously:

“There is always need of love--true love. But there is so much
counterfeit love in the world, Rosamond. To pass all the little waving
false hands safely--losing no grain of faith, nor drop of tenderness by
the way--and come, at last, and fold your heart’s wings softly in two
tender, loyal hands, which will never weary and never unclasp----”

She surrendered her hands, willingly. It would be something sweet to
remember all her life, how a prince had held them tenderly.

“Do you know--in the twilight, as I came along through the rushes of
the river-path--I made a little poem to you? I did not know it was to
you.”

He drew a small note book from one of his pockets, and turned its pages.

“There it is, you see--all zigzagged across the paper--like the little
zigzag path in the dusk. But both came straight to you.”

“Oh! is this your book of poems?” eagerly.

“It is _one_ of them. I have others. Six, to be exact. Two are with
a friend in St. Petersburg. He is translating them. One is in my
hut. Another is in London, where it will soon be published. And the
best--the first, the youngest, and dearest--the one I’m proudest of--is
buried in a biscuit tin in Idaho.”

“Oh!” she cried, thrilled. “To think you’ve wandered through all those
places--Prince Run-Away.”

“To come at last to _you_--Madam Make-Believe.”

He looked at her so long that her lashes drooped and her colour came
and went.

“Read it to me--my poem”--she said softly, and leaned over the
manuscript. Her hair touched his cheek, as he also leaned over to
descry the words he had pencilled in the dark.

  “If I were a ship on the deep seas flowing,
      If I were a ship on the waters blue,
  I’d go sailing round the world of women
    To the harbour lights and the ports of You.

  “If I were a cloud in the high air blowing,
    If I were a cloud in the sapphire skies,
  Oh, I’d break my rest in the orbs of heaven,
    To be the mist in your young, blue eyes.

  “If I were the grass in the green earth growing,
    If I were the grass where the wild flowers meet,
  I would leave my peace in the morning meadows,
    To deck life’s road for your eager feet.”

He ceased, and she looked up, wistfully.

“Isn’t there any more? Oh, make it up!” she pleaded. “Make it up, now!”
The book dropped back into the big pocket.

“Make it up now?” he echoed. He put his arm gently about her shoulders,
as if he meant to say that he would not hold her against her wish.
Then, hesitating, here and there, for the words, he went on:

  “Oh, would I were Love--Love’s true art knowing:
    Would I were Love--I would wrap you round!
  My faith for your home, and my songs for your wending,
    And my heart, my heart, for your garden-ground.”

Then, since love and youth must have their way, he kissed her; and
found, with her, that her lips had waited for his. In that instant
principalities and powers--his kingdom and her village--melted into
mist. There were no countries, no degrees, no secret service nor
scandal-mongers, no differences of race and place: love had met with
love.

They were recalled to Roseborough by the noise of wheels on the gravel
drive. Rosamond sprang up in alarm.

“Someone coming here?” he queried. She stopped him.

“Don’t go to the verandah. If you should be seen! Oh, hide!” She ran
to the door. “Oh-h.” It was a gasp of relief. “Of course; it is the
doctor.” She smiled. Her smile faded, however, instantly; and she
interjected again.

“What’s the matter now?” the prince asked.

“You can’t tell Dr. Wells you are my chauffeur. He knows I haven’t one!”

The doctor’s footsteps were coming along the porch.

“Leave it to me,” hastily. “I’ll tell him something.”

Dr. Wells, entering hurriedly, with his little black bag in his hand
and neighbourly anxiety in his heart, encountered Mrs. Mearely on her
threshold, and saw no farther. He was astounded.

“Mrs. Mearely!” he exclaimed. “You are able to be up?”

Rosamond was taken aback by this greeting, not understanding for the
moment that the doctor had come to her home under the impression that
she herself was ill.

“Yes, certainly.--Oh, I see. But it is not I who need your services.”

“Well, I _am glad_ of that! My boy, Peter, who answered the telephone,
said I must come to you at once. I feared you had been taken seriously
ill. So I hastened, as fast as possible--considering that my own
indigestion was acute. I delayed only to awaken Mrs. Wells, and tell
her that I had received an urgent call to your home. Dear, dear! she
was greatly alarmed. Indeed, she almost insisted on coming with me,
knowing that you are alone. But I couldn’t permit it. She was seized
with such a fit of hiccoughs and heart-burn, poor thing, that I
prevailed upon her to remain warmly in bed.”

Even his capacious lungs needed refilling with air at times, so that
his philippics must eventually come to a period. Rosamond had made
several useless efforts to interrupt him; now she said quickly, to
prevent him from launching another fleet of parentheses:

“How kind. But, as you see, I am perfectly well. It is this gentleman
who requires your services.” She led the way to the big chair, where
the vagabond had settled again, perhaps because he thought that a
wounded man should not appear too brisk, considering the hour and
place.

“The accident ...” she began.

“Accident?” Dr. Wells repeated. “Dear, dear. We have so few accidents,
fortunately. Is it a fracture?”

“Accidental shooting, doctor,” the prince informed him. “The wound
is in the shoulder.” He must have removed her bowknot bandage in the
dining room, because it was no longer there when he slipped his coat
off. Dr. Wells produced a huge pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, which he
put on over his small gold-rimmed ones.

“Tst--tst--tst,” he muttered, peering, first from one side, then from
the other; “dear, dear. Yes, yes. It might very well have caused your
death, if it had been in some other part of the body. Yes, indeed, not
so slight as it appears, Mr.--” He paused, looking from one to the
other, inquiringly. Thinking his tentative query had not been heard he
repeated it, loudly, “Mr. ----?”

“Er--Mr. ----” Rosamond stammered, quickly. “Dr. Wells didn’t quite
catch your name.”

“My name? Er--Mills. Yes. _Mr._ Mills. With _two_ l’s,” he added;
as though to prove the name his own, by showing that he could spell
it; or, as inept liars always overdo matters, by adding a second fib
to throw suspicion on the first. “I was passing along the road from
Trenton. Some constables were out hunting a tramp who had alarmed the
neighbourhood. Some one shouted ‘halt.’ I supposed it was an attempted
hold-up. So I spurred on; and got a bullet in my shoulder.”

In the pleasant relief of this plausible tale, Mrs. Mearely embarked
upon prevaricating ventures of her own.

“I--I had been sitting here reading, and just as I was--er--about to
retire--I heard voices--and a shot. So--so--I ran out. And when I saw
what had happened--er--I had Mr. Woods....”

“Mills,” he corrected her, quickly, “with two l’s.”

“Mr. Mills--with two l’s. Thank you. I had Mr. Mills brought here. Then
I sent for you.”

The vagabond prince added another touch of realism to the fiction. He
bowed formally, as if he had only now perceived that there was a lady
present, and said:

“I shall never forget your kindness, Mrs. ----?”

“Mrs. Mearely.” She took the cue promptly and, imitating his method,
painstakingly spelled the name out: “M-e-a-r-e-l-y.”

“Mrs. Mearely,” he repeated, and bowed again.

Even innocent-hearted Dr. Wells might have questioned the wherefore of
this spelling bee, if he had not been wholly occupied with the contents
of his bag.

“Now, if Dr. Wells will kindly patch me up so that I can set out on my
way....”

“No, no! You daren’t go on now.” In spite of herself, her glance went
to the verandah. Had the Secret Service come creeping up from the road
again, to see that His Highness did not escape in the doctor’s trap?

“Go on? To-night?” Dr. Wells shook his head. He never approved of rapid
convalescence. “Oh, dear no. I couldn’t advise it. Bed and rest, my
dear sir; bed and rest, till the shock is abated. Yes.”

“My sister’s room is ready,” Mrs. Mearely urged.

“Mrs. Mearely is kindness itself.” The vagabond bowed again. “But I
dare not lose the time. I am obliged to keep an appointment to-morrow.
Important business.”

“At least let me dress the wound properly--if we may use your sister’s
room for that purpose?”

“Certainly,” Rosamond said quickly, silencing the protest she saw
coming. “You must submit Mr. Wood--er--Mills. You know the way, doctor?”

She opened the door, at the right of the music room, where the stairs
began their windings to the upper stories. The patient, supported by
the doctor, and still protesting about his appointment elsewhere the
next morning, mounted slowly. Rosamond waited to gather up her bowl,
linen and sponges; then she closed the door behind her and ran up the
stairs, to render aid in the bandaging, if necessary.



CHAPTER XXII


The room to which the wounded gentleman was conducted, was at the back
of the house looking toward the peak of the hill and over a corner of
the orchard. Ordinary sounds from the road and the front of the house
did not reach it.

Dr. Wells, washed, treated, and dressed the scratch, amid dissertations
and reminiscences, while Rosamond assisted in the capacity of surgical
nurse, and the patient stifled yawns and mirth and the desire to
embrace the beautiful nurse; all three being blissfully unaware that
there were anxious guests in the living room.

Mrs. Witherby, bearing all the marks of ‘half-asleep,’ sat in the
big chair, looking about from door to door with barely suppressed
excitement. Corinne stood near her, with gaping mouth and eyes, and a
restless alarm that kept her standing, first on one foot, then on the
other. Mrs. Witherby punched a cushion at her back, and said in a gusty
whisper:

“I suppose we’d better sit down and wait till the nurse comes.”

“Has she a nurse?” Corinne whispered back.

“Of course. Dr. Wells would see to that. I expect he brought Jane
Hinch with him. He _always_ foists Jane Hinch on his patients. _I_
wouldn’t have her in the house. I don’t consider her efficient. The
fact that she is Mrs. Wells’s cousin is no recommendation to _me_.”

“Mrs. Wells didn’t seem to know what was the matter with Mrs. Mearely,
did she?”

“How could she know till the doctor got here? How stupid you are,
Corinne!”

“I’m so sleepy.” The big, round eyes blinked.

“Well!” irritatedly. “Is your mother not sleepy too? I do think Mrs.
Wells might have waited till morning to telephone. It always upsets me
to be waked suddenly like that.”

“But she knew Mrs. Mearely was alone. It must be dreadful to be ill and
all alone.”

“You needn’t expatiate on it, Corinne,” sharply. “She has only herself
to thank for it. I did _my_ best to prevent her from remaining here
alone. But she was ridiculously obstinate about it. She even joined Dr.
Wells and the rest of them, in jeering and snickering at my caution.
Well, you see what has come of it. That tramp returned and half
murdered her with fright. I hope she has learned her lesson.”

“But, mamma, Mrs. Wells, said it was something she _ate_. At least, she
thought it was.”

“Humph!” her mother interrupted. Her tone made “humph” a silencing
argument to most opponents.

“Yes, mamma. Because, she said Dr. Wells himself had an attack of
indigestion, when he came home; and he hardly ate anything--only some
salad and a cheese sandwich.”

Mrs. Witherby sniffed in a superior manner. This was a subject on which
she had opinions.

“My dear. The Wellses have dyspepsia on the brain--as well as
elsewhere. Ever since that cousin of Dr. Wells, Dr. Mayhew Pipp, in
London, discovered his famous cure for dyspepsia, the Wellses have
had nothing else, and talked of nothing else. If they aren’t careful,
they’ll die of it, just like Dr. Pipp did. _I_ say that dyspepsia is
not a disease at all. It’s a habit. Whenever my mother saw any of us
looking yellow, she made us stick a feather down our throats--and
that was the end of it. I will say, though, that I never tasted worse
parsnip wine in my life. Such a slaughter of good parsnips. I had a
_little_ salad--and I thought it tasted very peculiar, now I come to
think of it. Well--if it’s ptomaine poisoning, there’s probably very
little hope for her.”

Corinne, who had only partly persuaded herself that there was nothing
in the tramp theory, found herself unprepared for the even more serious
poison theory.

“Oh, mamma, don’t!” she wailed.

“We may as well face the worst, Corinne. Because, until her sister can
get back, we shall be obliged to stay here and oversee things. I shall,
at least. It’ll be my duty.”

Corinne stiffened with fright.

“I wonder whether they’ve sent for Mrs. Barton,” she whispered.

“I certainly _hope_ so. Every moment counts in ptomaine poisoning.”

Corinne recalled vaguely something she had read once about bodies
turning blue from poison; she thought of beautiful Mrs. Mearely turning
blue, and pleaded:

“But, mamma--it may _not_ be ptomaine poisoning. Mrs. Wells didn’t
exactly know....”

Her mother sniffed again.

“Mrs. Wells never knows _anything_, my dear.” Feeling Corinne’s fingers
in her hair presently, she snapped:

“What _are_ you doing?”

“You left some of your curl-papers in. They look so funny. And your
bonnet is crooked.”

“I don’t stop to think of my appearance when a friend needs my help.
But _you_ can laugh in the house of a dying woman you pretend to care
for.”

This was so unjust that Corinne burst into tears.

“She’s _not_ dying! I just love Mrs. Mearely. She shan’t die,” she
cried, between her sobs; and threw herself face downward on the settee
to weep in comfort. Her mother was not disturbed by the salt storm,
but, on patting her hair and finding one curl-paper still there, she
became furious.

“Corinne! stop that nonsense and fix my hair. What in the world are you
crying about? Do be cheerful. Your mother has enough to bear.”

Corinne, weeping heavily, dragged herself up from the settee and
went to her parent. She removed the last paper spiral obediently and
straightened the little turban, which had been sitting on its wearer’s
head at an impossible angle. Mrs. Witherby, meanwhile, pursued her own
train of thought.

“I do hope she has made her will.”

“She isn’t going to die!”

“I wonder if Wilton Howard will inherit much. I wish, sometimes, we had
made more of him. I dare say he’s not a bad fellow at heart; but a man
is very easily led astray by a silly girl. However, if he inherits any
of Rosamond’s money, it will put an end to _that_ nonsense.”

Corinne was so shocked by this allusion to her cousin’s love-affair,
which she herself felt to be a wonderful romance, that her tears ceased.

“You mean Mabel? Why, Mamma! I should think, if Mr. Howard ever
gets any money, he’d want to marry Mabel. I’m sure Mabel loves him
terribly. I always wish she’d tell me about it. But she never does.”
She sighed.

Mrs. Witherby, furious at this sentimentality, slapped her daughter.

“Corinne! be quiet! Do you suppose I could afford to have Mabel leave
me and marry? I need her. Who’d do the marketing and the errands,
and see to your clothes? After my giving her a home, too. I hope she
wouldn’t be so selfish and ungrateful. Besides she wouldn’t be a
suitable match at all for a man with money. If Mr. Howard does inherit
any of Rosamond’s money, he will be obliged to make a fitting marriage.
It will be his duty to all of us. Roseborough will expect it. Oh, you
make me furious! You’d give Mabel everything you own, or that you
_might_ own, if your mother didn’t watch you.”

Subdued by her mother’s hand and her torrents of talk, Corinne
whispered:

“I wonder if he is upstairs? Do you think he could have got here before
we did?”

“I don’t know. He hadn’t heard anything about it till I telephoned him.
He has farther to come.” Then she added--to herself, rather than to the
daughter who seemed to have so little natural instinct for the main
chance--“I wonder if he knows what she has left him in her will? Villa
Rose, of course. Well, I’ve always wanted to take hold of this room
and make it....”

“Mamma! I hear wheels! It must be Mr. Howard.”

Mrs. Witherby rose importantly and went to meet Howard, who came in
swiftly, looking about him in apprehension.

“My _dear_ Mr. Howard,” she said, emotionally, taking his hand in both
hers, “this is terribly sad for you.”

“How is she?” he queried, in a sick-room whisper. She patted his hand.

“You must prepare yourself--we must all prepare ourselves. My dear,
sensitive, tender-hearted Corinne is beside herself.”

Corinne, feeling better now that her mother had discontinued her
theories and prophecies, said cheerfully:

“We don’t know anything. We haven’t seen anybody yet. We’ve only just
come. We hope it’s all right.”

Mrs. Witherby was annoyed.

“Corinne! how you interrupt! Oh, I fear it is very serious, Mr. Howard.
The doctor is still with her. But of course, we hope....” She broke off
and murmured sentimentally: “Ah well, we _always_ hope--we _always_
hope.”

Howard’s tone reflected hers.

“Yes, indeed. I can’t understand it. Rosamond has always been the
embodiment of health. For her to be struck down suddenly in this
way....”

“Dreadful! But rely on me, Mr. Howard. I shall remain here and take
charge of things, till her sister arrives.”

“Mrs. Barton has been sent for?” he asked, quickly.

“We suppose so. But, in the excitement, it is possible no one has
thought of it.”

He appeared to think rapidly.

“It should be done at once. I hardly know how. It will have to be by
telegraph in some way--because Mrs. Barton’s mother has no telephone.
Of course old Ruggle, of the telegraph office, is in bed, and the
office closed. The office in Poplars Vale will be closed too....”
He mused awhile. “Someone will have to get Ruggle up, and make him
telegraph to the station agent at Trenton Waters, to send a man over to
Poplars Vale, on horseback. Whom can we ask to wake Ruggle?”

“Oh, Mabel will go!” Corinne said. “She’ll be sitting up all dressed.
She wanted to come, but Mamma wouldn’t let her.” She ran to the door of
the anteroom, where was the instrument which afflicted His Friggets.
“I’ll ’phone her.” She closed the door, so that the bell should not be
heard.

“If Mrs. Lee had a telephone, I’d have had _her_ here by now. But I’m
certainly not going all that dark way to the cottage,” Mrs. Witherby
remarked, seating herself again. Howard had followed Corinne to the
door to impress on her the details of the message she was to telephone.
In returning, he arrived at the large table and, almost immediately,
discovered the supper-tray.

“I see you have had something to eat,” he said. “That was wise. You’ll
need all your strength.”

Mrs. Witherby, in great excitement, joined him at the table.

“No! I haven’t. I wonder who has been eating? Two persons evidently.
How odd!”

After a pause, Howard suggested:

“The doctor and the nurse, perhaps.”

“Well! It seems queer for Dr. Wells to sit down calmly and eat, when
poor Rosamond is dying! Still, as I always say, it is amazing how much
those dyspeptic people _can_ eat, when there’s no one by to see them
stuff.”

In moving the tray, she, in her turn, made a discovery; it was the
pistol.

“Oh! Look! Oh! what does it mean?”

“What is it now, mamma?” Corinne asked, nervously, coming in at the
moment. Howard picked up the weapon.

“Rosamond’s pistol. That’s strange.”

“Is it loaded?” Mrs. Witherby asked.

“Yes, I expect so. No, it’s not.”

“Not loaded!”

“No. The chambers are empty.”

She caught at his arm.

“Do you suppose she could have been attacked--fought wildly to protect
herself--and then been overpowered?”

“No--no” he answered, not paying attention to her, but trying to recall
whether his cousin had reloaded the pistol before putting it into
her desk after their ride. He thought she had; therefore, the empty
chambers puzzled him. Corinne was walking about, aimlessly, clasping
and unclasping her hands.

“I feel as if--oh, I’ll go crazy if something....” She caught hold of
the big chair, and instantly screamed, “Look! Look! Blood on the chair!”

Her mother, with Howard close after her, rushed to the chair.

“Suicide!” Mrs. Witherby hissed dramatically. “Do you know of her
secret sorrow? To think she may have been preparing to take her own
life in the midst of all our gayety! Oh! Mr. Howard.” She broke down,
emotionally, grasping his shoulder to weep upon. “Oh! Mr. Howard, that
is what comes of taking people out of their proper station. Our dear
Rosamond was never quite one of us. Her mother--the butter--! She must
have felt it herself--felt poignantly her inability to live up to her
station among us. Oh Mr. Howard--oh--dear!”

Howard freed himself, rather ungently, and started toward the door
opening on the stairs.

“I’m going up there,” he said.

“Too late!” she cried, throwing her hands up over her head. “_She’s
killed herself!_”

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XXIII


The door opened and Dr. Wells entered. They rushed at him, all speaking
at once.

“How is she?” Howard asked.

“Is she alive?” Corinne quavered.

“Is she _dead_?” her mother demanded.

“There, there, good people; one at a time. Yes. One at a time.”

“Don’t hum and haw!” Mrs. Witherby shrieked at him.

“Is the wound fatal?” Howard asked, more definitely this time.

“Fatal? Oh dear me, no. Oh no, certainly not. Only a flesh-wound. A
mere trifle.”

“A trifle?” Mrs. Witherby could not believe her ears.

“How did it happen?” Howard was trying to hasten the explanation by
keeping rigidly to the point.

“Well--er--as nearly as I can make out--er--the constable--yes, it was
the constable--mistook Mr.--er--_the man_ for a tramp, and immediately
fired.”

“And nearly killed Mrs. Mearely?” Corinne’s impatience broke bounds.

“Eh? What?” The doctor had removed his horn-rimmed glasses and was
polishing them.

Howard, with a supreme effort, mastered his irritation.

“The bullet struck my cousin?--how?”

“Oh, dear me, no. Oh dear, no.” He breathed on the lenses and rubbed
them back and forth through a silk handkerchief. “Ah, I see. You also
are under the impression that Mrs. Mearely is the invalid.”

“Is she all right?” Corinne shook his arm.

“Oh quite, quite. Never better in her life, the sweet lady. Quite so.
But--er--Mr.--er--Mills. Yes; Mills. Mr. Mills....”

“_Who_ is Mr. Mills?” Mrs. Witherby almost screamed the question, in
her unendurable exasperation.

“Oh, Mr. Mills is--er--well, I fear I can’t tell you _who_ he is,
because I don’t know. But his name is Mills--with two l’s. Perhaps you
know him? He was travelling along the road, and a constable, mistaking
him for a tramp, shot at him--er--just outside Mrs. Mearely’s house.
She, with great courage, ran out to see what had happened--er--had the
wounded gentleman brought in here and telephoned at once for me.”

Mrs. Witherby, so far from being relieved, was indignant.

“But Mrs. Wells said,” she began accusingly....

“Yes, yes, I know. Dyspepsia. So we thought--until I arrived. But I
must hasten. I left Mrs. Wells feeling quite an invalid. Heartburn.
Fortunately, we have a perfect cure for it. Our cousin, Dr. Mayhew
Pipp’s, remedy. You know, the poor fellow discovered an infallible cure
a few years before he died of the disease. Very sad. No doubt he would
have been knighted, had he lived. We feel very secure as long as we
have cousin Mayhew Pipp’s May-Piplets.”

He swallowed a small pink pellet from a phial, snapped his bag to, and
hurried out, saying “good-night” over his shoulder.

The three, looking blankly at one another, heard the trap drive away.
Mrs. Witherby dropped into the big chair.

“Well! of _all_ things!” she said. “What time is it?”

“I’m so relieved and happy I could shout!” Corinne exclaimed, laughing
and crying a little at the same time.

“Yes, indeed,” Howard agreed; “I cannot be thankful enough for poor
Rosamond’s safety.”

Mrs. Witherby gave him an acid look, and sniffed.

“Yes! I dare say your gratitude is deep, Mr. Howard. As for me, I don’t
appreciate being dragged out of bed at three in the morning, and
frightened out of my senses, for any Mr. Mills I never saw in all my
life.”

“I’m sure the realization of your purely disinterested intention
must compensate for the loss of your beauty-sleep, Mrs. Witherby.”
His manner was courteous, even courtly; yet, in some subtle way, he
succeeded in implying that she was a meddler. She bristled.

“As I am not a relative of Mrs. Mearely’s, I think _my_
disinterestedness may be taken for granted, Mr. Howard. The sad
occasion would not have benefited me.”

Corinne, anxious to ward off strife, said hastily:

“Hadn’t we better go, mamma? Mrs. Mearely won’t need you to take charge
of things now.”

This fact, alas, was not soothing to a lady with Mrs. Witherby’s
passion for taking charge of things. She snapped:

“I know that without _your_ telling me. Where on earth did you learn to
be such a busybody? Of course, now I’m here, I shall wait to see Mrs.
Mearely.”

There was a short, uncomfortable silence, while she twisted about and
tossed her head, smiled disagreeably and very knowingly, and tapped her
fingers on the arm of the chair. Her motions presently focussed the
gaze of the other two upon her with a sort of fascination. She turned,
sharply, on Howard:

“Mr. Howard, do you believe that story about the constable?”

“Believe it?” in surprise. “Certainly--er--why not?”

“Does it explain the empty pistol I found on the table?”

He considered briefly.

“No--o. But very possibly it needs no explanation. Rosamond may have
drawn the charges herself.”

“Oh, mamma, please don’t invent any more horrors to-night. I--I--just
can’t _stand_ it.” Corinne’s voice indicated that she had borne too
much. She was smothering an hysterical desire to cry.

“Corinne!” angrily.

“First, Mrs. Mearely had a terrible fright; then she had ptomaine
poisoning; next she had been nearly murdered; and the last thing was
she had shot herself!”

“Well! everything _pointed_....” her mother commenced, indignantly.

Corinne’s last vestige of control flew from her. She waved her hands
about, in a very fair imitation of her mother’s favourite emotional
gesticulations, and cried:

“No, it didn’t! it didn’t! But when you don’t _know_ anything, you
always have to make up things. And half the time you’re all wrong. I
wish you’d come home now. Next, you’ll be saying _she_ shot _him_!”

“Ah ha!” Mrs. Witherby was triumphant. “It _does_ look like it, doesn’t
it? And I intend to remain here until I find out _why_ she shot
him--this Mr. Mills.”

Corinne gave a little moan and burst into tears. Howard rose abruptly
and went to the verandah. He almost collided with Constable Marks, who
pushed him aside and marched indoors.

“Here! What are you doing?” Howard asked the intruder, severely, and
gripped him by the coat.

“’Ands orf!” Mr. Marks exhibited his badge “Horfcer of the law.”

“What is your business here?”

“Hi came about the shoofer as was shot.”

“How do _you_ know the man was shot?” Mrs. Witherby wanted to know.

Constable Marks looked at her, as a brilliant intellect may regard a
sample of crass stupidity.

“Who’d know better, Hi’d like to know, than me wot shot ’im? But Hi
didn’t get ’is nyme.”

“His name is Mills,” Howard supplied.

Mr. Marks brought out his tablet, wetted his purple pencil, and wrote
the name as he conceived it.

“Mills--with two hells?”

“Two hells--I mean, l’s! l’s!” Mrs. Witherby was out of patience. “How
else on earth would you spell it?”

Howard, with an authoritative gesture, restrained her.

“Two l’s. I can’t tell you anything more about him. He is a complete
stranger to Mrs. Mearely and to all of us. I must say, officer, that
you have made a lot of trouble for Mrs. Mearely and all of us, by your
reckless shooting--firing at a gentleman, who was riding peaceably
along the road!”

Mr. Marks looked up from his note book and stared at Howard in
stupefaction.

“Wot d’yer say? Gentleman ridin’ peaceable halong the road. Hi likes to
know hif you calls _that_ peaceable--a-jumpin’ on my ’ead.”

“_Jumping_ on? What do you mean?”

“Hi mean _jumpin’ hon my ’ead--that’s wot Hi mean_. Dived hoff the
porch railin’ right on to my ’ead! at two-forty-five in the mornin’,
too. No wonder Hi takes ’im for a ‘ousebreaker.”

Mrs. Witherby’s eyes glittered. She closed in and plucked him by the
sleeve.

“Jumped off the railing, you say? What railing?”

He withdrew the raiment of the law from her desecrating touch, and
replied, witheringly.

“_That_ railin’. Hi don’t see no _hother_--hunless you think Hi means
the pearl an’ goldin’ railin’s of ’eaven!--_w’ich Hi don’t!_ The lady
comes runnin’ hout, an’ we brings ’im in ’ere. An’ ’e turns hout to be
the shoofer wot’s jest got ’ome, an’ was ’avin’ ’is bite.”

He jerked his thumb toward the supper-tray.

“Chauffeur,” Howard repeated. “What made you think he was the
chauffeur?”

“Say! Hi’m gettin’ provoked with _you_! ’Ow do Hi know ’e’s the
shoofer? Cos ’e _says_ so! An’ _she_ says so! An’ Hi makes my excuses
an’ takes ’er nyme but forgets to take _’is_ nyme. An’ that’s w’y the
chief sends me back ’ere--_if you wants to know_. Hit’s always reg’lar
to get the nyme of a shot party. Tain’t hoften Hi shoots a man. W’en
Hi do, they likes to ’ave ’is hidentity.” He touched his hat. “Halfred
Marks is _my_ hidentity.”

“But Mrs. Mearely _hasn’t_ any chauffeur. What else...?”

Howard stopped her firmly.

“Mrs. Witherby, this is not the time for--that is to say, the constable
has made a stupid mistake. Er--constable, you have made an error. The
man’s name is Mills, and he is an entire stranger to all of us. You
will please report that to your chief.”

Mr. Marks set his jaw obstinately.

“Jest as you say. But w’en _hentire strangers_ takes to divin’ hoff
porch railin’s--_at that time o’ night_!--hall Hi feel Hi can say his:
hit may be the carefree, heasy manners of the rich, but it _hain’t
pretty be’aviour_!”

Howard guided him out, with slight but positive shoves.

“That will do, officer. I’ve given you the facts. Make your report in
accordance with them.”

“Hall right, sir,” offendedly. On the porch he paused to find out the
hour. Ere replacing the watch in his pocket he waved it on its cherry
loop before Howard’s eyes.

“Hi see you’re hadmirin’ o’ this,” he began.

“Not at all,” curtly. Howard turned his back. Constable Marks gave
every sign of a sensitive man under acute insult.

“Ho, _very well_!” he said at last, with great dignity, not unmixed
with contempt. “There’s some as will be ’aughty to their gryve.” With
this crushing rebuke he withdrew.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XXIV


The sombre silence in which the constable departed endured for some
time. Mr. Howard folded his arms and stared at the cornice. Mrs.
Witherby gleamed upon him, in a mocking triumph which he affected
neither to see nor to comprehend the reason for.

“Well, Mr. Howard,” she said presently, being no longer able to contain
herself, “the plot thickens.”

Howard coughed, artificially it must be admitted.

“Er--the fellow’s statement--er ...” he sought to waive it with a
waving hand.

“I am very sorry that I brought Corinne. But how could I imagine such a
thing of Mrs. Mearely?”

At this there was another wail from Corinne, who was in the dark
concerning the cause of this strained situation. To her young mind, the
constable’s tale brought no black suspicions.

“Oh, mamma! Are you going to invent something _more_?”

“Corinne, be silent. You shall come home with me at once.”

Howard saw that something definite must be done immediately. After all,
he said to himself, he was the deceased husband’s kinsman and, in an
emergency like this, his should be the voice of authority in Villa
Rose. _No master_ at Villa Rose--there was the whole trouble.

“Mrs. Witherby, kindly listen to me. You are jumping
to--er--conclusions hastily and with insufficient grounds. This
apparent--tangle--is due to stupidity, of course. It will be cleared
up. The important thing is, that this absurd story should not be
repeated outside this house.”

She raised her eyebrows in simulated amazement at his implied charge.

“Of course _I_ shall say nothing. I hope gossip is the _last_ thing
I shall _ever_ be guilty of. But such things reveal themselves, Mr.
Howard.”

He tried another tack.

“You will please consider Mrs. Mearely’s standing in the community. Any
aspersions cast on her will ultimately reflect on _you_ and on all her
friends.”

This was a new view to her. Did she really wish to lead a boycott
against Villa Rose? She calculated swiftly.

“We must prevent _that_ at all hazards,” she decided.

“We ought to wire to her sister not to come,” Corinne suggested. “Mrs.
Mearely is not sick.”

“No indeed! It is more necessary than _ever_ that she should come
_at once_. Until she arrives, _I_ will stay here--in a position of
authority--then nothing can possibly be said. I shall go home now and
gather up such things as I may need for my brief visit, and return
immediately. Corinne, of course, will remain at home.”

Howard bowed formally.

“I shall appreciate it. So will Rosamond.”

Corinne’s face had gone glum at the prospect of being left at home.

“Mamma!” she protested, “_I_ want to be in it, too.”

“Come, Corinne,” solemnly, “and don’t argue.”

“I will remain to get the--er--real facts from Rosamond,” Howard said
pointedly. She nodded.

“Of course. I’m sure you’ll hit upon _some_ explanation that will do.
You’re so intelligent. And _I_ shall stand by you. Depend on me.”

“Mamma, mamma, _why_ must I remain at home?” Corinne’s voice could be
heard, still protesting, as the two women disappeared. After waiting
till he heard them drive off, he walked resolutely to the stairway door
and rapped on it smartly. He repeated the raps until a voice answered
him, joyfully.

“Yes. In a moment, Prince Run-Away.”

Howard left the door open and returned to his former position. From the
centre of the room, with one hand resting on the solid antique table,
and the portrait of Hibbert Mearely behind him, he felt that he should
be able to dominate the situation. He glanced at the painting and his
own lip curled thinly. How he had secretly hated that old man, while
openly doing him homage! Because of the trivial legacy, how he hated
him still!

“You would marry a farmer’s daughter!” he thought. “Well, blood will
tell. How the disgrace would have stung you! I’ve no love for you, you
callous old skinflint, but I’m a Mearely; and I’ll save the family
honour from being smeared by buttery fingers.”

“Wilton!” Mrs. Mearely was astounded at the sight of him. She hesitated
an instant on the threshold, staring at him; then, closing the door,
came swiftly toward him.

“What is it? Why are you here?”

He did not answer immediately. His gaze dwelt on her, noting the fact
that she still wore her rose-and-silver gown. Before he spoke she had
discerned the change in him. In manner he was a replica of Hibbert
Mearely.

“Sit down, please.” He waited for her to do so. “I have something to
say; and it must be said quickly before Mrs. Witherby returns.”

“Mrs. Witherby?--returns?” she repeated mechanically.

“Please hear me out. It appears that a man has been shot and brought
in here. You sent for the doctor, but omitted to say why. Mrs. Wells
supposed that _you_ were seriously ill. Knowing that you were alone,
she telephoned Mrs. Witherby, asking her to come to you. Mrs. Witherby,
in her turn, called me up, and I came as quickly as I could. I may add,
she has also wired for your sister.”

She gasped.

“Wilton! What an absurd--what an impertinent thing to do!”

He motioned for silence.

“While we were waiting we found your pistol, then, blood-stains on that
chair--which are now explained of course; then--those dishes--plates
for two--which are not yet explained. Wait, if you please. Dr. Wells
informed us that a Mr. Mills had been shot, accidentally, by a
constable, as he was riding along the road....”

“Well, surely that is sufficient explanation,” she interrupted
haughtily, recovering herself. His lids narrowed, and his speech became
more incisive and more familiar, without the usual tinge of respect and
kinship that, until now, had coloured his accents in converse with her.

“It would be, my dear cousin, but for the entrance of the constable,
who gives quite a different version of the affair.”

This last piece of information took her off her guard completely. She
flattened perceptibly.

“The constable! He came back? Oh dear--oh dear!”

Howard thought she was carrying the affair off very clumsily--quite
like a butter-girl, without hereditary finesse.

“He came back--and recited, for Mrs. Witherby’s benefit, how he had
seen the man on your verandah and fired; how you had run out and
brought him in here and told this same constable that the man was
your chauffeur. This was plainly--er--an--evasion, as you have no
automobile. The Mr. Mills story does not explain the presence of the
man on your verandah, at that hour of the morning; nor the supper
for two; nor the fact that you are still in the gown you wore last
evening, and therefore did not retire immediately after we all took
leave, although you complained of fatigue and hurried me away on that
account.” He paused to let these points sink in. Rosamond began to
realize that matters were serious for her, but more so for the prince,
who was now in double danger of discovery.

“With Roseborough within, and the Woodse-all-the-rest-of-it secret
service outside Villa Rose, how can I save him from arrest?” her
anxious thought ran. Howard, knowing naught of His Highness and his
vagabond joys, saw that he had made a profound impression and he
hastened to follow up his advantage.

“Now, I think I need not impress upon you, the necessity of finding
some explanation to cover all these points before Mrs. Witherby
returns, or she will spread a scandal that will ruin you. You know her
as well as I do.”

She looked at him, growing consternation in her face.

“What _can_ I do? His identity must be kept a secret at any cost. You
have no idea of the sensation--the upheaval...!”

Howard avoided her pleading eyes, with painful delicacy.

“Indeed? He is well known among us, then? a man of position in
Roseborough? Married, I presume, or there would be no necessity for
this clandestine....”

Slowly she rose, staring at him, horrified. Until that moment, she had
taken it for granted that only Mrs. Witherby interpreted the prince’s
midnight advent as a scandal. She had supposed that Howard’s whole
concern was to prevent the Roseborough gossip from misinterpreting
an occurrence which he, as well as his cousin’s widow, knew to be
innocent. By a word he had awakened her, and she realized that he, too,
put the worst construction on the affair.

“Wilton! you can’t mean that _you_--that you who know me...! What are
you thinking of me?” she demanded passionately.

He was unmoved by this outburst, which he had expected at an earlier
stage of their interview; women always cried “insult,” when caught.
He replied, coldly, avoiding her eyes, and picking his words with the
care and delicate innuendo of a gentleman unfortunately compelled to
discuss unseemly matters with a beautiful but obtuse young woman from
the peasant sphere:

“I hope you will absolve me from trying to pry into your secrets from
any personal motives. My sole aim is to protect your reputation, as far
as possible after this indiscretion. The prominence of your position in
Roseborough makes it doubly my duty--not only for your sake, but for
the community. I can understand that a girl--young and beautiful but
not rich--might have a friend--some childhood’s sweetheart--who still
retained her affection, even after she had married prosperously and
above her own station. I can understand that, once having been lifted
to a position of importance, she might well hesitate to lose that
elevation by marrying the early sweetheart, who has probably remained
in his humble sphere--and yet, might yield to her affection for this
individual. All that is natural. The thing I deplore is, that you
should have been so thoughtless as to send for Dr. Wells. Mrs. Wells
and Mrs. Witherby, between them, have notified everyone who possesses
a telephone. And, in addition, we have the damning fact to get over,
of one story about the gentleman’s identity told to the doctor and
another told to the constable. Your friends naturally demand a
convincing explanation of a very compromising situation.”

She strode toward him, as if she would have enjoyed walking over him
and stamping on him, and almost shouted her repudiation of the whole
hideous suggestion.

“Oh! this is an outrage! _I never saw this man before in all my life!_”

“What!” he exclaimed, in astonishment. He had thought himself prepared
for any and all excuses, but the novelty of this one took him by
surprise.

“Oh! Is _this_ what you think of me in Roseborough? But, you’ll be
punished for it--all of you--when the truth is known. You--you--oh!
Well, I’ll tell you _nothing_. There! I never saw the man before. He
came in here, like a tramp, and I fed him. I couldn’t tell that to Dr.
Wells, or to the constable, could I? _They wouldn’t have believed it!_”

“Exactly,” he answered, dryly. “And who else will believe it? _No one._
I regret that my offer of assistance has not been met with sincerity.”

“You can all think what you please,” furiously. “I will not sacrifice
him. I’ll tell you nothing. He entered my house like a tramp. I had
never seen him before.”

Mr. Howard felt justified in becoming seriously angry.

“You can hardly complain if I refuse to allow you to sacrifice your
honour, and my cousin’s name, and the feelings of Roseborough, for
a man you yourself say you never saw before to-night!” he asserted,
dictatorially.

She stamped her foot.

“I’ll tell you nothing of him! He shall not be discovered, and dragged
back to his prison. He shall be free.”

Howard started. Prison, did she say? Some poaching “rough” from Poplars
Vale, perhaps? This threatened to be a scandal indeed, unless he
crushed it under an iron heel.

“Prison. Ah. Very well. Now I think I understand this matter.”

He walked quickly to the anteroom.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, in new alarm. He gave her a
stern look under gathered brows.

“I am going to telephone to the police, and give this fellow in charge
as a common housebreaker. If he has been in prison before, let him have
another taste of it.”

“Wilton!” In the shock of this move she was wordless.

“With the man in gaol, your story may be believed.” He closed the
door behind him. She ran to it and listened. He was having the usual
midnight trouble in waking Central. There was only one thing to do;
she must get the prince out of the house before stupid, gossiping
Roseborough forced him either to declare his identity or go to gaol! If
he revealed his name here, he could no longer masquerade as a vagabond
and roam the world at will. He would be forced back to his palatial
prison in Woodseweedsetisky. It was still dark outside. There was a
bare chance that he might elude the black-whiskered secret service, if
he could only slip out of the house undetected.

Central still refused to answer.

“Oh, sleep, sleep, Maria Potts!” she invoked. She ran half way up the
stairs, calling softly, “Prince Run-away.”

“What is it, Madam Make-Believe?” She caught his hand in hers and made
him run down the stairs, chattering confusedly to him the while.

“You must get away, for both our sakes. There isn’t time to explain.”

“I don’t understand. Has anything occurred to...?”

“No time to tell you. Things have happened. Oh! _how_ things have
happened! You must go--go--and be free.”

“All right. I’ll ‘go--go--and be free;’ but I’ll come back to-morrow
and hear all about it.”

Together they tiptoed rapidly to the porch--and almost collapsed upon
the broad bosom of Constable Alfred Marks.

“No, you don’t, me ’earty!” said the Law. “Hi wants _’im_,” he said
to Rosamond, jerking his thumb at the prince. “The Chief don’t feel
contented-like with this affair. There’s too many stories habout ’im
wot don’t hagree. So ’e sends me back ’ere to take _charge_ of ’im, and
to make a hinvestigation all official and reg’lar.”

“_I’ll_ answer any questions,” she pleaded desperately, “but this
gentleman must go....” The constable silenced her, impressively.

“Hi ’opes ’e wont make no more trouble; cos, if Hi gets to
shootin’--_w’ich Hi would_”--he glared to enforce this--“Hi might ’it
some of your fondest nicknacks.” He pointed his revolver about at the
antiques on the walls.

“That is well, officer.” Howard stood in the doorway. “The fellow must
remain here.”

“But, I’m delighted,” the Incognito asserted. He addressed Howard,
gayly. “You know, this is my second attempt to leave this house. It’s
an adventure! A house with four doors and seven windows, and yet I
absolutely can’t get out of it!”

It was plain to Rosamond that, all unaware of his danger, his whimsical
nature was delighted with the new and odd turn his fortunes had taken.

“By your leave, ma’am,” Mr. Marks pulled the long bamboo settle across
the open width of the double French doors, and sat down, a war-like
speck in the centre of it, toying significantly with his weapon.

“Oh, Your Highness, I did my best to save you!” Rosamond whispered,
despairingly. She dropped into the nearest chair and softly wept.



CHAPTER XXV


It transpired that Miss Maria Potts had not been asleep, save possibly
for a few weary winks. Howard’s inability to reach her ear was due not
to her slumbers but to the fact that half a dozen other Roseborough
citizens were demanding to be connected with Mrs. Mearely’s residence.
For the first hour of the doctor’s absence, Mrs. Wells, muffled in an
eider-down wrapper, and topped with a frilled nightcap, had sat at the
telephone and called everyone whose number she could remember. There
were several whom she did not call, because Peter had mislaid the book.
The book in Mrs. Witherby’s home, however, was not mislaid; and, as
she made Mabel and Corinne do all the packing of her small trunk and
her several bandboxes, she herself had time to spend in notifying the
persons Mrs. Wells omitted that Mrs. Mearely had been “taken ill and
_of course_ sent at once for _me_ to come and oversee things.”

So it was that Mr. Howard had less than five minutes in which to bend
his stern, menacing, contemptuous gaze on the interloper, who was not
only a poacher in the emotional realm, but, judging by his eccentric
attire, was also something of the sort by field and stream. The
instrument behind him tinkled. For the next hour, indeed, it tinkled
incessantly. Howard ran back and forth telling soothing fictions to
first one and then another; sometimes pausing to upbraid the somnolent
constable because he had not caught the gaol-bird and put leg-irons
on him before ever he entered Villa Rose. Constable Marks, sleeping
and waking by jerks, mumbled protests. Mrs. Mearely and her guest,
discreetly seated at opposite sides of the room, were unable to
exchange more than a whispered word or two. His amused cheerfulness
stabbed her to the heart; because he did not know his danger. Straining
her ears nervously, at times she believed she could hear groans
outside--the rumblings of Woodseweedsetisky’s secret service, Teodor
Carl Peter Lassanavatiewicz, shot in the leg by Roseborough’s human
watchdog, Constable Alfred Marks.

Another tinkle drew Howard from his chaperoning station, just within
the doorway. He always left the door open when the bell called him upon
these excursions. The guilty pair could see the back of his head--and
be reminded that he had two ears, and that only one of them was
required for the receiver.

The prince leaned as far out of his chair as he could, without falling
out, and whispered across the room:

“Where does _he_ come in? And why doesn’t he like me?”

“Ssh--!” She held on to the arm of her chair and stretched out her neck
and alarmed countenance, for all the world as though she expected to
be guillotined. “He’s a relative--of Mr. Mearely’s, and--and--” she
stopped, and gestured for silence, thinking that what he overheard of
Howard’s conversation might enlighten him.

“No, thank you.” Howard was repeating what had become a formula; his
tones were still unfailingly polite, but weary and suggestive of nerves
straining thin under the surface. “Mrs. Mearely is not ill. Just a
fright. Mrs. Witherby is _most_ kind and considerate, but it was really
unnecessary to call you up about it. No. Thank you.” He came to the
door and addressed Mrs. Mearely, coldly, “That was Mrs. Field. She says
she has been trying for half an hour to get this line. Between them, I
don’t think Mrs. Wells and Mrs. Witherby have overlooked anybody.”

Ting-a-ling-a-_ling_! With a barely suppressed sigh Mr. Howard went
back to the instrument; absent-mindedly, he closed the door. This time
it was Central herself who desired speech with him.

“Land to goodness! Mr. Howard, I’m tuckered out!” she complained,
bitterly. “What in creation’s happened up to Villa Rose, anyhow? Never,
in all my days in this office, have I heard subscribers ramp round
like they been doin’ this night. I ain’t had a wink of sleep; and maw’s
jest come and stuck a Dollop’s stickem headache plaster on to the
back of my neck. I declare I’m weak as a plucked chicken. I give all
Roseborough fair warning, right now, that I ain’t a-goin’ to stand much
more of it. Here, hold on. Don’t ring off. There’s your party.” Anon,
Howard was answering the same questions in the same wearily courteous
manner.

Seeing that the door was closed Rosamond glanced at Marks and knew, by
his rhythmic snores, that he was resting peacefully. She whispered:

“There is just one chance....”

“I wish you’d tell me what has _happened_. Why are all these people
here? Why are you so distressed?”

“Mrs. Wells telephoned everybody that I had been taken ill. Then when
Mr. Howard came--and found you--and the constable--goodness knows what
they think. They want to have you arrested as a housebreaker.”

“How charming! This _is_ an adventure.” He looked at her, keenly. “Are
they gossiping? Ah--I see. Then the best thing, I suppose, is to give
up this fun, and tell them who I am.”

Forgetting caution in the thrill of his words, she exclaimed aloud:

“Oh Prince! You would make that sacrifice for _me_!” His eyes twinkled
with amusement.

“Yes, dear Madam Make-Believe. ’Tis no sacrifice. Their tongues can’t
hurt _me_.”

She shook her head. Not at any price would she sell his dear liberty.

“You can’t. It is too dangerous. If you were to confess who you
are--now--here--with that awful man in the garden....”

He looked as crestfallen as a boy whose long-planned trick deceives no
one.

“You know who I am then? You only pretended you didn’t?”

“I didn’t know, at first. I thought you were just the--the tramp--the
vagabond you said you were, till that awful man in the garden came and
told me your real name.”

“An awful man in the garden told you my real name?” he asked, puzzled.
He, too, forgot caution and the whisper. He rose and crossed the room
to her, unaware that his moving shadow had flickered upon the screen of
Constable Marks’s dream.

“Yes; a foreign, guttural, blackish man. He speaks all sorts of
languages. He says his name is Lass--Lass--ass--an--a--wiz.”

“Lassanavatiewicz?” he exclaimed, in great astonishment.

“Yes. He has come for you.”

“Oh! but that’s ridiculous!” he asserted, indignantly. “I’ve committed
no crime. He has no right to follow me here. Of all...!”

She interrupted him, thinking altogether of the gravity of his
situation and the need of haste.

“You must get away secretly, if you can, before the
light comes--without his seeing you. I can give some
explanation--temporarily. And when the truth comes out, you will be
safely out of that man’s reach, and everything will be all right for
me. Then they will all look foolish, and it will serve them right.”

She led him, both tiptoeing, in front of Constable Marks toward the
music room.

“You will find a little alcove window at the end of the music room.
Raise it very softly and....”

“I have no faith in either your doors or your windows as a means of
escape. But I will make the third and last attempt.” He whispered this
in her ear, with a return of his natural and whimsical manner. They
reached the door and opened it with a faint click, since their hands
met on the handle. They did not see the Law unveiling its eyes.

“Will it make it better for you if I get away now?” he asked.

“Yes, yes! do it for my sake!”

“Then I’ll go.” He bent toward her.

“Good-bye, Prince Run-Away.” she said, and added wistfully, “Oh, will
you ever come again?”

He kissed her.

“This afternoon,” he answered; and slipped into the music room quickly,
lest she should rebuke him.

“’Alt! ’alt!” Mr. Alfred Marks, it appeared could move suddenly when
duty called. He went after the vagabond at a heavy jog-trot, waving his
weapon in circles that threatened not only his prisoner, but the lady
of the villa and the antiques as well, not to mention portions of Mr.
Marks’s own anatomy.

“Anything to oblige,” the prince said, politely.

“W’ere’s the lights in ’ere? If they ain’t on in a jiff, Hi _shoots_,
and there’s no tellin’ _wot_ Hi’ll _’it_--_maybe nuthin’_!”

Rosamond ran to the switch and turned it. Her vagabond was sitting on
the window-sill, laughing.

“I suppose there was a pass-word once, to get out of this house?”

“Oh! how can you joke?” She burst into tears.

“That’s wot _Hi_ say,” the constable concurred. “Wot’s frisky habout
it? A blamed botheration is wot _you_ are; and Hi’ve ’arf a mind to
_tell_ you so; ’arf a mind and mebbe a bit more! Come horf o’ that
there winder-sill and sit hon the piany-stool. Come horf, now. Hi’ll
sit right ’ere. Hit’ll be heasier to hoversee yer ’ere. Ma’am, shut
the door. Not honly for syfety’s syke--’im bein’ such a slipp’ry
customer--but the hearly mornin’ hair is bad for a sensitive man like
wot Hi am hin a draught.”

“Rosamond!” She heard Howard’s voice, with a sharpness of authority
in it that made her wince. As she returned to the living room, she was
mutely imploring that some means might be put into her hands for the
adequate and sufficient punishment of this man. She sank down upon the
settee and turned her profile to him.

“I grieve to see you in distress,” he began very formally. The
telephone tinkled. “Ringing off--can’t be another connection so soon,”
he muttered. “For your own sake you must corroborate the story I shall
tell.” The bell rang again, a longer tinkle. He frowned, but continued.
“I have been thinking that it may be best”--the bell was ringing loudly
now, Miss Potts losing her patience at the delay--“it may be best to
tell Mrs. Witherby....” He surrendered and went to answer the call.

Rosamond heard wheels coming up the gravel road but she did not move.
All hope of the prince’s escape was lost now, and with it all fear for
herself. She sat still and limp, humped upon the settee, a symbolic
figure of Dejection. Howard, having disposed of the last kind inquirer
with less polite circumlocution than usual, re-entered.

“I want to make you understand, my dear Cousin....” (Miss Maria Potts
inserted the plug again. He scowled, glanced toward the telephone
then endeavoured to continue, regardless of the thin but insistent
tinkle), “er--that you can rely on me, to any extent. I am in no haste
personally to put the worst construction on this event.”

“Oh, really? No?” she hissed at him.

He hesitated, slightly flustered by her accents of scorn and the angry
flashing of her eyes. He had thought of her as submissive and ashamed,
and prepared to show a proper gratitude to those who were rescuing
her from the consequence of her folly. The bell no longer tinkled. It
_pealed_--in long and short rhythm, loudly, without punctuation or
pause. Howard dashed at the telephone and began a counter ringing to
get Central’s ear.

“Central. This is Villa Rose. Mr. Howard speaking. This incessant
ringing is becoming a nuisance. I must request you not to ring this
number again to-night, no matter who asks for it.”

“Oh is that so?” Miss Potts snapped back at him. “I guess I’m to sit
here forever wrapped round in gran’maw’s crazy quilt off my bed, which
was the first thing handy when I had to grab somethin’ to run in here
when that ringing first started to get the doctor. My! land! Nobody
into our rooms has had a wink of sleep--maw, nor Susannah nor the dawg
neither--he’s been growling somethin’ fierce. I’m going to switch every
last one of them crazy subscribers on to your line, when they asks for
it. If you think Maria Potts is the only person that’s going to be
rung up and pestered you’re badly mistook. ’Twas Villa Rose’s line
that started the ructions that’s got all Roseborough on the jig, and I
figger on keepin’ you jest as busy as subscribers keeps me. At that,
you’re fixed a lot more comfortable than I be. I’ll bet you’ve got more
on to you than a crazy quilt.”

“Very well, Central,” harshly. “In that case, I shall leave the
receiver off the hook.”

“_You’re no gent’man!_” she screamed at him.

Howard fulfilled his threat, notwithstanding, and returned to the
downcast but disdainful lady on the settee.

“I was about to say that we must offer Mrs. Witherby a _convincing_
explanation--thoroughly convincing. Therefore, I say, rely on me wholly
and corroborate what I say.”

She gave him a long, cool glance and asked contemptuously:

“What of another woman’s reputation--which it is _you_ who have
injured? Why not protect _her_?”

This unexpected counter-stroke took him aback completely.

“I--er--I fail to apprehend your meaning,” he stammered.

“Oh, people are always ready to sneer at a girl, when a man’s
attentions don’t come to marriage.”

He felt the red deepening in his face and said--the more awkwardly
because he was trying to appear serene and dominant:

“You said nothing of this to me before.”

“No,” she answered, reflectively. “_Then_ I could have sneered with the
rest. I was getting to be like them.”

Feeling more at ease immediately, because she had abandoned the subject
of Miss Crewe to speak of herself, he attempted a return to his former
manner.

“The events of this evening have unstrung you.”

She leaped to her feet as if she were about to attack him.

“Unstrung!” she cried. “They’ve opened my eyes, and the thing I see
most clearly is that _I_ am nothing. Yes, nothing. A few hours ago I
was a much-flattered hostess, the courted mistress of this house, the
woman whose word was law in the fashions and entertainments of this
community....”

“Dear Rosamond, that _is_ your position in Roseborough.”

“Not any longer....”

Whatever she intended to say was forgotten for the moment in the
emotions that surged upon her at the spectacle of Thomas Hogworthy,
Mrs. Witherby’s man-of-all-jobs, with his employer’s trunk on his
shoulders. It was a small yellow-panelled, tin-plated trunk, with a
rounded lid, and well corded with Hannah Ann’s clothesline. He waited
on the threshold.

“Good-evening, Thomas. Er--let me see....” Howard debated whether to
send the trunk immediately to one of the guest rooms, then he thought
it would please Mrs. Witherby better to select her own chamber. “You
had better put the trunk in the dining room just now. That way.”

Thomas, a silent man, merely nodded and, setting the trunk on the
floor, dragged and bumped it over polished wood and rare rugs and into
the dining room. Then, with a curt nod, he silently departed.

Rosamond’s cheeks flamed again with indignation.

“You see! This is no longer my house. _I_ am not mistress here. _You_
have taken authority over my life. Against my orders, you command the
arrest of a man you believe I love; Mrs. Witherby sends her trunk into
my house, without asking my leave, and comes here herself to stay as
long as it pleases her--and _you_ tell her old Thomas where the trunk
is to go!” Her anger grew with the enumeration of her wrongs. “And why
are you so anxious to save me--all of you? For _my_ sake? Oh no! Not
at all. Because of all this--the money and the position. If it were
Mabel Crewe who had given food to a man during the hours and under the
conditions which society deems improper, would some Mrs. Busybody’s
trunk be dragged across _her_ floors--or would you be offering all
your fine talents of invention for _her_ protection?”

She had made him wince again, and he was angry; but, by an effort, he
controlled himself.

“I have not denied that your position makes it more imperative....”

Her rage rose hysterically.

“Yes! The position! The woman is nothing. The woman is just a human
being, and doesn’t count. I’m the--the--axle in Roseborough’s wheel.
So you’ll keep me in my position for your own benefit. The moment I
do something which is outside your rules, you seize on my house and
my life and--and--force me to save my good name--for you--for _you_!”
pointing an accusing forefinger at him. “But you’ll regret it! Send
him to prison and see what comes of it! It’s wicked--wicked. He was so
happy and free. And--and....” Hot tears, the result of strained nerves
and gusts of fury, gushed from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She
sobbed, “You’ll look per--perfect f-fools!”

Mrs. Witherby now came into view. She was scarcely discernible among
leaning towers of band-boxes, and carried a black handbag of the size
and shape of a young gondola. Leaning over the verandah railing she
admonished the silent Mr. Hogworthy.

“Drive home quickly, Thomas. Miss Corinne and Miss Mabel are alone.
And do not forget a single one of my instructions.”

“Mrs. Witherby,” Howard warned.

Mrs. Mearely was past caution.

“She is _your_ guest, not mine!” She tossed her head, and started for
the music room. Alarmed and now thoroughly angry also, at what he
considered her stupid and wilful disregard of a delicate situation, he
strode forward to intercept her.

“Control yourself,” he ordered her, severely. “Control yourself. You
can’t afford to ignore Mrs. Witherby. I certainly would not advise you
to go in there for a _tête-à-tête_ at this stage of the proceedings.”

This latest caution was the last straw.

“I don’t care!” she cried, with rising shrillness. “You--you--have
wicked thoughts. You’re horrid, _horrid people_!” She rushed out, and
slammed the door so vigorously that the antiquities of a thousand years
rattled.

“Well!” Mrs. Witherby said, when she could get her breath. “Well! and
what have you to say to _that_, Mr. Howard?”

“Er--my cousin is not quite herself--hysterical--er....” He lapsed into
silence. No one ever maintained an argument against Mrs. Witherby’s
sniffs.

“You may call it hysteria. I call it ingratitude--and bad manners.
But, really! why should one expect Rosamond Cort, of Poplars Vale, to
have _innate_ manners? (She emphasized “innate” with an inflection
all her own.) Where was she to learn them? From her mother--at the
butter-tubs?”

“Oh no, Mrs. Witherby, I assure you Rosamond is most grateful--in fact,
I might say, almost too grateful. You mistake.”

She put an end to his tremulous mumblings, sharply.

“Instead of contradicting me, I’d be obliged if you’d relieve me of my
bundles. I’ve carried them all the way up the hill. No one came to meet
me or assist me in any way.”

Bowing nervously, Howard seized, from her collection, one bandbox--the
largest--and the handbag.

“I apologize a thousand times. My cousin was giving me a description
of--er--the events that occurred here to-night. And....”

“Kindly be careful with that bandbox,” she snapped.

He bowed again, smiling foolishly.

“I beg your pardon. I believe you will find that I have not injured
it.” He handed it back to her.

“_I_ don’t want it! The string has cut my fingers. I carried it all the
way up the hill. Set it down.”

“I beg your--set it down, I believe you said?” He put the bandbox on
the floor, directly between them, in the middle of the room. “As I was
about to relate, my cousin has....”

“Not there--to be stepped on! Set it under the table.”

“Oh, to be sure! Yes. How odd I didn’t think of the table! My
cousin....”

“Give me my bag again. I need it.”

“To be sure!” He bowed and handed her the desired object. She pulled it
open, took out a handkerchief, dabbed at her nose, put the handkerchief
back and handed the bag again to Howard, who was receiving and
surrendering her property mechanically now.

“My cousin has revealed....”

She saw his embarrassment and his anxiety to conciliate her and she
scorned them.

“Well, I hope she has invented some sort of a story that people can
believe. That’s all I ask of her. As the mother of Corinne, I think I
have the right to ask that.”

He dropped her bag on the bandbox and began eagerly.

“Indeed you _have_, my dear, kind lady. And you’ll be glad to hear that
the true story removes all the--the--doubtful appearances.”

“Don’t put my bag there! Put it _on_ the table.”

He obeyed hastily.

“I beg your pardon. As I was saying, the _true_ story, removes....”

She interrupted him impatiently.

“I heard you! Of course I knew your intelligence would be equal to the
occasion. I suppose you’ve got the man out of the way?”

She had removed her wrap and bonnet, and was moving about the room
fussily, with little touches at this and little dabs at that,
indicating unmistakably that at last a mistress of quality and
authority had come to Villa Rose. She turned the Buddha about from
one position to another, and finally transferred him to the stand by
the settee; she pulled a piece of Sweet William out of the vase of
old-fashioned garden flowers, standing there, and draped it over the
image’s shoulder. She carried an antique copper vase from the mantel to
the bookcase, and was obliged to make room for it there by scattering a
group of small objects. She managed to crowd them all about the vase,
with the exception of a foxhound in green bronze. She finally deposited
this animal at the feet of the Buddha.

“I’ll have a smart talk with those two lazy maids to-morrow, and find
out why they both left the same day as the coachman. I’m more than ever
convinced now, that there’s something queer about _that_. Of course it
would be a dreadful shame to wake Mrs. Lee, yet, if she had a telephone
I really would have called her. She should know about this. Oh, I knew
all along that that gaudy frock had not been put on for _my_ benefit!”
She turned abruptly. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve done with _the
man_?”

Howard, who had several times attempted to speak, and had also been
following her spasmodic dashes about the room as best he could, caught
up with her now and, making much of the chance to create a sensation,
said, with slow impressiveness.

“The man is under arrest.”

“_Under arrest!_” An ivory warrior, of the Dynasty of Bing, jumped out
of her slackening hand and rolled under the bookcase unheeded. “Under
arrest! Good gracious. You must tell me all about it at once. Come into
the dining room. I must make myself a pot of tea or I shall be faint.
Come at once and tell me.”

“Certainly. You must be in possession of all the facts,” he said,
soothingly.

Dawn was sending opalescent flushes across the horizon and the bird
life in the gardens of Roseborough was waking with musical murmurs.
Rosamond entered the living room and walked about, dejectedly, turning
off the lights. A white mist lay over the river. The air was damp and
sweet.



CHAPTER XXVI


Rosamond heard wheels and the rattling of milk-pails.

“It must be nearly five,” she said.

“Oh, Mrs. Mearely.”

She looked up to see Corinne tiptoeing in, with glances daring,
mischievous and fearful too; for this most delicious act of
disobedience was sure of its tragic sequel. Mabel followed her. There
was nothing playful in Miss Crewe’s demeanour. She was pale and tense.
Her prettily modelled rose-pink lips were compressed into a narrow
chalky line. She stood in the doorway, staring at Rosamond as if the
lady of Villa Rose were some strange being she had never seen before.

“Oh Mrs. Mearely, I’m so _glad_ you’re all right. We have been so
frightened about you. Mamma ordered me to stay at home--and she
wouldn’t let Mabel come at all--but we’ve disobeyed. It’ll be awful!
But Mamma was so mysterious. I felt that you must be in some trouble
and I wanted to be here, even if I couldn’t do anything. You know, I
...” she looked down, shyly, “I think you so beautiful. You mustn’t be
in trouble.”

Rosamond’s eyes filled.

“You dear Corinne!” She embraced her warmly. The young girl’s childlike
tenderness and confidence were very welcome to her in this hour of
condemnation.

“We came on the milk-wagon,” Corinne explained.

“I heard it--more wheels from Roseborough!”

“We had to shout and run across the field to catch it.” She giggled.
“Mabel has been all stirred up too. You see we telephoned her, when we
thought you were dying, to wire to your sister. Then I told her about
Mr. Mills; and what the stupid policeman said about the chauffeur. And
she got as excited as I was. Then mamma....” She laughed heartily, then
stopped herself with two fingers over her mouth, as if she had been
guilty of sad irreverence. “Well, _you_ know mamma. She has _such_
an imagination. And she never can wait to know things. She had you
poisoned, murdered, shot, and then she thought you had shot Mr. Mills.
And now she says--what do you think?”

“I--I can’t imagine,” Mrs. Mearely stammered. She tried to smile at
Corinne, but she was too conscious of Miss Crewe’s hostile gaze and
tense mouth. Corinne shrieked joyously at the word.

“Can’t _imagine_! No. It takes _mamma_ to _imagine_! She said: ‘No
doubt Mrs. Mearely will announce her engagement to Mr. Howard at once.
He’ll see his opportunity, and I’ll trust him to make the most of it.’
Now, can you think of anybody but mamma imagining you’d choose the
middle of the night to announce an engagement--even if Mr. Howard’s
heart wasn’t very much engaged elsewhere.” She glanced archly over her
shoulder at her cousin. “But that’s mamma. She _imagines_ wonderfully;
but she doesn’t see things that really happen--right under her nose.
Where is she?”

“In the dining room, I think.” Rosamond said aloud. Inwardly she
was connecting Corinne’s repetitions with Mabel’s appearance, and
questioning, in trepidation, just what Miss Crewe had come there to do.

“I’d better go in and get my scolding now,” Corinne rattled on. “Poor
mamma. It’s naughty of me to laugh at her. But she was _so_ excited. Of
course, you can’t blame mamma for making the most of this. Because it’s
the first time _anything_ has really _happened_ in Roseborough.”

She ran to the door then back to her cousin.

“I won’t tell on you,” she promised. “You’ll get a worse wigging than I
shall.” She scampered off on her tiptoes, giggling.

Rosamond decided, presently, that it was unbearable to be stared at as
Miss Crewe was staring at her. She would break the silence, no matter
what might come afterwards.

“It is very kind of you to come, Miss Crewe. I am sure that....”

“Oh what is the use of talking like that! I’m not Corinne. Don’t you
suppose _I_ know the meaning of Aunt Emma’s innuendoes and sneers--and
her nods and winks? _I’ve_ had years of them. Do you think _I_ don’t
know why she is here--and why she expects the immediate announcement of
your engagement?”

“Miss Crewe!”

Ignoring Mrs. Mearely’s indignant interruption, Mabel rushed on:

“She’ll chaperon and stand by you; and you’ll tempt him with your
money, to marry you, so that the rich Mrs. Mearely shall not be
disgraced. I know!”

Rosamond did not take kindly to criticism at any time. In the last
twelve hours she had received enough of it, she felt, to last her a
life time. There was something more than offended protest rising in her
now. It was _battle_ that beat its drums in her temples and her pulses.

“How dare you?” She stepped forward, with her head high.

“Yes! I dare. But don’t think it will be so easy.” Of a sudden her
insolence and derision melted away in suffering. She pleaded. “Oh how
can you do it--if you love this other man? You have money. You can
force people to accept him, even if he is a nobody. You don’t need to
marry Wilton. And you know--everybody knows--that he’d have married me
long ago, if we’d had any money.” Then she cried out, defiantly: “Don’t
think you can do it, though! I’ll stop it somehow.”

The charge that somebody must do something desperate to prevent her
from throwing herself into Wilton’s arms in order to maintain her
standing in Roseborough, set another match to Mrs. Mearely’s temper.

“Oh--it’s _insufferable_! How dare you and your aunt and such people
slander me? The man who entered my house to-night is under arrest.”

This was said to wither Mabel. Mrs. Mearely did not think it necessary,
therefore, to add that she had tried, by a dozen tricks, to let the
prisoner escape. The effect of her dramatic _coup_ was the reverse of
what she had expected.

“Under arrest! I thought it was only _men_ who were cowards in love.
If you’ll send _him_ to gaol, no wonder you’ll try to steal the man I
love.”

Mrs. Mearely could not believe her ears.

“What? Oh! Oh-h!” She wrung her hands. “Do I _have_ to bear this?” she
asked of the twittering dawn.

“I came here--I hardly know what I hoped. I thought perhaps I could
appeal to you, because you were brave. Yes, even if you were wicked,
you were brave, I thought. To dare so much--but....” Mabel looked at
Rosamond Mearely with the sly, shocked admiration the very correct feel
for those who venture to be incorrect in the sphere of morals. Rosamond
comprehended the look, and it put her into a fury.

“Oh! I know what you thought. You remembered that I was Rosamond Cort,
of Poplars Vale--whose mother sold butter. It was to be expected that
I should do something dreadful--and _impolite_. I suppose Roseborough
_does_ consider that amorous midnight escapades are impolite? But
Roseborough isn’t surprised at me. Oh, no! All along Roseborough knew
that, some time or other, I’d show the butter strain.”

Miss Crewe did not know what to make of this.

“Why, Mrs. Mearely!”

Rosamond’s rage mounted.

“Oh, yes! Roseborough knew that one day my bran-fed morals would fail,
and--and--I’d go to the devil in my own common, _Milky Way_. Moo-o!
Moo-o! That’s all I care for Roseborough. It can’t _cow_ me.”

“Oh--Mrs. Mearely!”

It was one thing to have a sly admiration for Hibbert Mearely’s widow’s
brave and farm-like _improprieties_--not to use a harsher word--but
one could only be affronted when she forgot that she had left farm
_manners_ behind her, and put her arms akimbo!

It seemed that Mrs. Mearely had still a great deal to say, with clear,
raised voice and hands on her hips.

“I’d rather be descended from good, sweet butter--than--than--be the
silly, braying donkeys _you’ll_ all be to-morrow. I must say I’m
surprised at _you_, Miss Crewe--who have had the advantages of high
birth, denied to me, not to mention the wonderful opportunity of moral
training under Mrs. Witherby--that you should come here and expose
your tender feelings for a gentleman, who proposed to me this very
evening--_before_ all this happened. Where’s your ancestral pride?
_Before_ it happened, he proposed to me.”

“He told me he was going to,” Mabel answered quietly. She sank into
the big chair and leaned her face against the cushioned back. Rosamond
stared at her speechlessly.

“He told you?” she repeated, presently.

“Yes. He said we must give up our hopes--and marry money.”

“I--_I_ was--_Money_?” she gasped.

“Yes. And I said I’d do something to stop it. And I _have_!” She broke
down, suddenly, and wept. “Oh, Mrs. Mearely. You don’t know what it
is to almost have things, and then be pushed aside. It makes you
desperate and wicked. To think that just because we’re poor, we can’t
marry.”

Rosamond stared at her.

“Of course I knew he paid you attentions--but I had no idea there
was really an understanding.” Her blankness disappeared before a
humiliating sense of outrage.

“Oh! the insufferable--the wretched, false, insulting man. To dare to
offer himself to me! Oh the--the....” She turned on Mabel. “What are
you crying about? I should think you’d be glad of your escape.”

She strode the length of the room and back again, breaking out in
interjections and tumbled phrases.

“_I_ was Money! How dare he humble me in this fashion? Oh! But I’ll be
even with him. Oh yes! I’ll find a revenge. I was to be his dear little
Money, eh?”

Mabel’s helpless sobbing was reaching her sympathies and making her
doubly angry, because she did not want her sympathies reached. She
stamped her foot.

“Stop that crying. Do you hear me? Do you mean to say you can still
love the wretch? You can’t respect him.”

Mabel wiped her eyes, and looked at her curiously.

“Oh--respect! I wonder if women ever respect men a great deal. Perhaps
that is what makes them love so much--to make up for the lack. I think
men have to respect women. But women just have to love. I love him. I
don’t know why. Maybe just because he is a man and I’m a woman. One
must love somebody.”

Rosamond sank down on the settee. During Mabel’s words she had been
moved increasingly; her heart echoing that the words were true--tragic,
but true.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “One must love somebody. Oh, yes, Mabel.” Tears
welled over her own lids.

“It’s all over, now,” Mabel sobbed. “Even if you don’t take Wilton.
It’s hopeless.”

Rosamond’s lips quivered.

“Oh, it’s very sad to be just a lonely woman in this dreadful little
place. And to be young--young! Oh, Mabel, dear!”

“Yes. Yes. Oh, Rosamond!”

“Love only comes in at the window and--and--kisses you--once--and flies
away again.”

“Flies away again,” Mabel echoed. They found, first each other’s hands,
then each other’s arms, and finally grieved upon each other’s bosoms
contentedly.

“He’ll never forgive me for telling,” Mabel said. “Oh, Rosamond,
you--you--don’t want to marry him, do you? Perhaps I ought to try to
give him up?”

Mrs. Mearely’s injured pride leaped again into wrathy flames.

“Not to me! The wretch! The deceitful,
deluding--deluding--de--de--deceitful thing. Yes, _thing_. I’d like to
make him pay, with his whole life, for the insults he has heaped on me
to-night.” Even as she wished, the way to realize her desire suggested
itself to her. “Ah! I can do it! Certainly I can. And you shall help
me. He and your aunt are so nice and smug and busy over my affairs--eh?
I’ll give them a bit of scandal of their own to take care of. I’ll
make her writhe. I’ll avenge myself. I’ll make him pay--all his life
long. I’ll show them all who’s who in Roseborough. Let them see if the
butter-maker’s daughter isn’t a match for them!” She marched--sailed is
perhaps the better word--to the door, threw it open and called with a
great authority to the tea-drinking conspirators in the dining room:

“Mrs. Witherby, kindly put _my_ cups down on _my_ table and come out of
_my_ dining room.”

She walked swiftly to the stand by the settee and picked up the
_Digest_. She stood there holding the paper, waiting. Mrs. Witherby
looked flustered but belligerent. Howard was patently apprehensive.
Corinne, who had received a terrible scolding, was excited and scared,
but not too much so, for she clung to one of Jemima’s fresh cookies and
occasionally nibbled at it.



CHAPTER XXVII


Mrs. Witherby stared the hostess of Villa Rose up and down; but the
latter did not quail. She pointed toward a chair with the folded
_Digest_.

Now, many a time, while flattering and “my-dearing” the lady of the
villa, Mrs. Witherby--secretly chafing because she dared not call
her by her Christian name, and patronize her--had wished that an
opportunity might arise to enable her to “put the farmer’s daughter in
her place.” In a pitched battle, Mrs. Witherby always won, no matter
who her opponent might be, because her tongue and spite were tireless.

“Well! I wondered when you were going to greet me,” she began. Her
top-knot waved and her silks rustled as she plumed and girded herself
for the fray. But the _Digest_, gracefully manipulated, waved her to
silence.

“I do not wish to hear you talk. _I_ am mistress here, and _I_ shall do
the talking.” She moved, and Mrs. Witherby caught sight of her niece.
She darted at her in a fury. At the moment she was at least _capable_
of boxing her ears, whether such was her specific intent or not.

“Mabel! how dare you disobey me?” she began.

Mrs. Mearely stepped in between and languidly shooed the warlike woman
off with the periodical.

“Be silent, if you please. Mabel is my guest. She is under my
protection.” She patted Mabel’s head. “Don’t cry, dear. Don’t be
afraid. Corinne come and sit by your cousin.” She drew Corinne to the
spot indicated, despite maternal hands thrust out to prevent. “You
may sit there--and there.” She filliped the _Digest_ to point out the
chairs where she desired to see Mrs. Witherby and Mr. Howard deposit
themselves. Howard sank into his chair quickly, making himself as small
as possible to escape the high winds which he saw were about to sweep
over the landscape. Mrs. Witherby, by no means subdued as yet, but
temporarily nonplussed, sat down; but she watched her antagonist with
baleful eye, waiting for an opening. Mrs. Mearely’s justified wrath
burned high and she let the flames spread.

Since Roseborough would have it that she was not a Mearely, nor a
legitimate child of Roseborough, she would let them all experience the
encounter they sought with little Rosamond Cort, the farmer’s daughter,
of Poplars Vale, who could fill her two hands with earth and declare
“this is my earth--the earth I sprang from!” and throw both handfuls at
anyone who was unnatural enough to look down upon her.

“So? You’ll come into my house--with your trunks--and take possession,
eh? You’ll be busy here, will you? You’ll tell the whole of Roseborough
that Rosamond Cort, whose mother made butter, has gone wrong at last!
Yes; the unworthy widow of the distinguished Hibbert Mearely had a
lover in her house in the middle of the night.” She even went so far as
to mimic Mrs. Witherby’s unique intonations, as she quoted what that
lady might be expected to say in the village.

“‘Oh, yes, my dear. Of course I did what I _could_ to protect her. They
arrested the man--but, of course,’”--with nods and shrugs--“‘Well,
my dear, after all--_who was she_? Butter, my dear, butter!’ Butter,
butter!” she hissed it, furiously.

“Oh, I know you--hypocrite! Now I shall give you a lesson. I shall
give Roseborough a lesson. The joke will last this community for fifty
years. And _maybe_ it will cure you of scandal-mongering, though I
doubt it. The man--is in there! As long as there was a chance of his
escape, I would have protected his _incognito_.” She paused to let the
word take effect. Then she floated to the music room door, flung it
wide and said, with deliberate impressiveness,

“Will you come here, if you please--_Prince_?”

Corinne and Mabel turned and looked at each other. Mrs. Witherby and
Howard sat up and looked at Rosamond.

“Prince!” Mrs. Witherby repeated mechanically.

“What is it, Madam Make-Believe?” the prince appeared in the doorway,
with the watchful Marks a step behind.

“Come, please--_Prince_.” She led him toward the group, taking care to
keep slightly aside, and not directly in front of him; for she knew,
from Mr. Mearely’s dissertations on form, that one must never turn
one’s back squarely upon royalty.

“Mrs. Witherby--Mr. Howard--this gentleman whom you have insulted
as grossly as you have insulted me--is” (she consulted the paper).
“Wait--here it is. This gentleman is His Highness, Prince Adam Lapid,
reigning Duke of Woodseweedsetisky.” She addressed the Prince,
diffidently: “I trust I have pronounced Your Highness correctly?”

“Er--the pronunciation is perfect. The w’s are generally v’s--that
is, approximately--but to the Saxon mind, of course, that is mere
fussiness.” He drew near and murmured for her ear alone. “What’s the
idea?”

She did not hear his query; because she was in the medium stage of a
perfect curtsy. He saw her silver draperies spread, like a moonlit
breaker flowing to his feet; and he put a hand over his heart and
bowed, as a prince should--a low and stately bow it was; but it may
have been done to hide the mirth in his eyes.

Except to clasp each other’s hands, Mabel and Corinne had not moved.
Howard stared. Mrs. Witherby sat rigid, still muttering “prince.” The
etiquette for the occasion was to be defined by a humbler than they.

Constable Marks moved into the circle, and took up his position a
little to the left of His Highness--as the tradition is, for armed
guardians of the Crown, the left side being the weaker, because
farther from the right arm and, possibly, also, because nearer the
heart (so the history of royal love-affairs, with attendant political
catastrophes, would suggest). Slowly he removed his broken straw hat
and held it stiffly in front of him on his thumb.

Mrs. Witherby half rose, hesitated, got up, and bowed twice.
Dissatisfied with that, she attempted a curtsy. Howard was on his feet
now, with head inclined in a respectful attitude. The prince honoured
Mrs. Witherby by returning her salutations. She shook Corinne’s arm.

“Get up. Commoners must rise when princes are about. Haven’t you any
etiquette?”

A master of ceremonies seemed to have been miraculously provided in the
obsequious person of Mr. Alfred Marks, a citizen of a land where such
as he eat their bread and cheese with a lithographed group of the Royal
Family beside the God-Bless-Our-Home motto, over the kitchen table and
where the lowliest Whitechapel pushcart man knows the King’s taste in
Court procedure and is free to agree with it or not. He spoke now with
reproof.

“Somebody ought to give ’Is ’Ighness a seat. ’Twouldn’t be reg’lar for
_me_,--bein’ on juty an’ hactin’ as the Royal Guard, so to speak.”

Mrs. Witherby, Howard, Corinne, and her cousin, all ran to pull up the
nearest chair they could lay their hands on.

“Oh, really--I beg of you. Just _one_, thank you. Won’t you be seated
again?”

Seeing them hastening to obey, Mr. Marks interposed again. He spoke
severely.

“_Hafter_ ’Is ’Ighness!”

Heedless of the general awkwardness of four persons, thus sharply
arrested in half-sitting postures, the Royal Guard pulled his kerchief
out of his coat pocket and dusted the throne, before assisting the
prince to seat himself by shoving it against his knee-joints. Then,
with a casual gesture, he permitted the others to collapse all the way
into their several chairs.

It is customary for royalty, when not incognito, to be discreet and
infrequent of utterance. This might explain the silence now maintained
by the prince, who had shown himself, earlier in the evening, to be not
only talkative but even merry and prankish. His eyes still twinkled
occasionally; but he no longer took the initiative in introducing
subjects of conversation. He seemed to prefer to follow Mrs. Mearely’s
lead. Possibly this was in accordance with some old custom of providing
a Talking Woman to do the talking for princes, even as there were once
Whipping Boys, who received the princely deserts for bad conduct. He
affected not to hear questions, or--murmuring, “Certainly,” or “Oh, to
be sure”--he referred the query to his Talking Woman for answer.

“I believe you read, earlier in the evening of Prince Adam’s
adventures.” She tapped the _Digest_ with her forefinger.

Corinne, unable to contain herself any longer, cried out:

“Prince! _Oh_, I’m so glad you came here! But I just felt sure you
would. I said so to Mrs. Mearely.” He smiled at her.

Mrs. Witherby’s suspicions were awake again.

“May I ask how you knew he was the prince? Of course I don’t doubt
Your Highness at all. But may we not know how Mrs. Mearely was able to
corroborate...?”

The prince bowed to her affably. “Oh, to be sure. Naturally.” He looked
at Rosamond.

“When His Highness first entered I supposed he was a vagabond. It was
dark. When His Highness spoke, of course I recognized that he was not a
tramp, but a gentleman.”

Mrs. Witherby could not resist a dig.

“_I_ should have known that _at once_. Naturally, from my station in
life.”

“Then--when I served the supper, His Highness went into the dining room
for a glass of water. During his absence, Captain Lass-an-a-vatiewicz”
(she struggled over the name, but achieved it,) “of the Diplomatic
Secret Service of Woodseweedsetisky, came in. He had been watching
about here all the evening. Mrs. Witherby saw him looking over the
railing.”

Mrs. Witherby sprang up.

“There! There!” she declared, triumphantly. “I told you....” She
pointed at Howard.

Constable Marks rebuked her sternly:

“’Ere, ’ere, now! Less hexcitement and more hetiquette before ’Is
’Ighness.”

When she had subsided, Rosamond continued:

“He told me the real identity of my supposed vagabond....”

“The real identity?” the prince questioned.

“I should say he suggested it to me, guardedly, by telling me that he
was here from--from Woodseweedsetisky.”

Her eyes besought him to confirm her trembling accents.

“Perfectly pronounced,” he murmured. “Except the w’s, of course, as I
said before. And the o’s and double e’s being quite different.”

She smiled happily.

“I’m so glad I say it right, now. He said he had come to induce a
certain great person to go home to his duties--meaning Prince Adam and
his throne.”

The prince repeated, in quick surprise:

“To take a certain great person home?”

“Yes. That’s how I knew who you were. And he said that he knew the
prince would come here to-night, because of His Highness’s chivalrous,
romantic nature--to protect me, because I was alone.”

The prince rose, in his growing astonishment.

“He expected His Highness here? To-night?”

“Yes; and here you are.” She beamed.

He sat down again. “I pass,” he muttered.

“How wonderful for His Highness to be so understood,” Howard commented.

“It must be. It is,” His Highness answered. He appeared to be in a
brown study.

“I think even Mrs. Witherby must admit that there is no longer a
suspicion attached to me. And that the fact that my midnight visitor is
Prince Adam Lapid explains everything perfectly, and clears me.”

With a gracious, condescending smile, Mrs. Witherby received her again
into the fold.

“Oh, yes. Certainly. Oh, yes, the fact that His Highness is a _prince_
clears up--_everything_.”

“Ah, then I am royal with reason. I confer reputation on lovely
woman--rather reversing historical precedent in that matter.”

“But, indeed, our dear Mrs. Mearely has given Your Highness quite
an erroneous idea of my friendly ministrations in this house. She
is _so_ sensitive. _Of course_, no one in this dear old town,
where she is so well known, would think for a moment that--that
...” finding the sentence difficult to complete, she wound up very
emphatically--“Er--_No one_! Why don’t _you_ say something, Mr. Howard?
You are our dear Rosamond’s cousin.”

Mrs. Mearely noted the use of her Christian name, but forbore to
administer a snub, knowing that she would soon have a better revenge.

“You seemed to--um--be so full of the right ideas, I could hardly
contribute anything,” he replied lamely.

“Ah! But there is even a greater surprise in store for our dear, active
Mrs. Witherby. His Highness is like a fairy prince. He brings romance
to light wherever he goes. Only to-night, Mrs. Witherby said she had
a premonition that an engagement would be announced here, before she
left this house. How wonderful to have such a prophetic vision! She
discerned--in the crystal of her own pure thoughts--that Mr. Howard’s
bachelor days were over.”

She saw that both Mrs. Witherby and Howard started but she gave them no
time to interrupt.

“Yes. It is my pride and pleasure, to announce the engagement of
my dear, considerate fifth cousin--by _marriage_--to my friend and
confidante, Miss Mabel Crewe. _How_ we have talked secrets to-night,
haven’t we, Mabel? There! That is a surprise, isn’t it, Mrs. Witherby?
But, think! How distinguished to have your niece’s espousals blessed by
royalty! That will give you something to talk about for the next fifty
years!”

She had waited a long night for this moment and she made the most of
it. Malicious triumph shot electrical sparks from her person. “Call me
Rosamond again! Cat!” was in her mind.

One cannot make scenes before royalty. Mrs. Witherby’s claws were
clipped. She smiled a vinegary smile.

“It is a surprise--indeed. I am glad to learn that the young people are
in such affluent circumstances. I hadn’t known of their windfall.”

Howard cleared his throat.

“I had not expected the--announcement. It is a great honour--er--doubly
so--er--under the circumstances.”

Corinne embraced her cousin ecstatically.

“Oh, Mabel! Oh--I’m so glad! Oh, Your Highness, it must be wonderful
to do such lovely things for people. Perhaps that’s why you are called
Prince Adam--because you make all things lovely, like the Garden of
Eden.”

“Dear young lady,” he responded; “it is my fondest aim to make this
world once more an Eden for everyone.” He bowed to Mrs. Witherby, and
amended. “Of course, with certain restrictions--chiefly in the matter
of drapery.”

Corinne sighed with extreme joy.

“Oh, it does change _everything_ when a Prince comes!”

“For a wedding gift to my dear cousin,” Rosamond said, “I am adding to
his future wife’s dower. As Corinne says, it does change everything
when a prince comes. I never thought before how much I might give. Come
here, Wilton and sit beside her--and thank your lucky stars. She wants
you,” she muttered, as he passed her, “well, she shall _own_ you.”

“I do thank my lucky stars, cousin Rosamond,” he answered as he took
Mabel’s hand. His face was dark with the flush of his own contempt. “I
am the gainer in every way. I am utterly unworthy of her.” Then, as her
cold fingers clung tightly to his, he added--speaking to her only, as
if he were determined to put behind him everything else that had been
said and thought in that room during the night--“perhaps the coming of
the prince may change that, too.”

“Oh, dear!” Corinne sighed again, “Mr. Howard, _I_ think you’re
perfectly nice. But that part doesn’t matter. Everybody will be so glad
to see Mabel get what she wants.”



CHAPTER XXVIII


A silence of acute embarrassment was happily broken by Mr. Marks.
Saluting, he said:

“If Hi may make so bold before ’Is ’Ighness--there’ll be no ’oldin’
Mrs. Marks w’en she hears of ’Is ’Ighness a-jumpin’ on my ’ead, she
bein’ hambitious.”

Mrs. Witherby, who felt dissatisfied with the opportunities accorded
her hitherto for impressing His Highness with her character as a
gentlewoman all Roseborough delighted to honour, settled herself
fussily in her chair and began to discourse, with an air of one who has
dwelt much, if not _in_ palaces, at least around the corner.

“Your Highness of course is only on a little incognito journey--I
presume, to study the conditions of humbler folk. Your Highness will
shortly return to his throne, with all its royal splendours?”

He bowed, and in a manner more royally aloof than he had used before--a
manner that proclaimed the crowned Ruler--he condescended to converse
with her.

“We left our throne somewhat suddenly, because our royal splendours
had rather wearied us. Conceive, my dear madam, of having one’s every
step attended by a score of uniformed menials. Conceive of the infinite
ceremony of--let us say--boot-lacing, under the royal system. Contrast
it with the ease and privacy with which you, for instance, draw on your
fine prunella boots. You are alone. You sit. There is the difficult
stoop to bring the boot and the foot into friendly focus. Then the
valiant tussle, the gasp, perhaps the stitch in the side--if the
weather is warm, the drop of moisture--and the thing is accomplished.”

Mrs. Witherby twitched as if she were about to protest sharply, but a
cold, lofty look and gesture restrained her.

“If Hi may make so bold as to s’y so, ’Is ’Ighness is a wonderful
’and to describe things. Hi can see ’er doin’ of it,” Officer Marks
snickered reverentially, “beggin’ ’Is ’Ighness’s pardon.”

The prince, regardless of the lady’s bristles, elucidated further:

“Whereas, with us, the matter is not so simple. Conceive of a half
battalion in livery to find the boots--under the regulations of the
Secret Service Department. Two detectives to unravel the laces. Two
gentlemen, from the Interstate Commission of Harmony-Producers, to
bring the royal feet and royal boots into juxtaposition. Four to incase
the feet in the boots. And, say, half a dozen more to attend to
lacing and polishing. So with everything. An army of chemists to test
one’s toilet waters and perfumes every time one desires a sniff--for
fear some anarchist spy may have dropped poison into them. It becomes
irksome. And, at times, we steal forth secretly, climb the palace
palings, leap across the orchard, open the front gate of our kingdom
and stroll forth, incognito--as you see.”

Corinne gasped “Isn’t it thrilling?”

“Oh, yes,” Rosamond breathed.

Mrs. Witherby was anxious to retrieve herself, feeling that her first
essay had not resulted greatly to her honour. She smiled respectfully
and began again.

“I hope Your Highness will not think me impertinent--but is Your
Highness not related to most of the crowned heads of Europe?”

“You perceive resemblances?”

“Oh, _strong_ ones!” She tossed her head, delighted with herself for
this show of intelligence. “Particularly to the Czar of Russia--and
the King of Spain. Also Emperor William--about the eyes. Those are the
royalties who are most often photographed in the papers. But I daresay
Your Highness resembles all the others, too. I believe you are all
related? One hears that said.”

“We sprang from a common parent, madam.”

Mr. Marks looked about, proudly, and said:

“_Hi_ think ’e looks like the _King of Hengland_.” After a brief pause,
he added patronizingly, “though the hothers is well enough in their
way.”

“I trust Your Highness does not find us deficient in etiquette,” said
Mrs. Witherby. “My late husband’s mother once knew a London lady who
had been to Court.”

“Oh mamma, I’m sure His Highness doesn’t care about etiquette, or he
wouldn’t run away incog,” Corinne expostulated.

“Every Court has its rules of etiquette, my dear, and even royalty must
conform to them.”

Corinne looked disappointed.

“Oh, does Your Highness have to do _just so_--as we do?”

He gave her an affectionate, whimsical glance, and said:

“Yes; but when I put on my crown and climb upon my throne, I write my
own rules of Just So. And, what is more, I make everyone conform to
them. It is not difficult. Because, when they once understand, they
_wish_ to conform; and no other rules will do for them at all.”

“They must be wonderful laws that people _want_ to keep,” Mabel thought.

Rosamond, asking for more fairy tales, said:

“Oh, won’t Your Highness tell us about your country?”

He took her hands lightly, smiling into her eager eyes:

“‘Prince, Prince, how does your garden grow?’ It is a great thing
to be the prince of one’s own little country. There are no prisons;
because there are no criminals. That is because everything is freely
given. Our financial rating is according to what a man has given.” He
looked pointedly at the heiress of the Mearely fortune, and added, “No
one is proud of being _merely_ rich.” She blushed faintly and looked
down, accepting the suggested rebuke. His regard, with its whimsical
seriousness--its blend of humorous comprehension, and confident love,
of human nature--sought Mabel’s, next. “There are no poor; because they
have learned to _love_ while they serve--and that makes them rich.”
He looked at Howard and perhaps he, too, recognized the “product of a
bloodless, stagnant village”--blind only because it had not been shown
light; for there was no sting in his words: “Love is valued above
everything. The love of a girl’s heart is more precious to her lover
than _much gold_.” The lovers’ fingers tightened on each other’s. “And
no one frowns on young chatterboxes or says ‘hush! hush!’”

“Oh--h,” Corinne sighed again in ecstasy.

“There are no gossips in my country. That is because every child
is taught to recite, in its cradle, the articles of the country’s
Constitution. Every infant can say ‘Oo--goo-goo--goog-ly’--which,
when translated, means ‘Mind your own business!’” Mrs. Witherby became
as flustered as if everyone in Roseborough did not know (from hearing
her oft asseverate it) how she despised gossip. The Prince continued:
“Observance of this one law has given perfect domestic, social,
religious, political, and international harmony.”

There was silence for some time after this, while the younger folk, at
least, tried to visualize a country where all these things were true.
Even Mr. Marks was in dreamland, absent-mindedly chewing his hat-brim
and spuffing out the straw chips.

“Hit must be a ’appy neighbour’ood,” he said at last, plaintively. His
Highness gave him a merry look over his shoulder.

“It is,” he said. “All the police are sergeants. They have no weapons.
But the government supplies them with a new cherry ribbon for their
watchfobs every Sunday.”

Marks saluted, grinning bashfully.

“Oh, tell some more,” Corinne urged. “Please Prince, tell some
more--about _you_.”

“Yes,” Rosamond echoed. “Tell some more about you.”

“About me?” He looked past the little group, whose limited and selfish
ideas of human joy and the means to happiness had brought them into
Villa Rose to know envy and suspicion and to call one another names;
and he saw the river and its valley painted by the dawn. Earth and sky
were agleam with the fires that precede the rising sun. The rhythms of
earth’s beauty, flowing to meet and heal the human need, came to his
ear in the lilt of a verse such as a child’s lips might shape, as it
went dancing, barefoot, through the radiant valley.

“I? Why I am....”

  I am Prince of the Nameless Land.
    I have set my throne on the azure steep,
  And rimmed it round with a starry band,
    For the hearts that stray and the eyes that weep.

  Faith rears my walls o’er a garden slope;
  My dreams are camped on the hills of Hope;
    White stone is my castle crest.
  Peace is my sentry and Mirth my guard,
  My gates are wide and my doors unbarred
    For the feet of the human guest.

  Joy is my sceptre, and Tenderness
    The crown on my august brow;
  The ring on my finger is Gratitude
    To God, who has sealed my vow,
  And set his song in my waiting lips,
    His love in my writing hand.
  And made me Lord of the Things Men Dream--
    The Prince of their Nameless Land!

The rosy glow from the sky stole into the room; and, to the Nature-man
and song-maker, it came like music. So Love had come to him there: at
last, the song with words, fitting the measures of its plain telling
to the old rhythms of his daily faith and desire. _She_--the woman--was
the gift to him of all the dawns he had watched alone.

A crashing of hoofs on the hill-road called the singer and his
companions back to Roseborough.

“What rapid riding!” Mrs. Witherby exclaimed. She went to the verandah,
followed by Howard. “Can it be someone coming here?”

“Oh dear!” Corinne sighed. “Roseborough will never see a night like
this again.”

The prince turned to her abruptly.

“What did you say?”

She looked at him, in surprise at his tone.

“I said we’d never have another wonderful night like this in
Roseborough.”

“In _Roseborough_?” he repeated, plainly astonished. “This--this is not
Roseborough?”

“But certainly it is,” Rosamond answered. “I told you so.”

“You told me it was Something Vale. Roseborough!” He stared at her,
blankly. “I’ve been wondering for hours how a house in Something Vale
could look down on just the same bit of the river. How is it that
_you_...? Really,”--he looked in amazement from one to the other--“you
know, it’s very odd to find that I have really been _here_ all the
time!”

“Quite so,” Howard replied, kindly. To Mrs. Witherby he whispered,
tapping his brow significantly. “Charming fellow--His Highness--but
touched.”

“Oh yes!” She agreed, excitedly. “Of course, _I_ saw that at once. But
royalty _is_, you know. They’re all insane. I’ve always heard that.”

The galloping pounded into the driveway and up to the verandah.

“It’s Dr. Frei,” Howard said.

Frei strode rapidly across the porch, his gaze seeking Rosamond. He
wore a long, black, military cloak and a soft black hat. As he swept
off his hat, and let the cloak fall back from his arm, he suggested
a staff-officer in uniform. A sword-glance was flashed in scathing
contempt over all but Mrs. Mearely and the prince. These two were
exempt from his anger, because he could feel nothing but tenderness for
Rosamond; and the prince he had not yet perceived. That distinguished
personage had caught sight of Frei on the verandah and immediately
hidden himself behind the door.

“Rosamond!” He called her name feelingly and made his way rapidly to
her. He kissed her hand. “Fear no longer. _I_ am here.”

“Ah, you have heard of the excitement,” Mrs. Witherby began.

He silenced her with a gesture so commanding, that she continued to
stare at his hand for several seconds afterward. His eyes blazed, his
whole body quivered with the excess of his emotion.

“Yes! I have heard it! First from Herr Ruggle, of the telegraph, when
together we reach for our milk pails on the back of the porch. Then
from Dr. Wells. Finally from everybody! I have heard how this beautiful
Rosamond, of Roseborough, has been suspected, maligned; her reputation
slandered, ruined--_criticized_--_criticized_”--he hissed out the
word with uncontrollable fury--“by you--and you--and you,” snapping
his fingers right and left. “Yes, criticized! and why? why?” Glaring,
he paused for emphasis. “Because a gentleman calls upon her, at his
convenience! What is more natural?” scornfully. “Two--three o’clock
in the morning--these are not _your_ hours for visiting? _No!_ I can
believe that!” with seething contempt. “With you--_with you_--it must
be _just so_. Bah! With me, if I am wakeful and I wish to visit some
friend at three o’clock in the morning, immediately I ring my bell, I
wake everybody, I am dressed, I demand the carriage or the automobile,
or the aeroplane, and I go to visit my friend. I wish to visit, and I
visit! _What is more natural?_ Does the clock rule the inclinations or
the reputations? Absurdity!”

While he drew breath, Rosamond said quickly:

“They know now. It’s all explained.”

“Certainly. _I_ have come to make the explanation. For your sake only.
I detest criticism. I do nothing for people who criticize. If I can
make great trouble for them, I do so. Always. But for you, whose heart
is torn, bleeding, from their criticisms, I make the great sacrifice. I
renounce my incognito. I take you under my protection.”

The word “incognito” is an unusual one to hear bandied about in a
peaceful village like Roseborough, and would be sure to produce its
effect at any time; but hardly such an effect as was produced by Dr.
Frei’s use of it now. Everyone stared at him, then at one another and
back at him; that is, everyone but Mrs. Mearely, who had long ago
convinced herself that Dr. Frei was some noted violin virtuoso who had
come to peaceful Roseborough to recover his health.

His manner changed. The feverish excitement of the furious avenger (on
critics) faded. With lifted head--yet not assertively lifted, but held
high with an hereditary and inbred dignity--and the quiet accents of
habitual and unquestioned authority, he said:

“I am Adam, Prince of Woodseweedsetisky.” He pronounced it as if it
were written Vode-s’-vade-s’-teesky.

There is a common phrase for describing a blank silence after a shock;
“one could have heard a pin drop.” In the silence that filled Villa
Rose, one could feel the temperature drop. In time, Rosamond found her
faculties of speech.

“Er--er--it’s very good of you, Dr. Frei, to attempt
this--er--masquerade for my sake. But my reputation has already been
saved--by Prince Adam of--Woodse....”

“Vode-s’-vade-s’-teesky.”

“Ye--es. The real Prince Adam is here.” She looked about for her prince.

“Hi found ’im. ’Ere’s ’Is ’Ighness--’idin’ up ’ere.”

His Highness, the Vagabond, perforce stepped out of his concealment
into Dr. Frei’s ken. He bowed to him ceremoniously, respectfully, yet
with a sparkle of mirth in his eye.

“This is Prince Adam,” Mrs. Mearely said.

“At your service,” he said, to Frei.

“Ach! no! This is too much!” Frei stormed at him. “The fountain! You
criticized me because the water did not arrive to spout. I put you in
the prison and now you come out and say you are me. Oh no! You are not
me. _Who_ you are, I forget. I purposely forget, because you are of
no importance whatever. But you are not _me_.” He stopped, breathing
heavily and glaring.

“This needs clearing up,” Mrs. Witherby said. She looked at Mrs.
Mearely and her vagabond, and said it very positively.

As if in answer, the thickset figure of Teodor Carl Peter
Lassanavatiewicz stumbled across the porch and into the room. He burst
into sobs at the near view of his Sovereign. He rushed to Frei, fell on
his knees--despite the wound he groaned at--and kissed his hands.

“_Ach! Ich habe Sie gefunden._ It is thou. All night have I in the wet
grass and hard roads waited. But I have fallen asleep.” He caught sight
of the vagabond and exploded, in angry astonishment, “_Der Anarchist!
der Teufel!_”

Frei, deeply moved, looked down upon him.

“Ah--is it thou, my faithful Teodor?” Emotionally, with wet eyes,
he indicated the kneeling figure to the silent group in Villa Rose.
“Always he is searching the world for me! Ah--ah--so faithful! Faithful
Teodor.” He observed a white linen strip about the faithful one’s
nether limb. “You are _wounded_?” he cried, in dismay.

Indignation sounded through the kneeling man’s sobs.

“I--I have been abominably--execrably wounded in the leg.”

“Ah--ah! Poor Teodor.”

“You will go home with me? You will at last marry the Princess Olga,
who adores you?”

“Yes, yes,” soothingly. “We will go home. We will marry her.” He
sighed. “She will say she adores me. She has been well brought up.”
He turned his attention once more to Roseborough and the present.
“Farewell,” he said--his expression was grieved and disdainful--“I
go--without regrets. Here, where I thought was my journey’s end, I have
heard most cruel criticism. It is the world. Everywhere the same. I go
back to my own country, where I can put the critics in the _prison_!”

The vagabond asked meekly:

“If Your Highness will be so kind as to introduce me and vouch for my
respectability--for Mrs. Mearely’s sake....”

Prince Adam bent upon him imperious looks of intense dislike.

“For Mrs. Mearely, nothing is needed. You--and you”--pointing at
the offenders, chief of whom he rightly considered to be Mrs.
Witherby--“destroyed her reputation. But I have given her a new one.
She needs no more. Now, those, who absurdly criticized her, are at her
feet in apologies. They will humble themselves before her always.”

“Nay, Your Highness,” replied the vagabond, who had read the signs more
clearly. In spite of himself, the whimsical strain came uppermost.
“Here also, water will not run uphill--not even to oblige a prince.”

“I say, I do not know you!” Prince Adam thundered, “You are an
anarchist and a critic. From you I have received this false tale of a
place where ‘all hearts are tender and sincere.’ Roseborough! Ah! bah!
You are my evil genius. I repudiate you. Before all, I say I do not
know this man.”

He took Rosamond’s hand and, with profound reverence, kissed it.
“Rosamond,” he repeated her name feelingly, “I cannot take you where
I am going. Besides, now I shall marry Princess Olga, and it is even
possible she would not wish you to be with me. You will remain forever
in my memory--my one true dream, the perfect melody I heard but could
not keep. Farewell.”

He saluted the others distantly. “Madame. Ladies. Herr Howard.” He
marched out with swift step, but stopped suddenly on the verandah,
remembering the wounded Lassanavatiewicz limping behind. “Come,
my Teodor. Come my Teodor. Ah--ah--so faithful.” He put his arm
about his Teodor’s shoulder an instant, as the latter lifted his
bandaged leg over the threshold, an act of condescension which caused
Lassanavatiewicz to weep devotedly. Prince Adam crossed the verandah
and passed from view without a backward glance.

Mr. Marks, alone of those in the living room of Villa Rose, had
comments to make immediately, and his were personal. He was divided
between pleasure at having actually hit Lassanavatiewicz and chagrin at
having only grazed him.

“That’s wot ’appens w’en foreigners goes hup against _Henglish_ guns,”
he said proudly; and, at once, added disappointedly. “But Hi _do_ wish
my _aim_ was better. _Hi_ do wish _that_.”

Thought in Roseborough usually moved like molasses below zero, even
when Roseborough had not been up all night. It should have been easy,
otherwise, for Mrs. Witherby or Mrs. Mearely to identify the pseudo
prince from some of the phrases in the real prince’s tirade against
him. One or two phrases uttered by Prince Adam, however, could not
make Mrs. Mearely forget that she had been deceived; nor could they
enlighten Mrs. Witherby, who found it more enjoyable to revive all her
old suspicions--which dated, and gathered momentum from the absence
of Amanda, Jemima and Blake, and the simultaneous appearance of the
rose-and-silver gown. She recalled the sly jibes she had been obliged
to bear submissively rather than offend Royalty, and her temper flew to
the masthead like a regatta display--all primary colours, and chiefly
red. She hurled her fury first upon the vagabond:

“Oh, the miserable upstart! The thief! The villain! As to _you_, Mrs.
Mearely, let us see if you’ll hold your head high in Roseborough after
the tale I’ll tell. You’ll make a fool of me, will you, with your
‘prince’? Oh, indeed! Let me tell you, you’ll never have a reputation
again. I know you. Trying to escape with such tales. You villain! You
counterfeiter! Oh! When I think how I’ve scraped and kow-towed to you!”
She concluded with a direct attack upon the mock prince, even as she
had begun.

“_’Im_ thinkin’ ’e looks like the _King of Hengland_!” Officer Marks
was bellicose about that delusion. “’E’s a _himpostor_!”

The vagabond was prevented from offering a third interpretation of
himself by Mrs. Lee’s advent. She came in, all tender distress, and put
her arms about Rosamond as if to protect something precious to herself.

“Oh, my dear. You are all right, unhurt? Susannah Potts stopped just
now, and told me of your fright--the excitement--and, oh, such a tale!
She was on her way to do a day’s cleaning at the Kilroys, and saw me in
my garden, and told me that Maria had sat up in a bedquilt all night at
the telephone, and had rung your number twenty-nine times! When one has
no telephone one misses a great deal. But you should have sent someone
to wake me. It was just your sweet thoughtfulness, not to break an old
woman’s sleep.” She patted Rosamond’s cheek.

The vagabond had watched her, from the moment of her appearance, with
affectionate eyes. He stepped forward now. Sixteen years had changed
him--turned a long, slender boy into a compact broad-shouldered man,
written in his face much more than the simple tales of the First
Primer. Had they met on the road, she might not have known him. It
was not his outward person that she recognized now; but she knew that
attitude of head held forward and bent in humility; hands thrust deep
into coat pockets, and black eyes, apparently downcast, but in reality
gleaming through half-closed lids, while he mutely asked pardon for
some outrageous prank, and at the same time flashed the impudent news
that he would not undo it if he could, no, not for a wilderness of
monkeys.

“Who _was_ the dreadful man,” Mrs. Lee was asking when she caught sight
of him. “Why--who--who? Jack! Jack, my dear boy--Oh, my dear boy.” She
went to him with open arms and embraced him and crooned over him.

“Yes, Mother Lee. I’m home again.” He kissed her cheek. “But you didn’t
tell me that you don’t live _here_ any more! So it was I, Mother Lee. I
was the tramp.”

“Oh Jack!” she laughed happily, though her eyes were wet. “And then
you told some story and kept it up. Just the same, naughty Jack.” She
held his arm in hers as she beamed delightedly at the others. “So now
you all know one another, and I needn’t make any introductions. And see
how wonderfully it came about, too--just as I longed to have it, Mrs.
Mearely! My Jack and Roseborough met without knowing that they were
Jack Falcon and Roseborough, and so they found out each other’s true
selves at once. How beautiful!”

She was leaning to gaze into his face with loving look, and so did not
see that everyone, but Corinne, sought some spot for view where eyes
would not be encountered. Constable Marks, having no cause for moral
sensitiveness, put his battered straw hat on and took it off again in
punctilious greeting to the new arrival.

“Hi’m ’appy to welcome you ’ome, Sir. Hi’ll be goin’ along, now, to
tell Mrs. Marks as ’ow Hi was almost the _first_ to greet you. She
halways ’as a ’ankerin’ to see me prominent.” He drew out his watch.
“Nigh on my breakfast time.”

“Good day, _sergeant_,” Falcon called after him, good humouredly.
Constable Halfred Marks grinned sheepishly and departed.

Presently Mabel gave words to the thought in everyone’s mind, but Mrs.
Lee’s and Corinne’s. She said:

“And we’ve all got to live here _knowing each other_!”

“Won’t that be wholesome?” Falcon said cheerily.

Corinne could contain herself no longer.

“Oh Goody! Oh, to think the prince is going to stay in Roseborough!
Prince Falcon! And, oh, Mrs. Lee, Mabel’s going to marry Mr.
Howard--at _last_!”

“Oh, how glad I am!” Mrs. Lee embraced Mabel. “Two dear young people.
Such an unselfish girl, always labouring for dear aunt Emma and
Corinne. How often I’ve prayed, ‘May that sweet, unselfish girl get a
good husband.’” She shook hands with Howard.

“I--I didn’t know anybody ever noticed me,” Mabel answered, with
quivering lip.

“How glad our dear Mrs. Witherby must be. I know what joy she feels.
She is always more interested in others than in her own affairs.”

Mrs. Witherby hunted for her handkerchief, sniffling with unexpected
emotion, and faltered:

“Her father was my favourite brother--my favourite.”

“And now you’ll all meet at breakfast as dear friends, and not
strangers. But that is the spirit of Roseborough. Jack, perhaps you’ll
find that all your wandering has only led you safely home. Somewhere,
dear boy, even you must find your end-of-journeying. You remember the
words: ‘Dear Roseborough, to every seeker of harmony thou art his
end-of-journeying; to every wanderer, his home’?”

“My ‘end-of-journeying’!” he repeated, and looked at Rosamond, who had
stolen away from the room to the verandah.

The golden light of the risen sun filled the open spaces of the garden
and sought for chinks and window holes in the great elms, through which
to send its warm yellow shafts into Villa Rose. Falcon went out to the
railing, and looked down. The sun was splashing all the hillside with
glory; and the river flowed like golden glass.

Mrs. Witherby was repeating something she had evolved, at last, as the
perfect explanation of “all our little mistakes last night.”

“If only it hadn’t happened in the _night_! I’m sure _I_ would _never_
have thought--I’m the _last_ person to.... But when things happen _in
the night_!”

Mrs. Lee had joined her boy on the verandah. She pointed to the
sunlight that now burst through the elms in a dozen places.

“But the night is past,” she said comfortingly.

Rosamond, lifting her face to let the midsummer morning sky shower its
splendour on her, echoed softly:

“Yes--the night is past.”

Falcon turned to her. He heard the secret call in her low note, the
human undertone of the high wind-swung song of the nests.

Their eyes met. Their youth--and the joy and the hope of it--leaped in
them, and they smiled wonderingly at each other.

With a buoyant, compelling movement Falcon went to her, under her
golden leaf-laced veil of sun, and gripped her hand in the firm, warm
clasp of a comrade who has sought long and will never let go of the
mate he has found.

“Night _is_ past--_Good-morning, Rosamond_!”

They laughed for sheer gladness.


THE END



[Illustration]


  THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
  GARDEN CITY, N. Y.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unpaired
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained; occurrences of
inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

Most commas at the ends of paragraphs and sentences have been changed
to periods. Occasional missing periods and commas have been restored.

The Table of Contents was added by the Transcriber and placed in the
Public Domain.

Page 92: Transcriber added the colon in “Poor man:”, as the print at
that point was incomplete.

Page 117: “I except to see ninety” was printed that way; may be a
typographical error for “expect”.

Page 193: “asked many question, about” was printed in the singular.

Page 227: “gloves from the settie” was printed that way; probably
should be “settie”.





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