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Title: The Moth Decides - A Novel
Author: Jewell, Edward Alden
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE MOTH DECIDES



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_:


THE CHARMED CIRCLE

A tale of Paris and an American boy who found on every hand romance
hidden away. "As sunny as 'Seventeen' and as subtle as 'The Age of
Innocence.' There will be thousands to delight in it with tears and
chuckles."--_Wilson Follett_


THE WHITE KAMI

The story of a mysterious island in the China Sea. "Has flavor,
charm, and qualities of unusual distinction. We are swept so far from
reality that we close the story with genuine regret."--_Boston Evening
Transcript_


_NEW YORK: ALFRED · A · KNOPF_



THE MOTH DECIDES

A NOVEL

BY
EDWARD ALDEN JEWELL


[Illustration: Decoration]


NEW YORK ALFRED · A · KNOPF MCMXXII



COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
EDWARD ALDEN JEWELL

_Published, September, 1922_


_Set up, electrotyped, and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co.,
 Binghamton, N. Y.
Paper supplied by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y.
Bound by the H. Wolff Estate, New York, N. Y._

MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



TO
HAROLD PAGET



CONTENTS


PART ONE: THE ARRIVAL       11

PART TWO: THE KISS         119

PART THREE: THE LIGHT      199



PART I

THE ARRIVAL


1

When Louise opened her eyes she stared dreamily up at the slight
abrasion in the shingle roof through which morning blinked. There were
not many of these informal skylights, for the roof was not an old
one. But there were a few, as there are likely to be in most summer
cottages. When there was a violent downpour one had to hustle around
distributing pans and kettles to catch an often ambitious drip. But
this morning there was no rain. Louise's pretty face was not in danger
of an unsolicited bath. It was a radiant summer dawn.

For a moment she wondered how she had happened to wake so early. The
July birds were all chattering in the woods. But why should _she_
waken out of deep slumber unsummoned? Presently, however, the reason
for this phenomenon flashed vividly. Downstairs in the cottage living
room, on the chimney-piece, stood an old Dutch clock. This clock
possessed a kind of wiry, indignant tick, and a voice, when it was
time to speak, full of a jerky, twanging spite. Louise could hear the
sharp ticking. Then there came a little whirr--like a very wheeze of
decrepitude--followed by an angry striking. One, two, three, four.
And at the very first stroke she knew why she was awake at so almost
grotesque an hour. The remembrance brought its half whimsical shock. In
an hour Leslie would be cranking the engine of his little launch, and
they would be chugging toward Beulah.

However, even this did not impel the girl to spring out of bed.
Indeed, she arose quite deliberately and only after a brief relapse
into a dreaminess which was cousin to slumber itself. She allowed her
mind to explore, quite fantastically and not a little extravagantly,
the probable courses of the day just springing. She knew beyond any
question that it was to be a day packed full of importance for her.
Yet she proceeded with that air of cool possession which young persons
often elect to display when they feel that the reins are snugly in
their hands. As she looked up at the tiny point of aurora in the roof,
Louise smiled. There was almost no trace left of the old trouble--that
well borne but sufficiently poignant wound, which though her own, had
added new lines to the Rev. Needham's already pictorial face. Richard?
Oh, Richard was almost forgotten at length. This was as it should be.
Defiantly, but also a little slyly (because it could hardly be reckoned
a good Christian sentiment), Louise wished that Richard might somehow
be here now to observe her triumph; above all--for the wound had still
a slight sting--to see how finely calm she _had_ learned to be in these
matters.

There was a light step outside on the turf of the hillside. One
unalert might not have noted it, or might not have known it for a
human tread, where there was such a patter of squirrel and chipmunk
scampering. But Louise was alert. She might be calm, but she was also
alert. And she knew it was no squirrel out there. That was Leslie.
He was lingering about under her window, undecided whether he ought
to risk pebbles or a judicious whistle by way of making sure she was
awake. At the faint sound of his foot she raised her head quickly from
the pillow.

"Louise!" he whispered.

You might have thought it some mere passing sibilance of wind. But you
could not be expected to know Leslie's voice as she knew it.

The girl slipped softly out of bed. She did not want to rouse her
sister. Hilda was sleeping with her. Hilda had given her own room to
Aunt Marjie.

When Louise stepped out on to the bare cottage floor, her feet
encountered cool little hillocks of sand, the residue of sundry
bed-time shoe dumpings. One could not live up here beside Lake Michigan
without coming to reckon sand as intimately and legitimately entering
into almost every phase of existence. Indeed, she trod on sand more
or less all the way across to the single little window; then dropped
lightly on to her knees before the window and peered down through the
screen.

"I'm awake, Leslie," she whispered.

And the lad who had been eagerly gazing at this very window, vacant
till now, smiled faintly, nodded, and made motions signifying that he
would wait for her in the little rustic "tea-house." However, his smile
was very brief; and his manner, as he went away toward the specified
rendezvous, was manifestly dejected.

When Louise turned back from the window, Hilda was stirring. Hilda
lifted herself up on to an elbow and welcomed her sister with bright
eyes.

"Who's out there?" she asked.

"Sh-h-h! It's Les. Go back to sleep, Hilda."

"Is he going with you?" the younger girl persisted.

"Only part of the way."

"As far as Beulah?"

"Yes."

"Why doesn't he go all the way?"

"Because I would rather go alone," replied the older girl with a quite
fascinating fusion of firmness and mystery.

But the manifest dignity of this response was slighted by Hilda, who
merely remarked, in an unemotional yet still significant tone: "Oh, I
see."

"Well, isn't it natural?"

"Isn't what natural, Lou?"

"Isn't it natural I should want to be alone when I meet Lynndal?"

"Oh, yes! I didn't just stop to think how it would be."

"Not that it would really matter about Les," the other continued,
slipping quickly into her clothes. "Les is only a boy, after all."

"Oh, do you think so, Lou?"

"Why, of course. Leslie isn't more than twenty, if he's _that_," she
concluded rather doubtfully, twisting up her dark hair and fixing it
loosely in place.

"Oh, he is!" protested Hilda as vigorously as whisper-talk would allow.

"Is what?"

"Les _is_ twenty."

Louise had turned away from the larger mirror in the dresser and was
trying to focus the back of her head with the aid of a small hand
mirror, as women do who are particularly concerned about appearing at
their best. She looked across oddly at her sister, who in turn blushed,
lowering her eyes.

"Well, then, as you say. You seem to be pretty sure."

"Les told me he was," cried Hilda, as though vaguely to shift some sort
of responsibility.

Louise relinquished the mirrors and sat down on the edge of the bed for
the purpose of tying her shoes. "Listen, Hilda," she said; "you ought
to go straight back to sleep. It's only four o'clock. Papa would be mad
if he heard us."

"Oh, but he can't," replied Hilda, with the air of one who knows very
accurately the acoustic properties of the house in which she dwells.

"But Aunt Marjie might," the other suggested.

"Oh, she wouldn't tell. Aunt Marjie's a sport! Besides," she added, as
though to place the matter altogether beyond dispute, "listen!"

Both girls did. They gazed in silence toward the three-quarters
partition beyond which Aunt Marjie was established. It was quite true.
There were unmistakable dulcet sounds from that direction. Aunt Marjie
had warned them she was a heavy sleeper. She had not deemed it urgent
to be more specific.

"Safe!" admitted Louise, with a sigh of mock-relief, adding, however:
"Even so, you ought to go back to sleep."

Hilda dropped on to her pillow, seeming without comment about to
comply. But she was right up again with an earnest question: "Where's
he now?"

"Who?"

"Les."

"Sh-h-h! He's waiting for me outside."

"Oh, Louise--I _wish_ you'd let me go with you!" The emphasis implied
that the petition had been put hitherto--perhaps persistently. "Please
_do_ let me go along--only as far as Beulah!"

The person so earnestly addressed was dusting her face and neck with
powder, which signified that she was about ready to depart. She flipped
open her handkerchief box with a scene from Dresden on its cover
and tucked a fresh handkerchief into her blouse. "Now be good and
don't tease," she pleaded a little petulantly. Louise took a certain
elder-sisterly attitude towards Hilda which had in it something of
selfish authority.

Once more Hilda dropped obediently back. But as she lay there, very
wide awake indeed, she couldn't help sighing: "Oh, how I should _love_
to go to Beulah!" And there was another sigh to set it off.

Now, it might be supposed, from the fervour of the young girl's tone,
that this Beulah, of which both had repeatedly spoken, must be a
wonderfully and peculiarly charming place. Yes, it must indeed possess
rare attributes to make a girl beg to be allowed to abandon her nice
snug nest at dawn for a mere sight of it. And yet, curiously enough,
Beulah was hardly charming in any actual sense: just a tiny, poky, dull
little hole of a town, a poor speck on a minor railroad. All things
considered, Louise's advice sounded very sensible: "You know you're
better off here on the Point."

However, Hilda by no means thought so, and she shook her head with
stolid vehemence.

"And I thought," her sister continued, paying very little attention to
her own words, "I thought there was to be a tennis match this morning."

"Yes, there is," admitted Hilda.

"Well, you know they couldn't possibly play without you."

She forgot her phrases as fast as she uttered them. She was ploughing
through her jewellery case for a certain brooch. It was one which
Richard had given her, and which had somehow been overlooked when
the other gifts had been sent back to him at the Rev. Needham's firm
request. She meant, if she could find it, to wear the brooch this
morning. It might be Lynndal would show himself too sure of her. She
_might_ want to impress upon him the fact that her life had not been
loveless. At length she found the ornament and put it on, with a
little toss of coquetry. Of course Louise didn't mean really to hold
off any regarding their engagement. Ah, no. That was a settled thing,
as a glance at the correspondence must amply prove. Nevertheless, she
decided on the brooch. Richard, with his faithlessness, had hacked two
years right out of her life. But Louise had a new lover! The earlier
affair was remote enough to stand a little harmless commercializing now.

Hilda modestly deprecated the enviable light in which her tennis
playing had been put by her sister.

"You know that's not true!" she said.

"What isn't true?"

"What you said about them not being able to play the match without me.
Besides," she concluded with a leap of thought which gave the words
themselves a queer stamp of irrelevance, "_he's_ going to play in it,
_too_."

"Who is?" asked Louise blankly, brushing some strayed powder off her
skirt.

"Leslie."

"Leslie? Well, I don't get the connection."

Hilda nodded quite violently. Her sleep-tossed hair lay richly about
her shoulders. One shoulder was bare, where the nightgown fell away
from it. She was fresh and pretty. Perhaps not so pretty as Louise. But
Hilda was only fifteen, just swinging into the earliest bloom of her
womanhood.

"Yes," she explained, "Les is going to play in the match. He told me he
would have to get back in time for that. So you see, if it's only the
tennis you're thinking about, you might just as well let me go along as
far as Beulah."

"Oh, he did?" asked her sister, rather sharply, it must be confessed,
for one who had been so abstracted a moment before. "He said he'd have
to get back?"

"Yes, Lou. Why? What's the matter?"

"Nothing." She thrust a pin into her hat.

Hilda regarded her sister's back a moment in silence--as though a back
might somehow reveal, if one but looked hard enough, what new emotion
was passing through a heart. But when she spoke it was casually, and
without further adherence to the theme.

"My, Lou," she said, "you look grand this morning!"

"Ha! My street suit!"

"I know, but all our city clothes look grand up here in the woods."

"Well, I guess Lynndal wouldn't recognize me in a jumper. Remember, he
hasn't seen me since last winter," observed Louise, with an evident
seriousness of tone which might almost lead one to suspect she really
meant it _was_ necessary to dress up in order to be recognized.

"Yes, but you've written every day," Hilda reminded her, renouncing
the subject of clothes and skipping light-heartedly along the way of
digression which had thus been opened up.

"It isn't so!" her sister assured her.

"Well, then, three times a week."

"That's a very different matter." Suddenly she thought of Richard, and
the fecund diligence, on her side at least, of their correspondence.
She scowled. And then she went and bent over the girl in bed. "Can you
see any powder on my face?"

Hilda said she thought she could see just a tiny little bit of rouge.
So Louise rubbed her face vigorously with a towel, by way of destroying
any possible trace of artificiality, and bringing thus a heightened
natural bloom.

There really was very little artificiality about the Needham girls.
The Rev. Needham was always nervously on the lookout for that. His
great horror was such episodes as are dear to the hearts of novelists:
episodes in which soul-rending moral issues appear. And he believed,
and often quite eloquently gave expression to the belief, that a subtle
germ of artificiality lay at the root of all emotional excesses.
Louise's unhappy affair with Richard, the Rev. Needham was pleased to
lay almost squarely at the door of Eastern Culture. To be perfectly
candid, the Rev. Needham did not know a great deal about this
so-called Eastern Culture. But he was persuaded--as are perhaps many
more good souls in the Middle West--that it was something covertly if
not patently inimical to those standards of sane, quiet living to which
he almost passionately subscribed. Why had they ever sent her East at
all? "It was that fashionable school that did all the harm," he would
say, with a sigh in which there was more than a hint of indignation.
Louise herself, whatever she might think of the Culture, admitted
that half the girls in the school were deep in love affairs, most of
which bore every promise of turning out badly. The school was in that
paradise of schools, the nation's capital. It was a finishing school,
and a judicious indulgence in social activities was admittedly--even a
bit arrogantly--one of the features of the curriculum.

Ah, yes. That was just where all the mischief began. If she had
stayed home instead and received young men in her mother's own Middle
Western parlour, she might have been spared--they might all have been
spared--that terrible ordeal of the heart, with its gloomy envelope of
humiliation. In plain terms, Richard had simply turned her down. One
might argue about it, but one could not, in the end, really deceive
oneself. He had turned her down, thrown her over, jilted her, after
flirting desperately and wickedly--though in a manner which the Rev.
Needham strongly suspected was looked upon as innocent and even rather
proper by the decadence of that East he was always harping upon.

Louise, artless and unworldly, as she had been trained to be from the
cradle, found herself but poorly equipped to combat such allurements as
the dreadful Richard exhibited. It was an old tale, but none the less
terrible for all that. She believed everything he said to her, fatally
misconstrued his abundant enough ardour, fell madly in love, and wanted
to throw herself in the river when she realized at length that her
beautiful dream was shattered. Naturally, the Rev. Needham was shocked.
He was horrified when his daughter wrote of throwing herself in the
river. He did not definitely visualize the Potomac, which he had never
seen; it was the convulsing generality that gripped him.

Mrs. Needham's conduct, at that time, had proved much more
practical, if less eloquent, than her husband's. She went straight
to her daughter, determined to bring her back home; and she left a
distracted minister to make what progress he could with the Sunday
sermon--agonized, as he was, by fevered visions of his child's body,
gowned in an indefinite but poetically clinging garment, her hair
tangled picturesquely with seaweed, floating upon the surface of a
composite stream in the moonlight. Necessarily in the moonlight. The
effect was more ghastly that way. And certain immortal lines of verse
would ripple moaningly through his thoughts:


     "The tide rises, the tide falls,
     The twilight deepens, the curfew calls;

     *       *       *       *       *       *

     Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
     But the sea in the darkness calls and calls...."


The Rev. Needham was not himself a poet, but there was poetry in the
family. A brother had written poetry and gone to the devil. The Rev.
Needham didn't even read poetry very often any more (for of course he
never thought of looking upon King James's Version as a poem). In fact,
the Rev. Needham had almost a kind of sentiment against poetry, since
brother Will had disgraced them all. But it was curious to observe that
at times of intense inner tumult, appropriate metrical interlinings had
a way of insinuating themselves out of the vast anthology of his youth.
Thus, while Mrs. Needham was away looking after their broken-hearted
daughter, the clergyman, struggling to evolve his sermon, had to combat
such tragic dirges as:


     "One more unfortunate,
     Weary of breath,
     Rashly importunate,
     Gone to her death!"


And by the time the poor man got to those inhumanly personal stanzas:


     "Who was her father?
     Who was her mother?
     Had she a sister...?"


he would be pacing the floor and not getting on one bit with his sermon.
Mrs. Needham had the good sense to wire back that Louise was all right,
and that she was bringing her home. The sermon was somehow completed.
But its text was "Vanity, vanity!" and there were allusions in it to
Culture which his congregation never truly grasped.


"Good-bye!" whispered Louise. She gave one last flying peep into the
mirror.

"'Bye, Lou," her sister returned, presenting her lips for a kiss. "I
hope he'll _come_ all right," she added, while Louise crossed the
sanded floor as noiselessly as she could. "And--I'm just _dying_ to
_see_ him!"

The other girl nodded back hurriedly from the door, and was off
downstairs.

Hilda lay down again. She even closed her eyes. But she did not sleep
any more. A horrid little fear clutched at her heart: What if he should
not come?

What if Lynndal Barry should turn out to be another Richard, after all?


2

Down in the kitchen Louise adjusted the generator of a small oil stove
on which most of the household cooking was done. There was an old
wood range in the kitchen also, but that was used only for baking.
It generally smoked and occasionally went out--sometimes almost
miraculously.

Louise turned up the wicks of the stove burners, made sure that the
fuel began soaking freely up into them, and finally applied the flame
of a match. Then she put on the teakettle and fetched a frying pan from
a hook nearby. Not even young ladies flying grandly off to meet their
lovers ought to go without breakfast.

Louise, though she might, perhaps, have been pardoned for overlooking
so merely sensible a detail as this, was really treating the
whole situation most rationally. It was part of her fine, mature
calmness--the calmness she so wished Richard might behold. Playing
now--and very convincingly, too--the rôle of cook, she measured coffee,
got out eggs, cut some bread. Yes, all this was part of her magnificent
calmness. It was indeed a pity Richard couldn't be here to see how
altered she was--how unlike the impulsive, unschooled, hyper-romantic
girl who had submitted to his fickle attractions. Her cheeks would
burn, even now, with inextinguishable chagrin, when she reflected how
painfully one-sided the wretched affair had been. Ah, it had constantly
been he who did the attracting, she who fluttered about like a silly,
puzzled moth. She would have gone without her breakfast every day in
the week for Richard. But with Lynndal, thank heaven, all was quite
different. Now it was obviously and admittedly she who was doing the
attracting. Of course she admired Lynndal tremendously, and loved him.
Oh, of course she loved him. She even loved him very much, else would
she be engaged? No, but the point was that this time her eyes were
open. They were wide open, as eyes should be. She wasn't, this time,
blinded by a fatal glitter of wit and the subtle persuasion of manners
other and more exquisite than any she had hitherto encountered. Lynndal
was totally unlike Richard. Lynndal steadfastly adored her. He even
worshipped her. He said so, though with homely and restrained rhetoric,
in his letters. Yes, she knew that Lynndal was deeply and lastingly in
love with her. So this affair couldn't, it was plain to be seen, turn
out the way the other had.

She sang, though very judiciously, under her breath, as she sped
about preparing the hurried meal. The water boiled in the kettle. She
poured it on the coffee grounds, tossed in an eggshell, left the
pot to simmer. Louise was really quite a skilful cook. Even the Rev.
Needham had to admit that this much, at any rate, had been gained from
the unfortunate Eastern schooling. She set some cups, saucers, and
plates on the kitchen table. Then she slipped out the back door of the
cottage and along a path to a little rustic pavilion which they called
a "tea-house"--though, as a matter of fact, tea never figured in its
usefulness. In the "tea-house" Leslie now was waiting. The path leading
to it had been blazed through thick forest growth. Dewy shoots and leaf
clusters brushed her as she skipped by. The sun was already up, but
under the trees, and especially down in the little hollow she had to
cross, all was dusky and still night-touched.

Leslie saw her coming and jumped up. He waited for her in the rustic
doorway.

"Good morning!" she called to him out of the tiny valley. "We mustn't
wake the cottagers," she cautioned, coming to him and dropping for a
moment, rather breathless, on one of the rustic benches.

"People ought to get up earlier," observed Leslie in a voice he just
noticeably wanted to keep quite as usual. "They don't know what they
miss."

"It is lovely, isn't it?" the girl agreed, abruptly turning and looking
off to sea.

The view from this perch was quite extensive. It was a nook
particularly popular with admirers of sunsets. At this early hour
the sun was not high enough to touch the smooth beach below, but it
lighted the sky, in a lustrous, haunting way, and flashed against the
wings of skimming gulls.

However, exquisite though the morning undeniably was, it did not seem
the proper occasion for any rhapsodising. Indeed, the occasion did not
afford even space for decent enjoyment at all. To Louise the morning
appeared busy rather than fair. She was still sufficiently young,
for all her esteemed calmness, to look upon life, and in this case
especially the operations of the natural world, with intensely personal
eyes. Nature was rather an adjunct, even a casual one at that, than
something infinitely greater than herself. She and her interests must
come first. If convenience permitted, the glory of the sunrise might
be saluted in passing. It could be said of Miss Needham that she had a
bowing acquaintance with the universe.

"I'm getting us a bite of breakfast, Les," she told him. "You don't
mind eating in the kitchen?"

"Hardly!" replied her companion, with the reckless air of one who would
possibly like to explain that even kitchens would lose any customary
odium which might attach to them, were she to grace them with her
presence. Of course Leslie didn't voice any such sentimental and
flamboyant thought. There was surprisingly little mawkishness about
Leslie, despite his dangerous age. He seemed a serious fellow, though
not perhaps exceptionally so. It was a seriousness which embraced all
the lighter moods. Leslie was the sort of chap who could converse
intelligently with older people, yet lure out the best laughs, too,
from a juvenile crowd. It was this fortunate poise that guarded him,
generally, against pitfalls of the heroic.

"I suppose we might have been able to get some breakfast in Beulah," he
said doubtfully.

But he smiled with Louise as she shook her head. Breakfast would be
more reliable in the Needham kitchen. And she rose and led the way back
down the path.

"You're sure the boat's in good condition for the run?" she asked
anxiously over her shoulder.

"Oh, yes."

"It would be awful to break down half way over and miss the train."

"It won't, Louise. You won't miss your train." He spoke a little
bitterly.

As a matter of fact, Leslie had been up half the night tinkering
with his engine--which accounted for his fine assurance. Louise was
painfully aware that the engine couldn't be consistently banked on. It
didn't, as a general thing, receive the most scrupulous sort of care.
The Leslian poise had its lapses.

They crept with admirable stealthiness into the kitchen, whose habitual
odour of spices and damp cereal products was now broken by the livelier
aroma of steaming coffee. There was only one chair in the kitchen. When
Eliza the cook received her young man, who was the porter of a resort
hotel in Beulah, it was invariably in what the Rev. Needham liked to
call God's Great Out-of-Doors--that most capacious and in many respects
best furnished of receiving parlours, after all. Invariably--that is,
of course, except when it rained. When it rained Eliza and her young
man had an entrancing way of conceiving the single chair sufficient.

Louise signified with a wave of the hand that Leslie was to go into
the dining room, ever so quietly, and fetch another chair. He did so,
and set both chairs beside the kitchen table, at the places marked out
already with plates, cups, and imitation silver. Then he sat down,
thrust his elbows on the oilcloth, and gazed ruefully between his fists
at the young lady who, still in the guise of cook, was fluttering about
in the manner of young ladies who do not perhaps feel quite at home in
their work, yet who would defy you to point out one single item not
accomplished according to the very best methods. He watched her with
a mournful intensity, which, had it possessed a little less positive
feeling, would surely be called a fixed stare. She turned round
presently and discovered his attitude.

"For goodness' sake," she whispered, "what makes you look at me that
way?"

He shifted his gaze to the still trees outside and began humming.

"I didn't know I was looking at you any special way. And anyhow, if
I was, you know why," he told her, with a slight effect of baffled
yet defiant contradiction which was immediately muffled by a renewed
humming.

"Leslie, you know we talked it all over yesterday."

"I know, I know."

"And you said it was all right. You said you understood. There wasn't
going to be any kind of misunderstanding...."

"There isn't any misunderstanding. Why do you jump on me? I didn't
begin talking about it."

This was manifestly true. However, she handled it deftly. "You don't
have to talk when you look that way."

"Sorry!" snapped Leslie, who began moodily tapping with his fingers on
the oilcloth. Without realizing it, he was tapping the same tune he had
just been humming.

She flushed a little, and felt a brief angriness toward him. Had
she given words to what was, for a moment, really in her mind, she
would have maintained, and not without honest warmth, that a man you
have jilted hasn't any right to feel hurt. But a moment later this
conception did not seem quite so honest. No, it didn't honour her. She
knew it didn't. And ere she had drawn three breaths she was thinking of
Leslie with considerably more tenderness. However, in this connection,
as with the momentary impatience, sentiment did not spend itself in
words. She merely asked him, in a very kindly way, how he liked his
eggs best.

"I don't care," he replied, employing the colourless masculine
non-assertiveness usual in such cases.

"Do you like them scrambled?"

He nodded drearily.

"Then we'll have them scrambled," she announced with a cheerful smile,
breaking several eggs across the edge of a bowl, adding a little milk,
as carefully measured off as though it were vanilla for a cake, and
proceeding slightly to beat the combination. There seemed something
ungraspably and very subtly characteristic in the decision to scramble
them....

In no time the two were seated at breakfast.

She grew chatty. "I'm sorry there isn't any toast, Les. We can't make
decent toast over an oil fire. We've tried it," she expanded with
labelled significance, spreading butter on a rather dry slice of bread.

The bread that was dry today might be soggy tomorrow. It should be
noted in passing that up here in the woods the supplies showed a
tendency to grow either very soggy or very dry. In fact, the bread and
pastry boxes were often the most infallible of barometers.

Leslie perjured himself with an assurance that the bread was delicious.

"In town," she went on, pouring the coffee, "we have an electric
toaster. We have it on the table and make toast as we want it. I wish
we had it up here!"

"Could you make it work with oil?" asked her companion with sweet
maliciousness.

"Of course not," she sighed. "I always forget. I wish they'd run wires
out here to the Point. I have an electric curler at home, too. It's
such a bother sticking your iron down the chimney of a lamp."

"I should think it would be," agreed Leslie, stirring his coffee and
shepherding such of the grounds as floated upon the surface over to the
edge of the cup, where they were scooped up and deposited on the saucer.

They conversed for a time on casual and every-day topics, as people,
even involved in mighty issues, have rather a way of doing, after all.
She kept warning him, with pretty, prohibitive gestures, not to speak
above the safe pitch established upon their entry. The warning was more
picturesque than really necessary, however, for Leslie, just then,
happened to be in a mood far from boisterous.

"Oh, dear! I forgot to dash cold water into the pot before I took
it off!" she cried in some dismay, as she observed his slightly
exaggerated preoccupation with the floating intruders. "It boiled the
last thing. I thought the fire was turned out under it, but it wasn't."

"What difference does it make?" the lad protested with lugubrious
gallantry.

And he desisted from his efforts and drank his coffee down, grounds and
all, in rather impolite gulps.

Louise, just at this stage, turned her attention to her own cup. There
was one lonesome ground drifting aimlessly and forlornly round and
round in obedience to the impetus of a current set in motion by the
recent stirring. She had poured her own cup last, which explained its
being so much clearer than his.

"Oh, look here, Les!" she exclaimed, following the solitary coffee
ground in the air with the tip of her spoon. "There's just one. That
means a visitor, doesn't it?" She coloured a little, and lifted the
oracle up gently.

Leslie shrugged, conspicuously bored, and devoted himself moodily to
what remained of his share of the eggs. "I don't know," he said.

But she couldn't be swayed from her zeal. She was determined to be
agreeable--especially when it was possible to come upon such agreeable
speculations as this. "There's something about finding money on top of
your coffee," she embroidered, "though you can always make some come if
you hold the pot high enough as you pour. But you see you can't make a
_visitor_ unless there _is_ one."

And Leslie heroically refrained from suggesting that even visitors
might be warded off if one didn't forget the dash of cold water.
However, he did remind her that there needed no signs to tell her there
was a visitor on the way. And he added, with rather juvenile petulance:
"I guess he'd come if there weren't any grounds in the _pot_!"

But this riled her. "I don't mean to sit here and listen to you
speaking disrespectfully of Mr. Barry! He's much older, and you can't
treat him as you would one of the boys."

"I don't want to," her friend returned, vaguely, yet still somehow
pointedly.

She smiled, erasing the friction from their talk. "In the case of the
coffee grounds, as I understand it, if it seems soft it's a lady, and
if it's hard it's a man. Am I all wrong? Is it tea leaves I'm thinking
of? At any rate, we'll experiment!" She eyed her companion with coy and
almost vicious pleasure. "Perhaps this one's only Aunt Marjie, who's
already here."

She carried the problematical atom to her teeth. The test, which she
strove to make momentous, was one to which Leslie brought only a
melancholy interest. She set her teeth firmly together. There was a
little brittle crack. The indisputable fact that it was Lynndal Barry
thrust between them a short silence.


3

It was a subject to which they had come round, almost automatically, at
intervals, ever since the letter arrived.

Ah, the letter, the fateful letter! The letter advising her that the
man to whom she was virtually engaged would put in an appearance on
such and such a day!

Upon its receipt Louise had proceeded with real candour. The letter,
or rather the important implication it contained, was discussed at
once. Oh, yes. She went at once to Leslie with her sinister yet
thrilling confession. Louise Needham was fundamentally an honest, an
even straight-forward young person. Fundamentally: though the roots
were not, it is true, always called upon. The mistakes she made were
rather faults of judgment than altogether of a slumbering conscience.
Indeed, there had been numerous occasions when her life would have
moved much more smoothly had she been less blunt, or had her personal
psychology possessed a few more curves. But this type of downrightness
had been sternly inculcated. It was in the blood. The Rev. Needham
maintained that a square, simple, stalwart attitude toward the world
was the very cornerstone of security and peaceful living; and he
had quotations out of the Scriptures to back it up. Yes, Louise had
gone to Leslie at once. True, she hadn't just happened to speak about
Lynndal before--that is, she hadn't quite painted the relationship in
its true colours, which naturally amounted to the same thing. As for
this silence--well, she would argue that it was in no real sense a
deception, because the engagement (there was no ring as yet) wasn't
public property. No, it was strictly an affair existing between herself
and Lynndal. In a way, Leslie ought to consider himself honoured to be
consulted at all.

"Well, he'll be here in a few hours now," mourned the honoured
individual as they walked along together through the woods toward
Crystal Lake and the little launch. "Then goodnight for _me_!"

"Les, please don't talk like that. You'd think we couldn't even be
friends any more."

"Friends!" He had been suffered to call her more endearing names
throughout the span of the past few weeks.

"I'm sure we'll always be the best sort of friends, Leslie."

But he couldn't see it. "I'm going back to the city!" It was about as
close to heroics as he ever verged.

And following this highly dramatic climax there was a little space of
silence. They walked on, side by side. Louise began to realize how
unwise she had been.

This walk through the forest of Betsey was ordinarily a very wonderful
experience. Of course, however, upon this occasion, neither of the
young persons concerned was in any mood to appreciate it. For her
part, if consulted, Louise would reply that she had no time. Still,
for all that, the experience was (potentially) a delight; for here one
discovered a true, unspoiled natural loveliness, even a kind of sylvan
grandeur. The way, all underneath greenery thickly arched, wound up and
down. From every eminence the neighbouring valleys appeared sunk to an
almost ghostly declivity; but from the valleys themselves, the uplands,
with their rich tangled approaches, soared grandly toward a heaven
invisible for leafy vaulting. At this early hour the summits were a
little dusky, while the depressions slept in deep shade. The full, fair
rays of the uprising sun shot across the exposed tops of the higher
levels of forest, and here and there even the loftier stretches of path
would be dappled with furtive annunciatory splashes. In the forest it
was cool and buoyantly fresh, though heat was already quivering up off
the open stretches of sand skirting the smaller lake. It promised to be
one of the warm days of a rather grudging season.

"Les," she said finally, "why do you talk about going back to the city?"

"Because I don't care to stay up here and...." If concluded, the
sentence would have run: "and see you together." But he thought better
of it. Poise saved him. He compressed his lips.

"Oh, Les, _don't_ make it so hard for me!"

"You didn't spare _me_!" he replied grimly.

"What do you mean?" Her eyes were a little wide.

"H'm...."

"Tell me, Les. We can't go on this way." She meant that she would find
it uncomfortable--a cloud for her present satisfaction with life.

"You knew how I felt. You knew all about it. Yet you didn't send me
packing, or try to drop me. You didn't even give me a hint of how
things were. Do you call that sparing a fellow?"

His arraignment was almost bewildering in its complexity. But she chose
one indictment and grappled with it valiantly. "Of course I didn't try
to drop you. I never treated any man that way!"

"Well," he replied dryly, "I wish you had."

"You wish I hadn't had anything to do with you?" Such a proposition
struck her as unpleasant, to a marked degree--even almost grotesque.

He countered without replying: "Didn't you know how much I cared?"

"Yes, but my goodness, Les, must a girl entirely _shun_ a man to
prevent his falling--I mean, to keep him from caring too much?"

"Oh, no," he answered with a sharp sigh. "Don't mind me. Don't mind
anything I've said. I guess I'll get over it--especially since it
seems that you didn't feel at all the way I did, and I was merely
making a fool of myself." It was a cup of highly flavoured bitterness.

"Oh, please don't say such a thing as that! You know I told you all
along, Leslie, that I--that I had a friend in Arizona, and I--well, you
see I somehow felt you'd understand. I didn't know the things we did--I
mean I didn't realize our being together so much meant anything except
that we--well, that we liked each other and wanted to be together...."

She felt it was just a little lame, and began laying about for more
forcible expression. Meanwhile, Leslie muttered: "No, those things
never do mean any more, I guess."

"But Leslie, dear--"

She spoke unwisely. At the familiar word of affection, which had
thrilled him so often during the unmolested weeks--that wonderful span
shattered by the arrival of the letter from Arizona--Leslie momentarily
forgot about his dark humiliation. He forgot everything but the fact
of the woman beside him. He seized her swinging hand; gripped it. And
then they paused, further progress along the sun-flecked way seeming
inhibited by some subtle agent in league with the emotion which swept
over them both.

Oh, Eros! Are your agents everywhere?

From gripping her hand he unexpectedly and rather bafflingly had her
in his arms. And she presented, for just that charged moment, no
resistance, but relaxed there with a little inarticulate, troubled,
withal surrendering cry.

"Louise!"

"Oh, Les!"

When they had kissed he broke the curious spell by demanding, with
considerable passion, why, if she really did care, she was so willing
to throw him over for another man. It seemed a pivotal question.
It seemed an unanswerable one, even, in the light of what had just
occurred. But Miss Needham, now the spell was broken and she could
breathlessly begin getting hold of herself again, proved magnificently
equal to it. The beauty of the Needham logic was just that it could
always find an answer to every question, however pivotal--some kind of
answer, that is.

"Oh, Leslie!" she cried. "Don't you see? I'm _not_ throwing you over.
Not the way you want to make it seem. I care for you just the same
as--yes, as I ever did! Why shouldn't I?" she demanded, with vague
defiance. "Only I--I suppose some of the things we've done--what we
just did.... Well, and the other times, aren't--I suppose they wouldn't
be quite right if I'm to be formally engaged. But you see I--I've
looked upon this engagement--I mean I've looked upon it as not quite
settled yet...." She faltered and spoke more thickly, as though getting
down to cold facts somehow made the whole business a little tawdry.
"I'm not wearing any ring yet, you see," she went on, waving her hand
before them a trifle awkwardly, and laughing with constraint. "And as
long as Mr. Barry and I _aren't_ really engaged--not quite in the usual
way yet, I mean--I didn't see--I don't see now what harm there is in
making--well, new friends."

It was an amazing speech. It was a wonderful speech. He offered no
immediate reply to it. What could he say? The fact is, he had never
heard just such a speech as this in his life, and found himself,
not perhaps unreasonably, a little bit bewildered by it. None of
the lessons in feminine psychology he had learned thus far had just
prepared Leslie for such a speech as this. As abruptly as they had
paused, the two now resumed their walk. And from this moment his
attitude toward her was also altered.

Louise started slightly, as though for the first time fully realizing
what had just taken place. She glanced at her wrist watch. It was ten
minutes to five by the tiny dial.

"I hope we can make it," she said anxiously. The return to her former
preoccupations might have struck a disinterested observer as bizarre,
though of course Louise wasn't conscious of anything like that. She was
not conscious of anything bizarre at all. It was really extraordinary,
at times, how free from any blemish of self-consciousness she seemed
to be. This was her way: giving herself over entirely to one thing
at a time. Curiously enough, it even had something to do with what
has (carefully weighing values) been called her fundamental honesty;
though here, as so often with her, the true spring was not involved.
Concentration was one of the sturdy precepts expounded by the Rev.
Alfred Needham. The influence of this father was very strongly marked
in the daughter. But as for Leslie, he was keenly conscious, walking
beside her through the lovely forest of Betsey, of a shift which seemed
to him untimely and again humiliating. He grew reserved and cold;
walked along in silence. However, his thoughts were busy. And the more
he thought of it, the more convinced he was that that phrase of hers:
"I don't see what harm there is in making new friends," sounded a
warning which he must heed! Louise glanced again at her watch to make
quite sure she had read the hour aright.

"Les," she demanded, wholly consumed now with the apprehension lest she
miss her train, "is your watch with mine?"

"I have five minutes to five," he answered coldly, pressing open the
case of his old-fashioned heirloom watch and quickly snapping it shut
again. He snapped it as quickly as he could because he did not want to
let his eyes rest on the picture pasted inside the case.

"Do you think we can make it?"

"I've made it in less time, a good deal."

"Les," she entreated wanderingly as they emerged from the forest and
scudded through the sand to the boathouse where he kept his little
launch, "we simply _must_ be friends, whatever happens."

She studied, though abstractedly, the settling look of antipathy on his
face. She did not know what it meant, but instinctively she shuddered
at it just a little.

"Les, dear, you must let me be...."

His curiosity was aroused, and he broke with a heavy bluntness into the
groping silence. "What?"

"Why, I was just going to say you must let me be"--the inevitable
could not be restrained--"be like a sister to you...." And she smiled,
even through her troubled abstraction. She laid a hand on his arm. "I
know that sounds as though it came out of a book, but it expresses my
thought as well as I know how. You know--you see I'm a little older
than you--though I never think of that...."

Leslie dropped his arm, and her hand slid off. It fell to her side in
a limp way. She hardly noticed the fact, though. Her mind was swimming
with the strange contending forces which seemed, so inexplicably, to
compose her life. She seemed all at once not to see anything very
clearly....

They entered the boathouse, but Leslie had not replied to the generous
suggestion, and went with a moody briskness about the task of making
the small craft ready for the nine-mile voyage. Then he helped her in;
arranged a cushion or two. When he touched her there was a mitigated
flash of the old thrill. But the thrill seemed subtly palpitating,
now, with something else. It was a new and, oddly enough, a not
altogether disagreeable sensation. For the first time, though Leslie
didn't as yet clearly realize this, he was looking at Miss Needham
critically. He had certainly never looked at her this way before. He
noticed a tiny dash of powder she hadn't brushed off the collar of her
jacket; observed a very faint and unobtrusive hint of the Roman in her
nose. As for her nose, he merely wondered, as he coaxed the engine into
activity, that he hadn't marked the true line of the bridge before....


It took nearly an hour to reach Beulah, at the other end of Crystal
Lake. Louise, it fortunately developed, would make her train easily.
Leslie moored the launch, which had behaved surprisingly well, and
escorted his passenger through the tiny village to the railroad
station. Little talk sped between them. He asked at what hour the
expected steamer was due. Eight o'clock, she told him. He remarked
that there would be a good bit of time to consume after she arrived in
Frankfort, and she replied, in a mildly distracted way, that she didn't
mind. But she added, all the same, with a little petitioning, blind
burst: "I wish you were going the rest of the way with me!"

"I will if you want me to," he answered listlessly. Or was he feigning
listlessness by way of retrieving his rather severely damaged pride?

"Oh, no!" she cried, merely voicing the instinctive contradiction
which rose most naturally to her lips. The train was heard whistling
in the distance. Then she remembered something, and spoke with greater
assurance than had been displayed on her part since they left the
forest of Betsey. "You're expected back, you know, to play tennis. You
promised." She seemed almost relieved, in a way; yet she could not
resist, too, the little muffled dig. And there was also something dark
lurking beneath both the relief and the dig.

"I promised?"

"Didn't you tell Hilda you'd be back in time for the match?"

"Oh--yes," he admitted.

"So you see," she laughed, "you had no thought of going on any farther
than Beulah!"

His just expressed willingness to accompany her the rest of the way had
depended directly upon her own sufficiently vehement exclamation: "I
wish you were going!" But the way she laughed seemed to imply a kind
of duplicity in him which brought a flush to his face. And he reminded
her, with glacial tones: "You told me all along I could only take
you as far as Beulah. You were very positive about it." The kindling
distrust did not die out of his eyes.

"Yes, I understand, Les. It's all right. Hilda will be watching for
you."

Suddenly the train came into view around a bend. Louise unconsciously
straightened her hat and tugged at her gloves, as though Lynndal Barry
were to be met aboard the cars instead of emerging, ever so much later,
from the boat in Frankfort.

"Good-bye, Les," she said warmly.

"Good-bye."

"Thank you so much for bringing me."

He nodded away the obligation. Then the train started, and Leslie
turned back toward his launch.

A feeling of great and wholly unexpected tenderness came upon Louise.
She leaned far out of the car window to wave. He looked back, saw her,
and waved also; then sauntered coolly on toward the dock.


4

When Louise and Leslie walked together through the forest of Betsey
they had not as a matter of fact passed entirely unobserved.

Hilda, after her sister had gone downstairs, didn't remain long in bed.
Right on the heels of that cloudy fear lest Mr. Barry fail to arrive
and Louise's heart be a second time broken, there flashed, for Hilda,
a fine little campaign in her own behalf. Hilda's education in the
great school of love was already quite well launched. Of course she
was as yet graded rather intermediately. But Hilda was an alert and
ambitious young student. She told herself it would be very much worth
while to observe how an engaged lady behaved in the company of other
men. Louise was a pattern for her in so many ways--both papa and mama
kept insisting. Why not in this also? She might very possibly have need
of the lesson some day. However, the real, specific, if not exactly
admitted impulse behind her nimble relinquishment of bed was the plain
desire just to see Leslie.

It did not take Hilda long to dress. For one thing, of course, she
dressed very simply up here in the wilderness. Louise dressed simply
also, but not so simply as Hilda. However, there was a reason for
this--a reason of which Hilda was fully cognisant, and one to which she
was perforce reconciled. Age made all the difference in the world. She
consoled herself with enormous bows on her jumpers, but also with the
promise that there would come a day when she, too, would dress less
simply, even in the wilderness.

Hilda was listening at the head of the stairs when her sister went
up to the "tea-house" to summon Leslie. While the lower part of the
cottage was thus momentarily vacant, the girl stole down, making
comical faces of deprecatory concern at each separate creak. Then
she sped quickly out of the house and off through the thicket in a
direction oblique with the path which Louise and Leslie were later
to take. Hilda's little by-way struck over two low hills and spilled
itself recklessly into the broader road used by the cottagers of
Betsey, at a point about a quarter of a mile along, toward Crystal Lake.

She was an odd, inquisitive child, and had a genuine passion for
watching the great world spin. Wherever was the most going on, there
you would generally find Hilda, an earnest observer, if age or
circumstance unfortunately forbade her active participation. She knew
far more about the people who summered at Point Betsey than any one
dreamed. Hilda had a hammock strung up in an invisible bower just
beyond the spot where the little path lost itself. There was only a
dust-powdered screen of boughs and bushes between it and the road.
The hammock, handed down to her when the Rev. Needham invested in a
fine new one for the cottage, had seen more than a season of unroofed
service, and was consequently rather inclined to be stringy. It was, in
point of fact, a very dilapidated hammock indeed. But Hilda esteemed it
highly. She thought it a very estimable hammock--had a real affection
for it. Hers was happily the age when rags are royal raiment--without
the solemn, limiting balance of that sublime and classic exclamation.

She reached this secret nook quite out of breath. Of course there was
no real need for all this haste. She knew there wasn't. But youth does
not loiter on such errands. She flung herself down in the hammock and
for a time lay still. It was cool here, and hazy with dawn. To one side
of her the scrub thicket, sprinkled with sturdier growth, lay almost
stygian; to the other side was the Betsey road, a bright, tortuous band
of morning, threading the Betsey woods as though it were the path of
some exploring courier of Sol. Through the flimsy façade of leaves the
light of morning streamed into Hilda's bower with a mistily tempered
shine. Though ample, this screen afforded plenty of peepholes; and
naturally Hilda knew them all. If a storm threshed through the forest
and wrenched wisps of woodbine into a different position, or whipped
the heavier undergrowth into a new pattern, temporary or permanent
as the case might be, the girl was quick to perceive the new order of
things and to train her eye to the altered scope of vision. She lay now
in the hammock, regaining her breath, and swung herself gently back and
forth with the aid of a stout wild grape tendon.

There was a great deal of wild life all about her: birds and squirrels
and chipmunks and queer little humming, whirring, chirping insects.
Some seasons certain of the cottagers brought up household cats with
them from town, when it might be observed that the birds and squirrels
were much less in evidence--much more wary and reserved in their
deportment. But as it chanced, this year there wasn't a cat on the
Point, and the woods were full of day-long frolic.

Hilda had some time to wait. The two persons on whom her innocent
espionage was designed, loitered, as we have seen, through their
breakfast; and the little girl was almost ready to persuade herself
that Louise and Leslie must have taken the much longer, circuitous
northern route, when suddenly she heard their voices.

They appeared to be talking softly, as though still imbued with
dawn-cautiousness, even where there was no longer the possibility
of disturbing any one's slumber. Hilda, lying there so still and
expectant, saw them walking together along the road. Leslie's eyes
pursued the ground he was treading, but Louise was glancing anxiously
up at him.

"You would think we couldn't even be friends any more," she was saying.

And then Hilda heard the lad beside her mutter: "Friends!"--in that
tone that appeared to embody so much....

"I'm sure we'll always be the best sort of friends, Leslie," Louise
said warmly.

And then they were almost beyond hearing. However, Hilda caught
Leslie's thick communication about going back to the city, and it
troubled her a good deal. She slipped out of the hammock and peeped
through the shielding leaves. She thought to herself: "How well they
look together!" And she seemed suddenly full of a vague unhappiness.
Out of a subsequent observation: "Louise always looks well with men,"
Hilda did not for some reason or other, glean the poor ounce of
consolation, regarding Leslie, that might appear nestling there.

She left her bower and returned to the cottage in a rather soberer
mood, along the open road they had so recently traversed.


The summer rising of the parent Needhams regularly occurred about
seven. In town, during the season of lengthened nights, the household
was suffered to slumber perhaps a half hour longer; but matinal
"dawdling," as the Rev. Needham put it, was a symptom of decadence
to be scrupulously shunned. The Rev. Needham had a rather definite
persuasion that all the people in the East inclined towards late
rising. He had a theory that a day well begun was bound to end well. It
didn't, as a matter of fact, so far as he was concerned--at least there
was nothing at all dependable about it; but these collapses, these
drab failures of the real to coincide with the ideal, these sloughings
off from a kind of Platonic scheme of perfection, constituted what
stood as perhaps the reverend gentleman's most distinguishing quality.
Here was a man marked for a kind of almost rhythmic disaster. The
wheel of life never ran smoothly, but kept bumping over sly pebbles
of chagrin and disappointment. The Rev. Needham was like a Middle Age
(or perhaps early Chinese) delinquent, strung up for chastisement,
his arms pinioned to a beam overhead, and the mere points of his toes
permitted to touch the ground. An inch or a few inches relaxed, and
he would be all right. If he could only get his heels down! But that,
alas, was just the trouble with the Rev. Needham: however dignified
and calm he might appear externally, there never was, there never
could seem to be, an entire and sincere consciousness of solid ground
under his feet. Sometimes he would sigh: "Ah, at last!" But anon there
would be a devilish tingling in the heels, which would remind him that
they were still upreared. The poor man's destiny seemed eternally a
thing suspended. It dangled and flopped, like a rope's end in nervous,
persistent gusts.

Anna Needham relinquished sleep at the hour specified by her spouse
cheerfully, as a rule, though there were also occasions when raillery
and even discreet rib-proddings entered into the program. Mrs. Needham
was, of course, well inured to these regularities of routine, just as
her very fibre was toughened and moulded to the ministerial caliber
generally. Fundamentally, she was a person of slightly less strenuous
tendencies than her husband. Anna Needham was the type of woman whose
life is very largely shaped, as is her destiny largely determined, by
the man with whom she lives. Her nature was naturally somewhat more
amenable than his. Still, she had her distinct rebellions, too. She
could take a stand of her own in an hour of crisis. The Rev. Needham's
was a nature that did not weather storms any too well. Yes, in time of
storms Anna was the more seaworthy. For one thing, perhaps, she had
fewer ideals. Thus she did not experience quite such blasting shocks
over upheavals and cataclysms. But it must be confessed that this
apparent stability was touched, perhaps one might say, rather, a little
diluted by a few parts moral or intellectual laziness. Comparative
criticism of the Needhams, husband and wife, usually fell into two
major divisions. There were, in other words, two factions: those
who maintained she was less profound than he, and those who would
insist that she had more common sense. But that they were economically
well-mated seemed pretty generally accepted. It was a coalition in
which appeared the very minimum of waste, since one was always ready
(or in her case perhaps merely inclined) to shut off the spigot of the
other's temperamental excesses.

On this particular July morning there wasn't a hint of friction over
the proposition of getting up. The Rev. Needham began his brisk,
determined stretching at the first stroke of seven. Anna lay passive
till the last stroke; but as the strident and spiteful clangour of
the Dutch clock downstairs resolved back again into a monotonous
though hardly less crabbed _tick_-tock, _tick_-tock, the lady yawned
deeply and with just a concluding gurgle of relish. There was a guest
already in the house, another guest on the way. Hostesses, however soft
the bed, aren't likely to surrender to tempting inertia under such
circumstances.

As a matter of fact, the bed was not a very soft one. Or rather, it
was very soft in places and very hard in others. Perhaps one of the
enduring charms of small resort cottage life is the amusing inequality
of things. The best and the worst hobnob. Lo, here is a true democracy!
And virtues utterly commonplace in your urban ménage may very easily be
given a most heavenly lustre in the wilderness.

"Well, Anna," he said, in his best tone of fresh, early morning
cheerfulness, "I guess it's time to get up."

"Alf, you don't mean to tell me that was _seven_!"

She had counted the strokes; but it was customary to have a little
conversation about the time of day before arising: a sort of pleasant,
innocuous tongue-limbering, a lubrication of the way to more important
themes later on. Such gentle, indirect prevarications may perhaps be
looked upon indulgently, even when, as in this case, they crop out in
clerical families.

The Rev. Needham proceeded to dress and shave.

He was in a good, confident, substantial mood today; rose singing. The
Rev. Needham was very apt to arise with song in his mouth, bravely
defying the chance of his going to bed with a wail. This morning the
selection was that fine old _Laudes Domini_ which seemed peculiarly
appropriate, both fitting the hour and reflecting the joyous state of
the singer's heart.


     "When morning gilds the skies
     My heart awaking cries:
     'May Jesus Christ be praised!'"


The Rev. Needham had a tenor voice of fair quality, though not
altogether true of pitch. In the wilderness, so far from pipe organs,
pitch however, dwindled to comparative unimportance. It was the
_spirit_ of song that counted.

Now, one might observe that in this hymn the Rev. Needham would come
out very full and strong on the more purely ecstatic lines (such, for
instance, as depict the spread of morning across the heavens, the
awaking of a fervent heart, etc.), and that, almost invariably, those
more climactic, particularly the more ecclesiastical, lines would
issue a little muffled, as the singer found it urgent to immerse his
head in the washbowl's morning plunge, or apply a towel vigorously,
or perhaps bend suddenly over to lace up his shoes--by this movement
naturally cutting down the egress of breath. They were subtly odd,
these mufflings. It was almost as though Fate had determined sedulously
to deny to this unfortunate man an indulgence in his very life-mission:
praising his Maker! For another than he the intervals of competition
might very easily have fallen less saliently. Yes, another would
have found it possible to cloud over, if necessary, the heavenly
gilding and would have been suffered to come out free, triumphant,
on the diviner phrases. But not the Rev. Needham. No, alas, not he.
It was a part of the Rev. Needham's destiny that the better and more
satisfying arrangement of life must be withheld, or temporarily awarded
only to be broken rudely off. Inquiry ought to pause here. Yes, it
delicately and righteously and above all humanely ought. No, it ought
not to lead one away, fiendishly to lure one on to a certain door in
one of the three-quarters partitions, beyond which the slumber of a
human being was giving place, at this stage, to the more irregular
sounds signifying a return to consciousness. Ah, better to leave out
altogether the thought of any mortal responsibility for the muffling;
better to cling decently just to the adverseness of an obdurate Fate.
And yet, the tenor of the conversation which now ensued between the
Rev. Needham and his wife might favour the suspicion--let us call
it by no stronger name--that the person beyond that door in the
three-quarters partition _had_ something to do, however slightly, with
the matter of vocal emphasis.

"Anna," he asked softly, "do you suppose your sister's awake yet?"

"I don't know, Alf. Perhaps I'd better go tap on her door."

"Oh, well, I wouldn't disturb her just yet. Eliza is always late with
breakfast." He sighed as he beat up the lather in his mug. "We can't
expect things to run along quite as smoothly as when we're just by
ourselves."

"I told Marjie we made a practice of getting up at seven," said Mrs.
Needham a little anxiously. She slipped a coloured silk petticoat over
her head and tied its tape strings round her waist. Mrs. Needham was
growing a bit stout. "She told me if I didn't hear her moving around
I'd better tap on her door."

"It's this air, I suppose, makes people sleep so," he remarked. And
then he added, displaying a strong touch of nervousness in his tone: "I
think, Anna, your sister is changed, somehow."

"You think so, Alf? How?"

"Well, I don't know. Perhaps it's our not being used to her after so
many years."

"You may be right, Alf. But she talked real sensibly to me yesterday.
We had quite a long talk in the afternoon, while you and Hilda were out
after berries. She seems real sensible, Alf. Of course she does say
things--"

"Yes, she makes remarks, Anna, that I could rather prefer our girls not
to hear."

"You mean like what she said at dinner about the natives of Tahulamaji?"

"Yes--things like that." And then he confessed with a nervous little
gesture: "I can't seem to figure out where Marjory stands any more. She
talks with a freedom.... Anna, I don't think I ever heard any one talk
just the way Marjory does."

"You mean--about religion, Alf?"

"Well," he resumed, "it may be her way. But I can't say I ever knew a
woman to talk like that. I think Marjory's very good-hearted. She no
doubt means the best in the world. But somehow...." He turned toward
his mate, poising the razor in the air. He looked, without of course
suspecting it, almost terrible. But he went on with merely the same
inflection of nervous timidity: "Anna, there are times when I suspect
she doesn't believe the way we do any more."

"Oh, Alf--do you mean--is it as though she'd gone into some other
church?"

"Well, I don't know." He resumed his shaving in a troubled, fidgety way.

"Alf," she said solemnly, standing in the centre of the room with her
hands on her hips, where they paused in the act of adjusting the band
of her skirt, "Alf, you--you don't think she isn't a _Christian_ any
more?"

The Rev. Needham nervously cut himself a little. He laid down the razor
with a startled sigh.

"Anna," said he, "how do _I_ know? If it _is_ true, then it's one of
the things I've always dreaded so--having atheism break out right in
the family!"

"Oh, Marjory _can't_ be one of those people!" her sister cried
earnestly. "Alf, we ought not to judge her so harshly. She's lived in
foreign countries so long that I suppose she's kind of gotten into new
ways of speaking. She talked so sensibly yesterday, Alf--I kept wishing
you could have been there to have heard."

"Well, Anna," he said quietly, "Marjory's your sister, and, whatever
the facts, naturally I've nothing to say."

"You try and have a good talk with her, Alf. I never felt you two
understood each other very well. She don't talk so flippantly when
there aren't other people around. I'll fix it so you two can be alone
together. Oh, Alf," she concluded, almost piteously, "Marjie may have
gone into another church, but I _can't_ believe she's drifted any
farther!"

"I hope not, Anna." He tried to speak with an air of charitable calm;
but the impression conveyed seemed rather that a disturbance of his own
convictions was troubling his heart than that he was primarily moved
with concern over his sister-in-law's spiritual well-being.

All persons with whom he came in contact influenced the Rev. Needham.
They influenced him one way or another, however transiently. In fact,
when it came to that, there was seldom what one would call any really
permanent influence exerted. Contacts with life merely kept him hopping
back and forth or up and down. They augmented, were perhaps more
largely than anything else responsible for, the poor man's perpetual
inner unrest. He could not seem to settle down to cool, steady views;
could not feel his soul impregnably at peace. But then, in this regard
he seemed, though perhaps in a rather acutely pointed fashion, logical
fruit of his time.

To be, for the moment, quite ruthless in one's musing upon him,
what would the world say if it could really pry into the tumultuous
inner consciousness of the Rev. Needham? Might the world call him
melodramatic, stagy? Could it actually be brought against this minister
that he was, in a sense, theatrical? What a blow--and at the same
time what a terrific coup of irony; for the Rev. Needham would be the
very first himself to cry out against any such trait as staginess!
Staginess, he would say, must certainly have something to do with the
so-called "culture." But the world could never bring this charge
against the Rev. Needham, because the world, one realizes with an
instinctively grateful sigh, was denied the license of prying inside.
No, to the world this minister appeared a being not essentially removed
from the usual run of beings. The world by no means thought of him as
a Chinese or Dark Age delinquent strung up for punishment in such a
manner that his heels were perpetually off the floor. He might not,
perhaps, strike people as a man of intense and dynamic, of unfailingly
clean-cut personal persuasions about religion--or, for that matter,
perhaps, about anything else in life. Nevertheless, he scarcely stood
out as vivid or eccentric; scarcely like a sore thumb; because nobody
realized what he was really like inside.

But now, to return to cases, here was Marjory, his wife's own sister,
lodged right under his roof; and she baffled him. He couldn't deny
it--could not get away from it. Yes, she _baffled_ him. He felt nervous
in her presence. Sometimes when she would laugh, or look at him in a
certain way, it seemed to him--it seemed to him--why, as though he
didn't know where he stood any more....

Marjory Whitcom was his sister-in-law, one of the family; and at his
own hearthside, somehow, he could not feel quite free. He could not
feel cheery and at ease. And dimly it troubled the Rev. Needham to
realize that he felt this way.


5

That Miss Whitcom was indeed up and stirring became evident. They heard
her gaily calling out to Hilda, who was coming up the stairs.

"Dear child, see here a minute!"

Two doors opened then: hers, briskly wide; the Rev. Needham's a furtive
crack.

"Yes, Aunt Marjie?"

"Honey, there isn't any water in my pitcher--would you mind ...?"

"Oh, I'll fill it right away for you, Aunt Marjie!"

"Only half full, honey. I'd slip out myself to the pump, only I'm
afraid of shocking Eliza with my wrapper!"

"I won't be gone a minute, Aunt Marjie!"

She took the pitcher, extended by means of a plump bare arm, and sped
off with it.

"Alf," said Mrs. Needham, "I forgot to tell Eliza the pitcher would
have to be filled every day."

"I suspect Marjory is a bit wasteful of water," he observed.

Here at the Point there was water, water everywhere; yet the Needhams
employed far less of the fluid in their daily toilets than they did in
the town. This is perhaps not infrequently the case at summer resorts
of the more primitive kind, where one attains the frugal attitude
generally. Then, too, having to go out to a pump for water alters its
preciousness. Besides, as all the Needhams would argue: "We go in
bathing so often." So the pitchers weren't refilled _every_ day. They
were generally refilled about two or three times a week. Miss Whitcom's
pitcher, however, would have to be put in a class by itself. That was
only too clear.

The Rev. Needham tied his cravat before the dresser glass. A few tiny
drops of perspiration stood out on his forehead. "Yes," he sighed, "it
does upset things some."

"What say, Alf?" asked Anna, who was bending over an ancient trunk in
which clean linen was kept.

"I say, Eliza will just have to get used to filling her pitcher every
morning."

"I guess so," agreed Mrs. Needham, straightening, her face flushed.

She held a fresh towel in her hand, which he eyed with glancing
suspicion.

"I got to thinking," explained his wife. "Perhaps she's used to having
a clean towel every morning, too."

The minister compressed his lips almost imperceptibly as she went to
her sister's door, the towel over her arm. Hilda, with the pitcher of
water, arrived at the same moment, so that mother and daughter stood
with their respective burdens on Aunt Marjie's threshold, and even
spoke together, like rival hucksters proclaiming their wares.

"Gracious!" cried the favoured lady, opening her door and accepting the
alms. "Such magnificent service! Anna," she added, "don't you let me
put you out. I can easily live on the view. You really don't know what
this means, after being cooped up in a place like Tahulamaji!"

Miss Whitcom was tall, and rather fine looking. She was a trifle
taller, for instance, than her brother-in-law, and had a way, when any
discussion with him was in progress, of standing up quite close to the
minister, so that she created the illusion, a little, of towering over
him. She was not, of course, actually a great deal taller, but how one
could make the sly inch count at such times! Her sister looked almost
dumpy beside her.

"I suppose," observed Mrs. Needham, "you do feel kind of cooped up in
those foreign places." That phrase of hers "foreign places," was in
the nature of a stock term. It was expansive, elastic, comprehensive.
She spoke of foreign places a little as her husband spoke of the East
or of "culture." Neither had travelled any to speak of. In a sort of
whimsical way it seemed to Mrs. Needham that one might expect to find
Bombay and Peking supporting much the same conditions of life. Or
even Dublin and Rome, for that matter. "I don't suppose," she added,
"there's anything like this where you've been."

"I should emphatically say _not_," her sister assured her. "At
Rato-muh--that's the capital, you know--we've nothing but a dirty
little river. I'm dying for a glorious swim!"

"We go bathing nearly every afternoon, Aunt Marjie," Hilda announced.

"You do? Well, I'm with you!" She was just a trifle loud. "Do there
happen to be any convenient islands one could swim out to?"

"Oh, no, Aunt Marjie, there aren't," replied the girl regretfully,
almost with a touch of naïve apology.

"Well, no matter. You can always swim round in a circle, of course.
Only I do like having a definite goal."

And then she paused a moment, even suspending her toilet; for having
a goal--hadn't that been, with almost amusing steadfastness, her aim
all through life? Of course, it was quite true: there had been perhaps
a hundred goals, all told; but each, in its own way, and at its own
time, had seemed the golden, final one. And always so incorrigibly
_definite_. She had gone vibrantly and humorously on from one pursuit
to another, determination taking multiple form. And yet there appeared
now to have been, all along, just one permanent and unswerving
determination: not to marry O'Donnell.

Miss Whitcom sighed briefly and went on hooking herself up.

"Speaking of swimming," she continued. "I won a gold medal once. Yep.
A very long time ago."

"A medal for swimming, Aunt Marjie?"

The aunt nodded. "I entered a five-mile endurance and time. Entered
against thirteen men, and got there first!"

"Oh, how _wonderful_!" cried Hilda admiringly.

"Yes, it was wonderful," the other admitted; then frowned. "The only
trouble was that I had my subsequent doubts of its being really fair."

Mrs. Needham, who had been standing in the doorway, a faint and musing
smile on her lips, received the news of the swimming match with a
hurried comment about having to go down and see how Eliza was getting
on with breakfast. She was always, and especially with Alfred in mind,
mildly shocked at the glib way in which her sister talked about men.

"How do you mean it wasn't fair, Aunt Marjie?" demanded little Hilda,
sitting down eagerly on the edge of the bed.

"Came to suspect one of them."

"One of the men?"

"Um-hm."

"Of _cheating_, Aunt Marjie?"

"Um. Turning lazy at the finish."

"You mean he let you win?"

"Afraid so, Hilda."

"But I've heard papa say that women ought to be treated...."

"That men ought to go lazy at the finish and let you pull in ahead?"

"Of course papa never put it _that_ way. I don't believe he knows about
women going into regular contests like that, with men."

"I daresay not, Hilda. Such things wouldn't conspicuously have entered
into Alfred's training."

"What did you do when you found out about it, Aunt Marjie?"

"What do you mean--when I'd convinced myself he hadn't played fair?"

"Yes."

"Sent him the medal." She shrugged.

"You _did_!"

"Um. It belonged to him, not me. Yes, sir--it went right straight off
to him, with a polite note. The note was terribly polite. I told him I
hoped he'd get just lots of comfort out of it. Real, solid comfort."
And she snorted with wrath.

"_Then_ what did he say, Aunt Marjie?"

"Then he said--say, look here, Hilda, what _is_ your capacity for
asking questions?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Aunt Marjie! I didn't realize how many I was asking."

And she really was sorry. Nevertheless, her eyes continued to shine
very brightly. Aunt Marjie had a stimulating effect on Hilda--Hilda
being just at the age of hero-worship. This age, in the life of the
individual, is somewhat akin to the prehistoric age in human history;
it bristles with ever such fabulous things. And the only natural thing
to do when one encounters fabulous things is to ask as many questions
about them as one can think of.

But Marjory Whitcom hadn't, as a matter of fact, spoken with any
dominant impatience. She had asked Hilda's capacity for questions in
a spirit of ridicule which, in a conscious sense of boomerang satire,
amply included her own loquacious self. And yet, for all that, there
was a slight flush on her face. What brought the flush there? Ah, there
are deep things in the human heart. The flush lasted quite a long time.
Indeed, it had hardly faded out altogether when she was seated with the
family at breakfast.

The Rev. Needham asked the blessing in a faintly grim manner. He spoke
it off with a defiant assurance. His sister-in-law, he had just been
deciding, _wasn't_ to intimidate him at his own table. He kept his eyes
tight shut and spoke on almost doggedly. There were a number of graces
in the minister's repertory. He was in the habit of using now one, now
another. This morning, though the choice was, of course, as always,
entirely spontaneous and unconscious, he chose the shortest of them all.

Breakfast was simple and bountiful. The Needhams were rather hearty
eaters. There was no stomach trouble in the family, although very
strong emotions had, naturally, the same effect on them as on most
people. Following Louise's affair with Richard, as they remembered it,
the unhappy girl had eaten almost nothing for months--or it certainly
was weeks--and had grown extremely thin. In fact, during the first
week following the sad climax _none_ of the Needhams had eaten quite
normally, except little Hilda. She, only a child of twelve then, came
up regularly enough for second helpings, despite her sister's trouble
and the general depression of the household. Childhood is, when not
perverted, a blessed span, the heart seeming to stand entirely out of
touch with any of the homelier and more prosaic organs.

This morning there were wild raspberries--early ones, and not very
large--which the Rev. Needham and his younger daughter had themselves
gathered in the woods and along the sunny roadways the afternoon
previous, while Marjory was conversing sensibly with her sister. After
the fruit came a cooked cereal, which Mrs. Needham was annoyed to find
a trifle lumpy. And then after that there followed pancakes--pancakes,
pancakes--_hundreds_, it seemed, coming in three at a time, which was
the griddle's limit.

Just subsequent to the blessing, Aunt Marjie occasioned a very slight
flurry in the domestic arrangements by asking Anna if she might have a
glass of hot water.

"I'm supposed to drink it now," she explained, "before each meal. It's
living so long in the tropics, I suppose."

Mrs. Needham tinkled the bell for Eliza, and glanced, half
unconsciously, at her husband. The Rev. Needham, it is to be feared,
was growing rather opinionated about his wife's sister. There is, when
one stops to view the matter wholly without passion, nothing really
criminal in the request for a glass of hot water, just as there is
nothing essentially felonious about using all the water you want up
in your room. Of course, in such places as deserts it may often be
essential to employ circumspection; but scarcely on Point Betsey,
where there lay the vast resources of Lake Michigan behind even an
extravagant indulgence. And as for having the water hot, well, what are
kettles for? One poises the issue. Still, of course, such implications
as these are hardly fair to the Rev. Needham, who was animated by no
real spirit of parsimoniousness at all, but who merely disliked seeing
vaguely devastated the quiet, orderly routine of the house. To tell the
truth, while he didn't honestly grudge her the water, the clergyman
looked upon his sister-in-law as something of an intruder. However
legitimate it might be--and of course nobody could possibly deny that
Marjory had a perfect right to be here in their midst--intrusion still
was intrusion. The trouble was, he distrusted--all but feared her. And
when men fear others, they will often be found taking exception to
minor failings, real or fancied, which a sometimes surprisingly acute
vigilance discovers in those who inspire their fear. The Rev. Needham,
however, _said_ nothing: merely pressed his lips together, as he had
previously done before the mirror upstairs when informed that his
relative would have to have her pitcher refilled every morning. It was
these repressions which permitted the world at large no too salient
suspicion of what was really going on inside.

A pleasant, wholly unremarkable conversation was kept up. It wasn't the
sort of talk to invite preservation, but was, on the contrary, just a
normal and uneventful flow. True, there seemed an unwonted excitement
in the air. The day upon which Mr. Barry was to arrive must necessarily
be considered a red-letter day, and might even be expected, in a sense,
to deliver up talk of some special brilliance. But to tell the truth,
the great event had already been discussed in all its possible phases
and from all conceivable angles, there remaining at length absolutely
nothing but for Mr. Barry to put in an appearance.

Throughout breakfast the Rev. Needham maintained as consistent an
attitude of dignified prosperity, beneficence, common sense, and
scrupulously informal godliness as possible. Above all, he tried in
his demeanour to emphasize an unobtrusive yet firm head-of-the-house
bearing--and indeed succeeded, for the most part, so well as almost to
persuade himself that he _was_ master of his destiny, after all; that
his life was growing more solid, more dependable now.

Hilda, of course, chattered a great deal, after her wont, acquainting
her hearers, for one thing, with as full an account of Louise's early
departure as seemed politic. She blushed, mentioning Leslie. Miss
Whitcom noted that: noted it and sighed. It was obvious the blush was
no accident. Another young thing, just starting out; the rough and not
always so romantic world ahead of her--and boy-crazy! Marjory Whitcom
sighed again. So futile, she told herself. But another valuation just
slipped in: so sweet!

Toward the end of the meal, the pancake process, hitherto quite smooth
and regular, hitched very badly. No fresh cakes came in, and the supply
on the table dwindled alarmingly. The Rev. Needham affected not to
notice this. The management of the household, thank heaven! was not
on his shoulders. His burdens were the weightier and more important
_family_ matters--aside, that is, from the business of tending to his
own rather unmanageable soul and looking after his flock. There was a
great difference between household matters and family matters; pancakes
were not in his department; so that, not being himself responsible for
the present embarrassment, he could afford to keep up a very good and
cheerful front indeed, even when his eyes assured him the kitchen door
hadn't opened for fully five minutes.

Mrs. Needham flushed. She always grew more or less excited when there
was a break like this in the table service. As concerned her own plate,
she, of course, stopped eating, directly it began to look as though
the supply of cakes on the table could not possibly survive till there
was a reinforcement from the griddle. She nibbled heroically at the
cake already unavoidably on her plate, and suddenly began talking with
great animation.

Anna had always felt, obscurely yet unhappily, that her sister did
not consider her a really expert housekeeper. In the old days, before
weddings and deaths had disintegrated the family, it had always been
Marjory who could do things best and most handily. She had seemed a
very prize of domestic efficiency. Every one said Marjory would be
married off first. There were even unkind asides to the effect that
Anna would probably linger on and perhaps eventually run into perpetual
maidenhood. Ah, the queer pranks of life! Anna had been carried off
first, after all; and Marjory, the acknowledged flower, had gone all
these years unplucked.

Anna Needham was always anxious to make a good household impression
on her sister. Of course, many sorts of allowances would be made up
here at the Point. Still, there seemed no valid reason why the cakes
should cease coming in. At last she tinkled her bell. She tinkled it
resolutely. Her husband had just helped Miss Whitcom to the last cake.
Hilda still had unmistakably a hungry look.

Eliza opened the kitchen door and thrust in her head.

"Did you ring, ma'am?"

"Yes, Eliza, I did. We would like some more cakes."

"Yes, ma'am."

Eliza withdrew her head and closed the door. But while it yet remained
within their view, the face of Eliza had something dark and ominous in
it.

They heard her making desperate sounds about the stove. One minute,
two. Mrs. Needham grew more and more excited. She talked loudly and
steadily. The Rev. Needham sat with his hands on the arms of his chair,
like a statue of patience. Presently, however, he began to drum with
his fingers. Miss Whitcom, realizing the dilemma, adjusted herself to
it--made the last cake go a wonderfully long way.

Finally Mrs. Needham pushed back her chair, excused herself hurriedly,
and went out into the kitchen, the retreat being valiantly covered
by her sister, who began telling her brother-in-law fresh tribal
characteristics of the people of Tahulamaji.

Out in the smudge of the kitchen Anna Needham faced her cook.

"What is the _matter_, Eliza?"

Eliza was hot and hopeless. She pointed to the griddle upon which were
three cakes, still quite pasty, and which had obviously ceased baking.

"What is the matter with the stove, Eliza?"

"It must be the oil is all gone, ma'am."

"But I thought there was plenty to last until the morning delivery from
the store."

"Well, ma'am, when I came down I found two burners going, and there was
the remains of breakfast on the table. Did Louise go away somewhere
early?"

Eliza called the Needham girls quite simply by their first names. She
might have honoured them by saying Miss Louise and Miss Hilda. But she
hadn't begun that way. She hadn't done that at her last place, nor at
any of the other places which constituted her Middle Western retrospect
as a domestic; and Anna, in such comparatively unimportant matters as
this, found it less frictional to let instruction slide.

Louise had flown, leaving the burners on; there would be no more
pancakes for the remaining Needhams and their guest.

The Rev. Needham sighed, and somehow felt that the day was not
beginning so very well. However, Marjory began laughing in a singularly
hearty way.

"It reminds me," she grinned, "of something in an old melodrama I
saw years and years ago at an impossible little theatre. The 'comic
relief' was a tramp, whose weakness was the flask. He pretended, as I
recall it, to have palpitations of the heart, or something like that,
and at one stage of the proceedings went into a series of alarming
spasms, each of which would be instantly allayed by a swig from a flask
belonging to one of the other characters. The other character dared
not refuse the flask, for fear of fatal consequences, but eyed its
diminishing contents with profound regret. How well do I remember! At
length the tramp, in one of his worst spasms, was informed that the
whiskey was all gone; whereupon he very decently revived, looked out
at the audience soberly, and said, in his most mirth-provoking tones:
'Thank heavens there was just enough!'"

The Rev. Needham, as they left the table, looked at her in a half
startled way. These stories of hers were never in actually questionable
taste, yet they somehow contrived to upset him. There seemed to be
always something just behind them which might, as it were, spring out.
It was such he seemed to fear most of all: the things in life that
might spring out.

"Hilda," said Aunt Marjie, still chuckling over the whole affair, "did
you tell me Louise had a young man in the kitchen with her?"

"Yes, it was Leslie. But Aunt Marjie ...!"

"Ah, then that explains it!"

"Oh, but Aunt Marjie, Leslie isn't the one. You see, Louise is
_engaged_!"

"She is?" demanded the lady more seriously, yet mockingly, too, as
though the communication represented fresh news. "Well, then"--for Miss
Whitcom refused to be daunted--"the empty burners are no doubt all the
better accounted for, Hilda." She laughed again. Then she put her hands
on Hilda's young shoulders. "Hilda," she said with great solemnity,
"are you quite _sure_ Leslie isn't the one?"

Hilda blushed, and did not look squarely at her aunt, but instead a
little bit beyond her.

"Oh, _yes_!" she cried softly.


6

The first sunlit hours of the day fully realized the brave promise
of the dawn. The air was fresh and delicious, though inclined to
sultriness as one travelled inland away from the coast. The song of the
locust was shrill in the trees.

Louise's way took her a good distance from sea and then brought her
back to it again, circumlocutionary travel being one of the features
of Point Betsey existence. It might fantastically resolve itself into
a paradox: to go an inch you must go a mile. Her destination was the
town of Frankfort, situated about four miles south of the great stone
light-house and the cottages on the Point. The distance could easily
be covered on foot, the pedestrian taking his way along the smooth
curving beach of the "Big Lake." But Louise was rather a poor walker.
She preferred to lie in a hammock, or, if ground _must_ be covered, to
depend as largely as possible upon artificial locomotion. Those who
declined to walk and had no motor, must, to reach Frankfort, enlist the
respective conveyance of boat and train--an almost complicated journey.
There was a regular passenger ferry running on Crystal Lake, back and
forth between the resorts on the west shore and the village of Beulah.
This ferry boat, propelled by gasoline, was called the _Pathfinder_--a
name always preparing passengers new to the route for unimagined
nautical adventure. Passengers seemed cheerfully and nonchalantly asked
quite to take their lives in their hands, or rather, which might be
even worse, to sign them over entirely into the precarious keeping of
the boat's owner-pilot-engineer-and-fare-collector. And yet, after
all, there was nothing so very terrifying about a trip from one end of
Crystal Lake to the other. On the _Pathfinder_ Louise would doubtless
have travelled this morning but for the fact that the official ferry
service was never to be depended upon at so early an hour. Absence of
competition had led to a really deplorable state of independence, so
that Leslie's little boat was indeed a blessing at such times, in spite
of its general decrepitude. He escorted her, as we have seen, the first
nine miles of her journey, due east, away from Lake Michigan. Then
the train carried her nine miles back again, though somewhere in the
proceeding the four miles separating Frankfort and Point Betsey were
annihilated. The journey consumed something like an hour and a half.

Louise stepped out of the dilapidated coach. The station stood within
a few rods of the seashore--a situation once accommodating the
convenience of an enormous summer hotel, which a few years previous
had taken fire and vanished in smoke. With it had vanished also the
fondest hopes of the town. However, the ornate railroad terminus
still stood just where it had stood during the days of glory. Thank
God it was spared, for it had about it a relative magnificence which
the impoverished hamlet could ill afford to lose. It might, of course,
be more centrally located; still, there was a kind of grace in its sad
vigil.

Miss Needham, with considerable time to waste, surveyed the
age-softened ruins of the vast hotel and quite cheerfully revived, for
her amusement, memories of the time when she was Hilda's age and used
to come here to dancing parties and occasional dinners with her family.
She paced up and down upon what had once been the walk leading grandly
to the hotel from the wharves and the railroad station. Now the way was
rank with grass and weeds.

Ah, yes. She had promenaded here in that long-ago time, nor had she
walked alone, as she was walking now. Oh, no. And a slight flush,
even after all these years, crept into her face as she remembered
Harold Gates. Yes, he had walked beside her here, and they had talked
together of many things, and laughed a great deal. How she had laughed
in the old days! How gay they were! And over there on the channel
pier, close to the bowling alley, she had let Harold kiss her, also.
Before the summer was over she had let him kiss her rather a good many
times. Of course they did not really _love_ each other. They were only
just awfully good friends. Harold was residing in the hotel with his
parents. Louise only saw him when the Rev. Needham decided they would
go in to town and dine. Harold kept promising that he would come out
to the Point some day and see her, but he never came. Oh, yes--how
memories swarm back, once the tide of their return has set in! Yes,
once he did come; but it was only as a member of a picnic party from
the hotel. They brought baskets with them and had a fine revel on
the beach, quite near the Needham cottage. In the evening they built
a fire. But Louise saw her hero only for a moment on that occasion,
after all. They walked down the dark beach a little way, and he put
his arm around her, and she let him kiss her; but when he said he had
to go back to the fire again, there was naturally nothing to do but
let him go. The trouble was, he seemed to have a special girl in the
picnic party on whom his attentions must be lavished. So young, yet
already such a dashing man of the world! But for Louise it wasn't very
satisfying.

"What a fool I was!" she cried to herself, almost angrily, even at this
comfortable distance. And then she laughed: "What a _silly_ little
fool!"

Harold Gates was all nicely married and settled down now; a Chicago
girl, and they had a baby. Harold had mailed her a postcard with the
baby's picture on it, and across the bottom of the picture he had
written, in his firm business hand: "Merry Christmas from the three
Gates." Was it not strongly to be doubted whether Harold at length even
remembered how lover-like they had been that summer, he and she? Well,
it was rather to be hoped he didn't remember; and yet, with a queer
little pang for just a moment, Louise thought she couldn't endure his
having _entirely_ forgotten....

Well, she had certainly been free enough with her affections in those
days! Yes, she had been very free. As Louise quitted the ruins (which
had an odd, symbolic aspect this morning) and wandered off along the
beach, snatches of the prodigality of her past flared up, distressing
her, thrilling her a little, filling her heart with gloomy though not
exactly acute aversion. Ah, she thought, the kisses that had been spent
in vain! And yet they had not seemed entirely in vain at the time--not
all of them, at any rate.

From a glancing inventory of those more trifling indulgences of
her early days, she soared to the vastly more vital affair with
Richard. That, indeed, was different. Yes, that was another matter
altogether. Richard was her first real lover. The others were mere
boy-sweet-hearts, or they were, like Harold Gates, just awfully good
friends. Richard had always seemed mature to her: a _man_. She had
always felt herself a woman in his presence. Their affair, wretchedly
as it had turned out, was undeniably animated by the love that flashes
between men and women. It had a new tenseness, a new dizziness, a new
depth. It was magnificent and gripping; had the true ring of authority
and surrender in it. Yes, it was a thing of intense intoxication, and
maintained, so far, at least, as she was concerned, an unfaltering
white heat.

"And yet--for him," she told herself as she walked close beside
the little waves, "it wasn't like that. No, it couldn't have been,
even--even during those wonderful times, when we...." And she flushed,
as though not even solitude were an utterly dependable guardian of her
crimson thoughts. She lowered her eyes, lest impartial nature suddenly
be caught up into an impersonation which should cry shame against her.

Oh, yes. She had given her whole heart to Richard. Almost, almost....
She shuddered. "What a terrible thing it is!" she told herself. "What
a terrible thing, being deceived in a man! But how is one to know? How
can one always tell?"

Ah, how indeed? She went on a little way, thinking darkly and arriving
nowhere.

"And yet," she wavered, a look of intenser and clearer pain drifting
into her eyes, "he was--so dear! Ah...."

If Richard were suddenly to come toward her out of the past; if he were
to come toward her here, along this brown beach; if he should hold out
his arms to her and bid her to come back.... No, no! She clasped her
hands, for it was all so real. "No, no," she whispered. "I would not go
back. I would not _dare_ go back." She had seen him coming toward her
many times in fancy, stretching out his arms to her, speaking to her
after his wont. And she had learned to play out her prohibiting side of
the terrible ordeal so faithfully, so often, that at length the only
emotion she felt was that sense of dullness that goes with things which
are irrevocable.

"No, Richard," she would say. "I gave myself to you once. You might
have had me then. But not now. It is too late."

She would dismiss him, calmly and sorrowfully; would permit her tongue
to utter no words other than these. And yet.... She walked slowly
along, pondering her life.

What changes had come with the years! What changes! Now her heart was
given to another man. This was another sort of love, another sort
altogether. Lynndal and Richard were so unlike! Louise wondered whether
the love of any two men could be so strikingly unlike as she saw the
love of Richard and of Lynndal to be. Indeed, it rather pleased her,
as she set them off, one against the other, that the distinction
should be so great. It seemed to argue an indeterminate yet quite
thrilling variety in herself--not of course, a mere vulgar facility in
shifting or adapting herself to types as chance flitted them across her
horizon--ah, no!--but a real sense of _understanding_, a genius for
grasping the salient elements in many men, a cleverness in appraising
their worth. She bolstered her troubled and ghost-ridden heart.

Lynndal was the opposite of Richard, in every way--in every way, that
is, except that he, too, loved her. No, she would say in _every_ way,
for she knew now that Richard had never really cared, while Lynndal,
that was certain, cared very deeply and enduringly.

Her heart quickened now as she thought of her lover. She began
reviving, in a happy, drifting way, the slender accumulation of
noteworthy items in their romance, hers and Lynndal's: thought of their
first meeting, in the lobby of the hotel in Arizona, when she was with
her father on one of his infrequent "business" trips. The Rev. Needham
owned a little property in the great dry-farming district of Arizona.
"This is my good friend Mr. Barry," her father had said. And she had
said she was pleased to make his acquaintance, and she had given him
her gloved hand. She had thought little about him at the time. And
that, perhaps more tellingly than anything else, argued the palpable
differences. For Richard she had loved at first sight. He had captured
her, madly and hopelessly, alas, quite at the outset. Not so Lynndal.
Oh, no.

Louise was much given to musing and contemplation of this sort, which
often took, as now, an odd conversational expression.

"I didn't love Lynndal at all, in the first place," she told herself,
as though this were the first really definite understanding of the
case. "I didn't begin to care until the week was half over. But I saw
_he_ cared. I knew that I attracted _him_ from the beginning."

And then she left the beach and strolled up into the village.

Three couples passed by, arm in arm, youth and maiden, going for a
promenade on the pier. They deported themselves in just the customary
Middle Western summer resort manner. The couple ahead would confer in
whispers. Then a simultaneous laugh would disturb the lazy stillness of
the street. And then it might be that the girl would turn as she walked
and whisper something in the ear of the girl behind her, who would
laugh out also, at whatever it was the young man ahead had originally
confided to his partner. And the companion of this second young lady
would look bored and very much left out, while perhaps the young man
behind him might mockingly exclaim that secrets in company weren't
polite. Then the next minute all six would be singing the chorus of
some contemporary rag. And when that was done there would be another
chorus. Or else the young lady ahead would shout back to the young lady
in the rear and demand of her in tones of such vehemence that they
could be shared by all the town, whether she'd heard from John yet--or
Harry or Jim or Robert, as the case might be. Whereupon the young man
in the middle, who had been mocked by the young man in the rear, would
very likely turn and grin, feeling, if rather obscurely, that the
frivolous odds of the hour were now more evenly distributed.

Louise glanced at these careless, gay young persons as they passed, and
a feeling of comfortable security crept into her heart.

"Well, I'm glad I'm past all _that_!" she thought with a sigh. "They
all act this way at one time or another, and it's certainly a blessing
when it's over!"

She turned and looked after the noisy spooners as they bent their steps
toward the pier. Suddenly, it seemed for no reason at all, she thought
of Leslie. He seemed, quite vividly, to be right here beside her for
a moment. It was ever so curious. She wondered why she should think
of him so vividly just at this moment. Presently it occurred to her
the reason was simply that Leslie, though so young, wasn't boisterous
and silly, like the hoodlums she had just passed. No, she could not
fancy his ever having behaved like that in his life. Nor could she
conceive of his having yet to go through any such gauche, vapid
period. With her he had always been very serious. Of course, she was a
little older. But Leslie's whole nature was serious, she argued, and
somehow--somehow _deep_. She was in the mood now, perversely, to do him
the most elaborate justice. Yes, she thought he might be called, in a
way, really deep. Certainly she had never known any one like him. She
did not, just then, consider that she had never known any one just like
Richard, either, when it came to that--or even any one like Harold
Gates. All she could seem to think of, for the moment, was that Leslie
had come to fill a unique place in her life.

A feeling of tenderness crept upon her. Yes, they had grown intimate
during the short span of their acquaintance. She had been rather
lavish. It was Leslie's first summer on the Point. Vaguely she wished
it might all have been otherwise, that he might have come into her life
sooner, or that.... Ah, what was it she wanted?

His voice seemed suddenly ringing in her ears, as it had rung when he
cried: "Friends!"

And she sighed.


Oh, Eros, wicked god! She is waiting for one lover, and you torment her
with others! You revive for her sweet, irrevocable loves of the past,
when one would think the present love enough....


7

Louise looked at her watch. It was half past seven. The day was clear
and beautiful. Out against the marine horizon stood a ship. That must
be Lynndal's. It would be in at eight. She decided she would stroll
down the length of the main street and then return to the wharf.

Although the hour was still so early, the little town displayed about
as much life as it ever did. There were women with baskets on their
arms, examining produce displayed in the few shops where supplies were
procurable. There were carefree resorters already about, enjoying a
freshness which must soon evaporate under the scourge of the mounting
sun. The main street boasted a good many quaint little curio shops,
which somehow managed to do a living business. A typical drowsy
Northern Michigan small town--not much of a town, yet of course
infinitely better than no town at all.

Louise, as she walked down the one business street of the place,
scarcely looked to right or left. She knew every nook and angle of the
town--at least so she believed. Having come up now so many summers,
wasn't it reasonable to suppose that one would eventually exhaust all
the slender resources of a place like this? And yet, had her eyes
been really open she would perhaps have been amazed to behold spread
about her a wealth of life undreamed of. Something rich and new in
_Frankfort_? Yes, possibly even here. For those individuals in aprons,
weighing out sugar and measuring potatoes so humbly, are not, as a
matter of fact, mere shop fixtures, as they have always seemed. The
clerk at the soda fountain, who will cheerfully dish up ice cream
for the hoodlums when they return hot and famished from their walk
on the pier, has, after all, other interests in life than syrups and
fizz--unimportant, it may be, yet interests, nevertheless. Yon fat
and shabby patriarch, who sits so calmly all day long tilted back
in a red armchair outside the drygoods store, is something more, at
least potentially, than a painted barber's pole. Inside the drygoods
store, although Miss Needham has overlooked her, is the old man's
grand-daughter, busily working, dreaming. She works hard all summer so
she can go to school winters in Grand Rapids. She has a sweetheart in
Grand Rapids, who is taking a business course; they are planning to be
married sometime in the sweet by-and-bye.

But one with the enormous and stirring preoccupations of Louise Needham
could hardly be expected to look on life with open eyes, or, so to
say, analytically. Appreciations must bow and conform. A breezy,
impressionistic sort of synthesis is the background such a mentally and
emotionally active person seems inevitably to evolve. As it was with
the sunrise, so was it also with the people of the world not personally
bound up in her destiny. It really wasn't a deliberate narrowness, but
simply a sensible recognition of time's limitations. Certainly the
living of one's own personal life must always count first.

Reminiscent and dreaming, she passed down the street, while out at
sea the steamer drew closer and closer. In one gaily decorated shop
window was displayed an array of summer fiction: alluring titles, with
often most astonishing jackets--all the season's best sellers, backed
up by certain surviving relics of bygone seasons. There were actually
volumes in this window (though now badly faded and of course occupying
appropriately inferior positions) which had been the avowed, the lauded
best sellers during that summertime, long flown, when Louise and Harold
Gates indulged in so free an interchange of kisses. There had been, as
a matter of fact, rather a profusion of kisses in the best sellers that
year, also: how true they were, after all, to life--that best of all
best sellers!

Miss Needham paused before the window. Her eyes were irresistibly drawn
to examine the miscellany, fruitage of so many seasons, badges of so
much smart selling. In the midst of the conglomeration she spied a
certain volume, modest in title and hue as compared with some of the
others, though still extravagant enough of text, which Leslie had
been telling her about. It was a long historical novel, and Leslie
had expressed himself as well pleased with it. He hadn't, as a matter
of downright fact, read the book all through, but had skimmed along,
omitting all descriptions and the pages where the author philosophized
about life. But he had captured the gist of the story, and had retold
it to Louise one afternoon while they strolled together in delicious
solitude through Lovers' Lane. And she had promised him she would read
the book some time and give him her opinion--it going without saying
that her opinion, at least to him, would be of moment. Louise was no
great reader--certainly not an inveterate reader of long historical
novels. Nevertheless, as her eye now encountered it nestling there in
the window, a sudden caprice swept her right inside the shop. It was a
most amazing thing, but the next moment she found herself telling the
clerk she wished to purchase the volume. And then--he fished it out.

The clerk, it must be communicated--a man, by the way, with all sorts
of interesting and even enthralling human complexes which Louise did
not dream of suspecting, since she knew the town so well--was rather
surprised that his early morning customer should desire this particular
book rather than some of the more gripping things: _Diana's Secret_,
for instance, which was easily one of the most successful works ever
exploited in Frankfort. However, since he had long ago given up all
hope of ever selling the historical romance, and since he expected
to run out of _Diana_ copies before the season was ended, the clerk
naturally offered no comment upon her choice. Covertly blowing a little
dust off the book she had asked for, he wrapped it up, and handed it
over the counter.

Louise was by this time mildly self-reproachful. "How silly of me to
walk right in like that and buy it!" she sighed. "With the money--let's
see. What could I have bought instead ...?"

But however nimbly her mind might exert itself in estimating the
complete badness of her bargain, the book went under her arm. Just a
kind of giddy, final fling, she argued.

As she proceeded on her way, the girl kept assuring herself that
the embrace of the historic romance was decidedly more playful than
serious. It would be amusing later on--oh, perhaps a great deal later
on--to show Leslie she had been as good as her word. Possibly she might
actually _read_ the book--who could tell?--just to please him. Poor
Les! After all, he was only a boy. She was two years his senior. It
would be foolish of them to think of each other, even were her heart
perfectly free.

"Of course it's all right," she said, "for us to be the finest sort of
friends; but it must stop there. If I'd guessed how serious a thing it
was going to turn out for him I'd have seen it wasn't right to let him
think he had any chance...."

This, to tell the truth, tended to put it all rather more
satisfactorily than had hitherto seemed possible. She was quite
pleased, in fact, for it left her in the attitude of repeating "Poor
Les!"

Well, yes, she had thrown him over, she admitted--in a certain sense.
But only in a sense; and anyway it had to be so. However shallow her
reasoning might often appear to others--however often it might fail of
horizon--Miss Needham was herself seldom conscious of the slightest
insincerity at the time. She had inherited, it is true, a certain
intellectual shiftiness from the parent most afflicted with a similar
disorder; but however often she might fluctuate to a new point of view,
so long as she actually held to it the conception possessed for her all
the earmarks of probity and permanence.

"Poor Les! No, no.... I shouldn't have encouraged him so much...." But
she hadn't thought at first that Lynndal was coming. And Arizona is
very, very far away--especially on fine summer nights, when one isn't
wearing any ring....

Yet presently the book under her arm began to appear a somewhat awkward
possession. However easy it might be for her to _tell_ Leslie they must
be merely friends now, and however blithely she might _ask_ him, after
an ancient and at best pretty hackneyed ideal, to look upon her as a
sister, it was going to be very hard--for him. Wasn't it? Could it be
otherwise than hard for him? Wouldn't her having bought the book, even,
especially if he learned she had bought it, make it all still harder?

Louise was naturally so quick in her sympathies that it troubled her
when others couldn't attain as convenient solutions for their problems
as she generally did for her own. And being herself party to another's
unhappiness would, of course, tend to add certain pricks of conscience
to any of the more abstract, though still altruistic, sentiments she
might feel. "Well," she admitted, "I guess I shouldn't have bought the
book, after all--at least not just now." But of course she could keep
it hidden. "I needn't show it to Les right away." For that matter, need
she ever show it to him? "I suppose--I really suppose I might drop it
into the harbour, and be forever rid of it!"

As though, indeed, determined to act upon this dramatic impulse, Louise
turned and walked down amongst some fishermen's huts at the water's
edge. Most of the fishermen were out at sea, having not yet brought in
the morning's haul from the nets. The rude little huts, where the fish
were cleaned and packed in ice for shipping, and where the nets were
washed, stood idly open. The early sunshine lay across their doorsteps.
Some children were at play, running in and out; and before one of the
huts a very old woman sat mending a net, working her hard fingers in a
quick, intelligent way.

Louise walked out upon a little plank dock which was flung, at this
point, into the harbour. The fishermen used the dock when they unloaded
their cargoes of fish. It did not extend a great way; but from its
extremity, as she faced westward, she perceived the approach of a
steamer, still out in the "Big Lake," but nearing the harbour channel.
It was probably Lynndal's boat, though it might possibly be one of the
Ann Arbor car ferries from across Lake Michigan. She must hurry to the
wharf. Still, the notion of throwing the book away persisted. She must
rid herself of every vestige of the past. She must come to Lynndal--and
it was quite thrilling to put it that way--empty-handed! This would
seem to be a formal, a conclusive, even a rather grand way of marking
a close to this surreptitious, this unfortunate, yet this of course
sufficiently innocent little affair with Leslie--poor Les! Yes, it
would be the fitting mark of conclusion; after that her heart would be
swept clean. She grasped the book. At first she thought she would fling
it far out; then that she would just quietly drop it in. But after all,
she slipped the book under her arm again, and made her way hurriedly
back to the village street.

Her mind was busy with explanation and a readjustment not, a moment
ago, foreseen. "It would have been foolish and stagy to have done that.
No, it wouldn't have been _right_! Perhaps--" yes, perhaps Hilda would
want to read it some day. She brightened. "Leslie said there was much
instructive reading in it." Why, yes--the book would do for Hilda, if
not for her. Mightn't Hilda even do for Leslie, now that she had thrown
him over? Ah, it might be so! The idea occurred to Louise at first as
a mere flash of whimsy; however, second thought made the possibility
rather too possible to be altogether agreeable....

"Why, I should think it would be the most natural thing in the world,"
she assured herself. "Of course Hilda's awfully young, but I should
think it would be perfectly splendid if they came to care for each
other in time. I'm sure it would make it ever so much easier for _me_."
She remembered how oddly her sister had behaved earlier in the day,
whenever Leslie was mentioned; how Leslie himself had promised Hilda
he would be back in time to play in the tennis tournament with her. "I
think it would be just splendid!" she thought. "I'll encourage it, of
course, all I can!"

At last, she felt, there was a real solution in sight for poor Les. It
would be the very thing! She was so pleased that she laughed aloud as
she passed the fat and shabby patriarch tilted back in his red armchair
before the drygoods store. But it is possible that even the patriarch,
in a philosophy of age as opposed to that of youth, merely thought,
as he saw her go by: "Another of the resorters." Indeed, it is even
possible that he did not see her at all.


The steamer drew in through the channel. It was the coast steamer
from Ludington, and connected with the Milwaukee line. Louise stood
eagerly beside the freight house, peering up at the passengers on the
deck. Naturally she was very much excited, and experienced a swift,
enveloping sense of joyous romance in being there to welcome the man
she expected some day to marry.

To marry!

Suddenly it occurred to her that, after all, she had hardly thought
of it _once_ that way! Yes, Lynndal was the man who would be her
husband. Marrying him--no, she had somehow barely thought of that
part.... Nevertheless, though the discovery was a little staggering,
she strained her eyes quite gaily for a first glimpse of him; wondered
if he would look to her just the way he looked during those few days
when they had been together in Arizona. But just how, by the way, did
he look then? All at once she thought of Lynndal Barry as an almost
absolute stranger! It was an inexplicable but quite vivid, a rather
terrifying sensation. It made the roots of her hair faintly prickle.
No, for the life of her she couldn't think of any one's being a more
perfect stranger than Lynndal!

Louise wasn't mystically inclined. Yet what she felt seemed almost a
kind of foreboding. Then she laughed to herself, a gay little nervous
laugh. And she told herself it was only natural one should feel this
way, and that it was all a part of her charming, her really absorbing
romance.


8

He was standing by the rail on the upper deck of the steamer, beside
a man with whom he appeared to be in conversation. She had no
difficulty, after all, in recognizing him. Barry was still the tallish,
brown-moustached, quiet-eyed man who had so generously exerted himself
to make her brief stay in Arizona agreeable.

She saw him first, the advantage giving her time to look away again
before his eyes discovered her. Just why she should want to look away
was in the nature of a mystery; yet avert her eyes she certainly
did, as she might have done in the case of a stranger whose presence
had casually attracted her notice. The feeling that, despite what
had passed between them under the discreet propulsion of government
postage, she did not really know this man, returned stronger than ever.
She smiled a little--she had to--at her own manifest perversity; and
flushed vaguely, too.

As soon as Lynndal Barry discovered Miss Needham down on the dock his
face lighted, and he grasped the arm of the man standing beside him.

"There she is!" he cried.

His companion looked, but was a moment or two trying to decide which of
the several very possible young ladies standing about near the freight
house might prove to be _she_. To facilitate the other's search, Barry
pointed. And Louise, observing the gesture out of the corner of an eye,
coloured and turned still more away, maintaining, after all, though she
had been just on the point of abandoning it, the pretense that she had
not yet seen the man to welcome whom she had risen so early and come so
far.

Somehow, a wrong note had been struck. Even the Rev. Needham--and his
views on culture were widely known--had often cautioned his girls
against pointing at persons or things in public. Lynndal ought not to
have pointed. Yes, it was a wrong note--and a wrong note just at the
most critical time. Of course in poising this action of his, Louise, it
is quite patent, now failed to consider one thing; she failed, because
perversely and momentarily she was out of mood, to consider that a
young man who has travelled hundreds of miles to see a young lady he
expects to marry would rather naturally be so carried away at the first
sight of her that manners wouldn't count for the full weight of their
every-day prestige. Great events sanction great exceptions. But Louise,
now, was not prepared to make the requisite allowances. She had thought
that her heart was swept clean; but it wasn't. What demon was it which
had lured her into thinking so long about Richard and Leslie and--and
all the others while she waited for the boat to come in?

Yes, to her it really seemed that a wrong note had been struck. Miss
Needham found herself in an oddly cool and critical mood--certainly not
the mood she had anticipated. The next moment it softened; a feeling
of shy warmth stole upon her. Still, she half wished that she had
decided, after all, not to come to Frankfort, but had been content
to await him quietly at home. That would have given her, if nothing
else, a certain reserve of dignity, which she felt now was somehow
sacrificed. Did not her being here on the wharf to meet him make her
appear too eager? Would it not have been much better to come forward
gracefully out of a romantic nowhere, perhaps even after keeping him
waiting a few minutes? Then, at least, she needn't have undergone the
minor humiliation--wasn't it almost that?--of being pointed at. She
pressed the book under her arm. Suddenly she thought of Richard and his
exquisite manners....

Lynndal was waving his hat now, trying desperately to attract her
attention. The captain of the vessel was making rather a poor landing,
and the sharp little reverse and forward signals in the engine-room
kept sounding repeatedly. A strip of water still lay between the
ship and the wharf, though crew huskies stood ready to heave out
the gang-plank as soon as it became possible to establish shore
connections. Louise interested herself in the rougher activities
aboard ship, and did not yet raise her eyes to the man who now stood
almost directly above her. She felt conscious of a sum of stares in
her direction. All the girls on the wharf had taken full note of the
pointed finger and the waving hat. Each knew--and some, perhaps, not
without regret--that these demonstrations did not apply to _her_. A
quick inventory of wharf possibilities had convinced all present that
it must be Miss Needham who was the impetuously favoured individual.
He had seemed to look quite squarely at her, and she alone had not
bestowed on his pains the gaze of unfortunately lacking acquaintance.

At length one of the younger girls, standing near her, touched Louise's
arm. "Some one's trying to catch your eye," she said. And she nodded up
toward Barry.

He observed the girl's action and called down: "Louise, dear, here I
am--up here!"

And then it was that she relented, at last--thrilled a little--raised
her face coyly to him, and smiled.

No, she would not appear too eager. Let him not think he was winning
her too cheaply. "Did you have a pleasant trip across?" she asked.

Just the faintest shade of disappointment crossed his face. "Oh, yes,"
he replied. "Smooth as glass. How are you, dear?"

She merely nodded. The historical novel slipped out from under her arm
and fell to the ground. She stooped hurriedly and picked it up.

"My, it's good to see you!" he communicated through a hubbub which
really made it difficult to be heard.

But she was again prevented, or spared, a reply, by having to step
quickly aside as the gang-plank was run out. The ship was at last
securely moored. Barry's grey-haired companion called his attention to
this fact, and then the two men seized their bags and hurried down.

Louise stepped aside to wait; realized an augmenting sense of
strangeness and quandary--her heart in a kind of flutter. She felt now
hot, now cold. An odd, frantic resolve raced through her brain: "He
mustn't kiss me!" And yet--for there was a conflicting after-flash--to
have him make no attempt would constitute the very essence itself of
pique! In the midst of this rather extraordinary mood, Louise recoiled,
as it were, and shook herself. She called her mental turmoil silly
and maudlin; she even called it wicked. Then Lynndal came, and the
terrible moment passed, leaving her banners waving. Emphatically it had
been in his mind to kiss her; any one could plainly see that; the act
itself, however (for he must _not_ feel too sure), she forestalled by a
very delicate but at the same time unmistakable gesture of repulsion,
unto which he bowed with a graceful disappointment that, for the time
being, very materially lightened the prospect. She had won in the first
skirmish; and the knowledge of victory, the delicious sense of power in
her it seemed to emphasize, put her in an easier, more cheerful frame
of mind.

Instead of kissing Lynndal, she held out her hand to him with shy
cordiality. She fancied, in a whimsical flash, that she was meeting him
all over again, for the first time. A subtle sense of romance in this
new aspect of their relationship quickened her heart....

Barry's shipboard companion was still at his side. Or rather not quite
at his side, either, but holding discreetly back--even courteously
discovering a sudden optical interest in another quarter of the
compass. From this thoughtful detachment he was recalled and introduced
as Mr. Barrett O'Donnell.

Miss Needham was delighted to make his acquaintance--Miss Needham would
have welcomed, just then, an acquaintance with the man in the moon,
no matter how outlandish he might prove. For the moment, if in a way
delightful, was also complex and curiously taut. O'Donnell jollied
things up. His was a ready tongue, with, now and then, just a whisper
of Irish; his smile was droll and cheering, though perhaps rather too
facile--too facile, that is (for it was perfectly sincere), to be ever
quite enveloping. Louise walked between them, and the three made their
way to the railroad station, where the locomotive of a "resort special"
was puffing quite prodigiously, and pretending, after the manner of
locomotives, to be ever on the verge of pulling right out, mindless of
schedule.

Miss Needham skipped with hectic and perverse coquetry. She stimulated
herself anew upon the assurance that it was great fun having a lover
to meet. And it was really fine, for another thing, to be able so
perfectly to dominate the scene, disposing all according to her
whim--best of all, to have another man right there on the spot to
behold these palpable wonders! She remembered, with a tiny obscure
pang, how she had wished Richard might be present to see what amazing
progress she had made. Richard she could not have; but fortune provided
a substitute in the unsuspecting person of jolly Mr. O'Donnell.

Louise's mood of almost saucy pleasure was sufficiently generous
to overflow in Barry's favour, else the poor man would surely have
shivered himself to death ere this. She smiled up at him with more
artlessness than really consorted with her triumph.

"Hilda was afraid you might not come," she chatted pleasantly, flirting
a little with the corners of her mouth.

"She was?"

"Yes, she was dreadfully worried--you know how children are. She'll be
awfully relieved when she sees you."

"But you," he asked, half jestingly and half in faint earnest, "--you
weren't afraid?"

"I? Oh, no!" She laughed along with the denial. "Not _I_."

The locomotive was coughing and wheezing and snorting, with an air of
absurd importance. All at once there was a tremendous exhaust which
sent steam geysering in considerable volume to either side. They were
so close that the roar brought a tightening to the girl's throat. Barry
touched her arm, gently insinuating her out of the path of the steam's
dominion. She felt the momentary pressure of his fingers. And through
the hiss and dizzy vibration in the air it was as though he were saying
to her: "You are mine, all mine! You are mine forever and ever! You can
belong henceforth to no one but me!" She trembled and felt faint. Her
heart was beset with goblins and ghosts....

When they had settled for the diminutive journey, Louise was more than
ever glad of Mr. O'Donnell's presence. But now it was no longer so
much that he might behold the brilliance of her autocracy as that she
might lean upon him while striving to adjust herself to the almost
alarming situation Barry's arrival had precipitated. And O'Donnell,
for his own part, was not a little flattered at being so deluged with
attention from a pretty woman--especially since she had a real, live
lover sitting right beside her! The lover himself took everything in
a perfectly philosophical manner. Naturally she didn't want to reveal
her heart to the wide world, his comfortable acquiescence seemed to
say. She was reserving all that for him alone. And in the meantime it
was very decent and intelligent of her to be nice to his friend. As a
matter of fact, Miss Needham's conduct wasn't by any means so sheer and
vivid as the complex which produced it; she was not behaving nearly so
strangely as she felt.

The journey back to Beulah, disproportionately lengthy if measured on
the dial of one's watch, was under way. All the coaches were packed
with resorters plying off in search of adventure--adventure which,
in its most substantial form, could they but know it, they were to
discover inside those mysterious covered baskets stowed away under
seats and, sometimes rather precariously, on the metal racks overhead.
For eating is, after all, the Great Adventure in Middle Western resort
life. One might perhaps hesitate about putting it ahead of canoes in
the moonlight, and that indispensable adjunct of every resort that ever
was, the Lovers' Lane. But whereas the latter phenomena appeal to only
a single age or mood of society, the adventure of filling the stomach
appeals to everyone alike, old and young, mighty and humble. So far
as the present excursionists were concerned, the furtive covers were
soon flapping; and the air grew tropical with the persuasive aroma of
bananas.

Louise sat beside her lover in the midst of these not unfamiliar
scenes; and the outcome of her half agreeable, half harrowing mental
complex was a slightly hysterical gaiety. So long as Mr. O'Donnell
was with them, she felt secure. But why _was_ this? Why was it she
suddenly dreaded the thought of finding herself for the first time
alone with Lynndal? Phantoms swarmed. In her letters she had given
him every promise. Yet now he was with her again, she dared not let
herself go. Phantoms of old delight; phantoms, too, projected into the
scope of an imagined future.... The words she had seemed to hear while
the steam brought that queer stuffiness to her throat, still echoed
troublingly: "You are mine, all mine! You can belong henceforth to
no one--but to me!" Her mind was all charged with a brooding unrest.
Externally she sparkled and was blithe; but within lurked a vague fever
of apprehension....

Things like this may conceivably be going on in almost any one's mind
at almost any time; but they are never shown. We are adepts when it
comes to guarding our guilty struggles.

The train was winding its way through dismal swamp country. Stark
trunks of trees, stripped of verdure, with the life in them long
extinct, stood knee-deep in brackish water. Though the day was quite
bright, an impenetrable veil of melancholy lay over the swamplands--a
gloom never lifted, which seemed the child of silence and stagnation.
The sad blight of the landscape seeped into her heart. She was twisting
her life this way and that, absorbed, as usual, in the mystery of her
own fascinating if at present rather menaced ego.

Lynndal Barry and his companion, chatting, seemed unaware of the girl's
momentary absorption; her curious, almost breathless, detachment.
Although detached, she was nevertheless looking at Barry with serious,
half-seeing eyes. And all at once she found herself thinking of him
respectfully, even tenderly. There was something conspicuously ordered
and kindly and calm about him. She seemed, abruptly, conscious of a
great patience in this man who had come to her out of the West; had
scarcely discovered in his letters how essentially mature he was. But
the next moment this vaguely annoyed her. She seemed to miss in him
the thrill of fire and passion which her nature craved. He seemed to
be relaxed upon the snug hearth-rug of life--yes, in slippers! Barry
was, actually, not much above thirty; but his seemed to her now a poise
unwelcome. She fingered the book in her lap with nervous, groping
fingers; even shuddered a little as she gazed off across the swamp.

Barry, however, seemed aware of none of the girl's emotional fluxes.
Why should he be? How _could_ he be? Barry didn't even in the least
suspect that she had any such things as emotional fluxes in her
make-up; nor, for that matter, was it likely he would quite know an
emotional flux if he should meet it. This must not, however, be taken
to signify that Barry wasn't sensitive, for he was. And he had a way,
too, of biding his time, which sometimes deceived people into thinking
him invulnerable to the finer antennæ of feelings. However, though his
ear was not entirely deaf to the unstrummed music of life, he did not
as yet suspect--or if so, not more than just glancingly--that there was
to be a flaw in his eager little romance.

"Oh, yes, it will surprise her completely, of course," O'Donnell was
saying.

"You haven't written at all, then?"

"You see, I've only just learned she was back from Tahulamaji. I
learned about it in town. I may say I learned of it only yesterday!"

"It's queer, isn't it," remarked Barry, with almost a flash of
imagination, "we should have happened to come up on the same steamer?"

And then, being just a delightful, sane, normal individual, O'Donnell
said what _had_ to be said--what is _always_ said when talk reaches
such a point: He said that the world was small.

Louise came back to them with an effort. The train was beginning to
draw up out of the swamp region, and on to a plain better adapted to
rural uses. The sunshine lay very bright upon the grass. An emotion of
hope stirred in her heart. Everything was bound to turn out for the
best--_her_ best, she thought. Of course it would! She felt all at once
radiantly, boundlessly happy. And she forgot the words in the steam,
when his fingers had touched her arm.

The subject of this miraculous meeting of Barry and O'Donnell still
animated a conversation which she entered with almost desperate
eagerness.

"You weren't acquainted before you met on the boat?"

"Never laid eyes on each other," laughed the Irishman. "We began
talking about dry-farming in the gentlemen's lounge, and from that,
gradually...."

"The fact is," put in Barry, who wanted to see what little mystery
there was cleared up as quickly as possible, "we found we were both on
our way to--"

"--to besiege ladies living under the same roof!" concluded the other's
readier tongue.

Barry coloured a bit at the bluntness, but rather with pleasure than
embarrassment.

"I guess I don't quite understand," remarked Louise a little coolly.

"Well, you see, the fact is we're very old friends, Miss Whitcom and
I--"

"Aunt Marjie!"

"Yes--Marjie...." He repeated the name slowly, and with the sly relish
of one who is not quite sure whether he would dare perpetrate such an
indulgence in the presence of the adored herself.

"Why, how perfectly _romantic_!" cried Louise. And she ceased entirely,
for the moment, to be concerned about the puzzling and rather tangled
romance of her own life.

"You say you haven't seen each other for years?"

"Five years," he nodded.

"Oh, how surprised she _will_ be! I do certainly want to be there when
she first sees you!"

For of course it went without saying that they were lovers. Only fancy!
Well--as much had been said outright. He was coming to besiege Aunt
Marjie, just as Lynndal....

Her heart clouded a little with the mist of perplexity which seemed,
now, to have begun settling the moment she heard Leslie's step outside
on the hillside at dawn....

But O'Donnell went on nonchalantly enough: "Oh, but there'll be
nothing remarkable at all. Miss Whitcom, if you'll pardon my
speaking quite freely of your relative, has the most extraordinary
control. Perhaps you've noticed it. I can tell you just what she'll
do. She'll talk about the new wall paper in the throne room of
the Queen of Tahulamaji's palace. Or else it will be still some
perfectly commonplace remark about a tiresome old swimming medal. But
exclamations in the true sense? No, there won't be any, Miss Needham, I
assure you."

Oh, Eros! Here, sitting all perplexed beside the man she has promised
to marry--all besieged by ghosts of her past loves, and the ghost of
one scarce passed as yet--is a woman. And yonder in a cottage, covering
the unlucky shortage of pancakes with mundane chuckles, is another
woman who has been pursued for twenty years by one dauntless lover, and
who, when he comes, will talk about the paper on the wall.

The journey drew to a screeching and bumping close; the brakes
whistled, and the locomotive fell a-panting most lustily, as though to
proclaim that it had done a mighty thing indeed in hauling a few laden
coaches a dozen miles across the swamp-lands.

The intrepid _Pathfinder_ lay at the dock, waiting. All Beulah had
turned out, it really seemed, to welcome the train; and now all Beulah
swarmed down to bid those who would embark farewell.

There was the mayor--or so one fancied; and there were aldermen--could
not one fairly see them sitting in solemn council? There was the
Methodist minister in his half-clerical week-day togs; there were all
the old men of the town, and all the old ladies; all the boys and girls
and babies; together with just as many others as could possibly be
spared from conducting the business of the town. The dock was quite
crowded. Yet Louise and her two companions were the only passengers the
_Pathfinder_ was to bear away.

There always seemed something vaguely symbolic about these important
departures of the _Pathfinder_. The townsfolk seemed to gaze off with a
kind of wistful regret--yes, from the mayor down to the tiniest babe.
It always was so: as though the _Pathfinder_ were bound for free,
large spaces of ocean; for ports in Europe, or the Indies. And the
townspeople could only assemble on the shore and silently watch this
ship's glorious westward flight. So life went.

Many are called, but few are chosen!



PART TWO

THE KISS


1

Leslie had some trouble with his engine on the return trip. It
sputtered and it balked. The never very regular rhythm grew more and
more broken, till at length there was no rhythm left at all. Finally
the thing simply stopped dead; it wouldn't budge. The little craft
rippled forward a few paces on momentum, then swung into a choppy
trough and began edging dismally back toward Beulah. Leslie was glad
then that Louise wasn't aboard. Yes, he was very glad indeed there were
no ladies present. He sat down in the bottom of the boat and took the
engine to pieces. Then he put it together again. And tossed and tossed.
And drifted. And cursed like a man.

When at last he limped up to the dock at Crystalia, missing fire
horribly, and having to help along by poling as soon as the water
was sufficiently shallow, he found Hilda waiting for him. She smiled
very brightly. And somehow he felt the unpleasantness of the voyage
fading into a plain sense of satisfaction over being back. It seemed a
singularly long time since he had set out with Louise....

"Good morning!" Hilda called to him from the dock.

He nodded and grinned; and poled, perhaps, the more vigorously. With
his foot he desperately prodded the almost exhausted engine.

"Why _Les_, what's the _matter_?" she cried. For he was, in truth, a
sight.

"Stalled two miles out," he replied bluntly, though not curtly, giving
the engine a final kick by way of advising it that its labours for the
day were at an end.

"Why, Les--how dreadful! Oh, I can't help laughing. Your face is so
funny!"

He made a grimace and rubbed his cheeks with the sleeve of his flannel
shirt, not particularly improving matters thereby.

"I don't want the old thing any more--it's just so much junk!" He
stepped out on the dock and moored the naughty little craft, though
without any great enthusiasm, and rather as though he hoped a strong
wind would come and carry the miscreant irrevocably to sea. Then he
added: "Hilda, I've got an idea! I'll auction it off and turn over the
proceeds to your father's missionary fund!"

Her laugh rang.

"Don't you think that would be a good idea?"

"Oh, Les--you're _so_ funny!"

She laughed a great deal as they walked along together through the
hot white sand toward the Crystalia cottages, occupied mostly by
Chicago-Oak Park people, and forming no part of what was generally
known as the religious colony. Leslie was by this time entirely over
his maritime grouch. He conceived, always in his elusively serious way,
a delight in being quite as "funny" as he could. An outsider might have
registered the impression that, even at his funniest, Leslie wasn't
honestly amusing enough to elicit such frequent, rich, joyous peals of
laughter; but Hilda was very happy--happy!--so happy that she needed no
deliberate stimulus to mirth; so happy she could with the utmost ease
shift her mood from grave to gay, or from gay to grave, matching the
mood of her companion.

"I know you've forgotten," she said, swinging along beside him and
occasionally flashing up a most captivating glance.

"Forgotten what?"

"I'll never tell!"

"Then how can I know what I've forgotten, if you don't remind me?"
Though gossamer at best, it had an effect of logic--perhaps a rather
graspable masculine logic, at that.

"Maybe you'll remember--when it's too late." Her eyes sparkled.

"Oh, you mean the tournament?"

She nodded.

"I hadn't forgotten it."

"Well, you see I was afraid you had."

He smiled. She was really quite delightful.

"I'm so glad, Les. There'll be time for you to get into light things.
Oh, I'm so glad your memory _didn't_ really fail!"

He looked at her quietly a moment, but her gaze was now all on the
sun-patterned turf. They had entered the forest of Betsey, and were
pursuing the winding road toward the Point.

"Oh, that's nothing," he said solemnly. "I never forget appointments
with ladies."

She laughed again, then ventured: "Tell me. Didn't you forget, just the
tiniest little bit, when you were taking Louise across, or," she rather
hurried on, "when you were out there in the middle of the lake and the
engine was acting up? Please be ever so honest!"

Leslie looked down again at the girl beside him. Odd he had never
noticed how intelligent and shyly grown-up Hilda was! She had been
merely Louise's little sister; all at once she became _Hilda_, a
self-sufficient entity, perfectly capable of standing alone. Also
she looked very fresh and charming this morning in her cool white
jumper and skirt. He looked at Hilda in a kind of searching way; then,
pleasantly meeting her eyes, he answered her question. "No, not even
the tiniest little bit."

Their walk together through the forest was enlivened with gay and
unimportant chatter. As they passed the hidden bower where Hilda, at an
earlier hour, had crouched to spy and listen, the girl almost danced at
the thought of having so delightfully usurped her sister's place. And
the best part of it was that it was perfectly all right; because Louise
had gone to meet her own true lover. Leslie didn't belong to Louise;
it seemed almost too wonderful to be true that he didn't!

As it happened, Louise entered the lad's thoughts also as he and
Hilda walked side by side along the sylvan path. Perhaps something of
the same odd transposition weighed, even with him. He had gone this
identical way with some one else, only a few eternities ago. He had
held her in his arms a moment, and then.... Then what was it she had
said? Friends! First she had said she cared, and after that she had
said she wanted.... Did she really know _what_ she wanted? For weeks
they had gone around together constantly. The moon had been wonderful.
Then the letter had come from the West, and she had decided she had
better begin being a nice, harmless sister. Still, she had let him
kiss her once, even after the advent of the fatal epistle--a sort
of passionate farewell surrender--wanted to let him down as easy as
possible. Ugh! He was in no mood to spare her now. And then Leslie
came slowly back; back to the bright, rare summer morning; back to the
forest of Betsey, with its hopeful glints of sunshine; back--to Hilda.
He sighed. At least he had learned something more about women.

They came to Beachcrest Cottage, and, since Leslie's cottage was
further along, in the direction of the lighthouse, it was here they
parted. Before he ran off, however, to make himself presentable, Leslie
underwent the ordeal (pleasant rather than not as it turned out), of
being introduced to Miss Whitcom.

She was seated on the second step of the flight leading up to the
screened porch, seemed in very good spirits, and was writing a
letter--employing a last year's magazine as base of operations. The
ink bottle balanced itself just on the edge of the next step up: a
key, if one please, to Marjory Whitcom's whole character. Had she
been writing at the cottage desk in the living room, where everything
was convenient, then she would never, never have spent her life doing
wild and impossible things. And had the ink bottle been placed firmly
instead of upon the ragged edge, then, having eluded Barrett O'Donnell
all these years, she would not now be writing to him.

"Aunt Marjie," said Hilda, her eyes shining and her cheeks flushed,
"this is Leslie."

He was pleased to meet Miss Whitcom, but assured her he must deny
himself the pleasure of shaking hands. Look at them! He had had his
engine all to pieces. He was going to auction off the boat now and give
the Rev. Needham's missionary fund the first real boost in a decade.

"Leslie!" hushed Hilda in great dismay. How did they know but the Rev.
Needham might be within hearing distance?

But Miss Whitcom laughed delightedly, whether or no, and said that
after hearing such a gallant expression of religious zeal she simply
must shake his hand, grime and all. And she did so. She had a way of
winning young men completely.

"And did you pilot my elder niece over to Beulah before we sleepyheads
here at home were even stirring?"

"Yes, Aunt Marjie. It was Leslie. You know!" And Hilda blushed at her
very vagueness, which swept back so quaintly to embrace the pancake
catastrophe.

"Oh, yes," replied Miss Whitcom with dreadful pointedness. "I know--oh,
yes. I know very well _indeed_! And I know of a certain young lady
who departed and forgot to turn off the burners of the stove, so that
plain, humdrum mortals must quit the table hungry--positively hungry!"

Leslie somehow managed to establish connections. "Whatever happened,
I'm afraid I was partly to blame, Miss Whitcom."

"Aha! Only partly?" For she fancied his chivalry carried along with it
a tone, so far as he was concerned, of extenuation.

"Well, I suppose having me there, talking, helped to make her forget."

"H'm!" She eyed him in her odd, sharp way. But he looked back with a
half understanding defiance. "So you won't take _all_ the blame?"

Leslie smote the lower step with his foot, then shyly glanced at Hilda.
Hilda laughed and coloured.

So Miss Whitcom said, looking drolly off to sea: "The plot thickens!"

And she was right; there were greater doings ahead.


Leslie sprang off along the ridge to get into tennis garb. He decided,
as was only natural, that the one infallible way of cleansing himself
was to plunge into the sea. He was consequently in his little cottage
bedroom about two minutes, and then emerged in swimming apparel.

Leslie was well-formed and sun-browned. He sped off over the sand to
the shore, and thence dived straight out of sight.

"Swims rather well," commented Miss Whitcom. "That crawl stroke isn't
by any means the easiest to master."

"Yes, Leslie's the best swimmer on the Point," said Hilda proudly.

Miss Whitcom dipped her pen, but the ink went dry on it, and the letter
lay uncompleted.

"I do believe he's forgotten all about you and is going to swim
straight across!" she declared. For Leslie was, indeed, streaking out
in fine style, making the water splash in the sun, and occasionally
tossing his head as though keenly conscious of life's delightfulness.

"He'll turn back," said Hilda quietly.

"You think so?"

"I know he will!" she laughed.

"Oh, you _know_?"

"Why how ridiculous! Nobody could swim clear across, Aunt Marjie. It's
seventy miles!"

"Really?"

"Did you ever hear of anybody swimming as far as that?"

"I'm not sure I ever did," the other admitted. They were silent a
little, both watching the swimmer. Then the lady remarked in a dreamy
way: "They always look so fine and free when they're young, and the
sun flashes over the water, and they make straight out, as though they
never meant to stop at all."

Hilda was a little at a loss to know how this rather curious speech
should be taken. She felt dimly that there was something below the
surface, as so frequently there seemed to be when Aunt Marjie spoke;
but at first she couldn't imagine what it was.

"So fine and free," Miss Whitcom repeated in the same tone. "They make
straight out. But they always turn back."

And then Hilda asked, giving voice to a sudden bold dart of intuitive
understanding: "You mean men, Aunt Marjie?"

Whereupon her aunt laughed away the odd impulse of symbolism. "Yes, the
men, Hilda. They try to carry us off our feet in the beginning. They
want us to believe they're young gods. And they can't understand why
some of us are coming to grow sceptical, and why we're beginning to
want to try our hand at a few things ourselves."

"He's turning around now!" cried Hilda, who was not paying the very
best sort of attention.

"Yes, poor dears," the other persisted. "The other shore _would_ be too
far off."

"Oh, much too far!" agreed Hilda, jumping up to wave her hand.

Whatever Aunt Marjie might be getting at, Hilda, for her part, was ever
so glad of the sea's prohibitive vastness.


2

The Rev. and Mrs. Needham came out on to the porch, he preceding her
through the doorway; there was just the faintest evidence of her
shoving him on a little.

Her whispered "Yes, Alf, yes!" might, of course, represent an
exclamation apropos of almost anything. For instance, the words might
form the tail-end of almost any sort of domestic conversation--or
perhaps a talk about holding a Sunday School rally in the fall. The
incomplete phrase might, in one's imagination, expand itself into
something like this: "Yes, we really must. Nothing like a well-planned
rally to stir up the interest of the young folks. Yes, Alf, yes!"
But as a matter of fact, Mrs. Needham and her husband had not been
discussing any such matters. The authentic conversation, to go back a
little, which had just antedated egress from the cottage living room,
ran, in fact, as follows:

"Alf, I do want you two to get better acquainted!"

"What?"

"More intimate, and not...."

"Well, Anna?"

"Not quite so--so stiff, somehow...."

"H'm-m-m!"

"Alf, she's _so_ good-hearted. If it's true she has changed any way,
who knows but you might have an influence ...?"

He sighed heavily. They stood facing each other. It became a little
formal.

"Alf, this would be a splendid chance. She's right out there on the
steps!"

"Oh, well--really! Not this morning. No, not just now, when we're all
keyed up about Barry. In the course of time, I daresay...."

"Oh, _now_, Alf," she coaxed, in a very low, throaty, persuasive
contralto. "Oh, do go out there now! I'll call Hilda in for something.
There's--there's some mending--ought to be done right away," she
quickly added, as the suspicion hovered between them that Hilda would
be called in on mere pretense.

"Anna, maybe this afternoon."

"Now! Oh, Alf--_now_!"

"Anna, I--"

"Yes, Alf, yes!"

And so he was gently pushed on to the porch.

Hilda and Marjory looked up. There was a barricade of mosquito netting
between them and the emerged pair. Hilda was flushed. She had just been
waving to some one in the water. Marjory's eyes kindled with indefinite
mirth, and at this kindling the minister's heart quaked a little. There
was something about his wife's sister--yes, he thoroughly admitted it
now; there was something about her. She was strange and incompatible.
Had she, indeed, become inclined to be atheistical in her beliefs? Was
that what made him feel so uncomfortable, always, in her presence? He a
man of the pulpit, it would be natural that the ungodly should fill him
with distrust; natural they should make him wary and cautious. Was it
that in Marjory? _Was it that?_

"Hilda, see here a minute," said Mrs. Needham; and she beckoned
discreetly. Hilda followed her mother into the cottage.

This left the Rev. Needham on one side of the screening and Miss
Whitcom on the other. Miss Whitcom still sat on the second step with
the pen in her hand. She had dipped the pen a good many times, but the
letter was no further advanced. She turned to watch Leslie get in the
last full strokes and crawl out. He lay in the hot sand a moment or so
before racing indoors.

The Rev. Needham had sunk into the nearest chair, and sat there
rocking, with just perceptible nervousness, clearing his throat from
time to time in a manner which appeared to afford that portion of his
anatomy no appreciable relief. It seemed a kind of moral clearing. It
was the vague articulation of incertitude.

As a matter of fact, Marjory had forgotten all about her
brother-in-law. She was musing. At length a more desperate laryngeal
disturbance than any that had preceded brought her back to contemporary
consciousness.

"Ho!" she cried. "I didn't know you were there, Alfred!" There were
times when he thought her almost coarse.

"I thought I'd just come out here a few minutes," he said. "It's quite
cool on this side, till the sun gets round." The minister sighed. He
had an uncomfortable inner feeling that he hadn't quite justified his
presence. It was, to be sure, his own porch; but that did not make
any difference. Dimly he hoped his relation would not relinquish her
position on the second step.

Marjory dipped her pen again, but the letter was doomed. With a gesture
of languid, smiling despair the task was conclusively abandoned.

"No, it's no use," she muttered, rather unintelligibly. "I never can
concentrate at a resort."

"Beg pardon, Marjory?"

"I just want to dream and dream all day. Isn't it dreadfully
delightful?"

"Yes--we like it up here," he replied, the least bit stiffly.

"Alfred, how did you ever happen to come so far?"

"So far?"

"Yes; aren't there any resorts in Ohio?"

"Well, you see it was, to begin with, on account of the Summer
Assembly...."

She didn't fully fathom it until he had explained: "We're a sort of
religious colony here on the Point."

"Oh-h-h!" cried the lady then, with the air of one who is
vastly--perhaps a little satirically--enlightened. "I understand now
what Anna meant yesterday when she spoke about 'visiting clergymen.'
You hold meetings, I presume, and then have some refreshments at the
end?"

"No refreshments," he replied, in a rather dry tone, reproving her at
the same time, with an almost sharp glance.

"Well," she agreed, with a touch of apology, "I suppose you wouldn't. I
was thinking of some of our Tahulamaji pow-wows."

To this he made no reply; but the somewhat chill dignity of the silence
which ensued provoked, alas, an even more unfortunate question.

"Alfred, I know you'll consider me perfectly awfully impossible, but
it's been such a long time.... I've forgotten--I really have.... It--it
isn't Methodist, is it ...?"

"Methodist, Marjory?"

"What I mean is, you're not.... Oh, Alfred, for _heaven's_ sake before
I simply explode with chagrin, do quickly tell me _what you are_!"

"My denomination?" he asked unhappily.

"That's the word! Do please forgive a poor creature who's lived so long
in out-of-the-way places that she's half forgotten how to be civilized!"

"There are certain things," the Rev. Needham told himself icily, "one
never quite forgets, unless one...." He started a little, raised his
eyes wanly to hers, but shifted them quickly to the landscape. "I am a
Congregational minister, Marjory," he said.

"Oh, dear me! Of course! I'm sure I remembered subconsciously. Don't
you think such a thing is possible?"

"You mean ...?" He seemed unable fully to concentrate, either--though
not primarily because this was a resort.

"I mean remembering subconsciously. But you see it's all because in
Tahulamaji we get so fearfully lax about everything."

Was this his cue? He fidgeted, glanced sidewise to see whether his wife
were within range of his voice.

"I presume there's a great deal of laxness in Tahulamaji...."

"Well," she pondered, accepting his wider implication. "Yes, I'm afraid
so. Still, of course, one must never lose sight of the missionaries."

"Yes!" brightened her brother-in-law. "We help support a missionary in
Tahulamaji. Perhaps you--"

"No, Alfred, no. I'm afraid I've never had that pleasure. You see I've
been so busy, and the missionary seems always so busy, too."

"There's much to be done," he reminded her simply.

She was quite serious and respectful. He began to grow more at ease;
more expansive; told her a great deal about what missionaries do in
foreign lands, and especially what the missionary in Tahulamaji was
doing. His talk grew really interesting. Then there was a shift which
brought them round to the activities of the church in America.

"We're trying to broaden out all we can," he told her. "Every year new
opportunities seem to be opening up. We have to keep abreast of the
times. For instance, there's the parish house--"

Leslie's arrival interrupted them. He was now dressed in white and wore
a purple tie. Hilda came skipping across the porch and ran down the
steps to him.

"You must wish us luck!" she called back over her shoulder.

"Just bushels of it!" Miss Whitcom called loudly after them.

Mrs. Needham had come to the door of the cottage. She stood surveying
the situation so laboriously contrived. Having Marjory out there on the
second step and her husband above in the rocker, with a wall of netting
between them, did not somehow seem very auspicious. But she sighed and
quickly withdrew; it was better than no situation at all. She thought
of a text her husband had used once: "Be ye content with what the Lord
giveth"--or something to that effect.

The Rev. Needham cleared his throat, again privately a little nervous.
For no reason at all there had seemed to him a godless twang to her
gracious, full-voiced "just bushels of it!"

Miss Whitcom recovered the threads for him. "Yes, yes, Alfred. Quite
so. You were saying something about a parish house."

"We hope to build one, in the spring ... if we can," he went on.
"The money's partly raised. Of course it takes a long time--money
doesn't seem very plentiful just now. But the parish house, when we
get it"--his eyes lighted softly--"will add so much to our practical
facilities."

She noted this softness, and it touched her a little. All the same she
had some not very soothing things to say.

"Yes, I've no doubt. I'm quite amazed--I may say almost frightened,
Alfred--at the development of the common-sense idea in America. You
notice it especially, I suppose, coming in like this from a long
absence. The change, I may say, quite smites one. It's baffling--it's
bewildering! Good gracious, all the old, moony Victorianism gone! The
whole ecclesiastical life of the community made over into something so
dashing and up-to-date that I tell you frankly, Alfred, I'd be almost
afraid to go into a church, for fear I might no longer know how to
behave! It's amazing, Alfred--it really is--how 'practical' religion
has grown. I tell you I never would have dreamed the church had such
a future! I come back from my long sojourn in heathendom, and what do
I find? I find religion all slicked up on to a strict business basis.
At last the church of God has reached an appreciation of the value and
importance of money! Everywhere you read of mammoth campaigns to raise
millions of dollars. You have to have a real business head on your
shoulders nowadays--don't you find it so, Alfred?--to be a minister.
It's wonderful simply beyond belief! If Christ were to walk in suddenly
I know he would have to show his card at the door. I _know_ they would
ask him what he came about and how long the interview would take.
Practical Christianity, you call it, don't you, Alfred?"

"Marjory, I...."

"Ah--now I've shocked you! Yes, I see I have. You mustn't mind my
speaking out so bluntly. It's a way I've rather fallen into of late,
I'm afraid. And when I say the new Christianity seems baffling to me,
I mean it's quite splendidly baffling. Practical Christianity--what
a fine idea it was! I wonder who thought of it. Yes, the church
was always too exclusive. There can be no doubt of it. Practical
Christianity--practical philanthropy--with the elaborate social
service bureaus--they've just simply transformed everything. What a
hustle and bustle--and what undreamed-of efficiency! Just _think_ how
efficiently the church stood back of the war! And yet--you must pardon
me--I somehow can't help feeling that even with all its slogans and its
hail-fellow slaps across your shoulders.... You know"--she interrupted
herself, in a way, but it was to pursue the same trend of thought--"I
had quite an adventure on the train, coming from New York. I watched a
Bishop retire! Oh, don't look so scandalized, Alfred. Of course it was
quite all right."

"I hope so, Marjory," he murmured limply.

"I must tell you about the Bishop, Alfred. He was just the kind of
man you would expect a Protestant bishop to be--his face, I mean.
Calm--so very calm--and so gently yet firmly ecclesiastic! He wore an
unobtrusive but stylish clerical costume of soft grey, and a little
gold cross hung round his neck--you know. It struck me as never before
how close the Episcopacy is snuggling up to Rome.... Oh, but I must
tell you about the Bishop's going to bed!"

The Rev. Needham sat there almost breathless on his screened porch.
His dismay might have struck one as speechless--at any rate, he was
speechless.

"The Bishop," continued Miss Whitcom, "seemed very weary. There was a
quiet, tired look in his eyes. He had his dinner early, sitting all
alone at one of the little tables on the shady side. I ate my dinner
at another of the little tables, and was quite fascinated. There was
something so patrician about him. He was so subtly sleek! I didn't see
him again until his berth was made up. But the making up, Alfred, was
what fascinated me more than the Bishop himself! The porter was just
fitting things together when I came in from my simple dinner. He spread
down one mattress, and then--Alfred, I gasped to see it--he spread down
another right on top of it!"

"Another, Marjory?" The minister appeared quite absorbed, almost
fascinated.

"Had he taken the whole section?" she demanded.

To this no reply was ventured, and she continued:

"Or did he get them both as a kind of divine dispensation? Anyway, the
bed, I must say, looked almost royal. There were four pillows instead
of two, and they were given little special pats and caresses. All of a
sudden I thought of Jacob's stone, Alfred. Wasn't it funny? I couldn't
help it. And then I thought about 'the Son of Man hath not where to lay
His head'--wasn't it curious? And then, only _then_, Alfred (you see
how slow I am), it occurred to me that this must be a part of the new
order of things! It came to me almost like an inspiration that the bed
of the Bishop must have something to do with Practical Christianity.
But I'm forgetting the last appealing touch, Alfred. The Bishop had a
huge bag of golf sticks with him. _They reposed all night in the upper
berth!_"

She ended her rather long story about the Bishop; and its precise
interpretation remained a thing of doubt for the minister. Was
she serious? Or was she only laughing? His bearing now argued a
preparedness for either mood. But whatever her motive, in a moment Miss
Whitcom appeared to have forgotten all about the Bishop and to be busy
with other matters. The Rev. Needham sat on his own side of the netting
and didn't know just what he ought to do or say. What _was_ to be done,
what said? Fortunately, at this vaguely uncomfortable juncture, there
came another, and this time a really important, interruption.

Steps were heard on the sparse planking which served for sidewalk
between Beachcrest and the road to Crystalia.

The minister, rising quickly, began rubbing his hands together. "It
must be Mr. Barry," he said.

Mrs. Needham appeared at the cottage door, as though bidden by some
psychic intelligence. "Are they here?" she asked excitedly.

"I can't see yet, for the shrubbery. But I think I hear Louise's voice."

"I _see_ her," Miss Whitcom advised them from her position on the
steps. "And what's more," she added, while her sister hastily patted
and preened herself, "I see him also!"

"Mr. Barry?"

"Um. Rather tall. Not exactly bad looking.... But," she added darkly,
"they're walking ever so far apart!"

What did she mean by that? The Rev. Needham glanced a little nervously
at his wife and unconsciously began humming the Invocation.

They arrived. Lynndal was presented to Mrs. Needham, then to Miss
Whitcom. He was, of course, very warmly greeted by the minister.

Louise looked troubled....

The Dutch clock in the cottage living room set up a spiteful striking:
one, two, three, four (each stroke tart and inimical), five, six,
seven, eight (as though from the very depths of its mechanism it would
cry out against the terrific irony of life), nine, ten....

Lynndal had come all the way from Arizona.


3

"My gracious!" cried Miss Whitcom loudly and cordially, "_I've_ been in
Arizona!"

"You have?"

"Ra_ther_! I started a cactus candy business there before you were...."
She paused, then wholeheartedly laughed a defiance at the very notion
of grey hairs. "No, I won't say it. I won't go back so far as that. For
I do believe you're thirty, sir, if you're a day."

"I'm thirty-three," confessed Barry, looking older, for just a wistful
moment, than his wont.

"Well, then, when you were a youngster, we'll say, Marjory Whitcom was
working fourteen long hours a day in an absurd little factory on the
fringe of the desert--slaving like all possessed to make a go of it.
The idea was a good one."

"Yes," he agreed, "for we're turning out wonderful cactus candy now."

"I know it. The idea was corking. Alas, so many of my ideas have been
corking! But every one at that time said it was absurd to think of
making candy out of cactus, and no one would believe the Toltec legend
which gave us our receipt. Ah, yes--there's many a slip...."

In her almost brazen way she cornered the new hero of Point
Betsey--actually got between him and the others. But Miss Whitcom was
shrewder, even, than she was brazen. You couldn't possibly deceive her
when she had her reliable antennæ out. Had she not seen the landscape
between them? Distinctly _seen_ it? Suspecting the imminence of a
rather taut situation, this was her way of clearing the air.

Louise did not altogether fathom her aunt's subtlety; but she was
grateful, seizing the occasion to disappear. She flew up to her room,
flung herself on the bed, and nervously cried a little.

Lynndal was here. The long anticipated event had actually come to
pass. But it wasn't the kind of event she had conceived. What was the
trouble? Was he not as she remembered him? Yes, but with phantoms to
dictate the pattern, how she had idealized him in the interim, and
how the correspondence had served to build up in her mind a being of
romance and fire which flesh and blood could never hope to challenge!
Well, he had come, this stranger--with his quiet kindliness, his
somehow sensed aura of patience, where she looked for passion.

Ghosts of the past played havoc with her heart, and she thought: "Can I
give myself to this man? Can I be his, all his? Can I be his for ever
and ever? Can I belong henceforth to him and no one else?"

The mood was one of general relaxation, however--though a relaxation
she had, at an early hour, been far enough from anticipating. She
reviewed the events of the day thus far. She had waked at flush of
dawn; had risen full of a gay expectation, and had gone out to meet her
lover. He had come; she had met him and had forestalled his kiss. Now
he was here. Ten o'clock. And her heart was in a curious state of panic.

But Barry, meanwhile, still down on the screened porch, was finding his
fiancée's relative an intelligent and really engaging person. For her
part, it had not taken long--with the cactus candy as bait--to lure
him into enthusiasm over his dry-farming. She knew, it developed, very
nearly as much about dry-farming as he did, and Barry, of course, knew
nearly as much about it as there was to know.

The Rev. and Mrs. Needham, having gone on into the cottage living room,
expecting that Barry, momentarily arrested, would follow, stood a
moment conferring in discreet tones.

"What do you think of him, Anna?"

"He seems like a real nice sort, Alf. What do _you_ think?"

"I've always admired Barry," he said proudly, a bit complaisantly.
"During several years of business connection...."

"Yes, Alf he's certainly looked after our interests out West."

Sly little wrinkles of worry just etched themselves across the Rev.
Needham's florid brow. Those interests in the West--heaven knew how
much they meant! They kept the wolf from the door--a mild wolf, of
course, and one that wouldn't really bite; but still a wolf. Yes, they
sustained the Needham establishment in a kind of grand way--certainly
in a way which wouldn't be possible on ministerial salary alone. And
it was Lynndal Barry's initiative which had built the dam: the dam
generated electricity and paid dividends. Yes, they certainly owed
a great deal--though of course it was all on a sufficiently regular
business basis--to Mr. Barry.

"He's a fine, fine man--one of God's own noblemen, Anna. It's only to
be hoped...."

"Hoped, Alf?" Anna was seldom able to supply, off-hand, what one groped
for in one's perplexity.

"That Louise," he began a little impatiently, "--that Louise...."

"Why, where _is_ she?" asked Mrs. Needham, looking suddenly around.

Ah, where indeed?

The Rev. Needham experienced an uncomfortable shivery sensation in his
stomach. Still, there was no reason other than what Marjory had said
about their walking rather far apart. What did she mean? What did she
ever mean? Ah, Marjory....

They looked at her. Yes, she had certainly captured Mr. Barry. Poor
Marjory had a way....

"I wonder," sighed the Rev. Needham--a little ponderously to conceal an
inner breathlessness. "I wonder...."

"What, Alf?"

He shook himself, looking dimly horrified. "Nothing, Anna." What
he wondered was whether his wife's sister had ever fallen by the
wayside....

"Alf," whispered Anna, on the point of slipping upstairs to make sure
for the last time that the visitor's room was quite ready, "how did you
two get on?"

"I can't say very well," he answered with an inflection of nervous
vagueness. "It was almost all about a Bishop on the train. Anna,
I'm--I'm afraid it's no use. You know there are people in the world
that seem destined never to understand each other...."

"Oh, Alf--she's so good-hearted!"

"That may be true," he replied, "but in Tahulamaji I'm beginning to be
convinced she led--that she may almost have led...."

"Oh, Alf!"

"And she'd forgotten...."

"What?"

He spoke with troubled petulance: "My denomination!"


When Miss Whitcom learned, as she did directly, that Mr. O'Donnell
was at the Elmbrook Inn, down at Crystalia, she emphatically changed
colour. However much she might like to deny it, a fact was a fact. And
in addition to that, her talk, for at least ten seconds, was utterly
incoherent. She simply mixed the words all up, and nothing she said
made any sense at all. Of course she quickly regained her equilibrium
and made a playful remark about "having had all that letterwriting
trouble for nothing." But it must very plainly and unequivocally be
set down that throughout those first ten seconds her colour was high,
her coherence at zero.

The ensuing hour at Beachcrest passed quietly, despite the fact that
every one seemed moving at a high rate of tension.

Mrs. Needham spent a considerable portion of the time in conference
with Eliza. The advent of the grocer's boy occasioned the usual
excitement. It must be understood that these arrivals mean ever so much
more in the wilderness than they do in town. In town, supposing there
is a certain item missing, you merely step to the phone and give your
tradesman polite hell. But on Point Betsey there were no such resources
possible. They did not even have electric lights, and it was merely
possible, when things went wrong, to explode to the boy (which never
did any good), or to explode in a grander yet still quite as futile
way to the world at large. Fortunately, this morning (the morning of
this most momentous day!) the supplies arrived in relatively excellent
condition.

The Rev. Needham, pacing up and down alone in the living room, paused
nervously now and then to heed the muffled sounds issuing from sundry
quarters of the cottage: the squeaky opening or closing of doors,
which might somehow have a meaning in his life; the shuffle of steps
(maybe portentous) across the sanded boards.... And most especially he
pricked his ears--those small, alert ears of his, that were perpetually
prepared for the worst--when the things came from the store. It would
be horrible, with guests in the house, to have a short supply; although
of course here again, as in the case of the pancakes, he was concerning
himself outside his own department. But even if these responsibilities
of the kitchen didn't really rest on his shoulders, nevertheless the
Rev. Needham listened as each item was pronounced, upon its emergence
from the huge market basket.

Coffee, cheese, eggs--eggs, ah! we must look at them. One broken? Well,
we should be thankful for eleven sound ones. Housekeeping, especially
housekeeping in a cottage, develops a wonderful and luminous patience.
This patience--like mercy, an attribute of God Himself--may even
sometimes lead one to the tracing of quite Biblical applications. There
were twelve disciples in the beginning, yet one of them, in the stress
of events....

Bread, celery, carrots, frosted cookies. _Where was the roast?_ The
Rev. Needham's heart stood still. He halted, petrified with horrid
fear. The roast, the roast! Thank God they found it, down at the bottom
of the basket. Oh, thank _God_! The pacing was resumed.

Up and down, up and down. One would have perceived here, so far as
externals went, merely a quiet, middle-aged clergyman strolling in
his home. Yet in the cottage living room this clergyman and this
angry Dutch clock together synthesized contemporary events. "Trouble,
trouble, trouble, trouble!" ticked the clock sharply. And each step
in the Rev. Needham's pacing seemed a question. As the years crept by,
broadening vision seemed not very materially to be quieting the good
man's fidgets and perturbations. It seemed merely to give them longer
tether; for his unsettled state was organic. It would never be really
otherwise. Religion, science, feeling, thought, reason--all alike, in
their several directions, seemed impotent to anchor him. The sea was
too deep. He might, of course, _call_ himself anchored; but alas, the
cruel little demons of doubt and quandary were bound, sooner or later,
to insinuate themselves back into his heart. His walk was groping,
indecisive. Each step was a question: "Whither? Why? How long? What is
best? What is best? _What is best?_"


Miss Whitcom stood meditatively before the somewhat wavy mirror in
her little room. She was pondering past, present, future. Also, she
was acknowledging that grey hairs had perceptibly multiplied since
O'Donnell last saw her. Would he notice them? And if he did? Well? She
contemplated herself and her life in the wavy mirror.


Beyond his own three-quarters partition, Barry happened at the same
moment to be standing before a mirror also--as men do sometimes, who
would be sure to deny the charge were it publicly preferred against
them. Yes, he was getting along. Not in any sense _old_, of course. To
some a man of thirty-three seems still a young man. He tried to look at
it that way. Still thirty-three was thirty-three. And Louise.... She
was young, so young--and fresh, and sweet, and adorable.... His quiet
eyes misted a moment as he thought of her. And for her sake he could
wish himself one of those fabulous princes we read of in childhood. Ah,
yes--a kind of prince--just for her sake! He regarded himself in the
glass solemnly and critically. There were undeniable lines of salient
maturity in his face; and princes, that was sure, never had any lines
at all. So young, so sweet, so charming! He sighed and went about
unpacking his things. That he should win her--that he should win this
dear girl for his wife ...!

"I have done nothing to deserve such happiness as this," he said
softly. "In all my life, nothing, nothing!"

And then he took a ring out of a little box and gazed at it. And when
he had gazed at it a long time, he put it back in the box and put the
box in his pocket.


Louise, in the seclusion of her room, no longer wept, though she still
lay on the bed. Tears had relieved the strain, and her heart was not
so burdened. Slowly reviving, she lay in a sort of half pleasant
lethargy--not thinking, exactly, nor even actually feeling, for the
moment. Tears are like suave drugs: under their mystic persuasion
life may assume the lovely softness of a mirage. But the softness is
fleeting. It rests and it is gone. It is like false dawn. Or it is like
a dream of light when the night is blackest.


4

Marjory and Anna met outside the cottage in a little rustic bower
where there was a hammock, and where the Rev. Needham had constructed,
with his own hands, a clumsy and rather unstable rustic bench. It had
taken him nearly all one summer to build this bench. The clergyman had
perspired a great deal, and gone about with a dogged look. They were
all mightily relieved when the task was at last completed. It seemed to
simplify life.

Mrs. Needham sat on the rustic bench now, fanning herself with her
white apron. Her face was flushed, her manner a little wild. She
and Eliza had reached the agonizing conclusion that the raisins,
indispensable to the Indian meal pudding, hadn't come, only to discover
the little package lying out on the path where it had slipped from the
grocer boy's basket. The pudding was saved, but what a shock to one's
whole system!

"Well, Anna," said her sister, dropping fearlessly into the hammock.
None but newcomers possessed that sublime faith in hammock ropes!

"I declare!" returned Anna. "Whew!"--her apron moving rapidly--"So
warm!"

"Well, have you been charging up hillsides, or racing Alfred on the
beach?"

Mrs. Needham looked a little startled at the irreverent allusion. "Oh,
no, only planning with Eliza, and--"

"You find Eliza a treasure, don't you?"

"Yes, she's very capable."

"I suppose a maid's capability must take on a special lustre in the
wilderness. Don't you sometimes fancy you see a faint halo over Eliza's
head? You people in this luxurious country have become so dependent,
I don't know what you _would_ do if there should ever be a general
strike!"

"No, I don't know either," admitted Mrs. Needham. "Eliza talks of
going back. It's so quiet up here--girls don't like it. We've raised
her twice. I really don't know what's going to be the end of the help
question. And wages ...!" She raised her eyes to the heavens.

A short silence followed. Marjory swung gently back and forth in the
hammock. She might have been pronounced an eloquent embodiment of
perfect calm; and yet her heart was curiously bumping about.

"Anna," she asked slowly, "do you remember Barrett O'Donnell?"

Her sister looked at her queerly a moment. "Some friend, Marjory?" For
Marjory had had, in her time, so many friends!

"You'll remember him, I know, when you see him," she nodded. And then
she continued: "He's here."

"Here?"

"Well," her sister laughed, "not quite on the Point, but at Crystalia."

"Really?"

"Dear old Barrett! I wonder...."

"Marjory," the other asked, with an odd effect of conscious shrewdness,
"is he--is Mr. O'Donnell _the_ man?"

"For goodness sake, _what_ man, Anna?"

"Why, I always felt," her sister replied quaintly, "that there was one
man, all through the years--'way from the time we stopped telling each
other secrets...."

Marjory laughed loudly. But she seemed touched also. "It's a long time,
isn't it, since we stopped telling secrets?"

And Anna sighed, for perhaps her retrospect, if less exciting, was even
longer than her sister's.

The two sat, after that, a little while without speaking. Then Anna's
large round face assumed a truly brilliant expression.

"Marjory!" she cried.

"Well?"

"You say he's here?"

"Um, though it seems impossible to credit such a thing. Perhaps it's
all a myth. He's at the Elmbrook Inn. Is there," she whimsically
faltered, "--is there honestly such a place?"

"Marjie, I mean to have him up!"

"Anna--you mean here?"

"For _luncheon_!"

In their excitement the two ladies were really all but shouting at each
other. They realized it and smiled; sank to quieter attitudes both of
bearing and speech.

"You think he'd come, don't you Marjie?"

"Come? Ra_ther_! Did you ever hear of a travelling man turning down a
chance at home cooking?"

"Then I'm going to send right over and invite him. It will be real fun!
I suppose," she embroidered, with as great an effect of roguery as she
could enlist, "I suppose he's followed you up!"

"Obviously!" her sister replied, not apparently flustered in the least.

"Think of it!"

"Yes, it is rather dreadful, isn't it--especially at our ages!"

"I think it's kind of splendid, Marjie."

"Er--Alfred never was much of what you'd call the 'following' kind, was
he Anna?"

"Well, I can't seem to remember. It seems to me once...."

"Oh, they'll nearly always follow _once_. It's keeping right on that
seems hard. Of course," she added, "marriage puts a stop to all that
sort of thing, doesn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose, in a sense...."

"Anna, there's just one way to keep 'em going: _don't marry_! Well,
you see for yourself how it is."

"Yes, but it seems kind of dreadful to put it that way, don't it?"

"Dreadful? Oh, yes. Yes, of course it's dreadful. Still, it's rather
nice."

"M-m-m," murmured Anna.

The philosophy of man's pursuit proved baffling. Here were two sisters
who knew its bitters and its sweets. Yet it is doubtful if for either
the bitter was all bitter and the sweet all sweet....


Hilda and Leslie came back from the tennis tournament. They were hot
and in high spirits.

"Who won?" asked Mrs. Needham cheerily.

"We did, mama!"

"Three cheers!" cried Miss Whitcom, sitting up enthusiastically in the
hammock.

"You never saw such excitement!" cried Hilda. "Most of the games were
deuce for both sides before anybody got it!"

"Very close," was Leslie's simpler version.

Louise crept to her window and peered down into the bower. Hilda and
Leslie were holding one racquet between them. It was his racquet and
she was twining her fingers playfully in and out among the strings. A
feeling of suffocation closed suddenly upon Louise's throat.

And just then Barry walked into the bower. He had been exploring the
delightful wild endroit, and hoping that Louise might suddenly appear,
with some lovely tangle of wood and vine for background. For he hailed
from a country where trees are scarce, and one's backgrounds from
childhood are sand, desert sand. His life had grown suddenly so rich....

Barry was welcomed. Mrs. Needham made room for him beside her on the
rustic bench. She looked at him a little shyly, but with the ecstatic
admiration, also, of one who would say: "This is the man we're giving
our daughter to!"

But where _was_ Louise? Her mother had scarcely seen her since the
return from Frankfort. How strangely she was behaving.

"I believe she's lying down," said Barry, his tone warm with shielding
tenderness and apology. "She got up so early to meet the boat. It was
wonderful of her!"

The two young champions were giving Aunt Marjie a fuller account of
the tennis combat. They still held the racquet between them. Both were
flushed, keen-eyed, ridiculously happy. How soon he had recovered!
Louise, up at her window, remembered Leslie's mood at an earlier hour.
At dawn she might have had him. Now it was too late. "Oh, the injustice
of it!" she cried, her hands crushing her breast. But as she looked
down into his glowing face, she realized a swift sense of humiliation.
"He didn't care after all," she told herself.

Hilda and Leslie evinced great willingness to convey the luncheon
invitation to Barrett O'Donnell. Leslie, of course, volunteered to
go, and Hilda, of course, said she simply _would_ go too. So off they
raced, still holding the tennis racquet between them.

Louise watched them go. In her hand was the book she had bought in
Frankfort. Suddenly, under stress of very violent emotion, she pressed
it against her cheek.

Barry watched them out of sight. He was thinking of Louise. She had not
yet kissed him. In his pocket was a little box, and inside the little
box was a ring.

Marjory also watched them go. She sighed even as she smiled: "Another
young thing, just starting out--boy-crazy. So futile." But she smiled
more radiantly in spite of herself, and the other valuation _would_
slip in: "So sweet!"


5

The portières between the dining room and the living room at Beachcrest
are carefully drawn. The whole company is assembled, waiting. It is
one o'clock, the vitriolic Dutch timepiece on the mantel having just
snapped out the hungry truth.

The clock, with its quenchless petulance and spite, is lord of the
mantel. And what an entourage of vessels! Close up against it huddles
a bottle of peroxide. Then, although disposed in some semblance of
neatness and order, one discovers a fish stringer, an old pipe, several
empty cigar boxes, heaps of old letters, a book opened and turned down,
a number of rumpled handkerchiefs, some camera films, a bottle of red
ink. There are two odd candlesticks, without any candles, a metal dish
containing a vast miscellany of pins, collar buttons, rubber bands, and
who knows what? Lo, on the other side of the clock loiter a curious
pebble, a laundry list, a box of candy, some loose change and a little
paper money, a pocket flash which no longer works, matches in a broken
crockery receiver, perfumes, sandpaper, a writing tablet and some
yellowing envelopes. And one glimpses, emerging from chaos, the frayed
handle of a whisk broom which has seen immeasurably better days. Some
woven grass baskets, too. Anything else? Yes, yonder is a box of tacks,
and beside it a little pile of the Rev. Needham's socks, nicely darned.
Also, strewn here and there, are various rail and steamship timetables,
most of which bear the dates of seasons long gone by. An immortal
miscellany! Oh, and one must not miss that curious creature squatting
in a dim corner and peering ever alertly around with his little beady
eyes: yes, a sad and much dilapidated Teddy Bear.

One o'clock!

There is a tendency on the part of every pair of eyes--even those of
the Rev. Needham, or perhaps especially those--to direct from time to
time a wholly unconscious glance of hope mingled with mild anxiety
toward the tantalizing green portières, beyond which Eliza moves about
with maddening deliberateness.

One o'clock, snapping like a dry forest twig under the tread of some
wild creature. Then an angry _tick_-tock, _tick_-tock. On and on and
on, forever.

Out in the kitchen Eliza was prodding the kettle of soup. She was
dreamily thinking of the porter at the hotel in Beulah. Would he get
over this evening? Oh, love is so wonderful! Eliza was quite gauche and
unlettered; yet love, for her, was a thing which could rouse brilliant
orgies of the imagination. Love, even for her, was something which
transcended all the ineffable promised glories of Heaven itself. Yes,
it was better than the streets of pearl and the gates of amethyst--or
was it the gates of pearl and the streets of gold?

When the soup was ready she served it, then thrust asunder the
portières. "Lunch is served, ma'am," she announced, with a degree of
majesty which would simply have terrorized the Beulah porter.

They responded promptly--not exactly crowding ahead of each other, but
stepping along with irreproachable briskness. Appetites beside the sea
are like munition factories in wartime.

There was a cheerful rattle of chairs and much scraping of feet under
the table. Then a solemn silence, while the minister prayed. The Rev.
Needham, of course, sat at the head of the table. Mrs. Needham sat
opposite him at the foot. To the minister's right was Miss Whitcom,
who found herself delightfully sandwiched in between a knight of
the church and a knight of the grip. Needless to say, the latter
was Mr. O'Donnell, looking his very nicest and smelling of soap
like the Brushwood Boy. Next came Hilda, who flashed quite dazzling
smiles across at her sister, smiles more subdued and shy at Mr.
Barry. There was a flurry of conversation at first, while the paper
napkins were being opened up and disposed where they would afford the
most protection--not a great deal, it is to be feared, at best. And
then--well, then there was almost no talk at all until after the soup.
As they say in theatre programs: "The curtain will be lowered one
minute to denote a lapse of time."

Miss Whitcom and Mr. O'Donnell had employed quite as little formality
in their meeting as the latter had prophesied during the trip up to
Beulah. She hadn't, as a matter of fact, referred to the wall paper in
the throne room of the Queen's palace. Instead she had remarked: "You
know, it's curious. I was just dropping you a note. Yes. I wanted, for
one thing, to express my regret over the unlikelihood of our seeing
each other this trip, since you see I'm going right back. Jolly you
should have happened along like this--and a postage stamp saved into
the bargain!" While he, swallowing his disappointment over the prospect
of her immediate return to Tahulamaji, had replied in like spirit: "How
fortunate--about the stamp, I mean. It _has_ been a long while, hasn't
it?"

And now they were sitting side by side at the table, rather
monopolizing the conversation--having a beautiful time, yet never quite
descending from that characteristic, mutually assumed tone of banter.

"I suppose you're still travelling, Mr. O'Donnell?"

"Still travelling, Miss Whitcom."

"Same firm?"

"Same firm."

It had been the same firm almost as far back as memory went. It always
would be the same firm. There was little of change and perhaps nothing
at all of adventure in this destiny. But there was a rather substantial
balance in the bank, which, after all, is a kind of adventure, too.

"Babbit & Babbit," she mused.

"Members of the O. A. of C."

"True. I'm afraid I'd forgotten the letters at the end."

He nibbled at his celery. "And you, Miss Whitcom?"

"Still mostly travelling, Mr. O'Donnell."

"Same firm?"

"Oh, dear no! There the interesting parallel must cease. One has to be
progressive, you know. One must keep abreast of the times." She gave
her brother-in-law a dreadful, broad wink. "What was I doing last?"

O'Donnell grinned. "I believe--wasn't it piloting tourists through
Europe?"

"Do you mean to tell me it's been as long as that since I've seen you?"

"As I recollect it--something of the sort."

"Yes, yes. So it was. But that was before the war. You knew, of course,
that I'd gone to Tahulamaji."

"You answered several of my letters," he reminded her sweetly.

"Ah, of course I did. And you should have felt highly flattered, for I
may say I made no point of keeping up any sort of correspondence at all
down there."

"I should say not!" put in Mrs. Needham, laughing.

"Oh, yes. I was flattered--flattered even if they were only postcards.
But I haven't yet got it straight what you were doing in Tahulamaji.
Was it the same sort of thing there?"

"What! Piloting tourists?" She had a hearty laugh. Her brother-in-law
started a little. One of Marjory's hearty laughs was always like an
unexpected slap on the back.

"You mean there aren't any sights to show?" asked O'Donnell meekly. "I
don't even know where Tahulamaji is, and I haven't the faintest idea
what it's like."

"Oh," she laughed, "there are plenty of sights. It's ever so much
better than Europe!"

"Then why _not_ pilot?"

"There aren't any tourists."

"Not any at all?"

"None, at least, who require piloting. You see, we haven't been
sufficiently exploited yet. For some reason we've escaped so far,
though I expect any day to hear that we've been discovered. Those who
come are bent on plain, stern business. Most of them get away again
the next day. Those who don't get off the next day, or at most the day
after that, you may depend upon it have come to stay--like me."

"So you are quite determined to go back again."

"Quite. Why not?"

They gazed quietly at each other a moment, while the minister began
dispensing dried-beef-in-cream-on-toast--a special Beachcrest dish;
French-fried potatoes. Mrs. Needham watched with quaking heart until
it was patent there would be enough to go round. Then she began pouring
the tea.

There was always, at any rate, plenty of tea. But Miss Whitcom nearly
occasioned a panic by asking for lemon. The rest took cream, if for no
better reason than that it was right there on the table. The demand
had been, like everything Miss Whitcom did, unpremeditated, and was
immediately withdrawn. She tossed her head and laughed. Wasn't it
absurd to ask for lemon in the wilderness? But Anna Needham rose to the
occasion. It was a crisis.

She tinkled the bell in a breathless yet resolute way; she so wanted to
impress her sister as being a competent housekeeper. It amounted almost
to a passion. Perhaps living so long with Alfred had rather tended to
weaken belief in her own abilities.

Eliza was gone a good while. But she triumphantly returned with the
lemon. Mr. O'Donnell looked at Miss Whitcom's tea a little wistfully.
He had already taken cream. Possibly he preferred lemon too. But it
requires real genius to ask for what one doesn't see before one in this
law-of-least-resistance world.

This slight tension removed, the Rev. Needham resumed a quiet
conversation with Barry about the affairs in the West. Everything,
it seemed, was going finely. It began to look as though they
might all grow positively rich off the desert! And it was owing
to Barry--entirely to him. Well, Barry was a fine young man--so
_completely_ satisfactory. If the Needhams had had a son, Alfred
would have wished him to be like Barry. Sure, patient, untiring,
generous--generous to a fault, yet with such solid faculties for
business! And now, here he was, about to step right into the family. It
was too good to be true. Yes, much too good. The Rev. Needham swelled
with pride and beamed with affection. He beamed on Barry, and never
noted how his daughter sat there beside this paragon, eating little,
talking almost not at all....

Hilda was another member of the party who talked little. Her
deportment, however, was quite different. Her cheeks were highly
coloured, and her eyes sparkled. Aunt Marjie, who seemed somehow
never too engrossed in anything to give good heed to everything else,
looked curiously from Hilda to Louise, to Barry, from Barry on to her
brother-in-law. Then she looked at Hilda again, recalling Leslie,
and smiled. She looked at Louise again, also, then at Barry, and her
expression grew more serious. She looked at Louise a third time, still
with Leslie in the back of her mind, and thought of the forgotten stove
burners....

Why was it, she asked herself, that men had to make such baffling
differences in women's lives?


6

After luncheon the company broke up. The Rev. Needham announced, just
a little stiffly (for he felt the upsetting gaze of his sister-in-law)
that it was customary at Beachcrest to spend a quiet hour, at this
point of the day's span, napping. He wanted to create an easy home
atmosphere, and the most effective way seemed to be to impress
outsiders with the fact that everything was really running along just
as though none but the immediate family was present.

Miss Whitcom yawned at once. "Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "I'm
_horribly_ sleepy. Never would have dreamed what was the matter with
me, Alfred, if you hadn't come to the rescue. I _am_ grateful!"

And then--and then the Rev. Needham did a tremendous, a revolutionary,
a gigantic and unforgettable thing. He simply overwhelmed himself and
everybody else by making an almost low bow!

Mrs. Needham uttered a tiny gasp--she really couldn't help it. What had
gotten into Alfred? Then she laughed, a little too shrilly, as by way
of heralding to all the Point the glorious, glad tidings that there
was, at last, a genuine, wholesome, jolly home atmosphere established.

Yes, the bow was inspired. There was no other way of looking at it. The
bow was an inspired bow.

And what had come over the Rev. Needham was this: He had suddenly, in a
sort of buoyant flare, determined that Marjory's manner would have to
be played up to! It was simply ridiculous--scandalous--to allow himself
to be disturbed and even secretly harassed by his wife's own sister.
Yes, it was little short of a scandal! And now, rather tardily, it may
be admitted, the Rev. Needham had attained salvation. It was simply
to make a low bow. How clever--and how exquisitely subtle! He laughed
aloud with the rest. His feet were squarely on the ground, after all.
Of course they were. And splendidly, magnificently he defied the
prickly feeling to come again into his heels!

The Rev. Needham was, in truth, privately so captivated with this
curious and unforeseen twist in his fortunes that he forgot all about
his own customary fatigue: forgot that this was the hour of quiet at
Beachcrest--rendered so by immemorial precedent. He swaggered a little,
without, of course, quite losing the ministerial poise; and spoke up,
as his wife afterward phrased it, "real brisk and hearty." Cigars were
passed to Barry and O'Donnell. The Rev. Needham bit into one himself.
It is altogether possible he might, under the influence of this new
heroic emotion, have distributed cigarettes, had there been anything so
devilish on the premises.

As the box went blithely back on to the mantel, Miss Whitcom, who was
greatly enjoying what she perfectly fathomed, perceived an irresistible
obligation to suggest that he had gone only half way around. The Rev.
Needham looked perhaps just a shade startled. Could he bow again? And
if not, how else was her manner to be played up to? Had he already
struck a snag? Obviously it would be going a little too far to take her
at her word and offer her a cigar.

"One wants to be sociable, you know," she said, her eyes sparkling.

"I know of a lady poet in the East who smokes cigars," volunteered
O'Donnell.

He spoke quite easily, as though for Miss Whitcom's special benefit,
and to convey the impression that he had quite grown accustomed or
reconciled to such dainty feminine indulgence. Indeed, he looked at her
with shy sprightliness.

"Oh, yes," she replied, "and, if you remember, a lady novelist started
the custom."

He didn't remember, but he chuckled. And she went on: "As a matter of
fact, and just amongst ourselves, why shouldn't women smoke if they
want to? And why shouldn't they _want_ to? Isn't it perfectly natural
they should? I'm not, strictly speaking, championing the habit, for
it's expensive and rather silly. But if half the human race wants to
turn itself into portable smoke stacks, then by all means let the other
half follow suit. So you see, Alfred, you'd really better let me have
one. For you hear for yourself, Mr. O'Donnell knows of a poet who
smokes. Of course," she admitted, "I'm not a poet."

But O'Donnell was certainly in a romantic mood today. He wouldn't
let her admission stand. "Yes, you are," he began, with an odd
impulsiveness, adding in a quieter though quite as fervent tone: "--a
kind of poet...."

They eyed each other steadily a moment, as they had done once or twice
before, that day. It was surely another O'Donnell than the O'Donnell of
long ago--the O'Donnell, for instance, who had eased up at the finish
and let her win the race. Was she, also, in a way, another Marjory? A
Marjory, after all, rather less insistent upon, or who had grown just
a tiny bit weary of, doing things simply to be independent--simply for
the joy of doing them gloriously and daringly alone?


When the gentlemen had repaired to the porch to smoke and to discuss,
as is the custom at such times, matters too deep to be grasped by the
feminine intellect, Miss Whitcom succeeded in confronting Louise.

"Now," she said, with a warm, inviting firmness which brought a flash
of tears to the girl's eyes.

She laid an arm around Louise's shoulders, and they stood thus together
a few moments in the middle of the cottage living room. Could the Rev.
Needham have looked in upon this affecting picture, and could those
small eager ears of his have partaken of the subsequent talk which
passed between them, the cigar of confidence and authority would have
dropped from his fingers, its brave spark dimmed forever. Yes, he would
have forgotten completely the brilliant bow which had seemed to smooth
away all of life's snarls by giving him, marvellously, in an instant,
a positive, almost Nietzschean philosophy. But for the present he was
safe.

"How could things have gone so far without your realizing?"

"I don't know."

"But you must know how you feel toward him!" Louise shook her head
miserably. "I thought I cared.... Perhaps I still do."

"But aren't you sure?"

"I--I don't believe I know. I don't seem sure of anything."

"But, my dear child--"

"I _thought_ I was sure."

"And all those letters--"

"Yes, yes," cried Louise tensely. "You see it was all letters, Aunt
Marjie. And when I came suddenly to see him again...."

"Oh, come, child, we don't fall in love with men's hats and the twist
of their profiles. You must still love whatever it was you loved all
those long months you were apart. Isn't it reasonable?"

"I--I...." Oh, what was the use of asking her to be reasonable? What
has a heart full of ghosts to do with reason? And Leslie....

She felt like crying. She began looking upon herself as almost a person
who has been somehow wronged. Her emotion grew thicker. She drew shyly
away.

Aunt Marjie, as she let her go from her, realizing that words just now
would get them nowhere, was thinking that in the midst of a universe
full of souls and wheeling planets, one poor heartache was like a grain
of dust. Well, perhaps she _was_ a kind of poet. But in a moment the
impersonal millions, both of souls and of stars, vanished away, and
this girl's problem ascended to a position of tremendous importance, if
not quite of majesty.


At length, after he had smoked his cigar, the Rev. Needham did retire
to the couch of his wonted siesta, leaving the household, as he
thought, pleasantly and profitably disposed.

Of course, the fact that the host proposed to take a nap did not mean
that all the others had to follow suit. It was just part of the device
for making every one feel that nothing was being upset because of
"company." It did not mean that O'Donnell, for instance, would have to
subject himself to the rather embarrassing alternative of curling up
on the short living room sofa. Miss Whitcom and Mr. O'Donnell happily
repaired to the rustic bower. Hilda skipped off singing into the woods.
Mrs. Needham--well, Mrs. Needham was still in the kitchen with Eliza.
The latter was stolidly eating her luncheon of left-overs on the very
table to which Louise and Leslie had sat down at dawn. Mrs. Needham
stood solemnly before Eliza as she ate, her hands on her hips, her
face growing flushed again, talking endlessly--about dinner. Louise
and Lynndal Barry were on the porch. Lovers were so brazen, nowadays,
they didn't mind at all if the partitions between their embraces and
the outside world were mere mosquito gauze. The Rev. Needham, slyly
recognizing this great truth, chuckled over it, in his new mood of
sublime assurance, all the way upstairs. Each step cracked, and all the
way up he was telling himself contentedly: "A fine young man--one of
God's own noblemen!" And as gentle slumber wafted his soul into a peace
which, especially on a full stomach, so often passeth understanding, he
whispered dreamily: "Coming right into the family...."

Thank God the Western interests were forever safeguarded!


But meanwhile, out on the porch, the situation grew from moment to
moment more poignant.

Louise seemed suddenly to be sparring for time. She had decided--as
well as her giddy little brain was capable, just now, of deciding
anything at all--that the whole crux of the matter was her
disappointment over the way Lynndal had turned out.... But what Aunt
Marjie had said about not loving his hat and the twist of his profile
anyhow had rather upset her again. Once she almost flung herself into
his arms with a great, comfortable, forgiving, beseeching, surrendering
cry. What a haven his arms might seem! But something in her heart, she
imagined, warned her: "You cannot yet! Dare you? Remember--it would be
irrevocable!"

Time, time! There was obviously an issue to be faced. But with all
the vital eloquence of desperation Louise reasoned that bitterness
deferred might somehow lose a degree of its sting. Feeble logic, and
logic not very profound; but she was scarcely in a frame of mind to
evolve, at the present moment, any logic more substantial. Her problem
was delicate, tenuous, like the sheen on the wings of a butterfly.
Her tragedy was a thing of shades and of shadows--a thing wellnigh
ungraspable. But it was none the less real. Oh, it was very real
to her! In an orgy of the mañana spirit she abandoned herself to
eventualities as they should develop. Her fate--whatever it was going
to prove--would rush on and overtake her; she would not go out to meet
it half way. Dared not.

"I'm afraid you'll think me not very cordial," she said desperately,
"but I have a headache, Lynndal, and I'm going to ask if you'd mind if
I went up to my room for a little while...."

"Oh," he cried, in real and honest distress, "I'm so sorry! Why didn't
you tell me before? Perhaps the smoke has been annoying you?"

"Oh, it's nothing," she answered, smiling in the wan way common to
invalids for whom the end is in sight. "These headaches come on, quite
suddenly sometimes. If I lie down for an hour, it will be gone, I
think."

"I'm sorry, dear," he repeated, touching her elbow as she turned to
leave him. The contact emboldened him and he slipped an arm round her
waist and bent over her a little as he walked with her toward the door.
"You shouldn't have tried to meet me this morning, dear. It was too
much."

"I wanted to," she murmured huskily.

"Will you come out again later?" he pleaded, content, under the
circumstances, that she should leave him now.

Louise nodded and passed into the cottage.

"Couldn't we take a little walk on the beach later, if your head is
better? Later on, when the sun isn't quite so hot?"

She turned and murmured: "Yes." There was another impulse to throw
herself into his arms; she longed to go to him and cry against his
heart. But at the same moment she remembered Leslie--how close he
had held her in the morning, how they had kissed.... The impulse was
stifled.

When she was gone from him, Barry sat down again on the porch to finish
his cigar. It was the cigar which the Rev. Needham had given him after
luncheon. It was a good cigar, for the Rev. Needham knew what was what,
despite his intense holiness.

Barry was one of those rare individuals who have never really loved
before. Curiously, the insatiable god Eros had passed him largely by
till now. But ah--the tardy fevers! They may be more virulent than
those of timelier visitation.... His eye swept the curve of the white
beach, ablaze with the mid-day sun. Later they would be strolling there
together, he and she. He would be walking out there beside this dear
girl whose love had thrilled to the dull roots of his bachelordom. And
then he would tell her how he adored her; would open the little box and
slip the ring on her finger....

It was so wonderful, after dwelling in the desert all his life!


7

She really did have a very little headache; though this was the least
of her troubles.

There sounded a whistle outside. In the midst of her wretchedness,
Louise lifted her head and listened. Low and sustained, it had saluted
her ear when dawn's pink flush was in the sky; but now it seemed far
more eager; it seemed to glint through the sunshine.

Springing to her window, Louise crouched there. The historical novel
lay on the sill, where she had left it. Her fingers closed tensely
about it, although she did not at first realize what it was she was
clutching. Leslie was outside. She could see him coming on through
the forest, and caught her breath in a little hysterical gasp of joy.
Leslie! She couldn't let him go! She loved him! She had never, she
felt, loved anybody as she loved Leslie. Oh, the injustice of it!
That he must be denied her, though it was he she loved the best! But
there _must_ be a way. Somehow, somehow she must contrive.... She must
contrive, whatever it might cost, to keep him.... But she faltered.
Wasn't it too late?

His hands were in his pockets; his face was richly animated; his eyes
were full of light. Leslie was almost handsome--ah, strangely more
beautiful now than when she had wanted to be his friend. His brightness
dazzled her; and she looked out at him through her perplexed tears.

He had held her for a moment in his arms as they stood, so deeply
enthralled, on that dappled forest road. Would he ever hold her in his
arms again?

"Leslie!" she murmured.

He halted, looking quickly about.

"I'm here," she continued, in the same unhappy tone, "--up here!" They
were the very words Lynndal had used when he stood above her on the
deck of the steamer.

And it was plain, too painfully plain, Leslie had not been searching
her window. At first he appeared a little embarrassed. An indefinite
numbness closed about her heart. It seemed, all at once, as though
retrospect embodied no mutual past for these two. Intimate strangers!
For all at once Leslie seemed as essentially unknown and aloof from her
destiny as Lynndal had seemed during that first curious, bewildering
moment when his steamer was coming in. Leslie--merely a lad passing by
outside, under her window. And she blushed at the thought of having
dared to speak to him....

"Do you know where Hilda is?" he enquired, trying to throw a great deal
of carelessness into both tone and posture.

Louise miserably shook her head.

"I was to meet her," Leslie explained simply. And, smiling, he turned
with abruptness and began strolling off. He could be cool enough when
it pleased him.

"Leslie!" she cried out, though discreetly. For she dared not let
Lynndal hear her. In volume her voice by no means matched its almost
terrible intensity.

The tone arrested him. "What?" And he stopped and looked bluntly back
at the window.

"Wait, Leslie, I think I know where Hilda is."

"Where?"

"Wait just a minute. I'm coming down. Will you come around to the back
door?"

He nodded, too indifferent to voice the curiosity he might normally be
expected to feel over her desire to emerge from the back rather than
from the front door of the cottage.

As she flew, a sudden determination swayed her. Both men, she argued,
were strangers again. _She must win Leslie back!_

When she stole out to him a moment later, he was loitering casually
in the vicinity of a little shed where driftwood was kept. The Rev.
Needham always made a point of talking about the rare quality of
surf-wood blazes. The Rev. Needham had constructed this shed also with
his own hands, just as he had constructed the remarkable rustic bench;
only the shed had taken another summer, of course. This shed was really
a Beachcrest institution; so was likewise the perennial lugging up
of driftwood for storage therein recognized to be an almost religious
adjunct of Point life. There was an informal rule--of ancient standing,
playfully enough conceived, and of course playfully laid down--that
no one should come in from the beach without at least one piece of
driftwood. Much preferably, of course, a respectable, staggering
armful. The rule _was_ wholly playful; and yet, should several days
pass with no contribution at all to the shed, Mrs. Needham and the
girls would be troubled, and perhaps even a trifle frightened, to
behold the minister himself tottering in with a colossal load. He would
cast reproachful glances their way. And it would sometimes be a long
while before he regained any sort of serenity. Yet it was a favourite
maxim with the Rev. Needham that they came up here to the cottage for
sheer relaxation and amusement.

Leslie had selected from the shed a smooth splinter, once part of a
ship's spar. He had taken out his knife and was busy whittling. And
he kept at this self-imposed task quite doggedly, seeming to find in
it a certain sanctuary. His eyes scrupulously followed the slashings
of the blade. Thus they avoided hers--for the most part without too
deliberately seeming to do so. Louise was herself dimly grateful for
the distraction.

"What do you think I found in Frankfort this morning?" she demanded,
trying to smile with something of the old bewitchment. The historical
novel was clasped behind her. She had certainly not meant to show it
to him; yet here it was.

"I give _up_," he replied, accentuating the final word with a
particularly telling stroke on the spar splinter.

Then she drew the book slowly round into sight and half extended it, as
though it were an offering that might effect a return, somehow, to that
golden relationship which Lynndal's coming had broken off.

"A book?" He went on whittling.

"You haven't even read the title!" she cried, half pleadingly.

"Something new?"

"Why, Les...."

Glancing back at the book, he merely muttered: "Oh."

"You remember you were telling me about it. I happened to see it in a
window." She spoke a little hysterically, and began wishing she had not
come down. "Only think--in a town like Frankfort, of all places! I was
so surprised that I walked right in and bought it! I--I expect to enjoy
it very much," she ended miserably.

Leslie whittled, still stubbornly taciturn. If he would ask about
Lynndal--if he would only show _some_ kind of emotion: anything would
be better than this awful silence. Finally, since he thus forced her
hand, Louise reminded him that she had previously intimated a knowledge
of her sister's whereabouts.

"_Do_ you know where she is?" he looked at her with a furtive flash of
interest.

"I think she's gone to the tree-house."

"Alone?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Long ago?"

"No, not so very long."

Leslie began humming, and shifted restlessly.

"I think you'd find her there, Les, if you wanted to find her. But
if...." She left it dumbly in the air.

Still the boy hummed, his eyes never leaving the spar.

"Are you two going for a hike, or something?"

He stirred and looked up quickly at a little red squirrel chattering on
a bough above them. "We're going to cut sticks for the roast tonight."

"Is there to be a roast?"

"The mid-summer Assembly Roast," he explained, a little pointedly.
There seemed no reason for one's forgetting so important an event as
the Assembly Roast.

"Oh, yes," she replied. "I'd forgotten all about it, for the moment.
Will it be over beyond the lighthouse?"

"Yes, clear around the Point."

"Sticks, you mean, for marshmallows?" How obvious it all sounded!

"Marshmallows and wienies," he told her. "There will have to be at
least three dozen sticks, so I guess I'd better...."

The little squirrel chattered brazenly on above them. A locust was
shrilling somewhere across the dazzling sand. She told herself she had
given him every chance.

"You mustn't let me keep you, Les."

"Oh, that's all right."

She had given him every chance. He did not care, after all. She had
been deceived in him. Oh, the injustice of it all!

"I must go find Mr. Barry," she said. "He'll wonder what's become of
me!" And she forced a brief little laugh. "It will be lots of fun. I'd
forgotten all about the mid-summer roast! I'll--we'll see you there...."

"Yes," he answered.

Their eyes suddenly met. She flushed, and her throat ached. He turned
slowly away.

"Good-bye, Les."

"Good-bye," he answered.

Louise reëntered the cottage by the back door. Eliza was singing over
her work at the sink. And Leslie, smiling in a kind of baffling way,
strolled off, still whittling the broken spar.

And Eros skipped beside him. Eros knew well enough where the tree-house
was. He didn't have to be shown, for as a matter of fact he had helped
construct it, up in the crotch of a giant oak: had subsequently climbed
nimbly to the tiny empire of its seclusion in the interest of many a
summer twain. Yes, Eros knew the way quite well. However, for the sheer
sake of companionship, he chose to skip along by the side of a lad who
was whittling a broken spar and smiling in a kind of baffling way.


8

"The Queen of Tahulamaji," admitted Miss Whitcom, "was really a most
amazing creature."

"I should think it likely."

They were sitting together on the rustic bench. At first he had been on
the rustic bench alone. She had flung herself in the hammock. But the
interest of their talk had brought her first to a sitting posture, then
to a standing posture, and finally to a rustic bench posture.

"Ah, but you mustn't think just because she was amazing that she wasn't
also perfectly human--sometimes almost desperately so, O'Donnell!"

"Yes, I suppose so. I can somehow picture her--especially the desperate
times."

"Well, of course she did have her eccentricities. For instance, her
temper. To the last it remained most alarmingly and deliciously
undependable."

"To the last?"

"Ah, yes--poor Tessie!"

"Tessie?"

"I always called her that. It wasn't strictly Tahulamajian, but she
adored the name."

"So the Queen is dead?"

"Yes, Queen Tess died early in the spring. She was terribly old, but
game right up to the last minute. You never saw such gameness. The
funeral was immensely impressive."

"Whole populace turned out, of course?"

"Ra_ther_. Ostracism threatened against any who stayed away without a
valid excuse! And they carried her along, all dressed up in her robes
of state, and even with a crown on. Poor, dear Tessie! How often she
used to say to me in private, when the mats were all snug over the
doors: 'You know there are times,' she'd say, 'when I have my doubts
about all this sovereign divinity business. It's down in the state
books that I'm one of the direct line, descended from Mentise-huhu and
the gods of the Sea Foam. But there are times when I have my doubts,'
she used to say. 'There are times when I seem to be just Tessie, and
between you and me, I'm coming to suspect that there never were any
gods of the Sea Foam at all!'"

O'Donnell smiled at her look of momentary abstraction. What a life
Marjory's had been--what a life! Here he found her, at last, in the
heart of a religious colony. But at one time she had sold bonds in
Wall Street; she had been an agent for a Pacific steamship line; she
had been a political organizer in the North-west; and she had once
served as associate editor of a newspaper. Yes, she had always struck
O'Donnell--himself so simple and homely of nature--as most violently
revolutionary. He remembered how, in the early days, she used to march
in suffrage parades. She had taken up Socialism and dropped it; had
smoked; and he distinctly recalled her having used, in her time, quite
sporty language. Once she had had something to do with the races, and
had worn a derby. And yet....

"Well," he mused, "after all it's the same Marjory."

"You think so?" She was amused.

"Yes, the same old Marjory. I wonder if there ever was a time when you
weren't 'advanced.'"

"You call _me_ advanced? My dear fellow, I must refer you--"

"I know, I know," he protested. "You forget I've come to know them all.
Perhaps," he added slyly, "I'm growing just a little advanced myself!"

"You?"

"Can you imagine?"

"Oh, well--"

"In my old age--fancy that!"

"True, I'd forgotten the poet."

"Well," he admitted, "one lives and learns."

"We all do that, you know."

"Oh, yes."

"Well, but do you mean we've nothing left to quarrel about? Has it
really come to _such_ a pass?"

"I do." He spoke almost solemnly. It was a little like the "I do" of
the marriage rite.

"Barrett! Good heavens! What's the world coming to?"

"I don't know," he replied naïvely. "I only know there are no grounds
left. I've capitulated, you see, at every point."

"Tut, tut!"

"_Every point!_" he insisted. No compromise would do. It might amaze
her, might snatch the ground from under her feet; he would admit, at
last, no compromise.

She grew whimsical, then a new earnestness creeping into her voice:
"You know," she said, "I've come to suspect some of this talk of being
'advanced.' I mean"--for she felt his enquiring gaze--"I've come at
length to suspect that in just going ahead.... Barrett, for heaven's
sake help me out!" For once in her life--and it was surely a portentous
symptom--Miss Whitcom was groping.

"Well," she went on at last, still speaking earnestly, if fumblingly,
"I'm not sure I _can_ express at all what I feel. It's what I've been
coming to feel more and more--no doubt a gradual development up out of
the cocksure attitude of one's--Barrett, I've begun using a dreadful
and ruthless word--one's immaturity ...!" She tossed her head. "It
doesn't mean I don't still believe in all the fine, big movements. You
know"--her voice for a moment grew almost tender--"I always looked upon
myself as one of the first of the 'new' women. I wasn't going at things
blindly. I was always following an ideal, Barrett, even when the
things I did seemed most wild and inexplicable. But as I look back I
seem to have been following strange roads in an effort to reach it! How
strange! And now--yes, only fancy, as you say: in one's old age!--I'm
afraid I see in a way that 'progress' can be overdone. That is, I've
come to see that progress is something you can't _force_. Yet there
have to be pioneers in the world, don't there, Barrett? People who are
reckless, and pay the price, and aren't afraid of going too far....
Yes, I realize that, as I've always realized it. But oh, Barrett,
Barrett--I'm afraid I'm getting to be very, very selfish. I've been a
pioneer so long, and after all I don't quite want to be a pioneer to
the very end of my days. I--I somehow feel I want to stop being one
before--oh, Barrett, before it's quite too _late_ ...!"

"I think," said O'Donnell slowly, his voice just a little shaken, "if
the time has come for plain speaking like this, you'd better let me
hold your hand. Do you mind?"

"Listen to him!" she said, in one of her richest tones of banter.

All the same, she let him have it.


While these important events were proceeding, Louise, who had not gone
to find Mr. Barry, after all, but who had returned to her room instead,
slept a little. She was unused to such early rising, and she had been
through a great deal since dawn.

She slept, and had a dream. She dreamed that she and Leslie were to be
married. She seemed to be very much excited, and to be surrounded by a
crowd of indefinite persons, some of them friends she now possessed,
and some of them friends she had known in her early girlhood. And all
the while she was happily arguing: "I know I'm a little bit older,
but we love each other so much that just a mere couple of years don't
count."

Waking with a start to problems more sinister than merely that
involving a conventional disagreement of ages, Louise perceived that
it had drawn to the golden midst of afternoon. Lynndal was waiting for
her. As the curious, almost hypnotic quality of the dream wore off,
she responded to another flash of new purpose. The dream still haunted
and oppressed her; at first it had made her sad; but as it faded into
a renewed appreciation of that humiliating conversation beside the
driftwood shed, a mood of rebellion came upon her.

She tossed her head haughtily: Leslie should be allowed to make no
further difference to her. She would thrust him entirely out of her
life. He ought never really to have entered it. No, she shouldn't
have given herself to Leslie, even temporarily. It had produced an
unpleasant situation, and afforded him an opportunity now to fling
all her kindness back in her face. He had, indeed, treated her
shamefully--not at all as he had treated her earlier in the day. At
dawn.... But she murmured angrily: "This is the return one gets for
trying to be nice to a man!"

The new mood inclined her, in a subtle way, toward Lynndal--as abruptly
as it had hardened her heart against Leslie. The emotion of the moment
illuminated the former in an almost rosy manner. She began thinking of
Lynndal warmly and romantically--as she had thought of him during those
long months when they were far apart. Her attitude again became the
attitude she had maintained throughout the period of their increasingly
affectionate correspondence. And the sense of his nearness seemed no
longer to distract or terrify her. Excitement stirred in her breast.
It leapt to her eyes and trembled upon her lips. She had never loved
Lynndal so almost tempestuously. Strong emotion of this sort always
had a beautifying effect upon Miss Needham. Her face glowed as she
encouraged the rekindling passion. She fanned the flame of her love
for Lynndal, and at the same time a soft sense of steadfastness and
assurance snuffed out the dismal quandary which had wracked and
tortured her soul from the moment she saw him up on the deck of the
steamer. Some mad whim, she argued feverishly, had filled her with a
panic of indecision and dread; but that was gone now. She whipped the
purging passion into new and fantastic fervour. Her laugh had a touch
of wildness in it. Even Richard had never moved her like this!

Suddenly, a little chill seized her heart. What if already it were too
late? What if, by her coldness and aloofness, she had already created
in Lynndal's heart a havoc which could not be rescinded? Was it not
wholly conceivable that she had killed his love for her? Had she not
shown herself perverse, cruel, and irredeemably fickle? Perhaps now the
tables would be turned, and he would draw away from her, even as she
had shrunk from him. The thought had a maddening influence: she felt
momentarily faint and distracted. Then a new energy of determination
blazed in her eyes. It must _not_ be too late. She _must_ win him back,
however far her wretched conduct may have driven him.

Louise dressed with elaborate care, giving heed to every eloquent
detail of her toilette. She tore off the brooch Richard had given her
and flung it into her jewel box with a gesture of gay scorn. No more
toying and trifling! She was ready now to give herself completely and
for all time--the more ready because of that uneasy little tremor of
doubt lest she had killed his love. Yes, it was a wonderful moment--a
moment so packed with the frenzy of giving that there remained no
other thought at all in her mind. She lived for the moment alone. She
made herself radiant for Lynndal, the emotion which swayed her growing
more and more riotous. She surrendered herself to it. He was waiting
for her. And she went down to him hopefully, wistfully, yet withal
triumphantly.

"Which way?" asked Lynndal as they descended the short bluff and
reached the hard, surf-packed shore.

"I don't care," she laughed up at him. "Shall we go this way?"

It didn't matter to Barry. All ways were equal to him, since he was
really and truly in love and spent no great amount of attention upon
the scenery. He looked at her adoringly. His quiet eyes were dazzled.

They strolled along close beside the little waves. It was rather a
picture. She was charmingly gowned, and carried a small plum parasol.

"Let me take your coat, dear," he suggested.

She gave him the light silk wrap, and he carried it on his arm, crooked
almost pathetically for the purpose.

"I don't wonder you like it up here," he said, looking off over the
sparkling water. "If we had this in the centre of the desert...."

"I suppose it would make a difference." All at once she pictured the
desert. She pictured herself living in the midst of the desert with
Lynndal.

Then the dry-farming expert went on to explain, at some length, just
what would happen were this sea to be transported to the parched heart
of Arizona. The words began falling a little dully on her ears. She was
vaguely troubled. But she could not tell just why it should be so.

There was a silence. They walked along slowly side by side. A wave of
happiness stole upon the man; his hand, encountering hers, closed over
it tenderly.

She caught her breath a little. "Lynndal," she cautioned, "you
mustn't...."

But he clung to her hand. He had come so far! And again she seemed to
hear those terrible words booming in her ears: "You are mine, all mine!"

Slowly his arm crept round her waist. There was nothing overwhelming
about the action: Barry was not an overwhelming man, and had not
an overwhelming way with him. His was, rather, a kind of gentle,
furtive passion, which displayed itself in a very slight trembling, an
occasional queer huskiness of voice.

All at once Louise grew alarmed. It seemed to her that a terrible and
inevitable moment had come. She wasn't entirely prepared. _She must
have more time ...!_

"Please take your arm away, Lynndal," she said tensely.

"But why, dear?"

"Please! The cottagers...."

"But Louise, dear, there isn't a cottage in sight." They had, indeed,
proceeded by this time well around the Point. "There's no one to see,
and besides...."

She glanced up shyly. His face was kind. His eyes were pleading and
full of quiet reassurance. Did he suspect a little the turmoil within
her? There was no reason why his arm shouldn't be about her; yet her
mind went on groping. It was like being in a thick wood. Could she give
herself to him entirely? Could she give herself to _anyone_ entirely?

"Louise, I love you," he murmured, bending down so that his lips were
close to her cheek.

She trembled. But she told herself that he had come to her out of the
desert; that he was her lover; and that she must give herself to him
without any more restraint. Why had she led him on and on if she didn't
intend to give herself fully at last?

"Louise, dearest.... Louise!"

"Yes, Lynndal...."

"I love you so much!"

The old panic surged again, but she fought it back. "For ever and
ever--nobody but me...." Yet there were so many others.... Chaos again
enveloped the girl.

"Won't you kiss me?"

His arms were adoringly about her. His lips came close to hers. It was
time, now, to give herself. She raised her lips.

They kissed.

But a great cry was in her heart: "I _can't_!" It was almost as though
he had heard it, for he let her slip way; and she stood there before
him, her head lowered, her hands desperately covering her face.

Louise thought blindly of Richard--what their first kiss had been like
...! And then she remembered how, afterward, she had longed for death.
With what completeness the situation now was reversed! Now she was
loved, and it was she who would break her lover's heart. Yet still the
same swift longing for death....

They walked on slowly. Barry's head was lowered. Finally he asked
thickly: "Don't you love me, then?"

She bent her head lower and could not answer. The fault was her own,
and he must suffer for it. Yet stealthy colour crept back into her
cheeks; her mood grew muddy and subtly defiant. Was not he making _her_
suffer?

It wasn't, she blindly felt, so much that she didn't love him, as that,
strangely and tragically, he must be all to her--and she could not face
it.

How strange it was! How unpremeditated and utterly tragic! In his
pocket huddling against the little box with its precious prisoner, was
a letter in which the amplest and most ardent affection was expressed.
It was a letter which expressed an earnest desire for his coming--so
eager. Barry was bewildered. What did such lightning-swift changes of
heart signify? Had she only _imagined_ herself in love? What was this
that had come to him? Had he come out of the desert for nothing after
all? Was all the promise of new life sheer illusion?

They walked on a little way and then turned slowly back.



PART THREE

THE LIGHT


1

The Rev. Needham awoke from his siesta wonderfully refreshed. These
benign afternoon snoozes had a peculiar and sometimes quite poignant
effect. The minister dimly felt it must have something to do with
psychology. For he always awoke feeling so spiritual, so calm and
strong. Today, of course, there was particularly traceable cause: he
had gone to sleep, one must remember, in a miraculously resolute, yes,
a truly masterful, mood. Did we call it Nietzschean? Well, perhaps it
really was almost that. At any rate, waking was delicious. There was
a largeness, a breadth about life which made one want to square one's
shoulders, step out proudly. Before the dresser mirror, in the act
of resuming collar and tie, the Rev. Needham actually did square his
shoulders a little. He even threw out his chest somewhat. Oh, it is
sweet to be master of one's own destiny!

Out on the porch he found his wife, rocking there all by herself and
looking a little vacantly off at the shrubs and trees.

"Ah, Anna," he said; then perched himself in a nonchalant, really an
almost rakish manner, on the railing, throwing one leg over the other,
and folding his arms. He yawned a little audibly, concluding that
function with a kind of masterful, contented smacking of the lips--even
whistled a few bars of a gay secular tune.

"Did you sleep well, Alf?" Anna Needham spoke calmly, rocked calmly.
She still eyed the shrubs and trees in a spirit of almost hypnotized
calm.

"I had a magnificent nap," he assured her.

Anna rocked more slowly. "Alf," she hesitated.

"Yes, Anna?"

"Alf, I wonder if I can be getting old ...?"

"Old, Anna?" He was really quite shocked at the suggestion.

"Yes--I don't know. Sometimes...."

"Nonsense!"

"I don't know ..." she continued dreamily.

"But why should you ever think such a thing?"

"Well, lately there've been times when I've felt so kind of still. I
don't know, but I thought--I thought it might be...."

"Why, Anna ...!" he cried in vaguely frightened tones.

"I don't know, Alf." Her manner retained its essential dreaminess.
"Sometimes when I sit alone rocking, I feel so kind of still...."

The minister laughed, then, with even an attempt at something like
boisterousness; but it was plain something of his earlier flamboyancy
had vanished. Abruptly, right in the heyday of his most glorious mood,
the shortness of life struck him with uncanny force. Life's shortness,
and, though he indignantly repudiated the insinuation, its relative
futility, after all. Where had one come from in the beginning; just
what was it one was up to now; and where was it one would go when
the breath of life ceased flowing? Oh, what a piece of work is man!
These were the secret inner workings. With a thrill of genuine horror
the minister found himself asking what he knew, as a fact, after all
these years of preaching it, about the immortality of the soul. It was
terrible, _terrible_! Oh, that he should be afflicted with such doubts!
And not ten minutes ago the Rev. Needham had squared his shoulders and
flashed so grand a defiance at his own reflection....

Curiously enough, this sudden unpleasant sense of renewed insecurity
was augmented, at the moment when it was most acute, by the rippling
laughter of his approaching sister-in-law. Miss Whitcom and her friend
were returning from their tête-à-tête in the bower. The laugh, whatever
it might mean to the minister, signified that the lady was not, so
easily, to be carried off her feet, and that, however thrillingly she
might talk about not being a pioneer any longer, no mere travelling man
was to capture her without at least a concluding scramble.

Barrett O'Donnell knew quite well what the laugh signified. But it
didn't, for all that, very greatly disturb him. Lord, he'd waited
twenty years: he could wait twenty more, if necessary. There is
not that hot impetuosity in the affection of souls matured which
characterizes youth; not that fever, that restless, exquisite rush of
heady devotion. Still, there is perhaps something in being quite sure
your love isn't misplaced. Yes, in a way, to be sure may be even better
than to possess.

The return of Miss Whitcom and Mr. O'Donnell from one direction fell
simultaneously with the return of Louise and Lynndal Barry from
another. The porch became a very lively place, all at once, where a
few moments before it had been so quiet, with only the minister's wife
there, rocking.... Louise was greatly relieved that it should be so.
To have returned to a silent and deserted house after what had passed
between herself and Lynndal on the beach must have proved next to
unbearable. As it was, the frantic difficulty of the situation would be
lightened, if only temporarily.

Marjory pounced at once upon the westerner, turning from her ancient
suitor with a careless alacrity which seemed saying: "After all, I am
free, quite superbly free!" And O'Donnell muttered an "Ah!" scarce
audibly; and what he meant by it was this: "I know you'll come back
to me. You always have and you always will. We are not _quite_ free,
either of us, in one sense of the word." One glorious, indomitable
sense of the word.

Marjory wanted to know more about the dam in Arizona, and especially
she wanted to get at the other side of this tragic love affair--this
bit of high tragedy in humble setting. In art, she thought, tragedy
has a way of being generally treated nobly and loftily; but in life,
somehow, it often seems almost absurd. Yes, first it was the dam. But
she did not really care two straws about the dam. She had got beyond
all such things as dams in her pilgrimage.

The Rev. Needham opened up a conversation about the Point with
O'Donnell. But he kept eyeing his daughter, who leaned against the
railing of the porch, her hands clasped before her. Alfred, despite his
calling, was a wretched reader of souls. The look in one's eyes or the
line of one's lips meant next to nothing, definitely--if only because
these things might mean so bafflingly _much_.... If you actually shed
tears, then he would be reasonably sure you must be unhappy. Hearty
laughter signified, of course, a state of hilarity. However, the Rev.
Needham's spirit, with Milton's, took, really, no middle course. There
lay an almost blank chasm between tears and laughter--although, alas,
the fact of its being a chasm did not make it any less conducive to
prickles in one's suspended heels.

"There's only one thing," O'Donnell was observing, "--only one thing
I've got against this place."

"What's that?" asked the minister.

"There are so many signs!"

It took the Rev. Needham just a moment to comprehend what was meant.
"You mean the Assembly notices?"

"I suppose that's what they are. If you'll pardon my saying so, it
seems sometimes as though there's a sign on every tree. One says you
mustn't peel the birch bark, and the next one announces a lecture on
such and such a day."

"I'm afraid they have multiplied the last few seasons," admitted
the minister. "We don't seem to notice--so used to them, I suppose.
There are picnickers, you know--come from other parts--and we have
to look out for the natural beauty or it will be all spoiled. As for
the lecture announcements," he concluded, "the--the church, you know,
has to keep pace, nowadays. Yes, it--it has to advertise a little!"
He spoke almost glibly, and sighed; but quite brightly, indeed almost
chirpily.

Miss Whitcom caught the confession. And she hopped down at once off Mr.
Barry's fine Arizona dam--which diverted water into a huge reservoir,
thus keeping off the Needham wolf--and administered what might vulgarly
be termed a knock-out.

"I should say it does have to advertise! Oh, yes, the church must
_indeed_ hustle to keep pace! Even so, I hear the attendance is
dropping off."

"Marjory?" began her brother-in-law with unhappy and interrogative
vehemence. The low bow, alas, would do no good at all here. This woman
was unspeakable. She struck him as almost a monster! Not that this was
manifest, of course; it was merely the way she struck his invisible
soul.

"Oh, gracious, Alfred, I don't mean _your_ attendance. I'm not
referring to your particular church. I speak as a sociologist--a
biologist!" She laughed. "Yes, I always try to consider these things in
the broadest sense. And I don't see why you should look so shocked, for
after all I'm only agreeing with you. Don't you see I am? The church
_does_ have to advertise. Has to stir up public controversies for the
sake of getting itself discussed--always biologically speaking, Alfred.
It has to get itself recognized as a social force. That's the word: a
social force! It must be a little sensational even, sometimes, to match
the growing sensationalism of life. What more natural? An atmosphere
of spry colloquialism. Yes, the modern church must compete. Why _not_
introduce the movies into Sunday School--?"

"We haven't yet done any of these things, Marjory," declared the Rev.
Needham earnestly, a trifle coolly. He seemed really to insist upon
receiving all her shafts personally.

"Some churches do though," volunteered O'Donnell--and laughed a little
nervously.

Mrs. Needham had been following the conversation, glancing first at
one speaker then at another; now she spoke: "Marjory, how do you ever
manage to keep track of everything that's going on here in America?"
It was not the first time since her arrival amongst them that Anna's
sister had amazed her with a grasp of home affairs--often with flashes
of vision which had been closed to her before.

"Oh," replied Marjory with pleasant lightness, "but you see such
demonstrations as these exude an influence--it's a little like the
wireless. One feels their thrill all around the earth."

"Besides," interposed O'Donnell quite seriously, "you know Tahulamaji's
awfully advanced."

"Is it?" asked Mrs. Needham guilelessly, turning towards him.

"Oh, tremendously," he assured her. "As I make it out Queen Tess was
one of the most advanced women of her time. I tell you, things move in
Tahulamaji!"

Mrs. Needham had not hitherto felt, as she indefinitely put it to
herself, very well acquainted with this travelling man friend of her
sister's. Suddenly she found herself holding the centre of the stage
with him. It amounted to a little thrill.

"I suppose, after all, things aren't so different there--conditions,
should I say?"

"Well," hedged O'Donnell, beginning to perceive that he had entered
somewhat dangerous waters. He glanced at Miss Whitcom, who merely
shrugged her shoulders, which seemed equivalent to an assurance that,
having involved himself unnecessarily in her behalf, he might just
flounder along, so far as she was concerned, until kingdom come.

"Maybe," suggested the minister's wife with a dart of genuine
brilliance, "the churches do all those things in Tahulamaji!" Would it
not seem to explain Marjory's being so uncannily well informed?

The Rev. Needham inwardly fidgeted. He felt he ought to be in the
forefront of the discussion, defending his cloth. But suddenly he
seemed, within, sadly and impotently, to have nothing to say. There
were times when he felt he didn't possess a single honest prejudice any
more, or hold one single irrefragable opinion. What a fortunate thing
for the soul is its kind bulwark of flesh!

Anna's suggestion at length stirred Miss Whitcom, however. "Oh, no,"
she said quietly, "they don't."

"Still," O'Donnell objected, "you told me the Queen was incorrigibly
modern, and you said she adored the movies."

"Oh, we're modern," replied Marjory with an ungodly smirk. "Yes, we're
modern enough in Tahulamaji. I may say we're quite in the van of
civilization. We're so modern that we _haven't_ any churches. So how
_could_ we advertise?"

"No churches, Marjory?" queried her brother-in-law. "But you seem to
forget--"

"Well, at least nothing you'd call a church, I'm sure, Alfred--outside
of what the foreigners have imported, that is. A few little rude native
altars.... That's all. You know, 'when two or three are gathered
together'.... It's--well, I've sometimes felt it's the _spirit_
that counts in Tahulamaji, when it comes to matters of religion.
Everything's very, very simple. We really haven't time to do it the
grand way, even if we knew how."

They hadn't time for church in Tahulamaji! The awful question which now
wracked the soul of the minister was: If they hadn't time for church,
what _had_ they time for? A dimly terrifying curiosity assailed him.
The Rev. Needham had read vague things about the people of the tropics.
And a flush overspread his lined, worried face.

Yes, Marjory was an odd sheep, if not a black one. Perhaps she could
hardly be called a _black_ one, though there were certainly times
when the Rev. Needham saw her as through smoked glasses. Anyway, an
odd sheep she certainly was. She did not seem to belong in the herd
at all--let alone the family! The rest were all quiet, sensible,
orthodox. But about everything Marjory said or did there was something
unorthodox, something wickedly theatrical. What a past she had had!
Just think of it! Just think, for instance, of spending five whole
years of one's life in a place like Tahulamaji! Well, the ways of
God were unsearchable. So, it seemed, were the ways of His satanic
opponent. The reason she seemed different from themselves must be,
fundamentally, that she had had a past. But why had she had a past?
Yes, the minister's speculations always must terminate with the
knottiest question raised and unanswered. It seemed a part of his
destiny.

And meanwhile, there stood Louise and Lynndal, not six feet apart, yet
never meeting each other's look; never speaking. How unpremeditated and
tragic! He had come all the way from Arizona, and now they had nothing
to say to each other. Louise, leaning wretchedly against the railing,
seemed, just now, able to realize nothing clearly. The episode on the
beach had confused her. She felt herself baffled.

As for Barry's state of mind, that, also, was considerably cloudy. It
had happened--the inconceivable, the impossible--and it was now over.
Yet was it really over? In just a swift moment like this had _all_ his
dreams been broken? It seemed incredible: he could not believe it. He
tried to reassure himself, endeavoured to keep hope alight. Something
wise and still, deep in his heart, counseled patience. It might be she
was only confused: it seemed strange to her, having suddenly a reality
like this in place of her dreams. Louise was a dreamer--he knew that.
And what might be going on inside her wayward little head, who could
guess? So far Barry had only distinguished himself as a wizard of the
burning sands. He was a man who could make deserts bloom like the rose.
Yet who could say but perhaps he knew a little, too, about the subtler
bloom of a woman's heart? Patience, he argued within himself. It might
be she was only puzzled, and that she still loved him in spite of the
thing that had happened. He would be patient a little while. If it
turned out at last that there was no hope, why, then he would go back
to the desert again. That was all.


2

It was nearly five o'clock when Leslie and Hilda emerged from the woods
with their supply of roasting sticks. They had gone about their task
in the most leisurely fashion, mutually animated by a curious half
complacent acceptance of each other's presence. Merely being together
had become such a complete yet informal delight that neither of them
stopped to analyse it at all. And yet, if their hands chanced to brush,
or, as happened once when a bee threatened, she laid her hand a little
clutchingly on his shoulder, the emotion quickened. They hadn't much
to say to each other, although a good deal of talk, such as it was,
passed between them. Neither could remember afterward anything that was
said. And all they had intrinsically to show for their afternoon was an
armful of roasting sticks.

"Where shall we keep them until it's time?" asked Hilda, as they
tramped through the sand and up to the screened porch.

He gazed dreamily off to sea.

"Les?" she repeated, quaintly drawling.

"Hm?"

"What shall we do with the sticks? Leave them here? Or do you want to
take them down where the fire's going to be?"

"Oh," he said at last, "I don't care." And he let himself down slowly
on to the steps. "I feel so dreamy I can hardly move. Did you ever feel
like that, Hilda?"

"Yes, many times," she replied, sitting down one step above him and
clasping her knees. Her canvas hat was tossed aside, and the hair on
her forehead was a little damp. There ensued a long, drowsy silence. At
length she said: "I hope we cut enough, Les."

He was still gazing off across the sea, which the declining sun was
making flash in a splendid and quite dazzling way. It was merely a
warm, hypnotic stare, and he really saw nothing at all; yet he was
faintly conscious of things--above all, he was conscious of a feeling
of simple young happiness.

"Les?"

"Hm?"

"You do think we cut enough, don't you?"

"Sure, I guess so."

"It would be so funny," she laughed, "if there didn't happen to be
enough to go round and some had to just sit and watch the others eat!"

"Most of them do that anyway, don't they?" he murmured. "I mean they
sit there and watch you work like a slave, and then swallow everything
that's poked in front of their mouths. I guess all roasts are alike."

"Well, anyhow, _we_ won't feed any of the lazybones tonight, Les. We'll
eat our own! I'll feed you, and you feed me. Will you?"

He glanced up at her and smiled. Then he slid down a step and lay back,
resting his head against the step on which she sat, a little to one
side.

"You look quite different upside down," he volunteered.

"How, Les?"

"Oh--I don't know. Your eyes look so funny!"

"Yours do, too!"

He thrust a sun-browned arm over his eyes and crossed his legs. It was
she who now gazed off over the blazing waves. Not exactly a classic
tableau. You would never mistake them for Romeo and Juliet. And yet
our little ubiquitous friend Eros viewed the picture not without a
smouldering, an incipient satisfaction.

Louise came out of the living room door on to the porch. She could see
Hilda's head and shoulders, and she crossed over to the screen door at
the top of the flight. Hilda looked round quickly.

"Oh, hello, Lou!"

Louise nodded, and made motions of salutation with her lips. There was
no sound, however. She cleared her throat--tried to smile.

Leslie drew himself hurriedly into a more dignified posture. "Hello,"
he smiled, rising a trifle uneasily.

"Just see how many we got!" cried Hilda, jumping up and gathering the
roasting sticks in her arms.

Louise stood there looking down through the screen door. "You certainly
got enough!" she exclaimed, a little shrilly--the result of her trying
so desperately to be perfectly natural.

"Well," Hilda went on, "you see I kept finding little trees so straight
we simply couldn't pass them by. And Leslie just kept cutting. See how
sharp they are?"

Leslie, as though availing himself of the invitation (regardless of its
not having been exactly addressed to him) placed a finger on one of the
smoothly whittled points and withdrew it with a small, oddly juvenile
howl of mock distress. The wounded finger went into his mouth. Leslie
was certainly _not_ at his ease.

Suddenly Hilda ran up close to her sister and asked, in a very low
voice: "Have you been crying?"

Louise's heart jumped. "Why, no," she replied.

"It must be the sun in your eyes," said Hilda.

"Yes, it must be." And she turned away from them and sat in the same
chair her mother had occupied when she had demanded of Alfred if he
thought she might be growing old. Louise rocked slowly, just as her
mother had rocked. Yet her thoughts rushed madly to and fro. There was
a battle of ghosts in her heart.


Aunt Marjie came out breezily, accompanied by Mr. O'Donnell, who was
about to take his departure. The parent Needhams stood side by side in
the cottage doorway, hospitably bowing, but seeming to realize, with a
kind of fineness, that they should come no further, and that the very
last rites must be performed by the lady for whose sake he had been
asked.

Mr. O'Donnell extended a hand of farewell to Louise, who rose.

"Oh, are you going?" she asked.

"Yes--simply have to. They'll decide at the Elmbrook that I'm lost,
strayed, or stolen and will have a search party out!"

"Good-bye, Mr. O'Donnell," said Hilda, prettily holding out her hand.
She was deliciously unspoiled.

He held her hand a moment, looked from her over to Leslie, then at the
bunch of sharpened sticks. And he brazenly winked at Miss Whitcom, who,
glancing discreetly in the direction of her elder niece, remarked that
there was likely to be a gorgeous sunset.

O'Donnell and Leslie shook hands. "See you again tonight?" asked the
boy politely.

"Yes, indeed!" Mrs. Needham called out. "He's coming over to the roast."

"You'll have a devil--I mean, it's very dark in the woods," said
Leslie. He was quite horrified at the slip, and hurried on, expressing
quick generosity by way of gaining cover--a generosity more generous,
no doubt, than he had at first contemplated. "You'd better let me come
and light you through."

O'Donnell patted the lad's shoulder in a very kindly manner, just as he
might pat an obliging bellhop in one of the hotels on his route, who
volunteered to get him up for a five o'clock train.

"Oh, no," he said. "Don't you bother."

"No bother at all," replied Leslie, suddenly seeming to grow quite
enthusiastic over the idea of lighting Mr. O'Donnell through from
Crystalia. His eye encountered Hilda's. It was finally agreed, and
O'Donnell departed, in the very best sort of spirits.

When he had disappeared, the Rev. and Mrs. Needham strolled out on to
the porch. The Rev. Needham was slowly gaining back his ruffled poise.
He and O'Donnell had been smoking some more of the good cigars, and
Marjory hadn't ventured anything so very revolutionary since the remark
about not having time for church. He slipped an arm, just a tiny bit
stiffly, about his wife's waist. He didn't exactly cuddle her; still,
thus fortified, he looked across at his sister-in-law with an inner
mild defiance.

"Well, I must run along," said Leslie, drawing a deep and very
leisurely breath.

"Do you _have_ to go so soon?" Hilda stepped down toward him.

He nodded, thrust his hands into his pockets, drew them out again, was
painfully conscious that Louise was sitting up there on the porch.

Hilda came down another step and stood close to him. "It's awfully
early, Les." Then a brilliant idea sent her unexpectedly scurrying up
the steps and on to the porch. She whispered something in her mother's
ear, upon which Mrs. Needham looked somewhat startled and shook her
head. She and Eliza had planned so carefully. Leslie seemed almost like
one of the family; but what if there shouldn't be enough?

Hilda tossed it off gallantly. She tripped back down the steps and said
she would go with Leslie as far as the choke-cherry tree.

"Good-bye," said Leslie politely to the porch.

"Good-bye, Leslie," said the Rev. and Mrs. Needham in unison.

And it never occurred to them as odd that their younger should be
accompanying Leslie as far as the choke-cherry tree. Oh, the incredible
blindness of parents! Oh, what strangers one's children really are,
after all! And yet, how could it be otherwise? Quaint souls--perhaps
they did not even remember, now Lynndal had come, that it was to the
choke-cherry tree their elder had been wont to go....

Louise called out: "'Bye, Les." She was rocking more vigorously. Her
hands were clasped behind her head and her cheeks were flushed. There
was a curious wild look in her eyes. Aunt Marjie thought her actually
handsome just then.


At the choke-cherry tree Leslie and Hilda indulged in a very desultory
leave-taking. Yet their talk was utterly devoid of anything either
poetic or romantic.

"You'll get your shoe all full of sand, Les." He was scuffing it
mechanically back and forth in the dust of the roadway.

"I don't care."

"I hate to have sand in my shoes."

But he laughed: "I don't know what it is _not_ to."

Then he patted the bark of the choke-cherry tree and ran his palm up
and down it, as though he were a lumberman and knew all about trees.
And he gazed up at the tiny ripening berries. Suddenly he stopped
patting the trunk and turned, leaning his back against it. He stood
there, confused a little, tapping first one heel and then the other
against a projecting root; for his exploring hand, as it chanced, had
encountered a certain recently carved set of initials within a rude
heart. All that was so long ago!

"What shall we do about the sticks?" asked Hilda. "Shall we have papa
carry them down to the fire?"

"No, I'll carry them down. I'll come over and get them."

"But you're going to light Mr. O'Donnell through from Crystalia," she
reminded him--then waited breathlessly.

He didn't disappoint her. "_Please_ come along--won't you?"

"You mean when you go to light him?"

"Yes."

"You really want me to?"

He nodded.

A man was approaching them. He came round a bend in the road. It was
Lynndal Barry.

"I've been for a little stroll," he explained. "These woods are
certainly wonderful!"

"Yes, we like them," replied Hilda, in a very polite but at the same
time very friendly tone. She was just a tiny bit afraid of the man who
had come so far to marry her sister--not because Mr. Barry was the kind
of man who spreads about him an aura of awe, but because Hilda knew
there was something the matter. Yes, something seemed to be wrong. But
Hilda did not guess _how_ wrong.

"Were you going back to the cottage?" she asked.

"Yes, I thought I would."

"Then I'll walk back with you, if you don't mind."

"Well, good-bye," said Leslie.

"Good-bye, Les. You'll come for me?"

"Yes."

"What time?"

"Whenever you say."

"Right after dinner?"

"All right."

"So long."

"So long, Hilda."

He departed, scuffing foolishly and happily in the sand.

"We were cutting sticks for the roast," explained Hilda as she walked
back beside Lynndal toward Beachcrest.

"It will be jolly," he remarked. "You know, I've never been to one of
these beach roasts in my life."

"You never have?"

"No. And I've looked forward to the beach roasts ever since--well, ever
since I knew I was going to be up here this summer."

"You see, you came just in time!"

"Yes, didn't I?"

"The mid-summer Assembly Roast is the biggest roast of all."

"I'm in luck," he murmured.

And so they chatted together until Beachcrest was reached.


3

On the porch, where Miss Whitcom had been regaling her relations
with, it must be admitted, a rather sensational account of how the
inhabitants of Tahulamaji had formerly been cannibals, the absence of
Lynndal Barry was noticed.

"Where is he?" asked the Rev. Needham, with a quick inward flash of
nervousness.

Louise was assailed by a great longing to come out, wildly and fully,
with some superb flow of words which should ease the burden of her
heart. It seemed urgent, in fact, that she explain his absence. Aunt
Marjie braced herself for an expected scene. But just then the missing
man put in an appearance. Hilda preceded him up the steps. Instead
of crying out that her heart was breaking, Louise felt suddenly an
insane desire to laugh. Hilda was leading Lynndal back, as though to
compensate for leading Leslie off!

"Well, well," began the Rev. Needham, with all the hospitable bluffness
he could summon. "We were talking about you!"

"--Wondering where you were," continued Mrs. Needham.

"--Fearing you might have embarked for the wicked city of Beulah,"
Marjory gaily carried it on, "where young men are not safe, and the
song of the siren never dies away!"

The Rev. Needham looked startled, then rather grim, then again just
vaguely uneasy. Barry explained that he had been strolling in the woods.

"No danger of getting lost, at any rate," declared Miss Whitcom, "since
the church advertises so efficiently!"

There promised to be a rather pained silence; but Mrs. Needham rose,
smoothed down the front of her skirt, and announced that she must go
and dress for dinner.

"Ah, yes," lamented her sister cheerfully, "one must dress, even in the
wilderness."

"Oh, we don't really make anything of it, Marjie. Only it sort of rests
you--to make a change."

"Dress! Isn't it absurd? Yet how we dote on it! In this respect
we aren't, after all, civilized to any dangerous degree. Why, in
Tahulamaji--"

"Marjie, there isn't a bit of use of your changing. You look lovely."

"Thanks," replied her sister. "Still, one must."

"We all do just as we please up here in the woods, you know."

"Ah, but the men, the men," whispered Miss Whitcom with delicious
vulgarity behind her hand. "And after all, we must have some regard for
the conventions." Her tone was just a little pointed.

"Yes, Marjie, I suppose, in a way...." Anna admitted.

"And then--there's the church," Miss Whitcom persisted, almost brutally
whimsical.

"The church?"

"Since it tries so very hard to keep abreast of the times--one might
say, _à la mode_!"

The sisters went into the cottage. Louise rose.

"I must dress too," she announced, crossing quickly to the door.

"I like that gown ever so much," said Lynndal.

She turned and cast him a rueful glance. "Thank you. But I really must
change." She smiled faintly. The high colour had faded, and her eyes
had lost their look of splendid wildness.

"Wait for me!" cried Hilda, making a tomboy dive for the door, and
capturing her sister's waist, hanging on her affectionately as they
went in together.

"At any rate, we don't have to dress," laughed the Rev. Needham quite
jovially.

"You're sure? I'd begun to get rather scared. You see I didn't bring
out anything...."

The minister laughed again. "No, the men up here are more sensible."

"What did Miss Whitcom mean," asked Barry after a short pause, "when
she spoke the way she did about the church?"

"The church, Barry?"

"Something about it being _à la mode_."

"Oh, I--the fact is, Barry, I don't quite know myself. I'm sure she
didn't mean anything in particular. That is, you see Marjory has a kind
of playful way of speaking.... You have to know her well to understand
her."

"She seems like a very jolly sort."

"Yes, yes. She's ever so jolly. Sometimes I feel.... Well, of course,
every one has their times of being jollier than at other times, don't
they?" There seemed something here appealing, a little pathetic,
even--as though Alfred Needham, if he only _could_ one day get his
heels down, would turn out really very jolly himself.

The conversation was growing thin, a little vague. It was a relief to
have the talk drift into other and more concrete channels.

"Well," remarked Barry, "just before I left for the East we got the
final engineering report on the new San Pedro reservoir. It looks
pretty good to me."

"Something to open up a whole new area?"

"Yes, that's it. By building another dam--" And he explained the rather
technical proposition.

"A good deal like the Santa Cruz, isn't it?" asked the minister.

"Yes, a good deal like that. You can be pretty sure of the water near
the source, but of course the farther downstream you go, the less
dependable the flow is. Sometimes there will be floods, and then again
sometimes the bed will go entirely dry."

"Yes, yes," said the Rev. Needham meditatively, and almost as though in
these fluxes of the Arizona rivers he recognized a subtle resemblance
to life's fluxes which kept him ever hopping. "Let's see," he
continued, "do I own anything just there, in the San Pedro valley?"

"You certainly do," replied Barry, and he drew a map out of his
pocket, spread it on his knee, hitched his chair a little closer, and
traced the Needham holdings with his pencil. "This strip in Cochise
County--that little triangular patch there where Pinal and Pima
join.... It ought to add quite a bit to your income, when the deal is
really swung."

The Rev. Needham sighed appreciatively. "I wouldn't have any of these
opportunities if it weren't for you being right there on the spot to
look out for things."

"Oh, I do what I can," said Barry quietly. He folded up the map and put
it away. "You see I'm very much interested in Arizona--new settlers
coming all the time--new homes under way...." His eyes were dimly
wistful. "Pretty soon we'll he getting another man in Congress...."

"Barry, do you suppose later on you'll be getting into politics?"

"Politics?" He laughed it away a little, yet at the same time clung
to it, too. "Oh--you never can tell." As a matter of fact, as Louise
could have told her father, the spring of a secret ambition had been
touched. "Just now there's too much to do, developing--opening up the
country.... There are plans in the air for another big power plant near
Yuma. By the way, I can get you some shares there, if you like. As for
politics...."

The Rev. Needham folded his arms with quiet pride. This was a man after
his very heart. Perhaps he would be a Representative at Washington some
day. Perhaps he would be Governor some day. And in the meantime, here
he was, coming right into the family! No, the Rev. Needham could not
have been any prouder of a son.


Upstairs all the ladies were in the midst of their toilettes. "O,
world! O, life! O, time!"

"Are you girls putting on low neck?" demanded Miss Whitcom in her
shrill way.

"Lou is," replied Hilda. "She always dresses when there's anything to
go to, but I never do." She sighed. "Just think, Aunt Marjie, I haven't
got a single low neck!"

"Cheer up, little one!" the aunt called over the three-quarters
partition. "Your time's coming. I don't see--achu!--what you do about
sunburn up here! _Achu!_"

She was deluging her neck and face with powder. Fortunately they were
only going to a roast, and there wouldn't be much light, especially
after the fire began to die down. Then she started slightly and
frowned. Why on earth should one be concerned about a little sunburn?
And yet--there was a thrill in the question, too. Miss Whitcom admitted
she never would have been so concerned in the old days. These were new
days. After all, Barrett seemed the only reality there was left. Yet
there had seemed so many realities to begin with.

"Louise, what's the matter?" whispered Hilda, as she slipped a fresh
jumper over her head and began tying its lace.

"What makes you think there's anything the matter?" asked her sister
thickly.

"I know there is! You don't act like yourself at all. Is it--is there
something about you and Mr. Barry?"

Louise's throat ached. She did not start, nor did she flush and cry
out: "How did you guess?" Her throat ached; it ached cruelly.

"Lou, dear--_tell_ me what's the matter!" implored Hilda, throwing
her arms around her sister, and laying her cheek against the other's
shoulder a moment.

"I--I can't," faltered Louise.

"Yes, you can. I knew there was something!"

Louise shook her head wretchedly.

"Doesn't he seem the same?"

"Don't, Hilda!" She wriggled nervously.

"Louise!"

"I--I...." She pushed herself free of an embrace which possessed, just
now, no comfort. "Please don't say anything more. You mustn't."

"Well, I won't, Lou dear. Only it makes me feel bad to see you look
this way. And I know there's _something_ the matter."

"No, there isn't," replied Louise woodenly.

Hilda discovered, far in an unfrequented corner of her own little
special chest of drawers which had been moved in out of Aunt Marjie's
way, a fine new scarf. It was a scarf she had never worn before.
Indeed, she had forgotten all about it. Now she remembered it had been
put away carefully, with the understanding that it was to be brought
out for some very special occasion. Her heart told her the golden hour
had come. Her heart was so full of news that it began singing.

"We're going to light Mr. O'Donnell through to the roast!"

"Who?" asked Louise. She spoke impulsively, as all the Needhams were
in the habit of speaking. Had she thought a moment she would not have
asked.

Hilda told her, with a thrill of most abundant happiness. She hugged
her happiness; she did not know what it cost her sister.

Louise braced herself. The evening had to be got through somehow. But
after tonight--then what? Her father would be expecting Lynndal to
come to him to talk it over. And how terrible! Would it, perhaps--her
thoughts were flying helter-skelter--would it perhaps make some fatal
difference in the Western business? Would Lynndal continue to look
after the interests, just as before? Could any one reasonably expect
the relations all around to remain _quite_ what they had been?

Remorse stole dully over her. She had come between her father and his
friend. Could he forgive her? And could her father? Why had she done
such a thing? But _was_ it final? All those letters.... At length he
was here ... had come so far ... and what had she done? In the morning
she had gone to meet her lover. It had seemed fine and romantic. She
had told Leslie they must be only friends now. It had all appeared
quite easy and rather delightful. Then Lynndal had come, and ... and
then what? What was it that had happened? It had seemed to her that she
could not give herself up....

If only she could have a sudden change of heart! One read of such
things, now and then. If only she could rush joyously down to him,
where he sat talking with her father, and tell him she _did_ love him!
But after all, she could only go on dressing, miserably dressing.

"Do I look all right, Lou?" asked Hilda, much as Louise had put the
same question to her at dawn.

Her sister told the plain truth in a syllable. Yes. She certainly did.
Of course a jumper, even with so fine a new sash under its collar,
wasn't quite as nice as low neck. But Hilda was undeniably charming.
Louise felt a sudden elemental pang of jealousy.

Hilda's heart was in a great flutter. She liked Leslie ever so well.
She didn't know any other boy she liked so well as Leslie. Have a care,
little Hilda. Ah, have a care! Your age protects you. But later, when
you have substituted loving for liking, things will be different. When
Louise was your age she let Harold Gates kiss her a great many times.
She let him put his arm around her, and when he had to leave her on
account of the girl he had brought along with him to the picnic, she
did not care--very much. Or at least she did not care very _long_.
But now see, Hilda. Your sister has become a woman. She has learned
to love, and play quite fearlessly with love. But love is a terrible
thing, and your sister is not very wise.

Have a care, Hilda! As you value what is precious and fine in
life--beware! Oh, Hilda, beware, when the heart has matured, that you
do not reap a whirlwind of ghosts....


4

At dinner Miss Whitcom was treated to an entrancing account of the
Assembly Roast, viewed as an institution.

"Of course," explained the Rev. Needham, "in the largest sense it's a
religious function--a kind of general get-together, before the lecture
season opens." It seemed a now more cautious way of reiterating that
the church must advertise.

"But you see," contributed Mrs. Needham, "it was started by the
Goodmans. He's a clergyman from Cleveland."

"It's their anniversary," added Hilda.

Thus, piecemeal, the momentous facts came out.

"Anniversary?"

"Yes, Aunt Marjie."

"Let's see--how many is it this year?" asked Mrs. Needham turning to
her husband.

"Twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth, I think," he replied.

"Oh, Alf, do you think the Goodmans have been married that long?"

"You know," declared Miss Whitcom, "all this is interesting but
terribly mysterious. Thanks, Anna, I've had the pickles. I'm mystified
by these Goodmans from Cleveland. So I understand the Midsummer Roast
is in the nature of an anniversary party also?"

"Well, yes," replied Anna Needham. "It was started, I guess, more than
twenty years ago, even before we began coming up here. There were only
a few families at first. Alf, were the Goodmans the first to begin
coming up?"

"Unless it was Blakes," he suggested.

"But didn't the Blakes begin coming because the Goodmans did, Alf?"

"Well, maybe so. Marjory, can't I help you to a little more of the
lamb?"

"No, no," protested his sister-in-law. "I'm doing famously."

"Alf, Marjie will have some more potatoes, I'm sure."

"No. Doing _fam_ously. Never mind my plate, but do let's get it
straight about the Goodmans. Thanks, Hilda, I will have another
biscuit. It all sounds terribly romantic!"

"Yes, it is," Hilda boldly assured her. "They always kiss right before
everybody on their anniversary. And in the morning--"

"Hilda!" cautioned her father, rather sternly.

The girl endeavoured to conceal her confusion by addressing herself
very elaborately to the spreading of a biscuit.

"Oh, now, Alfred," remonstrated his sister-in-law, "you're worse than
a war censor! Since it's quite apparent the whole Point knows about
the kissing--Anna, _may_ I trouble you for another glass of water?--why
shouldn't I be admitted to so very large a secret? There's surely room
for one more, and you may pledge me to profound secrecy if you like.
I'm dying to know what it is they do in the morning!"

Hilda was gaining back her nerve. "They run away and have breakfast
together at the hotel! That's what they do, Aunt Marjie!"

"Oh, how charming!"

"Yes, Aunt Marjie, they've done it every year since they were married!"

"They have? Well, now, I call that pure romance! How coy! How it must
carry them back! I think I'd really like to know the Goodmans. There
isn't such a great deal of pure romance available nowadays. People are
too self-conscious."

"You'll meet them tonight," was the hope Mrs. Needham held out. And
then, while her husband began carving fresh slices of lamb, and since
the subject of the Midsummer Roast seemed about exhausted, Anna went
chattily on: "Marjie, I must say I like Mr. O'Donnell real well."

"Speaking of pure romance?" her sister sparklingly interpolated. "Yes,"
she continued, "Barrett's a good chap. Used to be a bit egregious, you
know, in the old days. But he's mellowed wonderfully. I--I'll let you
in on a tremendous secret," she added, with mock breathlessness, and
addressing herself to Alfred behind her hand. "If he should happen to
ask me again--I'm only saying _if_, you understand...." She finished
eloquently in pantomime.

The Rev. Needham dropped his fork, but quickly recovered it and went on
eating. He had just told himself that no matter what new monstrosity
his sister-in-law might enunciate, he would magnificently let it
pass. He would not appear to notice it. He was a clergyman. There was
a certain dignity to be preserved in spite of everything. But good
heavens, she had said it behind her hand!

"Oh-h-h!" said Hilda. She giggled.

"Barrett _is_ an old peach," continued Miss Whitcom quite brazenly.
"He's stood by me through everything!"

The Rev. Needham nearly dropped his fork again. That awful word.
Everything! And she could be so damnably cool about it! Was he narrow
or old-fashioned to feel the way he did? Yet would not feeling any
other way be simply debauching oneself? Ah, if, instead of his changing
his own point of view, she might somehow drop off into a deep, painless
slumber.... And never wake....

"Well, then," said Anna, who had kept perfectly her head, and was also
rather thrilled, "I hope he will, Marjie."

Marjory looked dreamily off through the open window. A few birches
caught the evening light mistily, and were dyed a delicate pink all
along their slim white trunks. Would he? Ah, of course! And yet....
Well--hm?... If not, why.... She mentally tossed her head. But what she
told herself was not quite so haughty: "In that case I could hardly
blame anybody but myself...."

By this time it might be said that the edge, at least, of hunger was
taken off. All had eaten quite heartily, except Louise. But even
Louise, though she dimly felt this was not as it should be, had found
it possible to do at least a little nibbling. Of course it would be out
of the question to expect her to eat like the rest. It was another case
of Richard. Probably she would not eat just like the rest for a good
while to come. Still, she would manage to keep going. One always did
that in real life.

The Rev. Needham, however, was at length coming definitely to notice
things. Louise, some more of the lamb? No? Surely more of the creamed
carrots? But you're so fond of them! Ah, yes. There were sharp and
anxious glances in the direction of this baffling elder daughter. She
wasn't eating right. And when any of the Needhams didn't eat right, you
could be very sure there was something wrong with the heart.

But now, anxious paternal orbs, let your troubled gaze shift to another
plate--the next plate nearer your own. Oh, man of God, what cheer?
Barry, another slice? Ah, but never you mind that--no one stops at a
second helping here! No more potatoes, either? Tz, tz! Oh, reverend
sir, what a load to fetch back to your expectant flock in the fall!
Oh, if anything should happen now--now, just as life was becoming so
kind! Oh, now--and those prickles in the heels occurring with less and
less frequency, even despite the upsetting presence of Marjory! To have
something go wrong--at his time of life.... To find the world running
all to sixes and sevens....

Oh, it must be a wild and overwhelming fancy, nothing more than that!
Barry (he rambled wildly in his mind) for mercy's sake more carrots?
And aloud: "Just a few more, Barry?" _Good!_ No, no, one hasn't heaped
them up. One only wants to be sure. And if there is no absolute
assurance in this hard world, one so beset can be forgiven for taking
refuge behind appearances--even behind appearances of one's own
manufacture, in an extremity like this! Yes, by hook or by crook one
must contrive to keep the best foot foremost!

Barry, as a matter of fact, was doing pretty well and feeling pretty
wretched. He had got through the afternoon coolly enough on a kind of
momentum generated partly by the decision that he had simply been a
fool to dream such dreams, and partly by that hopeful, wise, desperate
little word of counsel, that fine word, patience. But here, all at
once, was a pang of reaction. All the old, warm, wistful love came
rushing back. The ancient dreams of home and wife and children returned
to taunt and torture him. Only last night, on the deck of the steamer,
with the moon so soft on the sea--ah, only last night.... How he had
let himself go! How he had even pictured things: the fireplace here,
perhaps the piano there.... And how his cigar had gone out, and he
hadn't noticed. But now he was sitting beside her at her father's
table, and he did not know whether she loved him or not. And in his
pocket was a box with a ring inside it--a ring for which there might
never be any use.

Mrs. Needham noticed, too. But Louise had already explained that she
had a headache. The mother did not suspect that there was anything
necessarily portentous in the air, and her heart beat placidly enough.
Her life seemed settling and settling. The current grew more and more
tranquil. She had times of feeling so kind of still.


Later the talk centred in Arizona.

Barry glanced at Louise, and found her, as it happened, gazing sadly,
quizzically, and with some abstraction at him. He looked away at once,
trembling a little; and he carried on the theme:

"Of course Arizona strikes people in different ways. Some find the
flatness and the sand depressing."

"Is it sand all over?" asked Hilda.

"Oh, dear no!" replied Miss Whitcom, with a vehemence which served
to remind them all that she had been a pioneer in the cactus candy
business and knew what she was talking about.

Even the Rev. Needham contributed something to his younger daughter's
enlightenment. "There are lots of trees along the irrigation ditches.
Barry, what kind of trees are they? I never can seem to remember."

"Cottonwood, mostly," he answered. "The foliage is a very delicate
green."

"Oh, it must be lovely!" sighed Hilda, who romantically saw herself
walking along beside Leslie beneath an everlasting row of the most
beautiful trees anybody could possibly imagine. "How I should love to
go out there!"

"Yes," mused Miss Whitcom, "and we mustn't forget the broad fields of
alfalfa--so dark--the very greenest green in all the world."

Barry nodded slowly. "Yes, the river valleys are always quite fertile.
Then comes the great Arizona desert, with cacti and mesquite and
greenwood and sage. And beyond all that"--he had begun a little
monotonously, but came at length to speak in a rather rapt way--"beyond
all that, the dim blue of the distance, the lonely peaks of the
mountains...."

"Grand old mountains!" added Miss Whitcom.

And it was odd, and no doubt sentimental, but the mountains all at once
reminded her somehow of O'Donnell. Yes, O'Donnell was something like a
mountain. Her heart quickened a little.

"Oh, I know I should just love it!" cried Hilda. And then she asked, in
her almost breathless manner: "Are there any birds in Arizona?"

"Birds?" repeated Barry, a little abstractedly. "Birds? Oh, yes--all
through the irrigated districts. There are orchards, you know. It's
a fine sight to see them in full bloom. And the trees are alive
with birds--meadow larks and mocking birds, mostly. And there are
blackbirds, too. They sing in a wonderful chorus. And almost everywhere
you'll hear the little Mexican doves."

"Oh, I remember the doves!" cried Louise suddenly, forgetting her
wretchedness.

He looked at her wistfully and solemnly. "Some people say the doves
have the sweetest song of all. There's a very plaintive note--you
remember?"

"Yes," she whispered thickly, avoiding his eyes.

The breath of Fate seemed faintly to animate her having remembered the
little Mexican doves. "I think," he said, "they have the saddest song
of any of the birds."


5

A remark, dreadful yet tantalizing in the vistas it opened up, was
overheard by the Rev. Needham as he was coming out on to the screened
porch. It was a remark which set on foot an increasingly turbulent
desire to know, unequivocally and without expurgation, just what had
been the nature of his sister-in-law's life on the distracting island
of Tahulamaji.

Mrs. Needham had retired to the kitchen for a final fling with Eliza
about breakfast, leaving the minister alone in the living room with his
daughter. Miss Whitcom and Mr. Barry had passed out on to the porch,
and Louise had dropped down in a nice shadowy corner with a book--just
as young ladies naturally and invariably do after dinner, when the
light is beginning to fail, and their lover is waiting for them outside.

The Rev. Needham, whose suspicions had already been rather alarmingly
roused, now felt sure not all was well. Why should Louise behave like
this if all were well? And even Barry--Barry wasn't, of course, one of
those romantic fellows who would always be sighing and rolling their
eyes; but there were subtler manifestations.... They had gone walking
together in the afternoon--thank God! There was that much to cling to.
Yes, thank heaven they had done that much anyway!

But the Rev. Needham was so full of perplexity that he hardly knew what
to do next. He told himself, in desperation, that everything _must_, in
reality, be all right--rather much as his daughter had assured herself
on the train that all must work out for the best: her best. He knew,
as a matter of fact, that this was not quite honest persuasion. But it
helped. Oh, it was a very present help. To tell the truth, it sufficed
to carry him quickly out of his daughter's presence. In his heart, the
minister knew that the issue ought to be faced at once. Yes, he ought
to call Louise over on to his knee, just as in the old days, before any
of the unhappy love troubles began, and ask her to tell him what had
gone wrong. But he didn't call her over. Instead he began humming in a
perfectly unconcerned manner, and strolled outside.

It was just as he reached the door that the Rev. Needham overheard the
all but blood-curdling remark.

"You must realize," Miss Whitcom was saying to his daughter's fiancé,
"that it's much too hot there to wear any clothes!"

It being patently too late to turn back, the clergyman came on; somehow
reached a chair. He sat down quickly and began rocking. He rocked
helplessly, yet withal in a faintly ominous way--perhaps, deeper
still, with a movement of guilty curiosity: for after all he was but
human, poor man.

The sun had just dipped, and the sky and the sea were alive with the
fire of this august departure. A wraith-like distribution of cloud
still received direct beams and glowed like a bit of magic dream-stuff;
but the lower world had to rest content now with reflected glory--a
sheen of softening brightness which would grow steadily thicker and
thicker, like quandary in the clergyman's breast, till at length the
light was all gone and darkness had settled across the sea and the
sand. Ah, peaceful eventide! Good-bye, sweet day! But the heart of
the minister was all full of horrid little quick jerks and a settling
mugginess.

The conversation his appearance had served to interrupt did not
continue as it had evidently begun. Yet even at its worst it appeared
to have constituted merely a laughing digression from the major theme,
which had to do with the perfectly proper topic of dry-farming. No
one would think of calling the topic of dry-farming improper. But the
tenor of the talk which succeeded the minister's arrival in their midst
did not, for all its unimpeachable correctness, serve to diminish the
poignancy of that awful phrase: too hot to wear any clothes!

"Mr. Barry," she explained to her brother-in-law, "has been telling me
a lot of interesting things about the sorghums."

Alfred Needham cleared his throat--just as he always did, for
instance, before ascending the pulpit on Sunday--and nodded. But he was
not thinking about the sorghums--just as sometimes, it is to be feared,
in the very act of coming out of the vestry, and with the eyes of the
congregation upon him, he failed to keep his mind entirely on the
sermon he was about to deliver.

"It seems they've made enormous strides since my day," she went on.
"Mr. Barry, how many varieties did you say are now possible?"

"Well," he replied solemnly, his eyes large with helpless unhappiness,
"the sorghums now include common or sweet sorghum, milo maize, Kaffir
corn--and of course broom corn. These have become standard crops, and
we're introducing them more and more into the southern district." He
rocked a trifle self-consciously. All three rocked a moment in silence.

"There's considerably less rainfall down there," commented the Rev.
Needham.

The statement had been carefully equipped with earmarks of the
interrogative, so that, should it happen to prove incorrect, refutation
would take the form of a simple answer to an ingenuous and perfectly
natural question. The Rev. Needham found it urgent to keep his
inflections always slightly interrogative. There was even a sly,
sneaking hint of the useful question mark throughout the reverend
man's theology. Ghastly as the thing must sound spoken right out, it
is really doubtful whether the Rev. Needham would be caught altogether
napping were the entire Bible suddenly to be proved spurious! Of
course when Barry admitted that there _was_ less rainfall in the
southern part, then the minister rocked with subtly renewed purpose,
slapping the arms of his chair exactly as an acknowledged authority on
rainfall might be expected to do. But of course it was all ever so much
subtler than this makes it appear. It was infinitely more delicate than
any mere I-told-you-so attitude.

"You know," continued Barry, who felt an unpleasant thickness in his
throat, "the sorghums have to be able to withstand a great deal of
drought. They roll up their leaves and seem to sleep for months at a
time; and when the rain comes again they revive quickly and make rapid
strides."

Inside the cottage sat Louise. She was huddled miserably over a
book. She was not reading the book, though it chanced to be a very
absorbing historical novel. It is hard to conceive of a young lady's
not reading such a work with avidity and even breathlessness, under
the circumstances. But to be perfectly accurate, Louise hadn't even
opened the historical novel. It simply lay in her lap, and she was
huddled over it. Her eyes were dry. She was utterly miserable. And just
outside, in the full, fresh sweetness of diminishing dayshine, sat
the man who had come all this way to put a ring on her finger. He was
sitting out there in the romantic richness of the tinted evening, and
he was talking about the sorghums!

Oh, a wise plant is the sorghum. When there is a drought it rolls up
its leaves and waits till it is time for the refreshment of another
rain. The sorghum knows well how to plan and bide its time. The
_sorghum_ would not give itself too easily....


Out on the rustic bench which her dear father had so laboriously
constructed sat Hilda. She was listening for steps in the sand. She
would know whose steps they were when they drew close. It was growing
quite dusky underneath the trees. The stars would soon be appearing.
There had been a slight breeze all the afternoon, but it had died away;
and on the beach the tiny waves were whispering that it had passed that
way and was now still. The trees stood very quiet, but occasionally a
squirrel would whisk by overhead. The squirrels, however, were turning
in for the night now, and soon there would be no stir left save only
the night stir of the woods. Far off sounded at intervals the shouts of
young children--children younger than Hilda, and unfettered as yet by
any sweet obligation of sitting very breathless, listening for steps in
the sand.

"How lovely everything is!" thought Hilda.

When she saw Leslie she ran out to meet him--no mooning pretense at not
having heard.

"Oh, Les, why don't you light it?"

He carried a Japanese lantern and was swinging it about in a very
reckless way.

"Shall I?" he asked. "Now?"

"Oh, yes! It isn't quite dark yet, but it will be so much fun!"

"The candle's pretty short, Hilda. Do you think it will last?"

"Let me see." They bent their heads eagerly over the paper lantern.

"It isn't very long, is it Les? I guess we'd better put in a new one.
There are lots of them at the cottage."

And before he could protest she was flying off.

On the screened porch she found the entire household assembled. Mrs.
Needham had completed her session with Eliza and was now pleasantly
rocking. Ah, there was a rhythm in her rocking--especially of late
years. It was the sort of rhythm the vers librists have so entirely
broken away from. It was a rocking which rarely went slower or faster.
Perhaps it was the Homeric hexameter. Or it was stately blank verse,
with maybe the quaint rhyming couplets of Crabbe and Cowper. No one
could ever think of mistaking it for Edgar Lee Masters!

Louise had come out also. Hilda, as she flew by and on into the
cottage, saw her sister sitting beside Lynndal Barry on a rocking
settee. There was, as a matter of fact, not a single stationary piece
of furniture on the porch. To Anna Needham, rocking was pleasant and
even actually profitable. To her husband--well, to the Rev. Needham it
seemed a kind of muscular necessity. And the girls had always been used
to it. So all the chairs rocked.

Aunt Marjie sighed briefly as Hilda ran by. Boy-crazy. Well, life
wasn't made for waiting and working alone. Somehow, this sea air--these
lustrous, still nights--were stealing away her resistance. Yes,
O'Donnell was a kind of mountain. And yet, curiously enough, he was
only a travelling man, too, just as he had always been. Yes, he
travelled for Babbit & Babbit. But she would go home to him at last.
She would put her head on his shoulder, if he would let her, just like
a silly young thing. Suddenly she saw her life as a restless confusion
of ambitions and beginnings. Oh, to have spent it so! To have waited as
long as this! To have been so afraid of giving herself too easily....

Hilda came running out again. She clutched a new candle in her hand.
Her eyes were quite wonderful.

"Where are you going?" asked Mrs. Needham, appearing a little
bewildered by this cyclonic going and coming.

"He's out there; we're going to start now!"

There was just sufficient coherence to bring Miss Whitcom to her feet.
Always impulsive, she stepped to the screen door and thence down on to
the path.

"Hilda!"

"Yes, Aunt Marjie?"

"You're going to light O'Donnell through to the Point?"

"Yes, Aunt Marjie."

"Well, be sure you don't lose yourselves!" No, even Marjory, with her
amazing retrospect of brass, did not quite dare to say: "Don't lose
_him_!" And yet, so far as her heart was concerned, it really amounted
to that.

The last thing Hilda heard, as she sped off, was the patient voice of
Lynndal Barry. The minister had asked him another question about the
sorghums.

"Yes," Barry was saying, "there are about as many varieties of Kaffir
corn and milo maize as of the saccharine sorghums. Only a few have
been tested in the South: red Kaffir corn, black hulled white Kaffir,
standard milo maize, and dwarf milo maize. But we intend--"

Hilda, skipping with happiness, heard no more.


6

The procession through the forest of Betsey was a very romantic
affair. First came Hilda and Leslie, the latter carrying the lighted
Japanese lantern swung over his shoulder. And behind them walked Mr.
O'Donnell, like some great monarch; and he must indeed, just then,
have felt himself at least the king of all travelling men. What would
his colleagues of the grip think if they could see him now? Had any of
them, for all their store of timetables and their samples and routes
and customers, ever marched through so royal a forest, on such a night,
lighted by young love and a gay paper lantern?

Over the hills and through the valleys of Betsey! It was a wonderful
lark. Of course it wouldn't last. Real larks never did. He would go
back to his grim bag of samples, and she would go back to her beloved
Tahulamaji. There would be thousands of miles between them once more,
and life would settle back into the uneventful dog-trot which had
become the established gait. But tonight! Tonight he was parading the
forest of Betsey like a very king, and his way was lighted by a bright
paper lantern which danced at the end of a bough.

"Now," he thought slyly, "if I were a poet...." However, being no poet,
but only a travelling man in the employ of Babbit & Babbit, our friend
simply walked along, like the plain mortal he was; and was content,
if with a sigh, things should be as they were. "Ah, this is fine!" he
would exclaim in his quiet way. And Hilda, for all her heart was so
richly moved, would merely reply: "Yes, we like it."


It had been agreed upon that O'Donnell should be led directly to the
scene of the Assembly Roast instead of being brought all the way round
to Beachcrest first. The Needhams, Miss Whitcom, and Barry were to walk
up the beach, when it was time.

It was at length about as dark as it ever gets in moonlight season. The
moon had not yet risen, but would be coming up soon. The Rev. Needham
suggested that it was time to start.

Miss Whitcom was on her feet at once. There followed quite a little
flurry about wraps. The Rev. Needham and Barry strolled on ahead down
to the beach. They walked slowly, and the ladies were to overtake them.
Both men were smoking cigars, the ministerial supply seeming happily
inexhaustible. If one's faith might be as inexhaustible!

Being a little ill at ease, they talked of obvious things: the
broadness of the beach just here, the firmness of the sand, its
pleasant crunch under the feet.

"We tried to have a board walk down from the cottage," observed the
Rev. Needham, "but every winter the sand drifted all over it and
buried it, so we had to give up the idea." He was wondering nervously
whether Barry would seize this occasion to ask for his daughter's hand.

"You really don't need a walk," replied his guest. "It's an agreeable
change from the city this way."

"Yes--yes, it's a change."

There was a short, awkward pause. Then Barry remarked. "You've got an
ideal location here."

And the minister answered: "Yes, we like it."

They trudged on a little way in silence.

"There certainly are a lot of stars out tonight," commented Barry,
transferring his gaze rather abruptly from the sands to the heavens.

"Um--yes. Yes, there are a great many. And there will be a full moon,
later on."

"Yes, I know. The moon was wonderful last night on the lake. I sat out
on deck a long time."

"You said you had a good trip across, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes--perfectly smooth."

Another silence--an ominous desperate silence.

"Well," quoth the Rev. Needham, turning around and peering back, "I
wonder if they're not coming?"

"I think I see them coming now across the sand," remarked Barry.

"Yes--yes, I believe I do, too," the other agreed.

"That's Louise in the white dress."

"Yes, that's Louise."

It wasn't long before the ladies overtook them. The tension was at once
both relieved and heightened. Anna Needham claimed her husband's arm,
Louise walked beside Barry, and Miss Whitcom walked alone with her
thoughts. However, the groups were not isolated. Yes, there was safety
in numbers. Single encounters began to be desperately unpleasant.

What was the matter? In Anna's day, young folks had been given, she
remembered, to wandering significantly off by themselves on such
rare nights as this. But Louise and Lynndal kept close. Anna was
troubled about this--even whispered about it to her husband as they
walked along. Alfred started and began to talk about something else.
They ought to face this thing. They ought to face it squarely and
with courage. But Alfred couldn't. He told himself they must be only
imagining things.

They passed the lighthouse, so shadowy and gaunt itself, yet with so
beaming an eye! Adjoining the tower was the keeper's residence. There
were lights in some of the rooms. A child was calling. A dog was
sniffing about. He was quite used to resorters, and did not even bark
as the party approached and passed the premises. Louise stooped to
pat the dog's head. Barry said: "Hello, sir!" The dog wagged his tail
slowly, but did not follow them away from the house. He had learned all
life's lessons in puppyhood. He would never stray. What a grand thing,
never to stray!

When they were rounding the final curve of the Point separating them
from the rendezvous, Mrs. Needham cried: "Oh, look--they're lighting it
already!"

The cone-shaped pile was visible, and fire was leaping all about the
base. Flame shot up quickly to the very peak, and thence on up, higher
and higher, toward the stars.

There was quite a crowd assembled about the fire when the people from
Beachcrest arrived. O'Donnell and his delightful escort arrived from
another direction at almost the same moment. Then they all sat around
in the sand, and kept jumping up to introduce and be introduced.
Naturally the Needhams knew everybody on the Point; and it was always
quite a thing to have guests. Here were the Goodmans, smiling hosts to
the entire assembly. Had they not started the thing long ago when their
married life was in its springtime? Ah, the Goodmans! Miss Whitcom
remarked afterward that she felt as though she were shaking hands with
royalty. "It honestly reminded me," she said, "of my first meeting with
Queen Tess!"

In the excitement, of course the roasting sticks had been forgotten,
and of course Hilda insisted upon running all the way back with Leslie
to Beachcrest after them. By the time the sticks were there, the fire
had flared itself into a condition inviting the approach of wienies and
marshmallows. A ring of resorters hovered round the fire with sticks
held hopefully out and faces shielded by an arm. Naturally there were
some mishaps. Some one, by deftly turning and turning, would coax a
marshmallow to the point of the most golden perfection, only to have
it plump dismally down in the sand at last. Then there would be a
chorus of sympathy and disappointment from a group of sitters, each of
whom had perhaps more or less hoped to be favoured with the delicious
smoking confection. Or else it would be a frankfurter that plumped. But
there never was a roast without tragedies.

And everywhere romped the children. Sometimes they would throw
themselves on to their stomachs and begin ambitiously digging in the
sand toward water. Then they would leap and chase each other, or they
would go about thrusting fallen faggots back into the fiery heart of
the blaze.

The provision baskets stood hospitably open. In one might be discovered
a wealth of cool, slippery frankfurters; in another heaps of split and
buttered buns; in still another dill pickles, a pot of mustard. And
of course there were always marshmallows. Some preferred marshmallows
to frankfurters and some preferred frankfurters to marshmallows. But
the majority ate ravenously of both alike, displaying little or no
preference.

The eastern sky grew lighter and lighter. The trees stood out
mysterious and very black against it.

"Look, look!" cried the children.

For the moon was rising now.

The young boys grew restive. Their stomachs were simply closed to the
incursion of any more refreshment; it was a pity, no doubt, but full
was full. The boys began enlarging their area of prowess. There was a
great sand bluff inland a short way, where a rift in the hills cut a
deep, barren gash across the face of the forest. The boys crept far up
the bluff and then leapt out, down and down.

The east was luminous, and the great moon crept higher and higher. When
the boys leapt, their bodies were silhouetted against her bright disc.
They would appear out of the shadow of nothing, poise a moment, leap
into space, disappear.

"Well," observed Barry, in some surprise, "I see you've brought a book
along."

She had really forgotten the book was in her lap, as she sat huddled
over it so miserably in the cottage living room after dinner. When she
had gone out on to the porch afterward she had carried it with her
automatically, and so had brought it all the way to the roast without
thinking. Louise had a grimly whimsical feeling that she couldn't
get away from the book. "If I'd only thrown it into the harbour this
morning!" she thought. But to him she merely replied, a manufactured
gaiety edging the words without lightening them: "Oh, yes--it's a book
I picked up by chance." She handled it carelessly, and her quick glance
shot to a distant group. Leslie was lying stretched out in the sand,
his chin in his hands. He was looking up at Hilda, who appeared to be
recounting something of great interest. Louise felt her face go hot
with jealousy. "I--I don't know much about it," she went on, flapping
the cover of the book listlessly back and forth. "It was recommended to
me by some one who had read it."

"What is the name?" Barry asked politely.

She held the book up in the firelight, flaunting it in the face of the
man who had come so far with his love and his brave little ring. It was
the darkest hour of her pilotless groping.

Leslie's laugh rang. The little group took it up. Then Leslie himself
appeared to become the centre of interest. He began telling a story
which involved a great many gestures. At one stage he even jumped up
and turned a cartwheel, and one of the girls in the crowd exclaimed:
"Can't you just see it?"

"Oh, what shall I do?" thought Louise, fighting her tears.

The moon climbed slowly up the sky, and the young boys, one after
another, with loud shrieks of joy, silhouetted themselves darkly
against her gleaming face.

And then the speech making began.

The Rev. Goodman led off. He had something in the nature of a set
speech for the occasion, which varied surprisingly little from year
to year. It bade the guests welcome, always in the same felicitous
terms, and contained the same allusions to the salubriousness of the
climate, the unmatchable beauty of their Point. Alluding to God's Great
Out-of-Doors, the Rev. Goodman would invariably employ the same grand
gesture.

"And now," he concluded, "I am sure, dear friends, we feel a gratitude
in our hearts to the Father of All Goodness, who has guided our
footsteps," et cetera, et cetera. "And may we all bow our heads with
the Rev. Needham, and join him in prayer."

The Rev. Goodman sat down and the Rev. Needham scrambled to his feet.
He closed his eyes very tight and prayed quite loud--as though defying
Marjory to prevail against him here. It was the next thing to being
right in the pulpit! But he felt her gazing at him in that shrewd way
of hers which seemed saying: "Alfred, have you really got truth in your
heart?" What did Marjory mean by looking at him that way? What right
had she to question his faith and to speak of truth?

It was really a very good prayer, though perhaps just a little more
earnest than the occasion actually required. When the prayer was
finished, he sat down. (Naturally there was no applause.) All the other
speakers would be applauded, but no applause lightened the sitting
down of the Rev. Needham. However, there was a general stir in the
camp, just as there is in church when backs, wearied with the Sabbath
bending, straighten cheerfully for another seven days of sin.

And then the Rev. Goodman, who was the official toastmaster, jumped
up and told a humorous story, which every one had heard before; after
which he turned to the Rev. Blake and asked him to recite _The House By
the Side of the Road_, a very great favourite at the Point. Then the
congregation sang that cheering and beautiful hymn, _Rock of Ages_,
under cover of which most of the boys escaped and ran violent races
up and down the beach. Then the host told another moderately humorous
story, in which he very cleverly incorporated something about the
brother clergyman upon whom he meant to call for the next selection.
This clergyman (who hailed from Dubuque, Iowa), not to be outdone,
scored heavily by telling a humorous story he had learnt off from _The
Ladies' Home Journal_, but which in the telling he so miraculously
manipulated that the Rev. Goodman became its hero! There always was a
vast amount of pleasant playfulness at these Assembly Roasts. Later
on the congregation, sitting, sang that sublimely joyous hymn called
_Jesus, Lover of My Soul_. Since there was no judicious organist at
hand to speed things up, the singing was inclined to sag, and one half
of the camp finished a little bit behind the other. But this was a very
small matter indeed, because, as every one knows, it is the spirit that
counts most, especially at such times. Innumerable other speakers, many
of them purely secular, were called upon. And Mrs. Goodman, who was
quite an elocutionist, read a little story which only the innermost
circle could hear. And Miss Whitcom nudged her friend. They slipped
away and strolled along the beach together.


"I thought I'd rescue you, Barrett," she said.

"But I was immensely enjoying myself," he smilingly protested.

"Yes, I shouldn't wonder--especially the singing! You know, I was so
desperately afraid they might call upon me--just as a curiosity, you
know--and how I should have shocked them!"

"You think so?"

"Why, of course. I never open my mouth without shocking somebody or
other. I don't really set out to do it. I simply don't seem able to
help myself."

"You don't shock me."

"Perhaps not--any more."

"But you know you never really did."

"Never?"

"No. At worst you only opened my eyes."

"Well, Barrett," she said, after a short silence, "I think I've always
rather felt that: that you understood, deep down--that you weren't
quite shockable, in fact."

"Yes," he said meditatively. They strolled along, saying nothing more
for a little time.

At length she asked: "Do you remember the time we swam for the
Allenhurst medal?"

"Of course I do," he nodded.

"You remember how even we were--how we outdistanced all the others?"

He smiled queerly. "They hadn't a chance!"

"Right-O, Barrett. We knew how to stroke in those days! Well," she
continued after a moment, "and you haven't forgotten how I won the
race--and why?"

"A sudden cramp--I thought I was done for!"

"Oh, no, my friend." They were both smiling. "Time has played tricks
with your memory. It wasn't a cramp. Now think, think _hard_. You went
lazy at the finish. And so how could I help pulling in ahead in spite
of myself?"

"Marjory, I--"

"Be not forsworn, my friend. Let's agree that you went lazy at the
finish. After all these years, can't we? It was a singular thing," she
went on, half gravely and half smilingly. "You know I was just at the
age.... Well, it had a most singular effect upon me. Yes, I may say it
altered the whole course of my life, Barrett." She laughed softly.

"Great heavens, Marjory, you don't honestly mean ...!"

"Well, you see, I was one of the first of the 'new' women, and I just
simply rebelled. That was all. You haven't forgotten how I sent the
medal back to you?"

He looked quite serious. "I know," he said softly. "I was stupid about
it for a long time. There didn't seem to be any sense in your sending
it back. In fact...." He hesitated.

"Do let's be perfectly frank!" she invited, with another short laugh.

"Well, I thought it a wilful and childish attitude to take. I didn't
want them to say I'd beaten a woman. We were still living on the fringe
of chivalry, you know, when it was more important to walk on the proper
side of a woman and tip your hat to her at a certain angle than to give
her the vote. I was brought up in a delightful Victorian atmosphere,
where it wasn't considered the thing even to beat a woman at tennis, if
you could decently help it."

"Ah, yes!" cried Marjory. "Just think of it! But gradually you grew
wiser, Barrett--you and the world."

"Yes," he muttered, "I and the world."

"You came to see...."

"Yes, I came at last to see that you can't go lazy at the
finish any more. I told you, and I meant it, that at last I've
capitulated--capitulated at every point."

They walked on a little way in the moonlight, close to the waves. All
at once a bold thrill of tenderness came on him. He drew the woman into
his arms. She responded slowly. Afterward she professed to be not quite
sure whether they had kissed.

But there was a witness. Oh, yes--there was a witness who could
emphatically and joyfully testify that they did kiss, and that they
kissed more than once. The witness, of course, was our ubiquitous
little pagan god, who had abandoned at least a half dozen most
promising cases at the roast to chase for a moment down the beach after
this pair of obdurate mortals who had held off for twenty years.


7

At about ten o'clock the Rev. Needham took out his watch and thought it
was time he and his little party set their faces homeward. Mrs. Needham
had been talking gentle gossip with Mrs. Blake and the wife of the
minister from Dubuque; but she got up at once and obediently took her
husband's arm.

"We go to bed early at Beachcrest," she explained. They went to
bed early in town, for that matter, though the full truth went
uncommunicated.

"Where are the girls?" demanded the Rev. Needham, looking anxiously
round.

Louise came up hurriedly, followed by Barry. "Are you starting home
now, papa?" she asked, with what sounded strangely like eagerness.

"Well, we thought we'd just be starting along. It's--it's not late yet,
you know. We'll just slip on ahead and get the cottage lighted."

"I think we'll go along now too."

"Oh, I wouldn't hurry. The fire's quite good yet."

"Lynndal is tired," she insisted. "He didn't sleep more than a couple
of hours on the boat." And she gave him a very complex glance in which
there was something whisperingly like an element of tenderness.

"Well," capitulated Mrs. Needham.

But Louise was only one daughter. Where was Hilda?

Where indeed? Where _was_ she?

Anxious eyes explored the assembled company. Most of the young people
had mysteriously made off, some this way and some that, but all alike
into the friendly embrace of the darkness which lay so thick beyond the
glow of the fire. Where was Hilda?

"I think I saw her with the lad--is it Leslie?" said Lynndal Barry.

"Oh--Leslie," repeated Mrs. Needham.

"You didn't notice which way they went?" asked the minister.

"No, I'm afraid I didn't."

Then Louise came to the rescue. She pointed miserably, yet also with a
faint, new fact-facing grimness, toward the lake.

"They haven't taken out the _canoe_ ...!" Alfred Needham was horror
struck.

"It's perfectly calm, papa," Louise reminded him dryly.

Then, indeed, they saw the canoe, on the moonlit water. Both Leslie
and Hilda were paddling. But they were not exactly paddling toward the
shore.

"She knows it's not allowed, out like this at all hours of the night!"
cried the minister.

But his wife reassured him in her gentle way. "Alf, I wouldn't worry.
Leslie will look out for her."

Louise lowered her head. Then she moved almost imperceptibly closer to
Lynndal. At length the homeward march was begun. But the Rev. Needham
stopped again suddenly, looking at his wife in a helpless way.

"Anna, _where's your sister_?"

"Dear me!" cried Anna Needham. "We were starting right off without her!"

"Is that Miss Whitcom?" asked Barry.

"Who?"

"Where?"

"The lady just ahead, coming this way."

It was true. There was a lady approaching along the beach. But she was
with a man, and the man....

"Alf!" whispered Anna, gripping her husband's arm.

"Well?"

"Oh--_look_!"

"What is it, Anna?"

She murmured in almost an ecstasy: "Why, he's got his arm right round
her waist!"

The awful intelligence that this was indeed Marjory, and that a man
had his arm around her waist, smote the minister's consciousness with
peculiar and climactic force.


Hilda and Leslie took their own good time about coming in off the lake.
It was so wonderful out there in the moonlight.

"I've had a perfectly grand time!" she told him, her voice thrilling
richly with conviction. She knew she had had a grand time, and whatever
might be the sequel when she faced her parents, the grandness would
never, never diminish.

They ascended the slight sand elevation and reached the steps leading
up to the porch. Moonlight patched and patterned the steps. They did
not go any farther.

Hilda sat down, drawing her knees and chin together, while Leslie
whistled softly.

"Will your father be mad?" he asked.

"Oh, no!" the girl exclaimed, with the full and emphatic authority of
one who is gravely in doubt. "Why?" she added. "It isn't late, is it?"

Leslie pulled out his watch. "N-o-o. Only twenty after eleven."

"Twenty _after_ eleven? Twenty after _eleven_! Oh, my goodness! I
didn't have any idea it was so late. It seemed as though we were only
out there a couple of minutes!"

"It did to me, too," admitted Leslie.

The lateness of the hour, however, appeared to exert no immediate
influence upon either his recognition of the wisdom of departure or
hers of withdrawal to bed. Leslie swung back and forth, clinging to a
slender birch tree which grew quite close to the cottage. Its silver
leaves crashed gently together, as though a breeze were thrusting its
way through.

"I could simply sit out here all night!" Hilda declared.

Leslie admitted he could too. Presently he did sit down. He sat down
beside Hilda, but, as before, one step below her. It was certainly a
lovely night. His head somehow found her knee; then Eros could hardly
contain himself! Hilda ran her fingers very lightly through his hair.
They did not bother to talk much.

At length he asked: "Shall we go out after raspberries tomorrow? Would
you like to?"

"Oh, Les--that would be lots of fun!"

"All right."

"Shall we take a lunch so we won't have to hurry?"

"Good idea."

"What time will you come, Les?"

"What time do you want me?"

"Oh--I don't know."

"Right after breakfast?"

"Oh, yes!" Her answer to this question held no slightest inflection of
doubt.

"What time do you have breakfast?"

"Never later than eight o'clock, and it only takes me a minute to eat!"

Leslie appeared to have forgotten all about going back to the city,
after all....

There was another warm silence. The boy had no idea of starting for his
own cottage, nor had Hilda any idea of going to bed. It didn't, for
some strange reason, occur to either that the parent Needhams might be
waiting up in there, and that the minister, harassed over dim prospects
of ruin perceived in the relationship of his daughter and the man who
handled the Western interests, was attaining an attitude of really
appalling austerity. No, they didn't bother their spoony young heads
about any of these things, until all at once the cottage door opened,
letting out upon them a flood of light from the living room.

"Hello, papa!" cried Hilda, guiltily and very affectionately. She
jumped up.

The Rev. Needham did not say much out on the porch; but when Leslie
had crept off, after hurriedly squeezing the girl's hand, and Hilda
had been marshalled within, the law was laid down with unusual vigour.
Mrs. Needham took it all rather more quietly, primarily because she
did not share, in its full poignancy, her husband's alarm over Louise.
Of course she was concerned. But the poise of climax was beginning to
assert itself. No doubt tomorrow, if a reign of chaos really did set
in, Mrs. Needham would rule over the turmoil like a very judge. She
would become dominant, as when she went to rescue her daughter from the
Potomac. It was perhaps her only complex.


Hilda had just been sent up to bed, rather subdued, but in her heart
immensely radiant, when Marjory arrived home. O'Donnell wanted to hang
around awhile, but she wouldn't let him. No, she positively refused
to linger any longer in the moonlight. She reproved herself a little.
She reproved him a little, too. They had already been quite romantic
enough for one night. And she hustled him off with a lack of ceremony
which went with her years and her temperament. All the same, he managed
to steal a glancing kiss. And Eros--who I forgot to say had remained in
hiding out there--Eros told himself that this was infinitely better for
his purposes than a mere handshake!

When he had gone, she sat down on the steps alone, for a moment. It was
so wonderful--life was--and the night. She watched the moon declining
over a just-troubled sea. Then abruptly she became conscious of voices
in the cottage living room.

"Now, your sister!"

"Well, Alf?"

"_She's still out!_"

"Oh, Marjory knows the way."

"But at such an hour!"

"It's only a quarter to twelve, Alf."

"I know how the Point will be talking tomorrow!"

"Alf, I--"

"Oh--I've nothing to say. No, Anna, I realize she's your sister. But
I must tell you what I think." And he was back once more on the topic
that so turbulently absorbed him. "I think Marjory has been led into
an unfortunate way of living. She's always run so free and never cared
what people thought or said. I really don't know how the Point is going
to take her." And after a moment's pause, during which the minister
could be heard pacing up and down: "Anna, what do we know about the
nature of her life in Tahulamaji? Has she told you anything definitely
about that? No. But she's hinted...." He paced on, and presently added:
"Now here she is, just back; and the very first thing she does is walk
all over with a man's arm round her!"

Miss Whitcom abandoned the wonderful night. When she entered, her
sister smiled and brightened generally. But her brother-in-law seemed
rather taken off his feet.

Marjory wanted to make the minister feel perfectly at home, so she sat
down and began rocking cosily.

"How snug you're fixed here!" she murmured. "How happy you ought to
be, Alfred, in your little nest! Ah, it's fine to be in the bosom of a
family again. You know, I feel somehow as though I'd come back from an
absence of nearly a lifetime. It's a curious feeling, to come back like
this. Like a sort of prodigal, Alfred--just fancy! But I _did_ have
to go away," she pleaded earnestly. "In the beginning, it was quite
necessary! You see there were such a lot of things I wanted to find
out, and I felt from the very first--Anna, you remember how I used to
talk to you about life, and all that?--well, I somehow felt I shouldn't
find out anything just sitting in the front parlour with a family album
spread open on my lap. You see, it wasn't what the others were like
that I wanted to be like, and it wasn't what all the others had done
that I wanted to do in the world. So I broke away. Yes, the prodigal
left, to roam far and wide. Now that we're chatting here all snug, I
may tell you, Alfred, that it's been pretty interesting and pretty
broadening."

"Marjie, dear--"

"Now, Anna, _don't_ let's go up to bed just yet. Not _just_ yet.
It is so cosy down here, and I'm much too excited to sleep. Just a
little while. I--I want to visit with Alfred a little about my life in
Tahulamaji." The atmosphere in the living room grew subtly electric.
The minister sat rigid. But the speaker went on in a cheery, simple
way: "Just think, just think! When you would be sitting down in your
nice house in Ohio, there I was...." She interrupted herself with a
laugh. "It does sound rather dreadful, now doesn't it? You in Ohio
and me.... Fancy my going way off there alone--for you know the
Tahulamajians were once cannibals!--all by myself, and--and _living_!
Gracious, how extraordinary it does sound!"

She rocked with folded arms and peeped at her brother-in-law out of the
wicked corners of her eyes.

"But it's such fun," she went on, a little solemnly, "keeping your
personal life all ship-shape--all ship-shape, Alfred--and yet really
feeling, as you go along, that you're not missing a single thing that's
worth while. No, not a single blessed thing, Alfred. When I went to
Tahulamaji I hadn't an awfully clear notion of what I was going to do
there. You see I thought I'd just have a look-around, as we say. Oh,
Alfred," she chatted, "such a lovely spot! So warm and tropical, with
music at night over the water.... Alfred, how you would love it there!"

He shifted uneasily, and she went on: "What I did, though--what my life
in Tahulamaji really turned out to be--wasn't after all very poetic,
or even essentially tropical, when it comes to that. Yes, I've often
thought I might have chosen a more harmonious vocation. But one must
grasp what one can and be content. The fact is, Alfred, I went into the
drygoods business."

"Drygoods!" cried her sister.

"Yes--just think of that--and after all the really exciting things
I've done in my life! But that's exactly what I did, Anna. Yes,
that's what my life was in Tahulamaji. And you've simply no idea how
the thing took! The natives, you see, were just beginning to wear
clothes--regular clothes, I mean, dear brother. And in a few months I
had an establishment--an _establishment_, I tell you, with departments
and counters and clerks.... It was perfectly beautiful to see them
skipping about, and the little cash boxes running on their tracks
overhead...."

"Marjie, _really_?"

"Yes, indeed. Of course that came just a little later on, after
electricity had been introduced. The arrangement was somewhat crude,
but it worked. Anna, you've no idea the things you can do if you really
set your heart on them! Yes, in time we even had cash boxes overhead,
and there was I, up in the cage where all the cash boxes went to,
making change and keeping the books! That's what makes me laugh so,
when I think of it: you living in your nice house in Ohio, and me up in
the little cage with the cash coming in by trolley!"

"Marjory, Marjory!"

"The third year I had a dressmaker over from San Francisco, and the
business trebled at once. The poor dears had been trying to make their
own clothes, but of course they didn't know much about styles. I had
a circulating library of pattern books, but it was a great day, I
tell you, when the dressmaker arrived! They closed the schools, and a
reception was held. Even the Queen came down the line! I have a manager
now," she concluded, "running the business. I said I simply had to get
off for a rest. Alfred," she soared to her climax, "your sister has
worked herself weary and rich. How much will the new parish house cost?"

The Rev. Needham gasped. This is really not an exaggeration. He
gasped--and it was, this time, no merely inner gasping, either.
Marjory--the new parish house ...!

"Why, Marjory!" he cried, his heart deeply touched. There sounded again
here that former note of appeal or even pathos.

Nevertheless, long afterward, when the fine new parish house was all
finished, and the church could hold its own a little while longer in a
world which was changing so rapidly, a grim spectre stalked between
the minister and her magnificent donation. It was the spectre of the
Bishop whose bed she had seen made up. Did Marjory think _he_ would
sleep on two mattresses, like the Bishop? And buy an upper for his golf
sticks?


Miss Whitcom had risen to bid them good night. The indignant cottage
lamp had begun to sputter and fail. It had never before been kept
burning so late. But she lingered long enough to give them the full
benefit of one of her delightful and so characteristic shafts of
bluntness.

"O'Donnell," she said, "has stood by all these years. Think of it!
Think of its taking so long as that to be sure! Of course it wasn't
that I ever cared two straws for anybody else. O'Donnell's never had
any active competition, except from my overwhelming notions about
being free to work out my life. Well, I've had my freedom, and I've
worked it out. And now--well, he's asked me again--tonight. But what
do you think? I haven't given him a definite answer yet--not _yet_!
I'm going over to the Elmbrook Inn as soon as the sun's up, though. I
guess I'll stand down under his window and call out to him softly. And
when he comes to the window, I'll say: 'Barrett, I've had my fling!'
Alfred--you don't think I could find my way through tonight ...?"

"Marjory! Of course not! Tomorrow, if you must...."

But she chattered gaily and unquenchably on. "I don't know how it's
all going to turn out, I'm sure--about our future, I mean. You see, if
he'll come along to Tahulamaji, I'll sell him a half interest in the
business, and we could let the manager go. But I doubt if he'll do it.
It's so far, and then, you see, he's been with the Babbits so long. I
can fancy one's growing very much attached to the Babbits!"

"And if he doesn't want to go to Tahulamaji?" asked her sister.

"If he doesn't? If he doesn't? Well, then I'll have to follow _his_
lead."

The Rev. Needham had a sudden flash of wholly disorganizing
inspiration. "Marjory, you don't mean Babbit & Babbit?"

But it was just exactly what she did mean! "Yes, in that case I'll
travel for Babbit & Babbit. Must be doing something, I can tell you,
with all these parish houses to be built! And it won't be my first job
on the road, by any manner of means, either!"

Then she kissed her sister affectionately on the mouth and her
brother-in-law affectionately on the cheek. And then the cottage lamp
went out.


8

When Hilda went up to bed she thought Louise already asleep, for she
lay there with her eyes closed. Hilda undressed as stealthily as
possible, and crept in beside her sister. At first she felt so excited
that it seemed to her she must surely lie awake all night. But as a
matter of fact, her eyes drooped at once, and in five minutes she was
asleep.

Then it was that Louise stirred and opened her eyes. They were very
wide and very full of perplexity. She had not been sleeping, but had
feigned sleep because she dreaded the ordeal of talking. She wanted to
be alone, and she wanted to think--all night. A feverish zeal was upon
her.

Barry was abed too. His light had gone out and his room was quite
silent. Was he asleep? She wondered. Or was he, too, lying there in the
dark with eyes wide open, thinking?

The walk back from the roast had been a very silent one. The day had
been crowded with emotion, and during the journey back to Beachcrest
the tenseness had seemed, curiously, to be eased a little. At least
there seemed a tacit understanding that, whatever the further
developments might be, tomorrow must do. Tomorrow, tomorrow! Tonight
all was hazed and half drowned in unshed, groping tears. Even emotion
itself, through sheer, blessed weariness, was subtly obscured. So the
walk had been silent, while somehow both had felt as though the air had
cleared a little. It was easier to breathe.

They had stood together a moment on the porch.

"Goodnight," she said huskily.

"Goodnight, Louise," he returned gravely, giving her hand just a frank,
brief pressure.

She wanted to throw herself at his feet. The impulse to do something
splendid and expiating swept over her almost irresistibly. She wanted
to implore his forgiveness--would that set their lives in order? If
this were to be the end, she felt there ought to be something at least
vaguely stupendous about it.

"Louise, dear--what is it?" he asked, quite tenderly and calmly, yet
with an intensity, too, which seemed like a hot, reproachful breath
against one's very soul.

She swayed a little, almost as though she might be about to fall in a
faint. He touched her arm gently.

The opportunity passed. "It's nothing," she murmured. "I'm tired,
that's all--so tired!" And she did not throw herself at his feet, or do
anything splendid at all.

It was true, she was very tired. She expected to drop at once into a
merciful drugged sleep. It had been like that after the affair with
Richard. But now, lo! she found herself more wide awake, it seemed,
than she had ever been. The weariness seemed all slipping from her,
and her mind grew quite vibrant, as with a slowly dawning purpose.

Ah, tomorrow!

Would the situation be as tragic then? Could it be otherwise than
tragic? But perhaps--perhaps they would see things more clearly....

"Yes," she thought, "I'll go to sleep now and let tomorrow bring what
it must."

Mañana, mañana!

But this was not to be. She closed her eyes. She tried to turn into a
snug and sleepy position. But she could not woo sleep; and every effort
merely sharpened her senses. Again she found herself lying in the dark
with wide eyes, and went on thinking, thinking.

What was the meaning of this strange commotion? Phantoms--of the
past--presaging phantoms endlessly to follow.... At dawn she had gone
out blithely enough to welcome her lover. He had come. And then.... But
even before his coming, that curious battle had set in. Not his hat or
the twist of his profile.... Phantoms. Phantoms rising up in her heart
like some sinister cloud of retribution. And their single adversary:
"You are mine, all mine...."

Now, in this sombre hour shunned by sleep, the conflict achieved
an effect of climax: she felt it to be that, obscurely yet with a
desperate poignancy--felt that an issue precious in the scheme of her
unfolding destiny faced decision. Legions of spent loves went by in
marshalled battle trim. With an inward cry she watched them as they
passed. Perfume still lingering in the house, though with the guest
departed. Ghosts of a many-vizaged passion, homing at length, for the
fulfilment of a barter Faust-like in its essence.

How lavish she had always been: how free! Shambles, now the glamour
was gone stale. A monstrous cheapening--a heart flung out to-let in
a public street. Yes, how easily and extravagantly she had spent
herself--a profligate spending, for what the moment could return. Here,
at last, was a love that demanded: "You must be mine, all mine--you
must belong to me forever!" Curious, that of them all--of all the
voices that had spoken of love before--it should be Lynndal's which, in
fancy, thus first framed a so momentous contract!

He had been always so modest; in the beginning, to be loved in return
had figured for him as a too, too generous conjecture. Gradually,
however, there had been a return. Their lives had drawn together.
The fact that this love had, from almost the very beginning, been
challenged to the bridging of such distance began to assume for Louise
a new and arresting significance. There had been something in it,
in its very fibre, rising above any mere convenience of contact: a
phenomenon unique, it struck her, in the long and turbulent history
of her heart interests. Those letters.... "That was just it," she
had groped when confronted by Aunt Marjie. Romancing appeared to
have carried her far, how far! Mirage. And yet, behind the mirage a
something deeper lurked. She sensed this now; but all the weary day
she had sensed it also, dimly. Lynndal. Hitherto, the man himself had
barely figured. Yet ever he had been there, too. He had come from
far in the west to put a ring on her finger, and had found her in a
panic of goblin doubt. That fancied voice in the shriek of steam:
"Mine--mine!" Then the kiss which exposed her dilemma. But _behind_
these things--the man; the man himself. And what was this that seemed
for so long, in a fine and utter silence, to have been building?
Sanctuary!...

Her mind, as she lay here in the dark, became indeed a battleground
for this ultimate climax of struggle. An unimagined realm they made of
it. Her heart beat faster and her cheeks grew hot. To-let, in a public
street. "Richard! I have done what he would have done--what he did!
I am no better--no better!" She writhed, and the bitterness did not
leave her--carried her instead to a yet more awful conclusion: "I am no
better than a--than a--" The terrible word scorched across her heart,
leaving a scar behind. Sobs shook her body, and the tears were bitter
tears of hopelessness and regret.

But then, slowly, the bitterness eased a little; and, full of
amazement, she felt a shy presence of freshness stealing mysteriously
in, as from some empire where struggle is no citizen. A strange
and beautiful sense of disentanglement. In the previous moment of
unwithheld relentless purgatory, she had caught the rhythm of that
something--that something behind the mirage! So that, in time, as
she lay relaxed, with tears undried on her face, it came to her that
just one fact remained, of all the febrile facts which, out of a long
inglorious past, had attained the immortality of ghost-hood. Just
one--one "living" fact: Lynndal!

Until today he had but filled a niche--but carried on the pattern of
the many; now, however, the power to stem this ruinous tide revealed
itself as at hand, just waiting to be seized--the courage to give
herself completely, and to achieve a love as steadfast and unchanging
as his had proved to be.

The night wore on. The moon grew sleepy and drooped in the starry
western sky. But Louise did not sleep. There was high drama in her
heart, and she could not sleep till it was all played out.

She began laying plans. What would her life be like if she married
Lynndal? Dry-farming. But later he would run for Congress--perhaps he
would be Governor some day. And in the meantime, love--and there would
perhaps be children.... Security! Peace! An anchorage--something to
steady her and set her wayward heart at rest!

"I'm the kind of girl," she told herself, with a grimness which still
went hand in hand with the orgy of honesty and fearless insight that
had been making these dark hours so memorable, "--the kind that _must_
be married. I--I'm not safe otherwise--not to be trusted."

And then her mood lightened again a little and grew grimly whimsical:
"They say a minister's children are always the worst!"


She must have fallen into a little sleep; for she opened her eyes with
a start and gazed up at a slight abrasion in the shingle roof through
which morning blinked. For a moment she wondered why she had waked
so early. The July birds were all aflutter outside. It was a radiant
summer dawn.

Hilda lay beside her, sound asleep. The house was very still. It was
tomorrow!

Downstairs on the mantelpiece in the cottage living room the Dutch
clock was ticking in its wiry, indignant way. There came a whirr--_so_
like a wheeze of decrepitude. And then it struck: one, two, three,
four....

Very quietly Louise slipped out of bed. She did not want to waken
Hilda, but she had a sudden desire to be out under the sky.

Quickly putting on her clothes, she stole from the cottage. The morning
was very still and fresh. She felt as though she must shout the
gladness that was in her. Tomorrow! Who could possibly have foreseen
that it would be like this?

Louise climbed up out of the valley toward the little rustic
"tea-house" where Leslie had waited for her yesterday at dawn. She
thought she would sit there a long, long time, trying to realize her
great new contrite happiness. She reached the door. A figure stirred.
Lynndal was there. He had risen even before she was awake, for slumber
had not come to him at all. When he saw her face, he could not believe
the new happiness that seemed rushing upon him out of the dark chaos of
their yesterday.

She stretched out her hands to him. She snuggled up against him with a
brief, glad sigh. "I want to be yours, all yours, Lynndal," she said
softly and just a little humorously. "I want to be yours forever and
ever. I don't want to belong to any one but you!"





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