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Title: Indian Summer
Author: Hutchings, Mrs. Emily Grant
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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INDIAN SUMMER


      *      *      *      *      *      *

_NEW BORZOI NOVELS_

_FALL, 1922_


  THE QUEST
    _Pio Baroja_

  THE ROOM
    _G. B. Stern_

  ONE OF OURS
    _Willa Cather_

  A LOVELY DAY
    _Henry Céard_

  MARY LEE
    _Geoffrey Dennis_

  TUTORS’ LANE
    _Wilmarth Lewis_

  THE PROMISED ISLE
    _Laurids Bruun_

  THE RETURN
    _Walter de la Mare_

  THE BRIGHT SHAWL
    _Joseph Hergesheimer_

  THE MOTH DECIDES
    _Edward Alden Jewell_

  INDIAN SUMMER
    _Emily Grant Hutchings_

      *      *      *      *      *      *



INDIAN SUMMER

EMILY GRANT HUTCHINGS


[Illustration]



Alfred A. Knopf
New York      1922


[Illustration]


Copyright, 1922, by
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Published, July, 1922

Set up, electrotyped, and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co.,
Binghamton, N. Y.
Paper furnished by Perkins-Goodwin Co., New York, N. Y.
Bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass.

Manufactured in the United States of America



  To Edwin Hutchings
  My Inspiration



Contents


  Prologue

        I Lavinia                          3

       II Calvin                           6

      III David                           12


  Book One: Spring

       IV Vine Cottage                    21

        V Judith Goes West                26

       VI The Trench Children             32

      VII Lavinia Pays a Call             43

     VIII Hal Marksley Intrudes           53

       IX News from Bromfield             61

        X Eileen Seeks Counsel            65

       XI Vicarious Living                76

      XII The Poem Judith Read            84

     XIII Eyes Turned Homeward            93

      XIV A Broken Axle                  101

       XV Masked Benefaction             109

      XVI Coming Storm                   120

     XVII A Place Called Bromfield       131


  Book Two: Summer

    XVIII Sylvia                         139

      XIX A Web in the Moonlight         146

       XX Red Dawn                       153

      XXI The Cloud on the Horizon       158

     XXII Midsummer Magic                164

    XXIII Lavinia Sees the Abyss         173

     XXIV One Way Out                    177

      XXV A Wedding at Vine Cottage      183

     XXVI The Light Within               193

    XXVII David’s Children               198

   XXVIII Indian Summer                  205

     XXIX The Truth that is Clean        211

      XXX Katharsis                      216

     XXXI A New Hilltop                  224


  Book Three: Belated Frost

    XXXII Lavinia Flounders              231

   XXXIII The Statue and the Bust        237

    XXXIV Lavinia’s Credo                248

     XXXV The Credo at Work              256

    XXXVI Consummation                   263

   XXXVII In the “Personal” Column       268

  XXXVIII The Greater Love               274

    XXXIX Lavinia                        282



Prologue



I Lavinia


I

Tense quiet filled the crooked streets of Bromfield, the quiet that
presages storm. Vine Larimore looked anxiously from the window. She
was not afraid of tempests: she reveled in them. But a great fear had
gripped her in the night. Why had Calvin failed to stop on his way
home from the station? What business was it that took Calvin Stone
to Rochester every week or two? Another sweetheart? She would not
give the hideous thought house room. Was not she, Lavinia Larimore,
the handsomest girl in Bromfield? Was not her father, next to the
Calvins and the Stones, the most important man in the rusty old New
York village? Had she not worn Calvin’s ring for three endless years?
Most of the girls in her set were already married, and at New Year’s
she had worn the green stockings for her seventeen-year-old sister,
Isabel. The wedding dress she had made with so much care and skill,
two years agone, hid its once modish lines beneath the cover of the
cedar chest--the hope chest that Calvin had ordered for her at Stephen
Trench’s shop.

Calvin’s father had promised them the old house on High Street, to be
remodeled and furnished with the best that Rochester could provide.
Mr. Trench had twice figured on the contract, and yet Calvin dallied.
It was first one pretext and then another. Once, when he asked her what
she wanted for her birthday--it was the latter part of May, and Lavinia
would be twenty--she took her courage in her shaking hands and pleaded
for a wedding. It was an unmaidenly thing. Bromfield would have branded
her as bold. But Calvin saw in her abashed eyes the image of his own
dereliction. To be sure he still loved her. He had always intended to
make good his pledge. They would be married the middle of August, when
the G. A. R. was giving a great excursion to New York City. That would
be a honeymoon well worth the waiting.

And then, on the second of July, the President was shot. Vine was
shocked, as everyone was; but what had that to do with her wedding?
Calvin could not think of marrying while Mr. Garfield’s life was in
doubt.

The President had died, and it was now October. Vine saw Calvin almost
daily. In a little town, with the Larimore home near the middle of
the principal street, such contact was almost inevitable. But Lavinia
found no avenue of approach. Calvin was usually sullen or distraught.
Sometimes he took the long détour across the bridge and up behind
Stephen Trench’s carpenter shop, on his way to and from the bank.
This morning, with a storm brewing, he could hardly risk that walk.
He must pass the house any minute. She would stop him and demand an
explanation. She knew just what she wanted to say, and when she was
thoroughly aroused her tongue never failed her.

There was a step on the grass-grown flag-stones, an eager step. Lavinia
was on her feet--her fury gone, she knew not where, or why. He was
coming. In another minute she would be in his arms, listening to the
same old excuses, feeding her hope on the same old shreds of promise.
And then.... The front door opened and Ellen Porter’s interrogating
eyes met hers. Ellen and Ted Larimore were soon to be married, but the
early morning call had nothing to do with the fever of activity that
had disturbed the routine of two households for a month past.

“Vine, did Calvin show you what he bought in Rochester yesterday?”

“Who told you he bought anything?”

“Papa. He saw him in the jewelry store. He was looking at wedding
rings. He turned his back when he saw somebody from Bromfield; but papa
was almost sure he bought one. Viny, are you going to beat Ted and me
out, after all?”

Lavinia thought for a moment that she would suffocate. The blood
pounded in her ears and the room swam dizzily before her. And then
the storm broke. She tried to fashion some convincing reply; but the
thunder was deafening and the rain beat loudly against the windows. She
ran to get a floor cloth, when little rivulets began to trickle over
the sill. Ellen sought to help her with the transom, that was seldom
closed from spring to fall, when the door was pushed open violently
and Ted Larimore, dripping and out of temper, burst into the room. He
had forgotten something. No, he could not stop to change his coat. He
would take Ellen back to the store with him. For this, at least, his
sister was grateful. By noon she would have seen Calvin--would know the
meaning of the ring. She would see Calvin ... if she had to go to the
bank. Things could not go on this way.



II Calvin


I

While Ted and Ellen strolled down Main Street, oblivious of the rain
that swirled upon them, now from the east, now from the south, and
while Lavinia plunged with headlong haste into the morning’s housework,
a conversation was under way in the dining-room of the Stone mansion.
Calvin was late coming down to breakfast and his father had waited for
him.

“You have something on your mind, and you might as well out with it,”
the elder was saying, as he drew his napkin from his collar and folded
it crookedly.

Calvin drummed the table with uneasy fingers.

“Gambling again?”

“No, Sir.”

“Drinking?”

“No, Sir.”

“What then? Look here, Calvin Stone, you can’t fool your mother and me.
You act like a sheep-stealing dog. What were you doing in Rochester
yesterday?”

“I was married.”

The words fell with the dull impact of a mass of putty. His father’s
eyes opened wide, then narrowed, and his huge shoulders bent forward.

“Who did you marry? Vine wasn’t with you.”

“That’s just the trouble, father. I didn’t marry Vine. Fact is, I
didn’t intend to get married at all. Lettie took me by surprise when
she told me--”

“Lettie who?”

“Arlette Fournier. She’s French--and a stunner. I met her at a dance
last winter. Oh, she’s a good fellow. She’ll keep it secret till I get
out of this scrape with Vine. She wouldn’t want me to bring her to
Bromfield for a year or two.”

Stone brought his fist down on the table with a vehemence that rattled
the breakfast china.

“Have you no conscience, no decency? How are you going to square
yourself with that girl?”

“I couldn’t square myself with both of them. I’ve been thinking it
over, since I got home last night. I thought I’d play on Vine’s pride
... snub her openly, you know, so that she’d get in a huff and throw
me over. Then I could afterwards pretend I married the other girl for
spite. That would save Vine’s feelings.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort, you miserable coward. You are going to
Viny Larimore this very morning, and confess what you’ve done.”

“No. I am not!”

“I say you are.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about. I’d never get out of her
house alive. You never saw Vine when she was mad. I’d go back to
Rochester--I’d--jump in the river, before I’d face her. I don’t have to
stay here. Lettie has money of her own, that we could live off of. She
doesn’t want to live in this ugly village, any way.”

“You could take your living from this stranger, this foreigner that
nobody ever heard of? You--you say she is rich? Who are her people?”

“Father, won’t you--”

Calvin’s voice, a moment before raucous with assurance and
determination, broke into waves of impotent pleading. He had perceived
the flaw in his parent’s armour. To press home his advantage was the
task of the moment.

“Her uncle is one of the leading business men of Rochester, and she has
money in her own right. She’s been an orphan since she was six years
old--sent over here from France by herself, after her parents died, and
nobody to look after her. Father, won’t you go and straighten it out
with Vine? Honest, I can’t.”

The elder Stone spat with disgust.


II

In slicker and high rubber boots Calvin took the long muddy road to the
bank. From every rain-drenched shrub along the way Lavinia Larimore’s
outraged womanhood glared at him. For an hour he tried to work,
conscious of his father’s eyes with their unfeeling condemnation. When
the strain became unbearable, he took a silver-mounted pistol from the
safe--with surreptitious gesture, yet making sure that the object in
his hand did not escape notice--and thrust it into the drawer of his
desk. The threat bore fruit.

Mr. Stone took down hat and umbrella and went forth into the abating
storm. He was not a man to mince words when he had an unpleasant task
before him. Vine greeted him at the door. Her dark cheeks blanched.

“What--where is Calvin? Is he sick? Has anything happened to him?”

“I wish to God he was dead. Viny, I hope you don’t care any too much
for that young scoundrel. He isn’t worthy of the love of a decent girl.”

“He hasn’t-- You mean, he has embezzled money? Mr. Stone, you won’t let
it be found out? I wouldn’t go back on him for--Oh, you won’t....”

“I’d brain him if he ever touched a penny that didn’t belong to him.”

“Then what--what has he done?”

“He was married, yesterday, to a girl in Rochester.”

“Married!” And then, in an incredulous whisper, “married.”

A moment only Lavinia stood numb and baffled. Then the words poured in
a rising tide of indignation, rage, fury. Three years she had waited,
and for this. She might have had any one of a dozen--the finest young
men in Bromfield. Calvin Stone had won her away from them all. He had
deprived her of her girlhood, her opportunities--everything but her
self-respect. She had known for two years that he was a drunkard and
a gambler. She had clung to him, because it was her Christian duty to
reform him. His parents would not have her to blame when he reeled into
a drunkard’s grave. It was fortunate that some fool woman had taken the
burden from her shoulders. She would have stuck to her promise, in the
face of certain misery. The Larimores had that kind of honour--such
honour as all the Calvin and Stone money could not buy. But now she
need no longer keep up the pretense of caring for a man who was not fit
to wipe the mud from her shoes. She had tried to hold together what
little manhood was in him--to spare his parents the disgrace he was
sure to bring upon them.

Once and again the bank president, who was wont to command silence, to
be granted a respectful hearing in the highest councils of the town,
sought to breast the tide of her anger. His interruptions were swept
away like spindrift. He wanted to offer financial restitution, since
no other was possible. She met the proposal with scorn. Money could
not cover up the disgrace of such a consummation. Calvin might rue
his bargain, and come back to plead for forgiveness. The desperately
proffered balm brought a more bitter outburst. She would not be any
man’s second choice. No, the damage was irreparable. It was done.


III

As the man of finance turned the interview over in his mind, a curious
balance was struck--and his heart softened towards his son. There
might have been other tongue-lashings. No woman could have achieved
such fluency without practice. Before he reached the front door of
the little bank, Lavinia was in her own room, her compact figure half
submerged in the feather bed, her hot tears of shame and chagrin
wetting the scarlet stars of the quilt her own deft fingers had pieced.
She had lost her temper--it was easily misplaced--but the scene she had
raised had no share in her memory of the encounter. Her humiliation
blotted all else from view. It was not only that she had aimed at the
highest, and lost. She loved Calvin Stone with all the passion of a
fiery nature--loved him with a depth and intensity that might be gauged
by the hate that loomed on the surface of her wrath. And there was no
one in the whole world to whom she could open her heart.

Mrs. Larimore knew there had been a quarrel, a quarrel that outran the
morning’s tempest in violence; but when she ventured to ask what the
trouble was, Lavinia told her curtly that it was none of her business.
Now she stood outside the door, listening to her daughter’s stormy
sobbing. She had never been on intimate terms with her children,
and the relationship with her eldest daughter was most casual. A
headstrong girl. Where she got her ambition--unless it was a heritage
from her Grandmother Larimore--no one could say. The other members of
the family were easygoing, content with the day’s pleasure and profit.
But Lavinia was avid for work, for praise, for position. She would
shine as Mrs. Calvin Stone, if ever.... And then Mrs. Larimore began
afresh to wonder.



III David


I

Early in the afternoon, when the sun was making furtive efforts to
slip past the cloud-guard and repair the damage the rain had wrought,
Lavinia stepped briskly from her room, clad in her best blue silk
poplin. An hour past she had been bathing her eyes, and her mirror
satisfied her that the redness and swelling were all gone. She went
straight to her father’s store, across from the bank. Ellen Porter
would be there, behind the bookkeeper’s desk.

“I want you to do something for me, Nell,” she began--noting the hollow
in her voice, and striving against it. “I want you to take this to Mr.
Stone.”

She held a small, neatly tied parcel in her hand. They walked to the
wide doorway and stood watching the sun-glints in the pools of the
muddy street, each waiting for the other to venture on some hospitable
avenue of speech. Ellen considered her thin-soled shoes, scarce dry
from the morning’s wetting, glanced at the precarious stepping stones,
half a block away ... and caught sight of David Trench, coming towards
them. She beckoned him.

David was a shy, fair-cheeked youth, a few months older than Lavinia
and Ellen. The three had been christened the same Sunday in the little
Presbyterian church. They had gone through the village school together,
and David and Ellen sang leading parts in the church choir. It was Dave
Trench who sharpened their skates, pulled their sleds up the hill,
tuned their pianos, repaired their furniture, took them home from
Sunday evening services when no other escort was available.

“Vine wants you to do an errand for her, Davy. Would you mind taking
this little package over to the bank?”

“I wouldn’t mind going to Halifax for her.”

Ellen laid the parcel in his hand. He was to give it to Mr. Stone.
In no case was he to give it to Calvin. As his lithe figure melted
into the gloom of the building across the way, she turned for the
information that was her due.

“It’s my engagement ring.”

“What!”

“Yes, I’ve given Calvin the mitten. His father came down this morning
and laboured with me for more than an hour to get me to change my
mind; but I told him I would never marry a man who smoked and drank
and gambled. That was what I was about to tell you this morning, when
Ted ran in on us. I’ve had him on probation since last spring--for two
years, in fact. He’s promised me over and over. And yesterday, after he
bought the ring for our wedding, he went and got roaring drunk--fell
into the hands of some disreputable woman--and-- Why, Ellen, when he
stopped at the house last night he was so maudlin that he couldn’t give
an account of where he’d been or what had happened to him. You can
guess how we parted. He told his father this morning that he’d go to
the dogs if I turned him down. Mr. Stone almost got down on his knees
to me, but it was all wasted. When I’m done, I’m done.”

Ellen Porter had but one grievous fault. When she found herself unable
to keep a secret, she did not scruple to seek help. Lavinia thought
afterward it had been almost an inspiration ... telling Ellen. By
Sunday it would be all over town, each one of Ellen’s confidantes
pledged to hold the revelation sacred. She knew, too, how Calvin’s
lapse from virtue would grow with each fresh telling of the story. By
another Sunday it would be murder he had committed.


II

The ring delivered, Vine went home to plan the next move. That she must
leave Bromfield before the truth of Calvin’s marriage leaked out, she
did not so much as debate. There was an uncle in the wilds of Illinois.
Once she had visited him, with the result that the buffalo and Indian
frontier had receded some leagues farther to the west. A coal mining
town. She remembered that some adventurous investors dreamed of oil and
natural gas. There ought to be employment for an energetic, fairly well
educated girl who was accustomed to hard work.

Lavinia Larimore had not been blessed with an elastic nature, but in
moments of desperation she manifested something like the elasticity of
ivory. She could yield, yet show no after-trace of the yielding. By
night her plans were well on the way towards maturity. She would write
to her uncle, and wait for a reply before telling her parents of her
purpose.

She opened the small drawer of the secretary, only to discover that it
was bare of stamps. Her brother Theodore would be going to Ellen’s,
and the post office was not far out of his way. But Ted would ask
questions. No, she would wait for David Trench. He and his father
worked at the shop every evening, and he would be passing at nine.

Up to this point Lavinia had thought of David as nothing more than an
errand boy. But as she sat by the window in the gathering dusk, he
began to change before her fevered eyes, to assert his height and the
grace of his strong young hands. She had never thought about David’s
hands before. Strange that the hard work had never rendered them
unshapely. Calvin’s hands were pudgy, the fingers short and thick. She
had always been conscious of Calvin’s hands--had viewed them almost
with repugnance even when she craved their touch the most.

David’s smile was beautiful. He would grow into a fine-looking man,
like his father. Now that they had taken to refinishing antique
furniture, there would be money in the shop for two households. David
would always be kind. He might even.... What was she thinking! A
startled laugh burst from her lips. Davy, little Davy Trench! With a
suppressed, “Huh! I might go farther and fare worse,” she tossed the
absurd thought aside. A moment later it presented itself in another
guise. She was still toying with the audacious intruder when she heard
David’s slow, regular step on the stone flagging. Through the open
window she called his name. With nervous haste she lighted the tall,
flamboyantly shaded piano lamp and motioned him to a chair. Then she
seated herself rather stiffly on the old-fashioned sparking settee, her
heart pounding, her tongue thick and useless.

“Was there something I could do for you, Vine?”

“You wouldn’t--mind--going back to the post office, Dave? I want to
get off an important letter to my uncle. He wants me to come out to
Illinois, and--there isn’t a stamp in the house.”

“I’m sorry, but you can’t send it to-night. The post office was closed
when I came by, and the last mail goes up to Rochester at half-past
eight. If you had only told me sooner.... I’ll be glad to stop by and
get it in the morning, on my way to the shop.”

“Oh, well, it’s not so urgent. I’ll have it ready before breakfast. You
won’t forget to stop?”

“Why, of course not, Vine.”

“David, would you be sorry if I should go away from Bromfield--to stay?”

“It wouldn’t be Bromfield without you.”

Lavinia Larimore took the bit in her teeth.

“Dave, what do you think Ellen Porter was saying to me when you came to
the store, this afternoon?”

“I couldn’t guess.”

“She said it was all over town that you and I are going to be married.”

“I--” The boy gasped. He gripped the edge of his chair and the blood
died out of his cheeks. “Vine, you oughtn’t to make fun of me that way.
It isn’t kind.”

“I wasn’t making fun of you, Davy. Honest to goodness, everybody has
noticed how much we have been together lately.”

“But Calvin?”

“Pooh! I broke off with him long ago. Dave, are you asleep, that you
don’t know it is all over between Calvin and me?”

“I--I am afraid I’m dreaming now.”

“No, you aren’t. You are broad awake, and I’m telling you the truth. I
would not marry Calvin Stone if he was the last man left on earth. He
is a low-lived gambler--and I despise him. He isn’t worth your little
finger.”

David slipped from his chair and gained the settee, somehow, his knees
knocking together.

“Vine, do you mean-- Would I be a fool to--” Then his lips found hers.

At midnight David Trench stumbled drunkenly home, his head bumping the
stars, while Lavinia took the two-year-old wedding dress from the cedar
chest and planned to modernize its lines.



Book One

Spring



IV Vine Cottage


I

The cottage had been vacant almost four months, an economic waste that
cut deeply into Lavinia Trench’s pin-money. Not that David stinted her
in the matter of funds. The purse strings had always lain loosely in
David’s hands. But her penurious soul, bent on making the best possible
showing of whatever resources came within her reach, rebelled at the
insolent idleness of invested capital. Vine Cottage had been hers,
to do with as she pleased, since the completion of the big Colonial
mansion that housed the remnant of the Trench family. There were not
half-a-dozen furnished residences to let in Springdale, and that this
one should have been unoccupied since the middle of November was
inexplicable.

“You haven’t half way tried to rent it,” the woman charged, her eyes
shifting from her husband’s face to the cottage beyond the low stone
wall, with its sullenly drawn blinds and its air of insensate content.
Her glance rested appraisingly on the broad veranda, now banked with
wet February snow; the little glass-enclosed breakfast room that had
been her own conservatory, in the years gone by; the sturdy-throated
chimney, that would never draw--but that none the less served as one of
the important talking points of the cottage. An attractive set of gas
logs did away with the danger of stale wood smoke in the library; but
the chimney remained--moss-covered at the corners, near the ground, a
hardy ampelopsis tracing a pattern of brown lace against its dull red
bricks. There were eight rooms and a capacious attic. The furniture
was excellent. There was a garage, too, with living quarters for the
servants. In the year of grace, nineteen hundred and nine, there were
not many residences in Springdale with garages.

“I heard at church, Sunday, that Mrs. Marksley is looking for a house.
You know, Vine, their place on Grant Drive is for sale--against the
building of the new house in Marksley’s Addition. Do you want me to--”

“Mrs. Marksley! Humph!” Lavinia’s black eyes snapped. It would be to
her liking to have the wife of the richest man in town as her tenant.
Still ... the situation had its disadvantages, not the least of which
was that they would be moving out again in a few months, and the same
old problem to be faced afresh.

“Do as you like about speaking to Mr. Marksley. But remember, David, I
don’t recommend it.”

“It’s your house, my dear. You blamed me for offering the place to
Sylvia when she was married. I told you, last fall, I’d have nothing
more to do with it.”

He bent to kiss her, a kiss that was part of the compulsory daily
routine, and hurriedly left the house. Lavinia turned his words over
in her mind, and her gorge rose. David was always that way. You could
never make him shoulder responsibility. True, she had wanted Sylvia
next door, where she could watch over her daughter’s blundering
beginnings at housekeeping. And anyone would say it was an honour
to have Professor Penrose in the family--even if his salary was
small. But another lessee--with the boon of a commercial position
in Detroit at four times the amount he received from the little
denominational college in Springdale--would have been held to the
strict interpretation of the lease. David would not hear of Oliver
and Sylvia paying rent for a house they did not occupy, a sentiment
promptly seconded by his daughter. Sylvia never failed to perceive her
own advantage--a fact at once gratifying and maddening to her mother.
What if David had been like that? What if.... She always put David
aside. Why bother about the inevitable?


II

Mr. Trench did not go at once to the office of Trench & Son, architects
and general building contractors. It was important to his domestic
peace that some definite step be taken towards the renting of the
cottage. He would stop, he thought, at the office of the Argus, and
insert a three-time advertisement. He could bring the matter up with
Henry Marksley, for whom he always had some construction work on hand.
But second thought deterred him. It might be disastrous to have young
Hal Marksley next door, if only for a few months. Hal was a senior in
the Presbyterian college. His recent attentions to Eileen Trench, just
approaching her sixteenth birthday, had been disquieting to her father,
none the less because of her mother’s unconcealed approval.

Eileen was impressionable. A youth of Hal Marksley’s--David searched
his mind for the word. Disposition? He was more than amiable.
Principles? Not quite that, either. In short, there was nothing he
could urge against the young man that had not been set at naught by
Eileen’s mother. Money had lifted the Marksleys above the restrictions
imposed upon common people. Their life had been unconventional, at
times positively scandalous. Eileen’s iconoclastic spirit would grasp
at anything to justify her revolt against the conventional trammels of
her home, the puritanical regulations which served Lavinia in lieu of
religion. There was enough friction in that quarter already.

As he passed the college campus, with its motley group of
buildings--dingy red brick of forty years’ standing, and the impudent
modernity of Bedford stone with trimmings of terra cotta and Carthage
marble--he caught sight of Dr. Schubert’s mud-bespattered buggy. The
grey mare, these ten years a stranger to the restraining tether, nosed
contentedly in the snow for the succulent sprigs that were already
making their appearance among the exposed roots of the huge old elms.
From the opposite side of the street the family physician waved a
driving glove.

“Wait a minute, David.” He made his way cautiously through the ooze of
the crudely paved avenue. “I was on my way out to your house. Stopped
to look in on a pneumonia that kept me up nearly all night. Does Mrs.
Trench still want to rent the cottage? Or is it true that Sylvia and
Penrose are coming back?”

“They are well pleased with Detroit. And my wife is most anxious for a
tenant. You know, Doctor, she draws the line on children and dogs.”

“We ought to be able to close a very satisfactory deal. My old friend,
Griffith Ramsay, spent the night with us. He’s out here from New
York--some legal business connected with the mines at Olive Hill, for a
client of his, a Mrs. Ascott. The lady is recently widowed, and in need
of some kind of diversion. I had been telling him about my experiments,
my need for a competent assistant in the laboratory, and he arrived
at the conclusion that these two needs would neutralize each other.
Mrs. Ascott, having a large financial stake in the mines, would be
interested in the possibility of increasing the value of soft coal. The
more he though about it, the greater his enthusiasm. The one thing in
the way, he thought, would be a suitable place for her to live. That
was when Vine Cottage popped into my mind. I’ll send him around to the
office to talk over the details of the lease with you.”



V Judith Goes West


I

Mrs. Ascott had an early appointment with her attorney. An early
appointment necessitated her catching the nine-fifteen train for the
city. That, again, implied the disruption of the entire household
regimen, and Judith Ascott had learned not to try her mother’s patience
too far. She was the unpleasant note in an otherwise satisfactory
family. True, her mother had stood by her through all the scandal
and unpleasantness. But the changing of the breakfast hour was quite
another matter.

As she slipped into the pantry of the big suburban home and set the
coffee machine going, she turned over in her mind another reason for
her care not to disturb the family slumber. She did not know why her
attorney wished to see her--was not even sure which member of the firm
would be awaiting her, that still March morning. The long-distance
message conveyed the bare information that the business was urgent.
Might there be another delay in the divorce? She had been assured that
the decree would be in her hands by the end of the week; but gruff old
Sanderson, the senior partner, was not so sure. Any reference to the
“distasteful affair” threw her mother into a nervous chill. A note on
the breakfast table, informing the family that she had caught the early
express for a morning at the art gallery, would suffice as well as any
other explanation.

All the way in, between the snow-decked New York fields and the dreary
waste of the Sound, she dwelt moodily on the unpleasant possibilities
of the coming interview. But when she emerged from the confusion of the
Grand Central station, already in the turmoil of reconstruction, she
thought only of the relative merits of the taxicab and the subway. She
had schooled herself, in times of stress, to take refuge in irrelevant
trifles. She had learned, too, that the more she worried before the
ordeal the less occasion she found for worry when the actual conditions
confronted her. In view of her sleepless night, she would probably find
roses and Griff Ramsay instead of thorns and Donald Sanderson.


II

The attorney had thought it all out, had decided just how he was going
to break the news. But when he found his client confronting him, across
the unaccustomed barrier of his desk, his assurance forsook him.

“Judith, what are you going to do, now that you are free?”

“What am I going to do, Griff? That, as usual, depends on mamma. You
know I have never planned anything--vital--in my life. When she lays
too much stress on the ‘must’ I do the opposite. She says that I am
going to sail with her and the boys on the fifth of April, a month from
to-day. Ben is going on with his architecture at the Beaux Arts and
Jack is wild about airplanes. Paris has hideous memories--but there’s
no other place for me.”

“You are not going to Paris.”

The woman started. “No?”

“Not if you have the qualities I believe you have. Judith, may I for
once talk cold unpleasant facts? You are twenty-seven years old and the
life you have made for yourself is a failure.” Mrs. Ascott deprecated
the finality of the word, but she let it pass. “Going to Paris would
only be temporizing. Your mother’s influence has always been bad. You
and your father are scarcely acquainted. Your brothers are too young to
count. Laura and I have been your only intimates, since your return to
New York. I need not remind you of our staunch friendship for you.”

“Griff--tell me what you have in mind. I promise not to cry out, if I
do squirm a little.”

He told her of Springdale, the kindly old physician who had a theory
that soft coal could be transformed, at the mines, into clean fuel and
a whole retinue of valuable by-products--of his need for a secretary
and laboratory assistant, to keep his records and assist him with
experiments. He told her of Vine Cottage, its wide garden and fruit
trees. “The house faces south. Get that solidly established in your
mind,” he admonished. He knew how important it was for Judith Ascott to
be properly oriented. Other details of the place he painted, graphic
and engaging. She would take with her her old nurse, Nanny. For
servants he had leased Jeff Dutton and wife, who occupied the rooms
above the garage. As an afterthought he added that she would spend four
mornings a week in Dr. Schubert’s laboratory. Her compensation--a large
block of treasury stock in the corporation that would result from the
evolving of a process for the cleansing of soft coal.

“Where is this Springdale--this Utopia? What has it to do with Sutton
and Olive Hill, where the mines are located?”

“As little as possible. You’ll note that Springdale draws its virtuous
white skirts away from those filthy towns, with an air so smug that
it would disgust you if it were not so amusingly naïve. It claims ten
thousand inhabitants--when the census taker isn’t within hearing. There
is a denominational college--co-ed, I believe--with a conservatory
of music and a school of dramatic art. The President isn’t the lean
sycophant in a shabby Prince Albert coat that you might expect. I met
him--a singularly spruce-minded successor to that old Presbyterian
war-horse, Thomas Henderson, who built the college out of Illinois
dirt.”

“Sounds interesting, Griff. Is there any more?”

“Yes, ever so much. The college isn’t the whole show, by any means. At
one end of the town is a Bible Institute and at the other an asylum for
the feeble-minded. There is a manual training school for deaf-mutes and
a sanitarium for drug fiends and booze fighters. On the whole, quite an
intellectual centre. It is under no circumstances to be confused with
Springfield, the capital of the state. You are sentenced to live there
for a year. At the end of your term you may come back to New York--if
you haven’t found yourself.”

“Only last night I was wishing that I could run
away--somewhere--anywhere--to a place I had never heard of. Do you
think I can do the work?”

“Oh, that part of it.... My only concern is for your mother. I’ll send
Laura down to Pelham to help persuade her.”

Judith Ascott’s finely modelled shoulders came up in an almost
imperceptible shrug. “Mamma will be so relieved. Don’t trouble Laura.
I was only going to Paris because there was no convenient pigeonhole to
stow me away ‘till wanted.’ Mamma, of course, hopes that I will marry.
She wouldn’t want me tagging around after her, the rest of her life.
_You_ know that I am done with men.”

“By-the-way,” Ramsay interrupted, “I led those people to suppose
your husband was dead. It’s that kind of town. Not the old doctor,
understand. His sympathy’s as wide as humanity. But your next-door
neighbours--excellent people, though with small-town limitations.
You’ll have to depend on them for such social life as your gregarious
nature demands. How soon can you be ready to go west?”

“As soon as I can bring Nanny from Vermont. I ought to be on my way in
a week.”


III

Later in the day, when she found herself alone in a quiet corner of the
Metropolitan, Mrs. Ascott turned the preposterous proposition over in
her mind. No doubt the Ramsays were as tired of her eternal flopping
from one untenable situation to another as her own people were. In
Springdale she would be safely off their hands ... at least until the
sensation of her divorce had subsided. Would her late husband marry the
nonchalant co-respondent? Would Herbert Faulkner, with whom she had
all but eloped, while Raoul Ascott and the girl were in Egypt.... But
she was not interested in Herbert Faulkner, and she cared not a straw
whether Raoul married or pursued his butterfly career, free from the
stimulating restrictions of domestic life. Was Griff afraid she would
disturb the farcical relations of her late impassioned admirer and the
stern-lipped woman who bore his name and made free with his check-book
to further her aberrant social ambition? Was it for this that she had
been banished to the coal fields of western Illinois--to save Maida
Faulkner the annoyance of a divorce and consequent loss of income?
Whatever the actuating motive, the thing was done. She had acquiesced
without a murmur of protest. This was in keeping with her whole
nondescript life. Nothing had been worth the effort of opposition. She
had never known the stinging contact of human suffering. Oh, to burn
her fingers with the flame of living! But Springdale--a hide-bound
college town, where divorce is reckoned among the cardinal sins....



VI The Trench Children


I

Lavinia stood in the sun-room, staring perplexedly across the lawn in
the direction of Vine Cottage. She was trying to decide a ponderous
question. To call on the new tenant ... or to wait the prescribed
two weeks? David and the children felt that a neighbourly visit was
already overdue. Probably, Larimore had said at breakfast, Mrs. Ascott
knew nothing of the silly custom which prevailed in Springdale, and
would think her landlady either hostile or rude. For once in her life
Lavinia Trench was uncertain. The new tenant was a woman of the world.
Ominous distinction. How could one gauge a neighbour who had crossed
the ocean sixteen times and had lived in every European capital from
London to Constantinople? She did not wear black. Incomprehensible for
a widow. Likely as not, she held Springdale unworthy the display of
her expensive weeds. Or perhaps she was saving them for some adequate
occasion. Just going to Dr. Schubert’s laboratory to work ... one’s
old clothes would serve for that. Besides, there were so many new fads
about mourning. It might be that taupe was the correct thing. She would
write and ask Sylvia about it.

Sylvia was the one member of the family whose opinion was accorded a
meed of respect--now that she had gone to Detroit to live. It was too
bad that she should have moved to another city, just when a woman who
might have been of service to her had come to Springdale. It was always
that way. Life offered the great desideratum--after the wish or need
for it had gone by. Life, Lavinia Trench’s life, was an endless chain
of disappointments. Of this there was no shadow of doubt. David and
the children had heard the statement reiterated with such consistent
regularity that they failed now to hear it at all--like the noise of
the trolley cars on Sherman Avenue, behind the Trench home, that at
first made such a deafening clatter.

“You seem to get everything you ask for,” her second son, Robert, had
once reminded her. “That’s more than you can say for the rest of us.”
Whereat she reeled off such a catalogue of woes that even Bob was
silenced.


II

There was something abnormal about the Trench children. Nothing ever
went right with them. Sylvia was the college beauty, an exact replica
of her mother, and she had been forced in sheer desperation to marry,
at twenty-four, the baldheaded professor of chemistry and physics,
whom half the girls in town had refused. Larimore was a successful
architect, had taken honours at Cornell; but he detested girls and
boys. Had his nose in a book most of the time. He might have done
things for his sister, if he had not been so steeped in his own morbid
fancies. Bob would have brought eligible young men to the house, if he
had been the next one in age to Sylvia. Mrs. Trench shuddered when she
thought about Bob. It was the culminating tragedy of her badly ordered
life.

A good many things made her shudder ... horrible patches of the past,
that had been lived through, somehow. There were the first few years
of her married life at Olive Hill, when David worked as a carpenter,
and two babies invaded the three-room cottage before her second
anniversary. She had not considered the possibility of children when,
after an engagement lasting less than a month, she and David had been
married. A little daughter--three weeks older than Ellen’s first child!
Lavinia made it an occasion for rejoicing. Sent dainty announcements to
Bromfield, tied with blue ribbon. But when, after fourteen months, a
boy came, she began to question the leap she had made, that tempestuous
October day.

The boy was called Larimore, in protest against the unmistakable
lineaments of the Trenches that revealed themselves in his pathetic
baby face. He was an anaemic child, given to wailing softly when in
pain--a sharp contrast to Sylvia’s insistent screams. As he grew into
boyhood he was quiet and studious, as David had been. Seldom gave
his mother cause for anxiety, glutted her maternal pride with his
achievements at school, and yet she never quite overcame the feeling
that he was an interloper in her family. There were three years of
immunity, and then came Robert, the child whom everybody else regarded
as a stray. But Lavinia saw in his thick black hair and virile body
the materialization of her contempt for David’s softness, as it had
perpetuated itself in her first son.

There was nothing about Bob that was soft but his skin. And that was
another Trench anomaly. Between Lary’s curling blond locks and Bob’s
peach bloom complexion, Sylvia had a desperate time of it, before
the period of adolescence when her own sallow cheeks began to clear.
Those were the dim prehistoric days when, in Springdale, rouge and lip
sticks carried all the sinister implication which had attached, in the
Bromfield of Lavinia’s day, to the suggested idea that a “nice” girl
wanted to marry. There was implicit in each the stigma of the wanton,
and Lavinia had taught her children that, before all else, they must
be respectable. Her own powder box was closely guarded, its existence
denied with oaths that would have condemned a less righteous soul to
perdition.

After David removed to Springdale, as junior member of the firm that
had the contract for two new buildings on the college campus, and Vine
Cottage had been erected beyond the residence district of the town,
three other babies arrived--at perfectly decent intervals. They were
all girls. Isabel, like Lary, was given an unequivocal Larimore name,
because she was so exactly like her father. She was four years younger
than Bob, and the death of these two made a strange break in the family
continuity. Mrs. Ascott heard about the Trench children in a manner at
once vivid and enlightening.


III

It was the ninth day of her tenancy at Vine Cottage, and she and Dr.
Schubert were already old friends. With the exception of a reference
to Eileen, whom the quality rather than the content of his allusion
marked as his favourite, he had studiously avoided any comment on
the Trenches that would serve to divert the free flow of her own
sensitive perception. Larimore and Sydney Schubert were of about the
same age--had been intimate friends from boyhood. Syd’s affection for
Lary, at one period of his youth, had overflowed and engulfed Sylvia.
But Mrs. Trench had set her face sternly against any such alliance.
“The obstacle seems to have been that intangible thing, a discrepancy
in age--on the wrong side of the ledger,” the physician explained.
“_There_ is one woman,” he stressed the first word extravagantly, his
eyes twinkling, “who has the whole scheme of life crystallized. With
most of us, certain problems remain fluid. Mrs. Trench _knows_. The
eternal verities don’t admit of argument. My boy was only a medical
student when he went mooning after Sylvia, but his prospects were
good. If he had been born the day before--instead of lagging a stupid
sixteen months after the girl--it would have been all right for her to
wait ten years for him. As it was, he simply wouldn’t do. Mrs. Trench
objected to Walter Marksley on entirely different grounds. Mrs. Trench
is strong for the moral code, and Walter kept a fairly luxuriant crop
of wild oats in his front yard.... But my dear, my dear, I’m developing
the garrulity that is a sure harbinger of old age. Don’t let a word
I’ve been saying serve to bias you in your estimate of your landlady. I
assure you, she’s a trump.”


IV

Judith reflected, on the way home that morning, that if she wanted to
get on with Mrs. Trench, she must guard her own questionable past with
double zeal. It came to her, with a curious feeling of separation,
that she might care what Mrs. Trench thought. The concept was a
new one, and she inspected it with interest. But then ... she had
been so desperately lonely, so remote from everything she had known
in the past. And she was, as Griff Ramsay suggested, a gregarious
animal--recognizing only in its absence her need of the herd. For the
sake of Griff and Laura she would endure her exile to the end, and she
was, it seemed, dependent on the morally austere woman in the great
Colonial house for such human contact as Springdale might offer--human
contact which for the first time in her life she craved with poignant
longing.

Nanny met her at the door, her face red with laughter, her ample sides
shaking. There had been a gravel fight between Jeff Dutton and one of
the Trench children. It appeared to be one of the regular institutions
of Vine Cottage.

“You must hurry with your luncheon, Miss Judith, so as not to miss the
next round. The little girl was furious. She said Dutton muffed his
play, and that was against the rules. She’s coming back to settle with
him.”

Nanny had prepared an unusually tempting repast, in the tiny breakfast
room that looked out, with many windows, on the stretch of lawn
that separated the two houses, on the little wicket gate in the low
stone wall, and the ample kitchen garden beyond the wall, brown and
scarred with the first spring spading. The lonely woman viewed, with
chill apprehension, the imposing façade of the house, the crisp
white curtains that served, with their thin opacity, to conceal all
the activity of the Trench home life. A sugar-coated sphinx, that
house, guarding its secret soul with a subtle reticence that belied
its seeming candour. Larimore Trench had drawn the plans for the new
home. Was he that sort of man--or was this another expression of the
ubiquitous Lavinia, whom Dutton had characterized as “running the hull
ranch”?

There was a commotion in the hall that led from the kitchen to the
breakfast room, and Nanny opened the door. She was plainly perplexed.
Miss Judith was still a child to her, but she was too instinctively a
servant to venture upon the prerogative of her mistress.

“You let me by,” a shrill voice piped. “I’m going to tell her, myself.”

The housekeeper yielded to a vicious pinch in the rotund cushion of her
thigh, and a small parcel of humanity slid adroitly into Mrs. Ascott’s
field of vision. Her head was set defiantly on one side, but the dark
eyes were inscrutable. A moment only she faltered, tucking in her long
under lip and shifting her slight bulk from one foot to the other.

“I broke a window in your garage. It was Jeff’s fault. He had no
business ducking. How did he know I had a rock in that handful of
gravel? Just gravel wouldn’t have broken the window. I’m willing to
shoulder the blame, and pay for the glass out of my allowance--if
you’ll make Jeff put it in. I can swipe that much putty from my papa’s
shop. And--and don’t let Jeff Dutton snitch on me--to Lary.”

She finished with an excited gasp, and stood awaiting the inevitable.

“Come here, little girl. Don’t mind about the pane. Are you Eileen
Trench?”

“Me? Mercy, no!” Astonishment dissolved into mirth, mirth that savoured
of derision. The next instant the laugh died and the high forehead was
puckered in a frown of swift displeasure. She came a step nearer, her
thin brown hand plucking at her skirt. “I shouldn’t have laughed that
way, as if you’d said something silly. It goes hard with me to say
I’m sorry--because--usually I’m not. I hate lying, just to be polite.
Eileen’ll take a lickin’ any day, before she’ll say she’s sorry. But
Sylvia says it’s better to apologize and be done with it. And I guess
it does save time.”

The ideas appeared chaotic, as if the child were in the throes of a
mighty change in ethical standards. Judith looked at her, a whimsical
fancy taking possession of her mind that she was watching some
fantastic mime--that this was no flesh-and-blood child, but an owl
masquerading in wren’s attire.

“My dear old doctor mentioned Sylvia and Lary and Eileen. Would you
mind telling me your name?”

“Theodora.”

“Theodora--the gift of God.”

“Yes, and it was a rummy gift. Jeff Dutton says the Lord hung a lemon
on my mother’s Christmas tree. I was supposed to come a boy--there’d
been too many girls already--and they were going to name me after my
uncle Theodore. Jeff thinks I cried so much because I was disappointed
at being just a girl. I guess I cried, all right. My brother, Bob,
named me ‘Schubert’s Serenade’ because he and Lary had me ’neath their
casement every night till two o’clock. Mamma’s room was where your
library is now. I like this house lots better than ours.”

“Do you remember this one? I thought the new house was built five years
ago.”

Theodora turned questioning eyes upon her. Then, in a flash, she
understood.

“Dear me, you have an idea I’m about six years old. Strangers always
do. I can’t help it that I never grow any bigger. I was twelve last
Christmas, and I’m first year Prep. It’s horrid to be so little. People
never have any respect for you. Eileen’s tall as a broom--but nobody
has much respect for her, either.”

“Tell me about Eileen. Dr. Schubert is fond of her, I believe.”

“Yes, he sees good in her. He’s about the only one who does. She was
sixteen last Sunday, and she’s third year Prep. Goes into college next
fall, if she don’t flunk again. She’s getting too big for mamma’s
slipper, and I don’t know what is going to become of her. She’s been
ugly as sin, ever since mamma heard a Chautauqua lecturer say you had
to go in for technique. You know, Eileen plays the violin. And when
mamma shuts her up and makes her practice--she gets even by making her
fiddle swear. It says ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ and some worse ones, just as
plain. And when she’s mad, her eyes get as yellow as cat’s eyes. You
never saw yellow eyes, did you?”

“My own look that way, at times--when I’m ill or out of sorts.”

“But they’re the loveliest--like gray violets!” She looked deep into
Mrs. Ascott’s eyes, and her own kindled with admiration. “Dr. Schubert
told us yours were like Lary’s. But they aren’t, a bit. His are light
brown. That barely saves him from being a Trench.”

Manifestly Lavinia had impressed on her family the advantage of looking
like the Larimores. And yet, Judith thought she had never seen a finer
looking man than David Trench--not so well groomed as his son, and with
the gait of a man perennially tired, but with a face that Fra Angelico
would have loved to paint.


V

When the elfin child had gone, in response to the ringing of a great
bell on the distant campus, Mrs. Ascott sat a long while in smiling
silence. Not in years had she been so entertained. Bit by bit she
added the child’s revelations to the broken comments of her garrulous
gardener. The Duttons had been neighbours of the Trenches in Olive
Hill, when Jeff and Dave were fellow workmen, and before Jeff’s baleful
visit to the “Jag Institoot” that robbed him of his prowess as a brick
mason, along with the appetite for undiluted whiskey. Mrs. Dutton
“wasn’t very friendly” because her fortunes had declined until she
was compelled to serve as laundress and house-maid to Mrs. Trench’s
tenants. But there was a time when she and her husband were glad of
a refuge in the rooms above the garage. This small brick structure,
it transpired, had been David’s work shop, and here Lary had made his
first architectural drawings.

Theodora’s prattle fairly bristled with Lary. Whatever his mother might
think of him, in his little sister’s eyes he was the one flawless
being. It was he who had supervised the furnishing of Vine Cottage,
for a certain Professor Ferguson, a testy little Scot in charge of
the department of biology at the college. And Lary and his mother had
almost broken heads over some of the details.

Everything about the house was exquisite. Judith thought she knew what
Lary would be like--the man who could limit himself to a single dull
blue and yellow vase for the library mantel. The external appearance
of the cottage had promised fustian ... the fish-scale ornament above
the bay-window, the elaborate carvings between the veranda pillars, the
somewhat fussy pergola that covered the gravel walk from the kitchen to
the garage.

Bare vines were everywhere, swelling with sap and viridescent with
eager buds that strove with their armour of winter scales, although it
was not yet the end of March. Beds of narcissus and tulips gave promise
of early bloom, and already the yellow and white crocus blossoms were
starring the withered bluegrass of the front lawns. There was an
unwritten law that the lattice which screened the vegetable garden must
never carry anything but cypress and Japanese morning glories, and
that potatoes must be planted east of the pergola. There were other
unwritten “musts” that came to light, day by day, all of them having
to do with the garden, over which apparently Mrs. Trench had retained
control.

“But, Lordee, you don’t have to pay no attention to her,” Dutton
sniffed, when a rather arbitrary ruling was undergoing vicarious
transmission. “Treat her like Ferguson did, the fust time she butted
in. It’s _your_ house.”

Between Dutton and Theodora, it would not be long until all the
Trench skeletons had been dragged from their closets and set dancing
in hilarious abandon, for the amusement of the new tenant. They were
not real people, the Duttons and the Trenches, with their unfamiliar
life-experience. She had never envisaged anyone like them. It was all
a part of the dream she had cherished--a place she had never heard of,
where she could lose herself ... and forget....



VII Lavinia Pays a Call


I

In the pigeonholes of her memory, Mrs. Ascott had stowed a collection
of unanswered questions, neatly tabulated and reserved for possible
solution. Why had her marriage with Raoul been the inevitable failure
she knew it must be, almost from the beginning? Would they have found
each other if there had been children? Would her own life have been
more satisfactory, had her mother married for love and not for social
position? And now she added another, trivial as compared with these,
yet quite as elusive: Would Mrs. Trench have waited the prescribed
two weeks for a first call on a new neighbour, had her small daughter
failed to report the broken window--and other things?

Whatever the answer, the stubborn fact remained that Mrs. David
Trench did call, on Friday afternoon. She left a correctly engraved
card on the vestibule table, and sat erect on the edge of her chair.
She wore an austere tailored suit, patent leather boots that called
attention to the trim shape of her feet, and a flesh-tinted veil of
fine silk net with flossy black dots. In the full light of the south
window, she might have passed for thirty-six. Barring a conspicuous
hardness of the mouth, her features were excellent. The hair that lay
in palpably artificial curls along the line of her velvet hat was as
black as it is possible for Caucasian hair to be, and the eyes were
coldly piercing--as if appraisal were their chief function. But her
speech.... Cloying sweetness trickled through her words, as she assured
her tenant that they were destined to be friends. She would come and
care for Mrs. Ascott if she should fall ill--so far from home and
mother. She was a famous nurse. Dr. Schubert would bear her witness.
Her heart ached as she thought how desolate must be the life of a young
widow.

“Yet,” she added, “it is an enviable state, after all--when one has
passed the first shock of grief. Like everything in life, it has its
compensations. You don’t have to bother with a man, and there is no
danger of your being an old maid.” She pronounced the last words as
if she were referring to the plague or small-pox. “The West must look
strange to you,” she hurried on, “a little town, too, after spending
all your life in New York and the great cities of Europe.”

“I have spent very little time in New York,” her tenant corrected.
“When I was married I went to Philadelphia to live--such time as we
were not travelling. And I was scarcely away from Rochester until I was
fifteen.”

“Rochester! You don’t tell me! We went to Rochester for shopping and
the theatre, as people in Springdale go to St. Louis. What a little
world it is, after all. Did you ever hear of a town called Bromfield?”

Judith searched her memory. At last she had it. She had driven to that
village more than once with her grandfather, Dr. Holden. She recalled
one visit, when the sleigh was insecurely anchored in front of a house
on Main Street, while she curled up for a nap in the great fur robes
on the seat. The horse, arriving at the mental state which demanded
dinner, before the physician was ready to leave the house, had untied
the hitching strap and cantered unconcernedly to the livery stable
where he was in the habit of being fed.

“You don’t mean that you were the little girl in the sleigh!” Mrs.
Trench’s eyes were scintillating with astonished interest. “I’ll show
you the account of it--in the Bromfield Sentinel. I have a complete
file of the little home paper. And it will surprise you to know that
the man your grandfather was calling on was Robert Larimore, my father.
He died of brain hemorrhage, that same night. All the Larimores go that
way--suddenly. Dr. Holden was called, when my father’s mother died, but
it was all over before the telegram reached him. And your grandmother
... she must have been the Mrs. Holden who did so much work among the
poor.”

“Yes, my parents left Rochester to escape from her pets. That, of
course, is only a family joke. My father spent a good many years in
South America, and I was left with my grandparents. One of my brothers
was born in Bolivia and the other in the Argentine. I didn’t see them
until they were six and ten years old.”

Mrs. Trench was not listening. Should she ... or should she not? In the
end, she did. “Mrs. Ascott, I know it sounds like a foolish question--a
city the size of Rochester--but you said a moment ago that as a child
you knew everybody. Did you ever hear of a family named Fournier?”

“The people who kept the delicatessen, around the corner from my
grandfather’s private sanitarium? Yes, I knew them well.”

“Was there a daughter--Lettie or Arletta--some such name? She’d be a
woman of about forty-five by this time, I should think.”

“No, she was the niece, a wild, highstrung girl who gave them a good
deal of trouble. She ran away and was married, at sixteen--some
worthless fellow from up-state, who afterward tried to get out of it.”

“Worthless?” Mrs. Trench bristled unaccountably.

“That was the way Lettie’s people regarded him. Their little boy and
I played together, as children. My grandmother took a lively interest
in Lettie, as she did in all wayward girls who found no sympathy at
home. I remember she devoted a good deal of her time to the patching up
of quarrels between Lettie and her husband--and keeping peace in the
family, when he was in Rochester with them.”

“Was there anything--peculiar--about their marriage?”

“Lettie was romantic. I believe that was all. It happened before I
was born; but I remember that there was always talk. Grandma Holden
compelled her to confess her marriage, to save her good name. And
the foolish part of it was that she and the youth were married under
assumed names--”

“The boy--how old is he?”

“By a very amusing coincidence, I happen to know that, too. I couldn’t
tell you the ages of my brothers, with any degree of certainty. But
Fournier Stone and I were born the same night, in adjoining rooms of
Dr. Holden’s sanitarium. He arrived early in the evening, and I a
little before dawn. By that much I escaped the ‘April Fool’ that was so
offensive to him. I shall be twenty-seven next Friday.”

Mrs. Trench made swift mental calculation, and her stiffly pursed lips
uttered one inexplicable sentence:

“Thank God, my people have always been respectable.”


II

Lavinia went home, her whole being in turmoil. She had not seen
Bromfield since the day when she and David packed their scant
belongings and turned to seek oblivion or happiness in Olive Hill. With
the exception of the Sentinel and her sister-in-law’s verbose letters,
she knew little of the course of events in that quiet back-water that
had environed her stagnant girlhood. And Ellen left large gaps in the
village news, gaps that could be filled, inadequately, by inference or
imagination. That Calvin had a child, this much she knew. That he had
spent most of his time in Rochester, prior to his father’s long illness
and death, this, too, had been conveyed to her by a random personal
notice now and then. But that he and Lettie had gotten on badly--had
quarreled.... Cruel joy burned in her eyes. They had had recourse
to the neighbours, to smooth out their family affairs. Whatever
unpleasantness she had had, within the four walls of her own home,
none of the neighbours had been permitted to suspect that her life was
not all she wished it to be. The neighbours. What kind of woman was
Mrs. Stone, that she would.... But Lavinia knew, at last, what kind of
woman Mrs. Stone was. She reflected that Lettie’s marriage certificate
probably had not been framed in gold, as hers was, and conspicuously
displayed on the wall of her bedroom. The past ten years, the Stones
had prospered, and Calvin had succeeded his father as president of the
bank. Ellen and Lettie were on calling terms. She would write Ellen....

In memory she went back to the days when Vine Cottage was new, when
to her fell the task of choosing a line of social progress in the
clique-ridden town of Springdale. She had three small children, ample
excuse for a little dalliance. And the cottage, with two hundred feet
of ground to be transformed into a marvellous garden, was a little way
out--a double reason for delay, when David urged her to return the
calls of the Eastern Star ladies, who had been most gracious. “I don’t
want to make any mistake,” she told him. “If you once get in with the
wrong set....” David didn’t know what she meant.


III

Society in Springdale, such society as counted for anything, was
divided by a clearly marked line of cleavage, with Mrs. Henry Marksley
dominating one stratum and Mrs. Thomas Henderson the other. The
Hendersons were leaders in the intellectual life of the community and
staunch pillars in the Presbyterian church. Lavinia was glad that David
had been brought up a Presbyterian--or rather, that that happened to
be the fashionable church in Springdale. When it came to matters of
principle, it was not easy to manipulate David.

The Marksleys seldom went to church. On the other hand, Mr. Marksley
stood ready with three contracts, before David had finished the work
on the campus, contracts which enabled him to reap the benefit of
his labour, instead of delivering two-thirds of the profits into the
hand of the senior partner. Mrs. Marksley was particularly anxious
to rally to her standard the best looking and aggressive young women
of the town. She was trying to live down the latest escapades of her
husband and her eldest daughter, Adelaide. Such a woman as Mrs. David
Trench would be of service to her--and she could make the association
correspondingly profitable. But at the psychological moment Mrs.
Marksley went into temporary social exile, ceasing all activity until
after the birth of a son. The hiatus, together with certain whispered
stories concerning Adelaide, drove Lavinia to Mrs. Henderson and the
Browning Club. It was a step she never regretted. Within a year she
was able to send to the Bromfield Sentinel an account of a spirited
business meeting, at which “young Mrs. Trench” had been elected
secretary, over the heads of two rival candidates whose husbands were
in the college faculty. Mrs. Henderson was perpetual president, and
membership in the club gave just the right intellectual and cultural
stamp.

Years afterward, Tom Henderson and Walter Marksley began an exciting
race for Sylvia’s favour--courtship that came to nothing, as all
Sylvia’s courtship did. And now, the boy whose advent had settled,
once and for all, Mrs. Trench’s social destiny, was playing around
with Eileen, taking her to and from school in his car and ruining her
digestion with parfait and divinity. David and Larimore--to his mother
he was always Larimore, never Lary--had set their faces stubbornly
against this flattering attachment. There had been no scandal in the
Marksley family in recent years, and no other objection that a sensible
person could name. But how to persuade them.... Mrs. Ascott! To be
sure. It was providential that she had come to Springdale at such an
opportune time. She would see things in their true light--being a woman
of the world. If only Larimore could be induced to call on her. She
was--m-m-m, yes, nineteen months older than Larimore. That made it
safe. A young widow.... But Larimore Trench had never been interested
in any woman. She would trump up some reason for sending him over,
that very evening. She must have Mrs. Ascott’s assistance. Eileen’s
future--her own future, for reasons as yet but dimly apprehended--was
at stake.


IV

But Theodora spared her the trouble. Judith was finishing her lonely
dinner when the telephone rang. “I’m bringing my brother over to see
you. I told him you wanted some changes made in the living-room.” In
a muffled whisper she added: “Of course you didn’t; but I’ll explain.
We’ll be there in a minute.” Before she could reply, the receiver had
clicked into its hook, and the two were seen emerging from the house.

“Mrs. Ascott, this is Lary. It’s the lamp shade, the one on the newel
post--you know--that’s the colour of ripe apricots.”

She darted from the vestibule into the wide living-room, from which a
stairway ascended to the floor above, and turned on the light, although
the day was not yet gone.

“You don’t like it?” Larimore Trench, asked. “This colour scheme, I
know, is a bit personal.”

“Why, child, when did I say such a thing? I don’t recall discussing the
lamp shade with you.”

“I didn’t exactly tell him you said that you objected to it. I said I
_thought_ you did. You see, mamma told us at dinner that you agreed
with her in everything. And she has always said that for this room the
lamp shade must be rose pink.”

“I’m sorry to disagree with your mother, but I should not like rose
pink.”

“Mrs. Ascott,” Lary began, his clear brown eyes mock-serious, “I must
warn you that Miss Theodora Trench is a conscienceless little fibber.
It isn’t her only fault, but it is her most serious one.”

“Lary! To think of _you_--giving me a black eye, right before Lady
Judith! When I haven’t had a chance to make good with her. If mamma or
Eileen.... But _you_!”

“I couldn’t make either of them any blacker than they already are,
dearie. And I didn’t mean to humiliate you. But you mustn’t begin by
fibbing to Mrs. Ascott.”

She hung her head, crimson blotches staining the sallow cheeks. After
a moment she looked up, and the angry fire had been extinguished by
shining tears.

“I guess it’s better this way. Now Lady Judith knows what kind of a
family we are. You can’t get disappointed in people if you know the
worst of them first.”


V

It transpired that within the Trench home the new tenant had already
been established as “Lady Judith,” a name which Theodora afterward
explained, with documentary and graphic evidence to substantiate her
none too credible word. A long time ago Lary had given her a book of
fairy tales, the heroine of which was Lady Judith Dinglewood--beloved
of all the bold knights, but destined for the favour of the king’s son.
Lary had adorned the title-page with a miniature of the beautiful lady,
and had added a colophon showing her in the robes of a royal bride.
Theodora could recite every word of the romantic tale before she was
old enough to read. She had gone to sleep with that book in her arms,
as Sylvia had insisted on taking her best wax doll to bed. The moment
she espied the name, Judith Ascott, on the lease that Griffith Ramsay
had signed, she decided that her Lady Judith had come true.

It mattered little that the new occupant of the name bore not the
slightest resemblance to the two little water colour drawings. Lary
could paint a new Lady Judith, now that he knew what she really looked
like. It was not his fault that he had made the eyes black. He had to
do that, to appease mamma and Sylvia--whose standards of beauty were
rigidly fixed. But eyes that could be blue or grey, or flecked with
brown, as they were this evening.... How much more interesting than
eyes that were always the same colour! The hair, in that new picture
which Lary must paint, would be pale chestnut, with golden glints where
the light fell on it. And the mouth--the sweetest mouth! She told Lary
about it as they went home, through the close dark of a wonderful
spring night. Had he noticed Mrs. Ascott’s mouth? He had.



VIII Hal Marksley Intrudes


I

April brought a break in the stolid serenity of Elm Street. The big
house across from the Trench property began to manifest signs of
awakening life. For almost a year it had stood vacant, with only a
caretaker to guard it against the depredations of Springdale’s budding
youth. Paint and pruning shears had scarcely achieved the miracle of
external transformation when a consignment of furniture arrived, via
the Oriental express and San Francisco. This much Theodora discovered
as she risked her fragile bones among the packing cases in the
reception hall. She had contrived to make out four letters, N-I-M-S, in
great smears of glossy black ink on several of the boxes. That hardly
sounded like a name.

“Mamma says it will be time enough to find out about them when
they move in,” she complained to Mrs. Ascott. “I heard her ask the
agent--and she was mad as hops when he refused to tell her.”

“Delightfully mysterious, Theo. Perhaps some European monarch has grown
tired of his crown, and is coming to live across the street from us.”

“Maybe it’s the Emperor of China. I saw the loveliest great red
dragon--where one of the cases had broken open and the burlap was torn
off. Oh--” in sudden fright, “don’t let Lary know I pried.”

She had perceived her brother’s approach, by some subtle sense that
bound them. He and Eileen were crossing the lawn with noiseless steps
and Theodora’s back was turned. When they reached the front gate, Mrs.
Ascott gave greeting:

“What does one do in Springdale, these glorious spring evenings?”

“One goes to the show, if one has an amiable brother.” To Eileen’s
suggestion, Larimore added: “Won’t you come along, Mrs. Ascott?
Vaudeville and pictures--not much of an attraction; but it might amuse
you. My mother is entertaining the ladies of the missionary society
this evening, and she doesn’t want us around.”

“Yes,” Theodora added, “and Mrs. Stevens is coming. She and Eileen
don’t speak, since the ‘ossified episode.’ You know, Lady Judith,
that’s all that saved you from being invited to join the Self Culture
Club. Mamma belongs. She was one of the charter members--reads the
magazine, like it was the Bible--and she meant it for a compliment to
offer your name for membership. But Mrs. Stevens was so furious at
Eileen that she tabled all the names mamma submitted.”

“You wouldn’t have gone in for that rubbish anyway,” Eileen defended
herself. “Mrs. Stevens makes me tired. She hasn’t a thing in her
library but reference works. And mamma holds her up to Theo and me as
a bright example. Tells us that we can’t expect to get culture unless
we look things up. Ina Stevens does that, and she has facts hanging all
over her. She’s as prissy as her mother.”

“But what was the ‘ossified episode’?” Judith asked, recognizing one
of Larimore Trench’s expressions, wherewith Theodora’s speech was
frequently adorned.

“Humph, I got caught on the word, in rhetoric class. Thought it meant
something about kissing, and the whole class hooted at me. Ina was
at home, sick, that day, and Theo and I went over in the evening to
take her credit card. Her marks were loads better’n mine, and Mrs.
Stevens swelled up so about it that I couldn’t help telling her that my
grandfather was expected to die, because all his bones had ossified.
And, Mrs. Ascott, both of them--Ina and her mother--fell for it. Mrs.
Stevens said it was a dreadful disease, but she had known one old
lady who lived three years in that condition. I looked blank as a
grindstone; but Theo had to go and snigger. And after we went home,
Mrs. Stevens looked it up--and ’phoned mamma that I had to apologize,
or she wouldn’t let Ina chum with me any more. I don’t care. I like
Kitten Henderson best, any way.”

She turned to look anxiously up the street, as if she were more than
half expecting some one, while Judith went into the house to get her
hat.


II

The performance had been going on for an hour when the four entered the
theatre, groping their way down the dark aisle to a row of unoccupied
seats at the left side. The stage was being set for a troupe of
Japanese tumblers, and the interval was bridged by news films and an
animated cartoon. To Judith this form of entertainment was new. Raoul
could tolerate nothing but the sprightliest comedy. With the Ramsays
and Herbert Faulkner she had tried to find surcease in grand opera and
the symphony. Once in London she and her mother had taken refuge from
the rain in a cinema theatre where, on a wide screen, a company of fat
French women chased a terrified little man--who had loved not wisely
but too often--through the familiar streets of the Latin Quarter,
overturning flower stands and vegetable carts, falling in scrambled
heaps that writhed with a brave showing of lingerie, untangling
themselves and scampering to fresh disaster, when they discovered that
the object of their jealous rage had somehow slipped unhurt from the
mass. Mrs. Denslow was disgusted. Judith was only bored.

But this bit of screen craft was different. On an expanse of dazzling
white a single black dot appeared, paused a breathless moment and went
tripping about in a zigzag dance, spilling smaller dots as it went.
These resolved themselves into figures that stalked about with the
jerky motion of automata. A ghostly hand passed over the picture, and
it stood revealed a plenum of regularly arranged dots. With another
wave of the wraithlike hand, the dots began to move slowly to and
fro, advancing and retreating until they assumed the outlines of a
great picture, “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Other pictures were
produced by means of those same dots. But Mrs. Ascott, who had never
before watched the vibrant changes of an animated cartoon, found it
necessary to close her eyes to relieve the strain. And then ... some
one was leaning over her shoulder, heavy with the odour of a spent
cigar, and a full, authoritative voice was saying:

“Come on, Eileen. The whole bunch is down in front. Ina and Jimmy are
there, and Kitten and Dan.”

“Hal Marksley, if you can’t come to the house for me--” the girl said
petulantly, but she stepped to the seat of her chair and vaulted nimbly
over the back. Theodora moved to the vacant place beside her. Lady
Judith and the play went on.


III

At the gate, Lary kissed his little sister and sent her home, going
into the house with Mrs. Ascott. There was no need of so much as a nod
to assure him that the evening was not yet finished. She wanted to ask
him about Dr. Schubert--the tragedy that had mellowed and sweetened
him. But the revelation would come in due time. Instead, she demanded
to know the significance of Indian Summer. Only that morning the old
physician had remarked--when she told him of Dutton’s warning--“We hop
from snow to sweat, out here in Illinois,”--that one could endure the
heat if one kept constantly in mind that after frost there would be
Indian Summer.

Indian Summer. She had read a sentimental essay, years ago....
April--the arrogant, reckless abundance of Youth. August--the
passionate heat of Love. October--the killing frost of Sorrow. And
after that, the golden peace of Indian Summer. In her part of the world
there was no such division of seasons. Yet the figures had attached
themselves to the walls of her memory by tenacious tentacles. For her
there had been neither sorrow nor peace ... just the bald monotony
of a life that had been regulated by the artificial standards of her
mother or her husband. She was so deadly tired of it all. And her
work at the laboratory had not proved absorbing. It was too easy ...
the copying of formulæ and an occasional hand at an experiment that
might be dangerous. But she knew that none of them would be dangerous.
Dr. Schubert was too cautious to permit her even that zest. Sydney
Schubert, the son, who specialized in diseases of children, she hardly
knew. An epidemic of scarlet fever was raging in the mining towns of
Sutton and Olive Hill, and he was away from home most of the time.

“In order to appreciate Syd, you must know the tragedy of his boyhood,”
Lary began. “It was more terrible for his parents, of course. But to a
sensitive boy who had an instinctive love of beauty--quite aside from
his natural devotion to his mother.... Mrs. Schubert was without doubt
the most beautiful woman either of us had ever seen. Not the type my
mother admires. And it may not have been the kind that would last. She
was too fair and exquisite.”

“And she died, while the bloom was still fresh?” Judith asked.

“No, she lived eight years. We never knew how the thing happened ...
a breeze that ruffled her clothing too close to the grate, or it may
have been that her veil caught fire from an exposed gas flame. She
was dressed to go out, and was waiting for the doctor in the great
hall of their house, when she discovered that her clothing was ablaze.
She wrapped herself in a carriage robe that happened to be lying on
the settle; but she was horribly burned. One side of her face was
disfigured beyond recognition. Fortunately the eyes were saved. It was
after her recovery that Dr. Schubert had the pipe organ installed in
the hall, to occupy her time, for she never went out, and at home she
always covered her scars with a veil of white chiffon. Syd and Bob and
I took turns at pumping the organ for her, before the days of electric
motors, and she taught all of us music. One afternoon, three years ago,
they found her at the organ ... her head resting on the upper manual.
They thought at first she was asleep.”

“I’m glad she went that way,” Judith said, her throat tight with
emotion.

Lary might have resumed, but he was arrested by boisterous laughter,
out on the street. Eileen and her friends were going by, and young
Marksley was saying, with a good-natured sneer: “Cornell--nix on
Cornell for mine. The kid and I have this college business all doped
out. She’s going to cut this little Presbyterian joint, next fall, and
we’re both going to Valparaiso University. Greatest college on earth!
Place where they teach you to dissolve the insoluble, to transmute the
immutable and unscrew the inscrutable. I’m going to take commercial
law, and Eileen can go on with her music....” The voices died away, as
the group turned the corner beyond Vine Cottage.

“I wish my sister wouldn’t--” Lary checked himself, colouring.

“I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Such school boy and girl affairs
seldom come to anything. Eileen’s a stubborn child. I wouldn’t oppose
her ... openly.”


IV

It proved a mistake, letting Eileen go away with Hal and the others.
At midnight she tried to let herself in noiselessly at the side door,
found it unaccountably locked, and was forced to ring the bell.
There was a scene at the breakfast table, reported to Mrs. Ascott by
Theodora, with dramatic touches. Scenes were not uncommon, but this one
was different. It developed along unexpected lines. No one had taken
into account the possibility of Mrs. Trench as a bulwark of defence
for Eileen. But that wary ally was not wont to fight in the open. She
was so accustomed to storming the postern gate, that she was likely
to creep around to the rear of her objective, when the front portal
stood open, undefended. This morning she had for subterfuge the highly
practical business advantage of cultivating Hal Marksley’s friendship.
Hal’s father, as the whole town knew, was preparing to build a palatial
mansion in the parklike addition he had recently laid out, at the
western limit of Springdale’s residential section. Six architects had
been invited to compete for the plans. It was important that Larimore
Trench be the victor. This would place the contract for construction
automatically in David’s hands. But David and Lary wanted to eliminate
themselves from the competition, and admonish Hal that it would be
advisable for him to take his affection elsewhere. At this, Lavinia
forgot her prudence--delivered a direct assault on her husband, which
might have been but an echo of the thing she had been saying to him at
regular intervals for twenty-eight years:

“Yes, and you’d insult Hal--spoil Eileen’s chance, _the way my father
spoiled mine_--just because a young man has money and knows how to
show a girl a good time! I don’t intend to go through another such
experience as I had with Sylvia.”

The reference to Sylvia was beside the mark. She had not intended to
betray her eagerness for an early marriage for her second daughter.



IX News From Bromfield


I

Lavinia was finding her tenant increasingly useful--the wicket gate
an open sesame to many of the difficult problems for which she had
been wont to search in vain the pages of the Self Culture Magazine.
A development watched by her son with incredulous wonder. Hitherto
Lavinia Trench had believed nothing that was conveyed to her by word of
mouth. “She’s a pure visuel,” Dr. Schubert had sought to explain. “She
gets her mental concepts through her eyes.” But Lary knew that that
was not all of it. His mother held an enormous respect for the printed
word. She wanted one of her sons to be a writer. That would reflect
real credit on the family. Her own inability to form fluid sentences
only increased her admiration for those unseen masters whose thoughts
and experiences had received the accolade of printer’s ink. True,
she had many times appeared over her own signature, in the clumsily
edited columns of the Bromfield Sentinel--when there was a chance to
weave into the story some reference to Larimore’s triumphs at Cornell,
Sylvia’s social conquests or Bob’s athletic achievements. But to get
things published ... and paid for.... This last comment always sent
Lary flying from the room. She would probably not take any stock in
the things he wrote, even if she read them in print. They were so at
variance with all her established convictions.

On a certain Thursday morning she made occasion to call on Mrs.
Ascott, the newly arrived copy of the Sentinel in her hand. Her dark
sallow cheeks showed hectic splotches, and her eyes flared and dimmed
with the emotion she was trying to conceal. She had not written the
story on the front page of the Bromfield paper. Her fancy’s most
ingenious flight could not have fabricated anything one half so ...
gratifying. So terrible, she amended, to her own soul. But the real,
the usually submerged Lavinia, knew that the former word was the right
one.

“You remember the boy, Fournier Stone, that you used to play with when
you were a little girl in Rochester,” she began tensely. “Read that.”

The story was told with all the crass vulgarity and offensiveness of
small town journalism. The bank examiner had paid an unexpected visit
to the Bromfield National bank--because of certain stories that had
been circulated concerning young Stone’s extravagance in Rochester and
Buffalo. It was found that a large gap between the bank’s records and
the actual cash on hand had been bridged by spurious paper that implied
the additional crime of forgery. This, it transpired, was not Fournier
Stone’s first offence. In the past he had fled to his mother for
assistance; but now Mrs. Stone was critically ill, and he had not dared
to tell her of his dilemma.

“To think of a mother shielding her son in such rascality!” to which
Lavinia added, with snapping satisfaction, “But what could you expect
of such a mother?”

The account closed with the statement that Mrs. Stone had suffered a
relapse, because of the shock of her son’s arrest, and for several
hours her life was despaired of. The culprit was released, under heavy
bond, and was constantly at his mother’s bedside.


II

Saturday brought a letter from Ellen Larimore, with further details.
Fournier Stone had disappeared--walked out of the house, in the clothes
of one of the servants, right past the secret service man who was there
to trap him. It was thought that he had gone to Canada. His mother was
in a desperate condition. “Of course,” Ellen added, “we don’t know a
thing for certain. I talked to Calvin this morning, and the poor man
is distracted. But most people here think he might have set the boy a
better example. I never forgot the day you told me it was too risky to
marry a man who drank and gambled. What if it was Larimore that was
a fugitive from justice! Aren’t you thankful that you married David
instead of Calvin? I’ve had an idea for a long time that you got wind
of the affair with Lettie, and threw Calvin over, in a jealous huff.
Now I see your wisdom. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that when they
came to look up Fournier’s records, in Rochester, it came out that he
is six months older than we thought he was. There are a lot of things
about Calvin Stone’s marriage that some of us older people would like
to find out about.” Lavinia set her teeth hard, and a yellow pallor
replaced the flush of indignant pleasure that had accompanied the
reading of the letter ... up to this point. She had intended to show
the letter to David; but when she came to the mention of her wisdom in
the choice of a husband, she wavered. That last sentence brought her to
an abrupt decision. She burned the letter--and repeated such parts of
it as would fit in with a half formed plan in her own mind.

David was profoundly sorry for the Stones. Their misfortunes helped
to ease the pain in his own heart, a pain that had never been lulled
since the black day when Bob Trench’s dripping body was taken from the
river. It was his mother who had urged him to compete for one more
trophy at the annual college field meet. To David it seemed that his
wife cared more for Bob’s ribbons and foolish little silver cups than
for all Lary’s scholarships and medals. He had never connected these
spectacular mementoes with the boastings in the Bromfield Sentinel, and
their possible effect on certain of the old friends, whose children had
not distinguished themselves. Providence, it now appeared, had been
kind in the untimely taking off of his son. Such disgrace as Fournier
Stone had brought upon his parents would be harder to bear. In David’s
limited vocabulary respectability had no place. But principle loomed
large. It was the thing Fournier Stone had done, not the newspaper
account of it, that mattered.



X Eileen Seeks Counsel


I

Mrs. Ascott went out into the garden after breakfast to watch the
transfer of tomato plants from the cold frames beside the garage to
the loamy bed that bordered the west wall. Dutton had explained to her
that nothing would thrive against the high board fence that shut the
grounds from the street, at the east side of the garden--on account of
the afternoon sun--and that these tomatoes would grow six feet high and
would disport their fruit above the stone wall ... if the suckers were
kept picked off. She wondered what suckers were, and how the afternoon
sun had acquired such a sinister reputation.

She had not slept, and the April air was cool and refreshing. Mamma and
the boys were safely installed in a Paris apartment. Papa had closed
the big house at Pelham, taking two of the best trained servants with
him to the city establishment on Riverside Drive, and was happily
engrossed in the Wall Street fight for further millions--secure from
the annoyance of family intrusion. She had several letters and one
cablegram. How remote it all seemed, how like the hazy memory of
another existence! Two months ago she was trying to forget Raoul, his
amiable as well as his maddeningly offensive side. Now she seldom
thought of him at all. His personality had lost its definite line and
mass. Even his form was growing nebulous. She could not remember what
it was that he particularly disliked for breakfast ... and whether he
was growing alarmingly stout or thin when he went away to Egypt with
Hilda Travers.

It was strange that she should have forgotten. Her life with him had
been made up of just such things as these. She searched herself for an
explanation, as the gardener rambled on, his words scarce reaching her
consciousness. Slowly the imponderable thoughts assembled themselves,
fashioning for her a shadow picture of her remote childhood. She was
in the old kitchen at Rochester and her grandmother Holden was baking
cookies for the slum children. There on the marble slab lay the great
mass of yellow dough that so tempted her eager fingers. More than once
she had seized a breathless opportunity, while grandma’s back was
turned, to thrust an index finger far down into its golden softness.
And behold! The mass had come together, leaving scarce a trace of the
deep impression she had made.

Was she as plastic as dough, and had her husband gone from her life
without leaving an impression? There must be something more ...
something that had not worked out with precision in their case. Did
not that same yielding substance take on the fairly permanent shapes
of lions and camels, dancing girls and roosters with arching tails?
Perhaps Raoul had neglected to bake the dough. Was she still an
impressionable girl, for all her tragic experience?


II

The wicket gate opened and Eileen came towards her. The slim shoulders
drooped carelessly and there was a sullen look about the too voluptuous
mouth. Mrs. Ascott noticed for the first time that Eileen’s mouth was
like her mother’s. All the rest of her was, as Theodora put it, “pure,
unadulterated Trench” ... excepting, of course, the eyes, which were
amber or vicious yellow, according to her mood. Lary had his father’s
mouth; but had compromised with his mother on the question of eyes.
Lavinia abhorred compromises, albeit she had learned to accept them as
if they had been of her own choosing.

The girl stood in rebellious indecision, a few feet from the tomato
bed. Then, as if she had made up her mind to do the thing ... and take
the consequences, she came swiftly forward, put an arm around Judith’s
waist and kissed her full on the mouth. It had been so long since
any one had kissed her! The lips were speaking now, the tone low and
vibrant with pleading.

“You don’t mind, do you? If you only knew how I adore you! I have sat
at my window and watched you--and wondered about you--and wanted to
kiss you, till my mouth ached.”

A thrill went through the woman’s usually tranquil body. Here was
passion, susceptibility, imagination. She had not dreamed of such
intensity in a girl so young. And this was the girl Larimore Trench had
begged her to influence, to mould into some shape of his choosing--a
shape that would be utterly displeasing to her mother.

“Can you come into the house with me? It’s only a little after eight.
You won’t be late for chapel if you start at half-past.”

“I’m in no hurry. Hal’s coming by for me with the car. He’ll be on the
campus five minutes before he started, if our old moth-eaten policeman
happens to be looking the other way. I framed up the best looking
excuse for a morning call ... and now I don’t need it. You invited me
in--just like that! It’s always the way. If I have my gun loaded, there
isn’t any bear.”

“Did you think you needed a pretext?”

“I couldn’t be sure. And with you ... it’s too important to take
chances. I’ve been feeling my way, ever since you came. I can’t go
dancing in, as Theo does. She is like mamma. You simply can’t snub that
kid.”

The pretext was the revelation of the mystery-house across the way. Hal
had told her all about it, after they left Ina and Kitten and their
escorts. The owner of the carved dragon was Hal’s sister, Adelaide
Nims. There had been a former marriage, about the time of Hal’s birth,
a most unsavoury affair. Adelaide was seventeen at the time, and the
reluctant husband was the divorced partner of one of Henry Marksley’s
affinities. The Marksleys, père and mère, had been separated three
times. Eileen and Hal agreed that it was indecent for people who
despised each other to live together. Still, if his parents had not
made up that last time, there would have been no Hal. This would have
been calamity for Eileen.

The present Mrs. Nims was little known in Springdale, having lived
abroad for almost twenty years. Her first husband, in Eileen’s piquant
phrase, “had chucked her” after a few months--as a man usually does
when he is dragooned into a distasteful marriage. There had been other
marriages, “without benefit of clergy,” the details of which were
suppressed in Springdale. Indeed coming to light only in connection
with a divorce or two wherein Adelaide had figured as the reprehensible
other woman. She had hair like polished mahogany and melting brown
eyes, a skin like the petals of a Victoria Regia, at dawn of the
morning after the lily’s opening, before the sun has tinged its creamy
white with the faint rose that is destined to run the colour gamut to
rich purplish red. She and Syd Schubert vied with each other in the
number of instruments they could play; but she had made her great
success with the ’cello, an instrument whose playing revealed to the
best possible advantage the slim sensual grace of her body.

It was in a London music hall that Reginald Nims, younger son of a
peer, had fallen beneath the weight of her manifold charms and had
married her--to the dismay of his family. Eileen knew what she looked
like. Not from Hal’s description, but because Springdale had seen her
portrait. Just before she and her husband left England for China, they
had sent it home for safe keeping ... the magnificent portrait that
Sargent had painted. Mrs. Henderson gave a talk on it, in the reading
room of the college library. Red hair, coppery in the high lights,
eyes that would turn an anchorite from the path of duty, skin texture
that was unsurpassed in the far reach of Sargent’s marvellous texture
painting, a chiffon gown that reminded you of a cloud of flame-shot
smoke, and a bit of still-life that was definitely, though not
insistently, turquoise.

“Mrs. Henderson said that when she read a description of the picture,
she supposed it was going to look like a Henner; but it was nothing
of the sort. I had to go on the Q. T. to hear her talk. Of course you
know, mamma belongs to the Art Study Club; but she was scandalized at
Mrs. Henderson getting up there and talking about Adelaide Marksley.
Lary tried to make her see that it was Sargent ... but what’s the use?
You can’t get that kind of an idea into my mother’s head.”

The Browning Club had long since gone the way of Browning. But Mrs.
Henderson, after the death of her husband, was constrained to seek new
means of holding her grip on the social and intellectual leadership
of the town. Fortunately Mrs. Clarkson, wife of the new Dean, was not
aggressive. She was glad to be enrolled, along with Mrs. David Trench,
as a member of the Art Study Club. Being a late comer in the town, she
knew no reason why she should withdraw her moral support from the club,
after its shocking display of the Sargent picture.

“But I hope the poor girl is at last happily married,” Mrs. Ascott
hastened to say. She wondered if Eileen was always quite fair to her
mother.

“That’s just what she isn’t. And thereby hangs the tale of their coming
here to live for a couple of years. Hal said his father wanted to rent
Vine Cottage for them--and in that case they wouldn’t have brought
their furniture. But your Mr. Ramsay got ahead of him. I’m glad he
did. But mamma would have turned them out, lease or no lease, if she
ever got her eyes on an English paper published in Hong Kong, that Hal
showed me, last night. It was the rippingest account you ever read, of
Adelaide’s elopement with a member of the military band. It started in
a sort of musical flirtation ... and ended in a miserable little hotel
in Fu Chau. The writer said your sympathy would be with Mrs. Nims if
you looked at the shape of Reginald Nims, and remembered that his wife
was fond of dancing. Hal doesn’t know what that means--because he never
saw his brother-in-law. He must be either a cripple or fat. It won’t be
long till we know. They sail from Honolulu to-morrow.”

“Then she’s reconciled to her husband?”

“Had to be! She’s trying to make the best of a bad mess. The musician
soured on his bargain....” The amber eyes flamed yellow. “Left her in
the room at the hotel, and gave her husband the key. How did he know
Nims wouldn’t kill her? I should think he would--if he had any spirit.
They’re coming here till the scandal blows over and they can go back to
London. Adelaide loathes China, and adores England. Hal said he guessed
that Nims couldn’t bear to part with a wife who had red hair, even if
he had to do the reversed Mormon stunt once in a while.”

Mrs. Ascott experienced a swift revulsion--not at the story Eileen was
telling. She had heard many such. But in the bald discussion of sex
encounters there lurked a definite element of danger. For another, and
less serious reason, Hal Marksley ought not to be telling this story in
Springdale, where his sister expected to live. But Eileen hastened to
explain that she alone was in the secret, and she ... “was part of the
family.”

“Really, my dear? I hadn’t suspected.”

“Yes, Lady Judith, and if you’ll let me, I’m coming back after school
to tell you what I actually came to tell you this morning. May I? I’ll
have to chase home and get my books. Hal’s honking for me, this minute.”


III

It was three o’clock when Eileen came home from school, tossed
her things on the settee in the living-room and curled herself up
contentedly on a hassock at Mrs. Ascott’s feet. Her cheeks were flushed
and her low brow was framed in little caressing ringlets. She looked
amazingly like Lary. Happiness fairly exuded from her being.

“I can’t beat around the bush, Lady Judith. When I have anything to say
... I have to go to it with both feet. Will you take care of this for
me?”

She drew a shining gold chain from somewhere within the harbouring
crispness of her piqué collar, wound the pliant links around her
slender forefinger, and brought to light a ring set with a huge
diamond. Hal had given it to her that morning. She had known about it
for some time. The stone was one of many that belonged to his father
... and would never be missed. There was a good handful of them in a
box in the office safe, and Adelaide would coax them all away from her
father. He, Hal, might as well get his--while the getting was good. He
had taken this one, and another for a scarf pin for himself, to St.
Louis to be mounted the day after he and Eileen became engaged.

“You haven’t told your mother?” Mrs. Ascott interrupted.

“I can’t! I can’t! If you knew mamma better.... It would take all the
sacredness--all the meaning out of it ... to have mamma preen herself
because her daughter is going to marry the son of the richest man in
town.”

“And your father, Eileen?”

The fair face went gray, and pain quivered the sensitive lips. “I can’t
make that as clear as the other; but I’m the most unfortunate person in
the world. You don’t know how I have dreamt of the time when I could go
to my darling old daddy and hide my blushes in his shoulder, while I
told him that the greatest thing in life had come to me. And now that
it’s come ... he wouldn’t understand ... or approve. And mamma, who
hasn’t a mortal bit of use for me, would take it as a personal triumph.
Rush off to that silly little Bromfield Sentinel with an announcement
of my engagement, and all about who the Marksleys are, and how much
money they have. I just can’t give her that gratification. I’d choke.”

Sixteen! and she had life’s irony at her finger ends. The amber eyes
filled with tears that glistened a moment on the long lashes and went
trickling down the pale checks to make little welts on the stiffly
starched piqué collar. Mrs. Ascott felt no impulse to smile. Here was
a little hurt child, whose quivering lips might have been pleading for
the life of a puppy condemned to be drowned. And it was all so deadly
serious to her. Love? She might experience a dozen such heart-burnings
before the dawning of the great passion.

“My dear, there is a touchstone given to each one of us, before we
reach the years of discretion and judgment. Mine was my grandmother.
Yours, I believe, is your father. I hid my engagement to Raoul Ascott
from Grandma Holden. Only because I knew she would not approve. And,
Eileen, my marriage turned out wretchedly. My husband was much older
than I. And, do you know, dear, the immature mind is keenly flattered
by the attention of the mature one. Hal is a college senior, almost
five years older than you. If you could be sure your vanity isn’t
involved--”

“No, that has nothing to do with it. Hal loves me. You can’t
understand what that means to me ... because ... you don’t know how
my people regard me. The only thing I ever wanted is love. Not the
kind that papa gives me. That’s too general. He loves everything and
everybody--including my mother, when she treats him like a dog. But I
don’t want to think about them, now. It hurts ... to think about my
father. I can stand it, because I’m not very lovable. He couldn’t be
unkind if he tried. He would go on loving his children, if we did the
worst thing in the world. I used to wish Lary would love me ... he’s so
much like papa in some ways. But you couldn’t tell anybody that what
you wanted was love. They’d think you were stalling--that you were
after something else, and used that for a blind. Why, even Bob didn’t
really know me--and he was the best friend I ever had. I used to steal
matches for him, when he was learning to smoke, and I’ve taken many a
lickin’ to keep him out of trouble. I got mean and hateful after he was
drowned. Talk about an all-wise Providence! I couldn’t have any respect
for a God that would kill Bob and leave me alive.”

“But Dr. Schubert--”

“Yes, he and Syd....” Her lips tightened. “They wouldn’t approve of
Hal either. He has a reputation for being ... well, rather loose in
his ideas. He isn’t a bit worse than the other boys in college. But
he happens not to be the psalm-singing kind. I hate the tight ideas I
was brought up on. But that isn’t what makes me love Hal. Lady Judith,
if you had been told all your life that you were ugly and cross and
good-for-nothing ... and somebody came along who thought you were sweet
and clever and beautiful--” She laughed shortly. “Yes, all of that! I
know I’m built according to the architecture of an ironing board; but
Hal says my form is perfect. He twists my hair around his fingers by
the hour, and he just loves to stroke my cheeks, because my skin is
soft--like Lary’s, and papa’s. Don’t you see? Being loved like that--”

“Yes, Eileen, I see. How soon are you going to be married?”

“Not for years and years. I persuaded Hal, last night, to go to Pratt
Institute, instead of that third rate college where he was going to
take finance. I want him to do that--so that Lary’ll respect him. He
doesn’t intend to settle down in this dried-up village. He hates it as
much as I do.” She fell silent a moment. “There’s only one drawback to
living away from Springdale.”

“Leaving your father?”

“No, he wouldn’t mind that, and neither would I--after I had a family
of my own. But if one of my children should get sick--very sick--and
I couldn’t reach Syd--I’d be frantic! Syd’s the only doctor who knows
what’s the matter with a baby.”

“You love children, Eileen?”

“I adore them.” She hugged her breast ecstatically. “I hope I’ll
have six. Hal loves them, too. That’s only one of the tastes we have
in common. He wants a home ... he’d even be willing to let Lary build
it, and select the furniture. And that’s a lot ... the way my brother
treats him. I hope you’ll try to see his fine side, to like him ... for
my sake. You know what it’s going to mean to me.”



XI Vicarious Living


I

Hal Marksley called regularly in his car to take the two girls to
school. Theo, in the rôle of chaperone, was novel, to say the least.
Occasionally he and Eileen went for long rides in the country when
classes were over. Once they were delayed by the amusing annoyance of
three punctures, and it was dinner time when they neared home. Hal
took the precaution to leave the roadster on Grant Drive, traversing
the three short blocks to Elm Street on foot. On other occasions, when
there was no danger of encountering the men-folk of the family, Mrs.
Trench would invite him in for lemonade and cake, after which she would
command Eileen to play her latest violin piece--usually a bravura of
technique, quite as incomprehensible to Mrs. Trench’s accustomed ears
as to Hal’s--during which the youth would drum the window sill with
impatient fingers.

It was understood between the young people that Mrs. Ascott alone was
in the secret, and that the engagement ring had been placed with some
of her valuables in Dr. Schubert’s vault, against the time when it
would be safe to display it. There was one drop of bitter in Eileen’s
great happiness. Her father. Even since her talk with Judith, she had
been conscious of something essentially dishonourable in her conduct.
She was beginning to look at her father with awakened eyes. He had
always been a person of little consequence in his home. Lavinia was
the dynamo that drove the plant. David was a belt or a fly-wheel, a
driving rod or some such nonessential--easily replaced if he should
break or rust. But David Trench would never rust. His wife kept him
going at such a rate that a high polish was his only alternative.
Rust gathers on unused metal. Eileen wondered what her father was
like--inside. What her mother was like, for that matter. David talked
little and Lavinia talked all the time, and the revelation of silence
was, if anything, more informing than that of incessant chatter.

Mrs. Ascott might win Lary over to a reluctant acceptance of the
engagement; but that would have small bearing on the problem of her
father. It was the way with pliant natures. You can bend them without
in the least influencing their ultimate resistance. Lavinia might be
shattered by a well directed blow, whereas David would yield courteous
response. There might be a dent in his feelings, but his convictions
would remain as they were.


II

One Friday afternoon, as April lingered tiptoe on the threshold of May,
Dr. Schubert sent for Lary to assist him with a peculiarly difficult
experiment, one calling for strong nerves and a quick perception.
When it was finished, Lary and Judith walked home together, crossing
the campus to avoid the thoroughfare that connected the old residence
quarter with the fashionable section that had rooted itself in the once
fertile farms of Springdale’s newer society.

“Would you mind going a little out of your way?” the man asked,
consulting his watch. “It’s early, and I have a troublesome problem.
You know women--I don’t.”

“An estimate of a possible Mrs. Trench? Take my advice, Lary. Have her
sized up for you by a man--never by another woman. Women can’t be just
to each other when they meet on ... mating ground. Besides, no woman
ever tells a man quite what she thinks of another woman. The other
woman’s secret is, in part, her own. She must guard it--as you guarded
the silly secrets of your college fraternity. If you ever saw the
inside of one of us, you’d know how little there is to conceal. But the
mystery ... that’s the important thing. Still, I’ll do my best. I’m old
enough to be your mother, and ought to trust my judgment.”

“There is no potential Mrs. Trench in this problem. The thing
that’s worrying me is the inglenook in a house I’m building in
Roosevelt Place. The woman--who has exceptionally definite ideas
of architecture--has changed her mind three times. Now she’s as
dissatisfied with her own planning as she is with mine. We’re at our
wits’ end, and I must find--”

“Look, Lary, those birds! They’re fighting!”

The woman seized his arm and whirled him about. They were nearing the
end of the campus walk, where the maples cast slow-dancing shadows
on the hard gravel. Larimore Trench almost lost his footing, as the
pebbles scurried across the grass. He looked at his companion in
astonishment. She was not one to go off her head at trifles, yet her
tone revealed genuine alarm. In the grass, not ten feet away, two
chesty robins were battling like miniature game cocks, their cries
denoting a grotesque kind of rage.

“La femme in the case is over there on that syringa,” Lary told her,
“estimating the prospects for the posterity she expects to mother. I
have never been satisfied with the age I have to live in. But I’m glad
I wasn’t born a troglodyte, in a world crying for population.”

As he spoke, his back to the street, Hal and Eileen whisked by in
their car and disappeared around the corner. The two watched the birds
a moment. Then they resumed their walk. The easy confidence that had
grown, quite unnoticed, between them was interrupted. Strive as they
would they could find no common ground. Judith was vexed with Eileen.
Why should she come along, with her crashing discord, at just that
moment? And again, why did it matter whether she and Larimore Trench
had a pleasant walk or a sullen one? They had long since discussed
every problem under the sun--and had found all of them hopelessly old.
As they turned from Grant Drive and were entering Roosevelt Place, she
paused to lay an arresting hand on his arm.

“Lary, there are three houses here under construction. The one near the
middle of the block is yours. You haven’t even a bowing acquaintance
with the other two.”

The man--not the architect--flushed with pleasure. He had never talked
shop to Mrs. Ascott, and her recognition of one of his ideas, simply
rendered in rough concrete and blue-green tile, pleased him. She would
help him to compromise with Mrs. Morton about that inglenook. But the
inglenook was only a subterfuge. He wanted to talk to her about his
sister. She alone could make Eileen see that her admirer was uncouth, a
good-looking animal devoid of a single quality to survive the honeymoon.


III

As they picked their way cautiously between paint cans and piles
of building refuse, Lary discovered that the workmen had erected a
barricade between the front hall and the living-room, and the angle of
the stairway shut the chimney corner from view. On the second floor
there was another obstacle. The floors had been newly waxed, and a
stern “Verboten” flaunted its impotent arrogance in their path. They
continued their climb to the third floor, where children, servants,
billiards, and winter garments would be harboured. Judith paused in the
door to the nursery, crossed the room and sank, exhausted, in the wide
window seat. Lary found place beside her, as he told her of the clever
girl who had done the Peter Pan frieze above the yellow painted wall.

“Are you fond of children, Lary?” She was thinking of Eileen.

“No, I detest them.”

“You-- But how can you say such a thing? Your understanding with
Theodora is perfect. You kindle, you glow, when you are telling her
stories from the classics.”

“That’s because she isn’t a child. I believe she never was. But my
affection for her didn’t begin when she was.... The first few months,
I believe I hated her. I may tell you about it some time. When I
lose patience with my mother--and other women--I think about that
hideous afternoon, twelve years ago last December. I don’t believe any
child--or anything else that men and women are at such a bother to
create and leave behind them--is worth all that suffering.”

Mrs. Ascott withdrew, ever so little. She did not like Larimore Trench
when his tone revealed that peculiar timbre, that quality of boyish
cynicism. He had seen so much of books, so little of life. And then it
came to her that he viewed everything in the sordid world--the world
outside his imagination--through the distorting lenses of his mother’s
personality, her limitations and her prejudices. In his most violent
opposition he was, nevertheless, directed by her. He would go to the
south pole ... because she stood obstinately at the north. It was she
who shaped his course, determined his stand. Her insistence on the
fundamental importance of material progress drove him early to the post
of disinterested onlooker. That he did his work, and did it well, was
a reflex of his inner nature, the nature that came to him when David’s
fineness and Lavinia’s dynamic ardour were fused, in a moment of
unthinking contact. And it was the penalty of such fusing, that neither
of his parents comprehended the nature they had given him.


IV

The silence towered, opaque and forbidding, between them. But they had
come with a purpose, groping their way to the same objective, neither
one guessing what was in the other’s mind. By a devious path, that was
nevertheless essentially feminine, Judith approached:

“Lary, do you want to tell me about your brother? It would have made
such a difference in Eileen’s life--if he had lived.”

“You would have enjoyed Bob--a tremendous fellow, every phase of him.
He played half-back on the college team when he was sixteen. And at
that, he took the state cup in the half mile dash. He had medals for
hammer throwing and pole vault. There is a whole case of his cups and
ribbons in the college library. He’s the only one of us who inherited
my mother’s energy. Oh, Sylvia, of course. She can rattle around and
make a great showing--and she does actually accomplish things when she
has a definite purpose ... something she wants to do. The rest of us
are a listless pack. We’d rather climb a tree and watch the parade go
by. But Bob was in everything, for the sheer fun of living. It looks
to me like a stupid blunder ... to cut off such virility before it had
perpetuated itself.”

“Eileen told me she had lost her respect for God, since her brother was
drowned. She was so naïve and in such deadly earnest.”

“Eileen was a born doubter. I was sixteen when I revolted against the
idea of a Deity with the duties of an ordinary stockroom clerk--and it
was one of Eileen’s searching questions that set me thinking. Not bad
for six years old. Mamma holds to the old orthodox belief as one of the
hallmarks of respectability. In her day, and town, the iconoclasts were
pool-room keepers and saloon bums. The catechism was drilled into us as
soon as we could talk. My mother would have been a great ritualist, if
she had had the luck to be born an Anglican. There isn’t much in her
church to hang your hat on.”

“But your father, Lary--religion means something to him.”

“Yes ... it’s about all he has. Eileen breaks his heart with her
irreverent flings. I spare him. Not because I am more considerate than
she. More selfish, perhaps. I can’t take the consequences of inflicting
pain. You’ll call it crass spiritual weakness--a flaw in the casting.
I’ve tried to overcome it. I couldn’t have endured....” His voice
wavered, “Last night I heard my father praying for Eileen. It was
ghastly. I wanted to tell her how she is torturing him. But it would
only provoke a fresh outburst of scoffing.”

“Lary, will you give Eileen into my hands--stop worrying about her--you
and your father? Will you persuade him that I have been sent ‘from on
high’ to guide her through this wilderness? I may fail; but I have her
confidence.”

“Papa was afraid, because you were rich, that you would share her
mother’s view. Oh, not that Eileen took refuge in your sympathy. She’s
too proud, too good a sport, for that. She only told him that money,
_per se_, was no obstacle--_vide_ Mrs. Ascott. Before she was through
with it, she told him that if he kept on, she would go to the devil
with Hal Marksley. It was after that that he carried his trouble to the
God who is said to answer prayers.”

“As a substitute for the Deity.... But at least, Lary, I know the
premises. And at the worst, it is only the working out of her own
nature. No one can live Eileen’s life for her, not even her father. But
there’s the tower clock, striking six. You will be late for dinner--and
we haven’t looked at that inglenook.”



XII The Poem Judith Read


I

From her vine-screened retreat in the summer house, Judith Ascott
looked out on the fairest May Day she had ever known. It was the
morning after ... and the promise she had made to Lary hung sinister
and foreboding over her spirit. Everything around her was vibrant with
coming summer. At home the buds would be opening timorously, while
here the perennial climbers were in full leaf. An aureate splendour,
seductive as Danae’s rain, rippled through the open structure of the
pergola, transmuting the pebble walk to a pavement of costly gems;
but within the widening of the arbour--that David had converted into
an outdoor living-room--the frightened shadows sought refuge from the
shafts that would presently destroy them. To the cool umbrageous corner
nearest the house, where the light was faint, the woman had taken her
world-weary body, yearning for the relaxation her bed had denied her.

It was all so insistent, this new life that had come to her, its music
keyed to a pitch she had never realized, a tempo beyond the reach of
her experience. The Trenches. Were there other families in the universe
like this one? Before her coming to Springdale she had viewed the world
through a thick forest of people, most of them intolerably tiresome.
In the main they were contented ... such contentment as is to be
derived from a favourable turn in the market or the balm of Bermuda to
beguile a winter’s day. Happy lives, she had read, make uninteresting
biographies. Her life had been far from happy, and her biography
would be utterly stupid. Mrs. Trench was--she realized with a stab of
astonishment--a desperately unhappy woman, and her life story was made
up of a propitious marriage and six abnormally interesting children.
And then ... Theo appeared at the other side of the garden wall,
discerned the white-clad figure among the verdant shadows of the summer
house, and scaled the low barrier with the nimbleness of a squirrel. In
the folds of her skirt she held something, and a furtive air pervaded
her small person.


II

“Dear Lady Judith, may I have the honour of a morning call?”

“Do come, you little ray of sunshine. Your Lady Judith’s sky is
overcast, and she is in sore need of cheer.”

“Don’t you go bothering Mrs. Ascott this morning,” Theo’s mother cried
sharply from the pantry window. “You ought to know enough not to wear
out your welcome.”

“No danger,” Judith assured her. She did not perceive the look of sharp
displeasure on the older woman’s face, but the voice affected her
disagreeably, and she turned for relief to the anomalous reproduction
of Lavinia, who was already nestling confidently at her side, on the
oaken settle. The child spread upon her knee two sheets of paper, on
which many lines had been written. A casual glance betrayed the agony
of composition. Words had been discarded by the device of an impatient
pen stroke. Others had been consigned to oblivion by means of carefully
drawn lines. Phrases had been transposed and rhyming terminals changed.


“It’s a poem. I thought it would help to cheer you up. Mamma wouldn’t
like it, and neither would Mrs. Stevens--because it doesn’t hop along
on nice little iambic feet. It has to say ‘te-tum, te-tum, te-tum,’ or
they think it isn’t poetry. Eileen writes some that are wilder than
this one; but she never lets mamma see them. She wrote one on Love,
last Sunday morning, when she ought to have been listening to the
sermon, and ... what do you think! Left it in the hymn book! And Kitten
Henderson found it, and sent it to Dan Vincel as her own composition.”

Mrs. Ascott took the copy, scanning the first page with crescent
interest. She had not thought of Eileen as a poet. Yet such intense
musical feeling.... The musician is seldom a poet of marked quality or
distinction. The godlike gifts of rhythm, cadence, imagery, these may
not flow with equal volume in double channels. Yet the verses, however
crude, would shed another light on a nature too complex for ready
analysis. There was no title, no clue to the impulse that promoted the
writing. There was no need of such. A girl in Eileen’s rhapsodic mental
state would not go far in search of inspiration.

      “Birth, Hope, Ambition, Love,
  These four the minor half of life compose:
  The sylvan stream to broadening river flows,
  And, golden-fair, replete with promise, glows
      The radiant Sun above.

      “The major half of life?
  Love scars the soul, as ’twere a searing brand:
  Ambition turns to ashes in our hand,
  Nor, ’til the glass has spilled its latest sand,
      Comes rest from urge and strife.

      “O Birth! thou wanton wight
  That dost with smiles enmask thy mocking eyes!
  How dost thou cheat the unborn soul that flies
  Full-eager from its formless Paradise
      To realms of Death and Night!”

Theo sat breathless, a flush of expectation staining her dark skin, as
the first page was laid aside and the second came to view. Before the
remaining stanzas were finished, her heart was beating visibly through
the thin morning dress, as her lips fashioned soundlessly the lines she
had memorized at the second reading:

      “O Love! more wanton e’en
  Than Birth or Hope or bold Ambition, thine
  To lift the quivering soul to heights divine,
  To mad the brain with Amor’s poisoned wine,
      To spread thy wonder-sheen

      “O’er eyes that erst could see!
  Thy promises, how fair, how full of bliss!
  Are mortals born for rapture such as this?
  Helas! the web was cunning-wove, I wis,
      That e’en entangled me!”

“Theodora, are you _sure_ that Eileen wrote these verses?”

“Eileen? Goodness, no! She scrawls all over the paper. You never saw
her write a neat little hand like that.”

“Then who did write it?”

“Why ... Lary, of course. I thought you knew he was the poet--the
_real_ poet of the family. He wrote it last night. I saw his light
burning at four o’clock this morning. I couldn’t sleep, either. Mine
was ear-ache. His was another kind. He says you always have to agonize
when you write anything worth while. And I think this poem is ... worth
while ... don’t you?”

The solid ground of assurance was, somehow, slipping from beneath her
feet. Lady Judith was not pleased. Her usually pale cheeks burned red,
and there was an unfamiliar look in her eyes.

“Eileen told you to bring this to me?”

“Humph! You don’t think I’d show her Lary’s poem? He lets me see
lots of things he writes, that mamma and the rest of them don’t know
anything about--till they’re published. And if the stupid editors send
them back--I never do tell. I wouldn’t ... for the world.”

“He gave you this to read?”

“N-n-not exactly. He left the desk unlocked. Didn’t put the top quite
all the way down, and one corner of the paper was sticking out. I had
to see what it was, so that if it was something the others oughtn’t to
see, I could put it under the blotter, out of sight.”

An expression of Dutton’s flashed through Mrs. Ascott’s mind: “Theo’s
the spit of her mother. She’ll do the dirtiest tricks, and explain ’em
on high moral grounds.” She caught and held the dark, troubled eyes.

“Theodora, do you know that you have done something almost
unpardonable?”

“But, Lady Judith, when anybody feels the way Lary does, and you
love him as much as I do--don’t you see, the sooner there’s an
understanding, the better? It was that way with the Lady Judith in the
story. And if it hadn’t been for the meddlesome fairy, that found the
drawing of the two hearts, interlocked, the Prince wouldn’t have known,
till it was too late.”

“Theo,” the woman interrupted sharply, “take these two sheets of paper
back to your brother’s room, and lay them exactly as you found them, so
that he won’t know they have been moved or seen.”

Fear puckered the thin little face, fear and chagrin. With
sparrow-like motion she turned and darted in the direction of the
wicket gate. Midway she stopped, arrested by the timbre of Mrs.
Ascott’s voice--a sternness she had not deemed possible.

“Come back, Theodora, if you want me ever to care for you again.”

A moment the lithe body wavered, the mind irresolute. Then she set her
head impishly on one side, looked at the angry, frightened woman with a
scold-me-if-you-can expression, and slowly retraced her steps, dragging
her toes in the gravel and swaying her straight hips from side to side.
It was pure bravado. At the entrance to the summer house, her spirit
broke. In another instant she was in Mrs. Ascott’s lap and great sobs
were shaking her agitated bosom.

“There, precious, I didn’t mean to hurt you. But, can’t you realize,
dearie? You must be made to realize, no matter how it hurts.”

“No, you are the one who must be made to realize. I knew it, all along.”

“Knew what, Theo?”

“That Lary’s crazy about you. He never cared for anybody--not even
puppy-dog love, when he was a boy. He was glad when Sylvia married, so
he wouldn’t have to take her girl friends home--when they hung around
so late that they were afraid to go home by themselves. I’ve been
waiting to tell you about him for ever so long. You couldn’t know how
good he is--how good--and wonderful.” The smothered voice was full of
adoration. “He has the dearest ways, when you are all alone with him.
And he never misses the point of a joke. Mamma can say witty things;
but she almost never sees the other fellow’s joke. And his hands are so
gentle--not strong and rough, like Bob’s. If you only knew.... But Lary
wouldn’t ever tell you the nice side of him.”

Hungry arms pressed her close.

“Ah!” the advocate stopped her pleading, to sigh with infinite relief.
“You won’t be angry with me. But, Lady Judith, I had to do it ... if
you hadn’t ever forgiven me. Lary is teaching me to stand things like a
stoic. And when so much depends on it--” The eyes flamed with an idea.
“You know, like walking along in the dark, and all at once somebody
strikes a match to light a cigar, and you see that there is a hole in
the road that you would have fallen into. If no one had struck a match,
how would you know the hole was there?”

“And you can keep this secret--never let your brother suspect?”

“He’s the last person in the world that I’d tell. He’d be more angry
than you were. And there’s another reason. I’m not quite sure that Lary
knows what’s the matter with him. Of course he says--in the last stanza
of the poem. He’s written love poetry before, when it was only a woman
he imagined, and so he might not think it was serious. Mrs. Ferguson
said that if her husband had suspected that he was falling in love with
her, he would have taken the first train out of town. Afterward ... he
was glad he didn’t know.”

“Theodora! Are you sixty years old, and have you settled the marriage
problems of a dozen unpromising daughters and granddaughters? Where did
you get such ideas?”

“I heard mamma and Mrs. Ferguson talking about it, before Sylvia was
married. I never forget anything I hear; but it’s an awful long time
before I get light on some things. When I read Lary’s poem, this
morning--and came to that last line--and remembered how pale you looked
when you came out in the yard before breakfast--why, all at once the
ideas came tumbling together, and I knew that Lary mustn’t know he was
in love till he was so far in, he wouldn’t want to ever get out.”

It was adorable, the way she took Mrs. Ascott’s attitude and response
for granted. No woman, not even the enshrined Lady Judith, would fail
to be honoured by Lary’s love.


III

“Theo-_do_-ra!” Drusilla’s broad cadence issued from the pantry window.
Drusilla was the coffee-coloured maid of all work, who was serving
temporarily as mouthpiece for Mrs. Trench. “Come home this minute,
honey. You got to do an errand befoh lunch.”

Theodora reflected that there was time for twenty such errands. And her
perplexity grew when, after a few minutes, she saw Eileen pass through
the wicket gate to take Mrs. Ascott an embroidery pattern from an old
number of the Self Culture magazine. She remembered distinctly that
Mrs. Ascott had said she did not care particularly about it. That was a
week ago. Why had mamma dragged it out now, and sent it over by Eileen?

With all her wizard penetration, the child had never glimpsed the deep
windings of her mother’s mind. Mrs. Ascott could not be counted on
to take a lively interest in two of the Trench children, and for the
present Eileen was the focal point of her mother’s concern. More and
more the conviction grew that this woman from the great outside world
had been sent by Divine Providence to aid in bringing to swift climax
what otherwise might have been a long drawn out affair.

Long engagements were dangerous. Sylvia had been engaged to Tom
Henderson for two years. If she, Lavinia Larimore, had listened to
Calvin, when he begged her to run away and be married, the night he
proposed to her.... It was when she reached this stage in her silent
soliloquy that she determined to have Drusilla call Theodora home, and
send Eileen to Vine Cottage in her stead.



XIII Eyes Turned Homeward


I

It is improbable that Bromfield’s weekly paper would have yielded its
meagre space for the chronicling of Eileen Trench’s engagement, had
that important fact been divulged at home. There were other, more
momentous things going on. The entire front page of each issue was
plastered with the Stone sensation, which grew by melodramatic leaps
to something like an international affair. Fournier Stone had been
captured in Montreal, had broken from his captor and leaped into the
river. At first it was thought that he had been drowned; but he was an
agile swimmer, and it was reported that a man answering his description
had been seen near Longueuil, an hour or two after his escape.

From Mrs. Stone’s darkened bedroom came bulletins of one collapse after
another. The news that her darling had perished in the treacherous
waters beneath the Victoria bridge affected her so profoundly that
the physician resorted to nitroglycerine injections to restore her.
Lavinia read the accounts with emotions that surged from exultation to
a species of envy. The part she had been called upon to play was such
a drab one, that Lettie Stone’s colourful rôle stung her. To ease her
mind, she fell back on one passage of Scripture after another. She
might have known all along that the marriage would end in something
like this. It was right that it should end this way ... right that an
immoral, unprincipled woman should suffer. And Calvin? No doubt he was
suffering, too. But what was the good of going over that ground--ground
that she had long since stripped bare of every sprig of comfort or
misery?

At last came the startling denouement. Mrs. Calvin Stone was dead.
There had been a simple private funeral--attended by everybody in
Bromfield. That night Fournier had slipped stealthily into town, and
out to the cemetery, where he had ended his life on his mother’s grave.
The account of the double tragedy was not news to Lavinia. Ellen
Larimore had sent a telegram ... just why, it was difficult to explain.
The message came Sunday morning, while David and the girls were at
church and Lary was at the office getting out some rush specifications.
It conveyed only the bare information that Fournier Stone had shot
himself, the night after his mother’s funeral.

“Dead ... Calvin free!” the woman muttered, staring in a daze at the
words. And, after a moment of strangling emotion: “But what difference
does it make--now? I can’t be there to see it. I wouldn’t go, _if_ I
_could_.”

At this juncture Lavinia’s thoughts took an unexpected turn. She was
always thinking things she had no intention of harbouring within her
consciousness--as if she had a whole cellar full of ideas she did not
know she possessed. The one that came up to her now nauseated her. To
see Calvin weeping over the body of his dead wife! Oh, the insolent
superiority of the dead! You have no words with which to confront them.
All their failings, all their sins are lifted above your most virtuous
attack. It would be like this if David should die, and she could no
longer upbraid him. No, it was better for people to go on living. You
could at least speak your mind, without galling self-reproach.


II

Lavinia was determined to put Calvin Stone definitely and permanently
from her thought. He had been amply punished for his monstrous
treatment of her. The incident was closed, and at last she could have
peace. And then something came to divert all her thinking into a
channel that must have been present in the dark valley of her being all
the while--unrecognized, because the need for it had been so hazily
remote. A story--one of Larimore’s foolish stories. She seldom listened
to them; but this one she could not escape. Eileen had gone home with
Hal Marksley and had met his sister. It was Wednesday, and the outcome
of the Stone imbroglio was still locked in her heart, the telegram
having been burned in the kitchen range, Sunday morning, while Drusilla
was on the second floor, doing up the bedrooms.

After dinner the Trench family had gravitated, one by one, to Mrs.
Ascott’s summer house. David was there, laughing boyishly at something
Eileen was telling. What were they talking about? Lavinia’s sharp
ears caught a sentence now and then. It was not her wont to be out of
things, the things that concerned her family. Her tenant seldom invited
her--specifically. But then she never invited Mrs. Ascott, either.
Going to the pantry, she filled a plate with raisin muffins, from the
afternoon’s baking. Eileen would approach that shrine, armed with a
sensational story; but her mother carried breakfast rolls.


III

When Nanny had taken the plate into the house, Judith made room for
Mrs. Trench on the settle at her side. David leaned against the solid
beam that he had set, seven years ago, to support the arch of the
doorway. His blue eyes were full of unwonted content. Theodora was
perched on the afternoon tea table, folded now to look like a packing
case, steadying herself by a brown hand on her father’s arm. Eileen was
on the other bench with Lary. She resumed the narrative that had been
interrupted by her mother’s arrival:

“Yes, he’s the most unspeakable beast I ever saw. Oh, by-the-way,
mamma, I was telling them about meeting Mr. and Mrs. Nims, this
afternoon. Kitten and Hal and I had to go over to the house to get
some rugs and things for the play, in the college chapel, and Adelaide
opened the door for us.”

“You don’t mean-- How did she treat you?”

“Oh, all right. She didn’t know me from anybody else.... But she’s
coming to help coach us, the night of dress rehearsal. Mrs. Henderson
said, in her talk, that most of the charm in that Sargent portrait
was the technique--brush work and colour arrangement. But Adelaide
Nims doesn’t need Johnny Sargent or any other artist to tell her how
to colour up. She had on an embroidered Chinese robe--the kind the
Mandarin women wear in the house--pinkish tan, with a wide band of blue
around the sleeves and neck--the kind of blue that fairly made her hair
flame. I wanted to eat her, she was so beautiful. And just then I got
a glimpse of her husband, through the window. He was sprawled all over
a lawn bench that was built to hold three decent-sized people, and his
stomach came out like the side of the rain barrel. I was trying to get
a good look at his face, when he began to yawn--you know, the kind of
a yawn that ate up all the rest of his features. I wanted to giggle
... or scream! And when he finally came into the house, and Kitten and
I met him, I couldn’t think of a thing but that awful cavern inside
his mouth. Gee! I’d hate to have to live with a man who looks like a
hogshead, split down the middle, and an Edam cheese for a head--and no
neck at all.”

“I didn’t suppose the nobility looked like that,” Mrs. Trench snapped.

“Humph! He’s only a younger son--and nine brothers and nephews between
him and a handle to his name. Adelaide must have been in an awful tight
pinch to have married him, money or no money.”

“He may not have been so stout when he courted her,” David ventured.
“When your mother married me, no one would have thought of calling me
her ‘better three-quarters’--and look at us now.”

“_Other_ three-quarters,” Lavinia corrected. “I never could see the
justice in calling a man his wife’s ‘better’ half.”

“There’s historical warrant for your objection, mamma,” Lary said,
hoping to avert the revelation his mother was all too prone to
make--her callous contempt for David in particular and men as a class.

“You don’t mean the tiresome old story of Adam and the rib,” Eileen
demurred.

“Nothing like that. I found the story in some elective Greek we were
reading, my third year in college. And as you describe this Mr. Nims,
he seems to fit the original model. Seven of us were selected to
translate the Symposium of Plato, and I had the story Aristophanes was
said to have told at that memorable banquet. It was in response to
the toast, ‘The Origin of Love.’ As the gods planned the world, there
was no such thing as love. But they had created a race of terribly
efficient mortals--hermaphroditic beings, man and woman in one body,
their faces looking in opposite directions. They had four legs and a
double pair of arms, and when they wanted to go somewhere in a hurry,
they rolled over and over, like an exaggerated cart wheel, touching all
their hands and feet to the ground in succession. They could see what
was going on behind them, and could throw missiles in two directions at
the same time.

“As long as they didn’t realize their advantage, it was all right. But
one day a leader was born among them. I suspect it was the female half
of him who discovered that they were superior to the gods. If they went
about it right, they could capture Olympus, and send the gods to earth
to toil and offer sacrifices. The one thing the gods cared about was
having their vanity fed, by the smoke from countless altars. It was
for this service that man was created, in the beginning. So, when it
was reported on Mount Olympus that mortals aspired to be gods, Zeus
conceived a way to avert the disaster, and at the same time have twice
as many creatures on earth to offer sacrifices.

“He made a great feast, and invited all the insolent race of man. And
when he had them at his mercy, so that they couldn’t escape, he had
them brought to him, one at a time, and cleft them in two, vertically,
so that they could look only in one direction, and run on only two
feet--”

“O-wee-woo!” Theodora squirmed. “Didn’t they bleed ... terribly?”

“Hush, Theo, it’s only a story,” Mrs. Trench exclaimed, irritably.

“And that’s how a man and his other half came to be separated,” David
said, drawing Theodora to him and stroking her pain-puckered brow.

“Yes, the gods thought they had destroyed man, when they cleft him
in two,” Lary went on, his brown eyes shining. “But in that act of
ruthlessness they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. When they
hurled the mutilated creatures out of Paradise, most of the halves
became separated. Then began the endless search for their other halves.
The men realized that they couldn’t live up to their full capacity,
with the feminine side of themselves gone. And when they did find
each other, they experienced a rapture that surpassed the highest
emotional possibility of the immortals. That thrill was love. The gods
heard about it, and condescended to mate with mortals, in the hope
of experiencing the thrill. But it was useless. They had not been
separated from their other halves.”

“But how did they sow the seeds of their own destruction?” Judith asked.

“It’s the old story of the apple in the Garden of Eden. The thing
they couldn’t get became the ultimate desideratum. They devoted all
their energy to the quest of love. They deserted all their old godlike
pursuits--and in the end, the Greek deities crumbled and were destroyed
by the more vigorous gods of the barbarians.”

Theodora pondered the tale. She could not be satisfied by the
application to Mr. and Mrs. Nims. The tub-like man, who was far more
tublike in her imagination than Eileen’s exaggerated description
should have warranted, was undoubtedly the man who was married to
Hal’s sister. But Mrs. Nims was thin. And he was her second husband.
Manifestly something was wrong.

“But Lary, suppose when those men tried to find their other halves,
they couldn’t.... Their right halves had died, or had got tired of
waiting and had gone off with some one else....”

“There wouldn’t be any thrill of love, and the man couldn’t do his
best, because he lacked the right person to urge him on,” David told
her.

“Humph!” this from Eileen, “I guess the woman would be in as bad a fix
as the man. Poor Adelaide Nims has had two tries at her other half, and
missed it both times. She’s terribly unhappy, for all that she puts up
such a good front. Lady Judith, don’t you think she ought to keep on
trying till she does find the right one? Or is there a right one for
all of us?”

“Yes ... unless we rush off into an alliance that prevents us from
recognizing our true mate,” Mrs. Ascott said pointedly.

The girl flushed. The shaft had gone home. She shifted her gaze from
the clear gray eyes ... and surprised an inexplicable expression on her
mother’s face.


IV

Lavinia had listened, without interest, to the story. But the
application--she had been brought up on stories with a Moral at the
end. “Unless we rush off into an alliance....” Her face grew hard,
a yellow pallor spreading from neck to brow. That was what she had
done. That was what Calvin had done. It was his fault, not hers, that
she had erred. She ignored the years of waiting, before Calvin had
known Lettie. And those two had been mismated, had lived apart most
of the time, the first few years of their married life, had quarreled
violently when they were together. There must have been a right partner
for Calvin. She choked with emotion as she realized--she had never been
sure of it, in all those years--that Lettie was not the right one.
She would like to see Calvin Stone again, now that it was all over.
But what was the use? There was David, forty-eight, and ridiculously
healthy. That night she lay awake, into the gray of dawn, thinking,
thinking....



XIV A Broken Axle


I

Late Thursday afternoon Mrs. Trench crossed the lawn with tottering
steps. She looked incredibly old, with the bloodless lips and the
greenish pallor of her sunken cheeks. “No wonder her children are
temperamental,” Judith thought, remembering the crispness of her step
and the full flush of her dark skin as she crossed that same stretch of
grass the previous evening, the plate of rolls in her hand. She came
now with no offering of good will. There was set purpose in her eyes.
And her mouth ... Judith wondered how she could have thought Eileen’s
mouth looked like that. A sleepless night and the bald revelation of
Calvin Stone’s sorrow--discussed at the luncheon table as the Bromfield
paper was handed about--had reduced her resistive power to its lowest
point. When her life stream was full, she had little difficulty
concealing the slimy bed of her being. But now, with all her animation
ebbed away, she groped within her own turbid depths, blinded by
resentment and self-pity until even prudence forsook her. In any other
state of mind, she would not have flung down the gauntlet to the one
woman on whom she must depend for the furthering of her plans.

“Mrs. Ascott, would you mind going inside? I can’t stand this sunshine.
I never could see why David put a door in the west side of this summer
house, where the afternoon sun can shine right in your face. But David
always bungles things.”

“You are ill. I am so sorry.”

“It’s nothing. I’ll be myself after I’ve had a night’s rest. The fact
is, I want to have a plain talk with you.” Judith led the way to the
library. With rigid lips, that marred her usual sharp enunciation, she
began bluntly. “I feel that it’s my Christian duty to tell you some
nasty truths about that Mrs. Nims.”

“Village gossip. I’m sure, Mrs. Trench, I’m not in the least
interested.”

An ugly purplish red crept along Lavinia’s corded neck and up over the
cheeks to the line of straight black hair.

“But you and Eileen are planning all sorts of intimacy--musical trio
with you at the piano, playing accompaniments for the violin and
’cello--and Larimore and his father are terribly vexed. Of course you
couldn’t be expected to know anything about the woman ... being a
newcomer in the town. And you couldn’t know how important it is to me,
right now, not to have my husband displeased.”

It transpired that Eileen had talked too much, at breakfast, that
morning ... too many details of her call at the Marksleys’ home,
the play the Dramatic Club was putting on, for the benefit of the
laboratory fund, in which Hal Marksley had to kiss her, beneath the
pale glow of a marvellously devised stage moon.

“The trio was only a tentative suggestion. If Mr. Trench--”

“It isn’t so much his opposition as Larimore’s. He never had any use
for the Marksley family--and this big competition coming on. Villa
residence, keeper’s lodge, garage and barns. It will mean a great
deal to my son to win that commission. And the contract for the
construction will be the biggest thing Mr. Trench has had since he put
up the new Science Hall.

“I should think being kind to Mrs. Nims would be a help rather than a
hindrance,” Mrs. Ascott said, perplexed.

“It would, if I had reasonable men to deal with. The fact is--if I
_must_ speak plainly--young Mr. Marksley is very much in love with
Eileen. I wouldn’t have anything come between them for the world. You
are a married woman. You ought to know Eileen’s type. She isn’t the
least bit like me. If she resembles any of my family, it is my sister
Isabel--and we were thankful to get her safely married at seventeen.”

“But Mr. Marksley, they told me, is going to Pratt when he is graduated
from the college, here. It will be four or five years before--”

“Some more of Eileen’s foolishness. What use has he for more
education--with all that money? And she knows as well as I do that
he can go into business with his brother Alfred, in St. Louis, the
day after commencement. He doesn’t have to depend on his father, who
detests him. I suppose Eileen has told you that fact, too.”

Mrs. Ascott shook her head, irritation mounting to anger, as her
caller’s tone divested itself of that modicum of reserve that had been
the inculcated habit of years. In all her experience she had never
met a woman like Lavinia Trench. From their second meeting, there had
been an undercurrent of hostility, which Lavinia was at great pains
to subdue or conceal. A rich woman was a person to be envied ... and
conciliated. In her normal state she would not have jeopardized the
fragile bond of surface friendship that bound them.


II

Not that the interview reached the disgusting level of a quarrel. Yet
Judith was betrayed into the fatal error of attempting to reason with a
woman whose mental processes had never recognized the inevitable link
between cause and effect. She did not know how to deal with the mind
that leaped from one vantage point to another, with all the nimbleness
and none of the objectivity of a circus acrobat. Dutton had once said
of Mrs. Trench: “You can’t nail that woman down. When you trap her
square, on her own proposition--she’s over yonder, on an entirely
different subject, crowing over you. If she can’t make her point, she
talks about something else.” But Judith gave little heed to Dutton’s
mumblings.

The one thing Mrs. Trench had made unequivocally plain was that
Larimore and his father must not be antagonized. This could be
accomplished only by keeping Eileen’s fondness for Hal in the
background, and avoiding any public contact with his highly immoral
sister. It was in connection with Mrs. Nims that Judith blundered. She
could not believe that either David or Larimore Trench would cast a
stone at the woman who had sinned and was unhappy because of her sin.

“You mean Mary Magdalene, and all that? Well, I don’t believe Christ
expects _me_ to associate with the woman who ran away from two
husbands--travelled with the first one for three weeks before they were
married at all. There’s no reforming a woman like Adelaide Marksley.
She’s bad, through and through.”

“There may have been extenuating circumstances. What do you and I know
about her inside life? Until we have been tempted, as she was, we have
no moral right to set up our code--”

“You think I have never been tempted? I could tell you a story ... if I
was a-mind to. It was only my sense of honour and duty. And that ought
to be enough for Adelaide Nims or any other woman.”

“She may not have had a very clear conception of the meaning of
‘honour’ and ‘duty.’ Do you think those terms mean the same thing to
all women? Do they mean the same thing to any woman, at all times? You
don’t know anything about the inner life of the girl who grows up in a
loveless home, or is trapped in a childless home of her own, with a man
who doesn’t love her. Your life has been crowded with responsibility
and affection. You have a husband whose devotion to you is the most
beautiful--”

“You think David is a paragon. You haven’t had to live with him for
almost twenty-eight years. You haven’t had to drive him, every step he
took, for fear he would sit down on you, and let the family starve.
And as for the children ... what has that got to do with it? Why--it
was when Isabel was so sick that--that the minister kept calling and
calling. All the women in the church were crazy about him. I never
dreamt he was in love with me till the night before the baby died. But
I showed him his place, quick enough, when he told me he could see
that David didn’t understand or appreciate me.” Her eyes gleamed with
pride, as if she would have gloated: “There! You didn’t know I had been
tempted--and by the minister, too!”

“For all that, Mrs. Trench, you can’t draw the line between the woman
who sins and the one who is saved from sinning by some fortuitous
accident. Your baby died, the next day. If she had lived ... and you
had seized the chance for the happiness you had missed, I would have no
condemnation for you. I know. I was almost in sight of that treacherous
snare--when the axle of our motor car broke, and my father overtook us
and--brought me to my senses. We were within a mile of the pier where
his yacht was anchored--the man who was as unhappy in his loveless home
as I was in mine. We were going to Italy, to hunt for what we both had
missed. My husband had gone to Egypt with another woman. I told myself
that my marriage vow was an empty mockery....” She stopped, a sickening
wave of self-disgust overwhelming her. Why had she bared her soul to
this woman?

Lavinia? She made no effort to conceal her horror. So this was why Mrs.
Ascott did not wear mourning!

“And he, your husband--divorced you?”

“No, I divorced him. In New York there is only one cause for divorce,
and in the eyes of the law, I had committed no offence. Mrs. Nims, with
her bringing up--with the family environment that surrounds her and her
brother--”

“Oh, with men it is different. You don’t expect morality in them. David
says that Hal is fast. That’s at the bottom of the whole trouble. I
wish I hadn’t said anything about the affair. I might have known you
wouldn’t see it as I do. But then, I hadn’t suspected--” She checked
herself. There were some things Lavinia wouldn’t say, even when she was
indignant to the core.


III

When she went home, a few minutes later, she resolved to padlock the
wicket gate--to secure it with hammer and nails, if need be. She
would not have her family subjected to such an influence. Eileen was
completely bewitched. It was “Mrs. Ascott this” and “Lady Judith that”
from morning till night. Theo was even worse. David was getting to
look like a boy, since he had been chatting across the wall with
that designing woman. And Larimore! He was already in her clutches.
How could a mother have been so blind? If the gate were closed, with
obvious intent, Mrs. Ascott would take the hint, and move away.

Then she remembered the months that Vine Cottage had stood idle. It
was a poor time to rent a furnished cottage, with vacation coming on,
and ever so many of the faculty houses eager to be leased for the
summer months. Besides ... Mrs. Ascott had her redeeming points. She
was never at a loss which forks to put on the table, and how to add
that chic effect to a costume. If Eileen were to shine as Mrs. Henry
Marksley, Junior, she would need much coaching. And, after all, what
had Mrs. Ascott done? She might have gone to Italy in a yacht. A flight
in a motor car--pursuit--a broken axle--capture! There had never been
anything like that in Lavinia Trench’s life. Then, too, her husband had
deserted her ... had run away with another woman. It was always, in
these cases, “running.” One could not conceive of a leisurely departure
from the confines of the moral code. No doubt Mr. Ascott had abused
her. Men usually did, when they were casting amorous eyes at some one
else. That made a different case of it. Her father had taken her back.
It could not have resulted in a public scandal. Probably the facts
never leaked out. Mrs. Ascott had certainly been received by the best
society in New York and Pelham before coming to Springdale.

Moreover ... this thing of nailing up gates did not always turn out
the way one expected. She had nailed up one gate in her life that
she would have given the whole world to open. And this was such a
friendly little gate. Who could tell but that some day she, Vine--the
self-sufficient--might need a friend? Mrs. Ascott was--potent
phrase--“a woman of the world.” She made the women of Springdale look
pitifully gauche. It was not a bad idea to have such a woman as a
neighbour. Not too much intimacy. She would look to that. She might
mention.... But what was there to tell? Mrs. Ascott had not sinned, as
Adelaide Marksley had. Herein lay the crux of the whole matter. Still
... she was a dangerous woman. Larimore must be watched.



XV Masked Benefaction


I

The day following her illuminating talk with her non-conformist
neighbour, Mrs. Trench remained in bed. To some women a headache is a
godsend. It obviates the necessity for explanation. When she emerged
from the darkened room, she brought with her all the marks of physical
illness, to account for the rasped state of her nerves; but to her
son, at least, the evidence was not convincing. He had witnessed too
many narrow brushes with Death, when Lavinia had something important
to attain or conceal. Had she waited, she might have seized on a
ready-made cause for a period of bad humour ... the outcome of the
Marksley building competition. On Saturday afternoon the contest was
settled, and Larimore Trench was not the winner. The prize had gone
to a Chicago architect. That was not the worst of it. Mrs. Marksley
wrote Lary a letter, informing him that his plans were too stiff and
old-fashioned; but that she would like to buy from him the design
for the cow barn, which was better in some respects than the one the
up-to-date architect had made.

“You remember, Larimore, that was what I said, all along.” Lavinia’s
voice cut both ways. “And if you had gone on, the way you did the cow
barn.... I don’t believe you have forgotten that you put the ornament
on the barn, to please me.”

“No, I haven’t forgotten. I designed the house for people, not for
cows.”


II

Judith heard about it, in a burst of fierce indignation, from Theodora.
It was Monday, and the atmosphere of her home was still so forbidding
that she dreaded to enter the house, when she came from school. Mrs.
Ascott might want her to do an errand, she argued. At least, it would
do no harm to ask. But Mrs. Ascott did not want an errand. She wanted
the very information Theo was only too eager to offer. From Eileen
she had had a shaft of unpleasant illumination: “Lary has crawled in
his hole and pulled the hole in after him.” There was no iron in his
nature, nothing with which to fend himself against such clumsy insults.
But Theodora inadvertently revealed the deep cause of his hurt. It was
not the Marksleys, but his mother’s attitude, that offended him.

“To think, Lady Judith, of those stupid Marksley judges, turning down
all Lary’s beautiful plans in favour of--” She gasped, her cheeks
burning. “I wish you could see the front elevation of the house. It
looks for all the world like a frumpy old woman. There’s a gable that
reminds you of a poke bonnet, and under the gable are two round windows
... like staring eyes. If I’d gone that far, I would have had the nerve
to put in a nose and a mouth. But, no, he has a door between those
windows, opening out on a ledge. You don’t have a third story door
opening on a ledge, unless you want some one to walk out there, in the
dark, and get his neck broken. It ought to have been a balcony. Hm-m-m,
I guess he used up all the balconies the law allows. He has them at
both sides ... like the big hips that were in style when mamma was a
bride. And a coat of arms above the door--the Marksleys never had a
coat of arms.”

“How did you come to see the plans, Theo?”

“Hal smuggled them over, last night, to show mamma why Lary missed
out. And she didn’t do a thing but roast him again, this morning ...
because they took the cow barn, that he did to please her, and cut out
the classical part, that he did to please himself. That wasn’t the only
ruction we had at breakfast. But there’s no living with my mother,
these days. Papa said he wouldn’t figure on the contract--after the way
they treated Lary. And she nearly raised the roof. I guess my daddy’ll
put in a bid, all right.”


III

More than once, in the weeks that followed, Judith’s mind swung back
to the words: “There’s no living with my mother, these days.” Once
she asked Dr. Schubert about it. Might not Mrs. Trench be, in fact,
a very sick woman--keeping herself out of bed by sheer force of her
indomitable will? To which Lavinia’s physician replied, with a none
too sympathetic smile: “Yes, she is a very sick woman ... but there is
nothing in my materia medica that will reach her case. I am looking for
a return of her old trouble--a hardening of the fluid in the gall duct.
She has passed through two sieges of jaundice. And at another time the
hardening reached the stage of well solidified stones, that yielded to
large and persistent doses of olive oil--a remedy that Mrs. Trench took
as a peculiarly cruel and unnecessary punishment.”

“I’m glad to know it’s purely physical,” Mrs. Ascott breathed. “I was
afraid it was ... spleen.”

Dr. Schubert’s eyes twinkled.

“Your neighbour’s liver trouble originates in her spleen. You’ll say
my anatomy is defective; but Mrs. Trench’s body is the victim of an
abnormal mind. To be physically unfit always infuriates her. Her
passionate outbursts always react on that highly important gland,
that nature designed for the cleansing of the physical body. Result?
A clogged liver and a worse fit of temper. Poor David! He is so fine.
Life ought to have given him velvet instead of gravel.”

At no time did Lavinia take to her bed for more than a few hours, and
then only when some personal triumph was to be gained by a direct
appeal to the sympathy of her family. If she harboured a feeling of
ill-will against her neighbour, it was in effect to class her with
those of her own household. She seldom glanced into the garden across
the low stone barrier, and when she walked from the kitchen stoop to
David’s shop, at the lower end of her own domain, she went with head
inclined, as if she were battling against a furious northern gale. Even
Theodora was beginning to practice caution, and a less amiable maid
than Drusilla would have given notice, long ago.

Larimore and his mother were icily polite, as was their wont when no
other form of civil intercourse was possible. The coldness began the
day after Mrs. Trench taunted her son with his failure to win the
Marksley commission. But her smug “I told you so” had little to do
with the prolonged siege. Lary would have forgiven her. His father had
schooled him not to hold her accountable for the bitter things she
said. You could reason with Theodora; but Lavinia....

No, the rancour was not on this side. His had been the triumph. His
mother had sought to deliver a blow that must shatter his dearest
idol--and the blow had missed the mark. Dutton was wont to say that
nobody ever got ahead of Vine Trench. And in this case it was Lavinia
who defeated herself. So much the worse for Larimore, who had parried
the thrust with a foreknowledge that staggered and infuriated her.


IV


It was the Friday following the close of the competition, and there
were indications of a coming thaw in the big Colonial house. The girls
had betaken themselves to Mrs. Ascott’s arbour, as soon as dinner was
over. They spent every available minute at Vine Cottage--to make up for
their mother’s open hostility. And their mother, seeing how happy they
were, had dispatched Larimore to tell them that they were to accompany
her to Mrs. Henderson’s on some inconsequential errand. When they had
gone, Lary let himself wearily down on the bench at Mrs. Ascott’s side.
All the boyishness was gone from his face and his eyes were deeply
circled and dull. No word passed between them. The man reflected,
feeling the warm presence so close to him, that most women chattered,
preached or philosophized without cessation, as if the one thing
demanded of femininity were an unbroken flow of talk. Judith Ascott
knew when speech was obtrusive. She knew, too, when to break the thread
of Lary’s morbid musings.

“Have you been watching that sunset? Theo called my attention to it,
before you came out. She saw, in those clouds, the form of a woman with
streaming red curls. ‘The red-haired wife of the sun,’ she called it.
Now the locks are straight and almost gray. I never saw such sunsets as
you have here, not even in Italy.”

“I didn’t know what bewitching colour effects we had, until I began
to sit here on this bench with you. My father has often called us to
enjoy a peculiarly beautiful sky with him. Mamma usually spoils it by
reminding him that all the wealth of tints is produced by particles of
dirt in the atmosphere. She hates dirt, even when it reveals itself in
a form that doesn’t menace her housekeeping. If she had gone on living
in Olive Hill, I believe she would have died of disgust.”

“Does the town--the immediate environment--make any difference, Lary?
Olive Hill or Springdale, Florence or Pelham. I have been as wretchedly
unhappy and ... alone ... in a crowded Paris café as ever I was on the
deck of a steamer, in mid-ocean, when I wanted to climb overboard and
end it, in the inviting black water.”

“You? Judith! I thought your life had been eminently
satisfactory--barring the one sorrow.”

“You must not think I have been a happy woman. I have only been a
coward--shutting the trap door on my failures. But I don’t want to talk
about myself. I have a favour to ask. Will you--” Her voice took on the
quality of appeal.

“What is it, Judith? A favour?”

She drew from its envelope a letter that had come, that afternoon,
from her attorney. His partner, Mr. Sanderson, was planning to build a
home on Long Island, as a wedding gift to his only daughter. She knew
the girl’s taste. She wanted to send the plans that Mrs. Marksley had
rejected. With such entrée as the Sandersons could give him, Larimore
Trench ought to find success in New York. He was wasting his talents in
Springdale.

“It’s good of you, my dear. But that kind of success--or
failure--doesn’t mean much to me.”

“Then what would satisfy you, Lary? You have so much ability.”

“A little of the right kind of recognition--perhaps. I used to think
I would experience the thrill at the acceptance of a poem or essay by
some discriminating editor. The first time such an acceptance came, it
left me numb and cold with disappointment ... in myself, I mean--my
inability to rise to the occasion.”

“May I tell you what you want--what you demand of life?” Some one had
struck a match in her darkness.

“I--wish you would.”

“The thing you have attained, Lary, the height you have reached ...
is under your feet. You--_you_ are superior to it. The only thing
that could satisfy you is--” she paused, a fervid instant--“the
unattainable.”

Larimore Trench turned and looked into her eyes.

Dusk had settled on the garden, but Luna’s fire illuminated her face.
His body stiffened, and a dull anguish smote him.

“Judith--God help me--the unattainable is ... you!”


V

Judith Ascott had dreamed of the time when love should come, not such
love as Raoul had given her in her romantic girlhood. Nor that other
love, that had marched with slow musical cadence into the discord of
her early maturity. It must be the masterful love, austere and tender,
a discipline and a refuge for her unruly spirit. And now it was come
... the only love that had ever mattered to her--the only man she had
known whose very faults and weaknesses were precious, and she had but
one impulse--to fold him in her arms and soothe his aching spirit.
Was this love? Or mayhap the thwarted motherhood within her, that
perceived in Lary and Eileen the void left by the rebellious aversion
of the woman who was their mother in the flesh? A long moment she
scrutinized, challenged the stranger that had arisen, unheralded and
undesired, in her own heart. Then she said, resolutely:

“No, Lary. I am the unattainable, only so long as I retain the wisdom
to hold myself beyond your reach. I should prove as disappointing as
all the others--the achievements that were to give you joy. The real
Judith is not the peerless being your imagination has fashioned. Would
you shrink from me in repugnance and horror if I should tell you that
my husband is not dead?”

“You are another man’s wife?”

“I was. The divorce was granted a few days before I came to Springdale,
less than three months ago.”

Lary breathed a sigh so sharp that it cut him like a knife.

“But that isn’t all. There was another man ... a man I fancied I loved.
Perhaps I pitied him. Most of all, I pitied myself. I was more than
willing to listen to his arguments. We would go to some place where no
one knew us. We had not the courage to brush away the falsehoods and
conventions of society. I faced all the consequences. It was no impulse
of youth. I was twenty-five, and had been married almost seven years.
We both knew what we were doing when I told him I would go.”

All at once she felt the man at her side shrink--involuntarily, she
was sure. It was as if his body had repulsed her, while his mind was
striving to be just, even magnanimous. She had thought it all out,
after Theodora’s revelation, knowing that some day Lary would come to
her with the pure white offering of his love. And she had resolved
to tell him of Herbert Faulkner--not the fiasco, but the fact of her
elopement. Perhaps it was this submerged thought that had leaped to
the surface, in her talk with Lary’s mother. With him she would not
take refuge in the timely intervention of a broken axle and a prudent
father. Her sin was as complete as if she had carried elopement to
its inevitable conclusion. He must hear the story in all its sordid
aspect. She waited for him to speak. The clear outline of his face cut
the shadow, incisive and still as an Egyptian profile in stone. Not a
quiver of the lips betrayed his emotion. Yet Judith Ascott knew she had
dealt him the cruelest blow of his life.

“You won’t let it interfere with our friendship, Lary?” It was a
stupid, girlish question, such as Eileen or Kitten Henderson might have
asked. She felt incredibly young and inexperienced. When the man spoke,
his voice was hoarse with pain.

“I don’t want friendship. I want, oh, God! the unattainable. Judith, it
is not what you have done. I am not such a cad as to judge you. I long
since freed myself from the tyranny of an absolute thing called virtue.
That isn’t the--the obstacle. At bottom I am a selfish brute, jealous
and unreasonable. If there is another man in the world who has meant
that much to you.... Oh, not that I blame him. If I had known you when
you were another man’s wife, I wouldn’t have scrupled to take you from
him. You are my other self. I have known it--from the moment I looked
into your eyes, under the little apricot lamp. All my life I have been
heart-hungry, wanting something I couldn’t find. Zeus cleft us apart,
in the beginning of time. And now that you are here--” He set his teeth
hard and his frame shook.

A long, long time they sat silent. The night settled about them and
clouds covered the face of the moon. In the great house next door,
lights gleamed here and there as the family came home and prepared for
bed. Mrs. Trench had arrived in Hal Marksley’s touring car, with the
girls. Apparently they had been for a ride. As she went to the back
door, to be sure Drusilla had put out the milk bottles, she caught
sight of the two motionless figures in the summer house. She went to
the sun room and turned on a light that shimmered faintly through the
Venetian blinds. Judith saw, without perceiving it. The whole irony of
life lay between her and that impatient light.

The tower clock chimed eleven, when, like a stage illumination, the
garden was bathed in golden glory. With a single impulse the two on the
settee turned and looked up through the roof of the summer house, where
the vines were thin. And there, in a little clear blue lake, piled
high around the marge with mountains of sombre clouds, the yellow moon
floated, serene and detached. Lary took the fevered hands between his
cold, moist palms.

“Will you wait for me ... wait till I can search myself? Perhaps there
is a man, hidden somewhere in the husk of me. If I find him ... I will
come and lay him at your feet.”


VI

Mrs. Trench was waiting for her son. She had dallied too long with that
warning. She was in the door of the sun room at the first sound of his
key in the lock.

“Larimore!” as he crossed the hall and made for the stairs.

“Yes, mamma. Why aren’t you in bed?”

“I have something to say to you. I don’t often meddle in your affairs;
but there come times when it is a mother’s duty to speak. I wish you
would be a little more careful in your associations with that Mrs.
Ascott. She isn’t the pure, virtuous woman we thought her. She told
me--in the most brazen way--that her husband ran away to Africa with
another woman. Though what anybody would want to go to Africa for-- But
he wasn’t entirely to blame for leaving her. She had an affair with
another man. A low scoundrel who pretended to be her husband’s friend.
She told me, without the least bit of shame, that the only thing that
saved her from breaking her marriage vow was--her father catching up
with them, when the axle of their automobile broke--before they reached
the yacht that they were going to Italy in ... alone ... not a touring
party. Alone!”

The words poured forth in a disorderly phalanx. Larimore stood
patiently waiting until the need for breath stopped her utterance. Then
he said incisively:

“So there was a broken axle.”

And in a flash Lavinia knew that she had lifted a load of doubt and
misery from her son’s mind--had destroyed, with her revelation, the
barrier that stood between him and Judith Ascott. He could hear the
grinding of her sharp teeth as he turned and ascended the stairs.



XVI Coming Storm


I

Mrs. Ascott and Theodora were up in the attic searching through trunks
and boxes for a fan that would harmonize with Eileen’s graduating
dress. Lavinia had made a special trip to St. Louis in quest of
accessories, and had returned with a marvel of lacquer sticks and
landscape, befitting a mandarin’s banquet board--and Lary had said
things that threw the family into a superlative state of stress.

“Mamma and my brother don’t gee worth a cent,” the child lamented,
peering with eager eyes into the shadowy recesses of a chest that ought
to yield treasure. “For the last month, they’re on each other’s nerves
all the time. It’s mostly Lary’s fault ... and ... I believe he does
it to save papa. My poor daddy can’t do a blessed thing the way it
ought to be. And you know, mamma gets good and mad at only one of us
at a time. Eileen says, if she felt that way about her people, she’d
clean up the whole bunch at once, and get it out of her ‘cistern.’
But mamma’s just naturally economical, and this way she can make her
grouches go farther. We thought Drusilla would quit us, last week,
because mamma laid her out so hard--when she scorched the bottom layer
of a short cake. So I guess it was a good thing Lary said what he did
about the fan.”

“Lightning rod for Drusilla,” Larimore Trench called, from the foot of
the narrow stairway. “You don’t mind if I come up? I’d like to see
the old attic again.” His face was beaming and his gesture catlike as
he mounted the steep stairs. “Bob and Syd and I used to have some wild
times up here. I wonder if the ghosts of our youth ever disturb your
slumbers, sweet Lady Judith. We were a rough trio, in our day.”

“You and Sydney Schubert rough! I wonder what you would call my two
incorrigible brothers.”

“Yes, but they were,” Theo broke in. “Bob could get them to do
anything. We got awful quiet at our house after he went away. Come over
here, Lary, where you can get the breeze. I’ll let you have half of my
box to sit on.” With a wisp of paper she wiped the dust from the top of
a packing case that bore in bold black letters the legend: “Books--Keep
Dry.”

“Look at this, Lady Judith!” The small frame shook with reminiscent
mirth. “It belongs to mamma ... twenty volumes of general information,
in doses to match the monthly payments. ‘Keep Dry!’ You couldn’t wet
’em with a fire hose. We had to leave them here, because Lary planned
the book-cases, in the other house, so that they wouldn’t quite go in.
And mamma had one awful set-to with Professor Ferguson when he had
the nerve to use her box of canned culture to lay out his herbarium
specimens for mounting. Sylvia said it taught mamma a lesson. If she
wanted to rent Vine Cottage, she couldn’t go on deciding how often the
silver must be polished, and what the tenant could do with the old
plunder she left in the attic. _Plunder!_ Think of it!”

“She has been an exemplary ‘landlord’ since I have been here,” Judith
said, ignoring Lary and his too evident embarrassment. “I don’t in the
least mind her ordering Dutton around. It saves my humiliating myself
in the eyes of my gardener. How was I to know that you can’t grow sweet
potatoes from seed, and that Brussels sprouts aren’t good until after
frost?”


II

Down on the street there was a harsh grinding of brakes and an excited
cry, as Hal Marksley’s car stopped so abruptly as to precipitate Eileen
from her seat. Theodora darted to the window, cupped her hands around
her mouth, and shouted:

“Come on up. Mrs. Ascott’s got three fans for you to choose from.”

A moment later, two pairs of feet were heard ascending the stairs. A
swift sense of impending disaster sent Theo’s glance from the face
of her hostess to that of her brother. She wondered how she ought to
have worded her invitation so that Hal could not have assumed it to
include him. A young man of fine breeding would not need to be told
that she was not asking him to Mrs. Ascott’s attic, when Mrs. Ascott
had never invited him to her reception room. He just didn’t know how to
discriminate. Lately Eileen didn’t seem to discriminate, either. She
should have told Hal not to come. He would be terribly embarrassed,
meeting Lary. But of course neither of them knew Lary was there.

If young Marksley knew he was not welcome in the sultry store room of
Vine cottage, he gave no token. Eileen’s breathless condition, when she
reached the top of the steep stair, gave him a momentary conversational
advantage.

“I’m going over to my sister’s to dinner, this evening, and the kid and
I were wondering how we’d put in the time till the rest of the folks
arrive.”

“You don’t mean you’re going to _eat_ again--just coming from Ina’s
graduation party!” Theodora gasped. “What did she serve?”

“Oh, the usual sumptuous Stevens spread. What did she have, Eileen? All
I can remember is that Kitten said she borrowed the microtome from the
lab. to cut the sandwiches. I believe there was an olive apiece, by
actual count.”

“Don’t you remember, Hal? The feast began with frappéd essence of rose
fragrance, served in cocktail glasses, with hearts of doughnuts. Then
there was a salad of last year’s ambitions and next year’s hopes. And
something to drink that had a reminiscent flavour of coffee. But her
china was lovely. She borrowed most of it from Mrs. Marksley. That’s
how Hal came to be invited with the preps. Gee, when I ask a bunch of
hungry kids to my house, I _feed_ ’em. But then, I know how to cook.
And I don’t have to be so desperately dainty, for fear of blundering in
the menu.”

“You might have waited for some one else to say that,” Larimore rebuked.

“Huh! it’s a poor dog that can’t wag its own tail. Besides, I can’t
remember when you or any of my family made me duck to keep from being
pelted with praise. That poor boy is almost starved. He pretended he
didn’t like olives, so that I could have two. And he was about to
smuggle another sandwich when Mrs. Stevens told what they charge for a
beef tongue, and how it shrinks in cooking.”

“Yes,” the youth roared, “when you go to Ina’s for a meal, your
oesophagus rings a bell every time you swallow. Her mother makes
you feel as if you were eating the grocery bill. We eat like pigs at
our house--all but sister, and she’s sure no recommendation for the
æsthetic diet. She’d be a stunner, with a little more meat on her
bones.”

Eileen flushed and changed the subject. A few minutes later, Hal
lounged across the room to where Lary and Theo sat silently side by
side. He began, in a tone that sought to be intimate:

“I say, old man, it was a rotten shame about those plans. I was just as
sorry as could be. But my mother--”

“One doesn’t speak of such things,” Larimore said curtly.

Judith saved the situation by the timely intervention of the fan--a
woman’s device that evoked from Lary gratitude, from Theo worship.
An exclamation of delight, a moment’s perplexed comparison, a hasty
choice, and Eileen and her uncouth cavalier were gone.


III

When Theodora looked from the window, some minutes later, the two
were crossing the street in the direction of the Nims’ house. A
full minute she stood, perplexed. Then her chest heaved with futile
indignation. In that minute, the scattered troubles of the past six
weeks had danced into form, like iron filings on the glass disc, when
Sydney drew his violin bow across its vibrating edge. She understood.
Mamma had given permission for Eileen to go with Hal to Mrs. Nims’--to
dinner. After all she had said about Mrs. Nims! A quarrel with papa was
inevitable. _Mamma wanted to provoke a quarrel with papa._ There was
no other explanation. Things had gone from bad to worse, with only an
occasional rift in her mother’s lowering sky. Whatever the cause of her
displeasure, it had reached a climax. Something must be done to protect
papa--done quickly. Lary was not always tactful--when people acted
that way. And mamma always took it out on papa, when Lary got the best
of her.

“Lady Judith, couldn’t you call her to come right back here ... eat
dinner with you?” The plea tumbled from the inchoate depth of her
distress. Mrs. Ascott and Lary interrupted a flow of intimate talk, to
look at the pale face and the preternaturally bright eyes.

“What, darling?”

“Eileen! I think my mother has gone crazy. First she says Mrs. Nims
isn’t fit for a decent woman to speak to--when papa talked about
Christian charity--and now she lets Eileen go over there to dinner.”

“How do you know that, baby?”

“Well, Lary Trench, look for yourself. I guess I can put two and two
together. If I didn’t want papa to think Mrs. Nims was a dangerous
woman--I wouldn’t tell him that Christ himself couldn’t save her.
Either my mother hasn’t got any system at all ... or ... she wants to
have one awful row with my father.”

“We might as well face a sickeningly unpleasant situation,” Larimore
said to Judith. “You are seeing my mother at her absolute worst.
Something has occurred to annoy her, desperately. And we can’t even
surmise what it is. The baby and I have laid plots to trap her into
betraying the cause of her hurt. But only last night we acknowledged
ourselves beaten.”

“May I confess that I have been trying, too, at Dr. Schubert’s
suggestion? He tells me that this state of her mind may lead to serious
consequences. Some obscure liver trouble, I believe.”

“Not obscure,” Lary amended. “Dr. Schubert understands its
pathological aspect. It is the mental cause that baffles all of us.
Gall stones are not uncommon in women of my mother’s temperament.
She has too much energy for the small engine she has to operate. Her
physician has tried to impress on her the need for keeping herself
tranquil. He might as well advise a tornado to be calm and rational.”

“Yet she does take advice from him--if he makes it specific and
definite.”

“You have the index to my mother’s mind--that cost me years of search.
She learns one thing at a time. She has no faculty for making logical
deductions. When she tries to apply a known principle to a new set of
conditions the chances are nine to one that she will go wrong.”

As he spoke, the woman’s eyes turned to Theodora ... impelled by some
unrecognized attraction. The little head was nodding in sage approval.
She was only half conscious of what those two were saying. The fact
that it was intimate--confidential--sufficed. Things were coming
on, entirely to her liking. It was almost the end of June, and she
wanted to be sure there would be no backslidings, while she and her
mother were in Minneapolis, the following month. She had never been
anywhere--excepting the week in St. Louis for the Exposition, when she
was seven--and a trip up the river on a steamer had been particularly
alluring. Now she would almost rather not go. She might be needed. Oh,
not to patch up a quarrel! Lary and Lady Judith were too wellbred for
that. But Lary did need to have his courage bucked up, now and then.

She was only a child, she reflected, but she knew that when people were
in love, they had no business mooning around in the dark--_in separate
yards_. She could go over the wall without touching anything but her
hands. And Lary was much more athletic than she. Besides, the gate was
there--even if mamma did padlock it, one morning. What if Lady Judith
should try to go through that gate--and have her feelings hurt!


IV

Theodora glanced up from her troubled musings to perceive that she
was quite alone in the attic. They had gone and left her. They had
forgotten all about her. She sprang from the packing case and danced
for joy. It was the first time in all her life that Lary had forgotten
her. It was the best omen of all. They were standing at the foot of the
stairs--and they weren’t saying a word. She paused, on tiptoe, afraid
to breathe lest she break the witching spell. What did people think
about, when they were all alone in that kind of heaven? Now she heard
their feet on the lower stairs. She hurried to the window to see them
go down to the grassy plot before the house, where her father joined
them.

The rosy picture was obscured, in an instant, as if she had spilled
the ink bottle over it, and daddy’s danger loomed before her. She
trudged wearily down to join them on the grass. Things never were what
you thought they were going to be. When she reached the edge of the
veranda, a pair of strong arms caught her in a yearning embrace.

“Aren’t you going to congratulate your papa?”

“If there’s any reason. Did you get the Marksley contract?”

David’s transparent face darkened.

“Yes ... but that’s not a matter for congratulation. I figured so high
that I counted on escaping. I didn’t want it at any price.”

“Then what is it?”

“You know, this was the annual meeting of the college Board--and they
elected your papa treasurer. When Dr. Clarkson made his nominating
speech, I didn’t dream he was talking about me.”

“Mamma said this morning that they’d shove it off on you--after the way
the last two treasurers handled the funds. She couldn’t see why you
would want to do all that work, just to be called the most honest man
on the Board.”

“Mamma and I don’t always look at things alike. Come, my dears, she is
at the door, and dinner may be waiting.”

“Eileen went to a party, over at Ina’s,” Theo cried, mindful of danger.
To herself she added: “Well, she did. I didn’t tell him she wasn’t
there still.” Daddy must not find out that she was right across the
street. There had been too many disagreements, and it never did daddy
any good to fight back. He always got the worst of it, and it made him
sick. She wanted to ask Mrs. Ascott to come with them, and eat dinner
in Eileen’s place. Mamma would hardly raise a scene before company. As
the invitation took shape on her lips, it was halted by her mother’s
curt voice:

“I suppose you like your victuals cold, the way you stand there and
gossip.”

The three Trenches stepped over the wall, which at the front was little
more than an ornamental coping, and Judith went in to her lonely meal.


V

Dinner was scarcely over when the room was plunged in a glare of fire,
the startling illumination followed almost instantly by thunder that
crackled and smote. Then the storm, that had hovered all afternoon
in the sultry air, broke with the fury of explosively released wind
and rain. Nanny called for help, as the deluge poured through the
screens at three sides of the cottage in quick succession. Before the
east windows had been closed, the rain was driving straight from the
south--and the attic window wide open. Nanny’s bulk halted at the foot
of the breath-exhausting stairs, and her mistress ran past her, to make
good the publisher’s injunction, “Keep Dry.” When the sash had been
lowered, Judith went to the rear of the attic and looked down into the
garden, tossing in the summer storm.

Sharp, hissing flames heralded the detonation of thunder such as she
had heard nowhere save in the Alps or the tropics. The earth, a moment
ago black with the pall of midnight, leaped into the semblance of a
stage set with dancing marionets, that vanished in the ensuing darkness
to rise again with the next purple flash. Now the wind swooned, lay
panting and breathless against the palpitating bosom of the earth. And
now it leaped with renewed ardour, gripped the pear tree and shook
it as an ill-controlled mother shakes an unruly child. One of the
trellises at the east side of the lawn went over with a crash, carrying
in its wake a shower of Prairie Queen roses. The Dorothy Perkins looked
on with serene security from the shoulder of the garage, her petals
draggled, but exultant in the garish light.

The air was clearing now. Gradually the tender green corn slumped
down in the softened loam and a disconsolate toad hopped mournfully
across the white gravel walk. This was too much even for a toad.
With a long, soul-sickening lunge he disappeared in the shrubbery,
as the thunder rumbled its retreat behind the western horizon. Out
of its dying reverberation, music came floating up through the moist
air ... marvellous strains. Judith crossed the attic and threw open
the window. Yes, her surmise was right. Eileen and Mrs. Nims were
playing Debussy’s matchless tone picture, “Garden in the Rain,” the
’cello blending exquisitely with the piano. Would David hear? Would
he recognize his daughter’s touch? But Eileen had never played like
this. The tones came, moist and meaningful, lulling the conscious mind
to dreams, steeping the senses in the drowsy calm that follows the
delirium of summer heat.

Judith Ascott felt her soul at one with the garden ... arid clay, whose
thirst had been quenched. She had played Debussy’s imagist arrangement,
and had rejected it because it failed to symbolize a prosaic natural
phenomenon. Now she knew that it was not the rain, but the garden,
which the composer had in mind. She had approached the theme from
overhead, just as a moment ago she had looked down on her own garden.
With a thrill she perceived Debussy’s thought in all its naked,
elemental beauty--the primitive consciousness of maternal Earth, glad
and grateful for the benison of summer rain.

Had something new come into Eileen’s playing? Was it Adelaide
Marksley’s ’cello that made the elusive thought tangible? Was it,
rather, something that had come into her own soul? She had been so
long athirst. Must one faint beneath the heat, brave the wind and the
lightning’s terror, in order to drink in at last the bountiful rain?
Was there any price one would not pay for such peace as had found
habitation within her soul?



XVII A Place Called Bromfield


I

In the morning the mistress of Vine Cottage went out to inspect the
havoc the storm had wrought. Dutton was down on his knees, righting
the vivid green corn stalks and banking them in with the soft
soil. Theodora stood on the gravel walk, watching him with elfin
curiosity--his shins protected by huge pads of faded brussels carpet,
his fingers so packed with mud that they resembled a sculptor’s model
in the rough. When she caught sight of Mrs. Ascott she crossed the
intervening lawn on dainty toes, like a kitten afraid of the wet.

“We didn’t have any trouble about Eileen,” she began in a whisper
pregnant with meaning. “I fixed it.”

“You were a good little angel. Have you a kiss for me this morning?”

“A million of them ... but only one, now.” She pursed her lips with
strigine solemnity. The kiss was a rite--not to be taken frivolously.
“I have to tell you about it. I don’t think it was half bad--for a kid
like me. It didn’t look as if it would work, when I started in. But if
you are in as tight a pinch as that, you have to jump where there looks
like an opening. Then I had to see it through. There wasn’t any chance
to back out.” The sentence was somewhat chaotic, but the meaning was
plain.

“When we started in the house, I let mamma and Lary get clear inside
the hall. Then I pulled papa back and whispered in his ear--that Eileen
was over at Mrs. Nims’ and for him not to let on that he missed her.
He asked me why, and I told him that if he was any sport at all, he’d
do as I said, _and not ask any questions_. And what do you think, Lady
Judith ... he was game! Mamma threw out one hook after another, to
make him ask where Eileen was. And every time he turned and looked at
me--and I gave him the most awful glances, behind my napkin. The only
thing he could think of, right quick, was getting made treasurer of the
college trustees. And I don’t know why mamma didn’t smell something,
because it isn’t the least bit like my daddy to boast.”

“And then the storm may have helped.”

“Yes, papa said that was sent by Divine Providence. It gave me a chance
to explain to him--while mamma was chasing all over the house, putting
down windows, and screaming at Drusilla as if the house was on fire. I
told him that mamma was mad as a wet hen--and just bound and determined
to start something, with him ... and he _mustn’t_ fall for it. Lady
Judith, I wish my daddy had more sand. He choked up--like he was about
to cry--and said he didn’t know what was wrong with mamma. He tried
every way to please her and make her happy. He asked me if I knew why
she was so cross all the time ... and I fibbed an awful fib. I told
him Dr. Schubert said she had rocks in her liver and that would make a
saint cross.”

Her eyes danced with roguish mirth, then fell. When she raised them
again to the woman’s face, they were full of obstinate purpose.

“I guess it was a sin and God will punish me. Well, let Him ... if
He feels that way about it. I’d take a whipping any day, to keep my
daddy from getting one. If your soul is so nice that you can’t fib
once in a while, to help a fellow out of trouble--” She battled with
the futility of language to convey the situation as she perceived it.
“Still, I wouldn’t want you to think it was wrong ... telling a story,
to keep some one out of a scolding--some one that never did a mean
thing in his whole life. Do you--do you think it is?”

“You darling!” Aching arms encircled her. “I don’t know how to answer
you. We both know that it is wrong, in the abstract, to tell lies.”

“Yes, but I never tell them in the abstract. It’s only when there isn’t
any other way.” The explanation threatened to assume the solemnity of
a lecture on pragmatism. “I have wanted to tell you--ever since Lary
said I was a conscienceless fibber. It’s one thing I can’t make him
understand, and he knows everything else without being told. When you
want a thing to be a certain way, and it isn’t that way at all, you
can’t use the facts. _They don’t fit._ And what good does it do--to
keep saying a thing over, the way you don’t want it to be?”

“A popular religion was founded on that premise, dearie.”

“What I’m talking about hasn’t got anything to do with religion. Bob
used to say, ‘A lie is an abomination in the sight of the Lord, and a
very present help in time of trouble.’ But I would never fib to keep
myself out of trouble. You have to save them ... till there’s something
important. If I hadn’t told Lary you didn’t like the apricot lamp
shade, he wouldn’t have thought of going over to call on you--till Syd
Schubert or some other man fell in love with you.”

Lavinia Trench’s strident voice rasped the sweet morning air. Theo was
having altogether too pleasant a time, over there in Mrs. Ascott’s
garden. That which she had related would have stung her mother to
madness. But Theo’s afterthought was a little outcropping of Lavinia
herself. In Dutton’s phrase: “That woman’ll have something stickin’ in
her craw for years--and she’ll have to fetch it out, in spite of the
devil. If you ever make her sore, or do her a bad turn--you might think
she forgot it--but the time’ll come when she lets you hear about it.”


II

When the child had gone, Dutton untied the pads from his knees and
approached his mistress. The wind had wrecked the frail framework
which he had constructed of lath and the refuse from David Trench’s
shop, to support the rank growth of tomato vines, over there by the
wall. He admitted, shamefacedly, that he “knowed them end supports was
too weak,” when he put them in. He wondered if Mrs. Ascott would mind
helping him. Mrs. Dutton was in a bad humour, on account of some words
she had had with Mrs. Trench. And Nanny was no good for carpenter work.

“I’m not much of a carpenter--”

“Oh, it ain’t work. It’s just that Nanny’s feet’s too big. She gets in
the way. I thought I might call Dave over to he’p me; but he’s been out
in the shop runnin’ the scroll saw for dear life, since right after
breakfast. The old boy’s goin’ through his hells again. I tell you,
ma’am, it’s an awful mistake to call a girl ‘Vine’ and then give her
no mind to cling. When she’s in one o’ her tantrums, she wouldn’t see
the Lord Jesus Christ if she met Him in the middle of the road--and she
sets a heap o’ store by the Lord.”

There was only one way to handle Jeff Dutton. An open rebuke was
invariably followed by a day of insolent idleness. Mrs. Ascott had
heard him quarrel with Lavinia Trench in a manner to indicate that
one of them, at least, had not forgotten their former state of social
equality. The pointed ignoring of his familiar gossip usually proved
efficacious. He followed his mistress to the loamy bed in the sheltered
angle between the garage and the wall, where downy leaved vines and
splintered lath lay in a hopeless tangle on the ground. A while they
worked, side by side, the sullen silence broken only by the whirring
of David’s saw. Judith’s fingers were verde and odorous, and the hem
of her skirt was adorned with a batik pattern of grotesque figures in
the harmonious hues of earth and vine. Nanny would scold. But what was
the good of a garden, if one must only be a disinterested onlooker?
Suddenly Dutton yelled:

“There! Grab ’er quick! This end--can’t you see?”

The next moment he offered profuse apology. But his mistress was ready
for the emergency. It was necessary for him to go into the garage and
cut another support to take the place of the one that had snapped.

“Better put this ’ere pad on the ground, under your right foot, while
you hold ’er up. Them slippers is mighty thin. I won’t be gone a
minute.”


III

Dutton’s minute was always a variable quantity, and this time it
lengthened itself until the woman’s arms and shoulders ached, from the
unwonted strain. But she was glad of the interval--glad that only she
was forced to hear snatches of the conversation that took place in
the shop at the other side of the wall. One of the voices was low and
appealing, the other raucous with purposeful anger:

“I can’t see, my dear, why you want to go to Bromfield this summer,
when you have all your plans made to take the trip to St. Paul on the
boat. You have always refused to visit Bromfield.”

“That’s just it. You never want me to go anywhere--have any
pleasure--or even a vacation when you see that the work is killing me.
You gad around as much as you like. You’ve been away five times this
spring.”

“I certainly don’t go for pleasure, my dear.”

“Oh, don’t ‘my dear’ me! I’m sick and tired of it. That’s all I ever
get. You expect me to slave and stint myself and stay at home, so that
you and the children can make a big showing. And I’m supposed to be
happy and contented on your everlasting ‘my dears.’ I tell you, there’s
got to be a change in this family.”

“Who is there in Bromfield that you want to see?”

“I should think I might want to see my brother. And a daughter might
want to put flowers on her parents’ graves.”

“That isn’t it, Vine. Why don’t you tell me the truth? I would give you
anything in my power, that would make you happy. It’s this underhanded
way you have, that hurts me. I don’t care where you go or what you do,
if you’ll only--”

At that moment Dutton came from the garage, to be greeted by a volley
of questions and suggestions. Fortunately, as he worked, his deaf ear
was turned towards David Trench’s shop. Scarcely had the last nail
been driven when Mrs. Trench emerged from the building and strode
triumphantly towards the back stoop. For her the universe was a
straight line. Everything above, beneath and beside it had melted into
oblivion. The line ended in a point on the map of New York, known to
the initiate as Bromfield.



Book Two

Summer



XVIII Sylvia


I

Throughout the months of May and June the battle had raged--Lavinia
Trench’s battle, not with her family but with herself. She knew, as
all those in her little world knew, that a visit to Bromfield was not
the difficult thing she had made it. Times without number David had
implored her to go with him especially when there was serious illness
or death in one or the other of their families. And now that she had
achieved her purpose, knowing all the while, somewhere in the depths of
her, hope of conquest on a certain perfectly definite object, and had
bent her tremendous energy in that direction--knowing all the while,
somewhere in the depths of her, that the enemy lay entrenched in quite
another quarter.

In those former struggles, in which she had invariably bent David to
her will, she had rewarded him with a period of forced sweetness which
he was glad to take in lieu of the comradeship he had long since ceased
to hope for. It had been this way when they made the perilous move from
Olive Hill, where he was doing remarkably well, working at a daily
wage, to Springdale, where he must hazard all he had saved ... to give
his wife the social advantage she could not find in a dirty mining
town. But Lavinia had no instinct for society, derived no immediate
satisfaction from such triumphs as had come to her. It appeared to
David’s simple and always lucid mind that she created situations for
the sheer purpose of annihilating them. In every crisis in their lives,
he had owned in retrospect that Lavinia was right. Had he understood
the situation, a frank discussion would have won him. It was her method
of approach that seemed to him unnecessarily cruel.

She had, from childhood, viewed David Trench as an amiable yokel, to
be blindfolded and led about by the hand. And now one sentence in his
talk, that morning in the shop, rankled: “Who is it that you want to
see in Bromfield?” She had been telling herself over and over again
that there was no one in particular she wanted to see. Her essentially
prudish mind shrank from the naked truth that stalked before her, in
the dark hours of the night, with David peacefully sleeping at her
side. But negation was not conquest. In vain she declared to her own
soul that Calvin Stone was nothing to her. She could meet him without
a tremor. She tried to picture him, old and scarred by life--shrinking
from her gaze, because of the stain on his fair name. She saw him,
instead, a debonair youth of three-and-twenty, the sort of fellow who
would kiss a girl ... and argue about it afterward.

There had been periods, weeks and even months, when the foothills of
her immediate environment had obscured that treeless mountain peak in
her life--the irreparable injury she had suffered. But something always
happened to bring her perfidious lover once more within her ken. Never
so poignantly as when Mrs. Ascott unwittingly revealed the reason
for Calvin’s hasty marriage. She had fancied such an explanation ...
had been sure that the certainty of it would be anodyne for her deep
hurt. Instead it had served only to tear open the old wound, to set it
festering with the toxin of that other unstudied remark: “He afterward
tried to get out of it.” Had not Calvin’s father foreshadowed this very
contingency? Lettie’s husband might sicken of his bargain--might come
back to his first love, to plead for her forgiveness and the boon of
her restored favour.

She would keep this idea uppermost in her mind, when she went to
Bromfield. It not only served to soothe her vanity, but it would be
a whip with which to lash the man who had wronged her. No, she would
not give him the satisfaction of thinking she regretted her own hasty
marriage. She would make him believe she had been infinitely the gainer
when she married David Trench. The idea was so preposterous that, given
a less subjective sense of humour, she might have laughed at it. But
David had been that kind of stalking horse before.


II

David leaned against the wall, his tired eyes resting fondly on the
garden where his children had romped. He was telling Mrs. Ascott the
origin of the summer house--that he had built as a surprise for his
wife, the spring she went to visit Lary in Ithaca, his first year
in college. In those days Sylvia was the honey-pot for a swarm of
students, and an occasional mature man, and a folding tea table in an
outdoor living-room covered with kudzu and crimson rambler was an added
attraction. Lavinia joined them, her cheeks flushed, her dark eyes
ablaze with animation.

“You are going to be compelled to get along without me for a few weeks,
Mrs. Ascott. My husband is sick and tired of seeing me around, and he’s
going to bundle me up and send me home to my own people. It’s the first
trip I’ve had in years ... always tied down to home and my children. Is
there anyone in Rochester you’d like to send a message to? I haven’t
seen dear old New York state since I left there, twenty-eight years ago
next November.”

“Why, Vine, I was just telling Mrs. Ascott about building the little
summer house for you, when you went to see Lary.”

Lavinia Trench flushed, not the slow red that betokened deep wrath,
but a light wave of crimson that swallowed up the hectic spots in her
cheeks, that tinged the hollow of her temples and the taut skin of her
high and slightly receding forehead. It was gone in an instant, leaving
in its wash a strained look of embarrassment.

“I never think of that as a visit. I went in such a hurry--and then
I didn’t have time to go over to Bromfield, because ... you wrote me
that Sylvia had a cold and Robert had sprained his wrist. I never go
away from home without something dreadful happening. I wonder what
Sylvia will say when she gets my telegram to-night. I hope she won’t be
frightened.”

“You are going to telegraph Sylvia? What for?”

“I want her to look after the children while I’m gone.”

“You aren’t taking them with you--after promising Eileen that she might
spend the summer with her cousin, Alice Larimore?”

“A nice rest I would have--dragging two children around with me!”

“They don’t need to have their bottles fixed.” David smiled in spite
of his perplexity. “I had counted on this summer--to break up the
infatuation for young Marksley. I thought you agreed with me. It was
your solution. You told me not to say anything about it until vacation,
and that you would send Eileen away.”

David might have spared his breath. The telegram was already on the
wire.


III

Sylvia Penrose came home in time for commencement. It was her first
visit since the gold-lined catastrophe whereby she was shorn of the
coveted “Mrs. Professor,” and she brought with her more pretty clothes
than anyone in Springdale had dreamed of--outside a department store.
Her father watched her uneasily, the first evening. He saw a marked
change in her, and the quality of it disturbed him. Could a child
of his acquire such a degree of cynical world-wisdom in a brief ten
months? Had Sylvia changed, or was he seeing her for the first time, as
she was?

David was not given to introspection. The chambers of his heart were
filled with the ghosts of dreams and longings that had perished ...
yet would not lie quiet in the graves to which his acquiescent mind
had consigned them. One could always take refuge from the hurt of life
in the tangible things that life had imposed. He took refuge, now, in
his wife’s vivid charm, her spontaneous return to health and buoyancy.
Barring a certain smugness, that had come to be an essential fibre of
her mental woof, she was amazingly attractive.

“You might easily pass for Mrs. Penrose’s sister,” Judith exclaimed,
astonished at the apparition of Lavinia in a cameo pink negligée with
wide frills of cream lace. And, Lavinia, smarting under the lash of her
daughter’s comments regarding the morning jacket--and the foolish old
women who tried to prolong youth by such ill-considered devices--turned
to preen herself before the mirror.

She had fully intended to prime Sylvia, with regard to Larimore and
the dangerous widow; but that burst of spontaneous praise disarmed
her. She did not, however, neglect to make plain her intentions in
another quarter. Hal Marksley was to be treated with proper respect.
It would not be a bad idea to have the engagement--the wedding,
even--consummated before her return from Bromfield. Any one with a
grain of sense must know that a fellow as popular and rich as Hal--with
half the girls in town after him--would not stand such snubbing as
he had received from the men of the household. He was of age ... and
Eileen could easily pass herself off for eighteen or twenty if she did
up her hair and went to Greenville where she was not known. Papa and
Larimore were absolutely insane not to see that a girl with Eileen’s
impetuous nature.... Mrs. Trench did not finish the sentence. She and
Sylvia understood each other.


IV

After the train had gone the big house was unbearably lonely, reft of
the all pervasive personality that dominated its moods of sunshine and
gloom. Early Sunday afternoon David passed through the wicket gate
and sought his neighbour in the summer house. One by one the other
Trenches joined them. For a time Sylvia went about with her brother,
examining old familiar objects, assuming charming attitudes, giving
vent to laughter that rippled in measured cadence. Theodora watched
her, wondering what kind of impression she was making. Sylvia was
like mamma--always sure of herself. Lary and Eileen were like papa.
And she--she wasn’t like anybody. Just a little remnant that had been
patched together, out of the left-overs of the other children.

She came out of her musings to hear her father say: “Mrs. Ascott, you
don’t know what it means to live with one person until that person
becomes part of your very body. When Vine is away.... I do everything
left-handed. It’s as if a piece of me was gone, here.” He slipped a
hand under his left arm, and his eyes smiled mournfully. “I am always
turning to look for her, and the vacancy makes me dizzy.”

How stupid to miss the first part of such a conversation! And now Lady
Judith wouldn’t say anything in reply--because the others were coming
for afternoon tea, with Nanny, an exaggerated cocoa girl in white cap
and apron, bearing a steaming samovar and a wide range of accessories
to suit the prejudice of those who preferred their Sunday afternoon
tipple hot or cold.

“It’s so foolish for the Fourth to come on Sunday--and have to save up
all your fire-crackers till to-morrow,” the child began disconsolately,
choosing a macaroon from the embarrassing variety of small cakes in the
silver basket. “Hal says the Governor can’t come; but there will be a
better orator to spread the eagle in the stadium. He didn’t ask me to
go with him and Eileen.”

“I thought all three of my daughters were going with me,” David
pleaded, his eyes seeking Eileen’s. But Sylvia dispensed with argument:


“No, mamma said I was to take Theo to the stadium with us. There isn’t
room for her in Hal’s little car. And besides, I know how I used to
hate to have the younger children tagging after me, when I was having
company. I’ve asked Dr. Schubert and Syd to join us, and they’ll come
home for a spread, after the celebration. Mrs. Ascott, I hope you’ll
come, too. I have already asked Hal. Syd has promised to help me with
the serving. He ought to make some woman a good husband--the training I
gave him when we were growing up.”



XIX A Web in the Moonlight


I

Judith was glad, afterward, that the responsibility for Eileen had
been lifted from David Trench’s shoulders, howsoever humiliating the
conditions might be. All that would have made for guidance had long
since been wrested from his hands, and the inevitable pain would be
robbed of the corrosive quality of self-reproach. She wondered what he
was thinking, that portentous Monday evening, as he gazed past her and
Theodora to the row of seats across the aisle where Hal and Eileen sat,
munching popcorn and making audible comments on the speeches, comments
that bubbled with cleverness not always refined in its quality.

Just as the perspiring statesman appeared on the flag-draped platform,
bearing a message from the Governor of the state, Dr. Schubert and
his son came down the aisle, looking to right and left with searching
eyes. Theodora stood on tiptoe to signal them. There was a shifting of
the original seating arrangement, so that Sydney and Sylvia might be
together. The first few sentences of the florid oration were lost in
the general confusion, and when Judith looked again into the row of
seats across the aisle, two places were vacant. Hal and Eileen had gone.


II

After the fireworks the town went home. Sydney Schubert walked with
Sylvia, talking of other Fourth of July experiences in a tone from
which the restraint of the disappointed lover was wholly wanting.
David played sweetheart to Theodora, a rôle that had been developed by
long practice. It came to Judith, walking behind them with Lary and Dr.
Schubert, that David Trench was essentially a lover--and love must have
something to feed upon.

“Will we wait for Eileen?” he asked, when the feast had been prepared.

“They’ll be here any minute,” Sylvia cried flippantly. Then, in a voice
that echoed her mother’s objurgatory habit of speech: “For goodness’
sake, papa, stop worrying about that girl. She’s old enough to take
care of herself. Syd and I were traipsing all over the country when I
was her age, and I can’t remember that you sat up nights worrying about
me.”

“Young Marksley isn’t Sydney Schubert,” her father reminded her.


III

It was one o’clock when the merry party separated, and still no Eileen.
A light rain was falling, and the coat closet must be searched for
umbrellas. Lary lingered at Judith Ascott’s door, unwilling to say good
night. Some misshapen apprehension that had tormented him all evening
struggled for expression.

“Do you believe, Judith, that whatever is, is right?”

“I can recall the time, less than six months ago, when I was convinced
that whatever is--is wrong,” she answered, mystified.

“And now?” He searched her face, there in the moist dusk of the
veranda. When he spoke again, it was with something of Theo’s kindling
animation: “I don’t know what you have done to me. A moment ago I was
facing a great onrushing wall of black water. And all at once it has
broken into ripples of silver joy. Last night I watched a great black
and yellow spider, playing with his web in the moonlight. He was such
a handsome, capable fellow--and the moth was so blunderingly stupid.
I wondered if there were not something to be said in favour of the
spider. But--you will think me a fatalist, if I finish the thought I
had in mind. You will believe me when I tell you that I am not, in the
least?”

“No, Lary, I will not believe you--one whit more than I can believe
that it was an empty accident that brought me to Springdale--to Vine
Cottage--four months ago. You and Eileen and I are caught in the web.
The spider is Fate. I begged the gods to burn my fingers with the fire
of life ... and they heard my prayer....”

“You delicious pagan! I might fancy gentle Clotho spinning a silken
strand for you. But to sear your fingers--” He caught them and pressed
them to his lips. Then he hurried across the lawn in a panic, his bare
head wet with the summer rain. Judith looked after him, Sylvia’s best
umbrella in her hand. She wanted to call him back, but it would only
mean a double wetting. And Sylvia need not know.

She went up to her room but not to sleep. Taking down the thick coils
of her pale chestnut hair, she braided it deliberately. A strand, blown
across her face by the breeze from the west window, reminded her, all
at once, of the web. She relaxed weakly on a hassock, watching the
glittering drops on the edge of the awning that shaded her window from
the afternoon sun. Was the web inevitable ... Fate? As yet she was
free. Could she view with equanimity a future that involved, not Lary
and his two young sisters, but those others who were of his flesh?
Could she bear the heartache that was David Trench? Could she.... Her
head drooped low on the window sill and her mind drifted rudderless on
a sea of dreams.


IV

When Hal and Eileen left the stadium it was in accordance with a
prearranged plan to meet Ina and Kitten and two of the boys who had
contrived the loan of a touring car for the evening. They would drive
to Olive Hill for the celebration--the exciting part of it. Competitive
drilling, not in gaudy uniforms, but that more useful drilling that had
to do with ledges of shale and limestone. It was at best but a poor
imitation of the annual drill contest in the gold mining country, where
powerful muscles contended with steel bitted drills against the tough
impediment of granite. Here the very ledge had to be faked--removed
from the nearby hillside with infinite care, and mounted against an
improvised wall of mine refuse. It was the best the coal mines of
Illinois could afford, but it served its purpose. There were money
prizes and lesser trophies--geese, chickens and baskets of provisions.

The contest finished, there was a dance in the pavilion. Hal had parked
his roadster where he and Eileen could watch the antics of the dancers.
He was not sorry when he learned that the borrowed car must be returned
by midnight, and the others must be on their way towards Springdale. He
and Eileen would be following in a little while, he said.

“I’ve been trying all evening to dodge them,” he added, as he waved
farewell to the departing car. “Some people simply can’t take a hint.”

The girl nestled close. “Just you and me ... all alone in the universe.”

“Sweetheart,” Hal slipped his arm around her waist and laid his cheek
against hers, “it’s all fixed with my father. He’s set on having me go
to Pratt; but he’s agreed on an allowance that ought to take care of
two. We’re in luck that you can cook. And you won’t mind a little flat?
I can count on Adelaide to help us out if we get in a pinch. Of course
my mother’ll raise Cain--and I’ll be on the lookout for a job, from the
start. If they think I’m going to wait all that time for you--why, I
can’t, Eileen!”

The girl’s breath came so thick, it choked her. The dancers swam
dizzily before her eyes. The saplings in the little grove took up the
dance, swaying with uncertain rhythm, their lithe trunks bending to the
tumult in her brain. “Do you love me well enough to get along that way
for a year or two? Will you come to me, sweetheart, when I send for
you?”

And then the rain. Men and women went scurrying to places of shelter.
The thin grove, the pavilion with its dilapidated roof, the mine
house--whose inner spaces were always barred to the public as soon as
the last workman had gone--these offered meagre protection. Over there
behind the mine dump was a corn crib and feed room where provender for
the now obsolete pit mules had formerly been kept. No one else had
thought of this refuge. Hal and Eileen were alone, the rain pounding on
the rusty tin roof to the tune of their madly beating hearts.


V

How long Judith lay asleep she did not know. She was aroused at length
by voices, so close that they seemed to emanate from the lawn beneath
her window. She tried to move. Her arm, her neck, her shoulder creaked
with pain. She must have been there in that cramped position a long
time. Her hair and her thin negligée were quite damp. As her scattered
senses collected themselves she realized that the sound came from
beyond the wall. A voice, hoarse with rapture, Eileen’s voice, murmured
over and over:

“Oh, darling, I never knew I loved you until now.”

Some high platitude touching manly fidelity punctuated the girl’s
impassioned utterance. The façade of the house lay in ghostly shadows
that enveloped the figures completely. But out there across the lawn
lay the white moonlight, frosting the wet grass with a shimmering
incrustation of unearthly jewels. Hal Marksley’s substantial form came
like a skulking wraith from the gloom, gliding along the thin edge of
the shadow until he reached a convenient screen of shrubs, vaulted over
the wall and crossed close beneath Judith’s casement. He was cranking
the reluctant engine of his motor car, out there in the side street, as
the clock in the chapel tower struck three.


VI

It was ten o’clock when Eileen came down stairs, refused breakfast and
wandered listlessly out into the hot July air. She was pale and her
full lips were swollen. Her eyes were set in murky pools of shadow, as
yellow as ochre, beneath their screen of long lashes, and her blond
braids hung stiff and obdurate. As she entered the summer house,
Theodora greeted her with a derisive gesture.

“Lady Judith, tell her what she missed. I never saw the automobile yet
that could take me away from such a lobster salad.”

“Perhaps she didn’t know about it.”

“Indeed she did. She made the mayonnaise herself. Sylvia can’t hit it
one time in three. And mamma and Drusilla ... the oil always separates,
on them.”

“Separates on them!” Eileen sniffed. “Where do you get that line of
talk?”

She had relaxed on the oaken bench and sat kicking the gravel with the
toe of her loose slipper. After a time she broke the sullen silence:

“I didn’t mean to be discourteous to you, Lady Judith. That’s what
Sylvia scolded me about; but that wasn’t what she had in mind. She’s
sore because I didn’t bring Hal to her party. I knew what kind of a
frosty shoulder he’d get from Lary and papa. And the way she fawns over
him! It makes me sick. He hates to be toadied to--because his people
have money. He knows that if he didn’t have a rich father, mamma and
Sylvia wouldn’t think any more of him than Lary does. He’d take me away
from that house to-day, if he had his way about it. He knows what I’m
in for ... Sylvia to order me around for a month. I almost wish mamma
hadn’t gone to Bromfield.”



XX Red Dawn


I

For a day or two Eileen was abstracted and moody, a flaccid resignation
taking the place of the high spiritual enthusiasm that ushered in
her surrender. But it was not in the girl’s nature to remain long
depressed. She could not, as Lavinia did, nurture a grouch to its
final fruition. Her return to normal was accompanied by a sequence of
quarrels with her elder sister, and she shunned her father with studied
aversion. Hal resumed his old habit of asking her to meet him on the
campus or around the corner on Sherman Avenue. “To escape Sylvia’s
sticky patronage,” she explained to Mrs. Ascott.

Towards the end of the week she went with Theodora to the shady west
porch of Vine Cottage, to assist with the drawing of innumerable
threads and the hemming of a fresh supply of napkins for the two linen
closets. Her lap was overflowing with damask when the postman’s whistle
shrilled through the sultry morning air. Theo bounded to her feet,
her eyes wide with excitement. The coming of the postman was always
an adventure, vicarious but none the less interesting. Some day he
might bring.... No, she was not expecting letters for herself. But
Lary had sent away a poem and an essay. And then, there ought to be a
long letter for daddy. As yet there had been nothing but a stingy post
card, with the hackneyed old Niagara Falls on one side and on the other
that offensive old cliché: “Will write soon.” And mamma had sent such
attractive cards to all the others, not omitting Nanny and Mrs. Dutton.

After a few minutes she came slowly back, all the joy gone out of her
face. There was a long envelope addressed to Mr. Larimore Trench. She
inverted the hateful thing in Judith’s lap. Letters of acceptance did
not come in long envelopes. There was another one, square and perfumed,
bearing the name, Mrs. Raoul Ascott. Who was this Raoul Ascott, that he
should intrude here?

  “The dead have had their shining day;
      Why should they try
  To listen to the words we say
  And breathe their blight upon our May
      While the winds sigh?”

She had read the stanza in the back of one of Sylvia’s books ...
written while Sylvia was temporarily engrossed with a young professor
whose spouse had died. But, after all, it wasn’t quite fair to feel
that way about people who couldn’t help being remembered. And Mr.
Ascott _had_ vacated the place that belonged rightfully to Lary. The
third letter was from mamma. It bore, in Lavinia’s cramped writing, the
name of Mrs. Oliver Penrose. The little girl raged impotently as she
called her sister.


II

Sylvia pushed Eileen none too gently aside, to make room for herself in
the hammock beside Mrs. Ascott. Then she fell upon her letter, reading
aloud such passages as involved no violation of the family’s privacy.
The journey had been hot and dusty--not a familiar face on the train
from beginning to end. Theodore had met her in Rochester with the
new car, and she had enjoyed the first part of the ride, along the
Genesee. She was glad Ellen was not along. It gave Ted a chance to tell
her ever so many things, that she would otherwise not have heard.

Ellen could think of nothing but the Stone scandal. Everybody felt
sorry for Calvin. For her part, she thought he got only what he
deserved. She had not seen him, as yet. His life was a terrible example
of the consequences of sin. She hoped he had not forgotten how she
tried for years to lead him into the church. She might remind him of
this, when she saw him ... for Ellen had invited him--oh, much against
her own wishes--to have dinner with them Sunday.

As Sylvia read, the long envelope addressed to Mr. Larimore Trench
slipped from Judith’s lap and fell to the floor. Eileen stooped to
restore it.

“Whee-oo! Lary’ll be down in the back cellar, eating coal to warm his
heart,” she cried. “It certainly does take the tuck out of him to have
the editors give him the back-fire.”

“I can imagine what you mean,” Mrs. Ascott smiled, “but you are wrong
in your surmise. This is not a rejected manuscript. It is a business
letter from one of my attorneys--not Mr. Ramsay.”

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening, just as Hal and Eileen were driving away in the little
roadster, with Sylvia watching them from a third-floor window, Lary
sprang nimbly over the wall and hurried to the summer house, the long
envelope in his hand. His feet scarce touched the grass ... he walked
like Theodora in her most charming mood.

“It’s the contract for the plans. I couldn’t wait to let you know. It
might have been the other thing. I wouldn’t let myself see how eager I
was for ... success. Mr. Sanderson says they are charmed with the whole
arrangement. They want me to come to New York at once for a conference.
His daughter doesn’t care about the cow barn--since she isn’t operating
a dairy. They would like to have me substitute a studio, somewhere out
in the woods. It appears that the bride-to-be is a sculptor.”

“Yes, she and Hilda Travers were in Paris together--but of course you
don’t know about Hilda.”

A queer, chilly feeling crept over Judith Ascott. She had forgotten
Hilda. She had forgotten everything. It all belonged to another world,
a story she had read in a book on an idle summer’s day.

“You didn’t--let the Marksleys have the cow barn?” she faltered.

“No.”

“I’m glad you didn’t. A lower nature than yours would have taken a mean
revenge--by letting the dwelling of cattle shame the manor house.”

“It wasn’t that, Judith. They offered me a stiff price for that one set
of plans, and I needed the money. But ... seeing anything of mine in
that environment of cairngorms would make me feel the way it does to
see Eileen running around with that--” He checked himself, and the slow
red--Lavinia’s red that betokened impotent rage--crept above the line
of his collar.

“When are they going to begin building? The Sandersons, I mean.”

“Immediately. They want me to go over the ground and outline the
landscape features. I shall probably be back and forth the rest of the
summer. They have asked me to serve in the capacity of supervising
architect. We don’t do things that way in Springdale. But I have
helped my father--long before I was out of college--so I have all the
necessary experience. The only difference is that Mr. Sanderson will
pay me a fee and flaunt my name on sign-boards all over the estate. I
may as well get used to that part of it. I have always insisted that my
father use his name, as contractor, in connection with the actual work.
It’s a distinction I never relished. But if I’m going to invade the New
York field--”

“I’m so happy. Have you told Sylvia?”

“No, I told the baby.”

“That was dear, Lary.”

Larimore Trench turned to look at her. The blue-grey eyes were suffused
and the sweet lips trembled. The man wondered why he had no impulse to
kiss so engaging a mouth. It was all spiritual, that strange contact
that he was experiencing for the first time in his life. Then, too,
kissing had always been associated with his mother, the outward symbol
of a bond he knew did not exist.

“I am going down to the office to talk it over with papa. They have
asked for an immediate answer by wire. It is not necessary to tell you
what the answer will be. Won’t you come with me? I’ll turn the electric
fan on you while we talk shop.”

“But, Lary, won’t I be horribly in the way?”

“How could the other half of me be in the way? Don’t you see, dear, you
must be with me when my father has the proudest moment of his life.
This will be the antidote for all that Marksley poison in his soul.”



XXI The Cloud on the Horizon


I

That night Theodora wrote a long letter to her mother. It was devoted
almost wholly to Lary’s triumph. The following week the Bromfield
Sentinel heralded on its front page the news of Mr. Larimore
Trench’s latest artistic success. The florid paragraph hinted of
other successes. One must not infer that the designing of a New York
millionaire’s country home was a novel experience to the brilliant
young architect, whose parents were natives of Bromfield. The item
ended with the announcement that Mrs. David Trench was a guest in the
home of her brother, “the Honourable T. J. Larimore.”

“Whew! we’d better confiscate this thing before Lary sees it,” Eileen
ejaculated. “Mamma always could pull the long bow; but she pretty near
overshot herself this time. You’d think Lary was a corporation.”

“Would Sylvia be vexed?” Judith asked. Sylvia was out riding with Dr.
Schubert when the garrulous sheet left the postman’s hand.

“Yes ... because it smacks of the small town. She hasn’t any better
taste than mamma has. It wouldn’t jolt her the way it would Lary or
papa. Lady Judith, I used to cringe and sweat blood when Hal said crass
things before Lary. Now it doesn’t matter what my brother thinks. I
want to shout Hal from the house-tops. I don’t care who knows that we
love each other, and that we have broken all the silly shackles that
our stodgy civilization thinks are so important. Papa dislikes him
because he isn’t the Sunday school kind, and Lary says he’s crude and
common. Well, just the way he is ... is exactly right for me. I’m no
Dresden china shepherdess, myself. How would I feel, marrying a man who
couldn’t stand for a little slang--or expressing your real feelings,
now and then? With such a man as Lary or Syd Schubert, I’d be a fish
out of water.”

“Are you quite sure you are a fish?” Judith asked searchingly. “Did it
ever occur to you, my dear, that you have been in the water with Hal
until you fancy yourself a fish of his kind? Aren’t you afraid that
you’ll be tossed up on the bank some day, a little drowned bird?”

“No! No!” Eileen screamed, her cheeks blanching. “Don’t take all the
glory, all the wonder out of it. Don’t you understand that I am free?
You talk about slave-women. Men don’t make slaves of them. It is their
own selfishness that chains them. I wish I could pour out my heart to
you ... make you see it as I do. Not the sordid thing that love usually
is--Sylvia’s love for Oliver, that pays for a swell apartment and a
bundle of gaudy rags. I want to be free, and I want to show other women
the light.”

“My dear, dear girl,” Mrs. Ascott cried in alarm, “you are only
sixteen. You haven’t even the rudiments of the system you are trying
to teach. Can’t you get your feet on solid ground and stay there until
you are a few years older? I was wrong when I suggested water. You are
up in the clouds. If I thought it would serve to deter you from this
madness, Eileen, I would open for you the darkest chapter of my life.”

“I know ... already. I heard mamma telling papa that you were
divorced--that you tried to get even with your husband by running away
with another man. It was contemptible of me to listen; but I did it
because I wanted to see how bad she would make it out.”

Judith Ascott’s face flamed.

“And papa was quiet a long time--and then he said that there were some
people who could touch pitch and not be defiled. When he said that--it
got me by the heart, and I made a little gurgling noise in my throat. I
was sure they heard me. But mamma flared back at him so furiously that
I was half way down the stairs before they came out of their room. That
was several weeks ago--a few days after you told her. And I wondered
how it would affect him--towards you.”

“And--”

“The next morning at breakfast, he said you were the purest, noblest
woman he had met in years. And Theo and Lary and I all raised such a
chorus of approval that mamma ran out to the kitchen to tell Drusilla
that the waffles were tough.”

An arm stole around the girl’s waist. What had come over Judith Ascott,
that she should care ... that David Trench’s approval should mean so
much? But Eileen misunderstood. In a sudden burst of confidence, she
whispered:

“Will you take care of the wedding ring, along with the other?”

“You are married!”

“No, but we are going to be, before Hal leaves for college. We finally
decided ... last night. Then I am going to him as soon as he is settled
in Brooklyn. Of course his mother must not know.”

“I wish you wouldn’t do this, you poor, infatuated child. Give Hal the
advantage of a little perspective. Look at him when he comes home for
the holidays. It isn’t a summer romance--or a drama, to be disposed of
in the fourth act.”

“But what if he saw some girl in Brooklyn he liked better than me?”

“Then you couldn’t possibly hold him--if you were ten times married.
That is just the danger. You and Hal will almost surely grow apart when
you are removed from identical influences. A year from now you may
detest him, and he is more than likely to lose interest in you.”

Eileen sprang up and ran stumbling from the room.


II

When she returned, an hour later, her eyes were red and swollen from
crying. She went straight to the telephone and took down the receiver.
She wanted Hal to come to Mrs. Ascott’s home at once. When the youth
had yielded reluctant assent, she threw herself down on the window seat
to wait.

“I am going to have an adjustment,” she cried passionately. “It can’t
go on this way. I was so sure of my ground ... and every word you
said was ... just one puncture after another. I could fairly feel the
tires sagging under me. Once I was on the point of writing to mamma.
She’s the only one who agrees with me about Hal. Even Sylvia has
been throwing cold water on me, the last day or two. Says I could do
better--and I ought to go around with the other boys to show him I
don’t care. I won’t be a liar. I do care!”

When young Marksley came into Mrs. Ascott’s presence, there was a
shamed droop to his shoulders and he was plainly embarrassed.

“Hal, I have told her everything,” Eileen began. “Now I want you to--”

“You little fool!”

Judith Ascott sprang to her feet, but the youth was already striving to
cover his blunder by an avalanche of apology. The expression was out
of his mouth before he had time to think. He was shocked that Eileen
should betray a secret they had sworn to keep. He hadn’t meant to be
rude. He was stunned by her treachery.

“Well, we aren’t married yet. I only told her we intended to be--and
wanted her to witness the ceremony, before you leave for college.”

Hal Marksley’s chest collapsed in a sigh of relief.

“When we get ready to be married, Mrs. Ascott, we’ll talk it over with
you. Now, Eileen, run home and get your motor bonnet. I have to drive
to Olive Hill on an errand for father. I left my car around the corner.”


III

At the side door of the Trench home, the girl had a sharp tilt with
her sister, who had come back from the ride in time to see--and
interpret--the tear-stained face. Sylvia would write to her mother.
She would not continue to sponsor a love affair for a girl who had
no sense. She would not play chaperone at long range. If Hal had any
breeding, he would invite her to go with them.

“Oh, that’s the rub!” Eileen sneered.

“No, that isn’t the rub--and I might have known you wouldn’t appreciate
anything I tried to do for you. If you keep on, the way you’re going,
you’ll have Hal so sick and tired of you that he’ll be glad to get out
of reach of the telephone. I tried to make you a little indifferent to
him--and got insolence for my pains. If you had a grain of policy, you
wouldn’t let him see that you are daft about him. That’s no way to hold
a man’s love. I kept Syd Schubert dangling at my belt for four years by
letting him half way think I cared.”

“Yes, and you lost Tom Henderson by the same tactics. Tom wanted whole
hog or none, and you didn’t get on to the fact till he’d got sick of
you.”

“Don’t, for heaven’s sake, use such vulgar expressions. Hal is such a
gentleman, I don’t see how he stands you. Eileen, I wish you would see
that I am doing this for your own good--and to please mamma. I have had
experience, and I know what works with a man, nine times out of ten.
I’ll hold Oliver Penrose to the end of the world ... by keeping him
guessing. Look at the way mamma has kept papa on his knees for nearly
twenty-eight years.”

“You think that a fine thing?” the girl flared. “If you pattern your
life after mamma’s, at her age you’ll be as hard and cruel--”

“You outrageous, you impudent--” Words failed. “How do you dare speak
that way about your parents? And Theo’s almost as bad. At your age, I
never dreamed of being disrespectful, or saying a word back when mamma
reproved me.”

“Oh, Sylvia, come off! Mamma says she never talked back to her mother.
And then she forgets, and tells the impudent things she used to
say--and how her grandmother Larimore took her part against all the
rest of the family. But there’s Hal, tooting his horn for me. I’ll ask
him to invite you to ride with us some evening next week. I’m sure
he’ll be charmed!”



XXII Midsummer Magic


I

Life moved on another fortnight, with little to vary the monotony
of motor rides, luncheons, and irritating disputes, and all at once
Sylvia’s reason for prolonging her visit in Springdale was removed.
Lavinia Trench came home! She startled the girls by driving up to the
gate in Hafferty’s lumbering old cab, her trunk toppling precariously
on the driver’s seat and her trim body hemmed in between boxes and
travelling bags. A letter that had arrived that very morning announced
that she would yield to Ellen’s pleading that she remain another
week--unless she were greatly needed at home.

Without waiting for the ceremony of the bath and a change of raiment,
she hurried to Vine Cottage to present the souvenir she had brought
from Rochester. Judith forgot to thank her, so amazed was she by the
astounding change in the woman’s countenance. Such a change she had
witnessed in her garden when Dutton, with hoe and fine-toothed rake,
had obliterated the ridges and hummocks of his spading. All that had
been Lavinia was gone. It was not that she looked girlish, rejuvenated.
In the past few months she had made many swift changes from youth to
age--had rebounded from dank depression to hysterical buoyancy. This
change was different. It was, in fact, as if Lavinia had lent her body
to some other woman.

“I can’t stay a minute,” she fluttered. “My precious old sweetheart is
coming home early, and he thinks no one can cook chicken the way I can.
You ought to have heard him when I called him on the ’phone, a minute
ago. I thought he’d let the receiver fall, he was so astonished ... and
pleased.”


II

During the next few days Judith forgot Eileen, well-nigh forgot Lary,
in her perplexed contemplation of their mother. Some thaumaturge,
endowed with more than a magician’s power, must have his habitation in
Bromfield. The most audacious quack would guarantee no such cure of
a sick body and a doubly sick mind in four short weeks. Lavinia had
subtracted twenty years from her normal age, as neatly as a reptile
discards an outworn skin. Her step was short and vigorous, with none of
the stumping determination that so long marked it. Her head was carried
high and the black eyes beamed with amiability. The very quality of her
voice had undergone change. She no longer swung from cloying sweetness
to acrid outbursts. More than all else, a half gentleness--that she
still wore uncomfortably, like a fur cloak in August--held her family
in puzzled wonder.

David moved as one walking in his sleep. He was afraid to breathe, lest
he fall to earth and awaken to the old barren reality. When it appeared
likely that the mood would remain, he accepted the goods the gods had
provided. He had waited long, and the reward was justly his.

One evening Theodora sought her Lady Judith. She was agitated to the
point of inarticulateness. Her little brown face was drawn with fear
and two red spots burned in the thin cheeks. Twice, thrice she essayed
to speak, her throat swelling and her bird-like eyes darting their mute
appeal.

“Might I--might I sit in your lap?” she faltered at last. “I’m not so
very heavy, and I can’t tell you unless I.... I have to tell you in
your ear.”

“What are you afraid of, dearie?” Mrs. Ascott snuggled her close.

“It happened just a few minutes ago--and--I know I didn’t dream it.
It was when Papa came downstairs from changing his clothes. You know,
they are going to the reception for the Board of Trustees, and my daddy
looked so handsome when he came in the library--with a pink carnation
in his buttonhole.”

“There they go, now. Don’t you want to wave good-bye to them?”

“No, I don’t want to interrupt mamma. They don’t know I’m on earth.
That’s what I came to tell you about. You see that mamma has on the
yellow organdie dress. But you don’t know what that means--signifies,”
she amended, weighing the word with unaccustomed deliberation. “Papa
bought it for her, at a big store in St. Louis, when she was going
away. And she was so hateful--wouldn’t put it on, or even take it
with her. And to-night she said she was glad she’d saved it--just for
him--because it was the prettiest dress she ever had.”

“I’m glad she said that, dear.”

“Oh, but that wasn’t all she said. She noticed that he picked a pink
carnation, when everybody knows my daddy prefers red ones. I was
sitting in the window niche, reading a book. Goodness knows, I was in
plain sight. And they didn’t either one of them see me. Mamma came in
first, talking to herself about how pretty her dress was ... and how
happy she was....” Theodora’s breath came short, and the black eyes
were luminous with tears.

“And, Lady Judith, all at once my daddy came in the room, and he
tiptoed up behind her and cuddled her under the chin with his fingers.
And she wheeled around and just nestled in his arms, like a kitten. And
then she kissed him--the way you do when you just _adore_ anyone.”

The voice sank to an awed whisper. Judith clasped the frail body, with
its consuming emotional fire, her own heart pounding with vicarious
passion.

“And she looked up in his eyes and told him he was the best man in
the world, a million times handsomer and more successful than any
man among their old friends. And she wanted to go back, on their
anniversary, the first of November, to let all those silly people see
for themselves what a fine man he had turned out to be. And papa looked
as if he wanted to laugh and cry, at the same time, and his face was
as beautiful as an angel’s, he was so happy. And I’m afraid my mamma
is--going to--di-i-ie!” The voice broke in an agony of sobs.

“No, no, precious. She is just beginning to live.”

What had wrought the miracle? The absence that makes the heart grow
fond? But Mrs. Trench had often been away from home and family, and
it was certain that none of her former home-comings had had such
sequential consummation. Had she, for some unfathomable reason,
perceived David as he was? Had she fallen in love with her husband?


III

August was a glorious month for the circle that revolved around Vine
Cottage. Eileen had been wooed by her mother to confession of her
secret engagement, and David had given reluctant consent. He was
too deeply steeped in his own belated bliss to deny any other human
creature the benison of happiness. Hal would be leaving for Brooklyn
the second week in September, and it was only right that the two young
people should spend all their evenings together.

Occasionally they went across the street for a musical feast with Mrs.
Nims--whom society was accepting, since it had been noised abroad
that only three lives stood between her and a peerage. More often
they explored strange highways beneath the starlight. Lary, at home
for brief periods, viewed the situation with equanimity. He had made
many compromises, and this was only a little more galling than some of
the others. He found a modicum of compensation in his father’s sweet
content, and in his mother’s almost pathetic devotion to the woman who
had rounded out his own being.

“She quotes you on every possible occasion,” he told Judith. “If you
advised her to forswear the moral code, she would obey you.”

“It’s a fearsome responsibility,” the woman averred. “What if I should
blunder?”

“You couldn’t make her any less happy than she was when you came.
She says you are better medicine than anything Dr. Schubert ever
prescribed. And she insists it was you who compelled her to go to
Bromfield.”

“Lary, you must have read a story--I don’t recall the title--one of
Pierre Loti’s exotic conceits ... the faithless lover who was tormented
by remorse until he went back to Constantinople and spent a night on
the grave of the woman he had wronged. Do you think some fancy of your
mother’s girlhood has been dispelled by her visit ... perhaps some
illusion shattered by crass reality?”

“I don’t know how to gauge my mother--now less than ever before.”


IV

When Lary had gone, Mrs. Trench slipped in at the back door. She had
been waiting her turn. It was like the old Lavinia to know exactly
what she wanted. And again, it was like Lavinia to veil her request in
mystery and innuendo.

“I want to ask your advice. You know so much more about the ways of the
world than I do.” She drew from the pocket of her muslin dress a thick
letter. “Do you think there are any circumstances under which it would
be right for a married woman to receive--”

She was so naïve, Judith could with difficulty repress a smile.

“I write a good many letters to my attorney, Mr. Ramsay. He has a wife.”

“But those are business letters.”

“Not always. I write to him when I am blue or in doubt. His wife
detests letter-writing. She usually adds a postscript.”

“She sees the letters--and replies?”

“Why, to be sure. You mean, Mrs. Trench, the kind of letters a woman
could not show her husband? I’m afraid that is never quite safe.”

“I ignored the first--and the second. This one came on Friday. And then
the minister preached that sermon on regeneration through suffering.
He said it was our duty to help God to chastise the wayward soul.
This man ... the one who wrote to me....” She faltered, then went on
resolutely: “He is very unhappy. It is a man I met on the train--and
he fell in love with me. Of course I repulsed him. I told him what a
splendid husband I had. And in this letter he says that when I praised
David to him--on the train--it was all he could do to keep from
carrying me off bodily--it threw him into such a jealous rage. I ought
to be furious with him.” She stared into vacancy, adding slowly: “but
I’m not.”

This new Lavinia had suddenly come upon some bewildering apparition.
Her fingers twitched, and a yellow pallor drank up the flush in her
rounded cheeks. A chance acquaintance on a railroad train! Eileen might
have fallen beneath the glamour of such a romance. But for a woman of
Mrs. Trench’s age and temperament! It was unthinkable.

“Mrs. Ascott, tell me ... do people ever really get over things?”

All the fire of her being leaped to her eyes as she put the question,
leaving her face ghastly. It was as if her whole life hung on the
answer.


“Sorrow and disappointment? Oh, I am sure they do. And, my dear Mrs.
Trench, I wouldn’t lay too much stress on the infatuation of a man you
met in the Pullman. To write to him--letters you couldn’t show your
husband--might be followed by serious complications.”

“Don’t you think I have character--stability enough to--you won’t say
anything about this to Larimore?”

“Surely not.”


V

That evening David and Lavinia went out to sprinkle the vegetable
garden, their arms around each other’s waists, their attitude that of
a honeymoon pair. When the task was done they came to the summer house
for an hour’s visit. Not even Hal and Eileen, in the first fever of
their revealed engagement, were more frankly devoted than they. It
seemed to Judith, sitting with them, that the woman was the aggressor,
that she multiplied endearing terms and half-concealed caresses, to
assure herself that she truly felt what her lips were saying. For David
these manifestations were unnecessary. His whole being was a caress.


VI

August passed, and the first hot days of September--their discomfort
forgotten in the excitement of Eileen’s entrance into college. There
was yet another week before Hal must depart for his examinations,
and on Thursday evening he failed to report, either in person or by
telephone. The omission elicited no comment. But when the week had
slipped by, and it became known that the youth had departed for New
York without calling to say good-bye, Lavinia made bold to question her
daughter.

“If he didn’t want to come, I’m sure nobody was going to ask him,” the
girl flung back, her eyes darkening.

“Never mind, dear. These little quarrels only prove that it is true
love. You and Hal will make it all up in your letters.”

“There aren’t going to be any letters.”

After her mother had gone into the house, Theodora drew near the
hammock where Eileen had been studying Christian Ethics, squinting her
burning eyes as the daylight waned, striving to focus her mind on the
empty paragraphs.

“What did you and Hal quarrel about? Go on--tell me,” the child teased.

“Get out and let me alone. Don’t you know any better than to interrupt
a fellow who has to bone freshman ethics? I almost had a philosophic
thought by the tail, when you butted in on my painful ratiocinations.”

“I don’t want to pry, Eileen. Honest, I don’t. But you’ve cried every
night since Wednesday. And when you talked in your sleep, last night--”

“I did!” The girl sat up, sending the textbook flying across the lawn.
“What did I say? Tell me every word.”

“You’d been kind of mumbling, and all at once you said right out loud:
‘Hal Marksley, to think I could have loved a dirty calf like you.’”

“I didn’t say ‘calf’--I said--” She clapped her hand to her mouth and
her cheeks went white. “I’m going to have a separate room. That’s all
there is about it. If I can’t keep from babbling in my sleep....”



XXIII Lavinia Sees the Abyss


I

Four days without incident ... and then Eileen fainted at the
dressmaker’s. The afternoon was hot and she had stood for a long
fitting. It was nothing unusual to the seamstress, but it was a
thrilling experience for the girl who had never known oblivion other
than that of normal sleep. She went home with a bump on her head, to
tell how near she came to being impaled on Miss Denison’s shears.
Saturday morning she fainted again. It was after a long telephone
conversation with Kitten Henderson. Lavinia sent for Dr. Schubert. He
was making a country call. In a panic of fear she summoned Mrs. Ascott.
When they had chafed the girl’s hands and bathed her temples with
brandy, consciousness returned slowly.

“I thought I was dying,” she murmured between stiffened lips. “My hands
felt like clubs, and all at once my whole body seemed to be climbing
into my head.”

A cry--the sudden baffled scream of a trapped animal--burst from
Lavinia Trench, as she sprang to the side of the divan. “What have you
done? Oh, my God, what have you done?”

“My dear Mrs. Trench,” Judith expostulated, “what has come over you!”

“You don’t know what it means. You haven’t been through it six times. I
never fainted at any other time--and that scapegrace of a Hal Marksley
off to college without a word. Oh, I’ll go mad!”

Relief came in a torrential flood of abuse, of self-pity. All the
store that had been repressed since the early days of July poured its
acrid waters over the girl. In vain Eileen sought to defend herself,
to declare furiously that her mother’s accusation was untrue. In such
moods, Lavinia was never careful to choose her words. When the tirade
became insulting, beyond endurance, she sprang from the couch and fled
to a room on the third floor where she could lock herself in and defy
the family to drag her forth.

Judith went home, dumb with anguish. Would Eileen do violence to
herself? Would David’s heart break? Would Lary.... She paused, panting,
to frame the question: “Would Lary rise to the occasion?” On the answer
hung all her hope. After an hour of thinking, such as she had never
done before, she went again through the wicket gate. She would take the
girl with her for the laboratory experiment--an unusually important
one, that called for an extra pair of hands. Lavinia was nowhere in
sight; but from the cellar came the sound of mop and broom. Absinthe
might give surcease to the roué in the boulevard restaurant but for
Lavinia Trench the safety-valve was hard manual labor.


II

The experiment, that morning, narrowly missed success. At the moment
when three pairs of eyes were watching with anxious interest, the fumes
from a heated retort were wafted into Eileen’s face, and she collapsed
in Dr. Schubert’s arms. Judith turned off the flame beneath the mass of
glowing coal and hurried to the consultation room where the girl lay,
white and deathlike.

“Unfasten her corsets, quick! Her pulse is almost gone.” The
physician’s command held an unwonted blend of terror. Eileen Trench
was the core of his soul. He could not be impersonal, where she was
concerned. At an opportune moment Sydney arrived, to lend a hand.

It was decided that the girl must lie quiet for an hour. And of course
Mrs. Ascott would stop for luncheon. Luncheon! Could one eat food, with
the world in shambles? She went to the divan, choking with distress.
The amber eyes were half closed and great tears welled over the lids.

“It’s beastly to be such a nuisance to those we love....” The blue lips
scarcely moved to articulate the poignantly empty words. Then the long
lashes drooped in utter weariness, and Eileen slept.

Judith Ascott left the office. She wanted to get away from herself,
away from every familiar thing. Unconsciously she turned her back on
the cross-street that would have led to the campus and thence to her
home. How many miles she walked, she could not guess. She was hazily
conscious of smiling meadows and orchards, panting beneath their load
of ruddy fruit. Winding hill roads, ankle-deep in dust, and brooks
that laughed at obstructing pebbles; pastures where cattle grazed, and
acres of coreopsis, resplendent with their wealth of fleeting gold, she
viewed with eyes that saw not.

When at last her strength waned and hunger overcame her, she perceived
that she was approaching a town. She would go to the station and
inquire for a train to Springdale. A little way to her left, graders
were at work with shovels that scarred the helpless earth. Great piles
of stone and other piles of yellow brick and moulded terra cotta
crowned the rising ground. In the midst of all this orderly confusion
she perceived a sign-board, insolent with new paint:

  DAVID TRENCH
  BUILDING CONTRACTOR

She stared in astonishment. Then, by some magic of the mind the solid
earth beneath her feet shifted. She was no longer facing south. This
was Springdale, and she was approaching her home from the west. The
work on Henry Marksley’s mansion had already begun. She shuddered as
she thought of David.

From the high point in the parked boulevard, near which the sign-board
stood, she could see the distant tower clock, its face gilded by the
late afternoon sun. And over there on the newly paved extension of
Sherman Avenue the foolish little trolley car was bobbing serenely
along. She could catch it on the return trip if she hurried.



XXIV One Way Out


I

Early Sunday morning Mrs. Trench came to the back door, brushed Nanny
aside as if her redundant bulk had been a wisp of grass in the path,
crossed the immaculate kitchen, and climbed the rear stairs. She knew
that the mistress of Vine Cottage was having breakfast in her bedroom,
and the ultimate degree of privacy was necessary. She was no longer
the gentle Lavinia of those seven charmed weeks. All the softness had
vanished from her countenance, and her voice was flinty as she spoke.
There was no need of mincing words. Mrs. Ascott was in the secret,
and she might as well know the worst. Eileen was guilty. There was no
excuse and no help for it. She had confessed the whole thing to her
father.

“I have been afraid from the first that she was in danger. She is too
young to discriminate, and she was madly in love. Have you told her
brother?”

“Yes. It was lucky for Larimore that that dog of a Hal Marksley was
safe out of town. There would have been murder, and another scandal.”

“And her father?”

“David! He makes me sick. He sits and stares at the carpet as if he’d
been turned to stone. Oh, why did I marry such a dolt! If he would
only whip her--anything to show that he is a man! Mrs. Ascott, you are
a woman of the world. You have had affairs of your own, and have got
through them unscathed. Can’t you help me? Don’t you see that I am
distracted?”

“You may count on me for anything I can do,” Judith told her coldly.


II

When the heavy Sunday dinner was over, and Drusilla had gone out for
the afternoon, Lary and Theodora walked hand in hand to the shop behind
the vegetable garden. A minute later, Judith saw the child flitting
across the alley in the direction of the Stevens home. She knew that
now Larimore Trench would come to her.

Her heart stood still and all her senses swam.

When, after an interminable period of waiting--how stupid the clock
that measures our travail by its rigid tape of minutes!--the man stood
before her, she saw that his face was white with grief and his hands
shook.

“Are you willing to come to us? All the manhood has gone out of me. I
can’t go through it alone.”

“Yes, Lary.” And they crossed the lawn together.


III

The library blinds were drawn and the room was hot and still. Eileen
lay back in the chaise longue, her eyes half closed, her lips pouting
surlily. Her father paced the floor, his blue eyes lost in shadow.

“Mrs. Ascott,” he began in a choked voice, “you know the pitiful thing
that has come upon us. You have been a good neighbour, and we come to
you for advice. We are simple people, and my wife feels that you....”
He finished the sentence with his deep, appealing eyes. “I wanted to go
to Mr. Marksley and insist that his son make restitution.”

“Yes!” Lavinia screamed, the remnant of her self-control tearing
to tatters as she looked at her daughter, “and that idiot of a girl
threatening to kill herself if we go a step.”

“I won’t be married to any man at the point of a gun--as long as there
is a river in Springdale where people can be drowned.”

“It is a mortal sin to take your own life,” her father pleaded. “You
couldn’t face your God with such a crime on your hands.”

“When it comes to a choice between facing God and you people--I’d take
my chances with God any day. If I have committed the unpardonable sin,
I don’t see how marrying Hal Marksley would make it any better.”

She sat bolt upright and her eyes blazed.

“What is right? What is sin? You would hound a woman to death because
she has a child without being tied body and soul to a man she despises.
Hal’s mother and father hate each other ... and look at their children.
There isn’t one of them that’s fit to live. Look at us. We are another
family of misfits. And why? Mamma hates papa, lets him follow her
around like a hungry dog begging for a bone.”

“You insolent girl!” Lavinia gasped.

“You don’t know anything about love--and what it means to come into the
world all warped and out of tune. Do you imagine that I am going to tie
myself to a cad--let him be responsible for other children of mine?
There isn’t any fidelity in a man who is born of hate. If you knew what
a contemptible pup he is, you’d see why the river looks better to me.”

“You might have thought of that, before--” David offered gently.

“I didn’t know him till it was too late.” She relaxed ever so little.
“We had talked it all over, and he had the most advanced ideas. But
when it came to facing the music.... Bah! I despise a man who whimpers.
_He was afraid of his mother._ I could have stood even that. But when
he wanted to take me to Sutton, to a doctor he said was in the habit of
helping those factory girls out of their scrapes ... I slapped him; I
beat him with my two fists; I spit in his face. I told him that if he
was not a man, I would take the consequences alone.”

She paused to gather breath, her cheeks burning, her gaze detached. She
was living over again that monstrous cataclysm. “He tried to defend
himself by saying I had no right to disgrace his family. Imagine!
Disgrace Henry Marksley and Adelaide Nims! I told him I wasn’t going
through life with murder on my soul.”

“I’m glad you told him that, daughter,” David said, his eyes warming.

Judith Ascott crossed the room and laid a hand protectingly on Eileen’s
shoulder. “May I offer a solution? You have asked me to use my wits.
I know of a case--not unlike this one--a young girl who made the same
blunder. She had a married sister who had no child. Among all their
friends, I am the only one who knows that the splendid little boy is
not that sister’s child.”

“How--how was it managed?” Lavinia’s practical mind demanded.

“They went together to a sanitarium, where not even the superintendent
knew which was the wife of the man whose name the baby was to bear. I
should suggest sending at once for Sylvia. She and Eileen could--”

“Never work in the world!” Lavinia exploded. “Oliver detests children.
He won’t let Sylvia have one of her own--even if she wanted it. And
he’d leave her ... if he knew there was such a disgrace in the family.”

“Yes,” Eileen said with bitter scorn, “he was born in Salem, where they
put scarlet letters on women who sin. I guess it’s the river for me.”

“There is another way,” Judith cried, defiant and exultant. “I can take
the baby for my own. I will go away with you, until it’s over, and you
can come back alone, with nobody to know--”

“You mean--” Lavinia Trench stood up, her eyes wild, her throat
swelling--“you mean, marry Larimore and palm the child off as his?”

“That--if no other way can be found. We could go to New York, where the
building of the Sanderson home would provide the necessary explanation.
Eileen might take lessons from Professor Auersbach for several months.
She could come home in a year. I would not return until a child in my
arms would cause no remark.”

David moved to her side and pressed his lips reverently to her brow.
“Daughter,” he murmured, his eyes overflowing.


IV

That evening Lary came to the summer house. There was a crescent moon
and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers.

“I can’t let you make this sacrifice for me,” he began huskily.

“Sacrifice? Oh, my darling.... I have been so hungry for you. I could
cry for joy that Eileen has opened the way.”

“Dear, my heart went cold when she said what she did about the children
of hate. Are you willing to trust me?”

“You born of hate? Lary, Lary ... such love as your father’s ... the
love that could survive twenty-eight years of starvation!”

The man gripped her hand until it hurt. Then he drew her into his arms
and his cheek rested against hers. The young moon sank to sleep; the
garden throbbed in the velvet darkness; a moon-flower burst its bonds,
just above them, sending forth a shower of perfume.

“You are too wonderful,” he murmured. “Judith, I know the man that is
in me. I have met him face to face. I saw him reflected in your eyes,
there in the library. Now I shall never be alone. I have attained the
unattainable.”



XXV A Wedding at Vine Cottage


I

Monday morning found Eileen too ill to be out of bed. Dr. Schubert
came in response to an urgent request from her father, looked at her
tongue, felt her pulse, smiled tolerantly ... and prescribed a nerve
sedative. Later in the day the girl who had twined her baby fingers
about the emotional center which in a man of science does duty as a
heart asserted her right to consideration. He went home and talked it
over with Sydney.

“Use your intuition, boy. I can’t have her going to pieces like this.
She has always been free from hysteria--so different from her mother.”

“She has had her first love affair--and Hal Marksley is off to college.”

“Sydney! That thick-lipped youth! Besides, Eileen is only a child.”

“You remember the day she was born, and you forget the days between. I
have been wretched over it all summer. One night I met them, half way
over to Greenville--the night I was called to see the Hemple baby. I
spoke to Sylvia about it. And she reminded me of the night--on that
same road--when old Selim cast a shoe, and we didn’t get home until
almost morning. Once I was on the point of taking it up with Lary; but
he’s too deeply in love to see.”

“Lary in love! Who’s the charmer?”

“You dear old scientific abstraction. Have you had Mrs. Ascott at
your elbow four days a week--and do you think a fellow with Lary’s
temperament could spend all his evenings with her, and escape?”

“That’s--beautiful! But what about her ... a woman who has exhausted
New York and Paris? Would she be satisfied with a simple nature like
Lary’s?”

“Lary’s nature is about as simple in its refractions as a rose diamond!
Mrs. Ascott mothers him. I have tried to make up that deficit in
his life--but of course a boy he grew up with couldn’t do it, as a
sensitive woman could. He knows I understand about Mrs. Ascott. Oh, not
that we have ever talked about it. That would be too crude for Lary.”

“You are like your mother, boy. She spoke three languages--and could
dispense with all of them. But we have gone miles from Eileen. I need
your help, desperately.”


II

While the two physicians discussed a disturbing case, the one with
understanding, the other blindly, a different conversation was under
way in Eileen’s bedroom. Mrs. Trench had sent for Judith as soon as the
coast was clear of tale-bearers.

“He--said this morning that he was going to take you and Eileen with
him when he goes to New York, Thursday night. I thought we’d better lay
out the details.”

It was all so bald, so matter-of-fact. The woman cringed, as from a
desecration. She turned for relief to the white face on the pillow.
Mercurial tears glistened in the dove-gray shadows that lurked beneath
the swollen eyes, and the mouth wore the old rebellious look. Eileen
was still smarting from the crass, polluting things her mother had
said, after the physician’s departure. She had brought this disgraceful
thing on the family, and Lavinia did not intend that she should shirk
one minim of her punishment.

“For my part, I don’t see how you are going to hide it by going to New
York ... where everybody knows you. All your friends will see at the
first glance that Larimore and Eileen are brother and sister. They look
exactly alike.”

“Thanks for the compliment!” The girl tossed aside the sheet and sat
up. “We both have noses running lengthwise of our faces, and mouths
that cut across. That’s all the resemblance you ever saw--when you were
telling me how handsome Lary was and how ugly I was. I have it all
figured out. I am going to be Lary’s cousin--young Mrs. Winthrop, whose
husband was lost on that Alaska steamer that foundered two weeks ago.
Ina and I worked out the situation in a play we did last winter.”

“And Ina will recognize your situation--and spread it all over town.”

“Mamma! Please credit me with a little sense. This story isn’t for home
consumption. It’s for Judith’s friends--when we get to New York.”

“There will be few of them,” Mrs. Ascott interrupted. “That danger
is negligible. A few acquaintances at Pelham and Larchmont. With the
exception of my father and the Ramsays, who live at Rye--”

“But the neighbours!” Lavinia cried irritably.

“There are none. We can go up and down in the same lift with them
for months without knowing what they look like. New York is too
self-absorbed to care about any one’s happiness or misery.”

“But your father!” the woman snapped. Her triumph was short-lived.

“Papa could live in the same house with Eileen for a year without
knowing whether she was Miss Trench or Mrs. Winthrop--Lary’s cousin or
mine. He has forgotten all but the outstanding facts of my life. As for
the Ramsays, they would take the situation as I do--if it should become
necessary to tell them.”

Vine shook her head. She had no words with which to express her
disapproval of a city that could be thus cold-bloodedly immoral. What
sort of people were the Ramsays, that one could tell them of a girl’s
fall from virtue without shocking them? What sort of woman was Mrs.
Ascott, that she could carry out such a wickedly dishonest piece of
business? Still, we must praise the bridge that carries us over.


III

Lary stopped by on his way to the office after luncheon to assure
himself that it was not all an iridescent dream. On him, too, Lavinia’s
stolid acceptance of Judith’s solution had a dampening effect. The rose
had been stripped of its blossoms and stood stark and thorny before
him. A few minutes of random talk, in which each sought to sound the
other’s depths, and then the man said, as if it were an inconsequential
afterthought:

“Would Wednesday evening do for the ceremony? Not that it makes any
difference. I feel as if we had been married from the beginning of
time. I told the baby about it, and she pleaded for Wednesday. Some
lucky omen, I believe. She said there was no use taking chances. I wish
I had her philosophy of life.”

“I wish I had _her_,” Judith cried, foolish tears rushing to her eyes.

“Why, you have all of us--from my father down. I never saw a conquest
more complete.” The man’s eyes were moist and shining. “But, dear,
the baby said another thing. She wants you to let Eileen serve as maid
of honour. Another omen--that she heard when Oliver’s sister came from
Brookline to attend Sylvia. It presages a happy marriage for the girl.”

“I know another old superstition that might apply--in a sinister way.
My grandmother was full of them. To serve as a bride’s attendant, or as
godmother at a christening, she held, was fatal to the little--”

Her voice broke and a wave of crimson tumbled over the fair cheek.
A shrug of swift annoyance. Why should she be blushing like an
unsophisticated school-girl? Larimore Trench caught his breath, and his
heart ceased its monotonous beating.

“You adorable being! You vestal-hearted woman! Don’t let me touch you.
Judith, Judith, I shall go mad with ecstasy.” He retreated a step, and
all at once he laughed, a laugh of sardonic triumph.

“Poor old fool gods! They thought they were destroying man when they
cleft him in two. Olympus never realized a thrill like this. Send me to
the office, sweetheart. I have to finish the specifications for Miss
Sanderson’s studio. How can a man build little tawdry boxes of wood and
stone, when his eyes have looked into heaven?”

Judith Ascott was sobbing on his shoulder.


IV

When he had gone, she did an unaccountable thing. She sent a telegram
to her father. It was simple and direct. She would be married on
Wednesday. It would please her if he could be with her. There would
be a train through Littlefield at four o’clock in the afternoon, and
she would have Dutton meet him with the car. He could return, via
Detroit, at eleven the same night. When the message had gone, she fell
to wondering what motive had actuated her. She and her father were, as
Griff Ramsay had said, strangers. Lary’s mother? The thought angered
her. Yes, she had had recourse to her father ... the only available
shield against the small-town criticism that would be reiterated,
in veiled innuendo, the rest of her life. It was her father who had
pursued her--brought her back to the path of rectitude. Such a father
would lend reasonable sanctity to her second marriage! Was she, too, in
the thrall of that woman, the slave of that cunning, provincial mind?

She sought for relief in the meeting between Lary and her father. Would
he see in her beloved nothing more than a village architect? Would her
mother be furious--her mother who had approved Raoul?

At six o’clock the reply came. Mr. Denslow was starting Tuesday for the
southwest, where he was to look over some oil properties. He would stop
off in Springdale, providing he could get a late train to St. Louis.
His explicit telegram made no mention of the occasion for his brief
visit in his daughter’s home.


V

The train schedule was propitious. He came. The instant after he had
deposited his travelling bag on the floor of the guest room, he began
to ply Judith with questions concerning the deucedly clever fellow
who was building Avis Sanderson’s house. He had driven over the place
with some friends, had inspected the drawings, and had commissioned
Ramsay to enter into negotiations with the architect. By-the-way, he
had sold the house at Pelham. He was thinking of a princely estate on
Long Island--French château style--to be finished before her mother’s
return from Paris. This man, Trench, would be the one to handle it.

“Papa, you don’t seem to understand that I am going to marry Larimore
Trench this evening!”

“Oh, quite so, quite so. Ramsay told me he would be the one. It’s a
singular piece of good fortune. I never liked the idea of putting Ben
in one of those big offices, where a young draughtsman is swallowed
up. The boy hasn’t brains enough to go it alone. This way, Trench can
take him into a partnership. I’ll talk it over with his mother. I’m
crossing, the first of December, for a couple of months in London and
on the Continent. I’m worn out, and the doctors say--Damn it all,
Judith, I can’t give up ... go to the wall at fifty four, with a
family to support. Black specks floating in the air, no appetite for
breakfast. It’s a dog’s life, and they’ll skin me out of my eye teeth
while I’m gone.” He stopped, disconsolate. After a moment he resumed,
his manner somewhat detached:

“I was thinking that you might have the apartment. I’m not in it
once a week. Hotel so much more convenient. Maids sleep their heads
off--nothing to do. I sold off everything, at Pelham, except the rugs
and a few pictures that the beggars wouldn’t give me a price for.
Thought I didn’t know what Orientals were worth. Offered me thirty
dollars for that little Blakelock. An idiotic smear of red and yellow
paint; but it’ll be worth money some day, mark my word. And that
reminds me ... Jack has got over his craze for flying machines and
wants to study art. The boy’s a failure--no good on earth. Perhaps
Trench will steady him.”

“Larimore, his name is, papa.”

“Larimore? Ramsay said the name was Trench.”

Judith gave it up.


VI

At dusk the simple ceremony was read, Dr. Clarkson of the College
officiating. Sydney Schubert played the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin
as Mr. Denslow descended the stairs with his daughter. Before them
Eileen walked, her head bowed, her face pale and serious. In the cozy
angle of the hall, Lary and Dr. Schubert met them. The formality
was a concession to Theodora. The murmured responses were all but
extinguished by Mrs. Trench’s sudden flood of weeping. When it was
over, Eileen said to Judith, between lips that hissed with anger:

“I could have choked her. She just did that for effect. Mrs. Henderson
cried when her daughter was married, and mamma thinks it’s the proper
thing. She nearly disrupted Sylvia’s wedding--and every one in church
knew she was pleased as Punch to get Sylvia off her hands.”

Mrs. Trench led the way to the dining-room, where the bridal party was
served by Nanny and Drusilla, with Mrs. Dutton in the kitchen. In the
domestic realm of the two households the colour line had never been
drawn. Nanny hailed from that section of New England where a dark skin
excites the same kind of interest that a green rose or a two-headed
calf would elicit. Mrs. Dutton, Judith perceived early in the days of
her tenancy, found a malicious pleasure in her own function as a social
link between Mrs. David Trench and her negro cook--a link that Mrs.
Trench saw fit to ignore, since the breaking of it had thus far baffled
even her resourcefulness.

Later in the evening, while Syd and Eileen played poignant melodies,
with David leaning over the piano, and Lavinia told Dr. Clarkson
of the great Denslow wealth--her daughter-in-law’s exalted social
position--Mr. Denslow and Dr. Schubert talked of old times in
Rochester, where the youthful physician had had his first hospital
experience, where Denslow, a poor boy with an iron will, had found
the open path to fortune through a painful accident and a sojourn in
a hospital ward. They drifted to the laboratory experiments, which
Judith’s father had never taken the trouble to inquire about. This was
just another of the girl’s wild goose chases. He wondered why he had
such a damnably unsatisfactory family.

“I shall miss her, cruelly. You don’t know what it has meant to my boy
and me--having a woman in the house four mornings a week. I wanted
to train Eileen to help me with the experiments; but your daughter
tells me they are taking the child with them, to study under a famous
violinist. I have salvaged only one thing out of the wreck of our two
households. They are leaving Nanny with me. I have worried with six
housekeepers since my faithful Sophie died, two years ago.”

The disposition of Nanny was Lavinia’s bright inspiration. Obviously
Nanny must not go to New York--to return a year later and spread gossip.

When Dutton had taken Mr. Denslow to the station, the wedding guests
went home. At the door, Theodora paused and looked ruefully back. They
had ignored her completely, and was not she responsible for it all?
Even Lary’s kiss had been abstracted. But then, Lary did not know.
None of the others knew why there was a wedding at Vine Cottage, that
evening. Only she and Judith understood--and one of them must have
forgotten, now that the fairy tale had come true.

She looked at the Beloved, standing there in the light of the little
apricot lamp, and her throat swelled with loneliness and misery. She
was not jealous--even if they were taking Eileen for a year in New
York. Some one had to stay and take care of daddy--and she could do
that much better than Eileen, or even Lary. Another thought came to
her, just as Judith perceived her and held out her enticing arms.

“You--you still think it was dishonourable--showing you the poem Lary
wrote?”

“No, darling. It was a stroke of genius. You have the head of a
diplomat. I want you to do something really truly dishonourable for
your sister Judith. After we have gone, I want you to rummage through
Lary’s things until you find those two sheets of paper--the original
ones. Pry open the lid of his desk, if there is no other way, and send
them to me. I am going to have them framed!”



XXVI The Light Within


I

A little while before the expressman called for the trunks, Judith
went for the last time through the wicket gate. She and Eileen had
been packing all day, and she was weary to the verge of collapse.
Theodora had hovered over her ever since she came from school, up in
the attic where winter garments must be looked over, down in the pantry
and cellar, where the Duttons were receiving orders for the temporary
closing of Vine Cottage. Through it all she had been silent and
unobtrusive, her face wearing an expression that well-nigh broke the
heart of the woman who loved her. Only once did she offer speech:

“I guess it’s better for my mamma to get natural again--because--the
other way she couldn’t have lived.”

The remedy that would work such magic once ought to be efficacious
again. Lavinia’s altered attitude towards her husband was, beyond
peradventure, the result of her visit in Bromfield. When Judith found
opportunity, she asked:

“Do you think you will be coming to New York this fall? There will
always be a guest room for you and father.”

“David can’t get away before spring, with the Marksley contract
crowding him to the wall, and Larimore gone all the time. If he had any
system about him, he wouldn’t let things crowd him that way. If I was a
contractor--”

“Then, perhaps you will come alone, and stop off at Bromfield on the
way home. Your visit there in July certainly gave you great benefit.”

“How much benefit--no one will ever know!” The black eyes snapped. “It
almost paid for all that has happened since. To see some one that you
thought was rich and prosperous--and find out that they have actually
less than you have--” She stopped, and the even white teeth clicked. “I
mean my brother Ted.” In crimson confusion she hurried to the window,
where she stood dumbly contemplating the street. When she turned, it
was to abuse Eileen so extravagantly that she became aware of the
blunder she was making.

“Mrs. Ascott, you mustn’t listen to what I am saying,” she floundered.

“Won’t you call me Judith, now that I am no longer Mrs. Ascott?”

Mrs. Trench laughed foolishly.

“I forgot that you and Larimore were married last night. I’ll forget my
own name if I have to live in this nightmare much longer.”

“Perhaps you can get it off your mind if you go to Bromfield for a few
weeks. I am sure Dr. Schubert and Nanny will look after--”

“I never want to see Bromfield again.”


II

Judith put the puzzle aside and went home to dress for the train. At
the station she kissed David and said, reassuringly:

“Don’t brood over it, father. Eileen will come through without a
blemish.”

“If there is any one who can save her it is you. We had to get her
away from her mother. Not that I blame my wife for this. She is the
most conscientious woman I have ever known, the most positive in her
convictions of morality. She has always set a good example for her
children.”

Just then the engine whistled for the crossing below Springdale, and
there was a hurrying to and fro on the platform, for the crashing
wheels scarcely came to rest in the little college town. Judith was
glad of the interruption. Were all good men blind? A moment later she
was waving farewell from the rear Pullman, as David stood beside the
track, Theodora’s hand clasped in his.


III

On Saturday Eileen had her first glimpse of the Hudson. That evening
the Ramsays called, and then ... Aladdin’s lamp was relegated to the
attic along with the other wonders that had survived their day of
glory. New York was the real fairy land. From the hippopotamus in
the Bronx to the hippocampus in Battery Park, the girl saw it all.
Sometimes with Judith, more often with Laura Ramsay or her mother,
she went from elevated to subway, from the amusing little cross-town
horse-cars that were more primitive even than Springdale, to the
thrilling taxicab and the Fifth Avenue bus, with a zest that whetted
the jaded appetites of the women for whom the city had long since lost
its novelty.

After two weeks she decided that she had taken in all the impressions
she could hold, and settled down to her music in earnest. There were
daily letters from her father, empty because of that fullness he dared
not express. Twice a week Theodora wrote--exhaustive discourses on the
city, which her imagination rendered more real than reality itself.
There were letters, long or brief, to Lary from Lavinia, with never a
mention of Eileen. The girl wrote four times to her mother, and then
her spirit revolted.

“She can go to grass before I’ll ever know she’s on earth. I suppose
she’s afraid of contaminating herself. I’d like to tell her there are
some thinking people--people whose opinions count--who don’t consider
it half as immoral to go to the devil with the man you believe you
love--as it is to bear six children for the man you know you hate.”

“Dearest, don’t do it,” Judith pleaded. “You must not stir up all
that rancour in your soul. Remember what you are stamping on the mind
and character of the child I am going to call my own. You owe it to
me--not to make my burden too hard. And, Eileen, your mother is no more
responsible for her limitations than you are for yours. She was brought
up to a belief that there is something supernatural in a marriage
certificate. Morality is wholly a matter of external forms. And she has
the clear advantage of standing with the majority.”

“Yes, she always grabs a front seat in the bandwagon. If it ever gets
popular to run off with some other woman’s husband--you’ll find her in
the procession. No! you won’t find her. She’s too set in her ideas for
that. But after the way she cottoned to Mrs. Nims--when it suited her
purpose--and other swells in Springdale--” She choked, her face growing
scarlet. “I hope I’ll never be intolerant.”

Judith sensed the thought that had flared up in the girl’s mind, from
which she had retrieved herself in a swift change of subject. Ignoring
Mrs. Trench’s reason for that first neighbourly call on Adelaide
Nims, after her return from Bromfield, she fell back on the nature of
toleration.

“My dear, don’t you know that you are just as intolerant of your
mother as she is of you--that you are like her, when you justify to
yourself the thing you want to do--and spare your lacerated feelings,
when things go wrong, by finding flaws to pick in some other person’s
conduct?”

Eileen hung her head. From infancy she had been branded as a Trench.
And now it shamed her to be told that she resembled her mother, her
mother in whom she could see nothing but bourgeois complacence. After a
moment she said:

“You always get the nub of it, Judith. How can you see the inside of
things so quick? I can work a thing out, when once I get a good grip on
an idea. I guess I’m like mamma there, too. Only--Lary says you have
to be careful what ideas you give her--because she’s like as not to
apply them upside down. I suppose there’s only one thing for me to do.
I’ll have to take myself apart and see what my inner works are like.
You shan’t have any such vixen as I was, to take care of. I clawed Dr.
Schubert in the eye before I was an hour old. It wasn’t an accident,
either. I was just naturally vicious. It was because mamma had put in
a whole winter hating me and papa and the fool Creator who put all the
burden of bearing children on the wife. At least I haven’t any such
feeling as that. I don’t even blame--” Her cheeks crimsoned again. “I
don’t blame any one but myself.”

There were other serious talks, touching the deep hidden things of
life; but as the autumn passed these became more and more impersonal.
Once a week Eileen went to visit the Ramsays at Rye, usually on
Saturday when she could spend the night, and Laura’s mother saw to it
that the violin was never left at home. In the suburban town, young
Mrs. Winthrop was an immediate social success.



XXVII David’s Children


I

November was half gone when Judith wrote to David, the letter she had
yearned to write, weeks ago:

  “We are on the eve of victory, the great spiritual victory that I
  know means more than anything else to you. Eileen puts in four hours
  a day practicing. This evening she is giving a recital at the church
  Mrs. Ramsay’s mother attends. She is a great favourite in Rye, where
  the story of her tragic widowhood first stimulated interest. I know,
  father, how distasteful this kind of subterfuge is to you; but Lary
  agrees with me that it is necessary. As yet no one suspects. But we
  must plan a long way ahead.

  “I have it all arranged, even to the wording of the announcement
  cards I hope to send out, some time next July. But I shall not dare
  to show myself in Springdale for another year. There are too many
  experienced mothers, who would know whether a baby was three weeks
  or three months old. I could not conceal the telltale marks. I don’t
  know what a baby ought to look like!

  “Don’t say anything about this to Lary’s mother. She would only
  worry, and she might do something, inadvertently, to spoil all our
  planning. Lary would like to have us accompany him when he makes his
  next business trip to Springdale. It is perfectly safe, as far as
  Eileen is concerned, I assure you. I do so want you to hear her play.
  It is not merely technique. I can fairly hear her soul grow. She is
  having her growing pains, but they are good for her. She never speaks
  of the ordeal that is before her, and for a week I thought she had
  forgotten it. When she brought me an exquisite little garment she had
  made, every stitch by hand, I knew I was mistaken.

  “Professor Auersbach sees a great career for her. The strain in her
  nature that will militate against high artistic success, such as
  he hopes for, is her salvation now. She rebounds from disagreeable
  things with the resiliency of a rubber ball. Lary doesn’t want her to
  be famous. He only wants her to grow into a good woman. It would make
  you happy to see the little intimacy that is growing up between them.
  She doesn’t at all see in him the demigod he is to me; but I had the
  advantage of seeing him first through Theodora’s eyes. Tell her how I
  miss her, and give her a big hug from her Sister Judith.”


II

David put the letter away in the safe, with his few priceless
possessions. He wanted to see his children--the two whose likeness to
him had been a cause for half humorous apology or bitter reproach. He
walked home from the office, lost in a flood of incoherent longing.
If only Lavinia had never been kind! There was to be a concert in the
college chapel on Thanksgiving evening. Perhaps Eileen could play in
public. His soul revolted at such philandering with the truth; but he
had taught himself to make peace with the powers that were stronger
than his will or his ability. He quickened his step. He would offer the
suggestion to Vine.

“It’s just the thing. I’ll go right over and tell Mrs. Henderson
about it! The women of Springdale will remember the date--if anything
should ever leak out. Eileen is built like the Trenches. I remember,
your sister Edith was at church the Sunday before little Buddie was
born--and when he came, it was a complete surprise. Nobody suspected
anything.”

David covered his face with his hands. His wife’s bald physical view
of Eileen’s soul-tragedy filled him with loathing. At long intervals,
in the years that were gone, she had forced him to look within the
steel-girt casket of her being, and always he had turned away
horrified eyes--to restore as best he might the priceless jewels of
his imagining. Could he censure his daughter because she had believed
in Hal Marksley, to her hurt? How had he judged the one he loved, the
woman he had given Eileen for a mother?

He put the thought aside as wickedly disloyal. Vine was the mother of
his children. She had taken him, a simple-hearted boy with no ambition
beyond the making of beautiful furniture, and she had made of him a
successful business man. He could no longer make beautiful things.
His fingers had lost their sure touch. But he had given his children
the cultural advantages his own boyhood had lacked, and he had laid
by enough to care for his family, if he should be taken. He had not
been happy. He knew, all at once, that he had not been happy. He had
never thought of it before. Still, what right had mortals to demand
happiness? Had Vine been sympathetic, he might never have risen above
the rank of a carpenter. His children would have toiled with their
hands, to measure the stolid level of Bromfield or Olive Hill. It was
Vine, with her far-seeing eyes and her two-edged tongue, who had made
Lary’s achievement possible, who had given Sylvia the satisfaction of
a marriage to her liking. It was patent that Sylvia, at least, was
satisfied with her lot.

His eyes turned inward, he began to take stock of his children. Bob and
Isabel were in heaven. The acts of God were not to be challenged. Lary
had periods of morbid brooding, when life looked worse than worthless.
It would be different, now that he had a wife to love him ... a wife
who saw in him a demigod. Such devotion had stimulated him to greater
endeavour than he had deemed worth while. It might not have worked
that way with Lary’s father ... if he had had a wife to soothe and
admire him. He might have been too happy to exert himself. He could not
be sure.

The very qualities which had won Judith were fostered by Vine’s
determination to send Larimore to Cornell. Just why Cornell, David had
no means of knowing. Lary had not gone to Bromfield for any of his
vacations. So the proximity of the old home town had nothing to do with
it. With all his cultural charm, he might not have won Mrs. Ascott, had
there been no strong incentive to action. He was inclined to drift, to
shun the crass grip of reality. His happiness had been thrust upon him,
because of Eileen’s drastic need.

Theodora was too young to be estimated with any degree of finality.
As she was, so had Vine Larimore appeared to him when, as a boy, he
had looked upon her with yearning eyes. In the after years Vine had
been the prototype of Sylvia. She might have bargained better with her
beauty--as Sylvia had bargained. What had prompted Vine to the breaking
of that other engagement? She had told him, times without number, that
he had won her--against her better judgment--by his persistent devotion
... had taken her by storm, and had thereby driven his rival to a hasty
and ill-starred marriage. How could he have taken any woman by storm?
He felt a little foolish pride in the thought that for one rash moment
he had been bold.

He once heard his wife counselling Sylvia, when she was on the point
of marrying for pique, an elderly widower in the college faculty. She
could afford to swallow Tom Henderson’s neglect, Vine had said, if
thereby she might some day step into Mrs. Dr. Henderson’s shoes. But
Sylvia was in no need of advice. She would always make the best of her
situation--glamour it over with a value calculated to inspire envy in
the minds of her friends. It would have been the same, had she occupied
a three-room cottage in Olive Hill, with miners’ wives for her social
equals. She was developing into a snob. David had not known the meaning
of the word until he felt it in Sylvia, that summer.

He turned for relief to Theodora, the one who was still plastic. His
mind had climbed awkwardly over Eileen. He must do his work, and a
father could not contemplate that catastrophe and live. Theo understood
him, as none of the others did. She had rejoiced with him in the seven
weeks of his belated honeymoon, and she sorrowed with him in the
bitterness of the aftermath.


III

“What in the world is the matter with you? Have you gone stone deaf? I
have spoken to you three times, and you haven’t turned a hair.” He was
aroused from his musings by Vine’s raucous voice.

“I suppose my mind was wandering. What do you want, dear?”

“What were you thinking?” Her eyes were dark with suspicion.

“I--I believe I was thinking about old Selim, the saddle horse ... you
know, Vine, that Dr. Schubert used to ride when the roads were too
muddy for the buggy. And what sore places the saddle would make on
the poor old fellow’s back--and how the sores would turn into kindly
calluses after the saddle had been worn a few weeks. It was taking the
saddle off, and putting it back on again, that made the new sores. It
would be better never to feel relief from the calloused places than to
have to harden them all over again.”

“Yes! I wish I had never gone to Bromfield. Not that the trip didn’t
benefit my health wonderfully. But we wouldn’t be in all this trouble
if I had stayed at home. And the worst of it isn’t Eileen, either. I
had to give in to let Larimore marry that grass widow. That’s the part
that can’t be so easily undone.”

“Vine!” David Trench towered his full height, his face stiff with
indignation. “Have you no decency, no gratitude, no human kindness in
your heart? For shame, to let such words pass your lips!”

Lavinia laughed, a strangled, empty giggle, while the red crept up her
neck.

“I was only joking. Larimore says I have no sense of humour. I think
you are the one who can’t see a joke.”

“I can’t see a joke in things that are not to be joked about. Judith
is a noble woman and she has saved you from disgrace. We are the last
people in the world who have a moral right to bring up her past. We all
make mistakes, even you--”

“I made the mistake of my life when I married a man who always sides
against me, no matter what comes up.” She began to weep loudly.


IV

David was wont to coax and comfort until the storm was over; but this
time he put on his hat and left the house without a word. When he
returned at dinner time the sky was serene and the atmosphere almost
balmy. Lavinia kissed him on both cheeks and turned to pick a thread
from his coat with wifely care. Her lips wore a satisfied smirk.

“It’s all fixed. I had the luck to run into a meeting of the committee
at Mrs. Henderson’s, and they want Eileen to play three numbers. I have
written Judith to get her the finest dress in New York--not to mind the
cost--and to send the titles by return mail. I’m going to give a big
reception, Friday afternoon.”

David smiled wearily. Another whirlpool in his domestic stream had been
navigated, safely. Before him lay a week of tranquillity. Vine was
always amiable, with some such absorbing task in prospect.



XXVIII Indian Summer


I

The trio arrived Wednesday morning, with half the freshman class at the
station to meet Eileen. It was all so different from her going away.
How strange the town looked, how tranquil and confiding the faces of
her friends! What a long, long time she had been gone! Could she ever
again talk to Kitten and Ina as in the old life? Could she adjust
herself, for even a few days, to the environment that had been her
whole world?

The change was not all in herself. There was her mother--kissing
her ecstatically before all that crowd, telling her how sweet she
looked, how lonely the big house was without her. And--did she hear
aright?--declaring in ringing tones that she should not go back to
New York with Larimore and Judith, but should enter college at the
beginning of the second semester. A moment later Mrs. Trench passed
from this demonstration to embrace Judith with equal warmth, to address
her as “my dear daughter” and lament the shortness of the visit.
The girl was bewildered. Only Theodora was unchanged. She bubbled
and vibrated as of old, pouting disconsolately when the chapel bell
summoned her.


II

The afternoon was taken up with rehearsal for to-morrow evening’s
program in the college chapel. Once Eileen was on the brink of the
sordid past. She had met Adelaide Nims with unruffled composure;
but when Kitten joked her about her prospective sister-in-law, and
Ina wanted to know how many evenings a week Hal was in the habit of
spending with her, she almost forgot the rôle she had been playing ...
that in New York she was Mrs. Winthrop, whereas in Springdale she was
still Eileen Trench, and presumably betrothed to Mrs. Nims’ brother.

“You can’t fool us,” Miss Henderson teased. “I bet Ina a pair of
gold-buckled garters that you’d follow Hal to New York, instead of
going to college here. And your mother didn’t get by, this morning,
with that line of talk about keeping you at home. She wouldn’t tear you
and Hal apart for the world.”

Eileen felt a sinking in the region of her solar plexus, but she
contrived a flippant retort, and took up her violin. She had not
remembered that Hal Marksley was in Brooklyn ... that she was likely
to meet him in the subway or at the theatre, any day. In the onrush of
her first disillusionment he had been carried beyond her ken, as an
obstruction of logs and floating débris is torn from its moorings and
scattered in meaningless fragments by the violence of a spring flood.


III

Judith, after a few hours with Mrs. Dutton and a hurried visit from
Nanny--indeed the Doctors Schubert were dears; but her heart was still
with her mistress--found Lary in the hall where, less than three months
ago, she promised to love, honour and obey him. He must make a hurried
run to Littlefield, on business for his father. It was a glorious
autumn afternoon and the road was in fair condition. At his suggestion,
Judith took an extra wrap, for the air would be chill after the sun
went down.

It was the twenty-fourth of November, and the temperature was that of
late spring; but the air held a dreamy content, as if the earth and her
children were drunk with rare old amber wine. On the brow of a hill,
a little way out from town, Lary stopped the car to point out a great
diadem of irregular rubies, in a setting of Etruscan gold. That, he
explained, was a scattering of scarlet oaks in a grove composed largely
of soft maples. Here and there a flavescent green asserted itself,
thinly.

“Walnuts,” he said, his face taking on a boyish look. “We had every
tree marked, when Bob and Syd and I were youngsters. You have to pick
out the location ... and remember it. The walnut has no community
instinct. It seldom grows in friendly groups, like the sweet gums
and sugar maples. The leaves are only yellowed by a frost that turns
the oaks crimson over night, and their formation gives the effect of
delicate filigree. Look at that sumac bush, Judith--like a great sang
de boeuf vase, with a red on the shoulder that would have filled an
ancient Chinese potter with awe. The flame-red in the sang de boeuf
porcelain was supposed to be derived from the breath of the gods, while
the kiln was at white heat. This red, that gives a flambé touch to so
many of these sumacs, is an insolent growth of rhus toxicodendron, that
has run wild all over these hills.”

“Poison ivy,” Judith cried. “Yes, we have it in New York and
Connecticut--all up to the Sound. During the summer, city people often
mistake it for Virginia creeper, to their sorrow. But after frost, its
coral colour betrays it.”

Something on the grassy slope caught her eye, and she asked for
explanation. Cobwebs. The shrubs were festooned with them, long
streamers floating in the breeze, like knotted gossamer threads. Over
the short grass they formed a continuous fabric, as delicate as crêpe
chiffon.

“Millions of spiders set to work with their spinning, the morning
after the first hard frost. No naturalist has ever explained, to my
satisfaction, where they come from, or what purpose they serve by
throwing out all this maze of webs. I can’t believe that there is any
utilitarian end in view. As if nature couldn’t squander a little effort
on pure beauty!”

When the car had rounded the shoulder of the hill, Judith touched her
husband’s arm. “Look, Lary, is that fire? Not the red of the foliage,
but that film of smoke, away beyond the field.”

He followed the lead of her gaze, across a dun field dotted at more or
less regular intervals with huge shocks of withered corn, beside some
of which lay piles of yellow and white ears, husked and ready for the
crib. Beyond this were broad acres of wheat stubble, glistening silver
in the sun. And then the creek, half hidden from view by a tangle of
wild grape and trumpet creeper that well-nigh suffocated the stunted
trees along its bank. Over the field, the stream, the low woods beyond,
was a silver mist that deepened first to azure, then to smoky purple,
as it met the far horizon.

“That isn’t the result of fire, dear. That is our much vaunted Indian
Summer haze. The Indians had a legend to explain it. Ask Theo to tell
you. It’s one of her favourites.”

“Yes, yes.... I had forgotten. I shall always associate it with Dr.
Schubert--the peace that came to him after the long years of tragedy
and the final shock of sudden death. Lary, do you think....”

“I am afraid not, dearest. My mother was born in an off season. Nothing
in her case works out on normal lines.”

Then they rode on in silence, each wondering how the other had caught
the unvoiced question that was in both minds.


IV

The concert, for the benefit of the scholarship fund, the following
evening, was the social event of the season. Mrs. Trench was
disappointed in the dress Judith had bought for Eileen--a simple affair
of white chiffon, in long graceful lines, over a satin slip that showed
a tracery of silver threads--until she heard Mrs. Nims whisper to Mrs.
Henderson that it must have been a late Paris importation. After that
she caught the “style” her village eyes had not perceived. It was worth
the price, to have Mrs. Nims say that to Mrs. Henderson.

But Eileen’s appearance, as she emerged upon the chapel stage from
the sheltering screen of palms, was no disappointment to her mother.
As the burst of spontaneous applause died away--the violinist
bowing recognition, as graciously as if this were a matter of daily
occurrence--she heard Kitten exclaim to the girls near her:

“Gee, isn’t she stunning! If ten weeks in New York could do that for
Eileen Trench, ten days of it ought to make a howling beauty of me.”
Then she clapped her hand to her mouth, remembering Mrs. Trench’s
lynx-ears.


V

The visit was one continuous triumphal procession for the girl. There
was her mother’s reception, Friday afternoon, at which--according
to the formally engraved cards of invitation--the best people of
Springdale were requested to meet Mrs. Larimore Trench. But Eileen,
behind the coffee urn, was the real attraction. On Saturday Mrs.
Henderson and Mrs. Clarkson joined in a musical tea, and together they
prevailed on the girl to play Schubert’s Ave Maria at church, Sunday
morning.

When it was ended, and Sunday night saw her safely on the train, her
mother went home to a three days’ sick headache. If she could “put that
over” on the smartest people in Springdale, perhaps there was nothing
to fear. Larimore had some ridiculous story he used to quote ... about
a boy who held a fox under his cloak while it tore his vitals out. It
was a stolen fox, she reminded herself. After all, it didn’t matter
much what you did--so long as you had the grit to keep it under your
cloak.



XXIX The Truth that is Clean


I

The winter wore away. Larimore Trench was too deeply occupied to give
much time to his small family. “Success had come to him unsought: not
the success he had hoped for or desired. Griffith Ramsay opened the way
when, as toast-master at a convention banquet, he introduced Lary as
Consulting Architect--a title the opulent New Yorker took seriously.
And it was Ramsay who looked after the contracts, stipulating enormous
fees for the service Lary would have given gratuitously, had he been
left to his own devices.

“I feel like a robber,” he told Judith when he handed her a check in
four figures--compensation for work that had actually consumed only
a few hours of his time. “You know, I met the man at a stag dinner,
early in December, and took a real liking to him. He had an option on
a place, and he asked me to go out and look at it. It was one of the
worst atrocities I ever saw--and I didn’t mince words with him. It was
such a bargain that he could afford to spend a little money on drastic
changes--and I told him what to do. I have often given that kind of
advice to a friend. I wouldn’t think of sending in a bill.”

“And it hurts your pride, to be selling your taste.”

Lary looked at her, a light dawning in his limpid brown eyes.

“You are the most remarkable woman in the world. You have the insight
of a sage ... and the intuition of a poet. I didn’t know what was wrong
with me. And in a second you put your finger on the tender spot. It is
precisely the feeling I had the first time an editor sent me a check
for a poem. You don’t sell things that come out of your soul. To take
money for them is like rubbing the bloom from the grape. It leaves your
soul shiny and bare.”

“But, Lary, an artist takes money for his pictures. It is bad for his
art if he lives by any other means. The painter who has no need to work
is almost sure to go stale in a few years. If you had been born when
Greece was at the climax of her glory--”

“I would have been an artisan--taking wages for my work, like
Apollodorus and Praxiteles--with no more social opportunity and
aspiration than an upper servant,” Lary retorted, laughing whimsically.
“The Greeks had no illusions about art. It was as closely knit with the
kitchen as with the temple. This idea that artists are fit associates
for millionaires--that is, for the aristocracy--is purely a figment of
modern times. My repugnance for money is not the result of my classical
training. It was burned into my mind by the gruelling conflict of
opinions between my father and mother. My father and I were born to an
age that knows only the money standard. The world--and my mother--are
not to blame, if he and I are out of joint with the times.”

“But you won’t let it hurt you, Lary ... let it embitter you?”

“No, sweetheart. I’ll make a joke of it. I’ll tell Ramsay to double his
infamous bills.” And Larimore Trench went forth to rob another rich man.


II

Later in the day Laura came to the apartment. It was a dreary February
morning and the outlook from the front windows was bleak and cheerless.
Eileen had sat for an hour contemplating the waste of sullen water,
and Judith had let her alone. She was thinking things out. She would
come to her sister for help when she needed it. At times the older
woman could follow her thought process by an intuition that was almost
uncanny. This morning not a glimmer of light came through. Scarcely had
Mrs. Ramsay disposed of her furs and selected her favourite rocker when
the girl began, her face whiter than usual and her lips compressed:

“Judith, I am going to tell her. I can’t go on feeling like a dirty
sneak.”

“You--what, Eileen?” Laura asked, her hazel eyes opening in wonder.

“May I, Judith? You know what I mean.”

“If you feel that it is right, dear. You know how it looks to you.”

“Then here goes! Mrs. Ramsay, you and your husband have been perfectly
splendid to me--and I owe it to you, not to have you go on this way any
longer. As far as your mother is concerned--she’s been a darling; but
I’ve paid that with my violin. I don’t need to tell her. But I do need
to tell you that I am not Mrs. Winthrop, and my husband didn’t drown
in that Alaska steamship disaster. I am Eileen Trench--and I never had
a husband....” She set her teeth hard, then went on heroically: “There
won’t be any name for the baby that comes, the first of May.”

“Eileen, are you mad! Judith, what has come over the girl?”

“No. It’s just cold facts. I’m not twenty years. I’ll be seventeen, the
last of March. Long before I was sixteen I was crazy mad in love with
a man. It was mostly my fault--that he wasn’t the hero I made him out,
I mean. We were engaged and we talked things over--things that aren’t
safe for a girl and a man to talk about before they are married. I
don’t need to tell you the rest.”

“And the contemptible cur deserted you?”

“Not exactly ... deserted. When we found out, he said at first that he
would be loyal, and would marry me after he got through with college.
To save my reputation, he wanted me to commit murder.”

“What did you say to him? How did you answer the cad?”

“I blacked his eye.”

The words fell cold and mirthless.

“I was going to kill myself, but Judith wouldn’t let me. She married
Lary, so that they could take--”

Laura Ramsay’s usually placid face took on an expression of intense
emotion. She rose to her feet and walked hurriedly to the window.

“If you are going to cut me off--well, that’s all the more reason why
I had to tell you,” Eileen said, following her. “It’s what I have to
expect.”

“But I don’t intend to cut you off, child. Judith, why couldn’t I do
for her what I did in Nelka’s case? Especially if it turns out to be a
little girl. Junior is wild for a sister--and it’s the only way I can
hope to get one for him. And of course I’d be game, if it were another
boy. Won’t you, Judith? I’m sure Griff would approve. Why--why, Eileen,
what is the matter?”

The girl had flung herself on her knees, her face in Judith’s lap,
her slender body shaken with sobs. When the paroxysm had passed, she
slipped to the floor and sat looking from one to the other with a wry
smile.

“There is only one stumbling block in the way, Mrs. Ramsay--and that’s
_me_. Judith and I are going to the sanitarium, the middle of April.
After the baby comes, I am to hand it over to her and forget about it.
Why, I can’t. I croon over it every night, in my dreams. When I’m wide
awake, I see him, a splendid man, thrilling audiences with his violin.
Wouldn’t I lose my head, some day--go raving mad and tell the whole
thing?”

“All the more reason why it should be in the nursery, out at Rye, where
you wouldn’t see it. Boy or girl, you must let me have it. The child
will be a musical genius,” Laura cried, her eyes beaming with expectant
mother-pride.


III

That night Judith talked it over with Lary. She had known, all along,
that the thought of this child, with the Marksley brand, filled him
with dread. The following day Laura came again, with a whole chest of
dainty things. She and her sister had made them before Junior’s coming,
and he was such a robust baby that they were outgrown before they had
been worn. Griff was as eager as she.

Gradually, as the weeks passed, Judith divorced herself from the
thought of the child. Had she a right, when the Ramsays offered
sanctuary to the nameless waif--especially in view of Eileen’s
preternatural mother-love, and the great loneliness that had been
Lary’s, before her coming? There might some day be a child of her own.
Her homesickness for Theodora gave her pause--and Theodora had not
twined tendrils of helplessness around her heart. Yes, it was best to
let Laura have the baby....



XXX Katharsis


I

March came, and the layette was practically finished. Judith Trench
looked up from her sewing to realize with a strange thrill that it was
just a year since first she heard the name of Springdale. She and Lary
would be going to the theatre, that evening. She wondered whether he
had remembered, when he got the tickets. Eileen was leaving for Rye on
an early afternoon train--indeed she must be well on the way, going
directly from Professor Auersbach’s studio. The train must pass Pelham
in a few minutes.

A year ago, Judith Ascott had gone out to Pelham with the buoyancy of
a toy balloon released from its tether, to break the epoch-making news
to her mother. Now the house at Pelham was in alien hands. Father was
still abroad, was still complaining of floating specks in the air and
a disheartening lack of appetite for breakfast. Mother was rapturous
over the new house Lary was building for her. Ben was eager to get back
to America, to try his hand at concrete construction. Jack thought he
wanted to be a landscape architect--with brother Lary to instruct him.
That would beat the Beaux Arts all hollow.

From one to another of the family, her mind flitted. Had they not
accepted Lary without reservation? Was not her own life complete? She
turned questioning eyes towards the door. A key in the outer lock. Had
Lary come home early ... remembering? Was he ill? The living-room door
opened, slowly, as if it were pushing some imponderable but deadly
weight. In an instant she was on her feet.

“Eileen! What has happened?”

The girl sank into the nearest chair and buried her face from sight.
After a moment she said, in a voice hollow and remote:

“There’s no use torturing you with suspense. I’m not hurt.”

“But something has happened to you--something dreadful.”

“Judith, you don’t need to go out of your way to hunt punishment, when
you’ve sinned. And you don’t need to dodge it, either. A little while
ago I would have thrown myself in front of a subway train, if I hadn’t
been a coward. Last summer I thought I had done something heroic. But
when I saw _him_, this afternoon--”

“Hal Marksley? Eileen!”

“Now you know the worst.” She nodded slowly. “If you’ll let me, Judith,
I’ll tell you from the beginning. I guess I’m like mamma in that, too.
She has to tell a thing all in one piece, or she loses the thread of
it. In the first place, I had a great lesson. I was the last, before
luncheon, and Professor Auersbach stopped to compliment me. It was the
first time. He explained the meaning of _hypsos_, the sublime reach of
spiritual exaltation--and he said it had come into my playing because
of what I had suffered. He talked like Syd Schubert. I went out of
the studio walking on air. I don’t know what I ate--or where. All I
remember is that I left too large a tip, because the change came out
wrong.

“I went to the Grand Central and bought a ticket. It was ever so long
before train time, but I thought I’d better scout around and see how to
get down to the tracks. You know, the construction people change the
route every few days. The first passage I tried had been barricaded. I
went half way up the stairs when I came face to face with three men.
The one in the middle was Hal.”

“He recognized you?”

“Not at first--and I hurried past them and into a side aisle. It was
a blind pocket, and before I could get out of it I heard him calling
my name. Judith, I was all alone. Hundreds of people within hearing,
and I was all alone with the man I loathe. It was like a nightmare--my
feet hobbled with ropes. Before I knew it, he had me in his arms and
was kissing me. I suppose I fainted. When I began to see things again,
we were in that little temporary waiting-room, and my head was on his
shoulder. I looked at him through a mist ... and every minute of last
summer rolled over me. It was a flood from a sewer. They say you review
your life when you are about to die. You don’t need any hell after
that.”

When the tumultuous beating of her heart subsided a little, she went
on:

“He wanted to call a taxicab and take me to a hotel. I didn’t get his
meaning at first. When I did--life came back to me. I suppose the
people around us thought we were a married couple, having our first
public quarrel. Once he looked at me with a leer and said: ‘So you were
mistaken about what you told me, the first of September--or else you
took my advice’. I told him I was mistaken about a good many things,
last summer. Then he said he had gone to the studio to look me up,
after his sister wrote him that I was studying music in New York, and
the secretary said there was no one enrolled there by the name of
Trench. He chuckled and said I was a smart kid, and he had half a mind
to take me with him to Rio.”

“Rio?”

“Yes. He hasn’t been at Pratt Institute at all. He flunked his entrance
exams. He didn’t let his people know, but has been taking all the money
they’d sent him. Has a position in a Brazilian importing house, and has
been studying Portuguese all winter. They are sending him down there in
an important place--and he hopes he’ll never see this ratty old country
again. He even said he’d marry me, if ...”

“And there was no return of the old ardour?”

“No, Judith, only a slick disgust.”


II

They were still talking when Larimore came home, surprised and a shade
annoyed when he found that Eileen was there. He had but two tickets,
and he wanted to be alone with his wife.

“Don’t tell him,” the girl whispered when he left the room to dress
for dinner. “He is just beginning to respect me a little. I so want
his--respect.”

When dinner was over she went to her room. No, she was not ill. She
only wanted to be alone. If Lary had planned an evening at the theatre,
thinking that she would spend the night at Rye, there was no reason for
a change in his plans. She was glad they were going out, so that she
might be alone. She knew the meaning of _hypsos_, now that she had made
the descent, within the brief space of an hour, from that height to
_bathos_, the lowest depth of sordid physical reality. She wanted to
play again the winged notes that had carried her beyond the farthest
reach of her own being--to purge her soul of the earth-taint that was
in her.

“You are perfectly sure you are all right?” Judith asked when she told
her good-night. “You won’t brood or cry?”

“No, I am past all that. When you strike bottom--there isn’t any
farther to go.”


III

After the play there was a little supper, and then the long ride in the
taxicab. It was nearing two o’clock when Judith looked into Eileen’s
room. The bed was empty. In swift alarm she turned, to catch a faint
cry from the bathroom.

“I came in here to get some hot water--and--I couldn’t get back,” the
girl groaned, striving to make light of a desperate situation.

“Oh, it was heartless of me to leave you alone, at such a time.”

“Not at all. I’ve had a wonderful evening. I took my violin ... and we
worked it out together. I went to bed and slept like a rock until--oh,
oh!”

“Lary!” Judith cried in fright, “telephone for a doctor. Eileen is
dreadfully ill.” The tortured girl had striven to rise, but fell back
convulsed on the rug.

When Larimore had carried her to her bed, he said huskily:

“Only this evening, when we were going out, I was thinking how
fortunate it was to have a doctor here in the apartment. He came up in
the elevator with us. He may not care to take this kind of case, but--”

“Lary, you must be mistaken. It’s not to be for almost two months.
And if you were right--wouldn’t it be over by this time? She’s been
suffering two hours.”

“The first one is often premature. Eileen is a highly emotional
nature. And I suspected at dinner that something was wrong. As to the
duration--no one can gauge that. I was with my mother for three hours
before Theodora was born. My father was out of town, and mamma wouldn’t
have Sylvia around. Bob had been sent for the nurse, and there was
nothing to do but wait. Dr. Schubert knew my mother’s habits. He said
there was no hurry.” They had reached the outer door of the apartment,
his hand on the knob. “In those three hours, Judith, I was transformed
from a sentimental boy to a morbid, cynical man. Syd has tried to
change my viewpoint; but all his reasoning is empty. He will never be
called upon to bear children.”

A few minutes later he returned with the physician, in bathrobe and
slippers. It was almost morning before a nurse arrived; but one of the
maids was herself a mother, and intelligent help was not wanting. After
an hour Lary led his wife from the room.

“Sweetheart, you can’t help her, and you are enduring every pang she
suffers. Her pain is mostly physical now. Yours is both physical and
mental. You must not squander your strength. We will need it for the
harder part to come. Won’t you lie down and try to sleep?”

“Sleep! when the most terribly significant thing in the world is under
way? How can we grow so callous? I never realized the marvel of life
until now. I must go through every heart-throb of it. I need it! I will
have more pity for your mother, more toleration for my own mother, more
love for you, Lary--if there is any more.”

Larimore Trench closed his eyes, bitter self-abasement surging through
his being. He had never been at grips with life. Nay, rather, he had
turned from it in a superior attitude of disdain. He would not touch
the woman he loved. She was too holy for his coward’s hands.


IV

As the grey dawn was breaking over the snow-whitened Hudson, the nurse
aroused the two who dozed in their chairs in the living-room.

“You’d better come,” she said excitedly. “Mrs. Winthrop isn’t going to
hold out.”

At the door the physician waved them back. Judith caught a glimpse of
Eileen’s deathlike face and she ran sobbing down the hall. A long time
she stood, her husband’s cherishing arms around her. Then a petulant
wail from the room at the end of the long hall told them it was over.

At noon a letter to David was posted.

  “You must be prepared for the worst. Early this morning a little girl
  came. It weighs less than four pounds. The doctor says, considering
  its premature condition, the extreme youth of the mother, and the
  circumstances of delivery, there is not one chance in ten that it
  will survive. We are more concerned for the mother. I will telegraph
  you, only in case of extremity.”


V

Laura Ramsay had come, in response to a long-distance call, and she and
Judith stood beside the nurse when, after twelve hours of earth-life,
the unformed morsel of humanity gave up the struggle.

It was not until the following morning that they told Eileen her baby
had died. Lary was with them. He had looked for a passionate outburst.
He could not fathom her mood as she lay, quite tranquil, on her pillow,
a smile gathering radiance in her deepset eyes.

“It’s the only way,” she said at length. “I’m glad it won’t have to
face life--with such a handicap. It’s better for all of us.”

Lary stooped and kissed her. He wondered why women were so much
stronger than men, why, in most of life’s crises, they must bear the
shock.



XXXI A New Hilltop


I

Eileen’s strength returned slowly. It was the middle of April before
she ventured out to Rye, a pallid wraith of her former self. Griff and
Laura were afraid for her ... a fear that was transformed into action
by the potent chemistry of a woman’s mind.

“Round up a bunch of Lary’s patrons,” Mrs. Ramsay said in her decisive
way, “and convince them that they ought to send him abroad to buy
furnishings for their new homes. He and Judith can take Eileen along.
The sea voyage will--”

“Capital!” Griff cut in. “Only yesterday I had Parkinson on my neck for
an hour, howling about the difficulty of getting draperies and rugs for
the stunning place Lary has made of his old junk heap. Commissioned a
fellow in Paris to send him some things and--Lord love us! You should
have seen the consignment! It wasn’t the price. But Parkinson hates to
be laughed at, when he’s been stung.”

“Lary’s orderly mind would take care of the needs of a dozen men like
Parkinson, and it would give him a chance to see Europe--right!”


II

Thus it came about that on a serene May morning Judith Trench dismissed
the maids, closed the apartment and set her face towards the rising
sun. For her it was the real adventure. She had looked at Europe so
often. Now she would see through the shell, with Lary’s eyes.

At the Cherbourg pier Mr. Denslow met them. Mamma and the boys could
hardly wait to see Judith’s new husband. But after a week Lary’s
importance was blurred, sent into almost complete occultation, as
Eileen’s vivid youth asserted itself. Ben was her slave from the first.
The night after they left her in Brussels, to have a few lessons with
Ysaye, and Lary and Judith set forth on their real honeymoon, he
confided to his mother that he was going to add another Trench to the
Denslow family, as soon as he was sure he could earn a living for two.

“Have you asked her?” Mrs. Denslow quizzed.

“No. She thinks I’m a boy. You might tell her that I’m nearly five
years older than she. I thought I’d grow whiskers--to impress her.”


III

From Antwerp to Munich, from Venice to Constantinople, and thence by
boat to Naples and the eastern coast of Spain, Lary and the other half
of his being wandered, too happy to remember the fiery ordeal wherein
their severed selves had been fused again. When they reached Paris, the
middle of August, a great pile of letters awaited them. Lary thrust one
of them into his inside pocket. It was from his mother. Another he tore
open with eager fingers. A moment later he handed it to Judith, his
eyes shining. It bore the signature of a discriminating editor:

  “I never knew why Renaissance art, with all its brilliance and charm,
  was unsatisfying to me, until I read your keenly analytical essay.
  We would be glad to consider a series of essays, covering other
  architectural periods and styles.”

Mr. Denslow read the letter with indifference, but the accompanying
check had weight. He was coming to believe that his daughter had made
a first-rate investment when she went to look after her interests in
Olive Hill, and incidentally acquired a husband who could make good in
New York in six months.

Judith followed Lary to his room, whither he had retreated to read
the letters from home. One glance at his face satisfied her that all
was not well. A moment he wavered, on the point of thrusting that
disturbing letter out of sight. Then he recognized, in his feeling, not
loyalty to his mother but a raw personal chagrin. Judith was his wife.
She had earned the right to share even his humiliation. Yet he dared
not look at her while she read the closely written pages.

His father was breaking. It was his duty to come home and assume
the burden, now that the reason for his absence from Springdale,
with Judith and Eileen, had been removed by an unhoped-for act of
Providence. The building of a great place like the Marksley home was
too much for David, who never could shoulder responsibility. She had
tried to fire his ambition--make him see how proud he ought to be, to
get a chance to put up such fine buildings. It was wasted breath. He
went about as if he had a sack of concrete on his shoulders. He would
certainly have to forfeit money on the contract. She was outdone with
him, and must have help.

“Dearest, cable your father to throw over that contract, no matter what
it costs. Can’t she see that his soul is being ground--because of you
and Eileen?”

“I couldn’t send such a cablegram, dear. I didn’t want ever to see
Springdale again. You and Eileen can stay on here with your mother.”

“But, Lary, I shouldn’t mind Springdale. David and Theo are there--and
an arbour with a summer house--and Indian Summer coming. It would be
worth all the rest ... a cheap price to pay, for another such afternoon
as we had last November, on the road to Littlefield. Is it always as
glorious as that, Lary?”

“Usually, but not always. I remember, once when I was a young boy,
there was no frost at all until the first week of December. The
glorious tints and that silver haze in the air are the result of a
heavy frost that catches the foliage in full sap. But that year--it was
the winter Theo was born--the trees were a sickly gray-green, and all
the shrubs and vines looked as if they were suffering from some wasting
disease. The leaves had shrivelled, and still they clung. The morning
after the frost they fell like rain. Within three days the branches
were stark and bare. It was absolutely startling.”

“You had no crimson and gold, no chiffon webs on the grass?”

“Not that year. It was an open winter, with a frost late in the spring,
that killed all the fruit. Don’t set your heart on--I mean, dear, don’t
go back to Springdale ... just for the Indian Summer.”

“I was going, Lary, to comfort your father.”


IV

That evening they told Mrs. Denslow that they would book passage for an
early return to New York. And that lady, whose plans had been changed
so often within the past year, was glad to have her shifting course
in life directed by some one with a real necessity. They would all go
home together, especially as Ben was eager to get to work. Not at his
instance, but rather because the girl promised relief from the boredom
that had begun to weigh heavy on her, Mrs. Denslow urged Eileen to
spend the winter in New York.

“Papa’s health is failing. He needs me,” was the eminently satisfactory
reply. To Judith the girl confided another reason. The apartment
overlooking the Hudson held memories she did not wish to revive. She
was done with that chapter of her story. She had climbed, with bleeding
feet, to a hilltop ... and the future lay misty with promise before
her.



Book Three

Belated Frost



XXXII Lavinia Flounders


I

It was like the home-coming of a national hero. The college paper
and the little local daily had announced that Miss Eileen Trench had
played at a private audience with the King of Belgium--the paragraph
inspired by her mother, when one of the letters from Brussels brought
the humorous announcement that His Majesty had stopped his motor car in
front of her window while she was practicing a brilliant Chopin number.

Judith thought the crowd was at the station as a tribute to Lary’s
recent triumphs. And Lary thought, bitterly, that his New York success
had won him the plaudits of his native town. Theodora told them both
the truth, on the way home. She was afraid too much adulation would
turn Eileen’s head.

At first they did not miss David in the throng. A year ago he and
Theodora had stood alone on the little station platform. Judith knew
why he was not there now. Eileen knew, too, and her eyes darkened with
suffering. He was at the gate as they approached. Lary caught his
breath sharply, as he took in the shrunken figure and the mournful
eyes. Eileen leaped from the cab and ran to greet him.

“Papa, darling!”

He looked at her as one awakening from deep sleep. Then all at once
the smile broke ... it spread, like ripples on the surface of a placid
pool. Every emotion of his heart was recorded on that transparent face.
The blue eyes beamed with incredible joy, as he held out his arms.

“It’s my little girl. I thought I had lost you.”

“No, daddy dear, it’s only that I have found myself.”

Lavinia hurried into the house. She could not bear such spectacles in
public. What would the neighbours think?


II

The following day an astounding thing came to pass. The president of
the college and the dean of the musical faculty called on Miss Trench.
They wanted to offer her a position in the conservatory. Naturally
it could not be an actual professorship. A seventeen-year-old girl
... without a degree. They thought she might give recitals in the
neighbouring towns, and take pupils in advanced technique. It would
mean much to the college to announce an instructor who had studied
with the great Ysaye. No one need know how young she was. Indeed she
was altogether different from the immature girl they remembered--quite
dignified and impressive. Marvellously changed.

“If they knew what changed her,” Mrs. Trench reflected, her gorge
rising, “they wouldn’t be flattering her this way.” It was a mistake
to tell that about the King of Belgium. She hadn’t thought about the
effect on Eileen. Of late she blundered at every turn. Somehow things
were slipping out of her grasp.

After they had gone, Eileen ran breathless to Vine Cottage to tell
Judith. She could not contemplate any step without that guidance or
approval.

“Lary will be pleased. This will put an end to your mother’s plan of
having you enter the freshman class next Monday. But ... Eileen, I have
an idea. You are not going to stop studying. I wonder if you and I
couldn’t--I’m a horribly uneducated person.”

“With Lary for tutor, you mean? Well, in the first place, my brother’s
no salesman when it comes to the things he knows. He can lay them out
on the counter and let you pick what you want. What I want most is
Latin. And he thinks it is bald and plebeian, compared with Greek. Syd
reads Horace, in the original, to rest him when he’s tired and can’t
get his mind off of the sick babies and their fool mothers. I’m crazy
to translate Ovid and--”

“Syd’s just the thing. Don’t tell Lary, but I foundered on the Greek
alphabet. It simply wouldn’t stick in my memory. I substituted organic
chemistry. My classicist husband would be disgusted.”

“Lary’s a prig--and I love him! Judith, it was worth it--just to get
acquainted with my brother.”


III

From Vine Cottage she went to the office for David’s stamp of approval.
She had once called her father a rubber stamp. She thought of it now,
with stinging chagrin. Would not he serve as her anchor, as Judith had
been her pilot? Had she anything to fear? As she walked past the clump
of shrubbery on the campus, where Hal Marksley had kissed her that
first time, she thought with a thrill of exultation that her craft had
outrun the storm.

From her father’s arms she hurried to Dr. Schubert’s office to tell
the joyful and as yet half apprehended news. And the man who had heard
her first shrill cry of protest against the life that was not of her
choosing, drew her to him and kissed her. The act was paternal. She
had always been more at home with him than with those of her own blood.

“Poor old Syd,” she beamed, “he doesn’t know what he’s in for.” And
Sydney, coming through the laboratory door with a microscope slide in
one hand and a bottle of red colouring fluid in the other, put up his
mouth for the customary salutation.

“No more of that, old fellow. I’m a young lady now. Besides you’re
going to be my preceptor, and it’s bad form for the dominie to kiss
his pupils. You’re to teach Judith and me, and you couldn’t bestow
osculations on one and not on the other. Now could you?”

“I should think Judith would be lovely to kiss.”

“She is ... but you and Lary can’t go out in the alley and fight duels.
And while we are on the subject--you and Papa Schubert are ages behind
the times--with all your X-rays and bacteriological tests. In Europe
they have decided that kissing is unsanitary. Disease germs are carried
that way.”

“Yes,” the elder assented, “the dangerous little amorococcus is usually
conveyed from lip to lip.”

Syd changed the subject. He had never been seriously touched by love.
But he thought the shaft of his father’s playful humour might carry a
poisoned barb for the girl. He demanded, with a grimace:

“Why don’t you take me into your confidence about the preceptorship?
What do you need to learn ... after Brussels and Paris?”

“We had thought about Latin--and anything else you happen to have
in your system that would help us to shine as intellectuals. But,
seriously, Syd, I want you to do one thing for me. Get this _teaching_
idea across to me. You remember how you gave me the legato--when Prexie
Irwin was making us whack the strings with the bow--everything jumpy
staccato, don’t you remember? And how you showed me, in five minutes,
how to produce the singing tones? I know how to do it; but you’ll have
to show me how to teach the other fellow.”


IV

When the door had closed behind her, Dr. Schubert said jubilantly:

“The child isn’t spoiled a bit. I’ve been afraid she’d come home
sophisticated and world-wise. She’s just an innocent girl, in spite of
her long skirts.”

“Yes,” Sydney said, with a catch in his throat, “she’s as pure and fair
as a May morning--and the fairest mornings are always the ones that
follow the darkest nights. Father, couldn’t you trump up some excuse
to bring her here to stay with us ... keep her away from her mother as
much as possible?”

“Curious, Syd, but I was going to speak to you about that very thing.
David came to me, when he knew Eileen was coming home and asked me--oh,
it was tough for him to do it. He’s so damnably loyal! Don’t you think
we could fit up the room next to Nanny’s, so that the child could sleep
here, the nights when she’s going to have early classes at the college?
It’s a shame to deprive David of even that much of her company. But
we’ll make it up to him in ways his wife doesn’t suspect--if we can
inject enough guile into him to enable him to play his part without
fumbling. He feels that she must, _must_ be kept away from her mother.”

“What is the trouble with David?” Syd asked abruptly. “You’ve doped him
on tonics all summer, and he doesn’t improve in the least.”

“The climacteric--and his wife’s merciless tongue. David is
approaching fifty. A man’s mental and physical being undergoes a subtle
change in that year. It’s not so crucial as the grand climacteric--the
transformation from manhood to age--that comes at sixty-three. You
young doctors will be telling us that it is an exploded theory; but
I have followed it for forty years. To a sensitive chap like David
Trench, it’s serious. Just this year, when he ought to be coddled and
petted, his wife seasons his food with gall and puts a dash of aqua
fortis in his tea.

“I’ve ordered him to sleep in a room by himself, with the door locked,
so that she couldn’t wake him up with her nagging and upbraiding. I
told her, point-blank, that she was killing him--and she did what I
might have expected.”

“Yes, she ‘slipped from under’ by writing Lary that she was being
terribly set upon by his father, and it was his duty to come home.
Father”--Syd’s blue eyes blazed--“why didn’t David take a riding whip
to his wife the first time she--”

The man who could look beneath sex interrupted with an impatient
gesture.

“David is a woman. More than that, Sydney, Mrs. Trench is a
man--trapped in a woman’s body. When nature makes a blunder like that,
there’s usually the devil to pay. I have to keep reminding myself of
that fact--or I’d be in danger of poisoning Lavinia Trench.”



XXXII The Statue and the Bust


I

Autumn was on the threshold of winter when Lavinia decided that things
had to take a turn. Eileen was spending three mornings a week at the
college, which necessitated her absence from home practically half
the time. She was uniformly polite and gentle with her mother, an
attitude that was not wholly the result of Judith’s stern schooling.
Under the whip of her own discipline, she sought to round off the rough
corners, to modulate her voice and temper her diction. Her outbursts of
picturesque speech were reserved for Dr. Schubert and Syd, with Nanny
in the background, shaking her ample sides with adoring laughter. Now
there would be a fortnightly concert trip, and some elective work in
the academic department, which promised further separation from the
chilly atmosphere of her home.

“Judith, I want to have a talk with you,” Mrs. Trench began, and
the stern set of her jaw left no doubt that the interview would be
unpleasant. “I don’t like the way Eileen is acting.”

“Every one else does.” Judith sought to be impersonal. She had been
expecting some such outburst and had framed a line of defence, against
a possible attack.

“That’s just it! Everybody in Springdale thinks she has done something
fine in going away to New York and Europe, and coming back here to
teach in the college before she’s even been a student. You are making a
rank hypocrite of her.”

“I?”

“Yes, you--who else but you? You did the whole thing. I am sure
Larimore is as disgusted as I am; but he doesn’t dare to say--”

“We won’t discuss my relations with my husband.”

Lavinia’s face flamed scarlet and she tugged at the collar of her
elaborate silk waist. But speech was not wanting, for more than the
fraction of a second.

“Well, I want to know what other wild-goose schemes you have for her.”

Judith shifted impatiently in her chair. “You have a grievance. I wish
you would be specific. Eileen is surely not causing you any anxiety.
She is growing into a beautiful young woman and she has the respect of
the entire community.”

“Respect! Yes!” The words crackled. “The whole town respects her. You
can’t see what that means. You have no religion and no moral sense of
your own. For a girl to do what she did--and then walk right back here
into a position that she never would have had, if she’d been a good
girl, is a positive slur on religion.”

Judith gasped. She wanted to laugh--to take her mother-in-law by the
shoulders and shake her. But Lavinia had not done speaking:

“It says in the Bible--”

“It says a good many things in the Bible. You take from it what appeals
to you--and shape your religion to suit your own needs.”

Lavinia was not slow to catch an idea that could be stopped by the mesh
of her mental net. Her son’s philosophy usually passed through without
leaving a fragment. But this idea was large enough to be arrested.
Two facts conspired to give it substance and form. For his Sunday
sermon, the minister had combined a passage from Isaiah with another
from the Epistle to the Hebrews. And--wholly unrelated, but subtly
significant--Lavinia had just finished an elaborate gelatine dessert
for dinner.

“You mean that we pick from the Bible what we want and fit it together.”

“Practically that. We can’t get anything out of a book unless we have
in our own minds the vessels to carry away the meaning. A cult or a
religion is nothing more than the solidifying of a group of ideas. The
Christian religion--”

“Like lemon jelly in a mould,” the woman said, thinking aloud. Then,
arousing herself to the business at hand, she pursued: “That may be all
true enough about religion; but it has nothing to do with Eileen, and
the way she’s acting.”

“I asked you to be definite. What has she done that displeased you?”

“Staying at Dr. Schubert’s, three nights in the week--with no woman
there except a housekeeper. What will the neighbours say?”

“Have you heard them say anything?”

“No, but they’re likely to. I’m sure I’d think it was queer if Ina
Stevens--”

“I wouldn’t suggest it to them. And another thing--I wouldn’t say a
word to Eileen--if I were you. She is doing so well that it would break
Lary’s heart to have her thrown back on the old life. There is only one
danger, as he sees it. She has a strong vein of stubbornness in her
nature.”

“Yes, she gets that from her father,” Lavinia snapped.

“No, she doesn’t get it from her father. There is no obstinacy in
father, except his stubborn clinging to his ideals. You can’t deal with
Eileen as you did with Sylvia, and you’ll play havoc with her if you
try.”

“No! Sylvia never caused me a moment’s anxiety in her life.”

Judith ignored the palpable falsehood. “You must know that Eileen
couldn’t have finer moral influence than that of Dr. Schubert and his
son. And my faithful Nanny is no ordinary servant. She was more to me
than my own mother, when I was a girl.”

The innocent remark was flint and steel, with Lavinia’s powder heap in
dangerous proximity. “I suppose your mother was _delighted_ with that.
But of course she was a rich woman, and glad to be rid of the moral
training of her children. I can say for myself that I never shirked
my duty--and I don’t intend to hand it over to you or Nanny or Dr.
Schubert now. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t say a word about this;
but it’s grinding my heart out. I can’t stand it any longer.”

“Mother, I don’t follow you at all. I asked you to be frank with me.”

“Very well, I’ll put it so plain that you can’t pretend you don’t
understand. How would you feel if you had a daughter, and some
stranger came along and took that girl’s life clear out of your hands?
I haven’t a word to say about her. She runs to you for all sorts of
things--clothes--as if I wouldn’t know what was stylish or becoming.
If she’s in doubt about what to do, she talks it over with Larimore or
Syd. When anything comes along to make her proud, she tells her father.
She talks to Theodora by the hour about the things she saw when she was
abroad--and she never tells me one thing. I’m simply shut out on every
side, and it’s killing me!” She burst into hysterical weeping.

“I’m so sorry, mother. I hadn’t realized. Perhaps if you weren’t always
so short and critical with her--”

“Oh, I’m to go down on my knees to her? Indeed I won’t. As long as she
is under eighteen, she takes her orders from me. She’ll go to the dogs,
with all this flattery and praise--”

“The surest way to ruin Eileen is to take that attitude towards her.”

“Well, she is _my_ child, and I have a right to do with her as I
please.”

“No--you--have--not!” Judith’s eyes flashed and her voice was hoarse
with indignation. “Rather than permit you to wreck her chance for
happiness, I’ll send her to Laura Ramsay--or even to my mother.”


II

Lavinia fled weeping through the door. She would tell Larimore how his
wife had insulted her. Unfortunately he was in New York. At least she
could write to him ... and the letter had distinct advantages. She
would be spared interruption. Larimore always broke the point of her
lance before she had time to drive it home. She wrote. She read the
long letter through twice--and tore it into shreds. A second letter
followed the first one. Then it was time to go down to luncheon.

When the noonday meal was over, and David and Theo had gone, she went
again to Vine Cottage. Judith was in the library, an open volume of
Browning on the table before her. Her face was pale and her eyes showed
flecks of hazel.

“We had a misunderstanding this morning, my dear, and I don’t want to
leave things that way.” The words came with a brave show of confidence,
but Lavinia Trench looked like a corpse, an automaton that was made to
speak by a force other than its own. “I am going to ask you to forgive
me, and help me as you did Eileen.”

“Oh, mother!” The cry was from her heart.

“I knew you would be surprised. I never apologized to any one in my
life. I’ve been fighting it for a week. When I said those things, this
morning, it was to keep from saying what--what I’m going to say now.
Since Eileen came home, I’ve been going over my life. David said she
had missed the path, and you showed her the right way. I am the most
unhappy woman in the world. If you could do that for Eileen, you could
do it for me.”

It was a challenge, flung like a pelting of hail stones. Judith looked
at her with troubled gaze. How could she deal with a mentality so
different from her own? Eileen was young, and Eileen loved her. That
her mother-in-law cordially detested her, she could not doubt.

“You know I would gladly....”

“It’s all perfectly simple--excepting two points. By all the rules
of right and wrong, Eileen ought to be a miserable girl, broken in
soul and body--and not respected by good people. It doesn’t make a
particle of difference that she hid her wickedness. God knows what she
did, and it is God that punishes sin. Instead of that, she comes back
here better in every way than she was before. She’s prettier now than
Sylvia. She used to be cross and hateful most of the time. Now she
laughs and sings and whistles till I wish she would pout for a change.
She sits up and discusses the most serious topics with grown men and
women--and you know how she used to rattle slang, and sneer at people
who were serious.”

“Her experience developed her marvellously. It might have wrecked
her, just as a powerful dose of medicine might destroy your body, if
administered in the wrong way. It was fearful medicine, but it was what
her sick mind needed.”

“That takes care of one of the points,” Lavinia cried, her black eyes
dilating. “You call it medicine. I saw it only as the consequences of
sin.”

“The name doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, the name does matter. I want to get this thing down in black and
white. All my life I have been discontented. It’s just one crushing
disappointment after another. Eileen was the same way. I never used
to think she was like me--but in some respects she is. I had a chance
to marry the son of the richest man in town. But I have always been
virtuous and upright--”

“Mother, perhaps if you--”

“Don’t interrupt me. I have to say this all at once, while it’s
connected. You call Eileen’s discontentment and rebellious nature a
kind of disease. Well then, I had the same disease, and she got it from
me. After my grandmother died, there wasn’t one in the family that
understood me. And the man I was engaged to--” She brought her teeth
together, as if she were biting off and forcing back the words that
strove to assert themselves in spite of her. “I threw him over, when I
found out that he was an unprincipled scoundrel, like Hal Marksley. If
I had gone on, as she did--but I never could have done such a thing.”

“Probably not. You were brought up in a provincial New York town. You
were hedged about by customs and convictions that don’t obtain in
Springdale, or among Eileen’s associates. You must make allowance for
that.”

Lavinia sidestepped the interruption. “Eileen was sick--and God picked
out a remedy that I thought God, in His purity, wouldn’t know anything
about. I was taught that it was the devil that--well, I’ve been
figuring that she had to come to grief, because she went over to Satan.
That’s the only way I could square things with my religious training. I
don’t believe, now, that she will ever be punished. That shows that it
was God and not the devil that did it. I’m willing to admit that I was
mistaken, if you’ll show me how to find happiness.”

“It isn’t a recipe, like the ingredients for a cake. And you must
remember that I didn’t prescribe the remedy, in Eileen’s case. I only
nursed her, after she had taken it. I haven’t the faintest idea why you
are unhappy.”

“And I would have to tell you the whole story?”

“I wouldn’t pry into your heart. I would do anything in my power to
give you peace. You are Lary’s mother. I have never overlooked my
obligation to you.”


III

Lavinia took from the words an implication more humiliating than her
daughter-in-law had intended. But this was no time for recrimination.
She must hold on to herself. The canker in her heart had eaten so deep
that help must come, or she would go mad. Mechanically she reached
for the volume on the table. Her mind went back to those first years
in Springdale, when she had conned Browning in an effort to shine in
Mrs. Henderson’s club. Was it indeed for this that she had memorized
poems, delved in abstruse literary criticism--that she might win Mrs.
Henderson’s approbation? One half of her knew that it was not, while
the other half as stoutly denied an ulterior motive for this, or for
any other deliberate act of her life.

While she was giving the attic its annual overhauling, she had come
upon the yellow files of the Bromfield Sentinel, the edges broken like
pie crust. She had read again the spirited account of the meeting at
which Mrs. David Trench was elected secretary of the most intellectual
club in Springdale. Who was there in her girlhood home for whom this
triumph would provide a thrill of gratification or a sting of envy?
Ellen knew all about it. Isabel had long since removed to California.
Her mother was dead. The girls of her social circle? The Browning craze
had not invaded Bromfield, and there was not one among her old friends
for whose opinion she cared a straw.


IV

She came back to herself with a start. “The Statue and the Bust,” she
muttered. “We did that one, the winter before Isabel was born. I had
to drop out--and Mrs. Henderson sent me her notes. It was a shockingly
immoral thing, for the wife of a college president--a Presbyterian
minister, at that. I never had quite the same opinion of her, after I
read those notes. She said the lady who sat at the window and watched
for the duke to ride by--would have been less wicked if she had
actually run away with him. She said it was just as bad to want to
commit sin as to actually commit it--”

“Yes, if they restrained themselves only because of fear of the
consequences. There is no virtue in that kind of repression.”

To Lavinia Trench everything was personal. She turned the thought over
in her mind ... “afraid of the consequences” ... “no virtue in that
kind of repression.” Her whole life had been one of repression. Mrs.
Henderson had stressed the lines:

  “And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost
    Is the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin,
  Though the end in sight was a vice, I say.”

“That isn’t my idea of sin. At least it wasn’t, until....” She trailed
off into incoherence, thumbing the pages nervously. “Judith, do you
think a woman--a married woman--could go on caring for some other
man--” She struggled with the obstruction in her throat. “I mean the
bride of Riccardi, in the poem. I can’t see how caring, and just
thinking how much she would like to be with him--was--wrong. She didn’t
commit any act of sin--didn’t break the seventh commandment.”

“In the eyes of the world she was a virtuous woman. In her own
heart she was an unsatisfied wanton. She added hypocrisy to the sin
of desire, and on that hypocrisy she wrecked her only chance for
happiness.”


V

Once before, Judith had attempted to implant an abstract idea in
Mrs. Trench’s mind. Now she was betrayed into a discussion of moral
responsibility, with no intent other than that of bridging over
a trying period of her none too comfortable relations with her
mother-in-law. That Lavinia would carry away even a germ of an idea,
she did not suspect. She had merely reiterated what Mrs. Henderson
had said, twenty years ago. As yet she had not fully perceived, in
that warped mind, one dominating characteristic: the ability to find
justification for anything that seemed desirable. True, Eileen had
said--but Eileen was not always fair in her old-time strictures on her
mother.

Judith looked at the abject figure, the pallid face and the hard mouth
... and pity overmastered her. She wanted to say something comforting.
The door was shut, the discussion ended. Lavinia sat there, pondering.
It was all so different from the groundwork of her religious training.
Probably Browning and Judith and Mrs. Henderson were wrong. To her
literal mind, their idea could not accord with the stern dictum: “The
wages of sin is death.” Still, their theory would serve to explain
Eileen. In her pondering, she went the length of formulating the
postulate: “Eileen sinned and became happy. Her sin was the source of
her regeneration.”

There must be something to it. She, Vine Larimore, had been
virtuous--and disaster had overtaken her. Lettie Fournier had sinned
... and for all the years of her subsequent life she had worn the
name of Calvin Stone. That this distinction brought her rival scant
happiness, was beside the point. The transgression of the moral law
was the barrier which both Lettie and Eileen had passed to the kind of
satisfaction that had been denied her. Judith had not told her of the
days and nights of self-purging. She saw only externals, and these were
all in favour of the Browning theory. After a long interval she said:

“Would you mind telling her--Eileen--that I want her to come to me? You
know better how to get hold of her. She thinks I don’t love her--that
I’m partial to Sylvia. I do love her ... and I want her at home with
me, where I can study her. It will be bitter enough dose for me to take
my lesson from her. But I am willing to do it, if she can show me the
way to happiness.” She looked incredibly old and tired and hopeless.
“And would you mind lending me your copy of Browning? I want to read
‘The Statue and the Bust’ through. Sylvia took mine with her when she
moved to Detroit. I didn’t think I would ever look at it again.”



XXXIV Lavinia’s Credo


I

“Sister Judy,” Jack Denslow called, “there’s a bully fire down the
avenue. Come and watch the motor engine go by. Good-bye, old horse,
your day is done.”

Judith Trench crossed to the window and stood beside her young brother;
but her mind was not on the marvel of metal and speed that had gone
from sight almost before its clanging bell-note reached her ears.
Another fifth of March. A year ago ... Eileen ... there, in that very
room. And now.... Did Eileen remember? Did any of the family remember?
She and Lary had spent the winter in New York, going to Springdale only
when business demanded, and each brief visit brought its fresh surprise.

With the Marksley contract off his hands, David improved in health so
rapidly that he had long since ceased to be a source of anxiety. Eileen
and her mother had effected an _entente cordiale_ which apparently
worked well for both. The woman who had wrought the bridge, however
frail and inadequate, over which mother and daughter might pass to an
understanding hitherto unknown in their association, reflected with
grave misgivings that the bridge was not the end of the journey.

Once she was on the point of telling Lary about his mother, their sharp
dispute and the subsequent ethical discussion. The change in Lavinia,
since that day, was so marked that the neighbours made comment. The
woman who had spent her mature years surging from officious sweetness
to the most violent outbursts of temper, went about in a state of
tranquil meditation that could not be accounted for by anything
external to herself. There was none of the rapturous devotion to David
that had characterized her return from Bromfield; but at least she was
not unkind. Of all those who watched her, only Judith could surmise
what was going on in her mind. Might it be that Lavinia had achieved
her Indian Summer without the killing frost? Had there, perhaps, been a
revision of her _credo_ from the simple tenets of the catechism to the
complex philosophy of Robert Browning? Judith shivered as she faced the
thought and its possible consequences.

She had told the troubled woman that sin consisted, not in action,
but in desire. Could Lavinia, literal-minded and creed-ridden, handle
a concept so foreign to her convictions? Had Lary’s mother torn away
the solid foundation of her existence, and was she building again--a
substructure that would sustain her through the barren years to come?
Could this be done, at Lavinia’s age and with the rigid material of
Lavinia’s soul? Would the house of her being come crashing down, when
she sought to shift from what she had been to what she hoped to be?

Judith was glad when Lary told her, that evening, that he must return
to Springdale. Her mother-in-law might seek counsel of her, in the
privacy of the library where their two natures had clashed again and
yet again. All the tedious journey to the West, she turned over in her
mind a working corollary to that elusive proposition, the nature of
sin. How tenuous, how like shifting sand, the thought-mass on which our
concrete actions must rest! Had she any assurance that her conception
of duty, of principle, of right-thinking, was better for humanity than
the set of fatuous concepts she had sought to displace?


II

If Lavinia had need of help, she gave no token. She was at the station
to meet them, and she was bursting with a secret. There had been no
mention of it in her letters, because one could not be sure about such
things--and telling them in advance was likely to spoil the charm. Then
she sealed her lips until they were well within the discreet walls of
Vine Cottage.

“Of course I may be mistaken; but unless I miss my guess, there’s going
to be a wedding before you go back to New York.”

“A wedding? Some one I have met?”

“There! I was sure you didn’t suspect. Though how you could have helped
it--the way Syd acted, when you were here the end of January--”

“Dear old Syd! I hope he has fallen in love wisely. It would go hard
with him if he should blunder.”

“I’m sure it will be all right. The difference in age doesn’t
matter--and you know he will make her a noble husband. If only she
doesn’t get some foolish notion of telling him all that wretched
affair. I tried to caution her, in a roundabout way; but you know how
stubborn Eileen is.”

“Eileen!” Judith dropped a handful of toilet articles on the dressing
table and sat down, weakly.

“Mercy, Judith!” The woman’s tone carried positive contempt for such
obtuseness. “He was with her every evening while you and Larimore were
here, the last time. Of course they were reading Latin together, or
working with the violin. But I knew what it would lead to. And it was
my making her come home, after she’d been at their house three evenings
a week, that did it. He missed her so dreadfully that he got over
thinking about her as a little girl. Goodness knows, she’s more mature
than Sylvia was at twenty--and Syd will always be a boy.”

“Has she told you?”

“No, but I wouldn’t look for her to do that. She’s been very nice to
me. Oh, Judith, I hope she will tell you it’s true.”

“I’m sure it would be a great comfort to you to have her happily
married.”

“Yes--but I wasn’t thinking so much about that part of it. I had my own
case in mind. It would be the last straw of evidence--that all my old
ideas were wrong. For the first time in my life, I want to be sure I
was in the wrong.”

Her eyes glittered and her slender form seemed to dilate. She was not
thinking of her cruelty to Eileen and her subsequent reluctance to
admit that in her daughter’s case good might grow out of evil. Eileen
was become, in her mother’s eyes, a manikin, to be posed this way and
that for the studying of effects--an architect’s drawing, to serve as a
pattern for the rebuilding of her mother’s life.


III

Later in the day the girl came, her face wearing an expression of
deadly earnest. Already Mrs. Trench’s hope was transformed into
certainty. Judith led the way to the little boudoir Lary had fitted for
her on the second floor.

“Now, dear, what is it?” she asked when the door was shut.

“The most important trouble I ever had. I ought to have written
you--when Syd first asked me. But I did so want to tell papa first ...
before even you. I owe him that, for all the pain I caused him. Syd
wants to be married on my eighteenth birthday, and that’s less than
three weeks off.”

“And you love him, Eileen?”

“As I never thought it would be possible to love. We just belong
together--like you and Lary, only, oh, so different. I can see it in a
hundred ways. When I don’t get what he’s trying to tell me--abstract
ideas, you know--he goes up to the landing in the reception hall
and sits down at his mother’s pipe organ and puts the thought into
something that I can get hold of. When a man can talk to you that
way--and music is the only language you really do understand--there is
only one answer. If I’m in an ugly mood, he doesn’t scold or upbraid
me. He works out a theme in A-minor. I try to run away from it, and
I can’t. I’ve made bold to go past him, up to my room, and my feet
wouldn’t carry me up the stairs.”

“And then, Eileen?”

“I cry it out on his shoulder. After I have washed the meanness out, we
can talk sense. I don’t mind in the least--that he’s always right.”

“And there’s one point on which you can’t come to an agreement?”

“Yes, only one. Judith, how far is it necessary to go with confession
of something that you know will lose you the respect and affection of--”

“Oh, Eileen, my poor little sister!”

“Don’t let it hurt you,” the girl cried, her eyes filling. “If life
isn’t so perfect, I can stand it. There is one thing more important
than the man you love--and that is your conviction of what is square
and honest. Syd can tell me what to do in other matters--but this is in
your line, not his.”

“Dearest, it seems to me that there can be no sure foothold in marriage
if a wife conceals from her husband an experience as important as that.
I know what a humiliation it is to open such a secret chamber. I did
it, Eileen.”

“Judith, you don’t think I--” She stared, aghast. “You couldn’t think
me capable of taking Sydney Schubert’s love--a man as clean and
honourable as he is--without telling him why I went to New York?”

“Then he knows?”

“He knew ... all along.” Her fair cheeks flamed. “When he told me he
cared, I said there was a reason why I couldn’t ever marry any decent
man. Judith, he put his two arms around me and looked me square in the
eyes, and said: ‘You were a poor little wilful child, and you didn’t
know that fire would burn. Any woman, my dear, is good enough for any
man--if she is honest.’ The only thing he wanted to know was ... what
we had done with it. He said that would make a difference. He was
relieved when I told him. And he thinks you were made in heaven--to
have saved me--for him.”

“But if you have told him, and he is satisfied--what is the obstacle?”

“It is his father. I can’t marry Syd and go there to live, letting Papa
Schubert believe I am the pure white flower he thinks me. Syd says
he won’t have his father’s ideal of me shattered--because his father
wouldn’t look at it the way he does. He might forgive me: but I’d
always be tarnished, to him.”

“Do you remember, Eileen, the day you told the truth to Laura Ramsay?
You began by saying you were under no moral obligation to her mother. I
don’t know how we can draw those lines of distinction; but I feel them
with absolute certainty. You are under no need to confess your secret
to Sylvia or Theodora--and for widely different reasons. Indeed we must
go to any length to prevent Theo ever learning the truth. With Dr.
Schubert it is the same. It would only give him useless pain.”

“That’s what Syd said. He led me over to that little peachblow
vase--the one that was bequeathed to his father by one of his grateful
patients. He told me the satin glaze and the peachbloom tints were the
result of the heat in the kiln, that almost destroyed the body of the
vase. He asked me if I would be willing to break that little amphora,
that his father loves, just to prove to him that it isn’t as perfect on
the inside as it looks to him. He might patch the fragments together,
but he would always be conscious of the cracks.”

“Syd is right. It would be brutality--sheer vandalism.”

“You precious treasure. He told me that was what you would say. Now I
am going to the office to tell my darling daddy that he is to have a
_real_ son-in-law.”

“When are you going to tell your mother, dear?”

“That’s Syd’s job. He is going to make formal application for my hand.
He can get off a thing like that, without batting an eye, when he’s
just dying to get out and yell. And the worst of it is, mamma’ll take
it in dead earnest. I suppose Sylvia will have sarcastic things to say.
I don’t care. Syd never was really in love with her--after he was old
enough to cut his eye teeth.”


IV

Mrs. Penrose did not come home for the wedding. Just what she wrote her
mother, the other members of the family never knew. Her letter came
with another, which bore the Bromfield postmark, and the two were on
Lavinia’s plate when she came down to breakfast. David and the girls
were already at the table, and Theo had inspected the mail. Drusilla
had been instructed not to take letters from the box, and the sight
of two thick envelopes threw Lavinia into a nervous chill. She picked
them up and carried them to the sun room, saying she had a headache and
would eat nothing.

After a little, David followed her, distressed. “Is there anything
wrong in Bromfield--at your brother’s house, or with my people?”

“There’s nothing the matter in Bromfield. Sylvia is a cat!”



XXXV The Credo at Work


I

When school closed in June, Judith took Theodora for the long promised
visit to New York. Sydney and Eileen were off for a belated honeymoon
in the mountains of Colorado, and Lavinia Trench reflected that the
coveted privacy had come at the crucial moment. She would be alone to
think things out. David was away from home much of the time, and when
he was in the house his wife was only mechanically conscious of his
presence. She viewed the neighbours as through a mist. Orders were
given to Drusilla, with the monotonous intonation of a talking machine.
That the orders were rational was evidence of the complete detachment
that could enable her mind to function without conscious effort. It was
as if she had wound up the machinery of her being and had withdrawn,
leaving it to the old familiar routine.

After three weeks, her cloistered retreat was invaded by the most
disturbing member of her family. The passionate devotion that had
centered in her youngest-born--to her purblind vision the most perfect
copy of herself--had undergone insidious change, as she centered
her interest in Eileen. Theodora was irritating beyond endurance.
With the child in the house, there could be no peace. Reluctantly,
almost bitterly, she came back to the dull reality of life. David was
still in Jacksonville from Monday to Saturday. After a day or two,
she consented to let Theo stay with Dr. Schubert and Nanny. To her
daughter-in-law she confessed that it was not because the old doctor
was so lonely, but that she could not endure the child’s incessant
chatter. The dropping of a fork behind her chair would send her into a
paroxysm of shaking--Lavinia, who had always laughed at nervous women.


II

One morning Judith stood with her husband at an upper window, watching
the agitated woman as she paced up and down before the house. The
postman was late.

“She watched for him just that way yesterday, Lary. And when he failed
to bring what she was expecting, her disappointment was pitiful.”

“My mother is going through some deep transition. I wish I could help
her; but she has always shut me out. She is a hundred times more frank
and confidential with you than she has ever been with me or with her
own daughters. Do you think, dear, you could induce her to tell you
what is troubling her?”

“I have tried. She talks freely about the emptiness and misery of
her life. She is gnawingly unsatisfied; but she gives no clue. Such
devotion as your father’s ought to have won her, years ago. I spoke
rather plainly to her about it. I knew it would anger her; but I wanted
to shock her into some line of rational thinking. The mention of her
husband’s tenderness only infuriated her. She said such cruel things
about him. And, Lary, he is as much in the dark as we are. He talked to
me about it, Sunday night. Is it possible....”

“What, dear?”

“I wondered if there might be something in her life--long ago--a scar
that is still sensitive--some shock that left a buried impression.”

“A lover, you mean? I hardly think so. She has always teased or
brutally insulted my father with the mention of an old sweetheart of
hers. It seems, they were deadly rivals, and papa won her because of
his clean morals. The other man was the rakish sort--and in a town like
Bromfield--with my mother’s prejudices and the thing that in her case
passes for religious conviction....”

Just then the postman rounded the corner. There was only one letter
for the Trench household, but its effect was electrical. Lavinia took
it from his hand and ran stumbling into the house. At the sill she
dropped to her knees, regained her footing and hurried inside. She had
not opened the envelope, hence its contents could not account for her
perturbed state of mind. It came to Judith ... that the whole future
hung on the tenor of a reply.


III

At noon she appeared in the dining-room of Vine Cottage. Her cheeks
were pasty, ashen, but her eyes burned with insane luster. She
must send an important letter to Sylvia, and it was too late-- She
floundered, catching a chair for support. Would Larimore send the
office boy out with a special delivery stamp?

“I’ll take your letter with me, and post it at the office,” Lary said,
annoyed by the crafty manner that marked his mother’s too frequent
subterfuges.

“I haven’t written it yet. It isn’t the kind I could dash off in a
minute. Sylvia wants me to be in Detroit by Friday noon. I’ll have to
get word--”

“Papa won’t be home until Saturday evening,” her son said sharply.
“You can’t go off without consulting him.”

The word “consulting” was unfortunate. It released a flood of
martyrdom. Lavinia thought she owed a duty to her daughter that must
outweigh any consideration or demand on the part of her husband.

“Let me see my sister’s letter. If there is anything serious, I can
telephone.”

“I didn’t bring it with me. In fact, I accidentally dropped it in the
grate and it was burned before I could get it out.”

“A grate fire in July?”

“I was burning some scraps--and it got mixed with them.”

“You are not going away until papa comes home. It isn’t fair to
him--and if you insist--I shall call Sylvia by long distance.”

Judith averted her eyes. The sight of her mother-in-law’s baffled fury
was more than she could endure. In the end the woman agreed to defer
her trip until Saturday night. She would write Sylvia that she could
not be spared from home.


IV

Early Friday morning she came with another request. She had a letter
from her husband which she handed to Lary, ostentatiously. David
was entirely willing that she should go to Detroit. In fact, he had
promised Sylvia that they together would visit her as soon as the
housecleaning and redecorating of the apartment was over. He would have
earned a vacation when the Jacksonville contract was finished.

“Now, Larimore, if you will look after the ticket--and the sleeper
berth--I’ll only take a suit case, and your father can bring what I
need in his trunk. By that time, I’ll know about the weather, and what
kind of clothes I need. I want the ticket via Chicago. It’s so much
shorter than the other route.”

“Chicago?” Something feline, insinuating, in her tone arrested him.
“There’s no direct route from Springdale to Detroit via Chicago. You
would have to go to Littlefield and wait there for the St. Louis
train--and in Chicago it would mean going from one station to the
other. The last time you tried that, you got lost, and missed your
connection.”

“But I must--that is, I’d prefer to go that way. It wouldn’t matter if
I did miss my train. Sylvia wants me to do some shopping for her.”

“Shopping on Sunday, mamma?”

As the woman hurried from her son’s presence, Judith heard her mutter:
“There’s more than one way to kill a cat.”


V

Saturday was consumed with the endless little things that went to
the preparation for a journey. At noon Lavinia sent Dutton out to
post a letter to Sylvia. It was plastered over the upper third with a
combination of pink and green stamps. Lavinia Trench abhorred that sort
of thing; but she would not ask Larimore for a proper stamp to insure
Sunday delivery of her letter. She shunned him with an animosity that
was not to be misinterpreted. He had angered her profoundly. She told
Judith that she would go to the station in Hafferty’s cab and wait
there until David came in. In such a case he would not mind sitting
with her until her train arrived. She had evidently asked too many
favours of her son. She had always supposed that sons were glad to
serve their mothers.

Judith sought to analyse the woman’s torn state of mind. Did she always
get into such a fever when she was going away from home? Lavinia had
travelled much, in spite of her oft repeated assertion that she never
went anywhere, never had any pleasure ... nothing but the dull drudgery
of a wife and mother. Before her visit to Bromfield she had been in
just such a mental state. But was it, exactly, this condition of mind?
Two years ago, everything that Lavinia did--every subterfuge, every
veiled speech or cruel innuendo--was carefully thought out. It all had
a direct bearing on the main object. She must go to Bromfield, and she
would not admit to her family--nor indeed to herself--that she had need
to go. From infancy she had been devious, approaching her goal by the
most tortuous path. She was this way in her housekeeping. One could not
be a martyr if things were easy. The simple, natural way was hateful to
her--the refuge of lazy wives.

This much Judith had set down, in her effort to understand her
mother-in-law’s curiously warped psychology. But now there was a new
phase. The episode of Sylvia’s letter, accidentally burned in the grate
on a steaming July day, sufficed to betray a significant breaking-up
of the tough fibre of an irrational but tremendously efficient mind.
The mycelium of decay--some deadly fungus--had penetrated the heartwood
of Lavinia Trench’s being. She went into a panic at the slightest turn
in her plans. She no longer counted upon the unforeseen contingency,
or guarded against it. That that crashing letter--the occasion for
this hurried trip to Detroit--was not from Sylvia, Judith was morally
certain. From whom, then? She laid the perplexity wearily aside. With
one unknown quantity, she might have solved the equation. Here were
two unknown and unknowable quantities, since Lavinia--after her two
disastrous blunders--refused to talk except in monosyllables.


VI

When the suit case was in process of preparation, Judith invaded Mrs.
Trench’s bedroom. She brought a dark negligée for the Pullman, in place
of the delicate one that Sylvia had ridiculed, two years ago. As she
offered it, her mother-in-law turned furtively to conceal something she
was in the act of securing in the bottom of her small travelling bag.
Her fingers caught at the edge of a night-dress, awkwardly, and the
thing was revealed ... the borrowed volume of Browning.



XXXVI Consummation


I

A brief, unsatisfactory letter came Monday noon, while David was having
luncheon at Vine Cottage. It was written on Pullman paper, in a loose
scrawl. The train was four hours late, and of course there was no one
at the station to meet her. But then, she had not expected to be met.
Everything would be all right, she was sure. It was frightfully hot in
Detroit. She would not write again until Tuesday evening, since she and
Sylvia would be up to the ears in housecleaning.

“I can’t, somehow, feel that things are right,” David said, returning
the envelope to his pocket and drawing out another. “Vine acted so
strange while we were waiting in the station. I thought I ought to
go along to take care of her--but this work in the office is so
pressing--and I’m just compelled to go to Jacksonville for part of the
week. I told her, if she needed me....” He halted, his eyes receding.
“She flared out at me so fiercely that I didn’t say another word.
That’s where I ought to have been firm. But I never could understand
your mother, Lary.”

“None of us does, papa. What is the other letter?”

“It’s from Sylvia. I found it at the office.” Larimore read aloud:

  “_Dear Papa_:

  “I’m writing in a hurry, so that you can do me a favour. Mamma’s
  special has just arrived, saying she can’t reach Detroit until
  Tuesday noon--that you and Lary have upset all her plans. Well, now,
  please, _please_, PLEASE upset them some more. Not that I don’t want
  her to visit me; but it is terribly inconvenient now. The place is
  torn up with painters and paper-hangers. The weather is a fright--and
  Oliver cross as a bear. Mamma says she must be here to help me. But
  you know how I hate to have her around when I have anything important
  to do. If you can induce her to wait a week--really, I’m afraid
  Oliver won’t be civil to her, in his present mood--you’ll do her and
  us a big service.

                                          “Your affectionate Daughter,

                                                                SYLVIA.”


II

Four days of agonized suspense, during which--at Lary’s urgent
request--David abstained from replying to either of the letters ...
and Lavinia Trench came home. She walked into the house, a tottering
old woman. Theo and her father were in the dining-room, trying to
choke down Drusilla’s tempting dinner, and they started from the table
as if an apparition from the dead had confronted them. She was dusty
and disheveled. The close travelling hat hung limp over one eye,
and through the greenish-gray of her cheeks the bones were modelled
remorselessly.

“What--what has happened to you, Vine? Have you been in a wreck?”

“A wreck? Oh, yes, a wreck. Everything is a wreck.”

She sank into a chair and sat staring at the floor. After a moment she
collected herself to ask: “Has Sylvia written?” And then: “_What_ has
Sylvia written?”

“Nothing--except the letter she sent before you got there. She wanted
you to wait until she was through with her housecleaning--”

“I know all about that! David Trench, if you ever speak to that
unprincipled girl, I’ll....” Lavinia glared, her heart pounding
visibly. “She ... I might have known what to expect, after the letter
she wrote when Syd and Eileen were married. She’s worse than Eileen,
a hundred times worse. She’s capable--of lying--about her own mother.
She’ll try to lie out of this thing. You can’t depend on a word she
says. And Oliver’s as unprincipled as she is.”

In times of stress it had always been a source of relief to Lavinia to
talk--to abuse some one. More often than not, David was the victim.
Now she was hardly conscious of his presence. Theodora she did not
see at all. She was sunk in the morass of her own misery, a misery so
devastating that her worst enemy must have pitied her.

“Was Sylvia unkind to you?”

“Unkind? I like the way you pick your words!”

“I’m so sorry, Vine. You must make allowances for the hot weather--and
Oliver’s uncertain temper. Sylvia had enough to upset her.”

“That’s no excuse for treating her mother in such a shameful way.”

She went up to her room and shut herself in. From behind a curtain
she watched while David went to the cottage to consult his son. There
was no train arriving from Detroit at that hour of the day. It later
developed that Lavinia had left the train at Littlefield, and that her
travel-stained appearance was the result of a rough ride in a service
car. David had often come home that way, when he had contracts in Pana
and Sullivan. He knew, too, that it was the Chicago train; but the fact
was without significance for him.

When the woman had calmed herself somewhat, she told a more or less
coherent story. She had foolishly tried to surprise Sylvia--had
pictured her daughter’s delight, when she should walk in, unannounced,
on the heels of the letter that deferred her coming until Tuesday. She
went to the apartment in a cab and rang the bell. There was no one at
home. She returned to the station and wrote the letter to David--she
would not have told him for the world that she was greeted by locked
doors.

“Why didn’t you go right to the janitor, my dear?” David asked,
tenderly. “You know Oliver and Sylvia often go out on the lake,
Sundays, when it’s hot. And--it just occurs to me--are you sure you
went to the right place?”

Judith, watching the unfoldment of the story from a vantage point that
was not David’s, thought the woman clutched eagerly at a plank she had
hitherto not seen. She gained a precious interval of thought, while her
lips retorted:

“I should think I ought to know Sylvia’s address.”

“Yes, but those great apartment houses all look alike. You might not
even have been on the right street. You know, once when you went to St.
Louis--”

“Yes, but that time I took the wrong car line. It was the fault of the
policeman who directed me. I’d think a cabman would know the streets.”

“What did Sylvia say--when you finally--”

“What did she say? She didn’t say anything. She wouldn’t let me in. I
tried to telephone her from the hotel, Monday morning--and I’m morally
certain it was Oliver who answered the ’phone. When I said it was
mother, he said I had the wrong number, and hung up. I tried again, and
they wouldn’t answer.”

“But when you went back to the house--”

“I went three times--and once I know I saw Sylvia peeping through
the curtain at the apartment door. She didn’t want me there, and she
wouldn’t let me in.”

“I’m going to call Sylvia up and ask her what she means by--”

Lavinia leaped across the room and fell upon her husband, forcing him
roughly into his chair.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort. Haven’t I been humiliated enough
already?”


III

They were interrupted by the clanging of bells, on Sherman avenue.
Judith went to the window, to report that a cloud of smoke was visible
against the western sky. A moment later, Dutton called from the lawn
that the Marksley house was burning. Theodora wanted to see the fun. He
would drive her out, if her father and brother were willing. They were
not willing!

Dutton’s disappointment was greater than Theo’s, albeit she would
have revelled in the sight of that one particular fire. Dutton could
not make out why people kept a car, if they were too stingy to use
it. Nothing ever happened in Springdale, and when there was a little
excitement, a fellow wasn’t allowed to enjoy it.

But the spectacle would hardly have been worth the exertion of cranking
the car. The Monday paper gave a graphic account of the blaze that
started in the store room on the top floor, and was extinguished before
it had accomplished more than partial destruction of the roof. The
damage was amply covered by insurance. It was understood that Mr. David
Trench would investigate the loss, and make necessary repairs, at the
insistence of the insurance company.



XXXVII In the “Personal” Column


I

Early Thursday morning, David was on the point of going out to the
Marksley Addition to estimate the fire loss, when he stopped at sight
of Judith, entering her own gate. He crossed the parched grass of the
wide lawn and joined her. Once before he had hinted that his wife’s
mind might be failing--that the shock of Eileen’s tragedy and the
consequent relief of her propitious marriage might have unsettled
her mother’s reason. He had talked to Dr. Schubert about it, but had
elicited no sympathy for his theory. The physician did not believe
for a moment that Sylvia--in spite of the evidential letter to her
father--had refused to open the door or to answer the telephone. Sylvia
was entirely absorbed in herself, but she was not a fool. He was rather
taken with the belief that Lavinia had been playing some sort of prank
on her family. A born play-actor, she grew weary of the burden of
actuality, and sought relief--excitement--in a world of make-believe.
This time she had miscalculated, and found things hard to explain.

“He said one thing that went against the grain, Judith, even from
Dr. Schubert. He said that when we make a lifelong practice of petty
deception, we don’t gain the facility we gain by any other constant
exercise; but instead, we grow reckless, until we are unable to know
truth from falsehood. Then we overreach ourselves. I accept the
fact--but I don’t like to think that Vine would deliberately--lie to
me. She doesn’t always see things in their true relations. But that she
would make up a lie ... I can’t believe that.”

“Certainly you can’t, father.”

Through the sheer curtains of her bedroom window Lavinia watched
them--Lavinia who through five days of shifting from one detail to
another had maintained the mystery of her fruitless visit. What were
they saying? She strained her keen ears, to catch only a muffled note
of solicitude. Now the postman loomed in sight. The ubiquitous postman!
If he had not delivered that letter.... In her rage, she began to
abuse the postman for her wretchedness, the collapse of her iridescent
bubble of happiness. He was putting into David’s hand some letters
and a paper, the Bromfield Sentinel. She had forgotten that this was
Thursday. She saw her husband open the crude little sheet and glance at
the Personal Column, where he so often found news of a friend he had
not seen since his wedding day. A long agony of waiting ... and David
thrust the paper into Judith’s hand and walked rapidly away, a strange
look on his transparent face.


II

What had he seen in the column of village gossip? Lavinia was conscious
that a hornets’ nest had been rent asunder, above her head. A hundred
furious possibilities buzzed in her ears. Stumbling in wild agitation
to the deep closet of her room, she took a leather-bound volume from
her Gladstone, where it had lain since her return from Detroit. Without
opening it, she fled in a panic to Vine Cottage--burst into the
breakfast-room, with a fine show of indignation, and flung the book on
the table.

“There! I’m done with that thing. Browning’s a fool!”

“I’m sorry you have found him unprofitable. He isn’t easy reading.”

“I have as much sense as you or Mrs. Henderson. You made me believe he
told the truth. I hate a liar. I never told a lie in my life.”

“I didn’t ask you to take the volume,” Judith said pointedly.

“No, but you made me believe there was something in it--something that
was an improvement on the Bible....”

Her daughter-in-law took up the offender and carried it to the library.
When she returned, there was a precipitate relapse into a chair.
Lavinia had improved the interval to look for the Sentinel. It was not
in the room. A bitter tirade poured from her purple lips. There was no
use in people trying to shirk responsibility. David had always done it.
So had Larimore. They continually placed her in untenable situations
and then left her to bear the consequences alone. She had had to rear
the family single-handed, to take all the responsibility for their
moral and financial welfare. If it had not been for her, they might
have been criminals or tramps. David had never concerned himself for
her ... or them.

“Mother, I can’t listen to such outrageous injustice. I have never seen
a more considerate husband than father is to you. Even Lary, with all
his tenderness, and his perfect comradeship, has his eyes on himself
most of the time. Father never thinks of himself. His whole heart is
given to you and his children.”

“Yes, and he hangs over me until he drives me to distraction. I’ll tell
him where I have been--if he doesn’t stop following me about--as if I
hadn’t a right to go where I please.”


III

Lavinia’s usual solvent, a flood of tears, failed her. Dry-eyed she
left the room, forgetting to ask for the paper, which had been the real
object of her call. Judith returned to the library and took down the
volume of Browning. In some unfathomable way it was responsible for the
distressing situation. As she turned the pages, pencil marks caught
her eye. A line, a word or two, in some instances an entire stanza had
been underscored. They were, without exception, love passages. Well
over towards the back, a sheet of note paper came to view, covered
with Lavinia’s tight, precise writing. If Browning _would_ change the
subject, just when you thought you had grasped his meaning ... at
least, you could fling your net over the elusive concept and carry it
away--isolate it from the confusing wealth of context.

But no! This was more than random copying. Widely separated passages
had been woven together into a kind of confession of faith ... like
lemon jelly in a mould. Judith, as she read, forgot that she was
looking into another woman’s soul, forgot Lavinia, in the fascination
of following the curious windings of Lavinia’s mind.

   “Come back with me to the first of all. Let us lean and love it
  over again. Let us now forget and now recall, and gather what we
  let fall. Each life’s incomplete, you see. I follow where I am led,
  knowing so well the leader’s hand. Oh, woman, wooed, not wed! When
  we loved each other, lived and loved the same, till an evening came
  when a shaft from the devil’s bow pierced to our ingle-glow, and the
  friends were friend and foe. Never fear but there’s provision of the
  devils to quench knowledge, lest we walk the earth in rapture--making
  those who catch God’s secret just so much more prize their capture.
  The true end, sole and single, we stop here for is this love-way with
  some other soul to mingle. How is it under our control to love or not
  to love? Heart, shall we live or die? The rest ... settle by and by.”

Judith laid the sheet in its place and returned the volume to the
bookcase. Yes, David was right. But what a weird obsession! Lavinia,
out of the pregnant depths of her misery, had fashioned a lover to her
liking, a phantom lover, to be communed with in secret. Had she gone to
Detroit, not to visit Sylvia, but to seek some fantastic realization of
her yearning for the perfect romance? Why had she come home, shattered
and undone. A real man ... the man she met in the Pullman when she was
returning from Bromfield--the man who had fallen in love with her?

She paused beside the table where, an hour ago, she had laid the
Bromfield paper. She looked at it with vacant eyes, striving to clarify
her turbid thoughts. Gradually, out of the emptiness, words came up
to her, the words that David had read, at the head of the “personal”
column.

  “Our distinguished citizen, Mr. Calvin Stone, has just returned from
  a ten days’ business trip to Chicago.”

The room with its delicate furnishings faded, as when the lights are
suddenly turned off. Judith stared, her heart leaping in unrhythmic
cadence, her eyes following the monstrous panorama that unrolled before
her. Long ago she had gone to a little cinema theatre with Lary and the
girls, where black dots had danced on a white screen. Black dots were
dancing now, on the white screen of her memory.

A dozen disjointed fragments of conversation; an old story her
grandmother had told her, of a secret wedding in Rochester; Lavinia’s
greedy interest in the story, in all that pertained to Calvin and
Lettie Stone; her determination to revisit Bromfield the summer
following Mrs. Stone’s death; the miracle of her regeneration when she
returned home; the yellow pallor on her face when she put the question:
“Do people ever really get over things?” The dots had woven themselves
into a succession of preliminary shapes, and all at once the picture
was complete. Lavinia’s secret lay bare before her daughter-in-law’s
gaze.


IV

Outside on the street there was commotion. Judith was aroused from her
torpor of pain by Lavinia Trench’s voice, strident and hysterical:

“Carry him into the west room. You can’t take him upstairs on that
stretcher. What has happened to him? Why didn’t you telephone me?
David, are you alive?”

David had fallen from the roof of the Marksley house. No one knew what
had caused the accident. He was standing on a wide ledge, that ought to
have been secure. One of the workmen saw him stagger, reel backward and
come crashing down. It was fortunate that he did not strike the stone
pavement. That would have been fatal. He was apparently only stunned by
the fall.

Judith followed the curious crowd into the house and bent above the
stricken man, while his wife ran panting up the stairs to prepare his
bed. He opened his eyes and his lips fashioned inarticulate words.

“The paper,” she saw rather than heard, “the paper ... burn it. I
saw--in a flash--that blinded me--and I fell....”



XXXVIII The Greater Love


I

The consulting surgeon was still upstairs with Dr. Schubert and the
nurse. In the sun-room, the Venetian blinds drawn to shut out the hot
July rays, the family sat, awaiting the verdict. Sydney and Eileen had
hurried home from the West in response to a conservative telegram from
Lary. Sylvia and her husband were already there. The meeting of the
sisters was reserved, befitting the occasion. Now Sylvia forgot her
father--her growing resentment because of the general misunderstanding
with regard to her mother’s alleged visit--as she gazed across the
spacious room at the beautiful young woman whom she could with
difficulty accept as Mrs. Sydney Schubert.

“I can’t understand it,” she whispered to Oliver. “You know what a raw,
scraggy girl she was when we left here. I couldn’t make out what Hal
Marksley saw in her. But for Syd--he had such an eye for beauty. He
never went with a girl who was plain or homely. Mamma never wrote us
how she had changed.”

“I told you a long time ago,” her husband retorted, “that the ugly
duckling had a way of growing into the swan of the family.”

Sylvia flushed, annoyed, and lapsed into silence.


II

Outside the passer-by paused to look curiously at the house. David
Trench hovered between life and death, and the town forgot the summer
heat in its anxious sympathy. No one had known what a great man he was,
what an irreparable loss his death would mean to the community. All
over the town little groups of prominent men discussed the catastrophe
with hushed breathing. The labourers who had done David’s bidding for
years wiped furtive tears from their eyes when they were told that the
case was all but hopeless.

Fifty--the meridian of life! A younger man would stand a better chance.
Dr. Schubert feared a spinal lesion. Yet the shock to the nervous
system might account for the torpor that had prevailed, with fleeting
lucid intervals, for four days. If that were all, the human machine
would right itself presently.

Early Sunday morning Mr. Marksley had come to the house to inquire
about the patient, and to repudiate any responsibility for the accident
... and had encountered Lavinia Trench’s tongue in a manner that he was
not likely to forget. She had another score to settle with this man and
his family, unnamed but not absent from the motive power of her attack.
The outburst had a salutary effect on the woman who, after the first
excitement of David’s home-coming, had moved with the automatism of a
sleep-walker. When he had gone, she sought Judith. Larimore must go at
once and arrange with Dr. Schubert for consultation, the best surgeon
in St. Louis.


III

When they were alone, she fell on her daughter-in-law’s neck, sobbing
hysterically: “Oh, oh, oh, if he dies I shall go distracted. He
doesn’t dare to die ... now. If he was going to die, why couldn’t it
have been sooner? Oh, my God in heaven, what am I saying? Judith, can’t
you save him? Don’t you know what it would mean for him to die now?”

“Try to be calm, mother. The case isn’t quite desperate.”

“Oh, but my case is desperate. You don’t know.... If you could have
heard him, last night! He said the most terrible thing. He must have
been thinking it, or it wouldn’t have slipped out like that, when his
mind was wandering. When you think a thing over and over, you say it
without meaning to. He took my hands and said he was only a carpenter’s
son ... but Ch--rist was a carpenter’s son, too ... and it was worth
carrying a cross all these years, to have me, when I belonged to
another man.”

“Mother! Oh, this is pitiful.”

“I wanted to get down on my knees and tell him that I never belonged to
any other man. I wanted to confess that I was the vilest sinner, and
unworthy of his love. It wasn’t me, at all. I was standing to one side,
looking at David and me, and thinking what I would do it I was in Vine
Larimore’s place. And when I walked away, there didn’t seem to be any
floor under my feet.”

“Mother, dear, why didn’t you open your heart to him, when you were so
close?”

“No, no!” she cried, beating back the suggestion with baffled hands.
“You never had David look at you with condemnation. Oh, I would
rather have him slap my face. I could resent that. But to have him
condemn--and then forgive....” She swayed weakly, all her force
concentrated in the relentless mouth. “Judith, if he dies, it will
be on my head. You told me that it was as bad to sin in thought as to
carry out the desire. I wanted to kill David. Don’t look at me like
that. I have to tell you. There is no one else I can trust--and I’ll
babble it, when I don’t know I’m talking, if I don’t get it out of my
mind.”

“How do you mean, mother?”

“Twice I tried. Once when you were in Europe--when his health was so
poor--and I was going to give him the wrong medicine. And six weeks
ago, when he brought a lot of money home--and I thought it would look
as if a burglar did it. It was just after you took Theo to New York,
and we were alone in the house. At the last moment, my courage failed.
But if he dies, I will be held accountable for his murder. Judith, he
has to live. Don’t you see....”


IV

And thus it came about that the great specialist had been sent for.
Already he had been up there in David’s room for more than an hour.
Now a door was opening, two pairs of feet were descending the stairs.
Before those in the sun-room realized it, the distinguished man had
passed to the waiting cab and was gone. Lavinia was on her feet,
aquiver with excitement.

“Where is he going? I want to ask him a hundred questions.”

“He has told me everything you need to know,” the old family
physician told her sternly. “He will send us another nurse from St.
Louis--a young man capable of handling a dead weight. My diagnosis,
unfortunately, was correct.”

“Will he get well?” Lavinia’s lips were blue and her eyes protruded.

“We must wait and see. He will be paralysed from the waist down.”

David to sit in a wheel-chair the rest of his life! Vine staggered
from the room. Her daughter-in-law followed, fearful for one or the
other of those two actors in life’s sorry drama. But the stricken
woman only paused an instant at her husband’s door, and passed on to
the performance of some commonplace duty. Judith returned to the lower
hall, to hear Dr. Schubert say:

“He begged me not to let them prolong his life. Said it was wrong
to hang on, when he had finished his task. He would have a fighting
chance, if he had the least recuperative desire. David doesn’t want to
get well. He said that death was nothing to be afraid of--after a man
had lived.”

“He sees an honourable way out of the hell he has had for thirty
years,” Syd muttered, his blue eyes wrathful, his slender hands
clenched. “I hope there is a heaven--that he’s so sure of. We know what
it would be for him here, chained down to a pair of helpless legs. All
his life he has walked away from it, when he had taken all he could
endure. It would break Eileen’s heart to see her father--”

Out in the kitchen Drusilla burst all at once into song:

  “God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform.
  He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm.”

The nurse hurried down to check the stridulous singing, and to say
that Mr. Trench wanted to see his two daughters, Judith and Eileen,
together. The specialist had said it would do him no harm to talk
quietly with his family.


V

At the threshold Eileen asked, her face white with grief: “Judith, did
I do this? Am I to blame for his fall? Last night he told Theo that
when he was up on that ledge, he saw something. And the pity and horror
of it made him lose his footing. The poor baby thought he meant the
burning of that ugly gable.”

“I know what he had in mind, dear. You can go to him without a pang of
regret.”

A moment later the girl was kneeling at her father’s side. There was no
blemish on the beautiful face, no wasting, as of disease, and the blue
eyes smiled tenderly, their smile changing to protest, as she cried:

“Oh, papa, this is the hardest part of my punishment--to know that I
made you suffer. If only I had known!”

“You brought me the only real happiness of my life. It was worth all
I paid. When I saw you--the day you came home from Europe--I almost
died of joy. And when I heard you give your vow to Sydney, I said: ‘My
cup runneth over.’ I know now why Sylvia had to treat him so cruelly.
I asked God to make her realize his worth. What foolish children we
are, when we pray. I knew the sorrow of his boyhood, and how pure his
heart was. Eileen, none of us knew that he had to minister to a gentle,
afflicted mother, all those years ... just to fit him to be your
husband.”

“Papa!” The girl’s tears wet her father’s face. “And only you could
have seen it. There isn’t another man in the world who could have taken
me--without ever humiliating me--and made me want to be the best woman
that ever lived.”

“And you won’t ever forget that men need love?”

“They need it more than we do. Perhaps I can make up some of what I
owe you--when I take care of Syd’s father ... make his home bright and
happy.”

David stroked her hand, his eyes wandering to the face of Judith who
stood, shaken with emotion, at the foot of the bed.

“Come to me, dear daughter. I have something to tell you, while I have
my wits about me. It may be our last chance.”

The woman pressed her hand to her quivering chin, as the sobs surged up
in her throat. Then she hid her face in the pillow, her cheek close to
the dear face, so that David could whisper in her ear:

“You took care of the paper? You won’t let her know I saw it? After I
am gone, she can go to him and be happy. I forgive them, as Christ has
forgiven me.”

“Father! Now I can believe there _was_ a Christ.”

“It wasn’t her fault, Judith. You were never harsh with Eileen. You
must not be harsh with her. She was too brilliant for me. I was never
anything but a drag. I was too stupid to understand, when she told me I
had won her away from him. If I had had any wit--but I did love her so!”

It was not a wail of regret. Just a simple statement of fact. He had
bought a priceless treasure and had paid for it with the sorrow of the
loveless years. He looked up, to see Eileen gazing in troubled wonder.

“I didn’t mean to say so much; but I believe it would be all right
for you to tell her--about her mother. If it was right for Eileen--it
couldn’t have been wrong for her mother. We can’t see the flowers when
we put the ugly bulbs into the ground. Perhaps her own child can help
you show her the path.”

“Father, I can’t endure it,” Judith cried. “It was I who blundered. I
tried to show her the way. I didn’t know what her ailment was. I opened
the wrong medicine.”

“You gave her your best. That’s all any of us can do. You and Eileen
and I have suffered; but for my poor Vine it is terrible. She had
so much love to give, and it was all sealed up in her heart until
it--putrified--poisoned her. Tell her that she was not to blame. Tell
her that ... Christ died ... to make others ... happy....”

The words trailed off in a half audible whisper, and David Trench
slept.



XXXIX Lavinia


I

It was the largest funeral Springdale had ever seen. Lavinia reflected,
with grim pride, that not even President Henderson had called forth so
many or such magnificent floral tributes. Dr. Clarkson conducted the
simple service and the Conservatory Quartette sang the old sweet songs
that David loved. With uncovered heads his townsmen stood by while his
tired body sank to rest. Then life went on as before.


II

Lavinia and Theodora were alone in the big house with Drusilla. Lary
thought it absurd for them to occupy so much room. He would be going
to New York in the early fall, now that Springdale had nothing to hold
him. His mother might as well return to Vine Cottage. She had built the
great Colonial house in order to make a propitious marriage for Sylvia.
A similar need would never confront her.

“Move into this little place? Indeed I shall do nothing of the sort. In
fact, I have made up my mind to go back to Bromfield.”

“Bromfield?” The tone carried something dangerously like a sneer.

“The town was good enough for your grandparents,” his mother retorted
hotly. “I won’t have a relative left here but Eileen, and she will
certainly never be any comfort to me. It’s a shame, the way she could
forget her father in less than a month. She acts as if Dr. Schubert
were her own father. I don’t believe she has shed a tear. No, I
wouldn’t stop a day in Springdale for that ungrateful girl.”

“But your friends of a lifetime are here.”

“You can make new friends in New York. Why shouldn’t I? You think of me
as an old woman, Larimore. I don’t like it. The day has gone by when a
woman of fifty has to sit in the chimney-corner. I have written to Ted,
telling him that I want to buy back the old home. You shall remodel it
for me. That would be a work you could take pride in--the house your
great-grandfather built.”


III

When Lavinia and Judith were alone, the real purpose of the former’s
early morning call revealed itself:

“I want you to tell me how far you can hold a person to a promise--a
voluntary promise, written on paper and signed.”

“It depends--” Judith eyed her narrowly--“on the nature of the one who
makes the promise. I wouldn’t give a fig for all the contracts that ink
and paper could record, if there were no volition--”

“Yes, but I am sure--that is, I think I have a right to demand....”
She swallowed hard and a hunted look invaded the black eyes. “Would it
be all right for me to--to ask for some satisfaction, some decision?
You can’t let things go on in uncertainty. You have to come to an
understanding. I--that is, I don’t think my brother has treated me
right. Would you send the letter?”

“Use your own judgment, mother. You know what a wretched failure I made
of my former attempts to advise you.”

“No, Judith, that was what I wanted to say to you. I have thought
it all out, and have come to the conclusion that--that I had to do
everything just as it came about. Oh, I don’t know how to tell you--but
I begin to see how good comes out of evil--how I had to suffer to gain
my happiness.”

At the door she turned, to ask, as if she were consulting a sorceress:
“Would you advise me to write the letter--a very plain one?”

“Suspense is deadly. I should relieve my mind, at any cost,” her
daughter-in-law said dryly. It was Lavinia Trench’s self-justification,
the mind that could mould the universe into a pedestal for the support
of her righteousness. It would be this way to the end. Nothing would
ever change her. David was dead, and a letter of condolence had come
from Calvin Stone, a letter that all the world might read. In all
likelihood there had been no other word from him, since Lavinia was
free ... to make uncomfortable demands.

She went home and wrote. With her own hands she carried the letter to
the office, to insure delivery. It had occurred to her to register it
... her feet tugging to free themselves from the quicksand of doubt
that spread all around her. But Drusilla or Larimore might take the
receipt from the postman’s hand. Besides, it would be a confession
of the fear that was in her. She must not act as if there were any
question of her right, in this matter. To Lavinia it was still “this
matter.” She did not name it, even to herself.


IV

Six tortured days she waited, and then the response came. Theodora ran
in terror to Judith, her black eyes wide, her cheeks ashen.

“What is it, precious? Don’t stand there shaking like that.”

“It’s my mamma, and she’s--I think she’s gone crazy.”

“Because of something--a letter that came a few minutes ago?” She had
the child in her arms, soothing her with gentle caresses.

“Oh, Sister Judith, what could my uncle write that would make anyone as
furious as that? Last night she couldn’t sleep--because she said our
whole life depended on the letter she was looking for. She made me come
and get in bed with her, and she told me about Bromfield till I fell
asleep in her arms.”

“And your uncle refused to let her have the old home?”

“I don’t know. I was up on the third floor with Drusilla, and all at
once I knew that I was needed down stairs. When I was half way down
the hall--there stood my mamma like a statue. She didn’t see me, any
more than if I’d been a spook without any body. And all at once she
began running back and forth and tearing the letter to bits. And then
she threw them on the floor and stamped on them. She didn’t speak one
single word. That was the awful part--to be as mad as that, and take it
out in just jumping up and down!”

“Stay here, dearie. Or, no--” after a moment’s thought--“I want you
to go and spend the day with Eileen. Don’t tell her about the letter.
Dutton can drive you over in the car. You won’t need a hat.”


V

Judith surmised that Lavinia would not miss the child. For an hour
there was no sign of life in the big house. Then the widow emerged
clad in all her weeds. From the florist’s shop, at the corner, she
returned with a great cornucopia. It was evident that her destination
was the cemetery, and that she intended to walk. For Lavinia Trench, on
a steamy August day, such a walk was nothing short of a penance.

Noon went by ... one, two o’clock ... and she came staggering up the
steps, and into the cool living-room of Judith Trench’s home. Without
a word she sank into the nearest chair and drew aside the crêpe veil,
revealing a countenance from which every vestige of youth had been
erased. With the toe of her small shoe she began to trace the winding
pattern of the Oriental rug, her lips set hard together.

“Take off your hat, mother. You don’t want that hot veil around your
neck.”

“Yes, I’ll take it off. I don’t intend ever to wear the thing again. If
it isn’t in your heart--crêpe veils and flowers on graves won’t put it
there. Oh, my God in heaven, why did David have to die--at such a time?
What right had he to die--and expose me to such an insult?”

She had hurled the mourning hat from her, and sat staring at her moist
shaking hands. Then came the reaction, a flood of colour, not scarlet
but dull raspberry, that spread over neck, cheek and brow. Stiffening
in her chair, she cried:

“It was you who did it, Judith Ascott, every bit of it.”

“I did what?” Judith’s eyes blazed with sudden anger. No, she would
no longer palliate ... spare this woman, who had always contrived to
shift responsibility to shoulders less blameworthy than her own, who
had taken the best she could snatch from life, giving not even decent
gratitude in return.

“You said that Sydney married Eileen and made her happy, because she
didn’t resist the temptation to do wrong.”

“Oh, how monstrous!”

“Well, I hope you aren’t going to deny that you told me, point-blank,
that nothing but a broken axle prevented you from being untrue to your
husband. Was it my fault that the axle didn’t break for me?” She talked
wildly, her thin neck drawn and throbbing.

“I blundered horribly when I said those things to you. I thought you
were a woman who could handle an abstract idea. I didn’t know that
everything I said must necessarily have a personal application. If I
had understood why you were unhappy ... if you had told me the truth,
instead of leaving me to guess it, after the mischief was done--”

“I ought to have told you--told such a thing to a stranger ... when I
never more than half admitted it to myself?”

“No, I am sure you couldn’t have told me. It is just the awful
fatality, that I should have put weapons into your hand that would
wound you--the very knives that removed the false growth from Eileen’s
spirit.”

“Yes, and if the cancer is deep inside--if it grows out of your heart
... the more you cut it away, the stronger it grows. God knows, I tried
to tear it out by the roots. I tried three times to hate--”


VI

Judith drew near and laid a hand on the frantic woman’s arm.

“Mother, it is the saddest case I have ever known. If I assure you
of my pity and my earnest wish to help you ... for Lary’s sake, and
Theo’s,” Judith raised a hand that checked the bitter outburst, “will
you talk to me with absolute frankness? You can’t bear this hideous
thing alone. You can’t take it to your daughter.”

“Sylvia! I would as soon put my hand in the fire, and expect not to be
burned. She would throw me out of her house, as an abandoned woman.
She is hard and selfish and cruel. I don’t know where she gets such a
nature.”

“We won’t talk of Sylvia now.”

“No, I hope I’ll never see her again. And ... Judith ... I am going to
tell you ... from the beginning. You know already--the worst of it.
David knew, the night before he died. That’s why I had to run away,
when I tried to lay the roses on his grave. It made me wild with rage
... to know he was pitying me.”

She rocked to and fro a moment, as if to settle the sequence of her
story. Then her eyes blazed with a challenging light.

“You are a cold woman. You can sit there and weigh me ... like a pound
of steak. You never knew what it was to want something with your whole
mind and body and soul. You are not capable of a passion that would
burn you to a cinder. There are not many women with as deep a nature as
mine. It began when I was fourteen--a plain little thing like Theo is,
now. The night of Edith Trench’s Hallowe’en party--and David begged his
sister to invite me. All the others were grown, nearly. I happened to
be standing in a dark corner, under some mistletoe, and Calvin Stone
tiptoed up behind me and grabbed me in his arms and kissed me.

“That night I couldn’t sleep ... nor the next one. Everything was
changed. For two years, I used to almost die when I saw him out with
the older girls. Then he went away to Buffalo, to business college, and
I began to grow pretty. It’s a way we have in my father’s family. When
he came home, he fairly swept me off my feet. If David had ever made
love to me the way Calvin did-- The room would swim before my eyes when
he kissed me. He wanted me to marry him right away. But in Bromfield
that would have made a scandal. A girl didn’t dare to seem too anxious.

“After about a year he began to cool off. I waited two years more,
and then I married David. I may as well tell you why. Calvin went to
Rochester and married that Fournier girl. She made him marry her. Thank
goodness, I was safe in Olive Hill before they let it out that they
were married. But the truth has leaked out at last. It always does, no
matter how smart you think you are in concealing it.”

She stopped. This was not what she wanted to say--or believe. A deep
nausea overcame her. Eileen’s secret ... her own! But no, she was
making confession. It would not go any further, if she told Judith all
... to the last wicked detail.

“Ellen thought all along that I married David for spite; but she
doesn’t know that I never got over loving Calvin Stone. When I was
first married I used to lie awake nights, thinking of the time when
David and Lettie would both be dead, and I could have the man I wanted.
I forced David to make good, so that I could taunt Calvin. After he
moved back to Bromfield--when his father broke down, and he had to take
charge of the bank--Ellen and Lettie were friends. That way, I learned
a good deal about them. I saved all her letters that mentioned Calvin.
The others I put in the fire, as soon as David had read them. The
bundle I want buried with me. It was reading them over and over that
made me the woman I am now.”

“Mother, can’t you go home and burn them--blot this hateful thing from
your mind--now when your heart is soft because of father?”

“David Trench! He doesn’t count, one way or the other. David was never
anything but a makeshift in my life. If he had abused me, instead of
giving me all that affection, it wouldn’t have been so bad. I didn’t
want his love, and I despised him because he could go on loving me
... the way I treated him. I hated my children, because he was their
father. After they came, I loved them for what I could see of myself in
them. Isabel was so like her father that it was comical--and I could
hardly bear to touch her. Judith, think of being a wife for almost
thirty years to a man you hated! You couldn’t have gone through it.”

“No, I would have run away.”

“But I hadn’t any place to run to. I was caught, like a hungry rat in
a trap. I could look out through the bars and see all the things I
wanted, beyond my reach. When I did drag something inside, it turned
out to be different from what I expected. When we celebrated our silver
wedding, the minister told how we were the ideal couple, that God had
joined together in our cradles. It was the vilest mockery. But David
was so proud.”

“And you never saw his worth--never responded to his tenderness?”

“Not until I came home from Bromfield, two years ago. That was the
only time David and I came together, in all those years. I never knew
how handsome he was until I had been looking at Calvin every day
for a month. And his appearance wasn’t all of it. I had made up my
mind, while I was still at Ellen’s, that I was going to treat David
different. You couldn’t help seeing that I had all the best of the
bargain. The house Calvin built, ten years ago, is no comparison to
mine. And he had to mortgage it to the limit, when his son got into
trouble. Lately he sold it, to keep from losing it outright. That was
when I wrote him that I would buy back the old house from my brother.
But that’s ... I’ll come to that, later on. All those years I had been
thinking of David as a poor carpenter, and Calvin as a banker, in fine
society. And when I found out that he didn’t have near as much as I
had--”

“I see how you found your deep satisfaction.”

“No, you don’t. It wasn’t just the money, and David’s position in
Springdale--on the Board of Trustees, and all that. I got my real
triumph after I started for home. I had snubbed Calvin and tormented
him in every way I could. I wasn’t going to let him think I went to
Bromfield on his account. Besides, I wanted to hurt him, for the way he
had treated me. I thought I would take it out on him, and that would
end it. If I had been trying to win him, I couldn’t have used better
tactics.

“I was on the train and we were pulling out of Rochester when he came
walking in the Pullman. At first he pretended to be surprised. Said he
was going to Buffalo on business. After a while he owned up that he had
come ... because he wanted to be alone with me. He told me that his
life had been hell on earth, and he was glad when Lettie died. He even
said that if David should die, he would go to the end of the world to
compel me to marry him.”

“The boor!”

Lavinia ignored the comment. Hot lava was pouring from the crater of
her wretchedness, lava long pent up, and such flimsy obstacles as her
daughter-in-law’s disgust were swept away unnoticed in its stream.

“I told him he wasn’t fit for David Trench to wipe his feet on. I
didn’t mean it ... but I talk that way when I am beside myself. When
I repulsed David, he would look hurt and walk away. But it only made
Calvin more determined. He said he would lie down and let me wipe my
feet on him. And then he said something sneering about ‘Dave Trench.’ I
flew into a rage--and he said I always was a beauty when I was angry.
Afterwards he almost cried when he begged me to show some little spark
of affection for him. He was always that way ... wanted what he thought
he couldn’t get. I see the whole thing now, as plain as day. It is easy
to see things, when it’s too late. If the minister hadn’t preached that
sermon about helping to redeem sinners by making them suffer, and you
hadn’t told me all that other ... about it being worse to want to sin
than to come right out and do the thing you wanted....”

Judith shifted uneasily in her chair. Her own indictment was surely on
the way. She had no choice but to see the play through, to the final
curtain.

“He began writing to me, on one pretext or another. I didn’t answer
more than half of his letters. And the meaner I treated him, the more
devoted he grew. All that time I was falling in love with David--and
I didn’t hesitate to tell Calvin so. It seemed to make him wild. The
very day I found out about Eileen, I had had a letter from him that I
was ashamed to read, in my own room. I believe that letter would have
finished him for me ... if it hadn’t been for Eileen.

“When he heard about Larimore’s marriage, he wrote again--and asked
me to forgive him for writing the other letter. But he said his love
for me drove him to it. And at the same time, David was acting like a
paralytic old woman--just crushed by what Eileen had done. I couldn’t
help seeing the difference. I knew what Calvin would have done, if he
had had a daughter act that way. He would have put his son in jail, if
it hadn’t been for Lettie.”

“You needed a masterful man. David was too gentle....”

“He never was any match for me ... in any way. If I hadn’t snapped him
up, the night after Mr. Stone told me that Calvin was married....” She
shook herself, as if to free her body from some insidious lethargy that
was creeping over her.

“While you and Larimore were in Europe, it got to be like a continued
story in a magazine. I kept wondering what would happen next. I had
cut loose from David, and I couldn’t keep my mind off of Calvin. After
you came home with Eileen, and I had the long talk with you, the story
took a different turn. Still ... I don’t believe anything would have
come of it if Calvin hadn’t had to take a business trip to Chicago. He
wrote, in a kind of joking way, that if I would run up there and spend
a few days with him, David would divorce me and we could be married
at once. That was last April. I wrote back that I wouldn’t think of
such a thing--and that men didn’t marry the women who forgot their
morals--except at the point of a gun. He answered, with a kind of
marriage compact--no matter what might come up--he would marry me as
soon as I was free. He had to go to Chicago again in July. I told him
I would see him in Sylvia’s home, on his way out, and we could talk
things over, and come to an understanding. It was all Larimore’s fault
that the whole thing turned out wrong.”

“How Lary’s fault?”

“You know he wouldn’t let me start in time to catch Calvin in Detroit.
Then I planned to go by way of Chicago, and see him between trains.
But Larimore insisted on getting the ticket direct. There was only
one thing for me to do. I wired Calvin, and sent a special letter to
Sylvia, saying I wouldn’t be in Detroit until Tuesday noon. I planned
to get into Chicago early Monday morning, and go back to Detroit that
night. I wrote the letter to David while I was waiting at the station,
Sunday afternoon. The rest of it--after Calvin met me--is like a dream,
a miserable dream. So much has happened since then.

“That evening he made me miss my train. After I had been with him a
while, I was limp as a rag in his hands. He always had that way with
women. I didn’t want to go. All the years of my misery had dissolved. I
was like a starved person at a banquet ... seventeen again, and Calvin
acting like a boy out of school. But the second day he began to change.
He told me to quit acting like an old fool--said it wasn’t becoming
in people of our age. If David had ever said anything like that to
me--” Her hands worked convulsively and the teeth gave forth a sharp,
gritting sound. “I tried to be the way Calvin wanted me, and everything
I did was wrong. Once I flared up, and he told me to cut that out--that
it was because of my vile temper that he didn’t marry me thirty years
ago.”

“And you are going to discipline yourself, mother, so that after your
year of mourning you can marry him and be happy?”

“Marry him!” A shrill laugh burst from Lavinia’s lips. “Marry him! He
was married last Saturday to a rich widow in Rochester. That isn’t the
worst of it. I had written him the plainest kind of letter--about the
house we would remodel--and the contract he had sent me in April. They
read it together. They are laughing at me now. God, I can’t stand it!
To have them gloat over me! I could tear my heart out and stamp on it.
I could curse. I could spit in the face of the God that made me. Why
did you advise me to write the letter? It was you--you--”

She had leaped from her chair, her face livid, her arms writhing.
Judith tried to speak. Her tongue was paralysed. She had looked into
the soul of the woman who bore Larimore Trench, and the sight turned
her sick with horror. Then a piercing scream, a startled cry, another
scream, and Lavinia crumpled down in her chair, clasping her hands to
her right side, shrieking and moaning by turns.

“Mother, what has happened to you? Let me send for a doctor.”

“No, no, don’t leave me!” A long wail of anguish indescribable--and she
put forth a restraining hand. “Don’t you know what has happened to me?
Can’t you see that I am dying? Dr. Schubert told me two years ago that
there was danger. I didn’t believe him....”

She choked back another cry of pain, cringing until her right cheek
almost touched her knee. Then she straightened herself and went on,
through set teeth:

“You will take Theo, Judith, and keep her for your own? I wouldn’t want
Sylvia to have her. You won’t let her--miss the path?”

“I will give her the best I have, mother. I know what you mean.” She
stopped speaking, fascinated by the tinge of green that crept slowly up
the stricken woman’s cheeks. The same dull green was advancing along
the arms, where the black sleeves were drawn up. Lavinia saw it, too.
She knew the portent. Once before, she had seen that wave of green that
moved with deadly precision beneath the skin.

“It’s the gall. It has burst. My grandmother died that way. She flew
into a rage--after the doctor warned her not to. I taste it, now ...
bitter ... in my throat....” She coughed spasmodically, and closed her
eyes.


VII

Judith ran to the telephone. She told Lary that his mother had fainted.
To Eileen she said bluntly: “Mother is dying. Send one of the doctors.”

Eileen called a dozen numbers before she located either Sydney or his
father. Then she left her little sister in Nanny’s care and hurried to
Vine Cottage.

When the old family physician reached the house, Lavinia Trench had
passed beyond human aid. He drew Judith into the breakfast room and
asked, unsteadily:

“Was there a violent outburst? Grief wouldn’t account for it ... nor
remorse.”

The woman nodded, her throat swelling.

“Don’t tell Lary. He need not know. He wouldn’t understand. Women are
so different, Dr. Schubert. I wouldn’t want Lary to despise his mother.
She wasn’t wholly to blame--that the frost came too late.”



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.





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