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A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill by Alice Hegan Rice

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feel right arranged the way it should be, that she isn't going to wear
dresses made by fashionable dressmakers because they are
uncomfortable. She actually told me she liked to be a few minutes out
of style!"

"But isn't she right?" murmured Mrs. Ivy. "God has given her a
graceful, symmetrical body, shouldn't she clothe it in flowing robes
that do not confine or--"

"For Heaven's sake, Mrs. Ivy, don't you dare start her on dress
reform! Her one chance for social success is her beauty. She simply
terrifies me the way she says right out the first thing that comes
into her mind. It will take me months to teach her the first lesson in
society, that the most immodest thing in the world is the naked
truth."

"What I hope to rouse in the dear girl," said Mrs. Ivy with a superior
smile, "is a sense of responsibility toward her fellowmen. I have
already proposed her name for the Anti-Tobacco League and Miss Snell,
our corresponding secretary of the Foreign Missionary Society, has
promised to meet me here at five. It is these young, ardent souls that
must take up the banner of reform when it drops from the hands of us
veterans."

"Well," said Mrs. Sequin, turning a handsome, bored profile to her
companion, "I shall never get over the absurdity of the marriage!"

"Ah!" said Mrs. Ivy, laying a plump white hand on Mrs. Sequin's arm,
"cosmic forces brought them together! The thing we seek is seeking us.
She was young, inexperienced, adrift in the world; he was ill, lonely,
and with three motherless children. She told me that through the past
year, the Doctor's letters were all that sustained her."

"Of course they did! Cousin John's letters sustain everybody.
Especially if you haven't heard his lectures. Of course he does repeat
himself."

"As for her youth," went on Mrs. Ivy. "What if she is a mere rosebud
as yet? She'll unfold; we'll help her to unfold, you and I, won't we?"

Meanwhile the bride had slipped in the side entrance and was making
frantic haste in the room above to exchange a tennis costume for a new
house-dress.

Connie Queerington was assisting, but Connie's assistance was
generally a hindrance. She was an exceedingly voluble, blond young
person, with blue eyes that enjoyed nothing more than their own
reflection.

"I'll never get it hooked if you don't hold still," she was saying.
"Every time you laugh you pop it open."

"Fifteen--love, thirty--love, forty--love, game!" rehearsed Miss Lady,
practising a newly acquired serve with a vigorous stroke of her
racket. "I could play all day and all night! Do you think I'll ever
get to be a good player?"

"Of course, if you just won't get so excited and hit the balls before
they bounce. Gerald Ivy says your overhand play is great. He's mad
about you, anyhow. I'd give both my little fingers to have him look at
me as he did at you to-day."

"Silly!" laughed Miss Lady. "There goes the button off my slipper. Do
you suppose any one will notice if I pin the strap?"

"Nobody but Myrtella. Sit on your foot if she comes around. If you
don't hurry Cousin Katherine will have nervous prostration."

"I don't see why you have to treat reception day like judgment day,"
complained Miss Lady. "Who else is down stairs?"

"Only Mrs. Ivy now. She is the one who held your hand and called you a
sunbeam. Gerald's mother, you know. Hat can't abide her; says she's a
pussy-cat. Of course Mr. Gooch will be here for supper."

"Who?"

"Mr. Gooch."

"A friend of the Doctor's?"

"No, indeed. He isn't anybody's friend. He bores us all to
extinction."

"Well, what's he coming for?"

"I don't know. He always comes on Friday. He came in here once to get
out of the rain, and Mother asked him to stay to tea. That was ten
years ago and he has been back nearly every Friday since."

"Do you have company like this all the time?" asked Miss Lady somewhat
breathlessly.

"This is nothing!" exclaimed Connie dramatically. "Before Myrtella
came I never knew what it was to sleep in my own bed, and I had to eat
the legs of chickens until I felt like a centipede. There! You are all
right; come along. Don't forget to tell Father about the party!"

Miss Lady had been married two weeks, but she was still circling
wildly in a vortex of new experiences that excited and bewildered her.
Through a long, lonely winter she had fought out her problems at the
little country school, relying implicitly upon Doctor Queerington's
friendship and guidance. His weekly letters, couched in paragraphs of
technical perfection, seemed to her oracles of wisdom and beauty. Then
the amazing and unbelievable thing had happened! He, the great Doctor
Queerington, her father's friend, her friend, the man whom she
respected more than any one else in the world, had chosen her, a
young, inexperienced girl to be his wife!

To one who was quite sure that she was through with illusions for
ever, and who flattered herself that the sentimental age was safely
behind her, the honor of a life-long companionship with a man like
Doctor Queerington was almost overwhelming. She wanted passionately to
be of use in the world, to make her life count for something. The
opportunity of being of service to the Doctor, of helping him complete
the great work that absorbed him, of ministering to his physical
needs, and bringing joy into his life, assumed the character of a
sacred privilege.

If haunting doubts and vague unsatisfied longings possessed her at
times, she attributed them to that dear but unreal glamour of romance
that the Doctor had taught her must be expected to play for a while
about the dawn of youth, but which fades away in the noon of maturity.
And so not being skilled in the science of self-analysis, she
fearlessly put her hand into the Doctor's, and promised to obey with a
frank sense of relief at the shifted responsibility.

The new life into which she entered proved different in every respect
from what she had expected. The Doctor's time, scheduled to the
minute, admitted of no interruptions, however helpful from her. In
fact, he seemed to regard her as a cherished luxury which he had no
time to enjoy. The children accepted her according to their respective
natures, Connie as a chum, Hattie as an arch enemy, and Bertie as an
idol.

Hattie was fourteen, and had solved all the problems of the universe.
She firmly upheld Aristotle and scornfully dismissed Plato from the
world of philosophy. She disapproved of boys, of society, of second
marriages, and she had four desperately intimate friends, all of whom
were going to be authoresses. According to her observations she was
the one person in the universe, excepting her father, who adhered to
the truth. Hence her mission in life was to struggle single-handed
against other people's inaccuracies.

Miss Lady found refuge from Hattie's caustic comments in Bertie's
immediate devotion. He had won her heart on the night of her arrival,
when he had gone to sleep in her lap with a last injunction, that she
"must stay with them always, until God sent for her."

Whatever ideas Miss Lady had cherished of taking charge of the
domestic affairs were promptly discouraged by Myrtella, who had
graciously consented to give the new mistress a month's trial,
threatening that at the first interference she would abandon her to
her fate.

Their first meeting was auspicious. Myrtella on returning from her
afternoon out, had heard a wild commotion in the nursery and hastened
up to investigate. Bertie's introduction was breathless:

"It's the new mother, 'Tella, and Chick's here, and we are playing
bear, and we've broken the bed-springs, and she knows heaps and heaps
of stories, and she knows Chick!"

Myrtella, who had steeled herself for mortal combat, was not prepared
for a foe who sat in the middle of the nursery bed, laughing behind a
tumbled shock of shining brown hair.

"Oh! this is Myrtella, isn't it?" asked the bear, shaking back her
mane and smiling with engaging frankness. "Bertie says you are Chick's
aunt, and Chick's an old friend of mine, isn't it funny?"

"Where'd you ever know Chick?" demanded Myrtella with instant
suspicion.

"We both live on Billy-goat Hill. We always wave to each other when I
pass by, don't we, Chick?"

Chick, who was partially under the bed, still in his character of
intrepid hunter, acknowledged the fact with such a torrent of
enthusiastic incoherence that Myrtella interrupted sternly:

"Come out here this minute. It's time for you to be going on home
anyhow. First thing I know I'll be getting complained at for having
you hanging around so much. And look at your hands, Bertie
Queerington! You are going to get put in the bath-tub right off,
that's what you are going to get!"

"I'll bathe him," said Miss Lady eagerly.

"No," said Myrtella firmly, "there can't nobody but me manage him."

But in spite of the ferocity of Myrtella's aspect, there was a
softened gleam in her eye that showed that the new mistress had begun
by giving satisfaction.

The first few days after her arrival, Miss Lady spent in the dim
parlor receiving callers. All the Doctor's relatives having survived
their spasms of indignation over his marriage, united in a prompt
determination to train up his young wife in the way she should go.
Advice as various as it was profuse, was showered upon her. At first
she was amused; then she was inexpressibly bored; at last she was
desperate. She was not used to being indoors all day, she was not used
to spending her time with elderly ladies who talked of moral
obligations, and social demands, and civic consciences. The duties of
her married life which had promised such interesting responsibilities,
and wonderful opportunities for aiding the Doctor in his great work,
seemed to be shrinking into the dull task of keeping herself and the
children out of his way, preserving a tomb-like silence in the house,
and entertaining an endless round of callers.

Even this would have been bearable if the Doctor could only have taken
time from his soul-absorbing work to listen at the end of the day,
with amused tenderness, to all her little experiences, if he had
discussed with her the best way of handling the children, laughed with
her over her struggles with Myrtella, and encouraged those
affectionate words and caresses that were so much a part of her
nature.

If he could have done this, Miss Lady would have soon found
satisfaction in lavishing her affection upon him. It was her bent to
be passionately attached to those about her, and she was not one to
stand still in a mental or emotional imprisonment.

But the Doctor was struggling through the most nerve-wrecking month of
the year at the university. The beginning of a new term, the
adjustment of classes, the enrolment of new pupils, all made a heavy
drain on his weakened constitution. He was in no condition in the
evenings to give out anything more, even to a young and devoted bride
who was quite ready to relinquish any other pleasure to burn incense
at the shrine of his learning.

The homesickness that had hung over her since the day she had turned
her back on Thornwood would have enveloped her completely had it not
been for Connie. Connie was but a year her junior, and was thoroughly
disapproved by the family connection. She enjoyed the reputation of
being frivolous and vain, and wholly lacking in reverence to her
elders.

Connie's friends and amusements proved the line of least resistance
along which Miss Lady raced to freedom. The tennis court served as a
joyful substitute for the drab dreariness of the new home, and the
free and easy companionship of Connie's friends a happy relief from
the elderly feminines that invaded it.

The Doctor was still the majestic pivot, round which her thoughts
swung, but the circle was growing wider and wider. The difference in
their ages, which at first to her inexperience had seemed such a
trifling consideration, proved more serious as time went on.

She was eager for life, keen for pleasure, plastic, susceptible. Each
new experience was to her an epoch, while to the Doctor, whose habits
and opinions were fixed for eternity, it was usually but a fresh
interruption to his work.

It was not that he failed to appreciate her. The light that came into
his serious eyes whenever she was near, the unfailing courtesy and
gentleness with which he spoke to her, the absolute freedom he allowed
her, and the flattering appeal he made to her intellect, calmed
whatever doubts might have risen in her mind.

Of her own feelings she dared not stop to think. Life was all so
strange, so different from what she had expected. The flashes of doubt
and perplexity that came in the pauses between Connie's closely
planned festivities, she attributed to homesickness.

It was late when her last caller departed, and as she ran lightly up
to the Doctor's study, she realized with a little sense of
disappointment that she had not seen him since breakfast. Even now she
paused at the door, for fear she would interrupt some flight of the
muse. But on peeping in she found his big armchair drawn up to the
window, and the top of a head appearing above its back. Tiptoeing
cautiously forward she clapped her hands over his eyes and dropped a
kiss on his upturned forehead.

In an instant a strange, belligerent little gentleman had sprung to
his feet and was confronting her with features that resembled those of
a magnified and outraged bumblebee.

"I am so sorry!" stammered Miss Lady in laughing chagrin, "I--I
thought you were the Doctor!"

"Even so," admitted the stranger rather firmly, standing with chin
lifted and nostrils dilated, "even so. You seem to have forgotten the
fact that Doctor Queerington is now a benedict!"

"Yes, but you don't understand." I am--"

"A friend of Constance' no doubt. But under the circumstances you will
permit me to say that such conduct is ill-advised. I should not
mention it were I not a friend of the family--"

"Oh! You are Mr. Gooch?"

"I am. And I have the pleasure of addressing--"

"Why, I'm Mrs. Queerington," said Miss Lady, blushing furiously.

Mr. Gooch sank back into the chair and looked at her indignantly.

"Impossible!" he exploded. "They did not tell me--in fact I was not
prepared--May I ask you not to mention my mistake to the girls?
Constance, as you doubtless have discovered, is very silly, given to
making great capital out of nothing. We will not mention it."

"Ah!" said the Doctor in the doorway with his arms full of books. "How
are you, my dear? How are you, Mr. Gooch? What is this conspiracy of
silence?"

"It is only against the girls," laughed Miss Lady. "We'll take him in,
won't we, Mr. Gooch?"

The Doctor listened with tolerant amusement as Miss Lady gave a
dramatic account of the double mistake, but Mr. Gooch failed to smile.

All through supper that evening Miss Lady tried in vain to propitiate
the guest. His manner showed only too plainly that he regarded her as
an intrusion in the family which he had seen fit to adopt. It was not
until the pudding arrived that his mood mellowed. Myrtella's cooking
was so eminently to his taste that he was willing to put up with a
great deal for the privilege of enjoying it. Moreover, laughter always
improved his digestion and the young person at the head of the table
was proving amusing.

"Mr. Gooch is waiting for more coffee," announced Hattie, interrupting
an animated account Miss Lady was giving of her first day at the
country school.

"Let her finish the story," said the Doctor to whom food was
immaterial. He was indulging in the unusual luxury of loitering at the
table after the meal was finished, a habit seldom tolerated in the
Queerington household.

"But there isn't time," insisted Hattie. "Connie is having a party to-
night."

"A party?" The Doctor's brows lifted.

"Yes," broke in Connie. "Miss Lady said she didn't think you'd mind,
and she persuaded Myrtella to let us dance in here. You won't mind the
noise, just this one night, will you, Father?"

The Doctor considered the matter gravely. After all, his reading would
be interrupted by Mr. Gooch, so he might as well assent. He seldom
objected to any plan that did not interfere with his own actions. His
absorption in the race precluded an interest in mere family matters.

"They are not pressing you into service, I hope?" he asked, glancing
at Miss Lady.

"Indeed we are!" cried Connie. "She's going to play for us to dance,
when she isn't dancing herself. Of course we want her with us."

"You forget, Constance, that there are other claims upon her. Mr.
Gooch and I would like to have her with us in the study."

Miss Lady looked up in pleased surprise.

"That settles it, Connie," she said; "you girls can play for
yourselves. Come on and go to bed, Kiddie," and with Bertie at her
heels, the new mistress of Queerington raced down the hall.

For ten years Doctor Queerington and Mr. Gooch had played pinochle
every Friday evening. The Doctor did not especially enjoy it, except
as one of those incidents that grows acceptable by long repetition. He
was a born routinist, regarding a well-regulated world as a place
where everything ran in the same grooves to eternity. One of his chief
sources of satisfaction in regard to his second marriage was that it
promised not to interfere with those established laws which regulated
his day, from the prompt breakfast at 7:15 to the long hours with his
books in the evening. In short, Doctor Queerington was a sort of well-
regulated human clock, announcing his opinions as irrevocably as the
striker announces the hours, and ticking along so monotonously between
times that one almost forgot he was there.

If the Friday evening game was to him merely a habit, to Mr. Gooch it
was an occasion. Having once seated himself, and glanced around to
make sure his hand was not reflected in a mirror, he spread his cards
gingerly in his palm with only the corners visible, squared his jaw
and proceeded with solemnity to observe the full rigor of the game.
There was no trifling with points, or replaying of tricks. The
marriage of kings and queens was solemnized without rejoicing, and
even the parade of a royal sequence brought no flush of triumph to his
cheek, but moved him only to chronicle it in small, precise figures in
a red morocco note-book which he always brought with him for the
purpose.

When Miss Lady came up to the study, after giving Bertie two encores
to "Jack the Giant Killer," she found the men silently absorbed in
their game. Sitting on a hassock at the Doctor's side, she tried to
follow the detailed explanation that he gave during each deal. But the
jargon of "declarations," and "sequences," and "common marriages" soon
grew wearisome, and she found herself idly studying the Doctor's fine,
serious face, and listening for his low, flexible voice which
unconsciously softened when he spoke to her.

In spite of the fact that the study was very warm these sultry
September evenings, and the Doctor's mental strides much too long for
her to keep pace, she nevertheless looked eagerly forward to the hours
spent there. If at times she failed to follow his elucidations, or
grew sleepy reading aloud from some well-thumbed classic, it was not
because her admiration and respect for her husband were lessening. In
fact, he was always at his best at this time, surrounded by the books
he knew and loved, and expanding under the approbation of his one
appreciative listener. Here he reigned, a feudal lord, safe guarded in
his castle of books against that strange and formidable enemy, the
World.

"Four aces, and pinocle," announced Mr. Gooch with grim satisfaction.

Miss Lady rose restlessly and went to the window in the alcove. From
the parlor below came the strains of a waltz and snatches of laughter;
overhead the stars loomed big and white in the summer night. She
thought how strange and lonesome it must be out at Thornwood with the
lights all out and the windows nailed up. The little night things were
singing in the garden by this time, and the cool breezes were
beginning to stir the treetops. She wondered how Mike was getting
along without her, and a lump rose in her throat. She swallowed
resolutely, and smiled confidently up at the stars. Her married life
was not in the least what she had expected, but it would all work out
for the best. To be sure, nobody seemed to need her, nothing was
required of her, but she would make a place for herself, she
_must_ make a place for herself. Perhaps if she had something to do
besides playing with Connie and her friends all day, she would get
over this feeling of uselessness, and this haunting homesickness for
the hills and valleys, for her horses and dogs, and the old brick
house among the trees.

Suddenly she caught her breath and listened:

"He's coming home," Mr. Gooch was saying in the room behind her. "At
least, they've sent for him. Young Decker, who has just gotten back,
says Morley will come on a stretcher rather than have people believe
that he shot a man, then ran away. They had never heard a word of the
indictment."

"As I expected," the Doctor said, shuffling the cards. "When does he
return?"

"When he's able to travel, I suppose. Decker left him down with a
fever in a hospital in Singapore. He's done for himself, I am afraid."

"Very probably," said the Doctor. "Poor Donald! It's your lead."

Miss Lady slipped behind the curtain, and steadied herself by the
window sill. Why had her heart almost stopped beating? Why was it
beating now as if it would strangle her? Why did the thought of Donald
Morley lying ill and friendless in a foreign hospital rouse every
desire in her to go to him at once at any cost? Waves of surprise and
shame surged over her. She heard nothing, saw nothing, save the fact
that something she thought was dead had come to life. She was wakening
from a long numb sleep, and the wakening was terrifying. What
irremediable catastrophe had happened between now and that supreme
moment when she had stood under the lilacs in the twilight with Donald
Morley's arms about her, his breath on her cheek, and his passionate
plea: "Oh, if you only knew how I need you! I'll be anything under
heaven for your sake if you'll only stand by me!"

"My game," said the Doctor. "Fortune has favored me. What became of
Miss Lady? The call of the young people down-stairs grew too strong, I
presume."

Mr. Gooch, in a very bad humor over the loss of the last game,
sullenly packed his deck of cards in the case with the red morocco
note-book and made ready to take his departure. The Doctor
automatically placed the card table against the wall, arranged the
chairs at their prefer angles, straightened a book on his desk, and
turned out the lights, leaving a slim white figure with trembling
hands and terror-stricken eyes, cowering in the starlight behind the
swaying curtains.

CHAPTER XIII

It was always an occasion of significance when Mr. and Mrs. Basil
Sequin found time in their busy lives to discuss a family matter.
There was no particular lack of interest on either side, it was simply
that their hours did not happen to fit. When he was not at his club,
she was at hers; when she was dining at home, he was detained at a
directors' meeting; when he went North to a Bankers' Convention, she
went South to attend a bridge tournament. So it was small wonder the
butler, removing the breakfast things, should have looked puzzled when
Mr. and Mrs. Sequin remained at table in earnest conversation.

Mr. Sequin was a thin, stooped man, prematurely old at fifty. The
harassed, driven expression that was so habitual to his face had
plowed furrows that no lighter mood could now erase. His present mood,
however, was not a light one. He sat with his hand shading his eyes,
and scowled gloomily at the tablecloth.

"I told you a month ago," he was saying, "that you'd have to cut some
of the expenses on the new house. We've already gone twenty thousand
over the original estimate. There isn't a month now that our accounts
are not overdrawn. Nothing has been said directly, but it is known on
the street. Nothing will be said, as long as it is understood that I
am to have the management of the Dillingham estate at the general's
death, but if this estrangement should continue between Margery and
Lee Dillingham--"

"Now, Basil!" Mrs. Sequin cried dramatically, "don't for mercy's sake
take a nervous-prostration patient seriously. Margery is nothing but a
bunch of notions, and Cropsie Decker has gotten her all stirred up
about the injustice that has been done to Don. I won't even let her
talk to me about it, it's all so silly. What possible difference can
it make who did the shooting? The boys are well out of the scrape and
it's almost forgotten by this time. Young people who are engaged have
to have something to quarrel over; this won't amount to a row of pins.
I am going right on making preparations for an early spring wedding.
By the way, you know the bow window in the drawing-room? Well, I am
having it made four feet wider so they can be married there facing the
loggia, like this!"

Mrs. Sequin's two plump fingers did duty for the bride and groom, but
Mr. Sequin was not interested.

"I should not be surprised if Decker cabled Donald to come home. He's
in a great state of indignation over the fact that the blame was put
on Don. You see, it is all a fresh issue with them."

"I'd be perfectly furious with Don," declared Mrs. Sequin, "if he came
back and got into a quarrel with Lee. Margery will be sure to take his
part; she's always so silly about Don. If she were well enough I'd be
tempted to rush the wedding through before Christmas. But then, we
couldn't have it in the new house, and I have practically built that
first floor for the wedding. Everything depends on our having it
there."

"Everything depends on our having it somewhere!" said Mr. Sequin
grimly.

"Mrs. Queerington's cook, madam, wishes to speak to you," announced
the butler at the pantry door.

"Tell her to wait," said Mrs. Sequin without turning her head. "What
did you decide about the decorator's estimates, Basil?"

"Decide? What time have I to be considering decorations? Why can't you
attend to it?"

"Why, indeed? I only have to attend to the alterations on the bow
window, look at the new sketches for the garage, have a shampoo and
massage, lunch at the Weldems', take Fanchonette to the veterinary, be
fitted at three, and go to the Bartrums' at five. By all means, I'll
attend to it. I'll give the order to Lefferan; he handles the most
exclusive designs."

"That's what we want," said Mr. Sequin, rising; "the most exclusive
and the most expensive. Our credit is good for a few months yet. Have
the small car at the bank at 6:30. I will not be home for dinner."

Mrs. Sequin sighed as he slammed the front door. There was no use
denying the fact that men were trying, even the best of them. Hadn't
Cousin John Queerington, that paragon of perfection, toppled on his
pedestal at the smile of an unsophisticated little country girl? And
there was Basil, recognized as a veritable wizard of finance, waiting
until the new house was almost completed, then getting panicky about
the cost. And now Donald, whom she thought safely anchored on the
other side of the world, threatening to come home at the most
inopportune time and create no end of trouble!

"Excuse me, madam," said the butler, "but she says she ain't going to
wait another minute."

"Jenkins!" Mrs. Sequin raised her brows disapprovingly. "Send that
odious woman up to Miss Margery's room; I will see her there."

The room above the dining-room was one of those pink-and-white jumbles
that convention prescribes for debutantes. Garlands of pink roses
festooned the paper, tied at intervals by enormous pink bows. Pink
bows and ruffles smothered the dresser and sewing table, and pink and
white cushions filled the window seat. Cotillion favors, old dance
cards, theater programs, were pinned to the heavy pink and white
curtains that shut out the sunlight. Among the lace pillows of the
brass bed lay a languid, pale-faced girl, who stared up at the rose-
entwined ceiling, as a prisoner might stare at her bars.

"Close the door, Myrtella," Mrs. Sequin said as they entered. "I am
mortally afraid of drafts. Good morning, Margery. Where is your blue
hat? I told Miss Lady to send up for it, because I am going to take
her to the Bartrums' this afternoon and I simply could not have her
appear in that ridiculous little hat she wears all the time."

The girl in the bed turned a fretful face toward her mother:

"Why, Miss Lady promised to spend the afternoon with me. I've been
looking forward to it for days."

"Yes, I know, dear, but I told her you weren't quite so well, and that
she could come to-morrow. You see, she really can't afford to miss the
Bartrums' tea; it's the first entertainment this fall and everybody
will be there. I know you think Mrs. Bartrum a little gay, but you
can't deny she runs that younger set."

Margery Sequin clasped her thin white hands tensely, and resumed her
study of the vine-covered ceiling.

"Here's the hat," said Mrs. Sequin, handing a large hat box to
Myrtella, then noting her offended expression she added by way of
propitiation: "I don't know how they would get along without you at
the Doctor's. I hear that the new mistress doesn't know a saucepan
from a skillet."

"She ain't no fool," returned Myrtella instantly on the defensive.

"Of course not, just young and careless. I dare say she doesn't even
order the groceries, does she?"

"No, mam."

"Nor plan for the meals?"

"No, mam."

"And you attend to everything just as if she weren't there? It's
really too funny, isn't it, Margery? Tell Mrs. Queerington that I'll
send the motor for her at five; and do see that she is properly hooked
up."

Myrtella succeeded in getting herself and the box silently out of the
room, but the butler passing her on the back stairs was startled by a
verbal shower that was not in the least intended for him. It was as if
a watering cart had suddenly and unexpectedly turned on its supply
regardless of its surroundings.

At five o'clock Miss Lady, very radiant and apparently in high
spirits, presented herself at the Sequins'.

"May I come in just for a minute?" she asked at Margery's door. "I've
brought you some chrysanthemums. Uncle Jimpson brought them in from
Thornwood this morning. It's too bad you aren't so well."

Margery turned admiring eyes on the bright face above her.

"I'm no worse," she said, "just disappointed. I thought I was going to
have you all to myself this afternoon."

"But I didn't know you could have me! I'll run in and tell your
mother."

Mrs. Sequin, who was being insinuated into a very tight gown by the
sheer physical prowess of her maid, exclaimed with satisfaction as
Miss Lady entered:

"There, I knew it! The hat makes the costume. You are perfect! Now,
remember the people I want you to be especially nice to, Mrs. Gibbs,
Mrs. Marchmont--"

"The silly old woman that paints her face and wears the pearls like
moth balls? She drove around yesterday to tell me the name of her
hairdresser. It's always the people that haven't any hair that want to
have it dressed."

"Miss Lady! She is Mrs. Leslie Marchmont, the most sought after woman
in town!"

"I don't care, her horses look as if they had been fed on corn
stalks."

"But you mustn't say such things! You must cultivate discretion. If
you want me to introduce you to the right people--"

"But they may not be the right people for me! Some of them are lovely,
but I can't stand the affected ones, nor the ones that patronize me."

"But they won't patronize you if you are a little more reserved.
There's no earthly reason for your telling them that you keep only one
servant, and saying that you come from Billy-goat Hill. It's a horrid
name given our beautiful hillside, by horrid people. You see, you
really must cultivate more caution. You are,--what shall I say? too
frank, too natural."

Miss Lady laughed. "I haven't the least idea how to go about being
unnatural, but, thank heaven, I don't have to learn to-day! Margery is
feeling better and is going to let me stay with her."

"That's absurd! You are all ready to go, and I want Mrs. Bartrum to
see you for the first time just as you look now. Where are your
gloves?"

"I forgot them, but it doesn't matter, I'm not going."

"I'll send Jenkins for them at once."

Miss Lady's cheek flushed and she looked at Mrs. Sequin in perplexity,
then her brow cleared.

"You are afraid I'll stay too long and wear Margery out? I promise to
go the minute she looks tired. You can trust her with me, can't you?"

"But she has her nurse, there's no earthly reason--"

"Except that she wants me to stay. You'll feel happier, too, knowing
that she isn't lonely."

"But don't you want to go to the tea?"

"Oh, I did a little. But I think that was because you and Connie and
Margery said I looked nice. I'm awfully squeezed and uncomfortable; I
wonder if Margery can't lend me a dressing sacque?"

Thus it was that Mrs. Sequin went off to the Bartrums' in a very bad
humor, leaving the two girls chattering together in the pink boudoir,
with the nurse banished to the lower regions.

"Don't you want some fresh air?" asked Miss Lady, when she had stood
the heat as long as she could.

"You may open the door," said Margery, "we never leave the window up
on account of drafts."

"But I can wrap you up, and put the screen up. There! You can't take
cold with all that on. It's the kind of day that makes me want to be
on a horse, galloping through the woods with the wind in my face."

Margery watched Miss Lady's quick motion as she opened all the windows
behind the ruffled curtains, and let in a current of fresh
invigorating air.

"How young you are!" she said. "Years and years younger than I feel. I
can't realize you are married and have three step-children."

"Neither can I," said Miss Lady. "I'm always forgetting it. Wouldn't
you like to sit up for a while?"

"Oh! I can't. I have to lie perfectly quiet."

"Who said so?"

"Everybody does who has nervous prostration. The doctors say that my
nerves are nothing but quivering wires. I suppose I went too hard last
winter, but of course I couldn't drop out in the middle of my first
season."

"I don't believe it would hurt you a bit to sit up. If I fix that big
rocker will you try it?"

"But I haven't sat up for six weeks. When I try it in bed I have such
tingly sensations."

"That's because your legs are straight out. Let's try it in the chair,
with them hanging down."

"I'll try it, but I know I can't stand it. There! Thank you so much!
You wouldn't think that a year ago I was as strong as you are! Why,
between October and March I went to over a hundred and fifty
entertainments, besides the theaters and opera."

"Good heavens!" cried Miss Lady aghast.

"Of course, about New Year's, I began to wobble, but mother had me
take massage and electricity and kept me going until Lent. After that
I collapsed until summer. Then we went to White Sulphur, where the
Dillinghams have a cottage, I had to lie down every afternoon, but I
was always able to be up for the dances."

The nurse coming in with a long flower box, paused in surprise at the
sight of her patient sitting up, then discreetly tiptoed out again.

"Somebody has sent you some flowers!" cried Miss Lady excitedly. "How
nice! Shall I open the box?"

"Just as you like. They are probably from Lee. He sends them now
instead of coming."

"But there may be a note," said Miss Lady, searching in the tissue
paper.

Margery shook her head wearily; the little animation that had flushed
her face, died out leaving it wan and listless.

"I suppose you think this is a queer way for an engaged girl to talk,"
she said presently, with a nervous catch in her voice. "The truth is
Lee and I have quarreled over my uncle, Donald Morley. I will never
forgive him for the way he has treated Don; never!"

"You will if you love him," said Miss Lady.

"But I'm not sure that I do!" burst out Margery. "I oughtn't to say
it! I shan't say it again, but I shall die if I don't talk to
somebody. Mother won't listen to a word. She says it's nerves. But the
truth is, Miss Lady, I've never been sure; that's what's making me
ill!"

"Have you told him?"

"Yes, and he laughs at me. He may be right, they all may be right.
When I get well I may laugh at myself. But just now it seems so
terrible for the preparations to be going on while I'm lying here,
night after night, fighting down the doubts, trying to persuade
myself, trying to be sure. How can you tell when you are in love? How
do you know?"

Miss Lady's hand that had been softly stroking the girl's thin white
fingers, paused; her eyes sought the open window, and she drew a short
breath.

"Know?" she repeated as if to herself. "How do you know when you are
cold, when you are hungry, when you're tired, when you're lonesome?
How do you know that you want air when you are smothering? Everything
about you tells you, your heart, your mind, your body, your soul. You
can't help knowing!"

"But suppose I don't feel like that! And suppose I should, some day,
for some one else! Oh! Miss Lady tell me what to do! Everybody else is
rushing me on, telling me not to worry, not to be afraid. But you are
not like the others, you consider something more than the outside
advantages to be gained. Tell me, what would you do in my place?"

"I'd wait for the real one to come," cried Miss Lady, turning upon her
almost fiercely, "I'd wait, if it was forever! They have no right to
persuade you. You either love or you don't love and no power on earth
can make it different. You can laugh at sentiment and pretend you
don't believe in it, you can tell yourself a thousand times that you
are doing the sensible thing. You can blind yourself utterly to the
truth for a time. But some day you've got to realize that the only
real thing in life is love, and that you are powerless to make it live
or die."

After that they sat a long time in silence, until Miss Lady rose
abruptly and, making some excuse, took a hurried departure. She was
frightened at what she had said, at what she had thought. She was
terrified at this strange, new self, that spoke out of a strange, new
experience, and set at naught all her carefully acquired opinions. It
was not until she reached home after a brisk walk through the crisp
air, that the turmoil in her brain subsided.

On the hall table, beside a well-worn copy of Shelley, lay the
Doctor's gloves and soft gray hat. She seized the gloves impulsively
and laid them against her cheek.

"Dear, dear Doctor!" she whispered almost fiercely. "So good, and
kind, and--and wonderful!"

Suddenly she was aware of some one watching her covertly through the
crack of the dining-room door.

"Myrtella!" she cried. "Is that you?"

"Yes'm, if you please," came in strange, meek accents. "I'd like to
speak with you."

It was so entirely out of the course of human events for Myrtella to
assume humility, that Miss Lady looked at her in amazement.

"I can't say," began Myrtella, still half behind the door, "that I
like the way things is run in this house. I'm thinkin' some of givin'
notice."

"Why, Myrtella!" cried Miss Lady in dismay. "I'm afraid the work is
too heavy. We might get--"

"Needn't mind finishing, Mis' Squeerington, you was goin' to say a
house girl. If you think I'd share my room with any Dutch or Irish
biddy, I must say you're mighty mistaken! Besides, ain't I givin'
satisfaction? Ain't I doin' the work to suit you?"

"Of course you are, but I thought you--"

"Was gettin' old, I suppose, and couldn't do as much work as I used
to. I look feeble, don't I?"

Miss Lady glanced at the massive figure with brawny arms akimbo, and
smiled.

"Well, what's the trouble then?" she asked kindly. "Why do you want to
leave?"

Myrtella's eyes shifted as she rubbed some imaginary dust from the
door:

"I ain't used to working fer a lady that don't take no holt. It don't
seem natural, and it leaves folks room to talk."

"But I thought you wanted to have full charge and run things just as
you have done in the past."

"Well, it don't look right fer you not to be givin' me no orders, nor
rowin' the grocery man, nor lightin' into nobody. If folks didn't know
better they'd think you wasn't used to bein' a lady!"

Miss Lady bit her lip to keep from laughing. "I'll be only too glad
to keep house, only I don't know much about it. Aunt Caroline and
Uncle Jimpson did everything out home, and you've done everything
here."

"Well, I ain't goin' to no longer," said Myrtella firmly. "If you want
to light in and learn, I'll learn you. But I ain't going to stay
except on one condition, you got to take a holt of everything! You got
to lock things up and give me out what I need. You got to order all
the meals and tell me what you want done every mornin'. I ain't goin'
to have people throwin' it in my face that I work for a lady that
don't know a skillet from a saucepan!"

"You're right, Myrtella," said Miss Lady, her face grown suddenly
grave. "I don't wonder you are ashamed of me. Perhaps some good hard
work will brush the cobwebs out of my brain. When shall I take charge
of things, to-morrow?"

"As you say," said Myrtella meekly; then with a sudden flare, "though
it does look like I might be trusted one more day to finish up the
general cleaning and git after the ashman for not emptyin' them
barrels."

"Friday, then?"

"Friday," said Myrtella as one who signed her own death warrant, and
the young mistress gazing absently out of the window little guessed
that a powerful usurper was voluntarily abdicating a throne in order
that the rightful owner might come into her own.

CHAPTER XIV

The red lamps were all lighted in Mrs. Ivy's small parlor, and the
disordered tea-table and general confusion of the overcrowded room,
gave evidence that one of her frequent "at homes" had been brought to
an end.

It might have been inferred that the hostess had also been brought to
an end, to judge from her closed eyes and clasped hands, and the
effort with which she inhaled her breath and the violence with which
she exhaled it. The maid, clearing away the tea things, viewed her
with apprehension.

"Excuse me, ma'm, but will you be havin' the hot-water bag?" she asked
when she could endure the strain no longer.

Mrs. Ivy opened one reluctant eye and condescended to recall her
spirit to the material world.

"Norah, how could you?" she asked plaintively. "Haven't I begged you
never to disturb my meditation?"

"Yis, ma'm, but this, you might say, was worse than usual. Me mother's
twin sister died of the asthmy."

"Never speak to me when you see me entering into the silence. I was
denying fatigue; now I shall have to begin all over!"

It was evidently difficult for Mrs. Ivy to again tranquilize her
spirit. Her eyes roved fondly about the room, resting first upon one
cherished object then upon another. Autographed photographs lined the
walls, autographed volumes littered the tables. Above her head two
small bronze censers sent wreaths of incense curling about a vast
testimonial, acknowledging her valiant service in behalf of the anti-
tobacco crusade. Flanking this were badges of divers shape and size,
representing societies to which she belonged. In the cabinet at her
left were still more disturbing treasures such as Gerald's first pair
of shoes, and the gavel that the last president of the Federated
Sisterhood had used before she had, as Mrs. Ivy was fond of saying,
"been called upon to hand in her resignation by the Board of Death."

Before the error of fatigue had been entirely erased from her mental
state, her eyes fell upon a pamphlet, and she immediately became
absorbed in its contents. It set forth the need for a Home for
Crippled Animals, and by the time she reached the second page she was
framing a motion to be presented to her club on the morrow. Mrs. Ivy
was greatly addicted to motions; in fact, it was one of her missions
in life continually to move that things should be other than they
were, without in any way supplying the motive power to change them.

While thus engaged she was interrupted by a belated caller. He was a
short, heavy-set young man, with a square prominent jaw, and a twinkle
in his eye.

"_Mister_ Decker!" exclaimed Mrs. Ivy, swimming toward him. "After all
these months in those wonderful Eastern lands! I can almost catch the
odor of sandalwood about you!"

"It's dope," said Decker, with an easy laugh. "Chinese dope. I've had
these clothes cleaned twice, and I can't get rid of it. Had them on
one night in an opium den in Hankow. Funny how that smell stays with
you."

"An opium den?" repeated Mrs. Ivy, lifting a protesting hand. "And is
no effort being made to stamp out such iniquities in China? Might not
some concerted action on the part of the women's clubs in all the
Christian countries create a public sentiment against them?"

Decker bit his lip as he stooped to pick up the leaflet she had
dropped.

"Gerald's here I suppose?"

"Of course! How thoughtless of me not to explain that I always insist
upon the dear lad resting between four and five. He inherits delicate
lungs from his father, and an emotional, artistic temperament from me.
Then both of his maternal grandparents had heart trouble."

"Still hammers away at his music, I suppose?" Decker asked, minutely
inspecting the photograph of a meek-looking female who appeared
totally unable to live up to the bold, aggressive signature with which
she had signed herself.

"Dear Miss Snell," Mrs. Ivy explained, "corresponding secretary of the
A. T. L. A. If you had _only_ come sooner you could have met her. What
were you asking? Oh, yes! about Gerald's music. Why, you could no more
imagine Gerald without music, than you could think of a bird without
wings. He would simply perish without a piano. When we are abroad we
rent one if we are only going to be in a place ten days. His Papa
can't understand this, but then Mr. Ivy is not musical, poor dear; he
really doesn't know a fugue from a fantasie."

"Neither do I," said Decker. "Do the Queeringtons still live next
door?"

"Yes. You know our beloved Doctor has married again."

"What! Good old Syllogism Queerington! you don't mean it! I wonder if
he knows her first name? He taught me four years up at the University
and never could remember mine."

"Oh! here's my boy! Are you feeling better, dear?" Mrs. Ivy turned
expectant eyes to the door where a lean, loosely put together young
man was just entering. He had the slouching gait that indicates
relaxed ambitions as well as relaxed muscles, and his hands were deep
in his pockets as if they were at home there.

"Hello, Decker, glad to see you," he drawled languidly. "Wish you'd
stir the fire, Mater dear; it's beastly cold in here."

"I'll do it," said Decker shortly.

Gerald Ivy dropped gracefully on the sofa, and became absorbed in
examining his nails. He was rather a handsome if anemic youth, with
the general air of one who has weighed the world and found it wanting.
His eyes, large and brown and effective, swept the room restlessly.
They were accomplished eyes, being capable of expressing more emotions
in a moment than Gerald had felt in a lifetime.

As he idly turned the leaves of a magazine, he asked Decker how long
he had been back in America.

"A couple of months, but I've only been in town two weeks. Sorry to
hear you are under the weather."

"Oh! I'm a ruin," said Gerald; "a dilapidated, romantic ruin.
Something's gone wrong in the belfry to-day. Is my face swollen,
Mater?"

Mrs. Ivy bent over him in instant solicitude.

"I do believe it _is_ swollen, darling; just here. Look, Mr. Decker,
doesn't it seem a trifle fuller than the other side?"

Cropsie Decker's eye, not being trained by years of maternal
solicitude, failed to distinguish any difference.

"No matter," said Gerald gloomily; "if it isn't then it's something
else. What's the news, Decker?"

"The only news for me is this idiotic talk that has been allowed to go
the rounds about Don Morley. That is what I came to see you about.
What does Dillingham have to say about it?"

"Oh, you know Dill; he side-steps. The whole thing has blown over here
months ago; the subject is as extinct as the dodo."

"Well, it won't be extinct long! I've cabled Don to come home, and I
bet he'll stir things up. There's nothing to hold him now that Margery
Sequin's broken her engagement."

"So sad!" murmured Mrs. Ivy. "I hope young Mr. Dillingham won't do
anything desperate. To think of his cup of happiness being dashed from
his lips--"

The two young men looked at each other and laughed.

"Don't worry about Dill, Mater. He has more than one cup to fall back
on. It is old man Sequin that may do something desperate. I hear they
have made no end of a row, but Margery holds her own."

"They say on the street," said Decker, "that Mr. Sequin has been
counting on the Dillinghams' money to reinforce the bank. He's been
going it pretty heavy the last two years."

"One cannot live by bread alone," quoted Mrs. Ivy; "our friends have
been living the material life, they have forgotten that they are but
stewards, and as stewards will be held accountable for the way they
use their wealth. Mrs. Sequin makes absolutely no effort to advance
the progress of the world. She has refused from the first to join the
A.T.L.A. and she is not even a member of the Woman's Club."

"Well, I hope Mr. Sequin hasn't been playing with Don Morley's money,"
said Decker, resuming the subject from which Mrs. Ivy had flown off at
a tangent. "Donald has always left everything to him, and doesn't know
anything more about his investments than I do. All he is concerned
with is spending his income, and that keeps him busy."

At this moment Norah appeared with fresh tea and cakes, making her way
with some difficulty through the labyrinth of red lamps, small tables,
foot-stools and marble-crowned pedestals that crowded the room.

"Ah!" cried Mrs. Ivy, "here are some of the little cakes, Gerald, that
you love. You will try one, won't you? We have the greatest time
tempting his appetite, Mr. Decker. He can only eat what he likes. I
have always contended with his father that there was some physical
cause for his craving sweets. I never refused them to him when he was
a child. But from the time he was born he has never really lived on
food, he has lived on music."

Gerald, at the moment regaling himself with his second cake, gave
evidence that he did not rely solely on the sustaining power of music.

"And now, will you excuse me, dear Mr. Decker?" asked Mrs. Ivy,
gathering her lavender skirts about her. "I am a very, very busy
woman, and my desk claims much of my time. You will come to us again,
won't you? Gerald's friends, you know, are my friends. _Good_-by." And
with a tender pressure of the hand, and a lingering look she was gone.

Gerald waited until the door was closed, then produced cigarettes
which he proffered to Decker.

"Mater's last hobby is tobacco," he smiled indulgently. "She is going
to abolish it from the universe. Do you remember how Doctor
Queerington used to hold forth on the subject at the university?"

"By the way, your mother tells me he has married again. I don't know
why, but that tickles me. Was she a widow?"

Gerald with his elbows on the arms of his chair and holding his teacup
with both hands just below the level of his eyes, looked suddenly
gloomy.

"No," he said. "I wish to Heaven she was one!"

"What's the matter with Old Syllogism? I always thought he was a
rather good sort."

"I'm not thinking about him!" Gerald said impatiently. "I am thinking
of the girl. She can't be much older than I am and the most exquisite
thing you ever beheld. Her coloring is absolutely luminous. She ought
to be painted by Besnard or La Touche or some of those French chaps
that make a specialty of light. She positively radiates!"

"How did she ever happen to marry the Doctor?"

"Heaven knows! He captured her in the woods somewhere. I don't suppose
she had ever seen a man before. Jove! You ought to see her play
tennis, and to hear her laugh. She's a perfect wonder, as free and
easy as one of the boys, but straight as a die. Doesn't give a flip
for money or clothes, or society. Did you ever hear of a really pretty
girl being like that?"

"I hope Doctor Queerington likes her as well as you do."

"Heavens, man! everybody likes her; you can't help it. But nobody
understands her. You see they look on her as a child; they haven't the
faintest conception of what she is going through."

"And you think you have?"

"I know it. She's trying to adjust herself, and she can't. She's
finding out her mistake and making a game fight to hide it. When she
first came she went in for everything. She had never played tennis or
golf, and she got more fun out of learning than anybody I ever saw.
Then suddenly she stopped. Some old desiccated relative told the
Doctor it didn't look well for his wife to be running around with the
young people, and that settled it. She gave up like an angel, and
she's not the kind that likes to give up either. Now her days are
devoted to the heavy domestic, and her evenings to improving her mind
in the Doctor's stuffy old study."

"Talking to the Doctor," confessed Decker, "always affected me like
looking at Niagara Falls; grand, and imposing and awe-inspiring, but a
little goes a long way. How is she standing it?"

"Getting thinner and paler and prettier every day. She's a country
girl, you know, used to horses, and outdoor exercise. She must have
been beastly homesick, but she's game through and through. It was
awfully hard for her to bluff at first. That's because she is so
honest. But she has had to learn. No woman, good or bad, can get
through life without learning to bluff, only it comes harder for the
good ones. What's that confounded racket in the street?"

They rose and went to the window, Gerald looking over the shoulder of
his shorter companion.

A superannuated gray mule hitched to a heavy cart had come to a
standstill in the middle of the street, and a group of excited negroes
were vainly trying to induce him to move on. With one ear cocked
forward, and his forefeet firmly planted, the decrepit animal dumbly
made his declaration of independence, taking the blows that rained
upon his back with the dogged heroism of one who has resolved to die
rather than surrender.

"By Jupiter, if those coons aren't fixing to build a fire under him!"
exclaimed Decker. "They'd rather fool with a balking mule than eat
watermelon! Let's go out to see the sport."

When Decker reached the porch, having left Gerald at the hall mirror,
inspecting his face with minute solicitude, a new figure had appeared
on the scene. It was a girl dressed in white, standing in the
Queeringtons' yard, and as he looked he saw her suddenly dart out of
the gate and into the street as if she had been shot from a cannon.

"Stop pulling his head like that!" she demanded. "Don't you dare to
strike him again. Take that fire away!"

The negroes fell back somewhat astonished, and the driver arrested his
whip in the air.

"I'll show you how to make him go," she went on; "put mud in his
mouth. Yes, mud, a big lump of mud. There, that'll do; make it into a
ball, and put it in. Yes, you can! Oh, dear! Give it to me!"

She seized the mule's lower jaw with her thumb and forefinger, and
with a deft movement succeeded in getting the unwelcome substance
between the animal's teeth.

The mule evinced surprise, then curiosity. His fore feet relaxed, his
eye lost its fire, and when a gentle pressure fell upon his halter, he
was too engrossed in the new sensation to resist it.

"Bravo, Miss Lady!" called Gerald, sauntering forward to meet her. "I
told you you were irresistible. What did you whisper in his ear?"

"Lots of things!" she said, accepting his immaculate handkerchief to
wipe the mud from her hands, "but of course the mud helped. Uncle
Jimpson taught me that trick. He says a mule has room in his head for
only one thought at a time, and all you have to do is to change his
balking thought for some other and he'll go."

"I hope you will never have to put mud in my mouth," said Gerald,
looking at her with no attempt to conceal his admiration. "Can't you
come over and see mother for a bit? She'd love to give you a cup of
tea."

"I don't like tea in the afternoon; it spoils my supper." "Well, then,
come over to see me. There's a friend of mine I want you to meet. I've
been telling him about you."

"I can't. I'm drawing pictures for Bertie. He'll be disappointed."

"So will I. So will Decker."

"Decker?" Miss Lady flashed a glance at him. "You don't mean Cropsie
Decker?"

"Yes, I do; the special correspondent for the _Herald-Post_. Is that
sufficient inducement?"

Miss Lady looked at him rather strangely. "I'll come," she said after
a moment's hesitation.

They did not return to the parlor but to the music-room, a large room
on the opposite side of the hall, which Mrs. Ivy, a firm believer in
the psychological effect of color, had fitted out in blue to induce a
contemplative mood in the occupants. On the mantel and tables were the
same miscellaneous collection of bric-a-brac that characterized the
parlor. Several pictures of Gerald adorned the walls, the most
imposing of which presented him seated at the piano, with his mother
standing beside him, a rapt expression on her elevated profile.

Miss Lady flitted about from object to object, asking questions, not
waiting for answers, seeing everything, commenting on everything while
the two young men stood side by side on the hearth rug and watched
her. She was like a humming-bird afraid to light.

"Please, Mrs. Queerington," Gerald begged at last. "You know you don't
care for those old kodaks. I'll show them to you another time. I want
you to talk to Decker. Sit down here in this big chair and I'll sit at
your feet, where I belong, and Cropsie'll sit anywhere he likes and
tell us about his adventures."

"But where's your mother? I thought you said she was serving tea?"

"She'll be down directly. Now, tell us a story, Decker. A man can't
wander around the Orient for a year without having something exciting
happen to him."

"I'm afraid I haven't an experiencing nature," said Decker, smiling.
"You ought to have Morley here. He's the fellow that went over with
me, Mrs. Queerington. I'll back him against the field for having
adventures. You remember that big fire last year in Tokyo? Don was the
first Johnny on the spot, doing the noble hero act, dragging out women
and children and gallantly fighting the flames, while I lay up in bed
at the Imperial Hotel and fought mosquitoes! He was in a collision at
sea, just off the coast of Korea, got mixed up in a Chinese uprising
in Nanking and was arrested for a spy while taking pictures of the
fortifications at Miyajima. If I had half his luck I'd be the highest
priced man in the syndicate."

"I don't know that I particularly envy him his luck in the incident
that happened here just before he left," said Gerald, lighting a fresh
cigarette.

"It was nothing to his discredit," said Decker hotly. "He happened to
be a witness when that fool Dillingham got into a shooting scrape, and
he left town because he did not want to testify against the man his
niece was going to marry. He didn't consider the consequences, he
never does. It was a toss up when I met him in 'Frisco whether he
would come home, or go on."

"Didn't he know he was indicted?" asked Gerald.

"Certainly not. Neither of us knew it until I got home and found
people talking about 'Poor Donald Morley,' and acting as if he were a
refugee from justice. Two or three letters came from Mrs. Sequin, but
she was so busy urging Don to stay away that she hadn't time to write
anything else. We did get one old home paper, somewhere in Java, with
an account of the trial. That was the first intimation Don had that
Dillingham was throwing off on him. Even then he could scarcely
believe it; there's nothing in him to understand a man like Lee
Dillingham."

"But he was with him,--that night at the saloon," ventured Miss Lady,
sitting up very straight and listening very intently.

Gerald smiled skeptically. "He went in out of the rain, my dear lady;
that's what he wrote home, I understand; and he didn't indulge in a
single drink. Rather a strain on the imagination in the light of
subsequent events."

"See here, Ivy," said Decker, rising and standing before the fire with
his square jaw thrust out, and the twinkle gone from his eye. "I
happen to know this story from beginning to end, and we both know Don
Morley. He's as full of faults as a porcupine is of quills, but he's
neither a liar nor a coward. If he says he was sober that night I'd
stake my life he was."

There was an uncomfortable pause during which Gerald tenderly felt his
afflicted face, and Decker glared at the chandelier.

"He ought to have stayed to explain," said Miss Lady, not daring to
look up; "a man's first duty is to himself and--and to those who care
for him."

"That was the trouble," said Decker slowly. "It seems that the one
person Don cared most about wouldn't listen to an explanation. He
wrote her full particulars, and asked her to telegraph him if he
should go or stay. When I met him in 'Frisco he had been waiting for
that wire for three days, and he was nearly off his head. I got him on
the steamer almost by main force. We laid over ten days in Honolulu,
and he got the notion that a letter would be waiting for him in
Yokohama, and that he would take the next steamer home. All the way
across I heard about that girl from the time the Chino brought our
coffee in the morning until we went below again for the night. He all
but said his prayers to her; cut out everything to drink; even refused
to play a friendly game of poker. Why, I've tramped so many decks to
the tune of that girl's charms that I could write a book about her."

"What is her name?" asked Gerald greatly interested.

"Heavens, I don't know! She was a wood nymth, a dryad, a jewel, a
flower, I could keep it up indefinitely. He had a new one for her
every day. When we reached Japan, he couldn't wait for the steamer to
dock but went ashore in the pilot boat, and made a bee line for
Cook's. There was nothing there. It was like that at every port we
touched. Each time he would get his hopes up to fever heat, and each
time he'd be disappointed. I never saw such perseverance and belief.
He made excuse after excuse for her. He was too proud to write again,
and he got leaner and leaner and more and more homesick. You know that
collision I spoke of? Well, he got in that by waiting over a steamer
at Nagasaki in the hope of getting a letter before he left Japan."

"What happened next?" asked Gerald; "did another planet swim into his
ken?"

"Hardly. The smash came just before I left him, a couple of months
ago. We were at Raffles Hotel in Singapore having tea with some French
girls from the steamer. Our purser happened along and gave Don a
letter which I recognized as being from Mrs. Sequin. He read the first
sheet, then looked up in a wild sort of way, and asked if we'd mind
excusing him as he had something he wanted to see to before the
steamer sailed. At five o'clock he'd never shown up, and I had to
hustle our bags ashore and start out to look for him. He'd been
awfully seedy for a couple of months and when he got left I knew
something serious had happened. I found him late that night in the
foreign hospital out of his head with a fever. It seems the letter had
told him that his girl was going to be married, and half beside
himself he had gotten into a rikisha, and ridden for hours in the
tropical sun, trying to face the fact. Of course in the run-down state
he was in, it put him out of business, and by the time he got back to
Raffles', he didn't know who he was, nor where he was. I stayed with
him until the _Herald-Post_ sent for me to come home. Maybe you don't
think I hated to leave the old chap, in that God-forsaken country,
lying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, with all his illusions
smashed."

"Did he want to come with you?" asked Gerald.

"He didn't want anything. He had wanted one thing so long there was no
more want left in him. I tried to get him to let me engage passage for
him on the next home-bound steamer. But he said he doubted if he'd
ever come back, that as soon as he was able to travel he would go on
around the world, and that it didn't make much difference where he
landed."

"Quite a tragic little romance," Gerald said. "What a lot of mischief
you women have to answer for, Mrs. Q.!"

But Miss Lady did not hear him, she was still leaning forward absorbed
in Decker's narrative.

"If he comes home, in answer to your cable, when can he get here?" she
asked.

"Not before Christmas I should say."

"If I were Lee Dillingham I should go South for the winter," Gerald
said, going to the piano and striking a few random chords.

After Cropsie Decker left, Miss Lady sat very quiet in the big chair,
while Gerald played to her. It was well that only the kindly old bust
of Liszt looked down on her tense white face, and clasped hands.

For over two months she had been fighting a specter, never daring to
lift her eyes to it, but fighting it blindly, passionately,
unceasingly. She had denied its existence, refuted every memory,
filled her life to the brim with other interests, other affections,
and here suddenly she had met it face to face, and it was no longer
horrible, but a beautiful, radiant vision, a thing to be buried in her
innermost being, a sacred, solemn thing, not to be looked at, or dwelt
upon, but no longer to be denied.

The stormy, insistent strains of the "Appassionata" filled the room,
surging through every fiber of her, lifting and abasing her by turns.
How could she get hold of herself while Gerald played like that? She
was sinking in a great sea of emotion and the music swept about her
like a mighty gale, shutting out everything in the world but Donald
Morley. He had not failed her, it was she who had failed him. He was
coming home, and it was too late. She would have to meet him face to
face, to see all that he had suffered in his eyes and speak no word.
Surely she might give him this one hour, just while the music lasted;
give it to him and to herself for the lifetime together they had
missed.

She did not know when the music stopped, she did not know when Gerald
came back to the hassock at her feet. He had evidently been there some
time when she was aware of his elbow on the arm of her chair, and his
head buried in it.

"Gerald!" she said, starting up; "what's the matter?"

"Everything. Is that your trouble?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you are unhappy," he said, catching her hand.

She sprang to her feet and snapped on the electric lights.

"Do I look as if I were unhappy?" she demanded, flashing on him her
old, bright smile. "It was the music, and the twilight, and the way
you played. That sonata ought never to be played except in a crowded
room with all the lights on."

"It wasn't the music," Gerald persisted; "you know it wasn't.
Something's troubling you, and something is troubling me. May I tell
you what is the matter with me, Miss Lady?"

He was looking at her very intently across the table, and Miss Lady
for the first time recognized the danger signals in his eyes.

"Let me guess!" she cried, her wits springing to her rescue. "I think
I know. I thought so when I first came in. It's mumps!"

Gerald's hand flew instinctively to his face, and his eyes sought the
mirror. Miss Lady, in applying to Gerald Ivy, Uncle Jimpson's remedy
for a balking mule, had averted a disaster.

CHAPTER XV

Time was an abstraction of which the inhabitants of Bean Alley took
little notice. The arbitrary division of one's life into weeks and
days and hours seemed, on the whole, useless. There was but one day
for the men, and that was pay day, and one for the women, and that was
rent day. As for the children, every day was theirs, just as it should
be in every corner of the world.

On this particular fall afternoon, just outside Phineas Flathers'
cottage, a lively game was in progress. It was a game known in Bean
Alley as "Sockabout," and it had to do with caps or battered hats laid
in a row, and with a small rubber ball that was thrown into them from
a distance. Like many other apparently simple diversions, Sockabout
had its complexities. In fact, the rules admitted of so many
interpretations that an umpire was indispensable.

Under ordinary circumstances Chick Flathers would have scorned so
passive a role as umpire, but to-day he was handicapped. In the first
place he had no cap to contribute to the row on the ground, and in the
second he was burdened with a very large and wriggly bundle, which
gave evidence of marked disfavor the moment he ceased to jolt it
violently on his knees.

In the midst of an unusually fierce altercation, in which four boys
contended for the same cap, Skeeter Sheeley's voice rose above the
clamor.

"It's our turn! Umpire says so, didn't you, Chick? Aw, you did, too! I
kin understand you better 'n you kin understand yourself. 'Course it's
ours. Stop shovin' me, Gussie McGlory, I'll swat yer in the jaw in a
minute! Look out, Chick! Look out fer the kid!"

The youngest resident of Bean Alley was probably saved from premature
death by the timely appearance of two ladies at the far end of the
street.

Chick, recognizing the younger one, started joyfully to meet her, but
at sight of her companion he stopped short. For two years he had
regarded that plump, smiling, elderly lady as his arch enemy. She was
after him. She wanted to put him in something that sounded like "The
Willows Awful Home." Once she had almost gotten him, but Aunt 'Tella
interposed. He was not afraid of the truant officer, nor of the cop,
although they were generally after him, too, but he had horrible
nightmares in which he saw himself being dragged into captivity by
this bland lady in the purple dress, who always smiled.

Just as he was seeking a hiding-place sufficiently large to
accommodate himself and his charge, he was summoned home. Considerable
commotion was apparent in the crowded kitchen and Mr. Flathers was
moving about with an alacrity unusual to him.

"Git off your shoes and stockings, Chick, and turn your coat inside
out. Here, I'll hold the baby; yer Mammy's nursing the other one.
Shove that beer can under the stove, and hide that there cuckoo
clock."

Chick followed instructions with the air of one who understood the
situation. It was not the first time he had prepared hurriedly for
visitors.

"They're stopping at Jireses'," reported Mr. Flathers from the window.
"Here, take this kid and set out there on the door-step. Don't you
dare budge till they've saw you and spoke to you."

Chick resumed his position on the door-step with a heavy heart. The
line of battle had been pushed south, and he was completely out of the
firing line.

His bare feet and legs were cold in the biting November air, and he
had jolted the baby until he felt there were no more jolts left in
him. It was, moreover, a terrifying business to sit there and calmly
wait his fate.

"Them's them!" announced Skeeter Sheeley, racing down the alley. "They
give Mr. Jires some oranges. If they give you one, you goin' to gimme
half?"

Chick was too miserable to answer. The bars of an institution seemed
to be already closing upon him.

Mrs. Ivy, holding her skirts very high and picking her way gingerly
around the frozen puddles, was the first to reach him.

"Ah! Here's our good little friend Rick, or Dick, is it? And this is
the sweet little baby sister that God sent you."

"Naw it ain't," said Skeeter; "that there's a boy, an' it ain't no kin
to him. Its paw's in the pen, an' its maw's up fer ninety days, an'
its jes' boardin' at his house."

"The case that was reported for the Home," said Mrs. Ivy, turning with
a significant nod to her companion who had just come up.

At the word "home" Chick shuddered. It was the most terrible word in
the English language to him.

"What's the matter with your thumb, old fellow?" Miss Lady asked,
seeing his frightened look. "Come here, Skeeter, and tell me what he
says."

She relieved Chick of the young person whose parents were not in a
position to minister to his wants, and sat on the door-step between
the two boys, listening with flattering attention to a detailed
description of each hero's wounds and scars and how they had been
received.

Mrs. Ivy, meanwhile, a veritable spider in the midst of a web of
institutions, was warily planning to ensnare every helpless, poverty-
stricken fly that came her way. To her, the web was not made for the
fly, but the fly for the web; supplying flies was her chief
occupation.

Standing just inside the kitchen door with her skirts still gathered
carefully about her, she viewed her surroundings with mournful
sympathy.

"The fact are," Phineas was saying as he held his coat together at the
collar, in a pretended effort to conceal his lack of a shirt, "that we
ain't been prosperin' since you was last here. Looks like the hand of
the Lord--"

"Ah, Mr. Flathers," remonstrated Mrs. Ivy, with a finger on her lip,
"never forget that whom He loveth He chasteneth."

"I don't, Mrs. Ivy, I don't. I keep that in mind. If it wasn't fer
that, Mrs. Ivy, I declare I don't know what I would do. Now you comin'
to-day was a answer to prayer! I just ast that some way would be
pervided 'fore the rent man come back at six o'clock. I didn't say in
my prayer _what_ way, I just said _a_ way, that _a_ way would be
pervided. And when I seen you and the young lady turnin' in the alley,
I sez to Maria, 'never try to shake my faith no more, the clouds has
been lifted!'"

Mrs. Ivy, who was much more given to dispensing morals than money,
shifted her position.

"Mr. Flathers," she said, looking at him with what she conceived to be
a searching glance, "do you ever drink?"

Assuring himself that Chick had gotten the can quite out of sight,
Phineas looked at her reproachfully:

"Me? Why, Mrs. Ivy, I thought everybody knowed that since I joined the
Church--of course I ain't denying that there _was_ a time when I
knowed the taste of liquor. There ain't no good denying that, and,
besides confession is good fer me, it humbles my spirit, Mrs. Ivy, it
keeps me from being a publican."

"And tobacco?" queried Mrs. Ivy. "Liquor and tobacco go hand in hand,
they are twin evils. Are you addicted to the use of tobacco?"

"Not me!" said Phineas, truthfully for once. "I ain't soiled my lips
with a seegar for over twenty years, and you couldn't git me to chew
if you chloroformed me. Ef liquor is the drink, terbaccer is the food
of the devil, as I see it." Mrs. Ivy beamed upon him, as she opened
the silver bag at her belt. "I shall report your case at our next
meeting," she said with enthusiasm. "I shall quote your very words.
And now I am going to pin this little badge on you, this little white
badge that tells the world you belong to the Anti-Tobacco League. You
have the honor of wearing what few of our greatest statesmen can wear!
You have proven that a humble laborer can lead the way to Reform."

Miss Lady appeared at this point with the Boarder, who like most
individuals of his class, complained continuously of the quantity and
quality of his food.

"You find us in a bad way, Mis' Squeerington," Phineas said, offering
her a bottomless chair with the air of a Christian martyr. "If my
sister Myrtella knowed the half of what we was passin' through she
wouldn't continue to steel her heart against us."

"Myrtella's heart's all right," said Miss Lady cheerfully; "she takes
care of Chick, doesn't she?"

"She does, mam, in a way. But there's heavy expenses on a pore man
with a family. Mrs. Flathers now ain't been able to have a see-ance
since before the baby come. She did give one trance settin' yesterday,
but she says she don't know what's got into her, she feels so sort of
weak like!"

"How long has she been taking care of this other baby?" Miss Lady
asked.

"Most ever since ours come. The Juvenile Court was looking round fer
some one to nurse him till his maw got out of the jail hospital. I sez
to Maria, 'Here's a chanct to do a good Christian act an' earn a
honest penny. We'll take it in an' treat it like our own, sez I, an'
the Lord will not fergit us, sez I!"

The Boarder, taking advantage of this assurance of hospitality, set up
such a peremptory demand for food, that Miss Lady was compelled to
walk the floor with him.

"Where is Mrs. Flathers?" she asked in despair. "Can't we give him a
bottle or something?"

Maria, more limp, and inanimate than usual, came out of the dim
interior of the adjoining room, carrying a yet more limp and inanimate
bundle which she exchanged with Miss Lady for hers, and silently
retired into the inner room where she was followed by Mrs. Ivy.

"An' this here is ours!" exclaimed Phineas, bending with sudden
enthusiasm over the child in Miss Lady's arms, and tenderly lifting
the shawl from the weazened face and tiny claw-like hands. "This here
is Loreny. There ain't nary one of the rest of 'em lived over two
weeks, an' this here one is goin' on four. Kinder looks like we're
goin' to keep her with us, don't it?"

Miss Lady could find no answer. The white lips and the blue circles
about the small, sunken eyes, bespoke the same disinclination to risk
life under such circumstances as had been shown by all the other
little Flatherses.

"Course she ain't like that other baby," Phineas went on with genuine
earnestness, "but then he's a boy, an' eats more. She's goin' to git
fat an' pretty, ain't you, Loreny?"

He put his coarse brown thumb into the little hand which closed about
it and clung to it, and sat watching her, unmindful of his visitor.

"She don't look what you'd call strong," he went on, anxiously, "but
you wouldn't say she was sick, would you?"

"I am afraid I should," Miss Lady said gravely; "she looks very sick
to me."

"She does? Then I'd better git the doctor," Phineas rose hurriedly,
then sat down again. "But he never done the others no good. Maria
always contended it was him that killed 'em. Ain't there somethin' we
kin do? Don't you know somethin'?"

"Yes, I think I do, only you may not be willing to do it."

"You try me. I'll do anything you say, Miss. If the Lord will only
spare her--"

"It's not the Lord that's taking her," Miss Lady cried impatiently,
"it's you that are sending her, Mr. Flathers. Can't you see that you
are killing your baby?"

He looked at her in amazed horror.

"Yes, you are!" went on Miss Lady fiercely, "you are selling her food
to another baby; you are letting her mother work so hard that she can
scarcely nourish herself. Just look at Mrs. Flathers! Anybody can see
that if she had better food and less to do she'd be a different
person."

"Oh, Maria was real pretty onct," Phineas said somewhat resentfully,
"but when a man marries one of them slim little blondes he never knows
what he's gittin'. They sort of shrink up on yer an' git faded an'
stringy."

"Yes, but think what she got," said Miss Lady determined to press the
matter home. "Myrtella says you were a strong, handsome young man, who
could have turned your hand to almost anything, and look at you now! A
broken-down loafer, sitting around the saloons, talking religion while
your baby starves. I don't wonder Myrtella is ashamed of you, I am
ashamed of you, and if this poor little girl ever lives to grow up,
she will be ashamed of you, too!"

"No, no," cried Phineas brokenly, his head in his hands, "she won't be
that--if the Lord,--I mean if she lives, I'll be a better man, Mis'
Squeerington, indeed I will. Nobody ever will know in the world how
much I want children of my own. That's why I 'dopted Chick--that's one
reason I took in this new one. Seemed like as if my baby went--"

"We'll try to keep her," Miss Lady said with a rush of sympathy. "I'll
do everything I can but you must help, Mr. Flathers. You are willing
to do your part, aren't you?"

His emotions, used to responding to false stimulants, being now
appealed to by the one genuine feeling in him, threatened to become
uncontrolled.

"There, there!" Miss Lady said, "if you really want to save her, I
think there's a way."

"Not a Orphan's Home?" asked Phineas, lifting one eye from the baby's
petticoat where his head had been buried.

"No, a clean home of her own. There's no reason why you shouldn't go
to work, Mr. Flathers, and support your family decently. I'll take
Chick home with me. Myrtella will be glad to have him for a little
visit. Mrs. Ivy is going to send the other baby to the Foundling's
Home. Then you'll only have to look after Mrs. Flathers and the baby;
you surely can do that, can't you?"

"Yes 'm, I kin do that. 'Course any man kin do that. But I been out of
a regular job so long, you'd sorter help me find something to start
on?"

"I'll get you something to do, if you will only stick to it. Perhaps
Mrs. Sequin can give you work at her new house. She gave our old
colored man, Uncle Jimpson, a place."

"Jes' so it ain't garden work, nor gittin' up coal, nor nothin' that
brings on rheumatism."

"Have you rheumatism?"

"No, mam, Praise God! I have escaped this far by bein' kereful. You
know what it means, Mis' Squeerington, when a man with a family gits
down with the rheumatism. There's Jires, now--"

"Yes, and Mr. Jires does more for his family lying flat on his back
than you do for yours, up and walking around! You're not fooling me
one bit, Mr. Flathers, and there's no use trying to fool yourself. You
either mean seriously to go to work or you don't. Which is it?"

Phineas Flathers' strong impulse was to flee the scene. He saw his
liberty vanishing before the awful prospect held out by this pretty
young lady who could be so sympathetic one moment and so stern the
next. But the tiny claw-like fingers of Loreny held him fast. He
looked at his imprisoned thumb and smiled tenderly. Then he faced Miss
Lady squarely for the first time.

"You help me git a job, Miss, an' I'll promise to take keer of this
here baby."

"What you need," came the murmur of Mrs. Ivy's voice from the next
room, where she was taking leave of Maria Flathers, "is more beauty in
your home, something to uplift you and inspire you. I am going to send
you one of our traveling art galleries, you may keep the pictures a
whole week, long enough to learn the titles and the names of the
painters. Just think what it will mean to lift your tired eyes to a
beautiful, serene Madonna! And couldn't you have more color in your
home? We find color so stimulating. Scarlet geraniums for instance.
Wouldn't you like some scarlet geraniums?"

"I dunno where we'd put 'em at," Maria said wearily, shifting the
weight of the Boarder to her other arm. Then her face hardened
suddenly, and she wheeled into the kitchen.

"Flathers," she said, "it's him coming round the house now. He said
he'd be back before six, an' wouldn't stand no foolin'. What you goin'
to do, Flathers?"

Before Miss Lady and Mrs. Ivy could make their exit, the way was
blocked by a heavy-set, muscular, one-eyed man who placed a hand on
either side of the door jamb and unnecessarily announced that there he
was. Frantic efforts on the part of Phineas to signify to the newcomer
by winks and gestures, that the presence of guests would prevent his
talking business, were without effect.

"You ladies'll have to excuse me," said the intruder cheerfully, "but
I can't fool with this bunch no longer. It's pay, or git out, this
time and no mistake."

Maria began to cry, and forgot to jolt the Boarder, and the Boarder
who insisted upon being jolted every instant he was not sleeping or
eating, began to cry also. Whereupon Loreny, who had been laid upon
the kitchen table, heard the noise and felt called upon to add her
voice to the chorus.

By this time Chick and his colleagues, scenting excitement from afar,
had followed its trail and now presented themselves breathless and
interested to await developments. "Puttin' out" was not a particular
novelty in Bean Alley, but the presence of guests added a picturesque
feature.

"If you can wait a week longer," said Phineas with some attempt at
dignity, "I'll be in a position to settle up to date. I'm expectin' to
git a job--"

At this the rent man threw back his head and laughed, and the
youngsters back of him laughed, and even the Boarder stopped crying a
moment to see what had happened.

"But he really is," insisted Miss Lady, coming to Phineas' assistance.
"He's going to work the first of the week. Surely you can wait a week
longer."

"I can, Miss!" said the man in the door, gallantly. "I been waiting a
week longer on Flathers for more'n two months. There ain't absolutely
no use in arguing the matter further. It's pay up, or git out,
_to-day_."

"Well, if this ain't the limit!" said Phineas, with the air of one who
had reached it many times before, but never such a limitless limit as
this.

"But if we pay this month's rent for him, can't you let him make up
the back rent later?" argued Miss Lady, trying to comfort Maria who
threatened to become hysterical.

"When you've known Flathers as long as I have, you won't talk about
him paying up."

"But you can't put them out like this, with that little baby and no
place to go!"

"There's the Charity Organization, and the Alms House," suggested Mrs.
Ivy, wiping her eyes through sympathy.

"I'd hate to drive 'em to that," said the man doggedly, "but I got my
own family to consider, and I ain't what I once was, since I lost my
eye."

"Poor man," sighed Mrs. Ivy; "how fortunate It was the left one! How
did it happen?"

"Shot out," said the man, nothing loath to enter into particulars. "In
a scrap between a pair of young swells that was hangin' round my
place. Shot out in cold blood when I wasn't lookin'."

"But, my good man, didn't you prosecute?" asked Mrs. Ivy. "You know we
have a Legal Aid Society for just such cases as yours."

[Illustration: Maria began to cry, and forgot to jolt the Boarder]

"Yes'm, but one of the young gentlemen skipped the country, lit out
fer foreign parts, took to the tall timber, as you might say."

"But he was not the one who did the shooting, was he?" asked Miss
Lady, a sudden bright spot on either cheek, and the steady
determination in her eye that had been Flathers' undoing.

"I ain't never been able to say which one done it," said the man,
faltering under her steady gaze.

"Perhaps it was worth your while not to say?"

The man shot a quick glance of suspicion at her, then his eye came
back to Phineas.

"Of course, I don't want to push him into the Poor House, and if he
expects to get work--"

"I do, Dick," said Phineas fervently. "Monday morning I put my
shoulder-blade to the wheel somewhere."

"Well, if the ladies'll stand for this month," said the man, evidently
anxious to get away, "I'll wait a week longer on the back rent."

Miss Lady was preoccupied and silent on the way home. The world
sometimes seemed desperately sordid, and human nature a baffling
proposition.

At her gate Mrs. Ivy halted suddenly: "Do you know," she said, "it has
just occurred to me! I shouldn't be one bit surprised if that horrid
one-eyed man was the very one Mr. Morley shot!"

CHAPTER XVI

Christmas night on Billy-goat Hill, and twinkling lights, beginning
with candles set in bottles in the humblest cottages in Bean Alley,
dotted the hillside here and there, until they all seemed to converge
at one brilliant spot on the summit, where a veritable halo of light
hung above the hilltop.

For Angora Heights was having a house-warming, and never since old Bob
Carsey brought home his young bride from Alabama, had such
preparations been known for a social function. All the carriages in
the neighborhood had been pressed into service, and a half dozen
motors had been sent out from town to convey the guests from the
station to the house.

Within the mansion everything was magnificently new. Period rooms,
carried out with conscientious accuracy, opened into each other
through arcaded doorways. Massive gilt mirrors accentuated the wide
spaces of the hall, and repeated the lights of innumerable
chandeliers. If a stray memory or an old association had by any chance
crept into the Christmas ball, it would have found no familiar object
on which to dwell. The atmosphere was as formal and impersonal as that
of a museum.

In the middle of the drawing-room, like a general issuing last orders
before a battle, stood Mrs. Sequin, her ample figure encased in an
armor of glistening black spangles, and her elaborately puffed
coiffure surmounted by an incipient helmet of blazing gems.

"Pull those portieres back a trifle," she commanded, "and lower that
window from the top. Has Jimpson gone to the station for the
Queeringtons?"

"Yes, madam, half an hour ago," answered the maid.

"The moment he returns tell him that he is to take the small wagon and
go back to the station at ten o'clock. The caterer has just 'phoned
that he is sending the extra ices out on the last train, but that he
cannot send another waiter. Jenkins, leaving the way he did, has upset
everything. I suppose it is too late to get anybody now; the special
car gets here at nine. What is that noise? It sounds like some one
singing in the dining-room."

"It's the new furnace man, madam, that Mrs. Queerington sent. It looks
like he can't keep himself quiet."

"I'll quiet him!" said Mrs. Sequin, who was as near irritation as full
dress would permit.

Phineas Flathers, having replenished the fire, was pausing a moment to
admire himself in the Dutch mirror above the mantel when Mrs. Sequin
startled him by inquiring peremptorily if he was the new man.

"I am," said Phineas with pronounced deference, "_the_ new man and _a_
new man. Regenerated, born again, mam, the spirit of evil having
departed from me."

Mrs. Sequin gasped. "What is your name?"

"Flathers, mam."

"Dreadful! I will call you Benson."

"Benson it is. Better men than me have changed their names. There was
Saul now, Saul of Tarsus--"

"Turn the drafts off in the furnace and don't come up-stairs again on
any account. But no,--wait a moment." Mrs. Sequin's keen eye swept him
from head to foot. "Have you ever had any experience in serving?"

Phineas, whose only claim to serving was that "they also serve who
only stand and wait," dropped his eyes.

"Only the communion, mam, and the collection. But I ain't above
lending a hand, mam. You'd do as much for me. I was just saying to the
lady in the kitchen, that anybody was fortunate to work for a person
with as generous a face as yours."

"Clean yourself up, and put on Jenkins' coat, and if another waiter is
absolutely necessary, they can call on you," directed Mrs. Sequin
hurriedly, then calling to the maid, "Has Miss Margery come down yet?"

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