Part 1 out of 3
Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
Late one brilliant April afternoon Professor
Lucius Wilson stood at the head of Chestnut Street,
looking about him with the pleased air of a man
of taste who does not very often get to Boston.
He had lived there as a student, but for
twenty years and more, since he had been
Professor of Philosophy in a Western
university, he had seldom come East except
to take a steamer for some foreign port.
Wilson was standing quite still, contemplating
with a whimsical smile the slanting street,
with its worn paving, its irregular, gravely
colored houses, and the row of naked trees on
which the thin sunlight was still shining.
The gleam of the river at the foot of the hill
made him blink a little, not so much because it
was too bright as because he found it so pleasant.
The few passers-by glanced at him unconcernedly,
and even the children who hurried along with their
school-bags under their arms seemed to find it
perfectly natural that a tall brown gentleman
should be standing there, looking up through
his glasses at the gray housetops.
The sun sank rapidly; the silvery light
had faded from the bare boughs and the
watery twilight was setting in when Wilson
at last walked down the hill, descending into
cooler and cooler depths of grayish shadow.
His nostril, long unused to it, was quick to
detect the smell of wood smoke in the air,
blended with the odor of moist spring earth
and the saltiness that came up the river with
the tide. He crossed Charles Street between
jangling street cars and shelving lumber
drays, and after a moment of uncertainty
wound into Brimmer Street. The street was
quiet, deserted, and hung with a thin bluish
haze. He had already fixed his sharp eye
upon the house which he reasoned should be
his objective point, when he noticed a woman
approaching rapidly from the opposite direction.
Always an interested observer of women,
Wilson would have slackened his pace
anywhere to follow this one with his impersonal,
appreciative glance. She was a person
of distinction he saw at once, and, moreover,
very handsome. She was tall, carried her
beautiful head proudly, and moved with ease
and certainty. One immediately took for
granted the costly privileges and fine spaces
that must lie in the background from which
such a figure could emerge with this rapid
and elegant gait. Wilson noted her dress,
too,--for, in his way, he had an eye for such
things,--particularly her brown furs and her
hat. He got a blurred impression of her fine
color, the violets she wore, her white gloves,
and, curiously enough, of her veil, as she turned
up a flight of steps in front of him and disappeared.
Wilson was able to enjoy lovely things
that passed him on the wing as completely
and deliberately as if they had been dug-up
marvels, long anticipated, and definitely fixed
at the end of a railway journey. For a few
pleasurable seconds he quite forgot where he
was going, and only after the door had closed
behind her did he realize that the young
woman had entered the house to which he
had directed his trunk from the South Station
that morning. He hesitated a moment before
mounting the steps. "Can that," he murmured
in amazement,--"can that possibly have been
When the servant admitted him, Mrs. Alexander
was still standing in the hallway.
She heard him give his name, and came
forward holding out her hand.
"Is it you, indeed, Professor Wilson? I
was afraid that you might get here before I
did. I was detained at a concert, and Bartley
telephoned that he would be late. Thomas
will show you your room. Had you rather
have your tea brought to you there, or will
you have it down here with me, while we
wait for Bartley?"
Wilson was pleased to find that he had been
the cause of her rapid walk, and with her
he was even more vastly pleased than before.
He followed her through the drawing-room
into the library, where the wide back windows
looked out upon the garden and the sunset
and a fine stretch of silver-colored river.
A harp-shaped elm stood stripped against
the pale-colored evening sky, with ragged
last year's birds' nests in its forks,
and through the bare branches the evening star
quivered in the misty air. The long brown
room breathed the peace of a rich and amply
guarded quiet. Tea was brought in immediately
and placed in front of the wood fire.
Mrs. Alexander sat down in a high-backed
chair and began to pour it, while Wilson sank
into a low seat opposite her and took his cup
with a great sense of ease and harmony and comfort.
"You have had a long journey, haven't you?"
Mrs. Alexander asked, after showing gracious
concern about his tea. "And I am so sorry
Bartley is late. He's often tired when he's late.
He flatters himself that it is a little
on his account that you have come to this
Congress of Psychologists."
"It is," Wilson assented, selecting his
muffin carefully; "and I hope he won't be
tired tonight. But, on my own account,
I'm glad to have a few moments alone with you,
before Bartley comes. I was somehow afraid
that my knowing him so well would not put me
in the way of getting to know you."
"That's very nice of you." She nodded at
him above her cup and smiled, but there was
a little formal tightness in her tone which had
not been there when she greeted him in the hall.
Wilson leaned forward. "Have I said something awkward?
I live very far out of the world, you know.
But I didn't mean that you would exactly fade dim,
even if Bartley were here."
Mrs. Alexander laughed relentingly.
"Oh, I'm not so vain! How terribly
discerning you are."
She looked straight at Wilson, and he felt
that this quick, frank glance brought about
an understanding between them.
He liked everything about her, he told himself,
but he particularly liked her eyes;
when she looked at one directly for a moment
they were like a glimpse of fine windy sky
that may bring all sorts of weather.
"Since you noticed something," Mrs. Alexander
went on, "it must have been a flash of the
distrust I have come to feel whenever
I meet any of the people who knew Bartley
when he was a boy. It is always as if
they were talking of someone I had never met.
Really, Professor Wilson, it would seem
that he grew up among the strangest people.
They usually say that he has turned out very well,
or remark that he always was a fine fellow.
I never know what reply to make."
Wilson chuckled and leaned back in his chair,
shaking his left foot gently. "I expect the
fact is that we none of us knew him very well,
Mrs. Alexander. Though I will say for myself
that I was always confident he'd do
Mrs. Alexander's shoulders gave a slight
movement, suggestive of impatience.
"Oh, I should think that might have been
a safe prediction. Another cup, please?"
"Yes, thank you. But predicting, in the
case of boys, is not so easy as you might
imagine, Mrs. Alexander. Some get a bad
hurt early and lose their courage; and some
never get a fair wind. Bartley"--he dropped
his chin on the back of his long hand and looked
at her admiringly--"Bartley caught the wind early,
and it has sung in his sails ever since."
Mrs. Alexander sat looking into the fire
with intent preoccupation, and Wilson
studied her half-averted face. He liked the
suggestion of stormy possibilities in the proud
curve of her lip and nostril. Without that,
he reflected, she would be too cold.
"I should like to know what he was really
like when he was a boy. I don't believe
he remembers," she said suddenly.
"Won't you smoke, Mr. Wilson?"
Wilson lit a cigarette. "No, I don't suppose
he does. He was never introspective. He was
simply the most tremendous response to stimuli
I have ever known. We didn't know exactly
what to do with him."
A servant came in and noiselessly removed
the tea-tray. Mrs. Alexander screened
her face from the firelight, which was
beginning to throw wavering bright spots
on her dress and hair as the dusk deepened.
"Of course," she said, "I now and again
hear stories about things that happened
when he was in college."
"But that isn't what you want." Wilson wrinkled
his brows and looked at her with the smiling
familiarity that had come about so quickly.
"What you want is a picture of him, standing
back there at the other end of twenty years.
You want to look down through my memory."
She dropped her hands in her lap. "Yes, yes;
that's exactly what I want."
At this moment they heard the front door
shut with a jar, and Wilson laughed as
Mrs. Alexander rose quickly. "There he is.
Away with perspective! No past, no future
for Bartley; just the fiery moment. The only
moment that ever was or will be in the world!"
The door from the hall opened, a voice
called "Winifred?" hurriedly, and a big man
came through the drawing-room with a quick,
heavy tread, bringing with him a smell of
cigar smoke and chill out-of-doors air.
When Alexander reached the library door,
he switched on the lights and stood six feet
and more in the archway, glowing with strength
and cordiality and rugged, blond good looks.
There were other bridge-builders in the
world, certainly, but it was always Alexander's
picture that the Sunday Supplement men wanted,
because he looked as a tamer of rivers
ought to look. Under his tumbled sandy
hair his head seemed as hard and powerful
as a catapult, and his shoulders looked
strong enough in themselves to support
a span of any one of his ten great bridges
that cut the air above as many rivers.
After dinner Alexander took Wilson up to
his study. It was a large room over the
library, and looked out upon the black river
and the row of white lights along the
Cambridge Embankment. The room was not at all
what one might expect of an engineer's study.
Wilson felt at once the harmony of beautiful
things that have lived long together without
obtrusions of ugliness or change. It was none
of Alexander's doing, of course; those warm
consonances of color had been blending and
mellowing before he was born. But the wonder
was that he was not out of place there,--
that it all seemed to glow like the inevitable
background for his vigor and vehemence. He
sat before the fire, his shoulders deep in the
cushions of his chair, his powerful head upright,
his hair rumpled above his broad forehead.
He sat heavily, a cigar in his large,
smooth hand, a flush of after-dinner color in
his face, which wind and sun and exposure to
all sorts of weather had left fair and clearskinned.
"You are off for England on Saturday,
Bartley, Mrs. Alexander tells me."
"Yes, for a few weeks only. There's a
meeting of British engineers, and I'm doing
another bridge in Canada, you know."
"Oh, every one knows about that. And it
was in Canada that you met your wife, wasn't it?"
Yes, at Allway. She was visiting her
great-aunt there. A most remarkable old lady.
I was working with MacKeller then, an old
Scotch engineer who had picked me up in
London and taken me back to Quebec with him.
He had the contract for the Allway Bridge,
but before he began work on it he found out
that he was going to die, and he advised
the committee to turn the job over to me.
Otherwise I'd never have got anything good
so early. MacKeller was an old friend of
Mrs. Pemberton, Winifred's aunt. He had
mentioned me to her, so when I went to
Allway she asked me to come to see her.
She was a wonderful old lady."
"Like her niece?" Wilson queried.
Bartley laughed. "She had been very
handsome, but not in Winifred's way.
When I knew her she was little and fragile,
very pink and white, with a splendid head and a
face like fine old lace, somehow,--but perhaps
I always think of that because she wore a lace
scarf on her hair. She had such a flavor
of life about her. She had known Gordon and
Livingstone and Beaconsfield when she was
young,--every one. She was the first woman
of that sort I'd ever known. You know how it
is in the West,--old people are poked out of
the way. Aunt Eleanor fascinated me as few
young women have ever done. I used to go up from
the works to have tea with her, and sit talking
to her for hours. It was very stimulating,
for she couldn't tolerate stupidity."
"It must have been then that your luck began,
Bartley," said Wilson, flicking his cigar
ash with his long finger. "It's curious,
watching boys," he went on reflectively.
"I'm sure I did you justice in the matter of ability.
Yet I always used to feel that there was a
weak spot where some day strain would tell.
Even after you began to climb, I stood down
in the crowd and watched you with--well,
not with confidence. The more dazzling the
front you presented, the higher your facade
rose, the more I expected to see a big crack
zigzagging from top to bottom,"--he indicated
its course in the air with his forefinger,--
"then a crash and clouds of dust. It was curious.
I had such a clear picture of it. And another
curious thing, Bartley," Wilson spoke with
deliberateness and settled deeper into his
chair, "is that I don't feel it any longer.
I am sure of you."
Alexander laughed. "Nonsense! It's not I
you feel sure of; it's Winifred. People often
make that mistake."
"No, I'm serious, Alexander. You've changed.
You have decided to leave some birds in the bushes.
You used to want them all."
Alexander's chair creaked. "I still want a
good many," he said rather gloomily. "After
all, life doesn't offer a man much. You work
like the devil and think you're getting on,
and suddenly you discover that you've only been
getting yourself tied up. A million details
drink you dry. Your life keeps going for
things you don't want, and all the while you
are being built alive into a social structure
you don't care a rap about. I sometimes
wonder what sort of chap I'd have been if I
hadn't been this sort; I want to go and live
out his potentialities, too. I haven't
forgotten that there are birds in the bushes."
Bartley stopped and sat frowning into the fire,
his shoulders thrust forward as if he were
about to spring at something. Wilson watched him,
wondering. His old pupil always stimulated him
at first, and then vastly wearied him.
The machinery was always pounding away in this man,
and Wilson preferred companions of a more reflective
habit of mind. He could not help feeling that
there were unreasoning and unreasonable
activities going on in Alexander all the while;
that even after dinner, when most men
achieve a decent impersonality, Bartley had
merely closed the door of the engine-room
and come up for an airing. The machinery
itself was still pounding on.
Bartley's abstraction and Wilson's reflections
were cut short by a rustle at the door,
and almost before they could rise Mrs.
Alexander was standing by the hearth.
Alexander brought a chair for her,
but she shook her head.
"No, dear, thank you. I only came in to
see whether you and Professor Wilson were
quite comfortable. I am going down to the
"Why not practice here? Wilson and I are
growing very dull. We are tired of talk."
"Yes, I beg you, Mrs. Alexander,"
Wilson began, but he got no further.
"Why, certainly, if you won't find me
too noisy. I am working on the Schumann
`Carnival,' and, though I don't practice a
great many hours, I am very methodical,"
Mrs. Alexander explained, as she crossed to
an upright piano that stood at the back of
the room, near the windows.
Wilson followed, and, having seen her seated,
dropped into a chair behind her. She played
brilliantly and with great musical feeling.
Wilson could not imagine her permitting
herself to do anything badly, but he was
surprised at the cleanness of her execution.
He wondered how a woman with so many
duties had managed to keep herself up to a
standard really professional. It must take
a great deal of time, certainly, and Bartley
must take a great deal of time. Wilson reflected
that he had never before known a woman who
had been able, for any considerable while,
to support both a personal and an
intellectual passion. Sitting behind her,
he watched her with perplexed admiration,
shading his eyes with his hand. In her dinner dress
she looked even younger than in street clothes,
and, for all her composure and self-sufficiency,
she seemed to him strangely alert and vibrating,
as if in her, too, there were something
never altogether at rest. He felt
that he knew pretty much what she
demanded in people and what she demanded
from life, and he wondered how she squared
Bartley. After ten years she must know him;
and however one took him, however much
one admired him, one had to admit that he
simply wouldn't square. He was a natural
force, certainly, but beyond that, Wilson felt,
he was not anything very really or for very long
at a time.
Wilson glanced toward the fire, where
Bartley's profile was still wreathed in cigar
smoke that curled up more and more slowly.
His shoulders were sunk deep in the cushions
and one hand hung large and passive over the
arm of his chair. He had slipped on a purple
velvet smoking-coat. His wife, Wilson surmised,
had chosen it. She was clearly very proud
of his good looks and his fine color.
But, with the glow of an immediate interest
gone out of it, the engineer's face looked
tired, even a little haggard. The three lines
in his forehead, directly above the nose, deepened
as he sat thinking, and his powerful head
drooped forward heavily. Although Alexander
was only forty-three, Wilson thought that
beneath his vigorous color he detected the
dulling weariness of on-coming middle age.
The next afternoon, at the hour when the river
was beginning to redden under the declining sun,
Wilson again found himself facing Mrs. Alexander
at the tea-table in the library.
"Well," he remarked, when he was bidden
to give an account of himself, "there was
a long morning with the psychologists,
luncheon with Bartley at his club,
more psychologists, and here I am.
I've looked forward to this hour all day."
Mrs. Alexander smiled at him across the
vapor from the kettle. "And do you
remember where we stopped yesterday?"
"Perfectly. I was going to show you a
picture. But I doubt whether I have color
enough in me. Bartley makes me feel a faded
monochrome. You can't get at the young
Bartley except by means of color." Wilson
paused and deliberated. Suddenly he broke
out: "He wasn't a remarkable student, you
know, though he was always strong in higher
mathematics. His work in my own department
was quite ordinary. It was as a powerfully
equipped nature that I found him interesting.
That is the most interesting thing a teacher
can find. It has the fascination of a
scientific discovery. We come across other
pleasing and endearing qualities so much
oftener than we find force."
"And, after all," said Mrs. Alexander,
"that is the thing we all live upon.
It is the thing that takes us forward."
Wilson thought she spoke a little wistfully.
"Exactly," he assented warmly. "It builds
the bridges into the future, over which
the feet of every one of us will go."
"How interested I am to hear you put it
in that way. The bridges into the future--
I often say that to myself. Bartley's bridges
always seem to me like that. Have you ever
seen his first suspension bridge in Canada,
the one he was doing when I first knew him?
I hope you will see it sometime. We were
married as soon as it was finished, and you
will laugh when I tell you that it always has a
rather bridal look to me. It is over the wildest
river, with mists and clouds always battling
about it, and it is as delicate as a cobweb
hanging in the sky. It really was a bridge into
the future. You have only to look at it to feel
that it meant the beginning of a great career.
But I have a photograph of it here." She drew a
portfolio from behind a bookcase. "And there,
you see, on the hill, is my aunt's house."
Wilson took up the photograph. "Bartley was
telling me something about your aunt last night.
She must have been a delightful person."
Winifred laughed. "The bridge, you see,
was just at the foot of the hill, and the noise
of the engines annoyed her very much at first.
But after she met Bartley she pretended
to like it, and said it was a good thing to
be reminded that there were things going on
in the world. She loved life, and Bartley
brought a great deal of it in to her when
he came to the house. Aunt Eleanor was very
worldly in a frank, Early-Victorian manner.
She liked men of action, and disliked young
men who were careful of themselves and
who, as she put it, were always trimming
their wick as if they were afraid of their oil's
giving out. MacKeller, Bartley's first chief,
was an old friend of my aunt, and he told her
that Bartley was a wild, ill-governed youth,
which really pleased her very much.
I remember we were sitting alone in the dusk
after Bartley had been there for the first time.
I knew that Aunt Eleanor had found him much
to her taste, but she hadn't said anything.
Presently she came out, with a chuckle:
`MacKeller found him sowing wild oats in
London, I believe. I hope he didn't stop him
too soon. Life coquets with dashing fellows.
The coming men are always like that.
We must have him to dinner, my dear.'
And we did. She grew much fonder of Bartley
than she was of me. I had been studying in
Vienna, and she thought that absurd.
She was interested in the army and in politics,
and she had a great contempt for music and
art and philosophy. She used to declare that
the Prince Consort had brought all that stuff
over out of Germany. She always sniffed
when Bartley asked me to play for him. She
considered that a newfangled way of making
a match of it."
When Alexander came in a few moments later,
he found Wilson and his wife still
confronting the photograph. "Oh, let us
get that out of the way," he said, laughing.
"Winifred, Thomas can bring my trunk down.
I've decided to go over to New York
to-morrow night and take a fast boat.
I shall save two days."
On the night of his arrival in London,
Alexander went immediately to the hotel on the
Embankment at which he always stopped,
and in the lobby he was accosted by an old
acquaintance, Maurice Mainhall, who fell
upon him with effusive cordiality and
indicated a willingness to dine with him.
Bartley never dined alone if he could help it,
and Mainhall was a good gossip who always knew
what had been going on in town; especially,
he knew everything that was not printed in
the newspapers. The nephew of one of the
standard Victorian novelists, Mainhall bobbed
about among the various literary cliques of
London and its outlying suburbs, careful to
lose touch with none of them. He had written
a number of books himself; among them a
"History of Dancing," a "History of Costume,"
a "Key to Shakespeare's Sonnets," a study of
"The Poetry of Ernest Dowson," etc.
Although Mainhall's enthusiasm was often
tiresome, and although he was often unable
to distinguish between facts and vivid
figments of his imagination, his imperturbable
good nature overcame even the people whom he
bored most, so that they ended by becoming,
in a reluctant manner, his friends.
In appearance, Mainhall was astonishingly
like the conventional stage-Englishman of
American drama: tall and thin, with high,
hitching shoulders and a small head glistening
with closely brushed yellow hair. He spoke
with an extreme Oxford accent, and when he was
talking well, his face sometimes wore the rapt
expression of a very emotional man listening
to music. Mainhall liked Alexander because
he was an engineer. He had preconceived
ideas about everything, and his idea about
Americans was that they should be engineers
or mechanics. He hated them when they
presumed to be anything else.
While they sat at dinner Mainhall acquainted
Bartley with the fortunes of his old friends
in London, and as they left the table he
proposed that they should go to see Hugh
MacConnell's new comedy, "Bog Lights."
"It's really quite the best thing MacConnell's done,"
he explained as they got into a hansom.
"It's tremendously well put on, too.
Florence Merrill and Cyril Henderson.
But Hilda Burgoyne's the hit of the piece.
Hugh's written a delightful part for her,
and she's quite inexpressible. It's been on
only two weeks, and I've been half a dozen times
already. I happen to have MacConnell's box
for tonight or there'd be no chance of our
getting places. There's everything in seeing
Hilda while she's fresh in a part. She's apt to
grow a bit stale after a time. The ones who
have any imagination do."
"Hilda Burgoyne!" Alexander exclaimed mildly.
"Why, I haven't heard of her for--years."
Mainhall laughed. "Then you can't have
heard much at all, my dear Alexander.
It's only lately, since MacConnell and his
set have got hold of her, that she's come up.
Myself, I always knew she had it in her.
If we had one real critic in London--but what
can one expect? Do you know, Alexander,"--
Mainhall looked with perplexity up into the
top of the hansom and rubbed his pink cheek
with his gloved finger,--"do you know, I sometimes
think of taking to criticism seriously myself.
In a way, it would be a sacrifice;
but, dear me, we do need some one."
Just then they drove up to the Duke of York's,
so Alexander did not commit himself,
but followed Mainhall into the theatre.
When they entered the stage-box on the left the
first act was well under way, the scene being
the interior of a cabin in the south of Ireland.
As they sat down, a burst of applause drew
Alexander's attention to the stage. Miss
Burgoyne and her donkey were thrusting their
heads in at the half door. "After all,"
he reflected, "there's small probability of
her recognizing me. She doubtless hasn't thought
of me for years." He felt the enthusiasm of
the house at once, and in a few moments he
was caught up by the current of MacConnell's
irresistible comedy. The audience had
come forewarned, evidently, and whenever
the ragged slip of a donkey-girl ran upon the
stage there was a deep murmur of approbation,
every one smiled and glowed, and Mainhall
hitched his heavy chair a little nearer the
"You see," he murmured in Alexander's ear,
as the curtain fell on the first act,
"one almost never sees a part like that done
without smartness or mawkishness. Of course,
Hilda is Irish,--the Burgoynes have been
stage people for generations,--and she has the
Irish voice. It's delightful to hear it in a
London theatre. That laugh, now, when she
doubles over at the hips--who ever heard it
out of Galway? She saves her hand, too.
She's at her best in the second act. She's
really MacConnell's poetic motif, you see;
makes the whole thing a fairy tale."
The second act opened before Philly
Doyle's underground still, with Peggy and
her battered donkey come in to smuggle a
load of potheen across the bog, and to bring
Philly word of what was doing in the world
without, and of what was happening along
the roadsides and ditches with the first gleam
of fine weather. Alexander, annoyed by
Mainhall's sighs and exclamations, watched
her with keen, half-skeptical interest. As
Mainhall had said, she was the second act;
the plot and feeling alike depended upon her
lightness of foot, her lightness of touch, upon
the shrewdness and deft fancifulness that
played alternately, and sometimes together,
in her mirthful brown eyes. When she began
to dance, by way of showing the gossoons what
she had seen in the fairy rings at night,
the house broke into a prolonged uproar.
After her dance she withdrew from the dialogue
and retreated to the ditch wall back of Philly's
burrow, where she sat singing "The Rising of the Moon"
and making a wreath of primroses for her donkey.
When the act was over Alexander and Mainhall
strolled out into the corridor. They met
a good many acquaintances; Mainhall, indeed,
knew almost every one, and he babbled on incontinently,
screwing his small head about over his high collar.
Presently he hailed a tall, bearded man, grim-browed
and rather battered-looking, who had his opera cloak
on his arm and his hat in his hand, and who seemed
to be on the point of leaving the theatre.
"MacConnell, let me introduce Mr. Bartley
Alexander. I say! It's going famously
to-night, Mac. And what an audience!
You'll never do anything like this again, mark me.
A man writes to the top of his bent only once."
The playwright gave Mainhall a curious look
out of his deep-set faded eyes and made a
wry face. "And have I done anything so
fool as that, now?" he asked.
"That's what I was saying," Mainhall lounged
a little nearer and dropped into a tone
even more conspicuously confidential.
"And you'll never bring Hilda out like
this again. Dear me, Mac, the girl
couldn't possibly be better, you know."
MacConnell grunted. "She'll do well
enough if she keeps her pace and doesn't
go off on us in the middle of the season,
as she's more than like to do."
He nodded curtly and made for the door,
dodging acquaintances as he went.
"Poor old Hugh," Mainhall murmured.
"He's hit terribly hard. He's been wanting
to marry Hilda these three years and more.
She doesn't take up with anybody, you know.
Irene Burgoyne, one of her family, told me in
confidence that there was a romance somewhere
back in the beginning. One of your countrymen,
Alexander, by the way; an American student
whom she met in Paris, I believe. I dare say
it's quite true that there's never been any one else."
Mainhall vouched for her constancy with a loftiness
that made Alexander smile, even while a kind of
rapid excitement was tingling through him.
Blinking up at the lights, Mainhall added
in his luxurious, worldly way: "She's an elegant
little person, and quite capable of an extravagant
bit of sentiment like that. Here comes
Sir Harry Towne. He's another who's
awfully keen about her. Let me introduce you.
Sir Harry Towne, Mr. Bartley Alexander,
the American engineer."
Sir Harry Towne bowed and said that he had
met Mr. Alexander and his wife in Tokyo.
Mainhall cut in impatiently.
"I say, Sir Harry, the little girl's
going famously to-night, isn't she?"
Sir Harry wrinkled his brows judiciously.
"Do you know, I thought the dance a bit
conscious to-night, for the first time. The fact
is, she's feeling rather seedy, poor child.
Westmere and I were back after the first act,
and we thought she seemed quite uncertain of
herself. A little attack of nerves, possibly."
He bowed as the warning bell rang, and
Mainhall whispered: "You know Lord Westmere,
of course,--the stooped man with the
long gray mustache, talking to Lady Dowle.
Lady Westmere is very fond of Hilda."
When they reached their box the house
was darkened and the orchestra was playing
"The Cloak of Old Gaul." In a moment
Peggy was on the stage again, and Alexander
applauded vigorously with the rest. He even
leaned forward over the rail a little. For some
reason he felt pleased and flattered by the
enthusiasm of the audience. In the half-light
he looked about at the stalls and boxes and
smiled a little consciously, recalling with
amusement Sir Harry's judicial frown.
He was beginning to feel a keen interest in
the slender, barefoot donkey-girl who slipped
in and out of the play, singing, like some one
winding through a hilly field. He leaned
forward and beamed felicitations as warmly
as Mainhall himself when, at the end of the
play, she came again and again before the
curtain, panting a little and flushed, her eyes
dancing and her eager, nervous little mouth
tremulous with excitement.
When Alexander returned to his hotel--
he shook Mainhall at the door of the theatre--
he had some supper brought up to his room,
and it was late before he went to bed.
He had not thought of Hilda Burgoyne for
years; indeed, he had almost forgotten her.
He had last written to her from Canada,
after he first met Winifred, telling her that
everything was changed with him--that he had
met a woman whom he would marry if he could;
if he could not, then all the more was
everything changed for him. Hilda had never
replied to his letter. He felt guilty and
unhappy about her for a time, but after
Winifred promised to marry him he really forgot
Hilda altogether. When he wrote her that
everything was changed for him, he was telling
the truth. After he met Winifred Pemberton
he seemed to himself like a different man.
One night when he and Winifred were
sitting together on the bridge, he told her
that things had happened while he was studying
abroad that he was sorry for,--one thing in
particular,--and he asked her whether she
thought she ought to know about them.
She considered a moment and then said
"No, I think not, though I am glad you ask me.
You see, one can't be jealous about things
in general; but about particular, definite,
personal things,"--here she had thrown her
hands up to his shoulders with a quick,
impulsive gesture--"oh, about those I should be
very jealous. I should torture myself--I couldn't
help it." After that it was easy to forget,
actually to forget. He wondered to-night,
as he poured his wine, how many times he had
thought of Hilda in the last ten years.
He had been in London more or less,
but he had never happened to hear of her.
"All the same," he lifted his glass, "here's to you,
little Hilda. You've made things come your way,
and I never thought you'd do it.
"Of course," he reflected, "she always had
that combination of something homely and
sensible, and something utterly wild and daft.
But I never thought she'd do anything.
She hadn't much ambition then, and she was
too fond of trifles. She must care about the
theatre a great deal more than she used to.
Perhaps she has me to thank for something,
after all. Sometimes a little jolt like that
does one good. She was a daft, generous
little thing. I'm glad she's held her own since.
After all, we were awfully young. It was youth
and poverty and proximity, and everything
was young and kindly. I shouldn't wonder
if she could laugh about it with me now.
I shouldn't wonder-- But they've probably
spoiled her, so that she'd be tiresome if
one met her again."
Bartley smiled and yawned and went to bed.
The next evening Alexander dined alone at
a club, and at about nine o'clock he dropped in
at the Duke of York's. The house was sold
out and he stood through the second act.
When he returned to his hotel he examined
the new directory, and found Miss Burgoyne's
address still given as off Bedford Square,
though at a new number. He remembered that,
in so far as she had been brought up at all,
she had been brought up in Bloomsbury.
Her father and mother played in the
provinces most of the year, and she was left a
great deal in the care of an old aunt who was
crippled by rheumatism and who had had to
leave the stage altogether. In the days when
Alexander knew her, Hilda always managed to have
a lodging of some sort about Bedford Square,
because she clung tenaciously to such
scraps and shreds of memories as were
connected with it. The mummy room of the
British Museum had been one of the chief
delights of her childhood. That forbidding
pile was the goal of her truant fancy, and she
was sometimes taken there for a treat, as
other children are taken to the theatre. It was
long since Alexander had thought of any of
these things, but now they came back to him
quite fresh, and had a significance they did
not have when they were first told him in his
restless twenties. So she was still in the
old neighborhood, near Bedford Square.
The new number probably meant increased
prosperity. He hoped so. He would like to know
that she was snugly settled. He looked at his
watch. It was a quarter past ten; she would
not be home for a good two hours yet, and he
might as well walk over and have a look at
the place. He remembered the shortest way.
It was a warm, smoky evening, and there
was a grimy moon. He went through Covent
Garden to Oxford Street, and as he turned
into Museum Street he walked more slowly,
smiling at his own nervousness as he
approached the sullen gray mass at the end.
He had not been inside the Museum, actually,
since he and Hilda used to meet there;
sometimes to set out for gay adventures at
Twickenham or Richmond, sometimes to linger
about the place for a while and to ponder by
Lord Elgin's marbles upon the lastingness of
some things, or, in the mummy room, upon
the awful brevity of others. Since then
Bartley had always thought of the British
Museum as the ultimate repository of mortality,
where all the dead things in the world were
assembled to make one's hour of youth the
more precious. One trembled lest before he
got out it might somehow escape him, lest he
might drop the glass from over-eagerness and
see it shivered on the stone floor at his feet.
How one hid his youth under his coat and
hugged it! And how good it was to turn
one's back upon all that vaulted cold, to take
Hilda's arm and hurry out of the great door
and down the steps into the sunlight among
the pigeons--to know that the warm and vital
thing within him was still there and had not
been snatched away to flush Caesar's lean
cheek or to feed the veins of some bearded
Assyrian king. They in their day had carried
the flaming liquor, but to-day was his! So the
song used to run in his head those summer
mornings a dozen years ago. Alexander
walked by the place very quietly, as if
he were afraid of waking some one.
He crossed Bedford Square and found the
number he was looking for. The house,
a comfortable, well-kept place enough,
was dark except for the four front windows
on the second floor, where a low, even light was
burning behind the white muslin sash curtains.
Outside there were window boxes, painted white
and full of flowers. Bartley was making
a third round of the Square when he heard the
far-flung hoof-beats of a hansom-cab horse,
driven rapidly. He looked at his watch,
and was astonished to find that it was
a few minutes after twelve. He turned and
walked back along the iron railing as the
cab came up to Hilda's number and stopped.
The hansom must have been one that she employed
regularly, for she did not stop to pay the driver.
She stepped out quickly and lightly.
He heard her cheerful "Good-night, cabby,"
as she ran up the steps and opened the
door with a latchkey. In a few moments the
lights flared up brightly behind the white
curtains, and as he walked away he heard a
window raised. But he had gone too far to
look up without turning round. He went back
to his hotel, feeling that he had had a good
evening, and he slept well.
For the next few days Alexander was very busy.
He took a desk in the office of a Scotch
engineering firm on Henrietta Street,
and was at work almost constantly.
He avoided the clubs and usually dined alone
at his hotel. One afternoon, after he had tea,
he started for a walk down the Embankment
toward Westminster, intending to end his
stroll at Bedford Square and to ask whether
Miss Burgoyne would let him take her to the
theatre. But he did not go so far. When he
reached the Abbey, he turned back and
crossed Westminster Bridge and sat down to
watch the trails of smoke behind the Houses
of Parliament catch fire with the sunset.
The slender towers were washed by a rain of
golden light and licked by little flickering
flames; Somerset House and the bleached
gray pinnacles about Whitehall were floated
in a luminous haze. The yellow light poured
through the trees and the leaves seemed to
burn with soft fires. There was a smell of
acacias in the air everywhere, and the
laburnums were dripping gold over the walls
of the gardens. It was a sweet, lonely kind
of summer evening. Remembering Hilda as she
used to be, was doubtless more satisfactory
than seeing her as she must be now--and,
after all, Alexander asked himself, what was
it but his own young years that he was
He crossed back to Westminster, went up
to the Temple, and sat down to smoke in
the Middle Temple gardens, listening to the
thin voice of the fountain and smelling the
spice of the sycamores that came out heavily
in the damp evening air. He thought, as he
sat there, about a great many things: about
his own youth and Hilda's; above all, he
thought of how glorious it had been, and how
quickly it had passed; and, when it had
passed, how little worth while anything was.
None of the things he had gained in the least
compensated. In the last six years his
reputation had become, as the saying is, popular.
Four years ago he had been called to Japan to
deliver, at the Emperor's request, a course of
lectures at the Imperial University, and had
instituted reforms throughout the islands, not
only in the practice of bridge-building but in
drainage and road-making. On his return he
had undertaken the bridge at Moorlock, in
Canada, the most important piece of bridge-
building going on in the world,--a test,
indeed, of how far the latest practice in bridge
structure could be carried. It was a spectacular
undertaking by reason of its very size, and
Bartley realized that, whatever else he might
do, he would probably always be known as
the engineer who designed the great Moorlock
Bridge, the longest cantilever in existence.
Yet it was to him the least satisfactory thing
he had ever done. He was cramped in every
way by a niggardly commission, and was
using lighter structural material than he
thought proper. He had vexations enough,
too, with his work at home. He had several
bridges under way in the United States, and
they were always being held up by strikes and
delays resulting from a general industrial unrest.
Though Alexander often told himself he
had never put more into his work than he had
done in the last few years, he had to admit
that he had never got so little out of it.
He was paying for success, too, in the demands
made on his time by boards of civic enterprise
and committees of public welfare. The obligations
imposed by his wife's fortune and position
were sometimes distracting to a man who
followed his profession, and he was
expected to be interested in a great many
worthy endeavors on her account as well as
on his own. His existence was becoming a
network of great and little details. He had
expected that success would bring him
freedom and power; but it had brought only
power that was in itself another kind of
restraint. He had always meant to keep his
personal liberty at all costs, as old MacKeller,
his first chief, had done, and not, like so
many American engineers, to become a part
of a professional movement, a cautious board
member, a Nestor de pontibus. He happened
to be engaged in work of public utility, but
he was not willing to become what is called a
public man. He found himself living exactly
the kind of life he had determined to escape.
What, he asked himself, did he want with
these genial honors and substantial comforts?
Hardships and difficulties he had carried
lightly; overwork had not exhausted him; but this
dead calm of middle life which confronted him,--
of that he was afraid. He was not ready for it.
It was like being buried alive. In his youth
he would not have believed such a thing possible.
The one thing he had really wanted all his life
was to be free; and there was still something
unconquered in him, something besides the
strong work-horse that his profession had made of him.
He felt rich to-night in the possession of that
unstultified survival; in the light of his
experience, it was more precious than honors
or achievement. In all those busy, successful
years there had been nothing so good as this
hour of wild light-heartedness. This feeling
was the only happiness that was real to him,
and such hours were the only ones in which
he could feel his own continuous identity--
feel the boy he had been in the rough days of
the old West, feel the youth who had worked
his way across the ocean on a cattle-ship and
gone to study in Paris without a dollar in his
pocket. The man who sat in his offices in
Boston was only a powerful machine. Under
the activities of that machine the person who,
in such moments as this, he felt to be himself,
was fading and dying. He remembered how,
when he was a little boy and his father
called him in the morning, he used to leap
from his bed into the full consciousness of
himself. That consciousness was Life itself.
Whatever took its place, action, reflection,
the power of concentrated thought, were only
functions of a mechanism useful to society;
things that could be bought in the market.
There was only one thing that had an
absolute value for each individual, and it was
just that original impulse, that internal heat,
that feeling of one's self in one's own breast.
When Alexander walked back to his hotel,
the red and green lights were blinking
along the docks on the farther shore,
and the soft white stars were shining
in the wide sky above the river.
The next night, and the next, Alexander
repeated this same foolish performance.
It was always Miss Burgoyne whom he started
out to find, and he got no farther than the
Temple gardens and the Embankment. It was
a pleasant kind of loneliness. To a man who
was so little given to reflection, whose dreams
always took the form of definite ideas,
reaching into the future, there was a seductive
excitement in renewing old experiences in
imagination. He started out upon these walks
half guiltily, with a curious longing and
expectancy which were wholly gratified by
solitude. Solitude, but not solitariness;
for he walked shoulder to shoulder with a
shadowy companion--not little Hilda Burgoyne,
by any means, but some one vastly dearer to him
than she had ever been--his own young self,
the youth who had waited for him upon the
steps of the British Museum that night, and
who, though he had tried to pass so quietly,
had known him and come down and linked
an arm in his.
It was not until long afterward that
Alexander learned that for him this youth
was the most dangerous of companions.
One Sunday evening, at Lady Walford's,
Alexander did at last meet Hilda Burgoyne.
Mainhall had told him that she would probably
be there. He looked about for her rather
nervously, and finally found her at the farther
end of the large drawing-room, the centre of
a circle of men, young and old. She was
apparently telling them a story. They were
all laughing and bending toward her. When
she saw Alexander, she rose quickly and put
out her hand. The other men drew back a
little to let him approach.
"Mr. Alexander! I am delighted. Have you been
in London long?"
Bartley bowed, somewhat laboriously,
over her hand. "Long enough to have seen
you more than once. How fine it all is!"
She laughed as if she were pleased. "I'm glad
you think so. I like it. Won't you join us here?"
"Miss Burgoyne was just telling us about
a donkey-boy she had in Galway last summer,"
Sir Harry Towne explained as the circle
closed up again. Lord Westmere stroked
his long white mustache with his bloodless
hand and looked at Alexander blankly.
Hilda was a good story-teller. She was
sitting on the edge of her chair, as if she
had alighted there for a moment only.
Her primrose satin gown seemed like a soft sheath
for her slender, supple figure, and its delicate
color suited her white Irish skin and brown
hair. Whatever she wore, people felt the
charm of her active, girlish body with its
slender hips and quick, eager shoulders.
Alexander heard little of the story, but he
watched Hilda intently. She must certainly,
he reflected, be thirty, and he was honestly
delighted to see that the years had treated her
so indulgently. If her face had changed at all,
it was in a slight hardening of the mouth--
still eager enough to be very disconcerting
at times, he felt--and in an added air of self-
possession and self-reliance. She carried her
head, too, a little more resolutely.
When the story was finished, Miss Burgoyne
turned pointedly to Alexander, and the
other men drifted away.
"I thought I saw you in MacConnell's box
with Mainhall one evening, but I supposed
you had left town before this."
She looked at him frankly and cordially,
as if he were indeed merely an old friend
whom she was glad to meet again.
"No, I've been mooning about here."
Hilda laughed gayly. "Mooning! I see
you mooning! You must be the busiest man
in the world. Time and success have done
well by you, you know. You're handsomer
than ever and you've gained a grand manner."
Alexander blushed and bowed. "Time and
success have been good friends to both of us.
Aren't you tremendously pleased with yourself?"
She laughed again and shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, so-so. But I want to hear about you.
Several years ago I read such a lot in the
papers about the wonderful things you did
in Japan, and how the Emperor decorated you.
What was it, Commander of the Order of
the Rising Sun? That sounds like `The
Mikado.' And what about your new bridge--
in Canada, isn't it, and it's to be the longest
one in the world and has some queer name I
Bartley shook his head and smiled drolly.
"Since when have you been interested in
bridges? Or have you learned to be interested
in everything? And is that a part of success?"
"Why, how absurd! As if I were not
always interested!" Hilda exclaimed.
"Well, I think we won't talk about bridges here,
at any rate." Bartley looked down at the toe
of her yellow slipper which was tapping the rug
impatiently under the hem of her gown.
"But I wonder whether you'd think me impertinent
if I asked you to let me come to see you sometime
and tell you about them?"
"Why should I? Ever so many people
come on Sunday afternoons."
"I know. Mainhall offered to take me.
But you must know that I've been in London
several times within the last few years, and
you might very well think that just now is a
rather inopportune time--"
She cut him short. "Nonsense. One of the
pleasantest things about success is that it
makes people want to look one up, if that's
what you mean. I'm like every one else--
more agreeable to meet when things are going
well with me. Don't you suppose it gives me
any pleasure to do something that people like?"
"Does it? Oh, how fine it all is, your
coming on like this! But I didn't want you to
think it was because of that I wanted to see you."
He spoke very seriously and looked down at the floor.
Hilda studied him in wide-eyed astonishment
for a moment, and then broke into a low,
amused laugh. "My dear Mr. Alexander,
you have strange delicacies. If you please,
that is exactly why you wish to see me.
We understand that, do we not?"
Bartley looked ruffled and turned the seal
ring on his little finger about awkwardly.
Hilda leaned back in her chair, watching
him indulgently out of her shrewd eyes.
"Come, don't be angry, but don't try to pose
for me, or to be anything but what you are.
If you care to come, it's yourself I'll be glad
to see, and you thinking well of yourself.
Don't try to wear a cloak of humility; it
doesn't become you. Stalk in as you are and
don't make excuses. I'm not accustomed to
inquiring into the motives of my guests. That
would hardly be safe, even for Lady Walford,
in a great house like this."
"Sunday afternoon, then," said Alexander,
as she rose to join her hostess.
"How early may I come?"
She gave him her hand and flushed and
laughed. He bent over it a little stiffly.
She went away on Lady Walford's arm, and as he
stood watching her yellow train glide down
the long floor he looked rather sullen. He felt
that he had not come out of it very brilliantly.
On Sunday afternoon Alexander remembered
Miss Burgoyne's invitation and called at her
apartment. He found it a delightful little
place and he met charming people there.
Hilda lived alone, attended by a very pretty
and competent French servant who answered
the door and brought in the tea. Alexander
arrived early, and some twenty-odd people
dropped in during the course of the afternoon.
Hugh MacConnell came with his sister,
and stood about, managing his tea-cup
awkwardly and watching every one out of his
deep-set, faded eyes. He seemed to have
made a resolute effort at tidiness of attire,
and his sister, a robust, florid woman with a
splendid joviality about her, kept eyeing his
freshly creased clothes apprehensively. It was
not very long, indeed, before his coat hung
with a discouraged sag from his gaunt shoulders
and his hair and beard were rumpled as
if he had been out in a gale. His dry humor
went under a cloud of absent-minded kindliness
which, Mainhall explained, always overtook
him here. He was never so witty or so
sharp here as elsewhere, and Alexander
thought he behaved as if he were an elderly
relative come in to a young girl's party.
The editor of a monthly review came
with his wife, and Lady Kildare, the Irish
philanthropist, brought her young nephew,
Robert Owen, who had come up from Oxford,
and who was visibly excited and gratified
by his first introduction to Miss Burgoyne.
Hilda was very nice to him, and he sat on
the edge of his chair, flushed with his
conversational efforts and moving his chin
about nervously over his high collar.
Sarah Frost, the novelist, came with her husband,
a very genial and placid old scholar who had
become slightly deranged upon the subject of
the fourth dimension. On other matters he
was perfectly rational and he was easy and
pleasing in conversation. He looked very
much like Agassiz, and his wife, in her
old-fashioned black silk dress, overskirted and
tight-sleeved, reminded Alexander of the early
pictures of Mrs. Browning. Hilda seemed
particularly fond of this quaint couple,
and Bartley himself was so pleased with their
mild and thoughtful converse that he took his
leave when they did, and walked with them
over to Oxford Street, where they waited for
their 'bus. They asked him to come to see
them in Chelsea, and they spoke very tenderly
of Hilda. "She's a dear, unworldly little
thing," said the philosopher absently;
"more like the stage people of my young days--
folk ofsimple manners. There aren't many such left.
American tours have spoiled them, I'm afraid.
They have all grown very smart. Lamb wouldn't
care a great deal about many of them, I fancy."
Alexander went back to Bedford Square
a second Sunday afternoon. He had a long
talk with MacConnell, but he got no word with
Hilda alone, and he left in a discontented
state of mind. For the rest of the week
he was nervous and unsettled, and kept
rushing his work as if he were preparing for
immediate departure. On Thursday afternoon
he cut short a committee meeting, jumped into
a hansom, and drove to Bedford Square.
He sent up his card, but it came back to
him with a message scribbled across the front.
So sorry I can't see you. Will you come and
dine with me Sunday evening at half-past seven?
When Bartley arrived at Bedford Square on
Sunday evening, Marie, the pretty little
French girl, met him at the door and conducted
him upstairs. Hilda was writing in her
living-room, under the light of a tall desk lamp.
Bartley recognized the primrose satin gown
she had worn that first evening at Lady Walford's.
"I'm so pleased that you think me worth
that yellow dress, you know," he said, taking
her hand and looking her over admiringly
from the toes of her canary slippers to her
smoothly parted brown hair. "Yes, it's very,
very pretty. Every one at Lady Walford's was
looking at it."
Hilda curtsied. "Is that why you think it
pretty? I've no need for fine clothes in Mac's
play this time, so I can afford a few duddies
for myself. It's owing to that same chance,
by the way, that I am able to ask you to dinner.
I don't need Marie to dress me this season,
so she keeps house for me, and my little Galway
girl has gone home for a visit. I should never
have asked you if Molly had been here,
for I remember you don't like English cookery."
Alexander walked about the room, looking at everything.
"I haven't had a chance yet to tell you
what a jolly little place I think this is.
Where did you get those etchings?
They're quite unusual, aren't they?"
"Lady Westmere sent them to me from Rome
last Christmas. She is very much interested
in the American artist who did them.
They are all sketches made about the Villa
d'Este, you see. He painted that group of
cypresses for the Salon, and it was bought
for the Luxembourg."
Alexander walked over to the bookcases.
"It's the air of the whole place here that
I like. You haven't got anything that doesn't
belong. Seems to me it looks particularly
well to-night. And you have so many flowers.
I like these little yellow irises."
"Rooms always look better by lamplight
--in London, at least. Though Marie is clean
--really clean, as the French are. Why do
you look at the flowers so critically? Marie
got them all fresh in Covent Garden market
"I'm glad," said Alexander simply.
"I can't tell you how glad I am to have
you so pretty and comfortable here, and to hear
every one saying such nice things about you.
You've got awfully nice friends," he added
humbly, picking up a little jade elephant from
her desk. "Those fellows are all very loyal,
even Mainhall. They don't talk of any one
else as they do of you."
Hilda sat down on the couch and said
seriously: "I've a neat little sum in the bank,
too, now, and I own a mite of a hut in
Galway. It's not worth much, but I love it.
I've managed to save something every year,
and that with helping my three sisters now
and then, and tiding poor Cousin Mike over
bad seasons. He's that gifted, you know,
but he will drink and loses more good
engagements than other fellows ever get.
And I've traveled a bit, too."
Marie opened the door and smilingly
announced that dinner was served.
"My dining-room," Hilda explained, as
she led the way, "is the tiniest place
you have ever seen."
It was a tiny room, hung all round with
French prints, above which ran a shelf full
of china. Hilda saw Alexander look up at it.
"It's not particularly rare," she said,
"but some of it was my mother's. Heaven knows
how she managed to keep it whole, through all
our wanderings, or in what baskets and bundles
and theatre trunks it hasn't been stowed away.
We always had our tea out of those blue cups
when I was a little girl, sometimes in the
queerest lodgings, and sometimes on a trunk
at the theatre--queer theatres, for that matter."
It was a wonderful little dinner. There was
watercress soup, and sole, and a delightful
omelette stuffed with mushrooms and truffles,
and two small rare ducklings, and artichokes,
and a dry yellow Rhone wine of which Bartley
had always been very fond. He drank it
appreciatively and remarked that there was
still no other he liked so well.
"I have some champagne for you, too. I
don't drink it myself, but I like to see it
behave when it's poured. There is nothing
else that looks so jolly."
"Thank you. But I don't like it so well as
this." Bartley held the yellow wine against
the light and squinted into it as he turned the
glass slowly about. "You have traveled, you
say. Have you been in Paris much these late
Hilda lowered one of the candle-shades
carefully. "Oh, yes, I go over to Paris often.
There are few changes in the old Quarter.
Dear old Madame Anger is dead--but perhaps
you don't remember her?"
"Don't I, though! I'm so sorry to hear it.
How did her son turn out? I remember how
she saved and scraped for him, and how he
always lay abed till ten o'clock. He was the
laziest fellow at the Beaux Arts; and that's
saying a good deal."
"Well, he is still clever and lazy. They
say he is a good architect when he will work.
He's a big, handsome creature, and he hates
Americans as much as ever. But Angel--do
you remember Angel?"
"Perfectly. Did she ever get back to
Brittany and her bains de mer?"
"Ah, no. Poor Angel! She got tired of
cooking and scouring the coppers in Madame
Anger's little kitchen, so she ran away with a
soldier, and then with another soldier.
Too bad! She still lives about the Quarter,
and, though there is always a soldat, she has
become a blanchisseuse de fin. She did my blouses
beautifully the last time I was there, and was
so delighted to see me again. I gave her all
my old clothes, even my old hats, though she
always wears her Breton headdress. Her hair
is still like flax, and her blue eyes are just like
a baby's, and she has the same three freckles
on her little nose, and talks about going back
to her bains de mer."
Bartley looked at Hilda across the yellow
light of the candles and broke into a low,
happy laugh. "How jolly it was being young,
Hilda! Do you remember that first walk we
took together in Paris? We walked down to
the Place Saint-Michel to buy some lilacs.
Do you remember how sweet they smelled?"
"Indeed I do. Come, we'll have our
coffee in the other room, and you can smoke."
Hilda rose quickly, as if she wished to
change the drift of their talk, but Bartley
found it pleasant to continue it.
"What a warm, soft spring evening that
was," he went on, as they sat down in the
study with the coffee on a little table between
them; "and the sky, over the bridges, was just
the color of the lilacs. We walked on down
by the river, didn't we?"
Hilda laughed and looked at him questioningly.
He saw a gleam in her eyes that he remembered
even better than the episode he was recalling.
"I think we did," she answered demurely.
"It was on the Quai we met that woman
who was crying so bitterly. I gave her a spray
of lilac, I remember, and you gave her a
franc. I was frightened at your prodigality."
"I expect it was the last franc I had.
What a strong brown face she had, and very
tragic. She looked at us with such despair and
longing, out from under her black shawl.
What she wanted from us was neither our
flowers nor our francs, but just our youth.
I remember it touched me so. I would have
given her some of mine off my back, if I could.
I had enough and to spare then," Bartley mused,
and looked thoughtfully at his cigar.
They were both remembering what the
woman had said when she took the money:
"God give you a happy love!" It was not in
the ingratiating tone of the habitual beggar:
it had come out of the depths of the poor creature's
sorrow, vibrating with pity for their youth
and despair at the terribleness of human life;
it had the anguish of a voice of prophecy.
Until she spoke, Bartley had not realized
that he was in love. The strange woman,
and her passionate sentence that rang
out so sharply, had frightened them both.
They went home sadly with the lilacs, back
to the Rue Saint-Jacques, walking very slowly,
arm in arm. When they reached the house
where Hilda lodged, Bartley went across the
court with her, and up the dark old stairs to
the third landing; and there he had kissed her
for the first time. He had shut his eyes to
give him the courage, he remembered, and
she had trembled so--
Bartley started when Hilda rang the little
bell beside her. "Dear me, why did you do
that? I had quite forgotten--I was back there.
It was very jolly," he murmured lazily, as
Marie came in to take away the coffee.
Hilda laughed and went over to the
piano. "Well, we are neither of us twenty
now, you know. Have I told you about my
new play? Mac is writing one; really for me
this time. You see, I'm coming on."
"I've seen nothing else. What kind of a
part is it? Shall you wear yellow gowns?
I hope so."
He was looking at her round slender figure,
as she stood by the piano, turning over a
pile of music, and he felt the energy in every
line of it.
"No, it isn't a dress-up part. He doesn't
seem to fancy me in fine feathers. He says
I ought to be minding the pigs at home, and I
suppose I ought. But he's given me some
good Irish songs. Listen."
She sat down at the piano and sang.
When she finished, Alexander shook himself
out of a reverie.
"Sing `The Harp That Once,' Hilda.
You used to sing it so well."
"Nonsense. Of course I can't really sing,
except the way my mother and grandmother
did before me. Most actresses nowadays
learn to sing properly, so I tried a master;
but he confused me, just!"
Alexander laughed. "All the same, sing it, Hilda."
Hilda started up from the stool and
moved restlessly toward the window.
"It's really too warm in this room to sing.
Don't you feel it?"
Alexander went over and opened the
window for her. "Aren't you afraid to let the
wind low like that on your neck? Can't I get
a scarf or something?"
"Ask a theatre lady if she's afraid of drafts!"
Hilda laughed. "But perhaps, as I'm so warm--
give me your handkerchief. There, just in front."
He slipped the corners carefully under her shoulder-straps.
"There, that will do. It looks like a bib."
She pushed his hand away quickly and stood
looking out into the deserted square.
"Isn't London a tomb on Sunday night?"
Alexander caught the agitation in her voice.
He stood a little behind her, and tried to
steady himself as he said: "It's soft and misty.
See how white the stars are."
For a long time neither Hilda nor Bartley spoke.
They stood close together, looking out
into the wan, watery sky, breathing always
more quickly and lightly, and it seemed as if
all the clocks in the world had stopped.
Suddenly he moved the clenched hand he held
behind him and dropped it violently at
his side. He felt a tremor run through
the slender yellow figure in front of him.
She caught his handkerchief from her
throat and thrust it at him without turning
round. "Here, take it. You must go now,
Bartley leaned over her shoulder, without
touching her, and whispered in her ear:
"You are giving me a chance?"
"Yes. Take it and go. This isn't fair,
you know. Good-night."
Alexander unclenched the two hands at
his sides. With one he threw down the
window and with the other--still standing
behind her--he drew her back against him.
She uttered a little cry, threw her arms
over her head, and drew his face down to hers.
"Are you going to let me love you a little, Bartley?"
It was the afternoon of the day before Christmas.
Mrs. Alexander had been driving about all the morning,
leaving presents at the houses of her friends.
She lunched alone, and as she rose from the table
she spoke to the butler: "Thomas, I am going down
to the kitchen now to see Norah. In half an hour
you are to bring the greens up from the cellar
and put them in the library. Mr. Alexander
will be home at three to hang them himself.
Don't forget the stepladder, and plenty of tacks
and string. You may bring the azaleas upstairs.
Take the white one to Mr. Alexander's study.
Put the two pink ones in this room,
and the red one in the drawing-room."
A little before three o'clock Mrs. Alexander
went into the library to see that everything
was ready. She pulled the window shades high,
for the weather was dark and stormy,
and there was little light, even in the streets.
A foot of snow had fallen during the morning,
and the wide space over the river was
thick with flying flakes that fell and
wreathed the masses of floating ice.
Winifred was standing by the window when
she heard the front door open. She hurried
to the hall as Alexander came stamping in,
covered with snow. He kissed her joyfully
and brushed away the snow that fell on her hair.
"I wish I had asked you to meet me at
the office and walk home with me, Winifred.
The Common is beautiful. The boys have swept
the snow off the pond and are skating furiously.
Did the cyclamens come?"
"An hour ago. What splendid ones!
But aren't you frightfully extravagant?"
"Not for Christmas-time. I'll go upstairs and
change my coat. I shall be down in a moment.
Tell Thomas to get everything ready."
When Alexander reappeared, he took his wife's
arm and went with her into the library.
"When did the azaleas get here?
Thomas has got the white one in my room."
"I told him to put it there."
"But, I say, it's much the finest of the lot!"
"That's why I had it put there. There is
too much color in that room for a red one,
Bartley began to sort the greens. "It looks
very splendid there, but I feel piggish
to have it. However, we really spend more
time there than anywhere else in the house.
Will you hand me the holly?"
He climbed up the stepladder, which creaked
under his weight, and began to twist the
tough stems of the holly into the frame-
work of the chandelier.
"I forgot to tell you that I had a letter
from Wilson, this morning, explaining his
telegram. He is coming on because an old
uncle up in Vermont has conveniently died
and left Wilson a little money--something
like ten thousand. He's coming on to settle up
the estate. Won't it be jolly to have him?"
"And how fine that he's come into a little
money. I can see him posting down State
Street to the steamship offices. He will get
a good many trips out of that ten thousand.
What can have detained him? I expected him
here for luncheon."
"Those trains from Albany are always
late. He'll be along sometime this afternoon.
And now, don't you want to go upstairs and
lie down for an hour? You've had a busy morning
and I don't want you to be tired to-night."
After his wife went upstairs Alexander
worked energetically at the greens for a few
moments. Then, as he was cutting off a
length of string, he sighed suddenly and sat
down, staring out of the window at the snow.
The animation died out of his face, but in his
eyes there was a restless light, a look of
apprehension and suspense. He kept clasping
and unclasping his big hands as if he were
trying to realize something. The clock ticked
through the minutes of a half-hour and the
afternoon outside began to thicken and darken
turbidly. Alexander, since he first sat down,
had not changed his position. He leaned
forward, his hands between his knees, scarcely
breathing, as if he were holding himself
away from his surroundings, from the room,
and from the very chair in which he sat, from
everything except the wild eddies of snow
above the river on which his eyes were fixed
with feverish intentness, as if he were trying
to project himself thither. When at last
Lucius Wilson was announced, Alexander
sprang eagerly to his feet and hurried
to meet his old instructor.
"Hello, Wilson. What luck! Come into
the library. We are to have a lot of people to
dinner to-night, and Winifred's lying down.
You will excuse her, won't you? And now
what about yourself? Sit down and tell me
"I think I'd rather move about, if you don't mind.
I've been sitting in the train for a week,
it seems to me." Wilson stood before
the fire with his hands behind him and
looked about the room. "You HAVE been busy.
Bartley, if I'd had my choice of all possible
places in which to spend Christmas, your house
would certainly be the place I'd have chosen.
Happy people do a great deal for their friends.
A house like this throws its warmth out.
I felt it distinctly as I was coming through
the Berkshires. I could scarcely believe that
I was to see Mrs. Bartley again so soon."
"Thank you, Wilson. She'll be as glad to
see you. Shall we have tea now? I'll ring
for Thomas to clear away this litter.
Winifred says I always wreck the house when
I try to do anything. Do you know, I am quite tired.
Looks as if I were not used to work, doesn't it?"
Alexander laughed and dropped into a chair.
"You know, I'm sailing the day after New Year's."
"Again? Why, you've been over twice
since I was here in the spring, haven't you?"
"Oh, I was in London about ten days in
the summer. Went to escape the hot weather
more than anything else. I shan't be gone
more than a month this time. Winifred and I
have been up in Canada for most of the
autumn. That Moorlock Bridge is on my back
all the time. I never had so much trouble
with a job before." Alexander moved about
restlessly and fell to poking the fire.
"Haven't I seen in the papers that there
is some trouble about a tidewater bridge of
yours in New Jersey?"
"Oh, that doesn't amount to anything.
It's held up by a steel strike. A bother,
of course, but the sort of thing one is always
having to put up with. But the Moorlock
Bridge is a continual anxiety. You see,
the truth is, we are having to build pretty well to
the strain limit up there. They've crowded
me too much on the cost. It's all very well
if everything goes well, but these estimates have
never been used for anything of such length
before. However, there's nothing to be done.
They hold me to the scale I've used in shorter
bridges. The last thing a bridge commission
cares about is the kind of bridge you build."
When Bartley had finished dressing for
dinner he went into his study, where he
found his wife arranging flowers on his
"These pink roses just came from Mrs. Hastings,"
she said, smiling, "and I am sure she meant them for you."
Bartley looked about with an air of satisfaction
at the greens and the wreaths in the windows.
"Have you a moment, Winifred? I have just now
been thinking that this is our twelfth Christmas.
Can you realize it?" He went up to the table
and took her hands away from the flowers,
drying them with his pocket handkerchief.
"They've been awfully happy ones, all of them,
haven't they?" He took her in his arms and bent back,
lifting her a little and giving her a long kiss.
"You are happy, aren't you Winifred? More than
anything else in the world, I want you to be happy.
Sometimes, of late, I've thought you looked
as if you were troubled."
"No; it's only when you are troubled and
harassed that I feel worried, Bartley.
I wish you always seemed as you do to-night.
But you don't, always." She looked earnestly
and inquiringly into his eyes.
Alexander took her two hands from his
shoulders and swung them back and forth in
his own, laughing his big blond laugh.
"I'm growing older, my dear; that's what
you feel. Now, may I show you something?
I meant to save them until to-morrow, but I
want you to wear them to-night." He took a
little leather box out of his pocket and
opened it. On the white velvet lay two long
pendants of curiously worked gold, set with pearls.
Winifred looked from the box to Bartley and exclaimed:--
"Where did you ever find such gold work, Bartley?"
"It's old Flemish. Isn't it fine?"
"They are the most beautiful things, dear.
But, you know, I never wear earrings."
"Yes, yes, I know. But I want you to
wear them. I have always wanted you to.
So few women can. There must be a good ear,
to begin with, and a nose"--he waved his
hand--"above reproach. Most women look
silly in them. They go only with faces like
yours--very, very proud, and just a little hard."
Winifred laughed as she went over to the
mirror and fitted the delicate springs to the
lobes of her ears. "Oh, Bartley, that old
foolishness about my being hard. It really
hurts my feelings. But I must go down now.
People are beginning to come."
Bartley drew her arm about his neck and went
to the door with her. "Not hard to me, Winifred,"
he whispered. "Never, never hard to me."
Left alone, he paced up and down his
study. He was at home again, among all the
dear familiar things that spoke to him of so