Part 6 out of 8
Her initials: M. S. B.--she need puzzle only a second over the
selection, for her letters to him were always signed, "Martha
Salisbury, Bannister." And under the initials, this:
Even as to Caesar, Cassar's toll, To God what in us is divine; So to
your soul above my soul Whatever life finds good in mine. Martie
read the four lines as many times, then she lifted the page to her
cheek, and held it there, shutting her eyes, and drawing a deep,
"Oh, John, JOHN, how wonderful of you!" she whispered, her heart
rising on a swift, triumphant flight. Ah, this was something to have
brought from the long years; this counted in that inner tribunal of
After awhile she began to turn the pages, wishing that she were a
better judge of all these phrases. The play was short: three brief
"I think it's wonderful!" Martie decided. "I KNOW it is!"
For the little volume, even at this first quick glimpse, was stamped
with something fiery and strange. Martie's eyes drifted here and
there; presently fell upon the lines that brought the frightened
little Italian princess, fresh from her convent, to the strange
coast of England, and to the welcome of the strange King, her
prospective husband's brother. The words were simplicity's self,
like all inspired words, yet they brought the colour to Martie's
face, and a yearning pain to her heart. Youth and love in all their
first gold glory were captured here, and something of youth and
glory seemed to flood the Library throughout the quiet winter
The hours droned on, Martie, moving noiselessly about, and touching
the switch that suddenly lighted the dim big room, paused at the
window to look down upon Monroe. An early twilight was creeping into
the village street, and the drug-store windows glowed with globes of
purple and green. The shops were already disguised under bushy
evergreens; wreaths of red and green paper made circles of steam
against the show windows. Silva, of the fruit market opposite, was
selling a Christmas tree from the score that lay at the curb, to a
stout country woman, whose shabby, well-wrapped children watched the
transaction breathlessly from a mud-spattered surrey. The Baxter
girls went by, Martie saw them turn into the church yard, and
disappear into the swinging black doors, "for a little visit."
Nothing dramatic or beautiful in the scene: a little Western village
street, on the eve of Christmas Eve, but to-night it was lighted for
Martie with poetry and romance. The thought of a slim, dark-blue
book with its four magic lines thrilled in her heart like a song.
"Christmas day after to-morrow!" she said to Fanny, "don't you love
But she knew that her real Christmas joy had come to-day.
The December kitchen was gas-lighted long before she got there, and
Pauline was deep in calm preparation for dinner. Pauline was a
Canadian girl, and if her work ever confused or fatigued her, at
least she never betrayed the fact. There never were pots and pans
awaiting cleaning in Pauline's sink, there never was a teaspoonful
of flour spilled upon her biscuit board. Her gingham cuffs were
always starched and stiff, her colourless hair smooth. She was a
silent, dun-coloured creature, whose most violent expression was an
occasional deep, unctuous laugh at Mrs. Bannister's nonsense.
Pauline did not prepare a meal in a series of culminating
convulsions, with hair rumpling, face reddening, and voice rising
every passing minute. She moved a shining pot forward on a shining
stove, she took plates of inviting cold things from the safe, and
lifted a damp napkin from her pats of butter. Then she said, in an
uninterested voice: "You might tell your p'pa, Miss Lydia--"
Humble as her business was, she had been taught it well. Martie,
insatiable on this particular topic, sometimes questioned Pauline.
She was given a meagre picture of a farmhouse on Prince Edward's
Island, of a stern, exacting, loving mother who "licked" daughters
and sons alike with a "trace-end" for any infractions of domestic
rule. Of snows so lasting and deep that housewives buried their
brown linens in October, and found them again, snowy white, on the
April grass. Pauline's mother, dying of "a shock," had been the
devoted daughter's charge for eleven hard years, then Pauline had
married at thirty, only to be made a widow, by a lumber jam, at
thirty-two. So it was fortunate that she could cook, for she was a
plain woman, and what the country folk call "dumb," meaning dull,
and unresponsive, and unambitious.
To-night there was a little unusual clutter in the big, hot, clean
kitchen; Lydia was making sandwiches for the Girls' Sodality
Christmas Tree at the large table. Two or three empty cardboard
boxes stood waiting the neatly trimmed and pressed bread: Lydia did
this sort of thing perfectly. At the end of the table, his cheeks
glowing, and his dark mop in a tumble, Teddy was watching in deep
The room had the charm that use and simplicity lend to any room.
There was nothing superfluous here, and nothing assumed. Martie knew
every crack in the yellow bowl that held a crinkled rice-pudding;
the broom had held that corner for thirty years; for thirty years
the roller towel had dangled from that door. She and Len and Sally
had seen their mother go to the broom for a straw, to test baking
cake, a hundred times; their sticky little faces had been dried a
hundred times on the towel.
But to-night a new, homely sweetness seemed to permeate the place.
Martie had left the slim, dark-blue book upstairs in her bureau
drawer, but her mood of exquisite lightheartedness she had not laid
aside. She sat down in the kitchen rocker, and Teddy climbed into
her lap, and, while she talked with Lydia, distracted her with
little kisses, with small hands squeezing her cold cheeks, and with
the casual bumping of his hard little head against her face.
"I declare it begins to feel Christmassy, Lyd! Did you get down town
to see the stores? I never saw anything like Bonestell's in my life.
It's cold, too--but sort of bracing cold! We had both the stoves
going all day; we had to light the lights at four! It was rather
nice, everybody coming in to say 'Merry Christmas!'"
"The children had their closing exercises at school this morning,"
Lydia contributed, "and afterward Sally and I walked down town, with
all the children. She expects Joe to-morrow. She wanted Billy and
Jim to get in a nap, so I brought Ted home."
"And I took a long nap!" Teddy whispered in his mother's ear.
"I don't know what possesses the child to whisper that way!" Lydia
"He just said that he had a nap, Lyd, I think he didn't want to
"Oh, he got a good nap in," Lydia admitted, pacified, "if you're
really going to take him to-night, I've laid out his clean things."
"I saw them on the bed, Lyd--you're a darling!"
"Am I going?" Teddy asked, with a bounce.
"Is Aunt Sally going to take the children?" Martie temporized. But
Teddy knew from her tone that he was safe. Indeed, his mother loved
the realization that she was his court of last appeal, that it was
to her memory of authority abused that his happiness was entrusted.
It was her joy to explain, to adjust, to reconcile, the little
elements of his life. She taught him the rules of simplicity and
industry and service as another mother might have taught him his
multiplication table. Teddy might have poverty and discouragement to
face some day, but life could never be all dark to him while his
mother interpreted it.
She took him upstairs now, to dress for the great occasion of the
Sodality Christmas tree, and dressed herself, prettily, as well. But
before she turned out the gas, and followed the galloping small boy
downstairs, she opened her bureau drawer.
And again the slim book was in her hands, and again her dazzled eyes
were reading the few words that gave her new proof that John had not
For a few minutes she stood dreaming; dreaming of the old boarding-
house, and the little furniture clerk with his eager, faun-like
smile. And for the first time she let her fancy play with the
thought of what life might be for the woman John Dryden loved.
But she put the book and the thought quickly away, her cheeks
burning, and went down to the homely, inviting odours of supper, of
Pauline's creamed salmon and fluffy rolls. Her father sat beside the
fire, in a sort of doze, his long, lean hands idly locked, his
glasses pushed up on his lead-coloured forehead.
Martie kissed him, catching the old faint unpleasant smell of breath
and moustache as she did so, helped him to the table, and tied
Teddy's napkin under the child's round, firm chin. She talked of
anything and everything, of Christmas surprises, and Christmas
And all the while her heart sang. When with Teddy on one side, and
Lydia leaning on the free arm, she was walking through the winter
darkness her feet wanted to dance on the cold, hard earth.
"It's Christmas--Christmas--Christmas!" she laughed, when the little
boy commented upon her gaiety. Lydia found the usual damper for her
"Very different for you from last Christmas, poor Mart!" she
observed, with a long sigh.
Martie was sobered. They went into the church for a moment's prayer,
and Teddy wriggled against her in the dark, and managed to get a
little arm about her neck, for he knew that she was crying. The
revulsion had come, and Martie, tears running down her face in the
darkness, was only a lonely woman again, unsuccessful, worried,
trapped in a dull little village, missing her baby!
Women were coming and going on the altar, trimming it with odorous
green for Christmas. There was a pungent smell of evergreen in the
air. About the confessionals there was a constant shuffle,
whispering and stirring; radiators hissed and clanked, the big doors
creaked and swung windily.
Sally and her whispering tribe were just in front of them; presently
they all went out into the cold, and across a bare yard to the
lights and warmth and noise and music of the Sodality Hall. Sally
saw that Martie had been crying, and when they were seated together
in one of the rows of chairs against the wall, with their laps full
of children's coats, she touched the hidden hurt.
"Martie, dearest, I'm so sorry!"
"I know!" Martie blinked and managed a smile.
"I'll be glad for you when this first Christmas is over!" Sally said
Martie's answering look was full of gratitude: she thought it
strangely touching to see the blooming little mother deliberately
try to bring her gay Christmas mood into tune with sorrow and loss.
Sally's beautiful Elizabeth was one of the Christmas angels in the
play to-night, and Sally's pride was almost too great to bear. Billy
was sturdily dashing about selling popcorn balls, and Jim was
staggering to and fro flirting with admiring Sodality girls. The
young Hawkeses were at their handsome best, and women on all sides
were congratulating Sally.
What could Sally dream, Martie mused, of a freezing Eastern city
packed under dirty snow, of bitter poverty, of a tiny, gold-crowned
girl in a shabby dressing-gown, of a coaster wrapped in wet paper,
and delivered in a dark, bare hall? Sally's serene destiny lay here,
away from the damp, close heat under which milk poisoned and babies
wilted, away from the icy cold that caught shuddering flesh and
blood under its solid pall. These friendly, chattering women were
Sally's world, these problems of school and rent and food were
But Martie knew now that she was not of Monroe, that she must go
back. She was not Sally, she was not Rose; she had earned her entry
into a higher school. Those Eastern years were not wasted, she must
go on now, she must go on--to what?--to what?
And with New York her thoughts were suddenly with John, and Sally,
glancing anxiously at her, saw that she was smiling. Martie did not
notice the look: she was far away. She saw the Christmas tree, and
the surging children, through a haze of dreams.
Mysterious, enviable, unattainable--thought the Sodality girls,
eying the black-clad figure, with its immaculate touches of white at
wrists and throat. Mrs. Bannister had run away with an actor and had
lived in New York, and was a widow, they reminded each other, and
thrilled. She never dreamed that they made her a heroine and a
model, quoted her, loitered into the Library to be enslaved afresh
by her kind, unsmiling advice. She felt herself far from the
earliest beginnings of real achievement: to them, as to herself ten
years ago, she was a person romantic and exceptional--a somebody in
Somebody brought her Jim, sweet and sleepy, and he subsided in her
lap. Len's wife sank into a neighbouring chair, to express worried
hopes that the March baby would be a boy, a male in the Monroe line
at last. Rose fluttered near, with pleasant plans for a dinner
party. Martie's thought were with a slim, dark-blue book, safe in
her bureau drawer.
She wrote John immediately. There was no answer, but she realized
that the weeks that went on so quietly in Monroe were bringing him
rapidly to fame and fortune.
"Mary Beatrice" was an instantaneous success. It was not quite
poetry, not quite drama, not quite history. But its combination of
the three took the fancy, first of the critics, then of the public.
It was read, quoted, and discussed more than any other book of the
year. Martie found John's photograph in all the literary magazines,
and saw his name everywhere. Interviews with him frequently stared
at her from unexpected places, and flattering prophecies of his
future work were sounded from all sides. Three special performances
of "Mary Beatrice," and then three more, and three after that, were
given in New York, and literary clubs everywhere took up the book
seriously for study.
Well, Martie thought, reviewing the matter, it was not like one's
dreams, but it was life, this curious success that had come to the
husband of a woman like Adele, the odd, inarticulate little clerk in
a furniture store. She wondered if it had come in time to save the
divorce, wondered where John was living, what change this
extraordinary event had made in his life.
Her own share in it came to seem unreal, as all the old life was
unreal. Gradually, what Monroe did and thought and felt began to
seem the real standard and the old life the false. Martie agreed
with Lydia that the little Eastman girl had a prettier voice than
any she had ever heard in New York; she agreed with Rose that the
Woman's Club was really more up-to-date than it was possible for a
club to be in the big Eastern city.
"I know New York," smiled Rose, "and of course, I love it. Rod and I
have been there twice, and we do have the best times! And I admit
that Tiffany's and the big shops and so on, well, of course, they're
wonderful! We stayed there almost three weeks the last time, and we
just WENT every moment of the time--"
Martie, leaning on the desk before her and smiling vaguely, was not
listening. The other woman's words had evoked a sudden memory of the
early snows and the lights in the Mall, of the crashing elevated
trains with chestnut-sellers' lights blowing beneath them, of summer
dawns, when the city woke to the creeping tide of heat, and of
autumn afternoons, when motor cars began to crowd the Avenue, and
leaves drifted--drifted--in the Park. To Rose she answered duly:
"You must have had great fun!" But to herself she said: "Ah, you
don't know MY New York!"
One wet January night Malcolm came home tired and cross to find his
younger daughter his only company for dinner. Lydia had been sent
for in haste, by Mrs. Harry Kilroy, whose mother was not expected to
live, said the panting messenger, thereby delicately intimating that
she WAS expected to die. Teddy was as usual at Aunt Sally's.
Martie coaxed the fire to a steady glow, and seated herself opposite
her father with a curiosity entirely unmixed with the old
apprehension. Pa was unmistakably upset about something.
Under her pleasant questioning it came out. Old Tate and Cliff Frost
had come into the office of the Monroe Estates that afternoon to
make him an offer for the home site. Martie could see that her
father regretted that Lydia and Lydia's horrified protests were
"I looked them in the eye," said Malcolm, wiping his moustache
before he gave her an imitation of his own scorn, "and I said,
'Gentlemen, before the home that was my father's, and will be my
son's, passes from my hands, those hands will be dust!'"
"But why do they want it?" asked Martie after duly applauding this
She was rapidly thinking. The old house was mortgaged, and doubly
mortgaged. It was useless to the average buyer, for besides the fact
that the neighbourhood was no longer Monroe's best, it was four feet
below street level. It was surrounded by useless shabby barns and
outhouses, it was five times too large for the diminished family,
and, in case of Pa's death--and Pa was nearly seventy--it must fetch
what it might, for between Len's constant need of money for the
Estates, and Lydia's mild helplessness, there could be no holding it
for a fair price.
"For the new High School--for the new High School!" her father said
impatiently. For perhaps twenty years he had had occasional offers
for the property, and had always scornfully refused them.
"Yet I think that's rather touching, Pa," Martie said.
"What's touching?" he asked suspiciously, after a moment in which he
obviously tried to see any touching aspect in the affair.
"Why, to have the Monroe High School on the old Monroe site!" Martie
said innocently. "Of course Mr. Tate and Cliff Frost know what it
means to you, and yet I suppose they realize that the neighbourhood
is changing, and that those shops have come in, this side of the
bridge, and that, even if we lived here ten years more, we couldn't
twenty. I agree with your decision, Pa, of course; but at the same
time, I see that no other plot in Monroe would be so fitting!"
Malcolm stirred his tea, raised the cup, and drank off the hot fluid
with great gusto. A faint frown darkened his brow.
"And, pray, where would the family live?" he asked presently.
"Where we ought to be now," Martie answered promptly. "In the
Estates. I have been thinking lately, Pa, that nothing would give
that development such prestige as to have you there! Put up as
pretty a house as you choose, build a drive, and put in a handsome
fence, but be Malcolm Monroe of the Monroe Estates!"
Always captured by phrases, she saw him tug at his moustache to hide
"Well!" he said presently. "Well! You astonish me. But yes, I see
your point. I must candidly admit you have a point there. With
another attractive home there--yes, there is something in that. But
I had supposed that you girls had a sentiment for this old place,"
he added almost reproachfully.
"And so we have!" Martie answered quickly. "But it is one thing to
sell this place in small lots, Pa, and have it chopped into shops
and shanties, and another to have a three-hundred-thousand-dollar
building go in here. The new High School on the old Monroe place;
you'll admit there's a great difference?"
Had her bombastic father always been so easily influenced? Martie
wondered, remembering the old storms and the old stubbornness. It
was true, some persons couldn't do things; other persons could.
Lydia and Ma would have goaded him into an obstinacy that no later
judgment could dispel, and after his death Monroe would have
lamented that he had left next to nothing, for the place had to go
for taxes and interest overdue, and Lydia and Ma would have settled
themselves comfortably on Len for life.
"All the difference in the world," Malcolm said, now deep in
"You could send a letter to the Zeus," Martie added presently,
"saying that you had never even considered such a step before, but
that to sell for educational purposes was--you know!--was in accord
with the spirit of your father--that sort of thing!"
"And so it was!" he answered warmly.
"A few ready thousands would be the making of the Estates, now,"
said Martie, "but naturally the town need know nothing of that!"
Malcolm shrugged a careless assent, and silently finished his pie.
"Your sister Lydia--" he began suddenly, shaking his head.
"Yes, Lyd will object," Martie assented, as his voice stopped. "Lyd
is a conservative, Pa. She has very little of the spirit that
brought Grandfather Monroe here; she doesn't, in the Estates, see
property that will be just as beautiful and just as valuable as
anything in Monroe in a few years. Why, Pa, you must remember the
days when our trees in the yard here were only saplings?"
"Remember?" he echoed impressively. "Why, I remember Monroe as the
field between two sheep-ranches. There was not a blade of wheat, not
a fruit tree--"
He was well started. Martie listened to an hour's complacent
reminiscence. At eight o'clock he went to his study, but came back a
moment later, with his glasses pushed up on his lead-coloured
forehead, to say that the sum old Tait mentioned would clear the
mortgage, build a handsome house, and perhaps leave a bit over for
Martie and her boy. At nine he appeared again, to say that he would
deed the new house to Lydia, who would undoubtedly take the change a
little hard--a little hard!
"Yes," said old Malcolm thoughtfully, from the doorway, glancing,
with his spectacles still on his forehead, at the pencilled list he
had in his hand. "Yes, I believe I have hit upon the solution! I--
Old Mrs. Sark having fulfilled her family's mournful expectations,
Lydia stayed for the funeral, and was so deeply absorbed and
satisfied by her position in the Kilroy house that she returned home
still impressive, consolatory, and crushed in manner.
She sat beside Martie on the front steps, in the warm March
twilight, retailing the events of the last three days, and living
again their moments of grief and stress.
"I know I was a consolation to them, Mart--of course, there's little
enough one can do! But yesterday morning--I sat up both nights; I
declare I don't know where the strength comes from--yesterday
morning, before the funeral, I went up to Louis Kilroy--I never saw
a grown man take a thing so hard--and I said, 'Louis, you must come
and have a cup of hot, strong coffee!' Bessie was there, and I must
say she seemed as devoted to Grandma as if she'd been her own
daughter, and she came and took my hands, and she said, 'Lydia, I
never will forget all you've done for us!' Well," Lydia went on,
with a sad little deprecatory shrug, "I didn't do much. But it was
somebody THERE, you know! Somebody to do the plain little everyday
things that MUST be done, whether death is in the house, or not!"
And Lydia sighed in weary content. "Carrie David says she believes
Tom'll go next--"she was pursuing mournfully, when Martie
"Say, Lyd dear, we've been having great times since you were away--I
didn't have a chance to say a word to you at the funeral--but the
school board, or the city fathers, or some one, has made Pa an offer
for the house!"
"What house?" Lydia asked interestedly.
"THIS one." Martie began to chew the fresh sprout of a yellow
"This one!" Lydia's mouth remained a little open, her eyes were
"Yes; this whole tract. They'll fill it in; they want if for the new
"Well--" Lydia tossed her head loftily. "Of course, Pa told them--?"
"Yes, he did tell them, as he always has--that nothing would
persuade him to part with it!"
"WELL!" said Lydia, breathing again.
"But he's been thinking it over, Lyd, and he's really seriously
reconsidering it. You see the instant Pa dies, the Bank will
foreclose, for neither you nor I have a cent, and Len is tied up for
years with the Estates--"
Martie began to speak eagerly and quickly. But her voice died before
"Martie! How can you! Speaking of Pa's death in that callous, cold-
blooded way; when poor Ma hasn't been buried three years--and now
dear old Grandma Sark--"
Lydia fumbled for a handkerchief, and began to sob. After a few
moments, in which Martie only offered a few timid pats on her
shoulder for consolation, she suddenly dried her eyes, and began
with bitter clearness:
"I know who has done this, Mart! I don't say much, but I see. I see
now where all your petting of Pa, and humouring Pa, was leading! Oh,
how can you--how can you--how CAN you! My home, the dear old Monroe
place, that three generations of us--but I won't stand it! I feel as
if Ma would rise up and rebuke me! No, you and Pa can decide what
you please, but no power on earth will make me--and where would we
live, might I ask? We couldn't go to the Poor House, I suppose?"
"Pa'd build a lovely house, smaller and more modern, on the
Estates," Martie explained. Lydia assumed a look of high scorn.
"Oh, indeed!" she said, gulping and wiping her eyes again. "Indeed!
Is that so? Move out there so that Len would prosper, so that there
would be one more house out on that DESOLATE flat field--very well,
you and Pa can go! But I stay here!"
And trembling all over, as she always did tremble when forced into
anything but a mildly neutral position, Lydia went upstairs. The
dinner hour was embittered by a painful discussion and by more
Malcolm was somewhat inclined to waver toward Lydia's view, but
Martie was firm. When Lydia tearfully protested that, just as it
stood, the house would made an ideal "gentleman's estate," Martie
mercilessly answered that at its present level, without electric
light or garage or baths, it was just so much "old wood and
plaster." Lydia winced at this term as if she had been struck.
"How would you pay taxes and interest, if anything happened to Pa?"
Martie demanded briskly.
"We would have no rent to pay," Lydia countered quickly, red spots
burning in her cheeks, and giving her mild face an unusually wild
look. "Why do people own their homes, if there's no economy in it?"
"Rent doesn't come to three thousand a year!" Martie reminded her.
Lydia looked startled. "We could rent that whole upper floor," she
"But you would rather have this place a school house than a
boarding-house?" argued Martie.
Lydia's wet eyes reddened again.
"DON'T say such horrible things, Martie! The way you put things it's
enough to scare Pa to death! Why shouldn't we live here, as we
always have lived?" She turned to her father. "Pa, it's not RIGHT
for you to consider such a change just because Martie---"
"I'm doing it for you, Lyd," Martie said quickly. "I shall be in New
They hardly heard her; Martie had talked of New York since she was a
child. But Martie suddenly realized that it was true; she had really
been planning and contriving to go back through all these placid
"I'll discuss it with your brother," Malcolm finally said. "I'll see
what Leonard thinks."
"But, Pa," Martie protested, "what does LEN know about it?"
"I suppose a man may be supposed to know more about business than a
woman!" Lydia exclaimed.
"Yes--yes, this is a man's affair," Malcolm conceded, scraping his
chin. "Your brother has been associated with men in business affairs
for years; he had some college work. I'll see Len."
There was nothing more to say. Martie felt instinctively that Len
would approve of the sale of the old place, and she was right, but
it was galling to have his opinion so eagerly sought by her father,
and to have him so gravely quoted. Len, slow witted and suspicious,
thought that there was "something in the idea," but added pompously
that he could not see that the Monroes, as a family, were under any
need of obliging the Frosts and the Tates, and that the property was
there in any case, and there was no occasion for hurry.
Malcolm repeated these views at the dinner table with great
seriousness, and Lydia triumphantly echoed them over and over. As
she and Martie dusted and made beds the older sister poured forth a
quiet stream of satisfied comment. Such things were for men's
deciding, after all, and she, Lydia, never would and never could
understand how they were able to settle things so quickly and so
But Martie was not beaten. She knew that Len was wrong; there was no
time to waste. The old Mussoo tract, down at the other end of the
town, was also under consideration, and the deal might be closed any
day. One quiet, wet day she asked Miss Fanny for leave of absence,
and went to the office of old Charley Tate. Mr. Tate was not there,
Potter Street told her, taking his feet from a desk, and slapping
his book shut. However, if there was anything he could do, Mart--?
No; she thanked him. She would go up to the Bank, and see Mr. Frost.
She met Rose coming out as she went in.
"Hello, Martie!" Rose was all cordiality. "Nice weather for ducks,
isn't it? But fortunately you and I aren't sugar or salt, are we?
Were you going to see Rodney?"
"Clifford Frost," Martie told her. Did Rose's face really brighten a
"Oh! Well, he's there! Come soon and see Doris!" Rose got into the
motor car, and Martie went into the Bank.
Clifford was a tall man, close to fifty, thinner than Dr. Ben, more
ample of figure than Malcolm. He wore a thin old alpaca coat in the
Bank in this warm spring weather. A green shade was pushed up
against his high forehead, which shone a little, and as Martie
settled herself opposite him, he took off his big glasses, and dried
them in a leisurely fashion with a rotary motion of his white
He was reputedly the richest man in town, but rich in country
fashion. Such property as he had, cattle, a farm or two, several
buildings in Main Street, and stock in the Bank, he studied and
nursed carefully, not from any feeling of avarice, but because he
was temperate and conservative in all his dealings.
Martie liked his office, much plainer than Rodney's, but with
something dignified about its well-worn furnishings that Rodney's
shining brass and glass and mahogany lacked. She thought that
perhaps Ruth had given her father the two pink roses that were
toppling in a glass on the desk; she eyed the big photograph of
Colonel Frost respectfully.
"Well, well, Mrs. Bannister, how do you do! I declare I haven't seen
much of you since you came back! How's that boy of yours? Nice boy--
nice little feller."
"He's well, thank you, Clifford; he's never been ill. And how's your
own pretty girl?" Martie smiled, using the little familiarity
When he answered, with a father's proud affection, he called her
"Martie," as she suspected he might. She went to her point frankly.
Pa, she explained, was playing fast and loose with the town's offer
for the property. The man opposite her frowned, nodded, and stared
at the floor.
"You girls naturally feel--" he nodded sympathetically.
"Lydia does. But, Clifford, that's just where I need your help. I
think it would be madness not to sell!"
"Madness NOT to?" It was not clear yet. "Then you WANT to?"
She went over her ground patiently. His face brightened with
"I see! Well, now, that puts a different face on it," he said. "Of
course, I want the deal to go through," he admitted, "and if you can
talk your father over--"
"That's what I want you to do!" Martie assured him gaily.
He laughed in answer.
"He don't pay any attention to me!" he confessed. "I's telling him
only yes'day that it wasn't good business to hang onto that piece. I
"But Clifford," she suggested, "I want you to take this tack. I want
you to tell him that the town has a sentiment about it--the old
Monroe place, you know. Tell him that people feel it OUGHT to be
public property, and then, when he agrees, whip some sort of paper
out of your pocket, and have him sign it then and there!"
Clifford Frost was not quick of thought, but he was shrewd, and his
smile now was compounded of admiration for the scheme and the
"I declare you're quite a business woman, Martie!" he said. "It's a
pity Len hasn't got it, too. I b'lieve I can work your Pa that way;
anyway, I'll try it! I supposed you girls were hanging on like grim
death to that piece--"
After this the conversation rambled pleasantly; presently, in the
midst of a discussion of mortgages, he took one of the roses, and
called her attention to it. It had had some special care; Martie
could honestly admire it. Clifford told her to keep it, and her blue
eyes met his friendly ones, behind the big glasses, as she pinned it
on her blouse.
"I declare you've got quite a different look since you came back,
Martie," he said. "You're quite a New Yorker! I said to Ruthie a
while back, that there was a strange lady in town; I'd seen her with
Mrs. Joe Hawkes. 'Why, Papa,' she says, 'that's Mrs. Bannister!' I
assure you I could hardly believe it. You've took off considerable
flesh, haven't you?"
"I've had my share," Martie answered in the country phrase, with a
smile and a sigh.
"Well, I guess that's so, too!" he said quickly with an answering
sigh. "What was the--the cause?" he asked delicately. "He was a big,
strong fellow. I remember him quite well; friend of Rodney's."
He told her circumstantially, in return for her brief confidences,
of his wife's death. How she had not been well, and how she had
refused the regular dinner on a certain night, first mentioned as
"the Tuesday," and then corrected to "the Wednesday," and had asked
Polly to boil her two eggs, and then had not wanted them, either.
With loving sorrow he had remembered it all; frank tears came to his
eyes, and Martie liked him for them.
When they parted, he walked with her to the Bank door, and asked
her, if she was interested in roses, to let him drive her up some
day to see his.
"An old-fashioned garden--an old-fashioned garden!" he said, smiling
from the doorway. Martie, pleasantly stirred, went back to the
Library, to put her rose in water and congratulate herself upon her
"Poor Clifford! He will never get over his wife's death!" Lydia said
that evening. "Where'd you meet him, Mart?"
"I deposited some money in the Bank," Martie said truthfully. "He's
awfully pleasant, I think."
Lydia paid no further attention. She presently went back to another
topic. "Nelson Prout said he was going to take it up with the
Principal. He says there's no earthly reason in the world why
Dorothy shouldn't have passed this Christmas. Elsa told me Dorothy
has been crying ever since and they're worried to death about her--"
Lydia suspected no treachery. What Len and Pa had settled was
settled. She felt that Martie was merely easing her indignation when
the younger sister spent several evenings attempting to write an
article on the subject of economic independence for women. Martie
had tried to write years ago; it was a safe and ladylike amusement.
"What's it all about?" Lydia asked.
"Oh, it's practically an appeal to give girls the same chance that
"But don't they HAVE it? Girls don't want it, that's all."
"Neither do boys, Lyd."
"So your idea would be to force something they didn't want on girls,
just because it's forced on boys?" Lydia said, quietly triumphant.
Martie, looking up from her scratched sheets, smiled and blinked at
her sister for a few seconds.
"Exactly!" she said then, pleasantly.
She finished the little article, and called it "Give Her A Job!" It
was only what she had attempted to express during her first return
visit to Monroe years ago; during those days and nights of fretting
when the thought of Golda White had ridden her troubled thoughts
like an evil dream. Later, she had re-written the article, just
before Wallace's return from long absence to New York. Now she wrote
it again: it was a relief to have it finally polished and finished,
and sent away in the mail. She had never before despatched it so
Even when the editor's brief, pleasant note was in her hand, three
weeks later, and when she had banked the check for thirty-five
dollars, Martie was not particularly thrilled. It was so small a
drop in the ocean of magazine reading--it was so short a step toward
independence! She told Miss Fanny and Sally about it, and for a
month or two watched the magazine for it. Then she forgot it.
She forgot it for a new dream. For long before the tangled
negotiations that surrounded the sale of the old Monroe place were
completed, Martie's thoughts were absorbed by a new and tremendous
consideration: Clifford Frost was paying her noticeable attention.
Monroe saw this, of course, before she did. Without realizing it,
Martie still kept a social gulf between herself and the Frost and
Parker families. They were the richest and most prominent people in
the village, she was just one of the Monroe girls. She was too busy,
and too little given to thought of herself, to waste time on
speculations of this nature.
More than that, Lydia's deep resentment of the sale of the old home
gave Martie food for thoughts of another nature. Lydia never let the
subject rest for an instant. She came to the table red-eyed and
sniffing. It was no use to plant sweet-peas this year, it was no use
to prune the roses. Whether Lydia was sitting rocking on the side
porch silently, through the spring twilight, or impatiently flinging
a setting hen off the nest, with muttered observations concerning
the senseless scattering of the Monroe family before that setting of
eggs could be hatched, Martie felt her deep and angry disapproval.
It was several weeks, and April had clothed Monroe in buttercups and
new grass, before Martie became aware that the name of Clifford
Frost was frequently associated with Lydia's long protests.
"I suppose it's the new way of doing things," she heard her sister
saying one day. "Delicacy--! They don't know what it is nowadays. Do
as you like--run into a man's office--meet him on the steps after
Martie felt a sudden prick. She had indeed gone more than once to
Clifford's office, and last Sunday she had indeed chanced to meet
him after church--!
"Tear away old associations!" Lydia was continuing darkly. "Slash--
chop--nothing matters! I know I am old-fashioned," she added, with a
sort of violent scorn. "But I declare it makes me laugh to remember
how dignified _I_ was--Ma used to say that it was born in me to hold
aloof! A man had to say something PRETTY DEFINITE before I was
willing to fling myself into his arms! And what's the result, I'm an
old maid--and I have myself to thank!"
"Lyddy, darling, WHAT are you driving at?"
The sisters were at supper together, on a warm spring Sunday.
Martie, removing from his greasy little hand a chop-bone that Teddy
had chewed white, looked up to see that her sister's face was pale,
and her eyes reddened with tears. Cornered, Lydia took refuge in
"Oh--I don't know! I suppose it's just that I cannot seem to feel
that one of those bare little houses in the Estates EVER will seem
like home," faltered Lydia. "You and Pa must do as you think best,
of course--you're young and bright and full of life, and naturally
you forget--but I suppose I feel that Ma--that Ma--!"
She left the table in tears, Martie staring rather bewilderedly
after her. Teddy gazed steadily at his mother, a question in his
dark eyes. He was not a talkative child, except occasionally, when
she and he were alone, but they always understood each other. To
Martie he was the one exquisite and unalloyed joy in life. His
splendid, warm little person was at once the tie that bound her to
the old days, and to the future. Whatever that future might be, it
would bring her nothing of which she could be so proud. Nobody else
might claim him; he was hers.
He suddenly smiled at her now, and slipping from the table with a
great square of sponge cake in his hand, backed up to his mother to
have his napkin untied. He guarded his cake as best he could when
his mother suddenly beset him with a general rumpling and kissing,
and then slipped out into the yard as silently as a little rabbit.
But Martie sat on, musing, trying to catch the inference that she
knew she had missed from Lydia's tirades. Lydia was furious about
the sale of the house, of course--but this new note--?
In a rush, comprehension came. Alone in the dark old dining room, in
the disorder of the Sunday suppertable, Martie's cheeks were dyed a
bright, conscious crimson. Could Lydia mean--could Lydia possibly be
implying that Cliff--that Cliff--?
For half an hour she sat motionless--thinking. The richest--the most
respected man in Monroe, and herself engaged to him, married to him.
But could it be true?
She began to remember, to recall and dissect and analyze her recent
encounters with Clifford, and as she did so, again the warm girlish
colour flooded her cheeks with June. No questioning it, he had
rather singled her out for his companionship of late. Last Sunday,
and the Sunday before, he had come to call--once, most
considerately, the girls thought, to show Pa the plans for the new
High School, once to take Martie and Sally and the children driving.
Martie had sat next him on the front seat, during the drive, her
black veil blowing free about her wide-brimmed hat, her blue eyes
dancing with pleasure, and her cheeks rosy in the cool foggy air.
Well, she was widowed. She was free to marry again. It seemed
strange to her that in eighteen months she had never once weighed
the possibility. She had pondered every other avenue open to women;
she had considered this work and that, but marriage had not once
crossed her mind.
She said to herself that she would not allow herself to think of it
now, probably Clifford had never thought of it, and if he had, he
was notoriously slow about making up his mind. Her only course was
to be friendly and dignified, and to meet the issue when it came.
But if--but if it were her fortune to win the affections of this
man, to take her place, here among her old friends, as their leader
and head, to entertain in the old house with the cupola, under the
plumy maple and locust trees--? If Teddy might grow to a happy
boyhood, here with Sally's children, and friendly, gentle little
Ruth Frost might find a real mother in her father's young wife--?
Martie's blood danced at the thought. She hardly saw Cliff's
substantial figure and kindly face for the glamour of definite
advantages that surrounded him. She would be rich, rich enough to do
anything and everything for Sally's children, for instance. And what
pleasure and pride such a marriage would bring to Lydia, and Pa, and
Sally! And how stupefied Len would be, to have the ugly duckling
suddenly show such brilliant plumage!
She thought of Rodney and Rose. Rodney was getting stout now, he was
full of platitudes, heavy and a little tiresome. Rose was still
birdlike, still sure that what she had and did and said and desired
were the sum of earthly good. A smile twitched Martie's sober mouth
as she thought of Rose's congratulations.
Rose would give her a linen shower, with delicious damp little
sandwiches, and maple mousse, or a dainty luncheon with silk-clad,
flushed women laughing about the table. And Martie would join the
club--be its president, some day--
Meanwhile, once more she must wait. A woman's life was largely
waiting. She had waited on Rodney's young pleasure, years ago;
waited for Wallace, at rehearsals, or at night; waited for news of
Golda; waited for Teddy; and for Wallace again and again; waited for
Pa's letter and the check. Patience, Martie said to her eager heart.
Bright, sisterly, Rose presently came into the office, to put a
plump little arm about Martie, and give her a laughing kiss. Rose
had discovered that Martie was at home again, and wanted her to come
It was one of many little signs of the impending event. Martie had
not been blind to the whispering and watching all about her. Fanny
had subtly altered her attitude, even Sally was changed. Now came
Rose, to prove that the matter was reaching a point where it must be
Martie went to the dinner, a little ashamed of herself for doing so.
Rose had ignored her for more than a year. But just now she could
not afford to ignore Rose.
She was ashamed of Lydia's innocent pride in the invitation. Sally,
too, who came to the old house to watch Martie dress, had the old
attitude. There was an unexpressed feeling in the air that Martie
was stepping up, and stepping away from them. The younger sister, in
her filmy black, with her bright hair severely banded, and her quiet
self-possession, had some element in her that they were content to
Lydia's red, clean little hands were still faintly odorous of
chopped onion, as she moved them from hook to hook. Sally wore an
old plaid coat that hung open and showed her shabby little serge
gown. The very room, where these girls had struggled with so many
inadequate garments, where they had pressed and pieced and turned a
hundred gowns, spoke to Martie of her own hungry girlhood.
A motor horn sounded outside. Rodney had come for her. He came in,
in his big coat, and shook hands with Sally and Lydia. His eyes were
on Martie as she slipped a black cloak over her floating draperies,
and the fresh white of throat and arms.
"What have you done to make yourself so pretty?" he asked gallantly,
when they were in the car.
"Am I pretty?" she asked directly, in a pleased tone.
It was a tone she could not use with Rodney. She was astonished to
have him fling his arm lightly about her shoulders for a minute.
"Just as pretty as when you broke my heart eight years ago!" he said
cheerfully. Martie was too much surprised to answer, and as he
busied himself with the turns of the road, she presently began to
speak of other things. But when they had driven into the driveway of
the new Parker house, and had stopped at the side door, he jumped
from the car, and came around it to help her out.
She felt him lightly detain her, and looked up at him curiously.
"Well, what's the matter--afraid of me?"
"No-o." Martie was a little confused. "But--but hadn't I better go
"Well--what do I get out of it?" he asked, in the old teasing voice
of the boy who had liked to play "Post-office" and "Clap-in-and-
clap-out" years ago.
But they were not children now, and there was reproach in the glance
Martie gave him as she ran up the steps.
Rose, in blue satin, fluttered to meet her and she was conveyed
upstairs on a sort of cloud of laughter and affection. Everywhere
were lights and pretty rooms; wraps were flung darkly across the
Madeira embroidery and filet-work of Rose's bed.
"Other people, Rose?"
"Just the Ellises, Martie, and the Youngers--you don't know them.
And a city man to balance Florence, and Cliff." Rose, hovering over
the dressing-table exclaimed ecstatically over Martie's hair. "You
look lovely--you want your scarf? No, you won't need it--but it's so
She laid an arm about Martie's waist as they went downstairs.
"You've heard that we've had trouble with the girls?" Rose said, in
a confidential whisper. "Yes. Ida and May--after all Rodney had done
for them, too! He did EVERYTHING. It was over a piece of property
that their grandfather had left their father--I don't know just what
the trouble was! But you won't mention them to Rod--?"
Everything was perfection, of course. There were cocktails, served
in the big drawing room, with its one big rug, and its Potocka and
le Brun looking down from the tinted walls. Martie sat between
Rodney and the strange man, who was unresponsive.
Rodney, warmed by a delicious dinner, became emotional.
"That was a precious friendship of ours, to me, Martie," he said.
"Just our boy-and-girl days, but they were happy days! I remember
waking up in the mornings and saying to myself, 'I'll see Martie to-
day!' Yes," said Rodney, putting down his glass, his eyes watering,
"that's a precious memory to me--very."
"Is Rodney making love to you, Martie?" Rose called gaily, "he does
that to every one--he's perfectly terrible!"
"How many children has Sally now?" Florence Frost, sickly,
emaciated, asked with a sort of cluck.
"Four," Martie answered, smiling.
"Gracious!" Florence said, drawing her shawl about her.
"Poor Sally!" Rose said, with the merry laugh that accompanied
everything she said.
Cliff did not talk to Martie at all, nor to any of the other women.
He and the other men talked politics after dinner, in real country
fashion. The women played a few rubbers of bridge, and Rose had not
forgotten a prize, in tissue-paper and pink ribbon. The room grew
hot, and the men's cigars scented the close air thickly.
Rose said that she supposed she should be able to offer Martie a
"It would be my first," Martie said, smiling, and Rose, giving her
shoulders a quick little impulsive squeeze, said brightly: "Good for
you! New York hasn't spoiled YOU!".
When at eleven o'clock Martie went upstairs for her wraps, Rose
came, too, and they had a word in private, in the pretty bedroom.
"Martie--did Cliff say that you and he were going on a--on a sort of
picnic on Sunday?"
"Why, yes," Martie admitted, surprised, "Sally is going down to the
city to see Joe, and I'll have the children. I happened to mention
it to Cliff, and he suggested that he take us all up to Deegan's
Point, and that we take a lunch."
Innocently commenced, the sentence ended with sudden self-
consciousness. Martie, putting a scarf over her bronze hair saw her
own scarlet cheeks in the mirror.
"Yes, I know!" Rose cocked her head on one side, like a pretty bird.
"Well, now, I have a plan!" she said gaily, "I suggest that Cliff
take his car, and we take ours, and the Ellises theirs, and we all
go--children and all! Just a real old-fashioned family picnic."
"I think that would be fun," Martie said, with a slow smile.
"I think it would be fun, too," Rose agreed, "and I've been sort of
half-planning something of the sort, anyway! And--perhaps, just
now," she added sweetly, "it would be a little wiser that way. You
see, _I_ understand you, Martie, and I know we seem awfully small
and petty here, but--since we ARE in Monroe, why, isn't it better
not to give any one a chance to talk? Well, about the picnic! Ida
and May always bring cake; I'll take the fried chicken; and Mrs.
Ellis makes a delicious salad--"
Martie's heart was beating high, and two little white lines marked
the firm closing of her lips. Rose's brightly flung suggestion as to
the impropriety of her going off for the day with Clifford, Teddy,
and Ruth, was seething like a poison within her. But presently she
was mechanically promising sandwiches, and Rose was so far
encouraged that she could give Martie's arm a little squeeze in
It had seemed such a natural thing to propose, when Sally announced
that she was to go down to San Francisco for the day. Martie had
asked for the two older children, and had in all innocence suggested
to Clifford that they make it a picnic. She carried all day a
burning resentment of Rose's interference, and something like anger
at him for consulting Rose.
But she showed nothing. She duly kissed Rose, and thanked her for
the lovely dinner, and Rodney took her home. Undressing, with
moonlight pouring in two cool triangles on the shabby carpet, Martie
yawned. The whole experience had been curiously flat, except for
Rose's little parting impertinence. But there was no question about
it, it had had its heartening significance! It was the future Mrs.
Clifford Frost who had been entertained to-night.
Plans for the picnic proceeded rapidly, and Martie knew, as they
progressed, that she need only give Cliff his opportunity that day
to enter into her kingdom. His eagerness to please her, his
unnecessary calls at the Library to discuss the various details, and
the little hints and jests that fluttered about her on all sides,
were a sure clue.
The morning came when the Frost's big car squeaked down the raw
driveway from Clipper Lane, with little Ruth, in starched pink
gingham, beaming on the back seat. Martie, in white, with a daisy-
crowned hat mashed down over her bright hair, came out from the
shadow of the side porch, the children and boxes were duly
distributed: they were off.
Martie glanced back to see Lydia's slender form, in a severe gray
percale, under one of the lilacs in the side yard. Mary and Jim
Hawkes were with her: they all waved hands. Lydia had shaded her
face with her fingers, and was blinking in the warm June sunlight.
Poor Lydia, Martie thought, she should have been beside Cliff on
this front seat, she should have been the happy mother of a sturdy
Cliff and Lydia, where Ruth and Teddy and the Hawkes children were
rioting in the tonneau.
They went to the Parkers', where the other cars had gathered: there
was much laughing and running about in the bright sunlight. The day
would be hot--ideal picnic weather. Rodney, directing everybody,
managed to get close to Martie, who was stacking coats in the car.
"Like old times, Martie! Remember our picnics and parties?"
Martie glanced at him quickly, and smiled a little doubtfully. She
found nothing to say.
"I often look back," Rodney went on. "And I think sometimes that
there couldn't have been a sweeter friendship than yours and mine!
What good times we had! And you and I always understood each other;
always, in a way, brought out the best of each other." He looked
about; no one else was in hearing. "Now, I've got the sweetest
little wife in the world," he said. "I worked hard, and I've
prospered. But there's nothing in my life, Martie, that I value more
than I do the memory of those old days; you believe that, don't
"Indeed I do," Martie said cordially, over a deep amusement that was
Rodney's next remark was made in a low, intense tone and accompanied
by a direct look.
"You've grown to be a beautiful woman, Martie!"
"I have?" she laughed uncomfortably.
"And Cliff," he said steadily, "is a lucky fellow!"
He had noticed it, then? It must be--it must be so! But Martie could
not assume the implied dignity.
"Cliff is a dear!" she said lightly, warmly.
"Rose has seen this coming for a long time," Rodney pursued. "Rose
is the greatest little matchmaker!"
This was the final irony, thought Martie. To have Rose credited with
this change in her fortunes suddenly touched her sense of humour.
She did not speak.
"The past is the past," said Rodney. "You and I had our boy-and-girl
affair--perhaps it touched us a little more deeply than we knew at
the time; but that's neither here nor there! But in any case, you
know that you haven't a warmer or a more devoted friend than I am-
you do know that, don't you?-and that if ever I can do anything for
you, Martie, I'll put my hand in the fire to do it!"
And with his eyes actually a little reddened, and his heart glowing
with generous affection, Rodney lightly pressed her hand, laughed,
blinked, and turned away. A moment later she heard him call Rose
"Dearest," as he capably held her dust-coat for his wife, and
capably buttoned and straightened it. They were starting.
The three cars got away in a straggling line, trailed each other
through Main Street, and separated for the eleven-mile run. Martie
was listening with a half-smile to the children's eager chatter, and
thinking vaguely that Clifford might ask her to-day, or might not
ask her for three years, when a half-shy, half-husky aside from him,
and a sudden exchange of glances ended the speculation once and for
"Makes me feel a little bit out of it, seeing all the boys with
their wives," he said, with a rueful laugh.
"Well, DOESN'T it?" she agreed cordially, and she added, in a
thoughtful voice: "Nothing like happy married life, is there,
"You said it," he answered soberly. "I guess you were pretty happy,
Martie?" he questioned delicately.
"In some ways--yes," she said. "But I had sorrow and care, too."
They were on the top of the hill now, and could look back at the
roofs of Monroe, asleep in Sunday peace, and to the plumy tree-tops
over the old graveyard where Ma lay sleeping; "asleep," as the worn
legend over the gateway said, "until resurrection morn." Near the
graveyard was the "Town farm," big and black, with bent old figures
moving about the bare garden. "That's one reason why I love it all
so, now," she said softly. "I'm safe-I'm home again!"
"You've certainly got a lot of friends here, Martie."
"Yes, I know I have!" she said gratefully.
He cleared his throat.
"You've got one that will be mighty sorry to have you ever go away
from California again." He became suddenly confused and embarrassed
by his own words.
"I don't suppose--I don't suppose you'd care to--to try it again,
Martie? I'm considerable older than you are--I know that. But I
don't believe you'd ever be sorry--home for the boy--"
Colour rushed to her face: voiceless, she looked at him.
"Don't be in any hurry to make up your mind," he said kindly. "You
and me are old neighbours and friends--I'm not a-going to rush you--
Still Martie was speechless, honestly moved by his affection.
"It never entered my head to put any one in Mary's place," he said,
gaining a little ease as he spoke, "until you came back, with that
boy to raise, and took hold so plucky and good-natured. Ruth and I
are alone now: I've buried my wife and my brother, and my father and
mother, and poor Florence ain't going to live long--poor girl. I
believe you'd have things comfortable, and, as I say--"
"Why, there's only one thing I can say, Cliff," Martie said, finding
words as his voice began to flounder. "I--I'm glad you feel that
way, and I hope--I hope I can make you happy. I certainly--I surely
am going to try to!"
He turned her a quick, smiling glance, and drew a great breath of
"Well, sir--then a bargain's a bargain!" he said in great
satisfaction. "I've been telling myself for several days that you
liked me enough to try it, but when it came right down to it I--
well, I was just about scared blue!"
Martie's happy laugh rang out. She laid her smooth fingers over his
big ones, on the wheel, for a second. "I don't know that I ever felt
any happier in my life!" the man presently declared. "We may not be
youngsters, but I don't know but what we can give them all cards and
spades when it comes to sure-enough, old-fashioned happiness!"
So it was settled, in a few embarrassed and clumsy phrases. Martie's
heart sang with joy and triumph. She really felt a wave of devotion
to the big, gentle man beside her; all the future was rose-coloured.
She had reached harbour at last.
There was time for little more talk before they were at the beach,
and the excitement of luncheon preparations were upon them. The bay,
a tidal bay perhaps a mile in circumference, was framed in a fine,
sandy shore: long, natural jetties of rock had been flung out far
into the softly rippling water. The tide was making, perhaps a dozen
feet below the fringe of shells and seaweed, cocoanuts and driftwood
that marked high-water.
In a group of great rocks the boxes and baskets were piled, and the
fire kindled. The wind blew a shower of fine sand across the faces
of the laughing men and women, the children screamed and shouted as
they flirted with the lazily running waves. Women, opening boxes of
neatly packed food, exclaimed with full mouths over every
contribution but their own.
"Martie, this spice cake--! Mine never looks like this. Oh, May, you
villain! You said you weren't going to bother with the lettuce
sandwiches; they look perfectly delicious! What's in these?--cream
cheese and pineapple--they look delicious! Look out for the eggs,
Salt sifted from a folded paper, white enamelled cups were set upon
a level surface of the rock, a quart glass jar held lump sugar. The
smoke of the fire shifted capriciously, reddening eyes, and bearing
with it the delicious odour of brewing coffee.
Bending over the cake she was cutting, Martie sensed that Cliff was
beside her. She dared not give him a betraying word, the others were
too close, but she sent him an upward glance. His answering glance
was so full of pride and excitement, Martie felt her soul flood with
content. Driving home, against the straight-falling spokes of the
setting sun, they could talk a little, shyly and inconsequently. A
first dew had fallen, bringing a sharp, sweet odour from the brown
grass; Monroe seemed a dear and homely place as they came home.
"Were you surprised, Martie?"
"When I first thought of it? I was absolutely stunned! But to-day?--
no, I wasn't exactly surprised to-day."
"I had no idea, even this morning!" he confessed. She wondered if
her admission smacked of the designing widow.
"Other people will be!" she said in smiling warning.
He chuckled mischievously.
"Well, won't they?" He smiled for a moment or two in silence, over
his wheel. Martie made another tiny misstep.
"I suppose there's no reason why I shouldn't tell Lydia--" she began
"Don't tell a soul!" he said quickly. "Not for a while, anyway. When
we get all our plans made, then we'll tell 'em, and turn around and
get married before you could say 'Jack Robinson!'"
She felt a little chill; a younger woman, with a younger lover,
would have had her pouting and her petting for this. But what did it
matter? Clifford had his first kiss in the dim old parlour with the
gas-brackets that evening; and after a few days he was as fervent a
lover as any woman could ask, eager to rush through the necessary
preparations for their marriage, and to let the world know of his
He was more demonstrative than Martie had anticipated, or than she
really cared to have him. She found odd girlish reserves deep in her
being when he put his arms about her. He was never alone with her
for even a minute without holding her close, turning up her lovely
face for his smiling kisses, locking a big warm arm about her
After some thought, she told Lydia and Sally, on a hot afternoon
when they were upstairs in the cool window end of the hallway,
patiently going over boxes and boxes of old letters. She had been
absent-minded and silent that day, and Sally had once or twice
looked at her in surprise.
"Girls--listen. I'm going to be married!" she said abruptly, her
eyes childishly widened, dimples struggling at the corners of her
demure mouth. Sally leaped up in a whirlwind of letters, and gave a
shout of delight.
"I knew it! I knew it! You can't tell ME! I said so to Joe. Oh,
Mart, you old darling, I'm so glad--I'm gladder than I can say!"
"Well, dear, I hope you'll be just as happy as possible!" said
Lydia's wilted voice. Martie kissed her cheek, and she returned the
kiss. "I can't say I'm surprised, for nothing very much surprises me
now," Lydia went on. "Cliff was simply heartbroken when Mary died,
and he said then to Angela that there would never be another woman
in his life, but of course we all know how much that means, and
perhaps it's better as it is. I often wish I was constituted as most
people seem to be nowadays--forget, and rush on to something else;
that's the idea! But I hope you'll be very happy, Martie; you'll
certainly have everything in the world to make you happy, but that
doesn't always do it, of course. I believe I'll take these letters
of Ma's to Aunt Sally downstairs; they might get mixed in with the
others and burned. I suppose I'm not much in the mood for weddings
and jollifications now, what with all this change bringing back--our
loss. If other people can be happy, I hope they will; but sometimes
I feel that I'll be glad to get out of it all! I'll leave you two
girls to talk wedding, and if you need me again, call me."
"Isn't she the limit!" Sally said indignantly, when Lydia had
trailed away. "Just when you're so happy! For Heaven's sake tell me
all about it, and when it's going to be, and how it began, and
Martie was glad to talk. She liked to hear Sally's praise of Cliff;
she had much to praise in him herself. She announced a quiet
wedding; indeed they were not going to spread the news of the
engagement until all their plans were made. Perhaps a week or two
before the event they would tell a few intimate friends, and be
safely away on their honeymoon before the village was over the first
"Don't mind Lyd," Sally said consolingly. "She'll have a grand talk
with Pa, and feel martyred, and talk it over with Lou and Clara, and
come to the conclusion that it's all for the best. Poor Lyd, do you
remember how she used to laugh and dance about the house when we
were little? Do you remember the Spider-web Party?"
"Do you remember the pink dress, Sally? I used to think Lyd was the
loveliest thing in creation in that dress!"
Sally was flushed and dimpling; she was not listening.
"Mart! I think it's the most exciting thing--! Shall you tell
"Sally, I don't dare." A shadow fell across Martie's bright face. In
these days she was wistfully tender and gentle with her son. Teddy
would not always be first in her consideration; there might be
serious rivals some day. Life was changing for little unconscious
He would not remember his father, and the little sister laughing in
her high-chair, and the cold, dirty streets, and the shabby, silent
mother with her busy, tired hands and her frozen heart. It was all
gone, like a dream of struggle and shame, love and hate, joy and
One day, with Teddy and Clifford, she went up to the old house.
Ruth, clean and mannerly, raised her innocent girl's face for her
new mother's kiss, for Ruth was in the secret. Martie liked Ruth, a
simple, normal little person who played "jacks" and "houses" with
her friends under the lilac trees, and had a "best dress" and loved
"Little Women" with a shy passion. Martie foresaw only a pleasant
relationship with the child. What she lacked in imagination was more
than made up in sense. Ruth would graduate, marry, have children, as
placidly as a stout and sturdy little cow. But Martie and Ruth would
always love, even if they did not understand, each other.
The house was old-fashioned: big double parlours, big folding doors,
and one enormous square bathroom on the second floor, for the needs
of all the house. The cheerful, orderly pantries smelt of painted
wood; the kitchen had cost old Polly two or three unnecessary miles
of walking every month of her twenty-six years' tenancy. Martie
liked the garden best, and the old stables painted white. She loved
the rich mingled scents of wallflower and alyssum and lemon verbena;
and, as they walked about, she tucked a velvet plume of dark
heliotrope into the belt of her thin white gown. "My first colour!"
she said to Clifford.
Ruth assumed charming, older-sister airs with Teddy. She laughed at
his comments, and quoted him to Martie: "He says he's going to learn
to ride Whitey!" "He says he doesn't like such big houses!"
Clifford opened doors and smiled at Martie's interest. She could see
that he loved every inch of the old place. She saw herself
everywhere, writing checks at the old walnut desk, talking with
Polly in the pantry. She could sow Shirley poppies in the bed
beneath the side windows; she could have Mrs. Hunter, the village
sewing woman, comfortably established here in the sewing-room for
weeks, if she liked, making ginghams for Ruth and Ruth's new mother.
When those days came Clifford would gradually abandon this unwelcome
role of lover, and be her kindly, middle-aged old friend again.
Sometimes, in the new shrinking reluctance she felt when they were
alone, she wondered what had become of the old Clifford. There was
something vaguely offending, something a little undignified, about
this fatuous, eager, elderly man who could so poorly simulate
patience. He was not passionate--she might have forgiven him that.
But he was assuming passion, assuming youth, happily egotistical.
He was fifty-one: he had won a beautiful woman hardly more than half
his age. He wanted to talk about it, to have the conversation always
congratulatory and flattering. He had the attitude of a young
husband, without his youth, to which everything is forgiven.
Altogether, Martie found her engagement strangely trying. Rose,
instantly suspicious, was presently told of it, and Martie's sisters
and Rose planned an announcement luncheon for early July. Martie
thought she would really be glad when the fuss and flurry was over.
Long familiar with money scarcity, she wondered sometimes just what
her financial arrangement with her new husband would be. Clifford
was the richest man in Monroe. Not a shop would refuse her credit;
nor a woman in town feel so sure of her comfort and safety.
But what else? Bitter as her long dependence had been, and widowed
and experienced as she was, she dared not ask. There was something
essentially indelicate in any talk of an allowance now. She would
probably do what was done by almost all the wives she knew: charge,
spend little, and when she must have money, approach her husband at
breakfast or dinner: "Oh, Clifford, I need about ten dollars. For
the man who fixed the surrey, dear, and then if I take all the
children in to the moving pictures, they'll want ice-cream. And I
ought to send flowers to Rose; we don't charge there. Although I
suppose I could send some of our own roses just as well!"
And Clifford, like other husbands, would take less money than was
suggested from his pocket and say: "How's seven? You can have more
if you want it, but I haven't any more here! But if you like, send
Ruth down to the Bank--"
"What a fool I am!" Martie mused. "What does independence amount to,
anyway? If I ever had it, I'd probably be longing to get back into
"Teddy, do you understand that Mother is going to marry Uncle
Cliff?" she asked the child. He rested his little body against her,
one arm about her neck, as he stood beside her chair.
"Yes, Mother," he answered unenthusiastically. After a second's
thought he began to twist a white button on her blouse. "And then
are we going back to New York?" he asked.
"No, Loveliness, we stay here." She looked at the child's downcast
face. "Why, Teddy?" she urged.
Ever since he could speak at all, he had had a fashion of whispering
to her anything that seemed to him especially important or precious,
even when, as now, they were quite alone. He put his lips to her
"What is it, dearest? I can't hear you!"
"I said," he said softly, his lips almost touching her cheek, "that
I would like to go back to New York just with you, and have you take
me out in the snow again, and have you let me make chocolate
custard, the way you always did--for just our own supper, our two
selves. I like all my aunts and every one here, but I get lonesome."
"Lonesome?" she echoed, trying to laugh over a little pang.
"Lonesome--for you!" he answered simply. Martie caught him to her
and smothered him in her embrace.
"You little troubadour!" she laughed, with her kiss.
The three sisters had never been so much together in their lives as
they were when the time came to demolish the old home. Sally, with a
train of dancing children, came up every morning after breakfast,
and she and Martie and Lydia patiently plodded through store-rooms,
attics, and closets that had not been disturbed for years.
Lydia's constant cry was: "Ah, don't destroy that; I remember that
ever since I was a baby!" Sally was more apt to say: "I believe I
could use this; it's old, but it could be put in order cheaper than
buying new!" Martie was the iconoclast.
"Now here's this great roll of silk from Grandmother Price's wedding
dress; what earthly good is this to any one?" she would demand
briskly. "And here's the patchwork quilt Ma started when Len was a
baby, with all the patches pinned together! Why should we keep these
things? And Lydia's sketch-books, when she was taking lessons, and
the old air-tight stove, and Pa's brother's dentist chair--it's
hopelessly old-fashioned now! And what about these piles and piles
of Harper's and Scribner's, and the broken washstand that was in
Belle's, room and the curtains, that used to be in the back hall? I
move we have a bonfire and keep it going all day--"
"I'd forgotten that the old rocking-horse was here," Sally said one
day, with pleasure. "The boys will love it! And do you know, Lyd, I
was thinking that this little table with the leg mended and painted
white wouldn't be a bit bad in my hall. I really need a table there,
for Joe brings in his case, or the children get the mail--we'd have
lots of use for it. And here's the bedside table, that's an awfully
good thing to have, because in case of illness--"
"Heavens!" said Martie. "She's trying to break something to us; she
suspects that there may be an illness some day in her house--"
"Oh, I do not!" said Sally, flushing and giggling in the old way.
"Len's first little suit," Lydia mused. "Dear me--dear me! And this
old table-cover; I remember when that was new! And here are Aunt
Carrie's things; she sent Ma a great box of them when she died;
look, Sally, the old-fashioned sleeves with fibre-chamois in them!
This box is full of hats; this was my Merry Widow hat; it was always
so pretty I hated to destroy it, but I suppose it really isn't much
good! I wonder if some poor woman could use it. And these are all
old collars of Pa's and Len's--it seems a shame to throw them away.
I wonder if we could find some one who wears this size? Martie,
don't throw that coat over there in the pile for the fire--it's a
good piece of serge, and that cape style may come in again!"
Absorbed and interested, the three worked among memories. Sometimes
for an hour at a time there was silence in the attic. Martie, with a
faded pink gingham dress spread across her lap, would be eight
again, trotting off to school with Sally, and promising Ma to hold
Len's hand when they crossed Main Street. How clean and trim, how
ready for the day, she had felt, when her red braid was tied with a
brown ribbon, and this little garment firmly buttoned down the back,
and pressed with a great sweep of Ma's arms to crush the too stiffly
Sally observed amusedly, perhaps a little pityingly, that Lydia
wanted everything. There was nothing in the old house for which
Lydia did not expect to have immediate need in the new. This little
table for the porch, this extra chair for the maid's room, this
mirror, this mattress, this ladder. The older sister reserved enough
furniture to fill the new house twice over; she would presently pack
the new rooms with cumbersome, useless possessions, and go to her
death believing herself the happier for having them.
The Eastern editor who had taken her first article presently wrote
her again. Martie treasured his letter with burning, secret pride,
and with perhaps a faint, renunciatory pang. She had pushed in her
opening wedge at last, too late! For no trifling literary success
could change the destined course of Mrs. Clifford Frost.
This was the letter:
DEAR MRS. BANNISTER: We are constantly receiving more letters from
women who read "Give Her A Job," and find that what you had to say
upon an apparently well-worn subject struck a most responsive chord.
Can you not give us another two thousand words upon this, or a
similar subject? This type of article is always most welcome.
That was all. But it inspired Martie to try again. After all, even
as a rich man's wife, she might amuse herself in this way as well as
Between the move from the old house, her wedding plans, the claims
of her husband-to-be, and the Library work, she was busy now, every
instant of the day. Yet she found time, as only a busy woman can,
for writing, and put a new ardour into her attempts, because of the
little beginning of encouragement. Hoping and fearing, she presently
sent a second article on its way.
One July evening she stayed rather late at the Library working on a
report. Clifford was delayed in Pittsville, and would not see her
until after dinner; the rare opportunity was too precious to lose.
In a day or two all Monroe would know of her new plans: in six weeks
she would be Clifford's wife.
When the orderly sheets had been put into a long envelope, Martie
pinned on her white hat, and stepped into the level rays of sunset
light that were pouring into Main Street. The little fruit stand
opposite seemed wilted in the heat; hot little summer breezes were
tossing chaff and papers about the street.
Martie's eyes instantly found an unexpected sight: a low, rakish
motor car drawn up to the curb. She had not seen it before in
Monroe, nor did she recognize the man who sat on the seat next the
driver's seat, with his hat pulled over his eyes.
The driver, a handsome big fellow of perhaps forty or more, had just
jumped from the car, and now came toward her. She smiled into a
clever, unfamiliar face that yet seemed oddly recognizable. He asked
"I beg your pardon?" she had to say, her eyes moving quickly from
him to his companion, who had turned about in the seat, and was
watching them. Her heart stopped beating for a second, then,
commenced to race. Her colour rose in a radiant flood. With three
swift steps she had passed the big man, and was at the curb, and
leaning over the car.
"John--!" she stammered. "My dear--my dear!"
The man in the car turned upon her the smile she knew so well: a
child's half-merry, half-wistful smile, from sea-blue eyes in fair
lashes. Time vanished, and Martie felt that she might have seen it
yesterday; have felt yesterday the muscular grip of John Dryden's
hand. Bewildered at their own emotion, laughing and confused, their
fingers clung together.
"Hello--Martie!" he said, in a shaken voice, his blue eyes suddenly
blazing as he saw her. Martie's eyes were wet, her delight turning
her cheeks to rose. John did not speak, unless his burning eyes
spoke; and Martie for a few minutes was hardly intelligible. It was
the stranger who spoke.
"I'm Dean Silver, Mrs. Bannister--you don't have to be introduced to
me, because I know John here. You're his favourite topic, you know."
"Dean Silver!" Martie smiled bewilderedly at the novelist; she knew
that name! He was a writer with twenty books to his credit. He had a
ranch somewhere in California; he spent his winters there. Some hazy
recollection struggled for recognition.
"But, John!" she laughed. "Here in Monroe! My dear, you'll never
know what it meant to glance up and see you--and you look so well!
And you're famous, too; isn't it wonderful! And, tell me, what
brings you to California!"
The quick, authoritative glance was delightfully familiar, yet
"Why, you brought me, of course, Martie," he said unsmilingly, as if
any other supposition would have been absurd. He had not spoken
before; she knew now that she had hungered for his rather deep,
ready voice. Her colour came up, her heart gave a curious twist, and
she dropped her eyes.
"Dryden and I have been batching it together in New York," said Dean
Silver. "My wife's been here since April with her mother and our
kid. When I came on, I got Dryden here to come, too. They want me to
take a long sea trip: I hope you'll help me persuade him to come,
too. He's trying to double-cross me on it, I think. He said he'd
come as far as California, and then see how things looked. So we
shipped the car last month, and left New York a week ago to-day."
"Well, Monroe is honoured," Martie smiled, amused, fluttered, a
little confused by this open recognition of John's feeling. "But now
that you're here, I don't know quite what to do with you!"
"There's a hotel?" asked the novelist.
"Oh, it's not that. I'm only anxious to make the most of you," said
Martie. "We've more than enough room at our house! But, like poor
Fanny Squeers, I do so palpitate!"
"Palpitate away!" said Dean Silver. "We're in your hands. You can
send us off right now, or let us take you to dinner somewhere, or
direct us to the hotel--for three thousand miles our main idea was
to find you, and we've done it!"
"Well, but JOHN!" Martie was still dazed and exulting. "It's so GOOD
to see you!"
"I had to see you," he said, in his simple way, his eyes never
"But now, let me plan!" she said, with an excited laugh. "If you'll
let me get in the car with you, and--and let me see, we'd better get
something extra for company--"
"Now, that's just what you shan't do," Dean Silver said decisively.
"I don't propose to have you--"
"Oh, she likes it," John assured him, with his dreamy air that was
yet so positive. "Don't waste time, Dean."
Martie laughed; John sat between herself and the novelist in the
wide seat. He turned his head so that she was always under the fire
of his adoring eyes. And in the old way he laughed, thrilled,
exulted in everything she said
Half an hour later, as gaily as if she had known them both all her
life, she introduced them to Pa. Pa, whose youngest daughter was
just now in high favour, was mildly pleased with the invasion. This
impromptu hospitality smacked of prosperity, of worldliness. He went
stiffly into the study with John, to bore the poet with an old
volume about California: "From the Padres to the Pioneers."
Martie, cheerfully setting the dining table, kept a brisk
conversation moving with Dean Silver, who sat smoking on the side
Presently she came put with an empty glass bowl, which she set down
beside him. He followed her down into the tipsy brick paths, under
the willows, while she gathered velvet wallflowers to fill it.
"You're very clever at this village sort of thing," the writer said.
"And I must say I like it myself. Old-fashioned street full of kids
streaming in for ice-cream, garden with stocks and what-you-call-
'ems all blooming together--you know, I had a sort of notion you
weren't half as nice as you are!"
Martie laughed, pleased at the frank audacity.
"You fit into it all so pleasantly!" he expanded his thought.
"I don't know why you say that," she answered, surprised. "I was
born here. I belong here. I lived for years in New York without
being able to demonstrate that I could do anything better!"
"Dryden has a great idea of what you can do," Silver suggested.
"Oh, well, John!" she laughed maternally. "If you've been listening
"I've HAD to listen to him," the novelist said mildly.
"Tell me," she said suddenly, "I don't want to say the awkward thing
to him--has he got his divorce?"
He looked at her, amazed.
"Don't you correspond?"
"Twice a year, perhaps."
Dean Silver flung away his cigarette, and sunk his hands in his
"Certainly he's divorced," he said briefly.
Martie's heart thumped. The flowers in her hands, she stood staring
away from him, unseeing.
"I hope you'll forgive me--I feel like a fool touching the thing at
all," Dean Silver said, after a silence. "But I thought that there
was some sort of an understanding between you."
"Oh, no!" Martie half-whispered, with a fluttered breath.
"There isn't?" he asked, in a tone of keen protest.
The novelist whistled a few notes and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, then, there isn't," he said philosophically. He stooped to
pick a fragrant spike of mignonette, and put it in his buttonhole.
When he began speaking again, he did not look at Martie. "A few of
us have come to know Dryden well, this winter," he said gravely.
"He's a rare fellow, Mrs. Bannister--a big man, and he's got his
field to himself. You wouldn't believe me if I told you what a fuss
they've been making over him--back there, and how little it matters
to him. He's going a long way. You--you've got to be kind to him, my
"I'm a Catholic, and he's a divorced man," Martie said, turning
troubled eyes toward him. "I never thought of him in that way!"
Dean Silver raised his eyebrows.
"People are still believing that sort of thing, are they?"
"Only about a hundred million!" she answered, drily in her turn.
The man laughed shortly.
"Sweet complication!" he observed.
"More than that," Martie said hurriedly, "I'm engaged to be married
to the president of the bank here, in about six weeks!"
Their eyes met steadily for a full minute.
"I devoutly trust you are not serious?" said Dean Silver then.
"Oh, but I am!" she said, with a nervous laugh.
For answer he merely shrugged his shoulders again. In silence they
turned toward the house.
"That is an actual settled fact, is it?" Silver asked, when they
were at the steps.
"Why, yes!" Martie answered, feeling a strange inclination toward
tears. "I've been here for a year and a half," she added lamely.
"I've not seen John--I tell you I never thought of him as anything
but Adele's husband! And Clifford--the man I am to marry--is a good
man, and it means a home for life for my boy and me--and it means
the greatest pleasure to my father and sisters--"
"I think I never heard such a damnable set of reasons for a
beautiful woman's marriage!" Silver said, as she paused.
Martie could find no answer. She was excited, bewildered, thrilled,
all at once. She felt that another word would be too much. Silently
she picked up her bowl and her flowers, and crossed the porch to the
Lydia, coming in late from a meeting of the Fair Committee, was
speechless. In a pregnant silence she lent cold aid to her audacious
sister. The big bed in Len's room was made, the bureau spread with a
clean, limp towel. Pauline was interviewed; she brightened. Dean
Silver was from Prince Edward's Island, too, it seemed. Pauline
could make onion soup, and rolls were set, thanks be! She could open
preserves; she didn't suppose that sliced figs were good enough for
a company dessert.
They had the preserves, and the white figs, too; figs that Teddy and
Martie had knocked that morning from the big tree in the yard. Lydia
noticed with resentment that Pa had really brightened perceptibly
under the unexpected stimulus. It was Lydia who said mildly, almost
reproachfully, "I'm sorry that I have to give you a rather small
napkin, Mr. Dryden; we had company to dinner last night, and I find
we're a little short--"
John hardly heard her; he saw nothing but Martie, and only rarely
moved his eyes from her, or spoke to any one else. He glowed at her
lightest word, laughed at her mildest pleasantry; he frequently
asked her family if she was not "wonderful."
This was the attitude of that old lover of her dreams, and in spite
of amusement and trepidation and nervous consciousness that she was
hopelessly entangling her affairs, Martie's heart began to swell,
and her senses to feel creeping over their alertness a deadly and
delicious languor. She had been powerless all her life: she thrilled
to the knowledge of her power now.
Dean Silver easily kept the conversation moving. They learned that
he had been overworking, had been warned by his physician that he
must take a rest. So he and John were off for the Orient: he himself
had always wanted to sail up the Nile, and to see Benares.
"John, what a year in fairyland!" Martie exclaimed.
"Well, that's what I tell him," said the novelist. "But he isn't at
all sure he wants to go!"
As John merely gave Martie an unmistakable look at this, she tried
hurriedly for a careless answer.
"John, you would be mad not to go!"
"You and I will talk it over after awhile," he suggested, with an
This was terrible. Martie gave one startled look at Lydia, who had
compressed her mouth into a thin line of disapproval. Lydia was
obviously thinking of Cliff, who might come in later. Martie found
herself unable to think of Cliff.
They had coffee in the garden, in the still summer dusk. Teddy
rioted among the bushes, as alert and strategic as was his gray
kitten. John sat silent beside Martie, and whenever she glanced at
him she met his deep smile. Lydia preserved a forbidding silence,
but Malcolm's suspicions of his younger daughter were pleasantly
diverted by the novelist. Dean Silver was probing into the early
history of the State.
"But there must have been silver and gold mines up as far as this,
then; aren't you in the gold belt?"
"In the year 1858," Malcolm began carefully, "a company was formed
here for the purpose of investigating the claims made by--"
John finished his coffee with a gulp, and walked across the dim
grass to Martie, and she rose without a word.
"Martie, isn't it Teddy's bedtime?" asked Lydia. John frowned
faintly at her.
"Can't you put him to bed?" he asked directly. Lydia's cool cheek
"Why, yes--I will--" she answered confusedly. Martie called her
thanks over her shoulder as they walked away. She was reminded of
the day she had called on John at his office.
Quick and shaken, the beating of her heart bewildered her; she
hardly knew where they walked, or how they began to talk. The
velvety summer night was sweet with flowers; the moon would be late,
but the sky was high and dark, and thick with stars. In the silver
glimmer the town lights, and the dim eye of the dairy, far up on the
range, burned red. Children were shouting somewhere, and dogs
barking; now and then the other mingled noises were cut across by
the clear, mellow note of a motor car's horn.
They came to the lumber-yard by the river, and went in among the
shadowy piles of planks. The starry dome was arched, infinitely far
and yet friendly, above them; the air here was redolent of the clean
wood. From houses near by, but out of sight beyond the high wall,
they heard occasional voices: a child was called, a wire-door
slammed. But they were alone.
John was instantly all the acknowledged if not the accepted lover.
Once fairly inside the fence, she found her heart beating madly
against his own; as tall as he, she tried to deny him her lips. Her
arms were pinioned. Man and woman breathed fast.
"Martie--my wonderful--my beautiful--girl! I never lived until now!"
he said after a silence.
"But, John--John--" He had taken her off her guard; she was
stammering like a school-girl. "Please, dear, you mustn't--not now.
I want to talk to you--I must. Won't you wait until we have had a
talk--please--you're frightening me!"
His hold was instantly loosed.
"My dearest child, I wouldn't frighten you for anything in the
world. Let us have the talk--here, climb up here! It was only--
realizing--what I've been dreaming about all these months! I'm flesh
and blood, you know, dear. I shall not feel myself alive--you know
that!--until you are in my arms, my own--my wife."
She had seated herself on the top of the pile; now he sat on the
ledge that was a few inches lower, and laid his arms across her
knees, so that his hands were clasped in both her own. Her senses
were swimming, her heart itself seemed turned to liquid fire, and
ran trembling through her body.
"My wife!" John said, eager eyes fairly devouring her. "My glorious
wife, the loveliest woman in the world! Do you know what it means,
Martie? Do you know what it means, after what we both have known?"
The sight of his wistful, daring smile in the starlight, the touch
of his big, eager hands, and the sound of the odd, haunting voice
turned the words to magic. She tightened her fingers on his.
"I bought the Connecticut house on the river," he said presently.
"It belonged to a carpenter, a fine fellow; but the railroad doesn't
go there, and he and his wife wanted to go to a bigger place. Silver
and I went up and saw it, but I didn't want to do anything until you
came. But there are rocks, you know--" Hearing something between a
laugh and a sigh, he stopped short. "Rocks," he repeated, "you know
all those places are rocky!"
"I know, dearest boy!"
The term overwhelmed him. She heard him try to go on; he choked,
glanced at her smilingly, and shook his head. A second later he laid
his face against her hands, and she felt that it was wet.
The clock in the Town Hall struck nine--struck ten, and still they
sat on, sometimes talking, sometimes staring up at the steadily
beating stars. Quiet fell upon Monroe, lights moved in the little
houses and went out. There was a little stir when the crowd poured
out from the moving pictures: voices, shouts, laughter, then silence
Suddenly Martie decreed their return to the house. But the ecstasy
of finding each other, again was too new. They passed the dark old
gateway to the sunken garden, and walked on, talking thirstily,
drinking deep of the joy of words.
Hand in hand they went up the hill, and time and space might have
equally been demolished. That hill had seemed a long climb to Martie
years ago: to-night it seemed a dream hill, she and John were so
soon at its little summit.