Part 1 out of 7
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BY HENRY KITCHELL WEBSTER
I THE CIRCASSIAN GRAND
II SEA DRIFT
III THE PEACE BASIS
IV THE PICTURE PUZZLE
V JOHN MAKES A POINT OF IT
VII NO THOROUGHFARE
VIII THE DUMB PRINCESS
IX IN HARNESS
X AN INTERVENTION
XI NOT COLLECTABLE
XII HICKORY HILL
XIII LOW HANGS THE MOON
XIV A CLAIRVOYANT INTERVAL
XV THE END OF IT
XVI FULL MEASURE
XVII THE WAYFARER
XVIII A CASE OF NECESSITY
XIX THE DRAMATIST
XX TWO WOMEN AND JOHN
XXI THE SUBSTITUTE
XXII THE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE
XXIII THE TERROR
XXIV THE WHOLE STORY
XXVI JOHN ARRIVES
XXVII SETTLING PAULA
XXVIII THE KALEIDOSCOPE
THE CIRCASSIAN GRAND
Miss Lucile Wollaston was set to exude sympathy, like an aphid waiting
for an overworked ant to come down to breakfast. But there was no
sympathizing with the man who came in from a doctor's all-night vigil
like a boy from a ball-game, gave her a hard brisk kiss on the
cheek-bone, and then, before taking his place at the table, unfolded the
morning paper for a glance at the head-lines.
If there was something rigorous about the way she lighted the alcohol
lamp under the silver urn and rang for Nathaniel, the old colored butler,
it was from a determination not to let this younger brother of hers put
her into a flurry again as he so often did. A very much younger brother
indeed, he seemed when this mood was on him.
Miss Wollaston was born on the election day that made James Buchanan
president of the United States and Doctor John within a few days of
Appomattox. But one would have said, looking at them here at the
breakfast table on a morning in March in the year 1919, that there was a
good deal more than those ten years between them. He folded his paper and
sat down when the butler suggestively pulled out his chair for him and
his manner became, for the moment, absent, as his eye fell upon a letter
beside his plate addressed in his daughter, Mary's, handwriting.
"I want a big platter of ham and eggs, Nat, sliced thick. And a few of
Lucartha's wheat cakes." He made some sort of good-humored, half
articulate acknowledgment of the old servitor's pleasure in getting such
an order, but one might have seen that his mind was a little out of
focus, for it was not exactly dealing with the letter either. He sliced
it open with a table knife with the precise movement one would have
expected from a surgeon and disengaged it in the same neat way from its
envelope. But he read it as if he weren't very sharply aware of what,
particularly, it had to say and he laid it beside his plate again without
"Did you have any sleep last night, at all?" Miss Wollaston asked.
It brought him back like a flash. "Not a wink," he said jovially.
This was a challenge and the look that went with it, one of clear boyish
mischief, was one that none of John Wollaston's other intimates--and
among these I include his beautiful young wife and his two grown-up
children by an earlier marriage--ever saw. It was a special thing for
this sister who had been a stately young lady of twenty when he was a bad
little boy of ten. She had watched him, admiring yet rather aghast, ever
To the world at large his social charm lay in--or was at least
inseparable from--his really exquisite manners, his considerateness, the
touch of old-fashioned punctilio there was about him. His first wife
would have agreed with her successor about his possession of this quality
though they would have appraised it rather differently. Only this elderly
unmarried sister of his felt the fascination of the horrible about him.
This was to some extent inherent in his profession. He had a reputation
that was growing to amount to fame as a specialist in the very wide
field of gynecology, obstetrics and abdominal surgery. The words
themselves made Miss Wollaston shudder.
When he replied to her question, whether or not he had had any sleep at
all, with an open grin and that triumphant "Not a wink," she had a
prophetic sense of what was going to happen. She was going to ask him
more questions and he was going to tell her something perfectly ghastly.
She felt herself slipping, but she pulled up. "What's in Mary's letter?"
She knew that this was not quite fair, and the look that it brought to
his face--a twinge of pain like neuralgia--awakened a sharp compunction
in her. She did not know why--at least not exactly why--his relation with
his daughter should be a sore spot in his emotional life, but she knew
quite well that this was true. There was on the surface, nothing, or
nowhere near enough, to account for it.
He had always been, Miss Wollaston felt, an adorer to the verge of
folly of this lovely pale-blonde daughter of his. He had indulged her
outrageously but without any evident bad results. Upon her mother's
death, in 1912 that was, when Mary was seventeen years old, she had,
to the utmost limit that a daughter could compass, taken her mother's
place in the bereaved man's life. She had foregone the college course
she was prepared for and had taken over very skillfully the management
of her father's household; even, in a surprisingly successful way,
too, the motherly guidance of her two-years-younger brother, Rush.
Miss Wollaston's testimony on these two points was unbiased as it was
ungrudging. She had offered herself for that job and had not then
Two years later there had been a quarrel between John and his daughter.
She fell in love, or thought she did--for indeed, how could a child of
nineteen know?--with a man to whom her father decisively and almost
violently objected. Just how well founded this objection was Miss
Wollaston had no means of deciding for herself. There was nothing
flagrantly wrong with the man's manners, position or prospects; but she
attributed to her brother a wisdom altogether beyond her own in matters
of that sort and sided with him against the girl without misgiving. And
the fact that the man himself married another girl within a month or two
of Mary's submission to her father's will, might be taken as a
demonstration that he was right.
John had done certainly all he could to make it up with the girl. He
tried to get her to go with him on what was really a junket to
Vienna--there was no better place to play than the Vienna of those
days--though there was also some sort of surgical congress there that
spring that served him as an excuse, and Mary, Miss Wollaston felt, had
only herself to blame for what happened.
She had elected to be tragic; preferred the Catskills with a dull old
aunt to Vienna with a gay young father. John went alone, sore from the
quarrel and rather adrift. In Vienna, he met Paula Carresford, an
American opera singer, young, extraordinarily beautiful, and of
unimpeachable respectability. They were in Vienna together the first week
in August, 1914. They got out together, sailed on the same ship for
America and in the autumn of that year, here in Chicago, in the most
decorous manner in the world, John married her.
There was a room in Miss Wollaston's well ordered mind which she had
always guarded as an old-fashioned New England village housewife used to
guard the best parlor, no light, no air, no dust, Holland covers on all
the furniture. Rigorously she forbore to speculate upon the attraction
which had drawn John and Paula together--upon what had happened between
them--upon how the thing had looked and felt to either of them. She
covered the whole episode with one blanket observation: she supposed it
was natural in the circumstances.
And there was much to be thankful for. Paula was well-bred; she was
amiable; she was "nice"; nice to an amazing degree, considering. She had
made a genuine social success. She had given John a new lease on life,
turned back the clock for him, oh--years.
Mary, Miss Wollaston felt, had taken it surprisingly well. At the wedding
she had played her difficult part admirably and during the few months she
had stayed at home after the wedding, she had not only kept on good terms
with Paula but had seemed genuinely to like her. In the spring of the
next year, 1915, she had, indeed, left home and had not been back since
except for infrequent visits. But then there was reason enough--excuse
enough, anyhow--for that. The war was enveloping them all. Rush had left
his freshman year at Harvard uncompleted to go to France and drive an
ambulance (he enlisted a little later in the French Army). Mary had gone
to New York to work on the Belgian War Relief Fund, and she had been
working away at it ever since.
There was then no valid reason--no reason at all unless she were willing
to go rummaging in that dark room of her mind for it--why John should
always wince like that when one reminded him of Mary. It was a fact,
though, that he did, and his sister was too honest-minded to pretend she
did not know it.
He answered her question now evenly enough. "She's working harder than
ever, she says, closing up her office. She wants some more money, of
course. And _she's_ heard from Rush. He's coming home. He may be turning
up almost any day now. She hopes to get a wire from him so that she can
meet him in New York and have a little visit with him, she says, before
he comes on here."
It was on Miss Wollaston's tongue to ask crisply, "Why doesn't she come
home herself now that her Fund is shutting up shop?" But that would have
been to state in so many words the naked question they tacitly left
unasked. There was another idea in her brother's mind that she thought
she could deal with. He had betrayed it by the emphasis he put on the
fact that it was to Mary and not to himself that Rush had written the
news that he was coming home. Certainly there was nothing in that.
"Why," she asked brightly, "don't you go to New York yourself and
He answered instantly, almost sharply, "I can't do that." Then not liking
the way it sounded in his own ear, he gave her a reason. "If you knew the
number of babies that are coming along within the next month...."
"You need a rest," she said, "badly. I don't see how you live through
horrors like that. But there must be other people--somebody who can take
your work for you for a while. It can't make all that difference."
"It wouldn't," he admitted, "nine times out of ten. That call I got last
evening that broke up the dinner party,--an intern at the County
Hospital would have done just as well as I. There was nothing to it at
all. Oh, it was a sort of satisfaction to the husband's feelings, I
suppose, to pay me a thousand dollars and be satisfied that nobody in
town could have paid more and got anything better. But you see, you never
can tell. The case I was called in on at four o'clock this morning was
another thing altogether." A gleam had come into his eyes again as over
the memory of some brilliantly successful audacity. The gray old look had
gone out of his face.
"I don't altogether wonder that Pollard blew up," he added, "except that
a man in that profession has got no business to--ever."
The coffee urn offered Miss Wollaston her only means of escape but she
didn't avail herself of it. She let herself go on looking for a
breathless minute into her brother's face. Then she asked weakly,
"What was it?"
"Why, Pollard...." John Wollaston began but then he stopped short and
listened. "I thought I heard Paula coming," he explained.
"Paula won't be down for hours," Miss Wollaston said, "but I do not
see why she shouldn't hear, since she is a married woman and your
Her brother's "Precisely" cut across that sentence with a snick like a
pair of shears and left a little silence behind it.
"I think she'll be along in a minute," he went on. "She always does come
to breakfast. Why did you think she wouldn't to-day?"
This was one of Miss Wollaston's minor crosses. The fact was that on the
comparatively rare occasions when Doctor John himself was present for the
family breakfast at the custom-consecrated hour, Paula managed about two
times in five to put in a last-minute appearance. This was not what
annoyed Miss Wollaston. She was broad-minded enough to be aware that to
an opera singer, the marshaling of one's whole family in the dining-room
at eight o'clock in the morning might seem a barbarous and revolting
practise and even occasional submissions to it, acts of real devotion.
She was not really bitterly annoyed either by Paula's oft repeated
assertion that she always came to breakfast. Paula was one of those
temperamental persons who have to be forgiven for treating their
facts--atmospherically. But that John, a man of science, enlisted under
the banner of truth, should back this assertion of his wife's, in the
face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, really required
resignation to put up with; argued a blindness, an infatuation, which
seemed to his sister hardly decent. Because after all, facts were facts,
and you didn't alter them by pretending that they did not exist.
So instead of answering her brother's question, she sat a little
straighter in her chair, and compressed her lips.
He smiled faintly at that and added, "Anyhow she said she'd be along in a
minute or two."
"Oh," said Miss Wollaston, "you have wakened her then. I would have
suggested that the poor child be left asleep this morning."
Now he saw that she had something to tell him. "Nothing went wrong last
night after I left, I hope."
"Oh, not wrong," Miss Wollaston conceded, "only the Whitneys went of
course, when you did and the Byrnes, and Wallace Hood, but Portia Stanton
and that new husband of hers stayed. It was his doing, I suppose. You
might have thought he was waiting all the evening for just that thing to
happen. They went up to Paula's studio--Paula invited me, of course, but
I excused myself--and they played and sang until nearly two o'clock this
morning. It was all perfectly natural, I suppose. And still I did think
that Paula might have sung earlier, down in the drawing-room when you
asked her to."
"She was perfectly right to refuse." He caught his sister up rather short
on that, "I shouldn't have asked her. It was very soon after dinner. They
weren't a musical crowd anyway, except Novelli. It's utterly unfair to
expect a person like Paula to perform unless she happens to be in the
mood for it. At that she's extremely amiable about it; never refuses
unless she has some real reason. What her reason was last night, I don't
know, but you may be perfectly sure it was sufficient."
He would have realized that he was protesting too much even if he had not
read that comment in his sister's face. But somehow he couldn't have
pulled himself up but for old Nat's appearance with the platter of ham
and eggs and the first installment of the wheat cakes. He was really
hungry and he settled down to them in silence.
And, watching him between the little bites of dry toast and sips of
coffee, Miss Wollaston talked about Portia Stanton. Everybody, indeed,
was talking about Portia these days but Miss Wollaston had a special
privilege. She had known Portia's mother rather well,--Naomi Rutledge
Stanton, the suffrage leader, she was--and she had always liked and
admired Portia; liked her better than the younger and more sensational
Miss Wollaston hoped, hoped with all her heart that Portia had not made
a tragic mistake in this matter of her marriage. She couldn't herself
quite see how a sensible girl like Portia could have done anything so
reckless as to marry a romantic young Italian pianist, ten years at
least her junior. It couldn't be denied that the experiment seemed to
have worked well so far. Portia certainly seemed happy enough last
night; contented. There was a sort of glow about her there never was
before. But the question was how long would it last. How long would it
be before those big brown Italian eyes began looking soulfully at
somebody else; somebody more....
It was here that Miss Wollaston chopped herself off short, hearing--this
time it was no false alarm--Paula's step in the hall. She'd have been
amazed, scandalized, profoundly indignant, dear good-hearted lady that
she was, had some expert in the psychology of the unconscious pointed
out to her that the reason she had begun talking about Portia was that
it gave her an outlet for expressing her misgivings about her own
brother's marriage. Paula, of course, was a different thing altogether.
What a beautiful creature she was, even at eight o'clock in the morning
at the end of an abruptly terminated night's sleep. She looked lovelier
than ever as she came in through the shadowy doorway. She wasn't a true
blonde like Mary. Her thick strong hair was a sort of golden
glorification of brown, her skin a warm tone of ivory. Her eyes, set wide
apart, were brown, and the lashes, darker than her hair, enhanced the
size of them. The look of power about Paula, inseparable from her beauty,
was not one of Miss Wollaston's feminine ideals. It spoke in every line
of her figure as well as in the lineaments of her face; in the short,
rather broad, yet cleanly defined nose; in the generous width of her
mouth; in the sculpturesque poise of her neck upon her shoulders.
Paula's clothes, too, worried her elderly sister-in-law a little,
especially the house-dresses that she affected. They were beautiful,
heaven knew; more simply beautiful perhaps than it was right that
clothes should be. There was nothing indecent about them. Dear Paula was
almost surprisingly nice in those ways. But that thing she had on now,
for instance;--a tunic of ecru colored silk that she had pulled on over
her head, with a little over-dress of corn colored tulle, weighted
artfully here and there that it mightn't fly away. And a string of big
lumpish amber beads. She could have got into that costume in about two
minutes and there was probably next to nothing under it. From the
on-looker's point of view, it mightn't violate decorum at all; indeed,
clearly did not. But Miss Wollaston herself, if she hadn't been more or
less rigidly laced, stayed, gartered, pinched, pried and pulled about;
if she could have moved freely in any direction without an
admonitory--"take care"--from some bit of whalebone somewhere, wouldn't
have felt dressed at all. There ought to be something perpetually
penitential about clothes. The biblical story of the fall of man made
that clear, didn't it?
John sprang up as his wife came into the room; went around the table and
held her chair for her. "My dear, I didn't know I was robbing you of half
a night's sleep," he said. "You should have turned me out."
She reached up her strong white arms (the tulle sleeves did fall away
from them rather alarmingly, and Miss Wollaston concentrated her
attention on the spiggot of the coffee urn) for his head as he bent over
her and pulled it down for a kiss.
"I didn't need any more sleep. I had such a joyous time last night. I
sang the whole of _Maliela_, and a lot of _Thais_. I don't know what all.
Novelli's a marvel; the best accompanist I've found yet. But, oh, my
darling, I did feel such a pig about it."
He was back in his own chair by now and his sister breathed a little
"Pig?" he asked.
"Oh, because you weren't there," said Paula. "Because I didn't sing
before, when you asked me to."
"Dearest!" John remonstrated,--pleased though with the apology, you could
see with half an eye,--"it was inexcusable of me to have asked you. It
was a dull crowd from a musical point of view. The only thing I minded
was having, myself, put you into a position where you had to refuse. I am
glad you were able to make it up to yourself after."
"That was not why I didn't," Paula said. She always spoke rather
deliberately and never interrupted any one. "I mean it wasn't because the
others weren't especially musical. But I couldn't have sung without
asking Novelli to play. And he couldn't have refused--being new and a
little on trial you know. And that drawing-room piano, so badly out of
tune, would have been terrible for him. There's no knowing what he
mightn't have done."
John's face beamed triumph. "I might have known you had an unselfish
reason for it," he said. He didn't look at his sister but, of course, the
words slanted her way.
It was perfectly characteristic of Miss Wollaston that she did not,
however, make any immediate attempt to set herself right. She attended
first very competently to all of Paula's wants in the way of breakfast
and saw her fairly launched on her chilled grapefruit. Then she said, "A
man is coming to tune the piano this morning."
It was more than a statement of fact. Indeed I despair of conveying to
you all the implications and moral reflections which Miss Wollaston
contrived to pack into that simple sentence.
The drawing-room piano was what an artillerist would speak of as one of
the sensitive points along the family front. It had been a present to the
Wollaston household from the eldest of John's brothers, the unmarried one
Miss Wollaston had kept house for so many years before he died; the last
present, it turned out, he ever made to anybody. Partly perhaps, because
it was a sacred object, the Wollaston children took to treating it rather
irreverently. The "Circassian grand" was one of its nicknames and the
"Siamese Elephant" another. It did glare in the otherwise old-fashioned
Dearborn Avenue drawing-room and its case did express a complete
recklessness of expense rather than any more austere esthetic impulse.
Paula ignored it in rather a pointed way; being a musician she might have
been expected to see that it was kept in tune. She had a piano of her own
up in the big room at the top of the house that had once been the nursery
and over this instrument, she made, Miss Wollaston felt, a silly amount
of fuss. Supposedly expert tuners were constantly being called in to do
things to it and nothing they did ever seemed to afford Paula any
The aura that surrounded Miss Wollaston's remark included, then, the
conviction that the drawing-room piano, being a sacred memory, couldn't
be out of tune in the first place; that Paula, in the second, ought to
have attended to it; and third (this is rather complex but I guarantee
the accuracy of it) the fact that it was to be tuned this morning, really
made it a perfectly possible instrument for Mr. Novelli to have played
upon last night.
John missed none of that. He hadn't been observing his sister during half
a century for nothing. He glanced over to see how much of it his wife
took in; but the fact, in this instance, was all that interested Paula.
"It was awfully clever of you," she said, "to get hold of a tuner. Who is
he? Where did you find him?"
"I found him in the park," said Miss Wollaston brightly, responding to
the little thrill you always felt when Paula focused her attention upon
you. "He was sitting on a bench when I drove by just after lunch. I don't
know why I noticed him but I did and when I came back hours later, he was
still sitting there on the same bench. He was in uniform; a private, I
think, certainly not an officer. It struck me as rather sad, his sitting
there like that, so I stopped the car and spoke to him. He got his
discharge just the other day, it seemed. I asked him if he had a job and
he said, no, he didn't believe he had. Then I asked him what his trade
was and he said he was a piano tuner. So I told him he might come this
morning and tune ours."
It was Paula's bewildered stare that touched off John's peal of laughter.
Alone with his sister he might have smiled to himself over the lengths
she went in the satisfaction of her passion for good works. But Paula, he
knew, would just as soon have invited a strange bench-warming dentist to
come and work on her teeth by way of being kind to him.
Miss Wollaston, a flush of annoyance on her faded cheeks, began making
dignified preparations to leave the table and John hastily apologized. "I
laughed," he said,--disingenuously because it wouldn't do to implicate
Paula--"over the idea that perhaps he didn't want a job at all and made
up on the spur of the moment the unlikeliest trade he could think of. And
how surprised he must have been when you took him up."
"He did not seem surprised," Miss Wollaston said. "He thanked me very
nicely and said he would come this morning. At ten, if that would be
convenient. Of course if you wish to put it off...."
"Not at all," said John. He rose when she did and--this was an extra bit,
an act of contrition for having wounded her--went with her to the door.
"It was a good idea," he said; "an excellent way of--of killing two birds
with one stone."
Paula was smiling over this when he came back to her. "It doesn't matter,
does it?" he asked.
She shook her head. "It isn't that it's out of tune, really; it's
It was strange how like a knife thrust that word of hers--hopeless--went
through him. Perfectly illogical, of course; she was not speaking of his
life and hers but of that ridiculous drawing-room piano. Somehow the mere
glow she had brought into the room with her, the afterglow of an
experience he had no share in producing, had become painful to him; made
him feel old. He averted his eyes from her with an effort and stared down
at his empty plate.
A moment later she came around the table and seated herself, facing him,
upon the arm of his chair; clasped his neck with her two hands. "You're
tired," she said. "How much sleep did you have last night?" And on his
admitting that he hadn't had any, she exclaimed against his working
himself to death like that.
No memory, though he made a conscious effort to recover it, of his
audacious success during the small hours of that morning in bringing
triumphantly into the world the small new life that Pollard would have
destroyed, came back to fortify him; no trace of his own afterglow that
had so fascinated and alarmed his sister. "I shall sleep fast for an hour
or two this morning and make it up," he told Paula.
"I do wish you might have been there last night," she said after a little
silence. "I don't believe I've ever sung so well;--could have, at least,
if there had been room enough to turn around in. It was all there; it's
getting bigger all the time. Not just the voice, if you know what I mean,
darling, but what I could do with it."
"It was partly Novelli, I suspect," he said. "Having him for an
accompanist, I mean. He's very good indeed, isn't he?"
"Oh, yes, he's good," she assented absently. "Awfully good. And he is a
nice furry little enthusiastic thing; like a faun, rather; exciting to
play with of course. But it wasn't that. It's you, really--being in love
with you the way I am. I suppose that's the very best thing that could
possibly have happened to me. I'm another person altogether from that
girl you found in Vienna. Just where she left off, I begin."
She uttered a little laugh then of sheer exuberance and with a strong
embrace, pressed his head hard against her breast. He yielded passively,
made no response of his own beyond a deep-drawn breath or two. A moment
later when she had released him and risen to her feet, he rose too.
"Would Novelli be procurable?" he asked. "Could he be engaged regularly,
as an accompanist for you and so on?"
She looked at him rather oddly. "Why, I don't need him," she said, "as
long as I am just playing. Of course, if I were to go regularly to work,
somebody like him would be almost necessary."
There was a tight little silence for a few seconds after that, he once
more evading her eyes. "It seems to me you work most of the time as it
is," he said. Then he announced his intention of going up-stairs to take
a nap. He wasn't going to the hospital until eleven.
He did go up to his room and lay down upon his bed and, eventually, he
slept. But for an hour, his mind raced like an idle motor. That nonsense
of Lucile's about Portia Stanton's folly in marrying a young musician
whose big Italian eyes would presently begin looking soulfully at some
one else. Had they already looked like that at Paula? Jealousy itself
wasn't a base emotion. Betraying it was all that mattered. You couldn't
help feeling it for any one you loved. Paula, bending over that furry
faun-like head, reading off the same score with him, responding to the
same emotions from the music.... Fantastic, of course. There could be no
sane doubt as to who it was that Paula was in love with. That embrace of
hers, just now. Curious how it terrified him. He had felt like a mouse
under the soft paw of a cat. An odd symptom of fatigue.
What a curious thing life was. How widely it departed from the
traditional patterns. Here in his own case, that Fate should save the one
real passion of his life for the Indian summer of it. And that it should
be a reciprocated passion. The wiseacres were smiling at him, he
supposed; smiling as the world always smiled at the spectacle of
infatuate age mating with tolerant, indifferently acquiescent youth.
Smiled and wondered how long it would be before youth awoke and turned to
its own. Well, he could afford to smile at the wiseacres. And at the
green inexperienced young, as well, who thought that love was exclusively
their affair--children the age of Mary taking their sentimental thrills
Four years now he had been married to Paula and the thing had never
chilled,--never gone stale. How different from the love of his youth that
had led to his former marriage, was this burning constant flame. Paula
was utterly content with him. She had given up her career for him.--No.
She hadn't done that. He had not asked her to do that. Had not, on the
contrary, her marriage really furthered it? Was she not more of a person
to-day than the discouraged young woman he had found singing for
pittances the leading dramatic soprano roles in the minor municipal
operas of Germany and Austria? Wasn't that what she had said this
morning--that falling in love with him was the best thing that could
possibly have happened to her? He had taken it wrong when she said it, as
if she were regarding him just as an instrument that served her purpose,
a purpose that lay beyond him; outside him.
That was what had given him that momentary pang of terror. Fatigue, of
course. He ought to go to sleep. Paula was refraining from her morning
practise just so that he could. Or was that why? Was she dreaming, up in
the music room where she was never to be disturbed,--of last night--of
Paula went up to the music room after breakfast, stood at one of its
open windows for a few minutes breathing in the air of an unusually
mild March and then abruptly left it; dressed for the street and went
out for a walk.
She was quite as much disturbed over the scene in the dining-room as her
husband had been. His flash of jealousy over the little Italian pianist,
instantly recognizable through its careful disguise, had only endeared
John Wollaston to her further, if that were possible. She had laughed and
hugged his worried old head tight against her breast.
But his refusal to face facts about her musical career was another thing
altogether. Once more he had, patently and rather pitiably, evaded the
subject of her going seriously to work. Did he think that she could go
on indefinitely parading a parlor accomplishment for his society
friends,--singing nice little English songs for Wallace Hood? It was too
ridiculous! That hadn't been their understanding when she married him.
What she had been sure of last night as never before, she had tried down
there in the dining-room to convey to him; that her powers were ripe,
were crying out for use. She had failed simply because he had refused to
see what she was driving at. It was just another form of jealousy really,
She was not an introspective person, but this, clearly, was something
that wanted thinking over. It was to "think" that she went out for the
walk. Only, being Paula, the rhythm of her stride, the sparkle of the
spring air, the stream of sharp new-minted sensations incessantly
assailing eye and ear, soon swamped her problem; sunk it beneath the
level of consciousness altogether. Long before ten o'clock when she came
swinging along Dearborn Avenue toward her husband's house, she had
"walked off" her perplexities.
A block from the house she found herself overtaking a man in uniform and
slackened her pace a little in order not to pass him. There was something
unmilitary about the look of him that mildly amused her. It was not that
he slouched nor shuffled nor that he was ill-made, though he was probably
one of those unfortunates whom issue uniforms never fit. He carried a
little black leather satchel, and it broke over Paula that here perhaps
was Lucile's piano tuner. She half formed the intention to stay away
another hour or two until he should have had time to finish. But he
interfered with that plan by stopping in front of the house and looking
at it as if making up his mind whether to go in.
It was an odd look he had, but distinctly an engaging one. He was not
criticizing the architecture, if so it could be called, of the
house-front. Yet there was a sort of comfortable detachment about him
which precluded the belief that it was a mere paralyzing shyness that
held him there.
Paula abandoned her intention of walking by. She stopped instead as she
came up to him and said, "Are you coming in here? If you are, I'll let
you in." She fished an explanatory latch-key out of her wrist-bag as she
went up the steps.
"Why," he said, "I believe this is the house where I'm expected to
tune a piano."
In the act of thrusting home her key, Paula stopped short, turned
irrepressibly and stared at him. She was one of that very small number of
American-born singers who take the English language seriously and she
knew good speech when she heard it. It was one of the qualities which had
first attracted her to Doctor John. This man's speaking voice would have
arrested her attention pleasantly anywhere. Coming from the private
soldier Lucile had told to come round to tune the piano, it really
startled her. She turned back to the door and opened it.
"Yes," she said, "they're expecting you. Come in and I'll show you
She might, of course, merely have indicated the drawing-room door to him
with a nod and gone up-stairs, but she was determined now to wait and
hear him say something more. So she led the way into the drawing-room and
quite superfluously indicated the Circassian grand with a gesture. Then
she looked back at him quickly enough to surprise the expression that
flickered across his face at the sight of it. A mere cocking of one
eyebrow it was, but amusingly expressive. So, too, was the way he walked
over toward it, with an air of cautious determination, of readiness for
anything, that made Paula want to laugh. He dropped down sidewise on the
bench, turned up the lid and dug his fingers into the keyboard.
At the noise he evoked from that pampered instrument she did laugh aloud.
It was not a piano tuner's arpeggio but a curiously teasing mixed
dissonance she couldn't begin to identify. She thought she heard him say,
"My God!" but couldn't be sure. He repeated his chord pianissimo and held
it down, reached up and echoed it in the upper half of the keyboard; then
struck, hard, two octaves in the bass.
"What a piano!" he said. "What a damned piano!" He made a sort of effort
to pull himself up; apologized (she thought that was what he meant to
do) for the damn. But as he turned back to the piano and struck another
chord or two, she could see that his sense of outrage was mounting
steadily all the time.
"You can't tune a piano like this."--He pushed up the cover and stared
gloomily at the strings. "A mincing sickly thing like this. It's all
wrong. The scale is all wrong. The man who designed it ought to be hung.
But he called it a piano and sold it for a piano and I'm expected to come
in and tune it. Slick and smear it over and leave it sounding sicklier
and tubbier and more generally disgusting than ever. You might as well
take a painted harlot off the streets"--he glared at the ornate
extravagance of the case--"and expect to make a gentlewoman of her with
one lesson in deportment. I won't tune it. It's better left as it is. In
"Well," said Paula, letting go a long breath, "you've said it."
Then she dropped into a chair and began to laugh. Never again, she felt
sure, would the drawing-room piano be able to cause her a moment's
irritation. This astonishing piano tuner of Lucile's had converted it,
with his new christening, into a source of innocent merriment. "The
painted harlot" covered the ground. Clear inspiration was what that was.
The way he went on glowering at it, digging every now and then a new and
more abominable chord out of its entrails made her mirth the more
"It isn't funny, you know, a thing like this," he remonstrated at last.
"It would be serious," she retorted with sudden severity, "if you had
said all that or anything in the least like that to Miss Wollaston.
Because she really loves it. She has adopted it."
"Was she the lady who spoke to me in the park?" His evident consternation
over this aspect of the case made Paula smile as she nodded yes.
"That was an act of real kindness," he said earnestly. "Not mere good
nature. It doesn't grow on every bush."
To this she eagerly agreed. "She is kind; she's a dear." But when she
saw him looking unhappily at the piano again, she said (for she hadn't
the slightest intention of abandoning him now), "There's another one,
quite a different sort of one, in the music room up-stairs. Would you
like to come along and look at that?"
He followed her tractably enough, but up in her studio before looking at
the piano, he asked her a question or two. Had he the name right? And was
the lady related to Doctor Wollaston?
"She's his sister," said Paula, adding, "and I am his wife. Why, do you
"I talked with him once. He came out to the factory to see my father and
I happened to be there. Two or three years ago, that was. He did an
operation on my sister that saved her life. He is a great man." He added,
"My name's Anthony March, but he wouldn't remember me."
He sat down at the instrument, went over the keyboard from bottom, to top
and back again with a series of curious modulations. Then opening his bag
and beginning to get out his tools, he said, "Before I went into the
army, there was a man named Bernstein in these parts, who used to
perpetrate outrages like this on pianos."
"Yes," said Paula, "he tuned this one two weeks ago."
Without so much as a by your leave, Anthony March went to work.
It was Paula's childlike way to take any pleasurable event simply as a
gift from heaven without any further scrutiny of its source; with no
labored attempt to explain its arrival and certainly with no misgivings
as to whether or not she was entitled to it. Anthony March was such a
gift. By the time he had got to work on her own piano, she knew he was
pure gold and settled down joyously to make the most of him.
It was not until she attempted to give an account to the Wollastons at
dinner that night, of the day they had spent together--for they had made
a day of it--that she realized there was anything odd, not to say
astonishing, about the episode. How in the first place did it happen that
it was Paula's piano he tuned instead of the one in the drawing-room?
This was, of course, inexplicable until she could get John by himself and
tell him about it. One couldn't report to Lucile his phrase about the
painted harlot. She had to content herself with stressing the fact that
he intended to tune the drawing-room piano after he had finished with
hers and then somehow he hadn't got around to it.
But why had an unaccredited wanderer whom Lucile had found in the park
even been given a chance at the piano up-stairs? Well, he had looked to
Paula like an artist when she had let him in the door. You could tell,
with people like that, if you had an eye for such matters. And then his
recognition of Bernstein's nefarious handiwork had clenched her
conviction. Certainly she had been right about it; he had absolutely
bewitched that piano of hers. She didn't believe there was another such
tuner in the United States. If they would come up-stairs after dinner,
she'd show them. They had always thought she was unnecessarily fussy
about it, but now they should see they were mistaken. It was like
unveiling a statue. The poor thing had been there all the time, covered
up so that you couldn't hear it. She was so excited about it she could
hardly leave it alone.
And he had been as delighted with the results as she herself. After he
had played it a while for her (oh, he didn't play well, atrociously badly
really, but that didn't matter; it only made it all the more exciting) he
made her play for him. Paula smiled reminiscently when she added that he
had sat all the while she was playing, on the bare floor under the piano
where he could feel the vibrations as well as hear them. He had paid her
an odd sort of compliment too, when he came crawling out, saying that he
had assumed from the scores on the piano that she was a singer but that
she played like a musician,--only not a pianist!
He was a genius, absolutely a genius of the first water, when it came to
tuning pianos. Whether his talent as a composer ran to any such lengths
as that she, of course, didn't know. If what he had played for her had
been his own, any of it, it was awfully modern and interesting, at
least. You could tell that even though it kept him swearing at himself
all the time for not being able to play it. And from something he said
"Lunch!" Miss Wollaston gasped (she had been away from home all day). "Do
you mean you had lunch with him?"
"Why not?" Paula wanted to know. "Me to have gone down-stairs and eaten
all alone and had a tray sent up for him? That would have been so silly,
I never even thought of it. He's a real person. I like him a lot. And I
don't know when I've had such a nice day."
Here was where Paula's difficulties began. Because when they asked her
who he was, where he lived, where he came from, what his experiences in
the army had been, and whether he had been to France or not, she had to
profess herself upon all these topics totally uninformed. His name she
happened to know; it was Anthony March. He told her that, somehow,
right at the beginning, though she couldn't remember how the fact had
As to the other matters her husband and his sister were seeking
information about she simply hadn't had time to get around to things like
that. She thought he might have been a farmer once or some such sort of
person. He liked the country anyway. He had spent a lot of time, he told
her, tramping about in Illinois and Iowa, earning his way by tuning
He hated Puccini and spoke rather disrespectfully of Wagner as a
spell-binder. He liked Wolf-Ferrari pretty well; the modern he was really
crazy about was Montemezzi. But he had made her sing oceans of
Gluck,--both the _Iphigenia_ and _Euridice_. It was awfully funny too
because he would sing the other parts wherever they happened to lie,
tenor, bass, contralto, anything, in the most awful voice you ever heard,
though his speaking voice was lovely. Let John just wait until he heard
it. It was almost as nice as his own. Oh, he was coming back again some
time. He had promised to bring over some songs of his own composing for
her to try.
It was at this point or thereabouts that John precipitated a crisis by
asking how much this paragon of a piano tuner had charged her for his
professional services. Paula stared at him, stricken.
"Why," she said, "I don't believe I paid him anything. I know I didn't. I
never thought of it at all. Neither did he, for that matter though, I'm
sure of it."
This provoked Lucile into an outburst, rare with her, of outspoken
indignation. The man, delinquent as he had been in the matter of the
drawing-room piano, became once more her protege, her soldier whom she
had found in the park and attempted to do a kindness to. Paula had
kept him fussing over her piano all day and then let him go without,
for all she knew, money enough to buy his supper or procure a lodging
for the night.
John, though he made less commotion about it, took his wife's negligence
even more seriously for he set about attempting to repair it. "You're
quite sure," he asked in his crisp, consulting-room manner--a manner
Paula was happily unfamiliar with--"You're quite sure he told you
nothing about himself beyond his bare name? You've got that right,
haven't you? Anthony March?"
"Yes," said Paula uncertainly, "I'm absolutely sure of that."
Had he any insignia on his uniform?--little bronze numerals on his
collar--anything like that that she could remember? That would tell them
what organization he belonged to and might give them a clue.
Here Lucile got drawn into the inquisition. She had seen him and talked
to him. Had she noticed anything of the sort? But Lucile had not. She
had, naturally, deferred all inquiries until he came to tune the piano;
and had she been called as she felt she should have been....
But John, it appeared, was not interested in pursuing that line. He
turned back to Paula. "I wish you'd begin at the beginning, my dear, at
the time you let him into the house, and try to remember as nearly as you
can everything that you said to him and that he said to you. He may have
said something casually that you didn't remark at the time which would be
of the greatest help to us now."
Paula wasn't very hopeful of obtaining any result in this way, but she
dutifully went to work trying to think. She was perfectly amiable about
it all. Presently her husband prompted her. "How did he happen to tell
you what his name was? Can you remember that?"
After a minute, she did. "Why," she cried, lighting up, "he said he knew
you but you wouldn't remember him. He said you did an operation on his
sister once--that saved her life."
"An unmarried sister?" he asked.
"What difference ... Oh, I see, because if she was married her name
wouldn't be March. No, he didn't say anything about that. He did say
something, though, about a factory. You went out to the factory to see
his father and he was there."
John Wollaston's face went blank for a minute and his eyelids drooped
shut. Then a quick jerk of the head and a sharp expulsion of breath
announced success. "That's all right," he said. "Thank the Lord, I've
got it now."
It would have seemed absurd to Paula, had she been capable of regarding
anything he did in that light, that he should take a trivial matter like
this so seriously. He couldn't have looked more relieved over the
successful finish of a difficult operation.
"That happens to be a case I'll never forget," he went on to explain.
"Professionally speaking, it was unique, but it had points of human
interest as well. The girl was a patient in one of the wards at the
Presbyterian. I didn't get a look at her until the last minute when it
was desperate. Her father was opposed to the operation--a religious
scruple, it turned out. Didn't want God's will interfered with. He was a
workman, a skilled workman in a piano factory. There was no time to lose
so I drove out there and got him; converted him on the way back to the
hospital. I remember the son, now I think of it; by his speech, too. I
remember thinking that the mother must have been a really cultivated
woman. Well, it's all right. I've got the address in the files at the
office. I'll send a letter there in the morning and enclose a check. How
much ought it to be?"
Once more Paula did not know. Hadn't, she protested, an idea; and when
John asked her how much she paid Bernstein, she didn't know that either.
It all went on the bill.
"Well, that's easy," said John. "I've got last month's bills in my desk.
All right, I'll look into it. You needn't bother about it any more."
An approximation to a sniff from Miss Wollaston conveyed the comment
that Paula hadn't bothered appreciably about it from the beginning, but
neither of the others paid any attention to that.
As it fell out, John might have spared his labors because at eight
o'clock or thereabouts the next morning just as he was sitting down to
breakfast, Anthony March came back to repair his omission of the day
before and tune the drawing-room piano.
A minor domestic detail of that sort would normally have fallen within
Lucile's province, but John decisively took it away from her.
"When I finish breakfast," he said, "I'll write him a check and take it
in to him." He added, "I'm curious to see what this new discovery of
Paula's looks like."
That was exactly what he felt, an amused comfortable curiosity. Nothing
in the least like that flash of jealousy he had felt over Novelli. If it
had occurred to him to try to explain the difference to himself and had
he taken the trouble to skim off the superficial explanation,--that
Portia Stanton's husband belonged in Paula's world and that a tramp
genius who came around to tune pianos did not,--he might have got down to
the recognition of the fact that the character Paula had sketched for him
last night was a grotesque and not therefore to be taken seriously. You
could not, at least, do anything but smile over a man who sat on the
floor under Paula's piano while she played and came crawling out to
express surprise that a singer should be a musician as well.
So the look of the man he found in the drawing-room stopped him rather
short. Anthony March had taken off the ill-fitting khaki blouse and the
sleeves of his olive-drab uniform shirt were rolled up above the elbows.
He was sitting sidewise on the piano bench, his left hand on the
keyboard, his right making imperceptible changes in the tension of one of
the strings. His implement, John's quick eye noticed, was not the
long-handled L shaped affair he had always seen tuners use but a T shaped
thing that put the tuner's hand exactly above the pin.
"It must take an immense amount of strength," he observed, "to tune a
piano with a wrench like that."
March turned and with a pleasant sort of smile wished him a good morning.
But he finished ironing the wave out of a faulty unison before he replied
to John's remark. He arose from the bench as he spoke. "It does; but it
is more a matter of knack really. A great tuner named Clark taught me,
and he learned it from Jonas Chickering himself. Old Jonas wouldn't allow
any of his grand pianos to be tuned with an L head wrench."
"My wife," said John, "recalled you to me last night, in the effort to
remedy her omission to pay you for your services yesterday. I remember
your sister's case very distinctly. I hope she is ..."
"She is quite well, thank you," March said. Oddly enough his manner
stiffened a little.
John hastily produced his check. It had struck him as possible that March
might suspect him of hinting that one gratuitous service ought to offset
"I hope the amount is satisfactory," he said.
March glanced at the check and smiled. "It's rather more than
satisfactory; I should call it handsome. Thank you very much." He tucked
the check into the pocket of his shirt.
"My wife's immensely pleased over what you did to her piano. I'm sure she
will be glad to do all she can in the way of recommending you among her
March looked at him in consternation. "Oh, she mustn't do that!" he
cried. "I hope she won't--recommend me to any one."
John's sudden unwelcome surmise must have been legible in his face
because March then said earnestly and quite as if the doctor had spoken
his thought aloud, "Oh, it isn't that. I mean, I haven't done anything
disgraceful. It's only that I know too many musicians as it
is--professional pianists and such. If they find out I'm back, they'll
simply make a slave of me. I don't need to earn much money and I like to
live my own way, but it's hard to deny people what they are determined to
get." He added thoughtfully, "I dare say you understand that, sir."
John Wollaston nodded. He understood very well indeed. He checked on his
tongue the words, "Only I _have_ to earn a lot of money." "You are a
composer, too, my wife tells me."
"Yes," March said, "but that isn't the point exactly. Put it that I enjoy
traveling light and that I don't like harness. Though this one,"--he
glanced down at his uniform,--"hasn't been so bad." He turned toward the
piano with the evident idea of going back to work.
"Well," John said, "I must be off. You've a good philosophy of life if
you can make it work. Not many men can. Good-by. We'll meet again some
time, I hope."
"I hope so too," said Anthony March.
John went out and closed the drawing-room door behind him. Then he left
the house without going up-stairs and saying hello to Paula and sitting
down on the edge of her bed, as he had meant to do, and telling her all
about his talk with the piano tuner.
It really was late and he must be getting started. Only why had he closed
the drawing-room door so carefully behind him? So that his wife shouldn't
be disturbed by the infernal racket those fellows always made tuning
pianos? Or so that she mightn't even know, until he had finished his work
and gone, that Anthony March had come back at all? And not knowing,
should not come down _en negligee_ and ask whether he had brought his
songs for her. Had he brought them? Certainly John had given him a good
enough chance to say so. And if he had brought them and Paula did not
come, would he leave them for her with Nat? Or would he carry them away
in his little black satchel?
All the way out to the hospital John kept turning Anthony March over in
his mind and the last thing to leave it was what had been the first
impression of all. The fine strength of that hand and wrist which tuned
grand pianos with a T wrench.
He hated himself for having shut the door.
And as it happened this act did not prevent Paula from finding March. The
tyrant who looked after her hair had given her an appointment that
morning at ten. So, a little before that hour and just as March was
finishing off his job, she came down, dressed for the street. She came
into the drawing-room and with good-humored derision, smiled at him.
"I knew you'd come and do it," she told him.
"It isn't going to be so bad," he answered. "Moszkowski,
Chaminade,--quite a little of Chopin for that matter,--will go pretty
well on it."
"Did you bring my songs?" she asked.
From the chair that he had thrown his blouse upon, he produced a flat
package neatly wrapped in brown paper. And as she went over to the window
with it, tearing the wrappers away as she walked, he went back to his
work at the piano.
"Don't do that," she said, as he struck a chord or two. "I can't read if
you do." But almost instantly she added with a laugh, "Oh, all right, go
ahead. I can't read this anyway. Why, it's frightful!" She came swiftly
toward the piano and stood the big flat quires of score paper on the
rack. "Show me how this goes," she commanded, but he pushed back a little
with a gesture almost of fright.
"No," he protested sharply. "I can't. I can't begin to play that stuff."
She remained standing beside his shoulder, looking at the score.
"They're strange words," she said, and began reading them to herself,
half aloud, haltingly.
"'Low hangs the moon. It rose late,
It is lagging--O I think it is heavy with love, with love.'"
"Walt Whitman," he told her. "They're all out of a poem called
She went on reading, now audibly, now with a mere silent movement of the
lips, half puzzled, half entranced, and catching--despite her protest
that she could not read the music,--some intimations of its intense
"' ..._do I not see my love fluttering out among the breakers?... Loud I
call to you, my love ... Surely you must know who is here ... O rising
stars! Perhaps the one I want so much will rise ... with some of you ...
O trembling throat! Sound clearer through the atmosphere_ ...'"
With a shake of the head, like one trying to stop the weaving of a spell,
she turned the pages back to the beginning.
"This means Novelli," she said. "I'll get him. I'll get him this morning.
He's the best accompanist in Chicago. We'll go to work on them and when
we've got them presentable, I'll let you know and sing them to you.
Where do you live?"
He got up for a paper and pencil and wrote out an address and a telephone
number. She was still staring at that first page of the score when he
brought it back to her.
"I've never heard any of those songs myself," he told her.
At that she looked around at him, looked steadily into his face for a
moment and then her eyes filled with tears. She reached out both hands
and took him by the shoulders. "Well, you're going to hear them this
time, my dear," she said. As she moved away, she added in a more
matter-of-fact tone, "Just as soon as we can work them up, in a few days
perhaps. I'll let you know."
THE PEACE BASIS
There were four in their party but it was only with Alfred Baldwin that
Mary Wollaston danced. The other man--Black his name was, and he came
from Iowa City or Dubuque or thereabouts--devoted all his attention to
Baldwin's wife. He was very rich, very much married--out in Iowa--and
whenever he made his annual business trip to New York, he liked to have a
real New York time. They had dined together at the Baldwins' apartment
with a vague idea of going afterward to see a play of Baldwin's then
drawing toward the close of a successful season's run. But dinner had
been late and they had lingered too long over it to make this excursion
worth while. It had amused both Mary and Christabel to discover Black's
secret hope of being taken back-stage and introduced to the beautiful
young star who was playing in the piece and taking her out to supper with
them. He didn't know that Baldwin hated her with a perfect hatred and
never got within speaking distance of her if he could help it.
So, by way of making up to the western visitor for his disappointment
they taxied up-town about ten o'clock to the brightest, loudest and most
fantastically expensive of New York's dancing restaurants. Once there, he
took command of the party; confidently addressed the head waiter by his
first name and began "opening wine" with a lavish hand. He was flirting
in what he conceived to be quite a desperate and depraved manner with
Christabel, and what enhanced his pleasure in this entertainment was that
he did it all right under the nose of the husband, who obviously didn't
mind a bit. He would talk eloquently when he got home, with carefully
selected corroborative details, about the wickedness of New York.
Mary liked the Baldwins. Christabel was on the executive committee of
their Fund and one of the best and steadiest and most sensible supporters
it had. She was a real person. Baldwin, himself, whom she hadn't known so
long nor so well and had regarded from afar as a rather formidable
celebrity, proved on better acquaintance, though witty and sophisticated,
to be as comfortable as an old glove. Altogether they were the nearest
thing to friends that her long sojourn in New York had given her. She had
sometimes thought rather wildly of putting them to the test and seeing
whether they were real friends or not.
To-night, though, even they irritated her. She wished Christabel would
snub that appalling bounder, Black, as he deserved. How could she go on
playing up to him like that! As for Baldwin, she wished he would just
dance with her and not talk. She supposed that the amount of alcohol they
had consumed since seven o'clock had something to do with his verging
upon the vein, the Broadway sentimental vein, that he had got started on
and couldn't seem to let alone.
It wasn't new to Mary. Indeed it was a phenomenon familiarly associated
in her mind with Forty-second Street restaurants and late hours and
strong drink, particularly gin. The crocodile tear for the good woman who
stayed at home; who didn't know; who never, please God! should know. The
tribute to flower-like innocence--the paper flower-like innocence of the
Baldy wasn't as bad as that, couldn't ever conceivably be as bad as that,
no matter how much he had had to drink. Perhaps, if she had not been
hypersensitive to-night,--in an impossible mood for any sort of party
really--she might have failed to detect the familiar strain in his
sensible, rather fatherly talk. As it was, she thought she did detect it
and it made her want to scream--or swear!
There is one point to be urged in Baldy's defense that Mary never learned
to allow for. Gin or no gin, the effect of contrast she presented to her
surroundings in a place like this, her look of a seraphic visitor gone
astray, would have given any one the impulse, at least, to rush to the
rescue. To begin with, it was not possible to credit her with the
twenty-five years she truly claimed; nineteen, in a soft colored evening
frock like the one she had on to-night, was about what one would have
guessed. Then, you never would have believed, short of discovering the
fact yourself, how strong she was; her slenderness and the fine
articulation of her joints made her look fragile. Her coloring helped the
illusion along, the clear unsophisticated blue of her eyes, the pallor of
her hair that the petals of a tea-rose could have got lost in,--it was,
literally, just about the tint of unbleached linen--and the pearly
translucence of her skin. If you got the opportunity to look close enough
to see that there wasn't a grain of powder upon it, not even between the
shoulder blades, it made you think of flower petals again. What clenched
the effect was her healthy capacity for complete relaxation when no
effort was required of her. She drooped a little and people thought she
looked tired. She never could see herself like that and never made due
allowance for the effect she produced, invariably upon strangers and not
infrequently upon an old friend.
To-night, she lacked the name to label her mood by, rejecting rather
fiercely the one that kept offering itself. You couldn't be homesick when
home was the last place in the world you wanted to go back to--the place
you were desperately marshaling reasons for staying away from.
It was the non-appearance of her brother, Rush, that had brought a lot of
dispersed feelings to a focus. She had heard nothing later from him than
the letter she referred to when she last wrote to her father. She had
expected a cable and it hadn't come. She had this morning gone over to
Hoboken to meet the transport he had said he expected to sail on, but
having got down to the pier a little late, after the debarkation had
begun, she could not be sure that she hadn't missed him. So she had gone
back to her tiny flat in Waverly Place and had spent the rest of the day
there, vainly hoping that he would turn up or at least that she should
get some word of him. And sitting around like that for hours and hours
she had, which was a silly thing to do, let her thoughts run wild over
things--a thing--that there was simply no sense in thinking about at all.
It was an odd fact, which she had noted long before today, that anything
connected with home, a letter from her father or her aunt, news of the
doings of any of her Chicago friends (the birth of Olive Corbett's second
baby, for example), any vivid projection of a bit of the pattern of the
life into which she had once been woven, roused that nightmare memory. Or
gave, rather, to a memory which normally did not trouble her much, the
quality of a nightmare; a moment of paralyzed incredulity that it could
have happened to her; a pang of clear horror that it really and truly had
happened to her very self; to this Mary Wollaston who still lived in the
very place where it had happened.
This afternoon, while she had sat awaiting from moment to moment the
appearance of her brother, or at least the sound of his voice over the
telephone, the pang had been prolonged into an agony. She had let herself
drift into a fantastic speculation of a sort that was perfectly new. What
if the boy who had shared that crazy adventure with her, himself an
officer bound overseas, had fallen in with Rush, made friends with him,
told him the story!
This was pure melodrama, she knew. There was, in any external sense,
nothing to be feared. The thing had happened almost a year ago. It had
had no consequences--except this inexplicable one that her brother's
approach brought back the buried memory of it. Why should it cling like
that? Like an acid that wouldn't wash off! She was not, as far as her
mind went, ashamed of it. Never had been. But, waiving all the
extenuating circumstances--which had really surrounded the act--admitting
that it was a sin (this thing that she had done once and had, later,
learned the impossibility of ever doing again), was it any worse than
what her brother had probably done a score of times?
What was this brother of hers going to be like? It wasn't possible, of
course, that she would find him the boy he had been five years ago,
before he went to France--though from some of his letters one might have
thought he hadn't changed a bit. Wasn't it likely that he'd turn out to
be some one she could cling to a little; confide her perplexities
to--some of them? Was there a chance that ripened, disillusioned, made
gentle and wise by the alchemy of the furnace he had come through, he
might prove to be the one person in the world to whom she could confide
everything? That would make an end to her nightmare, she felt sure.
The question whether he was or was not going to turn out like that was
one presently to be answered. Until she knew the answer she didn't want
to think at all, least of all about those things which Baldy's talk
to-night kept rousing echoes of.
"Oh, they all look good when they're far away," she said, picking that
bit of comic supplement slang deliberately to annoy him. "I don't believe
our grandfathers and grandmothers were always such models of decorum as
they tried, when they had grown old, to make us think. And the simple
primitive joys ... I believe an old-fashioned husking bee, if they had
plenty of hard cider to go with it, was just as bad as this--coarser if
not so vulgar. After all, most of these people will go virtuously home
to bed pretty soon and you'd find them back at work to-morrow morning not
any the worse, really, for this. It may be a rather poor sort of home
they go to, but how do you know that the vine-covered cottage you have
been talking about was any better?"
"Not to mention," he added, in humorous concurrence, "that there was
probably typhoid in the well the old oaken bucket hung in. It seems odd
to be convicted of sentimentality by an innocent babe like you. But if
you had been looking at the party down at the end table behind you that
I've had under my eye for ten minutes, perhaps you'd feel more as I do.
No! don't turn around; they have been looking at us."
"Moralizing over us, perhaps," she suggested. "Thinking how wicked we
"No," he said, "I happen to know the girls. They live down in our part of
town, just over in the Village, that is. They have been here six or eight
years. One of them was quite a promising young illustrator once. And
they're both well-bred--came obviously from good homes. And they've both
gone, well--clean over the edge."
Somehow his innocent euphemism annoyed her. "You mean they are
prostitutes?" she asked.
He frowned in protest at her employment of the word but assented
unequivocally. He was used--as who is not--to hearing young women discuss
outspokenly such topics but he couldn't forgive it from one who looked
like Mary Wollaston.
"I have a hunch," he said, "that the two boys who are with them are
officers out of uniform. I noticed that they looked the other way
pretty carefully when that major who is sitting at the next table to
ours came in."
"Let's dance again," she said. "I love this Hawaiian Moonlight thing."
He saw her take the opportunity that rising from the table gave her for
a good square look at the party he had been talking about and some change
in her manner made him say with quick concern, "What is it?"
But she ignored the question and stepped out upon the floor with him.
They had danced half-way round the room when she said quietly, "One of
the boys at that table is my brother Rush."
Baldwin said, "He has seen you, I think." He felt her give a sort of gasp
before she replied but the words came steadily enough.
"Oh, yes, we saw each other at the same time."
He said nothing more, just went on dancing around the room with her in
silence, taking care, without appearing to do so, to cut the corner where
Rush was sitting, rather broadly. After two or three rounds of the floor,
she flagged a little and without asking any questions, he led her back to
their table. Luckily, Christabel and her Iowan had disappeared.
As soon as she was seated she asked him for a pencil and something she
could write on--a card of his, the back of an old letter, anything. She
wrote, "Won't you please come and ask me to dance?" and she slid it over
to him. He read it and understood, picked up a busboy with his eye and
despatched him with the folded scrap for delivery to Captain Wollaston at
the end table.
Mary meanwhile had cradled her chin in her palms and closed her eyes.
She had experienced so clear a premonition before she turned round to
look at the party at the end table that one of those officers out of
uniform would turn out to be Rush that the verification of it had the
quality of something that happens in a dream. She felt a sharp
incredulity that it could really be they, staring at each other across
that restaurant. More than that, the brother she saw was not--in that
first glance--the man she had been trying all day to make up her mind he
would be. Not the new Rush with two palms to his _Croix de Guerre_ and
his American D.S.C.; and the scars in his soul from the experiences
those decorations must represent; but the Rush she had said good-by to
in the autumn of 1914 when he set out to be a freshman at Harvard, the
kid brother she had counciled and occasionally admonished, in the
vicarious exercise of her father's authority. And in his panic-stricken
gaze at her, she had recognized his instinctive acceptance of that
position. Exactly so would he have looked five interminable years ago if
she had caught him in mischief.
Then, like the undertow of a big wave, the reaction caught her. It was
intolerable that he should look at her like that. He who had earned his
manhood and its privileges in the long death grapple with the grimmest of
realities. Certainly she was not the one to cast the first stone at him.
She must contrive somehow, at once, to make that clear to him. The
urgency of the thing lay in her belief that the whole of their future
relationship depended upon the removing of his misapprehension
She could not go to that table where he sat without seeming more than
ever the school mistress in pursuit of a truant, but perhaps he would
come to her if she put her request right. They had danced together quite
a lot in the old days. She danced so well that not even her status of
elder sister had prevented his enjoying the exercise of their combined
A horrible misgiving had attacked her when she had scribbled the note and
closed her eyes, that the cocktails and the champagne she herself had
consumed since seven o'clock might have clouded her judgment--if, indeed,
they were not responsible for the whole nightmare. Would she be equal to
following out the line she had set for herself?
But no trace of that misgiving was apparent to her when Rush, after a
wait of only two or three minutes, appeared at her table. She greeted him
with a smile and a Hello, nodded a fleeting farewell to Baldwin and
slipped comfortably into her brother's arms out on the floor. They danced
away without a word. There was the same quite beautiful accord between
them that there had been in the old days, and the sense of this steadied
her. They had gone all the way around the floor before she spoke.
"It is like old times, isn't it?" she said. "And it does seem good. You
don't mind, do you,--for ten minutes?"
"Ten minutes?" he echoed dully.
She knew then, as she had indeed been aware from the first, that he was
drunk and that only by the most painful effort, could he command his
scattered wits at all. It made her want to cry that he should be trying
so hard. She must not cry. That would be the final outrage. She must be
very simple and clear. She must--_must_ contrive to make him understand.
"Will you listen to me, dear, and do exactly what I ask you to? I want
you to go back to your people and forget that you have seen me at all."
"I am going to take you home--out of this," he said laboriously.
"I'm going home soon, but not with you. I want you to go back to--to the
girl you brought here. No, dear, listen. This is the only reason I sent
for you. To tell you that I wasn't going to try to scold you. I don't
mind a bit. I want to tell you that, so that when you come back to me
to-morrow or next day or whenever your party is quite over, you won't
feel that you have anything to try to explain or apologize for. Now take
me back to my place and then go on to yours."
"I won't take you back to him," he said doggedly. "What do you think I
am? I'm drunk, but not enough for that. I am going to take you home."
She tried to laugh but in spite of herself it was more like a sob.
"Rush, dear, don't be silly. I am perfectly all right--or would be if I
hadn't drunk quite so much champagne. They'll take me home. His wife's
here with him and they're old friends of mine. They know a lot of our
friends in Chicago. Please, Rush...."
"Do you think I'd go back to that--" he managed to pull up on the edge
of an ugly word--"back to those people, and leave you here? Is it your
wrap on that chair? We'll stop and get it and then we'll go."
She could have wept with vexation over the way her scheme had gone awry
but there was clearly nothing else to do. She retrieved her cloak, simply
said good night to Christabel and the man named Black, leaving Baldy to
explain things as he chose.
Five minutes later she gave a taxi driver the address of her flat and
dropped back against the cushions beside her brother. Neither of them
spoke a word during that fifteen-minute drive. Mary wept quietly most of
the way--it didn't matter there in the dark. The thought of this splendid
glorious brother of hers painfully endeavoring to drag himself back into
a state of sobriety from his first wild caper after long wearing of the
harness of discipline--an escapade she supposed that he must have been
looking forward to for days--dragging himself back to protect her--oh, it
was too hopeless! Should she ever be able to explain to him why she had
sent for him, and that her intentions had been the opposite of those of
the moralizing meddler he would take her for? If only she could make it
up to him somehow. She would have liked to reach over and pull him down
into her arms, mother him and tell him not to mind--there was something
so intolerably pathetic about his effort to sit soberly straight--but she
resisted this impulse savagely. The alcohol in her own veins was
responsible for this. She could not quite trust herself not to go
maudlin. So she froze herself tight and huddled away from him into her
She did not think beyond the address she had given to the chauffeur until
they pulled up at her door. Then she turned to Rush and asked, "Where
shall he take you? Are you staying at a hotel?"
"I am going to take you home," he said precisely.
She saw she did not dare to let him go. There was no telling what serious
trouble he might get into, in his illicit civilian dress, if she turned
him adrift now. So she said, simply, "Well, here we are. Come in."
She opened the street door with her latch-key, and punched on the hall
lights. She dreaded the two flights of stairs, but with the help of the
banister rail he negotiated them successfully enough. And then he was
safely brought to anchor in her sitting-room. It was plain he had not the
vaguest idea where he was.
"I'll make some coffee," she said. "That will--pull us both together. And
it won't take a minute because it's all ready to make for breakfast."
She was not gone, indeed, much longer than that, but when she came back
from her kitchenette he had dropped like a log upon her divan, submerged
beyond all soundings. So she tugged him around into a more comfortable
position, managed to divest him of his dinner-jacket and his waistcoat,
unbuttoned his collar and shirt-band, took off his shoes, and covered him
up with an eiderdown quilt. Then she kissed him--it was five years since
she had done that--and went, herself, to bed.
At ten o'clock the next morning she sat behind her little breakfast
table--it was daintily munitioned with a glass coffee machine, a
grapefruit and a plate of toast--waiting, over _The Times_, for Rush to
wake up. She looked more seraphic than ever, enveloped in a white turkish
toweling bathrobe and with her hair in a braid. Her brother lay on the
divan just as she had left him the night before. Presently the change in
his breathing told her that he was struggling up out of the depths of
sleep. She looked over at him and saw him blinking at the ceiling. When
his gaze started round her way, she turned her attention to the busy
little coffee machine which opportunely needed it.
It was a minute or two before he spoke. "Is that really you, Mary?"
She smiled affectionately at him and said, "Hello," adding with just an
edge of good-humored mischief, "How do you feel?"
He turned abruptly away from her. "I feel loathsome," he said.
"Poor dear, of course you do. I'll tell you what to do. I've got a nice
big bathroom in there. Go in and take a cold one." Then--"You've grown
inches, Rush, since you went away but I believe you could still get into
a suit of my pajamas--plain ones, not ruffly. Anyhow, I've another big
bathrobe like this that you could roll up in. You'll be just in time for
the coffee. You won't know yourself by then."
"I wish I didn't," he said morosely.
There wasn't much good arguing with that mood, she knew, so she
waited a little.
"Is this where you live?" he asked. "You brought me here last night?"
"You brought me," she amended.
He frowned over that but didn't take it in. The next moment though he
sat up suddenly and after a struggle with the giddiness this movement
caused, asked, "Who else is here? Where's the other girl that lives
"She's not here now," Mary said. "We are all by ourselves."
He rose unsteadily to his feet. "I've got to get out of here quick. If
anybody came in ..."
"Rush, dearest!" she entreated. "Don't be silly. Lie down again--Well,
then take that easy chair. Nobody will come in." Then over his air of
resolute remorse she cried, on the edge of tears herself, "Oh, _please_
don't be so unhappy. Do let's settle down and be comfy together. I don't
have to go to the office to-day. My job's just about played out. But
nobody ever comes here to see me in the daytime. And it wouldn't matter
if they did."
But this change of attitude was clearly beyond him. "I'll have to ask you
to tell me what happened last night. You were there at that restaurant
with friends of yours I suppose. I must have disgraced you up to the hilt
with them. I should think you'd hate the sight of me."
"You didn't disgrace me at all," she contradicted, and now the tears did
came into her eyes. "They knew I was expecting you and I told Mr. Baldwin
who you were. You came up in the nicest way and asked me to dance and
when we went away together there wasn't a thing--about you--that they
could see. I was on the point of tears myself because my plan had gone
wrong. But that would have seemed natural enough to them."
He frowned at the name Baldwin, as if he were trying to recover a memory.
Now he felt vaguely in his trousers pocket and pulled out the crumpled
visiting card that had her note scribbled on the back of it. "You haven't
told me yet what happened," he said.
"Oh, I was afraid you wouldn't remember." She looked away from him as she
said it and a little unwonted color crept into her cheeks.
"Afraid?" he questioned.
"I wanted you to understand," she said, "and now I'll have to tell you
again. It was because I was trying so hard not to meddle that I did. I
sent that little note to you just to get a chance to tell you not to mind
my seeing you there with those others--not to let it spoil your party. I
couldn't bear to have you come to me to-day, or to-morrow or whenever it
was, feeling--well, ashamed you know, and explanatory. That's what I
tried to tell you last night but couldn't make you understand. So I did,
really, just exactly what I was meaning not to. Of course, I loved you
for coming away and I love having you here like this, all to myself. But
I didn't mean to--to spoil things for you."
He stared at her a moment in blank inapprehension; then a deep blush came
burning into his face. "You didn't understand," he said thickly. "You
didn't know what those girls were."
"Oh, Rush!" she cried. "Of course I did. I knew exactly what they
were--better than you. I even knew who they were. They live not very far
He paled and his look was frightened. "How did you know that?" he
demanded. "How could you know a thing like that?"
"They've lived here in the Village for years," she said, summarizing
Baldy without quoting him as her authority. "One of them used to be an
illustrator--or something--before she went--over the edge. They're two of
our celebrities. One can't go about, unless he's stone blind, without
picking up things like that."
"You did know what she was, then," he persisted, doggedly pushing
through something it was almost impossible for him to say, "and yet,
knowing, you asked me to leave you alone and go back to her. You wanted
me to do that?"
"I didn't want you to!" she cried. "I hated it, of course. But
men--people--do things like that, and I could see how--natural it was
that you wanted to. And if you wanted to, I didn't think it fair that it
should be spoiled for you just because we happened to recognize each
other. I didn't want you to hate me for having spoiled it. That's all."
She gave him the minute or two he evidently needed for turning this over
in his mind. Then she turned her back on the window she had withdrawn to
and began again.
"I used to be just a big sister to you, of course. Ever so superior, I
guess, and a good bit of a prig. And all this time over there in France
with nothing but my letters and that silly picture of me in the khaki
frame, I suppose you have been thinking of me, well,--as a sort of nice
angel. I'm not either, really. I don't want to be either.
"I want to be somebody you feel would understand anything; somebody you
could tell anything to. So that it would work the other way as well.
Because I've got to have somebody to tell things to,--troubles, and
worries. And I've been hoping, ever since your letter came, that it would
turn out to be you."
"What sort of troubles?" He shot the question in rather tensely.
There was a breathless moment before she answered, but she shook it off
with a laugh and her manner lightened. "There's nothing to be so solemn
about as all that. We don't want to wallow. We'll have some
breakfast--only you go first and tub."
He was too young and healthy and clean-blooded to resist the effect upon
his spirits which the cold water and the fresh white bathrobe and the hot
strong coffee with real cream in it produced. And the gloomy, remorseful
feeling, which he felt it his moral duty to maintain intact, simply
leaked away. She noted the difference in him and half-way through their
breakfast she left her chair and came round to him.
"Would you very much mind being kissed now?" she asked.
His answer, with a laugh, was to pull her down upon his knee and hug
her up tight in his arms. They looked rather absurdly alike in those
two white bathrobes, though this was an appearance neither of them was
capable of observing. She disengaged herself presently from his embrace
and went to find him some cigarettes, refraining from taking one
herself from a feeling that he would probably like it better just then
if she did not.
Back in her own place over her coffee and toast, she had no difficulty in
launching him upon the tale of his own recent experiences. What the
French were like now the war was over; and the Boche he had been living
among in the Coblenz area;--the routine of his army life, the friends he
made over there, and so on. Altogether she built him up immensely in his
own esteem. It was plain he liked having her for a younger sister instead
of for an older one, listening so contentedly to his tales, ministering
to his momentary wants, visibly wondering at and adoring him.
But she broke the spell when she asked him what he meant to do now.
He turned restlessly in his chair. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know
what the deuce there is I can do. Certainly father's idea of my going
back to college and then to medical school afterward, is just plain, rank
nonsense. I'd be a doddering old man before I got through--thirty years
old. I should think that even he would see that. It will have to be
business, I suppose, but if any kind friend comes around and suggests
that I begin at the bottom somewhere--Mr. Whitney, for instance, offering
me a job at ten dollars a week in his bank--I'll kill him. I can't do
that. I won't. At the end of about ten days, I'd run amuck. What I'd
really like," he concluded, "for about a year would be just this." His
gesture indicated the bathrobe, the easy chair and the dainty breakfast
table. "This, all the morning and a ball-game in the afternoon. Lord, it
will be good to see some real baseball again. We'll go to a lot of games
this summer. What are the Sox going to be like this year?"
She discussed the topic expertly with him and with a perfectly genuine
interest, at some length. "Oh, it would be fun," she finished with a
little sigh, "only I shan't be there, you know. At least I don't think I
shall." Then before he could ask her why not, she added in sharper focus,
"I can't go home, Rush."
"Can't!" he exclaimed. "What do you mean by that?"
"Oh, nothing to make a fuss about," she said with a frown of irritation.
"I wish you weren't so jumpy this morning,--or perhaps, it's I that am.
All I meant was that home isn't a comfortable place for me and I won't go
back there if I can help it--only I am afraid I can't. That's the trouble
I wanted to talk to you about."
"I thought you liked the new stepmother," he said. "Hasn't she turned out
well?--What am I supposed to call her, anyhow? I wanted to find out about
that before I was right up against it."
"Call her?" Mary was a little taken back. "Why, anything you like, I
should think. I've always called her Paula.--You weren't thinking of
calling her mother, were you?"
"Well," he protested, "how should I know? After all, she is father's
wife. And she must be fairly old."
"But, Rush, you've _seen_ her!"
"Only that once, at the wedding. She was made up to look young then, of
course. Painted and dyed and so on, I suppose. I felt so embarrassed and
silly over the whole thing--being just a kid--that I hardly looked at
her. And that was a long while ago."
Mary laughed at that, though she knew it would annoy him. "She never
paints nor dyes nor anything, Ruddy. She doesn't have to. She's such a
perfectly raving beauty without it. And she's more beautiful now than she
was then. She really is young, you see. Hardly enough older than we are
to matter, now that we're grown up."
She saw Rush digesting this idea of a beautiful young stepmother whom he
was to be privileged to call--straight off--by her first name, with a
certain satisfaction, so she waited--rather conscious that she was being
patient--for him to come back from the digression of his own accord.
Presently he did.
"What does she do that you don't like?"
"She does nothing that isn't perfectly nice, and good-tempered,
and--respectable," Mary assured him, and added on a warmer note, "Oh, and
she's really amiable and lovely. I was being a cat. But I am truly fond
of her--when I have her to myself. It's when she's with father ..."
She broke off there, seeing that she could not make that clear to him
(how could she since she would not state it in plain terms to herself?)
and hurried on, "It's really father whom I don't get on with, any more.
He worries about me and feels sorry for me and wants me to come home. But
I'm nothing to him when I do come--but an embarrassment.--No, it _isn't_
rot. He knows it himself and feels horrid about it and raises my
allowance when I go away, though it was foolishly big already; and then,
as soon as I'm back here he begins worrying again, and urging me to come
home. He didn't insist as long as I was doing war work, but now that
that's played out, I suppose he will.
"Oh, I know well enough what I ought to do. I ought to answer some
advertisement for a typist--I can do that, but not stenography--and take
a regular job. The sort you said you'd shoot Mr. Whitney for offering
you. And then I ought to take a hall bedroom somewhere in the
cross-town twenties and live on what I earned. That's the only thing I
can see, and, Rush, I simply haven't the courage to do it. It seems as
if I couldn't do it."
His lively horror at the bare suggestion of such a thing drew her into a
half-hearted defense of the project. Numbers of the girls she knew down
here who had been doing war work were going enthusiastically into things
like that--or at least were announcing an invincible determination to do
so. Only they were cleverer than she at that sort of thing and could hope
for better jobs. They were in luck. They liked it--looked forward to a
life of it as one full of engaging possibilities. But to Mary it was
nothing, she hardly pretended, but a forlorn last shift. If one couldn't
draw nor write nor act nor develop some clever musical stunt, what else
was there for a girl to do?
"Well, of course," said Rush, in a very mature philosophical way and
lighting a cigarette pretty deliberately between the words,--"of course,
what most girls do, is--marry somebody." Then he stole a look around at
his sister to see how she had taken it.
There was a queer look that almost frightened him in her blue eyes. Her
lips, which were trembling, seemed to be trying to smile.
"That's father's idea," she said raggedly. "He's as anxious now that I
should marry somebody--anybody, as he was that I shouldn't five years
ago--before he found Paula. You see I am so terribly--left on his hands."
There was, no doubt, something comical about the look of utter
consternation she saw on her brother's face, but she should not have
tried to laugh at him for a sob caught the laugh in the middle and swept
away the last of her self-control. She flung herself down upon the divan
and buried her face in one of the pillows. He had seen men cry like that
but, oddly enough, never a woman. What he did though was perhaps as much
to the point as anything he could have done. He sat down beside her and
gathered her up tight in his arms and held her there without a word until
the tempest had blown itself out. When the sobs had died away to nothing
more than a tremulous catch in each indrawn breath, he let her go back
among the pillows and turn so that she could look up at him. By that time
the sweat had beaded out upon his forehead, and his hands, which had
dropped down upon her shoulders, were trembling.
"Well," she asked unsteadily. "What do you think of me now?"
He wanted to bend down and kiss her but wisely he forbore. "It's easy to
see what's the matter," he said. "This war business you have been doing
has been too much for you. You're simply all in." Then happily he added,
"I'd call you a case of shell-shock."
She rewarded that with a washed-out smile. "What's the treatment going to
be?" she asked.
"Why," he said, "as soon as I'm done tucking you up properly in this
eiderdown quilt, I'm going out to your icebox and try to find the makings
of an egg-nog. Incidentally, I shall scramble up all the rest of the eggs
I find and eat them myself. And then I'll find something dull to read to
you until you go to sleep. When it's dark enough so that my evening
clothes won't attract too much attention, I'll go back and get into
uniform; then I'll buy two tickets for Chicago on the fast train
to-morrow, and two tickets for a show to-night; and then I'll come back
and take you out to dinner. Any criticisms on that program?"
"Not just for this minute," she said contentedly. "I don't know whether
I'm going to Chicago with you, tomorrow, or not."
"That's all right," he said. "I know all about that." He added, "I
hope the other girl won't mind--the one who lives here with you. What
was her name?"
"Ethel Holland? Oh, she went over to France with the Y.M.C.A. just
about a year ago. I've tried to find somebody to take her place, but
there didn't seem to be any one I liked well enough. So I've been
She saw his face stiffen at that but his only comment was that that
THE PICTURE PUZZLE
There was a good quarter of an hour beginning with the tear-blurred
moment when Mary caught sight of her father looking for her and Rush down
the railway station platform, during which the whole fabric of misgivings
about her home-coming dissolved as dreams do when one wakes. It had not
been a dream she knew, nor the mere concoction of her morbid fancy. He
had not looked at her like this nor kissed her like this--not once since
that fatal journey to Vienna five years ago. Had something happened
between him and Paula that made the difference? Or was it her brother's
presence, that, serving somehow to take off the edge, worked a mysterious
When John, after standing off and gazing wordless for a moment at this
new son of his, this man he had never seen, in his captain's uniform with
bits of ribbon on the breast of it,--tried to say how proud he was and
choked instead, it was for Mary that he reached out an unconscious,
embracing arm, the emotion which would not go into words finding an
outlet for itself that way.
When they got out to the motor and old Pete, once coachman, now
chauffeur, his eyes gleaming over the way Rush had all but hugged him,
said to her, "You home to stay, too, Miss Mary?" her father's hand which
clasped her arm revealed the thrilling interest with which he awaited her
answer to that question. The importunity of the red-cap with the luggage
relieved her of the necessity for answering but the answer in her heart
just then was "Yes."
It was with a wry self-scornful smile that she recalled, later that day,
the emotions of the ride home. If at any time before they got to the
house, her father had repeated the old servant's question, "Are you home
to stay, Mary?" she would, she knew, have kissed the hand that she held
clasped in hers, wept blissfully over it and told him she wanted never to
go away again. She hadn't minded his not asking because she thought she
knew quite surely why he had not. He was afraid to risk his momentary
happiness upon her answer. And why had she not volunteered the assurance
he wanted so eagerly and dared not ask for? The beastly answer to that
question was that she had enjoyed the thrill of his uncertainty--a
miserable sort of feline coquetry.
Well, it had been short-lived, that little triumph of hers. It had
stopped against a blank wall just when the car stopped under the _ports
cochere_ of the Dearborn Avenue house. John's arm which had been around
her was withdrawn and he looked with just a touch of ostentation at his
watch. She knew before he spoke that when he did, his tone would ring
flat. The old spell was broken. He was once more under the dominion of
the newer, stronger one.
"I'm terribly late," he said. "I must drive straight along to the
hospital. I'll see you to-night. We're having a few old friends in to
dinner. Run along now. Your Aunt Lucile will be waiting for you."
His omission to mention Paula had been fairly palpable. Her reply, "All
right, dad, till to-night, then. _Au 'voir_" had been, she knew, as
brittle and sharp-edged as a bit of broken glass. It had cut him;--she
had meant it to.
Well it served her right. Paula deserved to own the stronger spell.
Paula's emotional channels were open and deep. No choking snags and
sandbars, no perverse eddies in them. Look at her with Rush to-day! There
was a situation that fairly bristled with opportunities for blundering.
She might, with this grown-up son of her husband's whom she had hardly
seen, have shown herself shy, embarrassed, at a loss how to take him. She
might have tried to be archly maternal with him or elder-sisterly. But
she played up none of these sentimental possibilities, seemed, indeed,
serenely unaware of them. She treated him just as she had always treated
Mary--as a contemporary. From the beginning she had no trouble making him
talk. For one thing her acquaintance with France and Germany was intimate
enough to enable her to ask him questions which he found it pleasantly
stimulating to try to answer. As she felt her way to firmer ground with
him, she allowed what was evidently a perfectly spontaneous affection to
irradiate the look she turned upon him and to warm her lovely voice.
So she must have begun--as simply and irresistibly as that--in Vienna!
Mary tried hard to think of it as a highly skillful performance, but this
was an attitude she could not maintain. It was not a performance at all;
it was--just Paula, who, having taken her father away from her was now,
inevitably, going to take her brother too. Not because she meant
to--quite unconscious that she was doing any harm ("and of course she
isn't, except to a cat like me")--that was the maddening, and at the same
time, endearing thing about her.
For there was a broad impartiality about her spell that tugged at Mary
even while she forlornly watched Rush yielding to it. And the way it
affected Aunt Lucile was simply funny. She melted, visibly, like a
fragment left on the curb by the iceman, whenever Paula--turned the
current on. What made this the more striking was that Aunt Lucile's
normal mood to-day impressed Mary as rather aggressively sell-contained.
Was it just that Mary had forgotten how straight she sat and how
precisely she moved about? Had she always had that discreet significant
air, as if there were something she could talk about but didn't mean
to--not on any account? Or was there something going on here at home that
awaited--breathlessly awaited--discovery? Whatever it was, when Paula
turned upon her it went, laughably;--only it would have been a pretty
shaky sort of laugh.
It was after lunch that Paula electrified them by suggesting that they
all go together to a matinee. That's an illustration of the power she
had. To each of the three, to Lucile and to Mary as well as to the now
infatuated Rush, she could make a commonplace scheme like that seem an
irresistibly enticing adventure. Lucile recovered her balance first, but
it was not until Nat had fetched the morning paper and they had discussed
their choice of entertainments for two or three minutes that she said of
course she couldn't go. She didn't know what she'd been thinking of. The
number of things imperatively to be done or seen to in preparation for
the party to-night would keep her busy all the afternoon.
Then Mary followed suit. If this was really going to be a party--she
hadn't quite got this idea before--she'd have to spend the afternoon
unpacking and putting her frocks in order or she wouldn't have
anything to wear.
"Well," Paula said comfortably, "until they turn me on like a Victrola at
nine o'clock or so, I've nothing to do with the party except not think
about it." She made this observation at large, then turned on Rush.
"You'll come with me, won't you, and keep me from getting frightened
Rush would go--rather!--but he laughed at the word "frightened."
"I'm not joking," she said, and reaching out she covered his hand, which
rested on the cloth, with one of hers.
He flushed instantly at that; then said to the others with slightly
elaborated surprise, "It _is,_ cold, for a fact."
"So is the other one," said Paula. "For that matter, so are my feet. And
getting colder every minute. Come along or we'll be late."
Mary branded this as a bit of rather crude coquetry. It wasn't
conceivable that a professional opera singer of Paula's experience could
look forward with any sort of emotion to the mere singing of a few songs
to a group of familiar friends. It occurred to her, too, that Paula had
calculated on her refusal to go to the matinee as definitely as on Aunt
Lucile's and for a moment she indulged the idea of changing her mind and
going along with them just to frustrate this design. Only, of course, it
wouldn't work that way. She couldn't keep Rush from being taken away from
her by playing the spoil-sport. She couldn't keep him anyhow she
supposed. She made a hasty, rather forlorn retreat to her own room as
soon as the departing pair were safely out of the house.
That room of hers exerted now a rather curious effect upon her mood. It
had been hers ever since her promotion from the nursery and it, like
her brother's adjoining, had been kept unchanged, unoccupied during her
The furniture and the decoration of it had been her mother's last
Christmas present. The first Mrs. Wollaston had lived under the influence
of the late Victorian esthetes, and Mary's room looked as if it had been
designed for Elaine the lily maid of Astolat, an effect which was
heightened by a large brown picture in a broad brown frame of Watts' Sir
Galahad. After her mother's death, that winter, Mary added a Botticelli
Madonna, the one with the pomegranate, which she hung by itself on a wall
panel. There was a narrow black oak table under it to carry a Fra
Angelico triptych flanked by two tall candlesticks. It wasn't exactly a
shrine, even if there was a crimson cushion conveniently disposed before
it, and if Mary for a while said her prayers there instead of in the old
childish way at her bedside, and if she genuflected when she passed it,
that was her own affair.
Coming to it now, as to port after storms, with the intention almost