Part 3 out of 7
shadowed life. There had been a third boy, the first-born, whom no
whippings could make obedient. That boy was dead.
The day came when old Peter's blooded mare refused him obedience,
too, and stood trembling and mutinous before the bars he would have
had her take. He presently had his way, and the lovely, frightened
creature went bravely over. But after that he rode her at that fence
day after day, and sometimes the wood rang for an hour with his
shouting and urging before she would essay the leap. While he forced
her, Madam Carolan sat at the one library window that gave on the
road, and knotted her hands together and waited. She waited, one
gusty March evening, until the shouting stopped, and the bewildered
mare came trotting riderless into view. Then she and the maids ran
to the wood. But even after that she still sat at that window at the
end of every day, a familiar figure to all who came and went upon
The sons, Sidney and Laurence, grew up together, passionate,
devoted, and widely loved. Sidney married and went away for a few
years; but presently he came back to his mother and brother,
bringing with him the motherless little Sidney who was Jean's sunny
big husband now. This younger Sidney well remembered the day--and
had once told his wife of it--when his father and his uncle fell to
sudden quarrelling in their boat, during a morning's fishing on the
placid river. He remembered, a small watcher on the bank, that the
boat upset, and that, when his uncle reached the shore, it was to
work unavailingly for hours over his father's silent form, which
never moved again. The boy was sent away for a while, but came back
to find his uncle a silent, morose shadow, pacing the lonely garden
in unassailable solitude, or riding his horse for hours in the great
woods. Sometimes the little fellow would sit with his grandmother in
the library window, where she watched and waited. Always, as he went
about the garden and yards, he would look for her there, and wave
his cap to her. He missed her, in his unexpressed little-boy
fashion, when she sat there no longer, although she had always been
silent and reserved with him. Then came his years of school and
travel, and in one of them he learned that the Hall was quite empty
now. Sidney meant to go back, just to turn over the old books, and
open the old doors, and walk the garden paths again; but, somehow,
he had never come until to-day. And now that he had come, he, and
Jean, and Peter, too, wanted to stay.
"You knew Madam Carolan, didn't you, Mary?"
"No--no, I didn't," said Mrs. Moore, coloring uneasily. "I've seen
her, though, as a small girl, at the window. I used to visit
Billy's--my husband's--people when we were both small, you know, and
we often came to these woods."
"I've been thinking of the house and its cheerful history," said
Jean, with a little shudder. "Sweet heritage for Peterkin!"
"Heritage--nonsense!" said the other woman, hardily. "Every one
tells me that your husband is the gentlest and finest of them all--
and his father was before him. I don't believe such things come
"Well," smiled Sidney's wife, a little proudly, "I've never seen the
Carolan temper in the nine years we've been married!"
"Exactly. Besides, it's not a temper--just strong will."
"Sidney has WILL enough," mused Jean.
"Oh, all men have," said the doctor's wife contentedly. "Billy, now!
He won't STAND a locked door. One night--I never shall forget!--the
children locked themselves in the nursery, and Will simply burst the
door in. Nobody makes a fuss or worries over THAT!"
If the illustration was beside the point, neither woman perceived
"There, you see!" said Jean, glad to be quite sure of conviction.
"It never really worries me," she added, after a moment, "for Peter
adores his father, and is only too eager to obey him. If Peter--and
it's impossible!--ever DID really work himself up to disobedience,
why, I suppose he'd get a thrashing,"--she made a wry face,--"and
they'd love each other all the more for it."
"Of course they would," agreed the other cheerfully.
"There must have been some way in which Madam Carolan could have
managed them," pursued Jean, thoughtfully. "The women of that
generation were a poor-spirited lot, I imagine. One isn't quite a
child!" There was another little pause in the hot murmuring silence
of the garden, and then, with a sudden change of manner, she rose to
her feet. "Mary! come and meet Sidney and the kiddy!" she commanded.
"Well, I rather hoped you were going to present them," said Mrs.
Moore, rising too, and gathering up sunshade and gloves.
They threaded the silent garden paths again, passed the house, and
crossed a neglected stable yard, where a great red motor-car had
crushed a path for itself across dry grass and weeds. In the stable
itself they found Sidney Carolan, the little Peter, and a couple of
servants--the chauffeur with oily hands, and the wrinkled old
Italian maid, very gay in scarlet gown and headdress.
Jean's husband had all the Carolan beauty and charm, and was his
most gracious and radiant self to-day. His sunny cordiality gave
Mary no chance to remember that she had a little feared the writer
and critic. But, after the first moment, her eye was irresistibly
drawn to the child.
Tawny-haired, erect, and astonishing in the perfection of his
childish beauty, Peter Carolan advanced her a bronzed, firm little
hand, and gave her with it a smile that seemed all brilliant color--
white teeth, ocean-blue eyes, and poppied cheeks. His square little
figure was very boyish in the thin silk shirt and baggy
knickerbockers, and a wide hat, slipping from his yellow mane, added
a last debonair touch to his picturesque little person. He was
flushed, but gracious and at ease.
"You're one of the reasons we came!" he said in a rich little voice-
-when his mother's "You've heard me speak of Mrs. Moore, Peter?" had
introduced them. "You have boys, too, haven't you?"
"I have three," said Mrs. Moore, in the rational, unhurried tone
that only very clever people use to children. "Billy is nine, George
seven, Jack is three; and then there's a girl--my Mary."
"I come next to Billy," calculated little Peter, his eyes very
"You and he will like each other, I hope," said Billy's mother.
"I hope we will--I hope so!" he assented vivaciously. "I've been
Mrs. Carolan presently suggested that he go off with Betta to pack
the luncheon things in the car, and the three watched his sturdy,
erect little figure out of sight. Mrs. Moore heard his gay voice
break into ready Italian as they went.
A horde of workmen took possession of Carolan Hall a few days later,
and for happy weeks Jean and Mary followed and directed them. The
Moore children and Peter Carolan explored every fascinating inch of
house and garden. Linen and china were unpacked, old furniture
polished, and old paintings restored.
Mrs. Moore, with her two oldest sons frolicking about her like
excited puppies, came up to Carolan Hall one exquisite morning a
month later. Brush fires were burning in the thinning woods, and the
blue, fragrant smoke drifted in thin veils across the sunlight.
A visit to the circus was afoot, and Peter Carolan, seated on the
porch steps in the full glory of starched blue linen and tan
sandals, leaped up to join his friends in a war-dance of wild
Jean came out, also starched and radiant, kissed her guests, piled
some wraps into the waiting motor, and engineered the group into the
shaded dining-room, where the excited children were somehow to be
coaxed into eating their luncheon. Sidney came in late, to smile at
them all from the top of the table.
It was rapidly dawning on the adult consciousness that, above every
other sound, the voices of the children were really reaching
inexcusable heights, when a burst of laughter and a brief struggle
between Peter and Billy Moore resulted in an overturned mug, the
usual rapidly spreading pool of milk, and the usual reckless
mopping. Peter's silver mug fell to the floor, and rolled to the
sideboard, where it lay against the carved mahogany base, winking in
"Peter!" said Jean, severely. "No, don't ring, Sidney! He did that
by his own carelessness, and mother can't ask poor, busy Julia to
pick up things for boys who are noisy and rude at the table. Go pick
up your mug, dear!"
"Yes. Quite right!" approved Sidney, under his breath.
Peter, who had been laughing violently a moment before seemed rather
inclined to regard the incident as a tribute to his own brilliancy.
He caught his heels in a rung of his chair, raised himself to a
standing position, and turned a bright little face to his mother.
"But--but--but what if I don't WANT to pick it up, mother?" he said
The little Moore boys, still bubbling, giggled outright, and Peter's
cheeks grew pink. He was innocently elated with this new role of
"What do you mean?" said Sidney's big voice, very quietly. There was
a pause. Peter slowly turned his eyes toward his father.
"Oh, please, Sidney!" said Jean, a shade impatiently. "He thinks he
has some reason." She turned to Peter. "What do you mean, dear?" she
Peter looked about the group. He was confused and excited at finding
himself so suddenly the centre of attention.
"Well--well--why are you all looking at me?" he asked in his
confident little treble, with his baffling smile.
"Dearie, did you hear mother tell you to get quietly down and pick
up your mug?" demanded Jean, authoritatively.
"Well--well, you know, I don't want to, mother, because Billy and I
were both reaching for that mug," drawled Peter, "and maybe it was
"Now, look here, son!" said his father, controlling his impatience
with difficulty, "we've had enough of this! You do it because your
mother told you to, and you do it right NOW!"
"And don't let anything spoil this happy day," pleaded Jean's tender
"Can't I let it stay there, mother?" suggested Peter, brilliantly,
"and have my milk in a glass? I don't want my mug! It can just lie
His mother unsmilingly interrupted this pleasantly offered solution.
"Peter! Father and mother are waiting."
"Gee--I'll pick it up!" said Billy Moore, good-naturedly, slipping
to the floor.
Sidney reached for the little boy, and brought him to anchor in the
curve of his big arm, without once glancing at him.
"Thank you, Billy," he said, "but Peter will pick it up himself.
Now, Peter! We don't care who knocked it down, or whose fault it
was. Your mother told you to pick up your mug, and we are waiting to
have you do it. Don't talk about it any more. Nobody thinks it is at
all smart or funny for boys to disobey their mothers!"
"It will take you JUST one second, dear," interpolated Jean softly,
"and then we will all go upstairs and get ready, and forget all
"Just a little too much c-i-r-c-u-s!" spelled Mrs. Moore, in the
"Pick it up, son!" said Sidney, very calm.
Peter stopped smiling. He breathed hard and took a firm hold of his
"Go on. Go ahead!" said his father, briskly, encouragingly.
The child moved his eyes from the mug to his father's face, but did
"Peter?" said Sidney. A white line had come about his mouth.
For a long moment there was not a sound in the rooms. Julia stood
transfixed at the door. Mrs. Moore's eyes were on her plate. Jean's
lips were shut tight; she was breathing as if she had been running.
"I won't!" said Peter, simply, with a quick breath.
"Sid!" said Jean, hurriedly. "Sidney!"
"Just a moment, Jean," said her husband, without glancing at her.
"You will do it now, or have father punish you to make you do it,"
he said to the boy. "Father can't have boys here who don't obey, you
know. Every one obeys. Soldiers have to, engineers have to, even
animals have to. Are you going to do what mother told you to?"
"No," said little Peter. "I said I wouldn't, and now I won't!"
"He is hot and excited now," said Jean, quickly, in French, "but
I'll take him upstairs and quiet him down. He'll come to his senses.
Leave him to me, dear!"
"Much the wisest thing to do, Sidney," supplemented Mrs. Moore, in
the same tongue.
"Certainly!" said his father, coldly. "Give him time. Let him
understand that if he doesn't obey, it means no circus. That's
reasonable, I think, Jean?"
"Oh, perfectly! Perfectly!" Mrs. Carolan assented nervously. Nothing
more was said as she took the boy's hand and led him away. The
others heard Peter chatting cheerfully as he mounted the stairway a
"The boys and I will go down and look at Nellie's puppies," said
Mrs. Moore, acutely uncomfortable.
Her host muttered something about closing his mail.
"But are we going to the circus?" fretted little George Moore. His
mother hardly heard him.
A moment later, Julia, the maid, appealed to her submissively.
"Shall you pick up the cup?" repeated the doctor's wife. "No. No,
indeed, I wouldn't, Julia. Yes, you can clear the table, I think;
we've all finished."
She led her sons down to the fascinating realm of dogs and horses,
vaguely uneasy, yet unwilling to admit her fears. An endless warm
half hour crept by. Then, glancing toward the house, she saw Sidney
and Jean deep in conversation on the porch, and a moment later
Sidney came to find her.
The boy was obstinate, he told her briefly--adding, with a look in
his kind eyes that was quite new to her, that Peter had met his
match, and would realize it sooner or later. Mary protested against
there being any further talk of the circus that day, but Sidney
would not refuse the disappointed eyes of the small Moores. In the
end, the doctor's family went off alone in the motor-car.
"Don't worry, Mary," said Sidney, kindly, as he tucked her in
comfortably. "Peter's had nothing but women and servants so far. Now
he's got to learn to obey!"
"But such a baby, Sidney!" she reminded him.
"He's older than I was, Mary, when my poor father and Uncle Larry--"
"Yes--yes, I know!" she assented hurriedly. "Good-by!"
"Good-by!" repeated a hardy little voice from an upper window. Mary
looked up to see Peter, composed and smiling, looking down from the
All the next day, and the next, Mary Moore's thoughts were at the
Hall. She told her husband all about it on the afternoon of the
second day, for no word or sign had come from Jean, and real anxiety
began to haunt her. She and the doctor were roaming about their
pretty, shabby garden, Mrs. Moore's little hand, where she loved to
have it, in the crook of his big arm. The doctor, stopping
occasionally to shake a rose post with his free hand, or to break a
dead blossom from its stalk, scowled through the recital, even while
contentedly enjoying his wife, his garden, and his pipe.
Before he could make a definite comment, they were interrupted by
Sidney himself, who brought his big riding horse up close to the
fence and waved his whip with a shout of greeting. The doctor went
to meet him, Mary, a little pale, following.
"Good day to you!" said Sidney Carolan, baring his head without a
smile. "I'm bound to Barville; my editor is there for a few days,
and I may have to dine with him. I stopped to ask if Mary would run
in and see Jean this afternoon. She's feeling a little down."
"Of course I will!" said Mary, heartily.
There was a pause.
"Mary's told you that we're having an ugly time with the boy?" said
Sidney, then, combing his horse's mane with big gloved fingers.
"Too bad!" said the doctor, shaking his head and pursing his lips.
"No change, Sidney?" Mary asked gravely.
"No. No, I think the little fellow is rather gratified by the stir
he's making. He--oh, Lord knows what he thinks!"
"Give him a good licking," suggested the doctor.
"Oh, I'd lick him fast enough, Bill, if that would bring him round!"
his father said, scowling. "But suppose I do, and it leaves things
just where they are now? That's all I CAN do, and he knows it. His
mother has talked to him; I've talked to him." He looked frowningly
at the seam of his glove. "Well, I mustn't bother you. He's a
Carolan, I suppose--that's all!"
"And you're a Carolan," said the doctor.
"And I'm a Carolan," assented the other, briefly.
Mary found Jean, serious and composed over her sewing, on the cool
north veranda. When they had talked awhile, they went up to see
Peter, who was sprawled on the floor, busy with hundreds of leaden
soldiers. He was no longer gay; there was rather a strained look
about his beautiful babyish eyes. But at Jean's one allusion to the
unhappy affair, he flushed and said with nervous decision:
"Please don't, mother! You know I am sorry; you know I just CAN'T!"
"He has all his books and toys?" said Mary when they went downstairs
"Oh, yes! Sidney doesn't want him to be sick. He's just to be shut
up on bread and milk until he gives in. I must say, I think Sid is
very gentle," said Jean, leaning back wearily in her chair, with
closed eyes. Her voice dropped perceptibly as she added, "But he
says he is going to thrash him to-morrow."
"I think he ought to," said Mary Moore, sturdily. "This isn't
excitement or showing off any more; it's sheer naughty obstinacy
over a perfectly simple demand!"
"Oh, but I couldn't bear it!" whispered Jean, with a shudder. A
moment later she added sensibly, "But he's right, of course; Sidney
Peter was duly whipped the next day. It was no light punishment that
Sidney gave his son. Jean's gold-mounted riding-crop had never seen
severer service. The maids, with paling cheeks, gathered together in
the kitchen when Sidney went slowly upstairs with the whip in his
hand; and Betta and her mistress, their hands over their ears,
endured a very agony while the little boy's cries rang through the
house. Sidney went for a long and lonely walk afterward, and later
Jean went to her son.
Mrs. Moore heard of this event from her husband, who stopped at the
Hall late that evening, and found Peter asleep, and Jean restless
and headachy. He spent a long and almost silent hour pacing the rose
terrace with Sidney in the cool dark. Late into the night the doctor
and his wife lay wakeful, discussing affairs at the Hall.
After some hesitation, Mrs. Moore went the next day to find Jean.
There was no sound as she approached the house, and she stepped
timidly into the big hall, listening for voices. Presently she went
softly to the dining-room, and stood in the doorway. The room was
empty. But Mary's heart rose with a throb of thanksgiving. Peter's
silver mug was in its place on the sideboard. She went swiftly to
the pantry where Julia was cleaning the silver.
"Julia!" she said eagerly, softly, "I notice that the baby's cup is
back. Did he give in?"
The maid, who had started at the interruption, shook her head
"No'm. Mrs. Carolan picked it up."
"Yes'm. She seemed quite wildlike this morning," went on the maid,
with the simple freemasonry of troubled times, "and after Peter went
off with Mrs. Butler, she--"
"Oh, he went off? Did his father let him go?" Mary's voice was full
of relief. Mrs. Butler was Jean's cousin, a cheery matron who had
taken a summer cottage at Broadsands, twenty miles away.
Julia's color rose; she looked uneasy.
"Mr. Carolan had to go to Barville quite early," she evaded
uncomfortably, "and when Mrs. Butler asked could she take Peter, his
mother said yes, she could."
"Thank you," Mary said pleasantly, but her heart was heavy. She went
slowly upstairs to find Jean.
Peter's mother was lying in a darkened bedroom, and the face she
turned to the door at Mary's entrance was shockingly white. They
exchanged a long pressure of fingers.
"Headache, Jean, dear?"
"Oh, and heartache!" said Jean, with a pitiful smile. "Sid thrashed
him yesterday!" she added, with suddenly trembling lips.
"I know." Mary sat down on the edge of the bed and patted Jean's
"I've let him go with Alice," said Jean, defensively. "I had to!"
She turned on her elbow, her voice rising. "Mary, I didn't say one
word about the whipping, but now--now he threatens to hold him under
the stable pump!" she finished, dropping back wearily against her
pillows. Mrs. Moore caught her breath.
"Ah!" They eyed each other sombrely.
"Mary, would YOU permit it?" demanded Mrs. Carolan, miserably.
"Jeanie, dearest, I don't know what I'd do!"
After a long silence, Mary slipped from the bedside and went
noiselessly to the door and down the stairs, vague ideas of hot tea
in mind. In the dining-room she was surprised to find Sidney,
looking white and exhausted, and mixing himself something at the
"I'm glad you're with Jean," he said directly. "I'm off to get the
boy! The car is to be brought round in a few minutes."
Mrs. Moore went to him, and laid her fingers on his arm.
"Sidney!" she protested sharply, "you must stop this--not for Peter;
he's as naughty as he can be, like all other boys his age sometimes;
but you don't want to kill Jean!" And, to her self-contempt, she
began to cry.
"My dear girl," he said concernedly, "you mustn't take this matter
too hard. Jean knows enough of our family history to realize--"
"All that is such nonsense!" she protested angrily. But she saw that
he was not listening. He compared his watch with the big dining-room
clock, and then, quite as mechanically picked Peter's mug from the
group of bowls and flagons on the sideboard, studied the chasing
absently for a moment, and, stooping, placed the mug just as it had
fallen four days before. Mary watched as if fascinated.
A moment later she ran upstairs, her heart thundering with a sense
of her own daring. She entered the dark bedroom hurriedly, and
leaned over Jean.
"Jean! Jean, I hate to tell you! But Sidney's going to leave in a
few minutes to bring Peter home. He's going after him."
She had to repeat the message before the meaning of it flashed into
the heavy eyes so near her own. Then Jean gathered her filmy gown
together, and ran to the door.
"He shall not!" she said, panting, and Mary heard her imperative
call, "Sidney! Sidney!" as she ran downstairs. Then she heard both
With an intolerable consciousness of eavesdropping, Mrs. Moore
slipped out of the house by the servants' quarters, and crossed the
drying lawn at the back of the house, to gain the old grape arbor
beyond. She sat there with burning cheeks and a fast-beating heart,
and gazed with unseeing eyes down the valley.
Presently she heard the horn and the scraping start of the motor-
car, and a moment later it swept into view on the road below. Sidney
was its only occupant.
Mrs. Moore sat there thinking a long while. Dull clouds banked
themselves in the west, and the rising breeze brought dead leaves
about her feet.
She sat there half an hour--an hour. The afternoon was darkening
toward dusk when she saw the motorcar again still a mile away. Even
at this distance, Mary could see that Peter was sitting beside his
father in the tonneau, and that the little figure was as erect and
unyielding as the big one.
She rose to her feet and stood watching the car as it curved and
turned on the winding road that led to the gates of Carolan Hall.
Even when the gates were entered, both figures still faced straight
Suddenly Sidney leaned toward the chauffeur, and a moment later the
car came to a full stop. Mary watched, mystified. Then Sidney got
out, and stretched a hand to the boy to help him from his place. The
simple little motion, all fatherly, brought the tears to her eyes. A
moment later the driver wheeled the car about, to take it to the
garage by the rear roadway, and Sidney and his son began to walk
slowly toward the house, the child's hand still in his father's.
Once or twice they stopped short, and once Mary saw Sidney point
toward the house, and saw, from the turn of Peter's head, that his
eyes were following his father's. Her heart rose with a wild,
When a dip in the road hid them, Mary turned toward the house, not
knowing whether to go to Jean or to slip away through the wood. But
the instant her eye fell on Madam Carolan's window she knew what had
halted Sidney, and a wave of heartsickness made her breath come
Jean had taken her place there, to watch and wait. She was keeping
the first vigil of her life. Mary could see how the slight figure
drooped in the carved chair; she remembered, with a pang, the other
patient, drooping figure that had stamped itself upon her childish
memory so many years ago. The suffocating tears rose in her throat.
A sudden sense of helplessness overwhelmed her.
Obviously, the watcher had not seen Sidney and Peter. Her head was
resting on her hand, and her heavy eyes were fixed upon some sombre
inner vision that was hers alone.
Mary crossed behind the house, and, as they came up through the
shrubbery, met Sidney and his son at the side door. Sidney's face
was tired, but radiant with a mysterious content. Peter looked
white--awed. He was clinging with both small brown hands to one of
his father's firm, big ones.
"I know what you're going to say, Mary," said Sidney, in a tone
curiously gentle, and with his oddly bright smile. "I know she's
there. But we're going to her now, and it's all right. Peter and I
have been talking it over. I saw her there, Mary, and it was like a
blow! SHE'S not the one who must suffer for all this. Peter and I
are going to start all over again, and settle our troubles without
hurting a woman; aren't we, Peter?"
The little boy nodded, with his eyes fixed on his father's.
"So the episode is closed, Mary," said Sidney, simply. "And the next
time--if there is a next time!--Peter shall make his own decision,
and abide by what it brings. The mug goes back to its place to-
night, and--and we're going to tell mother that she never need watch
and wait and worry about us again!"
They turned to the steps; but, as the boy ran ahead, Sidney came
back to say in a lower tone:
"I--it may be weakness, Mary, but I can't have Jean doing what--what
SHE did, you know! I tried to give the boy some idea, just now, of
the responsibility of it. Nobody spared my grandmother, but Jean
SHALL be spared, if I never try to control him or save him from
"Ah, Sidney," Mary said, "you have done more, in taking him into
your confidence, than any amount of punishing could do!"
"Well, we'll see!" he said, with a weary little shrug. "I must go to
As he mounted the steps, Peter reappeared in the darkened doorway.
The child looked like a little knight, with his tawny loose mop of
hair and short tunic, and the uplifted look in his lovely eyes.
"Shall we go to her now, Dad?" said the little treble gallantly.
And, as the boy came close to Sidney's side, Mary saw the silver mug
glitter in his hand.
MAKING ALLOWANCES FOR MAMMA
At the head of her own breakfast table,--a breakfast table
charmingly littered with dark-blue china and shining glass, and made
springlike by a great bowl of daisies,--Mary Venable sat alone,
trying to read her letters through a bitter blur of tears. She was
not interested in her letters, but something must be done, she
thought desperately, to check this irresistible impulse to put her
head down on the table and cry like a child, and uninteresting
letters, if she could only force her eyes to follow the lines of
them, and her brain to follow the meaning, would be as steadying to
the nerves as anything else.
Cry she would NOT; for every reason. Lizzie, coming in to carry away
the plates, would see her, for one thing. It would give her a
blazing headache, for another. It would not help her in the least to
solve the problem ahead of her, for a third and best. She must think
it out clearly and reasonably, and--and--Mary's lip began to quiver
again, she would have to do it all alone. Mamma was the last person
in the world who could help her, and George wouldn't.
For of course the trouble was Mamma again, and George--
Mary wiped her eyes resolutely, finished a glass of water, drew a
deep great breath. Then she rang for Lizzie, and carried her letters
to the shaded, cool little study back of the large drawing-room.
Fortified by the effort this required, she sank comfortably into a
deep chair, and began to plan sensibly and collectedly. Firstly, she
reread Mamma's letter.
Mary had seen this letter among others at her plate, only an hour
ago. A deep sigh, reminiscent of the recently suppressed storm,
caught her unawares as she remembered how happy she and George had
been over their breakfast until Mamma's letter was opened. Mary had
not wanted to open it, suggesting carelessly that it might wait
until later; she could tell George if there was anything in it. But
George had wanted to hear it read immediately, and of course there
had been something in it. There usually was something unexpected in
Mamma's letters. In this one she broke the news to her daughter and
son-in-law that she hated Milwaukee, she didn't like Cousin Will's
house, children, or self, she had borrowed her ticket money from
Cousin Will, and she was coming home on Tuesday.
Mary had gotten only this far when George, prefacing his remarks
with a forcible and heartfelt "damn," had said some very sharp and
very inconsiderate things of Mamma. He had said--But no, Mary
wouldn't go over that. She would NOT cry again.
The question was, what to do with Mamma now. They had thought her so
nicely settled with Cousin Will and his motherless boys, had packed
her off to Milwaukee only a fortnight ago with such a generous check
to cover incidental expenses, had felt that now, for a year or two
at least, she was anchored. And in so many ways it seemed a special
blessing, this particular summer, to have Mamma out of the way,--
comfortable and happy, but out of the way. For Mary had packed her
three babies and their nurse down to the cottage at Beach Meadow for
the summer, and she and George had determined--with only brief
weekend intervals to break it--to try staying in the New York house
Ordinarily Mary, too, would have been at Beach Meadow with the
children, seeing George only in the rare intervals when he could run
up from town, two or three times a season perhaps, and really rather
more glad than otherwise to have Mamma with her. But this promised
to be a trying and overworked summer for him, and Mary herself was
tired from a winter of close attention to her nursery, and to them
both the plan seemed a most tempting chance for jolly little dinners
together, Sunday and evening trips in the motor, roof-garden shows
and suppers. They had had too little of each other's undivided
society in the three crowded years that had witnessed the arrival of
the twins and baby Mary, there had been infantile illnesses, Mary's
own health had been poor, Mamma had been with them, nurses had been
with them, doctors had been constantly coming and going, nothing had
been normal. Both Mary and George had thought and spoken a hundred
times of that one first, happy year of their marriage, and they
wanted to bring back some of its old free charm now. So the
children, with Miss Fox, who was a "treasure" of a trained nurse,
and Myra, whose Irish devotion was maternal in its intensity, were
sent away to the seaside, and they were living on the beach all day,
and sleeping in the warm sea air all night, and hardier and browner
and happier every time they rushed screaming out to welcome mother
and daddy and the motor-car for a brief visit. And Mamma was with
Cousin Will. Or at least she HAD been--
Well, there was only one thing certain, Mary decided,--Mamma could
not come to them. That would spoil all the summer they had been
planning so happily. To picnic in the hot city with one beloved
companion is one thing, to keep house there for one's family is
quite another. Mamma was not adaptable, she had her own very
definite ideas. She hated a dimly lighted drawing-room, and
interrupted Mary's music--to which George listened in such utter
content--with cheery random remarks, and the slapping of cards at
Patience. Mamma hated silences, she hated town in summer, she made
jolly and informal little expeditions the most discussed and tedious
of events. If George, settling himself happily in some restaurant,
suggested enthusiastically a planked steak, Mamma quite positively
wanted some chicken or just a chop for herself, please. If George
suggested red wine, Mamma was longing for just a sip of Pommerey:
"You order it, Georgie, and let it be my treat!"
It never was her treat, but that was the least of it.
No, Mamma simply couldn't come to them now. She would have to go to
Miss Fox and the children. Myra wouldn't like it, and Mamma always
interfered with Miss Fox, and would have to take the second best
bedroom, and George would probably make a fuss, but there was
nothing else to do. It couldn't be helped.
Sometimes in moments of less strain, Mary was amused to remember
that it was through Mamma that she had met George. She, Mary, had
gone down from, her settlement work in hot New York for a little
breathing spell at Atlantic City, where Mamma, who had a very small
room at the top of a very large hotel, was enjoying a financially
pinched but entirely carefree existence. Mary would have preferred
sober and unpretentious boarding in some private family herself, but
Mamma loved the big dining-room, the piazzas, the music, and the
crowds of the hotel, and Mary amiably engaged the room next to hers.
They had to climb a flight of stairs above the last elevator stop to
reach their rooms, and rarely saw any one in their corridors except
maids and chauffeurs, but Mamma didn't mind that. She knew a score
of Southern people downstairs who always included her in their good
times; her life never lacked the spice of a mild flirtation. Mamma
rarely had to pay for any of her own meals, except breakfast, and
the economy with which she could order a breakfast was a real
surprise to Mary. Mamma swam, motored, danced, walked, gossiped,
played bridge, and golfed like any debutante. Mary, watching her,
wondered sometimes if the father she had lost when a tiny baby, and
the stepfather whose marriage to her mother, and death had followed
only a few years later, were any more real to her mother than the
dreams they both were to her.
On the day of Mary's arrival, mother and daughter came down to the
wide hotel porch, in the cool idle hour before dinner, and took
possession of big rocking-chairs, facing the sea. They were barely
seated, when a tall man in white flannels came smilingly toward
"Mrs. Honeywell!" he said, delightedly, and Mary saw her mother give
him a cordial greeting before she said:
"And now, George, I want you to know my little girl, Ma'y,--Miss
Bannister. Ma'y, this is my Southe'n boy I was telling you about!"
Mary, turning unsmiling eyes, was quite sure the man would be nearer
forty than thirty, as indeed he was, grizzled and rather solid into
the bargain. Mamma's "boys" were rarely less; had he really been at
all youthful, Mamma would have introduced him as "that extr'ornarily
intrusting man I've been telling you about, Ma'y, dear!"
But he was a nice-looking man, and a nice seeming man, except for
his evidently having flirted with Mamma, which proceeding Mary
always held slightly in contempt. Not that he seemed flirtatiously
inclined at this particular moment, but Mary could tell from her
mother's manner that their friendship had been one of those frothy
surface affairs into which Mamma seemed able to draw the soberest of
Mr. Venable sat down next to Mary, and they talked of the sea, in
which a few belated bathers were splashing, and of the hot and
distant city, and finally of Mary's work. These topics did not
interest Mamma, who carried on a few gay, restless conversations
with various acquaintances on the porch meanwhile, and retied her
parasol bow several times.
Mamma, with her prettily arranged and only slightly retouched hair,
her dashing big hat and smart little gown, her red lips and black
eyes, was an extremely handsome woman, but Mr. Venable even now
could not seem to move his eyes from Mary's nondescript gray eyes,
and rather colorless fair skin, and indefinite, pleasant mouth.
Mamma's lines were all compact and trim. Mary was rather long of
limb, even a little GAUCHE in an attractive, unself-conscious sort
of way. But something fine and high, something fresh and young and
earnest about her, made its instant appeal to the man beside her.
"Isn't she just the biggest thing!" Mamma said finally, with a
little affectionate slap for Mary's hand. "Makes me feel so old,
having a great, big girl of twenty-three!"
This was three years short of the fact, but Mary never betrayed her
mother in these little weaknesses. Mr. Venable said, not very
spontaneously, that they could pass for sisters.
"Just hear him, will you!" said Mamma, in gay scorn. "Why there's
seventeen whole years between us! Ma'y was born on the day I was
seventeen. My first husband--dearest fellow ever WAS--used to say he
had two babies and no wife. I never shall forget," Mamma went on
youthfully, "one day when Ma'y was about two months old, and I had
her out in the garden. I always had a nurse,--smartest looking thing
you ever saw, in caps and ribbons!--but she was out, I forget where.
Anyway our old Doctor Wallis came in, and he saw me, with my hair
all hanging in curls, and a little blue dress on, and he called out,
'Look here, Ma'y Lou Duval, ain't you too old to be playin' with
Mary had often heard this, but she laughed, and Mr. Venable laughed,
too, although he cut short an indication of further reminiscence on
Mamma's part by entering briskly upon the subject of dinner. Would
Mrs. Honeywell and Miss Bannister dine with him, in the piazza,
dining-room, that wasn't too near the music, and was always cool,
and then afterward he'd have the car brought about--? Mary's first
smiling shake of the head subsided before these tempting details. It
did sound so cool and restful and attractive! And after all, why
shouldn't one dine with the big, responsible person who was one of
New York's biggest construction engineers, with whom one's mother
was on such friendly terms?
That was the first of many delightful times. George Venable fell in
love with Mary and grew serious for the first time in his life. And
Mary fell in love with George, and grew frivolous for the first time
in hers. And in the breathless joy that attended their discovery of
each other, they rather forgot Mamma.
"Stealing my beau!" said the little lady, accusatively, one night,
when mother and daughter were dressing. Mary turned an uncomfortable
"Oh, don't be such a little goosie!" Mrs. Honeywell said, with a
great hug. And she artlessly added, "My goodness, Mary, I've got all
the beaux I want! I'm only too tickled to have you have one at
By the time the engagement, with proper formality, was announced,
George's attitude toward his prospective mother-in-law had shifted
completely. He was no longer Mamma's gallant squire, but had assumed
something of Mary's tolerant, protective manner toward her. Later,
when they were married, this change went still further, and George
became rather scornful of the giddy little butterfly, casually
critical of her in conversations with Mary.
Mrs. Honeywell enjoyed the wedding as if she had been the bride's
younger sister now allowed a first peep at real romance.
"But I'm going to give you one piece of advice, dearie," said she,
the night before the ceremony. Mary, wrapped in all the mysterious
thoughts of that unreal time, winced inwardly. This was all so new,
so sacred, so inexpressible to her that she felt Mamma couldn't
understand it. Of course she had been married twice herself, but
then she was so different.
"It's this," said Mrs. Honeywell, cheerfully, after a pause.
"There'll come a time when you'll simply hate him--"
"Oh, Mamma!" Mary said, with distaste.
"Yes, there will," her mother went on placidly, "and then you just
say to yourself that the best of 'em's only a big boy, and treat him
as you'd treat a boy!"
"All right, darling!" Mary laughed, kissing her. But she thought to
herself that the men Mamma had married were of very different
caliber from George.
Parenthood developed new gravities in George, all life became purer,
sweeter, more simple, with Mary beside him. Through the stress of
their first married years they became more and more closely devoted,
marvelled more and more at the miracle that had brought them
together. But Mamma suffered to this. The atmosphere of gay
irresponsibility and gossip that she brought with her on her
frequent visitations became very trying to George. He resented her
shallowness, her youthful gowns, her extravagances. Mary found
herself eternally defending Mamma, in an unobtrusive sort of way,
inventing and assuming congenialities between her and George. It had
been an unmitigated blessing to have the little lady start gayly off
for Cousin Will's, only a month ago--And now here she was again!
Mary sighed, pushed her letters aside, and stared thoughtfully out
of the window. The first of New York's blazing summer days hung
heavily over the gay Drive and the sluggish river. The Jersey hills
were blurred with heat. Dull, brief whistles of river-craft came to
her; under the full leafage of trees on the Drive green omnibuses
lumbered; baby carriages, each with its attendant, were motionless
in the shade. Mary drew her desk telephone toward her, pushed it
away again, hesitated over a note. Then she sent for her cook and
discussed the day's meals.
Alone again, she reached a second time for the telephone, waited for
a number, and asked for Mr. Venable.
"George, this is Mary," said Mary, a moment later. Silence. "George,
darling," said Mary, in a rush, "I am so sorry about Mamma, and I
realize how trying it is for you, and I'm so sorry I took what you
said at breakfast that way. Don't worry, dear, we'll settle her
somehow. And I'll spare you all I can! George, would you like me to
come down to the office at six, and have dinner somewhere? She won't
be here until tomorrow. And my new hat has come, and I want to wear
it--?" She paused; there was a moment's silence before George's warm,
big voice answered:
"You are absolutely the most adorable angel that ever breathed,
Mary. You make me ashamed of myself. I've been sitting here as BLUE
as indigo. Everything going wrong! Those confounded Carter people
got the order for the Whitely building--you remember I told you
about it? It was a three-million dollar contract.
"Oh, George!" Mary lamented.
"Oh, well, it's not serious, dear. Only I thought we 'had it
nailed.' I'd give a good deal to know how Carter does it. Sometimes
I have the profoundest contempt for that fellow's methods--then he
lands something like this. I don't believe he can handle it,
"I hate that man!" said Mary, calmly. George laughed boyishly.
"Well, you were an angel to telephone," he said. "Come early,
sweetheart, and we'll go up to Macbeth's,--they say it's quite an
extraordinary collection. And don't worry--I'll be nice to Mamma.
And wear your blessed little pink hat--"
Mary went upstairs ten minutes later with a singing heart. Let Mamma
and her attendant problems arrive tomorrow if she must. Today would
be all their own! She began to dress at three o'clock, as pleasantly
excited as a girl. She laid her prettiest white linen gown beside
the pink hat on the bed, selected an especially frilled petticoat,
was fastidious over white shoes and silken stockings.
The big house was very still. Lizzie, hitherto un-compromisingly a
cook, had so far unbent this summer as to offer to fill the place of
waitress as well as her own. Today she had joyously accepted Mary's
offer of a whole unexpected free afternoon and evening. Mary was
alone, and rather enjoying it. She walked, trailing her ruffled
wrapper, to one of the windows, and looked down on the Drive. It was
While she stood there idle and smiling, a taxicab veered to the
curb, hesitated, came to a full stop. Out of it came a small gloved
hand with a parasol clasped in it, a small struggling foot in a gray
suede shoe, a small doubled-up form clad in gray-blue silk, a hat
covered with corn-flowers.
Mamma had arrived, as Mamma always did, unexpectedly.
Mary stared at the apparition with a sudden rebellious surge at her
heart. She knew what this meant, but for a moment the full
significance of it seemed too exasperating to be true. Oh, how could
she!--spoil their last day together, upset their plans, madden
George afresh, when he was only this moment pacified! Mary uttered
an impatient little sigh as she went down to open the door; but it
was the anticipation of George's vexation--not her own--that stirred
her, and the sight of Mamma was really unwelcome to Mary only
because of George's lack of welcome.
"No Lizzie?" asked Mamma, blithely, when her first greetings were
over, and the case of Cousin Will had been dismissed with a few
"I let her go this afternoon instead of to-morrow, Muddie, dear.
We're going down town to dinner."
"Oh; that's nice,--but I look a perfect fright!" said Mrs.
Honeywell, following Mary upstairs. "Nasty trip! I don't want a
thing but a cup of tea for supper anyway--bit of toast. I'll be glad
to get my things off for a while."
"If you LIKE, Mamma, why don't you just turn in?" Mary suggested.
"It's nearly four now. I'll bring you up some cold meat and tea and
"Sounds awfully nice," her mother said, getting a thin little silk
wrapper out of her suit-case. "But we'll see,--there's no hurry.
What time are you meeting Georgie?"
"Well, we were going to Macbeth's,--but that's not important,--we
needn't meet him until nearly seven, I suppose," Mary said
patiently, "only I ought to telephone him what we are going to do."
"Oh, telephone that I'll come too, I'll feel fine in half an hour,"
Mrs. Honeywell said decidedly.
Mary, unsatisfied with this message, temporized by sitting down in a
deep chair. The room, which had all been made ready for Mamma, was
cool and pleasant. Awnings shaded the open windows; the rugs, the
wall-paper, the chintzes were all in gay and roseate tints. Mrs.
Honeywell stretched herself luxuriously on the bed, both pillows
under her head.
"I'm sure she'd be much more comfortable here than tearing about
town this stuffy night!" the daughter reflected, while listening to
an account of Cousin Will's dreadful house, and dreadful children.
It was so easy when Mamma was away to think generously,
affectionately of her, to laugh kindly at the memory of her trying
moods. But it was very different to have Mamma actually about, to
humor her whims, listen to her ceaseless chatter, silently sacrifice
to her comfort a thousand comforts of one's own.
After a half hour of playing listener she went down to telephone
"Oh, damn!" said George, heartily. "And here I've been hustling
through things thinking any minute that you'd come in. Well, this
spoils it all. I'll come home."
"Oh, dearest,--it'll be just a 'pick-up' dinner, then. I don't know
what's in the house. Lizzie's gone," Mary submitted hesitatingly.
"Oh, damn!" George said forcibly, again.
"What does your mother propose to do?" he asked Mary some hours
later, when the rather unsuccessful dinner was over, Mamma had
retired, and he and his wife were in their own rooms. Mary felt
impending unpleasantness in his tone, and battled with a rising
sense of antagonism. She tucked her pink hat into its flowered box,
folded the silky tissue paper about it, tied the strings.
"Why, I don't know, dear!" she said pleasantly, carrying the box to
"Does she plan to stay here?" George asked, with a reasonable air,
carefully transferring letters, pocket-book, and watch-case from one
vest to another.
"George, when does Mamma ever plan ANYTHING!" Mary reminded him,
with elaborate gentleness.
There was a short silence. The night was very sultry, and no air
stirred the thin window-curtains. The room, with its rich litter of
glass and silver, its dark wood and bright hangings, seemed somehow
hot and crowded. Mary flung her dark cloud of hair impatiently back,
as she sat at her dressing table. Brushing was too hot a business
"I confess I think I have a right to ask what your mother proposes
to do," George said presently, with marked politeness.
"Oh, Georgie! DON'T be so ridiculous!" Mary protested impatiently.
"You know what Mamma is!"
"I may be ridiculous," George conceded, magnificently, "but I fail
"I don't mean that," Mary said hastily. "But need we decide
tonight?" she added with laudable calm. "It's so HOT, dearest, and I
am so sleepy. Mamma could go to Beach Meadow, I suppose?" she
This was a wrong move. George was disappearing into his dressing-
room at the moment, and did not turn back. Mary put out all the
lights but one, turned down the beds, settled on her pillows with a
great sigh of relief. But George, returning in a trailing wrapper,
was mighty with resolution.
"I mean to make just one final remark on this subject, Mary," said
George, flashing on three lights with one turn of the wrist, "but
you may as well understand me. I mean it! I don't propose to have
your mother at Beach Meadow, not for a single night--not for a day!
She demoralizes the boys, she has a very bad effect on the nurse. I
sympathize with Miss Fox, and I refuse to allow my children to be
given candy, and things injurious to their constitutions, and to be
kept up until late hours, and to have their first perceptions of
honor and truth misled--"
"Well,' said George, after a brief pause, more mildly, "I won't have
"Then--but she can't stay here, George. It will spoil our whole
"Exactly," George assented. There was another pause.
"I'll talk to Mamma--she may have some plan," Mary said at last,
with a long sigh.
Mamma had no plan to unfold on the following day, and a week and
then ten days went by without any suggestion of change on her part.
The weather was very hot, and Lizzie complained more than once that
Mrs. Honeywell must have her iced coffee and sandwiches at four and
that breakfast, luncheon, and dinner regularly for three was not at
all like getting two meals for two every day, and besides, there was
another bedroom to care for, and the kitchen was never in order!
Mary applied an unfailing remedy to Lizzie's case, and sent for a
charwoman besides. Less easily solved were other difficulties.
George, for example, liked to take long motoring trips out of the
city, on warm summer evenings. He ran his own car, and was never so
happy as when Mary was on the driver's seat beside him, where he
could amuse her with the little news of the day, or repeat to her
long and, to Mary, unintelligible business conversations in which he
had borne a part.
But Mamma's return spoiled all this. Obviously, the little lady
couldn't be left to bounce about alone in the tonneau. If Mary
joined her there, George would sit silently, immovably, in the front
seat, chewing his cigar, his eyes on the road. Only when they had a
friend or two with them did Mary enjoy these drives.
Mamma had an unlucky habit of scattering George's valuable books
carelessly about the house, and George was fussy about his books.
And she would sometimes amuse herself by trying roll after roll on
the piano-player, until George, perhaps trying to read in the
adjoining library, was almost frantic. And she mislaid his telephone
directory, and took telephone messages for him that she forgot to
deliver, and insisted upon knowing why he was late for dinner, in
spite of Mary's warning, "Let him change and get his breath Mamma,
dear,--he's exhausted. What does it matter, anyway?"
Sometimes Mary's heart would ache for the little, resourceless lady,
drifting aimlessly through her same and stupid days. Mamma had
always been spoiled, loved, amused,--it was too much to expect
strength and unselfishness of her now. And at other times, when she
saw the tired droop to George's big shoulders, and the gallant
effort he made to be sweet to Mamma, George who was so good, and so
generous, and who only asked to have his wife and home quietly to
himself after the long day, Mary's heart would burn with longing to
put her arms about him, and go off alone with him somewhere, and
smooth the wrinkles from. his forehead, and let him rest.
One warm Sunday in mid-July they all went down to Long Island to see
the rosy, noisy babies. It was a happy day for Mary. George was very
gracious, Mamma charming and complaisant. The weather was
perfection, and the children angelic. They shared the noonday dinner
with little George and Richard and Mary, and motored home through
the level light of late afternoon. Slowly passing through a certain
charming colony of summer homes, they were suddenly hailed.
Out from a shingled bungalow, and across a velvet lawn streamed
three old friends of Mamma's, Mrs. Law'nce Arch'bald, and her
daughter, 'Lizabeth Sarah, who was almost Mamma's age, and 'Lizabeth
Sarah's husband, Harry Fairfax. These three were rapturously
presented to the Venables by Mrs. Honeywell, and presently they all
went up to the porch for tea.
Mary thought, and she could see George thought, that it was very
pleasant to discuss the delicious Oolong and Maryland biscuit, and
Southern white fruit-cake, while listening to Mamma's happy chatter
with her old friends. The old negress who served tea called Mamma
"chile," and Mrs. Archibald, an aristocratic, elderly woman, treated
her as if she were no more than a girl. Mary thought she had never
seen her mother so charming.
"I wonder if the's any reason, Mary Lou'siana, why you can't just
come down here and stay with me this summah?" said Mrs. Archibald,
suddenly. "'Lizabeth Sarah and Harry Fairfax, they're always coming
and going, and Lord knows it would be like havin' one of my own
girls back, to me. We've room, and there's a lot of nice people down
A chorus arose, Mrs. Honey well protesting joyously that that was
too much imp'sition for any use, 'Lizabeth Sarah and Harry Fairfax
violently favorable to the idea, Mrs. Archibald magnificently
overriding objections, Mary and George trying with laughter to
separate jest from earnest. Mrs. Honeywell, overborne, was dragged
upstairs to inspect "her room," old Aunt Curry, the colored maid and
cook, adding her deep-noted welcome to "Miss Mar' Lou." It was
arranged that Mamma should at least spend the night, and George and
Mary left her there, and came happily home together, laughing, over
their little downtown dinner, with an almost parental indulgence, at
In the end, Mamma did go down to the Archibald's for an indefinite
stay. Mary quite overwhelmed her with generous contributions to her
wardrobe, and George presented her with a long-coveted chain. The
parting took place with great affection and regret expressed on both
sides. But this timely relief was clouded for Mary when Mamma
flitted in to see her a day or two later. Mamma wondered if Ma'y
dearest could possibly let her have two hundred dollars.
"Muddie, you've overdrawn again!" Mary accused her. For Mamma had an
income of a thousand a year.
"No, dear, it's not that. I am a little overdrawn, but it's not
that. But you see Richie Carter lives right next do' to the
Arch'balds,"--Mamma's natural Southern accent was gaining strength
every day now,--"and it might be awkward, meetin' him, don't you
"Awkward?" Mary echoed, frowning.
"Well, you see, Ma'y, love, some years ago I was intimate with his
wife," her mother proceeded with some little embarrassment, "and so
when I met him at the Springs last year, I confided in him about--
laws! I forget what it was exactly, some bills I didn't want to
bother Georgie about, anyway. And he was perfectly charmin' about it
"Oh, Mamma!" Mary said in distress, "not Richard Carter of the
Carter Construction Company? Oh, Mamma, you know how George hates
that whole crowd! You didn't borrow money of him!"
"Not that he'd ever speak of it--he'd die first!" Mrs. Honeywell
"I'll have to ask George for it," Mary said after a long pause, "and
he'll be furious." To which Mamma, who was on the point of
departure, agreed, adding thoughtfully, "I'm always glad not to be
here if Georgie's going to fly into a rage."
George did fly into a rage at this piece of news, and said some
scathing things of Mamma, even while he wrote out a check for two
"Here, you send it to her," he said bitterly to Mary, folding the
paper with a frown. "I don't feel as if I ever wanted to see her
again. I tell you, Mary, I warn you, my dear, that things can't go
on this way much longer. I never refused her money that I know of,
and yet she turns to this fellow Carter!" He interrupted himself
with an exasperated shrug, and began to walk about the room. "She
turns to Carter," he burst out again angrily, "a man who could hurt
me irreparably by letting it get about that my mother-in-law had to
ask him for a petty loan!"
Mary, with a troubled face, was slowly, silently setting up a game
of chess. She took the check, feeling like Becky Sharp, and tucked
it into her blouse.
"Come on, George, dear," she said, after an uneasy silence. She
pushed a white pawn forward. George somewhat unwillingly took his
seat opposite her, but could not easily capture the spirit of the
game. He made a hasty move or two, scowled up at the lights, scowled
at the windows that were already wide open to the sultry night,
loosened his collar with two impatient fingers.
"I'd give a good deal to understand your mother, Mary," he burst out
suddenly. "I'd give a GREAT deal! Her love of pleasure I can
understand--her utter lack of any possible vestige of business sense
I can understand, although my own mother was a woman who conducted
an immense business with absolute scrupulousness and integrity--"
"Georgie, dear! What has your mother's business ability to do with
poor Mamma!" Mary said patiently, screwing the separated halves of a
knight firmly together.
"It has this to do with it," George said with sudden heat, "that my
mother's principles gave me a pretty clear idea of what a lady does
and does not do! And my mother would have starved before she turned
to a comparative stranger for a personal loan."
"But neither one of her sons could bear to live with her, she was so
cold-blooded," Mary thought, but with heroic self-control she kept
silent. She answered only by the masterly advance of a bishop.
"Queen," she said calmly.
"Queen nothing!" George said, suddenly attentive.
"Give me a piece then," Mary chanted. George gave a fully aroused
attention to the game, and saving it, saved the evening for Mary.
"But please keep Mamma quiet now for a while!" she prayed fervently
in her evening devotions a few hours later. "I can't keep this up--
we'll have serious trouble here. Please make her stay where she is
for a year at least."
Two weeks, three weeks, went peaceably by. The Venables spent a
happy week-end or two with their children. Between these visits they
were as light-hearted as children themselves, in the quiet roominess
of the New York home. Mamma's letters were regular and cheerful, she
showed no inclination to return, and Mary, relieved for the first
time since her childhood of pressing responsibility, bloomed like a
Sometimes she reflected uneasily that Mamma's affairs were only
temporarily settled, after all, and sometimes George made her heart
sink with uncompromising statements regarding the future, but for
the most part Mary's natural sunniness kept her cheerful and
Almost unexpectedly, therefore, the crash came. It came on a very
hot day, which, following a week of delightfully cool weather, was
like a last flaming hand-clasp from the departing summer. It was a
Monday, and had started wrong with a burned omelette at breakfast,
and unripe melons. And the one suit George had particularly asked to
have cleaned and pressed had somehow escaped Mary's vigilance, and
still hung creased and limp in the closet. So George went off,
feeling a little abused, and Mary, feeling cross, too, went slowly
about her morning tasks. Another annoyance was when the telephones
had been cut off; a man with a small black bag mysteriously
appearing to disconnect them, and as mysteriously vanishing when
once their separated parts lay useless on the floor. Mary, idly
reading, and comfortably stretched on a couch in her own room at
eleven o'clock, was disturbed by the frantic and incessant ringing
of the front doorbell.
"Lizzie went in to Broadway, I suppose," she reflected uneasily.
"But I oughtn't to go down this way! Let him try again."
"He"--whoever he was--did try again so forcibly and so many times
that Mary, after going to the head of the kitchen stairs to call
Lizzie, with no result, finally ran down the main stairway herself,
and gathering the loose frills of her morning wrapper about her,
warily unbolted the door.
She admitted George, whose face was dark with heat, and whose voice
"Where's Lizzie?" he asked, eying Mary's negligee.
"Oh, dearie--and I've been keeping you waiting!" Mary lamented.
"Come into the dining-room, it's cooler. She's marketing."
George dropped into a chair and mopped his forehead.
"No one to answer the telephone?" he pursued, frowning.
"It's disconnected, dear. Georgie, what is it?--you look sick."
"Well, I am, just about!" George said sternly. Then, irrelevantly,
he demanded: "Mary, did you know your mother had disposed of her
"Sold her copper stock!" Mary ejaculated, aghast For Mamma's entire
income was drawn from this eminently safe and sane investment, and
Mary and George had never ceased to congratulate themselves upon her
good fortune in getting it at all.
"Two months ago," said George, with a shrewdly observant eye.
Mary interpreted his expression.
"Certainly I didn't know it!" she said with spirit.
"Didn't, eh? She SAYS you did," George said.
"Mamma does?" Mary was astounded.
"Read that!" Her husband flung a letter on the table.
Mary caught it up, ran through it hastily. It was from Mamma: She
was ending her visit at Rock Bar, the Archibalds were going South
rather early, they had begged her to go, but she didn't want to, and
Mary could look for her any day now. And she was writing to Georgie
because she was afraid she'd have to tell him that she had done an
awfully silly thing: she had sold her Sunbright shares to an awfully
attractive young fellow whom Mr. Pierce had sent to her--and so on
and so on. Mary's eye leaped several lines to her own name. "Mary
agreed with me that the Potter electric light stock was just as safe
and they offered seven per cent," wrote Mamma.
"I DO remember now her saying something about the Potter," Mary
said, raising honest, distressed eyes from the letter, "but with no
possible idea that she meditated anything like this!"
George had been walking up and down the room.
"She's lost every cent!" he said savagely. And he flung both hands
out with an air of frenzy before beginning his angry march again.
Mary sat in stony despair.
"Have you heard from her today?" he flung out.
His wife shook her head.
"Well, she's in town," George presently resumed, "because Bates told
me she telephoned the office while I was out this morning. Now,
listen, Mary. I've done all I'm going to do for your mother! And
she's not to enter this house again--do you understand?"
"George!" said Mary.
"She is not going to ENTER MY HOUSE," reiterated George. "I have
often wondered what led to estrangements in families, but by the
Lord, I think there's some excuse in this case! She lies to me, she
sets my judgment at naught, she does the things with my children
that I've expressly asked her not to do, she cultivates the people I
loathe, she works you into a state of nervous collapse--it's too
much! Now she's thrown her income away,--thrown it away! Now I tell
you, Mary, I'll support her, if that's what she expects--"
"Really, George, you are--you are--Be careful!" Mary exclaimed,
roused in her turn. "You forget to whom you are speaking. I admit
that Mamma is annoying, I admit that you have some cause for
complaint,--but you forget to whom you are speaking! I love my
mother," said Mary, her feeling rising with every word. "I won't
have her so spoken of! Not have her enter the house again? Why, do
you suppose I am going to meet her in the street, and send her
clothes after her as if she were a discharged servant?"
"She may come here for her clothes," George conceded, "but she shall
not spend another night under my roof. Let her try taking care of
herself for a change!"
There was a silence.
"George, DON'T you see how unreasonable you are?" Mary said, after a
bitter struggle for calm.
"That's final," George said briefly.
"I don't know what you mean by final," his wife answered with
warmth. "If you really think--"
"I won't argue it, my dear. And I won't have my life ruined by your
mother, as thousands of men's lives have been ruined, by just such
unscrupulous irresponsible women!"
"George," said Mary, very white, "I won't turn against my mother!"
"Then you turn against me," George said in a deadly calm.
"Do you expect her to board, George, in the same city that I have my
home?" Mary demanded, after a pause.
"Plenty of women do it," George said inflexibly.
"But, George, you know Mamma! She'd simply be here all the time; it
would come to exactly the same thing. She'd come after breakfast,
and you'd have to take her home after dinner. She'd have her clothes
made here, and laundered here, and she'd do all her telephoning..."
"That is exactly what has got to stop," said George. "I will pay her
board at some good place. But I'll pay it... she won't touch the
money. Besides that, she can have an allowance. But she must
understand that she is NOT to come here except when she is
especially invited, at certain intervals."
"George, DEAR, that is absolutely absurd!"
"Very well," George said, flushing, "but if she is here to-night, I
will not come home. I'll dine at the club. When she has gone, I'll
come home again."
Mary's head was awhirl. She scarcely knew where the conversation was
leading then, or what the reckless things they said involved. She
was merely feeling blindly now for the arguments that should give
her the advantage.
"You needn't stay at the club, George," she said, "for Mamma and I
will go down to Beach Meadow. When you have come to your senses,
I'll come back. I'll let Miss Fox go, and Mamma and I will look out
for the children--"
"I warn you," George interrupted her coldly, "that if you take any
such step, you will have a long time to think it over before you
hear from me! I warn you that it has taken much less than this to
ruin the happiness of many a man and woman!"
Mary faced him, breathing hard. This was their first real quarrel.
Brief times of impatience, unsympathy, differences of opinion there
had been, but this--this Mary felt even now--was gravely different.
With a feeling curiously alien and cold, almost hostile, she eyed
the face opposite her own; the strange face that had been so
familiar and dear only at breakfast time.
"I WILL go," she said quietly. "I think it will do us both good."
"Nonsense!" George said. "I won't permit it."
"What will you do, make a public affair of it?"
"No, you know I won't do that. But don't talk like a child, Mary.
Remember, I mean what I say about your mother, and tell her so when
After that, he went away. A long time passed, while Mary sat very
still in the big leather chair at the head of the table. The
sunlight shifted, fell lower,--shone ruby red through a decanter of
claret on the sideboard. The house was very still.
After a while she went slowly upstairs. She dragged a little trunk
from a hall closet, and began quietly, methodically, to pack it with
her own clothes. Now and then her breast rose with a great sob, but
she controlled herself instantly.
"This can't go on," she said aloud to herself. "It's not today--it's
not to-morrow--but it's for all time. I can't keep this up. I can't
worry and apologize, and neglect George, and hurt Mamma's feelings
for the rest of my life. Mamma has always done her best for me, and
I never saw George until five years ago--
"It's not," she went on presently, "as if I were a woman who takes
marriage lightly. I have tried. But I won't desert Mamma. And I
won't--I will NOT!--endure having George talk to me as he did
She would go down to the children, she would rest, she would read
again during the quiet evenings. Days would go by, weeks. But
finally George would write her--would come to her. He must. What
else could he do?
Something like terror shook her. Was this the way serious, endless
separations began between men and their wives? Her mind flitted
sickly to other people's troubles: the Waynes, who had separated
because Rose liked gayety and Fred liked domestic peace; the
Gardiners, who--well, there never did seem to be any reason there.
Frances and the baby just went to her mother's home, and stayed
home, and after a while people said she and Sid had separated,
though Frances said she would always like Sid as a friend--not very
serious reasons, these! Yet they had proved enough.
Mary paused. Was she playing with fire? Ah, no, she told herself, it
was very different in her case. This was no imaginary case of
"neglect" or "incompatibility." There was the living trouble,--
Mamma. And even if tonight she conceded this point to George, and
Mamma was banished, sooner or later resentment, bitter and
uncontrollable, would rise again, she knew, in her heart. No. She
would go. George might do the yielding.
Once or twice tears threatened her calm. But it was only necessary
to remind herself of what George had said to dry her eyes into angry
brilliance again. Too late now for tears.
At five o'clock the trunk was packed, but Mamma had not yet arrived.
There remained merely to wait for her, and to start with her for
Beach Meadow. Mary's heart was beating fast now, but it was less
with regret than with a nervous fear that something would delay her
now. She turned the key in the trunk lock and straightened up with
the sudden realization that her back was aching.
For a moment she stood, undecided, in the centre of her room. Should
she leave a little note for George, "on his pincushion," or simply
ask Lizzie to say that she had gone to Beach Meadow? He would not
follow her there, she knew; George understood her. He knew of how
little use bullying or coaxing would be. There would be no scenes.
She would be allowed to settle down to an existence that would be
happy for Mamma, good for the children, restful--free from
distressing strain--for Mary herself.
With a curious freedom from emotion of any sort, she selected a hat,
and laid her gloves beside it on the bed. Just then the front door,
below her, opened to admit the noise of hurried feet and of joyous
laughter. Several voices were talking at once. Mary, to whom the
group was still invisible, recognized one of these as belonging to
Mamma. As she went downstairs, she had only time for one
apprehensive thrill, before Mamma herself ran about the curve of the
stairway, and flung herself into Mary's arms.
Mamma was dressed in corn-colored silk, over which an exquisite wrap
of the same shade fell in rich folds. Her hat was a creation of pale
yellow plumes and hydrangeas, her silk stockings and little boots
corn-colored. She dragged the bewildered Mary down the stairway, and
Mary, pausing at the landing, looked dazedly at her husband, who
stood in the hall below with a dark, middle-aged man whom she had
never seen before.
"Here she is!" Mamma cried joyously. "Richie, come kiss her right
this minute! Ma'y, darling, this is your new papa!"
"WHAT!" said Mary, faintly. But before she knew it the strange man
did indeed kiss her, and then George kissed her, and Mamma kissed
her again, and all three shouted with laughter as they went over and
over the story. Mary, in all the surprise and confusion, still found
time to marvel at the sight of George's radiant face.
"Carter--of all people!" said George, with a slap on the groom's
shoulder. "I loved his dea' wife like a sister!" Mamma threw in
parenthetically, displaying to Mary's eyes her little curled-up fist
with a diamond on it quite the width of the finger it adorned.
"Strangely enough," said Mr. Carter, in a deep, dignified boom,
"your husband and I had never met until to-day, Mrs.--ah, Mary--
when-" his proud eye travelled to the corn-colored figure, "when
this young lady of mine introduced us!"
"Though we've exchanged letters, eh?" George grinned, cutting the
wires of a champagne bottle. For they were about the dining-room
table now, and the bride's health was to be drunk.
Mary, managing with some effort to appear calm, outwardly
congratulatory, interested, and sympathetic; and already feeling
somewhere far down in her consciousness an exhilarated sense of
amusement and relief at this latest performance of Mamma's,--was
nevertheless chiefly conscious of a deep and swelling indignation
George! Oh, he could laugh now; he could kiss, compliment, rejoice
with Mamma now, he could welcome and flatter Richard Carter now,
although he had repudiated and insulted the one but a few hours ago,
and had for years found nothing good to say of the other! He could
delightedly involve Mary in his congratulations and happy prophecies
now, when but today he had half broken her heart!
"Lovely!" she said, smiling automatically and rising with the others
when the bridegroom laughingly proposed a toast to the firm that
might some day be "Venable and Carter," and George insisted upon
drinking it standing, and, "Oh, of course, I understand how sudden
it all was, darling!" "Oh, Mamma, won't that be heavenly!" she
responded with apparent rapture to the excited outpourings of the
bride. But at her heart was a cold, dull weight, and her sober eyes
went again and again to her husband's face.
"Oh, no!" she would say to herself, watching him, "you can't do
that, George! You can't change about like a weathercock, and expect
me to change, too, and forget everything that went before! You've
chosen to dig the gulf between us--I'm not like Mamma, I'm not a
child--my dignity and my rights can't be ignored in this fashion!"
No, the matter involved more than Mamma now. George should be
punished; he should have his scare. Things must be all cleared up,
explained, made right between them. A few weeks of absence, a little
realization of what he had done would start their marriage off again
on a new footing.
She kissed her mother affectionately at the door, gave the new
relative a cordial clasp with both hands.
"We'll let you know in a week or two where we are," said Mamma, all
girlish confusion and happiness. "You have my suit-case, Rich'?
That's right, dea'. Good-by, you nice things!"
"Good-by, darling!" Mary said. She walked back into the empty
library, seated herself in a great chair, and waited for George.
The front door slammed. George reappeared, chuckling, and rubbing
his hands together. He walked over to a window, held back the heavy
curtain, and watched the departing carriage out of sight.
"There they go!" he said. "Carter and your mother--married, by Jove!
Well, Mary, this is about the best day's work for me that's come
along for some time. Carter was speaking in the carriage only an
hour ago about the possibility of our handling the New Nassau Bridge
contract together. I don't know why not." George mused a moment,
"I thought you had an utter contempt for him as a business man,"
Mary said stingingly--involuntarily, too, for she had not meant to
be diverted from her original plan of a mere dignified farewell.
"Never for him," George said promptly. "I don't like some of his
people. Burns, his chief construction engineer, for instance. But
I've the greatest respect for him! And your mother!" said George,
laughing again. "And how pretty she looked, too! Well, sir, they
walked in on me this afternoon. I never was so surprised in my life!
You know, Mary," said George, taking his own big leather chair,
stretching his legs out luxuriously, and eying the tip of a cigar
critically, "you know that your mother is an extremely fascinating
woman! You'll see now how she'll blossom out, with a home of her own
again--he's got a big house over on the Avenue somewhere, beside the
Bar Kock place--and he runs three or four cars. Just what your
Mary continued to regard her husband steadily, silently. One look at
the fixed expression of contempt on her face would have enlightened
him, but George was lighting his cigar now, and did not glance at
"I'll tell you another thing, Mary," said George, after a match-
scratching-and-puffing interlude, "I'll tell you another thing, my
dear. You're an angel, and you don't notice these things as I do,
but, by Jove, your mother was reaching the point where she pretty
nearly made trouble between us! Fact!" he pursued, with a serious
nod. "I get tired, you know, and nervous, and unreasonable--you must
have had it pretty hard sometimes this month between your mother and
me! I get hot--you know I don't mean anything! If you hadn't the
disposition of a saint, things would have come to a head long ago.
Now this very morning I talked to you like a regular kid. Mary, the
minute I got back to the office I was ashamed of myself. Why,
ninety-nine women out of a hundred would have raised the very deuce
with me for that! But, by Jove--" his voice dropped to a pause.
"By Jove," George went on, "you are an angel! Now tell me the honest
truth, old girl, didn't you resent what I said to-day, just for a
"I certainly did," Mary responded promptly and quietly, but with an
uncomfortable sense of lessened wrath. "What you said was absolutely
unwarrantable and insulting!"
"I'll BET you did!" said George, giving her a glance that was a
little troubled, and a little wistful, too. "It was insulting, it
was unwarrantable. But, my Lord, Mary, you know how I love your
mother!" he continued eagerly. "She and I are the best of friends.
We rasp each other now and then, but we both love you too much ever
to come to real trouble. I'm no angel, Mary," said George, looking
down his cigar thoughtfully, "but as men go, I'm a pretty decent
man. You know how much time I've spent at the club since we were
married. You know the fellows can't rope me into poker games or
booze parties. I love my wife and my kids and my home. But when I
think of you, and realize how unworthy I am of you, by Heaven--!" He
choked, shook his head, finding further speech for a moment
difficult. "There's no man alive who's worthy of you!" he finished.
"The Lord's been very good to me."
Mary's eyes had filled, too. She sat for a minute, trying to steady
her suddenly quivering lips. She looked at George sitting there in
the twilight, and said to herself it was all true. He WAS good, he
WAS steady, he was indeed devoted to her and to the children. But--
but he had insulted her, he had broken her heart, she couldn't let
him off without some rebuke.
"You should have thought of these things before you--" she began,
with a very fair imitation of scorn in her voice. But George
interrupted her. His hands were clasped loosely between his knees,
his head hanging dejectedly.
"I know," he said despondently, "I know!"
Mary paused. What she had still to say seemed suddenly flat. And in
the pause her mother's one piece of advice came to her mind. After
all it only mattered that he was unhappy, and he was hers, and she
could make him happy again.
She left her chair, went with a few quick steps to her husband's
side, and knelt, and put her cheek against his shoulder. He gave a
great boyish laugh of relief and pleasure and put his arms about
"How old are you, George?" she said.
"How old am I? What on earth--why, I'm forty," he said.
"I was just thinking that the best of you men is only a little boy,
and should be treated as such!" said Mary, kissing him.
"You can treat me as you like," he assured her, joyously. "And I'm
starving. And unless you think there is any likelihood of Mamma
dropping in and spoiling our plan, I would like to take you out to
"Well, she might," Mary agreed with a happy laugh, "so I'll simply
run for my hat. You never can be sure, with Mamma!"
THE MEASURE OF MARGARET COPPERED
Duncan Coppered felt that his father's second marriage was a great
mistake. He never said so; that would not have been Duncan's way.
But he had a little manner of discreetly compressing his lips, when,
the second Mrs. Coppered was mentioned, eying his irreproachable
boots, and raising his handsome brows, that was felt to be
significant. People who knew and admired Duncan--and to know him was
to admire him--realized that he would never give more definite
indications of filial disapproval than these. His exquisite sense of
what was due his father's wife from him would not permit it. But all
the more did the silent sympathy of his friends go out to him.
To Harriet Culver he said the one thing that these friends,
comparing notes, considered indicative of his real feeling. Harriet,
who met him on the Common one cold afternoon, reproached him, during
the course of a slow ride, for his non-appearance at various dinners
"Well, I've been rather bowled over, don't you know? I've been
getting my bearings," said Duncan, simply.
"Of course you have!" said Harriet, with an expectant thrill.
"I'd gotten to count on monopolizing the governor," pursued Duncan,
presently, with a rueful smile. "I shall feel no end in the way for
a while, I'm afraid, Of course, I didn't think Dad would always
keep"-his serious eyes met Harriet's--"always keep my mother's place
empty; but this came rather suddenly, just the same."
"Had your father written you?" said Harriet, confused between fear
of saying the wrong thing and dread of a long silence.
"Oh, yes!" Duncan attempted an indifferent tone. "He had written me
in August about meeting Miss Charteris and her little brother in
Rome, you know, and how much he liked her. Her brother was an
invalid, and died shortly after; and then Dad met her again in
Paris, quite alone, and they were married immediately."
He fell silent. Presently Harriet said daringly: "She's--clever;
she's gifted, isn't she?"
"I think you were very bold to say that, dear!" said Mrs. Van
Winkle, when Harriet repeated this conversation, some hours later,
in the family circle.
"Oh, Aunt Minnie, I had to--to see what he'd say."
"And what did he say?" asked Harriet's mother,
"He looked at me gravely, you know, until I was ashamed of myself,"
the girl confessed, "and then he said: 'Why, Hat, you must know that
Mrs. Coppered was a professional actress?'"
"And a very obscure little actress, at that," finished Mrs. Culver,
"Pacific Coast stock companies or something like that," said
Harriet. "Well, and then, after a minute, he said, so sadly, 'That's
what hurts, although I hate myself for letting it make a
"Duncan said that?" Mrs. Van Winkle was incredulous.
"Poor boy! With one aunt Mrs. Vincent-Hunter and the other an
English duchess! The Coppereds have always been among Boston's best
families. It's terrible," said Mrs. Culver.
"Well, I think it is," the girl agreed warmly. "Judge Clyde Potter's
grandson, and brought up with the very nicest people, and sensitive
as he is--I think it's just too bad it should be Duncan!"
"There's no doubt she was an actress, I suppose, Emily?"
"Well," said Harriet's mother, "it's not denied." She shrugged
"Shall you call, mother?"
"Oh, I shall have to once, I suppose. The Coppereds, you know. Every
one will call on her for Carey's sake," said Mrs. Culver, sighing.
Every one duly called on Mrs. Carey Coppered, when she returned to
Boston; and although she made her mourning an excuse for declining
all formal engagements, she sent out cards for an "at home" on a
Friday in January. She was a thin, graceful woman, with the blue-
black Irish eyes that are set in with a sooty finger, and an
unexpectedly rich, deep voice. Her quiet, almost diffident manner
was obviously accentuated just now by her recent sorrow; but this
did not conceal from her husband's friends the fact that the second
Mrs. Coppered was not of their world. Everything charming she might
be, but to the manner born she was not. They would not meet her on
her own ground, she could not meet them on theirs. In her own home
she listened like a puzzled, silenced child to the gay chatter that
went on about her.
Duncan stood with his father, at his stepmother's side, on her
afternoon at home, prompting her when names or faces confused her,
treating her with a little air of gracious intimacy eminently
becoming and charming under the circumstances. His tact stood
between her and more than one blunder, and it was to be noticed that
she relied upon him even more than upon his father. Carey Coppered,
indeed, hitherto staid and serious, was quite transformed by his joy
and pride in her, and would not have seen a thousand blunders on her
part. The consensus of opinion, among his friends, was that Carey
was "really a little absurd, don't you know?" and that Mrs. Carey
was "quite deliciously odd," and that Duncan was "too wonderful--
poor, dear boy!"
Mrs. Coppered would have agreed that her stepson was wonderful, but
with quite a literal meaning. She found him a real cause for wonder-
-this poised, handsome, crippled boy of nineteen, with his tailor,
and his tutor, and his groom, and the heavy social responsibilities
that bored him so heartily. With the honesty of a naturally
brilliant mind cultivated by hard experience, and much solitary
reading, she was quite ready to admit that her marriage had placed
her in a new and confusing environment; she wanted only to adapt
herself, to learn the strange laws by which it was controlled. And
she would naturally have turned quite simply to Duncan for help.
But Duncan very gently, very coldly, repelled her. He was
representative of his generation. Things were not LEARNED by the
best people; they were instinctively KNOWN. The girls that Duncan
knew--the very children in their nurseries--never hesitated over the
wording of a note of thanks, never innocently omitted the tipping of
a servant, never asked their maid's advice as to suitable frocks and
gloves for certain occasions. All these things, and a thousand more,
his stepmother did, to his cold embarrassment and annoyance.
The result was unfortunate in two ways. Mrs. Coppered shrank under
the unexpressed disapproval into more than her native timidity,
rightly thinking his attitude represented that of all her new world;
and Carey, who worshipped his young wife, perceived at last that
Duncan was not championing his stepmother, and for the first time in
his life showed a genuine displeasure with his son.
This was exquisitely painful to Margaret Coppered. She knew what
father and son had been to each other before her coming; she knew,
far better than Carey, that the boy's adoration of his father was
the one vital passion of his life. Mrs. Ayers, the housekeeper,
sometimes made her heartsick with innocent revelations.
"From the day his mother died, Mrs. Coppered, my dear, when poor
little Master Duncan wasn't but three weeks old, I don't believe he
and his father were separated an hour when they could be together!
Mr. Coppered would take that little owl-faced baby downstairs with
him when he came in before dinner, and 'way into the night they'd be
in the library together, the baby laughing and crowing, or asleep on
a pillow on the sofa. Why, the boy wasn't four when he let the nurse
go, and carried the child off for a month's fishing in Canada! And
when we first knew that the hip was bad, Mr. Coppered gave up his
business and for five years in Europe he never let Master Duncan out
of his sight. The games and the books--I should say the child had a
million lead soldiers! The first thing in the morning it'd be, 'Is
Dad awake, Paul?' and he running into the room; and at noon, coming
back from his ride, 'Is Dad home?' Wonderful to him his father's
"That's why I'm afraid he'll never like me," Margaret was quite
simple enough to say wistfully, in response. "He never laughs out or
chatters, as Mr. Coppered says he used to do."
And after such a conversation she would be especially considerate of
Duncan--find some excuse for going upstairs when she heard the click
of his crutch in the hall, so that he might find his father alone in
the library, or excuse herself from a theatre trip so that they
might be together.
"Oh, I'm so glad the Poindexters want us!" she said one night, over
"Why?" said Carey, amused by her ardor. "We can't go."
"I know it. But they're such nice people, Carey. Duncan will be so
pleased to have them want me!"
Her husband laughed out suddenly, but a frown followed the laugh.
"You're very patient with the boy, Margaret. I--well, I've not been
very patient lately, I'm afraid. He manages to exasperate me so,
with these grandiose airs, that he doesn't seem the same boy at
Mrs. Coppered came over to take the arm of his chair and put her
white fingers on the little furrow between his eyes.
"It breaks my heart when you hurt him, Carey! He broods over it so.
And, after all, he's only doing what they all--all the people he
knows would do!"
"I thought better things of him," said his father.
"If you go to Yucatan in February, Carey," Margaret said, "he and
I'll be here alone, and then we'll get on much smoother, you'll
"I don't know," he said. "I hate to go this year; I hate to leave
But he went, nevertheless, for the annual visit to his rubber
plantation; and Margaret and Duncan were left alone in the big house
for six weeks. Duncan took especial pains to be considerate of his
stepmother in his father's absence, and showed her that he felt her
comfort to be his first care. He came and went like a polite,
unresponsive shadow, spending silent evenings with her in the
library, or acting as an irreproachable and unapproachable escort
when escort was needed. Margaret, watching him, began to despair of
ever gaining his friendship.
Late one wintry afternoon the boy came in from a concert, and was
passing the open door of his step-mother's room when she called him.
He found her standing by one of the big windows, a very girlish
figure in her trim walking-suit and long furs. The face she turned
to him, under her wide hat, was rosy from contact with the nipping
"Duncan," she said, "I've had such a nice invitation from Mrs.
Duncan's face brightened.
"Mrs. Jim?" said he.
"No, indeed!" exulted Margaret, gayly. "Mrs. Clement."
"Oh, I say!" said Duncan, smiling too. For if young Mrs. Jim
Gregory's friendship was good, old Mrs. Clement's was much better.
For the first time, he sat down informally in Margaret's room and
laid aside his crutch.
"She's going to take General and Mrs. Wetherbee up to Snowhill for
three or four days," pursued Margaret, "and the Jim Gregorys and Mr.
Fred Gregory and me. Won't your father be pleased? Now, Duncan, what
clothes do I need?"
"Oh, the best you've got," said Duncan, instantly interested; and,
until it was time to dress for dinner, the two were deep in absorbed
Duncan was whistling as he went upstairs to dress, and his
stepmother was apparently in high spirits. But twenty minutes later,
when he found her in the library, there was a complete change. Her
eyes were worried, her whole manner distressed, and her voice sharp.
She looked up from a telegram as he came in.
"I've just had a wire from an old friend in New York," said she,
"and I want you to telephone the answer for me, will you, Duncan?
I've not a moment to spare. I shall have to leave for New York at
the earliest possible minute. After you've telephoned the wire, will
you find out about the trains from South Station? And get my ticket
and reservation, will you? Or send Paul for them--whatever's
Duncan hardly recognized her. Her hesitation was gone, her
diffidence gone. She did not even look at him as she spoke; his
scowl passed entirely unnoticed. He stood coldly disapproving.
"I don't really see how you can go," he began. "Mrs. Gregory--"
"Yes, I know!" she agreed hastily. "I telephoned. She hadn't come in
yet, so I had to make it a message--simply that Mrs. Coppered
couldn't manage it tomorrow. She'll be very angry, of course.
Duncan, would it save any time to have Paul take this right to the
"Surely," Duncan interrupted in turn, "you're not going to rush off--"
"Oh, surely--surely--surely--I am!" she answered, fretted by his
tone. "Don't tease me, dear boy! I've quite enough to worry over! I-
-I"--she pushed her hair childishly off her face--"I wish devoutly
that your father was here. He always knows in a second what's to be
done! But--but fly with this telegram, won't you?" she broke off
Duncan went. The performance of his errand was not reassuring. The