Part 1 out of 3
E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE MAN IN LONELY LAND
KATE LANGLEY BOSHER
Author of "Mary Cary" and "Miss Gibbie Gault"
TO MY BROTHER
EDWARD PORTIUS LANGLEY
II. THE REQUEST
IV. DOROTHEA AND MR. LAINE
V. THE LOSS OF HIS BEST FRIEND
VI. A LETTER FROM DOROTHEA
VII. AN AFTERNOON CALL
VIII. THE RECEPTION
IX. DOROTHEA ASKS QUESTIONS
X. A DISCOVERY
XI. A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
XII. CHRISTMAS SHOPPING
XIII. MR. LAINE GOES SHOPPING ALONE
XIV. AN INFORMAL VISIT
XV. THE MAN WHO DID NOT KNOW
XVI. A CHANGE OF PLANS
XVII. A VISIT TO VIRGINIA
XXI. A VISIT FROM DOROTHEA
Mr. Winthrop Laine threw his gloves on the table, his overcoat on a
chair, put his hat on the desk, and then looked down at his shoes.
"Soaking wet," he said, as if to them. "I swear this weather would
ruin a Tapley temper! For two weeks rain and sleet and snow and
steam heat to come home to. Hello, General! How are the legs
tonight, old man?" Stooping, he patted softly the big, beautiful
collie which was trying to welcome him, and gently he lifted the
dog's head and looked in the patient eyes.
"No better? Not even a little bit? I'd take half if I could,
General, more than half. It's hard luck, but it's worse not to know
what to do for you." He turned his head from the beseeching eyes.
"For the love of heaven don't look at me like that, General, don't
make it--" His breath was drawn in sharply; then, as the dog made
effort to bark, to raise his right paw in greeting as of old, he put
it down carefully, rang the bell, walked over to the window, and for
a moment looked out on the street below.
The gray dullness of a late November afternoon was in the air of New
York, and the fast-falling snowflakes so thickened it that the people
hurrying this way and that seemed twisted figures of fantastic
shapes, wind-blown and bent, and with a shiver Laine came back and
again stood by General's side.
At the door Moses, his man, waited. Laine turned toward him. "Get
out some dry clothes and see what's the matter with the heat. A
blind man coming in here would think he'd struck an ice-pond." He
looked around and then at the darkey in front of him. "The Lord gave
you a head for the purpose of using it, Moses, but you mistake it at
times for an ornament. Zero weather and windows down from the top
twelve inches! Has General been in here to-day?"
"No, sir. He been in the kitchen 'most all day. You told me this
morning to put fresh air in here and I put, but me and General ain't
been in here since I clean up. He's been powerful poorly to-day,
"I see he has." Laine's hand went to the dog and rested a moment on
his head. "Close up those windows and turn on the lights and see
about the heat. This room is almost as cheerful as a morgue at
"I reckon you done took a little cold, sir." Moses closed the
windows, drew the curtains, turned on more heat, and made the room a
blaze of light. "It's a very spacious room, sir, and for them what
loves books it's very aspirin', but of course in winter-time a room
without a woman or a blazin' fire in it ain't what it might be.
Don't you think you'd better take a little something, sir, to het you
Laine, bending over General, shook his head. "No, I don't. I want
sleep. I came home early to try and get a little, but--"
"You ain't had none to speak of for 'most a week." Moses still
lingered. "I wish you'd let General come in my room to-night. You
can't stand seein' him suffer, and you'll be sick yourself if you
keep a-waitin' on him all night. Can't I get you a little Scotch,
sir, or a hot whiskey punch? I got the water waitin'. They say now
whiskey ain't no permanent cure for colds, but it sure do help you
think it is. Experience is better than expoundin' and--"
Again Laine shook his head. "Get me some dry clothes," he said, then
went to the table and looked over the letters laid in a row upon it.
"Have a taxi-cab here by quarter past six and don't come in again
until I ring. I'm going to lie down."
A few minutes later, on a rug-covered couch, General on the floor
beside him, he was trying to sleep. He was strangely tired, and for
a while his only well-defined feeling was one of impatience at having
to go out. Why must people do so many things they don't want to do?
He put out his hand and smoothed softly General's long ears. Why
couldn't a man be let alone and allowed to live the way he preferred?
Why-- "Quit it," he said, half aloud. "What isn't Why in life is
Wherefore, and guessing isn't your job. Go to sleep."
After a while he opened his eyes and looked around the book-lined
walls. When he first began to invest in books he could only buy one
at a time, and now there was no room for more. He wondered if there
was anything he could buy to-day that would give him the thrill his
first books had given. He had almost forgotten what a thrill could
mean. But who cared for books nowadays? The men and women he knew,
with few exceptions, wouldn't give a twist of their necks to see his,
would as soon think of reading them as of talking Dutch at a
dinner-party, and very probably they were right. Knowledge added
little to human happiness. Science and skill could do nothing for
General. Poor General! Again he smoothed the latter's head. For
years he had barked his good-bye in the morning, for years watched
eagerly his coming, paws on the window-sill as dusk grew on, for
years leaped joyously to meet him on his return, but he would do
these things no longer. There was no chance of betterment, and death
would be a mercy--a painless death which could be arranged. But he
had said no, said it angrily when the doctor so suggested, and had
tried a new man, who was deceiving him.
"You are all I have, General"--his hand traveled softly up and down
the length of the dog's back--"and somewhere you must wait for me.
I've got to stay on and play the game, and it's to be played
straight, but when it's called I sha'n't be sorry."
From a box on a table close to him he took a cigar, lighted it, and
watched its spirals of smoke curl upward. Life and the smoke that
vanisheth had much in common. On the whole, he had no grievance
against life. If it was proving a rather wearisome affair it was
doubtless his own fault, and yet this finding of himself alone at
forty was hardly what he had intended. There was something actually
comic about it. That for which he had striven had been secured, but
for what? Success unshared is of all things ironic, and soon not
even General would be here to greet him when the day's work was done.
He blew out a thin thread of smoke and followed its curvings with
half-shut eyes. He had made money, made it honestly, and it had
brought him that which it brought others, but if this were all life
had to give--He threw his cigar away, and as General's soft breathing
reached him he clasped his hands at the back of his head and stared
up at the ceiling.
Why didn't he love his work as he used to? He had played fair, but
to play fair was to play against the odds, and there were times when
he hated the thing which made men fight as fiercely to-day as in the
days of the jungle, though they no longer sprang at each other's
throats. On the whole, he preferred the cavemen's method of attack.
They at least fought face to face. As for women--
He got up, stooped down, and patted General softly. "I'm sorry to
leave you, old man, but you'll sleep and I won't be long. Why Hope
didn't telephone what she wanted me to do, instead of beseeching me
to come to her that she might tell me, is beyond male understanding.
But we don't try to understand women, do we, General?"
The big brown eyes of the collie looked up in his master's face and
in them was beseeching adoration. With painful effort he laid first
one paw and then the other on Laine's hand, and as the latter stroked
them he barked feebly.
For a moment there was silence, the silence of understanding
comrades, then Laine turned away and began to dress.
Hands in his pockets and back to the fire, Mr. Winthrop Laine looked
around the room which his sister, Mrs. Channing Warrick, believed was
a library, and again wondered why she had sent for him instead of
telephoning what she wanted. He wasn't going to do it. That is, if
it were one of the old pleadings that he would come to her parties or
go to some one else's he would decline to do it, and usually the
important matter on which she must see him proved something of that
sort. Five years ago he had cut out things of this kind and--
"Oh, Winthrop, I'm so glad you've come!" Laine stooped and kissed his
sister. "And going out to prove it." In a gown of clinging silver
over soft satin she was very lovely, and as he held her off he looked
at her critically. "That is a pretty dress you have on, but there
isn't enough of it. What on earth did you make me come for if you're
going out? When a man is my age he is privileged to stay at home and
enjoy himself, not--"
Mrs. Channing Warrick stopped the buttoning of her long white gloves
and looked up in her brother's face. "Do you enjoy yourself when you
stay at home?"
"I enjoy myself much more at home than in other people's houses.
Where are you going to-night?"
"To the Warings. There'll be cards after dinner. I suppose you
"I wasn't invited."
"Hilda wanted you, but knew it was useless." Again the big blue eyes
were raised to her brother's. "What makes you so horrid, Winthrop?
If you go on ignoring people as you do--"
"I'll have to have paid pall-bearers at my funeral, won't I? Not a
bad idea. Well, why this summons to-night?"
Mrs. Warrick pressed the last button of her glove securely, eased her
skirt over her hips, and sat down carefully. "To ask you to do
something for me," she said. "Channing won't be back until
to-morrow, and there is no one to meet her except Decker if you
don't. Outside of an automobile Decker has no sense and--"
"Meet whom?" Laine flicked the ashes from his cigar into the grate.
"Who is it you want me to meet?"
"Claudia Keith. She is a cousin of Channing's and lives somewhere in
Virginia on the Rappahannock River, miles from a railroad, and has
never been to New York alone before. I thought I had told you she
was coming, but I see you so seldom lately that I forget what I tell
you and what I don't. The children think it's inhuman. After a
while you won't know how to behave in company, and what will your old
books and your money matter if--"
"By and by nothing will matter, my dear, but Decker's honk will be
heard before I understand what you're getting at, if you don't hurry.
What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to meet the nine-fifteen train from the South and--"
"Pick out an unknown person and bring her to a hostless house? I
wish I was as nice as you think I am, dear madam, but I'm not. I
suppose you also want me to apologize to your guest for your absence
from home, tell her a pretty fairy tale and say--"
"If you'd say the right thing I'd like you to make up something, but
you wouldn't. I certainly have no idea of breaking an engagement,
however, just to be home when a country cousin of Channing's arrives.
Being such an out-of-the-world sort of person she may think it is
strange, so please tell her--"
"I'll tell her nothing." Laine lighted a fresh cigar. "I'm going
"But you can't! You're to stay to dinner, that's why I didn't
telephone you about Claudia. The children chose taking dinner with
you as their compensation for having to stay in on account of the
weather, and they're hanging over the banisters this very minute."
Mrs. Warrick got up and with care straightened her skimpy skirts.
"Please don't let them eat too much. They can have--"
"Not a bit more than they want." Laine took the white fur coat which
the maid had laid on the chair a minute before and held it for his
sister to put on. "All this sloppy stuff given to children of the
present day will mean anemic men and women to-morrow. I'll take
dinner with them, and if they are sick I'll take the blame, but not
if the Virginian has opinions of her own concerning modern manners.
Are you sure you're well wrapped?"
"Sure. I hope Decker can find her, but I doubt it. Maybe she can
manage by herself. Anyway, I've done all I could. Good night, and
please don't let the children eat too much of a mixture. You'll come
and see Claudia, won't you?"
Laine shook his head. "I haven't time."
"Time! Of all nonsense!" She turned and kissed him. "The children
will have you at dinner, anyhow, and that's why I sent for you. Good
night, mean man!"
She gathered up her skirts, and Laine, following her to the door, at
which the second man stood waiting to throw a roll of carpet down the
snow-sprinkled steps to the car at the curb, watched it until the
corner was turned, then walked toward the dining-room, where two
young people threw two pair of arms around his legs and rent the air
with two ecstatic shrieks.
"There's turkey and giblet gravy and salad and loads of things, Uncle
Winthrop, and I am going to sit at the head of the table, and Timkins
says I may pour the coffee for you in the library, and--"
"Mother said I could have some ice-cream and two pieces of cake if
they weren't very big." And Channing Warrick, Junior, aged seven,
made effort to remove Dorothea Warrick, aged ten, from her point of
vantage next her uncle's right hand. But breath was lost in the high
toss given him by the strong arms which had sent him in the air, and
as he landed on his feet he laughed in gasping delight.
"Come on." Dorothea's voice was eager. "It's ready, and so am I,
and at eight we've got to be in bed."
As he took his seat at the perfectly appointed table, Mr. Winthrop
Laine nodded at first one child and then the other. "What very piggy
relations I have," he said, opening his napkin. "Not a word of
greeting to an ancient uncle, but just an announcement of what there
is to eat. One would think you were starving."
"We are." Dorothea laid down her napkin and got up. "Excuse me for
leaving my seat, but mother 'said we could have a good time to-night,
and we can't if we're particular about manners. I hate manners. I
guess I get it from you, Uncle Winthrop. I heard Miss Robin French
say you didn't have any. She said she'd invited you to her house a
dozen times, and you'd never been once, or made a party call or
"What's a party call?" Channing's mouth was full of soup. "What's a
party call, Uncle Winthrop?"
"It's the penalty one has to pay for being invited where one doesn't
want to go. What were you saying, Dorothea?"
"I've forgotten. Channing is just as rude as if he were somebody!
Oh yes--I started to say I'm sorry we were piggy about mentioning the
food first. We've been crazy to see you. We had something to tell
you. I think I'll sit down here right by you; it's too far off
behind those flowers, and I'll kiss you now if you don't mind." And
Dorothea's arms were around her uncle's neck and her cheek was laid
lovingly to his.
"Of course." Laine unfastened the arms, drew the child's head down,
kissed her, and patted the little hands before sending their owner to
her seat. "Being the beginning of a woman you kiss and make up,
which is more than your heathen brother does. Not another one!" The
dish of almonds was withdrawn from Channing's reach. "Let me see
your hands, sir! And you a member of polite society! Ah, here's the
turkey. And it's the drumstick you said you wanted, did you,
Channing? Drumsticks were put on turkeys just for little boys. I
always got the drumstick and the gizzard."
"I don't want any drumsticks!" Channing's lips quivered. "I want--"
"And he can't have the gizzard, Uncle Winthrop, really he can't.
Maybe you don't know about Fletcherizing, and you ought to be
thankful you don't, but you can't Fletcherize a gizzard, not if you
chew all night, and if there's breast enough for everybody, I think
he'd better have that. And I'll take plenty of gravy, please, and
stuffing, if there's oysters in it. Wait a minute!" Dorothea's hand
went up and her head went down. "I'd like to say grace: 'I thank
Thee, Lord, for this sure-enough food and for Uncle Winthrop being
here, and please let it happen again and don't let it make us sick.
Through the grace Channing's fork had been suspended, but his jaws
had not stopped work; and at the last word he leaned forward and made
a dive for the olives, two of which he put in his mouth at once.
To the man at the foot of the table the situation was perplexing.
His niece and nephew, born of wealth and surrounded by abundance,
were eating with the eagerness of little pigs; eating as if afraid
their plates would be withdrawn before they had had their fill. On
the tip of Channing's nose a drop of gravy glistened in the
candle-light, and Dorothea was swallowing much too rapidly for health.
Looking up, she caught her uncle's eye and leaned back in her chair.
Hands on her breast and eyes half closed, she sighed regretfully.
"I'm full already, and we're not half through," she said, and
beckoned to the butler, who came closer. "What kind of salad is it,
Timkins, and is there mayonnaise on it or that thin stuff?"
Timkins coughed slightly behind his hand. "It's mushrooms and white
grapes with mayonnaise, I think, Miss, but--"
Dorothea's eyes closed tightly. "Just my luck. I've never tasted it
but once, and it's perfectly grand, Uncle Winthrop. Mother had it
for lunch the day that scraggy-looking woman and her daughter were
here from London. Mother said she was Lady somebody, but our cook is
much nicer-looking on Sundays. She didn't eat her salad."
"You ate it." Channing's fork was pointed accusingly at Dorothea.
"You licked the plate."
"I certainly did." Dorothea stood up, shook herself, sat down again,
and carefully arranged her knife and fork. "We were in the pantry.
Antoinette was ill and Timkins let us come in. You see, Uncle
Winthrop, it's this way. We are scientifics, Channing and I. We've
been brought up on a book, and we don't get enough to eat. Mother
says everything has been learned out of science now--I mean about how
much children can eat, and how much they can drink, and how much air
they can sleep in, and how to breathe right, and Antoinette says when
we were little we used to be weighed every day. And that's why we
stuff so when we get a chance. I'm ten, going on eleven."
"And I'm seven, going on eight"--Channing had not yet yielded the
turkey in sight for the salad to come, and his fork was still being
steadily applied--"and all we have for supper--"
"Is bread and milk." Dorothea's hand waved silence to Channing.
"Antoinette says the milk is magnificent, but I'd rather have
something with more taste that isn't so grand. I wish I'd been born
before all this science had been found out. If we sneeze we have to
be sprayed, and if we cough we're sterilized or something, and the
only word in the English language Antoinette pronounces right is
germs! You'd think they were ghosts, the way she lifts her eyes and
raises her hands when she says it. And she don't know what they are,
either. Did you kiss me when I was a baby, Uncle Winthrop?"
"In the mouth?"
"In the mouth."
"Well, they don't let anybody kiss babies that way now. But if ever
I have any I'm going to let people kiss them and squeeze them, too.
I mean nice people. I don't believe in scientifics for children."
"But, my dear Miss Warrick"--Mr. Laine was also waiting on his young
nephew--"suppose your husband does. Surely a man should have some
say in the upbringing of his family!"
"Father don't." Dorothea leaned forward and selected an olive
critically. "Father would let us have anything we want, but he says
mother must decide. He's so busy he hasn't time to see about
children. He has to make the money to buy us--"
"Milk." Channing pushed his plate back. "I hate milk. Gee! I'm
full. You can have my salad, Dorothea, if you'll give me your
ice-cream. It didn't make you sick the day you ate all that lady
"You ate leavings!" Laine's voice made effort to be horrified.
"Dorothea Warrick ate leavings from a lady's plate!"
"It wasn't leavings. She didn't touch it. I was peeping through the
door and I heard her say she never ate trash. It was grand. Nobody
told me not to eat it, and I ate."
"An inherited habit, my dear." Laine put the almonds, the olives,
and the mints beyond the reach of little arms. "Once upon a time
there was a lady who lived in a garden and she ate something she
ought not to have eaten and thereby made great trouble. She had been
told not to, but being a woman--"
"I know about her. She was Eve." Dorothea took some almonds from
her uncle's plate and put one in her mouth. "She was made out of
Adam's rib, and Adam was made out of the dust of the earth. Ever
since she ate that apple everybody has been made of dust, Antoinette
Channing sat upright, in his big blue eyes doubt and distress. "Was
Dorothea and me made out of dust, Uncle Winthrop?"
"Dust, mere dust, my man."
For a moment there was silence and seeming thought, then Dorothea's
head bobbed up and down. "Well, we can't help it, and there's no use
letting things hurt that you can't help! But I don't think mother
knows, Uncle Winthrop, and please don't tell her. She just hates
dirt. Gracious goodness! I'm as full as a frog, and the ice-cream's
got chocolate on it, too!"
In the library some minutes later Dorothea was pouring her uncle's
coffee, and as he took the cup she brought him he bowed
ceremoniously, then put it down to light a cigar. There were times
when he wished Dorothea were his. If she were his-- He took a long
whiff of his cigar and threw the match in the fire.
DOROTHEA AND MR. LAINE
"Pardonnez-moi!" Mademoiselle Antoinette stood at the door. Around
and about her hung blushing apology, and her hands clasped and
unclasped in nervous appeal. The hour had struck and her little
charges must come. Would Monsieur pardon? She was so sorry, it was
sad, but Madame would not like it. "Oh, of course!" Laine waved his
hand. "Good night, Buster!" Channing was tossed in the air. "If
the gobblers get you to-night, don't mind. They're just turkey.
Good night, Miss Wisdom!" Stooping, he kissed Dorothea and unwound
the arms with which she clung to him. "I'm sorry, child, but a
bargain is a bargain, and your mother won't trust us if we don't play
fair-- It's after eight and--" "But I haven't told you what was the
specialest thing I had to--" Dorothea turned to the woman standing
in the door holding her brother's hand; spoke to her rapidly.
"Je vous en prie, Mademoiselle Antoinette, Prenez Channing et ne
m'attendez pas. Je vous rejoindrai dans un instant. J'ai quelque
chose de tres important a dier a mon oncle--deux minutes et j'arrive!"
Antoinette hesitated, then, with a gesture of despair, left the room;
and instantly Dorothea was on a stool at her uncle's feet.
"Did you know?" Elbows on his knees and chin in the palms of her
hands she looked up eagerly in his face. "Did you know my cousin
Claudia was coming to-night?"
"Isn't it grand!" Dorothea's hands came together, and in another
minute she was dancing round and round the room, the tip ends of her
skirt held by her fingers. "I'm crazy about my cousin Claudia.
She's my only correspondent, the only one I love to write to, I mean.
She writes things I like to hear about, and Christmas she sends me
something I want. That's the way we began to write. She sent me a
present, and father made me thank her in writing myself, and then she
wrote me and we've been friends ever since."
Laine knocked the ashes from his cigar toward the grate. "I didn't
know you knew Miss Keith."
"I don't. But I'm going to like her all right. Some things you know
right here"--she put her hand on her breast. "Father's been wanting
mother to ask her for a long time, but mother said she knew she
didn't have clothes like New York people wore, and it might make her
feel badly. I heard them talking one night, and father said the
Keiths didn't have to depend on their clothes to show where they
belonged, so mother invited her; but I don't think she wanted to very
much. Do you suppose?"--she came toward him, and, with her hands on
the arms of his chair, searched his face--"Do you suppose she will be
"I really couldn't guess. People who live in the backwoods and miles
from a railroad are not apt to be leaders of fashion. Doubtless her
hands will be red and her face will be red and her hair will be red,
"I don't care how red she is, I'm going to love her. I can tell by
her letters!" Dorothea's shoulders were back and her eyes were
shining. "And I don't see why you say things like that! I don't
think you are very polite!"
"I don't, either. I think I'm very impolite. It may be, you know,
that her eyes will be blue and her lips will be blue and her skin
will be blue--"
"And that will be worse than red. I thought you were going to be
glad she was coming. Aren't you glad?"
"Shall I tell the truth, or be polite?"
"Impossible! If I told you I was glad I would be untruthful; if
sorry, I would be impolite."
"But why aren't you glad? Are you too old to be glad over young
Laine laughed. "I think I am. Yes, I'm sure that's what's the
matter. Not for some years have I been glad over them, I don't care
for girls older than you are, Dorothea. When they reach the grown-up
"Claudia has reached the age of twenty-six. She told me so in one of
her letters. What age have you reached, Uncle Winthrop?"
"Is that very old?" Dorothea came closer, and her fingers slipped in
and out of Laine's hair. "You're gray just a teensy bit, but I don't
think she's a person who will mind if a man isn't truly young.
You've got such nice strong arms, and I'm not afraid of lions or
tigers or bears or--or mice or anything when you are with me. Please
like her, Uncle Winthrop!" Dorothea's face was pressed against
Laine's. "Next to father and mother and Channing I love you best,
and I think I'm going to love her next after you."
From the steps outside Antoinette was calling, and Dorothea nodded
her head at her uncle. "That's another thing my children are not
going to have. They are never going to have a French governess to
put them to bed and make them say their prayers in French. I don't
believe the Lord likes it. Good night, Uncle Winthrop. I hope my
cousin Claudia will be politer about you than you've been about her,
and I know she hasn't red hands." She waved her own and threw a kiss,
but as she reached the door Laine called her back.
"Come here, Dorothea."
She turned and came toward him. "Did you call me, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I did." He drew her on his knees. "Did you say you said your
prayers in French?"
"Every night, unless for punishment I have to say a German one.
Channing just shuffles his out and runs all the words together so I
don't believe even God can understand them. I don't like French
"Then why do you say them?"
"Oh, we have to! All the children I know say their prayers in
French. One day six of us had a race to see which could say them
fastest and say the most. I beat. Want to hear me?"
"Indeed I don't!" Laine's voice was emphatic. "But I don't like
French prayers for little American girls. I never cared for parrots
"What kind do you say, French or American?" Dorothea was stroking
her uncle's fingers one by one. "I always say my real prayers inside
after I get in bed--that is, if I'm not too sleepy; and they're just
plain talking to the Lord. You see, we are not allowed to speak one
word except in French to Antoinette, and mother likes us to speak it
to her, only she is always in such a hurry she forgets half the time.
We speak English to father, all right, though; father says French for
breakfast is all foolishness, and I think so, too. We take breakfast
with father every morning, and we just have a grand time. Mother is
never very well in the mornings, so she don't get up; but we take
lunch with her when there isn't company and she isn't going out. Did
you know the Dufferns had a new baby at their house?"
Laine shook his head.
"They have. It's a girl. They had four girls already, and Julia
says they're going to change their doctor. He always brings girls."
Dorothea slipped from her uncle's lap. "I know what that means.
Whenever she says 'Madam-ois-elle Doro-thea!' through her nose it's a
German prayer. Good night." And this time she was gone.
Laine followed her to the steps to take upon himself the
responsibility of her delay, and as he came back in the room he
glanced at the clock and took out his watch. It wouldn't do for a
girl from the country to get into New York alone at this time of
night, and, of course, he would have to meet her; but why did she
come at this hour of night? Ringing for his coat and hat, he put
them on, then stopped to light a cigar, and as the match was held to
it the front door-bell rang sharply. A moment later some one was
talking to Timkins.
"Is this Mr. Warrick's residence?"
The voice that asked the question was fresh and clear, and carried
easily to where he stood. He looked around quickly as if for escape.
"Yes'm." He could picture the bow Timkins was making. Timkins was
the politest person he knew. "Yes'm, and this is Miss Keith, isn't
it? Just come in, ma'm, we're expecting of you, though your train
must have been a little earlier than usual, ma'm. Mr. Warrick is out
of town, and Mrs. Warrick had a pressing engagement which couldn't be
denied, but she left messages for you, and I think a note. Yes'm,
just this way." And Timkins, knowing Laine was in the library, led
the stranger past the door and up the steps, over the banisters of
which was heard from Dorothea a cry of delight.
"Oh, my Cousin Claudia! My Cousin Claudia! I'm so glad you've come!
I'm so glad!"
A laugh as fresh as the dawn of perfect morning followed the kisses
next heard, and then the new voice spoke again.
"You precious child! I'm so glad you're glad. It's so nice to have
somebody glad to see you!"
THE LOSS OF HIS BEST FRIEND
At the click of Laine's latch-key Moses started from the doze into
which he had fallen and jumped to his feet. "Lord, sir, I sure is
glad you've come," he said, following Laine into the library.
"Gineral's been mighty bad off since you went away, and one time I
thought he was plumb gone. He done had what you might call a
faintin' fit if'n he was a person."
"Where is he?" Laine's voice was quick, and his eyes swept the room.
"What have you done for him?"
"He laid himself on the rug in your room, sir, and I give him a
little brandy and water. Most in general that will hit the spot
and--" But Laine was in his room, and Moses, following, saw him on
his knees by the rug, his right arm under the dog's head, his left on
the heart which was barely beating, and softly he tiptoed out again.
For an hour or so he stayed away, wandering between his room and the
kitchen, the kitchen and the dining-room, and back again to his room,
talking to himself in an undertone; and presently he sat down by a
table and began to turn the pages of a family Bible which adorned it,
and which he had presented to himself the Christmas before.
"It do beat all how he love that dog," he said, as if to some one at
his side, "and it's a-goin' to make a hole in his heart when he's
gone. I never seen anybody set such store on a thing what ain't a
human being as he do on Gineral, and as for Gineral--if a dog could
do what you call worship, he sure do worship Mr. Laine. They was
partners, them two, and it will be a quiet place when Gineral ain't
here any more."
Slowly he turned page after page of the big-printed Bible, with its
illuminated text; but presently he closed it. "I've read right much
of it, and I've heard a heap of it expounded, but I haven't got no
recollections of any references to the passing of dogs in it," he
continued, taking out a plug of tobacco and cutting off a good-sized
piece. "I wish there was. When something you love is leavin' you,
you have a mighty sinkin' feeling in the pit of your stomach, and a
terrible understandin' of the unableness of man. And then it is you
feel a reachin' out after something what ain't man. Mr. Laine is
mighty learned, but learnin' ain't no cure for loneliness, and
Gineral is all he's got. And I tell you now, this comin' home to
empty rooms is cold comin'."
Moses was speaking to the wall opposite, but the wall not replying he
got up and tip-toed to Laine's bedroom. Looking up, Laine saw him
and called him in.
"Go to bed, Moses," he said, and his voice was very tired. "There is
nothing you can do. If I need you I will let you know."
Moses shook his head. "I ain't a-goin' to bed, Mr. Laine. You can
make me go out if you want to, but if I ain't intrudin' I would like
Slowly the hours passed. From the street occasional stirrings
reached them faintly; but in the room only short breathing broke the
silence. As day dawned Moses, from his seat near the door, spoke:
"Well." Laine did not look up.
"When dogs die do they live again?"
"I don't know."
"I don't reckon anybody knows. But that don't mean they don't. If I
was as certain I was fixed for heaven as I know Gineral is a-goin' to
be waitin' for you somewhere, I'd feel more reconcilement to death.
Some things can die and some things can't. There ain't no time limit
to love, Mr. Laine. I think"--Moses got up--"I think Gineral is
trying to make you understand something, sir."
Half an hour later Laine called Moses back into the room, gave a few
orders, changed his clothes, and without waiting for breakfast went
out, and not until dark did he come in again.
Dinner was a pretense, and presently he pushed his coffee aside,
lighted a cigar, and took up the evening paper. The headlines were
glaring, but he passed them quickly. Telegraphic news was skimmed,
stock reports and weather conditions glimpsed unheedingly, and the
editorial page ignored, and, finally, with a gesture of weariness, he
threw the paper on the floor and went into the library.
It was, as Moses had said, a very spacious room, and its furnishings
were distinctive; but, though warm and brightly lighted, to stay in
it to-night was impossible, and, ringing for his coat and hat, he
made ready to go out.
At the table he lingered a moment and glanced at some letters upon
it. Mechanically he took one up, looked at the writing of his name,
and wondered indifferently who it was from. Breaking it open, he
read the few words it contained, and at them his face colored and he
bit his lips to hide their twitching. He read:
DEAR MR. LAINE,--Dorothea has just told me. I
am so sorry. CLAUDIA KEITH.
With a sudden surrender to something stubbornly withheld, he sat down
in the chair near the table, leaned back in it, and closed his eyes
to keep back that which stung and blinded them. To most of his
friends the going of General would be but the going of a dog, and
barely a passing thought would be its portion when they heard, but
she must understand. He got up. No. There was no one who could
A LETTER PROM DOROTHEA
For a moment he hesitated whether to go down or up the street. The
air was biting, but the snow, fairly well cleaned from the sidewalks,
no longer bothered; and, crossing into Madison Avenue, he turned down
and began to walk rapidly toward that part of the city where there
would be few people and little glare, and as he walked unconsciously
he repeated over and over to himself: "Dorothea has just told me. I
am so sorry."
"Mister, please, sir, buy a paper?" He stopped abruptly. The boy in
front of him stamped first one foot and then the other, and the hand
he held out was rough and red. Drawing it back he blew on it for a
"What are you doing out this time of night?" Laine asked the question
hardly knowing why. "You ought to be home in bed."
"Ain't got no home." The boy laughed cheerfully, and again put his
fist to his mouth and blew upon it. "I'm sleepin' with another boy
this week, but I have to pay him. Please buy a paper, Mister!"
Under his breath Laine caught himself saying something, then handed
the boy a piece of money and passed on. Where was he, anyhow?
Surely he was in no mood for the life of this neighborhood. It was
one he had seldom been in, and as he looked at its houses dull wonder
filled him as to their occupants. To keep breath in their bodies
meant sordid struggle and bitter strife, but possibly they were
happy. Certainly he had long since learned the possession of mere
material things did not mean happiness. He had long since learned a
great many things it was unfortunate to know.
A clock in the church near by struck ten, and turning he went over
into the Avenue and began his walk up-town. As he reached Madison
Square he looked at the empty benches and wondered as to the fate of
the derelicts who daily filled them in warm weather, and wondered if
they, too, wondered what it was all for--this thing called life.
In contrast to the traffic of the day the stillness of the Avenue was
puzzling. Only the whir of an automobile or the occasional hoofbeats
of a cab-horse broke the silence, and hardly less dark than the
tenements just passed were its handsome houses, with their closed
shutters and drawn curtains, and the restless occupants therein. As
he reached the Park he stopped, hesitated, and lighted a fresh cigar.
Three squares away was his sister's house, and in it was the girl
with the fresh, clear voice. He took the note she had sent him out
of his pocket, and in the light hanging just above him looked again
at the firm, clear writing, then put it back. Did she, too, wonder
at life, at its emptiness and aimlessness? Her voice did not sound
as if she were tired of it or found it wearisome. It sounded like a
very happy voice.
At his door he turned the latch-key, and for a moment--a bare
moment--drew back; then, with a shiver, he opened the door and went
Moses was waiting. "Miss Dorothea she called me up, sir, and told me
to be sure and give you this letter to-night. She slip out of bed to
telephone when that French white lady was out the room, she say. She
had her Ma send it by messenger, and she was so 'fraid you wouldn't
get it to-night she couldn't sleep. She sent a peck of love."
Laine took the letter and went to his room. Dorothea was given to
letters, and if his absence was unduly long a communication to that
effect was promptly received. He had seen her last night, however.
What was she wanting now? Breaking the seal, he read the sprawly
writing with narrowed eyes, then read again, that he might miss no
DEAR UNCLE WINTHROP,--Moses telefoned us and Channing and I have just
cried and cried and cried. But I won't even call his name if you
will only come and let me kiss you so you will know. We wanted to
send you some flowers but Claudia said our love was best. She is so
sorry too. She had one and it died last spring. I had a headake
to-day. It came from my heart because of you and she made it go
away. I think she could make most any kind of pain go away. And her
hands are not red and her hair is brown and her lashes are brown too,
and long and lovely. I don't know the color of her eyes. I think
they are glad color. I love her! I knew I would.
Your devoted niece, DOROTHEA.
P. S.--I told her you didn't like young ladies and she said she
didn't like old gentlemen, except a few. Please, P-L-E-A-S-E come
and see me--and you can come in the nursery if you don't want to see
her. She knows.
Your loving niece,
P. S. Again.--You ought to hear her laugh. Its delishus.
He put the letter back in the envelope, and the envelope in his
pocket. "She knows," he repeated. What under heaven had Dorothea
been telling her? He must see Dorothea and have it stopped. Did she
think him a feeble and infirm person who leaned on a stick, or a
crabbed and cross one who had no manners? He would have to call, if
only to thank her for her note. No. He would do that in writing.
Next week, perhaps, he might drop in and see Dorothea. But Hope and
Channing should take the girl about, show her the city. Certainly
Hope could not be so idiotic as to let clothes matter. In his
sister's world clothes were the insignia of its order, and of late
Hope had shown signs that needed nipping. He must see Hope. Next
week would be time enough, but Hope and Dorothea must both be seen.
AN AFTERNOON CALL
"How do you do? Oh, how do you do, too, Miss Keith?" Miss Robin
French held out a hand first to Mrs. Channing Warrick and then to her
guest and shook their hands with vigor.
"Did you ever know such weather at this season of the year? Even
heat and cold are no longer like they used to be. Everything is
intensified. Indeed I will have some tea! No lemon, and one lump.
One. That's a sick-looking fire, Hope. Good gracious! I just did
catch that vase of flowers! Such a stupid fancy, putting flowers
everywhere for people to knock over. Well, Miss Keith, have you
gotten your breath since you reached New York? Something of a town,
A gulp of hot tea, taken standing by Miss French, gave pause for a
moment, and Claudia Keith instinctively drew her feet up under her
chair behind the tea-table. To duck her head, as one would dodge an
on-coming deluge, was an impulse, but only with her feet could effort
be made for self-preservation, and as she refilled the cup held out
to her by the breezy visitor she blessed the table which served as a
breastwork of defense. With a hasty movement she put in the one lump
and handed the cup back. "I breathe here very well," she said, and
smiled into the scrutinizing eyes. "New York is very wonderful."
"And very disagreeable eight months out of the twelve." Miss French
put her cup on the table, threw her fur coat on the chair behind her,
sat down, and, taking the cup again, drank its entire contents.
"Pretty good tea, Hope; at most places it's undrinkable." Again she
handed the cup to Claudia. "One more and that's all. I'm cutting
out tea a bit--only twelve cups a day now."
"Twelve!" The exclamation was beyond recall. Claudia's hand stopped
in its pouring. "Twelve!"
"That's what I said. Have taken thirty many times, but the doctor
thought I was getting nerves and called me down. Nerves!" Miss
French's nose went up. "Nerves and nonsense are twin sisters, and
I've no opinion of either. How did you like the opera last night?"
The question being addressed apparently to the cigarette Miss French
took out of a little silver case, lighted, and began to smoke,
neither Mrs. Warrick nor Miss Keith answered, each waiting for the
other; but it did not matter, Miss French was looking at a photograph
in front of her. With lorgnette to her eyes, she examined it
"Rather a good picture of your brother, Hope. Didn't know he'd do
anything so human as have a picture taken." She took it up.
"Winthrop would hardly take prizes at a beauty show, but he's
certainly all there for something better. When did you get this?"
"A month ago, I guess." Mrs. Warrick took a log from the basket on
the hearth and put it on the andirons. "The editors of the Review
made him send his picture when that article of his came out on 'Tax
Terrors and Tax Traditions.' Channing says it's the best thing
that's been written on taxation for years, and in banking circles--"
"He's earned his pedestal." Miss French put down her cigarette and
handed the case to Claudia.
Claudia shook her head. "Thanks. I don't--"
"Pity. You've lots to learn yet. Most of you Southerners have, but
when you catch up you speed all right. I'll give you this for
nothing--don't toboggan all at once. Have you seen this picture of
Hope's crank of a brother? You needn't expect to meet him. He comes
of good Vermont stock, and its granite is no firmer than his
principles; but he has no manners. I've known him fifteen years and
am qualified to speak."
"He has got manners!" Mrs. Warrick turned indignantly toward Miss
French. "Claudia only got here Thursday night, and Winthrop has been
"Busy! You're dippy about Winthrop, Hope. He's the most indifferent
human being to other human beings that walks this earth, and has more
friends--men friends--than any man I know. He's rotten spoiled;
that's what's the matter with him. He's been chased, I admit. What
uncaught man of means isn't? I've no patience with Winthrop. It's
natural young girls should bore him, but that's no reason why he
should live so entirely to himself."
"Perhaps"--Claudia took up a letter from the table in front of her
and with it tapped her lips absently--"perhaps he prefers to live
that way. I wonder, Miss French, if you can tell me where
Kroonstater's is? No one here seems to know, and every day I get
further commissions from my county which can only be filled there.
Years ago some one from Brooke Bank bought wonderful and marvelous
Christmas things from Kroonstater's, and ever since it's been the one
store in New York for many of our people. I must find it."
"Kroonstater's?" Miss French again put up her lorgnette. "Never
heard of it."
Claudia laughed. "I see you, too, have something to learn. You
don't know the joy of shopping if you don't know a store of that
kind. I suppose I'll have to find it by myself."
"For goodness' sake don't, Claudia." Mrs. Warrick got up; some one
at the telephone wanted her. "I passed one of those downtown stores
once, and the crowd in it was something awful. You never know what
kind of disease you might catch, and the people are so pushy. All
the nice stores have Christmas things."
"I don't doubt it." Claudia smiled. "But Brooke Bank people have
ideas of their own. Their demands are many, and their dollars few.
And, then, I love to see the crowd. Their pennies are as important
as our pounds, and to watch their spending is the best kind of a
"Where did you say you came from?" Miss French surveyed the girl in
front of her with sudden interest. Something new under the sun was
ever the quest of her inquiries and pursuits, and as if she had
possibly found it she looked closer at her friend's guest. Not the
youth, not the fair skin now flushed with color that came and went,
nor the long dark lashes, nor perfect teeth, nor anything that could
be named made the girl distinctive, but something well-defined and
penetrating. Again she asked the question. "Where did you say you
"From Virginia. Have you ever been there?"
Miss French shook her head.
Claudia sat up. In her eyes no longer laughter, and incredulity that
was genuine. "You mean you _never_ have been to Virginia?"
Elbows on the table and chin in the palms of her hands, Claudia
looked at Miss French as intently as Miss French looked at Claudia.
"Then you've never heard, I suppose, of the Northern Neck, or
Westmoreland County, or Essex, or Lancaster, or King George, or--"
"Never. Quite English, aren't they? Is that where you live?"
"I live in Essex. We're on the Rappahannock. There isn't a railroad
in the county. We have to take the boat for Fredericksburg or
Norfolk to get anywhere, unless we cross the river into Westmoreland
County and drive over to the Potomac side and make the boat to
Washington. Have you ever been to Washington?"
"Of course. I've been pretty well over the world."
"And left out its best part!" Claudia laughed and got up to turn the
logs which were smoking. "You mustn't die before seeing it. There
isn't so much to see, perhaps, but a good deal to feel. Do you like
"Never tried it." Again Miss French looked at the girl now standing
in front of her. She was certainly not a plate of fashion--that is,
not a French plate--but she was graceful, and her clothes were really
very good. Her unconsciousness of self was rather astounding in a
"I think you'd like a fox-hunt. I will miss the big one this
year--Thanksgiving comes so late, and Christmas there's no time."
"Christmas in the country must be very stupid."
"Stupid!" Claudia's hands, which had been clasped behind her back,
opened and came together on her breast. "Of course"--her eyes were
raised to Miss French's--"it's a point of view, I suppose. We don't
think it's stupid. We love it."
Miss French got up, put her cigarette-case in her velvet hand-bag,
slipped on her coat, fastened her veil, picked up her muff, shook it,
and looked toward the door, between whose curtains Mrs. Warrick was
"I thought you'd gone for good, Hope. You must have been telling all
you knew, and more. Miss Keith was just saying she loved Christmas
in the country. I can't imagine anything worse, unless it's
Christmas in town. I hate Christmas! If I could go to sleep a week
before, and not wake up until a week after, I'd surely do it. Why,
On her way to the door Miss Robin French stood still and looked at
the man coming in; and over her ruddy face swept color, almost purple
in its deepness. She was a handsome woman, stubbornly resisting the
work of time. In her eyes was restless seeking, in her movements an
energy that could not be exercised in the limits of her little world;
and Claudia, watching her, felt sudden whimsical sympathy. She was
so big, so lordly, so hungrily unhappy.
She held out her hand. "How do you do?" she said. "I am just going
home, as your sister hasn't asked me to dinner. I suppose you will
"If there's to be any dinner. Hope has a way of cutting it out every
now and then." He turned to his sister. "Are you going out to-night?"
"I certainly am not, and I'm so glad you've come! I've lots to tell
you and ask you. Won't you stay, Robin?" The question was put
feebly. "Do stay. Oh, I beg your pardon, Claudia, you were so far
off! You haven't met my brother. Winthrop, this is Channing's
cousin, Miss Keith. Please give him some tea, Claudia. I know he's
frozen. Can't you stay, Robin--really?"
"Really nothing! Good-bye." Miss French waved her muff to the man
who, over the teacups, was shaking hands with the girl on the
opposite side of the table, and shook her head as he started toward
her. "Don't come, Jenkins is out there with the car. I'd stay to
dinner, but Hope doesn't enjoy hers if there's a high-neck dress at
the table. Good-bye, Miss Keith; see you to-morrow night, I
suppose." And, like a good strong draught that passes, she was gone.
"I'm glad she had sense enough not to stay." Mrs. Warrick came toward
the tea-table. "I'm fond of Robin, but of late she's been even more
energetic and emphatic than usual, and I feel like I'm being
battledored and shuttlecocked whenever I see her. Why don't you
drink your tea, Winthrop?"
"I don't believe I put any sugar in it. I beg your pardon!" Claudia
took up the sugarbowl. "It was Miss French, I guess. She's such
a--such a gusty person. I love to hear her talk. How many, Mr.
"Three, please, and no comments, Hope. If a man must drink tea he
ought to have all the sugar he wants. That last lump was so very
little I think you might put in another, Miss Keith. Thank you.
Perhaps this is sweet enough." "Winthrop just takes tea to have the
sugar, He's as bad as Dorothea about sweet things." Mrs. Warrick
turned to her brother. "Are you really going to stay to dinner?
Please do. This is the only evening we're to be home for a week, and
Charming is anxious to see you on some business."
"Is he?" Laine put down his cup. "Well, he won't see me on business
to-night. I've an office down-town. In your part of the world, Miss
Keith, don't you ever let men have a chance to forget there's such a
thing as business?"
Claudia got up. "I'm afraid they have too much chance." She put her
hand lightly on Mrs. Warrick's arm. "Will you excuse me, Hope? I
have a letter to write." She bowed slightly in Laine's direction and
was gone before he could reach the door to draw aside the curtains
Mrs. Warrick leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "Do sit
down, Winthrop, and let's talk. I'm so glad to have a little time
alone with you. I so seldom have it that--"
"Your guest was certainly not slow in giving it to you. She could
hardly do anything but leave after your insistence upon having things
to tell me. What in the name of Heaven did you do that for? Does
she think we don't know how to behave up here?"
"Oh, she understands! She knows you didn't come to see her, and,
besides, she's gone up-stairs to write to her mother. If King George
had been here she'd have gone. You know, I really dreaded her
coming, but I needn't. She has been to a good many places--was
abroad for a year with one of her sisters whose husband was secretary
or something to one of our ministers or somebody--but she doesn't
know New York at all. She's met a number of her friend's friends
already, and I won't have to scoop up men for her. Last night at the
Van Doren's she had more around her than she could talk to. Always
has had, Channing says. She'll be no bother; and don't stay away
because she's here. Tell me"--she put her hand on his knee--"is it
true you are going to Panama next month? Robin French told me she
heard you would leave on the twelfth."
"If Miss French could sell fairy tales as rapidly as she can repeat
them she'd make a fortune. I have no idea what I am going to do next
"I wish I didn't know I was going to Savannah for Christmas. It's
Channing's year, and of course we ought to go to his mother, as she
is too old to come to us, but there's so much going on, and then
you'll be alone."
"Oh, I'll manage all right. The one good thing about Christmas is it
doesn't last long." He leaned forward and with the tongs turned a
smoldering log. "But it's incomprehensible how a woman with a home
can keep up this everlasting going to other people's houses.
To-morrow night you go--"
"To the Taillors. Mrs. Taillor's debutante daughter makes her first
"Capitalized society, does she? Poor child! The pains of pleasure
"They surely are! She looks like a scared rabbit, and I heard her
say only a week ago she'd rather die than be a debutante. But she'll
get on. Her mother will corral the men and compel them to come in
and pay her attention. Are you going?"
"Hardly." Laine looked at his watch. "What time do you have dinner?"
"Seven. It's time for me to dress." Mrs. Warrick got up. "Do pray
be decent and go to-morrow night, Winthrop. Mr. Taillor has been
such a good friend, and Mrs. Taillor will be so pleased. Don't
forget to send the child flowers. I wonder if Claudia is ready.
Dorothea grabs her every chance she gets, and I don't doubt she's
with the children this minute. She'll stay until dinner is served,
so don't worry; and for goodness' sake don't let her being here keep
Going down the crowded steps into the crowded drawing-room, Winthrop
Laine slowly made his way through the door to the place where Mr. and
Mrs. Taillor and their daughter were receiving their guests and
passing them on with a rapidity that would have been creditable to
the custodian of a game of human roulette, and as he reached them his
name was called with uncomfortable clearness.
"Well, this is a surprise!" Both of Mrs. Taillor's hands held
Laine's. "But commend me to a person who knows when to change his
mind. Jessica, you should feel honored. Awfully good of you to
come! How do you do, Mrs. Haislip?" And Laine, too, was passed on,
and a moment later found himself in a corner where he could watch the
door and all who came in.
What was he here for? He didn't know. The air was heavy with
perfume. In the distance music reached him faintly, and the throb
and stir and color and glow for some minutes interested him as he
glanced around the handsome room with its massed palms, its wealth of
flowers, its brilliant lights, and streams of gorgeously gowned women
and prosperous-looking men, and then he wondered what had made him
start anything of this sort again. To come had been a sudden
decision. Long ago the dreariness of functions such as these had
caused their giving-up, but a fancy to look once more upon one had
possessed him unaccountably, and he had come.
Up-stairs in the men's room his reappearance had been banteringly
commented on, and with good-natured hand-shaking he had been welcomed
back; but down here many faces were strange and figures
unrecognizable; and with something of shock he realized how few were
the years necessary to change the personnel of any division of
humanity. The heat was intense, and moving farther back toward a
screen of palms near a half-open window, he pulled one slightly
forward that he might see and not be seen, and again watched each
newcomer with mild speculation as to whether he or she were known or
For a while it was puzzling, this continuing arrival of new faces,
with here and there one he knew well or slightly; but gradually its
effect chilled, and he was wondering if he could get away when he
heard his name called.
"Winthrop Laine! Of all people!" Miss French held out her hand.
"From what loophole were you watching this passing show for man's
derision given? May I come in?"
Miss French moved behind the palms and pushed a tall leaf aside.
"You and I are too old for these things, Winthrop. I don't know why
I come--to get away from myself, I suppose. Look at that Miss
Cantrell! She parades her bones as if they were a private collection
of which she was proud! And did you ever see anything as hideous as
that gown Miss Gavins has on? Paris green couldn't be more deadly.
I heard Mathilda Hickman tell her just now to be sure and wear it to
her dinner next week, it was so becoming; and only yesterday she was
shrieking over it at a luncheon where everybody was talking about it,
Mr. Trehan is to be at the dinner, and Mathilda wants every woman to
look her worst. Hello! There comes Channing and Hope and the cousin
from the country. Rather a nice sort of person, awfully young and
inexperienced, but--" She put up her lorgnette. "They are talking
to Miss Cantrell. Miss Keith is not becoming to Miss Cantrell, or
Miss Gavins, either. Her shoulders are excellent and her head
perfectly poised. That white dress suits her. Have you been in the
Laine came from behind the palms. "No; I was to wait for Hope.
Awfully glad to have seen you, Robin. A stranger in a strange land
has a chance, but a man who has lost his place hasn't. People have a
way of closing up if you lose step, and I"--he laughed--"I lost step
long ago. I'll see you again." And, watching, Miss French saw him
take possession of Miss Keith and go with her out of the room.
Half an hour later Laine found a chair for Claudia at the end of the
hall opposite the dining-room, and as she sat down he wiped his
forehead. "I used to play football, but--"
"You're out of practice? I don't believe you did take more than
three men by the shoulders and put them aside. I don't understand
football very well, but a dining-room seems to be the center-rush.
Please look at that crowd over there!" She nodded toward the open
door, through which a mass of men could be seen struggling. "Isn't
it queer--the eagerness with which a plate of salad is pursued?"
"And the earnestness with which it is devoured." Laine put his
handkerchief in his pocket. Will you wait here a moment until I can
get you something? I'll be back--"
"Indeed I won't." Claudia stood up. "It's fun to watch, but only
fruit from the tree of life would be worth a scrimmage of that kind.
If I could get on top of a picture-frame or a curtain-pole, or
anything from which I could look down on a show like this, I'd have a
beautiful time, but"--she opened her fan--"it's rather stuffy to be
Laine glanced around. He knew the house well. Next to the library,
but not opening into it, was a small room of Taillor's which could
only be reached by a narrow passage at their right. He walked away
and looked in at the door. The room was empty.
"I think it will be more comfortable over there," he said, coming
back, then saw she was talking to a man he had long known and long
disliked. He stopped a servant who was passing, a man who had once
been in the employ of one of his clubs. "Bring some stuff over here
and be quick, will you, David?" he said, then spoke to the man
talking to Miss Keith.
His greeting to Dudley was not cordial. It was with difficulty
indeed that he did not take Claudia away at once. Dudley was not the
sort of man for her to have anything to do with. In a time
incredibly short, but to Laine irritatingly long, David was back,
abundantly supplied; and with a nod he was directed to the room at
the end of the narrow hall, and Laine turned to the girl at his side.
"Are you ready?"
"Good night." Miss Keith held out her hand. "Bettina sent you many
"I'm coming to get them--may I?" Mr. Dudley's eyes were frankly
eager. "But where are you going? Laine always was a monopolist.
What are you doing at a thing of this kind, anyhow, Laine? Don't pay
any attention to him, Miss Keith. He's mere facts and figures, and
the froth of life is not in him. I'm much better company."
The last words were lost in the push of new arrivals, and quickly
Laine led the way to the room where David was waiting. Through the
open door the sound of music reached them faintly over the shrill
rise and fall of many voices; and as Claudia sat down near the table
on which various plates had been placed she put her hands to the
sides of her face and, laughing, drew them away.
"Did you ever put a cockle-shell to your ear and notice its roar?"
she asked. "That's how a Tea sounds when there're only women at it.
When there're men it's more so. What is this?" She held her fork
suspended for a moment. "It's awfully good, but very elusive. What
do you suppose it is?"
"A bunch of guesses wouldn't hit it. Clicot is providing the
provender, I believe; I see his men here, and the ambition of
Clicot's life is to create a new dish. I'm glad you like it. It's
as near nothing as anything I ever ate. Are you comfortable? Is
that chair all right?"
Claudia nodded. "Why don't you sit down? I'm sorry we can't see the
people, but it's nice to be out of the crowd." She looked around the
room. "This is a very handsome house. I never saw more gorgeous
flowers, and tomorrow," she gave a queer little sigh, "tomorrow it
will all be over--and the flowers faded."
"Faded things are the penalties of wealth. It's the one compensation
for follies of this sort that they are soon over."
"I don't think they are always follies. When I was young--"
He looked down at her, in his eyes a quiet gleam. "When you were
"Young. Really young, I mean. I had my party when I was eighteen.
I remember it just as well." She gave a happy little laugh. "But of
course we change with time. My sister says I am developing a
dreadful disease. It's a tendency. Did you ever have it?"
"A tendency--to think and wonder and ask questions, you know. She
says people who have it are very trying. But how can you help a
thing you're born with?" She leaned forward, pushed the plates
aside, and folded her arms on the table. "I always wondered about
things, but I didn't entirely wake up until I was over twenty. I
don't blame people for having things like this"--she waved her hands
inclusively--"that is, if they like this kind of thing." She looked
up at him. "We're just like children. All of us love to splurge
every now and then. Don't we?"
"It looks that way. Splurge has a variety of forms." Laine leaned
forward, hands clasped loosely between his knees. "But the
tendency--is it catching?"
She laughed. "In the country it is. I live in the country, but it
didn't develop in me until I had several winters in the city. I used
to love things like this. I didn't know much about a good many other
things, and it was when I found out that I began to look at people
and wonder if they knew, and cared, and what they were doing with
it--their life I mean, their chance, their time, their money. One
winter it got so bad Lettice sent me home. Lettice lives in
Washington; she's my second sister. My oldest sister is a widow, and
is still in London, where her husband died two years ago. I kept
looking for glad faces and real, sure-enough happiness; and so many
people looked bored and bothered and tired that I couldn't
understand--and Lettice made me go home. Her husband is in Congress,
and she said I wanted to know too much."
"Have you yet found what you were looking for?" Laine leaned back in
his chair and shaded his eyes with his hand.
"Yes." She laughed lightly and got up. "You can find anything, I
guess, if you look for it right. And in such unexpected places you
find things!" She stopped and listened. "I believe people are going
home. Please take me to Hope. I can't imagine what made us stay in
here so long!"
DOROTHEA ASKS QUESTIONS
At the library window Dorothea drew the curtains aside and looked up
and down the street. Presently she blew softly upon the pane and
with her finger made on it four large letters, then rubbed them out
and went back to the mantel, before whose mirror, on tiptoe, she
surveyed the bow on her hair and straightened it with care.
"I don't see why they don't come," she said, aggrievedly, smoothing
down her skirt. "It's time, and I'm going to ring for tea, anyhow.
Mother said I could pour it, and I'll play lady all by myself if
nobody comes to play it with. I believe"--she turned her head--"I
believe they're coming now."
Again she went to the window, then rang for tea. "Quick, Timkins;
please hurry and bring it in before they come," she said. "They'll
be frozen." And as Timkins disappeared she put a fresh log on the
fire, drew the table closer to it, and seated herself at it.
"I'm a chaperone lady. I'm chaperoning my Uncle Winthrop and my
Cousin Claudia!" In gleeful delight she rocked backward and forward
and twisted her hands together tightly. "I'm sorry mother has a
headache, but I certainly am glad I can pour tea for them. I don't
know why anybody wants to go horseback-riding on a day like this,
though; I'd freeze." She straightened the embroidered cloth on the
table as Timkins put the tray on it, and lighted the lamp under the
kettle, and, taking up the tea-caddy, she measured out a generous
amount of its contents.
"I'll be careful and not get burnt up." She waved Timkins out.
"They're coming right in. It's the funniest thing about Uncle
Winthrop," she went on, as if to the tea-cups she was arranging. "He
didn't want to come and see Cousin Claudia, and now he comes here
every day. Wouldn't it be funny if he wanted her for a
sweetheart--and wouldn't it be grand!" Her arms were thrown out and
then hugged rapturously to her bosom; but instantly her face sobered.
"He can't have her, though, because she's somebody else's. I wonder
if he knows? He ought to, for Miss Robin says when he wants anything
he never gives up until he gets it, and he can't get her if she's
gotten. Mother says he just comes here and takes her out and sends
her flowers and things because she asked him to be nice to her; but I
don't believe it's just for kindness. Gentler men aren't kind to
ladies if they don't like them. I believe-- Heigho, Cousin
Claudia!" She waved her hand from behind the table. "Have you had a
nice ride? Where's Uncle Winthrop?"
Drawing off his gloves, Laine came in the library, and as he reached
the table he took from Dorothea's hands the cup of tea just poured
and handed it to Claudia.
"Are you frozen?" His voice was slightly worried. "We shouldn't
have gone--I did not know how very cold it was."
"It wasn't a bit too cold. I love it." Claudia shook her head. "I
don't want any tea until my hands can hold the cup, though. They
_are_ cold." With her foot on the fender, she held out first one
hand and then the other to the blazing fire and laughed in Dorothea's
wide-opened eyes. "What is it, Madam Hostess? Is anything the
matter with me?"
"Your cheeks look like they're painted. They didn't when you went
"Do they?" Claudia put her hands to her face. "The wind did it."
Taking off her hat, she laid it on the table, loosened the hair on
her temples, and sat down on the tapestried footstool near the
hearth. "I'll have some tea now, please. Are there any sandwiches?
I'm starving. Where's your mother, Dorothea?"
"Sick. Got a headache. I'm to pour tea, unless you'd rather." She
got up reluctantly. "Would you?"
"Indeed I wouldn't." Claudia waved her back. "You suit that table
beautifully. When you're a real grown-up lady you won't leave out
anything; but this time you forgot the sugar."
"Did I? I was thinking of something else, I guess." Two lumps were
put in the cup Laine handed her. "Where did you all go this
Claudia looked at Laine. "I don't know the names of the places
around here. Where did we go?"
"We went--" Laine put his cup on the table and, drawing a chair
closer to the fire, sat down. "I've forgotten the name of the road."
"Forgotten!" Dorothea stopped the rattling of the spoons. "You told
me once you knew all the roads within twenty miles of New York in the
pitch-dark. I think it's very funny you don't know where you've
been. You couldn't have been looking much."
"We didn't look at all. It was too cold--" Laine put another log on
the fire--"the roads were frozen, and to keep the horses from
slipping was all we could attend to."
"Couldn't you talk?"
"Not a great deal. Miss Keith insists upon keeping her horse ahead
of mine. It is snowing! Did you know it?"
Dorothea jumped up and ran to the window. "It wasn't just now when I
looked out. Yes, it is." She peered through the pane, pressing her
nose close to it. "It hasn't snowed since that first week you came,
Cousin Claudia, and that's nearly a month ago. I hope it will snow
fifty feet deep, so the cars can't run, and that the river will
freeze so the boats can't go down it, and then you will have to stay;
and so would we, and we could all be together Christmas. Don't you
wish so, too, Uncle Winthrop?" She came back and leaned against her
uncle's chair. "Did you know Cousin Claudia was going home next
"She told me so this afternoon."
"I certainly am." Elbows on her knees and chin in her hands, Claudia
looked straight into the fire. "If your wish comes true, Dorothea,
I'll get an air-ship. I expected to stay three weeks, and will have
stayed five before I get back. I ought to be home this minute."
"I don't think five weeks is long. I think it's very short."
Dorothea took a seat on a stool at her uncle's feet, and looked up in
his face. "Father says he thinks it's downright mean in her to go
before we do. Don't you think she might stay, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I do." Laine changed his position and looked away from Dorothea's
eyes. "Is there nothing we can do to make her change her mind?"
"Is there?" Dorothea fumed to Claudia. "I think you ought to, for
mother says Uncle Winthrop is just beginning to act like a Christian
in coming to see her regularly, and when you go he might stop acting
that way. Are you going to stay to dinner to-night?" She took
Laine's hand and intertwined her fingers in his. "Please do."
"In these clothes?"
Dorothea hesitated. "Mother wouldn't like them, but--" She jumped
up and clapped her hands in excited delight. "Mother's got a
headache and isn't coming down to-night, and if you will stay I think
she will let me take dinner with you. I hate foolishness about
clothes, and these are the becomingest ones you wear; and, besides,
at the Hunt Club you eat in them, and why can't you do it here just
once? Wouldn't it be magnificent if I could sit up?" Dorothea
whirled round and round. "Father is out of town, and Channing has a
tiny bit of cold and can't leave his room, and I'm so lonesome. Oh,
please, Uncle Winthrop, please stay!"
"Ask Miss Keith if I can stay. She may have other engagements."
"Have you?" Dorothea was on her knees by Claudia, hands on her
shoulders. "And may he stay? You won't have to change your clothes,
either. You look precious in those riding things, and, when you take
the coat off, anybody who didn't know would think you were a little
girl, the skirt is so short and skimpy; and your hair with a bow in
the back looks like me. Can't he stay, Cousin Claudia?"
"If he wants to, of course. I'm sorry your mother is sick. She
didn't tell me at lunch."
"It's just a headache, and as father is away and there was nothing to
go to, I think she thought she'd take a rest and read something. Are
you going out to-night?"
Claudia got up. "No, I'm not going out; but I have a letter to
write. Will you stay to dinner, Mr. Laine?"
"I will. Thank you very much, Miss Warrick. The invitation was
forced from Miss Keith, but I accept it notwithstanding." Laine, who
had risen, put his hand on Dorothea's shoulder. "I think we will
have a very nice dinner-party."
"I'll chaperone it!" Dorothea rose to full height and balanced
herself on her toes. "Miss Robin French said she couldn't go on some
trip the other day because there was no chaperone; and if a lady with
a mole on her chin and nearly forty has to have a chaperone, I guess
you all will. Please don't stay long, Cousin Claudia. If you don't
want to see mother, Uncle Winthrop, I'll talk to you, for after
dinner I will have to go right straight to bed, being a
brought-up-on-a-book child, and then you and Cousin Claudia will be
all by yourselves. Maybe if you asked mother, though, she might let
me sit up just this once. Shall I go and tell her you say so?"
Laine held the curtains for Claudia to pass out. "We wouldn't be so
cruel as to keep her up, would we?" he asked, and smiled in the eyes
turned quickly from his. "You will not be gone long, and you won't
change your dress?"
"I will be back in time for dinner--and I won't change my dress.
Tell Dorothea about the birds we saw this afternoon."
During the hour that passed before Claudia came back Dorothea had a
chance that seldom came for uninterrupted conversation, and that her
uncle said little was not noticed for some time. Presently she
"I don't believe you've opened your lips since Cousin Claudia went
up-stairs," she said. "I don't wonder you don't know where you went
this afternoon if you didn't see any more than you're hearing now.
You don't know a thing I've been talking about."
Laine raised his head with a start. "Oh yes, I do. You were
"I told you so! You didn't even know where you were! You were way
off somewhere." Dorothea's voice was triumphant. "I want to ask you
something, Uncle Winthrop. I won't tell anybody." She settled
herself more comfortably on the stool at his feet, and crossed her
arms on his knees. "Don't you think my Cousin Claudia is nice?"
"Very nice." Laine took out his handkerchief, wiped his glasses, and
held them to the light.
"And don't you think she has a lovely mouth? When she talks I watch
her like I haven't got a bit of sense." Dorothea scanned her uncle's
face critically. "Your eyes are dark; and hers are light, with dark
rims around the seeing part, and she just comes to your shoulder; but
you look so nice together. I hope you feel sorry about the things
you said about her before she came."
"That maybe her face was red and her hair was red and her hands were
red, or if they weren't, maybe they were blue. Aren't you sorry?"
"Very sorry, Dorothea. I was rude and tired and worried that
evening. Let's forget it."
"I never have told her, but I supposed you must have changed your
mind, for you've been here so much lately, and gone to so many places
with her that you don't like to go to, that I thought--"
"Thought what, Dorothea?"
"That maybe--" Dorothea stroked Laine's fingers one by one--"maybe
you liked her a little bit. Don't you remember I asked you please to
like her, and you didn't seem to think you would. But you do, don't
you? I won't tell anybody. Don't you like her, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I like her very much, Dorothea." Into Laine's clear-cut face the
color crept to his temples, "She is very different from any one
"I knew you would." Dorothea's hands came together excitedly. "I
knew it the minute I saw her, for she isn't a bit frilly, and you
don't like frills any more than I do, and she doesn't, either. She's
sees through people like they were glass, and she tells us the
grandest, shiveringest, funniest stories you ever heard. I bet she's
telling Channing one this minute. She loves children. I'm so glad
you like her, Uncle Winthrop. I knew you would if you saw her, but I
didn't know you'd see her so much."
"How could I help it if I saw her once? The trouble has been to get
her to see me. Perhaps she thinks I am too old to--"
"Oh, she knows you aren't the sweetheart kind--Miss Robin French told
her so, and mother and everybody says you are too set in your ways to
get married, and that's why I think she likes you, because you aren't
that sort. She hates flum talk, and you talk sense and things. She
told father so. Here she is now. Please stay with Uncle Winthrop,
Cousin Claudia, while I ask mother if I may take dinner with you."
Dorothea got up. "You took off your riding boots, didn't you?"
Claudia looked at her slippers. "I surely did. I never wear high
shoes in the house. Your mother says you may take dinner with us,
but she wants to see you as soon as it is over. Her headache is
better, but she doesn't feel like coming down to-night."
In a chair of curious carving, his feet on a pile of books which had
been unpacked, but for which there was as yet no place, Winthrop
Laine leaned back, partly relaxed, partly tense, and with half-shut
eyes looked at a picture on the wall opposite. For an hour, two
hours, he had sat like this. On his desk was an unfinished article,
but "The Punishments of Progress" did not interest to-night, and
after vain effort to write he had thrown the pages aside and yielded
to the unrest which possessed him.
In his hands was a small calendar, and with it he tapped
unconsciously the arm of his chair; but after a while he again looked
at it and with his pencil marked the date of the month. It was the
fifteenth of December. Miss Keith was going home on the eighteenth.
Three days of her visit yet remained, a month of it had passed, and
after she went-- He stirred uneasily, changed his position, put down
the calendar, then got up and began to walk the length of the room
backward and forward. A long mirror filled the space between the two
southern windows, and for some time as he reached it he avoided the
face seen therein; but after a while he stopped in front of it, hands
in his pockets, and spoke with smiling bitterness to it.
"Take it off, man, take it off! All men wear masks, but they needn't
go to bed with them. For years you've pretended, smiled, sworn,
played with all the toys, worked with the best you had, and believed
you were content. And you're finding out at forty what a fool you've
been. You love her. She isn't married yet, if she is engaged to
another man--and if you've no fight in you, go make a hole and get in
In the glass he saw his face whiten, saw the lines on his forehead
swell, saw his eyes grow dark with rebellious pain, and, turning
away, went to a window, opened it, and let the cold air blow upon
him. Few people were on the street, and in the windows opposite was
little light. The neighborhood was exclusively correct; and only
that evening walking home from the club the man with him had frankly
envied his manner of life, his freedom and independence. He closed
the window, turned off some of the lights, and went back to his
chair. "I am an entirely free and independent person," he said
aloud. "A most desirable condition for a man without a heart." Why
did men have hearts, anyhow, and especially such a queer kind as he
had. In the days of his youth he had expected the days of his
maturity to find him married, find him with the responsibilities and
obligations of other men; but he had strange views of marriage. One
by one his friends had entered the estate; he had helped them enter
it, but he had acquired an unhealthy habit of watching their venture
with wonder at its undertaking and with doubt of its success, and the
years had gone by with no desire on his part to assume the risk.
What he saw was not the life he wanted. Just what he did want he was
not sure; but years of contact with much that blights and withers had
not killed his belief in certain old-fashioned things, and if they
could not come true the journey would be made alone.
What whimsical ways fate had of deciding great issues. Four weeks
ago he was something of a piece of mechanism, fairly content with his
drab-colored life; and now a girl had entered it and brought to him
visions too fair and beautiful to be viewed unveiled, and he knew at
last the mystery and power of love. Almost a week of her stay had
gone before he met her. In those that followed, he had seen her many
times, but frequently he had to stand back and know that others were
taking her time when there was none for him to lose.
Should love come to him, he had imagined he would pursue it with the
same directness and persistence which had impelled the securing of
whatever was determined upon, and instead he was that most despicable
of things--a coward.
She was so young--fourteen years younger than he--and what was his to
offer in exchange for her life of varied interests, of sweet, sane,
helpful, happy things of which he knew so little? He had thought he
knew life, its all sides; and unknown to herself she had shown him
what had not been understood before, and his was cold and colorless
by the side of the warmth and glow of hers.
Yesterday he had known, however, he would not wait long. After she
had returned to her home he would go to it and tell her why he had
come. All through the day certain words had sung in his ears, and
over his books had danced and blurred the figures he was making; and
before him in fancy she was waiting for his coming when the day was
done, was in the room with outstretched hands to give him greeting as
he entered the door. The light of a new vision had blinded, and in
its fire the loneliness of his life had stood out in chill clearness,
and no longer could it be endured. Some one to care if the days were
dark, some one to share the giving and taking of life. At the
thought of trust so sacred, his face had whitened, and in his heart
unconscious prayer had sprung.
That was yesterday. This afternoon he had stopped at his sister's
home for tea, as he had done for days past now, and, Dorothea being
sick, he had gone up to see her and give her the book bought for her.
As usual, she had much to say, and he let her talk uninterruptedly.
It was of Claudia that she talked, always of Claudia, and he had
listened in a silence that gave chance for much detail.
"She gets more letters!" Dorothea's hands came together as if very
full. "Every day there is one from the same person, sometimes two,
and specials and telegrams; and sometimes he talks over the
telephone. I know his handwriting now. She lets me come in her room
whenever I want to. I don't see how one person could have so much to
say. I knew he must be her sweetheart, and I asked mother, and
mother says she's engaged to a, man in Washington. Miss Robin French
told her. Mother thinks it's real strange Claudia didn't tell her."
And he had answered nothing, but had gone down the steps and out of
the house, and to no one said good night.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
Claudia glanced at the clock. She must be dressed by seven.
Hurriedly she put aside the letters which could wait, and began to
"Just three days more, precious mother, and I will leave for home.
I've seen such remarkable things; heard such wonderful music; been to
so many parties and luncheons and teas and dinners; met so many
people, some fearfully, dreadfully dressed, some beautifully,
gorgeously gowned, that my brain is a plum-pudding, and my mind mere
moving pictures. It's been a lovely visit. Channing is a dear, and
Hope has done her full duty, but it's something of a strain to dwell
in the tents of the wealthy. I'm so glad we're not wealthy, mother.
There are hundreds of things I'd like money for, but I've gotten to
be as afraid of it as I am of potato-bugs when the plants are well
up. It has a way of making you think things that aren't so. I do
hope Uncle Bushrod's cold is better.
"I've tried to fill all the orders from everybody, but some I haven't
found yet. Hope and her friends shop only in the expensive stores,
and the prices are so paralyzing that, though outwardly I don't
blink, I'm inwardly appalled; but I put the things aside as if
undecided whether to get them or something nicer. I'm afraid I don't
mean I'm glad we're not wealthy. Certainly when shopping I don't
wish it. I want millions then. Millions! And when I get among the
books I'd like to be a billionaire. To-morrow I'm going out by
myself and finish up everything. Hope would be horrified at my
purchases, for Hope has forgotten when she, too, had to be careful in
her expenditures. Her brother hasn't.
"Did I tell you about the crazy mistake I made? I thought, from what
Dorothea told me, he was an old gentleman, her mother's uncle, and
wrote him a note before I met him. Dorothea adores him, and when his
dog died I was so sorry I told him so. I wonder what does make me do
such impulsive things! I get so discouraged about myself. I'll
never, never be a proper person. He isn't old.
"I wish you could see the letter Beverly wrote me from Mammy
Malaprop. She says she is 'numberating the date of my return to the
dissolute land in which I live, and is a-preparing to serve for
supper all the indelicacies of the season.' If I didn't know old
Malaprop I'd think Beverly was making up her messages, but no
imagination could conceive of her twists and turns of the English
"Are the hens laying at all? and please tell Andrews to watch the
sheep carefully; it's so bitterly cold.
"I've had a beautiful time, but, oh, mother dear, I shall be so glad
to get home, where there are real things to do and where you all love
me just for myself! Every night I kiss your picture and wish it was
you. Best love for everybody. I have Gabriel's little trumpet.
"P. S.--We are going again to-night to the opera. If only you were
going, too! I never see anything beautiful, hear anything beautiful,
that I don't wish you could see it and hear it also. I'm so glad I
brought my riding-habit. They have been the best things of all, the
long, splendid rides in the country. So much nicer than motoring.
Mr. Laine rides better than any city man I know. Three days more and
I leave for home.
Guilty gladness at being alone, at getting off by herself and going
where she chose, so possessed her the next day that as Claudia passed
Mrs. Warrick's sitting-room she tip-toed lest she be called in and a
moment of her precious freedom be lost. Several hours of daylight
were still left, but there was much to be done; and hurriedly she
went down the steps, hurriedly walked to the avenue, and caught the
'bus she saw coming with a sigh of thankfulness. In the center of
the shopping district she got out and disappeared soon after in one
of the stores. It was her only chance for the simple purchases to be
made for the slim purses of her country friends; and as she read
first one list and then the other she smiled at the variety of human
desires and the diversities of human needs, and quickly made
decisions. A letter received just before leaving the house had not
been read, but its writing was recognized, and going to the door she
tried to make out the scrawly contents and get, at the same time, the
breath of fresh air brought in by its opening as hurrying customers
came and went. To read there was impossible, however. Darkness had
fallen; and, going outside for a moment, she looked up and down at
the surging, pushing, shivering crowd and wondered as to the time.
She was not through, and she must finish before going back.
"Is Madame Santa Claus ready to go home?"
Startled, she looked up. "Oh, Mr. Laine, I'm so glad! Indeed I'm
not through, and it's dark already. Do you think Hope will mind if I
don't get back for tea?"
"I think not." He smiled in the troubled face. "What is left to be
"This among other things." Together they moved slowly down the
crowded street, and she held the letter in her hand toward him.
"It's from Mrs. Prosser, who has eleven children and a husband who is
their father and that's all. They live on faith and the neighbors,
but she has sold a pig and sent me part of the money with which to
buy everybody in the family a Christmas present. That's all I've
Laine took the sheets of paper torn from a blank-book and looked at
them under an electric light. "This Syro-Phoenician writing needs
what it can't get out here," he said, after a half-minute's pause.
"A cipher requires a code, and a code means sitting down. Aren't you
cold? You are. Come over here and we'll have some tea and work it
out together." And before protest could be made they were in a hotel
across the street and at a table on which a shaded light permitted a
closer examination of the penciled scrawl which went for writing.
Slowly he read aloud:
"DERE Miss CLAUDIA,--The chillern is near bout set me crazy sence I
tole 'em I was agoin' to ask you to do me some favors which is to buy
for me some New York krismus presents. I have sole the pig and I am
a-puttin' in this six dollars and sixteen cents, I would have sent
seven dollars even but the baby had the colic so bad I had to git
some more of that pain-killer which I give the hoss onct, and Johnnie
lost the change comin' home from the store. The baby is well, but
the hoss ain't. The followin' is what I would like to have. Ifen
you can't git the things, git what you can. I have confidence in
"2 pare sox and a maresharm pipe for the old man. Don't spend more
than fifty cents on him. He drunk up the whiskey your ma give me for
the mincemeat for Thanksgivin' and I had to lock him up in the
garret. He'd like the pipe yaller.
"1 A blew skarf pin--Johnnie.
"2 A bracelet. Bras will do if you can't git gold. Minnie is the
meekest and don't look for much but she wants a bracelet awful bad.
"3 A box of paper and envellopes for Maizzie--Maizzie's got a bow.
He lives in the next county. I don't let the chillern say nothin'.
I'm 'fraid they'll scare the ducks.
"4 A wax doll in pink tarlton for Rosy. She won't be here next
krismus. The doctor done tole me, and my hart it have been hurtin'
so ever since that I have to hide every now and then so as to git my
breath good. Sometimes I can't help chokin', I can't. She seen a
doll in pink tarlton onct and the other night I heard her talkin' up
the chimney and she was askin' Santa Claus to bring her one if he
could spare it. Ifen you can't git all the things with the pig
money, please'm git the doll, and in pink, please'm, and let the
Laine took up his cup of tea and drank it slowly. "Part of this is
hard to make out," he said, after a moment. "I can't see it very
"All of it is hard." Claudia put a piece of cracker in her mouth.
"But it's a wonder she can write at all. The boys are as trifling as
their father, and she does the work of five people. Is that all?"
Laine began again. "Becky say she don't want nothin' but a pare of
silk stockings. She's crazy, but she seen the summer girls with 'em
and I don't reckon it will do no harm if we ain't pracktical at
krismus. It do seem like krismus ain't for prackticals. 40 cents is
"Sam he wants a harmonicum, and Bobbie he just set his hart on a
sled. I don't reckon you can get that in your trunk, and ifen you
can't a necktie will have to do. The other chillern is so small it
don't make no difference what you get for them, any little thing you
can pick up will please 'em. They is all so excited about havin'
presents from New York that they's plum crazy. I don't know what the
county would do without you, Miss Claudia. You is everybody's friend
and everybody is--"
Claudia put out her hand. "Oh, that part doesn't matter. I'll take
it now. We'll have to go. Are you ready?"