Part 2 out of 3
"Not quite." Laine, who had finished the letter, handed it to her,
then took out a note-book and pencil. "Are you sure you can remember
the things? Hadn't I better write them down?"
Claudia shook her head. "Not a bit of use. These are the last to
get, and then I'm through. Are you?"
"Am I what?"
"With your Christmas things. I don't suppose men have as much to do
as women and don't have to begin so early. Some people don't love
Christmas. It's such a pity."
"It's a pity the old Christmas has given way to the new one. With
many it's a sort of hold-up. I don't believe in it."
Claudia's arms were folded on the table, and her eyes were gravely
looking into his. "What kind do you believe in?"
Into Laine's face the color crept slowly, then he laughed. "I really
don't know. I only know the present kind is wrong."
"You know a great many things that are wrong, don't you?"
"I'm afraid I do." With his handkerchief Laine wiped his glasses,
put them back, and again tapped the table. "That is, I know a great
many things that aren't nice to know."
"Most of us do. It isn't difficult to see what isn't nice in people
or things." She got up. "I'm sorry you don't love Christmas."
"Why should I love it? For the men at the office there are checks;
for my brother's widow and children are other checks; for Hope,
another. A man makes a mess of buying presents. Cigars for men and
flowers for women are the two orders telephoned in advance for the
few so remembered. The employees at the clubs, the servants at the
house, the--the associations which do things merely mean more money,
"I think I should hate Christmas, too, if it merely meant the writing
of checks or the giving of gold. I wouldn't want a million if there
was no love with it." Eyes on her muff, she smoothed it softly.
"That is what Christmas is for. To take time to remember, and to let
people know we do care--and to make somebody glad. Let me see." On
her fingers she enumerated the things desired by Mrs. Prosser.
"Harmonicum, silk stockings, socks, yellow pipe, blue scarf-pin,
bracelet (brass or gold), box of paper, sled, and--"
"A doll in pink tarleton." Again in Laine's face the color crept
slowly. He hesitated. "In all my life I never bought a doll or a
sled or anything except books for children. May I go with you? And
would--would you mind if I got that doll?"
Five minutes later Laine and Claudia were caught in the crowd of
Christmas shoppers and valiantly made their way to a counter on which
were objects gay and glittering. With a seriousness and persistency
that was comic to the girl watching him, Laine began with the blue
scarf-pin and the bracelet, but not until he was giving an order did
she touch him on the arm and draw him aside.
"We can't get those, Mr. Laine, indeed we can't." She nodded in the
direction of the counter. "There aren't but six dollars and sixteen
cents of the pig money, and a dozen things to buy yet."
"Oh, blow the pig money! She won't know the difference. That pin is
only one dollar and ninety-eight cents and the bracelet two dollars
and forty-eight cents. Nothing could be worse than that, could it?"
"It could. Johnnie is a lazy good-for-nothing, and twenty-five cents
is all his pin is to cost. It will be big and blue, but not a penny
over twenty-five can be spent on it. I think we'd better get the
doll and the silk stockings and the sled first. I've already bought
a doll for Rosy, but it's in white, and we'll have to get the pink
"And is the pig money going to do all that?" Laine's eyes were
"It is." She laughed and turned away as if to see some one who was
passing. "It doesn't matter whose pig."
"Then I'll play the pig to-night! I've played it the wrong way often
enough. Why can't we be sensible? I've got a spending jag on, and
I've never been Christmas shopping before. Something is happening to
my backbone, something that used to happen in the days when I hung up
my stocking. Please be good and let me have a little Christmas!"
Claudia's forehead wrinkled and for a moment she hesitated, then
again her eyes sought his doubtfully. "I don't know whether I ought
to. You are very kind, but--"
"But nothing. I'm merely very selfish. Those things are all right.
Come on and let's go in the toy department. The doll is the most
important of all, and don't dolls have carriages or something? Here,
this way to the elevator."
To the joy of it, the surrender to inherent instinct, to the child
that is dormant in all, Claudia and Laine yielded, went in and out
among the sea of toys, and critically doll after doll was examined,
compared, laid down and taken up, and finally decided upon; and as
Laine gave the address he looked at Claudia for final confirmation
"You're sure it's pink? Her mother said pink, you know."
"Pink! It's the pinkest pink I ever saw. It is much too grand.
But, oh, those patient little eyes! I didn't think she'd be here
this Christmas. You will make her so happy, Mr. Laine."
"Not I." He shook his head. "It is you. What does a man know about
things like this? But what else does she want? I never had any
opinion of a one-piece Santa Claus. These things would make a monk
want children of his own. How about those youngsters that anything
will please? and don't you have to have things for stockings?"
With hurried decisions, as if afraid he might not be allowed to do
what he chose, Laine went up and down and in and out among the many
sections into which the department was divided, and made his
selections with entire disregard of appropriateness; and Claudia,
keeping near, countermanded with equal firmness all that was unwise.
So warm at times did their dissensions wax that the sales-girl
following would smile and point out something before unseen, hoping a
mutual surrender would accept the compromise, and presently she
brought up a cash register and held it toward Laine.
"Most children like these," she said, "and as your wife doesn't care
for the mechanical toys--"
Laine turned away. With pitiless reality the play of it all came
over him, and he walked off lest the sudden surging of his blood be
"But I'm not his wife." Claudia's voice was cool and even. "He
doesn't know the children he is getting these things for, and I do.
But Channing would like this register, Mr. Laine. And Dorothea told
me she wanted a drawing-table like that one over there. Have you
bought Dorothea's present yet?"
Laine came back. "Only books. Her mother gets the other things for
me. If she'd like that, get it."
Out of his voice had gone all spirit, and Claudia, noticing, looked
up. "You're tired, aren't you? I think we'd better stop."
Laine laughed. "Tired? No, I'm not tired. I'm having a great time.
Playing make-believe is a good game. I haven't played it lately, and
I was doing it rather hard. I wonder what that bunch of people are
over there for? A number of children seem to be among them."
The girl waiting on them looked around. It was Santa Claus, she
explained, who was taking the names and addresses, with a list of the
presents most wanted by the children, who were there to tell where
they lived. "Some of them have been here all day. That little lame
fellow was among the first to come, and Santa Claus hasn't seen him
yet. The crowd pushes him out so, and there's no one to lift him up
high enough to be seen. He's held that piece of paper in his hand
Laine looked closer. On the outskirts of the crowd, his thin little
face still eagerly trying to peer between the shifting circles, his
crutches held tightly by hands too thin to grasp them properly, he
saw the boy pointed out by the girl, and, without a word, he walked
toward him. As he drew nearer, the head of Santa Claus could be seen
over those of the crowd, but to the child he was still invisible; and
as Laine saw the pinched face he swore softly under his breath.
For half a minute he stood by the boy's side, then touched him on the
shoulder. "What is it, son? Can't you make the old fellow see you?"
The child shook his head. "Somebody always gets in ahead. I ain't
"Here, hold your crutches." With a swift movement Laine swung the
boy on his shoulders. "There, can you see him all right?"
"Yes, sir. And he can see me!" The thin little hand was held up,
and Laine felt the quiver that ran over the frail body. "He sees me!"
"Well, my man"--Santa Claus was noticing at last--"what is it that
"A coat for mother. Black, please." Soft and eager the words came
quickly. "And a worsted skirt, and some shoes for Dick, and a muff
"Oh, I'm not bringing anything but toys this time. Only toys.
Quick, what are they?"
On his shoulders again Laine felt a quiver, this time of sudden
relaxation, and heard a sob that was quickly smothered. "Oh, I don't
need toys, and mother hasn't got a piece of coat."
Laine coughed and caught the eye of Santa Claus, and by telepathy
made the latter understand his questions must continue. Two minutes
and they were over, the child's name and address taken, his desires
made known, and as he put him down on the floor Laine took from the
trembling fingers the piece of paper which for hours had been tightly
held and put it in his pocket.
"All right, son." He slipped some money in his hand. "Run
down-stairs and get something to eat before you go home, and don't
worry about the things--they'll be there Christmas. Scoot!" And
with a pat Laine sent him off.
Coming back he turned to Claudia. "Are you through up here? The
yellow pipe and the socks for the man who gets locked in the garret
are down-stairs, I suppose."
For answer Claudia looked in his face as if not hearing. "Merciful
goodness!" she said. "I had forgotten all about this being Tuesday!
I ought to be home this minute. A friend from Washington is coming
to dinner to-night. What time is it?"
Laine looked at his watch. "A friend from Washington" was what he
read. He turned the face toward her. "What is it? I can't see it
in this light."
"Seven-twenty-five!" Claudia sat down dejectedly. "You don't
suppose they could be waiting, do you?"
"I don't." Laine smiled a twisted little smile. "Channing by nature
is a train-despatcher. Dinner on the dot and served swiftly is his
one household demand. They will be half through before we can get
"And I'm starving." She got up. "Well, I can't help it. I had no
business forgetting, but I'm always doing things I oughtn't."
"We'll go up to Sherry's. Dinner isn't limited to Hope's house.
I'll telephone and explain."
"Oh, I mustn't! It isn't just dinner. I have an engagement. Do you
think we could get there very quickly? I can't understand how I
MR. LAINE GOES SHOPPING ALONE
"Did you ring, sir?"
Moses, standing at the door, waited, and as he waited he talked to
himself. "Something is the matter with Mr. Laine. He ain't never
call Gineral's name since he done pass away, and I know the miss of
him has been a-smartin', but don't seem like that would have made him
so restless like he been. 'Tain't like him to come in and go right
out, and come back and go out again. He got something on his mind, a
kind of warfare like." He coughed slightly and again spoke. "Did
you ring, Mr. Laine?"
"I did. Five minutes ago. As a member of the leisure class you'd
take a blue ribbon, Moses. Where in the devil are you? Why don't
you come in? I can't talk to air."
"I was waitin' to see if I was mistook: about the bell." Moses came
inside the room.
"Where I come from folks don't step so lively as they do up here, and
old Colonel Tayloes, he used to say there ain't nothin' so inelegant
as hurry, lessen 'tis worry. But of course I shouldn't have had no
discussion in my mind about that bell. I got a bad way of projectin'
"You don't want to move. You have. Any day an affidavit is needed
to that effect I'll sign it. Did you go to that address I gave you
"Yes, sir. I went and I been a-tryin' to forgit I went ever since I
got back. It's God's truth the boy told you, I seen him and his ma,
and all the other children 'cept those at work, and the whole of 'em
was livin' in two rooms, and a closet where the biggest boy slept.
Their pa he got kilt at the shops where he work, and the lawyer what
undertook to get damages got 'em, and they ain't seen him since."
"Did you notice the size of the woman and the age of the children?"
"Yes, sir. The mother she come near 'bout up to my shoulder and was
thin and wore-out lookin'. The two little ones was four and two
years old. You saw the lame one. There's a girl seven. She's a
puller-out of bastin's, her ma said, and the oldest girl is fourteen.
She's a runner, or a cash, or somethin' in a store. The biggest boy
is in a foundry-shop and the lame one sells papers."
"A mother and six children." Laine made some notes in a book and put
it back in his pocket. "I'm going out. Have a cab here at
eight-thirty. The things I bring back will be put in the room at the
end of the hall. On Christmas Eve you are to buy what I've mentioned
in this"--he handed him an envelope--"and with them take the bundles
in the room to the place you went to yesterday. You are not to know
who sent them, and when you come back you are to forget you've been,
and no one is to be told. You have a great habit of telling Dorothea
things. I'm understood, am I?"
"Yes, sir. You is understood, I know about a left hand and a right
hand. God knows I'll be glad to go again if it's to take some
Christmas to them. That woman's face kinder hant me ever sence I
seen it. 'Twasn't mad or nothin', but plum beat out. I had to make
a little egg-nog for my stomach when I got home. 'Tain't time for
egg-nog, but a disturbance in the stomach--"
"You're having a disturbance in your stomach too often. Get that
cab, will you, and tell them to hurry."
Two hours later he was back. No doubt he had done foolishly, bought
unwisely; but there had been no time for indecision, and the woman
who waited on him had been a great help. As he was shown warm
dresses and thick coats for the mother and little girls, suits and
shoes and stockings for the boys, bedclothing, towels, soap, ribbons,
and neckties, he had smiled at the absurdity of his opinion being
asked concerning things of which he was as ignorant as a blind baby;
but with determination he kept on until the woman told him he had
gotten enough. With the toys he was more confident; and, remembering
Claudia's restrictions, he had exercised what he believed was
excellent judgment and only bought what was probably appropriate.
When the bed in the end room had been piled with his purchases, the
door locked, and the key in Moses's pocket, Laine went into the
library, turned off its brilliant lights, and, leaving only the lamp
burning, closed the door, sat down in his high-back chair, and
lighted a cigar. After the stir and glow of the store the silence of
the room was oppressive, its emptiness chilled, and, unthinking, he
put his hand down by the side of his chair and nipped his fingers as
he was wont to do when calling General. With an indrawn breath he
drew his hand back and put it in his pocket. His Christmas shopping
was over. A very unexpected Christmas shopping it had been. In all
that city of millions there were few personal purchases to be made
for others. What had to be gotten Hope got. Not since the death of
his mother had Christmas meant more than something to be dreaded and
endured. And to Claudia it meant so much.
Why had she come into his life? Why was hers the divine gift of
recognition which dispensed with the formal development of friendship
and yielded, as a flower its fragrance, the warmth and gladness, the
surety and genuineness, that so long he had looked for. Apparently
she was as unconscious as Dorothea, and yet too many men had loved
her for her not to understand. Not by the subtlest sign had she
shown, however. Indifference or dislike would have been more
encouraging, but her cordial frankness had been that of unstirred
Suppose she was engaged to another man? Was that any reason why he
should not tell her of his love, ask her to be his wife? Puritanic
scruples such as his were beyond pardon. A sense of honor might go
too far. Why didn't he find out if it were true what Dorothea had
told him? God! To have had a vision, only to go through life in
An hundred times in fancy he had heard the sweep of her skirts, the
sound of her footsteps, the tones of her voice, and laughter gay and
sweet and soft; an hundred times had seen the glad eyes grow grave,
the forehead wrinkle in fine folds, the quick turn of her head; an
hundred times had felt the touch of her hands; and he had never asked
Hope to bring her to his home, lest her spirit should not come again.
The badinage of other days came to him, the days when women had
rather bothered. They would be amused, these women, did they know
his surrender to the god unknown at that time--the god he had
sometimes smiled at because he had not known. Day after to-morrow
she was going home. He had not seen her since the afternoon they had
been shopping together. The man from Washington had claimed her
time, and he had stayed away. Who was this man? To ask Hope or
Channing had been impossible. Dorothea would be delighted to tell
him. The instincts of her sex were well developed in Dorothea; and
she missed no chance of letting him know of Claudia's engagements, of
what she did, and where she went, and from whom her flowers came.
Doubtless she would be delighted to tell him even more.
He got up and began to walk the length and breadth of the room. The
sound of his footsteps was lost in the heavy rugs, and only the
ticking of the clock broke the stillness, and presently it struck the
hour of midnight. He took out his watch and looked at it. "Tomorrow
she is going home," he said.
AN INFORMAL VISIT
At the door of what was still called the nursery Laine stood a
moment, hesitating whether to go in or to go away. In a low
rocking-chair Claudia was holding Channing, half-asleep in her arms;
and at her feet Dorothea, on a footstool, elbows on knees and chin in
the palms of her hands, was listening so intently to the story being
told that for half a minute his presence was not noted.
Presently she looked up and saw him. "Come in." Her voice was a
high whisper. "It's the grandest story. Wait a minute, Cousin
Claudia." She ran toward the door and drew him in. "You'll have to
stay with us," she said, "because mother and father have gone out.
Some kind of a relation is in town and they had to go. Channing's
got an awful cold, and mother said he could have anything he wanted,
and he took Cousin Claudia to tell him stories. She's been doing it
ever since dinner. He's asleep now, but--"
"I'm not asleep." Channing's eyes opened blinkingly. "She said they
found the squirrel in a hollow down by the chestnut-tree, and the
moonlight on the snow--the moonlight--on--the--snow." His head fell
back on Claudia's bosom and, with a smile, she nodded to Laine and
held out her hand.
"The spirit is valiant, but the flesh prevails. I'm so sorry Hope
and Channing are out."
"I'm not." He drew a cushioned wicker chair close to the fire.
"It's been long since I heard a good fairy story. Please don't stop."
Dorothea pushed the stool aside and settled herself comfortably in
her uncle's lap. "It isn't a fairy story. You don't tell fairy
stories at Christmas; they're for summer, when the windows are open
and they can hide in the flowers and ride on the wind--the fairies, I
mean--but this is Christmas." She twisted herself into a knot of
quivering joy and hugged her arms with rapturous intensity. "It's
all in my bones, and I'm nothing but shivers. Isn't it grand to have
Christmas in your bones? Have you got it in yours?" She held
Laine's face between her hands and looked at it anxiously. "Cousin
Claudia has it in hers. She and I are just alike. We've been
filling stockings to-day for some children Timkins told us about.
They live near him, and their mother is sick and their father is
dead, and they haven't a bit of money. Channing and I are going to
hang our stockings up here before we go to grandmother's, and we're
going to hang them up there again. I wish we were going to Cousin
Claudia's. Of course, I love to go to grandmother's, but she lives
in town and they don't have snow in Savannah; and at Cousin Claudia's
they have everything. I mean everything Christmasy like I like.
She's been telling us about when she was a little girl."
Dorothea's feet twisted around each other and her hands were laid
palm to palm as her body swayed backward and forward in rhythmic
movement. "They go out in the woods and cut cart-loads of holly and
mistletoe and pine and Christmas-trees, and dress the house, and the
fires roar up all the chimneys, and they kill the pigs--"
Channing sat upright and rubbed his eyes. "They don't kill the pigs
at Christmas. She said they kill them when the persimmons get ripe."
"Well, they're killed and you eat them Christmas. They put a little
one on the table with an apple in its mouth. And they pick out the
fattest turkeys and ducks and geese and chickens; and they go to the
smoke-house and punch and poke the hams and things; and the oysters
come from the river; and Mammy Malaprop comes up from the gate, where
she lives now, and helps make the cakes and the, pies and
plum-puddings and beaten biscuits; and Cousin Claudia says when she
was a little girl Mammy Malaprop always gave her some of the
Christmas cake to bake in egg-shells. I wish I could see somebody
make a cake. And Christmas Eve they make egg-nog, and Uncle Bushrod
makes the apple toddy two weeks before." She turned to her uncle.
"Why don't you go down there, Uncle Winthrop? I bet you'd get
Christmas in your bones if you did."
"I am very sure of it." Laine fixed Dorothea more firmly on his lap.
"There is only one reason in the world why I don't go."
"What's that? We're going away, and you will be all alone if you
don't. Can't he come, Cousin Claudia? He'd love it. I know he
"I don't." Claudia moved her chair farther from the firelight.
"Christmas at Elmwood would be punishment for a city man. We are
much too primitive and old-fashioned. He would prefer New York."
"Would you?" Dorothea's arms were around her uncle's neck, and her
head nodded at his. "Would you?"
"I would not." Laine's voice was a little queer. "The punishment is
all at this end. I would rather spend Christmas at Elmwood than
anywhere on earth. But your Cousin Claudia will not let me,
"Won't you really?" Dorothea slipped from his lap, and, with hands
on the arms of Claudia's chair, gazed anxiously in her eyes. "He'll
be all alone if you don't. Please ask him, Cousin Claudia! You said
yourself there was always so much company at Elmwood that one more
never mattered and you managed to put them somewhere. Please--oh,
please ask him, Cousin Claudia!"
Claudia kissed the lips held close to her own. "I think it is time
for you to be in bed, Dorothea. You are making your uncle say things
he doesn't mean. He can come to Elmwood if he wishes, but--"
Dorothea sprang back and, with arms extended and fingers flipping,
danced round and round the room. "How magnificent! Now I won't have
a thing on my mind!" With a last whirl she jumped in Laine's lap and
took his hands in hers. "That's the only thing I hated about
Christmas, your being here all by yourself." She gave a deep breath.
"And now you'll be in that heavenly place with Cousin Claudia. When
I get big I'm going there and hunt by the light of the moon, and hear
the darkies sing when they're having a party with possum and
hoe-cake, and--" She sat upright. "Did you know Cousin Claudia was
going home to-morrow?"
Laine nodded. Speech had suddenly left him. He did not know whether
to take Dorothea in the next room and lock her up or hold her close
to his heart. What had the child done and made Claudia do?
Christmas at Elmwood! His blood surged thickly, and as Dorothea
settled back in his arms he looked up and met Claudia's eyes.
"I'm so scrumptious happy I feel like I'm in heaven!" Dorothea
wriggled in sleepy content. "Please finish that story you were
telling when Uncle Winthrop came in, Cousin Claudia. You had gotten
to where the little boy and the little girl were knocking at the door
of the big house with the wreaths in the windows, and it was snowing.
I couldn't sleep to save my life if I didn't know whether they got in
or not. Please finish it."
Claudia hesitated, then, changing Channing's position, finished the
story and glanced at the clock. "It is time for you to be in bed,
Dorothea. I have some notes to write and some packing to--"
"Just one more and that's all." Dorothea cuddled closer. "It's so
nice and home-y with just us in here. Please don't make me go yet.
Tell Uncle Winthrop a story"--she blinked bravely--"and then I'll
Laine leaned back and turned off the light from the lamp on the table
behind him, and as the firelight played on Claudia's soft, blue
dress, on the slippered feet tapping the stool on which they rested,
ran up to the open throat and touched the brown hair, parted and
brushed back in simple fashion, he held Dorothea close lest words he
must not speak be spoken. Presently he looked toward her.
"I am waiting," he said. "Will you tell me a story, Santa Claudia?"
"A story?" Her eyes were watching the curling flames. "What kind
shall I tell you? I do not know the kind you like."
"I would like any kind that you would tell me."
She leaned her head back against the cushioned chair, and again her
lashes seemed to touch her cheek. For a moment the soft silence was
unbroken, then she turned her face toward him.
"Very well," she said. "I will tell you a story. It will be about
the man who did not know."
THE MAN WHO DID NOT KNOW
"Once upon a time there was a man who had to make a journey. He did
not want very much to make it; and, not knowing whether it was to be
a long journey or a short one, he did not feel a great deal of
interest in it. Still it had to be made, and at its end he was to
find out whether he had been a good traveler, or a bad one.
"For a long time he did not notice very closely the road he was on.
He had been so busy getting ready, first at school, where he studied
a great many books that he might be better prepared for traveling,
and then in business, where money must be made to give him comfort
and pleasure on the way, that he did not have time to look around
very much; but after a while he saw that the road was getting very
dull and dusty, that most of the flowers were faded and the fruits
were not sweet and the birds did not sing as they had sung when first
he started out.
"A great many people had been traveling the same way he had. Though
they seemed to be having a good time, he had soon seen that most of
it was make-believe, and that much of their energy was spent in
trying to find something to play with, that they might forget what
kind of journey they were on. He did not like these people very
specially. He did not know any others, however, and he had kept up
with them because they had started out together; but, little by
little, he had slipped away from them, and after a while he found
that he was walking most of the time by himself. At first he did not
mind. The things his friends cared for and talked about did not
greatly interest him, and then it was he began to remember that a
good many things he had been passing were ugly and cruel, and bitter
and unjust. He could not understand why some should travel in
luxurious ease while others could hardly get along, their burdens
were so great; why some rode in carriages, and others, sick and
hungry and tired and cold, could never stop lest they die upon the
road; and why some sang and others wept.
"In groups and pairs, and sometimes one by one, they passed him, and
as they went by he would look into their faces to see why they were
traveling; but, like him, they did not know, they only knew they must
keep on. And then one day he saw he had come back to where his
journey had begun. He had been on the road to Nowhere--the road that
wound round and round."
"Just like travelers in the desert." Dorothea's eyes made effort to
open, but sleepily they closed again. "Why didn't he ask somebody
"He didn't think any one knew. He was much wiser than most of the
people who passed him. To many who seemed to be in need he had given
money; he was very generous, very kind, and he gave freely; but he
always turned his head away when he gave. He did not like to see
suffering and sorrow; and with sin of certain sorts he had no
sympathy, and so he would not look. But after a while he had to look.
"He was standing at the place from which he had started, and, to his
surprise, he saw what he had never seen before. Out from its center
led all sorts of roads that stretched beyond sight, and on each of
them people were traveling, all kinds of people, and he knew he could
no longer stand still. He must take one of these roads, but which
one he did not know. As he stood uncertain what to do, he felt some
one touch him; and, looking down, he saw a child; and into his strong
hand the child slipped his little one.
"'I have been waiting for you,' he said. 'I have been waiting a
long, long time.'
"'For me?' The man drew back. 'You can't have been waiting for me.
I do not know you, child!'
"He heard a little sigh, as soft as the stir of wings, and again the
"'But I know you. There is much for you to do.'
"Again the man held back. 'There is nothing for me to do. I pay my
taxes and give my tithes, and let the world alone.'
"'You cannot let the world alone. It is your world.' The boy looked
up. 'Come, they are waiting.'
"'Who is waiting?'
"'I have no people. There is no one waiting for me.'
"The child shook his head. 'You do not know your people, and they
are waiting. We must hurry, the time is short. We will go on this
road first, and then on that, and then on that and that and that. On
each one they are waiting.'
"All through the night they traveled, uphill and down, and in and out
of narrow paths and hidden places, and everywhere he saw them, the
people he had never known. Into the darkness of pits and mines, into
the fires of foundries and furnaces, into the factories where wheels
turned night and day, and into the holds of the ships of the sea, the
child led him to show him the people who were his. In cellars and
garrets, in jails and prisons, in shops and stores, in hunger and
cold, in the silence of sickness, the noise of sin, they were waiting
for his coming; and in their faces was that which made him cover his,
and he begged the child to take him where breath could come again.
"But the child held his hand still tighter. 'You have traveled long
and you have not known,' he said. 'You helped to make things as they
are, and now you must see.'
"'I helped to make things as they are? I have not even dreamed such
things could be!'
"'I know. And that is why I came. They are your people; and you did
"And then the child took him on another road, one that was smooth and
soft, and the air that blew over it was warm and fragrant. On it the
women wore jewels and laces and gorgeous gowns; and men threw gold
away to see it shine in the sunlight, threw it that others might see
"'Why do we come here?' the man asked. 'They are not waiting. They
do not need.'
"The child looked up in his face. 'They, too, are waiting--for some
one to let them know. And they, too, need, for hearts hurt
everywhere. Sometimes the loneliest ones are here.'
"Before answer could be made, the main road was left, and in a tiny
by-path they heard the laughter of children's voices; and, looking
ahead, they saw a little house with wreaths in the windows through
which the glow of firelight sent threads of dancing light upon the
snow, and the door was open.
"'We will go in,' said the child, 'for there is welcome.'
"Inside, the mother and the father and all the children were hanging
holly on the walls and bringing bundles and boxes and queer-shaped
packages from the other rooms and hiding them under chairs and tables
and in out-of-the-way places; and presently a row of stockings was
hung from the chimneypiece, and the children clapped their hands and
danced round and round the room. And then they threw their arms
around their father and mother and kissed them good night and left
them that Kris Kringle might come in.
"'They have no money, but are very rich,' said the child. 'They love
"Over long roads and short ones, over some that were dark and some
that were bright, they went their way, and presently they came to a
shabby, snow-covered street where children were pressing their faces
against shop-windows, and men and women were hurrying in and out of
crowded stores; and the child loosened his hold upon the man's hand.
'I must go now,' he said.
"'Oh no, you must not go!' Quickly the man reached for him. 'You
must not go. I do not even know your name!'
"The child shook his head. 'I cannot stay. And some day you will
know my name.'
"'But why did you come? If you must leave me, why did you come?'
"'Why did I come?' In the crowd he was slipping away, but the light
in his face streamed through it. 'I came to bring Good-Will to men.
I came that Men might Know.'"
A CHANGE OF PLANS
When Moses saw Mr. Laine hurrying from one side of his bedroom to the
other, opening bureau drawers and closet doors and throwing things on
floor and bed in an excited haste never seen before, he was convinced
that something was the matter with his master's mind. It had
happened very suddenly. He had eaten his dinner, but eaten so little
that Caddie, the cook, was in angry tears. For days her finest
efforts had been ignored, and temptation after temptation, triumphs
of skill on her part, had come back barely tasted, and, what was
worse, with no comment made upon them. Praise had hitherto never
been withheld, and to please him no labor was too great, no time too
precious to be expended; but if this was what she was to get-- Caddie
was Irish, and she threw birds and sweetbreads in the slop-can and
slammed the door in Moses's face.
"No, siree! I ain't a-goin' to let white folks' eatin's go in black
folks' stomachs, that I ain't!" she said, and shook both fists up at
the ceiling. "Pigs can have it first; there's some reason for pigs,
but that nigger man Moses!" Her nose went up, her head went back,
and she wept aloud. The work of her hands was as naught. She would
die and be buried before Moses should have it!
At his coffee Laine had asked for his mail, asked it to get Moses out
of the room. A creature who smiled always was not always to be
endured, and to-night he was in no mood for smiles.
Moses brought two letters. "These is all," he said.
Laine waved him out and opened the top one, which was from Dorothea.
What a queer propensity the child had for writing! Elbow on the
table and cigar in hand, he began to read indifferently; but in a
moment his hand stiffened and his face whitened to the lips, and,
half aloud, he read it again.
DEAR UNCLE WINTHROP,--I forgot to tell you something the other night.
I told you once that Cousin Claudia's sweetheart was that Washington
man. He isn't. I asked her and she said he wasn't. I asked her if
she was going to marry him and she said she was not. I don't like to
say things that aren't true and that's why I'm telling you. Miss
Robin French thinks she knows everything. We are going away
Your loving niece,
P. S.--When a lady gets married she has to go away with a man, don't
she? That's why she isn't going to get married. She says she loves
Elmwood better than any kind of man she's seen yet. I'm so glad,
For half a moment longer Laine stared at the paper in his hand, then,
with the cigar, it fell to the floor, and he lifted his head as if
for breath. Something had snapped, something that had been tense and
tight, and his throat seemed closing. Presently his face dropped in
his arms. What a fool he had been! He had let the prattle of a
child torture and torment him and keep him silent, and now she was
gone. After a while he raised his head and wiped his hands, which
were moist; and, as he saw the writing on the letter beside him, his
heart gave a click so queer that he looked around to see if the door
was shut. Quickly he opened the envelope and tried to read: he
couldn't see; the words ran into each other, and, going over to a
side light, he held the paper close to it.
DEAR MR. LAINE,--Ours is a very old-fashioned, country Christmas, but
we will be glad to have you spend it with us if you have not made
other arrangements. Uncle Bushrod and I will be at the wharf
Wednesday to meet the boat from Fredericksburg, and if you are on it
we will bring you home with us, and if not we will be sorry, so come
if you can. One or two other friends are coming that day, but most
of our guests are here. All the trains from the North stop at
Fredericksburg, and the boat that goes down the river leaves any time
after 2 P.M., the hour of leaving depending upon the amount of
freight, the convenience of the passengers, and the readiness of the
captain. As there's a boat only three times a week you can't get
here in time for Christmas unless you make the Tuesday boat which
should reach Brooke Bank, that's our landing, by ten o'clock
Wednesday morning. Do come if you can.
Sincerely, CLAUDIA KEITH.
"If I can! If I can!" With a sudden movement of his hand the letter
was put in one pocket, his watch taken out of another, and the button
under the light pressed violently. It was eight-forty-five. The
last train for Washington left at twelve-thirty, and a local from
there reached Fredericksburg at nine-twenty-four the next morning.
He knew the schedules well. "I have three hours and forty-five
minutes," he said, under his breath. "I'd make it if there were but
the forty-five minutes--if there were but ten."
And then it was that Moses, coming in answer to the bell, concluded
that his master was not himself. He had left him a few minutes
before, unapproachable in his silence, unappreciative of his efforts
to please and provide, and now he was giving so many orders at once,
calling for this and for that, pulling out clothes and pushing them
back, that Moses, who hated to be hurried as only his race can hate,
stood helpless, knowing only that something had happened, something
he did not understand.
"Did you say your riding-clothes, sir?" he asked, holding a
dress-shirt in his hand. "Or did you say--"
"I don't know what I said." Laine knocked over a box of
handkerchiefs and threw a white vest on the bed. "Where are my
shaving things? I told you I didn't want a trunk. Take the durned
thing away. I'll break my neck over it! Where is that English
bag--the big one? Get it, will you, and put in my riding-clothes,
evening clothes, and one other suit; put in the things I need.
You've packed it often enough. Call up Jerdone's private number, and
tell him I want all the flowers he's got. Get a move on you, Moses.
If you're paralyzed tell me; if not--"
"No, sir. I ain't paralyzed. I just demoralized. Suddenness always
did upset me. At dinner you look like you just as lief be dead as
livin', and now--"
"You or I will be dead if I miss that twelve-thirty train. Have you
called the cab?"
"No, sir. I ain't called no cab. You ain't never call the word cab.
You mean--" Moses's hands dropped limply at his side. "You mean
you're goin' away for Christmas?"
"That's what I mean!" Laine's voice was exultant, revealing, and he
coughed to hide its ring. "By the way, Moses, why don't you go home
for Christmas? Didn't you tell me once you came from Virginia? What
"Palmyra, sir. In Fluvanna County, that's where I come from. Excuse
me, but I bound to set down. Go _home_? Me go _home_? I couldn't
git there and back not to save my life for lessen than twenty-five
dollars, and till I git that farm paid for what I been buyin' to go
back to and die on I can't go nowhere. That I can't."
Laine looked up from the collection of collars, cravats, and cuffs he
was sorting. "Is it the money that's keeping you back, or is it you
don't want to go?"
"Don't want to go!" The palms of Moses's hands came together,
opened, and came back. "Yesterday I near 'bout bus' open with
wantin' to go. My mother she's near 'bout eighty, and she got Miss
Lizzie to write me and beg me to come for this here Christmas. Miss
Lizzie is old Major Pleasants's youngest old-maid daughter. He's got
three of 'em. He was my mother's marster, old Major Pleasants was,
and he sold me the land my mother's livin' on now. He didn't charge
nothin' much for it, but I had to have a house built, and buy some
pigs and some furniture and git a cow, and I bought two of them
street-car mules what was in Richmond when they put the 'lectric cars
on down there. 'T'was the first city in the United States to have
'em, Richmond was. They thought them mules was wore out, but there
ain't no friskier ones in the county than they is, I tell you now. I
ain't been home for four years--"
"And your mother is eighty?"
"Yes, sir, that's what they tell me, though she say she don't know
herself 'ceptin' she had four chillern which was good size when the
war broke out. I belong to the second crop. My mother done had
nineteen chillern, the triflinest, good-for-nothin'est lot the Lord
ever let live on this earth, if I do say it, and ain't a one of 'em
what does a thing for her, savin' 'tis me and Eliza--Eliza she's my
sister and lives with her."
"And you'd like to spend Christmas with your mother, you say?"
In the years of his service Moses had never before mentioned family
matters, but, having started, he was not likely to stop, and Laine
was forced to interrupt,
"Yes, sir. This Christmas I would. Some other Christmases I
wouldn't, 'count of a yaller girl what lived on the next place. It
was in the summer-time, the last time I was home, and, she bein' a
likely-lookin' girl, I seen right much of her every now and then, and
I just talk along and tell her 'bout New York and what a grand,
lonely place it was, and how my heart got hongry for my own people,
and--things like that, you know, but I didn't mean nothin' serious or
have any matrimony ideas, and first thing I know she done had me
engaged to her. She chase me near 'bout to death, that girl did, but
Miss Lizzie say she gone away now and I can come in peace."
Laine took out his pocket-book, put some notes in an envelope, and
handed it to Moses. "This is for your ticket and to get some things
to take to your mother," he said. "Be back by the thirtieth, and
hurry and call that cab for the twelve-thirty train. I've some
letters to write before I leave, and there's no time to lose. Tell
Caddie I want to see her, and don't forget about that Reilley family,
and see that everything gets to them in good shape--a good dinner and
all the bundles and plenty for the stockings. Tell Caddie I'm
Later on, in the library, Laine sealed his last letter and put it on
the pile Moses was to mail in the morning. Perhaps he had been a
little rash this Christmas. Well, suppose he had. The boys in the
office had done well through the year and ought to be told so. By
itself a check was a pretty cold thing, and the words he had written
to each had been honestly meant. And Miss Button, his stenographer,
needed a little trip. Ten days at Atlantic City with her mother
would pull her up. She had been looking badly lately--worried about
her mother, Weeks had told him. Pity she was so homely. It was
pretty unfair the way women had to work at both ends of the line.
Weeks, too, could get his wife that fur coat he'd been wanting her to
have for three years. What an honest old duck Weeks was!--and who
would ever believe him as full of sentiment as a boy of twenty? He
had overheard him talking to Miss Dutton about the coat that morning.
Fifteen years Weeks had been his secretary, but to-night was the
first time he had ever told him in actual words of his appreciation
of his faithful service. "I wouldn't want a million if it didn't
have some love with it," Claudia had said to him, and before his
half-closed eyes she seemed to stand in front of him.
"They are her gifts," he said. "I was blind, and she has made me
A VISIT TO VIRGINIA
Not until he was settled in the car did Laine let himself take in the
meaning of the journey he was taking. The past few hours had been
too hurried to think; but as he sat in the smoking-compartment
thought was no longer to be held in abeyance, and he yielded to it
with no effort at restraint.
Sleep was impossible. The train, due at Washington at seven-twelve,
would there have to be changed to a local for Fredericksburg, but the
early rising was no hardship. To sit up all night would have been
none. Each turn of the wheel was taking him nearer and nearer, and
to listen to them was strange joy. Only that morning he had wished
Christmas was over, had indeed counted the days before business could
again absorb, and now every hour would be priceless, every moment to
be held back hungrily.
One by one, the days in which he had seen Claudia passed in review
before him. The turn of her head, the light on her hair, the poise
of her body on her horse, bits of gay talk, the few long quiet ones,
the look of eyes unafraid of life, light laughter, and sometimes
quick frown and quicker speech, and, clearest of all, the evening in
which she had told him the story, with Channing in her arms and
Dorothea in his. There had been few waking moments in which it had
not repeated itself to him, and in his dreams the scene would change
and the home would be theirs--his home and hers--and she would be
telling him again what life should mean.
He had long known the name of the land in which he lived. It was,
indeed, a Lonely Land; but that it was of his own choosing he had not
understood, nor had he cared to think all people were his people.
There was much that he must know. He needed help, needed it
infinitely. If she would give it-- A man, reeling slightly, came in
the compartment, and, getting up, Laine went out quickly. For a few
moments he stood in the vestibule and let the air from a partly open
door blow over him, then, with a glance at the stars, turned and came
At Fredericksburg the next morning Laine turned to the negro hackman,
who, with Chesterfieldian bows, was hovering over his baggage and
boxes, and made inquiries of the boat, the time of leaving, of a
hotel, of what there was to see during the hours of waiting; and
before he understood how it happened he found himself and his
paraphernalia in the shabby old hack and was told he would be taken
to the boat at once. He had never been to Virginia, had never seen a
specimen of human nature such as now flourished a whip in one hand
and with the other waved a battered and bruised silk hat toward the
muddy street that led from the station to the town above, and with
puzzled eyes he looked at the one before him.
"Yas, suh! I knows jes' exactly what 'tis you want to be doin', suh.
You jes' set yourself right back in the carridge and I'll take you
and the baggige right down to the boat and put 'em in for you, and
then me and you'll go round and see this heah town. I reckon you
ain't never been to this place before. Is you all right now, suh?"
The once shiny hat was put on the back of the grizzled gray head, a
worn and torn robe was tucked around Laine's knees, and before answer
could be made the driver was on the box, the whip was cracked, and
two sleepy old horses began the slight incline of the long street out
of which they presently turned to go to the wharf and the boat tied
loosely to it.
Half an hour later, bags and boxes having been stored in a
state-room, a hasty survey of the boat made, and a few words
exchanged with a blue-coated man of friendly manners concerning the
hour of departure, Laine again got in the old ramshackle hack and for
two hours was shown the honors and glories of the little town which
had hitherto been but a name and forever after was to be a smiling
memory. Snow and slush covered its sidewalks, mud was deep in the
middle of the streets, but the air went to the head with its stinging
freshness, the sun shone brilliantly, and in the faces of the people
was happy content.
Reins dropped loosely in his lap, Beauregarde, the driver, sat
sideways on the box and emitted information in terms of his own; and
Laine looked and listened in silent joy to statements made and the
manner of their making.
"Yas, suh, this heah town am second only in historic con-se-quence to
Williamsburg, suh, though folks don't know it till they come and find
it out from me. I been a-drivin' this heah hack and a-studyin' of
history for more'n forty years, and I ain't hardly scratch the skin
of what done happen heah before a Yankee man was ever thought of.
They didn't use to have no Yankees 'fore the war, but they done
propogate themselves so all over the land that they clean got
possession of 'most all of it. They's worse than them little English
sparrows, they tell me. Marse George Washington he used to walk
these streets on his way to school. He had to cross the river from
Ferry Farm over yonder"--the whip was waved vaguely in the air--"and
he wore long trousers till he got to be a man. Young folks didn't
use to show their legs in those days, suh, jes' gentlemen. That
place we're comin' to is Swan Tavern, and if it could talk it could
tell things that big men said, that it could. This heah house is
where Mis' Mary, the mother of Marse George Washington, used to live
when she got too old to boss the farm. Some society owns it what was
originated to preserve our Virginia iniquities, and they done put up
a monument to her that's the onliest one ever put up to a woman for
being the mother of a man. They was bus head people, the Washingtons
was, but so was a lot of others who didn't do nothin' to prove it,
and so is now forgot, and quality folks in them days was so thick
there warn't enough other kind to do 'em reverence. Governor
Spottswood and his Horse-Shoe gentlemen took dinner once in this heah
town, and President James Monroe used to live heah. I'm a-goin' to
show you his home and his office, presently, and the house where
Marse Paul Jones used to live in. I reckon you done heard tell of
Marse John Paul Jones, ain't you?"
Laine admitted having heard of him, but historic personages did not
interest as much as present-day ones. The occupants of certain
quaint and charming old houses, with servants' quarters in the rear
and flower-filled gardens in the front, the rose-bushes of which were
now bent and burdened with snow, appealed, as the other places of
famous associations failed to do, and he wondered in which of them
Claudia's relatives lived.
At Marye's Heights Beauregarde waxed eloquent. Half of what he said
was unheard, however, and as Laine's eyes swept the famous
battle-fields his forehead wrinkled in fine folds. Could they have
been settled in any other way--those questions which had torn a
nation's heart from its bosom? Would the spilling of blood be
forever necessary? He ordered Beauregarde to drive to the hotel.
There was just time for lunch, and then the boat which would take him
down the river to where Claudia would be waiting.
As the boat swung off from the wharf and slowly made its way down the
narrow river, curving like a horse-shoe around its ice-bound banks,
Laine, standing in the bow, scanned the scene closely, and wondered
if it were but yesterday that he had been in the rush and stir of
city life. Straight up from the water the bluff rose boldly. Rays
of pale sunlight sent threads of rainbow colors on the snow which
covered it, and through the crystal-coated trees, here and there, a
stately mansion could be seen overlooking the river. Skimming the
water, a sea-gull would now and then dip and splash and rise again in
the clear, cold air, and, save for the throb of the engine, there was
Until the sun had set and darkness made farther scanning of banks and
bluff and winding river impossible, Laine walked the deck, hands in
pockets, and thought of the morrow and the days ahead. The boat
would tie up for the night at Pratt's Wharf and was due at ten the
next morning at Brooke Bank if there was no unusual delay. Suddenly
he remembered she had said other friends would be on the boat. Most
of the passengers were obviously returning home from a shopping trip
to the city, package-laden and bundle-burdened, but two city men he
had noticed and then forgotten in the thought of other things. Who
were they? He opened the door of the stuffy little cabin and went
in. Five minutes later he was at the supper-table and next to the
two men who were talking in undertones of former Christmases at
Elmwood. They were young, good-looking, and of Claudia's world. He
got up and again went out.
For some time Laine had seen Claudia. Walking up and down the little
wharf at the end of the long bridge, railless and narrow, which ran
far out into the river, her hands in her muff, the collar of her fur
coat turned up, her face unprotected by the brown veil which tied
down securely the close-fitting hat, he had seen her a long way off,
and as she waved her hand in greeting he lifted his hat and waved it
A few minutes later he was shaking hands with her, with her uncle,
with his two fellow-passengers, with a number of other people, and
everybody was talking at once. Those on the wharf were calling out
to those on the boat, and those on the boat were making inquiries of,
or sending messages by those on the wharf, and not until Laine's
hands were again shaken well by Claudia's uncle as the Essex drew
off, did he understand just who was his host.
"A hearty welcome to Virginia, sir! A hearty welcome! We're happy
to have you in our home! Here, Claudia, you drive Mr. Laine in the
small sleigh, and I'll take the boys in the big one. Are you ready?
Look at that rascal Jim dancing a horn-pipe instead of filling that
wagon! We're glad to know you, sir, glad to have you!" And for the
third time Laine's hands were shaken well by the ruddy-faced,
white-haired old gentleman, with the twinkling, faded blue eyes, and
old-fashioned clothes; shaken until they hurt. He was no longer a
stranger. The touch of hands, the sound of voice, and a something
without name had made him one of them, and that of which he had once
been doubtful he knew was true.
Ahead of them his fellow-travelers, one a Keith cousin and the other
a friend, waved back and disappeared in a bend of the road; and as
Claudia took up the reins he turned toward her.
"Have you been waiting long? Are you sure you are not cold?" he
"Cold! On a day like this?" The color in her face was brilliant.
"We don't often have weather of this sort, and to stay indoors is
impossible. I love it! It's so Christmasy, if it isn't Southern.
Did you have a very dreadful trip down? It takes courage to make it."
"Courage!" He laughed and tucked the robe closer around her. "It
was the most interesting trip I ever took. This is a very beautiful
"We think it is." She turned slightly and looked around her. The
road from the boat-landing wound gradually up the incline to the
ridge above the river; and as they reached its top the view of the
latter was unbroken, and broad and blue it stretched between its
snow-clad banks, serene and silent.
Laine's eyes swept the scene before him. The brilliant sunshine on
field and river and winding road for a moment was blinding. The
biting air stung his face, and life seemed suddenly a splendid,
joyous thing. The girl beside him was looking ahead, as if at
something to be seen there; and again he turned to her.
"You love it here?"
"Love it?" Her eyes were raised to his. "Everything in it, of it,
about it!" With her left hand she brushed away the strands of hair
the wind had blown across her eyes. "It is my home."
"A woman can make a home anywhere. A man--"
"No, she can't--that is, I couldn't. I'd smother in New York. It is
wonderful to go to. I love its stir and color and the splendid
things it is doing; but you can't listen to the wind in the trees, or
watch the stars come out, or let your other self have a chance." She
turned to him. "We're very slow and queer down here. Are you sure
you won't mind coming for Christmas?"
Laine leaned forward and straightened the robe, and out of his face
the color faded. He was only one of the several guests. "You are
very good to let me come," he said, quietly. "I have not thanked
you. I don't know how to thank you. Christmas by one's self--"
"Is unrighteous!" She nodded gaily and touched the horse with the
whip. "There's Elmwood! There's my home! Please like Virginia, Mr.
Before he could answer, the sleigh stopped at the entrance to the
road leading to the big house, and at the door of the little lodge by
the always-open gate stood a short, stout colored woman, hands on her
hips, and on her head a gaily colored kerchief.
Laine was introduced. Mammy Malaprop was known by reputation, but no
words could make of Malaprop a picture, and in deep delight Laine
watched her as she curtsied in a manner all her own.
"How you do, suh! How you do! A superfluous Christmas to you, suh!
I'm sorry you didn't git heah 'fore de war. Livin' nowadays ain't
more'n shucks from de corn of what it used to be. Is dey all heah
now, Miss Claudia?"
"I believe so. I am going to bring Mr. Laine down for some hoe-cakes
and buttermilk after Christmas, and you might tell him some of the
stories you used to tell us when we were children. He lives in New
"He do! I hope he got himself petrified on the way down, for they
tell me 'tis a den of promiscuity, and all the nations of the earth
done took their seats in it. I knowed a woman who lived there once.
She near 'bout work herself to death, and she say she couldn't have
stood it if it hadn't been for the hopes of a glorious immorality
what was awaitin' her when she died--" And Mammy Malaprop's hands
waved cheerfully until the sleigh was lost to sight.
From the public road skirting the Elmwood land the private one,
tree-bordered by century-old elms, leading to the terraced lawn,
wound for some three-quarters of a mile, and as they approached the
house Laine saw it was architecturally of a type unseen before. The
central building, broad, two stories high, with sloping roof and
deep-pillared portico, by itself would not have been unusual; but the
slightly semi-circular corridors connecting it with the two wings
gave it a grace and beauty seldom found in the straight lines of the
period in which it had been built, and the effect was impressive. At
the foot of the terrace a little colored boy was blowing ardently a
little trumpet, giving shrill greeting to the stranger guest, and as
they came closer he took off his hat and held it in his hand.
"All right, Gabriel." Claudia nodded to the boy. "Run on, now, and
tell Jeptha to come for the horse." She laughed in Laine's puzzled
eyes. "He's Mammy Malaprop's grandson. He thinks he's the real
Gabriel and it's his duty to blow. He sings like an angel, but can't
learn to spell his name. There they are!" She waved her hand gaily
to the group on the porch.
As he saw them Laine thought of Claudia's arrival in New York, and
his face flushed. The men came down the steps, and a moment later he
was presented to Claudia's mother, gracious, gentle, and of a dignity
fine and sweet; to her sister, home for the holidays with her husband
and children; to an engineer cousin from the West, and a girl from
Philadelphia; and once more his hands were shaken by Colonel Bushrod
Ball. It was a Christmas guest who was being welcomed, not Winthrop
Laine alone, and he wondered if he were indeed himself.
More than once he wondered before the day was done. Under the
leadership of the Colonel the men were shown their rooms, by way of
the dining-room, for, like Moses, Uncle Bushrod believed inward cheer
essential after outdoor chill; and, moreover, the apple toddy must be
tested. It was an old world he was in, but to him a very new one.
The happy stir of Christmas preparations, the coming and going of
friends and neighbors, the informality and absence of pretense, the
gay chatter and genuine interest, was warm and sweet; and as one who
watches a play he wondered at it, and something long thought dead
thrilled and throbbed and stirred within him.
In former days the house had doubtless been the scene of lavish
living, he thought from time to time, and he would have liked to
explore the many rooms with their polished floors and deep
window-seats, their carved paneling and marble mantels; and when, in
the afternoon, he found himself alone for a few minutes in the vast
hall, he paced off its sixty feet of length and its twenty of width
to know their number, studied the winding staircase with its white
pilasters and mahogany rails, scanned hurriedly the portraits in
their tarnished frames, some with the signatures of Sir Joshua
Reynolds, some with Stuart, and others of lesser fame, which hung
above the wainscoted walls; and as he looked he did not wonder at
Claudia's love for her home.
"You care for these things, too, do you?"
The voice behind made him turn quickly. The girl from Philadelphia
nodded to him and hugged her crossed arms closely to her bosom. "I
don't. That is, not in weather like this, I don't. Ancestral halls
sound well, but, unheated, they're horrors. I'm frozen, and the
doors are open, of course. Have you been in the big parlors? Some
pretty things are in them, but faded and rather shabby now. Why
don't you go in the library? There's a roaring fire in there, and a
chair you can sit on. Every other one in the house has something in
Laine followed the girl into the library, and as she held her hands
to the blaze she motioned him to sit down. "I don't believe anybody
in the world is as crazy about Christmas as Claudia. She gets the
whole county on the jump, and to-morrow night everything in it will
be here. Giving is all right, but Claudia takes it too far. The
house needs painting, and a furnace would make it a different place,
but she will do nothing until she has the money in the bank to pay
for it; and yet she will give everybody within miles a Christmas
present. When she took hold of things the place was dreadfully
mortgaged, and she's paid off every dollar; but, for chance,
stock-markets aren't in it with farming. Isn't that a pretty old
desk? I could sell lots of this furniture for them and get big money
for it, but I don't dare say so. They never talk money here. My
room hasn't a piece of carpet on it, and one of those old Joshua
Reynoldses in the hall would get so many things the house needs. I'm
a Philistine, I guess, as well as a Philadelphian, and I like new
things: plenty of bath-rooms and electric lights and steam heat. I
don't blame them for not selling the old silver and china or the
dining-room furniture, though it needs doing over pretty badly; but
some of those old periwigged pictures I'd sell in a minute. Plenty
of people would pay well for ancestors, and it's about all they've
got down here. Hello, Claudia; we were just talking about you!"
Claudia put down the armful of red roses she was carrying and began
to fill a tall vase with them. "Did you say anything that wasn't
nice?" She bit a piece of stem off. "If you did, it wasn't so." She
turned to Laine. "You ought to see mother. She rarely has such
flowers as you brought down--You have made her so happy. It was very
good of you."
"Good!" The girl from Philadelphia went out of the room. "If
only--" In his eyes no longer was restraint, and Claudia turned her
head as if listening to something outside.
"I believe mother is calling me," she said. "Would you mind telling
her, Mr. Laine, I am coming right away?"
Laine looked at his watch. Twenty minutes past twelve. Christmas
was over. Two days after were over also, and in the morning most of
the guests were going away.
From the basket by the hearth he threw a fresh log on the smoldering
fire, lifted it with his foot farther back on the hot ashes, drew the
old-fashioned arm-chair closer to the fender, and, turning down the
light from the lamp on the pie-crust table near the mantel, sat down
and lighted a fresh cigar.
It had been very beautiful, very wonderful, this Christmas in the
country. Its memories would go with him through life, and yet he
must go away and say no word of what he had meant to say to Claudia.
Very definitely he had understood, from the day of his arrival, that
to tell her of his love would be a violation of a code to which the
directness of his nature had given little thought in the reaction of
feeling which had possessed him when he read her note. He was a
guest by invitation, and to speak now would be beyond pardon. In his
heart was no room for humor, and yet a comic side of the situation in
which he found himself was undeniable. The contrast it afforded to
former opportunities was absurdly sharp and determined, and the irony
of the little god's way of doing things was irritatingly manifest.
If in Claudia's heart was knowledge of the secret in his, she masked
it well. Warmly cordial, coolly impersonal, frankly unconscious,
she had never avoided him, and still had so managed that they were
never alone together. Hands clasped loosely, he leaned forward and
stared into the heart of the blazing logs. Of course she knew. All
women know when they are loved. No. The log fell apart, and its
burning flame glowed rich and red. She had not known, or she would
not have asked him to Elmwood. Merely as she would ask any other
lonely man in whom she felt a kindly interest, she had asked him,
and, thus far, her home was the love of her life. In a thousand ways
he had felt it, seen it, understood it; and the man who would take
her from it must awaken within her that which as yet was still asleep.
The days just past had been miserably happy. Before others light
laughter and gay speech. In his heart surrender and suppliance, and
before him always the necessity of silence until he could come again,
and he must go that he might come again.
One by one, pictures of recent experiences passed before him,
experiences of simple, happy, homelike living; and things he had
almost forgotten to believe in seemed real and true once more. A new
sense of values, a new understanding of the essentials of life, had
been born again; and something growing cold and cynical had warmed
In the big hall he had helped the others put up the fragrant spruce
pine-tree which reached to the ceiling, helped to dress it midst
jolly chatter and joyous confusion, helped to hide the innumerable
presents for the morrow's findings; and on Christmas morning had as
eagerly dumped the contents of his stocking as had Jack and Janet, or
the men who had come from busy city lives to be boys again, or as
Claudia herself, who could not see with what her own was filled, for
the constant demand that she should come here and there, and see this
and that, or do what no one else was able to.
Slipping down farther in his chair, Laine put his feet on the fender
and with half-shut eyes saw other pictures in the fire. The gray
dawn of Christmas morning came again, and he seemed to hear the
clear, childish voice below his window. Half asleep, he had stirred
and wondered what it was, then sat up to listen. The quaint words of
the old carols he knew well, but never had he heard them sung as
Gabriel was singing them. Shrill and sweet in the crisp, cold air,
the voice sounded first as if far away and then very near, and he
knew the boy was walking up and down below each window that all might
As Joseph was a-walking
He heard the angels sing,
This night there shall be born
Our heavenly King.
Here and there, in a verse from one carol joined almost in the same
breath to another he went from:
God rest you, merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ, our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas Day.
We are not daily beggars,
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbor's children
Whom you have seen before.
He had smiled at the mixture of verses and jumped up, for Jim had
come in to light the fire, and from his broadly grinning face
"Christmas Gif" was radiating, if from his lips, in obedience to
orders, their utterance was withheld. On his door a half-hour later
came the pounding of childish fists, and Janet's lisping voice was
"Oh, Mither Laine, Santa Clauth hath come and your stocking ith
down-stairs. Pleath, thir, hurry! Mother said I could kiss you a
happy Chrithmath if you were drethed."
Hand in hand they had gone into the dining-room, with its lavishly
spread table and mantel-hung stockings, and the chorus of hearty
greetings and warm hand-shaking had made his heart beat like a boy's.
The day had passed quickly. The gay breakfast; the unwrapping of
bundles; the sleigh-ride to church, where the service was not so long
as was the seemingly social meeting afterward; the bountiful dinner
with its table laden as in days of old rather than in the modern
fashion of elegant emptiness; the short afternoon--it was all soon
over, and the evening had gone even more rapidly.
The crackling logs and dancing flames in the huge old-fashioned
fireplace in the hall, the tree with its myriad of lighted candles,
the many guests from county's end to county's end, the delicious
supper and foaming egg-nog, and, last of all, the Virginia reel
danced in the vast parlors and led by Colonel Bushrod Ball and Madam
Beverly, who had not missed a Christmas night at Elmwood since she
was a bride some sixty years ago, made a memory to last through life,
a memory more than beautiful if-- He drew in a deep breath. There
should be no "if."
Through the days and the evenings of the days that followed there had
been no word alone with Claudia, however. She had taken him to see
the Prossers, but Jack and Janet had gone with them, and out-of-doors
and indoors there was always some one else. Was this done purposely?
He leaned forward and threw a couple of logs on the fire. The room
was cold. As the wood caught and the names curled around the rough
bark, the big tester bed, with its carved posts and valance of white
muslin, threw long shadows across the room, and in their brass
candlesticks the candle-light flared fitfully from the mantel,
touching lightly the bowl of holly with its scarlet berries, and
throwing pale gleams of color on the polished panels of the old
mahogany wardrobe on the opposite wall. For a moment he watched the
play of fire and candle, then got up and began to walk backward and
forward the length of the uncarpeted floor. Writing was a poor
weapon with which to win a woman's heart. Rather would he tell her
of his love, ask her to be his wife, and, if she would marry him,
compel her to say when; but he could not come as quickly as he could
write. He must go away that he might tell her what no longer was to
be withheld. Indecision had ever been unendurable, and uncertainty
was not in him to stand. Without her, life would be--again he looked
in the fire--without her, life would not be life.
Claudia parted the curtains of her bedroom window and, holding them
aside, looked out upon the scene before her with eyes love-filled at
its wonder and beauty.
Across the broad, terraced lawn the fresh-fallen snow was unbroken,
and every crystal-coated branch and twig of the great trees upon it
gleamed in the moonlight as though made of glass. In the distance
the river between its low hills seemed a shining, winding path of
silver, and over it the moon hung white and clear and passionless.
The mystery of silence, the majesty of things eternal, brooded
softly; and with a sudden movement of her hands Claudia held them as
though in prayer.
"In all the world there is no place like this--for me. It is my
place. My work is here. I could not--could not!"
With a slight indrawing breath that was half sigh, half shiver, she
left the window and drew her chair close to the fire. For a long
time she looked into its dancing depths, and gradually her eyes so
narrowed that their long lashes touched her flame-flushed cheeks.
After a while she got up, went over to her desk, took from it several
letters locked in a small drawer, came back to the fire, and again
looked into it.
The girlish grace of her figure in its simple dress of soft blue,
open at the neck and showing the curves of the beautiful throat, was
emphasized by the unconscious relaxation of her body as she leaned
for a moment against the mantel; and the Claudia to whom all looked
for direction, the Claudia who had small patience with hesitating
indecisions, and none for morbid self-questionings, searched the
leaping flames with eyes uncertain and afraid.
A slight noise in the hall made her start uneasily. She did not want
to be disturbed to-night. Turning her head, she listened. The
corners of the large, high-ceilinged room, with its old-fashioned
mahogany furniture, its shelves of books, its carved desk of quaint
pattern, and its many touches of feminine occupancy, were lost in
shadow, and only here and there on chair or table or bit of wall the
firelight darted, but to dance off again, and the stillness was
unbroken save by the crackling logs upon the hearth.
Drawing the lamp on the table closer, she sat down and took out of
their opened envelopes two letters, one addressed to her mother and
one to her Uncle Bushrod Ball; and as she read them the flush in her
face deepened, then paled, and she bit her lip to hide its quivering.
Putting them aside, she held for a moment, in hands that trembled
slightly, another letter, and presently she began to read it:
"I can wait no longer, Claudia. Words are not for love like mine;
but you, who gave it life, will understand it without words. I
believed I had put it from me--the thought of marriage--for almost I
had lost my faith in the love for which I looked, and with compromise
I could not be content. Perhaps I had no right to ask for what few
find in life, but I did ask it, and when you came I knew my dreaming
had come true. Will you marry me, Claudia? So infinitely I love
you, want you, need you, that the days ahead until I win you--for I
shall win you--are dark and dreaded. All of your love, its supremest
best, I want; but if for mine, which is beyond all measure, you can
give me now but little, give it and let me come to you. I must come.
I am coming. And believe me always Yours,
The pages dropped slowly in her lap, and, leaning back in her chair,
Claudia closed her eyes and pressed her hands against them tightly.
For some time she sat thus, then took up the last letter and read
"It is within an hour of midnight, Claudia. Soon the new year will
be with us and the old one gone--the one that brought you to me.
Almost the year had gone before I met you, but time is more than days
and weeks, and that of ours together has been the real living of my
life. In the stillness of my room I drop my book and dream that you
are with me. On the street I hurry home to you; and once I stopped
and bought you flowers--and in the darkness threw them away. To have
you really here, to know that you are waiting--
"The new year has come, Claudia. The bells are striking the hour.
It must, it shall bring you to me. I am asking much when I ask you
to marry me, to leave your home to make a home for me. Your infinite
love for Elmwood is understood well. Its old-world air of dignity
and charm, of gracious courtesy and fine friendships, of proud
memories and gentle peace, could scarce find counterpart elsewhere on
earth, and yet in the days to come would it content alone, Claudia?
For my great need of you might there not be some little need of me?
Tell me I may come; but, whether you tell me or not, I am coming.
Claudia put the pages back in their envelope. On the hearth the fire
burned low, and, slipping out of her chair, she sat upon the rug and
held her hands out shiveringly to the red ashes slowly turning gray.
The habit of childhood was upon her, and quiveringly she talked to
"You shouldn't have asked him to come Christmas! But how could I
have known? I only thought he would be lonely. He cares for so few
people and with all his wisdom has so little understanding of many
things in life. He is so intolerant of weakness and meanness, of
sham and show and pretence and make-believe that--that that's why you
like him, and you know it, Claudia Keith! You shouldn't have asked
him. You didn't know--but you knew before he went away. And he is
coming back." Slowly she got up. "No. He is not coming back. That
is, not yet, he isn't. You are not sure. Are you glad?" In the
mirror over the mantel she met her eyes unshrinkingly. "Yes, I am
glad," she said, and her lips whitened. "I am glad, but I am not
sure." In her eyes was strange appeal. "Vermont and Virginia!
Could we be happy? We are so different--and yet-- Perhaps in the
spring. . . . The winter months are very long. Oh, Winthrop Laine!"
She pressed her hands to her heart as if to still its sudden
throbbing, then reached for his letter and kissed it. "I wonder if I
am going to know what Lonely Land can mean!"
A VISIT FROM DOROTHEA
Dorothea settled herself more comfortably in her uncle's lap. "You
certainly ought to be thankful you've never had it," she said. "It's
worse than being a leper. I've never been a leper, but when you're
that you can go out, the Bible says so, and people just pass you by
on the other side and let you alone. With diphtheria they don't let
you alone. Lepers are just outcasts, but diphtherias--what are
people who have diphtheria?--well, whatever they are, they're cast in
and nobody can see them except the nurses and the doctor and your
mother and father. The doctor said father mustn't come in my room,
as he had to go to his business, and father told him to go to the
devil--I heard him. I just love the way father talks when he's mad.
I couldn't have stood the long days if it hadn't been for you and
father coming in every evening. They certainly do a lot of things
when you're sick with contagiousness. Everything you eat out of and
drink out of has to be boiled and stewed, and the things you spit in
burned up, and the walls washed, and more foolishness!" Dorothea's
eyes rolled and her voice was emphatic. "I don't believe in a lot of
things, Uncle Winthrop. I wasn't really sick, and just had a teensy,
weensy bit of pain in my throat; and if I'd known what they were
going to do to me I'd have been one of those Science Christians and
kept it to myself."
"But suppose you had given it to Channing?" Dorothea's uncle settled
Dorothea more steadily on his lap. "The foolishness of wisdom is all
some see of it, but if Channing had taken diphtheria from you--"
"I don't believe there was any diphtheria for him to take. If I'd
been a poor person it would have been plain sore throat, and I'd had
some peace. Timkins says his little girl was a heap sicker than I
was, and her mother nursed her all the time, and she got well long
before I did. Are we very rich, Uncle Winthrop?"
"You are not billionaires. Your father has been fortunate and made
"Is making money fortunate? Of course, I like nice things; but a
whole lot of us children feel like"--Dorothea's arms waved as if to
free herself from unseen strappings--"feel like Chinese children.
Our feet aren't really bound, sure enough, but we can't do like we
like. Sometimes I just want to run as fast as a racehorse, and
holler as loud as the poor children do in the park. I hate
regulations and proper things. If father were to lose his money, do
you suppose we would have to have a special time for everything we
do? Go to bed, and get up, and eat, and say lessons, and study
lessons, and take lessons, and go out, and come in, and lie down in a
dark room, and go again to drive or walk, and in between everything
you do dress over again, and never, _never_ run or climb trees or
tear your clothes and have just plain fun? I love dirt. I do! I
have to be so careful with my finger nails and my clothes that if
ever I have children I am going to let them get right down in the
dirt and roll in it and make all the noise they want. Mother says a
loud voice is so inelegant. So is affectatiousness, I think, and I
wasn't born with a soft voice. I just bawl at Channing sometimes. I
do it on purpose. I'm like father. I get tired of being elegant.
Haven't you any kind of candy anywhere, Uncle Winthrop? Mother said
I could have a few pieces if it didn't have nuts in it."
Laine reached for a drawer in the book-piled table near which he sat.
"If I had known I was to have the honor of a visit from you this
afternoon I would have been better prepared for entertainment. I'm
afraid this candy isn't very good. It's been here since your last
"That's been two months ago. We didn't get back from Florida until
February, and in March I was taken sick, and then we went to
Lakewood, and now it's May. Mother can't understand how I got sick.
She says she tries so hard to keep us from diseases and they come
anyhow. I wish I didn't have to be educated and find out
things--mother knows a lot; but it makes her so nervous. I'd rather
be sick sometimes than afraid of being all the time. This certainly
is poor candy. I promised mother I wouldn't eat a thing Caddie gave
me if she'd let me come to see you; but I don't think she'd mind if I
took home some of those little cakes Caddie makes with almonds in
them. Do you suppose she has any?"
"I couldn't guess. I'll ring and find out."
"I'll ask her." Dorothea slipped from her uncle's lap. "I'll be
back in a minute," and before Laine could press the button which
would bring Moses she had disappeared. Five minutes later she was
back, in her hands a good-sized paper box, tied clumsily with red
string, and as she put it on the table she patted it with
"That's for Channing," she said, half leaning against the table and
drumming on it with the tips of her fingers. "Caddie didn't have any
cakes. She says you used to like sweet things, and it was once a
pleasure to cook for you; but if you enjoy anything you eat now you
never confess it to her. She says you eat, but you don't know the
name of what you're eating, and one thing is the same as another. I
think her feelings are getting hurt, Uncle Winthrop."
"Are they? I'm sorry. Caddie is a spoiled creature. I long ago
exhausted the English language in commendation of her efforts.
Nothing is so wearing on one as continual demand for praise, and
Caddie's capacity is exhaustless. I'm sorry she didn't have the
"She's going to make some to-morrow and send them to me. It's
pop-corn in this box." Dorothea held up the latter and shook it.
"Moses brought it from Virginia. They are the cunningest little ears
you've ever saw. Wasn't it nice of Moses to think about us and bring
it? Of course, he didn't know we would be away so long and that I
was going to be sick and he wouldn't see me until spring; but it's a
thing that keeps, and the drier it is the prettier it pops, he says.
What is that picture over there, Uncle Winthrop? It is very ugly."
Laine glanced at the picture to which Dorothea pointed. "That is a
Jan Steen--'The Village Fair.' Sorry you don't like it. You think
that Botticelli is ugly also. A little later in life it may meet
with your approval. The original is priceless."
"A lot of priceless things aren't pretty. I don't ever expect to be
a culturated person. Mother makes me go to all those old galleries
and museums, when we're in Europe, and look at a lot of cracked
pictures and broken statues and carved things, and wants me to think
they're beautiful, but I don't. Some of them are hideous, and I get
so tired of being told I must admire them that I make a face inside
at most of them as I walk along, though, of course, outside, for
mother's sake, I don't make any signs. I'm a great disappointment to
mother. We had a lady artist guide the last time we were in Italy.
She used to get so mad with me that once she shook me. Father would
have killed her if she hadn't been a lady, and after that he and I
used to go out by ourselves and have the grandest times. He'd show
me just a few pictures at the time, and tell me all about them, and
some of them I just loved. Mother says you have so many beautiful
things, Uncle Winthrop, and that it's a shame for a man to have them
all by himself." She looked around the large room, and again took
her seat in her uncle's lap. "Some things I like in here, and some I
don't. You've got an awful lot of books, haven't you?"
"Too many, I'm afraid. Would you mind if I smoked?" Laine reached
for a cigar from the box on the table and held it between his fingers.
"Of course. I hope I won't forget, though, and kiss you. I'm so apt
to when I'm talking, if I like a person. Tobacco is so bitter. I'll
tell you what I think is the matter with this room. It's--it's--"
She looked around carefully. "It's something that isn't in it. I
don't know what it is. Why don't you get married, Uncle Winthrop?
Maybe your wife would know."
Laine put the unlighted cigar back on the table, and Dorothea's
hands, which were stroking one of his, were gripped by it and held
"I do not doubt it. The trouble is in getting the wife."
Dorothea sat upright. "The idea! I heard Miss Robin French say the
other day the way unmarried men were run after was outrageous, and
all they had to do was to stand still and crow a little, and up would
come a-clucking all kinds of hens, little ones and big ones, and
young ones and old ones, and-- Don't you tell anybody, but I think
she'd come, too!" Dorothea's hands came together, and she laughed
gleefully. "Father says if Miss Robin would give up hoping she'd be
happier." Suddenly her face sobered. "Do all ladies try to marry a
man, Uncle Winthrop?"
"They most certainly do not." Laine smiled in Dorothea's face, and
before the child's clear eyes his own, full of weary pain, turned
away. "Many of them take very long to make up their minds to marry
"Have you ever asked one to marry you?"
Laine did not answer. Dorothea's question was unheard. His thoughts
"Have I what?"
"Ever asked a lady to many you?"
The hand which Dorothea had been stroking was dropped. She sprang to
her feet and stood in front of him, her hands clasped in rigid
excitement on her breast.
"When"--her voice curled upward in quivering delight--"when is she
going to do it, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I do not know. She has not said she would do it at all."
"Not said--she would--marry--you!" Delight had changed to
indignation high and shrill, and Dorothea's eyes blazed brilliantly.
"Is she a crazy lady?"
"She is not."
"She is not quite sure she-- It is not a thing to talk about,
Dorothea." He drew her again on his lap and unclasped the clenched
fingers. "We are good friends, you and I, and I have told you what I
have told no one else. So far as I am concerned, it does not matter
who knows, but until she decides we will not talk of this again. You
understand, don't you, Dorothea?"
"I understand she must have very little sense. I don't see how you
could want to marry a lady who didn't know right off, the very first
minute, that she wanted to marry you. Do--do I know her, Uncle
For a moment there was silence, broken only by the ticking of the
clock on the mantel; and slowly Dorothea turned to her uncle, her big
brown eyes troubled and uncertain. For half a moment she looked at
him, then, without warning, threw her arms around his neck and hid
her face against his.
"Is--is--it Claudia, Uncle Winthrop?" she whispered. "Is--it--my
"It is--your cousin Claudia."
The quiver in Laine's voice was beyond control, and, lifting the
child's face, he kissed it. "I have asked her to marry me, Dorothea,
but not yet has she promised to do so."
In Dorothea's cheeks two burning spots of red glowed brilliantly.
Slipping down from her uncle's lap, she drew a long breath. "I knew
she must be queer about something," she said, and her fingers
interlocked in trembling excitement. "She was too nice not to be,
but I didn't think she'd be this kind of queer. The idea of not
promising right away! I know what's the matter. It's her home and
her mother, and all the things she is doing in the country that she
don't want to give up. Why don't you go down there and make her,
"She asks me not to come--yet. There is no hotel, and--"
"Does she write to you?"
Laine smiled in the eager eyes. "Yes, she writes to me."
Again there was silence, and presently a queer sound from Dorothea.
"I can't help it, Uncle Winthrop! They're coming! Won't it be
grand, because she will, I know she will, and I'm so glad I
can't--can't help--" And big, happy tears rolled down Dorothea's
face, which was pressed close to Laine's as he held her close to his
That night, when all the house was still and every one asleep,
Dorothea slipped out of bed and, kneeling down beside it, folded her
hands and began to pray.
"O Lord"--her voice was a high whisper--"please make my cousin
Claudia come to her senses and promise my uncle Winthrop that she
will marry him right away. She lives in Virginia. Her post-office
is Brooke Bank, and she's an awfully nice person, but father says
even You don't know why women do like they do sometimes, and of
course a man don't. Please make her love him so hard she'd just die
without him, and make her write him to come quick. Give her
plenteous sense from on high, and fill her with heavenly thankfulness
and make her my aunt for ever and ever. Amen."
She got up and scrambled into bed and closed her eyes tightly.
"French prayers aren't worth a cent when you want something and want
it quick," she said, half aloud. "And when you're in dead earnest
you have to get right down on your knees. I don't know what I'd do
if I couldn't talk in plain English to the Lord. I hope He will
answer, for if He don't I certainly couldn't say right off, 'Thy will
be done.' I'd say I thought my cousin Claudia had mighty little
Winthrop Laine lifted the tangled vines which overhung the
shrub-bordered path leading down the sloping lawn at the back of the
house to the rose-garden at its foot, and held them so that Claudia
could pass under.
"They ought to be cut." She stopped and unfastened a long tendril of
intertwined honeysuckle and bridal-wreath which had caught her hair.
"Everything ought to be cut and fixed, only--"
"It would be beyond pardon. If any one should attempt to change this
garden, death should be the penalty. One rarely sees such
old-fashioned flowers as are here, never in modern places."
"No one knows when many of them were planted, and nothing hurts
them." Stooping, Claudia picked from the ground a few violets and
lilies-of-the-valley growing around the trunk of an immense elm-tree
at the end of the path, then looked up.
"Don't let's go to the roses yet. I want to see what the sun-dial
says. This is the way my great-grandmother used to come to meet my
great-grandfather when she was a girl. Her parents wanted her to
marry some one else. She would slip out of the house and down this
path to that big magnolia-tree, from where she could see and not be
seen, and it was there they made their plans to run away."
"We will go there. It looks like a very nice place at which to make
Into Claudia's face color sprang quickly, and for a moment she drew
back. "Oh no! It is too beautiful to-day to make plans of any kind.
It is enough to just--live. You haven't seen half of Elmwood yet,
and you want to talk of--other things."
"I certainly do." Laine stepped back that Claudia might lead the way
down the path, box-bordered so high that those within could not be
seen outside, and smiled in the protesting face. A few moments more
and they had come out to the front lawn on the left of the house and
some distance below the terrace on which it overlooked the river, and
as they reached a group of spreading magnolias he drew in his breath.
"I do not wonder that you love it. And I am asking you to leave it!"
She looked up. "Come, I want to show you some of the old things, the
dear things, and then--"
"We will come back, and you will tell me what I must know, Claudia?"
She nodded and pulled the bells from the lily-of-the-valley she held
in her hands. "We will come back and--I will tell you."
For an hour, in the soft glow of the sun now, sinking in the heavens,
they wandered through the grounds and separate gardens of the old
estate, now walking the length of the long avenue, shaded by great
elms of more than century age, now around the lawn with its beds of
bleeding-hearts and snowdrops, of wall-flowers and sweet-William, of
hyacinths and tulips, with their borders of violets and cowslips, of
candytuft and verbenas, and at the old sun-dial they stopped and read
the hour. Picking an armful of lilacs and calicanthus and snowballs
and blue flags, planted in the days when the great trees were tiny
saplings, they sent them in by Gabriel, who was following at a
distance, blowing softly on his trumpet, and for some minutes stood
in front of the house and watched the sun touch, here and there, the
old brick laid in Flemish bond; then went back and sat down on the
low seat under the big magnolia, from which the river could be
glimpsed, and over which every now and then a white sail could be
Behind them the sun sank. The mass of shifting gold and blue and
crimson and pale purple lost little by little its brilliant splendor,
and slowly over land and sky soft twilight fell, and only here and
there was heard the song and twitter of birds as they made ready for
For a few moments there was silence, and then in his Laine held the
hands of Claudia.
"It is a wonder world, this old, old world of yours with its many
things we have forgotten. And yet--you will come to me? You are
sure at last, Claudia?"
"I am sure--at last." She raised her eyes to his. "I could not let
you come until I knew that--all the homes in all the world would not
be home without--"
"Without what, Claudia?"
"Without-- Why do you make me tell you when you know? You make me
tell too much."
"You cannot tell too much. Claudia! Claudia!"
Overhead the birds chirped sleepily and one by one the stars came
out. Presently Claudia drew herself away and smoothed her kissed and
wind-blown hair. "I am such a queer person. I think you ought to
know," she said, and again her shining eyes were raised to his.
"There are a great many things I don't care for, and I don't think
the way some people do about a good many other things. I had to take
long to be sure."
"It was very cruel, Claudia." He lifted her face to his and smiled
in the confessing eyes. "My forgiveness proves the measure of my
love. As proof of penitence, will you marry me in June?"
"I certainly--will--not!" Again she drew away. "Jacqueline will not
get here until July. I told you she was coming home to live. You
don't suppose I'd leave my mother before Jacqueline comes home?"
"In October, perhaps." Slowly the color crept to her temples. "It
is so beautiful here in October. There isn't a month in all the year
it will not hurt to leave." Sudden tears were in her eyes. "But it
would hurt worse not to be--with--you. They were very long,
Winthrop, the winter months that followed Christmas. You have very
poor manners. You should have written first and told me you had
enjoyed yourself instead of telling--"
"What I could no longer keep back? There was no time for manners. I
had to know."
"But you didn't, and because I couldn't tell you. Before, I have