Part 4 out of 6
As the car started he kissed his fingers repeatedly to Miss Mason and
waved his hat to the inevitable assemblage of small boys.
"The country, darling!" he cried, pressing Mary's hand under the rug.
"Farewell to ugliness and squalor! How happy we are going to be!"
Mary's hand pressed his in reply.
It was late April. The wooded slopes behind "The Byrdsnest," as Mary had
christened the cottage, were peppered with a pale film of green. The lawn
before the house shone with new grass. Upon it, in the early morning,
Mary watched beautiful birds of types unknown to her, searching for nest-
making material. She admired the large, handsome robins, so serious and
stately after the merry pertness of the English sort, but her favorites
were the bluebirds, and another kind that looked like greenish canaries,
of which she did not know the name. None of them, she thought, had such
melodious song as at home in England, but their brilliant plumage was a
constant delight to her.
Daffodils were springing up in the garden, crocuses were out, and the
blue scylla. On the downward slope toward the bay the brown furry heads
of ferns had begun to push stoutly from the earth. The spring was awake.
Stefan seemed thoroughly contented again. He had his north light in the
barn, but seldom worked there, being absorbed in outdoor sketching. He
was making many small studies of the trees still bare against the gleam
of water, with a dust of green upon them. He could get a number of
valuable notes here, he told Mary.
During their first two weeks in the country his restlessness had often
recurred. He had gone back and forth to the city for work on his Demeter,
and had even slept there on several occasions. But one morning he wakened
Mary by coming in from an early ramble full of joy in the spring, and
announcing that the big picture was now as good as he could make it, and
that he was done with the town. He threw back the blinds and called to
her to look at the day.
"It's vibrant, Mary; life is waking all about us." He turned to the bed.
"You look like a beautiful white rose, cool with the dew."
She blushed--he had forgotten lately his old habit of pretty speech-
making. He came and sat on the bed's edge, holding her hand.
"I've had my restless devil with me of late, sweetheart," he said. "But
now I feel renewed, and happy. I shan't want to leave you any more." He
kissed her with a gravity at which she might have wondered had she been
more thoroughly awake. His tone was that of a man who makes a promise to
Since that morning he had been consistently cheerful and carefree, more
attentive to Mary than for some time past, and pleased with all his
surroundings. She was overjoyed at the change, and for her own part never
tired of working in the house and garden, striving to make more perfect
the atmosphere of simple homeliness which Farraday had first imparted to
them. Lily was fascinated by her kitchen and little white bedroom.
"This surely is a cute little house, yes, _ma'am_," she would
exclaim emphatically, with a grin.
Lily was a small, chocolate-colored negress, with a neat figure, and the
ever ready smile which is God's own gift to the race. Mary, who hardly
remembered having seen a negro till she came to America, had none of the
color-prejudice which grows up in biracial communities. She found Lily
civil, cheerful, and intelligent, and felt a sincere liking for her which
the other reciprocated with a growing devotion.
Often in these days a passerby--had there been any--could have heard a
threefold chorus rising about the cottage, a spring-song as unconscious
as the birds'. From the kitchen Lily's voice rose in the endless refrain
of a hymn; Mary's clear tones traveled down from the little room beside
her own, where she was preparing a place for the expected one; and
Stefan's whistle, or his snatches of French song, resounded from woods or
barn. Youth and hope were in the house, youth was in the air and earth.
Farraday's gardens were the pride of the neighborhood, these and the
library expressing him as the house did his mother. Several times he sent
down an armful of flowers to the Byrdsnest, and, one Sunday morning, Mary
had just finished arranging such a bunch in her vases when she heard the
chug of an automobile in the lane. She looked out to see Constance, a
veiled figure beside her, stopping a runabout at the gate. Delighted, she
hastened to the door. Constance hailed her.
"Mary, behold the charioteer! Theodore has given me this machine for
suffrage propaganda during the summer, and I achieved my driver's license
yesterday. I'm so vain I'm going to make Felicity design me a gown with a
peacock's tail that I can spread. I've brought her with me to show off
too, and because she needed air. How are you, bless you? May we come in?"
Not waiting for an answer, she jumped down and hugged Mary, Miss Berber
following in more leisurely fashion. Mary could not help wishing
Constance had come alone, as she now felt a little self-conscious before
strangers. However, she shook hands with Miss Berber, and led them both
into the sitting-room.
"Simply delicious!" exclaimed Constance, glancing eagerly about her, "and
how divinely healthy you look--like a transcendental dairy-maid! This
place was made for you, and how you've improved it. Look, Felicity, at
her chintz, and her flowers, and her _cunning_ pair of china
shepherdesses!" She ran from one thing to another, ecstatically
Mary had had no chance to speak yet, and, as Felicity was absorbed in the
languid removal of a satin coat and incredible yards of apple green
veiling, Constance held the floor.
"Look at her pair of love-birds sidling along the curtain pole, as tame
as humans! Where did you find that wooden cage? And that white cotton
dress? You smell of lavender and an ironing-board! Oh, dear," she began
again, "driving is very wearing, and I should like a cocktail, but I must
have milk. Milk, my dear Mary, is the only conceivable beverage in this
house. Have you a cow? You ought to have a cow--a brindled cow--also a
lamb; 'Mary had,' et cetera. My dear, stop me. Enthusiasm converts me
into an 'agreeable rattle,' as they used to call our great-grandmothers."
"Subdue yourself with this," laughed Mary, holding out the desired glass
of milk. "Miss Berber, can I get anything for you?"
Felicity by this time was unwrapped, and had disposed herself upon a
window-seat, her back to the light.
"Wine or water, Mrs. Byrd; I do not drink milk," she breathed, lighting a
"We have some Chianti; nothing else, I'm afraid," said Mary, and a glass
of this the designer deigned to accept, together with a little yellow
cake set with currants, and served upon a pewter plate.
"I see, Mrs. Byrd," Felicity murmured, as Constance in momentary silence
sipped her milk, "that you comprehend the first law of decoration for
woman--that her accessories must be a frame for her type. I--how should I
appear in a room like this?" She gave a faint shrug. "At best, a false
tone in a chromatic harmony. You are entirely in key."
Her eyelids drooped; she exhaled a long breath of smoke. "Very well
thought out--unusually clever--for a layman," she uttered, and was still,
with the suggestion of a sibyl whose oracle has ceased to speak.
Mary tried not to find her manner irritating, but could not wholly dispel
the impression that Miss Berber habitually patronized her.
She laughed pleasantly.
"I'm afraid I can't claim to have been guided by any subtle theories--I
have merely collected together the kind of things I am fond of."
"Mary decorates with her heart, Felicity, you with your head," said
Constance, setting down her empty tumbler.
"I'm afraid I should find the heart too erratic a guide to art.
Knowledge, Mrs. Byrd, knowledge must supplement feeling," said Felicity,
with a gesture of finality.
"Really!" answered Mary, falling back upon her most correct English
manner. There was nothing else to say. "She is either cheeky, or a
bromide," she thought.
"Felicity," exclaimed Constance, "don't adopt your professional manner;
you can't take us in. You know you are an outrageous humbug."
"Dear Connie," replied the other with the ghost of a smile, "you are
always so amusing, and so much more wide awake in the morning than I am."
Conversation languished for a minute, Constance having embarked on a
cake. For some reason which she could not analyze, Mary felt in no great
hurry to call Stefan from the barn, should he be there.
Felicity rose. "May we not see your garden, Mrs. Byrd?"
"Certainly," said Mary, and led the way to the door. Felicity slipped out
first, and wandered with her delicate step a little down the path.
"Isn't it darling!" exclaimed Constance from the porch, surveying the
flower-strewn grass, the feathery trees, and the pale gleam of the water.
Mary began to show her some recent plantings, in particular a rose-bed
which was her last addition to the garden.
"I see you have a barn," said Felicity, flitting back to them with a hint
of animation. "Is it picturesque inside? Would it lend itself to
treatment?" She wandered toward it, and there was nothing for the others
to do but follow.
"Oh, yes," explained Mary, "my husband has converted it into a studio. He
may be working there now--I had been meaning to call him."
She felt a trifle uncomfortable, almost as if she had put herself in the
"Coo-oo, Stefan," she called as they neared the barn, Felicity still
flitting ahead. The door swung open, and there stood Stefan, pallette in
hand, screwing up his eyes in the sun.
As they lit on his approaching visitor an expression first of
astonishment, and then of something very like displeasure, crossed his
face. At sight of it, Mary's spirits subconsciously responded by a
distinct upward lift. Stefan waved his brush without shaking hands, and
then, seeing Constance, broke into a smile.
"How delightful, Mrs. Elliot! How did you come? By auto? And you drove
Miss Berber? We are honored. You are our first visitors except the
Farradays. Come and see my studio."
They trooped into the quaint little barn, which appeared to wear its big
north light rather primly, as a girl her first low-necked gown. It was
unfurnished, save for a table and easel, several canvases, and an old
arm-chair. Felicity glanced at the sketches.
"In pastoral mood again," she commented, with what might have been the
faintest note of sarcasm. Stefan's eyebrows twitched nervously.
"There's nothing to see in here-these are the merest sketches," he said
abruptly. "Come along, Mrs. Elliot, I've been working since before
breakfast; let's say good-morning to the flowers." And with his arm
linked through hers he piloted Constance back toward the lawn.
"Mr. Byrd ought never to wear tweed, do you think? It makes him look
heavy," remarked Felicity.
Again Mary had to suppress a feeling of irritation. "I rather like it,"
she said. "It's so comfy and English."
"Yes?" breathed Felicity vaguely, walking on.
Suddenly she appeared to have a return of animation.
She floated forward quickly for a few steps, turned with a swaying
movement, and waited for Mary with hands and feet poised.
"The grass under one's feet, Mrs. Byrd, it makes them glad. One could
Again she fluttered ahead, this time overtaking Constance and Stefan, who
had halted in the middle of the lawn. She swayed before them on tiptoe.
"Connie," she was saying as Mary came up, "why does one not more often
dance in the open?"
Though her lids still drooped she was half smiling as she swayed.
"It may be the spring; or perhaps I have caught the pastoral mood of Mr.
Byrd's work; but I should like to dance a little. Music," her palms were
lifted in repudiation, "is unnecessary. One has the birds."
"Good for you, Felicity! That _will_ be fun," Constance exclaimed
delightedly. "You don't dance half often enough, bad girl. Come along,
people, let's sit on the porch steps."
They arranged themselves to watch, Constance and Mary on the upper step,
Stefan on the lower, his shoulders against his wife's knees, while
Felicity dexterously slipped off her sandals and stockings.
Her dress, modeled probably on that of the central figure in Botticelli's
Spring, was of white chiffon, embroidered with occasional formal sprigs
of green leaves and hyacinth-blue flowers, and kilted up at bust and
thigh. Her loosely draped sleeves hung barely to the elbow. A line of
green crossed from the shoulders under each breast, and her hair, tightly
bound, was decorated with another narrow band of green. She looked
younger than in the city--almost virginal. Stooping low, she gathered a
handful of blue scylla from the grass, Mary barely checking an
exclamation at this ravishing of her beloved bulbs. Then Felicity lay
down upon the grass; her eyes closed; she seemed asleep. They waited
silently for some minutes. Stefan began to fidget.
Suddenly a robin called. Felicity's eyes opened. They looked calm and
dewy, like a child's. She raised her head--the robin called again.
Felicity looked about her, at the flowers in her hand, the trees, the
sky. Her face broke into smiles, she rose tall, taller, feet on tiptoe,
hands reaching skyward. It was the waking of spring. Then she began to
Gone was the old languor, the dreamy, hushed steps of her former method.
Now she appeared to dart about the lawn like a swallow, following the
calls of the birds. She would stand poised to listen, her ear would catch
a twitter, and she was gone; flitting, skimming, seeming not to touch the
earth. She danced to the flowers in her hand, to the trees, the sky, her
face aglint with changing smiles, her skirts rippling like water.
At last the blue flowers seemed to claim her solely. She held them
sunward, held them close, always swaying to the silent melody of the
spring. She kissed them, pressed them to her heart; she sank downward,
like a bird with folding wings, above a clump of scylla; her arms
encircled them, her head bent to her knees--she was still.
Constance broke the spell with prolonged applause; Mary was breathless
with admiration; Stefan rose, and after prowling restlessly for a moment,
hurried to the dancer and stooped to lift her.
As if only then conscious of her audience, Felicity looked up, and both
the other women noticed the expression that flashed across her face
before she took the proffered hand. It seemed compounded of triumph,
challenge, and something else. Mary again felt uncomfortable, and
Constance's quick brain signaled a warning.
"Surely not getting into mischief, are you, Felicity?" she mentally
questioned, and instantly began to east about for two and two to put
"Wonderful!" Stefan was saying. "You surely must have wings--great,
butterfly ones--only we are too dull to see them. You were exactly like
one of my pictures come to life." He was visibly excited.
"Husband disposed of, available lovers unattractive, asks me to drive her
out here; that's one half," Constance's mind raced. "Wife on the shelf,
variable temperament, studio in town; and that's the other. I've found
two and two; I hope to goodness they won't make four," she sighed to
Mary meanwhile was thanking Miss Berber. She noticed that the dancer was
perfectly cool--not a hair ruffled by her efforts. She looked as smooth
as a bird that draws in its feathers after flight. Stefan was probably
observing this, too, she thought; at any rate he was hovering about,
staring at Felicity, and running his hands through his hair. Mary could
not be sure of his expression; he seemed uneasy, as if discomfort mingled
with his pleasure.
They had had a rare and lovely entertainment, and yet no one appeared
wholly pleased except the dancer herself. It was very odd.
Constance looked at her watch. "Now, Felicity, this has all been ideal,
but we must be getting on. I 'phoned James, you know, and we are lunching
there. I was sure Mrs. Byrd wouldn't want to be bothered with us."
Mary demurred, with a word as to Lily's capacities, but Constance was
"No, my dear, it's all arranged. Besides, you need peace and quiet.
Felicity, where are your things? Thank you, Mr. Byrd, in the sitting-
room. Mary, you dear, I adore you and your house--I shall come again
soon. Where are my gloves?" She was all energy, helping Felicity with her
veil, settling her own hat, kissing Mary, and cranking the runabout--an
operation she would not allow Stefan to attempt for her--with her usual
effervescent efficiency. "I'd no idea it was so late!" she exclaimed.
As Felicity was handed by Stefan into the car, she murmured something in
French, Constance noticed, to which he shook his head with a nervous
frown. As the machine started, he was left staring moodily after it down
"Thee is earlier than I expected," little Mrs. Farraday said to
Constance, when they arrived at the house. "I am afraid we shall have to
keep thee waiting for thy lunch for half an hour or more."
"How glad I shall be--" Stefan turned to Mary, half irritably--"when
this baby is born, and you can be active again."
He ate his lunch in silence, and left the table abruptly at the end. Nor
did she see him again until dinner time, when he came in tired out, his
boots whitened with road dust.
"Where have you been, dearest?" she asked. "I've been quite anxious about
"Just walking," he answered shortly, and went up to his room. The tears
came to her eyes, but she blinked them away resolutely. She must not
mind, must not show him that she even dreamed of any connection between
his moodiness and the events of the morning.
"My love must be stronger than that, now of all times," thought Mary.
"Afterwards--afterwards it will be all right." She smiled confidently to
It was the end of June. Mary's rosebushes were in full bloom and the
little garden was languid with the scent of them. The nesting birds had
all hatched their broods--every morning now Mary watched from her bedroom
window the careful parents carrying worms and insects into the trees. She
always looked for them the moment she got up. She would have loved to
hang far out of the window as she used to do in her old home in England,
and call good-morning to her little friends--but she was hemmed in by the
bronze wire of the windowscreens. These affected her almost like prison
bars; but Long Island's summer scourge had come, and after a few
experiences of nights sung sleepless by the persistent horn of the enemy
and made agonizing by his sting, she welcomed the screens as deliverers.
The mosquitoes apart, Mary had adored the long, warm days--not too hot as
yet on the Byrdsnest's shady eminence--and the perpetually smiling skies,
so different from the sulky heavens of England. But she began to feel
very heavy, and found it increasingly difficult to keep cool, so that she
counted the days till her deliverance. She felt no fear of what was
coming. Dr. Hillyard had assured her that she was normal in every
respect--"as completely normal a woman as I have ever seen," she put it
--and should have no complications. Moreover, Mary had obtained from her
doctor a detailed description of what lay before her, and had read one or
two hand-books on the subject, so that she was spared the fearful
imaginings and reliance on old wives' tales which are the results of the
ancient policy of surrounding normal functions with mystery.
Now the nurse was here, a tall, grave-eyed Canadian girl, quiet of
speech, silent in every movement. Mary had wondered if she ought to go
into Dr. Hillyard's hospital, and was infinitely relieved to have her
assurance that it was unnecessary. She wanted her baby to be born here
in the country, in the sweet place she had prepared for it, surrounded by
those she loved. Everything here was perfect for the advent--she could
ask for nothing more. True, she was seeking comparatively little of
Stefan, but she knew he was busily painting, and he was uniformly kind
and affectionate when they were together. He had not been to town for
over two months.
Mrs. Farraday was a frequent caller, and Mary had grown sincerely to love
the sweet-faced old lady, who would drive up in a low pony chaise,
bringing offerings of fruit and vegetables, or quaint preserves from
recipes unknown to Mary, which had been put up under her own direction.
Then, too, McEwan would appear at week-ends or in the evening, tramping
down the lane to hail the house in absurd varieties of the latest New
York slang, which, never failed to amuse Mary. The shy Jamie was often
with her; they were now the most intimate of friends. He would show her
primitive tools and mechanical contrivances of his own making, and she
would tell him stories of Scotland, of Prince Charlie and Flora, of Bruce
and Wallace, of Bannockburn, or of James, the poet king. Of these she had
a store, having been brought up, as many English girls happily are, on
the history and legends of the island, rather than on less robust
Farraday, too, sometimes dropped in in the evening, to sit on the porch
with Stefan and Mary and talk quietly of books and the like. Occasionally
he came with McEwan or Jamie; he never came alone--though this she had
not noticed--at hours when Stefan was unlikely to be with her.
At the suggestion of Mrs. Farraday, whose word was the social law of the
district, the most charming women in the neighborhood had called on Mary,
so that her circle of acquaintances was now quite wide. She had had in
addition several visits from Constance, and the Sparrow had spent a week-
end with them, chirping admiration of the place and encomiums of her
friend's housekeeping. But Mary liked best to be with Stefan, or to dream
alone through the hushed, sunlit hours amid her small tasks of house and
garden. Now that the nurse was here, occupying the little bedroom opening
from Mary's room, the final preparations had been made; there was nothing
left to do but wait.
Miss McCullock had been with them three days, and Stefan had become used
to her quiet presence, when late one evening certain small symptoms told
her that Mary's time had come. Stefan, entering the hall, found her at
the telephone. "Dr. Hillyard will be here in about an hour and a
quarter," she said quietly, hanging up the receiver. "Do you know if she
has driven out before? If not, it might be well for you, Mr. Byrd, to
walk to the foot of the lane soon, and be ready to signal the turning to
her." Miss McCullock always distrusted the nerves of husbands on these
occasions, and planned adroitly to get them out of the way.
Stefan stared at her as flabbergasted as if this emergency had not been
hourly expected. "Do you mean," he gasped, "that Mary is ill?"
"She is not ill, Mr. Byrd, but the baby will probably be born before
"My God!" said Stefan, suddenly blanching. He had not faced this moment,
had not thought about it, had indeed hardly thought about Mary's
motherhood at all except to deplore its toll upon her bodily beauty. He
had tried for her sake, harder than she knew, to appear sympathetic, but
in his heart the whole thing presented itself as nature's grotesque price
for the early rapture of their love. That the price might be tragic as
well as grotesque had only now come home to him. He dropped on a chair,
his memory flying back to the one other such event in which he had had
part. He saw himself thrust from his mother's door--he heard her shrieks
--felt himself fly again into the rain. His forehead was wet; cold tingles
ran to his fingertips.
The nurse's voice sounded, calm and pleasant, above him. A whiff of
brandy met his nostrils. "You'd better drink this, Mr. Byrd, and then in
a minute you might go and see Mrs. Byrd. You will feel better after that,
He drank, then looked up, haggard.
"They'll give her plenty of chloroform, won't they?" he whispered,
catching the nurse's hand. She smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, Mr.
Byrd, your wife is in splendid condition, and ether will certainly be
given when it becomes advisable."
The brandy was working now and his nerves had steadied, but he found the
nurse's manner maddeningly calm. "I'll go to Mary," he muttered, and,
brushing past her, sprang up the stairs.
What he expected to see he did not know, but his heart pounded as he
opened the bedroom door. The room was bright with lamplight, and in
spotless order. At her small writing-table sat Mary, in a loose white
dressing gown, her hair in smooth braids around her head, writing. What
was she doing? Was she leaving some last message for him, in case--? He
felt himself grow cold again. "Mary!" he exclaimed hoarsely.
She looked round, and called joyfully to him.
"Oh, darling, there you are. I'm getting everything ready. It's coming,
Stefan dearest. I'm so happy!" Her face was excited, radiant.
He ran to her with a groan of relief, and, kneeling, caught her face to
his. "Oh, Beautiful, you're all right then? She told me--I was afraid--"
he stumbled, inarticulate.
She stroked his cheek comfortingly. "Dearest, isn't it wonderful--just
think--by to-morrow our baby will be here." She kissed him, between happy
tears and laughter.
"You are not in pain, darling? You're all right? What were you writing
when I came in?" he stammered, anxiously.
"I'm putting all the accounts straight, and paying all the bills to date,
so that Lily won't have any trouble while I'm laid up," she beamed.
Stefan stared uncomprehendingly for a moment, then burst into half-
"Oh, you marvel," he gasped, "goddess of efficiency, unshakable Olympian!
Bills! And I thought you were writing me a farewell message."
"Silly boy," she replied. "The bills have got to be paid; a nice muddle
you would be in if you had them to do yourself. But, dearest--" her face
grew suddenly grave and she took his hand--"listen. I _have_ written
you something--it's there--" her fingers touched an elastic bound pile of
papers. "I'm perfectly well, but if anything _should_ happen, I want
my sister to have the baby. Because I think, dear--" she stroked his hand
with a look of compassionate understanding--"that without me you would
not want it very much. Miss Mason would take it to England for you, and
you could make my sister an allowance. I've left you her address, and all
that I can think of to suggest."
He gazed at her dumbly. Her face glowed with life and beauty, her voice
was sweet and steady. There she sat, utterly mistress of herself, in the
shadow of life and death. Was it that her imagination was transcendent,
or that she had none? He did not know, he did not understand her, but in
that moment he could have said his prayers at her feet.
The nurse entered. "Now, Mr. Byrd, I think if you could go to the end of
the lane and be looking out for the doctor? Mrs. Byrd ought to have her
Stefan departed. In a dream he walked to the lane's end and waited there.
He was thinking of Mary, perhaps for the first time, not as a beautiful
object of love and inspiration, nor as his companion, but as a woman.
What was this calm strength, this certitude of hers? Why did her every
word and act seem to move straight forward, while his wheeled and
circled? What was it that Mary had that he had not? Of what was her
inmost fiber made? It came to him that for all their loving passages his
wife was a stranger to him, and a stranger whom he had never sought to
know. He felt ashamed.
It was about eleven o'clock when the distance was pricked by two points
of light, which, gradually expanding, proved to be the head-lamps of the
doctor's car. She stopped at his hail and he climbed beside her.
"I'm glad you came, though I think I know the turning," said Dr. Hillyard
"How long will it be, doctor?" he asked nervously.
"Feeling jumpy?" she replied. "Better let me give you a bromide, and try
for a little sleep. Don't you worry--unless we have complications it will
be over before morning."
"Before _morning_!" he groaned. "Doctor, you won't let her suffer
--you will give her something?"
He was again reassured. "Certainly. But she has a magnificent physique,
with muscles which have never been allowed to soften through tight
clothing or lack of exercise. I expect an easy case. Here we are, I
think." The swift little car stopped accurately at the gate, and the
doctor, shutting off her power, was out in a moment, bag in hand. The
nurse met them in the hall.
"Getting on nicely--an easy first stage," she reported. The two women
disappeared upstairs, and Stefan was left alone to live through as best
he could the most difficult hours that fall to the lot of civilized man.
Presently Miss McCullock came down to him with a powder, and advice from
the doctor anent bed, but he would take neither the one nor the other.
"What a sot I should be," he thought, picturing himself lying drugged to
slumber while Mary suffered.
By and by he ventured upstairs. Clouds of steam rose from the bathroom,
brilliant light was everywhere, two white-swathed figures, scarcely
recognizable, seemed to move with incredible speed amid a perfectly
ordered chaos. All Mary's pretty paraphernalia were gone; white oil cloth
covered every table, and was in its turn covered by innumerable objects
sealed in stiff paper. Amid these alien surroundings Mary sat in her
nightgown on the edge of the bed, her knees drawn up.
"Hello, dearest," she called rather excitedly, "we're getting awfully
busy." Then her face contracted. "Here comes another," she said cheerily,
and gasped a little. On that Stefan fled, with a muttered "Call me if she
wants me," to the nurse.
He wandered to the kitchen. There was a roaring fire, but the room was
empty--even Lily had found work upstairs. For an hour more Stefan
prowled--then he rang up the Farraday's house. After an interval James'
voice answered him.
"It's Byrd, Farraday," said Stefan. "No--" quickly--"everything's
perfectly all right, perfectly, but it's going on. Could you come over?"
In fifteen minutes Farraday had dressed and was at the door, his great
car gliding up silently beside the doctor's. As he walked in Stefan saw
that his face was quite white.
"It was awfully good of you to come," he said.
"I'm so glad you asked me. My car is a sixty horsepower, if anything were
needed." Farraday sat down, and lighted a pipe. Stefan delivered
knowledge of the waiting machine upstairs, and then recommenced his
prowl. Back and forth through the two living rooms he walked, lighting,
smoking, or throwing away endless cigarettes. Farraday sat drawing at his
pipe. Neither spoke. One o'clock struck, and two.
Presently they heard a loud growling sound, quite un-human, but with no
quality of agony. It was merely as if some animal were making a supreme
physical effort. In about two minutes this was repeated. Farraday's pipe
dropped on the hearth, Stefan tore upstairs. "What is it?" he asked at
the open door. Something large and white moved powerfully on the bed. At
the foot bent the little doctor, her hands hidden, and at the head stood
the nurse holding a small can. A heavy, sweet odor filled the room.
"It's all right," the doctor said rapidly. "Expulsive stage. She isn't
"Hello, Stefan dear," said a small, rather high voice, which made him
jump violently. Then he saw a face on the pillow, its eyes closed, and
its nose and mouth covered with a wire cone. In a moment there came a
gasp, the sheathed form drew tense, the nurse spilled a few drops from
her can upon the cone, the growling recommenced and heightened to a
crescendo. Stefan had an impression of tremendous physical life, but the
human tone of the "Hello, Stefan," was quite gone again.
He was backing shakily out when the doctor called to him.
"It will be born quite soon, now, Mr. Byrd," her cheery voice promised.
Trembling with relief, he stumbled downstairs. Farraday was standing
rigid before the fireplace, his face quite expressionless.
"She's having ether--I don't think she's suffering. The doctor says quite
soon, now," Stefan jerked out.
"I'm thankful," said Farraday, quietly.
He stooped and picked up his fallen pipe, but it took him a long time to
refill it--particles of tobacco kept showering to the rug from his
fingers. Stefan, with a new cigarette, resumed his prowl.
Midsummer dawn was breaking. The lamplight began to pale before the
glimmer of the windows. A sleepy bird chirped, the room became
There had been rapid steps overhead for some moments, and now the two men
became aware that the tiger-like sounds had quite ceased. The steps
overhead quieted. Farraday put out the lamp, and the blue light flooded
A bird called loudly, and another answered it, high, repeatedly. The
notes were right over their heads; they rose higher, insistent. They were
not the notes of a bird. The nurse appeared at the door and looked at
"Your son is born," she said.
Instantly to both men it was as if eerie bonds, drawn over-taut, had
snapped, releasing them again to the physical world about them. The high
mystery was over; life was human and kindly once again. Farraday dropped
into his chair and held a hand across his eyes. Stefan threw both arms
round Miss McCullock's shoulders and hugged her like a child.
"Oh, hurrah!" he cried, almost sobbing with relief. "Bless you, nurse. Is
she all right?"
"She's perfect--I've never seen finer condition. You can come up in a few
minutes, the doctor says, and see her before she goes to sleep."
"There's nothing needed, nurse?" asked Farraday, rising.
"Nothing at all, thank you."
"Then I'll be getting home, Byrd," he said, offering his hand to Stefan.
"My warmest congratulations. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
Stefan shook the proffered hand with a deeper liking than he had yet felt
for this silent man.
"I'm everlastingly grateful to you, Farraday, for helping me out, and
Mary will be, too. I don't know how I could have stood it alone."
Stefan mounted the stairs tremblingly, to pause in amazement at the door
of Mary's room. A second transformation had, as if by magic, taken place.
The lights were out. The dawn smiled at the windows, through which a
gentle breeze ruffled the curtains. Gone were all evidences of the
night's tense drama; tables and chairs were empty; the room looked calm
On the bed Mary lay quiet, her form hardly outlined under the smooth
coverlet. Half fearfully he let his eyes travel to the pillow, dreading
he knew not what change. Instantly, relief overwhelmed him. Her face was
radiant, her cheeks pink--she seemed to glow with a sublimated happiness.
Only in her eyes lay any traces of the night--they were still heavy from
the anaesthetic, but they shone lovingly on him, as though deep lights
were behind them.
"Darling," she whispered, "we've got a little boy. Did you worry? It
wasn't anything--only the most thrilling adventure that's ever happened
He looked at her almost with awe--then, stooping, pressed his face to the
pillow beside hers.
"Were they merciful to you, Beautiful?" he whispered back. Weakly, her
hand found his head.
"Yes, darling, they were wonderful. I was never quite unconscious, yet it
wasn't a bit bad--only as if I were in the hands of some prodigious
force. They showed me the baby, too--just for a minute. I want to see him
again now--with you."
Stefan looked up. Dr. Hillyard was in the doorway of the little room. She
nodded, and in a moment reappeared, carrying a small white bundle.
"Here he is," she said; "he weighs eight and a half pounds. You can both
look at him for a moment, and then Mrs. Byrd must go to sleep." She put
the bundle gently down beside Mary, whose head turned toward it.
Almost hidden in folds of flannel Stefan saw a tiny red face, its eyes
closed, two microscopic fists doubled under its chin. It conveyed nothing
to him except a sense of amazement.
"He's asleep," whispered Mary, "but I saw his eyes--they are blue. Isn't
he pretty?" Her own eyes, soft with adoration, turned from her son to
Stefan. Then they drooped, drowsily.
"She's falling off," said the doctor under her breath, recovering the
baby. "They'll both sleep for several hours now. Lily is getting us some
breakfast--wouldn't you like some, too, Mr. Byrd?"
Stefan felt grateful for her normal, cheery manner, and for Mary's sudden
drowsiness; they seemed to cover what he felt to be a failure in himself.
He had been unable to find one word to say about the baby.
At breakfast, served by the sleepy but beaming Lily, Stefan was dazed by
the bearing of doctor and nurse. These two women, after a night spent in
work of an intensity and scope beyond his powers to gage, appeared as
fresh and normal as if they had just risen from sleep, while he, unshaved
and rumpled, could barely control his racked nerves and heavy head,
across which doctor and nurse discussed their case with animation.
"We are all going to bed, Mr. Byrd," said the doctor at last, noting his
exhausted aspect. "I shall get two or, three hours' nap on the sofa
before going back to town, and I hope you will take a thorough rest."
Stefan rose rather dizzily from his unfinished meal.
"Please take my room," he said, "I couldn't stay in the house--I'm going
out." He found the atmosphere of alert efficiency created by these women
utterly insupportable. The house stifled him with its teeming feminine
life. In it he felt superfluous, futile. Hurrying out, he stumbled down
the slope and, stripping, dived into the water. Its cold touch robbed him
of thought; he became at once merely one of Nature's straying children
returned again to her arms.
Swimming back, he drew on his clothes, and mounting to the garden, threw
himself face down upon the grass, and fell asleep under the morning sun.
He dreamed that a drum was calling him. Its beat, muffled and irregular,
yet urged him forward. A flag waved dazzlingly before his eyes; its folds
stifled him. He tried to move, yet could not--the drum called ever more
urgently. He started awake, to find himself on his back, the sun beating
into his face, and the doctor's machine chugging down the lane.
The little June baby at the Byrdsnest was very popular with the
neighborhood. During the summer it seemed to Stefan that the house was
never free of visitors who came to admire the child, guess his weight,
and exclaim at his mother's health.
As a convalescent, Mary was, according to Constance Elliot, a complete
fraud. Except for her hair, which had temporarily lost some of its
elasticity, she had never looked so radiant. She was out of bed on the
ninth day, and walking in the garden on the twelfth. The behavior of the
baby--who was a stranger to artificial food--was exemplary; he never
fretted, and cried only when he was hungry. But as his appetite troubled
him every three hours during the day, and every four at night, he
appeared to Stefan to cry incessantly, and his strenuous wail would drive
his father from house to barn, and from barn to woods. Lured from one of
these retreats by an interval of silence, Stefan was as likely as not to
find an auto at the gate and hear exclamatory voices proceeding from the
nursery, when he would fade into the woods again like a wild thing
fearful of the trap.
His old dislike of his kind reasserted itself. It is one thing to be
surrounded by pretty women proclaiming you the greatest artist of your
day, and quite another to listen while they exclaim on the perfections of
your offspring and the health of your wife. For the first type of
conversation Stefan had still an appetite; with the second he was quickly
Nor were women his only tormentors. The baby spent much of its time in
the garden, and every Sunday Stefan would find McEwan planted on the
lawn, prodding the infant with a huge forefinger, and exploding into
fatuous mirth whenever he deluded himself into believing he had made it
smile. Of late Stefan had begun to tolerate this man, but after three
such exhibitions decided to blacklist him permanently as an insufferable
idiot. Even Farraday lost ground in his esteem, for, though guilty of no
banalities, he had a way of silently hovering over the baby-carriage
which Stefan found mysteriously irritating. Jamie alone of their
masculine friends seemed to adopt a comprehensible attitude, for he
backed away in hasty alarm whenever the infant, in arms or carriage, bore
down upon him. On several occasions when the Farraday household invaded
the Byrdsnest Stefan and Jamie together sneaked away in search of an
environment more seemly for their sex.
"You are the only creature I know just now, Jamie," Stefan said, "with
any sense of proportion;" and these two outcasts from notice would tramp
moodily through the woods, the boy faithfully imitating Stefan's slouch
and his despondent way of carrying his hands thrust in his pockets.
There were no more tales of Scotland for Jamie in these days, and as for
Stefan he hardly saw his wife. True, she always brightened when he came
in and mutely evinced her desire that he should remain, but she was never
his. While he talked her eye would wander to the cradle, or if they were
in another room her ear would be constantly strained to catch a cry. In
the midst of a pleasant interlude she would jump to her feet with a
murmured "Dinner time," or "He must have some water now," and be gone.
Stefan did not sleep with her--as he could not endure being disturbed at
night--and she took a long nap every afternoon, so that at best the hours
available for him were few. Any visitor, he thought morosely, won more
attention from her than he did, and this was in a sense true, for the
visitors openly admired the baby--the heart of Mary's life--and he did
He did not know how intensely she longed for this, how she ached to see
Stefan jab his finger at the baby as McEwan did, or watch it with the
tender smile of Farraday. She tried a thousand simple wiles to bring to
life the father in him. About to nurse the baby, she would call Stefan to
see his eager search for the comfort of her breast, looking up in proud
joy as the tiny mouth was satisfied.
At the very first, when the baby was newborn, Stefan had watched this
rite with some interest, but now he only fidgeted, exclaiming, "You are
looking wonderfully fit, Mary," or "Greedy little beggar, isn't he?" He
never spoke of his old idea of painting her as a Madonna. If she drew his
attention to the baby's tiny hands or feet, he would glance carelessly at
them, with a "They're all right," or "I'll like them better when they're
Once, as they were going to bed, she showed Stefan the baby lying on his
chest, one fist balled on either side of the pillow, the downy back of
his head shining in the candle-light. She stooped and kissed it.
"His head is too deliciously soft and warm, Stefan; do kiss it good-
His face contracted into an expression of distaste. "No," he said, "I
can't kiss babies," and left the room.
She felt terribly, unnecessarily hurt. It was so difficult for her to
make advances, so fatally easy for him to rebuff them.
After that, she did not draw the baby to his attention again.
Perhaps, had the child been a girl, Stefan would have felt more sentiment
about it. A girl baby, lying like a pink bud among the roses of the
garden, might have appealed to that elfin imagination which largely took
the place in him of romance--but a boy! A boy was merely in his eyes
another male, and Stefan considered the world far too full of men
He sealed his attitude when the question of the child's name came up.
Mary had fallen into a habit of calling it "Little Stefan," or "Steve"
for short, and one morning, as the older Stefan crossed the lawn to his
studio her voice floated down from the nursery in an improvised song to
her "Stefan Baby." He bounded upstairs to her.
"Mary," he called, "you are surely not going to call that infant by my
Mary, her lap enveloped in aprons and towels, looked up from the bath in
which her son was practising tentative kicks.
"Why, yes, dear, I thought we'd christen him after you, as he's the
eldest. Don't you think that would be nice?" She looked puzzled.
"No, I do not!" Stefan snorted emphatically. "For heaven's sake give the
child a name of his own, and let me keep mine. My God, one Stefan Byrd is
enough in the world, I should think!"
"Well, dear, what shall we call him, then?" she asked, lowering her head
over the baby to hide her hurt.
"Give him your own name if you want to. After all, he's your child.
Elliston Byrd wouldn't sound at all bad."
"Very well," said Mary slowly. "I think the Dad would have been pleased
by that." In spite of herself, her voice trembled.
"Good Lord, Mary, I haven't hurt you, have I?" He looked exasperated.
She shook her head, still bending over the baby.
"It's all right, dear," she whispered.
"You're so soft nowadays, one hardly dare speak," he muttered. "Sorry,
dear," and with a penitent kiss for the back of her neck he hastened
The christening was held two weeks later, in the small Episcopalian
church of Crab's Bay. Stefan could see no reason for it, as neither he
nor Mary was orthodox, but when he suggested omitting the ceremony she
looked at him wide-eyed.
"Not christen him, Stefan? Oh, I don't think that would be fair," she
said. Her manner was simple, but there was finality in her tone--it made
him feel that wherever her child was concerned she would be adamant.
The baby's godmother was, of course, Constance, and his godfathers,
equally obviously, Farraday and McEwan. Mary made the ceremony the
occasion of a small at-home, inviting the numerous friends from whom she
had received congratulations or gifts for the baby.
Miss Mason had insisted on herself baking the christening cake; Farraday
as usual supplied a sheaf of flowers. In the drawing room the little
Elliston's presents were displayed, a beautiful old cup from Farraday, a
christening robe, and a spoon, "pusher," and fork from Constance, a
silver bowl "For Elliston's porridge from his friend Wallace McEwan," and
a Bible in stout leather binding from Mrs. Farraday, inscribed in her
delicate, slanting hand. There was even a napkin ring from the baby's
aunt in England, who was much relieved that her too-independent sister
had married a successful artist and done her duty by the family so
Mary was naively delighted with these offerings.
"He has got everything I should have liked him to have!" she exclaimed as
she arranged them.
Stefan, led to the font, showed all the nervousness he had omitted at the
altar, but looked very handsome in a suit of linen crash, while Mary, in
white muslin, was at her glowing best.
Constance was inevitably late, for, like most American women, she did not
carry her undeniable efficiency to the point of punctuality. At the last
moment, however, she dashed up to the church with the elan of a
triumphant general, bearing her husband captive in the tonneau, and no
less a person than Gunther, the distinguished sculptor, on the seat
"I know you did not ask him, but he's so handsome I thought he ought to
be here," she whispered inconsequentially to Mary after the ceremony.
Of their many acquaintances few were unrepresented except Miss Berber, to
whom Mary had felt disinclined to send an invitation. She had sounded
Stefan on the subject, but had been answered by a "Certainly not!" so
emphatic as to surprise her.
At the house Gunther, with his great height and magnificent viking head,
was unquestionably the hit of the afternoon. Holding the baby, which lay
confidently in his powerful hands, he examined its head, arms and legs
with professional interest, while every woman in the room watched him
"This baby, Mrs. Byrd, is the finest for his age I have ever seen, and I
have modeled many of them," he pronounced, handing it back to Mary, who
blushed to her forehead with pleasure. "Not that I am surprised," he went
on, staring frankly at her, "when I look at his mother. I am doing some
groups for the Pan-American exhibition next year in San Francisco. If you
could give me any time, I should very much like to use your head and the
baby's. I shall try and arrange it with you," and he nodded as if that
settled the matter.
"Oh," gasped Constance, "you have all the luck. Mary! Mr. Gunther has
known me for years, but have _I_ had a chance to sit for him? I feel
myself turning green, and as my gown is yellow it will be most
unbecoming!" And seizing Farraday as if for consolation, she bore him to
the dining room to find a drink.
Stefan, who was interested in Gunther, tried to get him to the barn to
see his pictures; but the sculptor would not move his eyes from Mary, and
Stefan, considerably bored, was obliged to content himself with showing
the studio to some of his prettiest neighbors.
Nor did his spirits improve when the party came to an end.
"Bon Dieu!" he cried, flinging himself fretfully into a chair. "Is our
house never to be free of chattering women? The only person here to-day
who speaks my language was Gunther, and you never gave me a chance at
Mary gasped, too astonished at this accusation to refute it.
"Ever since we came down here," he went on irritably, "the place has
seethed with people, and overflowed with domesticity. I never hear one
word spoken except on the subject of furniture, gardening and babies! I
can't work in such an environment; it stifles all imagination. As for
He looked up at her. She was standing, stricken motionless, in the center
of the room. Her hair, straighter than of old, seemed to droop over her
ears; her form under its loose muslin dress showed soft and blurred, its
clean-cut lines gone, while her face, almost as white as the gown, was
woe-begone, the eyes dark with tears. She stood there like a hurt child,
all her courageous gallantry eclipsed by this unkind ending to her happy
day. Stefan rose to his feet and faced her, searching for some phrase
that could express his sense of deprivation. He had the instinct to stab
her into a full realization of what she was losing in his eyes.
"Mary," he cried almost wildly, "your wings are gone!" and rushed out of
One evening early in October Mary telephoned Farraday to ask if she could
consult him with reference to the Byrdsnest. He walked over after dinner,
to find her alone in the sitting room, companioned by a wood fire and the
two sleeping lovebirds.
James had been very busy at the office for some time, and it was two or
three weeks since he had seen Mary. Now, as he sat opposite her, it
seemed to him that the leaping firelight showed unaccustomed shadows in
her cheeks and under her eyes, and that her color was less bright than
formerly. Was it merely the result of her care of her baby, he wondered,
or was there something more?
"I fear we've already outstayed our time here, Mr. Farraday," Mary was
saying, "and yet I am going to ask you for an extension."
Farraday lit a cigarette.
"My dear Mrs. Byrd, stay as long as you like."
"But you don't know the measure of my demands," she went on, with a
hesitating smile. "They are so extensive that I'm ashamed. I love this
little place, Mr. Farraday; it's the first real home I've ever had of my
own. And Baby does so splendidly here--I can't bear the thought of taking
him to the city. How long might I really hope to stay without
inconveniencing you? I mean, of course, at a proper rent."
"As far as I am concerned," he smiled back at her, "I shall be overjoyed
to have you stay as long as the place attracts you. If you like, I will
give you a lease--a year, two, or three, as you will, so that you could
feel settled, or an option to renew after the first year."
"But, Mr. Farraday, your mother told me that you used to use the place,
and in the face of that I don't know how I have the selfishness to ask
you for any time at all, to say nothing of a lease!"
"Mrs. Byrd." Farraday threw his cigarette into the fire, and, leaning
forward, stared at the flames, his hands clasped between his knees. "Let
me tell you a sentimental little story, which no one else knows except
our friend Mac." He smiled whimsically.
"When I was a young man I was very much in love, and looked forward to
having a home of my own, and children. But I was unfortunate--I did not
succeed in winning the woman I loved, and as I am slow to change, I made
up my mind that my dream home would never come true. But I was very fond
of my 'cottage in the air,' and some years later, when this little house
became empty, I arranged it to look as nearly as I could as that other
might have done. I used to sit here sometimes and pretend that my shadows
were real. You will laugh at me, but I even have in my desk plans for an
addition, an ell, containing a play room and nurseries."
Mary gave a little pitiful exclamation, and touched his clasped hands.
Meeting her eyes, he saw them dewy with sympathy.
"You are very gracious to a sentimental old bachelor," he said, with his
winning smile. "But these ghosts were bad for me. I was in danger of
becoming absurdly self-centered, almost morbidly introspective. Mac,
whose heart is the biggest I know, and who laughs away more troubles than
I ever dreamed of, rallied me about it, and showed me that I ought to
turn my disappointment to some use. This was about ten years ago, when
his own life fell to pieces. I had been associated with magazines for
some time, and knew how little that was really good found its way into
the plainer people's homes. At Mac's suggestion I bought an insolvent
monthly, and began to remodel it. 'You've got the home-and-children bug;
well, do something for other people's'--was the way Mac put it to me.
Later we started the two other magazines, always keeping before us our
aim of giving the average home the best there is. To-day, though I have
no children of my own, I like to think I'm a sort of uncle to thousands."
He leant back, still staring into the fire. There was silence for a
minute; a log fell with a crash and a flight of sparks--Farraday replaced
"Well, Mrs. Byrd," he went on, "all this time the little ghost-house
stood empty. No one used it but myself. It was made for a woman and for
children, yet in my selfishness I locked its door against those who
should rightfully have enjoyed it. Mac urged me to use it as a holiday
house for poor mothers from the city, but, somehow, I could not bring
myself to evict its dream-mistress."
"Oh, I feel more than ever a trespasser!" exclaimed Mary.
He shook his head. "No, you have redeemed the place from futility--you
are its justification." He paused again, and continued in a lower tone,
"Mrs. Byrd, you won't mind my saying this--you are so like that lady of
long ago that the house seems yours by natural right. I think I was only
waiting for someone who would love and understand it--some golden-haired
young mother, like yourself, to give the key to. I can't tell you how
happy it makes me that the little house should at last fulfil itself.
Please keep it for as long as you need it--it will always need you."
Mary was much moved: "I can't thank you, Mr. Farraday, but I feel deeply
honored. Perhaps my best thanks lie just in loving the house, and I do
that, with all my heart. You don't mind my foolish little name for it?"
"The Byrdsnest? I think it perfect."
"And you don't mind either the alterations I have made?"
"My dear friend, while you keep this house I want it to be yours. Should
you wish to take a long lease, and enlarge it, I shall be happy. In fact,
I will sell it to you, if in the future you would care to buy. My only
stipulation would be an option to repurchase should you decide to give it
up." He took her hand. "The Byrdsnest belongs to Elliston's mother; let
us both understand that."
Her lips trembled. "You are good to me."
"No, it is you who are good to the dreams of a sentimentalist. And now--"
he sat back smilingly--"that is settled. Tell me the news. How is my
godson, how is Mr. Byrd, how fares the sable Lily?"
"Baby weighs fourteen and a half pounds," she said proudly; "he is simply
perfect. Lily is an angel." She paused, and seemed to continue almost
with an effort. "Stefan is very busy. He does not care to paint autumn
landscapes, so he has begun work again in the city. He's doing a
fantastic study of Miss Berber, and is very much pleased with it."
"That's good," said Farraday, evenly.
"But I've got more news for you," she went on, brightening. "I've had a
good deal more time lately, Stefan being so much in town, and Baby's
habits so regular. Here's the result."
She fetched from the desk a pile of manuscript, neatly penned, and laid
it on her guest's knee.
"This is the second thing I wanted to consult you about. It's a book-
length story for children, called 'The House in the Wood.' I've written
the first third, and outlined the rest. Here's the list of chapters. It
is supposed to be for children between eight and fourteen, and was first
suggested to me by this house. There is a family of four children, and a
regulation father and mother, nurse, governess, and grandmother. They
live in the country, and the children find a little deserted cottage
which they adopt to play in. The book is full of their adventures in it.
My idea is--" she sat beside him, her eyes brightening with interest--"to
suggest all kinds of games to the children who read the story, which seem
thrilling, but are really educational. It's quite a moral little book,
I'm afraid," she laughed, "but I think story books should describe
adventures which may be within the scope of the ordinary child's life,
don't you? I'm afraid it isn't a work of art, but I hope--if I can work
out the scheme--it may give some practical ideas to mothers who don't
know how to amuse their children.... There, Mr. Editor, what is your
Farraday was turning the pages in his rapid, absorbed way. He nodded and
smiled as he looked.
"I think it's a good idea, Mrs. Byrd; just the sort of thing we are
always on the lookout for. The subject might be trite enough, but I
suspect you of having lent it charm and freshness. Of course the family
is English, which is a disadvantage, but I see you've mixed in a small
American visitor, and that he's beginning to teach the others a thing or
two! Where did you learn such serpent wisdom, young lady?"
She laughed, amazed as she had been a year ago at his lightning-like
"It isn't humbug. I do think an American child could teach ours at home a
lot about inventiveness, independence, and democracy--just as I think
ours might teach him something about manners," she added, smiling.
"Admitted," said he, laying down the manuscript, "and thank you for
letting me see this. I claim the first refusal. Finish it, have it typed,
and send it in, and if I can run it as a serial in The Child at Home, I
shall be tremendously pleased to do so. If it goes, it ought to come out
in book form, illustrated."
"You really think the idea has something in it?"
"I certainly do, and you know how much I believe in your work."
"Oh, I'm _so_ glad," she exclaimed, looking far more cheerful than
he had seen her that evening.
He rose to go, and held her hand a moment in his friendly grasp.
"Good night, dear Mrs. Byrd; give my love to Elliston, and remember that
in him and your work you have two priceless treasures which, even alone,
will give you happiness."
"Oh, I know," she said, her eyes shining; "good night, and thank you for
"Good night, and in the house's name, thank you," he answered from the
As she closed it, the brightness slowly faded from Mary's face. She
looked at the clock--it was past ten.
"Not to-night, either," she said to herself. Her hand wandered to the
telephone in the hall, but she drew it back. "No, better not," she
thought, and, putting out the lights, walked resolutely upstairs. As,
candle in hand, she passed the door of Stefan's room, she looked in. His
bed was smooth; a few trifles lay in orderly array upon his dressing
table; boots, from which the country dust had been wiped days ago, stood
with toes turned meekly to the wall. They looked lonely, she thought.
With a sigh, she entered her own room, and passed through it to the
nursery. There lay her baby, soundly sleeping, his cheek on the pillow,
his little fists folded under his chin. How beautiful he looked, she
thought; how sweet his little room, how fresh and peaceful all the house!
It was the home of love--love lay all about her, in the kind protection
of the trees, in the nests of the squirrels, in the voices and faces of
her friends, and in her heart. Love was all about her, and the sweetness
of young life--and she was utterly lonely. One short year ago she thought
she would never know loneliness again--only a year ago.
The candle wavered in her hand; a drop of wax fell on the baby's spotless
coverlet. Stooping, she blew upon it till it was cold, and carefully
broke it off. She sat down in a low rocking chair, and lifting the baby,
gave him his good-night nursing. He barely opened his sleep-laden eyes.
She kissed him, made him tidy for the night, and laid him down, waiting
while he cuddled luxuriously back to sleep.
"Little Stefan, little Stefan," she whispered.
Then, leaving the nursery door ajar, she undressed noiselessly, and lay
down on the cool, empty bed.
The following afternoon about teatime Stefan bicycled up from the
station. Mary, who was in the sitting room, heard him calling from the
gate, but did not go to meet him. He hurried into the room and kissed her
half-turned cheek effusively.
"Well, dear, aren't you glad to see me?" he asked rather nervously.
"Do you know that you've been away six days, Stefan, and have only
troubled to telephone me twice?" she answered, in a voice carefully
"You don't mean it!" he exclaimed. "I had no idea it was so long."
He fidgeted. "Well, dear, you know I'm frightfully keen on this new
picture, and the journeys back and forth waste so much time. But as for
the telephoning, I'm awfully sorry. I've been so absorbed I simply didn't
remember. Why didn't you ring me up?"
"I didn't wish to interrupt a sitting. I rang twice in the evenings, but
you were out."
"Yes; I've been trying to amuse myself a little." He was rocking from one
foot to the other like a detected schoolboy.
"Hang it all, Mary," he burst out, "don't be so judicial. One must have
some pleasure--I can't sit about this cottage all the time."
"I don't think I've asked you to do that."
"You haven't, but you seem to be implying the request now."
She was chilled to silence, having no heart to reason him out of so
unreasonable a defense.
"Well, anyway," he said, flinging himself on the sofa, "here I am, so
let's make the best of it. Tea ready?"
"It's just coming."
"That's good. When are you coming up to see the picture? It's going to be
the best I've done. I shall get Constantine to exhibit it and that stick
of a Demeter together, and then the real people and the fools will both
have something to admire."
"You say this will be your best?" asked Mary, whom the phrase had
"Well," he said reflectively, lighting a cigarette, "perhaps not better
than the Danae in one sense--it hasn't as much feeling, but has more
originality. Miss Berber is such an unusual type--she's quite an
"And I'm not, any more," Mary could not help adding in a muffled voice.
"Don't be so literal, my dear; of course you are, but not for this sort
of picture." The assurance sounded perfunctory.
"Thank goodness, here comes the tea," he exclaimed as Lily entered with
the tray. "Hullo, Lily; how goes it?"
"Fine, Mr. Byrd, but we've shorely missed you," she answered, with
something less than her usual wholehearted smile.
"Well, you must rejoice, now that the prodigal has returned," he grinned.
"Mary, you haven't answered my question yet--when are you coming in to
see the picture? Why not to-morrow? I'm dying to show it to you."
She flushed. "I can't come, Stefan; it's impossible to leave Baby so
"Well, bring him with you."
"That wouldn't be possible, either; it would disturb his sleep, and upset
"There you are!" he exclaimed, ruffling his hair. "I can't work down
here, and you can't come to town--how can I help seeming to neglect you?
Look here"--he had drunk his tea at a gulp, and now held out his cup for
more--"if you're lonely, why not move back to the city--then you could
keep your eye on me!" and he grinned again.
For some time Mary had feared this suggestion--she had not yet discussed
with Stefan her desire to stay in the country. She pressed her hands
"Stefan, do you really want me to move back?"
"I want you to do whatever will make you happier," he temporized.
"If you really needed me there I would come. But you are always so
absorbed when you're working, and I am so busy with Baby, that I don't
believe we should have much more time together than now."
"Neither do I," he agreed, in a tone suspiciously like relief, which she
was quick to catch.
"On the other hand," she went on, "this place is far better for Baby, and
I am devoted to it. We couldn't afford anything half as comfortable in
the city, and you like it, too, in the summer."
"Of course I do," he answered cheerfully. "I should hate to give it up,
and I'm sure it's much more economical, and all that. Still, if you stay
here through the winter you mustn't be angry if I am in town part of the
time--my work has got to come first, you know."
"Yes, of course, dear," said Mary, wistfully, "and I think it would be a
mistake for me to come unless you really wanted me."
"Of course I want you, Beautiful."
He spoke easily, but she was not deceived. She knew he was glad of the
arrangement, not for her sake, but for his own. She had watched him
fretting for weeks past, like a caged bird, and she had the wisdom to see
that her only hope of making him desire the nest again lay in giving him
freedom from it. Her pride fortified this perception. As she had said
long ago, Mary was no bargainer.
In spite of her comprehension, however, she warmed toward him. It was so
good to see him lounging on the sofa again, his green-gold eyes bright,
his brown face with its elfish smile radiant now that his point was won.
She knew he had been unkind to her both in word and act, but it was
impossible not to forgive him, now that she enjoyed again the comfort of
Smiling, she poured out his third cup of tea, and was just passing it
when there was a knock, and McEwan entered the hall.
"Hello, Byrd," he called, his broad shoulders blocking the sitting room
door as he came in; "down among the Rubes again? Madam Mary, I accept in
advance your offer of tea. Well, how goes the counterfeit presentment of
our friend Twinkle-Toes?"
Stefan's eyebrows went up. "Do you mean Miss Berber?"
"Yes," said McEwan, with an aggravating smile, as he devoured a slice of
cake. "We're all expecting another ten-strike. Are you depicting her as a
toe-shaker or a sartorial artist?"
"Really, Wallace," protested Mary, who had grown quite intimate with
McEwan, "you are utterly incorrigible in your Yankee vein--you respect no
"I respect the President of these United States," said he solemnly,
raising an imaginary hat.
"That's more than I do," snorted Stefan; "a pompous Puritan!"
"For goodness' sake, don't start him on politics, Wallace," said Mary;
"he has a contempt for every public man in America except Roosevelt and
"So I have," replied Stefan; "they are the only two with a spark of the
picturesque, or one iota of originality."
"You ought to paint their pictures arm in arm, with Taft floating on a
cloud crowning them with a sombrero and a sandbag, Bryan pouring grape-
juice libations, and Wilson watchfully waiting in the background. Label
it 'Morituri salutamus'--I bet it would sell," said McEwan hopefully.
Mary laughed heartily, but Stefan did not conceal his boredom. "Why don't
you go into vaudeville, McEwan?" he frowned.
"Solely out of consideration for the existing stars," McEwan sighed,
putting down his cup and rising. "Well, chin music hath charms, but I
must toddle to the house, or I shall get in bad with Jamie. My love to
Elliston, Mary. Byrd, I warn you that my well-known critical faculty
needs stimulation; I mean to drop in at the studio ere long to slam the
latest masterpiece. So long," and he grinned himself out before Stefan's
rising irritation had a chance to explode.
"Why do you let that great tomfool call you by your first name, Mary?" he
demanded, almost before the front door was shut.
"Wallace is one of the kindest men alive, and I'm quite devoted to him. I
admit, though, that he seems to enjoy teasing you."
"Teasing me!" Stefan scoffed; "it's like an elephant teasing a fly. He
"Well, don't be an old crosspatch," she smiled, determined now they were
alone again to make the most of him.
"You are a good sort, Mary," he said, smiling in reply; "it's restful to
be with you. Sing to me, won't you?" He stretched luxuriously on the
She obeyed, glad enough of the now rare opportunity of pleasing him.
Farraday had brought her some Norse ballads not long before; their sad
elfin cadences had charmed her. She sang these now, touching the piano
lightly for fear of waking the sleeping baby overhead. Turning to Stefan
at the end, she found him sound asleep, one arm drooping over the sofa,
the nervous lines of his face smoothed like a tired child's. For some
reason she felt strangely pitiful toward him. "He must be very tired,
poor boy," she thought.
Crossing to the kitchen, she warned Lily not to enter the sitting room,
and herself slipped upstairs to the baby. Stefan slept till dinner time,
and for the rest of the evening was unusually kind and quiet.
As they went up to bed Mary turned wistfully to him.
"Wouldn't you like to look at Elliston? You haven't seen him for a long
"Bless me, I suppose I haven't--let's take a peep at him."
Together they bent over the cradle. "Why, he's looking quite human. I
think he must have grown!" his father whispered, apparently surprised.
"Does he make much noise at night nowadays, Mary?"
"No, hardly any. He just whimpers at about two o'clock, and I get up and
nurse him. Then he sleeps till after six."
"If you don't mind, then," said Stefan, "I think I will sleep with you
to-night. I feel as if it would rest me."
"Of course, dearest." She felt herself blushing. Was she really going to
be loved again? She smiled happily at him.
When they were in bed Stefan curled up childishly, and putting one arm
about her, fell asleep almost instantly, his head upon her shoulder. Mary
lay, too happy for sleep, listening to his quiet breathing, until her
shoulder ached and throbbed under his head. She would not move for fear
of waking him, and remained wide-eyed and motionless until her baby's
voice called to her.
Then, with infinite care, she slipped away, her arm and shoulder numb,
but her heart lighter than it had been for many weeks.
She had forgotten to put out her dressing gown, and would not open the
closet door, because it creaked. Little Elliston was leisurely over his
repast, and she was stiff with cold when at last she stole back into bed.
Stefan lay upon his side. She crept close, and in her turn put an arm
about him. He was here again, her man, and her child was close at hand,
warm and comforted from her breast. Love was all about her, and to-night
she was not mocked. Warm again from his touch, she, too, fell at last,
with all the dreaming house, asleep.
Stefan stayed at home for several days, sleeping long hours, and
seemingly unusually subdued. He would lie reading on the sofa while Mary
wrote, and often she turned from her manuscript to find him dozing. They
took a few walks together, during which he rarely spoke, but seemed glad
of her silent company. Once he called with her on Mrs. Farraday, and
actually held an enormous skein of wool for the old lady while she,
busily winding, told them anecdotes of her son James, and of her long
dead husband. He made no effort to talk, seeming content to sit receptive
under the soothing flow of her reminiscences.
"Thee is a good boy," said the little lady, patting his hand kindly as
the last shred of wool was wound.
"I'm afraid not, ma'am," said he, dropping quaintly into the address of
his childhood. "I'm just a rudderless boat staggering under topheavy
"Thee has a sure harbor, son," she answered, turning her gentle eyes on
He seemed about to say more, but checked himself. Instead he rose and
kissed the little lady's hand.
"You are one of those who never lose their harbor, Mrs. Farraday. We're
all glad to lower sail in yours."
On the way home Mary linked her arm in his.
"You were so sweet to her, dear," she said.
"You're wondering why I can't always be like that, eh, Mary!"
She laughed and nodded, pressing his arm.
"Well, I can't, worse luck," he answered, frowning.
That evening, while they sat in the dining room over their dessert, the
telephone bell rang. Stefan jumped hastily to answer it, as if he felt
sure it was for him, and he proved right.
"Yes, this is I," he replied, after his first "hello," in what seemed to
Mary an artificial voice.
There was a pause; then she heard him say, "You can?" delightedly,
followed by "To-morrow morning at ten? Hurrah! No more wasted time; we
shall really get on now." Another pause, then, "Oh, what does it matter
about the store?" impatiently--and at last "Well, to-morrow, anyway. Yes.
Good-bye." The receiver clicked into place, and Stefan came skipping back
into the room radiant, his languor of the last few days completely gone.
Mary's heart sank like a stone. It was too obvious that he had stayed at
home, not to be with her, but merely because his sitter was unobtainable.
"Cheers, Mary; back to work to-morrow," he exclaimed, attacking his
dessert with vigor. "I've been slacking shamefully, but Felicity is so
wrapped up in that store of hers I can't get her half the time. Now she's
contrite, and is going to sit to-morrow."
Mary, remembering his remark about McEwan, longed to say, "Why do you
call that little vulgarian by her first name?" but retaliatory methods
were impossible to her. She contented herself with asking if he would be
home the next evening.
"Why, yes, I expect so," he answered, looking vague, "but don't
absolutely count on me, Mary. I've been very good this week."
She saw that he was gone again. His return had been more in the body than
the spirit, after all. If that had been wooed a little back to her it had
winged away again at the first sound of the telephone. She told herself
that it was only his work calling him, that he would have been equally
eager over any other sitter. But she was not sure.
"Brace up, Mary," he called across at her, "you're not being deserted.
Good heavens, I must work!" His impatient frown was gathering. She
collected herself, smiled cheerfully, and rose, telling Lily they would
have coffee in the sitting room.
He spent the evening before the fire, smoking, and making thumbnail
sketches on a piece of notepaper. She sang for some time, but without
eliciting any comment from him. When they went up to bed he stopped at
his own door.
"I think I'll sleep alone to-night, dear. I want to be fresh to-morrow.
Good night," and he kissed her cheek.
When she came down in the morning he had already gone. Lying on the
sitting room table, where it had been placed by the careful Lily, lay the
scrap of notepaper he had been scribbling on the night before. It was
covered with tiny heads, and figures of mermaids, dancing nymphs, and
dryads. All in face or figure suggested Felicity Berber.
She laid it back on the table, dropping a heavy book over it. A little
later, while she was giving Elliston his bath, it suddenly occurred to
Mary that her husband had never once during his stay alluded to her
manuscript, and never looked at the baby except when she had asked him
to. She excused him to herself with the plea of his temperament, and his
absorption in his art, but nevertheless her heart was sore.
For the next few weeks Stefan came and went fitfully, announcing at one
point that Miss Berber had ceased to pose for his fantastic study of her,
called "The Nixie," but had consented to sit for a portrait.
"She's slippery--comes and goes, keeps me waiting interminably," he
complained. "I can never be sure of her, but she's a wonderful model."
"What do you do while you're waiting for her?" asked Mary, who could not
imagine Stefan enduring with equanimity such a tax upon his patience.
"Oh, there's tremendous work to be done on the Nixie still," he answered.
"It's only her part in it that is finished."
One evening he came home with a grievance.
"That fool McEwan came to the studio to-day," he complained. "It was all
I could do not to shut the door in his face. Of all the chuckleheads!
What do you think he called the Nixie? 'A tricky piece of work!' Tricky!"
Stefan kicked the fire disgustedly. "And it's the best thing I've done!"
"As for the portrait, he said it was 'fine and dandy,' the idiot. And the
maddening thing was," he went on, turning to Mary, and uncovering the
real source of his offense, "that Felicity positively encouraged him!
Why, the man must have sat there talking with her for an hour. I could
not paint a stroke, and he didn't go till I had said so three times!"
completed Stefan, looking positively ferocious. "What in the fiend's
name, Mary, did she do it for?" He collapsed on the sofa beside her, like
a child bereft of a toy. Mary could not help laughing at his tragic air.
"I suppose she did it to annoy, because she knew it teased," she
"How I loathe fooling and play-acting!" he exclaimed disgustedly. "Thank
God, Mary, you are sincere. One knows where one is with you!"
He seemed thoroughly upset. Miss Berber's pin-prick must have been
severe, Mary thought, if it resulted in a compliment for her.
The next evening, Mary being alone, Wallace dropped in. For some time
they talked of Jamie and Elliston, and of Mary's book.
He was Scotch to-night, as he usually was now when they were alone
together. Cheerful as ever, his cheer was yet slow and solid--the
comedian was not in evidence.
"Hae ye been up yet to see the new pictures?" he asked presently. She
shook her head.
"Ye should go, bairn, they're a fine key. Clever as the devil, but
naething true about them. After the Danae-piff!" and he snapped his
fingers. "Ye hae no call to worry, you're the hub, Mary--let the wheel
spin a wee while!"
She blushed. "Wallace, I believe you're a wizard--or a detective."
"The Scottish Sherlock, eh?" he grinned. "Weel, it's as I tell ye--tak my
word for't. Hae ye seen Mrs. Elliot lately?"
"No, Constance went up to their place in Vermont in June, you know. She
came down purposely for Elliston's christening, the dear. She writes me
she'll be back in a few days now, but says she's sick of New York, and
would stay where she is if it weren't for suffrage."
"But she would na'," said McEwan emphatically.
"No, I don't think so, either. But she sees more of Theodore while she
stays away, because he feels it his duty to run up every few days and
protect her against savage New England, whereas when she's in town she
could drive her car into the subway excavations and he'd never know it.
I'm quoting verbatim," Mary laughed.
McEwan nodded appreciatively. "She's a grand card."
"She pretends to be flippant about husbands," Mary went on, "but as a
matter of fact she cares much more for hers than for her sons, or
anything in the world, except perhaps the Cause."
"That's as it should be," the other nodded.
"I don't know." There was a puzzled note in Mary's voice. "I can't
understand the son's taking such a distinctly second place."
McEwan's face expanded into one of his huge smiles. "It's true, ye could
not. That's the way God made ye, and I'll tell ye about that, too, some
day," he said, rising to go.
"Good-bye, Mr. Holmes," she smiled, as she saw him out.
Before going to bed that night Mary examined her conscience. Why had she
not been to town to see Stefan's work? She knew that the baby--whose
feeding times now came less frequently--was no longer an adequate excuse.
She had blamed Stefan in her heart for his indifference to her work--was
she not becoming guilty of the same neglect? Was she not in danger of a
worse fault, the mean and vulgar fault of jealousy? She felt herself
flushing at the thought.
Two days later Mary put on her last year's suit, now a little shabby,
kissed the baby, importuned the beaming Lily to be careful of him, and
drove to the train in one of the village livery stable's inconceivably
It was about twelve o 'clock when she arrived at the studio, and, ringing
the bell, mounted the well-known stairs with a heart which, in spite of
herself, beat anxiously. Stefan opened the door irritably, but his frown
changed to a look of astonishment, followed by an exuberant smile, as he
saw who it was.
"Here comes Demeter," he cried, calling into the room behind him. "Why,
Mary, I'm honored. Has Elliston actually released his prisoner at last?"
He drew her into the studio, and kissed her almost with ostentation.
"Let's suspend the sitting, Felicity," he cried, "and show our work."
Mary looked about her. Her old home was almost unchanged. There was the
painted bureau, the divan, the big easel, the model throne where she had
posed as Danae. It was unchanged, yet how different. From the throne
stepped down a small svelt figure-it rippled toward her, its gown
shimmering like a fire seen through water. It was Felicity, and her dress
was made from the great piece of oriental silk Stefan had bought when
they were first married, and which they had used as a cover for their
Mary recognized it instantly--there could be no mistake. She stared
stupidly, unable to find speech, while Miss Berber's tones were wafted to
her like an echo from cooing doves.
"Ah, Mrs. Byrd," she was saying, "how lovely you look as a matron. We are
having a short sitting in my luncheon hour. This studio calms me after
the banal cackling of my clients. I almost think of ceasing to create
raiment, I weary so of the stupidities of New York's four hundred.
Corsets, heels"--her hands fluttered in repudiation. She sank full length
upon the divan, lighting a cigarette from a case of mother-of-pearl.
"Your husband is the only artist, Mrs. Byrd, who has succeeded in
painting me as an individual instead of a beauty. It's relieving"--her
voice fainted--"very"--it failed--her lids drooped, she was still.
Stefan looked bored. "Why, Felicity, what's the matter? I haven't seen
you so completely lethargic for a long time. I thought you kept that
manner for the store."
Mary could not help feeling pleased by this remark, which drew no
response from Felicity save a shadowy but somewhat forced smile.
"Turn round, Mary," went on Stefan; "the Nixie is behind you."
Mary faced the canvas, another of his favorite underwater pictures. The
Nixie sat on a rock, in the green light of a river-bed. Green river-weed
swayed and clung about her, and her hair, green too, streamed out to
mingle with it. In the ooze at her feet lay a drowned girl, holding a
tiny baby to her breast. This part of the picture was unfinished, but the
Nixie stood out clearly, looking down at the dead woman with an
expression compounded of wonder and sly scorn. "Lord, what fools these
mortals be," she might have been saying.
The face was not a portrait--it was Felicity only in its potentialities,
but it was she, unmistakably. The picture was brilliant, fantastic, and
unpleasant. Mary said so.
"Of course it is unpleasant," he answered, "and so is life. Isn't it
unpleasant that girls should kill themselves because of some fool man?
And wouldn't sub-humans have a right to ribald laughter at a system which
fosters such things!"
"He has painted me as a sub-human, Mrs. Byrd," drawled Felicity through
her smoke, "but when I hear his opinion of humans I feel complimented."
"It seems to me," said Mary, "that she's not laughing at humans in
general, but at this particular girl, for having cared. That's what makes
it unpleasant to me."
"I dare say she is," said Stefan carelessly. "In any case, I'm glad you
find it unpleasant--in popular criticism the word is only a synonym for
To Mary the picture was theatrical rather than true, but she did not care
to argue the point. She turned to the portrait, a clever study in lights
keyed to the opalescent tones of the silk dress, and showing Felicity
poised for the first step of a dance. The face was still in charcoal
--Stefan always blocked in his whole color scheme before beginning a head
--but even so, it was alluring.
Mary said with truth that it would be a fine portrait.
"Yes, I like it. Full of movement. Nothing architectural about that," he
said, glancing by way of contrast at the great Demeter drowsing from the
furthest wall. "The silk is interesting, isn't it?"
Mary's throat ached painfully. He was utterly unconscious of any hurt to
her in the transfer of this first extravagance of theirs. If he had done
it consciously, with intent to wound, she thought it might have hurt her
"It's very pretty," she said conventionally.
"Bare, perhaps, rather than pretty," murmured Miss Berber behind her veil
Mary flushed. This woman had a trick of always making her appear gauche.
She looked at her watch, not sorry to see that it was already time to
"I must go, Stefan, I have to catch the one o'clock," she said, holding
out her hand.
"What a shame. Can't you even stay to lunch?" he asked dutifully. She
shook her head, the ache in her throat making speech difficult. She
seemed very stiff and matter-of-fact, he thought, and her clothes were
uninteresting. He kissed her, however, and held the door while she shook
hands with Felicity, who half rose. The transom was open, and through it
Mary, who had paused on the landing to button her glove, overheard Miss
Berber's valedictory pronouncement.
"The English are a remarkable race--remarkable. Character in them is
fixed--in us, fluid."
Mary sped down the first flight, in terror of hearing Stefan's reply.
All that evening she held the baby in her arms--she could hardly bring
herself to put him down when it was time to go to bed.
On November the 1st Mary received their joint bank book. The figures
appalled her. She had drawn nothing except for the household bills, but
Stefan had apparently been drawing cash, in sums of fifty or twenty-five
dollars, every few days for weeks past. Save for his meals and a little
new clothing she did not know on what he could have spent it; but as they
had made nothing since the sale of his drawings in the spring, their once
stout balance had dwindled alarmingly. One check, even while she felt its
extravagance, touched her to sympathy. It was drawn to Henrik Jensen for
two hundred dollars. Stefan must have been helping Adolph's brother to
his feet again; perhaps that was where more of the money had gone.
Stefan came home that afternoon, and Mary very unwillingly tackled the
subject. He looked surprised.
"I'd no idea I'd been drawing so much! Why didn't you tell me sooner?" he
exclaimed. "Yes, I've given poor old Henrik a bit from time to time; I
thought I'd mentioned it to you."
"You did in the summer, now I come to think of it, but I thought you
meant a few dollars, ten or twenty."
"Much good that would have done him. The poor old chap was stranded. He's
all right now, has a new business. I've been meaning to tell you about
it. He supplies furniture on order to go with Felicity's gowns--
backgrounds for personalities, and all that stuff. I put it up to her to
help find him a job, and she thought of this right off." He grinned
appreciatively. "Smart, eh? We both gave him a hand to start it."
"You might have told me, I should have been so interested," said Mary,
trying not to sound hurt.
"I meant to, but it's only just been arranged, and I've had no chance to
talk to you for ages."
"Not my doing, Stefan," she said softly.
"Oh, yes, the baby and all that." He waved his arm vaguely, and began to
fidget. She steered away from the rocks.
"Anyhow, I'm glad you've helped him," she said sincerely.
"I knew you would be. Look here, Mary, can we go on at the present rate
--barring Jensen--till I finish the Nixie? I don't want Constantine to
have the Demeter alone, it isn't good enough."
"I think it is as good as the Nixie," she said, on a sudden impulse. He
swung round, staring at her almost insolently.
"My dear girl, what do you know about it?" His voice was cold.
The blood rushed to her heart. He had never spoken to her in that tone
before. As always, her hurt silenced her.
He prowled for a minute, then repeated his question about their expenses.
"I don't want to have to think in cents again unless I must," he added.
Mary considered, remembering the now almost finished manuscript in her
"Yes, I think we can manage, dear."
"That's a blessing; then we won't talk about it any more," he exclaimed,
pinching her ear in token of satisfaction.
The next day Mary sent her manuscript to be typed. In a week it had gone
to Farraday at his office, complete all but three chapters, of which she
enclosed an outline. With it she sent a purely formal note, asking, in
the event of the book being accepted, what terms the Company could offer
her, and whether she could be paid partly in advance. She put the request
tentatively, knowing nothing of the method of paying for serials. In
another week she had a typewritten reply from Farraday, saying that the
serial had been most favorably reported, that the Company would buy it
for fifteen hundred dollars, with a guarantee to begin serialization
within the year, on receipt of the final chapters, that they enclosed a
contract, and were hers faithfully, etc. With this was a personal note
from her friend, congratulating her, and explaining that his estimate of
her book had been more than borne out by his readers.
"I don't want you to think others less appreciative than I," was his
tactful way of intimating that her work had been accepted on its merits
The letters took Mary's breath away. She had no idea that her work could
fetch such a price. This stroke of fortune completely lifted her
financial anxieties, but her spirits did not rise correspondingly. Six
months ago she would have been girlishly triumphant at such a success,
but now she felt at most a dull satisfaction. She hastened, however, to
write the final chapters, and deposited the check when it came in her own
bank, drawing the next month's housekeeping money half from that and half
from Stefan's rapidly dwindling account. That she was able to do this
gave her a feeling of relief, no more.
Mary had now nursed her baby for over four months, and began to feel a
nervous lassitude which she attributed--quite wrongly--to this fact. As
Elliston still gained weight steadily, however, she gave her own
condition no thought. But the last leaves had fallen from the trees, sea
and woods looked friendless, and the evenings were long and lonely. The
neighbors had nearly all gone back to the city. Farraday only came down
at week-ends, Jamie was busy with his lessons, and Constance still
lingered in Vermont. As for Stefan, he came home late and left early;
often he did not come at all. She began to question seriously if she had
been right to remain in the cottage. Her heart told her no, but her pride
said yes, and her pride was strong; also, it was backed by reason. Her
steady brain, which was capable of quite impersonal thinking, told her
that Stefan would be actively discontented just now in company with his
family, and that this discontent would eat into his remaining love for
But her heart repudiated this mental cautioning, crying out to her to go
to him, to pour out her love and need, to capture him safely in her arms.
More than once she nerved herself for such an effort, only to become
incapable of the least expression at his approach. Emotionally
inarticulate even in happiness, Mary was quite dumb in grief. Her
conversation became trite, her sore heart drew a mantle of the
commonplace over its wound; Stefan found her more than ever "English."
So lonely was she at this time that she would have asked little Miss
Mason to stay with her, but for the lack of a spare bedroom. Of all her
friends, only Mrs. Farraday remained at hand. Mary spent many hours at
the old lady's house, and rejoiced each time the pony chaise brought her
to the Byrdsnest. Mrs. Farraday loved to drive up in the morning and
watch the small Elliston in his bath, comparing his feats with her
memories of her own baby. She liked, too, to call at the cottage for
mother and child, and take them for long rambling drives behind her
But the little Quakeress usually had her house full of guests--quaint,
elderly folk from Delaware or from the Quaker regions of Pennsylvania--
and could not give more than occasional time to these excursions. She had
become devoted to Mary, whom she secretly regarded as her ideal of the
woman her James should marry. That her son had not yet met such a woman
was, after the loss of her husband, the little lady's greatest grief.
In the midst of this dead period of graying days, Constance Elliot burst
one morning--a God from the Machine--tearing down the lane in her
diminutive car with the great figure of Gunther, like some Norse
divinity, beside her. She fell out of her auto, and into an explanation,
in one breath, embracing Mary warmly between sentences.
"You lovely creature, here I am at last! Theodore hadn't been up for a
week, so I came down, to find Mr. Gunther thundering like Odin because I
had promised to help him arrange sittings with you, and had forgotten it.
I had to bring him at once. He says his group is all done but the two
heads, and he must have yours and the baby's. But he'll tell you all
about it. Where is he? Elliston, I mean. I've brought him some short
frocks. Where are they, Mr. Gunther? If he's put them in his pockets,
he'll never find them--they are feet long--the pockets, I mean. Bless
you, Mary Byrd, how good it is to see you! Come into the house, every
one, and let me rest."
Mary was bubbling with laughter.
"Constance, you human dynamo, we'll go in by all means, and hold our
breaths listening to your 'resting'!"
"Don't sass your elders, naughty girl. Oh, my heavens, I've been five
months in New England, and have behaved like a perfect gentlewoman all
the time! Now I'm due for an attack of New Yorkitis!" Constance rushed
into the sitting room, pulled off her hat and patted her hair into shape,
ran to the kitchen door to say hello to Lily, and was back in her chair
by the time the others had found theirs. Her quick glance traveled from
one to the other.
"Now I shall listen," she said. "Mary, tell your news. Mr. Gunther,
explain your ideas."
Mary laughed again. "Visitors first," she nodded to the Norwegian who, as
always, was staring at her with a perfectly civil fixity.
He placed a great hand on either knee and prepared to state his case.
With his red-gold beard and piercing eyes, he was, Mary thought, quite
the handsomest, and, after Stefan, the most attractive man she had ever
"Mrs. Byrd," he began, "I am doing, among other things, a large group
called 'Pioneers' for the Frisco exhibition. It is finished in the clay--