Part 4 out of 6
"Listen to that!" said Miss Annabel in indignation. "Any one would
think my brother was an ogre. Angus! Why, he's gone! I thought he was
"I think Mr. Macnair went into the house."
"Did he? What did I tell you? Perhaps my news surprised him as well as
you. I thought he looked as pale as a plate. What do you think?"
"I think it is none of our business."
Miss Annabel gave her a shrewd look. "Perhaps not your business. You
don't have to live with him. But I do. Well, good-bye, my dear. Tell
your mother," significantly, "that I'll be over to see her soon."
Both girls were relieved that the minister did not leave his study to
say good-bye. They breathed more freely and their steps slackened as
soon as the corner which hid the manse had been safely passed.
"I've got new boots," began Jane. "See them? And Fred's new dog has got
puppies! He calls her Pickles. She got the puppies this morning. Oh!
they're darlings! But Fred is horrid. He says he is going to give me one
for my own, to make up for Timothy. Just as if anything ever could! I
never knew any one so heartless as Fred--except Job."
"Job who?" It was a relief to Esther to let the childish chatter run on.
"Why, _Job_. Job was just like Fred. When all his wives died and his
little children and his cows, he felt bad, but when God gave him more
wives and more children and lots of cows he was pleased as Punch. I
always thought that so strange of God," in a reflective tone, "but I
expect he knew what kind of man Job was and that he didn't have any real
feelings. Do you think I ought to take the puppy, Esther? I shouldn't
like to be like Job."
"I think there is no danger, dear. But how is mother? Better?"
"Was she sick?" in surprise.
"Her headaches, you know."
"Oh, yes. I don't know whether they are better or not," carelessly. "I
didn't see much of mother while we were away. I played all day with Mrs.
Bremner's little girl. Except when we went shopping. I think she must be
better, for she did such lots of shopping."
Esther smiled. "Not very much, I think, Janie. Shopping takes money."
"But she did! I have lots and lots of new clothes. Only,"
discontentedly, "most of them don't fit. Mother could never be bothered
trying them on. She's got some lovely things, too. Dresses and hats and
piles of new shoes and heaps of silk stockings--"
"Jane, why do you say 'lots' and 'piles' and 'heaps' when you know you
But there was a note of anxiety in the reproof nevertheless.
"I'm not exaggerating, Esther! She did. Even Miss Bremner asked her what
she was going to do with them all."
The elder girl's fingers tightened upon the small hand she held. Her red
lips set themselves in a firm line. In face of a danger which she could
see and measure Esther had courage enough. And she had faced this
particular danger before.
"Mother will tell me all about it, no doubt," she said calmly. "Did she
get me something pretty, too?"
"Yes. It's a surprise."
"And when she got all the pretty things I suppose she told the clerks to
"Oh, no. She paid for them out of her purse."
Esther was conscious of a swift reaction. The things were paid for. Of
course Jane had exaggerated. Children have no sense of value. Some
dainty things, Mrs. Coombe was sure to buy; but, as Esther well knew,
her slender stock of money would hardly have run to "piles" and "heaps."
And of course she had been unjust in fearing that Mary had gone into
debt. They had one experience of that kind, an experience which had
ended in a solemn promise that it would never happen again. Mary
understood the position as well as she did.
As the girl's thought trailed naturally into the problem paths of every
day, her weeks of freedom, her new interests, the strange experience in
the manse garden seemed already remote. With the little frown of
accustomed perplexity slipping in between her straight, black brows, her
deeper agitation quieted. The unusual has no antidote so effective as
They found Mrs. Coombe waiting for them on the veranda. Lying back in
the shade, in her white dress she looked very much at her ease. Yet a
quick observer might have noticed a certain anxiety in the glance she
tried to render merely welcoming. She was thinner than she had been;
tired lines dragged at the corners of the pouting mouth and dark circles
showed plainly through their dusting of pearl powder. Changes which
creep in unnoticed when one sees a person every day are startlingly
apparent when absence has forced a clearer focus. Esther had known that
her step-mother had changed, was changing, but as she bent over her now,
the extent of the change shocked her. With a tightening at her heart
she wondered what her father would say if he could see the difference
wrought by one short year. Pearl powder, lavishly used, is not becoming,
especially when it sifts into multitudes of fine lines; nor can powder
or anything else brighten a dull, yellowing skin which in health would
still be delicately clear and firm.
But the dulled eyes and the faded face were only the symptoms of the
real change in Mary Coombe. The thing itself lay deeper. Striving to
express a subtlety which would not lend itself to words, Esther had more
than once told herself that her mother was "not the same woman." Yet it
was only to-day, as she stooped to kiss her, that the startling, literal
truth of the phrase struck home. The outside changes were nothing--it
was the woman herself who had changed.
"Well, Esther!" The sweet high voice with its impatient note was the
same as ever. "Here we are home again. Fancy me forgetting it was
Sunday! Wasn't it funny? We met old MacTavish coming up from the station
(not a single cab down to meet the train, of course!) and he looked so
shocked. Really, this place grows more insufferable every day. It seems
to agree with you, though, you're looking awfully well. Amy looks well,
too. The new doctor must be something of a wonder."
"He is considered very clever. Aunt Amy is certainly better. Now that
you are home you must let him see what he can do for you."
Mrs. Coombe's pouting lips lengthened into a hard line.
"I won't see a doctor. And that's flat."
"Are you feeling better, then?"
As was always the case, her mother's perversity dissipated Esther's
sympathy and left her tone cold. It was all the colder probably because
just at that moment she had noticed that the simple white frock Mrs.
Coombe was wearing was not simple at all. The delicate embroidery on it
was all hand work. And French embroidery is no inexpensive trifle. It
was probably a new "best" gown; but if so, why had it been worn on the
train, why was it soiled in places and carelessly put on? The skirt was
not even, the collar, having lost a support, sagged at one side and just
below the girdle belt there was a small, jagged rent. Esther noticed
these details with vexation and discomfort, for it was part of the
change in Mary Coombe that from being one of the most carefully gowned
women in town she had become one of the most slovenly. All her natty,
pretty, American "style" which the plainer Canadians had sometimes
envied was gone. But this--this was worse than usual! The girl's quick
eyes travelled downward, noting the increased signs of deterioration
with something like distress.
"Why, mother," she exclaimed involuntarily, "there is a hole in your
"Is there?" Mary Coombe thrust out a small and elegant foot clad in
thinnest silk and shod with pretty slippers not very clean and turning
over at the heel.
"Dear me!" she said. "So there is. I need new slippers too. I quite
forgot to get any."
"Oh, mother!" Jane's cry was instant. "You got heaps. Tan ones and brown
ones and white ones and black ones with silver buckles--"
"Jane!" interrupted Esther, laughing. "Give your imagination a rest."
"But you did, didn't you, mother?"
"Did I? Why, yes--I did buy a few shoes. I had forgotten. The Customs
man didn't find them either. Run and fetch me a clean white pair, Jane,
and bring down the surprise we got for Esther--see how disapproving she
looks. I declare, Esther, it would be just like you to make things
disagreeable the moment I get home. I didn't charge a cent, if that's
what you're afraid of."
"I knew you wouldn't do that," gravely. "And of course I'm glad you got
the things. But I can't see how you managed."
"Oh, sales," vaguely. "Things are so cheap in Detroit and Jessica
Bremner is a born shopper. She gets wonderful bargains. Anyway, I got
them, and I'm not a cent in debt."
"What's debt?" asked Jane.
"Buying what you can't pay for, Janie."
"Oh, mother paid for everything. I saw her. It's Mrs. Bremner that's in
debt, isn't she, mother?"
"Don't be silly, Jane, of course not. Jessica is far better off than we
"But she only gave you half the money for the ring. I heard her say--"
"Jane, get those slippers at once."
"I'm going. But Mrs. Bremner said--"
Mrs. Coombe's hand came down with stinging force upon the child's ear.
"Will you obey me--or will you not?"
Jane retired wailing and her mother sank back into her veranda chair,
red spots burning through the powder on her cheeks.
Esther sat very still for a moment, and then, without looking at the
other, she asked in a low voice:
"What did she mean?"
"How should I know?" fretfully.
"What ring did Mrs. Bremner give you money for? Did--you have to sell
one of your rings?"
"Yes, I did."
"Oh, don't bother me, Esther."
"But I want to know which one."
"It was the big red one!" called Jane from the hallway, where she had
waited, safely out of reach.
Mary Coombe sprang up, fury blazing in her eyes, but Jane had fled, and
Esther, cool and capable, was blocking the doorway.
"Sit down, mother. I've got to know about this. What ring does she
For an instant the older woman hesitated, then with a little shrug she
turned back to the chair. The fury had died away as quickly as it
"I knew you would be disagreeable," she said. "And you were bound to
hear about the ring some time. Jane is the most ungrateful child, and a
little tell-tale; the makings of a regular little cat! I'm sure I spent
her full share on her, and I've brought you something nice, too. Not
that I expect to be thanked for it. Of course I had to have some money.
I hadn't a rag to wear, not a rag. And I got everything ready made. It's
cheaper. Anyway, I can't stand dressmakers any more. They paw one so. I
can't bear to be touched, my wretched nerves! And I remembered the fuss
you made about the bills last time. You know you did make a fuss,
Esther, as if all your dear father left belonged to you and not to me--"
"But what did you _do_?"
"I'm telling you, amn't I? I sold the ring, of course."
"The ruby ring. It's the only one that is worth anything!"
"You sold Aunt Amy's ring?"
"If you wish to put it that way, yes. I consider it is as much my ring
as hers. She is my aunt and it is understood that all her things will
come to me. She has lived here ever since I was married and I think it's
a funny thing if she can't help me out occasionally. I simply had to
have money and the ruby was the only thing worth selling. Good Heavens!
Don't look so crazy. One would think I had stolen it!"
Again Mrs. Coombe arose; this time without flurry. The little excitement
had done her good. The dull eyes were actually sparkling, the sallow
cheeks were flushed. She looked just as she used to look in one of her
little rages before the great change came.
"That's enough, Esther. I'll take no more from you. I did what seemed to
me right. If Amy were in her right mind I should not have had to take
the ring, she would have offered it. Under the circumstances I did the
only sensible thing. Amy will never discover the loss. I am getting a
very good price for it from Jessica Bremner. It is a valuable jewel. She
snatched at the chance of getting it."
Behind its whiteness Esther's face seemed to glow with pale flame. "Is
it possible that you have forgotten the history of that ring?" she
asked. "That it was poor Auntie's engagement ring and that, although she
can't remember anything about it, she knows it means something more than
life to her. And that she always says that she cannot die without the
ruby on her finger?"
Mrs. Coombe looked uncomfortable, but kept her poise.
"It's all rubbish. She'll forget all about it. Dying people don't think
of ruby rings. And anyway, she will probably outlive all of us. If
not--we can easily divert her attention."
The girl looked at her step-mother in horror, half believing that this
must be some cruel joke. The callousness of the words seemed
unbelievable. But the reality of them could no longer be doubted and the
pale glow died out of her face, leaving it white and hard.
"I do not understand you," she said slowly. "Somehow you do not seem
quite--human. But be sure of this, Aunt Amy shall have back her lover's
ring. Jane says it has not all been paid for. How much did you receive?"
"I shall not tell you. And I warn you, Esther, not to waste your money.
If you buy it back, I shall sell it again."
They were standing now facing each other. Esther took a step forward and
looked down steadily into her step-mother's face. Her own curious eyes
were wide open, they looked like blue stars, bright, cold and
powerful as flame.
"No! You shall not."
For a space Mary Coombe met that sword-like look, then her weaker will
gave way. Her eyes shifted and fell. Her hands began to pluck nervously
at the embroidery of her dress. She laughed, a little, affected laugh
with no mirth in it, turned and entered the house.
We have stated elsewhere that Coombe was conservative, but by this we do
not mean to imply that it was benighted. Far from it! True, it talked a
great deal before it ventured upon anything strange or new, referred
constantly to the tax rate and ran no risks, but at the time of which we
write it had decided to take a plebescite upon the matter of Local
Option and, a little later, the council wished to go so far as to
present Andrew MacCandless, who had served them five times as mayor,
with an address and a purse of fifty dollars.
The Presbyterian church, too, although still clinging to solid doctrine,
was far removed from the tuning-fork stage. Through throes of terrible
convulsion it had come to possess an organ, a paid soloist, and a
Ladies' Aid, that insidious first thing in women's clubs.
The first meeting of the Knox Church Ladies' Aid, after the return of
Mrs. Coombe and Jane, was held for the purpose of putting together a
quilt, not the old-fashioned kind, of course, but something quite
new--an autograph quilt, very chaste.
It was a large meeting and, providentially, Mrs. Coombe was late. I say
providentially because, had she been early, it is difficult to imagine
how her fellow members would have eased their minds of the load of
comment justified by her indiscreet home-coming, and several other
things equally painful but interesting. The Ladies' Aid had its printed
constitution but it also had its unwritten laws and one of these laws
was that strictest courtesy must always be observed. No member, whatever
her failings, was ever discussed in meeting--when she was present.
"What I cannot excuse," said Mrs. Bartley Simson, "is the tone of levity
in which she answered Mr. MacTavish when he met her on the way from the
station. It is possible that she had some good reason for coming on that
particular train. I am not one of those who hold that nothing can ever
justify Sunday travel. Exceptional cases must be allowed for. But the
frivolity of her excuse nothing can justify."
"Besides," said Miss Atkins, the secretary, "it was a--it sounded
like--what I mean to say is that she could not possibly, _no one_ could
possibly, have forgotten what day of the week it was."
A subdued chorus of "Certainly not" and "Absurd" showed the trend of
public opinion upon this point.
"I once forgot that Wednesday was Thursday," said the youngest Miss
Sinclair, who always stood for peace at any price.
"Don't be silly, Jessie!" The elder Miss Sinclair, who believed in war
with honour, jogged her sister's elbow none too gently. "That's a
different thing altogether. For my own part," raising her voice, "I
think that as a society we cannot be too careful how we minimise the
fact itself. To us, as a society, it is the fact itself that matters,
and not what Mrs. Coombe said about it. That, to a certain extent, may
be her own affair. But I hold, and I say it without fear of successful
contradiction, that no member of a community can disregard the Sabbath
in a public way without affecting the community at large. That is why I
feel justified in criticising Mrs. Coombe's behaviour. And I hope," here
she raised a piercing eye and let it range triumphantly over the circle,
"I sincerely hope that the minister has been told of this occurrence!"
The meeting rustled with approbation. This, it felt, was something like
a proper spirit. There was no compromise here. A thrill of conscious
virtue, raised to the _n_th power, shot through the circle.
"You think that Mr. Macnair ought to take cognizance of it officially?"
asked Miss Atkins. (Being the secretary she used many beautiful words.)
"But he and Mrs. Coombe are such friends!" objected the younger Miss
Sinclair, who was a kindly creature.
An electric silence fell upon the quilters. Every one looked toward the
"I cannot allow such insinuations to be made at this meeting," said the
"But--but I did not insinuate anything!" stammered poor Miss Jessie who,
severely jogged by her sister and transfixed by the President's eye, had
turned the colour of the crimson square before her.
"We all know," went on the President more mildly, "that Mr. Macnair
calls fairly often at the Elms. We may even have heard rumours to the
effect that he intends--I hardly know how to phrase it, but as our
minister is unmarried and Mrs. Coombe is a widow you will understand
what I mean. But, ladies, I may state on no less an authority than Miss
Annabel that Mr. Macnair has no such intentions. There is absolutely
nothing in it. His calls no doubt may be accounted for by the presence
of--er--affliction in the house."
"Do you mean Aunt Amy?" A younger woman with a clever and rather pretty
face looked up. "Why, can't you see that there is a much simpler
explanation than that?"
It was certainly unfortunate that Mrs. Coombe should have chosen this
moment to arrive. But the Ladies' Aid were used to interrupted
statements. It was felt to be very convenient that one of the windows
looked out directly upon the steps so that the meeting was never quite
taken by surprise. A sudden pause there might be, but late arrivals had
learned to expect that. It was the penalty for being late.
"Dear Mrs. Coombe, so glad you have come!" said the hostess pleasantly.
"No, you are not very late. We are only just beginning."
Every one nodded and smiled. Chairs were moved and sewing shifted to
provide space for the newcomer. A few left their work in order to shake
hands and there was a general readjustment of everything, including
topics of conversation. In the space of a few seconds it was noticed
that Mrs. Coombe wore a new hat, a new gown, new slippers and silk
stockings and that in spite of all these advantages they had never seen
her look worse.
"Dear Mrs. Coombe, I think your belt-pin has become--allow me!" Miss
Milligan, dressmaker in private life, with a discreet swiftness,
twitched the blouse and skirt into place and deftly fastened it. At the
same time she closed a gap in the fastening of the blouse itself.
Mary Coombe laughed. "Dear me! Am I undone? I must have forgotten to
ask Amy to fix me. These blouses that fasten in the back are such a
The President smiled politely, but with evident effort. Mrs. Coombe was
a prominent member. Still, on principle, she, a president, could not be
expected to approve of people who forgot to have themselves done up.
Supposing the minister had been present!
"What are we doing this afternoon?" asked the unconscious delinquent
languidly. "Autograph quilts? I've got a lot of blocks for you--friends
of mine in the city." She began to fumble in the pretty workbag she
carried. "Gracious, I was sure I had them with me! Isn't that odd? I
can't find them."
"Let me look," suggested Miss Jessie Sinclair kindly.
But the other snatched back the open bag with a gesture which was almost
"Oh, no--they are not there! I can't imagine what I have done with
them." She looked up in a bewildered way. Indeed the perturbation was so
out of proportion to the size of the calamity that the ladies questioned
each other with their eyes.
The President tapped with her thimble upon the quilting frame and every
one became very busy. "I hope," she said, taking the conversation into
her own hands for safe keeping, "that you found all well upon your
return, Mrs. Coombe? I hardly ever seem to see Esther now. Did you know
that we have been talking of changing our meeting to Saturday afternoon
so that Esther and some more of our younger folk may join us? We thought
that it would be so nice for them--and for us too," she finished
Mrs. Coombe looked surprised. "I can hardly see Esther at a Ladies' Aid
Meeting," she said. "Did she tell you she would come?"
"No. We have not yet told any one of the proposed change. But we all
"We all felt," interrupted Miss Sinclair, who was fairly sniffing the
air with the spirit of glorious war, "that the less time our young girls
have to go off philandering with young fools whom no one knows anything
about, the better it will be for everybody concerned!"
Mary looked up with an air of pleased surprise.
"Has Esther been philandering?" she asked eagerly.
The President frowned. This was hardly according to Hoyle.
"I really think," began Miss Jessie Sinclair indignantly, "that Esther
ought to be allowed to tell her mother--"
"Gracious! Esther never tells me anything. And I'm dying to know. Who is
the 'young fool'?--do tell me, somebody."
Strangely enough, now that the way was open, no one seemed to have
anything to say.
"You've simply got to tell me now," urged Mary delightedly. "Unless it's
only a silly bit of gossip."
This fillip had the desired effect. Everybody began to talk at once and
in five minutes Esther's step-mother knew all about the new doctor and
the broken motor. When they paused for breath, she laughed softly.
"It's the most amusing thing I've heard in ages. Fancy--Esther! Oh, it's
delicious." She looked around the circle of surprised and disappointed
faces and laughed again. "Oh, don't pretend! You know very well that
you're not a bit shocked, really. And surely you don't think that I
ought to scold Esther? Why," with a little flare of her old-time
loyalty, "Esther is worth a dozen ordinary girls. I'd trust Esther with
Apollo on a desert island. But I'll admit I'm rather anxious to see the
young man. He must be rather nice if Esther agreed to show him around.
As for the accident," she shrugged her shoulders, "I know enough about
motors to know that that might happen any time."
"You are right, of course," the President's tone was more cordial. "And
anyway we have no right to discuss Esther's affairs. The reference to it
grew out of the proposed change of meeting. And the change of meeting
was thought of chiefly because when Mr. Macnair heard about the escapade
he seemed much worried. Naturally, as he says, he carries all his young
people on his heart, and Dr. Callandar being such a newcomer--"
"Oh, yes, naturally." Mary Coombe's little gurgle of amusement had a
note of cruelty in it, for she alone of all these women had guessed why
the Rev. Angus Macnair should have taken Esther's escapade so much to
heart. She knew, too, that the minister had no chance, but the idea of a
rival was novel--and entertaining. Could Esther really have taken a
fancy to this young doctor? Mary knew the Coombe gossips too well to
take their chatter seriously, but there might be something in it. At any
rate, there was enough to use as a conversational weapon against Esther.
She was becoming a little nervous of Esther lately. The girl was
positively growing up. Somehow, almost overnight it seemed, a new
strength had come to her, a strength which her step-mother's weakness
felt and resented. But now with this nice little story in reserve,
things might be more even. Mary's eyes sparkled as she thought of some
of the smart things she could say the next time Esther began to make a
fuss about--about the matter of the ruby ring, for instance. Esther had
been most disagreeable about that. Just as if any one could have
foreseen that Amy would miss it so soon, or indeed at all, since it had
been her fancy to keep it shut up in a stupid box.
As a matter of fact, the affair of the ring had assumed the proportions
of a small catastrophe. Aunt Amy had been feeling so much better that it
had occurred to her to see if the ring were feeling better too. Only one
peep she would take, hopeful that at last its strange enchantment might
be past. If she could look into its depths without the blackness coming
close she would know, with utter certainty, that Dr. Callandar's
cleverness had circumvented the power of her old enemies. "They" would
trouble her no more.
But when, flushed with hope, she looked--the ring was gone!
Esther, reading in the sitting room, was startled beyond words by the
scream which rang through the house. She seemed to know at once what had
happened and her gaze flew to her step-mother, laden with bitter
reproach, before she sped up the stairs to Aunt Amy's room. The door was
open and the tragedy was plain to see. Aunt Amy stood by the bureau with
the empty box in her hand and on her face an expression so dreadful, so
hopeless that, with a sob, the girl tried to crush it out against
"What is it, dear? Don't look like that."
"The ring, Esther! 'They' have taken the ring!"
For an instant the girl hesitated, but common justice demanded that the
sordid truth be told.
"No, dear. The ring is safe. It was taken from the box, but in quite an
ordinary, simple way. Don't tremble so! It is not lost. It is just as if
I had gone to the box and borrowed it--"
As she faltered, the poor woman raised her head in an agony of hope.
"Have you got it, Esther? Oh, Esther, give it to me! I love you, Esther!
You shall have it when I am dead. But I can't die without it. I promised
somebody--I--I can't remember. Oh, Esther, don't keep it away from
me--give it to me now!"
Bitter, angry tears filled the girl's eyes as she took the pleading,
fluttering hands in hers.
"Don't, dear! Listen. It is quite safe. But I haven't got it. I promise
you solemnly I will get it back. You'll believe me, won't you? You know
I would not deceive you. And you won't be frightened? No one had
anything to do with taking it but ourselves. I am going to tell you just
how it happened--"
"Don't bother. I'll tell her myself."
In the doorway stood Mrs. Coombe, her eyes venomous with the anger of
tortured nerves. Her high voice trembled on the verge of hysteria, yet
she tried to speak with her usual mocking lightness.
"There is no need to make a mystery of the thing, I'm sure. I took the
ring because I was hard up--needed money at once. You understand what
that means, I suppose, Amy? You never wore the ring, nor would you allow
me to wear it. It was simply wasted lying in that silly box. My own
jewelry is of much less value. Besides, I use it. One would have thought
that you would be glad to assist in some way with the--er--household
expenses. In any case, no such fuss is necessary, and I should advise
you," her voice grew suddenly cold and menacing, "not to scream like
that again. A few more such shrieks and--people will begin to wonder."
Without so much as a glance at Esther she passed on to her own room.
"Don't mind her!" The indignant girl tried to draw the trembling woman
close. But Aunt Amy cowered away. Five minutes had undone the work of
weeks. All the doctor's carefully laid foundations were crumbling.
Esther, wrung with pity and remorse, stroked the grey hair in silence.
She expected an outbreak of childish tears, but it did not come. Rather,
the shivering grew less and presently Aunt Amy raised her head.
"It was she--Mary--who took it?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yes. But remember I have promised to get it back."
Aunt Amy looked at her blankly. She did not seem to hear.
"I never guessed it was Mary. Never! But now I know. I'll never be
"Know what?" asked Esther uneasily. There was a look in Aunt Amy's eyes
which she disliked, a sly, cool look--more nearly mad than any look she
had ever surprised there. "Tell me what it is that you know," she
But Aunt Amy would not tell. It was just as well, she thought, that
Esther should not know that at last, after many years, she had found out
the agent employed by "they" for her undoing. Ah, if she had only found
out sooner. The ruby ring might still be shining in its box. But of
course "they" knew that she would never suspect Mary, her own niece.
They were so clever! But now she could be as clever as they--oh, very,
"What did she mean about my screaming?" she asked, looking at Esther
"Nothing, nothing at all! Don't think of it."
"But she did. I know what she meant. She meant that if I
get--troublesome--she will shut me up!"
"Nonsense!" declared Esther, thrilled to the heart with pity. "You must
never think such a thought, dear. You shall never live anywhere but here
with us. Why, you are our good angel, Auntie. We could never get on
without you--you know that."
Aunt Amy nodded, stroking the girl's soft hand with her work-worn one.
"You are good and kind, Esther. I know you will take care of me, if you
can. And I'm not afraid just now. It will be all right if I am clever. I
must not be troublesome. If I am, she will put me away with the mad
people. The people that make faces and scream. I never scream. Until
to-day I haven't screamed for a long time. And I'll be more careful. Oh,
I can be very careful, now that I know!"
Again the strange mad look. It flitted across her lifted eyes like a
dark shadow behind a window shade. And again Esther tried gently to
question her, but Aunt Amy was "clever." She didn't intend that Esther
should find out.
The girl left her at last feeling both troubled and sad, but Mary Coombe
laughed at her fears. She was in one of her most difficult moods.
"It was all a tempest in a tea cup, as usual," she declared pettishly.
"I do wish, Esther, that you would not be so disagreeable. She will have
forgotten all about the ring by to-morrow. All she needs is a little
plain speaking, and firmness."
"Firmness! Cruelty, you mean. You terrified her."
"Well, it had a good effect. She quieted down at once."
"She is too quiet. It's that which troubles me. Surely you can see the
damage that has been done? All her new cheerfulness is gone. She is back
to where she was before the doctor helped her."
"I never believed that any real improvement was possible. Insane people
"She is not insane! How can you say so? But how shall we explain the
change in her to Dr. Callandar? We can't tell him that--that you--"
"Oh, don't mind me!" flippantly.
"Anyway, the ring will soon be back, thank heaven! I have written to
"You wrote to Jessica?"
"Certainly. I told you I should. It was the only thing to do."
Mary Coombe's rage flickered and sank before the quiet force in the
girl's face and voice. With all the will in the world she was too weak
to oppose this new strength in Esther. And before her mortified pride
could frame a retort, the girl had left the room.
It was of this quiet exit of Esther's that Mary was thinking as she
sewed on the autograph quilt. Better than anything else it typified the
change in the girl. It meant decision, and decision meant action. Mary
shrugged her shoulders and frowned over the quilt. Yes, undoubtedly,
Esther was getting troublesome. It might be well if she were married.
Meanwhile, unconscious of her step-mother's troubled musings, Esther was
loitering delightfully on her way from school. Aunt Amy, who never
looked at a clock, but who always knew the time by what Jane called
"magic," was beginning to wonder what had kept her. Strain her eyes as
she would, there was no glint of a blue dress upon the long straight
road, and Dr. Callandar, who in passing had stopped by the gate,
declared that he had noticed a similar absence of that delectable colour
between the cross roads and the school house.
"I thought that I might meet her," he confessed ingenuously, "but when
she was not in sight, I concluded that I was too late. Some of those
angel children have probably had to be kept in. Could you make use of me
instead? I run errands very nicely."
"Oh, it isn't an errand." Aunt Amy smiled, for she liked Dr. Callandar
and was always as simple as a child with him. His easy, courteous
manner, which was the same to her as to every one else, helped her to be
at once more like other people and more like herself. "It's a letter. I
wanted Esther to read it to me. Of course I can read myself," as she saw
his look of surprise, "but sometimes I do not read exactly what is
written. My imagination bothers me. Do you ever have any trouble with
your imagination, Doctor?"
"I have known it to play me tricks."
"But you can read a letter just as it's written, can't you?"
"Yes. I can do that."
"Then your imagination cannot be as large as mine. Mine is very large.
It interferes with everything, even letters. When I read a letter myself
I sometimes read things which aren't there. At least," with a faint show
of doubt, "people say they aren't there."
"In other words," said Callandar, "you read between the lines."
Aunt Amy's plain face brightened. It was so seldom that any one
"Yes, that's it! You won't laugh at me when I tell you that everything,
letters, handkerchiefs, dresses and everything belonging to people have
a feeling in them--something that tells secrets? I can't quite explain."
"I have heard very sensitive people express some such idea. It sounds
very fascinating. I should like very much to hear about it."
"Would you? You are sure you won't think me queer? My niece, Mary
Coombe, does not like me to tell people about it. She has no imagination
herself, none at all. She says it is all nonsense. But I think,"
shrewdly, "that she would like to know some of the things that I know.
Won't you come in, Doctor? Come in and sit under the tree where it
The doctor's hesitation was but momentary. He was keenly interested. And
at the back of his mind was the thought that Esther must certainly be
along presently. Fate had not favoured him of late. He had not seen her
for five days. It is foolish to leave meetings to fate anyway. Then, if
another reason were needed it was probable that if he stayed he would
meet Esther's mother. He was beginning to feel quite curious about
"Thanks. I think I will come in. All the trees in Coombe are cool, but
your elm is the coolest of them all. Let me arrange this cushion for
you. Is that right?"
He settled Aunt Amy comfortably upon the least sloping portion of the
old circular bench and, not wishing to trust it with his own weight, sat
down upon the grass at her feet.
"Now," he said cheerfully, "let us have a regular psychic research
meeting. Tell me all about it."
"What's that?" suspiciously.
"Psychic research? Oh, just finding out all about the queer things that
happen to people."
"Do queer things happen to other people besides me?"
"Why, of course! Queer things happen to everybody."
Aunt Amy seemed glad to know this.
"They never talk about them," she said wistfully. "But, then, neither do
I. Except to you. What was it you wanted me to tell you?"
"Tell me what you mean when you say that you read in a letter what is
not written there. You see I haven't much imagination myself and I don't
"Neither do I," naively. "But it seems to be like this--take this
letter, for instance, when I found it in--well, it doesn't matter where
I found it--but as soon as I picked it up, I knew that it was a love
letter. I felt it. It is an old letter, I think. And some one has been
angry with it. See, it is all crumpled. But it is a real love letter.
All the love is there yet. When I took it in my hands it all came out
to me, sweet and strong. Like--like the scent of something keen,
fragrant, on a swift wind. I can't explain it!"
"You explain it very beautifully," gravely. "I can quite understand that
love might be like that."
"Can you?" with a pleased smile. "And can you understand how I feel it?
I can feel things in people, too. Love and hate and envy and all kinds
of things. I never say so. I used to, but people did not like it. They
always looked queer, or got angry. They seemed to think I had no right
to see inside of them. So I soon pretended not to see anything. But a
letter doesn't mind. This one," swinging the crumpled paper swiftly
close to his face, "is glad I found it. Can't you feel it yourself?"
Callandar shook his head. "I am far too dull and commonplace for that!"
He smiled. "But I have no doubt it is all there, just as you say. Why
not? Our knowledge of such things is in its infancy."
Aunt Amy stroked the paper with gentle fingers. "Yes, yes, it is all
there," she murmured. "But I may have read it wrongly for all that. The
written words I mean. I can't help reading what I feel. Once I felt a
letter that was full of hate, dreadful! And I read quite shocking things
in it. But when Esther read it, it was just a polite note, beginning
'Dear' and ending 'Your affectionate friend."'
"It might have been very hateful for all that."
"But no one knew it. That is why I am so anxious always to know if I
read things right. Will you read this letter to me?"
"With pleasure--if I may."
"Oh, it doesn't belong to any one. It isn't Esther's because it's too
old and it begins 'Dearest wife' and it isn't Mary's because it isn't
Doctor Coombe's writing; so you see I thought it might not hurt anybody
if I pretended it was mine."
"No," gently, "I do not see why it would."
"I never had a love letter of my own. Or if I did I cannot find it. The
only thing I ever had with love in it was the ruby ring, and that--"
She checked herself suddenly; her small face freezing into such a mask
of tragedy that Callandar was alarmed. But to his quick "What is it?"
she returned no answer and the expression passed as quickly as it
When he held out his hand for the letter, she seemed to have forgotten
it. Her gaze had again grown restless and vague. It would do no good to
question further, the rare hour of confession was past.
"You both look very comfortable, I'm sure!" It was Esther's laughing
voice. She had come so quietly that neither of them had heard her. Aunt
Amy's vagueness vanished in a pleased smile and Callandar, as he sprang
to open the gate, forgot all about the unread letter and everything
else, save that she had come.
Why was it, he wondered, that he could never recall her, save in dulled
tints. Lovely as she had lingered in his memory, her living beauty was
so much lovelier. There, in the shade of the elm, her blue dress flecked
with gold, the warm pallor of heat upon her face, her hair lying close
and heavy, a little pulse beating where the low collar softly disclosed
the slim roundness of her white throat, she was not only beautiful, she
was Beauty. She was not only Beauty, she was Herself, the one woman in
the world! He acknowledged it now, with all humility.
The girl greeted him quietly. She did not, as was her custom, look up
at him with that sweet widening of the eyes which he had learned to
hunger for. The truth was that she, too, was moving slowly toward her
awakening. The days in which they had not met had been full of thoughts
of him. Dreams had come to her, vague, delicious bits of fancy which had
whispered in her ear and passed, leaving a new softness in her eyes, a
new flush upon her cheek. There was about her a dewy freshness which
seemed to brighten up the world. Vaguely her girl friends wondered what
had "come over" Esther Coombe, and at home Aunt Amy's pathetic eyes
followed her, dim with a half-memory of long past joy. But it was Mrs.
Sykes' Ann who best expressed the change in her beauty when, one day,
she said to Bubble: "Esther Coombe looks like she was all lighted up
inside and when she walks you'd think the wind was blowing her."
So it happened that while yesterday she might still have smiled into the
doctor's eyes as she greeted him, to-day she shook hands without looking
at his face at all.
Callandar found himself remarking that it was a fine day. Esther said
that it was beautiful--but dusty. A little rain would do good. She
fanned herself with her broad hat, and stopped fanning to examine
closely a tiny stain on the hem of her frock.
"Dear me," she said, "I'm afraid it's axle grease! Mournful Mark gave me
a lift this morning."
"Oh, I hope not!" anxiously from Aunt Amy, and referring, presumably, to
The doctor looked at the little stray curl on the nape of the graceful
neck and wished--all the foolish things that lovers have wished since
the world began. But he had a great longing to see her eyes. If he were
to say sharply, "Look at me!" would she look up? Absurd idea! And
anyway he couldn't say it, or anything else, for the first time in his
life Henry Callandar was tongue-tied.
Did she, too, feel strange? Was that why she kept her eyes so
persistently lowered? No, it could hardly be that. She laughed and
talked quite naturally--seemed entire mistress of herself.
"I know I am late, Auntie. It's Friday, you know, and I walked slowly. I
forgot that I had promised to help Jane wash the new pup. But there is
time yet. Supposing we have tea, English fashion, out here. I'll
"She is at the Ladies Aid, Esther."
"Oh, yes. I forgot. Well, then you must entertain Dr. Callandar while I
see about tea."
"No tea for me, thanks," said the doctor hastily. He didn't know why he
said it except that he wanted to say something, something which might
make her look at him.
But she did not look. His refusal lost him a cup of tea and gained him
"No tea?" Her tone was mildly wondering, but she was looking at Aunt Amy
while she spoke. "I'm sorry you are in a hurry. Bubble said you
"Not busy exactly. But it's office hours, you know. My partner grows
quite waxy if I'm late, and I'm late now."
"Another day, then?" Esther's tone was charmingly gracious, but she
seemed to be addressing the gate post, as far as he could judge from the
direction of her gaze.
Callandar picked up his hat, gloomily. There was nothing to do now but
take his leave. And if he had had any sense he might have been going to
stay for tea. Office hours be hanged!
"Thank you, another day I shall be delighted." He took the hand she
offered and bowed over it. Delightful custom this of shaking hands!
Esther's hand was cool as a wind-blown leaf. Would she actually say
good-bye without looking at him? He held the hand firmly but she did not
seem to be conscious that he held it. She was smiling at some children
who were going by on the sidewalk.
"Good-bye," said Callandar in a subdued voice.
"Good-bye," said Esther sweetly.
He dropped her hand, they bowed formally, and the foolish, poignant
little tragedy of parting was over. Not once had they looked into each
When he had gone Esther sank down upon the elm tree seat.
"Oh, Auntie!" she said with a little sob in her voice. "I want--some
Aunt Amy glanced irresolutely from the open letter in her hand to the
girl's face, and decided to postpone the matter of the letter. "I'll get
it, Esther. You sit here and rest."
When she returned the girl seemed herself again. She took the tea-tray
and kissed the bearer with a fervour born of remorse. "I am a Pig," she
declared, "and you are a darling! Never mind, we'll even up some day."
"When you have had your tea, Esther, I've got a letter I want you to
"A letter? Who from? I mean, from whom? Gracious! I'll have to be more
careful of the King's English, now that I'm a school teacher."
"I don't know. It is signed just 'H' and it's written to 'Dearest wife.'
You don't know who that could be, do you?"
"No. It's not in your father's writing and his name did not begin with
"Where did you find it, dear?"
"Up in an old trunk of your grandma's--I mean of Mary's mother's. One of
the trunks that were sent here after she died. Mary asked me to put moth
balls in it. This letter was all crushed up in a corner. I took it out
to smooth it, because I knew it was a love letter. You don't think any
one would mind?"
"N--o." Esther, who knew Aunt Amy's feeling about love letters, could
not find it in her heart to disagree. "I think we may fairly call it
treasure-trove. It's only a note anyway." Her eyes ran swiftly over the
two short paragraphs upon the open sheet.
"At last I can call you 'wife' without fear. Our waiting is over. Brave
girl! If it has been as long to you as to me, you have been brave
indeed. But it is our day now. Even your mother cannot object any
longer. I am coming for you to-morrow. Only one more day!
"Dear, I think that in my wild impatience I did you wrong. But love does
not blame love. No wife shall ever be so loved as you. May God forget me
if I forget what you have done for me...."
"What a strange letter!" Esther looked up wonderingly.
"Is that all, Esther?" Aunt Amy's face was vaguely disappointed. "The
one I read was much longer than that."
"That is all that is written here, Auntie. But it is a beautiful letter.
They had been separated, you see, and she had been brave and waited. One
The click of the garden gate interrupted her.
"Here's your mother," said Aunt Amy, in a flurried tone. "Don't let
"Is that the mail, Esther?" Mrs. Coombe's high voice held a fretful
intonation. Aunt Amy seized the letter and hid it in her dress. "She
shan't see it," she whispered childishly.
"Is that the mail?" repeated Mrs. Coombe, coming up the walk.
"No, there is no mail," said Esther, "No one has been to the post
office. Perhaps Jane had better run down now."
"But you had a letter," suspiciously. "I'm sure I saw it. Where is it?"
"Don't be absurd, mother. I have no letter. Nor would I think it
necessary to show it to you if I had. I am not a child."
"You are a child. And let me tell you, a clandestine correspondence is
something which I shall not tolerate. Let me see the letter."
Esther was feeling too happy to be cross. Besides it was rather funny to
be accused of clandestine correspondence.
"I think I'll go and help Jane with the pup," she said cheerfully. "Too
bad you didn't come in sooner, mother. Dr. Callandar was here."
"Then you do refuse to show me the letter?"
"If I had one I should certainly refuse to show it. Why do you let
yourself get so excited, mother? You never used to act like this. It
must be nerves. Every one notices how changed you are." She paused,
arrested by the frightened look which replaced the futile anger on her
"I'm not different. Who says I am different? It is you who are trying
to make a fuss. I'm sure I do not care about your letter. Why should I?
Your father always seemed to think you needed no advice from any one.
Only don't imagine that I am blind. I _saw_ you with a letter."
Having triumphantly secured the last word, she turned to busy herself
with the tea-tray, and Esther, knowing the uselessness of argument, went
on toward the house. Aunt Amy attempted to follow but was stopped
"Amy, what did that doctor want here?"
"He came to see me."
Mary laughed. "Likely!" she said. "This tea is quite cold. Was it he who
left the letter for Esther?"
"Esther didn't have a letter. I had one."
Again the incredulous laugh, and the dull red mounted into Aunt Amy's
faded cheeks. She clutched the treasured letter tightly under her dress.
This mocking woman should never see it! But as she turned again to leave
her, another consideration appealed to her unstable mind. Mary suspected
Esther--and nothing would annoy her more than to find herself mistaken.
On impulse Aunt Amy flung the letter upon the tea-tray.
"There it is. Read it, if you like. It has nothing to do with Esther. Or
any one else. I found it in one of your mother's old trunks."
Left alone, Mary Coombe drank her tea, which after all was not very
cold. She was not really interested in the letter, now that she had got
it. Had not a vagrant breeze tossed it, obtrusively, upon her lap, she
would probably not have looked at it.
Listlessly she picked it up, opened it, glanced at the firm, clear
A sharp, tingling shock ran through her. It was as if some one had
knocked, loudly, at dead of night at a closed door! That writing--how
absurdly fanciful she was getting!
"Dearest wife," she read, "at last I can call you 'wife' without
fear"--the vagrant breeze, which had tossed the letter into her lap,
tossed it off again. Her glance followed it, fascinated!
Of course she had dreamed the writing? She had been terribly troubled by
dreams of late. But what had Amy said about finding the paper in her
mother's trunk? The whole thing was a fantastic nightmare. She had but
to lean forward, pick up the letter, read it properly and laugh at her
But it was a long time before she found the strength to pick it up. When
she did, she read it quietly to the end with its scrawled "H." Then she
read it over again, word by word. Her expression was one of terror
When she had finished she looked up, over the pleasant garden, with
blank eyes. Her face was ashen.
"He came," she said aloud. "He came! But--_what did she tell him when he
The garden had no answer to the question. Somewhere could be heard a
girl's laugh and the sharp bark of a protesting puppy. Mary Coombe drew
her hand across her eyes as if to clear them of film and, trying to
rise, slipped down beside the elm-tree seat, a soft blot of whiteness on
They found her there when they had finished washing the puppy, but
though she came quickly to herself under their eager ministrations, she
would not tell them what had caused her sudden illness. To all their
questionings she answered pettishly, "Nothing! Nothing but the heat."
When a man of thirty-five has at last shaken himself free from the
burden of an unhappy love affair, he is not particularly disposed to
welcome an emotional reawakening. He knows the pains and penalties too
well; the fire of Spring, he has learned, can burn as well as brighten.
Callandar thought that he had done with love, and a growing suspicion
that love had not done with him brought little less than panic. Upon the
occasion of Willits' second visit he had begun to realise his danger and
the professor never guessed how nearly he had persuaded him to leave
Coombe. Some deep instinct was urging flight, but the impulse had come
just a little bit too late. He could not go, because he wanted so very
much to stay.
After Willits' departure he had deliberately tested himself. For five
days he did not try to see Esther and upon the sixth he realised finally
that seeing Esther was the only thing that mattered. Then had come the
short interview under the elm tree--an interview which had shown him a
new Esther, demure, adorable, with eyes which refused to look at him. He
had come away from that meeting with a new pulse beating in his heart.
To doubt was no longer possible. He loved her.
But she? Lovers are proverbially modest, but their modesty is fear
disguised. They hope so much that they fear to hope at all; it seemed
impossible to Callandar that Esther should not love him and yet it
seemed impossible that she should. Only one thing emerged clearly from
the chaos--the immediate necessity of finding out.
"Why don't you ask her?" demanded Common Sense in that wearily patient
way with which Common Sense meets the vagaries of lovers.
"But it is so soon," objected Caution, while Fear, aroused, whispered,
"Be careful. Give her time." Even Mrs. Grundy made herself heard with
her usual references to what people, represented by Mrs. Sykes, might
say, adding scornfully, "Why, you haven't met the girl's mother yet.
Don't make a fool of yourself, please."
But over all these voices rose another voice, insistent, demanding to be
satisfied. It might be premature, it might be all that was rash and
foolish but he simply had to find out at once whether or not Esther
Coombe loved him.
His final decision came one morning when driving slowly home from an all
night fight with death. He was tired but exultant, because he had won
the fight, and life, which slips so easily away, seemed doubly precious.
After all, he was no longer a boy. If life still held something
beautiful for him, why should he wait? He had waited so many
Guiding the car with one hand, he slipped the other into his pocket and
opening a small locket which he found there, gazed long and earnestly at
the picture it contained. The face it showed him was a young face, fair,
rounded, childish. Dear Molly! his thought of her was infinitely tender.
He loved her all the more for the knowledge that he had not loved her
enough. Well, he could never atone now. She was gone--slipped away, he
thought, with but little more knowledge of living than the tiny baby he
had just helped to bring into the world. Brushing away the mist which
for a moment blurred his sight, Callandar kissed the picture gently and
shut the case.
The dawn was golden now. The motor began to gather speed. An early
farmer getting into market with a load of hay, drew amiably to one side
to let it pass. From a, wayside house came the cheerful noise of opening
shutters; a milk cart rattled out of a nearby gate; the motor sped still
faster--the new day was fairly begun.
Early as it was, Mrs. Sykes was busy washing the veranda. This was a
ritual, rigorously observed twice every day; in the morning with a pail
and broom, in the evening with the hose. Par be it from us to malign the
excellent Mrs. Sykes or to suggest that her opportune presence on the
front steps was due to anything save the virtue of cleanliness. Mrs.
Sykes, as she often said, couldn't abide curiosity. Still, it would be
very interesting to know whether Amelia Hill's latest was a boy or a
girl. Mrs. Hill had already been blessed with nine olive branches, all
girls, and had confided to Mrs. Sykes that if the tenth presented no
variation, she didn't know what on earth Hill would do--he having acted
so kind of wild-like last time. Mrs. Sykes, unable to resist the trend
of her nature, had advised that no variation could be looked for. "It
may be," she had said, "but after a run of nine, it isn't to be
expected. There's no denying that girls run in some families. I know
jest how you feel, Mrs. Hill, and, if I could, I'd encourage you, for
I'm a great believer in speaking the truth in kindness. But it's best to
be prepared, and a girl it will be, you may be sure."
"You are up early, Mrs. Sykes," said the doctor cheerfully. "Wait till I
take the car around and I'll finish up those steps for you."
"Land no! I won't let you, Doctor. You're clean tired out. I've got a
cup of hot coffee waiting. I don't suppose, with Amelia laid aside, any
of them Hills would think to give you so much as a bite. All girls too."
"Not all girls now, Mrs. Sykes," said the doctor cheerfully. "A son and
heir arrived this morning. Fine little fellow. They appear to be
The discomfited prophet leaned against the door-post for support.
"A boy? It can't be a boy! It doesn't stand to reason!"
"It never does, Mrs. Sykes."
"And I was so sure 'twould be another girl!" There was an infinitesimal
pause during which Mrs. Sykes' whole outlook readjusted itself, and then
with a heavy sigh she continued, "Poor Amelia Hill! She'll certainly
have her troubles now. I shouldn't wonder a mite if it didn't live.
Miracles like that seldom do. And if it does, it will be spoiled to
death. No boy can come along after nine sisters and not be made a sissy
of. Far better if it had been a girl in the first place. And yet I
suppose Amelia's just as chirpy as possible? She never was one to look
ahead to see what's coming."
"Lucky for her!" murmured Callandar, as he picked his way over the
shining wetness of the veranda. "And now, Mrs. Sykes, I want you to do
me a favour. Don't go predicting to my patient that her boy baby will
die, or if he doesn't it would be better for him if he did. A woman who
has mothered nine children is entitled to a little peace of mind with
the tenth. Don't you think so?"
"Land sakes, yes. If you put it that way. But the shock will be all the
worse when it comes. Still, if you want the poor thing left in a fool's
paradise I don't object. Perhaps it would be a good thing to have the
three littlest Hills over here to spend a week with Ann. I can stand
them if you can."
"Good idea!" Callandar smiled at her, but attempted no thanks. He had
learned early that she was as shy about doing a kindness as a child who
hides its face, while offering you half of its lolly-pop. "I'll fetch
them. But some one will have to pick them out. Likely as not I'd bring
the middle three instead."
"They are dreadful similar," assented Mrs. Sykes, pouring coffee. "I
don't know but what it was them Hill children that made me a
Mrs. Sykes did not notice the unflattering (or flattering) surprise in
the doctor's voice.
"Yes. I think it was the Hill children as much as anything. There they
are, nine of them, like as peas in a pod, and all healthy. I shouldn't
wonder if the whole nine grows up--and what then? Amelia Hill just can't
hope to marry nine of them. Three out of the bunch would be about her
limit. And what are the others going to get? I say, give them the vote.
Land sakes! Why not? I ain't one to refuse to others what I don't
Tired though he must have been, the doctor had never felt less like
sleep. There was a fever in his blood which the cool quietness of the
spare room could not soothe. The lavendered freshness of the bed invited
in vain. Crossing to the western window, he threw up the blind and
looked out to where, peeping out between roofs and trees, the gable
window of the Elms glittered in the early sun. The morning breeze blew
softly on his face, sweet with the scent of flowering pinks and
mignonette. In the orchard all the birds were up and singing. Every
blade of grass was gemmed with dew, sparkling through the yellow glory
of dawn like diamonds through a primrose veil. But Callandar, usually so
alive to every manifestation of beauty, saw nothing save the distant
glitter of the gable window. The morning, in which he could hardly hope
to see Esther, stretched before him intolerably long.
Upon impulse he drew his desk to the window and, sitting down, began to
"Dear Old Button-Moulder--
"Behold the faulty button about to be recast! This is to be a big day. I
am writing you now because if she refuses me, I shan't be able to tell
you of it, and if she accepts me I shan't have time. I fancy you know
who she is, old man. I saw enlightenment grow in your eyes that day
after church. I hardly knew it myself, then, but now I am sure. Do you
remember that house we looked at one day? I have forgotten even the
street, but we can find it again. It had a long sloping lawn, you
remember, and stone steps and a beautiful panelled hall running straight
through to a walled garden which might well have fallen there by some
Arabian Nights enchantment. That is the house I mean to have for Esther.
I can see her there quite plainly, in her blue dress, filling the rose
bowl which stands upon the round table in a dusky corner of the hall.
Over her shoulder, through the open door, glows the riotous colour of
the garden. Her pure profile gleams like mother-o'-pearl against the
dark panelling--say, Willits, just go and look up that house, will you?
I am going to ask her to marry me. And I never knew before what a coward
I am. Was there ever a chap named Callandar who quoted uppish remarks
about being Captain of his Soul? If so, let me apologise for him. I
think the chap who wrote those verses could never have been in love--or
perhaps he wrote them after she said 'yes.' I'll telegraph the news.
Don't expect me to write. And don't dare to come down to see me. H.C.
"P.S.--I came upon a good thing the other day. It is by Galsworthy, the
chap who writes English problem novels:
"'If on a spring night I went by
And God were standing there,
What is the prayer that I would cry
To Him? This is the prayer:
O Lord of courage grave,
O Master of this night of spring,
Make firm in me a heart too brave
To ask Thee anything!'"
"Rather fine, don't you think? Or is it just a madness of pride? On
second thought, I don't believe that I have arrived at the stage when I
can do without God. H."
He folded the letter, stamped and addressed it and placed it upon the
table in the hall where Ann would find and post it. Then, lighting a
cigar, he sat down beside the open window and began to wonder how the
momentous meeting with Esther could be best arranged. Perhaps if he
walked out to the schoolhouse and waited until lunch time? No, it was
Saturday morning and there was no school. The obvious thing was to call
at the house, but this, the doctor felt, was sure to be unsatisfactory.
Not only was there Jane to think of and Aunt Amy--but there was also the
as-yet-unknown Mrs. Coombe. The visit would almost certainly end in a
formal call upon the family. He might perhaps send Bubble over with an
invitation to go fishing. No, that was too risky. Esther might refuse to
go fishing and that would be a bad omen.
In a sudden spasm of nervousness Callandar threw the half-burned cigar
out of the window and, following it with his eyes, was not sorry to be
distracted by the sight of Ann in her night-dress, crying under the pear
tree. Ann crying was an unusual sight, but Ann in a night-dress was
almost unbelievable. The doctor knew at once that something serious must
have happened and went down to see.
The child looked up at his approach, all the natural impishness of her
small face drowned in sorrow. In her open hand she held the body of a
tiny bird, all that was left of a fledgling which had tried its
wings too soon.
"It toppled off and died," said Ann. "All its brothers and sisters
"Heartless things!" said Callandar, and then seeing that comfort was
imperative he sat down beside the mourner and tried to do the proper
thing. He explained to her that the dead bird was only one of a
nest-full and that the dew was wet and that she was getting green stains
on her nightie. He reminded her that birds' lives, for all their seeming
brightness, are full of danger and trouble. Perhaps the baby bird was
just as well out of it. At least it would never know the lack of a worm
in season, nor the bitterness of early snow. This particular style of
comfort he had found very effective in cases other than baby birds, but
it didn't work with Ann.
"I don't care," she sobbed, "it might have lived anyway. It never had a
chance to live."
Living, just living, was with Ann clearly the great thing to be desired.
Callandar stopped comforting and took the child on his knee.
"I believe you've got the right idea, little Ann," he said. "It isn't so
much the sorrow that counts or the joy either, but just the living
through it. We're bound to get somewhere if we keep on. Don't cry any
more and we'll bury the little bird all done up in nice white fluffy
cotton. As Mrs. Burns says when any one dies: 'It's such a comfort to
have 'em put away proper.' And then after a while you and Bubble might
"I can't." Ann showed signs of returning tears. "If Aunt lets me go
anywhere, I promised to go and help Esther Coombe pick daisies to fix
the church for to-morrow."
Here was chance being kind indeed! But the doctor dissembled his
"Hum! too bad. Where did Miss Esther tell you to go?" he asked
"To the meadow over against the school."
"Half past two."
"Well, cheer up, I'll tell you what--I'll go and help Miss Esther pick
the daisies. I can pick quite as fast as you. And I'll speak to Aunt
Sykes and make it right with her. So if you run now and get dressed you
and Bubble may go just as soon as you've had breakfast. And stay all
day. Be sure you stay all day, mind."
A good sound hug was the natural answer to this and when the
conspirators met at breakfast everything had been satisfactorily
arranged. Ann had her holiday and the doctor's way lay clear before him.
For all his apparent ignorance Callandar knew that daisy field quite as
well as Ann. It was wild and lonely, yet full of cosy nooks and hollows.
Mild-eyed cows sometimes pastured there. It was a perfect paradise for
meadow-larks. Could any man ask better than to meet the girl he loved in
a field like that?
"You're not eating a mite, Doctor."
With a start, Callandar helped himself to marmalade.
* * * * *
So much for the morning of the eventful day. We have given it in detail
because it was so commonplace, so empty of any incident which might have
foreshadowed the happenings of the afternoon. Callandar was restless,
but any man is restless under such circumstances. He found the morning
long, but that was natural. Long afterwards he thought of its slow
moving hours, lost in wonder that he should have caught no glimpse,
heard no whisper, while all the time, through the beauty of the scented,
summer day, the footsteps of inescapable fate drew so swiftly near.
Fortunate indeed for us that the fragile house we dwell in is provided
with no windows on the future side, and that the veil of the next moment
is as impenetrable as the veil of years.
What are they, anyway, these curious combinations of unforeseen
incidents which under the name of "coincidence" startle us out of our
dull acceptance of things? Can it be that, after all, space and
circumstance are but pieces in a puzzle to which the key is lost, so
that, playing blindly, we are startled by the _click_ which announces
the falling of some corner of the puzzle into place? Or is it merely
that we are all more closely linked than we know, and is "coincidence"
but the flashing of one of numberless invisible links into the light of
common day? Some day we shall know all about it; in the meantime a
little wonder will do us good.
It was, of course, coincidence that this afternoon Mary Coombe should
offer to gather the marguerites for Esther and that, the Saturday help
having failed to materialise, Esther was glad of the offer which left
her free to help Aunt Amy in the kitchen. It was also coincidence that
Mary should choose to wear her one blue dress and her shady hat which
looked a little like Esther's. But, given these coincidences, it is easy
to understand why the doctor, passing slowly by the field of
marguerites, felt his heart bound at the supposed sight of Esther among
Now that the moment had really come, his restlessness fell from him. He
felt cool, confident, happy! The world, the beautiful world, was gay in
gold and green. Over the rise, half hidden by its gentle undulation, he
caught the glint of a blue gown--
Running his car under the shade of some nearby trees, the doctor leapt
the pasture fence in one fine bound. The blue figure among the daisies
was stooping, her face hidden by a shady hat. No one else was in
sight--just he and she in all the lovely, sunny, breeze-swept earth! He
came towards her softly; called her name, but so low that she did not
hear. Then a meadow-lark, disturbed, flew up with his piercing "sweet!"
the stooping figure turned and he saw, in the clear sunlight, the face
under the shady hat--
Had something in his brain snapped? Or was he living through a nightmare
from which he would awake presently? The world, the daisy field, the
figure in blue, himself, all seemed but baseless fabrics of some
For, by a strange enchantment, the face which should have been Esther's
face was the face of Molly Weston, his lost wife!
It could not be! But it was.
Incredible the swiftness with which nature rights herself after a
stunning shock. Only for a moment was Callandar left in his paradise of
uncertainty. The next moment, he knew that he beheld no vision, knew it
and accepted it as certainly and completely as if all his life had been
but a preparation for the revelation.
"You!" he said. It was only a whisper but it seemed to fill the
At the name, the hazel eyes which had met his so blankly sprang suddenly
alive--recognition, knowledge, fear, entreaty, flashed across them in
one moment's breathless space--then they grew blank again and Mary
Coombe fell senseless beside her sheaf of daisies.
Bending over the form of his lost wife, Henry Callandar forgot Esther.
His mind, careful of its sanity, removed her instantly from the
possibility of thought. She was gone--whisked away by some swift genie
and, with her, vanished the world of blue and gold inhabited by lovers.
There remained only that white, faded face among the daisies. With
careful hands he removed the crushed hat and loosened the collar at the
neck. It was Molly. Not a doubt of that. Not Molly as he remembered her
but Molly from whom the years had taken more than their toll, giving but
little in return. He could not think beyond this fact, as yet. And he
felt nothing, nothing at all. Both heart and mind lay mercifully numb
under the anaesthetic of the shock.
Deftly he did the few things necessary to restore the swooning woman,
noting with a doctor's eye the first faint flush of pink under the dead
white nails, then the flutter of breath through the parted lips and the
slow unclosing of the hazel eyes which, at sight of him, sprang widely,
vividly into life.
"Harry!" The name was the merest whisper and held a quiver of fear. He
remembered, stolidly, that just so had she whispered it upon the evening
of their hurried marriage.
"Yes, Molly. It is all right. Don't be frightened!"--Just so had he
She closed her eyes a moment while strength came back and then, raising
herself, slipped out of his arms with a little breathless movement of
avoidance. She seemed indeed to cower away and the fear in her eyes hurt
him with a physical pang. Instinctively he put out his hand to reassure
her, repeating his entreaty that she should not be frightened.
"But I am frightened!" Her voice was hoarse. "You terrified me! You had
no right to come like that. You should have let me know--sent
"Sent word?" He repeated the words, in a dazed way. "How could I? How
could I know?"
"How could you come if you didn't know?" Already the miracle of
readjustment which in women is so marvellously quick, had given back to
Mary Coombe something of her natural manner. Besides, she had always
known that some day he might find her--if he cared to look.
"Why should you come at all?" she flashed, raising defiant eyes. "The
time to come was long ago."
"I did come." Callandar spoke slowly. "I came--" he paused, for how
could he tell her that his coming had been to a house of death.
The bald answer, the strangeness of his gaze stirred her fear again. For
a moment they stared at each other, each busy with the shifting puzzle.
Then her quicker intuition abandoned the mystery of the present meeting
to straighten out the past.
"Then you followed the letter?"
"Yes, I followed the letter."
"And you saw her--my mother?"
"Yes, I saw your mother."
Impulsively he moved toward her but she shrank back, plainly terrified.
"Don't! I didn't know. I swear I did not know. I never saw the
letter--until last night. And I don't understand. What--what did my
mother tell you when you came?"
"There was only one thing which would have kept me from you, Molly."
"Only one thing? What?" she almost whispered.
"She told me you were dead."
The flash of understanding on her face showed that she, at least, had
shifted part of the puzzle into place.
"I see now," she said slowly, "I have wondered ever since I saw the
letter. But I did not think she would go that far. Yet it was the
simplest way. There was no date on the letter--but I guessed that it
must have come too late."
"Yes, or she would never have dared. Besides she might not have wanted
to. She didn't know. I never had the courage to tell her. But if the
letter had come in time--"
She faltered, growing confused under his intense gaze.
"In time for what?" he prompted patiently.
She brushed the question aside.
"Did you believe her when she said that?"
"Yes. Why should I have doubted? It seemed to be the end. I fainted on
the doorstep. A long illness followed, when it was at its worst a friend
came--helped me to pull out. When I was well again, I searched for your
mother, employed detectives, but we never found her. Neither did we find
anything upon which to hang a doubt of what she had told me."
"No. She was very clever."
"But _why?_ For God's sake, why? Why should she lie to me? I had never
harmed her. We were married. I could give you a home. She knew it. I
told her. Why should she do this senseless, horrible thing?"
She looked at him with wide eyes and stammered,
"Don't--don't you know?"
A sense of some hitherto undreamed horror came to him with that
stammering whisper. The spur of it brought some of his firmness back.
"I do not know. There must have been a reason. You must tell me."
He forced her, through sheer will, to lift her eyes to his. They were
startled and sullen. With a start he saw, what he had missed before,
that this woman, his wife, was a stranger. But he had himself well in
hand now and his gaze did not falter. There was no escaping its demands.
Her answer came in a little burst of defiance.
"Yes, there was a reason. You may as well know it. Your letter and your
coming were both too late. I was married."
The doctor was not quick enough for this--
"Yes, of course you were, but--"
"Oh, not to you! Can't you understand? I was married to another man....
You need not look like that! What did you expect? I warned you. I knew I
could never defy mother. I told you so. But you said it wouldn't be
long--that she need never know. And I waited and waited. I could have
married more than once but I wouldn't. I faced mother and said I
wouldn't. But every time it was harder. I couldn't keep it up. And you
didn't come. Then when he came and we thought he was so rich she made me
marry him. She _made_ me. I thought you were never coming back anyway. I
wrote you once telling you to come. You didn't answer."
She paused breathless but he could find nothing to say. It seemed a
small thing that the letter must have missed him somewhere, his whole
mind was absorbed in trying to comprehend one stupendous fact. The
puzzle had shifted into place indeed.
"I thought you didn't care any more," her words raced as if eager to be
done, "and mother gave me no peace. You will never understand how
terrified I was of mother. And he seemed so kind and was going to be
rich. He owned part of a gold mine--mother was sure it would mean
millions. But it didn't. Mother was fooled there!" with a gleam of
malice. "The mine turned out to be worthless--after we were married."
Callandar drew a sharp breath and shook himself as if to throw off the
horror of some enthralling nightmare.
"You married him--this man--knowing that you were a wife already?"
"A fine sort of wife!" He quivered at the coarseness of meaning in her
tone. "We were never really married."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that it was all a farce. What's a ceremony? For all I knew it
wasn't even legal. When you did not answer my letter I thought that was
what your silence meant. I asked a girl to ask her father who was a
lawyer if a marriage was legal when the girl was under age and the
parents didn't know about it. He said sometimes it wasn't."
Callandar groaned. "And you married again--on that?"
"Yes. I had to, anyway. I couldn't hold out against mother. I daren't
tell her. She left us after the wedding, when the mine failed, and went
back to Cleveland. It was there she must have got your letter, and the
note I found last night. And when you came, she told you I was dead--to
save the scandal. She was always different after that, though I never
guessed why. It was a lie, you see, and mother was terrified of telling
lies. It was the only thing she was afraid of. She believed that liars
go to hell."
The tone in which she spoke of the probable torment of her mother was
quite without feeling. Callandar listened in fascinated wonder. Was this
Molly?--Pretty, kind-hearted Molly?
"I cannot understand," he said in a stifled voice. "It is all too
horrible! This man you married--"
"He is dead. He died a year ago. I thought at first that you must have
found out and that was why you came. I should have died of fright if you
had come while he was alive. He would never have understood--never! He
didn't like mother but he wasn't afraid of her. And I think that at last
he suspected that she had made me marry him for his money. But he was
always good. At first I was afraid all the time--oh, it was dreadful! I
think I have always been afraid--all my life--" Without warning she
threw her hands out wildly and broke into choking sobs, crying with the
abandon of a frightened child. Yet no one could have mistaken the
impulse of her grief. It was for herself she wept.
Was it possible that she was a child still? A child in spite of her
woman's knowledge, and the dulled lustre of her hair? Callandar
remembered grimly that Molly's views of right and wrong had always been
peculiarly simple. She had never wished to do wrong, but when she had
done it, it had never seemed so very wrong to her. Her greatest dread
had always been the dread of other people's censure.
"Don't cry," he said gently.
She must have felt the change in his voice, for although her sobs
redoubled she did not again shrink from the hand he laid upon her hair.
It was all over. She had told him the truth. Surely he must see that he
was the one to blame, not she.
After a while she dried her eyes and looked up at him timidly but with
"People need never know now!" she said more calmly.
"People? Do people matter?"
She picked a daisy and began nervously to strip it of its petals--a pang
of agony caught at the man's heart. So, only that morning, had he
imagined himself consulting the daisy oracle. "She loves me, she loves
me not." Absolutely he put the memory from him. Molly was speaking.
"People do matter. They make things so unpleasant. Not that I care as
much about them as I used to; but still, one has to be careful. People
are so prying, always wanting to know things," she glanced around
nervously, "but let's not talk about them. I don't understand things
yet. How did you find me, if you thought I was--dead?"
"Accident, if there be such a thing. I was driving down the road. I am
living in the town near here--in Coombe!"
"But you can't! I live in Coombe. It is my home. There isn't a Chedridge
in the place."
"My name is not Chedridge now. I took my uncle's name when I inherited
his money. I am called Henry Callandar."
"Callandar!" Her voice rose shrilly on the word. "And you are living in
Coombe? Why you are--you must be--Esther's Dr. Callandar!"
The man went deathly white, yet his enormous self-control, the fruit of
years, held him steady.
Mary Coombe began to laugh weakly. "Why, of course, that explains it
all, don't you see? Haven't you placed me yet? Esther is my
step-daughter. The man I married was Doctor Coombe."
"Good God!" The exclamation was revelation enough had Mary Coombe heard
it. But she did not hear it; this new aspect of the situation had seemed
to her so farcical that her laughter threatened to become hysterical.
"Oh, it's so funny!" she gasped.
It was certainly funny--such a good joke! The Doctor thought he might as
well laugh too. But at the sound of his laughter, hers abruptly ceased.
"Don't do that!"
He tried to control himself. It was hard. He wanted to shriek with
laughter. Esther's step-mother, the mysterious Mrs. Coombe, was
Molly--his wife! Some mocking demon shouted into his ears the words he
had intended to say to her when he came to tell her that he and Esther
loved each other. He thought of his own high mood of the morning, of the
tender regret which he had laid away with the dead of the dead past. It
seemed as if all the world were rocking with diabolic laughter--Fate
plans such amusing things!
He caught himself up--madness lay that way.
"Please don't laugh!" said Mrs. Coombe a trifle fretfully. "At least not
so loudly. You startle me. My nerves are so wretched. And anyway it's
more serious than you seem to think. We shall have to discuss ways of
managing so that people will not know. Your being already acquainted
with Esther will help. It will make your coming to the house quite
natural. But it will be better to admit that we knew each other years
ago, were boy and girl friends or something like that. Your change of
name and my marriage will explain perfectly why we did not know each
other until we met. Nobody will go behind that. They will think it quite
romantic. The only one we need be afraid of is Esther. She is so quick
She did not know about Esther then? She had never guessed that the girl
was more to him than a mere acquaintance. Thank God for that! And thank
God, above all, that the worst had not happened--Esther herself did not
know, would never know now--
"I believe it can come quite naturally after all," Mary went on more
cheerfully. "No one will wonder at anything if we say we are old
friends. And we can be specially careful with Esther. I wouldn't have
her know for anything. She is like her father. She would never
understand. She doesn't know what it is to be afraid, as I was afraid of
my mother. Do you think it is wicked that sometimes I'm glad she is
dead, mother, I mean?"
He answered with an effort. "You used to be fond of your mother, Molly."
"Oh, don't call me Molly. Call me Mary. It will sound much better. No
one has ever heard me called Molly here. If Esther heard it she would
wonder at once. You will be careful, won't you?"
"Yes. I shall be careful." He had not heard what she said, save that she
had mentioned Esther's name. Rather he was thinking with a gratitude
which shook his very soul that fate had at least spared the innocent.
Esther was safe. She did not love him. He felt sure of that now. Strange
irony, that his deepest thankfulness should be that Esther did not
A small hand fell like a feather upon his arm.
He looked down into her quivering face and saw in it, dimly, the face of
the girl in his locket, not a mere outward semblance this time but the
soul of Molly Weston, reaching out to him across the years. Her light
touch on his arm was the very shackle of fate. Her glance claimed him.
Nothing that she had done could modify that claim--the terrible claim of
weakness upon the strength which has misled it.
Vaguely he felt that this was the test, the ultimate test. If he failed
now he was lost indeed. Something within him reached out blindly for the
strength he had dreamed was his, found it, clutched it desperately--knew
that it held firm.
He took the slight figure in his arms, felt that it still trembled and
said the most comforting thing he could think of. "Don't worry, Molly.
No one will ever know."
Ester was sitting upon the back porch, hulling strawberries and watching
with absent amusement the tireless efforts of Jane to induce a very fat
and entirely brainless pup to shake hands. It had been a busy day, for
owing to the absence of the free and independent "Saturday Help" Esther
had insisted upon helping Aunt Amy in the kitchen. Now the Saturday pies
and cakes were accomplished and only the strawberries lay between Esther
She had intended, a little later, to walk out along the river road in
search of marguerites, but when Mary, more than usually restless after
her fainting spell of yesterday, had offered to go instead, she had not
demurred. It would be quite as pleasant to take a book and sit out under
the big elm. Esther was at that stage when everything seems to be for
the best in this "best of all possible worlds." She was living through
those suspended moments when life stands tiptoe, breathless with
expectancy, yet calm with an assurance of joy to come.
With the knowledge that Henry Callandar was not quite as other men, had
come an intense, delicious shyness; the aloofness of the maiden who
feels love near yet cannot, through her very nature, take one step
to meet it.
There was no hurry. She was surrounded with a roseate haze, lapped in
deep content; for, while the doctor had learned nothing from their last
meeting under the elm, Esther had learned everything. She had not seemed
to look at him as they parted, yet she had known, oh, she had known very
well, how he had looked at her! All she wanted, now, was to be alone
with that look; to hold it there in her memory, not to analyse or
question, but to glance at it shyly now and again, feeding with quick
glimpses the new strange joy at the heart.
"D'ye think He ever forgets to put brains into dogs?" asked Jane
suddenly. "Oh, you silly thing, don't roll over like that! Stop
wriggling and give me your paw!"
"He, who?" vaguely.
Jane made a disgusted gesture. "You're not listening, Esther! You know
there is only one Person who puts brains into dogs!"
"But Pickles is such a puppy, Jane. Give him time."
"It's not age," gloomily. "It's stupidness. All puppies are stupid, but
Pickles is the most abnormously stupid puppy I ever saw."
Esther laughed. "Where did you get the word, ducky?"
"From the doctor. It was something he said about Aunt Amy. Say, Esther,
isn't he going to take you driving any more? I saw him going past this
very afternoon. He turned down towards the river road. There was lots of
room. Next time he takes you, may Pickles and me go too?"
"Pickles and I, Jane."
"Well, may we?"
"I don't know. Perhaps. When did the doctor go past?"
"Nearly two hours ago. I wonder if there's some one kick down there?
Bubble says they're getting a tremenjous practice. I don't like Bubble
any more. He thinks he's smart. I don't like Ann, either. I shan't ask
her to my birthday party."
"I thought you loved Ann."
"Well, I don't. She thinks she's smart!"
"Ann, too? Smartness must be epidemic."
"It's all on account of the doctor," gloomily. "They can't get over
having him boarding at their place. I told Ann that my own father was a
doctor, but she said dead ones didn't count. Then I told her that my
mother didn't have to keep boarders anyway."
"That was a naughty, snobbish thing to say. I'm ashamed of you!"
"What you said was snobbish. Think it over and find out."
Jane was silent, apparently thinking it over. The fat pup, tired with
unwonted mental exertions, curled up and went to sleep. Esther returned
to her dreams. Then, into the warm hush of the late afternoon came the
quick panting of a motor car.
"There he is!" cried Jane excitedly. "Let's both run down to the gate to
"Jane!" Esther's cheeks were the colour of her ripest berry. "Jane, come
here! I forbid you--Jane!"
"He's stopping anyway. He'll be coming in. You had better take off that
apron.--Oh, look! Some one's with him. Why," with some disappointment,
"it's mother! He is letting her out. I don't believe he is coming in at
all--let go! Esther, you pig, let me go!"
She wriggled out of her sister's firm hold but not before the motor had
started again; when she reached the gate it was out of sight.
Mrs. Coombe surveyed her daughter coldly. "You are a very ill-mannered
child," she said, and putting her aside walked slowly up the path and
around the house to where Esther sat on the back porch.
"Where are the daisies?" asked Esther, looking up from her berries.
"The daisies?" vaguely. "Good gracious! I forgot all about the daisies."
"Didn't you get any?"
"Heaps, but the fact is I didn't bring them home. I felt so tired. I
don't know how I should have managed to get home myself if Dr. Callandar
hadn't picked me up."
"Dr. Callandar?" Esther's voice was mildly questioning.
"Yes, why not?"
"I thought you had not met him."
"Neither I had--at least I hadn't met him for a good many years." Mary
gave a little excited laugh. "But that's the funny part of it--he is an
Esther looked up with her characteristic widening of the eyes. The news
was genuinely surprising. And how agitated her mother seemed!
"It is really quite a remarkable coincidence," went on Mary nervously.
"I was so surprised, startled indeed. Although it's pleasant, of course,
to meet an old schoolmate."
"You and Doctor Callandar schoolmates?" The eyes were very wide now.
Mary grew more and more confused.
"Yes--that is, not exactly. I mean his name wasn't Callandar then. His
name was Chedridge. Did you never hear me speak of Harry Chedridge?"
"Well, you never listen to half I say. And how was I to know that Doctor
Callandar was the Harry Chedridge I used to know? He took the name of
Callandar from an uncle--or something. Anyway it isn't his own."
Esther hulled a particularly fine berry and carefully putting the hull
in the pan, threw the berry away.
"Curiouser and curiouser!" she said, quoting the immortal Alice. "Did
you recognise him at once?"
If it be possible for a lady of this enlightened age to simper, Mrs.
Coombe simpered. "He recognised me at once!" with faint emphasis on
The girl choked down a rising inclination to laugh.
"Why shouldn't he? I suppose you haven't changed very much."