Part 3 out of 6
Mr. and Mrs. George Harley had made an appointment to meet at half-
past eleven sharp on the doorstep of the little house in Sixty-
seventh Street. Business had interrupted their honeymoon and brought
them unexpectedly to New York. Harley had come by subway from Wall
Street to the Grand Central and taken a taxicab. It was twelve
o'clock before he arrived. Nevertheless he wore a smile of placid
ease of mind. His little wife had only to walk from the Plaza, it
was true, but he knew, although a newly married man, that to be half
an hour late was to be ten minutes early.
At exactly five minutes past twelve he saw her turn off the Avenue,
and as he strolled along to meet her, charmed and delighted by her
daintiness, proud and happy at his possession of her, he did a thing
that all wise and tactful husbands do--he forced back an
irresistible desire to be humorous at her expense and so won an
entry of approval from the Recording Angel.
If they had both been punctual they would have seen Martin go off in
his car to drive the girl who had had no luck to the trees and the
wild flowers and the good green earth.
Joan's mother, all agog to see the young couple who had taken life
into their own hands with the sublime faith of youth, had made it
her first duty to call, however awkward and unusual the hour. Her
choice of hats in which to do so had been a matter of the utmost
They were told that Mr. Gray had gone out of town, that Mrs. Gray
was not yet awake and followed the butler upstairs to the drawing-
room with a distinct sense of disappointment. The room still
quivered under the emotion of Gilbert Palgrave.
Rather awkwardly they waited to be alone. Butlers always appear to
resent the untimely visitation of relations. Sunlight poured in
through the windows. It was a gorgeous morning.
"Well," said George Harley, "I've seen my brokers and can do nothing
more to-day. Let the child have her sleep out. I'm just as happy to
be here with you, Lil, as anywhere else." And he bent over his wife
as if he were her lover, as indeed he was, and kissed her pretty
ear. His clothes were very new and his collar the shade of an inch
too high for comfort and his patent leather shoes something on the
tight side, but the spirits of the great lovers had welcomed him and
He won a most affectionate and grateful smile from the neat little
lady whose brown hair was honestly tinged with white, and whose
unlined face was innocent of make-up. Mrs. Harley had not yet
recovered from her astonishment at having been swept to the altar
after fifteen years of widowhood by this most simple and admirable
man. Even then she was not quite sure that she was not dreaming all
this. She patted his big hand and would have put her head aganst his
chest if the brim of her hat had permitted her to do so.
"That's very sweet of you, Geordie," she said. "How good you are to
He echoed the word "Good!" and laughed and waved his hands. It was
the gesture of a man whose choice of ready words was not large
enough to describe all that he longed and tried to be to her. And
then he stood back with his long legs wide apart and his large hands
thrust into his pockets and his rather untidy gray head stuck on one
side and studied her as if she were a picture in a gallery. He
looked like a great big faithful St. Bernard dog.
Mrs. Harley didn't think so. He seemed to her to be the boy of whom
she had dreamed in her first half-budding dreams and who had gone
wandering and come under the hand of Time, but remained a boy in his
heart. She was glad that she had made him change his tie. She loved
those deep cuts in his face.
"Very well, then," she said. "Although it is twelve o'clock I'll let
her sleep another half an hour." And then she stopped with a little
cry of dismay, "Let her! . . . I'm forgetting that it's no longer in
my power to say what she's to do or not to do!"
"She's no longer the young, big-eyed, watchful child who startled us
by saying uncanny things. She's no longer the slip of a thing that I
left with her grandparents, with her wistful eyes on the horizon.
She's a married woman, Geordie, with a house of her own, and it
isn't for me to 'let' her do anything or tell her or even ask her.
She can do what she likes now. I've lost her, Geordie."
"Why, how's that, Lil?" There was surprise as well as sympathy in
Harley's voice. He had only known other people's children.
She went on quickly, with a queer touch of emotion. "The inevitable
change has come before I've had time to realize it. It's a shock. It
takes my breath away. I feel as if I had been set adrift from an
anchor. Instead of being my little girl she's my daughter now. I'm
no longer 'mammy.' I'm mother. Isn't it,--isn't it wonderful? It's
like standing under a mountain that's always seemed to be a little
hill miles and miles away. From now on I shall be the one to be told
to do things, I shall be the child to be kept in order. It's a queer
moment in the life of a mother, Geordie."
She laughed, but she didn't catch her tears before they were halfway
down her cheeks. "I'm an old lady, my dear."
Harley gave one of his hearty, incredulous laughs. "You, old. You're
one of the everlasting young ones, you are, Lil," and he stood and
beamed with love and admiration.
"But I've got you, Geordie," she added, and her surprised heart that
had suddenly felt so empty warmed again and was soothed when he took
her hand eagerly and pressed it to his lips.
Grandfather and Grandmother Ludlow, Joan and many others who had
formed the habit of believing that Christopher Ludlow's widow would
remain true to his memory, failed utterly to understand the reason
for her sudden breakaway from a settled and steady routine, to
plunge into belated matrimony with a self-made man of fifty-five who
seemed to them to be not only devoid of all attractiveness but
bourgeois and rather ridiculous. But why? A little sympathy, a
little knowledge of human nature,--that's all that was necessary to
make this romance understandable. Because it was romance, in the
best sense of that much abused word. It was not the romance defined
in the dictionary as an action or adventure of an unusual or
wonderful character, soaring beyond the limits of fact and real life
and often of probability, but the result of loneliness and middle
age, and of two hearts starving for love and the expression of love,
for sympathy, companionship and the natural desire for something
that would feed vanity, which, if it is permitted to die, is
replaced by bitterness and a very warped point of view.
Christopher Ludlow, a wild, harum-scarum fellow who had risked his
life many times during his hunting trips, came to his death in a
prosaic street accident. For fifteen years his widow, then twenty-
five, lived in the country with his parents and his little daughter.
She was at their mercy, because Christopher had left no money. He
had been dependent on an allowance from his father. Either she lived
with them and bore cheerfully and tactfully with their increasing
crotchetiness and impatience of old age, or left them to eke out a
purposely small income in a second-rate hotel or a six by six
apartment barely on the edge of the map. A timid woman, all for
peace, without the grit and courage that goes with self-direction,
she pursued the easy policy of least resistance, sacrificed her
youth on the altar of Comfort and dwindled with only a few secret
pangs into middle age. From time to time, with Joan, she left the
safe waters of Lethe and put an almost frightened foot into the
swift main stream. As time went on and Spring went out of her and
Summer ripened to maturity, she was more and more glad to return
from these brief excursions to the quiet country and the safe
monotonous round. Then the day came when her no longer little girl
came finally out of school, urgent and rebellious, kicking against
the pricks, electrically alive and eager, autocrat and individualist
rolled into one. Catching something of this youthfulness and shocked
to wake to a realization of her lost years, she made a frantic and
despairing effort to grasp at the tail-end of Summer and with a
daughter far more wordly than herself escaped as frequently as
possible into town to taste the pleasures that she had almost
forgotten, and revive under the influence of the theater and the
roar of life. It was during one of these excursions, while Joan was
lunching with Alice Palgrave, that she caught an arrow shot at
random by that mischievous little devil Cupid, which landed plum in
the middle of a heart that had been placid so long. In getting out
of a taxicab she had slipped and fallen, was raised deferentially to
her feet, and looked up to catch the lonely and bewildered eyes of
George Harley. They were outside their mutual hotel. What more
natural and courteous than that he should escort her into the hotel
with many expressions of anxious regret, ascend with her in the
elevator to their mutual floor, linger with her for a polite few
minutes in the sunlight that poured through the passage windows and
leave her to hurry finally to her room thrilling under the
recollection of two admiring eyes and a lingering handshake? She,
even she, then, at her time of life, plump and partridge-like as she
was, could inspire the interest and approval of a man. It was
wonderful. It was absurd. It was . . . altogether too good to be
true! Later, after she had spent a half-amused, half-wistful quarter
of an hour in front of her glass, seeing inescapable white hairs and
an irremediable double chin, she had gone down to the dining room
for lunch. All the tables being occupied, what more natural or
disconcerting than for this modern Raleigh to rise and rather
clumsily and eagerly beg that she would share the one just allotted
To the elderly man, whose nose had been too close to the grindstone
to permit of dalliance, and who now, monied and retired, found
himself terribly alone in the pale sun of St. Martin's Summer, and
to the little charming woman of forty, led back to life by an ardent
and impetuous girl, this quite ordinary everyday incident, which
seemed to them to be touched by romance, came at a moment when both
were pathetically receptive. They arranged to meet again, they met
again, and one fine afternoon while Joan was at a theater with
Alice, he spoke and she listened. It was in the more than usually
hotel-like drawing-room of their mutual hotel. People were having
tea, and the band was playing. There was a jangle of voices, the
jingle of a musical comedy, the movement of waiters. Under the
leaves of a tame palm which once had known the gorgeous freedom of a
semi-tropical forest he stumbled over a proposal, the honest,
fearful, pulsating proposal of a man who conceived that he was
trying hopelessly to hitch his wagon to a star, and she, tremulous,
amazed, and on the verge of tears, accepted him. Hers presumably the
dreadful ordeal of facing an incredulous daughter and two sarcastic
parents-in-law and his of standing for judgment before them,--
argument, discussion, satire, irony, abuse even,--a quiet and
determined marriage and a new and beautiful life.
"What a delightful room," said Mrs. Harley. "It looks so comfortable
for a drawing-room that it must have been furnished by a man."
"We'll have a house in town by October, around here, and I'll bet it
won't be uncomfortable when you've finished with it."
The raucous shouts of men crying an "extra" took Harley quickly to
the open window. He watched one scare-monger edge his way up one
side of the street and another, whose voice was like the jagged edge
of a rusty saw, bandy leg his way up the other side. "Sounds like
big sea battle," he said, after listening carefully. "Six German
warships sunk, five British. Horrible loss of life. But I may be
wrong. These men do their best not to be quite understood. Only six
German ships! I wish the whole fleet of those dirty dogs could be
sunk to the bottom."
There was nothing neutral or blind-eyed about George Harley. He had
followed all the moves that had forced the war upon the nations
whose spineless and inefficient governments had so long been playing
the policy of the ostrich. He had nothing but detestation for the
vile and ruthless methods of the German war party and nation and
nothing but contempt for the allied politicians who had made such
methods possible. He had followed the course of the war with pain,
anguish and bated breath, thrilling at the supreme bravery of the
Belgians and the French, and the First Hundred Thousand, thanking
God for the miracle that saved Paris from desecration, and paying
honest tribute to the giant effort of the British to wipe out the
stain of a scandalous and criminal unpreparedness. He had squirmed
with humiliation at the attempts of the little, dreadful clever
people of his own country,--professors, parsons, pacifists and pro-
Germans,--to prove that it was the duty of the United States to
stand aloof and unmoved in the face of a menace which affected
herself in no less a degree than it affected the nations then
fighting for their lives, and had watched with increasing alarm the
fatuous complacency of Congress which continued to deceive itself
into believing that a great stretch of mere water rendered the
country immune from taking its honest part in its own war. "Oh, my
God," he had said in his heart, as all clear-sighted Americans had
been saying, "has commercialism eaten into our very vitals? Has the
good red blood of the early pioneers turned to water? Are we without
the nerve any longer to read the writing on the wall?" And the only
times that his national pride had been able to raise its head
beneath the weight of shame and foreboding were those when he passed
the windows of Red Cross Depots and caught sight of a roomful of
good and noble women feverishly at work on bandages; when he read of
the keen and splendid training voluntarily undergone by the far-
sighted men who were making Plattsburg the nucleus of an officers'
training corps, when he was told how many of his young and red-
blooded fellow-countrymen had taken up arms with the Canadian
contingents or had slipped over to France as ambulance men. What
would he not have given to be young again!
He heaved a great sigh and turned back to the precious little woman
who had placed her life into his hands for love. The hoarse alarming
voices receded into the distance, leaving their curious echo behind.
"What were we talking about?" he asked. "Oh, ah, yes. The house.
Lil, during the few days that I have to be in the city, let's find
the house, let's nose around and choose the roof under which you and
I will spend all the rest of our honeymoon. What do you say, dear?"
"I'd love it, Geordie; I'd just love it. A little house, smaller
than this, with windows that catch the sun, quite near the Park, so
that we can toddle across and watch the children playing. Wouldn't
that be nice? And now I think I'll ring for some one to show me
Joan's room and creep in and suggest that she gets up."
But there was no need. The door opened, and Joan came in, with eyes
Three o'clock that afternoon found the Harleys still in Martin's
house, with Mrs. Harley fidgetting to get George out for a walk in
order that she might enjoy an intimate, mother-talk with Joan, and
Joan deliberately using all her gifts to keep him there in order to
Lunch had been a simple enough affair as lunches go, lifted above
the ordinary ruck of such meals by the 1906 Chateau Latour and the
Courvoisier Cognac from the cellar carefully stocked by Martin's
father. From the psychological side of it, however, nothing could
well have been more complicated. George had not forgotten his
reception by the Ludlows that day of his ever-to-be-remembered visit
of inspection--the cold, satirical eyes of Grandmother, the freezing
courtesy of Grandfather, and the silent, eloquent resentment of the
girl who saw herself on the verge of desertion by the one person who
made life worth living in intermittent spots. He was nervous and
overanxious to appear to advantage. The young thoroughbred at the
head of the table who had given him a swift all-embracing look, an
enigmatical smile and a light laughing question as to whether he
would like to be called "Father, papa, Uncle George or what" awed
him. He couldn't help feeling like a clumsy piece of modern pottery
in the presence of an exquisite specimen of porcelain. His hands and
feet multiplied themselves, and his vocabulary seemed to contain no
more than a dozen slang phrases. He was conscious of the fact that
his collar was too high and his clothes a little too bold in
pattern, and he was definitely certain for the first time in his
life, that he had not yet discovered a barber who knew how to cut
Overeager to emphasize her realization of the change in her
relationship to Joan, overanxious to let it be seen at once that she
was merely an affectionate and interested visitor and not a mother
with a budget of suggestions and corrections and rearrangements,
Mrs. Harley added to the complication. Usually the most natural
woman in the world with a soft infectious laugh, a rather shrewd
humor and a neat gift of comment, she assumed a metallic
artificiality that distressed herself and surprised Joan. She
babbled about absolutely nothing by the yard, talked over George's
halting but gallant attempts to make things easy like any Clubwoman,
and in an ultra-scrupulous endeavor to treat Joan as if she were a
woman of the world, long emancipated from maternal apron strings,
said things to her, inane, insincere things, that she would not have
said to a complete stranger on the veranda of a summer hotel or the
sun deck of a transatlantic liner. She hated herself and was
For two reasons this unexpected lunch was an ordeal so far as Joan
was concerned. She remembered how antagonistic she had been to
Harley under the first rough shock of her mother's startling and
what then had appeared to be disloyal aberration, and wanted to make
up for it to the big, simple, uncomfortable man who was so obviously
in love. Also she was still all alone in the mental chaos into which
everything that had happened last night had conspired to plunge her
and was trying, with every atom of courage that she possessed, to
hide the fact from her mother's quick solicitous eyes. SHE of all
people must not know that Martin had gone away or find the loose end
of her married life!
It was one of those painful hours that crop up from time to time in
life and seem to leave a little scratch upon the soul.
But when quarter past three came Mrs. Harley pulled herself
together. She had already dropped hints of every known and well-
recognized kind to George, without success. She had even invented
appointments for him at the dentist's and the tailor's. But George
was basking in Joan's favor and was too dazzled to be able to catch
and concentrate upon his wife's insinuations as to things and people
that didn't exist. And Joan held him with her smile and led him from
one anecdote to another. Finally, with no one realized how supreme
an effort, Mrs. Harley came to the point. As a rule she never came
"Geordie," she said, seizing a pause, "you may run along now, dear,
and take a walk. It will do you good to get a little exercise before
dinner. I want to be alone with Joan for a while."
And before Joan could swing the conversation off at a tangent the
faithful and obedient St. Bernard was on his feet, ready and willing
to ramble whichever way he was told to go. With unconscious dignity
and a guilelessness utteriy unknown to drawing-rooms he bent over
Joan's reluctant hand and said, "Thank you for being so kind to me,"
laid a hearty kiss on his wife's cheek and went.
"And now, darling," said Mrs. Harley, settling into her chair with
an air of natural triumph, "tell me where Martin is and how long
he's going to be away and all about everything."
These were precisely the questions that Joan had worked so hard and
skilfully to dodge. "Well, first of all, Mummy," she said, with
filial artfulness, "you must come and see the house."
And Mrs. Harley, who had been consumed with the usual feminine
curiosity to examine every corner and cranny of it, rose with
alacrity. "What I've already seen is all charming," she said. "I
knew Martin's father, you know. He spent a great deal of time at his
house near your grandfather's, and was nearly always in the saddle.
He was not a bit like one's idea of a horsey man. He was, in fact, a
gentleman who was fond of horses. There is a world of difference. He
had a most delightful smile and was the only man I ever met, except
your grandfather, who could drink too much wine without showing it.
Who's this good-looking boy with the trustworthy eyes?"
"Martin," said Joan. "Martin," she added inwardly, "who treated me
like a kid last night."
Mrs. Harley looked up at the portrait. An involuntary smiled played
round her mouth. "Yes, of course. I remember him. What a dear boy!
No wonder you fell in love with him, darling. You must be very
Joan followed her mother out of the room. She was glad of the chance
to control her expression. She went upstairs with a curious lack of
the spirit of proprietorship. It hurt her to feel as if she were
showing a house taken furnished for the season in which she had no
rights, no pride and no personal interest. Martin had treated her
like a kid last night and gone away in the morning without a word.
Alice and Gilbert had taunted her with not being a wife. She wasn't,
and this was Martin's house, not hers and Martin's . . . it hurt.
"Ah," said Mrs. Harley softly as she went into Joan's bedroom. "Ah.
Very nice. You both have room to move here." But the mass of little
filet lace pillows puzzled her, and she darted a quick look at the
tall young thing with the inscrutable face who had ceased to be her
little girl and had become her daughter.
"The sun pours in," said Joan, turning away.
Mrs. Harley noticed a door and brightened up.
"Martin's dressing room?" she asked. "No. My maid's room!" Joan
Mrs. Harley shook her head ever so little. She was not in sympathy
with what she called new-fashioned ideas. It was on the tip of her
tongue to say so and to forget, just this once, the inevitable
change in their relationship and speak like mammy once more. But she
was a timid, sensitive little woman, and the indefinable barrier
that had suddenly sprung up held her back. Joan made no attempt to
meet her halfway. The moment passed.
They went along the passage. "There are Martin's rooms," said Joan.
Mrs. Harley went halfway in. "Like a bachelor's rooms, aren't they?"
she said, without guile. And while she glanced at the pictures and
the crowded bootrack and the old tallboys, Joan's sudden color went
away again. . . . He was a bachelor. He had left her on the other
side of the bridge. He had hurt her last night. How awfully she must
have hurt him!
"When will Martin be back?"
"I don't know," said Joan. "Probably to-morrow. I'm not sure." She
stumbled a little, realized that she was giving herself away,--
because if a bride is not to know her husband's movements, who is?--
and made a desperate effort to recover her position. "It all depends
on how long he's kept. But he needed exercise, and golf's such a
good game, isn't it? I sha'n't hurry him back."
She looked straight into her mother's anxious eyes, saw them clear,
saw a smile come--and took a deep breath of relief. If there was one
thing that she had to put up the most strenuous fight to avoid, in
her present chaotic state of mind, it was a direct question as to
her life with Martin. Of all people, her mother must be left in the
belief that she was happy. Pride demanded that, even to the extent
of lying. It was hard luck to be caught by her mother, at the very
moment when she was standing among all the debris of her kid's
ideas, among all the broken beams of carelessness, and the shattered
panes of high spirits.
She was thankful that her mother was not one of those aggressive,
close-questioning women, utterly devoid of sensitiveness and
delicacy who are not satisfied until they have forced open all the
secret drawers of the mind and stuck the contents on a bill file,--
one of those hard-bosomed women who stump into church as they stump
into a department store with an air of "Now then, what can you show
me that's new," who go about with a metaphorical set of burglar's
tools in a large bag with which to break open confidences and who
have no faith in human nature.
And with a sudden sense of gratitude she turned to the woman whom
she had always accepted as a fact, an institution, and looked at her
with new eyes, a new estimate and a new emotion. The little, loving,
gentle, anxious woman with the capacity of receiving impressions
from external objects that amounted to a gift but with a reticence
of so fine and tender a quality that she seemed always to stand on
tiptoes on the delicate ground of people's feelings, was HERS, was
her mother. The word burst into a new meaning, blossomed into a new
truth. She had been accepted all these years,--loved, in a sort of
way; obeyed, perhaps, expected to do things and provide things and
make things easy, and here she stood more needed, at the moment when
she imagined that the need of her had passed, than at any other time
of her motherhood.
In a flash Joan understood all this and its paradox, looked all the
way back along the faithful, unappreciated years, and being no
longer a child was stirred with a strange maternal fellow feeling
that started her tears. Nature is merciless. Everything is
sacrificed to youth. Birds build their nests and rear their young
and are left as soon as wings are ready. Women marry and bear
children and bring them up with love and sacrifice, only to be
relegated to a second place at the first moment of independence.
Joan saw this then. Her mother's altered attitude, and her own
feeling of having grown out of maternal possession brought it before
her. She saw the underlying drama of this small inevitable scene in
the divine comedy of life and was touched by a great sympathy and
made sorry and ashamed.
But pride came between her and a desire to go down on her knees at
her mother's side, make a clean breast of everything and beg for
advice and help.
And so these two, between whom there should have been complete
confidence, were like people speaking to each other from opposite
banks of a stream, conscious of being overheard.
Day after day went by with not a word from Martin. April was
slipping off the calendar. A consistent blue sky hung over a teeming
city that grew warm and dry beneath a radiant sun. Winter forgotten,
spring an overgrown boy, the whole town underwent a subtle change.
Its rather sullen winter expression melted into a smile, and all its
foreign characteristics and color broke out once more under the
influence of sun and blue sky. Alone among the great cities of the
world stands New York for contrariety and contrast. Its architecture
is as various as its citizenship, its manners are as dissimilar as
its accents, its moods as diverse as its climate. Awnings appeared,
straw hats peppered the streets like daisies in long fields, shadows
moved, days lengthened, and the call of the country fell on city
ears like the thin wistful notes of the pipes of Pan.
Brought up against a black wall Joan left the Roundabout, desisted
from joy-riding, and, spending most of her time with her mother,
tried secretly and without any outward sign, to regain her
equilibrium. She saw nothing of Alice and the set, now beginning to
scatter, in which Alice had placed her. She was consistently out to
Gilbert Palgrave and the other men who had been gathering hotly at
her heels. Her policy of "who cares?" had received a shock and left
her reluctantly and impatiently serious. She had withdrawn
temporarily into a backwater in order to think things over and wait
for Martin to reappear. It seemed to her that her future way of life
was in his hands. If Martin came back soon and caught her in her
present mood she would play the game according to the rules. If he
stayed away or, coming back, persisted in considering her as a kid
and treating her as such, away would go seriousness, life being
short, and youth but a small part of it, and back she would go to
the Merry-go-round, and once more, at twice the pace, with twice the
carelessness, the joy-ride would continue. It was all up to Martin,
little as he knew it.
And where was Martin?
There was no letter, no message, no sign as day followed day.
Without allowing herself to send out an S. O. S. to him, which she
well knew that she had the power to do, she waited, as one waits at
crossroads, to go either one way or the other. Although tempted many
times to tap the invisible wire which stretched between them, and to
put an end to a state of uncertainty which was indescribably irksome
to her impulsive and imperative nature, she held her hand. Pride
steeled her, and vanity gave her temporary patience. She even went
so far as to think of him under another name so that no influence of
hers might bring him back. She wanted him to return naturally, on
his own account, because he was unable to keep away. She wanted him,
wherever he was and whatever he was doing, to want her, not to come
in cold blood from a sense of duty, in the spirit of martyrdom. She
wanted him, for her pride's sake, to be again the old eager Marty,
the burning-eyed, inarticulate Marty, who had brought her to his
house and laid it at her feet with all that was his. In no other way
was she prepared to cross what she thought of as the bridge.
And so, seeing only her mother and George Harley, she waited, saying
to herself confidently "If he doesn't come to-day, he will come to-
morrow. I told him that I was a kid, and he understood. I've hurt
him awfully, but he loves me. He will come to-morrow."
But to-morrow came and where was Martin?
It was a curious time for this girl-woman to go through alone,
hiding her crisis from her mother behind smiling eyes, disguising
her anxiety under a cloak of high spirits, herself hurt but
realizing that she had committed a hurt. It made her feel like an
aeroplane voluntarily landed in perfect condition at the start of a
race, waiting for the pilot to get aboard. That he would return at
any moment and take her up again she never doubted. Why should she?
She knew Martin. His eyes won confidence, and there was a heart of
gold behind his smile. She didn't believe that she could have lost
him so soon. He would come back because he loved her. Hadn't he
agreed that she was a kid? And when he did come back she would take
her courage in both hands and tell him that she wanted to play the
game. And then, having been honest, she would hitch on to life again
with a light heart, and neither Alice nor Gilbert could stand up and
flick her conscience. Martin would be happy.
To-morrow and to-morrow, and no Martin.
At the end of a week a letter was received by her mother from
Grandmother Ludlow, in which, with a tinge of sarcasm, she asked
that she might be honored by a visit of a few days, always supposing
that trains still ran between New York and Peapack and gasolene
could still be procured for privately owned cars. And there was a
postscript in these words. "Perhaps you have the necessary eloquence
to induce the athletic Mrs. Martin Gray to join you."
The letter was handed to Joan across the luncheon table at the
Plaza. She read the characteristic effusion with keen amusement. She
could hear the old lady's incisive voice in every word and the tap
of her stick across the hall as she laid the letter in the box. How
good to see the country again and go through the woods to the old
high place where she had turned and found Martin. How good to go
back to that old prison house as an independent person, with the
right to respect and even consideration. It would serve Martin right
to find her away when he came back. She would leave a little note on
his dressing table.
"No wonder the old lady asks if the trains have broken down," said
Mrs. Harley. "Of course, we ought to have gone out to see her,
"Of course," said George, "of course"--but he darted a glance at
Joan which very plainly conveyed the hope that she would find some
reason why the visit should not be made. Would he ever forget
standing in that stiff drawing-room before that contemptuous old
dame, feeling exactly like a very small worm?
The strain of waiting for Martin day after day had told on Joan. She
longed for a change of atmosphere, a change of scene. And what a
joke it would be to be able to face her grandfather and grandmother
without shaking in her shoes! "Of course," said Joan. "Let's drive
out to-day in time for dinner, and send a telegram at once. Nothing
like striking while the iron's hot. Papa Geordie, tell the waiter to
bring a blank, and we'll concoct a message between us. Is that all
right for you, Mother?"
Mrs. Harley looked rather like a woman being asked to run a quarter
of a mile to catch a train, but she gave a little laugh and said,
"Yes, dear. I think so, although, perhaps, to-morrow--"
"To-day is a much better word," said Joan. She was sick of to-morrow
and to-morrow. "Packing won't take any time. I'll go home directly
after lunch and set things moving and be here in the car at three
thirty. We can see the trees and smell the ferns and watch the sun
set before we have to change for dinner. I'm dying to do that."
No arguments or objections were put forward.
This impetuous young thing must have her way.
And when the car drove away from the Plaza a few minutes after the
appointed time Joan was as excited as a child, Mrs. Harley quite
certain that she had forgotten her sponge bag and her bedroom
slippers, and George Harley betting on a time that would put more
lines on his face.
There was certainly more than a touch of irony in Joan's gladness to
go back so soon to the cage from which she had escaped with such
There had been no word and no sign of Martin.
But as Joan had run upstairs Gilbert Palgrave had come out from the
drawing-room and put himself deliberately in her way.
"I can't stay now, Gilbert," she had said. "I'm going into the
country, and I haven't half a second to spare. I'm so sorry."
He had held his place. "You've got to give me five minutes. You've
got to," and something in his eyes had made her take hold of her
"You don't know what you're doing to me," he had said, with no sign
of his usual style and self-consciousness, but simply, like a man
who had sat in the dark and suffered. "Or if you do know your
cruelty is inhuman. I've tried to see you every day--not to talk
about myself or bore you with my love, but just to look at you.
You've had me turned away as if I were a poor relation. You've sent
your maid to lie to me over the telephone as if I were a West Point
cadet in a primitive state of sloppy sentiment. Don't do it. It
isn't fair. I hauled down my fourth wall to you, and however much
you may scorn what you saw there you must respect it. Love must
always be respected. It's the rarest thing on earth. I'm here to
tell you that you must let me see you, just see you. I've waited for
many years for this. I'm all upheaved. You've exploded me. I'm
different. I'm remade. I'm beginning again. I shall ask for nothing
but kindness until I've made you love me, and then I shall not have
to ask. You will come to me. I can wait. That's all I want you to
know. When you come back ring me up. I'll be patient."
With that he had stood aside with a curious humbleness, had gripped
the hand that she had given him and had gone downstairs and away.
The country round Peapack was in its first glorious flush of young
beauty. The green of everything dazzled under the sun. The woods
were full of the echo of fairy laughter. Wild flowers ran riot among
the fields. Delicate-footed May was following on the heels of April
with its slight fingers full of added glory for the earth.
There was something soft and English in the look of the trees and
fields as they came nearer to the old house. They might have been
driving through the kind garden of Kent.
Framed in the fine Colonial doorway stood the tall old man with his
white head and fireless eyes, the little distinguished woman still
charged with electricity and the two veteran dogs with their hollow
"Not one blushing bride, but two," said Grandmother Ludlow. "How
romantic." She presented her cheek to the nervous Mrs. Harley. "You
look years younger, my dear. Quite fluttery and foolish. How do you
do, Mr. Harley? You are very welcome, Sir." She passed them both on
to the old man and turned to Joan with the kind of smile that one
sees on the faces of Chinese gods. "And here is our little girl in
whose marvellous happiness we have all rejoiced."
Joan stood up bravely to the little old lady whose sarcasm went home
like the sharp point of a rapier.
"How do you do, dear Grandmamma," she said.
"No better than can be expected, my love, but no worse." The queer
smile broadened. "But surely you haven't torn yourself away from the
young husband from whom, I hear, you have never been parted for a
moment? That I can't believe. People tell me that there has never
been such a devoted and love-sick couple. Martin Gray is driving
another car, of course."
Joan never flicked an eyelash. She would rather die than let this
cunning old lady have the satisfaction of seeing that she had drawn
blood. "No, Grandmamma," she said. "Martin needed exercise and is
playing golf at Shinnecock. He rang me up this morning and asked me
to say how sorry he was not to have the pleasure of seeing you this
time." She went over to her grandfather and held up a marvellously
The old dame watched her with reluctant admiration. The child had
all the thoroughbred points of a Ludlow. All the same she should be
shown that, even in the twentieth century, young girls could not
break away from discipline and flout authority without punishment.
The smile became almost gleeful at the thought of the little
surprise that was in store for her.
The old sportsman took Joan in his arms and held her tight for a
moment. "I've missed you, my dear," he said. "The house has been
like a mausoleum without you. But I've no reproaches. Youth to
youth,--it's right and proper." And he led her into the lofty hall
with his arm round her shoulder.
There was a sinister grin on Gleave's poacher-like face when Joan
gave him a friendly nod. And it was with a momentary spasm of
uneasiness that she asked herself what he and her grandmother knew.
It was evident that they had something up their sleeves. But when,
after a tea during which she continued to fence and play the part of
happy bride, she went out into the scented garden that was like an
old and loving friend, this premonition of something evil left her.
With every step she felt herself greeted and welcomed. Young flowers
as guileless as children waved their green hands. Heads nodded as
she passed. The old trees that had watched her grow up rustled their
leaves in affectionate excitement. She had not understood until that
very moment how many true friends she had or how warm a place in her
heart that old house had taken. It was with a curious maternal
emotion that clouded her eyes with tears that she stood for a moment
and kissed her hands to the right and left like a young queen to her
subjects. Then she ran along the familiar path through the woods to
the spot where she had been found by Martin and stood once more
facing the sweep of open country and the distant horizon beyond
which lay the Eldorado of her girl's dreams. She was still a girl,
but she had come back hurt and sorry and ashamed. Martin might have
lost his faith in her. He had gone away without a word or sign.
Gilbert Palgrave held her in such small respect that he waited with
patience for her to come, although married, into his arms. And there
was not a man or a woman on the Round-about, except Alice, who
really cared whether she ever went back again. The greedy squirrel
peeked at her from behind a fern, recognized his old playmate, and
came forward in a series of runs and leaps. With a little cry Joan
bent down and held out her hand. And away in the distance there was
the baying of Martin's hounds. But where was Martin?
"Rather beg than work, wouldn't he? I call him Micawber because he's
always waiting for something to turn up."
Joan wheeled round. To hear a stranger's voice in a place that was
peculiarly hers and Martin's amazed and offended her. It was
A girl was sitting in the long grass, hatless, with her hands
clasped round her knees. The sun lit up her bobbed hair that shone
like brass and had touched her white skin with a warm finger.
Wistful and elfish, sitting like Puck on a toadstool, she might have
slipped out of some mossy corner of the woods to taste the breeze
and speculate about life. She wore a butter-colored sport shirt wide
open at the neck and brown cord riding breeches and puttees. Slight
and small boned and rather thin she could easily have passed for a
delicate boy or, except for something at the back of her eyes that
showed that she had not always lived among trees, for Peter Pan's
brother of whom the world had never heard.
Few people would have recognized in this spring maid the Tootles of
Broadway and that rabbit warren in West Forty-sixth Street. The dew
of the country had washed her face and lips, and the choir voices of
Martin's big cathedral had put peace and gentleness into her
She ran her eyes with frank admiration over the unself-consciously
patrician Joan in her immaculate town clothes and let them rest
finally on a face that seemed to her to be the most attractive that
she had ever seen, for all that its expression made her want to
scramble to her feet and take to her heels. But she controlled
herself and sat tight, summoned her native impertinence to the
rescue and gave a friendly nod. After all, it was a free country.
There were no princesses knocking about.
"You don't look as if you were a pal of squirrels," she said.
Joan's resentment at the unexpected presence of this interloper only
lasted a moment. It gave way almost immediately before interest and
curiosity and liking,--even, for a vague reason, sympathy.
"I've known this one all his life," she said. "His father and mother
were among my most intimate friends and, what's more, his
grandfather and grandmother relied on me to help them out in bad
The duet of laughter echoed among the trees.
With a total lack of dignity the squirrel retired and stood, with
erect tail, behind a tuft of coarse grass, wondering what had
"It's a gift to be country and look town," said Tootles, with
unconcealed flattery. "It's having as many ancestors as the
squirrels, I suppose. According to the rules I ought to feel
awkward, oughtn't I?"
"Well, I'm trespassing. I saw it in your eyes. 'Pon my soul it never
occurred to me before. Shall I try and make a conventional exit or
may I stay if I promise not to pinch the hill? This view is better
than face massage. It rubs out all the lines. My word, but it's good
to be alive up here!"
The mixture of cool cheek and ecstasy, given forth in the patois of
the London suburbs, amused Joan. Here was a funny, whimsical,
pathetic, pretty little thing, she thought--queerly wise, too, and
with all about her a curious appeal for friendship and kindness.
"Stay, of course," she said. "I'm very glad you like my hill. Use it
as often as you can." She sat down on the flat-topped piece of rock
that she had so often shared with Martin. There was a sense of
humanity about this girl that had the effect of a magnet. She
inspired confidence, as Martin did.
"Thanks most awfully," said Tootles. "You're kinder than you think
to let me stay here. And I'm glad you're going to sit down for a
bit. I like you, and I don't mind who knows it."
"And I like you," said Joan.
And they both laughed again, feeling like children. It was a
characteristic trick of Fate's to bring about this meeting.
"I don't mind telling you now," went on Tootles, all barriers down,
"that I've come up here every evening for a week. It's a thousand
years since I've seen the sun go to bed and watched the angels light
the stars. It's making me religious. The Broadway electrics have
always been between me and the sky. . . . Gee, but it's goin' to be
great this evening." She settled herself more comfortably, leaned
back against the stump of a tree and began to smile like a child at
the Hippodrome in expectation of one of the "colossal effects."
Joan's curiosity was more and more piqued, but it was rather to know
what than who this amazingly natural little person was. For all her
youth there were lines round her mouth that were eloquent of a story
begun early. Somehow, with Martin away and giving no sign, Joan was
glad, and in a way comforted, to have stumbled on some one, young
like herself, who had obviously faced uncertainty and stood at the
crossroads. "I'd like to ask you hundreds of questions," she said
impulsively. "Do you mind?"
"No, dearie. Fire away. I shan't have to tell you any fables to keep
you interested. I broke through the paper hoop into the big ring
when I was ten. Look! See those ducks flyin' home? The first time I
saw them I thought it was a V-shaped bit of smoke running away from
one of the factories round Newark."
She had told Martin that. His laugh seemed still to be in the air.
"Are you married?" asked Joan suddenly.
"Not exactly, dearie," replied Tootles, without choosing her words.
But a look at the young, eager, sweet face bent towards her made her
decide to use camouflage. "What I mean is, no, I'm not. Men don't
marry me when it isn't absolutely necessary. I'm a small part chorus
lady, if you get my point."
Joan was not quite sure that she did. Her sophistication had not
gone farther up than Sixty-seventh Street or farther down than
Sherry's, and it was bounded by Park Avenue on the one side and
Fifth Avenue on the other. "But would you like to have been
married?" All her thoughts just then were about marriage and Marty.
Tootles shook her head and gave a downward gesture with an open hand
that hardly needed to be amplified. "No, not up to a few weeks ago.
I've lived by the stage, you see, and that means that the men I've
rnme across have not been men but theatricals. Very different. You
may take my word. When I met my first man I didn't believe it. I
thought he was the same kind of fake. But when I knew that he was a
man alright,--well, I wanted to be married as much as a battered
fishing smack wants to get into harbor." She was thinking of Marty
too, although not of marriage any more.
"And are you going to be?"
"No, dearie. He's got a wife, it turns out. It was a bit o' cheek
ever to dream of hitting a streak of such luck as that. All the
same, I've won something that I shall treasure all the days of my
life. . . . Look. Here come some of the mourners." She pointed to
three crows that flapped across a sky all hung with red and gold.
Joan was puzzled. "Mourners?"
"Why, yes. Isn't this the death bed of a day?"
"I never thought of it in that way," said Joan.
"No," said Tootles, running her eyes again over Joan's well-groomed
young body. "That's easy to see. You will, though, if ever you want
every day to last a year. You're married, anyway."
"Not exactly," said Joan, unconsciously repeating the other girl's
Tootles looked at Martin's ring. "What about that, then?"
Joan looked at it too, with a curious gravity. It stood for so much
more than she had ever supposed that it would. "But I don't know
whether it's going to bind us, or not."
"And you so awfully young!"
"I was," said Joan.
The girl who had never had any luck darted a keen, examining glance
at the girl who had all the appearance of having been born lucky.
Married, as pretty as a picture, everything out of the smartest
shops, the owner, probably, of this hill and those woods, and the
old house that she had peeped at all among that lovely garden--she
couldn't have come up against life's sharp elbow, surely? She hoped
not, most awfully she hoped not.
Joan caught the look and smiled back. There was kindness here, and
comradeship. "I've nothing to tell," she said, "yet. I'm just
beginning to think, that's the truth, only just. I've been very
young and thoughtless, but I'm better now and I'm waiting to make up
for it. I'm not unhappy, only a little anxious. Everything will come
right though, because my man's a man, too."
Tootles made a long arm and put her hand on Joan's. "In that case,
make up for it bigly, dearie," she said earnestly. "Don't be afraid
to give. There are precious few real men about and lots of women to
make a snatch at them. It isn't being young that matters. Most
troubles are brought about, at your time of life, by not knowing
when to stop being young. Good luck, Lady-bird. I hope you never
have anything to tell. Oh, just look, just look!"
Joan followed the pointing finger, but held the kind hand. And they
sat in silence watching "the fair frail palaces, the fading Alps and
archipelagoes, and great cloud-continents of sunset seas." And as
she sat, enthralled, the whole earth hushed and still, shadows
lurking towards the east, the evening air holding its breath, the
night ready behind the horizon for its allotted work, God's hand on
everything, it was of Marty that Joan thought, Marty whom she must
have hurt so deeply and who had gone away without a word or a sign,
believing that she was still a kid. Yes, she WOULD make up for it,
bigly, bigly, and he should be happy, this boy-man who was a knight.
And it was of Martin that Tootles, poor, little, unlucky Tootles,
thought also. All her life she would have something to which to look
back, something precious and beautiful, and his name, stamped upon
her heart, would go down with her to the grave.
And they stayed there, in silence, holding hands, until the last
touch of color had gone out of the sky and the evening air sighed
and moved on and the night climbed slowly over the dim horizon. They
might have been sisters.
And then Joan rose in a sort of panic. "I must go," she said
nervously, forgetting that she had grown up. "Good night, Fairy."
Tootles stood up too. "Good night, Lady-bird. Make everything come
right," and held out her hand.
Joan took it again and went forward and kissed the odd little girl
who was her friend.
And a moment later Tootles saw her disappearing into the wood, like
a spirit. When she looked up at the watching star and waved her
hand, it seemed all misty.
"And now, Mr. Harley," said Grandmother Ludlow, lashing the
septuagenarian footman with one sharp look because he had spilt two
or three drops of Veuve Cliquot on the tablecloth, "tell me about
the present state of the money market."
Under his hostess's consistent courtesy and marked attentions George
Harley had been squirming during the first half of dinner. He had
led her into the fine old dining room with all the style that he
could muster and been placed, to his utter dismay, on her right. He
would infinitely rather have been commanded to dine with the Empress
of China, which he had been told was the last word in mental and
physical torture. Remembering vividly the cold and satirical scorn
to which he had been treated during his former brief and nightmare
visit the old lady's change of attitude to extreme politeness and
even deference made him feel that he was having his leg pulled. In a
brand new dinner jacket with a black tie poked under the long points
of a turned-down collar, which, in his innocence, he had accepted as
the mode of gentlemen and not, as he rightly supposed of waiters, he
had done his best to give coherent answers to a rapid fire of
difficult questions. The most uneasy man on earth, he had committed
himself to statements that he knew to be unsound, had seen his
untouched plate whisked away while he was floundering among words,
and started a high temperature beneath what he was perfectly certain
was lurking mockery behind apparently interested attention.
If any banker at that moment had overheard him describing the state
of the money market he would have won for himself a commission in
the earth's large army of unconfined lunatics.
The old sportsman, sitting with Joan on his right and his daughter-
in-law on his left, was more nearly merry and bright than any one
had seen him since the two great changes in his household. His
delight in having Joan near him again was pathetic. He had shaved
for the second time that day, a most unusual occurrence. His white
hair glistened with brilliantine, and there was a gardenia in his
buttonhole. Some of the old fire had returned to his eyes, and his
tongue had regained its once invariable knack of paying charming
compliments. In his excitement and delight he departed from his
rigid diet, and, his wife's attention being focussed upon George
Harley, punished the champagne with something of his old vigor, and
revived as a natural result many of the stories which Joan and her
mother had been told ad nauseam over any number of years with so
much freshness as to make them seem almost new.
Mrs. Harley, wearing a steady smile, was performing the painful feat
of listening with one ear to the old gentleman and with the other to
the old lady. All her sympathy was with her unfortunate and uneasy
husband who looked exactly like a great nervous St. Bernard being
teased by a Pekinese.
Joan missed none of the underlying humor of the whole thing. It was
amusing and satisfactory to be treated as the guest of honor in a
house in which she had always been regarded as the naughty and
rebellious child. She was happy in being able to put her usually
morose grandfather into such high spirits and moved to a mixture of
mirth and pity at the sight of George Harley's plucky efforts. Also
she had brought away with her from the girl she called the fairy a
strengthened desire to play the game and a good feeling that Marty
was nearer to her than he had been for a long and trying week. It's
true that from time to time she caught in her grandmother's eyes
that queer look of triumphant glee that had disturbed her when they
met and the same expression of malicious spite at the corner of
Gleave's sunken mouth which had made her wonder what he knew, but
these things she waved aside. Instinct, and her complete knowledge
of Mrs. Cumberland Ludlow's temperament, made her realize that if
the old lady could find a way to get even with her for having run
off she would leave no stone unturned, and that she would not
hesitate to use the cunning ex-fighting man to help her. But, after
all, what could they do? It would be foolish to worry.
Far from foolish, if she had had an inkling of the trap that had
been laid for her and into which she was presently going to fall
The facts were that Gleave had seen Martin drive up to his house
with Tootles, had watched them riding and walking together
throughout the week, had reported what he had seen to Mrs. Ludlow
and left it to her fertile imagination to make use of what was to
him an ugly business. And the old lady, grasping her chance, had
written that letter to Mrs. Harley and having achieved her point of
getting Joan into her hands, had discovered that she did not know
where Martin was and had made up her mind to show her. Revenge is
sweet, saith the phrasemonger, and to the old lady whose discipline
had been flouted and whose amour propre had been rudely shaken it
was very sweet indeed. Her diabolical scheme, conceived in the
mischievous spirit of second childhood, was to lead Joan on to a
desire to show off her country house to her relations at the moment
when the man she had married and the girl with whom he was amusing
himself on the sly were together. "How dramatic," she chuckled, in
concocting the plan. "How delightfully dramatic." And she might have
added, "How hideously cruel."
But it was not until some little time after they had all adjourned
to the drawing-room, and Joan had played the whole range of her old
pieces for the edification of her grandfather, that she set her
"If I had my time over again," she said, looking the epitome of
benevolence, "I would never spend spring in the city."
"Wouldn't you, dear?" prompted Mrs. Harley, eager to make the
conversation general and so give poor George a rest.
"No, my love. I would make my winter season begin in November and
end in February--four good months for the Opera, the theatres,
entertaining and so forth. Then on the first of March, the kind-
hearted month that nurses April's violets, I would leave town for my
country place and, as the poets have it watch the changing skies and
the hazel blooms peep through the swelling buds and hear the trees
begin to whisper and the throstles break into song. One loses these
things by remaining among bricks and mortar till the end of April.
Joan, my dear, give this your consideration next year. If your good
husband is anything like his father, whom we knew very slightly and
admired, he is a lover of the country and should be considered."
"Yes, Grandmamma," said Joan, wondering if Marty had come back and
found her note on his dressing-table.
"Always supposing, of course, that next year finds you both as much
in love as you are to-day,--the most devoted pair of turtle doves,
as I am told." She laughed a little roguishly to disguise the sting.
"They will be," said Mrs. Harley quickly. "There is no doubt about
"None," said Joan, looking full at the old lady with a confident
smile and a high chin. Would her grandmother never forget that
escape from the window?
"Why suggest the possibility of a break?" asked Mr. Ludlow, with a
touch of anger. "Really, my dear."
"A little joke, Cumberland, merely a little joke. Joan understands
me, I know."
"I think so," said Joan, smiling back. Not on her, whatever
happened, would she see the white feather. Some one had told the
tale of her kid's rush into the heart of things and her many
evenings with Palgrave and the others, when "Who cares?" was her
The old lady went on, with infinite artfulness. "During the coming
summer, my love, you should look out for a pleasant little house in
some charming part of the country, furnish it, put men to work on
the garden, and have it all ready for the following spring."
"I know just the place," put in George. "Near a fine golf course and
country club with a view across the Hudson that takes your breath
"That might necessitate the constant attendance of a doctor," said
Mrs. Ludlow drily, "which would add considerably to the expenses. I
would advise the Shinnecock Hills, for instance, which are swept by
sea breezes and so reminiscent of Scotland. Martin would be within a
stone's throw of his favorite course, there, wouldn't he, Joan?"
"Yes, Grandmamma," said Joan, still with a high head and a placid
smile, although it came to her in a flash that her statement as to
where Martin was had not been believed. What if Grandmother knew
where Martin had gone? How absurd. How could she?
And then Mr. Ludlow broke in again, impatiently. The effect of the
champagne was wearing off. He hated feminine conversation in
drawing-rooms, anyhow. "Why go searching about for a house for the
child when she's got one already."
"Why, so I have," cried Joan. "Here. I'd forgotten all about it!"
Nothing could have suited the old lady so well. Her husband could
not have said anything more right if he had been prompted. "Of
course you have," she said, with a cackle of laughter. "I had
forgotten it too. Mr. Harley, can you believe our overlooking the
fact that there is a most excellent house in the family a gunshot
from where we are all sitting? It's natural enough for me, who have
never met Joan's young husband. But for you, my love, who spent such
a romantic night there! Where are your wits?"
Joan's laugh rang out. "Goodness knows, but I really had forgotten
all about it. And although I've only been in it once I've known it
by sight all my life. Martin's father had it built, Papa George, and
it's awfully nice and sporting, with kennels, and tennis courts, and
"Yes, and beautifully furnished, I remember. I dined there several
times, years ago before Mr. Gray had--" Mrs. Harley drew up short.
Mrs. Ludlow finished the sentence. "A little quarrel with me," she
said. "I objected to his hounds scrambling over this property and
wrote pithily to that effect. We never spoke again. My dear, while
we are all together, why not personally conduct us over this country
house of yours and give us an unaccustomed thrill of excitement."
"Yes, do, darling," said Mrs. Harley. "George would love to see it."
"I will," said Joan. "I'd adore to. I don't know a bit what it's
like, except the hall and the library. It will come as a perfect
surprise to me."
"A very perfect surprise," said Mrs. Ludlow.
Joan sprang to her feet. "Let's go now. No time like the present."
"Well," said Mrs. Harley cautiously, though equally keen.
"No, no, not to-night. Bear with your aged grandparents. Besides,
the housekeeper and the other servants will probably be in bed. To-
morrow now, early--"
"All right," said Joan. "To-morrow then, directly after breakfast.
Fancy forgetting that one possessed a country house. It's almost
alarming." And she put her hands on her grandfather's shoulders. and
bent down and kissed him. She was excited and thrilled. It was her
house because it was Martin's, and soon she would be Martin's too.
And they would spend a real honeymoon in the place in which they had
sat together in the dark and laid their whispered plans for the
great adventure. How good that would be!
And when she went back to the piano and rattled off a fox trot,
Grandmother Ludlow got up and hobbled out of the room, on her
tapping stick, to hide her glee.
It was ten o'clock when Joan stood once more in the old, familiar
bedroom in which she had slept all through her childhood and
Nothing had been altered since the night from which she dated the
beginning of her life. Her books were in the same places. Letters
from her school friends were in the same neat pile on her desk. The
things that she had been obliged to leave on her dressing-table had
not been touched. A framed photograph of her mother, with her hands
placed in the incredible way that is so dear to the photographer's
heart, still hung crooked over a colonial chest of drawers. Her blue
and white bath wrap was in its place over the back of a chair, with
her slippers beneath it.
She opened the door of the hospitable closet. There were all the
clothes and shoes and hats that she had left. She drew out a drawer
in the chest. Nothing had been disturbed. . . . It was uncanny. She
seemed to have been away for years. And yet, as she looked about and
got the familiar scent of the funny little lavender sachets made by
Mrs. Nye, she found it hard to believe that Marty and Gilbert
Palgrave, the house in New York, all the kaleidoscope of Crystal
rooms and restaurants, all the murmur of voices and music and
traffic were not the elusive memories of last night's dream. But for
the longing for Marty that amounted to an absorbing, ever-present
homesickness, it was difficult to accept the fact that she was not
still the same early-to-bed, early-to-rise country girl, kicking
against the pricks, rebelling against the humdrum daily routine,
spoiling to try her wings.
"Dear old room," she whispered, suddenly stretching out her arms to
it. "My dear old room. I didn't think I'd miss you a little bit. But
I have. I didn't think I should be glad to get back to you. But I
am. What are you doing to me to make me feel a tiny pain in my
heart? You're crowding all the things I did here and all the things
I thought about like a thousand white pigeons round my head. All my
impatient sighs, and big ambitions, and silly young hopes and fears
are coming to meet me and make me want to laugh and cry. But it
isn't the same me that you see; it isn't. You haven't changed, dear
old room, but I have. I'm different. I'm older. I'm not a kid any
more. I'm grown up. Oh, my dear, dear old room, be kind to me, be
gentle with me. I haven't played the game since I went away or been
honest. I've been thoughtless, selfish and untamed. I've done all
the wrong things. I've attracted all the wrong people. I've sent
Marty away, Marty--my knight--and I want him back. I want to make up
to him bigly, bigly for what I ought to have done. Be kind to me, be
kind to me."
And she closed her arms as if in an embrace and put her head down as
though on the warm breast of an old friend and the good tears ran
down her cheeks.
All the windows were open. The air was warm and scented. There was
no sound. The silent voices of the stars sang their nightly anthem.
The earth was white with magic moonshine. Joan looked out. The old
creeper down which she had climbed to go to Martin that night which
seemed so far away was all in leaf. With what exhilaration she had
dropped her bag out. Had ever a girl been so utterly careless of
consequences then as she? How wonderfully and splendidly Martinish
Martin had been when she plunged in upon him, and how jolly and
homelike the hall of his house--her house--had seemed to be. To-
morrow she would explore it all and show it off to her family. To-
morrow. . . . Yes, but to-night? Should she allow herself to be
carried away by a sudden longing to follow her flying footsteps
through the woods, pretend that Martin was waiting for her and take
a look at the outside of the house alone? Why not? No one need know,
and she had a sort of aching to see the place again that was so
essentially a part of Martin. Martin--Martin--he obsessed her, body
and brain. If only she could find Martin.
With hasty fingers she struggled with the intricate hooks of her
evening frock. Out of it finally, and slipping off her silk
stockings and thin shoes she went quickly to the big clothes closet,
chose a short country skirt, a pair of golf stockings, thick shoes
and a tam-o'-shanter, made for the drawer in which were her sport
shirts and sweaters and before the old round-faced clock on the
mantelpiece could recover from his astonishment became once more the
Joan-all-alone for whom he had ticked away the hours. Then to the
window, and hand over hand down the creeper again and away across
the sleeping garden to the woods.
The fairies were out. Their laughter was blown to her like
thistledown. But she was a woman now and only Martin called her--
Martin who had married her for love but was not her husband yet. Oh,
where was Martin?
And as she went quickly along the winding path through the trees the
moon dropped pools of light in her way, the scrub oaks threw out
their arms to hold her back and hosts of little shadows seemed to
run out to catch at her frock. But on went Joan, just to get a sight
of the house that was Martin's and hers and to cast her spirit
forward to the time when he and she would live there as they had not
lived in the city.
She marvelled and rejoiced at the change that had come over her,--
gradually, underminingly,--a change, the seeds of which had been
thrown by Alice, watered by Palgrave and forced by the disappearance
of Martin, and brought to bloom in the silent hours of wakeful
nights when the thought of all the diffidence and deference of
Martin won her gratitude and respect. In the strong, frank and
rather harsh light that had been flung on her way of life it was
Martin, Martin, who stood out clean and tender and lenient--Martin,
who had developed from the Paul of the woods, the boy chum, her
fellow adventurer, her sexless Knight, into the man who had won her
love and whom she needed and ached for and longed to find. She had
been brought up with a round turn, found herself face to face with
the truth of things and, deaf to the incessant jangle of the Merry-
go-round, had discovered that Martin was not merely the gallant and
obliging boy, playing a game, trifling on the edge of reality, but
the man with the other blade of the penknife who, like his prototype
in the fairy tale, had the ordained right to her as she had to him.
And as she went on through the silvered trees, with a sort of
dignity, her chin high, her eyes sparkling like stars, her mouth
soft and sweet, it was to see the roof under which she would begin
her married life again, rightly, honestly and as a woman, crossing
the bridge between thoughtlessness and responsibility with a true
sense of its meaning,--not in cold blood.
She came out to the road, dry and white, bordered by coarse grasses
and wild flowers all asleep, with their petals closed over their
eyes, opened the gate that led into the long avenue, splashed
through the patches of moonlight on the driveway and came finally to
the door under which she had stood that other time with dancing eyes
and racing blood and "Who cares?" ringing in her head.
There was no light to be seen in any of the front windows. The house
seemed to be fast asleep. How warm and friendly and unpretentious it
looked, and there was all about it the same sense of strength that
there was about Martin. In which window had they stood in the dark,
looking out on to a world that they were going to brave together?
Was it in the right wing? Yes. She remembered that tree whose
branches turned over like a waterfall and something that looked like
a little old woman in a shawl bending to pick up sticks but which
was an old stump covered with creepers.
She went round, her heart fluttering like a bird, all her femininity
stirred at the thought of what this house must mean and shelter--and
drew up short with a quick intake of breath. A wide streak of yellow
light fell through open French windows across the veranda and on to
the grass, all dew-covered. Some one was there . . . a woman's
voice, not merry, and with a break in it. . . . When the cat's away,
the mice, in the shape of one of the servants . . .
Joan went on again. What a joke to peep in! She wouldn't frighten
the girl or walk in and ask questions. It was, as yet, too much
Marty's house for that--and, after all, what harm was she doing by
sitting up on such a lovely night? The only thing was it was
Martin's very own room filled with his intimate things and with his
father's message written largely on a card over the fireplace--"We
count it death to falter, not to die."
But she went on, unsuspecting, her hand unconsciously clasped in the
stern relentless hand of Fate, who never forgets to punish. . . . A
shadow crossed the yellow patch. There was the sound of a pipe being
knocked out on one of the firedogs. A man was there, then. Should
she take one look, or go back? She would go back. It was none of her
business, unfortunately. But she was drawn on and on, until she
could see into the long, low, masculine room.
A man was sitting on the arm of a sofa, a man with square shoulders
and a deep chest, a man with his strong young face turned to the
"Marty," cried Joan. "Marty!" and went up and across the veranda and
into the room. "Why, Marty," and held out her hand, all glad and
And Martin got on his feet and stood in amazement, wide-eyed, and
"You here!" cried Joan. "I've been waiting and wondering, but I
didn't call because I wanted you to come back for yourself and not
for me. It's been a long week, Marty, and in every hour of it I've
grown. Can't you see the change?"
And Martin looked at her, and his heart leaped, and the blood blazed
in his veins and he was about to go forward and catch her in his
arms with a great cry . . .
"Oh, hello, Lady-bird; who'd have expected to see you!"
Joan wheeled to the left.
Lying full stretched on the settee, her settee, was a girl with her
hands under her bobbed hair, a blue dress caught up under one knee,
her bare arms agleam, her elfin face all white and a smile round her
too red lips.
("White face and red lips and hair that came out of a bottle.")
Martin said something, inarticulately, and moved a chair forward.
The girl spoke again, cheerily, in the spirit of good-fellowship,
astonished a little, but too comfortable to move.
But a cold hand was laid on Joan's heart, and all that rang in her
brain were the words that Alice had used,--"white face and red lips
and hair that came out of a bottle. . . . Don't YOU be the one to
turn his armor into common broadcloth."
And for a moment she stood, looking from Marty to the girl and back
to Marty, like one struck dumb, like one who draws up at the very
lip of a chasm. . . . And in that cruel and terrible minute her
heart seemed to break and die. Marty, Marty in broadcloth, and she
had put it in his hands. She had turned him away from her room and
lost him. There's not one thing that any of us can do or say that
doesn't react on some one else to hurt or bless.
With a little gasp, the sense of all this going home to her, Tootles
scrambled awkwardly off the settee, dropping a book and a
handkerchief. This, then, this beautiful girl who belonged to a
quarter of life of which she had sometimes met the men but never the
women, was Martin's wife--the wife of the man whom she loved to
"Why, then, you're--you're Mrs. Gray," she stammered, her
impertinence gone, her hail-fellow-well-met manner blown like a
Catching sight of the message, "We count it death to falter not to
die," Joan summoned her pride, put up her chin and gave a curious
little bow. "Forgive me," she said, "I'm trespassing," and not
daring to look at Marty, turned and went out. She heard him call her
name, saw his sturdy shadow fall across the yellow patch, choked
back a sob, started running, and stumbled away and away, with the
blood from her heart bespattering the grasses and the wild flowers,
and the fairies whimpering at her heels,--and, at last, climbing
back into the room that knew and loved and understood, threw herself
down on its bosom in a great agony of grief.
"Be kind to me, old room, be kind to me. It's Joan-all-alone,--all
THE GREAT EMOTION
Mrs. Alan Hosack, bearing a more than ever remarkable resemblance
to those ship's figureheads that are still to be seen in the corners
of old lumber yards, led the way out to the sun porch. Her lavish
charms, her beaming manner, her clear blue eye, milky complexion,
reddish hair, and the large bobbles and beads with which she
insisted upon decorating herself made Howard Cannon's nickname of
Cornucopia exquisitely right. She was followed by Mrs. Cooper Jekyll
and a man servant, whose arms were full of dogs and books and
"The dogs on the ground, Barrett," she said, "the books and papers
on the table there, my chair on the right-hand side of it and bring
that chair forward for Mrs. Jekyll. We will have the lemonade at
once. Tell Lestocq that I shall not want the car before lunch, ask
Miss Disberry to telephone to Mrs. John Ward Harrison and say that I
will have tea with her this afternoon with pleasure, and when those
two good little Sisters of Mercy finally arrive,--I could see them,
all sandy, struggling along the road from my room, Augusta; dear me,
what a life,--they are to be given luncheon as usual and the
envelope that is on the hall table. That will do, I think."
The man servant was entirely convinced that it would.
"And now, make yourself comfortable, dear Augusta, and tell me
everything. So very kind of you to drive over like this on such a
sunny morning. Yes, that's right. Take off that lugubrious Harem
veil,--the mark of a Southampton woman,--and let me see your
beautiful face. Before I try to give you a chance to speak I must
tell you, and I'm sure you won't mind with your keen sense of humor,
how that nice boy, Harry Oldershaw, describes those things. No,
after all, perhaps I don't think I'd better. For one reason, it was
a little bit undergraduate, and for another, I forget." She chuckled
and sat down, wabbling for a moment like an opulent blancmange.
Minus the strange dark blue thing which had hidden her ears and nose
and mouth and which suggested nothing but leprosy, Mrs. Jekyll
became human, recognizable and extremely good to look at. She wore
her tight-fitting suit of white flannel like a girl and even in that
clear detective light she did not look a day over thirty. She
painted with all the delicacy of an artist. She was there, as a
close friend of Alice Palgrave, to discover why Gilbert had not gone
with her to the Maine coast.
"I haven't heard from you since we left town," she said, beating
about the bush, "and being in the neighborhood I thought it would be
delightful to catch a glimpse of you and hear your news. I have
none, except that I have just lost the butler who has been with me
for so long, and Edmond is having his portrait painted again for
some club or institution. It's the ninth time, I believe. He likes
it. It's a sort of rest cure."
"And how did you lose that very admirable butler? Illness or
"Neither. Commerce, I suppose one might call it. It appears that one
of these get-rich-quick munition men offered him double his wages to
leave me, and Derbyshire couldn't resist it. He came to me with
tears in his eyes and told me that he had to make the sacrifice
owing to the increased cost of living. He has a family, you know. He
said that the comic atmosphere of his new place might bring on
neuritis, but he must educate his three boys. Really, there is a
great deal of unsung heroism in the world, isn't there? In the
meantime, I am trying to get accustomed to a Swiss, who's probably a
German spy and who will set up a wireless installation on the roof."
Then she dropped her baited hook. "You have a large house party, I
"Yes," said Mrs. Hosack, swinging her foot to keep the flies away.
The wind was off the land.
"Primrose is so depressed if the house isn't full. And so the
d'Oylys are here,--Nina more Junoesque than ever and really quite
like an Amazon in bathing clothes; Enid Ouchterlony, a little
bitter, I'm afraid, at not being engaged to any one yet,--men are
horribly scared of an intelligent girl and, after all, they don't
marry for intelligence, do they?--Harry Oldershaw, Frank Milwood and
Courtney Millet, all nice boys, and I almost forgot to add, Joan
Gray, that charming girl. My good man is following at her heels like
a bob-tailed sheep dog. Poor old dear! He's arrived at that pathetic
period of a man's life when almost any really blond girl still in
her teens switches him into a second state of adolescence and makes
him a most ridiculous object--what the novelists call the 'Forty-
nine feeling,' I believe."
Bennett brought the lemonade and hurried away before his memory
could be put to a further strain. "Tell me about Joan Gray," said
Mrs. jekyil, letting out her line. "There's probably no truth in it,
but I hear that she and Martin have agreed to differ. How quickly
these romantic love matches burn themselves out. I always say that a
marriage made in Heaven breaks up far sooner than one made on earth.
It has so much farther to fall. Whose fault is it, hers or his?"
Mrs. Hosack bent forward and endeavored to lower her voice. She was
a kind-hearted woman who delighted to see every one happy and
normal. "I'm very worried about those two, my dear," she answered.
"There are all sorts of stories afloat,--one to the effect that
Martin has gone off with a chorus girl, another that Joan only
married him to get away from her grandparents and a third that they
quarreled violently on the way home from church and have not been on
speaking terms since. I daresay there are many others, but whatever
did happen, and something evidently did, Joan is happy enough, and
every man in the house is sentimental about her. Look out there, for
Mrs. Jekyll followed her glance and saw a girl in bathing clothes
sitting on the beach under a red and blue striped umbrella encircled
by the outstretched forms of half a dozen men. Beyond, on the fringe
of a sea alive with bursting breakers, several girls were bathing
"H'm," said Mrs. Jekyll. "I should think that the second story is
the true one. A tip-tilted nose, chestnut hair and brown eyes are
better to flirt with than marry. Well, I must run away if I'm to be
back to lunch. I wish I could stay, but Edmond and his artist may
kill my new butler unless I intervene. They are both hotly pro-Ally.
By the way, I hear that Alice Palgrave has gone to the Maine coast
with her mother, who is ill again; I wonder where Gilbert is going?"
"Well, I had a very charming letter from him two days ago, asking me
if he could come and stay with us. He loves this house and the
beach, and I always cheer him up, he said, and he is very lonely
without Alice. Of course I said yes, and he will be here this
Whereupon, having landed her fish, Mrs. Jekyll rose to go. Gilbert
Palgrave and Joan Gray,--there was truth in that story, as she had
thought. She had heard of his having been seen everywhere with Joan
night after night, and her sister-in-law, who lived opposite to the
little house in East Sixty-seventh Street, had seen him leaving in
the early hours of the morning more than once. A lucky strike,
indeed. Intuition was a wonderful gift. She was highly pleased with
"Good-by, my dear," she said. "I will drive over again one day this
week and see how you are all getting on in this beautiful corner of
the world. My love to Prim, please, and do remember me to the little
And away she went, leaving Mrs. Hosack to wonder what was the
meaning of her rather curious smile. Only a hidebound prejudice on
the part of the Ministries of all the nations has precluded women
from the Diplomatic Service.
"Ah, here you are," said Hosack, scrambling a little stiffly out of
a hammock. "Well, have you had a good ride?"
Joan came up the steps with Harry Oldershaw, the nice boy. She was
in white linen riding kit, with breeches and brown top boots. A
man's straw hat sat squarely on her little head and there was a
brown and white spotted tie under her white silk collar. Color
danced on her cheeks, health sparkled in her eyes and there was a
laugh of sheer high spirits floating behind her like the blown
petals of a daisy.
"Perfectly wonderful," she said. "I love the country about here,
with the little oaks and sturdy ferns. It's so springy. And aren't
the chestnut trees in the village a sight for the blind? I don't
wonder you built a house in Easthampton, Mr. Hosack. Are we too late
Hosack ran his eyes over her and blinked a little as though he had
looked at the sun. "Too late by an hour," he said, with a sulky
glance at young Oldershaw. "I thought you were never coming back."
His resentment of middle age and jealousy of the towering youth of
the sun-tanned lad who had been Joan's companion were a little
Harry caught his look and laughed with the sublime audacity of one
who believes that he ranks among the Immortals. To him forty-nine
seemed to be a colossal sum of years, almost beyond belief. It was
pathetic of this old fellow to imagine that he had any right to the
company of a girl so springlike as Joan. "If we hadn't worn the
horses to a frazzle," he said, "we shouldn't have been back till
dark. Have a drink, Joan?"
"Yes, water. Buckets of it. Hurry up, Harry."
The boy, triumphant at being in favor, swung away, and Joan flung
her crop on to a cane sofa. "Where's everybody?" she asked.
"What's it matter," said Hosack. "Sit here and talk to me for a
change. I've hardly had a word with you all day." He caught her hand
and drew her into the swinging hammock. "What a pretty thing you
are," he added, with a catch in his breath. "I know," said Joan.
"Otherwise, probably, I shouldn't be here, should I?" She forgot all
about him, and an irresistible desire to tease, at the sight of the
sea which, a stone's throw from the house, pounded on the yellow
sweep of sand and swooped up in large half circles of glistening
water. "I've a jolly good mind to have another dip before changing.
What do you say?"
"No, don't," said Hosack, a martyr to the Forty-nine-feeling.
"Concentrate on me for ten minutes, if only because, damn it, I'm
Joan pushed his hand away. "I've given up concentrating," she said.
"I gave it a turn a little while ago, but it led nowhere, so why
worry? I'm on the good old Merry-go-round again, and if it doesn't
whack up to the limit of its speed I'll know the reason why. There's
a dance at the Club to-night, isn't there?"
"Yes, but we don't go."
She was incredulous. "Don't go,--to a dance? Why?"
"It's rather a mixed business," he said. "The hotel pours its crowd
out. It isn't amusing. We can dance here if you want to."
But her attention was caught by young Oldershaw who came out
carrying a glass and a jug of iced water. She sprang up and went to
meet him, the dance forgotten, Hosack forgotten. Her mood was that
of a bird, irresponsible, restless. "Good for you," she said, and
drank like a thirsty plant. "Nothing like water, is there?" She
smiled up at him.
He was as pleased with himself as though he owned the reservoir.
"Have another ?"
"I should think so." And she drank again, put the glass down on the
first place that came to hand, relieved him of the jug, put it next
to the glass, caught hold of his muscular arm, ran him down the
steps, and along the board path to the beach. "I'll race you to the
sea," she cried, and was off like a mountain goat. He was too young
to let her beat him and waited for her with the foam frothing round
his ankles and a broad grin on his attractive face.
He was about to cheek her when she held up a finger and with a
little exclamation of delight pointed to the sky behind the house.
The sun was setting among a mass of royal clouds. A golden wand had
touched the dunes and the tips of the scrub and all over the green
of the golf course, still dotted with scattered figures, waves of
reflected lusters played. To the left of the great red ball one
clear star sparkled like an eye. Just for a moment her lips trembled
and her young breasts rose and fell, and then she threw her head up
and wheeled round and went off at a run. Not for her to think back,
or remember similar sights behind the woods near Marty's place. Life
was too short for pain. "Who Cares?" was her motto once more, and
this time joy-riding must live up to its name.
Harry Oldershaw followed, much puzzled at Joan's many quick changes
of mood. Several times during their irresponsible chatter on the
beach between dips her laughter had fallen suddenly, like a dead
bird, and she had sat for several minutes as far away from himself
and the other men as though they were cut off by a thick wall.
Yesterday, in the evening after dinner, during which her high
spirits had infected the whole table, he had walked up and down the
board path with her under the vivid white light of a full moon, and
she had whipped out one or two such savage things about life that he
had been startled. During their ride that afternoon, too, her
bubbling chatter of light stuff about people and things had several
times shifted into comments as to the conventions that were so
careless as to make him ask himself whether they could really have
come from lips so fresh and young. And why had that queer look of
almost childlike grief come into her eyes a moment ago at the sight
of ah everyday sunset? He was mightily intrigued. She was a queer
kid, he told himself, as changeable and difficult to follow as some
of the music by men with such weird names as Rachmaninoff and
Tschaikowsky that his sister was so precious fond of playing. But
she was unattached and frightfully pretty and always ready for any
fun that was going, and she liked him more than the others, and he
liked being liked, and although not hopelessly in love was ready and
willing and even anxious to be walked on if she would acknowledge
his existence in no other way. It was none of his business, he told
himself, to speculate as to what she was trying to hide away in the
back of her mind, from herself as well as from everybody else. This
was his last vacation as a Yale man, and he was all out to make the
most of it.
As soon as he was at her side she ran her hand through his arm and
fell into step. The shadow had passed, and her eyes were dancing
again. "It appears that the Hosacks turn up their exclusive noses at
the club dances," she said. "What are we going to do about it?"
"There's one to-night, isn't there? Do you want to go?"
"Of course I do. I haven't danced since away back before the great
wind. Let's sneak off after dinner for an hour without a word to a
soul and get our fill of it. There's to be a special Jazz band to-
night, I hear, and I simply can't keep away. Are you game, Harry? "
"All the way," said young Oldershaw, "and it will be the first time
in the history of the Hosacks that any members of their house
parties have put in an appearance at the club at night. No wonder
Easthampton has nicknamed the place St. James's Palace, eh?"
Joan shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, my dear boy," she said, "life's
too short for all that stuff, and there's no hobby so painful as
cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. And, after all, what's
the matter with Easthampton people? I'd go to a chauffeurs' ball if
the band was the right thing. Wouldn't you?"
"With you," said Harry. "Democracy forever!"
"Oh, I'm not worrying about democracy. I'm out for a good time under
any conditions. That's the only thing that matters. Now let's go
back and change. It's too late to bathe. I'll wear a new frock to-
night, made for fox-trotting, and if Mrs. Hosack wants to know where
we've been when we come back as innocent as spring lambs, leave it
to me. Men can't lie as well as women can."
"It won't be Mrs. Hosack who'll ask," said Harry. "Bridge will do
its best to rivet her ubiquitous mind. It's the old man who'll be
peeved. He's crazy about you, you know."
Joan laughed. "He's very nice and means awfully well and all that,"
she said, "but of course he isn't to be taken seriously. No men of
middle age ought to be. They all say the same things with the same
expressions as though they got them from the same books, and their
gambolling makes their joints creak. It's all like playing with a
fire of damp logs. I like something that can blaze and scorch. The
game counts then."
"Then you ought to like me," said Harry, doing his best to look the
very devil of a fellow. Even he had to join in Joan's huge burst of
merriment. He had humor as well as a sense of the ridiculous, and
the first made it possible for him to laugh at himself,--a rare and
disconcerting gift which would utterly prevent his ever entering the
"You might grow a moustache and wax the tips, Harry," she said, when
she had recovered sufficiently well to be able to speak. "Curl your
hair with tongs and take dancing lessons from a tango lizard or go
in for a course of sotto voce sayings from a French portrait
painter, but you'd still remain the Nice Boy. That's why I like you.
You're as refreshing and innocuous as a lettuce salad, and you may
glare as much as you like. I hope you'll never be spoilt. Come on.
We shall be late for dinner." And she made him quicken his step
through the dry sand.
Being very young he was not quite sure that he appreciated that type
of approval. He had liked to imagine that he was distinctly one of
the bold bad boys, a regular dog and all that. He had often talked
that sort of thing in the rooms of his best chums whose mantelpieces
were covered with the photographs of little ladies, and he hoarded
in his memory two episodes at least of jealous looks from engaged
men. But, after all, with Joan, who was married, although it was
difficult to believe it, it wouldn't be wise to exert the whole
force of the danger that was in him. He would let her down lightly,
he told himself, and grinned as he said it. She was right. He was
only a nice boy, and that was because he had had the inestimable
luck to possess a mother who was one in a million.
The rather pretentious but extremely civilized house that stood
alone in all its glory between the sea and the sixth hole was
blazing with lights as they returned to it. The color had gone out
of the sky and other twinkling eyes had appeared, and the breeze,
now off the sea, had a sting to it. Toad soloists were trying their
voices for their evening concert in near-by water and crickets were
at work with all their well-known enthusiasm. Bennett, with a
sunburned nose, was tidying up the veranda, and some one with a nice
light touch was playing the rhythmic jingles of Jerome Kern on the
piano in the drawing-room.
Still with her hand on Harry Oldershaw's arm, Joan made her way
across the lofty hall, caught sight of Gilbert Palgrave coming
eagerly to meet her, and waved her hand.
"Oh, hello, Gilbert," she cried out. "Welcome to Easthampton," and
With a strange contraction of the heart, Palgrave watched her out of
sight. She was his dream come to life. All that he was and hoped to
be he had placed forever at her feet. Dignity, individualism,
egoism,--all had fallen before this young thing. She was water in
the desert, the north star to a man without a compass. He had seen
her and come into being.
Good God, it was wonderful and awful!
But who was that cursed boy?
Six weeks had dropped off the calendar since the night at Martin's
Facing Grandmother Ludlow in the morning with her last handful of
courage Joan had told her that she had been called back to town. She
had left immediately after breakfast in spite of the protests and
entreaties of every one, including her grandfather, down whose
wrinkled cheeks the tears had fallen unashamed. With a high head and
her best wilful manner she had presented to them all in that old
house the bluff of easy-mindedness only to burst like a bubble as
soon as the car had turned the corner into the main road. She had
gone to the little house in New York, and with a numbed heart and a
constant pain in her soul, had packed some warm-weather clothes and,
leaving her maid behind, hidden herself away in the cottage, on the
outskirts of Greenwich, of an old woman who had been in the service
of her school. As a long-legged girl of twelve she had stayed there
once with her mother for several days before going home for the
holidays. She felt like a wounded animal, and her one desire was to
drag herself into a quiet place to die.
It seemed to her then, under the first stupendous shock of finding
that Marty was with that girl, that death was the next certain
thing. Day after day and night after night, cut to the quick, she
waited for it to lay its cold hand upon her and snuff her out like a
tired candle, whose little light was meaningless in a brutal world.
Marty, even Marty, was no longer a knight, and she had put him into
Not in the sun, but in the shadow of a chestnut all big with bloom,
her days had passed in lonely suffering. Death was in the village,
that was certain. She had seen a little procession winding along the
road to the cemetery the morning after her arrival. She was ready.
Nothing mattered now that Marty, even Marty, had done this thing
while she had been waiting for him to come and take her across the
bridge, anxious to play the game to the very full, eager to prove to
him that she was no longer the kid that he thought her who had
coolly shown him her door. "I am here, Death," she whispered, "and I
want you. Come for me."
All her first feelings were that she ought to die, that she had
failed and that her disillusion as to Marty had been directly
brought about by herself. She saw it all honestly and made no
attempt to hedge. By day, she sat quietly, big-eyed, amazingly
childlike, waiting for her punishment, watched by the practical old
woman, every moment of whose time was filled, with growing
uneasiness and amazement. By night she lay awake as long as she
could, listening for the soft footstep of the one who would take her
away. At meals, the old woman bullied for she was of the school that
hold firmly to the belief that unless the people who partake of food
do not do so to utter repletion a personal insult is intended. At
other times she went out into the orchard and sat with Joan and,
burning with a desire to cheer her up, gave her, in the greatest
detail, the story of all the deaths, diseases and quarrels that had
ever been known to the village. And every day the good sun warmed
and encouraged the earth, drew forth the timid heads of plants and
flowers, gave beauty even to the odd corners once more and did his
allotted task with a generosity difficult to praise too highly. And
Death paid visits here and there but passed the cottage by. At the
beginning of the second week, Nature, who has no patience with any
attempt to refute her laws, especially on the part of those who are
young and vigorous, took Joan in hand. "What is all this, my girl?"
she said, "sitting here with your hands in your lap while everybody
and everything is working and making and preparing. Stir yourself,
bustle up, get busy, there's lots to be done in the springtime if
the autumn is to bear fruit. You're sound and whole for all that
you've been hurt. If you were not, Death would be here without your
calling him. Up you get, now." And, with good-natured roughness, she
laid her hand under Joan's elbow, gave a hoist and put her on her
Whereupon, in the natural order of things, Joan turned from self-
blame to find a victim who should be held responsible for the pain
that she had suffered, and found the girl with the red lips and the
white face and the hair that came out of a bottle. Ah, yes! It was
she who had caught Marty when he was hurt and disappointed. It was
she who had taken advantage of his loneliness and dragged him clown
to her own level, this girl whom she had called Fairy and who had
had the effrontery to go up to the place on the edge of the woods
that was the special property of Marty and herself. And for the rest
of the week, with the sap running eagerly in her veins once more,
she moved restlessly about the orchard and the garden, heaping coals
of fire on to the all too golden head of Tootles.
Then came the feeling of wounded pride, the last step towards
convalescence. Marty had chosen between herself and this girl.
Without giving her a real chance to put things right he had slipped
away silently and taken Tootles with him. Not she, but the girl with
the red lips and the pale face and the hair that came out of a
bottle had stripped Marty of his armor, and the truth of it was that
Marty, yes, even Marty, was not really a knight but a very ordinary
Out of the orchard and the garden she went, once she had arrived at
this stage, and tramped the countryside with her ears tuned to catch
the alluring strains of the mechanical music of the Round-about. She
had not only been making a fool of herself but had been made to look
a fool, she thought. Her pain and suffering and disillusion had been
wasted. All these dull and lonely days had been wasted and thrown
away. Death must have laughed to see her sitting in the shadow of
the apple trees waiting for a visit that was undeserved. Marty could
live and enjoy himself without her. That was evident. Very well,
then, she could live and enjoy herself without Marty. The earth was
large enough for them both, and if he could find love in the person
of that small girl she coul surely find it in one or other of the
men who had whispered in her ear. Also there was Gilbert Palgrave,
who had gone down upon his knees.
And that was the end of her isolation, her voluntary retirement.
Back she went to the City of Dreadful Nonsense, bought clothes and
shoes and hats, found an invitation to join a house party at
Southampton, made no effort to see or hear from Marty, and sprang
back into her seat in the Merry-go-round. "Who Cares?" she cried
again. "Nobody," she answered. "What I do with my life matters to no
one but myself. Set the pace, my dear, laugh and flirt and play with
fire and have a good time. A short life and a merry one."
And then she joined the Hosacks, drank deep of the wine of
adulation, and when, at odd times, the sound of Marty's voice echoed
in her memory, she forced it out and laughed it away. "Who Cares?"
was his motto too,--red lips and white face and hair that came out
of a bottle!
And now here was Gilbert Palgrave with the fire of love in his eyes.
When Mrs. Hosack rose from the dinner table and sailed Olympically
into the drawing-room, surrounded by graceful light craft in the
persons of Primrose and her girl friends, the men, as usual,
followed immediately. The house was bridge mad, and the tables
called every one except Joan, the nice boy, and Gilbert Palgrave.
During the preliminaries of an evening which would inevitably run
into the small hours, Joan went over to the piano and, with what was
a quite unconscious touch of irony, played one of Heller's
inimitable "Sleepless Nights," with the soft pedal down. The large
imposing room, a chaotic mixture of French and Italian furniture
with Flemish tapestries and Persian rugs, which accurately typified
the ubiquitous mind of the hostess, was discreetly lighted. The
numerous screened windows were open and the soft warm air came in
tinged with the salt of the sea.
Palgrave, refusing to cut in, stood about like a disembodied spirit,
with his eyes on Joan, from whom, since his arrival, he had received
only a few fleeting glances. He watched the cursed boy, as he had
labelled him, slip over to her, lean across the piano and talk
eagerly. He went nearer and caught, "the car in half an hour," and
"not a word to a soul." After which, with jealousy gnawing at his
vitals, he saw Harry Oldershaw moon about for a few minutes and then
make a fishlike dart out of the room. He had been prepared to find
Joan amorously surrounded by the men of the party but not on terms
of sentimental intimacy with a smooth-faced lad. In town she had
shown preference for sophistication. He went across to the piano and
waited impatiently for Joan to finish the piece which somehow fitted