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  • 1919
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tramples and chokes and freezes them until it’s a wonder they evaire do blossom at all. And di-_rectly_ they do–the world’s surprised–huh– I should think it would be! It’s not fair. It’s all wrong. When I find the Portia Person I shall do something, I shall buy the church next door and I shall make a school. It shall be a school where you learn to do one useful thing that will earn your bread and butter. And the rest of the time–you shall dream.” Babiche was a patient listener. But even Babiche yawned at all the Utopian theories with which her mistress would reform the world.

Do you remember the chauffeur who promised Felice a “joy-ride”? Can’t you see his fatuous grin one day as he listened to a drawling young- sounding voice over the telephone of Seeley’s Boarding house, a voice that he couldn’t remember at all, demurely saying,

“You said you’d give me a joy-ride sometime if I had a new bonnet–I have. I really look like anybody else now. I do need that joy-ride just now, could you come for me?”

But can’t you see that chauffeur’s rueful smile when he reached the address she gave him and saw a nurse bringing the palefaced Painter Boy out the hospital door? Felice ran ahead of them, breathless with achievement.

“He is doing vairee nicely. His leg is better. It’s only his spirit that’s rather drowned, so I thought if he had a joy-ride and we took him home–“

At least Janet found comfort from the fact that the Painter Boy was the last pauper to be added to the list–there weren’t any rooms or beds for any more! But the house hummed with their activities, rang with their arguments and theories, echoed with their laughter–and sighed with their midnight tears. They were so young! So impatient! So eager to set the river of life afire!

Dinner time was a joy. They usually had dinner in the garden and dinner was always THE DISH! Even with Janet’s fingers on the purse strings and Molly’s capable hands in the mixing the slender funds would not stretch to more than–THE DISH. It might be a huge Irish stew, or something Molly called Dago Puddin’ (there never was such spaghetti as her Dago Puddin’) or a gigantic pie made of pigeons that had to cook all day to become edible. Sometimes Molly “slipped ’em somethin'” that she claimed was left from her catering business, but usually they ate only what their pooled funds could pay for and leaned back content to listen while Felice “pretended” or scolded or encouraged them; her leadership was utterly unconscious, her calm assumption that she was a very old lady hypnotized them into thinking she was. She made no rules or regulations. She frankly let them know that perhaps they could live there a day or perhaps a century; that the length of residence depended on the finding of the elusive, untraceable Portia Person. They all searched ardently for him. They all knew that when they “made good” they would have to find some fellow who hadn’t and help him. Already Octavia’s motto was lettered under her lovely portrait over the drawing-room fireplace in the charming simulation of medieval script that the Poetry Girl loved to make,

“She would like you to be happy here. You can’t be truly happy if you are
making anyone else unhappy.”

The days swept by so fast, Felicia brave as she was, didn’t dare count them! Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, oh, it seemed as though they surely must find the Portia Person now that they were all looking! Yet each one in his heart generously hoped it would be Felicia herself who found him.

In spite of her high resolves to learn to “like to be a by-the-day” she found some days impossible.

She grew to hate Thursdays. Sometimes it seemed as though she couldn’t please anybody on Thursday. Thursday meant that she sewed in households that suffered from a feverish complaint known as Maid’s- Day-Out. Thursdays always seemed to be associated with worse and more hurried luncheons than other days–Thursdays she had to open doors and answer telephones–she used to think sometimes she could have stood all the other days if it hadn’t been for Thursdays.

One Thursday in particular stood out as a terrific day. To begin with it rained. A drizzling, penetrating, gloomy kind of a rain that brought her into the Woman’s Exchange exceedingly moist, and seemed to have permanently warped whatever courtesy time had left in the soul of the Disagreeable Walnut.

“–to Eighteen Willow Court–” grumbled the cross old woman sliding a card with the address across the littered counter to Felice.

One comfort was, Willow Court was not far and the “Eighteen” was emblazoned in enormous gilt letters over an elaborate plate-glass entrance. It was Felice’s first apartment house experience. She walked with humble awe through an enormous mirrored hallway lined with the largest, dustiest, artificial foliage that ever disgraced vegetation.

An intolerant colored boy, pompous in green-and-gilt livery eyed her insolently. She stated her errand.

“The help’s entrance is on the side street,” he informed her impudently. “You turn right around and go right out where you just came in and go around to the side where I tells you and go in there and you tell Joe I sent you. If he hain’t too busy maybe he’ll run you up on the freight elevator, but if he is you can walk. It’s apartment 41, fourth floor, front.”

Ah, you should have seen Octavia’s daughter, tired and little and dripping and frumpy, lift her chin and look through and through that impudent Senegambian! He confessed afterward she looked so like somebody’s high-toned ghost that it had sent the shivers down his spine. And just when he was ready to hear the wrath that her eyes threatened she turned abruptly and walked away so regally that he found himself muttering,

“I didn’t notice she was such a high-stepping lady–“

The service entrance and Joe and the freight elevator conquered, she found herself face to face with new insolence, this time from a frowsy maid who led her grudgingly into the living-room that stretched across the front of the apartment. From ornate curtains a plump and fretful woman emerged,

“You’re fifteen minutes late–she said she’d send some one at eight o’clock–but come along, sew in the children’s bedroom–“

Felice followed through the whole untidy apartment into the narrow cluttered room. It appeared that the children were not yet dressed nor had their beds been put in order and they sat, two weedy pallid- looking mites, in the midst of a tremendous heap of broken toys and fought desperately for the possession of an eyeless, hairless carcass of a doll. A sewing machine piled high with garments was in front of the one broad window that opened on the gloomy whiteness of the court. An overturned basket, from which oozed tangled spools and myriads of buttons, lay on the floor in front of the machine. A stiff-backed gilt chair stood beside it.

“I cut out some pinafores yesterday,” continued the fretful voice, “I wish you would run up the seams of those on the machine–french-seam them, please–and if I get time I’ll show you how I want the collars– “

Felicia stood, absurdly little beside her plump employer, and spoke the first words she’d been given opportunity to utter,

“Good morning, Madame,” she said in her clear contralto, “I think you do not understand. The Exchange should have told you that I am a needle-woman–that I do only hand work–I do not understand sewing machines–“

“Not understand sewing machines!” shrilled the kimonoed one, “why anybody with any sense at all can run a sewing machine–“

Felicia smiled her wide ingenuous smile.

“I am not any one at all–but it so happens that I cannot use a sewing machine. Perhaps I can please you with my needle. Or, I can go home.” “You can’t do anything of the kind. It’s the maid’s day out and I have to go to a matinee and I’d counted on you to watch the children–” she shook her head in exasperation. “Well, take off your hat, don’t stand there gawping. I suppose I’ll have to put up with it. Do you know enough to sew on buttons and mend stockings?”

Felicia looked at her curiously for a moment. She couldn’t think of any flower or any vegetable that this strange creature was like, or any weed for that matter, and it’s very hard to keep the garden of a day in order when strange unexpected things spring up in it. She took off her hat and her dripping coat. She seated herself in the silly chair and began to make something like order out of the mess of crumpled things before her.

Somehow or other the dreadful day limped along. The children howled while they were dressed. Their mother by turns nagged or cajoled them from one crying spell into another. The frowsy maid pulled the covers untidily over the two little beds and half-heartedly picked up a few of the toys and dumped them in a closet. Felicia’s delicate fingers guided her needle back and forth making exquisite darns and patches in small petticoats and dresses. One grudging word of approval did her plump and fretful employer allow her.

“You certainly can sew, but you needn’t bother to take such small stitches–I wish you’d stop fussing with that and press my frock–“

An ironing board added itself to the other confusion. Propped up between the sewing machine and the uneven metal footboard of a child’s crib Felicia eyed it with misgiving. She almost laughed aloud.

“Do you think you’d better risk it with me, Madame?” she asked. “I am not what-you-call-a-blanchisseuse–I have never held a flat-iron–” she was smiling because she was thinking of Grandy’s inflexible order “never let her hand be spread on any heavy object.”

She lived through My Lady Fretfulness’s tirade at this appalling ignorance. She again patiently explained that she was sorry The Exchange had let Madame misunderstand.

“I am only a needlewoman for hand work,” she reiterated. “I know only embroidery and mending and knitting and the beading of purses–as they should have informed you–“

The crisis was tided over by the frowsy maid being summoned to press the frock while Felice corralled various hooks and eyes, mended a rip in a stocking heel, helped to fasten the pressed frock around a stiffly corseted person, breathed a patient “yes” to numerous instructions about the children’s lunch. She sighed with relief when two o’clock heard the door bang after a second grand exit when a caricatured edition of the mistress passed out in the form of “Sadie’s Thursday out.”

Not that things were exactly placid after those two disrupting influences had fled to their pleasures. The rain dripped more steadily, the pile of garments heaped upon the sewing machine never seemed to grow less. The children ate the lunches that Felicia found in the half tidied kitchen. The little woman herself carried a plate of not unappetising scraps into the ornate mahogany dining-room, rummaged for a knife and fork and sat down to eat, much to the disapproval of the scraggly nine-year-old who informed her with unconscious imitation of the mother’s manner that “Mama doesn’t allow her servants to eat in here–“

Followed a bumping, dragging, nerve-racking afternoon that made Felicia long to shriek like the raucous-voiced peddler who had disturbed her precious early morning sleep. By four o’clock things had become unendurable: She viewed her squabbling charges with scorn. They behaved no better nor no worse than “the-thousand-weeds-for-which-we- have-no-name–” yet a spirit of fairness roused itself in Felicia’s unhappy thoughts.

“After all, they’re not to blame, these two uncared-for savages!” She put down her needle and thimble, walked with a determination toward the wee contestants in a never ending fight and put her hand on the younger child’s shoulder. The child jerked away. Felicia’s hand went out more firmly this time.

“Let us go out of this room,” she said coolly. “I do not think it is possible for any one of us to be happy here any longer–“

The children stared at her. This note of authority was something they did not question. There was something in this wide-eyed pale little seamstress’ command that was unlike anything they had ever heard. They followed Felicia meekly enough. They walked quietly while she moved to the least covered and least ornate corner of the apartment–an alcove with a bookcase and a flat writing table.

“This,” announced the older child, “won’t do. It’s Faddo’s ONE CORNER and he will not let it be touched.”

Felicia laughed. “Then there is but one thing for us to do,” she announced leading her small sheep behind her. “We shall have to go back to that unhappy room and make ourselves ONE CORNER–” So back they went and watched her fling open the window. They obeyed her commands without murmuring for the next quarter of an hour. They helped her smooth their lumpy beds. They helped her stack the wrecked toys into an orderly heap. They helped her fold the heaps of mended and unmended garments. And when it was done she sat down on the floor on her knees as she had knelt so many times in her garden and smiled at them. She drew a long breath. You must remember that she had never known a child except that strange child: _herself_. She could only treat them as she had treated the lost flowers in her garden. Or perhaps, she thought, she could try treating them as she treated Babiche, but in another thoughtful second–(during which she nearly lost their strangely won attention)–she clapped her hands. Those scowls on their puckered little foreheads were like Grandfather’s in the old days when he had been wrangling with Certain Legal Matters. She seemed to hear her mother’s happy voice:

“It’s not easy. But it’s a game too. You see some one who is tired or cross or worried and you think ‘This isn’t pleasant.’ Maybe you play a little on your lute, maybe you tell something droll that happened in the kennel or the garden–“

She drew another long breath, “Let’s pretend–” she began in her low contralto “let’s pretend I have a little lute to make music for you.” She sunk back on a hassock and held her arms in position for playing a lute. The children settled in crossed legged heaps and regarded her solemnly.

“I haven’t really a lute of course, so I shall have to whistle instead of playing the strings and I can’t sing any words while I’m whistling so I shall have to tell you the story before I make the song–the first little song I’m going to do on my lute is about a bridge and how the pretty ladies liked to dance across it.”

They pretended it with her rather timorously at first, but presently they were singing “sur le pont d’Avignon.” A door swung open and a grizzled man in a dripping raincoat blocked the doorway. The children looked around at him.

“Go away, Papa,” ordered the older one casually. “We are pretending.” He laughed.

“And why, may I ask, shouldn’t I be allowed to pretend with you?”

“Will you let him pretend with us?” the child asked Felicia gravely. And, Felicia looking at the tired face of the man in the doorway, nodded. He sat down on the edge of the larger bed and if Felicia was aware of him after that she didn’t let him know it. Precious golden moments of happiness began to drip into the little room as incessantly as the silvery gray drops of the rain fell outside.

“This,” confided Felicia “is a story about a girl who wanted to write a letter. She was a very pretty girl, a French girl. Do you understand French? I don’t very well. I didn’t learn it when I was little like you–so we’ll tell it in English the way Margot–who is a nice fat, comfortable woman who lives in the little house in the woods right beside my big house in the woods–tells me. I’ll whistle the gay tune about the girl who is going to write the letter until you can sing it with a tra-la-la-la so–and then while you make the music we’ll pretend I’m the girl who wants Peirrot to open his door so she can write the letter by the moonlight because her candle had blown out. Her fire was quite low–she was cold,” the children shivered sympathetically, “first we will do the tune–so.”

Felicia’s beautiful lips closed. Remember that you could hardly see her lips move when she whistled and remember how very beautiful her whistle was! Such a gay little tune, that old, old tune, _Au Clair de la Lune!_ The wide-eyed children watched her, humming as she motioned. The tired man on the edge of the bed watched her, humming unconsciously as the little song sang itself into his eager ears. Higher and sweeter and faster the tripping tune came. Felice was clapping her slender hands to give them the time and now the two children and their father were singing it uproariously while Felice on her hassock gestured and spoke the words.

“–open your door, Peirrot–” Oh Margot! with your translation that should not offend your atheistic master by telling his granddaughter what _Dieu_ really means! The tired man, who’d known the song when he was a boy, was already laughing at Margot’s version. But when Felicia came to “_Pour l’amour de Dieu_” and merrily cried out “For the love of Mike” he caught up a pillow and hugged it as he howled his unholy glee. The four of them shouted together, shouted youthfully, buoyantly, savagely, not caring in the least at what they shouted.

“Oh! Oh!” exulted Felice, “how _de_-liciously happy we are–“

Under the noise of their merriment the outer door had opened and closed; the tread of overshoes pattered quietly along the hall–she stood in the doorway plump and puffing, her finery bundled clumsily under her coat. She wasn’t very pretty. It didn’t seem as if she’d ever been young, and it seemed as though she was the angriest woman in the world. And her voice thin, soprano, nasal, rose above the joyous shouting of the merry-makers.

“You didn’t know how to run the sewing machine!” she mocked the little woman who was rising from the hassock, “you didn’t know how to use the flat-iron! You were much too fine to do the work you came to do! But the minute my back is turned you sit there playing with my children–” the anger was rising higher and higher now, “and flirting with my husband–” The man arose.

“Bertha!” he exclaimed. But even above the strident shrill of the scolding and the abrupt command of the man’s voice and the frightened wail of the littlest girl, rose the cry of Felicia’s own anger. Did I say her employer was the angriest woman in the world? I was mistaken. The angriest woman in the world was Felicia Day.

Tiny in stature, absurdly dowdy she stood. She didn’t raise her voice after that first cry but its deep contralto seemed to penetrate everywhere. All the petty insults that she had endured through all the dreadful Thursdays seemed as nothing compared to the unjust assault of this unfair person.

“You’d better not talk any more,” Felicia’s clear voice interrupted the angry tirade. “Because I’m not listening and I’m sure you don’t know yourself what you’re saying. All day long I’ve been wondering what I could pretend you were like. First I pretended you were a big coarse zinnia. I don’t like zinnias at all but some people do–they are gay and bold. Part of the time I thought I’d pretend you were a weed–a rather pretty weed that chokes flowers out if you don’t watch it–but you aren’t even as much use as a weed–“

Her employer gave a little scream. She stepped closer to her husband and shook his arm a little. He was staring, as though hypnotized, at Felice.

“Stop her! Make her stop!” the woman screamed. “She’s insulting me! Make her stop!”

He pulled himself together.

“Of course you must stop!” he spoke sternly as though he were speaking to a naughty child. “You must be out of your wits to talk that way! You’d–you’d better go–” he ended tamely.

“Much better,” Felicia agreed. “But I’d much better go after I get through telling her what I’m going to pretend she is! She’s exactly like the Black Blight–that horrid black thing that makes the green leaves droop and the gay little flowers shrivel up–there’s only one thing to do to keep it from killing the whole garden–that’s to burn it out with coals!”

“Stop that!” the man commanded sharply.

Felicia coolly folded her arms.

“I can’t,” she answered quietly, “not till I’m through. For I’ve started now. Besides–” her eager words tumbled more gently now, “all the morning through she told me about things I didn’t know–things of which I was ignorant. She thought it vairee dreadful that I did not know how to work with a flat-iron–she thought it vairee stupid that I could not manage the sewing machine–and I was ashamed because I did not know vairee much–and I would be glad if she would tell me how to do these things I do not know. Now, I know something that she does not know–” she stepped very close to the amazed woman, “something I think–she will like to hear about–” a cooing sweetness crept into Felicia’s tones, the naive earnestness, the gentle candor of her appeal, silenced both the man and the woman. “She will like to hear about the way to be a mother. I know exactly the way–it’s like this– it isn’t a bit like the way you do it–” her clear eyes looked straight into those of the awed person before her. “The way you do it is not at all pretty–not at all amusing–you shout and scold and fret and ‘don’t–don’t don’t’–all the time! That’s not the way to be a mother!” Felicia’s eyes grew tender, her hand touched the woman’s hand and patted it reassuringly. “I’ll tell you the vairee best way to be a mother–evairy morning you have some one make you vairee, vairee pretty with a little lace cap and a rosy pillow–you must stay in your bed and wait till your children come to see you and then you must smile at them and speak vairee softly–this way, saying ‘Go out in the garden and be happy, my dears!’ And when they come back to you at twilight, oh so vairee happy–” her voice wavered, she was no longer looking at them, she was looking far back across the years. She shivered a little.

“That’s the time for you to say, ‘Ah, Felicia, you look as though you’d been vairee happy today–in your garden–“

The man strode toward her eagerly. He put his hands on her heaving shoulders and dragged her toward the light.

“Who are you?” he demanded sharply, “tell me quickly, who are you?”

And Felicia looked at him, still dazed, still drifting happily on the flood of her beautiful memories.

“Why, of course I know you–” she whispered gently, “I’ve been looking everywhere to find you. You’re my Portia Person–only the Portia part of you is all quite lost–“

CHAPTER VI

THE LAST PRETENDING

The Portia Person and the young lawyer bent over a long table littered with papers from the young lawyer’s portfolio and the storeroom trunks. They were sitting in the young lawyer’s room, the room that had been Grandy’s and from the mantelpiece the portrait of Grandy’s father looked down upon them. His faintly ironical smile seemed to mock their baffled efforts to disentangle the mystery. The tide wind blew in softly from the river; the lights in the quaint old gas fixtures flared waveringly, but the wide room was very still.

In Grandy’s “forty winks” leather chair by the fireside sat Felicia, her hair smoothly parted, her tiny figure trig in one of the Sculptor Girl’s much mended frocks. She sat primly upright as she always sat, but her sleek head bent itself charmingly–Felicia was knitting. She was weaving a shawl for the Wheezy, a gay red shawl. The warm glow of the wool cast a faint tinge of color upward over her pale cheeks; whenever the Portia Person or the young lawyer asked her a question, as they frequently did, she let her work rest in her lap and answered quietly, her great eyes lifted hopefully.

From the garden they could hear the faint rumble of men’s voices, the Architect and the Inventor and the Cartoonist and the Painter Boy and the two new chaps, slender Syrians; (Felicia had found them a few days before starving in a cellar where they were experimenting with reproductions of antique pottery and had brought them and their potter’s wheels and their kiln home to live in the glassed-in room. It was there in the autumn following that they perfected those wonderful bronze and turquoise glaze ceramics that delighted the whole art world)–from the nursery above came trailing the high sweet murmur of the Sculptor Girl and the Poetry Girl and the Architect’s wife and the Milliner and the folk-dance teacher–in the kitchen Janet MacGregor and Molly O’Reilly wrangled half-heartedly over religious differences but each and every one of these inimitable persons cared not a whit about the thing he or she pretended to be discussing. Each of them wanted to scream,

“What’s happening? Why don’t you say what you’ve found out? Why don’t you tell us something?”

Eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten o’clock–Molly O’Reilly couldn’t endure the suspense any longer. She cunningly stacked a tray with nut- bread sandwiches and a pitcher of milk and strode bravely up the stairs to Grandy’s room.

“Miss Day, darlint,” she called through the half opened door, “I’ve the matter of a nibble of food here–“

Felicia did not put down the knitting, she merely lifted her head.

“How sweet of you, Molly O’Reilly, come in–this is Mr. Ralph. Mr. Ralph, I know you’ll like Molly O’Reilly–” Molly put down the tray, her hands were trembling so she couldn’t trust them.

“It’s dying we all are wid curiosity, Mr. Portia Ralph. You should have a heart–” her speech was bolder than her beseeching eyes, “what wid the men all rarin’ about the bit of garden, calling, ‘Molly, isn’t she coming down?’ and the girls, calling down the kitchen tube, ‘Molly aren’t they through talking?’ I’m fair getting nervous myself–we feel like witches we’re that flighty–“

“The poor children!” Felicia sighed heavily. “Are you sure we couldn’t tell them anything?” she consulted the Portia Person anxiously. He was biting absent-mindedly into the sandwich Molly had almost shoved into his hand; he was eyeing the milk which that astute person was pouring out for him.

“Just a word, maybe,” wheedled Molly.

He smiled, a wry smile.

“We’re making some headway,” he vouchsafed, “but of course we’ve only begun really–” Molly took to herself no comfort from his casual tone. She fixed an inquiring eye on the lawyer’s despondent shoulders and went out without another word. But back in the kitchen she thumped her bread outrageously as she kneaded it,

“Lawyers is the numbskull boys,” she grumbled, “I belave none of them know their business–“

Half past ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, half past eleven–Felicia still knitted, she could no longer see what she was knitting. Her eyes were blurred with unshed tears. It wasn’t for herself that she cared, it was for all of the rest of them. From the stairway she could hear Molly’s voice comforting the Architect’s wife as they helped her down from the nursery to Maman’s room,

“Sure, they’s no need to worry. Take a peep through the door at Miss Felice. She’s just knitting whilst they confab. Sure wid a couple o’ hundred papers alyin’ there they couldn’t get through in no hurry now, could they?”

She managed to wave her hand gaily as they passed but her heart beat rebelliously. “I just can’t, can’t, can’t give up their house–oh, wherever could I put them all? I couldn’t take them to the House in the Woods. I couldn’t let them go back–oh, oh, I can’t lose their house–“

Out of the mass of things that the Portia Person had tried to make clear to her Felicia could only grasp this; that the house was hers but the taxes and interest and fines must all be paid if it were to remain hers; that Certain Legal Matters had really taken everything that had been left her from the Montrose estate; that he couldn’t be found; that there was some other property and money somewhere in France; that the Portia Person had seen some of the papers concerning it when he was a young lawyer, when Felice was a little girl; that these papers had been put into Mademoiselle’s hands for safe-keeping when Maman went away; that Mademoiselle D’Ormy was to give them to Felicia when Felicia was eighteen. But though they had ransacked every paper that they could find in the old boxes and the cupboards they could find nothing that had any bearing on the case.

Of course there was more than a possibility that Felicia might find something among Major Trenton’s effects. The Portia Person was sure that another thirty days’ stay could be secured to enable Felicia to go to the House in the Woods and see if she could find anything, but she made it quite clear to them that the old man’s mental condition precluded the probability that he could be of any help to them.

“It’s not fair–it’s not fair–” her tempestuous heart beat angrily, “Always when I seem to find what I must have, it is as though I had found nothing. This is worse than when I lost Dudley Hamilt–it’s not fair–“

She spoke the last three words aloud in her intensity, so bitterly, that the two men, packeting together the papers, turned quickly.

“It’s beastly,” agreed the Portia Person inadequately, “but you mustn’t lose hope yet–“

She caught at his glib words eagerly.

“How silly of me! It was only the Tired part of me that spoke!” She smiled. “I am like Dulcie’s Pandora a little. I have opened the box and let out all the troubles–but perhaps I haven’t let out Hope– probably everything is as right as right can be–in some of Grandy’s papers–“

She was grateful that she had this hope to hold out to her “children” –she thought of them always now as children, these folk who dwelt about her. Perhaps she caught that feeling from Molly, who mothered every one of them.

Of course the journey to the House in the Woods availed nothing. It only brought Felicia back, graver and quieter than ever. The Majorhadn’t recognized her at all. He had merely called her Louisa and forbade her to go to Paris, and Piqueur, Margot, Bele, and Zeb had poured out their little troubles to her so that the trip had left her despondent.

She went back to her work dully; she stitched as daintily and carefully as ever, but her whole spirit drooped. This was the end of all her high hopes and great dreams,–that in less than a fortnight she would have to give up the struggle.

At least she was very busy during those warm April days. She had amusing things to sew upon, little tarltan skirts for children who were to appear in a huge charitable “May Day” entertainment. They were of gay colors, those frills, like big holly-hocks, she thought as she flung the finished things into a hamper. She helped to make other costumes too, sitting with a score of seamstresses in the auditorium of one of the churches. These women talked a great deal about the entertainment. Naturally, each one of them talked only about the person or the committee who had hired her.

Yet engrossed in her anxieties for her household as she stitched and stitched Felicia listened not at all to the chatter about her. It was merely like the humming of the bees in her garden in the woods. She heard it but heeded it not, because her heart was intent upon her roses.

Because she was aware that the House would soon be taken away from her “children” she strove mightily to make these last days in it the most wonderful days in the garden of their lives. She never let them see that she feared. Just to hear her when she came home in the late afternoon was like listening to a symphony of inspiration. It began at the basement door. How she braced herself for it! How she advanced, head up, lips smiling!

A word to Janet, grumbling over her cleaning; a quick grasp of Molly’s warm hand–Molly was her hold on life in those discouraging days! Molly, God bless her, would never admit defeat! Who fought out her part in the battle! She made their slender funds nourish their hungry bodies and she took nothing from Felicia but gave herself as royally as her little lady poured out herself to the others.

There was nothing sanctimonious about Felicia’s handling of them. Like the old woman in the shoe, she scolded them “roundly.” The Sculptor Girl still laughs over a never-to-be-forgotten-day, when Felice drifted into the nursery, her arms outstretched in droll swimming motions.

“Dulcie Dierckx! How dare you let me find you weeping again! When Pandora is almost here! I do declare you’ll have to learn to swim and so will all of us if you’re going to drip tears regularly, every day at five thirty–Molly says you’re only hungry, nobody else is snivelling all over the place–“

“No, the lawyer c-c-cusses–” sobbed Dulcie.

“Then learn to cuss!” admonished Felice, but her eyes twinkled and the emotional Sculptor Girl’s eyes twinkled back through her tears–all of them were for Felice, if that despotic person had only known it. For the young lawyer had been upstairs pouring out his despondent feelings on Dulcie,

“She has just about eight days more before she’ll be dumped in the gutter, for there’s no possible way out–“

A limp lot they were in the late afternoon, after they’d struggled all day with their unruly Muses and Pegasuses!

“Wouldn’t it be droll,” Felice asked Molly one day, “if I came home too tired some night and mixed them all up! And told the Inventor I thought his feeling was poetic and told Dulcie that she was getting a wonderful color into her work and talked about soul to the Cartoonist!” Sometimes it seemed to her that of all of them the Architect, with his head bent over his drawings under his evening lamp, typified the hopelessness of the whole scheme, as he wrought so painstakingly at his detailed drawings for the re-construction of the house, drawings that couldn’t possibly ever be used! From some absurd fragment he would dreamily reconstruct–his adventures filled the house with nervous laughter.

As on the night when he discovered, high above the doorway in the bare old drawing-room, an ornate bit of copper grating that had escaped the clutches of the dirty filthy heathen. Most of the quaint old hot-tair registers–they had been wonderful bronze things–had been removed and ugly modern ones that did not fit had been substituted. But this one grating–a delightful oval affair whereon chubby Vestal Virgins lifted delicate torches, had remained intact. The reason was plain enough, it was almost impossible to dislodge it. Even with the lawyer and the Cartoonist to help him, the enthusiastic Architect, balanced dangerously on one of Janet’s ladders, could scarcely pry it loose. It was just after dinner. It had rained during the day so that the little garden was too damp for the evening and the whole household lingered idly in the bare drawing-room to tease the Architect. When the register was finally loosened, showers of ancient dust descended. The room echoed as with one mighty sneeze. Janet shrieked her dismay.

“Now look at the du-urt!” she wailed, “It’s fairly in loomps and choonks!”

The Cartoonist stopped with an heroic sneeze to lift one of the “choonks.” He dusted the bit of metal and bowed before Felicia.

“Here is the key to the secret chamber–” but Felicia instead of playing back with some mocking pretense as she usually did when any of them made melodramatic speeches to her, clasped her hands.

“Oh, how stupid I’ve been! That’s the storeroom key! The one I threw away the day I was angry at Mademoiselle D’Ormy! And it tinkled down, down, down–” she was hurrying out of the room.” All of us, now, we can go up–the store-room will be fun and maybe–” They were scrambling up the stairways, a laughing crew. “Bring something to break wood with you,” called Felice over her shoulder, “for those shelves that Dulcie put over the door that we thought went into the front room–it doesn’t go there! Wasn’t I stupid! That’s the door into the storeroom–it’s the long narrow space between the two walls and it had trunks and a bureau–“

It still had them! The men folks pulled out the dusty boxes into the immaculate neatness of the nursery floor and for the next two hours they delved and delved through the forgotten treasures. The Poetry Girl called it the “Night of a Thousand Hopes” but the Inventor sardonically added at midnight “of Blasted Hopes–“

The nursery looked like a New England attic when they had finished mauling. Felice gave things away recklessly, whenever one of them admired anything.

How they all shouted at the Painter Boy when he triumphantly pulled forth a sage green taffeta frock with long bell sleeves, voluminous skirts and quaintly square-cut neck.

“Look! all of us!” he shouted buoyantly as he limped across the room to hold it against Felicia’s shoulders, “here’s her color!”

“Put it on her!” begged the Architect’s wife. In the end the women dressed her in it while the men folk trooped down stairs to mess Molly’s speckless kitchen with their masculine ideas of how to make lemonade.

She curtsied to the Painter Boy good-humoredly.

“I don’t feel at all like me! I feel like Josepha or Louisa or whoever she was who wore it–” she laughed. Her laughter was tremulous in spite of her bravest efforts. They were all of them on the ragged edge of tears. They’d hoped so that the storeroom would give the house back to them! Only the Painter Boy seemed not to care. He waited, his eyes gleaming, until after the others had trooped off to their own quarters, each with his or her bit of the loot. He caught at the hanging green sleeve. For that was the night the Painter Boy came into his own. The night he knew that he was going to paint The Spirit of Romance.

“You’re so paintable!” he begged, “I know it’s rotten to ask you to sit for me, you’re so busy now with all of us on your mind and the sewing and posing for Dulcie that you’ll think you just can’t–but oh, Dulcie Dierckx–look at her! Isn’t she paintable!”

Dulcie agreed she was.

Felicia shook her head.

“It’s only the frock, Nor’. I’ll lend it to you, I can’t quite give it to you, I love it so–but you shall have a really model–we’ll manage somehow–and you shall paint the frock–that’s what’s paintable–“

Of course in the end she didn’t refuse him. She never refused them anything she could possibly manage, but it was rather difficult to find the time. She never knew exactly how she found it.

It was in the “paintable” green dress that she “pretended” her way to fame and it came about this way. Without actually realizing it she was getting accustomed to a fairly large audience on the Sunday afternoons when she whistled for the Wheezy’s friends. They were so eager to hear her and their chance visitors were so numerous that the Matron arranged for her to do her “pretending” in the chapel hall at the front of the Home. And it was there that an enthusiastic member of the May Day committee chanced to hear her, one sunshiny April Day, an enterprising member who bluntly asked Felicia Day if she wouldn’t “pretend” for the May Day program at the Academy of Music. It didn’t occur to Felicia to make excuses, especially when the committee member explained things a bit. The only thing at which she balked at all was when the energetic person murmured, “Name please?”

“I’m not–anybody–” explained Felicia, “I’m not even sure myself who I am–“

“But we have to have a name to print on the program–“

This was the first time that anybody who’d been asked to appear hadn’t eagerly supplied much information as to middle initials!

“Vairee well,” suggested Felicia, “we shall make up a name. I shall be called Madame Folie–no, Mademoiselle Folly–will that suit? Then if it has been a mistake to put me on your program that will be a small joke, eh?”

It looked very well indeed, “Vairee business-like”–

“Number 17–DIVERTISSEMENT–Mademoiselle Folly in PRETENSES”

She didn’t even bother to tell them about it at home. It seemed to her as casual as the Sunday afternoons when she whistled for [her accustomed audience of] the Wheezy and her friends. That is until the hectic morning when she obeyed a summons to rehearsal in the empty, auditorium–Felicia always says that the rehearsal was worse than May Day night! So too were the behind-the-scenes confusions and the nervous moments while the makeup artist dabbled her cheeks with rouge and pencilled her eyes–_that_ left her limp with stage fright.

After all, she thought as she waited her turn, “It’s only for ten minutes! And an encore if they like me!”

The moment when she actually faced her first big audience–a tired and fluttering and yawning audience, for two hours of Brooklyn amateur talent will wilt even the most valiant listeners!–she had but one thought, and that was–that there wasn’t any pattern to an audience!

Other thoughts raced like lightning.

“But I must remember to smile. They are persons and I have to please them, they’re sounding rather fretty–“

Perhaps you happened to see her when she stepped out on that vast stage, looking tinier than she really was, with the lights shining on her satin-smooth hair and white neck, with the coral comb and the carved bracelets making bright spots of color. Do you remember how her wide green skirts spread about her as she made her deep curtsy? Do you remember her smile? Or were you rustling your program until you heard that deep contralto voice of hers beginning with,

“What I am going to do for you I shall have to explain a little.” There was a bald grouchy human in the front row, he honestly believed she was talking just to him! He leaned forward. “I am going to do some songs for you but I can’t exactly sing–” The bald man grunted, he considered that plain foolishness and it was! “But I can play this lute a little–and I can whistle–“

“Louder!” called the voices at the rear.

She lifted her chin defiantly.

“Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Maybe some of them are deaf like the Wheezy’s friends, oh dear! How slowly I must speak!” she admonished herself in her thoughts. Her knees were shaking. But her voice lifted itself a bit; she enunciated carefully,

“These are not new songs, they are just songs you know. So you’d better not look at me while I do them. You’d better shut your eyes and pretend–oh, I _do_ hope you’re good at pretending–you must pretend that you are seeing the first person you heard sing these songs for you when you were little. The first one I heard, Marthy sang. Marthy was lean and small and ra-ther old. She lived over our stable in the cleanest rooms! With red geraniums in the windows!”

Oh, do you remember the adorable way she took you into her confidence? Do you remember how strangely familiar she seemed?

“Marthy used to sing ‘Cherry Ripe.’ Do you know it?” she asked so anxiously that one sympathetic soul murmured “yes” and hid her confusion in a cough as Mademoiselle Folly began,

“It’s about a young man who thinks his sweetheart’s lips are like big ripe cherries, so he sings,

“‘Cherry Ripe,
Cherry Ripe,
Who will buy my cherries?'”

She hummed the tune tentatively. She swung the narrow green ribbon of the lute over her shoulders and her fingers touched the strings. And then suddenly the soft flute-like trill of her wonderful whistle was wafted out toward them.

Ah, who can describe the miracle, the mystery whereby her simple songs made them all feel young again! She was just a little seamstress, aged twenty-seven, who had lived an unreal life of sentiment and dreams and memories and they were just a sophisticated, tired, jaded audience. Some of them twisted their lips and scoffed. Some of them weren’t especially moved by “Cherry Ripe,” but the bald man in the front row pattered his hands together before she was through bowing and noisily told his neighbors,

“Gee, that’s the stuff. You can’t beat the old stuff! S’lovely stuff–” A few pioneers about him pattered too. It was enough to encourage Felicia. She smiled.

She was still frightened but her voice was firmer. “If you liked that one, maybe you will like the song about Robin Adair. There was a young woman a long time ago, who loved a man named Robin Adair. You see he went on a journey, I imagine a long journey–” Ah, Felice! he’d gone on a very long journey, that Robin Adair! A journey that a generation of rag-times and turkey-trots and walkin’-dogs had almost obliterated. Yet from the tone of her voice they suddenly were very sorry that Robin had gone a journey. “So the young lady sang a song asking

‘What’s this dull town to me?
Robin’s not here–‘

Like this it goes.”

This time she did not use the lute but put it down carefully and folded her hands quietly together. Her own repose made it easy for her listeners to rest until the last questioning trill had died away. The applause was louder this time. Some of them were talking delightedly and the rising murmur of their approval warmed her trembling heart.

“Another! Another!” called her excitable bald friend.

“It’s vairee good of you to like them. Do you think you’d enjoy a French one now? That is if it isn’t ten minutes. They told me to do this for ten minutes–“

The intimate way she took them into her thoughts made even the most sceptical of them lean back and smile. If they felt like questioning the genuineness of her feeling it could only be explained on the ground of consummate art and either way it was something they didn’t want to lose.

“Margot taught me this one. It is about a forest. I heard it first vairee early in the morning, the first morning I evaire did see a forest. Pretend you can see it. It was spring before the leaves had come but the tops of the trees were swaying and the branches had the colors you see when you dream–and the wind was warm and sweet and sighing. And on a maple tree a blackbird whistled–so–and in the shining melted snow-pools the little green frogs made this kind of noises–and down in the old stone stable two little new lambs were crying–it was a wonderful spring! You must pretend you can see Margot sitting in a gray stone doorway sorting seed in a little broken brown basket. Margot is ra-ther brown herself, but she has gray hair and black eyes and she’s fat and she wears a blue dress, vairee old and clean and faded and a big white apron. Her voice isn’t pretty I’m afraid, but her song is. Her song is the oldest song I’ve evaire heard. There was a Frenchman, Maitre Guerdon, who made it a long time ago. He was a fine gentleman with ruffles of lace on his sleeves and he had a lute–perhaps like this–” she picked up hers again “and what he says in his song is that he wants every shepherdess to hasten to pleasure and to be vairee careful about time for Youth alone has time to have fun with. Because, as he tells them, time slips through your fingers like water and then you have nothing left but a sorry old sad feeling. So the best thing that you and the shepherdesses can do is to run around in the spring forests and spend all the time you can–” her voice faltered “–loving–“

The absurdity of the thing never struck them. Most of them couldn’t have endured a forest ten minutes. But she had them completely under her spell and it suddenly seemed the most fascinating thing in this world to be young and “–run around in a spring forest–loving–“

Her melody began. It matched the dainty spirit of the words and I think if Maitre Guedron, in that heaven where all music makers, good men or bad, should go, could have heard her, he would have bowed his admiration just to hear the tender graceful spirit that her softly muted whistle gave his quaint old song. It was a spirit never lagging, that tripped ahead of the faint strum of the lute strings.

The plaudits were coming whole-heartedly now. Felicia adored them for liking her–she leaned forward to catch what a man in the side box was saying. Bolder than the rest, he coughed and let his desire overcome his temerity as he cried out,

“Do you know–er–‘Ever of thee I am fondly dreaming’?”

Felice came quite close to the footlights and peered at him,

“Is it like this?” she hummed it over softly–

“That’s the ticket,” he nodded; “do you know the words?”

She shrugged.

“I just know it’s about a person–who was thinking about some one he used to see,” she translated dreamily, “and he thinks he can hear her voice and that cheers him up vairee much when he’s feeling low spirited and so it’s like this–” She whistled it.

After that they just shouted at her, as eager as children. She never failed one of them–save once, when a gasping person demanded “After the Ball.”

That _did_ puzzle her.

“The ball,” she echoed regretfully, “I think I don’t know about it– what sort of a ball, was it, M’sieur–a little tennis ball?”

But the puffy old lady who asked for “White Wings” was rewarded with the gentlest smile–

“It is stupid of me, I think I never heard the words except those two lines ‘White wings they never grow weary–I’ll think of my dearie–‘” and she finished the “Fly away home,” with a charming gesture of her little hands and a triumphant warbling of the tune.

Can you wonder that they loved this amazing person who tugged their hearts this way and that with ail the dear old songs that those they’d loved best had once sung to them? Janet’s crooning Scotch songs, Molly’s wistful Irish ballads, Margot’s naughty French and Marthy’s sentimental loves, Grandy’s English favorites too, it seemed as though she could never give them enough of them–ten minutes! They’d have kept her an hour if they could! She talked, she hummed, she played her lute–but best of all she whistled for them because they liked her– little Mademoiselle Folly!

Last of all, she stood very quietly and looked at them while they were still laughing over something she’d picked up from Zeb, a ridiculous scrap of New England,

“Pretend I’m Eunice making the gol-_dern_est huckleberry pie and that I’m singing,

“‘Once upon a time I had a feller
Way down in Maine. AND
He took me home under his umbreller–‘

“There is just one more I can do for you. I am a vairee little tired, perhaps you are too. This song you have heard before tonight. I heard this music playing it. Perhaps we can make them play it again. It was Piqueur who told me this song. Piqueur is a vairee old gardener, who once was a soldier. He fought in battle. He was hurt vairee much. His head has nevaire been quite right since then. But some one taught him to be a vairee good gardener and that made him forget how frightful war had been. But in the spring, because spring makes all of us remember when we were young, Piqueur would remember–war. He used to tell me about it while we planted the garden. Early in the morning when the sun was rising. And he would sing this song, in French of course. It was Margot who told me what the words meant. You know them–

“Ye sons of France, awake to Glory! Hark! Hark! what myriads bid you rise! Your children, wives and grandsires hoary–“

The violinist caught up his bow, the orchestra leader was on his feet. Felicia was not smiling any more; her great eyes burned with excitement; she saw Piqueur singing; she heard Piqueur trying to tell her about war–she did not mute her whistle. She let it ring–

And after that they stood on their feet and whistled and sang and cheered with her while she poured out her whole heart at them, gave them her whole self until her tears blinded her and she turned and ran away. To the blessed shelter of the wings where some one opened comfortable arms and let her weep.

Nor could her rapturous audience get so much as even a little glimpse of her again.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” called the chairman of the committee, “I beg of you to be lenient. Mademoiselle Folly thanks you but she cannot whistle any more tonight–she says–” he cleared his throat, “to thank you–to tell you her lips and her heart are too much puckered up!”

I think of all her audience perhaps the Portia Person was the happiest and the proudest. She took him absolutely by surprise. He hadn’t remotely connected the Mademoiselle Folly of the program with his shabby client, but it was he who took her back in triumph to her “children” and let them understand something about what had happened and it was he who protected her interests during the excitable days that followed. It took more tact to manage this new Mademoiselle Folly than to arrange matters with the strange persons who sought her out. Mademoiselle Folly still measured the value of her services by the same standards that had governed Little Miss By-the-Day’s. She couldn’t understand at all why one should be paid what seemed to be fabulous sums for a brief half hour of “pretending” that one loved, when a whole day’s work that one hated meant only two dollars. I think if it hadn’t been for the dire necessity of those last days before the impending auction they could never have made her consent to do it for money. Impossible mathematician that she was, she could see the multiple of even the lowest salary that vaudeville managers offered, meant hope that she could sometime pay the appalling sum total of the debts on the house in Montrose Place; that is, if, as the young lawyer pointed out, she could “keep things coming her way.” Surely it seemed during those first delightful weeks of her amazing vogue that she could “keep them coming” forever!

She was so flushed with enthusiasm, so joyous over these unexpected opportunities! She was so earnest in her desire to give “for value received”!

Never for a moment did she rest on her laurels. In spite of vast hoards of songs in her amazing memory she set herself very humbly to finding more.–The Wheezy’s friends helped her so joyously! Her audiences helped her so artlessly! And the Poetry Girl fairly lived in the library unearthing treasures for her! It was a wonderful, wonderful month, that month of May! She whistled and sang and talked and gestured her way into thousands of hearts, she smiled naively at her audiences’ delight in her. She constantly varied her methods. Some of her happiest results were merely lucky accidents–as on the day when Babiche followed her out on the stage and sat at attention like a trick dog. After that Babiche appeared at all the children’s matinees and oh, what a delicious lot of animal and children songs the Poetry Girl discovered! And did you ever see her do “Battledore and Shuttlecock” to minuet time?

But it was Uncle Peter, with whom she still played chess whenever she could steal the time, who found out in some mysterious way about the house and its difficulties and it was Uncle Peter, (who wasn’t half dead, not by a long shot) who sat up and forgot his ailments and held long conferences with the young lawyer and the Portia Person. And it was Uncle Peter whose own generous gift, coupled with what he coerced from his friends, who made it possible for the burden of taxes and interests on that great house to be lifted. It was “vairee businesslike,” the same sort of “businesslike” that Felice herself had been when she made the bargain with the Poetry Girl to pay double rent if she should ever be earning anything. The stockholders in the new corporation that took over the house were to sell their stock back at par whenever the house should be put on a paying basis, or whenever Miss Day should have earned enough to pay them back. She was immensely pleased with that idea. She was sure that even though it should take her as long as it had to rebuild the garden of the House in the Woods that she would some day be able to do it.

The “children” revelled in her reflected glory. They all of them loved knowing that their little Miss-By-the-Day was the mysterious Mademoiselle Folly who’d set the whole town talking.

The Sculptor Girl fairly chortled her glee when she came back from Manhattan after a walk down the avenue and brought an amusing census of the shops that sold “Mademoiselle Folly” novelties!

“Lordy,” she related to the Architect’s wife, who couldn’t even go into the garden these days, “When I think of it I could shout! The toy shops have battledores and shuttlecocks! They’re actually selling lace mits like Louisa’s and coral combs like Octavia’s and the hair dressers’ shops have windows full of silly wax-headed figures with their hairs all neatly coiffed in the middles and knots tucked down behind like Felice–and the darling doesn’t even know it!”

How could she? She never had time for walks down the avenue–it was hard enough to find time for “pretending” these busy days when the carpenters and painters and masons and plumbers descended upon the house to carry out the architect’s beautiful plans–the house fairly hummed with activity.

Yet there came a day when the house was still when all the workmen were sent away, when all that dwelt in the house walked restlessly in the garden; a night when Mademoiselle Folly hurried back from her audience with her little fists clinched and when she made Molly come sit and hold her hand. That was the night when in Maman’s room the architect’s feeble wife fought out her battle; a night that seemed interminable. But early in the morning, after all of them had gone to bed save the doctors and the nurses and Felice, Molly came running up to Mademoiselle D’Ormy’s room with the honest tears coursing down her cheeks.

“It’s you she wants, darlint, it’s you they says can see her–it’s a little girl she has–” and Felicia went down the stairway with her gift under her arms, the gift she had found that night when they ransacked the treasures of the storeroom and that she had hidden because she knew directly she peeped at it, what she would do with it.

She knelt by the old sleighback bed and took a thin hand in hers. She smiled into the proud and happy eyes.

“I brought something for her, Mary, I brought her first present. It’s vairee old, it is–clothes–I found them first when I was ra-_ther_ little myself.” She talked softly, her slender fingers busied themselves with the old leather case. She held up the beautiful wee garments. Even by the dim bedside light the Architect’s wife could glimpse their fragile loveliness. She protested faintly,

“You shouldn’t give them away–they’re so old they’re sacred.”

“I know they are but I want her to have them. They were Josepha’s first clothes, I found that out from Mademoiselle D’Ormy.”

“I mustn’t take them–“

Felicia laughed softly.

“The nicest part of our all being poor together is that we can give each other anything we have. And I’m proud, proud, proud I have these for her. Isn’t she–little–” she touched the tiny cheek longingly, “Oh, Mary, I wish she was mine–she makes me understand something. It’s this. About the Poetry Girl and the Sculptor Girl and you and me. It’s that women aren’t half so happy making statues and poems as they are making–gardens–and babies–“

The Architect brought the leather case back to her door as soon as daylight came. He thrust it into her hands as she stood, with her beautiful old dressing gown about her. What they said to each other neither of them remembers. But after he was gone and she had spread out the opened case before her Felicia Day reverently unfolded the papers that had been hidden. They were such yellowed, faded papers with their ancient seals! Those papers that Louisa had found in Madam Folly’s boudoir, those papers that Louisa had taken to Paris! Those papers that Octavia had tucked away, smiling to think how Felicia would smile when she found them. Indeed it was Octavia’s letter that made everything clear.

Dear Daughter:

Now that you are old enough to understand and Grandy is himself old enough to be more patient I think perhaps you will be the one who will be able to make him forgive Louisa for going to France. He would never let me tell him; I tried to but he wouldn’t listen because he thought it was going to be painful; he would only say that the past was over and done with and then he would walk away from me.

We’ve had such an unfortunate habit, Felice! We women of this family! We would run away with the men we loved! The first of us to run away was Prudence Langhorne who ran away with an old Frenchman who came to America to try to forget the miserable troubles of his country.

There were many reasons, some of them political, why she couldn’t explain who this Frenchman was–and besides I think she was so happy and so busy that she never minded what people thought. She was a little careless about explaining things until it was too late–for she died and left a daughter, Josepha, who never knew that her mother had been really and truly married to her father and who was bitter and unhappy because there was a deal of gossip about her. This Josepha was not asked about whom she wanted to marry. She was just taken to France and married to a man whom she never learned to love and sometimes people taunted her so that after he died she took just one of his names and came back to America with her daughter Louisa and built this house in Montrose Place. She did not think it was time for Louisa to marry. She meant to arrange things carefully when it was–but Louisa was like the rest of us–she fell in love when she was still very young and she ran away with her man–(that was Grandy) and she promised him that she’d always like to be poor with him. She would have, of course, only after her mother died she learned there was a great deal of money that belonged to us and when she knew that I was coming she wanted things for me. So she made a silly mistake. She kept everything a secret from Grandy; she used to go to the lawyer’s when he didn’t know about it and then some one told Grandy about her going and Grandy misunderstood–he thought she loved her lawyer. So they quarreled and quarreled, for Louisa was furious because he mistrusted her and in the end she was so angry that she sailed away for France with her lawyer. She couldn’t make Grandy believe that it was true that she really had business in Paris; he thought it was only an excuse of the lawyer’s to take her away. So Grandy went away to war and Louisa stayed in France and that’s where I was born and that’s where I lived until Louisa died and the Major came for me.

Sometime I hope that Grandy will take you to France and let you live a little while at least in that house. I loved it so–sometimes I think I loved it even more than I loved the House in the Woods or this house.

It was in this house that your father learned to love me–it was in this house here that I waited a long time hoping that the Major would let us marry. You see Louisa, my mother, did leave me these houses and a great deal of money, some of it in France, and Grandy thought your father wanted to get it, so in the end, after we had all been unhappy and wasted many precious years I did like the rest of them–I ran away.

You must not blame Grandy too much. I know that Louisa and her mother Josepha were as much to blame as he.

Felix and I were not patient. We all of us made many, many mistakes. They look so silly now that we are older but they seemed so necessary when they happened.

When we knew you were coming, your father and I, we used to laugh because you see, I had so many names and a title too–and I’d run away from everything just to be with Felix and I’d no way to get at what I owned without going back to Grandy. Besides it seemed to me that what I owned had made all of us unhappy. So we used to say all we’d give you would be the names and the titles but we’d keep you away from the rest of it–and that we were glad the days of princesses were gone for both our countries, America and France.

But I think that when the time comes, for you to marry you will like to have all these papers that tell you who you are and I think too, that if you are wise, having the houses and the money that belongs to you cannot make you unhappy–I like to think you will find some way to be happier than the rest of us have been, for you have something that none of us had, something that was your legacy from your father. He was very poor, Felice, but everyone loved him because he never let himself be morose or unhappy. He taught me that you can’t be happy yourself if you are making anyone else unhappy. He said the delightful thing about not possessing much was that one could be prodigal and extravagant about being happy. He said he had no obligation in this world except to be happy.

He made a game of everything he did whether it was something he liked to do or something he hated to do. Toward the end he had to do many things he hated, that he wasn’t strong enough to do. But he did them gaily. He made everyone around him laugh as he did.

When the time comes for you to go out of this world you will have found that so little in it really matters and that everything in it matters so much! It is not until we are ready to go that we know how precious is the thing within us that men call–self. It is made up of all the loves and hates and good and bad of the men and women who went before us. It does not really belong to us. It belongs to all of the people who will come after us. There happened to be only a little of me left to give you, Felice, but the part that is left is the happy part–the rest of me was lost a long time ago. And the titles and the names that they called me were not any of them so dear as the one you gave me–that is

MAMAN.

Which think you Felicia Day loved more? That letter or the thick old parchments that told her that she was the great-great-granddaughter of a king?

It was the end of June. If you wanted to get little Miss By-the-Day to sew for you the Disagreeable Walnut would tell you that she’d gone away without leaving an address. If you wanted to hear Mademoiselle Folly at the theaters you discovered that she wasn’t playing.

But in the house in Montrose Place a shining eyed woman made a new “pattern” for the garden of her life–for the garden of the lives of all the folks she had taken into that house. They did not know all about her. They did not know how large the fortune was that was coming to her. They merely knew that there would be enough to take away the irritating fight for bread and butter and that each one of them would be taken care of until each one of them had taught his or her particular art to provide, and they knew, too, that each one was expected to repay in a “vairee” businesslike way–by helping some other fellow. They all of them knew that Miss By-the-Day was planning to sail for France. They knew it was about something in connection with the French property but they did not know that she was planning the most wonderful “pretend” of her whole life.

The Portia Person was the only one who shared her secret–it was to the Portia Person that she always confided her troubles.

“There is a man I know,” she told him, “a man named Dudley Hamilt. When we were both of us vairee young–he–liked me vairee much. But I went away. And when I came back and he saw me again he did not know me at all. It was vairee hard for me–that time. You see, I looked vairee funny and old. Much more funny than when you saw me. As funny as those little pictures Thad makes so that people will laugh.–I wore Louisa’s bonnet and coat–they were such vairee ugly things–and so–he just didn’t know me.–But now! I–I want to pretend something! This man–I asked it in the telephone–has been gone away for many weeks in the west on business and he is coming back soon–and I want you to make a way–to bring him to the little rectory yard some evening. It is only a ‘pretend’ of mine–” she blushed adorably, “perhaps, I can’t do it. But I will try. I will be by the gate and you shall say, ‘Here’s a girl you used to know, Dudley Hamilt!’ And then you’ll hurry off and leave it for me–I can’t pretend I’m young and pretty but I can pretend I’m–I’m a little amusing–and it will be the last night before I go to France that I do it–so that if–he doesn’t–find–me amusing–it won’t really matter, because the next day I’ll be gone and it will just have been–a ‘pretending’–do you mind helping me?”

The Portia Person didn’t mind at all. He wiped his eyeglasses and coughed and didn’t look at her at all. But he promised.

There was so much for them all to do in those brief days before she sailed. She took a quick journey to the House in the Woods. She rushed back to settle a thousand details about the house in Montrose Street– joyous details of which perhaps the happiest was the moment she found that the Poetry Girl had named it Octavia’s House.

She awoke very early that last day of all. She still slept in the little room at the top of the house. Her modest traveling bags were packed and ready. Over the back of the chair hung her demure traveling coat and veil. But tucked away out of sight in the walnut bureau were a scarf and a carved Spanish comb. The very thoughts of them gave her stage fright. It was only by keeping her mind sternly upon her journey that she could steady herself at all. She dressed herself absent- mindedly in one of Dulcie’s much mended frocks,

“Maybe there’s a garden with my French house,” she thought as she looked down into the back yard. She reached for _The theory and practise of gardening_ and tucked it into the top of Grandy’s bag.

All day long the house seethed with the excitement of her leave- taking. Most of the morning belonged to Dulcie, who was still working feverishly on Pandora. The Painter Boy made believe sulk because it was late afternoon before Felice would come to sit for him for the last time. He was really quite through with his painting. It was only because they were all longing to have her in the green gown and he’d promised the women folk that he would keep her so occupied that she wouldn’t know what a wonderful farewell party her “children” were planning for her.

She shook her head when she stood looking at the picture.

“It’s not I you’ve painted, Nor’, it’s some one who’s young! Shall I tell you a secret? I do wish you could take all your brushes and make me as lovely as that girl in the picture–oh, Nor’–she hasn’t a gray hair!”

“Pouf! Those two or three little gray things that you got worrying about us!” he touched them lightly, “Why do you care how old you are– “

He kissed the edge of her sleeve awkwardly. His eyes were dancing.

“I guess something–” he teased her. “I guess you only ‘pretend’ you’re old–“

It was the Architect who rescued her. He was in such a temper that he completely forgot that Felicia was to be kept at the top of the house until the hour for the “party.”

“It’s all very well, Miss Felicia Day,” he sputtered, “for you to pick up a lot of poor old half-blind carpenters that nobody will hire because they’re old–it’s a nice sweet philanthropic idea! But they’re absolutely ruining everything! It would cheaper to pay ’em for their time and let ’em sit outside while we hire some regular persons to work! What they’ve done today is spoiling the whole scheme–the yard looks like a Swiss cheese–come and see–its simply awful!”

She winked archly at the Painter Boy. She gathered up her green skirts daintily and descended the broad stairs.

“Sssssh!” she whispered, “walk lightly, Mr. Architect or you’ll wake up little Miss Architect–besides, we’ll have to sneak by the kitchen or Janet and Molly will see us. They really don’t know that I know there’s going to be a party, though I should think–” she paused to sniff critically as they passed the pantry door, “that Molly would know that anybody could guess there was a party with celestial smells like that.” She had soothed him somewhat even before they reached the back yard and of course the lattices weren’t really so bad as they had seemed to his fastidious eye. They did deviate from his neat blueprints. Even the sullen old carpenters admitted that they did, but presently things were adjusted and the workmen had departed bearing the offending trelliage with them with absurd little newspaper patterns pinned to the tops.

Felicia was flushed and panting from having cut those ridiculous patterns. She waved her shears slowly to and fro, and the Architect shouted with boyish glee.

“Silliest way I ever heard of,” he chortled, “perfectly silly, but the old ducks did seem to take to it. Felicia Day, you are a little old wonder.”

She gazed up at him mournfully.

“Old!” she echoed and shivered.

“I didn’t mean ‘old’ really,” he stammered, “I just meant, well, I just meant you were–” he paused awkwardly.

“I don’t look awfully old, do I?” she asked it with such delicious anxiety that he laughed. “I mean, I don’t look so awfully old as I did, do I?”

He thought he was saying a perfectly satisfactory thing when he answered.

“You look just like your wonderful self and we wouldn’t have you changed for worlds. Why, you’re our fairy grandmother.”

Her little hand crept to the back of the bench. She steadied herself. And decided something very quietly.

“Do this for me,” she commanded. “Telephone Mr. Ralph. Tell him I said that I didn’t want him to keep the engagement that I had him make for me this evening. That I won’t be here at nine o’clock, that I have to go out. That he mustn’t bring the visitor I asked him to bring. That I’ve changed my mind about seeing that visitor.”

And when he had gone away whistling atrociously and cheerfully she sat down on the bench and buried her face in her hands. The air was soft and warm and sweet. It almost threatened rain. And at her feet in the border of that rebuilt garden little pansies shriveled in the heat of the afternoon sun. All her life long she would hate the odor of those dying pansies. She sat very still. She thought that she had come to the very end. There was nothing more in the world that she wanted to pretend. Except perhaps that she was hearing Dudley Hamilt’s voice singing, very woodenly, “But my heart’s grown numb and my soul is dumb–” Like Dudley Hamilt, she couldn’t bear to think of the rest of the song, there wasn’t any hope of “After years”; the most precious thing in life, the soul of their youth, had been snatched away from them and there was nothing left that mattered. And so she sat for a long time underneath the ivy-locked gate, unheeding the happy babble of voices that floated out from the windows of the dear old house.

The Sculptor Girl almost shook her to make her look up.

“There’s a man wants to see you. Awfully theatrical looking person. I’ve a hunch it’s that beast Graemer. He wouldn’t say. Just said he must see you.”

Felicia stiffened.

“It’s stupid of him to come here. We did send for him, the Portia Person and I. I wanted to try once more about ‘the Juggler.’ I said dreadful things, Dulcie, to the little lawyer man that he sent. I told the little lawyer man that I thought his wicked Mr. Graemer was afraid to come to see us–so that’s why he’s come now, I suppose. I don’t want to see him half so much as I did. I feel vairee cowardly. You must send your Majesty-of-the-Law down to me. I am a little afraid alone. And tell Blythe to come. Tell him quickly. I do not like this job, so I must do it quickly.”

Felicia was absolutely wrong about why the erratic Graemer had come to see her. He hadn’t the remotest intention of bothering to answer the oft-reiterated claims of the persistent Miss Modder; he wasn’t at all interested in any unknown Miss Day. The person he had come to see was Mademoiselle Folly and he had come purely on impulse. His agents had been able to make no headway with Mademoiselle Folly’s agents. It had aroused his curiosity when he discovered that the actress was living with all those queer geniuses who were dwelling in the much discussed Octavia House and he assumed that she was merely one of the proteges of the mysterious wealthy backers of that unusual enterprise. He thought it very good business indeed that the clever young woman had known enough to disappear for a brief time that she might whet her audiences’ appetite while she let her agents lift her prices. It didn’t at all occur to him that she was actually abandoning such a career as her extraordinary success seemed to foretell. He had in mind a romantic play in which she should make her bow as a legitimate actress and he had a flattering mountain-to-Mahomet speech ready with which to introduce his august self to her. He was debonnaire in his smart summer clothing. He felt rather Lord Bountifullish. And besides, he was in a very good humor because he had come directly from a rehearsal of “The Heart of a Boy.” The play was scheduled to open very shortly and it seemed to him that it was going to be an easy success. All the way over to Brooklyn he had contemplated bill posters who were slapping their dripping brushes over great posters–corking posters Graemer thought them, with their effective color scheme of dull greens and pale yellows.

Almost any one would have commended those posters. A charming little figure in the shadows of a wall stood tiptoe with her arms upstretched and her blonde head shone in the light from a church window above her as a florid choir boy leaned over the wall to embrace her.

“Felicia, I love you with all my heart and soul!” the choir boy was declaring in large red letters, which was rather versatile of him considering that his lips were pressed firmly upon the blonde lady’s. The placard further announced that he was embracing “America’s foremost romantic actress Edwina Ely” and though there was nothing about their posture that could have offended even the ghost of Anthony Comstock, it had an almost galvanic effect upon a stalwart man who had stopped to look upon it.

It was just about the moment that Miss Ely’s manager had stepped into the taxicab that was to bear him to Brooklyn, that the outraged citizen had paused before a side wall at a theater entrance to gape sceptically at a paste-glistening sheet. That particular poster was not yet in place. The fair lady still lacked her feet and a painstaking artisan was just delicately attaching them to her knees. He never finished attaching them.

“Dat guy you see going around de coiner,” he explained to the gathering crowd who helped to pick him up. “I wasn’t doing nothing to him, I was justa stooping over when all to onct he hit me and threw me paste in the street and grabbed me brush and trew it after me paste and just as I was going to lam him one he ups and shoves some money in me fists and groans, ‘Beg your pardon, of course you aren’t responsible’ and off he goes–and somebody better watch after him for he must have a heluva jag.”

The stalwart citizen did not stop to reason even after he had vented the first edge of his rage upon the innocent bill poster. He let himself intuitively guess at the whole damning chain of the Fat Baritone and his eternal gossiping and the pretty actress and the acquisitive manager. The intensity of his manner when he pulled open the manager’s door frightened the manager’s stenographer into an unwilling admission that Mr. Graemer had just left for Brooklyn. And a dazed taxi starter, who decided that somebody’s life must be at stake, remembered with much distinctness that the address, which Mr. Graemer had given some half hour before was Montrose Place, Brooklyn. He remembered it because they’d had to look it up in a street guide.

If Dudley Hamilt had been in a temper before he heard that address he was literally enraged when he did hear it. Of what had happened in Montrose Place during the spring months while he had been in the West he had not the faintest inkling. The last time he had seen the little street it had looked as desolate and forlorn as on the day when Felicia had come back to it. He assumed with that rapidity with which an angry mind makes decisions, that Graemer was proceeding to Montrose Place for more of the damnably clever “local color” with which he was wont to dress his plays; that not content with having dramatized Hamilt’s youthful woes to the orchestra circle he wanted to reproduce the whole thing photographically.

Hamilt’s thoughts raced turbulently as his own taxi followed the route of Graemer’s. He was keenly aware that his frenzy was utterly illogical, that he hadn’t a reasonable argument to present against the play, that there was no possible way in which he could prevent any man from writing any play he wished or naming his heroine any name he chose and yet he grew angrier and angrier as his cab bumped over the old bridge.

“There’s not a chance in a thousand of my getting my hands on him, but, oh, if I only could–” he thought vindictively.

As a matter of fact his “chance in a thousand” was a very good one, since he was able to direct his driver explicitly because of his familiarity with the neighborhood.

Moreover, the astute manager was not making very speedy headway in his interview with the erstwhile Mademoiselle Folly. His quick eyes commended the charming figure that the lady made in her quaint frock against the crumbling garden wall. He spoke a very pretty speech about her appearance. But he found her haughty indeed considering that she was nothing but an upstart vaudeville performer. She had no manners at all, he decided, for she did not even suggest that he sit down. He actually had to make his proposition standing.

“Your agent let us know that you’re starting for abroad. That’s a nice little plan but it won’t get you anywhere at all,” he began tersely. “Except of course that you may get a little fun out of it if you’ve never been on the other side. But the best thing for you to do before you go off for your vacation is to have a contract, signed and sealed, in your inside pocket. Frankly, I’m charmed with your–er– personality. I saw you a couple of months ago at the Palace and I like the way you get hold of people. I should say that with the right kind of training you ought to go quite a long way: who knows?” he was laughing so good humoredly that he did not see her wince, “some of these days I might pick up a nice little play for you–“

The lady was standing perfectly still. He decided that she had admirable repose. Her wide eyes looked straight into his. The intensity of her low voice was a bit thrilling.

“If evaire I did want a play,” she answered coolly, “I would know exactly where I would ‘pick it up,’ as you call it. I would not ‘pick it up’ the way you ‘pick up’ plays, M’sieur Graemer. I have a friend whose play you ‘picked up’–” she gestured toward the house. Her deliberate reiteration of his chance phrase was irritating to say the least. He turned uncomfortably to look at the stairway toward which she was motioning. And he did have the grace to look rather disconcerted when he saw Miss Blythe Modder approaching. He glanced quickly back to the woman he had come to see.

Felicia stepped close to him.

“I did not want you to come to my house,” she began passionately. “I just wanted you to see the lawyer who attends to certain legal matters for me.” The little breathless rush of her words fascinated him, the alluring way she slurred her syllables together, the quick staccato with which she paused on short words! At first he hardly grasped what she was saying, so intent was he upon her extraordinary manner of speaking. It made him feel somehow like a child. It irritated and soothed him at the same time. “I did not want you to come here at all.” She stamped her foot for emphasis. “It is insulting for you to be in Maman’s garden! But now that you’re here and Blythe is here and I am here, why, I think we must talk things ovaire. With this lawyer who lives here with us. It is Blythe’s play ‘The Magician’ that we will talk about. It was in your offices for almost a year and you had it there at least two years before you wrote ‘The Juggler,’ didn’t you? Tell me!”

“The two plays are utterly dissimilar–“

“The two plays are utterly similar.” Felicia’s cool voice corrected him. She had an exasperating directness of manner! “Whenever you are counting how vairee much money you did have from ‘The Juggler’ do you not sometimes think that the girl who wrote the play ought to have some of those moneys?”

“The two plays were totally dissimilar–” he repeated hotly.

“Felice! Felice!” groaned the Poetry Girl. “You’re just wasting your breath! It’s no use talking to him! Why, I almost got down on my knees to him! I wept–“

“I shall not weep,” said Felicia calmly. “I shall just tell him how vairee simple it would be for him to explain. He can just tell people that it is her play and that some of it is her moneys and then he can give you the money. Oh, you couldn’t have understood how bad, bad, bad you made things for her! Even this spring, while you were still getting money from her play, she was poor and sick and almost starving–just like the girl in her ‘Magician’–“

She paused eloquently but she never let her eyes leave his. He fidgeted with his hat. He tried to avoid that clear gaze, but whatever the faint stirrings of his conscience might have prompted him to say the blundering but well meaning lawyer prevented. That indiscreet person stepped briskly forward.

“I am one of Miss Modder’s legal advisors,” he began importantly. “You probably know that we are anticipating bringing another and much stronger action against you. But if you should happen to feel that you wanted to enter into some sort of negotiations for an adjustment of–“

Graemer caught his breath.

“I’ll be damned if I do–” he ejaculated. He was white with chagrin to think that his stupidity had trapped him into such an annoying situation. He was moving blindly toward the stairway; all he wanted was a quick termination of the whole irritating interview.

Felicia stopped him. She put her hand on his arm.

“Let me explain for you a little,” she pleaded, “I am sorry that these lawyer men do not understand. I know exactly how you happened to do it. You didn’t mean to take it at first, did you? I know because I once took something that was not mine. It was food,” she smiled a little at the memory. “It did not seem like stealing because it was just a little food. It just seemed like something I wanted and that I must have and so I took it. Maybe that was the way it was with you about ‘The Magician.’ It was something that you wanted and must have! Perhaps it didn’t seem like stealing because it was only something that was written on a paper. It wasn’t even like something you could hold in your hand. It was just something somebody wrote down on some pieces of paper. Maybe you didn’t understand that it was all of her hopes and dreams–“

“Gad! What a Sunday School you do keep!” he sneered. He tried to pass her. He had jammed his hat back upon his head. Perhaps he would have actually gotten away from her only that that was the moment that Dulcie Dierckt opened the long French doors at the head of the little outside stairway and motioned down the steps to the excited man who was following her.

“There’s Mr. Graemer,” she said; “here’s some one to see you,” she called wickedly, as she leaned across the balcony.

It was all over so quickly that afterward neither the Poetry Girl nor the lawyer could tell how it happened. Dulcie could tell a little more because she watched it from above.

Dudley Hamilt went down that narrow stairway in a sort of running leap. He faced the agitated Mr. Graemer squarely but he gave him something less than half a minute in which to defend himself. And then he proceeded with a most satisfying thoroughness to pummel and pound and thump. Their struggling figures shoved to and fro in the pebbled paths. Janet and Molly O’Reilly ran screaming from their kitchen. The Poetry Girl scrambled out of their way by jumping to an iron bench. She dragged Felicia up after her.

“Stop them! Stop them!” shrieked the Poetry Girl.

But beside her Felicia clasping her little hands under her chin, watched with shining eyes; her anger was as the anger of the man who was fighting. She did not realize who he was or why he had come to the defense of her Blythe. She only knew that he was doing exactly what she had been longing to do ever since she had first heard about the acquisitive Mr. Graemer. And when she heard Blythe Modder shouting beside her she began to shout too. Only she did not entreat them to stop fighting. A curious thrill of victory made her voice vibrant with rapture.

“Do not stop striking him! Do not stop!”

And then suddenly, she saw to whom she was calling. And with her new found joy in her heart she shouted still louder, “Strike him much, much more, Dudley Hamilt!”

He stopped, absolutely dazed. He thought that he must be struggling in a dream. He actually stepped across his fallen antagonist as he strode toward her. His blonde hair was rumpled from wrestling, his eyes shone with the light of victory. He stretched out his arms.

“Are you real–” he stammered, “tell me quickly, are you real–“

“I am vairee real–” she answered breathlessly, “but I am old–“

Old! She was agelessly young as she stood there, smiling at him from her perch on the little iron bench. Her slender figure in the sage green frock was silhouetted against the wall, her head was lifted joyously.

It was the young lawyer who came to his senses first. He shoved the disheveled Graemer out through the rear gate, the stable gate–it happened to be open and he took an immense satisfaction in after years in remembering that it was the stable gate, did that cocky young lawyer!

The rest of them fled through the kitchen doorway, or rather Molly O’Reilly adroitly pushed them through it and for the next half hour the household babbled discreetly behind drawn blinds.

But outside in the wee garden the years slipped back as though they had been Time in Maitre Guedron’s song.

“Dudley Hamilt! Dear Dudley Hamilt! You are hurting my arms a little– “

“Felice! Forgive me! I didn’t mean to–it’s only that I am afraid you are not real–I am afraid to let you go–“

Ineffably content she stood tiptoe to put her hands on his shoulders. She lifted her adorable head and smiled.

“Nevaire do–” she murmured with her lips on his.

THE END