THE Bishop and Jack, having been called in the early morning, had their coffee together by candlelight in the small breakfast-room, and were driven to the shivering little station in the valley as the sun came up over the Westford hills. The Bishop thought it a good occasion to explain his projects for the mission church at Lemington, for Mr. Temple was one of his stanchest props in undertakings of this nature. He also had much to say in praise of Mrs. Kensett, and inquired kindly for Mabel as he shook his companion’s hand warmly at the junction where he left the express to take a local train.
The Bishop had known John Temple from boyhood, and was gifted with more than ordinary penetration and sagacity; yet, in common with many who in the battle of life thought they had fathomed Jack and had found themselves to their discomfiture mistaken, had discovered in the latter’s even temper a reason for much perplexity. He remembered this morning, after bidding him good-by and as he walked to and fro on the platform waiting for his train, how profoundly astonished the world had been at the time of Jack’s marriage with Gladys Ferguson, and with what greater astonishment it beheld the ominous prophecies to which that event gave rise fail of fulfillment. It had been conceded that Gladys had not married him for love, and it had been equally clear that she had ended by admiring him immensely. It was not thought on the whole that she managed him, unless a very quick intuition and a very delicate tact can be called management, especially as no one had ever managed Jack on Wall Street. It was contended too that he must have been desperately in love with Gladys, for his sudden marriage, though quite in accord with his habit of never taking the world at large into his confidence, betrayed a lack of judgment so wholly at variance with his reputation for that quality that no other explanation was possible. And yet this marriage had remained a mystery. It was an open question, much discussed among their friends of Gladys’s sex, whether he seconded her every wish, or whether she deftly suppressed all wishes he did not second. Although so uniformly successful that men consulted him in doubtful matters as they did the barometer in doubtful weather, Jack had been known to make mistakes, mistakes which he bore with a phlegm, or retrieved with a stubbornness which would have done credit to the imperturbability of the conventional gambler; so that his own even demeanor rendered conclusions drawn from outward indications unreliable and misleading. And then had suddenly occurred that tragedy which brought his domestic structure down in ruins.
At the time it had proved, like his marriage, a fruitful source of controversy and gossip. Gladys’s friends asserted that her suicide was an act committed in the delirium of fever, and had had nothing to do with her cousin Rowan; while her enemies, who had always denied her possession of any such depth of nature as that in which great passions are supposed to flourish, could only reconcile their past and present innuendoes by taking refuge in the confession that human nature was an altogether unknown and unknowable quantity.
It was with a somewhat similar generalization that the Bishop’s musings came to an end. Jack’s marriage was not the only mysterious one that had fallen under his observation. The human race, he said to himself, is so highly differentiated that the points of contact and attraction are oftenest hidden and unknown. Moreover all this was an old and forgotten story, and if the Bishop’s thoughts reverted to the past as he walked back and forth that morning on the frosty platform, they were only like the thoughts of the child on events which took place before it was born. The mystery remained, but it was no longer before the eyes, and the world forgets what it does not see.
The effect of the tragedy upon Jack had been evident to all his friends. Something passed from among the outward signs by which men knew him, as the color leaves the face on a wound; but if he had been hard hit, no one knew exactly where. None were quicker or more efficient than he in practical sympathy for others, yet it was impossible for any one to render such to him. If he had as much need of it as other men, there were also many to give it; but that was his nature, — to bleed internally, — and if wounds there were, they were beyond the touch of ministering hands. Men, and women too, brought him their perplexities and troubles, sought his advice and took his cheer, finding him as accessible, as shrewd, as good-natured as ever, a little more abstracted, the old dry humor a little less quick of flow, but he himself no less ready to listen. Experience may rob us of our illusions, but it leaves us our heritage of common sense, if we ever possessed such, and in Jack’s practical world it was common sense, not illusions, which was in demand.
Shortly after parting from the Bishop he got the morning paper. He turned to the stock list and saw that Argonaut shares were selling at thirty-eight. Then he folded the paper and watched the winter landscape as the train rolled on. At the first stop he called the porter and sent a telegram to Mabel, to the effect that he would dine that night at the Club, and that Miss Gaunt, the governess, might take her to the Opera, where he would join them. The porter, who evidently had had some previous experience with Jack’s fees, performed his errand with alacrity, and took the loose change with a “Thank you, Mr. Temple,” which left no doubt of his willingness to serve that gentleman in any further capacity whatever.
“ I suppose that fellow thinks I have everything I want, ” thought Jack, picking up his paper again. “I wonder what he wants. I could make him happy for life with less than the Bishop asks for his church.” Unconscious of his proximity to such good fortune, the porter began to set the folding table in its place and brought the menu. “But the Bishop is right,” thought Jack.
On reaching New York he sent his portmanteau to the house and, calling a hansom, drove down town to his office. He went directly to his private room, glanced over the memoranda of callers, listened to such explanations of their visits as had been left with his secretary, and then stepped to the telephone.
“Is this Brown & Sons? ”
“Yes, I am Mr. Brown.”
“Which Mr. Brown? I am Mr. Temple. ”
“Oh, good-morning, Mr. Temple. It’s Mr. Brown senior.”
“Good-morning. Can you drop over to the office in the course of the afternoon ? ”
“Certainly, Mr. Temple. Now, if you wish.”
“Very well, now, if you please.”
A few minutes later Mr. Brown was ushered in.
“Brown,” said Jack, “what do you know about the Argonaut mine? ”
“Nothing, personally. It lies in a good tract, has good company. It ’s a new property, sir.”
“Can you send me the last report? ”
“You would n’t get much information from their reports, sir. They don’t publish details.”
“They ? who are they?”
“Mr. Heald is the only director I know. I think he is president. The other officers are not known here.”
“I see it is not listed on the New York Exchange. Is it listed anywhere ? ”
“I think not. It has been a curbstone football on the street.”
Jack looked out the window for a moment in silence.
“ Brown, ” he said at length, “ I want a thoroughly reliable man to investigate and report upon that property. Not here, on the street, but at the mine. Have you any one in your office you can recommend ? ”
“There is no one I can recommend better than my son, sir, ” replied Mr, Brown after a moment’s reflection.
“That’s the man I have in mind,” said Jack, with a twinkle in his eye, “But I was n’t sure you thought as well of him as I did. He could go right away? ”
“To-night, if necessary.”
“It isn’t necessary, but I am in something of a hurry.”
“All right, sir, it’s to-night, then.”
“Will you send him over to me? I shall be here till six. And by the way, Brown, this is confidential.”
“Certainly, Mr. Temple, certainly.”
Within fifteen minutes Mr. Brown, Jr., was standing where Mr. Brown, Sr., had stood, awaiting instructions.
“Sit down, Mr. Brown, sit down,” said Jack, wheeling round in his office chair. “ I want you to go down to — Where are the Argonaut workings ? ”
“In Arizona, sir.”
“I want you to go down to Arizona and find out all about the Argonaut mine, — from garret to cellar.”
“About the mine, you understand, not the Company.”
“I understand, sir.”
“How many dollars it costs to get a dollar’s worth of copper, and how many dollars’ worth of copper are there.”
“I could get the last report of the Company, if there is one, here in New York. I should n’t send you to Arizona to get that.”
“Certainly not, sir.”
Jack paused, turned to his desk, and took up his pen.
“You may find the information difficult to get, and you may not, Mr. Brown. ”
“Very likely, sir.”
“And when you get it you will report to me in person.”
Jack pressed the electric button on his desk.
“Give Mr. Brown the money on this check,” he said to his secretary, “and charge it to my private account. ”
“I think he will do, ” he said to himself as the door closed on Brown, Jr. “ He did n’t ask me where Arizona was. ”
There was some work to be done with his secretary, a few business callers to be seen, the directors’ meeting on the floor below, and then he took the Elevated as far as Twenty-third Street, and walked up through Madison Square and the Avenue to the Club.
Jack was not a club man. With the exception of the Yacht Club, — for he loved his boat, and believed in vacations even down to the office boy, — he was a member of but one other, and was so rare a visitor even in that one that he had a half-dozen invitations to dinner before he got from the coat-room to the dining-room.
“Look here,” he said, as he reached the top of the stairs, “I can’t eat but one dinner, and the only way out of it is for you gentlemen to dine with me. Peter,” he called to the head waiter, “reserve the round table in the corner over there for us. No, never mind the wine card, you know what is good for us, ” — and Peter, susceptible to flattery, went off in the best possible humor, much honored, and more than ever persuaded the Club was his own personal property.
There were some murmurs of dissent to Jack’s proposition, for it was customary to consider an informal invitation to dinner as only a bid for one’s company, with equal division of costs.
“We ’ll divide it all up if you say so,” said Jack, “but if you will listen to me now I will listen to you at dinner.”
During the evening a good many came to shake hands with him, and to say how glad they were to see him there, and over the coffee and cigars the conversation turned upon the membership in general.
“It ’s not what it used to be,” deplored one.
“That’s because you are no longer a youngster, ” said Jack. “You have lost your bump of reverence, and are one of the elect whom you used to look up to. I never admit the good old times are gone while I am on deck myself. Let me see the membership book, ” he said to the waiter.
“You are not going over the deathroll, are you, Jack? This is n’t an annual meeting.”
“No,” he laughed, “I’ll begin at the other end and count the babies.”
The party at the adjoining table broke up while he was turning the pages, and one of the number, stopping a moment as he passed by to speak with one of Jack’s guests, was introduced to him as Mr. Heald. He was a man under middle age, of medium height but well formed, with black hair, teeth of remarkable whiteness, and an engaging smile.
“He ’s one of the lucky ones,” said the previous speaker; “was barely two months on the waiting list. He came from New Orleans, and had n’t been long enough in New York to make an enemy when he was put up. If we were to go on the waiting list again, Temple, we should stay there forever.”
“It would n’t take as long as that to find out enough to blackball me,” said Jack.
“Oh, you are one of what the newspapers call financial magnates. Heald’s a freebooter.”
“ What’s a freebooter ? ” asked Jack.
“Probably the dictionary would say a robber. I don’t mean that, but a sort of privateer. He has his letters of marque, flies the regular flag, and doubtless observes the rules of war — I beg your pardon, Jack — business.”
“I have served on a good many Boards,” observed Jack quietly, “and I have found the standards of morality as high on the business Board as on any other — higher, in fact.”
“Ever been on a hanging committee? ” queried the artist of the company.
“If I could make five dollars’ worth of paint worth five thousand by signing my name to it, as you can, I should go out of business,” replied Jack.
“Funny, is n’t it, how every well-todo round peg thinks he ’s in a square hole,” said the artist. “I would swap my signature for yours in a minute.”
Jack smiled and threw away his cigar. His business ship had seen many a gale, but its keel had never touched bottom. He was proud of that fact.
“I am going to give you gentlemen something to growl over right away,” he said, rising. “I have got a little girl at the Opera and must go and take her home.”
All his friends knew of his devotion to Mabel. “Do you know,” some one hazarded after he had gone, “I don’t believe Jack Temple loves that daughter of his. He’s discharging a duty.”
“Nonsense,” was the reply. “He is perfectly infatuated over her, — if a man can be said to be infatuated with his own child.”
“Well, I did n’t say he was n’t, ” remarked the first speaker. “Come, let’s go down and have a game of pool.”
Jack took a cab from the Club, drove to the house, and dressed hurriedly, reaching the Opera at the close of the second act of Hoffmann’s Tales as Julietta’s gondola glided under the balcony to the music of the barcarolle. The two occupants of the box were so absorbed as he entered that he stood for a moment unnoticed in the doorway. Mabel’s interest was centred on the boxes rather than the stage. Miss Gaunt, her eyes fixed upon the gondola disappearing on the lagoon, was evidently in Venice with Hoffmann.
At what she had then considered the very mature age of twenty Miss Gaunt had exchanged the duties of an assistant in a young ladies’ boarding-school for those of governess in Mr. Temple’s family. Having been educated — in an institution exclusively devoted to the elevation and emancipation of her sex — to a degree which made self-support a duty she owed to her superior advantages, and having in the process been withdrawn during her sentimental period from the dangers of foolish and romantic attachments, it seemed quite logical after graduating with high honors that she should immediately put her stores of learning to some practical account. She was one of a large family in moderate circumstances, whose head had deemed it incumbent upon himself to provide for his daughter a means of self-help in the event of a future necessity. In the case of Miss Gaunt a first effort had been made to develop a special aptitude for music, but the foundations for anything beyond a modest accomplishment in this direction proved lacking, and the attempt had been abandoned. Attention had then been turned to languages with the result that Miss Gaunt could speak two living ones with grammatical rigidity and an original accent, and read two dead ones with much hesitancy and the aid of a dictionary. Mathematics had, however, proved her forte, and her progress in functions was a source of mingled pride and awe to the Gaunt family.
Considerable discussion arose over the question what to do with Miss Gaunt when her education was completed. Not to do something, to permit her merely to live on at home in meek acceptance of destiny, as other girls had done before the days of superior advantages, was not to be thought of. Moreover her college life had stimulated her ambition, and introduced an element of discontent into her composition. The offer of an engagement as assistant in a fashionable New York school presented itself therefore as a natural sequence to her preparatory training and as the proper reward of her devotion to her studies, and was embraced accordingly.
In the acquisition of four languages, elliptic functions, and her other accomplishments, however, Miss Gaunt had not lost the feminine point of view; for all her teachers had been of her own sex, and however good a point of view of history or literature or discipline a woman’s may be, it is not the same as that of a man. Nor had anything in her daily round of duty in college halls given her any real insight into the struggle for life for which she was ostensibly preparing herself. Gradually, and much to her surprise, it dawned upon her that her experience in her new position was not altogether satisfying. To almost the same extent as her pupils she found herself a subordinate wheel in a machine, and the responsibility of performing a definite number of revolutions per day was not that of which she had been dreaming. However modest had once seemed to her the authority and dignity of a simple mistress of a home, she began to realize that wives and mothers possessed at all events certain attributes of power, freedom, and consideration which, as prizes in the struggle for life, were otherwise less easily attained and, when conquered, promised to prove less satisfying.
It must also be noted that in acquiring her superior advantages Miss Gaunt had not lost any of those natural ones with which nature had endowed her. They had not destroyed her oval face, her rich black hair, her graceful carriage, or her knack of making the most of any slender resource in dress, and her large brown eyes had not been reduced in the pursuit of functions to the necessity for artificial aids to vision. In short the functions, the two living and the two dead languages were only of those things which “shall be added unto you.” But it required some time for her to realize that she had been utilizing these excellent things to a dubious end. What the right end was she had not fully determined, but when Mr. Temple proposed her transfer from the school-room to Gramercy Park she did not hesitate a moment.
Mr. Temple had hesitated when she was first presented to him. She was both younger and prettier than he expected, or than even she herself at that time considered herself to be. But her family was irreproachable, her recommendations unimpeachable, her accomplishments and character duly vouched for by diploma, and, most conclusive of all, Mabel had taken a great fancy to her at their very first meeting. A good judge of men is not always a good judge of women. There had been Gladys to prove it. Moreover Mr. Temple, except in strictly business matters, was always more shy and embarrassed with women than his outward manner indicated. With his usual prudence, however, he had asked Miss Gaunt to present herself at his office for the final interview; and there, in an atmosphere where he felt thoroughly at home, after some preliminary details he said: —
“ Before we settle our arrangements finally, Miss Gaunt, there are some things which I wish you to understand. If you accept my offer it is as my daughter’s governess and companion, not as mine.” He looked up from his desk, but Miss Gaunt’s brown eyes betrayed no emotion. “You will have your own parlor, and your meals will be served there. I do not mean to imply ” — he had in mind to say “any social inferiority,” but paused, and went on as if he had said it, — “in fact, if you are as sensible as I take you to be, you will see that I am thinking quite as much of your own independence of life as of my own. You must be happy in your environment or my daughter will not be. Your chief responsibility will be her happiness and education. Of the servants you will have no care, but should you have complaints or observations to make you will make them to me. Mabel understands that she is to obey you, and you will have absolute authority. Your task will not be a difficult one if you win her respect and love. I suppose your own experience has told you that they are the only foundations for real obedience.”
It was under these conditions and a tempting increase in remuneration that Miss Gaunt had assumed her new duties, and the temporary arrangement for one year had been indefinitely renewed as the years went by until its continuance ceased to be a subject of discussion.
Her mother had indignantly rebelled against certain provisions of “dear Helen’s ” contract with Mr. Temple, but Helen had assured her she would not feel as she did if she knew Mr. Temple better, and it soon became evident that in spite of the relegation to obscurity of the elliptic functions Helen was most advantageously placed and most happy. On those rare occasions when she made a visit home it was discovered that she had visibly changed. She had never despised dress, but she now gave more thought to it than before. She no longer appeared concerned for economy, or brought her savings to her father for investment as formerly. On the contrary, she always came loaded with presents and a purse which afforded exceptionable opportunities for the entertainment of the younger members of the Gaunt family; and she was quite ready when her visit was over to say good-by.
It was curious that Miss Gaunt should have found herself regarding her former ambitions much in the same light as, when under their influence, she had regarded her present mode of life; and it was an undoubted fact that at twentynine, after nine years in Gramercy Park, she considered herself younger than when at twenty she presided over a class of young ladies.
On her arrival she had been looked upon by Mabel from a child’s point of view and classed with all grown up people, but as time went by governess and pupil seemed to approach each other, the difference in their ages to grow less, until now, when the pupil, who matured rapidly,had passed her eighteenth birthday, the governess had become the companion to an extent never contemplated in the contract, —had, indeed, become Helen instead of Miss Gaunt.
Mabel was Gladys’s reincarnation. She possessed her mother’s coloring, features, and figure, a pair of violet eyes deeper and more speechful than even Gladys’s blue ones, her mobility and quickness of intelligence, but not her tact or, as yet, her depth of nature. Decidedly Miss Gaunt’s inferior in solidity of mental equipment, but with much more beauty and force of character, she had never entertained the slightest jealousy of her companion, whom she respected just enough to be at first a little in awe of her, and whom in time she grew to really care for as much as she had yet cared for any one except her father. She was not vain, but very self-reliant, with an unconscious daring which carried her straight to the core of things and persons calculated to inspire awe in a way that dispelled all their awesomeness. Helen had found her a willful, sometimes peevish and often selfish child. Gladys had devoted much thought to her dress, and had successfully utilized her as a decorative feature. Seated beside her in the landau, or brought in with the dessert, she was most effective, and very early in life Mabel had learned that for real genuine affection as she viewed it, affection which rarely said no, and which was bent upon gratifying, not denying, her wishes, she must appeal to her father. Gladys passed out of her life, leaving only the sentimental memory belonging to a very lovely vision very rarely seen, and it was only in later years, and under the touch of an imagination which works best at a distance, that Mabel evoked her memory with any real feeling. Gladys herself would have been astonished if she could have seen her own picture as painted by her child’s fancy, and the reality of this post-mortem affection would hardly have atoned for the fact that its object was but a phantom of the original.
Mr. Temple had never had reason to complain of his daughter’s progress. Mabel possessed a certain brilliancy which might well have blinded his indulgent eyes, were not the eyes of affection blind enough already. She could gallop through a waltz by Chopin in a way which delighted him and scandalized her teacher. What she had learned as a child, as the French and German acquired by ear from her nursery governesses, she had learned quickly and well, but in all that required application, perseverance, conscientiousness, she was superficial and depended upon her marvelous memory, to the detriment of all thoroughness and accuracy. It pleased Jack tremendously after hearing a new opera to listen to her embroidery of the score, — without notes ! He had been trained in the school of experience, and what he knew he knew well. What he did not know he set all the more store by, but, not knowing it, was easily impressed and an indifferent critic.
Miss Gaunt saw more clearly, but it was a very ungracious, not to say hopeless, task to set Mr. Temple right, and it was very difficult to be severe with Mabel. For all her waywardness and carelessness and selfishness, she was in so many ways lovable, and substituted so adroitly her lovable qualities for her unlovely ones when a reprimand was impending, that she always broke its force. It would have been much easier to deal with Jack’s patient, persistent will, or even with Gladys’s subtle, persuasive one, than with Mabel’s blend of imperiousness and capriciousness, and Miss Gaunt’s early efforts at discipline became more and more fitful and gentle. Moulding character, for good at least, was a far more difficult process than teaching the French irregular verbs or the Latin declensions in a fashionable boarding-school.
Then, too, Miss Gaunt was learning as well as teaching. She was learning how delightful it was to be able to order a carriage, even though it was not her own; how delightful it was to shop without calculating the cost, even though she was shopping for another; how delightful it was to have her own apartments, to be waited upon at her own table, even though it was a solitary grandeur. She could console herself, too, for the neglect of the elliptic functions with the fact that in conversing with Mabel in French during the morning, and in German during the afternoon, her accent in the living languages was rapidly improving. All the advantages were not on Mabel’s side.
It had often occurred to Miss Gaunt that this state of affairs could not go on forever, and on one occasion Jack had intimated as much to Mabel. But Mabel had rejected the suggestion with such emphasis that it had never been renewed. For while Miss Gaunt had reached the limit of her capacity as instructress, she was altogether too valuable as chaperon to be dispensed with. When Mabel passed from short to long dresses, abandoned her braids, and began to preside at her father’s table, she cancelled the clause of the contract which related to Miss Gaunt’s ostracism from the dining-room. “It is quite too absurd to think of Helen’s eating alone, ” she had said; and Jack thought so too. He acquiesced because he really liked Miss Gaunt. She never bothered him, never “hung around,” presumed, intrigued, complained, or did any of those things which would have caused him annoyance, anxiety, or constraint. Gradually, and more and more, through her presence at table and as Mabel’s chaperon at functions for which Mr. Temple could not spare the time, she came to know Mabel’s friends intimately. She was stylish, pretty, well-bred, unpretending, with a touch of timidity highly out of place in a governess but quite winning in itself. Mabel never reminded her of the drawbacks incident to her position, or gave her any encouragement to exercise its prerogatives, and it was very easy for Helen to glide thus insensibly from the relation of governess to that of companion and friend, — to sit, as it were, like Lady Bess, the cat, on the bearskin before the fire in the drawing-room instead of watching for mice in the pantry.
It might have been better for Miss Gaunt had the struggle with life, for whose possible advent her education had been planned, actually come. It might have completed the work imperfectly begun and crushed out the tendency to admire the princes in fairy tales whose acquaintance she made before she began to integrate functions. It was true she had never met these fascinating creations of the story-book in real life, and she would have resented the suggestion that she ever expected to. Mabel however had not been long in discovering the romantic vein under the surface of demureness. It was the demureness of shyness rather than of severity. Mabel delighted in shocking her, because it was so easy. She was never shocked herself, and learned life’s lessons so rapidly, and with such quick intuition, that Helen always seemed to her as stupid and naïve in worldly wisdom as she was clever in the wisdom of books. She could be teased, made to blush, and, in case of necessity, blindfolded, — a very precious power to wield over a governess. Mabel reflected impressions like a mirror, whose picture vanishes with the object it reflects; Helen stored them away somewhere like a sensitized plate, cherishing little things which Mabel accepted as a matter of course, and waiting, as some women will wait, all the functions of Laplace notwithstanding, for the sun that can transform the latent impression into a living reality.
“Mabel, your father is here,” said Helen, as Jack came forward.
Mabel rushed to the rear of the box and threw her arms impulsively about his neck behind the curtains. She was sure she was tremendously fond of him.
“The music is entrancing to-night. You dear papa, to think of me! Where have you been ? You did not tell me.”
“I had a telegram from Paul Graham about some business,” said Jack, disengaging himself from Mabel’s white arms and hanging up his fur-lined coat beside her blue velvet opera cloak. “So you have been enjoying yourself? ”
“Immensely ! ” cried Mabel, leading the way back to her seat.
Miss Gaunt rose as Mr. Temple entered, and moved aside.
“No, keep your seat, Miss Gaunt. I will sit behind Mabel.”
“ Who is Paul Graham, papa ? ” asked Mabel. “I never heard you speak of him before.” Her hand stole back into his below the crimson rail, but her eyes were wandering over the house as if in search of some one. She wore a gown of white satin and tulle with a string of fine pearls. Jack might well be proud of her. Her beauty varied with her mood, and sometimes, when things went wrong, there was a suggestion of sharpness in her clear-cut, delicate features. She had all her mother’s taste in dress and her inimitable way of wearing things. Her figure was faultless, and she seemed happy to-night to the very tips of her white-slippered feet.
“Perhaps not. He has been away for years in South Africa. He used to know you when you were a little girl. He is a cousin of Mrs. Kensett’s.”
“Is he nice? ” asked Mabel.
“A lot nicer than some of the men who lead the cotillion with you.”
“You foolish papa! don’t you know I care nothing for them ? I only love to dance. Is he in town? ”
“No, he is at Cedar Hill, — till the war is over.”
A shadow passed over Mabel’s face, but vanished as quickly as the shadow of a bird’s flight.
“If he comes to town we must have him to see us,” she said absent-mindedly.
“We will, certainly,” Jack assented.
A man, standing up in the fourth row of the orchestra chairs, and who had just entered, bowed simultaneously with Mabel’s smile of recognition.
“Who is that, Mabel? ” asked Jack, taking out his glasses.
“That man? Mr. Heald.”
Then two pretty girls in the adjoining box began an animated conversation with her around the barrier, and Mabel finally rose and joined them.
It was the last thing that could be said of Jack that he was superstitious, but like many a hard-headed man of the business world who is beyond the influence of mere coincidences, they sometimes haunted him. It was strange, he thought, that this man Heald should be thrust upon him three times within twenty-four hours.
“Where did Mabel meet Mr. Heald, Miss Gaunt ? ” he asked abruptly.
Miss Gaunt had often observed that Jack failed to see the most obvious things, although he endeavored to add Gladys’s duties to his own in looking after Mabel. So that while the question was a natural one, there was a directness about it quite unusual, and which appealed to her sense of responsibility. Either because she had grown a little rusty in the exercise of this function or for some other reason she hesitated.
“I think at the Wendells’ dance last fall, the first time.”
Mr. Heald had evidently recognized Jack, for as the bell rang for the last act he appeared at the box door.
“I had the pleasure of being presented to you this evening, Mr. Temple, ” he said, with a smile which showed his white teeth, “and I came to ask permission to call on your daughter.”
“Certainly,” replied Jack. “My daughter is at home on Thursdays.”
There was nothing else to be said and no reason for saying less.
“Are you enjoying the music, Miss Gaunt ? ”
“Very much, ” she answered, scarcely turning her head. In spite of all she could do the color ran to her cheeks. She was leaning forward on the rail watching the musicians as they came in. Mr. Heald took the seat behind her, bowing to Mabel, of whom he caught a glimpse in the next box.
With an effort at composure Helen sat back in her chair.
“The music is lovely to-night. One gets so tired of Faust and Carmen and Cavalleria. It ’s nice to hear something new.”
“ It is not a new opera, Miss Gaunt. It was the one given in Vienna at the Ring Theatre years ago when so many lives were lost by fire, and has been on the black list ever since.”
She was conscious that Mabel was observing her, and moved her chair forward, leaning on the rail again and speaking rather loudly.
“The ballad in the prelude is very original,” said Mr. Heald.
“And the minuet is a gem.”
“Yes, it is.”
“And the scene with the automaton was very cleverly managed.” Helen was silent.
“I wish I had the secret of making automatons speak,” he said in a low voice.
She made a quick movement as if some one had touched her. “They are going to begin,” she said.
The conductor was opening the score and rapping with his baton. Mr. Heald rose, and as he went out bowed again to Mabel, who was humming the strain of the opening air, tapping the rail with her white fingers.
“Is n’t it lovely! ” she cried, smiling at him.
“Hush! ” said some one in the orchestra chairs below.
“What did Mr. Heald want, papa? ” asked Mabel when she had resumed her place.
“Permission to call on you. I told him you were at home Thursdays.”
“Rather late in the day,” she said to herself; and then aloud, indifferently, “ He is dreadfully old, but very good looking. Don’t you think so? and very entertaining. You might ask him to dinner some evening, papa.”
“I don’t know him well enough for that,” Jack replied, thinking of the Argonaut mine.
“Oh, Helen,” called Mabel that night through the open door of their communicating rooms, “I forgot; papa asked me to write a note to Bishop Stearns inviting him to dinner Monday. Do write it for me, will you, please.”
She was sitting before her fire, while her maid was brushing out her long yellow hair.
“Sit down at my desk and I will tell you what to say.”
Helen came in, opened Mabel’s portfolio, and began a search for note paper. Order and system were unknown to Mabel’s possessions.
“‘My dear Bishop,’” she began, “‘papa desires me to say ’ — Are you ready ? ”
“Yes dear, go on.”
“— ‘ papa desires me to say — that he should be very glad — to talk over with you — the plans for the church at Lemington ’ — I wish that old Bishop would let papa alone! what was I saying, Helen? Read me what you have written, please.”
Helen read the first sentence aloud, and Mabel went on.
“—‘ on Monday evening. He suggests — that if you have no engagement for that evening — you come in and dine with us — informally — at eight o’clock. He hopes this will suit your convenience — and I need not add — that it will give great pleasure — to his daughter Mabel ’ — what a fib! I think he is stupid. Will that do, Helen? ”
Helen thought it would, and was folding the written sheet preparatory to inclosing it in the envelope, when she saw that the reverse side had been written upon. It was a rough scrawl in Mabel’s hand, without address or signature; and while this did not give her the right to read it, she had involuntarily glanced at it before she was conscious that she was violating any propriety. When that consciousness dawned upon her she had seen more than she cared to, and having none of Mabel’s quick self-possession, she was embarrassed and confused.
“ What are you doing, Helen ? Can’t you find an envelope ? ”
“I have blotted it and must write it over again,” Helen said, hurrying into the first lie that came to hand. She re-wrote the note, sealing and directing it rapidly. It was impossible to leave the first one in Mabel’s portfolio, for Mabel would know she had seen it, and would suspect her of having done what Mabel certainly would have done herself under like circumstances. She started to tear it up, intending to throw it in the grate, when Mabel dismissed her maid and stood up before the fire for a last look at her pretty self before extinguishing the lights. So Helen thrust it guiltily in the pocket of her dressing-gown and said good-night.
Once in her room there was a battle royal between the powers of light and darkness. Unfortunately and unintentionally she knew the substance of Mabel’s letter to Mrs. Kensett already. She might, in her hurried glance, have misconstrued it. At all events she could not take that hurried glance back or undo what had been done. Then she was to a degree responsible for Mabel’s good behavior. It was not a pleasant thing to do, to read a letter not intended for her; it was underhanded and mean, — that is, it would be if she were not in a position of responsibility. Her personal preferences had nothing to do with a question of duty. Either it was her duty or it was not. She decided that it was, waited till Mabel’s room was dark, took the letter from her pocket, and read it through.
It was a rough draft of the letter Dolly had shown to Paul, a letter which Mabel had clearly not dashed off impromptu, but had considered of sufficient importance to indite with care. To do Miss Gaunt justice it must be stated that she thought it horrid, but all clear ideas of what her further duty was vanished after the duty of reading it was consummated. It might never have been sent. She had not accompanied Mabel on her visit to Cedar Hill, but she knew Mrs. Kensett, who had always been very kind to her and whom she greatly admired. She finally destroyed the letter and went to bed, with a very disagreeable feeling toward Mabel, a renewed sympathy and increased admiration for Mr. Temple, and the conviction that for the present there was nothing for her to do. She did not fall asleep as quickly as she generally did, and dreamed very disquieting dreams of a rupture with Mabel, in which Mr. Heald took her part, and of returning to a very shabby room in Boston, whose closets contained nothing but calico dresses, and whose windows looked out upon a very small and dingy back yard decorated with the week’s washing.
After Mabel and Helen had gone to bed Jack sat in the library far into the night with his cigar. He was very regular in his habits, usually retiring and rising early, a mode of life to which Gladys had never accustomed herself. But to-night the tall clock in the corner sounded its quarter hour chimes ineffectually.
He had never been a great reader. Publishers sent him editions de luxe and reprints of rare old books, which he bought with the same judicious taste that regulated his purchase of other objects of art, for which he had a natural but untrained appreciation. In things of this sort he trusted to a good lieutenant, and did not affect a discrimination he did not possess. Charts and maps, the strategy of campaigns and the tactics of battles were, however, his delight. Novels he never read, except now and then a good detective story. But he was not reading to-night. He was thinking of the porter in the railway carriage, leaning against the door and staring at him with envious respect as a man who had everything to be desired. Jack did not consider himself unreasonable or grasping. He had taken life as he found it, doing methodically and earnestly the thing his hand found to do. A full house and an empty heart was the sum of it all.
He went back in thought to Gladys, a past which was far enough away now to look at coolly, dispassionately. That had been a sort of Monte Carlo adventure. He did not know she had come more than halfway to meet him. Her beauty, her wit, her nonchalant ease had gone to his head, and never having lost his head before, even in champagne, he had — made a fool of himself ? No, Jack never admitted that. A mistake ? Yes. A kind of negative mistake, which might have proved a positive disaster had Gladys been purely selfish, less clear in her perception of how far she could go without compromising her retreat. Jack really admired her, her finesse, her intelligence, her assumption of superiority in her sphere, and her tactful surrender to him in his. It was a pity she had never told him how much she admired him.
And he had begun by loving her. But while one may go on for all time desiring the unattained, solitary loving after possession is not among the possibilities. At first he did not notice that he got back nothing solid, and never admitted it. He would have resented the charge that he did not love his wife as quickly as a girl denies the first emotions of her young love, and with an equally positive belief in his sincerity. He had been all his life the soul of honor in his business relations, and it did not for a moment occur to him to be other than loyal in love, — loyal not only in the common meaning of the word, but in his persistent endeavor to believe that if love, like money, did not bring all the happiness that was attributed to its possession, the fault was not Gladys’s. As a busy man, occupied in affairs which absorbed his attention and demanded all his thought, he had no time to brood. Gladys never caused him tangible unhappiness, and, above all, always seemed happy herself, — a fact which made him ashamed of himself when he felt inclined to be otherwise. When decisions were necessary he was ready for them, clearheaded and prompt in action; but he was prone to put away and ignore all the interrogation points of only a speculative value. The whence, the why, and the wherefore of life sometimes perplexed him as they do all the thinking sons of woman; but when these riddles oppressed him, or his second self undertook to cross-examine him and to ask if he was happy, and if not, why not, he telephoned the captain of the Vixen and went on a cruise.
When his friend Cecil Kensett died he had found it necessary to see a good deal of Mrs. Kensett, and Dolly, quite unconsciously, had revealed to him all that other side of womanhood, of genuine self-forgetfulness, of disinterested thoughtfulness, of tranquil domesticity, for which he had yearned. There was no glamour about Dolly. The vision she opened was one of peace, — peace and rest. And the sweeter and clearer this vision grew, the clearer became his realization of how empty his heart was and had always been, how slowly and surely it was filling with the happiness and longing of a great love.
Too late, he thought, flinging his cigar into the ashes. The rest of his life must be given to Mabel.
And yet Jack never relinquished easily a quest on which he was determined. He said “Too late,” but the decision of a woman’s heart was not absolutely final, and it was only to the inevitable or accomplished fact that he was accustomed to resign himself. He was inclined to trust others, a trait which, taken in connection with his shrewd judgment of character, explained much of his success. But he felt a little at sea with a woman’s mood. Good or bad, false or true, he was never quite sure that it was a steady wind, or that his boat would not yaw in the most favoring breeze. It was not distrust, but uncertainty. Down town he probed uncertainties, when he could, to the bottom. But he could not ransack a woman’s heart like an office pigeonhole, or force her hand as it was often necessary to force the hand of a business rival. For the woman he loved he had only gentleness and patience, and neither Dolly’s “no” nor his own “too late ” ever wholly banished from the background of his hope the picture of her blue eyes and winning smile.
“Margaret,” said Mrs. Frazer, looking up from her game of solitaire as they sat together in the breakfast-room the morning after Jack’s departure, “what is the matter with Dolly Kensett ? ”
“What is the matter with Dolly? ” repeated Margaret, surprised by the abrupt question. “What do you mean ? ”
“I mean what I say. Something is wrong. What is it ? ”
“You may mean what you say, mother, but I do not know what you mean. ”
“ You never did have the slightest penetration, child,” said Mrs. Frazer impatiently. “It would be perfectly evident to a blind man.”
Margaret laughed. “You are surely mistaken. Dolly would certainly have told me if anything, as you say, were the matter. ”
“No, she would not,” replied Mrs. Frazer. “You are altogether too unsympathetic and reserved for confidences, and you never know what is going on about you. ”
Margaret laughed again. “Then why do you come to me for information ? What makes you think something is wrong? ” she asked after an interval of silence.
Mrs. Frazer was laying down the cards in provoking tranquillity, quite conscious of Margaret’s rising curiosity.
“ You did not observe that Mr. Temple avoided Dolly last evening as if she were poison ? ”
“No, I did not observe it,” said Margaret, opening her eyes wide. “I do not think it is true.”
“You may think what you please, but I have a habit of observing what goes on under my eyes.”
“I do not see why Mr. Temple came here at all if he wished to avoid Dolly. Why should he avoid her ? ”
“Why indeed! My dear child, you are a simpleton.”
“Evidently I am. But Dolly has always been very frank with me, and I certainly should not dream of asking her for what she did not choose to give of her own accord.”
“Margaret,” said Mrs. Frazer reprovingly, “you know I never interfere with other people’s affairs. But I see what I see. Dolly is not happy, and Jack Temple knows more about the reason why than you do. I have not been at Cedar Hill twenty-four hours for nothing. Moreover, I will tell you something else.” She laid down her cards and looked straight into Margaret’s eyes. “Paul Graham is falling in love with you.”
“Mother dear,” replied Margaret, flushing, “this is too ridiculous. Mr. Graham has been here exactly twentyfour hours longer than you.”
“People do not fall in love with each other in twenty-four hours.”
“Oh, indeed! I have seen that miracle accomplished in five years, — and in five minutes.”
“I am very sorry,” pursued Margaret, paying no heed to the scorn in Mrs. Frazer’s reply, “that you have put any such idea in my mind. I liked Mr. Graham the moment I saw him. He is frank and straightforward, without the least self-consciousness, and makes no insincere speeches. I said to myself at once, ‘Here is some one I shall have for a friend.’ Now you have made it impossible for me to be natural. I shall think of what you have just said whenever we meet ” —
“Margaret dear,” interrupted Mrs. Frazer, “you will do nothing of the kind. You have much more self-control than I, and are far less natural in consequence. You will be vastly more natural if you do think of it. What I have said is quite simple and proper, for you will find it quite true. What is the use of ignoring facts and beating about every bush ! Paul is an excellent and very successful man, and is becoming interested in you. There is nothing remarkable in that. I am not at all sorry to have spoken, for you needed to be put upon your guard. You may have him for a friend if you wish, but he will have you for more if he can.”
“Mother, will you please not speak to me of this any more.”
“Certainly not. If that is your wish I am not likely to. I referred to it simply as one refers to the rising moon, — as a phenomenon which obtruded itself on my attention and which will take care of itself. I am not intending to get in its path, but I hope I may be pardoned for seeing it.”
Margaret could but smile in spite of her vexation, and at that moment a step was heard on the piazza and Paul appeared at the window.
“Miss Frazer, will you come for a walk? ”
Her first impulse was to say no. But one thinks rapidly at such times, and before he could detect any hesitation she had said: —
“Yes, I should like to.”
She glanced at her mother as she left the room, but Mrs. Frazer appeared to have lost interest in everything but her game. Going upstairs for her boots and hat, she resolved, notwithstanding what she had just declared, that she would forget all her mother had said, and allow no sign of embarrassment or constraint to escape her. No, she did not believe a word of it, yet the world could not be quite the same if a man loved her, — even though it were a man for whom she did not care. No, she would not believe a word of it. She would never have exchanged that smile across the table had she dreamed of such a thing. It was too absurd for another thought, and she would not give it a single one. But what did her mother mean in regard to Dolly ? She had not noticed anything unusual. Was she then so reserved and unsympathetic ? It was true people never came to her with their troubles and gossip as they did to Dolly, and she had often observed how much more Dolly always knew of what was going on about her. She stopped at Dolly’s door as she went down, to tell her she was going out with Paul. Dolly nodded and smiled, and hoped it would not snow.
“I am glad you wanted to go,” Paul said, as she appeared at the door. “I am so used to an out-of-door life I should have had to go alone. You have good warm overshoes on, ” he said, glancing at her feet. “That’s sensible. The weather does n’t look very promising, but I think it will be only a snow squall. I have been studying that road winding up that side hill. Do you know it ? ”
“Yes, it is the short way to Lemington. The main road follows the valley.”
“There ought to be a splendid view up there. Is it too much of a pull for you, do you think? ”
“Oh no, indeed,” said Margaret. “And I think we might take the dogs.”
“By all means,” exclaimed Paul. “I didn’t know Dolly had any.”
“Will you get them, while I go for my riding whip? I don’t use it, but they mind better when I have it.”
He came back with three Irish setters wild with joy at the prospect of an outing.
“Then you ride? ” he said, as they went down the driveway under the pines.
“I did, until the snow came.” She felt relieved at his off-hand manner and quite herself again.
“That’s good. We must have some rides when the roads are free. I have lived in the saddle these last years. There ’s nothing like it to clear the cobwebs out of the brain.”
“Is it a hard life, in Africa, —at the mines, I mean? ”
“Hard? Oh no, but free. It rather unfits one for any other. Any other seems a prison afterwards. I don’t mean it is lawless, but simple. When people herd together laws become necessary and complicated, and freedom disappears. Do you understand what I mean ? ”
“Oh yes. I used to go into the Adirondacks with papa every year. We had a camp all by ourselves at first. The whole lake was ours. There was not another camp within ten miles. Then some people from New York built one at the head of the carry, and others came in with servants instead of guides, and brought furniture and ranges, and began to make visits, and the whole charm was gone. There is a steamboat now on the lake, and a hotel, with people who dress for the piazza as if they were really in the woods, — like the people who carry ice-axes when they go up the Gorner Grat in the railway.”
Paul smiled. “Yes, I know those people. Then you must shoot, too.”
“ I used to with papa. Do you ? ”
“I didn’t till I went to Africa. You know my uncle was a crank. He ate game; I don’t know why he did n’t want it shot. His principles never did agree. I suppose Dolly has told you about him. He bullied us with his principles till — But that’s past and gone, and I don’t like to talk about it. It is a hard thing to say that any one’s death was a relief, but his was. If ever any one had cause to remember a date Dolly and I have. But the date of my uncle’s death is the only anniversary in the family we never can recollect. You must not let me speak about him, or you will want to shoot me for a bear.”
“I am not such a Nimrod as that,” said Margaret, laughing. Then they went on in silence for a time in the sombre pine woods through which the road wound; but the constraint she had feared did not come.
“Tell me about your camp life, Miss Frazer. Did you ever shoot a real bear ? ”
“No indeed! Papa always went in long before the season was open, and we only shot for camp supplies. Except for the guides we were all alone, so I went everywhere with him. I shot my first deer at night, floating, with an old coffee pot with two candles in it on my head for a ‘ jack.’ It is n’t considered very sportsmanlike, I know, but it ’s thrilling. Papa taught me to use a fly, and to set the hooks for the big trout in the lake when we could not troll, — and a great many things girls are not supposed to like to do. But I was young and enjoyed it tremendously. And oh, how delicious the hunger and fatigue of the woods are! to go to sleep at night with the great logs blazing before the tent door. Papa had a lean-to, just like the guides; but he took in a tent for me, with a clean board floor.”
“So you could keep house.”
“Keeping house is rather nice, I admit. It is our province, you know.”
“Then I judge you had none of the difficulties with servants Miss Fisher told me about last night.”
“ Did she ? ” asked Margaret glancing at his face.
“She got me on a subject I didn’t know much about, ” said Paul, “and I was floundering around most miserably when I caught your eye. She seems a nice little thing, but I must confess I think her brother ’s a cad. I am quite unreasonable about some things I had a surfeit of when a boy, — sermons and speeches, among others.”
“You will like Professor Fisher better when you come to know him. He has an unfortunate sense of inferiority with strangers, and tries to make up for it by being pompous. I am sure you will find he improves on acquaintance.”
Margaret was thinking as she spoke of what her mother had said, and so far from being made shy by the recollection of it, she was emboldened half unconsciously to take the opportunity of testing her mother’s statement by seeing what effect such praise would have.
“I dare say you are right. The best in us does not always show up at the first touch.”
His reply reassured and pleased her. She was as certain as he had been the night before that she disliked the petty jealousies of lovers.
The road climbed steadily through the woods, which shut out the horizon. As they emerged from under its last trees and saw the storm sweeping down the line of hills, Paul stopped.
“I don’t think we had better go on,” he said. “The wind is coming up, and that cloud has ice in it. It will be short but sharp, like a thunderstorm in summer. If we turn back through the woods we shall have shelter.”
“It is too bad to give up when we are so near the top,” said Margaret.
The sun was still shining gloriously, and only here and there a hurrying mist of surface snow told of the rising wind.
“ Do you think it will come this side the hill? It can only last a few minutes. But we will go back if you think best. ”
“We can try it, ” said Paul, who disliked to preach prudence to her courage. “As you say, it cannot last long.”
So they went on. A thin crust overlaid the snow, shining under the sun like a burnished mirror. To the west and south the sky was clear, while far away to the north, under the ragged line of cloud, a yellow light showed the limits of the storm. Swaying to the wind like the drapery of some mighty unseen figure the veils of falling snow swept up the further slopes of the hill. There was still a chance that its rocky buttresses might shoulder them off into the valley beyond. One could see from the smokelike clouds of driven snow drifting away from the summit that the fight was on, and that the wind was sweeping the crest bare.
“How magnificent! ” cried Margaret. “It is worth coming to see. Shall we wait here till it passes ? There will be no view up there now.”
They were still in the sunshine and scarcely felt the wind, but the words were hardly out of her mouth when sun and sky were blotted out in a furious rush of whirling sleet. It required all her strength to keep her feet, to breathe, and the sharp crystals stung her face and neck like the lashes of whips. She had instinctively turned her back to the blast, but could neither see nor speak, when suddenly everything became black, she felt something warm and thick over her head and shoulders,and heard Paul’s voice: “Walk straight ahead. I’ll keep you in the path. It will be over in a minute.”
She stumbled on through the drifts, steadied by the push of the guiding hand on her shoulder. The relief was so great that she could not protest.
“There! it ’s all over. It was nothing but a bluff, ” said Paul, drawing back the coat he had thrown over her. She was far more beautiful now than in the candlelight of yesterday, — struggling for her breath, her cheeks aflame, her hair and lashes white with the sleet. He saw there were two brown splashes in her eyes. “Were you frightened? ”
“Frightened ? No, ” she gasped. “ I hadn’t a faculty left. It was so sudden.”
“It was a bit sudden, ” laughed Paul, putting on his coat. “I thought you were going to be blown away.”
“ I think I should have been if ” —
“ But you are all right now, ” he interrupted. “You can see the house down there in the sun. We might go on but for the drifts.”
He brushed the snow from her neck and hair with his handkerchief and turned up the collar of her jacket as he spoke. It was the first time in her life a man’s hand had cared for her, and she felt the strength and gentleness of its touch all the homeward way.
“You have the right to say ‘ I told you so, ’ ” she said, as they started back again. “It was quite my fault.”
“There’s no blame where there’s no harm. You see, one never can tell in the valley what is going on on the heights. I am glad I was with you. Are you warm now ? ”
“Oh, quite. Are you?”
After conquering the hill bastion the storm swept down on the defenseless plain, blotting out the houses of Westford, racing southward; and before Paul and Margaret reached the wood they were under blue skies again.
“ How would you like to have one day with the grouse, Miss Frazer? It is late, but there are two weeks yet before the season is over.”
“Is not the snow too deep in the woods ? If not, I should like it very much.”
“I don’t think it is. The pastures are bare in places.”
“We might ask Mr. Pearson,” suggested Margaret. “He is the local authority. He used to go out with Mr. Kensett. He lives just there in the hollow, where you see the smoke. We can go home that way.”
“That’s a good idea! ” exclaimed Paul. “I remember seeing the road as we came out of the woods. I wonder if there is a light gun for you in Cecil’s outfit.”
“There is Dolly’s. I can use that.”
“Oh, Dolly would not touch a gun for worlds, ” laughed Margaret. She felt a strange exhilaration and stepped on air. Was it the struggle with the storm? “Mr. Kensett hoped she would learn, and bought her a hammerless beauty. I think she fired it once.”
“Iam surprised she even did that,” said Paul. “She never was fond of powder. ”
“Perhaps it is not true of men, but if women do not begin early with such things they never take them up at all. Dolly rides well, you know, but I am sure she would not begin now if she had not learned as a girl.”
At the edge of the wood they turned into the lane leading to Mr. Pearson’s.
“Are you a good rider? ” Margaret looked up quickly, but he went on in his matter-of-fact tone. “Only a good rider knows what good riding is.”
“ I really do not know, ” she replied frankly. “I have always had horses that suited me, that I knew and loved. I might not pass the test in a trial of strength with a brute.”
“Would you try? ”
“I might, if there were no critics about. ”
“You ought not to. Never take a needless risk, ” he said abruptly.
Margaret made no reply, but she thought he did not look like one who would practice what he preached.
At the top of the rise they saw the Pearson homestead, and Mr. Pearson himself who, with the assistance of his son Jim and a sorrel horse which plodded dejectedly along its endless treadmill path, was sawing wood for the Westford market.
“It’s purty late in the year,” he remarked in answer to Paul’s query. “ What do you say, Jim ? ”
Jim said he guessed there were birds enough for them as knew where to find ’em.
“They ’re mighty well scattered now,” continued Mr. Pearson. “I seed a few lone ones in the run when I come through with this load of wood. They ’re mostly in the runs now, or on the edges where the sun lies. They come right down here to the house o’ nights, buddin’ in them yaller birches and apple trees.”
There was a pause much appreciated by the sorrel, during which Jim stared hard at Margaret.
“Miss Frazer and I would like to get a shot,” said Paul. “Could you take the dogs with us, say to-morrow, if the weather is fine ? ”
Mr. Pearson sat down on a log and deliberated.
“Fact is,” he said at length, “I ain’t done much shootin’ since Mr. Kensett quit. But you can have Jim most any day. His eyesight’s better ’n mine.”
“Well, then,” said Paul, turning to Jim, “ what do you say to to-morrow ? ”
“All right,” assented Jim. “I guess I can find some.”
“What about the snow, Mr. Pearson? ” asked Margaret. “Is it deep in the run ? ”
“Waal, I reckon it ain’t none too deep fer them as wants ter go, Miss Frazer.”
So it was arranged that Jim should be at Cedar Hill at seven the following morning.
“That’s a mighty nice girl, Jim, that Frazer girl,” said Mr. Pearson, as Paul and Margaret went up the lane. “What’s more,” he added, in the intervals between the buzzing of the saw, “there’s more folks than you and me thinks so.”
“It really seems as if the dogs know what we have been talking about,” said Margaret, as they turned into the driveway of Cedar Hill. “See how happy they are.”
“ I think they do, ” Paul replied absent-mindedly.
They went on in silence under the firs. A sudden constraint had fallen on them both. She was slightly in advance, and as he looked at her slender figure in the black jacket with its collar still turned up under the dark brown hair he kept repeating to himself, “ Who are you ? Who are you ? ”
“What are you thinking of?” he asked suddenly, aloud. She turned her large gray eyes full upon him in a sort of bewilderment. She felt her throat swelling, yet her voice was perfectly steady.
“I do not know,” she said slowly.
They went on through the short open space without another word. Dolly nodded to them from the window where she sat writing and met Margaret at the door. When Paul came in, after tying up the dogs, she was at her desk again.
“ Did Miss Frazer tell you of our plan for to-morrow?” he asked.
“No,” said Dolly, “what plan?”
Paul told her. “Will you go too? ” he asked. He knew very well she would not.
“I? I would n’t touch a gun with my little finger. But I tell you what we can do.” She laid down her pen. “You are going up the run behind the Pearson farm ? that is where Cecil used to go. There is a sugar camp at the head of the run in the maples. It is an old log house, but there is a chimney in it, and I will send out in the morning and have a fire built. We will meet you there for luncheon, then you can go on in the afternoon if you wish to.”
“ Can you drive there ? ”
“Then you might send a sleigh for us later. I don’t know how Miss Frazer will stand an all day’s tramp. However, we can decide that at luncheon.”
Dolly had it on her tongue’s end to ask him if he did not like Margaret, but refrained. He was vaguely conscious that she wished him to. Twenty-four hours ago, had she intimated as much, he would have laughed at her. Now he would have liked to have her speak of Margaret. But she was discreetly silent. He wandered about the room restlessly for a while, glanced over the New York evening papers on the table, and finally declared he would go and have a look at the guns. While engaged in their inspection he tried to remember what he had said to Miss Frazer. So far as he could recollect — nothing. Many a time afterwards he endeavored in vain to recall that nothing. Not to remember the beginning ! the beginning of all that changed the current and meaning of life.
When Margaret reached her room, of all they had said and talked about just one sentence remained. It came back when other thoughts were uppermost; it came back when she refused to think at all. “I am glad I was with you.” As a young girl she had assumed as a matter of course, but without thinking over-much about it, that she would be married, as most of her school friends had been, before reaching what seemed then that distant milestone of twenty. She had had more than her share of admiration, but none that had touched her heart. She possessed none of those lesser ambitions which sometimes persuade a woman that they and the heart’s wishes are in accord, and too much rectitude and sincerity of nature to drift into false situations. Gradually and insensibly, with a logic as irrational as had been her early conviction to the contrary, she came to believe she would not marry at all. She was too healthful of mind and body to be swayed by such a belief from normal living; although sometimes, after her father’s death, life looked a little lonely and sad. And now, suddenly, a whole world of glorious possibility opened to her. Was it to be hers after all ? Did she wish it? Oh yes, she wished it, with all the passionate force of the thirst one spring only can quench, and the consciousness of it forced its way through every barrier, and wrung the admission from her by virtue of its very truth. She took one swift look at the wonderful vision, and then crushed it out of sight and thought.
If it had been any other rightful prize of life she could have taken every rightful step to possess herself of it. But from love, the dearest prize of all, she could only shut her eyes and bar her thought. Yet the tide of a new joy ran deep in her heart.
Arthur Sherburne Hardy.
(To be continued.)