AUGUST , 1909
BY WILLIAM JOHN HOPKINS
I WAS sitting under my great pine with my son and my daughter, giving them the instruction which I considered suited to their years. My son, who is nearly four, was much interested, for the time being, in a colony of carpenter ants, which went in procession up one groove in the bark of the pine and down another.
My daughter was seated on the pine needles on the ground, very happy, apparently, in taking up handfuls of the needles, and letting the gentle wind sift them between her fingers. As the needles fell in a slow shower she cooed softly to herself, “ Oo—ee. Oo—ee,” over and over. My daughter is not very old. She cannot walk yet, which is why I felt that she did not need to be watched very closely.
I leaned back in my seat, and looked out over the harbor. I saw Tom Ellis rowing slowly by, with his chin sunken on his breast. That was not like Tom Ellis, to be rowing by alone, and slowly, and with his chin on his breast ; usually when he is alone, you would think that he was rowing a race. I wondered what he had done — or what had been done to him that he should be so downcast.
Eve had come and was just behind me. " What is it, Adam ? ” she asked.
“ There’s Tom,” I answered. “ There seems to be something wrong.”
Eve looked. “ Call him in,” she said. “ Hurry, Adam ! ”
And Eve slipped down upon the pine needles beside her daughter, who cooed and gurgled with delight. Who would n’t? " Mother’s baby! ” said Eve. Her son slipped down beside them both.
I went to the edge of the bluff. “ Mother’s baby ! ” I shouted,
Tom Ellis was almost beyond hearing; but he looked up at that. It was no wonder. I was unable to shout again, for some minutes ; but I beckoned, and Tom shook his head ; and I beckoned again, furiously, and Tom shook his head again. It was of no use. I had to get Eve up from her seat on the ground. Eve generally has her way. Tom turned his boat and came in. Eve and I went back to our seat, and presently Tom came up my path at the side. It is pretty steep, but the only way up.
“ How d’ye do,” said Tom. " What did you two people go and interrupt my ruminations for ? " He threw himself down beside the children. " Hello, kiddies,” he said. They immediately began crawling over him and searching his pockets. Tom has a way with children.
“ Tom,” I began, “ Eve thinks that you should account for yourself — ”
Eve interrupted me. “ What’s wrong ? Is Cecily — ”
“ I guess she is,” said Tom. He was silent for some while. “ She’s broken the engagement — thrown me over — bidden me farewell forever — not a fond one.”
“ Why, Tom !” cried Eve. “ Why, Tom ! It must be some mistake. Cecily could n’t mean — ”
“ She did,” Tom replied. " No doubt about it,”
“ But, Tom,” I said, “ what’s it all about, anyway ? You have n’t told us.”
Tom had got up. Now he laughed and threw himself down on the needles again ; at which my daughter crowed and cast herself upon him.
“ Well,” he said, “ if you must have it, and if you don’t know already, it’s Cecily’s career that ’s troubling her.”
“ What’s the matter with it ? ” I asked.
“ I am,” Tom returned quietly. Then he fell silent and Eve smiled ; and when I would have pressed Tom to say more, she shook her head at me to bid me wait. So I waited and, in time, it came. Some of it I knew already, and some of it was news to me. Eve, I suspected, knew more than I, which struck me as strange. I had the advantage of her by ten years, if it can be considered an advantage to live in a village and not to know its inhabitants.
One of those inhabitants was Tom Ellis and another was Cecily Snow. To be sure, Tom was away at school when I came, and Cecily was a very little girl. I was not especially interested in very little girls, at that time. And Cecilyceased to be a very little girl, and Tom went to college. The inhabitants of villages are not necessarily benighted, and Tom’s father was rich ; not nearly as rich as Old Goodwin, Eve’s father, but yet rich. In due time, Tom came home; and, some time between then and now, he became engaged to Cecily. That is the substance of what I knew already. The rest was news to me. I don’t know, even now, as much as a man should know about his neighbors.
Tom had known Cecily all his I life — or all hers. That may have been all the trouble. Suppose that Eve had known me all my life! As a small boy, Tom used to meet Cecily when she was no more than a baby in a coach; and he seemed to have some pleasure in recalling how she used to wave her arms excitedly at the sight of him, and laugh. Therefore, as Tom said, — but perhaps not therefore, — he liked her. The nurse-maid, too, took a fancy to Tom, which is not strange, and took some pains that he should meet them. She made a secret of the meetings too. Now, there was no reason in the world why the meetings of a small boy and a baby who lived next door but one should have been clandestine, but they partook of that character, largely because of the extraordinary behavior of that nurse-maid. She was a romantic creature — the nurse-maid — and she probably had her plans, even then. Tom had none.
At this point in his narrative I interrupted Tom. “ Where is that nursemaid now ? ” I asked.
Tom grinned. “ Married,” he said. “ No children. Worthless husband. Lives in a little house on the edge of the village. Takes in washing. You know her.”
“ Mary MacLandrey! ” I cried.
“ Oh! ” said Eve. I did not in the least know why; neither did she, as it turned out. She merely wished to pigeon-hole that bit of information.
“ Mary MacLandrey,” Tom repeated. “ I shan’t dare to meet her, after this.” And he grinned again.
Then he went on. He used rather to count on meeting Cecily on his way to school, and, again, on his way from school at noon, when he usually stopped to play with her. He made no parade of these meetings with Cecily, because he was a boy of eight, and he was afraid of what the other boys might say if they knew that he liked to play with a baby. What difference did his age make ? Are n’t we always afraid of what the other boys may say ? Do we ever outgrow that fear ?
Tom probably would have taken no trouble at all to conceal his meetings with the baby if it had not been for Mary MacLandrey — whatever was her name at that time. The full shame of it did not strike him until some five years later, when Cecily was six and he was thirteen. Boys of thirteen have no business to like to play with little girls, and their mates have names for those who do. Those names are not pleasant to hear when shouted out in chorus. That they are apt to be applied in that manner, everybody knows — or, at least, so Tom thought, which amounted to the same thing, so far as he was concerned. So, although he still liked Cecily immensely, his meetings with her were, at this time, truly clandestine on his part. There was nothing clandestine on Cecily’s part. She was much too young, and she always despised anything of that kind, anyway.
“ Why,” said Tom, “ I remember how hurt she was when I suddenly put her down, one day, and took to my heels because I thought that I heard some of the other boys. She would scarcely speak to me when I saw her the next time. But it was Mary’s fault. She was always on the lookout for me. ‘ Run, now, Tommy,’ she said, in a whisper that was enough to make any man feel that his motives were unworthy and would not bear the light of day. ' Run, now. I hear Dick and Johnny Cantrell coming.’ So I ran. Is it to be wondered at ? ”
But Cecily must have got over her resentment on that occasion and many another. She wrote regularly to Tom when he was away at school, and he wrote to her — pretty regularly, for a boy at school. Funny little letters they must have been at first, and for a long time after. The correspondence continued until Tom took his degree. It would have continued longer, but that Tom came home then, and made writing unnecessary.
He found Cecily a tall girl of sixteen, just blossoming, and he became devoted to her, as was to be expected. At least, Cecily seemed to expect it, and Tom had not the slightest inclination to disappoint her.
Up to the time when Tom finished college, there was no fault that could reasonably have been found with him. He might have worked harder, to be sure; but, as he said, what for ? There was no answer. He had got his degree, creditably enough. The trouble was that he seemed to feel that his work was done, and that thereafter, forever, he had nothing to do but play. Why should he work ? He had money enough.
Now that is a matter that I touch upon somewhat reluctantly. It is a delicate question whether a man is under any obligation to work unless he has to or wants to. I might offer, in my own defense, the fact that I taught in a school for some years before deciding to have no regular occupation. I got very little gratitude for it — and not much else. No. I shall contribute nothing to the discussion of that question.
Cecily had no such hesitation. As time went by and Tom made no move, she began to prod him, to his intense surprise. He had supposed that his attitude was well understood — and approved. It must have been during an interval of forgetfulness, on Cecily’s part, that they became engaged ; either she was thoughtless or she was guilty of shameless duplicity, intending to get a better hold on him in order to reform him. I should not suspect her of duplicity. It may have happened about the time that her father died.
Cecily’s father was never a rich man. He was comfortably off, and he gave Cecily the best that was to be had of everything, even to masters in music and painting such as many a richer man would have felt unable to afford. She had qualified in portrait-painting by the time she was eighteen or nineteen. She seemed to have a positive genius for it. She drew a portrait of me in five minutes one afternoon, and then Eve stole it. Eve did not even let me see it ; she said it was too good.
Cecily laughed. “ You shall have one, too,” she said to me, with a roguish glance; “ but not of yourself. It might make you vain.”
And thereupon she drew, in another five minutes, a portrait of Eve. I showed it to Eve, keeping a firm hold upon it.
“ You need not hold on to it so tightly,” said Eve, smiling at me. “ I would not take anything away that gives you pleasure. Do you think it is good ? ” she added.
Good ! That portrait hangs, framed, in my study. It is as nearly perfect as anything of the kind can be. No mere pencil drawing can do Eve justice. She needs color. But for a pencil sketch, done in five minutes, it is perfect. Yes, Cecily is a genius at portraits. And portrait painters are born, not made. There is reason in Cecily’s contention for a career.
That developed genius of Cecily’s may account, in some measure, for the fact that her father left almost nothing for his widow and his daughter besides the house they live in. At any rate, it indicates what manner of man he was, and why he left no more. “ A free spender,” old Judson called him ; and a free spender he was, in ways that are worth while. Cecily’s desire to fulfill her manifest destiny, as she put it, is easily accounted for. The consciousness of power and the pressure of necessity both urged her. There was no evident connection between the pressure of necessity and Tom Ellis. She could have been relieved of the one by marrying the other. She could have done that at any minute. He urged her to take that step; he urged her so often that she tired of hearing.
“ Tom, Tom,” she said impatiently, but smiling, too, “ still harping on my daughter ? You know I won’t. If you ’d do something, — or only try, — I might consider it. But, now, — I can’t.”
“ Why should I do something ? ” Tom returned. “ I take it that you mean something in the way of a business or a profession. I don’t need to, and I don’t see why I should. I find a plenty to do. There will be more as I get older.”
“ As you like,” said Cecily.
There it rested for a time. Tom was obstinate, — he preferred to call it determined, and Cecily was no less so. But there was nothing mean about Tom, and he was quite ready and willing to support Cecily’s mother, if they would only let him. Mrs. Snow would have been willing enough, for she was fond of Tom; but she had very little to sav about it. The idea did not commend itself to Cecily.
That state of affairs, manifestly, could not continue forever. It had already continued longer than Tom thought wise, and he made up his mind to settle it. He went into the Snows’ last night for that purpose. It was early, and Mrs. Snow and Cecily were sitting on the piazza, watching the western sky. The red was just fading out of it. Mrs. Snow smiled as Tom came up the steps.
“ Good-evening, Tom,” she said. “ I suppose it must be about time for old ladies to go in. But I don’t want to go quite yet.”
“ Don’t,” said Tom. ” Stay and lend me your moral support — and whatever influence you have with this young person. I shall need it. But,” he added, smiling, ” I don’t believe that anybody really has any influence with her.”
Cecily laughed. “ How absurd, Tom ! ”
Tom deliberately placed a chair near her and threw himself into it, stretching his long legs. “ Cecily,” he began slowly, “ I ’ve come to ask a favor. I did n’t mention it last night because — well, for good reasons. The night before last, I had not thought of it.”
“ Very remiss on your part. You know, Tom,” Cecily said sweetly, “ that I will do anything, in reason, for you.”
“ Marry me,” said Tom, as though he were proposing no more than an icecream. “ We’ll run away, to-morrow, and we won’t tell your mother anything about it.”
Mrs. Snow chuckled. She seemed much amused.
Cecily laughed again. “ O Tom, you are so deliciously absurd, I almost could.”
“ I promise to be blind and deaf,” her mother said.
“ You need n’t be, mother dear,” said Cecily.
“ Come on, Cecily,” Tom urged. “ Let ’s.”
Cecily shook her head slowly. The red was gone from the west, and he could hardly see her face.
“ Oh, no, not really, Tom, dear,”she said, sighing gently. “ I said anything in reason. That is not in reason. You lack ideas, Tom.”
“ Yes,” he answered softly, “ I know I do. I have but one idea.”
“ I wish I could, Tom. I wish I could.”Cecily cried, impulsively reaching over to lay her hand on his arm. “ You are so good! ”
Tom made no move to imprison the hand — which she may have expected or she may not. “ Not good enough, it seems,” he said. ” Well, — why not, Cecily ? When will you ? ”
“ Run away with you, Tom ? " she asked calmly. " Why, never.” She had withdrawn her hand.
“ Marry me,” said Tom, as calmly as she had spoken. ” If you don’t want to run away with me, have a big wedding, if you like — church, bridesmaids, and all the trimmings. I will even agree to give a dinner the night before, although I hate them.”
“ Never that, either,”Cecily replied wearily.
“ Any way you like, Cecily,” said Tom desperately, leaning towards her. “ I only want you.”
“ Tom, dear,” said Cecily, then, " I — don’t — know. I really don’t. I’m afraid — afraid that I don’t care enough.”
“ Don’t care enough! ” Tom cried. He had not thought of that. “ Then I suppose there is no more to be said.”
“ Oh! Cecily! ” said her mother reproachfully.
“ I’m only afraid,” added Cecily in some haste, “ that I don’t care enough to overcome my objections.”
” State your objections,” said Tom, in deep dejection. " What are they — the same old things ? ” He looked up, but he could notsee her face. He did not need to. “Objections overruled,"he said decidedly.
Cecily laughed nervously. She recovered herself.
“ Oh, I did n’t mean to laugh. They are the same old things, Tom,” she said softly. “ The same old things. Probably neither would be fatal, by itself. But if you’d only do something! It seems to me — ” Tom grunted impatiently. “ Well, then, there is my painting, it is n’t only that I love it. You may think me terribly conceited, but I don’t think I am. I can do portraits.” Cecily spoke appealingly.
“ Of course you can,” Tom agreed. “ Have n’t you done several speaking likenesses of yours truly ? It would n’t be right for you to give it up. Cheat future generations out of their birthright of family portraits ? Never! ”
Cecily gave a short little laugh. “ There ! ” she said, triumphantly. “ There! ”
Tom gave up his bantering. “ But, Cecily,” he urged, “ I never had the slightest idea of interfering with your painting. You should go on with it just the same — just the same. I should think you would do better. You would be free from any possible anxiety. And I hope that you would be happier — a little. I would do my best,”
Cecily sighed. “ I know you would, Tom.”
Tom turned to her mother. “ Can’t you help me ? ”
“ Cecily, dear,” she said, “ Tom is right. You would be throwing away your happiness for nothing. You would get restless and impatient and discontented — perhaps without knowing why — and your work would suffer. I know, dear.”
Cecily did not reply immediately. “ I can’t agree with you, mother,” she said at last, quietly. “ I wish I could.”
“ I am considerably older than you, Cecily, dear.” They knew that Mrs. Snow was smiling, although they could not see her face. “ Long before you are as old as I am, you will agree with me. And you will be sorry — and so shall I, dear.”
It is a pity that experience cannot be inherited. Cecily made no reply.
“ Cecily,” Tom said, grinning, — if it had been light enough for Cecily to see that grin, — but it was not, — “ Cecily, I have a business proposition to make. I will purchase your portraits of me. And I will adopt a profession,”
“ Oh, will you ? ” There was no mistaking the joy in Cecily’s voice. Tom instantly regretted his joke, but he carried it through.
“ I will become your model,” Tom continued. ” It is a very worthy profession. How many portraits of me have you — in stock, if I may use the term ? ”
Cecily laughed in spite of herself. She is very ready with her laugh.
“ Proposition turned down,” she said. “ There are about two dozen portraits, some of them life-size. At the market prices, it would bankrupt you, Tom.”
Cecily used to paint Tom whenever she had nothing else to do. That was pretty often.
“ Oh, I guess not,” replied Tom easily. “ Call it a bargain, Cecily.”
She shook her head; then she remembered that Tom could not see her. “ It was n’t nice to make a joke about the profession,” said Cecily, on the verge of tears.
“ I know,” returned Tom contritely, “ and I ought not to have done it. But there is Adam. He has no occupation, but he finds enough to do. I never heard you find any fault with him.”
“Oh, Adam ! ” said Cecily. “ Adam is an exception.”
Now, that was out of the kindness of Cecily’s heart that she called me an exception. She does not really think it. But there you are. I know what people think — or what they think they think. I prefer not to state it. And I don’t care. I do work, after a fashion, and I have my time all planned out. But I have not taken my neighbors into my confidence, and I am looked upon, I have no doubt, as a horrible example of a lazy man who has married money. When I suggested that view of the matter to Eve, she was quite indignant. She would have delivered a lecture to the villagers, if I had been willing, and therein she would have related, perhaps with sundry embellishments, the only true story of — that is, our story. I am not ready for that.
But I don’t care what they think of me. I have had my time all planned out for some while. It will be pretty thoroughly occupied with teaching my son and seeing that he has enough Latin and Greek. Now that those studies have gone out of fashion with the colleges, there is nobody to see that a boy gets enough of them unless his father sees to it. There is nothing to take their place; nothing else that will do, for a boy, just what they did. Modern methods! I snap my fingers at modern methods. I have seen enough of the results of so-called modern methods in my own teaching. There are no results. There — But let us come back to Cecily.
“ There is n’t any use in our arguing this over and over, Tom. I’m worn out with it. Our engagement will have to end.”
“ When ? ” asked Tom, soberly.
“ Now, Tom,” answered Cecily. “ It has ended.” She had been struggling with her finger. “ Here’s the ring. I’m going in. I’m tired.”
“ Thanks,” said Tom. “ Now, I wonder if I can hit Adam’s house with it.”
He might have known he could n’t. It is a long throw from the Snows’ house to mine, even for a crack thrower, such as Tom Ellis was a few years ago. But he tried it.
“ Oh! ” cried Cecily.
“ Good-night,” said Tom quietly. “ I will go, of course. Good-night, Mrs. Snow.”
So Tom was gone; and Cecily went in, feeling very much alone. Nobody was on her side, but everybody was against her. And, thinking that, she went to her own room and cried. What for ? She had had her own way. That is nothing to cry about.
“ Adam,” said Eve to me, the next morning, “ I’m worried about Tom.”
I was doing nothing, of course — hoeing corn. If any one thinks that is doing nothing, just let him try it. I had already gathered our day’s harvest, and my son had run out with each separate ear, and then run back for another. The stalks were taller than my head, and much too close for the wheel-hoe. I cannot use it after my corn gets above my waist. So I was using the hand-hoe — hoeing in the old-fashioned, back-breaking fashion. I straightened up, with a sigh.
“ What’s that, Eve ? ” I asked. “ Oh, Tom. What’s the matter with him ?”
Eve had come into the corn, stepping daintily. “ Is n’t it nice in here, Adam ? ” she said. “ Nobody can possibly see us. Kiss me — but don’t touch me,” she added hastily. “ Your hands are too dirty.”
They were. I had pulled out an occasional weed with my fingers, digging in the earth for it. The roots of this doggrass — but I laughed and put my hands behind me, and bent over her, and kissed the sweet upturned mouth. There was a cry from the end of the row, and our son came running in between the hills.
“I want,” he cried, holding up his arms.
“ And you shall have it, little sweetheart,” said Eve. She folded him in her arms, regardless of his hands, which were almost as dirty as mine.
“ What is it about Tom ? ” I asked.
She rose, keeping her hold on her son’s hand. “ He seemed so downhearted,” she said. “ And, now, I am sure he has gone to the wharf, and — and I want you to see that he — is all right, Adam. There’s a dear.”
“ Afraid he will drown himself ? ” I asked, smiling at her.
“ Not really afraid,” Eve answered, laughing a little; “ but — you go down there, Adam. Will you — just to oblige me ? I shall feel easier.”
I laughed, and dropped my hoe, and went in to wash my grubby hands. I had no fear that Tom would drown himself, or even try to. He would have a hard time doing it, for Tom is a splendid swimmer, and I have yet to see the swimmer who is able to drown himself. His instincts are sure to get the better of his intentions. It was most likely that Tom’s perfectly innocent intention was merely to go out for a lonely sail. The water had been like glass all the morning, up to an hour before, and there was very little wind, even now; but it seemed the most reasonable explanation.
“ Come, son,” I said, holding out my hand. “ Want to go down to the wharf ? ”
“ Oh. yes,” he cried. “ I do.” And he took my hand and we said good-by to Eve and set off together.
We saw Tom, when we were near enough, sitting upon the string-piece of the wharf — our only wharf — and gazing out over the water. Eve would have been reassured at the sight. And, as his gaze fell upon his boat, lying at her mooring out upon that quiet water, her sails unfurled, waiting for him, he seemed to settle himself only the more firmly against the pile at his back. I knew just how that pile felt; many a time I had sat upon the string-piece, with my back against that very pile. On such a day as this, it would feel hot against my back, but it would be some comfort to me. and I would drowse and dream, with the quiet harbor before me. It is a peaceful place, with no marks of progress upon it. The world might be standing still for all that harbor and that wharf show. But what do we care for progress? Out upon it!
He looked up as we approached, and nodded and said nothing. I said nothing, either, but I sat beside him, and my son between us, with my arm around him. And the little harbor seemed filled with peace, too, with the few boats that were left in it lying at their moorings, their cables slack. My son, after a brief greeting to Tom, had been overcome by the drowsiness of the place, and he slept. It was no wonder. I might have gone to sleep myself, but for the necessity of keeping him from falling into the water. Some ancient windmills on the farther shore turned lazily in the gentle southwest wind, protesting as they turned. I could hear their groans as I sat there. Harbor and country shimmered in sunshine; and I found myself dozing and on the point of falling off. I roused myself.
We sat there for a long time, steeping ourselves in sunshine. Time was nothing to us.
“ There she comes,” Tom remarked.
I cast a glance down toward the bay and saw a sail sauntering into the harbor.
“ Who is that ? ” I asked.
“ Alice Carbonnel,” said Tom.
“ Oh,” said I. It was not a complete answer to my question. But Tom is not to blame for that, for we did not know any more of Alice Carbonnel than her name, although it was not our fault that we did not. She had come sailing in one day, out of a clear sky, so to speak. Nobody knew where she came from, or why she had come — or when she would go, or whither. She was a mystery; and we — and by we I mean the village — were curious about her accordingly. Old women, young women, girls, and men gossiped freely. Even Eve and I have wondered, mildly. But it is all to no purpose; and, although both Eve and I have met Miss Carbonnel — so has Tom, it seems — we know no more about her than about the Sphinx. She is a tall girl, statuesque and beautiful, of a calm demeanor and of few words — your statues never did talk much — and a mystery. That may account for Tom’s behavior and for mine.
The sloop came on swiftly, in spite of the lightness of the wind, with Alice Carbonnel at the wheel. As she approached her mooring, the girl stood up, tall and more like a statue than ever, and as calm as the calmest of old skippers; and there is nothing calmer. She gave some quiet order — we could almost hear it — and her two sailors quickly took in jib and staysail and had them stowed in a jiffy. She made her mooring deftly.
Soon there was a boat with Miss Carbonnel in the stern of it and a sailor rowing. They made a landing hard by where we were sitting and Tom jumped to his feet, quickly, to hand her ashore. I would have done it. but that my son was lying within my arm. Indeed, I must have started to get up, for, the first thing that I knew, my sleeping son slipped over the string-piece and plumped into the harbor. I had just time to hear a little cry from Miss Carbonnel before I hit the water, too.
I overtook my son before he had done going down. He was under water less than ten seconds; but it is a little of a shock for a sleeping youngster to be wakened by a plunge into the harbor. He held his breath instinctively, while under water; as soon as his head was clear of the surface he yelled lustily. I tried to divert him.
“ See, son,” I said, laughing; “ we’re all wet. What do you suppose mother ’ll say ? ”
He stopped crying and began to laugh at the absurdity of it. " Yes, we’re a’ wet, are n’t we ? ” He called delightedly to Tom. “ We ’re a’ wet. See! What will ya say ? ”
Tom was laughing — very naturally for a man who was supposed to be in the depths because of a disappointment in love. How deep does it go ? “ I should say so, youngster. You ’d better get out. See if you can swim to me.”
So my son struck out, bravely, — I have taught him the motions of swimming, but he is not able to keep himself afloat, yet, — while I, swimming almost on my back, held up his chin, and incidentally kept a hand on the slack of his little breeches. Miss Carbonnel, seeming more human and less like a statue than she had, wore an anxious look until he was safe in Tom’s grasp. Tom drew him up on the float, holding him at arm’s length. He seemed to be afraid that my son would shake himself, dog-like. I got myself ashore as gracefully as I could, and there we stood, dripping.
Alice Carbonnel, with not even a glance at me, stooped her tall body — more gracefully than I had supposed possible — and put her two hands under my son’s arms.
“ But, Miss Carbonnel,” I said hastily, “ he is as wet as he can be. A our dress — ”
“ It is no matter,” she said, not glancing up, even then. “ Water will not hurt it. Little dear,” she said to my son, with a smile that illumined her face, — this beautiful statue had a soul, it seemed, — “ little dear, you had a swim for it, did n’t you ? ” She gave him a gentle shake which brought the water out in a shower. Her hands were running rivers.
My son was hanging back a little, half afraid, but half smiling, too, and looking at her with his head a little down, as children will. " Yes,”he said; then he changed, suddenly. “ I like you,”he murmured.
Tom was grinning like any idiot.
“ Do you, dear ? ” laughed Alice Carbonnel. “ Well, I’m glad, for I like you, too. And I liked you first. Now you must go home and get on some dry clothes, and, pretty soon, I will come to see how you are. May I ? " she asked, looking up at me. It was the first glance she had vouchsafed me. Her calm, even manner of speaking had returned, instantly, and even the smile was gone from her eyes.
“ Eve will be much pleased,” I said; “ and I think my son will be pleased, too.”
She turned to him, again. “ I will come pretty soon. Will you give me a kiss ? ”
“ Yes,” he replied. “ I’m a’ wet. But I don’t care,”he added. He was willing to waive the matter; my son has a liberal spirit.
Not to indulge in half-way measures, he put both his arms about Miss Carbonnel’s neck and kissed her. As was to be expected, her dress was soaked. I hastened to apologize.
Miss Carbonnel was laughing. " It is no matter,” she said. " It was worth it, don’t you think ? ”
It was not every one who would have been so indulgent. I went and picked up my hat and coat, which lay where I had shed them. " Come, son,” I said; and, bidding good-by to Miss Carbonnel, we started for home. I would not say a word to Tom. I was ashamed of Tom. No one would have imagined, from his appearance, that he was supposed to be cast down. He was acting as if Alice Carbonnel were the only woman. Idiot!
We were partly dry by the time we got home, but not attractive figures. Eve did not chide me — or it was of the mildest.
“ Oh, Adam, Adam ! ” she cried. " What a father you are! ”
She heard my tale while she was removing our son’s wet clothes. She rubbed him briskly with a towel, and had him dressed again before I had my own wet things off.
“ Oh, Adam, Adam ! ” she said again. " I shall have to go with you both, the next time.” She was half-way downstairs. " Where is Tom ?” she asked.
“ Tom is salving a wounded heart,” I called in answer. " He will not drown himself. I left him with Alice Carbonnel. He appeared to be content enough.”
“Hush, Adam,” said Eve, running upstairs again. " Cecily is downstairs.”
“Oh, thunder! ” I exclaimed. " Why did n’t you tell me ? ” I had put my foot in it, now. I am continually doing that. Who would have thought that Cecily would be downstairs ?
I did not hurry down, but there was no escape for me. I found Cecily there. There was a suspicious redness about her eyes, and the corners of her mouth drooped pathetically. But she smiled brightly at me.
“ I wailed for you, Adam,” she said. “ I wished to relieve your mind. I suppose — in fact, I know — that Tom has told you our engagement is broken. I broke it. If he can console himself by being with Miss Carbonnel I am glad. There is no reason why you should n’t have said that — about leaving him with her — to me, but I know, very well, that you would n’t.”
She laughed, and I would have said something, but, for the life of me, I could n’t think of anything to say. Commonplaces would have sounded silly.
Cecily saw my predicament and laughed again. “ I am laughing at you, Adam,” she said. “ You want to say something comforting and appropriate, and can’t think of the right thing. I ’ll forgive you if you will be properly sorry that I am going away.”
“ Going away, Cecily! ” I exclaimed. “ I promise to be as sorry as you can wish. When ? Where are you going ? And what for ? ”
“ To-morrow. To New York. To make a beginning,” answered Cecily. “ I’ve been crying my eyes out about it. I don’t want to go, but I shall never want to any more than I do now. I may as well make the break right now. I came in to say good-by and to ask Eve to use her influence. I can’t afford to be proud.”
“ Eve will use her influence fast enough. I wish I had some to use. It would be something to be proud of when you are famous.”
“ If you would n’t mind waiting,” said Cecily. She drooped a little when she said good-by, but she did not cry. Eve proposed seeing her off, but she said that she would prefer that we did n’t. It only made it worse to leave your friends behind — visibly.
“ Well,” I remarked, when she had gone, “ that seems rather sudden.”
“ Poor Cecily ! ” said Eve. She said no more for some minutes. “ I have no patience with Tom,” she added. “ The idea! ”
“ Would you have him moping ? ” I asked.
Eve looked at me, considering. “ Why, yes,” she replied; “ at least, for a few days. It would n’t have hurt him.”
“ It is rather a quick recovery,” I acknowledged.
“ It is n’t decent,” said Eve, with some heat. “ I should n’t have thought it of Tom.”
“ N-o,” I returned ; “ still, there is something to be said for Tom. Miss Carbonnel is a very beautiful girl — and a very attractive one.”
Eve gave me a quick glance. “ You found her so ? ” she asked.
“ You would have found her so if you had seen how she took to your son,” I answered somewhat hurriedly. “ And he took to her — with both arms.”
Eve laughed. “ After he fell overboard ? ”
“ After he fell overboard. She would have nothing to do with us before. He got her pretty wet.”
“ I am ready to love her for that. It was not her fault that Tom — ”
“ It was not,” I said. “ Then she asked if she might come in to see how he did after his bath, and I said that you would be glad to have her.”
“ You told the truth, Adam,” said Eve, smiling at me. “ You always tell the truth. I brag of it.”
“ Thank you,” said I. “ I can admire beauty — I do admire it — whether it is my wife’s or another’s. Miss Carbonnel may be here at any time, now.”
For I saw Tom Ellis just coming in at the gate, and I put two and two — or one and one — together.
Eve’s greeting to Tom was a little chilly. Tom perceived that fact — he is no fool — and smiled a smile of amusement.
“ Am I out of favor ? ” said Tom. “ Then I will withdraw to more congenial companionship. ”
“ Miss Carbon nel’s ? ” asked Eve.
“ The kiddies’,” answered Tom, laughing. “ Where are they ? ”
Eve melted at once. “ Tom,” she said, " I’m as provoked with you as I can be; but it is impossible to stay angry with you.”
“ I’m glad of that,” returned Tom simply.
“ I’ll send the children out,” Eve continued. “ Do you want them both ? ”
“ I want all you’ve got,” said Tom. “ I need ’em.”
“ Bless your heart,” said Eve; and she went in to find our son and our daughter. She even carried her daughter to the pine and set her down on the needles beside Tom.
“ There! ” she said.
“ Thank you,” said Tom; and they began to play in the needles, very well content, apparently, Tom and my son and my daughter. I heard the laughter of all three as Eve came back to me.
Eve heard it too, and smiled at it. “ Is n’t Tom dear, Adam ? ” she whispered. “ Who would suppose that he would want to play with our babies, now ? But I have my ideas about him,” she added. ” He is not so simple as he seems.”
“ You should know,” I answered. “ You have known him as long as I have — and better. I have my ideas about him, too.” Our gate clicked and I looked up. “ Here is Miss Carbonnel.”
Miss Carbonnel came in, looking more like a statue than ever; a very lovely statue, with a half smile on her face as she met Eve, and a look in her eyes that would have been wistful if she had been anybody else, — as if she were not sure of her welcome, — and an incipient dimple in her chin. It would hardly do for Alice Carbonnel to have full-blown dimples. If it would have been the thing to have dimples, she would have had them — naturally; none of your made-to-order dimples. She was as perfect, in her way, as Eve was in hers. I cannot say more. And it was a very good way, too.
Eve almost stared at her — not quite. Trust Eve for that. But she had never had a good look at her, near to, before. We had met Miss Carbonnel at one of those solemn functions, which are my particular detestation, where you cannot move about the rooms without actually elbowing your way, where you are lucky if you get a glimpse of the person to whom you are presented before you are shoved ahead by the other persons who wish to be presented — or who are supposed to wish it. I always escape from such functions as soon as possible, and Eve usually escapes with me. Eve is very good.
I did not wish to seem backward in greeting Miss Carbonnel, and I did not wish to seem in too much haste, either, — for various reasons; so I strolled up, some way behind Eve, and, when I had mentioned our joy at seeing her — and one or two other things — I excused myself. Miss Carbonnel bowed her head graciously, but neither she nor Eve seemed to think it a matter of the slightest consequence whether I went or stayed. I went ; and, as I turned to go, I heard Miss Carbonnel asking after our son.
Eve laughed. “ Pukkie ? ” she said. Pukkie, I may mention, is not the boy’s name, but it is what he is called by every one who knows him well. It was a mark of great favor, on Eve’s part, that she had called him that to Miss Carbonnel. “ Pukkie ? He is behind that pine with Tidda. Shall we go down there ? ” I thought that I knew why she laughed. Her reasons were complex, but, in the end, she was laughing at herself.
“ And who is Tidda ? ” asked Miss Carbonnel, starting off with Eve. “ Your maid, perhaps ? ”
“ Tidda is Pukkie’s sister,” Eve replied. “ She is very young.”
“ Oh! ” cried Miss Carbonnel, in surprise — in pleased surprise, I thought. “ A baby ? ” She hurried a little — just the least little bit.
I went off to my garden and hoed corn violently. I had not intended to hoe corn again that day. I had my corn to myself — until Miss Carbonnel went. Tom went with her.
Then Eve came into the corn. “ Adam,” she said, “ I think your Miss Carbonnel is lovely. You have my permission to admire her as much as you like.”
“ Thank you,” said I. “ But she is not my Miss Carbonnel. What happened at the pine ? ”
“ It was what did n’t happen that made it so interesting,” replied Eve. “ I can’t tell you. You should have been there to see.”I had been dying to be there, but I had made it impossible. I had no one but myself to blame. “ Now,” Eve went on, “ I am going over to father’s, to get some letters for Cecily. She does n’t know it. Will you come ? ”
So we went down the steep path at the side of the bluff, and along the shore, hand in hand, until we came to my clam beds; then up, through the greenery, to the great house on the hill, with its piazzas covered with costly rugs, with its wooden men in many buttons at every turn; with the quiet, simple, taciturn owner of all that luxury — Old Goodwin, Eve’s father. He listened and smiled.
“ That’s too bad,” he said. “ Cecily Snow ? ” And he went in to write the letters.
The next morning I was up early. While I was getting into my clothes I chanced to look out of a front window, and there I saw Cecily. She was on the lawn in front of the house, and she seemed to be searching for something in the grass. It had not been cropped for some days, and the dew lay heavy upon it. I called to Eve.
Eve was already dressed. She gave one look out of the window. “ Oh,” she cried ; and she ran downstairs, and I heard the front door open.
“ What is it, Cecily ? ” she asked. “ Have you lost something ? ”
Cecily seemed surprised. “ Oh! ” she said. “ I thought — I didn’t suppose you would be up so early.”
“ Have you lost something ? ” asked Eve again. “ Let me help you look for it. Why, the grass is soaking, Cecily. Your feet must be sopping wet. Wait until I get some rubbers. But what is it that you are looking for ? ”
“ Nothing,” Cecily answered, with a queer little smile; “ nothing much. I thought I might find — but it is n’t of any consequence. Don’t bother about it.”
And Eve, who can see as far through a hole in a millstone as anybody, did not bother; she did not even smile. Cecily was going out.
“ Wait a minute, Cecily,” said Eve. " I’ve got something for you. Perhaps you would rather take them with you than to have me bring them.” And she went to get the letters. Then she explained to Cecily what they were.
“ Thank you, Eve,” said Cecily, looking down. “ You are very good to me — you and Adam. Will you say good-by, again, to Adam, for me ?” She stepped forward, to kiss Eve, and raised her eyes. They were swimming in tears. And she turned, hastily, and went out.
So Cecily was gone. I could not think of her without some pity, although she probably would not have wanted my pity. She was a brave girl, making the plunge all alone, that way, in a great city, and taking her fate in her hands. If it had been Tom, now — but my feelings toward Tom were much mixed, I found.
Tom was becoming no better than a spaniel to follow Miss Carbonnel about, or a pet dog of some more quiet kind ; for he followed almost too closely at heel for your real spaniel. I had no means of judging how she liked it. Miss Carbonnel came in again a few days after Cecily’s going. She and Eve seem likely to become quite intimate; for Eve likes her, so far as I can tell, and, judging from her behavior, she likes Eve tolerably well. But everybody likes Eve — tolerably well.
Miss Carbonnel came in, as I have said, a few days after Cecily had gone away. She dropped in, as it were, casually; although I am reasonably sure that her dropping in was carefully planned. When Tom came wandering in, just five minutes later, I thought I saw the shadow of a smile flicker across her face. Whether the smile, if it had been born, would have been one of amusement at his curious behavior, or one of annoyance, or would have been some index of her pleasure, I could not determine. It might very well have been any one of them.
Tom strolled down to the pine, unconcernedly, — for it was at the pine that we were sitting, of course.
“ Hello, you inhabitants of the Garden of Eden,” he said, smiling quietly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to come there. Which, indeed, it was — if it had not been for Miss Carbonnel. “ Not cast out yet, I see.”
“ We shall be,” I replied, ” if you keep on in your evil courses.”
Tom turned and fixed me with his eye, and gave me a knowing glance; but what it was supposed to express I was at a loss to understand. I was no nearer to an understanding of what he would be at, than I had been before. He saw Miss Carbonnel when he turned, and seemed surprised.
“ Oh,” he said, “ good afternoon, Miss Carbonnel.”
“ Oh,” said Miss Carbonnel, “ good afternoon, Mr. Ellis.” She smiled, then. She did not say that Tom had been with her that morning — nearly the whole of it ; she did not give a hint of it, in any way. But I happened to know that he had. I regarded her behavior as suspicious.
“ Hypocrite! ” I cried. Tom took no notice of me.
My daughter cried out to him from her usual seat upon the pine needles. Her attention, up to the time of Tom’s coming, had been devoted to Miss Carbonnel.
“ Hello, Tidda,” said Tom, casting himself down beside her. “ So Pukkie has basely deserted us.”
“ Have n’t ! ” called Pukkie, from his seat beside Miss Carbonnel. “ Have n’t ’serted.”
“ Well, then,” urged Tom, “ come on.”
Pukkie shook his head. “ No,” he said. “ Not now.” And Miss Carbonnel put. her arm about him and Eve smiled.
“ All right for you,” said Tom. “ I won’t tell you what I’ve got in my pocket.”
My son did not seem to care what Tom had in his pocket; and we sat there, Miss Carbonnel and Eve and Pukkie and I, saying little, and that little of no consequence ; and Tom, not addressing a word to us, but engrossed in Tidda’s conversation and responding to her gurgles as if they made sense.
Presently Miss Carbonnel roused herself from a long silence, and rose. “ I must go.” she said, with a little sigh.
“ Wait a moment,” said Eve. And she sent our son to call the nurse-maid. “ I hope you will come in again, soon. I should be glad if you would come often.”
“ To-morrow ? ” asked Miss Carbonnel, with a doubtful little smile — the same smile that would have seemed wistful if it had belonged to anybody else.
“ Yes,” Eve replied, “ to-morrow. And as often as you will.”
“ Thank you,”Miss Carbonnel said gratefully.
Then the nurse appeared. She was not a young woman. There was something familiar to Tom about her as he saw her come from the house. Suddenly, he sprang to his feet.
“ Mary MacLandrey! ” he cried. “ I did n’t think it of you,” he said to Eve.
Eve only smiled at him. “ Yes,” she said. “ My nurse wanted a vacation. You recalled Mary, you remember. I have to thank you for it.”
“ Yes,” said Tom, “ I remember. No thanks required.”
Mary saw Tom and beamed upon him.
“ How d’ye do, Mary,” said Tom.
“ Very well, I thank you, Mr. Tom,” replied Mary, in a subdued voice, as was befitting. “ I hope you’re the same. How is Miss Cecily ? ” she added, in a still lower voice. “ I hear she’s gone away. How is she doing in New York, do you know, Mr. Tom ? ”
Tom shook his head. “ I don’t know, Mary,” he answered. “ I don’t know.”
Eve and Miss Carbonnel had gone on toward the gate. I had lingered to see what Tom would do. Now, he almost ran after them. Mary looked as if she had been struck by lightning.
“ Well, I never ! ” she murmured at last. “ Well, I never! ”
Tom went out at the gate about fifty feet behind Miss Carbonnel and gaining fast.
“ Like a pet dog,” I said to Eve, as we went back to our seat, “ who has inadvertently been left behind.”
Eve laughed. She is very good about that. She does not mind if I use the same simile over and over.
In a few minutes, there were signs of activity on the great white sloop, which lay in the water like a rock; and a boat put off from her and came back with Miss Carbonnel — and Tom, of course. In another ten minutes, the sloop passed us. Miss Carbonnel was steering and Tom was leaning back, looking up at the mainsail, which was as flat as a board. I was prepared to wave to them ; but they did not look up. They sailed out together before our eyes. Mary had gone, with the children.
“ A pretty boat,” I remarked. “ A very beautiful boat. But I notice that Miss Carbonnel has not asked me out in her.”
“ She had better not ask you,” retorted Eve.
“ It is a pity that Mary did not wait,” I said. And Eve laughed again, and the sloop passed on and was hidden behind the point.
Tom has a boat, as I think I have mentioned ; a very pretty boat, too, but not so large as Miss Carbonnel’s. One man can manage Tom’s boat handily. She has not stirred from her mooring since that day when we sat on the stringpiece of the wharf and watched Alice Carbonnel, and my son fell overboard. Tom has been out almost every day, but not in his boat. She lies at her mooring, gathering weeds. She seems likely to lie at her mooring, gathering weeds, for the rest of the season; until long green streamers hang from her keel. When the season is over, I suppose Alice Carbonnel will disappear as mysteriously as she came. I do not know. And it struck me as queer that neither Tom nor Miss Carbonnel said anything, so far as I could perceive.
Tom was still looking up at the mainsail as the sloop passed out of sight beyond the point, and Miss Carbonnel steered. At least, she kept her hand upon the wheel, which she moved a little, unconsciously, as the boat seemed to need it ; but, all the time, she looked out ahead, with a little half-smile upon her lips, and seemed to be thinking of something else. Her thoughts must have been pleasant ones. She said nothing at all until they were well out of the harbor. Then the half-smile became a whole one, and she turned and gave Tom an amused and kindly look.
“ Mr. Ellis,” she said.
Tom started and came down from the great sail with a thump. “ Yours truly,” he returned soberly.
“ Mr. Ellis,” Miss Carbonnel began, again, still smiling, “ do you think it is quite — quite nice — ” she laughed openly — “to be following after me as if you were attached to me — ”
Tom looked surprised. “ I am,” he said simply. “ Have you forgotten ? ”
Miss Carbonnel had some right to feel annoyed, one would think. She did not seem annoyed — only amused. “ No, I have not forgotten,” she replied. “ I had not finished. I was about to say — as if you were attached to me by a string.”
“ Oh,” said Tom.
“ Yes,” said Miss Carbonnel. “ As if you were my pet dog,” she added severely.
“ Seems nice to me,” Tom replied, clasping his hands behind his head and once more looking up at the sail above him. “ Seems nice to me,” he repeated. “ I don’t find it so bad to be your pet dog — your pet anything.” He looked critically at the mainsail. “ That sail sets well — or should I say that it sits well ? I don’t know.”
“ Oh,” exclaimed Alice Carbonnel, with a quick motion of impatience, “ you always were incorrigible — and you have n’t got over it. Yes, that sail is well cut and so are the others. My sailmaker attends to that. And the boat is a very good boat, — a beauty, if you prefer, — and I have two men in the crew and no skipper but myself, and it is a beautiful day and I like your friends — very much. There! Now, I have answered all the small talk that I believe you capable of.”
Tom laughed. “ Crushed! ” he cried. “ You are n’t engaged, Alice ? ”
She did not appear to resent the use of her name. “ I am not engaged,” she answered. “ Do you find that strange ? ”
“ No,” he said. “ It must be of your own choice.”
“ It is. Is there anything else ? ”
“ Yes,” said Tom. “ Why did you come here, Alice ? I have been curious to know, and everybody wonders.”
“ I came,” she answered, speaking slowly, “ to see — But I will not tell you — yet. It was not to see you.”
“ Oh,” said Tom.
“ No,” said Alice Carbonnel, “ it was not to see you. If you thought that it was, you flattered yourself.”
“ Oh,” said Tom, again. “ Well, everybody wonders. I suppose you don’t care.”
“ Up to a certain point,” returned Miss Carbonnel, “ I do not care. It is not important what people say. Beyond that point, I do care. That brings us back to what I started to say to you. We are dangerously near that point.”
“ Well ? ”
“ Well,” she said, smiling, “ if you insist upon following me about, — as if I had you on a leash, — people will be gossiping unbearably, even for me.”
“ People are gossiping about us now,” observed Tom calmly, “ Almost everybody is. I should n’t wonder if Adam and Eve were talking us over at this moment.”
“ I hope not,” she said, in a low voice, looking away. “ I hope not. That is the point at which I should like to have it stopped.”
“ And that is just the point,” Tom remarked, “ beyond which I should like to have it go on. I want to be your pet. Please let me be your pet.”
Alice Carbonnel laughed. She could not have helped it. “ You absurd boy! ” she said. “ Tell me why you want it, and perhaps you may be.”
“ I’ll bargain with you, Alice,” said Tom. “ When you are ready to tell why you came here, I’ll tell you why I want it.”
“ I might be able to guess it.”
“ No guessing allowed,” said Tom. “ No guessing in the game. I might be able to guess a thing or two,”
Miss Carbonnel looked away and was silent for some time. “ It’s hurting me,” she said at last. “ It’s hurting me in ways that you can’t know about.”
“ I’ll take care that the hurt is not permanent,” Tom replied quietly. “ I will take all the blame — in plenty of time. It hasn’t hurt you in the way that you have in mind.”
She looked at him sharply, as if to know what he meant by that. Then the look softened. “ Well,” she said, slowly. “ Well, I agree to your bargain. I have your word. You were always a good boy, Tommy, and kept your promises.”
“ I have always meant to,” Tomreplied. “ You have rny word. I won’t let it go too far. Remember, now, Alice,” —Tom grinned as he spoke, — “ you have me on a leash.”
Alice Carbonnel smiled and gave a little sigh. “ I ’m not likely to be allowed to forget it. Now, we’ll go back.”
She turned the boat about and headed for the harbor.
If any one had even hinted to Cecily that there might have been episodes in Tom’s life which she did not suspect, she would have been very indignant.
One morning, Eve came to me with a letter in her hand.
“ From Cecily,” she cried, waving the letter triumphantly. " If Tom comes in this morning, let me know. I want him to hear it — parts of it.”
“ But, Eve,” said I, “ do I have to wait until Tom comes in ? Are n’t you going to let me see it ? ”
“ I thought you would n’t mind waiting, Adam,” said Eve. “ I want you to hear it for the first time when Tom is here. You really don’t care, you know! ”
“ Oh,” said I.
“ And Tom — ” added Eve.
“ Does ? ” I asked.
” He may,” said Eve.
“ Oh,” said I, again; and I cast my eyes down toward our gate, and, at that moment, I saw Tom sauntering in, his hands in his pockets.
“ I will wait, then, Eve,” I said. “ But do you want Miss Carbonnel to hear parts of Cecily’s letter, too ? ”
“ N-o,” replied Eve, slowly, “ although there would be no particular objection to it.”
“ Because here is Tom, now,” I continued. “ I would advise immediate action. Miss Carbonnel is to be expected at any time — in from five minutes to half an hour. They seem to hunt in couples.”
Eve laughed, — I could not decide what it was that she laughed at, — and turned and greeted Tom.
“ I was just about to read Adam a letter,” she began shamelessly. “ Perhaps you would n’t mind. You might possibly be interested to hear some of it, too, It’s from Cecily.”
Tom gave her one of his slow smiles. Tom’s smiles are very pleasant. They are an index to his nature — simple and honest and sweet-tempered. They make it hard not to love him, even if he does seem to be too easily reconciled; to be playing rather fast and loose with an at tachment which should be fast and not loose at all. But I don’t know why he should not be devoted to Miss Carbonnel. Cecily will have none of him.
“ It is just possible that I might be interested,” said Tom, in a tone that left me guessing what he meant. ” Do we sit in the usual place ? ”
Accordingly, we went to our usual seats by the pine. The harbor was spread out before us. I saw Alice Carbonnel’s boat lying on the quiet water with no signs of life about her. Tom saw her, too. He looked away again, quickly, but he continued to be conscious of her, although his gaze fell at once upon the distant hills. The day’s wind had just begun to blow, but it was no more than a gentle air, as yet, —a cool breath laden with the perfume of the salt sea, and it was in our faces as we sat there. It might be blowing great guns by the afternoon.
“ The lights may now be lowered,”said Tom; and Eve drew the letter from its envelope, the leaves fluttering gently in the soft air, as though the smell of the salt gave it life again. Cecily always responded to that.
Eve began to read to herself, quickly, with a low “m-m, m-m,” until she should come to something that she thought would interest as. “ This part would n’t — oh, here,” she cried. “ Listen ! ‘ I am pretty well settled, at last. I have a most gorgeous studio, well lighted and high and furnished in good taste, if I do say it, with a few really fine rugs and tapestries. Of course, I can’t afford it, but I must have a fit place and fit surroundings for the royalties whose portraits I am going to paint. And the rugs and tapestries are hired — rented — whatever you call it — with the studio — all but one rug and one piece of tapestry, which I could n’t resist. I shan’t tell you what they cost — much more than I ought to have paid. And there are just two chairs of state, in one of which my waiting patron will sit while my subject — my victim — will sit in the other. Altogether, my studio is bare — very bare — but it is good. I am afraid I have put all my eggs in one basket, but it is a good basket.’
“ Adam,” said Eve then, looking up from her reading, “ don’t you suppose Cecily would let us make her a present of some really good things that she would like ? If we only knew what she would like ! I’m afraid those chairs of state — but they may be good. Only she does n’t say much about them.”
I nodded; and Tom’s attitude expressed a surreptitious interest.
Eve went. on. ” ‘ I have been a little bothered about one thing, which still bothers me. I ought to have some examples of my work to show. Almost everything I have is of Tom, — certainly the best things. And some two dozen portraits of the same man, varied, as they are, in pose and size, are — well, they are not the most desirable! ’ ” Tom laughed at that; I thought he would have winced. “ ' But I have done what I could with what I had. Nobody can do more than that.’ ”
Then Eve’s voice suddenly subsided, and she skipped. I wondered what it was that she skipped. Probably Tom wondered, too. But I had the advantage of Tom. I could find out and he could n’t.
Eve turned a leaf and began again. " ' I have an apartment — a flat, to put it plainly — that is very good, for a flat. It is a long way from my studio, and it does not compare with my own home. But I shall come back soon’ ” — I thought I saw Tom start — ” ‘ to bring mother on — if she wants to come. She says that she does — now. She finds it pretty lonely there. I hope she won’t find it lonelier here. There is such a crowd here, every one bent upon his own business, with no time to give’ — But this is not of interest to you two men.” said Eve. ” She finds it pretty lonely, I judge.”
” Eve,” I said, " you should go in and see Mrs. Snow.”
” Why, Adam,” she protested, ” I do go. I was there yesterday ” — she glanced at Tom in some amusement — “ and I found — ”
Tom interrupted her. “ Let’s hear some more,” he said. “There’s nothing, yet, about, her work. What about orders ? ”
Eve turned back to the letter. “ She has presented all the letters father gave her. She had rather a hard time doing it, for almost everybody was out of town more than half the week, and, when they were in town, they did n’t want to waste any of their precious time in seeing her. Father’s letter usually settled it, though,” Eve remarked, turning another leaf. ” They are apt to. And she has one order — but there’s no work to be done on it until the last of September. He’s out of town now, and can’t sit for her. She hopes to get others, later.”
Eve skipped, in silence, until she came to the last page. “ Oh,” she said, “ she has a telephone in her studio and says she means to call us up, as often as she can afford it, and get the news about us and the children and — and everybody,” Eve finished, rather lamely. “ We must call her up once a week. She says it is such, a different thing actually to talk with your friends and hear a familiar voice — it is much more satisfactory than letterwriting.”
“ Has it beat a mile,” observed Tom.
“ And she gives her number,” Eve continued. And then she read Cecily’s number very carefully. She read it twice. I thought it rather strange. But Tom did not seem to be listening.
“ May I join you ? ” said a low voice. There was Alice Carbonnel. She had come without announcement, — she had given that up, some time before, — and none of us had heard her come. Tom may have been aware of it. That may account for his apparent lack of attention. I had given Miss Carbonnel a half hour to get there. The time was scarcely up.
Cecily came home early in September. The word “ home ” slipped out unconsciously. I do not know why I should call it Cecily’s home. She means, definitely, to live in New York, and she came down only to get her mother, and to try to dispose of their house here. She said so, again and again, so that I was forced to take her seriously. If no other purchaser turns up, perhaps Old Goodwin will buy it. He is forever doing services of that kind for other people — quietly. The fact that they generally turn out well for himself makes them none the less services. When he has done that for Cecily — if he does it — she will have no home, so far as I can see. I cannot conceive of anybody’s calling New York “ home.” The very word might well be lacking from the language if all places were like New York. It is one vast tenement.
I was rather shocked when I saw Cecily, She has always been the picture of health and well-being; not so tall as Alice Carbonnel, — about Eve’s height, — but of a well-rounded figure, although not inclined to plumpness. Cecily was — well, she was just right. I cannot describe her any better. Now, after only five or six weeks in New York, she was thinner, almost on the road to gauntness. Her clothes hung upon her, and I thought that I saw dark shadows under her eyes. I ventured to suggest something of my thought — merely to hint at it.
Cecily smiled a cheerful, pitiful little smile. “ I suppose I am not used to being cooped up in a great city in the hot weather,” she said. “ But I shall get used to it. It has been hot.” She sighed. “ Thank you, Adam, for caring enough about it to notice,” she added.
Eve noticed, too, but she did not speak of it. Therein, I suppose, lies one of the differences between a man and a woman of equally good intentions. A man is but a clumsy creature, at the best.
We had been at the Snows’ to welcome Cecily home; and another thing that I could not help noticing, although, of course, I did not hint at it, in any manner, was Tom’s absence. Tom had always been there, before, loafing about as though the house was a second home to him. I cannot recall a single occasion when we had been there that Tom was not there before us. His presence would not have been so noticeable as his absence. It is to be supposed that that fact was sufficiently impressed upon Cecily without mention of it by me.
“ Poor Cecily !” said Eve, as we sauntered home, the light of a young moon lying faintly white upon the road, and making a trail of silver out upon the harbor — we can catch glimpses of the harbor from the road. “ Poor Cecily! I wish that we could do something to make herfew days here particularly pleasant.”
“ Might have a clambake,” I replied, with a short laugh. “ I am ashamed to say, Eve, that it is the only thing I can think of.” Clambakes have become rarer, with me, than they used to be. “ At least, it is better than a picnic.”
“ Better for you, at any rate,” said Eve, smiling, “ and, at least, as good for the others. Well, let us have a clambake. We’ll dig our own clams, too.”
So on the second day thereafter, we were all assembled at my clam-beds, the whole crowd of us: Old Goodwin and Alice Carbonnel and Cecily and Tom and the rest, even down to the children and their nurse. It was low tide, of course, but there was no poetry in it, for the morning was half gone. Old Goodwin splashed about in his high boots, and Pukkie splashed about with his little breeches rolled up as far as they would go, and he got as muddy as even he could have wished. Old Goodwin and his grandson had famous times, together ; better than I had, for I was intent only upon getting clams enough. Tom was intent upon clams, too. It would have been somewhat awkward for him to sit upon the bank between Cecily and Miss Carbonnel. And I noted, in the intervals between clams, that Cecily was looking out over the water and was saying nothing.
Clambakes are not as much fun as they are cracked up to be; not as much fun for the man who does the work. To be sure, Old Goodwin came over and helped, when the work was more than half done. His help is not to be despised, for he pitches into any work that he undertakes, of whatever kind, with all his might. Tom did not help much. He is not greatly to be blamed. I should have had no heart in the work if I had had the problem before me of being properly attentive to two girls, both of whom were to be present. It was a problem requiring the nicest discrimination, on his part. If I had been in his shoes, I should probably have solved it as Tom did — or as it was solved for him.
Old Goodwin took matters into his own hands — possibly through ignorance of the true state of the case. He got Miss Carbonnel off at one end of the table, opposite himself, and he and she, being old hands at the business, disposed of a prodigious quantity of clams between them. I could not determine what part Miss Carbonnel had in it ; but I have observed that your tall and stately girls can eat a good many clams, when they eat any. They kept Tom busy with bringing them their supplies, so that he had very little chance for a word with Cecily, and scarcely a chance to eat. Old Goodwin seemed to drop his habit of silence. He found a good deal to say to Alice Carbonnel and she to him. I could not help noting that, though I do not know what they talked about. They never happened to be saying anything when I was near. I saw plainly that Eve was surprised at it, too.
Cecily made a point of saying something nice to Tom before she went ; she made too much of a point of it, perhaps. Eve made off, quickly; I was making off, likewise, as fast as I could. I heard Tom mumbling something, I did n’t know what, and I don’t believe he knew, either. Before I got away, Cecily called to me.
“ Adam,”she said, when I had come near, again, “ I want to thank you and Eve for the rugs. They are beautiful, Adam, beautiful. I should n’t dare accept such a present from any one else.”There were tears in her eyes as she spoke. “ And the chairs, too. My poor old chairs of state! They were pretty decrepit and pitiful. I did n’t dare say much about them. But now I am set up. I do thank you both, Adam, from my heart.”
She turned away and wiped her eyes and smiled. Poor little girl! I followed Tom’s example, and mumbled something, I did n’t know what.
But Cecily was not done with her thanks. “ You are so good to call me up once in a while! I value it. I know it is you because I can almost recognize your voice.” She was thoughtful for a moment. “ I suppose it is n’t possible always to recognize a voice. I wish it were.”
“ Not always,” I answered brazenly. “ The last time Eve was in New York, she called me, and I did n’t know who it was, at all. Now what do you think of that ? But I will take pains to speak naturally, the next time.”
“ Oh, thank you,” she said.
I have not called Cecily up. I am ashamed that I have n’t. Eve may have — but she almost recognized my voice, did she ? And those rugs — she says they are beautiful. I did not send them, and I am ashamed of that, too. Neither did Eve send them. Who did ?
The mystery is solved — the telephone mystery; the affair of the rugs and the chairs is not, to my satisfaction, at least. Eve thinks that she knows who sent them. I did not agree with her, at first. Now, I am in doubt. She is right, probably. She generally is. I am almost ready to acknowledge it, now that we have found out about those calls.
We agreed to watch the telephone; and, about ten days after Cecily’s return, Eve came running to me in some excitement, her eyes sparkling. I was in the garden, doing nothing, of course.
“ Come, quick, Adam,” she said, in a whisper. “ He’s calling her, now — this minute.”
I arose from my hoeing, rather confused. “ Who’s calling who — or whom ?” I asked. I am afraid I was stupid about it; but my whole attention had been given to my garden.
“ Calling Cecily,” Eve answered impatiently. “ Hurry! Don’t make any noise. You will scare him away.”
As if it were a strange bird that I was going to see! But I had recovered my wits, in a measure, by that time, and I followed Eve to our telephone room. It is a little bit of a room, scarcely larger than a good-sized closet, — about eight feet by ten, perhaps, — at the end of the hall. To make it thoroughly sound-proof, Eve had a heavy curtain hung just inside the door. That probably accounted for the fact that the previous calls had been made without our knowing it.
Eve softly opened the door, — very softly, — pulled the curtain aside the least little bit, and beckoned to me. There sat Tom, at my telephone, putting in a call, in my name. As I looked, he was in the act of giving my biography to the operator, and a description of me which I should not have recognized.
“ The color of his hair ? ” he asked. “ Well, — I don’t know. He has n’t enough of it left to tell the color I should think that it must have been brown.”
Then he seemed to be listening. “ Yes, he said, “ just plain brown — dirt-color. Put it down as dirt-color.”
There was another pause. “ Five feet, eleven and a quarter,” said Tom promptly. “ Weight, one hundred and seventy. Hearty eater. He’s fondest of corned beef and cabbage, I think, and pie for dessert. Dinner at half-past six. Sometimes has it at two on Sundays. Was a fairly good ball-plaver once, but past his prime now. What’s that ?
“ Oh, his business ? ” Tom continued. “ Well, he has n’t any. No, can’t get anything to do. No, I don’t see how he lives. Mystery to me. I can’t tell you his age, exactly, but he must have been born on a Saturday. Oh, all right.”
Tom hung up the receiver and swung half around in his chair. He saw me and grinned.
“ Hello, Adam,” he said. “ Just waiting for them to call me. I’m afraid you will have to bear the odium of this call.”
“ Who pays for it ? " I asked, with some asperity. “ Do I do that, too ? ”
“ Of course,” he returned calmly. " Would n’t you do as much as that for a friend, in a righteous cause ? ”
“ If I were sure that the cause was righteous,” said I, somewhat mollified, “ I would do more than that. But you need n’t have libeled me so outrageously.”
Tom grinned again, but said nothing. His voice does bear a certain resemblance to mine. That may account —
The telephone bell rang viciously. He swung around.
“ Hold on, there,” said I. “ If I am to pay for this, I’ll just have a little talk, myself, to put myself right with Cecily. There’s no knowing what you may have said to her.”
“ Oh, I say! ” he cried.
I already had my hand on the telephone. “ You wait, Tom. I’ll give you a chance when I am through.” Tom waited. Eve stood in the doorway.
Cecily’s voice came to me clearly. It was good to hear it. I had not realized what it might mean to her; I had not realized what it might mean to Tom, either. I was not at all sure, yet, that it did mean to Tom all that it might mean. It was for that reason, I firmly believe, and not from any remnants of exasperation on my own part, that I told Cecily the whole truth about the calls.
“ Oh, Adam! ” she said, in a faint little voice, when I had done. “ Oh, Adam! What have I said ? ”
How was I to know what she had said ? It might have been easier for me if I had known. As it was, I could not measure the relative amounts of shame and relief that her voice expressed. It expressed both. I knew that.
“ It is just as important, Cecily,” I replied, “ to consider what Tom has said.”
“ Ye-s, but — but I can’t remember whether I said it or only thought it. Oh, dear, of course you don’t understand what I am talking about. I should like to talk to Eve, before you cut me off.”
I called Eve, at once, and gave my place to her. She talked with Cecily for some time, but she spoke very low, so that I could not have guessed what she was saying without listening very closely. I could n’t do that, because Tom was there. At last Eve was through, and she beckoned to Tom. He looked very sheepish, as he sat down.
“ Now, Tom, make your peace with her,” said Eve. “ You may have hard work.”
Whether Tom succeeded in making his peace with Cecily, or whether he even tried to, I don’t know. We went away, and left him at the telephone. He did n’t say anything worth mentioning while we were present.
After all, it probably did very little good for us to catch Tom at his nefarious work — red-handed, as it were — telephoning in my name. I had half a mind to have him arrested on a charge of — but I don’t know what the charge would be. There must be some indictment which could be found against a man who does such a thing.
Tom laughed when I threatened him. “ Go ahead, Adam,” he said. “ I’m game. False impersonation, or something of the kind. There are stacks of things you could charge me with. I’ll stand for it.”
I could do nothing with him. There was no information to be extracted from him. The effect of his talk with Cecily was not noticeable, during the next six weeks or so. I began to doubt whether he made any effort at all to make his peace with her, and Eve was less confident than she had been. Although we called Cecily up regularly and hinted at it, — and then asked her the question, plump, — her answer was always non-committal. She said that Tom had done nothing that did not please her.
Altogether, I do not feel that our interference did Cecily any good. Interference, however well meant, seldom does anybody any good. I talked the matter over with Eve, and we agreed to let matters take their own course in the future, and to wait and see what happened. We have waited a long time for something to happen, and nothing does. I got impatient and complained to Tom about it.
“ Be patient, Adam,” he replied, smiling in his quiet way. “ If you only wait long enough, I have no doubt that something will happen — although I have n’t the least idea what it will be.”
I was forced to be content with that, while Tom went off to sail with Alice Carbonnel. It was their last sail together, for Miss Carbonnel had her boat laid up the next day, and it had already got too cold to sail with comfort. Tom took charge of the operation; and, when it was done, and the sloop all properly covered in, he did the same for his boat.
I helped him with his boat. She had not left her mooring for nearly four months, and I should not have been surprised to find weeds upon her long enough to reach to the bottom of the harbor. They were not quite as long as that, although there were weeds in plenty; but Tom said nothing. He only began to scrape them off. I started home. I did not see why I should delve in green slime to make up for his own reprehensible neglect.
On my way home, I passed the Snows’, and saw a load of lumber going in. I was glad, for the fence is in need of repairs, and the house must be in need of them, too. Cecily and her mother have not been able to make any repairs since Mr. Snow died.
I found Miss Carbonnel with Eve, which is not an uncommon occurrence.
“ Cecily must have sold her house,” I remarked. “ I wonder who is the new owner.”
Miss Carbonnel smiled. “ I am,” she said.
I do not know why that announcement should have surprised me, but it did. I was unable to think of anything to say for some minutes, but I looked at Eve. It seemed to me that all of our cherished schemes were tumbling about our ears. If it did not mean that, what did it mean ?
Miss Carbonnel saw my embarrassment. It was not difficult to see it. “ Mary MacLandrey is coming to live with me,” she said.
That mixed me up still more. Surely, she would not have chosen Mary — she would not have happened to choose her, with Tom in such close attendance, if —
“ I came in especially, to-day,” Miss Carbonnel continued, “ to ask you both to use your influence with Miss Snow. I have a fancy to have my portrait painted, and I should like to have her paint it. I wrote her about it, and I have a note from her, this morning. She does n’t seem to want to come.”
She paused and looked at us — at Eve. Her look was calm and level, but I fancied that I detected in it a certain perturbation of spirit.
“ No,” said Eve; “ I can understand that she might not want to come.”
“ But why ? ” asked Miss Carbonnel.
Eve looked at her. “ Well —you know — she was engaged to Mr. Ellis — until she broke the engagement, last summer. For the sake of her career,” Eve added.
“ Oh,” said Miss Carbonnel; and she smiled, a very winning smile. “ Oh, I was afraid that she might have taken a dislike to me.”
It was conceivable that Cecily might have taken a dislike to her. What her meaning was, if she had any meaning beyond what her words expressed, I could not guess. She appeared to be relieved. I hoped she had proper grounds for her feeling — that it was not merely relief at finding that Cecily was not in her way.
“ Would you mind,” she asked, “ sending her some word, — in my favor, perhaps ? ”
Eve readily agreed — more readily than I should have done. She called Cecily up, and talked with her for a long time. That talk must have cost me about fifteen dollars; but Eve assured me that it was all for Cecily’s peace of mind, and if I can purchase peace of mind for Cecily for fifteen dollars, I should consider the money well spent.
So Cecily came down. Miss Carbonnel had attended to the repairs, herself. It was astonishing to see the celerity with which carpenters would work, with her eyes upon them; and when Cecily got there, the house was ready. Miss Carbonnel was already occupying it. Cecily stayed with us, and the sittings began at once, in her old studio.
They did not talk much during those sittings, although Miss Carbonnel made several attempts to engage Cecily in friendly conversation. Cecily, herself, told me about it. It was in reply to some question of mine. She always seemed tired — too tired — when she came back, in the afternoon.
“ No,” she said, her lip curling ever so slightly, “ we do not converse. I don’t feel up to it. I really don’t know what we have in common, to converse about.”
She spoke sweetly enough, but there was the little compression of the lips that I knew so well — in Cecily.
“ Why ? ” I asked innocently. “ Does n’t Miss Carbonnel seem inclined to talk ? ”
“ Oh, yes,” she replied, as if she were weary of the whole thing, “ she is ready enough. It is my fault, no doubt. I must work, — and get back to New York just as soon as I get this done.”
“ But, Cecily,” I persisted, “ I thought it was considered part of the business of the portrait-painter — now-a-days, at any rate — to express the character of his subject. I don’t see how you are going to do that without the exchange of a few words. I have known Alice Carbonnel longer and better than you have, but I don’t feel that I know, in the least, what to make of her.”
“ That may very well be, Adam,” said Cecily patiently. I laughed; the implication was so obvious.
“ Well ? ”
“ Well,” said Cecily, rather sharply, showing some irritation. She has not been accustomed to speak sharply to me. “ She — and Eve — insisted on my coming here, to paint her portrait. I don’t know why she should have wanted me. I did n’t want to do it, and I declined. Now I have come and I shall make her picture as beautiful as she is. She can’t complain. I shall finish it as soon as possible and go away again. What more can she expect ? ”
Cecily needed something soothing. “ I have no reason to think that she expects any more,” I replied. “ I was thinking of your reputation.”
“ Oh, bother my reputation! ” cried Cecily. She turned quickly, and ran up the stairs. On the way, I thought I heard her say something about the portrait’s being designed for a wedding present for Miss Carbonnel’s husband. I did n’t know what there should be in that fact to trouble Cecily.
Nevertheless, it troubled me, and I went to Eve. " Yes,” she said, “ and I must confess that I am worried. Alice Carbonnel has told Cecily that she is to be married soon, and that she means the portrait for a wedding gift to her husband. And, Adam,” she continued, in a whisper, “ Tom goes there every day and devotes himself to Miss Carbonnel during the sittings. I’m losing faith in Tom. It’s wicked.”
Common decency should have kept Tom from doing that, but he did not seem to be able to keep away from Miss Carbonnel. I did not know what to think. Cecily said nothing more about the matter. She worked feverishly. She painted not only what she saw, but she showed the spirit that she thought was there, too. She was bold. I should never have dared to paint Alice Carbonnel, even if I could paint a portrait as well as Cecily could — and did. I had not fully made up my mind about her. Cecily seemed more weary every night. Her condition made us anxious.
The portrait was finished sooner than we expected, but not any sooner than Cecily wished. We were asked over to see it. As we had not had even a glimpse of it, we were especially anxious to go. Cecily told us not to wait for her; she said that she hoped she should never see the old thing again.
Mary told us to go right up to the studio, and we did. We found Alice Carbonnel standing before her portrait, thoughtfully. There was dissatisfaction — keen disappointment — expressed in her attitude, as she stood there. Finally, she turned, and looked at us. She seemed too downcast to think of greeting us. Her eyes were those of a troubled child, and the tears were very near the surface.
“ It is as beautiful as any one could wish,” she said, sighing; “ but, oh, have I no more soul than that ? ”
While Eve said — But I don’t know what she said — I don’t see what she could say to give her comfort — but she said something, and I looked at the portrait. It was a beautiful picture, and, at first sight, I found nothing lacking. But, as I looked, the impression grew upon me that it was the picture of a beautiful statue, cold and hard as marble. Indeed, it was something worse than that — a Rhine maiden, perhaps. It showed all of Alice Carbonnel’s beauty, but — did it ? I found something in the girl, herself, that I could not find a trace of in the portrait. It was impossible to believe that that was all of her — that she had no more soul than that. Nobody who had seen her with our children about her, for instance, could believe it. I tried to recall whether Cecily had seen her so, but I could not. I should have hated to think that Cecity could have done it of deliberate purpose. But I was not sure.
We stood there, looking at the portrait, in silence, for some time. It would have been difficult to say just what we thought of it, with Alice Carbonnel there, beside us, and with the painter of the portrait our friend. We felt, in a measure, responsible.
At last, Miss Carbonnel sighed again. Evidently, her heart was heavy.
“ Well,” she said, “ I must go and write a letter for this afternoon’s mail. I hope Tom is satisfied ! ”
That last sentence was not meant for us. It seemed wrung from her,
Again Alice Carbonnel stood, silent, before her portrait. Except for her, the studio was deserted ; and, as she looked at the pictured girl sitting there before her, in all her beauty, with a cold halfsmile on her lips, her eyes filled. That half-smile expressed coldness, cynicism, a something else that she could not name, but she liked it less than either coldness or cynicism. She could conceive the pictured girl, there, before her, as capable of any cruelty; as taking delight in the torture of the innocent. Cecily was a genius at portrait-painting. These gifted people have us at a disadvantage. If Cecily’s eyes were not yet fully opened, she would see more generously, in time. Meanwhile — well — some other people must suffer, as well as Cecily.
Two tears slowly ran down Miss Carbonnel’s cheeks, and she nervously crumpled the letter that she held in her hand. “ How could she ? ” she murmured. “ How could she ? ”
There was a step outside the door. Tom had been ushered in by Mary — with a poor grace, as Cecily was not there — and had come right up, as was his custom. Miss Carbonnel did not make any attempt to wipe her eyes or to conceal her feelings. She turned toward him.
“ Why, Alice! ” he cried, in surprise. “ What’s the matter ? ”
She smiled with some bitterness, and nodded toward the portrait. “ As others see us,” she said. “ I did n’t know I was like that.”
Tom gazed at the offending portrait for some minutes. “ Well,” he said, at last, “ I have known Cecily to do better work. It’s beautiful enough to satisfy anybody, but there does seem to be something lacking.”
“ Only my soul,” returned Alice Carbonnel, with the same bitter smile. “ A small matter, not worth mentioning. I hope you are satisfied, Tom.”
“ With the picture ? ” Tom asked lazily “ Well, no, I’m not. But it is n’t mine.”
“ With the picture,” replied Miss Carbonnel, “ or with what the picture has done. I don’t see how she had the heart to do it, " She sighed. “ I must try to forget it.”
She felt for her handkerchief and dropped the letter ; but she did not move to pick it up. She wiped her eyes. Tom stooped to pick up the letter that she had dropped. As he stooped, there was upon his face a quiet smile of satisfaction. It was not like Tom Ellis to feel quiet satisfaction at another’s grief — and that other Alice Carbonnel. His smile changed as he saw the letter, which lay at his feet with the superscription up.
“ Harrison Rindge! ” he cried. “ Harrison. Perkins Rindge! I begin to see a great light. What are you writing to him for? I beg your pardon, Alice.” He put the letter in her hand. “ I could n’t help seeing it. It’s none of my business what you are writing to him for.”
Her smile had no bitterness in it now. " I don’t mind telling you,” she said, " that I am writing him for comfort in my affliction. I must mail the letter right away. It is almost too late for to-day’s mail, now.”
Tom looked at his watch. “ It is too late, Alice. The mail closes, at the emporium, in just two minutes, and it would take you half an hour, at least, to get there. I’ll tell you what I’ll do.” He put his watch in his pocket, with a motion of decision. “ I’ll guarantee that that letter goes on the New York express this afternoon.”
“ Can you do it, Tom ? I’ve a good mind to let you try. You ’re sure you won’t stop and read it, as soon as you ’re out of my sight ? ”
“ Yep,” said Tom. “ You’d better trust me, for a change. I have a notion that there’s as much for me in that letter as there is for you. I’ll get it there, if I have to steal one of Old Goodwin’s cars to do it.”
Miss Carbonnel laughed. “ Try it, then. If you get it there, I’ll forgive you.”
Eve came to me in the middle of the forenoon of the next day, waving a telegram.
“ From Harry,” she said. “ He’s coming down and he’s going to stay here.”
“ What does Harrison Rindge mean by being so sudden ? Have n’t we been at him, for months, to come down here ? I wonder what can be the cause of his change of heart. When is he coming ? ”
“ That ’s the point,” said Eve. “ He is coming on the noon express, to-day. His reasons can wait. We have n’t any too much time, if we are to meet him. Change your clothes, Adam. I should hate to have you appear in your garden clothes, to meet a New York train. I have to see about his room. Then we’ll go over to father’s and borrow a car.”
I went, grumbling. At the worst, those New York people would think that I was the hired man. My garden clothes are hardly appropriate for a chauffeur, either. Eve has grown very particular.
Harrison Rindge is Pukkie’s godfather. “ That other rich man,” we used to call him; I once saved him from a watery grave — much against my will. I know him better, now. Old Goodwin has always known him.
Old Goodwin did better than merely to lend us a car. When he heard that it was Harrison Rindge that the car was for, he offered to go himself. He is the best chauffeur that I know.
It was one of the older cars that we had. Old Goodwin drives at such a rate that he nearly uses up a car in a year. His this year’s car was laid up with a spavin or something — he had been reckless with it, and it had got its leg in a hole and had strained a tendon. The old car ran like lightning, giving, to Eve and Pukkie and me, fleeting glimpses — very fleeting, indeed, those glimpses — of a country, now sere and bare and brown; now, as we mounted a hill, a sight of the bay, and, now, stretches of woods. The leaves rose in a cloud behind us, and some considerable portion of that cloud settled gradually in the back seat. I was sitting in the back seat.
It is over four miles to the station. We were late, of course, — rather, I should call it a very nice piece of calculation on Old Goodwin’s part. He hates to wait, anywhere, for anything. Right ahead of us was the last curve to be rounded before we came in sight of the station. We were pelting along toward that curve when the train whistled and Old Goodwin settled back in his seat with a motion of satisfaction. Indeed, he was just starting to say something — probably about his promptness — when Eve and Pukkie and I were thrown into the air. We did not come down on the seat. Pukkie, I have reason to believe, landed among the various treadles with which the floor before the chauffeur’s seat is dotted. They are for doing something to the car, I believe; they all worked, apparently. Old Goodwin’s wheel held him in. There was a tremendous commotion in the car’s insides, and it stopped short, — it had already done that, — and we got out, hurriedly.
We were all very quiet while Old Goodwin made his examination. It lasted a long time; then he extricated himself.
“ Dead,” he said with cheerfulness.
At the word there came a little scream, and we all looked up. There were Harrison Rindge and Alice Carbonnel, and he had her in his arms, and her face — had been turned up to his, I judged. Now, it was turned toward us, and it was very red. They had imagined themselves temporarily out of the world, I suppose, being cut off from the station by the turn in the road. We had been so quiet, all of us, that we had not impressed ourselves upon them until Old Goodwin made that remark.
Harrison grinned, wider and wider, as he approached us. Miss Carbonnel came with a very pretty shyness. She was still blushing as she spoke.
“ Well,” she said, “ I don’t know that it matters very much. You would have known it before night. But we did n’t mean to — to — inflict that upon you.”
Eve smiled at her. “ You almost took my breath away. But I am very glad, — more than you can imagine. My congratulations to you both.” She turned to Harrison. “ I am glad, Harry, that you have succumbed, at last. I don’t see how you could help it.”
“ I could n’t,” replied Harrison. “ I did n’t want to. You should make a very pretty curtsey, Alice, for that.”
“ I do,” said Miss Carbonnel, smiling and curtseying, there, in the middle of that country road. “ Thank you, Eve. May I call you Eve — now ? ”
Eve smiled back at her; indeed, we were all smiling, continuously. “ Of course. I should hope you would, now. But I feel just a little hurt. How long has this deception been practiced upon us ? How long have you two people been engaged ? ”
She looked from Alice Carbonnel to Harrison; and Alice looked at Harrison and laughed.
“ You might as well tell them,” she said.
“ I will, truthfully,” he replied, grinning again. “ I am not a good judge of time, under the circumstances. When you caught us, Eve, we had been engaged about a minute, I should think. Not more than five, anyway.”
“ Oh,” Eve cried, chagrined, “ I’m sorry. You don’t know how sorry I am ! ”
“ Sorry! ” Harrison echoed.
“ Yes,” said Eve. “ Sorry that we should have been in the way.”
“ Oh,” said Harrison, and we all laughed; all but Pukkie, who did not understand what was going on, at all.
We left the car in the ditch — it took the six of us to push it there — and walked back, those four miles. I walked with Harrison, and presently Old Goodwin joined us. It was the pleasantest, gayest four-mile walk I have taken in many a day, but it was rather long for Pukkie. When he got tired, Harrison and I took turns in carrying him. It is astonishing how heavy a boy gets to be when he is nearly four. Alice Carbonnel dropped back and walked with Eve. She seemed to wish it.
“ You must have been surprised,” she said, “at — at everything.”
“ Yes,” Eve answered, “ I was. I won’t deny it.”
“ I’m going to confess,” said Miss Carbonnel. “ Harrison asked me last spring, and I was n’t ready to give him an answer, although I liked him well enough to give him his answer then and there.” Harrison looked back and smiled at her, and she smiled back at him. “ It was because — because I knew that he had been devoted to you, and I did n’t know you, and — in short, I was n’t used to playing second fiddle — to anybody.”
She laughed shortly, and Harrison turned around to protest. “ I’m talking to Eve,” said Alice, with a smile ; the kind of smile that makes you wish you could leave them alone for five minutes — or more. “ You’re not supposed to hear, Harrison.
“ Now that Harrison is out of hearing,” she continued, “ perhaps I can talk freely — without fear of interruption. Well, I put him off for six months, and I came down here. He did n’t know where I was.”
“ Oh, yes, I did,” called Harrison, over his shoulder ; “ and I was n’t afraid. Possibly you have observed, Eve, that I have not accepted any of your invitations for the past six months.”
Alice Carbonnel only smiled at Harrison’s broad shoulders. “ So I came down here,” she repeated; “ and I met you and — and everything. You know the rest. I found that I was quite willing to play second to you, Eve, and I wrote Harrison yesterday that he might come down if he still wanted to. And here he is, and everybody is happy.”
Evidently Eve did not know what to say to the first part of that speech. The facts of the case were rather complicated. So she said nothing. But Alice Carbonnel’s last statement was scarcely true.
“ But, Alice,” she said, “ what about Tom ? You don’t explain his — ”
” Oh,” Alice answered, as if she had forgotten Tom, “ I met Tom once, five or six years ago, during one of his college vacations. We spent the summer at the same hotel. He was — rather devoted. It did n’t mean anything, of course.”
“ Of course,” Eve murmured. She was rather silent for the rest of the way home.
We found Tom mooning about the place. Cecily was going back that afternoon, and Tom knew it. That may have had nothing to do with it, for he seemed to be cheerful enough. He shook hands with Harrison and congratulated him, although nobody had said anything to him about the matter. I wondered how he knew.
As we all stood there, silent but cheerful, Cecily came out. She must have been waiting, just inside the door, for us to come back. I did not know how long Tom had been there, but Cecily must have known that he was there, going about like a mild ravening beast, and she had not dared to show herself, before. She knows Harrison Rindge, of course, pretty well. Most of my friends know him.
He came forward and took her hand. “ Are n’t you going to congratulate us, too, Miss Snow ? ”
He stood there, smiling at her, and Alice Carbonnel was smiling at her, too. The situation was sufficiently obvious. Poor Cecily seemed to be a little frightened. She murmured something, casting her eyes down.
“ How does the painting go ? ” Harrison asked, thinking, I suppose, to put her at her ease.
“ Oh! ” cried Cecily, raising her eyes appealingly. They were full of tears. She turned impulsively to Miss Carbonnel.
“ Miss Carbonnel,” she said, “ the picture — your portrait. I ask your pardon. I want you to let me do another. It will be — different.”
Harrison Rindge, evidently, did not know what she was talking about. I did; so did Miss Carbonnel.
“ You are very good,” she said, with real relief in her voice; “ but what will you do with the first one — destroy it ? ”
“ I should like to keep it,” Cecily answered, in a low voice, “ if you will let me. To remember my mistakes by,” she added, smiling a little. “ I shall not show it.”
“ I should consider it a favor,” Miss Carbonnel said, “ a great favor —”
“ On your part,” Cecily interrupted.
“ No, on yours. That ” — I had never, but once, seen Alice Carbonnel show so much emotion — “ that hurt me. You don’t know how it hurt.”
“ I do know,” answered Cecily, her eyes again cast down. “ I meant it to hurt. I am ashamed of myself. The new one will make up for it. I guess Eve will let me stay.”
“ If she will not,” said Miss Carbonnel, smiling at her, “ there is room in the house across the road.”
“ Thank you,” returned Cecily. And she took Pukkie by the hand and wandered off in the direction of the lawn. When she had disappeared around the corner of the house, Tom followed, shamelessly.
“ Miss Carbonnel,” I asked, ” I am curious to know why you did n’t say your house.”
“ I thought,” she replied, “ that it might hurt her — and, besides, it is n’t mine. I am only a blind. The house belongs to Tom.”
My lawn lies between the house and the hedge; beyond the hedge is the road. The lawn is not used much, except by the man who pushes the lawn-mower over it twice a week, people who are used to us preferring the gate, farther on. The lawn is rather for ornament, than for use, and, helped by the hedge, it serves that purpose very well. It is sheltered from the winds, and, that morning, the sun of our late Indian summer lay warm upon it, and penetrated to the inmost recesses of the hedge. The hedge had lost all its leaves, long since, and the tangle of bare twigs showed plainly, reddish-brown in the sunlight.
When the house concealed her from us, Cecily stopped, and wiped her eyes and smiled. It had been the clearing shower, and she looked happier than she had for some weeks.
“ Oh, Pukkie, Pukkie,” she said, sighing, ” now I don’t know what we’re here for, except that I had to go somewhere, away from everybody. Why did we come here ? Do you know ? ”
“ No,” answered Pukkie promptly. “ I want to go back where Miss Carb’nel is.”
“ What ! ” Cecily cried. “ Mercy on us ! Everybody seems to want to.” She spoke a little impatiently. Then she stooped. “ See here, Pukkie. It’s nice and warm and sunny here. Stay here, and walk about with me for five minutes, and then I’ll go back.”
“ Well,” said Pukkie, “ I will.”
So they strolled across the lawn and back, and they found themselves close to the hedge. They slowly walked the length of it and turned.
“ Is it five minutes yet ? ” asked Pukkie anxiously.
“ No, you impatient little soul,” Cecily answered. “ It’s about one.” Her mouth was beginning to droop again.
“ Oh,” said Pukkie, “ I thought it must be five. Escuse me.”
“ Bless your heart ! ” said Cecily. Her eyes wandered from Pukkie to the brownred twigs of the hedge that were lighted by the sun. A dazzling point of light shone from its midst — from its very heart. As Cecily took a slow step forward, the point of light changed from blue to green and then to red.
“ O Pukkie ! ” she cried. She felt a sharp pain at her heart, and she gave a little gasp. “ O Pukkie ! ” she cried again; and she stooped and kissed him ecstatically.
Pukkie had already stopped short. “ Are you sick ? ” he asked. He looked troubled. “ I’ll call mother.”
“ No, no,” Cecily said hastily. “ I’m not sick. Look there! ” She pointed.
“ Oh! ” He gave a little squeal of delight. “ What is it ? ”
“ Get it, Pukkie,” she said. “ It’s mine. Get it.”
“ It was at about the height of his head, and nearly in the middle of the hedge, and hard to get. But he reached in. That throw of Tom’s had not been so bad, after all.
“ It. won’t come out,” he complained. “ Some little baby branches grow out, right over it, and they won’t let it come. If I was big enough to have a knife, I could cut those branches off.”
Cecily laughed nervously. She had n’t a knife, either ; but she could get one.
“ Wait, Pukkie,” she said. “ You wait — and don’t tell anybody — and I’ll get a knife.”
There came a voice — a familiar voice — from behind her. “ What’s the matter, Puk ? I’ve got a knife. What do you want to cut ? ”
Cecily turned quickly, and went red and white and then red again. She tried to speak, but she could not.
“ Oh, here ! ” Pukkie called joyfully. “ Cut these off.”
Pukkie kept his hold on the ring while Tom stepped forward, and cut off the twig just beyond his fingers.
“ I guess Adam won’t miss this,” he observed ; “ although he might give me fits for spoiling his hedge, if he knew it. Give it here, Puk.”
But Cecily had recovered her speech. “ No ! ” she cried. “ Give it to me, Pukkie. It’s mine.” She turned to Tom. “ You threw it away,” she said. “ You —”
Tom paid no attention to her. “ Give it to me, Puk,” he repeated.
Pukkie hardly knew what to do; but he responded to the authority in Tom’s voice, and laid the ring in his hand.
“ Thank you, Puk.” Tom turned toward Cecily, with his old slow smile. “ Now, Cecily,” he said gently, “ you shall have it. Hold up your finger.”
Cecily stood, wavering, the red and the white chasing each other across her face. She stood wavering for a minute, perhaps, while Tom smiled at her and waited. Then she burst into tears, and Tom gathered her into his arms. What a thing to do, right out in front of the house, in plain sight of any one who happened to be passing! But people are not apt to be passing. It is lucky, for I doubt if it would have made any difference to Tom.
Cecily wept, softly, for a few minutes. Then a smile began to dawn through her tears. She held up her finger.
“ Put it back, Tom,” she whispered. “ Why don’t you put it back ? ”
Tom put it back. “ There! ” he said. “ Now, is it on to stay, Cecily ? ”
“ It’s on to stay,” answered Cecily. " Oh, I have had such an awful time, these last few months ! Mother was right — and — you were right.”
“ I did n’t hope,” said Tom, then, “ that you would find it out quite so soon, — although I did my best.”
Cecily laughed. “ I forgive you,” she said, “ and Miss Carbonnel. Now I can paint — with a light heart.”
“ So that’s the reason,” said Tom, smiling, “ that you — ”
“ The only reason in the world,” Cecily answered, laughing again. She turned and saw Pukkie, who was regarding them with solemn wonder, his feet far apart, and his hands clasped behind his back. “ Bless you, Pukkie! ” she cried; and she snatched him up, and kissed him.
The house across the road will be closed, as soon as Cecily has finished Alice Carbonnel’s portrait. Tom says he will have to spend his winters in New York, for the present. Cecily has her orders to attend to.