Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons was a lady with a soul. She said she had psychic consciousness and a clear green aura, and that she had been an Egyptian priestess in Thebes, in the time of Sesostris. In proof of this she showed us a fine little bronze Osiris holding a whip in one hand and the ankh in the other. ("My dear, the moment I saw him, I knew I had once prayed to him!") and she always wore a scarab ring. She had bought both in an antique-shop just off Washington Street. I thought this rather a far cry from Thebes, myself, but The Author insisted that if a Theban vestal of the time of Sesostris had to reincarnate, she would naturally and inevitably come to life a Boston one.
The Author hadn't taken any too kindly to the notion of other people coming to Hynds House. He grumbled that he had hoped he had at last found a quiet haven, a place that fitted him like a glove; he protested piercingly against having it "cluttered up with uninteresting, gobbling, gabbling, ordinary people."
"You came too late. You should have been here with Great-Aunt Sophronisba," Alicia told him, tartly. "You'd have been ideal companions, both of you beware-of-the-doggy, hair-trigger-tempery, all-to-your-selfish."
The Author gasped, and rubbed his eyes. Never, never, in all his pampered life, had one so spoken to him.
"Why, of all the cheek!" exploded The Author. "Am I to be flouted thus by a piece of pink-and-whiteness just escaped from the nursery pap-spoon?"
"Out of the mouths of babes—" insinuated Alicia.
The Author grinned. And his grin is redeeming.
"Sweet-and near-twenty," he explained. "I am not exactly all-to-myselfish, but I demand plenty of elbow-room in my existence. Generally speaking, my own society bores me less than the society of the mutable many. I like Hynds House. And I like you two women. You are not tiresome to the ear, wearisome to the mind, nor displeasing to the eye. I am even sensible of a distinct feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you are somewhere around the house. You belong. But I'm hanged if I want to see strangers come in. I object to strangers. Why are strangers necessary?"
"For the same reason that you were."
"I?" The Author's eyebrows were almost lost in his hair. "My dear, deluded child, I knew this house, and you, and Sophy Smith, before you were born! I knew you," The Author declared unblushingly, "before I was born! Now, am I a stranger?"
"Then you ought to know why Sophy and I have just got to have people, the sort of people who are coming." She paused. "We haven't best-seller royalties piled up to the roof!"
"No," said The Author, bitterly, "but I have. That's why I am forever plagued with strangers. That's why, when I discover a place and people that suit me to perfection, I can't keep 'em to myself! Oh, da—drat it all, anyhow!"
"But they aren't coming to see you. They're coming to see Hynds House," Alicia reminded him soothingly. "Besides, I don't think they're the sort of folks that care much for authors," she finished, encouragingly.
"They'll care about me" grumbled The Author glumly. "But let 'em come and be hanged to them! I shall take—"
"Long walks!" snarled The Author. "I shall work all night and be invisible all day."
The Westmacotes, as Alicia said, didn't greatly care for authors, though they sat up and took polite notice of this one. (One owed that to one's self-respect.) Only Miss Emmeline paid more than passing attention to him, though her interest really centered in Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, who was dining with us that night, as was Doctor Richard Geddes.
Mr. Jelnik's presence had the effect of lightening The Author's gloom. His eyes brightened, his dejection changed into alertness, and there began that subtle game of under-the-surface thrust and parry that seemed inevitable when the two met. Mr. Westmacote listened with quiet enjoyment. His dinner was to his taste, Hynds House more than came up to his expectations, Alicia was Cinderella after the fairy's wand had passed over her, I had ceased to be a mere person and become a personage; and he found here such men as Doctor Geddes, The Author, and Nicholas Jelnik. The Head smiled at his wife, and was at peace with the world.
Miss Emmeline had already discovered the Lowestoft and Spode pieces in our built-in cupboards; that there were two perfect apostle jugs in the cabinet in the hall: that our Chelsea figures were lovelier than any she had heretofore seen; and that Hynds House, in which everything was genuine, had an atmosphere that appealed to her soul, or maybe matched her clear-green aura. Anyhow, the house reached out for Miss Emmeline as with hands and laid its spell upon her enduringly.
She sat beside me, with Alicia's pet album of Confederate generals on her knees.
"I never thought I'd have a sentimental regard for rebels," she confessed. "But, oh, they were gallant and romantic figures, when one looks at their old photographs here in Hynds House. I am Massachusetts to the bone, but I don't want to hear 'Marching through Georgia' while I'm here!"
Mr. Jelnik, overhearing her, laughed. "Perhaps I may find for you something more in keeping with Hynds House," he said, and sauntered over to the old piano. Unexpectedly it came to life. And he began to sing:
It was the silent, solemn hour When night and morning meet, In glided Margaret's grimly ghost, And stood at William's feet. Her face was like an April morn Clad in a wintry cloud: And clay-cold was her lily hand, That held her sable shroud.
The Author shaded his eyes with his hand, his gaze riveted upon the singer. Alicia leaned forward, lips parted, face like an uplifted flower, eyes large with wonder and delight. The Confederate generals slid from Miss Emmeline's lap and lay face downward, forgotten. Westmacote's faded little wife, who had no children, crept closer to her big husband; and gently, unobtrusively, he reached out and took her hand in his warm grasp.
Why did you promise love to me And not that promise keep? Why did you swear mine eyes were bright, Yet leave those eyes to weep? Why did you say my face was fair, And yet that face forsake? How could you win my virgin heart, Yet leave that heart to break?
I am sure there is no lovelier and more touching ballad in all our English treasury than that sad, simple, and most beautiful old song. And he had set it to an air as simple and as perfect as its own words, an old-world air that suited it and his rich and flexible voice.
"Why, Jelnik!" exclaimed Doctor Geddes, in a voice of pure astonishment, "I knew you could tinkle out a tune on a piano, but, man, I didn't dream it was in you to sing like this!" And he stared at his cousin.
"I'd make bold to swear that Mr. Jelnik has a dozen more surprises up his sleeve, if he chose to let us see them," The Author said pleasantly.
"My father's system of education included music. For which I praise him in the gates," Mr. Jelnik replied casually.
"'Tinkle out a tune on a piano'!" breathed Alicia, and cast a look of deep disdain upon the blundering doctor. "Why, I've never in all my life heard anybody sing like that!"
But I saw him through a mist, and felt my heart ache and burn in my breast, and wondered what he was doing here in my house that might have been his house, and how I was going to walk through my life after he had gone out of it.
I had a wild desire to run outside into the dark night and the hushed garden, away from everybody and weep and weep, despairingly. Because a veil had been torn from my eyes this night, and I knew that the cruellest thing that can happen to a woman had happened to me. There could be but one thing more bitter—that he or anybody else in the world should know it.
So I sat there, dumb, while everybody else said pleasant things to him, their voices sounding afar, far off.
After a while we went into the living-room where our new piano is, and he played for us—Hungarian things, I think. Then he drifted into Chopin, and Alicia stood by and turned his music for him.
"Those two," whispered Miss Emmeline, "are the most idyllic figures I have ever seen." I think she sighed as she said it. "Youth is the most beautiful thing in the world," she added.
The Westmacotes, weary after a long journey, retired early. Mr. Jelnik and Doctor Geddes had gone off together. The secretary had to finish a chapter. The Author lingered to ask, oddly enough, if I had the original plan of Hynds House. Did I know who designed it?
"Why don't you interview Judge Gatchell?"
"I did. He was polite and friendly enough, but knows no more than is strictly legal. He told me he found Hynds House here when he arrived and expected to leave it here when he departed. And Geddes knows no more. Geddes isn't interested in Hynds House by itself," finished The Author, with a crooked smile.
"Perhaps Mr. Jelnik may have some family papers."
"Perhaps he may. I'd give something for a whack at those papers, Miss Smith."
"Why not ask him to let you see them, then?"
"Tut, tut!" said The Author, crossly, and took himself off.
When I was kimonoed, braided, and slippered, Alicia in like raiment came in from her room next to mine, sat down on the floor, and leaned her head against my knees, with her cheek against my hand.
For a while, as women do, we discussed the events of the evening. Both of us had deep cause for gratification; yet both of us were strangely subdued.
"Sophy, Peacocks and Ivory is a very wonderful person, isn't he?" hesitated Alicia, after a long pause. She didn't lift her head; and the cheek against my hand was warmer than usual.
"Yes," I agreed, quietly, "so wonderful that something never to be replaced will have gone out of our lives when he goes away, and doesn't come back any more. For that is what the Nicholas Jelniks do, my dear."
"Is it?" Again she spoke after a pause. "I wonder! Somehow, I—Sophy, he belongs here. He's—why, Sophy, he's a part of the glamour."
"I'm afraid glamour hasn't part nor place in plain folks' lives."
"But we aren't plain folks any more, either, Sophy," she insisted. "Why—why—we're part of the glamour, too!"
"That is just about half true."
Alicia ignored this. She asked, instead:
"Did you hear what that great blundering doctor said about tinkling out a tune on a piano?"
I could hear Mr. Jelnik praised by her or doubted by The Author. But somehow I could not bear any criticism of Doctor Geddes just then. I said stiffly:
"I have learned to appreciate Doctor Geddes."
"You are far too fair-minded not to." Presently: "Sophy?"
"We aren't ever going to be sorry we came here—together—are we, Sophy? And we won't ever let anybody come between us. Not anybody. Not The Author—nor his secretary—nor whatever guests come—nor Mr. Nicholas Jelnik—nor—nor Doctor Richard Geddes." Her head pressed closer to my knees.
"We came first, you and I," said Alicia, in a muffled whisper. "We are more to each other than any of them can be to us. You'll remember that, won't you?"
"I will remember, you absurd Alicia!" But I did not ask my dear girl what her incoherent words might mean. I did not ask why the soft cheek against my hand was wet.
As I have said before, Hynds House is but two stories high, with deep cellars under it, and an immense attic overhead; an attic all cut up into nooks and corners, and twists and turns, and sloping roofs and dormer windows, and two or three shallow steps going up here, and two or three more going down there, and passages and doors where you'd never look for them. We had never been able fully to explore our attic. It was Ali Baba's cave to us, with half its treasures unguessed and every trunk and box whispering, "Say 'Open, Sesame,' to me, and see what you'll find!"
While I was sitting with Alicia's head against my knee, a light, swift footstep sounded overhead in the attic, followed by a sort of stumble, as if somebody had slipped on one of those unexpected steps. Alicia rose quickly.
"Sophy," she breathed, "I have thought, once or twice, that I heard somebody walking in the attic."
"We will soon find out who it is, then," said I. Noiselessly we stole out into the hall, past the sleeping Westmacotes, and Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons who so longed to come in closer contact with the occult and unknown. We moved like ghosts, ourselves, our felt-soled mules making no sound.
The Author opened his door just as we approached it, and held up an imperious finger.
"Did you hear it, too?" he whispered. And walking ahead of us, he stole up the cork-screw stairway at the end of the side hall, lifted the latch of the attic door, and stepped inside.
It was frightfully dark up there. If you peered through the uncurtained windows you could see tree-tops tossing like black waves against the dark sky, and in between them rolling clouds, and little bright patchwork spaces of stars. And it was so quiet you could hear your heart beat, and your breathing seemed to rattle in your ears. We strained our eyes, seeking to pierce the gloom, stealing forward step by step. A board creaked, noisily; and then—I could have sworn it—then something seemed to move across one of the dormer windows. It was so vague, so shadowy, that one could not distinguish its outline; one could only think that something moved.
The Author gave an exclamation and switched on his electric torch, trying to focus the circle of light upon that particular window. There was nothing there. Only, it seemed to me that something, incredibly swift and silent, flashed down one of the bewildering turns to which our attic is addicted. But when we ran forward, the passage was empty. We brought up at the red brick square of one of the chimney stacks.
Almost savagely The Author flashed his light over every inch of wall and floor. Nothing. But on the close and musty air stole, not a sound, but a scent.
The Author swung around and trotted back. The window across which we thought we had seen something move was fastened from the inside, and there were one or two wooden boxes and a leather-covered trunk in the dormer recess. He sniffed hound-like around these, and with an exclamation leaned over. Behind the trunk crouched—Potty Black, with a mouse clamped in her jaws.
"For heaven's sake!" cried Alicia. "The cat! Sophy, what we heard was the cat!"
"Let us go," said The Author. And feeling rather silly, we trailed after him.
"You see," said I, "there is nothing. There never is anything."
"Come in my room for a minute," The Author whispered, and there was that in his voice which made us obey.
Inside his door, he opened his hand. In his palm was a soiled and crumpled scrap of tough, parchment-like paper about the size of an ordinary playing-card, so frayed and creased that one had difficulty in deciphering the writing on it. There clung to it a faint and unforgetable scent.
"It was behind the trunk, partly under the cat's black paw. I smelled it when I leaned over, and I thought we might as well have a look at it." said The Author.
And on the following page is what The Author had found.
'"Shades of E.A. Poe, and Robert Louis the Beloved! What have we here?" cried The Author, joyously, and stood on one leg like a stork. "Was there a Hynds woman named Helen? 'Turn Hellen's Key three tens and three?' Some keyhole! I say, Miss Smith, let me keep this for a while, will you?"
"Do, Sophy, let him keep it!" pleaded Alicia.
"I'll take the best care of it, Miss Smith; indeed I will!" The Author promised. "Look here: I'll lock it in the clothes-closet, in the breast pocket of my coat." As he spoke, he opened the cedar-lined closet, that was almost as big as a modern hall bedroom, and put the paper in the breast pocket of his coat. Locking the door, he placed the key under his pillow, and beside it a new and businesslike Colt automatic.
"There!" said The Author, confidently. "Nobody can get into that closet without first tackling me. Now you girls go to bed. To-morrow we'll tackle the unraveling."
And we, remembering of a sudden that we were pig-tailed and kimonoed, and that The Author himself resembled a step-ladder with a shawl draped around it, departed hurriedly.
He was late at the breakfast-table next morning. Gloom and abstraction sat visibly upon him. He left his secretary to bear the brunt of conversation with the Westmacotes and Miss Emmeline. For once he failed to do justice to Mary Magdalen's hot biscuit, and ignored Fernolia's astonished and concerned stare; even a whispered, "Honey, is you-all got a misery anywheres?" failed to rouse him. I found him, after a while, waiting for me in the library.
"Miss Smith,"—The Author strode restlessly up and down—"this house has a peculiar effect upon people; a very peculiar effect. Since I came here, I have learned to walk in my sleep." And seeing my look of astonishment, "I walked in my sleep last night. And I took that bit of doggerel out of my coat pocket, locked the closet door, and replaced the key under my pillow."
"How strange! And where did you put it?" I wondered.
"Exactly: where did I put it?" repeated The Author, rumpling his hair with both hands. "That's what I want to know, myself. I've looked everywhere in my room, and in Johnson's, and I can't find the thing. It's gone," and he stalked out, with his shoulders hunched to his ears.
I sat still, staring out at the window. There was a thing I hadn't told The Author, or even Alicia. I had no idea what the "bit of doggerel" meant, if, indeed, it meant anything. But when I had held Freeman Hynds's old diary in my hands, between the two pages following the last entry had been a creased and soiled piece of paper. I had seen it out of the tail of my eye, as the saying is. It was only a glimpse, but one trained to handle many papers, as I had been, has a quick and an accurate eye. And I knew that the paper found by The Author in the attic, and now lost again, was the paper I had seen in Freeman Hynds's diary.
THE JUDGMENT OF SPRING
Judge Gatchell's nephews and nieces, brought by that punctilious gentleman to call upon Miss Alicia Gaines, found her enchanting and cried it to the circumambient air. It was as if the voice of April had summoned the cohorts of Spring. For fresh-faced boys of a sudden appeared in increasing numbers; and flower-faced girls came fluttering into Hynds House like butterflies. They cared for its history and its hatreds not a fig: what has April to do with last November? The faith of Youth has a clearer-eyed wisdom, a sweeter, sounder justice than the sourer verdict of the mature. For theirs is the judgment of Spring. By this sign they conquer.
Susy Gatchell enlisted Mary Meade and Helen Fenwick, and these three held all younger Hyndsville in the hollow of their pink palms. After which, as Doctor Richard Geddes told me wrathfully, you "couldn't put your foot down without running the risk of stepping on some little cockerel trying to crow around Hynds House."
The tide was turning in our direction. Also, we were in daily contact with really worth-while people, people that otherwise we should have met only in books, magazines, and newspapers. And they liked us. The amazing miracle was that we, also we, were their sort of folk!
I knew I was being given unbuyable things. One could not live under the same roof with thin dark Luis Morenas and view what magic his pencil worked, without learning somewhat of the holiness of creative work. One couldn't listen to The Author without being somewhat brightened by his daring wit, his glowing genius; nor live face to face with big Westmacote without revering the broadness of the American master spirit, to which Big Business is only a part of the Great Game. As for Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons, it didn't take Alicia and me long to discover what real depths underlay that Boston-spinster mind of hers.
And you simply couldn't breathe the same air with The Suffragist—who appeared with two trunks, three valises, and a type-writer, all covered with "Votes for Women!" stickers—without an expansion of the chest. She gave you the impression of having been dressed by machinery out of gear, and of then having been whacked flat with a shovel. When she clapped on what she called a hat, you wondered whether a heron hadn't built its nest on her head. But when she began to speak, you listened with the ears of your immortal soul stretched wide. Women worshiped her, though Mr. Jelnik's eyes danced, and Westmacote's military mustache bristled a bit, and she all but drove Doctor Richard Geddes, who had notions of his own, out of his senses.
"Stop trying to argue with me, my dear man," she'd say in her rich voice, "but come and let us reason together. I haven't heard one word of reason from you yet!" And she'd let loose one of her rollicking laughs that set the doctor's teeth on edge and made The Author shudder. The Author snarled to me that she laughed like a rolling-mill and reasoned like a head-on collision. He put her in his new book, clothes and all. Just as Luis Morenas, with an edged smile on his thin lips, made rapid-fire sketches of her. He called her "The Future-Maker."
Now, shouldn't Alicia and I have been happy? And yet we weren't. Alicia's laugh wasn't so frequent. I would catch her watching me, with an odd, troubled, anxious speculation in her eyes. She had a habit of blushing suddenly, and as quickly paling. And quietly, but none the less surely and definitely, she had begun to avoid Doctor Richard Geddes. It wasn't that she ceased to be friendly; but she placed between herself and him one of those women-built, impalpable, impassable barriers which baffled, puzzled men are unable to tear down. It was impossible, I thought, that she should remain blind to his open passion for herself: he was anything but subtle, was Richard of the Lionheart. A blind man could have told, from the mere sound of his voice, a deaf man from the mere expression of his eyes, that Alicia had the big doctor's whole heart.
On his side, he was in deep waters. His ruddy color faded; his face took on a fixed, grim intensity. And when he watched the girl flirting now with this boy, now with that, after the innocent fashion of natural girls, but always reserving a friendlier smile, a more eager greeting, for Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, I was so sorry for Doctor Richard that I couldn't help trying, covertly, to console him.
It so happened that Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons, daughter of the Puritans though she was, nevertheless had a distinct liking for what she termed Episcopacy. She was pleased with old St. Polycarp's. She liked Mrs. Haile, to whom she happened to mention that her opportunities for studying the life of native women and children in the East had been rather unusually good, since she had visited many missionary stations in China and India. Things were languishing just then, and Mrs. Haile looked at Miss Emmeline almost imploringly: would she, could she, give the ladies a little lecture?—tell us things first-hand, so to speak?
Miss Emmeline reflected. She looked at Alicia and me.
"Could we have it in your delightful library?" she wondered. "That beautiful old room has a soul which speaks to mine. Dear Miss Smith, would it be too much to ask you to let me have my little talk, a very informal little lecture, in wonderful old Hynds House?"
Mrs. Haile turned a sort of greenish pink. It wasn't for her to suggest, after that, that it might be better to have the lecture in the parsonage; any more than for me to hint, without ungraciousness, that it might be just as well not to have it in Hynds House. Alicia shot me one quizzical, Irish-blue glance when I said, "Yes."
And that's how, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, all Hyndsville came to Hynds House to hear Miss Emmeline Phelps-Parsons tell them "How to Reach the Women of the East." Somehow, I rather think they were as curious about two Yankee women as they were about those Eastern women of whom Miss Emmeline was talking. I'm sure Hynds House was just as interesting to them as Mohammedan harems and Indian zenanas.
Miss Emmeline really spoke well, and her audience was interested in her, in her theme, and in Hynds House. The Suffragist picked up the thread where the less gifted woman dropped it, and in simple, living phrases drove home the great truth of the sisterhood of all women.
Which, of course, called for tea, and some of Mary Magdalen's cookies. It was the cookies that caught The Author. Coming in from a long and hungry prowl, he spied Fernolia crossing the hall with a huge platter, got one tantalizing, mouth-watering odor, and dashed after her, bent upon robbery. A second later he found himself in a room full of women. Hyndsville was meeting The Author!
Alicia introduced him, pleasantly. And, "Talk about angels—" said she, gaily, "We have just this minute stopped talking about the heathen! And may I give you a cup of tea?"
"And a dozen or so cookies, please. Thank heaven for the heathen! What is home without the heathen?—Without sugar, Miss Gaines, without sugar! And for charity's sake, no lemon!"
He sipped his tea and munched his cookies, with his head on one side and the air of a thievish jackdaw; and proceeded, after his wont, to extract such pith as the situation offered.
"Doctor Johnson," Miss Martha Hopkins remembered, as she watched him drinking his fourth cup of tea, "Doctor Johnson was also addicted to tea-drinking. Most great literary men are, I believe."
"It isn't possible you consider old Johnson a great literary man!" The Author's eyebrows climbed into his hair.
"Why! wasn't he?" Her eyes widened. She had as much respect for Dr. Johnson as Miss Deborah Jenkyns had, though of course she never read him. Life is too short.
"Why! was he?" asked The Author. "Outside of Boswell—and he was a fool—I've never known anybody who thought he amounted to much."
The Suffragist looked up. "Nelson had his Southey, Boswell had his Johnson, and Mr. Modern Best-seller may well profit by their example." And she smiled grimly.
The Author's lip lifted. "Oh, but you couldn't do it!" he purred. "And if I offered you the job you'd excuse your incapacity on the ground that there wasn't anything to write about. I know you!" He took another cooky.
"Yes, I dare say I'd blurt out the truth. Women are like that," admitted The Suffragist.
"The female of the species is more deadly than the male," conceded The Author. "Nevertheless," he raised his tea-cup gallantly, "To the ladies!" He got up, leisurely. "And now I go," said he, "to paint the lily and adorn the rose. In short, to set forth in adequate and remunerative language the wit, wisdom, virtue, beauty, and ornateness of woman as she thinks men think she is. Nature," reflected The Author, smiling at The Suffragist, "made me a writer. The devil, the editors, and the women have made me a best-seller." And he departed, a cooky in each hand.
That night one of the Gatchell boys took Alicia to a dance. She was in blue and white, like an angel, and the Gatchell boy trod on air. But to me came Doctor Richard Geddes, and threw himself into a wing-chair.
"Sophronisba Two," he asked, we being alone in the library, "what have I done to offend Alicia?"
"Is Alicia offended?"
"Isn't she?" wondered the doctor. "She won't let me get near enough to find out," he added gloomily. "And it isn't just. She ought to know that—well, that I'd rather cut off my right hand than give her real cause for offense. I'm going to ask you a straight, man question; is that girl a—a flirt? She is not a—jilt?"
"Does she care for anybody else?"
"On my honor, I don't know."
"It couldn't be any of these whipper-snappers of boys: she's not that sort," worried the doctor. "Sophy, is it—Jelnik?"
My heart stood still. I could make no reply.
"I don't know. My dear friend, I don't know!"
"It would be the most natural thing in the world," he reflected. "Jelnik looks like Prince Charming himself. And, for all his surface indolence, there's genius in the man. Why shouldn't she be taken with him?"
We looked at each other.
"I see," said the doctor, quietly. "Now, little friend, what concerns you and me is our dear girl's happiness. Does Jelnik care, do you think?"
"I don't know!" I said again. I felt like one on the rack. It seemed to me I could hear my heart-strings stretching and snapping. "But what is one girl's affection to a man born to be loved by women?"
"He is indifferent to women, for the most part," the doctor said thoughtfully. "He is so free from vanity, and at the same time so reserved, that one has difficulty in getting at his real feelings."
"She, also, is free from petty vanity," I told him. "She has an innocent, happy pleasure in her own youth and prettiness, but hers is the unspoiled heart of a child."
"Who should know it better than I, that am a great hulking, bad-tempered fellow twice her age!" groaned the doctor. "Yet, Sophy, I could make her happier than Jelnik could. Dear and lovely as she is, she couldn't make him happy, either—Don't you think I'm a fool, Sophy?"
"No," said I, smiling wanly; "I don't."
"This business of being in love is a damnable arrangement. Here was I," he grumbled, "busy, reasonably happy, with a sound mind in a sound body, and a digestion that was a credit to me. And along comes a girl, and everything's changed! My work doesn't fill my days, my food is bitter in my mouth, and I wake up in the night saying to myself, 'You fool, you're chasing rainbows!' Sophy, don't you ever fall in love with somebody you know you can't have! It's hell!"
I didn't tell him I knew it.
One of his men came to tell him he was needed urgently. As it meant a thirty-mile trip and the night was cold, I made him wait for a cup of coffee and an omelet."
"You said 'Sophy' a while ago. 'Sophy' sounds all right to me."
"It sounds fine to me, too, Sophy." And he reached out and seized my hand with a grip that made me wince.
"I told you I was a bear!" he said, regretfully.
When Alicia returned, she came, as usual, to my room.
"I am tired!" she yawned, and curled herself up on the bed.
"Didn't you have a nice time?"
"Oh, I suppose so! Everybody was lovely to me, and I could have divided my dances. These Southerners are easy to love, aren't they? I find it very easy for me! And oh, Sophy, there's to be a picnic day after to-morrow, at the Meade plantation, in my honor, if you please! We go by automobile.—I never thought I could get tired dancing, Sophy. But I am. Tired!"
"Go to bed and sleep it off."
"Did you have time to make out that grocery list? They've been overcharging us on butter."
"Yes: I finished it after Doctor Geddes left"
"Oh! He was here, then?" She yawned again.
"Yes. But somebody sent for him, and he had to cut his visit short."
"I wonder he keeps so healthy, running out at all hours of the night; and heaven knows how he manages about meals! His cook told me that sometimes he has to rush away in the middle of a meal, and sometimes he misses one altogether."
"I remembered that, so I made him wait for a cup of coffee and an omelet."
She reached over and squeezed my hand. "You're always thinking about other people's comfort, Sophy." She paused, and looked at me half-questioningly:
"I wish he had somebody to look after him," she said in a low voice, "somebody like you." She added, as if to herself: "He takes two lumps of sugar in his coffee, one in his tea, wants dry toast, and likes his omelet buttered."
And when I stared at her, she slipped nearer, and laid her cheek against mine.
"Sophy," in a soft whisper, "you've made up to me for my father and my mother, and for the sisters and brothers I never had. We're all sorts and conditions of folks, aren't we, Sophy?—but none like you, Sophy; not any one of them all like you!"
At that moment, through the open window, there stole in on the night air the faintest whisper of music. It wasn't mournful, it wasn't joyful, but both together; a singing voice, a crying voice, wild and sweet, part of the night and the trees and the wind, and part, I think, of the secretest something in the human heart. We had no idea where it came from; out of the sky, perhaps!
Somebody ran down-stairs, and a moment later the front door opened softly. The Author had heard, and was afoot. But even as he stepped outside, Ariel's ghostly music ceased. There was nothing; nobody; only the night.
THE FOREST OF ARDEN
I had seen Alicia whirl away in the Meades' big car. I had seen the Westmacotes and Miss Emmeline off on what they termed a nature-hunt. The Author and his secretary were up to the eyes in a new chapter; The Suffragist was spreading the glad tidings; and Riedriech and Schmetz had Luis Morenas in hand for the afternoon, visioning the United States of the World, while he snatched sketches of the visionaries.
The Author, Mr. Johnson, and I, lunched together.
"Miss Smith," began The Author abruptly, "did you know this house was built by British and French master masons? No? Well, it was. Judge Gatchell's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were solicitors for this estate, and the judge at last very kindly allowed me to look through a great batch of papers in his possession. From these I discovered that one of the Hyndses visited England in 1727, joined the new lodge lately established there, and brought one of the brethren, an architect, back to America with him. Another came from France. These three planned and built this house, and did it pretty well, too.
"This house-builder, Walsingham Hynds, made his house a sort of lodge for the brethren, just as in later times his grandsons sheltered the brethren of those societies that fathered the American Revolution. Gatchell tells me there is a legend of the master of Hynds House entertaining British officers and at the same time hiding the forfeited rebels they were hunting. I'd like to know," The Author added, reflectively, "where he hid them."
"An old house like this has dozens of places where one could be hidden without much danger of detection," remarked Mr. Johnson.
"I'm pretty sure of that," agreed The Author, emphatically.
"You should be, since you did a neat little bit of hiding on your own account," Mr. Johnson reminded him.
The Author was nettled. He had never found the paper lost out of the closet in his own room, though he had never given up a tentative search for it.
"Well, it's confoundedly odd I never did such a thing before," he grumbled.
"What is odd is that I myself was waked out of my sleep that night by the most oppressive sense of misery and hopelessness I have ever experienced," Mr. Johnson said seriously. "It was so overpowering that it made me think of Saint Theresa's description of her torment in that oven in the wall of hell which had by kindly forethought on the part of the devil been arranged for her permanent tenancy. Of course, it was just a nightmare," he added, doubtfully; "or perhaps a fit of indigestion."
"Indigestion takes many forms," I remarked, as lightly as I could. "And you must remember you've been warned that Hynds House is haunted. Why, the servants insist they've seen ol' Mis' Scarlett's h'ant!"
"Ah!" nodded The Author. "And I smell a mysterious perfume, I walk in my sleep for the first and only time in my life, and I hide where it can't be found a paper with an uncouth jingle and some dots on it, Johnson and I have the same nightmare. And I have heard footsteps. All hallucinations, of course! I will say this much for Hynds House: I never had a hallucination until I came here. By the way, did I merely imagine I heard a violin last night?"
"Oh, no: I heard it, too." Mr. Johnson looked at The Author with a concerned face. "You're getting a bit off your nerves, Chief. Anybody might play a violin."
"Anybody might, but few do play it as I thought I heard it played last night. Who's the player, Miss Smith?"
"I haven't the slightest idea. Alicia thinks it's a spirit that lives in the crape-myrtle trees."
I was beginning to be aweary of The Author's shrewd eyes and persistent questioning, and I was heartily glad when he had to go back to his work.
That was a gray and windless afternoon, and the house was full of those bluish shadows that belong to gray days; it was charged, even more than usual, with mystery: the whole atmosphere tingled with it as with electricity. I couldn't read. I have never been able to play upon any musical instrument, much as I love music. I do not sing, either, except in a small-beer voice; and when I tried to sew I pricked my fingers with the needle. I went into the kitchen, consulted with Mary Magdalen as to the evening's dinner, weighed and measured such ingredients as she needed, saw that the two maids were following instructions, tried to make friends with Beautiful Dog, until he howled with anguish and affliction and fled as from pestilence; and, unable to endure the house any longer, put on my hat and set out upon one of those aimless walks one takes in a land where all walks are lovely.
Automobiles came and went upon the public road, and to escape them I crossed a wooden foot-bridge spanning a weedy ditch, struck into a path bordering a wide field followed it aimlessly for a while, and before I knew it was in the Enchanted Wood.
The Enchanted Wood was carpeted with brown and sweet-smelling pine-needles, with green clumps of honeysuckle breaking out here and there in moist spots. There were cassena bushes, full of vivid scarlet berries; and crooked, gray-green cedars; and brown boles of pine-trees; and the shallowest, gayest, absurdest little thread of a brook giggling as it went about its important business of keeping a lip of woodland green.
It was very, very still there, somewhat as Gethsemane might have been, I fancy. I had wanted to be alone, that I might wrestle with my trouble. Yet now that I was facing it, my spirit quailed. Never had I felt so desolate, or dreamed that the human heart could bear such anguish.
If I had had the faintest warning, that I might have saved myself! If I had never come to Hynds House at all, but had lived my busy, matter-of-fact, quiet life! Yet the idea of never having seen him, never having loved him, was more cruel than the cruellest suffering that loving entailed. It was harder even than the thought that Alicia and I cared for the same man, who perhaps cared for neither of us. At that I fell into an agony of weeping.
That passed. I was spent and empty. But the calm of acceptance had come. I wasn't to lose my grip, nor wear the willow. The idea of me, Sophy Smith, wearing the willow, aroused my English common-sense. I refused to be ridiculous.
And then I looked up and saw him coming toward me, his great dog trotting at his side. I pulled myself together, and smiled; for Boris was thrusting his friendly nose into my palm, and rubbing his fine head against my shoulder, and his master had dropped lightly down beside me.
I had not seen Mr. Jelnik for several days, and it struck me painfully that the man was pale, that his step dragged, and the brightness of his beauty was dimmed. He looked older, more careworn. If he was glad to see me, it was at first a troubled gladness, for he started, and bit his lip. I wondered, not with jealousy, but with pain, if there was somebody, some beautiful and high-born lady, at sight of whom his heart might have leaped as mine did now. Was it, perhaps, to forget such a one that he had exiled himself?
"You are such a serene, restful little person!" he said presently, and a change came over his tired face; "and I am such a restless one! You soothe me like a cool hand on a hot forehead."
"Restless?—you? Why, I thought you the serenest person I had ever known."
His mocking, gentle smile curved his lips. But his eyes were not laughing. For a fleeting, flashing second the whirlpools and the depths were bared in them. Then the veil fell, the surface lights came out and danced.
"My father was an excellent teacher," he said, indifferently. "The whole object of his training was self-control. He was really a very wonderful man, my father. But he overlooked one highly important factor in my make-up, my Hynds blood."
I made no reply. I was wondering, perplexedly, how I, I of all people, should have been picked up and enmeshed in the web of these Hyndses and their fate.
"Thank you," said he, gratefully, "for your silence. Most women would have talked, for the good of my soul. Why don't you talk?"
"Because I have nothing to say."
"You evidently inherited a God-sent reticence from your British forebears. The British have 'illuminating flashes of silence.' It is one of their saving graces."
I proved it.
Mr. Jelnik, with a whimsical, sidewise glance, drew nearer.
"Why, instead of sitting at the foot of a pine-tree, which is also a reticent creature, are you not sitting at the feet of our friend The Author, who is perfectly willing to illumine the universe? Very bright man, The Author. How do you like his secretary?"
"Mr. Johnson? Oh, very much indeed! He is charming!"
"I find him so myself. But he is melting wax before the fire of feminine eyes. A man in love is a sorry spectacle!"
"Ach, yes! Consider my cousin Richard Geddes, for instance."
At that I winced, remembering the doctor's eyes when he had spoken of Alicia and of this man. I looked at Mr. Jelnik now, wonderingly. If he knew that much, hadn't he any heart? He stopped short. A wrinkle came between his black brows.
"I am not to speak lightly of my Cousin Richard, I perceive."
"No. Please, please, no!"
"I hadn't meant to. Richard," said Mr. Jelnik, gravely, "is a good man."
"Oh, yes! Indeed, yes! And—and he has a deep affection for you, Mr. Jelnik."
"We Hyndses are the deuce and all for affection. We take it in such deadly earnest that we store up a fine lot of trouble for ourselves." His face darkened.
I had been right, then, in supposing that there was somebody, perhaps half the world away, for whom he cared. And he didn't care for Alicia. I was sure of that.
"Don't go!" he begged, as I stirred. "Stay with me for a little while: I need you. I am tired, I am bored, I am disgusted with things as they are. There is nothing new under the sun, and all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Also, I am fronting the forks of a dilemma: Shall I shake the dust of Hyndsville from my foot, yield to the Wanderlust and go what our worthy friend Judge Gatchell calls 'tramping,' or shall I stay here yet awhile? I can't make up my mind!"
"Do you want to go?"
"Yes and no. Hold: let's toss for it and let the fall of the coin decide." He took from his pocket a thin silver foreign coin, and showed it me.
"Heads, I go. Tails, I stay," he said, and tossed it into the air. It fell beside me, out of his reach. With a swift hand I picked it up.
"Well?" he asked, indifferently.
My hand shut down upon it. There was the sound of wind in my ears, and my heart pounded, and my sight blurred. Then somebody—oh, surely not I!—in a low, clear, modulated voice spoke:
"You will have to stay, Mr. Jelnik," said the voice, pleasantly. "It is tails."
And all the while the inside Me, the real Me, was crying accusingly: "Oh, liar! liar! It is heads!"
Did he smile? I do not know. He did not look at me for the minute, but stared instead at the gray-blue, shadowed woods, the brown boles of the pines, the bright trickle of water playing it was a real brook.
"Tails it is. I stay," he said presently. And with a swift movement he reached out and lightly patted my hand with the coin in it.
"Well, it's decided. You have got me for a next-door neighbor for a while longer, Miss Smith. No, don't go yet."
So I stayed, who would have stayed in the Pit to be near him, or walked out of heaven to follow him, had he called me.
"Do you know," he spoke in a plaintive voice—"that I haven't had any lunch? I forgot to go home for lunch! Boris, go get me something to eat, old chap!"
Boris hung out a tongue like a flag, looked in his man's eyes, and vanished, running as only the thoroughbred wolf-hound can run.
"I am so tired! Should you mind if I kept my dog's place warm at your feet, Miss Smith?" And he stretched his long length on the pine-needles, his hands under his head, his face upturned.
"I wish I had a pillow!" he complained.
I scooped up an armful of the pine-needles, while he watched me lazily, and packed it over and between the roots of the pine-tree.
"You're a Sister of Charity," said he, gratefully. "But I can't afford to scratch my neck." And coolly he took a fold of my brown silk skirt, patted it over the straw, and with a sigh of satisfaction rested his head upon it.
"This is very pleasant!" he sighed. Presently: "Your hair looks just as a woman's hair ought to look, under that brown hat," he said drowsily, "soft and fair. And after this, I shall order some brown-silk cushion-covers. I never knew anything could feel so comfortable and restful!" He closed his eyes.
I sat there, hands locked tightly together, and looked down at his beautiful head, his slim and boyish body; and I felt an aching sense of resentment. No man has any business to be like that, and then come into the life of a woman named Smith.
He did not move, nor did I. We might have been creatures motionless under a spell, in that Enchanted Wood; until from the outside world came Boris, carrying a wicker basket, in which sandwiches, fruit, a small bottle of wine, and a silver drinking-cup had been carefully packed.
"Boris is used to playing courier." His master patted him affectionately. "Come, Miss Smith. By the way, that isn't your real name, though. Your name is Woman-in-the-Woods. Mine is—"
He raised his brows. "I was about to say 'Man-who-is-Hungry,'" he finished, pleasantly. "I once knew an Indian named Tail-feathers-going-over-the-Hill. It taught me the value of being explicit as to one's name. Here, you shall have the cup, and I'll drink out of the bottle. Some of these fine days, Woman-in-the-Woods, I shall take you on a jaunt with me and Boris."
"It sounds promising," I admitted, cautiously.
"It is more. You shall learn all the fine points of out-of-door housekeeping.—Drink your wine, Woman-in-the-Woods. You were pale, very pale, when I came upon you. I was afraid something had been troubling you."
"Something troubles everybody."
"Oh, bromidic Miss Smith!—Drink your wine, please. And do not look doubtfully upon that sandwich. My man knows how to build them."
His man did. The sandwich was manna. The wine evidently came from heaven.
"Now you have a color. I say, is Morenas going to do you, too?"
"Good gracious, no! But he has sketched Alicia a dozen times at least."
"And me," said Mr. Jelnik, gloomily. "There's no evading the brute. I turn like a weathercock; and there he is, with corrugated brow and slitted eyes, studying me! And the baleful eye of The Author also pursues me. Between them, I feel skinned."
"Mr. Morenas says you are a rare but quite perfect type," I told him, mischievously.
The young man shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "Am I a type, Woman-in-the-Woods?" he asked.
"Indeed, you are absolutely different from anybody else." And then, terrified, I turned red.
"Oh, I know! You didn't mean it either as a brick-bat or a bouquet, merely the truth as you see it. You are transparently truthful, fundamentally truthful, and at the same time the American business woman! You can't understand how that intrigues me!"
And then, quite simply and boyishly, he began to talk about himself. I got glimpses of a boyhood spent partly in a stately home in Vienna, and partly roaming about the great Hungarian estate which his mother loved, and to which the two returned summer after summer, until her death. Then student days, and after that, foot-loose wanderings up and down the earth and across the seven seas.
His grandmother had dropped courtesies to kings; and mine had dropped "aitches." His father had been a European celebrity, mine a ship-chandler in Boston, U.S.A. Yet here we two were; and he might have been a high-spirited and most beautiful little boy picnicking with a sedate and old-maidish little girl.
"How old should you imagine me?" he flung the question like a challenge, as if he had divined my thoughts.
"Oh, say, thirteen, going on fourteen."
"Dear Woman-in-the-Woods, I am thirty-three."
"You are older than I thought."
"You are younger than you think. And you betray the fact," he smiled.
"I have never been very young; probably I shall never be very old."
"You will always be exactly the right age," said Nicholas Jelnik. "For you will always be a little girl, and a young maiden, and a grown woman, and a bit of an old maid, and something of a grandmother. That is a wonderful, a very, very wonderful combination!"
I looked at him with more than doubt. But no, he was not poking fun, though the rich color had come into his cheek, and the golden lights flickered mischievously in his eyes.
"And I forgot to add, also a business woman!" he finished gaily. "Herr Gott, but it took a business woman to tackle old Hynds House and gather together such folks as you have there now!"
"Alicia was the head and front of that. I merely helped."
"Alicia," said Mr. Jelnik, "is a darling girl. Alicia is everything a girl ought to be." But there was not in eyes or voice that light and tone that crept into Doctor Richard's when he named her. My dear girl's tender face—so true and beautiful and loving—rose before me, and all she had meant to me, been to me, crowded upon my heart. I said what I had never intended to say to any one:
"Why, Alicia's my—my child, to me! Don't you understand?"
"Dear Woman, yes!" His voice was melted gold.
The ridiculous little brook went whish-whis-sssh; and the bluish shadows melted into gray; and a chill came creeping, creeping, into the air.
"Before you go," said Nicholas Jelnik, "I should like to give you a talisman, to turn Miss Smith into Woman-in-the-Woods every now and then." And with his pocket-knife he cut a sharp line down the thin old coin he had tossed, worked at it for a few minutes with a pocket file and a stone, and then with his fingers that looked so slim but were strong as steel nippers. The coin broke in halves.
"Half for you," said Mr. Jelnik, "and half for me, to commemorate a comradely afternoon, and to mark a decision. We'll consider it a token, a charm, a talisman—what you will. And if ever I really and truly need a Woman-in-the-Woods to help me, why, I'll send my half to her; and she'll obey the summons instantly and without question. And if ever she needs a man—like me, say—why, she'll send her half, and he'll come, instantly and without question." He was smiling as he spoke. Now he paused to look at me earnestly. "Because we are going to be real friends, you and I; are we not?"
I hesitated. How could we two be real friends, when the balance between us was so uneven, so unequal? He saw the hesitation, momentary as it was, and looked at me with something of astonishment and a hint of hurt.
"I have never," he said, proudly, "had to ask for friendship. Yet I do desire yours, who are such a grave, brave, true little thing, such a valiant-for-truth, stand-fast little thing! You have the one quality that I, born wanderer, foot-loose rolling-stone, need most in this world, unchanging, loyal, unquestioning steadfastness."
I considered this. It is true that I hold fast, for that is the English way.
"But outside of that one thing," I told him, "I have nothing else."
"No?—She hasn't," said he, in a teasing tone, "anything to give, except unbuyable truth. She has nothing to offer except Friendship's very self!—this poor, poor Miss Smith!"
Now, heaven alone knows why, but at that my eyes filled with foolish tears. If he saw them—and they ran down my cheek in spite of me—he mercifully gave no sign. Instead he held out his fine brown hand, and when I placed mine in it, he lifted it to his lips with foreign grace.
"We two are friends, then—through thick and thin, above doubting, and without fear or reproach. That is so, hein?"
"Yes!" I promised.
So, walking slowly, as if loath to go, we two went out of the Enchanted Wood and left the Forest of Arden behind us.
When I was again in my own room, and had taken off the brown frock, I held against my cheek, for a long, long minute, that fold against which his head had rested; I fingered the broken coin; I looked long and long at the hand his lips had touched; and though I had told a shameless lie, I was not at all ashamed.
I have often read that women do not and cannot love men, but only love to be loved by them. Only a man could have been stupid enough to say that; and, then he didn't know. The woman hadn't told him.
"I say! Haven't you got on a new frock to-night? My word, it's scrumptious!" remarked The Author, after dinner. I was wearing a black-and-blue frock, and he had seen it before, as I explained with some surprise.
He adjusted his glasses, frowned, and shook his head.
"I am becoming unobservant," he said crossly. "This place is playing the very deuce with my mental processes! But stay: surely your hair is arranged differently? It wasn't brought over your ears like that, the first time I saw you, I know it wasn't!"
"It is curled a little and fluffed a little; that's what makes it look different," I told him patiently.
"Then that frock is curled a little and fluffed a little, and that's what makes it look different, too," The Author decided, and stared at me critically. "You are improving," he told me, with condescension.
"You are not!" I was goaded to reply.
The Author merely grinned.
"Do you know," he asked, "if that man Jelnik is coming to-night? I hope so. Unusual man. Can't think why he buries himself here! Our old friend Gatchell doesn't seem to admire him. I wonder why?"
"I can't possibly imagine," I replied equably, "unless it is that the judge grows old."
"Hah!" The Author's eyebrows went up truculently. "And is it a sign of advancing age and mental decrepitude not to admire this fellow?"
But I laughed at him.
"You're all alike, you women." A wicked light snapped into his eyes. "Hear, dear lady, the Bard of the Congaree, the Poet Laureate of South Carolina, Coogle for your benefit," hissed The Author, and repeated, balefully:
Alas, poor woman, with eyes of sparkling fire, Thy heart is often won by mankind's gay attire! So weak thou art, so very weak at best, Thou canst not look beyond a satin-lined vest!
I've seen thee ofttimes cast a-winning glance, And be carried away, as it were within a trance, By the gay apparel of some dishonest youth Whose bosom heaved with not a single truth!
He was so outrageously funny that I forgave his impertinence. His face relaxed, and his eyes twinkled. He was in high feather the remainder of the evening. He was, in fact, so good-humoredly witty that the boys and girls Alicia had brought home clustered about him like golden bees.
"Miss Smith," whispered Miss Emmeline, under cover of their laughter, "may I have a word with you?"
We drifted into the library; and she seated herself, folded her hands, and said tremulously:
"My dear, my wish has been granted. I have really come in contact with the Unknown! I have seen something, Miss Smith!" I looked at her steadily. "Just before dawn," Miss Emmeline continued, "I woke up, with a curious, indefinable, uneasy sense of trouble, as if something had happened and I was remembering it, say. I saw how foolish it was to allow a mere nightmare to worry me, though I am not subject to nightmares, my conscience and my digestion being quite all right, thank heaven! Gradually the impression faded. I was just dropping to sleep again, when I heard the faintest imaginable footfall, almost as if somebody were walking upon the air itself. And then, Miss Smith, there stole across my room a figure. There was nothing terrifying about it: it was merely a figure, that was all, and so I was not frightened. It came from my clothes-closet, went into the next room, and vanished. For when I arose and followed, there was no trace of it. And the doors were locked. Now, was not that remarkable?"
"Very," said I, with dry lips.
"I should have thought I was dreaming," went on Miss Emmeline, "save that there lingered in the air, for some time, a faint and very delicate—"
"Perfume," I finished.
Miss Emmeline started, and seized my hand.
"Then you have experienced it, too?"
"I have detected the perfume," I admitted, "but I have never seen anything. Dear Miss Emmeline, would it be too much to ask you to keep this to yourself, for a while at least? People are so easily frightened; and wild stories spread and grow."
Miss Emmeline nodded. "Of course I'll keep it quiet," she promised kindly. "I shall, however, write down the occurrence for the Society for Psychical Research, without giving actual names and place." To this I raised no objection. But it was with a troubled mind that I left Miss Emmeline.
I was destined to hear one more confidence that night, unwittingly this time. I had gone down-stairs to place, ready to Mary Magdalen's hand in the morning, the materials for the breakfast. This entails work, but it insures successful handling of household economics. Having weighed and measured what was necessary, and seen that the inquisitive Black family occupied their proper quarters on the lower veranda, I went back up-stairs. The Author's door was slightly ajar, and I could hear him walking up and down, as he does when he dictates; for he is a restless man.
"Johnson," The Author was saying as I passed, my slippered feet making no sound, "Johnson, that Sophy woman intrigues me. Hanged if she doesn't, Johnson!"
"I like Miss Smith, myself. She reminds me very much of my mother," said Johnson's cordial voice in reply.
"But I don't like the way things look here, at all, Johnson!" fumed The Author. "What's his game, anyhow? What's he after? What's he here for? Does she know, or suspect? Or doesn't she, Johnson?" The Author asked, earnestly. "Look here: somebody's got to protect that Sophy woman against Nicholas Jelnik!"
THE JINNEE INTERVENES
Just before he went back North, Luis Morenas good-naturedly agreed to exhibit his new sketches for the delectation of such folk as we cared to ask to view them—this to please Alicia, whom he called Flower o' the Peach.
Now an exhibit of Morenas sketches would have been an art event in the Biggest City itself. But think of it in Hyndsville, where few worth-while things ever happened; and imagine the polite wire-pulling for invitations that ensued!
It wasn't my fault that I couldn't ask the whole town to come to my house to see those brilliant sketches. I would have done so with all my heart, but there was a section of Hyndsville I couldn't reach. It was locked up behind bars of pride and prejudice of its own building; and losing by it, of course, since one can't be exclusive without at the same time being excluded. To shut other folks out you have first got to shut yourself in.
For instance, figure to yourself Miss Martha Hopkins. She had visited as far north as Atlanta; and she had relatives in Charleston, as she would have condescendingly informed arch-angels, principalities, powers, thrones, and dominions. But she wasn't blessed with much of this world's goods, and most of the time she stayed home and improved her mind. She took herself with profound seriousness. She seemed to think that the better part of wisdom consists in knowing who said this and who didn't say that—"as Mr. Arnold Bennett expresses it," "as Mr. H.G. Wells remarks," "as Mr. James Huneker writes,"—she was the only person in all Hyndsville who could write up music and art, and she wasn't even afraid to use the word sex in its most modern acceptance; though in South Carolina you refer to the ladies as "the fair sex" if you're a gentleman, and to the gentlemen as "the stronger sex" if you're a lady. You understand that "male and female created He them," and you let it go at that. Miss Martha Hopkins, then, was daring; she was also exclusive.
I suppose if I had been younger I could have smiled at Miss Martha, as Susy Gatchell and her graceless friends did, but somehow she appeared to me a creature trying to peck at the world and peek at the stars through the bars of a bird-cage. That's why, when I met her a morning or two before the Morenas exhibit, I asked her if she wouldn't like to see it. I knew that, once asked, she could be kept away by nothing short of an earthquake or a deluge. Yet—
"Thank you, Miss Smith, I shall be glad to look over the sketches." And she added blandly: "Four o'clock, did you say? Very well, I will come. It is one's moral duty to encourage men of talent."
"Whoop!" cried The Author, joyously, when I told him that. "Revenge yourself, Morenas: sketch her, man! sketch her!"
Morenas laughed. "Put her in one of your books and make her talk," he suggested slyly. "You have a genius for making a woman talk like an idiot."
"That's because he does the talking for her, himself," said Alicia, impudently.
"It pays, it pays!" smiled The Author. "I draw from life."
"Nature-fakir!" Alicia mocked.
"My dear fellow, I draw. You draw and quarter," said Morenas.
The Author flung out his arms, grandiloquently.
You may as well try to change the course Of yonder sun To north, and south, As to try to subdue by criticism This heart of verse, Or close this mouth!
he cried, thumping his chest. "Come on, Johnson: let's leave these knockers to fate—and Miss Martha Hopkins!"
Miss Martha Hopkins came, she saw, and she had a perfectly beautiful time. As a matter of fact, everybody that could come, did come. And the very smartest and prettiest of the younger set served tea. Oh, yes, decidedly the tables were turning!
Despite which, Alicia and I were not happy. It seemed to me that a veil had fallen between us, for we were shy with each other. Both suffered, and each dreaded that the other should know.
I was grateful that The Author's mind was too taken up with Hynds House history to focus itself upon us. The Author spent his spare hours rummaging through such dusty and musty records as might throw some light upon the Hyndses. In the old office were many faded plantation and household books, and he was able to glean enough from these to confirm the methodical carefulness of Freeman Hynds. There were, too, dry receipts for "monies Paid by Mr. Rich. Hynds" for some old slave; or a brief notice that "By Orders Mr. Richd. Hynds, no Women shall be Whipt"; or "Bought by Mr. R. Hynds & Charg'd to his Acct., one Crippl'd Black Childe namd Scipio from Vanham's Sale, & Given to Sukey his Mother." Another time it would be a list of Christmas gifts: "One Colour'd Head Kerchief for Nancy. One Flute for Blind Sam. One Shoulder Cape for Kitty my Nurse. One Horn-handl'd Knife for Agrippa. One Pckt. Tobacco & a Jorum of Rum for Shooba."
Over against these items were others: "By Orders Mr. Freeman Hynds, Juba to Receive Twenty light Lashes for Malingering; Black Tom to be Shipt to River Bottom Plantation for the Chastning of his Spiritt; Bread & Water & Irons 3 Dayes & Nights for Shooba for Frighting of his Fellowes & other Evil Behaviour."
This was interesting enough, but not conclusive. All that The Author could find only deepened his uncertainty, and this made him abominably cross, an ill temper increased by the presence of Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, who came and went, unruffled, aloof, with inscrutable eyes and a gently mocking smile.
The Harrison-Gores came shortly after Morenas left. The Englishman was a pink-faced old gentleman in a shabby Norfolk suit and with the very thinnest legs on record—"mocking-bird legs," Fernolia called them. His daughter was a gray-eyed Minerva with the skin of a baby and the walk of a Highland piper. They found Carolina people charming, and they secured some valuable data for their book, "The Beginnings of American History." Everything in Hynds House pleased them, even The Author.
Other people who do not enter into this story came and went during that winter. But they were merely millionaires—people who motored around the lovely country, ate Mary Magdalen's hot biscuit and fried chicken, slept in our four-posters, paid their stiff bills thankfully, and went about their business as good millionaires should, and generally do. Only one out of them all was disagreeable; he wanted to buy Hynds House out of hand for a proposed club of which he was to be founder and president.
"It'd be just what the bunch would like," he told me. "All we'd have to do would be to paint these wooden walls a nice cheerful light color, change one room into a smoker, another into a billiard-room, and a third into a grill, add some gun-racks and leather wing-chairs, and we'd be right up to the minute in club-houses!"
When I explained that I couldn't sell he offered to compromise on two of the carved marble mantels, the library tiles, and two inlaid tables, "at double what you'd get from anybody else." And when I wouldn't even let him have these trifles, he was disgusted and took no pains to conceal it. He was rude to Alicia, who snubbed him with terrible thoroughness, a proceeding which made him call loudly for his "bill" and his car. The last we heard of him was his bullying voice bawling at his sullen chauffeur.
"That pig," said The Author to me, with fury, "is undoubtedly the lineal descendant of the one Gadarene swine that hadn't decency enough to rush down the slope with the rest of the herd and drown himself."
Busy as I was, it wasn't over easy for me to find time to revisit that brown and sweet-smelling spot in the Forest of Arden where on a gray afternoon, I had met Nicholas Jelnik and received from him a kiss on the palm, and a broken coin. And I wanted to go back there, as ghosts may desire to revisit the glimpses of the moon.
That is why, on the first free afternoon I had, I changed into the selfsame brown frock, put on the brown hat with the yellow quill in it, and slipped out of Hynds House alone. It wasn't a gray afternoon this time, but a clear, bright, sun-shiny one, all blue and gold and green, and with the pleasantest of friendly winds a-frolicking, and a pine-scented air with a pungent and a vital bite to it.
I went along the highroad for a while, crossed the weedy, ferny ditch that separated it from the fallow fields beyond, and struck into the deserted foot-path that leads to the Enchanted Wood.
It was very lonesome, very peaceful. I could see the pine-trees I love swaying and rocking against the blue, blue sky; I could catch the low-hummed tune they crooned to themselves and the winds; I could sniff a thousand woodsy odors. Spears of sunlight made bright blobs on the brown grass; and every littlest bush and shrub wore a shimmering halo, as you see the blessed ones backgrounded in old pictures. There was a bird twittering somewhere; occasionally a twig snapped with a quick, secret sharpness; and once a thin brown rabbit took to his heels, right under my feet.
I stopped from time to time to sense the feel of the afternoon, to drink the air and be healed. In a few minutes I should be within the forest and hear the little brook giggling to itself as it scurried over its brown pathway. And then I heard—something—and turned.
The deep and weedy ditch, crowded with high stalks of last year's goldenrod and fennel, edged all that pathway, draining the entire field. Crawling snakelike through it he had followed me. And now here he was, suddenly erect on the path behind me, looking at me with narrowed eyes under his flat forehead.
I wasn't afraid—at first. Nothing like him had ever crossed my path, and I stared at him with more of disgust and aversion than terror.
He was tall and bony, immensely powerful, and his black skin showed with a grayish shine upon it through the rents in his rags. His gray-black, horny toes protruded through what once had been shoes, and a shapeless, colorless felt hat covered his bullet head. His corded black arms emerged from the torn sleeves of his checked shirt, and his hairy chest was naked. There came from him an indescribable reek of tobacco, whisky, filthy clothes, and the beastlike odor of an unclean body. He was beardless, and his gorilla-like nostrils twitched, his forehead wrinkled. His eyes were mere pin-points, with a sort of red glare far back in them; his mouth was like a dirty red muzzle. He was a prowling tramp, of the worst sort.
Involuntarily he stopped in his tracks as I faced him, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. His eyes swept greedily over me—silver mesh-purse, wrist-watch, the brooch at my throat, the rings on my fingers.
"Whut yuh doin' hyuh, w'ite lady?" he asked in a thick voice, and grinned. And quite suddenly such a fear as I had not dreamed could be felt by a mortal took me by the heart and squeezed it as with an iron hand.
"Whut foh yuh come by mah field, lil w'ite lady?" he purred. "Ah'm takin' lil snooze in de ditch grass, an' dey yuh comes, wakin' me up! Whut yuh wake me up for, w'ite gal?" Leering, he began with a gliding, stealthy movement to advance.
"Stop!" cried I, in a voice that wasn't mine, it was so sharp and thin and reedy. "Go back—where you came from! Don't you dare to take another step! Go back!"
The hands hooked into outstretched claws. His head sunk between his shoulders. Of the eyes, only red pin-points showed in the twitching face. I stood stone-still, struck into utter immobility. My brain was trying to urge me to fly, fly! This is the Black Death, Sophy! the Black Death!
He, too, stood of a sudden stone-still, as if rooted to the ground. His eyes widened, and stared, as if he saw something over and beyond me. I didn't dare turn my head. It might be a trick, to divert attention for a fatal second.
The claws clenched into balled fists, the lips drew back, showing blackened and decayed teeth. Bristling like an aroused beast, his forehead wrinkling, his nostrils twitching, he made an inarticulate, growling, brute-like noise in his throat. His head twisted sideways. Of a sudden the sweat burst out upon his face, and he began to back away, warily.
And then something swift and dark sped by, bounding on light and flying feet; something that must have come from my forest. It was The Jinnee! God be praised, it was The Jinnee, his dark robe giving an odd effect of flying, his eyes living vengeance, his face like Fate carved in ebony.
I saw him leap, and close in upon the horror; I heard a sort of wolfish yapping. The Black Death disappeared. And then I, too, was falling, falling into infinite blackness and blankness, with one red flash when I struck my head.
Half-conscious, half-hearing, altogether unseeing, I thought there were two Voices near me. I couldn't understand what they said. One of the Voices was gently and persistently applying cold and soothing applications to my forehead. Another Voice chafed my hands. I thought one said, "Achmet," and the other replied, "Sahib." I knew I must be dreaming. But it was a pleasant dream enough.
Quite suddenly somebody said in good, anxious English:
"Thank God! you are better!"
I had opened my eyes. There was the whish-whish-whishing little brook, the good brown pines, with their heavenly odor. And there was the face of Nicholas Jelnik, bent over me. And beside him, gravely concerned and troubled, Boris.
I looked from one to the other, both so clear-eyed, so kind, so safe; and then I remembered.
"Sophy! Sophy!" He had his arms around me, in a close, protecting clasp, while Boris pawed my skirts, and cried over me in loving, honest dog fashion, and licked my wet cheek with his affectionate tongue. I slipped my arm around the big dog's neck, and clung to the two of them. And it seemed to me that while I clung thus, with my head bent and my face hidden, one of them kissed my hair.
"It never occurred to me—that there might be danger for you," he was whispering. "To have that horror come near you—oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
I was terrified at sight of his face, dead-white, with eyes of steel, and straight lips, and pinched nostrils; the terrible face of the avenging white man, a face as inexorable as judgment. I hid my own before it, and trembled; and yet was glad that I had seen it.
I stammered: "There was—a devil—and then a Jinnee came. And I heard—sounds. Then I fell. Did—did The Jinnee—" My voice died in my throat.
His eyes were ice, his mouth a grim, pale line.
"That has been attended to," he said composedly.
He blamed himself for having been thoughtless. "But I was so glad to have you come here, that afternoon, that I could think of nothing else!" And it seemed that this particular bit of woodland was his, bought because its quiet beauty pleased him. He was in the habit of coming here frequently; it had never occurred to him that danger could lurk near it.
"I thought I heard—somebody calling somebody else 'Achmet.'" I told him, confusedly. "And there was a Jinnee, really there was. And two Voices. Who brought me here? Did you find me, over there?"
"You were not hard to carry," he said evasively.
"But The Jinnee?"
"The Jinnee did exactly what a good Jinnee always does, his duty. Having done it, he disappeared. Didn't I tell you you're not to think of what's happened? It is finished," said Mr. Jelnik, peremptorily.
I asked no more questions.
"Do you think you are able to walk now?" he asked.
I tried to, with shaking knees. At the edge of the field I grew faint again, and staggered, and was unpleasantly sick.
"You simply cannot appear in Hynds House in this shape, and invite comment and question," said Mr. Jelnik, anxiously. His fine brows wrinkled. "I have it: you will stop at my house for a few minutes, and I'll give you a cordial, that will put you to rights."
I went staggering along beside him, making desperate efforts to hold myself erect. The pathway squirmed and wriggled like a snake, the trees and bushes bowed, the sky bobbed up and down.
He took me by by-paths so cunningly hidden that you might pass up and down the highroad daily and never suspect their existence. We went between cassenas and cedars and young laurels, branchy to the roots. And then I was walking down a path bordered with Lombardy poplars; and then I was sitting on a couch in Mr. Jelnik's living-room, while he bathed my face with scented water, and afterward held a small glass to my lips. The fluid I swallowed went tingling through my whole body like friendly fire.
I stole a woman-glance around the room that The Author had been so anxious to investigate. It was altogether a man's room, the scoured floor partly covered with a handsome rug, and the divan on which I was sitting covered with another. On both sides of the big fireplace were crowded book-shelves, above which hung weapons gathered from the four corners of the earth. There were two or three deep, comfortable arm-chairs, a square table, a couple of Winchesters in a corner, and near the window a flat, old-fashioned desk, above which hung two small portraits, evidently his parents, for the gentleman with stars and crosses on his braided uniform, a sword at his side, and a plumed hat in his hand, bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Jelnik; and the stately blond lady had a family resemblance to Doctor Richard Geddes.
Mr. Jelnik touched a bell near the door, and a tall, copper-colored man in spotless white appeared. At the merest gesture of an uplifted finger the copper-colored one bowed, vanished, and returned ten minutes later with a tiny cup of black coffee and a couple of thin wafers.
"I shall have to insist upon the coffee; and I advise the wafers," said Mr. Jelnik, pleasantly. So I drank the coffee, nibbled the wafers, and felt better.
The copper-colored man, standing still as a statue, waited until I had finished, took the cup, bowed, and disappeared. He was a stately impressive person, rather like a shah in disguise. Mr. Jelnik addressed him as "Daoud."
I had risen. I was trying to straighten my sadly flattened brown hat, and to smooth my frock, stained with damp earth, and water. A quick step sounded on the porch, somebody knocked, and without waiting for an answer, opened the door, impatiently, and strode into the room. With a fold of my disheveled frock in my hand, I looked up and met the angry and astonished eyes of The Author.
The Author closed the door and leaned against it. His piercing glance jumped from Nicholas Jelnik's face to mine, with a prolonged and savage scrutiny. No detail of my appearance escaped him—my reddened eyelids, my pallor, my nervousness, my dishevelment. His eyes narrowed, his jaw hardened.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, roughly. "Come! At least one may hope for the truth from you!"
Mr. Jelnik gave him a level look. There was that in it which brought an angry red to The Author's thin face.
"Let me answer for her: just at present Miss Smith is getting ready to go home."
The Author struggled to keep his rising temper in hand.
"I asked you a plain question, Miss Smith!" His peremptory tone jangled my strained nerves.
"Mr. Jelnik has answered you: I am getting ready to go home."
The Author stamped.
"Don't talk nonsense! Again I ask you, what are you doing here? Have you lost your senses? Why have you been weeping? It is plain that you have been weeping. Miss Smith, why do I find you here—alone?"
"I do not like your manner of questioning me," I said, indignantly.
"My dear fellow," protested Mr. Jelnik, "you are behaving unmannerly, you know. The simple truth is, I was so fortunate as to be of assistance to Miss Smith. She had an unpleasant experience—fell and gave her head such a nasty bump, that it made her faint. I'm afraid I splashed her a bit when I was trying to revive her. I thought best to bring her here and give her a stimulant. She didn't want to stagger home and alarm the whole household unnecessarily."
"Is this true?" The Author asked me, rudely.
"You heard what Mr. Jelnik said!" I flamed.
"One allows somewhat more license to genius than might be accorded ordinary mortals; but really, you know, there are limits," Mr. Jelnik reminded him. "You're beginning to be rather a nuisance. It's unfortunate to have to remind a man, in one's own house, that he's a nuisance."
"I think you are, too!" I told The Author—"bursting into people's houses like an East-Side policeman, asking outrageous questions in an outrageous manner, and then questioning the answers one is patient enough to give you! What right have you got to ask any questions?"
"I'd rather like to know that, myself," put in Mr. Jelnik.
The Author straightened his shoulders, drew himself up to his full height, and folded his arms. He is an impressively tall man.
"Should you?" said he, quietly. "Well, I'll tell you—the right of an honest man to protect the woman he happens to want to marry."
I sat down, suddenly. I'm afraid my eyes popped, and I know my mouth fell open. I had the doubtful satisfaction of seeing Mr. Nicholas Jelnik's eyes and mouth open, too. After an astounded moment:
"Isn't this rather sudden?" wondered Mr. Jelnik. "Who'd suspect this fellow of volcanic possibilities?"
"I do Miss Smith no dishonor when I ask her to be my wife," said The Author, haughtily. "I am no adventurer. She can never suspect me of ulterior motives!"
"Heavens, no! Like Caesar's wife, you are above suspicion; which, of course, gives you the right to suspect everybody else! But you were about to propose to Miss Smith in due form, were you not? Miss Smith, you will permit me to withdraw? I have never before been a third party to a proposal of marriage, and I confess I do not exactly understand what is expected of me," said Mr. Jelnik, delicately.
The Author smiled wryly.
"You succeed in making me appear a fool," he admitted. "That is no mean achievement, young man! I merely wished to set myself straight with Miss Smith, to leave her no room for doubt as to my absolute honesty of purpose toward her; and you," said The Author, gulping, "you have made me bray! I wish you'd clear out. You are in the way, if you want the truth. And," he added, clenching his hands, "you can think yourself lucky that you're getting out with a whole skin, da—confound you!"
Mr. Jelnik smiled so sweetly that I was terrified.
"Oh, a whole skin!" he repeated, thoughtfully. "My good sir, I was born with a whole skin, and I rather expect to die with one." He looked at The Author reflectively: "Of course, I don't know what Miss Smith's feelings may be in regard to you, but if I thought you were seriously annoying her, I give you my word I should pitch you out of the window without further ado. Miss Smith," he turned to me, his eyes gentling with compassion, "I am more sorry than I can say that you should be called upon to endure this further strain. You will, I trust, forgive my unwilling share in it. Now, shall I leave you?"
"No, stay," said I, flatly.
Mr. Jelnik sat down, and with unruffled composure, waited for The Author to unbosom himself further.
"Miss Smith," The Author spoke after a pause,—and oh, I give him credit for his courage at that trying moment!—"Miss Smith, I have placed myself, and you also, in what appears to be rather an absurd position. I am sorry. But I meant exactly what I said. I base my right to question you upon the fact that I intended asking you to marry me. You need a protector, if ever woman did. I offer you the protection of my name."
I sat on the divan and stared at him owlishly. He went striding up and down the room, pausing every now and then to look down at me.
"When I came to Hyndsville," he went on, "nothing was farther from my thoughts than the desire to marry anybody. I have never considered myself a marrying man. But I find myself liking you, Miss Smith, better than I have ever liked any other woman, and for better reasons. You would make me an excellent wife, the only sort of wife a man like me could endure. And I think I should make you a good husband. I am not really so great a bear," he added, hastily, "as at times I appear to be. I should really try to make you happy. Now then, what have you to say?"
What could any woman say in such circuit stances? I said nothing, but slid down on Nicholas Jelnik's divan and howled.
"Didn't I tell you she'd had a bad time and wasn't herself? Now I hope you're satisfied!" raged Mr. Jelnik.
"It's as much your fault as mine!" snarled The Author. "Miss Smith, for heaven's sake don't cry like that! My dear girl, stop it. You run me distracted, Miss Smith!—Give her some vinegar or something, Jelnik! Confound you, Jelnik!—why don't you do something? Burn a feather under her nose! Make her stop it, Jelnik! She'll kill herself, if she keeps on crying like that! Here!" cried The Author, desperately; and tried to push back my hair and all but scalped me.
"Get away!" said Mr. Jelnik. "I'll try to quiet her. Miss Smith, if you don't stop crying, I shall slap you! Do you understand me, Miss Smith? Stop it this minute, or I shall slap you!" He thrust an arm around my shoulders and pulled me erect, none too gently.
"You can!" he snapped. "Stop it! Sophy, shut up!"
I was so astonished that in the middle of a howl I blinked, and gasped, and gulped, and stopped!
"Ring the bell, by the door," Mr. Jelnik told The Author, curtly. And when Daoud appeared, he ordered: "Cordial—top shelf; and some ice-water."
Five minutes later a forlorn and red-eyed wreck was sitting up looking at two wretched, embarrassed men. Thank Heaven, they looked just as miserable as they should have felt! Daoud brought me scented water, and I bathed my face. Then I patted into shape the hair that The Author had pulled awry, and said in the cold, accusing, I-die-a-martyr-to-your-stupidity voice that women punish men with:
"I think I shall go home."
With a chastened, hang-dog air The Author rose to accompany me, casting a withering look upon Mr. Nicholas Jelnik, who despised The Author for a bungling and intrusive idiot, and let his glance convey the fact. He was sorry for me, with a compassionate understanding of what I had been through. But I wanted neither his sorrow nor his compassion. He had punished The Author, but he hadn't saved me from a ridiculous and painful situation. I gave him a limp hand, and had the satisfaction of leaving him thoroughly uncomfortable.
When we reached our gate The Author, who had trudged beside me in gloomy silence, laid his hand upon my arm.
"I shall not ask you to answer me at once. But I do ask you to consider carefully what I have said, and to realize that I mean every word of it. And—and—I'm sorry it came about in this wise, Sophy," he finished, with a touch of compunction.
"So am I." And then I went up-stairs, and crept into bed. My head ached frightfully, my heart throbbed and fluttered. I was so unnerved that it seemed a burden to be alive. And then, mercifully, I fell asleep, and didn't wake until Alicia brought me a breakfast-tray the next morning.
"My goodness, Sophy, you must have had a terrific headache!" she exclaimed. "Why, your lips are bloodless, and you've black circles under your eyes!"
"I'm all right this morning," I said, hastily. "But you look pale, yourself. Aren't you rather overdoing things, Leetchy?"
"No: I'm as sound as a trivet!" said she. And then: "Sophy, guess who was here last evening." Her eyes began to shine. "Mrs. Cheshire Scarboro; no less!" And she paused, to let that highly important statement sink in.
Mrs. Cheshire Scarboro was the Leader of the Opposition. She'd had a lifelong feud with old Sophronisba, who said that when the Lord wanted to try himself out in the way of a fool, He made Cissy Scarboro. They hated each other as only relations can hate. Naturally, Mrs. Scarboro resented our presence in Hynds House. She said Hyndsville ought to show us what it thought of the outrage. Under her leadership, Hyndsville showed us.
Mrs. Scarboro was a very important person in Hyndsville. She ruled the older and more conservative portion of it, and although the younger set at times rebelled and went its own way, her power was very real. That she had changed her mind, or at least her tactics, in regard to us was important news.
"She came with Mr. and Mrs. Haile," Alicia continued. "It was the first time she had ever been inside Hynds House. Think of that, Sophy! There were some girls here, and a few boys, naturally, Jimmy Scarboro among them. Should you think that accounted for his mama's presence, Sophy? And we sat around like adoring mice, listening to The Author's sky-rockets going off. Doctor Geddes wouldn't let us sing, wouldn't even let us have music, because you mustn't be disturbed. He thinks a whole lot of you, Sophy."
"I think a whole lot of him. I never thought I could like that man as much as I do."
I was determined to show Miss Alicia Gaines that no matter how much, or for whatever reasons she had changed for the worse toward him, I, at least, had changed for the better. But she listened listlessly. For which cause, being resentful, I said not one word to her about The Author.