Long afterward, when the original picture has faded as though it had never been, one may read his printed work, and wonder, in abject self-abasement, by what miracle it was ever printed. He has trusted to some unknown psychology which strongly savours of the Black Art to reproduce in the minds of his readers the picture which was in his, and from which these fragmentary, marginal notes were traced. Only the words, the dead, meaningless words, stripped of all the fancy which once made them fair, to make for the thousands the wild, delirious bliss that the writer knew! To write with the tears falling upon the page, and afterward to read, in some particularly poignant and searching review, that "the book fails to convince!" Happy is he whose written pages reproduce but faintly the glow from whence they came. For "whoso with blood and tears would dig Art out of his soul, may lavish his golden prime in pursuit of emptiness, or, striking treasure, find only fairy gold, so that when his eyes are purged of the spell of morning, he sees his hands are full of withered leaves."
A meadow-lark, rising from a distant field, dropped golden notes into the still, sunlit air, then vanished into the blue spaces beyond. A bough of apple bloom, its starry petals anchored only by invisible cobwebs, softly shook white fragrance into the grass. Then, like a vision straight from the golden city with the walls of pearl, came Elaine, the beautiful, her blue eyes laughing, and her scarlet lips parted in a smile.
Harlan's heart sang within him. His trembling hands grasped feverishly at the sheaf of copy-paper which had waited for this, week in and week out. The pencil was ready to his hand, and the words fairly wrote themselves:
It came to pass that when the year was at the Spring, the Lady Elaine fared forth upon the Heart's Quest. She was mounted upon a snowy palfrey, whose trappings of scarlet and silver gleamed brightly in the sun. Her gown was of white satin, wondrously embroidered in fine gold thread, which was no less gold than her hair, falling in unchecked splendour about her.
Blue as sapphires were the eyes of Elaine, and her fair cheek was like that of an apple-blossom. Set like a rose upon pearl was the dewy, fragrant sweetness of her mouth, and her breath was like that of the rose itself. Her hands—but how shall I write of the flower-like hands of Elaine? They—
The door-bell pealed portentously through the house, echoing and re-echoing through the empty rooms. No answer. Presently it rang again, insistently, and Elaine, with her snowy palfrey, whisked suddenly out of sight.
Gone, except for these few lines! Harlan stifled a groan and the bell rang once more.
Heavens! Where was Dorothy? Where was Mrs. Smithers? Was there no one in the house but himself? Apparently not, for the bell rang determinedly, and with military precision.
"March, march, forward march!" grumbled Harlan, as he ran downstairs, the one-two, one-two-three being registered meanwhile on the bell-wire.
It was not a pleasant person who violently wrenched the door open, but in spite of his annoyance, Harlan could not be discourteous to a lady. She was tall, and slender, and pale, with blue eyes and yellow hair, and so very fragile that it seemed as though a passing zephyr might almost blow her away.
"How do you do," she said, wearily. "I thought you were never coming."
"I was busy," said Harlan, in extenuation. "Will you come in?" She was evidently a friend of Dorothy's, and, as such, demanded proper consideration.
The invitation was needless, however, for even as he spoke, she brushed past him, and went into the parlour. "I'm so tired," she breathed. "I walked up that long hill."
"You shouldn't have done it," returned Harlan, standing first on one foot and then on the other. "Couldn't you find the stage?"
"I didn't look for it. I never had any ambition to go on the stage," she concluded, with a faint smile. "Where is Uncle Ebeneezer?"
"No friend of Dorothy's," thought Harlan, shifting to the other foot. "Uncle Ebeneezer," he said, clearing his throat, "is at peace."
"What do you mean?" demanded the girl, sinking into one of the haircloth chairs. "Where is Uncle Ebeneezer?"
"Uncle Ebeneezer is dead," explained Harlan, somewhat tartly. Then, as he remembered the utter ruin of his work, he added, viciously, "never having known him intimately, I can't say just where he is."
She leaned back in her chair, her face as white as death. Harlan thought she had fainted, when she relieved his mind by bursting into tears. He was more familiar with salt water, but, none the less, the situation was awkward.
There were no signs of Dorothy, so Harlan, in an effort to be consoling, took the visitor's cold hands in his. "Don't," he said, kindly; "cheer up. You are among friends."
"I have no friends," she answered, between sobs. "I lost the last when my dear mother died. She made me promise, during her last illness, that if anything happened to her, I would come to Uncle Ebeneezer. She said she had never imposed upon him and that he would gladly take care of me, for her sake. I was ill a long, long time, but as soon as I was able to, I came, and now—and now——"
"Don't," said Harlan, again, awkwardly patting her hands, and deeply touched by the girl's distress. "We are your friends. You can stay here just as well as not. I am married and——"
Upon his back, Harlan felt eyes. He turned quickly, and saw Dorothy standing in the door—quite a new Dorothy, indeed; very tall, and stately, and pale.
Through sheer nervousness, Mr. Carr laughed—an unfortunate, high-pitched laugh with no mirth in it. "Let me present my wife," he said, sobering suddenly. "Mrs. Carr, Miss——"
Here he coughed, and the guest, rising, filled the pause. "I am Elaine St. Clair," she explained, offering a white, tremulous hand which Dorothy did not seem to see. "It is very good of your husband to ask me to stay with you."
"Very," replied Dorothy, in a tone altogether new to her husband. "He is always doing lovely things for people. And now, Harlan, if you will show Miss St. Clair to her room, I will speak with Mrs. Smithers about luncheon, which should be nearly ready by this time."
"Thunder," said Harlan to himself, as Dorothy withdrew. "What in the devil do I know about 'her room'? Have you ever been here before?" he inquired of the guest.
"Never in my life," answered Miss St. Clair, wiping her eyes.
"Well," replied Harlan, confusedly, "just go on upstairs, then, and help yourself. There are plenty of rooms, and cribs to burn in every blamed one of 'em," he added, savagely, remembering the look in Dorothy's eyes.
"Thank you," said Miss St. Clair, diffidently; "it is very kind of you to let me choose. Can some one bring my trunk up this afternoon?"
"I'll attend to it," replied her host, brusquely.
She trailed noiselessly upstairs, carrying her heavy suit case, and Harlan, not altogether happy at the prospect, went in search of Dorothy. At the kitchen door he paused, hearing voices within.
"They've usually et by themselves," Mrs. Smithers was saying. "Is this a new one, or a friend of yours?"
The sentence was utterly without meaning, either to Harlan or Dorothy, but the answer was given, as quick as a flash. "A friend, Mrs. Smithers—a very dear old friend of Mr. Carr's."
"'Mr. Carr's,'" repeated Harlan, miserably, tiptoeing away to the library, where he sat down and wiped his forehead. "'A very dear old friend.'" Disconnectedly, and with pronounced emphasis, Harlan mentioned the place which is said to be paved with good intentions.
The clock struck twelve, and it was just eleven when he had begun on The Quest of the Lady Elaine. "'One crowded hour of glorious life is worth'—what idiot said it was worth anything?" groaned Harlan, inwardly. "Anyway, I've had the crowded hour. 'Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay'"—the line sang itself into his consciousness. "Europe be everlastingly condemned," he muttered. "Oh, how my head aches!"
He leaned back in his chair, wondering where "Cathay" might be. It sounded like a nice, quiet place, with no "dear old friends" in it—a peaceful spot where people could write books if they wanted to. "Just why," he asked himself more than once, "was I inspired to grab the shaky paw of that human sponge? 'Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean'—oh, the devil! She must have a volume of Tennyson in her grip, and it's soaking through!"
Mrs. Smithers came out into the hall, more sepulchral and grim-visaged than ever, and rang the bell for luncheon. To Harlan's fevered fancy, it sounded like a sexton tolling a bell for a funeral. Miss St. Clair, with the traces of tears practically removed, floated gracefully downstairs, and Harlan, coming out of the library with the furtive step of a wild beast from its lair, met her inopportunely at the foot of the stairs.
She smiled at him in a timid, but friendly fashion, and at the precise moment, Dorothy appeared in the dining-room door.
"Harlan, dear," she said, in her sweetest tones, "will you give our guest your arm and escort her out to luncheon? I have it all ready!"
Miss St. Clair clutched timidly at Harlan's rigid coat sleeve, wondering what strange custom of the house would be evident next, and the fog was thick before Mr. Carr's eyes, when he took his accustomed seat at the head of the table. As a sign of devotion, he tried to step on Dorothy's foot under the table, after a pleasing habit of their courtship in the New York boarding-house, but he succeeded only in drawing an unconscious "ouch" and a vivid blush from Miss St. Clair, by which he impressed Dorothy more deeply than he could have hoped to do otherwise.
"Have you come far, Miss St. Clair?" asked Dorothy, conventionally.
"From New York," answered the guest, taking a plate of fried chicken from Harlan's shaky hand.
"I know," said Dorothy sweetly. "We come from New York, too." Then she took a bold, daring plunge. "I have often heard my husband speak of you."
"Of me, Mrs. Carr? Surely not! It must have been some other Elaine."
"Perhaps," smiled Dorothy, shrugging her shoulders. "No doubt I am mistaken, but you may have heard of me?"
"Indeed I haven't," Elaine assured her. "I never heard of you in my life before. Why should I?" A sudden and earnest crow under the window behind her startled her so that she dropped her knife. Harlan stooped for it at the same time she did and their heads bumped together smartly.
"Our gentleman chicken," went on Dorothy, tactfully. "We call him 'Abdul Hamid.' You know the masculine nature is instinctively polygamous."
Harlan cackled mirthlessly, wondering, subconsciously, how Abdul Hamid could have escaped from the coop. After that there was silence, save as Dorothy, in her most hospitable manner, occasionally urged the guest to have more of something. Throughout luncheon, she never once spoke to Harlan, nor took so much as a single glance at his red, unhappy face. Even his ears were scarlet, and the delicious fried chicken which he was eating might have been a section of rag carpet, for all he knew to the contrary.
"And now, Miss St. Clair," said Dorothy, kindly, as they rose from the table, "I am sure you will wish to lie down and rest after your long journey. Which room did you choose?"
"I looked at all of them," responded Elaine, touched to the heart by this unexpected kindness from strangers, "and finally chose the suite in the south wing. It's a nice large room, with such a darling little sitting-room attached, and such a dear work basket."
Harlan nearly burst, for the description was of Dorothy's own particular sanctum.
"Yes," said Mrs. Carr, very quietly; "I thought my husband would choose that room for you—dear Harlan is always so thoughtful! I will go up with you and take out a few of my things which have been unfortunately left there."
Shortly afterward, Mr. Carr also climbed the stairs, his head swimming and his knees knocking together. Nervously, he turned over the few pages of his manuscript, then, hearing Dorothy coming, grabbed it and fled like a thief to the library on the first floor. In his panic he bolted the doors and windows of Uncle Ebeneezer's former retreat. It was unnecessary, however, for no one came near him.
Throughout the long, sweet Spring afternoon, Miss St. Clair slept the dreamless sleep of utter exhaustion, Harlan worked fruitlessly at The Quest of Lady Elaine, and Dorothy busied herself about her household tasks, singing with forced cheerfulness whenever she was within hearing of the library.
"I'll explain" thought Harlan, wretchedly. But after all what was there to explain, except that he had never seen Miss St. Clair before, never in all his life heard of her, never knew there was such a person, or had never met anybody who knew anything about her? "Besides," he continued to himself "even then, what excuse have I got for stroking a strange woman's hand and telling her I'm married?"
As the afternoon wore on, he decided that it would be policy to ignore the whole matter. It was an unfortunate misunderstanding all around, which could not be cleared away by speech, unless Dorothy should ask him about it—which he was very certain she would not do. "She ought to trust me," he said to himself, resentfully, forgetting the absolute openness of thought and deed upon which a woman's trust is founded. "I'll read her the book to-night," he thought, happily, "and that will please her."
But it was fated not to. After dinner, which was much the same as luncheon, as far as conversation was concerned, Harlan invited Dorothy to come into the library.
She followed him, obediently enough, and he closed the door.
"Dearest," he began, with a grin which was meant to be cheerful and was merely ridiculous, "I've begun the book—I actually have! I've been working on it all day. Just listen!"
Hurriedly possessing himself of the manuscript, he read it in an unnatural voice, down to the flower-like hands.
"I don't see how you can say that, Harlan," interrupted Dorothy, coolly critical; "I particularly noticed her hands and they're not nice at all. They're red and rough and nearly the size of a policeman's."
"Whose hands?" demanded Harlan, in genuine astonishment.
"Why, Elaine's—Miss St. Clair's. If you're going to do a book about her, you might at least try to make it truthful."
Mrs. Carr went out, closing the door carefully, but firmly. Then, for the first time, the whole wretched situation dawned upon the young and aspiring author.
An Uninvited Guest
Dorothy sat alone in her room, facing the first heartache of her married life. She repeatedly told herself that she was not jealous; that the primitive, unlovely emotion was far beneath such as she. But if Harlan had only told her, instead of leaving her to find out in this miserable way! It had never entered her head that the clear-eyed, clean-minded boy whom she had married, could have anything even remotely resembling a past, and here it was in her own house! Moreover, it had inspired a book, and she herself had been unable to get him to work at all.
Just why women should be concerned in regard to old loves has never been wholly clear. One might as well fancy a clean slate, freshly and elaborately dedicated to noble composition, being bothered by the addition and subtraction which was once done upon its surface.
With her own eyes she had seen Miss St. Clair weeping, while Harlan held her hands and explained that he was married. Undoubtedly Miss St. Clair accounted for various metropolitan delays and absences which she had joyously forgiven on the score of Harlan's "work." Bitterest of all was the thought that she must endure it—that the long years ahead of her offered no escape, no remedy, except the ignoble, painful one which she would not for a moment consider.
A sudden flash of resentment stiffened her backbone, metaphorically speaking. In spite of Miss St. Clair, Harlan had married her, and it was Miss St. Clair who was weeping over the event, not Harlan. She had seen that the visitor made Harlan unhappy—very well, she would generously throw them together and make him painfully weary of her, for Love's certain destroyer is Satiety. Deep in Dorothy's consciousness was the abiding satisfaction that she had never once, as she put it to herself, "chased him." Never a note, never a telephone call, never a question as to his coming and going appeared now to trouble her. The ancient, primeval relation of the Seeker and the Sought had not for a single moment been altered through her.
Meanwhile, Elaine had settled down peacefully enough. Having been regaled since infancy with tales of Uncle Ebeneezer's generous hospitality, it seemed only fitting and proper that his relatives should make her welcome, even though Elaine's mother had been only a second cousin of Mrs. Judson's. Elaine had been deeply touched by Harlan's solicitude and Dorothy's kindness, seeing in it nothing more than the manifestation of a beautiful spirit toward one who was helpless and ill.
A modest wardrobe and a few hundred dollars, saved from the wreck of her mother's estate, and the household furniture in storage, represented Elaine's worldly goods. As too often happens in a material world, she had been trained to do nothing but sing a little, play a little, and paint unspeakably. She planned, vaguely, to stay where she was during the Summer, and in the Autumn, when she had quite recovered her former strength, to take her money and learn some method of self-support.
Just now she was resting. A late breakfast, a walk through the country, a light luncheon, and a long nap accounted for Elaine's day until dinner-time. After dinner, for an hour, she exchanged commonplaces with the Carrs, then retired to her own room with a book from Uncle Ebeneezer's library. Even Dorothy was forced to admit that she made very little trouble.
The train rumbled into the station—the very same train which had brought the Serpent into Paradise. Dorothy smiled a little at the idea of a snake travelling on a train unless it belonged to a circus, and wiped her eyes. Having mapped out her line of conduct, the rest was simple enough—to abide by it even to the smallest details, and patiently await results.
When she went downstairs again she was outwardly quite herself, but altogether unprepared for the surprise that awaited her in the parlour.
"Hello," cried a masculine voice, cheerily, as she entered the room. "I've never seen you before, have I?"
"Not that I know of," replied Dorothy, startled, but not in the least afraid.
The young man who rose to greet her was not at all unpleasant to look upon. He was taller than Harlan, smooth-shaven, had nice brown eyes, and a mop of curly brown hair which evidently annoyed him. Moreover, he was laughing, as much from sheer joy of living as anything else.
"Which side of the house are you a relative of?" he asked.
"The inside," returned Dorothy. "I keep house here."
"You don't say so! What's become of Sally? Uncle shoo her off the lot?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," answered Dorothy, with a fruitless effort to appear matronly and dignified. "If by 'uncle' you mean Uncle Ebeneezer, he's dead."
"You don't tell me! Reaped at last, after all this delay! Then how did you come here?"
"By train," responded Dorothy, enjoying the situation to the utmost. "Uncle Ebeneezer left the house and furniture to my husband."
The young man sank into a chair and wiped the traces of deep emotion from his ruddy face. "Hully Gee!" he said, when he recovered speech. "I suppose that's French for 'Dick, chase yourself.'"
"Perhaps not," suggested Mrs. Carr, strangely loath to have this breezy individual take his departure. "You might tell me who you are; don't you think so?"
"Not a bad notion at all. I'm the Dick of the firm of 'Tom, Dick, and Harry,' you've doubtless heard about from your childhood. My other name is Chester, but few know it. I'm merely 'Dick' to everybody, yourself included, I trust," he added with an elaborate bow. "If you will sit down, and make yourself comfortable, I will now unfold to you the sad story of my life.
"I was born of poor but honest parents about twenty-three years ago, according to the last official census. They brought me up until I reached the ripe age of twelve, then got tired of their job and went to heaven. Since then I've brought myself up. I've just taught a college all it can learn from me, and been put out. Prexy confided to me that I wasn't going to graduate, so I shook the classic dust from my weary feet and fled hither as to a harbour of refuge. I've always spent my Summers with Uncle Ebeneezer, because it was cheap for me and good for him, but I can't undertake to follow him up this Summer, not knowing exactly where he is, and not caring for a warm climate anyway."
Inexpressibly shocked, Dorothy looked up to the portrait over the mantel half fearfully, but there was no change in the stern, malicious old face.
"You're afraid of him, aren't you?" asked Dick, with a hearty laugh.
"I always have been," admitted Dorothy. "He scared me the first time we came here—it was at night, and raining."
"I've known him to scare people in broad daylight, and they weren't always women either. He used to be a pleasant old codger, but he got over it, and after he learned to swear readily, he was a pretty tough party to buck up against. It took nerve to stay here when uncle was in a bad mood, but most people have more nerve than they think they have. You haven't told me your name yet."
"Mrs. Carr—Dorothy Carr."
"Pretty name," remarked Dick, with evident admiration. "If you don't mind, I'll call you 'Dorothy' till the train goes back. It will be something for me to remember in the desert waste of my empty years to come."
A friendly, hospitable impulse seized Mrs. Carr. "Why should you go?" she inquired, smiling. "If you've been in the habit of spending your Summers here, you needn't change on our account. We'd be glad to have you, I'm sure. A dear old friend of my husband's is already here."
"Fine or superfine?"
"Superfine," returned Dorothy, feeling very much as though the clock had been turned back twenty years or more and she was at a children's party again.
"You can bet your sweet life I'll stay," said Dick, "and if I bother you at any time, just say so and I'll skate out, with no hard feelings on either side. You may need me when the rest of the bunch gets here."
"The rest of—oh Harlan, come here a minute!"
She had caught him as he was going into the library with his work, thinking that a change of environment might possibly produce an acceptable change in the current of his thoughts.
"Dick," said Dorothy, when Harlan came to the door, "this is my husband. Mr. Chester, Mr. Carr."
For days Harlan had not seen Dorothy with such rosy cheeks, such dancing eyes, nor half as many dimples. Bewildered, and not altogether pleased, he awkwardly extended his hand to Mr. Chester, with a conventional "how do you do?"
Dick wrung the offered hand in a mighty grip which made Harlan wince. "I congratulate you, Mr. Carr," he said gallantly, "upon possessing the fairest ornament of her sex. Guess this letter is for you, isn't it? I found it in the post-office while the keeper was out, and just took it. If it doesn't belong here, I'll skip back with it."
"Thanks," murmured Harlan, rubbing the injured hand with the other. "I—where did you come from?"
"The station," explained Dick, pleasantly. "I never trace myself back of where I was last seen."
"He's going to stay with us, Harlan," put in Dorothy, wickedly, "so you mustn't let us keep you away from your work. Come along, Dick, and I'll show you our cow."
They went out, followed by a long, low whistle of astonishment from Harlan which Dorothy's acute ears did not miss. Presently Mr. Carr retreated into the library, and locked the door, but he did not work. The book was at a deadlock, half a paragraph beyond "the flower-like hands of Elaine," of which, indeed, the author had confessed his inability to write.
"Dick," thought Harlan. "Mr. Chester. A young giant with a grip like an octopus. 'The fairest ornament of her sex.' Never, never heard of him before. Some old flame of Dorothy's, who has discovered her whereabouts and brazenly followed her, even on her honeymoon."
And he, Harlan, was absolutely prevented from speaking of it by an unhappy chain of circumstances which put him in a false light! For the first time he fully perceived how a single thoughtless action may bind all one's future existence.
"Just because I stroked the hand of a distressed damsel," muttered Harlan, "and told her I was married, I've got to sit and see a procession of my wife's old lovers marking time here all Summer!" In his fevered fancy, he already saw the Jack-o'-Lantern surrounded by Mrs. Carr's former admirers, heard them call her "Dorothy," and realised that there was not a single thing he could do.
"Unless, of course," he added, mentally, "it gets too bad, and I have an excuse to order 'em out. And then, probably, Dorothy will tell Elaine to take her dolls and go home, and the poor thing's got nowhere to go—nowhere in the wide world.
"How would Dorothy like to be a lonely orphan, with no husband, no friends, and no job? She wouldn't like it much, but women never have any sympathy for each other, nor for their husbands, either. I'd give twenty dollars this minute not to have stroked Elaine's hand, and fifty not to have had Dorothy see it, but there's no use in crying over spilt milk nor in regretting hands that have already been stroked."
In search of diversion, he opened his letter, which was in answer to the one he had written some little time ago, inquiring minutely, of an acquaintance who was supposed to be successful, just what the prospects were for a beginner in the literary craft.
"Dear Carr," the letter read. "Sorry not to have answered before, but I've been away and things got mixed up. Wouldn't advise anybody but an enemy to take up writing as a steady job, but if you feel the call, go in and win. You can make all the way from eight dollars a year, which was what I made when I first struck out, up to five thousand, which was what I averaged last year. I've always envied you fellows who could turn in your stuff and get paid for it the following Tuesday. In my line, you work like the devil this year for what you're going to get next, and live on the year after.
"However, if you're bitten with it, there's no cure. You'll see magazine articles in stones and books in running brooks all the rest of your life. When you get your book done, I'll trot you around to my publisher, who enjoys the proud distinction of being an honest one, and if he likes your stuff, he'll take it, and if he doesn't, he'll turn you down so pleasantly that you'll feel as though he'd made you a present of something. If you think you've got genius, forget it, and remember that nothing takes the place of hard work. And, besides, it's a pretty blamed poor book that can't get itself printed these days.
"Yours as usual, "C. J."
The communication was probably intended as encouragement, but the effect was depressing, and at the end of an hour, Harlan had written only two lines more in his book, neither of which pleased him.
Meanwhile, Dick was renewing his old acquaintance with Mrs. Smithers, much to that lady's pleasure, though she characteristically endeavoured to conceal it. She belonged to a pious sect which held all mirth to be ungodly.
"Sally," Dick was saying, "I've dreamed of your biscuits night and day since I ate the last one. Are we going to have 'em for lunch?"
"No biscuits in this house to-day," grumbled the deity of the kitchen, in an attempt to be properly stern, "and as I've told you more than once, my name ain't 'Sally.' It's Mis' Smithers, that's wot it is, and I'll thank you to call me by it."
"Between those who love," continued Dick, with a sidelong glance at Dorothy, who stood near by, appalled at his daring, "the best is none too good for common use. If my heart breaks the bonds of conventional restraint, and I call you by the name under which you always appear to me in my longing dreams, why should you not be gracious, and forgive me? Be kind to me, Sally, be just a little kind, and throw together a pan of those biscuits in your own inimitable style!"
"Run along with you, you limb of Satan," cried Mrs. Smithers, brandishing a floury spoon.
"Come along, Dorothy," said Dick, laying a huge but friendly paw upon Mrs. Carr's shoulder; "we're chased out." He put his head back into the kitchen, however, to file a parting petition for biscuits, which was unnecessary, for Mrs. Smithers had already found her rolling-pin and had begun to sift her flour.
Outside, he duly admired Maud, who was chewing the cud of reflection under a tree, created a panic in the chicken yard by lifting Abdul Hamid ignominiously by the legs, to see how heavy he was, and chased Claudius Tiberius under the barn.
"If that cat turns up missing some day," he said, "don't blame me. He looks so much like Uncle Ebeneezer that I can't stand for him."
"There's something queer about Claudius, anyway," ventured Dorothy. "Mrs. Smithers says that uncle killed him the week before he died, and——"
"Before who died?"
"Claudius—no, before uncle died, and she buried him, and he's come to life again."
"Uncle, or Claudius?"
"Claudius, you goose," laughed Dorothy.
"If I knew just how nearly related we were," remarked Dick, irrelevantly enough, "I believe I'd kiss you. You look so pretty with all your dimples hung out and your hair blowing in the wind."
Dorothy glanced up, startled, and inclined to be angry, but it was impossible to take offence at such a mischievous youth as Dick was at that moment. "We're not related," she said, coolly, "except by marriage."
"Well, that's near enough," returned Dick, who was never disposed to be unduly critical. "Your husband is only related to you by marriage. Don't be such a prude. Come to the waiting arms of your uncle, or cousin, or brother-in-law, or whatever it is that I happen to be."
"Go and kiss your friend Sally in the kitchen," laughed Dorothy. "You have my permission." Dick made a wry face. "I don't hanker to do it," he said, "but if you want me to, I will. I suppose she isn't pleased with her place and you want to make it more homelike for her."
"What relation were you to Uncle Ebeneezer?" queried Dorothy, curiously.
"Uncle and I," sighed Dick, "were connected by the closest ties of blood and marriage. Nobody could be more related than we were. I was the only child of Aunt Rebecca's sister's husband's sister's husband's sister. Say, on the dead, if I ever bother you will you tell me so and invite me to skip?"
"Of course I will."
"Shake hands on it, then; that's a good fellow. And say, did you say there was another skirt stopping here?"
"Petticoat," explained Dick, patiently; "mulier, as the ancient dagoes had it. They've been getting mulier ever since, too. How old is she?"
"Oh," answered Dorothy. "She's not more than twenty or twenty-one." Then, endeavouring to be just to Elaine, she added: "And a very pretty girl, too."
"Lead me to her," exclaimed Dick ecstatically. "Already she is mine!"
"You'll see her at luncheon. There's the bell, now."
Mr. Chester was duly presented to Miss St. Clair, and from then on, appeared to be on his good behaviour. Elaine's delicate, fragile beauty appealed strongly to the susceptible Dick, and from the very beginning, he was afraid of her—a dangerous symptom, if he had only known it.
Harlan, making the best of a bad bargain, devoted himself to his guests impartially, and, upon the whole, the luncheon went off very well, though the atmosphere was not wholly festive.
Afterward, when they sat down in the parlour, there was an awkward pause which no one seemed inclined to relieve. At length Dorothy, mindful of her duty as hostess, asked Miss St. Clair if she would not play something.
Willingly enough, Elaine went to the melodeon, which had not been opened since the Carrs came to live at the Jack-o'-Lantern, and lifted the lid. Immediately, however, she went off into hysterics, which were so violent that Harlan and Dorothy were obliged to assist her to her room.
Dick strongly desired to carry Elaine upstairs, but was forbidden by the hampering conventionalities. So he lounged over to the melodeon, somewhat surprised to find that "It" was still there.
"It" was a brown, wavy, false front of human hair, securely anchored to the keys underneath by a complicated system of loops of linen thread. Pinned to the top was a faded slip of paper on which Uncle Ebeneezer had written, long ago: "Mrs. Judson always kept her best false front in the melodeon. I do not desire to have it disturbed.—E. J."
"His Nibs never could bear music," thought Dick, as he closed the instrument, little guessing that a vein of sentiment in Uncle Ebeneezer's hard nature had impelled him to keep the prosaic melodeon forever sacred to the slender, girlish fingers that had last brought music from its yellowed keys.
From upstairs still came the sound of crying, which was not altogether to be wondered at, considering Miss St. Clair's weak, nervous condition. Harlan came down, scowling, and took back the brandy flask, moving none too hastily.
"They don't like Elaine," murmured Dick to himself, vaguely troubled. "I wonder why—oh, I wonder why!"
Blue as sapphires were the eyes of Elaine, and her fair cheek was like that of an apple blossom. Set like a rose upon pearl was the dewy, fragrant sweetness of her mouth, and her breath was that of the rose itself. Her hands—but how shall I write of the flower-like hands of Elaine? They seemed all too frail to hold the reins of her palfrey, much less to guide him along the rocky road that lay before her.
Safely sheltered in a sunny valley was the Castle of Content, wherein Elaine's father reigned as Lord. Upon the hills close at hand were the orchards, which were now in bloom. A faint, unearthly sweetness came with every passing breeze, and was wafted through the open windows of the Castle, where, upon the upper floor, Elaine was wont to sit with her maids at the tapestry frames.
But, of late, a strange restlessness was upon her, and the wander-lust surged through her veins.
"My father," she said, "I am fain to leave the Castle of Content, and set out upon the Heart's Quest. Among the gallant knights of thy retinue, there is none whom I would wed, and it is seemly that I should set out to find my lord and master, for behold, father, as thou knowest, twenty years and more have passed over my head, and my beauty hath begun to fade."
The Lord of the Castle of Content smiled in amusement, that Elaine, the beautiful, should fancy her charms were on the wane. But he was ever eager to gratify the slightest wish of this only child of his, and so he gave his ready consent.
"Indeed, Elaine," he answered, "and if thou choosest, thou shalt go, but these despised knights shall attend thee, and also our new fool, who hath come from afar to make merry in our court. His motley is of an unfamiliar pattern, his quips and jests savour not so much of antiquity, and his songs are pleasing. He shall lighten the rigours of thy journey and cheer thee when thou art sad."
"But, father, I do not choose to have the fool."
"Say no more, Elaine, for if thou goest, thou shall have the fool. It is most fitting that in thy retinue there shouldst be more than one to wear the cap and bells, and it is in my mind to consider this quest of thine somewhat more than mildly foolish. Unnumbered brave and faithful knights are at thy feet and yet thou canst not choose, but must needs fare onward in search of a stranger to be thy lord and master."
Elaine raised her hand. "As thou wilt, father," she said, submissively. "Thou canst not understand the way of a maid. Bid thy fool to prepare himself quickly for a long journey, since we start at sunset."
"But why at sunset, daughter? The way is long. Mayst not thy mission wait until sunrise?"
"Nay, father, for it is my desire to sleep to-night upon the ground. The tapestried walls of my chamber stifle me and I would fain lie in the fresh air with only the green leaves for my canopy and the stars for my taper lights."
"As thou wilt, Elaine, but my heart is sad at the prospect of losing thee. Thou art my only child, the image of thy dead mother, and my old eyes shall be misty for the sight of thee long before my gallant knights bring thee back again."
"So shall I gain some hours, father," she answered. "Perhaps my sunset journeying shall bring my return a day nearer. Cross me not in this wish, father, for it is my fancy to go."
So it was that the cavalcade was made ready and Elaine and her company left the Castle of Content at sunset. Two couriers rode at the head, to see that the way was clear, and with a silver bugle to warn travellers to stand aside until the Lady Elaine and her attendants had passed.
Upon a donkey, caparisoned in a most amusing manner, rode Le Jongleur, the new fool of whom the Lord of the Castle of Content had spoken. His motley, as has been said, was of an unfamiliar pattern, but was none the less striking, being made wholly of scarlet and gold. The Lady Elaine could not have guessed that it was assumed as a tribute to the trappings of her palfrey, for Le Jongleur's heart was most humble and loyal, though leaping now with the joy of serving the fair Lady Elaine.
The Lord of Content stood at the portal of the Castle to bid the retinue Godspeed, and as the cymbals crashed out a sounding farewell, he impatiently wiped away the mist, which already had clouded his vision. Long he waited, straining his eyes toward the distant cliffs, where, one by one, the company rode upward. The valley was in shadow, but the long light lay upon the hills, changing the crags to a wonder of purple and gold. To him, too, came the breath of apple bloom, but it brough no joy to his troubled heart.
What dangers lay in wait for Elaine as she fared forth upon her wild quest? What monsters haunted the primeval forests through which her path must lie? And where was the knight who should claim her innocent and maidenly heart? At this thought, the Lord of Content shuddered, then was quickly ashamed.
"I am as foolish," he muttered, "as he in motley, who rides at the side of Elaine. Surely my daughter, the child of a soldier, can make no unworthy choice."
The cavalcade had reached the summit of the cliff, now, and at the brink, turned back. The cymbals and the bugles pealed forth another sounding farewell to the Lord of the Castle of Content, whom Elaine well knew was waiting in the shadow of the portal till her company should be entirely lost to sight.
The last light shone upon the wonderful mass of gold which rippled to her waist, unbound, from beneath her close-fitting scarlet cap, and gave her an unearthly beauty. Le Jongleur held aloft his bauble, making it to nod in merry fashion, but the Lord of Content did not see, his eyes being fixed upon Elaine. She waved her hand to him, but he could not answer, for his shoulders were shaking with grief, nor, indeed, across the merciless distance that lay between, could he guess at Elaine's whispered prayer: "Dear Heavenly Father, keep thou my earthly father safe and happy, till his child comes back again."
Over the edge of the cliff and out upon a wide plain they fared. Ribbons of glorious colour streamed from the horizon to the zenith, and touched to flame the cymbals and the bugles and the trappings of the horses and the shields of the knights. Piercingly sweet, across the fields of blowing clover, came the even song of a feathered chorister, and—what on earth was that noise?
Harlan went to the window impatiently, like one wakened from a dream by a blind impulse of action.
The village stage, piled high with trunks, was at his door, and from the cavernous depths of the vehicle, shrieks of juvenile terror echoed and re-echoed unceasingly. Mr. Blake, driving, merely waited in supreme unconcern.
"What in the hereafter," muttered Harlan, savagely. "More old lovers of Dorothy's, I suppose, or else the—Good Lord, it's twins!"
A child of four or five fell out of the stage, followed by another, who lit unerringly on top of the prostrate one. In the meteoric moment of the fall, Harlan had seen that the two must have discovered America at about the same time, for they were exactly alike, making due allowance for the slight difference made by masculine and feminine attire.
An enormous doll, which to Harlan's troubled sight first appeared to be an infant in arms, was violently ejected from the stage and added to the human pile which was wriggling and weeping upon the gravelled walk. A cub of seven next leaped out, whistling shrilly, then came a querulous, wailing, feminine voice from the interior.
"Willie," it whined, "how can you act so? Help your little brother and sister up and get Rebbie's doll."
To this the lad paid no attention whatever, and the mother herself assorted the weeping pyramid on the walk. Harlan ran downstairs, feeling that the hour had come to defend his hearthstone from outsiders. Dick and Dorothy were already at the door.
"Foundlings' Home," explained Dick, briefly, with a wink at Harlan. "They're late this year."
Dorothy was speechless with amazement and despair. Before Harlan had begun to think connectedly, one of the twins had darted into the house and bumped its head on the library door, thereupon making the Jack-o'-Lantern hideous with much lamentation.
The mother, apparently tired out, came in as though she had left something of great value there and had come to get it, pausing only to direct Harlan to pay the stage driver, and have her trunks taken into the rooms opening off the dining-room on the south side.
Willie took a mouth-organ out of his pocket and rendered a hitherto unknown air upon it with inimitable vigour. In the midst of the confusion, Claudius Tiberius had the misfortune to appear, and, immediately perceiving his mistake, whisked under the sofa, from whence the other twin determinedly haled him, using the handle which Nature had evidently intended for that purpose.
"Will you kindly tell me," demanded Mrs. Carr, when she could make herself heard, "what is the meaning of all this?"
"I do not understand you," said the mother of the twins, coldly. "Were you addressing me?"
"I was," returned Mrs. Carr, to Dick's manifest delight. "I desire to know why you have come to my house, uninvited, and made all this disturbance."
"The idea!" exclaimed the woman, trembling with anger. "Will you please send for Mr. Judson?"
"Mr. Judson," said Dorothy, icily, "has been dead for some time. This house is the property of my husband."
"Indeed! And who may your husband be?" The tone of the question did not indicate even faint interest in the subject under discussion.
Dorothy turned, but Harlan had long since beat an ignominious retreat, closely followed by Dick, whose idea, as audibly expressed, was that the women be allowed to "fight it out by themselves."
"I can readily understand," went on Dorothy, with a supreme effort at self-control, "that you have made a mistake for which you are not in any sense to blame. You are tired from your journey, and you are quite welcome to stay until to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" shrilled the woman. "I guess you don't know who I am! I am Mrs. Holmes, Rebecca Judson's own cousin, and I have spent the Summer here ever since Rebecca was married! I guess if Ebeneezer knew you were practically ordering his wife's own cousin out of his house, he'd rise from his grave to haunt you!"
Dorothy fancied that Uncle Ebeneezer's portrait moved slightly. Aunt Rebecca still surveyed the room from the easel, gentle, sweet-faced, and saintly. There was no resemblance whatever between Aunt Rebecca and the sallow, hollow-cheeked, wide-eyed termagant, with a markedly receding chin, who stood before Mrs. Carr and defied her.
"This is my husband's house," suggested Dorothy, pertinently.
"Then let your husband do the talking," rejoined Mrs. Holmes, sarcastically. "If he was sure it was his, I guess he wouldn't have run away. I've always had my own rooms here, and I intend to go and come as I please, as I always have done. You can't make me believe that Ebeneezer gave my apartments to your husband, nor him either, and I wouldn't advise any of you to try it."
Sounds of fearful panic came from the chicken yard, and Dorothy rushed out, swiftly laying avenging hands on the disturber of the peace. One of the twins was chasing Abdul Hamid around the coop with a lath, as he explained between sobs, "to make him lay." Mrs. Holmes bore down upon Dorothy before any permanent good had been done.
"How dare you!" she cried. "How dare you lay hands on my child! Come, Ebbie, come to mamma. Bless his little heart, he shall chase the chickens if he wants to, so there, there. Don't cry, Ebbie. Mamma will get you another lath and you shall play with the chickens all the afternoon. There, there!"
Harlan appeared at this juncture, and in a few quiet, well-chosen words told Mrs. Holmes that the chicken coop was his property, and that neither now nor at any other time should any one enter it without his express permission.
"Upon my word," remarked Mrs. Holmes, still soothing the unhappy twin. "How high and mighty we are when we're living off our poor dead uncle's bounty! Telling his wife's own cousin what she's to do, and what she isn't! Upon my word!"
So saying, Mrs. Holmes retired to the house, her pace hastened by howls from the other twin, who was in trouble with her older brother somewhere in her "apartment."
Dorothy looked at Harlan, undecided whether to laugh or to cry. "Poor little woman," he said, softly; "don't you fret. We'll have them out of the house no later than to-morrow."
"All of them?" asked Dorothy, eagerly, as Miss St. Clair strolled into the front yard.
Harlan's brow clouded and he shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "I don't know," he said, slowly, "whether I've got nerve enough to order a woman out of my house or not. Let's wait and see what happens."
A sob choked Dorothy, and she ran swiftly into the house, fortunately meeting no one on her way to her room. Dick ventured out of the barn and came up to Harlan, who was plainly perplexed.
"Very, very mild arrival," commented Mr. Chester, desiring to put his host at his ease. "I've never known 'em to come so peacefully as they have to-day. Usually there's more or less disturbance."
"Disturbance," repeated Harlan. "Haven't we had a disturbance to-day?"
"We have not," answered Dick, placidly. "Wait till young Ebeneezer and Rebecca get more accustomed to their surroundings, and then you'll have a Fourth of July every day, with Christmas, Thanksgiving, and St. Patrick's Day thrown in. Willie is the worst little terror that ever went unlicked, and the twins come next."
"Perhaps you don't understand children," remarked Harlan, with a patronising air, and more from a desire to disagree with Dick than from anything else. "I've always liked them."
"If you have," commented Dick, with a knowing chuckle, "you're in a fair way to get cured of it."
"Tell me about these people," said Harlan, ignoring the speech, and dominated once more by healthy human curiosity. "Who are they and where do they come from?"
"They're dwellers from the infernal regions," explained Dick, with an air of truthfulness, "and they came from there because the old Nick turned 'em out. They were upsetting things and giving the place a bad name. Mrs. Holmes says she's Aunt Rebecca's cousin, but nobody knows whether she is or not. She's come here every Summer since Aunt Rebecca died, and poor old uncle couldn't help himself. He hinted more than once that he'd enjoy her absence if she could be moved to make herself scarce, but it had no more effect than a snowflake would in the place she came from. The most he could do was to build a wing on the house with a separate kitchen and dining-room in it, and take his own meals in the library, with the door bolted.
"Willie is a Winter product and Judson Centre isn't a pleasant place in the cold months, but the twins were born here, five years ago this Summer. They came in the night, but didn't make any more trouble then than they have every day since."
"What would you do?" asked Harlan, after a thoughtful silence, "if you were in my place?"
"I'd be tickled to death because a kind Providence had married me to Dorothy instead of to Mrs. Holmes. Poor old Holmes is in his well-earned grave."
With great dignity, Harlan walked into the house, but Dick, occupied with his own thoughts, did not guess that his host was offended.
After the first excitement was over, comparative peace settled down upon the Jack-o'-Lantern. Mrs. Holmes decided the question of where she should eat, by setting four more places at the table when Mrs. Smithers's back was turned. Dorothy did not appear at luncheon, and Mrs. Smithers performed her duties with such pronounced ungraciousness that Elaine felt as though something was about to explode.
A long sleep, born of nervous exhaustion, came at last to Dorothy's relief. When she awoke, it was night and the darkness dazed her at first. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, wondering whether she had been dead, or merely ill.
There was not a sound in the Jack-o'-Lantern, and the events of the day seemed like some hideous nightmare which waking had put to rout. She bathed her face in cool water, then went to look out of the window.
A lantern moved back and forth under the trees in the orchard, and a tall, dark figure, armed with a spade, accompanied it. "It's Harlan," thought Dorothy. "I'll go down and see what he's burying."
But it was only Mrs. Smithers, who appeared much startled when she saw her mistress at her side.
"What are you doing?" demanded Dorothy, seeing that Mrs. Smithers had dug a hole at least a foot and a half each way.
"Just a-satisfyin' myself," explained the handmaiden, with a note of triumph in her voice, "about that there cat. 'Ere's where I buried 'im, and 'ere's where there ain't no signs of 'is dead body. 'E's come back to 'aunt us, that's wot 'e 'as, and your uncle'll be the next."
"Don't be so foolish," snapped Dorothy. "You've forgotten the place, that's all, and I don't wish to hear any more of this nonsense."
"'Oo was it?" asked Mrs. Smithers, "as come out of a warm bed at midnight to see as if folks wot was diggin' for cats found anythink? 'T warn't me, Miss, that's wot it warn't, and I take it that them as follers is as nonsensical as them wot digs. Anyhow, Miss, 'ere's where 'e was buried, and 'ere's where 'e ain't now. You can think wot you likes, that's wot you can."
Claudius Tiberius suddenly materialised out of the surrounding darkness, and after sniffing at the edge of the hole, jumped in to investigate.
"You see that, Miss?" quavered Mrs. Smithers. "'E knows where 'e's been, and 'e knows where 'e ain't now."
"Mrs. Smithers," said Dorothy, sternly, "will you kindly fill up that hole and come into the house and go to bed? I don't want to be kept awake all night."
"You don't need to be kept awake, Miss," said Mrs. Smithers, slowly filling up the hole. "The worst is 'ere already and wot's comin' is comin' anyway, and besides," she added, as an afterthought, "there ain't a blessed one of 'em come 'ere at night since your uncle fixed over the house."
For the first time in her life, Mrs. Carr fully comprehended the sensations of a wild animal caught in a trap. In her present painful predicament, she was absolutely helpless, and she realised it. It was Harlan's house, as he had said, but so powerful and penetrating was the personality of the dead man that she felt as though it was still largely the property of Uncle Ebeneezer.
The portrait in the parlour gave her no light upon the subject, though she studied it earnestly. The face was that of an old man, soured and embittered by what Life had brought him, who seemed now to have a peculiarly malignant aspect. Dorothy fancied, in certain morbid moments, that Uncle Ebeneezer, from some safe place, was keenly relishing the whole situation.
Upon her soul, too, lay heavily that ancient Law of the House, which demands unfailing courtesy to the stranger within our gates. Just why the eating of our bread and salt by some undesired guest should exert any particular charm of immunity, has long been an open question, but the Law remains.
She felt, dimly, that the end was not yet—that still other strangers were coming to the Jack-o'-Lantern for indefinite periods. She saw, now, why wing after wing had been added to the house, but could not understand the odd arrangement of the front windows. Through some inner sense of loyalty to Uncle Ebeneezer, she forebore to question either Mrs. Smithers or Dick—two people who could probably have given her some light on the subject. She had gathered, however, from hints dropped here and there, as well as from the overpowering evidence of recent events, that a horde of relatives swarmed each Summer at the queer house on the hilltop and remained until late Autumn.
Harlan said nothing, and nowadays Dorothy saw very little of him. Most of the time he was at work in the library, or else taking long, solitary rambles through the surrounding country. At meals he was moody and taciturn, his book obliterating all else from his mind.
He doubtless knew, subconsciously, that his house was disturbed by alien elements, but he dwelt too securely in the upper regions to be troubled by the obvious fact. Once in the library, with every door securely bolted, he could afford to laugh at the tumult outside, if, indeed, he should ever become aware of its existence. The children might make the very air vocal with their howls, Elaine might have hysterics, Mrs. Smithers render hymns in a cracked, squeaky voice, and Dick whistle eternally, but Harlan was in a strange new country, with a beautiful lady, a company of gallant knights, and a jester.
The rest was all unreal. He seemed to see people through a veil, to hear what they said without fully comprehending it, and to walk through his daily life blindly, without any sort of emotion. Worst of all, Dorothy herself seemed detached and dream-like. He saw that her face was white and her eyes sad, but it affected him not at all. He had yet to learn that in this, as in everything else, a price must inevitably be paid, and that the sudden change of all his loved realities to hazy visions was the terrible penalty of his craft.
Yet there was compensation, which is also inevitable. To him, the book was vital, reaching down into the very heart of the world. Fancy took his work, and, to the eyes of its creator, made it passing fair. At times he would sit for an hour or more, nibbling at the end of his pencil, only negatively conscious, like one who stares fixedly at a blank wall. Presently, Elaine and her company would come back again, and he would go on with them, writing down only what he saw and felt.
Chapter after chapter was written and tossed feverishly aside. The words beat in his pulses like music, each one with its own particular significance. In return for his personal effacement came moments of supremest joy, when his whole world was aflame with light, and colour, and sound, and his physical body fairly shook with ecstasy.
Little did he know that the Cup was in his hands, and that he was draining it to the very dregs of bitterness. For this temporary intoxication, he must pay in every hour of his life to come. Henceforward he was set apart from his fellows, painfully isolated, eternally alone. He should have friends, but only for the hour. The stranger in the street should be the same to him as one he had known for many years, and he should be equally ready, at any moment, to cast either aside. With a quick, merciless insight, like the knife of a surgeon used without an anaesthetic, he should explore the inmost recesses of every personality with which he came in contact, involuntarily, and find himself interested only as some new trait or capacity was revealed. Calm and emotionless, urged by some hidden power, he should try each individual to see of what he was made; observing the man under all possible circumstances, and at times enmeshing new circumstances about him. He should sacrifice himself continually if by so doing he could find the deep roots of the other man's selfishness, and, conversely, be utterly selfish if necessary to discover the other's power of self-sacrifice.
Unknowingly, he had ceased to be a man and had become a ferret. It was no light payment exacted in return for the pleasure of writing about Elaine. He had the ability to live in any place or century he pleased, but he had paid for it by putting his present reality upon precisely the same footing. Detachment was his continually. Henceforth he was a spectator merely, without any particular concern in what passed before his eyes. Some people he should know at a glance, others in a week, a month, or a year. Across the emptiness between them, some one should clasp his hand, yet share no more his inner life than one who lies beside a dreamer and thinks thus to know where the other wanders on the strange trails of sleep.
In the dregs of the Cup lay the potential power to cast off his present life as a mollusk leaves his shell, and as completely forget it. For Love, and Death, and Pain are only symbols to him who is enslaved by the pen. Moreover, he suffers always the pangs of an unsatisfied hunger, the exquisite torture of an unappeased and unappeasable thirst, for something which, like a will-o'-the-wisp, hovers ever above and beyond him, past the power of words to interpret or express.
It is often reproachfully said that one "makes copy" of himself and his friends—that nothing is too intimately sacred to be seized upon and dissected in print. Not so long ago, it was said that a certain man was "botanising on his mother's grave," a pardonable confusion, perhaps, of facts and realities. The bitter truth is that the writer lives his books—and not much else. From title to colophon, he escapes no pang, misses no joy. The life of the book is his from beginning to end. At the close of it, he has lived what his dream people have lived and borne the sorrows of half a dozen entire lifetimes, mercilessly concentrated into the few short months of writing.
One by one, his former pleasures vanish. Even the divine consolation of books is partly if not wholly gone. Behind the printed page, he sees ever the machinery of composition, the preparation for climax, the repetition in its proper place, the introduction and interweaving of major and minor, of theme and contrast. For the fine, glowing fancy of the other man has not appeared in his book, and to the eye of the fellow-craftsman only the mechanism is there. Mask-like, the author stands behind his Punch-and-Judy box, twitching the strings that move his marionettes, heedless of the fact that in his audience there must be a few who know him surely for what he is.
If only the transfiguring might of the Vision could be put into print, there would be little in the world save books. Happily heedless of the mockery of it all, Harlan laboured on, destined fully to sense his entire payment much later, suffer vicariously for a few hours on account of it, then to forget.
Dorothy, meanwhile, was learning a hard lesson. Harlan's changeless preoccupation hurt her cruelly, but, woman-like, she considered it a manifestation of genius and endeavoured to be proud accordingly. It had not occurred to her that there could ever be anything in Harlan's thought into which she was not privileged to go. She had thought of marriage as a sort of miraculous welding of two individualities into one, and was perceiving that it changed nothing very much; that souls went on their way unaltered. She saw, too, that there was no one in the wide world who could share her every mood and tense, that ultimately each one of us lives and dies alone, within the sanctuary of his own inner self, cheered only by some passing mood of friend or stranger, which chances to chime with his.
It was Dick who, blindly enough, helped her over many a hard place, and quickened her sense of humour into something upon which she might securely lean. He was too young and too much occupied with the obvious to look further, but he felt that Dorothy was troubled, and that it was his duty, as a man and a gentleman, to cheer her up.
Privately, he considered Harlan an amiable kind of a fool, who shut himself up needlessly in a musty library when he might be outdoors, or talking with a charming woman, or both. When he discovered that Harlan had hitherto earned his living by writing and hoped to continue doing it, he looked upon his host with profound pity. Books, to Dick, were among the things which kept life from being wholly pleasant and agreeable. He had gone through college because otherwise he would have been separated from his friends, and because a small legacy from a distant relative, who had considerately died at an opportune moment, enabled him to pay for his tuition and his despised books.
"I was never a pig, though," he explained to Dorothy, in a confidential moment. "There was one chump in our class who wanted to know all there was in the book, and made himself sick trying to cram it in. All of a sudden, he graduated. He left college feet first, three on a side, with the class walking slow behind him. I never was like that. I was sort of an epicure when it came to knowledge, tasting delicately here and there, and never greedy. Why, as far back as when I was studying algebra, I nobly refused to learn the binomial theorem. I just read it through once, hastily, like taking one sniff at a violet, and then let it alone. The other fellows fairly gorged themselves with it, but I didn't—I had too much sense."
When Mr. Chester had been there a week, he gave Dorothy two worn and crumpled two-dollar bills.
"What's this?" she asked, curiously. "Where did you find it?"
"'Find it' is good," laughed Dick. "I earned it, my dear lady, in hard and uncongenial toil. It's my week's board."
"You're not going to pay any board here. You're a guest."
"Not on your life. You don't suppose I'm going to sponge my keep off anybody, do you? I paid Uncle Ebeneezer board right straight along and there's no reason why I shouldn't pay you. You can put that away in your sock, or wherever it is that women keep money, or else I take the next train. If you don't want to lose me, you have to accept four plunks every Monday. I've got lots of four plunks," he added, with a winning smile.
"Very well," said Dorothy, quite certain that she could not spare Dick. "If it will make you feel any better about staying, I'll take it."
He had quickly made friends with Elaine, and the three made a more harmonious group than might have been expected under the circumstances. With returning strength and health, Miss St. Clair began to take more of an interest in her surroundings. She gathered the white clover blossoms in which Dorothy tied up her pats of sweet butter, picked berries in the garden, skimmed the milk, helped churn, and fed the chickens.
Dick took entire charge of the cow, thus relieving Mrs. Smithers of an uncongenial task and winning her heartfelt gratitude. She repaid him with unnumbered biscuits of his favourite kind and with many a savoury "snack" between meals. He also helped Dorothy in many other ways. It was Dick who collected the eggs every morning and took them to the sanitarium, along with such other produce as might be ready for the market. He secured astonishing prices for the things he sold, and set it down to man's superior business ability when questioned by his hostess. Dorothy never guessed that most of the money came out of his own pocket, and was charged up, in the ragged memorandum book which he carried, to "Elaine's board."
Miss St. Clair had never thought of offering compensation, and no one suggested it to her, but Dick privately determined to make good the deficiency, sure that a woman married to "a writing chump" would soon be in need of ready money if not actually starving at the time. That people should pay for what Harlan wrote seemed well-nigh incredible. Besides, though Dick had never read that "love is an insane desire on the part of a man to pay a woman's board bill for life," he took a definite satisfaction out of this secret expenditure, which he did not stop to analyse.
He brought back full price for everything he took to the "repair-shop," as he had irreverently christened the sanitarium, though he seldom sold much. On the other side of the hill he had a small but select graveyard where he buried such unsalable articles as he could not eat. His appetite was capricious, and Dorothy had frequently observed that when he came back from the long walk to the sanitarium, he ate nothing at all.
He established a furniture factory under a spreading apple tree at a respectable distance from the house, and began to remodel the black-walnut relics which were evidence of his kinsman's poor taste. He took many a bed apart, scraped off the disfiguring varnish, sandpapered and oiled the wood, and put it together in new and beautiful forms. He made several tables, a cabinet, a bench, half a dozen chairs, a set of hanging shelves, and even aspired to a desk, which, owing to the limitations of the material, was not wholly successful.
Dorothy and Elaine sat in rocking-chairs under the tree and encouraged him while he worked. One of them embroidered a simple design upon a burlap curtain while the other read aloud, and together they planned a shapely remodelling of the Jack-o'-Lantern. Fortunately, the woodwork was plain, and the ceilings not too high.
"I think," said Elaine, "that the big living room with the casement windows will be perfectly beautiful. You couldn't have anything lovelier than this dull walnut with the yellow walls."
Whatever Mrs. Carr's thoughts might be, this simple sentence was usually sufficient to turn the current into more pleasant channels. She had planned to have needless partitions taken out, and make the whole lower floor into one room, with only a dining-room, kitchen, and pantry back of it. She would take up the unsightly carpets, over which impossible plants wandered persistently, and have them woven into rag rugs, with green and brown and yellow borders. The floor was to be stained brown and the pine woodwork a soft, old green. Yellow walls and white net curtains, with the beautiful furniture Dick was making, completed a very charming picture in the eyes of a woman who loved her home.
Outspeeding it in her fancy was the finer, truer living which she believed lay beyond. Some day she and Harlan, alone once more, with the cobwebs of estrangement swept away, should begin a new and happier honeymoon in the transformed house. When the book was done—ah, when the book was done! But he was not reading any part of it to her now and would not let her begin copying it on the typewriter.
"I'll do it myself, when I'm ready," he said, coldly. "I can use a typewriter just as well as you can."
Dorothy sighed, unconsciously, for the woman's part is always to wait patiently while men achieve, and she who has learned to wait patiently, and be happy meanwhile, has learned the finest art of all—the art of life.
"Now," said Dick, "that's a peach of a table, if I do say it as shouldn't."
They readily agreed with him, for it was low and massive, built on simple, dignified lines, and beautifully finished. The headboards of three ponderous walnut beds and the supporting columns of a hideous sideboard had gone into its composition, thus illustrating, as Dorothy said, that ugliness may be changed to beauty by one who knows how and is willing to work for it.
The noon train whistled shrilly in the distance, and Dorothy started out of her chair. "She's afraid," laughed Dick, instantly comprehending. "She's afraid somebody is coming on it."
"More twins?" queried Elaine, from the depths of her rocker. "Surely there can't be any more twins?"
"I don't know," answered Dorothy, vaguely troubled. "Someway, I feel as though something terrible were going to happen."
Nothing happened, however, until after luncheon, just as she had begun to breathe peacefully again. Willie saw the procession first and ran back with gleeful shouts to make the announcement. So it was that the entire household, including Harlan, formed a reception committee on the front porch.
Up the hill, drawn by two straining horses, came what appeared at first to be a pyramid of furniture, but later resolved itself into the component parts of a more ponderous bed than the ingenuity of man had yet contrived. It was made of black walnut, and was at least three times as heavy as any of those in the Jack-o'-Lantern. On the top of the mass was perched a little old man in a skull cap, a slippered foot in a scarlet sock airily waving at one side. A bright green coil closely clutched in his withered hands was the bed cord appertaining to the bed—a sainted possession from which its owner sternly refused to part.
"By Jove!" shouted Dick; "it's Uncle Israel and his crib!"
Paying no heed to the assembled group, Uncle Israel dismounted nimbly enough, and directed the men to take his bed upstairs, which they did, while Harlan and Dorothy stood by helplessly. Here, under his profane and involved direction, the structure was finally set in place, even to the patchwork quilt, fearfully and wonderfully made, which surmounted it all.
Financial settlement was waved aside by Uncle Israel as a matter in which he was not interested, and it was Dick who counted out two dimes and a nickel to secure peace. A supplementary procession appeared with a small, weather-beaten trunk, a folding bath-cabinet, and a huge case which, from Uncle Israel's perturbation, evidently contained numerous fragile articles of great value.
"Tell Ebeneezer," wheezed the newcomer, "that I have arrived."
"Ebeneezer," replied Dick, in wicked imitation of the old man's asthmatic speech, "has been dead for some time."
"Then," creaked Uncle Israel, waving a tremulous, bony hand suggestively toward the door, "kindly leave me alone with my grief."
Uncle Israel, whose other name was Skiles, adjusted himself to his grief in short order. The sounds which issued from his room were not those commonly associated with mourning. Dick, fully accustomed to various noises, explained them for the edification of the Carrs, who at present were sorely in need of edification.
"That's the bath cabinet," remarked Mr. Chester, with the air of a connoisseur. "He's setting it up near enough to the door so that if anybody should come in unexpectedly while it's working, the whole thing will be tipped over and the house set on fire. Uncle Israel won't have any lock or bolt on his door for fear he should die in the night. He relies wholly on the bath cabinet and moral suasion. Nobody knocks on doors here, anyway—just goes in.
"That's his trunk. He keeps it under the window. The bed is set up first, then the bath cabinet, then the trunk, and last, but not least, the medicine chest. He keeps his entire pharmacopoeia on a table at the head of his bed, with a candle and matches, so that if he feels badly in the night, the proper remedy is instantly at hand. He prepares some of his medicines himself, but he isn't bigoted about it. He buys the rest at wholesale, and I'll eat my hat if he hasn't got a full-sized bottle of every patent medicine that's on sale anywhere in the United States."
"How old," asked Harlan, speaking for the first time, "is Uncle Israel?"
"Something over ninety, I believe," returned Dick. "I've lost my book of vital statistics, so I don't know, exactly."
"How long," inquired Dorothy, with a forced smile, "does Uncle Israel stay?"
"Lord bless you, my dear lady, Uncle Israel stays all Summer. Hello—there are some more!"
A private conveyance of uncertain age and purposes drew up before the door. From it dismounted a very slender young man of medium height, whose long auburn hair hung over his coat-collar and at times partially obscured his soulful grey eyes. It resembled the mane of a lion, except in colour. He carried a small black valise, and a roll of manuscript tied with a badly soiled ribbon.
An old lady followed, stepping cautiously, but still finding opportunity to scrutinise the group in the doorway, peering sharply over her gold-bowed spectacles. It was she who paid the driver, and even before the two reached the house, it was evident that they were not on speaking terms.
The young man offered Mr. Chester a thin, tremulous hand which lay on Dick's broad palm in a nerveless, clammy fashion. "Pray," he said, in a high, squeaky voice, "convey my greetings to dear Uncle Ebeneezer, and inform him that I have arrived."
"I am at present holding no communication with Uncle Ebeneezer," explained Dick. "The wires are down."
"Where is Ebeneezer?" demanded the old lady.
"Dead," answered Dorothy, wearily; "dead, dead. He's been dead a long time. This is our house—he left it to my husband and me."
"Don't let that disturb you a mite," said the old lady, cheerfully. "I like your looks a whole lot, an' I'd just as soon stay with you as with Ebeneezer. I dunno but I'd ruther."
She must have been well past sixty, but her scanty hair was as yet untouched with grey. She wore it parted in the middle, after an ancient fashion, and twisted at the back into a tight little knob, from which the ends of a wire hairpin protruded threateningly. Dorothy reflected, unhappily, that the whole thing was done up almost tight enough to play a tune on.
For the rest, her attire was neat, though careless. One had always the delusion that part or all of it was on the point of coming off.
The young man was wiping his weak eyes upon a voluminous silk handkerchief which had evidently seen long service since its last washing. "Dear Uncle Ebeneezer," he breathed, running his long, bony fingers through his hair. "I cannot tell you how heavily this blow falls upon me. Dear Uncle Ebeneezer was a distinguished patron of the arts. Our country needs more men like him, men with fine appreciation, vowed to the service of the Ideal. If you will pardon me, I will now retire to my apartment and remain there a short time in seclusion."
So saying, he ran lightly upstairs, as one who was thoroughly at home.
"Who in—" began Harlan.
"Mr. Harold Vernon Perkins, poet," said Dick. "He's got his rhyming dictionary and all his odes with him."
"Without knowing," said Dorothy, "I should have thought his name was Harold or Arthur or Paul. He looks it."
"It wa'n't my fault," interjected the old lady, "that he come. I didn't even sense that he was on the same train as me till I hired the carriage at the junction an' he clim' in. He said he might as well come along as we was both goin' to the same place, an' it would save him walkin', an' not cost me no more than 't would anyway."
While she was speaking, she had taken off her outer layer of drapery and her bonnet. "I'll just put these things in my room, my dear," she said to Dorothy, "an' then I'll come back an' talk to you. I like your looks first-rate."
"Who in—," said Harlan, again, as the old lady vanished into one of the lower wings.
"Mrs. Belinda something," answered Dick. "I don't know who she's married to now. She's had bad luck with her husbands."
Mrs. Carr, deeply troubled, was leaning against the wall in the hall, and Dick patted her hand soothingly. "Don't you fret," he said, cheerily; "I'm here to see you through."
"That being the case," remarked Harlan, with a certain acidity in his tone, "I'll go back to my work."
The old lady appeared again as Harlan slammed the library door, and suggested that Dick should go away.
"Polite hint," commented Mr. Chester, not at all disturbed. "See you later." He went out, whistling, with his cap on the back of his head and his hands in his pockets.
"I reckon you're a new relative, be n't you?" asked the lady guest, eyeing Dorothy closely. "I disremember seein' you before."
"I am Mrs. Carr," repeated Dorothy, mechanically. "My husband, Harlan Carr, is Uncle Ebeneezer's nephew, and the house was left to him."
"Do tell!" ejaculated the other. "I wouldn't have thought it of Ebeneezer. I'm Belinda Dodd, relict of Benjamin Dodd, deceased. How many are there here, my dear?"
"Miss St. Clair, Mr. Chester, Mrs. Holmes and her three children, Uncle Israel Skiles, and you two, besides Mr. Carr, Mrs. Smithers, and myself."
"Is that all?" asked the visitor, in evident surprise.
"All!" repeated Dorothy. "Isn't that enough?"
"Lord love you, my dear, it's plain to be seen that you ain't never been here before. Only them few an' so late in the season, too. Why, there's Cousin Si Martin, an' his wife, an' their eight children, some of the children bein' married an' havin' other children, an' Sister-in-law Fanny Wood with her invalid husband, her second husband, that is, an' Rebecca's Uncle James's third wife with her two daughters, an' Rebecca's sister's second husband with his new wife an' their little boy, an' Uncle Jason an' his stepson, the one that has fits, an' Cousin Sally Simmons an' her daughter, an' the four little Riley children an' their Aunt Lucretia, an' Step-cousin Betsey Skiles with her two nieces, though I misdoubt their comin' this year. The youngest niece had typhoid fever here last Summer for eight weeks, an' Betsey thinks the location ain't healthy, in spite of it's bein' so near the sanitarium. She was threatenin' to get the health department or somethin' after Ebeneezer an' have the drinkin' water looked into, so's they didn't part on the pleasantest terms, but in the main we've all got along well together.
"If Betsey knowed Ebeneezer was dead, she wouldn't hesitate none about comin', typhoid or no typhoid. Mebbe it was her fault some, for Ebeneezer wa'n't to blame for his drinkin' water no more 'n I'd be. Our minister used to say that there was no discipline for the soul like livin' with folks, year in an' year out hand-runnin', an' Betsey is naturally that kind. Ebeneezer always lived plain, but we're all simple folks, not carin' much for style, so we never minded it. The air's good up here an' I dunno any better place to spend the Summer. My gracious! You be n't sick, be you?"
"I don't know what to do," murmured Dorothy, her white lips scarcely moving; "I don't know what to do."
"Well, now," responded Mrs. Dodd, "I can see that I've upset you some. Perhaps you're one of them people that don't like to have other folks around you. I've heard of such, comin' from the city. Why, I knew a woman that lived in the city, an' she said she didn't know the name of the woman next door to her after livin' there over eight months,—an' their windows lookin' right into each other, too."
"I hate people!" cried Dorothy, in a passion of anger. "I don't want anybody here but my husband and Mrs. Smithers!"
"Set quiet, my dear, an' make your mind easy. I'm sure Ebeneezer never intended his death to make any difference in my spendin' the Summer here, especially when I'm fresh from another bereavement, but if you're in earnest about closin' your doors on your poor dead aunt's relations, why I'll see what I can do."
"Oh, if you could!" Dorothy almost screamed the words. "If you can keep any more people from coming here, I'll bless you for ever."
"Poor child, I can see that you're considerable upset. Just get me the pen an' ink an' some paper an' envelopes an' I'll set down right now an' write to the connection an' tell 'em that Ebeneezer's dead an' bein' of unsound mind at the last has willed the house to strangers who refuse to open their doors to the blood relations of poor dead Rebecca. That's all I can do an' I can't promise that it'll work. Ebeneezer writ several times to us all that he didn't feel like havin' no more company, but Rebecca's relatives was all of a forgivin' disposition an' never laid it up against him. We all kep' on a-comin' just the same."
"Tell them," cried Dorothy her eyes unusually bright and her cheeks burning, "that we've got smallpox here, or diphtheria, or a lunatic asylum, or anything you like. Tell them there's a big dog in the yard that won't let anybody open the gate. Tell them anything!"
"Just you leave it all to me, my dear," said Mrs. Dodd, soothingly. "On account of the connection bein' so differently constituted, I'll have to tell 'em all different. Disease would keep away some an' fetch others. Betsey Skiles, now, she feels to turn her hand to nursin' an' I've knowed her to go miles in the dead of Winter to set up with a stranger that had some disease she wa'n't familiar with. Dogs would bring others an' only scare a few. Just you leave it all to me. There ain't never no use in borrerin' trouble an' givin' up your peace of mind as security, 'cause you don't never get the security back. I've been married enough to know that there's plenty of trouble in life besides what's looked for, an' it'll get in, without your holdin' open the door an' spreadin' a mat out with 'Welcome' on it. Did Ebeneezer leave any property?"
"Only the house and furniture," answered Dorothy, feeling that the whole burden of the world had been suddenly shifted to her young shoulders.
"Rebecca had a big diamond pin," said Mrs. Dodd, after a brief silence, "that she allers said was to be mine when she got through with it. Ebeneezer give it to her for a weddin' present. You ain't seen it layin' around, have you?"
"No, I haven't seen it 'laying around,'" retorted Dorothy, conscious that she was juggling with the truth.
"Well," continued Mrs. Dodd, easily, nibbling her pen holder, "when it comes to light, just remember that it's mine. I don't doubt it'll turn up sometime. An' now, my dear, I'll just begin on them letters. Cousin Si Martin's folks are a-packin' an' expectin' to get here next week. I suppose you're willin' to furnish the stamps?"
"Willing!" cried Dorothy, "I should say yes!"
Mrs. Dodd toiled long at her self-imposed task, and, having finished it, went out into the kitchen, where for an hour or more she exchanged mortuary gossip with Mrs. Smithers, every detail of the conversation being keenly relished by both ladies.
At dinner-time, eleven people sat down to partake of the excellent repast furnished by Mrs. Smithers under the stimulus of pleasant talk. Harlan was at the head, with Miss St. Clair on his right and Mrs. Dodd on his left. Next to Miss St. Clair was the poet, whose deep sorrow did not interfere with his appetite. The twins were next to him, then Mrs. Holmes, then Willie, then Dorothy, at the foot of the table. On her right was Dick, the space between Dick and Mrs. Dodd being occupied by Uncle Israel.
To a careless observer, it might have seemed that Uncle Israel had more than his share of the table, but such in reality was not the case. His plate was flanked by a goodly array of medicine bottles, and cups and bowls of predigested and patent food. Uncle Israel, as Dick concisely expressed it, was "pie for the cranks."
"My third husband," remarked Mrs. Dodd, pleasantly, well aware that she was touching her neighbour's sorest spot, "was terribly afflicted with stomach trouble."
"The only stomach trouble I've ever had," commented Mr. Chester, airily spearing another biscuit with his fork, "was in getting enough to put into it."
"Have a care, young man," wheezed Uncle Israel, warningly. "There ain't nothin' so bad for the system as hot bread."
"It would be bad for my system," resumed Dick, "not to be able to get it."
"My third husband," continued Mrs. Dodd, disregarding the interruption, "wouldn't have no bread in the house at all. He et these little straw mattresses, same as you've got, so constant that he finally died from the tic doleroo. Will you please pass me them biscuits, Mis' Carr?"
Mrs. Dodd was obliged to rise and reach past Uncle Israel, who declined to be contaminated by passing the plate, before she attained her desired biscuit.
"Next time, Aunt Belinda," said Dick, "I'll throw you one. Suffering Moses, what new dope is that?"
A powerful and peculiarly penetrating odour filled the room. Presently it became evident that Uncle Israel had uncorked a fresh bottle of medicine. Miss St. Clair coughed and hastily excused herself.
"It's time for me to take my pain-killer," murmured Uncle Israel, pouring out a tablespoonful of a thick, brown mixture. "This here cured a Congressman in less 'n half a bottle of a gnawin' pain in his vitals. I ain't never took none of it yet, but I aim to now."
The vapour of it had already made the twins cry and brought tears to Mrs. Dodd's eyes, but Uncle Israel took it clear and smacked his lips over it enjoyably. "It seems to be a searchin' medicine," he commented, after an interval of silence. "I don't misdoubt that it'll locate that pain that was movin' up and down my back all night last night."
Uncle Israel's wizened old face, with its fringe of white whisker, beamed with the joy of a scientist who has made a new and important discovery. He had a long, hooked nose, and was painfully near-sighted, but refused to wear glasses. Just now he sniffed inquiringly at the open bottle of medicine. "Yes," he said, nodding his bald head sagely, "I don't misdoubt this here can locate it."
"I don't, either," said Harlan, grimly, putting his handkerchief to his nose. "Will you excuse me, Dorothy?"
Mrs. Holmes took the weeping twins away from the table, and Willie, his mentor gone, began to eat happily with his fingers. The poet rose and drew a roll of manuscript from his coat pocket.
"This afternoon," he said, clearing his throat, "I employed my spare moments in composing an ode to the memory of our sainted relative, under whose hospitable roof we are all now so pleasantly gathered. I will read it to you."
Mrs. Dodd hastily left the table, muttering indistinctly, and Dick followed her. Willie slipped from his chair, crawled under the table, and by stealthily sticking a pin into Uncle Israel's ankle, produced a violent disturbance, during which the pain-killer was badly spilled. When the air finally cleared, there was no one in the room but the poet, who sadly rolled up his manuscript.
"I will read it at breakfast," he thought. "I will give them all the pleasure of hearing it. Art is for the many, not for the few. I must use it to elevate humanity to the Ideal."
He went back to his own room to add some final reverent touches to the masterpiece, and to meditate upon the delicate blonde beauty of Miss St. Clair.
From Mrs. Dodd, meanwhile, Dick had gathered the pleasing purport of her voluminous correspondence, and insisted on posting all the letters that very night, though morning would have done just as well. When he had gone downhill on his errand of mercy, whistling cheerily as was his wont, Mrs. Dodd went into her own room and locked the door, immediately beginning a careful search of the entire apartment.
She scrutinised the walls closely, and rapped softly here and there, listening intently for a hollow sound. Standing on a chair, she felt all along the mouldings and window-casings, taking unto herself much dust in the process. She spent half an hour in the stuffy closet, investigating the shelves and recesses, then she got down on her rheumatic old knees and crept laboriously over the carpet, systematically taking it breadth by breadth, and paying special attention to that section of it which was under the bed.
"When you've found where anythin' ain't," she said to herself, "you've gone a long way toward findin' where 't is. It's just like Ebeneezer to have hid it."
She took down the pictures, which were mainly family portraits, life-size, presented to the master of the house by devoted relatives, and rapidly unframed them. In one of them she found a sealed envelope, which she eagerly tore open. Inside was a personal communication which, though brief, was very much to the point.
"Dear Cousin Belinda," it read, "I hope you're taking pleasure in your hunt. I have kept my word to you and in this very room, somewhere, is a sum of money which represents my estimate of your worth, as nearly as sordid coin can hope to do. It is all in cash, for greater convenience in handling. I trust you will not spend it all in one store, and that you will, out of your abundance, be generous to the poor. It might be well to use a part of it in making a visit to New York. When you find this, I shall be out in the cemetery all by myself, and very comfortable.