So the vast gymnasium went for little with him, and the wide football field for less, and the great lake, close by, for nothing. This last, however, counted for little more with any one else. Those who knew the lake best were best content to leave it alone. As a source of pleasure it had too many perils: "treacherous" was the common word. Its treachery was reserved, of course, for the smiling period of summer; especially did the great monster lie in wait on summer's Sunday afternoons. Then the sun would shine on its vast placid bosom and the breeze play gently, tempting the swimmer toward its borders and the light pleasure craft toward its depths. And then, in mid-afternoon, a sudden disastrous change; a quick gale from the north, with a wide whipping-up of white caps; and the morrow's newspapers told of bathers drowned in the undertow, of frail canoes dashed to pieces against piers and breakwaters, and of gay, beflagged steam-launches swamped by the newly-risen sea miles from shore: the toll of fickle, superheated August. But in the late autumn the immense, savage creature was more frankly itself: rude, blustery, tyrannical,—no more a smiling, cruel hypocrite. It warned you, often and openly, if warning you would take.
It was on the last Sunday afternoon in October that Cope and Amy Leffingwell were strolling along its edge. They had met casually, in front of the chapel, after a lecture—or a service—by an eminent ethical teacher from abroad,—a bird of passage who must pipe on this Sunday afternoon if he were to pipe at all. Cope, who had lain abed late, made this address a substitute for the forenoon service he had missed. And Amy Leffingwell had gone out somewhat for the sake, perhaps, of walking by the house where Cope lived.
They passed the Science building, with its tower crowned by an ornamental open-work iron pyramid for wireless, and the segregated group of theological dormitories through whose windows earnest ringing young voices were sometimes heard at the practice of sermon-delivery, and the men's club where the billiard tables were doubtless decorously covered with their customary Sunday sheets of black oilcloth, and took intuitively the path which led along the edge of the bluff. Beyond them, further bluffs and a few low headlands; here a lighthouse, there a water-tower; elsewhere (and not so far) the balconied roof of the life-saving station, where the boats, light and heavy, were manned by muscular students: their vigilance and activity, interspersed with long periods of leisure or of absence, helped them to "pay their way." Out toward the horizon a passenger steamer en route to some port farther north, or a long ore-freighter, singularly uneventful between bow and far-distant afterhouse, on its way down from the iron-ranges of Superior.
The path was narrow, but Cope, unexpectedly to himself, had no complaint to make. Really, the girl did better here, somehow, than lots of other girls would have done on a wide sidewalk. Most of them walked too close to you, or too far from you, altering the interval suddenly and arbitrarily, and tending to bump against you when you didn't expect it and didn't want it. They were uncertain at crossings; if it was necessary for them to take your arm, as it sometimes became, in the evening, on a crowded street, why, they were too gingerly or else pressed too close; and if it happened to rain, you sometimes had to take a cab, trafficking with a driver whose tariff and whose disposition you did not know: in fact, a string of minor embarrassments and expenses....
But the way, this afternoon, was clear and easy; and there were no annoyances save from other walkers along the same path. The sun shone brightly at intervals. A fresh breeze swept the wide expanse streaked with purple and green and turned an occasional broken wave-crest toward the western light. Some large cumuli were abroad—white, or less white, or even darkling,—the first windy sky of autumn.
Cope and Amy passed the life-saving station, where a few people sat about idly and where one or two visitors pressed noses against glass panes to view the boats within; and they reached presently a sort of little public park which lay along the water. Here a small pier ran out past the shallows, and in front of a shack close by it a man sat resignedly near a group of beached and upturned row-boats. One or two others were still in the water, as was a small sloop. The fellow sat there without expectations: the season was about over; the day was none too promising for such as knew. His attitude expressed, in fact, the accumulated disappointment and resignation of many months. Perhaps he was a new-comer from the interior— some region of ponds and rivers—and had kept through an uneventful summer the notion that so big a spread of water would surely be put to use. The sail of the sloop, half-lowered, flapped in the breeze, and little else stirred.
Our young people overlooked both man and boat.
"It's the same lake," said Amy Leffingwell, rather dreamily, after a common silence of several minutes.
"The same," returned Cope promptly. "It's just what it was a year ago, a century ago; and a millennium ago, I suppose,—if there was anyone here to notice."
She turned on him a rueful, half-protesting smile. "I wasn't thinking of a century ago. I was thinking of a month ago."
"A month ago?"
"Yes; when we were walking along the dunes."
"Oh, I see. Why, yes, it is the same old lake, though it seems hard to realize it. Foreground makes so much difference; and so does—well, population. I mean the human element, or the absence of it."
"The one drawback, there, was that we couldn't go out on the water."
"Go out? I should say not. No pier for miles, and the water so shallow that hardly more than a canoe could land. Still, those fishermen out there manage it. But plain summerites, especially if not dressed for it, would have an unpleasant time imitating them."
Amy cast her eye about. Here was a shore, a pier, a boat, a man to let it....
"Would you like to go out?" asked the man himself perfunctorily, as from the depths of a settled despair. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder toward the sloop.
The two young people looked at each other. Neither looked at the sky. "Well, I don't know," replied Cope slowly. The sloop was on a pretty small scale; still, it was more to manage than a cat-boat.
"You have the theory, you know," said Amy demurely, "and some practice."
Cope looked at her in doubt. "Can you swim?" he asked.
"Yes," she returned. "I have some practice, if not much theory."
"Could you handle a jib?"
"Well, then, if you really wish ..."
The misanthrope, with a twisted smile, helped them get away. The mainsail took a steady set; but the jib, from the first, possessed an active life of its own.
"Not that rope," cried Cope; "the other."
"Very well," returned Amy, scrambling across the cockpit. And so it went.
In six or eight minutes their small catastrophe overtook them. There came a sudden flaw from out one of the racing gray cumuli, and a faint cry or two from the distant shore. Theory had not put itself into practice as quickly as the emergency required,—all the less so in that it had to work through a crew encumbered with a longish skirt and a close jacket. The sloop keeled over; Cope was instantly entangled with the mainsail and some miscellaneous cordage; and Amy, with the water soaking her closely-fitting garments, found herself clutching the cockpit's edge.
She saw Cope's predicament and let go her hold to set him free. He helped shake himself loose with a loud forced laugh and a toss of the head to get his long hair out of his eyes. "We'll leave the wreck," he spluttered, "and make for the shore." The shore, fortunately, was scarcely more than a hundred yards away,—yet never had the great twin towers of the library seemed so distant or the wireless cage on Science hall so futile.
They swam, easily, side by side, he supporting her in her cramped clothes at the start, and she, a bit concerned, somewhat supporting him toward the end. Meanwhile, there was some stir at the life-saving station, a quarter of a mile down the shore.
The last hundred feet meant mere wading, though there was some variability among the sand ridges of the bottom; but the water, at its deepest, never reached their shoulders. Their small accident now began to take on the character of a ceremonial—an immersion incident to some religious rite or observance; and the little Sunday crowd collecting on the water's edge might have been members of some congregation sympathetically welcoming a pair of converts to the faith.
"Let's hold our heads high and walk straight," said Cope, his arm in hers; "heaven knows whom we are likely to meet. And throw your hat away—you'll look better without it. Lord knows where mine is," he added, as he ran a smoothing hand over his long locks.
"Very well," she said, casting away her ruined, ridiculous headgear with her free arm. The other, in his, was giving more support to him, she felt, than he was giving to her.
Just as they were about to reach dry land, amidst the congratulations and the amused smiles of the little group at the foot of the bluff, the belated crew of life-savers swept up in their smallest boat and insisted on capturing them.
"Oh, Mr. Cope," said a familiar voice, "please let us save you. We haven't saved a soul for months."
Cope recognized one of his own students and surrendered, though a kindly house-owner on the bluff had been quick to cry across the intervening yards of water his offer of hospitality. "All right," he said; "take us back to your place, where we can dry and telephone." He hoped, too, that they might have to encounter fewer people at the other spot than at this.
Meanwhile, another boat belonging to the station had set out to aid the owner of the sloop in its recovery. It was soon righted and was brought in. There was no damage done, and there was no charge that Cope could not meet, as he learned next day to his great relief.
The station gave him a dry outfit of clothes, assembled from here and there, and telephoned to Mrs. Phillips to bring fresh garments for Amy. Neither had time to get a chill. A pair of kindly servant-maids, who were loitering on the shore with their young men, insisted on carrying the heroine of the afternoon into retirement, where they expeditiously undressed her, rubbed her, and wrapped her in a quilt snatched from a life- saving bed. Amy was cold indeed, and inclined to shiver. She understood, now, why Cope had not encouraged that bathing party at the dunes.
In a few minutes Medora Phillips tore up in her car, with Helga and a mountain of clothing and wraps. She was inclined to make the most of the occasion, and she did so. With Helga she quickly superseded the pair of sympathetic and ready maids, whom she allowed to fade into the background with too scant recognition of their services; and when she had got Amy thoroughly warmed and rehabilitated she turned her thought toward Cope. Here, certainly, was a young scholastic recluse who had an admirable faculty for getting into the public eye. If one section of Churchton society had talked about his performance at her dinner, all sections of it would now be discussing his new performance on the high seas. Suddenly she was struck with the notion that possibly his first lapse had not left him in condition to stand this second one.
"How are you feeling?" she asked anxiously. "No chill? No shock?"
"I'm all right," he declared. "One of the boys has just given me a drink of—of——" But it was a beverage the use of which was not generally approved in Churchton.
Mrs. Phillips turned round suddenly. "Amy, did you have a drink, too, of— of—of—if 'Of' is what you call it?"
"I did," said Amy firmly; "and I feel the better for it."
"Well, get in, then, and I'll take you home."
Peter grinned from the front seat of the car; Mrs. Phillips placed herself between the two victims on the back one; the life-savers, who had kept the discarded garments to dry, gave them all a few smiles and hand wavings; the two young women and their two young men looked on with some deference; the general crowd gave a little mock-cheer before turning its Sunday leisure to other forms of interest; and the small party whirled away.
Amy leaned a tired, moist head, but a happy one, on Mrs. Phillips' shoulder. "He was so quick," she breathed, "and so brave, and so strong." She professed to believe that he had saved her life. Cope, silent as he looked straight ahead between Peter and Helga, was almost afraid that she had saved his.
COPE AMONG CROSS-CURRENTS
Next morning, at breakfast, Amy Leffingwell kept, for the most part, a rapt and meditative eye on her plate. Hortense gave her now and then an impatient, half-angry glare, and had to be cut short in some stinging observations on Cope. "But it was foolish," Medora Phillips felt obliged to concede. "What in the world made you do it?"
But Amy continued to smile at the table-cloth. She seemed to be intimating that there was a special folly which transcended mere general folly and approximated wisdom.
After breakfast she spoke a few words to Carolyn. She had had all night to think the matter over; she now saw it from a new angle and in a new light.
"You should have seen how he shook himself free from that sail, and all," she said. "And while we were swimming in he held his hand under my chin—at least part of the time. And when we reached the sandbars he put his arm through mine and helped me over every one." And in this state of mind she went off to her class.
Cope was received by his own class with a subdued hilarity. His young people felt that he had shown poor judgment in going out on the water at all,—for the University, by tacit consent, left the lake pretty well alone. They thought that, once out, he had shown remarkably inept seamanship. And they thought that he had chosen a too near and too well- lighted stage for the exhibition of both. This forenoon the "Eighteenth Century Novelists" involved Smollett, and with every reference to the water looks of understanding traveled from student to student: that the class was of both sexes made the situation no better. Cope was in good enough physical condition,—the unspeakable draught from the unspeakable flask had ensured that,—but he felt what was in the air of the classroom and was correspondingly ill at ease.
He had had, for several days, an understanding with Basil Randolph that they were to go together to the next weekly reception of the president's wife. Randolph wished to push Cope's fortunes wherever he might, and to make him stand out from the general ranks of the young instructors. He had the entree to the Thursdays at the president's house, and he wanted Cope to meet personally and intimately, under the guidance he could provide, a few of the academic dignitaries and some of the wealthier and more prominent townspeople. Notwithstanding Mrs. Phillips' confident impression, Cope's exploit at her own table had gained no wide currency. The people she had entertained were people who expected and commanded a succession of daily impressions from one quarter or another. With them, a few light words on Cope's achievement were sufficient; they walked straight on toward the sensation the next day was sure to bring. But of course the whole University knew about his second performance. Some of its members had witnessed it, and all of them had read about it, next day, in Churchton's four-page "Index."
The president's wife was a sprightly lady, who believed in keeping up the social end of things. Her Thursdays offered coffee and chocolate at a handsomely appointed table, and a little dancing, now and then, for the livelier of the young professors and the daughters of the town's best-known families; above all, she insisted on "receiving"—even on having a "receiving line." She would summon, for example, the wife of one of the most eminent members of the faculty and the obliging spouse of some educationally-minded banker or manufacturer; and she herself always stood, of course, at the head of her line. When Cope came along with Randolph, she intercepted the flow of material for her several assistants farther on, and carried congestion and impatience into the waiting queue behind by detaining him and "having it out."
She caught his hand with a good, firm, nervous grasp, and flashed on him a broad, meaningful smile.
"Which saved which?" she asked heartily.
Mrs. Ryder, who was farther along in the line, but not too far, beamed delightedly, yet without the slightest trace of malice. An eminent visiting educator, five or six steps behind our hero, frowned in question and had to have the situation explained by the lady in his company.
Cope, a trifle embarrassed, and half-inclined to wish he had not come, did what he could to deprive the episode of both hero and heroine. It was about an even thing, he guessed,—a matter of cooperation.
"Isn't that delightful!" exclaimed the president's wife to the wife of the banker, before passing Cope on. "And so modern! Equality of the sexes.... Woman doing her share, et cetera! For this," she presently said to the impatient educator from outside, "are we co-educational!" And, "Good teamwork!" she contrived to call after Cope, who was now disappearing in the crowd.
Cope lost himself from Randolph, and presently got away without seeing who was pouring coffee or who was the lightest on foot among the younger professors. The president's wife had asked him, besides, how the young lady had got through it, and had even inquired after her present condition. Well, Amy Leffingwell was enrolled among the University instructors, and doubtless the wife of the institution's head had been well within her rights,—even duly mindful of the proprieties. But "The Index"! That sheet, staid and proper enough on most occasions, had seemed, on this one, to couple their names quite unwarrantably. "Couple!" Cope repeated the word, and felt an injury. If he had known that Amy had carefully cut out and preserved the offending paragraph, his thought would have taken on a new and more disquieting tone.
In the inquiry of the president's wife about the condition of his copartner in adventure he found a second source of dissatisfaction. He had not called up to ask after Amy; but Mrs. Phillips, with a great show of solicitude, had called up early on Monday morning to ask after him. He had then, in turn, made a counter-inquiry, of course; but he could take no credit for initiative. Neither had he yet called at the house; nor did he feel greatly prompted to do so. That must doubtless be done; but he might wait until the first fresh impact of the event should somewhat have lost its force.
Mrs. Phillips' voice had kept, over the telephone, all its vibratory quality; its tones expressed the most palpitating interest. It was already clear—and it became even clearer when he finally called at the house—that she was poetizing him into a hero, and that she regarded Amy herself as but a means, an instrument. At this, Cope felt a little more mortified than before. He knew that he had done poorly in the boat, and he was not sure that, in the first moment of the upset, he should have freed himself unaided; and he confessed that he had not been quite in condition to do very well on the way landward. However, all passed.... Within a fortnight or less the incident would have dropped back into its proper perspective, and his students would have found some other matter for entertainment. In the circumstances he grasped at the first source of consolation that came. Randolph was now installed in his new apartment and felt that, though not fully settled, he might risk asking Cope to dinner. "You are the first," Randolph had said. Cope could not escape the flattery; it was almost comfort.
His prompt acceptance was most welcome to Randolph. Cope had dwelt, for a moment, on the actual presence of Aunt Harriet and on his need of her. Randolph had made no precise study of recent chronology, taking the reason given over the wire as a valid one and feeling glad that there was no hitch this time.
Randolph gave Cope a rapid view of the apartment before they sat down to dinner. There were fewer pictures on the newly-papered walls than there were to be, and fewer rugs on the freshly-varnished floors. "My standing lamp will be in that corner," said Randolph, in the living-room, "—when it comes." He drew attention to a second bedroom where a man could be put up on occasion: "you, for example, if you ever find yourself shut out late." He saw Sir Galahad's gauntlets on the dresser. He even gave Cope a glimpse of his kitchen, where a self-contained Oriental, slightly smiling but otherwise inexpressive, seemed to be dealing competently with the gas- range. But Cope was impressed, most of all, by the dining-room table and its paraphernalia. At Mrs. Phillips' he had accepted the china, silver and napery as a matter of course—an elaborate entity quite outside his own thoughts and calculations: it was all so immensely far beyond his reach and his needs. Randolph, however, had dealt as a bachelor with a problem which he himself as a bachelor must soon take up, on however different a scale and plane. For everything here was rich and handsome; he should not know how to select such things—still less how to pay for them. He felt dashed; he felt depressed; once more the wonder of people's "having things." He sipped his soup in the spirit of humility, and did not quite recover with the chops.
Randolph made little talk; he was glad merely to have Cope there. He indulged no slightest reference to the accident; he assumed, willingly enough, that Cope had done well in a sudden emergency, but did not care to dwell on his judgment at the beginning. Still, a young man was properly enough experimental, venturesome...
Cope had recovered himself by the time dessert was reached. He accomplished an adjustment to his environment, and Randolph was glad to feel his unaffected response to good food properly cooked and served. "He sha'n't gipsy all the time," Randolph said to himself. "I shall try to have him here at least twice a week." Once in a while the evening might be stormy, and then the gauntlets would be laid on the dresser—perhaps after an informal smoke in pajamas among the curios ranged round the small den.
Cope set down his demi-tasse with a slight sigh. "Well," he said, "I suppose that, before long, I shall have to buy a few sticks of furniture myself and a trifle of 'crockery.' And a percolator." Randolph looked across at him in surprise.
"You are moving, then,—you too?" Not to greatly better quarters, he almost hoped.
"Yes; and we shall need a few small things by way of outfit." "We." Randolph looked more intently. Housekeeping a deux? A roommate? Matrimony? Here was the intrusion of another piece on the board—a piece new and unexpected. Would it turn out to be an added interest for himself, or a plain source of disconcertment? Cope, having unconsciously set the ball rolling, gave it further impetus. He sketched his absent friend and told of their plans for the winter and spring terms. "I shall try for a large easy chair," he concluded, "unless Arthur can be induced to bring one with him."
Randolph, by this time, had led Cope into the den, established him between padded arms, and given him a cigar. He drew Cope's attention to the jades and swordguards, to the odd assortment of primitive musical instruments (which would doubtless, in time, find a place at the Art Museum in the city), and to his latest acquisition—a volume of Bembo's "Le Prose." It had reached him but a week before from Venice,—"in Venetia, al segno del Pozzo, MDLVII," said the title-page, in fact. It was bound in vellum, pierced by bookworms, and was decorated, in quaint seventeenth- century penmanship, with marginal annotations, and also, on the fly leaves, with repeated honorifics due to a study of the forms of address by some young aspirant for favor. Randolph had rather depended on it to take Cope's interest; but now the little envoi from the Lagoons seemed lesser in its lustre. Cope indeed took the volume with docility and looked at its classical title-page and at its quaint Biblical colophon; but, "Just who was 'Pietro Bembo'?" he asked; and Randolph realized, with a slight shock, that young instructors teach only what they themselves lately have learned, and that, in many cases, they have not learned much.
But in truth neither paid much heed to the tabulated vocables of the Venetian cardinal—nor to any of the other rarities near by. Basil Randolph was wondering how he was to take Arthur Lemoyne, and was asking himself if his trouble in setting up a new menage was likely to go for nothing; and Bertram Cope, while he pursued the course of the bookworm through the parchment covers and the yellowed sheets within, was wondering in what definite way his host might aid the fortunes of Arthur Lemoyne and thus make matters a little easier for them both. "All' ill.'mo Sig.'r paron ossevnd.'mo.... All' ill.'mo et ecc.'mo Sig.'r paron... All' ill'mo et R.R.d.'mo Sig.'r, Sig.'r Pio. Francesco Bembo, Vesco et Conte di Belluno"—thus ran the faded brown lines on the flyleaf, in their solicitous currying of favor; but these reiterated forms of address conveyed no meaning to Cope, and offered no opening: now, as once before, he let the matter wait.
Randolph thought over Cope's statement of his plans, and his slight touch of pique did not pass away. Toward the end of the evening, he spoke of the wreck and the rescue, after all.
"Well," he said, "you are not so completely committed as I feared."
"By your new household arrangements."
"Well, I shall have back my chum."
Randolph put forward the alternative.
"I was afraid, for a moment, that you might be taking a wife."
"Yes. Such a rescue often leads straight to matrimony—in the story-books, anyhow."
Cope laughed, but with a slight disrelish. "We're in actual life still, I'm glad to think. What I said on one stretch of the shore goes on the other," he declared. "I don't feel any more inclination to wedded life than ever, nor any likelihood"—here he spoke with effort, as if conscious of a possible danger on some remote horizon—"of entering it."
"It would have been sudden, wouldn't it?" commented Randolph, with a short laugh. "Well," he went on, "one who inclines to hospitality must work with the material at his disposal. I shall be glad, on some occasion or other," he proceeded, with a slight trace of formality creeping into his tone, "to entertain your friend."
"I shall be more than glad," replied Cope, "to have you meet."
COPE AT THE CALL OF DUTY
Cope took his own time in calling upon the Ashburn Avenue circle; but he finally made, in person, the inquiries for which those made by telephone were an inadequate substitute. Yet he waited so long that, only a few hours before the time he had set, he received a sweet but somewhat urgent little note from Amy Leffingwell suggesting his early appearance. He felt obliged to employ the first moments of his call in explaining that he had been upon the point of coming, anyway, and that he had set aside the present hour two or three days before for this particular purpose: an explanation, he acknowledged inwardly, which held no great advantage for him.
"Why am I spinning such stuff?" he asked himself impatiently.
Amy's note of course minimized her aid to him and magnified his aid to her. All this was in accord with established form, but it was in still stronger accord with her determination to idealize his share in the incident. His arm had grasped hers firmly—and she felt it yet. But when she went on to say—not for the first time, nor for the second—how kind and sympathetic he had been in supporting her chin against those slapping waves when the shore had seemed so far away, he wondered whether he had really done so. For a moment or two, possibly; but surely not as part of a conscious, reasoned scheme to save.
"She was doing all right enough," he muttered in frowning protest.
Neither did he welcome Mrs. Phillips' tendency to make him a hero. She was as willing as the girl herself to believe that he had kept Amy's chin above water—not for a moment merely, but through most of the transit to shore. He sat there uneasily, pressing his thumbs between his palms and his closed fingers and drawing up his feet crampingly within their shoes; yet it somewhat eased his tension to find that Medora Phillips was disposed to put Amy into a subordinate place: Amy had been but a means to an end—her prime merit consisted in having given him a chance to function. Any other girl would have done as well. A slight relief, but a welcome.
Another mitigation: the house, the room, was full of people. The other young women of the household were present; even the young business-man who had understood the stove and the pump had looked in: no chance for an intense, segregated appreciation. There had been another weekend at the dunes, when this youth had nimbly ranged the forest and the beach to find wood for the great open fireplace; and he had come, now, at the end of the season, to make due acknowledgments for privileges enjoyed. He, for his part, was willing enough to regard Amy as a heroine; but he considered her as a heroine linked with the wrong man and operative in the wrong place. He cared nothing in the world for Cope, and disparaged him as before—when he did not ignore him altogether. If Amy had but been rescued by him, George F. Pearson, instead of by this Bertram Cope, and if she had been snatched from a disorderly set of breakers at the foot of those disheveled sandhills instead of from the prim, prosy, domestic edge of Churchton—well, wouldn't the affair have been better set and better carried off? In such case it might have been picturesque and heroic, instead of slightly silly.
Yes, the room was full. Even Joseph Foster had contrived to get himself brought down by Peter: further practice for the day when he should make a still more ambitious flight and dine at Randolph's new table. He sat in a dark corner of the room and tried to get, as best he might, the essential hang of the situation: the soft, insidious insistence of Amy; the momentum and bravado of his sister-in-law; the veiled disparagement of Cope in which George F. Pearson, seated on a sofa between Carolyn and Hortense, indulged for their benefit, or for his own relief; above all, he listened for tones and undertones from Cope himself. He had never seen Cope before (if indeed it could be said that he really saw him now), and he had never heard his speaking voice save at a remove of two floors. Cope had taken his hand vigorously, as that of the only man (among many women) from whom he had much to expect, and had given him a dozen words in a loud tone which seemed to correspond with his pressure. But Cope's voice, in his hearing, had lapsed from resonance to non-resonance, and from that to tonelessness, and from that to quietude.... Was the fellow in process of making a long diminuendo—a possible matter of weeks or of months? As before, when confronted by what had once seemed a paragon of dash and vigor, he scarcely knew whether to be exasperated or appeased.
Through this variety of spoken words and unspoken thoughts Hortense sat silent and watchful. Presently the talk lapsed: with the best will in the world a small knot of people cannot go on elaborately embroidering upon a trivial incident forever. There was a shifting of groups, a change in subjects. Yet Hortense continued to glower and to meditate. What had the incident really amounted to? What did the man himself really amount to? She soon found herself at his side, behind the library-table and its spreading lamp-shade. He was silently handling a paper-cutter, with his eyes cast down.
"See me!" she said, in a tense, vibratory tone. "Speak to me!"—and she glowered upon him. "I am no kitten, like Amy. I am no tame tabby, like Carolyn, sending out written invitations. Throw a few poor words my way."
Cope dropped the paper-cutter. Her address was like a dash of brine in the face, and he welcomed it.
"Tell me; did you look absurd—then?" she dashed ahead.
A return to fresh water, after all! "Why," he rejoined reluctantly, "no man, dressed in all his clothes, looks any the better for being soaked through."
"And Amy,—she must have looked absolutely ridiculous! That wide, flapping hat, and all! I had been telling her for weeks that it was out of style."
"She threw it away," said Cope shortly. "And I suppose her hair looked as well as a woman's ever does, when she's in the water."
"Well," she observed, "it's one thing to be ridiculous and another to go on being ridiculous. I hope you don't mean to do that?"
The pronoun "you" has its equivocal aspects. Her expression, while marked enough, threw no clear light. Cope took the entire onus on himself.
"Of course no man would choose to be ridiculous—still less to stay so. Do, please, let me keep on dry land; I'm beginning to feel water-logged." He shifted his ground. "Why do you try to make it seem that I don't care to talk with you?"
"Because you don't. Haven't I noticed it?"
"I haven't. It seems to me that I——"
"Of course you haven't. Does that make it any better?"
"I'm sure the last thing in the world I should want to do would be to——"
"I know. Would be to show partiality. To fail in treating all alike. Even that small programme isn't much—nor likely to please any girl; but you have failed to carry it out, small as it is. Here in this house, there on the dunes, what have I been—and where? Put into any obscure corner, lost in the woods, left off somewhere on the edge of things...."
Cope stared and tried to stem her protests. She was of the blood,—her aunt's own niece. But whereas Medora Phillips sometimes "scrapped," as he called it, merely to promote social diversion and to keep the conversational ball a-rolling, this young person, a more vigorous organism, and with decided, even exaggerated ideas as to her dues... Well, the room was still full, and he was glad enough of it.
"I don't know whether I like you or not," she went on, in a low, rapid tone; "and I don't suppose you very much like me; but I won't go on being ignored....
"Ignored? Why," stammered Cope, "my sense of obligation to this house——"
She shrugged scornfully. His sense of obligation had been made none too apparent. Certainly it had not been brought into line with her deserts and demands.
Cope took up the paper-cutter again and looked out across the room. Amy Leffingwell, questioningly, was looking across at him. He could change feet—if that made the general discomfort of his position any less. He did so.
Amy was standing near the piano and held a sheet or two of new music in her hands. And Medora Phillips, with a word of general explication and direction, made the girl's intention clear. Amy had a new song for baritone, with a violin obbligato and the usual piano accompaniment, and Cope was to sing it. 'Twas an extremely simple thing, quite within his compass; and Carolyn, who could read easy music at sight ("It's awfully easy," declared Amy), would play the piano part; and Amy herself would perform the obbligato (with no statement as to whether it was simple or not).
Carolyn approached the task and the piano in the passive spirit of accommodation. Cope came forward with reluctance: this was not an evening when he felt like singing; besides, he preferred to choose his own songs. Also, he would have preferred to warm up on something familiar. Amy took her instrument from its case with a suppressed sense of ecstasy; and it is the ecstatic who generally sets the pace.
The thing went none too well. Amy was the only one who had seen the music before, and she was the only one who particularly wanted to make music now. However, the immediate need was not that the song should go well, but that it should go: that it should go on, that it should go on and on, repetitiously, until it should come (or even not come) to go better. She slid her bow across the strings with tasteful passion. She enjoyed still more than her own tones the tones of Cope's voice,—tones which, whether in happy unison with hers or not, were, after all, seldom misplaced, whatever they may have lacked in heartiness and confidence. It was a short piece, and on the third time it went rather well.
"How perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Mrs. Phillips, at the right moment.
Cope smiled deprecatingly. "It might be made to go very nicely," he said.
"It has gone very nicely," insisted Amy; "it did, this last time." She waved her bow with some vivacity. She had heaved the whole of her young self into the work; she had been buoyed up by Cope's tones, which, with repetition, had gathered assurance if not expressiveness; and she based her estimate of the general effect on the impression which her own inner nature had experienced. And her impression was heightened when Pearson, forging forward, and ignoring both Cope and Carolyn, thanked her richly and emphatically for her part—a part which, to him, seemed the whole.
Hortense, who had kept her place behind the large lampshade, twisted her interlocked fingers and said no word. Foster, who had disposed himself on an inconspicuous couch, kept his own counsel. After all, omne ignotum: Cope's singing had sounded better from upstairs. At close range a ringing assertiveness had somehow failed.
Cope had come with no desire to extend his stay beyond the limits of an evening call. He declined to sing on his own account, and soon rose as if to make his general adieux.
"You won't give us one of your own songs, then?" asked Medora Phillips, in a disappointed tone. "And at my dinner——"
No, she could not quite say that, at her dinner, Cope, whatever he had failed to do, had contributed no measure of entertainment for her guests.
"Give us a recitation, then," persisted Medora; "or tell us a story. Or make up"—here she indulged herself in an airily imperious flight—"a story of your own on the spot."
A trifling request, truly. But——
"Heavens!" said Cope. "I am not an author—still less an improvvisatore."
"I am sure you could be," returned Medora fondly. "Just try."
Cope sat down again and began to run his eye uncomfortably about the room, as if dredging the air for an idea. Behind one corner of a mirror was a large bunch of drying leaves. They had been brought in from the sand dunes as a decorative souvenir of the autumn, and had kept their place through mere inertia: an oak bough, once crimson and russet; a convoluted length of bittersweet, to which a few split berries still clung; and a branch of sassafras, with its intriguing variety of leaves—a branch selected, in fact, because it gave, within narrow compass, the plant's entire scope and repertoire as to foliage.
Cope caught at the sassafras as a falling balloonist catches at his parachute.
"Well," he said, still reluctant and fumbling, "perhaps I can devise a legend: the Legend, let us say, of the Sassafras Bush."
"Good!" cried Medora heartily.
Pearson, whispering to Amy Leffingwell, gave little heed to Cope and his strained endeavor to please Mrs. Phillips. Foster, quite passive, listened with curiosity for what might come.
"Or perhaps you would prefer folk-lore," Cope went on. "Why the Sassafras has Three Kinds of Leaves, or something like that."
"Better yet!" exclaimed Medora. "Listen, everybody. Why the Sassafras has Three Kinds of Leaves."
Pearson stopped his buzzings, and Cope began. "The Wood-nymphs," he said slowly, "were a nice enough lot of girls, but they labored under one great disadvantage: they had no thumbs."
Hortense pricked up her ears. Did he mean to be personal? If so, he should find that one of the nymphs had a whole hand as surely as he himself had a cheek.
Cope paused. "Of course you've got to postulate something," he submitted apologetically.
"Of course," Medora agreed.
"So when they bought their gloves, or mittens, or whatever their handgear might be called, they usually patronized the hickory or the beech or some other tree with leaves that were——"
"Ovate!" cried Medora delightedly.
"Ovate, yes; or whatever just the right word may be. But a good many of them traded at the Sign of the Sassafras, where they found leaves that were similar, but rather more delicate."
"I believe he's going to do it," thought Foster.
"Yet the nymphs knew that they lacked thumbs and kept on wanting them. So, during the long, dull winter, they put their minds to it, and finally thumbs came."
"Will-power!" said Medora.
"And early in April they went to the Sassafras and said: 'We have thumbs! We have thumbs! So we need a different sort of mitten.'
"The Sassafras was only half awake. 'Thumbs?' he repeated. 'How many?'
"'Two!' cried the nymphs. 'Two!'
"A passing breeze roused the Sassafras. He became at least three-quarters awake."
"I doubt it," muttered Hortense.
"'That's interesting,' he said. 'I aim to supply all new needs. Come back in a month or so, and meanwhile I'll see what I can do for you.'
"In May the nymphs returned with their thumbs and asked, 'How about our new mittens?'"
The story was really under way now, and Cope went on with more confidence and with greater animation.
"'Look and see,' said the Sassafras.
"They looked and saw. Among its simple ordinary leaves were several with two lobes—one on each side. 'Will these do?'
"'Do?' said the nymphs. 'We said we had two thumbs, but we meant one on each hand, stupid. Do? We should say not!'
"The Sassafras was mortified. 'Well,' he said, 'that's all I can manage this season. I'm sorry not to have understood you young ladies and your needs. Come back again next spring.'
"It was a long time to wait, but they waited. Next May——"
Amy, now unworried by George Pearson, began to get the thread of the thing. Foster was sure the thread would run through. Hortense was still alert for ulterior meanings. Poor Cope, however, had no ambition to spin a double thread,—a single one was all he was equal to.
"Next May the nymphs, after nursing their thumbs for a year——"
"——came back again; and there, among the plain leaves and the double- lobed leaves, were several fresh bright, smooth ones with a single lobe well to one side,—the very thing for mittens. And———"
"Yes, he has done it," Foster acknowledged.
"And that," ended Cope rather stridently, as he rose to go on the flood of a sudden yet unexpected success, "is Why the Sassafras——"
"Why the Sassafras has Three Kinds of Leaves!" cried Medora in triumph. Mittens for midsummer made no difficulty.
Cope gave Carolyn careful thanks for her support at the piano, and did not see that she felt he too could be a poet if he only would. He went out of his way to shake hands with Hortense, and did not realize how nearly a new quarrel had opened. He stepped over to do the like with Amy; but she went out with him into the hall,—the only one of the party who did,—and even accompanied him to the front door.
"Thank you so much," she said, looking up into his face smilingly and holding his hand with a long, clinging touch. "It went beautifully; and there are others that will go even better."
"Others?" He thought, for an instant, that she was thanking him for his Legend and was even threatening to regard him as a flowing fount of invention; but he soon realized that her mind was fixed exclusively on their duet—if such it was to be called.
"The deuce!" he thought. "Enough is enough."
Despite his success with the Sassafras, he went home discomforted and even flustered. That hand was too much like the hand of possession. The girl was stealing over him like a light, intangible vapor. He struck ahead with a quicker gait, as if trying to outwalk a creeping fog. One consolation, however: Hortense had come like a puff of wind. Even a second squall from the same quarter would not be altogether amiss.
And had there not been one further fleeting source of reassurance? Had he not, on leaving, caught through the open door of the drawing room an elevation of Medora Phillips' eyebrows which seemed to say fondly, indulgently, yet a bit ironically, "Oh, you foolish girl!"? Yet if a girl is foolish, and is going to persist in her folly, a lightly lifted pair of eyebrows will not always stay her course. Her gathering momentum is hardly to be checked by such slender means.
COPE FINDS HIMSELF COMMITTED
Amy Leffingwell, having written once, found it easier to write again. And having strolled along the edge of the bluff with Cope on that fateful Sunday, she found it natural to intercept him on other parts of the campus (where their paths might easily cross), or to stroll with him, after casual encounters carefully planned, through sheets of fallen leaves under the wide avenues of elms just outside. Her third note almost summoned him to a rendezvous. It annoyed him; but he might have been more than annoyed had he known of her writing, rather simply, to a rather simple mother in Fort Lodge, Iowa, about her hopes and her expectations. Her mother had, of course, heard in detail of the rescue; and afterward had heard in still greater detail, as the roseate lime-light of idealization had come to focus more exactly on the scene. She had had also an unaffected appreciation—or several—of Cope's personal graces and accomplishments. She had heard, lastly, of Cope's song to her daughter's obbligato: a duet in vacuo, since Carolyn had been suppressed and the surrounding company had been banished to a remote circumference. What wonder that she began to see her daughter and Bertram Cope in an admirable isolation and to intimate that she hoped, very soon, for definite news?
Well, not a few of us have met an Amy Leffingwell: some plump-faced, pink- cheeked child, with a delicate little concave nose not at all "strong," and a fine little chin none too vigorously moulded, and a pair of timid candid blue eyes shadowed by a wisp or so of fluffy hair—and have not always taken her for what she was. She "wouldn't hurt a kitten," we say; and we assume that her "striking out a line for herself" is the last thing she would try to do. Yet such an unimpressive and disarming facade may mask large chambers of stubbornness and tenacity.
Amy knew how long and hard she had thought of Cope, and she asked for some evidence that he had been thinking long and hard of her. She desired a "response." But, in fact, he had been thinking of her only when he must. He thought of her whenever he saw himself caught in that flapping sail, and he thought of her whenever he recalled that she had taken it on herself to select his songs. But he did not want her to make out-and-out demands on his time and attention. Still less did he want her to talk about "happiness." This had come to be her favorite topic, and she discoursed on it profusely: he was almost ungracious enough to say that she did so glibly. "Happiness"—that conventional bliss toward which she was turning her mind as they strolled together on these late November afternoons—was for him a long way ahead. How furnish a house, how clothe and feed a wife? —at least until his thesis should be written and a place, with a real salary, found in the academic world. How, even, buy an engagement ring— that costly superfluity? How even contrive to pay for all the small gifts and attentions which an engagement involved? Yet why ask himself such questions? For he was conscious of a fundamental repugnance to any such scheme of life and was acutely aware that—for awhile, at least, and perhaps for always—he wanted to live in quite a different mode.
Amy's confident assumptions began to fill the house, to alter its atmosphere. Medora Phillips, who had begun by raising her eyebrows in light criticism, now lowered them in frowning protest. She had found Cope "charming"; but this charm of his was to add to the attractiveness of her house and to give her a high degree of personal gratification. It was not to be frittered away; still less was it to be absorbed elsewhere. Hortense, who had been secretly at work on a portrait-sketch of Cope in oil, and rather despising herself for it, now began to make another bold picture in her own mind. She saw herself handing out the sketch to Cope in person, with an air of high bravado; she might say, if bad came to worse, that she had found some professional interest in his color or in his "planes." On one occasion Medora hardily requisitioned Cope for an evening at the theatre, in the city; miles in and miles back she had him in her car all to herself; and if Amy, next day, appeared to feel that wealth and organization had taken an unfair advantage of simple, honest love, Medora herself was troubled by no stirrings of conscience.
The new atmosphere reached even Foster on the top floor; and when, one evening in mid-December, he finally carried out his long-meditated plan to dine with Randolph, the household situation was uppermost in his mind. That he had not the clearest understanding of the situation did not diminish his interest in it. Though he sat in the dark, and far apart, some sense all his own, cultivated through years of deprivation, came to his aid. Peter brought him down the street and round the corner; and Randolph's Chinaman, fascinated by his green shade and his tortuous method of locomotion (once out of his wheeled-chair), did the rest. "You had better stay all night," Randolph had suggested; and he was glad to avoid a second awkward trip on the same evening.
Foster had wondered whether Cope would be present. He had not asked to meet him—for he hardly knew whether he wished to or not. Though this was an "occasion,"—and his,—he had left Randolph to act quite as he might choose. There was a third chair at table and Randolph delayed dinner ten minutes while waiting for it to be filled.
"Well, let's go in and sit down," he said presently, with a slight twist of the mouth. He spoke lightly, as if it were as easy for Foster to sit down as for himself. But Foster got into his place after a moment and contrived to spread his napkin over his legs.
"I expected Bertram Cope," Randolph went on; "but he isn't here, and I have no word from him and do not know whether——"
He paused, obviously at a loss.
"Not here?" repeated Foster. "Is there, then, one place where he is not?"
"Our house is full of him!" Foster burst out raucously. He had removed the green abat-jour, for the candle-shades (as they sometimes will) were performing their office. In the low but clear light his face seemed distorted.
"He rises to my floor like incense. The very halls and stairways reek with his charms and perfections."
"Well, you escape him here," said Randolph ruefully.
"The whole miserable place is steaming with expectation,—with the deadly aroma of a courtship going stale. I can't stand it! I can't stand it!"
"You may think it takes two, but it doesn't. That foolish girl has thrown the whole place into discomfort and confusion; and I don't know who's for or who's against——"
"What foolish girl?" asked Randolph quickly. Sing-Lo was at his elbow, changing plates: it was assumed, justly enough, that he would not be able to follow the intricacies of a situation purely occidental.
"Our Amy," replied Foster, with a dash of bitterness.
"Amy Leffingwell?" asked Randolph, still more quickly.
Foster had blind eyes, but alert ears. He felt that Randolph was surprised and displeased. And indeed his host was both. That boy fallen maladroitly in love? thought Randolph. It was a second check. He had exerted himself to show a friendliness for Cope, had expected to enjoy him while he stayed on for his months in town, and had hoped to help push his fortunes in whatever other field he might enter. He had even taken his present quarters—no light task, all the details considered—to make Cope's winter agreeable, no less than his own. And now? First the uncounted-upon friend from Wisconsin with whom Cope was arranging to live; next, this sudden, unexpected affair with that girl at Medora's. Did the fellow not know his own mind? Could he formulate no hard-and-fast plan? Here Randolph, in his disappointment, inconsistently forgot that a hard-and-fast plan was largely his real annoyance and grievance. Then he remembered. He looked at the vacant place, and tried for composure and justice.
"I shall probably hear some good reason, in due time," he said.
"I hope so," rejoined Foster; "but it takes these young fellows to be careless—and ungrateful." He made no pretense of ignoring the fact that Randolph had moved into this apartment more on account of Cope than for any other reason.
"H'm, yes," responded Randolph thoughtfully. "I suppose it is the tendency of a young fellow who has never quite stood on his own legs financially to accept about everything that comes his way, and to accept it as a matter of course."
"It is," said Foster.
"I know that I was that way," continued Randolph, looking studiously at the nearest candle-shade. "I was beyond the middle twenties before I quite launched out for myself, and any kindness received was taken without much question and without much thanks. I presume that he still has some assistance from home...."
He dropped youthful insouciance over favors received to consider the change that marriage makes in a young man's status. "I wouldn't go so far as to assert that a young man married is a man that's marred——"
"This is stiff doctrine," Foster acknowledged.
"But somehow he does seem done for. He is placed; he is cut off from wide ranges of interesting possibilities; he offers himself less invitingly to the roving imagination...."
Meanwhile Cope, with Randolph's invitation driven altogether from his mind by more urgent matters, was pacing the streets, through the first snow- flurries of the winter, and was wondering, rather distractedly, just where he stood. Precisely what words, at a very brief yet critical juncture, had he said, or not said? Exactly how had he phrased—or failed to phrase—the syllables which constituted, perhaps, a turning-point in his life?
Amy Leffingwell had demanded his attendance for one more walk, that afternoon, and he had not been dextrous enough, face to face with her, to refuse. She had expressed herself still more insistently on "happiness"— (on hers, his, theirs; the two were one, in her view)—and on a future shared together. In just what inadequate way had he tried to fend her off? Had he said, "I shall have to wait?" Or had his blundering tongue said, instead, "We should have to wait?"—or even worse, "We shall have to wait?" In any event, he had used that cowardly, temporizing word "wait"—for she had instantly seized upon it. Why, yes, indeed; she was willing to wait; she had expected to wait....
He turned out from an avenue lighted with electric globes, past which the snowflakes were drifting, and entered a quieter and darker side-street. In the dusk she had put up her face, expecting to be kissed; and he, partly out of pity for the expression that came when he hesitated, and partly out of pure embarrassment and inexpertness, had lightly touched her lips. That had sealed it, possibly. He saw her sitting in rapt fancy in her bedroom— if not more vocal in the rooms below. He saw her writing to an unseen mother in a tone of joyful complacency, and looking at her finger for a ring which he could not place there. He saw the distaste of his own home circle, to which this event had come at least a year too soon. He saw the amazement, and worse, of Arthur Lemoyne, whose plans for coming to town were now all made and to whom this turn would prove a psychological shock which might deter him from coming at all. But, most of all, he saw—and felt to the depths of his being—his own essential repugnance to the life toward which he now seemed headed. What an outlook for Christmas! What an unpleasant surprise for his parents! What opportunity in Amy Leffingwell's holiday vacation at Fort Lodge to reinforce the written page by the spoken word! Still forgetful of his engagement with Randolph, he continued to walk the streets. He turned in at midnight, hoping he might sleep, and trusting that morning would throw a less sinister light on his misadventure.
Long before this, Joseph Foster had been put to bed, by Sing-Lo, in this spare room. It was Foster's crutch, rather than a knightly sword, which leaned against the door-jamb; and it was Foster's crooked members, rather than the straight young limbs of Cope, which first found place among the sheets and blankets of that shining new brass bedstead.
COPE HAS A DISTRESSFUL CHRISTMAS
Cope awakened at seven. After an early interval of happy lightness, there came suddenly and heavily the crushing sense of his predicament. How monstrous it was that one instant of time, one ill-considered action, one poorly-chosen word could clamp a repellent burden on a man for the rest of his life!
Well, he must expect telephone messages and letters. They came. That afternoon Mrs. Peck had "a lady's voice" to report: "It sounded like a young lady's voice," she added. And she looked at Cope with some curiosity: a "young lady" asking for him over the wire was the rarest thing in the world.
Next day came the first note. The handwriting was utterly new to him; but his intuition, applied instantly to the envelope, told him of the source. The nail, driven, was now to be clinched. She had the right to ask him to come; and she did ask him to come—"soon."
Cope's troubled eyes sought the calendar above his table. How many days to Christmas? How much time might he spend in Freeford? How long before Christmas might he arrange to leave Churchton? The holidays at home loomed as a harbor of refuge. By shortening as far as possible the interval here and by lengthening as far as possible the stay with his family, he might cut down, in some measure, the imminent threatenings of awkwardness and constraint; then, beyond the range of anything but letters, he might study the unpleasant situation at his leisure and determine a future course.
He set himself to answer Amy's note. He hoped, he said, to see her in a few days, but he was immensely busy in closing the term-work before the holidays; he also suggested that their affair—"their" affair!—be kept quiet for the present. Yet he had all too facile a vision of beatific meditations that were like enough to give the situation away to all the household; and he was nervously aware of Amy Leffingwell as continually on the verge of bubbling confidences.
He also wrote to Lemoyne. His letter was less an announcement than a confession.
"I like this!" began Lemoyne's reply, with abrupt, impetuous sarcasm. "You have claimed, more than once," he went on, "to have steadied me and kept me out of harm's way; but I've never yet made any such demands on you as you are making on me. This thing can't go on, and you know it as well as I do. Nip it. Nip it now. Don't think that our intimacy is to end in any such fashion as this, for it isn't—especially at this particular time."...
Lemoyne proceeded to practical matters. "If that room is still free, engage it from the first of January. I will have a few things sent down. Father is weakening a little. Anyhow, I've got enough money for a couple of months. I will join you in Freeford between Christmas and New Year's (nearer the latter, probably), and we will go back together."...
Cope rather took heart from these rough, outspoken lines. Lemoyne was commonly neither rough nor outspoken; but here was an emergency, involving his own interests, which must be dealt with decisively. Cope seemed to feel salvation on the way. Perhaps that was why he still did so little to save himself. He took the new room; he had one meeting with Amy; and he left for home at least two days before he was strictly entitled to do so.
The meeting took place in Mrs. Phillips' drawing-room; he would trust himself to no more strolls on the campus, to no more confabs in college halls. There was protection in numbers, and numbers seldom failed beneath Medora Phillips' roof. They failed this time, however. Mrs. Phillips and Hortense were away at a reading; only Amy and Carolyn were at home. Cope seized on Carolyn as at a straw. He thanked her warmly again for her halting offices in the matter of that last song, and he begged that he might hear some of her recent verse. His appeal was vehement, almost boisterous: Carolyn, surprised, felt that he was ready at last to grant her a definite personality.
Amy tried in vain to remove Carolyn from the board. But Carolyn, like Hortense, had finally joined the ranks of the "recognized"; she was determined (being still ignorant, Cope was glad to see, regarding Amy's claims) to make this recognition so marked as to last beyond the moment. She played a little—not well. She read. She even accompanied Amy to the door at the close of Cope's short stay. He shook hands with them both. He had decided that he would do no more than this with Amy, in any event, and Carolyn's presence made his predetermined course easy, even obligatory. Yet he went out into the night feeling, somehow, that he had acted solely on his resolution and that he might consider himself a man of some decisiveness, after all. Amy had looked disappointed, but had contrived to whisper that she would write from Iowa. That, of course, was to be looked for, and would represent the combined efforts of herself and her home circle; yet he had a fortnight for consideration and counsel.
Cope, during his first few days at home, was moody and abstracted: his parents found him adding little to the Christmas cheer. His mother, always busy over domestic cares and now busier than ever, thought that he must have been working too hard. She would stand in the kitchen door with a half-trimmed pie on one hand and ponder him as he sat in the dining-room, staring absorbedly at the Franklin stove. His father, who saw him chiefly in the evening, by the gas-light of the old-fashioned house, found his face slightly pinched: was his pocket pinched too, and would he be likely, before leaving, to ask help toward making up a deficit? His sister Rosalys, who lived a life of dry routine, figured him as deep in love. He let several days pass without hinting what the real situation was.
There was interest all round when, the day before Christmas, the postman came along the bleak and flimsy street and left a letter for him. Cope was away from the house, and Rosalys, studying the envelope's penmanship and even its postmark, found vague confirmation of her theory: some college girl—one of his own students, probably—was home on vacation just as he was. If so, a "small town" person of caste and character like themselves; not brilliant, but safe. She set up the letter edgewise on the back parlor mantelpiece.
When Cope came in at noon and saw the letter, his face fell. He put it in his pocket, sat silent at table, and disappeared as soon as the meal was over. Rosalys, whose pupils were off her mind for a few days and who had thought to spare, began to shade her theory.
Cope read the letter in the low-ceiled back bedroom (the ceiling sloped away on one side) which had been his for so many years. Those years of happy boyhood—how far away they seemed now, and how completely past! Surely he had never thought to come back to these familiar walls to such effect as this.... Well, what did it say?
It said, in its four pages (yes, Amy had really limited herself thus), how joyous she was that the dear Christmas season had brought her such a beautiful love-gift; it said that mother was so pleased and happy—and even mentioned a sudden aunt; it said how willingly she would wait on until....
That evening Cope made his announcement. They were all seated round the reading-lamp in the back parlor, where the old Brussels carpet looked dim and where only venerated age kept the ornate French clock from seeming tawdry. Cope looked down at the carpet and up at the clock, and spoke.
Yes, they must have it.
His mother took the shock first and absorbed most of it. She led a humdrum life and she was ready to welcome romance. To help adjust herself she laid her hands, with a soft, sweeping motion, on the two brown waves that drew smoothly across her temples, and then she transferred them to his, held his head, and gave him a kiss. Rosalys took his two hands warmly and smiled, and he tried to smile back. His father twisted the tip of his short gray beard, watched his son's mien, and said little. Day after to-morrow, with the major part of their small Christmas festivities over, he would ask how this unexpected and unwarranted situation had come about, and how, in heaven's name, the thing was to be carried through: by what means, with whose help?... In his complex of thought the word "thesis" came to his tongue, but he kept from speaking it. He had been advised that his son had at last struck out definitely into some bookish bypath—just what bypath mattered little, he gathered, if it were but followed to the end. Yet the end was still far—and the boy evidently realized this. He was glad that Bertram was sober over the prospect and over his present plan—which was a serious undertaking, just now, in truth.
Cope had to adjust himself to all this, and to endure, besides, the congratulations—or the comments—of a number of tiresome relatives; and it was a relief when, on the twenty-ninth, Arthur Lemoyne finally arrived.
Lemoyne had been heralded as a young man of parts, and as the son of a family which enjoyed, in Winnebago, some significant share of worldly prosperity, and, therefore, of social consideration. The simpler Copes, putting him in the other back bedroom, the ceiling of which sloped the opposite way, wondered if they were quite giving him his just dues. When Rosalys came to set away his handbag and to rearrange, next morning, his brushes on the top of the dresser, she gathered from various indications supplied by his outfit that the front chamber, at whatever inconvenience to whomever, would have been more suitable. But, "Never mind," said her mother; "they'll do very well as they are—side by side, with the door conveniently between. Then Bert can look after him a little more and we a little less."
Lemoyne presented himself to the combined family gaze as a young man of twenty-seven or so, with dark, limpid eyes, a good deal of dark, wavy hair, and limbs almost too plumply well-turned. In his hands the flesh minimized the prominence of joints and knuckles, and the fingers (especially the little fingers) displayed certain graceful, slightly affected movements of the kind which may cause a person to be credited—or taxed—with possessing the "artistic temperament." To end with, he carried two inches of short black stubble under his nose. He was a type which one may admire—or not. Rosalys Cope found in him a sort of picturesque allure. Rather liking him herself, she found a different reason for her brother's liking. "If Bert cares for him," she remarked, "I suppose it's largely by contrast—he's so spare and light-colored himself."
It was evident that, on this first meeting, Lemoyne meant to ingratiate himself—to make himself attractive and entertaining. He had determined to say a thing or two before he went away, and it would be advantageous to consolidate his position.
He had had five or six hours of cross-country travel, with some tedious waits at junctions, and at about ten o'clock, after some showy converse, he acknowledged himself tired enough for bed. Cope saw him up, and did not come down again. The two talked till past eleven; and even much later, when light sleepers in other parts of the house were awake for a few minutes, muffled sounds from the same two voices reached their ears.
But Cope's words, many as they were, told Lemoyne nothing that he did not know, little that he had not divined. The sum of all was this: Cope did not quite know how he had got into it; but he knew that he was miserable and wanted to get out of it.
Lemoyne had asked, first of all, to see the letter from Iowa. "Oh, come," Cope had replied, half-bashful, half-chivalrous, "you know it wasn't written for anybody but me."
"The substance of it, then," Lemoyne had demanded; and Cope, reluctant and shame-faced, had given it. "You've never been in anything of this sort, you know," he submitted.
"I should say not!" Lemoyne retorted. "Nor you, either. You're not in it now,—or, if you are, you're soon going to be out of it. You would help me through a thing like this, and I'm going to help you."
The talk went on. Lemoyne presented the case for a broken engagement. Engagements, as it was well known to human experience, might, if quickly made, be as quickly unmade: no novelty in that. "I had never expected to double up with an engaged man," Lemoyne declared further. "Nothing especially jolly about that—least of all when the poor wretch is held dead against his will." As he went on, he made Cope feel that he had violated an entente of long standing, and had almost brought a trusting friend down from home under false pretenses.
But phrases from Amy's letter continued to plague Cope. There was a confiding trust, a tender who-could-say-just-what?...
"Well," said Lemoyne, at about two o'clock, "let's put it off till morning. Turn over and go to sleep."
But before he fell asleep himself he resolved that he would make the true situation clear next day. He would address that sympathetic mother and that romantic sister in suitably cogent terms; the father, he felt sure, would require no effort and would even welcome his aid with a strong sense of relief.
So next day, Lemoyne, deploying his natural graces and his dramatic dexterities, drew away the curtain. He did not go so far as to say that Bertram had been tricked; he did not even go so far as to say that he had been inexpert: he contented himself with saying that his friend had been over-chivalrous and that his fine nature had rather been played upon. The mother took it all with a silent, inexpressive thoughtfulness, though it was felt that she did not want her boy to be unhappy. Rosalys, if she admired Lemoyne a little more, now liked him rather less. Her father, when the declaration reached him by secondary impact, did feel the sense of relief which Lemoyne had anticipated, and came to look upon him as an able, if somewhat fantastic, young fellow.
Cope himself, when his father questioned him, said with frank disconsolateness, "I'm miserable!" And, "I wish to heaven I were out of it!" he added.
"Get out of it," his father counselled; and when Cope's own feelings were clearly known through the household there was no voice of dissent. "And then buckle down for your degree," the elder added, to finish.
"If I only could!" exclaimed Cope, with a wan face,—convinced, youthfully, that the trouble through which he was now striving must last indefinitely. "I should be glad enough to get my mind on it, I'm sure."
He walked away to reconstruct a devastated privacy. "Arthur, I'm not quite sure that I thank you," he said, later.
"H'm!" replied Lemoyne non-committally. "I hope," he added, more definitely articulate, "that we're going to have a pleasanter life in our new quarters. I'm getting mighty little pleasure—if you'll just understand me —here!"
COPE, SAFEGUARDED, CALLS AGAIN
If Cope came back from Freeford with the moral support of one family, Amy Leffingwell came back from Fort Lodge with the moral support of another. Hers was a fragmental family, true; but its sentiment was unanimous; she had the combined support of a pleased mother and of an enthusiastic maiden aunt.
Amy reached Churchton first, and it soon transpired through the house in which she lived that she was engaged to Bertram Cope. Cope, returning two days later, with Lemoyne, found his new status an open book to the world— or to such a small corner of the world as cared to read.
Cope had written from Freeford, explaining to Randolph the broken dinner- engagement: at least he had said that immediate concerns of importance had driven the date from his mind, and that he was sorry. Randolph, only too willing to accept any fair excuse, good-naturedly made this one serve: the boy was not so negligent and ungrateful, after all. He got the rest of the story a few days later, in a message from Foster. What was the boy, then? he asked himself. He recalled their talk as they had walked past the sand-hills on that October Sunday. Cope had disclaimed all inclination for matrimony. He had confessed a certain inability to safeguard himself. Was he a victim, after all? A victim to his own ineptitude? A victim to his own highmindedness? Well, whatever the alternative, a field for the work of the salvage-corps had opened.
At the big house on Ashburn Avenue a like feeling had come to prevail. Medora Phillips herself had passed from the indulgently satirical to the impatient, and almost to the indignant. Her niece thought the new relation clearly superfluous. She put away the portrait in oil, but she rather hoped to resume work on it, some time. Meanwhile, she was far from kind to Amy.
Cope soon made an obligatory appearance at the house. He was glad enough to have the presence and the support of Arthur Lemoyne. The call came on a rigorous evening at the beginning of the second week in January. The two young men had about brought their new quarters to shape and subjection. They had spent two or three evenings in shifting and rearranging things— trifling purchases in person and larger things sent by express. They had reached a good degree of snugness and comfort; but——
"We've got to go tonight!" said Cope firmly.
"Tonight?" repeated Lemoyne. "Unless I'm mistaken, we're in for a deuce of a time." He snuggled again into the big easy chair that had just arrived from Winnebago.
"We are!" returned Cope, with unhappy mien. "But it's got to be gone through with."
"I'm talking about the weather," rejoined Lemoyne plumply. He was versed in the reading of signs as they presented themselves a hundred and fifty miles to the north, and he thought he could accurately apply his experience to a locale somewhat beyond his earlier ken. The vast open welter of water to the east would but give the roaring north wind a greater impetus. "We're going to have tonight, the storm of the season."
"Storm or no storm, I can't put it off any longer. I've got to go."
As they started out the wind was keen, and a few fine flakes, driven from the north, flew athwart their faces. When they reached Mrs. Phillips' house, Peter, wrapped in furs, was sitting in the limousine by the curb, and two or three people were seen in the open door of the vestibule.
"Well, the best of luck, cher Professeur," Cope heard the voice of Mrs. Phillips saying, in a quick expulsion of syllables. "This is going to be a bad night, I'm afraid; but I hope your audience will get to the hall to hear you, and that our Pierre will be able to get you back to us."
"Oh, Madame," returned the plump little man, "what a climate!" And he ran down the walk to the car.
Yes, Mrs. Phillips had another celebrity on her hands. It was an eminent French historian who was going across to the campus to deliver the second lecture of his course. "How lucky," she had said to Hortense, just after dinner, "that we went to hear him last night!" Their visitor was handsomely accommodated—and suitably, too, she felt—in the Louis Quinze chamber, and he was expected back in it a little after ten.
"Why, Bertram Cope!" she exclaimed, as the two young men came up the walk while the great historian ran down; "come in, come in; don't let me stand here freezing!"
It turned out to be a young man's night. Mrs. Phillips had invited a few "types" to entertain and instruct her Frenchman. They had come to dinner, and they had stayed on afterward.
Among them was the autumn undergraduate whom Cope, at an earlier day, had disdainfully called "Phaon," a youth of twenty. "You know," said Medora Phillips to Randolph, a few days later, when reviewing the stay of her newest guest, "Those sophisticated, world-worn people so appreciate our fresh, innocent, ingenuous boys. M. Pelouse told me, on leaving, that Roddy quite met his ideal of the young American. So open-faced, so inexperienced, so out of the great world...."
"Good heavens!" said Randolph impatiently. "Do they constitute the world? You might think so,—going about giving us awards, and hanging medals on us, and certifying how well we speak French! Fudge! The world is changing. It would be better," he added, "if more of us—college students included— learned how to speak a decenter English. I went to their dramatic club the other evening. Such pronunciation! Such delivery! I almost longed for the films."
A second "young American" was present—George F. Pearson. Pearson lived with his parents in another big house a block down the street. Mrs. Phillips had summoned him as a type that was purely indigenous—the "young American business man." Pearson had just made a "kill," as he called it—a coup executed quite without the aid of his father, and he was too full of his success to keep still; he was more typical than ever. The Professor had looked at him in staring wonder. So had Amy Leffingwell—in the absence of another target for her large, intent eyes.
But Medora Phillips knew all about George and Roddy. The novelty was Lemoyne, and she must learn about him. She readily seized the points that composed his personal aspect, which she found good: his general darkness and richness made him a fine foil for Cope. She quickly credited him with a pretty complete battery of artistic aptitudes and apprehensions. She felt certain that he would appreciate her ballroom and picture-gallery, and would figure well within it. The company was young, the night was wild, and cheer was the word. She presently led the way upstairs. Foster, as soon as he heard the first voices in the hall and the first footfalls on the bare treads of the upper stairs, shut his door.
Lemoyne felt the big bare room—bare save for a piano and a fringe of chairs and settles, large and small—as a stage; and he surmised that he, the new-comer, was expected to exhibit himself on it. He became consciously the actor. He tried now the assertive note, and now the quiet note; somehow the quiet was the louder of the two. Pearson, who was in a conquering mood tonight, scented a rival in the general attention, and one not wholly unworthy. Pearson was the only one of the four in evening dress, and he felt that to be an advantage. He, at least, had been properly attired to meet the elegant visitor from abroad. As for poor Roddy, he had come in an ordinary sack: perhaps it was partly this which had prompted M. Pelouse (who was of course dressed for the platform) to find the boy such a paragon of simple innocence.
All costumes were alike to Lemoyne; he had appeared in dozens. If he lacked costume now, he made it up in manner. He had bestowed an immensity of manner on Amy Leffingwell, downstairs: his cue had been a high, delicate, remote gravity. "I know, I know," he seemed to say; "and I make no comment." Upstairs he kept close by Cope: he was proprietary; he was protective. If Cope settled down in a large chair, Lemoyne would drape himself over the arm of it; and his hand would fall, as like as not, on the back of the chair, or even on Cope's shoulder. And when he came to occupy the piano-stool, Cope, standing alongside, would lay a hand on his. Mrs. Phillips noticed these minor familiarities and remarked on them to Foster, who had lately wheeled his chair in. Foster, a few days later, passed the comment on to Randolph, with an astringent comment of his own.—At all events, Amy Leffingwell remained in the distance, and George Pearson shared the distance with her.
Foster had broken from his retirement on hearing the voices of Cope and Lemoyne combined in song. The song was "Larboard Watch," and he remembered how his half-brother had sung in it during courtship, with the young fellow who had acted, later, as his best man. Lemoyne, at the first word of invitation, had seated himself at the instrument—a lesser than the "grand" downstairs, but not unworthy; then, with but a measure or so of prelude, the two voices had begun to ring out in the old nautical ballad. Lemoyne felt the composition to be primitive, antiquated and of slight value; but he had received his cue, and both his throat and his hands wrought with an elaborate expressiveness. He sang and played, if not with sincerity, at least with effect. His voice was a high, ringing tenor; not too ringing for Cope's resonant baritone, but almost too sweet: a voice which might cloy (if used alone) within a few moments. Cope was a perfect second, and the two went at it with a complete unity of understanding and of sentiment. Together they viewed—in thirds—"the gath'ring clouds"; together—still in thirds—they roused themselves "at the welcome call" of "Larboard watch, ahoy!" Disregarding the mere words, they attained, at the finish, to something like feeling—or even like a touch of passion. Medora Phillips had never heard Cope sing like that before; had never seen so much animation in his singing face. By the fourth bar there had been tears in her eyes, and there was a catch in her breath when she exclaimed softly, "You dear boys!" It was too soon, of course, to make Lemoyne "dear"—the one boy was Cope. It was really his voice which she had heard through the soaring, insinuating tones of the other. Foster, sitting beside her, suddenly raised his shade and peered out questioningly, both at the singers and at his sister-in-law. He seemed surprised—and more.
Pearson was surprised too, but kept his applause within limits. However, he praised Lemoyne for his accompaniment. Then he begged Amy for an air on the violin; and while they were determining who should play her accompaniment, the wind raged more wildly round the gables and the thickening snow drove with a fiercer impetus against the windows.
Lemoyne (who was a perfectly good sight-reader) begged that he might not be condemned to spoil another's performance. This was the result of an understanding between Cope and himself that neither was to contribute further. Presently a simple piece was selected through which the unskilled Carolyn might be trusted to pick her way. Cope listened with a decorous attention which was designed to indicate the highest degree of sympathetic interest; but his attitude, so finely composed within, yet so ineffectively displayed without, was as nothing to the loud promptness of Pearson's praise. Amy glanced at Cope with questioning surprise; but she met Pearson's excesses of commendation with a gratified smile.
Shortly before ten o'clock there was a stir at the front door. Mrs. Phillips rose hastily. "It is M. Pelouse; let me go down and pet him."
Yes, it was M. Pelouse. "Oh, Madame!" he said, as before, but with an expressiveness doubly charged, "what a climate!" He was panting and was covered with fine snow. Behind him was Peter, looking very grave and dour.
"Shall I be wanted further?" asked Peter in a tense tone, and with no trace of his usual good-natured smile.
"What! Again?" cried Mrs. Phillips, while Helga, farther up the hall, was undoing the Professor; "three times on a night like this? No, indeed! Get back into the garage as fast as you can."
"Oh, Madame!" said the Professor, now out of his wrappings and in better control of his voice. "They were so faithful to our beautiful France! The salle was almost full!"
"Well," said Mrs. Phillips to herself, "they got there all right, then. I hope most of them will get back home alive!"
"What a climate!" M. Pelouse was still saying, as he entered the ball-room. He had not been there before. He ran an appraising eye over the pictures and said little. But as soon as he learned that some of them were the work of the late M. Phillips he found words. He led the company through a tasteful jungle of verbosity, and left the ultimate impression that Monsieur had been a remarkable man, whether as artist or as collector.
Yet he did not forget to say once more, "What a climate!"
"Is it really bad outside?" asked Pearson. M. Pelouse shrugged his shoulders. It was affreux.
"It is indeed," corroborated Mrs. Phillips: she had spent her moment at the front door. "Nobody that I can find room for leaves my house tonight." This meant that Cope and Lemoyne were to occupy the chintz chamber.
M. Pelouse gradually regained himself. Cope interested him. Cope was, in type, the more "American" of the two new arrivals. He was also, as M. Pelouse had heard, the pretendant,—yes, the fiance. Well, he was calm and inexpressive enough: no close and eager attendance; cool, cool. "How interesting," said the observer to himself. "And Mademoiselle, quite across the room, and quite taken up"—happily, too, it seemed—"with another man: with the other man, perhaps?..."
At half past ten Pearson rose to leave; Cope and Lemoyne rose at the same time. "No," said Mrs. Phillips, stopping them both; "you mustn't think of trying to go. I can't ask Peter to take you, and you could never get across on foot in the world. I can find a place for you."
"And about poor Roddy?" asked Hortense.
"Roddy may stay with me," declared Pearson. "I can put him up. Come on, Aldridge," he said; "you're good for a hundred yard dash." And down they started.
"I don't want to stay," muttered Cope to Lemoyne, under cover of the others' departure. "Devil take it; it's the last thing in the world I want to do!"
"It's awkward," returned Lemoyne, "but we're in for it. After all, it isn't her house, nor her family's. Besides, you've got me."
Mrs. Phillips summoned Helga and another maid, who were just on the point of going to bed, and directed their efforts toward the chintz chamber. "Ah, well," thought M. Pelouse, "the fiance, then, is going to remain over night in the house of his fiancee!" It was droll; yet there were extenuating circumstances. But—such a singular climate, such curious temperaments, such a general chill! And M. Pelouse was presently lost to view among the welcome trappings of Louis Quinze.
COPE SHALL BE RESCUED
Next morning Cope left the house before breakfast. He had had the forethought to plead an exceptionally early engagement, and thus he avoided meeting, after the strain of the evening before, any of the various units of the household. He and Lemoyne, draping their parti-colored pajamas over the foot of the bedstead, left the chintz chamber at seven and walked out into the new day. The air was cold and tingling; the ground was white as a sheet; the sky was a strident, implacable blue. The glitter and the glare assaulted their sleepy eyes. They turned up their collars, thrust their hands deep into their pockets, and took briskly the half mile which led to their own percolator and electric toaster.
Cope threw himself down on the bed and let Lemoyne get the breakfast. Well, he had called; he had done the just and expected thing; he had held his face through it all; but he was tired after a night of much thought and little sleep. Possibly he might not have to call again for a full week. If 'phone messages or letters came, he would take them as best he could.
Nor was Lemoyne very alert. He was less prompt than usual in gaining his early morning loquacity. His coffee was lacking in spirit, and much of his toast was burnt. But the two revived, in fair measure, after their taxing walk.
They had talked through much of the dead middle of the night. Foster, wakeful and restless, had become exasperated beyond all power of a return to sleep. Concerns of youth and love kept them murmuring, murmuring in the acute if distant ears of one whom youth had left and for whom love was impossible. Beyond his foolish, figured wall were two contrasted types of young vigor, and they babbled, babbled on, in the sensitized hearing of one from whom vigor was gone and for whom hope was set.
"What do you think of her?" Cope had asked. Then he had thrown his face into his pillow and left one ear for the reply.
"She is a clinger," returned Lemoyne. "She will cling until she is loosened by something or somebody. Then she will cling to the second somebody as hard as she did to the first. I'm not so sure that it's you as an individual especially."
Cope had now no self-love to consider, no self-esteem to guard. He did not raise his face from out the pillow to reply. But he found Lemoyne rather drastic. Arthur had shown himself much in earnest, of course; he had the right, doubtless, to be reproachful; and he was fertile in suggestions looking toward his friend's freedom. Yet his expedients were not always delicate or fair: Cope would have welcomed a lighter hand on his exacerbated spirit, a more disinterested, more impartial touch. He was glad when, one afternoon at five, a few days later, he met Randolph on the steps of the library. Randolph, by his estimate, was disinterested and impartial.