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Miss Gibbie Gault
by Kate Langley Bosher
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"Better waste away and die than decay in ideals and traditions and heritage!" Miss Lizzie Bettie looked around the room. "Here we are educating everything in Yorkburg. Next year two new handsome schools will be opened and filled with the riffraff of the town. What are we going to do with them after they're educated? Our streets have been torn up for months—"

"But they'll be lovely when finished." Mrs. Corbin laid down her work. "You know yourself, Lizzie Bettie, how Mary Cary fought for brick pavements instead of asphalt, because she said they suited Yorkburg better. And you know how she's worked to save all the old things and have the new ones to suit. In a few years this will be the prettiest town in the country. That Mr. Black who bought those ugly old shacks and stores, and pulled them down, making pretty open spaces of their lots, certainly has been a good friend to Yorkburg. I don't care what line he came over. I'm glad he came, and if he would only stay here long enough Mr. Corbin and I surely would ask him to tea."

"Who is this Mr. Black?" Mrs. Pryor looked in first one direction and then another." I would like to know something of this mysterious individual who comes here, buys property, pulls down our oldest houses—"

"Oldest eyesores." Mrs. Webb borrowed Mrs. Moon's scissors. "He certainly has put up some pretty old-fashioned-looking houses in their place. I was crazy for one, but Mr. Webb was so slow they were all taken before he spoke." She sighed. "A woman might as well try to move a mountain as to hurry a man when he don't want to do a thing. I've spoken for the next one, if there are any next."

"Who is this Mr. Black?" Again Mrs. Pryor asked the question.

"Nobody knows who he is, but I believe he is John Maxwell."

Miss Puss Jenkins, who had come in late, spoke from her seat near the door, and instinctively all turned toward her.

"John Maxwell!" Half a dozen voices repeated the name, but Miss Lizzie Bettie Pryor was the first to protest.

"Nonsense!" she said. "How can one man be another? I've seen Mr. Black several times. He's a sharp, shrewd, business-looking man who seems to know Mary Cary very well. Whenever he is in town he spends a good deal of time with her, I hear. He may be acting for somebody else, but it is not John Maxwell. The latter is not the kind of man to let anybody else attend to his business."

"Well, anyhow, I heard somebody say it was John Maxwell who bought those bonds and didn't want anybody to know it." Miss Puss was not to be crushed by Lizzie Bettie Pryor. "Of course, it's all guesswork, but a lot of money has been spent in this place in the last year. Not only on streets and schools and cleaning up and prizes for the prettiest back-yards and trees and things for Milltown, but on people. A dozen people that I know of were sent off on trips during the summer. People who couldn't afford to go. And it was always the same thing Mary Cary would tell. She'd just laugh and say Yorkburg's friend had asked her to do it. Yorkburg's friend never sent me anywhere. Everybody knows John Maxwell is Mary Cary's friend."

"So is Miss Gibbie Gault." Mrs. Tate, who was making tatting on her fingers with Mrs. Burnham's cotton, looked up. "Miss Gibbie is certainly her friend, but I don't suppose anybody would waste time thinking she was doing all these things."

"I imagine not!" Mrs. Pryor's voice was decisive. Then her face changed, and with an expression suitable to recent affliction she folded her hands and shook her head.

"It is, indeed, distressing," she began, "to see a young girl so defy public opinion as Mary Cary does. For over a year she has been back in Yorkburg, and save for the weeks she was away on a summer holiday there has been no one of them in which she has not been discussed whenever two or three have met together."

"She certainly has!" Mrs. Tate's assent was eager, if undesired. "Her coming back has been like the raising of the dead. If there ever was a dull place, it was this one before she came. Somehow since she got here things look like they've taken a tonic, and so do we. Mary always did have a way of making you sit up and take notice and enjoying yourself."

Mrs. Pryor touched the bell. "As I was saying, Mary Cary is one of the people—I say it in all charitableness—who will always be talked about, just as—just as—"

"The sun would be talked about if it came out at night." Mrs. Tate felt no grudge and helped out willingly.

"Just as anybody would be talked about who is so very—very alive. I am sure she means well, but it is the Christian duty of some one to point out to her the mistakes she is making. She is spending money freely. Where does it come from?" Mrs. Pryor forgot her weeds, and her voice was the voice of the May meeting. "Where does that mysterious money come from? Everybody knows Gibbie Gault has money, but has anybody ever known her to give a dollar of it away? Go to her when you will and ask her to subscribe to this or contribute to that and she waves you out. Who has ever seen her name on any list of givers to anything. The money her father left her has increased enormously in value I've been told. She's a good business woman. Nobody denies that, but what will she present to her Maker when she stands before Him at the bar of judgment. And what are the words which she will hear?"

"Couldn't any of us guess that." Miss Mittie Muncaster went up to the grate and put on a large lump of coal. "I reckon a good many people would like to know what other people are going to have said to them at the bar of judgment. The thought of hell is a great comfort to some people. I certainly am glad the Lord's got to judge me, and not women. But, speaking of Mary Cary, I hear she's awfully worried about Lily's running away. She thinks it was so disrespectful to her mother not to tell her first and run afterward, if her mother still held out. Mary don't know Mrs. Deford. Lily wanted to take her head with her when she ran. There are mothers and mothers, and Mrs. Deford isn't the kind Mary keeps in her heart. I bet she gives it to John when she sees him."

"Since this Mr. Fielding has been here, no one sees John with Mary any more." Mrs. Corbin put her needle between her lips. "Who is this Mr. Fielding? I don't like his looks a bit. He's never been here before."

Miss Honoria Brockenborough got up to go. Her lorgnette, the only one in town except Mrs. Deford's, was held to her eyes, and for a moment she looked at Mrs. Corbin.

"His presence here is a disgrace to Yorkburg." Her tone was icy. "I have heard very strange things of late. It is his money, I understand, which Mary Cary has been spending. He has as much as admitted it himself."



Chapter XXIV

THE PIECE OF PAPER

Standing in front of the library fire, Miss Gibbie held her hands out to it blaze. "This room isn't warm enough. Jackson isn't half attending to the furnace. I wish you'd ring for him to put on more coal. Jackson is losing his mind of late. If he wasn't a church member I'd think he was seeking, he's been so doleful the last few days. They are half-cracked, every one of them, when their meetings begin."

"Jackson has undigested dyspepsia. He told me so himself just before supper." Mary Cary opened the coal-bin, and with the tongs lifted a large lump of coal and put it in the grate. "It must be a dreadful thing to have, judging by his expression." She laughed and wiped her hands on her handkerchief. "I suggested peppermint and hot water, but he looked so reproachfully at me that I changed it to Compound Elixir of Hexagonal Serafoam. He's anxious to try that."

"What is it?"

"I don't know." She shook her head. "But the sound pleased him, so I'm going to give him some calomel to-morrow under the new name. It's nonsense to say there's nothing in a name. There's money in it, cure in it, and comfort of mind. Why don't you sit down?"

Miss Gibbie walked over to the library-table, took up a magazine, opened it, put it down and took up another. Mary, following her with her eyes, seeing the restlessness which possessed her and the restraint she was obviously trying to exercise, was puzzled, and again she asked: "Why don't you sit down?"

"I think it's because I prefer to stand. But it may be because I've been sitting for hours hearing people tell the same thing over in a different way. Just sixteen people have been here to-day and every single one of them told me every single thing about the party; how pretty Polly Porter looked, and what a sight Georganna Brickhouse made of herself in a light-blue dress, suitable for sixteen, and how good the supper was, all except the salad. That was a new-fashioned mess Mrs. Deford made after a recipe brought from Maine. Mittie Muncater's nose is still up. Things have come to a pretty pass when Maine recipes are used in Virginia, Mittie says. You'd think Yorkburg had been insulted. And every single one of the sixteen said their say over the runaway. Mourned, groaned, or were glad, according to their feelings. Some weren't at all surprised. Been expecting it. That was Lizzie Bettie Pryor and Puss Jenkins. Some people always know a thing is going to happen after it happens. And some won't believe it though in front of their face. You, too, have been airing your views on runaway marriages ever since you came in. For a person who doesn't intend to get married you have very decided views concerning matrimony."

"That's way I never expect to get married. If I didn't have views, I might. I've never said I didn't approve of people marrying. I do. Though why they want to, I don't see. Life has enough disappointments without finding that marriage is another. It certainly can't be a cheerful realization, that of discovering your husband is a very different man from what you thought him."

"Nor a very cheerful discovery for a man when he realizes the woman he loves is really a child! My dear Mary Cary, don't imagine the discoveries of character and temperament, of idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, are all on the woman's side. A man has to stand much. There are times when a woman may be an angel, but others when she behaves as if her ancestry was in a different direction. No wizard works such enigmatical changes as that master of human destinies called Love. Lives are glorified or ruined by it, and no man or woman experiences it who is not more or less, in the process of experiencing, some sort of a fool. They play with happiness as though it were a toy, and learn too late they've thrown away the only thing worth having in life. By-the-way, speaking of happiness, has this Mr. Horatio Fielding gone yet?"

Mary Cary drew the big wing chair closer to the fire and sat upon its arm, one slippered foot on the fender. "No. He has not gone yet. He goes to-morrow, I believe."

"He does!" Miss Gibbie looked at the face opposite, and over her own again swept indecision. During supper she had been too incensed to trust herself to tell what that afternoon had reached her ears, and yet it must to told. Were it possible to spare her she would spare. It was not possible. Kind friends were too ready to spread cruel things. It was best she should hear from her what must be heard.

"This Mr. Fielding," she began, taking a seat on the far end of the big old-fashioned sofa, well out of the firelight. "Is he a man of honor? Can you depend upon statements he makes?"

"A man of honor?" Miss Gibbie was looked at questioningly. "I don't know what you mean. He's abominably blatant and nouveau, and a terrible trial to talk to. But dishonorable—There's been no occasion for him to act dishonorably. His statements are mostly about his father's wealth and the kind of machine he likes best and his tailor in Piccadilly and cafes in Paris. I don't know how correct they are. I didn't half hear them. I could think of other things when he was talking, and generally brought them in for that purpose."

"And yet for some days past you have been constantly with this abominably blatant and terribly trying person. You have driven home with him at eight o'clock at night."

"I have. Why shouldn't I? I wouldn't have driven with him at four if I shouldn't have driven with him at eight. I did that the night I was caught by the storm at Miss Matoaca Brockenborough's. She was sick, and Mr. Fielding talked with Miss Honoria in the parlor while I was up-stairs with Miss Matoaca. I would have come here, but I had some important letters to write that night and didn't let Mr. Fielding come in. He drove back and left the horse at Mr. Pugh's stable."

"Had he been drinking?"

Mary Cary got up from the arm of the chair, her face incredulous. "Drinking? No, he hadn't been drinking. That is, I don't suppose he had. How could I tell? He talked a lot and laughed at the way Miss Honoria introduced him to all the family portraits, and the superior air in which she told him the history of each. I remember he called her Miss Icicle."

"How did he happen to go there with you?"

"We'd been to drive. He'd never seen the bluff and was interested in the battle fought there. I made him leave me at Miss Matoaca's, but he insisted on coming back to go out home with me. I was too tired to argue." She brushed her hair back as if tired again. "The rain kept us, and it was eight before we got off."

"I have been told Miss Honoria was not the only one who gave information that afternoon. When was it? Day before yesterday, I believe. He made statements which Miss Honoria seemed to find more startling, if not so amusing, as those he made to her."

"Did he?" Mary straightened one of the tall white candles in the candelabrum of many prisms on the end of the mantelpiece near which she stood. Her voice was not interested. "I believe he did tell me Miss Honoria was a cut-glass catechiser and very much interested in me."

"He did not tell you his answers to your questions, I suppose?"

"He certainly didn't. I cared for neither questions nor answers." She turned and looked at Miss Gibbie and laughed indifferently. "Mr. Fielding seems to have become suddenly important. You sound like a cross-examining lawyer. He goes to-morrow, and I never expect to see him again. Why this interest?"

Miss Gibbie looked down at the tip of her slipper. Stooping, she straightened its bow. "Because of some very silly things I heard this afternoon." She put the other foot on the rung of the chair in front of her and carefully smoothed its ribbon with fingers that twitched. "Honoria Brockenborough claims he told her the money you have been spending in Yorkburg came from him, that the bonds were bought by his broker, and that he was Yorkburg's friend."

Indifference slipped off as a garment, and, at Miss Gibbie's words, Mary Cary stiffened in rigid horror and unbelief. For a moment she stared at her as if not understanding, and her hand went to her throat. She choked in her effort to speak, and her eyes flashed fire.

"I don't believe it!" The moment between her bearing and speaking was tense. "He said—" her breath came unevenly—"he said /he/ was Yorkburg's friend? /He/ had given money I had spent! He— And I—alone in the world!"

She threw out her hands as though to ward off some dreadful thing, then dropped in the big wing chair and buried her face in her arms.

"Mary! Mary!" Miss Gibbie, terrified by the unexpected effect of her words, leaned over the twisting figure and put her hand upon it. The hand was shaken off. For the first time in her life Miss Gibbie Gault was helpless and afraid.

"Mary!"

"Don't! Don't touch me! Don't speak to me!" She got up and threw back her head, then looked at the clock. "What time is it?" She walked over to the bell and pressed it. "You've often said deep down in every woman was something dangerous. All of us have something we'd die for quickly. And I—all I have—is just myself."

"What are you going to do?" Miss Gibbie sat down limply in the chair from which Mary had just risen. "Why did you ring? You aren't going to take seriously the thing I have told you? The man is being looked after. John is attending to him to-night."

"John!"

The word came involuntarily, and her head was turned quickly lest its spasm of pain be seen. "What has John to do with it?"

"A very good deal." Miss Gibbie's breath was coming back. The shock and fury in Mary's face had frightened her as not in years had she been frightened. "John has heard these rumors and will settle their source. What do you want, Celia?"

"You rang, did you not?" Celia, hands on the curtains, waited.

"I rang. I want my coat and hat." Mary Cary turned to her. "I want you, too, for a little while, Celia. Get ready, please, to go out with me." She went over to the desk and took from one of its many pigeon-holes paper and pencil. "I am going to Miss Honoria Brockenborough's."

"What are you going there for?" Miss Gibbie's voice made pretence of petulance. "What do you want to see her for?"

"Didn't you tell me when people said things about you that were not true you made them sign a paper to that effect? Were Miss Honoria Brockenborough dying she'd have to sign that paper to-night. She has lied, or the man of whom she spoke has lied, and either the one or the other or both shall say so. Don't you see"—for the first time her voice broke, and again she put her hand to her throat—"don't you see she is taking from me all—everything I have. When I was here, a child, a bit of sea-weed, I knew my life depended—on just myself. All the eyes of all the world did not matter so much as my own. You do not know what it means to be alone in life!"

She stopped as if something had suddenly given way, and on her knees her face was hidden in Miss Gibbie's lap.

Only the crackling of the coal in the grate broke the stillness of the room. Presently Miss Gibbie spoke, lifted the white, drawn face to hers.

"I do not know what it means to be alone in life? It is about all of life I do know!" Out of her voice she struggled to keep bitterness, made effort to laugh. "And do you suppose I would let Honoria Brockenborough scatter her righteous assertions a minute longer than they were heard? Puss Jenkins left me at four o'clock. An hour later I was back home." She opened her beaded bag. "There is your piece of paper!" She shook it in the air. "Honoria Brockenborough is now in bed with an attack of nervous collapse. I hope it will keep her there some time. Matoaca hasn't stopped crying since the guild meeting this morning, and for the first time in her life has bitterly reproached her Sister Superior who felt it her Christian duty to repeat what she now says she understood a hope-inflated, love-mad, half-tight fool had said. Queer old place, Mary, this big world! Queer little place this old Yorkburg! Not one person in forty thousand can repeat a statement what repeated can be very differently constructed. I thought it was as well Honoria Brockenborough should have a few remarks made to her. She's had them. The doctor is, doubtless, with her now. Do you want this paper?"

Mary Cary took the paper held toward her. As she read it the color came back slowly in her face, and the short, shivering breath grew quiet again.

"Yes," she said, "I want it." With a sob she leaned toward the older woman. "I told you I was all—alone. And already you—Miss Gibbie! Miss Gibbie!"

In each other's arms they clung as mother and child.



Chapter XXV

THE CONCLUSION OF A MATTER

You say, then, you did not make the statements the lady credits you with? You will take oath to that?"

"Of course I will." Horatio Fielding's shifty brown eyes looked for a moment into John Maxwell's relentless gray ones, then dropped uneasily. "What in the devil is all this about, anyhow? You come in on a fellow with some damned gossip a lot of old cats have been telling in their sewing society and accuse him of it before he knows what you're talking about. I don't even know what you're getting at."

"I am getting at the truth or falsehood of certain statements attributed to you. Cut that out—I prefer to talk to you sober." He waved his hand toward the table on which were bottles of brandy and White Rock. "You know what these statements are. To repeat them is unnecessary. The lady who claims she understood you to make them has repeated them to, among others, a Mr. Benjamin Brickhouse. Mr. Brickhouse claims he approached you on the subject and you neither affirmed nor denied them. You are to do one or the other, and do it now."

Horatio Fielding's face flushed. "I am—am I? Who says so?"

"I say so."

John Maxwell came closer. He looked down on the short, full figure with the round, red face, and the round, red face grew redder. The restraint of the larger man, his height and breadth and radiation of power and purpose stung him, and for a moment he yielded to bravado. A look in the face above his checked him, however, and he changed his manner.

"Oh, I'm perfectly willing to deny what I didn't do!" He shrugged his shoulders. "To hear you one would think I wasn't a gentleman. Of course I didn't say I'd furnished Mary Cary with money—"

"We are speaking of Miss Cary."

He bowed smilingly. "Miss Cary with money to spend on people here, or had bought bonds, or was Yorkburg's unknown friend. I said I'd be glad to do it, as I was a friend of Yorkburg's and would like to be a better one."

"Sit down at that table."

"What for?" Horatio Fielding's shoulders went back and the dots in his tan-colored vest showed plainly. "I prefer to stand."

"I prefer you to sit. There's paper and pen and ink at that table. Three letters at my dictation, and if you hurry you can catch that ten-ten train."

"I'll be damned if I do!"

"You'll be damned if you don't. To make you understand what you have done is impossible. To make you make what amends you can, isn't. Sit down and write."

Three letters, one to Mr. Benjamin Brickhouse, one to Miss Honoria Brockenborough, one to Miss Gibbie Gault, were written sulkily and in words supplied by John Maxwell. Signed and in their envelopes, John put them in his pocket, then again looked at his watch. "You have plenty of time," he said, "and if you know what's good for you you'll get out from here and be quick at it."

"Get out nothing!" With a swift movement of his hand Horatio Fielding poured out a full measure of brandy and drank it. "I'd like to know what you've got to do with this thing, anyhow! That's the worst of a little hell of a town like this. Nothing in it but a lot of relics and old-maid men and pussy-cat women spying on a girl because she's young and pretty. That cut-glass icicle with an antique nose asked me so many questions that I thought I'd let her know all the goods wasn't in this part of the world. She walked me around the room three times showing me a bunch of old duffers in wigs and knee-breeches, and half-dressed women with caps or curls. Said she didn't suppose we had family portraits in Nevada. I told her what we did have. If she chose to say I said what she says, she did it because she hates people with money worse than snake poison. All her class is muggy on money. Thinks it common to have it. But they've got a long reach all right, and can be very smirky to the face when they smell the stuff. As for questions—" John being near the window, he took hastily another drink of brandy. "She asked enough to make a catechism. I didn't mind her quizzers. She's on the sour, and I thought I'd help her enjoy herself. I told her I didn't mind Mary Cary's having been an orphan. I was willing to marry her, parents or no parents."

/"Willing!"/ John turned. His right arm went out, and from Horatio Fielding's nose blood spurted over the spotted vest, down the legs of his well-creased trousers, and settled on his patent-leather shoes. Howling, he sprang toward the larger man. With his foot John kicked him in the air, and as he came down on the floor stood over him as he would a puppy.

"I can't fight you. I'm too much bigger," he said, spitting toward the fireplace. "To shake a rat would be as easy. But I don't promise to keep my hands off much longer. You're a liar! If you didn't say all Miss Brockenborough says you said, you implied it. At college you cheated, and you'd smirch a good name in a minute if your own interests could be helped. I'd rather not have blood on my hands, and I haven't time for a trial, but if you don't get out of this town to-night you'll be shipped out in a box to-morrow. You're got an hour. Are you going?"

Horatio Fielding got up, his handkerchief to the bleeding nose. "If it takes the last cent I've got on earth I'll make you pay for this," he said, thickly. He pulled out another handkerchief and put it to his cut lip. "I believe you've broken my nose."

"I hope I have. You're lucky it's not your neck." John took a card out of his pocket-book and handed it to the shaking figure. "That's my address in New York. If you want to see me again you can find me without trouble. Next time I'll kill you."

But Horatio Fielding was out of the room. An hour later at the station John Maxwell saw him step stiffly into the sleeper for the West, and, shrugging his shoulders, he turned away and went rapidly up the street. Walking toward Pelham Place, he reached the house in which Miss Gibbie was waiting, but he could not trust himself to go in. At the door he left a note, then walked down King Street and into the Calverton road.

For hours he walked. The moon, clear and serene, hung calmly above him, and in the sandy road shadows cast by the stripped branches of trees and shrubs swayed and danced, beckoned or stood still. The air was cold and stinging, and the silence, soft as the pale light of the meaningless moon, was unbroken save by the whispering of the wind. Presently at the top of a hill he sat down under a big bare tree and leaned his back against it. Far off in the distance the lights of Yorkburg twinkled like fireflies in the hazy darkness, and at his left a soft, luminous ball was gathering into shape and brilliance. With a roar it rushed through the outskirts of the little town before its long black tail of cars could be defined, and as its vibrations reached him John struck a match and took out his watch.

"The one-twelve," he said, "and fifteen minutes late." A cigar was lighted slowly, and a long, deep whiff taken. Watching its spirals of smoke curl lazily upward, his eyes narrowed and he nodded toward them.

"When the Lord made woman"—he was looking now at a light in a group of trees not very far away—"I wonder if He ever realized the trouble she could give a man!"



Chapter XXVI

THE SURRENDER

Save the light from the shaded lamp on the library-table and the glow of the dancing flames on the hearth, the room was in shadow.

Mary Cary had drawn the curtains, straightened chairs and books, rearranged the flowers, refilled the inkstand on her open desk, brushed the bits of charred wood under the logs on the andirons, turned on every light, and then, seeing nothing else to do that would permit of movement, had taken her seat near the table.

John Maxwell, standing by the mantelpiece, watched her with eyes half amused, half impatient, but with no comment, and for some minutes neither had spoken. When she was seated, however, a magazine in her lap, he walked around the room and turned off all lights except that of the lamp; then came back and took the chair opposite hers.

"This is such an interesting number," she said, opening the magazine and shuffling its pages as if they were cards. "I suppose you have seen it?"

"No. I haven't seen it." He leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees, his eyes holding her steadily. "Don't you think, Mary, this foolishness between us has gone on long enough?"

"What foolishness?" She put the magazine on the table and tapped it with her fingers, looking away from him and into the leaping flames. "Has there been any foolishness between us? I didn't know it."

"What would you call it?"

"I wouldn't—" she took up her handkerchief and examined the initial on it with critical intentness—"I wouldn't call it anything. We are very good friends."

"Are we?"

"I've always thought so. If I'm mistaken—" She bit her lip nervously. "At least we used to be. But friendship is so insecure. That of years is killed in a moment and—"

"A thousand evidences forgotten if there be one imaginary failure, one seeming neglect. But I'm not speaking of friendship."

A step behind made him turn, and as Hedwig came in he got up and took the telegram she handed him with only half-concealed irritation. Mary Cary, too, stood up, and as Hedwig left the room the bit of yellow paper was handed her.

"So Mr. Bartlett is coming himself," she said, reading and handing the paper back. "That is much the best. I thought he was too busy. Does Miss Gibbie know?"

"Not yet." The telegram was put in his pocket. "Whether she wants to or not, Miss Gibbie will have to let Yorkburg know who its friend is. I don't doubt she meant well. To do things as nobody else does them is to her irresistible. But how a woman of her sense and understanding of human nature could fail to see the complications of a situation in which secrecy and mystery were elemental parts is beyond my comprehension."

"But that's because you're a man." She nodded toward him with something of the old bantering air. She and I were just women, and women don't see clearly—like men. After mistakes are out on the table, even a woman can see them, but it takes a man to see them before they are made. Of course, it was a queer way of doing things, but it was her way. Everybody is queer."

"I don't deny it."

"And if she didn't want her left hand to know what the right was doing, why tell it? Everybody has a pet something they take literally in the Bible. Miss Gibbie likes the sixth chapter of Matthew. A great many people seem never to have read it."

"And a great many people who try to practically apply the teachings of their Master are called cranks and crazy. Until human nature is born again, human tongues will talk and human noses sniff and human ears listen for what is ugly and unkind. The partnership into which you and Miss Gibbie entered was all right in purpose and intent, but you forgot in your calculations the perversities of the people you were trying to help. People will pardon anything sooner than a secret."

"I suppose I will have to tell how Tree Hill was given me, and about the bonds and the fifty thousand dollars and the baths and the tired and sick people sent away. How do you suppose it can be told—in the way she will mind least, I mean?"

John, leaning against his end of the mantel, looked at the girl at hers, and laughed in her troubled eyes.

"The decision will hardly rest with us. Mr. Bartlett comes to-morrow to meet Mr. Moon and several other gentlemen invited for the purpose. The money deposited with his company to be used for Yorkburg in coming years will be staggering to Mr. Walstein. Miss Gibbie is a wizard in some things, and in business a genius, yet of this little scheme she made a mess and put you in a—How to let Yorkburg know who its unknown friend is will be settled by Mrs. McDougal, I imagine. I had a little talk with her this morning. She has understood all the time who was putting up the money, but she had sense enough to keep her understanding to herself. I told her she could let it out. She flew home for eggs, and there'll be few of her customers who won't have a visit from her to-day. You won't have to tell the name of Yorkburg's friend."

For a moment there was silence. Then abruptly he crossed over to her, took her hands in his, and held them with an intensity that hurt.

"Mary! Mary!" In his arms he gathered her, crushed her, lifted her face to his and kissed it, kissed her lips, her eyes, her hair. "We will come back for Christmas, but we are to be married at once."

She struggled to draw away, but his strong arms held her until breath came unsteadily; then, as again she tried to free herself, he held her off, gripping her hands.

"Is there nothing to tell me, Mary?"

"To tell you?" The long lashes shielding the awakened eyes quivered. He bent closer to hear her. "What do you want me to tell you?"

"That you—love me." His faced whitened. "For my much love is there not even a little, Mary?"

She shook her head, her eyes still upon the rug. Then she looked up. "I never love—a little. For your much love I have— Oh, John, John, don't leave me any more! Don't leave me here alone!"

* * * * *

"I suppose"—she punched the cushion on the sofa beside her into first one shape and then another—"I suppose there must always be something we wish there wasn't. I don't like your world. I don't want to marry in it. It's so queer how things get mixed up and twisted in life. I believe in the old-fashioned things, and do not want that which the men and women of your world want. What would mere externals mean if your heart was not happy, or if one's life was spent on parade with no one to care for you—just for yourself."

"In this particular case"—he smiled in the brilliant, anxious eyes—"there is some one to care for you—just for yourself."

"I know, but—" She drew away. "I can't talk if— You really mustn't, John! I think I'd better sit in that chair."

"I think you hadn't. Go on. But what?"

"I don't like your kind of life. I mean the kind the people you know lead. When I used to visit Geraldine French I was always finding points of likeness in it to my early training. We had to do so many things we didn't want to, just because other people did them. Everything was cut according to a pattern. I don't like rules and regulations. I like Yorkburg. Here love counts."

"Love counts everywhere. Unfortunately, it's the rules and regulations that don't count in many worlds. Custom controls, I admit. But it's because love counts I need you, Mary. All of us get tired of it, the cap and bells, the sham and show, and underneath we know are eternal verities we pretend to forget. Eternal verities don't let you forget. Don't you see what you have done? You have made me understand what life could mean. In what you call my world are many who do not seem to know. There is something very terribly needing to be done there."

"What is there needing to be done?"

"To marry for love— Oh, I don't mean there is no marrying for love." He laughed in the shocked, wide-opened eyes. "I mean there is nothing so deceptive as love's counterfeit, and other considerations masquerade under it unguessed, perhaps. Many men and women are, doubtless, honest in thinking when they marry that they love each other, but if they live long enough a large proportion find out their mistake."

"Oh no! I don't believe it! I know too many happy marriages to believe a thing like that. The trouble is—"

He looked in the protesting eyes. "The trouble is what?"

"That people imagine what they start with will last through life. As if love alone stood still, did not grow more or become less. I do not wonder at the unhappy marriages. I wonder there are not more of them."

"More of them? Were I to count the enviably happy couples I know there would barely be a dozen."

"A dozen?" She turned toward him in pretended unbelief. "In you world, do you know a dozen?"

"In you world, do you know more?"

"Many more."

"Could you name them? Not the outwardly, the seemingly happy ones, but those who are happier with each other under any circumstances than they would be apart under any conditions. Do you know many married people who come under this head?"

For a moment she did not answer, then turned to him questioning, troubled eyes. "Why do you ask such things, John? Our ideals of happiness may not be those of others. I know many happily married people. I've always believed in love, am always going to believe in it, and if unhappiness follows many marriages it is because there is not love enough. Happiness is such a tender thing!" She drew her hands away and clasped them tightly. "One should so carefully guard it, and instead—"

His eyes were missing no throb of the heart that sent recurring waves of color to her quivering face. "Instead?"

"It is taken as a right, rather than an award. And then there is weeping or storming or sneering when it is lost."

"Then we shall take it"—he lifted her hand to his lips—"as the award of life, and guard it. It needs guarding. In any world its hold is insecure."

Presently she again looked up and smoothed her hair. "But, John"— she shook her head doubtfully—"I shall be such a shock to your friends. I want, don't you see, to be free, to do what I want to do, not what I should be a code of custom. The Martha of me would break forth when most she should be quiet, and keep you always uneasy. I never know what Martha is going to say to do."

"That's why I love Martha! It's so wearing to always know what a person is going to say and do. If you were just all Mary—" He laughed, measuring her hand against his and looking carefully at its third finger. "You'll be a joy, my Mary Martha, and the more shocks you give the better for us." He took out a note-book and opened it. "What day is this? Saturday—let me see. Thanksgiving is on the twenty-sixth. You will want to be here, I suppose?"

"I certainly will!" She sat suddenly upright.

"And you want to be back for Christmas?"

"I certainly do. What are you talking about?" Her face crimsoned. "You don't suppose I'm really going—"

"I don't suppose anything about it. The matter is no longer in your hands. Three weeks from to-day will be the second of December. That will give us time, say, for a bit of Bermuda and back here for the holidays. Mary Cary"—he took her hands in his—"three weeks from to-day you are to marry me."

"But Miss Gibbie! We can't leave her here by herself. Couldn't she go, too? She'd love Bermuda. Don't you think, John, she could go, too?"

"I think not!" John's nod was decisive. "I prefer taking this trip with just my wife."

Mary leaned back on the sofa as if swept by a sudden realization. "I don't know what we've been thinking about. To go away and leave Miss Gibbie like this would—"

"Make her indeed and in truth the friend of Yorkburg. To win its love she must give more than money. You have done much for her, opened her eyes to much, and she is beginning to understand. She has had a hard fight. To conquer herself, to give you up has meant—"

"Oh, John, John!" With a half-sob her hands went out to him. "For us the days ahead seem glad and beautiful. For her—To leave her, to leave my people, my little orphans, would be more than selfish. I can't, John, I can't!"

He bent over and gathered her close to his heart, laughed unsteadily in the face he lifted to his. "You have no choice, my dear. You are mine now. Forever mine!"



Chapter XXVII

A TIE THAT BINDS

Before the fire in Miss Gibbie's sitting-room Mrs. McDougal held up her left foot to the crackling coals and watched the steam curl away from the wet sole of her shoe with beaming satisfaction. Her skirt, wet around the hem, was drawn up to her knees, her coat, well sprinkled, was on the back of a chair, and in her lap her hat lay limp and spiritless.

From the once upright tail feathers of her haughtiest rooster which adorned one side of the hat, the breast of a duck adorning the other, tiny globules of water trickled slowly into the brim; and as she held it over the fender the feather yielded to circumstance and drooped dejectedly.

"Now, ain't that just like folks!" she said, holding it off and looking at it in high derision. "Look at that thing, Miss Gibbie, peart as the first crocus and proud as cuffy when the weather was good, and at the first touch of dampness or discouragement flop it goes, and no more spirit than a convict in court! It certainly is strange how many things in nature is like human beings. Now this here rooster and this here duck"—she smoothed the breast and ran her fingers down the feathers—"just naturally had no use for each other. If fowls could do what you call sniff, they sniffed, and when one took the right-hand side of the yard, the other took the left. And yet here is their remains, side by side, a decoratin' of my hat. It ain't only flowers of the field what flourish and are cut down, it's everything what stands up, specially hopes and desires, and things like that. The only thing in life we can be certain sure of is death, ain't it? But I never did feel any call to be cockin' my eye at death just because I knew it had to come. When it do come I hope there'll be grace given to meet it handsome, and go with it like I'm glad, but I ain't a-goin' to be sittin' on the doorstep lookin' out for it. I'm not hankerin' after heaven yet. There's a long time to stay there. Funny how many people is willin' to be separated from their loved ones, and how they put off joinin' of 'em as long as possible. I don't deny I'm fond of life. I just love to live!"

"Which you won't do long if you go out in weather like this. I've never seen such a storm in November. Are you sure your stockings aren't wet?"

Miss Gibbie, in her big chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, looked at Mrs. McDougal half irritably, half perplexedly. To walk from Milltown to Pelham Place in a heavy snow with no overshoes and no umbrella was just like her. She shouldn't have come, and yet Miss Gibbie was not sorry she had come. There were times when Mrs. McDougal's chatter was unendurable, but others when her philosophy of life had a common-sense value that systems of belief and articles of faith failed to supply. To-day was one of the latter times. She was rather glad to see her. Leaning forward, she repeated the question: "Are you sure your stockings are not wet?"

"Sure as I'm a sinner." Mrs. McDougal held up first one shoe and then the other. "Just the soles were wet, and their sizzlin' don't mean anything. They're an inch thick, them soles are. Them's McDougal's shoes." She held her feet out proudly. "I always did say, Miss Gibbie, if you couldn't have what you wanted in life, for the love of the Lord don't whine about it, but work it off and get a smile on! I'd a heap rather have a telephone in my house and just step up to it and call for one of them takin cabbys, like we saw at Atlantic City, and come a-scootin' and a-honkin' up to your door and step out superior and send up a card with Mrs. Joel B. McDougal on it than to put on two pairs of McDougal's socks first, and them pull away at his shoes and wrap my legs in newspapers to keep my skirts from slushin' of 'em. I'd a heap rather done that. But a lot of life ain't what we'd rather. It's what is. And my grandmother always told me there warn't nothin' in life what showed the stock you come from as the way you took what come to you. I never did have no use for a whimperer. Of course, I'm plain. Born Duke and married McDougal, but whenever I get in a fog and can't see clear, and so tired out I can't eat, and plum run down, I say to myself, 'Your folks ain't ever flunked yet, and you keep your head where the Lord put it.' He put it up. Folks see me laugh a lot. I do. I couldn't learn to play on the painer, though I'm clean crazy about music. I couldn't learn none of the things I yearned for inside, so I said to myself, 'You learn to laugh, laugh hearty.' And somehow it's helped a lot, laughin' has. There's many a time I done it to keep tears back. Ain't nobody but has tears to shed some time or other. But 'tain't no use in keepin' a tank of 'em to be tapped at every slip up. When I get so I can't keep mine back any longer I goes to the woodhouse and locks the door and has it out. But that's just when I'm tired and there don't seem nothin' ahead. I tell the Lord about it. Tell Him there ain't nothin' human can help. Just Him. And if He don't, I'm done for. Ain't ever been a time yet that when I come right down to it and says, 'Lord, I need You,' that the help ain't handed out. I mean help to take hold again and keep on laughing. I don't ask for automobiles and a brick house and fur coats and plum-puddin's. Never did think the Lord was in that kind of supply business. But when I says, 'You and Me got to fight this thing out,' He ain't ever gone back on me yet. Yes'm, these here is McDougal's shoes. I was thankful enough they was in the house to put on. I always was lucky, though. But just listen at me a-runnin' on worse'n Mis' Buzzie Tate. And I ain't even answered your question as to what I come for. Maybe it's because I'm not sure how you'll take it."

Miss Gibbie leaned over and with the poker broke a large lump of coal, making it blaze and roar in licking, outleaping flames. "What is it? I'm not dangerous, I hope."

"No'm, you're not dangerous." Mrs. McDougal straightened her now dry skirt. "But you might think I was audacious, which is what I am, I reckon. I don't mean nothin' like that, and I ain't got no more use for familiarity than you have, but my grandmother always told me if you heard anything kind about a person 'twas your business to pass it on same as unkind things is passed. And I just want to tell you that the day I was takin' them eggs around, the day Mr. John told me in words what I'd long known without 'em, as to who Yorkburg's friend was, I heard so many downright gratitudes and appreciations along with the surprise and the raisin' up of hands and eyes that I wonder your ears didn't burn plum off. I ain't sayin' 'twas fulsome praise they chucked at you. It warn't. You ain't the kind what folks is free with. You can't help it, never havin' been thrown much with back-yards and acquainted chiefly with the parlor. But all that's wanted is the chance to love you. They know you're their friend. You've proved it by acts, instead of words, the usual way, and if'n you could see fit to sometimes pay a visit when Miss Mary goes away—"

She stopped. Miss Gibbie pushed her chair back farther in the shadow, and with her hand shaded her face. For a long moment there was silence, then Mrs. McDougal examined carefully the soles of her shoes, after which she took up her hat and smoothed the breast of the once sniffy duck.

"I ain't a-goin' to say anythin' about Miss Mary's leavin' Yorkburg," she said, presently, "except this—I had to go to the woodhouse about it and get plum down on my knees and own up I was cussin' mean and selfish not to be smilin' glad she and Mr. John were goin' to get married. They're young, Miss Gibbie, and it's nature for young folks to love each other and go hand in hand through life. Me and you both is thankful his hand is for her and hers is for him. But your heart can be thankful and ache, too. If you'll be excusin' of my seemin' free, I just wanted to tell you yours ain't the only one what's had a great big, heavy, lovin' somethin' on it right here"—she put her closed hand on her breast—"ever since we heard the news. And it's because of that lump we ain't ever goin' to let her know we're anything but joyful. We want that weddin' to be a regular bunch of bells. Christmas and Easter and marriage all in one. She do look sometimes as if it will break her heart to go away and leave all she loves so here, and particular you. She don't let me speak of it, but I told her it was the lot of woman to follow on, and, of course, if she'd let herself be beguiled into lovin' a man she'd have to yield up a heap for the pleasure of his company. Never did seem to me matrimony did their name and their home and their friends and their kinfolks and their wages, if they work for a livin', and take what's given 'em for the rest of their natural lives. No'm. I ain't never seen where marriage did much for women. I never had a beau. I warn't but seventeen when McDougal asked me to marry him, and, not havin' a bit of sense, I said yes. That's all the courtin' there was. If ever I'm a widow I bet words said to her every now and then, even if she knows they ain't so."

She got up and, before the mirror over the mantel, pinned on her hat, getting it, as usual, on the side. Taking up her coat, she felt it to see that it was dry, and again nodded at the lady in the chair.

"I tell you customs is curious, Miss Gibbie, and, bein' man-made mostly, ain't altogether in favor of females. But neither is life. Life has got a lot in it what ain't apple-blossoms and cherry-pie. You think you've got things like you want 'em; you peg away for this and you beat around for that, and, just as you're gettin' ready to set down and enjoy yourself, up comes somethin' you warn't a lookin' for and knocks the stuffin' clean out of you. I found out a long time ago 'twas all foolishness, this waitin' to enjoy yourself, and I says to myself, says I, 'Look here, Bettie Frances Duke McDougal, if there's any little forget-me-nots along the road, you just pick 'em up and make a posy. Don't be waitin' for American Beauties to pull.' I never cared much for American Beauties, anyhow. I ain't ever had one, but a whole lot of things don't give pleasure after they're got. Well, good-bye, Miss Gibbie. I certainly have enjoyed seein' of you. I told somebody the other day that for sense and wisdom and the learnin' in books there warn't your match on earth. Just to hear you talk is an edjication, and I sure do enjoy myself whenever I see you. I hope you don't mind my comin' to-day?"

Miss Gibbie, who had risen, held out her hand. "No," she said. "I am glad you came. I may have to send for you pretty often this winter. You can help me—you and Peggy. Tell Peggy she must come and see me."

For an hour, two hours, Miss Gibbie sat before her fire, hands in her lap, eyes unseeing, bent upon the curling, darting flames. One by one days of the past year come before her, stopped or passed on according to their memories. The long talks with Mary of late repeated themselves, and she felt again the warm, young arms about her as she was told that which she knew so well. John's hands, too, seemed again to hold hers as he asked for the promised blessing, and when he bent and kissed her she had laughed lightly lest her heart give sign of its twisting, shivering hurt.

Suddenly her face fell forward in her hands. "So many lonely people in the world," she said, under her breath, "so many people in Lonely Land! Nobody to wait for when the day is done. Nobody to go to when darkness falls!"

After a while she got up and walked over to the window and stood beside it. The early twilight had become night, but the first snow of the season showed clearly in the unbroken whiteness of lawn and long, straight street and roofs of seeming marble. The burdened branches of crystal-coated trees swayed in the wind, and here and there, in the light cast from tall poles at long intervals apart, they gleamed in dazzling brilliance and flashing sheen. Past streets and houses on to open fields, her eyes, through the whirling, fast-falling snow, followed the Calverton road which led to Tree Hill, and in the darkness she saw the lights in the house twinkle faintly in the flake-filled air.

Drawing the curtains farther aside, she stood close to the window and pressed her face upon it. Behind the house and below the apple orchard at a snow-covered mound she was now in spirit, and under her breath she made effort to speak bravely.

"A lonely old woman, Colleen. A lonely old woman, but the old must not get in the way of the young. Your eyes have been upon me. You've made me remember youth comes but once, and life—is love."

The opening of the door made her turn quickly. Snow-covered, faces flushed with the sting of biting wind, vivid and full of glow, they stood before her—Mary and John.

"I had to see you." Unfastening the fur coat, Mary handed it to John, then threw her arms around Miss Gibbie. "Are you sure you are perfectly well? This morning you seemed to have a little cold, and I couldn't—"

"—Rest until she saw for herself how you were to-night." John put the coat on the chair. "I told her I'd come and see you, but that wouldn't do."

"Of course it wouldn't!" Again the face held between her hands was searched anxiously, and her eyes lighted with glad relief. "I was so worried. I'm never going to let anybody see for me how you are. I'm going to always see for myself!"

THE END

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