"The idea!" exclaimed Phyllis.
"I laughed at it myself," replied John. "I had another reason for laughing than the one they knew, though. For, really, I am so sure of my little book that I might have accepted the offer—if I had the money."
"Would it cost a great sum?" inquired Phyllis.
"Something less than fifty pounds for the first edition; a small edition. If there were a second, of course, they would pay the charges, but I should get nothing."
Phyllis sat sewing thoughtfully. Suddenly John saw that her eyes were filled with tears.
"If there weren't me to think of, you might—" she began.
John had her in his arms in the big chair in less time than it takes to tell it. When her troubled heart was comforted, he returned to his desk.
"However, I have been the rounds of the publishers now. I started with the best and I have seen them all. I have condescended to the smallest. I have even tried the Populars. But it has all been of no use. Same story everywhere. 'Marked ability, but we regret.'"
"If you had friends with influence——" Phyllis began, but John interrupted her.
"I wouldn't if I could, and I haven't if I would," said he. "But the fact is there's less of that than you think. 'Pull' isn't required; I can say that even when I am at the end of my rope. Books are published honestly, on their quality; mine simply hasn't the quality the public likes. It may be Art—but will it sell? That's the question."
Having plumbed the depths, John took up his pen again; his chin resolute as ever.
That evening when Mrs. Farquharson tapped at the door, John was teaching Phyllis chess.
"Just in time, Farquharson," said Phyllis. "I am routed horse and foot—by a man without a queen, too."
The chessboard was set aside; a chair brought forward; but Mrs. Farquharson would not sit down; she rarely would when John was present.
"No, my dear, no. I just dropped in for a minute—not to disturb ever. Besides, Genevieve's walking out with her young man, and there's the bell to watch. No, I just dropped in to say that Mr. Rowlandson—the rooms over yours, Mr. Landless—Mr. Rowlandson says, 'Tell the young lady she may like to go up to my rooms some morning when I am not there to bother her,' he says, 'and look at my fans and patch-boxes. They're pretty, too,' says he, 'as pretty as her valentines.' And so they are, my deary dear, and you must go up and see them. Oh, yes, he knows all about your valentines. He bought them for your uncle, at your father's sale, and a pretty penny they cost. More than two hundred pounds. It seems your uncle was bidding against some public institution."
Mrs. Farquharson replaced the proffered chair.
"Is the poetry book to be out soon, sir?" she asked. "I hope so, I am sure. I'm that anxious to see your name in gold letters on the cover. Good-night, sir. Good-night, my dear. Are you certain you don't want more coals? Well, then, good-night."
John and Phyllis had their usual good-night talk by the fire.
"And so Mark Holroyd and the Honorable Margaret are engaged," said John, replacing a fallen coal with the tongs.
Phyllis put her feet on the low, brass fender, and tucked in her skirt.
"Yes, they are engaged," she replied. "It is to be announced very soon. Peggy says it shouldn't be called an engagement, but rather a two-year probationary period. She could hardly wait to tell me. The darling! That was why she was so anxious to help me unwrap the rug in the little room."
An old prayer-rug, with a golden tree of life in its deep blue center, was the Honorable Margaret's wedding gift; Mark sent a coffee percolator.
"She will have a beautiful wedding," she said softly. "Ah, John, you don't know what that means to a girl."
John poked the fire.
Suddenly Phyllis laughed.
"How could I have forgotten to tell you about the cards?" she continued. "It was so funny, and so like Peggy Neville. You see,—her card was fastened to the rug with a bit of ribbon—and on it was written—-'With love and sympathy.' When Peggy saw it she shrieked. 'Oh, Phyllis!' she said, 'mother's cousin, Caroline Molesworth, has been at the hospital for a week; day before yesterday she had her surgical operation, and yesterday I sent flowers. I wrote the cards at home,—and they got mixed. On hers is written—"May all your days be as full of joy as these last few days have been!"'"
* * * * *
In the night Phyllis found herself wide awake. She lay quietly considering a new thought that had come to her, somehow, while she slept. If she only dared! Oh, no, no! She couldn't ask him. And yet—She fell asleep again wondering whether—perhaps, just possibly—she could do it, if she kept her mind firmly fixed on John's book.
Bookshops are the most charming of all shops because they relate themselves so intimately to their visitors. Mr. Rowlandson's gained by its setting—at the corner of the green square. Not a very good place for trade, you would say. However, he thrived.
His shop-window does not differ from a score of others one may see, on a morning's walk: a shallow bay-window, with small, square panes of inferior glass; the familiar array of old books turn their mellow title-pages toward the light; a window designed for lingering. Three rows, or four, of books—and a few old prints—may be examined from the front; these whet the appetite. But two other rows are so set in the window as to necessitate sidelong inspection, and tempt the observer to take two steps around the corner. Here, to be at ease, one must stand with one foot on the first of the four stone stairs leading downward to the door; stairs worn by the footfalls of four generations of book-hunters. Just within the door one sees an alluring stack of books, the topmost sustaining a neatly printed sign—"Sixpence—your choice."
In short—the foot once placed upon the first of these descending stairs returns not to its fellow. A little bell rings, and one is inside.
Against the background of his overflowing shelves, with his old-fashioned clothes, his stooping shoulders, his iron-gray hair, and his firm, tender, and melancholy face,—you will never visit Samuel Rowlandson's shop without wishing to frame him as he stands, and set him in the window, among the other rare old prints.
He must have known you a long, long time to intrude a particular book upon your notice; and then with the air of consulting a connoisseur rather than suggesting a purchase. Yet he is a shrewd dealer. Not for Samuel Rowlandson is the fairly marked price on the fly-leaf; nor even hieroglyphics representing cost. A book is worth what it will fetch; and every customer's purchasing power is appraised with discrimination, concealed, indeed, but most effective.
The shop grows larger as your eyes become accustomed to the gloom of its remoter part. There are four thousand books on those overweighted shelves; all sorts and conditions of books; big folios and little duodecimos, ragged books and books clothed by Riviere and Bedford. Once he thought a Roger Payne binding had found its way to the shop, an inadvertent bargain; but, alas! the encyclopaedia dashed his tremulous hopes; years before the date on the title-page that seedy but glorious craftsman had laid down his tools forever.
The shelves are catholic: Samuel Pepys, immortally shameless; Adam Smith, shaken; Beaumont and Fletcher, in folio as they should always be found; Boswell's Johnson, of course, but Blackstone's "Commentaries" also; Plutarch's "Lives" and Increase Mather's witches; all of Fielding in four stately quarto volumes; Sterne, stained and shabby; Congreve, in red morocco, richly gilt; Moliere, pocket size, in an English translation; Gibbon in sober gray; Burton's "Anatomy"——
"The only book," says Mr. Rowlandson, "that ever put me to sleep two hours before I wished."
Here is Addison's "Spectator," its near neighbor Steele; the "Gentleman's Magazine," a long run this, but not complete; rare Ben Jonson, rubbed at the joints; Spenser's "Faerie Queen," with marginal notes in a contemporary hand; the "History of the Valorous and Witty Knight Errant," in sable morocco, with armorial decorations; Tacitus in all his atrocity, Herbert, all gentleness.
Overweighted shelves! Overweighted, indeed, for the books stand double-breasted. One must never assume a volume is not in stock because it is not in sight, though Mr. Rowlandson himself does not always know.
"Otway," he ponders, in response to your inquiry; "let me think. H'm. Yes, yes, to be sure, behind the set of 'English Men of Letters.' Not there? H'm. Well, I must have sold him, then. Oh, no. You will find him in that row of old dramatists, behind the—yes, there! A little to the left—Ah! of course. Old Otway, and a very nice, sound copy, too."
Not that all the books in Mr. Rowlandson's shop are old; his clientele is too diversified. The moderns are there, too. Thackeray and Dickens; Meredith and Carlyle; Tennyson; gallant old Sir Walter in various editions.
"Lockhart's 'Life,'" he would say, handling a volume from one hand to the other. "The saddest true story in the world"; and then, brightening, "Two pound, ten."
Mr. Barrie is always handsomely represented on Mr. Rowlandson's shelves. He is one of the few authors Mr. Rowlandson will recommend to casual customers. He suggests "Margaret Ogilvy: A Memoir. By her Son." "But are you sure it is by Barrie?"—they ask. He has sold more than four hundred copies. Once a year for several years he has written a letter to Mr. Barrie's publishers: "Why don't you bring out his Plays?" he pleads. "Think of the thousands of people in the provinces and in America who can't see them on the stage."
Mr. Rowlandson treasures a half-promise from Mr. Hewlett that he will write a novel around the picturesque, if unheroic, figure of Francois Villon. "I am keeping his letter," says Mr. Rowlandson, "to insert in the book—when it is published."
Of De Morgan he observes, sententiously: "Too late." Joseph Conrad's novels he shelves next to Stevenson's, significantly. He has a high regard for Arthur Christopher Benson's essays. "But does the man think I have as much shelving as the Museum?" he growls.
But these newer books are the minority. The composed, brown calf bindings give the shop its tone,—and its faint odor, too; a cultivated taste, the liking for that odor of old books.
Mr. Rowlandson's desk is in the alcove at the back of the shop; and in its lowest drawer, oftener than elsewhere, his gray cat, Selima, stretches her lazy length.
On a bright, crisp morning, nearly a week after Phyllis had lain awake thinking, Mr. Rowlandson sat at this desk, looking through his post, which consisted chiefly of book-catalogues. Having laid these aside, he opened a bulky parcel the post had brought. It proved to be a thick, square, black volume; a most unattractive book. But Mr. Rowlandson viewed it with interest.
"My me! My me!" he exclaimed, and read the title-page; "'Proceedings of the British Engineering Society for the Year 1848.' So, you have finally come to light, old hide-and-seek! Sir Peter Oglebay will be pleased. From Brussels, of all the unlikely—Well, well, I must remember to cancel the advertisement in the 'Athenaeum.'"
He picked up a blue saucer from the floor and stood, for a moment, watching Selima's quick paw, engaged in ablutions.
"Over your ear it goes," said he. "That means customers."
He began his morning's work with a feather duster. Occasionally he straightened a row of books. The bell tinkled, and Phyllis, in her brown coat and hat, stood, hesitant, at the door. She carried a parcel.
"Mr. Rowlandson?" she asked timidly.
"My name," he replied. "And you are Mrs. Landless. I have seen you before, although you have not seen me."
"I have heard a great deal about you, though, from Farquharson," said Phyllis. "And yesterday I took advantage of your invitation to see the pretty things in your rooms; I want to thank you for the opportunity; they are lovely old things."
"Mrs. F. took you up, did she? Well, they are pretty, and I am glad they pleased you. A foolish fancy, Mrs. Landless; a foolish fancy for an old man like me. But I am very fond of my fans and patch-boxes."
"I should think you would love them," said Phyllis. "Where in the world did you find them all?"
"Oh, in all sorts of odd nooks. They turn up when one is looking for them. Everything does, Mrs. Landless. That is one of the queer things about collecting. I could tell you some curious stories. Your old valentines, now. My me! The attics of the Continent must have been ransacked for them. It is very interesting. But the scattering of a collection is the sad part; saddest when books are dispersed. Only the other day I saw an autograph letter of De Quincey's,—the opium-eater, you know; it was written to the auctioneer who sold his library. It seems De Quincey had his son buy a few of the books at his own auction. The poor old fellow could not bear the thought of parting with them, I fancy, when it came to the pinch."
Mr. Rowlandson waited for Phyllis to say something. Poor Phyllis! It was even more difficult than she had expected. She was tempted to retreat; but she thought of John's book.
"A remarkable coincidence,—your finding your way to Mrs. F.'s," continued Mr. Rowlandson. "And a very happy one for her."
"For me, too," said Phyllis. "We have you to thank for that."
"Well—in a way." Mr. Rowlandson nodded. "It is strange what fortuitous circumstances seem to direct the current of our lives. I say they seem to, Mrs. Landless, for it may be only seeming. Perhaps all is planned for us, even when our decisions rest on the toss of a penny."
A gentle pressure against her skirt attracted Phyllis's attention. Selima's arched back invited her caress.
"Isn't that an unusual name for a cat?" she asked, when told of it.
Mr. Rowlandson's eyes twinkled and he began to quote, straightway. His voice was pleasant to hear:—
"'Twas on a lofty vase's side Where China's gayest art had dy'd The azure flowers, that blow; Demurest of the tabby kind, The pensive Selima reclin'd Gazed on the lake below.
"Thomas Gray, the poet, Mrs. Landless. The cat is historic. She was one of Horace Walpole's pets at Strawberry Hill, his country-seat, when Gray visited him there. Gray's first book was printed privately by Horace, who had ample means and recognized genius. The book is scarce now; it fetches five pounds and upward."
He resumed the quotation:—
"Still had she gaz'd; but midst the tide Two angel forms were seen to glide, The Genii of the stream: Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue Thro' richest purple to the view Betray'd a golden gleam.
"The hapless Nymph with wonder saw: A whisker first and then a claw, With many an ardent wish, She stretched in vain to reach the prize. What female heart can gold despise? What Cat's averse to fish?
"Your husband doubtless knows the poem, Mrs. Landless. Mrs. F. tells me he writes poetry himself. Some one once said of Gray that no other poet entered the portals of fame with so slender a volume under his arm. He wrote very little, Mrs. Landless, but he polished every letter of every word until the lines were flawless as the facets of a diamond."
"Did puss get the fish?" asked Phyllis, stooping to stroke Selima's sleek, gray side again.
"No," replied Mr. Rowlandson. "'The slipp'ry verge her feet beguil'd, she tumbled headlong in.' But cats have nine lives, you know.
"Eight times emerging from the flood She mew'd to ev'ry wat'ry god Some speedy aid to send. No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd, Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard. A Fav'rite has no friend.
"Now comes the moral," he continued. "Poets, in those days realized their obligation to society: to tell it something for its own good."
His eyes twinkled again; bright blue they were; friendly eyes, Phyllis thought.
"From hence, ye Beauties, undeceived, Know, one false step is ne'er retriev'd, And be with caution bold. Not all that tempts your wandering eyes, And heedless hearts, is lawful prize; Nor all that glisters, gold."
Mr. Rowlandson concluded, smiling. Phyllis returned his smile. The task before her was still difficult, but she felt she had known this dear old man a long, long time. She took the plunge.
"Mr. Rowlandson, I came in to thank you for letting me see your patch-boxes and fans; and to thank you, also, for having directed Mr. Landless to Farquharson's house. But there was something else,—too." She caught her breath prettily, in that quick way of hers. "It is a—a matter of—of business."
He bowed slightly, and awaited the expression of her wish. "I shall recommend something of Barrie's; or else 'Lorna Doone,'" he reflected.
"May I be seated?" asked Phyllis.
"My me! My me!" exclaimed Mr. Rowlandson. "Here is a chair. I beg your pardon Mrs. Landless." He seated himself on the third step of the convenient ladder, leaning against the high, book-laden shelves.
"You cannot imagine the nature of my errand," began Phyllis. It was dreadfully hard to go on. Her eyes were brimming, but they should not overflow if she could help it.
Mr. Rowlandson looked at the parcel in her lap; and then at her face; and then at the parcel again. She was not the first embarrassed visitor he had seen—nor the twenty-first.
"Shall I untie this for you?" he asked gently.
Phyllis nodded; she could not speak.
About twenty of the prettiest valentines were in the parcel. Mr. Rowlandson laid them on a little table and looked through them quietly, while Phyllis recovered her composure.
"May I see if I can save your feelings a little?" his pleasant voice said finally. "Mrs. Farquharson has told me of your—your quarrel with Sir Peter. A pity; a great pity. And so, perhaps I can guess the rest. The profession of poetry, inspiring as it is, is not—not exactly remunerative; not—not in a large way. No, I fancy the returns are not what you would call—well, say, generous. Things are not going quite so smoothly and easily for you as you—that is, as they should for two young people who have just started life together. And so it occurred to you that these old valentines might be sacri—sold, to help, a little."
He paused; Phyllis's handkerchief was at her eyes.
"Ah, yes," he added, "I feared that was it."
He gazed thoughtfully out of the window before he continued:—
"I am very sorry, my dear young lady. I am really very sorry. But I find it necessary to confine my purchases strictly to books. My me! Yes, strictly to books. If you had a few books, now, that you had ceased to care for, I might allow you something eh?"
"I have only the valentines, Mr. Rowlandson" said Phyllis. "It was very silly and wrong for me to come to you. I can see that now. Of course, you only buy and sell books."
"Except when commissioned by customers," said Mr. Rowlandson. "An invariable rule. If I could break it for any one, I—"
"You have been very kind," said Phyllis, rising. "So kind that I think I cannot leave you under a misapprehension. Mr. Landless's income is quite sufficient for our modest needs." A sudden thought made her heart beat rapidly. "Oh, Mr. Rowlandson! You must not think he knows I am here! Although, of course, I meant to tell him if—if I had been successful."
She hesitated again, and then, with a little appealing gesture, went hurriedly on.
"I think I should be quite frank with you. Mr. Landless has a book of poems—I mean—poems enough to make a book. But, although he has tried everywhere, he cannot find a publisher who is willing to undertake his little book. It is such a very little one, too. One firm of publishers offered to issue it if he would pay the cost, amounting to about fifty pounds. They wanted the copyright, too, but they have yielded that point. Farquharson told me you said that my uncle paid nearly two hundred pounds for my valentines when—at the time of my father's sale; and I thought, perhaps—perhaps——Do you see? I brought a few of the prettiest ones to show you. I thought you might have forgotten how pretty they are. I want so badly to have John's book published, because he is certain to succeed if only this first little book can be brought out."
The bookseller made no reply. He sat on the step of the ladder, gazing absently out of the window, over Phyllis's head.
Be careful, Samuel Rowlandson, you old sentimentalist, with your faded old patch-boxes and tattered old fans. You very nearly said something then, quite out of the line of trade. Fortunately you thought it over, for a minute or two, while Phyllis turned her pretty eyes away, to hide the tears that filled them. Be careful, Samuel Rowlandson, or you will say it now, as she tries to smile at you, with the corners of her sweet mouth trembling. Be care—It is of no use; he will say it.
* * * * *
"I have thought of a way I might be of service to you," said Mr. Rowlandson meditatively. "You see—it is not as though I did not know the value of that collection of valentines. They are worth one hundred pounds, at the lowest figure. Now—if you would not take offense, and you should not, I am sure, when no offense is meant; I might offer to lend you—say, fifty pounds, or half their lowest value, accepting the valentines as security, and—"
Phyllis's face lighted eagerly; then clouded again.
"But, Mr. Rowlandson," she objected, "that wouldn't be—quite—you know—businesslike, would it? I shouldn't like to do anything that John would feel was not quite regular and proper."
Mr. Rowlandson swallowed something in his throat.
"I should make it very businesslike, indeed by asking you to sign a note; drawn in the strictest, legal terms," he said gravely. "And I should charge you interest, at the rate of five per cent, payable half-yearly; on the appointed day."
Phyllis considered his face with serious eyes; Mr. Rowlandson slowly repeated:—
"Five percent? payable half-yearly; on the appointed day."
"It really sounds quite—quite businesslike and regular," she said. "Are you certain you can spare so large a sum?—without the slightest inconvenience?"
"Quite certain," said Mr. Rowlandson; and then added, "I always have a little ready money laid by—waiting for a really safe investment—like this one—at five per cent."
Half an hour later Phyllis shook hands with the old bookseller. She had an afterthought.
"A few of the valentines are framed. Does that make any difference? And, tell me, Mr. Rowlandson, how can they be taken from our rooms and delivered at your shop?"
"Well, now," said Mr. Rowlandson, pondering, "I am so much afraid of fire in the shop it would really be a favor to me if you would let them remain where they are—for the present; for the present, at least."
Phyllis shook hands again. The little bell tinkled. She was gone. In her purse were five ten-pound notes. In her heart was a glad song.
Through the shop-window, Mr. Rowlandson watched her cross the street swiftly. Then he turned. The valentines lay on the table, where she had left them,—samples of the wares she brought to market. He wrapped them, tied the parcel neatly, and carried it back to his desk. The square, black volume labeled "Proceedings of the British Engineering Society" caught his attention. He stared at it for some moments Then his blue eyes twinkled.
The copper coffee percolator bubbled genially on the snowy dinner table. John and Phyllis were seated. Mrs. Farquharson set the soup tureen before him, and hovered near. In the small grate a fire blazed cheerfully; the firelight gleamed on the fine mahogany and ivory inlay of the Sheraton desk. There lay John's manuscript,—returned this afternoon from Oxford, with the stereotyped politeness that was so disheartening.
Phyllis's suppressed excitement gave her cheeks their color; John feigned higher spirits than the occasion warranted; he made a point of eating his soup; Phyllis tasted hers.
Mrs. Farquharson served the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (her specialty), received due plaudits, and withdrew. John attacked the dinner; Phyllis's fork toyed with her greens. The all-important subject was not mentioned until Genevieve had cleared the table. Phyllis passed John a small cup of black coffee.
"Well, Phyllis," he said, "Byrne, the Dublin publisher, remains to us. Oxford declines Cambridge verses."
Then Phyllis, blushing like a rose, laid in his hand the five ten-pound notes. He looked at her with perplexed eyes.
"'"Old Valentines, and Other Poems," by John Landless, will appear shortly,'" she fictitiously quoted. She had read such announcements weekly, in his "Academy."
"Oh, John, those horrid publishers won't retract their offer, will they?"
"My darling girl, where did you get this money?"
"I will tell you all about it, John, dear; but first answer my question? There isn't any doubt, is there? The book can be published now?"
"Why—no; or rather—yes," he said slowly. "If the money is really ours, to do with as we please,—even to embark on so wild an adventure as a book of poems. I can't conceive how you came by it, though, dearest."
John held the ten-pound notes in his hand; he looked at them now, as if half surprised to find them still there.
Then Phyllis told him of her call at Mr. Rowlandson's shop; she remembered every word of the conversation; and came out especially strong on the rigid regularity of the transaction; the signed note, and the five per cent, payable half-yearly, on the appointed day. John's face was a study.
"Oh, Phyllis! Phyllis!" he said softly, when she had finished. "You would have sold your valentines—that you love so dearly! the old valentines that are entwined with your memories of your mother. You would have sold them! For me!"
Phyllis smiled happily at him and gave him both of her hands, across the little dinner table. When he could trust his voice, he said,—
"I am confident of my book. If I were not, of course, I couldn't let you do this, darling; dear as it was of you to think of it,—and to execute it so cleverly—so very cleverly. Old Rowlandson is a brick."
"He is a very shrewd man of business," said Phyllis, looking at John with misgivings "He always has a sum of ready money laid by, for perfectly businesslike investments."
"Of course," he reassured her.
He knew he could meet the interest on Phyllis's note. As to the principal—well, if worst came to worst he would be justified in breaking his promise to his father that he would never borrow on his expectations. Justified! John could almost see his father's smile of approval.
They sat in the big armchair together, and read the poems to be included in the little book.
"If I succeed in my profession I shall owe it all to you," said John to Phyllis; and, when she would have made remonstrance, he added,—"Ah, my dear, I like to have it so."
* * * * *
At the same hour, that evening, Sir Peter sat before his library fire. An open magazine lay on his knee, pages downward. He held an unlighted cigar in his hand. He stared moodily into the glowing coals. There were new, sad lines in his stern face.
Burbage entered. "Mr. Rowlandson to see you, sir. A very particular matter, sir, he says."
Sir Peter rose slowly when Mr. Rowlandson was shown into the room. Under his arm were three parcels.
"Glad to see you, Rowlandson," said Sir Peter. "How have you been since we met last? H'm. It must be two years, or longer."
"Thank you. I have enjoyed very good health, Sir Peter. Yes, it is all of two years. I hope you are quite well, sir."
"Fair; fair," said Sir Peter.
"We do not get younger as we grow older," observed Mr. Rowlandson. He laid two of the parcels on the big table, under the reading-lamp, and proceeded to untie the other.
A smile flickered across Sir Peter's face; he liked the old bookseller's sturdy, independent ways. He had been dealing with him for a quarter of a century.
"My lad failed me to-day," Mr. Rowlandson explained, "and as I had an old print of Charterhouse to be delivered to a customer, not far from here, I thought I would bring you something that came this morning—a book. A book for which you have waited a long time."
Sir Peter drew his eyeglass from his pocket, and straightened the heavy, black silk cord.
"Well, well!" said he, when Mr. Rowlandson handed him the book, opened at the title-page, with a little air of triumph. "The 'Proceedings' for 1848. This volume completes my set. It has given you a good bit of trouble, eh?" He leafed it through, and examined one of the plates with interest.
"Oh, nothing to speak of," replied the bookseller, rubbing his hands together with satisfaction, nevertheless.
Sir Peter drew a check-book from a drawer; the amount was named.
"Take a chair, Rowlandson," said Sir Peter. The check was written. Mr. Rowlandson folded it precisely and put it into his pocketbook. They sat for a moment or two without speaking. If the bookseller was expected to take his departure, Sir Peter was too courteous to say so.
"Will you drink a glass of sherry?" he asked, and touched a button, near the fireplace. The sherry was served. The old bookseller squinted through his glass at the light.
"About the same date as the 'Proceedings,' or thereabouts?" he remarked interrogatively.
Sir Peter nodded. "Fifty-two. A choice year."
"I was growing a great lad, then," commented Mr. Rowlandson. "You have the advantage of me by several years, I fancy."
"I shall not see sixty again," said Sir Peter; after a pause he added,—"I hope your trade is good; but everything is going to the devil, and I assume the bookselling business goes with the rest. The radicals are in the saddle—and driving headlong to destruction."
"I remember an aunt of mine, many years ago, who had fears for her country," was Mr. Rowlandson's rejoinder. "She stopped taking in the county paper, and depended on 'The Religious Weekly' for news, the rest of her days. She said there were no signs of change in that. Old Aunt Deborah! My me! But the bookselling trade does very well, thank you, Sir Peter. The magazines are the only retarding influence."
Mr. Rowlandson moved one of the parcels on the table a little nearer to him and slyly loosened the string.
"Occasionally I do a bit of business a little out of my line," he continued. "This morning, for example, I made a deal that promises a profit—a very pretty profit. Now that I come to think, it might be of interest to you to hear of it. It was a deal in old valentines? I recall you once bought a collection."
Sir Peter started.
"These old valentines were brought to the shop by a young woman in reduced circumstances She did not want to sell them, I fancy. She seemed rather fond of them." Mr. Rowlandson sipped his sherry; he lingered over it. "Yes, I should say she was rather fond of them. Well,—that isn't my affair. I advanced some money on them? just enough to tide over the present difficulty. Of course, she and her young husband——"
Sir Peter looked up quickly; he had been gazing into the fire. Mr. Rowlandson's face was placid.
"She and her young husband will want more money," he continued. "Yes, they will certainly want more money. And when the proper time comes——" He hesitated as though at a loss for the right words. "Down I come on them—pounce! and sell out the valentines—and take my profit." Mr. Rowlandson took another sip of sherry with evident enjoyment.
Their eyes met. Sir Peter scowled.
"She—was—my niece?" he inquired.
"Well, bless my soul!" pondered Mr. Rowlandson, as though the thought struck him for the first time. "They may have been the same valentines you bought at that sale—whose was it?—so many years ago. Of course, they may have been. I have a few of them with me—" He reached for the parcel with the loosened string.
"You know they are the same," said Sir Peter savagely. "Let this farce end at once. You should be ashamed, Rowlandson, to seek your shabby profit in the helplessness of a misguided child, ignorant of the world—and its hard, rough usage. I am surprised that you would do it—but that you should tell of it—even boast of it, amazes me. However—trade blunts a certain delicacy of feeling that—"
Sir Peter gave the bookseller a sharp look. Then he added,—
"I see your purpose in coming here now. You calculated shrewdly. Well—you were right. I will pay you the sum advanced to her."
Whatever emotion Mr. Rowlandson experienced he concealed.
Sir Peter opened his check-book again, and dipped his pen.
"How much did you say?" he asked.
"The amount advanced was fifty pounds," said Mr. Rowlandson mildly.
"Fifty pounds!" exclaimed Sir Peter.
Mr. Rowlandson held his wine-glass to the light again, and looked through it with half-closed eyes.
"Fifty pounds," he quietly repeated, "and took her note, with interest at five per cent. I could have made it six as well as not, she wanted the money so badly."
Sir Peter turned his back on the bookseller the pen busied itself with the check. A moment later it was offered to him.
"Thank you, Sir Peter. My interest in this transaction is not for sale." Mr. Rowlandson spoke in a low tone, firmly.
"But I say my niece shall not be indebted to you! Not one penny!"
Sir Peter's fist came down on one of the parcels lying on the table. There was a crash of broken glass. Mr. Rowlandson's eyes twinkled merrily.
"That is the Charterhouse print," said he. "My customer will be disappointed. It was promised for this evening."
The trivial incident cooled Sir Peter's wrath.
"I insist on your taking the check, Rowlandson" he said sternly. "You will understand it is an impossible situation. My niece is not under the necessity of seeking aid from strangers. She knows that all I have is hers. That I would——" He stopped abruptly.
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Rowlandson, leaning forward. "Let us talk about her—and her young poet. What an upstanding, fine, frank lad he appears to be. Do you think he has great talent?"
"I do not know that he has any talent whatever!" replied Sir Peter angrily. "I know he stole my niece from me? the puppy!"
"Well, well," said Mr. Rowlandson gently. "That was wrong. Wrong, indeed. And I suppose you had showed him clearly that by proceeding openly he had a fair field to win her, too?"
Sir Peter set his teeth. The old bookseller repeated his question:—
"You did not discourage the lad, I am sure? He knew he had a chance, eh?"
"I must decline to discuss that with you, Rowlandson."
"Chut! Chut!" murmured Mr. Rowlandson. "We are just two old fellows jogging toward the grave together, even if you are a knight, and I am a bookseller. Come, now, Sir Peter, tell me all about it. It will do you good. I will wager you have been eating your heart out, for a month, in this great, lonely house, with no one to whom you could talk of your sorrow. Come, come, Sir Peter." Mr. Rowlandson rose. "Do not twenty-five years of honest dealing with you entitle me to a little of your confidence?"
Sir Peter stood silently by the fireplace, his back turned to the old bookseller. Mr. Rowlandson set his empty wine-glass carefully on the table, and then drew from their paper the valentines Phyllis had left at the shop.
"I read an essay of Mr. Benson's, last night,—and one bit comes to me now," he said. "The essay opens with an old French proverb, 'To make one's self beloved is the best way to be useful.' Then the essayist goes on to say that this is one of the deep sayings which young men, and even young women, ignore; which middle-aged folk hear with a certain troubled surprise? and which old people discover to be true, and think, with a sad regret, of opportunities missed, and of years devoted, how unprofitably, to other kinds of usefulness. We expect, like Joseph in his dreams, says Mr. Benson, that the sun and moon and the eleven stars, to say nothing of the sheaves, will make obeisance to us. And then, as we grow older the visions fade. The eleven stars seem unaware of our existence and we are content if, in a quiet corner, a single sheaf gives us a nod of recognition."
Mr. Rowlandson smiled pleasantly, and patted the old valentines under his hand.
"And then," he continued, "the essayist says, we make further discoveries that give us pain; that when we have seemed to ourselves most impressive, we have only been pretentious; that riches are only a talisman against poverty; that influence comes mostly to people who do not pursue it, and do not even know they possess it; and that the real rewards of life have fallen to simple-minded and unselfish people who have not sought them. I fear I have not quoted the essay quite accurately. I had a wonderful memory, once. It fails—it fails. But it is very prettily put, in the book, and of course it is all quite true."
Mr. Rowlandson smiled again, at Sir Peter's back. He turned the valentines over, one at a time:—
"My me! My me!" he mused, aloud. "Think of all the old loves, of bygone years, these represent. School-boy and schoolgirl loves—most of them, probably; springtime loves. The perfume will always linger in these poor, faded leaves. You never married, Sir Peter, did you? Nor I; nor I. My me! My me! I remember a girl—when I was twenty; in Hertfordshire—my old home. Bessy was her name. She had the softest brown hair—in a thick braid. She wore pink-checked gingham. My me! She married a farrier, fifty years ago."
Mr. Rowlandson bent over one of the valentines, to read the verses, finely engraved, beneath a spray of blue forget-me-nots:—
"Wilt thou be mine? Dear love, reply, Sweetly consent, or else deny. Whisper softly; none shall know. Wilt thou be mine? Say aye, or no."
He looked up, smiling still, and went on,—"I fancy, Sir Peter, you, too, have your memories; you can recall some sweet face of your youth, for which you would have thought the world well lost; you can bring back the memory of some fragrant day when you and she looked forward with bright hopes to happy years that never were to be. A golden day; a golden day."
Sir Peter still stood by the fireplace, silent.
"And now this dear girl of yours—your niece—has strayed away from you, with the boy of her heart! But, how willingly,—how gladly, she would come back to you, and be yours again—as well as his, if you only opened your arms for her—and said the right words of welcome to her—and to him. She would come back and renew your faith in youth, and hope, and love, and all the beautiful things of this old earth—which we shall leave so soon; so soon, that every lost day should be mourned. Ah, yes! I am sure she waits only for the welcoming words."
Mr. Rowlandson shook his head, slowly, as he concluded,—
"I am proud for myself, and sad for you, that I should be the one to launch his little book; the little book for which she was willing to sell her precious valentines. The little book may not set the Thames afire, but—ah! how the thought of it has kindled their young hearts."
Sir Peter turned from the fireplace and walked the length of the long library; then, slowly, back to the table again.
"You can take the check now, Rowlandson," he said, brokenly; "I shall go to her—and bring them home to-morrow."
He dropped into his chair, and covered his face with his hands; Mr. Rowlandson turned to the fireplace. He drew from his pocketbook the note Phyllis had signed, and held it in the grate until it blazed. Then he puckered his mouth, curiously, as if trying to whistle. When he faced Sir Peter again, his blue eyes twinkled.
"You owe me a shilling for a new glass for my Charterhouse print," said he.
Ten minutes later, when Mr. Rowlandson left the house, Burbage opened the door. He carried a parcel that clinked, as he stepped out, briskly.
"Will you require anything further, Sir Peter?" asked Burbage.
"Yes. Have Miss Phyllis's little study-room, and the two adjoining bedrooms made ready, Burbage. My niece and her husband are coming home to-morrow."
As John lay between sleep and waking, the next morning, he was conscious that in a moment he would capture an elusive, happy thought.
He had it! The book could now be published!
While he dressed he sang an ancient ballad, at the top of his voice, to an air he improvised.
"Phillida was a fair maide As fresh as any flower; Whom Harpalus the herd-man praide To be his paramoure.
"Harpalus and eke Corin, Were herd-men both ysere; And Phillida would twist and spinne, And thereto sing ful clere.
"Phyllis!" cried John. "Can you hear in the bedroom? I sing of thee!"
"I thought her name was Phillida," said Phyllis, setting the bedroom door ajar.
"Phillida is Old English for Phyllis," he explained.
"Oh!" said Phyllis.
"But Phillida was al to coye, For Harpalus to winne; For Corin was her only joye, Who forst her not a pinne.
"How often would she flowers twine! How often garlants make Of cowslips and of columbine; And all for Corin's sake.
"Harpalus prevayled nought, His labour all was lost; For he was farthest from her thought, And yet he loved her most.
"Phyllis! I say, Phyllis!" cried John, working his hairbrushes alternately. "I am Corin. Who was Harpalus?"
"You flatter yourself, sir," replied Phyllis "I am pining for Harpalus."
"Tell me his last name, then, that I may seek and slay him!" said John.
Between stanzas, John forgot the air, but he improvised anew, and sang on, regardless.
"'Oh, Harpalus!' thus would he say; Unhappiest under sunne! The cause of thine unhappy daye, By love was first begunne.
"'But wel-a-way! that nature wrought Thee, Phillida, so faire: For I may say that I have bought Thy beauty al to deare.'"
"Cheer up, Harpalus!" Phyllis waved her hand through the half-open doorway. "Faint heart never won fair lady!"
"He is too far gone," said John. "Besides, I, Corin, have nine-tenths of the law on him.
"'O Cupide, graunt this my request, And do not stoppe thine eares.'"
The song ceased while John tugged at his collar. When the button finally slipped in, he muttered:—
"There is a musical line for you? 'And do not stoppe thine eares.' I would rather have written that line than take Quebec.
"'O Cupide, graunt this my request, And do not stoppe thine eares, That she may feel within her breste The paines of my dispaire.'"
John ended upon a mournful quaver.
"Phillida has pangs of a different sort, thank you," said Phyllis, coming into the sitting-room. "Pangs of hunger. Good-morning, Genevieve. Is breakfast served? Yes, indeed, it is a beautiful morning."
"Heartless creature!" said John. He was putting on his coat now.
"Good-morning, fair Genevieve. Wags the world well with you? M-m-m. Doesn't the bacon smell good?"
"Poor Harpalus," said Phyllis, pouring tea. "I was very fond of Harpalus."
John's eyes were mischievous.
"Why didn't you propose to him, then?" he asked, accenting the second pronoun.
Phyllis threatened him with a buttered muffin.
"John Landless! I shall not speak to you again for—ten minutes."
It was the jolliest breakfast. Mrs. Farquharson's bacon was always crisp; she could tell a strictly fresh egg as far as she could see it; if you had tossed one of her muffins into the air it would have floated out of the open window. "Tell her I said so," said John to little Genevieve.
It is a pity we know so little of Genevieve. One has an uneasy sense of having neglected her. Well—her young man loved her; and that is enough for Genevieve.
John stuffed the manuscript into his greatcoat pocket.
"Oh, dear, if I could only wish myself invisible for an hour and go with you to the publishers," said Phyllis. "It doesn't seem possible to wait until afternoon to hear what they say."
"You were going to Saint Ruth's this morning, weren't you?" he asked.
"Yes, I shall be there the whole morning. I don't believe one of those blessed babies will remember me. I have a little shopping to do, too."
"Why not do your shopping about eleven; meet me at Mildmay's, for luncheon, at one; and we will 'bus over to Saint Ruth's together, and make an afternoon of it."
Phyllis kissed him.
"What a perfectly delightful plan!" she exclaimed. "How shall I find Mildmay's? Oh! John, dear; how much has happened since then."
"No regrets yet?" he asked, searching her eyes.
She put her hands on the lapels of his coat.
"Not even one tiny, little regret," said Phyllis.
As he ran down the stairs, however, she called after him.
"Oh, John! I forgot. I have one regret."
"What is it?" he asked.
"Harpalus"—whispered Phyllis, leaning over the banister; and kissed her hand to him.
Phyllis's truthful eyes had not hidden from John, this morning, or ever, that her heart was often saddened by thoughts of her uncle. She knew his way of life so well; could tell, at any hour, what he was probably doing. She could picture his lonely evenings. Alas, she knew his pride; and her own; John's, too. She often thought of her letter to him, with its hint of reconciliation; she wondered if she should have said more. Then his cruel words about her mother—As often she concluded she had said all there was to say. And she would turn her thoughts elsewhere, so that the bitter remembrance might not spoil the sweetness of these days.
John waited for her at the entrance to Mildmay's. The moment she saw him she knew all was well.
As they went in she nudged him.
"To the left, John. I want to sit at our little table."
The same waitress, too;—what smiles! Phyllis had chocolate because she liked chocolate; but John must have tea—because he had it before.
He told her of the interview with the publishers; the little book would appear in April; May at the latest.
The top of the motor-bus, of course.
From the crossing where they alighted one should take the street to the right to Saint Ruth's. John turned to the left, at once.
"I should never have forgiven you if you hadn't," said Phyllis, as they started eagerly down the mean street, in which noisy trams threatened the lives of ragged, venturesome children. Here was the very place! How slowly they had walked there, while he told her of his love. How long ago it seemed. Phyllis's hand found its way into John's pocket—and was welcomed there.
They got to Saint Ruth's, finally. Dr. Thorpe's greeting was cordial; Mrs. Thorpe kissed Phyllis affectionately. The men went to the warden's office; Mrs. Thorpe took Phyllis to her room. They had a long talk. Phyllis found Mrs. Thorpe could be plain-spoken as well as kind.
"You did wrong, dear girl," she said, with her arms around her. "I know how hard it was to hear him utter those terrible untruths; but you should have been more patient. Nothing he said could injure any one—least of all your mother, who is now where there is no misunderstanding—and no pain. Your wounded heart impelled you to a mad act, dear girl; but your pride has kept you in the wrong. John Landless is a dear fellow—and Donald thinks he is a true poet. I have laughed at him until he is shy about mentioning his 'profession' to me. It is possible for you to be very happy. Soften your heart, dear girl, and you will find the truest happiness in the happiness of your uncle. Your mother would be the first to tell you to go to him and comfort his loneliness—if she could. The best joys of life come to us through self-surrender."
Phyllis laid her head in Mrs. Thorpe's lap and had a good cry; then she felt better.
"Promise?" asked Mrs. Thorpe, smiling.
"No, I won't promise," said Phyllis. "I couldn't promise now. But I will try."
"And now," said Mrs. Thorpe, "let's go and see the babies. There are some new ones since you were here; but one wee mite is gone, forever."
Phyllis sat on the floor among the babies, and played with them, until her cheeks were rosy and her golden hair disheveled. Between romps she told Mrs. Thorpe that John's book would soon be published.
"Well, that is good news!" exclaimed Mrs. Thorpe. "Donald will be so happy to hear of that. It is remarkable that he should have a book published so soon. Poems, too."
"Yes, it is remarkable," replied Phyllis demurely. "But then, John's talent is remarkable."
Meanwhile, in the warden's office, Dr. Thorpe sat at his desk and John sat on it, and swung his long legs. He told him about the book.
"By Jove! I congratulate you, with all my heart," said Dr. Thorpe warmly. "You will let me know the first day it is on sale. I shall wish to buy a copy."
"Buy a copy!" John demurred. "Well, upon my word! You and Mrs. Thorpe will receive a copy, affectionately inscribed by the author; the first copy off the press—the second, I should say."
Dr. Thorpe grinned.
"Let me buy it, John," he said. "I shall go from one bookshop to another, and in each I shall say,—'What! You haven't a copy of John Landless's book! The sensation of the hour! The book London is so eager to read that the presses can't turn them out fast enough! The book—'"
John threw his cap at him. They looked at each other in the abashed way of men between whom there is deep affection.
"Your publisher's telephone wires would be hot for an hour with orders," Dr. Thorpe concluded.
"You should be a man of business," said John. "If you were a publisher I should have had an easier time."
"Nonsense! You had little or no trouble—" began Dr. Thorpe.
"You are mistaken, Doctor," said John. "I had failed, and then Phyllis pulled the strings. I can't tell you how, though. That is a secret."
"I am prepared to believe anything of her. How buoyant and beautiful she is. By the way—anything from Sir Peter?"
"Not a word. She wrote him a note, asking for her collection of valentines. They were her mother's, and she wanted them. He sent the valentines, but no reply to her note."
"Poor old buffer," said Dr. Thorpe. "Of course, he misses her dreadfully."
"I should think he would; and she misses him, too. I would be glad to see them good friends again if—if I needn't be put in a false position. He is—disgustingly rich, you know." John hesitated. He looked at the floor, and traced the pattern of the carpet with his stick. "He called me a sneak—and ordered me out of the house. But I can afford to forgive that. It was horribly sudden for the poor old chap—and—all that."
Dr. Thorpe's eyes were moist.
"I meant to look into your spiritual state, later," he said. "But I see it isn't necessary."
When the four of them met, in the hall, it was understood that John and Phyllis would resume their work at Saint Ruth's.
"Nothing like it to keep your sense of relative values normal," said Dr. Thorpe to John.
Mrs. Thorpe stood with her arm around Phyllis.
"Saint Ruth's neighbors will be glad to see you again, dear girl. Did I tell you what old Mrs. Lester said to me? You remember her poor hands, all twisted with rheumatism and yet what beautiful needlework she does. She said, 'I should like to make her a pretty handkerchief, for a wedding gift. Do you think she would care for it?'"
Mrs. Thorpe had been looking through the open doorway.
"Here comes trouble, Donald," she said, in a low voice.
John and Phyllis glanced back as they walked out.
Dr. Thorpe was shaking hands, heartily, with a big, sodden fellow, in shabby clothes, his virile face marred by excesses; the frail little woman with him looked up at him with a world of anxious love in her eyes; and then Mrs. Thorpe led her away, talking cheerily.
All the way home John discoursed on Art. Phyllis drank it in. She thought him a wonderful being.
"The trouble with these literary chaps is that they revolve in a circle," he declared, posing securely on his new pedestal. "They have their writing rooms, all strewn with carefully disarranged paraphernalia; and they have their clubs, where they meet only each other and praise each other's work, and damn the work of the absent ones: and they go prowling about looking for a bohemia that never existed, and can never exist for them; for bohemia is simply youth and poverty and high aspirations, combined, and can't be found by search. If these literary chaps are exceptionally fortunate, they are invited to great houses, where they dine with stupid, overfed people who pretend they have read their books, though they haven't, unless they are unfit to read. And so they go on wearily turning that treadmill—and wonder why their work has lost freshness, and convince themselves it has gained style. I am not a literary chap, and I don't wish to be one. I am a poet. Poetry is my profession. And the only way I can succeed in it, the only way it is worth succeeding in, is to relate it to life, real life, the big, elemental struggle for existence that is going on, here in London, and everywhere; to wed Art to Reality, lest the jade saunter the streets, a light o' love, seeking to sell her soul."
As they walked past the bookshop, and through the little square, John said:—
"I should like to live in London eight months of the year, and give most of my time to Saint Ruth's. And the rest of the year I should like to live in a village, like Rosemary, Sussex, where I lived as a boy; on the outskirts of a little village, near the green country; and do my writing there, under the blue sky—with God looking over my shoulder, to see the work well done."
There was a motor-car in front of the house; its blinding lights illuminated the windows at the other end of the square.
Mrs. Farquharson met them at the door.
"He's upstairs in your room. Sir Peter Oglebay—your uncle," she said, in an excited whisper. "Three times he has called this day; once at eleven, once at two; and now again at six. 'Sit down and wait,' I says to him, the last time; 'they will surely be home for dinner; never have they missed since first they came,' says I; and sit down he did—and there he sits; and doesn't he look noble, sitting there! Genevieve's that nervous she drops everything she touches."
John and Phyllis exchanged looks. He smiled as easily as he could.
"Would you like it if I walked about a bit—or dropped in on old Rowlandson, while you talk with your uncle?" he asked.
"I want you with me, John. I need you," said Phyllis.
"Together's the word," he replied, and they mounted the stairs.
So far as Phyllis was concerned, it was all over in a moment.
Sir Peter rose when they entered. She gave one look at his sad, white face, and drawn mouth.
"Oh, Uncle Peter!" she cried; and was in his arms.
He tried to say the words he had humbly learned.
"I have your pardon to ask, my dear—"
That was as far as he got. She put both hands over his mouth; and withdrew them only to kiss him and whispered—
"It is I who should ask your pardon, Uncle Peter. I have been very, very naughty, And I am very, very sorry."
Now, when Sir Peter heard that childish formula, he seemed to hold in his arms the little girl who had repeated it, many times, under the instructions of Mrs. Burbage. The years slipped away. He held her close; the wounds were healed.
When two men have a disagreeable interview before them, each maneuvers for position. The one who gets the fireplace back of him has an advantage. It isn't impregnable, but the other fellow must force the fighting. The place may be carried by storm; but it takes a spirited action. John executed a flank movement, while his ally engaged the enemy. He got the fireplace; it was a small one, but it was his own.
One wishes John well out of this scene; our hopes are high for him; but he is a queer chap; you never know how to take him, nor what he will say, or do. We can only wish him well; and observe that he carries his chin high.
Sir Peter released Phyllis, and then turned to John.
"I wish to apologize to you, Landless," said Sir Peter, and crossed the room; he offered his hand; John took it and they stood for a moment so, neither speaking.
"I hope you can forgive what I said," Sir Peter concluded.
"I did that before we left your house—that morning," said John. "Don't say anything more about it, sir, please. I should have been as angry as you were—under the same circumstances. I am sure there is need of forbearance on both sides."
Sir Peter dropped John's hand, and strode to the window. In a moment he faced about again.
"I can't have it that way," said he. "It was unspeakable——"
John stopped him.
"I beg you to say no more, sir. I assure you there is not an unkind thought in my heart. Let the dead past bury its dead." John hesitated; then stammered out—"Fine weather we are having, sir."
Sir Peter offered his hand again; their grasp was cordial. Each looked straight into the other's eyes.
"Oh, dear," said Phyllis, pushing the big armchair nearer the fire. "Isn't everything lovely!"
She coaxed her uncle into the chair with a pretty gesture, and seated herself in a smaller one, with a happy little sigh.
There was a tap at the door.
John opened to Mrs. Farquharson; she curtseyed.
"You were wishful to see me, my d——ma'am?" she asked.
Phyllis laughed gayly. "You are wonderful, Farquharson," she said. "I have been thinking for five minutes how nice it would be if my uncle dined with us; if it were quite convenient for you."
"As ever could be," said Mrs. Farquharson. "I sent Genevieve for another chicken as soon as ever he was in this room. You never saw a plumper."
"Isn't she wonderful?" Phyllis turned to her uncle. "Uncle Peter, you must be formally presented to my dear Farquharson, my old nurse. Farquharson—Sir Peter Oglebay, my uncle."
Mrs. Farquharson curtseyed again; Sir Peter rose and bowed gravely.
"A great many years ago I heard how wonderful you were, Farquharson," he said, "from a little girl, who is now grown,—and married,—but is of the same opinion still. It was a piece of good fortune, indeed that brought these children of mine to your house."
"Thank you, sir. Thank you, Sir Peter," replied Mrs. Farquharson, her gray eyes very large. "I should have made your acquaintance years ago if that Mrs.—Well, least said, soonest mended. But sorry I am that never did those advertisements meet my eye if ever they were printed. The expense of them, too, sir, in every paper in London, every day for three months. Not that you minded that!" Mrs. Farquharson had told the story to the first-floor front; the first-floor front who had been in stocks—and seen better days; it had not lost in the telling.
"If you are certain—" said Sir Peter to Mrs. Farquharson. "Very well, I shall be glad to dine."
On the way to the lower regions, Mrs. Farquharson dropped in on the first floor.
"Sir Peter Oglebay's dining with us tonight," she said. "I was frightened of him at first, but, pooh! he's as easy as an old shoe."
John still held the fireplace; he knew the worst was yet to come.
"There are great preparations at home, my dear," said Sir Peter to Phyllis. "Your little study-room has been polished till it shines, and the two adjoining rooms have been rearranged three times since this morning." He looked at John. "Burbage has been told that I hope to have both of you home again. Her efforts are Herculean to anticipate every wish Phyllis may have."
"I hope you won't be hurt, sir," said John, "but I fear that is out of the question I ask you to believe there isn't an iota of unfriendliness in it, but—you see, sir, Phyllis and I must live within our own income; and independence is as necessary to me as air. I am sorry if you are disappointed."
"I appreciate your point of view perfectly," said Sir Peter. "I am coming to that. But first I ask you to sympathize with mine, a little. My house is so large that I am lost in it, unless there are others there. And as one grows older there are so few who care to come. The old friends have new interests; children about them; and the wider circle that means. The house has never seemed so large and so lonely as during the past month. For many years my brother Robert, Phyllis's father, lived with me there. It will be hard for you to believe I was ever gay, but it was really a gay house then. His friends were a light-hearted lot, and they were as welcome there as my own; mine were few by comparison. We talked pictures most of the time; his friends were painters. What dreams for the future I heard from them! The best of them loved Robert—and believed in him. No one could help loving him. I remember a remark Thorburg, the sculptor, made one night, at a dinner in his honor. Thorburg had just done some extraordinary thing—I have forgotten what; his 'Grief,' perhaps. 'Oglebay,' said he to Robert, 'there isn't a man in this room who doesn't envy you. We all have talent; but yours touches the highest mark. I will not say it is genius, but it is near it; we shall bare our heads before one of your pictures, some day.' Little Singleton spoke up then. 'The great god Thor hath said it, Oglebay, but we all think it.' They were all there that night; there must have been twenty of us at the table. I can see their faces now, clearly, and hear little Singleton's piping voice. Singleton, Knowles, and Leonard—the inseparable trio, they called them."
Sir Peter paused.
"As I said, the house was gay then. The Oglebay Prize was the result of just such a dinner. Robert suggested it. Thorburg was one of the trustees until he died; it has helped many a lad through his days in the Latin Quarter. I have had some fine letters from those lads. One or two of them have turned out really good work; good enough to have satisfied Robert that the prize was worth while. Yes,—the Oglebay Prize is one of the few things I look back upon with unalloyed pleasure; my bridge in Natal is another."
Phyllis had moved her chair nearer to her uncle; while he spoke of her father, he held her hand, on the arm of his chair. Now she spoke quickly, with that pretty catch in her breath.
"Oh, Uncle Peter. Tell John about the Natal bridge. It is more interesting and more exciting than the best novel you ever read."
"I should like to hear the story, sir," said John; it was pleasant to see the sincerity of his interest.
"I will tell it to you some day, John," replied Sir Peter. He smiled. "You will probably hear it a great many times. We all have our failings; that story is mine. My cronies at the club tell me I lead up to it so skillfully they cannot always stop me in time."
"Do tell it, Uncle Peter," said Phyllis.
Sir Peter thought for a moment.
"Some time I will, my dear," he said. "But not now. My mind is on something else." He addressed his remarks to John again. "We were talking about the days when there was overflowing life in my old house."
John stood with his back to the fire; his face was attentive, serious, considering; but every line in it expressed determination.
"Those days ended when Robert married," Sir Peter continued. "I quarreled with him and we parted. I never saw him again. And for ten years my house was a mausoleum, haunted by memories; a torture-house of vain regrets and useless longings."
His voice broke; he rose suddenly and walked to the window again. They were silent until he returned to his chair. Phyllis seated herself on the broad arm of it, and laid a caressing hand on his shoulder. He took the hand and held it.
"Then came the news from the North—that my little girl was motherless—and fatherless; and then came my little girl herself. She was a very little girl then; a sad and lonely little girl; but"—Sir Peter cleared his throat, and spoke huskily and slowly—"but she brought comfort to me. There was something in life for me again—besides my work. My work I always had. I thanked God for that. I need not tell you, John, how this little girl crept into my heart, nor how her small fingers smoothed away the wrinkles from my gloomy old face." Sir Peter looked up at her and pressed the hand he held. "And so the years rolled on—and she grew, and grew, and grew, until she became a young woman. A—a passably good-looking young woman—eh, John? Wouldn't you say so—passably good-looking?"
"I might say so to you, sir—privately," he admitted.
"And when she was certain of her conquest of me," continued Sir Peter, "she looked about, as it were, for other worlds to conquer. And along came a—er—h'm—along came a young prince. Precisely so—along came a young prince upon whom the fairies had bestowed marvelous gifts." Sir Peter fairly chuckled as he completed this unusual imaginative flight. "Marvelous gifts," he repeated. "Eh, Phyllis? Would you say he had marvelous gifts?"
"If we were quite alone, Uncle Peter, I might say so," confessed Phyllis.
"And this passably good-looking young woman and this prince of the marvelous gifts proceeded to fall in love with each other in the most natural way in the world," Sir Peter went on. "Precisely so. In the most natural way in the world; as any one but a grumpy old fellow would have foreseen they would. And having fallen in love with each other, what in the world was there for them to do but to be married at once—eh? And yet, will you believe it?—there was a grumpy old fellow who wished to prevent it. Now, what could you say to an old fellow as grumpy as that?" Sir Peter adjusted his eyeglass and looked first at John, and then at Phyllis, quizzically.
"I should say no one could blame him," said John promptly.
"I shouldn't say anything. I should just hug him," said Phyllis, and carried out the threat with spirit.
"And now we come to the point of this long story," resumed Sir Peter, readjusting his eyeglass, which had fallen during Phyllis's demonstration, "These two having married have no other duty before them than to—er—eh? Of course. Precisely! No other duty than to live happily ever afterward—eh? As they always do in stories. But the question is—where? Precisely! Where shall they live happily ever afterward? Shall they live all by themselves? Or shall they share their happiness—a little of it—with the grumpy old fellow aforesaid? He does not like to base his plea to them on his need of the little girl he has loved so many years; nor on his need of the marvelous gifts of the young prince, though they are especially needed just at this time, as I shall tell you. Now, John," said Sir Peter, in his most engaging way, "advise me about this. What ground should he base his petition upon in order to win his case? Because he is more anxious to win this case than he was to finish the Natal bridge,—and he was terribly anxious about that,—as you will hear, one of these days."
John glanced toward Phyllis; she instantly turned her head, and looked resolutely in the opposite direction. She felt that the answer to Sir Peter's question belonged to John. Sir Peter saw John waver; he caught his glance at Phyllis; and, like a good campaigner, followed up the attack.
"I need your assistance just now, John, very badly," said Sir Peter. "For years my friends in the British Engineering Society have been urging me to prepare and publish my recollections. Some of them went to Allan Robertson's Sons, the publishers, about it and they have given me no peace since I was weak enough to make a promise that they should have the book. 'Recollections of an Engineer, 1874-1910,' it is to be called. Now,—if you would help me I could do it easily. And we would have some good times over it, I hope."
John glanced at Phyllis again; but she would not look at him. It was very hard not to at the time; but Phyllis was so glad afterward that she didn't.
Sir Peter got up from his chair, and stood in front of John, both hands on his shoulders.
"Dear lad," he said. "In a few years you and Phyllis will have all that is mine in the world. You can't prevent that—with all your pride—for which I honor you. In a few years it will all be yours. For those few years will you not share it with me—and let them be peaceful and happy years?"
John turned his face away.
"Very well, sir," he said. "We will go to your home—to-morrow. That is—if Phyllis says so, too."
Phyllis flashed him a radiant look.
"But you must let me contribute my little pittance to the general fund," added John. "It isn't much—but it is all I have."
"With all my heart!" said Sir Peter.
The white tablecloth was laid; the coffee percolator hummed its contented little song. The broiled chicken was delicious; and the browned potatoes. There was a grape jelly; Sir Peter was helped twice to this.
"Do you make it yourself?" he asked Mrs. Farquharson.
"Whoever else?" she answered.
"But you should taste her marmalade at breakfast!" exclaimed John.
"I like a good marmalade; we have the 'Dundee'; which is yours?" asked Sir Peter. He fell into their informal ways so easily.
"We make our own," said Mrs. Farquharson proudly.
"Upon my word," said Sir Peter, as he stirred his coffee with a tiny spoon, and accepted a match for his cigar—"upon my word, I haven't eaten such a dinner in years. So—er—companionable—you know."
At eleven, when they went with him to the door, Mrs. Farquharson met them in the hall.
"Good-night, Farquharson," said Sir Peter.
"Good-night, sir," said Mrs. Farquharson, and handed him a parcel. "Would you please to slip these glasses into your greatcoat pocket: two of the jelly, and two of the marmalade. Here are the recipes, written on this paper; Genevieve has copied them out very plain and large. That Mrs. Burbage can read them—with her spectacles."
Two happy, eventful years passed.
One evening, as they sat in the long library, John happened to mention Rosemary Sussex,—and the old parsonage, where his boyhood had been spent, untenanted now—in disrepair. Sir Peter asked a casual question or two. For the rest of the evening he schemed in silence.
Shortly thereafter his mysterious absences began. He required an earlier breakfast on certain days; and John and Phyllis sometimes dined alone.
The new parsonage at Rosemary is nearer the church than the old,—but the old parsonage has more land, and its garden slopes gently downward to the little river, slipping murmurously away to the sea.
So long as Sir Peter tried to keep part of his plan a secret from the vestry, he had one failure after another for his pains. Time after time he returned on the early evening train to London, growling into his white mustache. They would not say no, and they did not say yes; he made no progress. But when he pledged a discreet vestryman to confidence, and told him he sought to buy the old parsonage for the son of its former occupant, the Reverend Hugh Landless, and for his wife, the ways were smoothed at once. A morning came, at last, when he could tell them he had a surprise in store for them, and could place the title-deed in Phyllis's hands.
"It is my belated wedding-gift," said Sir Peter.
Phyllis will never forget her first glimpse of the gray old house. As the motor-car neared the curve in the road which discloses the view John knew and loved so well, he said to her:—
"Now, dearest; in just a moment. There!"
The house is screened from the road by an ivy-covered wall, great trees, and the shrubbery. But Phyllis caught the very view John wished her to have,—a bit of the west gable, and the window from which his mother's handkerchief had fluttered many gay farewells to him.
Sir Peter stood by the sun-dial, in the garden, and listened, well pleased, to John's eager voice, as he pointed out the spots endeared to him by memories of childhood. The sun-dial! How he had pondered over the quatrain, chiseled in the stone:—
"The Moving Finger writes; and having writ Moves on—nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."
"My father used to sit reading aloud to my mother, near that hawthorn," said John, "and if she asked him for the time of day he was whimsical enough to walk over here and consult the sun-dial, rather than his watch."
They loitered in the neglected, overgrown garden,—soon to be bright with flowers again,—a trysting-place for birds.
"My mother planned her garden anew each winter," said John. "She could hardly wait for the soft air of spring to carry out her plans. She loved the flowers. I remember her so clearly, working here, in a broad-brimmed hat, with a pair of my father's gloves on her hands, while I played near by. I had desperate adventures in this garden, and my play often ended in my being half frightened—and seeking safety from imagined terrors, in the refuge of her lap."
They went into every room of the old house; sunny rooms; there was need of repairs, indeed, but Phyllis declared there should be no alteration.
"I want it to be just as it was," she said to Sir Peter.
And so, in June, they were at home there—and the garden was a riot of color.
On a particular afternoon in June, Sir Peter, with his cigar, and John, in flannels, writing, at a table under the trees, both looked up to see Phyllis coming toward them, from the house, with her baby in her arms.
The garden was full of the perfume of roses. They blossomed everywhere. There was a pink bud in John's buttonhole, and a red one in Sir Peter's. Phyllis had a great bunch of white roses at her waist. Her gown was white, too: soft and lacy and clinging. That would have been John's description of it; and he is a poet.
"Hullo, Phyllis," said John.
"S-h-h," said Phyllis.
"S-h-h, John," said Sir Peter.
Phyllis laid her precious burden in the perambulator, near Sir Peter's chair.
"Mark and Peggy will be here in half an hour," she announced. "She telephoned from Whinstead. Isn't it characteristic of Peggy?—a motor-car wedding-journey. They are having the most glorious time, she said. They can't stay, though; just a call."
"Whinstead, eh?" said John. "Well, if Mark is driving, he will cut that thirty minutes to twenty. I shall barely finish this page before they get here."
He was engaged upon the revision of "Old Valentines, and Other Poems," for the second edition. The little book, bound in red, with golden cupids, lay open on the table.
"Uncle Peter, see how beautifully baby is sleeping," said Phyllis.
Sir Peter adjusted his eyeglass, and peeped under the parasol.
"I must speak to Burbage about tea," added Phyllis. "Just keep half an eye—"
"Both eyes, my dear," said Sir Peter. With his foot he drew the perambulator a little nearer to him.
John looked up from his writing.
"Give me a synonym for 'austerity,'" he commanded.
"'Sternness,'" suggested Phyllis.
"'Severity,'" said Sir Peter.
"'Severity' introduces a rhyme, which won't do at all; 'sternness' doesn't convey asceticism, as 'austerity' does. Give me others."
"'Gravity,'" said Phyllis. "Or seriousness.'"
"'Asperity,'" suggested Sir Peter.
"I have it!" said John. "'His stern simplicity.'"
"Why didn't you say we could have two words?" asked Sir Peter.
John's pen was busy; obviously he did not hear.
"Burbage will serve tea here, Uncle Peter," said Phyllis. "John, you will try to make Mark talk, won't you? He is so shy."
John gazed at nothing, with vacant eyes. Phyllis looked at her uncle, comically.
"Uncle Peter, you tell him about Mark the next time he gives evidence of belonging to the human family."
She walked toward the house, intent on arrangements. At the door she glanced over her shoulder.
"Uncle Peter," she called to him, "you were pushing the perambulator forward and backward with your foot. It isn't allowed."
"They always did it in my day," said Sir Peter.
"Well, they don't now," replied Phyllis.
"Very well, my dear," said Sir Peter meekly.
Phyllis went into the house. Sir Peter observed the windows keenly; when he thought the coast was clear he gently pushed the perambulator forward and backward with his foot.
Twenty minutes later a big gray car deposited three dusty persons on the little porch. Peggy and Phyllis cooed over each other. Mark pointed to Mrs. Farquharson.
"We picked her up," he said. "She had started to walk from the railway station."
Mrs. Farquharson surveyed him with an austerity that required no synonym.
"Never again," said she. "Pony-cart or no pony-cart. A hundred miles an hour, my dear, if ever he went one."
She retired to the rear, where Burbage could be found, with whom she had come to take tea and pass the afternoon.
"Lead me to the infant!" demanded Peggy. "I haven't seen him for so long I am prepared to find him in knickerbockers, smoking a cigarette."
"Peggy! only two weeks," exclaimed Phyllis.
"Two weeks!" rejoined Peggy. "Oh, in time, of course; but aeons in experience. We have had tire trouble—"
"Oh, cut that, Peg," suggested Mark.
"I will not," retorted Peggy. "We have paid enough for new tires since we started to endow Saint Ruth's. Each time our troubles have occurred in the exact center of population. I have been stared at from front and rear by the entire British people. And Mark has given the recording angel the time of his life. Everything has happened that could wreck our married happiness, but we are now armor-clad against infelicity. We have really had the most beau-ti-ful time! We haven't eaten a meal in an inn except breakfast. Simple life by the wayside for us! Two alcohol stoves—I am starved now, though! Perhaps we had better have tea before I see the baby—I might be tempted beyond my strength."
"And you are well, Mark?" asked Phyllis.
"Finer than a new crank-shaft," he replied, grinning. "I am also in the breadline though."
"One result of our difficulties was the development of Mark's conversational powers," whispered Peggy to Phyllis. "He is almost a self-starter now."
"How well you both look, brown as—"
"Don't say gypsies!" urged Peggy. "We have heard it everywhere."
"Indians, then," said Phyllis.
Tea was served under the trees. The baby awakened as though for Peggy's express benefit. He spluttered and gurgled, and made queer faces in his charming way, selecting Peggy for the most fascinating attentions After tea, Phyllis and Peggy went into the house to exchange confidences. Peggy carried the baby.
Sir Peter and John did their utmost with Mark. Motoring, cricket, tennis, golf—all had their turn. He was amiability itself, but he would not and could not be made to talk. They were at their wit's end when Phyllis and Peggy rejoined them, and Phyllis took Mark off to the garden.
Peggy sat with the men, chatting volubly. John's eyes followed Mark and Phyllis. When he could do so unobserved, he touched Sir Peter's arm quietly, and directed his attention to them. Mark was talking at full speed; Phyllis was listening, and cutting roses into a basket.
"Yes," said Peggy, "we have had some ripping times. The most ripping was yesterday. We almost robbed England of her greatest living poet, by nearly running Mr. Kipling down, near Pevensey. It was in a narrow lane and he was walking with his chin on his chest. We supposed, of course, he heard us. Mark used the emergency brake; the car slewed around; he wasn't even grazed. And he took it as coolly as you please. John, if we had hit him, would you be next in line for laureate?"
"I hope he was thinking out a sequel to 'Kim,'" said Sir Peter. "I picked that book up in the club library one day when I had a quarter of an hour to kill. I sat there all the afternoon. I have read it three times, since."
"I liked 'Stalky' best. How do the pretty little jingles go, John?" asked Peggy. She took a copy of "The Spectator" from the table, and turned the leaves, idly.
"Oh, jinglewise," answered John.
"My word! Listen to this," exclaimed Peggy; and then read—"'We should hesitate to say that Mr. Landless's name will stand higher than the second rank of poets. But so much praise he has fairly wrested from even the most captious reviewer. Indeed his "Lyrics" invite one to the dangerous pastime of prophecy; and prophecy of a bright future for this newest of our versifiers. Certainly, if the more serious work we are promised in "London: A Poem" (which is announced for the autumn) exceeds in dignity and restraint the best of his "Lyrics," we shall throw caution to the winds and predict great things for him. We observe two typographical errors on page—' Oh! who cares about the old typographical errors! Well, well, John. Isn't that splendid! What a happy girl Phil must be!"
"We are all very happy, Margaret," said Sir Peter. "And very proud to be related to him—even by marriage."
"And Phil tells me you have turned author, too," said Peggy to Sir Peter. "A young fellow like you to be writing your 'Recollections'! Think how much more you will have to recollect if you wait a few years."
Sir Peter shook his finger at her.
"If you are not careful, young woman, I will put you into them—as I first remember you, very red and wrinkled."
Mark's and Peggy's stay was short—all too short. Mark settled down behind the wheel. "London, next," said he. Peggy's face was buried in roses as they drove off.
When they were seated again, under the trees, Phyllis regarding the baby with rapt eyes, John's curiosity suggested a question.
"Phyllis, please tell us what you set Mark to talking about. We tried everything."
"Why, about Peggy, of course," said Phyllis. "Silly! Couldn't you think of that?"
Mrs. Farquharson had awaited the departure of the Holroyds, and now, in her best black silk, came out to see the baby, and remained to chat for a few minutes. Her great news was that the first-floor front was in stocks again—with a prospect of seeing better days.
"And how is Mr. Rowlandson?" asked Phyllis.
"Odder than ever," replied Mrs. Farquharson. "He is getting a little childish, I think. The other night he told me the greatest rigmarole about some collector or other in Birmingham. He collected weapons, of all things! He had Mr. Rowlandson buy him swords, and daggers, and spears, and even bows and arrows from America, until his house fairly rattled with them. Finally, says Mr. Rowlandson, he got him the stone that David flung at Goliath, and the jawbone that Samson smote the Philistines with. 'Now,' says he, 'I am looking for the club that Cain slew Abel with, and then he will be complete.' Did ever you hear such a farrago? And his eyes twinkling all the time as though he was as sensible as ever could be! Yesterday I told him I was coming down here to take tea with Mrs. Burbage. 'With Mrs. Burbage!' says he. 'Well, what next?' 'Now, heed my words,' says I. 'That woman is not as black as she's been painted.' And then he laughs. Childish, I say. But he's terrible down on you, Mr. Landless, because the baby's a boy. 'Mr. Landless has disappointed me,' says he. 'He knows her name should be Valentine.' 'But, Mrs. Landless wanted a boy,' says I, 'to call him Peter'; as she has, bless his darling little heart, that knows his old Farquharson! 'Well,' says he, 'Mr. Landless put her up to it.'"
When she had returned to Burbage, John and Sir Peter began work on the proofs of "Recollections of an Engineer." The publishers had wished to call it "Recollections of a Great Engineer." Sir Peter told them quietly there would be no recollections if they insisted on the word.
The story of the Natal bridge would have been the making of this twelfth chapter. But the Natal story has a chapter of its own in the "Recollections" (chapter XXII—p. 227), and as the copyright restrictions are in force you will have to look for it there. Mr. Rowlandson has the book for sale—if you don't find it elsewhere.
The work on the proofs was interrupted when the baby insisted on having the red rose from Sir Peter's buttonhole. Sir Peter cut the thorns from its stem before he gave it into the tiny fingers.
Burbage and Farquharson stood by the garden-gate, looking in. The golden glow of late afternoon was over all. The roses nodded their heavy heads all about them. The gentle murmur of the flowing river, lapping the old stairs at the end of the garden, could be faintly heard.
Sir Peter cut the thorns from the rose, and gave it to the baby, leaning forward in its young mother's arms.
"Isn't it a pretty sight?" whispered Burbage.
"The prettiest sight that ever was in the world," said Farquharson, fumbling for her handkerchief.
* * * * *
Published by HOUGHTON MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
By FRANCES N.S. ALLEN
"A warm, rich, human story, which takes its substance from the successful inroads of thrifty Irish and Polack and the whole whatnot of foreign newcomers upon the lean New England land, with the desperate resentments growing out of this usurpation and the futile attempts to stem the tide of encroachment."—Washington Evening Star.
"A capital story, but also a fine piece of workmanship and a contribution to sociology."—Congregationalist.
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"Deals wisely and sympathetically with one of the big social problems which beset changing New England."—Brooklyn Eagle.
By HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON
"'V.V.'s Eyes' is a novel of so elevated a spirit, yet of such strong interest, unartificial, and uncritical, that it is obviously a fulfillment of Mr. Harrison's intention to 'create real literature.'"—Baltimore News.
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"A delicate and artistic study of striking power and literary quality which may well remain the high-water mark in American fiction for the year.... Mr. Harrison definitely takes his place as the one among our younger American novelists of whom the most enduring work may be hoped for."—Springfield Republican.
STORIES OF CHARM
By WILLIAM JOHN HOPKINS
"It is seldom that one comes upon a bit of fiction which combines so much clever fancy with so much delicacy, or which blends light comedy so skillfully with deep feeling."—Brooklyn Eagle.
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THE MEDDLINGS OF EVE
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A SAFETY MATCH
By IAN HAY
"Delineates the progress of a marriage of convenience with an agreeably delicate touch." New York Sun.
"The story is well written and of the variety which, once commenced, keeps the candle burning regardless of the hour until the end." Boston Herald.
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A COUNTRY LAWYER
By HENRY A. SHUTE
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MOTHER CAREY'S CHICKENS
By KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
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"A book to brighten and sweeten every home into which it enters." British Weekly.
Important Historical Books for the Young
Makers of England Series
By EVA MARCH TAPPAN, Ph.D.
In the Days of Alfred the Great
In the Days of William the Conqueror
In the Days of Queen Elizabeth
In the Days of Queen Victoria
By CALVIN DILL WILSON
The Story of the Cid for Young People