"The new trolley line will make a lot of difference to towns like Montgomery—revolutionize things in fact. Part of the great social change that is apparent all over the Middle West. There won't be any country folks any more; all hitched on to the cities—the rubes derubenized and inter-urbanized!"
Phil admitted that the changes he suggested were of significance. Her father often used similar phrases in speaking of tendencies and influences; but it was to be expected of him. The same ideas as expressed by Charles Holton derived a certain importance from the fact that he condescended to utter them; they gained weight and authority from his manner of presenting them. He was not only a man of the world, but an acute observer of social phenomena; and he was a new sort. She had not known any one like him. The memory of her two meetings with Fred came back to her: she recalled them the more clearly by reason of the contrast between the brothers.
"Your brother has moved back to the farm," she suggested to gain confirmation of a relationship which seemed hardly plausible with this radiant young person before her.
"Oh, Fred! Well, I'd have you know that I offered to take Fred in with me, but he wouldn't see it. I'd like the folks over here to know that; but I couldn't do anything with him. He camped on one of our Mexican mines so long that he is afraid of cities,—isn't city-broke,—and seemed relieved when I suggested that he take the farm. It's no great shakes of a farm as farms go, but he's one of these plodding chaps who like a hard job. He came back and took a look around and said it was back to the soil for him! So there was the farm, just waiting for somebody to tackle it. I haven't seen him for some time,—I'm terribly busy,—but I dare say he's out there, an earnest young husbandman anxious to become one of these prosperous farmers who push the price of bread out of sight and cry to have the tariff taken off champagne. You don't happen to know Fred?"
"I've met your brother," said Phil with reserve.
"Well, I suppose we Montgomery folks are all acquainted without being introduced. Lots of 'em moving to Indianapolis; I'm thinking of organizing a club over there to keep the Montgomery people together—an annual dinner, say; and that sort of thing. Do you know, it's rather nice of you to be talking to me in this friendly, neighborly way; it really is."
As Phil seemed not to see at once wherein the particular kindness of it lay, he smiled and continued:—
"Our families haven't been so friendly, you know. Pardon me!"
Phil, seeing now what he meant, colored deeply, and glancing out of the window was rewarded by a glimpse of Amzi's back. He had just concluded an observation and was turning into the bank.
"You will pardon me, won't you," pleaded young Holton, lowering his voice.
"I think father will be here shortly," Phil remarked irrelevantly.
He had opened himself to the suspicion that he had broached the subject of the antipathy between their houses merely to test its dramatic value. To be talking to the daughter of a woman with whom his uncle had eloped made a situation; it is possible that he liked situations that called into action his wits and an evident gift for using his voice and eyes. He had been rapidly noting Phil's good points. He wished to impress her, and he was not convinced that the impression he had made was favorable or that she forgave him for touching, however lightly, upon the ungrateful topic of her mother's dereliction. He had never thought of his Uncle Jack's escapade with Mrs. Kirkwood concretely; it had happened long ago, before he became attentive to such things; but the young woman with whom he was now conversing visualized the episode for him. In his mind there was an element of picturesqueness in that joint page of Holton-Montgomery history. He wondered whether Phil looked like her mother. Phil was pretty enough, though in repose she seemed rather spiritless. She was swinging herself in the swivel chair, carelessly, and since his reference to the old scandal he saw or imagined that he saw her manner change from courteous interest to a somewhat frosty indifference. His pride was pricked by the sense of his blunder. He flattered himself that in his intercourse with men and women he was adroit in retrieving errors, and his instinct warned him that the curtain must not fall upon a scene that left him in discomfiture at the back of the stage.
"It pleased Ethel and me very much to have an invitation to your party, Miss Kirkwood. It was nice of you to ask us, and we shall certainly come over, even if I have to give up a trip to New York I had expected to make at just that time. Let me see, it's the twentieth, isn't it? Well, I guess I can make them wait down there. We Western folks don't often get a chance to make New Yorkers wait."
Phil was disposed to be magnanimous. He undoubtedly wished to be agreeable; and it was his uncle, a remote person whom she had never seen, who had decamped with her mother. It was hardly just to hold him accountable for his uncle's misdeeds. She wondered whether the uncle had been like this nephew, or whether he was more like William Holton, whom she had seen frequently all her life. In her encounters with Fred Holton, she had only vaguely associated him with that other and indubitably wicked Holton who had eloped with her mother.
She was conscious that some one was stirring in the room overhead, and she became attentive to the sounds. Her father had asked delay in disposing of the apparatus of the old photograph gallery; he had wanted to look the old stuff over, he had said, and he wished also to utilize the darkroom in developing the pictures he had taken on their last outing. One of the objects of her call this afternoon had been to urge him to haste, as Bernstein wanted to move his remodeling shop into the rooms at once.
"I make it a rule of my life," Holton went on, "to duck when it comes to other people's mistakes. I make enough of my own without shouldering those my friends and relations are responsible for—particularly my relations. For example, if dear old Fred wants to throw himself away on a farm, that's his trouble. I did all I could to save him. And when I had done that, I had done my best, and I'm a busy man with troubles of my own!"
Her reception of this was not wholly satisfactory. She made in fact no reply at all.
"Excuse me," she said, hearing steps unmistakably; "I think maybe father is on the floor above. If you will wait here, I'll run up and see."
He saw her erect for the first time as she passed him. Her apparent languor as she swung in the old creaky chair had belied what was evidently her more natural manner. The few steps necessary to carry her from the desk to the door were taken lightly, with a long, free stride. Captain Wilson, in apostrophizing her as the Diana of Main Street, had paid no inappropriate tribute to Phil's graceful carriage. Holton rose as she crossed the room, noting her brown cheek, the golden glint in her hair, her finely modeled features, her clear brown eyes and their dark lashes. His eyes still rested upon the door for a moment after it had closed upon her. Then he struck the floor with his stick, and whistled softly. "Lordy!" he ejaculated.
Phil accused herself of dullness in not having thought earlier of the photograph gallery. Her father must have been conducting himself very quietly there or she would have heard him before. It had been a bright day and he had undoubtedly been taking advantage of the sun to do his printing. She had always encouraged his experiments in photography, which afforded him one of his few recreations. He owned a fine camera and he gave to every detail of the photographer's art the care he bestowed upon anything that deeply interested him. They had bound in portfolios many of the views obtained in their adventures afield, and he had won prizes at state and national exhibitions of camera societies. Phil was relieved to know that he was developing these newest plates, for now there would be no excuse for retaining the deserted gallery and it could be turned over to Bernstein without further delay.
It had grown late, and even under the glazed roof she did not at once make him out.
"Daddy!" she called softly.
She had broken in upon one of his deep reveries, and as she spoke he started guiltily. The oblong of glass he had been holding, staring at in the lessening light, fell with a crash, breaking into countless pieces.
"Oh, daddy! Did I scare you like that! Hope it wasn't one of the best negatives that went to smash—hard luck to wipe one of those Autumn on Sugar Creek gems out of existence!"
"It's all right, Phil—all right. It was only an old negative. I was looking over the rubbish here and amused myself by printing some of the old plates. There are a lot of old ghosts hidden away there in the closet. This was an old shop, you know, dating back to the Civil War, and there are negatives here of a lot of our local heroes. I wonder if it's right to throw them away? It's like exterminating a generation to destroy them. There must be people who would like to have prints of some of these."
"We might sell them to that new photographer for money enough to paint the building," she suggested. "The real owner would owe us a lot of rent if he ever turned up, which he never will. That would be our only way of getting even."
"There spoke a practical mind, Phil!"
She knew from the poor result of his effort to appear cheery that something had occurred to depress him. His own associations with Montgomery had been too recent for the resurrection of old citizens to have any deep significance for him.
"We must go, Phil; I didn't mean for you to catch me here. I've wasted the whole afternoon—but some of the Sugar Creek views have come out wonderfully. We must clean up and turn the room over to Bernstein right away."
Her alert eyes marked the Sugar Creek pictures at one end of a shelf built against the window, but from his position at the moment she had surprised him in his brooding she knew that he had not been studying them. Nor did these new prints from old plates present likenesses of Montgomery's heroes of the sixties; but there were three—a little quaint by reason of the costumes—of a child, a girl of fourteen, and a young woman; and no second glance was necessary to confirm her instant impression that these represented her mother—the mother of whom she had no memory whatever. There were photographs and a miniature of her mother at home, and at times she had dreamed over them; and there was a portrait done by an itinerant artist which hung in her Uncle Amzi's house, but this, her Aunt Josephine had once told her, did not in the least resemble Lois.
Kirkwood tried clumsily to hide the prints.
"No; Phil, please don't!" he exclaimed harshly.
"Of course, I may see them, daddy,—of course!"
He allowed her to take them from him.
"It's mamma," said Phil. "How dear they are!" she murmured softly.
As she turned the prints to catch the dimming light, he watched her, standing inertly with his elbow on the shelf.
"Isn't it odd that I never saw any of these! even Uncle Amy hasn't them."
She bent over the print of the child, who stood with a hoop, smiling as though in delight at her belated rescue from oblivion.
"You were going to give these to me, weren't you, daddy?" She was running over the others. One that showed the mature woman in a fur cape long out of fashion and with a fur cap perched on her head, held her longest.
"If you want them," said her father, "you shall have them, of course. I will touch them up a bit in the morning."
"Maybe," said Phil looking at him quickly, "it is better not to keep them. Was it one of these plates that broke?"
"Yes," said Kirkwood; "it was this one"; and he indicated the picture that revealed his wife in her young womanhood.
It was over this that he had been dreaming alone in the dim gallery when she had interrupted his reverie. The pity of it all, the bleak desolation of his life, smote her sharply, now that she had caught a glimpse of the ghosts scampering off down the long vistas. With an abrupt gesture she flung aside the melancholy reminder of his tragedy.
"Dear old daddy!" She held him in her strong arms and kissed him.
She felt that all these spectres must be driven back into their world of shadows, and she seized the prints and tore them until only little heaps of paper remained and these she scattered upon the floor.
"Are these the plates?"
He indicated them with a nod. One after the other they crashed echoingly in the bare gallery. She accomplished the destruction swiftly and with certainty. One that fell on edge undamaged she broke with her heel.
Then she took a match from his pocket and lit the gas in one of the old burners. The light revealed a slight smile on his face, but it was not his accustomed smile of good humor. His eyes were very sad and gentle.
"Thank you, dear old Phil! I guess that's the best way, after all. It must be time to go home now. Are you ready?"
"Wait here a minute—you had better pull down the windows and lock up. I'll close the office and you can meet me on the landing."
She went out, closing the door, and ran down to the office, where Charles Holton stood at the window looking out upon Main Street, where the electric lamps were just sputtering into light.
"Ah," he cried turning toward her with a bow, "I'd begun to think you had forgotten my unworthy presence on earth!"
"Not at all, Mr. Holton. I'm sorry, but my father is too much engaged to see you to-day. If you really want to see him you can come in to-morrow."
This was not what he had expected. Dismissal was in her tone rather more than in her words. Their eyes met for a moment in the dim dusk and he would have prolonged the contact; but she walked to the desk and stood there, looking down at the copy of "Elia" which lay as she had left it when he had interrupted her reading. She refused to be conscious of his disappointment or to make amends for having caused him to wait needlessly. He turned at the door.
"I hope I haven't put you to any inconvenience?" he remarked, but without resentment.
"Not at all, Mr. Holton. Good-afternoon!"
"Good-day, Miss Kirkwood."
She listened until his step died away down the stair and then went out and whistled for her father.
The Holton farmhouse, a pretentious place in the day of Frederick Holton's grandfather, was now habitable and that was the most that could be said for it. When the second generation spurned the soil and became urbanized, the residence was transformed from its primal state into a country home, and the family called it "Listening Hill Farm." Its austere parlor of the usual rural type was thrown together with the living-room, the original fireplace was reconstructed, and running water was pumped to the house by means of a windmill. The best of the old furniture had been carried off to adorn the town house, so that when Fred succeeded to the ownership it was a pretty bare and comfortless place. Samuel had never lived there, though the farm had fallen to him in the distribution of his father's estate; but he had farmed it at long range, first from Montgomery, and latterly, and with decreasing success, from Indianapolis after his removal to the capital. The year before Fred's arrival no tenant had been willing to take it owing to the impoverished state of the land.
Most of the farms in the neighborhood were owned by town people, and operated by tenants. As for Fred, he knew little about agriculture. On the Mexican plantation which his father and Uncle William had controlled, he had learned nothing that was likely to prove of the slightest value in his attempt to wrest a living from these neglected Hoosier acres. His main qualifications for a farming career were a dogged determination to succeed and a vigorous, healthy body.
The Holtons had always carried their failures lightly, and even Samuel, who had died at Indianapolis amid a clutter of dead or shaky financial schemes, was spoken of kindly in Montgomery. Samuel had saved himself with the group of politicians he had persuaded to invest in the Mexican mine by selling out to a German syndicate just before he died; and Samuel had always made a point of taking care of his friends. He had carried through several noteworthy promotion schemes with profit before his Mexican disasters, and but for the necessity of saving harmless his personal and political friends he might not have left so little for his children. So spake the people of Montgomery.
Charles Holton was nearing thirty, and having participated in his father's political adventures, and been initiated into the mysteries of promotion, he had a wide acquaintance throughout central Indiana. He had been graduated from Madison, and in his day at college had done much to relieve the gray Calvinistic tone of that sedate institution. It was he who had transformed the old "college chorus"—it had been a "chorus" almost from the foundation—into a glee club, and he had organized the first guitar and banjo club. The pleasant glow he left behind him still hung over the campus when Fred entered four years later. Charles's meteoric social career had dimmed the fact (save to a few sober professors) that he had got through by the skin of his teeth. Fred's plodding ways, relieved only by his prowess at football, had left a very different impression. Fred worked hard at his studies because he had to; and even with persistence and industry he had not shone brilliantly in the scientific courses he had elected. The venerable dean once said that Fred was a digger, not a skimmer and skipper, and that he would be all right if only he dug long enough. He was graduated without honors and went South to throw in his fortunes with his father's Mexican projects. He was mourned at the college as the best all-round player a Madison eleven had ever boasted; but this was about all.
When he accepted Listening Hill Farm as his share of his father's estate, Fred had a little less than one thousand dollars in cash, which he had saved from the salaries paid him respectively by the plantation and mining companies. This had been deposited as a matter of convenience in an Indianapolis bank and he allowed it to remain there. He realized that this money must carry him a long way, and that every cent must go into the farm before anything came out of it. He had moved to the farm late in the summer—just in time to witness the abundant harvests of his neighbors.
One of the friendliest of these was a young man named Perry, who had charge of Amzi Montgomery's place. Perry belonged to the new school of farmers, and he had done much in the four years that he had been in the banker's employ to encourage faith in "book farming," as it had not yet ceased to be called derisively. He was a frank, earnest, hard-working fellow whose ambition was to get hold of a farm of his own as quickly as possible. He worked Amzi's farm on shares, with certain privileges in the matter of feeding cattle. Amzi picked him up by chance and with misgivings; but Perry had earned the biggest dividends the land had ever paid. Perry confided to Fred a hope he had entertained of leasing the Holton farm for himself when his contract with Montgomery expired. Now that Fred had arrived on the scene he explained to the tyro exactly what he had meant to do with the property. As he had seriously canvassed the situation for a couple of years, witnessing the failures of the last two tenants employed by Samuel Holton, Fred gladly availed himself of his advice.
Fred caught from Perry the spirit of the new era in farming. It no longer sufficed to scratch the earth with a stick and drop in a seed; the earth itself must be studied as to its weaknesses and the seed must be chosen with intelligent care. One of the experts from the state agricultural school, in the field to gather data for statistics, passed through the country, and spent a week with Fred for the unflattering reason that the Holton acres afforded material for needed information as to exhausted soils. He recommended books for Fred to read, and what was more to the point sent a young man to plan his work and initiate him into the mysteries of tilling and fertilizing. The soil expert was an enthusiast, and he left behind him the nucleus of a club which he suggested that the young men of the neighborhood enlarge during the winter for the discussion of new methods of farm efficiency.
Fred hired a man and went to work. He first repaired the windmill and assured the water-supply of the house and barn. A farmer unembarrassed by crops, he planned his campaign a year ahead. He worked harder on his barren acres than his neighbors with the reward of their labor in sight. He tilled the low land in one of his fallow fields and repaired the fences wherever necessary. His most careful scrutiny failed to disclose anything on which money could be realized at once beyond half a dozen cords of wood which he sent to town and sold and the apples he had offered for sale in the streets of Montgomery. These by-products hardly paid for the time required to market them. Perry had suggested that winter wheat be tried on fifty acres which he chose for the experiment, and in preparing and sowing the land Fred found his spirits rising. The hired man proved to be intelligent and capable, and Fred was not above learning from him. Fred did the cooking for both of them as part of his own labor.
Some of his old friends, meeting him in Main Street on his visits to town, commiserated him on his lot; and others thought William Holton ought to do something for Fred, as it was understood that he was backing Charles in his enterprises. Still other gossips, pointing to the failure of the Mexican ventures, inclined to the belief that Fred was a dull fellow, and that he would do as well on the farm as anywhere else.
On a Sunday afternoon in this same November, Fred had cleaned up after his midday meal with the hired man and was sprawled on an old settle reading when a motor arrived noisily in the dooryard. Charles was driving and with him were three strangers. Fred went out to meet his brother, who introduced his companions as business men from Indianapolis.
"We're taking a run over the route of the new trolley line you've probably read about in the papers. Hadn't heard of it yet? Well, it's going to cut the Sycamore line at right angles in Montgomery, and run down into the coal fields. We're going to haul coal by electricity—a new idea in these parts—and it's going to be a big factor in stimulating manufactures in small centers. It's going to be a big thing for this section—your farm is worth twenty dollars more an acre just on our prospectus."
"No doubt you'd be glad to take that twenty right now," remarked one of the strangers.
"Oh, I'll wait for it," replied Fred, laughing.
"Are you implying that you're likely to have to wait?" demanded Charles. "My dear boy, we're doing this just for you farmers. In the old days the railroads were all in league against the poor but honest farmer; he was crippled as much as he was helped by the railroads; but with the trolley the farmer can be in the deal from the jump. We want every farmer on this line to have an interest; we're going to give him a chance to go in. Am I right, Evans?"
Evans warmed to the topic. He was a young broker and wore city clothes quite as good as Charles's. It was going to be a great thing for the country people; the possibilities of the trolley line had not yet been realized. Social and economic conditions were to be revolutionized, and the world generally would be a very different place when the proposed line was built. Charles allowed his friends to do most of the talking and they discussed the project eloquently for an hour.
The men refused Fred's invitation to go indoors, and said they would walk to the highway and the machine could pick them up.
When the brothers were alone, Charles spoke of the farm.
"I see you've got to work. The whole thing looks better than I ever saw it. I'm glad you've painted the barn red; there's nothing like red for a barn. I must make a note of that; all barns should be painted red."
With a gesture he colored all the barns in the world to his taste. Fred grinned his appreciation of his brother's humor.
"I thought that on Sundays all you young farmers hitched a side-bar buggy to a colt and gave some pretty girl a good time."
"I'd be doing just that but for two reasons—I haven't the colt or the side-bar, and I don't know any girls. What about this trolley line? I thought the field was crowded now."
"Oh, Uncle Will and I are going to put this one through and we're going to make some money out of it, too. There's money in these things if you know how to handle 'em. It's in the promotion, not the operating."
"But I heard in town that the Sycamore line isn't doing well. There are rumors—"
"Oh, I know about that; it's only a fuss among the fellows who are trying to control it to reorganize and squeeze the bondholders. If father had lived he'd have kept it level. But we're all out of it—away out and up the street."
"Glad to hear it," Fred remarked. The gift of easy and picturesque speech had been denied him. All his life he had heard his father talk in just this strain; and his Uncle William, while less voluble, was even more persuasive and convincing. Charles did not always ring true, but any deficiencies in this respect were compensated for by his agreeable and winning manners. Fred had the quiet man's distrust of ready talkers; but he admired his brother. Charles was no end of a bright fellow and would undoubtedly get on.
"I tell you what I'll do with you, old man," Charles continued. "I suppose you already know some of these farmers around here. We're going to give them every chance to go in with us—let 'em in on the ground floor. We feel that this should be the people's line in the broadest sense,—give 'em a share of the benefits,—not merely that they can flip a can of milk on board one of our cars and hustle it direct to the consumer and get back coal right at their door, but they shall participate in the profits they help to create. Now listen to this; there's not much you can do this winter out here and I stopped to make you an offer to solicit stock subscriptions among the country people. A lot of these farmers are rich fellows,—the farmers are getting altogether too much money for their own good,—and here's an ideal investment for them, a chance to add to the value of their farms and at the same time earn a clean six per cent on our bonds and share in the profits on a percentage of common that we're giving bondholders free gratis for nothing. What do you say to taking a hand with us? We'll put you on a salary right away if you say so. The very fact that you've chosen to come here to live and take up farming will give you standing with the country folks."
Fred smiled at this.
"On the other side of the sketch the fact that I'm as ignorant of farming as the man in the moon is likely to rouse their suspicions. I'm much obliged, Charlie, but my job's right here. I'm going to try to raise something that I can haul to town in a wagon and get money for. I haven't your business genius. It would seem queer to me to go about asking people to take their money out of the bank to give me in exchange for pieces of paper that might not be good in the end. And besides, a good many of these country people swallowed the same hook when it was baited with Sycamore. It's not a good time to try the same bait in this neighborhood,—not for the Holton family, at any rate."
"Mossback! I tell you we're out of Sycamore with clean hands. Don't you know that the big fellows in New York are the men who get in on such promotions as this and clean up on it! I'm giving you a chance that lots of men right here in this county would jump at. It's a little short of a miracle that a trolley coal road hasn't been built already. And think, too, of the prestige our family will get out of it. We've always been the only people in Montgomery that had any 'git up and git.' You don't want to forget that your name Holton is an asset—an asset! Why, over in Indianapolis the fact that I'm one of the Montgomery Holtons helps me over a lot of hard places, I can tell you. Of course, father had plowed the ground, and the more I hear about him the more I admire him. He had vision—he saw things ahead."
"And he came pretty near dying busted," observed Fred.
"But no man lost a cent through him!" Charles flashed. "That makes me swell up with pride every time I think of it—that he took care of his friends. He saw things big, and those Mexican schemes were all right. If he'd lived, they would have pulled through and been big moneymakers."
They had been walking slowly towards Charles's machine.
"I'm not saying anything against father," said Fred; "but the kind of things he took up strike me as dangerous. I know all about that plantation and the mine, too, for that matter. I don't blame father for sending me down there, but I wish I had back the years I put on those jobs."
"Oh, rot! The experience was a big thing for you. And you got paid for it. You must have saved some money—wasn't any way to spend money down there."
"I don't keep an automobile," remarked Fred ruefully.
"By Jove, I can't afford it myself, but I've got to make a front. Now those fellows—"
His companions were hallooing from the highway to attract his attention. He waved and shouted that he was coming.
"Those fellows are in touch with a lot of investors. Nice chaps. I promised to get 'em home for dinner, and I must skip. You'd better think over my proposition before turning it down for good. I don't like to think of your being out here all winter doing nothing. You might as well take a hand with us. I'll guarantee that you won't regret it."
"I don't believe I care to try it. I'm a born rube, I guess; I like it out here. And I'm going to stick until I make good or bust."
Charles had cranked his machine and jumped in.
"Look here, Fred," he said, raising his voice above the noise of the engine, "when I can do anything for you, I want you to call on me. And if you need money at any time, I want you to come to me or go to Uncle Will. In fact, he's a little sore because you don't drop in on him oftener. So long!"
The machine went skimming down the road, and when it reached the pike and Charles picked up his friends, Fred watched its slow ascent of Listening Hill, and waited for it to disappear beyond the crest.
ON AN ORCHARD SLOPE
Fred moved off across the fields in quest of Perry. Charles never left him wholly happy. His long absence from home had in a way lessened his reliance on family ties, and an interview with his brother deepened the sense of his own dullness. He wondered whether it were not proof of his general worthlessness that he was so quickly adjusting himself to the conditions of rural life; and yet from such reflections his spirit quickly rebounded. In the very soil itself, he felt a kinship, born of a hidden, elusive, cramped vein of poetic feeling that lay deep in his nature. All life, he vaguely realized, is of a piece: man and the earth to which he is born respond to the same laws. He contemplated the wheatfield, tilled partly by his own hands, with a stirring of the heart that was new to his experience. He was wedded to this land; his hope was bound up in it; and he meant to serve it well.
He sprang over the fence into a woods pasture on Amzi Montgomery's farm and strode on. He picked up a walnut and carried it in his hand, sniffing the pungent odor of the rind. It was as warm as spring, and the dead leaves, crisp and crackling under his tread, seemed an anomaly. The wood behind him, he crossed a pasture toward the barn and hesitated, seeing that Perry was entertaining visitors. He had fallen into the habit of dropping in at the Perrys' on Sunday afternoons and he was expected to-day, so he kept on. As he reached the barn lot, he identified Amzi Montgomery and Phyllis Kirkwood, to whom Perry was apparently dilating on the good points of a Jersey calf that was eyeing the visitors wonderingly.
"Don't be afraid, Holton; my lecture is just over. You've heard it before and I'm not going to repeat it," Perry called to him.
"How do you do, Mr. Holton," said Phil.
He pulled off his hat and walked up to shake hands with her.
"I didn't expect to find you here. I usually come over Sunday afternoons."
"Does that mean you wouldn't have come if you'd known we were here!" laughed Phil. "Oh, Uncle Amy, this is Mr. Fred Holton. He's your next-door neighbor."
Amzi turned from his observation of the calf and took the cigar from his mouth. He remembered Fred Holton as a boy and the young man had latterly fallen within his range of vision in Main Street. He availed himself of this nearer view to survey Samuel Holton's younger son deliberately. Fred waited an instant for the banker to make a sign. Amzi took a step toward him and Fred advanced and offered his hand.
"How d' ye do, Fred," said Amzi, and looked him over again. He addressed him quite as cordially as he would have spoken to any other young man he might have found there. "Perry has told me about you. I guess you've got quite a job over there."
"Yes, but I was looking for a job when I took it," said Fred.
"I like being a farmer myself," said the banker, "when I know the corn's growing while I'm in bed in town."
"I think I'll stay up nights to watch my corn grow, if it ever does," said Fred.
"That land of yours is all right," said Amzi amiably, "but it's got to be brought up. That farm's been cursed with overdrafts, and overdrafts in any business are bad."
"That's a new way of putting it," Fred replied, "but I'm sure it's sound doctrine. You can't take out what you don't put in."
"That," said Amzi, feeling in his pocket for his matchbox, "is a safe general principle."
He passed his cigar-case to Perry and Fred, commended his own cigars humorously, and looked Fred over again as the young man refused, explaining that he had grown used to a pipe and was afraid of the shock to his system of a good cigar.
"We were going to take a walk over the place; Mr. Montgomery wants to see his orchard. Come along, won't you?" said Perry.
Fred waited for a confirmation of the tenant's invitation.
"Yes; come along, Fred," said Amzi.
His manner toward Holton was that of an old acquaintance; he called him Fred quite as though it were the most natural thing in the world for him to do so. Phil and Perry moved off together and Amzi walked along beside Fred across a field of wheat stubble toward the orchard that stretched away on a slope that corresponded to the rise of Listening Hill in the highway. He talked of fruit-growing in which he appeared to be deeply interested, and declared that there was no reason why fruit should be only an insect-blighted by-product of such farms as his; that intelligent farmers were more and more taking it up. He confessed his firm belief in scientific farming in all its branches. Most men in small towns keep some touch with the soil. In a place like Montgomery the soil is the immediate source of urban prosperity, and in offices and stores men discuss crop conditions and prospects as a matter of course. Amzi owned a number of farms in different parts of the county, but this one that had been long in the family was his particular pride. He paused now and then to point out features of his possessions for Fred's admiration.
"Land," he observed reflectively, "is like a man or a horse; you got to treat 'em right or they won't work. Thunder! You think you'll stick it out over there, do you?"
"I've got to; and I want to! I want to make it go!"
Amzi glared at him a moment with puffed cheeks. Fred had spoken with warmth, and being unfamiliar with the banker's habit of trying to blow up occasionally, for no reason whatever, he was a little appalled by Amzi's manner of receiving his declaration.
"If you mean it like that," said the banker, "you will make it go. It's the wanting to do a thing real hard that brings it round. Is that gospel?"
He blurted his question with a ferociousness that again startled Fred; but he was beginning to suspect that this was the banker's usual way of conversing, and his awe of him diminished. Amzi was an amusing person, with a tang of his own; and he clearly meant to be kind. It was necessary to answer the banker's last explosion and Fred replied soberly:
"I hope it is; I hope the wanting to do it will help in the doing."
Amzi made no response to this. He seemed to ignore it, and spoke of Perry admiringly, as the kind of man he liked, quoting statistics of the wheat yield of the field they were traversing, and then stopped abruptly.
"Thunder! How did they come to give you the farm?"
"I took it: I chose to take it. It was by an agreement between my brother and sister and me. I'm not sure but that I got the best of the partition. The stocks and bonds father left didn't mean anything to me. I don't know anything about such things."
"They let you have the farm as your share; you were afraid of the other stuff?"
"Yes; it didn't look very good and I was perfectly satisfied. I thought the arrangement fair enough to me: Charlie knew about the other things and I didn't. Most of them were very doubtful."
"They told you they were doubtful; you didn't know anything about them. Was that the way of it?"
"Yes; that was about the way of it, Mr. Montgomery."
Amzi glared and drew out his handkerchief to mop his face.
"I saw an automobile come out of your place awhile ago and climb the hill toward town. Charlie been to see you?"
"Yes. He had some friends with him from the city. Charlie knows no end of people."
"There are people like that," said Amzi, kicking a clod, and in doing so nearly losing his equilibrium; "there are people with a talent for knowing folks." This was not an important observation, nor was it at all relevant. Mr. Montgomery had merely gone as far as he cared to in the discussion of the distribution of Samuel Holton's estate and this was his way of changing the subject.
Amzi walked ahead with Perry when they met at the edge of the orchard and Phil loitered behind with Fred. A hawk swung from the cloudless blue; sparrows, disturbed by these visitors, flew down the orchard aisles in panic. The air was as dry as the stubble of the shorn fields. From the elevation crowned by the orchard it was possible to survey the neighborhood and Phil and Fred paused in silence for several minutes, with their faces turned toward the creek.
Seeing Phil thus was very different from seeing her across a fence in the moonlight, or meeting her at her kitchen door. Her new dark-blue gown with hat to match struck him as being very stylish, as indeed, they were, having come from the best shop in Indianapolis. Phil in gloves was a different Phil, a remote being quite out of hailing distance. He was torn between admiration for her dressed-upness and rebellion against a splendor that set her apart like a goddess for timorous adoration. Standing beside and a little behind her, his soul was shaken by the quick shadowings of her lashes. He was so deep in thought during this silent contemplation that he started and blushed when she turned round suddenly.
"We're terribly solemn, I think," she remarked, regarding him carelessly.
This was unfair. She had no right to look at him in that fashion, taking his breath away and saying something to which he could think of no reply whatever. Amzi and Perry had wandered away out of sight. She had spoken of solemnity; it was a solemn thing to be alone with a girl like Phil, on a day like this, under a fleckless sky, and with the scarlet maples and the golden beeches gladdening the distances. Without looking at him, Phil extended her monologue:—
"I like cheerfulness myself."
"I'm not so opposed to it as you may imagine," he replied, smiling. "I'm not much of a talker. I've been alone a whole lot, in lonesome places where there wasn't anybody to talk to. I suppose talking is a habit. When there are people around who talk about things it's natural to get into the way of talking. Isn't that so?"
"I suspect it is," Phil answered. "While my critics haven't exactly said that I talk too much, they agree that I talk at the wrong time. Let's all be seated."
She dropped down on the grass, and smoothed her skirt. It was the best everyday dress she had ever owned and she meant to be careful of it. Her patent leather oxford ties were the nicest she had ever had, and she was not without her pride in their brightness. Fred seated himself near her. His clothes were his Sunday best, and none too good at that; he was painfully conscious of the contrast of their raiment.
"Your brother Charlie talks a good deal. I saw him the other day," said Phil.
"Yes; Charlie talks mighty well. He can talk to anybody. Where did you meet him?"
"In town, at father's office."
"Oh; he was there, was he?"
It was plain that Fred was surprised that there should be any intercourse between the Kirkwoods and his brother.
"He called to see father; but he didn't see him," explained Phil, as though reading his thoughts and willing to satisfy his curiosity.
"Charlie's getting up a new trolley line. He wanted me to go in with him."
"Gave you a chance to escape from your farm? I should think you would be tempted."
"I didn't feel the temptation particularly," answered Fred; "but it was kind of him to come and see me."
"Well, there is that," Phil replied indifferently. "You seemed to get on first-rate with Uncle Amy. Was that the first time you ever talked to him?"
"Yes. But I remember that once when I was a little chap he met me in the street over by the college—I remember the exact spot—and gave me a penny. I seem to remember that he used to do that with children quite unexpectedly. I imagine that he does a lot of nice things for people."
"Uncle Amy," said Phil deliberately, "is the second grandest man now present on earth. Daddy is the first."
"I don't know your father, except as I see him in the street."
"I suppose not," said Phil.
These commonplaces were leading nowhere, and they were becoming the least bit trying.
"My aunts have decided that the Montgomerys and the Holtons might as well bury the hatchet. They're going to ask your Uncle William to my party. They can't stand not knowing your aunt."
He did not at once grasp this. He was only dimly conscious of Montgomery social values and the prominence of his Uncle William's wife had not seemed to him a matter of importance. His acquaintance with that lady was indeed slight, and he did not see at once wherein Phil's aunts had anything to gain by cultivating her society, nor did Phil enlighten him. This turn of the talk embarrassed him by its suggestion of the escapade in which Phil's mother and his uncle had figured. Phil was not apparently troubled by this.
"They didn't invite you to my party, did they?"
He did not know exactly whom she meant by "they"; and he had not heard of Phil's party.
"No," he answered, smiling; "they probably never heard of me."
"Well, you will be invited. Your brother and sister are coming. Your brother Charlie told me so. He's going to give up a trip to New York just to be there."
Phil, he reflected, had been pleased by Charles's magnanimity in changing plans that embraced the magical name of New York to be present at her coming-out party. From his knowledge of his brother he felt quite sure that Charles must think it worth while to abandon the visit to New York to pay the tribute of his presence to a daughter of the Montgomerys. This contributed to Fred's discomfiture and made it more difficult to talk to Phil. On the face of it Phil was not a difficult person. He had seen her dance round a corn-shock in the moonlight, and a girl who would do that ought to be easy to talk to; and he had seen her, aproned at her kitchen door, throw an apple at a cat with enviable exactness of aim, and a girl who threw apples at cats should be human and approachable. It must be her smart city frock that made the difference: he hated Phil's clothes, and he resented with particular animosity the gloves that concealed her hands.
She saw the frown on his face.
"I don't believe I heard you say whether you were coming to my party or not. If you expect to travel about that time you needn't put yourself out, of course. You shall have one of our regular engraved invitations. How do you get mail out here?" she ended practically.
"R.F.D. 7. It will be thrilling to get something out of that bird's nest besides bills, fertilizer and incubator circulars, and the bulletins of the Department of Agriculture. Thank you very much. But if, after conferring with your aunts, you find that they don't approve of me, it will be all right."
"You have funny thoughts in your head, don't you? Don't you suppose I'm going to have something to say about my own party? Just for a postscript I'll tell you now that I expect you to come. If I've got to have a party I want to have as many fellow-sufferers as possible."
"Does that mean"—and Fred laughed—"that you are not terribly excited about your own party? It sounded that way."
He was not interested in parties himself; he had hardly been to one since he was a child, and the thought of such an imposing function as he assumed Phil's coming out would be appalled him. And there was the matter of clothes: the dress-suit he had purchased while he was in college had gone glimmering long ago. The Sunday best he wore to-day was two years old, and a discerning eye might have detected its imperfections which a recent careful pressing had not wholly obliterated. His gaze turned for a moment toward the land in which lay his hope; he had to look past Phil to see those acres. His thoughts were still upon her party and his relation to it, so that it was with a distinct shock that he heard her say softly and wistfully:—
"It's queer, isn't it?"
She lifted her arm with a sweeping gesture.
"The world—things generally—what interests you and me; what interests Uncle Amy and Mr. Perry; the buzzings in all our noddles. Thousands of people, in towns just like Montgomery, live along some way or other, and most of them do the best they can, and keep out of jails and poorhouses, mostly, and nothing very important happens to them or has to. It always strikes me as odd how unimportant we all are. We're just us, and if God didn't make us very big or wise or good, why, there's nothing to be done about it. And no matter how hard we get knocked, or how often we stumble, why, most of us like the game and wouldn't give it up for anything. I think that's splendid; the way we just keep plugging on. We all think something pleasant is going to happen to-morrow or day-after-to-morrow. Everybody does. And that's what keeps the world moving and everybody tolerably cheerful and happy."
Phil the philosopher was still another sort of person. She had spoken in her usual tone and he looked at her wonderingly. It was a new experience to hear life reduced to the simple terms Phil used. She seemed to him like a teacher who keeps a dull pupil after class, and, by eliminating all unessential factors, makes clear what an hour before had been only a jumble of meaningless terms in the student's mind.
He was still dumb before this new Phil with her a, b, c philosophy when her eyes brightened, and she sprang to her feet. Bending forward with her hand to her ear, and then dropping her arms to her sides, she said:—
"Adown the orchard aisles they come, methinks,— My lord who guardest well his treasure chests, Attended by his squire and faithful drudge, And back to town I soon must lightly skip Else father will be roaring for his tea."
She was, indeed, a mystifying being! It was not until the absurdity of her last line broke upon him that he saw that this was only another side of Phil the inexplicable. She threw up her arm and signaled to her Uncle Amzi, who was approaching with Perry. The interruption was unwelcome. It had been a bewildering experience to sit beside Phil on the sunny orchard slope. He had not known that any girl could be like this.
"Do you write poetry?" he asked, from the depths of his humility.
She turned with a mockery of disdain.
"I should think you could see, Mr. Holton, that these are not singing robes, nor is this lovely creation of a hat wrought in the similitude of a wreath of laurel; but both speak for the plain prose of life. You have, therefore, no reason to fear me."
In a moment they were all on their way to the house; and soon Phil and Amzi were driving homeward.
"What was Fred Holton talking to you about?" asked Amzi, as he shook the reins over the back of his roadster.
"He wasn't talking to me, Amy; I was talking to him. He's a nice boy."
"He doesn't run so much to gold watches and chains as the rest of 'em. He seems to be pretty decent. Perry says he's got the right stuff in him." And then, with more animation: "Those Holtons! Thunder!"
Mr. Amzi Montgomery thought it only proper to learn all that was possible of the affairs of his customers. This was the part of wisdom in a cautious banker; and he was distressed when checks that were not self-explanatory passed through the receiving-teller's window. A small bank is a good place in which to sharpen one's detective sense. Every check tells a story and is in some degree a clue.
No account on his bank's ledgers was more often scrutinized than that of Nancy Bartlett, and when she deposited a draft for $2115.15, the incident was not one to be passed lightly. No such sum had ever before been placed to Nan's credit. He knew that she received five- and ten- and even fifty-dollar drafts from Eastern periodicals, and he had touched these with reverent hands: but two thousand dollars in a lump from one of the best-known publishers in the country staggered Amzi. To add to his mystification, half the amount plus one cent, to-wit, $1057.58, was immediately transferred to Thomas Kirkwood's account, and this left Amzi away up in the air. Just what right Tom Kirkwood had to participate in Nan's earnings Amzi did not know, nor did he see immediately any way of finding out.
What did happen, though, coincident with this event, and much to his gratification, was the installation of a girl-of-all-work in Kirkwood's house. Phil had been dislodged from the kitchen, and Amzi was mightily relieved by this. A kitchen was no place for his niece, that flower of the Montgomery flock. His spirits rose when Phil hailed him one morning as he stood baring his head to the November air on the bank steps, and told him that her occupation was gone. She made the confession ruefully; it was unfair for her father to discharge her just as she was getting the hang of the range and learning to broil a steak without incinerating it. "Just for that" she would spend a great deal of time in Main Street, and ruin her constitution at Struby's soda-fountain.
While Amzi was still trying to account for Nan's check, two other incidents contributed further to his perplexities. On his way home one evening he saw Nan and Kirkwood walking together. It was only a fair assumption that the two friends had met by chance and that Kirkwood was merely accompanying Nan to her door, as he had every right to do. They were walking slowly and talking earnestly. To avoid passing them, Amzi turned off at the first cross-street, but stood for a moment staring after them. Then the next evening he had gone to call at the Bartletts' and all his intervening speculations were overthrown when he found Kirkwood there alone with Rose, Nan being, it seemed, in Indianapolis on a visit. Rose and Kirkwood had evidently been deeply engrossed, too, when Amzi interrupted their conference with the usual thump of the drumstick. The piano, he observed, was closed, and it was inexplicable that Kirkwood should be spending an unmusical evening with Rose. Nor was Phil with her father. This was another damaging fact. It was a blow to Amzi to find that such things could happen in his own town, and under his very eyes.
If it hadn't been for Phil's party, the preparations for which gave him plenty to do, Amzi's winter would have opened most unhappily; but Phil's party was an event of importance not only in her life, but in Amzi's as well. Everybody who had the slightest title to consideration received an invitation. He was glad his sisters had suggested that the Holtons be invited. It gave him an excuse for opening the doors wide. He heard much from his kinsfolk about the prosperity of the Holtons, who were held up to him in rebuke for his own sluggish business methods. He wanted his sisters and the rest of the world to know that the First National Bank of Montgomery aroused in him no jealous pangs.
Phil arrived at Amzi's early and ran upstairs to take off her wraps. When this was accomplished and her Aunt Fanny's housemaid, lent for the occasion, had duly admired her, she knocked boldly on her uncle's door.
"Come in, you Phil," he shouted.
Amzi stood before his chiffonier in his shirt sleeves, trying to make a bow of his white tie. A cigar, gripped firmly in his teeth, was not proving of much assistance in the operation. As Phil crossed the room, he jerked off the strip of lawn and threw it into the open drawer.
"See what you've done? See all that litter? All that stuff crumpled up and wasted just on your account? I told that fellow in Indianapolis to give me the ready-made kind that buckles behind, but he wouldn't listen; said they don't keep 'em any more. And look at that! It's a good thing I got a dozen! Thunder!"
The "Thunder" was due to the fact that in his excess of emotion over the difficulties with his raiment, his eyes had not until that instant taken in Phil. His jaw fell as he stared and tears filled his eyes. Above the soft folds of her white crepe gown the firm clean lines of her shoulders and throat were revealed and for the first time he fully realized that the Phil who had gladdened his days by her pranks—Phil the romp and hoyden—had gone, and that she would never be quite the same again. There was a distinct shock in the thought. It carried him back to the day when her mother had danced across the threshold from youth to womanhood, with all of Phil's charm and grace and her heart of laughter.
Phil fanned herself languidly, feigning to ignore his bewilderment. An aigrette in her hair emphasized her height. She lifted her arms and, whistling softly, pirouetted about the room. Her movements were those of vigorous, healthy youth. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks aglow.
"Thunder!" gasped Amzi, feeling absently of his collar. "Is that you, Phil?"
"Generally speaking, it ain't, Amy. What do you think of the gladness of these joyful rags anyhow?"
"You look right, Phil. You've grown about six inches since I saw you last. High heels?"
She thrust out a slipper for his inspection.
"Those clothes are not as bad as some I've seen. I don't mind the low-in-the-neck effect when there's a neck to show like yours. Most of 'em look like the neck of a picked gander. I guess Fanny did about the right thing. Fanny's taste is usually pretty fair."
"Oh, the whole syndicate took a hand in it," said Phil with a sigh. "They nearly wore me out; but they were so busy consulting each other that they didn't notice that I chose the crepe myself. But I wanted you to like my things, Amy."
"Of course I like 'em. You certainly look grand."
He rummaged in one of the chiffonier drawers.
"Just wait a minute," he said; "you've got to fix this fool thing for me." He placed a fresh tie round his white-wing collar and loosely crossed the ends. "I ain't going to take any chances of spoiling this. Now, Phil, do your noblest."
"With gloves on? Well, I'm used to doing daddy's over again, so here goes."
He stood with his chin in air while she tied the bow. Her youth, her loveliness, her red lips, compressed at the crucial moment when the bow took form, moved and thrilled him. No one in the world had ever been so dear to him as Phil! When she rested her hands on his shoulders and tilted her head to one side to study her handiwork he raised himself on his toes and lifted his hands, in one of which he had concealed something.
"Bend your head a little, Phil; I ought to have a ladder for this."
And in a moment he drew down upon her neck a chain with a pendant of pearls, which he had chosen with the greatest care at the best jeweler's in Indianapolis.
"Now look at yourself!"
She sprang to the mirror, and while she was exclaiming over it, he remarked, "I guess it don't make you look much worse, Phil. But it doesn't make you look much nicer. Thunder! Nothing could!"
"Amy! I'm going to muss you up!" she cried, wheeling round.
"Phil—don't you touch me; don't you dare!"
He backed away and began drawing on his coat, and she abandoned the idea of mussing him to make sure his tie didn't crawl up over his collar. She clasped him tight and kissed him on the mouth.
"What a dear old pal you are, Amy," she said, laying her cheek against his. "Don't you ever think I don't appreciate what you do for me—what you are to me!"
"I guess that's all right, Phil," he said, and turned round to the chiffonier and blew his nose furiously. "Where's Tom?"
"I guess daddy's gone downstairs."
"Well, most of your aunts are on the job somewhere and we'd better go down and start this party. I hear the fiddlers tuning up."
Amzi II had built a big house with a generous hall and large rooms, and it had been a matter of pride with Amzi III to maintain it as it had been, refusing to listen to the advice of his sisters that he shut off part of it. Amzi liked space, and he was not in the least dismayed by problems of housekeeping. In preparing for Phil's party he had had all the white woodwork repainted, and the floors of the drawing- and living-rooms had been polished for dancing.
In Montgomery functions of all sorts begin early. The number of available public vehicles is limited, and by general consent the citizens take turns in the use of them. There hadn't been a party at the Montgomery homestead since the marriage of the last of the Montgomery girls. It was not surprising that to-night many people thought a little mournfully of the marriage of the first! The launching of Phil afforded opportunity for contrasting her with her mother; she was or she was not like Lois; nearly all the old people had an opinion one way or another.
Among the early arrivals was Mrs. John Newman King. Mrs. King, at eighty, held her own as the person of chief social importance in town. The Montgomerys were a good second; but their standing was based merely upon long residence and wealth; whereas Mrs. King had to her credit not only these essential elements of provincial distinction, but she had been the wife of a United States Senator in the great days of the Civil War. She had known Lincoln and all the host of wartime heroes. Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman had been her guests right there in Montgomery—at the big place with the elms and beeches, all looking very much to-day as it did in the stirring sixties. Mrs. King wore a lace cap and very rustling silk, and made pretty little curtsies. She talked politics to gentlemen, and asked women about their babies, and was wholly charming with young girls.
She paused before Phil, in the semicircle that included Amzi and his sisters with their husbands, and Tom Kirkwood.
"My dear child, on this proud occasion I want to say that the day you fell out of the cherry tree in my back yard and broke your arm and came into the house to get a sand tart as usual before going home, just as though nothing had happened, I loved you and I have loved you ever since. And you didn't cry either!"
"I didn't cry, Aunt Jane, because I hadn't sense enough to know I'd been hurt!"
"You were always a child of spirit! It's spirit that counts in this life. And for all we know in the next one, too. Don't you let all these relations of yours spoil you; I've known all the Montgomerys ever since your great-grandfather came here from Virginia, and you please me more than all the rest of 'em put together. Do you hear that, Amzi!"
Amzi was prepared to hear just this; he was nigh to bursting with pride, for Mrs. King was the great lady of the community and her opinion outweighed that of any dozen other women in that quarter of Indiana.
Montgomery is just a comfortable, folksy, neighborly town, small enough to make hypocrisy difficult and unnecessary. In a company like this that marked Phil's entrance upon the great little world, no real Montgomeryite remembered who had the most money, or the costliest automobile, or the largest house. The Madison professors, who never had any hope of earning more than fifteen hundred dollars a year if they lived forever, received the special consideration to which they were entitled; and Judge Walters might be hated by most of the lawyers at the bar for his sharp admonitions from the bench, but they all respected him for his sound attainments and unquestioned probity. Among others who were presented to Phil (as though they hadn't known her all her life!) were a general and a colonel and other officers of the line, including Captain Joshua Wilson, poet and county recorder, and the editors of the two newspapers, and lawyers and doctors and shopkeepers, and, yes, clerks who stood behind counters, and insurance agents and the postmaster, all mingling together, they and their children, in the most democratic fashion imaginable.
"We're all here," said old General Wilks, who had been a tower of strength in the Army of the Tennessee, "and we're the best people of the best state on earth. I claim the privilege of age, Amzi, to kiss the prettiest girl in Indiana."
Beyond question the arrival of the William Holtons, with their niece and nephew from Indianapolis, caused a stir. They were among the late comers, and the curious were waiting to witness their reception, which proved to be disappointingly undramatic. Their welcome in no wise differed from that accorded to other guests. Every one said that Charles Holton was a handsome fellow, and his sister Ethel a very "nice" though rather an insipid and colorless young woman. It was generally understood that Amzi's sisters had forced his hand. The conservatives were disposed to excuse Amzi for permitting the Holtons to be invited; but they thought the Holtons displayed bad taste in accepting. It was Phil's party, and no Holton had any business to be connected with anything that concerned Phil. And Tom Kirkwood's feelings ought to have been considered, said his old friends.
"You see," Charles Holton remarked to Phil, when he had bowed over her hand with a good deal of manner, "I really did give up that New York trip. I would have come back from China to see you in that gown!"
The musicians (five artists from the capital, and not the drummer and piano-thumper usually considered adequate in Montgomery for fraternity and class functions) now struck up the first number.
"Please give me a lot of dances," begged Charles, looking at Phil's card.
"One! Just one!" replied Phil.
"You are bound to be a great tyrant; you should be merciful to your humblest subject."
"I haven't seen any of the humility yet," she laughed.
Her Uncle Lawrence Hastings had undertaken to manage the dance and he glided away with her to the strains of the first waltz. Hastings boasted a velvet collar to his dress-coat, and the town had not yet ceased to marvel that fortune had sent to its door a gentleman so exquisite, so finished, so identified with the most fascinating of all the arts. Hastings had for the social affairs of Montgomery a haughty scorn. It pained him greatly to be asked to a neighbor's for "supper," particularly when it was quite likely that the hostess would herself cook and serve the food; and the Fortnightly Assembly, a club of married folk that met to dance in Masonic Hall, was to him the tamest, the dullest of organizations, and the fact that his brother-in-law Waterman, who waltzed like a tipsy barrel, enjoyed those harmless entertainments had done much to embitter Hastings's life. Hastings imagined himself in love frequently; the Dramatic Club afforded opportunities for the intense flirtations in which his nature delighted. The parents of several young women who had taken part in his amateur theatricals had been concerned for their daughters' safety. And now Phil interested him—this new Phil in city clothes. The antics of Phil, the tomboy of Main Street, had frequently aroused his indignation; Phil, a debutante in an evening gown that he pronounced a creation of the gods, was worthy of serious attention. She was, he averred, Hermione, Rosalind, Portia, Beatrice, combined in one perfect flower of womanhood.
"You are adorable, Phil," he sighed, when the music ceased, leaving them at the end of the living-room. "A star danced and you were born."
"That is very sweet, Lawrince," said Phil; "but here comes my next partner. You mustn't stand in the way of the young men."
The very lightest laughing emphasis on "young" made a stab of this. He posed in a window and watched her, with his gloomiest Hamlet-like air, until his wife, noting this familiar symptom, interrupted his meditations and commissioned him to convoy a lady with an ear-trumpet to the dining-room.
The party was going merrily; there was no doubt of its complete success. Some of the older folk remarked upon the fact that Phil had danced with Charles Holton; and he danced well. There was a grace in the Holtons, and Charles was endowed with the family friendliness. He made a point of speaking to every one and of dancing with the wall-flowers. It was noted presently that he saw Mrs. King to her carriage, and was otherwise regardful of the old folks.
Phil had wondered whether Fred Holton would come. She had hoped he would when she asked him at her uncle's farm, and the formal invitation had been dispatched to R.F.D. 7 as promised.
It was ten o'clock when Fred appeared. Phil saw him over her partner's shoulder talking to Amzi in the hall door, and as she swept by him in the dance she caught his eye. Fred had come late out of sheer timidity, but he had arrived at a moment when the gayety was at its height.
His diffidence had been marked even in his college days, and he was unused to gatherings of this kind. The proximity of so many gay, laughing people was a real distress to him. And if the other members of his family were able to overlook Jack Holton's great sin, Fred was acutely conscious of it now that Phil had dawned on his horizon. He had no sooner entered the house than he regretted his temerity in coming; and he had come merely to see Phil—that was the whole of it. Nor did the thought of this now contribute to his comfort. His glimpses of her as she danced up and down the room with three partners in turn—one of them his brother—set his pulses throbbing. Phil in her simple white gown—this glowing, joyous woman was no longer of his world. For the first time in his life his heart was shot through with jealousy. He had always felt Charles's superiority, but with a younger brother's loyal admiration he had not resented it. He resented it now. Fred had resurrected a cutaway coat for this adventure, and he was acutely aware that there were more dress-coats in evidence than he had imagined were available in Montgomery. Amzi, who had greeted him kindly, introduced him to a visiting girl whose name he did not catch, and he was doing his best to present an appearance of ease in talking to her. It had been a long time since he had danced, and he did not know the new steps. The girl asked him why he did not invite her to dance, and this added to his discomfiture. There is no greater unhappiness than that of the non-dancing young man at a dancing-party. He is drawn to such functions by a kind of fascination; he does not understand why other young men with no better brains than his are able to encircle the waists of the most beautiful girls and guide them through difficult evolutions. He vows that he will immediately submit himself to instruction and lift himself from the pits of torment.
The visiting girl was carried off, evidently to her relief and delight, by a strange young man and Fred was left stranded in an alcove. He had never felt so lonesome in his life. Phil vanished and now that he no longer enjoyed even his earlier swift glimpses of her, his dejection increased. He was meditating an escape when, as his eyes sought her, she stood suddenly breathless beside him. A divinity had no right thus to appear unheralded before mortal eyes. Fred blushed furiously and put out his hand awkwardly. Phil's latest partner begged for another dance; there was to be an extra, he pleaded; but she dismissed him with a wave of her fan. There had been high-school dances where Phil had learned to steel her heart against the importunate.
"Why didn't you come and speak to me?" demanded Phil when they were alone.
"I was just waiting for a chance. I didn't want to bother you."
"Well, you'll have to do better than this! You're the only person in the house who hasn't spoken to me! But it was nice of you to come: it must be a trouble to come to town at night when you live so far." She sat down in the window-seat and bade him do likewise. "You did see Uncle Amy, didn't you? I saw you talking to him; but you ought to have come earlier while there was a receiving-line ready for you. Now you'll have to look around for everybody; you have to speak to my three aunts and all my uncles and my father."
"I'll be glad to," declared Fred; and then realizing the absurdity of his fervor in consenting to speak to the aunts and uncles he laughed.
"You're scared," said Phil. "And if you won't tell anybody I'm a little bit scared myself, just because everybody tells me how grown-up I am."
The music struck up and a young cavalier—a college senior, who had worshiped Phil since his freshman year—came to say that it was his dance. She told him that she was tired and would have to be excused. He wished to debate the question, but she closed the incident promptly and effectively.
"I'm busy talking to Mr. Holton; and I can see you any time, Walter."
Walter departed crestfallen; she treated him as though he were still a freshman. He was wearing his first dress-coat and the tallest collar he could buy, and it was humiliating to be called Walter and sent away by a girl who preferred to talk to a rustic-looking person in a cutaway coat and a turnover collar with a four-in-hand tie.
Phil carried Fred off for a tour of the rooms, pausing to introduce him to her father and to the three aunts, to whom she said how kind it was of Fred to come; that he was the only person she had personally asked to the party. And it was just like Phil, for years the loyal protector of all the discards among the cats and dogs in town, to choose a clodhopper for special attention. Kirkwood, who had forgotten Fred's existence, greeted him in his pleasant but rather absent way.
The torrid Wabash Valley summers of many years had not greatly modified the chill in Kirkwood's New England blood, and the isolation in which he had lived so long had deepened his reserve. The scholarly stamp had not been effaced by his abandonment of the academic life, and many of his fellow-townsmen still addressed him as Professor Kirkwood. His joy to-night lay in Phil's happiness; his heart warmed to the terms of praise in which every one spoke of her. It touched his humor that his daughter was in some degree a public character. Her escapades in childhood and youth had endeared her to the community. In her battles with the aunts public sympathy had been pretty generally with Phil. "Otherwise Phyllis—?" Many a smile had been occasioned by that question. Tom Kirkwood knew all this and was happy and grateful. He had not attended a large gathering of his fellow-townfolk since his wife left him, so that his daughter's coming-out was an event of double significance for him.
The aunts were somewhat critical of the arrangements for refreshing the guests. Amzi, refusing to heed their suggestions that the catering be entrusted to an Indianapolis firm, had arranged everything himself. The cakes were according to the best recipes known at 98 Buckeye Lane, and Rose and Nan were there, assisting, by Amzi's special command. During the evening he consulted first one and then the other; and when his sisters asked icily for instructions, he told them to look handsome and keep cheerful. This was unbrotherly, of course, but Amzi was supremely happy.
The older people had been served in the dining-room and many of them had already gone or were now taking leave, and the waiters were distributing little tables for the young people.
"Let me see, you were to have refreshments with me, Miss Kirkwood; I have a table in the drawing-room alcove all ready," said Charles Holton to Phil as she still stood talking to Fred in the hall. Fred had been wondering just what his own responsibilities were in the matter. Charles had greeted him affably; but Fred's diffidence deepened in his brother's presence: Charles was a master of the social arts, whereas Fred had only instinctive good-breeding to guide him. Fred was about to move away, but Phil detained him.
"Isn't it curious that you two brothers should have the same idea," said Phil artlessly. "It's really remarkable! But I think"—and she turned gravely to Fred—"I think, as long as you came too late for a dance with me, I shall eat my piece of pie with you—and I think right up there on the stairs would be an excellent place to sit!"
Fred, radiant at the great kindness of this, went off to bring the salad for which she declared she was perishing. Charles looked at her with an amused smile on his face.
"You're a brick! It's mighty fine of you to be so nice to Fred. Dear old Fred!"
"Why do you speak of your brother in that way?"
"How did I speak of him?"
"Oh, as if he were somebody to be sorry for!"
"Oh, you misunderstood me! I was merely pleased that you were being nice to him. Fred would never have thought of asking you to sit on the stairs with him—I knew that; it was just like you to save him from embarrassment."
He was piqued by the connotations suggested by Phil's "Oh!" Phil was not only stunningly pretty, but she had wits. It was his way to impress girls he met, and there was no time for dallying now; Fred would return in a moment and take Phil away from him. He intended to see a great deal of her hereafter, and he believed that in the opening skirmishes of a flirtation a bold shot counts double. Phil waved her hand in the direction of the table where the Bartletts, her father, and Amzi were seating themselves, and when she looked round at Holton, she found his eyes bent upon her with a fair imitation of wistfulness and longing which in previous encounters of this sort he had found effective.
"I don't believe you realize how beautiful you are. I've been over the world a good deal and there's no one anywhere who touches you. There are lots of nice and pretty girls, of course, but you are different; you are a beautiful woman! To see you like this is to know for the first time what beauty is. And I know—I appreciate the beautiful soul there is in you—that shines out of your eyes!" His voice was low, and a little tremulous. "I want the chance to fight for you! From that first moment I saw you in your father's office I have thought of nothing but you. That's why I came—why I gave up business of real importance to come. And I shall come again and again, until you tell me I may come no longer."
His voice seemed to break with the stress of deep feeling. Phil listened, first in surprise that yielded perhaps to fear, and then her head bent and she looked down at her fan which she slowly opened and shut. She did not lift her eyes until she was sure he had finished.
"By the way," she remarked, with studied carelessness, as she continued to play with her fan, "I wish I could quote things offhand like that. It must be fine to have such a memory! Let me see, what is that from—'The Prisoner of Zenda' or 'How Lulu Came to Logansport'? Oh!" (with sudden animation as Fred came bearing two plates) "there's my young life-saver now!" Then to Charles again: "Well, I shall certainly look up that quotation. It was ever so nice of you to remind me of it!"
Holton struck his gloved hands together smartly in his irritation and turned away. Phil was undoubtedly different; but she was not through yet. She called him back, one foot on the stair, and said in a confidential tone, "That nice little Orbison girl,—the blonde one, I mean, who's visiting here from Elwood,—I wish you'd take good care of her; I'm afraid she isn't having a wildly exciting time."
"This is what I call being real comfortable and cozy," she remarked to Fred as they disposed themselves on one of the lower steps.
Below and near at hand were most of the members of her family. She saw from the countenances of the three aunts that they were displeased with her, but the consciousness of this did not spoil life for her. She humanly enjoyed their discomfiture, knowing that it was based upon the dinginess of Fred's clothes and prospects. Their new broad tolerance of the Holtons did not cover the tragic implications of Fred's raiment. They meant to protect Phil in every way, and yet there was ground for despair when she chose the most undesirable young man in the county to sit with in the intimacy of the refreshment hour at her own coming-out. Mrs. Fosdick leaned back from her table to ask Amzi in an angry whisper what he meant by allowing Phil to invite Fred Holton to her party.
"What's that? Allow her! I didn't allow her! Nobody allows Phil! Thunder!" And then, after he had picked up his fallen napkin, he turned to add: "There's nothing the matter with Fred that I know of!"
The comparative quiet that now reigned was much more to Fred's liking than the gayety of the dance. Phil treated their companionship as a matter of course and his timidity and restraint vanished. Nothing in his experience had ever been so agreeable and stimulating as this. That Phil, of all humankind, should have made this possible was to him inexplicable. It could not be that when this was over, he should be hurled back to Stop 7.
Phil, who had disposed of Charles's confession of adoration to her own satisfaction, now seemed bent upon winning some praise from the halting tongue of Charles's brother. To make conversation she directed attention to her new trinket, holding out the chain for Fred to admire the pearls. In doing this he saw the pulse throbbing in her slim throat, and this in itself was disturbing. Her nearness there on the stairway affected him even more than on the orchard slope where he had experienced similar agitations. When she laughed he noticed an irregularity in one of her white teeth; and there was a tiny mole on her neck, just below her left ear. He did not know why he saw these things, or why seeing them increased his awe. It seemed wonderful that she could so easily slip her hands out of her gloves without drawing the long gauntlets from her arms. Farther and farther receded the Phil of the kitchen apron with whom he had bargained for the sale of the saddest apples that had ever been brought to Montgomery by a self-respecting farmer! When her father came to the stair-rail to ask if she felt a draft from the upper windows, Fred was shaken with fear; the thought that the airs of heaven might visit affliction upon this brown-haired and brown-eyed marvel was at once a grief to him. He felt the world rock at the bare thought of any harm ever coming to her.
"As if," said Phil, when her father had been reassured, "the likes of me could take cold. What do you do all day on a farm in winter weather?"
"Let me see; I chopped wood, this morning; and I'd bought some corn of Perry—that is, of your uncle—and went over with the wagon to get it; and this afternoon I brought the wood I had chopped to the woodshed; and then I went out to look at my wheatfield, and almost bought a cow of another neighbor—but didn't quite make a bargain. And then I began to get ready to come to your party."
"You must have worked awfully hard to get ready," said Phil, "for you were late getting here."
"Well, I loafed around outside for an hour or so before I came in," and he smiled ruefully. "I'm not used to parties."
"You seem to get on pretty well," said Phil reassuringly.
One of the waiters had brought them ice-cream and cake, and after she had tasted the cake Phil caught Rose Bartlett's eye and expressed ecstasy and gratitude by a lifting of the head, a closing of the eyes, a swift folding of the hands.
"How are you going to amuse yourself out there by yourself all winter?" she remarked to Fred; "I shouldn't think there would be much to do!"
"Oh, there won't be any trouble about that! I've got plenty to do and then I want to do some studying, too. I'm going up to the University in January to hear lectures—farming and stock-raising and things like that. Perry has put me up to it. And then in between times I want to get acquainted with the neighbors; they're all mighty nice people and kind and friendly. That sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?"
"Well, it sounds wholesome if not wildly exciting. I've lost my job. They took my kitchen away from me just as I was getting started; and I haven't anything much to do—except being sociable."
"Of course, you've come out now, and you'll be going to receptions and dances all the time."
"I can't exactly cry O joy, O joy at the thought of it. There must have been gypsies in my family somewhere. You'll think I'm crazy, but I'd like to go out right now and run a mile. But there will be skating afterwhile; and snowstorms to go walking in. I like walking in snowstorms,—the blustering kind where you can't see and go plunking into fences."
Fred agreed to this; he readily visualized Phil tramping 'cross-country in snowstorms. "It's an awful thing," Phil resumed, "to have to be respectable. Aunt Kate wants to go South this winter and take me with her. But that would mean being shut up in a hotel. If daddy didn't have to work, I'd make him take me to California where we could get a wagon and just keep camping. Camping out is the most fun there is in this world. There's a nice wooziness in waking up at night and hearing an owl right over your head; and there are the weather changes, when you go to sleep with the stars shining and wake up and hear the rain slapping the tent. And when you've gone for a long tramp and come back tired and wet and hungry, and sit and talk about things awhile and then tumble into bed and get up in the morning to do it all over again—! Does that sound perfectly wild? If it does, then I'm crazy, for that's the kind of thing I like—not to talk about it at parties in my best clothes, but to go out and do it and keep on doing it forever and ever."
She put the last crumb of the Bartlett cake into her mouth meditatively.
"I like the outdoors, too," said Fred, for whom this statement of her likings momentarily humanized his goddess and brought her within the range of his understanding. "The earth is a good old earth. There are no jars in the way she does her business. There's something that makes me feel sort o' funny inside when I go out now and see that little wheat-patch of mine, and know that the snow is going to cover it, and that with any kind of good luck it's going to live right through the cold and come to harvest next summer. And it gives me a queer feeling, and always did, the way it all goes on—and has always gone on since the beginning of the world. When I was a little boy here in Montgomery and went to Center Church Sunday-School, the most interesting things in the Bible were about those Old Testament people, raising cattle and tending flocks and farming just like the people right here at home. I suppose it's a feeling like that I always had that makes me want to be a farmer and live close to the ground—that and wanting to earn a living," he concluded, smiling. He was astonished at his own speech, which had expressed ideas that had never crystallized in his mind before.
"That," said Phil, "is what poetry is—feeling like that."
"I suppose it is," Fred assented.
The waiters were relieving the guests of their burdens, and carrying out the tables, and there was a stir through the house as the musicians took their places. Phil rose and nodded to a young gentleman who sought her for the next dance.
"I've got to go," said Fred. "I'll just about catch my last car. It's been fine to be here. And I've enjoyed talking to you. It was mighty kind of you to sit up here with me. I shall always remember it."
Phil was drawing on her gloves, looking down upon the hall through which the guests from the other rooms were now passing.
At this moment the outer hall door opened cautiously and a man stepped inside, closed it noisily, and placed his back against it with an air of defiance. He stood blinking in the strong light, moving his head from side to side as though in the effort to summon speech. The waiter who had been stationed at the door was helping to clear away the tables, but he hurried forward and began directing this latest guest where to leave his wraps. The stranger shook his head protestingly. It was quite evident that he was intoxicated. He wore a long overcoat spattered with mud, and there was a dent in the derby hat he removed with elaborate care and then swung at arm's length. The doorways filled. Something not down in the programme was occurring. A sudden hush fell upon the house; whispered inquiries as to the identity of the stranger, who stood drunkenly turning his gaze from left to right, passed guardedly from lip to lip. Amzi, Kirkwood, and the Bartletts remained near where they had risen from their table, sharing the general consternation. Amzi was the first to recover; he took a step toward the door, but paused as the man began to speak slowly and drunkenly. He seemed annoyed by his inability to control his tongue and his voice rose raspingly.
"'M looking for my bruf—my bruf—my brother. Tole me 'tis h-h—'tis house he was 't Amzi's to party. Holtons and Mungummer—Montgomerys all good fr'ens now. Bes' ole fam'lies in town. 'Pologize for coming s' late; no time change my clothes; disgraceful—puf-puf-perfectly disgraceful, that's whasmasser. Want t' see Will. Anybody here seen Will? Don' tell me Will's gone home s' early; mos' unfashion'ble; mos' disgracefully unfashion'ble!"
Jack Holton had come back, and this was the manner of his coming. To most of those who saw him that night tipsily planted against the door of the old Montgomery house, he was an entire stranger, so long had been his exile; but to Amzi, to Tom Kirkwood, to Rose and Nan Bartlett there came at the instant of identification a thronging weight of memories. Some one had called William Holton—he was discussing local business prospects with Paul Fosdick—and the crowd about the drawing-room door made way for him. His nephew Charles was at his elbow.
"Bring my coat and hat to the back door, Charlie, and see that your Aunt Nellie gets home," he said; and people spoke admiringly afterward of the composure with which he met the situation.
Amzi was advancing toward the uninvited guest and William turned to him.
"This is unpardonable, Mr. Montgomery, but I want you to know that I couldn't have foreseen it. I am very sorry. Good-night!"
Preceded by Amzi, William led his brother, not without difficulty, through the hall to the dining-room and into the kitchen, where Charles joined him in a moment by way of the back stairs.
"It's Uncle Jack, is it?" Charles asked, looking at the tall figure with a curiosity that was unfeigned.
"M' dear boy, I s'pose 's possible I'm your lon—lon—long los' uncle; but I haven't zonner—haven't zonner your acquaintance. Want to see Will. Got prodigal on zands, Will has. Seems t'ave come back mos' 'no—mos' 'nopportune 'casion. All right, ole man: jus' give me y' arm and I get 'long mos' com-for-ble, mos' comfort-a-ble," he ended with a leer of triumph at having achieved the vowel.
Charles helped him down the steps to the walk and then returned to the house. In his unfamiliarity with its arrangements, he opened by mistake the door that led to a little den where Amzi liked to read and smoke. There quite alone stood Tom Kirkwood, his hands in his pockets, staring into the coal-fire of the grate. Charles muttered an apology and hastily closed the door.
Through the house rang the strains of a waltz, and the dance went on.
William Holton spoke the truth to Amzi when he said that he had had no warning of his brother's return. William, with all his apparent prosperity, was not without his troubles, and he took it unkindly that this brother, who for sixteen years had kept out of the way, should have chosen so unfortunate a moment for reintroducing himself to his native town. He had not set eyes on Jack since his flight with Lois Kirkwood, though Samuel had visited the Western coast several times on business errands and had kept in touch with him. William had been glad enough to forget Jack's existence, particularly as the reports that had reached him—even those brought back by the sanguine Samuel—had been far from reassuring as to Jack's status in Seattle.
Jack's return meant a recrudescence of wounds which time had seemingly healed, with resulting discomforts that might have far-reaching consequences. Mrs. William had a pride of her own, and it was unjust to her for a man who had so shocked the moral sensibilities of the town to thrust himself back upon his family, especially when he had chosen to present himself first at the domicile of the head of a house against which he had so grossly sinned.
William took Jack home and put him to bed; and when Charles followed a little later with Mrs. Holton, the prodigal slept the sleep of weary intoxication in her guest chamber.
The next day the town buzzed, and the buzzing was loud enough to make itself heard at the desk of the president of the First National Bank. William had left word at home that when Jack came to himself, he was to be dispatched to the bank forthwith. He meant to deal with this unwelcome pilgrim upon a business basis strictly, without any softening domestic influences. The honor of the Holtons was touched nearly and Jack must be got rid of. Mrs. Holton telephoned at eleven o'clock that Jack was on his way downtown, and William was prepared for the interview when his brother strolled in with something of his old jauntiness.
The door of the directors' room closed upon them. The word passed along Main Street that Jack and William were closeted in the bank. Phil, walking downtown on an errand, with the happiness of her party still in her eyes, was not without her sense of the situation. At the breakfast-table her father, deeply preoccupied, had brought himself with an effort to review the happier events of the party. Knowing what was in his mind Phil mentioned the untoward misfortune that had cast Jack Holton of all men upon the threshold of her uncle's house.
"It really didn't make any difference, daddy,—that man's coming. Everybody tried to forget it. And some of the young people didn't know him at all."
"No; it didn't matter, Phil. Your Uncle Amzi is a fine gentleman: I never fully appreciated his goodness and generosity as much as I did last night."
Phil did not know that Amzi had sought Kirkwood in the den where the lawyer had gone to take counsel with himself, and had blown himself purple in the face in his kind efforts to make light of the incident. The two men had never been drawn closer together in their lives than in that meeting.
"It wasn't Uncle Amy's fault that the William Holtons were asked to the party; I think it was Aunt Kate who started that. And when I heard of it, it was all over and the invitations had been sent," Phil said.
Kirkwood repeated his assurance that it made no difference in any way. And Phil remembered for a long time a certain light in his gentle, candid eyes as he said:—
"We get over most of our troubles in this world, Phil; and I want you to know that that particular thing doesn't hurt me any more. Only it was a shock; the man had aged so and his condition and the suddenness of it—But it's all over and it didn't spoil the party; that's the main thing."
Phil was immensely relieved, for she knew that her father told the truth.
Jack Holton greeted a number of old friends on his way to the bank, but the president emeritus of the college cut him. The cold stare he received from this old man, who had been president of Madison College for forty years, expressed a contempt that hurt. Mrs. King, in whose yard he had played as a boy, looked over his head, though he was confident she knew him. His nostrils caught no scent of roast veal in the familiar streets. At his brother's house his sister-in-law, whom he had never seen, had not appeared when he went down for his breakfast.
He followed his brother into the directors' room in a defiant humor. They took account of each other with a frank curiosity begotten of their long separation.
"You haven't changed much, Will. You've grown a little stouter than father did, but dear old Sam never lost his shape, and you're like him."
There was little resemblance between the two men. William's face, clean-shaven save for a mustache, showed few lines, though his hair had whitened at the temples. Jack's hair and mustache were well sprinkled with gray, and his crown was bald. He fingered a paper-weight on the table nervously. A history of dissipation was written legibly in his eyes and he had a disconcerting way of jerking his head.
"Damn it all! I guess you're not tickled to death to see me. And I need hardly say that if I hadn't been drunk, I wouldn't have turned up at old Amzi's on the night of that kid's coming-out party. Drunk when I struck town—hadn't been feeling well, and fell in with some old friends at Indianapolis and filled up. Hope you'll overlook my little indiscretions. Reckon the town would have found out I was here soon enough and there's nothing like coming right out in the open. When they told me at your house you were at Amzi's, I couldn't believe it and I was just drunk enough to want to investigate."
William muttered something that Jack preferred to ignore.
"Well, I wasn't so drunk I didn't take in Kirkwood. Old Tom has held his own pretty well; but he's the type Time don't batter much. I'd thought a good deal about what might happen if we ever met—had rather figured on a little pistol work; but Lord! it's funny how damned soon we get over these things. Trifles, Will, trifles—bubbles of human experience that vanish in thin air. Damn it all! life's a queer business. We put our faith in women and they're a bad investment, damned uncertain and devilish hard to please, and shake you when the night falleth and you need a prop to lean on. By the way, your own consort ducked me this morning; I had to have breakfast alone, with only one of Africa's haughty daughters to break my eggs. I hope madam your wife is well. By the way, has she given any hostages to fortune? Thought I hadn't heard of it. You've treated me in a hell of a little brotherly fashion, Will. If it hadn't been for Sam, who was a true sport if I know one, I shouldn't have known anything about you, dead or alive."
William had listened with an almost imperceptible frown while he minutely studied his brother. The items he collected were not calculated to inspire confidence or quicken fraternal feeling. Jack, whom he remembered as fastidious in old times, was sadly crumpled. The cuffs of his colored shirt were frayed; there were spots on his tie, and his clothes looked as though they had been slept in. The lining of the ulster he had thrown across a chair had been patched, and threads hung where his legs had rubbed it. The impressions reflected in William's eyes were increasingly disagreeable ones, as he diagnosed moral, physical, and financial decrepitude. It was nothing short of impudence on Jack's part to intrude himself upon the town and upon his family. It was with a slight sneer that William replied to his brother's long speech by ejaculating:—
"Well, I like your nerve! You come back drunk just when the community had begun to forget you, and wander into the last house in the world where you ought to show yourself. Your being drunk doesn't excuse you. Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
Jack smiled ironically.
"Suppose you climb off your high horse for a little bit. If I have to get a permit from my only brother to come back to the town where I was born, things have come to a nice pass. Better cut all that out."