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Sisters
by Kathleen Norris
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Cherry listened happily, and for a little while the old sense of pride and achievement came back—she was married, she was wearing a plain gold ring! But after a few days that feeling vanished forever, and instead it began to seem strange to her that she had ever been anything else than Martin's wife. The other women at the mine were married; she was married; and nobody seemed to think the thing remarkable in them, or in her. She was, to be sure, younger and prettier than any of the others, but the men she met here were not the sort whose admiration would have satisfied her innocent ambition to have Martin's friends flock about her adoringly, and more than that, they knew her to be newly married, and left the young Lloyds to their presumably desired isolation. And very soon Cherry found herself a little housewife among other housewives, much more praised if she made a good shortcake than because the tilt of her new hat was becoming.

For several days she and Martin laughed incessantly, and praised each other incessantly, while they experimented with cooking, and ate delicious gipsy meals. In these days Martin was always late at the mine, and every evening he came home to find that ducks, or a jar of honey, or a loaf of cake, had been contributed to Cherry's dinner by the interested women in the near-by cottages. In all, there were not a dozen families at the "Emmy Younger," and Cherry was watched with interest and sympathy during her first efforts at housekeeping.

By midwinter she had settled down to the business of life, buying bacon and lard and sugar and matches at the store of the mine, cooking and cleaning, sweeping and making beds. She still kissed Martin good-bye every morning, and met him with an affectionate rush at the door when he came home, and they played Five Hundred evening after evening after dinner, quarrelling for points, and laughing at each other, while rain sluiced down on the "Emmy Younger," and dripped on the porch. But sometimes she wondered how it had all come about, wondered what had become of the violent emotions that had picked her out of the valley home, and established her here, in this strange place, with this man she had never seen a year ago.

Of these emotions little was left. She still liked Martin, she told herself, and she still told him that she loved him. But she knew she did not love him, and in such an association as theirs there can be no liking. Her thoughts rarely rested on him; she was either thinking of the prunes that were soaking, the firewood that was running low, the towels that a wet breeze was blowing on the line; or she was far away, drifting in vague realms where feelings entirely strange to this bare little mining camp, and this hungry, busy, commonplace man, held sway. Cherry was in the position of a leading lady mysteriously forced into a minor role; she had never known what she wanted in life, and was learning now in a hard school.

The first time that she quarrelled with Martin, she cried for an entire day, with the old childish feeling that somehow her crying mattered, somehow her abandonment to grief would help to straighten affairs. The cause of the quarrel was a trifle; her father had sent her a Christmas check, and she immediately sent to a San Francisco shop for a clock that had taken her fancy months before.

Martin, who chanced to be pressed for money, although she did not know it, was thunderstruck upon discovering that she had actually disposed of fifty dollars so lightly. For several days a shadow hung over their intercourse, and when the clock came, as large as a banjo, gilded and quaint, he broke her heart afresh by pretending not to admire it.

But on Christmas Eve he was delayed at the mine, and Cherry, smitten suddenly with the bitterness of having their first Christmas spoiled in this way, sat up for him, huddled in her silk wrapper by the air-tight stove. She was awakened by feeling herself lowered tenderly into bed, and raised warm arms to clasp his neck, and they kissed each other. The little house was warm and comfortable, they had a turkey to roast on the morrow, and ranged on the table were the home boxes, and a stack of unopened envelopes waiting for Christmas morning.

The next day they laughed at the clock together, and after that peace reigned for several weeks. But it was inevitable that another quarrel should come and then another; Cherry was young and undisciplined, perhaps not more selfish than other girls of her age, but self-centred and unreasonable. She had to learn self- control, and she hated to control herself. She had to economize when poverty possessed neither picturesqueness nor interest. They were always several weeks late in the payment of domestic bills, and these recurring reminders of money stringency maddened Cherry. Sometimes she summed it up, with angry tears, reminding him that she was still wearing her trousseau dresses, and had no maid, and never went anywhere—!

But she developed steadily. As she grew skilful in managing her little house, she also grew in the art of managing her husband and herself. She became clever at avoiding causes of disagreement; she listened, nodded, agreed, with a boiling heart, and had the satisfaction of having Martin's viewpoint veer the next day, or the next hour, to meet her own secret conviction. Martin's opinion, she told herself wearily, as she swept and cooked and marketed busily, didn't matter anyhow. He would rage and storm at his superiors, he would threaten and brood, and then it would all be forgotten, time after time after time. Silent, absent-minded, looking closely at a burn upon her smooth arm or pleating her checked apron, Cherry would sit opposite him at his late lunch.

"I suppose you don't agree with me?" he would interrupt himself to ask scowlingly.

"Mart—" The innocent blue eyes would be raised vaguely. "I don't know anything about it, dear. If Mr. Taylor—"

"Well, you know what I tell you, don't you?"

"Yes, dear. But—"

"For God's sake don't call me DEAR when you—"

"Mart!" Her dignity always rose in arms. "Please don't get excited."

"Well!" His tone would be modified, as the appetizing little meal was dispatched. "But Lord, you do make me so mad, sitting there criticizing me—I can always tell when you're in sympathy with me- -my Lord, I wish you had to go up against these fellows sometimes- -" The grumbling voice would go on and on; Cherry would pause at the door, carrying out plates, to have him finish a phrase; would nod sympathizingly as she set his dessert before him. But her soul was like some living thing spun into a cocoon, hearing the sounds of life only vaguely, interested in them not at all.

Martin seemed satisfied, and all their little world accepted her as a matter of course. Pretty little Mrs. Lloyd went every morning into the Company Store as the only store at the mine was called, and smiled over her shopping; she stopped perhaps at the office to speak to her husband; she met some other woman wheeling a baby up to the cottages, and they gossiped together. She and her husband dined and played cards now and then with a neighbour and his wife, and they gave dinners in return, when the men praised every dish extravagantly, and the woman laughed at their greedy enthusiasms. Like the other women, she had her small domestic ambitions; Mrs. Brown wanted a meat-chopper; Mrs. White's one desire was to have a curly maple bedroom set; Mrs. Lloyd wanted a standing mahogany lamp for the sitting room.

But under it all Cherry knew that something young and irresponsible and confident in her had been killed. She never liked to think of the valley, of the fogs and the spokes of sunlight under the redwood aisles, of Alix and the dogs and the dreamy evenings by the fire. And especially she did not like to think of that eighteenth birthday, and herself thrilling and ecstatic because the strange young man from Mrs. North's had stared at her, in her sticky apron, with so new and disturbing a smile in his eyes.



CHAPTER V

So winter passed at the mine, and at the brown house under the shoulder of Tamalpais. Alix still kept her bedroom windows open, but the rain tore in, and Anne protested at the ensuing stains on the pantry ceiling. Creeks rushed swollen and yellow; fog smothered the mountain peak; the forest floor oozed moisture. Spring came reluctantly; muddy boots cluttered the doctor's hearth, for he and Alix and Peter tramped for miles through the woods and over the hills, bringing home trillium and pungent wild currant blossoms, and filling the house with blooms.

Cherry's wedding, once satisfactorily over, was a cause of great satisfaction to her sister and cousin. They had stepped back duly, to give her the centre of the stage; they had admired and congratulated, had helped her in all hearty generosity. They had listened to her praises of Martin and his of her, and had given her more than her share of the household treasures of silver spoons and yellowed old lace.

And now that she was gone they enjoyed their own lives again, and cast over hers the glamour that novelty and distance never fail to give. Cherry, married and keeping house and managing affairs, was an object of romantic interest. The girls surmised that Cherry must be making friends; that everyone must admire her; that Martin would be rich some day, without doubt. When her letters came, there was always animated chatter about the fire.

Cherry wrote regularly, now and then assuring them that she was the same old Cherry. She described her tiny house right at the mine, looking down at the rough scaffoldings that covered the mouth of the tunnels, and the long sheds of the plant, and the bare big building that was the men's boarding-house. Martin's associates brought her trout and ducks, she wrote; she and Martin had driven three hundred miles in the superintendent's car; she was preparing for a card party.

"Think of little old Cherry going off on week-end trips with three men!" Alix would say proudly. "Think of Cherry giving a card party!" Anne perhaps would make no comment, but she often felt a pang of envy. Cherry seemed to have everything.

Alix was working hard with her music this winter, aided and abetted by Peter, who was tireless in bringing her songs and taking her to concerts. Suddenly, without warning, there was a newcomer in the circle, a sleek-headed brown-haired little man known as Justin Little.

He had been introduced at some party to Anne and Alix; he called; he was presently taking Anne to a lecture. Anne now began to laugh at him and say that he was "too ridiculous," but she did not allow any one else to say so. On the contrary, she told Alix at various times that his mother had been one of the old Maryland Percies, and his great-grandfather was mentioned in a book by Sir Walter Scott, and that one had to respect the man, even if one didn't choose to marry him.

"Marry him!" Alix had echoed in simple amazement. Marry him—what was all this sudden change in the household when a man could no sooner appear than some girl began to talk of marriage? Alix had always rather fancied the idea that all girls had an opportunity of capriciously choosing from a dozen eligible swains, but Cherry had quickly anchored herself to the first strange man that appeared, and here was Anne dimpling and looking demure over a small, neat youth just out of law school. Certainly the little person of Justin Little was a strange harbour for all Anne's vague dreams of a conquering hero. Stupefied, Alix watched the affair progress.

"I don't imagine it's serious!" her father said on an April walk. Peter, tramping beside them, was interested but silent.

"My dear father," the girl protested, "have you listened to them? They've been contending for weeks that they were just remarkably good friends—that's why she calls him Frenny!"

"Ah—I see!" the doctor said mildly, as Peter's wild laugh burst forth.

"But now," Alix pursued, "she's told him that as she cannot be what he wishes, they had better not meet!"

"Poor Anne!" the old doctor commented.

"Poor nothing! She's having the time of her life," her cousin said unfeelingly. "She told me to-day that she was afraid that she had checked one of the most brilliant careers at the bar."

"I had no idea of all this!" the doctor confessed, amazed. "I've seen the young man—noticed him about. Well—well—well! Anne, too."

"You and me next, little sweetums," suggested Peter, dropping down beside the doctor, who had seated himself, panting, upon a log.

Alix, the dog's silky head under her hand, was resting against the prop formed by a great tree trunk behind her shoulders, and looking down at the two men. She grinned.

"Nothingstirring, Puddeny-woodeny!" she answered, blandly.

The old man looked from Peter's smiling, indifferent face to his daughter's unembarrassed smile; shook his head in puzzled fashion, and returned to his pocket the big handkerchief with which he had been wiping his forehead.

"There ye are!" he said, shrugging. "Cherry goes gaily off with a man she's only known for a few weeks; Anne dresses up this new fellow with goodness knows what qualities; and you and Alix here, neighbours all your lives, laugh as if marriage was all a joke!"

"Our marriage would be, darling," Alix assured him. "But, Dad, if you would like me to marry Peter, by George, I will!" she added, dutifully. "Peter, consider yourself betrothed! Bucky," she said to the dog, "dat's oo new Daddy!"

Neither man paid her the slightest attention. Peter scraped a lump of dried mud from the calf of his high boots, and the doctor musingly looked back along the rough trail they had climbed.

"I'd have felt safer—I'd feel very safe to have one of my girls in your care, Peter," the older man said at last, thoughtfully. "I hate to see them scatter. Well!"

He sighed, smiled, and got to his feet. "That's not in our hands," he said, cheerfully.

Alix, without moving, sent her glance from his face to Peter's, and their eyes met. Only a few words, spoken half in earnest, on a spring morning tramp, and yet they had their place, in her memory and Peter's, and were to return to them after a time, and influence them more seriously than either the man, or the grinning girl, or the old man himself ever dreamed.

The glance lasted only a second, then Alix, who had been carefully removing burrs from the soft tangle of the dog's tasselled ears, took the trail again with great, boyish springs of her bloomered legs.

"Father," said she, "am I to understand that you disapprove of my choice?"

"I hope," her father answered, seriously, "that when you do marry you will get a man half as good as Peter!"

"Thank you!" Peter said, gravely, more as a rebuke to the incorrigible Alix than because he was giving the conversation much attention.

Alix had time for no comment, for at this moment she placed her foot upon an unsubstantial root and slid down upon the two men with such an unpremeditated rush of heavy boots, wet loam, loosened rocks, and cascading earth, that the footing of them all was threatened, and it was only after much shouting, staggering, balancing, and clutching that they resumed their climb. Peter was then nursing a wrist that had been wrenched in the confusion, looking away from it only to give the loudly singing Alix an occasional resentful glance.

"You could omit some of those cries!" he presently observed.

"I thought you liked 'The Lotos Flower'?" Alix called back.

"I just proved that I do," Peter said neatly, and the doctor, and Alix herself, laughed joyously.

In June came the blissful hour in which Anne, all blushes and smiles, could come to her uncle with a dutiful message from the respectfully adoring Justin. Their friendship, said Anne, had ripened into something deeper.

"Justin wants to have a frank talk with you, Uncle," Anne said, "and of course I'm not to go until you are sure you can spare me, and unless you feel that you can trust him utterly!"

"And remember that you aren't losing a daughter, but gaining a son—Oh, help!" Alix added. Anne gave her a reproachful glance, but found it impossible to be angry with her. She was too genuinely delighted with her cousin's happiness and too helpful with all the new plans. Anne's engagement cups were ranged on the table where Cherry's had stood, and where Cherry had talked of a coffee-coloured rajah silk Anne discussed the merits of a "smart but handsome blue tailormade."

The wedding was to be in September, not quite a year after Cherry's wedding. Alix wrote her sister pages about it, always ending with the emphatic declaration that Cherry must come down for the wedding.

Cherry read of it with a strange pang. Somehow it robbed her own marriage of flavour and charm to have Anne so quickly following in her footsteps. She was homesick. She dreamed continually of the cool, high valley, the scented aisles of the deep forest, the mountain rearing its rough summit to the pale blue of summer skies.

June passed; July passed; it was hot at the "Emmy Younger." August came in on a furnace breath; Cherry felt headachy, languid, and half sick all the time. She hated housekeeping in this weather; hated the smells of dry tin sink and wooden floor, of milk bottles and lard tins. Martin had said that he could not possibly get away, even for the week of Anne's wedding, but Cherry began to wonder if he would let her go alone.

"If he doesn't, I shall be sick!" she fretted to herself, in a certain burning noontime, toward the middle of August. Blazing heat had been pouring over the mine since six o'clock; there seemed to have been no night. Martin, who had been playing poker the night before, was sleeping late this morning. He was proud of the little wife who so generously spared him for an occasional game, and always allowed him to sleep far into the following morning. Other wives at the mine were not so amiable where poker was concerned. But Martin, coming home at three o'clock, dazed with close air and cigar smoke, had awakened his wife to tell her that he would be "dead" in the morning, and Cherry had accordingly crept about her own dressing noiselessly, had darkened the bedroom, and eaten her own breakfast without the clatter of a dish, putting the coffee aside to be reheated for him when he awakened. Now she was sitting by the window, panting in the noon heat, and looking down upon a dazzle of dust and ugliness and smothering hotness. She was thinking, as it chanced, of the big forest at home, and of a certain day—just one of their happy days!—only a year ago, when she had lain for a dreamy hour on the soft forest floor, staring up idly through the laced fanlike branches, and she thought of her father, with his mild voice and ready smile; and some emotion, almost like fear, came over her. For the first time she asked herself, in honest bewilderment, why she had married.

The heat deepened and strengthened and increased as the burning day wore on. Martin waked up, hot and headachy, and having further distressed himself with strong coffee and eggs, departed into the dusty, motionless furnace of out-of-doors. The far brown hills shimmered and swam, the "Emmy Younger" looked its barest, its ugliest, its least attractive self. Cherry moved slowly about the kitchen; her head ached; it was a day of sickening odours. The ice man had failed them again, the soup had soured, and after she had thrown it away Cherry felt as if the grease and the smell of it still clung to her fingers.

There was a shadow in the doorway; she looked up surprised. For a minute the tall figure in striped linen and the smiling face under the flowery hat seemed those of a stranger. Then Cherry cried out, and laughed, and in another instant was crying in Alix's arms.

Alix cried, too, but it was with a great rush of pity and tenderness for Cherry. Alix had not young love and novelty to soften the outlines of the "Emmy Younger," and she felt, as she frankly wrote later, to her father, "at last convinced that there is a hell!" The heat and bareness and ugliness of the mine might have been overlooked, but this poor little house of Cherry's, this wood stove draining white ashes, this tin sink with its pump, and the bathroom with neither faucets nor drain, almost bewildered Alix with their discomfort.

Even more bewildering was the change in Cherry. There was a certain hardening that impressed Alix at once. There was a weary sort of patience, a disillusioned concession to the drabness of married life. Alix, after meeting some of the other wives at the mine—there were but five or six—saw that Cherry had been affected by them. There was general sighing over the housework, a mild conviction that men were all selfish and unreasonable. "And I must say," Alix's first letter to her father admitted, "that the men here are all dogs, except the ones that are under dogs!"

But she allowed the younger sister to see nothing of this. Indeed, Cherry so brightened under the stimulus of Alix's companionship that Martin told her that she was more like her old self than she had been for months. Joyously she divided her responsibilities with Alix, explaining the difficulties of marketing and housekeeping, and joyously Alix assumed them. Her vitality infected the whole household, and, indeed, the mine as well. She flirted, cooked, entertained, talked incessantly; she bullied Martin and laughed at him, and it did him good.

Perhaps, thought Alix, rather appalled at Cherry's attitude, Cherry had been too young for wifehood. Sometimes she spoiled and humoured Martin, and sometimes quarrelled with him childishly, scolding and fretting for her own way, and angry with conditions over which neither he nor she had any control. Alix was surprised to see the old pout, and hear the old phrase of Cherry's indulged girlhood: "I don't think this is any FUN!"

"Anne isn't one half as clever or as pretty as Cherry, but she'll make a better wife!" was Alix's conclusion. She gave them spirited accounts of Anne's affair. "He's a nice little academic fellow," she said of Justin Little. "If he had a flatiron in each hand he'd probably weigh close to a hundred pounds! He's a—well, a sort of DAMP-LOOKING youth, if you know what I mean! I always want to take a crash towel and dry him off!"

"Fancy Anne with a shrimp like that!" Cherry said, with a proud look at her own man's fine height.

"Anne was delicious!" Alix further revealed. "They used to take dignified walks on Sundays. I used to tease her, and she'd get so mad she'd ask Dad to ask me to be more refined. She said that Mr. Little was a most unusual man, and it was belittling to his dignity to have me suppose that a man and a woman couldn't have an intellectual friendship. This in May, my dear, and after the thing was settled and Anne had cried, and written notes, and Justin had gone to Dad and asked where he could buy a second-hand revolver—"

"Oh, Alexandra Strickland, you're making up!" Cherry went back naturally to the old nursery phrase.

"Honestly—cross my heart!" Alix assured her. "That's the way they managed it; they solemnly discussed it and worked it out on paper, and Justin's mother called on Anne—she's an awful old girl, too, she looks like a totem pole—and Anne called on his aunts, and then he asked Dad, 'as Anne's male relative,' he said, and it was all settled. And THEN—THEN Anne became the mushiest thing I ever saw! And not only mushy, Cherry, but proudly and openly mushy. She'd catch Justin's hand up, at the table, and say 'Frenny—'"

"'Frenny?'" echoed Cherry, who had laughed until actual tears stood in her eyes.

"That's short for 'friend,' do you see? Because of this platonic intellectual friendship that started everything, you know. She'd catch up his hand and say, 'Frenny, show Uncle what an aristocratic hand you've got.' My dear, she'll keep me awake nights repeating things he's said to her: 'He's so wonderful, Alix. He's the simplest and at the same time the cleverest man I ever knew.'"

"He sounds awful to me," Cherry said.

"He's not, really. Only it seems that he belongs to the oldest family in America, or something, and is the only descendent—"

"Money?" Cherry asked, interestedly.

"No, I don't think money, exactly. At least I know he is getting a hundred a month in his uncle's law office, and Dad thinks they ought to wait until they have a little more. She'll have something, you know," Alix added, after a moment's thought.

"Your cousin?" Martin asked, taking his pipe out of his mouth.

"Well, her father went into the fire-extinguisher thing with Dad," Alix elucidated, "and evidently she and Justin have had deep, soulful thoughts about it. Anyway, the other day she said—you know her way, Cherry—'Tell me, Uncle, frankly and honestly, may Justin and I draw out my share for that little home that is going to mean so much to us—'"

"I can hear her!" giggled Cherry.

"Dad immediately said that she COULD, of course," Alix went on. "He's going to look the whole thing up. He was adorable about it. He said, 'It will do more than build you a little home, my dear!'"

"We'll get a slice of that some time," Cherry said, thoughtfully, glancing at her husband. "I don't mean when Dad dies either," she added, in quick affection. "I mean that he might build us a little home some day in Mill Valley."

"Gee, how he'd love it!" Alix said, enthusiastically.

"I married Cherry for her money," Martin confessed.

"As a matter of fact," Cherry contradicted him, vivaciously, animated even by the thought of a change and a home, "we have never even spoken of it before, have we, Mart?"

"I never heard of it before," he admitted, smiling, as he knocked the ashes from his pipe. "If I leave the 'Emmy Younger' in October, and go into the Red Creek proposition, I shall be making a good deal myself. But it's pleasant to know that Cherry will come in for a nest-egg some day!"

"Mart doesn't care a scrap for money!" Cherry said to her sister, in the old loyal way. Since Alix's arrival she had somehow liked Martin better. Perhaps Alix brought to her sister with a whiff of the old atmosphere, the old content, the old pride, and the old point-of-view. Presently the visitor boldly suggested that they should both go home together for the wedding, and Martin, to Cherry's amazement, agreed good-naturedly.

"But, Mart, how'll you get along?" his wife asked, anxiously. She had fumed and fussed and puttered and toiled over the care of these four rooms for so long that it seemed unbelievable that her place might be vacated even for a day.

"Oh, I'll get along fine!" he answered, indifferently. Cherry, with a great sigh of relief and delight, abandoned the whole problem; milk bottles, fire wood, groceries, dust, and laundry slipped from her mind as if they had never been. On the last day of August, in the cream-coloured silk and the expensive hat again, yet looking, Alix thought, strangely unlike the bride that had been Cherry, she and her sister happily departed for cooler regions. Martin took them to the train, kissed his sister-in-law gaily, and then his wife affectionately,

"Be a good little girl, Babe," he said, "and write me!"

"Oh, I will—I will!" Cherry looked after him smilingly from the car window. "He really is an old dear!" she told Alix.



CHAPTER VI

But when at the end of the long day they reached the valley, and when her father came innocently into the garden and stood staring vaguely at her for a moment—for her visit, and the day of Alix's return had been kept a secret—her first act was to burst into tears. She clung to the fatherly shoulder as if she were a storm- beaten bird safely home again, and although she immediately laughed at herself, and told the sympathetically watching Peter and Alix that she didn't know what was the matter with her, it was only to interrupt the words with fresh tears.

Tears of joy, she told them, laughing at the moisture in her father's eyes. Hanging on his arm, she went back into the old sitting room again, under the banksia rose; went up the brown stairway to the old, clean, woody-smelling bedroom. Her hat and wraps went into the closet; she danced and exclaimed and exulted over every familiar detail.

She and Alix ran downstairs before supper, and into the garden, and Cherry drew deep, refreshing breaths of the cool air and laughed over every bush and flower. Peter came out to join them, her father came down, and she kissed him again; she could not be close enough to him. She had a special joyous word for Hong; she laughed and teased and questioned Anne, when Anne and Justin came back from an afternoon concert in the city, with an interest and enthusiasm most gratifying to both.

After dinner she had her old place on the arm of her father's porch chair; Alix, with Buck's smooth head in her lap, sat on the porch step beside Peter, and the lovers murmured from the darkness of the hammock under the shadow of the rose vine. It was happy talk in the sweet evening coolness; everybody seemed harmonious and in sympathy to-night. Alix asked Peter's advice regarding her White Minorcas and respectfully promised to act upon it, and Cherry showed him a new side, an affectionate, little sisterly deference and confidence quite different from her old childish sulkiness and pretty caprice.

"Bedtime!" said her father presently, and she laughed in sheer pleasure.

"Daddy—that sounds so nice again!"

"But you do look fagged and pale, little girl," he told her. "You're to stay in bed in the morning."

"Oh, I'll be down!" she assured him. But she did not come down in the morning, none the less. She was tired in soul and body, and glad to let them spoil her again, glad to rest and sleep in the heavenly peace and quiet of the old home.

Midsummer heat was upon the little valley, but here under the redwoods there was always coolness; delicious odours of warm sap and loamy sweetness drifted into Cherry's darkened room; the morning was fresh and foggy, and the night before she had smiled drowsily to stir from first sleep and find her father bending over her, drawing up an extra blanket in the old way. All night long she slept deeply and sweetly, as she had slept through all the nights of childhood; it was ten o'clock when Alix came smiling in with a breakfast tray. Presently she carried it away, and Cherry, with a deep sigh from the fullness of her content, turned on her side and drowsed again.

Waking, after a while, she locked her hands under her head, and lay listening happily to the old and familiar sounds of home. She heard Hong bargaining in his own minor chatter with a fruit vendor, and Alix and her father chuckling over some small confidence in the porch. She heard the subdued clink of dishes, the squawk of a surprised chicken, and the girls' murmuring voices.

It was Saturday, Cherry remembered, when Peter's voice suddenly sounded above the others and was hastily hushed for her sake; Peter was always there at three o'clock on Saturdays. There was another voice, too, pleasant and crisp and even a trifle fastidious; that must be Justin.

Late in the afternoon, rested, fresh, and her old sweet self in the white ruffles, she came down to join them. They had settled themselves under the redwoods, Anne and Justin, Peter and Alix and Buck, the dog, all jumped up to greet her. Cherry very quietly subsided into a wicker chair, listened rather than talked, moved her lovely eyes affectionately from one to another.

Peter hardly moved his eyes from her, although he did not often address her directly; Justin was quite obviously overcome by the unexpected beauty of Anne's cousin; Anne herself, with an undefined pang, admitted in her soul that Cherry was prettier than ever; and even Alix was affected. With the lovely background of the forest, the shade of her thin wide hat lightly shadowing her face, with the dew of her long sleep and recent bath enhancing the childish purity of her skin, and with her blue eyes full of content, Cherry was a picture of exquisite youth and grace and charm. It was not the less winning because she seemed genuinely unconscious of it to-day; perhaps before the girls and Anne's precise little fledgling lawyer no self-conscious thought of conquest had entered her head.

The dog had gone to her knee and laid his bronze mane against the white ruffles, and while she listened and smiled, she idly fondled and petted him with her childish, ringed hand.

"And the next experience is to be at Red Creek?" Justin asked, delighted with this addition to the family circle and beaming about upon everyone.

"Mr. Lloyd is there now," Cherry smiled. "Do you know Red Creek?— I'll have to call you Justin, since you're going to be my cousin so soon," she interrupted herself to say shyly.

"No—I—er—I—er—don't!" Justin stammered.

Anne said vivaciously:

"Of course you're to call him Justin! And he's to call you Cherry, too—those are my orders, Frenny, and don't you dare disobey!"

"But did you get onto the artful and engaging smile Justin gave Cherry?" Alix giggled later to Peter. She and Peter were in the pantry, deep in the manufacture of a certain sort of canape. "Why, he was all in a heap over her!" continued Alix elegantly, as she sampled a small piece of smeared toast with a severe and wrinkled brow. "Try a little mustard in it," she suggested, adding confidentially, "You know Cherry is really too pretty for any use! The rest of us can diet for complexion or diet for figures, and this hat will be becoming or that dress will always look well—but Cherry, why, she just knocks us all galley-west! What's the use of struggling and brushing your hair and worrying about your clothes, when a girl like Cherry will come along and sit down and have everybody staring!"

"She is, of course, quite extraordinary!" Peter conceded as he punched two small holes in the top of a tin of olive oil. The oil welled up through the holes and he wiped his fingers on a corner of Alix's apron.

"It's just the difference," Alix said, "between being nice looking, which half the women in the word are, and being a beauty. I remember that when Cherry was only about ten I used to look at her and think that there was something rather—well, rather arresting about her face. It was such an aristocratic little face. I remember her in those old bluejacket blouses—"

"Yes, I do, too!" Peter said quickly, straightening up from restoring the vinegar demijohn to an obscure position in a lower cupboard. "Well—These have to go in the oven now; I'll take them out. Aren't you going to change for dinner? It's after six now!"

"Since you ask me, I'll see what frock Deshabille has laid out!" Alix yawned, disappearing in the direction of the sitting room, where he found her a few minutes later absorbed in a book.

The evening was cooler, with sudden wind and a promise of storm. They grouped themselves about a fire in the old way; Anne and Justin sitting close together on the settle, as Martin and Cherry had done a year ago. Cherry sat next her father with her hand linked in his; neither hand moved for a long, long time. Alix, sitting on the floor, with her lean cheeks painted by the fire, played with the dog and rallied Peter about some love affair, the details of which made him laugh vexedly in spite of himself. Cherry watched them, a little puzzled at the familiarity of Peter beside this fire; had he been so entirely one of the family a year ago? She could almost envy him, feeling herself removed by so long and strange a twelvemonth.

"Be that as it may, my dear," said Alix, "the fact remains that you taught this Fenton woman to drive your car, didn't you? And you told her that she was the best woman driver you ever knew, a better driver even than Miss Strickland; didn't you?"

"I did not," Peter said, unmovedly smoking and watching the fire.

"Why, Peter, you did! She said you did!"

"Well, then, she said what is not true!"

"She distinctly told me," Alix remarked, "that dear Mr. Joyce had said that she was the best woman driver he ever saw."

"Well, I may have said something like that," Peter growled, flushing. Alix laughed exultingly. "I tell you I loathe her!" he added.

"Daddy, we have a lovely home!" Cherry said softly, her eyes moving from the shabby books and the shabby rugs to Alix's piano shining in the gloom of the far corner. It was all homelike and pleasant, and somehow the atmosphere was newly inspiring to her; she had felt that the talk at dinner, the old eager controversy about books and singers and politics and science, was—well, not brilliant, perhaps, but worth while. She was beginning to think Peter extremely clever and only Alix's quick tongue a match for him, and to feel that her father knew every book and had seen every worthwhile play in the world.

Martin, whose deep dissatisfaction with conditions at the "Emmy Younger Mine" Cherry well knew, had entered into a correspondence some months before relative to a position at another mine that seemed better to him, and instead of coming down for a day or two at the time of Anne's wedding, as Cherry had hoped he might, wrote her that the authorities at the Red Creek plant had "jumped at him," and that he was closing up all his affairs at the "Emmy Younger" and had arranged to ship all their household effects direct to the new home. He knew nothing of Red Creek, except that it was a small inland town in the San Joachim region, but Cherry's delight at the thought of any alternative for the "Emmy Younger" was a revelation to Alix. Martin told his wife generously that he hoped she would stay with her father until the move was accomplished, and Cherry, with a clear conscience, established herself in her old room. She wrote constantly to her husband and often spoke appreciatively of Mart's kindness.

Anne's marriage took place in mid-September. It was a much more formal and elaborate affair than Cherry's had been, because, as Anne explained, "Frenny's people have been so generous about giving him up, you know. After all, he's the last of the Littles; all the others are Folsoms and Randalls. And I want them to realize that he is marrying a gentlewoman!"

The older Littles and all the Folsoms and Randalls came to the wedding, self-respecting, thrifty people who were, for the most part, as Alix summarized it, "buying little homes on the installment plan in desirable residential districts of Oakland and Berkeley." There were bright-faced school teachers, in dark plaid silk waists, and young matrons in carefully planned colour schemes of brown and gray; and they all told Alix and Cherry about the family, the members who were daughters of the Revolution, and the members who belonged to the Society of the Daughters of Officers of the Civil War.

Cherry and Alix went upstairs after the ceremony as Alix and Anne had done a year ago, but there was deep relief and amusement in their mood to-day, and it was with real pleasure in the closer intimacy that the little group gathered about the fire that night.

After that life went on serenely, and it was only occasionally that the girls were reminded that Cherry was a married woman with a husband expecting her shortly to return to him. When she and Alix took part in the village fairs and bazaars, Alix was still a little thrilled to see their names in print, "Miss Strickland and her sister Mrs. Lloyd, who is visiting her," but to Cherry all the romance seemed to have vanished from her new estate. November passed, and Christmas came, and there was some talk of Martin's joining them for Christmas. But he did not come; he was extremely busy at the new mine and comfortable in a village boarding-house.

It was in early March that Alix spoke to her father about it; spoke in her casual and vague fashion, but gave him food for serious thought, nevertheless.

"Dad," said Alix suddenly at the lunch table one day when Cherry happened to be shopping in the city, "were you and Mother ever separated when you were married?"

"No—" the doctor, remembering, shook his head. "Your mother never was happy away from her home!"

"Not even to visit her own family?" persisted Alix.

"Not ever," he answered. "We always planned a long visit in the East—but she never would go without me. She went to your Uncle Vincent's house in Palo Alto once, but she came home the next day- -didn't feel comfortable away from home!"

"How long do you suppose Martin will let us have Cherry?" Alix asked.

Her father looked quickly at her and a troubled expression crossed his face.

"The circumstances seem to make it wise to keep her here until he is sure that this new position is the right one!" he said.

"If I know anything about Martin," Alix said, "no position is ever going to be the right one for him. I mean," she added as her father gave her an alarmed look, "I simply mean that he is that sort of man. And it seems to me—odd, the way he and Cherry take their marriage! Now when she got here, five months—six months ago," Alix went on as her father watched her in close and distressed attention, "Cherry was always talking about going back to Mart—every time he sent her money she would say that she ought to keep it for a sudden summons. But she doesn't do that now. You've been giving her her own allowance right along, and she has settled down just as she was. A day or two ago Martin sent her twenty dollars and she has gone into town to spend it to-day—"

She hesitated, shrugged her shoulders.

"You think she ought to go back?" her father asked.

"No, I don't think so!" Alix answered, eagerly. "I don't think anything about it. But—but IS that marriage? Is that really for better or for worse? I mean," she interrupted herself hastily, "as time goes on it will get harder and harder for her; there will seem to be less and less reason for going! Mrs. Brown was talking to me about it yesterday, and she asked in that catty, smiling way she has—"

"Trust the women to gossip!" the doctor said, impatiently.

"Well, nobody minds their gossip!" his daughter assured him. "And for my part I think it's a shame that a girl can't come back home as simply as that, if she wants to!" she added, boldly.

"Don't talk nonsense!" her father said, mildly. "You think," he added, reluctantly, "that it wasn't a good thing for her, eh?"

"Well—" Alix began. "She doesn't seem like other married women," she said, doubtfully. "And the only thing is, will she ever want to go back, if she isn't rather—rather coerced. Martin is odd, you know; he has a kind of stolid, stupid pride. He wrote her weeks ago and asked her to come, and she wrote back that if he would find her a cottage, she would; she couldn't go to his boarding-house, she hated boarding! Martin answered that he would, some day, and she said to me, 'Oh, now he's cross!' Now, mind you," Alix broke off vehemently, "I'd change the entire institution of marriage, if it was me! I'd end all this—"

"Well, we won't go into that!" her father interrupted her, hastily, for Alix had aired these views before and he was not in sympathy with them. "And I guess you're right: the child is a woman now, with a woman's responsibilities," he added. "And her place is with her husband. They'll have to solve life together, to learn together. I'll speak to Cherry!"

Alix, watching him walk away, thought that she had never seen Dad look old before. She saw the shadow on his kind face all the rest of that day.

It was only the next morning when he opened the question with Cherry.

It was a brilliant morning, with spring already in the air. Cherry, on the porch steps, was reading a letter from Martin. Her father sat down beside her. She had on one of her old gowns, and bathed in soft sunlight, looked eighteen again. Emerald grass was already filming the ground about the house; from under the deep rich brown of the forest flooring spring had thrust a million tiny spears of green. The redwoods wore plushy plumes of blue new foliage, and a wild lilac at the edge of the clearing drifted like pale smoke against the dark woods. Everywhere life was soaking and bursting after heavy rains; the very posts of the garden fence were sprouting little feathery tips. The air was sweet and pungent and damp and fresh, the sky high and blue, and across the granite face of Tamalpais a last scarf of mist was floating.

"Well, what has Martin to say?" asked the doctor.

"Oh, he doesn't like it much!" Cherry said, making a little face. "He describes the village as perfectly hopeless. He's moved into the little house in E Street, and gotten two stoves up."

"And when does he want his girl?" her father pursued.

"He doesn't say," Cherry answered, innocently. "I think he is really happier to have me here, where he knows I am well off!" she said. "I know I am," she ended after a moment's thought.

Her father was conscious of a pang; he had not even formed the thought in his own mind that Cherry was unhappy. He was as trusting and as innocent as his daughters in many ways; he shrank from the unwelcome facts of life. His own childhood had been hard and disciplinary, and at Cherry's age he had been concerned only with realities, with the need of food and clothes and shelter. That a life could be spoiled simply by contact with an unsympathetic personality was incomprehensible to him. The child, he told himself, had a good husband, a home and health, and undeveloped resources within herself. It was puzzling and painful to him to realize that there was needed something more—and that that something was lacking. He felt a sudden anger at Martin; why wasn't Martin managing this affair!

"Mart doesn't mention any time!" he mused.

"Thanks to you!" Cherry said, dimpling mischievously. "He wrote quite firmly, just before Christmas," she added, "but I told him that Dad had been such an angel and liked so much to have me here- -" And Cherry's smile was full of childish triumph.

"My dear," her father said, spurred to sudden courage by a realization that the matter might easily become serious, "you mustn't abuse his generosity. Suppose you write that you'll join him—this is March—suppose you say the first of April?"

Cherry flushed and looked down. Her lips trembled. There was a moment of unhappy silence.

"Very well, Dad," she said in a low voice. A second later she had jumped to her feet and vanished in the house. Her father roamed the woods in wretched misgivings, coming in at lunch time to find her in her place, smiling, but traces of tears about her lovely eyes.

Nothing more was said for a day or two, and then Cherry read aloud to the family an affectionate letter in which Martin said that everything would be ready for her whenever she came now.



CHAPTER VII

The last day of March and of Cherry's visit broke clear and blue, and with it spring seemed to have come on a rush of perfume and green beauty. Days had been soft and warm before; this day was hot, and flushed with colour and splendour. There were iris in the dewy grass under the oaks, but in the sunshine every trace of winter's damp had disappeared. Larks whirled up from the fields, and the bridal-wreath and syringa bushes were mounds of creamy bloom.

Alix and Cherry washed each other's hair in the old fashion, and came trailing down with towels and combs to the garden. The doctor joined them in the midst of their tossing and spreading, and sat smoking peacefully on the porch steps.

"Oh, heavens, how I love this sort of weather!" Alix exclaimed, flinging her brown mane backward, her tall figure slender in a faded kimono. She sat down crosswise on her chair, locked her arms about its back, dropped her face on them, and yawned luxuriously. "Dad and Peter," she went on, suddenly sitting erect, "will get all this nice clean hair full of cigar smoke to-night, so what's the use, anyway?"

"To-night's the night we go to Peter?" Cherry stated rather than asked. "Do you remember," she glanced at her father, who was reading his paper, "do you remember when Dad always used to scold us for being rude to Peter?"

"Well, I'd rather go to Peter's for dinner than anywhere else I ever go!" Alix remarked, dreamily. "Seriously, I mean it!" she repeated as Cherry looked at her in amused surprise. "In the first place, I love his bungalow—tiny as it is, it has the whole of a little canyon to itself, and the prettiest view in the valley, I think. And then I love the messy sitting room, with all the books and music, and I love the way Peter entertains. I wish," she added, simply, "that I liked Peter half as well as I do his house!"

"Peter's a dear!" Cherry contended.

"Oh, I know he is!" Alix said, quickly. "Peter's always been a dear, of course. But I mean in a special sense—" finished Alix with an entirely unembarrassed grin.

Cherry, through a glittering cloud of hair, looked at her steadily. Suddenly she gave an odd laugh.

"Do you know I never thought of Peter like that?" she said.

Alix nodded with a cautious look at her father who was out of hearing.

"No, nor I! We've always taken him rather for granted," she admitted. "Only I've been rather wishing, lately, that Peter wasn't such an unflattering, big-brotherish, every-day-neighbour sort of person."

Still Cherry regarded her steadily with an awakening look in her eyes.

"Why lately?" she asked.

"Because," said Alix, briskly and unromantically, "I think Peter would like me to—well, to stop taking him for granted!"

"But Peter's lame—" Cherry submitted, doubtfully.

"You can't call a shortness left from a broken leg LAME!" Alix protested. "Peter isn't brawny, but he's never been ill. And he's not a child. He's thirty-seven. And I imagine he's awfully lonely. And then I imagine it would please Dad—" "Dad has always been ridiculously fond of him," Cherry said, thoughtfully. Peter— possibly in love with Alix! She had never even suspected it. Peter's attitude toward them all had been more paternal than anything else. Cherry and her sister could not remember life without Peter, but he had always been Dad's friend, rather than theirs. He had rebuked them; he had patiently asked them not to chatter so; he had criticized their grammar and their clothes and their friends.

Peter and Alix. Well, there was something rather pleasant in the thought after all, if Alix didn't mind his ugliness and thinness. Cherry thought about it all day. She had had no thought of money a year or two ago; but she was more experienced now. And Peter was rich.

Ordinarily she would have said that she was not going to change for Peter's dinner; but this afternoon, without mentioning the fact, she quietly got into one of her prettiest dresses; a dress that had been made in the long-ago excitement of trousseau days. Peter as a rather autocratic and critical neighbour was one thing; as a possible brother-in-law he was another.

She came downstairs to find her father waiting, and they walked away through the woods together. Alix had already gone up to Peter's house to play tennis. They walked slowly through the lovely aisles of the trees, crossing a road or two, climbing steadily upward under great redwoods. The forest was thinning with oaks and madrone trees, and they found the sunlight again high on the crest of the ridge before a turn of the trail brought them in view of Peter's bungalow. It was a shabby little place, all porch and slope of rough brown roof, set in a wilderness of wild flowers and overlooking long descending slopes of hillside that stretched far away to the very bay and marshes at the ocean mouth.

To-night the spring sunshine streamed across it with broad shadows, the mountains' rough crest stood against a wide expanse of sunset sky. Cherry's skirt brushed the gold dust from masses and masses of buttercups. The tennis was over, but just over; Peter and Alix were sitting, still panting, on the rail of the wide, open porch, and shouted as the others came up.

"You missed doubles!" called Alix. "The grandest we ever did! Doubles with the Thompsons and three sets straight to us—six-two, six-two, and six-two again! They've gone. Oh, heavens, I never had such tennis. Oh, Peter, when you stood there at the net and just curved your hand like a cup"—Alix gave an enthusiastic imitation- -"and over she went, and game and set!"

Cherry, sinking white and frilly into a chair, smiled indulgently. The walk had given her a wild-rose colour, and even Alix was struck with her extraordinary beauty. Alix had wheeled about on the rail to face the porch, and Peter had gotten to his feet and was hospitably pushing basket chairs about. Now he gave Alix a critical look.

"You're disgracefully dirty!" he said, fraternally.

"I know it," she answered, calmly. "Have I time to tub?"

"All the time in the world!" he answered.

"Are any clothes of mine here?" further demanded Alix, rising lazily.

"Yes, there's a blouse. It's in the linen closet; ask Kow for it or get it yourself when you get your towels. You left it the day you changed here after we all climbed the mountain. I hope you people are going to get enough to eat," Peter added, flinging himself into a chair beside Cherry.

"He's been cooking it since breakfast!" Alix remarked, departing. Peter laughed guiltily, and Cherry, too. It was only an exaggeration of the simple truth. He loved to cook, and his meals were famous.

"It's very pleasant to me to have Alix so much at home here," Cherry said, when Alix was gone, and the doctor wandering happily about the garden. "I don't know what we'd do if any one ever usurped our places here!"

She had said it deliberately; the fascination of her recent discovery was too strong to resist. The man flushed suddenly. For a full minute he did not speak, and Cherry was surprised to find herself a little thrilled and even frightened by his silence.

"What put that into your head?" he asked, presently, smoking with his eyes fixed upon the valley far below.

"Just—being here," she answered. And as he glanced over his shoulder he met her smile.

"You've been here a thousand times without ever paying me a compliment!" he reminded her.

Cherry considered this, her brows drawn a trifle together.

"Perhaps," she offered, presently, "it's because there are so many changes, Peter; my marriage, Anne's—everything different! It just came to me that it is nice to have this always the same."

"Perhaps Alix will come up here and help keep it so some day," the man said, deliberately. Cherry's look of elaborate surprise and pleasure died before his serious glance. She was silent for a moment.

"Why don't you ask her?" she said in a low, thoughtful tone, trembling, eager to preserve his mood without a false note.

"I have," he answered simply. Cherry's heart jumped with a sudden unexpected emotion. What was it? Not pleasure, not all surprise— surely there could be no jealousy mixed with her feeling for Peter's plans? But she was dazed with the rush of feeling; hurt in some fashion she could not stop to dissect now. Only this morning she had felt that Peter was not good enough for Alix; now, suddenly, he began to seem admirable and dear and unlike everybody else—

"And she said no?" she stammered in confusion.

"She said no. Or, at least, I intimated that I was a lonely old affectionate man with this and that to offer, and she intimated that that wasn't enough. It was all—" he laughed—"It was all extremely sketchy!"

"Peter, but what does she want?" There was actual sisterly indignation in Cherry's tone.

"Oh, Alix is quite right!" he answered, lightly. "I ought to have said—I ought to explain—that I had told her, only a few days previously, that I had always loved somebody else!"

"Oh-h-h!" Cherry was enlightened. She visualized an affair in the last years of the old century for Peter.

"Oh, and—and she didn't love you?" Cherry asked.

"The lady? She was unfortunately married before I had a chance to ask her," said Peter.

"Oh-h-h!" Cherry said again, impressed, "and you'll never get over it?" she asked, timidly. "Peter, I never knew that!" she added as he was silent. "Does—does Dad know?"

"Nobody knows but Alix, and she only knows the bare facts," he assured her.

"Oh!" Cherry could think of nothing to add to the sympathetic little monosyllable. Twilight was reaching even the hilltop, the canyons were rilling with violet shadows; the sweet, pungent odour of the first dew, falling on warm dust, crept across the garden.

"Finished with the shower!" shrieked Alix from the warm darkness inside the doorway. "Hurry up, Peter, something smells utterly grand!"

"That's the chicken thing!" Peter shouted back, springing up to disappear in the direction of the bathroom. Cherry sat on, silent, wrapped still in the new spell of the pleasant voice, the strangely appealing and yet masterful personality.

The dinner straggled as all Peter's dinners did; Alix mixed a salad-dressing; Peter himself flashed in and out of the tiny, hot kitchen a hundred times. Kow, in immaculate linen, came back and forth in leisurely table-setting. Suddenly everything was ready; the crisp, smoking-hot French loaf, the big, brown jar of bubbling and odorous chicken, the lettuce curled in its bowl, the long- necked bottles in their straw cases, and cheeses and crackers and olives and figs and tiny fish in oil and marrons in fluted paper that were a part of all Peter's dinners.

After dinner they watched the moon rise, until Alix drifted in to the piano and Peter followed her, and the others came in, too, to sit beside the fire. As usual it was midnight before any one thought of ending one of Peter's evenings.

And all through the pleasant, quiet hours, and when he bundled them up in his own big loose coats to drive them home, Cherry was thinking of him in this new light; Peter loving a woman, and denied. The knowledge seemed to fling a strange glamour about him; she saw new charm in him, or perhaps, as she told herself, she saw for the first time how charming he really was. His speech seemed actually the pleasanter for the stammer at which they had all laughed years ago; the slight limp lent its own touch of individuality, and the man's blunt criticisms of books and music, politics and people, were softened by his humour, his genuine humility, and his eager hospitality.

Next day she took occasion to mention Peter and his affairs to Alix. Alix turned fiery red, but laughed hardily.

"If he considers that an offer, he can consider it a refusal, I guess," she said, boyishly embarrassed. "I like him—I'm crazy about him. But I don't want any party in ringlets and crinolines to come floating from the dead past over my child's innocent cradle—"

"Alix, you're awful!" Cherry laughed. "You couldn't talk that way if you loved him!"

"What way?" Alix demanded.

"Oh, about his—well, his children!"

"I should think that would be just the proof that I do love him," Alix persisted idly in her musical, mischievous voice. "I certainly wouldn't want to talk of the children of a man I DIDN'T- -"

"Oh, Alix, don't!" Cherry protested. "Anyway, you know better."

Alix laughed.

"I suppose I do. I suppose I ought to be a mass of blushes. The truth is, I like kids, and I don't like husbands—" Alix confessed, with engaging candour.

"You don't know anything about husbands!" Cherry laughed.

"I know lots of men I'd like to go off with for a few months," Alix pursued. "But then I'd like to come home again! I don't see why that isn't perfectly reasonable—"

"Well, it's not!" Cherry declared almost crossly. "That isn't marriage. You belong where your husband is, and you—you are always glad to be with him—"

"But suppose you get tired of him, like a job or a boarding-house, or any of your other friends?" Alix persisted idly.

"Well, you aren't supposed to!" Cherry said, feebly. Alix let her have the last word; it was only due to her superior experience, she thought crossly. But half an hour later, lying wakeful, and thinking that she would miss dear old Cherry to-morrow, she fancied she heard something like a sob from Cherry's bed, and her whole heart softened with sympathy for her sister.

They came downstairs together the next day in mid-afternoon, both hatted and wrapped for the trip, for Peter was to take Cherry as far as Sausalito in the car, and Martin by a fortunate chance was to meet them there at the ferryboat for San Francisco. Mill Valley was not more than an hour's ride from the ferry. Alix was to drive down and return with Peter. Cherry said good-bye to her father in the porch; she seemed more of a puzzled child than ever.

"I've had a wonderful visit, Dad—" she began bravely. Suddenly the tears came. She buried her face against her father's shabby old office coat and his arms went about her. Alix laughed awkwardly, and Peter shut his teeth. Anne, who had very properly come over to say good-bye to her cousin, got in the back seat of the car and Alix took the seat beside her.

"Take a picture of Peter and me with the suitcases!" she said. "We must look so domestic!"

"Get in here, Cherry," Peter said, opening the door of the seat beside his own. "Doctor, we'll be back in about an hour—"

"Without Cherry!" her father said with a rueful smile.

"Without Cherry!" Peter echoed, looking at her gravely.

It was then that Cherry saw in Peter's expression something that she did not forget for many, many months—never quite forgot. He wore a rough tramping costume to-day, a Sunday, and he was halfway up the porch steps, ready to carry bags to the waiting motor car. His eyes were fixed upon her with something so yearning, so loving, so troubled in their gaze that a thrill went through Cherry from head to foot. He instantly averted his look, turned to the car, fumbled with the gears; they were off. He was to drive them all the way to Sausalito; Alix commented joyously upon the beauty of the day.

Cherry, tied trimly into a hat that was all big daisies, was silent for a while. But when Alix and Anne commenced an interested conversation in the back seat, she suddenly said regretfully:

"Oh, I hate to go away this time! I mind it more even than the first time!"

Peter, edging smoothly about a wide blue puddle, nodded sympathetically, but did not answer.

"I envy Alix—" Cherry said in idle mischief. She knew that the subject was not a safe one, but was irresistibly impelled to pursue it.

"Alix?" said Peter, after a silence long enough to make her feel ashamed of herself.

"Yes. Her young man lives in Mill Valley, right near home!" elucidated Cherry.

"Am I Alix's young man?" he asked, amused.

"Well, aren't you?"

"I don't know. I've never been any one's young man," said Peter.

"Whoever the woman who treated you meanly is—I hate her!" Cherry began again. "Unless," she added, "unless she was very young, and you never told her!"

This time he did not answer at all, and they spun along in utter silence. But when they were nearing Sausalito, Cherry said almost timidly:

"I think perhaps it would make her happy—and proud, to know that you admired her, Peter. I don't know who she is, of course, but almost any woman would feel that. This visit, somehow, has made me feel as if you and I had really begun a new friendship on our own account, not just the old friendship. And I shall often think of that talk we had a week ago, and-think of you, too. N-n-next time you fall in love I hope you will be luckier!"

Silence. But he gave her his quick, friendly smile. Cherry dared not speak again.

"Last stop—all out!" Alix exclaimed. "You get tickets, Peter. Hurray, there's Martin!"

Unexpectedly Martin's big figure came toward them from the ferry gate. Some ore from the mine had to be assayed in San Francisco, and he had volunteered to make the trip so that he might meet his wife and bring her back with him to Red Creek. Time hanging on his hands in the city, he had crossed the bay for the pleasure of the return trip with Cherry. He met them beamingly. There was a little confusion of greeting and good-byes. Alix and Peter watched the others at the railing until the ferryboat turned. Martin smiled over Anne's head; Cherry, both little white-gloved hands on the rail, blue eyes and a glint of bright hair showing under the daisies on her hat, her small figure enveloped in a big loose coat, looked as if she would like to cry again.

"It must be fun to be married, and go off to strange places with your beau!" Alix decided. "I'm hungry, Peter; let's go over there and treat ourselves to fried oysters!"

"Let's go home," he said, unsympathetically. "I'm not hungry."

"Oh, VERY well!" Alix agreed, airily, jumping into the seat beside him. "Though what has given you a grouch I really am at a loss to imagine!" she added under her breath.

"I don't hear you!" shouted Peter, who was suddenly rushing the engine.

"You weren't intended to!" she shouted back. And until they were halfway home, and Alix laughed out in sudden shame and good-nature not another word was spoken. The bright weather had changed suddenly, and a wet spring cloud was spreading over the sky.

"Love me, Peter?" Alix asked, suddenly.

"Not always!" he answered, briefly and sincerely. Fog was creeping over the marshes, the air was full of damp chill. A memory of the coat-enveloped figure and the blue eyes that smiled wistfully under a daisied hat was wringing his heart.

"Listen," began Alix again. "Let's stop for Dad, it's going to pour. And let's go up to your house to eat?"

Silence.

"We can play duets all evening!" Alix added, temptingly.

"Little and Anne coming back?" Peter asked, unwillingly.

"No; they're dining with the Quelquechoses—those bright-faced, freckled cousins of his," Alix answered.

"I don't know that I've got anything up there to eat!" Peter said, gloomily.

"Ooo—say!" Alix said, brightening suddenly with her incorrigible childishness of expression. "Kow's got eggs and cream, hasn't he? I'll make that new thing I was telling you about—it's delicious. Oh, and an onion—" she broke off in concern.

"He has an onion," Peter admitted. "What dish?" he asked, interested in spite of himself, as Alix fell into a rapturous reverie.

"Well, you fry a chopped onion," Alix began, "and then you have a lot of hard-boiled eggs—" In another moment they were deep in culinary details.



CHAPTER VIII

Martin's work was in the Contra Costa Valley, and he and Cherry had a small house in Red Creek, the only town of any size near the mine. Red Creek was in a fruit-farming and dairy region and looked its prettiest on the spring evening when Cherry saw it first. The locusts were in leaf and ready to bloom, and the first fruit blossoms were scattered in snowy whiteness up and down the valley.

Her little house was a cottage with a porch running across the front where windows looked out from the sitting room and the front bedroom. Back of these rooms were a dark little bathroom that connected the front bedroom with another smaller bedroom, a little dining room and a kitchen. Almost all the houses in Red Creek were duplicates, except in minor particulars, of this house, but this particular specimen was older than some of the others and showed signs of hard usage. The kitchen floor was chipped and stained, and the bathroom basin was plugged with putty; there were odd bottles partly full of shoe polish and ink and vinegar, here and there; and on the shelves of the triangular closet in the dining room were cut and folded pieces of spotted white paper.

Martin, man-fashion, had merely camped in kitchen and bedroom while awaiting his wife; but Cherry buttoned on her crisp little apron on the first morning after her arrival, and attacked the accumulated dishes in the sink, and the scattered shirts and collars bravely. It was a cold, raw morning, and she went to and fro briskly, burning rubbish in the airtight stove in the sitting room, and keeping a good wood fire going in the kitchen, and feeling housewifely and efficient as she did so.

After a lunch for which she was praised and applauded in something of the old honeymoon way, she walked to market, passing blocks of other little houses like her own, with bare dooryards where nipped chrysanthemums dangled on poles, and where play wagons, puddles of water, and picking chickens alternated regularly. Other marketing women looked at Cherry with the quickly averted look that is only given to beauty; but the men in the shops wrote down the new name and address with especial zeal and amiability. She remembered the old necessities, bacon and lard and sugar and matches; she recovered the kitchen clock from its wrapping of newspaper, and wound it, and set it on the sink shelf; she was busy with a hundred improvements and cares, and was almost too tired, when Martin came home to dinner, to sit up and share it with him.

It was warm in the dining room and Cherry yawned over her dessert, and rose stiff and aching to return to the kitchen with plates and silver, glasses and food, to shake the tablecloth, to pile and wash and wipe and put away the china, to brush the floor and the stove, and do the last wiping and wringing, and to turn out the gas, and go in to her chair beside the airtight stove.

Martin handed her half his paper and Cherry took it, realizing with cheerful indifference that there was a streak of soot on one cuff, and that her hands were affected by grease and hot water. She read jokes and recipes and answers to correspondents, and small editorial fillers as to the number of nutmegs consumed in China yearly, and the name and circumstances of the oldest living man in England. A new novel was in her bedroom, but she was too comfortable and too tired to go get it, and at ten she rose yawning and stumbling, and went to bed. Breakfast must be on the table at half-past seven, for Martin left for the mine at eight, and she had had a hard day.

For a few weeks the novelty lasted and Cherry was enthusiastic about everything. She looked out across her dishpan at green fields and the beginning of the farms; she saw the lilacs burst into fragrant plumes on the bare branches of her dooryard trees; spring flushed the whole world with loveliness, and she was young, and healthy, and too busy to be homesick.

Martin left the house at eight and was usually at home at five. He would sometimes come into her kitchen while she finished dinner, and tell her about the day, and then suggested that they go to the "pictures" at night. But although Cherry and Alix often had coaxed their father into this dissipation in Mill Valley, it was different there, she found. That was a small colony of city people, the theatre was small, and the films carefully selected. One sat with one's neighbours and friends. But here in Red Creek the theatre was a draughty barn, and the farm workers, big men odorous of warm, acid perspiration, pushed in laughing and noisy; the films were of a different character, too, and advertised by frightful coloured posters at the doors. Martin himself did not like them; indeed, he and Cherry found little to like in either the people or the town.

It was a typical railroad town of California. It was flat, dusty, all its buildings of wood. There were some two thousand souls in Red Creek; two or three stores, a bakery from which the crude odour of baking bread burst every night; saloons, warehouses, a smithy, a butcher shop open only two days a week, a Chinese laundry from which opium-tainted steam issued all day and all night; cattle sheds, pepper trees, wheat barns, and a hotel of raw pine, with a narrow bedroom represented by every one of the forty narrow windows in its upper stories, and a lower floor decorated with spittoons. Back of the crowded main street was another street, beside which Main Street's muddy ugliness was beautiful. Here was another saloon, and rooms above it, and several disreputable cottages about which Cherry sometimes saw odd-looking women.

Not everyone in Red Creek was poor, by any means. It was a district bursting with prosperity; all summer long wheat and fruit and butter and beef poured through it out into the world. Down the road a mile or two, and back toward the far hills, were comfortable ranches where trees planted fifty years before had grown to mammoth proportions, and where the women of the family cultivated gardens. Every family had pigs and cattle and fine horses, and mud-spattered motor cars were familiar sights in Red Creek's streets.

Cherry used to wonder why anybody who could live elsewhere lived here. When some of the ranch girls told her that they always did their shopping in San Francisco, she marvelled that they could reconcile themselves to come home.

The days went on and on, each bringing its round of dishes, beds, sweeping, marketing, folding and unfolding tablecloths, going back and forth between kitchen and dining room. Martin's breakfast was either promptly served and well cooked, in which case Martin was silently satisfied, or it was late and a failure, when he was very articulately disgusted; in either case Cherry was left to clear and wash and plan for another meal in four hours more. She soaked fruit, beat up cake, chopped boxes into kindlings, heated a kettle of water and another kettle of water, dragged sheets from the bed only to replace them, filled dishes with food only to find them empty and ready to wash again.

"I get sick of it!" she told Martin.

"Well, Lord!" he exclaimed. "Don't you think everybody does? Don't I get sick of my work? You ought to have the responsibility of it all for a while!"

His tone was humorously reproving rather than unkind. But such a speech would fill Cherry's eyes with tears, and cause her to go about the house all morning with a heavy heart.

She would find herself looking thoughtfully at Martin in these days, studying him as if he were an utter stranger. It bewildered her to feel that he actually was no more than that, after two years of marriage. She not only did not know him, but she had a baffled sense that the very nearness of their union prevented her from seeing him fairly. She knew that she did him injustice in her thoughts.

It MUST be injustice, decided Cherry. For Martin seemed to her less clever, less just, less intelligent, and less generous than the average man of her acquaintance. And yet he did not seem to impress other people in the way he impressed her.

He was extraordinarily healthy, and had small sympathy for illness, weakness, for the unfortunate, and the complaining. He was scrupulously clean, and Cherry added that to his credit, although the necessity of seeing that Martin's bath, Martin's shaving water, and Martin's clean linen were ready complicated her duties somewhat. He was not interested in the affairs of the day; politics, reforms, world movements generally found him indifferent, but he would occasionally favour his wife with a sudden opinion as to China or intensive farming or Lloyd's shipping. She knew when he did this that he was quoting. He whistled over his dressing, read the paper at breakfast, and was gone. At noon he rushed in, always late, devoured his lunch appreciatively, and was gone again. At night he was usually tired, inclined to quarrel about small matters, inclined to disapprove of the new positions of the bedroom furniture, or the way Cherry's hair was dressed.

He loved to play poker and was hospitable to a certain extent. He would whistle and joke over the preparations for a rarebit after a game, and would willingly walk five blocks for beer if Cherry had forgotten to get it. On Sunday he liked to see her prettily gowned; now and then they motored with his friends from the mine; more often walked, ate a hearty chicken dinner, and went to a cold supper in the neighbourhood, with "Five Hundred" to follow. At ten their hostess would flutter into her kitchen; there would be lemonade and beer and rich layer cake. Then the men would begin to match poker hands, and the women to discuss babies in low tones.

Cherry never saw her husband so animated or so interested as when men he had known before chanced to drift into town, mining men from Nevada or from El Nido, or men he had known in college. They would discuss personalities, would shout over recollected good times, would slap each other on the back and laugh tirelessly.

She thought him an extremely difficult man to live with, and was angered when her hints to this effect led him to remark that she was the "limit." They had a serious quarrel one day, when he told her that she was the most selfish and spoiled woman he had ever known. He called her attention to the other women of the town, busy, contented women, sending children off to school, settling babies down for naps in sunny dooryards, cooking and laughing and hurrying to and fro.

"Yes, and look at them!" Cherry said with ready tears. "Shabby, thin, tired all the time!"

"The trouble with you is," Martin said, departing, "you've been told that you're pretty and sweet all your life—and you're SPOILED! You are pretty, yes—" he added, more mildly. "But, by George, you sulk so much, and you crab so much, that I'm darned if I see it any more! All I see is trouble!"

With this he left her. Left her to a burst of angry tears, at first, when she dropped her lovely little head on the blue gingham of her apron sleeve and cried bitterly.

The kettle began to sing on the stove, a bee came in and wandered about the hot kitchen; the grocer knocked, and Cherry let the big lout of a boy stare at her red eyes uncaring.

Then she went swiftly into the bedroom and began to pack and change. She'd SHOW Martin Lloyd—she'd SHOW Martin Lloyd! She was going straight to Dad—she'd take the—take the—

She frowned. She had missed the nine o'clock train; she must wait for the train at half-past two. Wait where? Well, she could only wait here. Very well, she would wait here. She would not get Martin any lunch, and when he raged she would explain.

She finished her packing and put the house in order. Then, in unaccustomed mid-morning leisure, she sank into a deep rocker, and began to read. Quiet and shade and order reigned in the little house. Outside in the shaded street the children went shouting home again; a fishman's horn sounded.

Steps came bounding up to Cherry's door; her heart began to beat; a knock sounded. She got to her feet, puzzled; Martin did not knock.

It was Joe Robinson, his closest friend at the mine. His handsome, big-featured face was full of concern.

"Say, listen, Mrs. Lloyd; Mart can't get home to dinner," said Joe. "He don't feel extra well—he was in the engine room and he kinder—he kinder—"

"Fainted?" Cherry asked, sharply, turning a little pale.

"Well, kinder. Lawson made him lay down," Joe said. "And he's coming home when the wagon comes down, at three o'clock. He says to tell you he's fine!"

"Oh, thank you, Joe!" Cherry said. She shut the door, feeling weak and frightened. She flew to unpack her bag, hung up her hat and coat, darkened the bedroom and turned down the bed; waited anxiously for Mart's return. Mrs. Turner came in with the baby, a gentle, tired woman, with a face always radiant with joy. Mrs. Turner had seven children, and had once told Cherry that she had never slept a night through since the first year of her marriage. She never changed a baby's gown or rolled a batch of cookies without a deep and genuine love for the task; she could not unbutton the twisted collar from a son's small neck without drawing his freckled cheek to her hungry lips for a kiss, or ask one of her black-headed, bright-eyed daughters to hang up a dish towel without adding: "You're a darling help to your mother!"

The Turners lived next door to the Lloyds, in a shabby two-story house, and though Cherry and her neighbour spoke a different language, they had grown fond of each other. Cherry had sometimes timidly touched upon the matter that was always troubling her, with the older woman. But Mrs. Turner had little to say regarding her feeling for the lean, silent, somewhat unsuccessful man who was the head of her crowded household. She seemed to take it for granted that he would sometimes be unreasonable.

"Papa gets so mad if anything gets burned!" she would say, with her gentle laugh. And once she added the information that her husband's mother had been a wonderful manager. "Men are that way!" was her comment upon the difficulties of other wives. But once, when there was a wedding near by, Cherry, with others in the church, saw the tears in Mrs. Turner's eyes as she watched the bride. "Poor little innocent thing!" she had whispered with a tremulous smile.

She was deeply concerned over the news from Martin, and when Cherry had met his limp form at the front door, and had whisked him into a cool bed, and put chopped ice on the aching forehead, and gotten him, grateful and penitent, off to sleep, her neighbour came over again to whisper in the kitchen.

"He's all right," Cherry smiled. "He was so glad to get to bed, and so appreciative!" she added in a motherly tone.

"You look as if you hadn't a thing in the world to do!" the older housekeeper commented, glancing about the neat, quiet kitchen.

"I believe I like sick nursing!" Cherry smiled back.

For a day or two Martin stayed in bed and Cherry spoiled and petted him, and was praised and thanked for every step she took. After that they took a little trip into the mountains near by, and Cherry sent Alix postcards that made her sister feel almost a pang of envy.

But then the routine began again, and the fearful heat of midsummer came, too. Red Creek baked in a smother of dusty heat, the trees in the dry orchards, beside the dry roads, dropped circles of hot shadow on the clodded, rough earth. Farms dozed under shimmering lines of dazzling air, and in the village, from ten o'clock until the afternoon began to wane, there was no stir. Flies buzzed and settled on screen doors, the creek shrunk away between crumbling rocky banks, the butcher closed his shop, and milk soured in the bottles.

The Turners, and some other families, always camped together in the mountains during this season, and they were off when school closed, in an enviable state of ecstasy and anticipation. Cherry had planned to join them, but an experimental week-end was enough. The camp was in the cool woods, truly, but it was disorderly, swarming with children, the tents were small and hot, the whole settlement laughed and rioted and surged to and fro in a manner utterly foreign to her. She returned, to tell Martin that it was "horribly common," and weather the rest of the summer in Red Creek.

"Mrs. Turner is the only woman that I can stand," said Cherry, "and she was always cooking, in an awful cooking shed, masses and masses of macaroni and stewed plums and biscuits—and all of them laughing and saying, 'Girlie, I guess you've got a hollow leg!' Dearie, I couldn't eat any more without busting!' And sitting round that plank table—"

Martin shouted with laughter at her, but he sympathized. He had never cared particularly for the Turners; was perfectly willing to keep the friendship within bounds.

He sympathized as little with another friendship she made, some months later, with the wife of a young engineer who had recently come to the mine. Pauline Runyon was a few years older than her husband, a handsome, thin, intense woman, who did everything in an entirely individual way. She took one of the new little bungalows that were being erected in Red Creek "Park," and furnished it richly and inappropriately, and established a tea table and a samovar beside the open fireplace. Cherry began to like better than anything else in the world the hours she spent with Pauline. She would have liked to go every day, and every day argued and debated the propriety of doing so, in her heart.

Not since the days of her engagement to Martin, and then only on a few occasions, had she felt the thrill that she experienced now, when Pauline, with her dark eyes and her frilly parasol, wandered in the kitchen door, to sit laughing and talking for a few minutes, or when she herself dressed and crossed the village, and went up past the packing plant and the storage barns to the two small cement gate posts and the length of rusty chain that marked the entrance to Red Creek "Park." Then there would be tea, poetry, talk, and the flattery that Pauline quite deliberately applied to Cherry, and the flattery that Cherry all unconsciously lavished on her friend in return.

Pauline read Browning, Francis Thompson, and Pater, and introduced Cherry to new worlds of thought. She talked to Cherry of New York, which she loved, and of the men and women she had met there. She sometimes sighed and pushed the bright hair back from Cherry's young and innocent and discontented little face, and said, tenderly, "On the stage, my dear—anywhere, everywhere, you would be a furore!"

And thinking, in the quiet evenings—for Martin's work kept him later and later at the mine—Cherry came to see that her marriage had been a great mistake. She had not been ready for marriage. She would sit on the back steps, as the evenings grew cooler, and watch the exquisite twilight fade, and the sorrow and beauty of life would wring her heart.

Darkness came, the Turner children shrieked, laughed, clattered dishes, and were silent. Cherry would sit on, her arms wrapped in her apron, her eyes staring into the young night. In the darkness she could only see the great shadows that were the Adams' windmill, and the old Brown barn, and the Cutters' house down the back road. The dry earth seemed awake at night, stretching itself, under brown sods, for a great breath of relief in the merciful coolness. Cherry could smell grapes, and smell the pleasant wetness of the dust where the late watering cart had passed by, after sunset. The roads were too hot for watering all day long, and this sweet, wet odour only came with the night.

A dream of ease and adoration and beauty came to her. She did not visualize any special place, any special gown or hour or person. But she saw her beauty fittingly environed; she saw cool rooms, darkened against this blazing midsummer glare; heard ice clinking against glass; the footsteps of attentive maids; the sound of cultivated voices, of music and laughter. She had had these dreams before, but they were becoming habitual now. She was so tired—so sick—so bored with her real life; it was becoming increasingly harder and harder for her to live with Martin; to endure and to struggle against the pricks. She was always in a suppressed state of wanting to break out, to shout at him brazenly, "I don't care if your coffee is weak! I like it weak! I don't care if you don't like my hat—I do! Stop talking about yourself!"

Various little mannerisms of his began seriously to annoy her; a rather grave symptom, had Cherry but known it. He danced his big fingers on the handle of the sugar spoon at breakfast, sifting the sugar over his cereal; she had to turn her eyes resolutely away from the sight. He blew his nose, folded his handkerchief, and then brushed his nose with it firmly left and right; she hated the little performance that was never altered. He had a certain mental slowness, would blink at her politely and patiently when she flashed plans or hopes at him: "I don't follow you, my dear!" This made her frantic.

She was twenty, undisciplined and exacting. She had no reserves within herself to which she could turn. Bad things were hopelessly bad with Cherry, her despairs were the dark and tearful despairs of girlhood, prematurely transferred to graver matters.

Martin was quite right in some of his contentions; girl-like, she was spasmodic and unsystematic in her housekeeping; she had times of being discontented and selfish. She hated economy and the need for careful managing.

In October Alix chanced to write her a long and unusually gossipy letter. Alix had a new gown of black grenadine, and she had sung at an afternoon tea, and had evidently succeeded in her first venture. Also they had had a mountain climb and enclosed were snapshots Peter had taken on the trip.

Cherry picked up the little kodak prints; there were four or five of them. She studied them with a pang at her heart. Alix in a loose rough coat, with her hair blowing in the wind, and the peaked crest of Tamalpais behind her—Alix busy with lunch boxes— Alix standing on the old bridge down by the mill, A wave of homesickness swept over the younger sister; life tasted bitter. She hated Alix, hated Peter, above all she hated herself. She wanted to be there, in Mill Valley, free to play and to dream again—

A day or two later she told Martin kindly and steadily that she thought it had all "been a mistake." She told him that she thought the only dignified thing to do was to part. She liked him, she would always wish him well, but since the love had gone out of their relationship, surely it was only honest to end it.

"What's the matter?" Martin demanded.

"Nothing special," Cherry assured him, her eyes suddenly watering. "Only I'm tired of it all. I'm tired of PRETENDING. I can't argue about it. But I know it's the wise thing to do."

"You acted this same way before," Martin suggested, after looking back at his paper for a few seconds.

"I did not!" Cherry said, indignantly. "That is not true."

"You'd go back to your father, I suppose?" Martin said, yawning.

"Until I could get into something," Cherry replied with dignity. A vague thought of the stage flitted through her mind.

"Oh!" Martin said, politely. "And I suppose you think your father would agree to this delightful arrangement?" he asked.

"I know he would!" Cherry answered, eagerly.

"All right—you write and ask him!" Martin agreed, good-naturedly. Cherry was surprised at his attitude, but grateful more than surprised.

"Not cross, Mart?" she asked.

"Not the least in the world!" he answered, lightly.

"Because I truly believe that we'd both be happier—" the woman said, hesitatingly. Martin did not answer.

The next day she sat down to write her father. The house was still. Red Creek was awakening in the heavenly October coolness, children chattered on the way to school, the morning and evening were crisp and sharp.

Cherry stared out at a field of stubble bathed in soft sunshine. The hills to-day were only a shade deeper than the pale sky. Along the road back of the house a lumber wagon rattled, the thin bay horses galloping joyously in harness. Pink and white cosmos, pallid on clouds of frail, bushy green, were banked in the shade of the woodshed.

She meditated, with a troubled brow. Her letter was unexpectedly hard to compose. She could not take a bright and simple tone, asking her father to rejoice in her home-coming. Somehow the matter persisted in growing heavy, and the words twisted themselves about into ugly and selfish sounds. Cherry was young, but even to her youth the phrases, the "misunderstood" and the "uncongenial," the "friendly parting before any bitterness creeps in," and the "free to decide our lives in some happier and wiser way," rang false. Pauline had been divorced, a few years ago, and the only thing Cherry disliked in her friend was her cold and resentful references to her first husband.

No, she couldn't be a divorced woman. It was all spoiled, the innocent past and the future; there was no way out! She gave up the attempt at a letter, and began to annoy Martin with talk of a visit home again.

"You were there six months ago!" Martin reminded her.

"Eight months ago, Mart."

"What you want to go for?"

"Oh, just—just—" Cherry's irrepressible tears angered herself almost as much as they did Martin. "I think they'd like me to!" she faltered.

"Go if you want to!" he said, but she knew she could not go on that word.

"That's it," she said at last to herself, in one of her solitary hours. "I'm married, and this is marriage. For the rest of my life it'll be Mart and I—Mart and I—in everything! For richer for poorer, for better for worse-that's marriage. He doesn't beat me, and we have enough money, and perhaps there are a lot of other women worse off than I am. But it's—it's funny."



CHAPTER IX

In January, however, he came home one noon to find her hatted and wrapped to go.

"Oh, Mart—it's Daddy!" she said. "He's ill—I've got to see him! He's awfully ill."

"Telegram?" asked Martin, not particularly pleased, but not unsympathetic either.

For answer she gave him the yellow paper that was wet with her tears. "Dad ill," he read. "Don't worry. Come if you can. Alix."

"I'll bet it's a put-up job between you and Alix—" Martin said in indulgent suspicion.

Her indignant glance sobered him; he hastily arranged money matters, and that night she got off the train in the dark wetness of the valley, and was met by a rush of cool and fragrant air. It was too late to see the mountain, lights were twinkling everywhere in the dark trees. Cherry got a driver, rattled and jerked up to the house in a surrey, and jumped out, her heart almost suffocating her.

Alix came flying to the door, the old lamplight and the odour of wood smoke poured through. There was no need for words; they burst into tears and clung together.

An hour later Cherry, feeling as if she was not the same woman who waked in Red Creek this same morning, and got Martin's eggs and coffee ready, crept into her father's room. Alix had warned her to be quiet, but at the sight of the majestic old gray head, and the fine old hands clasped together on the sheet, her self-control forsook her entirely and she fell to her knees and began to cry again.

The nurse looked at her disapprovingly, but after all it made little difference. Doctor Strickland roused only once again, and that was many hours later. Cherry and Alix were still keeping their vigil; Cherry, worn out, had been dozing; the nurse was resting on a couch in the next room.

Suddenly both daughters were wide awake at the sound of the hoarse yet familiar voice. Alix fell on her knees and caught the cold and wandering hand.

"What is it, darling?" The old, half-joking maternal manner was all in earnest now.

"Peter?" he said, thickly.

"Peter's in China, dear. You remember that Peter was to go around the world? You remember that, Dad?"

"In the 'Travels with a Donkey,'" he said, rationally.

The girls looked at each other dubiously.

"We all read that together," Alix encouraged him.

"No—" he said, musingly. They thought he slept again, but he presently added, "Somewhere in Matthew—no, in Mark—Mark is the human one—Mark was as human as his Master—"

"Shall I read you from Mark?" Alix asked, as his voice sank again. A shabby old Bible always stood at her father's bedside; she reached for it, and making a desperate effort to steady her voice, began to read. The place was marked by an old letter, and opened at the chapter he seemed to desire, for as she read he seemed to be drinking in the words. Once they heard him whisper "Wonderful!" Cherry got up on the bed, and took the splendid dying head in her arms, the murky winter dawn crept in, and the lamp burned sickly in the daylight. Hong could be heard stirring. Alix closed the book and extinguished the lamp. Cherry did not move.

"Charity!" the old man said, presently, in a simple, childish tone. Later, with bursts of tears, in all the utter desolation of the days that followed, Cherry loved to remember that his last utterance was her name. But Alix knew, though she never said it, that it was to another Charity he spoke.

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