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Sisters
by Kathleen Norris
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Subdued, looking younger and thinner in their new black, the sisters came downstairs, ten days later, for a business talk. Peter had been named as one executor, but Peter was far away, and it was a pleasant family friend, a kindly old surgeon of Doctor Strickland's own age, or near it, and the lawyer, George Sewall, the other executor, who told them about their affairs. Anne, as co-heiress, was present at this talk, with Justin sitting close beside her. Martin, too, who had come down for the funeral, was there.

Cherry was white, headachy, indifferent; she seemed stunned by her loss; but Alix's extraordinary vitality had already asserted itself, and she set herself earnestly to understand their somewhat complicated affairs.

The house went to the daughters; there were books and portraits for Anne, a box or two in storage for Anne, and Anne was mentioned in the only will as equally inheriting with Alexandra and Charity. For some legal reason that the lawyer and Doctor Younger made clear, Anne could not fully inherit, but her share would be only a trifle less than her cousins'.

Things had reached this point when Justin Little calmly and confidently claimed that Anne's share was to be based upon an old loan of Anne's father to his brother, a loan of three thousand dollars to float Lee Strickland's invention, with the understanding that Vincent Strickland be subsequently entitled to one third of the returns. As the patent had been sold for nearly one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, one third of it, with accumulative interest for ten years, of which no payment had ever been made Anne, was a large proportion of the entire estate, and the development of this claim, in Justin Little's assured, woodeny voice, caused everyone except the indifferent Cherry to look grave.

The estate was not worth one hundred and fifty thousand dollars now, by any means; it had been reduced to little more than two thirds of that sum, and Anne's bright concern that everyone should be SATISFIED with what was RIGHT, and her ingenuous pleasure in Justin's cleverness in thinking of this possibility, were met with noticeable coldness.

If Anne was wrong, and the paper she held in her hand worthless, each girl would inherit a comfortable little fortune, but if Anne was right, Cherry and Alix would have only a few thousand dollars apiece, and the old home.

The business talk was over before any of them realized the enormity of Anne's contention, and Anne and Justin had departed. But both the old doctor and the lawyer agreed with Martin that it looked as if Anne was right, and when the family was alone again, and had had the time to digest the matter, they felt as if a thunderbolt had fallen across their lives.

"That Anne could DO it!" Alix said, over and over. Cherry seemed dazed, spoke not at all, and Martin had said little.

"People will do anything for money!" he observed once drily. He had met Justin sternly. "I'm not thinking of my wife's share—I didn't marry her for her money; never knew she had any! But I'm thinking of Alix."

"Yes—we must think of darling Alix!" Anne had said, nervously eager that there should be no quarrel. "If Uncle Lee intended me to have all this money, then I suppose I must take it, but I shan't be happy unless things are arranged so that Alix shall be COMFORTABLE!"

"B-but the worst of it is, Alix!" Cherry stammered, suddenly, on the day before she and Martin were to return to Red Creek, "I—I counted on having enough—enough to live my own life! Alix, I can't—I can't go back!"

"Why, my darling—" Alix exclaimed, as Cherry began to cry in her arms. "My darling, is it as bad as all that!"

"Oh, Alix," whispered the little sister, trembling, "I CAN'T bear it. You don't know how I feel. You and Dad were always here; now that's all gone—you're going to rent the house and try to teach singing—and I've nothing to look forward to—I've nobody!"

"Listen, dear," Alix soothed her. "If they advise it, and especially if Peter advises it when he gets back, we'll fight Anne. And then if we win our fight, I'll always keep the valley house open. And if we don't, why I'm going to visit you and Martin every year, and perhaps I'll have a little apartment some day—I don't intend to board always—"

But she was crying, too. Everything seemed changed, cold and strange; she had suspected that Cherry's was not a successful marriage; she knew it now, and to resign the adored little sister to the unsympathetic atmosphere of Red Creek, and to miss all the old life and the old associations, made her heart ache.

"There's—there's nothing special, Cherry?" she asked after a while.

"With Martin? Oh, no," Cherry answered, her eyes dried, and her packing going on composedly, although her voice trembled now and then. "No, it's just that I get bad moods," she said, bravely. "I was pretty young to marry at all, I guess."

"Martin loves you," Alix suggested timidly.

"He takes me for granted," Cherry said, after a pause. "There doesn't seem to be anything ALIVE in the feeling between us," she added, slowly. "If he says something to me, I make an effort to get his point of view before I answer. If I tell him some plan of mine, I can see that he thinks it sounds crazy! I don't seem very domestic—that's all. I—I try. Really, I do! But—" and Cherry seemed to brace herself in soul and body—"but that's marriage. I'll try again!"

She gave Alix a long kiss in parting, the next day, and clung to her.

"You're the dearest sister a girl ever had, Alix. You're all I have, now!"

"I'll write you about the case, and wire you if you're needed, and see you soon!" Alix said, cheerfully. Then she turned and went back into the empty house, keeping back her tears until the sound of the surrey had quite died away.



CHAPTER X

Alexandra Strickland, coming down the stairway of the valley house on an April evening, glanced curiously at the door. Her eyes moved to the old clock, and a smile tugged involuntarily at the corners of her mouth. Only eight o'clock, but the day had been so long and so quiet that she had fancied that the hour was much later, and had wondered who knocked so late.

She crossed to the door and opened it to darkness and rain, and to a man in a raincoat, who whipped off a spattered cap and stood smiling in the light of the lamp she held. Instantly, with a sort of gasp of surprise and pleasure and some deeper emotion, she set down the lamp, and held out her hands gropingly and went into his arms. He laughed joyously as he kissed her, and for a minute they clung together.

"Peter!" she said. "You angel—when did you arrive and what are you doing, and tell me all about it!"

"But, Alix—you're thin!" Peter said, holding her at arm's length. "And—and—" He gently touched the black she wore, and fixed puzzled and troubled eyes upon her face. "Alix—" he asked, apprehensively.

For answer she tried to smile at him, but her lips trembled and her eyes brimmed. She had led the way into the old sitting room now, and Peter recognized, with a thrill of real feeling, the shabby rugs and books and pictures, and the square piano beside which he had watched Cherry's fat, childish hand on the scales so many times, and Alix scowling over her songs.

"You heard—about Dad?" Alix faltered now, turning to face him at the mantel.

"Your father!" Peter said, shocked.

"But hadn't you heard, Peter?"

"My dear—my dearest child, I'm just off the steamer. I got in at six o'clock. I'd been thinking of you all the time, and I suddenly decided to cross the bay and come straight on to the valley, before I even went to the club or got my mail! Tell me—your father—"

She had knelt before the cold hearth, and he knelt beside her, and they busied themselves with logs and kindling in the old way. A blaze crept up about the logs and Alix accepted Peter's handkerchief and wiped a streak of soot from her wrist, quite as if she was a child again, as she settled herself in her chair.

Peter took the doctor's chair, keeping his concerned and sympathetic eyes upon her.

"He was well one day," she said, simply, "and the next—the next, he didn't come downstairs, and Hong waited and waited—and about nine o'clock I went up—and he had fallen—he had fallen—"

She was in tears again and Peter put his hand out and covered hers and held it. Their chairs were touching, and as he leaned forward, their faces might almost have touched, too.

"He must have been going to call someone," said Alix, after a while, "they said he never suffered at all. This was January, the last day, and Cherry got here that same night. He knew us both toward morning. And that—that was all. Cherry was here for two weeks. Martin came and went—"

"Where is Cherry now?" Peter interrupted.

"Back at Red Creek." Alix wiped her eyes. "She hates it, but Martin had a good position there. Poor Cherry, it made her ill."

"Anne came?"

"Anne and Justin, of course." Peter could not understand Alix's expression. She fell silent, still holding his hand and looking at the fire.

He had not seen her for nearly six months; he had been all around the world; had found her gay, affectionate letters in London, in Athens, in Yokohama. But for three months now he had been away from the reach of mails, roughing it on a friend's hemp plantation in Borneo, and if she had written, the letter was as yet undelivered. He looked at her with a great rush of admiration and affection. She was not only a pretty and a clever woman; but, in her plain black, with this new aspect of gravity and dignity, and with new notes of pathos and appeal in her exquisite voice, he realized that she was an extremely charming woman.

More than that, she stood for home, for the dearly familiar and beloved things for which he had been so surprisingly homesick. His mountain cabin and the old house in San Francisco on Pacific Avenue; she belonged to his memories of them both; she was the only woman in the world that he knew well.

Before he said good-bye to her, he had asked her to marry him. He well remembered her look of bright and interested surprise.

"D'you mean to tell me you have forgotten your lady love of the hoop-skirts and ringlets?" she had demanded.

"She never wore ringlets and crinolines!" he had answered.

"Well, bustles and pleats, then?"

"No," Peter had told her, frankly. "I shall always love her, in a way. But she is married; she never thinks of me. And I like you so much, Alix; I like our music and cooking and tramps and reading— together. Isn't that a pretty good basis for marriage?"

"No!" Alix had answered, decidedly. "Perhaps if I were madly in love with you I should say yes, and trust to little fingers to lead you gently, and so on—"

He remembered ending the conversation in one of his quick moods of irritation against her. If she couldn't take anybody or anything seriously—he had said.

Poor Alix—she was taking life seriously enough to-night, Peter thought, as he watched her.

"Tell me about Cherry," he said.

"Cherry is well, but just a little thin, and heart-broken now, of course. Martin never seems to stay at any one place very long, so I keep hoping—"

"Doesn't make good!" Peter said, shaking his head.

"Doesn't seem to! It's partly Cherry, I think," Alix said honestly. "She was too young, really. She never quite settles down, or takes life in earnest. But he's got a contract now for three years, and so she seems to be resigning herself, and she has a maid, I believe."

"She must love him," Peter submitted. Alix looked surprised.

"Why not?" she smiled. "I suppose when you've had ups and downs with a man, and been rich and poor, and sick and well, and have lived in half-a-dozen different places, you rather take him for granted!" she added.

"Oh, you think it works that way?" Peter asked, with a keen look.

"Well, don't you think so? Aren't lots of marriages like that?"

"You false alarm. You quitter!" he answered.

Alix laughed, a trifle guiltily. Also she flushed, with a great wave of splendid young colour that made her face look seventeen again. "Your father left you—something, Alix?" Peter asked presently, with some hesitation.

"That," she answered frankly, "is where Anne comes in!"

"Anne?"

"Anne and Justin came straight over," Alix went on, "and they were really lovely. And they asked me to come to them for a visit—but I couldn't very well; they live with his mother, you know, Amanda Price Little, who writes the letters to the Chronicle about educating children and all that. Doctor Younger and George Sewall were here every day; you and George were named as executors. I was so mixed up in policies and deeds and overdue taxes and interest and bonds—"

"Poor old Alix, if I had only been here to help you!" the man said. And for a moment they looked a little consciously at each other.

"Well, anyway," the girl resumed hastily, "when it came to reading the will, Anne and Justin sprung a mine under us! It seems that ten years ago, when the Strickland Patent Fire Extinguisher was put upon the market, my adorable father didn't have much money—he never did have, somehow. So Anne's father, my Uncle Vincent, went into it with him to the extent of about three thousand dollars—"

"Three thousand!" Peter, who had been leaning forward, earnestly attentive, echoed in relief.

"That was all. Dad had about three hundred. They had to have a laboratory and some expensive retorts and things, it seems. Dad did all the work, and put in his three hundred, and Uncle Vincent put in three thousand—and the funny thing is," Alix broke off to say, musingly, "Uncle Vincent was perfectly splendid about it; I myself remember him saying, 'Don't worry, Lee. I'm speculating on my own responsibility, not yours.'"

"Well?" Peter prompted, as she hesitated.

"Well. They had a written agreement then, giving Uncle Vincent a third interest in the patent, should it be sold or put on the market—"

"Ha!" Peter ejaculated, struck.

"Which, of course, was only a little while before Uncle Vincent died," Alix went on, with a grave nod. "The agreement lay in Dad's desk all these years—fancy how easily he might have burned it many's the time! But he didn't. George Sewall says that Anne is right."

"But wasn't Anne third heiress anyway, under his will? I know I've heard—"

"Certainly she was. But a third interest now, in a diminished estate that began at something less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, is quite different from a third of it ten years ago, plus compound interest," Alix said, bringing her clear brows together with a quizzical smile. "They've broken the will."

Peter, in the silence, whistled expressively.

"Gee—rusalem!" he exclaimed. "What does it come to?"

At this Alix looked very sober, gazed down at the fire, and shook her head.

"All he had!" she answered, briefly.

Peter was silent, looking at her in stupefaction.

"Almost, that is," Alix amended more cheerfully. "As it was—we should have had more than thirty thousand apiece. As it is, Anne gets it all, or if not quite all, nearly all."

"Gets!" he echoed, hotly. "How do you mean?"

"It seems to be perfectly just," the girl answered, rather lifelessly. But immediately she laughed. "Don't look so awful, Peter. In the first place, Cherry and I still have the house. In the second place, I am singing at St. Raphael's for five hundred a year, and singing other places now and then."

"Alix, aren't you corking!" he said, with his pleasantest smile.

"Am I?" she asked, smiling. But immediately the smile melted, and her lips shook. "Anyway, I'm glad you're home again, Peter!" she added.

"Home again," he answered, half-angrily. "I should hope I am—and high time, too! Has this—this money been turned over to Anne?"

"Not yet. Nobody gets anything until the estate is cleared—a year or more from now."

"And do you tell me that she will have the effrontery to take it?"

"Rather! She said to me, 'Isn't it wonderful that Justin saw it at once, and I never would have seen it!' She was quite sweet and merry over it—"

"Great Lord! Does she know that it's practically all your father had?"

Alix hesitated.

"Well, you see there had been mismanagement, Peter. Dad speculated, and lost some. And we were a pretty heavy expense for a good many years. I hated to expose the whole thing, and George— he's been splendid—said that they probably had a perfectly valid claim, anyway. There are some things to be thankful for," Alix added, dashing the sudden tears from her eyes, "and one is that Dad never knew it!"

"I can't tell you how surprised I am at Anne," Peter said.

"Well, we all were!" Alix confessed. "But it's just Anne's odd little self-centred way," she added. "It was here, and she wanted it. She belongs heart and soul to the Little family now, and she is quite triumphant over being of so much help to Justin. They're to build a house in Berkeley. Anne has it all worked out!" Alix said, with amused distaste. "Well—I let Hong go, and as soon as I can rent this house, I'm going to New York."

"Why New York, my dear girl?"

"Because I believe I can make a living there, singing and teaching and generally struggling with life!" she answered, cheerfully. "Cherry gets most of the money—they are always somewhat in debt, and I imagine that the reason she is able to have a nice apartment and a maid now is because she knows it is coming—and I get the house, and enough money to keep me going—say, a year, in New York."

"Do you want to go, Alix?" he said, affectionately.

"Yes, I think I do," she answered. But her eyes watered. "I do—in a way," she added. "That is, I love my singing, and the thought of making a success is delightful to me. But of course it means that I give up everything else. I can't have home life, and—and the valley—for years, four or five anyway, I'll have to give all that up. And I'm twenty-seven, Peter. And I'd always rather hoped that my music was going to be a domestic variety—"She stopped, smiling, but he saw the pain in her eyes. "George Sewall most kindly asked me to mother his small son—" she resumed, casually. "But although he is the dearest—"

"Sewall did!" Peter exclaimed, rather struck. "Great Scott! his father is one of the richest men in San Francisco."

"I know it," Alix agreed. "And he is one of the nicest men," she added. "But of course he'll never really love any one but Ursula. And I felt—oh, I felt too tired and alone and depressed to enter upon congratulations and clothes and family dinners with the Sewalls," she ended, a little drearily. "I wanted—I wanted things in the old way—as they were—" she said, her voice thickening.

"I know—I know!" Peter said, sympathetically. And for a while there was silence in the little house, while the rain fell steadily upon the dark forest without, and soaked branches swished about eaves and windows. "Can you put me up to-night?" he asked, suddenly. He liked her frank pleasure.

"Rather! I think Cherry's room was made up fresh last Monday," she told him. "And to-morrow," she added, with a brightening face, "we'll walk up to your house, and see what six months of Kow's uninterrupted sway have done to it!"

"That's just what we'll do!" he agreed, enthusiastically. "And we'll have some music—"

She had risen, as if for good-nights, and was now beside the old square piano, where she had placed the lamp.

"I haven't touched it—since—" she said, sadly, sitting on the stool, and with her eyes still smiling on him, putting back the hinged cover. And a moment later her hands, with the assurance and ease of the adept, drifted into one of the songs of the old days.

"Do you remember the day we put the rose tree back, Peter?" she asked. "When Martin was almost a stranger? And do you remember the day Cherry and I fell into the Three Wells and you and Dad had to disappear while we dried our clothing on branches of trees? And do you remember the day we made biscuits, over by the ocean?"

"I remember all the days," he answered, deeply stirred.

"We didn't see all this, then," Alix mused, still playing softly. "Anne claiming everything for her husband, you and I here talking of Dad's death, and Cherry married—" She sighed.

"She's not happy?" he questioned quickly.

Alix shrugged, pursing her lips doubtfully.

"She's not unhappy," she told him, with a troubled smile. "It's just one of those marriages that don't ever get anywhere, and don't ever stop," she added. "Martin has faults, he's unreasonable, and he makes enemies. But those aren't the faults for which a woman can leave her husband. Oh, Peter," she added, laying a smooth warm hand on his, and looking straight into his eyes with her honest eyes, "don't go away again! Stay here in the valley for a week or two, and help me get everything worked out and thought out—I've been so much alone!"

"Dear old Alix!" he said, sitting down on the bench beside her and putting his arm about her. She dropped her head on his shoulder, and so they sat, very still, for a long minute. Alix's hand went to her own shoulder, and her fingers tightened on his, and she breathed deep, contented breaths, like a child.

"Somebody ought to wire Mrs. Grundy, collect," she said, after awhile.

"We will defy Mrs. Grundy, my dear," Peter said, kissing the top of a soft brown braid, "by trotting off hand in hand tomorrow and getting ourselves married. Why, Alix, he gave us his consent years ago—don't you remember?"

"He DID wish it!" she said, and burst into tears.

"I seem to be doing things in a slightly irregular manner," she said to him the next day, when they had gotten breakfast together, and were basking in the sunlight of the upper deck of the ferryboat, on their way to the city. "I spend the night BEFORE my marriage alone—alone in a small country house hidden in the woods—with my betrothed, and propose to buy my trousseau immediately after the ceremony!"

"I feel like saying to you what the dear old French archbishop said to the small child," Peter smiled, marvelling a little nonetheless at her untouched serenity. "He was speaking to all the children in some institution, and came to this little one: 'ET TU ETES NEGRE? AH, BIEN—BIEN, CONTINUEZ—CONTINUEZ!' It's what makes you yourself, Alix, doing everything just a little differently."

"Marrying you, far from seeming a radical or momentous thing to do," she assured him, "seems to me like getting back into key— getting out of this bad dream of loneliness and change—securing something that I thought was lost!"

Her voice fell to a dreamy note, and she watched the gulls, wheeling in the sunshine, with thoughtful, smiling eyes. The man glanced at her once or twice, in the silence that followed, with something like hesitation, or compunction, in his look.

"Look here, Alix—let's talk. I want to ask you something. Or, rather, I want to tell you something—or, rather—"

"CONTINUEZ—CONTINUEZ!" she said, laughing, as he hesitated.

"There's never been anything—anything to tell you—or your father, if he was here," Peter said, flushed and a trifle awkward, "I'm not that kind of a man. I was a crippled kid, as you know, all for books and music and walks and older people. But there HAS been that one thing—that one woman—"

Flushed, too, she was looking at him with bright, intelligent eyes.

"But I thought she never even knew—"

"No, she never did!"

Alix looked back at the gulls.

"Oh, well, then—" she said, indifferently.

"Alix, would you like to know about her?" Peter said bravely. "Her name—and everything?"

"Oh, no, please, I'd much rather not!" she intercepted him hastily, and after a pause she added, "Our marriage isn't the usual marriage, in that way. I mean I'm not jealous, and I'm not going to cry my eyes out because there was another woman—is another woman, who meant more to you, or might have! I'm going into it with my eyes wide open, Peter. I know you love me, and I love you, and we both like the same things, and that's enough."

Three weeks later he remembered the moment, and asked her again. They were in the valley house now, and a bitter storm was whirling over the mountain. Peter's little cabin rocked to the gale, but they were warm and comfortable beside the fire; the room was lamp- lighted, scented by Alix's sweet single violets, white and purple, spilling themselves from a glass bowl, and by Peter's pipe, and by the good scent of green bay burning. The Joyces had had a happy day, had climbed the hills under a lowering sky, had come home to dry clothes and to cooking, for Kow was away, and had finally shared an epicurean meal beside the fire.

Peter was wrapped in deep content; the companionship of this normal, pretty woman, her quick words and quick laugh, her music, her glancing, bright interest in anything and everything, was the richest experience of his life. She had said that she would change nothing in his home, but her clever white fingers had changed everything. There was order now, there was charming fussing and dusting, there were flowers in bowls, and books set straight, and there was just the different little angle to piano and desk and chairs and tables that made the cabin a home at last. She wanted bricks for a path; he had laughed at her fervent, "Do give me a whole carload of bricks for Christmas, Peter!" She wanted bulbs to pot. He had lazily suggested that they open the town house while carpenters and painters remade the cabin, but she had protested hotly, "Oh, do let's keep it just as it always was!"

Smiling, he gave her her way. She amused him day after day. He watched her, marvelling at the miracle that was woman. He heard her in the kitchen, interrogating the Chinese: "You show me picture your little boy!" He heard her inveigling Antone, the old Italian labourer, into confidences.

Tonight he watched her in great satisfaction; he liked to have her here in his home, one of the pretty Stricklands, Peter Joyce's wife. Nobody else was here, nobody else belonged here, they were masters of their own lives. She quite captivated him by her simplicity and frankness; she washed her masses of brown hair and shook it loose in the sunshine, and she came in wet more than once, and changed her shoes before the fire—just as she had years ago, when she was a madcap little girl running wild through the woods.

They had been talking of Cherry, as they often did. Alix's favourite topic was her little sister; she had almost a maternal pride and fondness where Cherry was concerned. Today she had been house-cleaning, and had brought some treasures downstairs. She had showed Peter Cherry's old exercise books: "Look, Peter, how she put faces in the naughts and turned the sevens into little sail- boats! And see the straggling letters—'Charity Strickland!' I've always hated to destroy them. She was such a lazy, cunning little scholar!"

Peter, smiling at the old books, had remembered her, a small, square Cherry, with a film of gold falling over a blazing cheek, and mutinous blue eyes. Ah—the wonderful eyes were wonderful even then—

The date gave him a moment's shock. Only eight—only seven years ago she had been a schoolgirl! Cherry was not yet twenty-three—

"I wish she had married a little differently," Alix said, thoughtfully. "Cherry isn't exacting. But she does like pretty gowns and pretty rooms, and to do things as other girls do!"

"You should have married the mining engineer," he told her. "Red Creek would have had no terrors for you!

"I should have loved it!" she agreed, carelessly.

A curious expression flashed into her face. She was smiling; but immediately the smile faded, and she looked back at the fire with puzzled eyes.

"If I loved a man, Peter, the place and the house and the money wouldn't matter much!" she answered after awhile, in a slightly strained voice.

"Perhaps," he suggested, still thinking of Cherry, "that's the trouble!"

She gave him a quick, almost frightened look.

"The—the trouble?" she stammered. And with a little ashamed laugh she added, "What trouble?"

For a long time he looked at her in silence, at first puzzled, gradually fitting meaning and interpretation to his words and her own. Presently their eyes met, and with her little gruff boyish laugh she came over to the low seat at his knee.

"You see that there is something just a little wrong, then?" she asked.

"Between you and me, Alix?" he questioned in return, his fine hand tight upon hers, and his affectionate, brotherly look searching her face.

"Well, don't you, Peter?" she countered.

"I hadn't noticed anything, my dear, except that you are making a lonely, solitary man a very happy one," he answered, with his grave smile.

"But that—" she contended, with scarlet cheeks, but bravely "— that isn't marriage!"

"What ought marriage be?" he smiled, half humouring her, half concerned.

For answer she looked keenly, almost wistfully, into his face. He had noticed this look more than once of late.

"I don't know," she said softly, after awhile, with a little discouraged shrug of her shoulders. "I always thought that when a man and a woman liked each other—oh, thoroughly—liked the same things, had everything in common, that that was enough. And—for the woman I was a month ago, it would have been enough, Peter!" she added in a puzzled tone.

"You've changed then, Mrs. Joyce?"

"That's it," she agreed. "I'm not the same woman. I couldn't, as a girl, estimate what life was going to be as a wife."

"Perhaps no girl can," he suggested, interested now.

"Well, that's just what I'm thinking, Peter!" she smiled, a little ruefully. And again she gave him the look that was new, that was not all timid nor wistful nor appealing, yet somehow partook of all three. "You see, you feel that nothing can change you," she elucidated further, "and you are perfectly sure of yourself, from your old standpoint. And then the—well, the mental and spiritual and physical miracle of marriage DOES change you, and it is as if you had entered into a contract for a totally strange woman!"

She was so intent, so bright and earnest, as she turned a fire- flushed face to his, that he felt an odd moisture pricking his eyes.

"Alix," he said, affectionately, "where do I fail you?"

For a moment she was silent, her bright eyes fixed on his. Gradually the serious look on her face lightened, and her customary smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.

"I married you under a misapprehension," she said. "I thought you had about three hundred dollars a year! It appears that you have more than that every month—every week, for all I know—"

"You knew my mother had that old Pacific Avenue place!" he answered with concern. "I never for one second deceived—"

"Oh, you idiot!" Alix laughed. "I don't mind being rich at all, I like it. I don't want to live in the city, or join women's clubs, and all that, but I like having my own check-book—truly, I do! As for all the silver and portraits and rugs and things, why, we may like them some day."

He was not listening to her; there was a sorry look in his eyes.

"You know, Alix," he said, suddenly, "you've made life a different thing to me. I never had any woman near me before, and to hear your voice about the house, and your piano, and your laugh—why, it's wonderful to me. I've been alone here so many years, not knowing really how much of life I missed, and you've brought it all to me. Why, even to have Mrs. Florence at the post office ask me for 'Mrs. Joyce,' gives me a warm, happy sort of feeling! I—" he stroked the smooth hand under his own; there was real emotion in his voice, "I'd do a good deal to show you how grateful I am, old girl," he finished. "I wish you could tell me where I fail, and I'd move heaven and earth to please you!"

"The point is," Alix said, with her mischievous smile, as she twisted the heavy ring he wore, "do I fail you? I know I don't flush with delight when you give me a smile, and tremble with fear at your frown! I know that the smell of my hair doesn't make you turn pale, and the touch of my hand make you dizzy! There's no fury, fire, and madness—"

She laughed, and he laughed, too, a little reproachfully.

"You never will be serious for more than two minutes, Alexandra, my child!" he said.

Alix did not answer. She sat staring at the fire for another minute or two, and her eyes brightened childishly, had he but seen them. But she did not give another look at him. With a great fling of her arms she rested her head between two elbows for a second, tousled her hair, and yawned.

"I'm going to bed!" she announced. "I'm so glad I married a man who is accustomed to banking the fire and opening windows and putting out lamps every night. You," she had reached the door of their room now, and already the silky braids were freed, and tumbled about her shoulders, "you spoil me, Pete!" she said, between them. "Our marriage may be different, but it has its good points!"

"Sure you're happy?" he smiled.

The familiar little answer came confidently. He heard her humming as she undressed in a shaft of moonlight; she was never serious long.

One May day they were picnicking in the big forest. It was a day of spongy dampness underfoot, sweet and wild with breezes, blue of sky, and still cold in the shade, if it was heavenly warm in the sun. Alix, who was hot and panting from the scrambling and slipping downhill, hung on a bank, with her arm crooked about a sapling oak, for support, her hat slipped back and hanging childishly about her neck, and her already brief tramping skirt displaying an even unusual amount of sensibly booted leg. Below her Peter on the bank of the stream was gathering firewood. Shafts of sunlight filtered through the arches of the redwoods high above the creek, and fell here and there upon the busy currents of the water. Presently sunshine turned the flames of the brush fire to pink, a dense column of white smoke rose fragrantly between the dark-brown, furry trunks.

They had been talking doubtfully of the recent developments of what Justin and Anne Little called with relish the Strickland Will Case. Peter, who had for several weeks been investigating the matter, with a deepening conviction that it was a deuced awkward affair, had smiled a most pleasant smile as Alix enlarged upon the delight of giving the whole fortune, should they get it, to Cherry.

"For Cherry," she said, still hanging on her bank, "isn't like most married women. She hates self-denial and economy—Dad always made life too easy for us, you know. It wasn't even as if she had had my mother's example before her; she really knew nothing of domestic responsibility!"

"But what about you," Peter asked, smiling, "you seem to take kindly enough to matrimony!"

"My case is different," Alix said, unembarrassed, getting down to come stand beside him at the fire. "I married an old man for his money!"

"Do you know," he said, putting his arm about her, "I like you! You'll no sooner get hold of your money, if you do—than you'll want to turn it all over to Cherry! You're a devoted sister, do you know it?"

"I'm a devoted wife!" she answered, with an upward glance. But a second later her mood changed; she was off to try the experiment of crossing the stream upon the treacherous surface of a fallen tree. He watched her; her cautiously advancing foot, her hand tightly grasping an upright branch, her eyes flitting from the water below to the rough bridge before her. She was completely absorbed.

"You can't do it!" Peter called, annoyed at the senseless risk she took when she placed her foot tentatively upon the curved side of a log. "There's no foothold there!"

"Come save me!" she shrieked in the old way, with the old laugh of terror and delight. He jumped to her rescue, clearing the creek in a shallow place with two splashing bounds, and catching her before her laughing cry had fully died away in the silent arches of the forest.

"You maniac!" he scolded, as warm, tumbled, and penitent she half slipped and half yielded herself to his hold. "Come over here now, and sit down, and unpack the eats! I can't have my wife drowned before my eyes—"

The title brought a sudden flood of colour to her face; she meekly seated herself beside him on a great log, and he locked his arm about her.

They sat so long in the wet, sweet, sun-warmed forest, hands clasped, that nesting birds flew boldly about them, unafraid, and two wildcats, trotting softly in single file, green eyes blinking, passed within a few inches of them unseeing.

"This," said Peter, after awhile, "is pleasant."

He thought she did not answer, except by a faint tightening of her fingers. But deep down in her heart she said:

"This—is marriage."



CHAPTER XI

Cherry had a flat now in Red Creek "Park." It differed from an apartment because it had no elevator, no janitor, no steam heat. These things were neither known nor needed in the crude mining town; the flat building itself was considered a rather questionable innovation. It was a wooden building, three stories high, with bay windows. There were empty lots each side of it, but the sidewalls were on property boundaries, and had windows only where the building jutted in, and there was a small gate, and a narrow cement walk pressing tightly on one side. Cherry had watched this building going up, and had thought it everything desirable. She liked the clean kitchen, all fresh white woodwork, tiles, and nickelplate, and she liked the big closets and the gas- log. She had worried herself almost sick with fear that she would not get this wonderful place, and finally paid twenty-five dollars for the first month's rent with a fast-beating heart. She had the centre floor.

From her windows she looked down at the "Park." All the other buildings were wooden bungalows, in many places the sidewalks were wooden, too, and the centre of the street was deep black dust in summer and churned black mud in the winter. The little houses gushed electric light, which was cheap; the street itself was unlighted.

But after the excitement of moving in died away, she hated the place. She had enough money to hire a maid now, and she had a succession of slatternly, independent young women in her kitchen, but she found her freedom strangely flat. She detested the women of Red Creek. Cherry went to market, to buy prunes and lard and apples and matches again, but this took little time, and otherwise she had nothing to do.

Now and then a play, straight from "a triumphant year on Broadway" came to town for one night; then Martin took his wife, and they bowed to half the men and women in the house, lamenting as they streamed out into the sharp night air that Red Creek did not see more such productions.

The effect of these plays was to make Cherry long vaguely for the stage; she really did not enjoy them for themselves. But they helped her to visualize Eastern cities, lighted streets, restaurants full of lights and music, beautiful women fitly gowned. After one of these performances she would not leave her flat for several days, but would sit dreaming over the thought of herself in the heroine's role.

One day she had a letter from Alix; it gave her a heartache, she hardly knew why. She began to dream of her own home, of the warm, sweet little valley whose breezes were like wine, of Tamalpais wreathed in fog, and of the ridges where buttercups and poppies powdered a child's shoes with gold and silver dust. Alix had been ill, and she and Peter had been away—a few brief weeks—to Honolulu and return. Cherry crushed the letter in her hand; she knew suddenly that she had always been jealous of Alix. Alix wrote gaily that she had asked Peter if he did not want to send Cherry a kiss, and he had said that his face was too dirty; he was moving geraniums. And for all that day, whenever Cherry thought of Peter, it was with his hands and even his face spattered with the dark earth of the mountain garden. The thought gave her a genuine thrill, and the next day she deliberately thought of him again, but the thrill was not so keen, and gradually she forgot him.

But the letter stayed in her thoughts, and she began to hunger for home. Nothing that Red Creek could offer shook her yearning for the remembered sweetness and beauty of the redwoods, and the great shade of the mountain. She wanted to spend a whole summer with Alix.

She was athirst for home, for old scenes and old friends and old emotions. She had only to hint to Alix to receive a love letter containing a fervent invitation. So it was settled. With a sort of feverish brevity Cherry completed her arrangements; Martin was to use his own judgment in the matter of boarding or keeping the flat. Some of their household goods were stored; Cherry told him that she would come down in September and manage all the details of settling afresh, but she knew that her secret hope was that she might never see Red Creek again. It was all quickly arranged; perhaps he was not sorry to have her go, although he kissed her good-bye affectionately, and wandered away from the station in a rather lonely frame of mind when she was gone.

A friend of his had asked him to dine that same evening, "with a couple of queens." Martin had realized long ago, as Cherry did, that their marriage was not an entirely successful one, but he still considered her the most beautiful woman he had ever known, and had never desired any other. But to-night he thought he would telephone King and perhaps dine with him—the girls might be amusing. Anyway, Cherry was happy and was having her own way, and he had three months in which to try having his own again.

Alix met her sister at the ferry in San Francisco on a soft May morning. She was an oddly developed Alix, trim and tall, prettily gowned and veiled, laughing and crying with joy at seeing Cherry again. Peter, she explained between kisses, had had to go to Los Angeles three days ago, had been expected home last night, and was not even aware yet that Cherry was definitely arriving.

"Of course he knew that you were coming, but not exactly when," Alix said, as she guided the newcomer along the familiar ferry place on to the big bay steamer for Mill Valley. Cherry drew back to exclaim, to marvel, to exult, at all the well-remembered sights and sounds and smells.

"Oh, Alix—Market Street!" she exclaimed. "And that smell of leather tanning, and that smell of bay water and of coffee! And look—that's a cable-car!"

"We'll come over to San Francisco soon, and you'll see the new hotels," Alix promised when they were seated on the upper deck, with the blue waters of the bay moving softly past them. Cherry's happy eyes followed a wheeling gull; she felt as if the world was suddenly sunshiny and simple and glorious again. "But now, I thought the best thing was to get you home," Alix went on, "and get you rested."

"Oh, Sis, that's what I want!" Cherry answered Her lip trembled, and tears came into her eyes. "You don't know how homesick I've been," she said, feeling it more and more every minute. "I feel as if I'd never really drawn a full breath since I went away!"

"I can't live in cities," Alix said, simply. "Peter has a house, you know, in the city," she added, nodding toward the hilly silhouette of San Francisco, as the boat ploughed steadily past it. "We were there one winter, and in a way it was pleasant. It was easier, too. But more than a year ago we came back to the valley, and I think it will be a long time before we want to leave it again!"

"I can't get used to the idea of you and Peter—married!" Cherry smiled.

"We're well used to it," Alix declared, smiling, too. But a little sigh stabbed through the smile a second later. Cherry's exquisite eyes grew sympathetic; she suspected from the letter Alix had written that there would be no nursery needed in the mountain cabin for awhile, and she knew that to baby-loving Alix this would be a bitter cross.

"Well, you see I've not seen you since the month Daddy died!" Cherry reminded her. They fell to talking of their father; drifted to Anne and Anne's limitations and complacencies. "And is it funny to you to be a rich man's wife?" Cherry pursued.

"Peter's not rich," Alix answered, laughing. "We have enough, and more than enough, and if I HAD ambitions about rugs and linen and furs, I could have them! But unfortunately neither one of us is interested in those things. I get a few new songs; Peter gets a few new books; we both get a catalogue and pick out plants, and that's about the extent of our dissipation! The things I want," Alix finished, "can't be bought for money!"

"I know!" Cherry said, a warm little hand quickly touching her sister's.

"But to have you here, Cherry dearest!" Alix said, joyfully, "and to think of what it means to us both! My dear, the walks and talks and fires and music and dinners—"

"And duets," Cherry said, with her old fresh laugh. "Don't forget 'tu canta rio sul tuo liuto!' and 'Oh, wert thou in the cauld, cauld blast!'"

"Oh, Cherry, how utterly delicious it is!" Alix said, gathering wraps and bags for the change from the boat to the train that would land them in twenty minutes at the little station in Mill Valley.

Sausalito, fragrant with acacia and rose blooms, rose steeply into the bright sunshine beyond the marshes skirting the bay glittering in light. Cherry's eager eyes missed nothing, and when they left the train at Mill Valley, and the mountain air enveloped them in a rush of its clear softness and purity, she was in ecstasies. She welcomed the waiting red setter as a beloved friend, and leaned from the shabby motor car, delighted at every landmark.

"Alix—the post office, and the blacksmith's, and how the hill has been built up, each side of the steps! And is that the Kelley's— and the O'Shaughnessys'—but look at the size of the trees!"

They came to the woods, by the skeleton of the old Spanish mill, and she fell silent, and the blue eyes that penetrated the layers upon layers of soft greenness over her head brimmed with happy tears. The sweet breath of the forest fell like a cool hand upon her tired forehead; her heart began to dance in the old, irresponsible way.

Presently, straight ahead, and rising sharply over them, was the sun-bathed mountain, clear to-day, even soft and kindly in the flood of early summer sunshine. It was cool in the woods, even though warm light was pushing its way through the redwoods here and there, but when they emerged from the trees, and took the winding dirt road that rose to the hilltop, suddenly the day seemed hot. Alix, driving, threw off her coat, and Cherry felt the moisture prick her forehead.

She gave an exclamation of delight when they reached the cabin. It was a picture of peaceful beauty in the summer noon. There were still buttercups and poppies in the fields, and in the garden thousands of roses were growing riotously, flinging their long arms up against the slope of the low brown roof, and hanging in festoons from the low branches of the oaks. Beyond the house the mountain rose; from the porch Cherry could look down upon the familiar valley, and the rivers winding like strips of blue ribbon through the marshes, and the far bay, and San Francisco beyond.

Inside were shady rooms, bowls of flowers, plain little white curtains stirring in the summer breeze, peace and simplicity everywhere. Cherry smiled at the immaculately clad Chinese stirring something in a yellow bowl in a spotless kitchen whose windows showed manzanita and wild lilac and madrone trees; smiled at the big, smoked fireplace where sunlight fell straight on piled logs down the chimney's great mouth; smiled as she went to and fro on journeys of investigation. But the smile quivered into tears when she came to her own room, just such a room as little Charity Strickland had had, only a few years ago, with white hangings and unpainted wood, fresh air streaming through it, and redwoods outside.

"Oh, Alix—I never missed Dad before! But to have him out there, fussing at something under the trees—to have him call us—'Where are the girls—I want a girl!'"

"I know—" Alix's own eyes filled. She sat on Cherry's bed while the younger woman changed her dusty travelling clothes for a worn but beautiful linen gown, and they said that they would go soon to the little Sausalito cemetery and see that Dad's favourite heliotrope was flourishing.

The exquisite day went its peaceful course. Cherry was too tired for walking, except on a laughing garden-round, when Alix showed her every separate bush and tree with pride. For the most part she lay in a deep porch chair, drinking in the beauty and serenity of the June afternoon, breathing, above the sweet garden odours of lilac and verbena and mignonette, the piney fragrance of the forest. Alix, coming and going, watched her affectionately. The little languid arm in its transparent sleeve, the drooping, beautiful head, the slender, crossed ankles were always a picture.

"You are like a boat just reaching harbour," Alix said, sympathetically. "Sails furled, anchor down, just resting."

"I feel like one," Cherry answered, lifting lazy blue eyes. "A month of this will make me over!"

"A month!" the older sister echoed, indignantly, disappearing kitchenward on some errand. Presently the supper table was laid at Cherry's side, bees shot like bullets through the garden, birds settled for the night. Supper was ready; still there was no haste, no stir, no apparent effort.

Alix came to her own porch chair for the long twilight. She brought Cherry a fluffy shawl; they were almost silent, and as the last light faded from the hills, and the valleys were flooded with violet shadow, the mountain chill came down, and the stars and the valley lights began to prick the dark.

The sisters came in blinking, in the old way, and in the old way were amazed to see that the clock's hands stood at ten.

"And I meant you to go early to bed!" Alix exclaimed, but Cherry with her good-night kiss answered gratefully:

"Ah, but I feel that I am going to sleep to-night! I've not been sleeping well—"

"Haven't?" Alix asked, in quick concern.

"Not lately!"

Cherry stumbled into the airy, dark, sweet little bedroom, and somehow undressed and crept between the cool sheets of the bed that stood near Alix's on the wide sleeping porch. Her last thought was for the heavenly redwoods so close to her; she slept, indeed, for almost twelve unbroken hours.

She came wandering out to the porch at eleven o'clock, the old, smiling, apologetic Cherry, with her skin dewy from a bath, and her corn-coloured hair freshly brushed, and her linen gown as pink as the Perkins rose that was blooming over her head.

"Oh, Sis, I do feel so deliciously lazy and happy and rested and— and everything!" said Cherry, as she settled herself at the porch table where service for one was spread. "Oh, Alix—apricots! You remember everything," she added, with a look all affectionate appreciation. Alix, panting from exertions in the garden, dropped, trowel in hand, upon the upper step, to watch her smilingly.

"Cherry, you're prettier than ever!" Alix said, eyeing the white hands so busy with blue china, and the bright head dappled with shade and sunshine coming through the green rose vine.

"Am I?" Cherry said, pleased. "I thought myself that I looked nice this morning," she added, innocently. "But it is really because the air of this place agrees with me, it makes my skin feel right and my eyes feel right; it makes me feel normal and smoothed out somehow!" And Cherry looked down at the green and glitter of the valley, looked up past solemn files of redwoods at the mountain, cameo-cut this morning against a cloudless sky, and sighed a great sigh of content that seemed to go from her heels to the crown of her head. "I have never been really well and really happy anywhere else!" she declared, out of deep peace and content.

"Oh, there's no place in the world like it!" Alix agreed, rubbing some dried mud from the back of her hand with the trowel. "Peter and I are always deciding to try New York, or to try San Francisco, or Southern California, but somehow we don't! If Martin continues to migrate every little while, I wish you could have a little house here. Then for part of the time at least we could be together."

"The old house," Cherry said, dreamily.

"Well, why not?" Alix echoed, eagerly. "It's in pretty bad shape, after being empty so long, but it would make darling home again! Would Martin object?"

The old spoiled Cherry, with the pretty petulant frown and shrug of years ago! "Martin knows what he could do," she drawled, naughtily.

"Martin would be here—some of the time?" Alix asked, a little anxiously.

Cherry filled her coffee cup a second time, gave Kow an appreciative smile as he put a hot French loaf before her, and said indifferently:

"Martin has a constitutional objection to whatever pleases me, and would find some objection to any plan that gave me pleasure!" Her tone was light, but there was a bitter twitch to her lips as she spoke.

"Oh, Cherry!" Alix said, distressed.

"However, I'm not going to talk about Martin!" the younger sister decreed, gaily. "I'm too utterly and absolutely happy!"

There was a worried little cloud on Alix's forehead, but it lightened steadily, as the happy morning wore on, and half an hour later, when she and Cherry were sailing a frog on a shingle, on the busy little stream that poured down the hill near the cabin, both were laughing like children again.

It was here that Peter found Cherry. Alix had met him at the house, given him a scrutinizing look with her quick kiss, questioned him about his trip, and reported all well with the house and garden.

"And now come down to the creek," she had said, mischievously. "The Bateses are here—"

"Not Alice Bates?" he had asked, quickly, and at her apologetic nod he added disgustedly: "Oh, thunder!"

"Oh, don't—she'll hear you!" said the beaming Alix, warningly. Peter's eyes, as he crossed the porch, were gloomy and he said "Thunder!" again under his breath.

They followed a rough little trail past stumps where nasturtiums and alyssum mingled with the underbrush, and were in the redwoods, and at the brookside. Peter saw a slender girl in pink pushing a plank about with a pole. She turned in surprise to face him.

"Cherry!" he said, and as Alix laughed delightedly, he gave his wife a glance, and said, "You liar!"

Cherry came up to him, and he took both her hands, and after a second of hesitation kissed her. She freed one hand to put it on his shoulder, and, standing so, she seriously returned his kiss. For a moment his arm encircled her waist; he had forgotten how blue her eyes were, with just a film of corn-coloured hair loosened above them, and what husky, exquisite, childish notes were in her voice.

"Cherry—this is the nicest thing that has happened for a long, long while!" he said.

"You and Alix are angels to let me come!" Cherry answered, as they turned, and with laughter and eager, interrupted talking went back to the house.

"And how do you think your big sister looks?"

"Oh, Alix is wonderful!" Cherry said. Indeed she had been looking at Alix with secret surprise and admiration since her arrival. Alix had always been different from Cherry, but in her own way she was amazing. Where Cherry had but one expensive waist, but one beautiful gown, but two or three elaborate sets of filmy lingerie, accumulated slowly and laundered by herself when she washed her silk stockings, Alix, like a child, changed her fresh, simple linen every day, jumped from one crisp tub suit to another, wore untrimmed straw hats that she bought in the village for fifty cents apiece. Alix apparently never considered the relation of her clothing to her own personality; she simply chose the simple colours and styles she liked, and aspired only to be always fresh and trim.

So with her house. She did not have one or two priceless tablecloths to be used on occasions with satin underlaid, and crystal and cut-glass; her china was all used every day, and her table linen cheap and plentiful and lavish. Meals were always simple and hearty and delicious; but Alix had not time for fancy touches; hated, as she frankly admitted, "all that stuffed celery and chopped nut and halved cherry business! If soup isn't good without whipped cream and sherry in it, it's pretty poor soup!"

Cherry had laughed at her, even years ago, for her point of view, but sometimes she had felt it to be almost an advantage. At all events, she had not been twenty-four hours in Alix's house without perceiving that her sister was singularly free and unruffled, unlike the women of her generation. Alix did not put all the time she saved to good use, although she puttered away in the garden, spent an hour or two each day at the piano, and was, as she confided to Cherry, writing a novel. But she was always gay and always fresh, and enjoyed every moment of the day.

Four years younger, yet Cherry felt older than she. Alix's nature was uncomplicated by any consciousness of self. Again like a child, she only wanted people to love each other and be happy, and that the sun should shine. She was equally content, whether she was helping Peter to pile wood, tramping in the deluging summer rains, or dreaming over a book through the long evenings, with her shabby slippers to the fire. An exquisite spring morning, with wet earth, rising mists, and shafts of pure, warm sunlight, made her sing like the forest birds all about her, but even on the coldest and blackest of winter nights, when the storm made the lamp-light fluctuate alarmingly, and trees creaked over the cabin, she would look up from the piano to say contentedly: "Well, I'd rather be here than anywhere else, anyway!"

Naturally, she was unsympathetic. If people were in pain, or cold, or hungry, Alix could sympathize. But for mental and spiritual troubles she had small sympathy.

"Almost everybody in the world could live as simply as we do!" she told Peter.

"It costs us about four thousand a year!" he said.

"Well, it NEEDN'T. We could buy fewer clothes, and keep only one cow, and let the cook go! We'd be just as happy."

"To some people," Peter had objected, doubtfully, more than once, "there are other things than clothes and food!"

"What things?"

"Well, various things."

"We have books, flowers, music, all out-of-doors," Alix protested, briskly.

"Sympathy, my dear—interpretation self-expression!"

"Tommyrot!" she had responded without animosity. He realized with surprise, not many months after their marriage, that she meant what she said. If she ate and slept and walked and read with her usual healthy relish, she needed nothing more. She was the least exacting of wives. If he was late for a meal, she smiled at him absently, or if, after they had entertained, he apologetically approached her with some reference to an unfortunate sentence or circumstances, she would meet him with a cheerful:

"Angel boy, I never heard you even, or if I did I don't remember it—even if I had heard it, it's true!"

She was one of the rare women who can take marriage calmly, as a matter of course; she had done so since the hour that made her his wife. At her illness she had rebelled; she hated nurses and their fuss, she said. She was perverse with doctors. In an unbelievably short time her magnificent constitution had responded; she was well again, at his side at the steamer rail, as eager for the sights and sounds and smells of Hawaii as if she had never heard of a sick room.

Her only sentiment was for the babies and small animals. She would cuddle rabbits or birds against her brown, lean cheek, and hug her setter enthusiastically. Peter suffered an agony of sympathy whenever she spoke of a child.

"I'd hate all the preliminary fussing, Pete—we both would! But oh, if the Lord would send me six or eight of them!"

Then and then only did the bright eyes and the confident voice soften, and then only was Alix no longer a flat, straight, splendid boy, but a woman indeed.



CHAPTER XII

Cherry, Peter saw at once, was different in every way. Cherry was full of softness, of ready response to any appeal, of sympathy and comprehension. She had been misunderstood, unhappy, neglected; she had developed through suffering a certain timidity that was almost a shrinking, a certain shy clinging to what was kind and good.

Her happiness here was an hourly delight to both Alix and himself. She seemed to flower softly; every day of the simple forest life brought her new interest, new energy, new bloom. She and Alix washed their hair again, dammed the creek again, tramped and sang duets again. Sometimes they cooked, often they went into the old senseless spasms of laughter at nothing, or almost nothing.

One evening, when in the sitting room there was no other light than that of the fire that a damp July evening made pleasant, about a week after her arrival, Cherry spoke for the first time of Martin. She had had a long letter from him that day, ten pages written in a flowing hand on ten pages of the lined paper of a cheap hotel, with a little cut of the building standing boldly against a mackerel sky at the top of each page. He was well, he had some of his dinners at the hotel, but lived at home; he had been playing a little poker and was luckier than ever. He was looking into a proposition in Durango, Mexico, and would let her know how it panned out. The letter ended with the phrases: "Have a good time, Babe, and write me. Send me a line when you can. I have been running some with Joe King, but I am not strong for that crowd." It was signed: "Aff'tly, Mart."

Peter had been playing the piano lazily when the letter was tossed to Cherry by Alix, who usually drove into the village every morning after breakfast for marketing and the mail. He had seen Cherry glance through it, seen the little distasteful movement of the muscles about her nose, and seen her put it carelessly under a candlestick on the mantel for later consideration. At luncheon she had referred to it, and now it evidently had caused her to be thoughtful and a little troubled. An open book was in her lap; she and Alix had gone through the farce of saying that they would read without speaking until Peter had finished some business telephoning; now he had joined them, but still she did not read and seemed disinclined for talk.

"Mart may go to Mexico!" she said, presently, with a sigh.

"To stay?" Peter asked, quickly.

Cherry shrugged.

"As much as he stays anywhere!" she answered, drily.

"H'm! Does that mean you?" Alix asked.

"I suppose that's the plan," Cherry said, lifelessly.

"It's a rotten country," Peter offered, thoughtfully. "At least I should think it would be," he added, more moderately, "to select for a permanent home."

"I always say that a place where the natives are black, or yellow, isn't fit for white people, or the natives would BE white!" Alix explained, brightly.

"All mining towns are horrible!" Cherry said with gloomy fervor. "They're raw, crude, coarse places, and the people in them are just as bad!"

Peter had a moment of pity for her, so young, so helpless, so tied.

"Perhaps he won't want you until he is sure of staying!" he offered.

"Oh, Mart always thinks the last thing is the permanent thing!" his wife answered, wearily. "He says he'll want me to join him about the middle of August."

"Oh, help!" Alix said, disgustedly.

Cherry was silent a few minutes, and Peter smoked with his eyes on the fire. Alix glanced from one to the other, sighed, and glanced down at her magazine.

"If——" Cherry said presently, "If I get my money I'll have enough to live on, won't I, Peter?"

"You'll have about forty thousand dollars—yes, at five per cent, you could live on that. Especially if you lived here in the valley," Peter answered, after some thought.

"Then I want you to know," Cherry went on quietly, with sudden scarlet in her cheeks, "that I'm going to tell Martin I think we have tried it long enough!" Peter looked gravely at her, soberly nodded, and resumed his study of the fire. But Alix spoke in brisk protest.

"TRIED it! You mean tried marriage! But one doesn't try marriage! It's a fact. It's like the colour of your eyes."

"As a matter of fact, it isn't anything of the kind," Cherry said, mildly.

"Lloyd has given you cause, eh?" Peter took his pipe out of his mouth long enough to ask, briefly.

"Not—not in the way you mean—" she answered, glad to be discussing the topic.

"H'm," Peter muttered. It was almost as if he were disappointed.

"But, Peter," Cherry went on hesitatingly, appealingly, "it is no more a marriage than if we both had—had done everything and anything! He doesn't—oh, love!" Cherry interrupted herself scornfully on the word. "Of COURSE he doesn't love me," she said. "But it isn't only that, it's that we differ in every way about everything! His friends, his ideas, his feelings about things—I can't tell you how we jar and jar on each other! No," said Cherry, beginning to cry a little, "he hasn't been unfaithful; I almost wish he had—"

"Cherry!" Alix protested, with affectionate reproach.

"Alix," the little sister pleaded, eagerly, "you don't know what it is—you don't know what it is! Always meeting people I don't like, always living in places I hate, always feeling that my own self is being smothered and lost and shrunk, always listening to Mart complaining and criticizing people—-"

"Don't appeal to Alix!" Peter said. "She doesn't care what she does or where she lives. She fraternized with every old maid school teacher on the steamer, and a booze-fiend, and a woman whose husband was a native of Borneo; and she would pick out the filthiest lairs in Honolulu and ask me if it wouldn't be fun to live there!"

They all laughed; then Peter added, seriously:

"I'll go this far, Cherry. Lloyd married you too young."

"Oh, far too young!" she agreed, quickly. "The thing I—I can't think of," she said, "is how young I was—only a little girl. I knew nothing; I wasn't ready to be anybody's wife!"

Something in the poignant sorrow of her tone went straight to their hearts, and for the first time Peter had an idea of the real suffering she had borne. Alix's mouth was rather firmly shut, her eyes a little narrowed, her face rather sad, as she looked into the fire.

"If I had a child, even, or if Martin needed me," Cherry said, "then it might be different! But I'm only a burden to him——"

"His letter doesn't sound as if he thought of you as a burden," Alix suggested, mildly.

"Ah, well, the minute I leave him he has a different tone," Cherry explained, and Peter said, with a glance almost of surprise at his wife:

"It's an awfully difficult position for a woman of any pride, dear!"

Alix, kneeling to adjust the fire, as she was constantly tempted to do, met his look, and laid a soot-streaked hand on his knee.

"Pete, dearest, of course it is! But—" and Alix looked doubtfully from one to the other—"but divorce is a hateful thing!" she added, shaking her head, "it—it never seems to me justifiable!"

"Divorce is an institution," Peter said. "You may not like it any more than you like prisons or mad-houses; it has its uses."

"People get divorces every day!" Cherry added. "Isn't divorce better than living along in marriage—without love?"

"Oh, love!" Alix said, scornfully. "Love is just another name for passion and selfishness and laziness, half the time!"

"You can say that, because yours is one of the happy marriages," Cherry said. "It might be very different—if Peter weren't Peter!"

As she said his name she sent him her trusting smile, her blue eyes shone with affection, and the exquisite curve of her mouth deepened. Peter smiled back, and looked away in a little confusion.

"I can't imagine the circumstances under which I shouldn't love you and Peter!" Alix summarized it, triumphantly.

"And Martin?" Peter asked.

"Ah, well, I didn't marry Martin!" his wife reminded him quickly. "I didn't promise to love and honour Martin in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse—by George!" Alix interrupted herself, in her boyish way, "those are terrific words, you know. And a promise is a promise!"

"And even for infidelity, you don't believe people ought to separate?" Cherry asked.

"Nonsense!" Peter said.

"But you said—that Martin never—"

"No, I'm not speaking of Martin now!"

"Well, wouldn't that come under 'worser'?" Alix asked.

"But, my child," Peter expostulated kindly, "my dear benighted wife—there is such a thing as a soul—a mind—a personality! To be tied to a—well, to a coarsening influence day after day is living death! It is worse than any bodily discomfort—"

"I don't see it!" Alix persisted. "I think there's a lot of nonsense talked about the fammy oncompreezy—but it seems to me that if you have a home and meals and books and friends and the country to walk in, you—"

"Oh, Heavens, Alix, you don't know what you're talking about!" Cherry interrupted her, impatiently. "Let Peter here go off with some chorus girl, and see how long you—"

"It's all very well in books," Alix interrupted her sister in turn. "But in real life I don't believe a woman ever bothers to think whether her husband ever murmurs her name in dreams or not. I know I take Peter as much for granted as I do Tamalpais; if he ever leaped from the track, and stole or got drunk or wandered off after some petticoat, I'd FIX him! I'd be furious, but I don't see myself leaving him."

Peter's brief shout of laughter rang out.

"The awful thing about that female is that it is true," he told Cherry. "If I ever stray from the path of virtue, she'll scare me to death."

"Sometimes I think your marriage is as—as queer as my own," Cherry said, looking from one to the other.

Nothing more was said for several days upon the subject of a possible divorce. The weather continued perfect, and the little house-party on the mountaintop was complete in itself. Cherry often went into the village with Alix, to be sure; once they all went to a charity affair at Blithedale; sometimes a few women drove up the winding road in the afternoon, and there were ginger- ale and cookies on the porch; but most of the time the two sisters were alone, with Peter joining them in the afternoons.

One afternoon Peter crossed the porch, tired and hot, and found everything apparently deserted. He dropped into a chair, and was still breathless from the rapid climb up-hill, when stray notes from the piano reached his ears; a chord, a carefully played bit of bass; then a chord again. Then slowly, but with dainty accuracy and even feeling, Cherry began to play a strange little study of Schumann. Peter knew that it was Cherry, because Alix's touch was always firm and sure; more than that, he himself had played this same bit no longer ago than last night, and he remembered now that Cherry had asked him just what it was.

He experienced a sudden and pleasing emotion; he did not stop to analyze it. But he had been ruffled in spirit a moment before; Alix had known he was to come on this train, and had not met him with the car, and while he really did not mind the walk up, he disliked the feeling that they had entirely forgotten him.

The car was gone from its usual stand under a live oak, but everybody had not forgotten him nevertheless. Cherry was deliberately recalling the mood and moment that also recalled him. And as the notes came slowly, but precisely, from the cool, darkened living room, with its fragrant masses of sweet peas and fluted Martha Washington geraniums, Peter felt contented and serene. He looked up at the rise of Tamalpais, only half a tone darker than the pale blue sky to-day; he looked off at the range toward the ocean, where shimmers of heat were quivering upward; and then he settled himself back luxuriously in his great wicker chair and shut his eyes. Still the plaintive air came, as caressing as a touch.

Presently there was silence; then Cherry tried another little study, and finished it, and the hot summer stillness reigned again. The valley swam under a haze of pure heat; a buzzard hung motionless over the cabin, and the dry air was sweet with resinous scent of pines and manzanita and even of tarweed.

With a sense that he had been dozing, if only for a few minutes, Peter opened his eyes. Framed in the cabin doorway, poised like a butterfly against the dark background of the room, stood Cherry. He knew that she had been standing so for some time, for a full minute, perhaps more.

She was looking straight at him; one hand was hanging at her side, the other laid over her heart, as if she had involuntarily put it there when she saw him. Her corn-coloured hair was a little loosened; she was not smiling. She wore something limp and transparent, of white, he thought, or pale, pale blue, like the sky, with faint stripes making her figure look more slender even than it was.

They looked at each other in a silence that grew more and more awkward by great plunges. Peter had time to wish that he had kept his eyes shut, to wish that he had smiled when he first saw her— he could not have forced himself to smile now—to wonder how they were ever to speak—where they were rushing—rushing—rushing— before she turned noiselessly and vanished into the dim room.

Peter lay there, and his heart pounded. For a few minutes his senses whirled so madly that he felt suffocated. He dared not sit up, he dared not stir; from head to foot thrilling waves of surprise, and even a little of terror, went over him.

Never in his life had he experienced this sort of feeling before. He knew that he hated it, even while his whole spirit sang and soared in the new ecstasy. A moment ago he had been a tired man, fretted because his wife forgot to meet him; now there was something new in the world. And rapidly all the world became only a background, only a setting, for this extraordinary sensation. He sat up, after awhile, looked at the familiar porch, with the potted flowers, and Alix's boxes, where bachelor's-buttons, marguerites, and geraniums had been alternated to make a touch of patriotic colour on July Fourth. The hills beyond still swam in the hot sunlight, the mountain rose into the blue, but the light that changes all life lay over them for Peter.

He said to himself that it was awkward—he did not know how he could enter that door and talk to Cherry. And yet he knew that that meeting of Cherry, that the common exchange of words and glances, that the daily trifling encounters with Cherry were all poignantly significant now. Or if he did not fully sense all this yet he felt thrilled to the soul with the knowledge that she was there, back in the shadowy house somewhere, with the pale striped gown and the disordered corn-coloured hair, and that somehow they must meet, somehow they must talk together.

He felt no impulse toward hurry. He might sit on this porch another hour, might saunter off toward the creek. It mattered nothing; the hour was steadily approaching when she must reappear.

Alix drove in, full of animated apologies. She managed the car far better than he, and no thought of an accident had troubled him. But she explained that she had been to get eggs for a setting hen, and Antone had stopped her and told her that the new calf had been prematurely born, out on the hills, and had "been gone for die," and so she had driven over to Juanita, and gotten the calf.

And there the calf was, two days old, and as pretty as only a baby deer or a baby Jersey can be, roped by his woodeny little legs, and laid stiffly in the tonneau, with utter terror in his liquid dark eyes.

"Die, nothing!" Alix said, emphatically, as she tenderly lifted the calf out of the car. "I'm going to take him up to the barn; you run tell Kow that Missy wants warm milk. Then you come on, Pete—and tell me what you think!"

"Here—" Peter said, authoritatively, shouting the message, and taking the calf from her arms; they were laughing as they entered the dry, hot darkness of the stable. Alix's riding horse put a Roman nose reproachfully over the bitten barrier of his box-stall.

"We've got company for you, Creep-mouse!" Peter, panting from his heavy burden, announced. "Poor little feller!" he said to the calf.

"He's all right." Alix, rustling straw, said, confidently. "You know he must be a twin," she said to Peter, "for that brute of a mother of his was contentedly wandering up to the ridge, where the breeze is, and she certainly had another little calf cavorting about her—oh, thanks, Cherry! Here's the milk, Peter. See if the poor little beast will suck your fingers!"

Peter took the brimming blue bowl from Cherry's fingers. She had come like a shadow into the barn, her eyes were on the tipped surface of the milk. She lowered it carefully into his hold, and he felt the cool softness of her yielding fingers; he did not meet her eyes, partly because he gave her face only one glance. They all knelt about the calf, who after a few feeble struggles to escape altogether resigned himself, and lay looking at them with terrified eyes.

"He's too weak to stand on his legs, perhaps I should have had the mother brought in," Alix said, anxiously. "But he's a beautiful little thing, the prettiest she's ever had, except that he's so thin! Isn't he cute, Cherry?"

"He's—darling!" Cherry's voice, with its young cadences always ready to escape from the riper tones of womanhood, echoed oddly under the low, shingled roof of the barn. And again life seemed full of surprise and thrill to Peter. He wanted to say something to her; could think of nothing, and so was unusually silent throughout the ceremonies of getting the calf to suck Alix's fingers, getting him tied in a manner that should hold him without danger of strangulation, and bedding him comfortably on sacks and straw. Cherry was silent, too, but Alix talked briskly, and the necessity for constant effort and movement filled all possible gaps.

The evening was warm, one of the two or three warm evenings that marked the height of summer even in the high valley. While the three sat on the wide, unroofed porch, loitering over their coffee, a great, yellow-red moon rose slowly over the hill, and floated silently above them. Presently its light flooded the landscape, and strange and romantic vistas appeared between the redwoods aisles, and the tops of the forest trees far below them showed in a brilliant gray light, soft and furry. The whole world seemed to be lifted and swimming in vaporous brightness. There was not a breath of air in the garden; roses and wallflowers stood erect in a sort of luminous enchantment. Moonlight sank through the low twisted branches of the near-by oaks and fell tangled with black and lacy shade through the porch rose vine.

Alix sat on the porch rail, every line of crisp skirt and braided head revealed as if by daylight, but Cherry's pale striped gown was only a glimmer in the deepest shade of the vine. Peter, smoking, sat where he could not but see her; they had hardly looked at each other directly since the long, strange look of this afternoon; they had exchanged hardly a word.

A black cat crept across the grass, her body dragging stealthily on crouched legs, boldly silhouetted in the moonshine, invisible in the shade. Alix defeated her hunting plans by flinging a well- aimed pebble into the shrubbery ahead of her. The cat, dissembling, lay down in the dry grass, cleaned a paw, and coquetted with her tail.

"Town to-morrow, Pete?" Alix said, after a silence during which she had locked her arms behind her head, stared straight above her at the path the moon was making through faint stars, and yawned. "I've got to go in to a meeting of the hospital board."

"I didn't know you were on it," Cherry said.

"Peter's mother was, and hence I am," Alix said, virtuously. Cherry felt an old little prick of jealousy. Alix was strangely indifferent to the position she held.

"I go in to have luncheon with Mary" Cherry said. "I wish we could all lunch together!"

"I'll blow you girls to a meal at Frank's—" Peter began, and interrupted himself, "Oh, but you can't, Cherry!"

"And our meeting is at twelve; we'll have lunch at the hospital," Alix added. "Wouldn't you think we'd have enough of each other, we three?" she said, amusedly, beginning, in the reprehensible manner of girlhood, to roll the black scarf that had been knotted about her rolled bluejacket's collar, and to remove the pins from her hair. "But I hate to be in town and not see you both! Good-night, beloveds. I'm dead. Don't sit out here mooning with Pete all night, Cerise!"

Peter said to himself that now Cherry would go, too, but as the screen door banged lightly after Alix, and the dull glimmer of Cherry's striped gown did not move in the soft shadow, a sudden reluctance and distaste seized him. He had been subconsciously aware of her all afternoon; he had known a delicious warmth and stir at his heart that he had not analyzed, if indeed it could be analyzed. Now suddenly he did not want the beauty and bloom and charm of that feeling touched. His heart began to beat heavily again, and he knew that he must stop the unavailing game now.

But he had not reckoned on Cherry. She twisted in her chair, and he heard a child's long, happy sigh.

"Oh, so am I tired, too!" she breathed, reluctantly. "I hate to leave it—but I've been almost asleep for half an hour! You can have all the moonlight there is, Peter." Her white figure fluttered toward the door. "Good-night!" she said, drooping her little head to choke a yawn. A moment later he heard her laughing with Alix.

"You fool—you fool—you fool!" Peter said to himself, and he felt an emotion like shame, a little real compunction that he could so utterly misread her innocence. He felt it not only wrong in him, but somehow staining and hurtful to her.



CHAPTER XIII

Again Peter reckoned without Cherry. It was only the next day, when he was entering the Palace court for his lunch, that he experienced a sudden and violent emotion. His thoughts were, at the moment, far from Cherry, and he had fancied himself in a hurry. But every other feeling but excitement was obliterated at the sight of a slender, girlishly made woman, in a pongee gown, and a limp brown hat covered with poppies, waiting in the lounge.

Peter went toward her, and the colour rushed into Cherry's face. Half a dozen women had been furtively studying her, and one of them now said to a man, "Yes, she really is—extraordinarily pretty." But Cherry and Peter saw and heard them not. It was the first time they had accidentally encountered each other, and it had a special place of its own in the history of their lives.

The surprise of it kept them laughing, hands clasped, for a minute; then Cherry said:

"I was to lunch here with Mary Cameron. But she's full twenty minutes late!"

"Lunch with me," Peter substituted, promptly.

"She'll probably be along—" Cherry said, vaguely, looking at a clock. "You hate her, don't you?" she added, looking up from under the poppies at Peter.

"I don't like her," he admitted, with a boy's grimace.

"Then suppose we don't lunch here?" Cherry suggested, innocently. Peter laughed joyously, and tucking her little gloved hand under his arm, led her away. They went to Solari's, and had a window table, and nodded, as they discussed their lunch, at half a dozen friends who chanced to be lunching there, too. But it was a thrilling adventure, none the less, and after the other tables were empty, and when the long room was still, they talked on, trifling with cheese and crackers, Peter watching her as he smoked, Cherry's head bent over her plate.

She had said that she wanted to tell him "all about it," and Peter, with quick knowledge that she meant the unhappiness of her marriage, nodded a grave permission.

"I've made a failure of it!" Cherry said, sadly. "I know I ought to struggle on, but I can't. Just a few days of it, just a few weeks of it make me—make me a different woman! I get nervous, I get hysterical, I don't sleep! I have no individuality, Peter, I have no personality! As for my dignity—my privacy—"

Her face was scarlet, and for a moment she stopped speaking.

"Just tell me an alternative!" she said, after awhile. "It CAN'T be that there is no other life for me than going back. Peter, I'm only twenty-four!"

"I know you are," he said, with a brief nod.

"Why, everyone has some alternative," Cherry pleaded. "It can't be that marriage is the only—the only irrevocable thing! If you had a partner that you couldn't go on with, you could come to SOME agreement! You could make a sacrifice, but somehow you could end the association! Peter," she said, earnestly, "when I think of marketing again—six chops and soup-meat and butter and baking powder—I feel sick! When I think of unpacking the things I've washed and dusted for five years—the glass berry bowl that somebody gave us, and the eleven silver tea-spoons—I can't bear it!"

"You don't love him!" Peter said.

"I don't hate him," she answered quickly. "Indeed I don't. And it isn't just the place and the life, Peter! I could be happy in two rooms—somewhere—anywhere—But not—with HIM. Oh, Peter, if I hadn't done it—if I hadn't done it!" And Cherry knotted her fingers together, and her voice thickened and stopped.

Her beauty, as she pushed her plate aside and leaned toward him, was so startling that Peter, a lighted match half-raised to a fresh cigarette, put the match down aimlessly, and looked thoughtfully at the cigarette, and laid that down, too, without the faintest consciousness of what he was doing. The day was warm, and there was a little dampness on her white forehead, where the gold hair clung to the brim of the drooping hat. Her marvellous blue eyes were ringed with soft violet shadows, as if a sooty finger had set them under the dark brown arch of the brows. The soft curve of her chin, the babyish shortness of her upper lip, and the crimson sweetness of the little earnest mouth had never seemed more lovely than they were to-day. She was youth incarnate, palpitating, flushed, unspoiled.

For a moment she looked down at the table, and the colour flooded her face, then she looked him straight in the eyes and smiled. "Well! Perhaps it will all work out right, Peter," she said, with the childish, questioning look that so wrung his heart. She immediately gathered her possessions together to go, but when they stepped into sunshiny Geary Street it was three o'clock, and Peter suggested that they walk down to the boat.

To them both the hour was memorable, and the street and park and the tops of tall buildings, flooded with the sunlight of a summer afternoon, were Paradise. Cherry only knew that she felt strangely thrilled and yet at peace; Peter's heart was bursting with love of the world, love of this romantic city, with its flower market blazing in the sun, and with the ferry clock tower standing high above the vista of Market Street. He seemed floating rather than walking, and when, at crossings, he could help Cherry for a few steps, felicity swelled in his soul almost like pain.

They met Alix on the boat, but she did not ask any embarrassing questions; she sat between them on the upper deck, blinking contentedly at the blue satin bay, her eyes following the wheeling gulls or the passage of ships, her mind evidently concerned only with the idle pleasantness of the moment. And always, for Peter, there was the same joyous sense of something new—something significant—something ecstatic in life.

From that hour he was never quite at ease in Cherry's company, and avoided being alone with her even for an instant, although her presence always caused him the new and tingling delight. He read her honest blue eyes truly, and knew that although, like himself, she was conscious of the new sweetness and brightness of life, she had never entertained for an instant the flitting thought that it was Peter's feeling for her that made it so. She thought perhaps that it was the old childish happiness that she had known in the valley, the freedom and leisure and irresponsibility of the old days.

One day she made Alix and Peter laugh by reciting for them long passages from "Paolo and Francesca." They were walking, and had stopped to rest and get breath on a steep climb. Cherry's tender voice, half-amusedly and half-seriously repeating the passionate lines, lingered in Peter's mind like a sort of faint incense for hours.

"It's lovely," said Cherry in the garden that night, when he spoke to her about it, "but it's not Shakespere, of course," she surprised him by adding. Cherry had developed, he thought, she had cared nothing for Shakespere years ago. Immediately she began the immortal phrases:

'Tis but the name that is mine enemy, Thou art thyself, though, not a Montague ... ... And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself!

Peter's heart began to thump again. They were alone in the garden; it was dark to-night, warm and starry.

"Now that you and I are brother and sister," Cherry said, after a silence, "tell me—it went across my mind once, and then I didn't think of it for years. But tell me, was it me with whom you were— you fancied you were in love, all those years ago?"

She looked innocently up at him in the gloom, and laughed. Peter did not speak for a few seconds.

"Yes, it was always you!" he said then, briefly.

Cherry laughed again, a little amused and exultant laugh. But immediately she stopped laughing, and said, vexedly:

"I was a fool to ask you that! I don't know why I did. Just sheer egotism—and I hate women who dwell on their own foolish old love affairs, too!"

Peter, as ashamed as she of the moment's weakness, laughed, too.

"You could hardly call it that!" he objected, mildly.

"You could hardly call it anything!" she agreed, in relief. "Does Alix know?" she asked, quickly.

"There wasn't much to tell," he reminded her, as they went back to the house through the ranks of wet wallflowers and roses.

"Nothing!" she said again, quickly.

And when they entered the house he was strangely disturbed to see a look of something like shame, something confused and embarrassed on her usually frank little face, and to realize that she was conscientiously avoiding his eyes. After she and Alix had gone to bed he got down the little red volume that was marked "Romeo and Juliet," and found the score of lines that she had quoted, and marvelled that the same words could seem on the printed page so bare, and sound so rich and full in Cherry's voice out under the stars.

The next day she talked in a troubled, uncertain way of going back to Red Creek and he knew why. But Alix was so aghast at the idea, and Peter, who was closing Doctor Strickland's estate, was so careful to depart early in the mornings, and return only late at night, that the little alarm, if it was that, died away. Martin's plans were uncertain, and Cherry might be needed as a witness in the Will Case, if Anne's claims were proved unjustified, so that neither Peter nor Cherry could find a logical argument with which to combat Alix's protests against any change.

The next time that Cherry went into town, Alix did not go, and Peter, sitting on the deck of the early boat with her, asked her again to have luncheon with him. Immediately a cloud fell on her face, and he saw her breast rise quickly.

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