And through all her adventures she looked calmly, confidently, and with conscious enjoyment for a husband. She flirted a little, and danced and swam and drove and played golf and tennis a great deal, but she never lost sight for an instant of the serious business of life. Money she must have—it was almost as essential to her as air—and money she could only secure through a marriage.
The young Englishman who was her first choice, in her twentieth year, had every qualification in the world. When he died, two or three months before the wedding-day, Rachael's mother was fond of saying in an aside to close friends that the girl's heart was broken. Rachael, lovely in her black, went down to stay with Stephen's mother, and for several weeks was that elderly lady's greatest comfort in life. Silent and serious, her manner the perfection of quiet grief, only Rachael herself knew how little the memory of Stephen interfered with her long reveries as she took his collies about in the soft autumn fogs. Only Rachael knew how the sight of Trecastle Hall, the horses, the servants, and the park filled her heart with despair. She might have been Lady Trecastle! All this might so easily have been her own!
She had loved Stephen, of course, she told herself; loving, with Rachael, simply meant a willingness to accept and to give. But love was of course a luxury; she was after the necessities of life. Well, she had played and lost, but she could play again. So she went to the Pomeroys' for the winter, and in the spring was brought back to London by her father's sudden death.
Gerald Fairfax's life insurance gave his widow a far more secured income than he had ever given his wife. It was microscopic, to be sure, but Clara Fairfax was a practised economist. The ladies settled in Paris, and Rachael was seriously considering a French marriage when, by the merest chance, in the street one day, a small homesick girl clutched at her thin black skirt, and sent her an imploring smile. Rachael, looking graciously down from under the shade of her frilly black parasol, recognized the little Breckenridge girl, obviously afflicted with a cold and lonesomeness and strangeness. Enslaving the French nurse with three perfectly pronounced sentences, Rachael went home with the clinging Carol, put her to bed, cheered her empty little interior with soup, soothed her off to sleep, and was ready to meet her crazed and terrified father with a long lecture on the care of young children, when, after an unavoidable afternoon of business, he came back to his hotel.
The rest followed. Rachael liked Clarence, finding it agreeable that he knew how to dress, how to order a dinner, tip servants, and take care of a woman in a crowd. His family was one of the oldest in America, and he was rich. She was sorry that Billy's mother was living, but then one couldn't have everything, and, after all, she was married again, which seemed to mitigate the annoyance. Rachael said to herself that this was a wiser marriage than the proposed one with poor Stephen: Stephen had been a wild, romantic boy, full of fresh passion and dazed with exultant dreams; Clarence was a man, longing less for moonshine and roses and the presence of his beloved one than for a gracious, distinguished woman who would take her place before the world as mistress of his home and guardian of his child.
She had sometimes doubted her power to make Stephen happy— Stephen, who talked with all a boy's heavenly shyness of long days tramping the woods and long nights over the fire, of little sons and daughters romping in the Trecastle gardens; but she entered into her marriage with Clarence Breckenridge with entire self- confidence. She had been struggling more or less definitely all her life toward just such a position as this; it was a comparatively easy matter to fill it, now that she had got it.
Carol she considered a decided asset. The child adored her, and her services to Carol were so much good added to the beauty, charm, and wisdom that she brought into the bargain. That Clarence could ask more in the way of beauty, wisdom, and charm was not conceivable; Rachael knew her own value too well to have any doubts on that score.
And had her husband been a strong man, her dignified and ripened loveliness must inevitably have won him. She stood ready to be won. She held to her bond in all generosity. What heart and soul and body could do for him was his to claim. She did not love him, but she did not need love's glamour to show her what her exact value to him might be; what was her natural return for all her marriage gave her.
But quick-witted and cold-blooded as she was, she could not see that Clarence was actually a little afraid of her. He had been too rich all his life to count his money as an argument in his favor, and although he was not clever he knew Rachael did not love him, and hardly supposed that she ever could.
He felt with paternal blindness that she had married him partly for the child's sake, and returned to the companionship of his daughter with a real sense of relief.
Rachael, in turn, was puzzled. Carol was undeniably a pretty child, with all a spoiled child's confident charm, but in all good-natured generosity Rachael could not see in her the subtle and irresistible fascinations that her father so eagerly exploited. Surely no girl of ten, however gifted, could be reasonably supposed to eclipse completely the woman Rachael knew herself to be; surely no parental infatuation could extend itself to the point of a remarriage with the bettering of a small child's position alone the object.
Philosophy came promptly to the aid of the new-made wife. Billy was a child, and Clarence a greater child. The situation was annoying, was belittling to her own pride, but she would meet it with dignity nevertheless. After all, the visible benefits of the marriage were still hers: the new car, the new furs, the new and wonderful sense of financial ease, of social certainty.
She schooled herself to listen with an indulgent smile to her husband's fond rhapsodies about his daughter. She agreed amiably that Billy would be a great beauty, a heart-breaker, that "the little monkey had all the other women crazy with jealousy now, by Jove!" She selected the little gowns and hats in which the radiant Billy went off for long days alone with "Daddy," and she presently graciously consented to share the little girl's luxurious room because Billy sometimes awakened nervously at night. Rachael had been accustomed to difficulties in dealing with the persons nearest her; she met them resolutely. Sometimes a baffling sense of failure smote the surface of her life, like a cold wind that turns to white metal the smooth waters of a lake, but she held her head proudly above it, and even Clarence and his daughter never guessed what she endured. What did it matter? Rachael asked herself wearily. She had not asked for love. She had resolutely exchanged what she had to give for what she had determined to get; Clarence had made no blind protestations, had expected no golden romance. He admired her; she knew he thought it was splendid of her to manage the engagement and marriage with so little fuss; perhaps his jaded pulses fluttered a little when Rachael, exquisite in her bridal newness, stooped at the railway station to give the drooping Billy a good-bye kiss, and promise that in three days they would be back to rescue her from the hated governess; but paramount above all other emotions, she suspected, was the tremendous satisfaction of having gained just the right woman to straighten out his tangled domestic affairs, just the mother, as the years went by, to do the correct thing for Billy.
Of some of these things the woman who sat idly before the library fire was thinking, as the quiet evening wore on, and the purring of the flames and the ticking of the little mantel clock accented rather than disturbed the stillness. She was unhappy with a cold, dry wretchedness that was deeper than any pang of passion or of hate. The people she met, the books she read, the gowns she planned so carefully, and the social events that were her life, all—all—were dust and ashes. Clarence was less a disappointment and a shame to her than an annoyance; he neglected her, he humiliated her, true, but this meant infinitely less than that he bored her so mercilessly. Billy, with her youthful complacencies and arts, bored her; the sympathy of a few close friends bored her as much as the admiration and envy of the many who were not close. Cards, golf, dinners, and dances bored her. Rachael thought tonight of a woman she had known closely, a beautiful woman, too, and a rich and gifted woman, who, not many months ago, had quietly ended it all, had been found by horrified maids in her gray-and- silver boudoir lovelier than ever, in fixed and peaceful beauty, with the soft folds of her lacy gown spreading like the petals of a great flower about her and the little gleam of an empty bottle in her still, ringed hand...
A voice broke the library stillness. Rachael roused herself.
"What is it, Helda?" she asked. "Doctor Gregory? Ask him to come in. And ask Alfred—is Alfred still downstairs?—ask him to go up and see if Mr. Breckenridge is awake.
"This is very decent of you, Greg," she said, a moment later, as the doctor came into the room. "It doesn't seem right to interfere with your dinner for the same old stupid thing!"
"Great pleasure to do anything for you, Rachael," the newcomer said promptly and smilingly with the almost perfunctory courtesy that was a part of Warren Gregory's stock in trade. "You don't call on me often! I wish you did!"
She said to herself, as they both sat down before the fire, that it was probably true. Doctor Gregory was notoriously glad of an opportunity to serve his friends. He had not at all regretted the necessity of leaving his dinner partner at the salad for a professional call. He was quite ready to enjoy the Breckenridge sitting-room, the fire, the lamplight, the company of a beautiful woman. Rachael and he knew each other well, almost intimately; they had been friends for many years. She had often been his guest at the opera, had often chaperoned his dinner-parties at the club, for Warren Gregory's only woman relative was his old mother, who was neither of an age nor a type to take any part in his social life.
He was forty, handsome, dignified, with touches of gray in his close-clipped hair, but no other sign of years in his face or his big, well-built figure. He had clever, fine eyes behind black- rimmed glasses, a surgeon's clever hands, a pleasant voice. He lived with his mother in a fine old house on Washington Square, in New York City, and worked as tirelessly as if he were a penniless be ginner at his profession instead of a rich man, a rich woman's heir, and already recognized as a genius in his own line.
All women liked him, and he liked them all. He sent them books, marked essays in magazines for their individual consideration, took them to concerts, remembered their birthdays. But his only close friends were men, the men with whom he played tennis and golf, or with whom he was associated in his work.
With all his cleverness and all his charm, Warren Gregory was not a romantic figure in the eyes of most women. He had inherited from his old Irish mother a certain mildness, and a lenience, where they were concerned. He neither judged them nor idolized them. They belonged only to his leisure hours. His real life was in his club, in his books, and in the hospital world where there were children's tiny bones to set. He was conscious, as a man born in a different circle always is conscious, that he had, by a series of pleasant chances, been pushed straight into the inner heart of the social group whose doors are so resolutely closed to many men and women, and he liked it. His grand father had had blood but no money, his mother money but no social claim. He inherited, with the O'Connell millions, the Gregory name, and for perhaps ten years he had enjoyed an unchallenged popularity. He had inherited also, without knowing it, a definitely different standard from that held by all the men and women about him. In his simple, unobtrusive way he held aloof from much that they said and did. Greg, said the woman, was a regular Puritan about gossip, about drinking, about gambling.
They never suspected the truth: that he was shy. Sure of his touch as a surgeon, pleasantly definite about books and pictures, spontaneous and daring in the tennis court or on the links, under his friendly manner with women was the embarrassment of a young boy.
Before his tenth year his rigidly conscientious mother had instilled into the wondering little-boy mind certain mysterious yet positive moral laws. Purity and self-control were in the air he breathed while at her side, and although a few years later school and college had claimed him, the effect of those early lessons was definite upon his character. Diffidence and a sort of fear had protected him, far more effectually than any other means might have done, from the common vices of his age, and in those days a certain good-natured scorn from all his associates made him feel even more than his natural shyness, and marked him rather apart from other young men.
Keenly aware of this, it had been a tremendous surprise to the young physician, returning from post-graduate work in Germany a few years later, to find that what had once been considered a sort of laughable weakness in him was called strength of character now; that what had been a clumsy boy's inarticulateness was more charitably construed into the silence of a clever man who will not waste his words; and that mothers whose sons he had once envied for their worldly wisdom were turning to him for advice as to the extrication of these same sons from all sorts of difficulties.
Being no fool, he accepted the changed attitude with great readiness, devoting himself to his work and his mother, and pleasantly conscious that he was a success. He let women alone, except where music and art, golf and the club theatricals were the topic of interest, and, consequently, had come to his fortieth year with some little awe and diffidence still left for them in his secret heart. Rachael had told him, not long ago, that she believed he took no interest in women older than fourteen and younger than fifty, and there was some truth in the charge. But he was conscious to-night of taking a distinct interest in her as he sat down beside her fire.
He had never seen her so beautiful, he thought. She had dressed so hastily, so carelessly, that an utter simplicity enhanced the natural charm. Her dark hair was simply massed, her gown was devoid of ornament, her hands bare, except for her wedding-ring. On her earnest, exquisite face the occasion had stamped a certain soberness, she was neither hostess nor guest to-night; just a heartsick wife under the shadow of anger and shame.
"Well, what is it to-night?" Warren Gregory asked kindly.
"Oh, the same old thing, Greg. The Berry Stokes' dinner, you know!"
"Shame!" the doctor said warmly, touched by her obvious depression. "I'll go up. I can give him some pills. But you know, he can't keep this up forever, Rachael. He's killing himself!"
In her sensitive mood the mildly reproachful tone was too much. Rachael's breast rose, her eyes brightened angrily.
"Perhaps you'll tell me what more I can do, Greg!"
He looked at her in surprise; the shell of Mrs. Breckenridge's cool reserve was not often pierced.
"My dear girl—" he stammered. "Why, Rachael—!"
For battling with a moment of emotion she had flung her beautiful head back against the brilliant cretonne of the chair, her eyes closed, her hands grasping the chair-arms. A tear slipped from under her lids.
"I didn't for one second mean—" he began again uncomfortably.
Suddenly she straightened herself in her chair, and opened her eyes widely. He saw her lovely breast, under its filmy black chiffon, rise stormily. Her voice was rich with protest.
"No, you didn't mean anything, Greg, nobody means anything! Nobody is anything but sorry for me: you, Billy, Elinor, the woman who expected us at dinner to-night, the servants at the club!" she said hotly. "Nobody blames me, and yet every one wonders how it happens! Nobody thinks it anything but a little amusing, a little shocking. I am to write the notes, and make the excuses, and be shamed—and shamed—shamed—"
Her voice broke. She rose to her feet, and rested an elbow on the mantel, and stared moodily at the fire. There was a silence.
"Rachael, I'm sorry!" Gregory said presently, impulsively.
Instantly her April smile rewarded him.
"I know you are, Greg!" she answered gratefully. "And I know," she added, in a low tone, "that you are one of the persons who will understand—when I end it all!"
"End it all!" he echoed sharply.
"Not suicide," she reassured him smilingly. She flung herself back in her chair again, holding her white hand, with its ring, between her face and the fire. "No," she said thoughtfully, "I mean divorce."
There eyes met; both were pale, serious.
"Divorce!" he echoed, after a pause. "I never thought of it—for you!"
"I haven't thought of it myself, much," Rachael admitted, with a troubled smile.
As a matter of fact she had thought of it, since the early days of her marriage, but never as an actual possibility. She had preferred bondage and social position to freedom and the uncomfortable status of the divorced woman. She realized now that she might think of it in a slightly different way. She had been a penniless nobody seven years ago; she was a personage now. The mere fact that he was a Breckenridge would win some sympathy for Clarence, but she would have her faction, too.
More than that, she would never be younger, never handsomer, never better able to take the plunge, and face the consequences.
"I'm twenty-eight, Greg," she said reasonably, "I'm not stupid, I'm not plain—don't interrupt me! Is this to be my fate? I'm capable of loving—of living—I don't want to be bored—bored— bored for the rest of my life!"
Warren Gregory, stunned and surprised, eyed her sympathetically.
"Belvedere Bay bore you?" he asked, smiling a little uneasily.
"No—it's not that. I don't want more dinners and dances and jewels and gowns!" Rachael answered musingly. She stared sombrely at the fire, and there was a moment's silence.
Suddenly her mood changed. She smiled, and locking her hands together, as she leaned far forward in her chair, she looked straight into his eyes.
"Greg," she said, "do you know what I'd like to be? I'd like to be far away from cities and people, a fisherman's wife on an ocean shore, with a baby coming every year, and just the delicious sea to watch! I could be a good wife, Greg, if anybody really—loved me!"
Laughing as she looked at him, she did not disguise the fact that tears misted her lashes. Warren Gregory felt himself stirred as he had not been before in his life.
"Well," he said, with an unsteady laugh, "you could be anything! With you for his wife, what couldn't a man do!"
Hardly conscious of what he did or said, he got to his feet, and she stood, too, smiling up at him. Both were breathing hard.
"To think," he said, with a sort of repressed violence, "that you, of all women, should be Clarence Breckenridge's wife!"
"Not long!" she answered, in a whisper.
"You mean that you are really going to leave him, Rachael?"
"I mean that I must, Greg, if I am not to go mad!"
"And where will you go?" she asked.
"Oh—to Vera, to Elinor." She paused, frowning. "Or away by myself," she decided suddenly. "Away from them all!"
"Rachael," he said quickly, "will you come to my mother?"
Rachael smiled. "To your mother!"
He read her incredulity in her voice.
"But she loves you," he said eagerly. "And she'd be—we'd both be so proud to show people—to prove—that we knew where the right lay!"
"My dear Don Quixote," she answered affectionately, "I love you for asking me! But I will be better alone. I must think, and plan. I've made a mess of my life so far, Greg; I must take the next step carefully!"
He was clinging to her hands as she stood, in all her grave beauty, before him.
"If I hadn't been such a bat, Rachael, all those eleven years ago!" he said, daringly, breathlessly.
"Have we known each other so long, Greg?"
"Ever since that first visit of yours with little Persis Pomeroy! And I remember you so well, Rachael. I remember that Bobby Governeur was enslaved!"
"Dear old Bobby! But I don't remember you, Greg!"
"Because I was thirty then, my dear, and you were seventeen! I was just home from four years' work in Germany; I was afraid of girls your age!"
"Afraid—of ME?" The three words were like a caress, like holding her in his arms.
"I'm afraid so!" he said, not quite steadily. "I'm afraid I've always liked you too well. I—I CARE—that you're unhappy, that you're unkindly treated. I—I—wish I could do something, Rachael."
"You DO do something," she said, deeply stirred in her turn. "I'm- -you don't know how fond I am of you, Greg!"
For answer she felt his arms about her, and for a throbbing minute they stood so; Rachael braced lightly, her beautiful breast rising and falling, her breath coming quickly. Her magnificent eyes, wide-open, like a frightened child's, were fixed steadily upon him. He caught the fragrance of her hair, of her fresh skin; he felt the softness and firmness of her slender arms.
"Rachael!" he said, in a sharp whisper. "Don't—don't say that—if you don't—mean it!"
"Greg!" she answered, in the same tone. "Don't—frighten me!"
Instantly she was free, and he was standing by the fire with folded arms, looking at her.
"You have missed love, and I have missed it," Warren Gregory said presently. "We'll be patient, Rachael. I'll wait; we'll both wait- -"
"Greg!" she could only answer still in that stricken whisper, still pale. She stood just as he had left her.
A silence fell between them. The physician took out a cigarette from his gold case with trembling ringers.
"I'm a little giddy, Rachael," he said after a moment. "I—on my honor I don't know what's happened to me! You're the most wonderful woman in the world—I've always thought that—but it never occurred to me—the possibility—"
He paused, confused, unable to find the right words.
"You've been facing this all alone," he continued presently. "Poor Rachael! You've been splendid—wonderfully brave! You have me beside you now; I'll help you if I may. Some day we may find a way out! Well," he finished abruptly, "suppose I go up and see Clarence?"
For answer she rose, and without speaking again went ahead of him up the stairway and left him at the door of her husband's room. He did not see her again that night.
Half an hour later he came down, dismissed his car, and walked home under the spring stars. In his veins, like a fire, still ran the excited, glorious consciousness of his madness. In his ears still echoed the wonderful golden voice; he could hear her very words, and he took certain phrases from his memory, and gloated over them as another man might have gloated over strings of pearls: "I'd like to be far away from cities and people, a fisherman's wife on an ocean shore with a baby coming every year and just the delicious sea to watch!" "Greg—don't frighten me!"
Exquisite, desirable, enchanting—every inch of her—her voice, her eyes, her slender hand with its gold circle. What a woman! What a wife! What radiant youth and beauty and charm—and all trampled in the mire by Clarence Breckenridge, of all insensate brutes! How could laughter and courage and beauty survive it?
He was going to the club, a mile away from the Breckenridge house, but long before the visions born that evening were exhausted, he saw the familiar lights, and the awninged porches, and heard the faint echoes of the orchestra. They were dancing.
Warren Gregory turned away again, and plunged into the darkness of the roadside afresh. "My dear Don Quixote!" With what a look of motherly amusement and tenderness she had said it. What a woman! He had never kissed her. He had never even thought of kissing Clarence Breckenridge's wife.
He thought of his mother, tried to forget her with a philosophical shrug, and found that the slender, black-clad, quiet-voiced vision was not to be so easily dismissed. It was said of old Madam Gregory that she had never been heard to raise her voice in the course of her sixty honored years. Of the four sons she had borne, three were dead, and the husband she had loved so faithfully lay beside them. She was slightly crippled, her outings confined to a slow drive every day. She was solitary in a retinue of servants. But that modulated voice and those cool, temperate eyes were still a power. His mother's displeasure was a very real thing to Warren Gregory, and the thought of adding another sorrow to the weight on those thin shoulders was not an easy one for him to entertain.
It would be a sorrow. Mrs. Gregory was a rigid Catholic, her life's one prayer nowadays was that her beloved son might become one, too. Her marriage at seventeen to a non-Catholic had been undertaken in the firm conviction that faith like hers must win the conversion of her beloved James, the best, the most honorable of men. When her oldest son was born, and given his father's name, she saw, in her husband's willingness to further plans for the baptism, definite cause for hope. Another son was born, there was another christening; it was the father's own hand that gave the third baby lay-baptism only a few moments before the tiny life slipped back into the eternity from which it had so lately come.
A year or two later a fourth son was born. Presently the dignified Mrs. Gregory was taking a trio of small, sleek-headed boys to Sunday-school, watching every phase in the development of their awakening souls with terror and with hope. What fears she suffered in spirit during those years no one but herself knew. Outwardly, the hospitable, gracious life of the great house went on; the Gregorys were prominent in charities, they opened their mountain camp for the summer, they travelled abroad, they had an audience with the Pope. Time went on, and the twelve-year-old George was taken from them, breaking the father's heart, said the watching world. But there was a strange calm in the mother's eyes as they rested on the dead child's serene face: Heaven had her free offering, now she must have her reward.
A few months later James Gregory became a convert to her religion. Charles, the second son, had never wavered from his mother's faith, and rejoiced with her in this great event. But the first- born, Warren, as all but his mother called him, to avoid confusion with his father, was a junior in college when these changes took place, and when he came home for the long vacation his mother knew what her cross must be for the years to come. He listened to her with the appalling silence of the nineteen-year-old male, he kissed her, he returned gruff, embarrassed answers to her searching questions of his soul, and he escaped from her with visibly expanding lungs and averted eyes. She knew that she had lost him.
Men called him a good man, and she assented with dry lips and heavy eyelids. Charles died, leaving a young widow and an infant son, the father shortly followed, and Warren came home from his interne year, and was a good son to her in her dark hour. When they began to say of him that he would be great, she smiled sadly. "My father was a doctor," she said once to an old friend, "and James inherits it!" But at a memory of her own father, erect and rosy among his girls and boys in the family pew, she burst into tears. "I would rather have him with his father, with George and Charles, and with my angel Francis, than have him the greatest man that ever lived!" she said.
But if she had not made him a good Catholic she had made him a good man, and it was a fair and honorable record that Warren Gregory could offer to the woman he loved. Love—it had come to him at last. His thoughts went back to Rachael. It seemed to him that he had always known how deeply, how recklessly he loved her.
He had a thrilling memory of her as Persis Pomeroy's guest, years ago, an awkward, delightful seventeen-year-old, with her hair in two thick braids, looped up at the neck, and tied with a flaring black bow. He remembered watching her, hearing for the first time the delicious voice with its English accent: "Well, I should say it was indeed!"
"Well, I should say it was indeed!" Across more than ten years he recalled the careless, crisp little answer to some comment from Persis, his first precious memory of Rachael. The girls, he remembered, were supposedly too young for a certain dance that was imminent, they were opposing their youthful petulance—baffled roses and sunshine—to Mrs. Pomeroy's big, placid negatives. Gregory could still see the matron's comfortably shaking head, see Persis attacking again and again like a frantic butterfly, and see "the little English girl," perched on the porch rail, looking from mother to daughter smilingly, with her blue, serious eyes.
Why had he never thought of her again until Clarence Breckenridge brought her back with him, a bride, six years later? Or, rather, having thought of her, as he undoubtedly had, why had he not found the time to cross the water and go to see her? Nothing might have come of it, true. But she might have yielded to him as readily as to Clarence Breckenridge!
"I love her!" he said to himself, and it seemed wonderful, sad, and sweet, joyous and terrible to admit it. "I love her. But she doesn't love me or anyone, poor Rachael! She's forgotten me already!"
As a matter of fact, Rachael thought about him very often during the course of the next two or three days, and after he had left her that night she could think of nothing else. To the admiration of men she was cheerfully accustomed; perhaps it would be safe to say that not in the course of the past ten years had she ever found herself alone in a man's company without evoking a more or less definite declaration of his admiration for her. But to- night's affair was a little distinctive for several reasons. Warren Gregory was a most exceptional man, for one thing; he was reputedly a coldblooded man, for another; and for a third, he had been extraordinarily in earnest. There had been no hesitation, he had committed himself wholeheartedly. She was conscious of a pleasurable thrill. However gracious, however gallant Warren was, there had been no social pretence in his attitude to-night.
And for a few moments she let her imagination play pleasantly with the situation. It was at least a new thought, and life had run in a groove for a long, long time. Granted the preliminaries safely managed, it would be a great triumph for the woman whom Clarence Breckenridge had ignored to come back into this group as Warren Gregory's wife.
Rachael got into bed, flinging two or three books down beside her pillow and lighting the shaded lamp that stood at the bedside. She found herself unable to read.
"Wouldn't Florence and Gardner buzz!" she thought with a smile. "And if they buzzed at the divorce, what WOULDN'T they say if I really did remarry? But the worst of it is"—and Rachael reaching for The Way of All Flesh sighed wearily—"the worst of it is that one never DOES carry out plans, or I never do, any more. I used to feel equal to any situation, now I don't—getting old, perhaps. I wonder"—she stared dreamily at the soft shadows in the big room—"I wonder if things are as queer to most people as they are to me? I don't get much joy out of life, as it is, and yet I don't DARE cut loose and go away. No maid, no club, living at some cheap hotel—no, I couldn't do that! I wish there was someone who could advise me—some disinterested person, someone who—well, who loved me, and who knew that I've always tried to be decent, always tried to play the game. All I want is to be reasonably well treated; to have a good time and be among pleasant people—"
Her thoughts wandered about among the various friends whose judgment might serve at this crisis to clear her own thoughts and simplify the road before her. Strangely enough, Warren Gregory's own mother was the first of whom she thought; that pure and austere and uncompromising heart would certainly find the way. Whether Rachael had the courage to follow it was another question. She loved old Mrs. Gregory; they were good friends. But Rachael dismissed her with a little shudder, as from the spatter of icy water against her bared breast. The bishop? Rachael and Clarence duly kept a pew in one of the city's fashionable churches; it was the Breckenridge family pew, rented by the family for a hundred years. But they never sat in it, although Rachael felt vaguely sometimes that for reasons undefined they should, and Clarence was apt in moments of sentiment to reproach his wife with the statement that his grandmother had been a faithful church woman, and his mother had always attended church on pleasant mornings in winter.
But the bishop called on Rachael once a year, and Rachael liked him, and mingled an air of pretty penitence for past negligences with a gracious promise of better conduct in future. His Grace was a fine, breezy, broadminded man, polished in manner, sympathetic, and tolerant. He had not risen to his present eminence by too harsh a rebuke of the sinner.
His handsome young assistant, Father Graves, as he liked to be called, was far more radical. But a great deal was forgiven this attractive boyish celibate by the women of the Episcopal parish. They enjoyed his scoldings, gave him their confidences, and asked his advice, though they never followed it. His slender, black-clad figure, with the Roman collar, was admired by many bright eyes at receptions and church bazaars.
Still, Rachael could not somehow consider herself as seriously asking either of these two clergymen for advice. She could see the bishop, fitting finely groomed fingers together, pursing his lips for a judicial reply.
"My dear Mrs. Breckenridge, that Clarence is now passing through a most unfortunate, most lamentable, period in his life is, alas, perfectly true. His mother—a lovely woman—was one of my wife's dearest friends, one of my own. His first marriage was much against her wishes, poor dear lady, and—as my wife was saying the other day—had she lived to see him happily married again, and her grandchild in such good hands, it could not but have been a great joy to her. Yes. ... Now, you and I know Clarence—know his good points, and know his faults. That's one of the sad things about us poor human beings, we get to know each other so well! And isn't it equally true that we're not patient enough with each other?—oh, yes, I know we try. But do we try HARD enough? Isn't there generally some fault on both sides, quick words, angry, hasty actions, argument and blame, when we say things we don't mean and that we are sure to regret, eh? We all get tired of the stupid round of daily duty, and of the people we are nearest to—that's a sad thing, too. We'd all like a change, like to see if we couldn't do something else better! And so comes the break, and the cloud on a fine old name, and all because we aren't better soldiers—we don't want to march in line! Bless me, don't I know the feeling myself? Why, that good little wife of mine could tell you some tales of discouragement and disenchantment that would make you open your eyes! But she braces me up, she puts heart into me—and the first thing I know I'm marching again!"
And having comfortably shifted the entire trend of the conversation from his parishioner to himself and found nothing insurmountable in his own problem, the good bishop would chuckle mischievously at finding his eminent self quite human after all, and would suggest their going in to find Mrs. Bishop, and having a cup of tea. These women, always restless and dissatisfied, were a part of his work; he prided himself upon the swiftness and tact with which he disposed of them.
Rachael's mouth twisted wryly at the thought of him. No, she could not bare her soul to the bishop.
Nor could she approach Father Graves with any real hope of a helping word. To seek him out in his study—that esthetically bare and yet beautiful room, with its tobacco-brown hangings and monastic furnishing in black oak—would be to invite mischief. To sit there, with her eloquent eyes fixed upon his, her haunting voice wrapping itself about his senses, would be a genuine cruelty toward a harmless, well-intentioned youth whose heroism in abjuring the world, the flesh, and the devil had not yet been great enough to combat his superb and dignified egotism. At best, he would be won by Rachael's revelation of her soul to a long and frankly indiscreet talk of his own; at worst, he would construe her confidences in an entirely personal sense, and feel that she came not at all to the priest and all to the man.
Dismissing him from her councils, Rachael thought of Florence Haviland, the good and kind-hearted and capable matron who was Clarence's sister and only near relative. She and Florence had always been good friends, had often discussed Clarence of late. What sort of advice would Florence's forty-five years be apt to give to Rachael's twenty-eight? "Don't be so absurd, Rachael, half the men in our set drink as much as Clarence does. Don't jump from the frying-pan into the fire. Remember Elsie Rowland and Marian Cowles when you talk so lightly of divorce!"
That would be Florence's probable attitude. Still, it was a bracing attitude, heartily positive, like everything Florence did and said. And Florence was above everything else a church member, a prominent Christian in her self-sacrificing wifehood and motherhood, her social and charitable and civic work. She might be unflattering, but she would be right. Rachael's last conscious thought, as she went off to sleep, was that she would take the earliest possible moment to extract a verdict from Florence,
She went into her husband's room at ten o'clock the next morning to find Billy radiantly presiding over a loaded breakfast tray, and the invalid, pale and pasty, and with no particular interest in food evinced by the twitching muscles of his face, nevertheless neatly brushed and shaved, propped up in pillows, and making a visible effort to appear convalescent.
"How are you this morning?" Rachael asked perfunctorily, with her quick glance moving from the books on the table to the wood fire burning lazily behind brass firedogs. Everything was in perfect order, Helda's touch visible everywhere.
"Fine," Clarence answered, also perfunctorily. His coffee was untouched, and the cigarette in his long holder had gone out, but Billy was disposing of eggs, toast, bacon, and cream with youthful zest. Clarence's hot, sick gaze rested almost with hostility upon his wife's cool beauty; in a gray linen gown, with a transparent white ruffle turned back from her white throat, she looked as fresh as the fresh spring morning.
"Headache?" said the nicely modulated, indifferent voice.
To this solicitude Clarence made no answer. A dark, ugly look came into his face, and he turned his eyes sullenly and wearily away.
"How was the Chase dinner, Bill?" pursued the cheerful visitor, unabashed.
"Same old thing," Carol answered briefly.
"You're not up to the Perrys' lunch to-day, are you, Clancy?"
"Oh, my God, no!" burst from the sufferer.
"Well, I'll telephone them. If Florence comes in this morning I'm going to say you're asleep, so keep quiet up here. Do you want to see Greg again?"
"No, I don't!" said Clarence, with unexpected vigor. "Steer him off if you can. Preaching at me last night as if he'd never touched anything stronger than malted milk!"
"I don't imagine I'll have much trouble steering him off," Rachael said coldly. "His Sundays are pretty well occupied without—sick calls!"
There was a delicate and scornful emphasis on the word "sick" that brought the blood to Clarence Breckenridge's face. Billy flushed, too, and an angry light flamed into her eyes.
"That's not fair, Rachael!" the girl said hotly, "and you know it's not!"
The glances of the three crossed. Billy was breathing hard; Clarence, shakily holding a fresh match to his cold cigarette, sent a lowering look from daughter to wife. Rachael shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, I'll have my breakfast," she said, and turning she went from the room and downstairs to the sunshiny breakfast porch. There were flowers on the little round table, a bright glitter was struck from silver and glass, an icy grapefruit, brimming with juice, stood at her place. The little room was all windows, and to-day the cretonne curtains had been pushed back to show the garden brave in new spring green, the exquisite freshness of elm and locust trees that bordered it, and far away the slopes of the golf green, with the scarlet and white dots that were early players moving over it. Sunshine flooded the world, great plumes of white and purple lilac rustled in their tents of green leaves, a bee blundered from the blossoming wistaria vine into the room, and blundered out again. Far off Rachael heard a cock breaking the Sabbath stillness with a prolonged crow, and as the clock in the dining-room chimed one silver note for the half-hour, the bells of the church in the little village of Belvedere Bay began to ring.
Of the comfort, the beauty, and the harmony of all this, however, Rachael saw and felt nothing. Her brief interview with her husband had left a bitter taste in her mouth. She felt neither courage nor appetite for the new day. Annie carried away the blue bowl of porridge untouched, reporting to Ellie: "She don't want no eggs, nor sausage, nor waffles—nothing more!"
Ellie, the cook, who boarded a four-year-old daughter with the gardener and his wife, at the gate-lodge, was deep in the robust charms of this young person, and not sorry to be uninterrupted.
"Thank goodness she don't," she said. "Do you want a little waffle all for yourself, Lovey? Do you want to pour the batter into Ma's iron yourself? Pin a napkin round her, Annie! An' then you can eat it out on the steps, darlin', because it just seems to be a shame to spend a minute indoors when God sends us a mornin' like this!"
"It must have been grand, walking to church this morning, all right," said Alfred, who was busy with golf sticks and emery on the vine-shaded porch.
"It was!" said Ellie and Annie together, and Annie added: "Rose from Bowditch's was there, and she says she can't get away but about once a month. She always has to wait on the children's breakfast at eight, and then down comes the others at half-past nine, or later, the way she never has a moment until it's too late for High! I told her she had a right to look for another place!"
"There's worse places than this," Ellie said, watching her small daughter begin on her waffle. A general nodding of heads in a contented silence indicated that there was some happiness in the Breckenridge household even though it was below stairs.
Rachael's sombre revery was presently interrupted by the smooth crushing of wheels on the pebbled drive and the announcement of Mrs. Haviland, who followed her name promptly into the breakfast- room. A fine, large, beautifully gowned woman, with a prayer book in her white-gloved hand, and a veil holding her close, handsome spring hat in place, she glanced at the coffee and hot bread with superiority only possible to a person whose own breakfast is several hours past.
"Rachael, you lazy woman!" said Florence Haviland lightly, breathing deep, as a heavy woman in tight corsets must perforce breathe on a warm spring morning. "Do you realize that it's almost eleven o'clock?"
"Perfectly!" Mrs. Breckenridge said. "I slept until nine, and felt quite proud of myself to think that I had got through so much of the day!"
Mrs. Haviland gave her a sharp look in answer, not quite disapproving, yet far from pleased.
"I started the girlies off to eight o'clock service," she said capably. "Fraulien went with them, and that leaves the maids free to go when they please." This was one of Mrs. Haviland's favorite illusions. "Gardner begged off this morning, he's been so good about going lately that I couldn't very well refuse, so I started early and have just dropped him at the club."
"Was Gardner at the Berry Stokes bachelor dinner on Friday night?" asked Rachael. Mrs. Haviland was all comprehension at once.
"No, he couldn't. Mr. Payne of the London branch was here you know, and Gardner's been terribly tied. He left yesterday, thank goodness. Clarence went of course? Oh, dear, dear, dear!"
The last three words came on a gentle sigh. Clarence's sister compressed her lips and shook her handsome head.
"Is he very bad?" she asked reluctantly.
"Pretty much as usual," Rachael answered philosophically. "I had Greg in." And suddenly, unexpectedly, she felt a quick happy flutter at her heart, and a roseate mist drifted before her eyes.
"It's disgraceful!" Mrs. Haviland said, eying Rachael hopefully for a wifely denial. As this was not forthcoming, she went on briskly: "However, my dear, Clarence isn't the only one! They say Fred Bowditch is actually"—her voice sank to a discreet undertone as she added the word—"violent; and poor Lucy Pickering needed a rest cure the moment she got her divorce, she was in such a nervous state. I'm not defending Clarence—"
"What are you doing, then?" Rachael asked, with her cool smile.
"Well, I—" Mrs. Haviland, who had been drifting comfortably along on a tide of words, stopped, a little at a loss. "I hope I don't have to defend your own husband to you, Rachael," she said reproachfully.
"I'm getting pretty tired of it," said Rachael moodily.
Mrs. Haviland watched the downcast beautiful face opposite her with a sense of growing alarm.
"My dear," she said impressively, "of course it's hard for you; we all know that. But just at this time, Rachael, it would be absolutely FATAL to have any open break with Clarence—"
Rachael flung up her head impatiently, then dropped her face in her hands.
"I don't want any open break," she muttered.
"You do? Oh, you DON'T?" Mrs. Haviland questioned anxiously. "No, of course you don't. He's not himself now, for several reasons. For one—and that's what I specially came to speak to you about— for one thing, he's terribly worried about Carol. Carol," repeated Mrs. Haviland significantly, "and Joe Pickering."
Rachael raised sombre eyes, but did not speak.
"Is Carol here?" her aunt asked delicately.
"Dressing," Rachael answered briefly.
"Do you realize," Mrs. Haviland said, "that everyone is beginning to talk?"
"Perfectly," Rachael admitted. "But what do you expect me to do?"
"SOMETHING must be done," said the other woman firmly.
"By whom?" Rachael countered lightly.
"Well—by Clarence, I suppose," Mrs. Haviland suggested discontentedly.
"Clarence!" Rachael's tone was but a scornful breath. Her glance toward the ceiling evoked more clearly than any words a vision of Clarence's condition at the moment.
"Well, I suppose he can't do anything just now, anyway," his sister conceded ruefully. "Can't you—couldn't you talk to her, Rachael?"
"Talk to her?" Mrs. Breckenridge smiled at some memory. "My dear Florence, you don't suppose I haven't talked to her!"
"Well, I suppose of course you have," Mrs. Haviland said hastily. "But my dear, it's dreadful! People are beginning to ask questions; a reporter—we don't know who he was—telephoned Gardner. Of course Gardner hung up—"
"I can say no more than I have said," Rachael observed thoughtfully. "What authority have I? Clarence could influence her, I think, but she lies simply and flatly to Clarence."
Mrs. Haviland winced at the ugly word.
"Joe drinks," Rachael went on, "but he doesn't drink as much as her adored Daddy does. Joe is thirty-nine and Billy is seventeen— well, that's not his fault. Joe is divorced—well, but Carol's mother is living, and Clarence's second wife isn't exactly ostracised by society! A clergyman of your own church married Clarence and me—" The little scornful twist of the beautiful mouth stung a church woman conscious of personal integrity, and Mrs. Haviland said:
"A great many of them won't! The church is going to take a stand in the matter. The bishops are considering a canon. ..."
Mrs. Breckenridge shrugged her shoulders indifferently. Theology did not interest her.
"And as Billy is too young and too blind to see that Joe isn't a gentleman," she continued, "or to realize that Lucy got her divorce against his will, to believe that her money might well influence a gentleman of Joe's luxurious tastes and dislike for office work—why, I suppose they will be married!"
"Never!" said Florence Haviland, with some heat, "DON'T!"
"Unless Clarence shoots him," submitted Rachael. A look of intense anxiety clouded Mrs. Haviland's eyes.
"I believe he would," she said, in a wretched whisper, with a cautious glance about.
"He might," his wife said seriously. "If ever it comes to that, we shall simply have to keep them apart. You see Billy—the clever little devil—"
"Oh, Rachael, DON'T use such words!" said the church woman. "Father Graves was saying only the other day that one's speech should be 'yea, yea' and—"
"I daresay!" Mrs. Breckenridge's smile was indulgent. It had been many years since Florence had succeeded in ruffling her. "Billy, then," she resumed, "keeps her father happy in the thought that he is all the world to her, and that her occasional chats with Joe are of an entirely uplifting and impersonal character."
"Impersonal! Uplifting!" Mrs. Haviland repeated indignantly. "There wasn't very much uplift about them the other night. Gardner and I stopped in to see if we couldn't take you to the Hoyts', but you'd gone. Carol had on that flame-colored dress of hers, her hair was fluffed all over her ears in that silly way the girls do now; Joe couldn't take his eyes off her. The only light they had in the drawing-room was the yellow lamp and the fire; it was the coziest thing I ever saw!"
"Vivvy Sartoris was here!" Rachael said quickly.
"Don't you believe it, my dear!" Mrs. Haviland returned triumphantly. "Carol was very demure, 'Tante' this and 'Tante' that, but I knew right away that something was amiss! 'Oh,' I said right out flatly, 'are you alone here, Carol?' and she answered very prettily: 'Vivian was to be here, but she hasn't come yet!' This was after half-past seven."
"I understood Vivian WAS here," said Rachael, flushing darkly. "Let me see—the next morning—where was I? Oh, yes, it was your luncheon, and Billy had gone out for some tennis when I came downstairs. I supposed of course—but I didn't ask. I DID ask Helda what time she had let the gentleman out and she said before eleven—not much after half-past ten, in fact."
"You see, we mustn't go on suppositions and halftruths any more," said Mrs. Haviland in delicate reproach. "When we have that wonderful and delicate thing, a girl's soul, to deal with, we must be SURE."
"I suppose I'd better tell Clarence that—about Wednesday night," Rachael said, downing with some effort an impulse to ask Florence not to be so smug.
"Well, I think you had," the other agreed, with visible relief.
"As for me," Mrs. Breckenridge said, nettled by her sister-in- law's attitude, and mischievously interested in the effect of her thunderbolt, "I'm just desperately tired of it. I can't see that I'm doing Clarence, or Billy, or myself, any good! I'd like to resign, and let somebody else try for a while!"
Steel leaped into Mrs. Haviland's light-blue eyes. She felt the shock in every fibre of body and soul, but she flung herself gallantly into the charge. Her large form straightened, her expression achieved a certain remoteness.
"What do you mean by that?" she asked sharply.
"The usual thing, I suppose," Rachael answered indifferently.
The older woman, watching her closely, essayed a brief, dry laugh.
"Don't talk absurdities," she said boldly. But Rachael saw the uneasiness under the assured manner, and smiled to herself.
"It's not absurd at all," she protested, still with her smiling, half-negligent air; "I've put it off years longer than most women would; now I'm getting rather tired."
"It's a great mistake to talk that way, whether you mean it or not," Mrs. Haviland said, after an uncomfortable moment, during which her face flushed, and her breath began to come rather fast. "But you're joking, of course; you're too sensible to take any step that would only plunge you into fresh difficulties. Clarence is very trying, I know—we all know that—but let's try to face the situation sensibly, and not fly off the handle like this! Why, Rachael dear, I can hardly believe it's your cool-headed, reasonable self talking," she went on more quietly. "Don't—don't even think about it! In the first place, you couldn't get it!"
"Oh, yes, I could. Clarence wouldn't contest it," Rachael said. "He'd agree to anything to be rid of me. If not—if he wouldn't agree to my filing suit under the New York law, I could establish my residence in California or Nevada, and bring suit there. ..."
Mrs. Haviland gasped.
"Give up your home and your car and your maids for some small hotel?" she questioned, with her favorite air of neatly placing her fingertip upon the weak spot in her opponent's armor. "No clubs, no dinners, none of your old friends—have you thought of that?"
"You may imagine that I've thought of it from a good many angles, Florence," Rachael said coldly, finding that what had been a mere drifting idea was beginning to take rather definite form in her mind. It was delightful to see the usually complacent and domineering Florence so agitated and at a loss.
"I never dreamed—" Mrs. Haviland mused dazedly. "How long, in Heaven's name, have you been thinking about it?"
"Oh, quite some time," said Rachael.
"Well, it's awful!" the other woman said. "It'll make the most awful—and as if poor Clarence hadn't been all through it all once! I declare it makes me sick! But I can't believe you're serious. Rachael, think—think what it means!"
"It's a very serious thing," the other assented placidly. "But Clarence has no one but himself to blame."
"Only Clarence won't BE blamed, my dear; men never are!" Mrs. Haviland suggested unkindly. Rachael reddened.
"I don't care what they say or whom they blame!" she answered proudly.
"Ah, well, my dear, we aren't any of us really indifferent to criticism," the older woman said, watching closely the effect of her words. "People are censorious—it's too bad, it's a pity—but there you are. 'There must have been something we didn't understand,' they say, 'there must be another man!'"
Rachael raised her head a little, and managed a smile.
"That's what they say," Mrs. Haviland went on, mildly triumphant. "And no matter how brave or how independent a woman is, she doesn't like THAT." There came to the speaker suddenly, under her smooth flow of words, a sickening shock of realization: it was of Rachael and Clarence she was speaking, her nearest relatives; it was one of the bulwarks of her world that was threatened! Without her knowledge her tone became less sure and more sincere. "For God's sake, think what you are doing, dear," she said pleadingly; "think of Carol and of us all! Don't drag us all through the papers again! I know what Clarence is, poor wretched boy; he's always had too much money, he's always had his own way. I know what you put up with week in and week out—"
Mrs. Haviland's usual attitude of assured superiority never impressed her sister-in-law. Her pompous magnificence was a source of unmitigated amusement to Rachael. But now the older woman's emotion had carried her on to genuine and honest expression in spite of herself, and listening, Rachael found herself curiously stirred. She looked down, conscious of a sudden melting in her heart, a thickening in her throat.
"I've always been so fond of you, Rachael," Florence went on. "I've always stood your friend—you know that—"
"I know," Rachael said huskily, her lashes dropped.
"Long before I knew how much you would be liked, Rachael, and what a fuss people were going to make over you, I made you welcome," continued Florence simply, with tears in her eyes. "I thanked God that Clarence had married a good woman, and that Carol would have a refined and a—I may say a Christian home. Isn't that true?"
"I know," Rachael said again with an effort, as she paused.
"Then think it over," besought the other woman eagerly. "Think that Carol will marry, and that Clarence—" Her ardent tone dropped suddenly. There was a moment's pause. Then she added dryly, "How do, dear?"
"How do, Tante Firenze!" said Carol, who had come abruptly into the, room. "How are the girls? Say, listen! Is Isabelle going to the Bowditches'?"
"I don't even know that Charlotte is going," Mrs. Haviland said, with an auntly smile of baffling sweetness that yet contained a subtle reproof. "Uncle Gardner and I haven't made up our minds. Isabelle in any case would only go to look on, so she is not so much interested, but poor Charlotte is simply on tenterhooks to know whether it's to be yes or no. Girls' first parties"—her indulgent smile included Rachael—"dear me, how important they seem!"
"I should think you'd have to answer Mrs. Bowditch," said Carol in plain disgust at this maternal vacillation.
"Mrs. Bowditch is fortunately an old enough friend, dear, to waive the usual formalities," her aunt answered sweetly.
"But, my gracious—Charlotte's two months older than I am, and she won't know any of the men!" Carol protested.
"Don't speak in that precocious way, Bill," Rachael said sharply. "You went to your first dances last winter!"
Carol gave her stepmother a look conspicuously devoid of affection, and turned to adjust her smart little hat with the aid of a narrow mirror hanging between the glass dining-room doors.
"You couldn't drop me at the club, on your way to church, Tante?" she presently inquired. And to Rachael she added, with youthful impatience, "I told Dad where I was going!"
Mrs. Haviland rose somewhat heavily.
"Glad to. Any chance of you coming to lunch, Rachael? What are your plans?"
"Thank you, no, woman dear! I may go over to Gertrude's for tea."
The little group broke up. Mrs. Haviland and her niece went out to the waiting motor car purring on the pebbled drive. Rachael idly watched them out of sight, sighed at the thought of wasting so beautiful a day indoors, and went slowly upstairs. Her husband, comfortably propped in pillows, looked better.
"Clarence," said she, depositing several pounds of morning papers upon the foot of his bed, "who's Billy lunching with at the club?"
Clarence picked up the uppermost paper, fixed his eyes attentively upon it, and puffed upon his cigarette for reply.
"Do you know?" Rachael asked vigorously.
No answer. Mr. Breckenridge, his eyes still intent upon what he was reading, held his cigarette at arm's length over the brass bowl on the table beside the bed, and dislodged a quarter-inch of ash with his little finger.
Rachael, briskly setting his cluttered table to rights, gave him an angry glance that, so far as any effect upon him was concerned, was thrown away.
"Don't be so rude, Clarence," she said, in annoyance. "Billy said you agreed to her going to the club for golf. Who's she with?"
At last Mr. Breckenridge raised sodden and redshot eyes to his wife's face, moistening his dark and swollen lips carefully with his tongue before he spoke. He was a fat-faced man, who, despite evidences of dissipation, did not look his more than forty years. There was no gray in his thin, silky hair, and there still lingered an air of youth and innocence in his round face. This morning he was in a bad temper because his whole body was still upset from the Friday night dinner and drinking party, and in his soul he knew that he had cut rather a poor figure before Billy, and that the little minx had taken instant advantage of the situation.
"I just want to say this, Rachael," Clarence said, with an icy dignity only slightly impaired by the lingering influences of drink. "I'm Billy's father, and I understand her, and she understands me. That's all that's necessary; do you get me?" He put his cigarette holder back in his mouth, gripped it firmly between his teeth, and turned again to his paper. "If some of you damned jealous women who are always running around trying to make trouble would let her ALONE" he went on sulkily, "I'd be obliged to you—that's all!"
Rachael settled her ruffles in a big wing-chair with the innocent expression of a casual caller. She took a book from the reading table, and fluttered a few pages indifferently.
"Listen, Clancy," said she placatingly. "Florence was just here, and she says—and I agree—that there is no question that Joe Pickering is devoted to Bill. Now, I don't say that Billy is equally devoted—"
"Ha! Better not!" said Clarence at white heat, one eye watchful over the top of the paper.
"But I DO say," pursued Rachael steadily, "that she is with him a good deal more than she will admit. Yesterday, for instance, when she was playing tennis with the Parmalees and the Pinckard boy, Kent came up to the house to get some ginger ale. I happened to be dummy, and I went out on the terrace. Joe's horse was down near the courts, and Joe and Billy were sitting there on one of the benches—where the others were I don't know. When Kent went down with the ginger ale, Joe got on his horse and went off. Of course it was only for a few minutes, but Billy didn't say anything about it—"
Her voice, with a tentative question in it, rested in air. Clarence turned a page with some rustling of paper.
"Then Florence says," Rachael went on after a moment, "that when she and Gardner stopped here Wednesday night Joe was here, and Vivvie Sartoris wasn't here. Now, of course, I don't KNOW, for I didn't ask Alfred—-"
"There you go," said the sick man witheringly. "That's right—ask the maids, and get all the servants talking; all come down on the heels of a poor little girl like a pack of yapping wolves! I suppose if she was plain and unattractive—I should think you'd be ashamed," he went on, changing his high and querulous key to one of almost priestly authority and reproof, "Upon my word, it's beneath your dignity. My little girl comes to me, and she explains the whole matter. Pickering admires her—she can't help that—and she has an influence over him. She tells me he hasn't touched a thing but beer for six weeks, just because she asked him to give up heavy drinking. He told her the other day that if he had met her a few years ago, Lucy never would have left him. She's wakened the boy up, he's a different fellow—"
"All that may be true," Rachael said quickly, the color that his preposterous rebuke had summoned to her cheeks still flushing them, "still, you don't want Billy to marry Joe Pickering! You know that sort of pity, and that business of reforming a man—" She paused, but Clarence did not speak. "Not that Billy herself realizes it, I daresay," Rachael added presently, watching the reader's absorbed face for an answering look.
"Clarence!" she began imperatively.
Clarence withdrew his attention from the paper with an obvious effort, and spoke in a laboriously polite tone.
"I don't care to discuss it, Rachael."
"But—" Rachael stopped short on the word. Silence reigned in the big, bright room except for the occasional rustle of Clarence's newspaper. His wife sat idle, her eyes roving indifferently from the gayly papered walls to the gayly flowered hangings, the great bowl of daffodils on the bookcase, the portrait of Carol that, youthful and self-conscious, looked down from the mantel. On the desk a later photograph of Carol, in a silver frame, was duly flanked by one of Rachael, the girl in the gown she had worn for her first big dance, the woman looking out from under the narrow brim of a snug winter hat, great furs framing her beautiful face, and her slender figure wrapped in furs. Here also was a picture of Florence Haviland, her handsome face self-satisfied, her trio of homely, distinguished-looking girls about her, and a small picture of Gardner, and two of Clarence's dead mother: one, as they all remembered her, a prim-looking woman with gray hair and magnificent lace on her unfashionable gown, the other, taken thirty years before, showing her as cheerful and youthful, a cascade of ringlets falling over her shoulder, the arm that coquettishly supported her head resting upon an upholstered pedestal, a voluminous striped silk gown sweeping away from her in rich folds. There was even a picture of Clarence and Florence when they were respectively eight and twelve, Clarence in a buttoned serge kilt and plaid stockings, his fat, gentle little face framed in damp careful curls, Florence also with plaid stockings and a scalloped frock. Clarence sat in a swing; Florence, just behind him, leaned on an open gate, her legs crossed carelessly as she rested on her elbows. And there was a picture of their father, a simple-faced man in an ample beard, taken at that period when photographs were highly glazed, and raised in bas relief. Least conspicuous of all was a snapshot framed in a circle of battered blue-enamel daisies, the picture of a baby girl laughing against a background of dandelions and meadow grass. And Rachael knew that this was Clarence's greatest treasure, that it went wherever he went, and that it was worn shabby and tarnished from his hands and his lips.
Sometimes she looked at it and wondered. What a bright-faced, gay little thing Billy had been! Who had set her down in that field, and quieted the rioting eyes and curls and dimples, and anchored the restless little feet, while Baby watched Dad and the black box with the birdie in it? Paula? Once, idly interested in those old days before she had known him, she had asked about the picture. But Clarence, glad to talk of it, had not mentioned his wife.
"It was before my father died; we were up in the old Maine place," he had said. "Gosh, Bill was cute that day! We went on a drive—no motor cars then—and took our lunch, and after lunch the kid comes and settles herself in my arms—for a nap, if you please! 'Say, look-a-here,' I said, 'what do you think I am—a Pullman?' I wanted a smoke, by George! She wasn't two, you know. Her fat little legs were bare, we'd put her into socks, and her face was flushed, and she just looked up at me through her hair and said, 'Hing!' Well, it was good-bye smoke for me! I sang all right, and she cuddled down as pleased as a kitten, and off she went!"
To-day Rachael's eyes wandered from the picture to Clarence's face. She tried to study it dispassionately, but, still shaken by their recent conversation, and sitting there, as she knew she was sitting there, merely to prove that it had had no effect upon her, she felt this to be a little difficult.
What sort of a little boy had he been? A fat little boy, of course. She disliked fat little boys. A spoiled little boy, never crossed in any way. His mother made him go to Sunday-school, and dancing school, and to Miss Nesmith's private academy, where he was coaxed and praised and indulged even more than at home. And old Fanny, who was still with Florence, superintended his baths and took care of his clothes, and ran her finger over the bristles of his toothbrush every morning, to see if he had told her the truth. He rarely did; they used to laugh about those old deceptions. Clarence used to laugh as violently as the old woman when she accused him of occasional kicking and biting.
Other boys came in to play with him. Was it because of his magic lantern and his velocipede, his unending supply of cream puffs and licorice sticks, or because they liked him? Rachael knew only a detail here and there: that he had danced a fancy dance with Anna Vanderwall when he was a fat sixteen, at a Kermess, and that he had given a stag dinner to twenty youths of his own age a few days before he went off to college, and that they had drunk a hundred and fifty dollars' worth of champagne. She knew that his allowance at college was three hundred dollars a month, and that he never stayed within it, and it was old Fanny's boast that every stitch the boy ever wore from the day he was born came from London or Paris. His underwear was as dainty as a bride's; he had his first dress suit at fifteen; at college he had his suite of three big rooms furnished like showrooms, his monogrammed cigarettes, his boat, and his horse.
The thought of all these things used to distress his mother when she was old and much alone. She attempted to belittle the luxury of Clarence's boyhood. She told Rachael that he was treated just as the other boys were. Her conscience was never quite easy about his upbringing.
"You can't hold a boy too tight, you know, or else he'll break away altogether," old lady Breckenridge would say to Rachael, sitting before a coal fire in the gloomy magnificence of her old- fashioned drawingroom and pressing the white fingers of one hand against the agonized joints of the other. "I was often severe with Clarence, and he was a good boy until he got with other boys; he was always loving to me. He never should have married Paula Verlaine," she would add fretfully. "A good woman would have overlooked his faults and made a fine man of him, but she was always an empty-headed little thing! Ah, well"—and the poor old woman would sigh as she drew her fluffy shawl about her shoulders- -"I cannot blame myself, that's my great consolation now, Rachael, when I think of facing my Master and rendering an account. I have been heavily afflicted, but I am not the first God-fearing woman who has been visited with sorrow through her children!"
Clarence had visited his mother often in the weeks that preceded her death, but she did not take much heed of his somewhat embarrassed presence, nor, to Rachael's surprise, did her last hours contain any of those heroic joys that are supposedly the reward of long suffering and virtue. An unexpressed terror seemed to linger in her sickroom, indeed to pervade the whole house; the invalid lay staring drearily at the heavy furnishings of her immense dark room, a nurse slipped in and out; the bloody light of the westering sun, falling through stairway windows of colored glass, blazed in the great hallway all through the chilly October afternoons. Callers came and went, there were subdued voices and soft footsteps; flowers came, their wet fragrance breaking from oiled paper and soaked cardboard boxes, the cards that were wired to them resisting all attempts at detachment. Clergymen came, and Rachael imitated their manner afterward, to the general delight.
On the day before she died Mrs. Breckenridge caught her son's plump cool hand in her own hot one, and made him promise to stop drinking, and to go to church, and to have Carol confirmed. Clarence promised everything.
But he did not keep his promises. Rachael had not thought he would; perhaps the old lady herself had not thought he would. He was sobered at the funeral, but not sober. Six weeks later all the bills against the estate were in. Florence had some of the family jewels and the family silver, Rachael had some, some was put away for Billy; the furniture was sold, the house rented for a men's club, and a nondescript man, calling upon young Mrs. Breckenridge, notified her that the stone had been set in place as ordered. They never saw it; they paid a small sum annually for keeping the plot in order, and the episode of Ada Martin Langhorne Breckenridge's life was over.
Clarence drank so heavily after that, and squandered his magnificent heritage so recklessly, that people began to say that he would soon follow his mother. But that was four years ago, and Rachael looking dispassionately at him, where he lay dozing in his pillows, had to admit that he had shown no change in the past four—or eight, or twelve—years. Like many a better woman, and many a better wife, she wondered if she would outlive him, vaguely saw herself, correct and remote, in her new black.
Involuntarily she sighed. How free she would be! She wished Clarence no ill, but the fact remained that, loose as was the bond between them, it galled and checked them both at every step. Their conversations were embittered by a thousand personalities, they instinctively knew how to hurt each other; a look from Clarence could crush his poised and accomplished wife into a mere sullen shrew, and she knew that it took less than a look from her—it took the mere existence of her youth and health and freshness—to infuriate him sometimes. At best, their relationship consciously avoided hostility. Rachael was silent, fuming; Clarence fumed and was silent; they sank to light monosyllables; they parted as quickly as possible. Would Clarence like to dine with this friend or that? Rachael didn't think he would, but might as well ask him. No, thank you! he wouldn't be found dead in that bunch. Did Rachael want to go with the Smiths and the Joneses to dine at the Highway, and dance afterward? Oh, horrors! no, thank you!
It was only when she spoke of Billy that Rachael was sure of his interest and attention, and of late she perforce had for Billy only criticism and disapproval. Rachael read the girl's vain and shallow and pleasure-loving little heart far more truly than her father could, and she was conscious of a genuine fear lest Billy bring sorrow to them all. Society was indulgent, yes, but an insolent and undeveloped little girl like Billy could not snap her fingers at the law without suffering the full penalty. Rachael would suffer, too. Florence and her girls would suffer, and Clarence—well, Clarence would not bear it. "What an awful mix-up it is!" Rachael thought wearily. "And what a sickening, tiresome place this world is!"
And then suddenly the thought of Warren Gregory came back, and the new curious sensation of warmth tugged at her heart.
Mrs. Gardner Haviland, whirling home in her big car, after church, was hardly more pleased with life than was her beautiful sister- in-law, although she was not quite as conscious of dissatisfaction as was Rachael. Her position as a successful mother, wife, housekeeper, and member of society was theoretically so perfect that she derived from it, necessarily, an enormous amount of theoretical satisfaction. She could find no fault with herself or her environment; she was pleasantly ready with advice or with an opinion or with a verdict in every contingency that might arise in human affairs, as a Christian woman of unimpeachable moral standing. She knew her value in a hectic and reckless world. She did not approve of women smoking, or of suffrage, but she played a brilliant game of bridge, and did not object to an infinitesimal stake. She belonged to clubs and to their directorates, yet it was her boast that she knew every thought in her children's hearts, and the personal lives and hopes and ambitions of her maids were as an open book to her.
Still, she had her moments of weakness, and on this warm day of the spring she felt vaguely disappointed with life. Rachael's hints of divorce had filled her with a real apprehension; she felt a good aunt's concern at Billy's reckless course, and a good sister's disapproval of Clarence and his besetting sin.
But it was not these considerations that darkened her full handsome face as she went up the steps of her big, widespread country mansion; it was some vaguer, more subtle discontent. She had not dressed herself for the sudden warmth of the day, and her heavy flowered hat and trim veil had given her a headache. The blazing sunlight on white steps and blooming flowers blinded her, and when she stepped into the dark, cool hall she could hardly see.
The three girls were there, well-bred, homely girls, in their simple linens: Charlotte, a rather severe type, eyeglassed at eighteen, her thick, light-brown hair plainly brushed off her face and knotted on her neck, was obviously the opposite of everything Billy was; conscientious, intellectual, and conscious of her own righteousness, she could not compete with her cousin in Billy's field; she very sensibly made the best of her own field. Isabelle was a stout, clumsy girl of sixteen, with a metal bar across her large white teeth, red hair, and a creamy skin. Little Florence was only nine, a thin, freckled, sensitive child, with a shy, unsmiling passion for dogs and horses, and little in common with the rest of the world.
Their mother had expected sons in every case, and still felt a little baffled by the fact of her children's sex. Charlotte proving a girl, she had said gallantly that she must have a little brother "to play with Charlotte." Isabelle, duly arriving, probably played with Charlotte much more amiably than a brother would have done, and Mrs. Haviland blandly accepted her existence, but in her heart she was far from feeling satisfied. She was, of course, an absolutely competent mother to girls, but she felt that she would have been a more capable and wonderful mother to boys.
More than six years after Isabelle's birth Florence Haviland began to talk smilingly of "my boy." "Gardner worships the girls," she said, with wifely indulgence, "but I know he wants a son—and the girlies need a brother!" A resigned shrug ended the sentence with: "So I'm in for the whole thing again!"
It was said that Mrs. Haviland greeted the news that the third child was a daughter with a mechanically bright smile, as one puzzled beyond all words by perverse event, and that her spoken comment was the single mild ejaculation: "Extraordinary!"
Now the two older Haviland girls, following their mother into her bedroom, seated themselves there while she changed her dress. Florence junior, in passionate argument with the butler over the death of one of the drawing-room goldfish, remained downstairs. Mrs. Haviland, casting the hot, high-collared silk upon the bed, took a new embroidered pongee from a box, and busied herself with its unfamiliar hooks and straps. Charlotte and Isabelle were never quite spontaneous in their conversations with their mother, their attitude in talking with her being one of alert and cautious self- consciousness; they did not breathe quite naturally, and they laughed constantly. Yet they both loved this big, firm, omnipotent being, and believed in her utterly and completely.
"We met Doctor Gregory and Charlie near the club this morning, M'ma," volunteered Isabelle.
"And they asked about Mrs. Bowditch's dance," Charlotte added with a little innocent craft. "But I said that M'ma had been unable to decide. Of course I said that we would LIKE to go, and that you knew that, and would allow it if you possibly could."
"That was quite right, dear," Mrs. Haviland said to her oldest daughter, calmly ignoring the implied question, and to Isabelle she added kindly: "M'ma doesn't quite like to hear you calling a young man you hardly know by his first name, Isabelle. Of course, there's no harm in it, but it cheapens a girl just a LITTLE. While Charlotte might do it because she is older, and has seen Charlie Gregory at some of the little informal affairs last winter, you are younger, and haven't really seen much of him since he went to college. Don't let M'ma hear you do that again."
Isabelle turned a lively scarlet, and even Charlotte colored and was silent. The younger girl's shamed eyes met her mother's, and she nodded in quick embarrassment. But this tacit consent did not satisfy Mrs. Haviland.
"You understand M'ma, don't you, dear?" she asked. Isabelle murmured something indistinguishable.
"Yes, M'ma!" said that lady herself, encouragingly and briskly. Isabelle duly echoed a husky "Yes, M'ma!"
"Did you give my message to Miss Roper, Charlotte?" pursued the matron.
"She wasn't at church, M'ma," said Charlotte, taken unawares and instinctively uneasy. "Mrs. Roper said she had a heavy cold; she said she'd been sleeping on the sleeping porch."
"So M'ma's message was forgotten?" the mother asked pleasantly.
Charlotte perceived herself to be in an extremely dangerous position. Long ago both girls had lost, under this close surveillance and skilful system of cross-examination, their original regard for truth as truth. That they usually said what was true was because policy and self-protection suggested it. Charlotte had time now for a flying survey of the situation and its possibilities before she answered, somewhat uncertainly:
"I asked Mrs. Roper to deliver it, M'ma. Wasn't that—" Her voice faltered nervously. "Was it something you would have rather telephoned about?"
"Would rather have telephoned about?" Mrs. Haviland corrected automatically. "Well, M'ma would rather FEEL that when she sends a message it is given to JUST the person to whom she sent it, in JUST the way she sent it. However, in this case no harm was done. Don't hook your heel over the rung of your chair, dear! Ring the bell, Isabelle, I want Alice."
"I'll hook you, M'ma!" volunteered Charlotte.
"Thank you, dear, but I want to speak to Alice. And now you girls might run along. I'll be down directly."
A moment later she submitted herself patiently to the maid's hands. Florence was a conscientious woman, and she felt that she owed Alice as well as herself this little office. Charlotte might have hooked her gown for her; indeed, she might with a small effort have done it herself, but it was Alice's duty, and nothing could be worse for Alice, or any servant, than to have her duties erratically assumed by others on one day and left to her on the next. This was the quickest way to spoil servants, and Florence never spoiled her servants.
"They have a pleasant day for their picnic," she observed now, kindly. Alice was on her knees, her face puckered as she busied herself with the hooks of a girdle, but she smiled gratefully. Her two brothers had borrowed their employer's coal barge to-day, and with a score of cherished associates, several hundred sandwiches, sardines, camp-chairs, and bottles of root beer, with a smaller number of chaperoning mothers and concertinas, and the inevitable baby or two, were making a day of it on the river. Alice had timidly asked, a few days before, for a holiday to-day, that she might join them, but Mrs. Haviland had pointed out to her reasonably that she, Alice, had been at home, unexpectedly, because of her mother's illness, not only the previous Sunday, but the Saturday, too, and had got half-a-day's leave of absence for her cousin's wedding only the week before that. Alice was only eighteen, and her little spurt of bravery had been entirely exhausted long before her mistress's pleasant voice had stopped. Nothing more was said of the excursion until to-day.
"I guess they'll be eating their lunch, now, at Old Dock Point," said Alice, rising from her knees.
"Well, I hope they'll be careful; one hears of so many accidents among foolish young people there!" Mrs. Haviland answered, going downstairs to join her daughters in the hall, and, surrounded by them, proceeding to her own lunch.
For a while she was thoughtfully silent, and the conversation was maintained between the older girls and their governess. Charlotte and Isabelle chatted both German and French charmingly. Little Florence presently began to talk of her goldfish, meanwhile cutting a channel across her timbale through which the gravy ran in a stream.
Usually their mother listened to them with a quiet smile; they were well-educated girls, and any mother's heart must have been proud of them. But to-day she felt herself singularly dissatisfied with them. She said to herself that she hated Sundays, of all the days of the week. Other days had their duties: music, studies, riding, tennis, or walks, but on Sundays the girls were a dead weight upon her. Somehow, they were not in the current of good times that the other girls and boys of their ages were having. If she suggested brightly that they go over to the Parmalees' or the Morans' and see if the young people were playing tennis, she knew that Charlotte would delicately negative the idea: "They've got their sets all made up, M'ma, and one hates to, unless they specially ask one, don't you know?" They might go, of course, and greet their friends decorously, and watch the game smilingly for a while. Then they would come home with Fraulein, not forgetting to say good-bye to their hostess. But, although Charlotte played a better game than many of the other girls, and Isabelle played a good game, too, there were always gay little creatures in dashing costumes who monopolized the courts and the young men, and made the Haviland girls feel hopelessly heavy and dull. They would come home and tell their mother that Vivian Sartoris let two of the boys jump her over the net, and that Cousin Carol wore Kent Parmalee's panama all afternoon, and called out to him, right across the court, "Come on down to the boathouse, Kent, and let's have a smoke!"
"Poor Vivian—poor Billy!" Mrs. Haviland would say. "Men don't really admire girls who allow them such familiarities, although the silly girls may think they do! But when it comes to marrying, it is the sweet, womanly girls to whom the men turn!"
She did not believe this herself, nor did the girls believe it, but, if they discussed it when they were alone together, before Mamma, they were always decorously impressed.
"Any plans for the afternoon, girlies?" she asked now, when the forced strawberries were on the table, and little Florence was trying to eat the nuts out of her cake, and at the same time carefully avoid the cake itself and the frosting.
"What's Carol doing, M'ma?"
"When M'ma asks you a question, Isabelle, do not answer with another question, dear. I dropped Carol at the club, but I think Aunt Rachael means to pick her up there later, and go on to Mrs. Whittaker's for tea."
"We met Mrs. Whittaker in the Exchange yesterday, M'ma, and she very sweetly said that you were to—that is, that she hoped you would bring us in for a little while this afternoon. Didn't she, Isabelle?"
"I don't want to go!" Isabelle grumbled. But her mother ignored her.
"That was very sweet of Aunt Gertrude. I think I will go over to the club and see what Papa is planning and how his game is going, and then I could pick you girls up here."
"I'm going over to play with Georgie and Robbie Royce!" shrilled Florence. "They're mean to me, but I don't care! I hit George in the stomach—-"
Mrs. Haviland looked as pained as if the reported blow had fallen upon her own person, but she was strangely indulgent to her youngest born, and now did no more than signal to the nurse, old Fanny, who stood grinning behind the child's chair, that Miss Florence might be excused. Florence was accordingly borne off, and the girls drifted idly upstairs, Isabelle confiding to her sister as she dutifully brushed her teeth that she wished "something" would happen! Alice muttered to Sally, another maid, over her strong hot tea, that you might as well be dead as never do a thing in God's world you wanted to do, but the rest of the large staff enjoyed a hearty meal, and when Percival brought the car around at three o'clock, Mrs. Haviland, magnificent in a change of costume, spent the entire trip to the club in the resentful reflection that the man had obviously had coffee and cream and mutton for his lunch—disgusting of him to come straight to his car and his mistress still redolent of his meal, but what could one do? In Mrs. Haviland's upper rear hall was a framed and typewritten list of rules for the maids, conspicuous upon which were those for daily baths and regular use of toothbrushes. But Percival never had seen this list, and he was a wonderful driver and a special favorite with her husband. She decided that there was nothing to be done, unless of course the thing recurred, although the moment's talk with Percival haunted and distressed her all day.
She duly returned to the house for her daughters a little after four o'clock, and in amicable conversation they went together to the tea, a crowded, informal affair, in another large house full of rugs and flowers, rooms dark and rich with expensive tapestries and mahogany, rooms bright and gay with white enamel and chintz and wicker furniture.
Everybody was here. Jeanette and Phyllis, as well as Elinor Vanderwall, Peter Pomeroy and George, the Buckneys and Parker Hoyt, the Emorys, the Chases, Mrs. Sartoris and old Mrs. Torrence and Jack, all jumbled a greeting to the Havilands. Of Carol they presently caught a glimpse standing on a sheltered little porch with Joe Pickering's sleek head beside her. They were apparently not talking, just staring quietly down at the green terraces of the garden. Rachael was pouring tea, her face radiant under a narrowbrimmed, close hat loaded with cherries, her gown of narrow green and white stripes the target for every pair of female eyes in the room.
Charlotte Haviland, in her mother's wake, chanced to encounter Kenneth Moran, a red-faced, well-dressed and blushing youth of her own age. Her complacent mother was witness to the blameless conversation between them.
"How do you do, Kenneth? I didn't know you were here!"
"Oh, how do you do, Charlotte? How do you do, Isabelle? I didn't know you were here!"
Isabelle grinned silently in horrible embarrassment but Charlotte said, quick-wittedly:
"How is your mother, Kenneth, and Dorothy?"
"She's well—they're well, thank you. They're here somewhere—at least Mother is. I think Dorothy's still over at the Clays', playing tennis!"
He laughed violently at this admission, and Charlotte laughed, too.
"It's lovely weather for tennis," she said encouragingly. "We—"
"You—" Mr. Moran began. "I beg your pardon!"
"No, I interrupted you!"
"No, that was my fault. I was only going to say that we ought to have a game some morning. Going to have your courts in order this year?"
"Yes, indeed," Charlotte said, with what was great vivacity for her. "Papa has had them all rolled; some men came down from town— we had it all sodded, you know, last year."
"Is that right?" asked Mr. Moran, as one deeply impressed. "We must go to it—what?"
"We must!" Charlotte said happily. "Any morning, Kenneth!"
"Sure, I'll telephone!" agreed the youth enthusiastically. "I'm trying to find Kent Parmalee; his aunt wants him!" he added mumblingly, as he began to vaguely shoulder his way through the crowd again.
"You'd better take a microscope!" said Charlotte wittily. And Mr. Moran's burst of laughter and his "That's right, too!" came back to them as he went away.
"Dear fellow!" Mrs. Haviland said warmly.
"Isn't he nice!" Charlotte said, fluttered and glowing. She hoped in her heart that she would meet him again, but although the Havilands stayed until nearly six o'clock they did not do so; perhaps because shortly after this conversation Kenneth Moran met Miss Vivian Sartoris, and they took a plateful of rich, crushy little cakes and went and sat under the stairs, where they took alternate bites of each other's mocha and chocolate confections, and where Vivian told Kenneth all about a complicated and thrilling love affair between herself and one of the popular actors of the day. This narrative reflected more credit upon the young woman's imagination than upon her charms had the listener but suspected it, but Kenneth was not a brilliant boy, and they had a lovely time over their confidences.