Judy and Gertrude and little Mrs. Sartoris listened interestedly when Rachael talked of Greg, of his likes, his dislikes, his favorite words, his old-maidish way of arranging his ties, his marvellous latest operation. But Warren, watching his wife's flushed, lovely face, wondered if they were laughing at her. He smiled uncomfortably when she interrupted her bridge game to come across the club porch to him, to ask him if the tennis had been good, to warn him that he would catch cold if he did not instantly get out of those wet flannels, to ask Frank Whittaker what he meant by beating her big boy three sets in succession?
"Rachael, I'm dealing for you—come back here!" Gertrude might call.
"Deal away!" Rachael, one hand on Warren's arm, would look saucily at the others over his shoulder. "I like my beau," she would assert brazenly, "and if you say a word more, I'll kiss him here and now!"
They all shrieked derisively when the kiss was duly delivered and Gregory Warren with a self-conscious laugh had escaped to his shower. But Rachael saw nothing absurd; she told Warren that she loved him, and let them laugh if they liked!
"Listen, dearest!" he said on the last night of their stay. "Will you be a darling, and not trail round the links if we play to- morrow?"
"Why not?" asked Rachael absently, fluffing his hair from her point of vantage on the arm of his chair.
"Well, wouldn't you rather stay up on the porch with the girls?"
"If you men want to swear at your strokes, I decline to be a party to it!" Rachael said maternally.
"I know. But, darling, it does rather affect our game," Warren said uncertainly; "that is, you don't play, you see! And it only gets you hot and mussy, and I love my wife to be waiting when we come up. It isn't that I don't think you're a darling to want to do it," he added in hasty concern.
No use. She was deeply hurt. She went to her dressing-table and began her preparations for the night with a downcast face. Certainly she wouldn't bother Warren. She only did it because she loved him so. A tear splashed down on her white hand.
Next day she triumphantly accompanied the golfers. Warren had petted and coaxed her out of her sulks, and she was radiant again. When they had said their good-byes to Judy, and were spinning into town in the car that afternoon, she made him confess that she had not spoiled the game at all; he couldn't make her believe that Frank and Tom and Peter had been pretending their pleasure at having her go along!
But later in the summer she realized that Belvedere Bay was smiling quietly at her bride-like infatuation, and she resented it deeply. The discovery came about on a lazy summer afternoon when several women, Rachael among them, were enjoying gossip and iced drinks on the Parmalees' porch. Rachael had been talking of the emeralds that Warren was having reset for her, and chanced to observe that Tiffany's man had said that Warren's taste in jewelry was astonishing.
"Rachael," yawned little Vivian Sartoris, "for heaven's sake talk about something else than Warren?"
"I talk about him because I like him!" Rachael said. "Better than anybody else in the world."
"And he likes you better than anybody else in the world, I suppose?" Vivian said idly.
"He says so," Rachael answered with a demure smile. "Then that settles it!" Vivian laughed. But she and several of her intimates fell into low conversation, and the older women were presently interrupted by Vivian's voice again. "Rachael!" she challenged, "Katrina says that SHE knows somebody Warren likes as well as he does you!"
"I did not!" protested Katrina, scarlet-cheeked and giggling, giving Vivian, who sat next her on the wide tiled steps, a violent push.
"Oh, you did, too!" one of the group exclaimed.
Katrina murmured something unintelligible.
"Well, that's the same thing!" Vivian assured her promptly. "She says now that Warren DID like her as well, Rachael!"
"Well, don't tell me who it is, and break my heart!" Rachael warned them. But her old sense of humor so far failed her that she could not help adding curiously, "If Warren ever cared for anybody else, he'll tell me!"
There was a general burst of laughter, and Rachael colored.
"No, it's nobody," Katrina said hastily. "It's only idiocy!" She and the other girls laughed in a suppressed fashion for some time. Finally, to Rachael's secret relief, Gertrude Whittaker energetically demanded the secret. More giggling ensued. Then Katrina agreed that she would whisper it in Mrs. Whittaker's ear, which she did. Rachael saw Gertrude color and look puzzled for a second, then she laughed scornfully.
"What geese girls are! I never heard anything so silly!" Gertrude said. Several hours later she told Rachael.
She did not tell her without some hesitation. It was so silly—it was just like that scatter-brained Katrina, she said. Rachael, proudly asserting that nothing Katrina said would make any difference to her, nevertheless urged the confidence.
"Well, it's nothing," Gertrude said at last. "This is what Katrina said: she said that Warren Gregory had liked Rachael Breckenridge as well as he liked Rachael Gregory! That was all."
Rachael looked puzzled in turn for a minute. Then she smiled proudly, and colored.
"But that's not true," she said presently. "For I have never seen a man change as much since marriage as Warren! It's still a perfect miracle to him. He says himself that he gets happier and happier—"
"Oh, Rachael, you're hopeless!" Gertrude laughed, and Rachael colored again. She flushed whenever she thought of this particular visit.
Far happier were the days they spent with the Valentines at Clark's Bar. Rachael loved them all dearly, from little Katharine to the big quiet doctor; she was not misunderstood nor laughed at here.
They swam, tramped, played cards, and talked tirelessly. Rachael slept like a child on the wide, windbathed porch. To the great satisfaction of both doctors she and Alice grew to be devoted friends, and when Warren's holiday was over, Rachael stayed on, for a longer visit, and the men came down in the car on Fridays.
On her birthday this year her husband gave Rachael Gregory, and her heirs and assigns forever, a roomy, plain old colonial farmhouse that stood near Alice's house, in a ring of great elms, looking down on the green level surface of the sea. Rachael accepted it with wild delight. She loved the big, homelike halls, the simple fireplaces, the green blinds that shut a sweet twilight into the empty rooms. Her own barns, her own strip of beach, her own side yard where she and Alice could sit and talk, she took eager possession of them all.
She went into town for chintzes, papers, wicker tables and chairs. She brought old Mrs. Gregory down for the housewarming, and had all the Valentines to dinner on the August evening when the Gregorys moved in. And late that same evening, when Warren's arms were about her, she told him her great news. There were to be little feet running about Home Dunes, and a little voice echoing through the new home. "Shall you be glad, Greg?" she asked, with tears in her eyes; "shall you be just a little jealous?"
"Rachael!" he said in a quick, tense whisper, afraid to believe her. And Rachael, caught in his dear arms, and with his cheek against her wet lashes, felt a triumph and a confidence rise within her, and a glorious content that it was so.
When the happy suspicion was a happy certainty she told his mother, and entered at once into the world of advice and reassurance, planning and speculation that belongs to women alone. Mrs. Valentine was also full of eager interest and counsel, and Rachael enjoyed their solicitude and affection as she had enjoyed few things in life. This was a perfectly natural symptom, that was a perfectly natural phase, she must do this thing, get that, and avoid a third.
The fact that she was not quite herself in soul or body, that she must be careful, must be guarded and saved, was a source of strange and mysterious satisfaction to her as the quick months slipped by. Her increasing helplessness shut her quite naturally away into a world that contained only her husband and herself and a few intimate friends, and Rachael found this absolutely satisfying, and did not miss the social world that hummed on as busily and gayly as ever without her.
Her baby was born in March, a beautiful boy, like his father even in the first few moments of his life. Rachael, whose experience had been, to her astonishment, described complacently by physician and nurses as "perfectly normal," was slow to recover from the experience in body; perhaps never quite recovered in soul. It changed all her values of life—this knowledge of what the coming of a child costs; she told Alice that she was glad of the change.
"What a fool I've been about the shadows," she said. "This is the reality! This counts, as it seems to me that nothing else I ever did in my life counts."
She felt nearer than ever to Warren now, and more dependent upon him. But a new dignity came into her relationship with him: husband and wife, father and mother, they wore the great titles of the world, now!
He found her more beautiful than ever, and as the baby was the centre of her universe, and all her hopes and fears and thoughts for the child, the old bridal attitude toward him vanished forever, and she was the more fascinating for that. His love for her rose like a great flame, and the passionate devotion for which she had been wistfully waiting for months enveloped her now, when, shaken in body and soul, she wished only to devote herself to the miracle that was her child.
When he was but six weeks old James Warren Gregory Third terrified the little circle of his family and friends with a severe touch of summer sickness. The weather, in late April, was untimely—hot and humid—and the baby seemed to suffer from it, even in his airy nursery. There were two hideous days in which he would take no food, and when Rachael heard nothing but the little wailing voice through the long hours. All night she sat beside him, hearing Warren's affectionate protests as little as she heard the dignified remonstrance of the nurse. When day came she was haggard and exhausted, but still she would not leave her baby. She knelt at the crib, impressing the tiny countenance upon mind and heart— her first-born baby, upon whose little features the wisdom of another world still lingered like a light!
Only a few weeks old, and thousands of them older than he died every year! Fear in another form had come to Rachael now—life seemed all fear.
"Oh, Warren, is he very ill?"
"Pretty sick, dear little chap!"
"But, Warren, you don't think—"
"My darling, I don't know!"
She turned desperately to George Valentine when that good friend came in his professional capacity at five o'clock.
"George, there's been a change—I'm sure of it. Look at him!"
"You ought to take better care of your wife, Greg," was Doctor Valentine's quiet almost smiling answer to this. "You'll have her sick next!"
"How is he?" Rachael whispered, as the newcomer bent over the baby. There was a silence.
"Well, my dear," said Doctor Valentine, as he straightened himself, "I believe this little chap has decided to remain with us a little while. Very—much—better!"
Rachael tried to smile, but burst out crying instead, and clung to her husband's shoulder.
"Let him have his sleep out, Miss Snow," said the doctor, "and then sponge him off and try him with food!"
"Oh—yes—yes—yes!" the baby's mother said eagerly, drying her eyes. "And you'll be back later, George?"
"Not unless you telephone me, and I don't think you'll have to," George Valentine said. Rachael's face grew radiant with joy.
"Oh, George, then he is better!" She was breathing like a runner.
"Better! I think he'll be himself to-morrow. Console yourself, my dear Rachael, with the thought that you'll go through this a hundred times with every one of your children!"
"Oh, what a world!" Rachael said, half laughing and half sighing. But later she said to Warren, "Yet isn't it deliciously worth while!"
He had persuaded her to have some supper, and then they had come back to the nursery, to see if the baby really would eat. He had awakened, and had had his bath, and was crying again, but, as Rachael eagerly said, it was a healthy cry. Trembling and smiling, she took the little creature in her arms, and when the busy little lips found her breast, Rachael felt as if she could hardly bear the exquisite incoming rush of joy again.
Warren, watching her, smiled in deep satisfaction, and Miss Snow smiled, too. But before she gave herself up to the luxury of possession the mother's tears fell hot on the baby's delicate gown and tiny face, and from that hour Rachael loved her son with the passionate and intense devotion she felt for his father.
Years later, looking at the pictures they took of him that summer, or perhaps stopped by the sight of some white-coated baby in the street, she would say to herself,—with that little heartache all mothers know, "Ah, but Jim was the darling baby!" After the first scare he bloomed like a rose, a splendid, square, royal boy who laughed joyously when admitted to the company of his family and friends, and lay contentedly dozing and smiling when it seemed good to them to ignore him. Rachael found him the most delightfully amusing and absorbing element her life had ever known; she would break into ecstatic laughter at his simplest feat—when he yawned, or pressed his little downy head against the bars of his crib and stared unsmilingly at her. She would run to the nursery the instant she arrived home, her eager, "How's my boy?" making the baby crow, and struggle to reach her, and it was an event to her to meet his coach in the park, and give him her purse or parasol handle with which to play. Often old Mary, the nurse, would see Mrs. Gregory pick up a pair of tiny white shoes that still bore the imprint of the fat little feet, and touch them to her lips, or catch a crumpled little linen coat from the drawer, and bury her face in it for a moment.
Even in his tiny babyhood he was companionable to his mother, Rachael even consenting to the plan of taking him to Home Dunes in June, although by this arrangement she saw Warren only at week-end intervals until the doctor's vacation came in August. When he came down, and the big car honked at the gate, she invariably had the baby in her arms when she came to meet him.
"Hello, Daddy. Here we are! How are you, dearest?" Rachael would say, adding, before he could answer her: "We want you to notice our chic Italian socks, Doctor Gregory; how's that for five months? Take him, Greg! Go to Daddy, Little Mister!"
"All very well, but how's my wife?" Warren Gregory might ask, kissing her over the baby's bobbing head.
"Lovely! Do you know that your son weighs fifteen pounds—isn't that amazing?" Rachael would hang on his free arm, in happy wifely fashion, as they went back to the house.
"Want to go with me to London?" he asked her one day in the late fall when they were back in town.
"Why not Mars?" she asked placidly, putting a fresh, stiff dress over Jimmy's head.
"No, but I'm serious, my dear girl," Warren Gregory said surprised. "But—I don't understand you. What about Jim?"
"Why, leave him here with Mary. We won't be gone four weeks."
Rachael smiled, but it was an uneasy, almost an affronted, smile.
"Oh, Warren, we couldn't! I couldn't! I would simply worry myself sick!"
"I don't see why. The child would be perfectly safe. George is right here if anything happened!"
"George—but George isn't his mother!" Rachael fell silent, biting her lip, a little shadow between her brows. "What is it—the convention?" she presently asked. "Do you HAVE to go?"
"It isn't absolutely necessary," Warren said dryly. But this was enough for Rachael, who opened the subject that evening when George and Alice Valentine were there.
"George, DOES Warren have to go to this London convention, or whatever it is?"
"Not necessarily," smiled Doctor Valentine. "Why, doesn't he want to go?"
"I don't want him to go!" Rachael asserted.
"It would be a senseless risk to take that baby across the ocean," Alice contributed, and no more was said of the possibility then or at any other time, to Rachael's great content.
But when the winter season was well begun, and Jimmy delicious in his diminutive furs, Doctor Gregory and his wife had a serious talk, late on a snowy afternoon, and Rachael realized then that her husband had been carrying a slight sense of grievance over this matter for many weeks.
He had come in at six o'clock, and was changing his clothes for dinner, half an hour later, when Rachael came into his dressing- room. Her hair had been dressed, and under her white silk wrapper her gold slippers and stockings were visible, but she seemed disinclined to finish her toilette.
"Awful bore!" she said, smiling, as she sat down to watch him.
"What—the Hoyts? Oh, I don't think so!" he answered in surprise.
"They all bore me to death," Rachael said idly. "I'd rather have a chop here with you, and then trot off somewhere all by ourselves! Why don't they leave us alone?"
"My dear girl, that isn't life," Warren Gregory said firmly. His tone chilled her a little, and she looked up in quick penitence. But before she could speak he antagonized her by adding disapprovingly: "I must say I don't like your attitude of criticism and ungraciousness, my dear girl! These people are all our good friends; I personally can find no fault with them. You may feel that you would rather spend all of your time hanging over Jim's crib—I suppose all young mothers do, and to a certain extent all mothers ought to—but don't, for heaven's sake, let everything else slip out of your life!"
"I know, I know!" Rachael said breathlessly and quickly, finding his disapproval almost unendurable. Warren did not often complain; he had never spoken to her in this way before. Her face was scarlet, and she knew that she wanted to cry. "I know, dear," she added more composedly; "I am afraid I do think too much about Jim; I am afraid"—and Rachael smiled a little pitifully—"that I would never want anyone but you and the boy if I had my own way! Sometimes I wish that we could just slip away from everybody and everything, and never see these people again!"
If she had expected him to endorse this radical hope she was disappointed, for Warren responded briskly: "Yes, and we would bore each other to death in two months!"
Rachael was silent, but over the sinking discouragement of her heart she was gallantly forming new resolutions. She would think more of her clothes, she would make a special study of dinners and theatre parties, she would be seen at the opera at least every other week.
"I gave up the London trip just because you weren't enthusiastic," Warren was saying, with the unmistakable readiness of one whose grievances have long been classified in his mind. "It's baby— baby—baby! I don't say much—"
"Indeed you don't!" Rachael conceded gratefully.
"But I think you overdo it, my dear!" finished her husband kindly. Clarence Breckenridge's wife would have assumed a different attitude during this little talk, but Rachael Gregory felt every word like a blow upon her quivering heart. She could not protest, she could not ignore. Her love for him made this moment one of absolute agony, and it was with the humility of great love that she met him more than halfway.
"You're right, of course, Greg, and it must have been stupid for you!" Stupid! It seemed even in this moment treason, it seemed desecration, to use this word of their quiet, wonderful summer together!
"Well," he said, mollified, "don't take what I say too much to heart. It's only that I love my wife, and am proud of her, and I don't want to cut out everything else but Jim's shoes and Mary's day off!" He came over and kissed her, and Rachael clung to him.
"Greg, as if I could be angry with you for being jealous of your son!"
"Trust a woman to put that construction on it," he said, laughing. "You like to think I'm jealous, don't you?"
"I like anything that makes you seem my devoted adorer," Rachael answered wistfully, and smiling whimsically she added, "and I am going to get some new frocks, and give a series of dinners, and win you all over again!"
"Bully!" approved Doctor Gregory, cheerfully going on with his dressing. Rachael watched him thoughtfully for a moment before she went on to her own dressing-room.
Long afterward she remembered that this conversation marked a certain change in her life; it was never quite glad, confident morning again, although for many months no definite element seemed altered. Alice and old Mrs. Gregory had told her, and all the world agreed, that the coming of her child would draw her husband and herself more closely together, but, as Rachael expressed it to herself, it was if she alone moved—moved infinitely nearer to her husband truly, came to depend upon him, to need him as she had never needed him in her life before. But there was always the feeling that Warren had not moved. He stood where he had always been, an eager sympathizer in these new and intense experiences, but untouched and unaltered himself. For her pain, for her responsibility, for her physical limitations, he had the most intense tenderness and pity, but the fact remained that he might sleep through the nights, enjoy his meals, and play with his baby, when the mood decreed, untroubled by personal handicap.
Rachael, like all women, thought of these things seriously during the first year of her child's life, and in February, when Jimmy was beginning to utter his first delicious, stammering monosyllables, it was with great gravity that she realized that motherhood was approaching her again, that at Thanksgiving she would have a second child. She was wretchedly languid and ill during the entire spring, and found her mother-in-law's and Alice Valentine's calm acceptance of the situation bewildering and discouraging.
"My dear, I don't eat a meal in comfort, the entire time!" Alice said cheerfully. "I mind that more than any other phase!"
"But I am such a broken reed!" Rachael smiled ruefully. "I have no energy!"
The older woman laughed.
"I know, my dear—haven't I been through it all? Just don't worry, and spare Greg what you can—"
Rachael could do neither. She wanted Warren every minute, and she wanted nobody else. Her favorite hours were when she lay on the couch, near the fire, playing with his free hand, while he read to her or talked to her. She wanted to hear, over and over again, that he loved no one else; and sometimes she declined invitations without even consulting him, "because we're happier by our own fire than anywhere else, aren't we, dearest?" "Don't tell me about your stupid operations!" she would smile at him, "talk about—US!"
She went over and over the details of her old life with a certain morbid satisfaction in his constant reassurance. Her marriage had not been the cause of Clarence's suicide, nor of Billy's elopement; she had done her share for them both, more than her share!
Summer came, and she and the baby were comfortably established at Home Dunes. Warren came when he could, perhaps twice a month, and usually without warning. If he promised her the week-ends, she felt aggrieved to have him miss one, so he wired her every day, and sent her books and fruit, letters and magazines every week, and came at irregular intervals. Alice and George Valentine and their children, her garden, her baby, and the ocean she loved so well must fill this summer for Rachael.
The beautiful Mrs. Gregory made her first appearance in society, after the birth of her second son, on the occasion of Miss Leila Buckney's marriage to Mr. Parker Hoyt. The continual postponement of this event had been a standing joke among their friends for two or three years; it took place in early December, at the most fashionable of all the churches, with a reception and supper to follow at the most fashionable of all the hotels. Leila naturally looked tired and excited; she had made a gallant fight for her lover, for long years, and she had won, but as yet the returning tide of comfort and satisfaction had not begun in her life. Parker had been a trying fiance; he was a cool-blooded, fishlike little man; there had been other complications: her father's heavy financial losses, her mother's discontent in the lingering engagement, her sister's persisting state of unmarriedness.
However, the old aunt was at last dead. Parker had dutifully gone to her side toward the end, and had returned again, duly, bringing the casket, and escorting Miss Clay. And now Mamma was dressed, and Edith was in a hideously unbecoming green and silver gown, and the five bridesmaids were duly hatted and frocked in green and silver, and she was dressed, too, realizing that her new corsets were a trifle small, and her lace veil too heavy.
And the disgusting caterer had come to some last-moment agreement with Papa whereby they were to have the supper without protest, and the florist's insolent man had consented to send the bouquets at last. The fifteen hundred dreadful envelopes were all addressed, the back-breaking trying-on of gowns was over, the three hundred and seventy-one gifts were arranged in two big rooms at the hotel, duly ticketed, and the three hundred and seventy-one dreadful personal notes of thanks had been somehow scribbled off and dispatched. Leila was absolutely exhausted, and felt as pale and pasty as she looked. People were all so stupid and tiresome and inconsiderate, she said wearily to herself, and the awful breakfast would be so long and dull, with everybody saying the same thing to her, and Parker trying to be funny and simply making himself ridiculous! The barbarity of the modern wedding impressed itself vaguely upon the bride as she laughed and talked in a strained and mechanical manner, and whatever they said to her and to her parents, the guests were afterward unanimous in deciding that poor Leila had been an absolute fright.
But Mrs. Gregory, in her dark blue suit and her new sables, won everybody's eyes as she came down the church aisle with her husband beside her. Her son was not quite a month old, and if she had not recovered her usual wholesome bloom, there was a refined, almost a spiritual, element in her beauty now that more than made up for the loss. She wore a fragrant great bunch of violets at her breast, and under the sweeping brim of her hat her beautiful eyes were as deeply blue as the flowers. She seemed full of a new wifely and matronly charm to-day, and it was quite in key with the pose that old Mrs. Gregory and young Charles should be constantly in her neighborhood. Her relatives with her, her babies safe at home, young Mrs. Gregory was the personification of domestic dignity and decorum.
At the hotel, after the wedding, she was the centre of an admiring group, and conscious of her husband's approving eyes, full of her old brilliant charm. All the old friends rallied about her—they had not seen much of her since her marriage—and found her more magnetic than ever. The circumstances of her marriage were blotted out by more recent events now: there was the Chase divorce to discuss; the Villalonga motor-car accident; Elinor Vanderwall had astonished everybody a few weeks before by her sudden marriage to millions in the person of old Peter Pomeroy; now people were beginning to say that Jeanette Vanderwall might soon be expected to follow suit with Peter's nephew George. The big, beautifully decorated reception-room hummed with gay gossip, with the tinkling laughter of women and the deeper tones of men.
Caterers' men began to work their way through the crush, bearing indiscriminately trays of bouillon, sandwiches, salads, and ices. The bride, with her surrounding bridesmaids, was still standing at the far end of the room mechanically shaking hands, and smilingly saying something dazed and inappropriate to her friends as they filed by; but now various groups, scattered about the room, began to interest themselves in the food. Elderly persons, after looking vaguely about for seats, disposed of their coffee and salad while standing, and soon there was a general breaking-up; the Buckney- Hoyt wedding was almost a thing of the past.
Rachael, thinking of the impending dinner-hour of little Gerald Fairfax Gregory, began to watch the swirling groups for Warren. They could slip away now, surely; several persons had already gone. Her heart was in her nursery, where Jim was toddling back and forth tirelessly in the firelight, and where, between the white bars of the new crib, was the tiny roll of snowy blankets that enclosed the new baby.
"That's a pretty girl," she found herself saying involuntarily as her absent eyes were suddenly arrested by the face and figure of one of the guests. "I wonder who that is?"
The brown eyes she was watching met hers at the same second, and smiling a little question, their owner came toward her.
"Hello, Rachael," the girl said. "How are you after all these years?"
"Magsie Clay!" Rachael exclaimed, the look of uncertainty on her face changing to one of pleasure and welcome. "Well, you dear child, you! How are you? I knew you were here, and yet I couldn't place you. You've changed—you're thinner."
"Oh, much thinner, but then I was an absolute butterball!" Miss Clay said. "Tell me about yourself. I hear that you're having a baby every ten minutes!"
"Not quite!" Rachael said, laughing, but a little discomposed by the girl's coolness. "But I have two mighty nice boys, as I'll prove to you if you'll come see me!"
"Don't expect me to rave over babies, because I don't know anything about them," said Magsie Clay, with a slow, drawling manner that was, Rachael decided, effective. "Do they like toys?"
"Jimmy does, the baby is rather young for tastes of any description," Rachael answered with an odd, new sense of being somehow sedate and old-fashioned beside this composed young woman. Miss Clay was not listening. Her brown eyes were moving idly over the room, and now she suddenly bowed and smiled.
"There's Greg!" she said. "What a comfort it is to see a man dress as that man dresses!"
"I've been looking for you," Warren Gregory said, coming up to his wife, and, noticing the other woman, he added enthusiastically: "Well, Margaret! I didn't know you! Bless my life and heart, how you children grow up!"
"Children! I'm twenty-two!" Miss Clay said, pouting, with her round brown eyes fixed in childish reproach upon his face. They had been great friends when Warren was with his mother in Paris, nearly four years ago, and now they fell into an animated recollection of some of their experiences there with the two old ladies. While they talked Rachael watched Magsie Clay with admiration and surprise.
She knew all the girl's history, as indeed everybody m the room knew it, but to-day it was a little hard to identify the poised and beautiful young woman who was looking so demurely up from under her dark lashes at Warren with the "little Clay girl" of a few years ago.
Parker Hoyt's aunt, the magnificent old Lady Frothingham, had been just enough of an invalid for the twenty years preceding her death to need a nurse or a companion, or a social secretary, or someone who was a little of all three. The great problem was to find the right person, and for a period that actually extended itself over years the right person was not to be found, and the old lady was consequently miserable and unmanageable.
Then came the advent of Mrs. Clay, a dark, silent, dignified widow, who more than met all requirements, and who became a companion figure to the little, fussing, over-dressed old lady. From the day she first arrived at the Frothingham mansion Mrs. Clay never failed her old employer for so much as a single hour. For fifteen years she managed the house, the maids, and, if the truth were known, the old lady herself, with a quiet, irresistible efficiency. But it was early remarked that she did not manage her small daughter with her usual success. Magsie was a fascinating baby, and a beautiful child, quicker of speech than thought, with a lovely little heart-shaped face framed in flying locks of tawny hair. But she was unmanageable and strong-willed, and possessed of a winning and insolent charm hard to refuse.
Her mother in her silent, repressed way realized that Magsie was not having the proper upbringing, but her own youth had been hard and dark, and it was perhaps the closest approach to joy that she ever knew when Magsie glowing under her wide summer hats, or radiant in new furs, rushed up to demand something preposterous and extravagant of her mother, and was not denied.
She was a stout, conceited sixteen-year-old when her mother died, so spoiled and so self-centred that old Lady Frothingham had been heard more than once to mutter that the young lady could get down from her high horse and make herself useful, or she could march. But that was six years ago. And now—this! Magsie had evidently decided to make herself useful, but she had managed to make herself beautiful and fascinating as well. She was in mourning now for the good-hearted old benefactress who had left her a nest-egg of some fifteen thousand dollars, and Rachael noticed with approval that it was correct mourning: simple, severe, Parisian. Nothing could have been more becoming to the exquisite bloom of the young face than the soft, clear folds of filmy veiling; under the small, close-set hat there showed a ripple of rich golden hair. The watching woman thought that she had never seen such self-possession; at twenty-two it was almost uncanny. The modulated, bored young voice, the lazily lifted, indifferent young eyes, the general air of requesting an appreciative world to be amusing and interesting, or to expect nothing of Miss Magsie Clay, these things caused Rachael a deep, hidden chuckle of amusement. Little Magsie had turned out to be something of a personality! Why, she was even employing a distinct and youthfully insolent air of keeping Warren by her side merely on sufferance—Warren, the cleverest and finest man in the room, who was more than twice her age!
"To think that she is younger than Charlotte!" Rachael ejaculated to herself, catching a glimpse of Charlotte, towed by her mother, uncomfortable, ignored, blinking through her glasses. And when she and Warren were in the car homeward bound, she spoke admiringly of Magsie. "Did you ever see any one so improved, Warren? Really, she's quite extraordinary!"
Warren smiled absently.
"She's a terribly spoiled little thing," he remarked. "She's out for a rich man, and she'll get him!"
"I suppose so," Rachael agreed, casting about among the men she knew for an appropriate partner for Miss Clay.
"Suppose so!" he echoed in good-humored scorn. "Don't you fool yourself, she'll get what she's after! There isn't a man alive that wouldn't fall for that particular type!"
"Warren, do you suppose so?" his wife asked in surprise.
"Well, watch and see!"
"Perhaps—" Rachael's interest wandered. "What time have you?" she asked.
He glanced at his watch. "Six-ten."
"Six-TEN! Oh, my poor abused baby—and I should have been here at quarter before six!" She was all mother as she ran upstairs. Had he been crying? Oh, he had been crying! Poor little old duck of a hungry boy, did he have a bad, wicked mother that never remembered him! He was in her arms in an instant, and the laughing maid carried away her hat and wrap without disturbing his meal. Rachael leaned back in the big chair, panting comfortably, as much relieved over his relief as he was. The wedding was forgotten. She was at home again; she could presently put this baby down and have a little interval of hugging and 'tories with Jimmy.
"You'll get your lovely dress all mussed," said old Mary in high approval.
"Never mind, Mary!" her mistress said in luxurious ease before the fire, "there are plenty of dresses!"
A week later Warren came in, in the late afternoon, to say that he had met Miss Clay downtown, and they had had tea together. She suggested tea, and he couldn't well get out of it. He would have telephoned Rachael had he fancied she would care to come. She had been out? That was what he thought. But how about a little dinner for Magsie? Did she think it would be awfully stupid?
"No, she's not stupid," Rachael said cordially. "Let's do it!"
"Oh, I don't mean stupid for us," Warren hastened to explain. "I mean stupid for her!"
"Why should it be stupid for her?" Rachael looked at him in surprise.
"Well, she's awfully young, and she's getting a lot of attention, and perhaps she'd think it a bore!"
"I don't imagine Magsie Clay would find a dinner here in her honor a bore," Rachael said in delicate scorn. "Why, think who she is, Warren—a nurse's daughter! Her father was—I don't know what—an enlisted man, who rose to be a sergeant!"
"I don't believe it!" he said flatly.
"It's true, Warren. I've known that for years—everybody knows it!"
"Well," Warren Gregory said stubbornly, "she's making a great hit just the same. She's going up to the Royces' next week for the Bowditch theatricals, and she's asked to the Pinckard dinner dance. She may not go on account of her mourning."
"Her mourning is rather absurd under the circumstances," Rachael said vaguely, antagonized against anyone he chose to defend. "And if people choose to treat her as if she were Mrs. Frothingham's daughter instead of what she really is, it's nice for Magsie! But I don't see why we should."
"We might because she is such a nice, simple girl," Warren suggested, "and because we like her! I'm not trying to keep in the current; I've no social axe to grind; I merely suggested it, and if you don't want to—"
"Oh, of course, if you put it that way!" Rachael said with a faint shrug.. "I'll get hold of some eligibles—we'll have Charlie, and have rather a youthful dinner!"
Warren, who was shaving, was silent for a few minutes, then he said thoughtfully:
"I don't imagine that Charlie is the sort of person who will interest her. She may be only twenty-two, but she is older than most girls in things like that. She's had more offers now than you could shake a stick at—"
"She told you about them?"
"Well, in a general way, yes—that is, she doesn't want to marry, and she hates the usual attitude, that a lot of college kids have to be trotted out for her benefit!"
This having been her own exact attitude a few seconds before, Rachael flushed a little resentfully.
"What DOES she want to do?"
Warren shaved on for a moment in silence, then with a rather important air he said impulsively:
"Well, I'll tell you, although she told me in confidence, and of course nothing may come of it. You won't say anything about it, of course? She wants to go on the stage."
"Really!" said Rachael, who, for some reason she could not at this moment define, was finding the conversation extraordinarily distasteful.
"Yes, she's had it in mind for years," Warren pursued with simplicity. "And she's had some good offers, too. You can see that she's the kind of girl that would make an immediate hit, that would get across the footlights, as it were. Of course, it all depends upon how hard she's willing to work, but I believe she's got a big future before her!"
There was a short silence while he finished the operation of shaving, and Rachael, who was busy with the defective clasp of a string of pearls, bent absorbedly over the microscopic ring and swivel.
"Let's think about the dinner," she said presently. She found that he had already planned almost all the details.
When it took place, about ten days later, she resolutely steeled herself for an experience that promised to hold no special enjoyment for her. Her love for her husband made her find in his enthusiasm for Magsie something a little pitiful and absurd. Magsie was only a girl, a rather shallow and stupid girl at that, yet Warren was as excited over the arrangements for the dinner as if she had been the most important of personages. If it had been some other dinner—the affair for the English ambassador, or the great London novelist, or the fascinating Frenchman who had painted Jimmy—she told herself, it would have been comprehensible! But Warren, like all great men, had his simple, almost childish, phases, and this was one of them!
She watched her guest of honor, when the evening came, with a puzzled intensity. Magsie was in her glory, sparkling, chattering, almost noisy. Her exquisite little white silk gown was so low in the waist, and so short in the skirt, that it was almost no gown at all, yet it was amazingly smart. She had touched her lips with red, and her eyelids were cunningly given just a hint of elongation with a black pencil. Her bright hair was pushed severely from her face, and so trimly massed and netted as not to show its beautiful quantity, and yet, somehow, one knew the quantity was there in all its gold glory.
Rachael, magnificent in black-and-white, was ashamed of herself for the instinctive antagonism that she began to feel toward this young creature. It was not the fact of Magsie's undeniable youth and beauty that she resented, but it was her affectations, her full, pouting lips, her dimples, her reproachful upward glances. Even these, perhaps, in themselves, she did not resent, she mused; it was their instant effect upon Warren and, to a greater or lesser degree, upon all the other men present, that filled her with a sort of patient scorn. Rachael wondered what Warren's feeling would have been had his wife suddenly picked out some callow youth still in college for her admiring laughter and earnest consideration.
It was sacrilege to think it. It was always absurd, an older man's kindly interest in, and affection for, a pretty young girl, but what harm? He thought her beautiful, and charming, and talented- well, she was those things. It was January now, in March they were going to California, then would come dear Home Dunes, and before the summer was over Magsie would be safely launched, or married, and the whole thing but an episode! Warren was her husband and the father of her two splendid boys; there was tremendous reassurance in the thought.
But that evening, and throughout the weeks that followed, Rachael mused somewhat sadly upon the extraordinary susceptibility of the human male. Magsie's methods were those of a high-school belle. She pouted, she dimpled, she dispensed babyish slaps, she lapsed into rather poorly imitated baby talk. She was sometimes mysterious and tragic, according to her own lights, her voice deep, her eyes sombre; at other times she was all girl, wild for dancing and gossip and matinees. She would widen her eyes demurely at some older woman, plaintively demanding a chaperon, all these bad men were worrying her to death; she had nicknames for all the men, and liked to ask their wives if there was any harm in that? Like Billy, and like Charlotte, she never spoke of anyone but herself, but Billy was a mere beginner beside Magsie, and poor Charlotte like a denizen of another world.
Magsie always scored. There was an air of refinement and propriety about the little gypsy that saved her most daring venture, and in a society bored to death with its own sameness she became an instant favorite. Everyone said that "there was no harm in Magsie," she was the eagerly heralded and loudly welcomed cap-and- bells wherever she went.
Early in March there was an entertainment given in one of the big hotels for some charity, and Miss Clay, who appeared in a dainty little French comedy, the last number on the program, captured all the honors. Her companion player, Dr. Warren Gregory, who in the play had taken the part of her guardian, and, with his temples touched with gray, his peruke, and his satin coat and breeches, had been a handsome foil for her beauty, was declared excellent, but the captivating, piquant, enchanting Magsie was the favorite of the hour. Before the hot, exciting, memorable evening was over the rumor flew about that she had signed a contract to appear with Bowman, the great manager, in the fall.
The whole experience was difficult for Rachael, but no one suspected it, and she would have given her life cheerfully to keep her world from suspecting. Long before the rehearsals for the little play were over she knew the name of that new passion that was tearing and gnawing at her heart. No use to tell herself that if Magsie WAS deeply admired by Warren, if Magsie WAS beautiful, if Magsie WAS constantly in his thoughts, way, she, Rachael, was still his wife; his home, his sons, his name were hers! She was jealous—jealous—jealous of Magsie Clay.
She could not bear even the smothering thought of a divided kingdom. Professionally, socially, the world might claim him; but no one but herself should ever claim even one one-hundredth of that innermost heart of his that had been all her own! The thought pierced her vitally, and she felt in sick discouragement that she could not fight, she could not meet his cruelty with new cruelty. Her very beauty grew dimmed, and the old flashing wit and radiant self-confidence were clouded for a time. When she was alone with her husband she felt constrained and serious, her heart a smouldering furnace of resentment and pain.
"What do you think of this, dearie?" he asked eagerly one afternoon. "We got talking about California at the Princes' last night, and it seems that Peter and Elinor plan to go; only not before the first week in April. Now, that would suit me as well as next week, if it wouldn't put you out. Could you manage it? The Pomeroys take their car, and an awfully nice crowd; just you and I—if we'll go—Peter and Elinor, and perhaps the Oliphants, and a beau for Magsie!"
Rachael had been waiting for Magsie's name. But there seemed to be nothing to say. She rose to the situation gallantly. She put the boys in the care of their grandmother and the faithful Mary, with Doctor Valentine's telephone number pasted prominently on the nursery wall. She bought herself charming gowns and hats, she made herself the most delightful travelling companion that ever seven hot and spoiled men and women were fortunate enough to find. When everyone, even Magsie, was bored and cross, upset by close air, by late hours, by unlimited candy and cocktails, Mrs. Gregory would appear from her stateroom, dainty, interested, ready for bridge or gossip, full of enthusiasm for the scenery and for the company in which she found herself. When she and Warren were alone she often tried to fancy herself merely an acquaintance again, with an acquaintance's anxiety to meet his mood and interest him. She made no claims, she resented nothing, and she schooled herself to praise Magsie, to quote her, and to discuss her.
The result was all that she could have hoped. After the five weeks' trip Warren was heard to make the astonishing comment that Magsie was a shallow little thing, and Rachael, hungrily kissing her boys' sweet, bewildered faces, and laughing and crying together as Mary gave her an account of every hour of her absence, felt more than rewarded for the somewhat sordid scheme and the humiliating effort. Little Gerald was in short clothes now, a rose of a baby, and Jimmy at the irresistible age when every stammered word and every changing expression had new charm.
Ten days later, in the midst of her preparations to leave the city for Clark's Hills, Rachael was summoned to the telephone by the news of a serious change in young Charlie Gregory's condition. Charlie had been ill for perhaps a week; kept at home and babied by his grandmother and Miss Cannon, the nurse, visited daily by his adored Aunt Rachael, and nearly as often by the uproarious young Gregorys, and duly spoiled by every maid in the house. Warren went in to see him often in the evenings, for trivial as his illness was, all the members of his immediate family agreed later that there had been in it, from the beginning, something vaguely alarming and menacing.
He was a quiet, peculiar, rather friendless youth at twenty-six; he had never had "girls," like the other boys, and, while he read books incessantly, Rachael knew it to be rather from loneliness than any other motive, as his silence was from shyness rather than reserve. His dying was as quiet as his living, between a silent luncheon in the gloomy old dining-room when nobody seemed able either to eat or speak, and a dreadful dinner hour when Miss Cannon sobbed unobtrusively, Warren and Rachael talked in low tones, and the chairs at the head and foot of the table were untenanted.
Only a day or two later his grandmother followed him, and Rachael and her husband went through the sombre days like two persons in an oppressive dream. Great grief they did not naturally feel, for Warren's curious self-absorption extended even to his relationship with his mother, and Charlie had always been one of the unnecessary, unimportant figures of which there are a few in every family. But the events left a lasting mark upon Rachael's life. She had grown really to love the old woman, and had felt a certain pitying affection for Charlie, too. He had been a good, gentle, considerate boy always, and it was hard to think of him as going before life had really begun for him.
On the morning of the day he died an incident had occurred, or rather two had occurred, that even then filled her with vague discomfort, and that she was to remember for many days to come.
She had been crossing the great, dark entrance hall, late in the morning, on some errand to the telephone, or to the service department of the house, her heart burdened by the sombre shadow of death that already lay upon them all, when the muffled street- door bell had rung, and the butler, red eyed, had admitted two women. Rachael, caught and reluctantly glancing toward them, had been surprised to recognize Charlotte Haviland and old Fanny.
"Charlotte!" she said, coming toward the girl. And at her low, tense tone, Charlotte had begun to cry.
"Aunt Rachael"—the old name came naturally after seven years— "you'll think I'm quite crazy coming here this way"—Charlotte, as always, was justifying her shy little efforts at living—"but M'ma was busy, and"—the old, nervous gasp—"and it seemed only friendly to come and—and inquire—"
"Don't cry, dear!" said Rachael's rich, kind voice. She put a hand upon Charlotte's shoulder. "Did you want to ask for Charlie?"
"I know how odd, how very odd it must look," said Charlotte, managing a wet smile, "and my crying—perfectly absurd—I can't think why I'm so silly!"
"We've all been pretty near crying, ourselves, this morning," Rachael said, not looking at her, but rather seeming to explain to the sympathetic yet pleasurably thrilled Fanny. "Dear boy, he is very ill. Doctor Hamilton has just been here; and he tells us frankly that it is only a question of a few hours now—"
At this poor Charlotte tried to compose her face to the merely sorrowful and shocked expression of a person justified in her friendly concern, but succeeded only in giving Mrs. Gregory a quivering look of mortal hurt.
"I was afraid so," she stammered huskily. "Elfrida Hamilton told me. I was so—sorry—"
Rachael began to perceive that this was a great adventure, a tragic and heroic initiative for Charlotte. Poor Charlotte, red- eyed behind her strong glasses, the bloom of youth gone from her face, was perhaps touching this morning, the pinnacle of the few strong emotions her life was to know.
"How well did you know Charlie, dear?" asked Rachael when Fanny was for the moment out of hearing and they were in the dark, rep- draped reception-room. She had asked Charlotte to sit down, but Charlotte nervously had said that she could stay but another minute.
"Oh, n-n-not very well, Aunt Rachael—that is, we didn't see each other often, since"—Rachael knew since when, and liked Charlotte for the clumsy substitute—"since Billy was married. I know Charlie called, but M'ma didn't tell me until weeks later, and then we were on the ocean. We met now and then, and once he telephoned, and I think he would have liked to see me, but M'ma felt so strongly—there was no way. And then last summer—we h-h- happened to meet, he and I, at Jane Cook's wedding, and we had quite a talk. I knew M'ma would be angry, but it just seemed as if I couldn't think of it then. And we talked of the things we liked, you know, the sort of house we both liked—not like other people's houses!" Charlotte's plain young face had grown bright with the recollection, but now her voice sank lifelessly again. "But M'ma made me promise never to speak to him again, and of course I promised," she said dully.
"I see." Rachael was silent. There seemed to be nothing to say.
"I suppose I couldn't—speak to him a moment, Aunt Rachael?" Charlotte was scarlet, but she got the words out bravely.
"Oh, my dear, he wouldn't know you. He doesn't know any of us now. He just lies there, sometimes sighing a little—"
Charlotte was as pale now as she had been rosy before, her lip trembled, and her whole face seemed to be suffused with tears.
"I see," she said in turn. "Thank you, Aunt Rachael, thanks ever so much. I—I wish you'd tell his grandmother how sorry I am. I— suppose Fanny and I had better go now."
But before she went Rachael opened her arms, and Charlotte came into them, and cried bitterly for a few minutes.
"Poor little girl!" said the older woman tenderly. "Poor little girl!"
"I always loved you," gulped Charlotte, "and I would have come to see you, if M'ma—And of course it was nothing but the merest friendship b-between Charlie and me, only we—we always seemed to like each other."
And Charlotte, her romance ended, wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and went away. Rachael went slowly upstairs.
Late that same afternoon, as she and the trained nurse were dreamily keeping one of the long sick-watches, she looked at the patient, and was surprised to see his rather insignificant eyes fixed earnestly upon her. Instantly she went to the bedside and knelt down.
"What is it, Charlie-boy?" she asked, in the merest rich, tender essence of a tone. The sick eyes broke over her distressedly. She could see the fine dew of perspiration at his waxen temples, and the lean hand over which she laid her own was cool after all these feverish days, unwholesomely cool.
"Aunt Rachael—" The customs of earth were still strong when he could waste so much precious breath upon the unnecessary address. The nurse hovered nervously near, but did not attempt to silence him. "Going fast," he whispered.
"It will be rest, Charlie-boy," she answered, tears in her eyes.
He smiled, and drifted into that other world so near our own for a few moments. Then she started at Charlotte's name.
"Charlotte," he said in a ghostly whisper, "said she would like a house all green-and pink-with roses—"
Rachael was instantly tense. Ah, to get hold of poor starved little Charlotte, to give her these last precious seconds, to let her know he had thought of her!
"What about Charlotte, dear, dear boy?" she asked eagerly.
"I thought—it would be so pleasant—there—" he said, smiling. He closed his eyes. She heard the little prayer that he had learned in his babyhood for this hour. Then there was silence. Silence.
Silence. Rachael looked fearfully at the nurse. A few minutes later she went to tell his grandmother, who, with two grave sisters sitting beside her, had been lying down since the religious rites of an hour or two ago. Rachael and the smaller, rosy-faced nun helped the stiff, stricken old lady to her feet, and it was with Rachael's arm about her that she went to her grandson's side.
That night old Mrs. Gregory turned to her daughter-in-law and said: "You're good, Rachael. Someone prayed for you long ago; someone gave you goodness. Don't forget—if you ever need—to turn to prayer. I don't ask you to do any more. It was for James to make his sons Christians, and James did not do so. But promise me something, Rachael: if James—hurts you, if he fails you—promise me that you will forgive him!"
"I promise," Rachael said huskily, her heart beating quick with vague fright. Mrs. Gregory was in her deep armchair, she looked old and broken to-night, far older than she would look a few days later when she lay in her coffin. Rachael had brought her a cup of hot bouillon, and had knelt, daughter fashion, to see that she drank it, and now the thin old hand clutched her shoulder, and the eager old eyes were close to her face.
"I have made mistakes, I have had every sorrow a woman can know," said old Mrs. Gregory, "but prayer has never failed me, and when I go, I believe I will not be afraid!" "I have made mistakes, too," Rachael said, strangely stirred, "and for the boys' sake, for Warren's sake, I want to be—wise!"
The thin old hand patted hers. Old Mrs. Gregory lay with closed eyes, no flicker of life in her parchment-colored face. "Pray about it!" she said in a whisper. She patted Rachael's hands for another moment, but she did not speak again.
At the funeral, kneeling by Warren's side in the great cathedral, her pale face more lovely than ever in a setting of fresh black, Rachael tried for the first time in her life to pray.
They were rich beyond any dream or need now. Rachael could hardly have believed that so great a change in her fortune could make so little change in her feeling. A sudden wave of untimely heat smote the city, and it was hastily decided that the boys and their mother must get to the shore, leaving all the details of settling his mother's estate to Warren. In the autumn Rachael would make those changes in the old house of which she had dreamed so many years ago. Warren was not to work too hard, and was to come to them for every week-end.
He took them down himself in the car, Rachael beside him on the front seat, her baby in her arms, Martin and Mary, with Jim, in the tonneau. Home Dunes had been opened and aired; luncheon was waiting when they got there. Rachael felt triumphant, powerful. Between their mourning and Warren's unexpected business responsibilities she would have a summer to her liking.
He went away the next day, and Rachael began a series of cheerful letters. She tried not to reproach him when a Saturday night came without bringing him, she schooled herself to read, to take walks, to fight depression and loneliness. She and Alice practised piano duets, studied Italian, made sick calls in the village, and sewed for the babies of dark's Hills and Quaker Bridge. About twice a month, usually together, the two went up to the city for a day's shopping. Then George and Warren met them, and they dined and perhaps went to the theatre together. It was on one of these occasions that Rachael learned that Magsie Clay was in town.
"Working hard—too hard," said Warren in response to her questions. "She's rehearsing already for October."
"Warren! In all this heat?"
"Yes, and she looks pulled down, poor kid!"
"You've seen her, then?"
"Oh, I see her now and then. Betty Bowditch had her to dinner, and now and then she and I go to tea, and she tells me about her troubles, her young men, and the other women in the play!"
"I wonder if she wouldn't come down to us for a week?" Rachael said pleasantly. Warren brightened enthusiastically. A little ocean air would do Magsie worlds of good.
Magsie, lunching with Rachael at Rachael's club the following week, was prettily appreciative.
"I would just love to come!" she said gratefully. "I'll bring my bathing suit, and live in the water! But, Rachael, it can only be from Friday night until Monday morning. Perhaps Greg will run me down in the car, and bring me up again?"
"What else would I do?" Warren said, smiling.
Rachael fixed the date. On the following Friday night she met Warren and Magsie at the gate, at the end of the long run. Warren was quite his old, delightful self; the boys, perfection. Alice gave a dinner party, and Alice's brother did not miss the opportunity of a flirtation with Magsie. The visit, for everyone but Rachael, was a great success.
The little actress and Rachael's husband were on friendly, even intimate, terms; Magsie showed Warren a letter, Warren murmured advice; Magsie reached a confident little brown hand to him from the raft; Warren said, "Be careful, dear!" when she sprang up to leap from the car. Well, said Rachael bravely, no harm in that! Warren was just the big, sweet, simple person to be flattered by Magsie's affection. How could she help liking him?
She went to the gate again, on Monday morning this time, to say good-bye. Magsie was tucked in trimly in Rachael's place beside Rachael's husband; her gold hair glinted under a smart little hat; gloves, silk stockings, and gown were all of the becoming creamy tan she wore so much.
"Saturday night?" Rachael said to Warren.
"Possibly not, dear. I can tell better later in the week."
"You don't know how we slaves envy you, Rachael!" Magsie said. "When Greg and I are gasping away in some roof-garden, having our mild little iced teas, we'll think of you down here on the glorious ocean!"
"We're a mutual consolation league!" Warren said with an appreciative laugh.
"He laughs," Magsie said, "but, honestly, I don't know where I'd be without Greg. You don't know how kind he is to me, Rachael!"
"He's kind to everyone," Rachael smiled.
"I don't have to TELL you how much I've enjoyed this!" Magsie added gratefully.
"Do it any other time you can!" Rachael waved them out of sight. She stood at the gate, in the fragrant, warm summer morning, for a long time after they were gone.
In the late summer, placidly wasting her days on the sands with the two boys, a new experience befell Rachael. She had hoped, at about the time of Jimmy's third birthday, to present him and his little brother with a sister. Now the hope vanished, and Rachael, awed and sad, set aside a tiny chamber in her heart for the dream, and went on about her life sobered and made thoughtful over the great possibilities that are wrapped in every human birth. Warren had warned her that she must be careful now, and, charmed at his concern for her grief and shock, she rested and saved herself wherever she could.
But autumn came, and winter came, and she did not grow strong. It became generally understood that Mrs. Gregory was not going about this season, and her friends, when they came to call in Washington Square, were apt to find her comfortably established on the wide couch in one of the great rooms that were still unchanged, with a nurse hovering in the background, and the boys playing before the fire. Rachael would send the children away with Mary, ring for tea, and chatter vivaciously with her guests, later retailing all the gossip to Warren when he came to sit beside her. Often she got up and took her place at the table, and once or twice a month, after a quiet day, was tucked into the motor car by the watchful Miss Snow, and went to the theatre or opera, to be brought carefully home again at eleven o'clock, and given into Miss Snow's care again.
She was not at all unhappy, the lessening of social responsibility was a real relief, and Warren's solicitude and sympathy were a tonic of which she drank deep, night and morning. His big warm hands, his smile, the confidence of his voice, these thrilled and rejuvenated her continually.
The boys were a delight to her. In their small rumpled pajamas they came into her room every morning, dewy from sleep, full of delicious plans for the day. Jim was a masterful baby whose continually jerking head was sure to bump his mother if she attempted too much hugging, but dark-eyed, grave little Derry was "cuddly"; he would rest his shining head contentedly for minutes together on his mother's breast, and when she lifted him from his crib late at night for a last kiss, his warm baby arms would circle her neck, and his rich little voice murmur luxuriously, "Hug Derry."
Muffled rosily in gaiters and furs, or running about her room in their white, rosetted slippers, with sturdy arms and knees bare, or angelic in their blue wrappers after the evening bath, they were equally enchanting to their mother.
"It's a marvel to see how you can be so patient!" Warren said one evening when he was dressing for an especially notable dinner, and Rachael, in her big Chinese coat, was watching the process contentedly from the couch in his upstairs sitting-room.
"Well, that's the odd thing about ill health, Greg—you haven't any chance to answer back," she answered thoughtfully. "If money could make me well, or if effort could, I'd get well, of course! But there seem to be times when you simply are SICK. It's an extraordinary experience to me; it's extraordinary to lie here, and think of all the hundreds of thousands of other women who are sick, just simply and quietly laid low with no by-your-leave! Of course, my being ill doesn't make much trouble; the boys are cared for, the house goes on, and I don't suffer! But suppose we were poor, and the children needed me, and you couldn't afford a nurse- -then what? For I'd have to collapse and lie here just the same!"
"It's no snap for me," Warren grumbled after a silence. "Gosh! I will be glad when you're well—and when the damn nurse is out of the house!"
"Warren, I thought you liked Miss Snow!"
"Well, I do, I suppose—in a way. But I don't like her for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—so everlastingly sweet and fresh!' I declare I believe my watch is losing time—this is the third time this week I've been late!'"
This was said in exactly Miss Snow's tone, and Rachael laughed.
But when he was gone a deep depression fell upon her. Dear old boy, it was not much of a life for him, going about alone, sitting down to his meals with only a trained nurse for company! Shut away so deliciously from the world with her husband and sons, enjoying the very helplessness that forced her to lean so heavily upon him, she had forgotten how hard it was for Greg!
Yet how could she get well when the stubborn weakness and languor persisted, when her nights were so long and sleepless, her appetite so slight, her strength so quickly exhausted?
"When do you think I will get well, Miss Snow?" she would ask.
"Come, now, we're not going to bother our heads about THAT," Miss Snow would say cheerfully. "Why, you're not sick! You've just got to rest and take care of yourself, that's all! Dear ME, if you were suffering every minute of the time, you might have something to grumble about!"
Doctor Valentine was equally unsatisfactory, although Rachael loved the simple, homely man so much that she could not be vexed by his kindly vagueness:
"These things are slow to fight, Rachael," said George Valentine. "Alice had just such a fight years ago. When the human machinery runs down, there's nothing for it but patience! You did too much last winter, nursing the baby until you left for California, and then only the hot summer between that and September! Just go slow!"
Perhaps once a month Magsie came in to see Rachael, ready to pour tea, to flirt with any casual caller, or to tickle the roaring baby with the little fox head on her muff. She had been playing in a minor part in a successful production. Among all the callers who came and went perhaps Magsie was the most at home in the Gregory house—a harmless little affectionate creature, unimportant, but always welcome.
Slowly health and strength came back, and one by one Rachael took up the dropped threads of her life. The early spring found her apparently herself again, but there was a touch of gray here and there in her dark hair, and Elinor and Judy told each other that her spirits were not the same.
They did not know what Rachael knew, that there was a change in Warren, so puzzling, so disquieting, that his wife's convalescence was delayed by many a wakeful hour and many a burst of secret tears on his account. She could not even analyze it, much less was she fit to battle with it with her old splendid strength and sanity.
His general attitude toward her, in these days, was one of paternal and brisk kindliness. He liked her new gown, he didn't care much for that hat, she didn't look awfully well, better telephone old George, it wouldn't do to have her sick again! Yes, he was going out, unless she wanted him for something? She was reminded hideously of her old days with Clarence.
Shaken and weak still, she fought gallantly against the pain and bewilderment of the new problem. She invited the persons he liked to the house, she effaced her own claim, she tried to get him to talk of his cases. Sometimes, as the spring ripened, she planned whole days with him in the car. They would go up to Ossining and see the Perrys, or they would go to Jersey and spend the day with Doctor Cheseborough.
Perhaps Warren accepted these suggestions, and they had a cloudless day. Or when Sunday morning came, and the boys, coated and capped, were eager to start, he might evade them.
"I wonder if you'll feel badly, Petty, if I don't go?"
"Well, my dear, I've got some work to do. I ought to look up that meningitis case—the Italian child. Louise'll give me a bite of lunch—"
"But, dearest, that spoils our day!" Rachael would fling her wraps down, and face him ruefully. "How can I go alone!_ I don't want to. And it's SUCH a day, and the babies are so sweet—"
"There's no reason why you and the children shouldn't go." She had come to know that mild, almost reproachful, tone.
"Oh, but Warren, that spoils it all!"
Rachael would shut her lips firmly over protest. At best she might wring from him a reluctant change of mind and an annoyed offer of company which she must from sheer pride decline. At worst she would be treated with a dignified silence—the peevish and exacting woman who could not understand.
So she would go slowly down to the car, to Mary beaming beside Martin in the front seat, to the delicious boys tumbling about in the back, eager for Mother. With one on each side of her, a retaining hand on the little gaiters, she would wave the attentive husband and father an amiable farewell. The motor car would wheel about in the bare May sunshine, the river would be a ripple of dancing blue waves, morning riders would canter on the bridle- path, and white-frocked babies toddle along the paths. Such a morning for a ride, if only Warren were there! But Rachael would try to enjoy her run, and would eat Mrs. Perry's or Mrs. Cheseborough's fried chicken and home-made ices with gracious enthusiasm; everyone was quite ready to excuse Warren; his beautiful wife was the more popular of the two.
He was always noticeably affectionate when they got home. Rachael, her color bright from sun and wind, would entertain him with a spirited account of the day while she dressed.
"I wish I'd gone with you; I will next time!" he invariably said.
On the next Sunday she might try another experience. No plans to- day. The initiative should be left to him. Breakfast would drag along until after ten o'clock, and Mary would appear with a low question. Were the boys to go out to the Park? Rachael would pause, undecided. Well, yes, Mary might take them, but bring them in early, in case Doctor Gregory wished to take them somewhere.
And ten minutes later he might jump up briskly. Well! how about a little run up to Pelham Manor, wonderful morning—could she go as she was? Rachael would beg for ten minutes; she might come downstairs in seven to find him wavering.
"Would you mind if we made it a pretty short run, dear, and then if I dropped you here and went on down to the hospital for a little while?"
"Why, Warren, it was your suggestion, dear! Why take a drive at all if you don't feel like it!"
"Oh, it's not that—I'm quite willing to. Where are the kids?"
"Mary took them out. They've got to be back for naps at half-past eleven, you see."
"I see." He would look at his watch. "Well, I'll tell you what I think I'll do. I'll change and shave now—" A pause. His voice would drop vaguely. "What would YOU like to do?" he might suggest amiably.
Such a conversation, so lacking in his old definite briskness where their holidays were concerned, would daunt Rachael with a sense of utter forlornness. Sometimes she offered a plan, but it was invariably rejected. There were friends who would have been delighted at an unexpected lunch call from the Gregorys, but Warren yawned and shuddered negatives when she mentioned their names. In the end, he would go off to the hospital for an hour or two, and later would telephone to his wife to explain a longer absence: he had met some of the boys at the club and they were rather urging him to stay to lunch; he couldn't very well decline.
"Would you like to have me come down and join you anywhere later?" his wife might ask in the latter case.
"No, thank you, no. I may come straight home after lunch, and in that case I'd cross you. Boys all right?"
"Lovely." Rachael would sit at the telephone desk, after she had hung up the receiver, wrapped in bitter thought, a bewildered pain at her heart. She never doubted him; to-morrow good, old, homely, trustworthy George Valentine, whose wife and children were visiting Alice's mother in Boston, would speak of the bridge game at the club. But with his wife waiting for him at home, his wife who lived all the six days of the week waiting for this seventh day, why did he need the society of his men friends?
A commonplace retaliation might have suggested itself to her, but there was no fighting instinct in Rachael now. She did not want to pique him, to goad him, to flirt with him. He should be hers honorably and openly, without devices, without intrigue. Stirred to the deeps of her being by wifehood and motherhood, by her passionate love for her husband and children, it was a humiliating thought that she must coquette with and flatter other men. As a matter of fact, she found it difficult to talk with any interest of anything except Warren, his work and his plans, of Jimmy and Derry, and perhaps of Home Dunes. If it were a matter of necessity she might always turn to the new plays and books, the opera of the season, or the bill for tenement requirements or juvenile delinquents, but mere personalities and intrigue she knew no more. These matters were all of secondary interest to her now; it seemed to Rachael that the time had come when mere personalities, when bridge and cocktails and dancing and half-true scandals were not satisfying.
"Warren," she said one evening when the move to Home Dunes was near, "should you be sorry if I began to go regularly to church again?"
"No," he said indifferently, giving her rather a surprised glance over his book. "Churchgoing coming in again?"
"It's not that," Rachael said, smiling over a little sense of pain, "but I—I like it. I want the boys to think that their mother goes to church and prays—and I really want to do it myself!"
He smiled, as always a little intolerant of what sounded like sentiment.
"Oh, come, my dear! Long before the boys are old enough to remember it you'll have given it up again!"
"I hope not," Rachael said, sighing. "I wish I had never stopped. I wish I were one of these mild, nice, village women who put out clean stockings for the children every Saturday night, and clean shirts and ginghams, and lead them all into a pew Sunday morning, and teach them the Golden Rule, and to honor their father and their mother, and all the rest of it!"
"And what do you think you would gain by that?" Warren asked.
"Oh, I would gain—security," Rachael said vaguely, but with a suspicion of tears in her eyes. "I would have something to—to stand upon, to be guided by. There is a purity, an austerity, about that old church-going, loving-God-and-your-neighbor ideal. Truth and simplicity and integrity and uprightness—my old great- grandmother used to use those words, but one doesn't ever hear them any more! Everything's half black and half white nowadays; we're all as good or as bad as we happen to be born. There's no more discipline, no more self-denial, no more development of character! I want to—to hold on to something, now that forces I can't control are coming into my life."
"What do you mean by forces you can't control?" he asked with a sort of annoyed interest.
"Love, Warren," she answered quickly. "Love for you and the boys, and fear for you and the boys. Love always brings fear. And illness—I never thought of it before I was ill. And jealousy—"
"What have you got to be jealous of?" he asked, somewhat gruffly, as she paused.
"Your work," Rachael said simply; "everything that keeps you away from me!"
"And you think going to Saint Luke's every Sunday morning at eleven o'clock, and listening to Billy Graves, will fix it all up?" he smiled not unkindly. But as she did not answer his smile, and as the tears he disliked came into her eyes, his tone changed. "Now I'll tell you what's the matter with you, my dear," he said with a brisk kindliness that cut her far more just then than severity would have done, "you're all wound up in self-analysis and psychologic self-consciousness, and you're spinning round and round in your own entity like a kitten chasing her tail. It's a perfectly recognizable phase of a sort of minor hysteria that often gets hold of women, and curiously enough, it usually comes about five or six years after marriage. We doctors meet it over and over again. 'But, Doctor, I'm so nervous and excited all the time, and I don't sleep! I worry so—and much as I love my husband, I just can't help worrying!'"
Looking up and toward his wife as she sat opposite him in the lamp-light, Warren Gregory found no smile on the beautiful face. Rachael's hurt was deeper than her pride; she looked stricken.
"Don't put yourself in their class, my dear!" her husband said leniently. "You need some country air. You'll get down to Clark's Hills in a week or two and blow some of these notions away. Meanwhile, why don't you run down to the club every morning, and play a good smashing game of squash, and take a plunge. Put yourself through a little training!" He reopened his book.
Rachael did not answer. Presently glancing at her he saw that she was reading, too.
That his overtired nerves and her exhausted soul and body would have recovered balance in time, did not occur to Rachael. She suffered with all the intensity of a strongly passionate nature. Warren had changed to her; that was the terrible fact. She went about stunned and sick, neglecting her meals, forgetting her tonic, refusing the distractions that would have been the best thing possible for her. Little things troubled her; she said to herself bitterly that everything, anything, caused irritation between herself and Warren now. Sometimes the atmosphere brightened for a few days, then the old hopeless tugging at cross purposes began again.
"You're sick, Rachael, and you don't know it!" said Magsie Clay breezily. June was coming in, and Magsie was leaving town for the Villalonga camp. She told Rachael that she was "crazy" about Kent Parmalee, and Rachael's feeling of amazement that Magsie Clay could aspire to a Parmalee was softened by an odd sensation of relief at hearing Magsie's plans—a relief she did not analyze.
"I believe I am sick!" Rachael agreed. "I shall be glad to get down to the shore next week." She told Warren of Magsie's admission that night.
"Kent! She wouldn't look at him!" Warren said comfortably.
"It would be a brilliant match for her," Rachael countered quietly.
She saw that she had antagonized him, but he did not speak again. One of their unhappy silences fell.
Home Dunes, as always, restored health and color magically. Rachael felt more like herself after the first night's sleep on the breezy porch, the first invigorating dip in the ocean. She began to enjoy her meals again, she began to look carefully to her appearance. Presently she was laughing, singing, bubbling with life and energy. Alice, watching her, rejoiced and marvelled at her recovery. Rachael's beauty, her old definite self-reliance, came back in a flood. She fairly radiated charm, glowing as she held George and Alice under the spell of her voice, the spell of her happy planning. Her letters to Warren were in the old, tender, vivacious strain. She was interested in everything, delighted with everything in Clark's Hills. She begged him for news; Vivian had a baby? And Kent Parmalee was engaged to Eliza Bowditch—what did Magsie's say? And did he miss her? The minute she got home she was going to talk to him about having a big porch built on, outside the nursery, and at the back of the house; what about it? Then the children could sleep out all the year through. George and Alice positively stated that they were going around the world in two years, and if they did, why couldn't the Gregorys go, too?
"You're wonderful!" said Alice one day. "You're not the same woman you were last winter!"
"I was ill last winter, woman! And never so ill as when they all thought I was entirely cured! Besides—" Rachael looked down at her tanned arm and slender brown fingers marking grooves in the sand. "Besides, it's partly—bluff, Alice," she confessed. "I'm fighting myself these days. I don't want to think that we—Greg and I—can't go back, can't be to each other—what we were!"
What an April creature she was, thought Alice, seeing that tears were close to the averted eyes, and hearing the tremble in Rachael's voice.
"Goose!" she said tenderly. "You were a nervous wreck last year, and Warren was working far too hard! Make haste slowly, Rachael."
"But it's three weeks since he was here," Rachael said in a low voice. "I don't understand it, that's all!"
"Nor I—nor he!" Alice said, smiling.
"Next week!" Rachael predicted bravely. And a second later she had sprung up from the sand and was swimming through the surf as if she swam from her own intolerable thoughts.
The next week-end would bring him she always told herself, and usually after two or three empty Sundays there would come a happy one, with the new car which was built like a projectile, purring in the road, George and Alice shouting greetings as they came in the gate, Louise excitedly attempting to outdo herself on the dinner, and the sunburned noisy babies shrieking themselves hoarse as they romped with their father.
To be held tight in his arms, to get his first big kiss, to come into the house still clinging to him, was bliss to Rachael now. But as the summer wore away she noticed that in a few hours the joy of homecoming would fade for him, he would become fitfully talkative, moodily silent, he would wonder why the Valentines were always late, and ask his wife patiently if she would please not hum, his head ached—
"Dearest! Why didn't you say so!"
"I don't know. It's been aching all day!"
"And you let those great boys climb all over you!"
"Oh, that's all right."
"Would you like a nap, Warren, or would you like to go over to the beach, just you and me, and have a swim?"
"No, thank you. I may run the car into Katchogue"—Katchogue, seven miles away, was the site of the nearest garage—"and have that fellow look at my magneto. She didn't act awfully well coming down!"
"Would you like me to go with you, Warren?"
"Love it, my dear, but I have to take Pierre. He's got twice the sense I have about it!"
And again a sense of heaviness, of helplessness, would fall upon Rachael, so that on Sunday afternoon it was almost a relief to have him go away.
"Well," she would say in the nursery again, after the good-byes, kissing the fat little shoulder of Gerald Fairfax Gregory where the old baby white ran into the new boyish tan, "we will not be introspective and imaginative, and cry for the moon. We will take off our boys' little old, hot rumply shirts, and put them into their nice cool nighties, and be glad that we have everything in the world—almost! Get me your Peter Rabbit Book, Jimmy, and get up here on my other arm. Everybody hasn't the same way of showing love, and the main thing is to be grateful that the love is there. Daddy loves his boys, and his home, and his boys' mother, only it doesn't always occur to him that—"
"Are you talking for me, or for you, Mother?" Jimmy would sometimes ask, after puzzled and attentive listening.
"For me, this time, but now I'll talk for you!" Rachael satisfied her hungry heart with their kisses, and was never so happy as when both fat little bodies were in her arms. She grudged every month that carried them away from babyhood, and one day Alice Valentine found her looking at a book of old photographs with an expression of actual sadness on her face.
"Look at Jim, Alice, that second summer—before Derry was born! Wasn't he the dearest little fatty, tumbling all over the place!"
"Rachael, don't speak as if the child was dead!" Alice laughed.
"Well, one loses them almost as completely," Rachael said, smiling. "Jim is such a great big, brown, mischievous creature now, and to think that my Derry is nearly two!"
"Think of me, with Mary fifteen!" Mrs. Valentine countered, "and just as baby-hungry as ever! But I shall have to do nothing but chaperon now, for a few years, and wait for the grandchildren."
"I shouldn't mind getting old, Alice," Rachael said, "if I were like you; you're so temperate and unselfish and sweet that no one could help loving you! Besides, you don't sit around worrying about what people think, you just go on cutting out cookies, and putting buttons on gingham dresses, and let other people do the worrying!"
And suddenly, to the other woman's concern, she burst into bitter crying, and covered her face with her hands.
"I'm so frightened, Alice!" sobbed Rachael. "I don't know what's the matter with me, but I FEEL—I feel that something is all wrong! I don't seem to have any HOLD on Warren any more—you can't explain such things—but I'm—"
She got to her feet, a splendid figure of tragedy, and walked blindly to the end of the long porch, where she stood staring down at the heaving, sun-flooded expanse of the blue sea, and at the roofs of little Quaker Bridge beyond the bar. Lazy waves were creaming, in great interlocked circles, on the white beach, the air was as clear as crystal on the cloudless September morning. Not a breath of wind stirred the tufted grass on the dunes; down by the weather-blown bath-houses a dozen children, her own among them, were shouting and splashing in the spreading shallows.
Alice Valentine, her plain, sweet face a picture of sympathy, sat dumb and unmoving. In her own heart she felt that Rachael's was a terrible situation. What WAS the matter with Warren Gregory, anyway, wondered Alice; he had a beautiful wife, and beautiful children, and if George, with all his summer substituting and hospital work, could come to his family, as he did come every Friday night, it was upon no claim of hard work that Warren could remain away. As a matter of fact, Alice knew it was not for work that he stayed, for George, the least critical of friends, had once or twice told her of yachting parties in which Warren had participated—men's parties, of which Rachael perhaps might not have disapproved, but of which Rachael certainly did not know. George had told her vaguely that Greg liked to play golf on Saturday afternoons, and sleep late on Sunday, and seemed to feel it more of a rest than coming down to the shore.
"I am a fool to break down this way," said Rachael, interrupting her guest's musings to come back to her chair, and showing a composed face despite her red eyes, "but my—my heart is heavy to- day!" Something in the simple dignity of the words brought the tears to Alice's eyes. She held out her hand and Rachael took it and clung to it, as she went on: "I had a birthday yesterday—and Warren forgot it!"
"They all do that!" Alice said cheerfully. "George never remembers mine!"
"But Warren always has before," Rachael said, smiling sadly, "and- -and it came to me last night—I didn't sleep very well—that I am thirty-four, and—and I have given him all I have!"
Again tears threatened her self-control, but she fought them resolutely, and in a moment was herself again.
"You love too hard, my dear woman," Alice Valentine remonstrated affectionately; "nothing is worse than extremes in anything. Say to yourself, like a sensible girl, that you have a good husband, and let it go at that! Be as cool and cheerful with Warren as if he were—George, for instance, and try to interest yourself in something entirely outside your own home. I wonder if perhaps this place isn't a little lonely for you? Why don't you try Bar Harbor or one of the mountain places next year, and go about among people, and entertain a little more?"
"But, Alice, people BORE me so—I've had so much of it, and it's always the same thing!"
"I know; I hate it, too. But there are funny phases in marriage, Rachael, and one has to take them as they come. Warren might like it."
Rachael pondered. Elinor Pomeroy and the Villalongas, the Whittakers and Stokes and Parmalees again! Noise and hurry, and dancing and smoking and drinking again! She sighed.
"I believe I'll suggest it to Warren, Alice. Then if he's keen for it, we'll do it next year."
"I would." Mrs. Valentine rose, and looked toward the beach with an idea of locating Martha and Katrina before sending for them. "Isn't it almost lunch time?" she asked, adding in a matter-of- fact tone: "Don't worry any more, Rachael; it's largely a bad habit. Just look the whole thing in the face, and map it out like a campaign. 'The way to begin living the ideal life is to begin,' my father used to say!"
This talk, and others like it, had the effect of bracing Rachael to fresh endurance and of spurring her to fresh courage for the few days that its effect lasted. But sooner or later her bravery would die away, and an increasing discouragement possess her. Lying in her bare, airy bedroom at night, with sombre eyes staring at the arch of stars above the moving sea, an almost unbearable loneliness would fall upon soul and body; she needed Warren, she said to herself, often with bitter tears. Warren, splashing in his bath, scattering wet towels and discarded garments so royally about the place; Warren, in a discursive mood, regarding some operation as he stropped his razor; Warren's old, half-unthinking "you look sweet, dear," when, fresh and dainty, his wife was ready to go downstairs—for these and a thousand other memories of him she yearned with an aching desire that racked her like a bodily pain.
"Oh, it isn't right for him to torture me so!" she would whisper to herself. "It isn't right!"
October found them all back in the city, an apparently united and devoted family again. Rachael entered with great zest into the delayed matter of redecorating and refurnishing the old home on Washington Square, finding the dignified house—Warren's birthplace—more and more to her liking as modern enamel fixtures went into the bathrooms, simple modern hangings let sunshine and air in at the long-darkened windows, and rich tapestry papers and Oriental rugs subdued the effect of severe cream woodwork and colonial mantels.
She found Warren singularly unenthusiastic about it, almost ungracious when he answered her questions or decided for her any detail. But Rachael was firmly resolved to ignore his moods, and went blithely about her business, displaying an indifference—or an assumed indifference—that was evidently somewhat puzzling to Warren and to all her household. She equipped the boys in dark- blue coats and squirrel-skin caps for the winter, marvelling a little sadly that their father did not seem to see the charms so evident to all the world. A rosier, gayer, more sturdy pair of devoted little brothers never stamped through snowy parks, or came chattering in for chops and baked potatoes. Every woman in the neighborhood, every policeman, knew Jim and Derry Gregory; their morning walks were so many separate little adventures in popularity. But Warren, beyond paternal greetings at breakfast, and an occasional perfunctory query as to their health, made no attempt to enter into their lives. They were still too small to interest their father except as good and satisfactory babies.