"Tell that to the girl," advised Anthony.
"I wish I could. Yet there were a good many times when I thought if Rachel Redding would just look my way I shouldn't take it ill of her. I wonder if she'd have been like that if she hadn't been engaged to another fellow."
"Probably." Anthony got up and stretched himself. He was growing weary of other men's confidences.
"You're right she would. She's built that way. Yet when you get to fancying what she'd be if she just let herself go and show she cared——"
"Look here, my young friend," said Anthony, "I advise you to go home and go to bed. Sitting here dreaming over Mrs. Alexander Huntington isn't good for you. What you want to be doing is to forget her. Huntington's going to get well, and they're going to live happily ever after, and you fellows out here can look up other girls. Plenty of 'em. Only, for the love of heaven, see if you can avoid all setting your affections on the same girl next time. It's too rough on your friends!"
XXII.—ROGER BARNES PROVES INVALUABLE
Time went swinging on, and by and by it came to be Tony Robeson, Junior's, second Christmas day. He rode down to breakfast on his father's shoulder, crowing loudly on a gorgeous brown and scarlet rooster, which he had found on his Christmas tree the evening before. He had been put to bed immediately thereafter and had gone to sleep with the rooster in his arms. The fowl had a charmingly realistic crow, operated by a pneumatic device upon which the baby had promptly learned to blow. He performed upon it uninterruptedly throughout breakfast.
"See here, my son," said Anthony, hurriedly finishing his coffee, "let's see if you can't appreciate some of your less voiceful toys. Here's a rabbit with fine soft ears for you to pull. There's a train of cars. Let me wind it for you. Your Grandfather Marcy must have expended several good dollars on that—you want to show up an interest in it when he comes out to see you to-day. And here's Auntie Dingley's pickaninny boy-doll—well, I don't blame you for failing to embrace that. Auntie Dingley was born in Massachusetts."
The boy cast an indifferently polite eye on these gifts as their charms were exhibited to him, and clasped the brown and scarlet rooster to his breast. There were moments, half hours even, when he became sufficiently diverted from his fowl to cease from making it crow, but at intervals throughout the day the family were given to understand once for all that it is not the most expensive and ornate toys which can be relied upon to please a twenty-months-old infant. Even the automobile presented by Dr. Roger Barnes, and warranted to go three times around the room without stopping, was a tame affair to the recipient compared with the rooster's shrill salute.
"Remember, Tony," Juliet had said, a month before Christmas, "you are not to give me any expensive personal gift this year. I care for nothing half so much as for making the home complete. If—if—you cared to give me something toward the bathroom fund——"
"All right," said Anthony promptly, for he had learned by this time to know his wife well. The bathroom fund was dear to her heart. The small room at the front of the house upstairs, which had been left unfurnished, had been temporarily fitted up as a bathroom by sundry ingenious devices in the way of a tin bath and a hot and cold water connection, but a full equipment of the best sort was to be put in as soon as practicable, and there was a growing fund therefor.
On Christmas morning, nevertheless, in addition to a generous addition to the fund, Juliet found beside her plate an exceedingly "personal gift" in the shape of a little pearl-and-turquoise brooch of rare design, bearing the stamp of a superior maker.
"Must I scold you?" she asked, smiling up at him as he stood beside her, watching her face flush with pleasure.
"Kiss me, instead," he answered promptly. "And don't expect me to give up making you now and then a real present, even though it has to be a small one. It's too much fun."
Beside his own plate he found her gift, a set of histories he had long wanted. It was a beautiful edition, and he would have looked reproachfully at the giver if she had not forestalled him by running around the table to say softly in his ear, both arms about his neck: "Just at Christmas time, dearest, let me have my way."
The day was a happy one. Mr. Horatio Marcy and Mrs. Dingley arrived on the morning train and stayed until evening. At the Christmas dinner Judith and Wayne Carey and Dr. Roger Barnes were the additional guests, and Mary McKaim was in the kitchen. Dinner over, everybody sat about the fireplace talking, when Juliet came in to carry little Tony off to bed.
"Five minutes more," begged Dr. Barnes, on whose knee the child sat, a willing captive to the arts of his entertainer. His eyes, bright with the excitement of this great day, were fixed upon the doctor's face.
"And so"—Barnes continued the story he had begun—"the rooster climbed right up the man's leg"—the toy obeyed his command and scaled the eminence from the floor where it had been hiding behind a Noah's ark—"and perched on his knee, and cried"—the rooster crowed lustily and little Tony laughed ecstatically. "Then the rooster flew up on the man's shoulder and flapped his wings, and all at once he fell right over backwards and tumbled on his head on the floor.—Got to go to bed, Tony? Shall the rooster go too? All right. May I carry him up for you, Juliet? Anthony's deep in that discussion. Get on my back, old man—that's the way!"
Everybody looked after the two as the doctor mounted the stairs.
"That rooster has captivated the child more than all the mechanical toys he has had to-day," said Mrs. Dingley.
"What a handsome fellow he is," said Carey, his eyes following little Tony till he disappeared. "I never saw a healthier, happier child. How sturdy he is on his legs—have you noticed? He's saying a good many words, too. It was as good as a play to see him imitate that rooster."
Juliet's father and Mrs. Dingley left on an early evening train, and only the three younger guests remained when Juliet came downstairs after putting her boy to bed. She set about gathering up the toys scattered over the floor, and Barnes helped her. In the midst of this labour, during which they all made merry with some of the more elaborate mechanical affairs, Juliet suddenly said "What's that?" and went to the bottom of the stairs.
"Let me go," offered Anthony. "He's probably too excited to get to sleep easily after all this dissipation.—Hullo!—he's crowing with the rooster yet."
But Juliet went up, and he followed her, saying from the landing to his guests, "Excuse me for a little. I'll get the boy quiet, and let his mother come down. I've a fine talent for that sort of thing. That rooster will have to be given some soothing syrup—he's too lively a fowl."
"I never saw a man fonder of his youngster than Tony," Carey observed.
"The child is a particularly fine specimen," the doctor said. "I think I never saw a more ideal development than he shows."
He began to tell an incident in which little Tony had been involved, when he was interrupted.
"Barnes!"—called Anthony's voice from the top of the stairs. "Come up here, please."
There was something in the imperative quality of this summons which made the doctor run up the stairs, two at a time. Judith and Wayne listened. The rooster could still be heard crowing, faintly but distinctly.
"Perhaps he's grown too excited over it," Judith suggested. "They ought to take it away."
Carey went to the bottom of the stairs and listened. There were rapid movements overhead. The doctor's voice could be heard giving directions through which sounded the steady crowing of the toy. "Hold him so—now move him that way as I thump—now the other——"
Carey turned pale. "He's got that rooster in his throat," he said solemnly. The rooster was nearly life-size, but the incongruity of this suggestion did not strike him. Judith hastily rose from her chair and went to him.
"Had we better go up?" he whispered.
"Heavens—no!" Judith clutched his arm. "We couldn't do any good. The doctor's there. Such things make me ill. They ought not to have let him have the toy to take to bed with him. How could it get into his throat? Perhaps they are making it crow to divert him. Perhaps he's hurt himself somehow."
"He's got the crow part of that thing in his throat," Carey persisted in an anxious whisper. "The manufacturers ought to be prosecuted for making a toy that will come apart like that."
"Don't stand there," protested his wife. "Maybe it's nothing. Come here and sit down."
But Carey stood still. Presently Anthony came to the head of the stairs.
"Wayne," said he rapidly, "telephone Roger's office. Ask the trained nurse, Miss Hughes, to send a messenger with the doctor's emergency surgical case by the first train—he can catch the 9:40 if he's quick. Tell Miss Hughes to follow as soon as she can get ready, prepared to stay all night."
Then he disappeared. His voice had been steady and quiet, but his eyes had showed his friend that the order was given under tension. Carey sprang to the telephone, and his hand shook as he took down the receiver.
Upstairs Roger Barnes, in command, was giving cool, concise orders, his eyes on his little patient. When he had despatched Juliet for various things, including boiling water which she must get downstairs, he said to Anthony in a conversational tone:
"It will probably not be safe to wait till my instruments get here, and there's no surgeon near enough to call. I'm not going to take any chances on this boy. If I see the necessity I'm going to get into that throat and give him air. I shall want you and Carey to hold him. Juliet must be downstairs."
Anthony nodded. He did not quite understand; but a few minutes later, when Juliet had brought the boiling water, he suddenly perceived what his friend meant.
"Alcohol, now, please," said the doctor. When Juliet had disappeared again Barnes drew from his pocket a pearl-handled pocket-knife and tried its blades. "It's a fortunate thing somebody made me a present of such a good one to-day," he observed, "but it needs sharpening a bit. Have you an oil-stone handy?"
With tightly shut lips Anthony watched the doctor put a bright edge on his smallest blade, then, satisfied, drop the open knife into the water bubbling over a spirit-lamp. Anthony turned his head away for an instant from the struggling little figure on the bed. Barnes eyed him keenly.
"You're game, of course?" he said.
Anthony's eyes met his and flashed fire. "Don't you know me better than that?"
"All right," and the young surgeon smiled. "But I've seen a medical man himself go to pieces over his own child. This is a simple matter," he went on lightly. "Luckily, boiling water is a more potent antiseptic than all the drugs on the market—and alcohol's another. I shall want a new hairpin or two—if Juliet has a wire one.—That the alcohol? Thank you. Now if you've the hairpins, Juliet—ah—a silver one—all the better."
This also he dropped into the boiling water. Then he spoke very quietly to Tony's mother, as she bent over her child, fighting for his breath.
"It's a bit tough to watch," he said, "but we'll have him all right presently. Suppose you go and get his crib ready for him. You might fill some hot-water bags and bottles and have things warm and comfortable."
The telephone-bell rang below. After a minute Carey dashed upstairs. He looked into the room and spoke anxiously. "The messenger just missed the 9:40. He and the nurse will come on the 10:15."
"All right," said the doctor, as if the delay were of small consequence. "We're going to want your help presently, Carey, I think. Just ask Mrs. Carey to keep Mrs. Robeson with her for a few minutes, if she can."
Carey went down and gave his wife the message, then he hurried back and stood waiting just outside the door. And all at once the summons came. In a breath the doctor had changed his role. He spoke sharply:
"Now, Robeson—now, Carey—we've waited up to the limit. Keep cool—hold him like a rock—"
* * * * *
Wayne Carey came down to his wife, ten minutes later, smiled tremulously, sank into a chair, and fell to crying like a baby—softly, so that he could not be heard.
"But Juliet says he'll be all right," murmured Judith unsteadily.
"Yes, yes——" Carey wiped his eyes and blew his nose. "I'm just a little unnerved, that's all. Lord—and he's dropped off to sleep as quiet as a lamb—with Barnes holding the gash in his throat open with a hairpin to let the air in. When it comes to emergency surgery I tell you it's a lucky thing to have an expert in the house. Completely worn out—the little chap. When the nurse comes they'll get out the whistle and sew the place up. She ought to be here—I'll go meet that train."
He sprang to his feet and hurried out of the house. Presently he was back, followed by an erect young woman who wore a long coat over the uniform she had not taken time to change. Carey carried the long black bag she had brought with her.
By and by Anthony and Roger Barnes came down. The former was pale, but as quietly composed as ever; the latter nonchalant, yet wearing that gleam of satisfaction in his eye which is ever the badge of the successful surgeon.
"Well, Mrs. Carey," said the doctor, smiling, "why not relax that tension a bit? The youngster is right as a trivet."
"I suppose that's your idea of being right as a trivet," Judith retorted. "In bed, with a trained nurse watching you, and a doctor staying all night to make sure."
"Bless you—what better would you have? If it were any other boy the doctor would have been home and in bed an hour ago, I assure you. Carey—if you don't stop acting like a great fool I'll put you to bed too."
For Carey was wringing Barnes' hand, and the tears were running unashamed down his cheeks. "I gave him that rooster myself," he said, and choked.
Upstairs all was quiet. The little life was safe, rescued at the crucial moment when interference became necessary, by the skill and daring which do not hesitate to use the means at hand when the authorized tools can not be had. Every precaution had been taken against harm from these same unconventional means, and the doctor, when he left his patient in the hands of his nurse, felt small anxiety for the ultimate outcome.
He said this very positively to the boy's father and mother, holding a hand of each and bidding them go peacefully to sleep. He would have slipped away then, but they would not let him go. There were no tears, no fuss; but Juliet said, her eyes with their heavy shadows of past suspense meeting his steadily, "Roger, nothing can ever tell you what I feel about this," and Anthony, gripping his friend's hand with a grip of steel, added: "We shall never thank the Lord enough for having you on hand, Roger Barnes."
But when the young surgeon had gone, warm with pleasure over the service he had done those he loved this night, the ones he had left behind found their self-control had reached the ragged edge. Turning to her husband Juliet flung herself into his arms, and met there the tenderest reception she had ever known. So does a common anxiety knit hearts which had thought they could be no tighter bound.
* * * * *
Judith and Wayne Carey, walking along silent streets in the early dawn of the day after Christmas on their way to take their train home, had little to say. Only once Judith ventured an observation to her heavy-eyed companion:
"Surely, such a scene as you went through last night must diminish a trifle that envy you are always possessed with, when you're at that house."
But Wayne, staring up at the wintry sky, answered, more roughly than his wife had ever heard him speak: "No—God knows I envy them even at a time like this!"
XXIII.—TWO NOT OF A KIND
"Yes, they are very pleasant rooms," Juliet admitted, with the air of one endeavouring to be polite. She sat upon a many-hued divan, and glanced from the blue-and-yellow wall-paper to the green velvet chairs, the dull-red carpet and the stiff "lace" curtains. "You get the afternoon sun, and the view opposite isn't bad. The vestibule seemed to be well kept, and I rang only three times before I made you hear."
"The janitor promised to fix that bell," said Judith hastily. "Oh, I know the colour combinations are dreadful, but one can't help that in rented rooms. Of course our things look badly with the ones that belong here. But as soon as we can we are going to move into a still better place."
"Going to keep house?"
"No-o, not just yet." Judith hesitated. "You seem to think there's nothing in the world to do but to keep house."
"I'm sure of it."
"I can't see why. A girl doesn't need to assume all the cares of life the minute she marries. Why can't she keep young and fresh for a while?"
Juliet glanced toward a mirror opposite. "How old and haggard I must be looking," she observed, with—it must be confessed—a touch of complacency. The woman who could have seen that image reflected as her own without complacency must have been indifferent, indeed.
"Of course, you manage it somehow—I suppose because Anthony takes such care of you. But you wait till five years more have gone over your head, and see if you're not tired of it."
"If I'm as tired of it as you are—" began Juliet, and stopped. "But seriously, Judith, is it nothing to you to please Wayne?"
"Why, of course." Judith flushed. "But Wayne is satisfied."
"Are you sure of it?"
"Certainly. Oh, sometimes, when we go to see you, and you make things so pleasant with your big fire and your good things to eat, he gets a spasm of wishing we were by ourselves, but——"
Juliet shook her head. "Wayne doesn't say a word," she said, "and he's as devoted to you as a man can be. But, Judith, if I know the symptoms, that husband of yours is starving for a home, and—do I dare say it?"
Judith was staring out of the window at the ugly walls opposite. It was her bedroom window, and the opposite walls were not six feet away.
"I suppose you dare say anything," she answered, looking as if she were about to cry. "I'm sure I envy you, you're so supremely contented. I don't think I was made to care for children."
"That might come," said Juliet softly. "I'm sure it would, Judith. As for Wayne, if you could see the look on his face I've surprised there more than once, when he had little Anthony, and he thought nobody noticed, it would make your heart ache, dear. Don't deny him—or yourself—the best thing that can happen to either of you. At least, don't deny it for lack of a home. I'm sure I can't imagine Tony, Junior, in these rooms of yours. They don't look," she explained, smiling, "exactly babyish."
She rose to go. She looked so young and fair and sweet as she spoke her gentle homily that Judith, half doubting, half believing, admitted to herself that of one thing there could be no question: Mrs. Anthony Robeson envied nobody upon the face of the earth.
The visits of the Robesons to the various apartments which were in rotation occupied by the Careys were few. Somehow it seemed much easier and simpler for the pair who had no children, and no housekeeping to hamper them, to run out into the suburbs than for their friends to get into town. So the Careys came with ever increasing frequency, always warmly welcomed, and enjoyed the hours within the little house so thoroughly that in time the influence of the content they saw so often began to have its inevitable effect.
"I've great news for you," said Anthony, coming home one March day, when little Tony was nearing his second birthday. "It's about the Careys. Guess."
"They are going to housekeeping."
"How did you know?"
"I didn't know, but Judith told me weeks ago she supposed she should have to come to it. Have they found a house?"
"Carey thinks he has. Judith doesn't like the place, for about fifty good and sufficient reasons—to her. He's trying to persuade her. He has an option on it for ten days. He wants us to come out and look at it with them."
"Where is it?"
"About as far east of the city as we are north. If to-morrow is a good day I promised we would run out with them on the ten-fifteen. I suspect they need us badly. Wayne looks like a man distracted. The great trouble, I fancy, is going to be that Judith Dearborn Carey is still too much of a Dearborn to be able to make a home out of anything. And Carey can't do it alone."
"Indeed he can't, poor fellow. I never saw a man in my life who wanted a home as badly as Wayne does. Let's do our best to help them."
"We will. But the only way to do it thoroughly is to make Judith over. Even you can't accomplish that."
"There's hope, if she has agreed at all to trying the experiment," Juliet declared, and thought about her friends all the rest of the day.
It was but five minutes' walk, from the suburban station where the party got off next morning, to the house which Carey eagerly pointed out as the four approached.
"There it is," he said. "Don't tell me what you think of it till you've seen the whole thing. I know it doesn't look promising as yet, but I keep remembering the photographs of your home, Robeson, before you went at it. I'm inclined to think this can be made right, too."
Anthony and Juliet studied Carey's choice with interest. Judith looked on dubiously. It was plain that if she should consent it would be against her will.
"It looks so commonplace and ugly," she said aside to Juliet, as the four completed the tour around the house and prepared to enter. "Your home is old-fashioned enough to be interesting, but this is just modern enough to be ugly. Look at that big window in front with the cheap coloured glass across the top. What could you do with that?"
"Several things," said her friend promptly. "You might put in a row of narrow casement windows across the front, with diamond panes. No—the porch isn't attractive with all that gingerbread work, but you could take it away and have something plain and simple. The general lines of the house are not bad. It has been an old-fashioned house, Judith, but somebody who didn't know how has altered it and spoiled it. People are always doing that. There must have been a fanlight over this door. You could restore it. And do you see that quaint round window in the gable? Probably they looked at that and longed to do away with it, but happily for you didn't know how."
Carey glanced curiously at his friend's wife, then anxiously at his own. Juliet's face was alight with interest; Judith's heavy with dissatisfaction. He wondered for the thousandth time what made the difference. He would have given a year's salary to see Judith look interested in this desire of his heart. It was hard to push a thing like this against the will of the only person whose help he could not do without. Carey was determined to have the home. Even Judith acknowledged that she had not been happy in any of the seven apartments they had tried during the less than four years of their married life. Carey believed with all his heart that their only chance for happiness lay in getting away from a manner of living which was using up every penny he could earn without giving them either satisfaction or comfort. His salary would not permit him to rent the sort of thing in the sort of neighbourhood which Judith longed for. And if it should, he did not believe his wife would find such environments any more congenial than the present one. Carey had a theory that a woman, like a man, must be busy to be contented. He meant to try it with his handsome, discontented wife.
"Oh, what a pretty hall!" cried Mrs. Robeson, with enthusiasm. "How lucky that the vandals who made the house over didn't lay their desecrating hands on that staircase."
"The hall looks gloomy to me," said Mrs. Carey, with a disapproving glance at the walls.
"Of course—with that dingy brown paper and the woodwork stained that hideous imitation of oak. You can scrape all that off, paint it white, put on a warm, rich paper, restore your fanlight, and you'll have a particularly attractive hall."
"I wish I could see things that are not visible, as you seem to be able to," sighed Judith, looking unconvinced. "I never did like a long, straight staircase like that. And there's not room to make a turn."
"You don't want to, do you? It's so wide and low it doesn't need to turn, and the posts and rails are extremely good. How about this front room?"
She stood in the center of the front room, and the two men, watching her vivid face as it glowed above her furs, noting the capable, womanly way she had of looking at the best side of everything and discerning in a flash of imagination and intuition what could be done with unpromising material, appreciated her with that full masculine appreciation which it is so well worth the trouble of any woman to win.
Judith was not blind; she saw little by little as Juliet went from room to room—seizing in each upon its possibilities, ignoring its poorer features except to suggest their betterment, giving her whole-hearted, friendly counsel in a way which continually took the prospective homemakers into consideration—that she herself was losing something immeasurably valuable in not attempting to cultivate these same winning characteristics. And in the same breath Judith was forced to admit to herself that she did not know how to begin.
"There is really a very pretty view from the dining-room," she said, as a first effort at seeing something to admire. Both Juliet and Anthony agreed to this statement with a cordiality which came very near suggesting that it was a relief to find Mrs. Carey on the optimistic side of the discussion even in this small detail. As for Carey, he looked so surprised and grateful that Judith's heart smote her with a vigour to which she was unaccustomed.
"I suppose you could use this room as a sort of den?" she was prompted to suggest to her husband; and such a delighted smile illumined Carey's face that the sight of it was almost pathetic to his friends, who understood his situation rather better than he did himself. In his pleasure Carey put his arm about his wife's shoulders.
"Couldn't I, though?" he agreed enthusiastically. "And you could use it for a retreat while I was away for the day."
"A retreat from what? Too much excitement?" began Judith, the old habit of scorn of everything which was not of the city returning upon her irresistibly. But it chanced that she caught Juliet's eyes, unconsciously wearing such an expression of solicitude to see her friend complaisant in this matter which meant so much, that Judith hurriedly followed her ironic question with the more kindly supplement: "But doubtless I should have plenty, and be glad to get away."
"You certainly would," asserted Anthony. "We never guessed how much there would be to occupy us in the country, but there seems hardly time to write letters. Nobody can believe, till he tries, how much pleasure there is in wheedling a garden into growing, nor how well the labour makes him sleep o' nights."
"Yes—I think I could sleep here," said Carey, and passed a hand over a brow which was aching at that very moment. "I haven't done that satisfactorily for six months."
"You'll do it here," Anthony prophesied confidently. "It's a fine air with a good breath of the salt sea in it, which we don't get. Your sleeping rooms are all well aired and lighted—a thing you don't always find in more pretentious houses. And when the paint and paper go on you'll own yourselves surprised at the transformation. I was never so astonished in my life as I was at the change in the little bedroom in our house which has that pale yellow-and-white stripe on the wall. It was a north room, and the old wall was a forlorn slate, like a thundercloud. My little artist here, with her eye for colours, instantly announced that she would get the sunshine into that room. And so she did—with no more potent a charm than that fifteen-cent paper and a fresh coat of white paint."
Carey looked at Juliet with longing in his eye. He wanted to ask her to supervise the alterations in his purchase, if he should make it. But he remembered other occasions when he had held the sayings and doings of Mrs. Robeson before the eyes of Mrs. Carey with disastrous result, and he dared not make the suggestion. He hoped, however, that Judith might be inclined to ask the assistance of her friend, and himself hinted at it, cautiously. But Judith, beyond inquiring what Juliet thought of certain possible changes, seemed inclined to shoulder her own responsibilities.
Anthony left his wife upon the home-bound train, to return to his work; the Careys accompanied him, so that he had no chance to talk things over until he came home to dinner at night. But when he saw Juliet again almost her first words showed him where her thoughts were.
"Tony, I can't get those people off my mind. Do you suppose they will ever make a home out of anything?"
"They haven't much genius for utilizing raw material, I'm very much afraid," Anthony responded thoughtfully. "Carey has the will, and he can furnish a moderate amount of funds, but whether Judith can furnish anything but objections and contrariety I don't dare to predict. If her heart were in it I should have more hope of her. There's one thing I can tell her. If she doesn't set her soul to the giving the old boy a taste of peace and rest she'll have him worn out before his time. A fellow who doesn't know how it feels to sleep soundly, and whose head bothers him half the time, needs looking after. He's a slave to his office desk, and needs far more than an active chap like me to get out of the city as much as he can."
"Yes, he's worried and restless, Tony. He's so devoted to Judith and so anxious to make her happy, her dissatisfaction rests on him like a weight. Don't you see that every time you see them together?"
"Every time—and more plainly. What's the matter with her anyhow, Julie? She seemed promising enough as a girl. You certainly found enough in her to make you two congenial. She's no more like you than—electric light is like sunshine," said Anthony, picking up the simile with a laugh and a glance of appreciation.
"Judith shines in the surroundings she was born and brought up in, misses them, and doesn't know how to adapt herself to any others. She ought to have been the wife of some high official—she could entertain royally and have everybody at her feet."
"Magnificent characteristics, but mighty unavailable in the present circumstances. It carries out my electric-light comparison. I prefer the sunlight—and I have it.—Poor Carey!"
"We'll hope," said Juliet. "And if we have the smallest chance to help, we'll do it."
But, as Anthony had anticipated, there was small chance to help. Meeting Carey a fortnight later, Anthony inquired after the new home, and Carey replied with apparent lack of enthusiasm that the house had been leased for a term of three years, with refusal of the purchase at the expiration of the time. He explained that Judith had been unwilling to burn her bridges by buying the place outright, and that he thought perhaps the present plan was the better one—under these conditions. But the fact that the house was not their own made it seem unwise to expend very much upon alterations beyond those of paint and paper. With the prospect of a sale the owner had unwillingly consented to replace the gingerbread porch with one in better style, but refused to do more. The big window, with its abominable topping of cheap coloured glass, was to remain for the present.
"And I think this whole arrangement is bound to defeat my purpose," said Carey unhappily. "The very changes we can't afford to make in a rented house are the ones Judith needs to have made to reconcile her to the experiment. She says she feels ill every time she comes to the house and sees that window. She wants a porcelain sink in the kitchen. She would like speaking-tubes and a system of electric bells. We're to have a servant—if we can find her. We've put green paper on all the downstairs rooms, and it turns out the wrong green. I wanted a sort of corn-colour that looked more cheerful, but it seems green is the only thing. I don't know what's the matter with me. Perhaps I'm bilious. Green seems to be all right in your house, but in mine it makes me want to go outdoors."
"That's precisely what you should do," Anthony advised cheerfully. "Get outdoors all you can. Start your garden. Mow your lawn yourself. Make over that gravel path to your front door."
"I've only evenings," objected Carey. "And we're not settled yet. The paper's only just on. We haven't moved. We're buying furniture. We bought a sideboard yesterday. It cost so much we had to get a cheaper range for the kitchen than seemed desirable, but Judith liked the sideboard so well I was glad to buy it. I don't know when we shall get to living there permanently. This furnishing business knocks me out. We don't seem to know what we want. I'd like—" he hesitated—"I hoped Mrs. Robeson might be able to give us the advantage of her experience, but it turns out that Judith has a sort of pride in doing it herself, and of course—I presume you made some mistakes yourselves, eh?" He suggested this with eagerness.
"Oh, of course," agreed Anthony readily, though he wondered what they were, and inwardly begged Juliet's pardon for this answer, given out of masculine sympathy with his friend's helplessness. "You'll come out all right," he hastily assured Carey. "Once you are living in the new place things will adjust themselves. Keep up your courage. Your daily walk to and from the train will do wonders. Lack of exercise will make a rainbow look gloomy to a fellow. I think you've great cause for rejoicing that Judith has agreed to try the experiment at all. And as with all experiments, you must be patient while it works itself out."
"That's so," agreed Carey, a gleam of hope in his eyes; and Anthony got away. But by himself the happier man shook his head doubtfully. "Where everything depends on the woman," he said to himself, "and you've married one that her Maker never fashioned for domestic joys, you're certainly up against a mighty difficult proposition!"
XXIV.—THE CAREYS ARE AT HOME
Wayne and Judith Carey had been keeping house for two months before Judith was willing to accede to her husband's often repeated request that they entertain the Robesons.
"We've been there, together and separately, till it's a wonder their hospitality doesn't freeze up," he urged. "Let's have them out to-morrow night, and keep them over till next day, at least. I'd like to have them sleep under this roof. They'd bring us good luck."
"One would think the Robesons were the only people worth knowing," said Judith, with a petulance of which she had the grace, as her husband stared at her, to be ashamed.
"They're the truest friends we have in the world," he said, with a dignity of manner unusual with him. "Sometimes I think they are the only people worth knowing—out of all those on your calling list."
"We differ about that. Your ideas of who are worth knowing are very peculiar. Heaven knows I'm fond of Juliet, but I get decidedly tired of having her held up as a model. And I haven't been anxious to entertain her until we were in order."
"We're certainly as much in order now as we shall be for some time. Let's have them out. You'll find they'll see everything there is to praise. It's their way."
So Anthony and Juliet were asked, and came. Wayne's prophecy was proven a true one—even Judith grew complacent as her friends admired the result of her house-furnishing. And in truth there was much to admire. Judith was a young woman of taste and more or less discretion, and if she could have had full sway in her purchasing the result might have been admirable. As it was, the unspoken criticism in the minds of both the guests, as they followed their hosts about the house, was that Judith had struck a key-note in her construction of a home a little too ambitious to be wholly satisfactory.
"I believe in buying the best of everything as far as you go," she said, indicating a particularly costly lounging chair in a corner of the living-room. "Of course that was very expensive, but it will always be right, and we can get others to go with it. The bookcases were another high-priced purchase, but they give an air to the room worth paying for."
"I've only one objection to this room," said Wayne with some hesitation. "As Judith says, the things in it seem to be all right, and it certainly looks in good taste, if I'm any judge, but—I don't know just how to explain it——" he hesitated again, and smiled deprecatingly at his wife.
"Speak out," said Judith. She was in a very good humour, for her guests had shown so fine a tact in their commendation that she was in quite a glow of satisfaction, and for the first time felt the pleasure of the hostess in an attractive home. "It can't be a serious objection, for you've liked every single thing we've put into it."
"Indeed I have," agreed Carey, eagerly glancing about the brilliantly lit room. "I like it all awfully well—especially in the daylight. The corner by the window is a famous place for reading. But, you see, I'm so little here in the daytime, except on Sundays. Of course I know we lack the fireplace that makes your living-room jolly, but it seems as if we lack something besides that we might have, and for the life of me I can't tell what it is."
Anthony knew by a certain curve in the corner of his wife's mouth that she longed to tell him what it was. For himself, he could not discover. He studied the room searchingly and was unable to determine why, attractive as it really was, it certainly did, upon this cool May evening, lack the look of warm comfort and hospitality of which his own home was so full.
"Possibly it's because everything is so new," he ventured. "Rooms come to have a look of home, you know, just by living in them and leaving things about. It's a pretty room, all right, and I fancy it will take on the friendly expression you want when you get to strewing your books and magazines around a little more, and laying your pipe down on the corner of the mantel-piece, you know—and all that. I can upset things for you in half a minute if you'll give me leave."
"You have my full permission," said Judith, laughing. "I fancy it's just as you say: Wayne isn't used to it yet. He always likes his old slippers better than the handsomest new ones I can buy him. Come—dinner has been served for five minutes. No more artistic suggestions till afterward."
The dinner was perfect. It should have been so, for a caterer was in the kitchen, and a hired waitress served the viands without disaster. As a delectable meal it was a success; as an exhibition of Mrs. Carey's capacity for home making, it was something of a failure. It certainly did not for a moment deceive the guests. For the life of her, as Juliet tasted course after course of the elaborate meal, she could not help reckoning up what it had cost. Neither could she refrain from wondering what sort of a repast Judith would have produced without help.
After dinner, as Wayne and Anthony smoked in front of the fireless mantel-piece in the den, each in a more luxurious chair than was to be found in Anthony's whole house, Judith took Juliet to task.
"You may try to disguise it," she complained, "but I've known you too long not to be able to read you. You would rather have had me cook that dinner myself and bring it in, all red and blistered from being over the stove."
"As long as the dinner wasn't red and blistered you wouldn't have been unhappy," Juliet returned lightly. "But you mustn't think that she who entertains may read my ingenuous face, my dear. It isn't necessary that I attempt to convert the world to my way of thinking. And I haven't told you that when Auntie Dingley goes abroad with father again this winter I'm to have Mary McKaim for eight whole months. I can assure you I know how to appreciate the comfort of having a competent cook in the kitchen."
She got up and crossed the room. "Judith, what an exquisite lamp," she observed. "I'd forgotten that you had it. Was it one of your wedding presents?"
Judith followed her to where she stood examining an imposing, foreign-looking lamp, with jeweled inlets in the hand-wrought metal shade. "Yes," she said carelessly, "it's pretty enough. I don't care much for lamps."
"Not to read by?"
"It's bright enough for anybody but a blind man to read, here." Judith glanced at the ornate chandelier of electric lights in the centre of the ceiling. "The rooms aren't so high that the lights are out of reach for reading."
"But this is beautiful. Have you never used it?"
"It might be used with an electric connection, I suppose. No, I've never used it as an oil lamp. I hate kerosene oil."
"But you have some in the house?"
"Oh, yes, I think so. Wayne insisted on getting some little hand-lamps. Something's always happening to the wires out here. That's one of the numerous joys of living in the suburbs."
"Let's fill this and try it," Juliet suggested, turning a pair of very bright eyes upon her friend. "If you've never lit it I don't believe you've half appreciated it. You're neglecting one of the prettiest sources of decoration you have in the house. Out of sympathy for the giver, whoever he was, you ought to let his gift have a chance to show you its beauty."
"Stevens Cathcart gave it to us, I believe," said Judith. "Here, let me have it. I'll fill it, since you insist. But I never thought very much of it. It was put away in a closet until we came here. It took up so much room I never found a place for it."
"Mr. Cathcart gave it to you? That proves my point, that it's worth admiring. If there's a connoisseur in things of this sort, it's he. He probably picked it up in some out-of-the-ordinary European shop."
Smiling to herself, as if something gave her satisfaction, Juliet awaited the return of her hostess. She understood, from the manner of Judith's exit with the lamp, that the free and easy familiarity with which guests invaded every portion of Anthony's little home, was not to be made a precedent for the same sort of thing in Judith's.
The lamp reappeared, accompanied by a lamentation over the disagreeable qualities of kerosene oil for any use whatever.
"You can put electricity into this and use it as a drop-light, if you prefer," said Juliet, as she lit it and adjusted the shade. "May I set it on the big table over here? Right in the center, please, if you don't mind moving that bowl of carnations. There!—Of course you can send it back to oblivion over there on the bookcase if you really don't like it.—But you do like it—don't you?"
"It's handsomer than I thought it was," Judith admitted without enthusiasm. Juliet glanced up at the blazing chandelier overhead.
"May I turn off some of this light?" she asked. "You won't get the full beauty of your lamp till you give it a chance by itself."
Judith assented. Juliet snapped off three out of the four lights, and smiled mischievously at her friend. Then she extinguished the fourth, so that the only luminary left in the room was the lamp. Judith groaned.
"Maybe you like a gloomy room like this. I don't. Look at it. I can hardly see anything in the corners."
"Wait a little bit. You're so used to the glare your eyes are not good for seeing what I mean. Study the lamp itself a minute. Did you ever see anything so fascinating as the gleam through those jewels? An electric bulb inside would add to the brilliancy, though it's not so soft a light to read by, and the effect in the room isn't so warm. Observe those carnations under the lamplight, honey? Come over here to the doorway and look at your whole room under these new conditions. Isn't it charming?—enticing?—Let's draw that lovely Morris chair up close to the table, as if you were expecting Wayne to come in and read the evening paper by the lamp. There!"
Juliet softly clapped her hands, her face shining with friendly enthusiasm. There could be no question that the whole room, as she had said, had taken on a new look of homelike comfort and cheer which it had lacked before. Even Judith was forced to see it.
"It looks very well," she admitted. "But I should have more light from above. I like plenty of light."
"So do I, if you manage it well." Whereupon the guest, having gained her point and made sufficient demonstration of it, turned the conversation into other channels. But the lamp was not yet through with its position of reformer. The two men, having finished their cigars, and hearing sounds of merriment from the adjoining room, came strolling in. Anthony, comprehending at a glance the change which had come over the aspect of the room and the cause thereof, advanced, smiling. But Carey came to a standstill upon the threshold, his lips drawn into an astonished whistle.
"What's happened?" he ejaculated, and stood staring.
"Do you like it?" asked his wife.
"I should say I did. But what's done it? What makes the room look so different? It looks—why it looks like your rooms!" he cried, gazing at Anthony.
"He can say nothing more flattering than that," said Judith, evidently not altogether pleased. "It's the highest compliment he knows."
Carey stared at the lamp. "I didn't know we had that," he said. "Is it that that does it?"
"I fancy it is," said Anthony. "I never understood it till I was taught, but it seems to be a fact that a low light in a room gives it a more homelike effect than a high one. I don't know why. It's one of my wife's pet theories."
"Well, I must say this is a pretty convincing demonstration of it," Carey agreed, sitting down in a chair in a corner, his hands in his pockets, still studying this, to him, remarkable transformation. "It certainly does look like a happy home now. Before, it was a place to receive calls in." He turned, smiling contentedly, to his wife. Something about the glance which she returned warned him that further admiration was unnecessary. The contented smile faded a little. He got up and came over to the table. "Now, let's have a good four-handed talk," he proposed.
Two hours later, in the seclusion of the guest-room upstairs, Anthony said under his breath:
"They're coming on, aren't they? Don't you see glimmerings of hope that some day this will resemble a home, in a sort of far-off way? Isn't Judith becoming domesticated a trifle? She didn't get up that dinner?"
Juliet turned upon him a smiling face, and laid her finger on her lip. "Don't tempt me to discuss it," she warned him. "My feelings might run away with me, and that would never do under their very roof."
"Exemplary little guest! May I say as much as this, then? I'd give a good deal to see Wayne speak his mind once in a way, without a side glance to see if Her Royal Majesty approves."
But Juliet shook her head. "Don't tempt me," she begged again. "There's something inside of me that boils and boils with rage, and if I should just take the cover off——"
"Might I get scalded? All right—I'll leave the cover on. Just one observation more. When I get inside our own four walls again I'm going to give a tremendous whoop of joy and satisfaction that'll raise the roof right off the house!"
XXV.—THE ROBESON WILL
When people are busy and happy the years may go by like a dream. So the months rolled around and brought little Tony past the third anniversary of his birth, and into another summer of lusty development. Except to the growing child, however, time seemed to bring slight changes to the little home under whose roof he grew. The mistress thereof lost no charm either for her husband or her friends—Anthony indeed insisted that she grew younger; certainly, as time taught her new lessons without laying hands upon her beauty, she gained attractiveness in every way.
"You look as much like a girl as ever," Anthony said to her one morning, as dressed for a trip into town she came out upon the porch where he and little Tony were frolicing together.
"You had ever a sweetly blarneying tongue," said she, and bestowed a parting caress impartially upon both the persons before her. "I feel a bit guilty at making a nursemaid of you for even one morning of your vacation, but——"
"That's all right. Do your errands with an easy conscience. I'll enjoy looking after the boy, and am rather glad your usual little maid is away. That's one thing my vacation is for—to get upon a basis of mutual understanding and confidence with my son. We see too little of each other."
So Juliet caught the early car, and left the two male Robesons together, father and son, waving good-bye to her from the porch. When she was out of sight the elder Robeson turned to the younger.
"Now, son," he said, "I'm going to mow the lawn. What are you going to do?"
"I is going to mow lawn, too," announced Tony, Junior, with decision.
"All right, sir. Here we are. Get in front of me and mind you push hard. That's the stuff!"
All went joyously for ten minutes. Then little Tony wriggled out from between his father's arms and went over to the porch step. He sat down and crossed two fat legs. He leaned his head upon his hand, his elbow on his knee, and watched with serious eyes the progress of the lawn-mower three times across before he said wistfully:
"Favver, I wis' you'd p'ay wiv me."
"When I get this job done perhaps I will," said Anthony, and made the grass fly merrily. Presently he put away the lawn-mower, and stood looking down at the sturdy little figure in the blue Russian blouse. "What do you want to play?" he asked. Tony's face lit up.
"Le's play fire-endjun," he proposed enthusiastically.
"Where shall we play the fire is?"
"Le's have weal fire," said Tony eagerly.
"Real fire? Well, I don't know about that, son," his father responded doubtfully. "Young persons of three are not considered old enough to play with the real thing. Won't make believe do just as well?"
"No, no—weal fire," repeated the child. "Le's put it out wiv sqi'yt watto. P'ease, favver—p'ease!"
"Sqi'wt watto," repeated Anthony, laughing. "What do you mean by——? Oh, I see——" as Tony demonstrated his meaning by running to the garden hose which remained attached to a hydrant behind the house. "Well, son—if I let you have a real fire and put it out with real water, will you promise me never to try anything of that sort by yourself?"
Tony walked over to his father and laid a little brown fist in Anthony's. "Aw wight," he said solemnly. Anthony looked down at the clasped hands and smiled at the serious uplifted face. "Is that the way mother teaches you to promise her?" he asked, with interest.
Tony nodded. "Aw wight," he said. "Come on. Le's make fire!"
The fire was made, out of a packing-box brought up from the cellar. It burned realistically down by the orchard, and was only discovered by chance when Anthony Robeson, Junior, happened to glance that way.
"Fire!—fire!" he shouted, and alarmed the fire company, who, as fire companies should be, were ready to start on the instant. The hose-cart, propelled by a pair of stout legs, made a gallant dash down the edge of the garden, followed by the hook-and-ladder company, their equipment just three feet long. It took energetic and skilful work to quench the conflagration, which raged furiously and made plenty of good black smoke. The fire chief rushed dramatically about, ordering his men with ringing commands. Once he stubbed his bare toe and fell, and for a moment it looked as though he must cry, but like the brave fellow that he was he smothered his pain behind an uplifted elbow, and in a moment was again in the thick of the fray. His men obeyed him with admirable promptitude, although, contrary to the usual custom of fire chiefs, he himself took hold of the hose and poured its volume upon the blazing structure.
When the fire was out the chief, breathless, his blue blouse bearing the marks of the encounter with flood and flame, sat down upon the overturned hose-cart and beamed upon his company.
"Vat was awful nice fire," he said. "Le's have anuver."
"Another? Oh, no," protested the company, hastily. "No more of that just now. Pick up your hook-and-ladder wagon and put it back where it belongs. I'll see to the hose."
Anthony gently displaced the fire chief and rolled away the hose. Then he looked back down the garden and saw his son poking among the ruins of the fire. "Come here, Tony," he called, "and bring the hook-and-ladder."
Tony came slowly, but without the toy wagon. Anthony stood still. When the boy reached him he said, "Why didn't you bring the hook-and-ladder cart?"
"'Cause I'm ve chief," Tony responded gravely. "My mens'll bring ve cart."
"Your men aren't there. You'll have to bring it yourself."
Tony shook his head. "I'm ve chief," he repeated, and looked his father in the eye. Anthony understood. It was not the first time. There were moments in one's experience with Anthony Robeson, Junior, when one seemed to encounter a deadlock in the child's will. Reasoning and commands were apt at such times to be alike futile. The odd thing about it was that it was impossible to predict when these moments were at hand. They arose without warning, when the boy was apparently in the best of tempers, and they did not seem to be the result of any previous mismanagement on the part of those in authority over him.
Of one point Anthony, Senior, was sure. The child, like all children, and possibly more than most, possessed a vivid imagination. When he announced himself to be a fire chief, there could be no question that he believed himself to be for the time that which he pretended to be. His father understood, therefore, that to make progress with the boy it was necessary to get back to the standpoint of reality before commands could be expected to take hold. So he sat down on a rustic seat near Juliet's roses and spoke in a pleasantly matter-of-fact way.
"Yes, you've been a fire chief, son, and a good one. That was a great game. But the game is over now, and you're not a fire chief any more. You're Tony Robeson, and the little hook-and-ladder cart is your plaything. Father wants you to bring it here and put it in its place in the house. It looks a little bit like rain, and the cart mustn't be left out to get wet. See?"
But Tony still shook his head. "My men'll put it in," he said, with calmness undisturbed.
"You haven't any men. You played there were some, but the play is over and there aren't any men. If you don't put the cart in it may get wet."
"I'm ve chief," said little Tony. "Chiefs don't draw carts."
"When they've turned back to little boys they do. You've turned back to a little boy."
"No, I hasn't," said Tony, and his eyes met his father's unflinchingly. "I's going to be a chief all ve time."
The argument seemed unanswerable. Anthony considered swiftly what to do. He studied the grave brown eyes an instant in silence, their beauty and the inflexibility in their depths appealing to him with equal force. He loved the tough little will. He recognised it as his own—the same powerful quality which had brought him thus far on the road to fortune after being landed at the furthermost end from the goal. He would not for worlds deal with his son's will in any but the way which should seem to him wisest.
He rose from his seat. He spoke quietly but with force. "Very well," he said. "If you're still a fire chief, of course you're too big to play. I'm much obliged to you for putting out my fire. But now that it's out I don't want your hook-and-ladder in my garden any longer. When your men take it away I shall be glad. But of course we can't play any more till you stop being a fire chief and the hook-and-ladder is back in its corner in the nursery. Good-bye. When you are ready to be Tony Robeson again, you'll find me in my den."
He smiled at his son and walked away. Tony watched him go. Tony's hands were clasped behind his back, his legs planted wide apart.
Anthony, Senior, found it difficult to remain in the den. He was obliged to keep track of a small figure in a blue blouse from whichever of the various windows commanded the doings of that young person. He perceived that the fire chief was still holding dominion over the scene.
At the end of an hour small footsteps were heard approaching. Anthony looked up from the letter he was attempting to write. "Favver, may I have a bread and butter?" asked a pleasant voice. Anthony turned about in his chair.
"Is the hook-and-ladder in the nursery?" he inquired gravely.
Tony shook his head.
"Oh, then you are still the fire chief. Fire chiefs go to the hotel for their bread and butter. I haven't any bread and butter for the fire chief."
He turned back to his desk. The small figure in the doorway stood still a moment, then the footsteps were heard retreating. Five minutes later, Anthony, looking out, saw Tony careering about the garden on a hobby-horse.
"Obstinate little duffer," he said affectionately to himself. "He's playing go to the hotel, I suppose. Perhaps when that imagination of his gets to work at hypothetical bread and butter he'll find the reality preferable to the fancy."
In a short time Anthony again reconnoitred. The garden was empty. He looked out at the front of the house. No small figure in blue was to be seen. He went out and took a turn about the place. He called the boy; there was no response. From past experience and from the statements of Juliet and the young girls of the neighbourhood, whom, at various times, she was in the habit of engaging to assist her in the oversight of the child at his play, he knew that Tony had a trick of getting himself out of sight in an incredibly brief space of time.
"As a fire chief he may consider himself free to do what he pleases," said Anthony to himself, and set about a thorough search of the place, having no doubt that at any moment he should come upon the boy carrying out the details of his imaginary vocation. After a time he went back into the house and scoured it from top to bottom. And when, even here, there was to be discovered no trace of the child, he began to feel a slight uneasiness.
There was no source of immediate danger to a stray child in the neighbourhood, of which he was aware, except the electric line, and little Tony had never manifested the slightest inclination to approach this by himself. There were no open ponds, no traps of any kind for the incautious feet of a three-year-old. Everybody knew Tony, and everybody admired and loved him, so that, as Anthony took up his hat and started upon a more extended search, he had no doubt whatever of finding the runaway without delay.
In a very short time it became a rousing of the neighbourhood. It was Saturday, and all the children who knew Tony were at hand. They were soon eagerly searching for him near and far, without finding the slightest trace of his passing. Anthony, now thoroughly alarmed, telephoned in every direction, warned every police station in the city, and took every possible step for the discovery of the child. It occurred to him with tremendous force that the boy might have been stolen. Such things did happen. It seemed almost the only way to account for such a sudden and mysterious disappearance.
Before it seemed possible two hours had slipped past. And now, on every car which whirled by the corner, Anthony began to expect Juliet. He dreaded yet longed to see her. He turned cold at the thought of telling her the situation, yet at the same time he felt as if she might have some sort of a solution ready which nobody else had thought of. And while, still searching over and over the entire ground, he kept watch of the arriving cars, he saw his wife suddenly appear. He went to meet her.
"What is it?" she said, the instant her eye met his.
"I think it's all right, dear," he told her, as quietly as he could, "but somehow we can't find Tony. He disappeared during five minutes when I was in the house—too short a time for him to have got very far away, but—we can't find him. Do you think he may be hiding? Does he ever hide himself so effectually as that?"
The bright colour in her face had slipped out of it on the instant, for he could not keep the anxiety out of his voice. But she said no word of reproach, nor did she lose command of herself in any way.
"How long has he been gone?" she asked, going straight toward the house, Anthony close behind her.
"I think—I am afraid—nearly two hours. I will tell you what happened. It is possible something I said is responsible for all this, though I don't know."
She was going swiftly about the house, as he told her the story of his attempt to teach the boy a lesson, and she was listening closely to every word as she examined for herself each nook and corner. She disclosed several possible hiding places of which Anthony had not thought, explaining that Tony knew them all and sometimes betook himself to them in the course of various games. The two came out upon the porch, and Juliet stood still, thinking.
"You have done everything to intercept him, if he should really have—got far away?"
"Everything I can think of, except start out myself. I am ready to do that, if you think best."
"Not until I have gone over the neighbourhood myself. I don't believe he is far away—I believe he is near. He may have heard every call you and the children have made, and wouldn't answer. If by any chance his pride has been a little hurt, he is very likely to do this sort of thing. Wait—have you looked—I wonder if the children know——"
She was off without stopping to explain, through the garden and down the old willow-bordered path by the brook. Anthony followed. "I've been down here a dozen times," he called. "The brook is too shallow to hurt him, and he's certainly not anywhere on it within a mile. The children have been all over the ground."
But Juliet did not pause. She ran along the path for some distance, then turned abruptly at a point where an abandoned lot filled with stumps joined the area by the brook. She made her swift way among these stumps, Anthony following, his hope rising as he noted the directness of his wife's aim. At the biggest stump she came to a standstill, carefully swung out-ward like a door a great slab of bark, and disclosed a hollow. The sunlight streamed in upon a little heap of blue, and a tangled brown mass of hair. Anthony Robeson, Junior, lay fast asleep in his cunningly devised retreat.
Without a word his father stood looking down at the boy's flushed cheeks. Then he turned to Juliet, standing beside him, smiling through the tears which had not come until the anxiety was past. His own eyes were wet.
"That was a bad scare," he said softly. "Thank God it's over."
Then he stooped and gently lifted the fire chief and carried him home without waking him. Twenty children flocked joyfully from all about to see, and hushed their shouts of congratulation at Juliet's smiling warning.
Anthony went alone down the garden to the place where the hook-and-ladder cart had stood. It was still there. He stood and looked at it, his eyes very tender but his lips firm. "The little chap didn't give in," he said to himself. "It's going to be hard to make him, but for the sake of the Robeson will I think we'll have to take up the job where we left it. I'd mightily like to flunk the whole business now, but I should be a pretty weak sort of a beggar if I did."
When little Tony had wakened from his nap, and had been washed and brushed and fed, and made fresh in a clean frock, his mother brought him to his father.
"Is this Tony Robeson?" Anthony asked soberly. Tony considered for a moment, then shook his head.
"I's ve fire chief," he said, with polite stubbornness.
"Have your men put away the hook-and-ladder cart?"
"Are they going to do it?"
"I didn't tell vem to."
"Didn't want to."
"Listen, son," said Anthony. "I could make the fire chief put away the cart. I'm stronger than he is, you know. I could make him walk out to where it lies in the garden, and I could make his hands pick it up and carry it into the house, and then it would be done.—Don't you think I could?"
Tony considered. "Es, I fink 'ou could," he admitted. Evidently the question was one he could reflect upon from the standpoint of the outsider.
"But I don't want to do that. I want Tony Robeson to put the cart away because his father asks him to do it. Don't you think he ought to do that?"
"I isn't Tony Robeson, I'se ve fire chief."
"Were you the fire chief when you woke up, and mother washed you and dressed you and gave you your lunch? I don't think she thought you were. If you had been the fire chief she would have left you to take care of yourself."
Tony thought about it. "I dess I'se Tony wiv muvver," he said.
"Then you aren't Tony with me?"
The thick locks shook vehemently in the sir with the negative response. "I said I was ve fire chief, and I'se got to be ve fire chief," he reiterated.
Without question it was a battle of wills. But Anthony's mind was made up. For lack of time to deal with them previous similar issues had been dodged in various ways, compromises had been effected. It was plain that argument and reasoning, the wiles of the affectionately wise adversary who does not want to bring the matter to a direct conflict, had been tried. Anthony could see no way out except to dominate the child by the force of his own resolute character. It was not the way by which he wanted to obtain the mastery, but it was becoming plain to him that, in this case, at least, it was the only way left.
His face grew stern all at once, his eyes, though still kind, met his son's with determination. "Tony," he said very gravely—and there was a new quality in his tone to which the child was not accustomed—"You are not the fire chief now. You are Tony Robeson. I shall not let you be the fire chief any longer. Do you understand?"
There was no threat in the words, only a decisiveness of the sort before which men give way, because they see that there is no alternative. Tony stared into his father's eyes curiously. His own grew big with wonder, with something which was not alarm, but akin to it. He gazed and gazed, as if fascinated. Anthony's look held his; the man's powerful eyes did not flinch—neither did the boy's. It is possible that both pulses quickened a beat.
Little Tony drew his eyes away at last, turned and started for the door. Silently Anthony watched him as he reached for the knob, turned again, and looked back at his father. On the very threshold the child stood still and stared back. His brown eyes filled, his red lips quivered. The stern face which watched his melted into a winning smile, and Anthony held out his arms. An instant longer, and his son had run across the floor and flung himself into them.
When the childish storm of tears had quieted, and several big hugs had been exchanged, Anthony set the boy down upon the floor and took his hand. Silently the two walked out of the house and down the garden. The hook-and-ladder cart stood patiently waiting, just where it had waited all day. Little Tony ran to it and picked it up. Over his exquisite face broke the first smile that had been seen there since the earliest disregarded command of the morning.
"Ve fire chief's gone," he said. "He was a bad fire chief."
So together the man and the boy escorted the hook-and-ladder cart to the nursery, and backed it carefully into its stall, between the milk wagon and the automobile. Then the child went to his play. But the man drew a long breath.
"I would rather manage a hundred striking workmen," he said to himself with emphasis.
While little Tony had been growing, waxing strong and sturdy: while Juliet had been tending and training him, learning, as every mother does, more than she could impart: Anthony, in his place, had not stood still. The strength and determination he had from the first hour put into his daily work had begun to tell. His position in a great mercantile establishment had steadily advanced as he had made himself more and more indispensable to its heads.
Cathcart, the successful architect, began to talk about a new home for the man into whose hands Henderson and Henderson were putting large interests to manage for them, and whose salary, he asserted, must now justify, indeed call for, life under more ideal surroundings than the little home in the unfashionable suburb which poverty had at first made necessary.
"Let me draw some plans for you," urged Cathcart, one evening in June, when he had run out to see his friend. Juliet was by chance away, and Cathcart took advantage of this to call Anthony's attention, in a politely frank fashion, to the shortcomings of his present residence. "It's all right in its way," he said, standing upon a corner of the lawn with Anthony, and surveying the house critically. "Mrs. Robeson certainly deserves full credit for the admirable way in which she restored the old house and added just the changes in keeping with its possibilities. I've always said it couldn't have been better done, with the means you've told me you were able to put at her disposal. But the place is too small for you now."
"I don't think we feel it so," said Anthony tentatively, strolling beside Cathcart along the edge of the lawn, his hands in his pockets, lifting friendly eyes at the little house. "Since we put in the bathroom—that small room off the upper hall, you know—and added the nursery and den, we're very comfortable. The furnace keeps us warm as toast, and we're soon to have the water system out here, so we won't have to depend upon our present expedients. I'm fond of the place, and I'm confident Mrs. Robeson is devoted to it."
"I can understand that," agreed Cathcart. "Of course, the spot where you began life together will always have its charm for you both—in fact the sentiment of the matter may blind you to the real inadequacies of the place for a man in your position."
"My position isn't so stable that I want to build a marble palace on it yet," said Anthony, a humorous twinkle in his eye. He enjoyed watching another man manoeuvre for his favourable hearing of a scheme. It was an art in which he was himself accomplished; it was one of the points of his value to Henderson and Henderson.
"Everybody knows that you're in a fair way to become head man with the Hendersons," said Cathcart, "and everybody also knows that you might as well have struck a gold-mine. It's superb, the way you have come into the confidence of those old conservatives."
"That's all well enough; but I don't see that it entails upon me the duty of laying out all I've saved on a new house. I know what you fellows are—when you begin to draw plans your love of the ideal runs away with the other man's pocketbook."
"Not at all," declared Cathcart. "Particularly when he's a friend and you understand just what he can afford to do."
"Why don't you talk about enlarging the old house? That's much more likely to appeal to my desires."
The two had reached the back of the house and were close by the kitchen windows. Cathcart reached up and took hold of a sill. With a strong hand he wrenched and pounded about the window, until he succeeded in showing that it was old and uncertain.
"That's why," he said, dusting his hand with his handkerchief. "The house is old—fairly rotten in places. The minute you began to enlarge it in any ambitious way you'd find it would be cheaper to tear it down and begin again. But the site, Robeson—the site isn't desirable. The place is respectable enough, but it has no future. The good building is all going south, not north, of the city. You don't want to spend a lot of money here—you couldn't sell out except at a loss."
"Your arguments are good, very good," admitted Anthony; "so good that I'd like to put you on your mettle to draw me a set of plans for just the sort of thing you think I ought to have—or Mrs. Robeson ought to have, for she's the one to be considered. Anything will do for me. I'll let you do this—on one condition."
"That you also do your level best to demonstrate to me what a clever man and an artist of your proportions could make out of this house, provided he really wanted to show the extent of his ability. Now, that's fair. If you really care to convince me you won't fool with this proposition, you'll make a study of the one problem as thoroughly as you do of the other, and let me decide the case on its merits. If I thought you weren't giving the old house a fair chance I should take up its cause out of pure affection."
He smiled at Cathcart's discontented face with so brilliant a good humour that the architect cleared up.
"By Jove, Robeson," he said, "I think I see what endears you to the Hendersons. I wouldn't have said you could have induced me to try my hand at the old house, but I'll be hanged if I don't follow your instructions to the letter—and win out, too."
"Good," said Anthony. "And don't mention it to my wife. We'll keep it for a surprise; and I promise you when the time comes I won't prejudice her in any way."
Cathcart drew out a notebook and pencil and entered some memoranda on the spot, while Anthony, coming up on the piazza of the dining-room, laid upon the old Dutch house-door a hand which seemed to caress it. He was wondering if by any possible magic Cathcart could create, in the rarest abode in the world, a new door which he should ever care to enter as he now cared to enter this.
* * * * *
"I think," said Juliet decidedly, "you're wrong about it."
"And I know," returned Anthony with emphasis, "that you are."
The two faced each other. They were walking through a short stretch of woodland, which lay as yet untouched by the hand of suburban property owners. It was a favourite ground for the diversions of the Robesons, when they had not time to spend in getting farther away. They had been strolling through it now, in the early June evening, discussing a matter relative to the investment of a certain moderate sum of money which had come into Anthony's hands. It developed that their ideas about it differed radically.
"It's not safe to do as you propose," said Juliet.
"To do what you propose would be only one better than tying it up in an old stocking—or putting it away in the coffee pot. It's essentially a woman's plan—no man would do it the honour of considering it a moment."
Juliet flushed brilliantly. Even in Anthony's cheek the colour rose a little. Their eyes met with a challenge.
"Very well," said Juliet proudly. "I'll offer no more woman's plans. Invest the money as you like. Then, when you've lost it——"
Anthony's eyes flashed. "When I've lost it——" he began, and turned away with a gesture of impatience. Then he stopped short. "That isn't like you," he said.
Juliet stared at him an instant. Then she shut her lips together and walked on in silence. Anthony shut his lips together also. It was not their habit to indulge in sharp altercation. While both had decided ideas about things, both were also much too well bred to be willing to allow differences of opinion—which must arise as inevitably as two human beings live under the same roof—to degenerate into the deplorable thing commonly referred to as a quarrel.
When they had proceeded a few rods Juliet turned abruptly off from the path and picked up from the ground a slender straight stick, evidently cut and trimmed by some boy and then thrown aside. She looked about her and after some search found another, of similar size, untrimmed. She held out the latter to Anthony. He accepted it with a look of surprise. Then she walked into the path in front of him, stood stiff and straight, her small heels together, and made him the fencer's salute. "On guard!" she cried.
His lips relaxing, Anthony grasped his stick and fell into position. A moment more and two accomplished fencers were engaged in close combat.
Juliet happened to be wearing a trim linen skirt of short walking length, which impeded her movements as slightly as anything not strictly adapted to the exercise could do. Although her fencing lessons were some years past, the paraphernalia belonging both to herself and Anthony were in the house, and an occasional bout with the masks and foils was a means of exercise and diversion which both thoroughly enjoyed. Although Juliet was no match for the superior skill and endurance of her husband, she was nevertheless no mean antagonist, and her alertness of eye and hand usually gave him sufficient to do to make the encounter a stimulating one.
On the present occasion Anthony, challenged to combat with his coat and cuffs on, and wielding the more awkward weapon of the two impromptu foils, found himself distinctly at a disadvantage. Moreover, he was at the moment not precisely in the mood for fun, and he began to defend himself with a somewhat lazy indifference. After a minute or two, however, he discovered that his adversary's slightly ruffled temper was inspiring her hand and wrist to distinctly effective work, and he found himself forced to look to his methods.
Attack and parade, disengagement and thrust—the battle was waged over the uneven ground of the wood. And presently Anthony discovered that the richly glowing face opposite his was a smiling one. The absurdity of the match struck him irresistibly and he smiled in return. He tripped a little over an obtruding oak-root, and Juliet took advantage of her opportunity to press him hard. He fended off the attack and himself assumed the aggressive. An instant more and he had disarmed her and had thrown his own stick flying after hers. Both were laughing heartily enough.
"Forgive the trick," cried Anthony. "A man must disarm his wife when she becomes his enemy."
Breathless, Juliet sank upon a small knoll, her hand at her side. "If I'd been dressed for it—" she panted.
"You need coaching on your time thrusts, but you gave me plenty to do as it was," Anthony admitted. "More than that, you've presented me with a chance to recover my equilibrium. I was hot inside before. Now it's all on the outside."
He looked down at her affectionately. She smiled back. "I was crosser than sticks," she said. "I really can't imagine why, now. I apologise."
"So do I." He threw himself down on the ground at her feet, lay flat on his back, his clasped hands behind his head, and gazed up into the tree-tops.
"I'll take your advice into careful consideration," said he.
"I know you won't do anything rash," said she, and they both laughed again.
"How much more diplomatic that sort of talk is," he observed. "Why do we ever allow ourselves to use any other?"
"Because we are human, I suppose." Juliet was putting a mass of waving brown hair, disordered by the fight, into shape again. "It isn't nice. We don't do it often. To-night you came home tired, and found a wife who had been entertaining people from town all the afternoon. But it's all right now, isn't it?"
She bent forward, and Anthony took her outstretched hand in his own and gave it a grip which made it sting. He began to whistle cheerfully.
"Should we be happier if we never disagreed?" she asked thoughtfully.
The whistle stopped. "Jupiter, no! I want a thinking being to talk things over with, not a mental pincushion."
"Thank you.—Isn't it lovely here?"
"Delightful.—Julie, do you know we'll have been married five years next September?"
"It doesn't seem possible."
"I shouldn't know it, to look at you," he observed. He rolled upon his left side and regarded her from under intent brows. "You haven't grown a day older."
"I'm not sure that's a compliment."
"It's meant for one. Do you know you're a beauty?"
"I never was one and never shall be," she answered laughing, but she could not object to the obvious sincerity of his opinion as he delivered it.
"You're near enough to satisfy me. I'd rather have your good looks than all the—Well, I sat in front of a newly married pair on the way home to-night—that fellow Scrivener and his bride. She's what people call a raving beauty, I suppose. I wouldn't have her in the house at a dollar an hour. She's a whiner. Had him doing something to satisfy her whim every minute. I heard him trying to tell her about something that interested him, but she couldn't take time from herself to listen. His voice had a note of fatigue in it, already, or I'm not Robeson. I tell you, Juliet—that's the sort of thing that makes a bachelor vow to stay single, and he can't be blamed."
"Suppose a bachelor had overheard us half an hour ago?"
"I'm glad none did—but if he had it wouldn't have disgusted him the way the other sort of thing did me to-day. A brisk little altercation is nothing, with unlimited hours of friendliness and understanding before and after. But a perpetual drizzle of fault finding and exactions—would make a fellow go hang himself. Mrs. Robeson, do you know, you're a very exceptional young person?"
"In what way, sir?"
"Whatever you do, you never nag. I've an awful suspicion that Judith Carey nags. You know how to let a man alone when he's in the mood for being alone. She never does. Carey had me out there not long ago, for what he called a quiet, confidential talk on some business matters. We went into what is supposed to be his private room and shut the door. Probably she came to that door not less than twelve times during that two hours. She called Carey away on every sort of pretext. Once she got him to do a stroke of work for her that took up at least ten minutes neither of us could spare. And she looked like a thundercloud every time I caught a glimpse of her face. Caesar!—think of having to live with that sort of person. No wonder Carey looks old before his time."
"It's certainly unfortunate. But I'm not an exception, Tony. There are plenty of women who know when to keep out of the way."
"Well, then, they're erratic on some other line, that's all. You're absolutely the only thoroughly sweet and sane woman I know."
"My dear boy! Remember how snappish I was just this evening."
"I was grouchy enough to match it. I tell you, Julie—the women who don't talk you to death on every subject, important or trivial, bore you with idiotic questions or impertinence about your affairs. How do I know so much about 'em? My dear, dozens of them come into the office every day, and Mr. Henderson has acquired a habit lately of turning them all over to me. I earn a double salary every hour I spend that way—wish I could put in a demand for it. Speaking of salaries, dear"—Anthony suddenly sat up—"I've no right to be grouchy, for I'm promised another advance next month."
"Splendid!" She put out her hand, and the two shook hands vigorously again, like the pair of comrades they were.
"Juliet," said her husband, watching her face closely. "It's been a happy five years, hasn't it?"
"A happy five years, Tony."
"Do you mean it?" He smiled at her. "You've never been sorry?" Then he got to his feet and held out his hand again to help her up. "The mortal combat we engaged in gave you a magnificent colour," he commented, and passed affectionate fingers across the smooth cheek near his shoulder. "Sweetheart——" he drew her into his arms—"I may fence with you once in a while with sharp words for weapons, but—do you know how I love you?"
"I wonder why?"
"It's strange, isn't it?—after all these years. To be really up-to-date, we should long since have become interested each in some other——"
A hand came gently but effectually upon his mouth. He kissed the hand. "No, I won't say it. It's a cynical philosophy, and I'll not take its language on my lips—not with my wife in my arms, giving the lie to that sort of thing. Julie, we're not sentimentalists because we still care——"
"Who thinks we are?"
"Plenty of envious skeptics, I'll wager. I see it in their green-eyed glances. They can't believe it's genuine. Dear—is it genuine? Look up, and tell me."
She looked up, and seeing his heart in his eyes, met his deep caress with a tenderness which told him more than she could have put into the words she suddenly found it impossible to speak.
XXVII.—LOCKWOOD PAYS A CALL
"Did you know Roger Barnes was back?" asked Wayne Carey of Anthony Robeson, on the evening of the twenty-fifth of June, as the two met on the street corner from which Anthony was to take his car. Electrics ran within a few rods of his home now, but they ran only at fifteen-minute intervals and were difficult to catch.
"No. To stay this time, I hope?"
"Off again to-morrow. Never saw such a fellow—restless as a fish. Been working all winter in Vienna—off to-morrow on the Overland Limited to sail Saturday for Hongkong. Goes to do a special operation on the Emperor's brother or some swell of the sort. He's been doing some mighty slick operating, according to the medical review I ran across in a throat specialist's office."
"I must see him. Where is he?"
"At your house now, more than likely. Said he'd got to see you, and if you haven't seen him yet you're sure to before he goes to-morrow night. By the way, Anthony, do you know what we heard lately about Rachel Redding—Huntington? That she wasn't married to Huntington till the night he died, almost three years ago."
"Guess it's straight, too," pursued Carey. "Queer she should have kept it all this time. Didn't Juliet hear from her at all?"
"Only once or twice, I believe."
"Her father and mother both died last winter."
"Are you sure?"
"The man who told me was a traveller. Said she and Huntington's mother were coming back to live East again. He was an Eastern man himself—knew Huntington, and got interested when he heard the name out in Arizona. 'Alexander Huntington's' rather an uncommon name, you know. But what could have been her motive for keeping everything so still?"
"I've no idea," said Anthony, and let Carey talk on by himself till the car came. He was unwilling to discuss Rachel Redding's affairs on a street corner even with Wayne Carey, because she was Juliet's friend. But he had an idea as to why Rachel had been so reserved about herself. There were three men in the East whose interest in Huntington's life or death had not been an altogether unbiased one. He could understand that the girl would not be eager to declare herself free to them, though the fact of Huntington's death had reached them soon after its occurrence. But this other fact—that she had married him only at the last moment—it was obvious that the sort of girl Rachel Redding was would never make capital out of that strange occurrence, whatever its explanation might be. That Roger Barnes knew nothing of it he was quite certain.
He missed Juliet from the corner where she and the boy usually met him, and hurrying on to the house came upon his wife just as she was leaving.
"Oh, I didn't realise I was late, dear," she said, while Anthony swung his little son up to his shoulder, eliciting triumphant shouts as a reward. "Tony, Rachel is here."
"Hush—yes; she's upstairs, and her window is open. Walk down the orchard with me and I'll tell you. Her coming, an hour ago, was what made me forget the time."
"Carey was talking about her this afternoon," said Anthony, strolling by her side and carrying on a frolic with the boy at the same time. "He'd just heard a singular thing—that she wasn't married to Huntington till the very night he died."
"She told me. She's going away to-night, she insists; but I shall not let her. No, Mr. Huntington wouldn't let her marry him. After they went away he said he wouldn't take her unless he got well. Tony, he was a fine character; in our sympathy for Roger Barnes we haven't appreciated him. It was only at the last that he let her do it. She found out how happy it would make him then, and she would have it so."
"I'm glad she did—poor fellow. Juliet, Roger Barnes is in town."
"Really?" Juliet stopped, her breath catching. "Oh, Tony——"
"Came day before yesterday—leaves to-morrow night for Hongkong."
Anthony looked down at her, smiling. "There's a situation for you. Can you be expected to keep your friendly hands off that possibility?"
"He won't go away without coming to see us?"
"Most certainly not."
"Then he will naturally come to-night."
"It's more than probable."
"Tony, I won't be trying to manage fate—that's what the doctor calls it—if I keep Rachel here until after——"
"Until after the Overland Limited leaves for San Francisco? Well, fate needs a little assistance once in a while. I think you may legitimately persuade Rachel to stay, if you can. What is her hurry, anyway?"
"I can't find out, except that I imagine she's afraid of meeting one of the men she most assuredly would meet if they knew she had come. She thinks Roger Barnes is in Vienna still."
"She does? Ye gods! I think my knees will begin to tremble if I see their meeting imminent. Come, son, let's try a race to the house. I'll give you to the big, crooked apple tree. One—two—three—go!"
Juliet followed more slowly, thinking busily. Rachel had been very decided about going back into the city that night. Mrs. Huntington, Senior, was with friends, who had begged her daughter's acceptance of their hospitality, and for the elder woman's sake she had acquiesced. Rachel was a keeper of promises, Juliet knew. And to tell her of the probability of the doctor's appearance would be a doubtful means of securing her detention. But if, for any reason, the doctor should fail to appear—Juliet made up her mind that she would give fate her chance until nine o'clock that night. If by that time Barnes had not come——
* * * * *
Juliet looked on eagerly while Anthony greeted Rachel. Her friend had never seemed to her so lovely as now, in her simple black gown, accentuating, as it did, the deep tone of her hair and eyes. Her face had gained in colour and contour in the Arizona climate—its tints were richer. The delicacy of her features was not changed, but their beauty was greater.
"You've lived much outdoors, I see," said Anthony, when dinner was over and the three had gone out upon the porch, "and it's been good for you."
"I've even slept outdoors," Rachel told them, "fully half the year; and ridden horseback every day. I can't quite think how the electrics are going to seem in place of my gallop on Scot. The people on the ranch where we were have simply made me do the things they did. The owner was a dear old gentleman; he gave me Scot. He wanted to send him after me; but nurses have small use for horses, I believe," she ended, smiling.
"That's the plan, is it?"
"Yes. It's what I can do best, I think. I am to enter the training-school the first of July, at the Larchmont Memorial Hospital."
"I'll wager tremendous odds you don't," thought Anthony, "in spite of that confident tone. If Roger Barnes looks in to-night it's all up with your plans—or make a bigger fight than even you can do. A man who can't stay in his own town because you are out of it——"
He was sitting—purposely—where he faced the road. He had considerately offered Rachel a chair with her back to the highway. Juliet was swinging lightly in the hammock behind the vines. Anthony, talking on about Arizona and the Larchmont Memorial, kept an eye on the approach to the house from the corner where visitors always left the car. His watch was rewarded at length by the sight of a figure rapidly turning the corner and making straight for the house.
"Now we're in for it," he thought. "From now on the question with Juliet and me will be how we can most gracefully efface ourselves without seeming to do it. If I remember this young person correctly she's a little difficult to leave unchaperoned against her will."
Out of the corner of his eye he kept track of the approaching figure. It was coming on at a great pace, and in the twilight could be seen looming taller and taller as it crossed the road and turned in across the lawn, making a short cut according to Barnes's own fashion, so that the coming footsteps were noiseless, even to the moment when the figure reached the porch itself.
"Now for it," thought Anthony, feeling as if the curtain were about to ascend on the fourth act of a play, when the third had ended amidst all possible excitement.
"I found the roses blooming just as they used to do, at the side of the house"—Rachel's warm, contralto voice was answering a question from Juliet—"only so untended. I think I shall have to come out again before I begin my work, to look after them."
Anthony did not turn as the step he had been watching for sounded upon the porch. To save his life he could not help keeping his eyes upon Rachel's face. Rachel herself looked up with the air of the visitor who does not know the guests of the house, and the expression Anthony saw upon her face showed only the slightest possible surprise—certainly no other feeling.
Juliet rose. "Ah, Mr. Lockwood," she said, with a cordiality, sincere little person though she was, Anthony knew for once she did not feel. "In the dusk I couldn't be quite sure."
Lockwood's eyes instantly turned to Rachel. That he had known in some way whom he was to see was evident from a most unusual agitation in his manner.
"Mrs.—Huntington," he got out somehow, taking her hand, and staring eagerly down into her face, "I heard you were home, and I hoped to find you here. I—you are—I am extremely glad——"
* * * * *
Half an hour later Anthony came upon his wife in the darkness of the dining-room. "Oh, you shouldn't have left them when I was away," she said. "Little Tony cried out and I had to go. I know Rachel doesn't want to be left with him to-night."
"Angels and chaperons defend us," muttered Anthony. "I can't stand it forever to feel a man wanting to kill me for staying by him through a meeting like this, after three years. I didn't know but Lockwood would attempt to throw me off my own porch. Give him a chance—he hasn't any, anyhow."
"It's after nine," whispered Juliet.
"I know it. Roger's taking a terrible risk."
"He doesn't know she's here. But I thought he cared enough for us to——"
"That's what I've been so sure of. He's probably been detained by some case. He's getting so distinguished, the minute he sets foot in town now the folks with things the matter with them begin to block his path. I hope she knows what she throws over her shoulder if she refuses him now."
"I don't see that she's going to have a chance to refuse him," mourned Juliet. "Do you think he'd ever forgive us if we let him get away without knowing she was here?"
"Lockwood found it out, somehow. Carey's safe to tell him if he sees him—and he's pretty sure to, at Roger's club."
"You couldn't telephone?"
"Where? If he can he'll come here, if only to get news of her. She's never let him write to her, has she?"
"He told me she hadn't when he was here last fall. And she didn't know where he was."
"Fellow-conspirator," whispered Anthony, "we'll give fate her chance to-night. If she bungles the game we'll take it into our own hands to-morrow. But I've a feeling I'd like to let it happen by itself, if it will."
When Lockwood had gone—which was not until eleven o'clock, in spite of the way his hosts remained in his vicinity—Rachel stood still upon the porch smiling a little wearily at Juliet.
"My staying all night has been settled for me," she said. "There was no way to go."
"Luckily for us," Juliet answered. "Sit here a little longer, dear. It's such a perfect night, and I know we shall see little enough of you when you get at work."
Rachel dropped into the hammock. "I should like to lie here all night," she said, "and watch the stars until I go to sleep. I've done that so many, many nights from under a tent flap."
All at once she looked up, her eyes widening. Upon the porch step stood a strong figure—as unlike Lockwood's gracefully slender one as possible. A man's eyes were gazing steadily down into hers—determined gray eyes, with a light in them. The two faces were plainly visible to each other in the radiance from the open door.
XXVIII.—A HIGH-HANDED AFFAIR
If she had not been standing in the doorway Juliet would have run away, but she had to welcome Dr. Roger Barnes, a traveler whom she had not seen for almost a year. Her presence, however, after one glad greeting, seemed not to bother him much. He turned from her to Rachel, who had risen, and took her outstretched hand in both his.
"It's been rather a long evening," he said, "wandering around and around this place, waiting for the other man to go. I explored the orchard and the willow path, and every familiar haunt. I had to refresh myself occasionally by stealing up for a glimpse of your face between the vines. But, somehow, that only made it harder to wait. I had to march myself off again with my fists gripped tight in my pockets to keep them off that fellow, eating you up with his eyes—confound him—you, who belong only to me."
He did not smile as he said the last words, but stood looking eagerly at her with a gaze that never faltered. She tried to draw her hands away; it was useless. Juliet slipped off, knowing that neither of them would see her go.
"Come down on the lawn with me," he said, but she resisted.
"Please stay here, Doctor Barnes," she said, "and please let me have my hand. I can't talk so."
"You needn't talk—for a while," he answered. He sat down facing her. "At six o'clock I found out you were here. At eight—as soon as I could get away—I came out. I told you how I spent the evening. If I had needed anything to sharpen my longing for you that would have done it—but I think I had reached about the limit of what I could bear in that line already. It has been one constant augmenting thirst for a draught that was out of my reach. I shouldn't have kept my promise not to write you another day after I had been here this time and heard—what I have heard, Rachel."
She did not answer. Her face was turned away; she was very still. Only a slightly quickened breathing, of which he was barely conscious, betrayed to him that this was not listening of an ordinary sort.
"I shouldn't have said anything could make any difference with my feeling, to strengthen it," he went on very quietly, after a while, "but I find it has. I don't try to explain it to myself, except by the one thing I am sure of—that Alexander Huntington was the noblest and most heroic of men, and deserved to the full those last few hours of knowledge that you had taken his name. And I can understand your loyalty to him in wishing to wear it these three years. But, Rachel, I can't let you wear it any longer."