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The Lovely Lady
by Mary Austin
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"That was why I wanted them all to go away," Ellen took up the thought again. "I've been thinking all day about mother being with father and how glad he'll be to see her, and yet it seems as if I can feel her here. I thought if we kept still a while she'd make us understand what she wanted us to do."

"About what, Ellen?"

"About my going up to the city with you to board—it seems such a wasteful way to live somehow, just sitting around!"

"It isn't as expensive as keeping house," Peter told her, "and I want you to sit around, Ellen; women in Bloombury don't get enough of that I'm afraid."

"They don't. Did you see Ada Harvey to-day? Four children and two teeth out, and her not thirty. I guess you'd take better care of me than that, Peter,—only——"

"You think she wouldn't like it for you?"

"She thought such a lot of keeping up a home, Peter. It was like—like those Catholics burning candles. It seemed as if she thought you'd get something out of it if it was just going on, even if you didn't visit it more than two or three times a year. Lots of women feel that way, Peter, and I guess there must be something in it."

"There is something in it," Peter assured her.

"And if I go and board with you we'd have to break up everything——" She looked about on all the familiar mould of daily habit that was her world, and tears started afresh. "And we've got all this furniture." She moved her head toward the door of the front room and the parlour set that had been Peter's Christmas gift to them two years ago. "For all it was such a comfort to her to have it, it's as good as new. It seemed as if she thought you were the only one good enough to sit in it."

"Don't, Ellen."

"I know, Peter." They were silent a while until the deep wells of grief had stilled in the sense of that sustaining presence. "I only wanted to be sure I wouldn't be going against her, breaking up the home. It seems like anything she set such store by oughtn't to stop just because she isn't here to take care of it." They had to come back to that the next day and the next.

"I only want to do what is best for you, Ellen."

"I'd be best off if I was making you happy, Peter—and I'd feel such a burden somehow, just boarding."

"The rents are cheaper in the suburbs," Peter went so far as to admit. It was all so inarticulate in him; how could he explain to Ellen the feeling that he had, that settling down to a home with her would somehow put an end to any dreams he had had of a home of his own, persistent but unshaped visions that vanished before the sudden brightening of Ellen's face at his least concession.

"We could have somebody in to clean," she reminded him, "and I hardly ever have to be in bed now."

The fact was that Peter had the very place in mind; he had often walked out there on Sundays from Blodgett's; he thought the neighbourhood had a clean and healthy look. He went up on Tuesday to see what could be done about it.

Lessing, who rented him the apartment, made the natural mistake about it that Peter's age and his inexperience as a householder invited. He said the neighbours were all a most desirable class of people, and Peter could see for himself that the city was bound to build out that way in a few years. As for what Pleasanton could do in the way of climate, well, Lessing told him, with the air of being only a little less interested than he credited Peter with being, look at the perambulators.

They were as fine a lot of wellfilled vehicles as could be produced by any suburb anywhere, and Ellen for one was never tired of looking at them. But Peter couldn't understand why Ellen insisted on walking home from church Sunday morning the wrong way of the pavement.

"I suppose we do get in the way," she admitted after he had explained to her that they wouldn't be crowded off so frequently if they moved with the nurse-maid's parade and not against it, "but if we go this way we can see all the little faces."

"I didn't know you cared so much for babies."

"Well, you see it isn't as if I was to have any of my own——" Something in the tone with which she admitted the restraining fact of her affliction brought out for Peter how she had fitted her life to it, like a plant growing hardily out of a rock, climbing over and around it without rancour or rebellion. As he turned now to look at her long, plain face in the light of what had been going on in himself lately, he recalled that the determining influence which had drawn her thick hair into that unbecoming knot at the back of her neck had been the pain it had given her when she first began to put up her hair, to do it higher.

She was watching the bright little bonneted heads go by with the same detachment that he had learned to look at the shop windows, without thinking of appropriating any of their splendour for himself, and when she spoke again it was without any sensible connection with the present occasion.

"Peter, do you remember Willy Shakeley?"

"Shakey Willy, we used to call him. I remember his freckles; they were the biggest thing about him." He waited for the communicating thread, but nothing came except what presently reached him out of his own young recollections. "He wasn't good enough for you, Ellen," he said at last for all comment.

"He was kind, and he wouldn't have minded about my being lame, but a man has to have a healthy wife if he's a farmer." How completely she had accepted the deprivation for herself, he saw by her not wasting a sigh over it; she had schooled herself so long to go no further in her thought than she went on the crutch which tapped now on the pavement beside him. As if to stop his going any further on her account she smiled up at him. "Peter, if you were to meet any of the things you thought you'd grow up to be, do you suppose you'd know them?"

At least he could have told her that he didn't meet any of them on his way between Siegel Brothers and the flat in Pleasanton.

There are many things which if a young man goes without until he is twenty-five he can very well do without, but the one thing he cannot leave off without hurting him is the expectation of some time doing them. The obligation of the mortgage and Ellen's lameness had been a sort of bridge for Peter, a high airy structure which engaged the best of him and so carried him safely over Blodgett's without once letting him fall into the unlovely vein of life there, its narrowness, its commonness. He had known, even when he had known it most inaccessible, that there was another life which answered to every instinct of his for beauty and fitness. He waited only for the release from strain for his entry with it. Now by the shock of his mother's death he found himself precipitated in a frame of living where a parlour set out of Siegel Brothers' Household Emporium was the limit of taste and understanding. The worst thing about Siegel Brothers' parlour sets was that he sold them. He knew it was his particular value to Siegel Brothers that he had always known what sort of things were acceptable to the out-of-town trade. He had selected this one distinctly with an eye to the pleasure his mother and Ellen would get out of what Bloombury would think of it. He hadn't expected it would turn and rend him. That it was distinctly better than anything he had had at Blodgett's was inconsiderable beside the fact that Blodgett's hadn't owned him. That he was owned now by his sister and the furniture, was plain to him the first time he sat down to figure out the difference between his salary and what it would cost him to let Ellen be a burden to him in the way that made her happiest. Not that he thought of Ellen in that way; he was glad when he thought of it at all articulately, to be able to make life so little of a burden to her. But though he saw quite clearly how, without some fortunate accident, the rest of his life would be taken up with making a home for Ellen and making it secure for her in case anything happened to him, he saw too, that there was no room in it for the Lovely Lady. The worst of all this was that he did not see how he was to go on without her.

He had fled to her from the inadequacy of all substitutes for her that his life afforded, and she had ended by making him over into the sort of man who could never be satisfied with anything less. Something he owed, no doubt, to that trait of his father's which made his memories of Italy more to him than his inheritance, but there it was, a world Peter had built up out of books and pictures and music, more real and habitable than that in which he went about in a gray business suit and a pleasant ready manner; a world from which, every time he fitted his key in the latch of the little flat in Pleasanton, he felt himself suddenly dispossessed.

It was not that he failed to get a proper pleasure out of being a householder, in being able to take a certain tone with the butcher and discuss water rates and rents with other householders going to and fro on his train. Ellen's cooking tasted good to him and it was very pleasant to see the pleasure it gave her to have Burnell of the hardware, out to supper occasionally. He made friends with Lessing, whose natty and determinedly architectural office with its air of being somehow akin to Wally Whitaker, occupied the corner where Peter waited every morning for his car. Lessing began it by coming out on the very first occasion to ask him how his sister did, in an effort to correct any impression of a want of perspicuity in his first estimate of Peter's situation. He kept it up for the reason perhaps that men friends are meant for each other from the beginning of time quite as much as we are accustomed to thinking of them as being meant for the lovely ladies whom they so frequently miss. Lessing was about Peter's own age and had large and cheerful notions of the probable increase of real-estate values in Pleasanton, combined with a just appreciation of the simple shrewdness which had so recommended Peter to his employers.

"You'd be a crackerjack to talk to the old ladies," Lessing generously praised him. "I scare 'em; they think I'm too hopeful." That he didn't, however, have the same effect on young ladies was apparent from the very pretty one whom Peter used to see about, especially on early closing Saturday afternoons, helping him to shut up the office and get off to the ball game. He couldn't have told why, but those were the days when Peter allowed the car to carry him on to the next block, before alighting, after which he would make a point of being particularly kind to Ellen. It would never do for her to get a notion that the tapping of her crutch beside him had scared anything out of Peter's life which he might think worth having in it.

Along toward Thanksgiving time, on an occasion when Peter had just missed his car and had to wait for another one, Lessing—J. B. on the door sign, though he was the sort that everybody who knew him called Julian—came quite out to the pavement and stood there with his hands in his pockets and his hair beginning to curl boyishly in the dampness, quite brimming over with good fortune. Singularly he didn't mention it at once, but began to complain about the low state of the market in real estate.

"Not but that the values are all right," he was careful to explain; "it's just that they are all right makes it so trying. If a fellow had a little capital now, he could do wonders. The deuce of a chap like me is that he hasn't any capital unless there's some buying."

"You think it's a good time then to lay out a little money?"

"Good! Good! Oh, Lord, it's so good that if a fellow had a few thousands just put around judiciously, he wouldn't be able to sleep nights for hearing it turn over." He kicked the gravel in sheer impatience. "How's your sister?"

It was a formula that he had kept on with because to have dropped it immediately might have betrayed the extenuating nature of its inception, and besides there were so many directions in which one might start conversationally off from it. He made use of it now without waiting for Peter's habitual "Very well, thank you," by a burst into confidence.

"You see I'm engaged to be married—yes, I guess you've seen me with her. Fact is, I haven't cared how much people have seen so long as she's seen it, too; and now we've got it all fixed up, naturally I'm on the make. I'm dashed if I don't think I'll have to take a partner."

"I've been wanting to speak to you about some property of mine," Peter ventured. "It's a farm up country."

"What's it worth?"

"Well, I've added to it some the last ten years and made considerable improvement. I ought to get three thousand."

"That's for farming? For summer residence it ought to bring more than that. Any scenery?"

"Plenty," Peter satisfied him on that score. "I've been thinking," he let out shyly, "that if I could put the price of it in some place where I could watch it, the money would do me more good...."

Lessing turned on him a suddenly brightening eye.

"That's the talk—say, you know I think I could get you forty-five hundred for that farm of yours anyway." They looked at one another on the verge of things hopeful and considerable. As Peter's car swung around the curve, suddenly they blushed, both of them, and reached out and shook hands.

That evening as Peter came home he saw Lessing buying chrysanthemums at the florist's with a happy countenance, and to master the queer pang it gave him, Peter got off the car and walked a long way out on the dim wet pavement. He was looking at the bright picture of Lessing and the girl—she was really very pretty—and seeing instead, himself, quite the bachelor, and his lame sister taking their blameless dull way in the world. He couldn't any more for the life of him, get a picture of himself without Ellen in it; the tapping of her crutch sounded even in the House when he visited it in his dreams. It was well on this occasion that he had Ellen beside him, for she showed him the way presently to take it, as he knew she would take it as soon as he went home and told her—as another door by which they could enter sympathetically in the joyousness they were denied. She would be so pleased for Julian's sake, in whom, by Peter's account of him, she took the greatest interest, and so pleased for the girl to have such a handsome, capable lover. It made, for Ellen, a better thing of life if somebody could have him.

Peter went back after a while with that thought to the florist's and bought chrysanthemums, taking care to ask for the same kind Mr. Lessing had just ordered. He was feeling quite cheerful even, as he ran up the steps with them a few minutes later, and saw the square of light under the half-drawn curtain, and heard the tap of Ellen's crutch coming to meet him.

That night after he had gone to bed a very singular thing happened. The Princess out of the picture visited him. It was there at the foot of his bed in a new frame where Ellen had hung it—the young knight riding down the old, lumpy dragon, but with an air that Peter hadn't for a long time been able to manage for himself, doing a great thing easily the way one knew perfectly great things couldn't. The assistant sales manager of Siegel Brothers had been lying staring up at it for some time when the Princess spoke to him. He knew it was she, though there was no face nor form that he could remember in his waking hours, except that it was familiar.

"Ellen is right," she told him; "it doesn't really matter so long as somebody finds me."

"But what have I done?" Peter was sore with a sense of personal slight. "It wasn't in the story that there should be a whole crop of dragons."

"All dragons are made so that where one head comes off there are seven in its place; and you must remember if somebody didn't go about slaying them, I couldn't be at all." This as she said it had a deep meaning for Peter that afterward escaped him. "And you can hold the dream. It takes a lot of dreaming to bring one like me to pass."

"I'm sick of dreams," said Peter. "A man dies after a little who is fed on nothing else."

"They die quicker if they stop dreaming; on those that have the gift for it the business of dreaming falls. Listen! How many that you know have found me?"

"A great many think they have; it comes to the same thing."

"The same for them; but you must see that I can never really be until I am for those outside the dream. The trouble with you is that you'd wake up after a while and you would know."

"Yes," Peter admitted, "I should know."

"Well, then," she was oh, so gentle about it, "yours is the better part. If you can't have me, at least you're not stopping me by leaving off for something else. In the dream I can live and grow, and you can grow to me. Do you remember what happened to Ada Harvey? I've saved you from that at any rate."

"No," said Peter, "it was the dragon saved me. I thought you were she. It's saved me from lots of things, now that I think of it."

"Ah, that's what we have to do between us, Peter, we have to save you. You're worth saving."

"Save me for what?" Peter cried out to her and so strongly in his loneliness that he found himself starting up from his bed with it. He could see the dragon spitting flames as before, and the pale light from the swinging street lamp gilding the frame of the picture. Though he did not understand all that had happened to him, as he lay down again he was more comforted than he had been at any time since he had made up his mind that he was to be a bachelor.



PART FOUR

IN WHICH THE LOVELY LADY MAKES A FINAL APPEARANCE



PART FOUR

IN WHICH THE LOVELY LADY MAKES A FINAL APPEARANCE



I

On the day that the silver-laced maple, then in fullest leaf, had passed by the space of three delicate palm-shaped banners the sill of the third-story office window, Lessing, of Weatheral, Lessing & Co., Brokers in Real Estate, crossed over to his partner's desk before sitting down at his own, and remained quietly leaning against it and looking out of the window without a word. He remained there staring out over the new, orderly growth of the suburb, toward the river, until the stenographer from the outer room had come in with the vase which she had been filling with great golden roses, and gone out again, after placing it carefully in the exact middle of the top of the junior partner's desk. By that time Lessing's rather plump, practical hand had crept out along the rim of the desk until it was covered by Peter's lean one, and still neither of them had said a word. The roses had come in from Lessing's country place that morning in Lessing's car, and Lessing's wife had gathered them. There were exactly seventeen, full-blown and fragrant, and one small bud of promise which Peter presently removed from its vase to his button hole. The act had almost the significance of a ritual, a thing done many times with particular meaning.

"Somehow," Peter said as he fastened it with a pin underneath his lapel, "seventeen years seems a shorter time to look back on than to look forward to."

"Well, when we've put twenty-five years of work into it—and that's nothing to what we'll get into the next seventeen." Lessing's tone keyed admirably with the bright ample day outside, the rapid glint of the river and the tips of the maple all a-tremble with the urgency of new growth. The senior partner's eye roved from that to the restrained richness of the office furniture from which the new was not yet worn, and returned to the contemplation of the towering white cumuli beginning to pile up beyond the farther bank of the river. "There's no end to what a man can lift," he asserted confidently, "once he's got his feet under him."

"We've carried a lot," Peter assented cheerfully, "and sometimes it was rather steep going, but now it's carrying us. The question is"—and here his voice fell off a shade and a slight gathering appeared between his eyes—"the real question is, I suppose, what it is carrying us to."

"Where's the good of that?" Julian protested. "It's only a limitation to set out for a particular place. The fun is in the going. You keep right along with the procession until old age gets you. The thing is just to keep it up as long as you can." He swung himself into a sitting posture on the edge of the desk and noted that the slight pucker had not left his partner's eyes. "What's the idea?" he wished affectionately to know.

"Oh, nothing much, but I sort of grew up with the idea of Duty—something you had to do because there was nobody else to do it. You had not only to do it but you had to like it, not because it was likable, but because it was your duty. It was always right in front of me: I couldn't see over or around it; I just had to do it."

"Well, you did it," Lessing corroborated. "Clarice says the way you've taken care of Ellen——"

"And the way Ellen has taken care of me—but then Ellen was all the woman I had." He caught himself up swiftly after that; it was seldom even to his partner that anything escaped him in reference to the interior life of dreams which had gone on in him, quite happily behind his undistinguished exterior. "But somehow it hasn't seemed to come out anywhere. I've done my duty ... and when I'm dead and Ellen's dead, where is it? After all, what have I done?"

"Ah, look at Pleasanton," Julian reminded him; "do you call that nothing?" They looked together toward the esplanade along the river, beginning at this hour to be flecked with the white aprons of nurse-maids and their charges. "We've given them clean water to drink and clean streets, and a safe place for the children to play in. The fight we had with the city council for that...!" He waved his arm again toward the well-parked river front. "Ever since I sold your farm for you and you began putting your money into the business, we've walked right along with it. Even before you left Siegel Brothers and we used to sit up nights with the map, planning where to put our money like a checker-board, we saw things like this for the town, and now we've made 'em true. And you say we've done nothing!" The senior partner was touched a little in his tenderest susceptibilities.

"Oh, well," Peter admitted with a shamed laugh, "I suppose man is an incurable egotist. I was thinking of something more personal, something mine, the way a book or a picture belongs to the man who makes it."

"The game isn't over yet," Lessing reminded him, with a glance at the unfolding bud which Clarice had sent as a symbol of the opening year; "you're only forty. And, anyway, the money's yours; you made it." Something in the word recalled him to a thought that had been earlier in his mind. "Clarice wanted me to ask you to-day if you had any idea how much you are worth."

Peter's attention came back from the window with a start. "Does that mean the Fresh Air Fund or the Association for the Protection of Ownerless Pups?"

Julian grinned. "Ownerless bachelors rather. Clarice has an idea you are well enough off to marry."

"If it were a proposition of my being married to Clarice I should consider myself well enough off without anything else——" Peter dropped the light, accustomed banter for a sober tone. "How well off does your wife think I ought to be?"

"She's got it figured out that all you've spent on making Ellen comfortable for life isn't a patch on what she and the boys cost me, so it's high time you set about your natural destiny of making some woman happy."

"Look here, Julian, is it an object for a man to live for, making some woman happy?"

"Well, it keeps you on the jump all right," Lessing assured him. "What else is there? It's a way of making yourself happy when you come to look at it; keeping her and the kids so that you leave the world better off than you found it. It suits me." He was looking, indeed, particularly well suited, in spite of a disposition to portliness and a suspicion of thinning hair, with what the seventeen years just past had brought him. A warm appreciation of what those things were touched his regard for his companion with a sober affectionateness. "I reckon Clarice is right: a wife and a couple of kids is the prescription for your case. That's why she wanted me to remind you that you could afford 'em."

"And has she named the day?" Peter wished to know whimsically.

"Oh, I say, Weatheral——"

"My dear Julian, if I hadn't been able to see what Clarice has been up to for the last six months, at least I could have depended on Ellen to see it for me."

"She doesn't object, does she?"

"Oh, if you think the privilege of being aunt to your children has made up to her for not being aunt to mine——"

"The privilege is on the other side. But anyway, I'm glad you got on to it. I didn't want to be a spoil sport. I suppose women's instincts can be trusted in these things, but I hated to see Clarice coming it over you blind."

Peter wondered to himself a little, which of the charming ladies to whom he had been introduced lately, Clarice had selected for him. He wasn't, however, concerned about her coming it blind over anybody but the senior partner who got down now from the desk, whistling softly and walking with a wide step as a man will in June when affairs go well with him, and he feels that if there are still some things which he desires he is able to get them for himself.

"Don't forget you're coming to us on Saturday; and we dine together to-night as usual."

"As usual." Always on the anniversary of their beginning business together Weatheral and Lessing, who were still, in spite of seeing one another daily for seventeen years, able to be interested in one another, dined apart from their families, savouring pleasantly that essential essence of maleness, the mutual power of work well accomplished. It was the best tribute that Clarice and Ellen could pay to the occasion that they understood that, much as their several lives had profited by the partnership, they were still and naturally outside of it.

On this occasion, however, it was impossible for Peter to keep Mrs. Lessing out of the background of his consciousness, because of the part her suggestion of the morning played in new realization of himself as the rich Mr. Weatheral of Pleasanton. He credited her with sufficient knowledge of his character to have egged Julian on to the reminder as a part of the game she had played with him for the past two or three years, by which Peter was to be instated in a life more in keeping with his opportunities.

It was a game Clarice played with life everywhere, coaxing it to yield its choicest bloom to her. She had an instinct for choiceness like a hummingbird, darting here and there for sweetness. Her flutterings were never of uncertainty but such as kept her in the perfect airy poise. If she wanted marriage for Peter it was because she could imagine nothing better for anybody than a marriage like hers, and if she chose this time for letting him know that she was thinking of it, it was because in those terms she could bring closest to him his new-found possibilities. If she could have reached Peter with the personal certainty of riches by explaining to him how far his dollars would stretch end to end, or how many acres of postage stamps he could buy with them, she might have thought less of him on that account, but she would have helped him to understanding even on those terms. You couldn't have made Clarice Lessing believe that whatever their limitations, people weren't entitled to help simply because they needed it.

It had come upon Peter by leaps and bounds during the last two or three years, both the wealth and the necessity of putting it to himself in terms of personal expression. During the first ten years of the partnership, the only use for money the simple needs of Ellen and himself had established was to put it back into the business; a use which had become almost an obligation during the time when both children and opportunity were coming to Julian faster than the cash to meet them. It was due to the high ground that Clarice had made for them all out of what she and the children stood for, that Peter's superior cash contribution to the firm had become a privilege. They had had, he and Ellen, their stringent occasions; it had been Clarice's part to see that since they endured the pinch of poverty they should at least get something human out of it. It came out for Peter pleasantly as he walked home through the mild June evening, just how much they had had. Much, much more than they would have been able to buy with the money they might in strict equity have withdrawn from the business. Nothing, he had long admitted, that he could have purchased for his sister would have been so satisfying as what Clarice contributed, pressing the full cup of her motherhood to Ellen's thirsty lips. They might have grown sleek, he and Ellen, without exceeding a proper ratio of expenditure, and if in the end they had been a little less rich, they would still have had enough to go on being sleek and comfortable to the end. That he was still fit, as Mrs. Lessing's transparent efforts to marry him to her friends guaranteed him to be, he felt was owing greatly to the terms on which Clarice had admitted him to the adventure of bringing up a family. That a special fitness was required for admission to Mrs. Lessing's circle he would have guessed even without the aid of print which consistently described it as Our Best Society, for it was a Best attested to by all the marks by which Clarice herself expressed the essential fineness of things.

One couldn't have told, from anything that appeared on the surface of the Lessing's social environment, that life did not proceed there as it did between Clarice and the Weatherals, by means of its subtler sympathies, and proceed, at least so far as the women were concerned, on a still higher plane of grace and harmony. It moved about her table and across the lawns of Lessing's handsome country place, with such soundless ease and perfection as it had glided for Peter through the House with the Shining Walls. Or at least so it had seemed on those occasions during the last few years when he had found himself wondrously inside it.

It had been accepted by Ellen on the mere certainty of Clarice's mother having been one of the Thatcher Inwoods, that Clarice should enlarge her social borders with Lessing's increasing means until they included people among whom Ellen would have been miserably shy and out of tune. But not Ellen herself guessed how much of Peter's admission to its inaccessibility was owing to the returns from hardly snatched options and long-nursed opportunities, coming in in checks of six figures. Perhaps Clarice herself never knew. It was one of the things that went with being a Thatcher Inwood, wherever an occasion presented a handle of nobility, to seize by that and maintain it in the face of any contingent smallness. Clarice wouldn't have introduced Peter to her friends if he hadn't been fit, and it was part of the social creed of women like Clarice Lessing, which takes almost the authority of religion, that he wouldn't have been in a position to be introduced if he hadn't been fit. So it had happened for the past two years that Peter had found himself skirting the fringe of Best Society, and identifying it with the life he had lived so long, sitting with his book open on his knees in their little flat, with Ellen across the fire from him knitting white things for Julian's children. But the idea that having come into this neighbourhood of fine appreciations he was to take up his home and live there, opened more slowly. It required more than one of Clarice's swift hummingbird darts, more than the flutter of suggestion to brush its petals awake for him.

It lay so deep under all the years, the power of loving. He knew almost nothing about it except that he had had it once, and that marriage without it would be unthinkable, even such a marriage as Mrs. Lessing had let him see was now possible to him. She had called with all her delicate friendly skill, on something which only now under that summons he began to miss. It was like a lost word in every sentence in which the ordinary hopes of men are to be read, and he felt that until he found it again all the help Mrs. Lessing could afford him would not enable him to think of marriage as a thing desirable in itself. It was missing in him still, when he came that night rather late to the apartment where only the Japanese houseboy awaited him. One of the first things he had done for Ellen with his increasing means, had been to buy back for her the house at Bloombury with the garden and a bit of the orchard. She had been there now since Decoration Day, retiring more and more into the kindly village life as a point of vantage from which to mark with pride the social distance that Peter travelled from her. It had been understood from the beginning that she wasn't to go with him. The tapping of her crutch was no more to be heard in the new gracious existence than in the House where she had never followed him. Life for Ellen was lived close at hand. There were hollyhocks and currant bushes in her garden and Julian's children overran it.

It was not Ellen then that Peter missed as he sat alone in the house that night with his back to the lowered light and his gaze seeking the river and the flitting shapes of boats that went up and down on it, freighted with young voices and laughter. He missed the Lovely Lady. He knew now why he had not been able to think of marriage in the way Clarice held it out to him, as a happy contingency of his now being as rich as he had intended to be. It was because he had not thought of her clearly for a long time.

There had been a period in the beginning of his life with Ellen, when the lady of his dreams had been so near the surface of all his thinking that she took on form and likeness from anything that was lovely and young in his neighbourhood, but as things lovely and young drifted from him with the years; and as the business took deeper and deeper hold on his attention, she had become a mere floating figment, a live fluttering spark in the very core of all his imaginings.

She had been beside him, a pleasant, indeterminate presence in the long journey she travelled from the printed page to the accompanying click of Ellen's needles. Sometimes at the opera she took on a gossamer tint from the singer's face, and longer ago than he could afford operas, he had understood that all the beauty of the world, bursting apple buds, the great curve of the surf that set the beaches trembling, derived somehow its pertinence from her. Now at the age of forty he had ceased to think very much about the Lovely Lady.

It occurred to him that this might have something to do with his failure to get a new relation to life out of his new wealth.

It had struck Peter rather forlornly during the past few years that there was little use he could put money to, except to make more money. He could see by turning his head to the room behind him how little there was there of what he had fancied once riches would bring him. The lines of the room were good, the amount of the annual rent assured that to him, the furniture was good and the rugs expensive. Ellen believed that money in rugs was a good investment, particularly if the colours were strong and would stand fading. There were some choice things here and there, a vase and pictures which Peter had chosen for himself, though he was aware, as he took them in under the dull glow, that Ellen had arranged them in strict reference to the size of the frames, and that the whole effect failed of satisfaction. He thought his life might be somewhat like that room, full of good things but lacking the touch that should set them in fruitful order. It stole over him as persuasively as the warm growing smell of the park below him that the something missed might be the touch and presence of the Lovely Lady.



II

It was the late end of the afternoon when Peter stepped off the train at the Lessing's station and into the trap that was waiting for him. He learned from Lessing's man that the family had been kept by the tennis match at Maplemont and he was to come on to the house at his leisure. That being the case, Peter took the reins himself and made a long detour through the dust-smelling country roads, so that it was quite six when he reached the house, and everybody dressing for the early dinner.

He made so hasty a change himself in his fear of being late, that when he came down to the living-room in a quarter of an hour there was no one there to meet him. Absorbed particles of the bright day gave off in the dusk and made it golden. There were honeysuckles on the pergola outside, and in the room beyond a girl singing a quiet air, half-trilled and half-forgotten. He heard the singer moving toward him through the vacant house, of which the doors stood open to the evening coolness, and the click of the electric button as she passed, and saw the rooms burst one by one into the bloom of shaded lights. So she came, busy with the hummed fragments of her songs, and turned the lamp full on Peter before she was aware of him, but she was not half so much disconcerted.

"You must be Mr. Weatheral," she said. "Mrs. Lessing sent me to say she expected you. I am Miss Goodward."

She gave him her hand for a gracious moment before she turned to what had brought her so early down, the arrangement of two great bowls of wild ferns and vines which a servant had just placed on either end of the low mantlepiece.

"We brought them in from Archer's Glen on the way home," she told him over her shoulder, her hands busy with deft, quick touches. She was all in white, which took a pearly lustre from the lamps, and for the moment she was as beautiful as Peter believed her. A tiny unfinished phrase of the song floated half consciously from her lips as a bubble. "They look better so, don't you think?" As she stood off to measure the effect, it seemed to Peter that the Spirit of the House had received him; it was so men dream of home-coming, without sensible displacement of a life going on in it, lovely and secure, as a bark slips into some still pool to its moorings. He yielded himself naturally to the impersonal intimacy of her welcome and all the sordid ways of his life led up to her.

It was not all at once he saw it so. He kept watching her all that evening as one watches a perfect thing, a bird or a dancer, sensing in the slim turn of her ankle, the lithe throat, the delicate perfume that she shook from her summer draperies, so many strokes of a master hand. She was evidently on terms with the Lessings which permitted her acceptance of him at the family valuation, but the perfection of her method was such that it never quite sunk his identity as the junior partner in his character of Uncle Peter.

This was a nuance, if Peter had but known it, which Eunice Goodward could have no more missed than she could have eaten with her knife. She had been trained to the finer social adjustments as to a cult: Clarice's game of persuading life to present itself with a smiling countenance, played all in the key of personal relations. It was as if Nature, having tried her hand at a great many ordinary persons, each with one gift of sympathy or graciousness, had culled and compacted the best of them into Eunice Goodward; which was precisely the case except that Peter through his unfamiliarity with the Best Society couldn't be expected to know that the intelligence which had put together so much perfectness was no less calculating than that which goes to the matching of a string of pearls. All that he got from it was precisely all that he was meant to receive—namely, the conviction that she couldn't have charmed him so had she not been altogether charming.

And as yet he did not know what had happened to him. He thought, when he awoke in the morning to a new realization of the satisfactoriness of living, that the fresh air had done it, the breath of the nearby untrimmed forest, the loose-leaved roses pressed against the pane beginning to give off warm odours in the sun. Then he came out on the terrace and saw Eunice Goodward, looking like a thin slip of the morning herself, in a blue dress buttoned close to her figure with wide white buttons and a tiny froth of white at the short sleeves and open throat. Across her bosom it was caught with a blue stone set in dull silver, which served also to hold in place a rose that matched the morning tint of her skin. She was talking with the Lessings' chauffeur as Peter came up with her and all her accents were of dismay. They were to have driven over to Maplemont that afternoon, she explained to Peter, for the last of the tennis sets, and now Gilmore had just told her that the car must go to the shop for two or three days. She was so much more charming in the way she forgave Gilmore for her evident disappointment that he, being a young man and troubled by a sense of moral responsibility, was quite overcome by it.

"But, nonsense"; Peter was certain "there is always something can be done to cars." There was, Gilmore assured him, but it took time to do it, and to-morrow would be Sunday. "If you'd only thought to come down in the motor yourself, sir——" the chauffeur reproached him. The truth was that Peter hadn't a car of his own and Gilmore knew it. There was an electric runabout which had gone down to Bloombury with Ellen, and a serviceable roadster which was part of the office equipment, but the rich Mr. Weatheral had never taken the pains to own a private car. Now, as he hastily drew out his watch, it occurred to him that Lessing's chauffeur was a fellow of more perspicuity than he had given him credit for. The two men communicated wordlessly across the cool width of the terrace steps.

"At what hour," Peter wished to know, "would we have to leave here to reach Maplemont in good time? Then if you can be ready to leave the moment my car gets here...." He excused himself to go to the telephone; half an hour later when he joined the family at breakfast he had discovered some of the things that, besides making more money with it, can be done with money.

The knowledge suited him like his own garment, as if it had been lying ready for him to put on when the occasion required it, and now became him admirably. He perceived it to be a proper male function to produce easily and with precision whatever utterly charming young ladies might reasonably require. He appreciated Miss Goodward's acceptance of it as she came down from the house bewilderingly tied into soft veils for the afternoon's drive, as a part of her hall-marked fineness. If she couldn't help knowing, taking in the car's glittering newness from point to point, that its magnificence had materialized out of her simple wish for it, she at least didn't allow him to think it was any more than she would have expected of him. So completely did he yield himself to this new sense of the fitness of things that it came as a shock to have her, as soon as they had joined themselves to the holiday-coloured crowd that streamed and shifted under the bright boughs of Maplemont, reft from him by friendly, compelling voices, and particularly by Burton Henderson, who played singles and went about bareheaded and singularly self-possessed. It was unthinkable to Peter that, in view of her recently discovered importance in putting him at rights with himself, that he hadn't arranged with her that they were to be more together. For the moment it was almost a derogation of her charm that she shouldn't herself have recognized by some overt act her extraordinary opportunity. And then in a moment more he perceived that she had recognized it. He had only to wait, as he saw, and he would find himself pleasantly beside her, and at each renewal of the excluding companionship, he was more subtly aware that it was accorded not to anything he was but to what she had it in her power so beautifully to make of him.

So perfectly did she strike the key with him, when, in the intervals of the afternoon's entertainment they found themselves sitting or walking together, that he could not have imagined her to have been out of it, not even in a rather long session after tea with Burton Henderson among the rhododendrons, in which it was apparent from the young man's manner that she hadn't at least been in tune with him. It occurred just as they were leaving and served in the flutter of delay it occasioned to fix the attention of all their party on Eunice coming out of the shrubbery with young Henderson in her wake, batting aimlessly at the grass-tops with the racquet which he still carried. There was an air of sulkiness about him which caused Mrs. Lessing enigmatically to say that Eunice was altogether too good to that young man. To which Lessing's "Well, if she is, he doesn't seem to appreciate," served also to confirm Peter in the role which the effect she produced on himself had created for him. He at least appreciated the way in which she had made him feel himself the Distributer of Benefits, to a degree which made it almost obligatory of her to go on with it.

Successfully as Miss Goodward had kept for Peter during the day his new relation to his wealth on the one hand and society on the other, she seemed that evening quite to have abandoned him. While the family was having coffee on the terrace after dinner, she slipped away from them to reappear lower down among the rose trees, her white dress gathering all that was left of the lingering glow. The junior partner, feeling himself never so much junior, though he knew it was but a scant year or two, sat on through Lessing's inconsequential comment on business and the day's adventures, hearing not a word; now and then his chair creaked with the intensity of his preoccupation. It grew dusk and the lamps blossomed in the house behind them; presently Clarice slipped away to the children and the evening damp fell over the rose garden. Peter could endure it no longer. He believed as he rose suddenly with a stretching movement that he meant merely to relieve the tension of sitting by pacing up and down; it was unaccountable therefore that he should find himself at the edge of the terrace. He wondered why on earth Clarice couldn't have helped him a little, and then as if in response to his deep instinctive demand upon her, he heard her call softly to her husband from the door of the house. At the scrape of Julian's chair on the terrace tiling, Peter cast away his cigar and hurried into the dusk of the garden.

He found her at last by the herbacious border, keeping touch with the flight of a sphinx-head moth along the tall white rockets of phlox. Peter whipped out his handkerchief and dropped it deftly over the fluttering wings. In a moment he had stilled them in his hand. Miss Goodward cried out to him:

"You've spoiled his happy evening!"

"He's not hurt...." Peter laid the moth gently on a feathery flower head, and the tiny whispering whirr began again. "I thought you wanted him."

"I did—but not to catch him," Miss Goodward explained. "I wanted just to want him."

"Ah, I'm afraid I'm one of those people with whom to want a thing is to go after it," Peter justified himself.

"So one gathers from what one hears." She brushed him as lightly with the compliment as with the wings of a moth. "I wasn't really wanting him so much as I was wanting to be him for a while. Just to pass from one lovely hour to another and nothing to pay! But we humans have always to pay something."

"Or some one pays for us."

"Well, isn't that worse ... taking it out of somebody else?"

"I'm not so sure; some people enjoy paying. It's not a bad feeling, I assure you: being able to pay. Haven't you found that out yet?"

"Not in Trethgarten Square." Mrs. Lessing had managed to let him know during the day that her guest had been reared within the sacred pale of those first families in whom the choice stock of humanness is refined by being maintained at precisely the same level for at least three generations.

"In Trethgarten Square," Peter reminded her, "we are told that you settle your account just by being; that you manage somehow to become something so superior and delectable that the rest of us are willing to pay for the privilege of having you about." He would have liked to add that recently, no later in fact than the evening before, he had come to think that this was so, but as she hesitated in her walk beside him, he saw that she was concerned in putting the case to herself quite as much as to him.

"It's not that exactly; more perhaps that our whole thought about life is to live it so that there won't be anything to pay. We have to manage to add things up like a column of figures with nothing to carry. Perhaps that's why we get so little out of it."

"Don't you?"—he was genuinely surprised, "get anything out of it, I mean."

"Oh, but I'm a selfish beast, I suppose! I want more—more!" They swung as she spoke into a broad beam of yellow light raying out from the library window, and he saw by it that with the word she flung out her arms with a lovely upward motion that lifted his mood to the crest of audacity.

"If you keep on looking like that," Peter assured her, "you'll get it." He was struck dumb immediately after with apprehension. It sounded daring, like a thing said in a book; but she took it as it came lightly off the tip of his impulse, laughing. "Yes ... the great difficulty is choosing which of so many things one really wants." They walked on then in silence, the air darkling after the sudden shaft of illumination, the light folds of her scarf brushing his sleeve. Peter was considering how he might say, without precipitation, how suddenly she had limited and defined all the things that he wanted by expressing them so perfectly in herself, when she interrupted him.

"There's our moth again," she pointed; "he settles it by taking all of them. It's a possibility denied to us."

"Even he," Peter insisted, "has to reckon with such incidents as my dropping on him just now. I might have wanted him for a collection."

"Oh, if he takes us into account it must be as men used to think of the gods walking." Suddenly the familiar beds and hedges widened for Peter; they stretched warm and tender to the borders of youth and the unmatched Wonder.... It was so they had talked when they walked together in the Garden which was about the House....

For some time after Miss Goodward left him Peter remained walking up and down, thinking of many things and unable to think of them clearly because of a pleasant blur of excitement in his brain. As he came finally back to the house he heard the Lessings talking from behind one of the open windows.

"My word, that car was never out of the shop before," Julian was saying. "He's a goner!"

"And that lovely, dusty, brown colour that goes so well with her hair! Who would have thought Peter would be so noticing."

"It couldn't have cost him a cent under seven thousand." Julian was certain, "and carrying it off with me the way he did—bought the six cylinder after all, he had.... I'll bet old Peter don't know a cylinder from a stomach pump."

Clarice was evidently going on with her own line of thought. "It will be the best thing that ever happened to Eunice if she can only be got to see it."

"Well, if she don't her mother will see it for her." Lessing's voice died into a subdued chuckle as Peter passed under it on the dew-damp lawn, but there was no revelation in it for the junior partner. He had already found out what was the matter with him and what he meant to do about it.



III

Whatever the process of becoming engaged to Eunice Goodward lacked of dramatic interest, it made up to Peter by being such a tremendous adventure for him to become engaged to anybody.

He had gone through life much as his unfriended youth had strayed through the city streets, aching for the walled-up splendour—all the world's chivalries, tendernesses, passions—known to him only by glimmers and reflections on the plain glass of duty. Now at a word the glass dissolved and he was free to wander through the rooms crammed with imperishable poets' wares. He walked there not only as one who has the price to buy, but himself made one of the splendid things of earth by this same word which her mere being pronounced to him.

He paid himself for years of denials and repressions by the discovery of being able to love in such a key. For he meant quite simply to marry Eunice Goodward if she would have him, and it was no vanity which gave him hope, but a tribute to her fineness as being able to see herself so absolutely the one thing his life waited for. He knew himself, modestly, no prize for her except as he was added to by inestimable passion. Whatever she saw in him as a man, for her not to recognize the immortal worth of what he was able to become under her hand, was to subtract something from her perfections. In her acceptance would lie the Queen's touch, redeeming him from all commonness.

He made his first venture within a week after their first meeting, in a call on Miss Goodward and her mother in Trethgarten Square, where he found their red brick, vine-masked front distinguishable among half a hundred others by being kept open as late as the middle of June. To their being marooned thus in a desert of boarded-up doors and shuttered windows, due, as Eunice had frankly and charmingly let him know, to their being poor among their kind, he doubtless owed it that no other callers came to disturb the languid afternoon. Seen against her proper background of things precious but worn, and in the style of a preceding generation, the girl showed even lovelier than before, with the rich, perfumed quality of a flower held in a chipped porcelain vase, a flower moreover secure in its own perfectness, waiting only to be worn, disdaining alike to offer or resist. Her very quietness—she left him, in fact, almost wholly to her mother—had the air of condoning his state, of understanding what he was there for and of finding it somehow an accentuation of the interest they let him see that he had for them. He found them, mother and daughter, more alike, in spite of their natural and evident difference of years, more of a degree than he was accustomed to find mother and daughters in the few houses where the business of growing rich had admitted him, as though they had been carved out of the same material, by the same distinguished artist, at different times in his career.

It contributed to the effect of his having found, not by accident, but by seeking, a frame of life kept waiting for him, kept warm and conscious. Presently Eunice poured tea for them, and the intimacy of her remembering as she did, how he took it, had its part in the freedom which he presently found for offering hospitality on his own account, not at his home, as he explained to them, his sister being away, but say a dinner at Briar Crest to which they might motor out pleasantly Saturday afternoon, returning by moonlight. He offered Briar Crest tentatively on the strength of the Lessings having once given a dinner there, and was relieved to find that he had made no mistake.

"A great many of your friends go there," Mrs. Goodward allowed; "the Van Stitarts, Eunice, you remember."

"The Gherberdings are there now, mamma; I'm sure we shall enjoy it."

Having crossed thus at one fortunate stroke the frontiers of social observance, to which Clarice had but edged her way in the right of being a Thatcher Inwood, Peter ventured on Friday to suggest by telephone that since dinner must be late, the ladies should meet him at what he had taken pains to ascertain was the correct one of huge uptown hotels, for tea before starting. It was Mrs. Goodward who answered him and she whom he met in the white, marble tessellated tea-room, explaining that Eunice had had some shopping to do—they were really leaving on Saturday—and Mr. Weatheral was to order tea without waiting. They had time, however, for the tea to be drunk and for Mrs. Goodward to become anxious in a gentle, ladylike way, before it occurred to Peter to suggest that Miss Goodward might be lurking anywhere in the potted palm and marble pillared labyrinth, waiting for them, suffering equal anxieties, and dreadful to think of in their present replete condition, languishing for tea. His proposal to go and look for her was accepted with just the shade of deprecation which admitted him to an amused tolerance of the girl's delinquencies, as if somehow Eunice wouldn't have dared to be late with him had she not had reason more than ordinary for counting on his indulgence.

"You'll find," Mrs. Goodward let him know, "that we require a deal of looking after, Eunice and I."

"Ah, I only hope you'll find that I'm equal to it." Peter had answered her with so little indirection that it drew from the older woman a quick, mute flush of sympathy. For a moment the homeliness of his lean countenance was relieved with so redeeming a touch of what all women most wish for in all men that she met it with an equal simplicity. "For myself I am sure of it," but lifted next moment to a lighter key, with a smile very like her daughter's dragged a little awry by the use of years, "as for Eunice, you'll first have to lay hands on her."

With this permission he rose and made the circuit of the semi-divided rooms, coming out at last into the dim rotunda, forested with clustered porphyry columns, and there at last he caught sight of her. She had but just stepped into its shaded coolness out of the hot, bright day, and hung for a moment, in the act of furling her parasol, in which he was about to hail her, until he discovered by his stepping into range from behind one of the green pillars, that she was also in the act of saying good-bye to Burton Henderson. There was a certain finality in the way she held out her hand to him which checked Peter in the hospitable impulse to include the younger man in the afternoon's diversion. He stepped back the moment he saw that she was having trouble with her escort, defending herself by her manner from something accusing in his. Not to seem to spy upon her, Weatheral made his way back though the coatroom without disclosing himself. From the door of it he timed his return so as to meet her face to face as she came up with Mrs. Goodward and was rewarded for it by the gayety of her greeting and the unaffectedness of her attack of the fresh relay of toasted muffins and tea.

"Absolutely famished," she told them, "and the shops are so fascinating! You'd forgive me, Mr. Weatheral, if you could see the heaps and heaps of lovely things simply begging to be bought; it seemed positively unkind to come away and leave any of them." As she said nothing whatever about the young man, it seemed unlikely that she could have him much on her mind. She had a new way, very charming to Peter, of surrendering the afternoon into his hands; let him ask nothing of her she seemed to say, but to enjoy herself. She built out of their being there before her, a very delightful supposition of her mother and Mr. Weatheral, between them having made a little space for her to be gay in and simple and lovely after her own kind. If she took any account of them it was such as a dancer might who, practising a few steps for the mere joy and pride of it, finds herself unexpectedly surrounded by an interested and smiling audience.

If, however, with the memory of that afternoon upon him, Peter had gone down to Fairport in the latter part of July with the expectation of resuming the part of impresario to her charm, he suffered a sharp disappointment. He found the Goodwards, not in the expensive caravansary in which he installed himself, but in a smaller tributary house set back from the main hotel though not quite disconnected with it; for quiet, Mrs. Goodward told him, though he guessed quite as much from economy.

"It's wonderful, really, what they do with so little," Clarice, with her fine discriminations in the obligations of friendship, had generously let him know. "Eunice hasn't anything, positively not anything in comparison with what people of her class usually have. And with her taste, you know, there must be things she's just aching for, that somehow you can't give her." You couldn't, indeed. Though Peter made excuses enough for giving her the use of his car, and giving it to her shorn even of the implication of his society, there were few occasions when he could do even so much as that. He couldn't even give her his appreciations.

For at Fairport the Goodwards were quite in the heart of all that Peter himself failed to understand that he couldn't possibly be. It was not that he wasn't to the extent at least of sundry invitations given and accepted, "in" as much of the Best Society as Fairport afforded. Mrs. Goodward saw to that, and there were two or three whom he had met at the Lessings' as well as men to whom the figure of his income was the cachet of eligibility. It wasn't indeed that he wasn't liked, and that quite at his proper worth, but that he couldn't somehow manage it so that the Best Society cared in the least whether he liked it. He could see, in a way, where Clarice had been at work for him; but the poison that was dropped in his cup was the certainty that the way for him had to be "worked." The discovery that he couldn't just find his way to Eunice Goodward's side by the same qualities that had placed him beside the males of her circle in point of property and power, that he couldn't without admission to that circle, properly court her, hemmed him in bewilderingly.

Her method of eluding him, if there were method in it, left him feeling not so much avoided as prevented by the moves of a game he hadn't meant to play. So greatly it irked his natural simplicity to be banded about by the social observances of the place, that it might have led him to irrecoverable mistakes had it not been for the hand held out to him by Mrs. Goodward.

He perceived on closer acquaintance, that this lady's fine serenity of manner was due largely to her never admitting to her mind the upsetting possibility. She thought her world into acceptable shape and held it there by the simple process of ignoring the eccentricities of its axis.

Peter would have admired, if his unsophistication had allowed him, the facility with which she made it revolve now about their mutual pursuit of Eunice through the rattle and cheapness of what was known as "the Burton Henderson set." As it was against just such social inconsequence that Peter felt himself strong to defend her, he fell easily into the key of crediting the girl's sudden, bewildering flight to it as a mere midsummer madness.

"It's the way with girls, I fancy," Mrs. Goodward had said to him, strolling up and down the hotel veranda where through the wide French windows they had glimpses of Eunice whirling away on the ice polished floor of the ballroom within; "they cling the more to gayety as they see the graver things of life bearing down upon them."

"You think she sees that?"

"Ah, there's much a mother sees, Mr. Weatheral——"

"You would, of course," he accepted.

"It's a woman's part, seeing; there's an instinct in us not to see too soon." She gave him the benefit of her sweet weighted smile.

Peter lived greatly on these things. He was so sure of himself, of the reality and strength of his passion; he had a feeling of its being quite enough for them to go on, an inexhaustible, fairy capital out of which almost anything that Eunice Goodward desired might be drawn. It was fortunate that he found his passion so self-sufficing, for there was little enough that Eunice afforded it by way of sustenance. For a week he no more than kept in sight of her in the inevitable summer round; he did not dance and the game of cards he could play was gauged to what Ellen could manage in an occasional quiet evening at the Lessings'.

"I suppose," Eunice had said to him on an occasion when he had known enough to decline an invitation for an afternoon's play to which Burton Henderson was carrying her away, "that the stakes we play for aren't any temptation to you."

"I think that they're out of proportion to the trouble you have to be at to win them."

"Oh, if you don't care for the game——"

"I don't." And then casting about for a phrase that explained him more happily, "Put it that I like to cut out my job and go to it." She gave him a quick, condoning flash of laughter; the phrase was Lessing's and out of her recognition of it he drew, loverlike, that assurance of common understanding so dear to lovers. "Put it," he ventured further, "that I don't like to see myself balked of the prize by the way the cards are dealt."

"Ah, but that's what makes it a game. I'd no idea you were such a—revolutionist."

"Evolutionist," he corrected, happy in having touched the subtler note behind their persiflage. "I've all science on my side for the most direct method." After all, why should he let even the Best Society deal the cards for him? Should not a man sweep the boards of whatever kept him from his natural mate?

That was on Tuesday, and the Thursday following he had asked the Goodwards to motor over to Lighthouse Reef with him. He did not know quite what he meant to bring about on this occasion; he had so much the feeling of its being an occasion, the invitation had been so pointedly given and accepted, it was with difficulty he adjusted himself to the discovery on arriving at their hotel with the car, that Eunice had gone to play tennis instead.

"The time is so short," Mrs. Goodward apologized; "she felt she must make the most of it." She had to leave it there, not being able to make a game of tennis in the hot sun seem more of a diversion than the steady pacing of the luxurious car along the road which laced the forest to the singing beaches. She had to let her sidewise smile do what it could toward making the girl's bald evasion of her engagement seem the mere flutter and hesitancy of besieged femininity. For the moment she was as much "outside" so far as her daughter was concerned as Peter was of the select bright circle in which she moved.

The way opened before them, beautiful in late bloom and heavy fern, above which the sea wind kept a perpetual movement of aliveness.

"Eunice will miss it," Mrs. Goodward rallied; "such a perfect afternoon!" She gave him the oblique smile again, weighted this time with the knowledge of all that Peter hadn't been able or hadn't tried to keep from her. "It isn't easy, is it," she went on addressing her speech to whatever, at the mention of her daughter's name, hung in the air between them, "to stand by and see other people's great moments hover over them. One would like so to lend a hand. And one is sure of nothing so much as that if they are really to be big, one mustn't."

"If you feel that," Peter snatched at encouragement, "that it is really the big thing for her—what I'm sure you can't help knowing what I mean—what I hope."

"What I feel——? After all, it's her feeling, my dear Mr. Weatheral, that we have to take into account. It wouldn't be fair for me to attempt to answer to you for that!"

"And of course if I can't make her feel...." He did not trust himself to a conclusion.

They found, however, when the road issued on the coast opposite the great bursting bulks of spray, that Eunice's desertion and the extenuation of it to which they had lent themselves, had put them out of the mood for the high wind and warring surf of the Reef. Accordingly they turned aside at Peter's suggestion to have tea at a little country inn farther back in the hills, where the pound of the sea was reduced to a soft, organ-booming bass to which the shrill note of the needles countered in perfect tune. The tea garden, the favourite port of call for afternoon drives from the resorts hereabouts, lay back of the hostelry in a narrow, ferny glen from which springs issued. As Peter led the way up its rocky stair, they could hear the light laughter of a party just rising from one of the round rustic tables. The group descending poured past them a summer-coloured runnel down the little glen, and left them face to face with Eunice, who had lingered, her dress caught on a point of the rustic chair.

"Mamma—you!" She looked trapped, accused, though sheer astonishment held the others dumb. "We finished the game——" she began and stopped short; after all, her manner seemed to say, why shouldn't she have tea there with her friends? She made as if to sweep past after them but Mrs. Goodward never moved from the narrow path. She was more embarrassed, Peter saw, than her daughter, and as plainly at bay.

"Now that we are here——" she began in her turn.

"Now that you have followed me here," the girl rang out, "what is it that you have to say to me?" She was white and a bright flame spot showed on either cheek.

"I—oh," the elder woman by an effort drew the remnant of the grand manner about her; "it is Mr. Weatheral, I think, who might have something to say." She caught the occasion as it were on the wing. Peter heard the quick breath behind him with which she grasped it. "Now that you are here, however, I'll tell your party that you will be driving home with us." She gathered up her draperies and was gone down the path she had come before either of the others thought to stop her. Eunice had not made a move to do so. She stood clasping the back of the chair from which she had freed her dress, and looked across it mutinously at Peter.

"And what," she quivered, "has Mr. Weatheral to say to me?"

"There is nothing," he told her, "that I would say to you, Miss Goodward, unless you wished to hear it." His magnanimity shamed her a little.

"I broke my engagement to you," she admitted, "broke it to come here with—the others. I haven't any excuse to offer you."

"And when," Peter demanded of her, "have I asked any other excuse of you for anything that you chose to do except that you chose it. There was something I wished to say to you, that I hoped for a more auspicious occasion...." He hurried on with it suddenly as a thing to be got over with at all hazards. "It was to say that I hoped you might not find it utterly beyond you to think of marrying me." He saw her sway a little, holding still to her chair, and moved toward her a step, dizzy himself with the sudden onset of emotion. "But now that it is said, if it distresses you we will say no more about it." She waved him back for a moment without altering her strained, trapped attitude.

"Have you said this to mamma? And has she—has she said anything to you? About me, I mean; how I might take it, or anything?"

"She said that she couldn't answer for you; that it was your feeling that must be taken into account. She put me, so to speak, on my own feet in so far as that was concerned." He waited for her answer to that, and none coming, though he saw that she grew a little easier, he went on presently. "There is, however, much that I feel ought to be said about my feeling for you, what it means to me, what I hoped——" She stopped him with a gesture; he could see her lovely manner coming back to her as quiet comes to the surface of a smitten pool.

"That—one may take for granted, may one not? Since you have asked me, that the feeling that goes to it is all I have a right to ask?"

"Quite, quite," he assured her. "It may be," he managed to smile upon her here for the easing of her sweet discomposure, "it may very easily be that I was thinking too much of my pleasure in saying it."

"It would, then, be a pleasure?" She had the air of snatching at that as something concrete, graspable.

"It would, and it wouldn't. I mean if you were bothered by it. You could take everything for granted, everything."

"Even," she insisted, "to the point of taking it for granted that you would take things for granted from me: that you wouldn't expect anything—any expression, anything more than just accepting you?"

"Ah!" he cried, the wonder, the amazement of success breaking upon him. "If you accepted me what more could I expect." He had clasped the hand which she held out to check him and held it against his heart firmly that she shouldn't see how he trembled.

"I haven't, you know," she reminded him, "but if I was sure—very sure that you wouldn't ask any more of me than thinking, I ... might think about it." She was trembling now, though her hand was so cold, and suddenly a tear gathered and dropped, splashing her fine wrist.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" he cried, moved more than he had thought it possible to be; "you can be perfectly sure that there will never be anything between you and me that shall not be exactly as you wish." He suited his action to the word, kissing the wet splash and letting her go.

"Why, then," she recovered herself with the smile that was now strangely like her mother's, sweeter for being smiled a little awry, "the best thing you can do is to find poor mamma and let us give her a cup of tea."



IV

"Peter, have you any idea what I am thinking about?"

"Not in the least, Ellen," which was not strictly the truth. He supposed she must be thinking naturally of the news he had told her not an hour since, of his engagement to Eunice Goodward. It lay so close to the surface of his own mind at all times that the slightest stir of conversation, like the wind above a secret rose, seemed always about to disclose it. They were sitting on the porch at Bloombury and the pointed swallows pitched and darted about the eaves.

"It was the smell of the dust that reminded me," said Ellen, "and the wild rose at the turn of the road; you can smell it as plain as plain when the air lifts a little. Do you remember a picnic that we were invited to and couldn't go? It was on account of being poor ... and I was just finding it out. I found out a good many things that summer; about my always going to be lame and what it would mean to us. It was dreadful to me that I couldn't be lame just by myself, but I had to mix up you and mother in it."

"We were glad, Ellen, to be mixed up in it if it made things easier for you."

"I know ... times I felt that way about it too, but that was when I was older ... as if it sort of held us all together; like somebody who had belonged to us all and had died. Only it was me that died, the me that would have been if I hadn't been lame.... Well, I hadn't thought it out so far that first summer; I just hated it because it kept us from doing things like other people. You were fond of Ada Brown, I remember, and it was because I was lame and we were so poor and all, that you couldn't go with her and she got engaged to Jim Harvey. I hope you don't think I have a bad heart, Peter, but I was always glad that Ada didn't turn out very well. Every time I saw her getting homelier and kind of bedraggled like, I said to myself, well, I've saved Peter from that at any rate. I couldn't have borne it if she had turned out the kind of a person you ought to have married."

"You shouldn't have worried, Ellen; very few men marry the first woman they are interested in."

"There was a girl you used to write home about—at that boarding-house. I used to get you to write. I daresay you thought I was just curious. But I was trying to find out something that would make me perfectly sure she wasn't good enough for you. She was a typewriter, wasn't she?"

"Something of that sort."

"Well!" Ellen took him up triumphantly, "you wouldn't have wanted to be married to a typewriter now!"

"I never really thought of marrying one, Ellen. I'm sure everything has turned out for the best."

"That's what I'm trying to tell you. You see I was determined it should turn out that way. I said, what was the use of being lame and being a burden to you unless there was something meant by it. I'd have fretted dreadfully if I hadn't felt that there was something to come out of it. And it has come.... Peter, you'd rather I'd saved you for this than anything that might have happened?"

"Much rather, Ellen."

It had surprised him in the telling, to see how accurately his sister had gauged the worldly advantage of his marriage. If Eunice Goodward had been a piece of furniture, Ellen couldn't have appraised her better at her obvious worth: beauty and character and family and the mysterious cachet of society. Clarice had been at work there, too, he suspected. Miss Goodward fitted in Ellen's mind's eye into her brother's life and fortune as a picture into its frame.

"I'm very glad you feel that way about it, Ellen," he said again; he was on the point of telling her about the House of Shining Walls. The material from which he had drawn its earliest furnishings lay all about them, the receding blue of the summer sky, the aged, arching apple boughs. The scent of the wilding rose came faintly in from the country road—suddenly his sister surprised him with a flash of rare insight.

"I guess there can't anything keep us from the best except ourselves," she said. "Being willing to put up with the second best gives us more trouble than the Lord ever meant for us. Think of the way I've always wanted children—but if they'd been my real own, they'd have been sickly, likely, or even lame like me, or just ordinary like the only kind of man who would have married me. As it is, I've had Clarice's and now——" She broke off with a quick, old-maidish colour.

Ellen had gone so far as to name all of Peter's children in the days when nothing seemed so unlikely; now in the face of his recent engagement she would have thought it indelicate.

"She would have liked you marrying so well, Peter," she finished with a backward motion of her head toward the room where the parlour set, banished long ago from the town house, symbolized for Ellen the brooding maternal presence.

"Yes, she would have liked it." There came back to him with deep satisfaction his mother's appraisement of young Mrs. Dassonville, who must, as he recalled her, have been shaped by much the same frame of life as Eunice Goodward—the Lovely Lady. The long unused phrase had risen unconsciously to his lips on the day that he had brought Eunice her ring. He had spent a whole week in the city choosing it; three little flawless, oblong emeralds set with diamonds, almost encircling her finger with the mystic number seven. He had discovered on the day that she had accepted him, that it had to be emeralds to match the green lights that her eyes took on in the glen from the deep fern, the mossy bank and the green boughs overhead. On the terrace at Lessings' under a wide June sky he had supposed them to be blue; but there was no blue stone of that sky colour of sufficient preciousness for Eunice Goodward.

She had been very sweet about the ring, touched with grateful surprise for its beauty and its taste. Something he could see of relief, of assurance, flashed and fell between the two women as she showed it to her mother. They had taken him so beautifully on trust, they couldn't have known, he reflected, whether he would rise at all to the delicate, balanced observation of life among them; it was evidence, the emerald circlet, of how satisfyingly he had risen. The look that passed between mother and daughter was like a spark that lighted as it fell, an unsuspected need of him as man merely, the male element, security, dependability, care. His first response to it was that of a swimmer who has struck earth under him; he knew in that flash where he was, by what familiar shores; and the whole effect, in spite of him was of the sudden shrinkage of that lustrous sea in which his soul and sense had floated. It steadied him, but it also for the moment narrowed a little the horizon of adventure. It was the occasion that Eunice took to define for him his status as an engaged man.

He kept as far as he was able his compact of expecting nothing of her, except of course that he couldn't avoid expecting that their arrangement would lead in the natural course to marriage. She had met him more than halfway in that, agreeing to an earlier date than he had thought compatible with the ritual of engagements in the Best Society. She had managed, however, that Peter should present her with her summer freedom: the engagement was not even to be announced until their return to town. And in the meantime Peter was to find a house. He had offered her travel for that first year. Europe, which he had scarcely glimpsed, glittered and allured. But travel, Eunice let him know, went much better when you had a place to come back to. He saw at once how right was everything she did. Well, then, a house on Fillmore Avenue?

"Oh—shall we be so rich as that, Peter?" He divined some embarrassment in her as to the scale in which they were to live. "We'll want something in the country, too," she reminded him.

"I've a couple of options at Maplemont——"

"Oh, Maplemont——" She liked that also, he perceived.

"And a place in Florida. Lessing and I bought it the winter the children had the diphtheria. They've a very pretty bungalow; we could put up something like it for ourselves—if you wouldn't mind my sister occasionally. Ellen isn't happy at hotels."

"Mind! with all you're giving me! You won't think it's just the money, Peter;" she had a very charming hesitancy about it. "It's what money stands for, beauty, and suitability—and—everything." He was very tender with her.

"It's not that I have such a pile of it either," he assured her, "though I turn over a great deal in the course of a year. It's easier making money than people think."

"Easier for everybody?" There was a certain eagerness in the look and voice.

"Easier for those who know how. I'm only forty, and I've learned; there's not much I couldn't get if I set about it. It's a kind of a gift, perhaps, like painting or music, but there's a great deal to be learned, too."

"And some haven't the gift to learn, perhaps." For some reason she sighed.... He was turning all this over in his mind when suddenly Ellen recalled him.

"Have you told Clarice yet?"

"I mean to, Sunday, if you don't mind my not coming down to you. Miss Goodward is spending the week end at Maplemont, and by staying at Julian's——"

"Of course." Ellen sympathized. "I shall want to know what Clarice says." She never did know exactly, for when Clarice gave Peter her congratulations in the terrace garden after dinner, she missed, extraordinarily for her, the felicitous note.

"I'm so happy for Eunice, you can't imagine," she insisted. "I've always said we've none of us known what Eunice can do until she's had her opportunity. And now with all the background you can give her—— You'll see!"

He didn't quite know what he was to see except that if Eunice were to be in the picture it was bound to be satisfying. But Mrs. Lessing was not done with him. "For all her being so beautiful and so well placed," she went on, "Eunice has never had any life at all, not what you might call a life. And she might so easily have missed this. It is hard for girls to realize sometimes that the success of marriage depends on real qualities in the man, in mastery over things and not just over her susceptibilities. It is quite the most sensible thing I've known Eunice to do."

"Only," Peter reminded her for his part, "I'm not just exactly doing it because it is sensible." Her "of course not" was convinced enough to have stilled the vague ruffling of his mind, without doing it. He didn't object to having his qualifications as Eunice Goodward's husband taken solidly, but why dwell upon them when it was just the particular distinction of his engagement that it had the intensity, the spiritual extension which was supposed to put it out of reach of material considerations. Even Ellen had done better by him than this.

He was forced, however, to come back to the substance of Mrs. Lessing's comment a few days later when he was being dined at the club by a twice-removed cousin of the Goodward's, the upright, elderly symbol of the male sanction which was the most that his fiancee's fatherless condition could furnish forth. The man was cordial enough; he was even prepared to find Peter likable; but even more on that account to measure his relation to Miss Goodward in terms of its being a "good thing."

"It's not, you know," his host couldn't forebear to remind him, "exactly the sort of a marriage we expected of Eunice; but if the girl is satisfied——"

"If I hadn't satisfied myself on that point——" Peter reminded him in his turn.

"Quite so, quite so ... girls have notions sometimes; one never quite knows ... You'll keep on with your—just what is it you do such tremendous things with; one hears of course that you do do them——"

"Real estate, brokerage," Peter enlightened him. "I shall certainly keep on with it. Isn't one supposed to have all the more need of it when there's an establishment to keep up?"

The symbol waved a deprecating hand. "You'll find it rather an occupation to keep up with Eunice, I'm thinking. I've a notion she'll go it, once she has the chance."

"If by going it, you mean going out a great deal, seeing the world and having it in to see her, well, why shouldn't she, so long as I have the price?" He could only take it good-naturedly. It was amusing when you came to think of it, that a man who would contribute to the sum of his wife's future perhaps, the price of a silver tea salver, should so hold him to account for it. Nevertheless the talk left a faint savour of dryness. It was part of his new pride in himself as a possession of hers that he should in all things come up to the measure of men, but the one thing which should justify his being so ticketed and set aside by them as the Provider, the Footer-up of Accounts, was the assurance which only she could give, of his being the one thing, good or bad, which could be made to answer for her happiness.

Walking home by the river to avoid as far as possible the baked, oven-smelling streets, he was aware how strangely the whole earth ached for her. He was here walking, as he had been since his first seeing her, at the core of a great light and harmony, and walking alone in it. If just loving her had been sufficient occupation for his brief courtship, for the present it failed him. For he was not only alone but lonely. He saw her swept aside by the calculating crowd—strange that Ellen and Clarice should be a part of it—not only out of reach of his live passion, but beyond all speech. Alone in his room he felt suddenly faint for the want of her. He turned off the light with which he had first flooded it, for the flare of the street came feebly in through the summer leafage, and sat sensing the need of her as a thing to be handled and measured, a benumbing, suffocating presence. As he sat, a sound of music floated by, and a thin pencil of light from a pleasure barge on the river flitted from window to window, travelling the gilt line of a picture-frame and the dark block of a picture that hung over his bed. And as it touched in passing the high ramping figure of a knight in armour, the old magic worked. He felt himself flung as it were across great distances, and dizzy with the turn, to her side. He was there to maintain in the face of all worldly reckoning, the excluding, spiritual quality of their relation. The more his engagement to Eunice Goodward failed of being the usual, the expected thing, the more authority it derived for its supernal sources. It took the colour of true romance from its unlikelihood. Peter turned on the light, and drawing paper to him, began to write.

"Lovely Lady," the letter began, and as if the words had been an incantation, the room was full and palpitating with his stored-up dreams. They came waking and crowding to fill out the measure of his unconsummated passion, and they had all one face and one likeness. Late, late he was still going on with it....

"And so," he wrote, "I have come to the part of the story that was not in the picture, that I never knew. The dragon is slain and the knight has just begun to understand that the Princess for whom it was done is still a Princess; and though you have fought and bled for them, princesses must be approached humbly. And he did not know in the least how to go about it for in all his life the knight could never have spoken to one before. You have to think of that when you think of him at all, and of how he must stand even with his heart at her feet, hardly daring to so much as call her attention to it. For though he knows very well that it is quite enough to hope for and more than he deserves, to be able to spend his whole life serving her, love, great love such as one may have for princesses, aches, aches, my dear, and needs a comforting touch sometimes and a word of recognition to make it beat more steadily and more serviceably for every day."

He went out that night to post his letter when it was done, for though there was not time for an answer to it, he was going down to her on Saturday, he liked to think of it running before him as a torch to light the way which, even while he slept, he was so happily traversing. He was quite trembling with the journey he had come, when on Saturday she met him, floating in summer draperies and holding out a slim ringed hand, and a cool cheek to glance past his lips like a swallow.

"You had my letter, dear?"

"Such a lovely letter, Peter, I couldn't think of trying to answer it."

"Oh, it wasn't to be answered—at least not by another——" He released her lest she should be troubled by his trembling.

"I should think not!" She was more than gracious to him. "It's a wonder to me, Peter, you never thought of writing. You have such a beautiful vocabulary." But even that did not daunt him, for he knew as soon as he had looked on her again, that loving Eunice Goodward was enough of an occupation.



V

The senior partner of Weatheral, Lessing & Co., was exactly the sort of man, when his physicians ordered him abroad for two years, with the intimation that there might even worse happen to him, to make so little fuss about it that he got four inches of type in a leading paper the morning of his departure and very little more. Lessing would certainly have been at the steamer to see him off, except for being so much taken up with adjustments of the business made necessary by Peter's going out of it; and his sister Ellen never went out in foggy weather, seldom so far from the house in any case. Besides, she declared that if she once saw Peter disappearing down the widening water she should never be able to rid herself of the notion of his being quite overwhelmed by it, whereas if he sent on his trunks the day before, and walked quietly out in the morning with his suitcase, she could persuade herself that he had merely run down to Bloombury for a few days and would be back on Monday. And having managed his leave-taking as he did most personal matters, to please Ellen, who though she had never been credited with an imagination, seemed likely to develop one in the exigencies of getting along without Peter, he had no sense of having done anything other than to please himself. He found a man to carry his suitcase as soon as he was out of the house, and walked the whole way to the steamer; for if one has been ordered out of all activity there is still a certain satisfaction in going out on your own feet.

It was an extremely ill-considered day, wet fog drawn up to the high shouldering roofs and shrugged off, like a nervous woman's shawl. But whether it sulked over his departure or smiled on him for remembrance, would not have made any difference to Peter, who, whatever the papers said of the reason for his going abroad, knew that there would be neither shade nor shine for him, nor principalities nor powers until he had found again the House of the Shining Walls. As soon as he had bestowed his belongings in his stateroom, he went out on the side of the deck farthest from the groups of leave-taking, and stood staring down, as if he considered whether the straightest route might not lie in that direction, into the greasy, shallow hollows of the harbour water, at the very moment when the Burton Hendersons, over their very late coffee, had discovered the item of his departure.

Mrs. Henderson balanced her spoon on the edge of her cup while her husband read the paragraph aloud to her.

"You don't suppose," she said, as if it might be an interesting even if regrettable possibility, "that I—that our affair—had anything to do with it?"

"If it did," admitted her husband, with the air of not thinking it likely, but probably served him right, "it has taken a long time to get at him. Two years, isn't it, since you threw him over for a better man?"

"Oh, I'm not so sure of your being a better man, Bertie; I liked you better——"

Mr. Burton Henderson accepted his wife's amendment with complacency.

"I don't believe Weatheral appreciated the distinction. Men like that have a sort of money crust that prevents the ordinary perceptions from getting through to them." This illustration appeared on second thoughts so illuminating that it carried him a little further. "Perhaps that's the reason it has taken him so long to tumble after he has been hit; it has just got through to him. It would be interesting to know, though, if he is still a little in love with you."

There was a fair amount of speculation in Mr. Burton Henderson's tone that did not appear to have its seat in any apprehension.

"Just as if you rather hoped it," his wife protested.

"Well, I was only wondering if his health is so bad as the papers say—it seldom is, you know—but if he were to go off all of a sudden one of these days, whether he mightn't take it into his head now to leave you a legacy."

"I don't believe it was personal enough with Peter for that. It wasn't me he wanted so much as just to be married. And, besides, I did come down on him rather hard." Mrs. Burton Henderson smiled a little reminiscently as if she still saw herself in the process of coming down on Peter and thought rather well of it.

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