THE REAL ADVENTURE
HENRY KITCHELL WEBSTER
Illustrated by R.M. Crosby
Indianapolis The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers Serial Version 1915 The Ridgway Company Press of Braunworth & Co. Bookbinders and Printers Brooklyn, N.Y.
THE GREAT ILLUSION
I A Point of Departure II Beginning an Adventure III Frederica's Plan and What Happened to It IV Rosalind Stanton Doesn't Disappear V The Second Encounter VI The Big Horse VII How It Struck Portia VIII Rodney's Experiment IX After Breakfast
LOVE AND THE WORLD
I The Princess Cinderella II The First Question and an Answer to It III Where Did Rose Come In IV Long Circuits and Short V Rodney Smiled VI The Damascus Road VII How the Pattern Was Cut VIII A Birthday IX A Defeat X The Door That Was to Open XI An Illustration XII What Harriet Did XIII Fate Plays a Joke XIV The Dam Gives Way XV The Only Remedy XVI Rose Opens the Door
THE WORLD ALONE
I The Length of a Thousand Yards II The Evening and the Morning Were the First Day III Rose Keeps the Path IV The Girl With the Bad Voice V Mrs. Goldsmith's Taste VI A Business Proposition VII The End of a Fixed Idea VIII Success—and a Recognition IX The Man and the Director X The Voice of the World XI The Short Circuit Again XII "I'm All Alone" XIII Frederica's Paradox XIV The Miry Way XV In Flight XVI Anti-Climax XVII The End of the Tour XVIII The Conquest of Centropolis
THE REAL ADVENTURE
I The Tune Changes II A Broken Parallel III Friends IV Couleur-de-rose V The Beginning
The Great Illusion
A POINT OF DEPARTURE
"Indeed," continued the professor, glancing demurely down at his notes, "if one were the editor of a column of—er advice to young girls, such as I believe is to be found, along with the household hints and the dress patterns, on the ladies' page of most of our newspapers—if one were the editor of such a column, he might crystallize the remarks I have been making this morning into a warning—never marry a man with a passion for principles."
It drew a laugh, of course. Professorial jokes never miss fire. But the girl didn't laugh. She came to with a start—she had been staring out the window—and wrote, apparently, the fool thing down in her note-book. It was the only note she had made in thirty-five minutes.
All of his brilliant exposition of the paradox of Rousseau and Robespierre (he was giving a course on the French Revolution), the strange and yet inevitable fact that the softest, most sentimental, rose-scented religion ever invented, should have produced, through its most thoroughly infatuated disciple, the ghastliest reign of terror that ever shocked the world; his masterly character study of the "sea-green incorruptible," too humane to swat a fly, yet capable of sending half of France to the guillotine in order that the half that was left might believe unanimously in the rights of man; all this the girl had let go by unheard, in favor, apparently, of the drone of a street piano, which came in through the open window on the prematurely warm March wind. Of all his philosophizing, there was not a pen-track to mar the virginity of the page she had opened her note-book to when the lecture began.
And then, with a perfectly serious face, she had written down his silly little joke about advice to young girls.
There was no reason in the world why she should be The Girl. There were fifteen or twenty of them in the class along with about as many men. And, partly because there was no reason for his paying any special attention to her, it annoyed him frightfully that he did.
She was good-looking, of course—a rather boyishly splendid young creature of somewhere about twenty, with a heap of hair that had, in spite of its rather commonplace chestnut color, a sort of electric vitality about it. She was slightly prognathous, which gave a humorous lift to her otherwise sensible nose. She had good straight-looking, expressive eyes, too, and a big, wide, really beautiful mouth, with square white teeth in it, which, when she smiled or yawned—and she yawned more luxuriously than any girl who had ever sat in his classes—exerted a sort of hypnotic effect on him. All that, however, left unexplained the quality she had of making you, whatever she did, irresistibly aware of her. And, conversely, unaware of every one else about her. A bit of campus slang occurred to him as quite literally applicable to her. She had all the rest of them faded.
It wasn't, apparently, an effect she tried for. He had to acquit her of that. Not even, perhaps, one that she was conscious of. When she came early to one of his lectures—it didn't happen often—the men, showed a practical unanimity in trying to choose seats near by, or at least where they could see her. But while this didn't distress her at all—they were welcome to look if they liked—she struck no attitudes for their benefit. A sort of breezy indifference—he selected that phrase finally as the best description of her attitude toward all of them, including himself. When she was late, as she usually was, she slid unostentatiously into the back row—if possible at the end where she could look out the window. But for three minutes after she had come in, he knew he might as well have stopped his lecture and begun reciting the Greek alphabet. She was, in the professor's mind, the final argument against coeducation. Her name was Rosalind Stanton, but his impression was that they called her Rose.
The bell rang out in the corridor. He dismissed the class and began stacking up his notes. Then:
"Miss Stanton," he said.
She detached herself from the stream that was moving toward the door, and with a good-humored look of inquiry about her very expressive eyebrows, came toward him. And then he wished he hadn't called her. She had spoiled his lecture—a perfectly good lecture—and his impulse had been to remonstrate with her. But the moment he saw her coming, he knew he wasn't going to be able to do it. It wasn't her fault that her teeth had hypnotized him, and her hair tangled his ideas.
"This is an idiotic question," he said, as she paused before his desk, "but did you get anything at all out of my lecture except my bit of facetious advice to young girls about to marry?"
She flushed a little (a girl like that hadn't any right to flush; it ought to be against the college regulations), drew her brows together in a puzzled sort of way, and then, with her wide, boyish, good-humored mouth, she smiled.
"I didn't know it was facetious," she said. "It struck me as pretty good. But—I'm awfully sorry if you thought me inattentive. You see, mother brought us all up on the Social Contract and The Age of Reason, things like that, and I didn't put it down because ..."
"I see," he said. "I beg your pardon."
She smiled, cheerfully begged his and assured him she'd try to do better.
Another girl who'd been waiting to speak to the professor, perceiving that their conversation was at an end, came and stood beside her at the desk—a scrawny girl with an eager voice, and a question she wanted to ask about Robespierre; and for some reason or other, Rosalind Stanton's valedictory smile seemed to include a consciousness of this other girl—a consciousness of a contrast. It might not have been any more than that, but somehow, it left the professor feeling that he had given himself away.
He was particularly polite to the other girl, because his impulse was to act so very differently.
There is nothing cloistral about the University of Chicago except its architecture. The presence of a fat abbot, or a lady prioress in the corridor outside the recitation room would have fitted in admirably with the look of the warm gray walls and the carven pointed arches of the window and door casements, the blackened oak of the doors themselves.
On the other hand, the appearance of the person whom Rose found waiting for her out there, afforded the piquant effect of contrast. Or would have done so, had the spectacle of him in that very occupation not been so familiar.
He was a varsity half-back, a gigantic blond young man in a blue serge suit. He said, "Hello, Rose," and she said, "Hello, Harry." And he heaved himself erect from the wall he had been leaning against and reached out an immense hand to absorb the little stack of note-books she carried. She ignored the gesture, and when he asked for them said she'd carry them herself. There was a sort of strategic advantage in having your own note-books under your own arm—a fact which no one appreciated better than the half-back himself.
He looked a little hurt. "Sore about something?" he asked.
She smiled widely and said, "Not a bit."
"I didn't mean at me necessarily," he explained, and referred to the fact that the professor had detained her after he had dismissed the class. "What'd he try to do—call you down?"
There was indignation in the young man's voice—a hint of the protector aroused—of possible retribution.
She grinned again. "Oh, you needn't go back and kill him," she said.
He blushed to the ears. "I'm sorry," he observed stiltedly, "if I appear ridiculous." But she went on smiling.
"Don't you care," she said. "Everybody's ridiculous in March. You're ridiculous, I'm ridiculous, he"—she nodded along the corridor—"he's plumb ridiculous."
He wasn't wholly appeased. It was rather with an air of resignation that he held the door for her to go out by. They strolled along in silence until they rounded the corner of the building. Here, ceremoniously, he fell back, walked around behind her and came up on the outside. She glanced up and asked him, incomprehensibly, to walk on the other side, the way they had been. He wanted to know why. This was where he belonged.
"You don't belong there," she told him, "if I want you the other way. And I do."
He heaved a sigh, and said "Women!" under his breath. Mutabile semper! No matter how much you knew about them, they remained incomprehensible. Their whims passed explanation. He was getting downright sulky.
As a matter of fact, he did her an injustice. There was a valid reason for her wanting him to walk on the other side. What gave the appearance of pure caprice to her request was just her womanly dislike of hurting his feelings. There was a small boil on the left side of his neck and when he walked at her left hand, it didn't show.
"Oh, don't be fussy," she said. "It's such a dandy day."
But the half-back refused to be comforted. And he was right about that. A woman never tells you to cheer up in that brisk unfeeling way if she really cares a cotton hat about your troubles. And a candid deliberate self-examination would have convinced Rose that she didn't, in spite of the sentimentally warm March wind that was blowing her hair about. She was less moved by the half-back's sorrows this morning than at any time during the last six months. She'd hardly have minded the boil before to-day.
Six months ago, he had been a very wonderful person to her. There had been a succession of pleasant—of really thrilling discoveries. First, that he'd rather dance with her than with any other girl in the university. (You're not to forget that he was a celebrity. During the football season, his name was on the sporting page of the Chicago papers every day—generally in the head-lines when there was a game to write about, and Walter Camp had devoted a whole paragraph to explaining why he didn't put him on the first all-American eleven but on the second instead—a gross injustice which she had bitterly resented.)
There was a thrill, then, in the discovery that he liked her better than other girls, and a greater thrill in the subsequent discovery that she had become the basis of his whole orientation. It was her occupations that left him leisure for his own; his leisure was hers to dispose of as she liked; his energy, including his really prodigious physical prowess, to be directed toward any object she thought laudable. Six months ago she would not have laughed—not in that derisive way at least—at the notion of his going back and beating up the professor.
There had been a thrill, too, in their more sentimental passages. But at this point, there developed a most perplexing phenomenon. The idea that he wanted to make love to her, really moved and excited her; set her imagination to exploring all sorts of roseate mysteries. The first time he had ever held her hand—it was inside her muff, one icy December day when he hadn't any gloves on—the memory of the feel of that big hand, and of the timbre of his voice, left her starry-eyed with a new wonder. She dreamed of other caresses; of wonderful things that he should say to her and she should say to him.
But here arose the perplexity. It was her imagination of the thing that she enjoyed rather than the thing itself. The wonderful scenes that her own mind projected never came true. The ones that happened were disappointing—irritating, and eventually and unescapably, downright disagreeable to her. There was no getting away from it, the ideal lover of her dreams, whose tenderness and chivalry and devotion were so highly desirable, although he might wear the half-back's clothes and bear his face and name, was not the half-back. She might dote on his absence, but his presence was another matter.
The realization of this fact had been gradual. She wasn't fully conscious of it, even on this March morning. But something had happened this morning that made a difference. If she'd been ascending an imperceptible gradient for the last three months, to-day she had come to a recognizable step up and taken it. Oddly enough, the thing had happened back there in the class-room as she stood before the professor's desk and caught his eye wavering between herself and the scrawny girl who wanted to ask a question about Robespierre. There had been more than blank helpless exasperation in that look of his, and it had taught her something. She couldn't have explained what.
To the half-back she attributed it to the month of March. "You're ridiculous, I'm ridiculous, he's ridiculous." That was about as well as she could put it.
She and the half-back had walked about a hundred yards in silence. Now they were arriving at a point where the path forked.
"You're elegant company this morning, I must say," he commented resentfully.
Again she smiled. "I'm elegant company for myself," she said, and held out her hand. "Which way do you go?" she asked.
A minute later she was swinging along alone, her shoulders back, confronting the warm March wind, drawing into her good deep chest, long breaths. She had just had, psychically speaking, a birthday.
She played a wonderful game of basket-ball that afternoon.
BEGINNING AN ADVENTURE
It was after five o'clock when, at the conclusion of the game and a cold shower, a rub and a somewhat casual resumption of her clothes, she emerged from the gymnasium. High time that she took the quickest way of getting home, unless she wanted to be late for dinner.
But the exhilaration of the day persisted. She felt like doing something out of the regular routine. Even a preliminary walk of a mile or so before she should cross over and take the elevated, would serve to satisfy her mild hunger for adventure. And, really, she liked to be a little late for dinner. It was always pleasanter to come breezing in after things had come to a focus, than to idle about for half an hour in that no-man's-land of the day, when the imminence of dinner made it impossible to do anything but wait for it.
So, with her note-books under her arm and her sweater-jacket unfastened, at a good four-mile swing, she started north. In the purlieus of the university she was frequently hailed by friends of her own sex or the other. But though she waved cheerful responses to their greetings, she made her stride purposeful enough to discourage offers of company. They all seemed young to her to-day. All her student activities seemed young. As if, somehow, she had outgrown them. The feeling was none the less real after she had laughed at herself for entertaining it.
She noticed presently that it was a good deal darker than it had any right to be at this hour, and the sudden fall of the breeze and a persistent shimmer of lightning supplied her with the explanation. When she reached Forty-seventh Street, the break of the storm was obviously a matter of minutes, so she decided to ride across to the elevated—it was another mile, perhaps—rather than walk across as she had meant to do. She didn't in the least mind getting wet, providing she could keep on moving until she could change her clothes. But a ten-mile ride in the elevated, with water squashing around in her boots and dripping out of her hair, wasn't an alluring prospect.
She found quite a group of people waiting on the corner for a car, and the car itself, when it came along, was crowded. So she handed her nickel to the conductor over somebody's shoulder, and moved back to the corner of the vestibule. It was frightfully stuffy inside and most of the newly received passengers seemed to agree with her that the platform was a pleasanter place to stay; which did very well until the next stop, where half a dozen more prospective passengers were waiting. They were in a hurry, too, since it had begun in very downright fashion to rain.
The conductor had been chanting, "Up in the car, please," in a perfunctory cry all along. But at this crisis, his voice got a new urgency. "Come on, now," he proclaimed, "you'll have to get inside!"
From the step the new arrivals pushed, the conductor pushed, and finally he was able to give the signal for starting the car. The obvious necessity of making room for those who'd be waiting at the next corner, kept him at the task of herding them inside and the sheep-like docility of an American crowd helped him.
Regretfully, with the rest, Rose made her way to the door.
"Fare, please," he said sharply as she came along.
She told him she had paid her fare, but for some reason, perhaps because he was tired at the end of a long run, perhaps because he saw some one else he suspected of being a spotter, he elected not to believe her.
"When did you pay it?" he demanded.
"A block back," she said, "when all those other people got on."
"You didn't pay it to me," he said truculently. "Come along! Pay your fare or get off the car."
"I paid it once," she said quietly, "and I'm not going to pay it again." With that she started forward toward the door.
He reached out across his little rail and caught her by the arm. It was a natural act enough—not polite, to be sure, by no means chivalrous. Still, he probably put into his grip no more strength than he thought necessary to prevent her walking by into the car.
But it had a surprising result—a result that normally would not have happened. Yet, on this particular day, it could not have happened differently. It had been a red-letter day from the beginning, from no assignable cause an exciting joyous day, and the thrill of the hard fast game, the shower, the rub, the walk, had brought her up to what engineers speak of as a "peak."
Well, the conductor didn't know that. If he had, he would either have let the girl go by, or have put a good deal more force into his attempt to stop her. And the first thing he knew, he found both his wrists pinned in the grip of her two hands; found himself staring stupidly into a pair of great blazing blue eyes—it's a wrathful color, blue, when you light it up—and listening uncomprehendingly to a voice that said, "Don't dare touch me like that!"
The episode might have ended right there, for the conductor's consternation was complete. If she could have walked straight into the car, he would not have pursued her. But her note-books were scattered everywhere and had to be gathered up, and there were two or three of the passengers who thought the situation was funny, and laughed, which did not improve the conductor's temper.
Rose was aware, as she gathered up her note-books, of another hand that was helping her—a gloved masculine hand. She took the books it held out to her as she straightened up, and said, "Thank you," but without looking around for the face that went with it. The conductor's intentions were still at the focal point of her mind. They were, apparently, unaltered. He had jerked the bell while she was collecting her note-books and the car was grinding down to a stop.
"You pay your fare," he repeated, "or you get off the car right here."
"Right here" was in the middle of what looked like a lake, and the rain was pouring down with a roar.
She didn't hesitate long, but before she could answer a voice spoke—a voice which, with intuitive certainty, she associated with the gloved hand that had helped gather up her note-books—a very crisp, finely modulated voice.
"That's perfectly outrageous," it said. "The young lady has paid her fare."
"Did you see her pay it?" demanded the conductor.
"Naturally not," said the voice. "I got on at the last corner. She was here then. But if she said she did, she did."
It seemed to relieve the conductor to have some one of his own sex to quarrel with. He delivered a stream of admonition somewhat sulphurously phrased, to the general effect that any one whose concern the present affair was not, could, at his option, close his jaw or have his block knocked off.
Rose hadn't, as yet, looked round at her champion. But she now became aware that inside a shaggy gray sleeve which hung beside her, there was a sudden tension of big muscles; the gloved hand that had helped gather up her note-books, clenched itself into a formidable fist. The thought of the sort of thud that fist might make against the over-active jaw of the conductor was pleasant. Still, the thing mustn't be allowed to happen.
She spoke quickly and decisively. "I won't pay another fare, but of course you may put me off the car."
"All right," said the conductor.
The girl smiled over the very gingerly way in which he reached out for her elbow to guide her around the rail and toward the step. Technically, the action constituted putting her off the car. She heard the crisp voice once more, this time repeating a number, "twenty-two-naught-five," or something like that, just as she splashed down into the two-inch lake that covered the hollow in the pavement. The bell rang twice, the car started with a jerk, there was another splash, and a big gray-clad figure alighted in the lake beside her.
"I've got his number," the crisp voice said triumphantly.
"But," gasped the girl, "but what in the world did you get off the car for?"
It wasn't raining. It was doing an imitation of Niagara Falls, and the roar of it almost drowned their voices.
"What did I get off the car for!" he shouted. "Why, I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It was immense! It's so confounded seldom," he went on, "that you find anybody with backbone enough to stick up for a principle ..."
He heard a brief, deep-throated little laugh and pulled up short with a, "What's the joke?"
"I laughed," she said, "because you have been deceived." And she added quickly, "I don't believe it's quite so deep on the sidewalk, is it?" With that she waded away toward the curb.
He followed, then led the way to a lee-wall that offered, comparatively speaking, shelter.
Then, "Where's the deception?" he asked.
On any other day, it's probable she'd have acted differently; would have paid some heed, though a bit contemptuously, perhaps, to the precepts of ladylike behavior, in which she'd been admirably grounded. The case for reticence and discretion was a strong one. The night was dark; the rain-lashed street deserted; the man an utterly casual stranger—why, she hadn't even had a straight look into his face. His motive in getting off the car was at least dubitable. Even if not sinister, it could easily be unpleasantly gallant. A man might not contemplate doing her bodily harm, and still be capable of trying to collect some sort of sentimental reward for the ducking he had submitted himself to.
Her instinct rejected all that. The sound of his voice, the general—atmosphere of him had been exactly right. And then, he'd left undone the things he ought not to have done. He hadn't tried to take hold of her arm as they had splashed along through the lake to the curb. He hadn't exhibited any tenderly chivalrous concern over how wet she was. And, to-day being to-day, she consigned ladylike considerations to the inventor of them, and gave instinct its head.
She laughed again as she answered his question. "The deception was that I pretended to do it from principle. The real reason why I wouldn't pay another fare, is because I had only one more nickel."
"Good lord!" said the man.
"And," she went on, "that nickel will pay my fare home on the elevated. It's only about half a mile to the station, but from there home it's ten. So you see I'd rather walk this than that."
"But that's dreadful," he cried. "Isn't there ... Couldn't you let me ..."
"Oh," she said, "it isn't so bad as that. It's just one of the silly things that happen to you sometimes, you know. I didn't have very much money when I started, it being Friday. And then I paid my subscription to The Maroon...." She didn't laugh audibly, but without seeing her face, he knew she smiled, the quality of her voice enriching itself somehow.... "And I ate a bigger lunch than usual, and that brought me down to ten cents. I could have got more of course from anybody, but ten cents, except for that conductor, would have been enough."
"You will make a complaint about that, won't you?" he urged. "Even if it wasn't on principle that you refused to pay another fare? And let me back you up in it. I've his number, you know."
"You deserve that, I suppose," she said, "because you did get off the car on principle. But—well, really, unless we could prove that I did pay my fare, by some other passenger, you know, they'd probably think the conductor did exactly right. Of course he took hold of me, but that was because I was going right by him. And then, think what I did to him!"
He grumbled that this was nonsense—the man had been guilty at least of excessive zeal—but he didn't urge her, any further, to complain.
"There's another car coming," he now announced, peering around the end of the wall. "You will let me pay your fare on it, won't you?"
She hesitated. The rain was thinning. "I would," she said, "if I honestly wouldn't rather walk. I'm wet through now, and it'll be pleasanter to—walk a little of it off than to squeeze into that car. Thanks, really very, very much, though. Don't you miss it." She thrust out her hand. "Good-by!"
"I can't pretend to think you need an escort to the elevated," he said. "I saw what you did to the conductor. I haven't the least doubt you could have thrown him off the car. But I'd—really like it very much if you would let me walk along with you."
"Why," she said, "of course! I'd like it too. Come along."
FREDERICA'S PLAN AND WHAT HAPPENED TO IT
At twenty minutes after seven that evening, Frederica Whitney was about as nearly dressed as she usually was ten minutes before the hour at which she had invited guests to dinner—not quite near enough dressed to prevent a feeling that she had to hurry.
Ordinarily, though, she didn't mind. She'd been an acknowledged beauty for ten years and the fact had ceased to be exciting. She took it rather easily for granted, and knowing what she could do if she chose, didn't distress herself over being lighted up, on occasions, to something a good deal less than her full candle-power. To Frederica at thirty—or thereabout—the job of being a radiantly delightful object of regard lacked the sporting interest of uncertainty; was almost too simple a matter to bother about.
But to-night the tenseness of her movements and the faint trace of a wire edge in the tone in which she addressed the maid, revealed the fact that she wished she'd started half an hour earlier. Even her husband discovered it. He brought in a cigarette, left the door open behind him and stood smiling down at her with the peculiarly complacent look that characterizes a married man of forty when he finds himself dressed beyond cavil in the complete evening harness of civilization, ten minutes before his wife.
She shot a glance of rueful inquiry at him—"Now what have you come fussing around for?" would be perhaps a fair interpretation of it—and asked him what time it was, in the evident hope that the boudoir clock on her dressing-table had deceived her. It had, but in the wrong direction.
"Seven twenty-two, thirty-six," he told her. It was a perfectly harmless passion he had for minute divisions of time, but to-night it irritated her. He might have spared her that thirty-six seconds.
She made no comment except with her eyebrows, but he must have been looking at her, for he wanted to know, good-humoredly, what all the excitement was about.
"You could go down as you are and not a man here to-night would know the difference. And as for the women—well, if they have something on you for once, they'll be all the better pleased."
"Don't try to be knowing and philosophical, and—Havelock Ellish, Martin, dear," she admonished him, pending a minute operation with an infinitesimal hairpin. "It isn't your lay a bit. Just concentrate your mind on one thing, and that's being nice to Hermione Woodruff...."
She broke off for a long stare into her hand-glass; then finished, casually, "... and on seeing that Roddy is."
He asked, "Why Rodney?" in a tone that matched hers; looked at her, widened his eyes, said "Huh!" to himself and, finally, shook his head. "Nothing to it," he pronounced.
She said, "Nothing to what?" but abandoned this position as untenable. She despatched the maid with the key to the wall safe in her husband's room. "Why isn't there?" she demanded. "Rodney won't look at young girls. They bore him to death—and no wonder, because he freezes them perfectly brittle with fright. But Hermione's really pretty intelligent. She can understand fully half the things he talks about and she's clever enough to pretend about the rest. She's got lots of tact and skill, she's good-looking and young enough—no older than I and I'm two years younger than Roddy. She'll appreciate a real husband, after having been married five years to John Woodruff. And she's rich enough, now, so that his wild-eyed way of practising law won't matter."
"All very nice and reasonable," he conceded, "but somehow the notion of Rodney Aldrich trying to marry a rich widow is one I'm not equal to without a handicap of at least two cocktails." He looked at his watch again. "By the way, didn't you say he was coming early?"
She nodded. "That's what he told me this morning when I telephoned him to remind him that it was to-night. He said he had something he wanted to talk to me about. I knew I shouldn't have a minute, but I didn't say so because I thought if he tried to get here early, he might miss being late."
They heard, just then, faint and far-away, the ring of the door-bell, at which she cried, "Oh, dear! There's some one already."
"Wait a second," he said. "Let's see if it's him."
The paneled walls and ceiling of their hall were very efficient sounding-boards and there was no mistaking the voice they heard speaking the moment the door opened—a voice with a crisp ring to it that sounded always younger than his years. What he said didn't matter, just a cheerful greeting to the butler. But what they heard the butler say to him was disconcerting.
"You're terribly wet, sir."
Frederica turned on her husband a look of despair.
"He didn't come in a taxi! He's walked or something, through that rain! Do run down and see what he's like. And if he's very bad, send him up to me. I can imagine how he'll look."
She was mistaken about that though. For once Frederica had overestimated her powers, stimulated though they were by the way she heard her husband say, "Good lord!" when the sight of his brother-in-law burst on him.
"Praise heaven you can wear my clothes," she heard him add. "Run along up-stairs and break yourself gently to Freddy."
She heard him come squudging up the stairs and along the hall, and then in her doorway she saw him. His baggy gray tweed suit was dark with the water that saturated it. The lower part of his trousers-legs, in irregular vertical creases, clung dismally to his ankles and toned down almost indistinguishably into his once tan boots by the medium of a liberal stipple of mud spatters. Evidently, he had worn no overcoat. Both his side pockets had been, apparently, strained to the utmost to accommodate what looked like a bunch of pasteboard-bound note-books, now far on the way to their original pulp, and lopped despondently outward. A melancholy pool had already begun forming about his feet.
The maddening, but yet—though she hadn't much room for any other emotion—touching thing about the look of him, was the way his face, above the dismal wreck, beamed good-humored innocent affection at her. It was a big featured, strong, rosy face, and the unmistakable intellectual power of it, which became apparent the moment he got his faculties into action, had a trick of hiding, at other times, behind a mere robust simplicity.
"Good gracious!" he said. "I didn't know you were going to have a party."
It seemed though, he didn't want to make an issue of that. He hedged. "I know you said something about a birthday cake, but I thought it would just be the family. So instead of dressing, I thought I'd walk down from home. It takes about the same time. And then it came on to rain, so I took a street-car—and got put off."
It appeared from the way she echoed his last two words that she wanted an explanation. He was painting with a large brush and a few details got obliterated.
"Got into a row with the conductor, who wanted to collect two fares for one ride, so I walked over to the elevated—and back, and here I am."
"Yes, here you are," said Frederica.
She didn't mean anything by that. Already she was making up her mind what she would do with him. His own suggestion was that he should decamp furtively by the back stairs, the sound of new arrivals to the dinner party warning him that the other way of escape was barred. Waiters could be instructed to rescue his hat for him, and he could toddle along down-town again.
She didn't give him time to complete the outline of this masterly stratagem. "Don't be impossible, Rod," she said. "Don't you even know whose birthday party this is?"
He looked at her, frowned, then laughed. He had a great big laugh.
"I thought it was one of the kid's," he said.
"Well, it isn't," she told him. "It's yours. And those people down there were asked to meet you. And you've got just about seven minutes to get presentable in. Go into Martin's bathroom and take off those horrible clothes. I'll send Walters in to lay out some things of Martin's."
She came up to him and, at arm's length, touched him with cautious finger-tips. "And do, please, there's a dear boy," she pleaded, "hurry as fast as you can, and then come down and be as nice as you can"—she hesitated—"especially to Hermione Woodruff. She thinks you're a wonder and I don't want her to be disappointed."
"The widdy?" he asked. "Sure I'll be nice to her."
She looked after him rather dubiously as he disappeared in the direction of her husband's room.
She'd have felt safer about him if he had seemed more subdued as a result of his escapade. There was a sort of hilarious contentment about him that filled her with misgivings.
Well, they were justified!
But the maddening thing was, she had afterward to admit, that the disaster had been largely of her own contriving. She had been caught in the net of her own stratagem—hoist by her own petard.
She had made it a six-couple dinner in order to insure that the talk should be by twos rather than general, and she had spent a good half-hour over the place-cards, getting them to suit her.
Hermione had to be on Martin's right hand, of course. She was just back in the city after an absence of years, and everybody was rushing her. She put Violet Williamson, whom Martin was always flirting with in a harmless way, on his left, and Rod to the right of Hermione. At Rodney's right, she put a girl he had known for years and cared nothing whatever about, and then Howard West—who probably wasn't interested in her either, but would be polite because he was to everybody. Frederica herself sat between Carl Leaventritt of the university—a great acquisition, since whatever you might think of him as an empirical psychologist, there was no doubt of his being an accomplished diner-out—and Violet's husband, as he vociferously proclaimed himself, John Williamson, an untired business man who, had their seasons coincided, could have enjoyed a ball game in the afternoon and stayed awake at the opera in the evening. Doctor Randolph's pretty wife she slid in between Leaventritt and Howard West, and, in happy ignorance of what the result was going to be, she put Randolph himself between Violet and Alice West. He was a young, up-to-the-minute mind and nerve doctor.
It was an admirable plan all right, the key-note of it being, as you no doubt will have observed, the easy unforced isolation of Rodney and the rich widow. Before that dinner was over, they ought to be old friends.
And, for a little while, all went well. Rodney came down almost within the seven minutes she had allowed him, looking much less dreadful than she had expected, in her husband's other dress suit, and not forgetful, it appeared, of the line of behavior she had enjoined on him; namely, that he was to be nice to Hermione Woodruff.
From her end of the table, she saw them apparently safely launched in conversation over the hors-d'oeuvre, took a look at them during the soup to see that all was still well, then let herself be beguiled into a conversation with John Williamson, whom she liked as well as Martin did Violet. She never thought of the objects of her matrimonial design again until her ear was caught by a huge seven-cornered word in her brother's voice. He couldn't be saying it to Hermione; no, he was leaning forward, shouting at Doctor Randolph, who apparently knew what he meant and was getting visibly ready to reply in kind.
According to Violet Williamson's account, given confidentially in the drawing-room afterward, it was really Hermione's fault. "She just wouldn't let Rodney alone—would keep talking about crime and Lombroso and psychiatric laboratories—I'll bet she'd got hold of a paper of his somewhere and read it. Anyway, at last she said, 'I believe Doctor Randolph would agree with me.' He was talking to me then, but maybe that isn't why she did it. Well, and Rodney straightened up and said, 'Is that Randolph, the alienist!' You see he hadn't caught his name when they were introduced. And that's how it started. Hermione was game—I'll admit that. She listened and kept looking interested, and every now and then said something. Sometimes they'd take the trouble to smile and say 'Yes, indeed!'—politely, you know, but other times they wouldn't pay any attention at all, just roll along over her and smash her flat—like what's his name—Juggernaut."
"You don't need to tell me that," said Frederica. "All I didn't know was how it started. Didn't I sit there and watch for a mortal hour, not able to do a thing? I tried to signal to Martin, but of course he wasn't opposite to me and ..."
"He did all he could, really," Violet answered her. "I told him to go to the rescue, and he did, bravely. But what with Hermione being so miffy about getting frozen out, and Martin himself being so interested in what they were shouting at each other—because it was frightfully interesting, you know, if you didn't have to pretend you understood it—why, there wasn't much he could do."
In the light of this disaster, she was rather glad the men lingered in the dining-room as long as they did—glad that Hermione had ordered her car for ten and took the odd girl with her. She made no effort to resist the departure of the others, with reasonable promptitude, in their train. When, after the front door had closed for the last time, Martin released a long yawn, she told him to run along to bed; she wanted to talk with Rodney, who was to spend the night while his own clothes were drying out in the laundry.
"Good night, old chap," said Martin in accents of lively commiseration, "I'm glad I'm not in for what you are."
ROSALIND STANTON DOESN'T DISAPPEAR
Rodney found a pipe of his that he kept concealed on the premises, loaded and lighted it, sat down astride a spindling little chair that looked hardly up to his weight, settled his elbows comfortably on the back of it, and then asked his sister what Martin had meant—what was he in for?
Frederica, curled up in a corner of the sofa, finished her own train of thought aloud, first.
"She's awfully attractive, don't you think? His wife, I mean. Oh, James Randolph's, of course." She turned to Rodney, looked at him at first with a wry pucker between her eyebrows, then with a smile, and finally answered his question. "Nothing," she said. "I mean, I was going to scold you, but I'm not."
"Why, yes," he admitted through his smoke. "Randolph's wife's a mighty pretty woman. But I expect that lets her out, doesn't it?"
Frederica shook her head. "She's a good deal of a person, I should say, on the strength of to-night's showing. She kept her face perfectly through the whole thing—didn't try to nag at him or apologize to the rest of us. I'd like to know what she's saying to him now."
Then, "Oh, I was furious with you an hour ago," she went on. "I'd made such a nice, reasonable, really beautiful plan for you, and given you a tip about it, and then I sat and watched you in that thoroughgoing way of yours, kicking it all to bits. But somehow, when I see you all by yourself, this way, it changes things. I get to thinking that perhaps my plan was silly after all—anyhow, it was silly to make it. The plan was, of course, to marry you off to Hermione Woodruff."
He turned this over in his deliberate way, during the process of blowing two or three smoke rings, began gradually to grin, and said at last, "That was some plan, little sister. How do you think of things like that? You ought to write romances for the magazines, that's what you ought to do."
"I don't know," she objected. "If reasonableness counted for anything in things like that, it was a pretty good plan. It would have to be somebody like Hermione. You can't get on at all with young girls. As long as you remember they're around, you're afraid to say anything except milk and water out of a bottle that makes them furious, and then if you forget whom you're talking to and begin thinking out loud, developing some idea or other, you—simply paralyze them.
"Well, Hermione's sophisticated and clever, she's lived all over the place; she isn't old yet, and she was a brick about that awful husband of hers—never made any fuss—bluffed it out until he, luckily, died. Of course she'll marry again, and I just thought, if you liked the idea, it might as well be you."
"I don't know," said Rodney, "whether Mrs. Woodruff knows what she wants or not, but I do. She wants a run for her money—a big house to live in three months in the year, with a flock of servants and a fleet of motor-cars, and a string of what she'll call cottages to float around among, the rest of the time. And she'll want a nice, tame, trick husband to manage things for her and be considerate and affectionate and amusing, and, generally speaking, Johnny-on-the-spot whenever she wants him. If she has sense enough to know what she wants in advance, it will be all right. She can take her pick of dozens. But if she gets a sentimental notion in her head—and I've a hunch that she's subject to them—that she wants a real man, with something of his own to do, there'll be, saving your presence, hell to pay. And if the man happened to be me ...!"
Frederica stretched her slim arms outward. Thoughtful-faced, she made no comment on his analysis of the situation, unless a much more observant person than Rodney might have imagined there was one in the deliberate way in which she turned her rings, one at a time, so that the brilliant masses of gems were inside, and then clenched her hands over them.
He had got up and was ranging comfortably up and down the room.
"I know I look more or less like a nut to the people who've always known us—father's and mother's friends, and most of their children. But I give you my word, Freddy, that most of them look like nuts to me. Why, they live in curiosity shops—so many things around, things they have and things they've got to do, that they can't act or think for fear of breaking something.
"Why a man should load himself up with three houses and a yacht, a stable of motor-cars, and God knows what besides, when he's rich enough to buy himself real space and leisure to live in, is a thing I can't figure out on any basis except of defective intelligence. I suppose they're equally puzzled about me when I refuse a profitable piece of law work they've offered me, because I don't consider it interesting. All the same, I get what I want, and I'm pretty dubious sometimes whether they do. I want space—comfortable elbow room, so that if I happen to get an idea by the tail, I can swing it around my head without knocking over the lamp."
"It's a luxury though, Rod, that kind of spaciousness, and you aren't very rich. If you married a girl without anything ..."
He broke in on her with that big laugh of his. "You've kept your sense of humor pretty well, sis, considering you've been married all these years to a man as rich as Martin, but don't spring remarks like that, or I'll think you've lost it. If a man can't keep an open space around him, even after he's married, on an income, outside of what he can earn, of ten or twelve thousand dollars a year, the trouble isn't with his income. It's with the content of his own skull."
She gave a little shiver and snuggled closer into a big down pillow.
"You will marry somebody, though, won't you, Roddy? I'll try not to nag at you and I won't make any more silly plans, but I can't help worrying about you, living alone in that awful big old house. Anybody but you would die of despondency."
"Oh," he said, "that's what I meant to talk to you about! I sold it to-day—fifty thousand dollars—immediate possession. Man wants to build a printing establishment there. You come down sometime next week and pick out all the things you think you and Harriet would like to keep, and I'll auction off the rest."
She shivered again and, to her disgust, found that her eyes were blurring up with tears. She was a little bit slack and edgy to-day, anyhow.
But really there was something rather remorseless about Rodney. It occurred to her that the woman he finally did marry would need to be strong and courageous and rather insensitive to sentimental fancies, to avoid a certain amount of unhappiness.
What he had just referred to in a dozen brisk words, was the final disappearance of the home they had all grown up in. Their father, one of Chicago's great men during the twenty great years between the Fire and the Fair, had built it when the neighborhood included nearly all the other big men of that robust period, and had always been proud of it. There was hardly a stone or stick about it that hadn't some tender happy association for her. Of course for years the neighborhood had been impossible. Her mother had clung to it after her husband's death, as was of course natural.
But when she had followed him, a year ago now, it was evident that the old place would have to go. Rodney, who had lived alone with her there, had simply stayed on, since her death, waiting for an offer for it that suited him. Frederica had known that, of course—had worried about him, as she said, and in her imagination, had colored his loneliness to the same dismal hue her own would have taken on in similar circumstances.
All the same, his curt announcement that the long-looked-for change had come, brought up quick unwelcomed tears. She squeezed them away with her palms.
"You'll come to us then, won't you?" she asked, but quite without conviction. She knew what he'd say.
"Heavens, no! Oh, I'll go to a hotel for a while—maybe look up a little down-town apartment, with a Jap. It doesn't matter much about that. It's a load off, all right."
"Is that," she asked, "why you've been looking so sort of—gay, all the evening—as if you were licking the last of the canary's feathers off your whiskers?"
"Perhaps so," he said. "It's been a pretty good day, take it all round."
She got up from the couch, shook herself down into her clothes a little, and came over to him.
"All right, since it's been a good day, let's go to bed." She put her hands upon his shoulders. "You're rather dreadful," she said, "but you're a dear. You don't bite my head off when I urge you to get married, though I know you want to. But you will some day—I don't mean bite my head off—won't you, Rod?"
"When I see any prospect of being as lucky as Martin—find a girl who won't mind when I turn up for dinner looking like a drowned tramp, or kick her plans to bits, after she's tipped me off as to what she wants me to do ..."
Frederica took her hands off, stepped back and looked at him. There was an ironical sort of smile on her lips.
"You're such an innocent," she said. "You've got an idea you know me—know how I treat Martin. Roddy, dear, a girl's brother doesn't matter. She isn't dependent on him, nor responsible for him. And if she's rather sillily fond of him, she's likely to spoil him frightfully. Don't think the girl you marry will ever treat you like that."
"But look here!" he exclaimed. "You say I don't know you, whom I've lived with off and on for thirty years—don't know how you'd treat me if you were married to me. How in thunder am I going to know about the girl I get engaged to, before it's too late?"
"You won't," she said. "You haven't a chance in the world."
"Hm!" he grunted, obviously struck with this idea. "You're giving the prospect of marriage new attractions. You're making the thing out—an adventure."
She nodded rather soberly. "Oh, I'm not afraid for you," she said. "Men like adventures—you more than most. But women don't. They like to dream about them, but they want to turn over to the last chapter and see how it's going to end. It's the girl I'm worried about.... Oh, come along! We're talking nonsense. I'll go up with you and see that they've given you pajamas and a tooth-brush."
She had accomplished this purpose, kissed him good night, and under the hint of his unbuttoned waistcoat and his winding watch, turned to leave the room, when her eye fell on a heap of damp, warped, pasteboard-bound note-books, which she remembered having observed in his side pockets when he first came in. The color on the pasteboard binding had run, and as they lay on the drawn linen cover to the chiffonier, she went over and picked them up to see how much damage they'd done. Then she frowned, peered at the paper label that had half peeled off of the topmost cover, and read what was written on it.
"Who," she asked with considerable emphasis, "is Rosalind Stanton?"
"Oh," said Rodney very casually, behind the worst imitation of a yawn she had ever seen, "oh, she got put off the car when I did."
"That sounds rather exciting," said Frederica behind an imitation yawn of her own—but a better one. "Going to tell me about it?"
"Nothing much to tell," said Rodney. "There was a row about a fare, as I said. The conductor was evidently solid concrete above the collar-bone, and didn't think she'd paid. And she grabbed him and very nearly threw him out into the street—could have done it, I believe, as easily as not. And he began to talk about punching somebody's head. And then, we both got put off. So, naturally, I walked with her over to the elevated. And then I forgot to give her her note-books and came away with them."
"What sort of looking girl?" asked Frederica. "Is she pretty?"
"Why, I don't know," said Rodney judicially. "Really, you know, I hardly got a fair look at her."
Frederica made a funny sounding laugh and wished him an abrupt "good night."
She was a great old girl, Frederica—pretty wise about lots of things, but Rodney was inclined to think she was mistaken in saying women didn't like adventures. Take that girl this afternoon, for example. Evidently she was willing to meet one half-way. And how she'd blazed up when that conductor touched her! Just the memory of it brought back something of the thrill he had felt when he saw it happen.
"You're a liar, you know," remarked his conscience, "telling Frederica you hadn't had a good look at her."
On the contrary, he argued, it was perfectly justifiable to deny that a look as brief as that, was good. He wouldn't deny, however, that the thing had been a wholly delightful and exhilarating little episode. That was the way to have things happen! Have them pop out of nowhere at you and disappear presently, into the same place.
"Disappear indeed!" sneered his conscience. "How about those note-books, with her name and address on every one. And there's another lie you told—about forgetting to give them to her!"
He protested that it was entirely true. He had gone into the station with the girl, shaken hands with her, said good night, and turned away to leave the station, unaware—as evidently she was—that he still had her note-books under his arm. But it was equally true that he had discovered them there, a good full second before the girl had turned the corner of the stairs—in plenty of time to have called her back to the barrier, and handed them over to her.
"All right, have it your own way," said Rodney cheerfully, as he turned out the light.
THE SECOND ENCOUNTER
Portia Stanton was late for lunch; so, after stripping off her jacket and gloves, rolling up her veil and scowling at herself in an oblong mahogany-framed mirror in the hall, she walked into the dining-room with her hat on. Seeing her mother sitting alone at the lunch table, she asked, "Where is Rose?"
"She'll be down presently, I think," her mother said. "She called out to me that she'd only be a minute, when I passed her door. Does your hat mean you're going back to the shop this afternoon?"
Portia nodded, pulled back her chair abruptly and sat down. "Oh, don't ring for Inga," she said. "What's here's all right, and she takes forever."
"I thought that on Saturday ..." her mother began.
"Oh, I know," said Portia, "but Anne Loomis telephoned she's going to bring Dora Wild around to pick out which of my three kidney sofas she wants for a wedding present. That girl I've got isn't much good, and besides, I think there's a chance that Dora may give me her house to do. Her man's stupidly rich, they say, and richly stupid, so the job ought to be worth eating a cold egg for."
You'd have known them for mother and daughter anywhere, and you'd have had trouble finding any point of resemblance in either of them to the Amazonian young thing who had so nearly thrown a street-car conductor into the street the night before. Their foreheads were both narrow and rather high, their noses small and slightly aquiline, and both of them had slender fastidious hands.
The mother's hair was very soft and white, and the care with which it was arranged indicated a certain harmless vanity in it. There was something a little conscious, too, about her dress—an effect difficult to describe without exaggeration. It was not bizarre nor "artistic," but you would have understood at once that its departures from the prevailing mode were made on principle. If you took it in connection with a certain resolute amiability about her smile, you would be entirely prepared to hear her tell Portia that she was reading a paper on Modern Tendencies before the Pierian Club this afternoon.
A very real person, nevertheless, you couldn't doubt that. The marks of passionately held beliefs and eagerly given sacrifices were etched with undeniable authenticity in her face.
Once you got beyond a catalogue of features, Portia presented rather a striking contrast to this. Her hair was done—you could hardly say arranged—with a severity that was fairly hostile. Her clothes were bruskly cut and bruskly worn, their very smartness seeming an impatient concession to necessity. Her smile, if not ill-natured—it wasn't that—was distinctly ironic. A very competent, good-looking young woman, you'd have said, if you'd seen her with her shoulder-blades flattened down and her chest up. Seeing her to-day, drooping a little over the cold lunch, you'd have left out the adjective young.
"So Rose didn't come down this morning at all," Portia observed, when she had done her duty by the egg. "You took her breakfast up to her, I suppose."
Mrs. Stanton flushed a little. "She didn't want me to; but I thought she'd better keep quiet."
"Nothing particular the matter with her, is there?" asked Portia.
There was enough real concern in her voice to save the question from sounding satirical, but her mother's manner was still a little apologetic when she answered it.
"No, I think not," she said. "I think the mustard foot-bath and the quinine probably averted serious consequences. But she was in such a state when she came home last night—literally wet through to the skin, and blue with cold. So I thought it wouldn't do any harm ..."
"Of course not," said Portia. "You're entitled to one baby anyway, mother, dear. Life was such a strenuous thing for you when the rest of us were little, that you hadn't a chance to have any fun with us. And Rose is all right. She won't spoil badly."
"I'm a little bit worried about the loss of the poor child's note-books," said her mother. "I rather hoped they'd come in by the noon mail. But they didn't."
"I don't believe Rose is worrying her head off about them." said Portia.
The flush in her mother's cheeks deepened a little, but it was no longer apologetic.
"I don't think you're quite fair to Rose, about her studies," she said. "The child may not be making a brilliant record, but really, considering the number of her occupations, it seems to me she does very well. And if she doesn't seem always to appreciate her privilege in getting a college education, as seriously as she should, you should remember her youth."
"She's twenty," said Portia bluntly. "You graduated at that age, and you took it seriously enough."
"It's very different," her mother insisted. "And I'm sure you understand the difference quite well. Higher education was still an experiment for women then—one of the things they were fighting for. And those of us by whom the success of the experiment was to be judged ..."
"I'm sorry, mother," Portia interrupted contritely. "I'm tired and ugly to-day, and I didn't mean any harm, anyway. Of course Rose is all right, just as I said. And she'll probably get her note-books back Monday." Then, "Didn't she say the man's name was Rodney Aldrich?"
"I think so," her mother agreed. "Something like that."
"It's rather funny," said Portia. "It's hardly likely to have been the real Rodney Aldrich. Yet, it's not a common name."
"The real Rodney Aldrich?" questioned her mother. But, without waiting for her daughter's elucidation of the phrase, she added, "Oh, there's Rose!"
The girl came shuffling into the room in a pair of old bedroom slippers. She had on a skirt that she used to go skating in, and a somewhat tumbled middy-blouse. Her hair was wopsed around her head anyhow—it really takes one of Rose's own words to describe it. As a toilet representing the total accomplishment of a morning, it was nothing to boast of. But, if you'd been sitting there, invisibly, where you could see her, you'd have straightened up and drawn a deeper breath than you'd indulged in lately, and felt that the world was distinctly a brighter place to live in than it had been a moment before.
She came up behind Portia, whom she had not seen before that day, and enveloped her in a big lazy hug.
"Back to work another Saturday afternoon, Angel?" she asked commiseratingly. "Aren't you ever going to stop and have any fun?" Then she slumped into a chair, heaved a yawning sigh and rubbed her eyes.
"Tired, dear?" asked her mother. She said it under her breath in the hope that Portia wouldn't hear.
"No," said Rose. "Just sleepy." She yawned again, turned to Portia, and, somewhat to their surprise, said: "Yes, what do you mean—the real Rodney Aldrich? He looked real enough to me. And his arm felt real—the one he was going to punch the conductor with."
"I didn't mean he was imaginary," Portia explained. "I only meant I didn't believe it was the Rodney Aldrich—who's so awfully prominent; either somebody else who happened to have the same name, or somebody who just—said that was his name."
"What's the matter with the prominent one?" Rose wanted to know. "Why couldn't it have been him?"
Portia admitted that it could, so far as that went, but insisted on an inherent improbability. A millionaire, a member of one of the oldest families in the city—a social swell, the brother of that Mrs. Martin Whitney whose pictures the papers were always publishing on the slightest excuse—wasn't likely to be found riding in street-cars, in the first place, and the improbability reached a climax during a furious storm like that of last night, when, if ever during the year, the real Rodney Aldrich would be saying, "Home, James," to a liveried chauffeur, and sinking back luxuriously among the whip-cord cushions of a palatial limousine.
I hasten to say that these were not Portia's words; all the same, what Portia did say, formed a basis for Rose's unspoken caricature.
"Millionaires have legs," she said aloud. "I bet they can walk around like anybody else. However, I don't care who he is, if he'll send back my books."
Portia went back presently to the shop, and it wasn't long after that that her mother came down-stairs clad for the street, with her Modern Tendencies under her arm in a leather portfolio.
It had turned cold overnight, and there was a buffeting gusty wind which shook the windows and rattled the stiff branches of the trees. Her mother's valedictory, given with more confidence now that Portia was out of the house, was a strong recommendation that Rose stay quietly within doors and keep warm.
The girl might have palmed off her own inclination as an example of filial obedience, but she didn't.
"I was going to, anyway," she said. "Home and fireside for mine to-day."
Ordinarily, the gale would have tempted her. It was such good fun to lean up against it and force your way through, while it tugged at your skirts and hair and slapped your face.
But to-day, the warmest corner of the sitting-room lounge, the quiet of the house, deserted except for Inga in the kitchen, engaged in the principal sporting event of her domestic routine—the weekly baking; the fact that she needn't speak to a soul for three hours, a detective story just wild enough to make little intervals in the occupation of doing nothing at all—presented an ideal a hundred per cent. perfect.
She hadn't meant to go to sleep, having already slept away half the morning, but the author's tactics in the detective story were so flagrantly unfair, he was so manifestly engaged trying to make trouble for his poor anemic characters instead of trying to solve their perplexities, that presently she tossed the book aside and began dreaming one of her own in which the heroine got put off a street-car in the opening chapter.
The telephone bell roused her once or twice, far enough to observe that Inga was attending to it, so when the front door-bell rang, she left that to Inga, too—didn't even sit up and swing her legs off the couch and try, with a prodigious stretch, to get herself awake, until she heard the girl say casually:
"Her ban right in the sitting-room."
So it fell out that Rodney Aldrich had, for his second vivid picture of her,—the first had been, you will remember, when she had seized the conductor by both wrists, and had said in a blaze of beautiful wrath, "Don't dare to touch me like that!"—a splendid, lazy, tousled creature, in a chaotic glory of chestnut hair, an unlaced middy-blouse, a plaid skirt twisted round her knees, and a pair of ridiculous red bedroom slippers, with red pompons on the toes. The creature was stretching herself with the grace of a big cat that has just been roused from a nap on the hearth-rug.
If his first picture of her had been brief, his second one was practically a snap-shot, because at sight of him, she flashed to her feet.
So, for a moment, they confronted each other about equally aghast, flushed up to the hair, and simultaneously and incoherently, begging each other's pardon—neither could have said for what, the goddess out of the machine being Inga, the maid-of-all-work. But suddenly, at a twinkle she caught in his eye, her own big eyes narrowed and her big mouth widened into a smile, which broke presently into her deep-throated laugh, whereupon he laughed too, and they shook hands, and she asked him to sit down.
THE BIG HORSE
"It's too ridiculous," she said. "Since last night, when I got to thinking how I must have looked, wrestling with that conductor, I've been telling myself that if I ever saw you again, I'd try to act like a lady. But it's no use, is it?"
He said that he, too, had hoped to make a better impression the second time than the first. That was what he brought the books back for. He had hoped to convince her that a man capable of consigning a half-drowned girl to a ten-mile ride on the elevated, instead of walking her over to his sister's, having her dried out properly, and sent home in a motor, wasn't permanently and chronically as blithering an idiot as he may have seemed. It was a great load off of his mind to find her alive at all.
She gave him a humorously exaggerated account of the prophylactic measures her mother had submitted her to the night before, and she concluded:
"I'm awfully sorry mother's not at home—mother and my sister Portia. They'd both like to thank you for—looking after me last night. Because really, you did, you know."
"There never was anything less altruistic in the world," he assured her. "I dropped off of that car solely in pursuit of a selfish aim. And I didn't come out here to-day to be thanked, either. I mean, of course, I'd enjoy meeting your mother and sister very much, but what I came for was to get acquainted with you."
He saw her glance wander a little dubiously to the door. "That is," he concluded, "if you haven't something else to do."
She flushed and smiled. "No, it wasn't that," she said, "I was trying to make up my mind whether it would be better to ask you to wait here ten minutes while I went up and made myself a little more presentable.... I mean, whether you'd rather have me fit to look at, or have me like this and not be bored by waiting. It's all one to me, you see, because even if I did come down again presentable, you'd know—well, that I wasn't that way naturally."
Whereupon he laughed out again, told her that a ten-minute wait would bore him horribly, and that if she didn't mind, he much preferred her natural.
"All right," she said, and went on with the conversation where she had interrupted it.
"Why, I'm nobody much to get acquainted with," she said. "Mother's the interesting one—mother and Portia. Mother's quite a person. She's Naomi Rutledge Stanton, you know."
"I know I ought to know," Rodney said, and her quick appreciative smile over his candor rewarded him for not having pretended.
"Oh," she said, "mother's written two or three books, and lots of magazine articles, about women—women's rights and suffrage, and all that. She's been—well, sort of a leader ever since she graduated from college, back in—just think!—1870, when most girls used to have—accomplishments—'French, music, and washing extra,' you know."
She said it all with a quite adorable seriousness and his gravity matched hers when he replied:
"I would like to meet her very much. Feminism's a subject I'm blankly ignorant about."
"I don't believe," she said thoughtfully, "that I'd call it feminism in talking to mother about it, if I were you. Mother's a suffragist, but"—there came another wave of faint color along with her smile—"but—well, she's awfully respectable, you know."
She didn't seem to mind his laughing out at that, though she didn't join him.
"What about the other interesting member of the family," he asked presently, "your sister? Which is she, a suffragist or a feminist?"
"I suppose," she said, "you'll call Portia a feminist. Anyway, she smokes cigarettes. Oh, can't I get you some? I forgot!"
He had a case of his own in his pocket, he said, and got one out now and lighted it.
"Why," she went on, "Portia hasn't time to talk about it much. You see, she's a business woman. She's a house decorator. I don't mean painting and paper-hanging. She tells you what kind of furniture to buy, and then sells it to you. Portia's terribly clever and awfully independent."
"All right," he said. "That brings us down to you. What are you?"
She sighed. "I'm sort of a black sheep, I guess. I'm just in the university. But I'm to be a lawyer."
Whereupon he cried out "Good lord!" so explosively that she fairly jumped.
Then he apologized, said he didn't know why her announcement should have taken him like that, except that the notion of her in court trying a case—he was a lawyer himself—seemed rather startling.
She sighed. "And now I suppose," she said, "you'll advise me not to be. Portia won't hear of my being a decorator. She says there's nothing in it any more; and my two brothers—one's a professor of history and the other's a high-school principal—say, 'Let her do anything but teach.' One of mother's great friends is a doctor, and she says, 'Anything but medicine,' so I suppose you'll say, 'Anything but law.'"
"Not a bit," he said. "It's the finest profession in the world."
But he said it off the top of his mind. Down below, it was still engaged with the picture of her in a dismal court room, blazing up at a jury the way she had blazed up at that street-car conductor. It was a queer notion. He didn't know whether he liked it or not.
"I suppose," she hazarded, "that it's awfully dull and tiresome, though, until you get way up to the top."
That roused him. "It's awfully dull when you do get to the top, or what's called the top—being a client caretaker with the routine law business of a few big corporations and rich estates going through your office like grist through a mill. I can't imagine anything duller than that. That's supposed to be the big reward, of course. That's the bundle of hay they dangle in front of your nose to keep you trotting straight along without trying to see around your blinders."
He was out of his chair now, tramping up and down the room. "You're not supposed to discover that it's interesting. You're pretty well spoiled for their purposes if you do. The thing to bear in mind, if you're going to travel their road, is that a case is worth while in a precise and unalterable ratio to the amount of money involved in it. If you question that axiom at all seriously, you're lost. That's what happened to me."
He pulled up with a jerk, looked at her and laughed. "If my sister Frederica were here," he explained, "she would warn you, out of a long knowledge of my conversational habits, that now was the time for you to ask me,—firmly, you know,—if I'd been to see Maude Adams in this new thing of hers, or something like that. In Frederica's absence, I suppose it's only fair to warn you myself. Have you been to see it? I haven't."
She smiled in a sort of contented amusement and let that do for an answer to his question about Maude Adams. Then the smile transmuted itself into a look of thoughtful gravity and there was a long silence which, though it puzzled him, he made no move to break.
At last she pulled in a long breath, turned straight to him and said, "I wish you'd tell me what did happen to you."
And under the compelling sincerity of her, for the next two hours and a half, or thereabouts, he did—told it as he had never told it before—talked as Frederica, who thought she knew him, had never heard him talk.
He told her how he had started at the foot of the ladder in one of the big successful firms of what he called "client caretakers," drawing up bills and writs, rounding up witnesses in personal injury suits, trying little justice-shop cases—the worst of them, of course, because there was a youngster just ahead of him who got the better ones. And then, dramatically, he told of his discovery amid this chaff, of a real legal problem—a problem that for its nice intricacies and intellectual suggestiveness, would have brought an appreciative gleam to the eye of Mr. Justice Holmes, or Lord Mansfield, or the great Coke himself. He told of the passionate enthusiasm with which he had attacked it, the thrilling weeks of labor he had put on it. And then he told her the outcome of it all; how the head of the firm, an old friend of his father, had called him in and complimented him on the work that he had done; said it was very remarkable, but, unfortunately, not profitable to the firm, the whole amount involved in the case having been some twenty dollars. They were only paying him forty dollars a month, to be sure, but they figured that forty dollars practically a total loss and they thought he might better go to practising law for himself. In other words, he was fired.
But the thing that rang through the girl's mind like the clang of a bell—the thing that made her catch her breath, was the quality of the big laugh with which he concluded it. He didn't ask her to be sorry for him. He wasn't sorry for himself one bit,—nor bitter—nor cynical. He didn't even seem trying to make a merit of his refusal to acquiesce in that sordid point of view. He just dismissed the thing with a cymbal-like clash of laughter and plunged ahead with his story.
He told her how he'd got in with an altruistic bunch—the City Homes Association; how, finding him keen for work that they had little time for, the senior legal counselors had drawn out and let him do it. And from the way he told of his labors in drafting a new city building ordinance, she felt that it must have been one of the most fascinating occupations in the world, until he told her how it had drawn him into politics—municipal, city council politics, which was even more thrilling, and then how, after an election, a new state's attorney had offered him a position on his staff of assistants.
In a sense, of course, it was true that he had, as Frederica would have put it, forgotten she was there—had forgotten, at least, who she was. Because, if he had remembered that she was just a young girl in the university, he would hardly, as he tramped about the room expounding the practise of criminal law in the state's attorney's office, have characterized the state's attorney himself as a "damned gallery-playing mountebank," nor have described the professions and the misdeeds of some of the persons he prosecuted in blunt Anglo-Saxon terms she had never heard used except in the Bible.
The girl knew he had forgotten, and her only discomfort came from the fear that the spell might be broken and he remember suddenly and be embarrassed and stop.
In the deeper sense—and she was breathlessly conscious of this too—he hadn't forgotten she was there. He was telling it all because she was there—because she was herself and nobody else. She knew, though how she couldn't have explained,—with that intuitive certainty that is the only real certainty there is,—that the story couldn't have been evoked from him in just that way, by any one else in the world.
At the end of two years in the state's attorney's office, he told her, he figured he had had his training and was ready to begin.
"I made just one resolution when I hung out my shingle," he said, "and that was that no matter how few cases I got, I wouldn't take any that weren't interesting—that didn't give me something to bite on. A lot of my friends thought I was crazy, of course—the ones who came around because they liked me, or had liked my father, to offer me nice plummy little sinecures, and got told I didn't want them. Just for the sake of looking successful and accumulating a lot of junk I didn't want, I wasn't going to asphyxiate myself, have strings tied to my arms and legs like a damned marionette. I wasn't willing to be bored for any reward they had to offer me. It's cynical to be bored. It's the worst immorality there is. Well, and I never have been."
It wasn't all autobiographical and narrative. There was a lot of his deep-breathing, spacious philosophy of life mixed up in it. And this the girl, consciously, and deliberately, provoked. It didn't need much. She said something about discipline and he snatched the word away from her.
"What is discipline? Why, it's standing the gaff—standing it, not submitting to it. It's accepting the facts of life—of your own life, as they happen to be. It isn't being conquered by them. It's not making masters of them, but servants to the underlying things you want."
She tried to make a reservation there—suppose the things you wanted weren't good things.
But he wouldn't allow it.
"Whatever they are," he insisted, "your desires are the only motive forces you've got. No matter how fine your intelligence is, it can't ride anywhere except on the backs of your own passions. There's no good lamenting that they're not different, and it's silly to beat them to death and make a merit of not having ridden anywhere because they might have carried you into trouble. Learn to ride them—control them—spur them. But don't forget that they're you just as essentially as the rider is."
It was with a curiously relaxed body, her chin cradled in the crook of her arm that lay along the back of the couch, her eyes unfocused on the window, that the girl listened to it.
Primarily, indeed, she wasn't exactly listening. Much of the narrative went by almost unheard. Much of the philosophy she hardly tried to understand. What was constantly present and more and more poignantly vivid with every five minutes that ticked away on the banjo clock, was a consciousness of the man himself, the driving power of him, the boisterous health and freshness and confidence. She was conscious, too, of something formidable—carelessly exultant in his own strength. She got to thinking of the flight of a great bird wheeling up higher and higher on his powerful wings.
He had caught her up, too, and was carrying her to altitudes far beyond her own powers. He might drop her, but if he did, it wouldn't be through weakness. At what he said about riding on the backs of one's own passions, her imagination varied the picture so that she saw him galloping splendidly by.
At that, suddenly and to her consternation, she felt her eyes flushing up with tears. She tried to blink them away, but they came too fast.
Presently he stopped short in his walk—stopped talking, with a gasp, in the middle of a sentence, and looked into her face. She couldn't see his clearly, but she saw his hands clench and heard him draw a long breath. Then he turned abruptly and walked to the window and for a mortal endless minute, there was a silence.
At last she found something—it didn't matter much what—to say, and the conversation between them, on the surface of it, was just what it had been for the first ten minutes after he had come in. But, paradoxically, this superficial commonplaceness only heightened the tensity of the thing that underlay it. Something had happened during that moment while he stood looking into her tear-flushed eyes; something momentous, critical, which no previous experience in her life had prepared her for.
And it had happened to him, too. The memory of his silhouette as he stood there with his hands clenched, between her and the window, would have convinced her, had she needed convincing.
The commonplace thing she had found to say met, she knew, a need that was his as well as hers, for breathing-space—for time for the recovery of lost bearings. Had he not felt it as well as she—she smiled a little over this—he wouldn't have yielded. The man on horseback would have taken an obstacle like that without breaking the stride of his gallop.
What underlay her quiet meaningless chat, was wonder and fear, and more deeply still, a sort of cosmic contentment—the acquiescence of a swimmer in the still irresistible current of a mighty river.
It was distinctly a relief to her when her mother came in and, presently, Portia. She introduced him to them, and then dropped out of the conversation altogether. As if it were a long way off, she heard him retailing last night's adventure and expressing his regret that he hadn't taken her to Frederica (that was his sister, Mrs. Whitney) to be dried out, before he sent her home.
She was aware that Portia stole a look at her in a puzzled penetrating sort of way every now and then, but didn't concern herself as to the basis of her curiosity. She knew that it was getting on toward their dinner-time, but didn't disturb herself as to the effect Inga's premonitory rattlings out in the dining-room might have on her guest. As a matter of fact, they had none whatever.
She smiled once widely to herself, over a thought of the half-back. The man here in the room with her now, chatting so pleasantly with her mother, wouldn't ask for favors—would accept nothing that wasn't offered as eagerly as it was sought.
It wasn't until he rose to go that she aroused herself and went with him into the hall. There, after he'd got into his overcoat and hooked his stick over his arm, he held out his hand to her in formal leave-taking. Only it didn't turn out that way. For the effect of that warm lithe grip flew its flag in both their faces.
"You're such a wonder!" he said.
She smiled. "So are y-you." It was the first time she had ever stammered in her life.
When she came back into the sitting-room, she found Portia inclined to be severe.
"Did you ask him to come again?" she wanted to know.
Rose smiled. "I never thought of it," she said.
"Perhaps it's just as well," said Portia. "Did you have anything at all to say to him before we came home, or were you like that all the while? How long ago did he come?"
"I don't know," said Rose behind a very real yawn. "I was asleep on the couch when he came in. That's why I was dressed like this." And then she said she was hungry.