"Perhaps you know I got my position in March,—the one I had been hoping and working for,—and with it the opportunity to come East for a month or two. I can't say I wanted very much to come. The thought of our old plans made it rather bitter, but I owed it to the people at home.
"Not to make the story too long, I picked up on the train a magazine belonging to one of my fellow travellers, and read a little story. It was called 'The Missing Bridge,' and was a sort of fairy story. It seems rather absurd, but there was something in it that impressed me strangely. It was the thought that even when people seem hopelessly separated from each other, if they are brave enough and true enough to try, they will find a way across all barriers.
"I may not be making this clear, for you have not read the story; but you will understand me when I say it made me feel unwilling to have anything I may have said or done in the past, stand between us now; I was to blame for much of the quarrel, and I am sorry for it all. I know how clever you are,—they were all talking about it in Maryville,—and it may seem only a foolish dream to you now, but I want to tell you—" he paused with his eyes on the floor, as if afraid to read his answer in the face beside him.
It was very still in the hall, and, when he looked up after a moment, Lillian had bowed her head in her hands.
"I don't want to pain you," he began.
"O Aleck!" she cried, putting out one hand, "it was my story!"
At this point Peterkin, seeing matters were likely to be settled satisfactorily, and feeling no interest in details, dozed off again. The next thing he knew the gas was lit, and Mr. Morrison was saying, "Why, how are you, Carter? Delighted to see you. Where did you come from? Let me present you to Mrs. Morrison," and Miss Sherwin, with a becoming color in her face, was explaining that Mr. Carter was an old friend, and they were all talking and laughing at once in the absurd way people have sometimes, so that it was next to impossible to understand anything.
When Mr. Carter left, after declining the Morrisons' invitation to spend the evening, Peterkin followed him out on the porch to get a little air. The Spectacle Man, coming in from a walk, found him sitting there, looking like some dignified old Quaker in his gray coat and white necktie.
Mrs. Morrison slipped her hand into Miss Sherwin's as they went upstairs. "Am I right in what I guess?" she whispered.
"How could you know it?" Lillian asked, with an answering clasp.
"My dear, if you could see your face!—but I felt certain he would come!"
"O Miss Sherwin!" called Mr. Morrison, who, with Frances, had lingered at the door, "your acquaintance with Mr. Carter partly explains something that puzzled me. I was struck with the resemblance between him and the young farmer in the first illustration in your story. Did he sit for the portrait?"
"Jack, you must be dreaming!" his wife exclaimed.
"I don't understand at all," Lillian said, in great confusion.
"Could it possibly have been accidental?" A mischievous light shone in Mr. Morrison's eyes.
His wife shook her head at him, but Frances ran off to find the magazine. Miss Sherwin recovered herself, and explained with a great deal of dignity that, if it were so, it was quite accidental. That she had known Mr. Carter since they were children, and was, of course, very familiar with his face; then she said good evening, and left them.
"Very well done," Mr. Morrison exclaimed.
"Why, where is Miss Lillian," asked Frances, coming back; "I want to show her the picture. It is like Mr. Carter."
"Not now, dear,—another time," said her mother; adding, "You were aching to tease her, Jack, and I am glad she did not give you an opportunity."
Mr. Morrison laughed. "I suppose congratulations are next in order. It is at least a natural inference when you find a young man's image so deeply graven upon the heart of a young woman that she unconsciously reproduces it in her drawing."
"I am sure he is to be congratulated," remarked Mrs. Morrison.
"Unless I am very much mistaken, so is she," her husband added.
Frances was listening with wide-open eyes. "Is Miss Sherwin going to be married to Mr. Carter?"
"I shouldn't be a bit surprised, Wink, if she were," replied her father, "but you and I are supposed to know nothing about it."
THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE GOLDEN DOORWAY.
It was evident, Mr. Morrison said, that he and his wife could not get away too soon to please his aunt, and this was true for two reasons. Mrs. Richards wished her nephew to meet his old friends under her roof—there would be less talk; and before their return the six months' lease on the flat would have expired and they would naturally come to her for a while at least. She also wanted Frances all to herself. The great house would be another place with the sound of a child's voice to charm away its loneliness.
She spent much time and thought in plans for her little niece's entertainment, which were quite unnecessary, for Frances was as happy as a lark, and found the hours brimful of amusement. To hear Caroline tell of her father when he was little Jack; to go shopping or driving with Aunt Frances; to romp with the fox terrier in the garden which the crocuses and hyacinths were making beautiful; and then, when the day was almost over, to rest in the depths of some great chair and look up at the girl in the golden doorway,—this was unalloyed happiness.
One Friday they drove to the house of the Spectacle Man and carried Emma away to stay till Monday. How she ever came to let her go Mrs. Bond couldn't understand; she believed she was bewitched. Emma, however, had a blissful holiday, and before it was over she found courage to ask Frances a question.
"Do you like me as much as you used to, Frances?" she said.
"What makes you ask such a funny question? Of course I do."
"I thought maybe you wouldn't care so much now."
"Why not?" insisted Frances, greatly puzzled.
Emma thought of quoting her mother's proverb about birds of a feather, the application of which she did not exactly understand; but she only said, "Oh, because you are rich, I suppose."
"But I'm not rich,—any richer than I ever was."
"Your aunt is."
"But why should that make me not like you? I don't like you to think such a thing about me," and Frances looked aggrieved.
"I didn't really think it, only—sometimes it does make a difference, you know," Emma said.
"Well, it won't to me, for I shall always like you, Emma," was Frances' reassuring reply, and Emma was satisfied.
Among other pleasant things, Frances and her aunt were arranging a little surprise for Mr. Morrison's birthday, which was to be celebrated by a dinner to which a number of cousins and old family friends were asked.
The travellers, who returned the night before, found a very happy little girl waiting for them in the carriage at the station.
"I have the loveliest secret, father, but you are not to know it till your birthday!" She couldn't help telling this much, but all his teasing could not extract any more; and, as it was not mentioned again, Mr. Morrison forgot it.
The next evening he dressed early, and went to the library to write a letter, and when it was finished he fell into a pleasant revery. He thought of his struggles and disappointments, and of the bright future that seemed to be opening before him. The little girl smiled down upon him in the twilight, and he recalled his old dream.
It was surely a most living portrait. This little maiden, painted nearly seventy years ago, looked as if about to speak. Was she laughing at him still? would she presently come down? Surely he was dreaming, for there she stood on the rug beside him! He could see the pattern of the rich lace that fell from the neck of her quaint brocaded gown.
She came nearer, and he watched her, almost afraid to breathe; it was, he thought, a most interesting illusion. He put out his hand, expecting the vision to vanish, when, instead of thin air, his fingers closed upon a round arm of real flesh and blood, and a laughing voice exclaimed, "Why, father, I thought you were asleep!"
"Wink! is it really you?" he said, pulling her down on his knee. "I thought the girl in the golden doorway had come down once more. Where did you get this dress?"
"This is the secret, father. Aunt Frances found it among my great-grandmother's things. It was made for the picture, and was copied from another portrait that the little girl's father liked. It almost fitted me. Do you really think I look like her?"
"Indeed you do, Wink; it is wonderful."
Frances leaned her head on his shoulder, and looked up at her great-grandmother in great content.
"Do you know, Wink," said her father, presently, "I believe my old dream has come true, and at last I have caught the girl in the golden doorway."
"How nice!" cried Frances, "for that puts me into the story. You will have to write a sequel to it, father. Jack never guessed the girl would turn out to be his own daughter, did he?"
"He certainly did not," answered Mr. Morrison, laughing.
They were pleasing themselves with these fancies when lights and Mrs. Morrison, in her pretty evening gown, appearing together, put an end to them. Some minutes later Mrs. Richards walked in upon a charming family group. Life was becoming very full and sweet to her, and she looked very handsome and happy. She felt proud of her children, most of all of that graceful little person in the old brocade who ran to meet her.
"Auntie, what do you think? We have found the sequel to 'The Girl in the Golden Doorway.' The dream has come true: Jack has caught her, and she turns out to be me." Frances made a courtesy, laughing merrily.
"There is some more to it," she added. "Father, can't you tell it?"
"Tell it yourself, Wink," was the smiling reply, and three pairs of eyes watched her fondly as she stood, a finger on her lips, an intent expression on her face.
"Oh, yes! I remember. And together they are going to explore the House of the Golden Doorway, and find out all its secrets."
Mrs. Richards took the rosy face between her hands. "You have opened the golden door to me, too, my darling," she said.
"THE DUCKS AND THE GEESE THEY ALL SWIM OVER."
"Out of a song the story grew, Just how it happened nobody knew, But, song and story, it all came true.
"Out of sight till time of need The story lay hid like a little seed; And then it grew that all might read—
"Might read and learn—however gray The clouds may hang, or how dark the day, That love and courage can find the way."
No one suspected the Spectacle Man of poetical aspirations until Miss Moore one day picked up these verses from the hall floor. "Dear me, what are we all coming to!" she exclaimed. "Here is Lillian the strong-minded going to be married, the Morrisons have found a fairy godmother, and now Mr. Clark has taken to verse! If I were not so commonplace I'd expect something to happen to me."
Things were happening; there was no doubt about that.
Soon after her nephew's return, Mrs. Richards made Mr. Clark an offer for his house which he thought it wise to accept, and by the time summer was fairly begun it was rapidly disappearing in a cloud of dust and mortar to make room for a five-story office building.
Frances could not be reconciled to this, nor was she the only one who felt sad at sight of yawning vacancy where the dignified old mansion had stood. The feelings of the optician were mixed; he was fond of the place, but its sale solved some of the difficulties that had weighed upon him, and when Mrs. Bond took a small house farther out, where there were trees and a garden for the General to play in, he furnished two rooms for himself, and, after the first wrench of leaving, he and Peterkin found it very comfortable. His show-cases and other fixtures were moved to a shop not far from the old one.
Before this, however, something even more interesting had occurred.
As Mr. Carter had only six weeks' leave, he and Lillian decided to have a quiet wedding the last of April, making a short visit at his home on their way West.
"I am very much alone in the world, and there are no people I care more to have at my wedding than you and Mary," Lillian said to Mrs. Morrison; "and it is easier and simpler to have it here."
Miss Moore professed to be highly indignant at the whole affair. "Here I have been upholding her in her independence, taking her side, and she in the basest manner deserts and goes over to the enemy," she exclaimed.
Lillian laughed shamelessly. "Never mind, dear, when you have finished your course you are coming out to me, and we'll start the most ideal of kindergartens in our wild Western town."
She went about her preparations with a light heart, growing prettier and brighter each day. As for Mr. Carter, he won golden opinions from everybody, even from the critical Wilson, who was one day moved to confide that he and Zenobia were contemplating the same step.
No one showed a more genuine interest in the wedding preparations than Mrs. Richards. She had taken a fancy to Lillian, and declared that her love affair was delightfully interesting and novel for these unromantic times. She lent her carriage to facilitate the shopping, and the evening before the wedding day entertained the bride and groom elect.
Just such a gathering had never before been seen in Mrs. Richards's beautiful home, for it was Frances who had the naming of the guests, and she chose to have their friends of the winter. There was the Spectacle Man, of course, and Emma and Gladys and Miss Moore,—it was too bad Mark couldn't get home in time,—and Mrs. Gray, because she was the beginning of it all, and Frances was fond of her. This was the party, with their own family and the bride and groom.
Caroline said that if Mrs. Richards had been going to entertain the Queen and the President together, she couldn't have been more particular about everything, and indeed she spared no trouble or expense.
The table was exquisite in its bridal decorations of lilies of the valley, and the whole house was fragrant with flowers; the guests all looked their best, and it was throughout a most festive and happy occasion.
Frances fluttered about in her great-grandmother's dress, evidently considering it her party; the Spectacle Man beamed on everybody; and old Mrs. Gray, in a new silk gown, looked on in quiet enjoyment. Miss Moore was, if possible, merrier than usual, but this may have been because she was trying not to think how far away Lillian was going.
When the supper was over and the healths of the bride and groom had been drank, "The Story of the Missing Bridge" was proposed, and the optician rose to respond.
"It has occurred to me as a somewhat strange thing," he began, "that seven or eight months ago we, who now feel like old friends, had not met. In this time we have learned to know one another, and a little story, which grew out of a foolish old song, has become a bond between us,—something we shall carry with us wherever we go. We have learned lessons of courage and cheer; some of us have found bridges over our difficulties and troubles where we had supposed there were none; and I can at least say for myself that hereafter, into whatever perplexities I may fall, I shall remember the lesson of the story, that there is always a way, and love and courage can find it."
He sat down amid applause, and Frances said, "I am going to remember it, too, for I did find a way when Gladys and I quarrelled."
"I can add my testimony that ways open in the most unpromising places," put in her father.
"Perhaps if I had heard the story sooner my broken bridge would have been mended long ago," said Mrs. Richards.
"It is wonderful," Mrs. Gray took courage to say, "how things turn out sometimes. I feel like telling everybody how sweet and kind my new daughter is. She really seems fond of me already, and I was so dreadful afraid of her."
"When we look back we can't help seeing that we have been guided by a higher Power, who could see the path that was dark to us," Mrs. Morrison said softly; and the Spectacle Man added, "That's true."
"Every one knows how much I owe to the story," Mr. Carter began, but Lillian blushed and shook her head at him.
"I am too commonplace to have interesting experiences," Miss Moore announced, "so, as I haven't anything to relate, with Mr. Clark's permission I'll read a poem;" and thereupon she read the verses she had found in the hall.
The Spectacle Man was quite embarrassed, and insisted that he was not in the habit of dropping into verse, and that this had not been intended for the public.
"I want them, Mr. Clark, for the book I mean to write when I have time, about our winter at your house," Miss Sherwin said.
"Are you really going to do that, Miss Sherwin? How lovely!" cried Frances. "And you must begin with Mrs. Gray's glasses, and put Emma and Gladys and me in,—and Peterkin."
Lillian laughed, and promised that when the story was written they should all be in.
The next morning was as beautiful as if it had been ordered for the occasion, and the small number of persons gathered in the church saw a charming bride, who seemed with her golden hair and her shimmering gown of soft green tones, to be herself a part of the springtime.
She walked up the aisle with her maid of honor, Miss Moore, preceded by Frances and Emma in a state of unutterable bliss, while Gladys looked on from a front pew. Mr. Clark gave the bride away, and nothing happened to mar the simple and beautiful ceremony.
When Mr. and Mrs. Carter had driven off in a shower of rice the Spectacle Man returned to his shop and began that very afternoon to pack up. As he worked he sang cheerily:—
"The ducks and the geese they all swim over, Fol de rol de ri do, fol de rol de ri do, The ducks and the geese they all swim over, Fol de rol de ri."