She looked at him with indignant suspicion, but his glance in return was innocent, though his eyes sparkled.
"They'll make the prettiest kind of a picture, won't they?" he observed, sliding the small black box back into its case. "I wish I had another film; I'd take a lot of pictures about this place. I mean always to be loaded, but November isn't usually the time for photographs, and I'd forgotten all about it."
"If you find you have a picture of me on one of those shots I can trust you not to keep it?"
"I may have caught you on that first shot. I'll bring it to you to see. If your hat is tilted too much or you don't like your own expression—"
"I shall not like it, whatever it is. You stole it. That wasn't fair—and when you had just been treated to sandwiches and ginger ale!"
He looked into her brilliant face and could not tell what he saw there. He opened the camera box again and took out the instrument. He removed the roll of films carefully from its position, sealed it, and held it out to her. His manner was the perfection of courtesy.
"There are other pictures on the roll, I suppose?" she said doubtfully, without accepting it.
"Certainly. I forget what they are. But it doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters. Have them developed—and give me back my own."
"If I develop them I shall be obliged to see yours—if you are on it. If I once see it I may not have the force of character to give it back. Your only safe course is to take it now."
Ted burst into the affair with a derisive shout. "Oh, Rob! What a silly to care about that little bit of a picture! Let him have it. It was only the horses he wanted anyway!"
The two pairs of eyes met. His were full of deference, yet compelling. Hers brimmed with restrained laughter. With a gesture she waved back the roll and walked away toward the fire.
"Thank you," said he behind her. "I'll try to prove myself worthy of the trust."
"Rufus! Dare you to run down the hill to that big tree with me!" Ted, no longer interested in this tame conclusion of what had promised to be an exciting encounter, challenged his sister. Ruth accepted, and the pair were off down a long, inviting slope none too smooth, with a stiff stubble, but not the less attractive for that.
Richard and Roberta were left standing at the top of the hill near the place where the fire was smouldering into dulness. Before them stretched the valley, brown and yellow and dark green in the November sunlight, with a gray-blue river winding its still length along. In the far distance a blue-and-purple haze enveloped the hills; above all stretched a sky upon whose fairness wisps of clouds were beginning to show here and there, while in the south the outlines of a rising bank of gray gave warning that those who gazed might look their fill to-day—to-morrow there would be neither sunlight nor purple haze. The two looked in silence for a minute, not at the boy and girl shouting below, but at the beauty in the peaceful landscape.
"An Indian-summer day," said Roberta gravely, as if her mood had changed with the moment, "is like the last look at something one is not sure one shall ever see again."
At the words Richard's gaze shifted from the hill to the face of the girl beside him. The sunshine was full upon the rich bloom of her cheek, upon the exquisite line of her dark eyebrow. What was the beauty of an Indian-summer landscape compared with the beauty of budding summer in that face? But he answered her in the same quiet way in which she had spoken: "Yes, it's hard to have faith that winter can sweep over all this and not blot it out forever. But it won't."
"No, it won't. And after all I like the storms. I should like to stand just here, some day when Nature was simply raging, and watch. I wish I could build a stout little cabin right on this spot and come up here and spend the worst night of the winter in it. I'd love it."
"I believe you would. But not alone? You'd want company?"
"I don't think I'd even mind being alone—if I had a good fire for company—and a dog. I should be glad of a dog," she owned.
"But not one good comrade, one who liked the same sort of thing?"
"So few people really do. It would have to be somebody who wouldn't talk when I wanted to listen to the wind, or wouldn't mind my not talking—and yet who wouldn't mind my talking either, if I took a sudden notion." She began to laugh at her own fancy, with the low, rich note which delighted his ear afresh every time he heard it. "Comrades who are tolerant of one's every mood are not common, are they? Mr. Kendrick, what do you suppose those dots of bright scarlet are, halfway down the hill? They must be rose haws, mustn't they? Nothing else could have that colour in November."
"I don't know what 'rose haws' are. Do you want them—whatever they are? I'll go and get them for you."
"I'll go, too, to see if they're worth picking. They're thorny things; you won't like them, but I do."
"You think I don't like thorny things?" he asked her as they went down the hillside, up which Ted and Ruth were now struggling. It was steep and he held out his hand to her, but she ignored it and went on with sure, light feet.
"No, I think you like them soft and rounded."
"And you prefer them prickly?"
"Prickly enough to be interesting."
They reached the scraggly rosebush, bare except for the bright red haws, their smooth hard surfaces shining in the sun. Richard got out his knife, and by dint of scratching his hands in a dozen places, succeeded in gathering quite a cluster. Then he went to work at getting rid of the thorns.
"You may like things prickly, but you'll be willing to spare a few of these," he observed.
He succeeded in time in pruning the cluster into subordination, bound them with a tough bit of dried weed which he found at his feet, and held out the bunch. "Will you do me the honour of wearing them?"
She thrust the smooth stems into the breast of her riding-coat, where they gave the last picturesque touch to her attire. "Thank you," she acknowledged somewhat tardily. "I can do no less after seeing you scarify yourself in my service. You might have put on your gloves."
"I might—and suffered your scarifying mirth, which would have been much worse. 'He jests at scars that never felt a wound,' but he who jests at them after he has felt them is the hero. Observe that I still jest." He put his lips to a bleeding tear on his wrist as he spoke. "My only regret is that the rose haws were not where they are now when I photographed the horses. Only, mine is not a colour camera. I must get one and have it with me when I drive, in case of emergencies like this one."
A whimsical expression touching his lips, he gazed off over the landscape as he spoke, and she glanced at his profile. She was obliged to admit to herself that she had seldom noted one of better lines. Curiously enough, to her observation there did not lack a suggestion of ruggedness about his face, in spite of the soft and easy life she understood him to have led.
Ted and Ruth now came panting up to them, and the four climbed together to the hilltop.
Roberta turned and scanned the sun. Immediately she decreed that it was time to be off, reminding her protesting young brother that the November dusk falls early and that it would be dark before they were at home.
Richard put both sisters into their saddles with the ease of an old horseman. "I've often regretted selling a certain black beauty named Desperado," he remarked as he did so, "but never more than at this minute. My motor there strikes me as disgustingly overadequate to-day. I can't keep you company by any speed adjustment in my control, and if I could your steeds wouldn't stand it. I'll let you start down before me and stay here for a bit. It's too pleasant a place to leave. And even then I shall be at home before you—worse luck!"
"We're sorry, too," said Ruth, and Ted agreed, vociferously. As for Roberta, she let her eyes meet his for a moment in a way so rare with her, whose heavy lashes were forever interfering with any man's direct gaze, that Richard made the most of his opportunity. He saw clearly at last that those eyes were of the deepest sea blue, darkened almost to black by the shadowing lashes. If by some hard chance he should never see them again he knew he could not forget them.
With beat of impatient hoofs upon the hard road the three were off, their chorusing farewells coming back to him over their shoulders. When they were out of sight he went back to the place on the hilltop where he had stood beside Roberta, and thought it all over. In that way only could he make shift to prolong the happiness of the hour.
The happiness of the hour! What had there been about it to make it the happiest hour he could recall? Such a simple, outdoor encounter! He had spent many an hour which had lingered in his memory—hours in places made enchanting to the eye by every device of cunning, in the society of women chosen for their beauty, their wit, their power to allure, to fascinate, to intoxicate. He had had his senses appealed to by every form of attraction a clever woman can fabricate, herself a miracle of art in dress, in smile, in speech. He had gone from more than one door with his head swimming, the vivid recollection of the hour just past a drug more potent than the wine that had touched his lips.
His head was not swimming now, thank heaven, though his pulses were unquestionably alive. It was the exhilaration of healthy, powerful attraction, of which his every capacity for judgment approved. He had not been drugged by the enchantment which is like wine—he had been stimulated by the charm which is like the feel of the fresh wind upon the brow. Here was a girl who did not need the background of artificiality, one who could stand the sunlight on her clear cheek—and the sunlight on her soul—he knew that, without knowing how he knew. It was written in her sweet, strong, spirited face, and it was there for men to read. No man so blind but he can read a face like that.
The darkness had almost fallen when he forced himself to leave the spot. But—reward for going while yet a trace of dusky light remained—he had not reached the bottom of the hill road, up which his car had roared an hour before, when he saw something fallen there which made him pull the motor up upon its throbbing cylinders. He jumped out and ran to rescue what had fallen. It was the bunch of rose haws he had so carefully denuded of thorns, and which she had worn upon her breast for at least a short time before she lost it. She had not thrown it away intentionally, he was sure of that. If she had she would not have flung it contemptuously into the middle of the road for him to see.
He put it into the pocket of his coat, where it made a queer bulge, but he could not risk losing it by trusting it to the seat beside him. Until he had won something that had been longer hers, it was a treasure not to be lost.
Four miles toward town he passed the riding party and exchanged a fire of gay salutations with them. When he had left them behind he could not reach home too soon. He hurried to his rooms, hunted out a receptacle of silver and crystal and filled it with water, placed the bunch of rose haws in it and set the whole on his reading-table, under the electric drop-light, where it made a spot of brilliant colour.
He had an invitation for the evening; he had cared little to accept it when it had been given him; he was sorry now that he had not refused it. As the hour drew near, his distaste grew upon him, but there was no way in which he could withdraw without giving disappointment and even offence. He went forth, therefore, with reluctance, to join precisely such a party as he had many times made one of with pleasure and elation. To-night, however, he found the greatest difficulty in concealing his boredom, and he more than once caught himself upon the verge of actual discourtesy, because of his tendency to become absent-minded and let the merry-making flow by him without taking part in it.
Altogether, it was with a strong sense of relief and freedom that he at last escaped from what had seemed to him an interminable period of captivity to the uncongenial moods and manners of other people. He opened the door of his rooms with a sense of having returned to a place where he could be himself—his new self—that strange new self who singularly failed to enjoy the companionship of those who had once seemed the most satisfying of comrades.
The first thing upon which his eager glance fell was the bunch of scarlet rose haws under the softly illumining radiance of the drop-light. His eyes lighted, his lips broke into a smile—the lips which had found it, all evening, so hard to smile with anything resembling spontaneity.
Hat in hand, he addressed his treasure: "I've come back to stay with you!" he said.
"Mr. Kendrick, do you understand typewriting?"
Judge Gray's assistant looked up, a slight surprise on his face. "No, sir, I do not," he said.
"I am sorry. These sheets I am sending to the Capitol to be looked over and criticised ought to be typewritten. I could send them downtown, but I want the typist here at my elbow."
He sat frowning a little with perplexity, and presently he reached for the telephone. Then he put it down, his brow clearing. "This is Saturday," he murmured. "If Roberta is at home—"
He left the room. In five minutes he was back, his niece beside him. Richard Kendrick had not set eyes upon her for a fortnight; he rose at her appearance and stood waiting her recognition. She gave it, stopping to offer him her hand as she passed him, smiling. But, this little ceremony over, she became on the instant the business woman. Richard saw it all, though he did his best to settle down to his work again and pursue it with an air of absorption.
Roberta went to a cupboard which opened from under bookshelves, and drew therefrom a small portable typewriter. This she set upon a table beside a window at right angles from Richard and all of twenty feet away from him; she could hardly have put a greater distance between them. The Judge drew up a chair for her; she removed the cover from the compact little machine, and nodded at him. He placed his own chair beside her table and sat down, copy in hand.
"This is going to be a rather difficult business," said he. "There are many points where I wish to indicate slight changes as we go along. I can't attempt to read the copy to you, but should like to have you give me the opening words of each paragraph as you come to it. I think I can recall those which contain the points for revision."
The work began. That is to say, work at the typewriter side of the room began, and in earnest. From the first stroke of the keys it was evident that the Judge had called to his aid a skilled worker. The steady, smooth clicking of the machine was interrupted only at the ends of paragraphs, when the Judge listened to the key words of the succeeding lines. Roberta sat before that "typer" as if she were accustomed to do nothing else for her living, her eyes upon the keys, her profile silhouetted against the window beside her.
As far as the mechanical part of the labour was concerned, Richard had never seen a task get under way more promptly nor proceed with greater or smoother dispatch. As he sat beside his own window he nearly faced the pair at the other window. Try as he would he could not keep his mind upon his work. It was a situation unique in his experience. That he, Richard Kendrick, should be employed in serious work in the same room with the niece of a prosperous and distinguished gentleman, a girl who had not hesitated to learn a trade in which she had become proficient, and that the three of them should spend the morning in this room together, taking no notice of each other beyond that made necessary by the task in hand—it was enough to make him burst out laughing. At the same time he felt a genuine satisfaction in the situation. If he could but work in the same room with her every day, though she should vouchsafe him no word, how far from drudgery would the labour be then removed!
He managed to keep up at least the appearance of being closely engaged, turning the leaves of books, making notes, arising to consult other books upon the shelves. But he could not resist frequent furtive glances at the profile outlined against the window. It was a distracting outline, it must be freely admitted. Even upon the hill, seen against the blue-and-purple haze, it had hardly been more so. What indeed could a young man do but steal a look at it as often as he might? There was no knowing when he should have such another chance.
Things proceeded in this course without interruption until eleven o'clock. The Judge, finding it possible to get ahead so satisfactorily by this new method, decided to send on considerably more material to be passed upon by his critical coadjutor at the Capitol than he had originally intended to do at this time. But as the clock struck the hour a caller's card was sent in to him, and with a word to Roberta he left the room to see his visitor elsewhere.
Roberta finished her paragraph, then sat studying the next one. She did not look up, nor did Richard. The moments passed and the Judge did not return. Roberta rose and threw open the window beside her, letting in a great sweep of December air.
Richard seized his opportunity. "Good for you!" he applauded. "Shall I open mine?"
"Please. It will warm up again very quickly. It began to seem stifling."
"Not much like the place where you want to build a cabin and stay alone in a storm. Or—not alone. You are willing to have a dog with you. What sort of a dog?"
"A Great Dane, I think. I have a friend who owns one. They are inseparable."
By the worst of luck the Judge chose this moment to return, and the windows went down with a rush.
The Judge shivered, smiling at the pair. "You young things, all warmth and vitality! You are never so happy as when the wind is lifting your hair. Now I think I'm pretty vigorous for my years, but I wouldn't sit and talk in a room with two open windows, in December."
"Neither can we—hang it!" thought Richard. "Why couldn't that chap have stayed a few minutes longer—when we'd just got started?"
At luncheon-time Roberta's part in the work was not completed. Her uncle asked for two hours more of her time and she cheerfully promised it. So at two o'clock the stage was again set as a business office, the actors again engaged in their parts. But at three the situation was abruptly changed.
"I believe there are no more revisions to be made," declared Judge Gray with a sigh of weariness. "I have taxed you heavily, my dear, but if you are equal to finishing these eleven sheets for me by yourself I shall be grateful. My eyes have reached the limit of endurance, even with all the help you have given me. I must go to my room."
He paused by Richard's desk on his way out. "Have you finished the abstract of the chapter on Judge Cahill?" he asked. "No? I thought you would perhaps have covered that this morning. But—I do not mean to exact too much. It will be quite satisfactory if you can complete it this afternoon."
"I am sorry," said his assistant, flushing in a quite unaccustomed manner. "I have been working more slowly than I realized. I will finish it as rapidly as I can, sir."
"Don't apologize, Mr. Kendrick. We all have our slow days. I undoubtedly underestimated the amount of time the chapter would require. Good afternoon to you."
Richard sat down and plunged into the task he now saw he had merely played with during the morning. By a tremendous effort he kept his eyes from lifting to the figure at the typewriter, whose steady clicking never ceased but for a moment at a time, putting him to shame. Yet try as he would he could not apply himself with any real concentration; and the task called for concentration, all he could command.
"You are probably not used to working in the same room with a typewriter," said his companion, quite unexpectedly, after a full half hour of silence. She had stopped work to oil a bearing in her machine. There was an odd note in her voice; it sounded to Richard as if she meant: "You are not used to doing anything worth while."
"I don't mind it in the least," he protested.
"I'm sorry not to take my work to another room," Roberta went on, tipping up her machine and manipulating levers with skill as she applied the oil. "But I shall soon be through."
"Please don't hurry. I ought to be able to work under any conditions. And I certainly enjoy having you at work in the same room," he ventured to add. It was odd how he found himself merely venturing to say to this girl things which he would have said without hesitation—putting them much more strongly withal—to any other girl he knew.
"One needs to be able to forget there's anybody in the same room." There was a little curl of scorn about her lips.
"That might be easier to do under some conditions than others." He did not mean to be trampled upon.
But Roberta finished her oiling in silence and again applied herself to her typing with redoubled energy.
He went at his abstract, suddenly furious with himself. He would show her that he could work as persistently as she. He could not pretend to himself that she was not absorbed. Only entire absorption could enable her to reel off those pages without more than an infrequent stop for the correction of an error.
Turning a page in the big volume of records of speeches in the State Legislature, which he was consulting, Richard came upon a sheet of paper on which was written something in verse. His eye went to the bottom of the sheet to see there the source of the quotation—Browning—with reference to title and page. No harm to read a quoted poem, certainly; his eyes sought it eagerly as a relief from the sonorous phrasing of the speech he was attempting to read. He had never seen the words before; the first line—and he must read to the end. What a thing to find in a dusty volume of forgotten speeches of a date long past!
Such a starved bank of moss Till, that May-morn, Blue ran the flash across: Violets were born!
Sky—what a scowl of cloud Till, near and far, Ray on ray split the shroud: Splendid, a star!
World—how it walled about Life with disgrace Till God's own smile came out: That was thy face!
Speeches were forgotten; he devoured the words over and over again. They seemed to him to have been made expressly for him. A starved bank of moss—that was exactly what he had been, only he had not known it, but had fancied himself a garden of rich resource. He knew better now, starved he was, and starved he would remain—unless he could make the violets his own. No doubt but he had found them!
He followed an impulse. Rising, the sheet of yellowed paper in his hand, he walked over to the typewriter. Without apology he laid the sheet upon the pile of typed ones at her side.
"See what I've found in an old volume of state speeches."
Roberta's busy hand stopped. Her eyes scanned the yellow page upon which the stiff, fine handwriting, clearly that of a man, stood out legibly as print. Business woman she might be, but she could not so far abstract herself as not to be touched by the hint of romance involved in finding such words in such a place.
"How strange!" she owned. "And they've been there a long time, by the look of the paper and ink. I never saw the handwriting before. Perhaps Uncle Calvin lent the book to somebody long ago and the 'somebody' left this in it."
"Shall I put it back, or show it to Judge Gray?"
He remained beside her though she had handed back the paper.
"Put it back, don't you think? If you wrote out such words and left them in a book, you would want them to stay there, not to be looked at curiously by other eyes fifty years after."
"That's somebody's heart there on that sheet of old paper," said he. Apparently he was looking at the paper; in reality he was stealing a glance past it at her down-bent face.
"Not necessarily. Somebody may merely have been attracted by the music of the lines. Put it back, Mr. Secretary, and concern yourself with Judge Cahill. It's to be hoped that you won't find any more distracting verse between his pages."
"Why not? Oughtn't one to get all the poetry one can out of life?"
"Not in business hours."
He laughed in spite of himself at the failure of his effort to make her self-conscious by any reading of such lines in his presence. Clearly she meant to allow no personal relation to arise between them while they were thrown together by Judge Gray's need of them. She fell to typing again with even more energy than before, if that were possible, while he—it must be confessed that before he laid the verses away between the pages for another fifty years' sleep he had made note of their identity, that he might look them up again in a seldom opened copy of the English poet on his shelves at home. They belonged to him now!
In half an hour more Roberta's machine stopped clicking. Swiftly she covered it, set it away in the book-cupboard, and put her table in order. She laid the typewritten sheets together upon Judge Gray's desk in a straight-edged pile, a paperweight on top. In her simple dress of dark blue, trim as any office woman's attire, she might have been a hired stenographer—of a very high class—putting her affairs in order for the day.
Richard waited till she approached his desk, which she had to pass on her way out. Then he rose to his feet.
"Allow me to congratulate you," said he, "on having accomplished a long task in the minimum length of time possible. I am lost in wonder that a hand which can play the 'cello with such art can play the typewriter with such skill."
"Thank you." There was a flash of mirth in her eyes. "There's music in both if you have ears to hear."
"I have recognized that to-day."
"You never heard it before? Music in the hammer on the anvil, in the throb of the engine, in the hum of the dynamo."
"And in the scratch of the pen, the pounding of the boiler shop, and the—the—slide and grind of the trolley-car, I suppose?"
"Indeed, yes—even in those. And there'll surely be melody in the closing of the door which shuts you in to solitude after this distracting day. Listen to it! Good-bye."
He long remembered the peculiar parting look she gave him, satiric, mischievous, yet charmingly provocative. She was keen of mind, she was brilliant of wit, but she was all woman—no doubt of that. He was suddenly sure that she had known well enough all day the effect that she had had upon him, and that it had amused her. His cheek reddened at the thought. He wondered why on earth he should care to pursue an attempt at acquaintance with one whose manner with him was frequently so disturbing to his self-conceit. Well, at least he must forget her now, and redeem himself with an hour's solid effort.
But, strange to say, although he had found it difficult to work in her presence, in her absence he found it impossible to work at all. He stuck doggedly to his desk for the appointed hour, then gave over the attempt and departed. The moral of all this, which he discovered he could not escape, was that though he had taken his university degree, and had supplemented the academic education with the broader one of travel and observation, he had not at his command that first requisite for efficient labour: the power of sustained application. In a way he had been dimly suspicious of this since the day he had begun this pretence of work for his grandfather's old friend. To-day, at sight of a girl's steady concentration upon a wearisome task in spite of his own supposably diverting presence, it had been brought home to him with force that he was unquestionably reaping that inevitable product of protracted idleness: the loss of the power to work.
As he drove away it suddenly occurred to him that on the morrow, instead of coming to the house in his car, he would leave it in the garage and walk. Between the discovery of his inefficiency and his resolution to dispense with a hitherto accustomed luxury there may have been a subtler connection than appears to the eye.
A TRAITOROUS PROCEEDING
"We shall have to make our work count this week, Mr. Kendrick. Next week I anticipate that there will be no chance whatever to do a stroke." So spoke Judge Gray to his assistant on one Monday morning as he shook hands with him in greeting.
"Very well, sir," replied the young man, with, however, a sense of its not being at all well. It was to him a regrettable fact that he seldom saw much of the various members of the household, and of one particular member so little that he was tempted to wonder if she ever took the trouble to evade him. But, of course, there was always the chance of an encounter, and he never opened the house door without the feeling that just inside might be a certain figure on its way out.
"Next week is Christmas week," explained Judge Gray. He stood upon the hearth-rug, his back to the open fire, warming his hands preparatory to taking up his pen. His fingers were apt to be a little stiff on these December mornings. "During Christmas week this house is always given over to such holiday doings as I don't imagine another house in town ever knows. Christmas house-parties are plenty, I believe, but not the sort of house-party we indulge in. I am inclined to think ours beats the world."
He chuckled, running his hand through the thick white locks above his brow with a gesture which Richard had come to know meant special satisfaction.
"You have so many and such delightful people?" suggested his assistant.
The white head nodded. "The house would hardly hold more, nor could they be more delightful. You see, there are five brothers of us. I am the eldest, Robert the youngest. Rufus, Henry, and Philip come between. Henry and Philip live in small towns, Rufus in the country proper. Each has a good-sized family, with several married sons and daughters who have children of their own. It has been my brother Robert's custom for twenty years to ask them all here for Christmas week." He began to laugh. "If the family keeps on growing much larger I don't know that there will be room to accommodate them all, but so far my sister has always managed. Fortunately this is an even more roomy old homestead than it looks. But you may easily imagine, Mr. Kendrick, that there is very little chance for solitude and quiet work during that week."
"I can fully imagine," agreed Richard. "And yet I can't imagine," he amended. "I never saw such a gathering in my life."
"Never did, eh? You must come in some time during the week and get a glimpse of it. We have fine times, I can tell you. My old head sometimes whirls a bit," the Judge admitted, "before the week is over, but—it's worth it. Particularly on the night of the party. The children always have a party on Christmas Eve in the attic. It's a great affair. No dancing-parties nor balls in other places can be mentioned in the same breath with it. You should see brother Rufus taking out my niece Roberta, and brother Henry dancing with Stephen's little wife. The girls accommodate themselves to the old-fashioned steps in great style."
"I certainly should like to see it," Richard said, wondering if there were any possible chance of his being invited.
But Judge Gray offered no suggestion of the sort, and Richard made up his mind that the Christmas Eve dance would be a strictly family affair. "Probably the country relatives are a queer lot," he decided, "and the Grays don't care to show them off. Still—that's not like them, either. It's certainly like them to do such an eccentric thing as to get their cousins all here and try to give them a good time. I should like to see it. I should!"
He found his thoughts wandering many times during the morning's work to the image of Roberta dancing with the old uncle from the country. He had never met her at any of the society dances which were now and then honoured by his presence. Unquestionably the Grays moved in a circle with which he was not familiar—a circle made up of people distinguished rather for their good birth and the things which they had done than for their wealth. Nobody in the city stood upon a higher social level than the Grays, but they lived in a world in which the gay and fashionable set Richard knew were totally unknown and unhonoured.
The more he thought about it the more he wished that, if only for a week, he were at least a sixteenth cousin of the Gray family, that he might be present at that Christmas party. But during the week chance did not even throw him in the way of meeting the various members of the family proper, and when Saturday night came he had discovered no prospect of attaining his wish. He knew that the guests were to arrive on the following Monday. Christmas Day was on Saturday; the night of the party then would be Friday night. And the Judge, in taking leave of him, did not even mention again his wish that Richard might see the guests together.
He was coming out of the library, on his way to the hall door, hope having died hard and his spirits being correspondingly depressed, when Fate at last intervened in his behalf. Fate took the form of young Mrs. Stephen Gray, descending the stairs with a two-year-old child in her arms, such a rosy, brown-eyed cherub of a child that an older and more hardened bachelor than Richard Kendrick need not have been suspected of dissimulation if he had stopped short in his course as Richard did, to admire and wonder.
"Is that a real, live boy?" cried the young man softly. "Or have you stolen him out of a frame somewhere?"
Mrs. Stephen stood still, smiling, on the bottom stair, and Richard approached with eager interest. He came close and stood looking into the small face with eyes which took in every exquisite feature.
"Jove!" he said, under his breath, and looked up at the young mother. "I didn't know they made them like that."
She laughed softly, with a mother's happy pride. "His little sister really ought to have had his looks," she said. "But we're hoping she'll develop them, and he'll grow plain in time to save him from being spoiled."
"Do you really hope that?" he laughed incredulously. "Don't hope it too fast. See here, Boy, are you real? Come here and let me see." He held out his arms.
"He's very shy," began Mrs. Stephen in explanation of the situation she now expected to have develop. It did develop in so far that the child shyly buried his head in her shoulder. But in a moment he peeped out again. Richard continued to hold out his arms, smiling, and suddenly the little fellow leaned forward. Richard gently drew him away from his mother, and, though he looked back at her as if to make sure that she was there, he presently seemed to surrender himself with confidence into the stranger's care and gave him back smile for smile.
Richard sat down with little Gordon Gray on his knee, and then ensued such a conversation between the two, such a frolic of games and smiles, as his mother could only regard in wonder.
"He never makes friends easily," she said. "I can't understand it. You must have had plenty of experience with little children somehow, in spite of those statements about your never having seen a family like ours before."
"I never held a child like this one before in my life," said Richard Kendrick. He looked up at her as he spoke.
"If Roberta could see him now," thought Mrs. Stephen, "she wouldn't be so hard on him. No man who isn't worth knowing can win a baby's confidence like that. I think he has one of the nicest faces I ever saw—even though it isn't lined with care." Aloud she said: "It surprises me that you should care to begin now."
"It's one of those new experiences I'm getting from time to time under this roof; that's the only way I can account for it. I never even guessed at the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a small chap like this. But I've no right to keep you while I taste new experiences. Thank you for this one. I shan't forget it."
He surrendered the boy with evident reluctance. "I hear you are to have a houseful of guests next week," he ventured to add. "Do they include any first cousins of this little man?"
"Two—of his own age—and any number of older ones. I'll take you up to the playroom some afternoon next week and show you the babies together, if you're interested, and if Uncle Calvin will let me interrupt his work for a few minutes."
"Thank you; I'll gladly come to the house for that special purpose, if you'll let me know when. Judge Gray has decided not to try to work at all next week; he's giving me a holiday I really don't want."
"Are you so interested in your labours with him?"
Their eyes met. There was something very sweet and womanly in Mrs. Stephen's face and in the eyes which scanned his, or he would never have dared to say what he said next.
"Not in the work itself," he confessed frankly, "though I don't find it as hard as I did at first. But—the association with Judge Gray, the—well, I suppose it's really having something definite to do with my time. Above all, just being in this house, though I don't belong to it, is getting to seem so interesting to me that I'm afraid I shall hardly know what to do with myself all next week."
She could not doubt the genuineness of his admission, strange as it sounded. So the young aristocrat was really dreading a week's vacation, he who had done nothing but idle away his time. She felt a touch of pity for him; yet how absurd it was!
"I wish you could meet some of the people who will be here next week," she said. "I wonder if you would care to?"
"If they're anything like those of the Gray family, I already know I should care immensely." He spoke with enthusiasm.
"I think some of them are the most interesting people I have ever met. My husband's Uncle Rufus, Judge Gray's brother—why, you must meet Uncle Rufus. I'll speak to Mrs. Robert Gray about it. I'm sure if she thought you cared she'd be delighted to have you know him. Then there's the Christmas Eve dance. I wonder if you would enjoy that? We don't usually have many people outside of the family, but there are always some of Rob's and Louis's special friends asked for the dance, and I'm sure I can arrange it. I'll mention it to Roberta."
"Must it—er—rest with Miss Roberta? I'm afraid she won't ask me," declared Richard anxiously.
"Won't she? Why? She will probably say that she doesn't believe you will enjoy it, but if I assure her that you want to come I think she will trust me. She's very exacting as to the qualifications of the guests at this dance, and will have nobody who isn't ready for a good time in every unconventional way. I warn you, Mr. Kendrick, who are used to leading cotillions, you may have to dance the Virginia reel with one of the dear little country cousins. I wonder if you will have the discernment to see that some of them are better worth meeting than a good many of the girls you probably know."
She gave him a keen, analyzing look. Small and sweet as she was, clearly she belonged to this singular Gray family as if she had been born in it. He met her look unflinchingly. Then his glance fell to little Gordon.
"You trusted me with the boy," said he. "I think you may trust me with the little country cousin—if she will do me the honour."
"I will see that you have the chance," she assured him, and he went away feeling like a boy who has been promised a long-desired and despaired-of treat.
But it was not of the Virginia reel he was thinking as he went swinging away down the wintry street.
* * * * *
They were sitting, most of them, before the living-room fire, discussing the plans for the week of the house-party, when Rosamond broke the news.
"I've taken a great liberty," said she serenely, "for which I hope you'll all forgive me. I've—tentatively—promised Mr. Kendrick an invitation to the Christmas dance."
There was a shout from Louis and Ted together. Ruth beamed with delight. Across the fireplace Roberta shot at her sister-in-law one rebellious glance.
"I knew I had no right to do it," admitted Rosamond gayly. "But I knew we always asked a few young people to swell the company to the dancing size, and I was sure you couldn't ask anybody who would appreciate it more."
"Hasn't the poor fellow a chance at any other merry-making?" mocked Louis. "Poor little millionaire! Won't anybody invite him to lead a Christmas Eve cotillion? I believe there's to be a most gorgeous affair of the sort at Mrs. Van Tassel Grieve's that night. Has he been inadvertently overlooked? Not with Miss Gladys Grieve to oversee the list of the lucky ones, I'll wager. It's a wonder he hadn't accepted that invitation before you got in yours."
"I didn't get mine in," was Rosamond's demure rejoinder. "I laid it in an humbly beseeching hand."
"How on earth did he know there was to be a dance here?" Stephen inquired.
"I mentioned it."
"I had already told him of it," put in Judge Gray from the background, where he was listening with interest. "I'm glad you asked him, Rosamond, and I'll answer for your forgiveness. While you are inviting I should like to invite his grandfather also. Christmas Eve is a lonely time for him, I'll be bound, and it would do him good to meet Rufus and Phil, and the rest again."
"I'll tell you what we're going to end by being," murmured Louis to Roberta:—"a 'Discontented Millionaires' Home.'"
* * * * *
On the stairs an hour afterward a brief but significant colloquy took place between Rosamond Gray and her sister-in-law, Roberta.
"Why do you mind having him come, Rob? Haven't you any charity for the poor at Christmas time?"
"Poor! He's poor enough, but he doesn't know it."
"Doesn't he? The night he was here at dinner he told me he felt poor." Rosamond's look was triumphant. "He feels it very much; he's never known what family life meant."
"Do you imagine he can adapt himself to the conditions of the Christmas party? If I catch him laughing—ever so covertly—I'll send him home!"
"You savage person! You don't expect to catch him laughing! He's a gentleman. And I believe he's enough of a man to appreciate the aunts and uncles and cousins, even those of them who don't patronize city tailors and dressmakers. Why, they're perfectly delightful people, every one of them, and he will have the discernment to see it."
"I don't believe it. Where have you seen him that you have so much more confidence than I have?"
"I've had one or two little talks with him that have told me a good deal. And this afternoon he met me as I was coming downstairs with Gordon. Rob, what do you think? Gordon went to him exactly as he goes to Stephen; they had the greatest time. Gordon knows better than you do whom to trust."
"You and Gordon are very discerning. A handsome face and a wheedling manner—and you think you have a fine, strong character. Handsome is as handsome does, Rosy Gray of the soft heart, and a wheedling manner is dust and ashes compared with the ability to accomplish something worth effort. But—bring your nice young man to the party if you like; only take care of him. I shall be busy with the real men!"
It was certainly rather a curious coincidence that when Mr. Matthew Kendrick and his grandson Richard entered upon the scene of the Grays' Christmas Eve party it should be at the moment when Mr. Rufus Gray and his niece Roberta were dancing a quadrille together. Richard had just been received by his hosts and had turned from them to look about him, when his searching eye caught sight of the pair. This was the precise moment—he always afterward recalled it—when his heart gave its first great, disconcerting leap at sight of her, such a leap as he had never known could shake a man to the foundations.
He had never seen precisely this Roberta before; he explained it to himself in that way. It was a good explanation. Any sane man who saw her for the first time that night must instantly have fallen under her spell.
The Christmas party was the event of the year dearest to Roberta's heart. The planning for it, since she had been old enough to take her part, had been in her hands; it was she who was responsible for every detail of decoration. The great attic room, which was a glorious playroom the rest of the year, was transformed on Christmas into a fairyland. The results were brought about in much the same way as in other places of revelry, with lighting and draping and the use of evergreens and flowers; but somehow one felt that no drawing-room similarly treated could have been half so charming as the big attic spaces with their gables.
And the company! At first Richard saw only the pair who danced together in the quadrille. If he had glanced about him he might have observed that the gaze of nearly all who were not dancing was centred upon those two.
Uncle Rufus was the plumpest, jolliest, most altogether delightful specimen of the country gentleman that Richard had ever seen. His ruddy face was clean-shaven, his heavy gray hair waved a little with a boyish effect about his ears. He was carefully dressed in a frock coat of a cut not so ancient as to be at all odd, and it fitted his broad shoulders with precision. He wore a white waistcoat and a flowing black tie, which helped to carry out the impression of his being a boy whose hair had accidentally turned gray. As he danced he put every possible embellishment of posture and step into his task, and when he bowed to Roberta his attitude expressed the deepest reverence, offset only by his laughing face as he advanced to take her hand.
But as for the girl herself—what was she? A beauty stepping out of a portrait by one of the masters? She wore her grandmother's ball gown of rose-coloured brocade, and her hair was arranged in the fashion that went with it, small curls escaping from the knot at the back of her head, a style which set off her radiant face with peculiarly piquant effect. Her cheeks matched her frock, and her eyes—what were her eyes? Black stars, or wells of darkness into which a man might fall and drown himself?
She seemed to draw to herself, as she danced, among the soberer colours of her elders and the white frocks of the country cousins, all the light in the room. "I would look at something else if I could," thought Richard to himself, "but it would be only a blur to me after looking at her."
When Roberta returned Uncle Rufus's bow it was with a posturing such as Richard had seen only in plays; it struck him now that the graceful droop of her whole figure to the floor was the most perfect thing he had ever seen; and when her head came up and he saw her laughing face lift again to meet her partner's, he considered the boyish old gentleman who took her hand and led her on in the intricate figures of the dance a person to be envied.
"Aren't Rob and Uncle Rufus the greatest couple you ever laid eyes on?" exulted Louis Gray, coming up to greet him. "The next is going to be a waltz. Will you ask Mrs. Stephen? We'll let you begin easily, but shall expect you to end by dancing with Aunt Ruth, Uncle Rufus's wife—which will be no hardship when you really know her, I assure you. We indulge in no ultra-modern dances on Christmas Eve, you see, and have no dance-cards; it's always part of the fun to watch the scramble for partners when the number is announced."
So presently Richard found himself upon the floor with little Mrs. Stephen Gray, waltzing with her according to his own discretion, though all around them were dancers whose steps ranged from present-day methods to the ancient fashion of turning round and round without ever a reverse. He saw Roberta herself revolving in slow circles in an endless spiral, piloted by the proud arm of Mr. Philip Gray. She nodded at him past her uncle's shoulder, and he wondered seriously if she meant to dance with elderly uncles all the evening.
Before he could approach her she was off in the next dance with a young cousin, a lad of seventeen. Richard himself took out one of the country cousins to whom Mrs. Stephen had presented him, a very pretty, fair-haired girl in white muslin and blue ribbons; and he did his best to give her a good time. He found her pleasant company, as Mrs. Stephen had prophesied, and at another time—any time—before he came into the attic room to-night, he might have found no little enjoyment in her bright society. But in his present condition his one hope and endeavour was to get the queen of the revels, the rose of the garden, into his possession.
With this end in view he faithfully devoted himself to whatever partner was given him by Louis, who had taken him in charge and was enjoying to the full the spectacle of "Rich" Kendrick exerting himself, as he had probably never done before, to give pleasure to those with whom he was thrown. At last Fate and Roberta were kind to him. It was Louis, however, who manipulated Fate in his behalf.
Catching his sister as one of her cousins, a young son of Uncle Henry, released her, Louis drew her into a corner—as much of a corner as one could get into with a sister at whom, wherever she turned, half the company was looking.
"See here, Rob, you're not playing fair with the guest. Here's the evening half over and you haven't given him a solitary chance. What's the matter? You're not afraid of His Highness?"
"This is a dance for the uncles and cousins," retorted Roberta, "not for society young men."
"But he's done his duty like a man and a brother. He's danced with aunts and cousins, too, and has done it as if it were the joy of his life. But I know what he wants and I think he deserves a reward. The next waltz will be a peach, 'Roses Red.' Give it to the poor young millionaire, Robby; there's a good girl."
"Bring him here," said she with an air of resignation, and she turned to a group of young people who had followed her as bees follow their queen. "Not this time, dears," said she. "I'm engaged for this dance to a poor young man who has wandered in here and must be made to feel at home."
"Is that the one?" asked one of the pretty country cousins, indicating Richard, who, obeying Louis's beckoning hand, was crossing the floor in their direction. "Oh, you won't mind dancing with him. He's as nice as he is good-looking, too."
"I'm delighted to hear it," said Roberta.
The next minute "the poor young man" was before her. "Am I really to have it?" he asked her. "Will you give me the whole of it and not cut it in two, as I saw you do with the last one?"
"It would be rather a pity to cut 'Roses Red' in two, wouldn't it?" said she.
"The greatest pity in the world." He was looking at her cheek in the last instant before they were off. Talk of roses! Was there ever a rose like that cheek?
Then the music sent them away upon its wings and for a space measured by the strains of "Roses Red" Richard Kendrick knew no more of earth. Not a word did he speak to her as they circled the great room again and again. He did not want to mar the beauty of it by speech—ordinary exchange of comment such as dancers feel that they must make. He wanted to dream instead.
"Look at Rob and Mr. Kendrick," said Ruth in Rosamond's ear. "Aren't they the most wonderful pair you ever saw? They look as if they were made for each other."
"Don't tell Rob that," Rosamond warned her enthusiastic sister-in-law. "She would never dance with him again."
"I can't think what makes her dislike him so. Look at her face—turned just as far away as she can get it. And she never speaks to him at all. I've been watching them."
"It won't hurt him to be disliked a little," declared Mrs. Stephen wisely. "It's probably the first time in his life a girl has ever turned away her head—except to turn it back again instantly to see if he observed."
"What would Forbes Westcott say if he could see them? Do you know he's coming back soon? Then Rob will have her hands full! Do you suppose she will marry him?"
"Little matchmaker! I don't know. Nobody ever knows what Rob is going to do."
Nobody ever did, least of all her newest acquaintance. If he was to have a moment with her after the dance he realized that he must be clever enough to manage it in spite of her. He laid his plans, and when the last strains of "Roses Red" were hastening to a delirious finish he had Roberta at the far end of the room, at a point fairly deserted and close to one of the gable corners where rugs and chairs made a resting-place half hidden by a screen of holly.
"Please give me just a fraction of your time," he begged. "You've been dancing steadily all the evening; surely you're ready for a bit of quiet."
"I'm not as tired as I was before that dance," said she, and let him seat her, though she still looked like some spirited creature poised for flight.
"Aren't you really?" His face lighted with pleasure. "I feel as if I had had a draught of—well, something both soothing and exhilarating, but I didn't dare to hope you enjoyed it, too."
"Oh, yes, you did," said she coolly, looking up at him for an instant. "You know perfectly well that you're one of the best dancers who ever made a girl feel as if she had wings. Of course I knew you would be. The leader of cotillions—"
"That's the second time I've had that accusation flung at me under this roof," said he, and his face clouded as quickly as it had lighted. "I am beginning to wonder what kind of a crime you people think it to be a leader of cotillions. As a matter of fact, I'm not one, for I never accept the part when I can by any chance get out of it."
"You have the enviable reputation of being the most accomplished person in that role the town can produce. You should be proud of it."
He pulled up a chair in front of her and sat down, looking—or trying to look—straight into her eyes.
"See here, Miss Gray," said he with sudden earnestness, "if that's the only thing you think I can do you're certainly rating me pretty low."
"I'm not rating you at all. I don't know enough about you."
"That's a harder blow than the other one." He tried to speak lightly, but chagrin was in his face. "If you'd just added 'and don't want to know' you'd have finished your work of making me feel about three feet high."
"Would you prefer to be made to feel eight feet? Plenty of people will do that for you. You see I so often find a yardstick measures my own height, I know the humiliating sensation it is. And I'm never more convinced of my own smallness than when I see my uncles and their families at Christmas, especially Uncle Rufus. Do you know which one he is?"
"You were dancing with him when I came in."
"I didn't see you come in."
"I might have known that," he admitted with a rueful laugh. "Well, did you dance an old-fashioned square dance with him, and is he a delightful looking, elderly gentleman with a face like a jolly boy?"
"Exactly that—and he's a boy in heart, too, but a man in mind. I wonder if—"
"He'd care to meet me? I'm sure you weren't going to ask if I'd care to meet him. But I'd consider it an honour if he'd let me be presented to him."
"Now you're talking properly," said she. "It is an honour to be allowed to know Uncle Rufus, and I think you'll feel it so." She rose.
He got up reluctantly. "Thank you, I certainly shall," said he quite soberly. "But—must we go this minute? Surely you can sit out one number, and I'll promise after that to stand on my head and dance with a broomstick if it will please your guests."
"I've a mind to hold you to that offer," said she, with mischief in her eyes. "But the next number is the old-time 'Lancers,' and I'm needed. Should you like to dance it?"
"With you? I—"
"Of course not. With—well, with Aunt Ruth, Uncle Rufus's wife. You ought to know her if you're to know him. She's just a bit lame, but we always get her to dance the 'Lancers' once on Christmas Eve, and if you want the dearest partner in the room you shall have her."
"I'll be delighted, if you'll tell me how it goes. If it's like the thing I saw you dancing I can manage it, I'm sure."
"It's enough like it so you'll have no trouble. I'll dance opposite you and keep you straight. See here—" and she gave him a hasty outline of the figures.
His eyes were sparkling as he followed her out of the alcove. To be allowed to dance opposite Roberta and be "kept straight" by her through the figures of an unfamiliar, old-fashioned affair like the "Lancers" was a privilege indeed. He laughed to himself to think what certain people he knew would say to his new idea of privilege.
He bent before Mrs. Rufus Gray, offered her his arm, and took her out upon the floor, accommodating his step to the little limp of his partner. As he stood waiting with her he was observing her as he had never before observed a woman of her years. Of all, the sweet faces, of all the bright eyes, of all the pleasant voices—Aunt Ruth captured his interest and admiration from the moment when she first smiled at him.
He threw himself into the dance with the greatest heartiness. The music was played rather slowly, to give Aunt Ruth time to get about, and the result was almost the stately effect of a minuet. Never had he put more grace and finish into his steps, and when he bowed to Aunt Ruth it was as a courtier drops knee before a queen. His unfamiliarity with the figures gave him excuse to keep his eyes upon Roberta, and she found him a pupil to whom she had only to nod or make the slightest gesture of the hand to show his part.
"Did you ever see anything so fascinating as Aunt Ruth and Mr. Kendrick?" asked Mrs. Stephen in her husband's ear as they stood looking on.
"There's certainly no criticism of his manner toward her," Stephen replied. "I'll say for him that he's a pastmaster at adaptation. I'll wager he's enjoying himself, too. It's a new experience for the society youth."
"Stevie, why do you all insist on making a 'society youth' of him? It's his misfortune to have been born to that sort of thing, but I don't believe he cares half as much for it as he does for—just this sort."
"This is a novelty to him, that's all. And he's clever enough to see that to please Rob he must be polite to her family. Rob is the stake he's playing for—till some other pretty girl takes his fancy."
Rosamond shook her head. "You all do him injustice, I believe. Of course he admires Rob; men always do if they've any discrimination whatever. But—there are other things that appeal to him. Stephen"—her appealing face flushed with interest—"when you have a chance, slip out with Mr. Kendrick and take him upstairs to see Gordon and Dorothy asleep. I just went up; they look too dear!"
"Why, Rosy, you don't imagine he'd care—"
"Try him—just to please me. I could take him myself, but I'd rather you would. I want you to look at his face when he looks at them."
"He has got round you—" began her husband, but she made him promise.
When Stephen came upon Richard the guest was with Uncle Rufus and Aunt Ruth. The young man was entering with great spirit into his conversation with the pair, and they were evidently enjoying him.
"I'll have to give him credit for possessing genuine courtesy," thought Stephen.
At this moment a group of young people came up and demanded the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray in another part of the room, and Richard was set at liberty. Stephen took him by the arm.
"Before you engage again in the antic whirl I have a special exhibit to show you outside the ballroom. Spare me five minutes?"
"Spare you anything," responded the guest, following Stephen out of the room as if he wanted nothing so much as to do whatever might be suggested to him.
In two minutes they were downstairs and at the far end of a long corridor which led to the rooms in a wing of the big house occupied by the Stephen Grays. Richard was led through a pleasant living-room where a maid was reading a book under the drop-light. She rose at their appearance and Stephen nodded an "All right" to her. He conducted Richard to the door of an inner room, which, as he opened it, let a rush of cold air upon the two men entering.
"Turn up your collar; it's winter in here," said Stephen softly. He switched on a shaded light which revealed a nursery containing two small beds side by side. Two large windows at the farther end of the room were wide open, and all the breezes of the December night were playing about the sleepers.
The sleepers! Richard bent over them, one after the other, scanning each rosy face. The baby girl lay upon her side, a round little cheek, a fringe of dark eyelashes, and a tangle of fair curls showing against the pillow. The boy was stretched upon his back, his arms outflung, his head turned toward the light so that his face was fully visible. If he had been attractive with his wonderful eyes open, he was even more winsome with them closed. He looked the picture of the sleeping angel who has never known contact with earth.
"I thought he would never be done looking," Stephen acknowledged afterward when he told his exulting wife about the scene. "I was half frozen, but he acted like a man hypnotized. Finally he looked up at me. 'Gray, you're a rich man,' said he. 'I suppose you know it or you wouldn't have brought me up here to show me your wealth.' 'I believe I know it,' said I. 'What does it feel like,' he asked, 'to look at these and know they're yours?' I told him that that was a thing I couldn't express. 'Forgive me for asking,' said he. 'No man would want to try to express it—to another.' I began to like him after that, Rosy—I really did. The fellow seems to have a heart that hasn't been altogether spoiled by the sort of life he's lived. On our way upstairs he said nothing until we were nearly back to the attic. Then he put his hand on my arm. 'Thank you for taking me, Gray,' he said. I told him you wanted me to do it. He only gave me a look in answer to that; but I fancy you would have liked the look, little susceptible girl."
It was Ted who got hold of the guest next. "I hope you're having a good time, Mr. Kendrick," said the young son of the house, politely. "I've been so busy myself, dancing with all my girl cousins, I haven't had time to ask you."
"I've been having the time of my life, Ted. I can't remember when I've enjoyed anything so much."
"I saw you once with Rob. You're lucky to get her. She hasn't had time to dance once with me and I'd rather have her than any girl here, she's so jolly. She always keeps me laughing. You and she didn't seem to be laughing at all, though."
"Did we look so serious? Perhaps she felt like laughing inside, though, at my awkward steps."
Ted stared. "Why, you're a bully dancer," he declared. "What girl are you going to have for the Virginia reel? We always end with that—at twelve o'clock, you know."
"I haven't a partner, Ted. I wish you'd get me the one I want."
"Tell me who it is and I'll try. We're going down to bring up supper now, we fellows. Want to help?"
"Of course I do. How is it done?"
"Everything's in the dining-room and some of the younger ones go down. But we boys and men go and bring up everything for the older folks. Maybe I oughtn't to ask you, though," he hesitated. "You're company."
"Let me be one of the family to-night," urged Richard. "I'll bring up supper for Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray and pretend they're my aunt and uncle, too. I wish they were."
"I don't blame you; they are the jolliest ever, aren't they? Come on, then. Rosy's looking at us; maybe she'll tell you not to go."
They hurried away downstairs, racing with each other to the first floor.
"Hullo! you, too?" Louis greeted the guest from the farther side of the table filled with all manner of toothsome viands, where he was piling up a tray to carry aloft. "Glad to see you're game for the whole show. Take one of those trays and load it with discretion—weight equally distributed, or you'll get into trouble on the stairs. You're new at this job, and it takes training."
"I'll manage it," and the young man fell to work, capably assisted by a maid, who showed him what to take first and how to insure its safe delivery.
On his way up, walking cautiously on account of the cups of smoking bouillon which he was concerned lest he spill, he encountered a rose-coloured brocade frock on its way down.
"Good for you, Mr. Kendrick," hailed Roberta's voice, full and sweet.
He paused, balancing his tray. "Why are you going down? Won't you let me bring up yours when I've given this to Unc—to Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray?"
"Are you enjoying your task so well? Look out, keep your eye on the tray! There's nothing so treacherous to carry as cups so full as those."
"Stop laughing at me and I'll get through all right. All I need is a little practice. Next time I come up I'm going to try balancing the whole thing on my hand and carrying it shoulder-high."
"Please practice that some time when you're all alone in your own house."
"I'll remember. And please remember I'm going to bring up your supper—and my own. May we have it in the place where we were after the dance?"
"Yes, with six others who are waiting there already. That will be lovely, thank you. I'll be back by the time you have everything up."
"Of all the hard creatures to corner," thought Richard, going on upward with his tray. "Anyhow, I can have the satisfaction of waiting on her, which is better than nothing."
He found it so. The six people in the gable corner proved to be of the younger boys and girls, and, though they were all eyes and ears for himself and Roberta, he had a sufficient sense of being paired off with the person he wanted to keep him contented. They ate and drank merrily enough, and the food upon his plate seemed to Richard the best he had ever tasted at an affair of the kind.
The evening was gone before he knew it. He could secure no more dances with Roberta, but he had one with Ruth, during which he made up for his silence with her sister by exchanging every comment possible during their exhilarating occupation. He began it himself:
"It's a real sorrow to me, Miss Ruth, to be warned that this party is nearly over."
"Is it, Mr. Kendrick? It would be to me if to-morrow weren't Christmas Day. It's worth having this stop to get to that. You see, to-night we hang up our stockings."
"Good heavens, Miss Ruth—where? Not in front of any one chimney?"
"No, each in our own room, at the foot of the bed. The things that won't go into the stockings are on the breakfast-table."
"I'll think of you when I'm waking to my solitary dressing. I never hung up my stocking in my life."
"You haven't!" Ruth's tone was all dismay. "But you must have had heaps of Christmas presents?"
"Oh, yes, I've a friend or two who present me with all sorts of interesting articles I seldom find a use for. And when I was a little chap I remember they always had a tree for me."
"I don't care much for trees," Ruth confided. "I like them better in shop windows than I do at home. But to hang up your stocking and then find it all stuffed and knobby in the morning, with always something perfectly delightful in the toe for the very last! Oh, I love it!"
"I wish I were a cousin of yours, so I could look after that toe present myself," said Richard daringly.
"You do miss a lot of fun, not having a jolly family Christmas like ours."
"I'm convinced of it. See here, Miss Ruth, there's something I want you to do for me if you will. When you waken to-morrow morning send me—a Christmas thought. Will you? I'll be looking for it."
Ruth drew back her head in order to look up into his face for an instant. "A Christmas thought?" she repeated, surprised.
He nodded. "As if I were a brother, you know, far away at the other side of the world—and lonely. I'll really be as far away from all your merry-making as if I were at the other side of the world, you see—and I'm not sure but I'll be as lonely."
"Why, Mr. Kendrick! You—lonely! I can't believe it!" Ruth almost forgot to keep step in her surprise. "But—of course, just you and your grandfather! Only—I've heard how popular—"
She paused, not venturing to tell him all she had heard of his gay and fashionable friends and how they were always inviting and pursuing him. "Are you always lonely at Christmas?" she ended.
"Always; though I've never realized what was the matter with me till this year. Do you care about finishing this dance? Let's stop in this nice corner and talk about it a minute."
It was the same corner, deserted now, where he had twice tried to keep her elusive sister. Ruth was easier to manage, for she was genuinely interested.
"Just this year," he explained, "I've found out why I've never cared for Christmas. It's a beastly day to me. I spend it as I should Sunday—get through with it somehow. At last I go out to dinner somewhere in the evening, and so end the day."
"We all go to church on Christmas morning," Ruth told him. "That's a lovely way to spend part of the morning, I think. It gives you the real Christmas feeling. Don't you ever do it?"
He shook his head. "Never have; but I will to-morrow if you'll tell me where you go."
"To St. Luke's. The service is so beautiful, and we all have been there since we were old enough to go. I'm sure you'll like it. Wouldn't your grandfather like to go with you?"
Richard stared at her. "Why, I shouldn't have thought of it. Possibly he would. We never go anywhere together, to tell the truth."
"That's queer, when you're both so lonely. He must be lonely, too, mustn't he?"
"I never thought about it," said the young man. "I suppose he is. He never says so."
"You never say so either, do you?" suggested the girl naively.
The two looked at each other for a minute without speaking.
"Miss Ruth," said her companion at length, lowering his eyes to the floor and speaking thoughtfully, "I believe, to tell the truth, I'm a selfish beast. You've put a totally new idea into my head—more shame to me that it should be new. It strikes me that I'll try a new way of spending Christmas; I'll see to it that whoever is lonely grandfather isn't—if I can keep him from it."
"You can!" cried Ruth, beaming at him. "He thinks the world of you; anybody can see that. And you won't be lonely yourself!"
"Won't I? I'm not so sure of that—after to-night. But I admit it's worth trying. May I report to you how it works?" he asked, smiling.
Ruth agreed delightedly, and, when they separated, watched with interest to see that the new idea had already begun to work, as indicated by the way the younger Kendrick approached the elder, who was making his farewells.
"Going now, grandfather?" said he, with his hand on old Matthew Kendrick's arm. "We'll go together. I'll call James."
"You going too, Dick?" inquired his grandfather, evidently surprised. "That's good."
As he took leave of Roberta, Richard found opportunity to exchange with her ever so brief a conversation. "This has been quite a wonderful experience to me, Miss Gray," said he. "I shall not forget it."
Her eyes searched his for an instant, but found there only sincerity. "You have done your part better than could have been expected," she admitted.
"What grudging commendation! What should you have expected? That I should sulk in a corner because I couldn't have things all my own way?"
She coloured richly, and he rejoiced at having put her in confusion for an instant. "Of course not. But every one wouldn't have eyes to see the beauties of a family party where all the fun wasn't for the young people."
"There was only one dance I enjoyed better than the one with Mrs. Rufus Gray." He lowered his tone so that she could hear. "Since you have commended me for doing as your brother bade me—be all things to all partners—will you give me my reward by letting me tell you that I shall never hear 'Roses Red' again without thinking of the most perfect dance I ever had?"
"That sounds like an appropriate farewell from the cotillion leader," said Roberta. Then instantly she knew that in her haste to cover a very girlish sense of pleasure in the thing he had said she herself had said an unkind one. She knew it as a slow red came into her guest's handsome face and his eyes darkened. Before he could speak—though, indeed, he did not seem in haste to speak—she added, putting out her hand impulsively:
"Forgive me; I didn't mean it. You have been lovely to every one to-night, and I have appreciated it. I am wrong; I think you are much more—and have in you far more—than—as if you were only—the thing I said."
He made no immediate reply, though he took the hand she gave him. He continued to look at her for so long that her own eyes fell. When he did speak it was in a low, odd tone which she could not quite understand.
"Miss Gray," said he, "if you want to cut a man to the quick, insist on thinking him that which he has never had any love for being, and which he has grown to detest the thought of. But perhaps it's a salutary sort of surgery, for—by the powers! if I can't make you think differently of me it won't be for lack of will. So—thank you for being hard on me, thank you for everything. Good-night!"
As she looked at him march away with his head up, her hand was aching with the force of the almost brutally hard grip he had given it with that last speech. Her final glimpse of him showed him with a tinge of the angry red still lingering on his cheek, and a peculiar set to his finely cut mouth which she had never noticed there before. But, in spite of this, anything more courtly than his leave-taking of her mother and her Aunt Ruth she had never seen from one of the young men of the day.
MR. KENDRICK ENTERTAINS
On their way downstairs, Matthew Kendrick and his grandson, escorted by Louis Gray, encountered a small company of people apparently just arrived from a train. Louis stopped for a moment to greet them, turned them over to his brother Stephen, whom he signalled from a stair-landing above, and went on down to the entrance-hall with the Kendricks.
"Too bad they're late for the party," he observed. "They had written they couldn't come, I believe. Mother will have to do a bit of figuring to dispose of them. But the more the merrier under this roof, every time."
"It's rather late to be putting people up for the night," Richard observed. "Your mother will be sending some of them to a hotel, I imagine. Couldn't we"—he glanced at his grandfather—"have the pleasure of taking them in our car? or of sending it back for them, if there are too many?"
"Thank you, but I've no doubt mother can arrange—" Louis Gray began, when old Matthew Kendrick interrupted him:
"We can do better than that, Dick," said he. He turned to Louis. "We will wait," said he, "while you present my compliments to your mother and say that it will give me great satisfaction if she will allow me to entertain an overflow party of her guests."
Hardly able to believe his ears, Richard stared at his grandfather. What had come over him, who had lived in such seclusion for so many years, that he should be offering hospitality at midnight to total strangers? He smiled to himself. But the next moment a thought struck him.
"Grandfather," he said hurriedly, "why not specially invite that delightful couple—the one they call 'Uncle Rufus' and his wife?"
"An excellent idea," Mr. Kendrick agreed, "though they might not be willing to make the change at so late an hour."
"People who were dancing with spirit ten minutes ago will be ready to travel right now," prophesied Richard. He took flying leaps up the stairs in pursuit of Louis. Catching him on the next floor, he made his request known. Louis received it without sign of surprise, but inwardly, as he hurried away, he was speculating upon what agencies could be at work with the young man, that he should be so eager to do this deed of extraordinary friendliness.
Mrs. Gray hesitated over Matthew Kendrick's invitation, although her hospitable home was already crowded to the roof-tree. But, taking Judge Calvin Gray into her counsels, she was so strongly advised by him to accept the offer that she somewhat reluctantly consented to do so.
"It's great, Eleanor, simply great!" he urged. "It will do my friend Matthew mere good than anything that has happened to him in a twelvemonth. As for young Richard—from what I've seen to-night you've nothing to fear from his part in the affair. Let them have Rufus and Ruth—they'll enjoy it hugely. And give them as many more as will relieve the congestion. Matthew could take care of a regiment in that stone barracks of his."
"Sending Rufus and Ruth would give me quite space enough," she declared. "Rufus has the largest room in the house, and I could put this last party there. It is really very kind of Mr. Kendrick, and I shall be glad to solve my problem in that way, since you think it best."
Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray, having the question put to them, acceded to it with readiness. Both had been warmly drawn toward Richard, and though his grandfather had seemed to them a figure of somewhat unnecessarily dignified reserve, the mere fact of his extending the invitation at all was to them sufficient proof of his cordiality.
"It's nothing at all to pack up," Mrs. Rufus asserted. "I'll just take what I need for the night, and we'll be coming over for the tree in the morning, so I can get my other things then. I shall call it a real treat to be inside the home of such a wealthy man. How lonely he must be, living in such a great house, with only his grandson!"
So Aunt Ruth descended the stairs, wearing her little gray silk bonnet and a heavy cape of gray cloth, her hand on her husband's arm, her bright eyes shining with anticipation. Aunt Ruth dearly loved a bit of excitement and seldom found much in her quiet life upon the farm. As Matthew Kendrick looked up and saw her coming slowly down, her husband carefully adjusting himself to the dip and swing of her step as she put always the same foot foremost, he found himself distinctly glad of his grandson's suggestion, since it gave him so charming a guest to entertain as Mrs. Rufus Gray.
In the interval Richard had retired to a telephone, and had made the wires between his present position and the stone pile warm with his orders. In consequence a certain gray-haired housekeeper, lately returned from some family festivities of her own and about to retire, found herself galvanized into activity by the sound of a well-known and slightly imperious voice issuing upsetting instructions to have the best suite of rooms in the house made ready within half an hour for occupancy, and the house itself lighted for the reception of the guests. Other commands to butler and Mr. Richard's own manservant followed in quick succession, and when the young man turned away from the telephone he was again smiling to himself at thought of the consternation he was causing in a household accustomed to be run upon such lines of conservatism and well defined routine that any deviation therefrom was likely to prove most unacceptable. He himself was at home there such a small portion of his time, and during the periods he spent there was so careful never to bring within its walls any festival-making of his own, he knew just how astonishing to the middle-aged housekeeper, the solemn-faced old butler, and the rest of them, would be these midnight orders. He was enjoying the giving of such orders all the more for that!
Old Matthew Kendrick assisted Mrs. Rufus Gray into his luxuriously fitted, electric-lighted town-car as if she had been a royal personage, wrapping about her soft, thick rugs until she was almost lost to view.
"Why, I couldn't be cold in this shut-in place," she protested. "Not a breath could touch any one in here, I should say."
"I should call it pretty snug," Rufus Gray agreed with his wife, looking about him at the comfortable appointments of the car. "But there's just one thing a carriage like this wouldn't be good for, and that's taking a party of young folks on a sleigh ride, on a snapping winter's night!" His bright brown eyes regarded those of Matthew Kendrick with some curiosity. "I reckon you never took that sort of a ride, when you were a boy?" he queried.
"Yes, yes, I have—many a time," Mr. Kendrick insisted. "And great times we had. Boys and girls needed no electricity to keep them comfortable on the coldest of nights. It's my grandson Richard who feels this sort of thing a necessity. Until he came home a carriage and pair had been all the equipage I needed."
"Grandfather is getting where a little extra warmth on a blustering winter's day is essential to his comfort," Richard declared, feeling a curious necessity, somehow, to justify the use of the expensive and commodious equipage in the eyes of the country gentleman who seemed to regard it so lightly.
"It's very nice," Mrs. Gray said quickly. "I should hardly know I was outdoors at all. And how smoothly it runs along over the streets. The young man out there in front must be a very good driver, I should think. He doesn't seem to mind the car-tracks at all."
"No, Rogers doesn't bother much about car-tracks," Richard agreed gravely. "His idea is to get home and to bed."
"It is pretty late—and I'm afraid waiting for us has made you a good deal later than you would have been," said Mrs. Gray regretfully.
"Not a bit—no, no."
"We'll go right to our room as soon as we get there," said she, "and you mustn't trouble to do a thing extra for us."
"It's going to be a great pleasure to have you under our roof," the young man assured her, smiling.
Arrived at the great stone mansion which was the well-known residence of Matthew Kendrick, as it had been of his family for several generations, Richard stared up at it with a sense of strangeness. Except for the halls and dining-room, his grandfather's quarters and his own, he could not remember seeing it lighted as other homes were lighted, with rows of gleaming windows here and there, denoting occupancy by many people. Now, one whole wing, where lay the special suite of guest-rooms used at long intervals for particularly distinguished persons, was brilliantly shining out upon the December night.
The car drew up beneath a massive covered entrance-porch, and a great door swung back. A heavy-eyed, elderly butler admitted the party, which were ushered into an impressive but gloomy and inhospitable looking reception-room. Matthew Kendrick glanced somewhat uncertainly at his nephew, who promptly took things in charge.
"I thought perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Gray would have some sandwiches and—er—something more—with us, before they go to their rooms," Richard suggested, nodding at Parks, the heavy-eyed.
"Yes, yes—" agreed Mr. Kendrick, but Mrs. Rufus broke in upon him.
"Oh, no, Mr. Kendrick!" she cried softly, much distressed. "Please don't think of such a thing—at this hour. And we've just had refreshments at Eleanor's. Don't let us keep you up a minute. I'm sure you must be tired after this long evening."
"Not at all, Madam. Nor do you yourself look so," responded Matthew Kendrick, in his somewhat stately manner. "But you may be feeling like sleep, none the less. If you prefer you shall go to your rest at once." He turned to his grandson again. "Dick—"
"I'll take them up," said that young man, eagerly. He offered his arm to Aunt Ruth.
Uncle Rufus looked about him for the hand-bag which his wife had so hurriedly packed. "We had a little grip—" said he, uncertainly.
"We'll find it upstairs, I think," Richard assured him, and led the way with Aunt Ruth. "I'm sorry we have no lift," he said to her, "but the stairs are rather easy, and we'll take them slowly."
Aunt Ruth puzzled a little over this speech, but made nothing of it and wisely let it go. The stairs were easy, extremely easy, and so heavily padded that she seemed to herself merely to be walking up a slight, velvet-floored incline. The whole house, it may be explained, was fitted and furnished after the style of that period in the latter half of the last century, when heavily carpeted floors, heavily shrouded windows, heavily decorated walls, and heavily upholstered chairs were considered the essentials of luxury and comfort. Old Matthew Kendrick had never cared to make any changes, and his grandson had had too little interest in the place to recommend them. The younger man's own private rooms he had altered sufficiently to express his personal tastes, but the rest of the house was to him outside the range of his concern. The whole place, including his own quarters, was to him merely a sort of temporary habitation. He had no plans in relation to it, no sense of responsibility in regard to it. When he had ordered the finest suite of rooms in the house to be put in readiness for the guests, it was precisely as he would have requested the management of a great hotel to place at his disposal the best they had to offer. To tell the truth, he had no recollection at all of how the rooms looked or what their dimensions were.
Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray, entering the first room of the series, a large and elaborately furnished apartment with the effect of a drawing-room, much gilt and brocade and many mirrors in evidence, looked at Richard in some surprise, as he seated them. He himself went to the door of a second room, glanced in, nodded, and returned to his guests.
"I hope you will find everything you want in there," he said. "If you don't, please ring. You will see your dressing-room on the left, Mr. Gray. I will send you my man in the morning to see if he can do anything for you."
"I shan't need any man, thank you," protested Mr. Gray.
When, after lingering a minute or two, their young host had bade them good-night and left them, the elderly pair looked at each other. Uncle Rufus's eyes were twinkling, but in his wife's showed a touch of soft indignation.
"It seems like making a joke of us," said she, "to put us in such a place as this, when he can guess what we're used to."
"He doesn't mean it as a joke," her husband protested good-humouredly. "He wants to give us the best he's got. I don't mind a mite. To be sure, I could get along with one looking-glass to shave myself in, but it's kind of interesting to know how many some folks think necessary when they aren't limited. Let's go look in our sleeping-room. Maybe that's a little less princely."
Aunt Ruth limped slowly across the Persian carpet, and stood still in the doorway of the room Richard had designated as hers. Uncle Rufus stared in over her small shoulder.
"Well, well," he chuckled. "I reckon Napoleon Bonaparte wouldn't have thought this any too fine for him, but it sort of dazzles me. I'm glad somebody's got that bed ready to sleep in. I shouldn't have been sure 'twas meant for that, if they hadn't. There seems to be another room on behind this one—what's that?"
He marched across and looked in. "Now, if I was rich, I wouldn't mind having one of these opening right out of my room. What there isn't in here for keeping yourself clean can't be thought of."
"Rufus," said his wife solemnly, following him into the white-tiled bathroom, "I want you should look at these bath-towels. I never in my life set eyes on anything like them. They must have cost—I don't know what they cost—I didn't know there were such bath-towels made!"
"I don't want to wrap myself in a blanket," asserted her husband. "I want to know I've got a towel in my hand, that I can whisk round me and slap myself with. Look here, let's get to bed. We could sit up all night examining round into our accommodations. For my part, Eleanor's style of living suits me a good deal better than this kind of elegance. Her house is fine and comfortable, but no foolishness. There's one thing I do like, though. This carpet feels mighty good to your bare feet, I'll make sure!"
He presently made sure, walking back and forth barefooted across the soft floor, chuckling like a boy, and making his toes sink into the heavy pile of the great rug. He surveyed his small wife, in her dressing-gown, sitting before the wide mirror of an elaborate dressing-table, putting her white locks into crimping pins.
"Ruth," said he, with sudden solemnity, "I forgot to undress in my dressing-room. Had I better put my clothes on and go take 'em off again in there?"
He pointed across to an adjoining room, brilliant with lights and equipped with all manner of furnishings adapted to masculine uses.
His wife turned about, laughing like a girl. "Maybe in there," she suggested, "you could find a chair small enough to hang your coat across the back of. I'm afraid it'll get all wrinkled, folded like that."
Uncle Rufus explored. After a minute he came back. "There's a queer sort of bureau-thing in there all filled with coat-and-pants hangers," he announced. "I'm going to put my things in it. It'll keep 'em from getting wrinkled, as you say."
When he returned: "There's another bed in there," he said. "I don't know what it's for. It's got the covers all turned back, too, just like this one. Maybe we've made a mistake. Maybe there's somebody that has that room, and he hasn't come in yet. Do you suppose I'd better shut the door between?"
"Maybe you had," agreed his wife anxiously. "It would be dreadful if he should come in after a while. Still—young Mr. Kendrick called it your dressing-room."
"And my clothes are in there," added Uncle Rufus. "It's all right. Probably the girl made a mistake when she fixed that bed—thought there was a child with us, maybe."
"You might just shut the door," Aunt Ruth suggested. "Then if anybody did come in—"
Uncle Rufus shook his head. "It's meant for us," he asserted with conviction as he climbed into bed. "He said 'dressing-room' and pointed. The girl's made a mistake, that's all. It's a good place for my clothes, and I'm going to leave 'em there. Will you put out the lights?"
Aunt Ruth looked around the wall. "I can never get used to electric lights at Eleanor's," said she. "And I don't see the place here, at all."
She searched for the switches some time in vain, but at length discovered them and succeeded in extinguishing the lights of the room the pair were in. But the lights of the adjoining rooms still burned with brilliancy.
"Oh, dear!" she sighed softly. Then she appealed to her husband.
Uncle Rufus, who had nearly fallen asleep while his wife had been searching, spoke without opening his eyes. "Shut all the doors and leave 'em going," he advised,
"Oh, no, I can't do that! Think of the cost, running all night so."
"I reckon they can afford it," he commented drowsily.
But Aunt Ruth continued to hunt, first in the large outer room which looked like a drawing-room, and possessed an elaborate central electrolier whose control, even after she discovered the switch, caused the little lady considerable perplexity. When she had at length succeeded in extinguishing the illumination she returned, guided by the lights in the other rooms. The bathroom keys were soon found, and then she applied herself to discovering those in the dressing-room. These eluded her for some minutes, but at length, all lights being turned off, Aunt Ruth found herself in total darkness. She groped about in it for some time without success, for the heavy curtains had been closely drawn, and not a ray of light penetrated the spacious rooms from any quarter. After having followed the wall for what seemed an interminable distance without reaching a recognizable position, she was forced to call to her husband. He was asleep, and responded only after being many times addressed. Then he sat up in bed.
"Hey? What? What's the matter?" he inquired anxiously, peering into the darkness.
"Nothing, dear—only I couldn't find the bed after I turned the lights out. Keep on talking, and I'll work my way to you," answered his wife's voice from some distance.
Guided by his voice—he found plenty to say on the subject of putting people to bed in the midst of large, unfamiliar spaces—she groped her way to his side. He put out a gentle hand to welcome her, and as she took her place the two fell to laughing softly over the whole situation.
"Why," said Uncle Rufus, "for all I've slept for forty years in the same room—and a pretty sizable room I've always thought it—I've never got so I could plough a straight furrow through it in the dark. I reckon a lifetime would be too short to get to know my way round this plantation."
He could with difficulty be restrained from telling Richard about the incident next morning, when that young man came to their rooms to escort them down to breakfast.
"I'm glad to have somebody pilot me," Uncle Rufus declared, his eyes twinkling as he followed after his wife, who leaned on Richard's arm. "A man must have a pretty good sense of direction to keep his bearings in a house as big as this."
Richard laughed. "It's rather a straight road to the dining-room. I think I must have worn a path there since I came. Here we are—and here's grandfather down before us. He's the first one in the house to be up, always."