Matthew Kendrick advanced to meet his guests, shaking hands with great cordiality.
"It seems very wonderful, Madam Gray," said he, "to have a lady in the house on Christmas morning. Will you do me the honour to take this seat?" He put her in a chair before a massive silver urn, under which burned a spirit lamp. "And will you pour our coffee? It's many a year since we've had coffee served from the table, poured by a woman's hand."
"Why, I should be greatly pleased to pour the coffee," cried Aunt Ruth happily. Her bright glance was fastened upon a mass of scarlet flowers in the centre of the table, for which Richard had sent between dark and daylight. He smiled across the table at her.
"Are they real?" she breathed.
"Absolutely! Splendid colour, aren't they? I can't remember the name, but they look like Christmas."
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Rufus Gray had ever in their lives eaten such a breakfast as was now served to them. Such extraordinary fruits, such perfectly cooked game, such delicious food of various sorts—they could only taste and wonder. Richard, with a young man's healthy appetite, kept them company, but his grandfather made a frugal meal of toast, coffee, and a single egg, quite as if he were more accustomed to such simple fare than to any other.
The breakfast over, Mr. Kendrick took them to his own private rooms, to show them a painting of which he had been telling them. Richard accompanied them, having constituted himself chief assistant to Mrs. Gray, to whom he had taken a boyish liking which was steadily growing. Establishing her in a comfortable armchair, he sat down beside her.
"Now, Mr. Richard," said she, presently, while Mr. Matthew Kendrick and her husband were discussing an interesting question over their cigars in an adjoining room—Mr. Kendrick's adherence to the code of an earlier day making it impossible for him to think of smoking in the presence of a lady—"I wonder if there isn't something you would let me do for you. You and your grandfather living alone, so, you must have things that need a woman's hand. While I sit here I'd enjoy mending some socks or gloves for you."
Richard looked at her. The sincerity of her offer was so evident that he could not turn it aside with an evasion or a refusal. But he had not an article in the world that needed mending. When things of his reached that stage they were invariably turned over to his man, Bliss. He considered.
"That's certainly awfully kind of you, Mrs. Gray," said he. "But—have you—"
She put her hand into a capacious pocket and produced therefrom a tiny "housewife," stocked with thimble, needles, and all necessary implements.
"I never go without it," said she. "There's always somebody to be mended up when you least expect it. My niece Roberta tripped on one of her flounces last night, dancing—and not being used to dancing in such full, old-fashioned skirts. Rosy was starting to pin it up, but I whipped out my kit—and how they laughed, to see a pocket in a best dress!" She laughed herself, at the recollection. "But I had Robby sewed up in less time than it takes to tell it—much better than pinning!"
"How beautifully she danced those old-fashioned dances," Richard observed eagerly. "It was a great pleasure to see her."
"Yes, it's generally a pleasure to see Robby do things," Roberta's aunt agreed. "She goes into them with so much vim. When she comes out to visit us on the farm it's the same way. She must have a hand in the churning, or the sweeping, or something that'll keep her busy. Aren't you going to get me the things, Mr. Richard?"
The young man hastened away. Arrived before certain drawers and receptacles, he turned over piles of hosiery with a thoughtful air. Presently selecting a pair of black silk socks of particularly fine texture, he deliberately forced his thumb through either heel, taking care to make the edges rough as possible. Laughing to himself, he then selected a pair of gray street gloves, eyed them speculatively for a moment, then, taking out a penknife, cut the stitches in several places, making one particularly long rent down the side of the left thumb. He regarded these damages doubtfully, wondering if they looked entirely natural and accidental; then, shaking his head, he gathered up the socks and gloves and returned with them to Aunt Ruth.
She looked them over. "For pity's sake," said she, "you wear out your things in queer ways! How did you ever manage to get holes in your heels right on the bottom, like that? All the folks I ever knew wear out their heels on the back or side."
Richard examined a sock. "That is rather odd," he admitted. "I must have done it dancing."
"I shall have to split my silk to darn these places," commented Aunt Ruth. "These must be summer socks, so thin as this." She glanced at the trimly shod foot of her companion and shook her head. "You young folks! In my day we never thought silk cobwebs' warm enough for winter."
"Tell me about your day, won't you, please?" the young man urged. "Those must have been great days, to have produced such results."
The little lady found it impossible to resist such interest, and was presently talking away, as she mended, while her listener watched her flying fingers and enjoyed every word of her entertaining discourse. He artfully led her from the past to the present, brought out a tale or two of Roberta's visits at the farm, and learned with outward gravity but inward exultation that that young person had actually gone to the lengths of begging to be allowed to learn to milk a cow, but had failed to achieve success.
"I can't imagine Miss Roberta's failing in anything she chose to attempt," was his joyous comment.
"She certainly failed in that." Aunt Ruth seemed rather pleased herself at the thought. "But then she didn't really go into it seriously—it was because Louis put her up to it—told her she couldn't do it. She only really tried it once—and then spent the rest of the morning washing her hair. Such a task—it's so heavy and curly—" Aunt Ruth suddenly stopped talking about Roberta, as if it had occurred to her that this young man looked altogether too interested in such trifles as the dressing of certain thick, dark locks.
Presently, the mending over, the Grays were taken, according to promise, back to the Christmas celebrations in the other house, and Richard, returning to his grandfather, proposed, with some unwonted diffidence of manner, that the two attend service together at St. Luke's.
The old man looked up at his grandson, astonishment in his face.
"Church, Dick—with you?" he repeated. "Why, I—" He hesitated. "Did the little lady we entertained last night put that into your head?"
"She put several things into my head," Richard admitted, "but not that. Will you go, sir? It's fully time now, I believe."
Matthew Kendrick's keen eyes continued to search his grandson's face, to Richard's inner confusion. Outwardly, the younger man maintained an attitude of dignified questioning.
"I am willing to go," said Mr. Kendrick, after a moment.
At St. Luke's, that morning, from her place in the family pew, Ruth Gray, remembering a certain promise, looked about her as searchingly as was possible. Nowhere within her line of vision could she discern the figure of Richard Kendrick, but she was none the less confident that somewhere within the stately walls of the old church he was taking part in the impressive Christmas service. When it ended and she turned to make her way up the aisle, leading a bevy of young cousins, her eyes, beneath a sheltering hat-brim, darted here and there until, unexpectedly near-by, they encountered the half-amused but wholly respectful recognition of those they sought. As Ruth made her slow progress toward the door she was aware that the Kendricks, elder and younger, were close behind her, and just before the open air was reached she was able to exchange with Richard a low-spoken question and answer.
"Wasn't it beautiful? Aren't you glad you came?"
"It was beautiful, Miss Ruth—and I'm more than glad I came."
* * * * *
Several hours earlier, on that same Christmas morning, Ruth had rushed into Roberta's room, crying out happily:
"Flowers—flowers—flowers! For you and Rosy and mother and me! They just came. Mr. Richard Loring Kendrick's card is in ours; of course it's in yours. Here are yours; do open the box and let me see! Mother's are orchids, perfectly wonderful ones. Rosy's are mignonette, great clusters, a whole armful—I didn't know florists grew such richness—they smell like the summer kind. She's so pleased. Mine are violets and lilies-of-the-valley. I'm perfectly crazy over them. Yours—"
Roberta had the cover off. Roses! Somehow she had known they would be roses—after last night. But such roses!
Ruth cried out in ecstasy, bending to bury her face in the glorious mass. "They're exactly the colour of the old brocade frock, Robby," she exulted. She picked up the card in its envelope. "May I look at it?" she asked, with her fingers already in the flap. "Ours all have some Christmas wish on, and Rosy's adds something about Gordon and Dorothy."
"You might just let me see first," said Roberta carelessly, stretching out her hand for the card. Ruth handed it over. Roberta turned her head. "Who's calling?" she murmured, and ran to the door, card in hand.
"I didn't hear any one," Ruth called after her.
But Roberta disappeared. Around the turn of the hall she scanned her card.
"Thorns to the thorny," she read, and stood staring at the unexpected words written in a firm, masculine hand. That was all. Did it sting? Yet, curiously enough, Roberta rather liked that odd message.
When she came back, Ruth, in the excitement of examining many other Christmas offerings, had rushed on, leaving the box of roses on Roberta's bed. The recipient took out a single rose and examined its stem. Thorns! She had never seen sharper ones—and not one had been removed. But the rose itself was perfection.
OPINIONS AND THEORIES
Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Gray were the last to leave the city, after the house-party. They returned to their brother Robert's home for a day, when the other guests had gone, and it was on the evening before their departure that they related their experiences while at the house of Matthew Kendrick. With most of the members of the Gray household, they were sitting before the fire in the living-room when Aunt Ruth suddenly spoke her mind.
"I don't know when I've felt so sorry for the too rich as I felt in that house," said she. She was knitting a gray silk mitten, and her needles were flying.
"Why, Aunt Ruth?" inquired her nephew Louis, who sat next her, revelling in the comfort of home after a particularly harassing day at the office. "Did they seem to lack anything in particular?"
"I should say they did," she replied. "Nothing that money can buy, of course, but about everything that it can't."
"For instance?" he pursued, turning affectionate eyes upon his aunt's small figure in its gray gown, as the firelight played upon it, touching her abundant silvering locks and making her eyes seem to sparkle almost as brilliantly as her swiftly moving needles.
Aunt Ruth put down her knitting for an instant, looking at her nephew. "Why, you know," said she. "You're sitting in the very middle of it this minute!"
Louis looked about him, smiling. He was, indeed, in the midst of an accustomed scene of both home-likeness and beauty. The living-room was of such generous proportions that even when the entire family were gathered there they could not crowd it. On a wide couch, at one side of the fireplace, sat his father and mother, talking in low tones concerning some matter of evident interest, to judge by their intent faces. Rosamond, like the girl she resembled, sat, girl fashion, on a pile of cushions close by the fire; and Stephen, her husband, not far away, by a table with a drop-light, was absorbed in a book. Uncle Rufus was examining a pile of photographs on the other side of the table. Ted sprawled on a couch at the far end of the room, deep in a boy's magazine, a reading light at his elbow. At the opposite end of the room, where the piano stood, Roberta, music rack before her, was drawing her bow across nearly noiseless strings, while Ruth picked softly at her harp: indications of intention to burst forth into musical strains when a hush should chance to fall upon the company.
Judge Calvin Gray alone was absent from the gathering, and even as Louis's eyes wandered about the pleasant room, his uncle's figure appeared in the doorway. As if he were answering his sister Ruth, Judge Gray spoke his thought.
"I wonder," said he, advancing toward the fireside, "if anywhere in this wide world there is a happier family life than this!"
Louis sprang up to offer Judge Gray the chair he had been occupying—a favourite, luxuriously cushioned armchair, with a reading light beside it ready to be switched on at will, which was Uncle Calvin's special treasure, of an evening. Louis himself took up his position on the hearth-rug, opposite Rosamond.
Aunt Ruth answered her brother energetically: "None happier, Calvin, I'll warrant, and few half as happy. I can't help wishing those two people Rufus and I've been visiting could look in here just now."
"Why make them envious?" suggested Louis, who loved to hear his Aunt Ruth's crisp speeches.
"The question is—would they be envious?" This came from Stephen, whose absorption in his book evidently admitted of penetration from the outside.
"Why, of course they would!" declared Aunt Ruth. "You should have seen the way they had me pour the coffee and tea, all the while I was there. That young man Richard was always getting me to pour something—said he liked to see me do it. And he was always sending a servant off and doing things for me himself. If I'd been a young girl he couldn't have hovered round any more devotedly."
A general laugh greeted this, for Aunt Ruth's expression of face as she told it was provocative.
"We can readily believe that, Ruth," declared Judge Gray, and his brother Robert nodded. The low-voiced talk between Mr. Robert Gray and his wife had ceased; Stephen had laid down his book; Ruth had stopped plucking at her harp strings; and only Roberta still seemed interested in anything but Aunt Ruth and her experiences and opinions.
"I mended his socks and gloves for him," announced Aunt Ruth contentedly. "You needn't tell me they don't miss a woman's hand about the house, over there."
"She mended Rich Kendrick's socks and gloves!" murmured Louis, with a laughing, incredulous glance at Rosamond, who lifted delighted eyes to him. "I can't believe it. He must have made holes in them on purpose."
"Why, not even a spendthrift would do that!" Aunt Ruth promptly denied the possibility of such folly. "I don't say but they are lavish with things there. Rufus and I were a good deal bothered by all their lights. We couldn't seem to get them all put out. And every time we put them out, anywhere, somebody'd turn them on again for us."
Uncle Rufus broke in here, narrating their experience with the various switch-buttons in the suite of rooms, and the company laughed until they wept over his comments.
"But all that's neither here nor there," said he, finally. "Of course we weren't up to such elaborate arrangements, and it made us feel sort of rustic. But I can tell you they didn't spare any pains to make us comfortable and at home—if, as Ruth says, you can make anybody feel at home in a great place like that. I feel, as she does, sorry for 'em both. They're pretty fine gentlemen, if I'm any judge, and I don't know which I like better, the older or the younger."
"There can be no question about the older," said his brother, Robert Gray, joining in the talk with evident interest. "Mr. Matthew Kendrick made his place long ago in the business world as one of the great and just. He has taught that world many fine lessons of truth and honour, as well as of success."
Judge Gray nodded. "I'm glad to hear that you appreciate him, Robert," said he. "Few know better than I how deserved that is. And still fewer recognize the fine and sensitive nature behind the impression of power he has always given. He is the type of man, as sister Ruth here is quick to discern, who must be lonely in the midst of his great wealth, for the lack of just such a privilege as this we have here to-night, the close association with people whom we love, and with whom we sympathize in all that matters most. Matthew Kendrick was a devoted husband and father. In spite of his grandson's presence, of late, he must sorely long for companionship."
"His grandson's going to give him more of that than he has," declared Aunt Ruth, smiling over her knitting as if recalling a pleasant memory. "He and I had quite a bit of talk while I was there, and he's beginning to realize that he owes his grandfather more than he's given him. I had a good chance to see what was in that boy's heart, and I know there's plenty of warmth there. And there's real character in him, too. I've had enough sons of my own to know the signs, and the fact that they were poor in this world's goods, and he is rich—too rich—doesn't make a mite of difference in the signs!"
Mrs. Robert Gray, who had been listening with an intent expression in eyes whose beauty was not more appealing than their power of observation was keen, now spoke, and all turned to her. She was a woman whose opinion on any subject of common interest was always waited for and attended upon. Her voice was rich and low—her family did not fully know how dear to their ears was the sound of that voice.
"Young Mr. Kendrick," said she, "couldn't wish, Ruth, for a more powerful advocate than you. To have you approve him, after seeing him under more intimate circumstances than we are likely to do, must commend him to our good will. To tell the frank truth, I have been rather afraid to admit him to my good graces, lest there be really no great force of character, or even promise of it, behind that handsome face and winning manner. But if you see the signs—as you say—we must look more hopefully upon him."
"She's not the only one who sees signs," asserted Judge Gray. "He's coming on—he's coming on well, in his work with me. He's learning really to work. I admit he didn't know how when he came to me. Something has waked him up. I'm inclined to think," he went on, with a mischievous glance toward the end of the room where sat the noiseless musicians, "it might have been my niece Roberta's shining example of industry when she spent a day with us in my library, typing work for me back in October. Never was such a sight to serve as an inspiration for a laggardly young man!"
There was a general laugh, and all eyes were turned toward that end of the room devoted to the users of the musical instruments. In response came a deep, resonant note from Roberta's 'cello, over which the silent bow had been for some time suspended. There followed a minor scale, descending well into the depths and vibrating dismally as it went. Louis, a mocking light in his eye, strolled down the room to his sisters.
"That's the way you feel about it, eh?" he queried, regarding Roberta with brotherly interest. "Consigning the poor, innocent chap to the bottom of the ladder, when he's doing his best to climb up to the sunshine of your smile. Have you no respect for the opinion of your betters?"
"Get out your fiddle and play the Grieg Danse Caprice, with us," was her reply, and Louis obeyed, though not without a word or two more in her ear which made her lift her bow threateningly. Presently the trio were off, playing with a spirit and dash which drew all ears, and at the close of the Danse hearty applause called for more. After this diversion, naturally enough, new subjects came up for discussion.
Returning to the living-room in search of a dropped letter, after the family had dispersed for the night, Roberta found her mother lingering there alone. She had drawn a low chair close to the fire, and, having extinguished all other lights, was sitting quietly looking into the still glowing embers. Roberta, forgetting her quest, came close, and flinging a cushion at her mother's knee dropped down there. This was a frequent happening, and the most intimate hours the two spent together were after this fashion.
There was no speech for a little, though Mrs. Gray's hand wandered caressingly about her daughter's neck in a way Roberta dearly loved, drawing the loosened dark locks away from the small ears, or twisting a curly strand about her fingers. Suddenly the girl burst out:
"Mother, what are you to do when you find all your theories upset?"
"All upset?" repeated Mrs. Gray, in her rich and quiet voice. "That would be a calamity indeed. Surely there must be one or two of yours remaining stable?"
"It seems not, just now. One disproved overturns another. They all hinge on one another—at least mine do."
"Perhaps not as closely as you think. What is it, dear? Can you tell me anything about it?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. Oh, it's nothing very real, I suppose—just a sort of vague discomfort at feeling that certain ideals I thought were as fixed as the stars in the heavens seem to be wobbling as if they might shoot downward any minute, and—and leave only a trail of light behind!"
The last words came on a note of rather shaky laughter. Roberta's arm lay across her mother's knee, her head upon it. She turned her head downward for an instant, burying her face in the angle of her arm. Mrs. Gray regarded the mass of dark locks beneath her hand with a look amused yet sympathetic.
"That sort of discomfort attacks us all, at times," she said. "Ideals change and develop with our growth. One would not want the same ones to serve her all her life."
"I know. But when it's not a new and better ideal which displaces the old one, but only—an attraction—"
"An attraction not ideal?"
Roberta shook her head. "I'm afraid not. And I don't see why it should be an attraction at all. It ought not to be, if my ideals have been what they should have been. And they have. Why, you gave them to me, mother, many of them—or at least helped me to work them out for myself. And I—I had confidence in them!"
"And they're shaken?"
"Not the ideals—they're all the same. Only—they don't seem to be proof against—assault. Oh, I'm talking in riddles, I know. I don't want to put any of it into words, it makes it seem more real. And it's only a shadowy sort of difficulty. Maybe that's all it will be."
Mothers are wonderful at divination; why should they not be, when all their task is a training in understanding young natures which do not understand themselves. From these halting phrases of mystery Mrs. Gray gathered much more than her daughter would have imagined. But she did not let that be seen.
"If it is only a shadowy difficulty the rising of the sun will put it to flight," she predicted.
Roberta was silent for a space. Then suddenly she sat up.
"I had a long letter from Forbes Westcott to-day," she said, in a tone which tried to be casual. "He's staying on in London, getting material for that difficult Letchworth case he's so anxious to win. It's a wonderfully interesting letter, though he doesn't say much about the case. He's one of the cleverest letter writers I ever knew—in the flesh. It's really an art with him. If he hadn't made a lawyer of himself he would have been a man of letters, his literary tastes are so fine. It's quite an education in the use of delightfully spirited English, a correspondence with him. I've appreciated that more with each letter."
She produced the letter. "Just listen to this account of an interview he had with a distinguished Member of Parliament, the one who has just made that daring speech in the House that set everybody on fire." And she read aloud from several closely written pages, holding the sheets toward the still bright embers, and giving the words the benefit of her own clear and understanding interpretation. Her mother listened with interest.
"That is, indeed, a fine description," she agreed. "There is no question that Forbes has a brilliant mind. The position he already occupies testifies to that, and the older men all acknowledge that he is rising more rapidly than could be expected of any ordinary man. He will be one of the great men of the legal profession, your father and uncle think, I know."
"One of the great men," repeated Roberta, her face still bent over her letter. "I suppose there's no doubt at all of that. And, mother—you may imagine that when he sets himself to persuade—any one—to—any course, he knows how to put it as irresistibly as words can."
"Yes, I should imagine that, dear," said her mother, her eyes on the down-bent profile, whose outlines, against the background of the firelight, would have held a gaze less loving than her own.
"His age makes him interesting, you know," pursued Roberta. "He's just enough older—and maturer—than any of the men I know, to make him seem immensely more worth while. His very looks—that thin, keen face of his—it's plain, yet attractive, and his eyes look as if they could see through stone walls. It flatters you to have him seem to find the things you say worth listening to. I can't just explain his peculiar—fascination—I really think it is that, except that it's his splendid mind that grips yours, somehow. Oh, I sound like a, schoolgirl," she burst out, "in spite of my twenty-four years. I wonder if you see what I mean."
"I think I do," said her mother, smiling a little. "You mean that your judgment approves him, but that your heart lags a little behind?"
"How did you know?" Roberta folded her arms upon her mother's lap, and looked up eagerly into her face. "I didn't say anything about my heart."
"But you did, dear. The very fact that you can discuss him so coolly tells me that your heart isn't seriously involved as yet. Is it?"
"That's what I don't know," said the girl. "When he writes like this—the last two pages I can't read to you—I don't know what I think. And I'm not used to not knowing what I think! It's disconcerting. It's like being taken off your feet and—not set down again. Yet, when I'm with him—I'm not at all sure I should ever want him nearer than—well, than three feet away. And he's so insistent—persistent. He wants an answer—now, by mail."
"Are you ready to give it?"
"No. I'm afraid to give it—at long distance."
"Then do not. You are under no obligation to do that. The test of actual presence is the only one to apply. Let him wait till he comes home. It will not hurt him."
She spoke with spirit, and her daughter responded to the tone.
"I know that's the best advice," Roberta said, getting to her feet. "Mother, you like him?"
"Yes, I have always liked Forbes," said Mrs. Gray, with cordiality. "Your father likes him, and trusts him, as a man of honour, in his profession. That is much to say. Whether he is a man who would make you happy—that is a different question. No one can answer that but yourself."
"I haven't wanted any one to make me happy." Roberta stood upon the hearth-rug, a figure of charm among the lights and shadows. "I've been absorbed in my work—and my play. I enjoy my men friends—and am glad when they go away and leave me. Life is so full—and rich—just of itself. There are so many wonderful people, of all sorts. The world is so interesting—and home is so dear!" She lifted her arms, her head up. "Mother, let's play the Bach Air," she said. "That always takes the fever out of me, and makes me feel calm and rational. Is it very late?—are you too tired? Nobody will be disturbed at this distance."
"I should love to play it," said Mrs. Gray, and together the two went down the room to the great piano which stood there in the darkness. Roberta switched on one hooded light, produced the music for her mother, and tuned her 'cello, sitting at one side away from the light, with no notes before her. Presently the slow, deep, and majestic notes of the "Air for the G String" were vibrating through the quiet room, the 'cello player drawing her bow across and across the one string with affection for each rich note in her very touch. The other string tones followed her with exquisite sympathy, for Mrs. Gray was a musician from whom three of her four children had inherited an intense love for harmonic values.
But a few bars had sounded when a tall figure came noiselessly into the room, and Mr. Robert Gray dropped into the seat before the fire which his wife had lately occupied. With head thrown back he listened, and when silence fell at the close of the performance, his deep voice was the first to break it.
"To me," he said, "that is the slow flowing and receding of waves upon a smooth and rocky shore. The sky is gray, but the atmosphere is warm and friendly. It is all very restful, after a day of perturbation."
"Oh, is it like that to you?" queried Roberta softly, out of the darkness. "To me it's as if I were walking down the nave of a great cathedral—Westminster, perhaps—big and bare and wonderful, with the organ playing ever so far away. The sun is shining outside and so it's not gloomy, only very peaceful, and one can't imagine the world at the doors." She looked over at her mother, whose face was just visible in the shaded light. "What is it to you, lovely lady?"
"It is a prayer," said her mother slowly, "a prayer for peace and purity in a restless world, yet a prayer for service, too. The one who prays lies very low, with his face concealed, and his spirit is full of worship."
The light was put out; the three, father, mother, and daughter, came together in the fading fire-glow. Roberta laid a warm young hand upon the shoulder of each. "You dears," she said, "what fortunate and happy children your four are, to be the children of you!"
Her father placed his firm fingers under her chin, lifting her face. "Your mother and I," said he, "consider ourselves fairly fortunate and happy to be the parents of you. You are an interesting quartette. 'Age cannot wither nor custom stale' your 'infinite variety.' But age will wither you if you often sit up to play Bach at midnight, when you must teach school next day. Therefore, good-night, Namesake!"
Yet when she had gone, her father and mother lingered by the last embers of the fire.
"God give her wisdom!" said Roberta's mother.
"He will—with you to ask Him," replied Roberta's father, with his arms about his wife. "I think He never refuses you anything! I don't see how He could!"
"THE TAMING OF THE SHREW"
"School again, Rob! Don't you hate it?"
"No, of course I don't hate it. I'm much, much happier when I'm teaching Ethel Revell to forget her important young self and remember the part she is supposed to play, than I am when I am merely dusting my room or driving downtown on errands."
As she spoke Roberta pushed into place the last hairpin in the close and trim arrangement of her dark hair, briefly surveyed the result with a hand-glass, and rose from her dressing-table. Ruth, at a considerably earlier stage of her dressing, regarded her sister's head with interest.
"I can always tell the difference between a school day and another day, just by looking at your hair," she observed, sagely.
"How, Miss Big Eyes, if you please?"
"You never leave a curl sticking out, on school days. They sometimes work out before night, but that's not your fault. You look like one of Jane Austen's heroines, now."
Roberta laughed a laugh of derision. "Miss Austen's heroines undoubtedly had ringlets hanging in profusion on either side of their oval faces."
"Yes, but I mean every hair of theirs was in order, and so are yours."
"Thank you. Only so can I command respect when I lecture my girls on their frenzied coiffures. Oh, but I'm thankful I can live at home and don't have to spend the nights with them! Some of them are dears, but to be responsible for them day and night would harrow my soul. Hook me up, will you, Rufus, please?"
"You look just like a smooth feathered bluebird in this," commented Ruth, as she obediently fastened the severely simple school dress of dark blue, relieved only by its daintily fresh collar and cuffs of embroidered white lawn.
"I mean to. Miss Copeland wouldn't have a fluffy, frilly teacher in her school—and I don't blame her. It's difficult enough to train fluffy, frilly girls to like simplicity, even if one's self is a model of plainness and repose."
"And you're truly glad to go back, after this lovely vacation? Shouldn't you sort of like to keep on typing for Uncle Calvin, with Mr. Richard Kendrick sitting close by, looking at you over the top of his book?"
Roberta wheeled, answering with vehemence: "I should say not, you romantic infant! When I work I want to work with workers, not with drones! A person who can only dawdle over his task is of no use at all. How Uncle Calvin gets on with a mere imitation of a secretary, I can't possibly see. Why, Ted himself could cover more ground in a morning!"
"I don't think you do him justice," Ruth objected, with all the dignity of her sixteen years in evidence. "Of course he couldn't work as well with you in the room—he isn't used to it. And you are—you certainly are, awfully nice to look at, Rob."
"Nonsense! It's lucky you're going back to school yourself, child, to get these sentimental notions out of your head. Come, vacation's over! Let's not sigh for more dances; let's go at our work with a will. I've plenty before me. The school play comes week after next, and I haven't as good material this year as last. How I'm ever going to get Olivia Cartwright to put sufficient backbone into her Petruchio, I don't know. I only wish I could play him myself!"
"Rob! Couldn't you?"
"It's never done. My part is just to coach and coach, to go over the lines a thousand times and the stage business ten thousand, and then to stay behind the scenes and hiss at them: 'More spirit! More life! Throw yourself into it!' and then to watch them walk it through like puppets! Well, The Taming of the Shrew is pretty stiff work for amateurs, no doubt of that—there's that much to be said. Breakfast time, childie! You must hurry, and I must be off."
Half an hour later Ruth watched her sister walk away down the street with Louis, her step as lithe and vigorous as her brother's. Ruth herself was accustomed to drive with her father to the school which she attended—a rival school, as it happened, of the fashionable one at which Roberta taught. She was not so strong as her sister, and a two-mile walk to school was apt to overtire her. But Roberta chose to walk every day and all days, and the more stormy the weather the surer was she to scorn all offers of a place beside Ruth in the brougham.
Louis's comment on the return of his sister to her work at Miss Copeland's school was much like that of Ruth. "Sorry vacation's over, Rob? That's where I have the advantage of you. The office never closes for more than a day; therefore I'm always in training."
"That's an advantage, surely enough. But I'm ready to go back. As I was telling Ruth this morning, I'm anxious to know whether Olivia Cartwright has forgotten her lines, and whether she's going to be able to infuse a bit of life into her Petruchio. This trying to make a schoolgirl play a big man's part—"
"You could do it, yourself," observed Louis, even as Ruth had done.
"And shouldn't I love to! I'm just longing to stride about the stage in Petruchio's boots."
"I'll wager you are. I'd like to see you do it. But the part of Katherine would be the thing for you—fascinating shrew that you could be."
"This—from a brother! Yes, I'd like to play Katherine, too. But give me the boots, if you please. Do you happen to remember Olivia Cartwright?"
"Of course I do. And a mighty pretty and interesting girl she is. I should think she might make a Petruchio for you."
"I thought she would. But the boots seem to have a devastating effect. The minute she gets them on—even in imagination, for we haven't had a dress rehearsal yet—her voice grows softer and her manner more lady-like. It's the funniest thing I ever knew, to hear her say the lines—
"'What is this? mutton?... 'Tis burnt, and so is all the meat. What dogs are these? Where is the rascal cook?
"How durst you, villains, bring it from the dresser, And serve it thus to me that love it not? There, take it to you, trenchers, cups and all, You heedless joltheads and unmannered slaves!'"
Passersby along the street beheld a young man consumed with mirth as Louis Gray heard these stirring words issuing from his sister's pretty mouth in a clever imitation of the schoolgirl Petruchio's "lady-like" tones.
"Now speak those lines as you would if you wore the boots," he urged, when he had recovered his gravity.
Roberta waited till they were at a discreet distance from other pedestrians, then delivered the lines as she had already spoken them for her pupil twenty times or more, with a spirit and temper which gave them their character as the assumed bluster they were meant to picture.
"Good!" cried Louis. "Great! But you see, Sis, you have learned the absolute control of your voice, and that's a thing few schoolgirls have mastered. Besides, not every girl has a throat like yours."
"I mean to be patient," said Roberta soberly. "And Olivia has really a good speaking voice. It's the curious effect of the imaginary boots that stirs my wonder. She actually speaks in a higher key with them on than off. But we shall improve that, in the fortnight before the play. They are really doing very well, and our Katherine—Ethel Revell—is going to forget herself completely in her part, if I can manage it. In spite of the hard work I thoroughly enjoy the rehearsing of the yearly play—it's a relief from the routine work of the class. And the girls appreciate the best there is, in the great writers and dramatists, as you wouldn't imagine they could do."
"On the whole, you would rather be a teacher than an office stenographer?" suggested Louis, with a touch of mischief in his tone. "You know, I've always been a bit disappointed that you didn't come into our office, after working so hard to make an expert of yourself."
"That training wasn't wasted," defended Roberta. "I'm able to make friends with my working girls lots better on account of the stenography and typewriting I know. And I may need that resource yet. I'm not at all sure that I mean to be a teacher all my days."
"I'm very sure you'll not," said her brother, with a laughing glance, which Roberta ignored. It was a matter of considerable amusement to her brothers the serious way in which she had set about being independent. They fully approved of her decision to spend her time in a way worth the while, but when it came to planning for a lifetime—there were plenty of reasons for skepticism as to her needing to look far ahead. Indeed, it was well known that Roberta might have abandoned all effort long ago, and have given any one of several extremely eligible young men the greatly desired opportunity of taking care of her in his own way.
The pair separated at a street corner, and, as it happened, Louis heard little more about the progress of the school rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew until the day before its public performance—if a performance could be called public which was to be given in so private a place as the ballroom in the home of one of the wealthiest patrons of the school, the audience composed wholly of invited guests, and admission to the affair for others extremely difficult to procure on any ground whatever.
Appearing at the close of the final rehearsal to escort his sister home—for the hour, like that of all final rehearsals, was late—Louis found a flushed and highly wrought Roberta delivering last instructions even as she put on her wraps.
"Remember, Olivia," he heard her say to a tall girl wrapped in a long cloak which evidently concealed male trappings, "I'm not going to tone down my part one bit to fit yours. If I'm stormy you must be blustering; if I'm furious you must be fierce. You can do it, I know."
"I certainly hope so, Miss Gray," answered a none-too-confident voice. "But I'm simply frightened to death to play opposite you."
"Nonsense! I'll stick pins into you—metaphorically speaking," declared Roberta. "I'll keep you up to it. Now go straight to bed—no sitting up to talk it over with Ethel—poor child! Good-night, dear, and don't you dare be afraid of me!"
"Are you going to play the boots, after all?" Louis queried as he and Roberta started toward home, walking at a rapid pace, as usual after rehearsals.
"I wish I were, if I must play some part. No, it's Katherine. Ethel Revell has come down with tonsilitis, just at the last minute. It was to be expected, of course—somebody always does it. But I did hope it wouldn't be one of the principals. Of course there's nobody who could possibly get up the part overnight except the coach, so I'm in for it. And the worst of it is that unless I'm very careful I shall over-Katherine my Petruchio! If Olivia will only keep her voice resonant! She can stride and gesture pretty well now, but highly dramatic moments always cause her to raise her key—and then the boots only serve to make the effect grotesque."
"Never mind; unconscious humour is always interesting to the audience. And we shall all be there to see your Katherine. I had thought of cutting the performance for a rather important address, but nothing would induce me to miss my sister as the Shrew."
Roberta laughed. "Nobody will question my fitness for the part, I fear. Well, if I teach expression, in a girls' school, I must take the consequences, and be willing to express anything that comes along."
If Roberta had expected any sympathy from her family in the exigency of the hour, she was disappointed. Instead of condoling with her, the breakfast-table hearers of the news, next morning, were able only to congratulate themselves upon the augmented interest the school play would now have for Roberta's friends, confident that the presence of one clever actress of maturer powers would compensate for much amateurishness in the others. Ruth, young devotee of her sister, was delighted beyond measure with the prospect, and joyfully spent the day taking necessary stitches in the apparel Roberta was to wear, considerable alteration being necessary to adapt the garments intended for the slim and girlish Katherine of Ethel Revell's proportions to the more perfectly rounded lines of her teacher.
Late in the afternoon, something was needed to complete Roberta's preparations which could be procured only in a downtown shop, and Ruth volunteered to order the brougham—now on runners—and go down for it. She left the house alone, but she did not complete her journey alone, for halfway down the two-mile boulevard she passed a figure she knew, and turned to bestow a girlish bow and smile.
Richard Kendrick not only took off his hat but waved it with a gesture of entreaty, as he quickened his steps, and Ruth, much excited by the encounter, bade Thomas stop the horses.
"Would you take a passenger?" he asked as he came up; "unless, of course, you're going to stop for some one else?"
"Do get in," she urged shyly. "No, I'm all alone—going on an errand."
"I guessed it—not the errand, but the being alone. You looked so small, wrapped up in all these furs, I felt you needed company," explained Richard, smiling down into the animated young face, with its delicate colour showing fresh and fair in the frosty air. There was something very attractive to the young man in this girl, who seemed to him the embodiment of sweetness and purity. He never saw her without feeling that he would have liked just such a little sister. He would have done much to please her, quite as he had followed her suggestion about the church-going on Christmas Day.
"I'm rushing down to find a scarf of a certain colour for Rob," explained Ruth, too full of her commission to keep it to herself. "You see, she's playing Katherine to-night. The girl who was to have played it—Ethel Revell—is ill. Do you know any of Miss Copeland's girls? Olivia Cartwright plays Petruchio."
"Olivia Cartwright? Is she to be in some play? She's a distant cousin of mine."
"It's a school play—Miss Copeland's school, where Rob teaches, you know. The play is to be in the Stuart Hendersons' ballroom." And Ruth made known the situation to a listener who gave her his undivided attention.
"Well, well,—seems to me I should have had an invitation for that play," mused Richard, searching his memory. "I wish I'd had one. I should like to see your sister act Katherine. I suppose it's quite impossible to get one at this late hour?"
"I'm afraid so. It's really not at all strange that any one is left out of the list of invitations," Ruth hastened to make clear. "You see, each girl is allowed only six, and that usually takes just her family or nearest friends. And if you are only a distant cousin of Olivia's—"
"It's not at all strange that she shouldn't ask me, for I'm afraid I've neglected to avail myself of former invitations of hers," admitted Richard, ruefully. "Too bad. Punishment for such neglect usually follows—and I certainly have it now. I know the Stuart Hendersons, though—I wonder—Never mind, Miss Ruth, don't look so sorry. You'll tell me about it afterward, some time, won't you?"
"Indeed I will. Oh, it's been such an exciting day. Rob's been rehearsing her lines all day—when she wasn't trying on. She says she could have played Petruchio much better, because she's had to coach Olivia Cartwright for that part so much more than she's had to coach Ethel for Katherine. But, then, she knows the whole play—she could take any part. She would have loved to play Petruchio, though, on account of the boots and the slashing round the stage the way he does. But I think it's just as well, for Katherine certainly slashes, too—and Rob's not quite tall enough for Petruchio."
"I'm glad she plays Katherine," said Richard Kendrick decidedly. "I can't imagine your sister in boots! I've no doubt, though, she'd make them different from other boots—if she wore them!"
"Of course she would," agreed Ruth. Then she began to talk about something else, for a bit of fear had come into her mind that Rob wouldn't enjoy all this discussion of herself, if she should know about it.
She was such an honest young person, however, that she had a good deal of difficulty, when she had done her errand and was at home again, in not telling Roberta of her meeting with Richard Kendrick. She did venture to ask a question.
"Is Mr. Kendrick invited for to-night, Rob?"
"Not by me," Roberta responded promptly.
"He might be, by one of the girls, I suppose?"
"The girls invite whom they like. I haven't seen the list. I don't imagine he would be on it. I hope not, certainly."
"Why? Don't you think he would enjoy it?"
"No, I do not. Musical comedies are probably more to his taste than amateur productions of Shakespeare. But I'm not thinking about the audience—the players are enough for me." Then, suddenly, an idea which flashed into her mind caused her to turn and scan Ruth's ingenuous young face.
"You haven't been inviting Mr. Kendrick yourself, Rufus?"
"Why, how could I?" But the girl flushed rosily in a way which betrayed her interest. "I just—wondered."
"How did you come to wonder? Have you seen him?"
Ruth being Ruth, there was nothing to do but to tell Roberta of the encounter with Richard. "He said he was glad you were to play Katherine, because he couldn't imagine you in boots," she added, hoping this news might appease her sister. But it did nothing of the sort.
"As if it made the slightest difference to him! But if he feels that way, I wish I were to wear the boots, and I wish he might be there to see me do it. As it is, I hope Mrs. Stuart Henderson will be deaf to his audacity, if he dares to ask an invitation. It would be quite like him!"
"I don't see why—" began Ruth.
But Roberta interrupted her. "There are lots of things you don't see, little sister," said she, with a swift and impetuous embrace of the slender form beside her. Then she turned, frowned, flung out her arm, and broke into one of Katherine's flaming speeches:
"'Why, sir, I trust, I may have leave to speak: And speak I will: I am no child, no babe: Your betters have endured me say my mind And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.'"
"Oh, but you do have such a lovely voice!" cried Ruth. "You can't make even the Shrew sound shrewish—in her tone, I mean."
"Can't I, indeed? Wait till to-night! If your friend Mr. Kendrick is to be there I'll be more shrewish than you ever dreamed—it will be a real stimulus!"
Ruth shook her head in dumb wonder that any one could be so impervious to the charms of the young man who so appealed to her youthful imagination. Three hours afterward, when she turned in her chair, in the Stuart Henderson ballroom, at the summons of a low voice in her ear, to find Richard Kendrick in the row behind her, she wondered afresh what there could possibly be about him to rouse her sister's antagonism. His face was such an interesting one, his eyes so clear and their glance so straightforward, his fresh colour so pleasant to note, his whole personality so attractive, Ruth could only answer him in the happiest way at her command with a subdued but eager: "Oh, I'm so glad you came!"
"That's due to Mrs. Cartwright's wonderful kindness. She's the mother of Petruchio, you know," explained Richard, with a smiling glance at the gorgeously gowned woman beside him, who leaned forward also to say to Ruth:
"What is one to do with a sweetly apologetic young cousin who begs to be allowed to come, at the last moment, to view his cousin in doublet and hose? But I really didn't venture to tell Olivia. She would have fled from the stage if she had guessed that cousin Richard, whom she greatly admires, was to be here. I can only hope she will not hear of it till the play is over."
"If his being here is going to make Petruchio tremble more, and Katherine act naughtier, I shall feel dreadfully guilty," thought Ruth. But somehow when the curtain went up she could not help being glad that he was there, behind her.
Roberta had said much, in hours of relaxation after long and tense rehearsals, of the difficulty of making schoolgirls forget themselves in any part. It had been difficult, indeed, to train her pupils to speak and act with naturalness in roles so foreign to their experience. But she had been much more successful than she had dared to believe, and her own enthusiasm, her tireless drilling, above all her inspiring example as she spoke her girls' lines for them and demonstrated to them each telling detail of stage business, had done the work with astonishing effect. The hardest task of all had been to find and develop a satisfactory delineator of the difficult part of the Tamer of the Shrew, but Roberta had persevered, even taking a journey of some hours with Olivia Cartwright to have her see and study one of the greatest of Petruchios at two successive performances. She had succeeded in stimulating Olivia to a real determination to be worthy of her teacher's expressed belief in her, even to the mastering of her girlish tendency to let her voice revert to a high-keyed feminine quality just when it needed to be deepest and most stern.
The audience, as the play began, was in the customary benevolent mood of audiences beholding amateur productions, ready to see good if possible, anxious to show favour to all the young actors and to praise without discrimination, aware of the proximity of proud fathers and mothers. But this audience soon found itself genuinely interested and amused, and with the first advent of the enchanting Shrew herself became absorbed in her personality and her fortunes quite as it might have been in those of any talented actress of reputation.
To Ruth, sitting wide eyed and hot cheeked, her sister seemed the most spirited and bewitching Katherine ever played. Her shrewishness was that of the wilful madcap girl who has never been crossed rather than that of the inherently ill-tempered woman, and her every word and gesture, her every expression of face and tone of voice, were worth noting and watching. By no means finished work—as how should it be, in a young teacher but few years out of school herself—it yet had an originality and freshness of interpretation all its own, and the applause which praised it was very spontaneous and genuine. Roberta had been the joy of her class in college dramatics, and several of her former classmates, in her audience to-night, gleefully told one another that she was surpassing anything she had formerly done.
"It's simply superb, you know, don't you?—your sister's acting," said Richard Kendrick's voice in Ruth's ear again at the end of the first act, and she turned her burning cheek his way as she answered happily:
"It seems so to me—but then I'm prejudiced, you know."
"We're all prejudiced, when it comes to that—made so by this performance. I'm pretty proud of my cousin Petruchio, too," he went on, including Mrs. Cartwright at his side. "I'd no idea boots could be so becoming to any girl—outside of a chorus. Olivia's splendid. Do you suppose"—he was addressing Ruth again—"you and I might go behind the scenes and tell them how we feel about it?"
"Oh, no, indeed, Mr. Kendrick," Ruth replied, much shocked. "It's lots different, a girls' play like this, from the regular theatre. They'd be so astonished to see you. Rob's told me, heaps of times, how they go perfectly crazy after every act, and she has all she can do to keep them cool enough for the next. She'd never forgive us. And besides, Olivia Cartwright's not to know you're here, you know."
"That's true. I'd forgotten how disturbing my presence is supposed to be," and Richard leaned back again to laugh with Mrs. Cartwright.
But, behind the scenes, the news had penetrated, nobody knew just how. Roberta learned, to her surprise and distraction, that Richard Kendrick was somehow a particularly interesting figure in the eyes of her young players, and she speedily discovered that they were all more or less excited at the knowledge that he was somewhere below the footlights. Olivia, indeed, was immediately in a flutter, quite as her mother had predicted, at the thought of Cousin Richard's eyes upon her in her masculine attire; and Roberta, in the brief interval she could spare for the purpose, had to take her sternly in hand. An autocratic Katherine might, then, have been overheard addressing a flurried Petruchio, in a corner:
"For pity's sake, child, who is he that you need be afraid of him? He's no critic, I'll wager, and if he's your cousin he'll be sure to think you act like a veteran, anyhow. Forget him, and go ahead. You're doing splendidly. Don't you dare slump just because you're remembering your audience!"
"Oh, of course I'll try, Miss Gray," replied an extremely feminine voice from beneath Petruchio's fierce mustachios. "But Richard Kendrick really is awfully sort of upsetting, don't you know?"
"Of course I don't know," denied Roberta promptly. "As long as Miss Copeland herself is pleased with us, nobody else matters. And Miss Copeland is delighted—she sent me special word just now. So stiffen your backbone, Petruchio, and make this next dialogue with me as rapid as you know. Come back at me like flash-fire—don't lag a breath—we'll stir the house to laughter, or know the reason why. Ready?"
Her firm hand on Olivia's arm, her bracing words in Olivia's ear, put courage back into her temporarily stage-struck "leading man," and Olivia returned to the charge determined to play up to her teacher without lagging. In truth, Roberta's actual presence on the stage was proving a distinct advantage to those of the players who had parts with her. She warmed and held them to their tasks with the flash of her own eyes, not to mention an occasional almost imperceptible but pregnant gesture, and they found themselves somehow able to "forget the audience," as she had so many times advised them to do, the better that she herself seemed so completely to have forgotten it.
The work of the young actors grew better with each act, and at the end of the fourth, when the curtain went down upon a scene which had been all storm on the part of the players and all laughter on the part of the audience, the applause was long and hearty. There were calls for the entire cast, and when they had several times responded there was a special and persistent demand for Katherine herself, in the character of the producer of the play. She refused it until she could no longer do so without discourtesy; then she came before the curtain and said a few winsome words of gratitude on behalf of her "company."
Ruth, staring up at her sister's face brilliant with the mingled exertion and emotion of the hour, and thinking her the prettiest picture there against the great dull-blue silk curtain of the stage she had ever seen, had no notion that just behind her somebody was thinking the same thing with a degree of fervour far beyond her own. Richard Kendrick's heart was thumping vigorously away in his breast as he looked his fill at the figure before the curtain, secure in the darkness of the house from observation at the moment.
When he had first met this girl he had told himself that he would soon know her well, would soon call her by her name. He wondered at himself that he could possibly have fancied conquest of her so easy. He was not a whit nearer knowing her, he was obliged to acknowledge, than on that first day, nor did he see any prospect of getting to know her—beyond a certain point. Her chosen occupation seemed to place her beyond his reach; she was not to be got at by the ordinary methods of approach. Twice he had called and asked for her, to be told that she was busy with school papers and must be excused. Once he had ventured to invite her to go with Mrs. Stephen and himself to a carefully chosen play and a supper, but she had declined, gracefully enough—but she had declined, and Mrs. Stephen also. He could not make these people out, he told himself. Did they and he live in such different worlds that they could never meet on common ground?
The Taming of the Shrew came to a triumphant end; the curtain fell upon the effective closing scene in which the lovely Shrew, become a richly loving and tender wife, without, somehow, surrendering a particle of her exquisite individuality, spoke her words of wisdom to other wives. Richard smiled to himself as he heard the lines fall from Roberta's lips. And beneath his breath he said:
"I don't see how you can bring yourself to say them, you modern girl. You'd never let a real husband feel his power that way, I'll wager. If you did—well—it would go to his head, I'm sure of that. What an idiot I am to think I could ever make her look at me the way she looked even at that schoolgirl Petruchio—with a clever imitation of devotion. O Roberta Gray! But I'd rather worship you across the footlights than take any other girl in my arms. And somehow—somehow I've got to make you at least respect me. At least that, Roberta! Then—perhaps—more!"
At Ruth's side, when the play was ended, Richard hoped to attain at least the chance to speak to Ruth's sister. The young players all appeared upon the stage, the curtain being raised for the rest of the evening, and the audience came up, group by group, to offer congratulations and pour into gratified ears the praise which was the reward of labour. Richard succeeded in getting by degrees into the immediate vicinity of Roberta, who was continuously surrounded by happy parents bent on presenting their felicitations. But just as he was about to make his way to her side a diversion occurred which took her completely away from him. A girl near by, who on account of physical frailty had had a minor part, grew suddenly faint, and in a trice Roberta had impressed into her service a strong pair of male arms, nearer at hand than Richard's, and had had the slim little figure carried behind the scenes, herself following.
Ten minutes later he learned from Ruth that Roberta had gone back to Miss Copeland's school with the girl, recovered but weak.
"Couldn't anybody else have gone?" he inquired, considerable impatience in his voice.
"Of course—lots of people could, and would. Only it's just like Rob to seize the chance to get away from this, and not come back. You'll see—she won't. She hates being patted on the back, as she calls it. I never can see why, when people mean it, as I'm sure they do to-night. She's the queerest girl. She never wants what you'd think she would, or wants it the way other people do. But she's awfully dear, just the same," Ruth hastened to add, fearful lest she seem to criticise the beloved sister. "And somehow you don't get tired of her, the way you do of some people. Perhaps that's just because she's different."
"I suspect it is," Richard agreed with conviction. Certainly, a girl who would run away from such adulation as she had been receiving must be, he considered, decidedly and interestingly "different." He only wished he might hit upon some "different" way to pique her interest.
There was destined to be a still longer break in the work which had been going on in Judge Calvin Gray's library than was intended. He and his assistant had barely resumed their labours after the Christmas house-party when the Judge was called out of town for a period whose limit when he left he was unable to fix. He could leave little for Richard to do, so that young man found his time again upon his hands and himself unable to dispose of it to advantage.
His mind at this period was in a curious state of dissatisfaction. Ever since the evening of the Christmas dance, when a girl's careless word had struck home with such unexpected force he had been as restless and uneasy as a fish out of water. His condition bore as much resemblance to that of the gasping fish as this: in the old element of life about town, as he had been in the habit of living it, he now had the sensation of not being able to breathe freely.
It was with the intention of getting into the open, both mentally and physically, that on the second day following the Judge's departure Richard started on a long drive in his car. Beyond a certain limit he knew that the roads were likely to prove none too good, though the winter had thus far been an open one and there was little chance of his encountering blocking snowdrifts "up State." He took no one with him. He could think of no one with whom he cared to go.
As he drove his mind was busy with all sorts of speculations. In his hurt pride he had said to a girl: "If I can't make you think differently of me it won't be for lack of will." That meant—what did it mean? That he had recognized the fact that she despised idlers—and that young rich men who spent a few hours, on an average of five days of the week, in assisting elderly gentlemen bereft of their eyesight in looking up old records, did not thereby in her estimation remove themselves from the class of those who do nothing in the world but attend to the spending of their incomes.
What should he do—how prove himself fit to deserve her approval? Unquestionably he must devote himself seriously to some serious occupation. All sorts of ideas chased one another through his mind in response to this stimulus. What was he fitted to do? He had a certain facility in the use of the pen, as he had proved in the service of Judge Calvin Gray. Should he look for a job as reporter on one of the city dailies? He certainly could not offer himself for any post higher than that of the rawest scribe on the force; he had had no experience. The thought of seeking such a post made his lip curl with the absurdity of the notion. They would make a society reporter of him; it would be the first idea that would occur to them. It was the only thing for which they would think him fit!
The thing he should like to do would be to travel on some interesting commission for his grandfather. On what commission, for instance? The purchasing of rare works of art for the picture-gallery of the great store? No mean exhibition it was they had there. But he had not the training for such a commission; he would be cheated out of hand when it came to buying! They sent skilled buyers on such quests.
He thought of rushing off to the far West and buying a ranch. That was a fit and proper thing for a fellow like himself; plenty of rich men's sons had done it. If she could see him in cowboy garb, rough-clad, sunburnt, muscular, she would respect him then perhaps. There would be no more flinging at him that he was a cotillion leader! How he hated the term!
The day was fair and cold, the roads rather better than he had expected, and by luncheon-time he had reached a large town, seventy miles away from his own city, where he knew of an exceptionally good place to obtain a refreshing meal. With this end in view, he was making more than ordinary village speed when disaster befell him in the shape of a break in his electric connections. Two blocks away from the hotel he sought, the car suddenly went dead.
While he was investigating, fingers blue with cold, a voice he knew hailed him. It came from a young man who advanced from the doorway of a store, in front of which the car had chanced to stop. "Something wrong, Rich?"
Richard stood up. He gripped his friend's hand cordially, glancing up at the sign above the store as he did so.
"Mighty glad to see you, Benson," he responded. "I didn't realize I'd stopped in front of your father's place of business."
Hugh Benson was a college classmate. In spite of the difference between their respective estates in the college world, the two had been rather good friends during the four years of their being thrown together. Since graduation, however, they had seldom met, and for the last two years Richard Kendrick had known no more of his former friend than that the good-sized dry-goods store, standing on a prominent corner in the large town through which he often motored without stopping, still bore the name of Hugh Benson's father.
When the car was running again Benson climbed in and showed Richard the way to his own home, where he prevailed on his friend to remain for lunch with himself and his mother. Richard learned for the first time that Benson's father had died within the last year.
"And you're going on with the business?" questioned Richard, as the two lingered alone together in Benson's hall before parting. The talk during the meal had been mostly of old college days, of former classmates, and of the recent history of nearly every mutual acquaintance except that of the speakers themselves.
"There was nothing else for me to do when father left us," Benson responded in a low tone. "I'm not as well adapted to it as he was, but I expect to learn."
"I remember you thought of doing graduate work along scientific lines. Did you give that up?"
"Yes. I found father needed me at home; his health must have been failing even then, though I didn't realize it. I've been in the store with him ever since. I'm glad I have—now."
"It's not been good for you," declared Richard, scrutinizing his friend's pale and rather worn face critically. It would have seemed to him still paler and more worn if he could have seen it in contrast with his own fresh-tinted features, ruddy with his morning's drive. "Better come with me for an afternoon spin farther up State, and a good dinner at a place I know. Get you back by bedtime."
"There's nothing I'd like better, Rich," said Benson longingly; "but—I can't leave the store. I have rather a short force of clerks—and on a sunny day—"
"You'd sell more goods to-morrow," urged Richard, feeling increasingly anxious to do something which might bring light into a face he had not remembered as so sombre.
But Benson shook his head again. Afterward, in front of the store to which the two had returned in the car, Richard could only give his friend a warm grip of the hand and an urgent invitation to visit him in the city.
"I suppose you come down often to buy goods," he suggested. "Or do you send buyers? I don't know much about the conduct of business in a town like this—or much about it at home, for that matter," he owned. "Though I'm not sure I'm proud of my ignorance."
"It doesn't matter whether you know anything about it or not, of course," said Benson, looking up at him with a queer expression of wistfulness. "No, I'm my own buyer. And I don't buy of a great, high-grade firm like yours; I go to a different class of fellows for my stuff."
Richard drove on, thinking hard about Benson. What a pity for a fellow of twenty-six or seven to look like that, careworn and weary. He wondered whether it was the loss of his father and the probably sorrowful atmosphere at home that accounted for the look in Benson's eyes, or whether his business was not a particularly successful one. He recalled that the one careless glance he had given the windows of Benson's store had brought to his mind the fleeting impression that village shopkeepers had not much art in the dressing of their windows as a means of alluring the public.
As he drove on he felt in his pockets for a cigar and found his case unexpectedly empty. He turned back to a drugstore, went in and supplied himself from the best in stock—none too good for his fastidious taste.
"What's your best dry-goods shop here?" he inquired casually.
"Artwell & Chatford's the best—now," responded the druggist, glancing across the street, where a sign bearing those names met the eye. "Chaffee Brothers has run 'em a close second since Benson's dropped out of the competition. Benson's used to be the best, but it's fallen way behind. Look at Artwell's window display over there and see the reason," he added, pointing across the street with the citizen's pride in a successful enterprise in no way his own rival.
"Gorgeous!" responded Richard, eying an undoubtedly eye-catching arrangement of blankets of every hue and quality piled about a centre figure consisting of a handsome brass bed made up as if for occupancy, the carefully folded-back covers revealing immaculate and downy blankets with pink borders, the whole suggestive of warmth and comfort throughout the most rigorous winter season.
"Catchy—on a day like this!" suggested the druggist, with a chuckle. "I'll admit they gave me the key for my own windows."
Richard's gaze followed the other's glance and rested on piles of scarlet flannel chest-protectors, flanked by small brass tea-kettles with alcohol lamps beneath.
"We carry a side line of spirit-lamp stuff," explained the dealer. "It sells well this time of year. Got to keep track of the popular thing. Afternoon teas are all the go among the women of this town now. The hardware's the only other place they can get these—and they don't begin to keep the variety we do."
Richard congratulated the dealer on his window. Lingering by it, his hand on the door, he said:
"I noticed Benson's as I came by, and I see now the force of what you say about window display. I'm not sure I can tell what was in their windows."
"Nor anybody else," declared the druggist, chuckling, "unless he went with a notebook and made an inventory. Since the old man died last year the windows have been a hodgepodge of stuff that attracts nobody. It's merely an index to the way the place is running behind. Young Benson doesn't know how to buy nor how to sell; he'll never succeed. The store began to go down when the old man got too feeble to take the whole responsibility. Hugh began to overstock some departments and understock others. It's not so much lack of capital that'll be responsible for Hugh's failure when it comes—and I guess it's not far off—as it is lack of business experience. Why, he's got so little trade he's turned off half his salespeople; and you know that talks!"
It did indeed. It talked louder now in the light of the druggist's shrewd commentaries than it had when Benson had spoken of his "short force." Richard wondered just how short it was, that the proprietor could not venture to leave for even a few hours.
He drove on thoughtfully. He wanted to go back and look those windows over again, wanted to go through the whole store, but recognized that though he could have done this when he first arrived, he could not go back and do it now without exciting his friend's suspicion that sympathy was his motive.
He turned about at a point far short of the one he had intended to reach, and made record time back to the city, impelled by an odd wish he could hardly explain, to go by the windows of the great department stores of Kendrick & Company and examine their window displays. Since he was ordinarily accustomed to select any other streets than those upon which these magnificent places of custom were situated, merely because he not only had no interest in them but a positive distaste for seeing his own name emblazoned—though ever so chastely—above their princely portals, it may be understood that an entirely new idea was working in his brain.
Speed as he would, however, running the risk as he approached the city streets of being stopped by some watchful authority for exceeding the limits, he could not get back to the broad avenue upon which the stores stood before six o'clock. There was all the better chance on that account, nevertheless, for examining the windows before which belated shoppers were still stopping to wonder and admire.
Well, looking at them with Benson's forlorn windows in his mind as a foil, he saw them as he never had before. What beauty, what originality, what art they showed! And at a time of year when, the holiday season past, it might seem as if there could be no real summons for anybody to go shopping. They were fairly dazzling, some of them, although many of them showed only white goods. His car came to a standstill before one great plate-glass frame behind which was a representation of a sewing-room with several people busily at work. So perfect were the figures that it hardly seemed as if they could be of wax. One pretty girl was sewing at a machine; another, on her knees, was fitting a frock to a little girl who laughed over her shoulder at a second child who was looking on. The mother of the family sewed by a drop-light on a work-table. The whole scene was really charming, combining precisely the element of domesticity with that of accomplishment which strikes the eye of the average passer as "looking like home," no matter of what sort the home might be.
"By heavens! if poor Ben had something like that people wouldn't pass him by for the blanket store," he said to himself; and drove on, still thinking.
The next day, at an hour before the morning tide of shopping at Kendrick & Company's had reached the flood, two pretty glove clerks were suddenly tempted into a furtive exchange of conversation at an unoccupied end of their counter.
"Look quick! See the young man coming this way? It's Rich Kendrick."
"It is? They told me he never came here. Say, but he's the real thing!"
"I should say. Never saw him so close myself. Wish he'd stop here."
"Bet you couldn't keep your head if he spoke to you!"
"Bet I could! Don't you worry; he don't buy his gloves in his own department store. He—"
"Sh! Granger's looking!"
There was really nothing about Richard Kendrick to attract attention except his wholesome good looks, for he dressed with exceptional quietness, and his manner matched his clothes. A floorwalker recognized him and bowed, but the elevator man did not know him, and on his way to the offices he passed only one clerk who could lay claim to a speaking acquaintance with the grandson of the owner.
But at the office of the general manager he was met by an office boy who knew and worshipped him from afar, and in five minutes he was closeted with that official, who gave him his whole attention.
"Mr. Henderson, I wish you could give me"—was the substance of Richard's remarks—"somebody who would go up to Eastman with me and tell me what's the matter with a dry-goods store there that's on the verge of failure."
The general manager was, to put it mildly, astonished. He was a mighty man of valour himself, so mighty that his yearly salary would have been to the average American citizen a small fortune. The office was one to fill which similar houses had often scoured the country without avail. Other business owners had been forced to remain at the helm long after health and happiness demanded retirement. Among these, Henderson was held to be so competent a man that Matthew Kendrick was considered incredibly lucky to keep his hold upon him.
To Matthew Kendrick's grandson Henderson put a number of pertinent inquiries concerning the store in question which Richard found he could not intelligently answer. He flushed a little under the fire.
"I suppose you think I might have investigated a bit for myself," said he. "But that's just what I don't want to do. I want to send a man up there whom the owner doesn't know; then we can get at things without giving ourselves away."
The general manager inferred from this that philanthropy, not business interest, was at the bottom of young Kendrick's quest and his surprise vanished. The young man was known as kind-hearted and generous; he was undoubtedly merely carrying out a careless impulse, though he certainly seemed much in earnest in the doing of it.
"You might take Carson, assistant buyer for the dress-goods department, with you," suggested Henderson after a little consideration. "He could probably give you a day just now. Alger, his head, is back from London this week. Carson's a bright man—in line for promotion. He'll put his finger on the trouble without hesitation—if it lies in the lack of business experience, buying and selling, as you say. I'll send for him."
In two minutes Richard Kendrick and Alfred Carson were face to face, and an appointment had been made for the following day. Richard took a liking to the assistant buyer on the spot. He felt as if he were selecting a competent physician for his friend, and was glad to send him a man whose personality was both prepossessing and inspiring of confidence.
As for Carson, it was an interesting experience for him, too. He thoroughly enjoyed the seventy-mile drive at the side of the young millionaire, who sent his powerful car flying over the frozen roads at a pace which made his passenger's face sting. Carson was more accustomed to travel in subways and sleeping-cars than by long motor drives, and by the time Eastman was reached he was glad that the return drive would be preceded by a hot luncheon.
"We won't go past the store," Richard explained, making a detour from the main street of the town, regardless of the fact that he forsook a good road for a poor one. "I don't want him to see me to-day."
He pressed upon his guest the best that the hotel afforded, then sent him to the corner store with instructions to let nothing escape his attention. "Though I don't need to tell you that," he added with a laugh. "You'll see more in a minute than I should in a month."
Then he lighted a cigar—from his own case this time, though he strolled in to see his friend the druggist when he had finished it, and bought of him various other sundries. He did not venture to mention Benson to-day, but the druggist did. Evidently Benson's imminent failure was the talk of the town, and the regret, as well, of those who were not his rivals.
"Man can't succeed at a thing he picks up so late, and when he'd rather do something else," volunteered the druggist. "Now I began in this shop by sweeping out, mornings, and running errands, delivering goods. Got interested—came to be a clerk after a while. Always saw myself making up dope, compounding prescriptions. Went off to a school of pharmacy—came back—showed the old man I could look after the prescription business. Finally bought him out. Trained for the trade from the cradle as you might say."
"I wonder if I'm going to be useless," thought Richard, "because I'm not trained from the cradle. Carson says he began as a wrapper at fifteen. At my age—he looks my age—he's assistant buyer for one of Kendrick & Company's biggest departments, and 'in line for promotion,' as Henderson says. Rich Kendrick, do you think you're in line for promotion—anywhere? I wonder!"
He had gone back to the hotel and was impatiently awaiting Carson for some time before the buyer appeared. Carson came in with a look of great interest and eagerness on his face. The assistant buyer had, Richard thought, one of the brightest faces he had ever seen. He was sure he had asked the right man to diagnose the case of the invalid business, even before Carson began to talk. As the talk progressed he was convinced of it.
Yet Carson began at the human, not the business, end of the matter. Richard Kendrick, himself full of concern for his friend Hugh Benson, liked that, too.
"I never felt sorrier for a man in my life," said Carson. "He shows a lot of pluck; he never once owned that the thing was too much for him. But I got him to talking—a little. Didn't need to talk much; the whole place was shouting at me—every counter, every showcase. Thunder!"
"How did you get him to talking?" Richard asked eagerly.
"Represented myself as an ex-travelling man—the dry-goods line. It's true enough, if not just the way he took it. Of course he didn't give me any facts about his business, but we discussed present conditions of the trade pretty well, and he owned that a good many things puzzled him just as much as when he was a little chap and used to listen to his father giving orders. What's going to be wanted and how much? When to load up and when to unload? How to catch the public fancy and not get caught yourself? In short, how to turn over the stock in season and out of season—turn it over and get out from under! He knows no more than a man who can't swim how to keep his head above water. Nice fellow, too; I could see it in every word he said. He'd be a success in, say, a professorship in a college—and not a business college, either."
"If the place were yours," Richard, alive with interest, put it to him, "now, this minute, what would be the first thing you would do?"
Carson laughed—not derisively, but like a boy who sees a chance at a game he likes to play. "Have a bonfire, I'd like to say," he vowed. "But that wouldn't be good business, and I wouldn't do it if I had the chance—unless there was insurance to cover! And there's money in the stock. Part of it could be got out. But it ought to be got out before the moon is old. Then I'd like the fun of stocking up with new lines, new departments, things the town never heard of. I'd make that blanket window you told me about look sick. That is," he added modestly, "I think I could. Any good general buyer could. I'm a dress-goods man myself, only I've grown up under Kendrick & Company's roof and I've been watching other lines than my own. It interests me—the possibilities of that store. Why, the man ought not to fail! He has the best location in town, the biggest windows, the best fixtures, judging by the outside of the places I saw as I came along. I looked at the blanket-window place. That's a dark store when you get back a dozen feet. Benson's, being on the corner, is fairly light to the back door. That counts more than any other thing about the building itself. And the fellow has his underwear in the brightest spot in the shop and the dress goods in the darkest! His heavy lines by the door and his notions and fancy stuff way back where you've got to hunt for them! And his windows—oh, blazes! I wanted to climb up and jump on the mess and then throw it out!"
Richard drove Carson back to town, his heart afire with longing to do something, he did not yet know what. He could not consult Carson about the matter further than to find out from him what was wrong with the business from the standpoint of the customer; why the place did not attract the customer. Details of this phase of the question Carson had given him in plenty, all leading back to the one trouble—Benson had not understood how to appeal to the class of custom at his doors. He had not the right goods, nor the right means of display; he had not the right salespeople; in brief, he had nothing, according to Carson, that he ought to have, and everything, poor fellow, that he ought not! It was a hard case.
As to actual business foundations and resources, neither of the young men could judge. They had no means of knowing how deeply Benson was in debt, nor what were his assets beyond the visible stock. Yet his fellow shopkeepers considered him on the verge of bankruptcy; they must know.
"I've enjoyed this trip, Mr. Kendrick," Carson said at parting, "in more ways than I can tell you. If I can be of use to you in any way, call on me, please. I'm honestly interested in your friend Mr. Benson. I'd like to see him win out."
"So should I." Richard shook hands heartily. "I've enjoyed the trip, too, Mr. Carson. I never had better company. Thank you for going—and for teaching me a lot of things I wanted to know."
As he drove away he was thinking, "Carson's a success; I'm not. Odd thing, that I should find myself envying a chap whose place I couldn't be hired to take. I envy him—not exactly his knowledge and skill, but his being a definite factor, his being a man who carries responsibilities and makes good, so that—well, so that he's 'in line for promotion.' That phrase takes hold of me somehow; I wonder why? Well, the next thing is to see grandfather."
* * * * *
Old Matthew Kendrick was alone. His grandson had just left him. He was marching up and down his private library. His hands were clasped tightly behind his back; above his flushed brow his white hair stood erect from frequent thrustings of his agitated fingers; even his cravat, slightly awry, bore witness to his excitement.
"Gad!" he was saying to himself. "The boy's alive after all! The boy's waked up! He's taking notice! And the thing that's waked him up is a country store—by cricky! a country store! I believe I'm dreaming yet!"
If the citizens of the thriving town of Eastman, almost of a size to call itself a young city and boast of a mayor, could have heard him they might not have been flattered. Yet when they remembered that this was the owner of a business so colossal that its immense buildings and branches were to be found in three great cities, they might have understood that to him the corner store of Hugh Benson looked like a toy concern, indeed. But he liked the look of it, as it had been presented to his mind's eye that night; no doubt but he liked the look of it!
"Give him Carson to go up there and manage the business for those two infants-in-arms? Gad! yes, go myself and make change at the desk for the new firm," he chuckled, "if that would keep Dick interested. But I guess he's interested enough or he wouldn't have agreed to my ruling that he must go into the thing himself, not stand off and throw out a rope to his drowning friend Benson. If young Benson's the man Dick makes him out, it's as I told Dick: he wouldn't grasp the rope. But if Dick goes in after him, that's business. Bless the rascal! I wish his father could see him now. Sitting on the edge of my table and talking window-dressing to me as if he'd been born to it, which he was, only he wouldn't accept his birthright, the proud beggar! Talking about moving one of our show-windows up there bodily for a white-goods sale in February; date a trifle late for Kendrick & Company, but advance trade for Eastman, undoubtedly. Says he knows they can start every mother's daughter of 'em sewing for dear life, if they can get their eye on that sewing-room scene. Well"—he paused to chuckle again—"he says Carson says that window cost us five hundred dollars; but if it did it's cheap at the price, and I'll make the new firm a present of it. Benson & Company—and a grandson of Matthew Kendrick the Company!"
He laughed heartily, then paused to stand staring down into the jewelled shade of his electric drop-light as if in its softly blending colourings he saw the outlines of a new future for "the boy."
"I wonder what Cal will say to losing his literary assistant," he mused, smiling to himself. "I doubt if Dick's proved himself invaluable, and I presume the man he speaks of will give Cal much better service; but I shall be sorry not to have him going to the Grays' every day; it seemed like a safe harbour. Well, well, I never thought to find myself interested again in the fortunes of a country store. Gad! I can't get over that. The fellow's been too proud to walk down the aisles of Kendrick & Company to buy his silk socks at cost—preferred to pay two prices at an exclusive haberdasher's instead! And now—he's going to have a share in the sale of socks that retail for a quarter, five pairs for a dollar! O Dick, Dick, you rascal, your old grandfather hasn't been so happy since you were left to him to bring up. If only you'll stick! But you're your father's son, after all—and my grandson; I can't help believing you'll stick!"
"I'm going to drive into town. Any of you girls want to go with me?"
Mr. Rufus Gray addressed his wife and their two guests, his nieces, Roberta and Ruth Gray. It was the midwinter vacation at the school where Roberta taught and at the equally desirable establishment where Ruth was taking a carefully selected course of study. Uncle Rufus and Aunt Ruth had invited them to spend the four days of this vacation at their country home, according to a custom they had of decoying one or another of the young people of Rufus's brothers' families to come and visit the aunt and uncle whose own children were all married and gone, sorely missed by the young-hearted pair. Roberta and Ruth had accepted eagerly, always delighted to spend a day or a month at the "Gray Farm," a most attractive place even in winter, and in summer a veritable pleasure-ground of enjoyment.
They all wanted to go to town, the three "girls," including the white-haired one whose face was almost as young as her nieces' as she looked out from the rear seat of the comfortable double sleigh driven by her husband and drawn by a pair of the handsomest horses the countryside could boast. It was only two miles from the fine old country homestead to the centre of the neighbouring village, and though the air was keen nobody was cold among the robes and rugs with which the sleigh overflowed.
"You folks want to do any shopping?" inquired Uncle Rufus, as he drove briskly along the lower end of Eastman's principal business street. "I suppose there's no need of asking that. When doesn't a woman want to go shopping?"
"Of course we do," Ruth responded, without so much as consulting the back seat.
"I meant to bring some lavender linen with me to work on," said Roberta to Aunt Ruth. "Where do you suppose I could find any, here?"
"Why, I don't know, dearie," responded Aunt Ruth doubtfully. "White linen you ought to get anywhere; but lavender—you might try at Artwell & Chatford's. We'll go past Benson's, but it's no use looking there any more. Everybody's expecting poor Hugh to fail any day."
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Roberta warmly. "I always liked Hugh Benson. Mr. Westcott told me some time ago that he was afraid Hugh wasn't succeeding."
"The store's been closed to the public a fortnight now," explained Uncle Rufus over his shoulder. "Hugh hasn't failed yet, and something's going on there; nobody seems to know just what. Inventory, maybe, or getting ready for a bankrupt sale. The Benson sign's still up just as it was before Hugh's father died. Windows covered with white soap or whitewash. Some say the store's going to open up under new parties—guess nobody knows exactly. Hullo! who's that making signs?"
He indicated a tall figure on the sidewalk coming toward them at a rapid rate, face alight, hat waving in air.
"It's Mr. Forbes Westcott," exulted Ruth, twisting around to look at her sister. "Funny how he always happens to be visiting his father and mother just as Rob is visiting you, isn't it, Aunt Ruth?"
Uncle Rufus drew up to the sidewalk, and the whole party shook hands with a tall man of dark, keen features, who bore an unmistakable air of having come from a larger world than that of the town of Eastman.
"Mrs. Gray—Miss Roberta—Miss Ruth—Mr. Gray—why, this is delightful. When did you come? How long are you going to stay? It seems a thousand years since I saw you last!"
He was like an eager boy, though he was clearly no boy in years. He included them all in this greeting, but his eyes were ardently on Roberta as he ended. Ruth, screwed around upon the front seat and watching interestedly, could hardly blame him. Roberta, in her furry wrappings, was as vivid as a flower. Her eyes looked black beneath their dusky lashes, and her cheeks were brilliant with the touch of the winter wind.