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Turn About Eleanor
by Ethel M. Kelley
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"I'd rather be that way than early Victorian," Margaret sighed.

"Speaking of the latest generation, has anybody any objection to having our child here for the holidays?" David asked. "My idea is to have one grand Christmas dinner. I suppose we'll all have to eat one meal with our respective families, but can't we manage to get together here for dinner at night? Don't you think that we could?"

"We can't, but we will," Margaret murmured. "Of course, have Eleanor here. I wanted her with me but the family thought otherwise. They've been trying to send me away for my health, David."

"Well, they shan't. You'll stay in New York for your health and come to my party."

"Margaret's health is merely a matter of Margaret's happiness anyhow. Her soul and her body are all one," Gertrude said.

"Then cursed be he who brings anything but happiness to Margaret," Peter said, to which sentiment David added a solemn "Amen."

"I wish you wouldn't," Margaret said, shivering a little, "I feel as if some one were—were—"

"Trampling the violets on your grave," Gertrude finished for her.

Christmas that year fell on a Monday, and Eleanor did not leave school till the Friday before the great day. Owing to the exigencies of the holiday season none of her guardians came to see her before the dinner party itself. Even David was busy with his mother—installed now for a few weeks in the hotel suite that would be her home until the opening of the season at Palm Beach—and had only a few hurried words with her. Mademoiselle, whom he had imported for the occasion, met her at the station and helped her to do her modest shopping which consisted chiefly of gifts for her beloved aunts and uncles. She had arranged these things lovingly at their plates, and fled to dress when they began to assemble for the celebration. The girls were the first arrivals. Then Peter.

"How's our child, David?" Gertrude asked. "I had a few minutes' talk with her over the telephone and she seemed to be flourishing."

"She is," David answered. "She's grown several feet since we last saw her. They've been giving scenes from Shakespeare at school and she's been playing Juliet, it appears. She has had a fight with another girl about suffrage—I don't know which side she was on, Beulah, I am merely giving you the facts as they came to me—and the other girl was so unpleasant about it that she has been visited by just retribution in the form of the mumps, and had to be sent home and quarantined."

"Sounds a bit priggish," Peter suggested.

"Not really," David said, "she's as sound as a nut. She's only going through the different stages."

"To pass deliberately through one's ages," Beulah quoted, "is to get the heart out of a liberal education."

"Bravo, Beulah," Gertrude cried, "you're quite in your old form to-night."

"Is she just the same little girl, David?" Margaret asked.

"Just the same. She really seems younger than ever. I don't know why she doesn't come down. There she is, I guess. No, it's only Alphonse letting in Jimmie."

Jimmie, whose spirits seemed to have revived under the holiday influence, was staggering under the weight of his parcels. The Christmas presents had already accumulated to a considerable mound on the couch. Margaret was brooding over them and trying not to look greedy. She was still very much of a child herself in relation to Santa Claus.

"Merry Christmas!" Jimmie cried. "Where's my child?"

"Coming," David said.

"Look at the candy kids. My eyes—but you're a slick trio, girls. Pale lavender, pale blue, and pale pink, and all quite sophisticatedly decollete. You go with the decorations, too. I don't know quite why you do, but you do."

"Give honor where honor is due, dearie. That's owing to the cleverness of the decorator," David said.

"No man calls me dearie and lives to tell the tale," Jimmie remarked almost dreamily as he squared off. "How'll you have it, Dave?"

But at that instant there was an unexpected interruption. Alphonse threw open the big entrance door at the farther end of the long room with a flourish.

"Mademoiselle Juliet Capulet," he proclaimed with the grand air, and then retired behind his hand, smiling broadly.

Framed in the high doorway, complete, cap and curls, softly rounding bodice, and the long, straight lines of the Renaissance, stood Juliet—Juliet, immemorial, immortal, young—austerely innocent and delicately shy, already beautiful, and yet potential of all the beauty and the wisdom of the world.

"I've never worn these clothes before anybody but the girls before," Eleanor said, "but I thought"—she looked about her appealingly—"you might like it—for a surprise."

"Great jumping Jehoshaphat," Jimmie exclaimed, "I thought you said she was the same little girl, David."

"She was half an hour ago," David answered, "I never saw such a metamorphosis. In fact, I don't think I ever saw Juliet before."

"She is the thing itself," Gertrude answered, the artist in her sobered by the vision.

But Peter passed a dazed hand over his eyes and stared at the delicate figure advancing to him.

"My God! she's a woman," he said, and drew the hard breath of a man just awakened from sleep.



CHAPTER XV

GROWING UP

"Dear Uncle Jimmie:

"It was a pleasant surprise to get letters from every one of my uncles the first week I got back to school. It was unprecedented. You wrote me two letters last year, Uncle David six, and Uncle Peter sixteen. He is the best correspondent, but perhaps that is because I ask him the most advice. The Christmas party was lovely. I shall never forget the expressions on all the different faces when I came down in my Juliet suit. I thought at first that no one liked me in it, but I guess they did.

"You know how well I liked my presents because you heard my wild exclamations of delight. I never had such a nice Christmas. It was sweet of the We Are Sevens to get me that ivory set, and to know that every different piece was the loving thought of a different aunt or uncle. I love the yellow monogram. It looks entirely unique, and I like to have things that are not like anybody else's in the world, don't you, Uncle Jimmie? I am glad you liked your cuff links. They are 'neat,' but not 'gaudy.' You play golf so well I thought a golf stick was a nice emblem for you, and would remind you of me and last summer.

"I am glad you think it is easier to keep your pledge now. I made a New Year's resolution to go without chocolates, and give the money they would cost to some good cause, but it's hard to pick out a cause, or to decide exactly how much money you are saving. I can eat the chocolates that are sent to me, however!!!!

"Uncle David said that he thought you were not like yourself lately, but you seemed just the same to me Christmas, only more affectionate. I love you very much. I was really only joking about the chocolates. Eleanor."

* * * * *

"Dear Uncle David:

"I was glad to get your nice letter. You did not have to write in response to my bread and butter letter, but I am glad you did. When I am at school, and getting letters all the time I feel as if I were living two beautiful lives all at once, the life of a 'cooperative child' and the life of Eleanor Hamlin, schoolgirl, both together. Letters make the people you love seem very near to you, don't you think they do? I sleep with all my letters under my pillow whenever I feel the least little bit homesick, and they almost seem to breathe sometimes.

"School is the same old school. Maggie Lou had a wrist watch, too, for Christmas, but not so pretty as the one you gave me. Miss Hadley says I do remarkable work in English whenever I feel like it. I don't know whether that's a compliment or not. I took Kris Kringle for the subject of a theme the other day, and represented him as caught in an iceberg in the grim north, and not being able to reach all the poor little children in the tenements and hovels. The Haddock said it showed imagination.

"There was a lecture at school on Emerson the other day. The speaker was a noted literary lecturer from New York. He had wonderful waving hair, more like Pader—I can't spell him, but you know who I mean—than Uncle Jimmie's, but a little like both. He introduced some very noble thoughts in his discourse, putting perfectly old ideas in a new way that made you think a lot more of them. I think a tall man like that with waving hair can do a great deal of good as a lecturer, because you listen a good deal more respectfully than if they were plain looking. His voice sounded a good deal like what I imagine Romeo's voice did. I had a nice letter from Madam Bolling. I love you, and I have come to the bottom of the sheet. Eleanor."

* * * * *

"Dear Uncle Peter:

"I have just written to my other uncles, so I won't write you a long letter this time. They deserve letters because of being so unusually prompt after the holidays. You always deserve letters, but not specially now, any more than any other time.

"Uncle Peter, I wrote to my grandfather. It seems funny to think of Albertina's aunt taking care of him now that Grandma is gone. I suppose Albertina is there a lot. She sent me a post card for Christmas. I didn't send her any.

"Uncle Peter, I miss my grandmother out of the world. I remember how I used to take care of her, and put a soapstone in the small of her back when she was cold. I wish sometimes that I could hold your hand, Uncle Peter, when I get thinking about it.

"Well, school is the same old school. Bertha Stephens has a felon on her finger, and that lets her out of hard work for a while. I will enclose a poem suggested by a lecture I heard recently on Emerson. It isn't very good, but it will help to fill up the envelope. I love you, and love you. Eleanor.

"Life

"Life is a great, a noble task, When we fulfill our duty. To work, that should be all we ask, And seek the living beauty. We know not whence we come, or where Our dim pathway is leading, Whether we tread on lilies fair, Or trample love-lies-bleeding. But we must onward go and up, Nor stop to question whither. E'en if we drink the bitter cup, And fall at last, to wither.

"P. S. I haven't got the last verse very good yet, but I think the second one is pretty. You know 'love-lies-bleeding' is a flower, but it sounds allegorical the way I have put it in. Don't you think so? You know what all the crosses stand for."

* * * * *

Eleanor's fifteenth year was on the whole the least eventful year of her life, though not by any means the least happy. She throve exceedingly, and gained the freedom and poise of movement and spontaneity that result from properly balanced periods of work and play and healthful exercise. From being rather small of her age she developed into a tall slender creature, inherently graceful and erect, with a small, delicate head set flower-wise on a slim white neck. Gertrude never tired of modeling that lovely contour, but Eleanor herself was quite unconscious of her natural advantages. She preferred the snappy-eyed, stocky, ringleted type of beauty, and spent many unhappy quarters of an hour wishing she were pretty according to the inexorable ideals of Harmon.

She spent her vacation at David's apartment in charge of Mademoiselle, though the latter part of the summer she went to Colhassett, quite by herself according to her own desire, and spent a month with her grandfather, now in charge of Albertina's aunt. She found Albertina grown into a huge girl, sunk in depths of sloth and snobbishness, who plied her with endless questions concerning life in the gilded circles of New York society. Eleanor found her disgusting and yet possessed of that vague fascination that the assumption of prerogative often carries with it.

She found her grandfather very old and shrunken, yet perfectly taken care of and with every material want supplied. She realized as she had never done before how the faithful six had assumed the responsibility of this household from the beginning, and how the old people had been warmed and comforted by their bounty. She laughed to remember her simplicity in believing that an actual salary was a perquisite of her adoption, and understood for the first time how small a part of the expense of their living this faithful stipend had defrayed. She looked back incredulously on that period when she had lived with them in a state of semi-starvation on the corn meal and cereals and very little else that her dollar and a half a week had purchased, and the "garden sass," that her grandfather had faithfully hoed and tended in the straggling patch of plowed field that he would hoe and tend no more. She spent a month practically at his feet, listening to his stories, helping him to find his pipe and tobacco and glasses, and reading the newspaper to him, and felt amply rewarded by his final acknowledgment that she was a good girl and he would as soon have her come again whenever she felt like it.

On her way back to school she spent a week with her friend, Margaret Louise, in the Connecticut town where she lived with her comfortable, commonplace family. It was while she was on this visit that the most significant event of the entire year took place, though it was a happening that she put out of her mind as soon as possible and never thought of it again when she could possibly avoid it.

Maggie Lou had a brother of seventeen, and one night in the corner of a moonlit porch, when they happened to be alone for a half hour, he had asked Eleanor to kiss him.

"I don't want to kiss you," Eleanor said. Then, not wishing to convey a sense of any personal dislike to the brother of a friend to whom she was so sincerely devoted, she added, "I don't know you well enough."

He was a big boy, with mocking blue eyes and rough tweed clothes that hung on him loosely.

"When you know me better, will you let me kiss you?" he demanded.

"I don't know," Eleanor said, still endeavoring to preserve the amenities.

He took her hand and played with it softly.

"You're an awful sweet little girl," he said.

"I guess I'll go in now."

"Sit still. Sister'll be back in a minute." He pulled her back to the chair from which she had half arisen. "Don't you believe in kissing?"

"I don't believe in kissing you," she tried to say, but the words would not come. She could only pray for deliverance through the arrival of some member of the family. The boy's face was close to hers. It looked sweet in the moonlight she thought. She wished he would talk of something else besides kissing.

"Don't you like me?" he persisted.

"Yes, I do." She was very uncomfortable.

"Well, then, there's no more to be said." His lips sought hers and pressed them. His breath came heavily, with little irregular catches in it.

She pushed him away and turned into the house.

"Don't be angry, Eleanor," he pleaded, trying to snatch at her hand.

"I'm not angry," she said, her voice breaking, "I just wish you hadn't, that's all."

There was no reference to this incident in the private diary, but, with an instinct which would have formed an indissoluble bond between herself and her Uncle Jimmie, she avoided dimly lit porches and boys with mischievous eyes and broad tweed covered shoulders.

For her guardians too, this year was comparatively smooth running and colorless. Beulah's militant spirit sought the assuagement of a fierce expenditure of energy on the work that came to her hand through her new interest in suffrage. Gertrude flung herself into her sculpturing. She had been hurt as only the young can be hurt when their first delicate desires come to naught. She was very warm-blooded and eager under her cool veneer, and she had spent four years of hard work and hungry yearning for the fulness of a life she was too constrained to get any emotional hold on. Her fancy for Jimmie she believed was quite over and done with.

Margaret, warmed by secret fires and nourished by the stuff that dreams are made of, flourished strangely in her attic chamber, and learned the wisdom of life by some curious method of her own of apprehending its dangers and delights. The only experiences she had that year were two proposals of marriage, one from a timid professor of the romance languages and the other from a young society man, already losing his waist line, whose sensuous spirit had been stirred by the ethereal grace of hers; but these things interested her very little. She was the princess, spinning fine dreams and waiting for the dawning of the golden day when the prince should come for her. Neither she nor Gertrude ever gave a serious thought to the five-year-old vow of celibacy, which was to Beulah as real and as binding as it had seemed on the first day she took it.

Peter and David and Jimmie went their own way after the fashion of men, all of them identified with the quickening romance of New York business life. David in Wall Street was proving to be something of a financier to his mother's surprise and amazement; and the pressure relaxed, he showed some slight initiative in social matters. In fact, two mothers, who were on Mrs. Bolling's list as suitable parents-in-law, took heart of grace and began angling for him adroitly, while their daughters served him tea and made unabashed, modern-debutante eyes at him.

Jimmie, successfully working his way up to the top of his firm, suffered intermittently from his enthusiastic abuse of the privileges of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His mind and soul were in reality hot on the trail of a wife, and there was no woman among those with whom he habitually foregathered whom his spirit recognized as his own woman. He was further rendered helpless and miserable by the fact that he had not the slightest idea of his trouble. He regarded himself as a congenital Don Juan, from whom his better self shrank at times with a revulsion of loathing.

Peter felt that he had his feet very firmly on a rather uninspired earth. He was getting on in the woolen business, which happened to be the vocation his father had handed down to him. He belonged to an amusing club, and he still felt himself irrevocably widowed by the early death of the girl in the photograph he so faithfully cherished. Eleanor was a very vital interest in his life. It had seemed to him for a few minutes at the Christmas party that she was no longer the little girl he had known, that a lovelier, more illusive creature—a woman—had come to displace her, but when she had flung her arms around him he had realized that it was still the heart of a child beating so fondly against his own.

The real trouble with arrogating to ourselves the privileges of parenthood is that our native instincts are likely to become deflected by the substitution of the artificial for the natural responsibility. Both Peter and David had the unconscious feeling that their obligation to their race was met by their communal interest in Eleanor. Beulah, of course, sincerely believed that the filling in of an intellectual concept of life was all that was required of her. Only Jimmie groped blindly and bewilderedly for his own. Gertrude and Margaret both understood that they were unnaturally alone in a world where lovers met and mated, but they, too, hugged to their souls the flattering unction that they were parents of a sort.

Thus three sets of perfectly suitable and devoted young men and women, of marriageable age, with dozens of interests and sympathies in common, and one extraordinarily vital bond, continued to walk side by side in a state of inhuman preoccupation, their gaze fixed inward instead of upon one another; and no Divine Power, happening upon the curious circumstance, believed the matter one for His intervention nor stooped to take the respective puppets by the back of their unconscious necks, and so knock their sluggish heads together.



CHAPTER XVI

MARGARET LOUISA'S BIRTHRIGHT

"I am sixteen years and eight months old to-day," Eleanor wrote, "and I have had the kind of experience that makes me feel as if I never wanted to be any older. I know life is full of disillusionment and pain, but I did not know that any one with whom you have broken bread, and slept in the same room with, and told everything to for four long years, could turn out to be an absolute traitor and villainess. Let me begin at the beginning. For nearly a year now I have noticed that Bertha Stephens avoided me, and presented the appearance of disliking me. I don't like to have any one dislike me, and I have tried to do little things for her that would win back her affection, but with no success. As I was editing the Lantern I could print her essayettes (as she called them) and do her lots of little favors in a literary way, which she seemed to appreciate, but personally she avoided me like the plague.

"Of course Stevie has lots of faults, and since Margaret Louise and I always talked everything over we used to talk about Stevie in the same way. I remember that she used to try to draw me out about Stevie's character. I've always thought Stevie was a kind of piker, that is that she would say she was going to do a thing, and then from sheer laziness not do it. My dictionary was a case in point. She gummed it all up with her nasty fudge and then wouldn't give it back to me or get me another, but the reason she wouldn't give it back to me was because her feelings were too fine to return a damaged article, and not fine enough to make her hump herself and get me another. That's only one kind of a piker and not the worst kind, but it was pikerish.

"All this I told quite frankly to Maggie—I mean Margaret Louise, because I had no secrets from her and never thought there was any reason why I shouldn't. Stevie has a horrid brother, also, who has been up here to dances. All the girls hate him because he is so spoony. He isn't as spoony as Margaret Louise's brother, but he's quite a sloppy little spooner at that. Well, I told Margaret Louise that I didn't like Stevie's brother, and then I made the damaging remark that one reason I didn't like him was because he looked so much like Stevie. I didn't bother to explain to Maggie—I will not call her Maggie Lou any more, because that is a dear little name and sounds so affectionate,—Margaret Louise—what I meant by this, because I thought it was perfectly evident. Stevie is a peachy looking girl, a snow white blonde with pinky cheeks and dimples. Well, her brother is a snow white blond too, and he has pinky cheeks and dimples and his name is Carlo! We, of course, at once named him Curlo. It is not a good idea for a man to look too much like his sister, or to have too many dimples in his chin and cheeks. I had only to think of him in the same room with my three uncles to get his number exactly. I don't mean to use slang in my diary, but I can't seem to help it. Professor Mathews says that slang has a distinct function in the language—in replenishing it, but Uncle Peter says about slang words, that 'many are called, and few are chosen,' and there is no need to try to accommodate them all in one's vocabulary.

"Well, I told Margaret Louise all these things about Curlo, and how he tried to hold my hand coming from the station one day, when the girls all went up to meet the boys that came up for the dance,—and I told her everything else in the world that happened to come into my head.

"Then one day I got thinking about leaving Harmon—this is our senior year, of course—and I thought that I should leave all the girls with things just about right between us, excepting good old Stevie, who had this queer sort of grouch against me. So I decided that I'd just go around and have it out with her, and I did. I went into her room one day when her roommate was out, and demanded a show down. Well, I found out that Maggie—Margaret Louise had just repeated to Stevie every living thing that I ever said about her, just as I said it, only without the explanations and foot-notes that make any kind of conversation more understandable.

"Stevie told me all these things one after another, without stopping, and when she was through I wished that the floor would open and swallow me up, but nothing so comfortable happened. I was obliged to gaze into Stevie's overflowing eyes and own up to the truth as well as I could, and explain it. It was the most humiliating hour that I ever spent, but I told Stevie exactly what I felt about her 'nothing extenuate, and naught set down in malice,' and what I had said about her to our mutual friend, who by the way, is not the mutual friend of either of us any longer. We were both crying by the time I had finished, but we understood each other. There were one or two things that she said she didn't think she would ever forget that I had said about her, but even those she could forgive. She said that my dislike of her had rankled in her heart so long that it took away all the bitterness to know that I wasn't really her enemy. She said that my coming to her that way, and not lying had showed that I had lots of character, and she thought in time that we could be quite intimate friends if I wanted to as much as she did.

"After my talk with Stevie I still hoped against hope that Margaret Louise would turn out to have some reason or excuse for what she had done. I knew she had done it, but when a thing like that happens that upsets your whole trust in a person you simply can not believe the evidence of your own senses. When you read of a situation like that in a book you are all prepared for it by the author, who has taken the trouble to explain the moral weakness or unpleasantness of the character, and given you to understand that you are to expect a betrayal from him or her; but when it happens in real life out of a clear sky you have nothing to go upon that makes you even believe what you know.

"I won't even try to describe the scene that occurred between Margaret Louise and me. She cried and she lied, and she accused me of trying to curry favor with Stevie, and Stevie of being a backbiter, and she argued and argued about all kinds of things but the truth, and when I tried to pin her down to it, she ducked and crawled and sidestepped in a way that was dreadful. I've seen her do something like it before about different things, and I ought to have known then what she was like inside of her soul, but I guess you have to be the object of such a scene before you realize the full force of it.

"All I said was, 'Margaret Louise, if that's all you've got to say about the injury you have done me, then everything is over between us from this minute;' and it was, too.

"I feel as if I had been writing a beautiful story or poem on what I thought was an enduring tablet of marble, and some one had come and wiped it all off as if it were mere scribblings on a slate. I don't know whether it would seem like telling tales to tell Uncle Peter or not; I don't quite know whether I want to tell him. Sometimes I wish I had a mother to tell such things to. It seems to me that a real mother would know what to say that would help you. Disillusion is a very strange thing—like death, only having people die seems more natural somehow. When they die you can remember the happy hours that you spent with them, but when disillusionment comes then you have lost even your beautiful memories.

"We had for the subject of our theme this week, 'What Life Means to Me,' which of course was the object of many facetious remarks from the girls, but I've been thinking that if I sat down seriously to state in just so many words what life means to me, I hardly know what I would transcribe. It means disillusionment and death for one thing. Since my grandfather died last year I have had nobody left of my own in the world,—no real blood relation. Of course, I am a good deal fonder of my aunts and uncles than most people are of their own flesh and blood, but own flesh and blood is a thing that it makes you feel shivery to be without. If I had been Margaret Louise's own flesh and blood, she would never have acted like that to me. Stevie stuck up for Carlo as if he was really something to be proud of. Perhaps my uncles and aunts feel that way about me, I don't know. I don't even know if I feel that way about them. I certainly criticize them in my soul at times, and feel tired of being dragged around from pillar to post. I don't feel that way about Uncle Peter, but there is nobody else that I am certain, positive sure that I love better than life itself. If there is only one in the world that you feel that way about, I might not be Uncle Peter's one.

"Oh! I wish Margaret Louise had not sold her birthright for a mess of pottage. I wish I had a home that I had a perfect right to go and live in forevermore. I wish my mother was here to comfort me to-night."



CHAPTER XVII

A REAL KISS

At seventeen, Eleanor was through at Harmon. She was to have one year of preparatory school and then it was the desire of Beulah's heart that she should go to Rogers. The others contended that the higher education should be optional and not obligatory. The decision was finally to be left to Eleanor herself, after she had considered it in all its bearings.

"If she doesn't decide in favor of college," David said, "and she makes her home with me here, as I hope she will do, of course, I don't see what society we are going to be able to give her. Unfortunately none of our contemporaries have growing daughters. She ought to meet eligible young men and that sort of thing."

"Not yet," Margaret cried. The two were having a cozy cup of tea at his apartment. "You're so terribly worldly, David, that you frighten me sometimes."

"You don't know where I will end, is that the idea?"

"I don't know where Eleanor will end, if you're already thinking of eligible young men for her."

"Those things have got to be thought of," David answered gravely.

"I suppose they have," Margaret sighed. "I don't want her to be married. I want to take her off by myself and growl over her all alone for a while. Then I want Prince Charming to come along and snatch her up quickly, and set her behind his milk white charger and ride away with her. If we've all got to get together and connive at marrying her off there won't be any comfort in having her."

"I don't know," David said thoughtfully; "I think that might be fun, too. A vicarious love-affair that you can manipulate is one of the most interesting games in the world."

"That's not my idea of an interesting game," Margaret said. "I like things very personal, David,—you ought to know that by this time."

"I do know that," David said, "but it sometimes occurs to me that except for a few obvious facts of that nature I really know very little about you, Margaret."

"There isn't much to know—except that I'm a woman."

"That's a good deal," David answered slowly; "to a mere man that seems to be considerable of an adventure."

"It is about as much of an adventure sometimes as it would be to be a field of clover in an insectless world.—This is wonderful tea, David, but your cream is like butter and floats around in it in wudges. No, don't get any more, I've got to go home. Grandmother still thinks it's very improper for me to call upon you, in spite of Mademoiselle and your ancient and honorable housekeeper."

"Don't go," David said; "I apologize on my knees for the cream. I'll send out and have it wet down, or whatever you do to cream in that state. I want to talk to you. What did you mean by your last remark?"

"About the cream, or the proprieties?"

"About women."

"Everything and nothing, David dear. I'm a little bit tired of being one, that's all, and I want to go home."

"She wants to go home when she's being so truly delightful and cryptic," David said. "Have you been seeing visions, Margaret, in my hearth fire? Your eyes look as if you had."

"I thought I did for a minute." She rose and stood absently fitting her gloves to her fingers. "I don't know exactly what it was I saw, but it was something that made me uncomfortable. It gives me the creeps to talk about being a woman. David, do you know sometimes I have a kind of queer hunch about Eleanor? I love her, you know, dearly, dearly. I think that she is a very successful kind of Frankenstein; but there are moments when I have the feeling that she's going to be a storm center and bring some queer trouble upon us. I wouldn't say this to anybody but you, David."

As David tucked her in the car—he had arrived at the dignity of owning one now—and watched her sweet silhouette disappear, he, too, had his moment of clairvoyance. He felt that he was letting something very precious slip out of sight, as if some radiant and delicate gift had been laid lightly within his grasp and as lightly withdrawn again. As if when the door closed on his friend Margaret some stranger, more silent creature who was dear to him had gone with her. As soon as he was dressed for dinner he called Margaret on the telephone to know if she had arrived home safely, and was informed not only that she had, but that she was very wroth at him for getting her down three flights of stairs in the midst of her own dinner toilet.

"I had a kind of hunch, too," he told her, "and I felt as if I wanted to hear your voice speaking."

But she only scoffed at him.

"If that's the way you feel about your chauffeur," she said, "you ought to discharge him, but he brought me home beautifully."

The difference between a man's moments of prescience and a woman's, is that the man puts them out of his consciousness as quickly as he can, while a woman clings to them fearfully and goes her way a little more carefully for the momentary flash of foresight. David tried to see Margaret once or twice during that week but failed to find her in when he called or telephoned, and the special impulse to seek her alone again died naturally.

One Saturday a few weeks later Eleanor telegraphed him that she wished to come to New York for the week-end to do some shopping.

He went to the train to meet her, and when the slender chic figure in the most correct of tailor made suits appeared at the gateway, with an obsequious porter bearing her smart bag and ulster, he gave a sudden gasp of surprise at the picture. He had been aware for some time of the increase in her inches and the charm of the pure cameo-cut profile, but he regarded her still as a child histrionically assuming the airs and graces of womanhood, as small girl children masquerade in the trailing skirts of their elders. He was accustomed to the idea that she was growing up rapidly, but the fact that she was already grown had never actually dawned on him until this moment.

"You look as if you were surprised to see me, Uncle David,—are you?" she said, slipping a slim hand, warm through its immaculate glove, into his. "You knew I was coming, and you came to meet me, and yet you looked as surprised as if you hadn't expected me at all."

"Surprised to see you just about expresses it, Eleanor. I am surprised to see you. I was looking for a little girl in hair ribbons with her skirts to her knees."

"And a blue tam-o'-shanter?"

"And a blue tam-o'-shanter. I had forgotten you had grown up any to speak of."

"You see me every vacation," Eleanor grumbled, as she stepped into the waiting motor. "It isn't because you lack opportunity that you don't notice what I look like. It's just because you're naturally unobserving."

"Peter and Jimmie have been making a good deal of fuss about your being a young lady, now I think of it. Peter especially has been rather a nuisance about it, breaking into my most precious moments of triviality with the sweetly solemn thought that our little girl has grown to be a woman now."

"Oh, does he think I'm grown up, does he really?"

"Jimmie is almost as bad. He's all the time wanting me to get you to New York over the weekend, so that he can see if you are any taller than you were the last time he saw you."

"Are they coming to see me this evening?"

"Jimmie is going to look in. Peter is tied up with his sister. You know she's on here from China with her daughter. Peter wants you to meet the child."

"She must be as grown up as I am," Eleanor said. "I used to have her room, you know, when I stayed with Uncle Peter. Does Uncle Peter like her?"

"Not as much as he likes you, Miss Green-eyes. He says she looks like a heathen Chinee but otherwise is passable. I didn't know that you added jealousy to the list of your estimable vices."

"I'm not jealous," Eleanor protested; "or if I am it's only because she's blood relation,—and I'm not, you know."

"It's a good deal more prosaic to be a blood relation, if anybody should ask you," David smiled. "A blood relation is a good deal like the famous primrose on the river's brim."

"'A primrose by the river's brim a yellow primrose was to him,—and nothing more,'" Eleanor quoted gaily. "Why, what more—" she broke off suddenly and colored slightly.

"What more would anybody want to be than a yellow primrose by the river's brim?" David finished for her. "I don't know, I'm sure. I'm a mere man and such questions are too abstruse for me, as I told your Aunt Margaret the other day. Now I think of it, though, you don't look unlike a yellow primrose yourself to-day, daughter."

"That's because I've got a yellow ribbon on my hat."

"No, the resemblance goes much deeper. It has something to do with youth and fragrance and the flowers that bloom in the spring."

"The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la," Eleanor returned saucily, "have nothing to do with the case."

"She's learning that she has eyes, good Lord," David said to himself, but aloud he remarked paternally, "I saw all your aunts yesterday. Gertrude gave a tea party and invited a great many famous tea party types, and ourselves."

"Was Aunt Beulah there?"

"I said all your aunts. Beulah was there, like the famous Queenie, with her hair in a braid."

"Not really."

"Pretty nearly. She's gone in for dress reform now, you know, a kind of middy blouse made out of a striped portiere with a kilted skirt of the same material and a Scotch cap. She doesn't look so bad in it. Your Aunt Beulah presents a peculiar phenomenon these days. She's growing better-looking and behaving worse every day of her life."

"Behaving worse?"

"She's theory ridden and fad bitten. She'll come to a bad end if something doesn't stop her."

"Do you mean—stop her working for suffrage? I'm a suffragist, Uncle David."

"And quite right to remind me of it before I began slamming the cause. No, I don't mean suffrage. I believe in suffrage myself. I mean the way she's going after it. There are healthy ways of insisting on your rights and unhealthy ways. Beulah's getting further and further off key, that's all. Here we are at home, daughter. Your poor old cooperative father welcomes you to the associated hearthstone."

"This front entrance looks more like my front entrance than any other place does," Eleanor said. "Oh! I'm so glad to be here. George, how is the baby?" she asked the black elevator man, who beamed delightedly upon her.

"Gosh! I didn't know he had one," David chuckled. "It takes a woman—"

Jimmie appeared in the evening, laden with violets and a five pound box of the chocolates most in favor in the politest circles at the moment. David whistled when he saw them.

"What's devouring you, papa?" Jimmie asked him. "Don't I always place tributes at the feet of the offspring?"

"Mirror candy and street corner violets, yes," David said. "It's only the labels that surprised me."

"She knows the difference, now," Jimmie answered, "what would you?"

The night before her return to school it was decreed that she should go to bed early. She had spent two busy days of shopping and "seeing the family." She had her hours discussing her future with Peter, long visits and talks with Margaret and Gertrude, and a cup of tea at suffrage headquarters with Beulah, as well as long sessions in the shops accompanied by Mademoiselle, who made her home now permanently with David. She sat before the fire drowsily constructing pyramids out of the embers and David stood with one arm on the mantel, smoking his after-dinner cigar, and watching her.

"Is it to be college, Eleanor?" he asked her presently.

"I can't seem to make up my mind, Uncle David."

"Don't you like the idea?"

"Yes, I'd love it,—if—"

"If what, daughter?"

"If I thought I could spare the time."

"The time? Elucidate."

"I'm going to earn my own living, you know."

"I didn't know."

"I am. I've got to—in order to—to feel right about things."

"Don't you like the style of living to which your cooperative parents have accustomed you?"

"I love everything you've ever done for me, but I can't go on letting you do things for me forever."

"Why not?"

"I don't know why not exactly. It doesn't seem—right, that's all."

"It's your New England conscience, Eleanor; one of the most specious varieties of consciences in the world. It will always be tempting you to do good that better may come. Don't listen to it, daughter."

"I'm in earnest, Uncle David. I don't know whether I would be better fitted to earn my living if I went to business college or real college. What do you think?"

"I can't think,—I'm stupefied."

"Uncle Peter couldn't think, either."

"Have you mentioned this brilliant idea to Peter?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

"He talked it over with me, but I think he thinks I'll change my mind."

"I think you'll change your mind. Good heavens! Eleanor, we're all able to afford you—the little we spend on you is nothing divided among six of us. It's our pleasure and privilege. When did you come to this extraordinary decision?"

"A long time ago. The day that Mrs. Bolling talked to me, I think. There are things she said that I've never forgotten. I told Uncle Peter to think about it and then help me to decide which to do, and I want you to think, Uncle David, and tell me truly what you believe the best preparation for a business life would be. I thought perhaps I might be a stenographer in an editorial office, and my training there would be more use to me than four years at college, but I don't know."

"You're an extraordinary young woman," David said, staring at her. "I'm glad you broached this subject, if only that I might realize how extraordinary, but I don't think anything will come of it, my dear. I don't want you to go to college unless you really want to, but if you do want to, I hope you will take up the pursuit of learning as a pursuit and not as a means to an end. Do you hear me, daughter?"

"Yes, Uncle David."

"Then let's have no more of this nonsense of earning your own living."

"Are you really displeased, Uncle David?"

"I should be if I thought you were serious,—but it's bedtime. If you're going to get your beauty sleep, my dear, you ought to begin on it immediately."

Eleanor rose obediently, her brow clouded a little, and her head held high. David watched the color coming and going in the sweet face and the tender breast rising and falling with her quickening breath.

"I thought perhaps you would understand," she said. "Good night."

She had always kissed him "good night" until this visit, and he had refrained from commenting on the omission before, but now he put out his hand to her.

"Haven't you forgotten something?" he asked. "There is only one way for a daughter to say good night to her parent."

She put up her face, and as she did so he caught the glint of tears in her eyes.

"Why, Eleanor, dear," he said, "did you care?" And he kissed her. Then his lips sought hers again.

With his arms still about her shoulder he stood looking down at her. A hot tide of crimson made its way slowly to her brow and then receded, accentuating the clear pallor of her face.

"That was a real kiss, dear," he said slowly. "We mustn't get such things confused. I won't bother you with talking about it to-night, or until you are ready. Until then we'll pretend that it didn't happen, but if the thought of it should ever disturb you the least bit, dear, you are to remember that the time is coming when I shall have something to say about it; will you remember?"

"Yes, Uncle David," Eleanor said uncertainly, "but I—I—"

David took her unceremoniously by the shoulders.

"Go now," he said, and she obeyed him without further question.



CHAPTER XVIII

BEULAH'S PROBLEM

Peter was shaving for the evening. His sister was giving a dinner party for two of her husband's fellow bankers and their wives. After that they were going to see the latest Belasco production, and from there to some one of the new dancing "clubs,"—the smart cabarets that were forced to organize in the guise of private enterprises to evade the two o'clock closing law. Peter enjoyed dancing, but he did not as a usual thing enjoy bankers' wives. He was deliberating on the possibility of excusing himself gracefully after the theater, on the plea of having some work to do, and finally decided that his sister's feelings would be hurt if she realized he was trying to escape the climax of the hospitality she had provided so carefully.

He gazed at himself intently over the drifts of lather and twisted his shaving mirror to the most propitious angle from time to time. In the room across the hall—Eleanor's room, he always called it to himself—his young niece was singing bits of the Mascagni intermezzo interspersed with bits of the latest musical comedy, in a rather uncertain contralto.

"My last girl came from Vassar, and I don't know where to class her."

Peter's mind took up the refrain automatically. "My last girl—" and began at the beginning of the chorus again. "My last girl came from Vassar," which brought him by natural stages to the consideration of the higher education and of Beulah, and a conversation concerning her that he had had with Jimmie and David the night before.

"She's off her nut," Jimmie said succinctly. "It's not exactly that there's nobody home," he rapped his curly pate significantly, "but there's too much of a crowd there. She's not the same old girl at all. She used to be a good fellow, high-brow propaganda and all. Now she's got nothing else in her head. What's happened to her?"

"It's what hasn't happened to her that's addled her," David explained. "It's these highly charged, hypersensitive young women that go to pieces under the modern pressure. They're the ones that need licking into shape by all the natural processes."

"By which you mean a drunken husband and a howling family?" Jimmie suggested.

"Yes, or its polite equivalent."

"That is true, isn't it?" Peter said. "Feminism isn't the answer to Beulah's problem."

"It is the problem," David said; "she's poisoning herself with it. I know what I'm talking about. I've seen it happen. My cousin Jack married a girl with a sister a great deal like Beulah, looks, temperament, and everything else, though she wasn't half so nice. She got going the militant pace and couldn't stop herself. I never met her at a dinner party that she wasn't tackling somebody on the subject of man's inhumanity to woman. She ended in a sanitorium; in fact, they're thinking now of taking her to the—"

"—bug house," Jimmie finished cheerfully.

"And in the beginning she was a perfectly good girl that needed nothing in the world but a chance to develop along legitimate lines."

"The frustrate matron, eh?" Peter said.

"The frustrate matron," David agreed gravely. "I wonder you haven't realized this yourself, Gram. You're keener about such things than I am. Beulah is more your job than mine."

"Is she?"

"You're the only one she listens to or looks up to. Go up and tackle her some day and see what you can do. She's sinking fast."

"Give her the once over and throw out the lifeline," Jimmie said.

"I thought all this stuff was a phase, a part of her taking herself seriously as she always has. I had no idea it was anything to worry about," Peter persisted. "Are you sure she's in bad shape—that she's got anything more than a bad attack of Feminism of the Species in its most virulent form? They come out of that, you know."

"She's batty," Jimmie nodded gravely. "Dave's got the right dope."

"Go up and look her over," David persisted; "you'll see what we mean, then. Beulah's in a bad way."

Peter reviewed this conversation while he shaved the right side of his face, and frowned prodigiously through the lather. He wished that he had an engagement that evening that he could break in order to get to see Beulah at once, and discover for himself the harm that had come to his friend. He was devoted to Beulah. He had always felt that he saw a little more clearly than the others the virtue that was in the girl. He admired the pluck with which she made her attack on life and the energy with which she accomplished her ends. There was to him something alluring and quaint about her earnestness. The fact that her soundness could be questioned came to him with something like a shock. As soon as he was dressed he was called to the telephone to talk to David.

"Margaret has just told me that Doctor Penrose has been up to see Beulah and pronounces it a case of nervous breakdown. He wants her to try out psycho-analysis, and that sort of thing. He seems to feel that it's serious. Margaret is fearfully upset, poor girl. So'm I, to tell the truth."

"And so am I," Peter acknowledged to himself as he hung up the receiver. He was so absorbed during the evening that one of the ladies—the wife of the fat banker—found him extremely dull and decided against asking him to dinner with his sister. The wife of the thin banker, who was in his charge at the theater, got the benefit of his effort to rouse himself and grace the occasion creditably, and found him delightful. By the time the evening was over he had decided that Beulah should be pulled out of whatever dim world of dismay and delusion she might be wandering in, at whatever cost. It was unthinkable that she should be wasted, or that her youth and splendid vitality should go for naught.

He found her eager to talk to him the next night when he went to see her.

"Peter," she said, "I want you to go to my aunt and my mother, and tell them that I've got to go on with my work,—that I can't be stopped and interrupted by this foolishness of doctors and nurses. I never felt better in my life, except for not being able to sleep, and I think that is due to the way they have worried me. I live in a world they don't know anything about, that's all. Even if they were right, if I am wearing myself out soul and body for the sake of the cause, what business is it of theirs to interfere? I'm working for the souls and bodies of women for ages to come. What difference does it make if my soul and body suffer? Why shouldn't they?" Her eyes narrowed. Peter observed the unnatural light in them, the apparent dryness of her lips, the two bright spots burning below her cheek-bones.

"Because," he answered her slowly, "I don't think it was the original intention of Him who put us here that we should sacrifice everything we are to the business of emphasizing the superiority of a sex."

"That isn't the point at all, Peter. No man understands, no man can understand. It's woman's equality we want emphasized, just literally that and nothing more. You've pauperized and degraded us long enough—"

"Thou canst not say I—" Peter began.

"Yes, you and every other man, every man in the world is a party to it."

"I had to get her going," Peter apologized to himself, "in order to get a point of departure. Not if I vote for women, Beulah, dear," he added aloud.

"If you throw your influence with us instead of against us," she conceded, "you're helping to right the wrong that you have permitted for so long."

"Well, granting your premise, granting all your premises, Beulah—and I admit that most of them have sound reasoning behind them—your battle now is all over but the shouting. There's no reason that you personally should sacrifice your last drop of energy to a campaign that's practically won already."

"If you think the mere franchise is all I have been working for, Peter,—"

"I don't. I know the thousand and one activities you women are concerned with. I know how much better church and state always have been and are bound to be, when the women get behind and push, if they throw their strength right."

Beulah rose enthusiastically to this bait and talked rationally and well for some time. Just as Peter was beginning to feel that David and Jimmie had been guilty of the most unsympathetic exaggeration of her state of mind—unquestionably she was not as fit physically as usual—she startled him with an abrupt change into almost hysterical incoherence.

"I have a right to live my own life," she concluded, "and nobody—nobody shall stop me."

"We are all living our own lives, aren't we?" Peter asked mildly.

"No woman lives her own life to-day," Beulah cried, still excitedly. "Every woman is living the life of some man, who has the legal right to treat her as an imbecile."

"Hold on, Beulah. How about the suffrage states, how about the women who are already in the proud possession of their rights and privileges? They are not technical imbeciles any longer according to your theory. The vote's coming. Every woman will be a super-woman in two shakes,—so what's devouring you, as Jimmie says?"

"It's after all the states have suffrage that the big fight will really begin," Beulah answered wearily. "It's the habit of wearing the yoke we'll have to fight then."

"The anti-feminists," Peter said, "I see. Beulah, can't you give yourself any rest, or is the nature of the cause actually suicidal?"

To his surprise her tense face quivered at this and she tried to steady a tremulous lower lip.

"I am tired," she said, a little piteously, "dreadfully tired, but nobody cares."

"Is that fair?"

"It's true."

"Your friends care."

"They only want to stop me doing something they have no sympathy with. What do Gertrude and Margaret know of the real purpose of my life or my failure or success? They take a sentimental interest in my health, that's all. Do you suppose it made any difference to Jeanne d'Arc how many people took a sympathetic interest in her health if they didn't believe in what she believed in?"

"There's something in that."

"I thought Eleanor would grow up to take an interest in the position of women, and to care about the things I cared about, but she's not going to."

"She's very fond of you."

"Not as fond as she is of Margaret."

Peter longed to dispute this, but he could not in honesty.

"She's a suffragist."

"She's so lukewarm she might just as well be an anti. She's naturally reactionary. Women like that aren't much use. They drag us back like so much dead weight."

"I suppose Eleanor has been a disappointment to you," Peter mused, "but she tries pretty hard to be all things to all parents, Beulah. You'll find she won't fail you if you need her."

"I shan't need her," Beulah said, prophetically. "I hoped she'd stand beside me in the work, but she's not that kind. She'll marry early and have a family, and that will be the end of her."

"I wonder if she will," Peter said, "I hope so. She still seems such a child to me. I believe in marriage, Beulah, don't you?"

Her answer surprised him.

"Under certain conditions, I do. I made a vow once that I would never marry and I've always believed that it would be hampering and limiting to a woman, but now I see that the fight has got to go on. If there are going to be women to carry on the fight they will have to be born of the women who are fighting to-day."

"Thank God," Peter said devoutly. "It doesn't make any difference why you believe it, if you do believe it."

"It makes all the difference," Beulah said, but her voice softened. "What I believe is more to me than anything else in the world, Peter."

"That's all right, too. I understand your point of view, Beulah. You carry it a little bit too far, that's all that's wrong with it from my way of thinking."

"Will you help me to go on, Peter?"

"How?"

"Talk to my aunt and my mother. Tell them that they're all wrong in their treatment of me."

"I think I could undertake to do that"—Peter was convinced that a less antagonistic attitude on the part of her relatives would be more successful—"and I will."

Beulah's eyes filled with tears.

"You're the only one who comes anywhere near knowing," she said, "or who ever will, I guess. I try so hard, Peter, and now when I don't seem to be accomplishing as much as I want to, as much as it's necessary for me to accomplish if I am to go on respecting myself, every one enters into a conspiracy to stop my doing anything at all. The only thing that makes me nervous is the way I am thwarted and opposed at every turn. I haven't got nervous prostration."

"Perhaps not, but you have something remarkably like idee fixe," Peter said to himself compassionately.

He found her actual condition less dangerous but much more difficult than he had anticipated. She was living wrong, that was the sum and substance of her malady. Her life was spent confronting theories and discounting conditions. She did not realize that it is only the interest of our investment in life that we can sanely contribute to the cause of living. Our capital strength and energy must be used for the struggle for existence itself if we are to have a world of balanced individuals. There is an arrogance involved in assuming ourselves more humane than human that reacts insidiously on our health and morals. Peter, looking into the twitching hectic face before him with the telltale glint of mania in the eyes, felt himself becoming helpless with pity for a mind gone so far askew. He felt curiously responsible for Beulah's condition.

"She wouldn't have run herself so far aground," he thought, "if I had been on the job a little more. I could have helped her to steer straighter. A word here and a lift there and she would have come through all right. Now something's got to stop her or she can't be stopped. She'll preach once too often out of the tail of a cart on the subject of equal guardianship,—and—"

Beulah put her hands to her face suddenly, and, sinking back into the depths of the big cushioned chair on the edge of which she had been tensely poised during most of the conversation, burst into tears.

"You're the only one that knows," she sobbed over and over again. "I'm so tired, Peter, but I've got to go on and on and on. If they stop me, I'll kill myself."

Peter crossed the room to her side and sat down on her chair-arm.

"Don't cry, dear," he said, with a hand on her head. "You're too tired to think things out now,—but I'll help you."

She lifted a piteous face, for the moment so startlingly like that of the dead girl he had loved that his senses were confused by the resemblance.

"How, Peter?" she asked. "How can you help me?"

"I think I see the way," he said slowly.

He slipped to his knees and gathered her close in his arms.

"I think this will be the way, dear," he said very gently.

"Does this mean that you want me to marry you?" she whispered, when she was calmer.

"If you will, dear," he said. "Will you?"

"I will,—if I can, if I can make it seem right to after I've thought it all out.—Oh! Peter, I love you. I love you."

"I had no idea of that," he said gravely, "but it's wonderful that you do. I'll put everything I've got into trying to make you happy, Beulah."

"I know you will, Peter." Her arms closed around his neck and tightened there. "I love you."

He made her comfortable and she relaxed like a tired child, almost asleep under his soothing hand, and the quiet spell of his tenderness.

"I didn't know it could be like this," she whispered.

"But it can," he answered her.

In his heart he was saying, "This is best. I am sure this is best. It is the right and normal way for her—and for me."

In her tri-cornered dormitory room at the new school which she was not sharing with any one this year Eleanor, enveloped in a big brown and yellow wadded bathrobe, was writing a letter to Peter. Her hair hung in two golden brown braids over her shoulders and her pure profile was bent intently over the paper. At the moment when Beulah made her confession of love and closed her eyes against the breast of the man who had just asked her to marry him, two big tears forced their way between Eleanor's lids and splashed down upon her letter.



CHAPTER XIX

MOSTLY UNCLE PETER

"Dear Uncle Peter," the letter ran, "I am very, very homesick and lonely for you to-day. It seems to me that I would gladly give a whole year of my life just for the privilege of being with you, and talking instead of writing,—but since that can not be, I am going to try and write you about the thing that is troubling me. I can't bear it alone any longer, and still I don't know whether it is the kind of thing that it is honorable to tell or not. So you see I am very much troubled and puzzled, and this trouble involves some one else in a way that it is terrible to think of.

"Uncle Peter, dear, I do not want to be married. Not until I have grown up, and seen something of the world. You know it is one of my dearest wishes to be self-supporting, not because I am a Feminist or a new woman, or have 'the unnatural belief of an antipathy to man' that you're always talking about, but just because it will prove to me once and for all that I belong to myself, and that my soul isn't, and never has been cooperative. You know what I mean by this, and you are not hurt by my feeling so. You, I am sure, would not want me to be married, or to have to think of myself as engaged, especially not to anybody that we all knew and loved, and who is very close to me and you in quite another way. Please don't try to imagine what I mean, Uncle Peter—even if you know, you must tell yourself that you don't know. Please, please pretend even to yourself that I haven't written you this letter. I know people do tell things like this, but I don't know quite how they bring themselves to do it, even if they have somebody like you who understands everything—everything.

"Uncle Peter, dear, I am supposed to be going to be married by and by when the one who wants it feels that it can be spoken of, and until that happens, I've got to wait for him to speak, unless I can find some way to tell him that I do not want it ever to be. I don't know how to tell him. I don't know how to make him feel that I do not belong to him. It is only myself I belong to, and I belong to you, but I don't know how to make that plain to any one who does not know it already. I can't say it unless perhaps you can help me to.

"I am different from the other girls. I know every girl always thinks there is something different about her, but I think there are ways in which I truly am different. When I want anything I know more clearly what it is, and why I want it than most other girls do, and not only that, but I know now, that I want to keep myself, and everything I think and feel and am,—sacred. There is an inner shrine in a woman's soul that she must keep inviolate. I know that now.

"A liberty that you haven't known how, or had the strength to prevent, is a terrible thing. One can't forget it. Uncle Peter, dear, twice in my life things have happened that drive me almost desperate when I think of them. If these things should happen again when I know that I don't want them to, I don't think there would be any way of my bearing it. Perhaps you can tell me something that will make me find a way out of this tangle. I don't see what it could be, but lots of times you have shown me the way out of endless mazes that were not grown up troubles like this, but seemed very real to me just the same.

"Uncle Peter, dear, dear, dear,—you are all I have. I wish you were here to-night, though you wouldn't be let in, even if you beat on the gate ever so hard, for it's long after bedtime. I am up in my tower room all alone. Oh! answer this letter. Answer it quickly, quickly."

* * * * *

Eleanor read her letter over and addressed a tear splotched envelope to Peter. Then she slowly tore letter and envelope into little bits.

"He would know," she said to herself. "I haven't any real right to tell him. It would be just as bad as any kind of tattling."

She began another letter to him but found she could not write without saying what was in her heart, and so went to bed uncomforted. There was nothing in her experience to help her in her relation to David. His kiss on her lips had taught her the nature of such kisses: had made her understand suddenly the ease with which the strange, sweet spell of sex is cast. She related it to the episode of the unwelcome caress bestowed upon her by the brother of Maggie Lou, and that half forgotten incident took on an almost terrible significance. She understood now how she should have repelled that unconscionable boy, but that understanding did not help her with the problem of her Uncle David. Though the thought of it thrilled through her with a strange incredible delight, she did not want another kiss of his upon her lips.

"It's—it's—like that," she said to herself. "I want it to be from somebody—else. Somebody realer to me. Somebody that would make it seem right." But even to herself she mentioned no names.

She had definitely decided against going to college. She felt that she must get upon her own feet quickly and be under no obligation to any man. Vaguely her stern New England rearing was beginning to indicate the way that she should tread. No man or woman who did not understand "the value of a dollar," was properly equipped to do battle with the realities of life. The value of a dollar, and a clear title to it—these were the principles upon which her integrity must be founded if she were to survive her own self-respect. Her Puritan fathers had bestowed this heritage upon her. She had always felt the irregularity of her economic position; now that the complication of her relation with David had arisen, it was beginning to make her truly uncomfortable.

David had been very considerate of her, but his consideration frightened her. He had been so afraid that she might be hurt or troubled by his attitude toward her that he had explained again, and almost in so many words that he was only waiting for her to grow accustomed to the idea before he asked her to become his wife. She had looked forward with considerable trepidation to the Easter vacation following the establishment of their one-sided understanding, but David relieved her apprehension by putting up at his club and leaving her in undisturbed possession of his quarters. There, with Mademoiselle still treating her as a little girl, and the other five of her heterogeneous foster family to pet and divert her at intervals, she soon began to feel her life swing back into a more accustomed and normal perspective. David's attitude to her was as simple as ever, and when she was with the devoted sextet she was almost able to forget the matter that was at issue between them—almost but not quite.

She took quite a new kind of delight in her association with the group. She found herself suddenly on terms of grown up equality with them. Her consciousness of the fact that David was tacitly waiting for her to become a woman, had made a woman of her already, and she looked on her guardians with the eyes of a woman, even though a very newly fledged and timorous one.

She was a trifle self-conscious with the others, but with Jimmie she was soon on her old familiar footing.

* * * * *

"Uncle Jimmie is still a great deal of fun," she wrote in her diary. "He does just the same old things he used to do with me, and a good many new ones in addition. He brings me flowers, and gets me taxi-cabs as if I were really a grown up young lady, and he pinches my nose and teases me as if I were still the little girl that kept house in a studio for him. I never realized before what a good-looking man he is. I used to think that Uncle Peter was the only handsome man of the three, but now I realize that they are all exceptionally good-looking. Uncle David has a great deal of distinction, of course, but Uncle Jimmie is merry and radiant and vital, and tall and athletic looking into the bargain. The ladies on the Avenue all turn to look at him when we go walking. He says that the gentlemen all turn to look at me, and I think perhaps they do when I have my best clothes on, but in my school clothes I am quite certain that nothing like that happens.

"I have been out with Uncle Jimmie Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday,—four days of my vacation. We've been to the Hippodrome and Chinatown, and we've dined at Sherry's, and one night we went down to the little Italian restaurant where I had my first introduction to eau rougie, and was so distressed about it. I shall never forget that night, and I don't think Uncle Jimmie will ever be done teasing me about it. It is nice to be with Uncle Jimmie so much, but I never seem to see Uncle Peter any more. Alphonse is very careful about taking messages, I know, but it does seem to me that Uncle Peter must have telephoned more times than I know of. It does seem as if he would, at least, try to see me long enough to have one of our old time talks again. To see him with all the others about is only a very little better than not seeing him at all. He isn't like himself, someway. There is a shadow over him that I do not understand."

* * * * *

"Don't you think that Uncle Peter has changed?" she asked Jimmie, when the need of speaking of him became too strong to withstand.

"He is a little pale about the ears," Jimmie conceded, "but I think that's the result of hard work and not enough exercise. He spends all his spare time trying to patch up Beulah instead of tramping and getting out on his horse the way he used to. He's doing a good job on the old dear, but it's some job, nevertheless and notwithstanding—"

"Is Aunt Beulah feeling better than she was?" Eleanor's lips were dry, but she did her best to make her voice sound natural. It seemed strange that Jimmie could speak so casually of a condition of affairs that made her very heart stand still. "I didn't know that Uncle Peter had been taking care of her."

"Taking care of her isn't a circumstance to what Peter has been doing for Beulah. You know she hasn't been right for some time. She got burning wrong, like the flame on our old gas stove in the studio when there was air in it."

"Uncle David thought so the last time I was here," Eleanor said, "but I didn't know that Uncle Peter—"

"Peter, curiously enough, was the last one to tumble. Dave and I got alarmed about the girl and held a consultation, with the result that Doctor Gramercy was called. If we'd believed he would go into it quite so heavily we might have thought again before we sicked him on. It's very nice for Mary Ann, but rather tough on Abraham as they said when the lady was deposited on that already overcrowded bosom. Now Beulah's got suffrage mania, and Peter's got Beulah mania, and it's a merry mess all around."

"Is Uncle Peter with her a lot?"

"Every minute. You haven't seen much of him since you came, have you?—Well, the reason is that every afternoon as soon as he can get away from the office, he puts on a broad sash marked 'Votes for Women,' and trundles Beulah around in her little white and green perambulator, trying to distract her mind from suffrage while he talks to her gently and persuasively upon the subject. Suffrage is the only subject on her mind, he explains, so all he can do is to try to cuckoo gently under it day by day. It's a very complicated process but he's making headway."

"I'm glad of that," Eleanor said faintly. "How—how is Aunt Gertrude? I don't see her very often, either."

"Gertrude's all right." It was Jimmie's turn to look self-conscious. "She never has time for me any more; I'm not high-brow enough for her. She's getting on like a streak, you know, exhibiting everywhere."

"I know she is. She gave me a cast of her faun's head. I think it is lovely. Aunt Margaret looks well."

"She is, I guess, but don't let's waste all our valuable time talking about the family. Let's talk about us—you and me. You ask me how I'm feeling and then I'll tell you. Then I'll ask you how you're feeling and you'll tell me. Then I'll tell you how I imagine you must be feeling from the way you're looking,—and that will give me a chance to expatiate on the delectability of your appearance. I'll work up delicately to the point where you will begin to compare me favorably with all the other nice young men you know,—and then we'll be off."

"Shall we?" Eleanor asked, beginning to sparkle a little.

"We shall indeed," he assured her solemnly. "You begin. No, on second thoughts, I'll begin. I'll begin at the place where I start telling you how excessively well you're looking. I don't know, considering its source, whether it would interest you or not, but you have the biggest blue eyes that I've, ever seen in all my life,—and I'm rather a judge of them."

"All the better to eat you with, my dear," Eleanor chanted.

"Quite correct." He shot her a queer glance from under his eyebrows. "I don't feel very safe when I look into them, my child. It would be a funny joke on me if they did prove fatal to me, wouldn't it?—well,—but away with such nonsense. I mustn't blither to the very babe whose cradle I am rocking, must I?"

"I'm not a babe, Uncle Jimmie. I feel very old sometimes. Older than any of you."

"Oh! you are, you are. You're a regular sphinx sometimes. Peter says that you even disconcert him at times, when you take to remembering things out of your previous experience."

"'When he was a King in Babylon and I was a Christian Slave?'" she quoted quickly.

"Exactly. Only I'd prefer to play the part of the King of Babylon, if it's all the same to you, niecelet. How does the rest of it go, 'yet not for a—' something or other 'would I wish undone that deed beyond the grave.' Gosh, my dear, if things were otherwise, I think I could understand how that feller felt. Get on your hat, and let's get out into the open. My soul is cramped with big potentialities this afternoon. I wish you hadn't grown up, Eleanor. You are taking my breath away in a peculiar manner. No man likes to have his breath taken away so suddint like. Let's get out into the rolling prairie of Central Park."

But the rest of the afternoon was rather a failure. The Park had that peculiar bleakness that foreruns the first promise of spring. The children, that six weeks before were playing in the snow and six weeks later would be searching the turf for dandelions, were in the listless between seasons state of comparative inactivity. There was a deceptive balminess in the air that seemed merely to overlay a penetrating chilliness.

"I'm sorry I'm not more entertaining this afternoon," Jimmie apologized on the way home. "It isn't that I am not happy, or that I don't feel the occasion to be more than ordinarily propitious; I'm silent upon a peak in Darien,—that's all."

"I was thinking of something else, too," Eleanor said.

"I didn't say I was thinking of something else."

"People are always thinking of something else when they aren't talking to each other, aren't they?"

"Something else, or each other, Eleanor. I wasn't thinking of something else, I was thinking—well, I won't tell you exactly—at present. A penny for your thoughts, little one."

"They aren't worth it."

"A penny is a good deal of money. You can buy joy for a penny."

"I'm afraid I couldn't—buy joy, even if you gave me your penny, Uncle Jimmie."

"You might try. My penny might not be like other pennies. On the other hand, your thoughts might be worth a fortune to me."

"I'm afraid they wouldn't be worth anything to anybody."

"You simply don't know what I am capable of making out of them."

"I wish I could make something out of them," Eleanor said so miserably that Jimmie was filled with compunction for having tired her out, and hailed a passing taxi in which to whiz her home again.

* * * * *

"I have found out that Uncle Peter is spending all his time with Aunt Beulah," she wrote in her diary that evening. "It is beautiful of him to try to help her through this period of nervous collapse, and just like him, but I don't understand why it is that he doesn't come and tell me about it, especially since he is getting so tired. He ought to know that I love him so dearly and deeply that I could help him even in helping her. It isn't like him not to share his anxieties with me. Aunt Beulah is a grown up woman, and has friends and doctors and nurses, and every one knows her need. It seems to me that he might think that I have no one but him, and that whatever might lie heavy on my heart I could only confide in him. I have always told him everything. Why doesn't it occur to him that I might have something to tell him now? Why doesn't he come to me?

"I am afraid he will get sick. He needs a good deal of exercise to keep in form. If he doesn't have a certain amount of muscular activity his digestion is not so good. There are two little creases between his eyes that I never remember seeing there before. I asked him the other night when he was here with Aunt Beulah if his head ached, and he said 'no,' but Aunt Beulah said her head ached almost all the time. Of course, Aunt Beulah is important, and if Uncle Peter is trying to bring her back to normality again she is important to him, and that makes her important to me for his sake also, but nobody in the world is worth the sacrifice of Uncle Peter. Nobody, nobody.

"I suppose it's a part of his great beauty that he should think so disparagingly of himself. I might not love him so well if he knew just how dear and sweet and great his personality is. It isn't so much what he says or does, or even the way he looks that constitutes his charm, it's the simple power and radiance behind his slightest move. Oh! I can't express it. He doesn't think he is especially fine or beautiful. He doesn't know what a waste it is when he spends his strength upon somebody who isn't as noble in character as he is,—but I know, and it makes me wild to think of it. Oh! why doesn't he come to me? My vacation is almost over, and I don't see how I could bear going back to school without one comforting hour of him alone.

"I intended to write a detailed account of my vacation, but I can not. Uncle Jimmie has certainly tried to make me happy. He is so funny and dear. I could have so much fun with him if I were not worried about Uncle Peter!

"Uncle David says he wants to spend my last evening with me. We are going to dine here, and then go to the theater together. I am going to try to tell him how I feel about things, but I am afraid he won't give me the chance. Life is a strange mixture of things you want and can't have, and things you can have and don't want. It seems almost disloyal to put that down on paper about Uncle David. I do want him and love him, but oh!—not in that way. Not in that way. There is only one person in a woman's life that she can feel that way about. Why—why—why doesn't my Uncle Peter come to me?"



CHAPTER XX

THE MAKINGS OF A TRIPLE WEDDING

"Just by way of formality," David said, "and not because I think any one present"—he smiled on the five friends grouped about his dinner table—"still takes our old resolution seriously, I should like to be released from the anti-matrimonial pledge that I signed eight years ago this November. I have no announcement to make as yet, but when I do wish to make an announcement—and I trust to have the permission granted very shortly—I want to be sure of my technical right to do so."

"Gosh all Hemlocks!" Jimmie exclaimed in a tone of such genuine confusion that it raised a shout of laughter. "I never thought of that."

"Nor I," said Peter. "I never signed any pledge to that effect."

"We left you out of it, Old Horse, regarding you as a congenital celibate anyway," Jimmie answered.

"Some day soon you will understand how much you wronged me," Peter said with a covert glance at Beulah.

"I wish I could say as much," Jimmie sighed, "since this is the hour of confession I don't mind adding that I hope I may be able to soon."

Gertrude clapped her hands softly.

"Wonderful, wonderful!" she cried. "We've the makings of a triple wedding in our midst. Look into the blushing faces before us and hear the voice that breathed o'er Eden echoing in our ears. This is the most exciting moment of my life! Girls, get on your feet and drink to the health of these about-to-be Benedicts. Up in your chairs,—one slipper on the table. Now!"—and the moment was saved.

Gertrude had seen Margaret's sudden pallor and heard the convulsive catching of her breath,—Margaret rising Undine-like out of a filmy, pale green frock, with her eyes set a little more deeply in the shadows than usual. Her quick instinct to the rescue was her own salvation.

David was on his feet.

"On behalf of my coadjutors," he said, "I thank you. All this is extremely premature for me, and I imagine from the confusion of the other gentlemen present it is as much, if not more so, for them. Personally I regret exceedingly being unable to take you more fully into my confidence. The only reason for this partial revelation is that I wished to be sure that I was honorably released from my oath of abstinence. Hang it all! You fellows say something," he concluded, sinking abruptly into his chair.

"Your style always was distinctly mid-Victorian," Jimmie murmured. "I've got nothing to say, except that I wish I had something to say and that if I do have something to say in the near future I'll create a real sensation! When Miss Van Astorbilt permits David to link her name with his in the caption under a double column cut in our leading journals, you'll get nothing like the thrill that I expect to create with my modest announcement. I've got a real romance up my sleeve."

"So've I, Jimmie. There is no Van Astorbilt in mine."

"Some simple bar-maid then? A misalliance in our midst. Now about you, Peter?"

"The lady won't give me her permission to speak," Peter said. "She knows how proud and happy I shall be when I am able to do so."

Beulah looked up suddenly.

"It is better we should marry," she said. "I didn't realize that when I exacted that oath from you. It is from the intellectual type that the brains to carry on the great work of the world must be inherited."

"I pass," Jimmie murmured. "Where's the document we signed?"

"I've got it. I'll destroy it to-night and then we may all consider ourselves free to take any step that we see fit. It was really only as a further protection to Eleanor that we signed it."

"Eleanor will be surprised, won't she?" Gertrude suggested. Three self-conscious masculine faces met her innocent interrogation.

"Eleanor," Margaret breathed, "Eleanor."

"I rather think she will," Jimmie chuckled irresistibly, but David said nothing, and Peter stared unseeingly into the glass he was still twirling on its stem.

"Eleanor will be taken care of just the same," Beulah said decisively. "I don't think we need even go through the formality of a vote on that."

"Eleanor will be taken care of," David said softly.

The Hutchinsons' limousine—old Grandmother Hutchinson had a motor nowadays—was calling for Margaret, and she was to take the two other girls home. David and Jimmie—such is the nature of men—were disappointed in not being able to take Margaret and Gertrude respectively under their accustomed protection.

"I wanted to talk to you, Gertrude," Jimmie said reproachfully as she slipped away from his ingratiating hand on her arm.

"I thought I should take you home to-night, Margaret," David said; "you never gave me the slip before."

"The old order changeth," Gertrude replied lightly to them both, as she preceded Margaret into the luxurious interior.

"It's Eleanor," Gertrude announced as the big car swung into Fifth Avenue.

"Which is Eleanor?" Margaret cried hysterically.

"What do you mean?" Beulah asked.

"Jimmie or David—or—or both are going to marry Eleanor. Didn't you see their faces when Beulah spoke of her?"

"David wants to marry Eleanor," Margaret said quietly. "I've known it all winter—without realizing what it was I knew."

"Well, who is Jimmy going to marry then?" Beulah inquired.

"Who is Peter going to marry for that matter?" Gertrude cut in. "Oh! it doesn't make any difference,—we're losing them just the same."

"Not necessarily," Beulah said. "No matter what combinations come about, we shall still have an indestructible friendship."

"Indestructible friendship—shucks," Gertrude cried. "The boys are going to be married—married—married! Marriage is the one thing that indestructible friendships don't survive—except as ghosts."

"It should be Peter who is going to marry Eleanor," Margaret said. "It's Peter who has always loved her best. It's Peter she cares for."

"As a friend," Beulah said, "as her dearest friend."

"Not as a friend," Margaret answered softly, "she loves him. She has always loved him. It comes early sometimes."

"I don't believe it. I simply don't believe it."

"I believe it," Gertrude said. "I hadn't thought of it before. Of course, it must be Peter who is going to marry her."

"If it isn't we've succeeded in working out a rather tragic experiment," Margaret said, "haven't we?"

"Life is a tragic experiment for any woman," Gertrude said sententiously.

"Peter doesn't intend to marry Eleanor," Beulah persisted. "I happen to know."

"Do you happen to know who he is going to marry?"

"Yes, I do know, but I—I can't tell you yet."

"Whoever it is, it's a mistake," Margaret said. "It's our little Eleanor he wants. I suppose he doesn't realize it himself yet, and when he does it will be too late. He's probably gone and tied himself up with somebody entirely unsuitable, hasn't he, Beulah?"

"I don't know," Beulah said; "perhaps he has. I hadn't thought of it that way."

"It's the way to think of it, I know." Margaret's eyes filled with sudden tears. "But whatever he's done it's past mending now. There'll be no question of Peter's backing out of a bargain—bad or good, and our poor little kiddie's got to suffer."

"Beulah took it hard," Gertrude commented, as they turned up-town again after dropping their friend at her door. The two girls were spending the night together at Margaret's. "I wonder on what grounds. I think besides being devoted to Eleanor, she feels terrifically responsible for her. She isn't quite herself again either."

"She is almost, thanks to Peter."

"But—oh! I can't pretend to think of anything else,—who—who—who—are our boys going to marry?"

"I don't know, Gertrude."

"But you care?"

"It's a blow."

"I always thought that you and David—"

Margaret met her eyes bravely but she did not answer the implicit question.

"I always thought that you and Jimmie—" she said presently. "Oh! Gertrude, you would have been so good for him."

"Oh! it's all over now," Gertrude said, "but I didn't know that a living soul suspected me."

"I've known for a long time."

"Are you really hurt, dear?" Gertrude whispered as they clung to each other.

"Not really. It could have been—that's all. He could have made me care. I've never seen any one else whom I thought that of. I—I was so used to him."

"That's the rub," Gertrude said, "we're so used to them. They're so—so preposterously necessary to us."

Late that night clasped in each other's arms they admitted the extent of their desolation. Life had been robbed of a magic,—a mystery. The solid friendship of years of mutual trust and understanding was the background of so much lovely folly, so many unrealized possibilities, so many nebulous desires and dreams that the sudden dissolution of their circle was an unthinkable calamity.

"We ought to have put out our hands and taken them if we wanted them," Gertrude said, out of the darkness. "Other women do. Probably these other women have. Men are helpless creatures. They need to be firmly turned in the right direction instead of being given their heads. We've been too good to our boys. We ought to have snitched them."

"I wouldn't pay that price for love," Margaret said. "I couldn't. By the time I had made it happen I wouldn't want it."

"That's my trouble too," Gertrude said. Then she turned over on her pillow and sobbed helplessly. "Jimmie had such ducky little curls," she explained incoherently. "I do this sometimes when I think of them. Otherwise, I'm not a crying woman."

Margaret put out a hand to her; but long after Gertrude's breath began to rise and fall regularly, she lay staring wide-eyed into the darkness.



CHAPTER XXI

ELEANOR HEARS THE NEWS

"Dear Uncle Jimmie:

"I said I would write you, but now that I have taken this hour in which to do it, I find it is a very, very hard letter that I have got to write. In the first place I can't believe that the things you said to me that night were real, or that you were awake and in the world of realities when you said them. I felt as if we were both dreaming; that you were talking as a man does sometimes in delirium when he believes the woman he loves to be by his side, and I was listening the same way. It made me very happy, as dreams sometimes do. I can't help feeling that your idea of me is a dream idea, and the pain that you said this kind of a letter would give you will be merely dream pain. It is a shock to wake up in the morning and find that all the lovely ways we felt, and delicately beautiful things we had, were only dream things that we wouldn't even understand if we were thoroughly awake.

"In the second place, you can't want to marry your little niecelet, the funny little 'kiddo,' that used to burn her fingers and the beefsteak over that old studio gas stove. We had such lovely kinds of make-believe together. That's what our association always ought to mean to us,—just chumship, and wonderful and preposterous pretends. I couldn't think of myself being married to you any more than I could Jack the giant killer, or Robinson Crusoe. You're my truly best and dearest childhood's playmate, and that is a great deal to be, Uncle Jimmie. I don't think a little girl ever grows up quite whole unless she has somewhere, somehow, what I had in you. You wouldn't want to marry Alice in Wonderland, now would you? There are some kinds of playmates that can't marry each other. I think that you and I are that kind, Uncle Jimmie.

"My dear, my dear, don't let this hurt you. How can it hurt you, when I am only your little adopted foster child that you have helped support and comfort and make a beautiful, glad life for? I love you so much,—you are so precious to me that you must wake up out of this distorted, though lovely dream that I was present at!

"We must all be happy. Nobody can break our hearts if we are strong enough to withhold them. Nobody can hurt us too much if we can find the way to be our bravest all the time. I know that what you are feeling now is not real. I can't tell you how I know, but I do know the difference. The roots are not deep enough. They could be pulled up without too terrible a havoc.

"Uncle Jimmie, dear, believe me, believe me. I said this would be a hard letter to write, and it has been. If you could see my poor inkstained, weeping face, you would realize that I am only your funny little Eleanor after all, and not to be taken seriously at all. I hope you will come up for my graduation. When you see me with all the other lumps and frumps that are here, you will know that I am not worth considering except as a kind of human joke.

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