"It is a very peculiar case, and we had to wait till a certain surgeon came who was out of town—Doctor Craig. They seemed to think it safer to wait for him. He has had extraordinary success in similar cases. He—is with her now, operating. My dear, I am very glad you have come—and you, Mr. Stuart. She wanted you both, and we felt that if her mind were at rest her chances——" But here even Aunt Olivia's long training in composure under all circumstances deserted her, and she let Georgiana put her in a chair and kneel beside her, murmuring affection and hope.
It was a long wait—or so it seemed—interrupted only once by the entrance of a young hospital interne, who came to advise the family of the patient that thus far all was going well. It had proved, as was expected, a complicated case, and there was necessity of proceeding slowly. But Doctor Westfall had sent word to them to be of good cheer, for the patient's pulse was strong, and Doctor Craig's reputation, as they knew, was very great.
"It's Dr. Jefferson Craig, you know," explained young Chester Crofton softly to Georgiana. "We're mighty lucky to get him. He only came back from abroad two days ago, and he was operating out of town somewhere last night. Doctor Westfall was awfully keen to have him and nobody else."
Georgiana knew the name, as who did not? Jefferson Craig was the man whose brilliant research work along certain lines of surgery had astonished both his colleagues and an attentive general public, and his operative surgery on those lines had disproved all previous theories as to the possibilities of interference in a class of cases until recently considered hopeless after an early stage. It was indeed subject for confidence if Doctor Craig's skilful hands were those now at Jeannette's service.
But there is no beguiling such periods of suspense with assurance of former successes in similar cases. Jeannette's family had need of all their fortitude for the bearing of such suspense before Doctor Westfall, the Crofton's family physician from the home city, appeared in the doorway. He had been brought on by them when they were summoned to Jeannette's bedside. He had known the girl from her babyhood, and the signs of past tension were clearly visible in his face as he looked upon his patient's family, though his eyes were very bright and his lips were smiling.
"Safely over," was his instant greeting, and his hand fell with the touch of hearty friendship on the shoulder of Mr. Thomas Crofton. "I wouldn't come till I was sure I might bid you draw a long breath and ease up on this strain of waiting."
They came around him, Aunt Olivia's lips trembling, her hand fast in Georgiana's. Young Chester Crofton gave a subdued whoop of joy, and pretty Rosalie, scarcely out of emotional girlhood, burst into hysterical crying which she struggled vainly to keep soundless.
"Mind you," warned Doctor Westfall, wiping his own eyes though he continued to smile, "I don't say all danger is past. Doctor Craig would be the last man to countenance such a statement. We must hold steady for several days before we can speak with absolute assurance. But every sign points to safety, and certainly—certainly—well,"—he paused as if he could not readily find words for that which he wished to say,—"if it had been anybody but our Jeannette I should have congratulated myself on the chance to see such a piece of work as that. I've never seen Jefferson Craig operate, though I've been a fascinated follower of his research and have read every word he has written. And he's astonishingly young. I expected to see a man of my own age."
"We must see him, Doctor," murmured Mrs. Crofton, striving to regain her composure which, as is often the case, was more shaken by the assurance of good news than by the fear of bad. "We must thank him for ourselves. He will come in to see us?"
"As soon as he is out of his gown. I'm going back for him in a minute, for I knew you would want the words from his own lips. You will like him—you will like him immensely."
He went away again presently on this errand, an imposing figure of a man of fifty, accustomed to responsibility and able to carry it, a typical city physician of the class employed by the prosperous, but with certain clearly defined lines about his eyes and lips which proclaimed him a lover of human nature and a sympathizer with its sufferings, in whatever class he might find his patients.
"He's such a dear," declared Rosalie, wiping away her tears and smiling at James Stuart. "He's adored Jeannette ever since she was born, and I know he's been just as anxious as we were. Do cheer up, Jimmy. I'm just as sure she's going to get well now as I was sure she wasn't before."
"I don't dare to be sure," he answered in a low tone.
Georgiana looked at him and saw how shaken he still was, notwithstanding the reassuring news. In spite of her anxiety she had been observant, ever since she entered the room, of the attitude of Jeannette's family toward James McKenzie Stuart. It had not been difficult to come to the conclusion that for Jeannette's sake they would accept him, and that for his own sake they were forced, in varying degrees, to like him. How could they help it? she wondered, when they looked at his fine, frank face and observed his manly bearing. He was college bred; he was a successful worker with his brain as well as with his hands, for his farming was scientific farming, and his results established a model for the community. He was by no means poor—and yet—Georgiana realized that the change for Jeannette from a home of luxury to one of comparative austerity of living would be a tremendous one. Well, such events had occurred before in the world's history, and it was by no means unthinkable that they should occur again. As Georgiana noted the tense look on Stuart's face, and saw the hardly abated suffering in his eyes, she said to herself that if Jeannette cared as much for him as he for her, she cared quite enough to bring her family to terms at any price.
The door opened again, as quietly as hospital doors invariably open, and Doctor Westfall advanced once more into the room, followed by a younger man with a grave, clean-cut face and the unassuming, quietly assured bearing of established success. As Georgiana's eyes fell upon the distinguished surgeon whose name was Jefferson Craig she recognized her former lodger, Mr. E. C. Jefferson. That she did not for a moment wonder what Mr. Jefferson was doing here in the famous surgeon's place was due to the fact that her mind instantly bridged the chasm between the two personalities and made them one. Yet there was a subtle, but easily recognizable, difference between the personality of Mr. Jefferson and that of Doctor Craig. There could be no question that here his foot was on his native heath! The literary worker had for the time vanished, and here was the man who did things with his hands and did them better than other men. She had long understood that he had another and more active place in the world than that which he had temporarily occupied as solely a writer of books. This was the place, and nothing could have seemed less surprising than to find him in it.
At the same time, the finding occasioned a difficulty in maintaining her own composure of face and manner. She had known Mr. Jefferson; she did not know Doctor Craig. She understood instantly, without any explanation, that he had chosen to be known in the obscure village by only a part of his name, because that name was so notable that even the two village doctors, the old one and the young, would have recognized it and been at his heels, to the detriment of those months of rest from surgery which he had dedicated to the exposition of his methods upon paper. She was quick to perceive also that it would be easy enough for Doctor Craig to prove as different from Mr. Jefferson in relation to his acquaintance as he was different in his position in the world. What, indeed, had Dr. Jefferson Craig and little Georgiana Warne in common? Certainly far, far less than had had Mr. E. C. Jefferson and that same Georgiana Warne.
He did not see her at once, for the father and mother of his patient met him in the middle of the floor, and his first glance fell upon them and remained there while he spoke to them of their daughter. Even in his manner of speaking Georgiana felt a decided difference. There was a curious crispness and succinctness of speech that marked the professional man, which was decidedly different from the more expanded conversational manner of Mr. Jefferson.
"Yes, she is sleeping quietly under the last effects of the anaesthetic," he was saying when Georgiana took note of his words once more. "We will let her sleep. It will spare her some hours of consciousness."
"Will she suffer very much when she wakes, Doctor?" was the mother's anxious question.
Doctor Craig's smile was the very one Georgiana had first liked about him, for it transformed his face and gave it back the youth which his early responsibility in a serious profession had done its best to age. "We shall not let her suffer very much," he promised. "That's not necessary nor desirable."
"When may we see her?" Mrs. Crofton pursued.
"You may all see her for a moment before she wakens, if you wish. Afterward her mother and father for just a word, and—I am told she expressed a very strong wish to see a young man who was on his way. Has he come? For the sake of her contentment I have agreed to allow him a word with her by and by—just a word, if he will be very quiet."
It was Uncle Thomas who turned to beckon James Stuart forward, and then to nod at Georgiana. Immediately Stuart was presented to Doctor Craig, who, looking intently into the young man's questioning face, said straightforwardly: "Mr. Stuart and I have met before under quite different circumstances. He knew me as a writer of books and may be surprised to find me here—as I am surprised to find him."
"Let me present you to my niece, Miss Warne, Doctor Craig," said Aunt Olivia, and Georgiana was glad of the preparation the minutes had given her, for here indeed was need for all her powers of self-control. Her eyes had no sooner looked into those which met them with such a keen and searching glance than she was stirred to the depths. She had thought she had known what it would be to feel those eyes upon her again, but she had not reckoned with the effect of absence.
He made no effort to conceal the situation. "When your daughter sees me next, Mrs. Crofton," he said, without turning from Georgiana, "she will know me, as Miss Warne and Mr. Stuart do. I spent last winter in Miss Warne's home, under the name of Jefferson alone, to find time to work at a book I am writing. I gave it up sooner than I had expected, because my work here would not be denied."
"Didn't Jean know you when she saw you before the—the operation?" cried Rosalie, full of curiosity at this unexpected turn of affairs.
"She did not see me before she was anaesthetized," explained Doctor Craig; and Doctor Westfall added, patting Rosalie's hand: "It's rather like a story, isn't it, Rosy? Doctor Seaver, of the staff here, was telling me this morning how Doctor Craig tried to take a year off to rest and write, but how they got him back—and glad enough to have him, too. And yet we want that book. It's rather hard to have a reputation so big it won't give you time to rest. He needed the rest, Seaver told me."
"I had it. Six months in the country did more for me than a year in town," said Doctor Craig. He turned at the sound of a light knock upon the door. He gave the impression of a man whose senses were every one alert.
An apologetic interne came in with a message for Doctor Craig and he left them, with a final word of confidence and the request that they all retire to rooms at the nearby hotel where they were staying.
Georgiana found Rosalie at her side. "O George! is he really the man you had in your house all this year? You lucky thing! Didn't you fall in love with him instantly? Why, he's perfectly wonderful!"
"You think so now, child, because you know he's distinguished. If you had seen him quietly working at his book you probably wouldn't have looked at him a second time."
Rosalie studied her cousin's face so intently that Georgiana had some difficulty in maintaining this attitude of cool detachment. The young girl shook her head. "He couldn't have changed his face," she insisted. "He's not a bit handsome, but he's stunning just the same. Oh, how astonished Jean will be when she finds out who's saved her life! When do you suppose he'll let Jimmy Stuart see her? He'll die if he doesn't make sure she's alive pretty soon."
It was not many hours before Doctor Craig himself led Georgiana and James Stuart together into the room where Jeannette lay. She had asked to see them together, he said, and they might remain for precisely five minutes. He immediately left the room again and took the nurse with him.
The five minutes were spent by Stuart with Jeannette's hand in both his own, as he knelt beside the the bed where she lay, no pillow under her head, her face very white but her eyes glowing.
Jeannette's look met Georgiana's. "Is it all right?" she said very low.
"Of course it's all right, dear; and I'm perfectly happy over it," whispered Georgiana.
Jeannette smiled. "I couldn't be happy till I was sure," she breathed. "I thought—I might die, even yet—and I wanted it like this—first."
An inarticulate murmur from Stuart answered this, but Georgiana assured her very gently: "You're going to be happy with Jimps for years and years, Jean darling."
They were silent then, as they had been bidden, but the silence was eloquent. Doctor Craig, coming in to put an end to the little interview, saw the unmistakable tableau. As Stuart, catching sight of him, rose slowly to his feet, the surgeon's fingers closed upon his patient's pulse. He nodded.
"As a heart stimulant you have done very well, Mr. Stuart," he said. "But small doses, frequently repeated, are better than large ones."
Jeannette's hand weakly caught his. "Isn't it queer, Georgiana," she murmured, "that it should be your Mr. Jefferson who has saved my life?"
In spite of herself, Georgiana could not prevent the rich wave of colour which swept over her face. She knew, without venturing to look at him, that Doctor Craig's eyes flashed toward her with a smile in them. She stooped over Jeannette with a gay reply:
"And he began his acquaintance with you by snowballing you till you almost had need of his surgery on the spot!"
Then she and Stuart were out in the wide, bare hospital corridor, and Stuart was saying with a shiver: "Does she look all right to you, George—sure?"
"Of course she does, Jimps. You never saw her before with her hair down in braids; and any face looks pale against a white bed."
He shook his head. "I shall not stir out of this town till she looks like herself to me."
"Of course you won't. I wish I needn't, but I must go back to father to-night."
They all tried to dissuade her from this course, but she was firm. She knew well enough that all Jeannette had wanted of her was to assure herself that she possessed a clear right and title to Stuart's love. Evidently Jeannette had guessed more at Stuart's past relations with Georgiana than either of them had imagined, and she would not allow herself to be happy without the knowledge that she was not making her cousin miserable.
One brief conversation with Doctor Craig was all that was vouchsafed Georgiana before she left the city, and that took place in the presence of others, in Aunt Olivia's apartment. It was clear enough how busy a man he was in this his own world, for when he came into the room he explained to Mrs. Crofton that it had been his only chance since they arrived to make a brief social call upon the family of his patient. It was but an hour before Georgiana's departure, and when he learned this, Jefferson Craig came over to her, where she sat upon a divan at one end of the long private drawing-room of the suite. Seeing this, the others of the party began conversations of their own, after the manner of the highly intelligent, and for those five minutes Georgiana lived in a place apart from the rest of the world.
"Please tell me all about your father," he began, and the tones of his voice, low as are habitually those of his profession, could hardly have been heard by one across the room.
Georgiana told him, unconsciously letting him see that the fear of her probable loss was ever before her, though she could not put it into words. She knew as she spoke that his eyes did not leave her face. She had no possible idea how alluring was that face as the light from the sconces nearby fell upon it. She was conscious, womanlike, that the small hat she wore was made over from one of Jeannette's, and she did not think it becoming. Though it was November, she still wore her summer suit, for the reason that since her return from abroad Jeannette had not found time to pack and send off the usual "Semi-Annual," and previous boxes had not included winter suits at at all. Altogether, with many-times-mended gloves upon her hands, and shoes which to her seemed disgraceful, though preserved with all the care of which she was mistress, Georgiana felt somehow more than ordinarily shabby.
Doctor Craig asked her several questions. He spoke of the rug-making, watching her closely as she answered. He asked how often she went to walk and how far. He asked what she and her father were reading. He would have asked other questions, but she interrupted him.
"It's not fair," she said. "Please tell me about the book. Does it get on?"
"Do you care to know?"
"Very much. I'm wondering if your copyist makes those German references any clearer for the printer than I did."
"Nobody has copied a word. I have not written a word. The book is at a complete standstill. I see no hope for it until I can take another vacation—under the name of E. C. Jefferson."
"And that you will never take," she said positively.
"I never shall—in the same way. There are reasons against it. The book will have to be written as the others were—on trains, on shipboard, in my own room late at night."
"Is it right to try to put two lifetimes into one?" she asked, and now she lifted her eyes to his.
Before, she had managed to avoid a direct meeting by those many and engaging little makeshifts girls have, of glancing at a man's shoulder, his ear, his mouth—and off at the floor, the window—anywhere not to let him see clearly what she may be afraid he will see. And Georgiana was intensely afraid that if Dr. Jefferson Craig got one straight look with those keen eyes of his he would recognize that her whole aching, throbbing heart was betraying itself from between those lifted lashes. But now, somehow, with her question she ventured to give him this one look. The interview might end at any moment; she must have one straight survey of his face, bent so near hers.
He gave it back, and until her glance dropped he did not speak. Then, very low, but very clearly, he said deliberately:
"When may I come?"
The room whirled. The lights from the sconces danced together and blurred. The floor lifted and sank away again. And Chester Crofton chose this moment—as if he were not after all really of that highly intelligent class which knows when to pursue its own conversations and when to break into those of others—to call across the room:
"Oh, I beg pardon, Doctor Craig, but when did you say Jean might have something real to eat? Rosy says it's to-morrow and I say it's not yet at all."
Doctor Craig turned and answered, and turned back again. He was not of the composition of those who are balked of answers to their questions by ill-timed interruptions. But the little diversion gave Georgiana an instant's chance to make herself ready to answer like a woman and not like a startled schoolgirl. So that when he repeated, his voice again dropped:
She was able to reply as quietly as she could have wished: "Do you want to come, Doctor Craig?"
"I want to come. I have never wanted anything so much."
"Very soon? As soon as I can get away for a few hours? Perhaps next week? It is always difficult, but if I plan ahead sometimes I can manage to make almost the train I hope for."
She nodded. "Any train—anytime."
There was an instant's silence. It seemed to her that she could hear one or two deep-drawn breaths from him. Then:
"Would you mind looking up just once more? I must go in a minute; I can't even take you to your train."
But she answered, with an odd little trembling of the lips: "Please don't ask me to. I'm—afraid!"
A low laugh replied to that. "So am I!" said Jefferson Craig.
He rose, and she rose with him. The others came around and he took leave of them. His handclasp was all that Georgiana had for farewell, for when she lifted her eyes she let them rest on his finely moulded chin. But she knew that in spite of his expressed fear it was not her round little chin he looked at, but the gleam of her dark eyes through their sheltering lashes, and that his hand gave hers a pressure which carried with it much meaning. It told her that which as yet she hardly dared believe.
Since the journey home was made up of changes of trains, no sleeper was possible, and Georgiana sat staring out of her car window while those about her slumbered. There was too much to think of for sleep, if she had wanted to sleep. She did not want to sleep, she wanted to live over and over again those five minutes with their incredible revelation. And as the wheels turned, the rhythm of their turning was set to one simple phrase, the one which had sent her world whirling upside down and made the stars leap out of their courses:
"When may I come?"
Hope to reach Elmville at seven to-night.—E.C. JEFFERSON.
This was the first of them. When Georgiana received it she had been waiting eight days for this first word. She had known well enough that until Jeannette was entirely safe Doctor Craig would not leave her. Georgiana had not minded that she had had no word. She had not really expected any. A man who was too busy to come would be too busy to write, and she wanted no makeshift letters. And she had not minded the delay in his coming; rather, she had welcomed it. To have time to think, to hug her half-frightened, wholly joyous knowledge to her heart, to go to sleep with it warm at her breast, and to wake with it knocking at the door of her consciousness—this was quite happiness enough for the immediate present.
Meanwhile, what pleasure to put the house in its most shining order, to plan daily little special dishes, lest he come upon her unawares; to sit and sew upon her clothing, shifting and turning her patchwork materials until she had worked out clever combinations which conveyed small hint of being make-overs!
For the first time in her life she said nothing to her father of her expectations. What was there to tell as yet? She could not bring herself to put into words the memory of that brief interview, in which so much had been said in so few simple phrases. And if Father Davy read—as it would have been strange if he had not—the signs of his daughter's singing lightness of heart, he made no sign himself; he only waited, praying.
Georgiana received her first telegram at noon. She had flown for two wonderful hours about her kitchen, making ready, when the despatch was followed by another:
Unavoidably detained. Will plan to get away Thursday.
This was Tuesday. Georgiana put away her materials, and swept the house from attic to cellar, though it needed it no more than her glowing face needed colour. What did it matter? Let him be detained a week, a month, a year—he would come to her in the end. Now that she was sure of that, each day but enhanced the glorious hope of a meeting, that meeting the very thought of which was enough to take away her breath.
On Thursday came the message:
Cannot leave this week. Will advise by wire when possible.
No letter came to explain further these delays. Georgiana felt that she did not need one, yet admitted to herself that the ordinary course in such circumstances would be to send a letter, no matter of how few words. Toward the end of the following week a telegram again set a day and hour, and as before, another followed on its heels to negative it. The last one added, "Deep regret," and therefore bore balm.
And then, after several more days, came a message which was all but a letter:
It seems impossible to arrange for absence at present. Will you not bring your father and come to my home on Wednesday? Will meet train arriving seven-fifteen. Journey will not hurt Mr. Warne, and visit here will interest him. Please do not refuse. E. C. JEFFERSON.
Well! What girl ever had a suitor of this sort? one too busy to come or write, yet who, on the strength of a few words spoken in the presence of others, ventured to send for the lady of his choice to come to him, that he might speak those other words so necessary to the conclusion of the matter. Georgiana sat re-reading the slip of yellow paper, while her heart beat hard and painfully. For with the invitation had come instantly the bitter realization—they could not afford to go! Her recent trip on the occasion of Jeannette's illness had taxed their always slender resources, and until the money should come in for the last bale of rugs sent away, there was only enough in the family treasury to keep them supplied with the necessities of life.
The time had come—undoubtedly it had—when she must confide in Father Davy. Not that he would be able to see any way out, but that she could not venture to refuse this urgent request without his approval.
Georgiana tucked away in her belt the last long telegram, and went to her father. He lay upon his couch, the blue veins on his delicate forehead showing with pitiful distinctness in the ray of November sunshine which chanced to fall upon him.
Georgiana knelt beside him. "Father Davy," she said, with her face carefully out of his sight, "I have a little story to tell you—just the outlines of one, for you to fill in. When I was in New York Mr. Jefferson—Doctor Craig, you know,"—she had told him this part of the tale when she had first come home,—"asked me when—when he might come here."
She paused. Her father turned his head upon the crimson couch pillow, but he could not see her face.
"Yes, my dear?" he said, with a little smile touching his lips. "Well, that sounds natural enough. He knows he is always welcome here. When is he coming?"
"He isn't coming. He can't get away. He has tried three different times, and cancelled it each time. He seems to be very busy, too busy even to write."
"That is not strange; he must be a very busy man. Doubtless he will come when he can make time. I shall be glad to see Mr. Jefferson."
"But—you see—he wants us to come there."
"You and me. Father Davy—you understand, dear; don't make me put it into words!"
Her father's arm came about her and she buried her face in his thin shoulder. "Thank God!" he said fervently, under his breath. "Thank the good God, who knows what we need and gives it to us."
After a minute's silence: "But we can't go, Father Davy."
"Can't we? I could not, of course, but you——"
"I couldn't go without you—to his house. And—we haven't any money."
"No money? Is it so bad as that?"
"And if we had—I'm not sure that I want to take a journey to a man—so that——"
"Let me see the telegram, my dear," requested Mr. Warne. When he had read it he regarded his daughter with a curious little smile. She was sitting upon the floor, close beside his couch, her brilliant eyes now raised to his face, now veiled by their heavy lashes. "It seems clear enough," he said. "Concessions must be made to a man who belongs to the people as he does. I don't think it would be a sacrifice to your dignity, daughter, if you were to go."
"But, Father, darling, don't you see? I didn't want to tell you, but there was no other way. We have quite enough to live on—without extras—till the next rug money comes. But that may not be for a month; they are always slow. And for us to go to New York—well, we could just about get there. We couldn't get clear home. Father Davy, I can't go—penniless—to him!"
He lay looking at her down-bent head with its splendid masses of dark hair, at the beautiful lines of her neck in her low-cut working frock of blue-and-white print, at the shapely young hands gripping each other with unconscious tenseness in her lap. His eyes were like a woman's for understanding, and his lips were very tender. Slowly he raised himself to his feet.
"Stay just where you are, daughter," he said, "till I come back."
She waited, staring at the old crimson pillow with eyes which saw again the drawing-room in Aunt Olivia's apartment and the profile of Doctor Craig's face as he turned from her at Chester Crofton's interrupting question. That was more than three weeks ago——
Father Davy was gone some little time, but he came back at length at his slow, limping pace, and sat down upon the couch. He held in his hand a little bag of dark blue silk, a little bag whose contents seemed all heavily down in one corner. Georgiana's eyes regarded it with some wonder. She had thought she knew by heart every one of her father's few belongings, but this little bag was new to her.
"I think," he said softly, "the time has come for this. It was meant, perhaps, to be given you a little later in your history, but if your mother knew—nay, I feel she does know and approve—she would be the first to say to me: 'Give it to her now, David; she'll never want it more than now.'"
Georgiana leaned forward, her lips parted. She seemed hardly to breathe as her father went on, his slender fingers gently caressing the little blue silk bag:
"From the time you were a baby, a very little baby, she saved this money for you. It came mostly from wedding fees; I always gave her those to do with as she would. They were a country minister's fees—two-and-three-dollar fees mostly—once in a great while some affluent farmer would pay me five dollars. How your mother's eyes would shine when I could give her a five! She turned all the bills and silver into gold—a great many of these pieces are one-dollar gold pieces. There are none of them in circulation now; it may easily be that they have increased in value, being almost a curiosity in these days. I think I have heard of something like that. At any rate, dear, it is all yours. It was to have been given to you to buy your wedding outfit; but—she would have wanted you to have it when it could help you most." He held out the little bag. "She made it of a bit of her wedding dress," he said, and his hand trembled as it was extended toward his daughter. "It was not only her wedding dress, it was the best dress she had for many years."
With a low cry that was like that of a mother's for a child, Georgiana took the little blue silk bag, heavy in its corner with the weight of many small gold pieces, and crushed it against her lips. Then, with it held close to her cheek, she laid her head down on her father's knee and sobbed her heart out for the mother she had missed for ten long years.
In the little bag there proved to be almost a hundred dollars—ninety-two in all.
"She sorely wanted to get it to a hundred," said Father Davy, when he and Georgiana, their eyes still wet, had counted the tarnished gold pieces that had waited so long to be delivered to their owner. "There seemed a dearth of marriages the year before she went; the sum increased very slowly."
"She must have gone without—things she needed," Georgiana said with difficulty.
"I think she did, but she would never own it. She was very clever, as you are, at making things over and over, and she looked always trim and fine. She was a beautiful woman—and a happy one, in spite of all she was deprived of in her life with a poor country minister. 'If my little daughter can only be as happy as I have been,' she used to say, 'it is all I ask.' My dear, she would have liked—she would have loved—Mr. Jefferson. I can't get over calling him that," he added, with his whimsical smile struggling to shine through the tears which would not quite be mastered.
"O Father Davy!" was all Georgiana could say. But she lifted a flushed and lovely face with all manner of womanly qualities written in it, and kissed her father on brow and cheek and lips, as she would have kissed her mother at such words as those.
* * * * *
"I wonder," said Mr. Warne, sitting comfortably in the Pullman chair his daughter had insisted upon, "if I can possibly be awake, not dreaming. I never thought to take another journey."
"He said it wouldn't hurt you, and it's not. You're not too tired? I haven't seen you look so well for a long time," declared his daughter.
The eyes of other passengers, across the aisle, were irresistibly drawn to these two travelers—the frail, intellectual-looking man with his curly gray hair and his gentle blue eyes, his worn but carefully kept garments, his way of turning to his daughter at every change of scene—the daughter herself, with her face of charm under the close hat with its veil, her clothing the suit of dark summer serge with its lines of distinction, which was still doing duty as the only presentable street suit she possessed.
They were a more than commonly interesting pair, these travelers, and they were furtively watched from behind more than one newspaper.
Georgiana had no eyes for possible observers. With Father Davy she preferred to sit with her chair turned toward the window, looking out at the hills and trying to realize the thing which was happening. She was actually on her way to the home of a man whom a month ago she had thought gone out of her life forever. And, even now, he had not spoken a word of love to her, had not asked her to marry him! Yet he was to meet her at the end of this short journey; she was to look out upon the platform and see that distinguished figure standing there, waiting for her—for her, Georgiana Warne, maker of rugs for small sums of money, wearer of other people's cast-oft clothing, undistinguished by anything in the world—except by being the daughter of a real saint; and that was much after all. Fate had not left her without the best beginning in life, the being brought into it by such a father and mother—bless them!
The hours flew by, the train passed through the outlying towns and came at last to the monster city. The lights within the car and without were bright as they drew into the great station. Following the porter who carried Mr. Warne's worn black bag and his daughter's fine one—given her by Aunt Olivia that summer—her arm beneath her father's, Georgiana made her way through the car, into the vestibule, out upon the platform. No sight of Doctor Craig rewarded the hurried glance she gave about her. But before she could take alarm a fresh-faced young man in the livery of a chauffeur came up to her, saying respectfully:
"I beg pardon, is it Miss Warne?" And upon her assent he said rapidly: "Doctor Craig bid me say he was called to a case he could not refuse, but he hopes to be home soon. I am to take you up and to see to your luggage."
"We have no luggage but these bags," Georgiana told him, wondering for a moment how he had recognized her so readily, then understanding that though she herself might be a figure indistinguishable by description from many another, that of Father Davy could not fail of recognition by one who had been told what to expect.
"I have a chair here for the gentleman," the man said, and he indicated one of the station chairs attended by a red-capped porter.
Mr. Warne, being wheeled rapidly through the great station, looked about him with the eager eyes of a boy. It was twenty years—twenty long and quiet years, since he had been in New York. What had not happened since then? In spite of the myriad descriptions he had read and pictures he had studied, the effect upon him of the real city, as, having been transferred from the chair to a small but luxurious closed car, he was conveyed along the thronged, astonishingly lighted streets, was overwhelming. Suddenly he closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cushioned leather.
Georgiana bent anxiously toward him. "Are you frightfully tired, Father dear? Are you—faint?"
His eyes opened and his lips smiled reassuringly. "A little tired, my dear, and very much dazed, but not upset in any way. I shall be glad to sleep—and glad to wake in this wondrous city."
They drove downtown for many blocks, turning at last into an old and still notable square which is one of the great town's almost untouched residence districts, in the very heart of its teeming commercial life. Here, all at once, the noise of traffic was quieted. Only as a distant and not too disturbing murmur came the sounds of the warfare which raged so near. At one of the dingy but still stately old houses the car drew up, the chauffeur alighted and opened the door. He escorted the travelers up the steps and rang the bell.
The door was opened by a lad in plain livery, and he was reinforced immediately by a middle-aged housekeeper who came forward and took the guests in charge. She had a rosy face and iron-gray hair and her accent was distinctly Scotch.
"I am Mrs. MacFayden, Doctor Craig's hoose-keeper," she said. "Doctor Craig is mair than sorry not to be here to greet ye baith. He tell't me to say ye should mak' yersels quite at hame, and should hae yer dinners wi'oot waitin' for him. If Maister Warne should be tae weary tae sit up longer, he should gang awa' tae his bed. I know Doctor Craig will mak' all the haste posseeble, but 'tis seldom he can carry oot his ain plans, for the press o' sick folks aifter him day an' nicht."
"Doctor Craig is very kind," said Mr. Warne. "If it will not seem discourteous I think I shall lie down upon my bed, for I am not accustomed to travel and am a little tired."
"That wull be the best thing posseeble for ye," said the kindly housekeeper, leading the way upstairs. "Tammas, ye'll bring the luggage. I should advise, Maister Warne, havin' a small tray in your room an' then attemptin' no mair than juist tae see Doctor Craig, when he cooms tae say gude nicht."
She led her guests into a large, square, pleasant room, furnished with old mahogany. A cheery fire was burning in a fireplace. She opened a second door, and showed a connecting room, of lesser size but very attractive.
"The Doctor often has special patients stayin' in these rooms," she said, "but fortunately they were emptied three days agone, and kept for ye. The Doctor has always some puir soul he wants to mak' comfortable. I'm glad 'tis guests this time he has, an' no patients. He needs to forget his wark when he cooms hame, but 'tis seldom he has the opportunity."
She left them, saying that if the Doctor had not returned by eight she would serve dinner for Miss Warne alone.
"No, please, Mrs. MacFayden," begged Georgiana. "If my father has his tray here I will see him to his bed. I really do not care for dinner at all."
The housekeeper smiled. "The Doctor would na' be pleased wi' me, if I let ye go dinnerless," she said. "But I'm thinkin' we'll see him soon. Wull ye coom doon to the library, Miss Warne, when ye're ready? 'Tis the door at the right o' the front entrance. The door on the left is the waitin' room, an' the Doctor does na' keep office hours at nicht."
With a fast-beating heart Georgiana set about making ready for that descent to the library. The whole affair was becoming more and more a strain upon her nerves. If Doctor Craig had met them at the station it would have been far easier for her than this. But here she was, actually in his house, combing her hair in his guest-room, going down to dinner at his table—and she had not seen or heard from him, except by telegram, since the hour when he had given her hand that meaning pressure and left her with her friends. It was an extraordinary experience, to say the least.
She wondered how she should dress for dinner—the dinner that she might eat alone! She had only her traveling suit and one simple little gray silk, dyed from a white "Semi-Annual" and made very simply, with a wide collar and cuffs of white net. Anybody but Georgiana would have looked like a Quakeress in the gray silk, but with her dark hair and warm colouring she succeeded only in imitating a young nun but just removed from scenes of worldly gayety! She decided that the hour and the occasion called for this frock, and put it on with fingers which shook a little.
Eight o'clock. She dared wait no longer, so, making sure that her father, having eaten and drunk, was resting luxuriously on his bed, she opened her door. The house seemed very quiet, and she went slowly along the upper hall, and after pausing a moment at the top of the fine staircase with its white spindles and mahogany rail, she began to descend. The steps were heavily padded and her footfall made no sound; therefore, as she afterward realized, a very close watch must have been kept, for the moment she came in sight of the open library door a figure appeared there.
The next moment Jefferson Craig had crossed the hall and was standing at the foot of the staircase, looking up at the descending guest. The guest, naturally enough, paused, four stairs up, looking down. The light, from a quaint lantern hood of wrought iron and crystal hanging above the newel post, shone full upon the dark head and vivid face above the demure gray frock with its nunlike broad collar and cuffs of thin white.
The man below looked for a full minute without speaking, but Georgiana could not have told what expression was upon his face or whether he smiled. She knew that at the end of that long look he stretched one arm toward her, and that obeying the gesture which was all but a command she came on down those four remaining steps. Jefferson Craig led her into the library, where a great fire sparkled and leaped and filled the room, otherwise sombre with books, full of welcoming cheer. He closed the door, then led her to the hearth.
"Where shall we begin?" he said, in that low but very distinct voice she so well remembered. "Where we left off?"
"I'm not," answered Georgiana, looking away from him into the fire, whose light flashed in her eyes less disconcertingly than that which she somehow knew leaped in his, "sure where we left off."
"Aren't you? I am. We left off where we had each seen, for just one instant, into the other's heart. And having seen there was no forgetting—no?—Georgiana?"
She shook her head.
"It was good of you to come to me," he said very gently. Her hand was still held fast in his. "I did my best to have it the other way—the usual way. There seemed a fate against it. I could have written, but somehow I didn't want to. I preferred to wait—with the memory of your face always before me, till I could see it again. And now that I see it—bent down—and turned away"—he laughed a low laugh of content—"oh, look up, Georgiana! Surely you're not afraid now. You know I've been loving you ever since I saw you first, in spite of thinking I must not, because of the one I understood you belonged to——"
She looked up then out of sheer astonishment. "Oh, no, not since you saw me first," she disputed. "It couldn't be—and I thinking all the while——" She stopped in confusion at the revelation she might be making.
But he caught her up. "You thinking all the while—what? Tell me!"
"I thought—you hadn't the least interest in me."
"Did you care whether I had or not?"
"I—tried not to care," confessed Georgiana naively. She smiled, a sparkling little smile. It was so clear now, that he wanted this confession.
He looked at her for a minute longer, then he said: "Don't you think enough has been said to warrant—this?"
It was then that Georgiana learned how little one may judge from outward quiet of manner and controlled speech what may happen when the heart is allowed to speak for itself.
"Forgive me," he said at last, when he had released her, all enchanting confusion under his intent gaze; "but you know the breaking up of a famine sometimes makes human beings hard to manage. If you could know the times I've watched you, when you were bent over my illegible fist of copy, and thought how I should like just to put my hand on your beautiful hair——"
A knock sounded upon the door. With an exclamation of annoyance Doctor Craig left Georgiana and opened it.
"Dinner is served, sir," announced Thomas, the boy.
His master turned back with a laughing, remorseful face. "I had forgotten all about dinner," he said, "though now I come to think of it I believe I had no luncheon. You must be famishing. Mrs. MacFayden tells me your father is resting. We will go up and see him—before dinner or after?"
"I think he will drop off to sleep for a little, he is so tired, and then wake by and by and be ready to see you."
"Good! It couldn't be better. I am eager to see Mr. Warne, but I want him to be ready for me—who have so much to ask of him. Meanwhile—shall we go?"
He offered her his arm, such graceful deference in his manner that she felt afresh the wonder of his wish to transplant her from her world to his. As they walked slowly through the dignified old hall he said in a tone of great satisfaction: "Mrs. MacFayden has ventured to hint to me more than once that this house is of the sort which needs a mistress. To-night, when she saw me come in, she said to me very respectfully: 'It's a gled day for ye, Doctor, an' now that I've seen the lassie I can congratulate ye wi' all mae hert. She'll mak' a bonny lady to be at the head o' the hoose, if ye'll permit me to say the thocht.' I assure you, Georgiana, the conquest of my good Scottish housekeeper upon sight is no small achievement."
"It must have been my gray gown and white cuffs," suggested the girl demurely.
He looked down at the hand resting on his arm. "Now that I have time to look at anything but your face," he said, "I see that you are wearing something very satisfying to the eye. I like simple things, such as I have always seen you wear."
With inward astonishment and congratulation Georgiana thought of all the dyed and reconstructed "Semi-Annuals" which had marched in a frugal procession across his vision during the past year. Suddenly she felt an affection for the very frock she wore, difficult as had been its achievement from the materials in hand. Certainly, women in beautiful and wonderful clothing, such as he saw daily, had had no chance with him against the attraction of herself in the cleverly adapted makeshifts of her own fingers. It was the girl who had made the most of herself and her home out of her restricted means who had drawn to her side this man whose judgment must approve his love or he could never love at all.
Things hadn't been so unequal after all. The wise God, who had set her life thus far in the midst of poverty, had given her with which to fight it the wit and resource which fashion weapons out of materials which more favoured mortals cast away. That greatest of gifts bestowed upon the daughters of men had been hers—the creative touch. At last she recognized it, and knew it for what it was. Using this good gift she had learned other things than the making of clothes!
A great warm surge of joy and understanding enveloped Georgiana Warne as Jefferson Craig, having led her into the dining-room and placed her ceremoniously in her chair, bent over her where she sat, saying softly:
"This place has been waiting a long time at the bachelor's board. Now that I see it filled—like this—I know how well worth while it's been to wait."
He took the place opposite her. With a nod at the boy Thomas, he dismissed him for the moment. He looked across the table, rich with the finest appointments in his house, arranged by a housekeeper who heartily approved his everyday simplicity of life, but who exulted to-night in the chance to show the lady of his choice the fine old heirlooms of silver and damask which were to come to her. Smiling, he lifted a delicately chased goblet of water which stood beside his plate.
"To my wife!" he said.
Georgiana, raising the face of a rose, took up her own glass. She looked at it a moment, her eyes like dark twin fires, her lips taking on lovely curves. Then she lifted it toward the man opposite.
"Still afraid?" asked Jefferson Craig, watching her as one watches only that which is the delight of his eyes. "Never mind; I'll teach you by and by the word I want to hear."
* * * * *
Upstairs, the slender figure on the bed stirred from the brief sleep which had claimed it. Father Davy opened his eyes again upon the firelit room and the pleasant comfort which surrounded him.
"Before they come," he thought, "I must tell my Father how I feel about it. I was too tired even to pray. But I am quite rested now."
He slipped down gently to his knees and closed his eyes, folding his thin hands on the heavy white counterpane before him.
"Dear God," he said, "I have the desire of my heart—the answer to my prayers—and I am very glad to-night. Yet Thou knowest my heart is heavy, too—with longing for my Phoebe. Tell her, Father, that her child is happy in the love of the best man she could have asked for. And tell her that David loves and longs for her to-night with the love that will never die. For that love that will not die in spite of years and pain I thank Thee. If it may be, give our child the same blessed experience. And teach us to love and serve Thee, world without end, Amen."
"There's just one more thing to be settled," observed Dr. Jefferson Craig. "While we are settling things, suppose we attend to that."
He stood upon the hearthrug before the fire in his library, elbow on chimney piece, looking down upon his two guests. It was eight o'clock of the evening following that upon which Mr. David Warne and Georgiana had arrived at the big New York house in the old-time, downtown square. Although they had been under the hospitable roof for more than twenty-four hours it was the first occasion on which the three had been together for more than a few minutes at a time.
On the previous evening in an upstairs room had been enacted a little scene which would live forever in the memories of them all; but Doctor Craig, perceiving with trained eyes the signs of growing fatigue in his frail friend after the unwonted strain of the day and its necessarily emotional climax, had gently but firmly insisted on withdrawing at an early hour. Georgiana had remained with her father, herself content to have the strange and wonderful day end in the old, simple, and natural way in which her days had ended for so long. She had felt, as she performed her customary daughterly offices for the beloved invalid, that she had quite enough to take with her to her own pillow to insure its being the happiest upon which she had ever laid her head.
They had seen little of Doctor Craig on the following day; but he had taken dinner with them that night, and as he had brought them back to the library fire he had given stringent directions to the boy Thomas that he be disturbed only for the most important summons. And hardly had the trio taken their places in the pleasant room before Jefferson Craig made his statement that there was something still unsettled in their affairs.
As he spoke he was looking down at Georgiana. It would have been strange if he could have kept his eyes away from her to-night. Like a flower in sunshine had she bloomed under the warm influence of the joy which had come to her when she least expected it. She was again wearing the little gray silk frock, but now its nunlike simplicity was gone—and happily gone—for a bunch of glowing pink Killarney roses at her belt, placed there by Doctor Craig's hands, lighted the plain costume into one of a charm which could no longer be called demure.
"Something still to settle?" It was Father Davy who replied, for Georgiana had no answer for that suggestion. One glance at Doctor Craig's face, as he said the words, had told her what was coming.
"The most important thing of all. Everything else is in order. You, dear sir, have agreed to come and live with us. We are convinced that it's not a sacrifice, except for the leaving of certain old friends. You have a zest still for seeing and hearing the things you have been denied; it's to be our keen pleasure to make your days go by on wings. You're going to have plenty of room here for the bookcases and the books, all the furnishings you care to keep—in short, you're to live the old life with a fine new one as well. Altogether, everything is in train for the great change, except"—he crossed the hearthrug at a stride, and laid a son's hand upon the thin shoulder of Father Davy—"except the date of it," he finished, smiling down into the uplifted face.
"But that," replied Georgiana's father without hesitation, "is not for me to settle. It is for you two."
Craig looked across at Georgiana and for a minute studied her down-bent profile as she sat gazing into the flames; then came round to her, plucking a pillow from a big leather couch by the way, to drop it at her feet and throw himself down upon it. So placed he could look straight into her face. "You'll have to take an interest in the ceiling now if you succeed in avoiding me," he said, with a low laugh.
"I don't want to avoid you," answered Georgiana, and let her eyes meet his fairly for an instant. She could not yet do this in a quite casual way.
He crossed his arms upon her knee, sitting in a boyish attitude and looking not unlike a big boy for the moment, for all the lines of care were gone from his face in the soft firelight, and happiness had laid its rosy mantle over his shoulders as over hers. He began to speak rather quickly:
"For the life of me, I can't think of a reason why you should go back and spend a winter in the same old grind, waiting till spring and—making me wait till spring. Why should anybody wait till spring? I've let you talk about all the work you were going to do this winter at home, but that was just because I didn't want to make you feel as if you were caught in a trap. I had an idea that for a few hours, anyhow, it might seem enough of a change to come down here and promise to marry a perfect stranger of a surgeon instead of the 'literary light' you knew. I thought we'd let it go at that for those few hours. But now—it doesn't seem to me possible to go back to bachelorhood again, even with such a prospect before me in the spring. Not after having tasted—this. Georgiana, why must I?"
Her face was the colour of her roses. There was no getting away from the challenge of those eyes that watched her so steadily—not even by following his suggestion and gazing persistently ceilingward. Craig glanced at Father Davy, to find that his soft blue eyes showed no sign of shock, and that his face was perfectly placid as he looked and listened.
The younger man went on, coming straight to the point: "Georgiana, marry me before you go back! You've promised to stay a week. Let's have a wedding here, next Wednesday. Then we'll leave Father Davy here comfortably with Mrs. MacFayden, and run up to see about getting things packed and shipped. I'll take that much of a vacation now. Then, in April, we'll go abroad for a real honeymoon and take Father Davy with us. I'd propose that now, but the seas are stormy in December and January and we mustn't risk it for him. But, let's not wait! Why should we? Now, honestly, why should we?"
The girl turned her face, with a strange little look of appeal, toward her father, to meet such a look of entire comprehension as stirred her to the depths. Suddenly, obeying an impulse she did not understand, she drew herself gently away from Craig, rose and went to the figure in the big chair opposite. She sat down on the arm and, bending, dropped her face upon the fatherly shoulder, hiding it there. Craig sat perfectly still, watching the pair, as Father Davy put up a thin, white hand and patted the dark head. Then the two men smiled at each other.
After a while Craig got up and quietly left the room.
By and by Father Davy whispered: "What is it, dear? You're not ready? You shall not be hurried. Or is it——"
She spoke into his ear. "I want to go back home—and earn—and earn—enough to——"
"Can you earn it, daughter? Can you ever get enough ahead to provide what you would like? And meanwhile—he wants you very much, my dear. I think I know more of his heart than you do, in way. Last winter we had certain talks that showed me a little of that. Would it be such a blow to pride to do as he asks? Unless—in other ways you are not ready. If your love for him isn't quite mature enough yet——"
"Oh, it isn't that; it's mature enough. It—it hasn't grown, in spite of me, all this year like—a—tumbleweed"—her voice was a little breathless—"not to have got its growth——"
"Its first growth," amended her father, with a meaning smile.
She nodded. "But—if you could know how I want—time to make the most of—what mother left me. I could do so much if I just had time. If I used it now I should have to use it up so fast! There'll be fifty dollars left when we get back. I could almost make that do, if—no, of course I couldn't. But I could earn more. O Father Davy, is it wrong of me to be so proud?"
"Not wrong, my girl, but very natural, I suppose. Yet to me—well, dear, I hardly know how to say what I feel. I confess I should like to see you married to this man. Life is—so short——"
They sat together in silence for a time; then Georgiana slipped back into the seat where she had been.
Presently Father Davy said that it had been a full day, and that he thought he should be fitter for the morrow if he should go to bed. Georgiana went up with him, saw him comfortably resting, listened while he whispered something in her ear as she bent above him, kissed him with her heart on her lips, and finally stole like a mouse down the stairs again.
When she came into the library once more it was to find herself in arms which held her close. "Do you think I don't understand, my dearest?" said the low voice which had such power to move her. "Do you think I don't respect and love you for your perfectly natural feeling about it all? But, Georgiana, you bring me a dowry bigger than any I could ask for—the inheritance from such a father as he is—and from the mother who gave you all he left her to give. What are towels and tablecloths—I don't know what it is brides bring!—beside such things as these? Won't you give me the real thing, and let me furnish the ones that don't count? Dear, if you could know the pleasure there is for me in the very thought of buying you—a hat!"
She could but smile, his tone put so much awe into the word. Suddenly she grew whimsical; it was so like Georgiana to do that when she was deeply stirred!
"What do you suppose that hat was made of, I wore here?" she asked him. "I'll tell you. I found the shape for twenty-five cents at the village milliner's. I cut it down and sewed it up again into another shape. Then I hunted through the old 'Semi-Annuals'; you don't know what those are, do you? I found a piece of velvet that had been a flounce. I steamed it and covered the shape. Then I had to have some trimming. It came from an old evening cloak of my Cousin Jeannette's—a bit of gilt, a silk rose, some ribbon from—I can't tell you what it came from, but it had to be dyed to match the velvet. I couldn't quite get the shade. But the hat, when it was done, wasn't so bad."
"Where is it now?"
"Upstairs in my room."
"Would you mind getting it?"
She laughed, hesitated, finally ran upstairs and down again, the hat in hand. Pausing before an old gilt mirror in the hall she put it on, then came to him, lifting her head with a proud and merry look which bade him beware how he might venture to criticise the work of her hands.
Adjusting his eyeglasses with care, he viewed it judicially. "It looks very nice to me," he said. "Suppose you keep it on and put on a coat and let me take you out in the car for a few minutes. There's a certain window uptown I should like to look at, with you."
"I have no coat," she said steadily, and now the colour ebbed a little from her warm cheek, "except the one that belongs with the suit I wore. It's short; it wouldn't do to wear with a dress like this."
"I see." Suddenly he came close again, gently lifted the hat from the dark masses of her hair, laid it carefully on a table near by, and drew her with him to a broad, high-backed couch at one side of the fire.
"I can see," he said, very quietly, "that you and I have much to do in getting to know each other. Let's lose no time in beginning. Listen, while I try to tell you what marriage means to me—and to find out what it means to you."
It was a long talk, and, by the kindness of the fates which rule over the irregular schedule of the men of Craig's profession, an uninterrupted one. Long before it was over Georgiana learned many new things concerning the man who was to be her husband, not the least of which was his power of making others see as he saw, feel as he felt, and believe, from first to last, in his absolute integrity of motive. And when he told her what he thought he could do for her father if he should have him under his eye during the coming winter, the period which was always so long and trying for the sensitive frame of the invalid, whose resisting powers were at their lowest when the winter winds were blowing, she gave way and the question was settled.
But she did not give way in everything after all, nor did he ask her to do so. When he suggested details of preparation, and she shook her head, he smiled and told her it should all be as she wished. And when he said, very gently, that he hoped she would let him provide her with the means to buy whatever she might need, because everything that he had was hers already, he took with a submission that was all grace her refusal to use a penny of his until she should bear his name. If he made certain reservations of his own as to what might happen when he should hold the right, that did not show.
"So that I get you, dearest," he said at the end of the evening, just before he let her go, "I am willing to take you in any sort of package you may select for yourself. Personally it seems to me that jeweller's cotton is the most appropriate background for you, if you won't have a satin-and-velvet case!"
At which Georgiana laughed, and assured him that she was no real jewel, only one of the secondary stones, and uncut at that. The answer she got to this sent her off upstairs with thrilling pulses, to lie awake for a long time, recalling his voice and look as he said the few suddenly grave words which had given her a glimpse of his bare heart.
The days which followed were to be remembered with peculiar delight all Georgiana's life. Each morning, in Doctor Craig's own car, accompanied by her father, she went shopping. Mr. Warne could not use his strength in following her into the shops, but he could sit at ease in a corner of the luxurious, closed landau, an extra pillow tucked behind his back, an electric footwarmer at his feet, his slender form wrapped in a wonderful fur-lined coat which his son-in-law to-be had put upon him with the reasonable explanation that it had proved to be too small for himself. From this sheltered position he could watch the hurrying crowds, study the faces and find untiring interest in the happenings of the streets.
Not the smallest part of his pleasure lay in receiving his daughter again each time she came hurrying out of some great portal, the tiniest of packages under her arm. Although Duncan, Doctor Craig's chauffeur, was always watching, ready to jump from his seat and assist her, she was usually too quick for him to be of much use, though she always gave him her friendly smile and thanks for his eagerness. It may be said that Duncan himself, a young Scotsman whose devotion to his master was now augmented by his admiration of his master's choice, enjoyed those shopping expeditions with an unusual zest.
"Oh, but these shops are wonderful, Father Davy!" Georgiana was fain to cry, as she came back with her purchases. "Of course I have to shut my eyes and simply fly past the counters where I'd like to buy everything in sight. But I do find such glorious little bargains, such treasures of left-overs—you can't think how I'm making my money hold out! I'm so thankful for all my training in turning and twisting; it's such a help just now!"
If Father Davy rejoiced within himself that the days of "left-overs" for Georgiana were all but past and that there was to be no more "turning and twisting," at least with material things, he did not say so. Instead he surveyed the contents of the small packages with eyes which were nearly as bright as hers, and made her supremely content with his approval.
The climax of the shopping came on the morning of the third day. Georgiana returned to the car after a more than usually long absence, during which, for the first time, Mr. Warne had become slightly weary of using his eyes in watching the ever-moving throng, and had dropped off, in his warm corner, into a little refreshing nap. He wakened to find Georgiana beside him, the car moving uptown by a less congested route than they had taken before, and his daughter's hand firmly clasping his.
He looked round at her and saw, to his surprise and dismay, that her heavy lashes were thick with tears. But she smiled through them, and bade him wait to hear the reason until they were in the Park, where each morning a drive, according to Doctor Craig's suggestion, was taken before the swift run back to the downtown square.
The moment they were well within the precincts and had entered upon the less frequented drive which she had asked for, Georgiana turned to her father. She held up something before him, and, looking at it, he discovered the little old bag of dark blue silk which her mother had fashioned from her own wedding gown, and which had contained the treasured gold pieces which had made it possible for Georgiana to have a wedding gown of her own.
"It's nearly empty now," said the girl softly. "It's bought so much, Father Davy; I've begun to think it was magic gold! Everybody—all the shopgirls and women—have helped me spend it. It was as if they knew I must make it go a long way and wanted to do it. I really think"—she gave a tremulous little laugh—"it was a good thing I wasn't dressed to match the car I came in, or they never would have taken the trouble to hunt up the things I wanted—at the prices I could pay. The fact that I looked like a shopgirl, too, was such a help!"
"A shopgirl!" repeated her father. "You, my dear? What would Jefferson say to that? No matter how you were dressed you could not possibly look anything but what you are."
"Oh, but, Father Davy, dear, you don't know what many and many of the shopgirls, especially these city girls, look like. There are such beautiful faces among them, such soft voices, such really charming manners. Of course there are plenty of the other kind, the cheap and common sort, but so many of the nice kind! I don't mind looking like some of them, indeed I don't. And the fact that I'm wearing this little old summer serge suit, now in December, with this hat, which any clever girl would know I made myself—well, it has helped me to interest their sympathies in my search. And now I've found"—her voice sank—"I've found what I couldn't have expected to find in all New York. And I'm so glad—so glad—I can't tell you. Look!"
She slowly unwrapped a long, slim, cylinderlike parcel, and brought to view what it contained. Inclosed in its pasteboard protector, to keep it unwrinkled in its soft perfection, lay a roll of dark blue silk, of a small brocaded pattern.
Georgiana silently laid the little blue-silk bag upon it, and held up the two so that her father could see how close was the resemblance. The colour was precisely the same, making allowances for the slight dimming of age; while the design of the brocade was so similar that the two might have been made in the same period, if not by the same hand.
Mr. Warne studied the two fabrics intently for a moment, then looked into his daughter's eyes. He was too moved to speak. When she herself could talk again composedly she told him what she meant to do. The blue silk, made by her own hands in the three days left her, was to be her wedding gown. She had bought a little fine lace, fit for such a use, with which to make the finishing; and no matter what Doctor Jefferson might think of such a substitute for the customary bridal attire, for herself she should be far happier than in the finest white silk or satin that could be bought.
"God bless you, my little girl!" Father Davy murmured, wiping his eyes, their clear blue depths misty.
His thin hand clasped the little blue bag again, his heart ached with the sorrow which is part joy and with the joy which is part sorrow. Nothing his Phoebe's daughter could have done would have proclaimed her so truly the child of her mother as this unexpected act. He looked again and again at the roll of blue silk in Georgiana's lap.
"How strange it seems that you could find it," he said, "now when everything is so different from the fashions of twenty-five years ago."
"It's a revival, the silk man said. He explained that the styles of the moment call for the fabrics and patterns of the past, and that it's a constant revolution, bringing back every once in so often what is old-fashioned between times. But he himself was surprised that the very newest thing on his shelves was the one that matched the old. I think he was almost as pleased as I was—without knowing anything about it, except that I was very anxious to find the silk. And now to hurry home and make it!"
Her unconscious use of the word "home" struck pleasantly upon Mr. Warne's ears. He himself was beginning to feel very much at home in the old square. Small wonder, since he had found there the son he had longed for all his married life.
Back at the house Georgiana fell to work without delay. She had told Mrs. MacFayden her intention, and had enlisted the warm interest of that motherly Scotswoman. She had offered Doctor Craig's young guest the use of her own sitting-room, with that of the sewing-machine which stood there, and here presently Georgiana unrolled her breadths of silk and laid upon them the pattern she had selected.
And now, indeed, she was glad of the long training in the dressmaker's trade, glad of the clever art she had cultivated for so many years. It was to her a simple enough matter to fashion herself a dress which should be in form and line all that could be desired. To do it out of unbroken yards of material, without necessity for piecing and patching, was a delightful novelty. To accomplish it in three days was only a matter of working at top speed, with fingers which flew at the behest of a brain which also worked like magic at its task.
During this period Doctor Craig himself was more than ordinarily busy, to judge by his infrequent appearances at his home. For those last three days before his marriage he was out of town, returning only on the evening preceding the date set. But Georgiana found no lack in him as a lover, for during the brief moments when he could be with her he made the most of his opportunity, letting her see plainly that she was always in his thoughts, and giving her every evidence that he was the happiest of expectant bridegrooms. Each day a great box of flowers was brought to her, in which she revelled as she had only dreamed of doing. While he was away he called her up each evening on the telephone, managing to send her somehow, over the wire, a sense of his nearness and his devotion. Altogether those few days brought to Georgiana an experience unique in a lifetime, and one which she would gladly have prolonged.
Then, it seemed quite suddenly, it was Wednesday morning, and the sun was shining brilliantly in at Georgiana's windows over a thousand roof-tops. The marriage was to occur at noon, because, for a bride whose bridal finery was limited to a little frock of dark blue silk and whose traveling attire was the plainest of ready-to-wear suits and simplest of small hats, without furs or furbelows of any sort, it seemed the only fitting hour.
It had been arranged that the two essential witnesses to the ceremony should be two close friends of Doctor Craig's, an elderly couple whose name, if the Warnes had known, was one of the old names of the city, standing for the bluest of blue Knickerbocker blood, though for only moderate wealth and for no ostentation whatever. Georgiana had begged that no other guests be asked, being anxious, on her father's account, to have the whole affair over with the least possible agitation for him. To this Doctor Craig had cordially agreed.
At eleven o'clock, however, a third guest arrived, a most unexpected guest, who with a ruddy, eager face, came running up the old stone steps of the house, a great florist's box under his arm. He demanded of the boy Thomas instant entrance, and waved back at a taxicab driver the summons to bring along a much larger box which was nearly filling that vehicle.
Georgiana, peeping out of her father's window, beheld, and was off and down the stairs before Thomas could fairly begin his explanation that Miss Warne was engaged and could not be intruded upon at this hour.
"Well, well, George! You came pretty near giving me the slip, didn't you? But not quite—thanks to Doctor Craig."
Georgiana showed her surprise. "Did he let you know?"
She had led him instantly inside the library and had unconsciously closed the door all but in the face of the interested Thomas, ignoring both florist's box and big package, which that young man would have brought in to her. She had both hands on James Stuart's shoulders, and was looking him straight in the eyes, which looked as straightly back. If there had ever been the beginning of romance between these two, clearly it was far in the background now. Never did brother and sister face each other with their relationship more clearly defined.
"I should say he did—since you didn't! What did you mean by trying to steal a march on us all like this? Jeannette is furious, though of course she isn't strong enough to come, wild though she is to do it. She wanted me to tell you that she'll have revenge when she gets about, and that you won't escape her wedding presents. Meanwhile she's sent you something she had on hand, because there was no time to get anything else. She thought you would find a use for it somehow. She sent her love with it—and I can tell you that's pretty valuable."
"Of course it is! Jimps, I'm so pleased, so wonderfully pleased that you are here—I can't tell you!"
"Then, why in the name of old friendship didn't you send for me?" Stuart demanded, for plainly this still rankled. "Evidently Doctor Craig had more belief in that than you did."
"I wanted to, indeed I did, Jimps, dear, but I thought—I was sure—well——"
Stuart laughed. "Thought I wanted to save every penny for my own wedding, eh? I rather guess I can squander a few on yours. I wouldn't have missed it for worlds, though I'd give a good deal if my sweetheart could have been here, too—and so would she, bless her! She's coming on splendidly, George—looks almost herself again. In a month more her doctor will let up on restrictions."
They talked fast, with an eye on the library clock, and when its deep, slow chime proclaimed the half-hour Georgiana rose.
"I must go now. Come and stay with father till the hour arrives, will you? It will steady him to see you. Not but that he seems as serene as ever, but I know inside it's a pretty big strain for him."
"All right, I'd like nothing better, since I can't see you any longer. Where's the principal man for this occasion, anyhow? Can he take the time to be married, or is he liable to send up word he's detained? You can't put your finger on these popular surgeons till they're here."
"I had a telephone message from him an hour ago," Georgiana assured him, with a conscious little smile. "I really think he'll be here, though not till the last minute, probably."
"If he isn't I'll go after him with a gun. If he doesn't show up I'd marry you myself if it wasn't for a previous engagement," dared Stuart, with a happy laugh.
"Never! If I couldn't have my man I'd never marry anybody," she whispered, as she turned to look back at him for an instant, her hand on the library door.
Stuart caught the hand, and whispered back: "George, is it like that with you, too?" She nodded. His face flamed. "It's wonderful, isn't it? Unbelievable!"
She nodded again. They looked into each other's faces, smiling through a mist of happiness, then Georgiana flung open the door and ran out into the hall.
Stuart followed, caught up the big box and ran after her up the stairs. "Here," he said under his breath, as they reached the top, "be sure to open this before you go. Jean wanted you to wear it away with you; she said you'd be sure to need it, traveling. It's a beauty; it just came home for her."
He gave her the big box at the door of her room, while she pointed him down the hall to her father's door. He patted her arm with a brotherly gesture, and hurried along.
Inside her room, with a glance at the clock, she opened the box. Under the tissue lay a soft, luxurious-feeling mass, all dark blue cloth of a velvety texture, with glimpses of dark fur. She opened it, with a sigh of pleasure, for it meant that now she might look fit to be Dr. Jefferson Craig's traveling companion, with this cloak, fur-lined, all-enveloping, to slip on over the plain little suit which was not half warm enough for severe winter weather.
"It's the last of my 'Semi-Annuals,'" she said to herself, "and the best. How dear of her! And oh, how good it is that Jimps is here! Now I have a family, a real family to see me married—a father and a brother!"
The clock again—warning her to fly. She had ever been rapid at dressing—she had never been quicker. A cold plunge—the second that morning, bringing the blood leaping—the donning of fair garments lying ready to her hand—the arrangement of hair in the old way, simplicity itself—then the slipping over her white shoulders of the blue silk gown. When it was fastened Georgiana went to stand by her window, looking out with eyes which did not see.
"Wull ye be comin' soon, Miss Warne?" said the voice of Mrs. MacFayden at her door. Georgiana opened it quickly, and the housekeeper entered, quietly resplendent in black silk with fine lace collar and cuffs, her hair in shining order, an expression of great solemnity on her face.
"Mr. and Mrs. Peter Brandt are here," she announced with impressiveness. "Doctor Craig is doonstairs with them; he cam' ten minutes ago. He bade me say he wad coom for ye himself when ye were ready. It's a gled day for him, Miss Warne, an' for us a'."
Georgiana advanced, her heart very warm toward this good woman, who, as she well knew, was quite as much the friend of Jefferson Craig as his housekeeper, and well esteemed, even beloved by him. The girl came close.
"Mrs. MacFayden," she said, very low, "I have—no mother to kiss me before I go down. May I——"
The sentence was left unfinished, for with one step forward Mary MacFayden opened wide her arms, and for a long minute the two enfolded each other, while both hearts beat strongly.
Then Georgiana, suddenly mindful that she must not let go for an instant of her self-control, pressed a kiss upon the fair, smooth cheek of the Scotswoman, received one equally warm upon her own, and drew away smiling. "Thank you," she murmured uncertainly. "I couldn't go without it."
"Thet ye could na', lassie," responded Mrs. MacFayden heartily. "Noo—wull I send the doctor up?"
"Just in a minute—when I have seen my father——"
Georgiana ran into his room from her own. A deep embrace, a lingering kiss—while James Stuart looked out of the window, a lump suddenly appearing from nowhere in his sturdy throat.
Then Georgiana said softly at the young man's elbow: "Thank you again for coming, Jimps. It's such a comfort to have my brother here."
Before he could reply she was gone again.
He led Mr. Warne downstairs, where Doctor Craig presented them both to the Brandts—delightful people Stuart thought them, too—so simple and unaffected—almost like village people.
As he stood waiting with them, in the same dignified big room which he had been in before he went upstairs, he was conscious that in his brief absence its character had changed. Library though it still was, with its massive bookcases filled with rows upon rows of finely bound books, it had taken on a festal air. Great bowls of roses, deep crimson, glowing pink, rich amber, had been brought in; they stood on table, chimney-piece, and floor; hundreds of them it seemed to him there must be. He realized that Georgiana herself could not have seen them; they would be a surprise to her. Evidently the simple little wedding was to have a character all its own.
With the quiet departure of Jefferson Craig from the room James Stuart was all eyes for an appearance at the door. How would Georgiana come to her marriage? In shimmering white, he supposed, for that was the traditional garb of all the brides he had ever seen—mostly village girls they were. Once, while at college, he had attended a city wedding, that of a classmate who had not been willing to wait till his college course was finished. Stuart remembered how pale the bride had been; she, had looked as if she were going to faint. He hoped Georgiana would not look like that: he could not conceive it.
The next moment he saw her, entering the wide door, on Doctor Craig's arm—the same Georgiana he had always known, as simply dressed, even more simply, he thought, though he had little time for looking at her dress, so held was his gaze by her face. Never could he have conceived so radiant a bride. And then he thought—Jefferson Craig had gone up alone to bring her down. Stuart wondered if he himself could make Jeannette look like that, at such a moment. He thought he could!
Georgiana looked into Father Davy's eyes as she stood before him. He was not tall; his face was almost on a level with her own. It seemed to her she had never seen eyes so clear, so blue, so comprehending. Her own never left them for a moment while the service lasted, until the closing prayer.
Father Davy's voice, at first very slightly tremulous, gathered force as he went on with the words he had spoken so many times, but never as he was speaking them now—to his child, to Phoebe's child, and to the man of her choice. A little flush crept into his thin cheeks. More than once his eyes rested on the dark-blue silk which covered his daughter's shoulders; the sight of it seemed to give him strength.
When the service ended, and his voice sank into the words of prayer, the hand of Mr. Peter Brandt went for a moment to his eyes; Mrs. MacFayden felt suddenly for her handkerchief; James Stuart softly cleared his throat, winking once or twice rather rapidly. Never had any of them heard just such a prayer as that. It was as if he who made it were very near the invisible Presence whom he so tenderly and trustingly addressed.
Stuart never forgot the moment when he looked for the first time into the eyes of Jefferson Craig's newly made wife. For one instant he suffered a pang of jealousy—a queer, irrational feeling. It was as if he had lost his friend, as if this star-eyed creature before him could never find room for him again in her full heart. But he knew better in the next breath, for she lifted her face, ever so little, and with a sense of deep relief he gave her the brotherly kiss she thus permitted. When he looked at Jefferson Craig he found that the keen, fine eyes were regarding him with a very friendly intentness, and he wrung the hand offered him as he would have wrung the hand of a brother.
"You're the luckiest man in this whole big town," declared Stuart. His lips had been dumb before Georgiana, but now he turned to her again. "George, there's no use trying to tell you how I feel about this. All I can say is that nothing's too good for you—or for him. That's pretty lame, but—whatever eloquence I'm capable of is tied up somewhere; I can't get it out."
"It's out, Jimps, dear," she assured him. "Isn't it—Jefferson?"
"It certainly is—Jimps," Craig answered heartily. "It was for just that genuine feeling that I sent for you. I knew we couldn't spare it."
Stuart watched the pair eagerly during the next hour—the hour during which the little party sat at the wedding breakfast which followed. The table was a round one, and his place was next the bride, so he missed nothing. He had never been present on such an occasion, nor could have guessed the beauty and charm of the setting wealth and art can give. It was perfection itself, arranged by whose hand he had no notion, but he understood well enough by whose order had been created all the simple elegance which so well suited the house and the people. And as he looked at Georgiana he said to himself:
"She fits into this as if she had been born to it. She was born to it, for it's just the kind of thing she'd have made for herself if she'd had the means. No show, no fuss, just niceness! And it's the sort of thing my wife shall have, somehow, even in the country, before long. We'll bring this there; she'll know how. There's no patent on it. Bless her—how George deserves this! If only Jean could have been here. But I'll tell her; I'll get it over to her. And she'll understand!"
At the end of the hour the car was at the door, and Georgiana was coming down the stairs in her traveling clothes, her bridal bouquet on her arm. How those splendid roses had lighted up the little dark-blue frock!
"I've no bridesmaid to throw it to," she said, extending it toward Stuart. "Will you take it to Jeannette?"
"I should say I will. I'll be with her this evening; she made me promise." And Stuart received the offering with a glad hand.
A long, silent clinging to her father was the only parting embrace for this girl. If James Stuart longed for one of his own, after these years of friendship, he was obliged to be content with the lustrous look he had from eyes lifted for a moment to his as Georgiana took her place in the car, and with the lingering pressure her hand gave his, which spoke of love and loyalty.
Then she was gone, with Jefferson Craig sending back at Stuart a special brilliant smile of gratitude for the office he had performed, that of taking the place of the whole group of young people usually present on such occasions, saying good-bye with bared head and face of ardent devotion, with the first light snowflakes of winter falling on his fair hair.
"I can't believe I'm quite awake," said Georgiana, by and by. She sat in one of the drawing-rooms of a fast train, the door closed, the curtains drawn between herself and the rest of the carful of passengers, and only the flying landscape beyond the window to tell of the world outside.
Craig sat watching her; he seemed able to do nothing else. In his face was the most joyous content; there seemed almost a light behind it. "Not awake?" was his amused comment. "I wonder why. Now I feel tremendously awake—after a long, uneasy sleep, in which I dreamed of losing what I most wanted."
"But it's not all strange to you as it is to me. I can't quite believe that there's nothing on my shoulders—no care, no anxiety, just—well, your shoulders! Oh, but," she went on hastily, "don't think that means I want you to carry everything for me; indeed I don't. I want to carry—half!"
"Ah, but that's it," he answered. "My shoulders for your burdens, yours for mine. That way neither of us will feel half the weight of either. I'm not pretending that I shall give you a life of wholly sheltered ease; it won't be that, and you don't want it, not in this burden-bearing world. But—you shall have some things that you have been denied, my brave girl! Georgiana, I can't tell you how it touched me—the dress you made to be married in."
Her eyes went down now before the look in his.
"I'll tell you fairly that I longed with all my heart to take you to some place worthy of your beauty and find a wedding gown for you—not necessarily a very costly one, but one that should bring out all you are capable of showing. But when I saw you, looking just yourself, in the silk that was like your mother's,"—he leaned forward, taking both her hands in his and looking straight into her face, compelling her gaze to lift to his lest she should miss what she knew was there,—"I felt something inside my heart break wide open—with worship for you, little, strong, splendid spirit that you are!"
He pressed the hands against his lips. Then he touched two rings upon her left hand: exquisite and rare jewels were set in both engagement and wedding rings, after the modern fashion. But there was a third ring there, guarding the others, a slender band of gold, worn thin by many years of hard, self-forgetting work—the ring which David Warne had placed twenty-seven years ago upon the hand of his bride. Jefferson Craig studied all three, turning them round and round upon the rosy finger they encircled.
Presently he spoke again, very gently: "My rings on your hand mean to me love and beauty, loyalty and truth. But her ring stands for all that and—service. We need it there, to remind us what we owe the world we live in. She paid her debt; we'll pay ours, in memory of her. Bless her for giving me her daughter!"
For a minute Georgiana could not speak. Then, with her dark eyes sparkling through the mist of tears which had taken her unawares, she seized his hand and lifted it to press her glowing cheek against it, saying passionately: "Oh, how you understand!"
They were silent for a long time after that, while the train flew on, through the gathering darkness of the late December afternoon, into the night....
Georgiana had supposed that they were to go at once to the old home, for she knew that Craig could not be long away at this time, and there was much to do there. But she found that instead of changing trains in the great city, sixty miles beyond which lay the home village, they were leaving the station to be conveyed in a waiting car to a hotel.
"If you had been spending all these years in cities," was Craig's explanation, "I should have felt like plunging at once with you into the solitude. But as it is—well, I wondered if we shouldn't like to hear some great music to-night. Do you feel as I do—that there are times when nothing but music can speak for you?"
"But you," she said, "who live in the rush all the time——"
"There's no rush here for me," he answered. "Nobody is likely to know me here; I can forget the whole world in the midst of the crowd with you to-night. As for the music—I've been on short rations a good while myself. I think we can feast together, don't you?"
It was all a fairy tale to Georgiana, that evening in the city. Her college days had been spent in a small college town which, though it had lain not many miles away from this same great metropolis, had seldom seen her leave it for the privileges which richer girls enjoyed at every week-end.
As for the superb hotel to which Craig took her, although she had seen its impressive front, she had never so much as stood within its stately lobby. Now she experienced all sorts of queer little thrills, as she watched the accustomed ease with which her husband led her through the brief details of arrival and noted with what deference he was received. Evidently he had been expected, for there was no delay in the smooth service which took them to an apartment reserved by wire, as Georgiana gathered from a word she overheard.
He was quite right; a touch of this was what she needed, as a bird long confined needs a chance to stretch its wings. To this girl, with vivid life stirring in her pulses, the unaccustomed experience could but be a delight, with such a companion to show her the way. Every detail had its own fascination, such as might never come again when she should be more wonted to such scenes. The dinner served in their own small drawing-room, the flowers which crowned the table, the blithe talk Craig made during the little feast, with all its pretty, ceremonious detail of service; finally the short drive to the place where the great music, as Craig had called it, was to be heard—it all made a richly enchanting picture in Georgiana's mind.
When at length she sat beside her husband in the immense, silent audience, listening to such splendid harmonies as only once or twice in her lifetime she had heard before, her heart was far too full for words. He did not ask them of her, understanding something of what was passing in her mind, though not even his more than ordinary powers of sympathy could have guessed at all that held her breathless through those hours of supreme delight.