The Visit of the Master by Arthur Johnson

“Have you ever read any of Marian Haviland Norton?”

I didn’t expect, when I put the question, to fall right into a mine of information. It was out of my line, moreover, to talk about authors and books at dinner. But the topic had popped inconsequently into my head, and there was certainly something about the quiet, sly-looking Jane-Austenish woman at my left that inspired confidence.

“I’m distinctly curious about her,” I added. “She’s sprung up so soon, so authoritatively. And she’s so new.”

Up to this point my companion had only listened more quietly, more slyly, than ever; but her eyes now opened wide, her eyebrows went whimsically high, and she turned to me with a twinkling smile.

New? You really think so?”

She gave me no time, either, to correct my statement.

“I didn’t suppose any one still thought that—except, possibly— Have you ever read Hurrell Oaks?”

I nodded gropingly.

“Miss Haviland was a teacher of mine at Newfair when it happened. That was eight, ten years ago. D’you see?”

“I don’t ‘see’ anything.”

“But you do Hurrell Oaks—you’re, you’re really all ‘for’ him, I mean? So you’d adore it. It’s pathetic, too. Though it is funny!” she cried, avid to tell me more about whatever “it” was.

But the inevitable shift in table talk veered us apart at that moment; and it wasn’t until after the long meal was over that we came together again, and could choose a quiet corner away from interruptions.

“Here goes, now,” she began, “if you’re ready?”

――――

Miss Haviland must have been about thirty when I first saw her. She was tall, handsome in an angular way. Her face was large, her features regular, though somewhat heavy, her coloring brilliant, and her dark hair grayish even then. She was of a stocky leanness, a ruggedness indigenous to northern New England—and perhaps she did “come” from New England; wanderers from those climes can flourish so prodigiously, you know—which only made her pretentious garb and manner the more conspicuous.

To see her at those college parties! She wore black evening-gowns, and a string—a “rope,” I think you could call it—of imitation pearls, and carried a fan always, and a loose wrap with some bright lining, and fur on the neck and sleeves, which she’d just throw, as if carelessly, over her shoulders. We used irreverently to say that she had “corrupted” (one of her favorite words) the premise of the old motto, “When you’re in Rome” to “Whether or not you’re in Rome,” so did she insist on being—or trying to be—incongruously grande dame and not “of” the milieu she was privileged to adorn. Without ever letting herself mix with those gatherings really, she’d show her condescension by choosing a place in the most mixing group, and there carry out her aloofness by just smiling and peering reservedly at—at the way a man set a glass of water upon the table, for instance, as if that constituted enough to judge him by; as if he’d laid his soul, also, sufficiently bare to her in the process. And she must have been, as you’ve seen, a resourceful observer; she had a gift for reacting from people; though how much depended upon the people and what they did and said, and how much upon what she unconsciously—or consciously—adapted from Hurrell Oaks while she gauged them, is a question. The result at least fits the needs of a gaping public. But I’m drifting.

All this—in fact, everything about her—took George Norton by storm when he turned up, fresh from a freshwater university farther west, to fill the Slocum professorship. He found in her the splendor that he’d been stranded away from in “real life,” and had never had time or imagination to find in books. She represented great, glorious things beyond his ken—civilization, culture, society, foreign lands across the sea for which his appetite had been whetted by the holiday tour he took to Bermuda after getting his A.B. with highest honors in history and government. He was about forty or so, and lived alone with his mother.

Rumor had it (and it may have been well founded, it’s so difficult to tell what goes on in the minds of those small, meek men), that he had always wanted to discover an “Egeria-like woman,” and that, once he stepped into Mrs. Braxton’s drawing-room and saw—and heard—Miss Haviland discoursing on “The Overtones in Swinburne’s Prose,” his wildest hope was realized. Be that as it may, his recognition must have been overpowering to have won her attention so easily; for her standards wouldn’t have permitted her, by any stretch of imagination, to think of him as an Egeria’s man—however she may have felt she merited one.

But she wasn’t, with her looks and distinction and learning, the sort to attract men readily. She was too self-sufficient and flagrant, to begin with. She left no medium of approach suggested. She offered no tender, winning moments. Her aspect for men, as well as for women, implied that she thought she knew their ways and methods better than they did.... It shows as a weakness in her stories, I think—the temerity with which she assumes the masculine role, the possible hollowness of her assumptions not once daunting her. Remember the one that begins, “I had just peeked into the bar of the Savoy Hotel”? I could never, when I read it, think of anything except just how Marian Haviland herself would look, in a black evening gown and her other regalia, “peeking”—as she no doubt longed to do. But I’m drifting again.... Her favor might have fired the heart of a grand seigneur, I don’t know; to the men of Newfair it was too much like a corrective. George Norton, I guess, was the only one who ever craved it. He courted the slavedom of learning to be her foremost satellite.

His courting went on at all the assemblages. The moment he entered a room, you could see her drawing him like a magnet; and him drawn, atom-like, with his little round beard and swallow-tail coat and parsonish white cravat, to wherever she ensconced herself. No sooner would he get near than she’d address a remark almost lavishly to somebody on the other side, and not deign to notice until the topic had been well developed, and then she would only frown distantly and say:

“Mr. Norton, how are you this evening?”

But he would bob, and smirk consciously, up and down on his toes, and slap one hand against the other in an appreciative manner; undismayed if she looked away to talk quite exclusively to somebody else for another five minutes, just perhaps glancing fugitively over at him again to suggest:

“It’s too bad you must stand, Mr. Norton.” Or, when another pause came, “Can’t you find a chair?”

But you could see her still holding him fast behind her while she finished her own chat, and before she had leisure to release him at last with some cue like:

“That chair, perhaps, over there—no, there, Mr. Norton.”

Nice little man. He would fetch the very one. He would even keep it suspended in the air until she pointed out the exact spot and, with eyes and eyebrows tense, nodded approval of her scheme—asking him, however, after he was seated, to stand a moment, so she could move her own chair a bit farther to the right, away from the person whose foot had been planted, as she all the time knew, upon a rung of it.

He would yearn up to her presently and murmur, “A beautiful room, don’t you think, Miss Haviland?”

At which she would wince, and whisper down in his ear; and he wag his head and roll his eyes surreptitiously, sure of not appearing to observe any details she was kind enough to instruct him on. He would smile gratefully, proudly, after it was over, as if her words had put them into a state of blissful communion.

I remember well the day I met them together when she told me Hurrell Oaks was coming to Newfair. I can see her now as she sauntered across the campus, in slow, longish strides, and the would-be graceful little spring she gave when her feet touched the ground, and her head set conveniently forward on her shoulders. She looked at me, and then smiled as if to let me know that it wasn’t her fault if she had to take me all in so at a glance. Why, in a glance like that she’d stare you up and down. If your hat was right, she’d go on toward your feet, and if your shoe-lacings were tied criss-cross instead of straight, it meant something quite deplorable. And if she wasn’t fortunate enough to meet you or anybody else on the way, she doubtless scrutinized the sky and trees and grass with the same connoisseurship. I actually believe she had ideas on how birds ought to fly, and compared the way they flew at Ravenna with the way they flew at Newfair.

That was autumn of my senior year. Miss Haviland’s first book had been published by then, and acclaimed by the critics. The stories, as they appeared one by one in the magazines, had each in turn thrown Newfair into a panic of surprise and admiration.

Nobody ever knew, you see, until they began, what Miss Haviland did during the long periods she shut herself up in that little apartment of hers in the New Gainsborough. If, as you say, she seemed to burst so suddenly, so authoritatively, into print for you, think what it must have meant for us when we saw such dexterity and finish unfurled all at once in the pages of the Standard. Unbeknownst she had been working and writing and waiting for years, with an indefatigable and indomitable and clear-sighted vision of becoming an author. It was her aim, people have told me since, from the time she was a girl.

She had been to Harvard, summers, and taken all the courses which the vacation curriculum afforded—unnoticed, unapplauded, it is said, by her instructors. She had traveled—not so widely, either, but cleverly, eclectically, domineeringly, with her sole end in view. After five minutes with only—say—a timetable, acquired, let us suppose, at Cook’s, Topica, she could as showily allude to any express de luxe there mentioned—be it for Tonkin or Salamanca—as the most confirmed passenger ever upon it. She had mastered French and Italian. And she had—first and last and betweenwhiles—read Hurrell Oaks. I venture to say there wasn’t a vowel—or consonant, for that matter—of the seventy-odd volumes she hadn’t persistently, enamouredly, and enviously devoured.

At Newfair, people had by this time, of course, compared her “work” with the “works” of Hurrell Oaks; but you know how few people have the patience or the taste to “take him in”? And the result of comparisons almost invariably was that Marian Haviland was better. She had assimilated some of the psychology, much of the method, and a little of the charm; and had crossed all her T’s and dotted her I’s, and revised and simplified the style, as one person put it, for “the use of schools”; and brought what Hurrell Oaks called “the base rattle of the foreground” fully into play.

Instead of being accused of having got so much from him, she was credited, one thought, with having given him a good deal. You might have guessed, to hear people at Newfair talk, that she was partly responsible for the ovations being tendered him over the country during the season of his return—the first time in fifteen years—to his native land.

“Mrs. ——,” Miss Haviland explained, mentioning a well-known metropolitan name, “has written me” (of course she would be the one literary fact at Newfair to write to on such matters) “to ask if we can possibly do with Mr. Oaks overnight.”

I gaped under my handkerchief at the fluency of her “do.”

“But I don’t just know how,” she went on, “we could make him comfortable. Mrs. Edgerton won’t be well in time. And he mustn’t stay at the Greens’.” She waxed indignant at the very possibility. “In her guest-room, my dear? With those Honiton laces, and that scorbutic carpet, and the whirligig pattern on the walls—and the windows giving on the parti-colored slate roof of the gymnasium?”

I tried, in spite of myself, to think commensurately.

“And Mrs. Kneeland’s waitress wears ear-rings!... No. Now I’ve been thinking—don’t hurry along so, George. You never keep in line! It spoils the pleasure of walking when one constantly outsteps you like that.”

“Pardon,” said George, and fell back.

Miss Haviland winced and shifted her maroon parasol to the shoulder on his side, and smiled attentively at me to sweeten the interval, and continued:

“Now I, if you’re interested to hear—”

I was very interested, and told her so. It always piqued my curiosity, moreover, to think why Miss Haviland picked me out—young as I was—for such confidences. I believe it was mostly because I always stared at her so; which she mistook, characteristically, for sheer flattery.

Even as she spoke, I was remarking to myself the frilled languor of her dress, and her firm rather large-boned throat, and the moisture—for it was hot—under the imitation pearls, and the competent grip of her hand on the long onyx handle of her parasol.

She stopped short of a sudden. George took a few steps ahead. She lifted her parasol over to the other shoulder and looked at him, and he fell into line again, a sensitive, pleased, proud smile showing above his little round beard.

“Now I think it would be better—simpler, more dignified, and less ghastly for him—if he came, say, to luncheon, and if we arranged for a small, a very small, group of the people he’d care most to see—he doesn’t, poor fellow, want to see many of us!—a small group, I say, to come—George! Please! It makes me nervous, it interrupts me, and it is very bad for the path.... Cover it up now with your foot. No—here—let me do it.”

“Pardon,” said George, cheerfully.

Miss Haviland winced again. “I don’t know about trains,” she went on, “but we can look one out for him” (she facilely avoided the American idiom) “and then motor him to town in—in Mrs. Edgerton’s car. Don’t you think that will be more comme il faut?”

“He’ll be so pleased, he’ll enjoy so much meeting her!” exclaimed George to me, rising on his toes repeatedly and rubbing his small dry hands together. “Won’t he?”

Miss Haviland turned to him severely, and at a signal he drew his arm up and she slipped hers through it.

“To worry now is a bit premature, perhaps,” she called back. “We’re off to see the new Discobulus. I fear it’s modeled on a late Roman copy.”

And I saw her, when I glanced over my shoulder a second later, pause again and withdraw her arm to point to the Memorial Library.

“What will he think of a disgrace like that, George?” I heard her imprecating.... “What? You don’t see—that the architect’s left off a line of leaves from the capitals? Come on.”

Hurrell Oaks may have been over-fastidious. Yes. But his discernments were the needs of a glowing temperament; they grew naturally out of ideals his incomparable sensitiveness created. Whereas hers—Marian Haviland’s—though derived from him, had all the—what shall I say?—snobbishness, which his lacked utterly. I can’t estimate that side of her, even now, not in view of all her accomplishments, even, except as being a little bit cheap.

I didn’t, of course, though, gather at her first mention of his coming half that it meant to her. And she wouldn’t, I might have known, with her regard for the nuances, have let it baldly appear. But I discovered afterward that she had made all sorts of overtures—done her utmost to divert him to Newfair. She didn’t know him; had never set eyes on him; but her reputation, which was considerable even then, helped her a good deal. For she solicited news of him from her publishers; and she wrote Mrs. ——, whatever her name was, finally, when she learned that that was the real right source to appeal to, a no doubt handsome letter, whence came the reply Miss Haviland had quoted to me, but which, as I also afterward found out, only asked very simply, “in view of the uncertainty of Mr. Oaks’s plans,” whether or not he could, in case he had to, “spend the night there.”

Well, it eventuated, not strictly in accord with her wire-pulling, that Hurrell Oaks’s route was changed so he could “run through” in the late afternoon “for a look at the college.” He was to be motoring to a place somewhere near, as it happened, and the Newfair detour would lengthen his schedule by only an hour or two. Word of it didn’t come to her directly, either; that letter was addressed to the president. But it was humbly referred to Miss Haviland in the course of things, and she took the matter—what was left of it—into her own hands.

“No,” she answered, unyielding to the various suggestions that cropped up. “But I’ll tell you what I am willing to do: I will give up my own little flat. Living in London as he does, he will feel—quite at home there.”

Funny though it is, looking back over it, it had also, when all was said and done—particularly when all was done—its pathetic side. For Hurrell Oaks was the one sincere passion of her life. He was religion and—and everything to her. The prospect of seeing him in the flesh, of hearing him viva voce, was more than she had ever piously believed could come to pass.

However much she imitated him—and remember, a large following bears witness to her skill—however she failed in his beauty and poetry and thoroughbredness, she must have had a deep, a discriminating love of his genius to have taken her thus far. No wonder she couldn’t, with her precise sense of justice, not be the chosen person at Newfair to receive him. But nobody dared question the justice of it, really. Wasn’t she the raison d’être of his coming?—of his being anywhere at all, as some people thought?

Her very demeanor was mellowed by the prospect. She set about the task of preparation with an ardor as unprofessed as it was apparent. She doffed the need of impressing any one in her zeal to get ready to impress Hurrell Oaks.

Her tone became warm and affluent as she went about asking this person and that to lend things for the great day: Mrs. Edgerton’s Monet, Mrs. Braxton’s brocades; a fur rug of Mrs. Green’s she solicited one noon on the campus as if from a generous impulse to slight no one. And even when Mrs. Green suggested timidly that she would be glad “to pay for having the invitations engraved,” Miss Haviland didn’t correct her. But—

“No, dear,” she said. “I think I won’t let you do that much—really. There aren’t to be so many, and I shall be able to write them myself in no time.”

I can see her now, fingering her pearls and peering as hospitably as she could manage into Mrs. Green’s commonplace eyes, and George Norton hurrying across the grass to catch a word with her without avail. He was the only person whom she was, during those perfervid preliminaries, one bit cruel to.

But him she overlooked entirely. She didn’t seem to see him that day at all. She just peered obliquely beyond him, and, engrossed quite genuinely, no doubt, in Mrs. Green’s fur rug, took her arm and strolled off. She had lost, for the time being, all use for him. He was left deserted and alone at the teas and gatherings, magnetized from one spot to another whither she moved forgetfully away.

I met him in the park and pitied his shy, inept efforts not to appear neglected.

“Well, I kind of think it may rain,” he essayed, half clasping his small hands behind him and looking sociably up around the sky for a cloud. “But I don’t know as it will, after all.” And then, “Have you seen Miss Haviland lately?” he asked out in spite of himself.

“Not since yesterday’s class.”

“How’s the improvements coming?”

“All right, I guess. The new stuff for the walls arrived, I heard. It hasn’t been put on yet.”

“Oh—she’s papering, is she?”

“And painting.”

He tried to sparkle appreciatively. “Well, it takes time to do those things. You never know what you’re in for. She’s well?”

And he swayed back and forth on his heels, and teetered his head nervously. Poor thing! The gap he had tried so hard to bridge was filled to brimming now by the promised advent of Hurrell Oaks.

Miss Haviland called me on the telephone one afternoon as the day was approaching to ask if I would lend her my samovar; and she wanted I should bring it over presently, if possible, as she was slowly getting things right, and didn’t like to leave any more than was necessary to the last moment. So I polished the copper up as best I could and went ’round that evening to the New Gainsborough to leave it.

The building looked very dismal to me, I recall. A forlorn place it seemed to receive the great guest. It had been a dormitory once, which had been given over, owing to the inconveniences of the location, to accommodate unmarried teachers. It was more like a refined factory than an apartment-house. The high stoop had no railing, and the pebbles which collected on the coarse granite steps added to the general bleakness of the entrance. The inner halls were grim, with plain match-board wainscots and dingy paint, and narrow staircases that ascended steeply from meager landings. Miss Haviland’s suite was three flights up.

But when I got inside it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Her door was slightly ajar—it was the way Miss Haviland avoided the bother and the squalor of having to let people in—and at my knock she called out in a restrained, serene tone, “Come!” And I stepped through the tiny vestibule into the study.

It was amazingly attractive—Hurrell Oaks himself would have remarked it, I’ll wager. Nobody except Marian Haviland could have wrought such a change.

Of course there were Mrs. Edgerton’s Monet, and Mrs. Braxton’s brocades, and—yes—Mrs. Green’s fur rug, to say nothing of numberless other borrowed objets, to help out the lavishness of the effect; but the synthesis was magnificent. Everything looked as if it had grown there. One might have been in an Italian palace. And Miss Haviland, seated at her new antique walnut desk with the ormolu mounts, looked veritably like a chatelaine. She had always, too—I ought to have seen it before—a little resembled a chatelaine, a chatelaine without a castle.

But she had for the moment her castle now—enough of it to complete the picture, at any rate. There was a low smoldering fire on the hearth, and the breeze that played through the open window just swayed the heavy damask hangings rhythmically. My samovar, as I set it down on a carved consol near the door, looked too crude and crass to warrant the excuse of my coming.

She read my dazed approval in a glance and laid down her pen, and, with one experienced coup d’œil over the manuscript before her, leaned back, clasping the edge of her desk with both hands and staring at me. She was wearing one of those black evening gowns, and a feather fan was in easy reach of where she sat; and I noticed all at once that the string of pearls was dangling from the gas-jet above her head.

“The new fixtures—the electric ones—will be bronze,” she hastened to say.

I shall never forget, not to my dying day, the sight I had of her sitting there; in that room, at that desk, in a black evening gown—writing! And the string of pearls she had slung across the condemned gas-jet by way of subtle disarmament for her task! The whole place had the hushed grand air of having been cleared for action by some sophisticated gesture; as if—the thought whimsically struck me—she might have just rung for the “second man” and bidden him remove “all the Pomeranians” lest they distract her.

“It’s too lovely, Miss Haviland; I can’t tell you what I think it is,” I exclaimed, blankly.

She stood up, reached for the rope of pearls, and slipped them over her head.

“I want you to see the hall,” she said. “Isn’t it chic?... And the bedrooms. The men will leave their hats in the south chamber—my room—in here; and the women will have the other—this one.”

She preceded me. She was quite simple in her eagerness to point out everything she had done. Her childlike glee in it touched me. And she looked so tired. She looked, in spite of her pomp and enthusiasm, exhausted.

“How he—how Mr. Hurrell Oaks will love it,” I cried, sincerely. “If he only realized, if he only could know the pains you’ve taken for him.”

Pains?

She leaned forward and let me judge for myself how she felt. Her eyes glowed. I had never seen her with all the barriers down.

“It isn’t a crumb of what’s due him,” she pleaded. “Do you think I expect he’ll love it? No. It’s only the best I could do—the best I can do—to save him the shock of finding it all awful. Oh, I didn’t, I so don’t want him to think we are—barbarians!”

She gave it out to me from the depths of her heart, and I accepted it completely, with no reservations or comments. It was the one real passion of her life, as I’ve said. She was laying bare to me the utmost she had done and longed to do for Hurrell Oaks.

“To think that he is coming here!” she murmured. “I’ve waited and hoped so to see him—only to see him—it’s about the most I’ve ever wanted. And it’s going to happen, dear, in my own little rooms. He is coming to me! Oh, you can’t know what he’s meant to me in all the years—how I’ve studied and striven to learn to be worthy of him! All—the little all I’ve got—I owe to him—everything. He’s done more than anybody, alive or dead, to teach me to be interested in life—to make me happy.”

She threw her long arms around my shoulders and pressed me to her, and kissed me on the forehead. The chapel clock struck ten.

“You’ll come, too, won’t you?” she asked, stepping back away from me in sudden cheerfulness. “For I want you to see how wonderful he will be.”

She put her arms about me once more, and went with me to the door when I left. In her forgetfulness of all forms and codes she had become a perfect chatelaine. She opened the door almost reluctantly, and stepped out on to the meager landing, and stood there waving her hand and calling out after me until I had got well down the narrow staircase.

The day dawned at last. The hour had been set at five o’clock, as Miss Haviland’s Shakespeare course wasn’t over until three-thirty, and the faculty hadn’t seen fit, after “mature consideration,” to give her pupils a holiday. But the elect of Newfair were talking about the event, and discussing what to wear, and whether they ought to arrive on the dot of five or a few minutes after, or if they wouldn’t be surer of seeing him “at his best” by coming a few minutes before.

I met Professor Norton again in the park that morning.

“All ready for this afternoon?” I asked him.

His lips went tight together, and quivered in and out over his small round beard as he tried to face me. And then he looked down away, and began digging another hole in the gravel walk with the broad toe of his congress boot. He shot a glance at me, in a moment, and gazed off at the falling leaves.

“Aren’t you interested in Hurrell Oaks?” I persisted.

“I’m interested in everything Marian Haviland likes,” he declared, boldly, focusing his eyes full upon mine. “But—but the apartment’s small, and—and I reckon there wasn’t room.”

Room? Was any place too small for him? It made my blood—even at that age—boil.

“She’s had enough to do to keep half a dozen busy,” I said, tactlessly.

Has she?” he echoed in hope. “How—how’s she got on?”

“She’s been wonderful,” I said, feeling kindlier toward her as I spoke. “She’s made that apartment regal.”

“I’m glad, I’m glad! I knew she had it in her. Did the new sofa come?”

“Yes. Everything’s come. And you’d better come yourself at five o’clock. I know she’s just forgotten—perhaps your invitation got lost like Mrs. Purcell’s. She only got hers an hour ago, I heard.”

“Really, now! Well, I’ll just go home and see. I need a little nap, I guess. I haven’t been sleeping very well. Good-by.”

And he held out his hand, and nodded to me several times, and gave me a sad, cheery, uncertain smile.

It was too bad. I was sure Miss Haviland had forgotten him. I didn’t think—and I don’t think now—that she wilfully omitted to send him an invitation. It was only that her cup was too full to remember his small, meek existence. I wondered if I dared remind her. I was pretty busy all day, however. And I had to get dressed and out by four, as I hadn’t posted my daily theme yet, and the time would be up at half-past. But I thought, even so late as then, that I’d better go by way of the New Gainsborough, and if things seemed propitious, drop a hint to her, for I felt free to say almost anything after my experience of the other evening.

Things weren’t propitious, though, I can tell you.

I was still some distance from the building—it was about fifteen minutes’ walk, I should say—when I heard somebody calling to me in a distressed voice. I looked ’round behind me, and to the right and left; and when finally I walked ahead I saw Miss Haviland fly out through the swinging door of the New Gainsborough and stand there at the top of the high granite stoop, beckoning frantically. She had on a mauve-colored kimono, which she was holding together rather desperately in front, and her hair was uncaught behind and streaming in the wind.

“Edith! Edith!” she called out. “Quick!”

She had never called me by my first name before. What could it be?—at this late hour, too? She waited a second to be sure I was coming, then dodged back under cover.

I ran. I sprang up the granite steps.

“See if you see anybody!” she commanded, breathlessly, peeping out at me.

“No, I don’t,” I said, looking. “There’s nobody, Miss Haviland.”

“But there must be,” she insisted. “Look again! Look everywhere!”

I did so. “There isn’t, Miss Haviland,” I said back through the opening. “Why won’t you believe me?”

“Go down again, do go right down,” she kept saying, “and see!”

I shook my head. But at that she leaped out on to the stoop and took me by the shoulder and pushed me.

“Run out behind the building—oh, be quick!” she beseeched. “Look all along the road, and if you see anybody, stop him and tell me!”

I ran. The road was empty. I came dazedly back. “There’s nobody in sight,” I panted, “not a soul.”

“Run over to that tree where you can see ’round the turn in the avenue!”

I ran again. I stretched my eyes in vain, but there wasn’t a person of any sort or description.

“Once more—please!” She started down the steps as I started up. “Over by the chapel—you may find somebody walking. Hurry!

I hurried. I was out of breath and hardly knew what I was doing.

“They’re all in, getting ready, Miss Haviland. How can you expect me to find anybody now?” I asked, pointlessly, and in some indignation as I reapproached her.

But she rushed down the steps and stopped me halfway, her mauve kimono fluttering open, and the gilt high-heeled slippers she had donned in her haste gleaming garishly against the unswept stone.

“Listen! Harken!” she whispered. “Do you hear a motor? Don’t you? Try again!”

It was still as death.

I stared up at her in terror. Not till then did I realize how serious it was. But I had never seen a woman look like that. I had never seen the anguish of helplessness in the hour of need written so plain. Her eyes seemed to open wider and wider—I had to turn away—and awful lines came on her forehead. She stretched out both arms and uttered a long Oh-h! that started in her throat and went up into a high-pitched note of pain. She was to me positively like a wild woman.

I watched her slowly raise one hand and unclasp it; I saw within a small, a very small, white paper thing, which she held closer to her face and gaped at, as if she couldn’t believe the truth of what she saw.

“What is it? What is the matter, Miss Haviland?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she answered, quite calmly.... “Listen! Don’t you hear—”

But she shuddered. “They’ll be coming, Miss Haviland. Really! You’ve no time left.”

“Yes.”

She tried to smile. It was uncanny. It was hardly more than a distension of her pale wide lips—a relic, merely, of spent resourcefulness. Then the blankness went out of her face, her expression collapsed, and she sobbed aloud.

“Miss Haviland! Miss Haviland! Do let me help you,” I begged, and I put my arm through hers and led her inside the swinging door and up the narrow stairs. “Mayn’t I do anything?”

She dragged herself heavily on by my side. But her sobs ceased after the first flight. At the meager landing before her door she broke away and stood erect and faced me and held out her hand. The abruptness of the change in her awed me. I watched her push the hair from over her face and tilt her head back and shake it and gather the folds of the kimono nonchalantly together; and resume the old hard connoisseurship I had seen her exercise from the beginning. Her eyes dilated tensely, and her eyebrows went tensely up, and she gave me that envisaging smile as of yore.

“It was nothing,” she said, “quite nothing. Won’t you step in and wait?... I’m tired, I expect. I was alone here, do you see, taking my bath. The servants” (Mrs. Edgerton’s servants!) “hadn’t come. And that knock on the door upset me. I thought—I thought—it might be—the—the caterer” (she winced at the word, and the wince seemed to help her to proceed) “with the food. So I hurried out and down like mad.... Thanks awfully, though. You’ll be back, surely? Please do.”

I did go back, of course. I wouldn’t have missed it for worlds—sad as it was. There wasn’t such a long interval to wait, either. I wended my way, and found the theme-box closed, and returned at about quarter past five.

When I entered, the assemblage was in full swing, and Marian Haviland, in the black afternoon toilette she had sent to New York for in honor of Hurrell Oaks’s visit, was scintillating in the midst. She had donned her pearls, and subdued her cheeks unbecomingly, and tinted her lips; and, going from one person to another, she would, in response to the indiscriminating compliments they bestowed, just tap them each gaily on the shoulder with her fan and explain that:

“Mr. Oaks was so sorry, but he couldn’t wait. Yes, he was wonderful,” she would say, “perfectly. We had an immemorial hour together. I shall never forget it—never.”

To this day I don’t blame her for lying. If she hadn’t lied she never could have stood it. And she had to stand it. What else could she do? She couldn’t hang a sign on the door and turn the guests away after all their generous sacrifices to the occasion.

George Norton, needless to say, wasn’t there. She had forgotten—I insist upon that much—to ask him. But two days later she announced her engagement to marry him, and in another month’s time the knot was actually tied.

――――

My companion stopped short there, and leaned back in her chair, expectantly staring at me.

“Like Marian Haviland Norton’s readers,” I said, “I should like some of the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted a little more plainly. Don’t spare me, either, as far as the ‘base rattle of the foreground’ is concerned. But tell me, please, literally just what you think happened.”

She showed her disappointment at that; looked almost aggrieved. Then she laughed out in spite of herself.

“Hurrell Oaks didn’t expect a party,” she declared; “he didn’t, at all events, mean to have one. He didn’t—she was right about that—‘want to see many of us.’ He didn’t want to see anybody. He just wanted to do his manners. He couldn’t decently get out of that much. And, although he may have been asked to come at exactly five—nobody, of course, knows how his invitation was worded—he reached Newfair earlier, perhaps unintentionally so, and came instead at four, and knocked politely for admittance. But Mrs. Edgerton’s servants, unfortunately, hadn’t arrived, and Miss Haviland was, as she herself admitted, taking a bath. She was no doubt actually in the tub when Hurrell Oaks slipped his card under the door.”