THE MAN IN LONELY LAND
KATE LANGLEY BOSHER
Author of "Mary Cary" and "Miss Gibbie Gault"
TO MY BROTHER
EDWARD PORTIUS LANGLEY
II. THE REQUEST
IV. DOROTHEA AND MR. LAINE
V. THE LOSS OF HIS BEST FRIEND
VI. A LETTER FROM DOROTHEA
VII. AN AFTERNOON CALL
VIII. THE RECEPTION
IX. DOROTHEA ASKS QUESTIONS
X. A DISCOVERY
XI. A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
XII. CHRISTMAS SHOPPING
XIII. MR. LAINE GOES SHOPPING ALONE
XIV. AN INFORMAL VISIT
XV. THE MAN WHO DID NOT KNOW
XVI. A CHANGE OF PLANS
XVII. A VISIT TO VIRGINIA
XXI. A VISIT FROM DOROTHEA
Mr. Winthrop Laine threw his gloves on the table, his overcoat on a
chair, put his hat on the desk, and then looked down at his shoes.
"Soaking wet," he said, as if to them. "I swear this weather would
ruin a Tapley temper! For two weeks rain and sleet and snow and
steam heat to come home to. Hello, General! How are the legs
tonight, old man?" Stooping, he patted softly the big, beautiful
collie which was trying to welcome him, and gently he lifted the
dog's head and looked in the patient eyes.
"No better? Not even a little bit? I'd take half if I could,
General, more than half. It's hard luck, but it's worse not to know
what to do for you." He turned his head from the beseeching eyes.
"For the love of heaven don't look at me like that, General, don't
make it—" His breath was drawn in sharply; then, as the dog made
effort to bark, to raise his right paw in greeting as of old, he put
it down carefully, rang the bell, walked over to the window, and for
a moment looked out on the street below.
The gray dullness of a late November afternoon was in the air of New
York, and the fast-falling snowflakes so thickened it that the people
hurrying this way and that seemed twisted figures of fantastic
shapes, wind-blown and bent, and with a shiver Laine came back and
again stood by General's side.
At the door Moses, his man, waited. Laine turned toward him. "Get
out some dry clothes and see what's the matter with the heat. A
blind man coming in here would think he'd struck an ice-pond." He
looked around and then at the darkey in front of him. "The Lord gave
you a head for the purpose of using it, Moses, but you mistake it at
times for an ornament. Zero weather and windows down from the top
twelve inches! Has General been in here to-day?"
"No, sir. He been in the kitchen 'most all day. You told me this
morning to put fresh air in here and I put, but me and General ain't
been in here since I clean up. He's been powerful poorly to-day,
"I see he has." Laine's hand went to the dog and rested a moment on
his head. "Close up those windows and turn on the lights and see
about the heat. This room is almost as cheerful as a morgue at
"I reckon you done took a little cold, sir." Moses closed the
windows, drew the curtains, turned on more heat, and made the room a
blaze of light. "It's a very spacious room, sir, and for them what
loves books it's very aspirin', but of course in winter-time a room
without a woman or a blazin' fire in it ain't what it might be.
Don't you think you'd better take a little something, sir, to het you
Laine, bending over General, shook his head. "No, I don't. I want
sleep. I came home early to try and get a little, but—"
"You ain't had none to speak of for 'most a week." Moses still
lingered. "I wish you'd let General come in my room to-night. You
can't stand seein' him suffer, and you'll be sick yourself if you
keep a-waitin' on him all night. Can't I get you a little Scotch,
sir, or a hot whiskey punch? I got the water waitin'. They say now
whiskey ain't no permanent cure for colds, but it sure do help you
think it is. Experience is better than expoundin' and—"
Again Laine shook his head. "Get me some dry clothes," he said, then
went to the table and looked over the letters laid in a row upon it.
"Have a taxi-cab here by quarter past six and don't come in again
until I ring. I'm going to lie down."
A few minutes later, on a rug-covered couch, General on the floor
beside him, he was trying to sleep. He was strangely tired, and for
a while his only well-defined feeling was one of impatience at having
to go out. Why must people do so many things they don't want to do?
He put out his hand and smoothed softly General's long ears. Why
couldn't a man be let alone and allowed to live the way he preferred?
Why— "Quit it," he said, half aloud. "What isn't Why in life is
Wherefore, and guessing isn't your job. Go to sleep."
After a while he opened his eyes and looked around the book-lined
walls. When he first began to invest in books he could only buy one
at a time, and now there was no room for more. He wondered if there
was anything he could buy to-day that would give him the thrill his
first books had given. He had almost forgotten what a thrill could
mean. But who cared for books nowadays? The men and women he knew,
with few exceptions, wouldn't give a twist of their necks to see his,
would as soon think of reading them as of talking Dutch at a
dinner-party, and very probably they were right. Knowledge added
little to human happiness. Science and skill could do nothing for
General. Poor General! Again he smoothed the latter's head. For
years he had barked his good-bye in the morning, for years watched
eagerly his coming, paws on the window-sill as dusk grew on, for
years leaped joyously to meet him on his return, but he would do
these things no longer. There was no chance of betterment, and death
would be a mercy—a painless death which could be arranged. But he
had said no, said it angrily when the doctor so suggested, and had
tried a new man, who was deceiving him.
"You are all I have, General"—his hand traveled softly up and down
the length of the dog's back—"and somewhere you must wait for me.
I've got to stay on and play the game, and it's to be played
straight, but when it's called I sha'n't be sorry."
From a box on a table close to him he took a cigar, lighted it, and
watched its spirals of smoke curl upward. Life and the smoke that
vanisheth had much in common. On the whole, he had no grievance
against life. If it was proving a rather wearisome affair it was
doubtless his own fault, and yet this finding of himself alone at
forty was hardly what he had intended. There was something actually
comic about it. That for which he had striven had been secured, but
for what? Success unshared is of all things ironic, and soon not
even General would be here to greet him when the day's work was done.
He blew out a thin thread of smoke and followed its curvings with
half-shut eyes. He had made money, made it honestly, and it had
brought him that which it brought others, but if this were all life
had to give—He threw his cigar away, and as General's soft breathing
reached him he clasped his hands at the back of his head and stared
up at the ceiling.
Why didn't he love his work as he used to? He had played fair, but
to play fair was to play against the odds, and there were times when
he hated the thing which made men fight as fiercely to-day as in the
days of the jungle, though they no longer sprang at each other's
throats. On the whole, he preferred the cavemen's method of attack.
They at least fought face to face. As for women—
He got up, stooped down, and patted General softly. "I'm sorry to
leave you, old man, but you'll sleep and I won't be long. Why Hope
didn't telephone what she wanted me to do, instead of beseeching me
to come to her that she might tell me, is beyond male understanding.
But we don't try to understand women, do we, General?"
The big brown eyes of the collie looked up in his master's face and
in them was beseeching adoration. With painful effort he laid first
one paw and then the other on Laine's hand, and as the latter stroked
them he barked feebly.
For a moment there was silence, the silence of understanding
comrades, then Laine turned away and began to dress.
Hands in his pockets and back to the fire, Mr. Winthrop Laine looked
around the room which his sister, Mrs. Channing Warrick, believed was
a library, and again wondered why she had sent for him instead of
telephoning what she wanted. He wasn't going to do it. That is, if
it were one of the old pleadings that he would come to her parties or
go to some one else's he would decline to do it, and usually the
important matter on which she must see him proved something of that
sort. Five years ago he had cut out things of this kind and—
"Oh, Winthrop, I'm so glad you've come!" Laine stooped and kissed his
sister. "And going out to prove it." In a gown of clinging silver
over soft satin she was very lovely, and as he held her off he looked
at her critically. "That is a pretty dress you have on, but there
isn't enough of it. What on earth did you make me come for if you're
going out? When a man is my age he is privileged to stay at home and
enjoy himself, not—"
Mrs. Channing Warrick stopped the buttoning of her long white gloves
and looked up in her brother's face. "Do you enjoy yourself when you
stay at home?"
"I enjoy myself much more at home than in other people's houses.
Where are you going to-night?"
"To the Warings. There'll be cards after dinner. I suppose you
"I wasn't invited."
"Hilda wanted you, but knew it was useless." Again the big blue eyes
were raised to her brother's. "What makes you so horrid, Winthrop?
If you go on ignoring people as you do—"
"I'll have to have paid pall-bearers at my funeral, won't I? Not a
bad idea. Well, why this summons to-night?"
Mrs. Warrick pressed the last button of her glove securely, eased her
skirt over her hips, and sat down carefully. "To ask you to do
something for me," she said. "Channing won't be back until
to-morrow, and there is no one to meet her except Decker if you
don't. Outside of an automobile Decker has no sense and—"
"Meet whom?" Laine flicked the ashes from his cigar into the grate.
"Who is it you want me to meet?"
"Claudia Keith. She is a cousin of Channing's and lives somewhere in
Virginia on the Rappahannock River, miles from a railroad, and has
never been to New York alone before. I thought I had told you she
was coming, but I see you so seldom lately that I forget what I tell
you and what I don't. The children think it's inhuman. After a
while you won't know how to behave in company, and what will your old
books and your money matter if—"
"By and by nothing will matter, my dear, but Decker's honk will be
heard before I understand what you're getting at, if you don't hurry.
What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to meet the nine-fifteen train from the South and—"
"Pick out an unknown person and bring her to a hostless house? I
wish I was as nice as you think I am, dear madam, but I'm not. I
suppose you also want me to apologize to your guest for your absence
from home, tell her a pretty fairy tale and say—"
"If you'd say the right thing I'd like you to make up something, but
you wouldn't. I certainly have no idea of breaking an engagement,
however, just to be home when a country cousin of Channing's arrives.
Being such an out-of-the-world sort of person she may think it is
strange, so please tell her—"
"I'll tell her nothing." Laine lighted a fresh cigar. "I'm going
"But you can't! You're to stay to dinner, that's why I didn't
telephone you about Claudia. The children chose taking dinner with
you as their compensation for having to stay in on account of the
weather, and they're hanging over the banisters this very minute."
Mrs. Warrick got up and with care straightened her skimpy skirts.
"Please don't let them eat too much. They can have—"
"Not a bit more than they want." Laine took the white fur coat which
the maid had laid on the chair a minute before and held it for his
sister to put on. "All this sloppy stuff given to children of the
present day will mean anemic men and women to-morrow. I'll take
dinner with them, and if they are sick I'll take the blame, but not
if the Virginian has opinions of her own concerning modern manners.
Are you sure you're well wrapped?"
"Sure. I hope Decker can find her, but I doubt it. Maybe she can
manage by herself. Anyway, I've done all I could. Good night, and
please don't let the children eat too much of a mixture. You'll come
and see Claudia, won't you?"
Laine shook his head. "I haven't time."
"Time! Of all nonsense!" She turned and kissed him. "The children
will have you at dinner, anyhow, and that's why I sent for you. Good
night, mean man!"
She gathered up her skirts, and Laine, following her to the door, at
which the second man stood waiting to throw a roll of carpet down the
snow-sprinkled steps to the car at the curb, watched it until the
corner was turned, then walked toward the dining-room, where two
young people threw two pair of arms around his legs and rent the air
with two ecstatic shrieks.
"There's turkey and giblet gravy and salad and loads of things, Uncle
Winthrop, and I am going to sit at the head of the table, and Timkins
says I may pour the coffee for you in the library, and—"
"Mother said I could have some ice-cream and two pieces of cake if
they weren't very big." And Channing Warrick, Junior, aged seven,
made effort to remove Dorothea Warrick, aged ten, from her point of
vantage next her uncle's right hand. But breath was lost in the high
toss given him by the strong arms which had sent him in the air, and
as he landed on his feet he laughed in gasping delight.
"Come on." Dorothea's voice was eager. "It's ready, and so am I,
and at eight we've got to be in bed."
As he took his seat at the perfectly appointed table, Mr. Winthrop
Laine nodded at first one child and then the other. "What very piggy
relations I have," he said, opening his napkin. "Not a word of
greeting to an ancient uncle, but just an announcement of what there
is to eat. One would think you were starving."
"We are." Dorothea laid down her napkin and got up. "Excuse me for
leaving my seat, but mother 'said we could have a good time to-night,
and we can't if we're particular about manners. I hate manners. I
guess I get it from you, Uncle Winthrop. I heard Miss Robin French
say you didn't have any. She said she'd invited you to her house a
dozen times, and you'd never been once, or made a party call or
"What's a party call?" Channing's mouth was full of soup. "What's a
party call, Uncle Winthrop?"
"It's the penalty one has to pay for being invited where one doesn't
want to go. What were you saying, Dorothea?"
"I've forgotten. Channing is just as rude as if he were somebody!
Oh yes—I started to say I'm sorry we were piggy about mentioning the
food first. We've been crazy to see you. We had something to tell
you. I think I'll sit down here right by you; it's too far off
behind those flowers, and I'll kiss you now if you don't mind." And
Dorothea's arms were around her uncle's neck and her cheek was laid
lovingly to his.
"Of course." Laine unfastened the arms, drew the child's head down,
kissed her, and patted the little hands before sending their owner to
her seat. "Being the beginning of a woman you kiss and make up,
which is more than your heathen brother does. Not another one!" The
dish of almonds was withdrawn from Channing's reach. "Let me see
your hands, sir! And you a member of polite society! Ah, here's the
turkey. And it's the drumstick you said you wanted, did you,
Channing? Drumsticks were put on turkeys just for little boys. I
always got the drumstick and the gizzard."
"I don't want any drumsticks!" Channing's lips quivered. "I want—"
"And he can't have the gizzard, Uncle Winthrop, really he can't.
Maybe you don't know about Fletcherizing, and you ought to be
thankful you don't, but you can't Fletcherize a gizzard, not if you
chew all night, and if there's breast enough for everybody, I think
he'd better have that. And I'll take plenty of gravy, please, and
stuffing, if there's oysters in it. Wait a minute!" Dorothea's hand
went up and her head went down. "I'd like to say grace: 'I thank
Thee, Lord, for this sure-enough food and for Uncle Winthrop being
here, and please let it happen again and don't let it make us sick.
Through the grace Channing's fork had been suspended, but his jaws
had not stopped work; and at the last word he leaned forward and made
a dive for the olives, two of which he put in his mouth at once.
To the man at the foot of the table the situation was perplexing.
His niece and nephew, born of wealth and surrounded by abundance,
were eating with the eagerness of little pigs; eating as if afraid
their plates would be withdrawn before they had had their fill. On
the tip of Channing's nose a drop of gravy glistened in the
candle-light, and Dorothea was swallowing much too rapidly for health.
Looking up, she caught her uncle's eye and leaned back in her chair.
Hands on her breast and eyes half closed, she sighed regretfully.
"I'm full already, and we're not half through," she said, and
beckoned to the butler, who came closer. "What kind of salad is it,
Timkins, and is there mayonnaise on it or that thin stuff?"
Timkins coughed slightly behind his hand. "It's mushrooms and white
grapes with mayonnaise, I think, Miss, but—"
Dorothea's eyes closed tightly. "Just my luck. I've never tasted it
but once, and it's perfectly grand, Uncle Winthrop. Mother had it
for lunch the day that scraggy-looking woman and her daughter were
here from London. Mother said she was Lady somebody, but our cook is
much nicer-looking on Sundays. She didn't eat her salad."
"You ate it." Channing's fork was pointed accusingly at Dorothea.
"You licked the plate."
"I certainly did." Dorothea stood up, shook herself, sat down again,
and carefully arranged her knife and fork. "We were in the pantry.
Antoinette was ill and Timkins let us come in. You see, Uncle
Winthrop, it's this way. We are scientifics, Channing and I. We've
been brought up on a book, and we don't get enough to eat. Mother
says everything has been learned out of science now—I mean about how
much children can eat, and how much they can drink, and how much air
they can sleep in, and how to breathe right, and Antoinette says when
we were little we used to be weighed every day. And that's why we
stuff so when we get a chance. I'm ten, going on eleven."
"And I'm seven, going on eight"—Channing had not yet yielded the
turkey in sight for the salad to come, and his fork was still being
steadily applied—"and all we have for supper—"
"Is bread and milk." Dorothea's hand waved silence to Channing.
"Antoinette says the milk is magnificent, but I'd rather have
something with more taste that isn't so grand. I wish I'd been born
before all this science had been found out. If we sneeze we have to
be sprayed, and if we cough we're sterilized or something, and the
only word in the English language Antoinette pronounces right is
germs! You'd think they were ghosts, the way she lifts her eyes and
raises her hands when she says it. And she don't know what they are,
either. Did you kiss me when I was a baby, Uncle Winthrop?"
"In the mouth?"
"In the mouth."
"Well, they don't let anybody kiss babies that way now. But if ever
I have any I'm going to let people kiss them and squeeze them, too.
I mean nice people. I don't believe in scientifics for children."
"But, my dear Miss Warrick"—Mr. Laine was also waiting on his young
nephew—"suppose your husband does. Surely a man should have some
say in the upbringing of his family!"
"Father don't." Dorothea leaned forward and selected an olive
critically. "Father would let us have anything we want, but he says
mother must decide. He's so busy he hasn't time to see about
children. He has to make the money to buy us—"
"Milk." Channing pushed his plate back. "I hate milk. Gee! I'm
full. You can have my salad, Dorothea, if you'll give me your
ice-cream. It didn't make you sick the day you ate all that lady
"You ate leavings!" Laine's voice made effort to be horrified.
"Dorothea Warrick ate leavings from a lady's plate!"
"It wasn't leavings. She didn't touch it. I was peeping through the
door and I heard her say she never ate trash. It was grand. Nobody
told me not to eat it, and I ate."
"An inherited habit, my dear." Laine put the almonds, the olives,
and the mints beyond the reach of little arms. "Once upon a time
there was a lady who lived in a garden and she ate something she
ought not to have eaten and thereby made great trouble. She had been
told not to, but being a woman—"
"I know about her. She was Eve." Dorothea took some almonds from
her uncle's plate and put one in her mouth. "She was made out of
Adam's rib, and Adam was made out of the dust of the earth. Ever
since she ate that apple everybody has been made of dust, Antoinette
Channing sat upright, in his big blue eyes doubt and distress. "Was
Dorothea and me made out of dust, Uncle Winthrop?"
"Dust, mere dust, my man."
For a moment there was silence and seeming thought, then Dorothea's
head bobbed up and down. "Well, we can't help it, and there's no use
letting things hurt that you can't help! But I don't think mother
knows, Uncle Winthrop, and please don't tell her. She just hates
dirt. Gracious goodness! I'm as full as a frog, and the ice-cream's
got chocolate on it, too!"
In the library some minutes later Dorothea was pouring her uncle's
coffee, and as he took the cup she brought him he bowed
ceremoniously, then put it down to light a cigar. There were times
when he wished Dorothea were his. If she were his— He took a long
whiff of his cigar and threw the match in the fire.
DOROTHEA AND MR. LAINE
"Pardonnez-moi!" Mademoiselle Antoinette stood at the door. Around
and about her hung blushing apology, and her hands clasped and
unclasped in nervous appeal. The hour had struck and her little
charges must come. Would Monsieur pardon? She was so sorry, it was
sad, but Madame would not like it. "Oh, of course!" Laine waved his
hand. "Good night, Buster!" Channing was tossed in the air. "If
the gobblers get you to-night, don't mind. They're just turkey.
Good night, Miss Wisdom!" Stooping, he kissed Dorothea and unwound
the arms with which she clung to him. "I'm sorry, child, but a
bargain is a bargain, and your mother won't trust us if we don't play
fair— It's after eight and—" "But I haven't told you what was the
specialest thing I had to—" Dorothea turned to the woman standing
in the door holding her brother's hand; spoke to her rapidly.
"Je vous en prie, Mademoiselle Antoinette, Prenez Channing et ne
m'attendez pas. Je vous rejoindrai dans un instant. J'ai quelque
chose de tres important a dier a mon oncle—deux minutes et j'arrive!"
Antoinette hesitated, then, with a gesture of despair, left the room;
and instantly Dorothea was on a stool at her uncle's feet.
"Did you know?" Elbows on his knees and chin in the palms of her
hands she looked up eagerly in his face. "Did you know my cousin
Claudia was coming to-night?"
"Isn't it grand!" Dorothea's hands came together, and in another
minute she was dancing round and round the room, the tip ends of her
skirt held by her fingers. "I'm crazy about my cousin Claudia.
She's my only correspondent, the only one I love to write to, I mean.
She writes things I like to hear about, and Christmas she sends me
something I want. That's the way we began to write. She sent me a
present, and father made me thank her in writing myself, and then she
wrote me and we've been friends ever since."
Laine knocked the ashes from his cigar toward the grate. "I didn't
know you knew Miss Keith."
"I don't. But I'm going to like her all right. Some things you know
right here"—she put her hand on her breast. "Father's been wanting
mother to ask her for a long time, but mother said she knew she
didn't have clothes like New York people wore, and it might make her
feel badly. I heard them talking one night, and father said the
Keiths didn't have to depend on their clothes to show where they
belonged, so mother invited her; but I don't think she wanted to very
much. Do you suppose?"—she came toward him, and, with her hands on
the arms of his chair, searched his face—"Do you suppose she will be
"I really couldn't guess. People who live in the backwoods and miles
from a railroad are not apt to be leaders of fashion. Doubtless her
hands will be red and her face will be red and her hair will be red,
"I don't care how red she is, I'm going to love her. I can tell by
her letters!" Dorothea's shoulders were back and her eyes were
shining. "And I don't see why you say things like that! I don't
think you are very polite!"
"I don't, either. I think I'm very impolite. It may be, you know,
that her eyes will be blue and her lips will be blue and her skin
will be blue—"
"And that will be worse than red. I thought you were going to be
glad she was coming. Aren't you glad?"
"Shall I tell the truth, or be polite?"
"Impossible! If I told you I was glad I would be untruthful; if
sorry, I would be impolite."
"But why aren't you glad? Are you too old to be glad over young
Laine laughed. "I think I am. Yes, I'm sure that's what's the
matter. Not for some years have I been glad over them, I don't care
for girls older than you are, Dorothea. When they reach the grown-up
"Claudia has reached the age of twenty-six. She told me so in one of
her letters. What age have you reached, Uncle Winthrop?"
"Is that very old?" Dorothea came closer, and her fingers slipped in
and out of Laine's hair. "You're gray just a teensy bit, but I don't
think she's a person who will mind if a man isn't truly young.
You've got such nice strong arms, and I'm not afraid of lions or
tigers or bears or—or mice or anything when you are with me. Please
like her, Uncle Winthrop!" Dorothea's face was pressed against
Laine's. "Next to father and mother and Channing I love you best,
and I think I'm going to love her next after you."
From the steps outside Antoinette was calling, and Dorothea nodded
her head at her uncle. "That's another thing my children are not
going to have. They are never going to have a French governess to
put them to bed and make them say their prayers in French. I don't
believe the Lord likes it. Good night, Uncle Winthrop. I hope my
cousin Claudia will be politer about you than you've been about her,
and I know she hasn't red hands." She waved her own and threw a kiss,
but as she reached the door Laine called her back.
"Come here, Dorothea."
She turned and came toward him. "Did you call me, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I did." He drew her on his knees. "Did you say you said your
prayers in French?"
"Every night, unless for punishment I have to say a German one.
Channing just shuffles his out and runs all the words together so I
don't believe even God can understand them. I don't like French
"Then why do you say them?"
"Oh, we have to! All the children I know say their prayers in
French. One day six of us had a race to see which could say them
fastest and say the most. I beat. Want to hear me?"
"Indeed I don't!" Laine's voice was emphatic. "But I don't like
French prayers for little American girls. I never cared for parrots
"What kind do you say, French or American?" Dorothea was stroking
her uncle's fingers one by one. "I always say my real prayers inside
after I get in bed—that is, if I'm not too sleepy; and they're just
plain talking to the Lord. You see, we are not allowed to speak one
word except in French to Antoinette, and mother likes us to speak it
to her, only she is always in such a hurry she forgets half the time.
We speak English to father, all right, though; father says French for
breakfast is all foolishness, and I think so, too. We take breakfast
with father every morning, and we just have a grand time. Mother is
never very well in the mornings, so she don't get up; but we take
lunch with her when there isn't company and she isn't going out. Did
you know the Dufferns had a new baby at their house?"
Laine shook his head.
"They have. It's a girl. They had four girls already, and Julia
says they're going to change their doctor. He always brings girls."
Dorothea slipped from her uncle's lap. "I know what that means.
Whenever she says 'Madam-ois-elle Doro-thea!' through her nose it's a
German prayer. Good night." And this time she was gone.
Laine followed her to the steps to take upon himself the
responsibility of her delay, and as he came back in the room he
glanced at the clock and took out his watch. It wouldn't do for a
girl from the country to get into New York alone at this time of
night, and, of course, he would have to meet her; but why did she
come at this hour of night? Ringing for his coat and hat, he put
them on, then stopped to light a cigar, and as the match was held to
it the front door-bell rang sharply. A moment later some one was
talking to Timkins.
"Is this Mr. Warrick's residence?"
The voice that asked the question was fresh and clear, and carried
easily to where he stood. He looked around quickly as if for escape.
"Yes'm." He could picture the bow Timkins was making. Timkins was
the politest person he knew. "Yes'm, and this is Miss Keith, isn't
it? Just come in, ma'm, we're expecting of you, though your train
must have been a little earlier than usual, ma'm. Mr. Warrick is out
of town, and Mrs. Warrick had a pressing engagement which couldn't be
denied, but she left messages for you, and I think a note. Yes'm,
just this way." And Timkins, knowing Laine was in the library, led
the stranger past the door and up the steps, over the banisters of
which was heard from Dorothea a cry of delight.
"Oh, my Cousin Claudia! My Cousin Claudia! I'm so glad you've come!
I'm so glad!"
A laugh as fresh as the dawn of perfect morning followed the kisses
next heard, and then the new voice spoke again.
"You precious child! I'm so glad you're glad. It's so nice to have
somebody glad to see you!"
THE LOSS OF HIS BEST FRIEND
At the click of Laine's latch-key Moses started from the doze into
which he had fallen and jumped to his feet. "Lord, sir, I sure is
glad you've come," he said, following Laine into the library.
"Gineral's been mighty bad off since you went away, and one time I
thought he was plumb gone. He done had what you might call a
faintin' fit if'n he was a person."
"Where is he?" Laine's voice was quick, and his eyes swept the room.
"What have you done for him?"
"He laid himself on the rug in your room, sir, and I give him a
little brandy and water. Most in general that will hit the spot
and—" But Laine was in his room, and Moses, following, saw him on
his knees by the rug, his right arm under the dog's head, his left on
the heart which was barely beating, and softly he tiptoed out again.
For an hour or so he stayed away, wandering between his room and the
kitchen, the kitchen and the dining-room, and back again to his room,
talking to himself in an undertone; and presently he sat down by a
table and began to turn the pages of a family Bible which adorned it,
and which he had presented to himself the Christmas before.
"It do beat all how he love that dog," he said, as if to some one at
his side, "and it's a-goin' to make a hole in his heart when he's
gone. I never seen anybody set such store on a thing what ain't a
human being as he do on Gineral, and as for Gineral—if a dog could
do what you call worship, he sure do worship Mr. Laine. They was
partners, them two, and it will be a quiet place when Gineral ain't
here any more."
Slowly he turned page after page of the big-printed Bible, with its
illuminated text; but presently he closed it. "I've read right much
of it, and I've heard a heap of it expounded, but I haven't got no
recollections of any references to the passing of dogs in it," he
continued, taking out a plug of tobacco and cutting off a good-sized
piece. "I wish there was. When something you love is leavin' you,
you have a mighty sinkin' feeling in the pit of your stomach, and a
terrible understandin' of the unableness of man. And then it is you
feel a reachin' out after something what ain't man. Mr. Laine is
mighty learned, but learnin' ain't no cure for loneliness, and
Gineral is all he's got. And I tell you now, this comin' home to
empty rooms is cold comin'."
Moses was speaking to the wall opposite, but the wall not replying he
got up and tip-toed to Laine's bedroom. Looking up, Laine saw him
and called him in.
"Go to bed, Moses," he said, and his voice was very tired. "There is
nothing you can do. If I need you I will let you know."
Moses shook his head. "I ain't a-goin' to bed, Mr. Laine. You can
make me go out if you want to, but if I ain't intrudin' I would like
Slowly the hours passed. From the street occasional stirrings
reached them faintly; but in the room only short breathing broke the
silence. As day dawned Moses, from his seat near the door, spoke:
"Well." Laine did not look up.
"When dogs die do they live again?"
"I don't know."
"I don't reckon anybody knows. But that don't mean they don't. If I
was as certain I was fixed for heaven as I know Gineral is a-goin' to
be waitin' for you somewhere, I'd feel more reconcilement to death.
Some things can die and some things can't. There ain't no time limit
to love, Mr. Laine. I think"—Moses got up—"I think Gineral is
trying to make you understand something, sir."
Half an hour later Laine called Moses back into the room, gave a few
orders, changed his clothes, and without waiting for breakfast went
out, and not until dark did he come in again.
Dinner was a pretense, and presently he pushed his coffee aside,
lighted a cigar, and took up the evening paper. The headlines were
glaring, but he passed them quickly. Telegraphic news was skimmed,
stock reports and weather conditions glimpsed unheedingly, and the
editorial page ignored, and, finally, with a gesture of weariness, he
threw the paper on the floor and went into the library.
It was, as Moses had said, a very spacious room, and its furnishings
were distinctive; but, though warm and brightly lighted, to stay in
it to-night was impossible, and, ringing for his coat and hat, he
made ready to go out.
At the table he lingered a moment and glanced at some letters upon
it. Mechanically he took one up, looked at the writing of his name,
and wondered indifferently who it was from. Breaking it open, he
read the few words it contained, and at them his face colored and he
bit his lips to hide their twitching. He read:
DEAR MR. LAINE,—Dorothea has just told me. I
am so sorry. CLAUDIA KEITH.
With a sudden surrender to something stubbornly withheld, he sat down
in the chair near the table, leaned back in it, and closed his eyes
to keep back that which stung and blinded them. To most of his
friends the going of General would be but the going of a dog, and
barely a passing thought would be its portion when they heard, but
she must understand. He got up. No. There was no one who could
A LETTER PROM DOROTHEA
For a moment he hesitated whether to go down or up the street. The
air was biting, but the snow, fairly well cleaned from the sidewalks,
no longer bothered; and, crossing into Madison Avenue, he turned down
and began to walk rapidly toward that part of the city where there
would be few people and little glare, and as he walked unconsciously
he repeated over and over to himself: "Dorothea has just told me. I
am so sorry."
"Mister, please, sir, buy a paper?" He stopped abruptly. The boy in
front of him stamped first one foot and then the other, and the hand
he held out was rough and red. Drawing it back he blew on it for a
"What are you doing out this time of night?" Laine asked the question
hardly knowing why. "You ought to be home in bed."
"Ain't got no home." The boy laughed cheerfully, and again put his
fist to his mouth and blew upon it. "I'm sleepin' with another boy
this week, but I have to pay him. Please buy a paper, Mister!"
Under his breath Laine caught himself saying something, then handed
the boy a piece of money and passed on. Where was he, anyhow?
Surely he was in no mood for the life of this neighborhood. It was
one he had seldom been in, and as he looked at its houses dull wonder
filled him as to their occupants. To keep breath in their bodies
meant sordid struggle and bitter strife, but possibly they were
happy. Certainly he had long since learned the possession of mere
material things did not mean happiness. He had long since learned a
great many things it was unfortunate to know.
A clock in the church near by struck ten, and turning he went over
into the Avenue and began his walk up-town. As he reached Madison
Square he looked at the empty benches and wondered as to the fate of
the derelicts who daily filled them in warm weather, and wondered if
they, too, wondered what it was all for—this thing called life.
In contrast to the traffic of the day the stillness of the Avenue was
puzzling. Only the whir of an automobile or the occasional hoofbeats
of a cab-horse broke the silence, and hardly less dark than the
tenements just passed were its handsome houses, with their closed
shutters and drawn curtains, and the restless occupants therein. As
he reached the Park he stopped, hesitated, and lighted a fresh cigar.
Three squares away was his sister's house, and in it was the girl
with the fresh, clear voice. He took the note she had sent him out
of his pocket, and in the light hanging just above him looked again
at the firm, clear writing, then put it back. Did she, too, wonder
at life, at its emptiness and aimlessness? Her voice did not sound
as if she were tired of it or found it wearisome. It sounded like a
very happy voice.
At his door he turned the latch-key, and for a moment—a bare
moment—drew back; then, with a shiver, he opened the door and went
Moses was waiting. "Miss Dorothea she called me up, sir, and told me
to be sure and give you this letter to-night. She slip out of bed to
telephone when that French white lady was out the room, she say. She
had her Ma send it by messenger, and she was so 'fraid you wouldn't
get it to-night she couldn't sleep. She sent a peck of love."
Laine took the letter and went to his room. Dorothea was given to
letters, and if his absence was unduly long a communication to that
effect was promptly received. He had seen her last night, however.
What was she wanting now? Breaking the seal, he read the sprawly
writing with narrowed eyes, then read again, that he might miss no
DEAR UNCLE WINTHROP,—Moses telefoned us and Channing and I have just
cried and cried and cried. But I won't even call his name if you
will only come and let me kiss you so you will know. We wanted to
send you some flowers but Claudia said our love was best. She is so
sorry too. She had one and it died last spring. I had a headake
to-day. It came from my heart because of you and she made it go
away. I think she could make most any kind of pain go away. And her
hands are not red and her hair is brown and her lashes are brown too,
and long and lovely. I don't know the color of her eyes. I think
they are glad color. I love her! I knew I would.
Your devoted niece, DOROTHEA.
P. S.—I told her you didn't like young ladies and she said she
didn't like old gentlemen, except a few. Please, P-L-E-A-S-E come
and see me—and you can come in the nursery if you don't want to see
her. She knows.
Your loving niece,
P. S. Again.—You ought to hear her laugh. Its delishus.
He put the letter back in the envelope, and the envelope in his
pocket. "She knows," he repeated. What under heaven had Dorothea
been telling her? He must see Dorothea and have it stopped. Did she
think him a feeble and infirm person who leaned on a stick, or a
crabbed and cross one who had no manners? He would have to call, if
only to thank her for her note. No. He would do that in writing.
Next week, perhaps, he might drop in and see Dorothea. But Hope and
Channing should take the girl about, show her the city. Certainly
Hope could not be so idiotic as to let clothes matter. In his
sister's world clothes were the insignia of its order, and of late
Hope had shown signs that needed nipping. He must see Hope. Next
week would be time enough, but Hope and Dorothea must both be seen.
AN AFTERNOON CALL
"How do you do? Oh, how do you do, too, Miss Keith?" Miss Robin
French held out a hand first to Mrs. Channing Warrick and then to her
guest and shook their hands with vigor.
"Did you ever know such weather at this season of the year? Even
heat and cold are no longer like they used to be. Everything is
intensified. Indeed I will have some tea! No lemon, and one lump.
One. That's a sick-looking fire, Hope. Good gracious! I just did
catch that vase of flowers! Such a stupid fancy, putting flowers
everywhere for people to knock over. Well, Miss Keith, have you
gotten your breath since you reached New York? Something of a town,
A gulp of hot tea, taken standing by Miss French, gave pause for a
moment, and Claudia Keith instinctively drew her feet up under her
chair behind the tea-table. To duck her head, as one would dodge an
on-coming deluge, was an impulse, but only with her feet could effort
be made for self-preservation, and as she refilled the cup held out
to her by the breezy visitor she blessed the table which served as a
breastwork of defense. With a hasty movement she put in the one lump
and handed the cup back. "I breathe here very well," she said, and
smiled into the scrutinizing eyes. "New York is very wonderful."
"And very disagreeable eight months out of the twelve." Miss French
put her cup on the table, threw her fur coat on the chair behind her,
sat down, and, taking the cup again, drank its entire contents.
"Pretty good tea, Hope; at most places it's undrinkable." Again she
handed the cup to Claudia. "One more and that's all. I'm cutting
out tea a bit—only twelve cups a day now."
"Twelve!" The exclamation was beyond recall. Claudia's hand stopped
in its pouring. "Twelve!"
"That's what I said. Have taken thirty many times, but the doctor
thought I was getting nerves and called me down. Nerves!" Miss
French's nose went up. "Nerves and nonsense are twin sisters, and
I've no opinion of either. How did you like the opera last night?"
The question being addressed apparently to the cigarette Miss French
took out of a little silver case, lighted, and began to smoke,
neither Mrs. Warrick nor Miss Keith answered, each waiting for the
other; but it did not matter, Miss French was looking at a photograph
in front of her. With lorgnette to her eyes, she examined it
"Rather a good picture of your brother, Hope. Didn't know he'd do
anything so human as have a picture taken." She took it up.
"Winthrop would hardly take prizes at a beauty show, but he's
certainly all there for something better. When did you get this?"
"A month ago, I guess." Mrs. Warrick took a log from the basket on
the hearth and put it on the andirons. "The editors of the Review
made him send his picture when that article of his came out on 'Tax
Terrors and Tax Traditions.' Channing says it's the best thing
that's been written on taxation for years, and in banking circles—"
"He's earned his pedestal." Miss French put down her cigarette and
handed the case to Claudia.
Claudia shook her head. "Thanks. I don't—"
"Pity. You've lots to learn yet. Most of you Southerners have, but
when you catch up you speed all right. I'll give you this for
nothing—don't toboggan all at once. Have you seen this picture of
Hope's crank of a brother? You needn't expect to meet him. He comes
of good Vermont stock, and its granite is no firmer than his
principles; but he has no manners. I've known him fifteen years and
am qualified to speak."
"He has got manners!" Mrs. Warrick turned indignantly toward Miss
French. "Claudia only got here Thursday night, and Winthrop has been
"Busy! You're dippy about Winthrop, Hope. He's the most indifferent
human being to other human beings that walks this earth, and has more
friends—men friends—than any man I know. He's rotten spoiled;
that's what's the matter with him. He's been chased, I admit. What
uncaught man of means isn't? I've no patience with Winthrop. It's
natural young girls should bore him, but that's no reason why he
should live so entirely to himself."
"Perhaps"—Claudia took up a letter from the table in front of her
and with it tapped her lips absently—"perhaps he prefers to live
that way. I wonder, Miss French, if you can tell me where
Kroonstater's is? No one here seems to know, and every day I get
further commissions from my county which can only be filled there.
Years ago some one from Brooke Bank bought wonderful and marvelous
Christmas things from Kroonstater's, and ever since it's been the one
store in New York for many of our people. I must find it."
"Kroonstater's?" Miss French again put up her lorgnette. "Never
heard of it."
Claudia laughed. "I see you, too, have something to learn. You
don't know the joy of shopping if you don't know a store of that
kind. I suppose I'll have to find it by myself."
"For goodness' sake don't, Claudia." Mrs. Warrick got up; some one
at the telephone wanted her. "I passed one of those downtown stores
once, and the crowd in it was something awful. You never know what
kind of disease you might catch, and the people are so pushy. All
the nice stores have Christmas things."
"I don't doubt it." Claudia smiled. "But Brooke Bank people have
ideas of their own. Their demands are many, and their dollars few.
And, then, I love to see the crowd. Their pennies are as important
as our pounds, and to watch their spending is the best kind of a
"Where did you say you came from?" Miss French surveyed the girl in
front of her with sudden interest. Something new under the sun was
ever the quest of her inquiries and pursuits, and as if she had
possibly found it she looked closer at her friend's guest. Not the
youth, not the fair skin now flushed with color that came and went,
nor the long dark lashes, nor perfect teeth, nor anything that could
be named made the girl distinctive, but something well-defined and
penetrating. Again she asked the question. "Where did you say you
"From Virginia. Have you ever been there?"
Miss French shook her head.
Claudia sat up. In her eyes no longer laughter, and incredulity that
was genuine. "You mean you never have been to Virginia?"
Elbows on the table and chin in the palms of her hands, Claudia
looked at Miss French as intently as Miss French looked at Claudia.
"Then you've never heard, I suppose, of the Northern Neck, or
Westmoreland County, or Essex, or Lancaster, or King George, or—"
"Never. Quite English, aren't they? Is that where you live?"
"I live in Essex. We're on the Rappahannock. There isn't a railroad
in the county. We have to take the boat for Fredericksburg or
Norfolk to get anywhere, unless we cross the river into Westmoreland
County and drive over to the Potomac side and make the boat to
Washington. Have you ever been to Washington?"
"Of course. I've been pretty well over the world."
"And left out its best part!" Claudia laughed and got up to turn the
logs which were smoking. "You mustn't die before seeing it. There
isn't so much to see, perhaps, but a good deal to feel. Do you like
"Never tried it." Again Miss French looked at the girl now standing
in front of her. She was certainly not a plate of fashion—that is,
not a French plate—but she was graceful, and her clothes were really
very good. Her unconsciousness of self was rather astounding in a
"I think you'd like a fox-hunt. I will miss the big one this
year—Thanksgiving comes so late, and Christmas there's no time."
"Christmas in the country must be very stupid."
"Stupid!" Claudia's hands, which had been clasped behind her back,
opened and came together on her breast. "Of course"—her eyes were
raised to Miss French's—"it's a point of view, I suppose. We don't
think it's stupid. We love it."
Miss French got up, put her cigarette-case in her velvet hand-bag,
slipped on her coat, fastened her veil, picked up her muff, shook it,
and looked toward the door, between whose curtains Mrs. Warrick was
"I thought you'd gone for good, Hope. You must have been telling all
you knew, and more. Miss Keith was just saying she loved Christmas
in the country. I can't imagine anything worse, unless it's
Christmas in town. I hate Christmas! If I could go to sleep a week
before, and not wake up until a week after, I'd surely do it. Why,
On her way to the door Miss Robin French stood still and looked at
the man coming in; and over her ruddy face swept color, almost purple
in its deepness. She was a handsome woman, stubbornly resisting the
work of time. In her eyes was restless seeking, in her movements an
energy that could not be exercised in the limits of her little world;
and Claudia, watching her, felt sudden whimsical sympathy. She was
so big, so lordly, so hungrily unhappy.
She held out her hand. "How do you do?" she said. "I am just going
home, as your sister hasn't asked me to dinner. I suppose you will
"If there's to be any dinner. Hope has a way of cutting it out every
now and then." He turned to his sister. "Are you going out to-night?"
"I certainly am not, and I'm so glad you've come! I've lots to tell
you and ask you. Won't you stay, Robin?" The question was put
feebly. "Do stay. Oh, I beg your pardon, Claudia, you were so far
off! You haven't met my brother. Winthrop, this is Channing's
cousin, Miss Keith. Please give him some tea, Claudia. I know he's
frozen. Can't you stay, Robin—really?"
"Really nothing! Good-bye." Miss French waved her muff to the man
who, over the teacups, was shaking hands with the girl on the
opposite side of the table, and shook her head as he started toward
her. "Don't come, Jenkins is out there with the car. I'd stay to
dinner, but Hope doesn't enjoy hers if there's a high-neck dress at
the table. Good-bye, Miss Keith; see you to-morrow night, I
suppose." And, like a good strong draught that passes, she was gone.
"I'm glad she had sense enough not to stay." Mrs. Warrick came toward
the tea-table. "I'm fond of Robin, but of late she's been even more
energetic and emphatic than usual, and I feel like I'm being
battledored and shuttlecocked whenever I see her. Why don't you
drink your tea, Winthrop?"
"I don't believe I put any sugar in it. I beg your pardon!" Claudia
took up the sugarbowl. "It was Miss French, I guess. She's such
a—such a gusty person. I love to hear her talk. How many, Mr.
"Three, please, and no comments, Hope. If a man must drink tea he
ought to have all the sugar he wants. That last lump was so very
little I think you might put in another, Miss Keith. Thank you.
Perhaps this is sweet enough." "Winthrop just takes tea to have the
sugar, He's as bad as Dorothea about sweet things." Mrs. Warrick
turned to her brother. "Are you really going to stay to dinner?
Please do. This is the only evening we're to be home for a week, and
Charming is anxious to see you on some business."
"Is he?" Laine put down his cup. "Well, he won't see me on business
to-night. I've an office down-town. In your part of the world, Miss
Keith, don't you ever let men have a chance to forget there's such a
thing as business?"
Claudia got up. "I'm afraid they have too much chance." She put her
hand lightly on Mrs. Warrick's arm. "Will you excuse me, Hope? I
have a letter to write." She bowed slightly in Laine's direction and
was gone before he could reach the door to draw aside the curtains
Mrs. Warrick leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "Do sit
down, Winthrop, and let's talk. I'm so glad to have a little time
alone with you. I so seldom have it that—"
"Your guest was certainly not slow in giving it to you. She could
hardly do anything but leave after your insistence upon having things
to tell me. What in the name of Heaven did you do that for? Does
she think we don't know how to behave up here?"
"Oh, she understands! She knows you didn't come to see her, and,
besides, she's gone up-stairs to write to her mother. If King George
had been here she'd have gone. You know, I really dreaded her
coming, but I needn't. She has been to a good many places—was
abroad for a year with one of her sisters whose husband was secretary
or something to one of our ministers or somebody—but she doesn't
know New York at all. She's met a number of her friend's friends
already, and I won't have to scoop up men for her. Last night at the
Van Doren's she had more around her than she could talk to. Always
has had, Channing says. She'll be no bother; and don't stay away
because she's here. Tell me"—she put her hand on his knee—"is it
true you are going to Panama next month? Robin French told me she
heard you would leave on the twelfth."
"If Miss French could sell fairy tales as rapidly as she can repeat
them she'd make a fortune. I have no idea what I am going to do next
"I wish I didn't know I was going to Savannah for Christmas. It's
Channing's year, and of course we ought to go to his mother, as she
is too old to come to us, but there's so much going on, and then
you'll be alone."
"Oh, I'll manage all right. The one good thing about Christmas is it
doesn't last long." He leaned forward and with the tongs turned a
smoldering log. "But it's incomprehensible how a woman with a home
can keep up this everlasting going to other people's houses.
To-morrow night you go—"
"To the Taillors. Mrs. Taillor's debutante daughter makes her first
"Capitalized society, does she? Poor child! The pains of pleasure
"They surely are! She looks like a scared rabbit, and I heard her
say only a week ago she'd rather die than be a debutante. But she'll
get on. Her mother will corral the men and compel them to come in
and pay her attention. Are you going?"
"Hardly." Laine looked at his watch. "What time do you have dinner?"
"Seven. It's time for me to dress." Mrs. Warrick got up. "Do pray
be decent and go to-morrow night, Winthrop. Mr. Taillor has been
such a good friend, and Mrs. Taillor will be so pleased. Don't
forget to send the child flowers. I wonder if Claudia is ready.
Dorothea grabs her every chance she gets, and I don't doubt she's
with the children this minute. She'll stay until dinner is served,
so don't worry; and for goodness' sake don't let her being here keep
Going down the crowded steps into the crowded drawing-room, Winthrop
Laine slowly made his way through the door to the place where Mr. and
Mrs. Taillor and their daughter were receiving their guests and
passing them on with a rapidity that would have been creditable to
the custodian of a game of human roulette, and as he reached them his
name was called with uncomfortable clearness.
"Well, this is a surprise!" Both of Mrs. Taillor's hands held
Laine's. "But commend me to a person who knows when to change his
mind. Jessica, you should feel honored. Awfully good of you to
come! How do you do, Mrs. Haislip?" And Laine, too, was passed on,
and a moment later found himself in a corner where he could watch the
door and all who came in.
What was he here for? He didn't know. The air was heavy with
perfume. In the distance music reached him faintly, and the throb
and stir and color and glow for some minutes interested him as he
glanced around the handsome room with its massed palms, its wealth of
flowers, its brilliant lights, and streams of gorgeously gowned women
and prosperous-looking men, and then he wondered what had made him
start anything of this sort again. To come had been a sudden
decision. Long ago the dreariness of functions such as these had
caused their giving-up, but a fancy to look once more upon one had
possessed him unaccountably, and he had come.
Up-stairs in the men's room his reappearance had been banteringly
commented on, and with good-natured hand-shaking he had been welcomed
back; but down here many faces were strange and figures
unrecognizable; and with something of shock he realized how few were
the years necessary to change the personnel of any division of
humanity. The heat was intense, and moving farther back toward a
screen of palms near a half-open window, he pulled one slightly
forward that he might see and not be seen, and again watched each
newcomer with mild speculation as to whether he or she were known or
For a while it was puzzling, this continuing arrival of new faces,
with here and there one he knew well or slightly; but gradually its
effect chilled, and he was wondering if he could get away when he
heard his name called.
"Winthrop Laine! Of all people!" Miss French held out her hand.
"From what loophole were you watching this passing show for man's
derision given? May I come in?"
Miss French moved behind the palms and pushed a tall leaf aside.
"You and I are too old for these things, Winthrop. I don't know why
I come—to get away from myself, I suppose. Look at that Miss
Cantrell! She parades her bones as if they were a private collection
of which she was proud! And did you ever see anything as hideous as
that gown Miss Gavins has on? Paris green couldn't be more deadly.
I heard Mathilda Hickman tell her just now to be sure and wear it to
her dinner next week, it was so becoming; and only yesterday she was
shrieking over it at a luncheon where everybody was talking about it,
Mr. Trehan is to be at the dinner, and Mathilda wants every woman to
look her worst. Hello! There comes Channing and Hope and the cousin
from the country. Rather a nice sort of person, awfully young and
inexperienced, but—" She put up her lorgnette. "They are talking
to Miss Cantrell. Miss Keith is not becoming to Miss Cantrell, or
Miss Gavins, either. Her shoulders are excellent and her head
perfectly poised. That white dress suits her. Have you been in the
Laine came from behind the palms. "No; I was to wait for Hope.
Awfully glad to have seen you, Robin. A stranger in a strange land
has a chance, but a man who has lost his place hasn't. People have a
way of closing up if you lose step, and I"—he laughed—"I lost step
long ago. I'll see you again." And, watching, Miss French saw him
take possession of Miss Keith and go with her out of the room.
Half an hour later Laine found a chair for Claudia at the end of the
hall opposite the dining-room, and as she sat down he wiped his
forehead. "I used to play football, but—"
"You're out of practice? I don't believe you did take more than
three men by the shoulders and put them aside. I don't understand
football very well, but a dining-room seems to be the center-rush.
Please look at that crowd over there!" She nodded toward the open
door, through which a mass of men could be seen struggling. "Isn't
it queer—the eagerness with which a plate of salad is pursued?"
"And the earnestness with which it is devoured." Laine put his
handkerchief in his pocket. Will you wait here a moment until I can
get you something? I'll be back—"
"Indeed I won't." Claudia stood up. "It's fun to watch, but only
fruit from the tree of life would be worth a scrimmage of that kind.
If I could get on top of a picture-frame or a curtain-pole, or
anything from which I could look down on a show like this, I'd have a
beautiful time, but"—she opened her fan—"it's rather stuffy to be
Laine glanced around. He knew the house well. Next to the library,
but not opening into it, was a small room of Taillor's which could
only be reached by a narrow passage at their right. He walked away
and looked in at the door. The room was empty.
"I think it will be more comfortable over there," he said, coming
back, then saw she was talking to a man he had long known and long
disliked. He stopped a servant who was passing, a man who had once
been in the employ of one of his clubs. "Bring some stuff over here
and be quick, will you, David?" he said, then spoke to the man
talking to Miss Keith.
His greeting to Dudley was not cordial. It was with difficulty
indeed that he did not take Claudia away at once. Dudley was not the
sort of man for her to have anything to do with. In a time
incredibly short, but to Laine irritatingly long, David was back,
abundantly supplied; and with a nod he was directed to the room at
the end of the narrow hall, and Laine turned to the girl at his side.
"Are you ready?"
"Good night." Miss Keith held out her hand. "Bettina sent you many
"I'm coming to get them—may I?" Mr. Dudley's eyes were frankly
eager. "But where are you going? Laine always was a monopolist.
What are you doing at a thing of this kind, anyhow, Laine? Don't pay
any attention to him, Miss Keith. He's mere facts and figures, and
the froth of life is not in him. I'm much better company."
The last words were lost in the push of new arrivals, and quickly
Laine led the way to the room where David was waiting. Through the
open door the sound of music reached them faintly over the shrill
rise and fall of many voices; and as Claudia sat down near the table
on which various plates had been placed she put her hands to the
sides of her face and, laughing, drew them away.
"Did you ever put a cockle-shell to your ear and notice its roar?"
she asked. "That's how a Tea sounds when there're only women at it.
When there're men it's more so. What is this?" She held her fork
suspended for a moment. "It's awfully good, but very elusive. What
do you suppose it is?"
"A bunch of guesses wouldn't hit it. Clicot is providing the
provender, I believe; I see his men here, and the ambition of
Clicot's life is to create a new dish. I'm glad you like it. It's
as near nothing as anything I ever ate. Are you comfortable? Is
that chair all right?"
Claudia nodded. "Why don't you sit down? I'm sorry we can't see the
people, but it's nice to be out of the crowd." She looked around the
room. "This is a very handsome house. I never saw more gorgeous
flowers, and tomorrow," she gave a queer little sigh, "tomorrow it
will all be over—and the flowers faded."
"Faded things are the penalties of wealth. It's the one compensation
for follies of this sort that they are soon over."
"I don't think they are always follies. When I was young—"
He looked down at her, in his eyes a quiet gleam. "When you were
"Young. Really young, I mean. I had my party when I was eighteen.
I remember it just as well." She gave a happy little laugh. "But of
course we change with time. My sister says I am developing a
dreadful disease. It's a tendency. Did you ever have it?"
"A tendency—to think and wonder and ask questions, you know. She
says people who have it are very trying. But how can you help a
thing you're born with?" She leaned forward, pushed the plates
aside, and folded her arms on the table. "I always wondered about
things, but I didn't entirely wake up until I was over twenty. I
don't blame people for having things like this"—she waved her hands
inclusively—"that is, if they like this kind of thing." She looked
up at him. "We're just like children. All of us love to splurge
every now and then. Don't we?"
"It looks that way. Splurge has a variety of forms." Laine leaned
forward, hands clasped loosely between his knees. "But the
tendency—is it catching?"
She laughed. "In the country it is. I live in the country, but it
didn't develop in me until I had several winters in the city. I used
to love things like this. I didn't know much about a good many other
things, and it was when I found out that I began to look at people
and wonder if they knew, and cared, and what they were doing with
it—their life I mean, their chance, their time, their money. One
winter it got so bad Lettice sent me home. Lettice lives in
Washington; she's my second sister. My oldest sister is a widow, and
is still in London, where her husband died two years ago. I kept
looking for glad faces and real, sure-enough happiness; and so many
people looked bored and bothered and tired that I couldn't
understand—and Lettice made me go home. Her husband is in Congress,
and she said I wanted to know too much."
"Have you yet found what you were looking for?" Laine leaned back in
his chair and shaded his eyes with his hand.
"Yes." She laughed lightly and got up. "You can find anything, I
guess, if you look for it right. And in such unexpected places you
find things!" She stopped and listened. "I believe people are going
home. Please take me to Hope. I can't imagine what made us stay in
here so long!"
DOROTHEA ASKS QUESTIONS
At the library window Dorothea drew the curtains aside and looked up
and down the street. Presently she blew softly upon the pane and
with her finger made on it four large letters, then rubbed them out
and went back to the mantel, before whose mirror, on tiptoe, she
surveyed the bow on her hair and straightened it with care.
"I don't see why they don't come," she said, aggrievedly, smoothing
down her skirt. "It's time, and I'm going to ring for tea, anyhow.
Mother said I could pour it, and I'll play lady all by myself if
nobody comes to play it with. I believe"—she turned her head—"I
believe they're coming now."
Again she went to the window, then rang for tea. "Quick, Timkins;
please hurry and bring it in before they come," she said. "They'll
be frozen." And as Timkins disappeared she put a fresh log on the
fire, drew the table closer to it, and seated herself at it.
"I'm a chaperone lady. I'm chaperoning my Uncle Winthrop and my
Cousin Claudia!" In gleeful delight she rocked backward and forward
and twisted her hands together tightly. "I'm sorry mother has a
headache, but I certainly am glad I can pour tea for them. I don't
know why anybody wants to go horseback-riding on a day like this,
though; I'd freeze." She straightened the embroidered cloth on the
table as Timkins put the tray on it, and lighted the lamp under the
kettle, and, taking up the tea-caddy, she measured out a generous
amount of its contents.
"I'll be careful and not get burnt up." She waved Timkins out.
"They're coming right in. It's the funniest thing about Uncle
Winthrop," she went on, as if to the tea-cups she was arranging. "He
didn't want to come and see Cousin Claudia, and now he comes here
every day. Wouldn't it be funny if he wanted her for a
sweetheart—and wouldn't it be grand!" Her arms were thrown out and
then hugged rapturously to her bosom; but instantly her face sobered.
"He can't have her, though, because she's somebody else's. I wonder
if he knows? He ought to, for Miss Robin says when he wants anything
he never gives up until he gets it, and he can't get her if she's
gotten. Mother says he just comes here and takes her out and sends
her flowers and things because she asked him to be nice to her; but I
don't believe it's just for kindness. Gentler men aren't kind to
ladies if they don't like them. I believe— Heigho, Cousin
Claudia!" She waved her hand from behind the table. "Have you had a
nice ride? Where's Uncle Winthrop?"
Drawing off his gloves, Laine came in the library, and as he reached
the table he took from Dorothea's hands the cup of tea just poured
and handed it to Claudia.
"Are you frozen?" His voice was slightly worried. "We shouldn't
have gone—I did not know how very cold it was."
"It wasn't a bit too cold. I love it." Claudia shook her head. "I
don't want any tea until my hands can hold the cup, though. They
are cold." With her foot on the fender, she held out first one
hand and then the other to the blazing fire and laughed in Dorothea's
wide-opened eyes. "What is it, Madam Hostess? Is anything the
matter with me?"
"Your cheeks look like they're painted. They didn't when you went
"Do they?" Claudia put her hands to her face. "The wind did it."
Taking off her hat, she laid it on the table, loosened the hair on
her temples, and sat down on the tapestried footstool near the
hearth. "I'll have some tea now, please. Are there any sandwiches?
I'm starving. Where's your mother, Dorothea?"
"Sick. Got a headache. I'm to pour tea, unless you'd rather." She
got up reluctantly. "Would you?"
"Indeed I wouldn't." Claudia waved her back. "You suit that table
beautifully. When you're a real grown-up lady you won't leave out
anything; but this time you forgot the sugar."
"Did I? I was thinking of something else, I guess." Two lumps were
put in the cup Laine handed her. "Where did you all go this
Claudia looked at Laine. "I don't know the names of the places
around here. Where did we go?"
"We went—" Laine put his cup on the table and, drawing a chair
closer to the fire, sat down. "I've forgotten the name of the road."
"Forgotten!" Dorothea stopped the rattling of the spoons. "You told
me once you knew all the roads within twenty miles of New York in the
pitch-dark. I think it's very funny you don't know where you've
been. You couldn't have been looking much."
"We didn't look at all. It was too cold—" Laine put another log on
the fire—"the roads were frozen, and to keep the horses from
slipping was all we could attend to."
"Couldn't you talk?"
"Not a great deal. Miss Keith insists upon keeping her horse ahead
of mine. It is snowing! Did you know it?"
Dorothea jumped up and ran to the window. "It wasn't just now when I
looked out. Yes, it is." She peered through the pane, pressing her
nose close to it. "It hasn't snowed since that first week you came,
Cousin Claudia, and that's nearly a month ago. I hope it will snow
fifty feet deep, so the cars can't run, and that the river will
freeze so the boats can't go down it, and then you will have to stay;
and so would we, and we could all be together Christmas. Don't you
wish so, too, Uncle Winthrop?" She came back and leaned against her
uncle's chair. "Did you know Cousin Claudia was going home next
"She told me so this afternoon."
"I certainly am." Elbows on her knees and chin in her hands, Claudia
looked straight into the fire. "If your wish comes true, Dorothea,
I'll get an air-ship. I expected to stay three weeks, and will have
stayed five before I get back. I ought to be home this minute."
"I don't think five weeks is long. I think it's very short."
Dorothea took a seat on a stool at her uncle's feet, and looked up in
his face. "Father says he thinks it's downright mean in her to go
before we do. Don't you think she might stay, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I do." Laine changed his position and looked away from Dorothea's
eyes. "Is there nothing we can do to make her change her mind?"
"Is there?" Dorothea fumed to Claudia. "I think you ought to, for
mother says Uncle Winthrop is just beginning to act like a Christian
in coming to see her regularly, and when you go he might stop acting
that way. Are you going to stay to dinner to-night?" She took
Laine's hand and intertwined her fingers in his. "Please do."
"In these clothes?"
Dorothea hesitated. "Mother wouldn't like them, but—" She jumped
up and clapped her hands in excited delight. "Mother's got a
headache and isn't coming down to-night, and if you will stay I think
she will let me take dinner with you. I hate foolishness about
clothes, and these are the becomingest ones you wear; and, besides,
at the Hunt Club you eat in them, and why can't you do it here just
once? Wouldn't it be magnificent if I could sit up?" Dorothea
whirled round and round. "Father is out of town, and Channing has a
tiny bit of cold and can't leave his room, and I'm so lonesome. Oh,
please, Uncle Winthrop, please stay!"
"Ask Miss Keith if I can stay. She may have other engagements."
"Have you?" Dorothea was on her knees by Claudia, hands on her
shoulders. "And may he stay? You won't have to change your clothes,
either. You look precious in those riding things, and, when you take
the coat off, anybody who didn't know would think you were a little
girl, the skirt is so short and skimpy; and your hair with a bow in
the back looks like me. Can't he stay, Cousin Claudia?"
"If he wants to, of course. I'm sorry your mother is sick. She
didn't tell me at lunch."
"It's just a headache, and as father is away and there was nothing to
go to, I think she thought she'd take a rest and read something. Are
you going out to-night?"
Claudia got up. "No, I'm not going out; but I have a letter to
write. Will you stay to dinner, Mr. Laine?"
"I will. Thank you very much, Miss Warrick. The invitation was
forced from Miss Keith, but I accept it notwithstanding." Laine, who
had risen, put his hand on Dorothea's shoulder. "I think we will
have a very nice dinner-party."
"I'll chaperone it!" Dorothea rose to full height and balanced
herself on her toes. "Miss Robin French said she couldn't go on some
trip the other day because there was no chaperone; and if a lady with
a mole on her chin and nearly forty has to have a chaperone, I guess
you all will. Please don't stay long, Cousin Claudia. If you don't
want to see mother, Uncle Winthrop, I'll talk to you, for after
dinner I will have to go right straight to bed, being a
brought-up-on-a-book child, and then you and Cousin Claudia will be
all by yourselves. Maybe if you asked mother, though, she might let
me sit up just this once. Shall I go and tell her you say so?"
Laine held the curtains for Claudia to pass out. "We wouldn't be so
cruel as to keep her up, would we?" he asked, and smiled in the eyes
turned quickly from his. "You will not be gone long, and you won't
change your dress?"
"I will be back in time for dinner—and I won't change my dress.
Tell Dorothea about the birds we saw this afternoon."
During the hour that passed before Claudia came back Dorothea had a
chance that seldom came for uninterrupted conversation, and that her
uncle said little was not noticed for some time. Presently she
"I don't believe you've opened your lips since Cousin Claudia went
up-stairs," she said. "I don't wonder you don't know where you went
this afternoon if you didn't see any more than you're hearing now.
You don't know a thing I've been talking about."
Laine raised his head with a start. "Oh yes, I do. You were
"I told you so! You didn't even know where you were! You were way
off somewhere." Dorothea's voice was triumphant. "I want to ask you
something, Uncle Winthrop. I won't tell anybody." She settled
herself more comfortably on the stool at his feet, and crossed her
arms on his knees. "Don't you think my Cousin Claudia is nice?"
"Very nice." Laine took out his handkerchief, wiped his glasses, and
held them to the light.
"And don't you think she has a lovely mouth? When she talks I watch
her like I haven't got a bit of sense." Dorothea scanned her uncle's
face critically. "Your eyes are dark; and hers are light, with dark
rims around the seeing part, and she just comes to your shoulder; but
you look so nice together. I hope you feel sorry about the things
you said about her before she came."
"That maybe her face was red and her hair was red and her hands were
red, or if they weren't, maybe they were blue. Aren't you sorry?"
"Very sorry, Dorothea. I was rude and tired and worried that
evening. Let's forget it."
"I never have told her, but I supposed you must have changed your
mind, for you've been here so much lately, and gone to so many places
with her that you don't like to go to, that I thought—"
"Thought what, Dorothea?"
"That maybe—" Dorothea stroked Laine's fingers one by one—"maybe
you liked her a little bit. Don't you remember I asked you please to
like her, and you didn't seem to think you would. But you do, don't
you? I won't tell anybody. Don't you like her, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I like her very much, Dorothea." Into Laine's clear-cut face the
color crept to his temples, "She is very different from any one
"I knew you would." Dorothea's hands came together excitedly. "I
knew it the minute I saw her, for she isn't a bit frilly, and you
don't like frills any more than I do, and she doesn't, either. She's
sees through people like they were glass, and she tells us the
grandest, shiveringest, funniest stories you ever heard. I bet she's
telling Channing one this minute. She loves children. I'm so glad
you like her, Uncle Winthrop. I knew you would if you saw her, but I
didn't know you'd see her so much."
"How could I help it if I saw her once? The trouble has been to get
her to see me. Perhaps she thinks I am too old to—"
"Oh, she knows you aren't the sweetheart kind—Miss Robin French told
her so, and mother and everybody says you are too set in your ways to
get married, and that's why I think she likes you, because you aren't
that sort. She hates flum talk, and you talk sense and things. She
told father so. Here she is now. Please stay with Uncle Winthrop,
Cousin Claudia, while I ask mother if I may take dinner with you."
Dorothea got up. "You took off your riding boots, didn't you?"
Claudia looked at her slippers. "I surely did. I never wear high
shoes in the house. Your mother says you may take dinner with us,
but she wants to see you as soon as it is over. Her headache is
better, but she doesn't feel like coming down to-night."
In a chair of curious carving, his feet on a pile of books which had
been unpacked, but for which there was as yet no place, Winthrop
Laine leaned back, partly relaxed, partly tense, and with half-shut
eyes looked at a picture on the wall opposite. For an hour, two
hours, he had sat like this. On his desk was an unfinished article,
but "The Punishments of Progress" did not interest to-night, and
after vain effort to write he had thrown the pages aside and yielded
to the unrest which possessed him.
In his hands was a small calendar, and with it he tapped
unconsciously the arm of his chair; but after a while he again looked
at it and with his pencil marked the date of the month. It was the
fifteenth of December. Miss Keith was going home on the eighteenth.
Three days of her visit yet remained, a month of it had passed, and
after she went— He stirred uneasily, changed his position, put down
the calendar, then got up and began to walk the length of the room
backward and forward. A long mirror filled the space between the two
southern windows, and for some time as he reached it he avoided the
face seen therein; but after a while he stopped in front of it, hands
in his pockets, and spoke with smiling bitterness to it.
"Take it off, man, take it off! All men wear masks, but they needn't
go to bed with them. For years you've pretended, smiled, sworn,
played with all the toys, worked with the best you had, and believed
you were content. And you're finding out at forty what a fool you've
been. You love her. She isn't married yet, if she is engaged to
another man—and if you've no fight in you, go make a hole and get in
In the glass he saw his face whiten, saw the lines on his forehead
swell, saw his eyes grow dark with rebellious pain, and, turning
away, went to a window, opened it, and let the cold air blow upon
him. Few people were on the street, and in the windows opposite was
little light. The neighborhood was exclusively correct; and only
that evening walking home from the club the man with him had frankly
envied his manner of life, his freedom and independence. He closed
the window, turned off some of the lights, and went back to his
chair. "I am an entirely free and independent person," he said
aloud. "A most desirable condition for a man without a heart." Why
did men have hearts, anyhow, and especially such a queer kind as he
had. In the days of his youth he had expected the days of his
maturity to find him married, find him with the responsibilities and
obligations of other men; but he had strange views of marriage. One
by one his friends had entered the estate; he had helped them enter
it, but he had acquired an unhealthy habit of watching their venture
with wonder at its undertaking and with doubt of its success, and the
years had gone by with no desire on his part to assume the risk.
What he saw was not the life he wanted. Just what he did want he was
not sure; but years of contact with much that blights and withers had
not killed his belief in certain old-fashioned things, and if they
could not come true the journey would be made alone.
What whimsical ways fate had of deciding great issues. Four weeks
ago he was something of a piece of mechanism, fairly content with his
drab-colored life; and now a girl had entered it and brought to him
visions too fair and beautiful to be viewed unveiled, and he knew at
last the mystery and power of love. Almost a week of her stay had
gone before he met her. In those that followed, he had seen her many
times, but frequently he had to stand back and know that others were
taking her time when there was none for him to lose.
Should love come to him, he had imagined he would pursue it with the
same directness and persistence which had impelled the securing of
whatever was determined upon, and instead he was that most despicable
of things—a coward.
She was so young—fourteen years younger than he—and what was his to
offer in exchange for her life of varied interests, of sweet, sane,
helpful, happy things of which he knew so little? He had thought he
knew life, its all sides; and unknown to herself she had shown him
what had not been understood before, and his was cold and colorless
by the side of the warmth and glow of hers.
Yesterday he had known, however, he would not wait long. After she
had returned to her home he would go to it and tell her why he had
come. All through the day certain words had sung in his ears, and
over his books had danced and blurred the figures he was making; and
before him in fancy she was waiting for his coming when the day was
done, was in the room with outstretched hands to give him greeting as
he entered the door. The light of a new vision had blinded, and in
its fire the loneliness of his life had stood out in chill clearness,
and no longer could it be endured. Some one to care if the days were
dark, some one to share the giving and taking of life. At the
thought of trust so sacred, his face had whitened, and in his heart
unconscious prayer had sprung.
That was yesterday. This afternoon he had stopped at his sister's
home for tea, as he had done for days past now, and, Dorothea being
sick, he had gone up to see her and give her the book bought for her.
As usual, she had much to say, and he let her talk uninterruptedly.
It was of Claudia that she talked, always of Claudia, and he had
listened in a silence that gave chance for much detail.
"She gets more letters!" Dorothea's hands came together as if very
full. "Every day there is one from the same person, sometimes two,
and specials and telegrams; and sometimes he talks over the
telephone. I know his handwriting now. She lets me come in her room
whenever I want to. I don't see how one person could have so much to
say. I knew he must be her sweetheart, and I asked mother, and
mother says she's engaged to a, man in Washington. Miss Robin French
told her. Mother thinks it's real strange Claudia didn't tell her."
And he had answered nothing, but had gone down the steps and out of
the house, and to no one said good night.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
Claudia glanced at the clock. She must be dressed by seven.
Hurriedly she put aside the letters which could wait, and began to
"Just three days more, precious mother, and I will leave for home.
I've seen such remarkable things; heard such wonderful music; been to
so many parties and luncheons and teas and dinners; met so many
people, some fearfully, dreadfully dressed, some beautifully,
gorgeously gowned, that my brain is a plum-pudding, and my mind mere
moving pictures. It's been a lovely visit. Channing is a dear, and
Hope has done her full duty, but it's something of a strain to dwell
in the tents of the wealthy. I'm so glad we're not wealthy, mother.
There are hundreds of things I'd like money for, but I've gotten to
be as afraid of it as I am of potato-bugs when the plants are well
up. It has a way of making you think things that aren't so. I do
hope Uncle Bushrod's cold is better.
"I've tried to fill all the orders from everybody, but some I haven't
found yet. Hope and her friends shop only in the expensive stores,
and the prices are so paralyzing that, though outwardly I don't
blink, I'm inwardly appalled; but I put the things aside as if
undecided whether to get them or something nicer. I'm afraid I don't
mean I'm glad we're not wealthy. Certainly when shopping I don't
wish it. I want millions then. Millions! And when I get among the
books I'd like to be a billionaire. To-morrow I'm going out by
myself and finish up everything. Hope would be horrified at my
purchases, for Hope has forgotten when she, too, had to be careful in
her expenditures. Her brother hasn't.
"Did I tell you about the crazy mistake I made? I thought, from what
Dorothea told me, he was an old gentleman, her mother's uncle, and
wrote him a note before I met him. Dorothea adores him, and when his
dog died I was so sorry I told him so. I wonder what does make me do
such impulsive things! I get so discouraged about myself. I'll
never, never be a proper person. He isn't old.
"I wish you could see the letter Beverly wrote me from Mammy
Malaprop. She says she is 'numberating the date of my return to the
dissolute land in which I live, and is a-preparing to serve for
supper all the indelicacies of the season.' If I didn't know old
Malaprop I'd think Beverly was making up her messages, but no
imagination could conceive of her twists and turns of the English
"Are the hens laying at all? and please tell Andrews to watch the
sheep carefully; it's so bitterly cold.
"I've had a beautiful time, but, oh, mother dear, I shall be so glad
to get home, where there are real things to do and where you all love
me just for myself! Every night I kiss your picture and wish it was
you. Best love for everybody. I have Gabriel's little trumpet.
"P. S.—We are going again to-night to the opera. If only you were
going, too! I never see anything beautiful, hear anything beautiful,
that I don't wish you could see it and hear it also. I'm so glad I
brought my riding-habit. They have been the best things of all, the
long, splendid rides in the country. So much nicer than motoring.
Mr. Laine rides better than any city man I know. Three days more and
I leave for home.
Guilty gladness at being alone, at getting off by herself and going
where she chose, so possessed her the next day that as Claudia passed
Mrs. Warrick's sitting-room she tip-toed lest she be called in and a
moment of her precious freedom be lost. Several hours of daylight
were still left, but there was much to be done; and hurriedly she
went down the steps, hurriedly walked to the avenue, and caught the
'bus she saw coming with a sigh of thankfulness. In the center of
the shopping district she got out and disappeared soon after in one
of the stores. It was her only chance for the simple purchases to be
made for the slim purses of her country friends; and as she read
first one list and then the other she smiled at the variety of human
desires and the diversities of human needs, and quickly made
decisions. A letter received just before leaving the house had not
been read, but its writing was recognized, and going to the door she
tried to make out the scrawly contents and get, at the same time, the
breath of fresh air brought in by its opening as hurrying customers
came and went. To read there was impossible, however. Darkness had
fallen; and, going outside for a moment, she looked up and down at
the surging, pushing, shivering crowd and wondered as to the time.
She was not through, and she must finish before going back.
"Is Madame Santa Claus ready to go home?"
Startled, she looked up. "Oh, Mr. Laine, I'm so glad! Indeed I'm
not through, and it's dark already. Do you think Hope will mind if I
don't get back for tea?"
"I think not." He smiled in the troubled face. "What is left to be
"This among other things." Together they moved slowly down the
crowded street, and she held the letter in her hand toward him.
"It's from Mrs. Prosser, who has eleven children and a husband who is
their father and that's all. They live on faith and the neighbors,
but she has sold a pig and sent me part of the money with which to
buy everybody in the family a Christmas present. That's all I've
Laine took the sheets of paper torn from a blank-book and looked at
them under an electric light. "This Syro-Phoenician writing needs
what it can't get out here," he said, after a half-minute's pause.
"A cipher requires a code, and a code means sitting down. Aren't you
cold? You are. Come over here and we'll have some tea and work it
out together." And before protest could be made they were in a hotel
across the street and at a table on which a shaded light permitted a
closer examination of the penciled scrawl which went for writing.
Slowly he read aloud:
"DERE Miss CLAUDIA,—The chillern is near bout set me crazy sence I
tole 'em I was agoin' to ask you to do me some favors which is to buy
for me some New York krismus presents. I have sole the pig and I am
a-puttin' in this six dollars and sixteen cents, I would have sent
seven dollars even but the baby had the colic so bad I had to git
some more of that pain-killer which I give the hoss onct, and Johnnie
lost the change comin' home from the store. The baby is well, but
the hoss ain't. The followin' is what I would like to have. Ifen
you can't git the things, git what you can. I have confidence in
"2 pare sox and a maresharm pipe for the old man. Don't spend more
than fifty cents on him. He drunk up the whiskey your ma give me for
the mincemeat for Thanksgivin' and I had to lock him up in the
garret. He'd like the pipe yaller.
"1 A blew skarf pin—Johnnie.
"2 A bracelet. Bras will do if you can't git gold. Minnie is the
meekest and don't look for much but she wants a bracelet awful bad.
"3 A box of paper and envellopes for Maizzie—Maizzie's got a bow.
He lives in the next county. I don't let the chillern say nothin'.
I'm 'fraid they'll scare the ducks.
"4 A wax doll in pink tarlton for Rosy. She won't be here next
krismus. The doctor done tole me, and my hart it have been hurtin'
so ever since that I have to hide every now and then so as to git my
breath good. Sometimes I can't help chokin', I can't. She seen a
doll in pink tarlton onct and the other night I heard her talkin' up
the chimney and she was askin' Santa Claus to bring her one if he
could spare it. Ifen you can't git all the things with the pig
money, please'm git the doll, and in pink, please'm, and let the
Laine took up his cup of tea and drank it slowly. "Part of this is
hard to make out," he said, after a moment. "I can't see it very
"All of it is hard." Claudia put a piece of cracker in her mouth.
"But it's a wonder she can write at all. The boys are as trifling as
their father, and she does the work of five people. Is that all?"
Laine began again. "Becky say she don't want nothin' but a pare of
silk stockings. She's crazy, but she seen the summer girls with 'em
and I don't reckon it will do no harm if we ain't pracktical at
krismus. It do seem like krismus ain't for prackticals. 40 cents is
"Sam he wants a harmonicum, and Bobbie he just set his hart on a
sled. I don't reckon you can get that in your trunk, and ifen you
can't a necktie will have to do. The other chillern is so small it
don't make no difference what you get for them, any little thing you
can pick up will please 'em. They is all so excited about havin'
presents from New York that they's plum crazy. I don't know what the
county would do without you, Miss Claudia. You is everybody's friend
and everybody is—"
Claudia put out her hand. "Oh, that part doesn't matter. I'll take
it now. We'll have to go. Are you ready?"
"Not quite." Laine, who had finished the letter, handed it to her,
then took out a note-book and pencil. "Are you sure you can remember
the things? Hadn't I better write them down?"
Claudia shook her head. "Not a bit of use. These are the last to
get, and then I'm through. Are you?"
"Am I what?"
"With your Christmas things. I don't suppose men have as much to do
as women and don't have to begin so early. Some people don't love
Christmas. It's such a pity."
"It's a pity the old Christmas has given way to the new one. With
many it's a sort of hold-up. I don't believe in it."
Claudia's arms were folded on the table, and her eyes were gravely
looking into his. "What kind do you believe in?"
Into Laine's face the color crept slowly, then he laughed. "I really
don't know. I only know the present kind is wrong."
"You know a great many things that are wrong, don't you?"
"I'm afraid I do." With his handkerchief Laine wiped his glasses,
put them back, and again tapped the table. "That is, I know a great
many things that aren't nice to know."
"Most of us do. It isn't difficult to see what isn't nice in people
or things." She got up. "I'm sorry you don't love Christmas."
"Why should I love it? For the men at the office there are checks;
for my brother's widow and children are other checks; for Hope,
another. A man makes a mess of buying presents. Cigars for men and
flowers for women are the two orders telephoned in advance for the
few so remembered. The employees at the clubs, the servants at the
house, the—the associations which do things merely mean more money,
"I think I should hate Christmas, too, if it merely meant the writing
of checks or the giving of gold. I wouldn't want a million if there
was no love with it." Eyes on her muff, she smoothed it softly.
"That is what Christmas is for. To take time to remember, and to let
people know we do care—and to make somebody glad. Let me see." On
her fingers she enumerated the things desired by Mrs. Prosser.
"Harmonicum, silk stockings, socks, yellow pipe, blue scarf-pin,
bracelet (brass or gold), box of paper, sled, and—"
"A doll in pink tarleton." Again in Laine's face the color crept
slowly. He hesitated. "In all my life I never bought a doll or a
sled or anything except books for children. May I go with you? And
would—would you mind if I got that doll?"
Five minutes later Laine and Claudia were caught in the crowd of
Christmas shoppers and valiantly made their way to a counter on which
were objects gay and glittering. With a seriousness and persistency
that was comic to the girl watching him, Laine began with the blue
scarf-pin and the bracelet, but not until he was giving an order did
she touch him on the arm and draw him aside.
"We can't get those, Mr. Laine, indeed we can't." She nodded in the
direction of the counter. "There aren't but six dollars and sixteen
cents of the pig money, and a dozen things to buy yet."
"Oh, blow the pig money! She won't know the difference. That pin is
only one dollar and ninety-eight cents and the bracelet two dollars
and forty-eight cents. Nothing could be worse than that, could it?"
"It could. Johnnie is a lazy good-for-nothing, and twenty-five cents
is all his pin is to cost. It will be big and blue, but not a penny
over twenty-five can be spent on it. I think we'd better get the
doll and the silk stockings and the sled first. I've already bought
a doll for Rosy, but it's in white, and we'll have to get the pink
"And is the pig money going to do all that?" Laine's eyes were
"It is." She laughed and turned away as if to see some one who was
passing. "It doesn't matter whose pig."
"Then I'll play the pig to-night! I've played it the wrong way often
enough. Why can't we be sensible? I've got a spending jag on, and
I've never been Christmas shopping before. Something is happening to
my backbone, something that used to happen in the days when I hung up
my stocking. Please be good and let me have a little Christmas!"
Claudia's forehead wrinkled and for a moment she hesitated, then
again her eyes sought his doubtfully. "I don't know whether I ought
to. You are very kind, but—"
"But nothing. I'm merely very selfish. Those things are all right.
Come on and let's go in the toy department. The doll is the most
important of all, and don't dolls have carriages or something? Here,
this way to the elevator."
To the joy of it, the surrender to inherent instinct, to the child
that is dormant in all, Claudia and Laine yielded, went in and out
among the sea of toys, and critically doll after doll was examined,
compared, laid down and taken up, and finally decided upon; and as
Laine gave the address he looked at Claudia for final confirmation
"You're sure it's pink? Her mother said pink, you know."
"Pink! It's the pinkest pink I ever saw. It is much too grand.
But, oh, those patient little eyes! I didn't think she'd be here
this Christmas. You will make her so happy, Mr. Laine."
"Not I." He shook his head. "It is you. What does a man know about
things like this? But what else does she want? I never had any
opinion of a one-piece Santa Claus. These things would make a monk
want children of his own. How about those youngsters that anything
will please? and don't you have to have things for stockings?"
With hurried decisions, as if afraid he might not be allowed to do
what he chose, Laine went up and down and in and out among the many
sections into which the department was divided, and made his
selections with entire disregard of appropriateness; and Claudia,
keeping near, countermanded with equal firmness all that was unwise.
So warm at times did their dissensions wax that the sales-girl
following would smile and point out something before unseen, hoping a
mutual surrender would accept the compromise, and presently she
brought up a cash register and held it toward Laine.
"Most children like these," she said, "and as your wife doesn't care
for the mechanical toys—"
Laine turned away. With pitiless reality the play of it all came
over him, and he walked off lest the sudden surging of his blood be
"But I'm not his wife." Claudia's voice was cool and even. "He
doesn't know the children he is getting these things for, and I do.
But Channing would like this register, Mr. Laine. And Dorothea told
me she wanted a drawing-table like that one over there. Have you
bought Dorothea's present yet?"
Laine came back. "Only books. Her mother gets the other things for
me. If she'd like that, get it."
Out of his voice had gone all spirit, and Claudia, noticing, looked
up. "You're tired, aren't you? I think we'd better stop."
Laine laughed. "Tired? No, I'm not tired. I'm having a great time.
Playing make-believe is a good game. I haven't played it lately, and
I was doing it rather hard. I wonder what that bunch of people are
over there for? A number of children seem to be among them."
The girl waiting on them looked around. It was Santa Claus, she
explained, who was taking the names and addresses, with a list of the
presents most wanted by the children, who were there to tell where
they lived. "Some of them have been here all day. That little lame
fellow was among the first to come, and Santa Claus hasn't seen him
yet. The crowd pushes him out so, and there's no one to lift him up
high enough to be seen. He's held that piece of paper in his hand
Laine looked closer. On the outskirts of the crowd, his thin little
face still eagerly trying to peer between the shifting circles, his
crutches held tightly by hands too thin to grasp them properly, he
saw the boy pointed out by the girl, and, without a word, he walked
toward him. As he drew nearer, the head of Santa Claus could be seen
over those of the crowd, but to the child he was still invisible; and
as Laine saw the pinched face he swore softly under his breath.
For half a minute he stood by the boy's side, then touched him on the
shoulder. "What is it, son? Can't you make the old fellow see you?"
The child shook his head. "Somebody always gets in ahead. I ain't
"Here, hold your crutches." With a swift movement Laine swung the
boy on his shoulders. "There, can you see him all right?"
"Yes, sir. And he can see me!" The thin little hand was held up,
and Laine felt the quiver that ran over the frail body. "He sees me!"
"Well, my man"—Santa Claus was noticing at last—"what is it that
"A coat for mother. Black, please." Soft and eager the words came
quickly. "And a worsted skirt, and some shoes for Dick, and a muff
"Oh, I'm not bringing anything but toys this time. Only toys.
Quick, what are they?"
On his shoulders again Laine felt a quiver, this time of sudden
relaxation, and heard a sob that was quickly smothered. "Oh, I don't
need toys, and mother hasn't got a piece of coat."
Laine coughed and caught the eye of Santa Claus, and by telepathy
made the latter understand his questions must continue. Two minutes
and they were over, the child's name and address taken, his desires
made known, and as he put him down on the floor Laine took from the
trembling fingers the piece of paper which for hours had been tightly
held and put it in his pocket.
"All right, son." He slipped some money in his hand. "Run
down-stairs and get something to eat before you go home, and don't
worry about the things—they'll be there Christmas. Scoot!" And
with a pat Laine sent him off.
Coming back he turned to Claudia. "Are you through up here? The
yellow pipe and the socks for the man who gets locked in the garret
are down-stairs, I suppose."
For answer Claudia looked in his face as if not hearing. "Merciful
goodness!" she said. "I had forgotten all about this being Tuesday!
I ought to be home this minute. A friend from Washington is coming
to dinner to-night. What time is it?"
Laine looked at his watch. "A friend from Washington" was what he
read. He turned the face toward her. "What is it? I can't see it
in this light."
"Seven-twenty-five!" Claudia sat down dejectedly. "You don't
suppose they could be waiting, do you?"
"I don't." Laine smiled a twisted little smile. "Channing by nature
is a train-despatcher. Dinner on the dot and served swiftly is his
one household demand. They will be half through before we can get
"And I'm starving." She got up. "Well, I can't help it. I had no
business forgetting, but I'm always doing things I oughtn't."
"We'll go up to Sherry's. Dinner isn't limited to Hope's house.
I'll telephone and explain."
"Oh, I mustn't! It isn't just dinner. I have an engagement. Do you
think we could get there very quickly? I can't understand how I
MR. LAINE GOES SHOPPING ALONE
"Did you ring, sir?"
Moses, standing at the door, waited, and as he waited he talked to
himself. "Something is the matter with Mr. Laine. He ain't never
call Gineral's name since he done pass away, and I know the miss of
him has been a-smartin', but don't seem like that would have made him
so restless like he been. 'Tain't like him to come in and go right
out, and come back and go out again. He got something on his mind, a
kind of warfare like." He coughed slightly and again spoke. "Did
you ring, Mr. Laine?"
"I did. Five minutes ago. As a member of the leisure class you'd
take a blue ribbon, Moses. Where in the devil are you? Why don't
you come in? I can't talk to air."
"I was waitin' to see if I was mistook: about the bell." Moses came
inside the room.
"Where I come from folks don't step so lively as they do up here, and
old Colonel Tayloes, he used to say there ain't nothin' so inelegant
as hurry, lessen 'tis worry. But of course I shouldn't have had no
discussion in my mind about that bell. I got a bad way of projectin'
"You don't want to move. You have. Any day an affidavit is needed
to that effect I'll sign it. Did you go to that address I gave you
"Yes, sir. I went and I been a-tryin' to forgit I went ever since I
got back. It's God's truth the boy told you, I seen him and his ma,
and all the other children 'cept those at work, and the whole of 'em
was livin' in two rooms, and a closet where the biggest boy slept.
Their pa he got kilt at the shops where he work, and the lawyer what
undertook to get damages got 'em, and they ain't seen him since."
"Did you notice the size of the woman and the age of the children?"
"Yes, sir. The mother she come near 'bout up to my shoulder and was
thin and wore-out lookin'. The two little ones was four and two
years old. You saw the lame one. There's a girl seven. She's a
puller-out of bastin's, her ma said, and the oldest girl is fourteen.
She's a runner, or a cash, or somethin' in a store. The biggest boy
is in a foundry-shop and the lame one sells papers."
"A mother and six children." Laine made some notes in a book and put
it back in his pocket. "I'm going out. Have a cab here at
eight-thirty. The things I bring back will be put in the room at the
end of the hall. On Christmas Eve you are to buy what I've mentioned
in this"—he handed him an envelope—"and with them take the bundles
in the room to the place you went to yesterday. You are not to know
who sent them, and when you come back you are to forget you've been,
and no one is to be told. You have a great habit of telling Dorothea
things. I'm understood, am I?"
"Yes, sir. You is understood, I know about a left hand and a right
hand. God knows I'll be glad to go again if it's to take some
Christmas to them. That woman's face kinder hant me ever sence I
seen it. 'Twasn't mad or nothin', but plum beat out. I had to make
a little egg-nog for my stomach when I got home. 'Tain't time for
egg-nog, but a disturbance in the stomach—"
"You're having a disturbance in your stomach too often. Get that
cab, will you, and tell them to hurry."
Two hours later he was back. No doubt he had done foolishly, bought
unwisely; but there had been no time for indecision, and the woman
who waited on him had been a great help. As he was shown warm
dresses and thick coats for the mother and little girls, suits and
shoes and stockings for the boys, bedclothing, towels, soap, ribbons,
and neckties, he had smiled at the absurdity of his opinion being
asked concerning things of which he was as ignorant as a blind baby;
but with determination he kept on until the woman told him he had
gotten enough. With the toys he was more confident; and, remembering
Claudia's restrictions, he had exercised what he believed was
excellent judgment and only bought what was probably appropriate.
When the bed in the end room had been piled with his purchases, the
door locked, and the key in Moses's pocket, Laine went into the
library, turned off its brilliant lights, and, leaving only the lamp
burning, closed the door, sat down in his high-back chair, and
lighted a cigar. After the stir and glow of the store the silence of
the room was oppressive, its emptiness chilled, and, unthinking, he
put his hand down by the side of his chair and nipped his fingers as
he was wont to do when calling General. With an indrawn breath he
drew his hand back and put it in his pocket. His Christmas shopping
was over. A very unexpected Christmas shopping it had been. In all
that city of millions there were few personal purchases to be made
for others. What had to be gotten Hope got. Not since the death of
his mother had Christmas meant more than something to be dreaded and
endured. And to Claudia it meant so much.
Why had she come into his life? Why was hers the divine gift of
recognition which dispensed with the formal development of friendship
and yielded, as a flower its fragrance, the warmth and gladness, the
surety and genuineness, that so long he had looked for. Apparently
she was as unconscious as Dorothea, and yet too many men had loved
her for her not to understand. Not by the subtlest sign had she
shown, however. Indifference or dislike would have been more
encouraging, but her cordial frankness had been that of unstirred
Suppose she was engaged to another man? Was that any reason why he
should not tell her of his love, ask her to be his wife? Puritanic
scruples such as his were beyond pardon. A sense of honor might go
too far. Why didn't he find out if it were true what Dorothea had
told him? God! To have had a vision, only to go through life in
An hundred times in fancy he had heard the sweep of her skirts, the
sound of her footsteps, the tones of her voice, and laughter gay and
sweet and soft; an hundred times had seen the glad eyes grow grave,
the forehead wrinkle in fine folds, the quick turn of her head; an
hundred times had felt the touch of her hands; and he had never asked
Hope to bring her to his home, lest her spirit should not come again.
The badinage of other days came to him, the days when women had
rather bothered. They would be amused, these women, did they know
his surrender to the god unknown at that time—the god he had
sometimes smiled at because he had not known. Day after to-morrow
she was going home. He had not seen her since the afternoon they had
been shopping together. The man from Washington had claimed her
time, and he had stayed away. Who was this man? To ask Hope or
Channing had been impossible. Dorothea would be delighted to tell
him. The instincts of her sex were well developed in Dorothea; and
she missed no chance of letting him know of Claudia's engagements, of
what she did, and where she went, and from whom her flowers came.
Doubtless she would be delighted to tell him even more.
He got up and began to walk the length and breadth of the room. The
sound of his footsteps was lost in the heavy rugs, and only the
ticking of the clock broke the stillness, and presently it struck the
hour of midnight. He took out his watch and looked at it. "Tomorrow
she is going home," he said.
AN INFORMAL VISIT
At the door of what was still called the nursery Laine stood a
moment, hesitating whether to go in or to go away. In a low
rocking-chair Claudia was holding Channing, half-asleep in her arms;
and at her feet Dorothea, on a footstool, elbows on knees and chin in
the palms of her hands, was listening so intently to the story being
told that for half a minute his presence was not noted.
Presently she looked up and saw him. "Come in." Her voice was a
high whisper. "It's the grandest story. Wait a minute, Cousin
Claudia." She ran toward the door and drew him in. "You'll have to
stay with us," she said, "because mother and father have gone out.
Some kind of a relation is in town and they had to go. Channing's
got an awful cold, and mother said he could have anything he wanted,
and he took Cousin Claudia to tell him stories. She's been doing it
ever since dinner. He's asleep now, but—"
"I'm not asleep." Channing's eyes opened blinkingly. "She said they
found the squirrel in a hollow down by the chestnut-tree, and the
moonlight on the snow—the moonlight—on—the—snow." His head fell
back on Claudia's bosom and, with a smile, she nodded to Laine and
held out her hand.
"The spirit is valiant, but the flesh prevails. I'm so sorry Hope
and Channing are out."
"I'm not." He drew a cushioned wicker chair close to the fire.
"It's been long since I heard a good fairy story. Please don't stop."
Dorothea pushed the stool aside and settled herself comfortably in
her uncle's lap. "It isn't a fairy story. You don't tell fairy
stories at Christmas; they're for summer, when the windows are open
and they can hide in the flowers and ride on the wind—the fairies, I
mean—but this is Christmas." She twisted herself into a knot of
quivering joy and hugged her arms with rapturous intensity. "It's
all in my bones, and I'm nothing but shivers. Isn't it grand to have
Christmas in your bones? Have you got it in yours?" She held
Laine's face between her hands and looked at it anxiously. "Cousin
Claudia has it in hers. She and I are just alike. We've been
filling stockings to-day for some children Timkins told us about.
They live near him, and their mother is sick and their father is
dead, and they haven't a bit of money. Channing and I are going to
hang our stockings up here before we go to grandmother's, and we're
going to hang them up there again. I wish we were going to Cousin
Claudia's. Of course, I love to go to grandmother's, but she lives
in town and they don't have snow in Savannah; and at Cousin Claudia's
they have everything. I mean everything Christmasy like I like.
She's been telling us about when she was a little girl."
Dorothea's feet twisted around each other and her hands were laid
palm to palm as her body swayed backward and forward in rhythmic
movement. "They go out in the woods and cut cart-loads of holly and
mistletoe and pine and Christmas-trees, and dress the house, and the
fires roar up all the chimneys, and they kill the pigs—"
Channing sat upright and rubbed his eyes. "They don't kill the pigs
at Christmas. She said they kill them when the persimmons get ripe."
"Well, they're killed and you eat them Christmas. They put a little
one on the table with an apple in its mouth. And they pick out the
fattest turkeys and ducks and geese and chickens; and they go to the
smoke-house and punch and poke the hams and things; and the oysters
come from the river; and Mammy Malaprop comes up from the gate, where
she lives now, and helps make the cakes and the, pies and
plum-puddings and beaten biscuits; and Cousin Claudia says when she
was a little girl Mammy Malaprop always gave her some of the
Christmas cake to bake in egg-shells. I wish I could see somebody
make a cake. And Christmas Eve they make egg-nog, and Uncle Bushrod
makes the apple toddy two weeks before." She turned to her uncle.
"Why don't you go down there, Uncle Winthrop? I bet you'd get
Christmas in your bones if you did."
"I am very sure of it." Laine fixed Dorothea more firmly on his lap.
"There is only one reason in the world why I don't go."
"What's that? We're going away, and you will be all alone if you
don't. Can't he come, Cousin Claudia? He'd love it. I know he
"I don't." Claudia moved her chair farther from the firelight.
"Christmas at Elmwood would be punishment for a city man. We are
much too primitive and old-fashioned. He would prefer New York."
"Would you?" Dorothea's arms were around her uncle's neck, and her
head nodded at his. "Would you?"
"I would not." Laine's voice was a little queer. "The punishment is
all at this end. I would rather spend Christmas at Elmwood than
anywhere on earth. But your Cousin Claudia will not let me,
"Won't you really?" Dorothea slipped from his lap, and, with hands
on the arms of Claudia's chair, gazed anxiously in her eyes. "He'll
be all alone if you don't. Please ask him, Cousin Claudia! You said
yourself there was always so much company at Elmwood that one more
never mattered and you managed to put them somewhere. Please—oh,
please ask him, Cousin Claudia!"
Claudia kissed the lips held close to her own. "I think it is time
for you to be in bed, Dorothea. You are making your uncle say things
he doesn't mean. He can come to Elmwood if he wishes, but—"
Dorothea sprang back and, with arms extended and fingers flipping,
danced round and round the room. "How magnificent! Now I won't have
a thing on my mind!" With a last whirl she jumped in Laine's lap and
took his hands in hers. "That's the only thing I hated about
Christmas, your being here all by yourself." She gave a deep breath.
"And now you'll be in that heavenly place with Cousin Claudia. When
I get big I'm going there and hunt by the light of the moon, and hear
the darkies sing when they're having a party with possum and
hoe-cake, and—" She sat upright. "Did you know Cousin Claudia was
going home to-morrow?"
Laine nodded. Speech had suddenly left him. He did not know whether
to take Dorothea in the next room and lock her up or hold her close
to his heart. What had the child done and made Claudia do?
Christmas at Elmwood! His blood surged thickly, and as Dorothea
settled back in his arms he looked up and met Claudia's eyes.
"I'm so scrumptious happy I feel like I'm in heaven!" Dorothea
wriggled in sleepy content. "Please finish that story you were
telling when Uncle Winthrop came in, Cousin Claudia. You had gotten
to where the little boy and the little girl were knocking at the door
of the big house with the wreaths in the windows, and it was snowing.
I couldn't sleep to save my life if I didn't know whether they got in
or not. Please finish it."
Claudia hesitated, then, changing Channing's position, finished the
story and glanced at the clock. "It is time for you to be in bed,
Dorothea. I have some notes to write and some packing to—"
"Just one more and that's all." Dorothea cuddled closer. "It's so
nice and home-y with just us in here. Please don't make me go yet.
Tell Uncle Winthrop a story"—she blinked bravely—"and then I'll
Laine leaned back and turned off the light from the lamp on the table
behind him, and as the firelight played on Claudia's soft, blue
dress, on the slippered feet tapping the stool on which they rested,
ran up to the open throat and touched the brown hair, parted and
brushed back in simple fashion, he held Dorothea close lest words he
must not speak be spoken. Presently he looked toward her.
"I am waiting," he said. "Will you tell me a story, Santa Claudia?"
"A story?" Her eyes were watching the curling flames. "What kind
shall I tell you? I do not know the kind you like."
"I would like any kind that you would tell me."
She leaned her head back against the cushioned chair, and again her
lashes seemed to touch her cheek. For a moment the soft silence was
unbroken, then she turned her face toward him.
"Very well," she said. "I will tell you a story. It will be about
the man who did not know."
THE MAN WHO DID NOT KNOW
"Once upon a time there was a man who had to make a journey. He did
not want very much to make it; and, not knowing whether it was to be
a long journey or a short one, he did not feel a great deal of
interest in it. Still it had to be made, and at its end he was to
find out whether he had been a good traveler, or a bad one.
"For a long time he did not notice very closely the road he was on.
He had been so busy getting ready, first at school, where he studied
a great many books that he might be better prepared for traveling,
and then in business, where money must be made to give him comfort
and pleasure on the way, that he did not have time to look around
very much; but after a while he saw that the road was getting very
dull and dusty, that most of the flowers were faded and the fruits
were not sweet and the birds did not sing as they had sung when first
he started out.
"A great many people had been traveling the same way he had. Though
they seemed to be having a good time, he had soon seen that most of
it was make-believe, and that much of their energy was spent in
trying to find something to play with, that they might forget what
kind of journey they were on. He did not like these people very
specially. He did not know any others, however, and he had kept up
with them because they had started out together; but, little by
little, he had slipped away from them, and after a while he found
that he was walking most of the time by himself. At first he did not
mind. The things his friends cared for and talked about did not
greatly interest him, and then it was he began to remember that a
good many things he had been passing were ugly and cruel, and bitter
and unjust. He could not understand why some should travel in
luxurious ease while others could hardly get along, their burdens
were so great; why some rode in carriages, and others, sick and
hungry and tired and cold, could never stop lest they die upon the
road; and why some sang and others wept.
"In groups and pairs, and sometimes one by one, they passed him, and
as they went by he would look into their faces to see why they were
traveling; but, like him, they did not know, they only knew they must
keep on. And then one day he saw he had come back to where his
journey had begun. He had been on the road to Nowhere—the road that
wound round and round."
"Just like travelers in the desert." Dorothea's eyes made effort to
open, but sleepily they closed again. "Why didn't he ask somebody
"He didn't think any one knew. He was much wiser than most of the
people who passed him. To many who seemed to be in need he had given
money; he was very generous, very kind, and he gave freely; but he
always turned his head away when he gave. He did not like to see
suffering and sorrow; and with sin of certain sorts he had no
sympathy, and so he would not look. But after a while he had to look.
"He was standing at the place from which he had started, and, to his
surprise, he saw what he had never seen before. Out from its center
led all sorts of roads that stretched beyond sight, and on each of
them people were traveling, all kinds of people, and he knew he could
no longer stand still. He must take one of these roads, but which
one he did not know. As he stood uncertain what to do, he felt some
one touch him; and, looking down, he saw a child; and into his strong
hand the child slipped his little one.
"'I have been waiting for you,' he said. 'I have been waiting a
long, long time.'
"'For me?' The man drew back. 'You can't have been waiting for me.
I do not know you, child!'
"He heard a little sigh, as soft as the stir of wings, and again the
"'But I know you. There is much for you to do.'
"Again the man held back. 'There is nothing for me to do. I pay my
taxes and give my tithes, and let the world alone.'
"'You cannot let the world alone. It is your world.' The boy looked
up. 'Come, they are waiting.'
"'Who is waiting?'
"'I have no people. There is no one waiting for me.'
"The child shook his head. 'You do not know your people, and they
are waiting. We must hurry, the time is short. We will go on this
road first, and then on that, and then on that and that and that. On
each one they are waiting.'
"All through the night they traveled, uphill and down, and in and out
of narrow paths and hidden places, and everywhere he saw them, the
people he had never known. Into the darkness of pits and mines, into
the fires of foundries and furnaces, into the factories where wheels
turned night and day, and into the holds of the ships of the sea, the
child led him to show him the people who were his. In cellars and
garrets, in jails and prisons, in shops and stores, in hunger and
cold, in the silence of sickness, the noise of sin, they were waiting
for his coming; and in their faces was that which made him cover his,
and he begged the child to take him where breath could come again.
"But the child held his hand still tighter. 'You have traveled long
and you have not known,' he said. 'You helped to make things as they
are, and now you must see.'
"'I helped to make things as they are? I have not even dreamed such
things could be!'
"'I know. And that is why I came. They are your people; and you did
"And then the child took him on another road, one that was smooth and
soft, and the air that blew over it was warm and fragrant. On it the
women wore jewels and laces and gorgeous gowns; and men threw gold
away to see it shine in the sunlight, threw it that others might see
"'Why do we come here?' the man asked. 'They are not waiting. They
do not need.'
"The child looked up in his face. 'They, too, are waiting—for some
one to let them know. And they, too, need, for hearts hurt
everywhere. Sometimes the loneliest ones are here.'
"Before answer could be made, the main road was left, and in a tiny
by-path they heard the laughter of children's voices; and, looking
ahead, they saw a little house with wreaths in the windows through
which the glow of firelight sent threads of dancing light upon the
snow, and the door was open.
"'We will go in,' said the child, 'for there is welcome.'
"Inside, the mother and the father and all the children were hanging
holly on the walls and bringing bundles and boxes and queer-shaped
packages from the other rooms and hiding them under chairs and tables
and in out-of-the-way places; and presently a row of stockings was
hung from the chimneypiece, and the children clapped their hands and
danced round and round the room. And then they threw their arms
around their father and mother and kissed them good night and left
them that Kris Kringle might come in.
"'They have no money, but are very rich,' said the child. 'They love
"Over long roads and short ones, over some that were dark and some
that were bright, they went their way, and presently they came to a
shabby, snow-covered street where children were pressing their faces
against shop-windows, and men and women were hurrying in and out of
crowded stores; and the child loosened his hold upon the man's hand.
'I must go now,' he said.
"'Oh no, you must not go!' Quickly the man reached for him. 'You
must not go. I do not even know your name!'
"The child shook his head. 'I cannot stay. And some day you will
know my name.'
"'But why did you come? If you must leave me, why did you come?'
"'Why did I come?' In the crowd he was slipping away, but the light
in his face streamed through it. 'I came to bring Good-Will to men.
I came that Men might Know.'"
A CHANGE OF PLANS
When Moses saw Mr. Laine hurrying from one side of his bedroom to the
other, opening bureau drawers and closet doors and throwing things on
floor and bed in an excited haste never seen before, he was convinced
that something was the matter with his master's mind. It had
happened very suddenly. He had eaten his dinner, but eaten so little
that Caddie, the cook, was in angry tears. For days her finest
efforts had been ignored, and temptation after temptation, triumphs
of skill on her part, had come back barely tasted, and, what was
worse, with no comment made upon them. Praise had hitherto never
been withheld, and to please him no labor was too great, no time too
precious to be expended; but if this was what she was to get— Caddie
was Irish, and she threw birds and sweetbreads in the slop-can and
slammed the door in Moses's face.
"No, siree! I ain't a-goin' to let white folks' eatin's go in black
folks' stomachs, that I ain't!" she said, and shook both fists up at
the ceiling. "Pigs can have it first; there's some reason for pigs,
but that nigger man Moses!" Her nose went up, her head went back,
and she wept aloud. The work of her hands was as naught. She would
die and be buried before Moses should have it!
At his coffee Laine had asked for his mail, asked it to get Moses out
of the room. A creature who smiled always was not always to be
endured, and to-night he was in no mood for smiles.
Moses brought two letters. "These is all," he said.
Laine waved him out and opened the top one, which was from Dorothea.
What a queer propensity the child had for writing! Elbow on the
table and cigar in hand, he began to read indifferently; but in a
moment his hand stiffened and his face whitened to the lips, and,
half aloud, he read it again.
DEAR UNCLE WINTHROP,—I forgot to tell you something the other night.
I told you once that Cousin Claudia's sweetheart was that Washington
man. He isn't. I asked her and she said he wasn't. I asked her if
she was going to marry him and she said she was not. I don't like to
say things that aren't true and that's why I'm telling you. Miss
Robin French thinks she knows everything. We are going away
Your loving niece,
P. S.—When a lady gets married she has to go away with a man, don't
she? That's why she isn't going to get married. She says she loves
Elmwood better than any kind of man she's seen yet. I'm so glad,
For half a moment longer Laine stared at the paper in his hand, then,
with the cigar, it fell to the floor, and he lifted his head as if
for breath. Something had snapped, something that had been tense and
tight, and his throat seemed closing. Presently his face dropped in
his arms. What a fool he had been! He had let the prattle of a
child torture and torment him and keep him silent, and now she was
gone. After a while he raised his head and wiped his hands, which
were moist; and, as he saw the writing on the letter beside him, his
heart gave a click so queer that he looked around to see if the door
was shut. Quickly he opened the envelope and tried to read: he
couldn't see; the words ran into each other, and, going over to a
side light, he held the paper close to it.
DEAR MR. LAINE,—Ours is a very old-fashioned, country Christmas, but
we will be glad to have you spend it with us if you have not made
other arrangements. Uncle Bushrod and I will be at the wharf
Wednesday to meet the boat from Fredericksburg, and if you are on it
we will bring you home with us, and if not we will be sorry, so come
if you can. One or two other friends are coming that day, but most
of our guests are here. All the trains from the North stop at
Fredericksburg, and the boat that goes down the river leaves any time
after 2 P.M., the hour of leaving depending upon the amount of
freight, the convenience of the passengers, and the readiness of the
captain. As there's a boat only three times a week you can't get
here in time for Christmas unless you make the Tuesday boat which
should reach Brooke Bank, that's our landing, by ten o'clock
Wednesday morning. Do come if you can.
Sincerely, CLAUDIA KEITH.
"If I can! If I can!" With a sudden movement of his hand the letter
was put in one pocket, his watch taken out of another, and the button
under the light pressed violently. It was eight-forty-five. The
last train for Washington left at twelve-thirty, and a local from
there reached Fredericksburg at nine-twenty-four the next morning.
He knew the schedules well. "I have three hours and forty-five
minutes," he said, under his breath. "I'd make it if there were but
the forty-five minutes—if there were but ten."
And then it was that Moses, coming in answer to the bell, concluded
that his master was not himself. He had left him a few minutes
before, unapproachable in his silence, unappreciative of his efforts
to please and provide, and now he was giving so many orders at once,
calling for this and for that, pulling out clothes and pushing them
back, that Moses, who hated to be hurried as only his race can hate,
stood helpless, knowing only that something had happened, something
he did not understand.
"Did you say your riding-clothes, sir?" he asked, holding a
dress-shirt in his hand. "Or did you say—"
"I don't know what I said." Laine knocked over a box of
handkerchiefs and threw a white vest on the bed. "Where are my
shaving things? I told you I didn't want a trunk. Take the durned
thing away. I'll break my neck over it! Where is that English
bag—the big one? Get it, will you, and put in my riding-clothes,
evening clothes, and one other suit; put in the things I need.
You've packed it often enough. Call up Jerdone's private number, and
tell him I want all the flowers he's got. Get a move on you, Moses.
If you're paralyzed tell me; if not—"
"No, sir. I ain't paralyzed. I just demoralized. Suddenness always
did upset me. At dinner you look like you just as lief be dead as
livin', and now—"
"You or I will be dead if I miss that twelve-thirty train. Have you
called the cab?"
"No, sir. I ain't called no cab. You ain't never call the word cab.
You mean—" Moses's hands dropped limply at his side. "You mean
you're goin' away for Christmas?"
"That's what I mean!" Laine's voice was exultant, revealing, and he
coughed to hide its ring. "By the way, Moses, why don't you go home
for Christmas? Didn't you tell me once you came from Virginia? What
"Palmyra, sir. In Fluvanna County, that's where I come from. Excuse
me, but I bound to set down. Go home? Me go home? I couldn't
git there and back not to save my life for lessen than twenty-five
dollars, and till I git that farm paid for what I been buyin' to go
back to and die on I can't go nowhere. That I can't."
Laine looked up from the collection of collars, cravats, and cuffs he
was sorting. "Is it the money that's keeping you back, or is it you
don't want to go?"
"Don't want to go!" The palms of Moses's hands came together,
opened, and came back. "Yesterday I near 'bout bus' open with
wantin' to go. My mother she's near 'bout eighty, and she got Miss
Lizzie to write me and beg me to come for this here Christmas. Miss
Lizzie is old Major Pleasants's youngest old-maid daughter. He's got
three of 'em. He was my mother's marster, old Major Pleasants was,
and he sold me the land my mother's livin' on now. He didn't charge
nothin' much for it, but I had to have a house built, and buy some
pigs and some furniture and git a cow, and I bought two of them
street-car mules what was in Richmond when they put the 'lectric cars
on down there. 'T'was the first city in the United States to have
'em, Richmond was. They thought them mules was wore out, but there
ain't no friskier ones in the county than they is, I tell you now. I
ain't been home for four years—"
"And your mother is eighty?"
"Yes, sir, that's what they tell me, though she say she don't know
herself 'ceptin' she had four chillern which was good size when the
war broke out. I belong to the second crop. My mother done had
nineteen chillern, the triflinest, good-for-nothin'est lot the Lord
ever let live on this earth, if I do say it, and ain't a one of 'em
what does a thing for her, savin' 'tis me and Eliza—Eliza she's my
sister and lives with her."
"And you'd like to spend Christmas with your mother, you say?"
In the years of his service Moses had never before mentioned family
matters, but, having started, he was not likely to stop, and Laine
was forced to interrupt,
"Yes, sir. This Christmas I would. Some other Christmases I
wouldn't, 'count of a yaller girl what lived on the next place. It
was in the summer-time, the last time I was home, and, she bein' a
likely-lookin' girl, I seen right much of her every now and then, and
I just talk along and tell her 'bout New York and what a grand,
lonely place it was, and how my heart got hongry for my own people,
and—things like that, you know, but I didn't mean nothin' serious or
have any matrimony ideas, and first thing I know she done had me
engaged to her. She chase me near 'bout to death, that girl did, but
Miss Lizzie say she gone away now and I can come in peace."
Laine took out his pocket-book, put some notes in an envelope, and
handed it to Moses. "This is for your ticket and to get some things
to take to your mother," he said. "Be back by the thirtieth, and
hurry and call that cab for the twelve-thirty train. I've some
letters to write before I leave, and there's no time to lose. Tell
Caddie I want to see her, and don't forget about that Reilley family,
and see that everything gets to them in good shape—a good dinner and
all the bundles and plenty for the stockings. Tell Caddie I'm
Later on, in the library, Laine sealed his last letter and put it on
the pile Moses was to mail in the morning. Perhaps he had been a
little rash this Christmas. Well, suppose he had. The boys in the
office had done well through the year and ought to be told so. By
itself a check was a pretty cold thing, and the words he had written
to each had been honestly meant. And Miss Button, his stenographer,
needed a little trip. Ten days at Atlantic City with her mother
would pull her up. She had been looking badly lately—worried about
her mother, Weeks had told him. Pity she was so homely. It was
pretty unfair the way women had to work at both ends of the line.
Weeks, too, could get his wife that fur coat he'd been wanting her to
have for three years. What an honest old duck Weeks was!—and who
would ever believe him as full of sentiment as a boy of twenty? He
had overheard him talking to Miss Dutton about the coat that morning.
Fifteen years Weeks had been his secretary, but to-night was the
first time he had ever told him in actual words of his appreciation
of his faithful service. "I wouldn't want a million if it didn't
have some love with it," Claudia had said to him, and before his
half-closed eyes she seemed to stand in front of him.
"They are her gifts," he said. "I was blind, and she has made me
A VISIT TO VIRGINIA
Not until he was settled in the car did Laine let himself take in the
meaning of the journey he was taking. The past few hours had been
too hurried to think; but as he sat in the smoking-compartment
thought was no longer to be held in abeyance, and he yielded to it
with no effort at restraint.
Sleep was impossible. The train, due at Washington at seven-twelve,
would there have to be changed to a local for Fredericksburg, but the
early rising was no hardship. To sit up all night would have been
none. Each turn of the wheel was taking him nearer and nearer, and
to listen to them was strange joy. Only that morning he had wished
Christmas was over, had indeed counted the days before business could
again absorb, and now every hour would be priceless, every moment to
be held back hungrily.
One by one, the days in which he had seen Claudia passed in review
before him. The turn of her head, the light on her hair, the poise
of her body on her horse, bits of gay talk, the few long quiet ones,
the look of eyes unafraid of life, light laughter, and sometimes
quick frown and quicker speech, and, clearest of all, the evening in
which she had told him the story, with Channing in her arms and
Dorothea in his. There had been few waking moments in which it had
not repeated itself to him, and in his dreams the scene would change
and the home would be theirs—his home and hers—and she would be
telling him again what life should mean.
He had long known the name of the land in which he lived. It was,
indeed, a Lonely Land; but that it was of his own choosing he had not
understood, nor had he cared to think all people were his people.
There was much that he must know. He needed help, needed it
infinitely. If she would give it— A man, reeling slightly, came in
the compartment, and, getting up, Laine went out quickly. For a few
moments he stood in the vestibule and let the air from a partly open
door blow over him, then, with a glance at the stars, turned and came
At Fredericksburg the next morning Laine turned to the negro hackman,
who, with Chesterfieldian bows, was hovering over his baggage and
boxes, and made inquiries of the boat, the time of leaving, of a
hotel, of what there was to see during the hours of waiting; and
before he understood how it happened he found himself and his
paraphernalia in the shabby old hack and was told he would be taken
to the boat at once. He had never been to Virginia, had never seen a
specimen of human nature such as now flourished a whip in one hand
and with the other waved a battered and bruised silk hat toward the
muddy street that led from the station to the town above, and with
puzzled eyes he looked at the one before him.
"Yas, suh! I knows jes' exactly what 'tis you want to be doin', suh.
You jes' set yourself right back in the carridge and I'll take you
and the baggige right down to the boat and put 'em in for you, and
then me and you'll go round and see this heah town. I reckon you
ain't never been to this place before. Is you all right now, suh?"
The once shiny hat was put on the back of the grizzled gray head, a
worn and torn robe was tucked around Laine's knees, and before answer
could be made the driver was on the box, the whip was cracked, and
two sleepy old horses began the slight incline of the long street out
of which they presently turned to go to the wharf and the boat tied
loosely to it.
Half an hour later, bags and boxes having been stored in a
state-room, a hasty survey of the boat made, and a few words
exchanged with a blue-coated man of friendly manners concerning the
hour of departure, Laine again got in the old ramshackle hack and for
two hours was shown the honors and glories of the little town which
had hitherto been but a name and forever after was to be a smiling
memory. Snow and slush covered its sidewalks, mud was deep in the
middle of the streets, but the air went to the head with its stinging
freshness, the sun shone brilliantly, and in the faces of the people
was happy content.
Reins dropped loosely in his lap, Beauregarde, the driver, sat
sideways on the box and emitted information in terms of his own; and
Laine looked and listened in silent joy to statements made and the
manner of their making.
"Yas, suh, this heah town am second only in historic con-se-quence to
Williamsburg, suh, though folks don't know it till they come and find
it out from me. I been a-drivin' this heah hack and a-studyin' of
history for more'n forty years, and I ain't hardly scratch the skin
of what done happen heah before a Yankee man was ever thought of.
They didn't use to have no Yankees 'fore the war, but they done
propogate themselves so all over the land that they clean got
possession of 'most all of it. They's worse than them little English
sparrows, they tell me. Marse George Washington he used to walk
these streets on his way to school. He had to cross the river from
Ferry Farm over yonder"—the whip was waved vaguely in the air—"and
he wore long trousers till he got to be a man. Young folks didn't
use to show their legs in those days, suh, jes' gentlemen. That
place we're comin' to is Swan Tavern, and if it could talk it could
tell things that big men said, that it could. This heah house is
where Mis' Mary, the mother of Marse George Washington, used to live
when she got too old to boss the farm. Some society owns it what was
originated to preserve our Virginia iniquities, and they done put up
a monument to her that's the onliest one ever put up to a woman for
being the mother of a man. They was bus head people, the Washingtons
was, but so was a lot of others who didn't do nothin' to prove it,
and so is now forgot, and quality folks in them days was so thick
there warn't enough other kind to do 'em reverence. Governor
Spottswood and his Horse-Shoe gentlemen took dinner once in this heah
town, and President James Monroe used to live heah. I'm a-goin' to
show you his home and his office, presently, and the house where
Marse Paul Jones used to live in. I reckon you done heard tell of
Marse John Paul Jones, ain't you?"
Laine admitted having heard of him, but historic personages did not
interest as much as present-day ones. The occupants of certain
quaint and charming old houses, with servants' quarters in the rear
and flower-filled gardens in the front, the rose-bushes of which were
now bent and burdened with snow, appealed, as the other places of
famous associations failed to do, and he wondered in which of them
Claudia's relatives lived.
At Marye's Heights Beauregarde waxed eloquent. Half of what he said
was unheard, however, and as Laine's eyes swept the famous
battle-fields his forehead wrinkled in fine folds. Could they have
been settled in any other way—those questions which had torn a
nation's heart from its bosom? Would the spilling of blood be
forever necessary? He ordered Beauregarde to drive to the hotel.
There was just time for lunch, and then the boat which would take him
down the river to where Claudia would be waiting.
As the boat swung off from the wharf and slowly made its way down the
narrow river, curving like a horse-shoe around its ice-bound banks,
Laine, standing in the bow, scanned the scene closely, and wondered
if it were but yesterday that he had been in the rush and stir of
city life. Straight up from the water the bluff rose boldly. Rays
of pale sunlight sent threads of rainbow colors on the snow which
covered it, and through the crystal-coated trees, here and there, a
stately mansion could be seen overlooking the river. Skimming the
water, a sea-gull would now and then dip and splash and rise again in
the clear, cold air, and, save for the throb of the engine, there was
Until the sun had set and darkness made farther scanning of banks and
bluff and winding river impossible, Laine walked the deck, hands in
pockets, and thought of the morrow and the days ahead. The boat
would tie up for the night at Pratt's Wharf and was due at ten the
next morning at Brooke Bank if there was no unusual delay. Suddenly
he remembered she had said other friends would be on the boat. Most
of the passengers were obviously returning home from a shopping trip
to the city, package-laden and bundle-burdened, but two city men he
had noticed and then forgotten in the thought of other things. Who
were they? He opened the door of the stuffy little cabin and went
in. Five minutes later he was at the supper-table and next to the
two men who were talking in undertones of former Christmases at
Elmwood. They were young, good-looking, and of Claudia's world. He
got up and again went out.
For some time Laine had seen Claudia. Walking up and down the little
wharf at the end of the long bridge, railless and narrow, which ran
far out into the river, her hands in her muff, the collar of her fur
coat turned up, her face unprotected by the brown veil which tied
down securely the close-fitting hat, he had seen her a long way off,
and as she waved her hand in greeting he lifted his hat and waved it
A few minutes later he was shaking hands with her, with her uncle,
with his two fellow-passengers, with a number of other people, and
everybody was talking at once. Those on the wharf were calling out
to those on the boat, and those on the boat were making inquiries of,
or sending messages by those on the wharf, and not until Laine's
hands were again shaken well by Claudia's uncle as the Essex drew
off, did he understand just who was his host.
"A hearty welcome to Virginia, sir! A hearty welcome! We're happy
to have you in our home! Here, Claudia, you drive Mr. Laine in the
small sleigh, and I'll take the boys in the big one. Are you ready?
Look at that rascal Jim dancing a horn-pipe instead of filling that
wagon! We're glad to know you, sir, glad to have you!" And for the
third time Laine's hands were shaken well by the ruddy-faced,
white-haired old gentleman, with the twinkling, faded blue eyes, and
old-fashioned clothes; shaken until they hurt. He was no longer a
stranger. The touch of hands, the sound of voice, and a something
without name had made him one of them, and that of which he had once
been doubtful he knew was true.
Ahead of them his fellow-travelers, one a Keith cousin and the other
a friend, waved back and disappeared in a bend of the road; and as
Claudia took up the reins he turned toward her.
"Have you been waiting long? Are you sure you are not cold?" he
"Cold! On a day like this?" The color in her face was brilliant.
"We don't often have weather of this sort, and to stay indoors is
impossible. I love it! It's so Christmasy, if it isn't Southern.
Did you have a very dreadful trip down? It takes courage to make it."
"Courage!" He laughed and tucked the robe closer around her. "It
was the most interesting trip I ever took. This is a very beautiful
"We think it is." She turned slightly and looked around her. The
road from the boat-landing wound gradually up the incline to the
ridge above the river; and as they reached its top the view of the
latter was unbroken, and broad and blue it stretched between its
snow-clad banks, serene and silent.
Laine's eyes swept the scene before him. The brilliant sunshine on
field and river and winding road for a moment was blinding. The
biting air stung his face, and life seemed suddenly a splendid,
joyous thing. The girl beside him was looking ahead, as if at
something to be seen there; and again he turned to her.
"You love it here?"
"Love it?" Her eyes were raised to his. "Everything in it, of it,
about it!" With her left hand she brushed away the strands of hair
the wind had blown across her eyes. "It is my home."
"A woman can make a home anywhere. A man—"
"No, she can't—that is, I couldn't. I'd smother in New York. It is
wonderful to go to. I love its stir and color and the splendid
things it is doing; but you can't listen to the wind in the trees, or
watch the stars come out, or let your other self have a chance." She
turned to him. "We're very slow and queer down here. Are you sure
you won't mind coming for Christmas?"
Laine leaned forward and straightened the robe, and out of his face
the color faded. He was only one of the several guests. "You are
very good to let me come," he said, quietly. "I have not thanked
you. I don't know how to thank you. Christmas by one's self—"
"Is unrighteous!" She nodded gaily and touched the horse with the
whip. "There's Elmwood! There's my home! Please like Virginia, Mr.
Before he could answer, the sleigh stopped at the entrance to the
road leading to the big house, and at the door of the little lodge by
the always-open gate stood a short, stout colored woman, hands on her
hips, and on her head a gaily colored kerchief.
Laine was introduced. Mammy Malaprop was known by reputation, but no
words could make of Malaprop a picture, and in deep delight Laine
watched her as she curtsied in a manner all her own.
"How you do, suh! How you do! A superfluous Christmas to you, suh!
I'm sorry you didn't git heah 'fore de war. Livin' nowadays ain't
more'n shucks from de corn of what it used to be. Is dey all heah
now, Miss Claudia?"
"I believe so. I am going to bring Mr. Laine down for some hoe-cakes
and buttermilk after Christmas, and you might tell him some of the
stories you used to tell us when we were children. He lives in New
"He do! I hope he got himself petrified on the way down, for they
tell me 'tis a den of promiscuity, and all the nations of the earth
done took their seats in it. I knowed a woman who lived there once.
She near 'bout work herself to death, and she say she couldn't have
stood it if it hadn't been for the hopes of a glorious immorality
what was awaitin' her when she died—" And Mammy Malaprop's hands
waved cheerfully until the sleigh was lost to sight.
From the public road skirting the Elmwood land the private one,
tree-bordered by century-old elms, leading to the terraced lawn,
wound for some three-quarters of a mile, and as they approached the
house Laine saw it was architecturally of a type unseen before. The
central building, broad, two stories high, with sloping roof and
deep-pillared portico, by itself would not have been unusual; but the
slightly semi-circular corridors connecting it with the two wings
gave it a grace and beauty seldom found in the straight lines of the
period in which it had been built, and the effect was impressive. At
the foot of the terrace a little colored boy was blowing ardently a
little trumpet, giving shrill greeting to the stranger guest, and as
they came closer he took off his hat and held it in his hand.
"All right, Gabriel." Claudia nodded to the boy. "Run on, now, and
tell Jeptha to come for the horse." She laughed in Laine's puzzled
eyes. "He's Mammy Malaprop's grandson. He thinks he's the real
Gabriel and it's his duty to blow. He sings like an angel, but can't
learn to spell his name. There they are!" She waved her hand gaily
to the group on the porch.
As he saw them Laine thought of Claudia's arrival in New York, and
his face flushed. The men came down the steps, and a moment later he
was presented to Claudia's mother, gracious, gentle, and of a dignity
fine and sweet; to her sister, home for the holidays with her husband
and children; to an engineer cousin from the West, and a girl from
Philadelphia; and once more his hands were shaken by Colonel Bushrod
Ball. It was a Christmas guest who was being welcomed, not Winthrop
Laine alone, and he wondered if he were indeed himself.
More than once he wondered before the day was done. Under the
leadership of the Colonel the men were shown their rooms, by way of
the dining-room, for, like Moses, Uncle Bushrod believed inward cheer
essential after outdoor chill; and, moreover, the apple toddy must be
tested. It was an old world he was in, but to him a very new one.
The happy stir of Christmas preparations, the coming and going of
friends and neighbors, the informality and absence of pretense, the
gay chatter and genuine interest, was warm and sweet; and as one who
watches a play he wondered at it, and something long thought dead
thrilled and throbbed and stirred within him.
In former days the house had doubtless been the scene of lavish
living, he thought from time to time, and he would have liked to
explore the many rooms with their polished floors and deep
window-seats, their carved paneling and marble mantels; and when, in
the afternoon, he found himself alone for a few minutes in the vast
hall, he paced off its sixty feet of length and its twenty of width
to know their number, studied the winding staircase with its white
pilasters and mahogany rails, scanned hurriedly the portraits in
their tarnished frames, some with the signatures of Sir Joshua
Reynolds, some with Stuart, and others of lesser fame, which hung
above the wainscoted walls; and as he looked he did not wonder at
Claudia's love for her home.
"You care for these things, too, do you?"
The voice behind made him turn quickly. The girl from Philadelphia
nodded to him and hugged her crossed arms closely to her bosom. "I
don't. That is, not in weather like this, I don't. Ancestral halls
sound well, but, unheated, they're horrors. I'm frozen, and the
doors are open, of course. Have you been in the big parlors? Some
pretty things are in them, but faded and rather shabby now. Why
don't you go in the library? There's a roaring fire in there, and a
chair you can sit on. Every other one in the house has something in
Laine followed the girl into the library, and as she held her hands
to the blaze she motioned him to sit down. "I don't believe anybody
in the world is as crazy about Christmas as Claudia. She gets the
whole county on the jump, and to-morrow night everything in it will
be here. Giving is all right, but Claudia takes it too far. The
house needs painting, and a furnace would make it a different place,
but she will do nothing until she has the money in the bank to pay
for it; and yet she will give everybody within miles a Christmas
present. When she took hold of things the place was dreadfully
mortgaged, and she's paid off every dollar; but, for chance,
stock-markets aren't in it with farming. Isn't that a pretty old
desk? I could sell lots of this furniture for them and get big money
for it, but I don't dare say so. They never talk money here. My
room hasn't a piece of carpet on it, and one of those old Joshua
Reynoldses in the hall would get so many things the house needs. I'm
a Philistine, I guess, as well as a Philadelphian, and I like new
things: plenty of bath-rooms and electric lights and steam heat. I
don't blame them for not selling the old silver and china or the
dining-room furniture, though it needs doing over pretty badly; but
some of those old periwigged pictures I'd sell in a minute. Plenty
of people would pay well for ancestors, and it's about all they've
got down here. Hello, Claudia; we were just talking about you!"
Claudia put down the armful of red roses she was carrying and began
to fill a tall vase with them. "Did you say anything that wasn't
nice?" She bit a piece of stem off. "If you did, it wasn't so." She
turned to Laine. "You ought to see mother. She rarely has such
flowers as you brought down—You have made her so happy. It was very
good of you."
"Good!" The girl from Philadelphia went out of the room. "If
only—" In his eyes no longer was restraint, and Claudia turned her
head as if listening to something outside.
"I believe mother is calling me," she said. "Would you mind telling
her, Mr. Laine, I am coming right away?"
Laine looked at his watch. Twenty minutes past twelve. Christmas
was over. Two days after were over also, and in the morning most of
the guests were going away.
From the basket by the hearth he threw a fresh log on the smoldering
fire, lifted it with his foot farther back on the hot ashes, drew the
old-fashioned arm-chair closer to the fender, and, turning down the
light from the lamp on the pie-crust table near the mantel, sat down
and lighted a fresh cigar.
It had been very beautiful, very wonderful, this Christmas in the
country. Its memories would go with him through life, and yet he
must go away and say no word of what he had meant to say to Claudia.
Very definitely he had understood, from the day of his arrival, that
to tell her of his love would be a violation of a code to which the
directness of his nature had given little thought in the reaction of
feeling which had possessed him when he read her note. He was a
guest by invitation, and to speak now would be beyond pardon. In his
heart was no room for humor, and yet a comic side of the situation in
which he found himself was undeniable. The contrast it afforded to
former opportunities was absurdly sharp and determined, and the irony
of the little god's way of doing things was irritatingly manifest.
If in Claudia's heart was knowledge of the secret in his, she masked
it well. Warmly cordial, coolly impersonal, frankly unconscious,
she had never avoided him, and still had so managed that they were
never alone together. Hands clasped loosely, he leaned forward and
stared into the heart of the blazing logs. Of course she knew. All
women know when they are loved. No. The log fell apart, and its
burning flame glowed rich and red. She had not known, or she would
not have asked him to Elmwood. Merely as she would ask any other
lonely man in whom she felt a kindly interest, she had asked him,
and, thus far, her home was the love of her life. In a thousand ways
he had felt it, seen it, understood it; and the man who would take
her from it must awaken within her that which as yet was still asleep.
The days just past had been miserably happy. Before others light
laughter and gay speech. In his heart surrender and suppliance, and
before him always the necessity of silence until he could come again,
and he must go that he might come again.
One by one, pictures of recent experiences passed before him,
experiences of simple, happy, homelike living; and things he had
almost forgotten to believe in seemed real and true once more. A new
sense of values, a new understanding of the essentials of life, had
been born again; and something growing cold and cynical had warmed
In the big hall he had helped the others put up the fragrant spruce
pine-tree which reached to the ceiling, helped to dress it midst
jolly chatter and joyous confusion, helped to hide the innumerable
presents for the morrow's findings; and on Christmas morning had as
eagerly dumped the contents of his stocking as had Jack and Janet, or
the men who had come from busy city lives to be boys again, or as
Claudia herself, who could not see with what her own was filled, for
the constant demand that she should come here and there, and see this
and that, or do what no one else was able to.
Slipping down farther in his chair, Laine put his feet on the fender
and with half-shut eyes saw other pictures in the fire. The gray
dawn of Christmas morning came again, and he seemed to hear the
clear, childish voice below his window. Half asleep, he had stirred
and wondered what it was, then sat up to listen. The quaint words of
the old carols he knew well, but never had he heard them sung as
Gabriel was singing them. Shrill and sweet in the crisp, cold air,
the voice sounded first as if far away and then very near, and he
knew the boy was walking up and down below each window that all might
As Joseph was a-walking
He heard the angels sing,
This night there shall be born
Our heavenly King.
Here and there, in a verse from one carol joined almost in the same
breath to another he went from:
God rest you, merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ, our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas Day.
We are not daily beggars,
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbor's children
Whom you have seen before.
He had smiled at the mixture of verses and jumped up, for Jim had
come in to light the fire, and from his broadly grinning face
"Christmas Gif" was radiating, if from his lips, in obedience to
orders, their utterance was withheld. On his door a half-hour later
came the pounding of childish fists, and Janet's lisping voice was
"Oh, Mither Laine, Santa Clauth hath come and your stocking ith
down-stairs. Pleath, thir, hurry! Mother said I could kiss you a
happy Chrithmath if you were drethed."
Hand in hand they had gone into the dining-room, with its lavishly
spread table and mantel-hung stockings, and the chorus of hearty
greetings and warm hand-shaking had made his heart beat like a boy's.
The day had passed quickly. The gay breakfast; the unwrapping of
bundles; the sleigh-ride to church, where the service was not so long
as was the seemingly social meeting afterward; the bountiful dinner
with its table laden as in days of old rather than in the modern
fashion of elegant emptiness; the short afternoon—it was all soon
over, and the evening had gone even more rapidly.
The crackling logs and dancing flames in the huge old-fashioned
fireplace in the hall, the tree with its myriad of lighted candles,
the many guests from county's end to county's end, the delicious
supper and foaming egg-nog, and, last of all, the Virginia reel
danced in the vast parlors and led by Colonel Bushrod Ball and Madam
Beverly, who had not missed a Christmas night at Elmwood since she
was a bride some sixty years ago, made a memory to last through life,
a memory more than beautiful if— He drew in a deep breath. There
should be no "if."
Through the days and the evenings of the days that followed there had
been no word alone with Claudia, however. She had taken him to see
the Prossers, but Jack and Janet had gone with them, and out-of-doors
and indoors there was always some one else. Was this done purposely?
He leaned forward and threw a couple of logs on the fire. The room
was cold. As the wood caught and the names curled around the rough
bark, the big tester bed, with its carved posts and valance of white
muslin, threw long shadows across the room, and in their brass
candlesticks the candle-light flared fitfully from the mantel,
touching lightly the bowl of holly with its scarlet berries, and
throwing pale gleams of color on the polished panels of the old
mahogany wardrobe on the opposite wall. For a moment he watched the
play of fire and candle, then got up and began to walk backward and
forward the length of the uncarpeted floor. Writing was a poor
weapon with which to win a woman's heart. Rather would he tell her
of his love, ask her to be his wife, and, if she would marry him,
compel her to say when; but he could not come as quickly as he could
write. He must go away that he might tell her what no longer was to
be withheld. Indecision had ever been unendurable, and uncertainty
was not in him to stand. Without her, life would be—again he looked
in the fire—without her, life would not be life.
Claudia parted the curtains of her bedroom window and, holding them
aside, looked out upon the scene before her with eyes love-filled at
its wonder and beauty.
Across the broad, terraced lawn the fresh-fallen snow was unbroken,
and every crystal-coated branch and twig of the great trees upon it
gleamed in the moonlight as though made of glass. In the distance
the river between its low hills seemed a shining, winding path of
silver, and over it the moon hung white and clear and passionless.
The mystery of silence, the majesty of things eternal, brooded
softly; and with a sudden movement of her hands Claudia held them as
though in prayer.
"In all the world there is no place like this—for me. It is my
place. My work is here. I could not—could not!"
With a slight indrawing breath that was half sigh, half shiver, she
left the window and drew her chair close to the fire. For a long
time she looked into its dancing depths, and gradually her eyes so
narrowed that their long lashes touched her flame-flushed cheeks.
After a while she got up, went over to her desk, took from it several
letters locked in a small drawer, came back to the fire, and again
looked into it.
The girlish grace of her figure in its simple dress of soft blue,
open at the neck and showing the curves of the beautiful throat, was
emphasized by the unconscious relaxation of her body as she leaned
for a moment against the mantel; and the Claudia to whom all looked
for direction, the Claudia who had small patience with hesitating
indecisions, and none for morbid self-questionings, searched the
leaping flames with eyes uncertain and afraid.
A slight noise in the hall made her start uneasily. She did not want
to be disturbed to-night. Turning her head, she listened. The
corners of the large, high-ceilinged room, with its old-fashioned
mahogany furniture, its shelves of books, its carved desk of quaint
pattern, and its many touches of feminine occupancy, were lost in
shadow, and only here and there on chair or table or bit of wall the
firelight darted, but to dance off again, and the stillness was
unbroken save by the crackling logs upon the hearth.
Drawing the lamp on the table closer, she sat down and took out of
their opened envelopes two letters, one addressed to her mother and
one to her Uncle Bushrod Ball; and as she read them the flush in her
face deepened, then paled, and she bit her lip to hide its quivering.
Putting them aside, she held for a moment, in hands that trembled
slightly, another letter, and presently she began to read it:
"I can wait no longer, Claudia. Words are not for love like mine;
but you, who gave it life, will understand it without words. I
believed I had put it from me—the thought of marriage—for almost I
had lost my faith in the love for which I looked, and with compromise
I could not be content. Perhaps I had no right to ask for what few
find in life, but I did ask it, and when you came I knew my dreaming
had come true. Will you marry me, Claudia? So infinitely I love
you, want you, need you, that the days ahead until I win you—for I
shall win you—are dark and dreaded. All of your love, its supremest
best, I want; but if for mine, which is beyond all measure, you can
give me now but little, give it and let me come to you. I must come.
I am coming. And believe me always Yours,
The pages dropped slowly in her lap, and, leaning back in her chair,
Claudia closed her eyes and pressed her hands against them tightly.
For some time she sat thus, then took up the last letter and read
"It is within an hour of midnight, Claudia. Soon the new year will
be with us and the old one gone—the one that brought you to me.
Almost the year had gone before I met you, but time is more than days
and weeks, and that of ours together has been the real living of my
life. In the stillness of my room I drop my book and dream that you
are with me. On the street I hurry home to you; and once I stopped
and bought you flowers—and in the darkness threw them away. To have
you really here, to know that you are waiting—
"The new year has come, Claudia. The bells are striking the hour.
It must, it shall bring you to me. I am asking much when I ask you
to marry me, to leave your home to make a home for me. Your infinite
love for Elmwood is understood well. Its old-world air of dignity
and charm, of gracious courtesy and fine friendships, of proud
memories and gentle peace, could scarce find counterpart elsewhere on
earth, and yet in the days to come would it content alone, Claudia?
For my great need of you might there not be some little need of me?
Tell me I may come; but, whether you tell me or not, I am coming.
Claudia put the pages back in their envelope. On the hearth the fire
burned low, and, slipping out of her chair, she sat upon the rug and
held her hands out shiveringly to the red ashes slowly turning gray.
The habit of childhood was upon her, and quiveringly she talked to
"You shouldn't have asked him to come Christmas! But how could I
have known? I only thought he would be lonely. He cares for so few
people and with all his wisdom has so little understanding of many
things in life. He is so intolerant of weakness and meanness, of
sham and show and pretence and make-believe that—that that's why you
like him, and you know it, Claudia Keith! You shouldn't have asked
him. You didn't know—but you knew before he went away. And he is
coming back." Slowly she got up. "No. He is not coming back. That
is, not yet, he isn't. You are not sure. Are you glad?" In the
mirror over the mantel she met her eyes unshrinkingly. "Yes, I am
glad," she said, and her lips whitened. "I am glad, but I am not
sure." In her eyes was strange appeal. "Vermont and Virginia!
Could we be happy? We are so different—and yet— Perhaps in the
spring. . . . The winter months are very long. Oh, Winthrop Laine!"
She pressed her hands to her heart as if to still its sudden
throbbing, then reached for his letter and kissed it. "I wonder if I
am going to know what Lonely Land can mean!"
A VISIT FROM DOROTHEA
Dorothea settled herself more comfortably in her uncle's lap. "You
certainly ought to be thankful you've never had it," she said. "It's
worse than being a leper. I've never been a leper, but when you're
that you can go out, the Bible says so, and people just pass you by
on the other side and let you alone. With diphtheria they don't let
you alone. Lepers are just outcasts, but diphtherias—what are
people who have diphtheria?—well, whatever they are, they're cast in
and nobody can see them except the nurses and the doctor and your
mother and father. The doctor said father mustn't come in my room,
as he had to go to his business, and father told him to go to the
devil—I heard him. I just love the way father talks when he's mad.
I couldn't have stood the long days if it hadn't been for you and
father coming in every evening. They certainly do a lot of things
when you're sick with contagiousness. Everything you eat out of and
drink out of has to be boiled and stewed, and the things you spit in
burned up, and the walls washed, and more foolishness!" Dorothea's
eyes rolled and her voice was emphatic. "I don't believe in a lot of
things, Uncle Winthrop. I wasn't really sick, and just had a teensy,
weensy bit of pain in my throat; and if I'd known what they were
going to do to me I'd have been one of those Science Christians and
kept it to myself."
"But suppose you had given it to Channing?" Dorothea's uncle settled
Dorothea more steadily on his lap. "The foolishness of wisdom is all
some see of it, but if Channing had taken diphtheria from you—"
"I don't believe there was any diphtheria for him to take. If I'd
been a poor person it would have been plain sore throat, and I'd had
some peace. Timkins says his little girl was a heap sicker than I
was, and her mother nursed her all the time, and she got well long
before I did. Are we very rich, Uncle Winthrop?"
"You are not billionaires. Your father has been fortunate and made
"Is making money fortunate? Of course, I like nice things; but a
whole lot of us children feel like"—Dorothea's arms waved as if to
free herself from unseen strappings—"feel like Chinese children.
Our feet aren't really bound, sure enough, but we can't do like we
like. Sometimes I just want to run as fast as a racehorse, and
holler as loud as the poor children do in the park. I hate
regulations and proper things. If father were to lose his money, do
you suppose we would have to have a special time for everything we
do? Go to bed, and get up, and eat, and say lessons, and study
lessons, and take lessons, and go out, and come in, and lie down in a
dark room, and go again to drive or walk, and in between everything
you do dress over again, and never, never run or climb trees or
tear your clothes and have just plain fun? I love dirt. I do! I
have to be so careful with my finger nails and my clothes that if
ever I have children I am going to let them get right down in the
dirt and roll in it and make all the noise they want. Mother says a
loud voice is so inelegant. So is affectatiousness, I think, and I
wasn't born with a soft voice. I just bawl at Channing sometimes. I
do it on purpose. I'm like father. I get tired of being elegant.
Haven't you any kind of candy anywhere, Uncle Winthrop? Mother said
I could have a few pieces if it didn't have nuts in it."
Laine reached for a drawer in the book-piled table near which he sat.
"If I had known I was to have the honor of a visit from you this
afternoon I would have been better prepared for entertainment. I'm
afraid this candy isn't very good. It's been here since your last
"That's been two months ago. We didn't get back from Florida until
February, and in March I was taken sick, and then we went to
Lakewood, and now it's May. Mother can't understand how I got sick.
She says she tries so hard to keep us from diseases and they come
anyhow. I wish I didn't have to be educated and find out
things—mother knows a lot; but it makes her so nervous. I'd rather
be sick sometimes than afraid of being all the time. This certainly
is poor candy. I promised mother I wouldn't eat a thing Caddie gave
me if she'd let me come to see you; but I don't think she'd mind if I
took home some of those little cakes Caddie makes with almonds in
them. Do you suppose she has any?"
"I couldn't guess. I'll ring and find out."
"I'll ask her." Dorothea slipped from her uncle's lap. "I'll be
back in a minute," and before Laine could press the button which
would bring Moses she had disappeared. Five minutes later she was
back, in her hands a good-sized paper box, tied clumsily with red
string, and as she put it on the table she patted it with
"That's for Channing," she said, half leaning against the table and
drumming on it with the tips of her fingers. "Caddie didn't have any
cakes. She says you used to like sweet things, and it was once a
pleasure to cook for you; but if you enjoy anything you eat now you
never confess it to her. She says you eat, but you don't know the
name of what you're eating, and one thing is the same as another. I
think her feelings are getting hurt, Uncle Winthrop."
"Are they? I'm sorry. Caddie is a spoiled creature. I long ago
exhausted the English language in commendation of her efforts.
Nothing is so wearing on one as continual demand for praise, and
Caddie's capacity is exhaustless. I'm sorry she didn't have the
"She's going to make some to-morrow and send them to me. It's
pop-corn in this box." Dorothea held up the latter and shook it.
"Moses brought it from Virginia. They are the cunningest little ears
you've ever saw. Wasn't it nice of Moses to think about us and bring
it? Of course, he didn't know we would be away so long and that I
was going to be sick and he wouldn't see me until spring; but it's a
thing that keeps, and the drier it is the prettier it pops, he says.
What is that picture over there, Uncle Winthrop? It is very ugly."
Laine glanced at the picture to which Dorothea pointed. "That is a
Jan Steen—'The Village Fair.' Sorry you don't like it. You think
that Botticelli is ugly also. A little later in life it may meet
with your approval. The original is priceless."
"A lot of priceless things aren't pretty. I don't ever expect to be
a culturated person. Mother makes me go to all those old galleries
and museums, when we're in Europe, and look at a lot of cracked
pictures and broken statues and carved things, and wants me to think
they're beautiful, but I don't. Some of them are hideous, and I get
so tired of being told I must admire them that I make a face inside
at most of them as I walk along, though, of course, outside, for
mother's sake, I don't make any signs. I'm a great disappointment to
mother. We had a lady artist guide the last time we were in Italy.
She used to get so mad with me that once she shook me. Father would
have killed her if she hadn't been a lady, and after that he and I
used to go out by ourselves and have the grandest times. He'd show
me just a few pictures at the time, and tell me all about them, and
some of them I just loved. Mother says you have so many beautiful
things, Uncle Winthrop, and that it's a shame for a man to have them
all by himself." She looked around the large room, and again took
her seat in her uncle's lap. "Some things I like in here, and some I
don't. You've got an awful lot of books, haven't you?"
"Too many, I'm afraid. Would you mind if I smoked?" Laine reached
for a cigar from the box on the table and held it between his fingers.
"Of course. I hope I won't forget, though, and kiss you. I'm so apt
to when I'm talking, if I like a person. Tobacco is so bitter. I'll
tell you what I think is the matter with this room. It's—it's—"
She looked around carefully. "It's something that isn't in it. I
don't know what it is. Why don't you get married, Uncle Winthrop?
Maybe your wife would know."
Laine put the unlighted cigar back on the table, and Dorothea's
hands, which were stroking one of his, were gripped by it and held
"I do not doubt it. The trouble is in getting the wife."
Dorothea sat upright. "The idea! I heard Miss Robin French say the
other day the way unmarried men were run after was outrageous, and
all they had to do was to stand still and crow a little, and up would
come a-clucking all kinds of hens, little ones and big ones, and
young ones and old ones, and— Don't you tell anybody, but I think
she'd come, too!" Dorothea's hands came together, and she laughed
gleefully. "Father says if Miss Robin would give up hoping she'd be
happier." Suddenly her face sobered. "Do all ladies try to marry a
man, Uncle Winthrop?"
"They most certainly do not." Laine smiled in Dorothea's face, and
before the child's clear eyes his own, full of weary pain, turned
away. "Many of them take very long to make up their minds to marry
"Have you ever asked one to marry you?"
Laine did not answer. Dorothea's question was unheard. His thoughts
"Have I what?"
"Ever asked a lady to many you?"
The hand which Dorothea had been stroking was dropped. She sprang to
her feet and stood in front of him, her hands clasped in rigid
excitement on her breast.
"When"—her voice curled upward in quivering delight—"when is she
going to do it, Uncle Winthrop?"
"I do not know. She has not said she would do it at all."
"Not said—she would—marry—you!" Delight had changed to
indignation high and shrill, and Dorothea's eyes blazed brilliantly.
"Is she a crazy lady?"
"She is not."
"She is not quite sure she— It is not a thing to talk about,
Dorothea." He drew her again on his lap and unclasped the clenched
fingers. "We are good friends, you and I, and I have told you what I
have told no one else. So far as I am concerned, it does not matter
who knows, but until she decides we will not talk of this again. You
understand, don't you, Dorothea?"
"I understand she must have very little sense. I don't see how you
could want to marry a lady who didn't know right off, the very first
minute, that she wanted to marry you. Do—do I know her, Uncle
For a moment there was silence, broken only by the ticking of the
clock on the mantel; and slowly Dorothea turned to her uncle, her big
brown eyes troubled and uncertain. For half a moment she looked at
him, then, without warning, threw her arms around his neck and hid
her face against his.
"Is—is—it Claudia, Uncle Winthrop?" she whispered. "Is—it—my
"It is—your cousin Claudia."
The quiver in Laine's voice was beyond control, and, lifting the
child's face, he kissed it. "I have asked her to marry me, Dorothea,
but not yet has she promised to do so."
In Dorothea's cheeks two burning spots of red glowed brilliantly.
Slipping down from her uncle's lap, she drew a long breath. "I knew
she must be queer about something," she said, and her fingers
interlocked in trembling excitement. "She was too nice not to be,
but I didn't think she'd be this kind of queer. The idea of not
promising right away! I know what's the matter. It's her home and
her mother, and all the things she is doing in the country that she
don't want to give up. Why don't you go down there and make her,
"She asks me not to come—yet. There is no hotel, and—"
"Does she write to you?"
Laine smiled in the eager eyes. "Yes, she writes to me."
Again there was silence, and presently a queer sound from Dorothea.
"I can't help it, Uncle Winthrop! They're coming! Won't it be
grand, because she will, I know she will, and I'm so glad I
can't—can't help—" And big, happy tears rolled down Dorothea's
face, which was pressed close to Laine's as he held her close to his
That night, when all the house was still and every one asleep,
Dorothea slipped out of bed and, kneeling down beside it, folded her
hands and began to pray.
"O Lord"—her voice was a high whisper—"please make my cousin
Claudia come to her senses and promise my uncle Winthrop that she
will marry him right away. She lives in Virginia. Her post-office
is Brooke Bank, and she's an awfully nice person, but father says
even You don't know why women do like they do sometimes, and of
course a man don't. Please make her love him so hard she'd just die
without him, and make her write him to come quick. Give her
plenteous sense from on high, and fill her with heavenly thankfulness
and make her my aunt for ever and ever. Amen."
She got up and scrambled into bed and closed her eyes tightly.
"French prayers aren't worth a cent when you want something and want
it quick," she said, half aloud. "And when you're in dead earnest
you have to get right down on your knees. I don't know what I'd do
if I couldn't talk in plain English to the Lord. I hope He will
answer, for if He don't I certainly couldn't say right off, 'Thy will
be done.' I'd say I thought my cousin Claudia had mighty little
Winthrop Laine lifted the tangled vines which overhung the
shrub-bordered path leading down the sloping lawn at the back of the
house to the rose-garden at its foot, and held them so that Claudia
could pass under.
"They ought to be cut." She stopped and unfastened a long tendril of
intertwined honeysuckle and bridal-wreath which had caught her hair.
"Everything ought to be cut and fixed, only—"
"It would be beyond pardon. If any one should attempt to change this
garden, death should be the penalty. One rarely sees such
old-fashioned flowers as are here, never in modern places."
"No one knows when many of them were planted, and nothing hurts
them." Stooping, Claudia picked from the ground a few violets and
lilies-of-the-valley growing around the trunk of an immense elm-tree
at the end of the path, then looked up.
"Don't let's go to the roses yet. I want to see what the sun-dial
says. This is the way my great-grandmother used to come to meet my
great-grandfather when she was a girl. Her parents wanted her to
marry some one else. She would slip out of the house and down this
path to that big magnolia-tree, from where she could see and not be
seen, and it was there they made their plans to run away."
"We will go there. It looks like a very nice place at which to make
Into Claudia's face color sprang quickly, and for a moment she drew
back. "Oh no! It is too beautiful to-day to make plans of any kind.
It is enough to just—live. You haven't seen half of Elmwood yet,
and you want to talk of—other things."
"I certainly do." Laine stepped back that Claudia might lead the way
down the path, box-bordered so high that those within could not be
seen outside, and smiled in the protesting face. A few moments more
and they had come out to the front lawn on the left of the house and
some distance below the terrace on which it overlooked the river, and
as they reached a group of spreading magnolias he drew in his breath.
"I do not wonder that you love it. And I am asking you to leave it!"
She looked up. "Come, I want to show you some of the old things, the
dear things, and then—"
"We will come back, and you will tell me what I must know, Claudia?"
She nodded and pulled the bells from the lily-of-the-valley she held
in her hands. "We will come back and—I will tell you."
For an hour, in the soft glow of the sun now, sinking in the heavens,
they wandered through the grounds and separate gardens of the old
estate, now walking the length of the long avenue, shaded by great
elms of more than century age, now around the lawn with its beds of
bleeding-hearts and snowdrops, of wall-flowers and sweet-William, of
hyacinths and tulips, with their borders of violets and cowslips, of
candytuft and verbenas, and at the old sun-dial they stopped and read
the hour. Picking an armful of lilacs and calicanthus and snowballs
and blue flags, planted in the days when the great trees were tiny
saplings, they sent them in by Gabriel, who was following at a
distance, blowing softly on his trumpet, and for some minutes stood
in front of the house and watched the sun touch, here and there, the
old brick laid in Flemish bond; then went back and sat down on the
low seat under the big magnolia, from which the river could be
glimpsed, and over which every now and then a white sail could be
Behind them the sun sank. The mass of shifting gold and blue and
crimson and pale purple lost little by little its brilliant splendor,
and slowly over land and sky soft twilight fell, and only here and
there was heard the song and twitter of birds as they made ready for
For a few moments there was silence, and then in his Laine held the
hands of Claudia.
"It is a wonder world, this old, old world of yours with its many
things we have forgotten. And yet—you will come to me? You are
sure at last, Claudia?"
"I am sure—at last." She raised her eyes to his. "I could not let
you come until I knew that—all the homes in all the world would not
be home without—"
"Without what, Claudia?"
"Without— Why do you make me tell you when you know? You make me
tell too much."
"You cannot tell too much. Claudia! Claudia!"
Overhead the birds chirped sleepily and one by one the stars came
out. Presently Claudia drew herself away and smoothed her kissed and
wind-blown hair. "I am such a queer person. I think you ought to
know," she said, and again her shining eyes were raised to his.
"There are a great many things I don't care for, and I don't think
the way some people do about a good many other things. I had to take
long to be sure."
"It was very cruel, Claudia." He lifted her face to his and smiled
in the confessing eyes. "My forgiveness proves the measure of my
love. As proof of penitence, will you marry me in June?"
"I certainly—will—not!" Again she drew away. "Jacqueline will not
get here until July. I told you she was coming home to live. You
don't suppose I'd leave my mother before Jacqueline comes home?"
"In October, perhaps." Slowly the color crept to her temples. "It
is so beautiful here in October. There isn't a month in all the year
it will not hurt to leave." Sudden tears were in her eyes. "But it
would hurt worse not to be—with—you. They were very long,
Winthrop, the winter months that followed Christmas. You have very
poor manners. You should have written first and told me you had
enjoyed yourself instead of telling—"
"What I could no longer keep back? There was no time for manners. I
had to know."
"But you didn't, and because I couldn't tell you. Before, I have
always been so quick to know. To go away—with just you! I had to
be so certain there was no other way of happiness." In the darkness
she shivered slightly, and Laine drew her into his arms and held her
"Perhaps"—her voice was so low he had to bend his head to hear
it—"perhaps it is because we are apart from the things that make one
forget that I have thought more about what it should mean—what
marriage should mean—than I might have done had there been no time
to think. It is forever, Winthrop, this life that we are entering.
Are we very, very sure there's love enough to last?"
"I am very sure, Claudia." He lifted her hands to his lips and
kissed them. "For me your love will make of life a—"
"Land that is not lonely?" Under her breath she laughed, to hide the
sob in her throat. "Oh, Winthrop Laine, it is what love is for! And
no one's land is lonely when there is love enough!"