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Possessions by Earl Derr Biggers

First published in The Saturday Evening Post, Feb 3, 1923

THERE are many scenes at which the high gods must laugh; but surely none which elicits from them heartier guffaws than this: A moonlit night, a shadowy veranda. On the veranda a young man; one of those carefree, casual lads who has sworn never to marry. Not for him the ties and cares of wedded life; his soul, an artistic one, craves constant excitement, perpetual change, freedom to travel unhampered. Roses are blooming on a trellis; roses with the moon on them. The young man is not alone. A girl is close by—in his arms in fact, her head upon his shoulder. He has just asked her to marry him.

When Bob Dana came back to Mayfleld, his home town, to paint a resurrection portrait of the late Henry Benedict, there wasn't a girl on his horizon. Eugene Benedict, now president of the First National, had written that he desired a portrait of his father to hang in the new quarters of the bank, and Bob had welcomed the opportunity. He was just back from Europe, where he had been studying art; and five years of wandering had depleted his purse, but had not satisfied him. His immediate plan was to earn a little money, after which, he told himself, he would fare forth once more, and every port where a ship touched was on his itinerary.

Even after he had seen Delia Benedict again his purpose did not consciously alter. The grown-up Dell was sweet and clever and desirable, and if he had been settled in a good business—but he wasn't; he was an artist, and he knew well that artists should not marry. The very idea frightened him. His wanderings over, his career endangered, stagnation, worry, responsibilities. Oh, no, he was too agile to be caught like that! And all the while the high gods were laughing: "We heard different. What do your little pictures matter? The urge, young man, is as old as the race. Here is the girl, your future wife. Get on with it!"

He was pretty far on with it this July night, standing there in the shadow on Eugene Benedict's porch, dazed, a little breathless, with Delia in his arms. Give the girl credit. She had not led him on; rather she had discouraged him from the first. And none save the most hardened cynic would intimate that she knew only too well the provocative nature of discouragement.

"What's it all about, Dell?" the boy said. "Something's happened—something wonderful. Are you really fond of me?" She nodded, lifted her head.

"I'm fond of you, Bob; fonder than I ever expected to be of any one. And you—you haven't said it, you know—"

"I can't find words, Dell. I can usually talk, but now

You know, something has been wrong, something lacking, for a long time. I didn't understand. I was just—kind of lonesome, lonesome for you—and I didn't suspect. I had to come back to Mayfield to find it out."

"To find what out, Bob?" she prompted.

"That I loved you. Oh, Dell, the words seem weak. But I do—I love you, and from now on I'm going to prove it in other ways; not words alone."

Somehow they were sitting together in the hammock.

"Isn't life funny, Bob?" Dell said. "Only a few weeks ago I was here on this porch and you came wandering up the front walk. The same old Bob—and different too. And you said—do you remember what you said?"

"I only remember what I thought—about how almighty sweet you were."

"But I remember what you said," Dell told him. "You said that girls weren't for you; that you had to keep away from them. Otherwise you might marry one, and you intimated that would be terrible."

"I was crazy," he cut in. "Foolish! Why shouldn't an artist get married the same as anybody else?"

"Well, why shouldn't he, Bob? You tell me. You seemed to have a lot of reasons—when you first came here. Money, I believe, was one of them."

"Silly reason, Dell. Why I'll work as I never have before! Marrying you—it will give me new inspiration, a new thrill, new excitement."

"And after the thrill wears off?" she suggested.

"It never will, with you. Why, Dell, you're a thousand girls! And every one a wonder."

She smiled at him.

"I like to hear you say it," she admitted. "And yet, how about that talk—the travel business? Simply had to keep going, you said. 'Dell, there are a few places I haven't caught that old moon shining, and thank God the boats still run.' All that about having no one to bother with, no responsibilities, just locking the door some bright morning and hitting the old trail again."

"But you'll go with me. You said so. Not five minutes to pack—you promised; an overnight bag."

"Yes, I know." She was silent for a moment. "Oh, Bob, I'm frightfully fond of you, and yet—I suppose it's the Benedict in me—practical people always. I wonder—" She stood up. "Look," she said, "out there in the moonlight; the front walk. It isn't just Maple Avenue at the end of it. It's the Orient you've been talking about, the South Seas, China. It's Europe and the whole glittering world. Just wandering as you please, no responsibilities, no girl tagging along. Think hard, Bob." He seized her hand, but she drew it away. "It's not too late. In less than a minute you could be out on that walk, on your way. I wouldn't blame you, dear boy. I wouldn't even ask you to kiss me before you go. Bob, it's your chance."

The idea appalled him.

"Do you want me to go?"

"That isn't the point."

"Do you want me to? Because if you do you're going to be disappointed. Not a step! Not a step again, Dell, without you—tagging along!" He seized her in his arms.

"Oh, Bob, that's what I wanted you to say! We'll make a go of it, won't we? I'll be the kind of wife you need."

"You couldn't be any other kind, dear, have I told you the news? I love you."

"Go on saying it," Dell urged. "Get the habit, Bob. I've heard it now and then from other men, and it always bored me. But you, Bob—you certainly do make it sound interesting."

He continued his interesting talk for three hours, with suitable interruptions from Dell. When he walked down Maple Avenue on his way back to the hotel he was a happy man. Only a few weeks before he had traveled this same thoroughfare, saying to himself, "Me married! Terrible, terrible! Watch your step, old son!" Yet here he was, abroad in the midnight calm, engaged and exulting. Life was a funny proposition. Big ambitions stirred within him.

"Got to get busy now—do something fine, make Dell proud of me; and when the work's done we'll look about a bit. She'll be game. She's that kind. Five minutes to pack? She said so. And why not?"

He was roused the next morning by the ringing of his telephone. Leaping to his feet, he crossed the room, bright with hot July sunlight. His spirits rose with every step. Pretty good old world, now that he remembered. Dell's voice came pleasantly to his ear:

"Bob, what's happened to you?"

"Wha-what's that? Hello, Dell."

"You don't mean to say I woke you! Why, I've been up hours! I couldn't sleep."

"Well, I—I've been gathering strength, Dell. That's me from now on; gathering strength to work for you."

"Bob, I had to know. Do you still feel as you did last night?"

"I surely do, honey! Why not?"

"Well, I couldn't be sure. The moon's no longer shining."

"But the sun is. And look here—how about you, my girl?"

"Me? Well, I called up. Shows I'm still interested."

"Glad to hear that." A bright idea recurred to him. "Say, Dell, on the way home last night I got to thinking—why can't we be married to-day and go East?"

"To-day! Why, Bob, what a notion!"

"Well, why not? It's very simple. Just call round at the city hall or something like that."

"Bob! Mother would be horrified! And I—well, every girl expects a wedding. I know I do."

"A wedding?" His heart sank. "You mean one of those big affairs?"

"Oh, no! Just a little wedding here at home. Do you mind? It's probably the only chance I'll ever have."

"Why, that's all right, Dell. Anything you say. When? About Saturday?"

"You silly old thing! It would take a month at least."

"Dell! I couldn't wait that long. I'll give you two weeks."

Silence.

"We-ell, perhaps I could make it if I rushed. Of course, there are a million things—clothes—"

"Yeah, clothes. Well, I'm all ready now. I've got a new suit. Give me a gardenia and I'm practically married."

"Have you evening clothes, Bob?"

"Sorry—no. I had an outfit, but I couldn't get it into my trunk when I went abroad, so I gave it to the janitor. You see, it's always been my rule, Dell—never own more stuff than you can crowd into a steamer trunk."

"Oh!" She was silent for a moment. "I haven't told a soul, Bob. The trains are running. You can still escape."

"Dell, I won't listen to you. I'm going to be a married man or know the reason why."

"Then you'll order evening clothes, won't you?"

"And a red vest, if you tell me to. Oh, by the way, I don't suppose I could rent a suit."

"Bob!" He heard her laughing.

"Well, I may never need it again."

"Oh, yes, you will!"

"You know best. I'll get measured this morning. It will mean another trunk."

"Get a good big one. I can fill it if you can't."

"All right, Dell."

"And come up to lunch. If I'm to be a bride in two weeks I may as well get going. I'll break the sad news to the family before you come. Then you'll be in for it."

"I suppose so. However, I'll go through. I'll be up about one. And, Dell— "

"Yes, Bob?"

"What was I going to say? Something of no importance—oh, yes, I love you."

"Stick to it," said Dell. "And heaven help you!"

He had need of heaven's help at lunch. Dell had evidently spread the news, and the atmosphere in the big house on Maple Avenue was mostly gloom. Mrs. Benedict, that haughty beauty of the 'nineties, was red about the eyes, and she greeted Bob as though he were a bailiff come to dispossess her. Eugene, having rushed home from the bank for his usual luncheon and met unusual tidings, was fussy and pompous and disturbed.

They sat in the drawing-room, talking about nothing. All about were the tokens of material prosperity and success—wide chairs, soft carpets, expensive hangings; a stronghold of convention and respectability; the sort of home that had been only a memory to Bob Dana these past five years. Yet here Dell had been born and grown up; it was all she had ever known; and now he was planning to link his life with Dell's with this sort of household. For the first time he had misgivings. But they vanished when he looked at Dell—Dell, who was smiling and competent and clever, and who would see him safely through the most difficult luncheon of his life.

They went into the dining-room—gleaming silver, costly linen and an old colored butler who moved as silently as time. When the man had gone and they were alone Eugene seemed to feel that it was incumbent on him to begin.

"Er—well, Bob, what's all this?"

"You mean about Dell and me?" Bob tried to smile. "I—¦ I suppose she told you?"

"She certainly did. It's come as a great deal of a shock."

"Well, I—I suppose I ought to have spoken to you first."

"Heavens, Bob!" said Dell. "That went out with Victoria!"

"Oh, did it?" He hoped the perspiration on his forehead was invisible. "You see, it—it happened so suddenly. All at once we discovered we loved each other. A shock to us, too, but a pleasant one." He waited hopefully. No one seemed disposed to help him along. "Of course, I suppose I'm not just the sort of son- in-law you would have picked—"

"Hardly," said Mrs. Benedict; but that was no help.

"I—I mean, I'm not in the Rotary Club, and I haven't got a business, and—and—"

Well, this sort of thing wasn't doing any good. He stopped.

"Of course, all we want," said Eugene, "is Dell's happiness."

"Then, Father dear," Dell suggested, "there's nothing more to be said."

"Oh, yes, there is!" Eugene insisted. "Happiness depends on many things—money, among others. Can you support a wife? That seems to me to be the question."

"Precisely," said Mrs. Benedict. She never appeared to need more than one word. That was plenty.

"You haven't, I take it, found the art game very profitable," went on the president of the First National.

"Not as yet. I'm just getting started. For a while Dell and I will have to live very simply. She understands that."

"Of course I do!" said Dell.

"However, we'd be sure of a roof anyhow. I've already wired about a cottage at Provincetown. I intended to buy it even before I—I thought of getting married. You know, I just sold some land that belonged to my father—got six thousand for it—and I've nearly eight hundred left from what you paid me for the portrait. I can get this place for twenty-eight hundred."

He paused. Was he buying Dell, or what was all this?

"Is it—er—a large cottage?" asked Eugene.

"Cottages aren't, as a rule," Bob reminded him. "This one has three rooms."

"Three rooms!" repeated Eugene.

"Three rooms!" said Mrs. Eugene, and wailed it.

"It's really quite a charming place," Bob said. "Stands back of the town and you get a fine view across the roofs to the harbor."

But Eugene was not interested in views. "Were you planning to pay for it outright?" he inquired.

"Why not? I've got the money."

"Well, it might be better to leave a thousand on mortgage."

"Oh, no!" Bob shuddered. "I couldn't get mixed up with that sort of thing; I'm too innocent. All I know about mortgages is that somebody always forecloses them in the dead of winter. I'd hate to see Dell put out in a Provincetown snowstorm; they're pretty fierce."

Mrs. Benedict glared at him.

"It seems to me," she said, "an odd subject to joke about."

"I'm not joking. I mean it. I'd be afraid of a mortgage. Never could remember the interest."

"Still, it would be an advantage," Eugene persisted, "when you came to sell."

"But why should I want to sell?"

"Why—when you need a larger house."

"But I don't—I didn't think—" He looked helplessly at Dell.

"Father," said Dell, "aren't you ashamed? Talking business to poor old Bob; he doesn't know what it's all about. It's true that he doesn't make much money, and that we'll have very little; but don't expect him to enlighten you on his plans. I'm to be secretary-treasurer of the corporation; if you want information about the prospects of dividends come to me. I guess you can trust the granddaughter of Eight-Per-Cent. Benedict to steer clear of the rocks."

"Dell!" cried her mother.

"Well, what I mean is, with one of our family managing finances, it seems to me the subject is closed," Dell said gayly.

"It isn't just the money," Mrs. Benedict began. "Going way off to Massachusetts to live! I've always hoped Dell would settle down right here in Mayfield. And what's all this about travel? Travel isn't for married people; at least not when they're young. I didn't even get to New York until Dell was eighteen. It seems to me—"

It seemed to Dell that the discussion should end.

"Mother dear," she broke in, "you and Father have been wonderful and I hate to leave you—I honestly do. But Bob's told you the whole story—we love each other and we're on our way. What happens from now on is our worry, not yours. You two dears deserve a rest. Besides, just now you've got your hands pretty full, what with a wedding in your house in two weeks' time—"

"That's another thing," protested Mrs. Benedict.

"I think we'd better go to Cleveland in the morning and begin our shopping. Have you any ideas, Mother—"

Of course, she had behind her long years of experience in managing them, but her technique was admirable none the less. When the luncheon ended, Eugene and his wife seemed reconciled if not enthusiastic, and preparations for a wedding were well under way.

After lunch Bob found himself alone in the library with Eugene. The banker offered him a cigar, lighted one himself.

"Well, Bob, when I got you out here to paint that portrait of Father I never dreamed of this." He puffed away for a moment. "I hope I haven't seemed lacking in cordiality. As a matter of fact, I like you—like you enormously. And as far as your getting engaged to Dell is concerned—well, she's always had her own way in everything, and if she wanted you I don't suppose, when we come right down to it, you had an awful lot to say about it."

Somehow this idea didn't appeal to Bob.

"I proposed, if that's what you mean," he said. "You don't think for a minute that I went into this against my will."

"No, no; that's not what I meant. You don't quite understand. As I was saying, Dell's always had her own way—the only child; a bit spoiled perhaps. I'm mighty fond of her; but you'll have your hands full—"

"Oh, I'll manage."

"I hope so. I'm looking at it from your angle now. Always try to see the other fellow's side. You're an artist. I don't know much about artists. I'm a small- town banker myself; but even I—all men—I guess there are times—well—" He looked anxiously over his shoulder, lowered his voice. "You know—times where all this paraphernalia of marriage gets on your nerves; when you wish you could chuck the whole business and have your freedom back again. And what I'm getting at is, if I've had spells like that it seems to me that a boy like you, with a temperament—it seems to me he'd have 'em pretty often."

Bob stared at him. He was beginning to like Eugene. The little banker was human after all.

"Maybe I shall," the boy admitted. "But if I do—Dell's mighty clever and sensible too. She'll see me through. We'll get along."

"Well, of course, there's a lot in that. Dell's a bright girl." Eugene stood up. He appeared a bit embarrassed by his confession. "Going down street with me?"

"No, thanks. I'll see Dell a minute before I go."

"Of course." They went into the hall. Eugene picked up his straw hat. He held out his hand. "I just want to say, Bob, I wish you all the luck in the world."

His handclasp was friendly, his look sympathetic. Somehow Bob got the idea Eugene felt he was saying good-by to a man who was starting out on a long and hazardous journey.

During the next two weeks Bob called daily at the house on Maple Avenue. Dell had little time for him, however; she was busy shopping, busy with modistes and caterers. Up there round Eugene's back door it appeared that something was going on, something that was news to Bob. Wedding presents were pouring in—crates, barrels, boxes. At first Dell insisted that they must open these together; he struggled with nail pullers, hammers, wallowed in excelsior. Steadily the loot increased.

Bob found the sight of it a bit disturbing, but Dell was thrilled.

"Oh, Bob, look! Isn't that sweet of her? Aunt Helen. She's sent that Italian silver she picked up in Genoa. I never dreamed she'd part with it. Isn't it wonderful? It's as old as Columbus—all hand-made—oh, you don't care! Mother! Mother, where are you? Look what Aunt Helen—"

As each gift was unwrapped Dell and her mother would croon over it, pat it, behave toward it as though it were a child. Even a bonbon dish seemed of international interest.

"Bob, see what came to-day! I couldn't wait. I had it opened. A Georgian chair! And this mirror—Chippendale. Isn't it lovely?"

"Yeah. Going to be hard to pack."

"Oh, you don't appreciate anything!"

"But it's different with men, Dell. I guess just—er—things don't mean so much to them. Say, Dell, give a thought to the bridegroom."

"Not now—later."

The big evening came. Bob checked out from the Mayfield House and went with his luggage up to Maple Avenue. Eugene met him at the door.

"Hello, Bob! How are you?"

"I'm—I'm all right."

"I guess you'll be glad when the ceremony's over." Eugene always referred to it as the ceremony, in a solemn way that sent the cold chills down Bob's back. "Your best man is upstairs. My room, you know. Say, just step in here!"

He led the way into the library at the rear, an enormous room. Bob gasped.

"Presents look pretty well, eh?" said Eugene.

He waved his hand. It was like a combination furniture and jewelry store. Sheffield plate, a great chest of table silver, French, Italian and old English chairs, pottery, tall, fragile-looking vases, mirrors, linen, an antique sideboard, a highboy. A large, red-faced person with flat feet plumped anxiously about.

"What's that?" Bob whispered.

"Plain-clothes man," Eugene explained under his breath. "I thought it best to have him here."

"Great Scott!" Bob cried. "They're not worth all that!"

"My boy, some of this stuff is priceless."

Bob stood there. Into his mind flashed something he had said to Dell—why, it was only two weeks ago—"I've always made it a rule not to own any more than I can crowd into a steamer trunk."

He began to laugh. Eugene looked at him anxiously.

"See here, my boy, what's the trouble? You're hysterical."

"Yes, I guess I must be."

"You go right up-stairs. Better lie down on the bed until the ceremony. Don't get too excited. People have been married before."

Bob went up to the room where he was to cower until the summons came. The succeeding two hours were never very clear as he looked back on them. Dazed, just dazed, that was all. He found himself standing with Dell before a little man in black. "I do—I will—all my worldly goods." It was over. Dell did look wonderful. He began to be conscious, to breathe again. People were crowding in upon them.

It was, Eugene whispered, time for them to go. The man was invaluable. Dell poised on the stair, her bouquet in her hand. Bob would never forget the picture she made—must paint it some day from memory. Then he was back in his up- stairs haven, clad again in his regular suit, beginning to feel his regular self. Eugene bustled in.

"Well, Bob, all over now. Got your tickets—everything? The car's in the drive. You'll have to make a dash for it. Dell's ready—take good care of her—all we've got—naturally anxious. By the way, I meant to tell you—I had the packer up to- day to look over the presents. He figures on twenty barrels and twelve crates."

"Twenty—twelve—"

"I'll get them off to you by express right away. It's quicker than freight. Have to put a pretty stiff value on them—five thousand—"

Some one knocked on the door—Dell was waiting. Bob seized her arm at the top of the stairs and they dashed down through the crowd and out into the moonlight. He helped her into the car and sank down beside her.

"Well, we made it!" he cried.

He was mighty happy now. The car sped toward the station. Thank heaven that was over. Married! He was married—that was what had happened. Well, why not? Pretty good idea. He felt in his pockets—tickets all right. What was Eugene fussing about? Oh, yes, the presents. Twenty crates, twelve barrels! Good lord!

Suddenly there flashed through his mind a picture out of the past.

He was standing on a curb somewhere, waiting for a trolley. A truck went by, an enormous truck. On it was painted in great gilt letters: The Acme Fireproof Storage Warehouse, Inc.

Ah, yes. So that was all right too.

"Bob dear, what are you thinking about?" asked Dell.

"About life, Dell. Life's looking up. The future never seemed so bright. It's filled with you."

"Happy?"

"Happy!" He held her close. "Words, Dell, words! I'm stumped again—clean stumped. But wait till I get back to my easel. I'll say it with paint."

* * * * *

THEY were settled in the cottage at Provincetown. It was bought and paid for, the deed reposing in the bottom of the grandfather's clock that had been one of the wedding presents. It seemed to Bob Dana that for ages he had been pulling nails, wallowing in excelsior; but now the twenty barrels and twelve crates were unpacked. As each precious item emerged again into the light of day Dell had gone into ecstasies. It really was remarkable how she could delight in things.

On their way to Provincetown they had stopped for a week in New York, and Dell had done a bit of shopping. Eugene had been represented amid the wedding gifts by a generous and easily carried draft on a New York bank. In the midst of the honeymoon Bob had discovered that Dell had lists—long, appalling lists of things that were needed. For it seemed that this prodigious array of presents would not serve; there were other things vital to housekeeping—beds, tables, more chairs, prosaic kitchen ware. As soon as they reached the cottage Dell's purchases began pouring in.

"Where are we going to put all this stuff, Dell?"

"Oh, we must make room somehow. Not a thing we don't actually need. I'll find a place."

She found it.

"Bob, I don't believe you half appreciate how kind people were to us. All these lovely things!"

"Oh, Dell, sure I appreciate it. But after all, they're just things. They don't live and breathe. And what I'm thinking is—if we should want to travel—"

"Oh, but we don't—not yet. Let's not cross that bridge till we get to it."

He began to paint, a little disturbed by the things heaped up around him. Dell was learning to cook, and proving efficient, as always. Almost daily, it seemed, there was something more she simply had to have. He took to joking her about it.

"Another package for you, Victoria."

"Oh, it's that copper wash boiler. That's good. But why Victoria?"

"Seems to me the late queen was your only known rival, Dell. You know, she had so much stuff that in her last years she wasn't able to get round and pat it. So she had it all photographed and put into albums, and she'd sit by the hour turning the pages.

"That'll be you, Dell. I'll have albums made for you, and when you're old you can sit and gloat over the things you own. 'Oh, that darling highboy! Ah, what a kettle that was!'"

"Bob, don't be silly! I believe you're beginning to be sorry—"

"Nonsense, Dell! I'll never be that."

Late in August she said casually, "Bob, I meant to tell you—Father is sending on my car."

"Your car! Great Scott, Dell! Where shall we put it?" He looked anxiously about the studio living-room.

"We'll have to build a garage, of course. I've got figures on one—only five hundred dollars."

"But—but"—his spirits sank; a car—oil, gas, tires, repairs—"but, Dell, we don't really need a car."

"Of course we do! We can take an occasional trip along the Cape. It will do you good—the change, the fresh air."

"But the air—the air's pretty fresh right here."

"All right, if you don't want me to have it," a little note of martyrdom creeping in. "It's already started, but I can send it back."

"No, Dell, don't do that."

"I'll call the carpenter in the morning. Bob, it will be fine for you. We've been sticking here too closely. Every evening we can take a spin." She stopped. "Only we must have a stronger lock on the back door, and new locks on the windows. I'll speak to the carpenter about that too."

For days thereafter he worked with the noisy evidences of a five-hundred- dollar project drifting through his windows. Then the hammering came closer, new locks all round—new locks to protect this vast collection of things that had come along with Dell and were so precious—to Dell.

One evening a few weeks later she came home with a dog, a quaint specimen she had bought from a man down-town.

"Oh, Bob, look!"

"What? Say, Dell, who does he belong to?"

"He belongs to us. Company for me when you're working. Isn't he too cute?"

Bob was annoyed.

"But, Dell, look here—just another thing to care for."

"You don't mean you begrudge me—why, Bob!" He sensed impending tears. "You'd turn this poor little thing out?"

She held the dog in her lap, fondling it. Further objections, Bob knew, would be futile. He went outside. The car was standing before the cottage, its engine running merrily. Dell, excited over her newest acquisition, had forgotten it. Running along, using up gasoline—gasoline that cost money. But Dell never thought of such things. He reached in and savagely snapped off the power.

A dog! He sat down on the running board of the car. A dog, of all things! What did you do with a dog if you wanted to set out and see the world? Things, things, things! Piling up, barricading the road! He wasn't joking about them any more. They seemed in his thoughts constantly. Each article was a separate millstone about his neck, pulling him down, down into domesticity.

The dog came out and sniffed at his feet. A cunning little chap. Bob smiled, leaned down and patted him.

"Nothing personal in all this," he said. "No offense intended." He picked him up and carried him inside. "It's all right, Dell," he said. "The dog tells me he's fond of travel. What shall we call him?"

In October Bob finished what he was doing—a portrait of Dell ordered by Eugene. It was shipped to Mayfield, acknowledged by a letter of kindly praise and a check. He would have preferred the latter from some one else. Still, he had earned it; it was no gift from the First National.

The days grew increasingly cold; an icy wind began to sweep in from the sea. They couldn't remain in Provincetown through the winter. The knowledge cheered him, buoyed up his spirits. He became the gay lad of old, a bit of sunshine round the house. For he was studying the newspapers—certain pages of the newspapers, that is; the pages headed, "Steamships and Tours." What magic words!

"Reduced Fares to Europe."
"It's Summer on the Mediterranean."
"Have You Ever Heard the Beat of Desert Drums?"

One Sunday afternoon late in October, as they sat together in the studio before the fire, he decided it was high time to speak.

"Look here, Dell, I've been thinking—"

"Yes, Bob?"

"How about winter? We don't want to spend it here."

"No, of course not."

"Have you—er—noticed the newspapers lately?"

"Not particularly. Why?"

"There's a great deal of talk about ships, Dell. Summer seas and strange, interesting ports."

"Is there, Bob?" She smiled a little sadly.

"Look here, I've got nearly three thousand in the bank. Why can't we just lock up and beat it? I'd like to show you round the Mediterranean. It's my old-home ocean; I know it well. Gibraltar, Algiers—a few months in Sicily and Naples. You'd love it."

"And how about your work, Bob?"

"Oh, I could get a little done. Not much, perhaps; but I'd pick up a lot of color. Then when we came back in the spring—"

"We'd be broke," said Dell. "And we can't be broke next summer, Bob, you know that."

His heart sank.

"I suppose you're right," he said, remembering.

"I'm sorry, dear," Dell went on gently. "Some time later, but not now. Now—if you stop work for an instant we're lost. You've got to go on making money. I'm afraid it's like that, Bob. Being married, I mean." He said nothing. "I've been thinking, too," Dell continued. "My plan is, let's go up to Boston and take a studio apartment. It's cheaper than New York, and I've got a lot of college friends there; people who would help us. I'll arrange an exhibit of your work and we'll sell something, I'm sure. Then, too, there's Myra Tell. They've loads of money, and they want a portrait of the grandmother. I've practically arranged it. It's a big chance. You don't know; it might lead to great things for us."

He stared at her in wonder.

"You've arranged it!"

"Yes; and I've got on the trail of an apartment for the winter. We can get it, furnished, beginning next month. They want to know right away."

The dog rose from beside the fire, stretched lazily.

"What would you do with him?" Bob asked.

"Mrs. Goodrich, down in the town, will take him; and her husband will keep an eye on the house for us."

"You—you've arranged that too?"

"I've spoken to her. What do you say, Bob? Don't you think it's the thing— "

"What does it matter what I say? It's all arranged, I guess." His tone was bitter.

"Why, Bob, it's a grand scheme! A change for you, and no interruption in your work. We'd have to take only a few things—I think it would be nice to have the car. We could keep it in a public garage. And then just silver and china, bed and table linen—"

He got up from his chair. His face was terrible.

"Bob, Bob, where are you going?"

"For a walk. Let me alone. I want to—think."

He strode blindly from the house, took unconsciously the path toward the town. What was all this that had happened to him? Had he nothing to say about his own life any more? Only a few things! Things, things! Linen and china and silver! The confounded car! So this was to be his winter!

He went out upon the pier, sat down on a pile of rope and stared across the harbor. He used to be so glib; why couldn't he find words to assert himself? Why couldn't he explain to Dell, win her over? The water was cold and rough, little white-caps on it. In the Mediterranean it was warm, unbelievably brilliant; this same water, washing far shores. Algiers, the desert drums, the Bay of Naples, with the green hill of Posilipo, smoking Vesuvius beyond. He wanted them again—wanted them; not later—now. Later? How many years? Old, maybe, all the joy of life gone. Married, indubitably married.

For a long time he sat there. Well, he had let himself in for this. Dell had warned him, given him his chance to escape; he had refused to go. Poor Dell! If only she had married somebody in Mayfield—somebody who would be content to dedicate his winters to a furnace. He mustn't be unkind to Dell. He was fond of her. He must try to be like other people for Dell's sake. Dell was right too. Her plan was sensible. Boston wouldn't be so bad. Painting an old woman's portrait. Not Capri, not Sorrento. But he was married now.

He went back to the cottage. Dell was sitting as he had left her, on the sofa before the fire. As he drew nearer he saw she had been crying. He hated himself.

"It's all right, Dell." He dropped down beside her, put his arms about her. "It's a good idea. Write and tell 'em we'll take that apartment."

She looked up at him.

"Poor Bob," she said.

"Oh, no," he objected. "Don't pity me. I won't have that. I'm going to try to be a solid citizen. Help me, Dell."

"You were so innocent," she said. "Some other girl would have got you if I hadn't."

"I'm glad it was you," he smiled. "I love you, Dell; now more than ever."

"Stick to it," Dell whispered.

He glanced about the room.

"I'll do the packing myself," he told her. "I'm getting good. How long will it take us to get ready?"

"Not more than a week," said Dell.

A busy week; barrels, crates and nails again. Dell flew about wildly but efficiently, wrapping, packing, storing. On a dull, foggy morning early in November Bob sat on a packing case, his work done. Just inside the door reposed a huge pile of luggage ready for the car. He lighted a cigarette.

His mind went back to that night when he had stood with Dell on Eugene's porch—only last July, but it seemed longer ago somehow; that calm night when he had discovered that he was, after all, a marrying man. What was it he had said? "And that bright morning—just before we lock the door. It won't take you long to pack?" And Dell had answered, "Five minutes. Only an overnight bag."

It wasn't that she had meant to deceive. She just didn't know how things would be.

He had been at it a full week. Hammering for a week, and they were going only as far as Boston. And the bright morning was glum with fog. He smiled, glanced round the dismantled room, at the clutter of barrels and boxes all about him.

"I know what marriage means," he thought. "It means possessions."

The expressman was knocking at the door.

* * * * *

IN the Boston apartment was sunny and cheerful, and Bob settled himself for a happy winter. Then along came the question of the afternoon clothes. An invitation had arrived, suggesting that they drop in for tea some Sunday at the Tell home in Brookline, and immediately Dell had begun. It seemed he must array himself in a cutaway, a silk hat.

"But see here, Dell, I don't want any more clothes. I've got too many now. And why pose as a tea hound? I'm only a poor boy trying to get along."

"I won't have you looking like a tramp."

"Like a tramp? When was this?"

"There are certain things required by convention, Bob, especially in Boston. Besides, this is a very important call. If you're to get the commission for that portrait—"

"But surely they won't think I'm a better artist because I'm all dolled up. If I had my way I'd go out there in a soft shirt and my oldest hat."

"I know you would. But you're not going to have your way, Bob dear."

He held out for two days, then went to a tailor. When they finally made the call he announced that he felt like a clothing-store dummy. He acted more or less that way, too, but it didn't matter. By the time the call was over Dell had landed the job.

Grandmother Tell was too frail to come to the studio, so Bob began making daily visits to the Tell house. Dell's car came in mighty handy. "You see, I knew it would," she said. The old lady was a famous character in her set, a brilliant talker; the days slipped pleasantly by. Also, she offered possibilities for a striking portrait, and Bob worked hard.

Life was empty of annoyance, his old enthusiasms returned. The furniture in the apartment didn't trouble him; it didn't belong to him; any morning he could walk out and leave it. A comfortable feeling; he could have stayed on for ever.

By midwinter the portrait was finished and loaned by the Tells to play a leading part in an exhibit of Bob's work Dell had arranged with a Boylston Street dealer. The Tell family was well connected in Boston; the old lady had many friends and the exhibit attracted attention. Bob sold a number of his paintings—things he had done abroad. That is, Dell sold them. Not for nothing was she the granddaughter of Eight-Per-Cent. Benedict. She asked prices that took Bob's breath away, and got them too.

"Some little business manager," he said admiringly.

"You'd never have done it," she reminded him quite truthfully. "You see, Bob, you needed me. Marriage wasn't a mistake, after all."

"Not with you, it wasn't," he said. He meant it with all his heart.

And then rumors of spring began to get abroad, and depression like a great black cloud settled down on Bob Dana's soul. For Dell was chattering gayly of the cottage at Provincetown, and through Bob's mind were floating thoughts of rugs and highboys and taxes and repairs, and the old round of locking up at night.

Particularly unwelcome thoughts in April, when the soles itched and the far corners called insistently again. About this time—Italy! He pictured a village on the shores of Lake Como, a village he had been meaning to go back to long before this. And Paris—Paris with the moon on it—the boulevards in spring!

On May first, said Dell; on May first—back to Provincetown, back to all those possessions. There was no escape; she had spoken. It seemed to Bob that time had never gone so swiftly. Already he felt the nail puller in his hand.

The morning came when he actually had it there. He sat on a crate in the middle of the dismantled studio. Outside, the sun was sparkling on the harbor, the town was coming to life.

Dell had gone down to the village for groceries, and he was left alone amidst their goods and chattels. He paused in his work of unpacking and stared about him. He hated everything he saw. Things, things! Never had he felt so hopeless in his life, and yet he must clear away a little space and go to work; go to work—full of inspiration and good cheer.

It occurred to him that there was no real reason why they must unpack—not just yet, at any rate. If he could only put it off for just a little while. Why not? They had plenty of money now. Why not get aboard a ship

"See here, Dell," he began, rehearsing, "let's take a short run to Europe. Land at Genoa; little town on the shores of Como I want to show you. Buried in roses now—lovely. Then down the Riviera; season's over, we'll have it to ourselves. Then up, just to make sure Paris is still there—and home. We could be back here in plenty of time for work, and—and all that. It's nearly a year, Dell, and that morning hasn't come; that bright morning when we lock the door and go. And you know you said—"

The door opened and Dell came in, radiant, very much alive, enthusiastic. She tossed an armful of groceries on a chair.

"Bob, listen to me! I've just called at the real-estate office. What do you think? The Minturn house is for sale!"

The old, familiar sensation—that sinking feeling. His heart in his boots.

"The Minturn house!" he repeated faintly.

"Eight rooms, Bob—and only nine thousand dollars! I talked it over with the real-estate man. He said he could sell this place in a minute for twenty-seven hundred."

"Twenty-seven? Wait a minute. I paid twenty-eight, and we built a garage."

"Yes, but you paid too much. I wasn't managing things then. Twenty-seven hundred would do for a first payment on the Minturn house, and the balance on mortgage—you know, first and second, with the second to be paid off semiannually."

He rose to his feet. The nail puller dropped from his hand, making a great clatter on the floor.

"It's the chance of a lifetime, Bob," Dell went on. "We've got to have a larger house; you know that. The Minturn place has a wonderful furnace, if we have to stay there a winter or two. And we won't need many more things—a few rugs, a regular dining-room set—a thousand dollars would cover it."

He stared at her, his face stricken. Things, things! More things! Oh, lord, was there to be no end? Mortgages—two of them—assorted mortgages. And to-night the little lake steamer would put into that town he had been dreaming of, and the people would clatter down the long flight of stone steps, and there would be the tinkle of guitars and the sound of happy voices singing, and the scent of roses in the air. Mortgages!

"I told the real-estate man I'd talk it over with you and let him know this afternoon," said Dell.

He turned toward her.

"Bob, Bob, what's the matter?"

"The matter!" he repeated. He stood looking down at her. "Do I have to tell you, Dell? Are you blind? I'm supposed to go to work—isn't that the idea? Clear a space and go to work. Well, I can't do it. I'm stifling." His voice rose. "I'm stifling under the weight of all these damned possessions you're heaping up about me. I hate them. I can't stand it any longer— I can't stand it. I never dreamed it would be like this. Just you and I and a trunk, I thought, traveling through the world, and then you began to acquire things. Things! And now a bigger house, more rugs, mortgages!"

"Oh, Bob, I didn't know " It was Dell's turn to look

stricken.

"No, I suppose not. I haven't said anything. But I've been heartsick, Dell. I wasn't ready for all this—to settle down. If I'd been middle- aged, if I'd seen everything—but I was just starting out."

"You should have thought of that before you asked me to marry you."

"Did I ask you? Oh, forgive me, Dell! But I don't know yet just what happened last spring—back home. I went to May-field to paint a picture, and I never intended to get married, and the first thing I knew—"

"Bob! How can you?"

But he couldn't stop. Everything was coming out now—things he had never intended to say. Mean things, too, and unkind.

"You didn't play fair, Dell. All that talk about five minutes to pack—an overnight bag—was that on the level? Or did you know what I didn't know—how things would pile up? Possessions! I'm sick of it all, I tell you!"

Dell was standing, too, facing him now; proud, high-spirited Dell, who would endure very little talk like this.

"All right," she said in a low voice. "If that's how you feel, Bob." Her face was very pale.

"That's how I feel," he answered. He had hurt her, he knew, but he mustn't weaken now. "Listen to me, Dell. I'm going to do a bit of managing myself. Forget that house! There's nothing doing! I'm going over to Paris for a month or so. I'd like to have you come along, but that's up to you. Think it over. But whether you go or stay, I'm taking the evening train."

He walked past her, picked up his hat, went on out into the sunlight, never even looked back. He moved along, his heels sinking deep into the sandy path. At last he had asserted himself, said all the things he never meant to say. Oh, well, it was better so; better that she should understand how he felt. Eight rooms—a thousand dollars more for things! She'd think twice before she brought that up again.

If only he didn't feel so much like a little boy who had been naughty! Confound it, was he a grown man, or wasn't he? Was he captain of his soul, or was Dell? He walked on and on, labored through the heavy sand to the other side of the Cape.

Late in the afternoon he returned to the cottage. He had made up his mind he would not surrender. He had been a little harsh; he would admit it; he would assure Dell he was fond of her. But pleadings would not move him, nor tears. He must get away. They were going to Paris, if only to turn about and come home.

The door of the cottage was unfastened, the key still in the lock. As he entered the studio Dell's dog, brought back that morning from his winter home, barked joyously, leaped against him. He strode to the middle of the room.

"Oh, Dell!" he called.

No answer. A sheet of note-paper was lying on a packing case, held down by the nail puller. He picked it up.

"I'm sorry, Bob. We haven't made a go of it, I guess. But there's no sense hanging round to cry over spilled milk, so I've gone—with my trunks. You know what that means. You're free. Take a good long trip, and when you come back we'll decide what's best—divorce, separation, anything you say. But that's for the future. Just now I want you to do three things—lock the door on all these damned possessions, get aboard the first ship you come to and forget me as completely as though I'd never happened. Good-by and good luck!"

He read it over twice. Why, what—what—was the girl crazy? Just like her though. Precipitate! One word and she was off like a whirlwind.

What should he do? He sat down on the packing case and thought, while the dog whimpered at his feet. Go after her—that was one course. To Mayfield, probably. Humble himself, beg her to return. Well, hardly. She didn't appear to be brokenhearted, come to think of it. Pretty cold calm letter in the circumstances. Maybe she was fed up herself. Maybe she hadn't possessions enough.

"You know what that means. You're free." Well, that was what he had been longing for; to get shut of all these things; to be out on the highroad again. He had sworn to go abroad, alone or with Dell. Alone, said Dell. O. K., my lady.

He rose and switched on the light. His things were not yet unpacked—a suitcase, two trunks. However, he'd need only the steamer trunk; the other held nothing of importance—evening clothes, that silly cutaway. There was a train to New York in an hour; he telephoned the expressman. His most intimate acquaintance, that expressman.

The groceries were still lying on the chair where Dell had thrown them. He carried them to the kitchen—Dell's spotless kitchen, where he had helped with the dishes each evening. He went into the bedroom. There in the window they had stood every morning, scanning the harbor to see if their ship was in.

He wandered about, taking one last look at all these things that Dell had loved. The highboy—how she did fuss over that stiff old thing! The Georgian chair. The sewing table. He encountered the packing cases again—look here! Full of silver—valuable—how about it? An idea came, even without Dell there to suggest it. He piled them all in the one closet that had a lock, fastened the door securely. Dell'd be glad of that!

The expressman appeared.

"Third trip here to-day," he announced. "Best customers I got, you people." He took the trunk and suitcase.

Bob called the dog; it frisked about his feet.

"Come on, Pat," he said. "Big moment's here. Just lock the door and go. No cares; no responsibilities; nothing to hold us back."

The lock clicked. He stood for a moment. Where was the thrill, the elation? He'd been cheated. A heavy weight still rested on his heart.

"Get rid of that," he assured the dog. "Only natural. Wear off in time."

He stopped at the Goodrich house, was admitted to the parlor. The odor of steak frying for supper filled the world. He explained his errand. The old lady peered at him through her glasses.

"But good land, you just come home," she cried.

"I know; but Mrs. Dana has been called West. We'll try to make some arrangement soon."

"Well, I'd do anything fer Mis' Dana. But Pat's full of mischief. An' he wasn't so well last winter. I was real worried. Then there was that burglar scare; we fretted over that. They might have broke into your house."

"Don't you fret. Just keep an eye open and report."

He handed her the key. She followed him to the door, stood a gaunt shadow against the yellow lamplight.

"Come back soon," she said. "Folks that's got possessions should stay round an' look after 'em."

Bob walked slowly to the station, bought a ticket for New York, checked his trunk. Not a year ago Dell and he had stood together on this platform, Dell all excitement. "Bob, we're home!" He could picture her now in the spring dusk. The train backed in laboriously, he climbed aboard, dropped into a seat.

A ten-minute wait, then the bell rang, there was a scampering along the platform and the little train pulled out. Free—he was free! Off again on the big adventure. The key was turned on his possessions; he must forget them, that was the idea. Forget every last one of them. Nothing easier. Only—only—

"She never happened!" he said fiercely under his breath.

The high gods, who hadn't noticed him for a long time, were smiling at him again.

"She never happened!" repeated the boy on the train.

The high gods looked at one another and laughed outright.

"We heard different," they said.

* * * * *

HE was on a steamer outward bound for Naples; they were passing Sandy Hook. Again the old odor of rubber in the passageways, the old throb of engines beneath his feet. But where was the old joyous thrill of freedom, the sense of dazzling adventure waiting somewhere ahead? Well, perhaps in time

He went up and stood by the rail. The last dull vestige of land had melted away, dissolved in a sparkling sea.

"Off again, my lad," he said. Going to be gay or know the reason why. He took hold of the rail, set his teeth and determined to be carefree.

A moment later he was thinking about that key—the key to the closet where the silver was stored. He had a dim memory of hiding it somewhere, but had he? Perhaps in his excitement he had left it lying right beside the nail puller—left it where any sneak thief could find it. And Dell fairly worshiped that Italian stuff.

With a start, he came to. Fine way to be setting out, worrying about a key! Dell hadn't worried; just calmly took her trunks and went. Wasn't up to him, then. Lots of interesting-looking people aboard. Get talking with them—that was the idea—forget.

Naples again. He was back in the narrow streets he loved, under a sun already uncomfortably hot; back at his old pension. Chocolate and rolls and honey for breakfast—honey that was just the color of Dell's hair.

He was a grown man. Why did he feel like a schoolboy playing hooky? Was this what marriage did to one?

Yet that was how he felt, all the ten days in Naples; and then in Rome, in his old haunts in Florence, and even when he sat in the window of that little hotel on Lake Como, listening to snatches of grand opera drifting up from the cobbled street. Unhappy, somehow. Like a truant determined to enjoy the fishing but for ever seeing the teacher's face in the calm surface of the pool.

Restless, unsatisfied, he moved steadily northward. By mid-June he had reached Paris. There, one radiant afternoon, he lolled on a window seat in the studio of his old friend Harry Osborne, lazily smoking a cigarette and observing Osborne at his labors. Fragrant and warm through the open window came the breath of the most beloved of all cities. Under the trees in the Luxembourg Gardens a military band was playing, and now and then above the steady beat of the music arose the joyous shrieks of children at play.

"I hope I don't annoy you, loafing round here like this," Bob said.

Osborne did not turn. He was middle-aged, bearded, a man who had picked up many bits of wisdom along the way.

"You annoy me very much," he answered.

"Why, I—I'm sorry."

"Oh, not because you're in my way, Bob. But because you are—loafing. What's the idea, my boy? Work—work's the great medicine."

"I know; I ought to get busy; I meant to." Bob's face clouded. "But it's like I told you. I don't feel right somehow. I can't explain, but I keep thinking about Dell all the time—more even than when I was with her; wondering what she's doing. Oh, it's silly! But I saw from the first how it would be. I knew it even before I left New York."

"Then why did you leave?" Osborne asked.

"Well, I—I don't know exactly. I couldn't creep back to May-field, you know. I had to show my independence."

Osborne smiled, still turned toward his canvas.

"Ah, yes, your independence," he repeated. "Yet you've been pretty busy, as I see it, carrying out orders. What was it she told you to do? Lock the door—get on a ship—"

"And forget her just as though she'd never happened," Bob finished. "That was once I disobeyed anyhow."

The older man put aside his brush, rose, stretched wearily.

"Yes; but that was once she wanted you to disobey." He came over and stood looking down at the boy with a kindly glow in his brown eyes. "She was sure you could never manage it, Bob, because she understood you so well. She knew you're not all artist. If you were you could be utterly selfish, forget her in twenty-four hours. There's another strain in you—in all us temperamental people from the Middle West—the heritage left us by a long line of solid, respectable citizens to whom marriage was always marriage. She was depending on that to bring you back—and she's a clever girl."

"You bet she is," said Bob.

Osborne was hunting round on a paint-stained table for a cigarette. He found it, applied a match. Over in the Gardens the band launched into an English music-hall song of ancient vintage, Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy!

The older man smiled.

"Poor old Bob," he said. "You had a devil of a year, didn't you. You wanted to be married, you wanted to be free—you didn't know which. You loved your wife, and you hated your surroundings. Youth slipping away, responsibilities creeping up—ah, you didn't like that. It was war—war inside you. But that sort of thing doesn't go on. There comes a moment—resignation. After that, life straightens out. You do your job. You're at peace."

Bob stared at him.

"You always were the wise old bird, Harry."

"Do you think so? Then take my advice: I'd go home now, if I were you."

Bob Dana stood up. "Why not? I've been on the verge of it for weeks. Why not?"

"Good boy! I may see you in the fall," Osborne said. "I'm coming over."

"Oh, you are? And how about this apartment?"

"I intend to rent it for the winter."

"Say, that's an idea. We might take it—Dell and I."

Osborne smiled.

"Talk it over with your wife and let me know," he suggested. "Drop in again before you sail."

Down the narrow rickety stairs Bob Dana sped, and out into the sunlight of the Boul' Mich'. His plans were made, his course set. He was going back to Dell. He'd tell her how he'd missed her, longed for her—but it was not abject surrender he intended. Oh, no, indeed! "Dell, here's the scheme: Harry Osborne's apartment—a winter in Paris. That's the schedule." Just like that. Kindly, loving, but firm.

He hurried on through the Luxembourg Gardens, threading his way among happy children, past the bent white-haired bird tamer, past the carousel with its chipped, weather-beaten wooden horses, past corpulent old senators at rest on benches after a drowsy session in the Upper Chamber. Then through narrow streets down to the quays of the Seine, and across the Pont Royal to the right bank. Along his route lay a number of post offices, from any one of- which he might have sent his message; but somehow he wanted to put it into American hands. In the office of the cable company itself on the Rue Scribe he wrote at last what was in his mind, three words—"I'm coming home."

He returned to the street. Nearly six o'clock in Paris, but his message should reach Mayfield in the early afternoon. He pictured a blue-coated boy going up Maple Avenue on a bicycle, turning in at the Benedict drive; Dell on the steps, waiting, holdout her hand; then standing there reading his message, the sun on her honey-colored hair.

For the first time since that May evening in Provincetown Bob Dana was really happy. A great burden seemed lifted from his heart.

The next morning he arranged the earliest possible booking, then went shopping for Dell; bought her things—things she would love and look at again and again. On board the ship the only matter that interested him was the noontime posting in the smoking-room of the day's run. Three hundred and forty miles, three hundred and forty-eight—they couldn't go fast enough for him.

He paused for a few hours at his club in New York. There was no word from Dell; his heart sank. What was happening to her? He arranged to leave that evening for Mayfield.

There was a letter from Mrs. Goodrich, an incoherent, worried letter. The dog had not been well, the veterinary had seen him. A storm had blown the door from the garage, and before they could get it repaired the car had disappeared. There was a rumor of one found in Harwich, but it must be identified. Some one had broken a kitchen window. Mrs. Goodrich did wish they'd come home soon.

There was also a brisk snappy note from the real-estate man. He had a purchaser for the cottage. The Minturn house was still on the market. Mrs. Dana had spoken of buying it; would suggest immediate action both cases. Please advise.

Bob put the letters away in his pocket; must talk these things over with Dell. If they were going to Paris—still, his ideas on that point were not so clear. Maybe—but just now the important thing was to see Dell again, hear her voice, her laugh, look into her eyes. Strange she had sent no word of greeting— she knew his ship. Perhaps—no, hardly. But what had happened?

Night came, and he boarded a train for the West. An hour after he left New York a telegram from Mayfield arrived for him at his club.

On the following afternoon his train pulled up beside the ancient C. B. & D. station in his old home town. Instantly he was out on the platform, looking eagerly for Dell. No sign of her. And then Eugene came toward him, a solemn, dignified Eugene at sight of whom he felt that old sinking of the heart.

"Hello, Bob," said Eugene. "The car's right here. Jump in."

He climbed meekly to Eugene's side. The train slipped by, Main Street stretched ahead.

"I figured you'd be on Number Four," Eugene remarked, starting his engine. "It was the first train you could get after my telegram."

"What—what telegram?" asked the prodigal.

"You mean to say you didn't get it?" Eugene demanded. The car started.

"Not a word! What—what's happened? Is Dell all right? You—you don't mean—"

Eugene, still solemn, nodded. "Yesterday," he said.

"But—but I thought—not for three weeks yet. I intended to be home, of course."

Bob was solemn too.

"You never can tell about these things," said Eugene wisely.

"But Dell—poor Dell—is she—"

Eugene, ever ready with the ancient, hackneyed phrase, answered promptly.

"Mother and child," he said, "are doing well."

They were on Maple Avenue now, speeding along. A calm, sleepy old street, under its arch of elms, seemingly an uneventful street. Yet on Maple Avenue big things had happened to Bob Dana—were happening now; complete surrender, the end of a war. For he knew that the debate was over, and he wasn't sorry. "You do your job. You're at peace."

He thought of the Minturn house—eight rooms. He'd take it by wire. He could go on and move the stuff himself—the nail puller, the hammer again. Into his mind flashed a picture of himself opening the door of the grandfather's clock, tossing a key inside; the key to the closet that held the silver. He remembered at last.

Eugene was losing a bit of his solemnity.

"I'm glad to see you, Bob," he said. He brought the car to a stop by the side door. "Dell's mother and I don't know what this was all about, but we hope it's fixed now."

"It's fixed," Bob said. He ran inside, on into the front hall, up the stairs two at a time.

"Dell!" he cried. He paused for a moment in the doorway, then went to the side of the bed, took her hands. She was looking surprisingly well, her eyes shone. "Dell, dear"—he kissed her gently—"I'll never forgive myself—not being here—"

"Why, that's all right, Bob," she said. "I sent you away." There was something in the clasp of her hand that was different—not so strong, not so confident as it had been. "Did you enjoy your freedom, Bob dear?"

"It didn't seem the same old freedom, Dell."

"Oh, Bob, I'm sorry."

"No, you needn't be. I'm not. And it was a pretty good thing for me to find it out. I wonder if that's why you sent me off. You're such a clever one."

"I wonder," she smiled.

"I won't leave you again, Dell. I couldn't. It wasn't just words in the drawing-room; it wasn't the license over at the city hall; it was getting married—you and I. Together—from now on!"

"And you won't mind the things that come along with me, Bob?"

"I'll love 'em."

She waved a white hand toward the other bed. He had almost forgotten, but he turned now with sudden interest. A small, still bundle lay there, wrapped in a fluffy blanket. Bob stared at it in awe, and as he stared it moved.

"Another thing that's come along with me," Dell said.

The bundle moved again. And Bob Dana knew what he had known under the elms on the avenue—his days of revolt were over. Houses might be sold, furniture stored, automobiles stolen, a dog left with the neighbors; but this—this was different.

"It's his turn next," Dell said. "His turn to be young and free and see the world—before some girl gets hold of him."

"That's true," Bob answered. He rose, walked to the bed. "I guess we'd better start right in—gathering things—for him. So he'll have passage money when his time comes to sail."

He tiptoed closer to the bed. Dell's vision of him blurred a little, for she saw in him the pathos of all the gay, casual lads caught and domesticated since the world began.

But Bob was not unhappy. He was humble, awed; then amazed, for the bundle stirred again and a thin voice emerged. He leaned over, lifted a corner of the blanket. A roving gaze was suddenly fixed on his face. He was looking into the blue eyes of his latest possession.

 
 
 

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