The Beloved Woman by Kathleen Norris
For forty-eight hours the snow-storm had been raging unabated over
New York. After a wild and windy Thursday night the world had awakened
to a mysterious whirl of white on Friday morning, and to a dark,
strange day of steady snowing. Now, on Saturday, dirty snow was banked
and heaped in great blocks everywhere, and still the clean, new flakes
fluttered and twirled softly down, powdering and feathering every
little ledge and sill, blanketing areas in spotless white, capping and
hooding every unsightly hydrant and rubbish-can with exquisite and
lavish beauty. Shovels had clinked on icy sidewalks all the first day,
and even during the night the sound of shouting and scraping had not
ceased for a moment, and their more and more obvious helplessness in
the teeth of the storm awakened at last in the snow-shovellers, and in
the men and women who gasped and stumbled along the choked
thoroughfares, a sort of heady exhilaration in the emergency, a
tendency to be proud of the storm, and of its effect upon their humdrum
lives. They laughed and shouted as they battled with it, and as
Nature's great barrier of snow threw down the little barriers of
convention and shyness. Men held out their hands to slipping and
stumbling women, caught them by their shoulders, panted to them that
this was a storm, all right, this was the worst yet! Girls, staggering
in through the revolving glass doors of the big department stores, must
stand laughing helplessly for a few seconds in the gush of reviving
warmth, while they beat their wet gloves together, regaining breath and
self-possession, and straightened outraged millinery.
Traffic was congested, deserted trucks and motor-cars lined the side
streets, the subways were jammed, the surface cars helpless. Here and
there long lines of the omnibuses stood blocked in snow, and the press
frantically heralded impending shortages of milk and coal, reiterating
pessimistically: No relief in sight.
But late in Saturday morning there was a sudden lull. The snow
stopped, the wind fell, and the pure, cold air was motionless and
sweet. The city emerged exhausted from its temporary blanketing, and
from the buried benches of Bowling Green to the virgin sweep of pure
white beyond Van Cortlandt Park, began its usual January fight with the
A handsome, rosy old lady, wrapped regally in furs, and with a maid
picking her way cautiously beside her, was one of the first to take
advantage of the sudden change in the weather. Mrs. Melrose had been
held captive for almost two days, first by Thursday's inclement winds,
and then by the blizzard. Her motor-car was useless, and although at
sixty she was an extremely youthful and vigorous woman, her daughters
and granddaughter had threatened to use force rather than let her risk
the danger of an expedition on foot, at least while the storm
But now the wind was gone, and by the time Mrs. Melrose had been
properly shod, and coated, and hatted, there was even a dull glimmer
toward the southeast that indicated the location of the long-lost sun.
The old lady looked her approval at Fifth Avenue, with all its
crudities veiled and softened by the snowfall, and as she climbed into
an omnibus expressed herself firmly to Regina.
You mark my words, the sun will be out before we come home!
Regina, punching the two dimes carefully into the jolting receiver,
made only a respectful murmur for answer. She was, like many a maid, a
snob where her mistress was concerned, and she did not like to have
Mrs. Melrose ride in public omnibuses. For Regina herself it did not
matter, but Mrs. Melrose was one of the city's prominent and wealthy
women, and Regina could not remember that she had ever sunk to the use
of a public conveyance before to-day. The maid was glad when they
descended at a street in the East Sixties. They would probably be sent
home, she reflected, in Mrs. Liggett's car. For Regina noticed that
private cars were beginning to grind and slip over the snow again.
Old Mrs. Melrose was going to see her daughter Alice, who was Mrs.
Christopher Liggett, because Alice was an invalid. It had been only a
few years after Alice's most felicitous marriage, a dozen years ago,
when an accident had laid the lovely and brilliant woman upon the bed
of helplessness that she might never leave again. There was no real
reason why the spine should continue useless, the great specialists
said, there was a hopeeven a probabilitythat as Alice grew rested
and strong, after the serious accident, she might find herself walking
again. But Alice had been a prisoner for ten years now, and the mother
and sister who idolized her feared that she would never again be the
old dancing Alice and feared that she knew it. What Christopher Liggett
feared they did not know. He insisted that Alice's illness was but
temporary, and was tireless in his energetic pursuit of treatment for
his wife. Everything must be hoped, and everything must be tried, and
Alice's mother knew that one of the real crosses of her daughter's life
was sorrowful pity for Chris's optimistic delusions.
The young Liggetts had sold the old house of Christopher's father,
an immense brownstone mansion a few squares away, and lived in a
modern, flat-faced gray-stone house that rose five stories from the
beautifully arranged basement entrance. There were stone benches at the
entrance, and a great iron grill, and two potted trees, and the small
square windows were leaded, and showed blossoming plants inside. The
three long windows above gave upon a little-used formal drawing-room,
with a Gothic fireplace of white stone at one end, and a dim jumble of
rich colours and polished surfaces between that and the big piano at
the other. The room at the back, on this floor, was an equally large
and formal dining-room, gleaming with carved mahogany and fretted
plate, used only on the rare occasions of a dinner-party.
But on the floor above the gracious mistress of the house had her
domain, and here there was enough beauty and colour to make the whole
house live. The front room, cool all summer because it faced north, and
warm all winter, because of the great open fireplace that augmented the
furnace heat, was Alice's sitting-room; comfortable, beautiful, and
exquisitely ordered. None of the usual clutter of the invalid was
there. The fireplace was of plain creamy tiling, the rugs dull-toned
upon a dark, polished floor. There were only two canvases on the
dove-gray walls, and the six or seven photographs that were arranged
together on the top of one of the low, plain, built-in bookcases, were
framed alike. There were no meaningless vases, no jars or trays or
plaques or ornaments in Alice's room. Her flowers she liked to see in
shining glass bowls; her flat-topped desk was severely bare.
But the cretonne that dressed her big comfortable chairs and her
couch was bright with roses and parrots and hollyhocks, and the same
cretonne, with plain net undercurtaining, hung at her four front
windows. The room was big enough to accommodate besides, even with an
air of space and simplicity, the little grand piano that Christopher
played for her almost every night. A great Persian tortoise-shell cat
was at home here, and sometimes Alice had her magnificent parrot
besides, hanging himself upside down on his gaily-painted stand, and
veiling the beady, sharp eye with which he watched her. The indulgent
extravagance of her mother had bound all the books that Alice loved in
the same tone of stony-blue vellum, the countless cushions with which
the aching back was so skillfully packed were of the same dull tone,
and it pleased the persons who loved her to amuse the prisoner
sometimes with a ring in which her favourite note was repeated, or a
chain of old lapis-lazuli that made Alice's appreciative blue eyes more
Back of Alice's room was a den in which Christopher could conduct
much of his personal business, and beyond that was the luxurious
bathroom, a modern miracle of enamel tiling and shining glass. Across
the sun-flooded back of the house were Alice's little bedroom, nunlike
in its rigid austerity, her nurse's room adjoining, and a square
sun-room, giving glimpses of roofs and trim back-gardens, full of
flowers, with a little fountain and goldfish, a floor of dull pink
tiling, and plants in great jars of Chinese enamel. Christopher had
planned this delightful addition to Alice's domain only a few years
ago, and, with that knowledge of her secret heart that only Christopher
could claim, had let her share the pleasure of designing and arranging
it. It stretched out across the west side of the spacious backyard,
almost touching the branches of the great plane tree, and when, after
the painful move to her mother's house, and the necessary absence
during the building of it, Alice had been brought back to this new
evidence of their love and goodness, she had buried her face against
Christopher's shoulder, and told him that she didn't think people with
all the world to wander in had ever had anything lovelier than this!
One of the paintings that Alice might look at idly, in the silence
of the winter noon, was of a daisied meadow, stretching between walls
of heavy summer woodland to the roof of a half-buried farmhouse in the
valley below. The other picture was of the very mother who was coming
toward Alice now, in the jolting omnibus. But it was a younger mother,
and a younger Alice, that had been captured by the painter's genius. It
was a stout, imperious, magnificently gowned woman, of not much more
than thirty, in whose spreading silk lap a fair little girl was
sitting. This little earnest-eyed child was Alice at seven. The
splendid, dark-eyed, proud-looking boy of about fourteen, who stood
beside the mother, was Teddy, her only son, dead now for many years,
and perhaps mercifully dead. The fourth and last person pictured was
the elder daughter, Annie, who had been about nine years old then,
Alice remembered. Annie and Alice had been unusually alike, even for
sisters, but even then Annie's fair, aristocratic type of blonde
prettiness had been definite where Alice's was vague, and Annie's
expression had been just a trifle haughty and discontented where
Alice's was always grave and sweet. Annie had almost been a beauty, she
was extremely and conspicuously good-looking even now, when as Mrs.
Hendrick von Behrens, wife of a son of an old and wealthy Knickerbocker
family, she was supreme in the very holy of holies of the city's social
Mrs. Melrose came unannounced upon her daughter to-day, and Alice's
colourless warm cheek flushed with happiness under her mother's fresh,
Mummyyou darling! But how did you get here? Miss Slater says that
the streets are absolutely impassable!
I came in the 'bus, dear, Mrs. Melrose said, very much pleased
with herself. How warm and comfy you are in here, darling. But what
did I interrupt?
You didn't interrupt anything, Alice said, quickly. Chris
telephoned, and he's bringing Henricithe Frenchman who wrote that
play I loved soto tea. Isn't that fun? I'm so excitedand I think
Chris was such a duck to get hold of him. I was translating it, you
know, and Bowditch, who was here for dinner last night, told me he'd
place it, if I finished it. And now I can talk it over with Henrici
himselfthanks to Chris! Chris met my man at the club, and told him
about me, and he said he would be charmed. So I telephoned several
persons, and I tried to get hold of Annie
Annie has a lunchand a board meeting at the hospital at four,
Annie's mother remembered, and Leslie is at a girls' luncheon
somewhere. Annie had breakfast with me, and was rushing off afterward.
She's quite wonderfully faithful about those things.
Well, but you'll stay for lunch and tea, too, Mummy? Alice
pleaded. She was lying back in her pillows, feasting her eyes upon her
mother's face with that peculiarly tense devotion that was part of her
nature. Rarely did a day pass without their meeting, and no detail
touching Annie's life, Annie's boys or husband, was too small to
interest Alice. She was especially interested, too, in Leslie, the
eighteen-year-old daughter that her brother Theodore had left to his
mother's care; in fact, between the mother and daughters, the one
granddaughter and two little grandsons, and the two sons-in-law of the
Melrose family, a deep bond existed, a bond of pride as well as
affection. It was one of their favourite boasts that to the Melroses
the unity and honour of the family was the first consideration in the
But to-day Mrs. Melrose could not stay. At one o'clock she left
Alice to be put into her prettiest robe by the devoted Miss Slater, saw
with satisfaction that preparations for tea were noiselessly under way,
called Regina, odorous of tea and mutton chops, from the pantry, and
went out into the quiet cold of the winter noon.
The old Melrose house was a substantial, roomy, brownstone building
in Madison Avenue, inconspicuous perhaps among several notoriously
handsome homes, but irreproachably dignified none the less. A few
blocks below it the commercial current of East Thirty-fourth Street
ebbed and flowed; a few blocks north the great façade of the Grand
Central Station shut off the street completely. Third Avenue, behind
it, swarmed and rattled alarmingly close, and Broadway flared its
impudent signs only five minutes' walk in the other direction, but
here, in a little oasis of quiet street, two score of old families
serenely held their place against the rising tide, and among them the
Melroses confidently felt themselves valued and significant.
Mrs. Melrose mounted her steps with the householder's secret
complacency. They were scrupulously brushed of the last trace of snow,
and the heavy door at the top swung noiselessly open to admit her. She
suddenly realized that she was very tired, that her fur coat was heavy,
and her back ached. She swept straight to the dark old curving
stairway, and mounted slowly.
Joseph, she said over her shoulder, send luncheon upstairs,
please. And when Miss Leslie comes in, tell her I should like to see
her, if it isn't too late. Anybody coming to-night?
Mr. von Behrens telephoned that he and Mr. Liggett might come in
for a moment, on his way to the banquet at the Waldorf, Madam. But that
I may have dinner upstairs, too, if Leslie is going anywhere, Mrs.
Melrose said to herself, mounting slowly. And it seemed to her fatigue
very restful to find her big room warm and orderly, her coal fire
burning behind the old-fashioned steel rods, all the homely,
comfortable treasures of her busy years awaiting her. She sank into a
chair, and Regina flew noiselessly about with slippers and a loose silk
robe. Presently a maid was serving smoking-hot bouillon, and Mrs.
Melrose felt herself relaxed and soothed; it was good to be home.
Yet there was trace of uneasiness, of something almost like
apprehension, in the look that wandered thoughtfully about the
overcrowded room. Presently she reached a plump, well-groomed hand
toward the bell. But when Regina came to stand expectantly near her,
Mrs. Melrose roused herself from a profound abstraction to assure her
that she had not rungit must have been a mistake.
Miss Leslie hasn't come in?
Not yet, Madam, Miss Melrose is at Miss Higgins's luncheon.
Yes; but it was an early luncheon, the grandmother said,
discontentedly. She was playing squash, or tennis, or something!
But Mrs. Melrose was musing again.
Regina, I am expecting a caller at four o'clock, a Mrs. Sheridan.
Please see that she is shown up at once. I want to see her here. And
A pause. Regina waited.
That's all! her mistress announced, suddenly.
Alone again, the old lady stirred her tea, ruminated for a few
moments with narrowed eyes fixed on space, recalled herself to her
surroundings, and finished her cup.
Her room was large, filled with chairs and tables, lamps and
cushions, silver trays and lacquer boxes, vases and jars and bowls,
gift books and current magazines. There was not an unbroken inch of
surface anywhere, the walls were closely set with pictures of all
sorts. Along the old-fashioned mantel, a scalloped, narrow shelf of
marble, was a crowding line of photographs in silver frames, and there
were other framed photographs all about the room. There were the young
mothers of the late eighties, seated to best display their bustles and
their French twists, with heavy-headed infants in their tightly cased
arms, and there were children's pictures, babes in shells, in swings,
or leaning on gates. There were three Annies: one in ringlets, plaid
silk, and tasselled boots, at eight; one magnificent in drawing-room
plumes; and a recent one, a cloudy study of the severely superb mother,
with a sleek-headed, wide-collared boy on each side of her. There was a
photograph of the son Theodore, handsome, sullen, dressed in the
fashion of the opening century, and there was more than one of
Theodore's daughter, the last of the Melroses. Leslie had been a
wide-eyed, sturdy little girl who carried a perpetually surprised, even
a babyish expression into her teens, but her last pictures showed the
débutante, the piquant and charming eighteen-year-old, whose knowingly
tipped hat and high fur collar left only a glimpse of pretty and
pouting face between.
Leslie came in upon her grandmother at about three o'clock. She was
genuinely tired, after an athletic morning at the club, a luncheon amid
a group of chattering intimates, and a walk with the young man whose
attentions to her were thrilling not only her grandmother and aunts,
but the cool-blooded little Leslie herself. Acton Liggett was
Christopher's only brother, only relative indeed, and promised already
to be as great a favourite as the irresistible Chris himself. Both were
rich, both fine-looking, straightforward, honourable men, proud of
their own integrity, their long-established family, and their old firm.
Acton was pleasantly at home in the Melrose, Liggett, and Von Behrens
houses, the very maids loved him, and his quiet singling out of Leslie
for his devotion had satisfied everyone's sense of what was fitting and
delightful. Pretty Leslie, back from a summer's idling with Aunt Annie
and the little boys, in California and Hawaii, had found Acton's
admiration waiting for her, with all the other joys of her débutante
And even the critical Aunt Annie had to admit that the little minx
was managing the whole matter with consummate skill. Leslie was not in
the least self-conscious with Acton; she turned to him with all the
artless confidence of a little sister. She asked him about her dancing
partners, and about her gowns, and she discussed with him all the
various bits of small gossip that concerned their own friends.
Should I have said that, Acton? she would ask, trustfully. Shall
I be Marion's bridesmaid? Would you?after I refused Linda Fox, you
know. I don't like to dance with Louis Davis, after what you told me;
what shall I do when he comes up to me?
Acton was twenty-five, seven years her senior. He advised her
earnestly, over many a confidential cup of tea. And just lately, the
grandmother noticed exultantly, hardly a day passed that did not find
the young couple together.
How did Acton happen to meet you, lovey? she asked to-day,
apropos of the walk.
Why, he telephoned Vesta Higgins's, and asked me how I was going to
get home. I said, walk. There was no use trying motor-cars, anyway, for
they were slipping and bumping terribly! He said he was in the
neighbourhood, and he came up. Granny
She paused, and her grandmother was conscious of a quickened
heart-beat. The thoughtful almost tremulous tone was not like giddy
Granny, the girl repeated, presently, how old was my mother when
she got married?
About twenty-two, the old woman said.
And how old was Aunt Annie when she did?
Annie's about thirty-seven, her mother considered. She was about
twenty-five. But why, dear?
Nothing, said Leslie, and fell silent.
She was still in the silk blouse and short homespun skirt that she
had worn at the athletic club luncheon, but she had thrown aside her
loose woolly coat, and the narrow furs that were no softer than her own
fair skin. Flung back into a deep chair, and relaxed after her vigorous
day, she looked peculiarly childish and charming, her grandmother
thought. She was like both her aunts, with Annie's fair, almost ashen
hair and Alice's full, pretty mouth. But she was more squarely built
than either, and a hint of a tip, at the end of her nose, gave her an
expression at once infantile and astonished. When Leslie opened her
blue eyes widely, and stared at anything, she looked like an amazed
baby, and the effect of her round eyes and tilted nose was augmented by
her very fair skin, and by just a sixteenth of an inch shortness in her
upper lip. Of course she knew all this. Her acquaintance with her own
good and bad points had begun in school days, and while through her
grandmother's care her teeth were being straightened, and her eyes and
throat subjected to mild forms of surgery, her Aunt Annie had seen to
it that her masses of fair hair had been burnished and groomed, her
hands scraped and polished into beauty, and finally that her weight was
watched with scrupulous care. Nature had perhaps intended Leslie to be
plump and ruddy, but modern fashion had decreed otherwise, and, with
half the girls of her own age and set, Leslie took saccharine in her
tea, rarely touched sweets or fried food, and had the supreme
satisfaction of knowing that she was actually too slim and too willowy
for her height, and interestingly colourless into the bargain.
Could Acton possibly have said anything definite to start this
unusual train of thought, the grandmother speculated. With Leslie so
felicitously married, she would have felt ready for her nunc
dimittis. She watched Leslie expectantly. But the girl was
apparently dreaming, and was staring absently at the tip of one sturdy
oxford above which a stretch of thick white woollen stocking was
visible almost to her knee.
How can they fall in love with them, dressed like Welsh peasants!
the grandmother said to herself, in mild disapproval. And aloud she
said: Ah, don't, lovey!
For Leslie had taken out a small gold case, and was regarding it
My first to-day, on my honour! Leslie said, as she lazily lighted
a sweet-scented cigarette. It never occurred to her to pay any
attention to her grandmother's protest, for Grandmother had been
regularly protesting against everything Leslie had done since her
adored and despotic childhood. She had fainted when Leslie had dived
off the dock at Newport, and had wept when Leslie had galloped through
the big iron gates on her own roan stallion; she had called in
Christopher, as Leslie's guardian, when Leslie, at fifteen, had calmly
climbed into one of the big cars, and driven it seven miles, alone and
unadvised, and totally without instruction or experience. Leslie knew
that this half-scandalized and wholly-admiring opposition was one of
her grandmother's secret satisfactions, and she combatted it only
Have one, Grandma?
Have oneyou wild girl you! I'd like to know what a nice young man
thinks when a refined girl offers him
All the nice young men are smoking themselves, like chimneys!
Ah, but that's a very different thing. No, my dear, no man, whether
he smokes himself or not, likes to have a sweet, womanly girl
Darling, didn't you ever do anything that my revered
great-grandmother Murison disapproved of? Leslie teased, dropping on
her knees before her grandmother, and resting her arms on her lap.
Smoke! My mother would have fainted, said Mrs. Melrose. And
don't blow that nasty-smelling stuff in my face!
But she could not resist the pleasure that the lovely young face, so
near her own, gave her, and she patted it with her soft, wrinkled hand.
Suddenly Leslie jumped up eagerly, listening to the sound of voices in
There's Aunt Annieoh, goody! I wanted to ask her
But it was Regina who opened the door, showing in two callers. The
first was a splendid-looking woman of perhaps forty-five, with a rosy,
cheerful face, and wide, shrewd gray eyes shining under a somewhat
shabby mourning veil. With her was a pretty girl of eighteen, or
perhaps a little more.
Leslie glanced astonished at her grandmother. It was extremely
unusual to have callers shown in in this unceremonious fashion, even if
she had been rather unprepossessed by these particular callers. The
younger woman's clothing, indeed, if plain, was smart and simple; her
severe tailor-made had a collar of beaver fur to relieve its dark blue,
and her little hat of blue beaver felt was trimmed only by a band of
the same fur. She had attractive dark-blue eyes and a flashing smile.
But her companion's comfortable dowdiness, her black cotton gloves,
her squarely built figure, and worn shoes, all awakened a certain
contempt in the granddaughter of the house, and caused Leslie shrewdly
to surmise that these humble strangers were pensioners of her
grandmother, the older one probably an old servant.
Kate Sheridan! Old Mrs. Melrose had gotten to her feet, and had
put her arm about the visitor. Well, my dear, my dear, I've not seen
you theseWhat is it? Don't tell me how many years it is! And which
daughter is this?
This is my niece, Norma, the older woman said, in a delightful
rich voice that was full of easy confidence and friendliness. This is
Mrs. Melrose, Norma, darling, that was such a good friend to me and
mine years ago!
No warmer friend than you were to me, Kate, the old lady said,
quickly, still keeping an arm about the sturdy figure. This is my
granddaughter, Theodore's little girl, Mrs. Melrose added, catching
Leslie with her free hand.
Leslie was not more of a snob than is natural to a girl of her age
and upbringing, but she could not but give Mrs. Sheridan a pretty cool
glance. Grandmother's old friends were all very well
But Mrs. Sheridan was studying her with affectionate freedom.
And isn't she Miss Alice's image! But she's like you allshe's
like Mr. Theodore, too, especially through the eyes!
And she turned back to her hostess, interested, animated, and as
oblivious to Leslie's hostile look as if the girl were her own picture
on the wall.
And you and my Norma must know each other, she said, presently,
watching the girls as they shook hands, with a world of love and
solicitude in her eyes.
Sit down, both you two, Mrs. Melrose said. Leslie glanced at the
strapped watch at her wrist.
Grandmother, I really she began.
No, you don't really! her grandmother smiled. Talk to Miss
Sheridan while I talkshe turned smiling to her old friendto Kate!
Tell me, how are you all, Kate? And where are you allyou were in
We've been in New York more than two years now, and why I haven't
been to see you before, perhaps you can tell me, for I
can't! Kate Sheridan said. But my boy is a great big fellow now;
Wolf's twenty-four, and Rose is twenty-one, and this one, she nodded
toward Norma, who was exchanging comments on the great storm with
Leslie, this one is nearly nineteen! And you see they're all working:
Wolf's doing wonderfully with a firm of machine manufacturers, in
Newark, and Rose has been with one real estate firm since we came. And
Norma here works in a bookstore, up the Avenue a bit, Biretta's.
Why, I go in there nearly every week! the old lady said.
She told me the other night that she had been selling some books to
Mr. Christopher Liggett, and that's Miss Alice's husband, I hear, said
Mrs. Sheridan. She's in what they call the Old Book Room, she added,
lowering her voice. She's wonderful about books, reads them, and knows
them as if they were childrenthey think the world of her in there!
And I keep house for the three of them, and what with this and thatI
never have any time!
But you have someone to help you, Kate? the old lady asked, with
her amused and affectionate eyes on the other's wholesome face.
Why would I? demanded Mrs. Sheridan, roundly. The girls are a
She always assumes a terrific brogue the minute you ask her why we
don't have someone in to help her, Norma contributed, with a sort of
shy and loving audacity. She'll tell you in a minute that faith, she
and her sister used to run barefoot over the primroses, and they
blooming beyond anything the Lord ever created, and the spring on
Leslie Melrose laughed out suddenly, in delighted appreciation, and
the tension between the two girls was over. They had not quite known
how to talk to each other; Norma naturally assuming that Leslie looked
down upon a seller of books, and anxious to show her that she was
unconscious of either envy or inferiority, and Leslie at a loss because
her usual social chatter was as foreign here as a strange tongue would
be. But no type is quicker to grasp upon amusement, and to appreciate
the amuser, than Leslie's, unable to amuse itself, and skilled in
seeking for entertainment. She was too shy to ask Norma to imitate her
aunt again, but her stiffness relaxed, and she asked Norma if it was
not great fun to sell thingsespecially at Christmas, for instance.
Norma asked in turn if Mr. Liggett was not Leslie's uncle, and said
that she had sold him hundreds of beautiful books for his wife, and had
even had a note from Leslie's Aunt Alice, thanking her for some little
But isn't that funny! Leslie said, with her childish widening of
the eyes. That you should know Chris!
Well, now, said Mrs. Sheridan's voice, cutting across both
conversations, where can these girls go for about fifteen minutes?
I'll tell you my little bit of business, Mrs. Melrose, and then Norma
and I will go along. It won't take me fifteen minutes, for there's
nothing to decide to-day, the girls heard her add, comfortably, as
they went into the hall.
Leslie! her grandmother called after her. If you must change,
dearbut wait a minute, is that Aunt Annie out there?
No, Grandma, just ourselves. What were you going to say?
I was going to say, lovey, that you could ask Miss Sheridan to wait
in the library; her aunt tells me she is fond of books. Mrs. Melrose
did not quite like to commit Leslie to entertaining the strange girl
for perhaps half an hour. She was pleasantly reassured by Leslie's
We'll have tea in my room, Grandma. Marion and Doris may come in!
That's right, have a good time! her grandmother answered. And then
settling back comfortably, she added with her kind, fussy superiority,
Well, Kate, I've wondered where you were hiding yourself all this
time! Let's have the business. But first I want to say that I
appreciate your turning to me. If it's moneyI've got it. If it's
something else, Chris Liggett is one of the cleverest men in New York,
and we'll consult him.
It's not money, thank God! Mrs. Sheridan said, in her forthright
voice. Lord knows where it all comes from, these days, but the
children always have plenty, she added, glad of a diversion. They
bought themselves a car two years ago, and if it isn't a Victrola this
week, it's a thermos bottle, or a pair of white buckskin shoes! Rose
told me she paid eight dollars for her corsets. 'Eight dollars for
what,' I said, 'a dozen?' But then I've the two houses in Brooklyn, you
You still have those?
I have, indeed. And even the babywe call Norma the babyis
earning good money now.
She has your name, KateSheridan. Had your husband a brother?
Kate Sheridan's face grew a trifle pale. She glanced at the door to
see that it was shut, and at the one to the adjoining room to make sure
that it was closed also. Then she turned to Mrs. Melrose, and it was an
anxious glance she directed at the older woman.
Well, now, there's no hurry about this, she began, and you may
say that it's all nonsense, and send me packingand God knows I hope
you will! But it just began to get on my mindand I've never been a
great one to worry! I'll begin at the beginning
Marion Duer and Doris Alexander duly arrived for tea with Leslie,
and Norma was introduced. They all sat in Leslie's room, and laughed as
they reached for crumpets, and marvelled at the storm. Norma found them
rather younger than their years, and shyly anxious to be gracious. On
her part she realized with some surprise that they were not really
unapproachable, and that Leslie was genuinely anxious to take her to
tea with Aunt Alice some day, and have them talk books and things.
The barriers between such girls as this one and herself, Norma was
honest enough to admit, were largely of her own imagining. They were
neither so contemptibly helpless nor so scornfully clever as she had
fancied them; they were just laughing girls, absorbed in thoughts of
gowns and admirers and good times, like her cousin Rose and herself.
There had been perhaps one chance in one hundred that she and Leslie
Melrose might at once become friends, but by fortunate accident that
chance had favoured them. Leslie's spontaneous laugh in Mrs. Melrose's
room, her casual mention of tea, her appreciative little phrases as she
introduced to Marion and Doris the young lady who picked out books for
Aunt Alice, had all helped to crush out the vaguely hostile impulse
Norma Sheridan had toward rich little members of a society she only
knew by hearsay. Norma had found herself sitting on Leslie's big velvet
couch laughing and chatting quite naturally, and where Norma chatted
naturally the day was won. She could be all friendliness, and all
sparkle and fun, and presently Leslie was listening to her in actual
The butler announced a motor-car, a maid came up; Doris and Marion
had to go. Leslie and Norma went into Leslie's dressing-room, and
Leslie's maid went obsequiously to and fro, and the girls talked almost
intimately as they washed their hands and brushed their hair. Neither
cared that the time was passing.
But the time was passing none the less. Five o'clock came with a
pale and uncertain sunset, and a cold twilight began to settle over the
snowy city. Leslie and Norma came back to the fire, and were standing
there, a trifle uncertainly, but still talking hard and fast, when
there was an interruption.
They looked at each other, paling. What was that?
There was utter silence in the old house. Leslie, with a frightened
look at Norma, ran to the hall door. As she opened it Mrs. Sheridan
opened the door of her grandmother's room opposite, and called, quite
It's nothing, dear! Get hold of your grandmother's maidsomebody!
She feels a littlebut she's quite all right!
Leslie and Norma ran across the hall, and into Mrs. Melrose's room.
By this time Regina had come flying in, and two of the younger maids,
and Joseph had run upstairs. Leslie had only one glimpse of her
grandmother, leaning against Regina's arm, and drinking from a glass of
water that shook in the maid's hands. Then Mrs. Sheridan guided both
herself and Norma firmly into the hall, and reassured them cheerfully:
The room was very hot, dear, and your grandmother said that she had
gotten tired, walking in the wind. She's quite all rightyou can go in
immediately. No; she didn't faintshe just had a moment of dizziness,
and called out.
Regina came out, too evidently convinced that she had to deal with a
murderess, and coldly asked that Mrs. Sheridan would please step back
for a minute. Mrs. Sheridan immediately complied, but it was hardly
more than a minute when she joined the girls again.
She wants to see you, dear, she said to Leslie, whose first
frightened tears had dried from bewilderment and curiosity, and we
must hurry on. Come, Norma, we'll say good-night!
Good-night, Miss Melrose, Norma said.
Good-night, Leslie answered, hesitating over the name. Her wide
babyish smile, the more appealing because of her wet lashes, made a
sudden impression upon Norma's heart. Leslie hung childishly on the
upstairs balustrade, in the dim wide upper hall, and watched them go.
II almost called you Norma! she confessed, mischievously.
I wish you had! Norma called up from below. She was in great
spirits as they went out into the deepening cold blue of the street,
and almost persuaded her aunt to take the omnibus up the Avenue. But
Mrs. Sheridan protested rather absent-mindedly against this
extravagance. They were close to the subway and that was quicker.
Norma could not talk in the packed and swaying train, and when they
emerged at Sixty-fifth Street they had only one slippery, cold, dark
block to walk. But when they had reached the flat, and snapped on
lights everywhere, and cast off outer garments, aproned and busy, in
the kitchen, she burst out:
What on earth was the matter with that old lady, Aunt Kate?
Oh, I suppose they all eat too much, and sleep too much, and pamper
themselves as if they were babies, her aunt returned, composedly, and
so it doesn't take much to upset 'em!
Oh, come now! the girl said, stopping with arrested knife. That
wasn't what made her let out a yell like that!
Mrs. Sheridan, kneeling at the oven of the gas stove, laughed
Oh, you could hear that, could you?
Hear it! They heard it in Yonkers.
Well, Mrs. Sheridan said, she has always been high-strung, that
one. I remember years ago she'd be going into crying and raving fits.
She's got very deep affections, Mrs. Melrose, and when she gets
thinking of Theodore, and of Alice's accident, and this and that,
she'll go right off the handle. She had been crying, poor soul, and
suddenly she began this moaning and rocking. I told her I'd call
someone if she didn't stop, for she'd go from bad to worse, with me.
But why with you, Aunt Kate? Do you know her so well?
Do I know them? Mrs. Sheridan dug an opener into a can of corn
with a vigorous hand. I know them all!
But how was that? Norma persisted, now dropping her peeled
potatoes into dancing hot water.
I've told you five thousand times, but you and Rose would likely
have one of your giggling fits on, and not a word would you remember!
her aunt said. I've told you that years ago, when your Uncle Tom died,
and I was left with two babies, and not much money, a friend of mine, a
milliner she was, told me that she knew a lady that wanted someone to
help manage her affairshousehold affairs. Well, I'd often helped your
Uncle Tom with his books, and my mother was with me, to look out for
Where was I, Aunt Kate?
You! Wolf wasn't but three, and Rose a year oldwhere would you
I was minus two years, Norma said, sententiously. I was part of
the cosmic all
You be very careful how you talk about such things until you're a
married woman! her aunt said. Salt those potatoes, darling. Norma,
can you remember what I did with the corn that Rose liked so?
Norma was attentive.
You beat it up with eggs, and it came out a sort of puff, she
recalled. I knowyou put a little cornstarch in, to give it body!
Listen, Aunt Kate, how long did you stay with Mrs. Melrose?
Well, first I just watched her help for her, and paid the bills,
and went to market. And then I got gradually managing more and more;
I'd go to pay her interest, or deposit money, or talk to tenants; I
liked it and she liked me. And then she talked me into going to France
with her, but I cried all the way for my children, and I was glad
enough to come home again! She and Miss Annie spent some time over
there, but I came back. Miss Alice was in school, and Theodoredear
knows where he wasinto some mischief somewhere! But I'd saved money,
and she'd given me the Brooklyn houses, and I took a boarder or two,
and that was the last I ever worked for any one but my own!
Well, that's a nice girl, that Leslie, Norma said, if her father
Her mother was a good girl, Kate said, I knew her. But the old
lady was proud, BabyGod save any one of us from pride like that!
You'd never know it, to see her now, but she was very proud. Theodore's
wife was a good girl, but she was Miss Annie's maid, and what Mrs.
Melrose never could forgive was that when she ordered the girl out of
the house, she showed her her wedding certificate. She was Mrs.
Theodore Melrose, fast enoughthough his mother never would see her or
acknowledge her in any way.
They must think the Lord has made a special arrangement for
thempeople like that! Norma commented, turning a lovely flushed face
from the pan where she was dexterously crisping bacon. What business
is it of hers if her son marries a working girl? That gives me a
feeling akin to painjust because she happens to have a lot of money!
What does Miss Leslie Melrose think of that?
I don't know what she thinksshe loves her grandmother, I suppose.
Mrs. Melrose took her in when she was only a tiny girl, and she's been
the apple of her eye ever since. Theodore and his wife were divorced,
and when Leslie was about four or five he came back to his mother to
diepoor fellow! It was a terrible sorrow to the old ladyshe'd had
her share, one way and another! My goodness, Norma, Mrs. Sheridan
interrupted herself to say, in half-reproachful appreciation, I wish
you'd always help me like this, my dear! You can be as useful as ten
girls, when you've a mind to! And then perhaps to-morrow you'll be as
Oh, Aunt Kate, aren't you ashamed! When I ironed all your
dish-towels last night, when you were setting bread, and I made the
popovers Sunday! Norma kissed her aunt, brushed a dab of cornstarch
from the older woman's firm cheek, and performed a sort of erratic
dance about the protestant and solid figure. I'm a poor working girl,
she said, and I get dragged out with my long, hard day!
Well, God knows that's true, too, her aunt said, with a sudden
look of compunction; you may make a joke of it, but it's no life for a
girl. My dear, she added, seriously, holding Norma with a firm arm,
and looking into her eyes, I hope I did no harm by what I did to-day!
I did it for the best, whatever comes of it.
You mean stirring up the whole thing? Norma asked, frowning a
little in curiosity and bewilderment. Going to see her?
Thatyes. Mrs. Sheridan rubbed her forehead with her hand, a
fashion she had when puzzled or troubled, and suddenly resumed, with a
great rattling of pans and hissing of water, her operations at the
sink. Well, nothing may come of itwe'll see! she added, briskly.
Norma, who was watching her expectantly, sighed disappointedly; the
subject was too evidently closed. But a second later she was happily
distracted by the slamming of the front door; Wolf and Rose Sheridan
had come in together, and dinner was immediately served.
Norma recounted, with her own spirited embellishments, her
adventures of the afternoon as the meal progressed. She had had fun
getting to the office in the first place, a man had helped her, and
they had both skidded into another man, and bing!they had all gone
down on the ice together. And then at the shop nobody had come in, and
the lights had been lighted, and the clerks had all gathered together
and talked. Then Aunt Kate had come in to have lunch, and to have Norma
go with her to the gas company's office about the disputed charge, and
they had decided to make, at last, that long-planned call on the
Melroses. There followed a description of the big house and the
spoiled, pretty girl, and the impressive yet friendly old lady.
And Aunt KateI'm sorry to say!talked her into a nervous
convulsion. You did, Aunt Katethe poor old lady gave one piercing
You awful girl, there'll be a judgment on you for your impudence!
her aunt said, fondly. But Rose looked solicitously at her mother, and
Mother looks as if she had had a nervous convulsion, too. You look
terribly tired, Mother!
Well, I had a little business to discuss with Mrs. Melrose, Mrs.
Sheridan said, and I'm no hand for business!
You know it! Wolf Sheridan concurred, with his ready laugh. Why
didn't you send me?
It was her business, lovey, his mother said, mildly, over her
second heartening cup of strong black tea.
The Sheridan apartment was, in exterior at least, exactly like one
hundred thousand others that line the side streets of New York. It
faced the familiar grimy street, fringed on the great arteries each
side by cigarette stands and saloons, and it was entered by the usual
flight of stained and shabby steps, its doorway showing a set of some
dozen letter-boxes, and looking down upon a basement entrance
frequently embellished with ash-cans and milk-bottles, and, just at
present, with banks of soiled and sooty snow. The Sheridans climbed
three long flights inside, to their own rooms, but as this gained them
a glimpse of river, and a sense in summer of airiness and height, to
say nothing of pleasant nearness to the roof, they rarely complained of
the stairsin fact, rarely thought of them at all.
With the opening of their own door, however, all likeness to their
neighbours ceased. Even in a class where home ties and home comforts
are far more common than is generally suspected, Kate Sheridan was
exceptional, and her young persons fortunate among their kind. Her
training had been, she used to tell them, old country training, but
it was not only in fresh linen and hot, good food that their advantage
lay. It was in the great heart that held family love a divine gift,
that had stood between them and life's cold realities for some twenty
courageous years. Kate idolized her own two children and her
foster-child with a passion that is the purest and the strongest in the
world. In possessing them, she thought herself the most blessed of
women. To keep a roof over their heads, to watch them progress
triumphantly through long division and measles and skates, to see milk
glasses emptied and plates scraped, to realize that Wolf was as strong
morally as he was physically, and that all her teachers called Rose an
angel, to spoil and adore the beautiful, mischievous, and amusing
Baby; this made a life full to the brim, for Kate, of pride and
happiness. Kate had never had a servant, or a fur coat; for long
intervals she had not had a night's unbroken rest; and there had been
times, when Wolf's fractured arm necessitated a doctor's bill, or when
coal for the little Detroit house had made a disproportionate hole in
her bank account, in which even the thrifty Kate had known biting
But the children never knew it. They knew only her law of service
and love. They must love each other, whatever happened. There was no
quarrelling at meals at Kate's house. Rose must of course oblige her
brother, sew on the button, or take his book to the library; Wolf must
always protect the girls, and consider them. Wolf firmly believed his
sister and cousin to be the sweetest girls in the world; Rose and Norma
regarded Wolf as perfection in human form. They rarely met without
embraces, never without brightening eyes and light hearts.
That this attitude toward each other was only the result of the
healthy bodies and honest souls that Kate had given them they would
hardly have believed. That her resolute training had literally forced
them to love and depend upon themselves in a world where brothers and
sisters as habitually teased and annoyed each other, would have struck
them as fantastic. Perhaps Kate herself hardly knew the power of her
own will upon them. Her commands in their babyhood had not been couched
in the language of modern child-analysts, nor had she given, or been
able to give, any particular reason for her law. But the instinct by
which she drew Wolf's attention to his sister's goodness, or noted
Wolf's cleverness for Rose's benefit, was better than any reason. She
summed the situation up simply for the few friends she had, with the
They're all crazy about each other, every one of them!
Kate's parlour would have caused Annie von Behrens actual faintness.
But it was a delightful place to Rose and Wolf and their friends. The
cushioned divan on Sunday nights customarily held a row of them, the
upright ebony piano sifted popular music impartially upon the taboret,
the patent rocker, and the Rover rug. They laughed, gossiped, munched
candy, and experimented in love-making quite as happily as did Leslie
and her own intimates. They streamed out into the streets, and
sauntered along under the lights to the moving pictures, or on hot
summer nights they perched like tiers of birds on the steps, and the
world and youth seemed sweet to them. In Kate's dining-room, finished
in black wood and red paper, they made Welsh rarebits and fudge, and in
Kate's spotless kitchen odours of toast and coffee rose at unseemly
Lately, Rose and Norma had been talking of changes. Rose was
employed in an office whose severe and beautiful interior decoration
had cost thousands of dollars, and Norma's Old Book Room was a study in
dull carved woods, Oriental rugs, dull bronzes, and flawless glass. The
girls began to feel that a plain cartridge paper and net curtains might
well replace the parlour's florid green scrolling and Nottingham lace.
But they did not worry about it; it served as a topic to amuse their
leisure hours. The subject was generally routed by a shrewd allusion,
from Norma or Wolf, to the sort of parlour people would like if they
got married, married to someone who was doing very well in the shoe
business, for example.
These allusions deepened the colour in Rose's happy face; she had
been going for some three months with an attractive young man who
exactly met these specificationsnot her first admirer, not noticeable
for any especial quality, yet Rose and Norma, and Kate, too, felt in
their souls that Rose's hour had come. Young Harry Redding was a big,
broad, rather inarticulate fellow, whose humble calling was not the
more attractive to the average young woman because he supported his
mother by it. But he suited Rose, more, he seemed wonderful to Rose,
and because her dreams had always been humble and self-sacrificing,
Harry was a thousand times more than she had dreamed. She felt herself
the luckiest girl in the world.
Kate sat at the head of her table, and Wolf at the foot. Rose, a
gentle, quiet copy of her handsome mother, was nearest the kitchen
door, to which she made constant flying trips. Norma was opposite Rose,
and by falling back heavily could tip her entire chair against the
sideboard, from which she extracted forks or salt or candy, as the case
might be. The telephone was in the dining-room, Wolf's especial
responsibility, and Mrs. Sheridan herself occasionally left the table
for calls to the front door or the dumb-waiter.
To-night, after supper, the girls flew through their share of
clearing-up. It never weighed very heavily upon them; they usually
began the process of piling and scraping dishes before they left the
table, Rose whisking the tablecloth into its drawer as Norma bumped
through the swinging door with the last dishes, and Kate halfway
through the washing even then. Chattering and busy, they hustled the
hot plates onto their shelves, rattled the hot plated ware into its
basket, clanked saucepans, and splashed water. Not fifteen minutes
after the serving of the dessert the last signs of the meal had been
obliterated, and Kate was guilty of what the girls called making
excuses to linger in the kitchen. She was mixing cereal, storing cold
potatoes and cut bread, soaking dish-towels. But these things did not
belong to the duties of Norma and Rose, and the younger girl could
flash with a free conscience to the little room she shared with Rose.
Wolf had called out for a companion, they were going to take a walk and
see what the blizzard had done!
Norma washed her face, the velvety skin emerging with its bloom
untouched, the lips crimson, the blue eyes blazing. She pressed a great
wave of silky dark hair across her white forehead, and put the
fur-trimmed hat at a dashing angle. The lace blouse, the pearl beads,
her fur-collared coat again, and Norma was ready to dance out beside
Wolf as if fatigue and labours did not exist.
Where's Rose? he said, as they went downstairs.
Oh, WolfSaturday night! Harry's coming, of course! Norma slipped
her little hand, in its shabby glove, through his big arm. She and
Aunt Kate were gossiping!
Suits me! Wolf said, contentedly. He held her firmly on the
slippery lumps of packed snow. The sidewalks were almost impassable,
yet hundreds of other happy persons were stumbling and scrambling over
them in the mild winter darkness. Stars were out; and whether Norma was
blinking up at them, or staring into lighted windows of candy stores
and fruit markets, her own eyes danced and twinkled. The elevated
trains thundered above their heads, and the subway roared under their
feet; great advertising signs, with thousands of coloured lights,
fanned up and down in a haze of pink and blue; the air was full of
voices, laughing and shouting, and the screaming of coasting children.
I have my pearls on, Norma told her companion. They stopped for
some molasses peppermints, and their pungent odour mingled for Norma in
the impression of this happy hour. Wolf, how do they do that? the
girl asked, watching an electric sign on which a maid mopped a dirty
floor with some prepared cleaner, leaving the floor clean after her
mop. Wolf, interested, explained, and Norma listened. They stopped at a
drug store, and studied a picture that subtly altered from Roosevelt's
face to Lincoln's, and thence to Wilson's face, and Wolf explained
that, too. Norma knew that he understood everything of that nature, but
she liked to impress him, too, and did so far more often than she
realized, with her book-lore. When Norma spoke lightly of a full calf
edition de luxe of the Sonnets from the Portuguese, she might almost
have been speaking in that language for all she conveyed to Wolf, but
he watched the animated face proudly just the same. Rose had always
been good and steady and thoughtful, but Wolf knew that Norma was
clever, taking his big-brotherly patronage with admiring awe, but
daring where he hesitated, and boldly at home where he was ill at ease.
When she said that when she got married she wanted Dedham china, and
just a plain, glass bowl for goldfish, Wolf nodded, but he would have
nodded just as placidly if she had wanted a Turkish corner and bead
portières. And to-night when she asserted that she wouldn't be Leslie
Melrose for anything in the world, Wolf asked in simple wonderment why
she should be.
Imagine, a maid came to take those big girls home, Wolf! They can
speak French, Norma confided. Wolf did not look for coherence from
her, and took the two statements on their face value. Now, I know I'm
not pretty, she continued, following, as was usual with her, some
obscure line of thought, but I'm prettier than Doris Alexander, and
she had her picture in the paper!
Who broke it to you that you're not pretty? Wolf asked.
Well, I know I'm not! Norma jumped along at his side for a
few minutes, eyeing him expectantly, but Wolf's mind was honestly busy
with this assertion, and he did not speak. Wasn't she pretty? Girls had
funny standards. You know, she resumed, you'd hate a girl like
Leslie Melrose, Wolf!
Oh, you'd loathe her. But I'll tell you who you would like,
Norma added, in a sudden burst. You'd love Mr. Liggett!
Why should I? Wolf asked, in some surprise.
Oh, because he's nicehe's very good-looking, and he has such a
pleasant voice, as if he knew everything, but wasn't a bit conceited!
Norma said. And he picks out books for his wife, and when I try to
tell him something about them, he always knows lots more. You know, in
a pleasant, careless sort of way, not a bit as if he was showing off.
And I'll tell you what he did. Miss Drake was showing him a pottery
bowl one day, and she dropped it, and she told me he sort of caught at
it with his hand, and he said to Mr. Biretta, 'I've very stupidly
broken thisjust put it on my bill, will you?' Of course, Norma
added, vivaciously, old B. G. immediately said that it was nothing at
all, but you know what Miss Drake would have caught, if she'd
Perhaps Wolf did, but he was thinking at the moment that the family
baby was very cunning, with her bright eyes and indignant mouth. He
stopped her before a vaudeville house, in a flare of bright light.
Want to go in?
Oh, Wolf! Would Aunt Kate care? Oh, Wolf, let's!
There was absolute ecstasy in her eyes as they went through the
enchanted doorway and up the rising empty foyer toward the house. It
was nine o'clock; the performance was fairly under way. Norma rustled
into a seat beside her companion without moving her eyes from the
coloured comedian on the stage; she could remove hat and gloves and
jacket without losing an instant of him.
When the lights went up Wolf approved the dark hair and the pearls,
and bent toward her to hear the unending confidences. Norma thought she
had never seen anything better, and even Wolf admitted that it was a
good show. They finished the peppermints, and were very happy.
They had seen the big film, and so could cut the last third of the
programme, and reach home at ten o'clock. There was no comment from
Aunt Kate, who was yawning over the evening paper in the dining-room.
Rose and Harry were murmuring in the dimly lighted parlour. Wolf, who
was of the slow-thinking, intense type that discovers a new world every
time it reads a new book, was halfway through a shabby library copy of
War and Peace, and went off to his room with the second volume under
his arm. Norma went to her room, too, but she sat dreaming before the
mirror, thinking of that Melrose house, and of Leslie's friendliness,
until Rose came in at eleven o'clock.
At almost this same moment Norma's self was the subject of a rather
unusual talk between Christopher Liggett and his wife.
Christopher had come softly into his house, at about half-past ten,
to find Alice awake, still on the big couch before her fire. Her little
bedroom beyond was softly lighted, the white bed turned down, and the
religious books she always read before going to sleep laid in place by
Miss Slater. But Alice had no light except her fire and two or three
candles in old sconces.
She welcomed Christopher with a smile, and he sat down, in his
somewhat rumpled evening dress, and smiled back at her in a rather
weary fashion. He often told her that these rooms of hers were a
sanctuary, that he tested the men and women he met daily in the world
by her fine and lofty standard. It was part of his utter generosity to
her that he talked to her as frankly as if he thought aloud, and it was
Alice's pride and joy to know that this marriage of theirs, which had
so sadly and suddenly become no marriage at all, was not as one-sided
as the world might have suspected. Her clear, dispassionate viewpoint
and her dignified companionship were not wifehood, but they were dear
and valuable to him none the less, a part of his life that he would not
have spared. And he could still admire her, too, not only for the
exquisite clearness of her intellect, her French and Italian, her
knowledge of countries and affairs, but physicallythe clear, childish
forehead that was as unwrinkled as Leslie's, the fair, beautifully
brushed hair, the mouth with its chiselling of wisdom and of pain, and
the transparent hand from which she shook back transparent laces. She
was always proud, always fresh and fragrant, always free for him and
for his problems, and it was proverbial in the circle of their
intimates that Chris admired Alice with all his heart, and never felt
himself anything but the privileged guardian of a treasure.
To-night he dropped into a chair before her fire, and she watched
him for five or six restful minutes in silence.
Stupid dinner? she ventured.
Rotten! he answered, cheerfully. I was late, but I got in to hear
Hendrick's speech. The Vice-President was there, everyone else I knew.
I cut away finally; I'm done up.
I thought you picked up Hendrick on your way and went together,
Mrs. Liggett said, sympathetically. I'm sorry it was dullI suppose
men have to go to these political things!
Chris was leaning forward, his locked hands dropped between his
knees, and his eyes on the fire.
Hendrick and I stopped at your mother's, he said, deliberately,
and she was so upset that I sent Hendrick on alone!
Alice's eyes lighted apprehensively, but she spoke very quietly.
What was it, Chris? Leslie getting saucy?
Oh, no, no! It was a complication of things, I imagine!
Christopher took out his cigarette-case, looked at its moiré surface
reflectively, and selected a smoke. She was tiredshe'd been out in
the snowLeslie had gone off with Annie to some débutante affairI
daresay she felt blue. Alice, do you remember a woman named Kate
The question was sudden, and Alice blinked.
Yes, I do, she answered, after a moment's thought, she was a sort
of maid or travelling companion of Mama's. We called her Mrs.
Sheridanshe was quite a superior sort of person.
What do you remember about her, dear?
Welljust that. She came when I was only a childand then when
Annie was ill in Paris she went abroad with Mamaand I remember that
she came back, and she used to come see me at school, for Mama, and
once she took me up to Grandma's, in Brookline. She was a widow, and
she had a childor two, maybe. Why, Chris?
Her husband did not answer, and she repeated the question.
Well, he said, at last, flinging the end of his cigarette into the
fire, she came to see your mother to-day.
Alice waited, a little at a loss. To her this had no particular
She had her niece with her, young girl about eighteen, Christopher
Wellwhat of it? Alice demanded, with a sort of superb
indifference to anything such a woman might do.
He looked at her through his round eyeglasses, with the slight frown
that many of life's problems brought to his handsome face. Then the
glass fell, on its black ribbon, and he laughed.
That's just what I don't get, he said, good-humouredly.
But I'll tell you exactly what occurred. What's-His-Name, your
Joseph. Joseph told me that at about four o'clock this Mrs.
Sheridan came in. Your mother had told him that she was expecting the
lady, and that he was to bring her upstairs. With her came this girlI
can't remember her namebut it was something SheridanNora Sheridan,
maybe. Leslie carried the girl off for tea, and the woman stayed with
Well, at fiveor later, this Mrs. Sheridan ran into the hall, and
it seemsshe's all right now!it seems that your mother had fainted.
Mama! Alice said, anxiously, with an incredulous frown.
Yes, but don't worry. She's absolutely all right now. Leslie,
Christopher went back to his narrative, Leslie cried, and I suppose
there was a scene. Mrs. Sheridan and the girl went homeLeslie dressed
and went outand your mother immediately telephoned Lee
Yesshe said so. Lee's up in Westchester with his daughter, she
couldn't get him
But, Chris, why did she want her lawyer?
That's just itwhy? Well, then she telephoned here for
meI was on my way there, as it happened, and just before eight
Hendrick and I went in. I could see she was altogether up stage, so I
sent Von on and had it out with her.
And what was her explanation, Chris?
Christopher laughed again.
I'll be darned, he said, thoughtfully, if I can make head or tail
of it! It would be funny if it wasn't that she's taking it so hard. She
was in bed, and she had been cryingwouldn't eat any dinner
But, Chris, Alice said, worriedly, what do you make of it!
What did she say?
Well, she clasped my hand, and she said that she had an opportunity
to undo a great wrongand that I must help herand not ask any
questionsshe was just acting as you and I would have her act under
What circumstances? Alice said, at an utter loss, as he paused.
She didn't say, he smiled.
Oh, come, now, Chris, she must have said more than that!
No, she didn't. She said that she must make it up to this girl, and
she wished to see Lee about it immediately.
To change her will! Alice exclaimed.
She didn't say so. Of course, it may be some sort of blackmail.
Christopher looked whimsically at his wife. As I remember my
father-in-law, he said, it seems to me improbable that out of the
past could come this engaging young girlvery pretty, they said
Father! Oh, nonsense! Alice exclaimed, almost in relief at the
absurdity. No, but it might be some businesssome claim against the
firm, she suggested.
Well, I thought of that. But there are one or two reasons why it
doesn't seem the solution. I asked your mother if it was money, and she
said no, said it positively and repeatedly. Then I asked her if she
would like this Sheridan woman shut up, and she was quite indignant.
Kate!Kate was one of the most magnificent women God had ever made,
and so on!
Well, I do remember Mrs. Sheridan as a lovely sort of person,
Alice contributed. Plain, you know, but quite wonderful forwell,
goodness. It's funnybut then you know Mama is terribly
excitable, she added, she gets frightfully worked up over nothing, or
almost nothing. It's quite possible that when Kate recalled old times
to her she suddenly wished that she had done more for Katesomething
like that. She'd think nothing of sending for Judge Lee on the spot.
You remember her recalling us from our wedding-trip because she
couldn't find the pearls? All the way from Lake Louise to hear that
they had been lost!
I know, Christopher smiled. She isunique, ma belle mère.
By George, I'll never forget our rushing into the house like maniacs,
not knowing what had happened to Leslie or Acton, and having her fall
sobbing into your arms, with the pearls in her hands!
Mama's wonderful, Alice laughed. Chris, did you eat any dinner?
But I'm really not hungry, dear, he protested.
Alice, superbly incredulous, rang at once. Who was in the kitchen?
Well, she was to be asked to send up a tray at once to Mr. Liggett.
Now that you asked me, the dinner had reached the point of ice-cream
in a paper tub, as I sat down, he remembered. You're a little miracle
of healing to me, Alice. When I came in here I didn't know what
we were up against, as a family. Your mother wished the girl
Oh, Chris, not really?
I give you my word! But he was enough his usual self to have taken
his seat at the piano, now, and was looking at her across it, while his
fingers fitted themselves lazily to chords and harmonics.
I'll tell you something, if you'll promise to stop playing the
instant your supper comes up!
Well, thenthe new Puccini is there! She nodded toward the
music-shelves, and he turned to the new score with an eager
exclamation. Fifteen minutes later she had to scold him to bring him to
the fire again, and to the smoking little supper. While Alice sipped
ginger ale, Christopher fell upon his meal, and they discussed the
probable presentation of the opera, and its quality.
But an hour later, when she was in bed, and Christopher was going
back to the piano for another half-hour of music, she caught his hand.
Chris, you're not worried about this Sheridan matter?
Worried? No, dearest child, what is there to worry about? It isn't
blackmail, apparently it's nothing but an overdose of imagination on
your mother's part. If the girl really was promised something, or
hasfor example!old stock, or if her father was an employee who did
this or that or the otherMrs. Sheridan's husband was employed by your
father at the time of his death, by the waywhy, it's easy enough to
pay the claim, whatever it is! The girl seems to have made a nice
impressionyour mother tells me she's sold me books, but that doesn't
mean much, I buy books everywhere! No, I don't think you'll ever hear
of her again. But your mother will be here in a day or two; see what
you can make of it all!
Oh, of course, it's nothing wrong! Alice said, confidently.
And Christopher returned to his beloved piano, relieved in mind by
his wife's counsel, refreshed in body by the impromptu supper, and
ready for the music that soothed in him all the restless and
unsatisfied fibres of his soul.
Annie, who signed herself Anne Melrose von Behrens, was the real
dictator in the various circles of the allied families, and had a
fashion of finding herself supreme in larger circles, as well. Annie
was thirty-seven or eight, tall, thin, ash-blonde, superb in manner and
bearing. Nature had been generous to her, but she had done far more for
herself than Nature had. Her matchless skin, her figure, her hands, her
voice, were all the result of painstaking and intelligent care. Annie
had been a headstrong, undisciplined girl twenty years ago. She had
come back from a European visit, at twenty-three, with a vague if
general reputation of being a terror. But Annie was clever, and she
had real charm. She spoke familiarly of European courts, had been
presented even in inaccessible Vienna. She spoke languages, quoted
poets, had great writers and painters for her friends, and rippled
through songs that had been indisputably dedicated, in flowing foreign
hands, to the beautiful Mademoiselle Melrose. Society bowed before
Annie; she was the sensation of her winter, and the marriage she
promptly made was the most brilliant in many winters.
Annie proceeded to bear her sober, fine, dull, and devoted Hendrick
two splendid sons, and thus riveted to herself his lasting devotion and
trust. The old name was safe, the millions would descend duly to young
Hendrick and Piet. The family had been rich, conspicuous, and respected
in the city, since its sturdy Holstein cattle had browsed along the
fields of lower Broadway, but under Annie's hands it began to shine.
Annie's handsome motor-cars bore the family arms, her china had been
made in the ancestral village, two miles from Rotterdam, and also
carried the shield. Her city home, in Fifth Avenue, was so magnificent,
so chastely restrained and sober, so sternly dignified, that it set the
cue for half the other homes of the ultra-aristocratic set. Annie's
servants had been in the Von Behrens family for years; there was
nothing in the Avenue house, or the Newport summer home, that was not
as handsome, as old, as solid, as carven, as richly dull, or as purely
shining, as human ingenuity could contrive to have it. Collectors saved
their choicest discoveries for Annie; and there was no painter in the
new world who would not have been proud to have Annie place a canvas of
his among her treasures from the old.
If family relics were worth preserving, what could be more
remarkable than Annie's Washington letter, her Jefferson tray, her
Gainsboroughs of the Murisons who had been the only Americans so
honoured by the painter? Melrose and Von Behrens honours crowded each
otherhere was the thin old silver shepherdess cup awarded that
Johanna von Behrens who had won a prize with her sheep, while
Washington was yet a boy; and here the quaint tortoise-shell snuff-box
that a great prince, homeless and unknown, had given the American
family that took him in; and the silver buttons from Lafayette's
waistcoat that the great Frenchman had presented Colonel Horace Murison
of the Continentals.
These things were not thrust at the visitor, nor indeed were they
conspicuous among the thousand other priceless souvenirs that Annie had
gathered about her.
Rather nice, isn't it? Annie would say, abstractedly, when some
enthusiastic girl pored over the colonial letters or the old portraits.
See here, Margaret, she might add, casually, do you see the inside
of this little slipper, my dear? Read what's written there: 'In these
slippers Deborah Murison danced with Governor Winthrop, on the night of
her fifteenth birthday, July 1st, 1742.' Isn't that rather quaint?
Annie could afford to be casual, to be abstracted. In her all the
pride of the Melrose and Murison families was gathered; hers was an
arrogance so sure of itself, a self-confidence so supreme, that the
world questioned it no more than it questioned the heat of the sun. The
old silver, the Copleys, and the colonial china, the Knickerbocker
court chests with their great locks of Dutch silver, and the laces
that had been shown at the Hague two hundred years before, were all
confirmed, all reinforced, as it were, by the power and prosperity of
to-day. It was no by-gone glory that made brilliant the lives of
Hendrick and Anne Melrose von Behrens. Hendrick's cousins and uncles,
magnificent persons of title, were prominent in Holland to-day, their
names associated with that of royalty, and their gracious friendship
extended to the American branch of the family whenever Hendrick chose
to claim it. Old maps of New York bore the boundary lines of the Von
Behrens farm; early histories of the city mingled the names of Melrose
and Von Behrens among those of the men who had served the public need.
Wherever there was needed that tone that only names of prominence
and wealth can bestow Annie's name was solicited. Wherever it appeared
it gave the instant stamp of dignity and integrity. She had seen this
goal dimly in the distance, when she stepped from her rather spoiled
and wilful girlhood into this splendid wifehood, but even Annie was
astonished at the rapidity with which it had come about. Mama, of
course, had known all the right people, even if she had dropped
all social ties after Papa's death. And Hendrick's name was an open
sesame. But even so it was surprising, and it was gratifying.
In appearance Annie had no problem. If she was not a beauty she was
near enough to being one. She was smart enough, and blonde enough, and
splendidly dressed enough to be instantly identifiable, and that was
all she desired. Financially, Annie had no problem. Her own inheritance
and her husband's great wealth silenced all question there. The Murison
pearls and the famous diamond tiara that her father had given her
mother years ago had come to Annie, but they were eclipsed by the Von
Behrens family jewels, and these were all hers, with the laces, and the
ivories, and the brocades. Life could give nothing more to Annie, but
not many women would have made so much of what Annie had. There was,
far down and out of sight, a little streak of the adventuress in her,
and she never stopped halfway.
A young wife, Annie had dutifully considered her nursery.
Hendrick's is the elder line, of course, although it is the
colonial one, Annie had said, superintending a princely layette. The
child was a son, his father's image, and nobody who knew Annie was in
the least surprised that fortune had fallen in with her plans. It was
the magnificent Annie who was quoted as telling Madame Modiste to give
her a fitter who would not talk; it was Annie who decided what should
be done in recognizing the principals of the Jacqmain divorce, and that
old Floyd Densmore's actress-wife should not be accepted. Annie's neat
and quiet answer to a certain social acquaintance who remarked, in
Annie's little gallery, I have seen the original of that picture, in
one of the European galleries, was still quoted by Annie's friends.
This is the original! Annie had said quite simply and
Leslie admired her aunt more than any one else in the world. Grandma
was old-fashioned, and Aunt Alice insignificant, in Leslie's eyes, but
stunning, arrogant, fearless Aunt Annie was the model upon which she
would have based herself if she had known how. Annie's quick
positiveness with her servants, her cool friendliness with big men, and
clever men, her calm assurance as to which hats she liked, and which
hats she didn't, her utter belief in everything that was of Melrose or
von Behrens, and her calm contempt for everything that was not, were
masterly in Leslie's eyes.
Annie might have been a strong royalist had she been born a few
generations earlier. But in Annie's day the ideal of social service had
been laid down by fashion, and she was consequently a tremendously
independent and energetic person, with small time for languishing airs.
She headed committees and boards, knew hundreds of working girls by
name, kept a secretary and a stenographer, and mentioned topics at big
dinners that would not have shocked either old Goodwife Melrose of
Boston, or Vrouw von Behrens of Nieu Amsterdam, for neither had the
faintest idea that such things, or their names, existed.
Withal, Annie was attractive, even her little affectations were
impressive, and as she went about from luncheons to meetings, swept up
to her model nursery to revel in her model boys, tossed aside regal
furs and tore off princely rings the better to play with them, wrapped
her beautiful figure in satins and jewels to descend to formal dinners,
she was almost as much admired and envied and copied as she might
fondly have hoped to be. She managed her life on modern lines of
efficiency, planned ahead what she wished, tutored herself not to think
of anything undesirable as being even in the range of possibility, trod
lightly upon the sensitive souls of others, and asked no quarter
herself, aimed high, and enjoyed her life and its countless successes
to the full.
Of course there had been setbacks. Her brother Theodore, his most
unfortunate marriage to a servant, his intemperance, the general
scandal of his mother's violent detestation of his wife, all this was
most unpleasant. But Louison, the wife, upon sufficient pressure, had
brought her child to the Melroses, and had doubtfully disappeared, and
Theodore had returned from his wanderings to live, silent and
unobtrusive, in his mother's home, for several years, and to die with
his daughter beside him, and be duly laid in the Melrose plot at
Woodlawn. And LeslieLeslie had repaid them all, for all of it.
Alice was another disappointment, or had been one, to Annie. For
Alice, after having achieved a most unexpectedly satisfactory marriage,
and having set up her household gods in the very shadow of her sister's
brilliant example, as it were, had met with that most unfortunate
accident. For a few years Annie had been utterly exasperated whenever
she thought of it. For Christopher was really an extraordinary husband
for Alice to hold, even in normal circumstances. He was so
outrageously, frightfully, irresistibly popular with women everywhere,
his wife must needs keep a very sharp, albeit loving, eye upon him. A
sickly wifea wife who was a burden and a reproach, that would be
fatal to them all!
But Alice had showed unsuspected courage and pride in this hard
trial. She had made herself beautiful, well-informed, tactful; she had
made herself a magnet to her husband's friends, and his home the centre
of a real social group. Annie respected her for it, and helped her by
flashing into her rooms not less often than every alternate day, with
gossip, with books, with hints that showed Alice just where her course
in this or that matter must lie.
So Alice had come to be an actual asset, and now to her Aunt Annie's
tremendous satisfaction, Leslie promised to add one more feather to the
family cap by announcing her engagement to Acton Liggett. Annie smiled
to herself whenever she thought of it. When this was consummated she
would have nothing left but the selection of suitable wives for
Hendrick Junior, now aged ten, and Piet, who was four years younger.
Two or three days after the ending of the big snow-storm, and the
beginning of that domestic storm that was destined strangely to change
some of the lives nearest her, Annie went in to have luncheon with her
sister. It was a brilliant sunshiny winter day, with crossings swimming
in melting snow and roofs steaming brightly into the clear air.
Annie went straight upstairs to Alice's room, with the usual apology
for lateness. She kissed Alice lightly on the forehead, and while Freda
was coming and going with their meal, they discussed the little boys,
books, politics, and the difficulties of the city in the snow.
But when they were alone Annie asked immediately:
What on earth is the matter with Mama, Alice?
You mean about? Did she tell you?
No; she didn't have to. Leslie ran in yesterday afternoon, and told
me that Mama has been in bed since Saturday! I telephoned Sunday
morning, but Hendrick and I were taking the boys up to his uncle's
house, in Westchester, andas she didn't say one word about being
illI didn't see her that day, nor yesterday, as it happened, for we
didn't come down until noon. When Leslie came in, there were other
people there for tea, and I didn't have a chance to speak to her alone.
But I went over to Mama this morning, and she seems all broken up!
What did she tell you? Alice asked, anxiously.
Oh, my dear, you know Mama! She wept, and patted my hand, and said
that it was sad to be the last of your own generation, and she hoped
you and I would always have each other, and that she had always loved
us, and tried to do her best for us
Poor Mama! She gets so worked up! she said.
But what do you make of it? demanded Annie. She talked of this
Kate SheridanI remember her perfectly, she came to Paris when I was
so ill, years ago. Poor Mama cried, and said that she wished to do
something for Kate. Now you know, Alice, Annie went on reasonably,
nobody is tying Mama's hands! If she wants to educate this young
girlthis Norma personto please Kate, or all her children for that
matter, she doesn't have to go into hysterics, and send for Judge Lee.
She said she didn't feel at all well, and she wanted to secure to Kate
some money in her will I told her it was ridiculousshe never looked
better in her life! I wish she could get over to see you, Alice; you
always soothe her so. What on earth does Chris make of it?
Well, I'll tell you what we've done, Alice smiled. Chris went to
see her Sunday, and they had a long talk. He tells me that she was just
as vague and unsatisfactory as ever, but calmer, and she finally
admitted that all she really wanted to do was to befriend this niece of
Kate Sheridan. Of course Chris and I think Mama has one of her funny
notions about it, but if the child's mother had befriended Mama, for
example, a thousand years ago, or if Mama had borrowed five dollars
from Kate, and forgotten to return it, you know that would be enough to
account for all this excitement.
Yes, I know! Annie admitted, with her favourite look of
intolerant, yet indulgent, scorn.
Well, it seems the girl is in Biretta's Bookshop, and Chris has
often bought books of her. So to quiet Mama he promised that he would
bring her out here to have tea with me some day soon. Mama was
delighted, and I think she hopes that a friendship will come of it.
Alice threw herself back into the pillows, and drew a great breath as
if she were weary. I only want to please Mama! she finished.
You're an angel, Annie said, absently. I suppose I could get the
truth out of Mama in five seconds, she mused. It looks to me rather
No; she said not! Alice contradicted, quickly.
Well, it's all so silly, the elder sister said, impatiently. And
coming just now she added, significantly.
Yes. I know! Alice agreed, with a comprehending look. And in
lowered tones they began to talk of Leslie's possible engagement.
Norma Sheridan saw the engagement announced in a morning paper two
weeks later, and carried the picture of pretty Miss Melrose home, to
entertain the dinner table. The news had been made known at a dinner
given to forty young persons, in the home of the débutante's aunt, Mrs.
Hendrick von Behrens. Miss Melrose, said the paper, was the daughter
and heiress of the late Theodore Melrose, and made her home with her
grandmother. Mr. Liggett was the brother of Christopher Liggett, whose
marriage to Miss Alice Melrose was a social event some years ago. A
number of dinners and dances were already planned in honour of the
Norma looked at the pictured face with a little stir of feelings so
confused that she could not define them, at her heart. But she passed
the paper to her aunt with no comment.
You might send them two dozen kitchen towels, Mother, Wolf
suggested, drily, and Rose laughed joyously. Her own engagement present
from her mother had been this extremely practical one, and Rose loved
to open her lower bureau drawer, and gloat over the incredible richness
of possessing twenty-four smooth, red-striped, well-hemmed
glass-towels, all her own. Norma had brought her two thick, dull gray
Dedham bowls, with ducks waddling around them, and these were in the
drawer, too, wrapped in tissue paper. And beside these were the length
of lemon-coloured silk that Rose had had for a year, without making up,
and six of her mother's fine sheets of Irish linen, and two glass
candlesticks that Rose had won at a Five-hundred party. Altogether,
Rose felt that she was making great strides toward home-making,
especially as she and Harry must wait for months, perhaps a year. Norma
had promised her two towels a month, until there were a whole dozen,
and Wolf, prompted by the same generous little heart, told her not to
give the gas-stove a thought, for she was to have the handsomest one
that money could buy, with a stand-up oven and a water-heater, from her
brother. Rose walked upon air.
But Norma was in a mood that she herself seemed unable to understand
or to combat. She felt a constant inclination toward tears. She didn't
hate the Melrosesno, they had been most friendly and kind. Butbut
it was a funny world in which one girl had everything, like Leslie, and
another girl had no brighter prospect than to drudge away in a
bookstore all her life, or to go out on Sundays with her cousin. Norma
dreamed for hours of Leslie's life, the ease and warmth and beauty of
it, and when Leslie was actually heralded as engaged the younger girl
felt a pang of the first actual jealousy she had ever known. She
imagined the beautiful drawing-room in which Acton Liggettperhaps as
fascinating a person as his brother!would clasp pearls about Leslie's
fair little throat; she imagined the shining dinner tables at which
Leslie's modestly dropped blonde head would be stormed with compliments
And suddenly molasses peppermints and dish-washing became odious to
her, and she almost disliked Rose for her pitiable ecstasies over china
bowls and glass-towels. All the pleasant excitement of her call upon
Mrs. Melrose, with Aunt Kate, died away. It had seemed the beginning of
some vaguely dreamed-of progress toward a life of beauty and
achievement, but it was two weeks ago now, and its glamour was fading.
True, Christopher Liggett had come into Biretta's bookstore, with
Leslie, and he and Norma had talked together for a few minutes, and
Leslie had extended her Aunt Alice's kind invitation for tea. But no
day had been set for the tea, Norma reflected gloomily. Now, she
supposed, the stir of Leslie's engagement would put all that out of
Wolf was not particularly sympathetic with her, she mused,
disconsolately. Wolf had been acting in an unprecedented manner of
late. Rose's engagement seemed to have completely turned his head. He
laughed at Norma, hardly heard her words when she spoke to him, and
never moved his eyes from her when they were together. Norma could not
look up from her book, or her plate, or from the study of a Broadway
shop window, without encountering that same steady, unembarrassed,
What's the matter with you, Wolf? she would ask, impatiently. But
Wolf never told her.
As a matter of fact, he did not know. He was a silent, thoughtful
fellow, old for his years in many ways, and in some still a boy. Norma
and Rose had known only the more prosperous years of Kate's life, but
Wolf remembered many a vigil with his mother, remembered her lonely
struggles to make a living for him and for the girls. He himself was
the type that inevitably prospersindustrious, good, intelligent, and
painstaking, but as a young boy in the working world he had early seen
the terrors in the lives of men about him: drink, dirt, unemployment
and disease, debt and dishonour. Wolf was not quick of thought; he had
little imagination, rather marvelling at other men's cleverness than
displaying any of his own, and he had reached perhaps his twenty-second
or twenty-third summer before he realized that these terrors did not
menace him, that whatever changes he made in his work would be
improvements, steps upward. For actual months after the move to New
York Wolf had pondered it, in quiet gratitude and pleasure. Rent and
bills could be paid, there might be theatre treats for the girls, and
chicken for Sunday supper, and yet the savings account in the Broadway
bank might grow steadily, too. Far from being a slave to his employer,
Wolf began to realize that this rather simple person was afraid of him,
afraid that young Sheridan and some of the other smart, ingenious,
practically educated men in his employ might recognize too soon their
And when the second summer in New York came, and Wolf could
negotiate the modest financial deal that gave him and the girls a
second-hand motor-car to cruise about in on Sundays and holidays, when
they could picnic up in beautiful Connecticut, or unpack the little
fringed red napkins far down on the Long Island shore, life had begun
to seem very pleasant to him. Debt and dirt and all the squalid horrors
of what he had seen, and what he had read, had faded from his mind, and
for awhile he had felt that his cup could hold no more.
But now, just lately, there was something else, and although the
full significance of it had not yet actually dawned upon him, Wolf
began to realize that a change was near. It was the most miraculous
thing that had ever come to him, although it concerned only little
Normaonly the little cousin who had been an actual member of his
family for all these years.
He had heard his mother say a thousand times that she was pretty; he
had laughed himself a thousand times at her quick wit. But he had never
dreamed that it would make his heart come up into his throat and
suffocate him whenever he thought of her, or that her lightest and
simplest words, her most casual and unconscious glance, would burn in
his heart for hours.
During his busy days Wolf found himself musing about this undefined
and nebulous happiness that began to tremble, like a growing brightness
behind clouds, through all his days and nights. Had there ever been a
time, he wondered, when he had taken her for granted, helped her into
her blessed little coat as coolly as he had Rose? Had it been this same
Norma who scolded him about throwing his collars on the floor, and who
had sent his coat to the cleaner with a ten-dollar bill in the pocket?
Wolf remembered summer days, and little Norma chattering beside him
on the front seat, as the shabby motor-car fled through the hot, dry
city toward shade and coolness. He remembered early Christmas Mass, and
Norma and Rose kneeling between him and his mother, in the warm,
fir-scented church. He remembered breakfast afterward, in a general
sense of hunger and relaxation and well-being, and the girls exulting
over their presents. And every time that straight-shouldered, childish
figure came into his dream, that mop of cloudy dark hair and flashing
laugh, the new delicious sense of some unknown felicity touched him,
and he would glance about the busy factory self-consciously, as if his
thoughts were written on his face for all the world to read.
Wolf had never had a sweetheart. It came to him with the blinding
flash of all epoch-making discoveries that Norma was his girlthat he
wanted Norma for his own, and that there was no barrier between them.
And in the ecstasy of this new vision, which changed the whole face of
his world, he was content to wait with no special impatience for the
hour in which he should claim her. Of course Norma must like himmust
love him, as he did her, unworthy as he felt himself of her, and
wonderful as this new Norma seemed to be. Wolf, in his simple way, felt
that this had been his destiny from the beginning.
That a glimpse of life as foreign and unnatural as the Melrose life
might seriously disenchant Norma never occurred to him. Norma had
always been fanciful, it was a part of her charm. Wolf, who worked in
the great Forman shops, had felt it no particular distinction when by
chance one day he had been called from his luncheon to look at the
engine of young Stanley Forman's car. He had left his seat upon a pile
of lumber, bolted the last of his pie, and leaned over the hood of the
specially designed racer interested only in its peculiarities, and
entirely indifferent to the respectful young owner, who was aware that
he knew far less about it than this mechanic did. Sauntering back to
his work in the autumn sunlight, Wolf had followed the youthful
millionaire by not even a thought. If he had done so, it might have
been a half-contemptuous decision that a man who knew so little of
engines ought not to drive a racer.
So Norma's half-formed jealousies, desires, and dreams were a sealed
book to him. But this very unreasonableness lent her an odd exotic
charm in his eyes. She was to Wolf like a baby who wants the moon. The
moon might be an awkward and useless possession, and the baby much
better without it, still there is something winning and touching about
the little imperious mouth and the little upstretched arms.
One night, when he had reached home earlier than either of the
girls, Wolf was in the warm bright kitchen, alone with his mother. He
was seated at the end of the scrubbed and bleached little table; Kate
at the other end was neatly and dexterously packing a yellow bowl with
Do you remember, years and years ago, Mother, Wolf said, chewing a
raisin, thoughtfully, that you told me that Norma isn't my real
Kate's ruddy colour paled a little, and she looked anxious. Not
Perseus, coming at last in sight of his Gorgon, had a heart more sick
with fear than hers was at that instant.
What put that into your head, dear?
Well, I don't know. But it's true, isn't it?
Kate scattered chopped nuts from the bowl of her spoon.
Yes, it's true, she said. There's not a drop of the same blood in
your veins, although I love her as I do you and Rose.
She was silent, and Wolf, idly turning the egg-beater in an empty
dish, smiled to himself.
But what made you think of that, Wolf? his mother asked.
I don't know! Wolf did not look at her, but his big handsome face
was suffused with happy colour. Harry and Rose, maybe, he admitted.
Kate sat down suddenly, her eyes upon him.
Not the Baby? she half whispered.
Her son leaned back in his chair, and folded his big arms across his
chest. When he looked at her the smile had faded from his face, and his
eyes were a trifle narrowed, and his mouth set.
I guess so! he said, simply. I guess it's always beenNorma. But
I didn't always know it. I used to think of her as just another
sisterlike Rose. But I know now that she'll never seem that
againnever did, really.
He was silent, and Kate sat staring at him in silence.
Has she any relatives, Mother?
Has she peoplewho are they?
Kate looked at the floor.
She has no one but me, Son.
Of course, she's not nineteen, and I don't believe it's ever
crossed her mind, Wolf said. I don't think Norma ever had a real
affairjust kid affairs, like Paul Harrison, and that man at the store
who used to send her flowers. But I don't believe those count.
I don't think she ever has, Kate said, heavily getting to her
feet, and beginning to pour her custard slowly through the packed
bread. Presently she stopped, and set the saucepan down, her eyes
narrowed and fixed on space. Then Wolf saw her press the fingers of one
hand upon her mouth, a sure sign of mental perturbation.
I know I'm not worthy to tie her little shoes for her, Mother, he
said, suddenly, and very low.
There's no woman in the world good enough for you, his mother
answered, with a troubled laugh. And she gave the top of his head one
of her rare, brisk kisses as she passed him, on her way out of the
Wolf was sufficiently familiar with the domestic routine to know
that every minute was precious now, and that she was setting the table.
But his heart was heavy with a vague uneasiness; she had not encouraged
him very much. She had not accepted this suggestion as she did almost
all of the young people's ideas, with eager cooperation and sympathy.
He sat brooding at the kitchen table, her notable lack of enthusiasm
chilling him, and infusing him with her own doubts.
When she came back, she stood with her back turned to him, busied
with some manipulation of platters and jars in the ice-box.
Wolf, dear, she said, I want to ask you something. The child's
too young to listen to youor any one!now. Promise mepromise me, that you'll speak to me again before you
Certainly I'll promise that, Mother! Wolf said, quickly, hurt to
the soul. She read his tone aright, and came to lay her cheek against
Listen to me, Son. Since the day her mother gave her to me I've
hoped it would be this way! But there's nothing to be gained by hurry.
But you would be glad, Mother! You do think that she might have
me? poor Wolf said, eagerly and humbly. He was amazed to see tears
brimming his mother's eyes as she nodded and turned away.
Before either spoke again a rush in the hall announced the
home-coming girls, who entered the kitchen gasping and laughing with
Whew! panted Norma, catching Wolf's hands in her own half-frozen
ones. I'm dying! Oh, Wolf, feel my nose! She pressed it against his
forehead. Oh, there's a wind like a knifeand look at my shoein I
went, right through the ice! Oh, Aunt Kate, let me stay here! and
locking both slender arms about the older woman's neck, she dropped her
dark, shining head upon her breast like a storm-blown bird. It's four
below zero in Broadway this minute, she added, looking sidewise under
her curling lashes at Wolf.
Who said so? Wolf demanded.
The man I bought that paper from said so; go back and ask him. Oh,
joy, that looks good! said Norma, eyeing the pudding that was now
being drawn, crackling, bubbling, and crisp, from the oven. Rose and I
fell over the new lineoleum in the hall; I thought it was a dead body!
she went on, cheerfully. I came down on my family feature with
such a noise that I thought the woman downstairs would be rattling the
dumb-waiter ropes again long before this! She stepped to the
dumb-waiter, and put her head into the shaft. What is it, darling?
Norma, behave yourself. It would serve you good and right if she
heard you, Mrs. Sheridan said, in a panic. Go change your shoes, and
come and eat your dinner. I believe, her aunt added, pausing near her,
that you did skin your nose in the hall.
Oh, heavens! Norma exclaimed, bringing her face close to the dark
window, as to a mirror. Oh, say it will be gone by Friday! Because on
Friday I'm going to have tea with Mrs. Liggetther husband came in
to-day and asked me. Oh, the darling! He certainly is thewell, the
mostwell, I don't know!His voice, and the quiet, quiet
Oh, for pity's sake go change your shoes! Rose interrupted. You
are the biggest idiot! I went into the store to get her, Rose
explained, and I've had all this once, in the subway. How Mr. Liggett
picks up his glasses, on their ribbon, to read the titles of books
Oh, you shut up! Norma called, departing. And unashamed, when
dinner was finished, and the table cleared, she produced a pack of
cards and said that she was going to play The Idle Year.
... and if I get it, it'll mean that the man I marry is going to
look exactly like Chris Liggett.
She did not get it, and played it again. The third time she
interrupted Wolf's slow and patient perusal of the Scientific
American to announce that she was now going to play it to see if he
was in love with Mary Redding.
Think how nice that would be, Aunt Kate, a double wedding. And if
Wolf or Rose died and left a lot of children, the other one would
always be there to take in whoever was leftyou know what I mean!
You're the one Wolf ought to marry, to make it complete, Rose, who
was neatly marking a cross-stitch R on a crash towel, retaliated
I can't marry my cousin, Miss Smarty.
Oh, don't let a little thing like that worry you, Wolf said,
looking across the table.
Our children would be idiotsperhaps they would be, anyway! Norma
reminded him, in a gale of laughter. Her aunt looked up disapprovingly
over her glasses.
Baby, don't talk like that. That's not a nice way to talk at all.
Wolf, you lead her on. Now, we'll not have any more of that, if you
please. I see the President is making himself very unpopular, WolfI
don't know why they all make it so hard for the poor man! Mrs. McCrea
was in the market this morning
If I win this game, Rose, by this time next year, Norma said, in
an undertone, you'll have
Yes, Aunt Kate!
Do you want me to speak to you again?
Norma subsided for a brief space, Rose covertly watching the game.
Presently the younger girl burst forth anew.
Listen, Wolf, I'll bet you that I can get more words out of the
letters in Christopher than you can!
Wolf roused himself, smiled, took out his fountain pen, and reached
for a sheet of paper. He was always ready for any sort of game. Norma,
bending herself to the contest, put her pencil into her mouth, and
stared fixedly at the green-shaded drop light. Rose, according to
ancient precedent, was permitted to assist evenly and alternately.
And Kate, watching them and listening, even while she drowsed over
the Woman's Page, decided that after all they were nothing but a pack
To Leslie Melrose had come the very happiest time of her life. She
had always had everything she wanted; it had never occurred to her to
consider a fortunate marriage engagement as anything but a matter of
course, in her case. She was nineteen, she was mad, in her own terms,
about Acton Liggett, and the engagement was the natural result.
But the ensuing events were far more delightful than Leslie had
dreamed, even in her happy dreams. All her world turned from its
affairs of business and intrigue and amusement to centre its attention
upon her little person for the moment, and to shower her with ten times
enough flattery and praise to turn a much steadier head. Presents
rained upon Leslie, and every one of them was astonishingly handsome
and valuable; newspapers clamoured for her picture, and wherever she
went she was immediately the focus for all eyes. That old Judge Lee
should send her some of his mother's beautiful diamonds; that
Christopher and Alice should order for her great crates of specially
woven linen that were worthy of a queen; that Emanuel Massaro, the
painter of the hour, should ask her to sit for him, were all just so
much sheer pleasure added to the sum total of her happiness in loving
the man of her choice and knowing herself beloved by him.
Leslie found herself, for the first time in her life, a person of
importance with Aunt Annie, too. The social leader found time to advise
her little niece in the new contingencies that were perpetually
arising, lent Leslie her private secretary for the expeditious making
of lists or writing of notes, and bullied her own autocratic modiste
into promising at least half of the trousseau. It was Annie who decided
that the marriage must be at a certain Park Avenue church, and at a
certain hour, and that the reception at the house must be arranged in a
certain manner, and no other. Hendrick or Judge Lee would give away the
bride, Christopher would be his brother's best man, and Leslie would be
given time to greet her guests and change her gown and be driven to
Alice's house for just one kiss before she and Acton went away.
Acton had begged for an Easter wedding, but Leslie, upon her aunt's
advice, held out for June. If the war was over by that timeand
everyone said it must be, for so hideous a combat could not possibly
last more than six or eight monthsthen they would go to England and
the Continent, but otherwise they might drift through Canada to the
Pacific Coast, and even come back by San Francisco and the newly opened
Meanwhile, Annie entertained her niece royally and untiringly.
Formal dinners to old family friends must come first, but when spring
arrived Leslie was promised house parties and yachting trips more after
her own heart. The girl was so excited, so bewildered and tired, even
after the first two weeks, that she remained in bed until noon every
day, and had a young maid especially detailed to take her dressmaker's
fittings for her. But even so she lost weight, her cheeks burned and
her eyes glittered feverishly, and her voice took an unnaturally high
key, her speech a certain shallow quickness. Acton's undeviating
adoration she took with a pretty, spoiled acquiescence, and with old
family friends she was charmingly dutiful and deferential, but always
with the air of sparing a few glittering drops to their age and dulness
from the overflowing cup of her youth and beauty and power. But with
her grandmother and aunts she had a new attitude of self-confidence,
and to her girl friends she was no longer the old intimate and equal,
but a being who had, for the moment at least, left them all behind. She
would show them the new silver, the new linens, the engagement-time
frocks that were in themselves a trousseau, and wish that Doris or
Marion or Virginia were engaged, too; it was such fun! And with older
women, the débutantes of six and eight and ten years ago, who had
failed of all this glory, who could only listen sweetly to the chatter
of plans and honours, and look in uncomplaining admiration at the
blazing ring, Leslie was quite merciless. The number of times that she
managed to mention her age, the fact that Madame Modiste had tried to
give her fittings after three o'clock under the impression that she was
a schoolgirl, and the craziness of little me going over all the
late Mrs. Liggett's chests of silver and china, perhaps only these
unsuccessful candidates for matrimony could estimate. Certainly Leslie
herself was quite unconscious of it, and truly believed what she heard
on all sides, that she was adorable, and not changed one bit, and
just as unconscious that there was anything else in the world but
Acton, as a little girl with her first doll.
Christopher and Alice, in the first years of their married life, had
built a home at Glen Cove, and Christopher made this his wedding
present to his brother. Necessarily, even the handsomest of country
homes, if ten years old, needs an almost complete renovation, and this
renovation Acton and Leslie, guided by a famous architect, began
rapturously to plan, reserving a beautiful apartment not far from Alice
in Park Avenue for autumn furnishing and refitting.
All these activities and interests kept the lovers busy, and kept
them apart indeed, or united them only in groups of other people. But
Acton could bring his pretty sweetheart home from a dinner now and
then, and come into the old Melrose house for a precious half hour of
murmuring talk, or could sometimes persuade her to leave a tea or a
matinée early enough to walk a few blocks with him.
In this fashion they slipped away from a box party one Friday
afternoon, and found themselves walking briskly northward, into the
neighbourhood of Alice's house. Leslie had had, for several days, a
rather guilty feeling in regard to this lovely aunt. It was really
hard, rising at noon, and trying to see and please so many persons, to
keep in close touch with the patient and uncomplaining invalid, who had
to depend wholly upon the generosity of those she loved for knowledge
of them. So Leslie was glad to suggest, and Acton glad to agree, that
they had better go in and see Aunt Alice for a few minutes.
As usual, Mrs. Liggett had company, although it proved only to be
the pretty Miss Sheridan who had called upon Leslie's grandmother on
the first day of that mysterious indisposition that had kept the old
lady bedridden almost ever since.
Alice looked oddly tired, but her eyes were shining brightly, and
Norma was charmingly happy and at ease. She jumped up to shake hands
with Acton with a bright comment that he was not in the least
like his brother, and recalled herself to Leslie before offering her
all sorts of good wishes. Norma, hoping that it would some day occur,
had indeed anticipated this meeting with Leslie by a little mental
consideration of what she should say, but the effect was so spontaneous
and sincere that the four were enabled to settle down comfortably to
tea, in a few moments, like old friends.
Miss Sheridanor Norma, ratherand I have been having a perfectly
delicious talk, said Alice. She loves Christina Rossetti, and she
knew the 'Hound of Heaven' by heart, and she has promised to send me a
new man's work that sounds delightfulwhat was it? Something about
If I haven't chattered you to death! Norma said, penitentially.
And Leslie added: Aunt Alice, you do look tired! Not that
talking poetry ever would tire you! she hastened to add, with a smile
No, I'm notor rather, I was, but I feel wonderfully! Alice said.
Pour the tea, Kitten. What have you two little adventurers been doing
Mrs. Dupré's partyYvette Guilbert, Leslie said. She is quite
I've always wanted to see her, and I've always known I would adore
her, Norma interpolated, dreamily.
Alice glanced at her quickly.
Does she give another matinée, Leslie?
Two Leslie looked at Acton. Is it two weeks from to-day? she
I'll send you seats for it, Alice said, making a little note on
her ivory memoranda pages, as she nodded to Norma. The colour rushed
into Norma's face, and she bit her lip.
But, Mrs. LiggetthonestlyI truly didn't meanI only meant
she began to stammer, half laughing. Alice laid her hand upon Norma's
My dear, you know I don't think you hinted! But I want to do it. I
can'tAlice said, smilingI can't do anything for little Miss
Aladdin here, and it gives me the greatest pleasure, now and then
I want to tell you something about Mrs. Liggett, Acton said;
she's got a grasping nature and a mean soulyou can see that! She's
the limit, all right! He smiled down at her as he gave her her teacup,
and Leslie laughed outright. Acton was a person of few words, but when
he chose to talk, Leslie found his manner amusing. Christopher, coming
up to join them fifteen minutes later, said that from the noise they
made he had supposed at least fifty persons to be in his wife's room.
Did Norma, as she gave the master of the house her hand, have sudden
memory of all her recent absurd extravagances in his namethe games,
the surmises, the wild statements that had had Chris Liggett as their
inspiration? If she did, she gave no sign of it beyond the bright flush
with which she greeted her oldest acquaintance in this group.
Christopher sat down, content to be a listener and an onlooker, as he
sipped his tea, but Norma saw that his wife's look of white fatigue
made him uneasy, and immediately said that she must go.
He made no protest, but said that the car was at the door, and she
must let him send her home. Norma agreed, and Acton asked if he and
Leslie might not use it, too. The three departed in high spirits, Alice
detaining the radiant and excited Norma long enough to exact from her
the promise of another visit soon, and to send an affectionate message
to Mrs. Sheridan from Miss Alice. Then they went down to the big car,
an exciting and delightful experience to Norma.
Leslie was left first, and Acton, pleading that he was already late
for another engagement, was dropped at his club. Then Norma had the car
to herself, and as it smoothly flew toward the humble doorway of the
Sheridans, could giggle, almost aloud, in her pleasure and exhilaration
at an afternoon that had gone without a single awkward minute, all
pleasant, harmonious, and vaguely flattering. And the wonderful Mrs.
Liggett had asked her to come soon again, and had made that delightful
suggestion about the concert. The name of Yvette Guilbert meant little
to Norma, but the thought that Alice Liggett really wanted to hold her
friendship was nothing less than intoxicating.
She looked out of the car, the streets were bare of snow now, there
was not a leaf showing in the park, and the ground was dark and
unpromising. But a cool, steady wind was blowing through the lingering
twilight, men were running after rolling hats, and at least the
milliners' windows were radiant with springtime bloom. Children were
playing in Norma's street, wrapped and muffled children, wild with joy
to be out of doors again, and a tiny frail little moon was floating in
the opal sky just above the grim line of roofs. Norma looked up at it,
and the pure blowing air touched her hot face, and her heart sang with
the sheer joy of living.
Christopher had gone down to the door with his brother and the
girls, and had sent a glance up and down the quiet, handsome block,
feeling in the moving air what Norma felt, what all the city feltthe
bold, wild promise of spring. He turned back into the house with
something like a sigh; Acton and Leslie in their young happiness were
somehow a little haunting to-night.
The butler was starting upstairs with the papers; Christopher took
them from him, and went back to Alice's room with his eyes idly
following the headlines. The pretty apartment was somewhat disordered,
and looked dull and dark in the half light. Christopher walked to a
window, and pushed it open upon its railed balcony.
Chris! whispered his wife's voice, thick and dry in the gloom.
Aghast in the instant apprehension of something wrong, he sprang to
her couch, dropped to his knees, and put an arm about her.
Alice! What is it, my darling?
She struggled for speech, and he could see that her face was ashen.
Chrisno, don't ring. Chris, who is that girl?
Christopher touched the chain that flooded the couch with rosy
light. He bent in eager sympathy over his wife's relaxed form.
Alice, what is it? he asked, tenderly. Don't worry, dear, don't
try to talk too fast! Just tell Chris what frightened you
Alice laughed wretchedly as she detached the fingers he had pressed
anxiously upon her forehead.
No, I'm not feverish! she assured him, holding tight to his hand.
But I want you to tell me, Chris, I must knowand no matter what
promise you have given Motheror given any one
Now, now, now! he soothed her. I'll tell you anything,
sweetheart, only don't let yourself get so excited. Just tell me what
it is, Alice, and I'll do anything in the world for you, of course!
Chris, she said, swallowing with a dry throat, and sitting up with
an air of regaining self-control, you must tell me. You know you can
trust me, you know! That girl
But what girlwhat are you talking about, dear? Dodo try
to be just a little clearer, and calmer
Whosaid Alice, with a ghastly look, sweeping the hair back from
her damp foreheadwho is that Norma Sheridan?
Why, I told you, dear, that I don't know, her husband protested.
I told you weeks ago, after your mother made that scene, the night of
Hendrick's speech, that I couldn't make head or tail of it!
ChrisAlice was regarding him fixedlyyou must know!
Dearest, couldn't your mother simply wish to befriend a girl whose
Alice flung her loosened hair back, and at her gesture and her
glance at the little carafe on her table he poured her a glass of cold
water. Drinking it off, and raising herself in her cushions, she
stretched her hand to touch the chair beside her, and still without a
word indicated that he was to take it. With a face of grave concern
Christopher sat down beside her, holding her hands in both his own.
Chris, she said, clearly and quickly, if with occasional catches
of breath, the minute that girl came into the room I knew thatI knew
that horror had come upon us all! I knew that she was one of
usone of us Melroses, somehow
Alice! he said, pleadingly.
But Mama, she said, with a keen look, didn't tell you that?
She told me only what I told you that night, on my honour as a
gentleman! Alice, what makes you say what you do?
Ah, Chris, his wife cried, almost frantically, look at her!
Look at her! Why, her voice is Annie's, the same identical
voiceshe looks like my father, like Theodoreshe looks like us all!
She and Leslie were so much alike, as they sat there, in spite of the
colouring, that I almost screamed it at them! Surelysurely, you see
iteveryone sees it!
He stared at her, beginning to breathe a little quickly in his turn.
By George! she heard him whisper, as if to himself.
Do you see it, Chris? Alice whispered, almost fearfully.
Butbut He got up and walked restlessly to the window, and
came back to sit down again. But there's a cousinship somewhere, he
said, sensibly. There's no reason to suppose that the thing can't be
explained. I do think you're taking this thing pretty hard, my dear.
What can you possibly suppose? There might be a hundred girls
His voice fell. Alice was watching him expectantly.
Mama felt itsaw itas I do, she said. You may be very sure
that Mama wouldn't have almost lost her mind, as she did, unless
something had given her cause!
They looked at each other in silence, in the utter silence of the
lovely, cool-toned room.
Alice, Chris said in a puzzled voice after awhile, you suspect me
of keeping something from you. But on my honour you know all that your
mother told meall that I know!
Oh, Chris, she said, with a sort of wail. If I don't know more!
Her husband's slow colour rose.
How could you know more? he asked, bewilderedly.
Alice was unhappily silent.
Chris, if I tell you what I'm afraid ofwhat I fear, she said,
presently, after anxious thought, will you promise me never, never to
speak of itnever even to think of it!if itif it proves not to be
I don't have to tell you that, Alice, he said.
No, of course you don'tof course you don't! she echoed with a
nervous laugh. I'll tell you what I think, Chriswhat has been almost
driving me madand you can probably tell me a thousand reasons why it
can't be so! You see, I've never understood Mama's feverish distress
these last weeks. She's been to see me, she's done what had to be done
about Leslie's engagement, but she's not herselfyou can see that!
Yesterday she began to cry, almost for nothing, and when I happened to
mentionor rather when I mentioned very deliberatelythat Miss
Sheridan was coming here, she almost shrieked. Well, I didn't know what
to make of it, and even then I rather wondered
Even then, Alice began again, after a painful pause, and with her
own voice rising uncontrollably, I suspected something. But not this!
Oh, Chris, if I'm wrong about this, I shall be on my knees for
gratitude for the rest of my life; I would die, I would die to have it
justjust my wretched imagination!A thing like thisto usthe
Melroseswho have always been so straightso respected!
Now, Alicenow, Alice!
Yes, I know! she said, quickly. I know! And for a moment she lay
back quietly, stroking his hand. Chris, she resumed, composedly,
after a moment, you know the tragedy of Annie's life?
Chris, taken by surprise, frowned.
Why, yes, I suppose so, he admitted, unwillingly.
Chris, did it ever occur to you that she might have had a childby
Chris looked at his wife a moment, and his eyes widened, and his
mouth twitched humorously.
Oh, come now, Alicecome now!
You think it's folly! she asked, eagerly.
Worse! he answered, briefly, his eyes smiling reproach.
Alice's whole tense body relaxed, and she stared at him with light
dawning in her eyes.
Well, probably it is, she said, very simply.
Of course it is, Chris said. Now, you are dead tired, dear, and
you have let the thing mill about in your head until you can't see
anything normally. I confess that I don't understand your mother's
mysterious nervousness, but then I am free to say that I don't by any
means always understand your mother! You remember the pearl episode,
and the time that she had Annie and Hendrick cabling from
Italybecause Hendrick Junior had a rash! And then there was Portera
boy nineteen years old, and she actually had everyone guessing exactly
what she felt toward him
Oh, Chris, no, she didn't! She simply felt that he was a genius,
and he hadn't a penny, Alice protested, reproachful and hurt.
Well, she had him there at the house until his mother came after
him, and then, when he finally was sent abroad, she asked me seriously
if I thought two hundred dollars a month was enough for his musical
Yes, I know! Alice said, ruefully, shaking her head.
Now this comes along, said Christopher, encouraged by the effect
of his words, and you begin to fret your poor little soul with all
sorts of wild speculations. I wish to the Lord that your mother was a
little bit more trusting with her confidences, but when it all comes
out it'll prove to be some sister of your grandfather who married a
tailor or something, and left a line of pretty girls to work in
But, Chris, she reminded me so of Annie to-day I almost felt
sick, Alice said, still frightened and dubious.
Well, that merely shows that you're soft-hearted; it's no
reflection on Annie! Chris said, giving her her paper, and opening his
own. But Alice did not open her paper.
A maid came in, and moved about noiselessly setting chairs and rugs
in order. Another soft light was lighted and the little square table
set before the fire. The cool fresh air drifted in at the half-open
window, and sent a delicate breath, from Alice's great bowl of freesia
lilies, through the peaceful room. The fire snapped smartly about a
fresh log, and Alice's great tortoise-shell cat came to make a majestic
spring into her lap.
ChrisI'm so worried! said his wife.
As a matter of fact, said Christopher, quietly, after a while,
didAnnie was very ill, I know, but was therewas there any reason
to suppose that there might have beenthat such a situation as
to-day's might have arisen?
Alice looked at him with apprehension dawning afresh.
Oh, yesthat is, I believe so. I didn't know it then, of course.
I never knew that, Christopher said, thoughtfully.
Well, I didn't at the time, you know. It wasof course it was
sixteeneighteen years ago, Alice said. And in a whisper she added,
Chris, that girl is eighteen!
Christopher pursed his lips to whistle, but made no sound, and
looked into the fire.
You see I was only about thirteen or fourteen, Alice said. I was
going to Miss Bennet's school, and we were all living in the Madison
Avenue house. Papa had been dead only a year, or less, for I remember
that Annie was eighteen, and wasn't going out much, because of
mourning. Theodore had been worrying Mama to death, and had left the
house then, and Mama was sending him and his wife money, I believe, but
of course lots of that was kept from me. Annie was terribly wild and
excitable then, always doing reckless things; I can remember when she
and Belle Duer dressed up as boys and had their pictures taken, and
once they put a matrimonial advertisement in the papersof course they
were just sillyat least that was. But then she began to rave about
this man Müller
The acrobat! Christopher, who was listening intently, supplied.
No, dearest! He was their riding masterI suppose that isn't much
better, really. But he was an extremely handsome manreally stunning.
Carry Winchester's mother forbade her taking any more lessons because
she was so wild about him, and Annie told me once that that was why
Ida Burnett was popped into a boarding school. He was big, and dark,
and he had a slight foreign accent, and he was ever so much older than
Annieforty, at least. She began to spend all her time at the riding
club; it used to make Mama wildespecially as Annie was so headstrong
and saucy about it! Poor Mama, I remember her crying and complaining!
And how long did this go on? Christopher asked.
Oh, weeks! Well, and then one hot day, just before Easter vacation
it was, I remember, I came home early from school with a headache, and
when I reached the upper hall I could hear Mama crying, and Annie
shouting out loud, and this Katethis very same Kate Sheridan!trying
to quiet Mama, and everything in an uproar! Finally I heard Annie
sobbingI was frightened to death of course, and I sat down on the
stairs that go up to the nurseryand I heard Annie say something about
being eighteenand she was eighteen the very day before; and she ran
by me, in her riding clothes, with the derby hat that girls used to
wear then, and her hair clubbed on her neck, and she ran downstairs,
and I could hear her crying, and saying to herself: 'I'll show them;
I'll show them!' And that was the last I saw of her, Alice finished
sadly, for almost two years.
She went out? Christopher asked.
Yes; she slammed the door. Mama fainted.
Oh, Chris, said his wife, half crying, wasn't that enough to make
any one faint?let alone Mama. Anyway, she was dreadfully ill, and
they rather shut me up about it, and told everyone that Annie had gone
abroad. We had been living very quietly, you know, and nobody cared
much what Annie did, then. And she really had gone abroad, she wrote
Mama from Montreal, and she had been married to Emil Müller in Albany.
They had taken a train there, and were married that same afternoon.
They went to London, and they were in Germany, and thenthen it all
broke up, you know about that!
How much later was that?
It was about Christmas time. Don't you remember that I went to your
mother, and Acton and I got measles? Mama was abroad then.
And this Kate went with her?
Yes. That wasthat was one of the things I wasjust thinking
about! Annie wrote Mama that she was very ill, in Munich, and poor Mama
just flew. Müller had left her; indeed there was a woman and two quite
big girls that had a claim on him, and if Mama hadn't been so anxious
to shut it all up, she might have proved that he was a bigamistbut I
don't know that she was ever sure. Judge Lee put the divorce through
for Annie, and Mama took her to the Riviera and petted her, and pulled
her through. But all her hair came out, and for weeks they didn't think
she would live. She had brain fever. You see, Annie had had some money
waiting for her on her eighteenth birthday, and your own father, who
was her guardian, Chris, had given her the checkinterest, it was,
about seven or eight thousand dollars. And he told her to open her own
account, and manage her own income, from then on. And we thoughtMama
and Ithat in some way Müller must have heard of it. Anyway, she never
deposited the check, and when her money gave out he just left her.
But what makes you think that her illness didn't commenceor
wasn't entirelybrain fever?
That she might have had a baby? Alice asked, outright.
Christopher nodded, the point almost insufferably distasteful to
Oh, I know it! Alice said.
You know it? the man echoed, almost in displeasure.
Yes, she told me herself! But of course that was years later. At
the time, all I knew was that Kate Sheridan came home, and came to see
me at school, and told me that Mama and Annie were very well, but that
Annie had been frightfully sick, and that Mama wouldn't come back until
Annie was much stronger. As a matter of fact, it was nearly two
yearsTheodore took me over to them a year from that following summer,
and then Annie stayed with some friends in England; she was having a
wonderful time! But years afterward, when little Hendrick was coming,
in fact, she was here one day, and she seemed to feel blue, and finally
I happened to say that if motherhood seemed so hard to a person like
herself, whose husband and whose whole family were so mad with joy over
the prospect of a baby, what on earth must it be to the poor girls who
have every reason to hate it. And she looked at me rather oddly, and
said: 'Ah, I know what that is!' Of course I guessed right away
what she meant, and I said: 'Annienot really!' And she said: 'Oh,
yes, that was what started my illness. I had been so almost crazyso
blue and lonesome, and so sick with horror at the whole thing, that it
all happened too soon, the day after Mama and Kate got there, in fact!'
And then she burst out crying and said: 'Thank God it was that way! I
couldn't have faced that.' And she said that she had been too
desperately ill to realize anything, but that afterward, at Como, when
she was much better, she asked Mama about it, and Mama said she must
only be glad that it was all over, and try to think of it as a terrible
Well, there you are, said Chris, she herself says that no child
Yes, but, Chris, mightn't it be that she didn't know? Alice
Her husband eyed her with a faint and thoughtful frown.
It seems to me that that is rather a fantastic theory, dear! Where
would this child be all this time?
Kate Alice said, simply.
Kate! he echoed, struck. And Alice saw, with a sinking heart, that
he was impressed. After a full moment of silence he said, simply: You
think this is the child?
Chris, his wife cried, appealingly, I don't say I think so! But
it occurred to me that it might be. I hope, with all my soul, that you
don't think so!
I'm afraid, he answered, thoughtfully, that I do!
Alice's eyes filled with tears, and she tightened her fingers in his
The idea being, Christopher mused, that Mrs. Sheridan brought the
baby home, and has raised her. That makes Miss SheridanNormathe
child of Annie and that German blackguard!
I suppose so! Alice admitted, despairingly.
But why has it been kept quiet all this time!
Well, that, Alice said, I don't understand. But this I am
sure of: Annie hasn't the faintest suspicion of it! She supposes that
the whole thing ended with her terrible illness. She was only eighteen,
and younger and more childish even than Leslie is! Oh, Chris, said
Alice, her eyes watering, isn't it horrible! To come to us, of all
people! Will everybody know?
Well, it all depends. It's a nasty sort of business, but I suppose
there's no help for it. How much does Hendrick know?
About Annie? Oh, everything that she does; I know that. Annie told
him, and Judge Lee told him about Müller and the divorce, or
nullification, or whatever it was! There was nothing left unexplained
there. But if the child lived, she didn't know thatonly Mama did, and
Kate. Oh, poor Annie, it would kill her to have all that raked up now!
Why Kate kept it secret all these years
I must say, Christopher exclaimed, thatBy George, I hate this
sort of thing! No help for it, I suppose. But if it gets out we shall
all be in for a sweet lot of notoriety. We shall just have to make
terms with these Sheridans, and keep our mouths shut. I didn't get the
idea that they were holding your mother up. I believe it's more that
she wants justice done; she would, you know, for the sake of the
family. The girl herself, this Norma, evidently hasn't been raised on
any expectationsprobably knows nothing about it!
Oh, I'm sure of that! Alice agreed, eagerly. And if she has
Melrose blood in her, you may be sure she'll play the game. But, Chris,
I can't stand the uncertainty. Mama's coming to have luncheon with me
to-morrow, and I'm going to ask her outright. And if this Norma is
reallywhat we fear, what do you think we ought to do?
Well, it's hard to say. It's all utterly damnable, Christopher
said, distressed. And Annie, who let us all in for it, gets off scot
free! I wish, since she let it go so long, that your mother had
forgotten it entirely. But, as it is, this child isn't, strictly
speaking, illegitimate. There was a marriage, and some sort of divorce,
whether Müller deceived Annie as to his being a bachelor or not!
A maid stood in the doorway.
Mrs. Melrose, Mrs. Liggett.
Oh, Alice said, in an animated tone of pleasure, ask her to come
upstairs! But the eyes she turned to her husband were full of
apprehension. Chris, here's Mama now! Shall we? Would you dare?
Use your own judgment! he had time to say hastily, before his
wife's mother came in.
Mrs. Melrose frequently came in to join Alice for dinner, especially
when she was aware, as to-night, that Christopher had an evening
engagement. She was almost always sure of finding Annie alone, and
enjoying the leisurely confidences that were crowded out of the daytime
She had had several weeks of nervous illness now, but looked better
to-night, looked indeed her handsome and comfortable self, as she
received Chris's filial kiss on her forehead, and bent to embrace her
daughter. Freda carried away her long fur-trimmed cloak, and she pushed
her veil up to her forehead, and looked with affectionate concern from
husband to wife.
Now, Chris, I'm spoiling things! But I thought Carry Pope told me
that you were going to her dinner before the opera!
I'm due there at eight, he said, reassuringly. And by the same
token, I ought to be dressing! But Alice and I have been loafing along
here comfortably, and I'd give about seven dollars to stay at home with
He always says that! Alice said, smilingly. But he always has a
nice time; and then the next night he plays over the whole score, and
tells me who was there, and so I have it, too!
Chris had walked to the white mantelpiece, and was lighting a
Alice had that little protégée of yours here, to-day, Aunt
Marianna, he said, casually.
There was no mistaking the look of miserable and fearful interest
that deepened instantly in the older woman's eyes.
Miss Sheridan? she said.
Mama, Alice exclaimed, suddenly, clasping a warm hand over her
mother's trembling one, and looking at her with all love and
reassurance, you know how Chris and I love you, don't you?
Tears came into Mrs. Melrose's eyes.
Of course I do, lovey, she faltered.
Mama, you know how we would stand behind youhow anxious we are to
share whatever's worrying you! Alice went on, pleadingly. Can't
youI'm not busy like Annie, or young like Leslie, and Chris is your
man of business, after all! Can't you tell us about it? Two
headsthree heads, said Alice, smiling through a sudden mist of
tears, are better than one!
Why, Mrs. Melrose stammered, with a rather feeble attempt at
lightness, have I been acting like a person with something on her
mind? It's nothing, children, nothing at all. Don't bother your dear,
generous hearts about it another second!
And she looked from one to another with a gallant smile.
Chris eyed his wife with a faint, hopeless movement of the head, and
Alice correctly interpreted it to mean that the situation was worse
instead of better.
You remember the night you sent for me, some weeks ago, Aunt
Marianna? he ventured. Mrs. Melrose moistened her lips, and swallowed
with a dry throat, looking at him with a sort of alert defiance.
I confess that I was all upset that night, she admitted, bravely.
And to tell you children the truth, Kate Sheridan coming upon me so
Joseph quite innocently told me that evening that you had
anticipated her coming! Christopher said, quietly, as she paused.
Joseph was mistaken! Mrs. Melrose said, warmly, with red colour
beginning to burn in her soft, faded old face. Kate had been
associated with a terrible time in my life, she went on, almost
angrily. And it was quite naturalor at least it seems so to me!I
don't know what other people would feel, but to meBut what
are you two cross-examining me for? she interrupted herself to ask,
with a sudden rush of tears, as Chris looked unconvinced, and Alice
still watched her sorrowfully. Little do you know, either of you, what
I have been through
Mama, entreated Alice, earnestly, will you answer me one
question? I promise you that I won't ask another. You know how anxious
we are only to help you, to make everything run smoothly. You know what
the family isto us. Don't you see we are? Alice asked
suddenly, seeing that the desire for sympathy and advice was rapidly
breaking up the ice that had chilled her mother's heart for long weeks.
Won't you tell me just thisit's about Annie, Mama. When she was so
ill in Munich. Waswas her little baby born there?
Yes! Mrs. Melrose whispered, with fascinated eyes fixed on her
Alice, ashen faced, fell back against her pillows without speaking.
Kate Sheridan brought the child home, Christopher stated, rather
than asked, very quietly. His mother-in-law looked at him
Does Annie know it, Mama? Alice whispered, after a silence.
Annie? Oh, my God, no! The mother's voice rose almost to a wail.
Oh, ChrisAliceif you love me, Annie must not know! So proud, so
happy; and she would never bear it! I know herI know her! She would
kill herself before
Darling, you must be quiet! Alice said, commandingly. No one
shall know it. What we do for this child shall be done forwell, our
cousin. Chris will help you manage everything, and no one shall ever
suspect it from me. It will all work out right, you'll see. Other
people aren't watching us, as we always think they are; it's nobody's
business if a cousin of ours suddenly appears in the family. No one
would dare whisper one word against the Melroses. Only be quiet, Mama
darling, and don't worry. Now that we know it, we will never, never
allude to it again, will we, Chris? You can trust us.
Mrs. Melrose had sunk back into her chair; her face was
putty-coloured, beads of water stood on her forehead.
Oh, the reliefthe relief! she kept whispering, as she clung to
Alice's hand. Alice, for the sake of the namedearfor all our
Now, if you two girls will take my advice! Christopher suggested,
cheerfully, you'll stop talking about all this, and let it wait until
to-morrow. Then we'll consult, and see just what proposition we can
make to little Miss Sheridan, and what's best to be done. Alice, why
don't you go over that wedding list of Leslie's with your mother? And
ring for dinner. I'm going to dress.
We will! Alice agreed, sensibly. As a family we've always faced
things courageously. We're fighterswe Melrosesand we'll stand
This was on Friday, and it was on the following Monday that Wolf and
Rose Sheridan came home to find news awaiting them. The day before had
been surprisingly sunny and sweet, and Wolf and Harry Redding had taken
the girls to Newark, where Wolf's motor-car had been stored all winter,
and they had laughed, and joked, and chattered all the way like the
care-free young things they were. Mrs. Sheridan, urged to join them,
had pleaded business: she had promised old Mrs. Melrose to go and see
her. So she had left them at the church door, after Mass, and they had
gone their way rejoicing in sunshine and warm breezes, a part of the
streaming holiday crowds that were surging and idling along the drying
Wolf was neither of an age nor type for piety, but to-day he had
prayed that this little Norma kneeling beside him, with the youth and
fire and audacity shining in her face even while she prayed, might turn
that same mysterious and solemn smile upon him again some day, as his
wife. And all day long, as she danced along by his side, as she eagerly
debated the question of luncheon, as she enslaved the aged coloured man
in the garage, the new thrill of which he had only recently become so
pleasantly conscious, stirred in his heart, and whatever she touched,
or said, or looked, was beautified almost beyond recognition.
He had thought, coming home Monday night, that he and she would take
a little walk, in the lingering dusk of the cool spring evening, and
perhaps see the twelfth installment of The Stripe-Faced Terror, which
was playing in the near-by moving-picture house.
But he found her in a new mood, almost awed with an unexpected
ecstasy in which he had no partwould never have a part. She and Aunt
Kate had been to see Mrs. Melrose again.
And, Wolf, what do you think! They want me to go live therewith
the Liggetts, to help with lists and things for Leslie's wedding. Mrs.
Melrose kissed me, Wolf, and saiddidn't she, Aunt Kate?that I must
try to feel that I belong to them; and she was so sweetshe put her
arm about me, and said that I must have some pretty clothes! And the
car is coming for me on Wednesday; isn't it like a dream? Oh, Rose, if
I'm thankful enough! And I'm to come back here for dinner once a week,
and of course you and Rose are to come there! Oh, Rose, but I wish it
was us bothI wish it was you, you're so good!
I wouldn't have it, Norma, Rose said, in her honest, pleasant
voice. You know I'd feel like a fool.
Oh, but I am so happy! And Norma, who had gotten into Aunt Kate's
lap, as the marvellous narrative progressed, dug her face into Aunt
Kate's motherly soft shoulder, and tightened her arms about her neck,
and cried a little, for sheer joy.
But Wolf said almost nothing, and when he went to wash his hands for
supper he went slowly, and found himself staring absently at the towel,
and stopping short in the hall, still staring. He seemed himself at
dinner, and his mother, at first watching him anxiously, could resume
her meal, and later, could fall asleep, in the confident hope that it
would all come right, after all. But Wolf slipped from the house after
awhile, and walked the streets until almost dawn.
It was almost dawn, too when the old mistress of the Melrose mansion
fell asleep. She had called Regina more than once, she had tried the
effect of reading, and of hot milk, and of a cold foot-bath. But still
the crowded, over-furnished room was filled with ghosts, and still she
watched them, pleaded with them, blamed them.
I've done all I could! she whispered at last, into the heavy dark
before the dawn. It isn't my fault if they think she's Annie's child!
I've never said soit was Alice and Chris who said so. Annie and
Leslie will never know anything more, and the girl herself need never
know anything at all. Perhaps, as Kate said yesterday, it will all work
out right, this way! At least it's all we can do now!
So it came about quite naturally that the little unknown cousin of
the Melroses was made a familiar figure in their different family
groups, and friends of the house grew accustomed to finding pretty
little Norma Sheridan lunching with Leslie, reading beside Alice's
couch in the late summer afternoons, or amusing and delighting the old
head of the family in a hundred charming ways. Norma called Mrs.
Melrose Aunt Marianna now, as Chris and Acton did. She did not
understand the miracle, it remained a marvel still, but it was enough
that it continued to deepen and spread with every enchanted hour.
She had longedwhat girl in Biretta's Bookstore did not?to be
rich, and to move and have her being in society. And now she had her
wish, a hundred times fulfilled, and of course she was utterly and
That is, except for the momentary embarrassments and jealousies and
uncertainties, and for sometimes being bored, she thought that she
might consider herself happy. And there were crumpled rose-leaves
everywhere! she reminded herself sternly. SheNorma Sheridancould
spend more money upon the single item of shoes, for example, than Miss
Smith, head of Biretta's Bookshop, could earn in a whole long year of
hot months and cold, of weary days and headachy days.
That part of it was fun", she admitted to herself. The clothes were
fun, the boxes and boxes and boxes that came home for her, the
petticoats and stockings, the nightgowns heavy with filet lace, and the
rough boots for tramping and driving, and the silk and satin slippers
for the house. Nothing disappointing there! Norma never would forget
the ecstasies of those first shopping trips with Aunt Marianna. Did she
want them?the beaded bag, the woolly scarf, the little saucy hat,
were all to be sent to Miss Sheridan, please. Norma lost her breath,
and laughed, and caught it again and lost it afresh. They had so
quickly dropped the little pretence that she was to make herself
useful, these wonderful and generous Melroses; they had so soon
forgotten everything except that she was Leslie's age, and to be petted
and spoiled as if she had been another Leslie!
And now, after more than half a year, she knew that they liked her;
that all of them liked her in their varying degrees. Old Mrs. Melrose
and AliceMrs. Christopher Liggettwere most warmly her champions,
perhaps, but Leslie was too unformed a character to be definitely
hostile, and the little earlier jealousies and misunderstandings were
blown away long ago, and even the awe-inspiring Annie had shown a real
friendliness of late. Acton Liggett and Hendrick von Behrens were
always kind and admiring, and Norma had swiftly captivated Annie's
little boys. But of them all, she still liked Chris Liggett the best,
and felt nearest Chris even when he scolded her, or hurt her feelings
with his frank advice. And she knew that Chris thoroughly liked her, in
spite of the mistakes that she was continually making, and the absurd
ways in which her ignorance and strangeness still occasionally betrayed
It had been a time full of mistakes, of course. Chris often told her
that she had more brains in her little finger than most of the girls of
her set had in their whole bodies, but that had not saved her. If she
was pretty, they were all pretty, too. If she wore beautiful clothes,
they wore clothes just as beautiful, and with more assurance. If her
wit was quick, and her common sense and human experience far greater
than theirs, these were just the qualities they neither needed nor
trusted. They spoke their own language, the language of youthful
arrogance and ignorance, the language of mutual compliments and small
personalities, and Norma could not speak this tongue any more than she
could join them when they broke easily into French or German or
Italian. She could ride, because she was not afraid of the
mild-mannered cobs that were used at the riding school and in the park,
but she knew little of correct posture and proper handling of reins.
She could swim, as Wolf had taught her, in the old river years ago, but
she knew nothing of the terms and affectations of properly taught
swimming. When she went to see Aunt Kate, she was almost ashamed of the
splendour of her clothing and the utter luxury of the life she led, but
with Leslie and her friends she often felt herself what perhaps they
thought her, an insignificant little poor relation of the Melroses, who
had appeared from nobody knew where, and might return unchallenged at
any moment to her original obscurity.
This phase of the new life was disappointing, and Norma realized
herself that she spent a quite disproportionate amount of time in
thinking about it. Wasn't it enough, she would ask herself impatiently,
to be one of them at all, to see one's picture in the fashionable
weeklies, as a member of the family, at the Liggett-Melrose wedding; to
have clothes and motor-cars, and a bedroom that was like a picture; to
know Newport at first-hand; to have cruised for a week in the Craigies'
yacht, and have driven to Quebec and back in the Von Behrens' car? A
year ago, she reminded herself, it would have seemed Paradise to have
had even a week's freedom from the bookshop; now, she need never step
into Biretta's again!
But it was not enough, and Norma would come impatiently to the end
of her pondering with the same fretted sense of dissatisfaction. It was
not enough to be tremulously praised by old Aunt Marianna, to be joked
by Chris, greeted by Alice, his wife, with a friendly smile. Norma
wanted to belong to this life, to be admired and sought by Leslie,
rather than endured; to have the same easy familiarity with Duers, and
Alexanders, and Rutgers that Leslie had.
As was quite natural, she and Leslie had eyed each other, from the
very beginning, somewhat as rivals. But Leslie, even then preparing for
her marriage, had so obviously held all the advantages, that her vague
resentment and curiosity concerning the family's treatment of the
unknown newcomer were brief. If Aunt Alice liked Norma to come in and
talk books and write notes, if Chris chose to be gallant, if Grandma
lavished an unusual affection upon this new protégée, well, it robbed
Leslie of nothing, after all.
But with Norma it was different. She was brought into sharp contact
with another girl, only slightly her senior, who had everything that
this new turn of fortune had given Norma herself, and a thousand times
more. Norma saw older women, the important and influential matrons of
the social world, paying court to the promised wife of Acton Liggett.
Norma knew that while Alice and Chris were always attentive to her own
little affairs, the solving of Leslie's problems they regarded as their
own sacred obligation. Norma had hours and hours of this new enchanting
leisure to fill; she could be at anybody's beck and call. But Leslie,
she saw, was only too busy. Everybody was claiming Leslie; she was
needed in forty places at once; she must fly from one obligation to
another, and be thanked for sparing just a few minutes here and there
from her crowded days.
Mrs. Melrose had immediately made Norma an allowance, an allowance
so big that when Norma first told Aunt Kate about it, it was with a
sense of shame. Norma had her check-book, and need ask nobody for
spending money. More than that her generous old patron insisted that
she use all the family charge accounts freely: You mustn't think of
paying in any shop! said Aunt Marianna and Aunt Alice, earnestly.
But Leslie was immensely rich in her own right. The hour in which
Norma realized this was one of real wretchedness. Chris was her
It was only two or three days before the wedding, a warm day of
rustling leaves and moving shadows, in late May. The united families
were still in town, but plans for escape to the country were made for
the very day after the event. Norma had been fighting a little sense of
hurt pride because she was not to be included among Leslie's wedding
attendants. She knew that Aunt Marianna had suggested it to Leslie,
some weeks before, and that the bride had quite justifiably reminded
her grandmother that the eight maids, the special maid and matron of
honour, and the two little pages, had all been already asked to perform
their little service of affection, and that a readjustment now would be
difficult. So Norma had been excluded from the luncheons, the
discussions of frocks and bouquets, and the final exciting rehearsals
in the big Park Avenue church.
She had chanced to be thinking of all these things on the day when
Chris made a casual allusion to needing Leslie.
The poor kid has got a stupid morning coming to-morrow, I'm
afraid! he had said, adding, in answer to Norma's raised eyebrows,
Business. She has to sign some papers, and alter her willand I want
all that done before they go away!
Has Leslie a will? Norma had asked.
My child, what did you suppose she had? Leslie inherited
practically all of her Grandfather Melrose's estate. At least, her
father, Theodore, did, and Leslie gets it direct through him. Of course
your Aunt Annie got her slice, and my wife hers, but the bulk was left
to the son. Poor Teddy! he didn't get much out of it. But during her
minority the executorsof which I happen to be onealmost doubled it
for Leslie. And to-morrow Judge Lee and I have got to go over certain
matters with her.
He had been idling at the piano, while Alice dozed in the heat, and
Norma played with a magazine. Now he had turned back to his music, and
Norma had apparently resumed her reading. But she really had been
shaken by a storm of passionate jealousy.
Jealousy is in its nature selfish, and the old Norma of Aunt Kate's
little group had not been a selfish girl. But Norma had had a few weeks
now of a world governed by a different standard. There was no necessity
here, none of the pure beauty of sacrifice and service and
insufficiency. This was a world of superfluities, a standard of excess.
To have merely meals, clothing, comfort, and ease was not enough here.
All these must be had in superabundance, and she was the best woman and
the happiest who had gowns she could not wear, jewels lying idle, money
stored away in banks, and servants standing about uselessly for hours,
that the momentary needs of them might be instantly met.
The poison of this creed had reached Norma, in spite of herself. She
was young, and she had always been beloved in her own group for what
she honestly gave of cheer and service and friendship. It hurt her that
nobody needed what she could give now, and she hated the very memory of
But when that was over, Mrs. Melrose had taken her to Newport,
whither Alice was carefully moved every June. Leslie was gone now, and
Norma free from pricking reminders of her supremacy, and as old friends
of Mrs. Melrose began to include her in the summer's merrymaking, she
had some happy times. But even here the cloven hoof intruded.
Norma had always imagined this group as being full of friendly women
and admiring men, as offering her a hundred friendships where the old
life had offered one. She discovered slowly, and with pained surprise,
that although there were plenty of girls, they were not especially
anxious for intimacy with her, and that the men she met were not,
somehow, real. They were absorbed in amusement, polo and yachting,
they moved about a great deal, and they neither had, nor desired to
have, any genuine work or interest in life. She began to see Leslie's
wisdom in making an early and suitable marriage. As a matron, Leslie
was established; she could entertain, she had dignified duties and
interests, and while Norma felt awkward and bashful in asking young men
to dine with Aunt Marianna, Acton brought his friends to his home, and
Leslie had her girl friends there, and the whole thing was infinitely
simpler and pleasanter.
Norma had indeed chanced to make one girl friend, and one of whom
Leslie and Alice, and even Annie, heartily approved. Caroline, the
seventeen-year-old daughter of the Peter Craigies, was not a débutante
yet, but she would be the most prominent, because the richest, of them
all next winter. Caroline was a heavy-lidded, slow-witted girl, whose
chief companions in life had been servants, foreign-born governesses,
and music-masters. Norma had been seated next to her at the
international tennis tournament, and had befriended the squirming and
bashful Caroline from sheer goodness of heart. They had criticized the
players, and Caroline had laughed the almost hysteric, shaken laugh
that so worried her mother, and had blurted confidences to Norma in her
The next day there had been an invitation for Norma to lunch with
Caroline, and Mrs. von Behrens had promptly given another luncheon for
both girls. Norma was pleased, for a few weeks, with her first social
conquest, but after that Caroline became a dead weight upon her. She
hated the flattery, the inanities, the utter dulness of the great
Craigie mansion, and she began to have a restless conviction that time
spent with Caroline was time lost.
The friendship had cost her dear, too. Norma hated, even months
later to remember just what she had paid for it.
In August a letter from Rose had reached her at Newport, announcing
Rose's approaching marriage. Harry Redding's sister Mary was engaged to
a most satisfactory young man of Italian lineage, one Joe Popini, and
Mrs. Redding would hereafter divide her time between the households of
her daughter and her son. Harry, thus free to marry, had persuaded Rose
to wait no longer; the event was to be on a Monday not quite two weeks
ahead, and Norma was please, please, PLEASE to come down as soon
as she could.
Norma had read this letter with a sensation of pain at her heart.
She felt so far away from them nowadays; she felt almost a certain
reluctance to dovetail this life of softness and perfume and amusement
in upon the old life. But she would go. She would go, of course!
And then she had suddenly remembered that on the Monday before
Rose's wedding, the Craigies' splendid yacht was to put to sea for a
four-or five-days' cruise, and that Caroline had asked her to gothe
only other young person besides the daughter of the house. And great
persons were going, visiting nobility from England, a young American
Croesus and his wife, a tenor from the Metropolitan. Annie had been
delighted with this invitation; even Leslie, just returned from
California and Hawaii, had expressed an almost surprised satisfaction
in the Craigies' friendliness.
If they got back Friday night, then Norma could go down to the city
early Saturday morning, and have two days with Rose and Aunt Kate. But
if the yacht did not return until Saturdaywell, even then there would
be time. She and Rose could get through a tremendous lot of talking in
twenty-four hours. And the voyage certainly would not be prolonged over
Saturday, for had not Mrs. Craigie said, in Norma's hearing, that
Saturday was the very latest minute to which she could postpone the
meeting for the big charity lawn party?
So Norma and the enslaved Caroline continued to plan for their sea
trip, and Norma commissioned Chris to order Rose's wedding present at
Mrs. von Behrens had been a trifle distant with the newcomer in the
family until now, but the day before the cruise began she extended just
a little of her royal graciousness toward Norma. Like Leslie, Norma
admired her Aunt Annie enormously, and hungered for her most casual
You've plenty of frocks, Kiddie? asked Annie. One uses them up at
the rate of about three a day!
Oh!Norma widened her innocent eyesI've a wardrobe trunk full
of them: white skirts and white shoes and hats!
Well, I didn't suppose you had them tied in a handkerchief! Annie
had responded, with her quiet smile. See if that fits you!
They had been up in Mrs. von Behrens's big bedroom, where that lady
was looking at a newly arrived box of gowns. That was the frail,
embroidered coat of what Norma thought the prettiest linen suit she had
It's charming on you, you little slender thing, Annie had said.
The skirt will be too long; will you pin it, Keating? And see that it
goes at once to my mother's house.
Keating had pinned, admired. And Norma, turning herself before the
mirror, with her eyes shy with pleasure and gratitude, had known that
she was gaining ground.
So they had started radiantly on the cruise. But after the first few
miraculous hours of gliding along beneath the gay awnings that had all
been almost astonishingly disappointing, too. Caroline, to begin with,
was a dreadful weight upon her young guest. Caroline for breakfast,
luncheon, and dinner; Caroline retiring and rising, became almost
hateful. Caroline always wanted to do something, when Norma could have
dreamed and idled in her deck chair by the hour. It must be deck golf
or deck tennis, or they must go up and tease dignified and courteous
Captain Burns, because he was such an old duck, or they must harass
one or two of the older people into bridge. Norma did not play bridge
well, and she hated it, and hated Caroline's way of paying for her
losses almost more than paying them herself.
Norma could not lie lazily with her book, raising her eyes to the
exquisite beauty of the slowly tipping sea, revelling in coolness and
airiness, because Caroline, fussing beside her, had never read a book
through in her life. The guest did not know, even now, that Caroline
had been a mental problem for years, that Caroline's family had
consulted great psycho-analysts about her, and had watched the girl's
self-centredness, her odd slyness, her hysteric emotions, with deep
concern. She did not know, even now, that the Cragies were anxious to
encourage this first reaching out, in Caroline, toward a member of her
own sex, and that her fancies for members of the opposite sexfor
severely indifferent teachers, for shocked and unresponsive
chauffeurswere among the family problems, a part of the girl's
unfortunate under-development. Caroline's family was innocently
surprised to realize that her mind had not developed under the care of
maids who were absorbed in their own affairs, and foreigners who would
not have been free to attend her had they not been impecunious and
unsuccessful in more lucrative ways. They had left her to Mademoiselles
and Fräuleins quite complacently, but they did not wish her to be like
these too-sullen or too-vivacious ladies.
So they welcomed her friendship with Norma, and Caroline's
passionate desire to be with her friend was not to find any opposition
on the part of her own family. Little Miss Sheridan had an occasional
kindly word from Caroline's mother, a stout woman, middle-aged at
thirty-five, and good-natured smiles from Caroline's father, a
well-groomed young man. And socially, this meant that the Melroses'
young protégée was made.
But Norma did not realize all this. She only knew that all the charm
and beauty of the yacht were wasted on her. Everyone ate too much,
talked too much, played, flirted, and dressed too much. The women
seldom made their appearance until noon; in the afternoons there was
bridge until six, and much squabbling and writing of checks on the
forward deck, with iced drinks continually being brought up from the
bar. At six the women loitered off to dress for dinner, but the men
went on playing for another half hour. The sun sank in a blaze of
splendour; the wonderful twilight fell; but the yacht might have been
boxed up in an armoury for all that her passengers saw of the sea.
After the elaborate dinner, with its ices and hot rolls, its warm
wines and chilled champagne, cards began again, and unless the ocean
was so still that they might dance, bridge continued until after
Norma's happiest times had been when she arose early, at perhaps
seven, and after dressing noiselessly in their little bathroom, crept
upstairs without waking Caroline. Sunshine would be flooding the ocean,
or perhaps the vessel would be nosing her way through a luminous
fogbut it was always beautiful. The decks, drying in the soft air,
would be ordered, inviting, deserted. Great waves of smooth water would
flow evenly past, curving themselves with lessening ripples into the
great even circle of the sea. A gentle breeze would stir the leaves of
the potted plants on the deck and flap the fringes of the awnings.
Norma, hanging on the railing, would look down upon a group of maids
and stewards laughing and talking on the open deck below. These were
happy, she would reflect, animated by a thousand honest emotions that
never crept to the luxurious cabins above. They would be waiting for
breakfast, all freshly aproned and brushed, all as pleased with the
Seagirl as if they had been her owners.
On the fifth day, Friday, she had been almost sick with longing to
hear some mention of going back. Surelysurely, she reasoned, they had
all said that they must get back on Friday night! If the plan had
changed, Norma had determined to ask them to run into harbour
somewhere, and put her on shore. She was so tired of Caroline, so tired
of wasting time, so headachy from the heavy meals and lack of exercise!
Late on Friday afternoon some idle remark of her hostess had assured
her that the yacht would not make Greble light until Monday. They were
ploughing north now, to play along the Maine coast; the yachting party
was a great success, and nobody wanted to go home.
Norma, goaded out of her customary shyness, had pleaded her cousin's
marriage. Couldn't they run into Portlandor somewhere?and let her
go down by train? But Caroline had protested most affectionately and
noisily against this, and Caroline's mother said sweetly that she
couldn't think of letting Norma do that aloneAnnie von Behrens would
never forgive her! However, she would speak to Captain Burns, and see
what could be done. Anyway, Mrs. Craigie had finished, with her
comfortable laugh, Norma had only to tell her cousin that she was out
with friends on their yacht, and they had been delayed. Surely that was
excuse enough for any one?
It was with difficulty that Norma had kept the tears out of her
eyes. She had not wanted an excuse to stay away from Rose's wedding.
Her heart had burned with shame and anger and helplessness. She could
hardly believe, crying herself to sleep on Friday night, that two whole
days were still to spare before Monday, and that she was helpless to
use them. Her mind worked madly, her thoughts rushing to and fro with a
desperation worthy an actual prisoner.
On Saturday evening, after a day of such homesickness and
heavy-heartedness as she had never known before in her life, she had
realized that they were in some port, lying a short half mile from
It was about ten o'clock, warm and star-lighted; there was no moon.
Norma had slipped from the deck, where Caroline was playing bridge, and
had gone to the lowered gang-plank. Captain Burns was there, going over
what appeared to be invoices, with the head steward.
Captain, Norma had said, her heart pounding, can't you put me on
shore? I must be in New York to-morrowit's very important! If I get a
coat, will you let me go in when you go?
He had measured her with his usual polite, impersonal gaze.
Miss Sheridan, I really could not do it, Miss! If it was a
telegram, or something of that sortBut if anything was to happen to
you, Miss, it would beit really would be most unfortunate!
Norma had stood still, choking. And in the starlight he had seen the
glitter of tears in her eyes.
Couldn't you put it to Mrs. Craigie, Miss? I'm sure she'd send
someoneone of the maids
But Norma shook her head. It would anger Caroline, and perhaps
Caroline's mother, and Annie, too, to have her upset the cruise by her
own foolish plans. There was no hope of her hostess's consent.
What!send a girl of eighteen down to New York for dear knows what
fanciful purpose, without a hint from parent or guardian? Mrs. Craigie
knew the modern girl far too well for that, even if it had not been
personally extremely inconvenient to herself to spare a maid. They were
rather short of maids, for two or three of them had been quite ill.
The launch had put off, with Captain Burns in the stern. Norma had
stood watching it, with her heart of lead. Oh, to be running
awayflyingon the trainin the familiar streets! They could forgive
her lateror never
Norma, aren't you naughty? Caroline had interrupted her thoughts,
and had slipped a hand through her arm. Buoso is going to singdo
come in! My dear, you know that last hand? Well, we made it!
The next two days were the slowest, the hardest, the bitterest of
Norma's life. She felt that nobody had ever had to bear so aching a
heart as hers, as the most beautiful yacht in the world skimmed over
the blue ocean, and the sun shone down on her embroidered linen suit,
and her white shoes, and the pearl ring that Caroline had given her for
What were they doing at Aunt Kate's? What were they saying as the
hours went by? At what stage was the cakeand the gown? Was Rose
really to be married to-morrowto-day?
In New Brunswick she had managed to send a long wire, full of the
disappointment and affection and longing she truly felt, and after that
she had been happier. But it was a very subdued little Norma who had
come quietly into Aunt Kate's kitchen three weeks later, and had
relieved her over-charged heart with a burst of tears on Aunt Kate's
Aunt Kate had been kind, kind as she always was to the adored
foster-child. And Norma had stayed to dinner, and made soft and
penitent eyes at Wolf until the agonized resolutions of the past lonely
months had all melted out of his heart again, and they had all gone
over to Rose's, for five minutes of kissing and crying, before the big
car came to carry Norma away.
So the worst of that wound was healed, and life could become bright
and promising to Norma once more. Autumn was an invigorating season,
anyway, full of hope and enchantment, and Caroline Craigie, by what
Norma felt to be a special providence, was visiting her grandmother in
Baltimore for an indefinite term. The truth was that there was a doctor
there whose advice was deemed valuable to Caroline, but Norma did not
know that. Norma did not know the truth, either, about Mrs. von
Behrens's sudden graciousness toward her, but it made her happy. Annie
had become friendly and hospitable toward the newcomer in the family
for only one reason. As a social dictator, she was accustomed to be
courted and followed by scores of women who desired her friendship for
the prestige it gave them. Annie was extremely autocratic in this
respect, and could snub, chill, and ignore even the most hopeful
aspirants to her favour, with the ease of long practice. It made no
difference to Annie that dazzling credentials were produced, or that
past obscurity was more than obliterated by present glory.
One truly must be firm, Annie frequently said. It devolves upon a
few of us, as an actual duty, to see that society is maintained in its
true spirit. Let the bars down once!
Norma, a negligible factor in Annie's life when she first appeared,
had quite innocently become a problem during that first summer. While
not a Melrose, she was a member of the Melrose family, making her home
with one of the daughters of the house. Annie might ignore Norma, but
there were plenty of women, and men, too, who saw in the girl a
valuable social lever. To become intimate with little Miss Sheridan
meant that one might go up to her, at teas and dinners, while she was
with Mrs. Melrose, or young Mrs. Liggett, or even Mrs. von Behrens
herself, in a casual, friendly manner that indicated, to a watching
world, a comfortable footing with the family. Norma was consequently
selected for social attention.
Annie saw this immediately, and when all the families were settled
in town again, she decided to take Norma's social training in hand, as
she had done Leslie's, and make sure that no undesirable cockle was
sown among the family fields. She would have done exactly the same if
Norma had been the least attractive of girls, but Norma fancied that
her own qualities had won Annie's reluctant friendship, and was
Eight months later, in the clear sunshine of a late autumn morning,
a slender young woman came down the steps of the Melrose house, after
an hour's call on the old mistress, and turned briskly toward Fifth
Avenue. In figure, in carriage, and even in the expression of her
charming and animated face, she was different from the girl who had
come to that same house to make a call with Aunt Kate, on the day after
the big blizzard, yet it was the same Norma Sheridan who nodded a
refusal to the driver of the big motor-car that was waiting, and set
off by herself for her walk.
The old Norma, straight from Biretta's Bookshop, had been pretty in
plain serge and shabby fur. But this Normaover whose soft thick
belted coat a beautiful silver-fox skin was linked, whose heavy, ribbed
silk hose disappeared into slim, flat, shining pumps that almost
caressed the slender foot, whose dark hair had the lustre that comes
from intelligent care, and whose handsome little English hat was the
only one of its special cut in the worldwas a conspicuously
attractive figure even in a world of well-groomed girls, and almost
deserved to be catalogued as a beauty. From the hat to the shoes she
was palpably correct, and Norma knew, and never could quite
sufficiently revel in the knowing, that the blouse and the tailored
skirt that were under the coat were correct, too, and that under blouse
and skirt were cobwebby linens and perfumed ribbons and sheerest silks
that were equally perfect in their way. Leslie's bulldog, pulling on
his strap, kept her moving rapidly, and girl and dog exacted from
almost all the passers-by that tribute of glances to which Norma was
now beginning to be accustomed.
She was walking to Mrs. von Behrens's after an unusually harmonious
luncheon with old Mrs. Melrose. This was one of Norma's happy times,
and she almost danced in the crisp November air that promised snow even
now. Leslie had asked her to come informally to tea; Annie had sent a
message that she wished to see Norma; and Alice, who, like all
invalids, had dark moods of which only her own household was aware, had
been her nicest self for a week. Then Christopher was coming home
to-night, and Norma had missed him for the three weeks he had been
away, duck-shooting in the South, and liked the thought that he was
She found Leslie with Annie to-day, in Annie's big front bedroom.
Leslie was in a big chair by the bed where Annie, with some chalky
preparation pasted in strips on those portions of her face that were
most inclined to wrinkle, was lying flat. Her hair, rubbed with oils
and packed in tight bands, was entirely invisible, and over her arms,
protruding from a gorgeous oriental wrap, loose chamois gloves were
drawn. Annie had been to a luncheon, and was to appear at two teas, a
dinner, and the theatre, and she was making the most of an interval at
home. She looked indescribably hideous, as she stretched a friendly
hand toward Norma, and nodded toward a chair.
Look at the child's colourHeavens! what it is to be young, said
Annie. Sit down, Norma. How's Alice?
Lovely! Norma said, pulling off her gloves. She had a wire from
Chris, and he gets back to-night. I had luncheon with your mother, and
I am to go to stay with her for two or three nights, anyway. But Aunt
Alice said that she would like to have me back again next week for her
How old are you, Norma? Annie asked, suddenly. Any sign of
interest on her part always thrilled the girl, who answered, flushing:
Nineteen; twenty in January, Aunt Annie.
I'm thinking, if you'd like it, of giving you a little tea here
next month, Annie said, lazily. You know quite enough of the
youngsters now to have a thoroughly nice time, and afterward we'll have
a dinner here, and they can dance!
Oh, Aunt Annieif I'd like it! Norma exclaimed, rosy with
You would? Annie asked, looking at a hand from which she had drawn
the glove, and smiling slightly. It means that you don't go anywhere
in the meantime. You're not out until then, you know!
Oh, but I won't be going anywhere, anyway, Norma conceded,
You'll have a flood of invitations fast enough after the tea,
Annie assured her, pleased at her excitement, and until then, you can
simply say that you are not going out yet.
Chris said he might take me to the opera on the first night; I've
never been, Norma said, timidly. But I can explain to him!
Oh, that won't count! Annie assured her, carelessly. We'll all be
there, of course! Have you worn the corn-coloured gown yet?
Oh, no, Aunt Annie!
Well, keep it for that night. And you and Chris mightNo, he'll
want to dine with Alice, and she'll want to see you in your new gown. I
was going to say that you might dine here, but you'd better not.
I think Leslie and Acton are going to be asked to dine with us,
Norma said. Aunt Alice said something about it!
Well, Annie agreed indifferently. Ring that bell, NormaI've got
to get up! Where are you girls going now?
Some of the girls are coming to my house for tea, Leslie answered,
listlessly. I've got the car here. Come on, Norma!
But you're not driving, Kiddie? her aunt asked, quickly.
Leslie, who neither looked nor felt well, raised half-resentful
Oh, no, I'm not driving, and I'm lying in bed mornings, and I don't
play squash, or ride horseback, or go in for tennis! she drawled, half
angrily. I'm having a perfectly lovely time! I wish Acton had a
little of it; he wouldn't be so pleased! Makes me so mad, grumbled
Leslie, as she wandered toward the door, busily buttoning her coat.
Grandma crying with joy, and Aunt Alice goo-gooing at me, and
Come, now, be a little sport, Leslie! her aunt urged,
affectionately, with her arm about her. It's rotten, of course, but
after all, it does mean a lot to the Liggetts
Oh, now, don't you begin! Leslie protested, half-mollified,
with her parting nod. Don'tfor pity's sake!talk about it, she
added, rudely, to Norma, as Norma began some consolatory murmur on the
stairs. But when they were before her own fire, waiting for the
expected girls, she made Norma a rather ungracious confidence.
I don't want Aunt Alice or any one to know it, but if Acton Liggett
thinks I am going to let him make an absolute fool of me, he's
mistaken! Leslie said, in a sort of smouldering resentment.
What has Acton done? Norma asked, flattered by the intimation of
trust and not inclined to be apprehensive. She had seen earlier
differences between the young married pair, and now, when Leslie was
physically at a disadvantage, she and Alice had agreed that it was not
unnatural that the young wife should grow exacting and fanciful.
Acton is about the most selfish person I ever knew, Leslie said,
almost with a whimper. Oh, yes, he is, Norma! You don't see itbut I
do! Chris knows it, too; I've heard Chris call him down a thousand
times for it! I am just boiling at Acton; I have been all day! He
leaves everything to me, everything; and I'm not well, now, and I can't
stand it! And I'll tell him I can't, too.
I suppose a man doesn't understand very well, Norma ventured.
He doesn't! Leslie said, warmly. All Acton Liggett thinks
of is his own comfortthat's all! I do everything for himI pay half
the expenses here, you know, more than half, really, for I always pay
for my own clothes and Milly, and lots of other things. And then he'll
do some mean, ugly thing that just makes me furious at himand
he'll walk out of the house, perfectly calm and happy!
He's always had his own way a good deal, Norma who knew anything
except sympathy would utterly exasperate Leslie conceded, mildly.
Yes, Leslie agreed, flushing, and stiffening her jaw rather
ominously, and it's just about time that he learned that he isn't
always going to have it, too! It's very easy for him to have me do
anything that is hard and stupidDo you suppose, she broke off,
suddenly, that I'm so anxious to go to the Duers' dinner? I
wouldn't care if I never saw one of them again!
Norma gathered that a dinner invitation from the Duers had been the
main cause of the young Liggetts' difference, and framed a general
That's Saturday night?
Friday, Leslie amended. And what does he do? He meets Roy Duer at
the club, and says oh, no, he can't come to the dinner Friday, but
Leslie can! He has promised to play bridge with the Jeromes and
that crowd. But Leslie would love to go! So there I amold lady
Duer called me up the next morning, and was so sorry Acton couldn't
come! But she would expect me at eight o'clock. It's for her daughter,
and she goes away again on Tuesday. And thenLeslie straightened
herself on the couch, and fixed Norma with bright, angry eyes;then
Spooky Jerome telephoned here, and said to tell Acton that if he
couldn't stir up a bridge party for Friday, he'd stir up something, and
for Acton to meet him at the club!
And did you give Acton that message? she inquired.
No, indeed, I didn'tthat was only this morning! Leslie said, in
angry satisfaction. I telephoned Mrs. Duer right away, and said that
Acton would be so glad to come Friday, and if Acton Liggett doesn't
like it, he knows what he can do! You laugh, she went on with a sort
of pathetic dignity, but don't you think it's a rotten way for a man
to treat his wife, Norma? Don't you, honestly? There's nothingnothing
that I don't give way inabsolutely nothing! And I don't believe most
menOh, hello, Doris, Leslie broke off, gaily, as there was a stir
at the door; come in! Come in, Veraaren't you girls angels to come
in and see the poor old sick lady!
Norma was still lingering when Acton came home, an hour later. She
heard his buoyant voice in the hall, and began to gather her wraps and
gloves as he came to the tea table.
Acton, Leslie said, firmly, the bridge party is off for Friday,
and you're going to Mrs. Duer's with me, and you ought to be ashamed of
Whew! I can see that I'm popular in the home circle, Norma! Acton
said, leaning over the big davenport to kiss his wife. How's my baby?
All right, dear, anything you say goes! I was going to cancel the game,
anyway. Look what Chris brought you, Cutey-cute! Say, Norma, has she
been getting herself tired?
Leslie, instantly mollified, drew his cold, firm cheek against hers,
and looked sidewise toward Norma.
Isn't he the nice, big, comfy man to come home to his mad little
old wife? she mumbled, luxuriously.
Yes, Acton grumbled, still half embracing her, but you didn't
talk that way at breakfast, you little devil!
Am I a devil? Leslie asked, lazily. And looking in whimsical
penitence at Norma, she added, I am a devil. But you were just
as mean as you could be, she told him, widening her eyes and shaking
I know it. I felt like a dog, walking down town, her husband
admitted promptly. I tried to telephone but you weren't here!
I was at Aunt Annie's, Leslie said, softly. Her husband had
slipped in beside her on the wide davenport, and she was resting
against his shoulder, and idly kissing the little rebel lock of hair
that fell across one temple. He's a pretty nice old husband! she
And she's a pretty nice little wife, if she did call me some mean
names! Acton returned, kissing the top of her head without altering
her position. Norma looked at them with smiling contempt.
You're a great pair! she conceded, indulgently.
Leslie now was free to examine, with a flush and a laugh, the
microscopic pair of beaded Indian moccasins that Chris had brought from
Florida. Norma asked about Chris.
Oh, he's fine, Acton answered, looks brown and hard; he had a
gorgeous time! He said he might be round to see Grandma to-morrow
I'll tell her, Norma said, getting up to go. She left them still
clinging together, like a pair of little love-birds, with peace fully
restored for the time being.
Mrs. Melrose's car had been waiting for some time, and she was
whirled home through the dark and wintry streets without the loss of a
second. Lights were lighted everywhere now, and tempered radiance
filled the old hall as she entered it. It was just six o'clock, but
Norma knew that she and the old lady were to be alone to-night, and she
went through the long drawing-room to the library beyond it, thinking
she might find her still lingering over the teacups. Dinner under these
circumstances was usually at seven, and frequently Mrs. Melrose did not
change her gown for it.
There was lamplight in the library, but the old lady's chair was
empty, and the tea table had been cleared away. Norma, supposing the
room unoccupied, gave a little gasp of surprise and pleasure as Chris
suddenly got to his feet among the shadows.
She was so glad to see him, so much more glad than she would have
imagined herself, that for a few minutes she merely clung tight to the
two hands she had grasped, and stood laughing and staring at him. Chris
back again! It meant so much that was pleasant and friendly to Norma.
Chris advised her, admired her, sympathized with her; above all, she
knew that he liked her.
Chris; it's so nice to see you! she exclaimed.
The colour came into his face, and with it an odd expression that
she had never seen there before. Without speaking he put his arm about
her, and drew her to him, and kissed her very quietly on the mouth.
Hello, you dear little girl! he said, freeing her, and smiling at
her, somewhat confusedly. You're not half so glad to see me as I am to
be back! You're looking so well, Norma, he went on, with almost his
usual manner, and Alice tells me you are making friends everywhere.
What's the news?
He threw himself into a large leather chair, and, hardly knowing
what she was doing, in the wild hurrying of her senses, Norma sat down
opposite him. Her one flurried impulse was not to make a scene. Chris
was always so entirely master of a situation, so utterly unemotional
and self-possessed, that if he kissed her, upon his return from a
three-weeks' absence, it must be a perfectly correct thing to do.
Yet she felt both shaken and protestant, and it was with almost
superhuman control that she began to carry on a casual conversation,
giving her own report upon Alice and Leslie, Acton and the world in
When Mrs. Melrose, delighted at the little attention from her
son-in-law, came smilingly in, five minutes later, Norma escaped
upstairs. She had Leslie's old room here when she spent the night, but
it was only occasionally that Alice spared her, for her youth and high
spirits, coupled with the simplicity and enthusiasm with which she was
encountering the new world, made her a really stimulating companion for
the sick woman.
Regina came in to hook her into a simple dinner gown, but Norma did
not once address her, except by a vague smile of greeting. Her thoughts
were in a whirl. Why had he done that? Was it just
brotherlyfriendliness? He was much older than shethirty-seven or
eight; perhaps he had felt only an older man's kindly
But her face blazed, and she flung this explanation aside angrily.
He had no business to do it! He had no right to do it! She was furious
She stood still, staring blankly ahead of her, in the centre of the
room. The memory came over her in a wave; the odd, half-hesitating,
half-confident look in his eyes as his arms enveloped her, the faint
aroma of talcum powder and soap, the touch of his smoothly shaven
It was almost an hour later that she went cautiously downstairs. He
was gonehad been gone since half-past six o'clock, Joseph reported.
Norma went in to dinner with Mrs. Melrose, and they talked cheerfully
of Chris's return, of Leslie and Annie.
By eight o'clock, reading in Mrs. Melrose's upstairs sitting-room,
that first room that she had seen in this big house, eight months ago,
Norma began to feel just a trifle flat. Chris Liggett was one of the
most popular men in society, in demand everywhere, spoiled by women
everywhere. He had quite casually, and perhaps even absent-mindedly,
kissed his wife's young protégée upon meeting her after an absence, and
she had hastily leaped to conclusions worthy of a schoolgirl! He would
be about equally amused and disgusted did he suspect them.
He likes you, you little fool, Norma said to herself, and you
will utterly spoil everything with your idiocy!
What did you say, lovey? the old lady asked, half closing her
Nothing! Norma said, laughing. She reopened her novel, and tried
to interest herself in it. But the thought of that quarter hour in the
study came back over and over again. She came finally to the conclusion
that she was glad Chris liked her.
The room was very still. A coal fire was glowing pink and clear in
the grate, and now and then the radiators hissed softly. Norma had one
big brilliant lamp to herself, and over the old lady's chair another
glowed. Everything was rich, soft, comfortable. Regina was hovering in
the adjoining room, folding the fat satin comforters, turning down the
transparent linen sheets with their great scroll of monogram, and
behind Regina were Joseph and Emma, and all the others, and behind them
the great city and all the world, eager to see that this old woman, who
had given the world very little real service in her life, should be
shielded and warmed and kept from the faintest dream of need.
Money was a strange thing, Norma mused. What should she do, ifas
her shamed and vague phrase had itif something happened to Aunt
Marianna, and she was not even mentioned in her will? Of course it was
a hateful thing to think of, and a horrible thing, sitting here
opposite Aunt Marianna in the comfortable upstairs sitting-room, but
the thought would come. Norma wished that she knew. She would not have
shortened the old lady's life by a single second, and she would have
died herself rather than betray this thought to any one, even to
Wolfeven to Rose! But it suddenly seemed to her very unjust that she
could be picked out of Biretta's bookstore to-day, by Aunt Marianna's
pleasure, and perhaps put back there to-morrow through no fault of her
own. They were all kind, they were all generous, but this was not just.
She wanted the delicious and self-respecting feeling of being a young
woman with independent means.
Such evenings as this one, even in the wonderful Melrose house, were
undeniably dull. She and Rose had often grumbled, years ago, because
there were so many of these quiet times, in between the Saturday and
Sunday excitements. But Norma, in those days, had never supposed that
dulness was ever compatible with wealth and ease.
Cards? said old Mrs. Melrose, hopefully, as the girl made a sudden
move. She loved to play patience, but only when she had an audience.
Norma, who had just decided to give her French verbs a good hour's
attention, smiled amiably, and herself brought out the green table. She
sat watching the fall of kings and aces, reminding her companion of at
least every third play. But her thoughts went back to Chris, and the
faint odour of powder and soap, and the touch of his shaved cheek.
Norma met Chris again no later than the following afternoon. It was
twilight in Alice's room, and she and Norma were talking on into the
gloom, discussing the one or two guests who had chanced to come in for
tea, and planning the two large teas that Alice usually gave some time
late in November.
Chris came in quietly, kissed his wife, and nodded carelessly to
Norma. The girl's sudden mad heartbeats and creeping colour could
subside together unnoticed, for he apparently paid no attention to her,
and presently drifted to the piano, leaving the women free to resume
Alice was a person of more than a surface sweetness; she loved
harmony and serenity, and there was almost no inclination to
irritability or ugliness in her nature. Her voice was always soothing
and soft, and her patience in the unravelling of other people's
problems was inexhaustible. Alice was, as all the world conceded, an
But Norma had not been a member of her household for eight months
without realizing that Alice, like other household angels, did not wish
an understudy in the rôle. She did not quite enjoy the nearness of
another woman who might be all sweet and generous and peace-making,
too. That was her own sacred and peculiar right. She could gently and
persistently urge objections and find inconsistencies in any plan of
her sister or of Norma, no matter how advantageous it sounded, and she
could adhere to a plan of her own with a tenacity that, taken in
consideration with Alice's weak body and tender voice, was nothing less
Norma, lessoned in a hard school, and possessing more than her share
of adaptability and common sense, had swiftly come to the conclusion
that, since it was not her part to adjust the affairs of her
benefactors, she might much more wisely constitute herself a sort of
Greek chorus to Alice's manipulations. Alice's motives were always of
the highest, and it was easy to praise them in all honesty, and if
sometimes the younger woman had mentally arrived at a conclusion long
before Alice had patiently and sweetly reached it, the little
self-control was not much to pay toward the comfort of a woman as
heavily afflicted as Alice.
For Norma knew in her own heart that Alice was heavily afflicted,
although the invalid herself always took the attitude that her
helplessness brought the best part of life into her room, and shut away
from her the tediousness and ugliness of the world.
'Aïda' two weeks from to-night! Alice said this evening, with her
Oh, Aunt Aliceif you could go! Didn't you love it?
Love the opera? Do you hear her, Chris? But I didn't love people
talking all about meand they will do it, you know! And that makes one
I see you getting furious, Norma observed, incredulously.
You don't know me! But I was a bashful, adoring sort of little
person, on my first night
Yes, you were, Chris teased her, over a lazy ripple of thirds.
She was such a bashful little person at the Mardi Gras dance she
promised Artie Peyton her first cotillion the following season.
Oh, Aunt Aliceyou didn't!
Alice's rather colourless face flushed happily, and she half lowered
Chris thinks that is a great story on me. As a matter of fact, I
did do that; I was just childish enough. But I can't think how the
story got out, for I was desperately ashamed of it.
I told Aunt Annie and Leslie to-day that you wanted the Liggetts to
dine here that night, Norma said, suddenly. Instantly she realized
that she had made a mistake. And there was no one in the world whose
light reproof hurt her as Alice's did.
Youyou gave my invitation to Leslie? Alice asked, quietly.
Wellnot quite that. But I told her that you had said that you
meant to ask them, Norma replied, uncomfortably.
But, Norma, I did not ask you to mention it. Alice was even
smiling, but she seemed a little puzzled.
I'm so sorryif you didn't want me to!
It isn't that. But one feels that one
What is Norma sorry about? Chris asked, coming back to the fire.
Norma, you're up against a terrible tribunal, here! Alice has been
knownwell, even to give new hats to the people who make her angry!
This fortunate allusion to an event now some months old entirely
restored Alice's good humour. Norma had accepted a certain almost-new
hat from Leslie just before the wedding, and Alice, burning with her
secret suspicion as to Norma's parentage, and in the first flush of her
affection for the girl, had told Norma that in her opinion Leslie
should not have offered it. It was not for Norma to take any patronage
from her cousin, Alice said to herself. But Norma's distress at having
disappointed Alice was so fresh and honest that the episode had ended
with Alice's presenting her with a stunning new hat, to wipe out the
terrible effect of her mild criticism.
You're a virago, said Chris, seating himself near his wife. Tell
me what you've been doing all day. Am I in for that dinner at Annie's
to-night? I wish I could stay here and gossip with you girls.
Dearest, you'd get so stupid, tied here to me, that you wouldn't
know who was President of the United States! Alice smiled. Yes, I
promised you to Annie two weeks ago. To-morrow night Norma goes to
Leslie, and you and I have dinner all alone, so console yourself with
Très bien, Christopher agreed. And as if the phrase
suggested it, he went on to test Norma's French. Norma was never
self-conscious with him, and in a few seconds he and Alice were
laughing at her earnest absurdities. When husband and wife went on into
a conversation of their own, Norma sat back idly, conscious that the
atmosphere was always easy and pleasant when Chris was at home, there
were no petty tensions and no sensitive misconstructions while Chris
was talking. Sometimes with Annie and Alice, and even with Leslie,
Norma could be rapidly brought to the state of feeling prickly all
over, afraid to speak, and equally uncomfortable in silence. But Chris
always smoothed her spirit into utter peace, and reëstablished her
sense of proportion, her sense of humour.
Neither he nor Alice noticed her when she presently went away to
change her gown for dinner, but when she came out of her room, half an
hour later, Chris was just coming up to his. Their rooms were on the
same floorhis the big front room, and hers one of the sunny small
ones at the back of the house. Norma's and that of Miss Slater, Alice's
nurse, were joined by a bathroom; Chris had his own splendid
dressing-room and bath, fitted, like his bedroom, with rugs and chests
and highboys worthy of a museum.
Aren't you going to be late, Chris? Norma asked, when they met at
the top of the stairs. Fresh from a bath, with her rich dark hair
pushed back in two shining wings from her smooth forehead, and her
throat rising white and soft from the frills of a black lacy gown, she
was the incarnation of youth and sweetness as she looked up at him.
Seven o'clock! she reminded him.
For answer he surprised her by catching her hand, and staring
gravely down at her.
Were you angry at me, Norma? he asked, in a quiet, businesslike
Angry? she echoed, surprised. But her colour rose. No, Chris. Why
should I be?
There is no reason why you should be, of course, he answered,
simply, almost indifferently. And immediately he went by her and into
On the memorable night of her first grand opera Norma and Chris
dined at Mrs. von Behrens's. It was Alice who urged the arrangement,
urged it quite innocently, as she frequently did the accidental pairing
of Norma and Chris, because her mother was going for a week to Boston,
the following day, and they wanted an evening of comfortable talk
Norma, with Freda and Miss Slater as excited accomplices, laid out
the new corn-coloured gown at about five o'clock in the afternoon, laid
beside it the stockings and slippers that exactly matched it in colour,
and hung over the foot of her bed the embroidered little stays that
were so ridiculously small and so unnecessarily beautiful. On a
separate chair was spread the big furred wrap of gold and brown
brocade, the high carriage shoes, and the long white gloves to which
the tissue paper still was clinging. The orchids that Annie had given
Norma that morning were standing in a slender vase on the bureau, and
as a final touch the girl, regarding these preparations with a sort of
enchanted delight, unfurled to its full glory the great black
ostrich-feather fan. Norma amused Alice and Mrs. Melrose by refusing
tea, and disappeared long before there was need, to begin the great
ceremony of robing.
Miss Slater manicured her hands while Freda brushed and dressed the
dark thick hair. Between Norma and the nurse there had at first been no
special liking. Both were naturally candidates for Alice's favour. But
as the months went by, and Norma began to realize that Miss Slater's
position was not only far from the ideally beautiful one it had seemed
at first, but that the homely, elderly, good-natured woman was actually
putting herself to some pains to make Norma's own life in the Liggett
house more comfortable than it might have been, she had come genuinely
to admire Alice's attendant, and now they were fast friends. It was
often in Norma's power to distract Alice's attention from the fact that
Miss Slater was a little late in returning from her walk, or she would
make it a point to order for the invalid something that Miss Slater had
forgotten. They stood firmly together in many a small domestic
emergency, and although the nurse's presence to-night was not, as Norma
thought with a little pang, like having Rose or Aunt Kate with her,
still it was much, much better than having no one at all.
She sat wrapped luxuriously in a brilliant kimono, while Freda
brushed and rolled busily, and Miss Slater polished and clipped. Then
ensued a period of intense concentration at the mirror, when the
sparkling pins were put in her hair, and the little pearl earrings
screwed into her ears, and when much rubbing and greasing and powdering
went on, and even some slight retouching of the innocent, red young
Shall I? Norma asked, dubiously eyeing the effect of a trace of
Don't be an idiot, Miss Sheridan! Miss Slater said. You've got a
lovely colour, and it's a shame to touch it!
Oh, but I think I look so pale! Norma argued.
Well, when you've had your dinnerNow, you take my advice, my
dear, and let your face alone.
Well, all the girls do it, Norma declared, catching up the little
girdle, and not unwilling to be over-persuaded. She gave an actual
shiver of delight as Freda slipped the gown over her head.
It fell into shape about her, a miracle of cut and fit. The little
satiny underskirt was heavy with beads, the misty cloud of gauze that
floated above it was hardly heavy enough to hold its own embroideries.
Little beaded straps held it to the flawless shoulders, and Norma made
her two attendants laugh as she jerked and fussed at the gold lace and
tiny satin roses that crossed her breast.
Leave it alone! Miss Slater said.
Oh, but it seems so low!
Well, you may be very sure it isn'tLenz knows what he's doing
when he makes a gown.... Here, now, what are you going to do with your
Oh, I'm going to wrap the paper round them, and carry them until
just before I get to Aunt Annie's. Wouldn't you?
Wouldn't I? I like that! said Miss Slater, settling her eyeglasses
on the bridge of her nose with a finger and thumb. Norma had a
momentary pang of sympathy; she could never have been made to
understand that a happy barnyard duck may look contentedly up from her
pool at the peacock trailing his plumes on the wall.
Normafor the love of Allah! Chris shouted from downstairs.
Norma gave a panicky laugh, snatched her fan, wrap, and flowers, and
fled joyously down to be criticized and praised. On the whole, they
were pleased with her: Alice, seizing a chance for an aside to tell her
not to worry about the lowness of the gown, that it was absolutely
correct she might be very sure, and Mrs. Melrose quite tremulously
delighted with her ward. Chris did not say much until a few minutes
before they planned to start, when he slipped a thin, flat gold watch
from his vest pocket, and asked speculatively:
Norma, has your Aunt Kate ever seen you in that rig?
No! she answered, quickly. And then, with less sparkle, No.
Well, would you like to run in on her a moment?she'd probably
like it tremendously! said Chris.
Oh, ChrisI would love it! Norma exclaimed, soberly, over a
disloyal conviction that she would rather not. But have we time?
Tons of time. Annie's dinners are a joke!
Norma glanced at the women; Mrs. Melrose looked undecided, but Alice
I think that would be a sweet thing to do!
So it was decided: and Norma was bundled up immediately, and called
out excitedly laughing good-byes as Chris hurried her to the car.
You know, it means a lot to your own people, really to see you this
way, instead of always reading about it, or hearing about it! Chris
said, in his entirely prosaic, big-brotherly tone, as the car glided
smoothly toward the West Sixties.
I know it! Norma agreed. But I don't know how you do! she added,
in shy gratitude.
Well, I'm nearly twice your age, for one thing, he replied,
pleasantly. And as the car stopped unhesitatingly at the familiar door
he added: Now make this very snappy!
She protested against his getting out, but he accompanied her all
the way upstairs, both laughing like conspirators as they passed
somewhat astonished residents of the apartment house on the way.
Aunt Kate and Wolf, and Rose and Harry, as good fortune would have
it, were all gathered under the dining-room lamp, and there was a burst
of laughter and welcome for Norma and Mister Chris. Norma's wrap was
tossed aside, and she revolved in all her glory, waving her fan at
arm's length, pleasantly conscious of Wolf's utter stupefaction, and
conscious, too, a little less pleasantly, that Aunt Kate's maternal eye
did not agree with Aunt Annie's in the matter of décolletage.
Then she and Chris were on their way again, and the legitimate
delights of being young and correctly dressed and dining with the great
Mrs. von Behrens, and going to Grand Opera at the Metropolitan, might
begin. Norma had perhaps never in her life been in such wild spirits as
she was to-night. It was not happiness, exactly, not the happiness of a
serene spirit and a quiet mind, for she was too nervous and too much
excited to be really happy. But it was all wonderful.
She was the youngest person at the long dinner table, at which
eighteen guests sat in such stately and such separated great carved
chairs as almost to dine alone. Everyone was charmingly kind to the
little Melrose protégée, who was to be introduced at a formal tea next
week. The men were all older than Leslie's group and were neither
afraid nor too selfishly wrapped up in their own narrow little circle
to be polite. Norma had known grown young men, college graduates, and
the sons of prominent families, who were too entirely conventional to
be addressed without an introduction, or to turn to a strange girl's
rescue if she spilled a cup of tea. But there was none of that sort of
To be sure, Annie's men were either married, divorced, or too old to
be strictly eligible in the eyes of unsophisticated nineteen, but that
did not keep them from serving delightfully as dinner partners. Then
Aunt Annie herself was delightful to-night, and joined in the general,
if unexpressed, flattery that Norma felt in the actual atmosphere.
Heavensdo you hear that, Ella? said Annie, to an intimate and
contemporary, when Norma shyly asked if the dress was all as it should
beif thewell, the neck, wasn't just a little? Heavens! said
Mrs. von Behrens, roundly, if I had your shouldersif I were nineteen
again!you'd see something a good deal more sensational than that!
This was not the sort of thing one repeated to Aunt Kate. It was,
like much of Annie's conversation, so daring as to be a little
shocking. But Annie had so much manner, such a pleasant, assured voice,
that somehow Norma never found it censurable in her.
To-night, for the first time, Hendrick von Behrens paid her a little
personal attention. Norma had always liked the big, blond, silent man,
with his thinning fair hair, and his affection for his sons. It was of
his sons that he spoke to her, as he came up to her to-night.
There are two little boys up in the nursery that don't want to go
to sleep until Cousin Norma comes up to say good-night, said Hendrick,
smiling indulgently. Norma turned willingly from Chris and two or three
other men and women; it was a privilege to be sufficiently at home in
this magnificent place to follow her host up to the nursery upstairs,
and be gingerly hugged by the little silk-pajamed boys.
Chris watched her go, the big fan and the blue eye and the
delightful low voice all busy as she and Hendrick went away, and an odd
thought came to him. That was her stepfather upon whom she was turning
the battery of those lovely eyes; those little boys who were, he knew,
jumping up and down in their little Dutch colonial beds, and calling
NormaNormaNorma! were her half-brothers.
He glanced toward Annie; her beautiful figure wrapped in a sparkling
robe that swept about her like a regal mantle, her fair hair scalloped
like waves of carved gold, her fingers and throat and hair and ears
sparkling with diamonds. Annie had on the famous Murison pearls, too,
to-night; she was twisting them in her fingers as her creditable
Italian delighted the ears of the Italian ambassador. Her own daughter
to-night sat among her guests. Chris liked to think himself above
surprise, but the strangeness of the situation was never absent a
second from his thoughts. He drifted toward his hostess; he was proud
of his own languages, and when Norma came back she came to stand
wistfully beside them, wondering if evereverevershe would be able
to do that!
It was all thrillingexhilaratingwonderful! Norma's heart thumped
delightfully as the big motor-cars turned into Broadway and took their
place in the slowly moving line. She pressed her radiant face close to
the window; snow was fluttering softly down in the darkness, and men
were pushing it from the sidewalks, and shouting in the night. There
was the usual fringe of onlookers in front of the opera house, and it
required all Norma's self-control to seem quite naturally absorbed in
getting herself safely out of the motor-car, and quite unconscious that
her pretty ankles, and her pretty head, and the great bunched wrap,
were not being generally appraised.
Women were stepping about gingerly in high heels; lights flashed on
quivering aigrettes, on the pressed, intense faces of the watchers, and
on the gently turning and falling snow, against the dark street. Norma
was caught in some man's protecting arm, to push through into the
churning crowd in the foyer; she had a glimpse of uniformed ushers and
programme boys, of furred shoulders, of bared shoulders, of silk hats,
of a sign that said: Footmen Are Not Allowed in This Lobby.
Then somehow through, criss-crossed currents in the crowd, they
reached the mysterious door of the box, and Norma saw for the first
time the great, dimly lighted circle of the opera house, the enormous
rise of balcony above balcony, the double tiers of boxes, and the rows
of seats downstairs, separated by wide aisles, and rapidly filling now
with the men and women who were coming down to their places almost on a
The orchestra was already seated, and as Norma stood awed and
ecstatic in the front of the Von Behrens box, the conductor came in,
and was met with a wave of applause, which had no sooner died away than
the lights fanned softly and quickly down, there was the click of a
baton on wood, and in the instantly ensuing hush the first quivering
notes of the opera began.
Sit down, you web-foot! Acton Liggett whispered, laughing, and
Norma sank stiffly upon her chair, risking, as the curtain had not yet
risen, a swift, bewildered smile of apology toward the dim forms that
were rustling and settling behind her.
Ooooooo! was all that she could whisper when presently Chris
murmured a question in her ear. And when the lights were on again, and
the stars taking their calls, he saw that her face was wet, and her
lashes were caught together with tears.
It is wonderful music; the best of Verdi! he said to Annie;
and Annie, agreeing, sent him off with that baby, to have her dry her
eyes. Norma liked his not speaking to her, on her way to the great
parlour where women were circling about the long mirrors, but when she
rejoined him she was quite herself, laughing, excited, half dancing as
he took her back to the box.
She sat down again, her beautiful little head, with its innocent
sweep of smooth hair, visible from almost every part of the house, her
questions incessant as the blue eyes and the great fan swept to and
fro. Once, when she turned suddenly toward him, in the second
entr'acte, she saw a look on Chris's face that gave her an odd second
of something like fear, but the house darkened again before she could
analyze the emotion, and Norma glued her eyes to the footlights.
What she did not see was a man, not quite at ease at his own first
grand opera, not quite comfortable in his own first evening dress,
lostand willingly lost, among the hundreds who had come in just to
stand far at the back, behind the seats, edging and elbowing each
other, changing feet, and resting against any chair-back or column that
offered itself, and sitting down, between acts, on the floor.
Wolf was not restless. He was strong enough to stand like an Indian,
and tall enough to look easily over the surrounding heads. More than
that, Aïda did not interest him in itself, and at some of its most
brilliant passages he was guilty of slipping away to pace the hallways
in solitude, or steal to the foyer for a brief cigarette. But when the
house was lighted again, he went back into the auditorium, and then his
eyes never left the little dark head of the girl who sat forward in one
of the lower tier of boxes, waving her big fan, and talking over her
bare shoulder to one or another of the persons beside or behind her.
It was long afterward that Norma dated from the night of Aïda a
new feeling in herself toward Chris, and the recognition of a new
feeling in Chris toward her. She knew that a special sort of friendship
existed between them from that time on.
He had done nothing definite that night; he had never done or said
anything that could be held as marking the change. But Norma felt it,
and she knew that he did. And somehow, in that atmosphere of fragrant
flowers and women as fragrant, of rustling silks and rich furs, of
music and darkness, and the old passion of the story, it had come to
her for the first time that Chris was not only the Chris of Alice's
room, Aunt Marianna's son-in-law and Leslie's brother-in-law, but her
own Chris, too, a Chris who had his special meaning for her, as well as
for the rest.
She liked him, it was natural that she should especially and truly
like him. Almost all women did, for he was of the type that comes
closest to understanding them, and he had made their favour an especial
study. Chris could never be indifferent to any woman; if he did not
actively dislike her, he took pains to please her, and, never actively
disliking Norma, he had from the first constituted himself her guide
Long before he was conscious that there was a real charm to this
little chance member of their group, Norma had capitulated utterly. His
sureness, his pleasant suggestions, his positive approval or kindly
protests, had done more to make her first months among the Melroses
happy than any other one thing. Norma loved him, and was grateful to
him, even when he hurt her. In the matter of a note of acceptance, of a
little act of thanks, of a gown or hat, his decision was absolute, and
she had never known it mistaken.
Besides this, she saw him everywhere welcome, everywhere courted and
admired, and everywhere the same Chrishandsome, self-possessed,
irreproachably dressed whether for golf or opera, adequate to the
claims of wife, mother, family, or the world. She had heard Acton turn
to him for help in little difficulties; she knew that Leslie trusted
him with all her affairs, and he was as close as any man could be to an
intimacy with Hendrick von Behrens. Quietly, almost indifferently, he
would settle his round eyeglasses on their black ribbon, narrow his
fine, keen eyes and set his firm jaw, and take up their problems one by
one, always courteous, always interested, always helpful.
Then Chris had charm, as visible to all the world as to Norma. He
had the charm of race, of intelligence and education, the charm of a
man who prides himself upon his Italian and French, upon his knowledge
of books and pictures, and his capacity for holding his own in any
group, on any subject. He was quite frankly a collector, a connoisseur,
a dilettante in a hundred different directions, and he had had leisure
all his life to develop and perfect his affectations. In all this new
world Norma could not perhaps have discovered a man more rich in just
what would impress her ignorance, her newness, to the finer aspects of
For a few weeks after Aïda, as other operas and Annie's tea, and
the opening social life of the winter softened the first impression,
Norma tried to tell herself that she had imagined a little tendency, on
Chris's part, toowell, to impress her with his friendliness. She had
seen him flirt with other women, and indeed small love affairs of all
sorts were constantly current, not only in Annie's, but in Leslie's
group. A certain laxity was in the air, and every month had its
separation or divorce, to be flung to the gossips for dissection.
Norma was not especially flattered at first, and rather inclined to
resent the assurance with which Chris carried his well-known tendency
for philandering into his own family, as it were. But as the full days
went by, and she encountered in him, wherever they met, the same grave,
kindly attention, the same pleasant mouth and curiously baffling eyes,
in spite of herself she began to experience a certain breathless and
half-flattered and half-frightened pride in his affection.
He never kissed her again, never tried to arrange even the most
casual meeting alone with her, and never let escape even a word of more
than brotherly friendliness. But in Leslie's drawing-room at tea time,
or at some studio tea or Sunday luncheon in a country house, he always
quietly joined her, kept, if possible, within the sound of her voice,
and never had any plan that would interfere with possible plans of
hers. If she was ready to go, he would drive her, perhaps to discourse
impersonally upon the quality of the pictures, or the countryside
mantled with snow, upon the way. If she wanted a message telephoned, a
telegram sent, even a borrowed book returned, it was no trouble at
all; Chris would of course attend to it.
At dinner parties he was rarely placed beside her; hers was
naturally the younger set. But he found a hundred ways to remind her
that he was constantly attentive. Norma would feel her heart jump in
her side as he started toward her across a ball-room floor, handsome,
perfectly poised, betraying nothing but generous interest in her
youthful good times as he took his place beside her.
So Christmas came and went, and the last affairs of the brief season
began to be announced: the last dances, the last dinners, the
pre-Lenten functions as the papers had it. Norma, apologizing, in one
of her flying calls on Aunt Kate, for the long intervals between
visits, explained that she honestly did not know where the weeks flew!
And are you happy, Baby? her aunt asked, holding her close, and
looking anxiously into her eyes.
Ohhappy! the girl exclaimed, with a sort of shallow, quick laugh
that was quite new. Of course I am. I never in my life dreamed that I
could be so happy. I've nothing left to wish for. Except, of course,
that I would like to know where I stand; I would like to have my own
position a little more definite, she added. But the last phrases were
uttered only in her own soul, and Mrs. Sheridan, after a rather
discontented scrutiny of the face she loved so well, was obliged to
change the subject.
In mid-Lent, when an early rush of almost summery warmth suddenly
poured over the city, Chris and Norma met on the way home from church.
Norma walked every Sunday morning to the big cathedral, but Chris went
only once or twice a year to the fashionable Avenue church a few blocks
away. This morning he had joined her as she was quietly leaving the
house, and instantly it flashed into her mind that he had deliberately
planned to do so, knowing that Miss Slater, who usually accompanied
her, was away for a week's vacation.
Their conversation was impersonal and casual, as always, as they
walked along the drying sidewalks, in the pleasant early freshness, but
as Chris left her he asked her at about what time she would be
returning, and Norma was not surprised, when she came out of the
cathedral, a little later than the great first tide of the outpouring
congregation, to see him waiting for her.
The thought of him had been keeping her heart beating fast, and her
mind in confusion, even while she tried to pray. And she had thought
that she might leave the church by one of the big side doors, and so at
least run a fair risk of missing him. But Norma half feared an act that
would define their deepening friendship as dangerous, and half longed
for the fifteen minutes of walking and chatting in the sunshine. So she
came straight to him, and with no more than a word of greeting they
It was an exquisite morning, and the clean, bare stretches of the
Avenue were swimming in an almost summerlike mist of opal and blue.
Such persons as were visible in the streets at all were newsboys, idle
policemen, or black-clad women hurrying to or from church, and when
they reached the Park, it was almost deserted. The trees, gently moving
in a warm breeze, were delicately etched with the first green of the
year; maples and sycamores were dotted with new, golden foliage, and
the grass was deep and sweet. A few riders were ambling along the
bridle-path, the horses kicking up clods of the damp, soft earth.
Norma and Christopher walked slowly, talking. The girl was hardly
conscious of what they said, realizing suddenly, and almost with
terror, that just to be here, with Chris, was enough to flood her being
with a happiness as new and miraculous as the new and miraculous
springtime itself. There was no future and no past to this ecstasy, no
Alice, no world; it was enough, in its first bloom, that it existed.
You've hadwhat is it?a whole year of us, Norma, Chris said,
and on the whole, it's been happy, hasn't it?
Fourteen months, she corrected him. Fourteen months, at least,
since Aunt Kate and I called on Aunt Marianna. Yes, it's been like a
miracle, Chris. I never will understand it. I never will understand why
a friendless girlunknown and having absolutely no claimshould have
been treated so wonderfully!
And you wouldn't want to go back? he mused, smiling.
No, she said, quickly. I am afraid, when I think of ever going
I don't see why you should, Chris said. You will inherit, through
your grandmother's will
He had been following a train of thought, half to himself. Norma's
round eyes, as she stopped short in the path, arrested him.
My grandmother! she exclaimed.
Your Aunt Marianna, he amended, flushing. But their eyes did not
move as they stared at each other.
A thousand remembered trifles flashed through Norma's whirling
brain; a thousand little half-stilled suspicions leaped to new life.
She had accepted the suggested kinship in childish acquiescence, but
doubt was aflame now, once and for all. The man knew that there was no
further evading her.
Chris, do you know anything about me? she asked, directly.
Yes, I thinkI know everything, he answered, after a second's
Norma looked at him steadily. Did you know my father and mother?
she demanded, presently, in an odd, tense voice.
There was another pause before Chris said, slowly:
I have met your father. But I knewI knowyour mother.
You know her? The world was whirling about Norma. Is Aunt
Kate my mother? she asked, breathing hard.
No. I don't know why you should not know. You call her Aunt Annie,
Norma's hands dropped to her sides. She breathed as if she were
Aunt Annie! she whispered, in stupefaction.
And she turned and walked a few steps blindly, her eyes wide and
vacant, and one hand pressed to her cheek. My God!my God! he heard
Annie eloped when she was a girl, Chris began presently, when she
was dazedly walking on again. She was married, and the man deserted
her. She was ill, in GermanyBut shall I talk now? Would you rather
Oh, nono! Go on, Norma said, briefly.
Alice was the first to guess it, Christopher pursued. Her sister
doesn't know it, or dream it!
Aunt Annie doesn't! She does not know that I'm her own daughter!...
But what does she think?
She supposes that her baby died, dear. I'm sorry to tell you,
Norma, but I couldn't lie to you! You'll understand everything,
nowwhy your grandmother wants to make it all up to you
Does Leslie know? Norma demanded, suddenly, from a dark moment of
Nobody knows! Your Aunt Kate, your grandmother, Alice, and I, are
absolutely the only people in the world! And Norma, nobody else must
know. For the sake of the family, for everyone's sake
Oh, I see that! she answered, quickly and impatiently. And for
awhile she walked on in silence, and apparently did not hear his one or
two efforts to recommence the conversation. Aunt Annie! she said
once, half aloud. And later she added, absently: Yes, I should know!
They had walked well up into the Park, now they turned back; the sun
was getting hot, first perambulators were making their appearance, and
Norma loosened her light furs.
So I am a Melrose! she mused. And then, abruptly: Chris, what
is my name?
Melrose, he answered, flushing.
Her eyes asked a sudden, horrified question, and she took the answer
from his look without a word. He saw the colour ebb from her face,
leaving it very white.
You saidtheymy parentswere married, Chris? she asked,
Annie supposed they were. But he was not free!
Norma did not speak again. In silence they crossed the Avenue, and
went on down the shady side street. Chris, with chosen words and
quietly, told her the story of Annie's girlhood, who and what her
father had been, the bitter grief of her grandmother, the general
hushing up of the whole affair. He watched her anxiously as he talked,
for there was a drawn, set look to her face that he did not like.
Why did Aunt Kate ever decide to bring me to mymy grandmother,
after so many years? she asked.
I'm sure I don't know that. Alice and I have fancied that Kate
might have kept in touch with your father all this time, and that he
might be dead now, and not likely tomake trouble.
That is it, Norma agreed, quickly. Because not long before she
came to see Aunt Marianna she had had some sort of newsfrom
Canada, I think. An old friend was dead; I remember it as if it were
Then that fits in, Chris said, glad she could talk.
But I can't believe it! she cried in bewilderment. And suddenly
she burst out angrily: Oh, Chris, is it fair? Is it fair? That one
girl, like Leslie, should have soso much! The name, the inheritance,
the husband and position and the friendsand that another, through no
fault of hers, should be justjusta nobody?
She choked, and Christopher made a little protestant sound.
Oh, yes, I am! she insisted, bitterly. Not recognized by my own
mothershe's not my mother! No mother could
Listen, dear, Chris begged, really alarmed by the storm he had
raised. Your grandmother, for reasons of her own, never told Annie
there was a baby. It is obvious why she kept silent; it was only
kindnessdecency. Annie was young, younger than you are, and poor old
Aunt Marianna only knew that her child was ill, and had been
ill-treated, and most cruelly used. You were brought up safely and
happily, with good and loving people
The best in the world! Norma said, through her teeth, fighting
The best in the world. Why, Norma, what a woman they've made you!
Youwho stand alone among all the girls I know! And then, Chris
continued quickly, seeing her a little quieter, when you are growing
up, your aunt brings you to your grandmother, who immediately turns her
whole world topsy-turvy to make you welcome! Is there anything so
unfair in that? Annie made a terrible mistake, dear
And everyone but Annie pays! Norma interrupted, bitterly.
Norma, she is your mother! Chris reminded her, in the tone that,
coming from him, always instantly affected her. Her eyes fell, and her
tone, when she spoke, was softer.
Just bearing a child isn't all motherhood, she said.
No, my dear; I know. And if Annie were ever to guess this, it isn't
like her not to face the music, at any cost. But isn't it better as it
The wonderful tone, the wonderful manner, the kindness and sympathy
in his eyes! Norma, with one foot on the lowest step, now raised her
eyes to his with a sort of childish penitence.
Oh, yes, Chris! Buther lips trembledbut if Aunt Kate had only
kept me from knowing for ever! she faltered.
She wouldn't take that responsibility, dear, and one can't blame
her. A comfortable inheritance comes from your grandmother; it isn't
the enormous fortune Leslie inherited, of course, but it is all you
would have had, even had Annie brought you home openly as her daughter.
It is enough to make a very pretty wedding-portion for me to give away
with you, my dear, in a few years, Chris added more lightly. The
suggestion made her face flame again.
Who would marry me? she said, under her breath, with a scornful
look, under half-lowered lids, into space.
For answer he gave her an odd glanceone that lived in her memory
for many and many a day.
Ah, NormaNormaNorma! he saidquickly, half laughingly. Then
his expression changed, and his smile died away. I have something to
bear, he said, with a glance upward toward Alice's windows. Life
isn't roses, roses, all the way for any one of us, my dear! Now, you've
got a bad bit of the road ahead. But let's be good sports, Norma. And
come in now, I'm famished; let's have breakfast. My honour is in your
hands, he added, more gravely, perhaps I had no right to tell you all
this! You mustn't betray me!
Chris, she responded, warmly, as if I could!
He watched her eating her breakfast, and chatting with Alice, a
little later, and told himself that some of Annie's splendid courage
had certainly descended to this gallant little daughter. Norma was
pale, and now and then her eyes would meet his with a certain strained
look, or she would lose the thread of the conversation for a few
seconds, but that was all. Alice noticed nothing, and in a day or two
Chris could easily have convinced himself that the conversation in the
spring greenness of the Sunday morning had been a dream.
However, that hour had borne fruit, and in two separate ways had had
its distinct effect upon Norma's mind and soul. In the first place, she
had a secret now with Chris, and understanding that made her most
casual glance at him significant, and gave a double meaning to almost
every word they exchanged. It was at his suggestion that she decided to
keep the revelation from Alice, even though she knew what Alice knew,
for Alice was not very well, and Chris was sure that it would only
agitate and frighten the invalid to feel that the family's
discreditable secret was just that much nearer betrayal. So she and
Chris alone shared the agitation, strain, and bewilderment of the
almost overwhelming discovery; and Norma, in turning to him for advice
and sympathy, deepened tenfold the tie between them.
But even this result was not so far-reaching as the less-obvious
effect of the discovery upon her character. Everything that was
romantic, undisciplined, and reckless in Norma was fostered by the
thought that so thrilling and so secret a history united her closely to
the Melrose family. That she was Leslie's actual cousin, that the
closest of all human relationships bound her to the magnificent Mrs.
von Behrens, were thoughts that excited in her every dramatic and
extravagant tendency to which the amazing year had inclined her.
With her growing ease in her changed environment, and the growing
popularity she enjoyed there, came also a sense of predestination, the
conviction that her extraordinary history justified her in any act of
daring or of unconventionality. There was nothing to be gained by
self-control or sanity, Norma might tell herself, at least for those of
the Melrose blood.
Her shyness of the season before had vanished, and she could plunge
into the summer gaiety with an assurance that amazed even herself. Her
first meeting with Annie, after the day of Chris's disclosures, was an
ordeal at which he himself chanced to be a secretly thrilled onlooker.
Norma grew white, and her lips trembled; there was a strained look in
her blue, agonized eyes. But Annie's entire unconsciousness that the
situation was at all tense, and the presence of three or four total
outsiders, helped Norma to feel that this amazing and dramatic moment
was only one more in a life newly amazing and dramatic, and she escaped
unnoticed from the trial. The second time was much less trying, and
after that Norma showed no sign that she ever thought of the matter at
Mrs. von Behrens took Norma to her Maine camp in July, and when the
girl joined the Chris Liggetts in August, it was for a season of hard
tennis, golf, polo, dancing, yachting, and swimming. Norma grew lean
and tanned, and improved so rapidly in manner and appearance that Alice
felt, concerning her, certain fears that she one day confided to her
It was on an early September day, dry and airless, and they were on
the side porch of the Newport cottage.
You see how pretty she's growing, Mama, Alice said. And then, in a
lower tone, with a quick cautious glance about: Mama, doesn't she
often remind you of Annie?
Mrs. Melrose, who had been contentedly rocking and drowsing in the
heat, paled with sudden terror and apprehension, and looked around her
with sick and uneasy eyes.
Alicemy darling, she stammered.
I know, MamaI'm not going to talk about it, truly! Alice assured
her, quickly. I never even think of it! she added, earnestly.
Nonono, that's right! her mother agreed, hurriedly. Her soft
old face, under the thin, crimped gray hair, was full of distress.
Mama, there is no reason why it should worry you, Alice said,
distressed, too. Don't think of it; I'm sorry I spoke! But sometimes,
even though she is so dark, Norma is so like Annie that it makes my
blood run cold. If Annie ever suspected that she iswell, her own
Mrs. Melrose's face was ashen, and she looked as if touched by the
Nono, dear! she said, with a sort of terrified brevity. You and
Chris were wrong there. I can't talk to you about it, Alice, she broke
off, pleadingly; you mustn't ask me, dear. You said you wouldn't, she
Alice was stupefied. For a full minute she lay in her pillows,
staring blankly at her mother.
Isn't! she whispered at last, incredulous and
No, dear. Poor Annie! No, no, no; Norma's mother is dead.
Butbut you must believe that Mama is acting as she believes to be for
the best, she interrupted herself, in painful and hesitating tones,
and that I can't talk about it now, Alice; I can't, indeed! Some
Mama darling, Alice cried, really alarmed by her leaden colour and
wild eyes, pleaseI'll never speak of it again! Why, I know that
everything you do is for us all, darling! Please be happy about it.
Come on, we'll talk of something else. When do you leave for
Poole drives us as far as Great Barrington to-morrow, Norma and
me, the old lady began, gaining calm as she reviewed her plans. Chris
needed her for a little matter of business, and Norma was anxious to
see her Cousin Rose's new baby. The conversation drifted to Leslie's
baby, the idolized Patricia who was now some four months old.
Two days later found Norma happily seated beside the big bed she and
Rose had shared less than two years ago, where Rose now lay, with the
snuffling and mouthing baby, rolled deep in flannels, beside her. Rose
had come home to her mother, for the great event, and Mrs. Sheridan was
exulting in the care of them both. Just now she was in the kitchen, and
the two girls were alone together, Norma a little awed and a little
ashamed of the emotion that Rose's pale and rapt and radiant face gave
her; Rose secretly pitying, from her height, the woman who was not yet
And young Mrs. Liggett was terribly disappointed that her baby was
a girl, Rose marvelled. I didn't care one bit! Only Harry is glad
it's a boy.
Well, Leslie was sure that hers was going to be a boy, Norma said,
and I wish you could have heard Aunt Annie deciding that the Melroses
usually had sons
She'll have a boy next, Rose suggested.
Norma glanced at her polished finger-tip, adjusted the woolly tan
bag she carried.
She says never again! she remarked, airily. Rose's clear forehead
clouded faintly, and Norma hastened to apologize. Well, my dear,
that's what she said, she remarked, laughingly, with quick
fingers on Rose's hand.
It's sad that Mrs. Chris Liggett didn't have just one, before her
accident. It would make such a difference in her life, Rose mused,
with her eyes fixed thoughtfully on Norma's face. There was something
about Norma to-day that she did not understand.
Oh, it's frightfully sad, Norma agreed, easily. And because she
liked the mere sound of his name, she added: Chris is fond of
children, too! Then, with a sudden change of manner that even
unsuspicious Rose thought odd, she said, gaily: Isn't Aunt Kate
perfectly delicious about the nurse? I knew she would be. Of course,
she does everything, and Miss Miller simply looks on.
Well, almost, Rose said, with an affectionate laugh. She didn't
want a nurse at all, but Harry and Wolf insisted. And thennight
before lastwhen I was so ill, it almost made me laugh in spite of
feeling so badly, to hear Mother with Miss Miller. 'You'd better get
out of here, my dear,' I heard her say, 'this is no place for a girl
Norma's laugh rang out. But Rose noticed that her face sobered
immediately almost into sadness, and that there was a bitter line about
the lovely mouth, and a shadow of something like cynicism in her blue
Norma, she ventured, suddenly storming the fortress, what is it,
darling? Something's worrying you, Nono. Can't you tell me?
With the old nursery name Norma's gallant look of amusement and
reassurance faltered. She looked suddenly down at the hand Rose was
holding, and Rose saw the muscles of her throat contract, and that she
was pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling.
A tear fell on the locked hands. Norma kept her eyes averted, shook
Is it a man, Nono?
Norma looked up, dashed away the tears, and managed a rueful smile.
Isn't it always a man? she asked, bravely.
Rose still looked at her anxiously, waiting for further light.
But, dearest, surely he likes you?
The other girl was silent, rubbing her thumb slowly to and fro
across Rose's thin hand.
I don't know, she answered, after a pause.
But of course he does! Rose said, confidently. It'll all come
right. There's no reason why it shouldn't! And with all the interest
of their old days of intimacy she asked eagerly: Nono, is he
And the right age?
Norma laughed, half protestant.
Rose, aren't you a little demon for the third degree! But she
liked it, in spite of the reluctance in her manner, and presently
added: I don't think age matters, do you?
Not in the least, Rose agreed. Norma, does Mrs. Melrose know?
Know what? Norma parried.
Know thatwell, that you like him?
Norma raised serious eyes, looked unsmilingly into Rose's smiling
Nobody knows. Itit isn't going right, Rose. I can't tell you
about all of it She paused.
Well, I wouldn't know the people if you did, Rose said, sensibly.
And suddenly she added, timidly, Norma, there isn't another girl?
Well, yes, there is, in a way, Norma conceded, after thought.
That he likes better? Rose asked, quickly.
No, I don't think he likes her better! Norma answered.
Well, then? Rose summarized, triumphantly.
But there was no answering flash from Norma, who was looking down
again, and who still wore a troubled expression, although, as Rose
rejoiced to see, it was less bitter than it had been.
Rose, she said, gravely, if he was already bound in honour; if he
waspromised, to her?
Rose's eyes expressed quick sympathy.
Norma! You mean engaged? But then how did he ever come to care for
you? she followed it up anxiously.
I don't know! Norma said, with a shrug.
But, Nono, why do you think he does like you? Has he said
Norma had freed her hand, and pulled on her rough little
cream-coloured gloves. Now she spread her five fingers, and looked at
them with slightly raised brows and slightly compressed lips.
No, she said, briefly and quietly.
Rose's face was full of distress. Again she reached for Norma's
DearestI'm so sorry! Butbut it doesn't make you feel very
badly, does it, Norma?
Norma did not answer.
Ah, it does! Rose said, pitifully. Are you so sure you care?
At this Norma laughed, glanced for a moment into far space, shook
her head. And for a few minutes there was utter silence in the plain
little bedroom. Then the baby began to fuss and grope, and to make
little sneezing faces in his cocoon of blankets.
Just one more word, dear, Rose said, later, when Aunt Kate had
come flying in, and carried off the new treasure, and when Norma was
standing before the mirror adjusting her wide-brimmed summer hat. If
he cares for you, it's much, much better to make the change now, Norma,
than to wait until it's too late! No matter how hard, or how unpleasant
I know, Norma agreed, quickly, painfully, stooping to kiss her.
We'll be down next month, Rose, and then I'll see you oftener!
When do you go? Rose said, clinging to her hand.
Go back to Newport? To-morrow. Or at least we get to Great
Barrington to-morrow, and we may stay there with the Richies a few
days. Aunt Marianna hates to make the trip in one day, so we stayed
there last night. But she had to come down to sign some papers. Chris
has been down all the week and he wired for her, so she and I drove
And is the country lovely now? Rose asked.
Welldry. But it is beautiful, too; so hot and leafy and
And where are youat the old house?
No; at a hotel, up near the Park. I wish you and little Peter Pan
could get away somewhere, Rose, for we'll have another three weeks of
Oh, my dear, Mother Redding and the baby and I are going to the
Berkshires for at least two whole weeks, Rose announced, happily. And
I thought that my bad boy was coming in early August, she added, of
the baby, or I would have gone first. Try to come oftener, Norma, she
pleaded, for we all love you so!
And again, Norma's manner worried her. What was there in the
sisterly little speech to bring the tears again to Norma's eyes?
I know you do, Rosy, Norma said, very low. I wish I could go up
to the Berkshires with you.
Well, then, why don't you, dear?
OhNorma flung back her headI don't know! she said, with an
attempt at lightness. And two minutes later she had kissed Aunt Kate,
and greeted Wolf, in the kitchen, and Rose heard their laughter, and
then the closing of the front door.
Wolf walked with her to the omnibus. He had come in tired with the
heat of the long day, but Norma thought him his sweetest self,
brotherly, good, unsuspicious, and unaffected. He complimented her on
her appearance; he had a kind word for Harry Redding, for the baby; he
told Norma that he and his mother had gone to Portland by water a few
weeks before and had a great spree. Norma, tired and excited, loved him
for his very indifference to her affairs and her mood, for the
simplicity with which he showed her the book he was reading, and the
amusement he found all along the dry and dusty and dirty street.
Everything was interesting to Wolf, and he made no apologies for the
general wiltedness and disorder of the neighbourhood.
Norma looked down at him, from the top of the omnibus, and thought
that he was a friendly and likable big young man, with his rumpled bare
head shining reddish-brown in the streaming, merciless sunlight. She
had no idea that his last look at her was like some precious canvas
that a collector adds to his treasures, that to the thousands of
little-girl Normas, and bookshop Normas, and to the memorable picture
of a débutante Norma at her first opera, Wolf carried away with him
to-night one more Norma: a brown, self-possessed, prettier-than-ever
Norma, in a wide English hat and a plain linen suit, and transparent
green silk stockings that matched her green silk parasol.
She got down from the omnibus, a few blocks farther away, and walked
slowly along the shady side of the burning cross-streets, thinking,
thinking, thinking. It was the hottest hour of the afternoon; there
would be a storm to-night, but just now the air hung motionless, and
the shadows were almost as dazzling, in their baking dimness, as the
sunshine. Houses were closed and silent, show windows bare; the
omnibuses creaked by loaded with passengers, trying to get cool. There
was an odour of frying potatoes; other odours, stale and lifeless,
crept through the stale and lifeless air.
Norma was entirely familiar with this phase of city life, for,
except for Sundays at Coney Island, or picnicking on some beach or in
some meadow or wood of Connecticut, she and the Sheridans had weathered
two successive hot seasons very comfortably within two hundred yards of
Broadway. It held no particular horrors for her; she reflected that in
another hour or two the sun would quite have died away, and then every
flight of old brownstone steps would hold its chatting group, and every
street its scores of screaming and running children.
Wherever her thoughts carried her, they began and ended with
Christopher. He had never kissed her again after the night of his
return from Miami; he had hardly touched even her hand, and he had said
no word of love. But, as the summer progressed, these two had grown
steadily to live more and more for each other, for just the casual
friendly looks and words of ordinary intercourse in the presence of
other persons, and for the chance hours that Fate now and then
permitted them alone.
Norma, in every other relationship grown more whimsical and more
restless, showing new phases of frivolity and shallowness to the world,
had deepened and developed, under Chris's eyes, into her own highest
possibility of womanhood. To him she was earnest, honest, only anxious
to be good and to be true. He knew the viewpoint of that wiser self
that was the real Norma; he knew how wide open those blue eyes were to
what was false and worthless in the world around her.
And Norma had seen him change, too, or perhaps more truly become
himself. Still apparently the old Chris, handsome, poised, cynical, and
only too ready to be bored, he went his usual course of golf and polo,
gave his men's dinners, kissed Alice good-bye and departed for yachting
or motoring trips. Even Alice, shut away from reality in her own world
of music and sweet airs, flowers and friendship, saw no change.
But Norma saw it. She knew that Chris was no longer ready to respond
to every pretty woman's idle challenge to a flirtation; she knew that
there was a Chris of high ideals, a Chris capable even of heroism, a
Chris who loved simplicity, who loved even service, and who was not too
spoiled and too proud to give his time as well as his money, to give
himself gladly where he saw the need.
Their hours alone together were hours of enchanting discovery.
Memories of the little boy that had been Chris, the little girl that
had been Norma, their hopes and ambitions and joys and sorrows, all
were exchanged. And to them both every word seemed of thrilling and
absorbing interest. To Norma life now was a different thing when Chris
merely was in the room, however distant from her, however apparently
interested in someone, or something, else. She knew that he was
conscious of her, thinking of her, and that presently she would have
just the passing word, or smile, or even quiet glance that would buoy
her hungry soul like a fresh and powerful current.
It was not strange to her that she should have come to feel him the
most vital and most admirable of all the persons about her, for many of
the men and women who loved Chris shared this view. Norma had not been
in the Melrose house a month before she had heard him called
wonderful", inimitable", the only Chris", a hundred times. Even, she
told herself sometimes, even the women that Chris quite openly disliked
would not return coldness for coldness. And how much less could she, so
much younger, resist the generous friendship he offered to her
ignorance, and awkwardness, and strangeness?
That he saw in her own companionship something to value she had at
first been slow to believe. Sheer pride had driven her to reluctance,
to shyness, to unbelief. But that was long ago, months ago. Norma knew
now that he truly liked her, that the very freshness and
unconventionality of her viewpoint delighted him, and that he gave her
a frankness, a simpleness, and an ardour, in his confidences, that
would have astonished Alice herself.
Alice! Norma was thinking of Alice, now. Just where did Alice come
in? Alice had always been the most generous of wives. But she could not
be generous here; no human woman could. She liked Norma, in a sense she
needed Norma, but Chris was all her world.
But, good heavens! Norma mused, as she walked slowly along, isn't
there to be any friendship for a man but his men friends, or any for a
woman except unmarried men? Isn't there friendship at all between the
sexes? Must it always be sneaking and subterfuge, unless it's marriage?
I don't want to marry Chris Liggett
She stopped short, and the blood left her heart suddenly, and rushed
back with a pounding that almost dizzied her.
I don't want to marry Chris Liggett, she whispered, aloud.
And then she widened her eyes at space, and walked on blindly for a
little way. Oh, Chris, Chris, Chris! she said. Oh, what shall I do?
An agony almost physical in its violence seized her, and she began
to move more rapidly, as if to wear it out, or escape it.
No, no, no; I can't care for him in that way, said Norma, feeling
her throat dry and her head suddenly aching. We can'twe cannotlike
each other that way!
The rest of the walk was a blank as far as her consciousness was
concerned. She was swept far away, on a rushing sea of memories,
memories confused and troubled by a vague apprehension of the days to
come. That was it; that was it; they loved each other. Not as
kinspeople, not as friends, not as the Chris and Norma of Alice's and
Leslie's and Annie's lives, but as man and woman, caught at last in the
old, old snare that is the strongest in life.
Bewildered and sick, she reached the cool, great colonnaded doorway
of the hotel. And here she and Christopher came face to face.
He was coming out, was indeed halfway down the stone steps. They
stood still and looked at each other.
Norma thought that he looked tired, that perhaps the hot week in
streets and offices had been hard for him. He was pale, and the smile
he gave her was strained and unnatural. They had not seen each other
for ten days, and Norma, drinking in every expression of the firm
mouth, the shrewd, kindly eyes, the finely set head, felt sudden
confidence and happiness flood her being again. It was all nonsense,
this imagining of hers, and she and Chris would always be the best
friends in the world!
Alice is perfectly splendid, Norma said, in answer to his first
questions, and Leslie's baby is much less fat and solid looking, and
getting to be so cunning. Where is Aunt Marianna?
Upstairs, he answered with a slight backward inclination of his
head. We had a most satisfactory day, and you and she can get off to
Great Barrington to-morrow without any trouble.
She and I? Norma said, distressed by something cold and casual in
his manner. But aren't you coming, too? Alice depends upon your
I can't, I'm sorry to say. I may get up on Friday night, Chris
said, with an almost weary air of politeness.
Friday! Why, thenthen I'll persuade Aunt Marianna to wait, Norma
decided, eagerly. You must come with us, Chris; it's quite lovely up
I'm very sorry, the man repeated, glancing beyond her as if in a
hurry to terminate the conversation. But I may not get up at all this
week. And I've arranged with Aunt Marianna that Poole drives you up
to-morrow. You'll find her, he added, lightly, enthusiastic over the
baby's pictures. They're really excellent, and I think Leslie will be
delighted. And now I have to go, Norma
But you're coming back to have dinner with us? the girl
interrupted, thoroughly uneasy at the change in him.
Not to-night. I have an engagement! Good-bye. I'll see you very
soon. The hat's charming, Norma, I think you may safely order more of
them by mail if you have to. Good-bye.
And with another odd smile, and his usually courteous bow, he was
gone, and Norma was left staring after him in a state almost of
What was the matter with him? The question framed itself indignantly
in Norma's mind as she automatically crossed the foyer of the hotel and
went upstairs. Mechanically, blindly, she took off the big hat, flung
aside the parasol, and went through the uniting bathroom into Mrs.
Melrose's room. What on earth had been the matter with Chris? What
right had hehow dared hetreat her so rudely?
Mrs. Melrose was in a flowered chair near a wide-opened window. She
had put on a lacy robe of thin silk, after the heat and burden of the
day, and her feet were in slippers. Beside her was a tall glass,
holding an iced drink, and before her, on a small table, Regina had
ranged the beautiful photographs of Leslie's baby that were to be the
young mother's birthday surprise next week.
Hello, dear! she said, in the pleasant, almost cooing voice with
which she almost always addressed the girls of the family, isn't this
just a dreadful, dreadful day? Oh, my, so hot! Look here, Norma, just
see my little Patricia's pictures. Aren't they perfectly lovely? I'm
so pleased with them. I was justRegina, will you order Miss
Norma something cool to drink, please. Tea, dear? Or lemonade, like
your old aunty?I was just showing them to Chris. Yes. And he thought
they were just perfectly lovely; see the little fat hand, and how
beautifully the lace took! Therethat one's the best. You'll see,
Leslie will like that one.
The topic, fortunately for Norma's agitation, was apparently
inexhaustible and all-absorbing. The girl could sink almost unnoticed
into an opposite chair, and while her voice dutifully uttered
sympathetic monosyllables, and her eyes went from the portraits of
little Patricia idly about the big room, noting the handsome old maple
furniture, and the costly old scrolled velvet carpet, and the aspect of
flaming roofs beyond the window in the sunset, her thoughts could turn
and twist agonizingly over this new mystery and this new pain. What had
been the matter with Chris?
Anger gave way to chill, and chill to utter heartsickness. The cause
of the change was unimportant, after all; it was the change itself that
was significant. Norma's head ached, her heart was like lead. She had
been thinking, all the way down in the carall to-daythat she would
meet him to-night; that they would talk. Now what? Was this endless
evening to drag away on his terms, and were they to return to Newport
to-morrow, with only the memory of that cool farewell to feed Norma's
starving, starving soul?
Chris couldn't stay and have dinner, Mrs. Melrose presently was
regretting, but, after all, perhaps it's cooler up here than anywhere,
and I am so tired that I'm not going to change! You'll just have to
stand me as I am.
And the tired, heat-flushed, wrinkled old face, under its fringe of
gray hair, smiled confidently at Norma. The girl smiled affectionately
Five o'clock. Six o'clock. It was almost seven when Norma came forth
from a cold bath, and supervised the serving of the little meal. She
merely played with her own food, and the old lady was hardly more
Oh, no, Aunt Marianna! I think that Leslie was just terribly
nervous, after Patricia was born. But I think now, especially when
they're back in their own house, they'll be perfectly happy. No reason
in the world why they shouldn't be, Norma heard herself saying. So
they had been talking of Acton and Leslie, she thought. Leslie was
spoiled, and Acton was extravagant, and the united families had been
just a little worried about their attitudes toward each other. Mrs.
Melrose was sure that Norma was right, and rambled along the same topic
for some time. Then Norma realized that they had somehow gotten around
to Theodore, Leslie's father. This subject was always good for half
hours together, she could safely ramble a little herself. The deadly
weight fell upon her spirit again. What had been the matter with Chris?
At nine o'clock her tired old companion began preparations for bed,
and Norma, catching up some magazines, went into her own room. She
could hear Regina and Mrs. Melrose murmuring together, the running of
water, the opening and shutting of bureau drawers.
Norma went to her open window, leaned out into the warm and
brilliant night. There was a hot moon, moving between clouds that
promised, at last, a break in the binding heat. Down the Avenue below
her omnibuses wheeled and rumbled, omnibuses whose upper seats were
packed with thinly clad passengers, but otherwise there was little life
and movement abroad. A searchlight fanned the sky, fell and wavered
upward again. A hurdy-gurdy, in the side street, poured forth the notes
of the Marseillaise.
Suddenly, and almost without volition, the girl snatched the
telephone, and murmured a number. Thought and senses seemed suspended
while she waited.
Is this the Metropolitan Club? Is Mr. Christopher Liggett there?...
If you will, please. Thank you. Say that it is a lady, said Norma, in
a hurried and feverish voice. The operator would announce presently, of
course, that Mr. Liggett was not there. The chance that he was there
was so remote
Chris! she breathed, all the tension and doubt dropping from her
like a garment at the sound of his quiet tones. Christhis is Norma!
A pause. Her soul died within her.
What is it? Chris asked presently, in a repressed voice.
Wellbut were you playing cards?
You've had your dinner, Chris?
No. Yes, I had dinner, of course. I dined with Aunt Mariannano,
that was lunch! I dined here.
Chris, Norma faltered, speaking quickly as her courage ebbed, I
didn't want to interrupt you, but you seemed soso different, this
afternoon. And I didn't want to have you cross at me; and I
wonderedI've been wondering ever sinceif I have done something that
made you angrythat was stupid andand
She stopped. The forbidding silence on his part was like a wall that
crossed her path, was like a veil that blinded and choked her.
Not at all, he said, quickly. Where did you get that idea?...
Hellohelloare you there, Norma? he added, when on her part in turn
there was a blank silence.
For Norma, strangled by an uprising of tears as sudden as it was
unexpected and overwhelming, could make no audible answer. Why she
should be crying she could not clearly think, but she was bathed in
tears, and her heart was heavy with unspeakable desolation.
Norma! she heard him say, urgently. What is it? Norma?
Nothing! she managed to utter, in a voice that stemmed the flood
for only a second.
Norma, Chris said, simply, I am coming out. Meet me downstairs in
ten minutes. I want to see you!
Both telephones clicked, and Norma found herself sitting blankly in
the sudden silence of the room, her brain filled with a confusion of
shamed and doubting and fearful thoughts, and her heart flooded with
Five minutes later she stepped from the elevator into the lobby, and
selected a big chair that faced obliquely on the entrance doors. The
little stir in the wide, brightly lighted place always interested her
and amused her; women drifting from the dining-room with their light
wraps over their arms, messengers coming and going, the far strains of
the orchestra mingling pleasantly with the nearer sounds of feet and
To-night her spirit was soaring. Nothing mattered, nothing of her
doubts, nothing of his coldness, except that Chris was even now coming
toward her! Her mind followed the progress of his motor-car, up through
the hot, deserted streets.
Suddenly it seemed to her that she could not bear the emotion of
meeting. With every man's figure that came through the wide-open doors
her heart thumped and pounded.
His voice; she would hear it again. She would see the gray eyes, and
watch the firm, quick movement of his jaw.
Other men, meeting other women, or parting from other women, came
and went. Norma liked the big, homely boy in olive drab, who kissed the
little homely mother so affectionately.
She glanced at her wrist watch, twisted about to confirm its
unwelcome news by the big clock. Quarter to ten, and no Chris. Norma
settled down again to waiting and watching.
Ten o'clock. Quarter past ten. He was not coming! No, although her
sick and weary spirit rose whenever there was the rush of a motor-car
to the curb or the footstep of a man on the steps outside, she knew now
that he was not coming. Hope deferred had exhausted her, but hope dead
was far, far worse. He was not coming.
It was almost half-past ten when a bell-boy approached. Was it Miss
Sheridan? Mr. Christopher Liggett had been called out of town, and
would try to see Mrs. Melrose in a day or two.
Norma turned upon him a white face of fatigue.
Is Mr. Liggett on the telephone?
No, Miss. He just telephoned a message.
The boy retired, and Norma went slowly upstairs, and slowly made her
preparations for sleep. But the blazing summer dawn, smiting the city
at four o'clock, found her still sitting at the window, twirling a
tassel of the old-fashioned shade in her cold fingers, and staring with
haggard eyes into space.
More than a week later Annie gave a luncheon to a dozen women, and
telephoned Norma beforehand, with a request that the girl come early
enough to help her with name cards.
These damnable engagement luncheons, said Aunt Annie, limping
about the long table, and grumbling at everything as she went. Annie
had wrenched her ankle in alighting from her car, and was cross with
nagging pain. Here, put Natalie next to Leslie, Norma; no, that puts
the Gunnings together. I'll give you Miss Blanchardbut you don't
speak French! Here, give me your penciland confound these things
anywayFowler, she said to the butler, I don't like to see a thing
like that on the tablecarry that away, please; and here, get somebody
to help you change this, that won't do! That's all rightonly I want
this as you had it day before yesterdayand don't use those, get the
And so fussing and changing and criticizing, Annie went away, and
Norma followed her up to her bedroom.
I'm wondering when we're going to give you an engagement
luncheon, Norma, said the hostess, in a whirl of rapid dressing.
Who's ahead now?
Ohnobody! Norma answered, with a mirthless laugh. She had been
listless and pale for several days, and did not seem herself at all.
Forrest Duer, is it?
Oh, good heavensAunt Annie! He's twenty-one!
Is that allhe's such a big whale!Don't touch my hair, Phoebe,
it'll do very well! said Annie to the maid. Well, don't be in too
much of a hurry, Norma, she went on kindly. Nothing like being sure!
ThatAnnie glanced at the retiring maidthat's what makes me
nervous about Leslie, she confessed. I'm afraid we hurried the child
into it just a little bit. It was an understood thing since they were
nothing but kiddies.
Leslie is outrageously spoiled, Norma said, not unkindly.
Leslie? Oh, horribly. Mama always spoils everyone and poor Theodore
spoiled her, too, Annie conceded.
She told me herself yesterday, Norma went on, with a trace of her
old animation, that they've overdrawn again. Now, Aunt Annie, I do
think that's outrageous! Chris straightened them all out lastwhen was
it?June, after the baby came, and they have an enormous
incomethousands every month, and yet they are deep in again!
The wretched thing is that they quarrel about that! Annie agreed.
Well, exactly! That was what it was about day before yesterday, and
Leslie told me she cried all night. And you know the other day she took
Patricia and came home to Aunt Marianna, and it was terrible!
How much do you suppose the servants know of that? Annie asked,
Oh, they must know! Norma replied.
Foolish, foolish child! You know, Norma, Annie resumed, Leslie
comes by her temper naturally. She is half French; her mother was a
It's a pretty name, Norma commented. Did you know her?
Know her? She was my maid when I was about seventeen, a very
superior girl. I used to practise my French with her. She was extremely
pretty. After my father died my mother and I went to Florida, and when
we came back the whole thing broke. I thought it would kill Mama! At
first we thought Theodore had simply gotten her into 'trouble,' to use
the dear old phrase. But pas du tout; she had 'ze mar-ri-age
certificate' all safe and sound. But he was no more in love with her
than I wasa boy nineteen! Mama made her leave the house, and cut off
Theodore's allowance entirely, and for a while they were togetherbut
it couldn't last. Teddy got his divorce when he went with Mama to
California, but he was ill then, though we didn't know it, poor boy! He
lived five years after that.
But he saw Leslie?
Oh, dear, yes! Annie said, buffing her twinkling finger-nails,
idly. Didn't Mama ever tell you about that?
No, she never mentions it.
Well, that was awful, toofor poor Mama. About four years after
the divorce, one night when we were all at homeit was just after Mama
and I came back from Europe, and the year before Hendrick and I were
marriedsuddenly there was a rush in the hall, and in came Theodore's
wifeLouison Courtot! It seems Mama had been in touch with her ever
since we returned, but none of us knew that. And she had Leslie with
her, a little thing about four years oldLeslie just faintly remembers
it. She had fought Mama off, at first, about giving her baby up, but
now she was going to be married, and she had finally consented to do as
Mama wanted. Leslie came over to me, and got into my lap, and went to
sleep, I remember. Theodore was terribly ill, and I remember that
Louison was quite gentle with himsurprised us all, in fact, she was
so mild. She had been a wild thing, but always most self-respecting; a
prude, in fact. She even stooped over Theodore, and kissed him
good-bye, and then she knelt down and kissed Leslie, and went away.
Mama had intended that she should always see the child, if she wanted
to, but she never came again. She was married, I know, a few weeks
later, and long afterward Mama told me that she was dead. Ted came to
adore the baby, and of course she's been the greatest comfort to Mama,
so it all turns out right, after all. But we're a sweet family!
finished Annie, rising to go downstairs. And now, she added, on the
stairs, if there were to be serious trouble between Acton and
LeslieWell, it isn't thinkable!
Leslie herself, charming in a flowered silky dress, with a wide
flowery hat on her yellow hair, was waiting for them in the big, shaded
hallway. The little matron was extremely attractive in her new
dignities, and her babyish face looked more ridiculously youthful than
ever as she talked of my husband, my little girl, my house, and
Leslie, like Annie and Alice, was habitually wrapped in her own
affairs, more absorbed in the question of her own minute troubles than
in the most widespread abuses of the world. When Leslie saw a coat, the
identity of the wearer interested her far less than the primary
considerations of the coat's cut and material, and the secondary
decision whether or not she herself would like such a garment.
Consequently, she glanced but apathetically at Norma; she had seen the
dotted blue swiss before, and the cornflower hat; she had seen Aunt
Annie's French organdie; there was nothing there either to envy or
How's the baby, dear; and how's Acton? Annie asked, perfunctorily.
Oh, they're both fine, she answered, indifferently. I've been all
upset because my cook got marriedjust walked out. I told Acton not to
pay her, but of course he did; it's nothing to him if my whole house is
upset by the selfishness of somebody else. He and Chris are going off
this afternoon with Joe and Denny Page, for the Thousand Islands
I didn't know Chris was here! Annie said, in surprise.
I didn't, myself. He came up with Acton, late last night. They'd
motored all the way; I was asleep when they got in. I didn't know it
until I found him at breakfast this morning
Norma's heart stood still. The name alone was enough to shake her to
the very soul, but the thought that he was herein Newportthis
minute, and that she might not see him, probably indeed would not see
him, made her feel almost faint.
She had not seen him since the meeting on the hotel steps nearly two
weeks ago. It had been the longest and the saddest two weeks in Norma's
life. It was in vain that she reminded herself that her love for him
was weakness and madness, and that by no possible shift of
circumstances could it come to happy consummation. It was in vain that
she pondered Alice's claims, and all the family claims, and the general
claim of society as an institution. Deep and strong and unconquerable
above them all rose the tide of love and passion, the gnawing and
burning hunger for the sight of him, the sound of his voice, the touch
of his hand.
Life had become for her a vague and changing dream, with his name
for its only reality. Somewhere in the fog of days was Chris, and she
would not live again until she saw him. He must forgive her; he must
explain his coldness, explain the change in him, and then she would be
content just with the old friendliness, just the old nearness and the
occasional word together.
Every letter that Joseph brought her, every call to the telephone,
meant to her only the poignant possibility of a message from him. She
sickened daily with fresh despair, and fed herself daily with new
To-day she was scarcely conscious of the hilarious progress of the
luncheon; she looked at the prospective bride, in whose honour Aunt
Annie entertained, only with a pang of wonder. What was it like, the
knowledge that one was openly beloved, the miraculous right to plan an
unclouded future together? The mere thought of being free to love
Chris, of having him free to claim her, almost dizzied Norma with its
vista of utter felicity. She had to drive it resolutely from her mind.
Not thatnever that! But there must at least be peace and friendship
At three o'clock the luncheon was over; it was half-past three when
Leslie and she drove to the Melrose cottageas the fourteen-room,
three-story frame house was called. Norma had searched the drive with
her eyes as they approached. The gray roadster was not there. There was
no sign of Christopher's hat or coat in the hallway. Alice was alone,
in her downstairs sitting-room. Norma's heart sank like a lump of ice.
Did you see Chris? the invalid began, happily. We had the nicest
lunch togetherjust we two. And look at the books the angel brought
mejust a feast. You saw him, Leslie, didn't you, dear? He said he
caught you and Acton at breakfast. I was perfectly amazed. Miss Slater
moved me out here about eleven o'clock, and I heard someone walking
in! He's off now, with the Pages; he told you that, of course!
He looks rotten, I think, Leslie offered. I told him he was
working too hard.
Well, Judge Lee is sick, and he hasn't been in to the office since
June, Alice said, and that makes it very hard for Chris. But he says
his room at the club is cool, and now he'll have two or three lovely
days with the Page boys
Norma, who had subsided quietly into a chair, was looking at the
yellow covers of the new French and Italian novels.
And then does he come back here Monday, for the tennis? she asked,
clearing her throat.
He says not! Alice answered, regretfully. He's going straight on
down to the city. Then next week-end is the cruise with the Dwights;
and after that, I suppose we'll all be home!
She went on into a conversation with Leslie, relative to the move.
After a few moments Norma went out through the opened French window
onto the wide porch. It was rather a dark, old-fashioned side porch,
with an elaborate wooden railing, and potted hydrangeas under a striped
awning. The house had neither the magnificence of Annie's gray-stone
mansion or the beauty of Leslie's colonial white and green at Glen
Cove; it had been built in the late eighties, and was inflexibly
Norma went down slowly through the garden, and walked vaguely toward
the hot glitter and roll of the blue sea. Her misery was almost
unbearable. Weeksit would be weeks before she would see him! He had
been here to-dayhere in the gardenin Alice's room, and she had not
had a word or a sign.
Children and nurses were on the beach, grouped in the warm shade.
The season was over, there were yellow leaves in the hedges, Norma's
feet rustled among the dropped glory of the old trees. The world seemed
hot, dry, lifeless before her.
I wish I were dead! she cried, passionately, for the first time in
Suddenly and smoothly they were all transported to town again, and
the vigour and sparkle of the autumn was exhilarating to Norma in spite
of herself. The Park was a glory of red and gold leaves; morning came
late, and the dew shone until ten o'clock; bright mists rose smoking
into the sunlight, and when Norma walked home from a luncheon, or from
an hour of furious squash or tennis at the club, the early winter dusk
would be closing softly in, the mists returning, and the lights of the
long Mall in the park blooming round and blue in the twilight.
She was with Mrs. Melrose this winter, an arrangement extremely
welcome to the old lady, who was lonely and liked the stir of young
life in the house. Alice had quite charmingly and naturally suggested
the change, and Norma's belongings had been moved away from the little
white room next to Miss Slater's.
One reason for it was that Alice had had two nurses all summer long,
and found the increased service a great advantage. Then Mama was all
alone and not so well as she had been; getting old, and reluctant to
take even the necessary exercise.
And then you're too young to be shut up with stupid home-loving
folk like Chris and me, Alice had told Norma, lightly.
Your stupidity is proverbial, Aunt Alice, Norma had laughed. She
did not care where she went any more. Chris had greeted her casually,
upon their meeting in October, and had studiously, if inconspicuously,
ignored her. But even to see him at all was so great a relief to her
over-charged heart that for weeks this was enough. She must meet him
occasionally, she heard his name every day, and she knew where he was
and what he was doing almost at every moment. She treasured every look,
every phrase of his, and she glowed and grew beautiful in the
conviction that, even though he was still mysteriously angry with her,
he had that old consciousness of her presence, too; he might hate her,
but he could not ignore her.
And then, in December, the whole matter reached a sudden crisis, and
Norma came to feel that she would have been glad to have the matter go
back to this state of doubt and indecision again.
Mrs. von Behrens was on the directorate of a working girls' club
that needed special funds every winter, and this year the money was to
be raised by an immense entertainment, at which generous professional
singers were to be alternated on a brilliant programme with society
girls and men, in tableaux and choruses. Norma, who had a charming if
not particularly strong voice, was early impressed into service,
because she was so good-natured, so dependable, and pretty and young
enough to carry off a delectable costume. The song she sang had been
specially written for the affair, and in the quaint dance that
accompanied it she was drilled by the dance authority of the hour. A
chorus of eight girls and eight men was added to complete the number,
and the gaiety of the rehearsals, and the general excitement and
interest, carried the matter along to the last and dress rehearsal with
a most encouraging rush.
Annie had originally selected Chris for Norma's companion in the
song, for Chris had a pleasant, presentable voice, and Chris in costume
was always adequate to any rôle. Theatricals had been his delight, all
his life long, and among the flattering things that were commonly said
of Chris was that he had robbed the stage of a great character actor.
But Chris had begged off, to take a minor part in another
ensemble, and Norma had a youth named Roy Gillespie for her
partner. Roy was a big, fat, blond boy, good-natured and stupid and
rather in love with Norma, and as the girl was entirely unconscious of
Annie's original plan, she was quite satisfied with him.
The dress rehearsal was on a dark Thursday afternoon before the
Saturday of the performance. It took place in the big empty auditorium,
where it was to drag along from twelve o'clock noon, until the
preparations for the regular evening performance drove the amateurs,
protesting, away. Snow was fluttering down over the city when Annie,
with Norma, and a limousine full of properties, reached the place at
noon; motor-cars were wheeling and crowding in the side street, and it
seemed to Norma thrilling to enter so confidently at the big, dirty,
sheet-iron door lettered:
STAGE DOOR. NO ADMITTANCE.
As always to the outsider, the wings, the shabby dressing-rooms, the
novel feeling of sauntering across the big, dim stage, the gloom of the
great rising arch of the house, were full of charm. Voices and hammers
were sounding in the gloom; somebody was talking hard while he fitfully
played the piano; girls were giggling and fluttering about; footlights
flashed up and down, in the front rows of seats a few mothers and maids
had gathered. There was the sweet, strong smell of some spicy
disinfectant, and obscure figures, up the aisles, were constantly
sweeping and stooping.
Annie had a chair in a wing. Her small fur hat and trim suit had
been selected for comfort; her knees were crossed, and she had a sheaf
of songs, a pencil, and various note-books in her hands. She was alert,
serious, authoritative; her manner expressed an anxious certainty that
everything that could possibly go wrong was about to do so. Men
protested jovially to Annie, girls whimpered and complained, maids
delivered staggering messages into her ear. Annie frowningly yet
sympathetically sent them all away, one by one; persisted that the
rehearsal proceed. Never mind the hat, we could get along without the
hat; never mind Dixie Jadwin, someone could read her part; never mind
this, never mind that; go on, go onwe must get on!
At five o'clock she was very tired, and Norma, fully arrayed, was
tired, too. The girl had been sitting on a barrel for almost an hour,
patiently waiting for the tardy Mr. Roy Gillespie to arrive, and permit
their particular song to be rehearsed. Everything that could be done in
the way of telephoning had been done: Mr. Gillespie had left his
office, he was expected momentarily at his home, he should be given the
message immediately. Nothing to do but wait.
Suddenly Norma's heart jumped to her throat, began to hammer wildly.
A man had come quietly in between her and Annie, and she heard the
voice that echoed in her heart all day and all night. It was Chris.
He did not see her, perhaps did not recognize her in a casual
glance, and began to talk to his sister-in-law in low, quick tones.
Almost immediately Annie exclaimed in consternation, and called Norma.
Norma! Chris tells me that poor old Mr. Gillespie died this
afternoon. That's what's been the matter. What on earth are we
to do now? I declare it's too much!
Norma got off her barrel. The great lighted stage seemed to be
moving about her as she went to join them.
What Chris saw strained his tried soul to its utmost of endurance.
He had not permitted himself to look at her squarely for weeks. Now
there was a new look, a look a little sad, a little wistfully
expectant, in the lovely face. Her eyes burned deeply blue above the
touch of rouge and the crimson lips. Her dark, soft hair fell in loose
ringlets on her shoulders from under the absurd little tipped and
veiled hat of the late seventies. Her gown, a flowered muslin, moved
and tilted with a gentle, shaking majesty over hoop skirts, and was
crossed on the low shoulders by a thin silk shawl whose long fringes
were tangled in her mitted fingers. The white lace stockings began
where the loose lace pantalettes stopped, and disappeared into
flat-heeled kid slippers. Norma carried a bright nosegay in lace paper,
and on her breast a thin gold locket hung on a velvet ribbon.
She herself had been completely captivated by the costume when
Madame Modiste had first suggested it, and when the first fittings
began. But that was weeks ago, and she was accustomed to it now, and
conscious in this instant of nothing but Chris, conscious of nothing
but the possibility that he would have a word or a smile, at last, for
Stay right here, both of youdon't move a stepwhile I telephone
Lucia Street! said the harassed Annie, her eyes glittering with some
desperate hope. She hurried away; they were alone.
Poor old Royhe adored his father! Chris said, with dry lips, and
in a rather unnatural voice. Norma, for one second, simulated mere
sympathy. Then with a rush the pride and hurt that had sustained her
ever since that weary September evening in the hotel lobby vanished,
and she came close to Chris, so that the fragrance and sweetness of her
enveloped him, and caught his coat with both her mitted hands, and
raised her face imploringly, commandingly to his.
Chrisfor God's sakewhat have I done? Don't you knowdon't you
know that you're killing me?
He looked down at her, wretchedly. And suddenly Norma knew. Not that
he liked her, not that she fascinated and interested him, not that they
were friends. But that he loved her with every fibre of his being, even
as she loved him.
The revelation carried her senses away with it upon a raging sea of
emotion and ecstasy. He drew her into a dim corner of the wings, and
put his arms about her, and her whole slender body, in its tilting
hoops, strained backward under the passion and fury of his first
embrace. Again and again his lips met hers, and she heard the
incoherent outpouring of murmured words, and felt the storm that shook
him as it was shaking her. Norma, after the first kiss, grew limp, let
herself rest almost without movement in his arms, shut her eyes.
Reason came back to them slowly; the girl almost rocking upon her
feet as the vertigo and bewilderment passed, and the man sustaining her
with an arm about her shoulders, neither looking at the other. So
several seconds, perhaps a full minute, went by, while the world
settled into place about them; the dingy, unpainted wood of the wings,
the near-by stage where absorbed groups of people were still coming and
going, the distant gloom of the house.
So now you know! Chris said, breathlessly, panting, and looking
away from her, with his hands hanging at his sides. Now you know! I've
tried to keep it from you! But nownow you know!
Norma, also breathing hard, did not answer for a little space.
I've known since that time we were in town, in September! she
said, almost defiantly. Chris looked toward her, surprised, and their
eyes met. I've known what was the matter with me, she added,
thoughtfully, even frowning a little in her anxiety to make it all
clear, but I couldn't imagine what it was with you!
But this brought him to face her, so close that she felt the same
sense of drowning, of losing her footing, again.
Chrisplease! she whispered, in terror.
But, Normasay it! Say that you love methat's all that matters
now! I've been losing my mind, I think. I've been losing my mind. Just
thatthat you do care!
I have Tears came to her lifted blue eyes, and she brushed
them away without moving her gaze from him. I think I have always
loved you, Chrisfrom the very first, she whispered.
Instantly she saw his expression change. It was as if, with that
revelation, a new responsibility began for him.
Here, dear, you mustn't cry! he said, composedly. He gave her his
handkerchief, helped her set the tipped hat and lace veil straight,
smiled reassurance and courage into her eyes. I'll see you,
Normawe'll talk, he said. Oh, my God, to talk to you again! Come,
now, we'll have to be here when Annie comes backthat's right. II
love the little gownterribly sweet. I haven't seen it before, you
know; my crowd has done all its rehearsing at Mrs. Hitchcock's. Here's
Christopher, said Annie, in deadly, almost angry earnest, as she
came up desperate and weary, you'll have to sing this thing with
Norma. Burgess Street absolutely refuses. He's in the chorus, and he
sings, but he simply won't do a solo! His mother says he has a cold,
and so on, and I swear I'll throw the whole thing up; I will,
indeed!rather than have this number ruined. There's no earthly reason
why you can't do bothof course the poor old man couldn't help
dyingbut if you knew
My dear girl, of course I'll do it! All the youth and buoyancy
that had been missing from his voice for weeks had come back.
Christopher laughed his old delightful laugh. I'll have to have Roy's
costume cut down, but Smithers will do it for me. I'll do my very
Oh, Chris, God bless you, Annie said. You'll do it better than he
ever did. Take my car and stop for his suit, and express whatever's
decentthe funeral will be Saturday morning and we'll all have to go,
but there's no help for it. And come to my house for dinner, and you
and Norma can go over it afterward; you poor girl, you're tired out,
but it's such a Godsend to have Chris fill in. And it will be the
prettiest number of all.
Tired out? The radiant girl who was tripping away to change to
street attire was hardly conscious that her feet touched the ground.
The stage, the theatre, the fur coat into which she buttoned herself,
the fragrance of the violets she wore, were all touched with beauty and
Snow was still falling softly, when she and Annie went out to the
car. Annie was so exhausted that she could hardly move, but Norma
floated above things mortal. The dark sidewalk was powdered with what
scrunched under their shoes like dry sugar, and up against the lighted
sky the flakes were twirling and falling. The air was sweet and cold
and pure after the hot theatre. Chris put them in the motor-car. He
would see his tailor, have a bite of dinner at home, and be at Annie's
at eight o'clock for the rehearsal.
I'll do something for you, for this, Norma! her aunt assured the
girl, gratefully. Norma protested in a voice that was almost singing.
It was nothing at all!
She felt suddenly happy and light. It was all right; there was to be
no more agony and doubt. Alice should lose nothing, the world should
know nothing, but Chris loved her! She could take his friendship
fearlessly, there would be nothing but what was good and beautiful and
true between them. But what a changed world!
What a changed room it was into which she danced, to brush her hair
for dinner, and laugh into her mirror, where the happy girl with starry
eyes and blazing cheeks laughed back. What a changed dinner table, at
which the old lady drowsed and cooed! Norma's blood was dancing, her
head was in a whirl, she was hardly conscious that this soaring and
singing soul of hers had a body.
At eight she and Mrs. Melrose went to Mrs. von Behrens's, and Norma
and Chris went through the song again and again and again, for the
benefit of a small circle of onlookers. Hendrick, who had sworn that
wild horses would not drag him to the entertainment, sat with a small
son in his lap, and applauded tirelessly. Annie criticized and praised
alternately. Mrs. Melrose went to sleep, and Annie's new secretary, a
small, lean, dark girl of perhaps twenty-two, passionately played the
music. Norma knew exactly how this girl felt, how proud she was of her
position, how anxious to hold it, and how infinitely removed from her
humble struggle the beautiful Miss Sheridan seemed! Yet she herself had
been much the same less than two years ago!
Norma could have laughed aloud. She envied no one to-night. The
mystery and miracle of Chris's love for her was like an ermine mantle
about her shoulders, and like a diadem upon her brows. Annie was
delighted with her, and presently told her she had never before sung so
I suppose practice makes perfect! the girl answered, innocently.
She was conscious of no hypocrisy. No actress enjoying a long-coveted
part could have rejoiced in every word and gesture more than she. Just
to move, under his eyes, to laugh or to be serious, to listen dutifully
to Annie and the old lady, to flirt with Baby Piet, was ecstasy enough.
They had small opportunity for asides. But that was of no
consequence. All the future was their own. They would see each other
to-morrowor next day; it did not matter. Norma's hungry heart had
something to remember, nowa very flood-tide of memories. She could
have lived for weeks upon this one day's memories.
Norma and Chris were placed toward the centre of the first half of
the programme on the triumphant Saturday night, and could escape from
the theatre before eleven o'clock to go home to tell Alice all about
it. Chris played the song, on his own piano, and Norma modestly and
charmingly went through it again, to the invalid's great satisfaction.
Alice, when Norma and her mother were gone, tried to strike a spark of
enthusiasm from her husband as to the girl's beauty and talent, but
Chris was pleasantly unresponsive.
She got through it very nicely; they all did! Chris admitted,
When you think of the upbringing she had, Chris, a little nameless
nobody, Alice pursued. When you think that until last year she had
actually never seen a finger-bowl, or spoken to a servant!
Exactly! Chris said, briefly. Alice, who was facing the fire, did
not see him wince. She was far from suspecting that he had at that
moment a luncheon engagement for the next day with Norma, and that
during the weeks that followed they met by appointment almost every
day, and frequently by chance more often than that.
In the beginning, these were times brimful of happiness for Norma.
She would meet Chris far down town, among the big, cold, snowbound
office-buildings, and they would loiter for two hours at some
inconspicuous table in a restaurant, and come wandering out into the
cold streets still talking, absorbed and content. Or she would rise
before him from a chair in one of the foyers of the big hotels, at tea
time, and they would find an unobserved corner for the murmur that rose
and fell, rose and fell inexhaustibly. Tea and toast unobserved before
them, music drifting unheard about them, furred and fragrant women
coming and going; all this was but the vague setting for their own
thrilling drama of love and confidence. They would come out into the
darkness, Norma tucking herself beside him in the roadster, last
promises and last arrangements made, until to-morrow.
Sometimes the girl even accompanied him to Alice's room, to sit at
the invalid's knee, and chatter with a tact and responsiveness that
Alice found an improvement upon her old amusing manner. So free was
Norma in these days from any sense of guilt that she felt herself
nothing but generous toward Alice, in sparing the older woman some of
the excess of joy and companionship in which she was so rich.
But very swiftly the first complete satisfaction in the discovery of
their mutual love began to wane, or rather to be overset with the
difficulties by which Norma, and many another more brilliant and older
woman, must inevitably be worsted. Her meetings with Chris, innocent
and open as they seemed, were immediately threatened by the sordid
danger of scandal. To meet him once, twice, half-a-dozen times, even,
was safe enough. But when each day of separation became for them both
only an agony of waiting until the next day that should unite them, and
when all Norma's self-control was not enough to keep her from the
telephone summons that at least gave her the sound of his voice, then
the world began to be cognizant that something was in the air.
The very maids at Mrs. Melrose's house knew that Miss Sheridan was
never available any more, never to be traced to the club, to young Mrs.
Liggett's, or to Mrs. von Behrens's house, with a telephone message or
an urgent letter. Leslie knew that Norma hated girls' luncheons; Annie
asked Hendrick idly why he supposed the child was always taking long
walksor saying that she took long walksand Hendrick, later
speculating himself as to the inaccessibility of Chris, was perhaps the
first in the group to suspect the truth.
A quite accidental and innocent hint from Annie overwhelmed Norma
with shame and terror, and she and Chris, in earnest consultation,
decided that they must be more discreet. But this was slow and
difficult work, after the radiant first plunge into danger. Despite
their utmost resolution, Chris would find her out, Norma would meet him
halfway, and even under Leslie's very eyes, or in old Mrs. Melrose's
actual presence, the telephone message, or the quicker signals of eyes
and smile, would forge the bond afresh.
Even when Norma really did start off heroically upon a bracing
winter walk, determined to shake off, in solitude and exercise, the
constant hunger for his presence, torturing possibilities would swarm
into her mind, and weaken her almost while she thought them banished.
She could catch him at his club; she might have just five minutes of
him did she choose to telephone.
Perhaps she would resist the temptation, and go home nervous,
high-strung, excitablethe evening stretching endlessly before
herwithout him. Aunt Annie and Hendrick coming, Leslie and Acton
coming, the prospect of the decorous family dinner would drive her
almost to madness. She would dress in a feverish dream, answer old Mrs.
Melrose absently or impatiently, speculating all the time about him.
Where was he? When would they meet again?
And then perhaps Leslie would casually remark that Chris had said he
would join them for coffee, or Joseph would summon her gravely to the
telephone. Then Norma began to live again, the effect of the lonely
walk and the heroic resolutions swept away, nothingnothing was in the
world but the sound of that reassuring voice, or the prospect of that
ring at the bell, and that step in the hall.
So matters went on for several weeks, but they were weeks of
increasing uneasiness and pain for Norma, and she knew that Chris found
them even less endurable than she. The happy hours of confidence and
happiness grew fewer and fewer, and as their passion strengthened, and
the insuperable obstacles to its natural development impressed them
more and more forcibly, miserable and anxious times took their place.
Their love was no sooner acknowledged than both came to realize how mad
and hopeless it was, and that no reiteration of its intensity and no
argument could ever give them a gleam of hope.
If Norma had drifted cheerfully and recklessly into this situation,
she paid for it now, when petty restrictions and conventions stung her
like so many bees, and when she could turn nowhere for relief from
constant heartache and the sickening monotony of her thoughts. She
could not have Chris; she could not give him up. Hours with him were
only a degree more bearable than hours without him.
When he spoke hopefully of a possible change, of something making
their happiness possible, she would turn on him like a little virago.
Yet if he despaired, tears would come to Norma's eyes, and she would
beg him almost angrily to change his tone, or she would disgrace them
both by beginning to cry.
Norma grew thin and fidgety, able to concentrate her mind on
nothing, and openly indifferent to the society she had courted so
enthusiastically a year ago. It was a part of her suffering that she
grew actually to dislike Alice, always so suave and cheerful, always so
serenely sure of Chris's devotion. What right had this woman, who had
been rich and spoiled and guarded all her life, to hold him away from
the woman he loved? Chris had been chained to this couch for years,
reading, playing his piano, infinitely solicitous and sympathetic. But
was he to spend all his life thus? Was there to be no glorious
companionship, no adventure, no deep and satisfying love for Chris,
ever in this world? Norma wished no ill to Alice, but she hated a world
that could hold Alice's claim legitimate.
Why should it be so? she said to Chris one day, bitterly. Why,
when all my life was going so happily, did I have to fall in love with
you, I wonder? It could so easily have been somebody else!
I don't know! Chris answered, soberly, flinging away his
half-finished cigarette, and folding his arms over his chest, as he
stared through a screen of bare trees at the river. It was a March day
of warm airs and bursting buds; the roads were running water, and every
bank and meadow oozed the thawing streams, but there was no green yet.
Chris had come for the girl at three o'clock, just as she was starting
out for one of her aimless, unhappy tramps, and had carried her off for
a twenty-five-mile run to the quiet corner of the tavern's porch in
Tarrytown where they were having tea. I suppose that's just life.
Things go so rottenly, sometimes!
Norma's eyes watered as she pushed the untasted toast away from her,
cupped her chin in her hands, and stared at the river in her turn.
Chris, if I could go back, I think I'd never speak to you! she
You mustn't say that, he reproached her. My darling; surely it's
brought you some happiness?
I suppose so, Norma conceded, lifelessly, after a silence. But I
can't go on! she protested, suddenly. I can't keep this up! I suppose
I've done something very wicked, to be punished this way. But, Chris, I
loved you from the very first day I ever saw you, in Biretta's
Bookstore, I think. I can't sleep, she stammered, piteously, and I am
so afraid all the time!
Afraid of what? the man asked, very low.
She faced him, honestly.
You know what! Of youof me. It can't go on. You know that. And
yet And Norma looked far away, her beautiful weary eyes burning in
her white face. And yet, I can't stop it! she whispered.
Oh, Chris, don't let's fool ourselves! she interrupted his protest
impatiently. Weeks ago, weeks ago!we said that we would see
each other less, that it would taper off. We tried. It's no use! If we
were in different citiesin different families, even! I tell myself
that it will grow less and less, she added presently, as the man
watched her in silence, but oh, my God!how long the years ahead
And Norma put her head down on the table, pressed her white fingers
suddenly against her eyes with a gesture infinitely desolate and
despairing, and he knew that she was in tears. Then there was a long
Look here, Norma, said Chris, suddenly, in a quiet, reasonable
tone. I am thirty-eight. I've had affairs several times in my life,
two or three before I married Alice, two or three since. They've never
been very serious, never gone very deep. When we were married I was
twenty-four. I know women like to pretend that I'm an awful killer when
I get going, he interrupted himself to say boyishly, but there was
really never anything of that sort in my life. I liked Alice, I
remember my mother talking to me a long time, and telling me how
pleased everyone would be if we came to care for each other, andupon
my honour!I was more surprised than anything else, to think that any
one so pretty and sweet would marry me! I don't think there's a woman
in the world that I admire more. But, Norma, I've lived her life for
ten years. I want my own now! I want my companionmy chummy wife.
I've played with women since I was seventeen. But I never loved any
woman before. Norma, there's no life ahead for me, without you. And
there's no place so farso lonelyso strangebut what it would be
heaven for me if you were there, looking at me as you are now, and with
this little hand where it belongs! My dear, the city is a blankthe
men I meet might just as well be wooden Indians; I can't breathe and I
can't eat or sleep. Get better? It gets worse! It can't go on!
She was crying again. They were almost alone now. A red spring sun
was sinking, far down the river, and all the worldthe opposite
shores, the running waters of the Hudsonwas bathed in the exquisite
glow. Norma fumbled with her left hand for her little handkerchief, her
right hand clinging tight to Chris's hand.
Now, Norma, I've been thinking, the man said, in a matter-of-fact
tone, after a pause. The first consideration is, that this sort of
thing can't go on!
No; this can't go on! she agreed, quickly. Every day makes it
more dangerous, and less satisfying! I neverher eyes watered
againI never have a happy second! she said.
Chris looked at her, looked thoughtfully away.
The great trouble with the way I feel to you, Norma, he said,
quietly, is that it seems to blot every other earthly consideration
from view. I see nothing, I think nothing, I hear nothingbut you!
And is that so terrible? Norma asked, touched, and smiling through
No, it is so wonderful, he answered, gravely, that it blinds me.
It blinds me to your youth, my dear, your inexperienceyour faith in
me! It makes me only remember that I need youand want youand that I
believe I could make you the happiest woman in the world!
The faint shadow of a frown crossed her forehead, and she slowly
shook her head.
Not divorce! she said, lightly, but inflexibly. They had been over
this ground before. No, there's no use in thinking of that! Even if it
were not for Aunt Alice, and Aunt Marianna, other things make it
impossible. You see that, Chris? Yes, I know!she interrupted herself
quickly, as Chris protested, I know what plenty of good people, and
the law, and society generally think. But of course it would mean that
we could not live here for awhile, anyway! Nothat's not thinkable!
No, that's not thinkable, he agreed, slowly; I am bound hand and
foot. It isn't only what Aliceas a wifeclaims from me. But there
are Acton and Leslie; there is hardly a month that my brother doesn't
propose some plan that would utterly wreck their affairs if I didn't
put my foot down. They're both absolute children in money matters;
Judge Lee is getting oldthere's no one to take my place. Your Aunt
Marianna, too; I've always managed everything for her. No; I'm tied.
His voice fell. For awhile they sat silent, in the lingering, cool
spring twilight, while the red glow faded slowly from the river, and
from the opposite banks where houses and roofs showed between the bare
But what can we do, Norma? I've triedI've tried a thousand times,
to see the future, without you. But I simply can't go on living on
those terms. There's nothingnothingnothing! I go to the piano, and
before I touch a note, the utter blank futility of it comes over me and
sickens me! It's the same in the office, and at the club; I seem to be
only half alive. If it could be even five years aheador ten years
aheadI would wait. But it's nevernever. No hopenothing to live
for! Life is simply overonly one doesn't die.
The girl had never heard quite this note of despair from him before,
and her heart sank.
You are young, he said, after a minute, and in a lighter tone,
and perhapssome day
No, don't believe that, Chris, Norma said, quietly. And with a
gesture full of pain she leaned her elbow on the table, and pressed her
hand across her eyes. There will never be anybody else! she said.
How could there be? You are the only personlike yourself!that I
have ever known!
The simplicity of her words, almost their childishness, made Chris's
eyes smart. He bit his lips, trying to smile.
It's too bad, isn't it? he said, whimsically.
Norma flung back her head, swallowing tears. She gathered gloves and
hand-bag, got to her feet. He followed her as she walked across the
darkening porch. They went down to the curving sweep of driveway where
the car waited, the big lighted eyes of other cars picking it out in
the gloom. The saturated ground gave under Norma's feet, the air was
soft and full of the odorous promise of blossom and leaf. A great star
was trembling in the opal sky, which still palpitated, toward the
horizon, with the pale pink and blue of the sunset. Dry branches
clicked above their heads, in a sudden soft puff of breeze.
Norma, as she tucked herself in beside Chris, felt emotionally
exhausted, felt a sudden desperate need for solitude and silence. The
world seemed a lonely and cruel place.
Almost without a word he drove her home, to the old Melrose house,
and came in with her to the long, dim drawing-room for a brief
good-night. He had not kissed her more than two or three times since
the memorable night of the dress rehearsal, but he kissed her to-night,
and Norma felt something solemn, something renunciatory, in the kiss.
They had but an unsatisfactory two or three minutes together; Mrs.
Melrose might descend upon them at any second, was indeed audible in
the hall when Chris said suddenly:
You are not as braveas your mother, Norma!
She met his eyes with something like terror in her own; standing
still, a few feet away from him, with her breath coming and going
No, she said in a sharp whisper. Not that!
A moment later she was flying upstairs, her blue eyes still dilated
with fright, her face pale, and her senses rocking. Unseeing,
unhearing, she reached her own room, paced it distractedly, moving
between desk and dressing-table, window and bed, like some bewildered
animal. Sometimes she put her two hands over her face, the spread
fingers pressed against her forehead. Sometimes she stood perfectly
still, arms hanging at her sides, eyes blankly staring ahead. Once she
dropped on her knees beside the bed, and buried her burning cheeks
against the delicate linen and embroideries.
Regina came in; Norma made a desperate attempt to control herself.
She saw a gown laid on the bed, heard bath water running, faced her own
haggard self in the mirror, as she began dressing. But when the maid
was gone, and Norma, somewhat pale, but quite self-possessed again, was
dressed for dinner, she lifted from its place on her book-shelf a
little picture of Chris and herself, taken the summer before, and
studied it with sorrowful eyes.
He had been teaching her to ride, and Norma was radiant and
sun-browned in her riding-trousers and skirted coat, her cloud of hair
loosened, and her smart little hat in one hand. Chris, like all
well-built men, was always at his best in sports clothes; the head of
his favourite mare looked mildly over his shoulder. Behind the group
stretched the exquisite reaches of bridle-path, the great trees heavy
with summer foliage and heat.
Norma touched her lips to the glass.
ChrisChrisChris! she said, half aloud. I love you soand I
have brought you, of all men, to this! To the point when you would
throw it all asideeverything your wonderful and generous life has
stood forfor me! God, said Norma, softly, putting the picture down,
and covering her face with her hands, don't let me do anything that
will hurt him and shame him; help me! Help us both!
A few minutes later she went down to dinner, which commenced
auspiciously, with the old lady in a gracious and expansive mood, and
her guests, old Judge Lee and his wife, and old Doctor and Mrs. Turner,
sufficiently intimate, and sufficiently reminiscent, to absolve Norma
from any conversational duty. The girl could follow her own line of
heroic and resolute thought uninterruptedly.
But with the salad came utter rout again, and Norma's colour, and
heart, and breath, began to fluctuate in a renewed agony of hope and
fear. It was only Joseph, leaning deferentially over Judge Lee's
shoulder, who said softly:
Mr. Christopher Liggett, Judge. He has telephoned that he would
like to see you for a moment after dinner, and will be here at about
The dinner went on, for Norma, in a daze. At a quarter to nine she
went upstairs; she was standing in the dark upper hallway at the window
when Chris came, saw him leave his car, and come quickly across the
sidewalk under the bare, moving boughs of the old maples. She was
trembling with the longing just to speak to him again, just to hear his
She went to her room, rang for Regina, meditating a message of
good-night that should include a headache as excuse. But before the
maid came she went quickly downstairs, and into his presence, as
instinctively as a drowning man might cling to anything that meant
airjust the essential air. They could not exchange a word alone, but
that was not important. The one necessity was to be together.
Before ten o'clock Norma went back to her room. She undressed, and
put on a loose warm robe, and seated herself before the old-fashioned
fireplace. When Regina came, she asked the girl to put out all the
Voices floated up from the front hall: the great entrance door
closed, the motors wheeled away. The guests were goneChris was gone.
Norma heard old Mrs. Melrose come upstairs, heard her door shut, then
there was silence.
Silence. Eleven struck from Madison Tower; midnight struck. Even the
streets were quieter now. The squares of moonlight shifted on Norma's
floor, went away. The fire died down, the big room was warm, and dim,
and very still.
Hugged in her warm wrap, curled into her big chair, the girl sat
like some tranced creature, thinkingthinkingthinking.
At first her thoughts were of terror and shame. In what fool's
paradise had she been drifting, she asked herself contemptuously, that
she and Chris, reasonable, right-thinking man and woman, could be
reduced to this fearful and wretched position, could even
considereven namewhat their sane senses must shrink from in utter
horror! Norma was but twenty-two, but she knew that there was only one
end to that road.
So that way was closed, even to the brimming tide that rose up in
her when she thought of it, and flooded her whole being with the
ecstatic realization of her love for Chris, and of what surrender to
him would mean.
That way was closed. She must tell herself over and over. For her
own sake, for the sake of Aunt Kate and Aunt Marianna, for Rose even,
she must not think of that. Above all, for his sakefor Chris, the
fine, good, self-sacrificing Chris of her first friendship, she must be
And Norma, at this point in her circling and confused thoughts,
would drop her face in the crook of her bent arm, and the tears would
brim over again and again. She was not strong. She could not be strong.
And she was afraid.
Regina, coming through the hallway at seven o'clock, was amazed to
encounter Miss Sheridan, evidently fresh from a bath, a black hat
tipped over her smiling eyes, and her big fur coat belted about her.
Norma's vigil had lasted until after two o'clock, but then she had had
four hours of restful sleep, for she knew that she had found the way.
She left a message with Regina for Mrs. Melrose; she was going to
Mrs. Sheridan's, and would telephone in a day or two. Smiling, she
slipped out into the quiet street, where the autumn sunlight was just
beginning to strike across the damp pavements, and smilingly she
disappeared into the great currents of men and women who were already
pouring to and fro along the main thoroughfares.
But she did not go quite as far as her aunt's, after all. For
perhaps fifteen minutes she waited on the corner of the block, walking
slowly to and fro, watching the house closely.
Then Wolf Sheridan came out, and set off at his usual brisk walk
toward the subway. Norma stepped before him, trembling and smiling.
Nonofor the Lord's sake! Where did you come from?
He took her suit-case from her as she caught his arm, drew him
aside, and looked up at him with her old childish air of coaxing.
Wolf! I've been waiting for you. Wolf, I'm in trouble! She
laughed at his concern. Not real trouble! she reassured him, quickly.
And suddenly tears came, and she found she could not go on.
Is it a man? Wolf asked, looking down at her with everything that
was brotherly and kind in his young face.
Yes, Norma answered, not raising her eyes from the overcoat button
that she was pushing in and out of its hold. Wolf, she added,
quickly, I'm afraid of him, and afraid of myself! Youyou told me
months ago She looked up, suffocating.
I know what I told you! Wolf said, clearing his throat.
Anddo you still feelthat way?
You know I do, Norma, Wolf said, more concerned for her emotion
than his own. Do youdo you want me to send thisthis fellow about
Oh, no! she said, laughing nervously. I don't want any one to
know it; nobody must dream it! I can't marry him, I shall never marry
him. Buthe won't let me alone. Wolf She seemed to herself to be
getting no nearer her point, and now she seized her courage in both
hands, and looked up at him bravely. Will youtake care of me? she
faltered. I meanI mean as your wife?
Do you mean Wolf began. Then his expression changed, and his
colour rose. Normayou don't mean that!
Yes, but I do! she said, exquisite and flushed and laughing, in
the sweet early sunlight.
You mean that you will marry me? Wolf asked, dazedly.
To-day! she answered, fired by his look of awe and amazement and
rapture all combined. I want to be safe, she added, quickly. I trust
you more than any other man I knowI've loved you like a little sister
all my life.
AhNorma, you darlingyou darling! he said. But are you sure?
Oh, quite sure! Norma turned him toward Broadway, her little arm
linked wife-fashion in his. Don't we go along together nicely? she
Normamy God! If you knew how I love youhow I've longed for you!
But I can't believe it; I never will believe it! What made you do it?
Her face sobered for a second.
Just needing you, I suppose! Wolfher colour roseI want you to
know who it is; it's Chris.
Whothe man who annoys you? Wolf asked in healthy distaste.
The man I'm afraid of, she answered, honestly.
ButLord! Wolf exclaimed, simply, he has a wife!
I know it! the girl said, quickly. But I wanted you to know. I
want you to know why I'm running away from them all. Relief rang in
her voice as his delighted eyes showed no cloud. That's all! she
Norma, I can'tmy God!I can't tell whether I'm awake or
dreaming! Wolf was all joy again. We'llwait a minute!we'll get a
taxi; I'll telephone the factory later He paused suddenly.
Mother's in East Orange with Rose. Shall we go there first?
No; you're to do as I say from now on, Wolf!
Ah, you darling!
And I say let's be married first, and then go and see Rose.
Norma He stopped in the street, and put his two hands on her
shoulders. I'll be a good husband to you. You'll never be sorry you
trusted me. Dearest, it'swell, it's the most wonderful thing that
ever happened in my whole life! Here's our taxiwait a minute; what
day is this?
Whatever else it is, she said, half-laughing and half-crying, I
know it is my wedding day!
To Rose and her mother, Wolf's and Norma's marriage remained one of
the beautiful surprises of life; one of the things that, as sane
mortals, they had dared neither to dream nor hope. Life had been full
enough for mother and daughter, and sweet enough, that March morning,
even without the miracle. The baby had been bathed, in a flood of
dancing sunshine, and had had his breakfast out under the budding bare
network of the grape arbour. The little house had been put into
spotless order while he slept, and Rose had pinned on her winter hat,
and gone gaily to market, with exactly one dollar and seventy-five
cents in her purse. And she had come back to find her mother standing
beside the shabby baby-coach, in the tiny backyard, looking down
thoughtfully at the sleeping child, and evidently under the impression
that she was peeling the apples, in the yellow bowl that rested on her
broad hip. Rose had also studied her son for a few awed seconds, and
then, reminding her mother that it was past twelve o'clock, had led the
way toward tea-making, and the general heating and toasting and mincing
of odds and ends for luncheon. And they had been in the kitchen,
talking over the last scraps of this meal, when
When there had been laughter and voices at the open front doorway,
and when Mrs. Sheridan's startled Wolf! had been followed by Rose's
surprised Norma! Then they had come in, Wolf and Norma, laughing and
excited and bubbling with their great news. And in joy and tears,
confused interruptions and exclamations, explanations that got nowhere,
and a plentiful distribution of kisses, somehow it got itself told.
They had been married an hour agoNorma was Wolf's wife!
The girl was radiant. Never in her life had these three who loved
her seen her so beautiful, so enchantingly confident and gay. Rose and
her mother had some little trouble, later on, in patching the sequence
of events together for the delighted but bewildered Harry, Rose's
husband. But there could be no doubt, even to the shrewd eyes of her
Aunt Kate, that Norma was ecstatically happy. Her mad kisses for Rose,
the laughter with which she described the expedition to bank and
jeweller, the license bureau and the church in Jersey Cityfor in
order to have the ceremony performed immediately it had been necessary
to be married in New Jerseyher delicious boldness toward the awed and
rapturous and almost stupefied Wolf, were all proof that she
entertained not even the usual girlish misgivings of the wedding day.
You see, I've not been all tired out with trousseau and engagement
affairs and photographers and milliners and all that, she explained,
gaily. I've only got what's in my bag there, but I've wired Aunt
Marianna, and told her to tell them all. And we'll be back on
Mondaywait until I ask my husband; Wolftone, dear, shall we be back
She had the baby in her lap; they were all in the dining-room. Rose
had been assured that the bride and groom were not hungry; they had had
sandwiches somewheresome timeoh, down near the City Hall in Jersey
City. But Rose had made more tea, and more toast, and she had opened
her own best plum jam, and they were all eating with the heartiness of
children. Presently Norma went to get in Aunt Kate's lap, and asked her
if she was glad, and made herself so generally engaging and endearing,
with her slender little body clasped in the big motherly arms and her
soft face resting against the older, weather-beaten face, that Wolf did
not dare to look at her.
They were going to Atlantic City; neither had ever been there, and
if this warm weather lasted it would be lovely, even in early spring.
It was almost four o'clock when the younger women went upstairs for the
freshening touches that Norma declared she needed, and then Wolf and
his mother were left alone.
He knelt down beside the big rocker in which she was ensconced with
the baby, and she put one arm about him, and kissed the big thick crest
of his brown hair.
You're glad, aren't you, Mother?
Glad! I've prayed for it ever since she came to me, years ago,
Mrs. Sheridan answered. But after a moment she added, gravely: She's
pure gold, our Norma. They've sickened her, just as I knew they would!
But, Wolf, she may swing back for a little while. She's like that; she
always has been. She was no more than a baby when she'd be as naughty
as she could be, and then so good that I was afraid I was going to lose
her. Go gently with her, Wolf; be patient with her, dear. She's going
to make a magnificent woman, some day.
She's a magnificent woman, now, the man said, simply. She's too
good for me, I know that. She'syou can't think how cunning she
ishow wonderful she's been, all day!
Go slowly, his mother said again. She's only a baby, Wolf; she's
excited and romantic and generous because she's such a baby! Don't make
her sorry that she's given herself to you soso trusting
I'll take care of her! Wolf asserted, a little gruffly.
There was time for no more; they heard her step on the stairs, and
she came dancing back with Rose. Her cheeks were burning with
excitement; she gave her aunt and cousin quick good-bye kisses, and
caught the baby's soft little cheek to her own velvety one. She and
Wolf would be back on Sunday night, they promised; as they ran down the
path the sun slipped behind a leaden cloud, and all the world darkened
suddenly. A brisk whirl of springtime wind shook the rose bushes in
Rose's little garden, and there was a cool rushing in the air that
But Norma was still carried along on the high tide of supreme
emotion, and to Wolf the day was radiant with unearthly sunshine, and
perfumed with all the flowers of spring. The girl had flung herself so
wholeheartedly into her rôle that it was not enough to bewilder and
please Wolf, she must make him utterly happy. Dear old Wolfalways
ready to protect her, always good and big and affectionate, and ready
to laugh at her silliest jokes, and ready to meet any of her problems
sympathetically and generously. Her beauty, her irresistible charm as
she hung on his arm and chattered of what they would do when they
started housekeeping, almost dizzied him.
She liked everything: their wheeling deep upholstered seats in the
train; the seaside hotel, with the sea rolling so near in the soft
twilight; the dinner for which they found themselves so hungry.
Afterward they climbed laughing into a big chair, and were pushed along
between the moving lines of other chairs, far up the long boardwalk.
And Norma, with her soft loose glove in Wolf's big hand, leaned back
against the curved wicker seat, and looked at the little lighted shops,
and listened to the scrape of feet and chatter of tongues and the
solemn roll and crash of the waves, and stared up childishly at the
arch of stars that looked so far and calm above this petty noise and
glare. She was very tired, every muscle in her body ached, but she was
content. Wolf was taking care of her and there would be no more lonely
vigils and agonies of indecision and pain. She thought of Christopher
with a sort of childish quiet triumph; she had solved the whole matter
for them both, superbly.
Wolf was a silent man with persons he did not know. But he never was
silent with Norma; he always had a thousand things to discuss with her.
The lights and the stir on the boardwalk inspired him to all sorts of
good-natured criticism and speculation, and they estimated just the
expense and waste that went on there day by day.
Really to have the ocean, Wolf, it would be so much nicer to be
even in the wildest placejust rocks and coves. This is like having a
lion in your front parlour!
Lord, Normawhen I got up this morning, if somebody had told me
that I would be married, and down at Atlantic City to-night!
I know; it's like a dream!
But you're not sorry, Norma; you're sure that I'm going to make you
happy? the man asked, in sudden anxiety.
You always have, Wolf! she answered, very simply.
He never really doubted it; it was a part of Wolf's healthy normal
nature to believe what was good and loving. He was not exacting, not
envious; he had no real understanding of her giddy old desires for
wealth and social power. Wolf at twenty-five was working so hard and so
interestedly, sleeping so deeply, eating his meals with such appetite,
and enjoying his rare idle time so heartily, that he had neither time
nor inclination for vagaries. He had always been older than his years,
schooled to feel that just good meals and a sure roof above him marked
him as one of the fortunate ones of the earth, and of late his work in
the big factory had been responsible enough, absorbing enough, and more
than gratifying enough to satisfy him with his prospects. He was liked
for himself, and he knew it, and he was already known for that strange
one-sightedness, that odd little twist of mechanical vision, that sure
knowledge of himself and his medium, that is genius. The joy of finding
himself, and that the world needed him, had been strong upon Wolf
during the last few months, and that Norma had come back to him seemed
only a reason for fresh dedication to his work, an augury that life was
going to be kind to him.
She was gone when he wakened the next morning, but he knew that the
sea had an irresistible fascination for her, and followed her quite as
surely as if she had left footprints on the clear and empty sands. He
found her with her back propped against a low wooden bulkhead, her
slender ankles crossed before her, her blue eyes fixed far out at sea.
She turned, and looked up at him from under the brim of her hat, and
the man's heart turned almost sick with the depth of sudden adoration
that shook him; so young, so friendly and simple and trusting was the
ready smile, so infinitely endearing the touch of the warm fingers she
slipped into his! He sat down beside her, and they dug their heels into
the sand, and talked in low tones. The sun shone down on them kindly,
and the waves curved and broke, and came rushing and slithering to
their feet, and slid churning and foaming noisily under the pier near
by. Norma buried her husband's big hand in sand, and sifted sand
through her slender fingers; sometimes she looked with her far-away
look far out across the gently rocking ocean, and sometimes she brought
her blue eyes gravely to his. And the new seriousness in them, the
grave and noble sweetness that he read there, made Wolf suddenly feel
himself no longer a boy, no longer free, but bound for ever to this
exquisite and bewildering child who was a woman, or woman who was a
child, sacredly bound to give her the best that there was in him of
love and service and protection.
She showed him a new Norma, here on the sunshiny sands, one that he
was to know better as the days went by. She had always deferred to his
wisdom and his understanding, but she seemed to him mysteriously wise
this morningno longer the old little sister Norma, but a new, sage,
keen-eyed woman, toward whom his whole being was flooded with humility
and awe and utter, speechless adoration.
At nine o'clock, when nurses and children began to come down to the
shore, they got to their feet, and wandered in to breakfast. And here,
to his delight, she was suddenly the old mad-cap Norma again, healthily
eager for ham and eggs and hot coffee, interested in everything, and
bewitchingly pretty in whatever position she took.
I wish we had the old 'bus, Nono, Wolf said. He usually spoke of
his motor-car by this name. They've been overhauling her in that
Newark place. She was to be readyby George, she was ready yesterday!
We'll go overI'll come over and meet you next Saturday, his
young wife promised, busy with rolls and marmalade, and you'll take me
to lunch, and then we'll get the car, and go and take Rose and the baby
for a ride!
Norma, the man exclaimed, suddenly struck with a sense of utter
felicity, and leaning across the table to stop, for the minute, her
moving fingers with the pressure of his own, you haven't any idea how
much I love youI didn't know myself what it was going to mean! To
have you come over to the factory, and to have somebody say that Mrs.
Sheridan is there, and to go to lunchDearest, do you realize how
wonderful and howwell, how wonderful it's going to be? Norma,
I can't believe it. I can't believe that this is what love means to
everybody. I can't believe that every man who marries hishis
Girl, she supplied, laughing.
Girlbut I didn't mean girl. I meant his idealthe loveliest
person he ever knew, Wolf said, with a new quickness of tongue that
she knew was born of happiness. I can't believe that just going to
Childs' restaurants, or taking the car out on Sunday, or any other fool
thing we do, means to any man what it's going to mean to me! I
justwell, I told you that. I just can't believe it!
Two days later they came home for Sunday supper, and there was much
simple joy and laughter in the little city apartment. Aunt Kate of
course had fried chicken and coffee ice-cream for her four big
children. Harry Junior, awakening, was brought dewy and blinking to the
table, where his Aunt Norma kissed the tears from his warm, round
little cheeks, and gave him crumbs of sponge cake. Rose and Harry left
at ten o'clock for their country home, leaving the precious baby for
his grandmother and aunt to bring back the next day, but the other
three sat talking and planning until almost midnight, and Kate could
feast her eyes to her heart's content upon the picture of Wolf in his
father's old leather chair, with Norma perched on the wide arm, one of
her own arms about her husband's neck and their fingers locked
It was settled that they were to find a little house in East Orange,
near Rose, and furnish it from top to bottom, and go to housekeeping
immediately. Meanwhile, Norma must see the Melroses, and get her
wedding announcements engraved, and order some new calling cards, and
do a thousand things. She and Wolf must spend their evenings writing
notesand presents would be arriving!
She made infinitesimal lists, and put them into her shopping bag, or
stuck them in her mirror, but Wolf laughed at them all. And instead of
disposing of them, they developed a demoralizing habit of wandering out
into Broadway, in their old fashion, after dinner, looking into shop
windows, drifting into little theatres, talking to beggars and taxi-cab
men and policemen and strangers generally, mingling with the bubbling
young life of the city that overflowed the sidewalks, and surged in and
out of candy and drug stores, and sat talking on park benches deep into
the soft young summer nights.
Sometimes they went down to the shrill and crowded streets of the
lower east side, and philosophized youthfully over what they saw there;
and, as the nights grew heavier and warmer, they often took the car,
and skimmed out into the heavenly green open spaces of the park, or, on
Saturday afternoon, packed their supper, and carried it fifty miles
away to the woods or the shore.
Before she had been married ten days Norma dutifully went to call
upon old Mrs. Melrose, being fortunate enough to find Leslie there. The
old lady came toward Norma with her soft old wavering footsteps, and
gave the girl a warm kiss even with her initial rebuke:
Well, I don't know whether I am speaking to this bad runaway or
not! she quavered, releasing Norma from her bejewelled and lace-draped
embrace, and shaking her fluffed and scanty gray hair.
Oh, yes, you are, Aunt Marianna, the girl said, confidently, with
her happy laugh. Leslie, coming more slowly forward, laughed and kissed
But why didn't you tell us, Norma, and have a regular wedding, like
mine? she protested. I didn't know that you and your cousin were even
We've worked it out that we were engaged for exactly three hours
and ten minutes, Norma said, as they all settled down in the
magnificent, ugly, comfortable old sitting-room for tea. She could see
that both Leslie and her grandmother were far from displeased. As a
matter of fact, the old lady was secretly delighted. The girl was most
suitably and happily and satisfactorily married; justice had been done
her, and she had solved her own problem splendidly.
But you knew he liked you, Leslie ventured, diverted and curious.
Oh, well Norma's lips puckered mischievously and she looked
Oh, you were engaged! Leslie said, incredulously. He's
handsome, isn't he, Norma?
Yes, the wife admitted, as if casually. He really isat least I
think so. And I think everyone else thinks so. At least, when I compare
him to the other menfor instance
Oh, Norma, I'll bet you're crazy about him, Leslie said,
Norma looked appealingly at the old lady, her eyes dancing with fun.
Well, of course she loves her husband, Mrs. Melrose
protested, with a little cushiony pat of her hand for the visitor.
I don't see that it's 'of course', Leslie argued, airily, with a
little bitterness in her tone. Her grandmother looked at her in quick
reproof and anxiety. The latest, she said, drily, to Norma, is that
my delightful husband is living at his club.
Now, Leslie, that is very naughty, the old lady said, warmly. You
shouldn't talk so of Acton.
Well, Leslie countered, with elaborate innocence, turning to
Norma, all I can say is that he walked out one night, and didn't come
back until the next! Of course, she added, with a suppressed yawn that
poorly concealed her sudden inclination to tears, of course I
don't care. Patsy and I are going up to Glen Cove next weekand he can
live at his club, for all me!
Money? Norma asked. For Leslie's extravagance was usually the
cause of the young Liggetts' domestic strife.
Leslie, who had lighted a cigarette, made an affirmative grimace.
Now, it's all been settled, and Grandma has straightened it all
out, old Mrs. Melrose said, soothingly. Acton was making out their
income tax, she explained, and some money was mentionedhow was
that, dear?Leslie had sold somethingand he hadn't known of it, that
was all! Of course he was a little cross, poor boy; he had worked it
all out one way, and he had no idea that this extrasixteen thousand,
was it?had come in at all, and been spent
Most of it for bills! Leslie interpolated, bitterly. Norma
Sixteen thou! Oh, heavens, my husband's salary is sixty dollars
a week! she confessed, gaily.
But you have your own money, the old lady reminded her, kindly,
and a very nice thing for a wife, too! I've talked to Judge Lee about
it, dear, and it's all arranged. You must let me do this, Norma
I think you're awfully good to me, Aunt Marianna, Norma said,
thoughtfully. I told Wolf about it, and he thinks so, too. But
Even with her secret knowledge of her own parentage, Norma was
surprised at the fluttered anxiety of the old lady, and Leslie was
No, Normano, Norma, Mrs. Melrose said, nervously and
imploringly. I don't want you to discuss that at allit's settled. The check is to be deposited every month, or quarter, or whatever it
Don't be a fool, Norma, you'll need it, one way or another, Leslie
assured her. But in her own heart Leslie wondered at her grandmother's
Everybody needs more money. I'll bet you the King of England
Oh, kings! Norma laughed. They're the worst of all. I don't know
about this one, but they're always appealing for special fundsall of
them. And that's one thing that makes Wolf so madthe fact that all
they have to do, for ridiculous extravagances, is clap on a tax.
But Leslie and her grandmother were not interested in the young
engineer's economic theories. The old lady followed Norma's spirited
summary merely with an uneasy: You mustn't let your husband get any
socialistic ideas, Norma; there's too much of that now! and Leslie,
after a close study of Norma's glowing face, remarked suddenly:
Norma, I'll bet you a dollar you're rouged!
Before she left, the visitor managed a casual inquiry about Aunt
Aunt Alice was fine, Leslie answered carelessly, adding immediately
that no, Aunt Alice really wasn't extremely well. Doctor Garrett didn't
want her to go away this summer, thought that move was an unnecessary
waste of energy, since Aunt Alice's house was so cool, and she felt the
heat so little. And Chris said that Alice had always really wanted to
stay in town, in her own comfortable suite. She liked her second nurse
immensely, and Miss Slater was really running the house now, the third
nurse coming only at night.
But Aunt Alice never had a nurse at night, Norma was going to say.
But she caught the stricken and apprehensive look on the old lady's
face, and substituted generously: Well, I remember Aunt Alice told me
she had one of these wretched times several years ago.
Yes, indeed she didfrightened us almost to death, Mrs. Melrose
And how ishow is Chris? Norma felt proud of the natural tone in
which she could ask the question.
Chris is fine, Leslie answered. She rarely varied the phrase in
this relation. He's hunting in Canada. He had a wire from some man
there, and he went off about a week ago. They're going after moose, I
believe; Chris didn't expect to get back for a month. Aunt Alice was
delighted, because she hates to keep him in town all summer, but Acton
told me that he thought Chris was sickthat he and Judge Lee just made
Well, her heart would flutter, she could not stop it or ignore it.
Norma found no answer ready, and though she lifted her cup to her lips,
to hide her confusion, she could not taste it. The strangeness of
Chris's sudden departure was no mystery to her; he had been shocked and
stunned by her marriage, and he had run away from the eyes that might
have pierced his discomfiture.
Still, her hands were trembling, and she felt oddly shaken and
confused. Leslie carried the conversation away to safer fields, and
shortly afterward Norma could say her good-byes. Everybody, Leslie
said, walking with her to the corner, wanted to know what the bride
wanted for a wedding-present. Norma told Wolf, over their
candle-lighted supper table, an hour or two later, that he and she
would be bankrupted for life returning them.
Yet she loved the excitement of receiving the gifts; naturally
enough, loved Rose's ecstasies over the rugs and silver and mahogany
that made the little New Jersey house a jewel among its kind. It was
what Norma had unhesitatingly pronounced an adorable house, a copy of
the true colonial green-and-white, quaint and prim enough to please
even Leslie, when Leslie duly came to call. It stood at the end of a
tree-shaded street, with the rising woods behind it, and Norma
recklessly invested in brick walks and a latticed green fence,
hydrangeas in wooden tubs and sunflowers and hollyhocks, until her
stretch of side garden looked like a picture by Kate Greenaway.
When it was all done, midsummer was upon them, but she and Wolf
thought that there had never been anything so complete and so charming
in all the world. The striped awnings that threw clean shadows upon the
clipped grass; the tea table under the blue-green leaves of an old
apple tree; the glass doors that opened upon orderly, white-wainscoted
rooms full of shining dark surfaces and flowered chintzes and gleaming
glass bowls of real flowers; the smallness and completeness and
prettiness of everything filled them both with utter satisfaction.
Norma played at housekeeping like a little girl in a doll's house.
She had a rosy little Finnish maid who enjoyed it all almost as much as
she did, and their adventures in hospitality were a constant amusement
and delight. On Saturdays, when Rose and Harry and Aunt Kate usually
arrived, Wolf could hardly believe that all this ideal beauty and
pleasure was his to share.
The girls would pose and photograph the baby tirelessly, laughing as
he toppled and protested, and kissing the fat legs that showed between
his pink romper and his pink socks. They would pack picnic lunches,
rushing to and fro breathlessly with thermos bottles and extra wraps
for Miggs, as Harry Junior was usually called. Once or twice they
cleaned the car, with tremendous splashing and spattering, assuming
Wolf's old overalls for the operation, and retreating with shrieks into
the kitchen whenever the sound of an approaching motor-car penetrated
into their quiet road. Mrs. Sheridan characterized them variously as
Wild Indians", Ay-rabs", and poor innocents but her heart was so
filled with joy and gratitude for the turn of events that had brought
all these miracles about, that no nonsense and no noise seemed to her
It was an exceptionally pleasant community into which the young
Sheridans had chanced to move, and they might have had much more
neighbourly life than they chose to take. There were about them
beginners of all sorts: writers and artists and newspaper men, whose
little cars, and little maids, and great ambitions would have formed a
strong bond of sympathy in time. But Wolf and Norma saw them only
occasionally, when a Sunday supper at the country club or a
Saturday-night dance supplied them with a pleasant stimulating sense of
being liked and welcomed, or when general greetings on the
eight-o'clock train in the morning were mingled with comments on the
thunderstorm or the epidemic of nursery chicken-pox.
When Rose and Harry were gone, on Sunday evenings, Wolf and Norma
might sit on the side steps of the side porch, looking off across the
gradual drop descent of tree-tops and shingled roofs, into a distant
world silvering under the summer moon. These were their happiest times,
when solitude and quiet spread about them, after the hospitable
excitements of the day, and they could talk and dream and plan for the
She was an older Norma now, even though marriage had not touched her
with any real responsibility, and even though she was more full of
delicious childish absurdities than ever. The first months of their
marriage had curiously reversed their relationship, and it was Norma
now who gave, and Wolf who humbly and gratefully accepted. It was Norma
who poured comfort and beauty and companionship into his life, who
smiled at him over his morning fruit, and who waited for him under the
old maple at the turn of the road, every night. And as her wonderful
and touching generosity enveloped him, and her strange wisdom and new
sweetness impressed him more and more, Wolf marvelled and adored her
more utterly. He had always loved her as a big brother, had even
experienced a definite heartache when she grew up and went away, a
lovely and unattainable girl in the place where their old giddy dear
little Norma had been.
But now his passion for his young wife was becoming a devouring fire
in Wolf's heart; she absorbed him and possessed him like a madness. A
dozen times a day he would take from his pocket-book the thin leather
case she had given him, holding on one side a photograph of the three
heads of Rose, his mother, and the baby, and on the other an enchanting
shadow of the loosened soft hair and the serious profile that was
And as he stood looking at it, with the machinery roaring about him,
and the sunlight beating in through steel-barred windows sixty feet
high, in all the confusion of shavings and oil-soaked wood, polished
sliding shafts streaked with thick blue grease, stifling odours of
creosote and oily wipes", Wolf's eyes would fill with tears and he
would shake his head at his own emotion, and try to laugh it away.
After awhile he took another little picture of her, this one taken
under a taut parasol in bright sunlight, and fitted it over the
opposite faces; and then when he had studied one picture he could turn
to the other, and perhaps go back to the first before his eyes were
And if during the day some thought brought her suddenly to mind, he
would stop short in whatever he was doing, and remember her little
timid upglancing look as she hazarded, at breakfast, some question
about his work, or remember her enthusiasm, on a country tramp, for the
chance meal at some wayside restaurant, and sheer love of her would
overwhelm him, and he would find his eyes brimming again.
So the summer fled, and before she fairly realized it Norma saw the
leaves colouring behind the little house like a wall of fire, and
rustled them with her feet when she tramped with Wolf's big collie into
the woods. The air grew clearer and thinner, sunset came too soon, and
a delicate beading of dew loitered on the shady side of the house until
One October day, when she had been six months a wife, Norma made her
first call upon Annie von Behrens. Alice she had seen several times,
when she had stopped in, late in the summer mornings, to entertain the
invalid with her first adventures in housekeeping, and chat with Miss
Slater. But Chris she had quite deliberately avoided. He had written
her from Canada a brief and charming note, which she had shown Wolf,
and he and Alice had had their share in the general family gift of
silver, the crates and bags and boxes of spoons and bowls and teapots
that had anticipated every possible table need of the Sheridans for
generations to come. But that was all; she had not seen Chris, and did
not want to see him.
The whole thing is rather like a sickness, in my mind, she told
Wolf, and I don't want to see him any more than you would a doctor or
a nurse that was associated with illness. I don't know what wewhat I
was thinking about!
But you think he reallyloved youNono?
Wellor he thought he did!
And did you like him terribly?
I think I thought I did, too. It wasof course it was something we
couldn't very well discuss.
Well, I'm sorry for him. Wolf had dismissed him easily. On her
part, Norma was conscious of no particular emotion when she thought of
Chris. The suddenness and violence with which she had broken that
association and made its resumption for ever impossible, had carried
her safely into a totally different life. Her marriage, her new husband
and new home, her new title indeed, made her seem another woman, and if
she thought of Chris at all it was to imagine what he would think of
these changes, and to fancy what he would say of them, when they met.
No purely visionary meeting can hold the element of passion, and so it
was a remote and spiritualized Chris of whom Norma came to think, far
removed from the actual man of flesh and blood.
Her call upon Annie she made with a mental reserve of cheerful
explanation and apology ready for Annie's first reproach. Norma never
could quite forget the extraordinary relationship in which she stood to
Annie; and, perhaps half consciously, was influenced by the belief that
some day the brilliant and wonderful Mrs. von Behrens would come to
know of it, too.
But Annie, who happened to be at home, and had other callers,
rapidly dashed Norma's vague and romantic anticipations by showing her
only the brisk and aloof cordiality with which she held at bay nine
tenths of her acquaintance. Annie's old butler showed Norma impassively
to the little drawing-room that was tucked in beyond the big one; two
or three strangers eyed the newcomer cautiously, and Annie merely
accorded her a perfunctory welcome. They were having tea.
Well, how do you do? How very nice of you, Norma. Do you know Mrs.
Theodore Thayer, and Mrs. Thayer, and Miss Bishop? Katrina, this
isthe name is still Sheridan, isn't it, Norma?this is Mrs.
Sheridan, who was with Mama and Leslie last summer. You have lots of
sugar and cream, Norma, of courseall youngsters do. And you're near
the toast And Annie, dismissing her, leaned back in her chair, and
dropped her voice to the undertone that Norma had evidently
interrupted. Do go on, Leila, she said, to the older of the three
women, that's quite delicious! I heard something of it, but I knew of
course that there was more
A highly flavoured little scandal was in process of construction.
Norma knew the principals slightly; the divorced woman, and the second
husband from whom she had borrowed money to loan the first. She could
join in the laughter that broke out presently, while she tried to
identify her companions. The younger Mrs. Thayer had been the Miss
Katrina Davenport of last month's brilliant wedding. Pictures of her
had filled the illustrated weeklies, and all the world knew that she
and her husband were preparing to leave for a wonderful home in Hawaii,
where the family sugar interests were based. They were to cross the
continent, Norma knew, in the Davenport private car, to be elaborately
entertained in San Francisco, and to be prominent, naturally, in the
island set. Little Miss Bishop had just announced her engagement to
Lord Donnyfare, a splendid, big, clumsy, and impecunious young Briton
who had made himself very popular with the younger group this winter.
They were to be married in January and her ladyship would shortly
afterward be transferred to London society, presented at court, and
placed as mistress over the old family acres in Devonshire.
They were both nice girls, pretty, beautifully groomed and dressed,
and far from unintelligent as they discussed their plans; how their
favourite horses and dogs would be moved, and what instructions had
been given the maids who had preceded them to their respective homes.
Katrina Thayer was just twenty, Mary Bishop a year younger; Norma knew
that the former was perhaps the richest girl in America, and the latter
was also an heiress, the society papers having already hinted that
among the wedding gifts shortly to be displayed would be an uncle's
casual check for one million dollars.
And of course it'll be charming for Chris, Mary, Annie presently
said, if he's really sent to Saint James's.
Norma felt her throat thicken.
Christo Englandas Ambassador? she said.
Well, there's just a possibilityno, there's more than that!
Annie told her. I believe he'll take it, if it is offered. Of course,
he's supremely well fitted for it. There's evenAnnie threw out to
the company at large, with that air of being specially informed in
which she delightedthere's even very good reason to suppose that
influence has been brought to bear byBut I don't dare go into that.
However, we feel that it will be offered. And the one serious drawback
is naturally my sister. Alicepoor child! And yet, of us all, Alice is
most desperately eager for Chris to take it.
I should think, Norma said, that Aunt Alice could almost be
Oh, she would be! Annie agreed, with her quick, superior
definiteness. That's the very question. Whether the north Atlantic
passage, say in May, when it oughtn't to be so hard, would be too much
for her. Of course it would tire her and shake her cruelly, no doubt of
that. But Hendrick even talks of some sort of balanced bedon the
hammock ideaand Miss Slater would see that everything that was
humanly possible was done. I believe it could be managed. Then she
would be met by one of those big, comfortable English ambulances, at
Southampton, and taken right to her apartment, or hotel, or whatever
Not so much harder, Norma ventured, than the trip to Newport,
Well, she didn't go to Newport last summer, Annie said, but she
is certainly better now than she was then, and I believe it could be
done; I really do. We're not talking a great deal about it, because
nothing is settled, but if it becomes definite, I shall certainly
Norma drank her tea, and listened, and threw in an occasional word.
When the other women rose to go, she rose, too, perhaps half-hoping
that Annie would hold her for a more intimate word. But Annie quite
suavely and indifferently included her in her general farewells, and
Norma had cordial good-byes from the two young women, and even a vague
invitation from the older Mrs. Thayer to come and see her, when Katrina
Then she was walking down the Avenue, with her head and heart in a
confused whirl of bitterness and disappointment. The three quarters of
an hour in Aunt Annie's big, dim, luxurious palace had been like a dose
of some insidious poison.
The very atmosphere of richness and service and idleness, the beauty
of wide spaces and rich tones, the massed blossoms and dimmed lights,
struck sharply upon senses attuned to Aunt Kate's quick voice, Rose's
little house with its poverty and utility, and Wolf's frank enjoyment
of his late and simple dinner. The conversation, with its pleasant
assumption of untold wealth of power and travel and regal
luxuriousness, burned its memory across Norma's mind like a corroding
acid. They were not contemptible, they were not robbers or brutes or
hideous old plutocrats who had grown wealthy upon the wrongs of the
poor. No, they were normal pleasant girls whose code it was to be
generous to maids and underlings, to speak well of their neighbours, to
pay their bills and keep their promises.
They make me tired! she tried to tell herself, walking
briskly, and filling her lungs with the sweet fresh air. It was
twilight, and the north-bound tide of traffic was halting and rushing,
halting and rushing, up the Avenue; now held motionless at a crossing,
now flowing on in mad haste, the lumbering omnibuses passing each
other, little hansoms threading the mass, and foot passengers
scampering and withdrawing, and risking all sorts of passages between.
The distance was luminous and blue, and lights pricked against it as
against a scarf of gauze.
Oh, it was sickeningit was sickeningto think that life was so
grim and hard for the thousands, and so unnecessarily, so superlatively
beautiful for the few! What had Mary Bishop and Katrina ever done, that
they should travel in private cars, fling aside furs that had cost as
much as many a man's yearly salary, chatter of the plantation near the
beach at Hawaii, or of reaching Saint James's for the January
Norma stopped to give twenty-five cents to an old Italian organ
grinder, and worked him into her theme as she went on. Why should
he look so grateful for her casual charity, he, seventy years old,
Katrina and Mary averaging less than twenty!
She reached Aunt Kate's flat in a thorough temper, angry, headachy,
almost feverish after the rich scones and the rich tea, and the even
less wholesome talk. The apartment house seemed, as indeed it was,
grimy and odorous almost to squalor, and Aunt Kate almost hateful in
her cheerfulness and energy. This was Wednesday, and on Wednesday
evenings she was always happy, for then Wolf and Norma came to dinner
with her. To-night, busily manipulating pans and pots, she told Norma
that she had rented the two extra bedrooms of the apartment to three
young trained nurses, ideal tenants in every way.
They'll get their breakfasts here, andif I'm awaythere's no
reason why they shouldn't cook themselves a little dinner now and
then, said Aunt Kate, in her rich, motherly voice. They were tickled
to death to get the two rooms for twenty dollars, and that makes my own
rent only seventeen more. I asked them if that was too much, and they
said, no, they'd expected to pay at least ten apiece.
Norma listened, unsympathetic and gloomy. It was all so petty and so
poortrained nurses, and apple pie, and Aunt Kate renting rooms, and
Wolf eager to be promoted to factory manager.
She wanted to go backback to the life in which Annie really
noticed her, gave her luncheons, included her. She wanted to count for
something with Mary and Katrina and Leslie; she wanted to talk to Chris
about his possible ambassadorship; she wanted them all to agree that
Norma's wit and charm more than made up for Norma's lack of fortune.
While she brushed her hair, in the room that would shortly accommodate
two of the three little nurses, she indulged in an unsatisfying dream
in which she went to London with Aliceand that autocratic little Lady
Lady Donnyfare! She would be your ladyship! Nineteen years old,
and welcomed to the ancestral mansion as her little ladyship!
Norma set the dinner table for three, with jerks and slams that
slightly relieved her boiling heart. She got the napkins from the
sideboard drawer, and reached for the hand-painted china sugar bowl
that was part of a set that Aunt Kate had won at a fair. She set the
blue tile that she had given Aunt Kate on a long-ago Christmas where
the brown Rebecca teapot would stand, and cut a square slice of butter
from the end of the new pound for the blue glass dish. And all the time
her heart was bursting with grief and discontent, and she was beginning
to realize for the first time the irrevocable quality of the step she
had taken, and just how completely it had shut her off from the life
for which she thirsted.
Wolf came in, hungry, dirty, radiantly happy, with a quick kiss for
his mother and an embrace for his wife into which her slender figure
and cloudy brown head almost disappeared. Lord, he was starving; and
Lord, he was dead; and Lord, it was good to get home, said Wolf, his
satisfaction with life too great to leave room for any suspicion of his
wife's entire sympathy.
She told them, over the meal, of Mary and Katrina, in whom their
interest was of a simple and amazed quality that Norma resented, and of
Chris's prospect, which did awaken some comment from Mrs. Sheridan.
They were a clever family, she said.
But now Wolf, bursting with long suppression, suddenly took the
floor with his own great news. Voorhies, the fifty-year-old manager of
the California plant, had been drifting about the Newark factory for
several days, and Wolf had talked with him respectfully, as a man of
twenty-five, whose income is three thousand a year, may talk to a
six-thousand-dollar manager, and to-day Voorhies, and Jim Palmer, the
Newark manager, and Paul Stromberg, the vice-president, had taken Wolf
to lunch with them, apparently casually, apparently from mere
friendliness. But Voorhies had asked him if he had ever seen the West;
and Stromberg had said that he understood Sheridan's family consisted
merely of a young wife, and Palmer had chanced to drop carelessly the
fact that Mr. Voorhies was not going back to California!
That was all. But it was enough to send Wolf back to his work with
his head spinning. Californiaand a managership of a mineand six
thousand! It must beit must bethat he had been mentioned for it,
that they had him in mind! He wasn't going even to think of itand
Norma mustn'tbut Lord, it meant being picked out of the ranks; it
meant being handed a commission on a silver platter!
Norma tried not to be cold, tried to rise to the little he asked of
her, as audience. And she had the satisfaction of knowing that he
noticed nothing amiss in her manner, and of seeing him go off to sleep,
when they had made the long trip home, with his head in a whirl of
glorious hopes. But Norma, for the first time since her marriage, cried
herself to sleep.
The bitterness stayed with her, and gradually robbed her life of
everything that was happy and content. Her little household round, that
had been so absorbing and so important, became tedious and stupid.
Rose, who was expecting her second confinement, had her husband's
mother with her, and in care of the old baby, and making preparations
for the new, was busy, and had small time for the old companionship;
the evenings were too cold for motoring now, even if Wolf had not been
completely buried in engineering journals and papers of all sorts.
Norma did not call on Annie again, but a fretted and outraged sense
of Annie's coolness and aloofness, and a somewhat similar impression
from Leslie's manner, when they met in Fifth Avenue one day, was always
in her mind. They could drop her as easily as they had picked her up,
these high-and-mighty Melroses! She consoled herself, for a few days,
with spectacular fancies of Annie's consternation should Norma's real
identity be suddenly revealed to her, but even that poor solace was
taken away from her at last.
It was Aunt Kate's unconscious hand that struck the blow, on a wild
afternoon, All Hallow E'en, as it happened, when the older woman made
the long trip to see Rose, and came on to Norma with a report that
everything was going well, and Miggs more fascinating than ever.
Mrs. Sheridan found Norma at the close of the short afternoon,
moping in her unlighted house. She had been to the theatre with Wolf
and a young couple from the house next door, last night, and had fallen
asleep after an afternoon walk, and felt headachy, prickly with heat
and cold, and stupid. Yawning and chilly, she kissed her aunt, and
suggested that they move to the kitchen. It was Inga's free night and
Norma was cook.
You'll stay and surprise Wolf, he'd love it, Norma said, as the
visitor's approving eyes noted the general order and warmth, the
blue-checked towels and blue bowls, the white table and white walls.
The little harum-scarum baby of the family was proceeding to get her
husband a most satisfactory and delicious little dinner, and Aunt Kate
was proud of her.
Did you make that cake, darling?
Indeed I did; she can't make cake!
And the ham?
WellNorma eyed the cut ham fondlywe did that together, out of
the book! And I wish you'd taste it, Aunt Kate, it is perfectly
delicious. I give it to Wolf every other night, but I think he'd eat it
three times a day and be delighted. And last week we made
breadawfully good, toonot hard like that bread we made last summer.
Rolls, we madecinnamon rolls and plain. Harry and Rose were here. And
Thanksgiving I'm going to try mincemeat.
You're a born cook, Aunt Kate said, paying one of her highest
compliments with due gravity. But Norma did not respond with her usual
buoyancy. She sighed impatiently, and her face fell into lines of
discontent and sadness that did not escape the watching eyes. Mrs.
Sheridan changed the subject to the one of a cousin of Harry Redding,
one Mrs. Barry with whose problems Norma was already dismally familiar.
Mrs. Barry's husband was sick in a hospital, and she herself had to
have an expensive operation, and the smallest of the four children had
some trouble hideously like infantile paralysis.
Norma knew that Aunt Kate would have liked to have her offer to take
at least one of the small and troublesome children for two or three
days, if not to stay with the unfortunate Kitty Barry outright. She
knew that there was almost no money, that all the household details of
washing and cooking were piling up like a mountain about the ailing
woman, but her heart was filled with sudden rebellion and impatience
with the whole miserable scheme.
My goodness, Aunt Kate, if it isn't one thing with those people
it's another! she said, impatiently. I suppose you were there, and up
with that baby all night!
Indeed I got some fine sleep, Mrs. Sheridan answered, innocently.
Poor things, they're very brave!
Norma said nothing, but her expression was not sympathetic. She had
been thinking of herself as to be pitied, and this ruthless
introduction of the Barry question entirely upset the argument. If Mary
Bishop and Katrina Thayer were the standard, then Norma Sheridan's life
was too utterly obscure and insignificant to be worth living. But of
course if incompetent strugglers like the Barrys were to be brought
into the question, then Norma might begin to feel the solid ground
melting from beneath her feet.
She did not offer the cake or the ham to Aunt Kate, as contributions
toward the small Barrys' lunch next day, nor did she invite any one of
them to visit her. Her aunt, if she noted these omissions, made no
comment upon them.
I declare you are getting to be a real woman, Norma, she said.
I suppose everyone grows up, Norma assented, cheerlessly.
Yes, there's a time when a child stops being a baby and you see
that it's beginning to be a little girl, Mrs. Sheridan mused; but
it's some time later before you know what sort of a little girl
it is. And then atsay fifteen or sixteenyou see the change again,
the little girl growing into a grown girla young lady. And for awhile
you sort of lose track of her again, until all of a sudden you say:
'Well, Norma's going to be sociableand like people!' or: 'Rose is
going to be a gentle, shy girl'
Norma knew the mildly moralizing tone, and that she was getting a
You never knew that I was going to be a good housekeeper! she
asserted, inclined toward contrariety.
I think you're going through another change now, Baby, her aunt
said. You've become a woman too fast. You don't quite know where you
This was so unexpectedly acute that Norma was inwardly surprised,
and a little impressed. She sat down at one end of the clean little
kitchen table, and rested her face in her hands, and looked resentfully
at the older woman.
Then you don't think I'm a good housekeeper, she said,
I think you will be whatever you want to be, Norma, it'll all be in
your hands now, Mrs. Sheridan answered, seriously. You're a woman,
now; you're Wolf's wife; you've reached an age when you can choose and
decide for yourself. You can beyou always could bethe best child
the Lord ever made, or you can fret and brood over what you haven't
The shrewd kindly eye seemed looking into Norma's very soul. The
girl dropped her hard bright stare, and looked sulky.
I don't see what I'm doing! she muttered. I can't help
wantingwhat other people that are no better than I, have!
Yes, but haven't you enough, Norma? Think of women like poor Kitty
Oh, Kitty BarryKitty Barry! Norma burst out, angrily. It isn't
my fault that Kitty Barry has trouble; I had nothing to do with
it! Look at people like Lesliewhat she wastes on one new fur coat
would keep the Barrys for a year! Eighty-two hundred dollars she paid
for her birthday coat! And that's nothing! Katrina Thayer
NormaNormaNorma! her aunt interrupted, reproachfully. What
have you to do with girls like the Thayer girl? Why, there aren't
twenty girls in the country as rich as that. That doesn't affect you, if there's something you can do for the poor and unfortunate
It does affect me! I can'tNorma dropped her tone, and
glanced at her aunt. She knew that she was misbehavingI can't help
inheriting a love for money, she said, breathing hard. I know
perfectly well who I amwho my mother is, she ended, with a
half-defiant and half-fearful sob in her voice.
How do you mean that you know about your mother, Norma? Mrs.
Sheridan demanded, sharply.
WellNorma had calmed a little, and she was a trifle
nervousChris told me; and Aunt Alice knows, toothat Aunt Annie is
my mother, she said.
Chris Liggett told you that? Mrs. Sheridan asked, with a note of
incredulity in her voice.
Yes. Aunt Alice guessed it almost as soon as I went to live there!
And I've known it for over a year, Norma said.
And who told Chris?
WellAunt Marianna, I suppose!
There was silence for a moment.
Norma, said Mrs. Sheridan, in a quiet, convincing tone that cooled
the girl's hot blood instantly, Chris is entirely wrong; your mother
is dead. I've never lied to you, and I give you my word! I don't know
where Miss Alice got that idea, but it's like her romantic way of
fancying things! No, dear, she went on, sympathetically, as Norma sat
silent, half-stunned by painful surprise, you have no claim on Miss
Annie. Both your father and mother are dead, Norma; I knew them both.
There was a reason, Mrs. Sheridan added, thoughtfully, why I felt
that Mrs. Melrose might want to be kind to youwant to undo an
injustice she did years ago. But I've told myself a thousand times that
I did you a cruel wrong when I first let you go among themyou who
were always so sensible, and so cheerful, and who would always take
things as they came, and make no fuss!
Oh, Aunt Kate, Norma stammered, bitterly, her lip trembling, and
her voice fighting tears, you don't have to tell me that in your
opinion I've changed for the worseI see it in the way you look at me!
You've always thought Rose was an angeltoo good to live!and that I
was spoiled and lazy and good-for-nothing; you were glad enough to get
rid of me, and now I hope you're satisfied! They've told me one thing,
and you've told me anotherand I guess the truth is that I don't
belong to anybody; and I wish I was dead, where my f-f-father and
And stumbling into incoherence and tears, Norma dropped her head on
her arm, and sobbed bitterly. Mrs. Sheridan's face was full of pain,
but she did not soften.
You belong to your husband, Norma! she said, mildly.
Norma sat up, and wiped her eyes on a little handkerchief that she
took from the pocket of her housewifely blue apron. She did not meet
her aunt's eye, and still looked angry and hurt.
Wellwho am I then? Haven't I got some right to know who my
mother and father were? she demanded.
That you will never hear from me, Mrs. Sheridan replied, firmly.
But, Aunt Kate
I gave my solemn promise, Norma, and I've kept my word all these
years; I'm not likely to break it now.
Butwon't I ever know?
Mrs. Sheridan shrugged her broad shoulders and frowned slightly.
That I can't say, my dear, she said, gently. Some day I may be
released from my bond, and then I'll be glad to tell you everything.
Perhaps Wolf will tell me he's nothing to me, now! the girl
continued, with childish temper.
Wolfand all of usthink that there's nobody like you, the older
woman said, tenderly. But Norma did not brighten. She went in a
businesslike way to the stove, and glanced at the various bowls and
saucepans in which dinner was baking and boiling, then sliced some
stale bread neatly, put the shaved crusts in a special jar, and began
to toast the slices with a charming precision.
Change your mind and stay with us, Aunt Kate? she said,
No, dear, I'm going! And Aunt Kate really did bundle herself into
coat and rubber overshoes and woolly scarf again. November's coming in
with a storm, she predicted, glancing out at the darkness, where the
wind was rushing and howling drearily.
Norma did not answer. No mere rushing of clouds and whirl of dry and
colourless leaves could match the storm of disappointment that was
beginning to rage in her own heart.
Yet she felt a pang of repentance, when cheerful Aunt Kate had
tramped off in the dark, to Rose's house, which was five blocks away,
and perhaps afterward to the desolate Barrys', and wished that she had
put her arms about the big square shoulders, and her cheek against her
aunt's cheek, and said that she was sorry to be unreasonable.
Rushing to another extreme of unreason, she decided that she and
Wolf must go see Rose to-nightand perhaps the Barrys, tooand cheer
and solace them all. And Norma indulged in a little dream of herself
nursing and cooking in the Barrys' six little cluttered rooms, and
earning golden opinions from all the group. There was money, too; she
had not used all of October's allowance, and to-morrow would find
another big check at the bank.
Wolf interrupted by coming in so tired he could hardly move. He ate
his dinner, yawned amiably in the kitchen while she cleared it away,
and was so sound asleep at nine o'clock that Norma's bedside light and
the rustling of the pages of her book, three feet away from his face,
had no more effect upon him than if the three feet had been three
And then the bitter mood came back to her again; the bored,
restless, impatient feeling that her life was a stupid affair. And deep
in her heart the sense of hurt and humiliation grew and spread; the
thought that she was not of the charmed circle of the Melroses, not
secretly and romantically akin to them, she was merely the casual
object of the old lady's fantastic sense of obligation. Aunt Kate, who
had never said what was untruewho, Norma and her children firmly
believed, could not say what was untruehad taken away, once and for
all, the veil of mystery and romance that had wrapped Norma for three
For Leslie, and Katrina, and Mary Bishop, perhaps, travel and the
thrill of foreign shores or European courts. But for Wolf Sheridan's
wife, this small, orderly, charming house on the edge of the New Jersey
woods, and the laundry to think of every Monday, and the two-days'
ordering to remember every Saturday, as long as the world went round!
For a few days Norma really suffered in spirit, then the natural
healthy current of her life reëstablished itself, and she
philosophically determined to make the best of the matter. If she was
not Aunt Annie's daughter and Leslie's cousin, she was at least their
friend. Theyeven unsuspecting of any strange relationshiphad always
been kind to her. And Aunt Marianna and Aunt Alice had been definitely
affectionate, to say nothing of Chris!
So one day, when she happened to be shopping in the winter briskness
of the packed and brilliant Avenue, she telephoned Leslie at about the
luncheon hour. Leslie when last they met had said that she would
confidently expect Norma to run out and lunch with her some dayany
Who is it? Leslie's voice asked, irritably, when at last the
telephone connection was established. Oh, Norma! Oh? What
Just wondering how you all were, and what the family news is,
Norma said, with an uncomfortable inclination to falter.
I don't hear you! Leslie protested, impatiently. The
insignificant inquiry did not seem to gain much by repetition, and
Norma's cheeks burned in shame when Leslie followed it by a blank
little pause. Oheveryone's fine. The baby wasn't well, but she's all
Another slight pause, then Norma said:
She must be adorableI'd like to see her.
She's not here now, Leslie answered, quickly.
I've been shopping, Norma said. Any chance that you could come
down town and lunch with me?
No, I really couldn't, to-day! Leslie answered, lightly and
A moment later Norma said good-bye. She walked away from the
telephone booth with her face burning, and her heart beating quickly
with anger and resentment.
Snobsnobsnob! she said to herself, furiously, of Leslie. And
of herself she presently added honestly, And I wasn't much better, for
I don't really like her any more than she does me! And she stopped for
flowers, and a little box of pastry, and went out to delight her Aunt
Kate's heart with an unexpected visit.
But a sting remained, and Norma brooded over the injustice of life,
as she went about her little house in the wintry sunlight, and listened
to Wolf, and made much of Rose and the new baby girl. By Thanksgiving
it seemed to her that she had only dreamed of Aïda and of Newport,
and that the Norma of the wonderful frocks and the wonderful dreams had
been only a dream herself.
And then suddenly she was delighted to have a friendly little note
from Alice, asking her to come to luncheon on a certain December
Friday, as there was a tiny bit of business that she would like to
discuss; Chris was away, she would be alone. Norma accepted with no
more than ordinary politeness, and showed neither Wolf nor his mother
any elation, but she felt a deep satisfaction in the renewed
On the appointed Friday, at one o'clock, she mounted the familiar
steps of the Christopher Liggetts' house, and greeted the butler with a
delighted sense of returning to her own. Alice was in the front room,
before a wood fire; she greeted Norma with her old smile, and with an
outstretched hand, but Norma was shocked to see how drawn and strangely
aged the smile was, and how thin the hand!
The room had its old scent of violets, and its old ordered beauty
and richness, but Norma was vaguely conscious, for the first time, of
some new invalid quality of fussiness, of a pretty and superfluous
cluttering that had not been characteristic of Alice's belongings a
year ago. Alice, too, wore newly a certain stamp of frailty, her always
pure high forehead had a faint transparency and shine that Norma did
not remember, and the increasing accumulation of pillows and little
bookcases and handsome stands about her suggested that her horizon was
closing in, that her world was diminishing to this room, and this room
The strange nurse who smilingly and noiselessly slipped away as
Norma came in, was another vaguely disquieting hint of helplessness,
but Norma knew better than to make any comment upon her impressions,
and merely asked the usual casual questions, as she sat down near the
How are you, Aunt Alice? But you look splendidly!
I'm so well, said Alice, emphatically, with a sort of
solemn thankfulness, that I don't know myself! Whether it was saving
myself the strain of moving to Newport last summer, or what, I don't
know. But I haven't been so well for years!
Norma's heart contracted with sudden pity. Alice had never employed
these gallant falsehoods before. She had always been quite obviously
happy and busy and even enviable, in her limited sphere. The girl
chatted away with her naturally enough while the luncheon table was
arranged between them and the fire, but she noticed that two nurses
shifted the invalid into an upright position before the meal, and that
Alice's face was white with exhaustion as she began to sip her
They were alone, an hour later, playing with little boxed ices, when
Alice suddenly revealed the object of the meeting. Norma had asked for
Chris, who was, it appeared, absent on some matter of business for a
few days, and it was in connection with the introduction of his name
that Alice spoke.
Christhat reminds me! I wanted to speak to you about something,
Norma; I've wanted to for months, really. It's not really important,
because of course you never would mention it any more than I would, and
yet it's just as well to have this sort of thing straightened out!
Chris told mesaid Alice, looking straight at Norma, who had grown a
trifle pale, and was watching her fixedlyChris told me that some
months before you were married, he told you of somesome ridiculous
suspicions we hadit seems absurd now!about Annie.
So that was it! Norma could breathe again.
Yeswe talked about it one morning walking home from church, she
I don't know whether you know now, Alice said, quickly, flushing
nervously, that there wasn't one shred of foundation for thatthat
crazy suspicion of mine! But I give you my wordand my mother told
me!that it wasn't so. I don't know how I ever came to think of it, or
why I thought Mama admitted it. But I've realized, said Alice,
nervously, that it was a terrible injustice to Annie, and as soon as
Chris told me that you knew itand of course he had no business
to let it get any further!I wanted to set it straight. Poor Annie;
she would be perfectly frantic if she knew how calmly I was saddling
her with aa terrible past! said Alice, laughing. But I have always
been too sensitive where the people I love are concerned, and I
blundered into thisthis outrageous
My aunt had told me that it was not so, Norma said, coolly and
superbly interrupting the somewhat incoherent story. If I ever really
believed it! she added, scornfully.
For her heart was hot with rage, and the first impulse was to vent
it upon this nearest of the supercilious Melroses. This was all Alice
had wanted then, in sending that little overture of friendship: to tell
the little nobody that she was nothing to the great family, after all,
to prevent her from ever boasting even an illicit relationship! It was
for a formal snub, a definite casting-off, that Norma had been brought
all the way from the little green-and-white house in New Jersey! Her
eyes grew very bright, and her lips very firm, as she and Alice
finished the topic, and she told herself that she would never, never
enter the house of Liggett again!
Alice, this load off her mind, and the family honour secure, became
much more friendly, and she and Norma were talking animatedly when
Leslie and Annie came unexpectedly in. They had been to a débutante
luncheon, and were going to a débutante tea, and meanwhile wanted a few
minutes with dear Alice, and the latest news of Mrs. Melrose, who was
Aunt and niece were magnificently furred and jewelled, magnificently
unaware of the existence of little Mrs. Sheridan of East Orange. Norma
knew in a second that the social ripples had closed over her head; she
was of no further possible significance in the life of either. Leslie
was pretty, bored, ill-tempered; Annie her usual stunning and radiantly
satisfied self. The conversation speedily left Norma stranded, the
chatter of engagements, of scandals, of new names, was all strange to
her, and she sat through some ten minutes of it uncomfortably, longing
to go, and not quite knowing how to start. She said to herself that she
was done with the Melroses; nevernevernever again would even their
most fervently extended favour win from her so much as a civil
There was a step in the hall, and a voice that drove the blood from
Norma's face, and made her heart begin the old frantic fluttering and
thumping. Before she could attempt to collect her thoughts, the door
opened, and Chris came in. He came straight to Alice, and kissed her,
holding her hand as he greeted Annie and Leslie. Then he came across
the hearthrug, and Norma got to her feet, and felt that his hand was as
cold as hers, and that the room was rocking about her.
Hello, Norma! he said, quietly. I didn't expect to find you
You haven't seen her since she was married, Chris, Alice said, and
Chris agreed with a pleasant That's so!
He sat down, and Norma, incapable of any effort, at least until she
could control the emotion that was shaking her like a vertigo, sank
back into her own chair, unseeing and unhearing. The gold clock on the
mantel ticked and tocked, the other three women chatted and laughed,
and Chris contributed his share to the general conversation. But
Norma's one desperate need was for escape.
He made no protest when she said hasty farewells, but when she had
gone rapidly and almost blindly down the stairway, and was at the front
door, she found him beside her. He got into his fur-collared coat,
picked up his hat, and they descended to the sidewalk together, in the
colourless, airless, sunless light of the winter afternoon.
Get in my car! Chris said, indicating the roadster at the curb.
The girl without a word obeyed. His voice, the motion of his
clean-cut mouth, the searching glance of his quick, keen eyes, acted
upon her like a charm. AliceWolfevery thing else in the world
vanished from her thoughts, or rather had never been there. She was
drinking again the forbidden waters for which she had thirsted, perhaps
without quite knowing it, so long. The strangeness, the strain, the
artifice of the last eight months fell from her like a spell; she was
herself again, comfortable again, poised again, thrilling from head to
heels with delicious and bubbling lifeready for anything!
Now that they were alone she felt no more nervousness; he would
speak to her when he was ready, he could not leave her without
speaking. Norma settled back comfortably in the deep, low seat, and
glanced sidewise at the stern profile that showed between his high fur
collar and the fur cap he had pulled well down over his ears. The world
seemed changed to her; she had wakened from a long dream.
Nonot the old house! she presently broke the silence to tell
him. I go to New Jersey.
He had been driving slowly out Fifth Avenue, now he obediently
turned, and threaded his way through the cross-street traffic until
they were within perhaps a hundred feet of the entrance to the New
Jersey subways. Then he ran the car close to the curb, and stopped, and
for the first time looked fully at Norma, and she saw his old, pleasant
Well, and how goes it? he asked. How is Wolf? Tell me where you
are living, and all about it!
Norma in answer gave him a report upon her own affairs, and spoke of
Aunt Kate and Rose and Rose's children. She did not realize that a tone
almost pleading, almost apologetic, crept into her eager voice while
she spoke, and told its own story. Chris watched her closely, his eyes
never leaving her face. All around them moved the confusion and
congestion of Sixth Avenue; overhead the elevated road roared and
crashed, but neither man nor woman was more than vaguely conscious of
And are you happy, Norma? Chris asked.
Oh, yes! she answered, quickly.
You are a very game little liar, he said, dispassionately.
Nono, I'm not blaming you! he added, hastily, as she would have
spoken. You took the very best way out, and I respect and honour you
for it! I was not surprisedalthough the possibility had never
occurred to me.
Something in his cool, almost lifeless tone, chilled her, and she
did not speak.
When I heard of it, Chris said, I went to Canada. I don't
remember the details exactly, but I remember one day sitting up
therein the woods somewhere, and looking at my hunting knife, and
looking at my wrist
He looked at his wrist now, and her eyes followed his.
and if I had thought, Chris presently continued, that a slash
there might have carried me to some region of peacewhere there was no
hunger for NormaI would not have hesitated! But one isn't
suremore's the pity! he finished, smiling with eyes full of pain.
Norma could not speak. The work of long months had been undone in a
short hour, and she was conscious of a world that crashed and tumbled
in utter ruin about her.
Well, no use now, Chris said. He folded his arms on his chest, and
looked sternly away into space for a minute, and Norma felt his
self-control, his repression, as she would have felt no passionate
outburst of reproach. But there is one thing that I've wanted for a
long time to tell you, Norma. If you hadn't been such a little girl, if
you had known what life is, you could not have done what you did!
I suppose not, she half-whispered, with a dry throat, as he waited
for some sign from her.
No, you couldn't have given yourself to any one elseif you had
known, Chris went on, as if musing aloud. And that brings me to what
I want to say. Marriage lasts a long, long time, Norma, and even
youwith all your courage!may find that you've promised more than
you can perform! The time may come
Norma, I hope it won't! he interrupted himself to say, bitterly.
I try to hope it won't! I try to hope that you will come to love him,
my dear, and forget me! But if that time does come, what I want you to
remember is this afternoon, and sitting here with me in the car, and
Chris telling you that wheneveror whereveror however he can serve
you, you are to remember that he is living just for that hour! There
will never be any change in me, Norma, never anything but longing and
longing just for the sight of you, just for one word from you! I love
you, my dearI can't help it. God knows I've tried to help it.
I love you as I don't believe any other woman in the world was ever
loved! So much that I want life to be good to you, even if I never see
you, and I want you to be happy, even without me!
He had squared about to face her, and as the passionate rush of
words swept about her, Norma laid her little gloved hand gently upon
his big one, and her blue eyes, drowned in sudden tears, fixed
themselves in exquisite desolation and despair upon his face.
Once or twice she had whispered I knowI know! as if to herself,
but she did not interrupt him, and when he paused he saw that she was
choked with tears, and could not speak.
The mad and wonderful sacrifice you made I can't talk about,
Norma, he said. Only an ignorant, noble-hearted little girl like you
could have done that! But that's all over, now. You must try to make
your life what they think it isthose good people that love you! And
I'll try, too!I do try. And you mustn't cry, my little sweetheart,
Chris added, with a tenderness so new, and so poignantly sweet, that
Norma was almost faint with the sheer joy of it, you mustn't blame me
for just saying this, this once, because it's for the last time! We
mustn't meet His voice dropped. I think we mustn't meet, he
repeated, painfully and slowly.
No! she agreed, quickly.
But you are to remember that, Chris reiterated, that I am living,
and moving about, and going to the office, and back to my home, only
because you are alive in the world, and the day may come when I can
serve you! Life has been only that to me, for a long, long time!
For a long minute Norma sat silent, her dark lashes fallen on her
cheek, her eyes on the hand that she had grasped in her own.
I'll remember, Chris! Thank you, Chris! she said, simply. Then she
raised her eyes and looked straight at him, with a childish little
frown, puzzled and bewildered, on her forehead, and they exchanged a
long look of good-bye. Chris raised her hand to his lips, and Norma
very quietly slipped from her seat, and turned once to smile bravely at
him before she was lost in the swiftly moving whirlpool of the subway
entrance. She was trembling as she seated herself in the train, and
moved upon her way scarcely conscious of what she was doing.
But Chris did not move from his seat for more than an hour.
Norma went home, and quickly and deftly began her preparations for
dinner. Inga had been married a few weeks before, and so Norma had no
maid. She put her new hat into its tissue paper, and tied a fresh
checked apron over her filmy best waist, and stepped to and fro between
stove and dining table, as efficient a little housekeeper as all New
Jersey could show.
Wolf came home hungry and good-natured, and kissed her, and sat at
the end of her little kitchen table while she put the last touches to
the meal, appreciative and amusing, a new magazine for her in the
pocket of his overcoat, an invitation from his mother for dinner
to-morrow night, and a pleasant suggestion that he and she wander up
Broadway again and look in windows, after his mother's dinner.
They talked, while they dined, of the possibility of the California
move, and Wolf afterward went down to the furnace. When the fire was
banked for the night, he watched the last of the dinner clearance, and
they went across the cold dark strip of land between their house and a
neighbour's, to play three exciting rubbers of bridge.
And at eleven Wolf was asleep, and Norma reading again, or trying to
read. But her blood was racing, and her head was spinning, and before
she slept she brought out all her memories of the afternoon. Chris's
words rang in her heart again, and the glances that had accompanied
them unrolled before her eyes like some long pageant that was
infinitely wonderful and thrilling. Leslie and Annie and Alice might
snub her, but Christheir idol, the cleverest and most charming man in
all their circle!Chris loved her. Chris loved her. Andfrom those
old dreamy days in Biretta's Bookstore, had she not loved Chris?
Another morning came, another night, and life went its usual way.
But Norma was wrapped in a dream that was truly a pillar of cloud by
day, and of flame by night. She was hardly aware of the people about
her, except that her inner consciousness of happiness and of elation
gave her an even added sweetness and charm, made her readier to please
them, and more anxious for their love.
Wolf almost immediately saw the change, but she did not see the
shadow that came to be habitual in his young face, nor read aright his
grave eyes. She supposed him perhaps unusually busy, if indeed she
thought of him at all. Like her aunt, and Rose, and the rest of her
world, he was no more now than a kindly and dependable shadow,
something to be quickly put aside for the reality of her absorbing
friendship for Chris.
Despite their resolve not to see each other in the two weeks that
followed Alice's luncheon, Norma had seen Chris three times. He had
written her on the third day, and she had met the postman at the
corner, sure that the big square envelope would be there. They had had
luncheon, far down town, and walked up through the snowy streets
together, parting with an engagement for the fourth day ahead, a
matinée and tea engagement. The third meeting had been for luncheon
again, and after lunch they had wandered through an Avenue gallery,
looking at the pictures, and talking about themselves.
Chris had loaned her books, little slim books of dramas or essays,
and Chris had talked to her of plays and music. One night, when Wolf
was in Philadelphia, Chris took her to the opera again, duly returning
her to Aunt Kate at half-past eleven, and politely disclaiming Aunt
Kate's gratitude for his goodness to little Norma.
He never attempted to touch her, to kiss her; he never permitted
himself an affectionate term, or a hint of the passion that enveloped
him; they were friends, that was all, and surely, surely, they told
themselves, a self-respecting man and woman may be friendsmay talk
and walk and lunch together, and harm no one? Norma knew that it was
the one vital element in Chris's life, as in her own, and that the
hours that he did not spend with her were filled with plans and
anticipations for their times together.
One evening, just before Christmas, when the young Sheridans were
staying through a heavy storm with their mother, Wolf came home with
the news that he must spend some weeks in Philadelphia, studying a new
method of refining iron ore. It was tacitly understood that this
transfer was but a preliminary to the long-anticipated promotion to the
California managership, but Wolf took it very quietly, with none of the
exultation that the compliment once would have caused him.
I'll go with you to Philadelphia, Norma said, not quite naturally.
She had been made vaguely uneasy by his repressed manner, and by the
fact that her kiss of greeting had been almost put aside by him, at the
door, a few minutes earlier. Dear old Wolf; she had always loved
himshe would not have him unhappy for all the world!
In answer he looked at her unsmilingly, wearily narrowing his eyes
as if to concentrate his thoughts.
You can't, very well, but thank you just the same, Norma, he said,
formally. I shall be with Voorhies and Palmer and Bender all the time;
they put me up at a club, and there'll be plenty of evening
worknearly every evening
Norma'll stay here with me! Aunt Kate said, hospitably.
WellWolf agreed, indifferentlyI can run up from Philadelphia
and be home every Saturday, Mother, he added. Norma felt vaguely
alarmed by his manner, and devoted her best efforts to amusing and
interesting him for the rest of the meal. After dinner she came in from
the kitchen to find him in a big chair in the little front parlour, and
she seated herself upon an arm of it, and put her own arm loosely about
What are you reading, Wolf? Shall we go out and burn up Broadway?
There's a wonderful picture at The Favourite.
He tossed his paper aside, and moved from under her, so that Norma
found herself ensconced in the chair, and her husband facing her from
the rug that was before the little gas log.
Gone downstairs to see how the Noon baby is.
Norma, said Wolf, without preamble, did you see Chris Liggett
Her colour flamed high, but her eyes did not waver.
Yes. We met at Sherry's. We had lunch together.
You didn't meet by accident? There was desperate hope in Wolf's
voice. But Norma would not lie. With her simple negative her head
drooped, and she looked at her locked fingers in silence.
Wolf was silent, too, for a long minute. Then he cleared his throat,
and spoke quietly and sensibly.
I've been a long time waking up, Nono, he said. I'm sorry! Of
course I knew that there was a difference; I knew that youfelt
differently. And I guessed that it was Chris. Norma, do youdo you
still like him?
She looked up wretchedly, nodding her head.
Morehe began, and stoppedmore than you do me? he asked. And
in the silence he added suddenly: Norma, I thought we were so happy!
Then the tears came.
Wolf, I'll never love any one more than I do you! the girl said,
passionately. You've always been an angel to mealways the best
friend I ever had. I know youI know what you are to Rose, Aunt Kate,
and what the men at the factory think of you. I'm not fit to tie your
shoes! I'm wicked, and selfish, andand everything I oughtn't to be!
But I can't help it. I've wanted you to knowall there was to know.
I've met him, and we've talked and walked together; that's all. And
that's all we wantjust to be friends. I'm sorry Her voice
trailed off on a sob. I'm awfully sorry! she said.
Yes, Wolf said, slowly, after a pause, I'm sorry, too!
He sat down, rumpling his hair, frowning. Norma, watching him
fearfully, noticed that he was very pale.
I thought we were so happy, he said again, simply.
Ah, Wolf, don't think I've been fooling all this summer! his wife
pleaded, her eyes filling afresh. I've loved it allthe peach
ice-cream, and the picnics, and everything. Butbut people can't help
this sort of thing, can they? It does happen, andand they just simply
have to make the best of it, don't they? Ifif we go to California
next monthyou know that I'll do everything I can!
He was not listening to her.
Norma, he interrupted, sharply, if Liggett's wife was out of the
waywould you want to marry him?
Wolf!what's the use of asking that? You onlyyou only excite us
both. Aunt Alice isn't out of the way, and even if she were, I
am your wife. I'm sorry. I'll never meet him againI haven't been a
bit happy about it. I'll promise you that I will not see him again.
I don't ask you for that promise, Wolf said. I don't know what we
can do! I never should have let youI shouldn't have been such a fool
as tobut somehow, I'd always dreamed that you and I would marry.
Well!he interrupted his musing with resolute cheerfulnessI've got
to get over to the library to-night, he said, for I may have to start
for Phily to-morrow afternoon. Will you tell Mother
Norma immediately protested that she was going with him, but he
patiently declined, kissing her in a matter-of-fact sort of way as he
pulled on the old overcoat and the new gloves, and slamming the hall
door behind him when he went.
For a minute she stood looking after him, with a great heartache
almost blinding her. Then she flashed to her room, and before Wolf had
reached the corner his wife had slipped her hand into his arm, and her
little double step was keeping pace with his long stride in the way
they both loved.
She talked to him in her usual manner, and presently he could answer
normally, and they bought peppermints to soften their literary labours.
In the big library Wolf was instantly absorbed, but for awhile Norma
sat watching the shabby, interested, intelligent men and women who came
and went, the shabby books that crossed the counters, the pretty,
efficient desk-clerks under their green droplights. The radiators
clanked and hissed softly in the intervals of silence, sometimes there
was whispering at the shelves, or one of the attendants spoke in a low
Norma loved the atmosphere, so typical a phase of the great city's
life. After awhile she idly dragged toward her three books, from a
table, and idly dipped into them: The Life of the Grimkés; The Life
of Elizabeth Prentiss; The Letters of Charles Dickens.
Nine struck; ten; eleven. Wolf had some six or seven large books
about him, and alternated his plunges into them with animated whispered
conversations with a silver-headed old man, two hours ago an utter
stranger, but always henceforth to be affectionately quoted by Wolf as
They indulged in the extravagance of a taxi-cab for the home trip.
Norma left Wolf still reading, after winning from him a kiss and a
promise not to worry", and went to bed and to sleep. When she wakened,
after some nine delicious hours, he was gone; gone to Philadelphia, as
Breakfasting at ten o'clock, in a flood of sweet winter sunshine,
she put a brave face on the matter. She told herself that it was better
that Wolf should know, and only the part of true kindness not to deny
what, for good or ill, was true. The memory of his grave and troubled
face distressed her, but she reminded herself that he would be back on
Saturday, and then he would have forgiven her. She would see Chris
to-day, to-morrow, and the day after, and by that time they would have
said everything that there was to say, and they would never see each
For it was a favourite hallucination of theirs that every meeting
was to be the last. Not, said Chris, that there was any harm in it, but
it was wiser not to see each other. And when Norma, glowing under his
eyes, would echo this feeling, he praised her for her courage as if
they had resisted the temptation already.
I've thought it all over, Chris, she would say, and I know that
the wisest way is to stop. And you must help me. And when Chris
answered, Norma, I don't see where you get that marvellous courage of
yours, it did not occur to Norma to question in what way she was
showing courage at all. She lived upon his praise, and could not have
enough of it. He never tired of telling her that she was beautiful,
good, brave, a constant inspiration, and far above the ordinary type of
woman; and Norma believed him.
On the day before Wolf's first week-end return from Philadelphia,
Chris was very grave. When he and Norma were halfway through their
luncheon, in the quiet angle of an old-fashioned restaurant, he told
her why. Alice was failing. Specialists had told him that England was
out of the question. She might live a year, but the probability was
against it. Theyhe and NormaChris said, must consider this, now.
Norma considered it with a paling face. Itit couldn't make any
difference, she said, quickly and nervously.
And then, for the first time, he talked to her of her responsibility
in the matter, of what their love meant to them both. Wolf had his
claim, true; but what was truly the generous thing for a woman to do
toward a man she did not love? Wasn't a year or two of hurt feelings,
even anger and resentment, better than a loveless marriage that might
last fifty years?
This was a terrible problem, and Norma did not know what to think.
On the one hand was the certainty of that higher life from which she
had been exiled since her marriage: the music, the art, the letters,
the cultivated voices and fragrant rooms, the wealth and luxury, the
devotion of this remarkable and charming man, whose simple friendship
had been beyond her dreams a few years ago. On the other side was the
painful and indeed shameful desertion of Wolf, the rupture with Aunt
Kate and Rose, and the undying sense in her own soul of an unworthy
But Rose was absorbed in Harry and the children, and Aunt Kate would
surely go with Wolf to California, three thousand miles away
I am not brave enough! she whispered.
You are brave enough, Chris answered, quickly. Tell him
the truthas you did on your wedding day. Tell him you acted on a mad
impulse, and that you are sorry. A few days' discomfort, and you are
free, and one week of happiness will blot out the whole wretched memory
It is not wretchedness, Chris, she corrected, with a rueful smile.
But she did not contradict him, and before they parted she promised him
that she would not go to California without at least telling Wolf how
she felt about it.
Rose and Harry joined them for the Saturday night reunion. Norma
thought that Wolf seemed moody, and was unresponsive to her generous
welcome, and she was conscious of watching him somewhat apprehensively
as the evening wore on. But it was Sunday afternoon before the storm
Wolf was at church when Norma wakened, and as she dressed she
meditated a trifle uneasily over this departure from their usual
comfortable Sunday morning habit. She breakfasted alone, Wolf and his
mother coming in for their belated coffee just as Norma, prettily
coated and hatted and furred, was leaving the house for the ten-o'clock
Mass. They did not meet again until luncheon, and as Wolf had explained
that he must leave at four o'clock for Philadelphia, Norma began to
think that this particular visit would end without any definite
However, at about three o'clock, he invited her to walk with him to
the station, and join his mother later, at Rose's house, in New Jersey,
and Norma dared not refuse. They locked the apartment, and walked
slowly down Broadway, as they had walked so many thousand times before,
in the streaming Sunday crowds. Before they had gone a block Wolf
opened hostilities by asking abruptly:
Where did you go to church this morning?
Norma flushed, and laughed a little.
I went down to the Cathedral; I'm fond of it, you know. Why?
Did you meet Chris Liggett? Wolf asked.
YesI did, Wolf. He goes to the church near there, now and then.
When you telephone him to, Wolf said, grimly.
Norma began to feel frightened. She had never heard this tone from
I did telephone him, as a matter of factor rather he happened to
telephone me, and I said I was going there. Is there anything so
horrifying in that? she asked.
Just after you went out, the telephone operator asked me if the
Murray Hill number had gotten us, Wolf answered; that's how I happen
Norma was angry, ashamed, and afraid, all at once. For twenty feet
they walked in silence. She stole more than one anxious look at her
companion; Wolf's face was set like flint. He was buttoned into the
familiar old overcoat, a tall, brown, clean-shaven, and just now
scowling young man of the accepted American type, firm of jaw, keen of
eye, and with a somewhat homely bluntness of feature preventing him
from being describable as handsome, or with at best a rough, hard,
open-eyed sort of handsomeness that was as unconscious of itself as the
beauty of a young animal.
Wolf, don't be cross, his wife pleaded, in illogical coaxing.
I'm not cross, he said, with an annoyed glance that humiliated and
angered her. But I don't like this sort of thing, Norma, and I should
think you'd know why.
What sort of thing? Norma countered, quickly.
The sort of thing that evidently Mr. Christopher Liggett thinks is
fair play! Wolf said, with youthful bitterness. Harry saw you both
walking up Fifth Avenue yesterday, and Joe Anderson happened to mention
that you and a man were lunching together on Thursday, down at the
Lafayette. There may be no harm in it
There may be! Norma echoed, firing. You know very well
You see him every day, Wolf said.
I don't see him every day! But if I did, it wouldn't be
Harry Redding's and Joe Anderson's business!
No, Wolf said, more mildly, but it might be mine!
Norma realized that he was softening under her distress, and she
changed her tone.
Wolf, you know that you can trust me! she said.
But I don't know anything about him! Wolf reminded her. I know
that he's twice your age
Thirty-eight, thenand I know that he's a loafera rich man who
has nothing else to do but run around with women
I want to ask you to stop talking about something of which you are
entirely ignorant! Norma interrupted, hotly.
You're the one that's ignorant, Norma, Wolf said, stubbornly, not
looking at her. You are only a little girl; you think it's great fun
to be married to one man, and flirting with another! What makes me sick
is that a man like Liggett thinks he can get away with it, and you
If you say that again, I'll not walk with you! Norma burst in
Does it ever occur to you, Wolf asked, equally roused, that you
are my wife?
Yes! Norma answered, breathlessly. Yesit does! And why? Because
I was afraid I was beginning to care too much for Chris
Liggettbecause I knew he loved me, he had told me so!and I went to
you because I wanted to be safeand I told you so, too, Wolf Sheridan,
the very day that we were married! I never lied to you! I told you I
loved Chris, that I always had! And if you'd been civil to me,
rushed on Norma, beginning to feel tears mastering her, if you'd been
decent to me, I would have gotten over it. I would never have seen
him again anyway, after this week, for I told him this morning that I
didn't want to go on meeting himthat it wasn't fair to you! But no,
you don't trust me and you don't believe me, and
consequentlyconsequently, I don't care what I do, and I'll make you
Don't talk so wildly, Norma, Wolf warned her, in a tone suddenly
quiet and sad. Please don'tpeople will notice you!
I don't care if they do! Norma said. But she glanced about
deserted Eighth Avenue uneasily none the less, and furtively dried her
eyes upon a flimsy little transparent handkerchief that somehow tore at
her husband's heart. If you had been a little patient, Wolf she
There are times when a man hasn't much use for patience, Norma,
Wolf said, still with strange gentleness. You did tell me of
liking Liggettbut I thoughtI hoped, I guess! He paused, and
then went on with sudden fierceness: He's married, Norma, and you're
marriedI wish there was some way of letting you out of it, as far as
I am concerned! Of course you don't have to go to California with
meif that helps. You can get your freedom, easily enough, after
awhile. But as long as he's tied, it doesn't seem to me that he has any
His gentle tone disarmed her, and she took up Chris's defence
Wolf, don't you believe there is such a thing as love? Just that
two people find out that they belong to each otherwhether it's right
or wrong, or possible or impossibleand that it may last for ever?
No, said Wolf, harshly, I don't believe it! He's marrieddoesn't
he love his wife?
Well, of course he loves her! But this is the first time in all his
life that he hascaredthis way! Norma said.
Wolf made no answer, and she felt that she had scored. They were in
the station now, and weaving their way down toward the big concourse.
Norma took her husband's arm.
Pleasepleasedon't make scenes, Wolf! If you will just believe
me that I wouldn'ttruly I wouldn't!hurt you and Aunt Kate for all
Ah, Norma, he said, quickly, I can't take my wife on those
terms! And turning from the ticket window he added, sensibly: Liggett
is tied, of course. But would you like me to leave you here when I go
West? Until you are surer of yourselfone way or another? You only
have to say so!
She only had to say so. He had reached, of his own accord, the very
point to which she long had hoped to bring him. But perversely, Norma
did not quite like to have Wolf go off to Philadelphia with this
unpalatable affirmative ringing in his ears. She looked down. A
moment's courage now, and she would win everythingand more than
everything!to which Chris had ever urged her. But she felt oddly sad
and even hurt by his willingness to give her her way.
All right! he said, hastily. That's understood. I'll tell Mother
I don't want you to follow, for awhile. Good-bye, Norma! You're taking
the next tube? Wait a minuteI want a Post
Was he trying to show her how mean he could be? she thought, as with
a heartache, and a confused sense of wrong and distress, she slowly
went upon her way. Of course that parting was just bravado, of course
he felt more than that! She resented itshe thought he had been
But her spirits slowly settled themselves. Wolf knew what she felt,
now, and they had really parted without bitterness. A pleasant sense of
being her own mistress crept over her, her cheeks cooled, her
fluttering heart came back to its normal beat. She began to hear
herself telling Chris how courageous she had been.
It was too badit was one of the sad things of life. But after all,
love was love, in spite of Wolf's scepticism, and if it soothed Wolf to
be rude, let him have that consolation! What did a little pain more or
less signify now? There was no going back. Years from now Wolf would
forgive her, recognizing that great love was its own excuse for being.
And if this sort of thing exists only to be crushed and killed, Norma
wrote Chris a few days later, then half the great pictures, the great
novels, the great poems and dramas, the great operas, are lies. But you
and I know that they are not lies!
She was unhappy at home, for Aunt Kate was grave and silent, Rose
wrapped in the all-absorbing question of the tiny Catherine's meals,
and Wolf neither came nor wrote on Saturday night. But in Chris's
devotion she was feverishly and breathlessly happy, their
meetingsalways in public places, and without a visible evidence of
their emotionwere hours of the most stimulating delight.
So matters went on for another ten days. Then suddenly, on a
mid-week afternoon, Norma, walking home from a luncheon in a wild and
stormy wind, was amazed to see the familiar, low-slung roadster waiting
outside her aunt's door when she reached the steps. Chris jumped out
and came to meet her as she looked bewilderedly toward it, a Chris
curiously different in manner from the man she had left only an hour
Norma! he said, quickly, I found a message when I got to the
office. I was to call up Aunt Marianna's house at once. She's ill
very ill. They want me, and they want you!
Me? she echoed, blankly. What for?
She's had a stroke, he said, still with that urgent and hurried
air, and Josephpoor old fellow, he was completely broken upsaid
that she had been begging them to get hold of you!
Norma had gotten into the familiar front seat, but now she stayed
him with a quick hand.
Wait a minute, Chris, I'll run up and tell Aunt Kate where I am
going! she said.
She's gone out. There's nobody there! he assured her, glancing up
at the apartment windows. I knew you would be coming in, so I waited.
Then I'll telephone! the girl said, settling herself again. But
what do you suppose she wants me for? she asked, returning to the
subject of the summons. Have theywill theysend for Aunt Annie and
Leslie, do you suppose?
Leslie is in Florida with the Binneys, most unfortunately. Annie
was in Baltimore yesterday, but I believe she was expected home to-day.
Joseph said he had gotten hold of Hendrick von Behrens, and I told my
clerk to get Acton, and to warn Miss Slater that Alice isn't to be
But, Chrisdo you suppose she is dying?
I don't knowone never does, of course, with paralysis.
Poor Aunt Aliceit will almost kill her!
Yes, it will be terribly hard for her, harder than for any one, he
answered. And Norma loved him for the grave sympathy that filled his
voice, and for the poise that could make such a speech possible, under
the circumstances, without ever a side glance for her.
Then they reached the old house, ran up the steps, and were in the
great dark hallway that already seemed to be filled with the shadow of
Whispering, solemn-faced maids went to and fro; Joseph was red-eyed;
the heavy fur coats of two doctors were flung upon chairs. Norma
slipped from her own coat.
How is she, Joseph?
I hardly know, Miss. You're to go up, please, and Regina was to
tell one of the nurses at once that you had come, Miss. He delivered
his message impassively enough, but then the human note must break
through. I've been with her since she was married, Missnigh forty
years, the old man faltered, and I'm afraid she is very badvery
Oh, I hope not! Norma went noiselessly upstairs, Chris
close behind her. Did she hope not? She hardly knew. But she knew that
all this was strangely thrillingthis rush through the tossing windy
afternoon to the old house, this sense of being a part of the
emergency, this utter departure from the tedious routine of life.
A serious-faced nurse took charge of them, and she and Chris
followed her noiselessly into the familiar bedroom that yet looked so
altered in its new lifeless order and emptiness. The clutter of
personal possessions was already gone, chairs had been straightened and
pushed back, and on the bed that had lately been frilled and
embroidered in white and pink, and piled with foolish little
transparent baby pillows, a fresh, flawless linen sheet was spread.
Silence reigned in the wide chamber; but two doctors were standing by
the window, and looked at the newcomers with interest, and a second
nurse passed them on her way out. Norma vaguely noted the fire, burning
clear and bright, the shaded light that showed a chart, on a cleared
table, the absence of flowers and plants that made the place seem bare.
But after one general impression her attention was riveted upon the
sick woman, and with her heart beating quickly with fright she went to
stand at the foot of the great walnut bed.
Mrs. Melrose was lying with her head tipped back in pillows; her
usually gentle, soft old face looked hard and lined, and was a dark
red, and the scanty gray hair, brushed back mercilessly from the
temples, and devoid of the usual puffs and transformations, made her
look her full sixty years. Her eyes were half-open, but she did not
move them, her lips seemed very dry, and occasionally she muttered
restlessly, and a third nurse, bending above her, leaned anxiously
near, to catch what she said, and perhaps murmur a soothing response.
This nurse looked sharply at Norma, and breathed rather than
whispered: Mrs. Sheridan? and when Norma answered with a nod, nodded
herself in satisfaction.
She's been asking and asking for you, she said, in a low clear
tone that oddly broke the unnatural silence of the room. Norma, hearing
a stir behind her, looked back to see that both doctors had come over
to the bed, and were looking down at their patient with a profound
concern that their gray heads and their big spectacles oddly
Mrs. Sheridan? one of them questioned. Norma dared not use her
voice, and nodded again. Immediately the doctor leaned over Mrs.
Melrose, and said in a clear and encouraging tone: Here is Mrs.
Mrs. Melrose merely moaned heavily in answer, and Norma said softly,
to the doctor who had spoken:
I think perhaps she was asking for my auntwho is also Mrs.
Before the doctor, gravely considering, could answer, the sick woman
startled them all by saying, almost fretfully, in a surprisingly clear
and quiet voice:
Nonono, I want you, Norma!
She groped blindly about with her hand, as she spoke, and Norma
kneeled down, and covered it with both her own. Mrs. Melrose
immediately began to breathe more easily, and sank at once into the
stupor from which she had only momentarily roused.
Norma looked for instruction to the doctor, who presently decided
that there was nothing more to be gained for a time; she joined them
presently, with Chris, in the adjoining room. This was the same old
room of her first visit to the house, with the same rich old brocaded
paper and fringed rep draperies, with the same pictures, and a few new
ones, lined on the mantel.
Where are Mrs. von Behrens and Leslie? Doctor Murray, who had
known all the family intimately for years, asked Chris.
Is it so serious, Doctor? Christopher asked in turn, when he had
answered. The doctor, glancing toward the closed door, nodded gravely.
A matter of a day or two, he said, looking at the other old doctor
for confirmation. She was apparently perfectly normal last night, went
to bed at her usual hour, he said, this morning she complained of her
head, when the maid went in at ten, said that she must have hurt
itstruck it against something. The maid, a sensible young woman, was
uneasy, and telephoned for me. Unfortunately, I was in Westchester this
morning, but I got here at about one o'clock and found her as she is
now. She has had a strokeprobably several slight shocks.
Why, but she was perfectly well day before yesterday! Norma said,
in amazement. And only ten days ago she came back from Florida, and
said that she never felt better!
That is frequently the history of the disease, the second doctor
said, sagely. And, glancing at his watch, he added, I don't think you
will need me again, Doctor Murray?
What are the chances of herknowing anybody? Chris asked.
She may very probably have another lucid interval, Doctor Murray
said. If Mrs. Sheridan could arrange to stay, it would be advisable.
She asked for her daughters, but she seemed even more anxious that we
should send foryou. He glanced at Norma, with a little
Mrs. Sheridan could stay, of course. She would telephone home, and
advise Aunt Kate, at once. Indeed, so keen was Norma's sense almost of
enjoyment in this thrilling hour that she would have been extremely
sorry to leave the house. It was sad, it was dreadful, of course, to
think that poor old Aunt Marianna was so ill, but at the same time it
was most dramatic. She and Chris settled themselves before the fire in
the upstairs sitting-room with Doctor Murray, who entertained them with
mild reminiscences of the Civil War. The storm was upon the city now,
rain slashed at the windows and the wind howled bitterly.
There was whispering in the old house, quiet footsteps, muffled
voices at the door and telephone. At about six o'clock Chris went home,
to tell Alice, with what tenderness he might, of the impending sorrow.
Regina, who had been weeping bitterly, and would speak to no one,
brought Norma and the doctor two smoking hot cups of bouillon on a
And you mustn't get tired, Mrs. Sheridan, one of the nurses,
herself healthily odorous of a beef and apple-pie dinner, said kindly
to Norma, at about seven o'clock. There'll be coffee and sandwiches
all night. This is a part of our lives, you know, and we get used to
it, but it's hard for those not accustomed to it.
At about nine o'clock in the evening Chris came back. Alice had
received the news bravely, he said; there had been no hysteria and she
kept admirable control of herself, and he had left her ready for sleep.
But it had hit her very hard. Miss Slater had promised him that she
would put a sleeping powder into Alice's regular ten o'clock glass of
hot milk, and let him know when she was safely off.
She is very thankful that you are here, she was uneasy every
instant that I stayed away! he said softly to Norma, and Norma nodded
her approval. Long before eleven o'clock they had the report that Alice
was sleeping soundly under the combined effect of the powder and Miss
Slater's repeated and earnest assurance that there was no immediate
danger as regarded her mother.
Chris and Norma and the doctor and two of the nurses went down to
the dining-room, and had sandwiches and coffee, and talked long and
sadly of the briefness and mutability of mortal life. When they went
upstairs again the doctor stretched out for some rest, on the
sitting-room couch, and Norma went to her own old room, and got into
her comfortable, thick padded wrapper and warm slippers. The night was
still wet and stormy, and had turned cold. Hail rattled on the window
Then she crept into the sick-room, and joined the nurses in their
unrelenting vigil. Mrs. Melrose was still lying back, her eyes
half-open, her face darkly flushed, her lips moving in an incoherent
mutter. Now and then they caught the syllables of Norma's name, and
once she said Kate! so sharply that everyone in the sick chamber
Norma, leaning back in a great chair by the bed, mused and pondered
as the slow hours went by. The softened lights touched the nurses'
crisp aprons, the fire was out now, and only the two softly palpitating
disks from the shaded lamps dimly illumined the room.
Annie and Theodore and Alice had all been born in this very room,
Norma thought. She imagined Aunt Marianna, a handsome, stout, radiant
young woman, in the bustles and pleats of the early eighties, with the
flowing ruffles of Theodore's christening robe spreading over her lap.
How wonderful life must have seemed to her then, rich and young, and
adored by her husband, and with her first-born child receiving all the
homage due the heir of the great name and fortune! Then came Annie, and
some years later Alice, and how busy and happy their mother must have
been with plenty of money for schools and frocks, trips to the country
with her handsome, imperious children; trips to Europe when no desire
need be denied them, all the world the playground for the fortunate
How short the perspective must look now, thought Norma, to that
troubled brain that was struggling among closing shadows, nearer and
nearer every slow clocktick to the end. How loathsome it must be to the
prisoned spirit, this handsome, stifling room, this army of maids and
nurses and doctors so decorously resigned to facing the last scene of
all. Why, the poorest child in the city to-night, healthily asleep in
some unspeakable makeshift for a bed, possessed what all the Melrose
money could not buy for this moaning, suffocating old autocrat.
I should like to die out on a hillside, under the stars, thought
Norma, with no one to watch me. This issomehowso horrible!
And she crept toward the bed and slipped to her knees again, forcing
herself against her inclinationfor somehow prayers seemed to have
nothing to do with this sceneto pray for the departing soul.
Norma, the old lady said, suddenly, opening her eyes. She looked
quietly and intelligently at the girl.
Yes, dear! Norma stammered, with a frightened glance toward the
These were instantly intent, at the bedside. But Mrs. Melrose paid
no attention to them. She patted Norma's hand.
Late for you, dear! she whispered. Night! Obediently she drank
something the nurse put to her lips, and when she spoke it was more
clearly. A moment later Doctor Murray had her pulse between his
nerveless fingers. She moved her eyes lazily to smile at him. Tide
running out, old friend! she said, in a deep, rich voice. The doctor
smiled, shaking his head, but Norma saw his eyes glisten behind his
Suddenly Mrs. Melrose frowned, and began to show excitement.
Norma! she said, quickly. I want Chris!
Right here, Aunt Marianna! Norma answered, soothingly. And Chris
was indeed leaning over the bed almost before she finished speaking.
I want to talk to you and Chris, the old lady said, contentedly
closing her eyes. Everybody else out! she whispered.
The room was immediately cleared. It can't hurt her now! Doctor
Murray looked rather than said to Norma as he passed her. Chris watched
the closing doors, sat beside the bed's head with one arm
half-supporting his mother-in-law's pillows.
We're all alone, Aunt Marianna, he said. Leslie and Annie will be
here in the morning, and Alice told me to tell you that she hoped
Chris, the sick woman interrupted, gazing at him with an intense
and painful stare, this child hereNorma! II must straighten it all
out now, Chris. Kate knows. Kate has all the paperslettersLouison's
letters! Ask Kate
She shut her eyes. Norma and Chris looked at one another in
bewilderment. There was a long silence.
So now you know! Mrs. Melrose said, presently, returning to full
consciousness as naturally as she had before. I told you, didn't I?
she asked, faintly anxious.
Don't bother now, Aunt Marianna, the girl begged in distress.
Louison, Mrs. Melrose said, was Annie's French maidvery
I remember herTheodore's wife, Chris said, eager to help her.
And she was this girl's mother, Mrs. Melrose added, clasping
Norma's fingers. You understand that, Chris?
Yes, darlingwe understand! Norma said, with a nod to Chris that
he was to humour her. But Chris looked only strangely troubled.
Annie's poor baby livedKate brought it home from France, and we
named it Leslie, the invalid said, clearly. I couldn'tI couldn't
forget it, Chris. I used to go see itat Kate's. And then, when it was
three, I met Louisonpoor girl, I had been cruel to herand Theodore
was far off in Californiadying, we knew. And I met Louison in
Brooklyn. And I had a sudden idea, Chris! I told her to go to Kate, and
get Annie's baby, and bring it to me as if it was her own. I told her
to! I told her to say that it was her babyTheodore's baby. And she
did, Chris, and I paid her well for it. She brought Leslie here, and
Annie never knewnobody ever knew! But I never knew that Louison had a
baby of her own, ChrisI never knew that! Louison hated me, and she
never told me she had a little girl. Nonono, I never knew that!
Then LeslieisAnnie's child by Müller, the riding master! Chris
whispered, staring blindly ahead of him. And whatwhat became of the
other childTheodore's child?
Louison kept her until she was five, the old lady explained,
eagerly, and then she wanted to marry again, and she had to go live in
a wild sort of place, in Canada. She didn't want to take the little
girl there, and she remembered Kate Sheridan, who had had the other
baby, and who had been so good to itso devoted to it! And she went
there, Chris, and left her baby there.
And that baby Chris began.
Yes. That was Norma! Mrs. Melrose said. It is all Norma's, the
whole thingand you must take care that she gets it, Chris. Ieven my
will, dear, only gives Norma the Melrose Building and some bonds. But
those are for Leslie, now, all the restthe whole estate goes to
Theodore's childNorma. You must forgive me if I did it all wrong. I
meant it for the best. I never knew that you were living, dear, until
Kate brought you here three years ago. She didn't dare do it until your
mother died; she had promised she would never tell a living soul. But
Louison softened toward the end, and wrote Kate she must use her own
judgment. And KateKateknows all about it
The voice thickened. The old lady raised herself in bed.
That manbehind you, Chris! she gasped. Chris put her down again,
Norma flew for help. The muttering and the heavy breathing recommenced.
Nurses and doctors ran back, Regina came to kneel at the foot of the
Another slight stroke, they said later, when they were all about the
fire in the next room again. Norma was white, her eyes glittering, her
bitten lips scarlet in her colourless face. Chris looked stunned.
But he found time for just one aside, as the endless night wore on.
Annie had arrived, superbly horrified and stricken, and Acton was
there. Mrs. Melrose was still breathing. The sickly light of a winter
morning was tugging at the shutters.
Norma, Chris said, do you realize what a tremendous thing has
happened to you? Do you realize who you are? You are a rich woman now,
But do you believe it? she asked, in a low tone.
I know it is true! It explains everything, he answered. It will
be a cruel blow to Lesliepoor child, and Annie, too. Alice, I think,
need never know. But Normaeven though this doesn't seem the time or
the place, let me be the first to congratulate you on your new
positionmy old friend Theodore's daughter, and the last of the
At seven o'clock in the morning Norma, exhausted with excitement and
emotion, took a hot bath, and finding things unchanged in the
sick-room, except that the lights had been extinguished, and the winter
daylight was drearily mingling with firelight, went on downstairs for
coffee and for one more conference with the blinking nurses and the
tired old doctor. She found herself too shaken to eat, but the hot
drink was wonderfully soothing and stimulating, and for the first time,
as she stood looking out into the street from the dining-room window, a
sense of power and pride began to thrill her. Old people must die, of
course, and after this sad and dark scene was overthen what? Then
what? Then she would be in Leslie's long-envied place, the heiress, the
important figure among all the changes that followed.
If you please, Mrs. Sheridan! It was Joseph, haggard and
white, who had come softly behind her to interrupt her thoughts. She
glanced with quick apprehension toward the hall stairway. There had
been a change?
No, it was the telephone, Miss. Norma, puzzled by the old butler's
stricken air, went to the instrument. It was Miss Slater.
Norma, Miss Slater said, agitatedly, is Mr. Liggettthere?
I think he's with Aunt Annie, upstairs, but he's going home about
eight, Norma answered. There is no change. Is Aunt Alice awake? Mr.
Liggett wanted to be there when she woke!
Noshe's not awake, the other woman's voice said, solemnly. She
went to sleep like a child last night, Norma. But about half an hour
ago I went inshe hadn't called meit was just instinct, I suppose!
She was lyinghadn't changed her position even
What's that! Norma cried, in a whisper that was like a
scream. The grave voice and the sudden break of tears chilled her to
We've had Doctor Merrill here, Miss Slater said. Norma, you'll
have to tell himGod help us all! She's gone!
Mrs. Melrose never spoke again, or showed another flicker of the
clear and normal intelligence that she had shown in the night. But she
still breathed, and the long, wet day dragged slowly, in the big,
mournful old house, until late in the unnatural afternoon. Peopleall
sorts of peoplewere coming and going now, and being answered, or
being turned away; a few privileged old friends came softly up the
carpeted stairs, and cried quietly with Annie, who looked unbelievably
old and ashen under the double shock. Norma began to hear, on all
sides, respectful and sympathetic references to the family. The
family felt this, and would like that, the family was not seeing any
one, the family must be protected and considered in every way. The
privileged old friends talked with strange men in the lower hall, and
were heard saying I suppose so dubiously, to questions of hats and
veils and carriages and the church.
Chris was gone all day, but at four o'clock an urgent message was
sent him, and he and Acton came into Mrs. Melrose's room about half an
hour later, for the end. His face was ghastly, and he seemed almost
unable to understand what was said to him, but he was very quiet.
Norma never forgot the scene. She knelt on one side of the bed,
praying with all the concentration and fervour that she could rally
under the circumstances. But her frightened, tired eyes were impressed
with every detail of the dark old stately bedroom none the less. This
was the end of the road, for youth and beauty and power and wealth,
this sunken, unrecognizable face, this gathering of shadows among the
dull, wintry shadows of the afternoon.
Annie was kneeling, too, her fine, unringed hands clasping one of
her mother's hands. Chris sat against the back of the bed,
half-supporting the piled pillows, in a futile attempt to make more
easy the fighting breath, and Acton and Hendrick von Behrens, grave and
awed, stood beside him, their faces full of sympathy and distress.
There was an outer fringe of nurses, doctors, maids; there was even an
audible whisper from one of them that caused Annie to frown, annoyed
and rebuking, over her shoulder.
Minutes passed. Norma, pressing her cheek against the hand she held,
began a Litany, very low. Suddenly the dying woman opened her eyes.
Yesyesyes! she whispered, eagerly, and with a break in her
frightened voice Norma began more clearly, Our Father, Who art in
Heaven and they all joined in, somewhat awkwardly and uncertainly.
Mrs. Melrose sank back; she had raised herself just a fraction of an
inch to speak. Now her head fell, and Norma saw the florid colour drain
from her face as wine drains from an overturned glass. A leaden pallor
settled suddenly upon her. When the prayer was finished they
waitedeyed each otherwaited again. There was no other breath.
Doctor Annie cried, choking. The doctor gently laid down the
limp hand he had raised; it was already cool. And behind him the maids
began to sob and wail unrebuked.
Norma went out into the hall dazed and shaken. This was her first
sight of death. It made her feel a little faint and sick. Chris came
and talked to her for a few minutes; Annie had collapsed utterly, and
was under the doctor's care; Acton broke down, too, and Norma heard
Chris attempting to quiet him. There was audible sobbing all over the
house when, an hour or two later, Alice's beautiful body in a
magnificent casket was brought to lie in the old home beside the mother
she had adored.
The fragrance of masses and masses of damp flowers began to
penetrate everywhere, and Norma made occasional pilgrimages in to
Annie's bedside, and told her what beautiful offerings were coming and
coming and coming. Joseph had reinforcements of sympathetic, black-clad
young men, who kept opening the front door, and murmuring at the
muffled telephone. Annie's secretary, a young woman about Norma's age,
was detailed by Hendrick to keep cards and messages straightfor every
little courtesy must be acknowledged on Annie's black-bordered card
within a few weeks' timeand Norma heard Joseph telephoning several of
the prominent florists that Mr. Liggett had directed that all flowers
were to come to the Melrose house. Nothing was overlooked.
When Norma went to her room, big boxes were on the bed, boxes that
held everything that was simple and beautiful in mourning: plain,
charming frocks, a smart long seal-bordered coat, veils and gloves,
small and elegant hats, even black-bordered handkerchiefs. She dressed
herself soberly, yet not without that mournful thrill that fitness and
becomingness lends to bereavement. When she went back to Annie's side
Annie was in beautiful lengths of lustreless crape, too; they settled
down to low, sad conversation, with a few of the privileged old
friends. Chris was nowhere to be seen, but at about six o'clock Acton
came in to show them a telegram from Leslie, flying homeward. Judge Lee
was hurrying to them from Washington, and for a few minutes Annie's
handsome, bewildered little boys came in with a governess, and she
cried over them, and clung to them forlornly.
After a distracted half-hour in the dining-room, when she and Acton
and Annie's secretary had soup and salad from a sort of buffet meal
that was going on there indefinitely, Norma went upstairs to find that
the door to the front upper sitting-room, closed for hours, was set
ajar, and to see a vague mass of beautiful flowers withinwhite and
purple flowers, and wreaths of shining dark round leaves. With a
quick-beating heart she stepped softly inside, and went to kneel at the
nearer coffin, and cover her face with her shaking hands. The thick
sweetness of the wet leaves and blossoms enveloped her. Candles were
burning; there was no other light.
Two or three other women were in the room, catching their breath up
through their nostrils with little gasps, pressing folded handkerchiefs
against their trembling mouths, letting fresh tears well from their
tear-reddened eyes. Chris was standing a few feet away from the
white-clad, flower-circled, radiant sleeper who had been Alice; his
arms were folded, his splendid dark gaze fell upon her with a sort of
sombre calm; he seemed entirely unconscious of the pitying and
sorrowful friends who were moving noiselessly to and fro.
In the candlelight there was a wavering smile on Alice's quiet face,
her broad forehead was unruffled, and her mouth mysteriously sweet.
Norma's eyes fell upon a familiar black coat, on the kneeling woman
nearest her, and with a start she recognized Aunt Kate.
They left the room together a few minutes later, and Norma led her
aunt to her own room, where they talked tenderly of the dead. The older
woman was touched by the slender little black figure, and badly shaken
by the double tragedy, and she cried quite openly. Norma had Regina
send her up some tea, and petted and fussed about her in her little
I saw about Miss Alice this morning, but I had no idea the poor old
lady! Mrs. Sheridan commented sadly. Well, well, it seems only
yesterday that here, in this very houseand they were all young
then Aunt Kate fell silent, and mused for a moment, before adding
briskly: But now, will they want you, Norma, after the funeral, I
mean? Wolf wrote me
I don't think Aunt Annie wants me now, Norma said, and with a
heightened colour she added, suddenly, But I belong here, now, Aunt
KateI know who I am at last!
Mrs. Sheridan's face did not move; but an indefinable tightness came
about her mouth, and an indefinable sharpness to her eyes. She looked
at Norma without speaking.
Aunt Marianna told me, the girl said, simply. You're sorry, she
added, quickly, I can see you are!
NoI wouldn't say that, Baby! But Mrs. Sheridan spoke heavily,
and ended on a sigh. There was a short silence.
Then Regina came in with a note for Norma, who read it, and turned
to her aunt.
It's Chrishe wants very much to see you before you go away, she
said. I wonder if you would ask Mr. Liggett to come in here, Regina?
But five minutes later, when Chris came in, he looked so ill that she
was quick to spare him. Chris, wouldn't to-morrow doyou look so
I am tired, Chris said, after quietly accepting Mrs.
Sheridan's murmured condolence, with his hand holding hers, as if he
liked the big, sympathetic woman. But I want this off my mind before I
see Judge Lee! You are right, Mrs. Sheridan, he said, with a sort of
boyish gruffness, not yet releasing her hands, my wife was an angel. I
always knew itbut I wish I could tell her so just once more!
Ah, that's the very hardest thing about death, Mrs. Sheridan said,
sitting down, and quite frankly wiping from her eyes the tears that
sympathy for his sorrow had made spring again. We'd always want one
But Norma perhaps has told you? Chris said, in a different
tone. Told you of thethe remarkable talk we had yesterdaywith my
Kate Sheridan nodded gravely.
Yes, she answered, almost reluctantly, Norma is Theodore
Melrose's child. I have lettersall their letters. I knew her mother,
that was Louison Courtot, well. It was a mixed-up businessbut you've
got the whole truth at last. I've lost more than one night's sleep over
my share of it, Mr. Liggett, thinking who this child was, and whether I
had the right to hold my tongue.
I was a widow when I went to Germany with Mrs. Melrose. She begged
and begged me to, for she was sick with worry about Miss Annie. Miss
Annie had been over there about eight months, and something she'd
written had made her mother feel that she was ill, or in trouble. Well,
I didn't want to leave my own children, but she coaxed me so hard that
I went. We sailed without cabling, and went straight to Leipsic, and to
the dreadful, dreary pension that Miss Annie was ina dismal, lonely
place. She came downstairs to see her mother, and I'll never forget the
scream she gave, for she'd had no warning, poor child, and Müller had
taken all her money, and she waswell, we could see how she was. She
began laughing and crying, and her mother did, too, but Mrs. Melrose
stopped after a few minutes, and we couldn't stop Miss Annie at all.
She shrieked and sobbed and strangled until we saw she was ill, and her
mother gave me one look, and bundled her right out to the carriage, and
off to a better place, and we got a doctor and a nurse. But all that
night she was in danger of her life. I went in to her room that
evening, to put things in order, and she was lying on the bed like a
dead thingwhite, sick, and with her eyes never moving off her
mother's face. I could hear her murmuring the whole story, the shame
and the bitter cruelty of it, crying sometimesand her mother crying,
'And, Mama,' she saidthe innocence of her! 'Mama, did the doctor
tell you that there might have been a baby?I didn't know it myself
until a few weeks ago! And that's why they're so frightened about me
now. But,' she said, beginning to cry again, 'I should have hated
itI've always hated it, and I'd rather have it all overI don't want
to have to face anything more!'
Well, it looked then as if she couldn't possibly live through the
night, and all her mother could think of was to comfort her. She told
her that they would go away and forget it all, and Miss Annie clung to
her through the whole terrible thing. We none of us got any sleep that
night, and I think it was at about three o'clock the next morning that
I crept to the door, and the doctorDoctor Lesliean old English
doctor who was very kind, came to the door and gave me the poor little
pitiful baby in a blanket. I almost screamed when I took it, for the
poor little soul was alive, working her little mouth! I took her to my
room, and indeed I baptized her myselfI named her Mary for my mother,
and Leslie for the doctor, but I never thought she'd need a namethen.
She was under four pounds, and with a little claw like a monkey's paw,
and so thin we didn't dare dress herwe thought she was three months
too soon, then, and I just sat watching her, waiting for her to die,
and thinking of my own!
Miss Annie was given up the next day, she'd gone into a brain
fever, but my poor little soul was wailing a good healthy wailI
remember I cried bitterly when the doctor told me not to hope for her!
But she livedand on the fourth day Mrs. Melrose sent us away, and we
went and stayed in the country for two months after that.
Then I had a letter from the Riviera, the first that'd come. Miss
Annie was getting well, her hair was coming out curly, and she hardly
remembered anything about what had happened at all. She wasn't nineteen
then, poor child! She had cried once, her mother wrote, and had said
she thanked God the baby had died and that was all she ever said of it.
I brought the baby home, and for nearly three years she lived with
my own, and of course Mrs. Melrose paid me for it. And then one day
Louison Courtot came to see meI'd known her, of courseMr.
Theodore's wife, that had been Miss Annie's maid. She had a letter from
Mrs. Melrose, and she took Leslie away, and gave her to her
grandmotherjust according to plan. Well, I didn't like itthough it
gave the child her rights, but it didn't seem honest. I had no call to
interfere, and a few months later Mrs. Melrose gave me the double house
in Brooklyn, that you'll well remember, Normaand your own father made
out the deed of gift, Mr. Chris!
And then, perhaps a year later, Louison came to call on me again,
and with her was a little girlfour years old, and I looked at her,
and looked at Louison, and I said, 'My Godthat's a Melrose!' She
said, yes, it was Theodore's child.
Norma! Chris said.
Normaand I remember her as if it was yesterday! With a blue
velvet coat on her, and a white collar, and the way she dragged off her
little mittens to go over and play with Rose and Wolfand the little
coaxing air she had! So then Louison told me the story, how she had
never told Mrs. Melrose that Theodore really had a daughter, because
she hated her so! But she was going to be married again, and go to
Canada, and she wanted me to keep the baby until she could send for
her. I said I would see how it went, but I could see then that there
never was in the world Mrs. Sheridan interrupted herself, coughed,
and glanced at the girl. Well, we liked Norma right then and there!
she finished, a little tamely.
Oh, Aunt Kate! Norma said, smiling through tears, her hand tight
upon the older woman's, you never will praise me!
So Norma, the story went on, had her supper that night between my
two children, and for fourteen years she never knew that she wasn't our
own. And perhaps she never would have known if Louison hadn't written
me that she was in a hospitalshe was to have an operation, and she
was willing at last to make peace with her husband's family. In the
same letter was her husband's note that she was gone, so I had to use
my own judgment then. And when I heard Norma talk of the rich girls she
saw in the bookstore, Mr. Chris, and knew how she loved what money
could do for her, it seemed to me that at least I must tell her
grandmother the truth. So we came here, three years ago, and if it
wasn't for Miss Alice's mistake about her, perhaps the story would have
come out then! But that's all the truth.
Chris nodded, his arms folded on his chest, his tired face very
It makes her a rich woman, Mrs. Sheridan, he said.
I suppose so, sir. I understand Mr. Melrosethe old
gentlemanleft everything to his son, Theodore.
But not only that, Chris said. She can claim every penny that has
ever been paid over to Leslie, all through her minority, and since she
came of age, and she also inherits the larger part of her grandmother's
estate, under the will. Probably Mrs. Melrose would have changed that,
if she had lived when all this came to light, and given that same
legacy to Leslie, but we can't act on that supposition. The court will
probably feel that a very grave injustice has been done Norma, and
exact the full arrears.
But, Chris, Norma said, quickly, surely some way can be found to
give Leslie all that would have come to me
Well, that, of course, would be pure generosity on your part! he
said, quietly. However, it would seem to me desirable all round, he
added, to keep this in the family.
Oh, I think so! Norma agreed, eagerly.
Annie and Hendrick must be informed, and, as Leslie's mother, Annie
will provide for her some day, of course. We'll discuss all that later.
But to-day I only wanted to clear up a few points before I see Judge
Lee. He has the will, I believe. He will be here to-morrow morning. In
the meanwhile, I think I would say nothing, Norma, just because Annie
is so upset, and if Leslie heard any garbled story, before she got
Oh, I agree with you entirely, Chris! Anything that makes it easier
all round! Norma could afford to be magnanimous and agreeable. She
would not have been human not to feel herself the most interesting
figure in all this dramatic situation, not to know that thoughtfulness
and generosity were the most charming parts of her new rôle. Quietly,
affectionately, she went to the door with Aunt Kate.
I wish I could go home with you! she said. But I think they need
me here! And if Wolf should come up Saturday, Aunt Kate, you'll tell
him about the funeral
Rose said he wasn't coming up on Saturday, his mother said. But
if he does, of course he'll understand! Remember, Norma, she added,
drawing the girl aside a moment, in the lower hall, remember that
they've all been very kind to you, dear! It's going to be hard for them
Yes, I know! Norma said, hastily, the admonition not to her taste.
And what you and Wolf will do with all that money! her aunt
mused, shaking her head. Well, one thing at a time! But I know, she
finished, fondly, my girl will show them all what a generous and a
lovely nature she has, in all the changes and shifts!
Clever Aunt Kate! Norma smiled to herself as she went upstairs. She
had hundreds of times before this guided the girl by premature
confidence and praise; she knew how Norma loved the approbation of
those about her.
Not but what Norma meant to be everything that was broad and
considerate now; she had assumed that position from the beginning.
Leslie's chagrin, Aunt Annie's consternation, should be respected and
humoured. They had sometimes shown her the arrogant, the supercilious
side of the Melrose nature, in the years gone by. Now she, the truest
Melrose of them all, would show them real greatness of soul. She would
talk it all over with Wolf, of course
She missed Wolf. It was, as always, a curiously unsatisfying
atmosphere, this of the old Melrose house. The whispers, the hushed
footsteps, the lowered voices, Aunt Annie's plaintive heroism in her
superb crapes, the almost belligerent loyalty of the intimate friends
who praised and marvelled at her, the costly flowersthousands of
dollars' worth of themthe extra men helping Joseph to keep everything
decorous and beautifulsomehow it all sickened Norma, and she wished
that Wolf could come and take her for a walk, and talk to her about it.
He would be interested in it all, and he would laugh at her account of
the undertakers, and he would break into elementary socialism when the
cost of the whole pompous pageant was estimated.
And what would he think of her new-found wealth? Norma tried to
imagine it, but somehow she could not think of Wolf as very much
affected. He hated society, primarily, and he would never be idle, not
for the treasures of India. He would let her spend it as she pleased,
and go on working rapturously at his valves and meters and gauges,
perhaps delighted if she bought him the costliest motor-car made, or
the finest of mechanical piano-players, but quite as willing that the
pearls about his wife's throat should cost fifty dollars as fifty
thousand, and quite as anxious that the heiress of the Melroses should
make good with his associate workers as if she had been still a
little clerk from Biretta's Bookshop!
But cheerfully indifferent as he was to everything that made life
worth living to such a man as Christopher Liggett, she knew that he
would not go to California without her unless there was a definite
break between them. She knew she could not persuade him to leave her
here, as a normal and pleasant solution, just until everything was
settled, and until they could see a little further ahead. No, Wolf was
annoyingly conventional where his wife was concerned: her place was
with him, unless for some secondary reason they had decided to part.
And she knew that if he let her go it would be because he felt that he
never should have claimed herthat, in the highest sense, he never had
had her at all.
Moving automatically through the solemn scenes of the next two days,
that, mused Norma, must be the solution. Wolf must go alone to
California. Not because she did not love himwho could help loving him
indeed?but because she loved Chris moreor differently, at least,
and she belonged to Chris's world now, by every right of birth, wealth,
Of course you must stay here, Chris said, positively, on the one
occasion when they spoke of her plans. In the first place, there is
the estate to settle, we shall need you. Then there are
bookspicturesall that sort of thing to manage, the old servants to
dispose of, and probably this house to sellbut we can discuss that.
Judge Lee has felt for a long time that this is the right site for a
big apartment house, especially if we can get hold of Boyer's plot. You
had better take a suite at one of the hotels, and later we can look up
the right sort of an apartment for you.
Not a word of his personal hopes; missing them she felt oddly
Wolf goes to California next month, she said. Christopher gave her
a sharp, quizzing look.
But I think you had decided, weeks ago, that you were not going?
YesI've told him so! she faltered. She felt strangely lost and
forlorn, releasing her hold on Wolf, and yet not able to claim
Christopher's support. It was contemptibleit was weak in her, she
felt, but she could not quite choke down her hunger for one reassuring
word from Chris. I feel solonely, Chris, she said.
He gave a quick, uneasy glance about the breakfast-room, where they
were having a hasty three-o'clock luncheon. No one was within hearing.
You understand my position now, he said.
Oh, of course! But she felt oddly chilled. Chris as the bereaved
husband and son-in-law was perfect, of course, almost too perfect. If
Wolf loved a woman
But then the fancy of Wolf, married, and confessedly loving a woman
who was another man's wife, was absurd, anyway. Wolf did not belong to
the world where such things were common, it was utterly foreign to his
nature, with all the rest. Wolf did not go to operas and picture
galleries and polo matches; he did not know how to comport himself at
afternoon teas or summer lunches at the country club.
And Norma's life would be spent in this atmosphere now. She would
get her frocks from Madame Modiste, and her hats from the Avenue
specialists; she would be a smart and a conspicuous little figure at
Lenox and Bar Harbour and Newport; she would spend her days with
masseuses and dressmakers, and with French and Italian teachers. She
could travel, some daybut here the thought of Chris crept in, and she
was a little hurt at Chris. His exquisite poise, his sureness of being
absolutely correct, was one of his charms. But it was a little hard not
to have the depth of his present feeling for her sweep him off his feet
just occasionally. He had, indeed, shown her far more daring favour
when Alice was alivemeeting Norma down town, driving her about,
walking with her where they might reasonably fear to be seen now and
It came to her painfully that, even there, Chris's respect for the
conventions of his world was not at fault. Flirtations, crushes,
cases, and suitors were entirely acceptable in the circle that
Chris so conspicuously ornamented. To pay desperate attentions to a
pretty young married woman was quite excusable; it would have been
But to show the faintest trace of interest in her while his wife lay
dead, and while his house was plunged into mourning, noChris would
not do that. That would not be good form, it would be censured as not
being compatible with the standard of a gentleman. His conduct now must
be beyond criticism, he was the domestic dictator in this, as in every
emergency. Norma listened while he and Hendrick and Annie discussed the
They were in the big upstairs bedroom that Annie had appropriated to
herself during these days. Annie was resting on a couch in a nest of
little pillows, her long bare hands very white against the blackness of
her gown. Hendrick did most of the talking, Chris listening
thoughtfully, accepting, rejecting, Norma a mere spectator. She decided
that Annie was playing her part with a stimulating consciousness of its
dignity, and that Chris was not much better. Honest, red-faced Hendrick
was only genuinely anxious to arrange these details without a scene.
I take Annie up the aisle, Chris said, you'll be a pall-bearer,
Hendrick. Mrs. Lee says that the Judge feels he is too old to serve, so
he will follow me, with Leslie. She gets here this afternoon. Then
Acton brings Norma, and that fills the family pew. Now, in the next
It reminded Norma of something, she could not for a moment remember
what. Then it came to her. Of course!Leslie's wedding. They had
discussed precedence and pews just that way. Music, too. Hendrick was
making a note of musicAlice's favourite dirge was to be played, and
Come Ye Disconsolate which had been sung at Theodore's funeral,
thirteen years ago, and at his father's, seven years before that, was
to be sung by the famous church choir.
The church was unfortunately small, so cards were to be given to the
few hundreds that it would accommodate. Hendrick suggested a larger
church, but Annie shut her eyes, leaning back, and faintly shaking her
PleaseHendrickplease! she articulated, wearily. Mama
loved that churchand there's so little that we can do nowso little
that she ever wanted, dear old saint!
It was not hypocrisy, Norma thought. Annie had been a good daughter.
Indeed she had been unusually loyal, as the daughters of Annie's set
saw their filial duties. But something in this overwhelming, becoming
grief, combined with so lively a sense of what was socially correct,
jarred unpleasantly on the younger woman. Of course, funerals had to
have management, like everything else. And it was only part of Annie's
code to believe that an awkwardness now, a social error ever so faint,
an opportunity given the world for amusement or criticism, would
reflect upon the family and upon the dead.
Norma carried on long mental conversations with Wolf, criticizing or
defending the Melroses. She imagined herself telling him of the shock
it had given her to realize that her grandmother's body was barely cold
before an autocratic and noisy French hairdresser had arrived,
demanding electric heat and hand-glasses as casually as if his customer
had been the bustling, vain old lady of a week ago. She laughed
secretly whenever she recalled the solemn undertaker who had solicited
her own aid in filling out a blank. His first melancholy question, And
thud dame of the father Norma had momentarily supposed to be the
beginning of a prayer, and it had been with an almost hysterical
revulsion of feeling that she had said: Oh, her father's name? Oh,
Francis Dabney Murison.
Wolf, who would not laugh at one tenth of the things that amused
Chris, or that Annie found richly funny, would laugh at these little
glimpses of a formal funeral, Norma knew, and he would remember other
odd bits of reading that were in the same keyfrom Macaulay, or Henry
George, or a scrap of newspaper that had chanced to be pasted upon an
Leslie came into the house late on the afternoon of Friday, and
there was much fresh crying between her and Annie. Leslie had on new
black, too, just what I could grab down there, she explainedand was
pettish and weary with fatigue and the nervous shock. She gave only the
side of her cheek to Acton's dutiful kiss, and answered his question
about the baby with an impatient, Oh, heavens, she's all right!
What could be the matter with her? She did have a cold, but now she's
all rightand when I'm half-crazy about Grandma and poor Aunt Alice, I
do wish you wouldn't take me up so quickly. I've been travelling
all night, and my head is splitting! If it was I that had the
cold, I don't believe you'd be so fussy!
Poor little girl, it's hard for you not to have seen them once
more, Christopher said, tenderly, failing to meet the half-amused and
half-indignant glance that Norma sent him. Leslie burst into
self-pitying tears, and held tight to his hand, as they all sat down in
I believe I feel it most for you, Uncle Chris, she sobbed.
It changes my lifeends it as surely as it did hers, Chris said,
quietly. Just nowwell, I don't see aheadjust now. After awhile I
believe she'll come back to meher sweetness and goodness and
bignessfor Alice was the biggest woman, and the finest, that I ever
knew; and then I'll try to live againjust as she would have had me.
And meanwhile, I try to comfort myself that I tried to show her, in
whatever clumsy way I could, that I appreciated her!
You not only showed her, you showed all the world, Chris, Annie
said, stretching a hand toward him. Norma felt a sudden uprising of
some emotion singularly akin to contempt.
A maid signalled her, and she stepped to the dressing-room door. A
special delivery letter had come from Wolf. The maid went away again,
but Norma stood where she was, reading it. Wolf had written:
Mother wrote me of all that you have been going through, and I
am as sorry as I can be for all their trouble, and glad that
they have you to help them through. Mother also told me of the
change in your position there; I had always known vaguely that
we didn't understand it all. I remember now your coming to us
in Brooklyn, and your mother crying when she went away. I know
this will make a difference to you, and be one more reason for
your not coming West with me. You must use your own judgment,
but the longer I think of it, the meaner it seems to me for me
to take advantage of your coming to me, last spring, and our
getting married. I've thought about it a great deal. Nothing
will ever make me like, or respect, the man you say you care
for. I don't believe you do care for him. And I would rather
you dead than married to him. But it isn't for me to say, of
course. If you like him, that's enough. If you ever stop liking
him, and will come back to me, I'll meet you anywhere, or take
you anywhereit won't make any difference what Mother thinks,
or Rose thinks, or any one else. I've written and destroyed
letter about six times. I just want you to know that if you
think I am standing in the way of your happiness, I won't stand
there, even though I believe you are making an awful mistake
about that particular man. And I want to thank you for the
happiest eight months that any man ever had.
Norma stood perfectly still, after she read the letter through, with
the clutch of vague pain and shame at her heart. The stiff, stilted
words did not seem like Wolf, and the definite casting-off hurt her.
Why couldn't they be friends, at least? Granted that their marriage was
a mistake, it had never had anything but harmony in it, companionship,
mutual respect and understanding, and a happy intimacy as clean and
natural as the meeting of flowers.
She was standing, motionless and silent, when Leslie's voice came
clearly to her ears. Evidently Acton, Annie, and Leslie were alone, in
Annie's room, out of sight, but not a dozen feet away from where she
stood. Norma did not catch the exact words, but she caught her name,
and her heart stood still with the instinctive terror of the trapped.
Annie had not heard either evidently; she said What, dear?
I asked what's Norma doing hereisn't she overdoing her
relationship a little? Leslie said, languidly.
Norma's face burned, she could hardly breathe as she waited.
Mama sent for her, for some reason, Annie answered, with a little
After all, she's a sort of cousin, isn't she? Acton added.
Oh, don't jump on me for everything I say, Acton, Leslie
said, angrily. My goodness!
Chris says that Mama left her the Melrose Buildingand I don't
know what besides! Annie said. There was a moment of silence.
I don't believe it! What for! Leslie exclaimed, then,
incredulously. And after another silence she added, in a puzzled tone,
Do you understand it, Aunt Annie?
Evidently Annie answered with a glance or a shrug, for there was
another pause before Annie said:
What I don't like about it, and what I do wish Mama had thought of,
is the way that people comment on a thing like that. It's not as if
Norma needed it; she has a husband to take care of her, now, and it
makes us a little ridiculous! One likes to feel that, at a time like
this, everything is to be done decently, at leastnot enormous
legacies to comparative strangers
I like Norma, we've all been kind to her, Leslie contributed, as
Annie's voice died listlessly away. I've always made allowances for
her. But I confess that it was rather a surprise to find her here, one
of the family! After all, we Melroses have always rather prided
ourselves on standing together, haven't we? If she wants to wear black
for Grandma, why, it makes no difference to me
I suppose the will could be broken without any notoriety, Chris?
Annie asked, in an undertone. Norma's heart turned sick. She had not
supposed that Chris was listening without protest to this conversation.
No, she heard him say, briefly and definitely, that's
It isn't the money Annie began. But Leslie interrupted with a
bitter little laugh.
It may not be with you, Aunt Annie, but I assure you I wouldn't
mind a few extra thousands, she said.
I think you get the Newport house, Leslie, Chris said, in a tone
whose dubiety only Norma could understand.
The Newport house! Leslie exclaimed. Why, but don't I own this, now? I thought
I don't really know, Chris answered. We'll open the will next
week, and then we'll straighten everything out.
In the meanwhile, Annie said, lazily, if she suggests going back
to her own family, for Heaven's sake don't stop her! I like
Normaalways have. But after all, there are times when any
outsiderno matter how agreeable she is
I think she'll go immediately after the funeral, Chris said,
constrainedly and uncertainly.
Norma, suddenly roused both to a realization of the utter
impropriety of her overhearing all this, and the danger of detection,
slipped from the dressing-room by the hall door, and so escaped to her
She shut the door behind her, walked irresolutely to the bed, stood
there for a moment, with her hands pressed to her cheeks, walked
blindly to the window, only to pause again, paced the room mechanically
for a few minutes, and finally found herself seated on the broad,
old-fashioned sill of the dressing-room window, staring down unseeing
at the afternoon traffic in Madison Avenue.
Oh, how she hated themcruel, selfish, self-satisfied
snobssnobssnobs that they were! LeslieLeslie making allowances
for her! Leslie making allowances for her! And Anniehoping
that for Heaven's sake nobody would prevent her from going home after
the funeral! The remembered phrases burned and stung like acid upon her
soul; she wanted to hurt Annie and Leslie as they had hurt her, she
wanted to shame them and anger them.
Yes, and she could do it, too! She could do it! They little knew
that within a few days' time utter consternation and upheaval,
notoriety and shame, and the pity of their intimates, would disrupt the
surface of their lives, that surface that they felt it so important to
keep smooth! People will comment, Norma quoted to herself, with a
bitter smileindeed people would comment, as they had never commented
even upon the Melroses before! Leslie would be robbed not only of her
inheritance but of her name and of her position. And Annieeven
magnificent Aunt Annie must accept, with what surface veneer of
cordiality she might affect, the only child of her only brother, the
heir to the family estate.
I believe I'm horribly tired, Norma said to herself, looking out
into the dimming winter day, or else I'm nervous, or something! I wish
I could go over to Rose's and help her put the children to bed! Or
I wish Aunt Kate would telephone for meI'm sick of this place! Or I
wish Wolf would come walking around that corneroh, if he wouldif he
would! Norma said, staring out with an intensity so great that it
seemed to her for the moment that Wolf indeed might come. If only he'd
come to take me to dinner, at some little Italian place with a
backyard, and skyscrapers all about, so that we could talk!
Regina, coming in a little later, saw that Mrs. Sheridan had been
crying, and reproached her with the affectionate familiarity of an old
You that were always so light-hearted, Miss, it don't seem right
for you to grieve so! said Regina, a little tearful herself. Norma
smiled, and wiped her eyes.
This is a nice beginning, the girl told herself, as she bathed and
dressed for the evening ordeal of calls, and messages, and solemn
visits to the chamber of death, this is a nice beginning for a woman
who knows that the man she loves is free to marry her, and who has just
fallen heir to a great fortune!
The evening moved through its dark and sombre hours unchanged;
Joseph's assistants opened and opened and opened the door. More
flowersmore flowersand more. Notes, telephone messages, black-clad
callers murmuring in the dimness of the lower hall, maids coming
noiselessly and deferentially, the clergyman, the doctor, the
choir-master, old Judge Lee tremulous and tedious, all her world
circled about the lifeless form of the old mistress of the house.
Certain persons went quietly upstairs, women in rich furs, and
bare-headed, uncomfortable-looking men, entered the front room, and
passed through with serious faces and slowly shaking heads.
Chris spoke to Norma in the hall, just after she had said good-night
to some rather important callers, assuring them that Annie and Leslie
were well, and had been kissed herself as their representative. He
extended her a crushed document in which she was alarmed to recognize
OhI think I dropped that in Aunt Annie's dressing-room! Norma
said, turning scarlet, and wondering what eyes had seen it.
There was no envelope; a maid brought it to her, and Annie read
it, Chris said. Norma's eyes were racing through it.
There are no names! she said, thankfully.
It would have been a most unfortunateaa horrible thing, if
there had been, Chris commented. Something in his manner said as
plainly as words that dropping the letter had been a breach of good
manners, had been extremely careless, almost reprehensible. Norma felt
herself unreasonably antagonized.
Oh, I don't know! It's true, she said, recklessly.
Annie is a very important person in your plans, Norma, Chris
reminded her. It would be most regrettable for you to lose your head
now, to give everyone an opportunity of criticizing you. I should
advise you to enlist your Aunt Annie's sympathies just as soon as you
can. She is, of all the world, the one woman who can direct youhelp
you equip yourselftell you what to get, and how to establish
yourself. If Annie chose to be unfriendly, to ignore you
I don't see Annie von Behrens ignoring menow! Norma said, with
anger, and throwing her head back proudly. They were in a curtained
alcove on the landing of the angled stairway, completely hidden by the
great curtain and by potted palms. When my revered aunt realizes
Your money will have absolutely no effect on Annie, Chris said,
No, but what I am will! Norma answered, breathing hard.
Not while we keep it to ourselves, as of course we must, Chris
answered, in displeasure. No one but ourselves will ever know
The whole world will know! Norma said, in sudden impatience with
smoothing and hiding and pretending. Chris straightened his eyeglasses
on their ribbon, and gave her his scrutinizing, unruffled glance.
That would be foolish, I think, Norma! he told her, calmly. It
would be a most unnecessary piece of vulgarity. Old families are
constantly hushing up unfortunate chapters in their history; there is
no reason why the whole thing should not be kept an absolute secret. My
dear girl, you have just had a most extraordinary piece of good
fortunebut you must be very careful how you take it! You will beyou
area tremendously wealthy womanand you will be in the public eye.
Upon how you conduct yourself now your future position largely depends.
Annie canand I believe willgladly assist you. Acton and Leslie will
go abroad, I supposethey can't live here. But a breath of scandalor
an ill-advised slip on your partwould make us all ridiculous. You
must play your cards carefully. If you could stay with Annie, now
I hate Aunt Annie! Norma interrupted, childishly.
My dear girlyou're over-tired, you don't mean what you say!
Chris said, putting his hand on her arm. Under the light touch she
dropped her eyes, and stood still. Norma, do be advised by me in
this, he urged her earnestly. It is one of the most important crises
in your life. Annie can put you exactly where you want to be,
introduced and accepted everywherea constant guest in her house, in
her opera box, or Annie can drop youI've seen her do it!and it
would take you ten years to make up the lost ground!
It didn't take Annie ten years to be aasocial leader! Norma
Annie? Ah, my dear, a woman like Annie isn't born twice in a
hundred years! She hasbut you know what she has, Norma. Languages,
experiences, friendsmost of all she has the grand mannerthe
Norma was fighting to regain her composure over almost unbearable
hurt and chagrin.
But, Chris, she argued, desperately, you've always said that you
had no particular use for Annie's crowdthat you'd rather live in some
little Italian placeor travel slowly through India
I said I would like to do that, and so I would! he answered. But
believe me, Norma, your money makes a very different sort of thing
possible now, and you would be madyou would be mad!to throw
it away. Put yourself in Annie's hands, he finished, with the first
hint of his old manner that she had seen for forty-eight hours, and
have your car, your maids, your little establishment on the upper East
Side, and thenthenand now his arm was about her, and he had tipped
up her face close to his ownand then you and I will break our little
surprise to them! he said, kindly. Only be careful, Norma. Don't let
them say that you did anything ostentatious or conspicuous
She freed herself, her heart cold and desolate almost beyond
bearing, and Chris answered her as if she had spoken.
Yesand I must go, too! To-morrow will be a terrible day for us
all. Oh, one thing more, Norma! Annie asked me if I had any idea of who
the man wasthe man Wolf speaks of there in that noteand I had to
say someone, just to quiet her. So I said that I thought it was Roy
Gillespieyou don't mind?I knew he liked you tremendously, and I
happened to think of him! Is that all right?
She made no audible answer, almost immediately leaving him, and
going upstairs. There was nothing to do, in her room, and she knew that
she could really be of use downstairs, among the intimate old friends
who were protecting Annie and Leslie from annoyance, but she felt in no
mood for that. She hated herself and everybody; she was half-mad with
fatigue and despondency.
Oh, what was the use of livingwhat was the use of living! Chris
despised her; that was quite plain. He had advised her to-night as he
would have advised an ignorant servantan inexperienced commoner who
might make the family ridiculouswho might lose her head, and descend
to unnecessary pieces of vulgarity! Leslie had always made
allowances for Norma; Annie considered her an outsider. Wolf was
going to California without her, and even Aunt Kateeven Aunt Kate had
scolded her, reminded her that the Melroses had always been kind to
Norma's tears flowed fast, there seemed to be no end to the flood.
She sopped them away with the black-bordered handkerchief, and tried
walking about, and drinking cold water, but it was of no use. Her heart
seemed broken, there was no avenue for her thoughts that did not lead
to loneliness and grief. They had all pretended to love herbut not
one of them didnot one of them did! She had never had a father, and
never had a mother, she had never had a fair chance!
Moneyshe thought darkly. But what was the use of money if everyone
hated her, if everyone thought she was selfish and stupid and ignorant
and superfluous! Why find a beautiful apartment, and buy beautiful
clothes, if she must flatter and cajole her way into Annie's favour to
enjoy them, and bear Chris's superior disdain for her stumbling
literary criticisms and her amateurish Italian?
And she was furious at Chris. How dared hehow dared he insult her
by coupling her name with that of Roy Gillespie, to quiet Annie and to
protect himself! She was a married woman; she had never given him any
reason to take such liberties with her dignity! Roy Gillespie, indeed!
Annie was to amuse herself by fancying Norma secretly enamoured of that
big, stupid, simple Gillespie boy, who was twenty-two years old, and
hardly out of college! And it was for him that Norma was presumably
leaving her husband!
It was insufferable. It was insufferable. She would go straight to
Anniebut no, she couldn't do that. She couldn't tell Annie, on the
night before Annie's sister was buried, that that same sister's husband
loved and was beloved by another woman.
Still, it's true, Norma mused, darkly. Only we seem unable to
speak the truth in this house! Well, I'm stifling here
She had been leaning out of the open window, the night was soft and
warm. Norma looked at her wrist watch; it was nine o'clock. A sudden
mad impulse took her: she would go over to Jersey, and see Rose. It was
not so very late, the babies kept Rose and Harry up until almost
eleven. She thirsted suddenly for Rose, for Rose's beautiful, pure
little face, her puzzled, earnest blue eyes under black eyebrows, her
pleasant, unready words that were always so true and so kind.
Rapidly Norma buttoned the new black coat, dropped the filmy veil,
fled down the back stairway, and through a bright, hot pantry, where
maids were laughing and eating gaily. She explained to their horrified
silence that she was slipping out for a breath of air, went through
doorways and gratings, and found herself in the blessed coolness and
darkness of the side street.
Ahthis was delicious! She belonged here, flying along
inconspicuous and unmolested in light and darkness, just one of the
hurrying and indifferent millions. The shop windows, the subways, the
very gum-machines and the chestnut ovens with their blowing lamps
looked friendly to Norma to-night; she loved every detail of blowing
newspapers and yawning fellow-passengers, in the hot, bright tube.
On the other side she was hurrying off the train with the plunging
crowd when her heart jumped wildly at the sight of a familiar shabby
overcoat some fifty feet ahead of her, topped by the slightly tipped
slouch hat that Wolf always wore. Friday night! her thoughts flashed
joyously, and he was coming to New Jersey to see his mother and Rose!
Of all fortunate accidentsthe one person in the world she wanted to
seeand must see now!
Norma fled after the coat, dodging and slipping through every
opening, and keeping the rapidly moving slouch hat before her. She was
quite out of breath when she came abreast of the man, and saw, with a
sickening revulsion, that it was not Wolf.
What the man thought Norma never knew or cared. The surprising
blankness of the disappointment made her almost dizzy; she turned aside
blindly, and stumbled into the quiet backwater behind a stairway, where
she could recover her self-possession and endure unobserved the first
pangs of bitterness. It seemed to her that she would die if she could
not see Wolf, if she had to endure another minute of loneliness and
darkness and aimless wandering through the night.
Rose's house was only three well-lighted blocks from the station;
Norma almost ran them. Other houses, she noted, were still brightly
lighted at quarter to eleven o'clock, and Rose's might be. Aunt Kate
was there, and she and Rose might well be sitting up, with the restless
smaller baby, or to finish some bit of sewing.
It was a double house, and the windows that matched Rose's bedroom
and dining-room were lighted in the wrong half. But all Rose's side was
black and dark and silent.
Norma, for the first time in her life, needed courage for the
knocking and ringing and explaining. If they would surely be kind to
her, she might chance it, she thought. But if Aunt Kate was angry with
her vacillations in regard to Wolf, and if Rose had also taken Wolf's
side, then she knew that she, Norma, would begin to cry, and disgrace
herself, and have good-natured simple old Harry poking about and
wondering what was the matter
No, she didn't dare risk it. So she waited in the little garden,
looking up at the windows, praying that little Harry would wake up, or
that the baby's little acid wail would drift through the open window,
and then the dim light bloom suddenly, and show a silhouette of Rose,
tall and sweet in her wrapper, with a great rope of braid falling over
But moments went by, and there was no sound. Norma went to the
street lamp a hundred feet away and looked at her wrist watch. Quarter
past eleven; it was useless to wait any longer; it had been a senseless
quest from the beginning.
She went back to the city by train and boat, crying desolately in
the darkness above the ploughing of the invisible waters. She cried
with pity for herself, for it seemed to her that life was very unfair
Is it my fault that I inherit all that money? she asked the
dark night angrily. Is it my fault that I love Chris Liggett? Isn't it
better to be honest about it than live with a man I don't love? Isn't
that the worst thing that woman can endurea loveless marriage?
But that's just the High School Debating Society! she interrupted
herself, suddenly, using a phrase that she and Wolf had coined long ago
for glib argument that is untouched by actual knowledge of life.
Loveless marriageand wife in name only! I wonder if I am getting to
be one of the women who throw those terms about as an excuse for just
sheer selfishness and stupidity!
And her aunt's phrases came back to her, making her wonder unhappily
just where the trouble lay, just what sort of a woman she was.
I think you will be whatever you want to be, Norma, Mrs. Sheridan
had said, you're a woman nowyou're Wolf's wife
But that was just what she did not feel herself, a woman and Wolf's
wife. She was a girlinterested in shaggy sport coats and lace
stockings; she did not want to be any one's wife! She wanted to punish
Leslie and Aunt Annie, and to have plenty of money, and to have a
wonderful little apartment on the east side of the Park, and delicious
clothes; she wanted to become a well-known figure in New York society,
at Palm Beach and the summer resorts, and at the opera and the big
dining-rooms of the hotels.
And I could do it, too! Norma thought, walking through the cool,
dark night restlessly. In two yearsin three or four, anyway, I would
be where Aunt Annie is; or at least I would if Chris and I were
marriedhe could do anything! I suppose, she added, with youthful
recklessness, I suppose there are lots of old fogies who would never
understand my getting separated from Wolf, but it isn't as if he
didn't understand, for I know he does! Wolf has always known that it
took just certain things to make me happy!
Something petty, and contemptible, and unworthy, in this last
argument smote her ears unpleasantly, and she was conscious of flushing
in the dark.
Well, people have to be happy, don't they? she reasoned, with a
rising inflection at the end of the phrase that surprised and a trifle
disquieted her. Don't they? she asked herself, thoughtfully, as she
crept in at the side door of the magnificent, cumbersome old house that
was her own now. No one but an amazed-looking maid saw her, as she
regained her room, and fifteen minutes later she was circulating about
the dim and mournful upper floor again. Annie called her into her room.
You look fearfully tired, Norma! Do get some sleep, her aunt said,
with unusual kindness. I'm going to try to, although my head is aching
terribly, and I know I can't. To-morrow will be hard on us all. I shall
go home to-morrow night, and I'm trying to persuade Leslie to come with
No, I shan't! I'm going to stay here, Leslie said, with a sort of
weary pettishness. My house is closed, and poor Chris is going to
begin closing Aunt Alice's house, and he doesn't want to go to a
clubhe'd much rather be here, wouldn't he, Norma?
Something in the tired way that both aunt and niece appealed to her
touched Norma, and she answered sympathetically:
Truly, I think he would, Aunt Annie. And if little Patricia and the
nurse get here on Sunday, she won't be lonely.
Norma, why don't you stay here, tooyour husband's in
Philadelphia, Leslie asked her. Do! We shall have so much to do
We haven't seen the will, but I believe Judge Lee is going to bring
it on Wednesday, Annie said, and Chris said that Mama left youwell,
I don't know what! I wish you could arrange to stay the rest of the
week, at least!
I will! Norma agreed. She had been feeling neglected and lonely,
and this unexpected friendliness was heartwarming.
You've been a real comfort, Annie said, good-naturedly. You're
such a sensible child, Norma. I hope one of these daysafterwardand
Annie faintly indicated with her eyebrows the direction of the front
room from which the funeral procession would start
to-morrowafterward, that you'll let us know your husband better. And
now it's long past midnight, girls, and you ought to be in bed!
It was mere casual civility on Annie's part, as accidental as had
been her casual unkindness a few hours before. But it lifted Norma's
heart, and she went out into the hall in a softer frame of mind than
she had known for a long time. She managed another word with Chris
before going to her room for almost nine hours of reviving and
Chris, I feel terribly about breaking this news to Aunt Annie and
Leslie while they feel so badly about Aunt Alice and Aunt Marianna!
she said. Again Chris gave the hallway, where she had met him, a quick,
uneasy scrutiny before he answered her:
Well, of course! But it can't be helped.
But do you think that we could put it off until Wednesday, Chris,
when the will is to be read? Everyone will be here then, and it would
seem a good time to do it!
Yes, he consented, after a moment's thought, I think that is a
good idea! And so they left it.
Regina roused Norma just in time for the long, wearisome ceremonials
of the following day, a cold, bright gusty day, when the wet streets
flashed back sombre reflections of the motor wheels, and the newly
turned earth oozed flashing drops of water. The cortège left the old
Melrose house at ten minutes before ten o'clock, and it was four before
the tired, headachy, cramped members of the immediate family group
regathered there, to discard the crape-smothered hats, and the odorous,
sombre furs, and to talk quietly together as they sipped hot soup and
crumbled rolls. Everything had been changed, the flowers were gone,
furniture was back in place, and the upper front room had been opened
widely to the suddenly spring-like afternoon. There was not a fallen
violet petal to remind her descendants that the old mistress of forty
full years was gone for ever.
Annie's boys came to bring Mother home, after so many strange days'
absence, and Norma liked the way that Annie smiled wearily at Hendrick,
and pressed her white face hungrily against the boys' blonde, firm
little faces. Leslie, in an unwontedly tender mood, drew Acton's arm
about her, as she sat in a big chair, and told him with watering eyes
that she would be glad to see old Patsie-baby on Sunday. Norma sat
alone, the carved Tudor oak rising high above her little tired head
with its crushed soft hair, and Chris sat alone, too, at the other end
of the table, and somehow, in the soul fatigue that was worse than any
bodily fatigue, she did not want the distance between them bridged, she
did not wantshe shuddered away from the wordlove-making from Chris
Leslie, who felt quite ill with strain and sorrow, went upstairs to
bed, the Von Behrens went away, and presently Acton disappeared, to
telephone old Doctor Murray that his wife would like a sedativeor a
heart stimulant, or some other little attention as a recognition of her
Then Chris and Norma were alone, and with a quiet dignity that
surprised him she beckoned him to the chair next to her, and, leaning
both elbows on the cloth, fixed him with her beautiful, tired eyes.
I want to talk to you, Chris, and this seems to be the time! she
said. You'll be deep in all sorts of horrible things for weeks now,
poor old Chris, and I want this said first! I've been thinking very
seriously all these daysthey seem monthssince Aunt Marianna died,
and I've come to the conclusion that I'mwell, I'm a fool!
She said the last word so unexpectedly, with such obvious surprise,
that Chris's tired, colourless face broke into something like a smile.
He had seated himself next to her, and was evidently bending upon her
problem his most earnest attention.
Some months ago, Norma said in a low voice, I thoughtI
thoughtthat I fell in love! The man was rich, and handsome, and
clever, and he knew moreof certain things!in his little finger,
than I shall ever know in my whole life. Not exactly more French, or
more of politics, or more personsI don't mean quite that. But I mean
a conglomerate sort ofI'm expressing myself badly, but you
understanda conglomerate total of all these things that make him an
aristocrat! That's what he is, an aristocrat. Now, I'm not! I've found
that out. I'm different.
Nonsense! Chris said, lightly, but listening patiently none the
I know, Norma resumed, hammering her thought out slowly, and
frowning down at the teaspoon that she was measuring between her
finger-tips, I know that there are two women in me. One is the
Melrose, who couldfor I know I could!push her husband out of
sight, take up the whole business of doing things correctly, from
hair-dressing and writing notes of condolence to beingshe could
manage a hint of a smile under swiftly raised lashesbeing presented
at Saint James's! she said. In five years she would be an admired and
correct and popular woman, and perhaps even married to this man I speak
of! The other woman is my little plain French mother's sortwho was a
servantmy Aunt Kate's kind, and Norma suddenly felt the tears in her
eyes, and winked them away with an April smile, who belongs to her
husband, who likes to cook and tramp about in the woods, and send
Christmas boxes to Rose's babies, andand go to movies, and picnics!
And that's the sort of woman I am, Chris, Norma ended, with a
sudden firmness, and even a certain relief in her voice. I've just
discovered it! I've been spoiled all my lifeI've been loved too much,
I think, but I've thought it all outit really came to me, as I stood
beside Aunt Marianna's grave to-day, and you don't know how happy it's
You are talking very recklessly, Norma, Chris said, as she paused,
in his quiet, definite voice. You are over-excited now. There is no
such difference in the twothe two classes, to call them that, as you
fancy! The richer people, the people who, as you say, do things
correctly, and are presented at Saint James's, have all the simple
pleasures, too. One likes moving pictures now and then; I'm sure we
often have picnics in the summer. But there are women in New
Yorkhundreds of them, who would give the last twenty years of their
lives to step into exactly what you can take for the asking now. You
will have Annie and me back of youthis isn't the time, Norma, for me
to say just how entirely you will have my championship! But surely you
He was just what he had always been: self-possessed, finished,
splendidly sure in voice and manner. He was rich, he was popular, he
was a dictator in his quiet way. And she knew even if the shock of his
wife's sudden going had pushed his thought of her into the background,
that in a few months he would be hovering about her again,
conventionally freed for conventional devotion.
She saw all this, and for the first time to-day she saw other
things, too. That he was forty, and looked it. That there was just the
faintest suggestion of thinning in his smooth hair, where Wolf's
magnificent mane was the thickest. That it was just a little bloodless,
this decorous mourning that had so instantly engulfed him, who had
actually told her, another man's wife, a few weeks before, that his own
wife was dying, and so would free him for the woman he loved at last!
In short, Norma mused, watching him as he fell into moody silence,
he had not scrupled to break the spirit of his bond to Alice, he had
not hesitated to tell Norma that he loved her when only Norma, and
possibly Alice, might suffer from his disloyalty. But when the sacred
letter was touched, the sacred outside of the vessel that must be kept
clean before the world, then Chris was instantly the impeccable, the
irreproachable man of his caste again. It was all part of the
superficial smallness of that world where arbitrary form ruled, where
to send a wedding invitation printed and not engraved, or to
mispronounce the name of a visiting Italian tenor or Russian dancer,
would mark the noblest woman in the world as hopelessly not
One of the things you do that really you oughtn't to, Norma, he
resumed, presently, in quiet distaste, is assume that there is some
mysterious difference between, say, the Craigies, and wellyour
husband. The Craigies are enormously wealthy, of course. That means
that they have always had fine service, music, travel, the best of
everything in educational ways, friendship with the best peopleand
those things are an advantage, generation after generation. It's
absurd to deny that Annie's children, for example, haven't any real and
tremendous advantages overwell, some child of a perfectly respectable
family that manages nicely on ten thousand a year. But that Annie's
pleasures are not as real, or that there must necessarily be something
dangeroussomething detestablein the life of the best people, is
That's just what I do assert, she answered, bravely. It may not
be so for you, for you were born to it! But when you've lived, as I
have, in a different sort of life, with people to whom meals, and the
rent, and their jobs, really matterthis sort of thing doesn't seem
real. You feel like bursting out laughing and saying, 'Oh, get out!
What's the difference if I don't make calls, and broaden my
vowels, and wear just this and that, and say just this and that!' It
all seems so tame.
Not at all, Chris said, really roused. Take Betty Doane, now, the
Craigies' cousin. There's nothing conventional about her. There's a
girl who dresses like a man all summer, who ran away from school and
tramped into Hungary dressed as a gipsy, who slapped Joe Brinckerhoff's
face for him last winter, and who says that when she loves a man she's
going off with himno matter who he is, or whether he's married or
not, or whether she is!
I'll tell you what she sounds like to me, Chris, a little saucy
girl of about eight trying to see how naughty she can be! Why, that,
said Norma, eagerly, that's not real. That isn't like
house-hunting when you know you can't pay more than thirty dollars'
rent, or surprising your husband with a new thermos bottle that he
didn't think he could afford!
Ah, well, if you like slums, of course! Chris said, coldly.
But nothing can prevent your inheriting an enormous sum of money,
Norma, he said, ending the conversation, and in six months you'll
feel very differently!
There is just one chance in tenone chance in a hundredthat I
might! she said to herself, going upstairs, after Chris and Acton, who
presently returned to the dining-room, had begun an undertoned
conversation. And with a sudden flood of radiance and happiness at her
heart, she sat down at her desk, and wrote to Wolf.
The note said:
I have been thinking very seriously, during these serious days,
and I am writing you more earnestly than I ever wrote any one
my life. I want you to forgive me all my foolishness, and let
come back to you. I have missed you so bitterly, and thought
good and how sensible you were, and how you took care of us all
years ago, and gave Rose and me skates that Christmas that you
didn't have your bicycle mended, and how we all sat up and
the night Aunt Kate was sick, and you made us chocolate by the
rule on the box. I have been very silly, and I thought I
caredand perhaps I did carefor somebody else; or at
I cared for what he stood for, but I am over that now, and I
feel so much older, and as if I needed you so. I shall have a
tremendous lot of money, and we'll just have to decide what to
do with it, but I think I know now that there won't be any
particular pleasure in spending it. We'll always love the old
car, andBut it just occurs to me that we could send
Kitty Barry to the hospital, and perhaps ship them all off
somewhere where they'd get better. Aunt Kate would like that.
But won't you come up, Wolf, and see me? I'll meet you
and we can talk, on Monday or Tuesday. Will you write me or
me? I can't wait to see you!
She cried over the letter, and over the signature that she was his
loving Nono, but she mailed it with a dancing heart. The road had been
dark and troubled for awhile, but it was all clear now! The wrong had
beenthe whole wretched trouble had beenin her thinking that she
could toss aside the solemn oath that she had taken on the bewildering
day of her marriage almost a year ago.
Never since old, old days of childhood, when she and Wolf and Rose
had wiped the dishes and raked the yard, and walked a mile to the
twenty-five-cent seats at the circus, had Norma been so sure of
herself, and so happy. She felt herself promoted, lifted above the old
feelings and the old ways, and dedicated to the work before her. And
one by one the shadows lifted, and the illusions blew away, and she
could see her way clear for the first time in more than three years. It
was all simple, all right, all just as she would have had it. She would
never be a petted and wealthy little Leslie, she would never be a
leader, like Mrs. von Behrens, and she would never stand before the
world as the woman chosen by the incomparable Chris. Yet she was the
last Melrose, and she knew now how she could prove herself the proudest
of them all, how she could do these kinspeople of hers a greater favour
than any they had ever dreamed of doing her. And in the richness of
renouncing Norma knew herself to be for the first time truly rich.
Chris saw the difference in her next day, felt the new dignity, the
sudden transition from girl to woman, but he had no inkling of its
cause. Leslie saw it, and Annie, but Norma gave them no clue. At
luncheon Annie, who had joined them for the meal, proposed that Leslie
and Norma and the Liggetts come to her for a quiet family dinner, but
Norma begged off; she really must see Aunt Kate, and would seize this
opportunity to go home for a night. But leaving the table Norma asked
Chris if she might talk business to him for a few minutes.
They sat in the old library, Chris sunk in a great leather chair,
smoking cigarettes, Norma opposite, her white hands clasped on the
blackness of her simple gown, and her eyes moving occasionally from
their quiet study of the fire to rest on Chris's face.
Chris, she said, I've thought this all out, now, and I'm not
really asking your advice, I'm telling you what I am going to do! I'm
going to California with Wolf in a week or twothat's the first
He stared at her blankly, and as the minutes of silence between them
lengthened Norma noticed his lips compress themselves into a thin,
colourless line. But she returned his look bravely, and in her eyes
there was something that told the man she was determined in her
I don't quite follow you, Norma, he said at last with difficulty.
You mean that all the plans and hopes we shared and discussed He
faltered a moment and then made another effort: Now that whatever
obstacles there were have been removed, and you and I are free to
fulfill our destinies, am I to understand thatthat you are going back
to your husband?
Exactly. The girl's answer was firm and determined.
The colour fled from Chris's face, and a cold light came into his
eye; his jaw stiffened.
You must use your own judgment, Norma, he answered, with a
I'll leave with you, or send you, my power of attorney, the girl
went on, and you and Hendrick as executors must do whatever you think
right and justjust deposit the money in the bank!
I see, Chris said, noncommittally.
And there's another thing, Norma went on, with heightened colour.
I don't want either Leslie or Aunt Annie ever to knowwhat you and I
Chris looked at her, frowning slightly.
That's impossible, of course, he said. What are they going to
They'll think nothing, Norma said, confidently, but with anxious
eyes fixed on his face, because they'll know nothing. There'll be no
change, nothing to make them suspect anything.
Butgreat God! You don't seem to understand, Norma. Proofs of your
birth, of your rightful heritage, your identity, the fact that you are
Theodore's child, must be shown them, of course. You have inherited by
Aunt Marianna's will the bulk of her personal fortune, but besides
this, as Theodore's child, you inherit the Melrose estate, and Leslie
must turn this all over to you, and make such restitution as she is
able, of all income from it which she has received since Judge Lee and
I turned it over to her on her eighteenth birthday.
No, that's just what she is not to do! I will get exactly
what is mentioned in the willas Norma Sheridan, bonds and the Melrose
Building, and so on, Norma broke in, eagerly. And that's enough,
goodness knows, and a thousand times more than Wolf and I ever expected
to have. Aunt Annie and Leslie are reconciled to that. But for the
rest, I refuse to accept it. I don't want it. I've never been so
unhappy in my life as I've been in this house, for all the money and
the good times and the beautiful clothes. And if that much didn't make
me happy, why should ten times more? Isn't it far, far betterall
You are talking absurdities, said Chris. Do you think that
Hendrick and I could consent to this? Do you suppose
Hendrick doesn't know it, Chris. It is only you and I and Aunt
Katethat's all! And if I do this, and swear you and Aunt Kate to
secrecy, who is responsible, except me?
Chris shook his head. Aunt Marianna wished you rightedwished you
to take your place as Theodore's daughter. It is her wish, and it is
only our duty
But think a minute, Chris, think a minute, Norma said, eagerly,
leaning forward in her chair, so that her locked hands almost touched
his knees. Was it her wish? She wanted me to know
that's certain! And I do know. But do you really think she wanted
Leslie to be shamed and crushed, and to take away the money Leslie has
had all her life, to shock Aunt Annie, and stir that old miserable
matter up with Hendrick? Chris, you can't think that! The one
thing she would have wished and prayed would have been that somehow the
matter would have been righted without hurting any one. Chris, think
before you tear the whole family up by the roots. What harm is there in
this way? I have plenty of moneyand I go away. The others go on just
as they always have, and in a little wayin just a hundredth partI
pay back dear old Aunt Marianna for all the worrying and planning she
did, to make up to me for what should have been mine, and was Leslie's.
Pleaseplease, help me to do this, Chris. I can't be happy any
other way. Aunt Kate will approveyou don't know how much she will
approve, and it will repay her, too, just a little, to feel that it's
all known now, and that it has turned out this way. And she will
destroy every last line and shred of letters and papers, and the
photographs she said she had, and it will all be overfor ever and for
You put a terrible responsibility upon me, Chris said, slowly.
NoI take it myself! Norma answered. He had gotten to his feet,
and was standing at the hearth, and now she rose, too, and looked
eagerly up at him. It isn't anything like the responsibility of facing
the world with the whole horrible story!
Chris was silent, thinking. Presently he turned upon her the old
smile that she had always found irresistible, and put his two hands on
You are a wonderful woman, Norma! he said, slowly. What woman in
the world, but you, would do that? Yes, I'll do itfor Leslie's sake,
and Acton's sake, and because I believe Alice would think it as
wonderful in you as I do. But think, Chris said, think just a few
days, Norma. You and Iyou and I might go a long way, my dear!
If he had said it even at this hour yesterday, he might have shaken
her, for the voice was the voice of the old Chris, and she had been
even then puzzled and confused to see the wisest way. But now
everything was changed; he could not reach her now, even when he put
his arm about her, and said that this was one of their rare last
chances to be alone together, and asked if it must be good-bye.
She looked up at him gravely and unashamedly.
Yes, it must be good-byedear Chris! she said, with a little
emotion. Although I hope we will see each other often, if ever Wolf
and I come back. Engineers live in Canada and Panama and India and
Alaska, you know, and we never will know we are coming until we get
here! And I'm not going to try to thank you, Chris, for what you did
for an ignorant, silly, strange little girl; you've been a big brother
to me all these last years! And something more, of course, Norma
added, bravely, and I won't sayI can't saythat if it hadn't been
for Wolf, and all the changes this yearchanges in me, tooI wouldn't
have loved you all my life. But there's no place that you could take
me, as Wolf Sheridan's divorced wife, that would seem worth while to
me, when I got therenot if it was in the peerage!
There's just one thing that I want to say, too, Norma, Chris said,
suddenly, when she had finished. I'm not good enough for you; I know
it. I see myself as I am, sometimes, I suppose. I think you're going to
be happyand God knows I hope so; perhaps it is a realer life,
your husband's: and perhaps a man who works for his wife with his hands
and his head has got something on us other fellows after all! I've
often wishedBut that doesn't matter now. But I want you to know
I'll always remember you as the finest woman I ever knewjust the best
there is! And if ever I've hurt you, forgive me, won't you,
Norma?andand let me kiss you good-bye!
She raised her face to his confidently, and her eyes were misty when
she went upstairs, because she had seen that his were wet. But there
was no more unhappiness; indeed an overwhelming sense that everything
was rightthat every life had shifted back into normal and manageable
and infinitely better lines, went with her as she walked slowly out
into the sunshine, and wandered in the general direction of Aunt
Kate's. As she left the old Melrose home, the big limousine was
standing at the door, and presently Annie and Leslie would sweep out in
their flowing veils and crapes, and whirl off to the Von Behrens
mansion. But Norma Sheridan was content to walk to the omnibus, and to
take the jolting front seat, and to look down in all brotherly love and
companionship at the moving and shifting crowds that were glorying in
the warm spring weather.
To be busyto be neededto be lovedshe said to herself. That was
the sweet of life, and it could not be taken from the policeman at the
crossing or the humblest little shop-girl who scampered under his big
arm, or bought by the bored women in limousines who, furred and
flowered and feathered, were moving from the matinée to the tea table.
Caroline Craigie, Aunt Annie, Leslie; she had seen the material
advantages of life fail them all.
Aunt Kate was out when Norma reached the apartment, but she knew
that the key was always on the top of the door frame, and entered the
familiar old rooms without any trouble. But she saw in a dismayed flash
that Aunt Kate was not coming back, for that night at least. The
kitchen window had been left four inches open, to accommodate the cat,
milk and bones were laid in waiting, and a note in the bottle notified
the milkman no milk until to-morrow. There was also a note in pencil,
on the bottom of an egg-box, for the nurses who rented two rooms,
should either one of them chance to come in and be hungry, she was to
eat the pudding and the chicken stew, and get herself a good supper.
Norma, chuckling a little, got herself the good supper instead. It
was with a delightful sense of solitude and irresponsibility that she
sat eating it, at the only window in the flat that possessed a good
view, the kitchen window. Aunt Kate, she decided, was with Rose, who
had no telephone; Norma thought that she would wait until Aunt Kate got
home the next day, rather than chance the long trip to the Oranges
again. An alternative would have been to go to Aunt Annie's house, but
somehow the thought of the big, silent handsome place, with the men in
evening wear, Aunt Annie and Leslie in just the correct mourning
décolleté, and the conversation decorously funereal, did not appeal to
her. Instead it seemed a real adventure to dine alone, and after dinner
to put on a less conspicuous hat and coat, and slip out into the
streets, and walk about in her new-found freedom.
The night was soft and balmy, and the sidewalks filled with
sauntering groups enjoying the first delicious promise of summer as
much as Norma did. The winter had been long and cold and snowy; great
masses of thawing ice from far-away rivers were slowly drifting down
the star-lighted surface of the Hudson, and the trees were still bare.
But the air was warm, and the breezes lifted and stirred the tender
darkness above her head with a summery sweetness.
Norma loved all the world to-night; the work-tired world that was
revelling in idleness and fresh air. Romance seemed all about her, the
doorways into which children reluctantly vanished, the gossiping women
coming back from bakery or market, the candy stores flooded with light,
and crowded with young people who were having the brightest and most
thrilling moments of all their lives over banana specials and chocolate
sundaes. The usual whirlpools eddied about the subway openings and
moving-picture houses, the usual lovers locked arms, in the high
rocking darkness of the omnibus tops, and looked down in apathetic
indifference upon the disappointment of other lovers at the crossings.
In the bright windows of dairy restaurants grapefruit were piled, and
big baked apples ranged in saucers, and beyond there were hungry men
leaning far over the table while they discussed doughnuts and strong
coffee, and shook open evening papers.
She and Wolf had studied it all for years; it was sordid and crowded
and cheap, perhaps, but it was honest and happy, too, and it was real.
There was no affectation here, even the premature spring hats, and the
rouge, and the high heels were an ingenuous bid for just a little
notice, just a little admiration, just a little longer youth.
Sauntering along in the very heart of it, hearing the flirtation,
the theatrical chatter, the homely gossip about her, Norma knew that
she was at home. Leslie, perhaps, might have loathed it had she been
put down in the midst of it; to Aunt Annie it would always seem
entirely beneath even contempt. But Norma realized to-night, as she
slipped into church for a few minutes, as she dropped a coin into a
beggar's tin cup, as she entered into casual conversation with the
angry mother of a defiant boy, that this, to her, was life. It was
lifeto work, to plan, to marry and bear children, to wrest her own
home from unfavourable conditions, and help her own man to win. She
would live, because she would carecare deeply how Wolf fared in his
work, how her house prospered, how her children developed. She would
not be Aunt Annie's sort of womanChris's sortshe would be herself,
judged not by what she had, but by what she could dowhat she could
And that's the kind of woman I am, after all, she said to herself,
rejoicingly. The child of a French maid and a spoiled, rich young man!
But no, I'm not their child. I'm Aunt Kate'sjust as much as Rose and
Wolf are! And at the thought of Wolf she smiled. Won't Wolf
Sheridan open his eyes?
When she reached Forty-first Street she turned east, and went past
the familiar door of the opera house. It was a special performance, and
the waiting line stretched from the box office down the street, and
around the corner, into the dark. They would only be able to buy
standing room, these patient happy music lovers who grew weary and cold
waiting for their treat, and even standing, they would be behind an
immovable crowd, they would catch only occasional glimpses of the
stage. But Norma told herself that she would rather be in that line,
than yawningly deciding, as she had so often seen Annie decide, that
she would perhaps rustle into the box at ten o'clock for the third
actalthough it was rather a bore.
She flitted near enough to see the general stir, and to see once
more the sign No Footmen Allowed in This Lobby, and then, smiling at
the old memories, she slipped away into the darkness, drinking in
insatiably the intimate friendliness of the big city and the spring
It was ten o'clock the next day, a silent gray day, when Aunt Kate
let herself into the apartment, and let out, to use her own phrase, a
startled exclamation at finding her young daughter-in-law deeply asleep
in her bed. Norma, a vision of cloudy dark tumbled hair and beautiful
sleepy blue eyes, half-strangled the older woman in a rapturous
embrace, and explained that she had come home the night before, and
eaten the chicken stew, and perhaps oversleptat any rate would love
Something faintly shadowed in her aunt's welcome, however, was
immediately apparent, and Norma asked, with a trace of anxiety, if
Rose's babies were well. For answer her aunt merely asked if Wolf had
Wolf! said Wolf's wife. Is he home?
My dear, Mrs. Sheridan said. He's goinghe's gone!to
Norma did not move. But the colour went out of her face, and the
brightness from her eyes.
Gone! she whispered.
Wellhe goes to-day! At six o'clock
At six o'clock! Norma leaped from her bed, stood with clenched
hands and wild eyes, thinking, in the middle of the floor. It's
twenty-two minutes past ten, she breathed. Where does he leave?
Rose and I were to see him at the Grand Central at quarter past
five, his mother began, catching the contagious excitement. But,
darling, I don't know where you can get him before that!Here, let me
do that, she added, for Norma had dashed into the kitchen, and was
measuring coffee recklessly. A brown stream trickled to the floor.
Oh, LordLordhelp me to get hold of him somewhere! she heard
Norma breathe. And you weren't going to let me knowbut it's my
fault, she said, putting her hands over her face, and rocking to and
fro in desperate suspense. Oh, how can I get him?I must! Oh, Aunt
Katehelp me! Oh, I'm not even dressedand that clock says
half-past ten! Aunt Kate, will you help me!
Norma, my darling, her aunt said, arresting the whirling little
figure with a big arm, and looking down at her with all the love and
sadness of her great heart in her face, why do you want to see him,
dear? He told mehe had to tell his mother, poor boy, for his heart is
brokenthat you were not going with him!
Oh, but Aunt Katehe'll have to wait for me! Norma said, stamping
a slippered foot, and beginning to cry with hurt and helplessness. Oh,
won't you help me? You always help me! Don'tdon't mind what I said to
Wolf; you know how silly I am! But pleaseplease
But, Babyyou're sure? Mrs. Sheridan asked, feeling as if ice
that had been packed about her heart for days was breaking and
stirring, and as if the exquisite pain of it would kill her.
Don'thurt him again, Norma!
But he's going offwithout me, Norma wailed, rushing to the
bathroom, and pinning her magnificent mass of soft dark hair into a
stern knob for her bath. Aunt Kate, I've always loved Wolf, always!
she said, passionately. And if he really had gone away without me I
think it would have broken my heart! You know how I love him!
We'll catch him somewhere, I know we will! We'll telephoneor else
She trailed into the kitchen half-dressed, ten minutes later.
I've telephoned for a taxi, Aunt Kate, and we'll find him
somewhere, she said, gulping hot coffee appreciatively. I mustI've
something to tell him. But I'll have to tell you everything in the cab.
To begin withit's all over. I'm done with the Melroses. I appreciate
all they did for me, and I appreciate your worrying and planning about
that old secret. But I've made up my mind. Whatever you have of
letters, and papers and proofs, I want you please to do the family a
last favour by burningevery last shred. I've told Chris, I won't
touch a cent of the money, except what Aunt Marianna left me; and I
never, never, never intend to say one more word on the subject!
Thousands didn't make me happy, so why should a million? The best thing
my father ever did for me was to give my mother a chance to bring me
here to you!
She had gotten into her aunt's lap as she spoke, and was rubbing her
cheek against the older, roughened cheek, and punctuating her
conversation with little kisses. Mrs. Sheridan looked at her, and
blinked, and seemed to find nothing to say.
Perhaps some day when it's hotand the jelly doesn't jelland the
children break the fence, pursued Norma, I will be sorry! I haven't
much sense, and I may feel that I've been a fool. But then I just want
you to remind me of Leslieand the Craigiesor better, of what a
beast I am myself in that atmosphere! So it's all over, Aunt Kate, and
if Wolf will forgive meand he always does
He's bitterly hurt this time, Nono, said her aunt, gently.
Norma looked a little anxious.
I wrote him in Philadelphia, she said, but he won't get that
letter. Oh, Aunt Kateif we don't find him! But we willif I have to
walk up to him in the station the last minuteand stop him
Ah, Norma, you love him! his mother said, in a great burst of
thankfulness. And may God be thanked for all His goodness! That's all
I care aboutthat you love him, and that you two will be together
again. We'll get hold of him, dear, somehow!
But, my darling, she added, coming presently to the bedroom door
to see the dashing little feathered hat go on, and the dotted veil
pinned with exquisite nicety over Norma's glowing face, and the belted
brown coat and loose brown fur rapidly assumed, you're not wearing
Not to-day, Norma said, abstractedly. And aloud she read a list:
Bank; Grand Central; drawing-room; new suit-case; notary for power
of attorney; Kitty Barry; telephone Chris, Leslie, Annie; telephone
Regina about trunks. Can we be back here at sayfour, Aunt Kate?
But what's all that for? her aunt asked, dazedly.
Norma looked at a check book; put it in her coat pocket. Then as her
aunt's question reached her preoccupied mind, she turned toward her
with a puzzled expression.
Why, Aunt Kateyou don't seem to understand; I'm going with Wolf
to California this evening.
It was exactly nineteen minutes past five o'clock when Wolf Sheridan
walked into the Grand Central Station that afternoon. He had stopped
outside to send his wife some flowers, and just a brief line of
farewell, and he was thinking so hard of Norma that it seemed natural
that the woman who was coming toward him, in the great central
concourse, should suggest her. The woman was pretty, too, and wore the
sort of dashing little hat that Norma often wore, and there was
something so familiar about the belted brown coat and the soft brown
furs that Wolf's heart gave a great plunge, and began to
The brown coat came nearerand nearer. And then he saw that the
wearer was indeed his wife. She had dewy violets in her belt, and her
violet eyes were dewy, too, and her face paled suddenly as she put her
hand on his arm.
What Norma all that tired and panicky afternoon had planned to say
to Wolf on this occasion was something like this:
Wolf, if you ever loved me, and if I ever did anything that made
you happy, and if all these years when I have been your little sister,
and your chum, and your wife, mean anything to youdon't push me away
now! I am sorrier for my foolishness, and more ashamed of it, than you
can possibly be! I think it was never anything but weakness and vanity
that made me want to flirt with Chris Liggett. I think that if he had
once stopped flattering me, and if ever our meetings had been anything
but stolen fruit, as it were, I would have seen how utterly blind I
was! I'm different now, Wolf; I know that what I felt for him was only
shallow vanity, and that what I feel for you is the deepest and realest
love that any woman ever knew! There's nothingno minute of the day or
night when I don't need you. There's nothing that you think that isn't
what I think! I want to go West with you, and make a home there, and
when you go to China, or go to India, I want you to go because your
wife has helped youbecause you have had happy years of working and
experimenting and picnicking and planningwith me!
It's all over, Wolf, that Melrose businessthat dream! I've said
good-bye to them, and they have to me, and they know I'm never coming
back! I'm a Sheridan nowreally and trulyfor ever.
And in the lonesome and bitter days in which his great dream had
come true, without Norma to share it, days in which he had been
thinking of her as affiliated more and more with the element he
despised, identified more and more with the man who had wreckedor
tried to wreckher life, Wolf had imagined this meeting, and imagined
her as tentatively holding out the olive branch of peace; and he had
had time to formulate exactly what he should answer to such an appeal.
I'm sorry, Norma, he had imagined himself saying. I'm terribly
sorry! But just talking doesn't undo these things, just saying
that you didn't mean it, and that it's all over. No, married life can't
be picked up and put down again like a coat. You were my wife,
and God knows I worshipped youheart and soul! If some day these
people get tired of you, or you get tired of them, that'll be
different! But you've cut me too deepyou've killed a part of me, and
it won't come alive again! I've been through hellwondering what you
were doing, what you were going to do! I never should have married you;
now let's call it all quits, and get out of it the best way we can!
But when he saw her, the familiar, lovely face that he had loved for
so many years, when he felt the little gloved hand on his arm, and
realized that somehow, out of the utter desolation and loneliness of
the big city, she had come to him again, that she was here, mistily
smiling at him, and he could touch her and hear her voice, everything
else vanished, as if it had never been, and he put his big arm about
her hungrily, and kissed her, and they were both in tears.
Oh, Wolf! Norma faltered, the dry spaces of her soul flooding
with springtime warmth and greenness, and a great happiness sweeping
away all consciousness of the place in which they stood, and the
interested eyes about them. Oh, Wolf! She thought that she added,
Would you have gone away without me! but as a matter of fact words
were not needed now.
Nonoyou do love me? he whispered. Or perhaps he only
thought he enunciated the phrase, for although Norma answered, it was
not audibly. Neither of them ever remembered anything coherent of that
first five minutes, in which momentous questions were settled between
Norma's admiring comment upon Wolf's new coat, and in which they
laughed and cried and clung together in shameless indifference to the
But presently they were calm enough to talk, and Wolf's first
constructive remark, not even now very steady or clear, was that he
must put off his going, get hold of Voorhies somehow
But no, Norma said, even while they were dashing toward the
telegraph office. She had already bought her ticket; she was going,
tooto-nightthis very hour!
Wolf brought her up short, ecstatic bewilderment in his face.
But your trunks?
ReginaI tell you it's all settledRegina sends them on after me.
And I've got a new big suit-case, and my old brown one, that's plenty
for the present! They're checked here, in the parcel-room
But we'll They had started automatically to rush toward the
parcel-room, but now he brought her up short again. It's five-thirty
now, he muttered, turning briskly in still another direction, let me
have your ticket, we'll have to try for a sectionit's pretty late,
but there may be cancellations!
Oh, but see, Wolf! I've been here since half-past four. I've
got the A drawing-room in Car 131 She brought forth an
official-looking envelope, and flashed a flimsy bit of coloured paper.
For a third time Wolf checked his hurried rushing, and they both broke
into delicious laughter. I've been at it all day, with Aunt Kate,
Norma said, proudly. I've been to banks and to Judge Lee's office, and
I've seen Annie and Leslie, and I bought a new wrapper and a suit-case,
andoh, and I saw Kitty Barry, and I got you a book for the train, and
I got myself one
Oh, Norma, Wolf said, his eyes filling, you God-blessèd little
adorable idiot, do you know how I love you? My darlingmy own wife, do
you know that I want to die, to-night, I'm so happy! Do you realize
what it's going to mean to us, poking about Chicago, and sending home
little presents to Rose and the kids, and reaching San Francisco, and
going up to the big mine? Do you realize that I feel like a man out of
jaillike a kid who knows it's Saturday morning?
WellI feel that way, too! Norma smiled. And now, she added, in
a businesslike tone, we've got to look for Aunt Kate and Rose, and get
our bags; and Leslie said to-day that it was a good idea to wire a
Chicago hotel for a room, just for the few hours before the Overland
pulls out, because one feels so dirty and tired; do you realize that
I've never spent a night on a Pullman yet?
And I'll turn in the ticket for my lower, Wolf said; we'll have
dinner on board, so that's all right
Oh, Wolf, and won't that be fun? Norma exulted. And then,
joyously: Oh, there they are!
And she fled across the great space to meet Rose, pretty and
matronly, at the foot of the great stairway, and Harry grinning and
proud, with his little sturdy white-caped boy in his arms, and Aunt
Kate beaming utter happiness upon them all. And then ensued that
thrilling time of incoherencies and confusions, laughter and tears, to
which the big place is, by nature, dedicated. They were parting so
lightly, but they all knew that there would be changes before they six
met again. To Aunt Kate, holding close the child whose destinies had
been so strangely entangled with her own, the moment held a poignant
pleasure as well as pain. She was launched now, their imperious,
beloved youngest; she had been taken to the mountain-tops, and shown
the world at her feet, and she had chosen bravely and wisely, chosen
her part of service and simplicity and love. Life would go on, changes
indeed and growth everywhere, but she knew that the years would bring
her back a new Normaa developed, sweetened, self-reliant womanand a
new Wolf, his hard childhood all swept away and forgotten in the
richness and beauty of this woman's love and companionship. And she was
And, Wolfshe told you about Kitty! Every month, as long as they
need it, Rose said, crying heartily, as she clung to her brother.
Why, it's the most wonderful thing I ever heard! Poor Louis Barry
can't believe ithe broke down completely! And Kitty was crying, and
kissing the children, and she knelt down, and put her arms about
Norma's knees; and Norma was crying, tooyou never saw anything like
She never told me a word about it, Wolf said, trying to laugh, and
blinking, as he looked at her, a few feet away. One of her arms was
about his mother, her hand was in Harry's, her face close to the rosy
Wolf, his sister said, earnestly, drying her eyes, it will bring
a blessing on your own children!
Ah, Rose! he answered, quickly. Pray that there is one, some
dayone of our own as sweet as yours are!
Ah, you'll have everything, you two, never fear! she said,
radiantly. And then a gate opened, and the bustle about them thickened,
and laughing faces grew pale, and last words faltered.
Harry gave Rose the baby, and put his arm about Rose's mother, and
they watched them go, the red-cap leading with the suit-cases, Wolf
carrying another, Norma on his arm, twisting herself about, at the very
last second, to smile an April smile over her shoulder, and wave the
green jade handle of her slim little umbrella. There was just a glimpse
of Wolf's old boyish, proud, protecting smile, and then his head
drooped toward his companion, and the surging crowd shut them out of
Then Rose immediately was concerned for the little baby. Wouldn't it
be wiser to go straight home, just for fear that Mrs. Noon might have
fallen asleepand the house caught on fire? Mrs. Sheridan blew her
nose and dried her eyes, and straightened her widow's bonnet, and
cleared her throat, and agreed that it would. And they all went away.
But there was another watcher who had shared, unseen, all this last
half-hour, and who stood immovable to the last second, until the iron
gates had actually clashed shut. It was a well-built, keen-eyed man, in
an irreproachably fitting fur-collared overcoat, who finally turned
away, fitting his eyeglasses, on their black ribbon, firmly upon the
bridge of his nose, and sighing just a little as he went back to the
sidewalk, and climbed into a waiting roadster.
Even after he took his seat at the wheel, he made no effort to start
the car, but sat slowly drawing on his heavy gloves, and staring
abstractedly at the dull, uninteresting stretch of street before him,
where a dismal spring wind was stirring chaff and papers about the
subway entrance, and surface cars were grinding and ringing on the
It looked dull and emptydull and empty, he thought. She had been
very happy, looking up at her man, kissing her people good-bye. She was
a remarkable woman, Norma.
A remarkable womanNorma, he said, half-aloud. She will make him
a wonderful wife; she will help him to go a long way. And she never
would have had patience for formal living; it wasn't in her!
But he remembered what was in her, what eager gaiety, what hunger
for new impressions, what courage in seizing her dilemmas the instant
she saw them. He remembered the flash of her eyes, and the curve of her
proud little mouth.
Theodore had more charm than any of them, he said, and she is
like him. Wellperhaps I'll meet somebody like her, some day, and the
story will have a different ending!
But he knew in his heart that there was nobody like her, and that
she had gone out of his life for ever.
* * * * *
They had hung the belted brown coat over the big new gray one in the
drawing-room, and Norma had brushed her hair, and Wolf had shoved the
suit-cases under the seats, and they had gone straight into the
dining-car, and were at a lighted little shining table by this time.
Wolf had had no lunch; Norma was, she said, starving. They ordered
their meal just as the train drew out of the underground arcades and
swept over the city, in the twilight of the dull, sunless day.
Norma looked down, and joy and a vague heartache struggled within
her. The little city blocks, draped with their frail tangles of
fire-escapes, were as clean-cut as toys. In the streets children were
screaming and racing, at the doorways women loitered and talked. Great
trucks lumbered in and out among surging pedestrians, and women and
children stood before the green-grocers' displays of oranges and
cabbages, and trickled in and out of the markets, where cheap cuts were
advertised in great chalk signs on the windows. Red brick, yellow
brick, gray cement, the streets fled by; the dear, familiar streets
that she and Wolf, and she and Rose, had tramped and explored, in the
burning dry heat of July, in the flutter of November's first snows.
Say good-bye to it, Wolf; it will be a long time before we see New
Wolf looked down, grinning. Then, as they left the city, and the
dusk deepened, his eyes went toward the river, went toward the vague
and waiting West. The Palisades lay, a wide bar of soft dull gray,
against the paler dove-colour of the sky. Above them, bare trees were
etched sharply, and beneath them was the satiny surface of the full
It was still water, and the river was smooth enough to give back a
clear reflection of the buildings and the wharves on the opposite
shore, and the floating ice from the north looked like rounded bunches
of foam arrested on the shining waters.
Suddenly the sinking sun evaded the smother of cloud, and flashed
out red and shining, for only a few brilliant minutes. It caught window
glass like flame, twinkled and smouldered in the mirror of the river,
and lighted the under edges of low clouds with a crisp touch of apricot
and pink. Wet streets shone joyously, doves rose in a circling whirl
from a near-by roof, and all the world shone and sparkled in the last
breath of the spring day. Then dusk came indeed, and the villages
across the river were strung with increasing lights, and in the tender
opal softness of the evening sky Norma saw a great star hanging.
That's a good omenthat's our own little star! she said softly to
herself. She looked up to see Wolf smiling at her, and the smile in her
own eyes deepened, and she stretched a warm and comradely hand to him
across the little table.